The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Posted on June 13, 2019 at 5:34 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drug abuse
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2019
Date Released to DVD: August 26, 2019

Copyright A24 2019
The Last Man in San Francisco” is an exquisitely filmed story about love and loss, beauty and pain. The star of the film is a young black man named Jimmie Fails, played by a writer and actor named Jimmie Fails, and the script is based on a story by Fails and director Joe Talbot, friends since childhood, based on incidents in Fails’ life.

The movie Jimmie has a best friend named Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) who lives with his blind grandfather (Danny Glover). Jimmie has been sleeping on the floor next to Mont’s bed. Every two weeks, they visit the Victorian home Jimmie’s family once lived in. Over the strong objections of the middle-aged white resident couple (she objects more than he does, but she seems to be the one with a real ownership stake), they perform small touch-ups to maintain the trim, fixtures, and garden. The middle-aged white owners see it as intrusive (and possibly as criticism). But for Jimmie, who is determined to live there again some day, it is a chance to care for the house that is a legend in his family, built by his grandfather, and a symbol of an idea of home that seems to be gone for good.

The film creates a poetic, dreamlike mood that almost floats over the story, an astonishingly assured debut that trusts the story and trusts the audience to let us fill in the details and come to our own conclusions, especially refreshing in an era of multi-national financing where specifics are smoothed over and everything has to be explained two or three times to meet the expectations of an international audience.

Instead, here, we have the infinitely expressive faces of Fails and Majors, as eloquent as any performances you will see this year. We first see them waiting for a bus that never comes, as telling a moment as the entire text of “Waiting for Godot.” So they hop on Jimmie’s ever-present skateboard, the perfect freedom of their ride in tandem in sharp contrast to the restrictions they face everywhere else. We get glimpses of what has made the house so important to Jimmie in his encounters with his father and mother, each disconnected and making clear that those relationships are not able to give him any sense of home. We see Jimmie and Mont talking to a group of guys who hang out on the street tossing insults at each other and everyone else, their only way to create a sense of camaraderie and belonging. In one of the film’s highlights, he approaches the group with his own version of the dozens — some directorial notes about the meta-impact of what is quite literally their performances.

The residents have to move out of the house and, like the characters in the film, it falls into a kind of limbo. Jimmie knows this is his moment. He retrieves his family’s furniture from his aunt, who has been storing it, and returns to what he will always think of as his home.

In a film like this, the house itself has to be a character in the story, and this one is, a grand old place with a witch’s hat roof, a library filled with vintage leather-bound classics, an organ and a piano, and all of the original architectural finishings of the era perfectly preserved. We see a Segway tour go by (led by Jello Biafra), and Jimmie correcting him about the history of the house. This is a place for dreams to come true, including Mont’s dream of writing a play. Jimmie tells him the play will be performed in the house, and they invite everyone they know.

But a treasure like this house must go to someone who can afford it, and that is not the only terrible loss in the film. While Jimmie mourns what is gone, Mont mourns with him. The depiction of a deep and tender friendship between two men who are always sad, sometimes lost, seldom angry, and always open to love and beauty, echoes movingly throughout the story and the story-telling in this unquestionable cinematic masterpiece.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, some violence, family tensions and dysfunction, and graphic non-sexual nudity.

Family discussion: Why are Jimmie and Mont friends? How can communities prosper without pushing out lower-income residents? What do we learn from the guys on the street? Where will Jimmie go?

If you like this, try: “Blindspotting” and “Sorry to Bother You”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Race and Diversity

Almost Christmas

Posted on November 10, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Copyright Universal 2016

In “Almost Christmas,” Danny Glover plays Walter, a recent widower who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, trying over and over again to replicate his late wife’s legendary sweet potato pie. What he wants to replicate, of course, is the time when his family was all together, as shown in a heart-tugging, gracefully edited opening credit sequence, with the years melting into each other from 1971 to 2015. A young couple embraces on a mattress on the floor and, as it happens in life, an eye blink later they have three children, and then, as a bit of a late surprise, a fourth. The children are all adults now, coming home for the first Christmas since their mother died, and Walter wants it to be a time of reconnection. For that, he needs the sweet potato pie and it has to be just like hers.

Writer/director David Talbert (“Baggage Claim”) is trying for his own version of a sweet potato pie with this film, mixing in the standard ingredients for a Christmas family gathering comedy/drama movie. So, there are adult siblings with ongoing conflicts, a dad who is spending too much time on work, precocious kids (in this case, happily uploading every element of family dysfunction on social media), church, a guest star (though why you would put Gladys Knight in a film and not let her sing is beyond me), family traditions, a kitchen disaster, secrets to be revealed, a rekindled romance, a busted marriage, high maintenance in-laws, and, of course Christmas meaning and reconciliation magic and a lot of food. In other words, other than running into Gladys Knight, it is pretty much what goes on around the world at Christmas.

Talbert’s sweet potato pie of a movie has the right ingredients, and if they are not always combined just right, it still makes for a treat, with an exceptional cast and enough laughs to keep us going until the exact right moment for some tears.

Walter’s older son is Christian (Romany Malco), a husband and father of two who is running for Congress (none of this storyline makes any sense as Christmas is at least 11 months before the next election and the issue he gets caught up in is municipal, not federal, but okay). Malco is terrific in an unusually understated role. The look on his face as Walter asks him to speak at the homeless shelter his mother was devoted to shows endless tenderness and loss. His wife (an underused Nicole Ari Parker) is mostly there to remind him that he should not take time away from the family for his campaign. The youngest of Walter’s children is Evan (Jessie T. Usher), a college football player being scouted for the NFL draft, hiding an addiction to painkillers.

Their two sisters are Rachel (co-producer Gabrielle Union), a fiercely independent single mom and law student, and Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), a dentist married to a know-it-all former basketball player (J.B. Smoove), who is still a player, if you know what I mean.

Walter’s outspoken sister-in-law, a backup singer named May (Mo’Nique) arrives to wear a wild assortment of wigs and prepare an even wilder assortment of exotic foods that no one will touch. Rachel’s high school friend (Omar Epps) would like to renew their acquaintance. And Jasmine (Keri Hilson), Christian’s campaign manager (John Michael Higgins) and Evan’s friend (D.C. Young Fly) show up for various complications.

Like Walter’s pie, it’s not quite as good as the real thing. It would fit it well with Hallmark’s line-up of non-stop Christmas movies from Halloween through New Year’s Day. But there’s a reason those movies are so popular. They remind us of our own chaotic but still memorable holidays and our own difficult but still wonderful families.

Parents should know that this film includes some sexual references and a non-explicit situation, prescription drug abuse, sad offscreen death of a parent, offscreen car crash with injuries, gun, and some strong and explicit language.

Family discussion: What is your family’s favorite recipe? Why was it hard for the sisters to get along?

If you like this, try: “This Christmas”

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Comedy Drama Family Issues Holidays

Antz

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The technological mastery and all-star cast all but obscure the one real problem of this movie — it does not know who its audience is. The computer animation — and the ad campaign — suggest that it is directed toward the audience of its predecessor in this genre, the classic “Toy Story.” That movie focused on themes that touched both children and adults. “Antz,” instead, seems to have spent most of its energy on its astonishing visual effects and outstanding voice performances by some of Hollywood’s top stars, with its theme of individual spirit in a world of conformity an afterthought, and a muddled one at that. The witty script aims its humor at adults who can appreciate the in-jokes. The characters have little kid appeal, and the violence, including the deaths of two characters and the slaughter of thousands of animated “extras,” is much too intense for younger children.

Woody Allen provides the voice of Z, the movie’s hero, and we first see him on the analyst’s couch, complaining about his feelings of inadequacy. A worker ant among millions of others, he longs for some individuality. When he meets the ant princess Bala (voice of Sharon Stone), he longs to see her again. So he persuades his friend Weaver (voice of Sylvester Stallone), a soldier ant, to switch places with him. Weaver enjoys being a worker, but Z finds to his horror that he is being sent into battle by the meglomaniacal General Mandible (voice of Gene Hackman). He is befriended by Barbados (voice of Danny Glover), who is killed, along with all of the other soldiers. Only Z escapes, and it is up to him to rescue the rest of the ant colony from Mandible.

The visual effects are dazzling, and the movie also provides a welcome reminder that performers as inextricably linked to their apearance as Allen, Stallone, and Stone are capable of superb vocal characterization. Parents will want to talk to their children about when to question authority, how to balance individuality with community norms, and how what seems like garbage to us may be “Insectopia” from another perspective.

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Animation
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