Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Fog: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Jonathan Majors and Jimmie Fails in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. (Photo: Peter Prato/A24)

Director Joe Talbot’s feature film debut, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, would appear, from all the press and rapturous reviews, to have captured the San Francisco zeitgeist, portraying the city’s uneasiness with its supposed trajectory, in which gentrification and homelessness are erasing a gloriously funky history and ushering in a sleek, soulless, Tech-driven dystopia. Talbot, a native of San Francisco (his father is David Talbot, a founder of and author of the well-regarded SF history Season of the Witch), co-wrote the script (with Joe Richert, also a first-timer) based on stories and biographical details from the movie’s co-lead actor, Jimmie Fails, playing a character named Jimmie Fails. (Fails also gets a story credit.) The film definitely has an elegiac feel and a mythopoetic tone, along with some surrealistic touches: the opening sequence follows a young black girl skipping by Haz-Mat-suited workers until she reaches a street preacher on a literal soap box holding forth loudly to an audience of zero. But rather than a transcendent experience, what I encountered was an underpopulated, amateurish effort with glacial pacing, no real narrative drive, and characters that are merely a collection of odd, disjointed gestures, not living, breathing people.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Song and Dance, Part I: Wild Rose and Yesterday

Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose.

The review of Yesterday contains spoilers.
As Rose-Lynn, the young Glaswegian woman determined to make it as a country singer in Nashville in the new Wild Rose, Jessie Buckley has a fresh, totally unaffected camera presence and the instinct to hold the camera, sometimes for medium-long, pensive reaction takes that transport us directly into the character’s complicated feelings. Rose-Lynn is raucous and uncensored, and though in her early twenties she doesn’t initially show much more practicality or awareness of responsibility than she probably did at sixteen, she has a life-embracing personality that naturally draws people to her, and it captivates us too. When the movie starts, she has just been released from prison, where she served a short sentence for being the middleman in a drug deal. Her two young children – Wynonna and Lyle, both named for musical idols of hers – were both born before she was eighteen. During her absence, her widowed mother, Marion (the peerless Julie Walters, typically folding the character around her to make it a perfect fit), has been caring for them, but though she’s happy to continue helping out, she expects Rose-Lynn to take the lead – to land a job to support them and put them first, before her social life and the country-singer dreams Marion hasn’t much patience for – and figure out how to parent them wisely and thoughtfully. This last is a struggle for Rose-Lynn, who loves her kids but has never learned to settle down or think far beyond her own desires and impulses. (The first thing she does when she’s sprung from jail isn’t to rush home to Lyle and Wynonna but to get herself laid.) But she’s lucky. Her lawyer convinces a judge to lift her curfew – enforced by an ankle monitor – so that she can perform at a local club. And when she hires out as a house cleaner (“daily woman,” in Glasgow parlance), her employer, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), turns out to be a kind, sympathetic woman who is so encouraging of Rose-Lynn’s aspirations that she stages a big birthday party for herself and asks her guests, in lieu of gifts, to make donations to get her cleaner to Nashville. (Rose-Lynn conceals both her jailhouse past and the fact of her children from Susannah, who holds onto a romantic vision of her.)