Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
A lot of the best music documentaries will turn new audiences on to old, unsung, cult-loved pioneers (see: Rodriguez of last year’s Oscar-winning “Searching for Sugarman”). For reasons other than the fact that three of the four original members are sadly now deceased, “Nothing Can Hurt Me” isn’t the kind of movie to spark a big Big Star revival, but it might at least deepen the devotion of die-hard fans.
The band was formed by teen rock star Alex Chilton — singer of the Box Tops’ 1967 hit “The Letter” and namesake subject of a 1987 Replacements song (alas, Paul Westerberg only shows up to comment here via an old, short video interview). The Memphis rock band made three albums that flopped commercially but are now essential to any indie-rock record nerd’s collection. And that’s essentially all there is to the movie.
Pieced together with scant archival footage and lots of new interviews — the latter mostly done/overdone by other semi-obscure musicians and middle-aged white guys who all look like record- store clerks — “Nothing Can Hurt Me” actually does hurt at times. It’s downright depressing hearing all the woes that befell the band, from typical record-business loops to their own disaffection to the downward spiral of the group’s co-leader, Chris Bell, who never quite got out from under Chilton’s shadow.
If you’re not already a fan, there’s not a lot to like (or dislike) about the band members personally on screen, nor about all the details provided on songwriting and recording. On the other hand, all the making-of footage and scenes offering a taste of Memphis in the ’70s will probably thrill established Big Star lovers in a big way. We know all too well from the movie that it’s a very select group of people.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for some violence, language throughout, and some drug use.
“Fruitvale Station” is a heartbreaking docudrama that avoids all the traps of making a “true story” film. Ryan Coogler’s fantastically assured first feature is about the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by a transit cop at an Oakland, Calif., rail terminal. The movie puts us at Oscar’s side on Dec. 31, 2008, the final day of his life. Oscar, 22, was black. A white officer shot him point-blank in the back while he was handcuffed face down on the platform. Coogler’s fictionalized re-enactment, which won awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, presses for empathy, not outrage. He refuses to dehumanize anyone.
Michael B. Jordan of “Friday Night Lights” is wonderfully nuanced as Oscar, a young man with both problems and potential. He’s a flirt, but trying to rebuild trust with his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) following an affair. He’s a caring father to their 3-year-old daughter, but unable to provide much material support without a job. He’s dealing weed but worried about repeating the prison stint that alienated his overprotective mother (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer). He’s trying to figure out, and do, the right thing, but stumbles over his irresponsibility and quick temper, inflaming clashes that could be calmed.
Coogler makes solid intellectual and emotional points about the dynamics of 21st-century race-consciousness. Oscar teases his mom by buying her a birthday card with beaming white faces on it. At a party the men joke about a black pro football coach who has black players and “even has a black wife.” The institutional racism that classifies people as suspects on the basis of skin pigmentation plays out poisonously (in near real time) on the actual train platform where Grant was shot. But the hostile, agitated lead cop (an imposing Kevin Durand) snaps into full professional lifesaving mode the moment another officer shoots Oscar. Coogler never lets our assumptions about characters stand for long without challenging them. “Fruitvale Station” isn’t just a story of one family’s tragedy, but a wounding snapshot of a society struggling somewhere between melting pot and battlefield.
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Nudity, language and drug use. In English and subtitled Spanish.
In “Crystal Fairy,” Michael Cera plays a pushy American tourist party-hopping his way across Chile. Imbibing liquor and cocaine and eager to sample mescaline tea distilled from a local cactus, Jamie claims to be inspired by Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception.” The script’s running joke is that he’s blind to the folkways of his host country and the sensitivities of everyone around him. He doesn’t need psychotropics so much as a good slap.
He gets that, metaphorically, from a freewheeling hippie girl nicknamed Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann), who joins Jamie as he travels to the coast in search of the legendary San Pedro cactus. Her interpersonal radar is as off-kilter as his, but in an outgoing, oversharing direction. Their travels, with a trio of local brothers (writer/director Sebastian Silva’s brothers Juan Andres, Jose Miguel and Agustín), have a shaggy-dog quality. The movie is agreeably thrown together. It's clear there was lots of improvising, and the cast reportedly drank San Pedro while filming the later scenes.
Former child star Hoffmann gives the new age-y Crystal Fairy an openness that is as uncomfortable as a raw wound. When the group begins tripping beside the ocean, insecurities are exposed, and the film’s comedy of annoyance takes a sudden bittersweet turn. The movie is a little Mobius strip of laughter and pain.