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The Garden

Directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan
Starting in 1992, in the wake of Rodney King riots that left the city burning for days, a group of Mexican Americans started farming a 14-acre city-owned vacant lot in South Central Los Angeles.

Filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy makes no secret of his sympathies for the South Central Farmers. For instance, an aerial time-lapse shot early in the film shows the barren space turning green and lush, year by year. But “The Garden” also displays what documentary filmmaking can do at its best—showing both the good and bad within communities and even within individuals.

The action opens in early 2004 as the Farmers have received eviction notices. For years, the land—a patch of green in a sea of warehouses, within sight of the LA skyline on even the smoggiest of days—has existed in a legal limbo, as the city let members of the loosely organized community grow crops there. Then the former owner gets the land back for a mere $5 million, the same price he was paid by the city in an eminent domain action a dozen years before, in what looks like a shady backroom deal pulled off by elements in the LA City Council.

That developer, Ralph Horowitz, appears so callous and petty that at times he seems fictional. But the real villain here might be Juanita Tate, a woman who is probably what Sarah Palin thinks of when she talks about “community organizers.” The black founder of Concerned Citizens of South Central LA seems to be driven by an urge for corruption and an anger so intense you think she’s going to blow a gasket—which she eventually does. Tate, it appears, hatched the deal in an attempt to enrich her organization and boost her own political power.

Arrayed against them are The Garden’s leaders, Tezo and Rufina, along with their lawyer, Dan Stormer. Rufina in particular is an inspiring figure. But we also see their own dark sides, when they kick out farmers for breaking the rules and try to maintain control over their disparate collective.

For those in Sacramento politics, the film provides an interesting look at the early career of LA mayor Antonio Villagraigosa. Former Speaker Fabian Nunez and current Sen. Alex Padilla also show up briefly. This being LA, there’s also appearances by celebrities such as Darrell Hannah, Danny Glover and Willie Nelson, all of whom get caught up in the cause.

In its brisk 80 minutes, “The Garden” manages to delve into documents and legal details without getting bogged down. The messy conclusion may leave you wondering who the winners and losers really were.

Star Trek

Directed by J.J. Abrams
Review by Tony Sheppard
I’ll open by cutting to the chase and saying that this is a neat movie, firing on all dilithium chambers and achieving everything I had hoped it would achieve, despite a host of hurdles to overcome.

So what about those hurdles…Star Trek has a back story that’s intimidating to say the least. One has to decide whether to stick to the original canon or branch off in a new direction and enrage a generation of fans. Or, in the case of Trekkies, a generation and a next generation of fans.  

It’s now 40 years since the first TV series ended, and there have been six series, including an animated version, and 10 movies. Some of those projects have leapt off in different directions (“Star Trek: Voyager”) or gone back in time (“Star Trek: Enterprise”) in order to avoid conflicts with the mythology. So it was an ambitious plan to not only work within the existing setting, but to also with the original characters.

“Star Trek” tells the story of how those original characters came together as the crew of the Starship Enterprise. A lot of publicity has surrounded the choice of a fresh young cast to play the familiar names: James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg), Uhuru (Zoe Soldana), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), and Pavel Checkov (Anton Yelchin – whose accent impressed my Russian friend). The whole lineup is well chosen and successful, with each actor given the opportunity to pay homage to their respective predecessor and shine in their own right. It would be a neat pick for a Screen Actors Guild cast award.

This is a movie on the grand scale of summery blockbusters – with great special effects and all the pizzazz one might expect. But what makes it work as well as it does is that it’s a great exercise in writing. Without giving away the plot, the filmmakers have managed to respect the origins of the series, update it and give it a refreshing new lease on life, and also leave the door wide open to more films that still protect that history.

I mildly enjoyed “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” a week ago, but “Star Trek” is like an object lesson in how to tell a back story in a manner that pleases fans, old and new. George Lucas could learn a lesson or two from this one. The rest of us can just have a blast watching it. Set phasers—and opinions—to stun!


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