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Fruitvale Station: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

Fruitvale Station (2013) movie poster Fruitvale Station

Theatrical Release: July 12, 2013 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Oscar Grant), Melonie Diaz (Sophina), Octavia Spencer (Wanda Johnson), Kevin Durand (Officer Caruso), Chad Michael Murray (Officer Ingram), Ahna O'Reilly (Katie), Ariana Neal (Tatiana Grant), Keenan Coogler (Cato), Trestin George (Brandon), Joey Oglesby (Cale), Michael James (Carlos), Marjorie Shears (Grandma Bonnie), Destiny Ekweume (Chantay), Bianca Rodriguez (Vanessa), Julian Keyes (Kris), Kenny Griffin (Jason), Thomas Wright (Tim), Jemal McNeil (Cephus), Steven Craig Johnson (Daryl)

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Fruitvale Station opens with cell phone video of the real incident its climax dramatizes that occurred in the titular Oakland, California transit terminal in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009. That design reduces the element of surprise that might otherwise exist should you enter not knowing about this appalling encounter.
On the other hand, it serves as powerful foreshadowing, hanging over everything that follows like The Ghost of New Year Yet to Come. You may not fully comprehend that shaky, low-res impromptu footage, but see enough to know that 2009 is not going to start well for Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan).

The film then takes us back around 24 hours to get us much better acquainted with Oscar and the people in his life to whom he is a father, a son, and a lover. The 22-year-old "Osc" has a 4-year-old daughter named Tatiana (Ariana Neal) with his serious girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz). He also has tattoos on his body that suggest a hardened past and a large bag of marijuana stashed in his closet which establishes him as a drug dealer. That is not, however, an occupation Oscar wishes to continue. He'd much rather work at the grocery store that let him go two weeks ago for repeatedly showing up late.

First time writer/director Ryan Coogler renders this a docudrama, one whose subjects might not seem significant until the ending makes all clear. Coogler gives us a day in the life of a young man who by all accounts seems like a really nice guy. A flashback reveals a year earlier Oscar was in jail. Now, he's out and trying to go straight. His New Year's Eve plans include celebrating the birthday of his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) and then taking in the annual fireworks in "Frisco" (that's nearby San Francisco).

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) pleads for another chance at the supermarket from which he was recently fired. Oscar's girlfriend and the mother of his 4-year-old child, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), endures with enormous hoop earrings.

Before night falls, Oscar tries to get his job back, helps a clueless girl buy what she needs for her first fish fry, and dumps his stash of weed in the ocean. Oscar is not a saint; he has a wandering eye and has been caught cheating on Sophina before. But he's kind to his child, strangers, and a stray dog. He honors his mother's birthday and evidently helps his sister pay rent. Coogler shows us a decent young man who has erred before and is now trying to stay on the right path. Whether the real Oscar Grant was as noble, we can't know. As the film presents it, his fate is not his fault in the slightest, which makes it all the more tragic and painful.

Fruitvale Station perhaps can be called "the feel-bad movie of 2013", but that does it a disservice. In fact, this heartbreaking drama deserves credit for breaking your heart. It produces emotions inside you, which is what all films hope to do. Is it manipulative? Probably. It's also highly effective. Coogler packs the film with authentic detail and lots of feeling. Our time in Oscar's shoes is well-spent and rewarding. We get to know him very well and appreciate what he means to others.

Coogler's film makes for an interesting contrast with Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which similarly dramatizes a true story of tragic hardship endured by a respectable black family man. McQueen's drama, a presumed Oscar frontrunner, is just as manipulative in its presentation. Unflinching though it may be, it does not resonate for me in the way it means to. Maybe it is just a lot easier to relate to a modern man than an 1840s one who becomes the victim of a repugnant institution.

New Year's Eve also happens to be the birthday of Oscar's mother, Wanda Johnson (Octavia Spencer), prompting a family gathering. Sophina (Melonie Diaz) tries to calm Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) aboard the fateful BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train.

It may not have the classy period costumes and sunny plantation scenery and its dialogue may feature more utterances of "bruh" than you'd like, but Fruitvale Station seems much harder not to be moved by. Coogler's confident debut may play a little loose with the facts, but it's convincing dramatically with its obvious indie film credibility never in doubt.

Fruitvale Station drew some of 2013's best reviews when it was released to theaters in mid-July. Expanding two weeks later, the film barely surpassed the 1,000 theater mark, where it cracked the Top 10 for just one weekend. Still, it went on to gross a respectable $16.1 million domestically.
Alas, that impact, the film's only in any part of the world, now seems insufficient and its timing less than ideal for Fruitvale to have a shot at picking up any Oscar nominations next week. The film has gotten its share of accolades, from the Cannes Film Festival to making the American Film Institute's Top 10 list for the year. But, even backed by the prestige powerhouse that is The Weinstein Company, the film seems to be slipping from competition, as to a degree are the similarly acclaimed (and released far too early) indies Before Midnight and Mud.

Fruitvale is a film that shows off acting talent. Since winning the Supporting Actress for The Help, Spencer's career unsurprisingly has yet to take off, which only makes her that much more grateful to find a role worth sinking her teeth into. Jordan, no relation to the basketball legend of nearly the same name, does a fine job in the lead role and better than you'd expect a Chronicle actor to. Diaz, who you may recognize from minor comedies a few years back like Be Kind Rewind and Hamlet 2, proves she's qualified for a dramatic career.

Fruitvale Station hits home video on Tuesday alongside fellow Weinstein drama Lee Daniels' The Butler, equidistant from the Golden Globes that shut out both and the Oscar nominations that Weinstein hopes does not. Indie or not, Fruitvale gets a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack from Weinstein and their regular video distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Fruitvale Station: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-25 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Fruitvale Station possesses that independent film look, appearing occasionally grainy and consistently filmic on Blu-ray. The gritty yet clean and sharp 1.78:1 presentation thoroughly pleases. So does the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, with its enveloping distribution of ambient noise and some rap music.

This image of demonstrators is shown in "Fruitvale Station: The Story of Oscar Grant." Forest Whitaker, the film's most famous producer, participates in the Fruitvale Station Cast and Filmmaker Q & A on stage at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On both Blu-ray and DVD, Fruitvale Station is joined by two substantial bonus features, which are both sadly presented in standard definition on Blu-ray.

"Fruitvale Station: The Story of Oscar Grant" (21:27) is a making-of featurette that discusses the film's reception and, of course, its true story.

Journalists, activists, Russell Simmons, Edward James Olmos, and Common reflect upon the latter's relevance and draw parallels to the case of Trayvon Martin. It's a varied and comprehensive piece, which reveals the film was shot on the part of the real Fruitvale Station platform where the incident actually occurred.

"Cast and Filmmaker Q & A" (27:29, SD) gathers writer/director Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, and producers Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi at Oakland's Grand Lake Theater for a post-screening discussion moderated by Bay Area journalist Davey D. Their remarks, touching on their experiences with the real people portrayed in the film and the role of race in the business and in life (issues which the film thankfully does not overplay), reflect the production's clearly thoughtful approach to telling this story.

The discs open with menu-inaccessible trailers (HD on BD) for Lee Daniels' The Butler and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Sadly but characteristically, Fruitvale's own trailer is not included.

The main menus place listings over the bottom of an ordinary screen-filling montage of clips. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume playback, which is sadly the standard for Anchor Bay's Weinstein BDs.

Accompanying the silver DVD and full-color Blu-ray, the unslipcovered blue keepcase's lone insert supplies your unique code needed to download or stream the Digital HD UltraViolet version of the film.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) tries to use his cell phone while being detained on the Frutivale Station platform in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Fruitvale Station is a powerful drama whose day in the life presentation evokes in unusual ways. It's an attention-grabbing effort that holds much promise for first-time writer/director Ryan Coogler.

This film demands to be seen at least once, but Weinstein and Anchor Bay's combo pack offers a satisfactory way to own the film should you be able to withstand the emotional punch with any regularity.

Buy Fruitvale Station from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Ryan Coogler: Creed
Michael B. Jordan: Chronicle | Octavia Spencer: Paradise The Help Dinner for Schmucks Being John Malkovich Spider-Man
Other AFI Top Movies of 2013: American Hustle The Wolf of Wall Street Saving Mr. Banks Nebraska Gravity Captain Phillips Her
Traffic All Things Fall Apart Beasts of the Southern Wild 127 Hours Doubt Remember the Titans
Kevin Durand: Real Steel I Am Number Four Wild Hogs

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Reviewed January 9, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 The Weinstein Company, Significant Productions, and 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment
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