THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
There’s something both exciting and naive about a project like The Last Black Man In San Francisco that is nice to get every once in a while. Conceived as an idea by friends from Bay Area, director and writer Joe Talbot and lead actor Jimmie Fails, it’s a personal story to them that touches on gentrification, male vulnerability and family relationships. Probably thanks to Talbot’s inexperience and passion, it’s a highly original piece of work that keeps surprising with its choices and quirks.
Talbot’s directorial eye is some of the most promising stuff that came out in 2019. Whether starting with two men riding a skateboard together to show their connection or later on having them face up to each other during a theatre play, they definitely don’t follow the usual structure of a scene. That could be a disaster if it doesn’t connect to the story but here it’s a pleasure. And just as its own the directing is, so is the whole film. The structure is never really streamlined but it works as we kind of go with the flow of the bus stops and skateboarding at different speeds. This all is also supported by a weird soundtrack which at points combines acapella with more mainstream tracks.
Fails (as Jimmie) and Jonathan Majors (Mont) are a perfect friend combo on the screen as their downplayed energy is never mistaken for lack of compassion. Supporting cast had some wonderful surprises for someone like me who didn’t know about them beforehand: Rob Morgan (James Sr.), Danny Glover (Grandpa Allen) and Tichina Arnold (Wanda) fit in well with the world that has been presented even before they appear. We as viewers move around a lot with the characters which helps the locations be a nice touch every time. At times there’s a lot of indie filmmaking in this indie filmmaking in a sense that slow-mo shots start to get repetitive and conversation linger around a bit too long. But this story doesn’t really have a cinematic ending so overall it goes as far as it can go.
Smileys: Directing, originality, casting, locations
Honestly though, sharing a skateboard needs some Jedi energy to keep both of you calm and collected.
Considering the fact that a movie which has a major distributor in Universal, it is odd that the time between starting filming and theatrical release was less than six months. Black Christmas does feel somewhat rushed as it definitely looks more like a television movie. You know, like there’s something missing to make it pop? Or maybe the film had so much to say that it forgot to show anything in long format? These are just a couple of pressing questions about the experience surrounding it.
Main star Imogen Poots who plays Riley seems like she got a totally different script from the rest as she actually has something to act with, both in terms of face acting and physicality. Her portrayal is a pretty classic horror movie performance in the veins of what was promised in marketing this as horror. Unfortunately she is surrounded by a bunch of misfits that are straight up thrown to the wolves since they have nothing to do. At times when the friend group of Riley, Kris (Aleyse Shannon), Marty (Lily Donoghue), Jesse (Brittany O’Grady) and Helena (Madeleine Adams) converse and reference one of them, I had no idea who they were talking about because they have no character traits whatsoever. With those moments it also felt like there were full scenes missing that would’ve helped you follow the plot better.
The film and therefore director Sophia Takal has a total identity crisis as it doesn’t have a story, realistic dialogue, original screenplay or anything distinctive about it. First scene has the promised slasher necessities but it’s completely useless after because it never gets weaved into the main story. Only connecting factor is the wardrobe choices. Story isn’t really interesting at all, it’s basically a high school play version of a superhero team-up movie, taking everything dazzling away from those. Black Christmas is also one of the ugliest looking movies you can see released in December. Maybe something went wrong with colouring or rendering the files or the whole production was rushed but it’s not at all how a horror/thriller film should look like in these modern times, just underwhelming in all aspects.
Smileys: Imogen Poots
Frowneys: Story, screenplay, characterisation, cinematography
Won't be on the Christmas movie rotation.