Innovative, but Obscure: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”

It’s no surprise that “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is garnering rave reviews. The film speaks to pertinent societal concerns, race relations both inter and intra, gentrification, environmental ruin and the breakdown of the American family. And it’s also adventurously shot, with wide pan outs of skate boarders on San Fran’s famous topography, slow motion shots, poignant close ups, and simplistic but uber creative costuming and set design.

As it should be since “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is based on Jimmie Fails life story written by Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot (who also directed).

The performances were drop dead gorgeous, Jimmie Fails was terrific, and equally if not slightly more so, Jonathan Majors who plays his friend Montgomery. There wasn’t one character that seemed miscast and Danny Glover who concerned me as potentially being a cliche in the trailer, was authentically perfect.

This is the second night in a row I’ve been awash in positive male friendships (Tarantino’s epic the previous) and I couldn’t be more thrilled. With all the toxic masculinity talk, it’s refreshing to remember, that not all males are creeps.

Part of the problem with this film might be solved with a second viewing as I thought in the beginning a character mentioned the year in which this was set (very futuristic) as a man in a haz-mat suit gingerly picks up waste with a pincher, while a little African-American girl skips uncovered. Yet, further on in the film, waste workers were not covered. The ending, unless its totally symbolic, is also a mystery, as there was no foreshadowing to its content.

I also can’t stop myself from saying that two African American films from last year were respectively better artistically, more solid story-wise, and more subversive than The Last Black Man, namely “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Sorry to Bother You”. That doesn’t mean we should be done, just that The Last Black Man did not outshine its former like minded films. Equal, but not greater than as the old math phrase goes.

That being said, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a great film very worth watching.

That’s not thunder, it’s Hitchcock applauding: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s penultimate movie to date; finally a substantive story over ridiculous violence. Granted, he packs the latter in at the ending, but Miss Violent Images No Mas hid merrily behind a sweatshirt. And when I’ve been entranced by beautifully portrayed good guys cleaning the clocks of well written villains, I can handle hearing the audio carnage.

Brad Pitt, hands down should get an Oscar. Stick him into Best Supporting though, otherwise, Tom Hanks will run him down like Droopy Dog on the train tracks as Fred Rogers in the Thanksgiving opening biopic.

And while Leonardo was also incredible, he’s had his moment in his best role in The Revenant.

The movie harkens back to such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in that it’s the love story of friendship between Brad and Leo. Woven in are subplots of Leo’s fading acting career, Pitt’s dark past, and of course an homage to Sharon Tate, and her horrible fate at the hands of Charlie Manson’s minions.

As for the women in the film, most are simply eye candy, Margot Robbie the most prominent. Yet painting her as a saint is primo in great storytelling and the nausea it evokes in a movie audience who knows her real fate. However, two standouts, who spun gold out of small parts, were Julia Butters and Margaret Qualley, child actress and Andie McDowell’s daughter respectively.

One other male making a strong presence was Mike Moh as Bruce Lee, in one of my favorite scenes in the film.

The sound in the movie also deserves an award, from the AM/FM radio 1969 stations, to the television shows, were all perfectly unique. As was the editing.

My only tiny complaint was probably in one of Leo’s western acting scenes, where I challenge Richard Roeper who chastised Her Smell as bloated, but praised this as perfect. I think the aforementioned scene and possibly a bit of Brad Pitt’s driving fast, could have excised.

But that’s nothing compared to the absolute joy and heart in this movie. I’ll see it again for sure!

Alex Ross Perry Deserves More Love: Her Smell

In Stephanie Goodman’s New York Times “The Best Films of 2019 (So Far)”, she compiled among others, AO Scott’s pick “Her Smell” written and directed by Alex Ross Perry.

Having loved Elisabeth Moss in “The Square”, I was up for the scent (get it, her smell). Adding to my enthusiasm was my previous shock and thrill (respectively) by previous Alex Ross Perry projects “The Color Wheel” and “Listen Up Philip” (see previous blogs).

And voila`! “Her Smell” solidifies Perry’s significance in artistic and powerful cinematic story telling. In fact, Perry deserves more attention and love!

“Her Smell” is precisely organized into five long scenes each with an equally different, but engaging impact. The ensemble of actors was perfect (save one). First, the acting super stars: no hyperbole, Moss deserves an Oscar nom making Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash work look like a walk in the park. The other ladies of Moss’s punk rock band were also stellar: Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin both superbly raw.

To Eric Stoltz’s agent I’d like to say, ‘You’re fired! This man should not be languishing in lame tv shows!’ He was tremendous as the ‘pull my hair out’ band manager. Dan Stevens was terrific as Moss’s husband and in one of my favorite scenes (part 4 in a face to face with Moss).

The only wrong note or to go with the scent analogy, who stunk, was fakey fake fake Amber Heard who’s permanent shit eating grin simply should be the quintessential poster she-devil on a Hitchcock billboard that screams: Revenge is sweet and not fattening. Heard looks like she’s going to a Halloween party in every scene. But then again, maybe we needed the off key just appreciate all the perfect notes.

Unfortunately for whatever b.s. mass media rules, you can see Captain Underpants on the big screen, but for this quality gem, you have to view it at home. At least it’s available on Itunes!

Dear Riley Stearns, Please Hire Me: The Art of Self-Defense

After listening to a Riley Stearns interview, the writer and director of “The Art of Self-Defense” talk about his favorite comedies, one obscure one that’s also on my list of greats (Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”), I skipped and frolicked to see his film last night at Hollywood 11. Dead pan humor is my cup of tea.

And the beginning held such promise with my laughing out-loud in the first five minutes. And then? And then? And then? (an allusion to another fun comedy “Dude Where’s My Car?”‘s drive thru scene)….Crash. Awkward Record Scratch. Extreme Violence.

Hence, Mr. Stearns with all due respect, you could have substituted three out of the seven graphically violent scenes with your equally smart dialogue by employing me as your script doctor:

1. Casey has a tryst with the grocery clerk who comes on to him after his ‘yellow’ shopping spree. She’s getting off work just as the pick up truck dude accosts him and takes him to her apartment where she seduces him. Casey thinks he’s found a warm genuine girl who comforts him ater the mean pick up car driver, but for comedic purposes, once back at her abode, she’s suddenly an s & m freak. He hides in her bathroom before the actual act, but then faces his fear in the mirror, has a mini recovery to go back out and have a great experience. When he wakes up the next day at her place, he’s alone, a note on the pillow giving him a 2 star lover rating, but that’s there’s potential. He notices now that her apartment’s filled with paintings she’s done. They could even be Klimt paintings to follow your German thread. Casey learns how to paint (poorly, like his karate skills) and tries to present a painting to Sensei who tells him his paintings need to be angrier. Sensei could say: “Casey, the belts were a masculine touch, but paintings, ugh, too feminine, unless of course your Rothko.”

2. In awe of Casey’s transition from Milquetoast to Iron Man, the three macho dudes from Casey’s work place break room try karate, and after one gets pummeled (gently for God’s sake) by Anna, they run home like babies.

3. Add a comic back story to Casey’s wimpiness, a domineering or overly religious mother who shamed him into introversion, who comes in at the end in admiration of Casey’s rise to child karate teacher.

The acting in this movie was perfection: no one but Jesse Eisenberg could have played Casey, Alessandro Nivola was perfection as Sensei and Imogen Poots was terrific as Anna. Again, that’s what makes the reliance on ignorant excessive violence such a shame.

The Act of Self-Defense is worth seeing, especially if you’re a lover of violence. But a better, smarter film could have been made if substantive comedy had been written, instead of gore.

Under the Silver Lake: Meaning of the Ending

I talked my friend, a former L.A. resident to watch Under the Silver Lake, making the case it was akin to Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
His question to me was, what the heck does the end mean?

Also, while I’m here, I am also listening to the ‘movies imo’ podcast who I thoroughly enjoy even when I disagree and I do with their take on Under the Silver Lake. Again, they were disgusted by Andrew Garfield’s character who again, is no angel, however, I don’t think he is as vile as to not want to root for him. His mission in the film is to find and save the girl, that’s redeemable.

So back to the ending:
No spoilers here, but will say the ending could be seen through two viewpoints:
glass half full: you can always start over and after great loss it’s even easier because you think, ‘what do I have to lose?’

or glass empty: everything in Hollywood is temporary and meaningless…

You decide and get back to me! if you can’t comment on this website.

Under the Silver Lake: Part Dos of Creepy Films

“Under the Silver Lake” (2018) Rated R graphic violence and at a tad bloated 2 hours and 19 minutes.

I’ve been trying to enlarge my podcast listening to more movie pods since I began my own with the super sharp Gus Mollasis. Already I know we need a sign off slogan, like how Siskel and Ebert said, we’ll save the aisle seat for you or Brother Wease’s ‘it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice’, the latter oh so true.

At any rate, in an odd coincidence after seeing “Psycho” Saturday (see blog part UNO) I heard a gent I respect on The Big Picture Podcast say “Under The Silver Lake” was one of his top five of the year thus far. This intrigued me as I had heard mixed reviews, with some criticism saying it actually promoted what it was trying to negatively highlight (and that topic is: men who feel women owe them sex).
Hence, I decided to see for myself what I thought of David Robert Mitchell’s film.

The short answer is the movie definitely did NOT glorify patriarchal domination. In fact, if you choose to read on, the male main character has a heart. Sure, he enjoys sex, but from what I had read in the headlines, I was prepared for a date rape/sex by force scene which never happened (thankfully).

If you’re good at celeb dating trivia (and who isn’t, eye roll), you guessed at the end of Creepy Part Uno that the star of “Under the Silver Lake” is Andrew Garfield. Confession, I never really cared for this guy, mainly based on shallow reasons, like he’s too thin for me to find attractive, I know, a momentary shallow moment.
I do know that his acting has received accolades, one biggie, an Academy Award Best Actor nom for “Hacksaw Ridge”, and I had totally forgot his Golden Globe nom for “The Social Network” (lip bite, I don’t remember his part, but loved that movie and certainly recall Jesse Eisenberg).

But talk about ‘holy he could be Anthony Perkins son’…what an odd coincidence. If his character had been a bit more shrewd, he really would have nailed Norman’s persona. But here’s the rub, while his character Sam seems to be a drifting heartless pig, he actually redeems himself (won’t spoil it) by truly caring about the welfare of one of the gals he encounters.

I can see some of David Robert Mitchell’s possible influences, including David Lynch, Kwan & Scheinhart and Terry Gilliam in both the eerie sinister nature we all harbor, bizarre behavior and the magical realism of underground networks of hybrid human/animals respectively.

Is “Under the Silver Lake” as artistic as Hitchcock’s Psycho? No way, and not even as chilling. In fact, where Herman’s music added to the suspense of Psycho, the overly dramatic orchestral music took me out of the scenes in Under the Silver Lake.

Pretty typical for 2018 though where surplus or extreme is considered edgy when really good old black and white and a couple of violins are all you need to scare people.

On the other hand, Under the Silver Lake was worth seeing for Garfield, whose performance was multi-faceted and the story vivid enough to pain modern day Hollywood as a super sad and freaky place to live.

A Double Feature of Creeps: Part Uno

Fitting to recent real life soulless wonders in many ways, I’ve witnessed a double play of cinematic creepiness this week.
First, I’m glad to say that people have become hip to the Sarasota Film Society’s vintage warehouse at 500 Tallevast Road as it was packed last Saturday for Hitchcock’s Psycho from 1960.
And confession, I had never seen the movie all the way through, simply knew of the iconic shower scene.
And of course, Hitchcock was as amazing for first timers almost 60 years later (trippy how time flies, right?). His artistic vision to land unforgettable scenes is simply unparalleled. I can still clearly see Janet Leigh’s entire face, dead and wide eyed laying on the bathroom floor. Art is far more acceptable than gore and gratuitous violence. If only the current horror numbskull writers could reckon with that, I might start trying the genre again.
Anthony Perkins had enough vulnerability to dupe someone into thinking he deserved sympathy and the fact that Janet’s character had just stolen 40 grand made her more susceptibility blind to ‘Norman’s” red flags.
Sure, the screenplay’s a tiny bit slow in spots, and much like Hitchcock wondered, I thought the psychiatrist’s explanation was a bit long-winded. But as I read, people working on the film felt the need to explain Norman’s wickedness. Unfortunately today, mad men (and women) have become more common place with the advent of mass shootings. And in truth, there’s no explaining people (are they really human?) who care nothing for human life.
One other comment I’ll make here is that as a huge Ted Knight fan, I loved seeing him in a bit part at the end of the film. As usual, Gus Mollasis did a fine comedic turn as Q & A moderator post film.
If you live in the Sarasota Area, get thee to a showing, the next one on July 26th at 6 pm.
And here’s a hint to Part ‘Dos’ of Creepy Films, this one from 2018 starring an actor who use to date Emma Stone…..

The Movie Drought’s Over: Echo in the Canyon

Echo in the Canyon written by Eric Barrett and Andrew Slater (who also directed the doc) is a glorious celebration of the California music scene in Laurel Canyon in the late 60’s and 70’s.

You know a documentary is great when you have no relation to the concept and yet you’re still enraptured. My first trip to California wasn’t until I was in my 40’s. And I was probably about the same age when I first awakened to Brian Wilson.

And thank God I did AND was smart enough to get to Van Wezel for his Pet Sounds concert a few years back. As Tom Petty (God rest his soul) said in the doc, Brian Wilson may be our century’s Mozart.

But I digress. The doc had a perfect balance of old footage of the Mamas and the Papas, the Byrds, the Beatles, Stephen Stills and Neil Young (among many others) and the new concert honoring that music, starring Jakob Dylan, Beck, Fiona Apple and many more.

Also woven in were Jakob Dylan conversing and jamming with both icons of yesteryear and his newer musical friends helping him on the tribute concert.

Jakob Dylan was originally inspired by the Jaques Demy movie “Model Shop” from 1969 set in Laurel Canyon. Proof that movies can inspire anyone to create their own masterpieces. And while Jakob Dylan is most probably a giant egomaniac (given his name was the only one front and center: STARRING JAKOB DYLAN), he does have a more melodic singing voice than father Bob and is downright handsome, hence his spokesmanship in the doc was heavenly. And who better to carry on a torch than the son of an icon like Bob? I also appreciated that Bob was not a large part of this narrative, having just had the spotlight in Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue.

I know I’m not the only one who watched this doc and was saddened by the contrast of our current world’s frenetic life style. I hope my son, a beautiful spirit whose passion is music, has time and like minded musical comrades to get together and just hang, play cheer on and compose. But I’m praying that making ends meet and the stupid number of distractions in our world don’t inhibit his dream.

A must see in my book and I’ll definitely take in a second helping when and if Echo in the Canyon goes to Parkway 8.

“The Fall of the Amercian Empire”, Denys Arcand is only half Woke

I’m new to Denys Arcand, having just seen “The Fall of the American Empire” at Burns Court. The film was stimulating enough that I’ll check out his earlier work.

I’ll probably start with the Academy Award winner from 2003 “The Barbarian Invasion” (which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2003), but I’m also intrigued with “The Decline of the American Empire” from 1986 referred to as the French’s Big Chill which won accolades at Cannes.

So, I’m assuming, given his movie titles, Arcand has a bit of a fixation about the United States and from “The Fall of the American Empire” I assume he sees us (or U.S. in this case) as the ne’er do well older brother who has corrupted their (Canadian) morals.

If Arcand movie is based at all in reality, Canada seems to be a mess; rampant homelessness, political and police collusion, gang warfare and an overall ennui. And much like Wall Street, the movie seems to be chagrin about wealth and that if greed’s not at least good, then it sure gets you out of legal problems.

I did not appreciate the gratuitous violence (two really graphic scenes), and I was also offended about his racist take on African Americans. Perhaps Arcand justifies this due to his sympathy for indigenous people and for homeless, but two rights don’t make a wrong in my book.

The film’s other cliche was the whore with the heart of gold (played by the gorgeous Marpier Morin), but again, Arcand balances this by having an intelligent male who becomes the Robin Hood hero (well acted by Alexandre Landry) and a sly old ex-con (played by Remy Girard) in a plot that is super complex. Again, Arcand seems to be half Woke, or to sound more grammatically correct half awake. one thing’s for certain, he holds no favor for politicians or the police.

To compare another French film of recent viewing, “The Fall of the American Empire” is far better even with its flaws, than the fluff of “Non-Fiction”.

“Yesterday”, I Had A Headache

Yesterday is an awkward film that actually displays more about what’s wrong with society all the while thinking that it’s cute. Hence, my headache, but like a heart ache since I know many male bashers will find this charming, and I say nearly choking, romantic.

First, in an age where we’re allegedly embracing globalism, why the heck can’t the actor, Himesh Patel, obviously of Indian descent, be given a character name of that ilk. In my mind, the whiter than white name Jack Malik is an absolute slap in the face.

Second, I didn’t believe Lily James’ performance as a pouting, ‘why don’t you make a move on me’, galloping Airedale terrier for one millisecond. If her character’s mixed messages weren’t the poster child for the growing number of emotionally abused men, I’ll eat my Queen Elizabeth hat.

And I truly thought Kate McKinnon was ‘going places’ given her extreme comedic talent on SNL, but she keeps taking crap role after crap role in films. Here she plays an even worse misandrist than Lily James. To my utter chagrin, folks were giggling at her put downs of Himesh’s appearance.
If Himesh’s character had been a female, #Metoo heads would have broken the internet.

So here’s the real message Yesterday gave us:
1. People these days are too distracted to even recognize a profound song (this should have been the through line (instead of the gag reflex cutesie Ed Sheeran and Jame Cordon schlock) and hence a great social commentary on society).
2. Women get to do and act however they want; cruel, ‘confused’ and men will fold and become their “wife guys”, (a new term, see the NYT article about it).
3. Coco Cola and Cigarettes killed John Lennon (see the film and you’ll get my drift here).
4. Parents are bumbling idiots.
5. A screenwriter evidently doesn’t have to answer questions about why people forgot their memory about just a few cultural icons, but others remain intact.

“Hey Miley, what’s good?” You (and Nicki Minaj) ask?

Well, Himish Patel was the best actor of the lot and has a excellent singing voice as well. Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis should get back to the drawing board to redeem themselves. And the CineBistro (aka end of the Roman Empire, people gorging themselves while reclining) Theater probably got my last $27 (ticket and popcorn) because people act like they do in their bedrooms; chatting, texting, and getting up to use the facilities way too often. But super fitting considering the silly movie on screen.

Go ahead and see Yesterday, but lower your bar to something not even a contortionist limbo dancer could fit under.