Reel Critics: 'Wolverine' not the standard summer fare

It's easy to get burnt out on the endless parade of superheroes marching across the summer cinema screens. The loud pyrotechnics and large-scale destruction make it difficult to care about the central characters. Whether it's Superman, Iron Man, Spider-Man or G.I. Joe, they all fight and prevail through the same category of explosive special effects seen in movie after movie.

But wait! Hugh Jackman's current incarnation of "The Wolverine" actually brings the genre to a more cerebral level. The Marvel Comics entry takes a sophisticated Oriental turn in this installment. Most of the action takes place in the ninja heartland of Japan. Some interesting World War II historical background is thrown in for good measure.

Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto are the Japanese babes who play major roles in the complex plot. Industrial barons and yakuza thugs are the enemies threatening our hero. There's lots of combat to satisfy younger adventure fans. But there's also intelligent quiet time to allow for thoughtful character development that will appeal to older folks.


'Fruitvale' a story of the times

"Fruitvale Station" is a powerfully affecting film about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who was shot in the back by transit police while lying face-down on a train platform.

First-time director Ryan Coogler begins this riveting film with actual cell phone footage of the very public incident early New Year's Day in 2009, then takes us back through the last 24 hours of Oscar's life.

Oscar was flawed, complex and had done jail time. He'd sold pot and had a quick temper. But he also had a good heart and, like so many, hoped to make a better life for himself and his little girl until fate stepped in.

In his first starring role, Michael B. Jordan gives a beautiful performance as Oscar. (You may recognize him from HBO's "The Wire.") Melonie Diaz is also fine as his girlfriend Sophina.

Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer lends heartbreak as Oscar's mother. Through her eyes, you feel the gut-wrenching anguish of a parent whose child is a victim of sudden violence. Her hospital scenes pack a huge emotional wallop.

The timing of "Fruitvale's" release could not be more topical in light of the recent Trayvon Martin murder trial. Without making any political statements, this film reminds us that whatever caused that officer to fire his gun that fateful night, there was still a human life lost.

A real-life man's life was cut short. He was somebody's son, father, grandson, brother, lover, friend. It's a rare film that has an audience sharing in their sorrow.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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