New York Stories – Fruitvale Station / Crystal Fairy

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By Glenn Dunks
July 17, 2013

There’s a wide world of cinema out there, and Quickflix’s Glenn Dunks is on the ground in New York City bringing you the titles that will soon be seen in Australian cinemas, and eventually available on home entertainment.

The Manhattan Report: New York not only offers a seemingly endless variety of viewing options, but also viewing locations. While I saw Fruitvale Station in a packed out opening weekend crowd at a multiplex, Crystal Fairy was in a high school assembly hall. A recent screening of Andy Warhol’s 16mm experimental Taylor Mead’s Ass from 1965 (spoiler: it’s an 80-minute close-up of Taylor Mead’s ass) was exhibited in the gorgeous sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art, and a screening of artist David Berezin’s playful Cast in Order of Appearance (a three-minute short that is literally just a set of fake end credits for a film that doesn’t exist) played on loop inside famed DVD and record store Kim’s Video on 1st Avenue. Movies: they’re not just for cinemas anymore.

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Fruitvale Station: It’s impossible to not view Ryan Coogler’s debut feature, Fruitvale Station, through a political prism, despite the director’s best intentions not to sensationalise the true story he’s telling. It’s undeniable that the current landscape involving racially motivated crimes places Coogler’s picture in a greater context, and while it’s not the film’s fault that it has been saddled with the weight of other societal injustices, it does highlight its flaws. Fruitvale Station won prizes at both Sundance and Cannes, but it’s been lazily scripted and makes the audience do the heavy emotional lifting.

Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old father who, in late 2008, was trying to put a criminal history behind him and start afresh. As played by Michael .B Jordan, Oscar is portrayed as a charismatic and charming man;  it’s unlikely anybody would begrudge his desire to become a better man for his family. It’s not a spoiler to say Oscar’s life was cut short by a racist police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009 – the film opens with mobile phone footage of the incident – but the “day in the life” structure is detrimental to the drama. Tension and dread are evident in the climactic sequences, but the series of sugary sweet redemption vignettes that make up the majority of the runtime lack credibility.

As fine as Jordan is in the lead role, he’s not given all that much to work with. ‘Smile’ and ‘be charming’ appears to be the main objective in representing Oscar Grant on screen, and he does it well. Fruitvale Station works better when focusing on the peripheries in his life, predominantly his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and mother (Octavia Spencer). If anything, the moment the end credits roll is the just when things get interesting. I can’t help but feel Coogler is complicit in denying Oscar’s life greater meaning beyond being senselessly murdered. It makes for an affecting and well-acted film, but one that doesn’t go far enough in examining the root of why it happened in the first place. (It plays the Melbourne International Film Festival in August.)

3/5

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Crystal Fairy: If the return of Arrested Development has given you the off-putting sense that the actors haven’t moved on from their Bluth family personas, then look no further than Crystal Fairy. A stoner road movie set and shot in Chile that sees Michael Cera travelling across country with three Chilean surfer bros (director Sebastián Silva’s brothers) in search of a magical cactus to brew mescaline. In this first of two collaborations between Cera and Silva (the other, Magic Magic, will play the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival) Cera makes a suitably relentless and humourless ugly American tourist, and the flick’s sense of humour crept up on me with deceptive ease.

However, it’s Gaby Hoffmann’s performance as the titular character who piggybacks on the boys’ journey and eventually wins them over with her sincere mysticism that makes Crystal Fairy as memorable as it is. She subverts the dreaded Manic Pixie Dreamgirl undertones and becomes the heart of the film. Hoffmann, a former child star, is truly spectacular in the role of the (perhaps literally) other-worldly wanderer. She pitches the part just right, and it’s because of this that the final scene has the melancholy power that it has. The film is a curiosity, and I admired it for being a wholly unique entity. Like the Crystal Fairy character, it’s a one-of-a-kind that will be remembered long after it’s vanished into the atmosphere. (No release date at this time.)

4/5

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