THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO – movie review

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Joe Talbot
Screenwriter: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, story by Jonathan Majors, Joe Talbot
Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Danny Glover, Willie Hen, Jamal Truvole
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 6/3/19
Opens: June 7, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco Movie Poster

In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” one of the many movies taking place in San Francisco, Gavin Elster complains to retired police detective Scottie Ferguson, that the city is not what it used to be. This becomes the theme of Joe Talbot’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco, an ode to one of America’s most touristic metropolises, one of our few cities that do not require residents to get about by car. Nostalgia-minded people might well lament that its history of being sanctuaries for African-Americans who left the oppressive South and immigrants who fled from political and economic countries has become an ultra-expensive playground for the rich and upcoming tech executives settling into its gentrified homes. In his debut feature, fifth-generation San Franciscan Joe Talbot makes use of his long-term friendship with Jimmie Fails to create a heart-rending film of marginalized people, cast aside by the “progressive” changes in residential quarters, but who have never forgotten their cherished childhoods in the Bay area. The pic is all the more remarkable not only as Talbot’s first shot at a feature but in the range of emotions explored by its chief characters, played by Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors.

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” will likely be one of this year’s few movies that are gloriously theatrical, reminding serious theatergoers of themes toyed with by the late August Wilson—whose Pittsburgh cycle of ten plays each hone in on a different decade, comic and tragic, of 20th century African-Americans. Talbot’s tale deals with the all-encompassing themes of community, friendship, and the magic of home, treating home as the refuge from an often dangerous and anarchic world, a childhood domicile which many of us today try to reclaim.

Patience is required, as that virtue often is, when a story does not immediately congeal but takes its time, skipping from place to place and character to character, making more sense only as it goes along until we in the audience realize, “Aha!” Its anchor is the friendship of Montgomery, or Mont (Jonathan Majors), an aspiring playwright and illustrator, and Jimmie Fails (Jimmy Fails), who sells fish by day even despite warnings from a well-dressed orator who opens the movie with a denunciation of the toxic waters that have changed the environment for the hapless creatures that will wind up in Monty’s retail department. Jimmie’s memories of better times decades back take on tangible form as he rides about the area on a colorful skateboard which will eventually—both metaphorically and physically—be smashed in anger. Jimmie had once lived with his father (Rob Morgan) in a Victorian house which his dad had lost because of a drug problem. He becomes obsessed with the place notwithstanding its occupancy by an elderly couple, shown dramatically when he undergoes repairs, painting the outside as though he were still living there (not unlike Charlie Peck in Deon Taylor’s “The Intruder”). Rob Richert’s script, co-written with the director and with a story created in part by actor Jonathan Majors, tells briefly over its occupancy by Japanese who were expelled during World War 2 and sent infamously to camps.

When an elderly couple move out, Jimmie moves in as a squatter and is joined by his friend Mont, who has been taking care of his blind grandfather (Danny Glover). Among the humorous experiences is their sighting of a tour group on Segways whose tour guide (Jello Biafra) tells his patrons that the house was built in 1856, that idea disputed (as it is several times during the story) by Jimmie, who insists that his grandfather built it in 1946. Being theatrical, the film brings in a Greek chorus, if you will, of local, thuggish people who razz Jimmie and Mont mercilessly but are not people who will expect to carry out violence.

Jimmie’s “Abbott” plays vividly against his foil Mont’s “Costello,” so to speak, and together with hearty doses of humor at unexpected turns keep the movie moving through its solid two hours with nary a moment of listlessness. It helps greatly that the solid ensemble acting is punctuated by Emile Mosseri’s score, photographed by Adam Newport-Berra in a San Francisco neighborhood that would be familiar only to its residents. Like Jimmie, many of us crave a feeling of continuity with our childhoods. Given his rich friendship with Mont and his strong determination to recover a sense of belonging, Jimmie Fails gives us in the audience a resonant feeling of sympathy with his character and by extension with the ensemble of African-Americans who have become marginalized by a technocratic order.

120 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

ONE WILD MOMENT – movie review

ONE WILD MOMENT (Un moment d’égarement)

Under the Milky Way
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Jean-François Richet
Screenwriter:  Claude Berri, Lisa Azuelos, Lisa Azuelos
Cast:  Vincent Cassel, François Cluzet, Lola Le Lann, Alice Isaaz, Louka Meliava, Noémie Merlant
Screened at: Critics’ link,  NYC, 9/7/18
Opens: September 25, 2018 on VOD
Vincent Cassel and Lola Le Lann in Un moment d'égarement (2015)
When you see a guy about 45 years old in a New York’s expensive Per Se restaurant seated opposite a woman about half his age, how do you react?  Chances are you’ll guess that she is an executive assistant playing up to her boss, wouldn’t you?  Or do you think that the gentleman instigated the liaison and is, perhaps, exploiting the assistant such as we’ve all heard in the #MeToo complaints?  Jean-François Richet, who directs “One Wild Moment,” could have taken the latter stand, a satiric look at an older man taking advantage of the cute young thing, but instead, Richet, who makes a complete about-face since his previous work.  Richet’s “Mesrine”  stands today as one of the great cops and robbers thriller ever, yet voilá: Richet is equally adept with romantic comedy as shown in his “Un moment d’égarement,” which depicts an underage girl who may love to dance with guys about her own age but who seeks a mature man who is all of forty-five years old.

Louna (Lola Le Lann), the seductive young woman about sixteen years of age has her eye on Laurent (Vincent Cassel) who is well over twice the girl’s age and who is drawn into a sexual connection with Louna, one which he tries to avoid, but as they say, “A stiff penis has no conscience.”  If you are a frequent moviegoer you’ll recall the plot from the 1984 American movie, Stanley Donen’s “Blame It on Rio” starring Michael Caine and Joseph Bologna, which in turn is copied from Claude Berri’s classic 1977 work, also called “One Wild Moment.”  And why not copy, have sequels, give it your best shot when you have such a great premise; one which does not find the older guy preying on a young innocent but instead puts the blame not on Rio this time but on the young woman?

When Maureen Daly wrote “Seventeenth Summer” in 1970 about a romance between one Jack and one Angie, she did not have this idea in mind.  Her couple, in puppy love, are about the same age.  The age difference here makes all the difference, propelling “One Wild Moment” into a hilarious comedy of two middle-aged best friends, Laurent and Antoine (François Cluzet) who take their vacation in an old house near the beach in Corsica—which, as portrayed here, looks as close to paradise as you can get.  And the movie is blessed with one of France’s great actors, nay one of the world’s best and most versatile performers, Vincent Cassel in the principal male role.  Cassel’s character Laurent has a platonic interest in Louna, which is fine, except that his mild feelings toward her are beefed up.  Though Laurent’s own daughter, Marie (Alice Isaaz) becomes increasingly suspicious that her dad is a “pervert,” Laurent’s best friend Antoine is clueless.  When Antoine hears that a much older man may have deflowered his precious teen, he storms about, shouting that he will kill the guy just as he shot a wild boar (and killed a neighbor’s dog by mistake).  The film gets much of its humor from dramatic irony; the idea originating in Greek tragedy when the audience knows more than the characters.

The actual seduction is explicit featuring full frontal and back nudity for Louna (the actress who plays her is 22 so that’s OK) and, as usual, no such exposure in the male.  It’s a clear night, the water is pleasantly warm, the seduction is easy, or at least it looks easy despite Laurent’s belief that he could stop it at any time.

Some viewers whose commentaries and reviews appear in the ‘net say that they felt uneasy by the reverse Lolita effects, but the age of consent in France is fifteen, so the only problem is that Laurent could not possibly feel safe, dreading the moment that his friend will know the truth. For her part, Louna, whose home life is troubled because his father is about to separate from his wife, appears to get some joy in watching her mature man unease, his feelings of guilt.

So, don’t be troubled.  There’s nothing perverse here, at least in French law.  As Professor Henry Higgins states in Lerner and Loewe’s musical “My Fair Lady,” “The French don’t care what they do; as long as they pronounce it properly.”  Louna doesn’t care in the slightest, enjoying her satisfaction in losing her virginity to Laurent.  In fact, the entire story, so well photographed in gorgeous Corsica, is a dream of a comedy.

105 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-

SKATE KITCHEN – movie review

SKATE KITCHEN

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Crystal Moselle
Screenwriter: Aslihan Unaldi, Crystal Moselle, Jennifer Silverman. Story by Crystal Moselle
Cast:  Rachel Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 7/18/18
Opens: August 10, 2018
Skate Kitchen Movie Poster
If you’re accustomed to hanging out with middle-class people who send their kids to pre-school and buy them Harvard sweatshirts when they’re five, you and your kids are missing a view of an urban subculture of teenagers who are likely having more fun skateboarding on the streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown than you had when you were a kid.   The youngsters who are the focus of Crystal Moselle’s largely improvised, full of street-smarts, and energetic cast have a lot to say to one another, thanks largely to their refusal to spend all their time starting at the small screens that Samsung makes, i-phones that you might swear are designed to sweep away the natural spontaneity of childhood.

Director Moselle, whose “The Wolfpack” deals with a group of brothers who are locked away from society in a Lower East Side Manhattan apartment whose pastime is re-enacting scenes from films, again focuses on what for a better term are called “urban”people—generally meaning African-American and Hispanic youths living on mean city streets.  With a screenplay by the director together with Aslihan Unaldi and Jennifer Silverman, “Skate Kitchen” is similar to “The Wolfpack” in that its principal character is also locked away from society at least metaphorically.  Eighteen-year-old Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), living with her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez), is too distant from the hip streets of New York’s Chinatown.  She is still a virgin who has to ask “How do you know when you like a boy?” and “How do you know that a boy likes you?”  She had been a tomboy, bonded with her father until the age of eleven when she switched loyalty to her mom as she wanted to learn the joys of womanhood.

With her skateboard, she travels to Chinatown, meets members of a group called Skate Kitchen about whom she learned on her i-phone.  She is shy and must take her time before she is accepted by an assertive group of skateboarders who admire the risks she takes in the playground—that seems built primarily to allow skateboarders to practice their hobby amid elevations and hurdles.  She takes the Long Island Railroad regularly—it’s summer—and soon fits in just fine, whether hitching to the back of a bus, rolling through city streets and never-mind-the-traffic, or enjoying herself in the playground.  She becomes interested in Devon (Jaden Smith), a young man who works with her in a supermarket, spends one-on-one time with him, and is ejected from the group for horning in on the boyfriend of Janay (Delia Lovelace).

Some of the skateboarding techniques are a joy to watch.  Obviously these kids have been on the boards long before the director ever met them.  And given their patter, including a professional rendition by one rapper, they are comfortable enough to improvise in front of the camera and to provide the audience with a fly-on-the-wall view of what it’s like to be “urban” in our liberated twenty-first century.  As the principal character, Rachelle Vinberg, in her acting debut (this is the director’s non-documentary feature film debut as well), is perfect for the role.  Introverted at first as a kid unfortunate enough to be shut away from real life in a suburb, she emerges pretty quickly, coming of age, as they say, when she—and we in the audience—emotionally understand the importance of fitting in, finding your own groove.

Rated R.  105 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+

Overall – B+

THE DISASTER ARTIST – movie review

  • THE DISASTER ARTIST

    A24
    Director:  James Franco
    Screenwriter:  Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
    Cast:  Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jackie Weaver, Zac Efron
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/5/17
    Opens: December 1, 2017
    The Disaster Artist Movie Poster
    Tommy Wiseau in 2003 directed, produced, wrote and stars in “The Room,” amid the howls of audiences, a movie that evoked all-out belly-laughing tremors.  There was this one trouble: “The Room” was not meant to be a comedy, but rather a serious, semi-autobiographical look at the sad life of the artist.  The movie was made for six million dollars, taking in $1800 on opening weekend.  Too bad.  Audiences should have flocked to see that one, considered by some to be the worst movie of all time, though Wiseau faced competition from Ed Wood, known for “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” and from Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.”  The good news is that a cult audience eventually propelled “The Room” into the black thanks to its showings on the midnight circuits.

    James Franco not only adapts but seems to have copied the actions and lines from “The Room” to make a new movie in effect superimposed on the 2003 tale.  “The Disaster Artist” is a terrific re-make, and since its aim is comedic, people can laugh with Franco just as they laughed at Wiseau.

    In “The Disaster Artist,” which opened on the first of December this year, James Franco takes the role of Tommy Wiseau while Dave Franco goes with Tommy’s best friend Greg Sestero, whom Tommy calls “Baby Face” because handsome Greg is a 20-something who had probably made good at modeling.  Since Greg wants more than anything to be a star in Hollywood and not to wind up pumping gas in San José, he teams up with Tommy, though Tommy’s drama coach back home tells him he did not have a chance to make it as an actor.  Greg moves to LA with Tommy, sharing the strange man’s apartment, and never worries too much about how Tommy made his money—enough cash to make a six million dollar picture.  Nor does he care that much about Tommy’s home base, which is allegedly New Orleans, but is more likely to have been somewhere in Eastern Europe as the man leaves out complex words like “a,” “an,” and “the.”

    The more serious scenes find Tommy a depressive, concerned that the whole world has betrayed him, and never realizing that he truly did not have a talent for acting or making movies.  He accuses even Greg, his best friend, the guy whose career he nurtures and who turns against him.  We in the audience hope that all’s well that ends well, since if we’ve got any soul at all, we feel as sorry for a benighted Tommy as we laugh at him and feel guilty for doing so.

    With Hollywood’s major funny-man Seth Rogen turning in a performance as script supervisor, “The Disaster Artist,” graced with a deliberately awkward role by the great James Franco, could get accolades at end-year awards time as one of the great comedies of a more or less weak cinematic year.

    Rated R.  103 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – B
    Acting – A-
    Technical –  A-
    Overall – A-