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Fruitvale Station • The Conjuring

The Way Way Back

July 25, 2013

Fruitvale Station (***½) R

Jake Coyle,

AP Entertainment Writer

Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut is more than the dramatization of an obituary. It’s about empathy. In recounting (and slightly fictionalizing) the final day of 22-year-old Oscar Grant’s life, Coogler has made a film that piles small daily gestures—and one final, heartbreakingly tragic one—into an inspiring reminder about basic human decency.

In a star-making performance, Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar, the San Francisco Bay Area ex-convict and former drug dealer who, famously, was fatally shot by a transit police officer early on New Year’s morning, 2009.

Michael B. Jordan & Ariana Neal in Fruitvale Station

The moment is glimpsed in raw cellphone footage at the movie’s start, before shifting back to the morning before and the start of Oscar’s last day. It’s a typical day of fraught improvisation for Oscar, a young black man trying his best in circumstances stacked against him. He struggles to balance his past, his unemployment and his family: girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), four-year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer).

Jordan (Friday Night Lights) puts the film on his shoulders in an unqualified display of leading-man charisma. It’s a naturalistic, hoodie-clad performance, with ``bruh’’ warmly peppered throughout his speech. The fullness of Jordan’s Oscar is as staggering as his end is appalling.

Fruitvale Station is opening Friday at the Carmike Theater in Hickory and elsewhere.

The Conjuring (** ½)
 Director James Wan’s latest scarefest, The Conjuring, has been favorably compared to his 2011 film Insidious and I suppose that’s true to a certain degree. If you enjoyed Insidious there’s no doubt that you’re probably going to find things to like about The Conjuring even if like myself, you feel his new film is a bit of a letdown.

Up until the release of Insidious Wan was best known as the architect behind the original Saw, a gorefest that set new standards—not necessarily good ones either—for horror films, ushering in the trend now referred to as torture porn.

What made Insidious film so memorable was that he chose to eschew the gore for genuine scares. I know it’s unfair to compare a director’s films to previous works, but I just couldn’t help feeling that Wan had done this sort of thing better in times gone by. Some will disagree, but a critic must be honest and so I have.

Vera Farmiga & Patrick Wilson in The Conjuring

The Conjuring is inspired by one of the true case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the film) became famous in the 1970s for their involvement in the Amityville Horror case popularized in both book and film in that decade.

The case dramatized in this film is one that took place during 1971. It involves the Perron family, Roger and Carolyn (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their children, who have purchased a farmhouse in Rhode Island with a checkered past that past involves witchcraft, possession and all of the other standard spooky fare we’ve come to expect from films like this. Before you know it, it’s up to ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine to save the day, in spite of the fact that Ed is not a licensed exorcist and that Lorraine suffers from the after effects of a previous run in with demonic possession.

The film does have a few genuinely scary moments. In fact, one of the best of these scares comes at the beginning of the film and involves Ed and Lorraine reiterating an unrelated tale of a possessed doll running amok in the late 1960s. This sequence and another involving a pair of clapping hands are what make The Conjuring shine in its best moments. It just needed more of them.

The Conjuring is playing at the Carmike Cinemas in Hickory and other area theaters.

The Way Way Back

(** ½) PG 13

The Way Way Back is one of those coming of age tales that seem to come along on a regular basis. Though the film takes place in a contemporary setting—the characters have modern technological devices, for one thing—it has a somewhat retro feel to it, particularly, an eighties vibe. There are many 80s songs that crop up on the soundtrack and the main character even belts out REO Speedwagon’s I Can’t Fight This Feeling, while listening to his IPOD at one point.  If that isn’t enough of an 80s throwback, there’s another scene where a character played by Sam Rockwell recites the lyrics from I’m Holding Out For a Hero, that 1984 Bonnie Tyler pop hit from the Footloose soundtrack, to a group of kids with befuddled looks on their faces. I would say that if you have a real fondness for 1980s nostalgia you’ll probably dig the pic. As for me, I’m more of a 70s guy and I think that may be one of the reasons why I found the film to be only so-so.

Duncan (Liam James) is the misfit fourteen year old at the center of the film. As the film opens he and his mother (a terrific Toni Collette) are on their way to a summer beach trip.

AnnaSophia Robb and Liam James in The Way Way Back

This would probably be fine if it were only Duncan and his mother but unfortunately they are accompanied by Duncan’s mother’s obnoxious new squeeze, Trent (Steve Carrell). There is a great scene establishing Trent as the horse’s arse he is as he asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of one to ten. When Duncan informs Trent he sees himself as a six he is quickly informed by Trent that he’s a three at best. Later in the film Duncan asks an acquaintance, ‘What king of guy says that to a kid?’ We  know the answer.

Duncan obviously doesn’t fit in and struggles to deal with his parent’s divorce and the absence of an understanding father figure. He finds just what he’s looking for in Owen (Sam Rockwell), an employee of the local water park who comes across as a forty-year-old kid, but helps Duncan find his place and overcome his awkwardness. Duncan also manages to find romance via a girl named Stephanie (AnnaSophia Robb)  who lives next door to the house Duncan is staying in.

The Way Way Back boasts a terrific cast and that helps matters considerably. Among those already mentioned, there are appearances by Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry and the film’s writing-directing team of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. They all breathe life into this mild but pleasing affair.

Now playing at the Regal Manor Twin, 609 Providence Road, Charlotte, NC 28207, (704) 334-2727.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at  



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