Phillip Seymour Hoffman Tribute "Love Liza"


Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death at the grip of drug addiction has taken another supremely gifted artist from this world.  Hoffman's work in film and sage will be sorely missed.  From his everyman looks to his grasp of the human condition he was definitely a king among men. For my next bunch of reviews, I'll focus on many of the smaller independent films that Hoffman so often shined.

In 2001's "Love Liza" a man struggles to deal with the sudden suicide of his wife (Liza) and his personal spiral into some deep dark places.  The examination of his life and his questionable future  The film was directed by Todd Louiso and co-stars Kathy Bates and Jack Kehler.  It also won the Screenwriting Award at Sundance.

Wilson Joel is your typical geeky web developer who comes home to find his wife has killed herself, leaving him with a bunch of unanswered questions.  Was it his fault?  How could this have happened?  He is consumed with grief and looking for a way out he starts huffing gas fumes to get high.  Instead of food, he keeps a red plastic gas can in his fridge.  "Do you smell Gas?" is a question heard more than once. 

The plot revolves around a suicide note that he can't bring himself to open.  Wilson's mother-in-law, Mary Ann (Bates), grieves the loss of her daughter and her relationship with Wilson is pretty awkward, to say the least.  Does she blame him?  Everybody at work is very supportive of his situation but after one of the many lies, he tells a new "best friend" is forced upon him.  Thinking that Wilson is into radio control planes, Denny (Kehler) a real enthusiast, comes over to see his plane.  Wilson wants nothing more than to be alone and huff gas, passing out wherever he may be.  He is going down a tough road and needs a friend, but most people are not willing to get him the help he really needs.  He buys a plane from a hobby shop and starts to huff the special fuel that they run on.  He and Denny have some fun together at a Radio Control competition and discuss his situation.  He has to read the letter eventually but when? and where?

Wilson finally has to deal with these pent up feelings and frustrations and decides to open the letter.  "Love Liza" is fantastically cast and acted, it's a character piece that really hits hard.  Although it does have its comedic moments.  Hoffman's performance is superb and like a lot of his roles, you can see the real person behind the character.  "Love Liza" is available on DVD, so search it out and give it a

"Fruitvale Station" The Murder of Oscar Grant


"Fruitvale Station" is a ripped from the headlines true story of Oscar Grant whose murder at the hands of a Bay Area Transit security guard set off riots and cries of racism.  Oscar and a group of friends were returning home from celebrating the arrival of 2009 when a fight broke out on a subway car.  The group was singled out by the all-white security guards as the instigators.  Things quickly escalated to the point that one of the guards ends up shooting Oscar in the back, while another guard had him pinned down on the pavement.

The film opens with one of the many cell phone videos taken of the incident and the stunned silence after a gun goes off.  We are then taken back to look at the life of Oscar Grant and how senseless and unnecessary his "accidental" killing was.  The security guard who pulled the trigger though he had grabbed his taser instead and ended up serving less than a year in prison. 

Michael B. Jordan has gotten rave reviews for his portrayal of Oscar, a twenty-two-year-old man getting his life back together after serving time for dealing drugs.  He has a young daughter with his current girlfriend Sophina and family is everything to him.  His mother Wanda is played by Octavia Spencer the Academy Award-winning actress from "The Help".  Not only is it New Year's Eve but also her birthday and everybody shows up at her place to celebrate.  Oscar is a complex and conflicted character who deep down wants to be a strong responsible young man, but too often takes the wrong paths to get try and get there.  He loses his job at the grocery store for always being late, then contemplates going back to dealing, but thinks better of it.  As he struggles to come up with a plan for his future, he can only deal with the present.  Sophina still believes in him even though he has cheated on her in the past.  The most important thing in both of their lives in their daughter Tatiana.  Who at the end of the movies asks when here Daddy is coming home?

First-time director Ryan Coogler brings to the screen an authentic and heartbreaking story of the life of a young black man being taken down by a society that only sees him as a stereotype and not a human being.  "Fruitvale" is nominated for best first feature at this year's Independent Spirit Awards and has won or been nominated for several other awards.  It's currently available on multiple formats and is a must see!