The Last Black Man in San Francisco: I thought this would be a story of gentrification; it’s sort of that, but mostly something stranger and more haunting. Jimmie Fails (played by an actor of the same name, who also co-wrote with his childhood friend Joe Talbot) is obsessed with the house he grew up in, which has passed into the hands of a white couple. With his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) he visits the house and engages in guerrilla upkeep; when the white couple breaks up and moves out, they squat there as they try to figure out whether they can buy the house for real.
The house is gorgeous, from its painted ceilings to its witch-hat tower room, and you’ll want these two guys to succeed in their Comrade Quixote quest–but at a certain point you may notice that this is all about the ownership of stuff. When the two friends begin to put their plan in motion the first thing we see is them walking down a flight of steps flanked by two columns of homeless people. The hunger Jimmie feels for specific, highly-symbolic land and furniture begins to feel clutching, unsettling, misplaced; and believe me, the film will pay off on that tremor of doubt.
This is a film about two guys who have not succeeded by conventional standards. They don’t have wives or girlfriends; they don’t have kids; they don’t own the home they’re illegally sharing. (If you keep a running tally of the kinds of places poor people can live, this movie will leave you with a double-digit list: SRO, group home, abandoned house, your car; somebody else’s car….) They do have one another, and their friendship is portrayed with such sweetness. At one point the camera draws an extremely unsubtle parallel between these two best friends and a straight couple. This is the friendship of two artsy guys who feel alone in the world, without city or community, homeless except when they’re with each other. And the fact that the final shots of the film show one of the friends rowing a boat out on the unresting waves of the Pacific Ocean, and then rowing the boat offscreen so only the waves are left, may suggest that this world doesn’t let you keep what you salvage.
There are many, many semisatirical moments in this highly theatrical film, like the tourist party bus blasting “Somebody to Love” as it rolls past the naked guy waiting at the bus stop. The portrayal of San Francisco’s cuckoo aspect helped me deal with the fact that the movie’s climax is an act of political theater/nonconsensual audience participation. Maybe that is just how people in SF express emotions?
There’s a lot in this movie which spoke to me, especially in its unexpected twists and moments. I’m not sure I’ve seen another film where the relationships which compete with the central friendship are not romantic relationships, but relationships with your family of origin. I loved the quiet, nerdy-kid humility with which Mont says, when Jimmie catches him drawing portraits of the dudes who just insulted him, “I shouldn’t get to appreciate them ’cause they’re mean to me? That’s silly.”
This is a movie about the search for a home–the inability to find it where you thought you’d left it; maybe the inability to find it at all. There’s a lot to say about the politics of gentrification, but in this film gentrification is a synecdoche for a universal condition of exile.
It’s something awesome. It’s all hot orange and brown, the glamor of the punishing desert wind, it is completely OTT and it can’t go five minutes without an explosion and I loved it. The dialogue is often dumb in a way I don’t enjoy, but fortunately there’s little dialogue overall. One of my very favorite genres is “batshit pleasure-idiocy for the bad sweet tooth + genuine harrowing emotion,” and Fury Road is a classic of that vertiginous genre. You’ll feel things! You’ll respect these characters, you’ll love them and want their hard world not to break their spirits, and you’ll also get to cheer while they fight dudes on GIANT FREAKING BENDY POLES WITH FLAMETHROWERS. It’s so good.
Lots of just very smart choices, in a movie which is also pure dumb pleasure. The mistrust and violence between our two heroes (MAX ROCKATANSKY and IMPERATOR FURIOSA, because this movie loves its audience with a swooning, surrendering love) is a smart choice. The fact that they meet an all-women’s community but it’s neither secret dystopia nor pacifist Earth Mother solution to their problems is a smart choice. The whole weird sad thing with Nux is a smart choice. The fact that the dictator’s army has a bard, and it’s A DUDE STRAPPED TO A WAR TRUCK WITH AN ELECTRIC GUITAR THAT SHOOTS FIRE, is… sure, okay, it is a smart choice. In general I pretty much loved all the people strapped to trucks. It’s such an immediate visual symbol for helplessness and complicity, and it makes the fights weird and unexpected.
The heart of this movie is a scene in which Max gives freely what was taken from him by force; it’s a genuinely beautiful, hard-earned portrayal of sacrifice as an assertion of one’s humanity.
That’s the heart of this movie. The brain of this movie is the electric guitar war truck fire guy.
Witch hat house a few blocks from where I live, in the gentrified remains of my home sweet hometown, via Wikimedia Commons.