Jack Garner: On 'Fruitvale Station' and reunions

12:46 PM, Aug 02, 2013

In Fruitvale Station, Michael B. Jordan, second from left, below, delivers a powerful performance as Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old whose fatal shooting by police echoes the Trayvon Martin case. (RON KOEBERER/AP/Provided by Weinstein Company)/


Written By Jack Garner

In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a transit police officer at a rapid transit station in the Fruitvale neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay area.

The officer argued that he thought he had pulled his stun gun, instead of a handgun, but the young man was dead, and the incident triggered community demonstrations and arguments about racial profiling echoed three years later in the Trayvon Martin case.

The incident has inspired Fruitvale Station, one of the first essential films of 2013, a potent independent film created with subtlety and undeniable emotional impact by Ryan Coogler. He builds his story gradually, using seemingly mundane aspects of Oscar’s last 24 hours to construct a portrait of a troubled young man, diligently pursuing a decent life.

Playing Oscar is Michael B. Jordon, a 26-year-old whom viewers may know from television’s The Wire, Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. His quiet but powerful performance will hopefully lead to an Oscar nomination, if he isn’t forgotten by the awards season of late autumn. Octavia Spencer, an Oscar winner for The Help, contributes a moving portrait as Oscar’s determined mother.

Fruitvale Station is a poignant reminder of the stupidity and tragic waste of violence — and the human potential that gets destroyed. It is certainly one of the best films of the year to date, and a film I won’t soon forget.

A CHILLINREUNION. The Toronto International Film Festival in September will be doing its normal look forward to the films of late 2013 and early 2014. But festival organizers also plan to take at least one nostalgic look back.

Remember the gang that came back together to honor a deceased friend, and ended up addressing all the concerns of a younger generation, suddenly growing up? It was Lawrence Kasden’s The Big Chill, a film much loved for lots of things, including a great Motown soundtrack that found the friends dancing in the kitchen to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” while cleaning up the dishes.

I remember seeing and greatly enjoying The Big Chill at the 1983 Toronto Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. Apparently, many others also have that fond memory. In September, the film and its now impressive cast will be back for a 30th anniversary reunion at the fest.

Actors Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, Meg Tilly, Mary Kay Place and JoBeth Williams; director/writer Kasdan; and screenwriter Barbara Benedek all will be honored. (Kevin Kline, William Hurt and Jeff Goldblum apparently won’t be there. Too bad. They also were key players.)

The screening of a newly restored version of the film will be followed by an extended Q&A with the cast and crew, moderated by Variety’s chief film critic, Scott Foundas.

Following its opening night screening at the 1983 festival, the movie, about a group of college friends who reunite after the suicide of one of their own, went on to win the Toronto fest’s prestigious People’s Choice Award and garner three Academy Award nominations.

In addition to helping its stars break through and its influence on cinema generally, The Big Chill represents a landmark in TIFF’s own history,” says Piers Handling, the festival’s director and CEO. “It showcased the festival’s ability to seek out and attract up-and-coming contemporary classics as well as our audiences’ ability to predict hits through the People’s Choice Awards, and helped the festival move to the forefront of the international landscape.”

The Big Chill will screen as part of the festival’s opening night, at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Princess of Wales Theatre. The 38th festival runs through Sept. 15. More information is available at tiff.net/festival.

ANOTHER REUNION. Talk about a Big Chill, I’m also off to a reunion of my own as soon as I put this column to bed. As you read this, I’ll be heading home from my 50th high school reunion. This I can hardly fathom. I have so many memories of high school years that seem much closer than 50 years ago. However, the calendar is undeniable. I could try telling people I was a child prodigy and graduated at age 8 or 9, but who’s going to believe that.

No, I simply accept that this landmark event has come my way — and I have to be glad I’m around to enjoy it. I’m also thrilled that my favorite teacher, my mentor, is still alive and will join us for the reunion dinner.

Yes, it’s a season to watch the sands falling out of that old hourglass — with far more grains in the bottom half than in the top. Heck, Mick Jagger just turned 70 a few weeks ago, which reminds me to pay heed to the words New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote:

Maybe some people can will their way around the aging process. Or, at least, if you’re doing something you love to do, you can rise above it.”