Fruitvale Station

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New Year’s Day 2009 there was a lot of buzz about the wrongful death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. After a night of New Year’s partying with friends, he was shot by a White Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer on the Fruitvale Station platform in Oakland, California.

Produced by Forest Whitaker, Fruitvale Station, starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, is a poster child story of life and redemption. The movie opens with the cold, chilling cell phone footage of the early morning accounts of what happened at the Fruitvale Station.

The jagged video set the tone for the entire movie because even without prior knowledge of Oscar Grant (Jordan), you knew that after 90 minutes you would be equipped with all you needed to know.
This Sundance Festival favorite sheds light on the reality that an unarmed Black man was gunned down by a White transit police officer in front of dozens of witnesses.

Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson (Spencer) celebrates her New Year’s Eve birthday with her family every year. 2009 was no different. For her birthday in 2008, she had to visit her son in a local state prison but that was all behind her now. Her birthday was spent with loved ones including Oscar, his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and 4-year-old granddaughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal). Once the birthday party was over, Wanda advised Oscar to take the train that night declaring there would be a lot of New Year’s Eve traffic. Oscar took his mother’s advice and it would be advice she would regret for the rest of her life.

It’s virtually impossible for viewers to take their eyes off of Michael B. Jordan. As he embarks on this powerful role, you can’t help but to feel as if you’re on the subway platform too. It seems as if Jordan studied Oscar Grant to perfect his every move by showcasing his strength to fight for family and the sensitivity of losing his job and kicking old habits. There’s no doubt that Jordan was meant for this role. Beyond physical similarities, Jordan effortlessly takes of the unfortunate narrative of Oscar Grant’s last moments.

Accused of murder BART police officer Johannes Mehserle claims that he thought the weapon he drew was a Taser. Instead, he drew a pistol firing the shot which killed Oscar Grant. Today, after serving less than 2 years for Grant’s death, Mehserle is free on parole.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict, it’s evident that we have to be mindful that race still plays a rampant role in social injustice and equality. Regardless of the shooter’s race, shooting victims cannot be dismissed because of judicial loopholes, accidental claims, racial provocation, or authoritative position.

On a lighter note, there’s always a connection to Pittsburgh. In the movie, before leaving out for his New Year’s celebration, Oscar asks his uncle who he thinks will win the Super Bowl. His uncle replies, “The Steelers!” After family members questioned his loyalty to the Oakland Raiders, Oscar uncle’s rebuttal was simple: The Pittsburgh Steelers were going to win the 2009 Super Bowl because they had black uniforms, with Black players and a Black coach who was married to a Black woman. In 2009, the Pittsburgh Steelers did go on win that year’s Super Bowl by defeating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. It’s always a warm feeling to know that although Pittsburgh might not be a huge city, we’re still relevant!

5 STARS: The most powerful movie I’ve seen since A Time to Kill. The last day in the life of Oscar Grant is powerful enough to move anyone from solid to pure putty. This movie will leave you doubtful of justice yet optimistic and hopeful about leading a fulfilled life. Oscar Grant III wanted nothing more than to live a better life for his daughter. On a chilly California night on New Year’s Day 2009, fate gave him the exact opposite.

Throwback Movie of the Month- Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (May 2013)

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Reed and Roberts, D Building. Aunt Angie’s Apartment. 7 Years Old. Everybody knew that my Aunt Angie had all the movies. Remember, when you had to sometimes untangle the film with the VHS movies or blow it like a Nintendo game because the movie was messing up. Not at my Aunt Angie’s house. All the movies were in order, they were crisp, and they were clear!

I was never too fond of her scary movie collection like Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, but at the tender age of 7, I fell in love with the 1992 film Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. Written and directed by Leslie Harris, the movie is about a Brooklyn teenager whose college bound dreams are derailed with a pregnancy.
Like most little girls in the projects, Chantell Mitchell (Ariyan A. Johnson) aspired to be something greater than her current situation. Her, her parents, and her two little brothers were packed into a small 3 bedroom apartment in the projects. Chantell is clearly very intelligent but her capability is quickly overshadowed with her boisterous, outspoken demeanor.

While in a relationship, Chantell meets a new boy toy, Tyrone (Kevin Thigpen). Ty, as she called him, seemed to have it all; a car, money, and the freedom to do whatever he wanted. Captivated by Ty’s life luxuries, Chantell fell for him instantly. She gets pregnant and goes through many lengths to hide the pregnancy by alienating her family and friends and wearing big clothes. Chantell undergoes a traumatic baby delivery on Ty’s bed. Ty pulls a Brenda’s-Got-A-Baby move and places the baby in the garbage can. Full of remorse, Ty removes the baby from the garbage can and returns to the house. In the end, she keeps the baby and enrolls into the local community college.

Where’s Ariyan?
What happened to Ariyan A. Johnson? She was young, beautiful and talented. After Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., it’s as if she fell off the face of the Earth. I stumbled across her website and it seems as if she’s continued to work as an actress, writer, producer, dancer and choreographer. But I’ve only seen her on the Steve Harvey Show as Romeo’s girlfriend. Ariyan Johnson could have been the next Halle Berry. I guess we’ll never know. Good luck to Ms. Johnson!!!

5 STARS: For this movie to be an independent film, I thought Leslie Harris did a beautiful job of depicting the everyday challenges of young Black girls. It doesn’t matter your economic status, Black teenage girls problems are synonymous across the world. Great Movie!

(If you want to see Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., you can borrow my copy for $5.35 per night (tax included) or you can grab it off of Amazon.com for $9.99)

Pain & Gain (5.9.13)

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This review comes just a little late. TWO WORDS: WORK and LIFE (and I’ll leave it at that) Now for the review…

Pain & Gain was full of eye candy. But other than the glistening, baby oiled muscles of Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Anthony Mackie, it was very “painful” to watch this Michael Bay film. The movie was based off of the true story about a group of local bodybuilders from Florida’s Sun Gym who have the dumbest Get-Rich-Quick scheme. Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) recruits Adrian Doorbal (Mackie) and then joins forces to recruit religiously conscious and former jailbird, Paul Doyle (Johnson) to kidnap local businessmen, torture them, and extort them all of their possessions.

The first kidnapping, which clearly was not planned, included several failed attempts to kill deli owner and rich man Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Before fake killing him, the bodybuilding friends forced him to sign over all of his assets. Daniel Lugo quickly started to flaunt his illegally obtained new items, Adrian Doorbal took his cut to start a family, and Paul Doyle blows his piece of the pie on strippers and drugs.

Paul’s habits forces the crew to pick a second target. The second target is Frank Griga (Michael Rispoli), who owns a successful phone sex company. During their second meeting with Frank and his wife Krisztina, Lugo accidentally kills Griga when weights crush his skull. Griga’s wife discovers her lifeless husband’s body and becomes hysterical. (And this is where the movie gets worse) Paul Doyle uses a horse tranquilizer to sedate her. Once she becomes lucid, he then gives her another horse tranquilizer that kills her. The men then dismember the married couple’s bodies, stuff them into large tin cans, and dumped them at the banks of a river.

The gang eventually forgot all about first victim Victor Kershaw assuming that he fell off the face of the Earth. Kershaw hires a private investigator that proves the 3 men indeed wrongfully acquired of all Kershaw’s fortune. The movie ends with the arrest of all three suspects. The star witness is Paul Doyle who testifies against his co-defendants.

Of course, the movie is a lot more exciting then I’m making it out to be. All I know is that I am just relieved that I did NOT pay for the movie.

A MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR ANTHONY MACKIE
No, he’s not dead! Just drop dead gorgeous. It wasn’t until this movie that I realized how attractive he is. (No Thirst!) I was not truly moved with his performances in 8 Mile, Notorious, or Million Dollar Baby. But he has evolved as an actor. I was first introduced to him 2008 when I heard his brother, Dr. Calvin Mackie speak at a conference at Slippery Rock University. Dr. Mackie facilitated a great discussion about Hurricane Katrina, the devastation to New Orleans and its people, and how the occurrence forever changed the face of the United States. He mentioned his brother being an actor and after the workshop, I quickly researched Anthony Mackie. Although, I don’t think he’s reached his acting climax, it is great to see him in more acting roles. Great Job, A. Mackie! (Yes, I gave him his own nickname)

2.5 STARS: Mediocre is an embellishment!

Check it out for yourself…Pain & Gain is in theatres NOW!

42 (4.11.13)

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42 is the only number in Major League Baseball that has been retired. No other major league baseball player can bare that number. This clause alone speaks volumes to impact that Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel, had on the league. Even after his death in 1956, Rachel Robinson kept her late husband’s legacy alive through the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

On April 8th, the kids and I were simply amazed by his story. Any person who has even scratched the surface of African American History, knows Jackie Robinson was the first African American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But at times, his strength, his self-control, and overall knowledge of baseball are overlooked with the title.

“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts.”
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), MLB executive, was convinced that professional baseball was ready for a Black player. He wanted someone who was strong enough to endure the backlash, name calling, and ridicule. But he also wanted someone just as strong enough to ignore. There’s a scene where Phillies GM Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) spewed racial slurs at Jackie Robinson every time he went up to bat. Chapman taunted him with words like “monkey”, “nigger”, and “Bojangles”. Mr. Rickey, as he was often referred to in the movie, reassured Jackie that Chapman’s ignorance only made fans sympathize more with his struggle. Before agreeing to sign the contract, Jackie Robinson reassured Mr. Rickey that although he would be tested, he would be strong enough to refrain from retaliations or rebuttals.

“Don’t get carried away, Mr. Rickey, that’s still a nigger out there!”
Mr. Rickey caught major slack when he insisted on acquiring an African American baseball player. One of the coaches quickly displayed his feeling towards Jackie Robinson when he reminded his superior that newest member of the team was just a “nigger.” Even quicker, Mr. Rickey dismissed his comments and reassured the coach that everyone must become familiar with Jackie Robinson’s presence on the roster and overcome any racial prejudice that they possess in order to accept him on the team. Racism, undoubtedly, was the biggest topic of the movie. It reminds us that Jackie Robinson forced baseball athletes, executives, and fans in 1947 to question the validity of their hatred towards African Americans. Posing questions like…How do I support the game I love when it uplifts the people I hate? Is it acceptable to allow African Americans play amongst their White counterparts in baseball? Does my hatred for others dictate my behaviors, even if means ruining something I enjoy? It seems as if the movie answers these questions. Of course not all racist Baseball lovers became non-racist after 1947, but Jackie Robinson’s presence generated those questions which are relevance enough.

“Your enemy will come out with force and you can’t meet him on his own ground.”
Jackie Robinson faced many enemies, some even on his own team. Players that did not want to share the locker room with him. Baseball managers that did not want to share the mound with him. Fans that did not want see the Brooklyn Dodgers with a Black man on the bench. None of those stipulations stopped Jackie Robinson from establishing himself as one of the best baseball players of all time. In complete silence, he was able to perplex pitchers with his swift feet, amaze little White boys with mound rituals, and stun the world with unpredictable game statistics. It’s clear that Jackie Robinson did NOT meet the enemy on their own ground Instead, he created the playing field and raised the bar in baseball.

“God built me to last”
It’s clear that strength is the minimum requirement you must have in order to break a color barrier with any major entity. Jackie Robinson, in many different instances in the movie, he would say: “GOD BUILT ME TO LAST.” This constant phrase is not only reassurance for a young Black man from Cairo, Georgia but also to his friends and family who were concerned about his safety. The statement means Jackie Robinson, no matter what the adversary, can overcome the hurdle or difference. Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you declare that the highest power you proclaim has created you to endure any and every thing, then only solidifies your endurance and perseverance. (I think I have a new catch phrase!)

The cast was incredible! Harrison Ford reminds you that the acting profession is ageless. 42 introduces you to some bright, beautiful Black faces like Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, and Andre Holland. The movie hit an immediate hometown soft spot with its many references to Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Pirates, a baseball organization founded in 1887, was an arch revival of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pirates Pitcher threw pitches aiming at Jackie Robinson’s head. Of course certain parts of the movies were embellished for production, but Jackie Robinson was hit in the head with fast moving baseballs. (That’s would have been my last day as a major league baseball player)

My favorite Pittsburgh connection was Wendell Smith, former Pittsburgh Courier sports reporter. There are always those hometown stories that don’t get as much publicity as the Jackie Robinson stories. But, Wendell Smith, an African American reporter, was not allowed to sit in the Whites Only press box. Smith was the first African American reporter to join the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was influential in Mr. Rickey’s decision to sign Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers. Wendell Smith also traveled with Jackie Robinson his first two years in the league because segregation laws would not allow either to stay in hotels.

5 STARS: This is not just African-American History…this is AMERICAN HISTORY! The movie brought to life the Major League Baseball in 1947 and its biggest glory of breaking the color line in baseball. Jackie Robinson forever changed the game!!!

42 “hits” theatres tomorrow, April 12th! Check it out!

42-JR

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