The Last Black Man in San Francisco

I had been interested in watching The Last Black Man in San Francisco since I first heard about it. I thought that it would be insightful. If not that, then thoughtful. If not that, then at least coherent. I was wrong. This reinforces my suspicion that my own tastes are not aligned with whatever factors get movies high ratings. For example, the worst movie I’ve ever seen has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 94% on Metacritic. Which movie? Apocalypse Now Redux: 3+ hours of mucking around in the jungle with no plot.

Similarly, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is 2 hours of running around San Francisco with no plot. But at least San Francisco is visually stunning and the cinematography was beautiful and fresh. The rest? I said it was like a French movie, and an actual French person responded “No, it’s much worse. It’s been 40 minutes and nothing has happened.”

I’m not sure what message I am supposed to receive about the black people left in San Francisco. Am I supposed to sympathize with someone who repeatedly trespasses because he’s caring for his grandfather’s old house? The older white couple that owns it at the beginning of the movie tells him to leave and not come back. He doesn’t leave and he ignores their request not to come back. Later, when the couple moves out of the house, the protagonist moves in as a squatter. Throughout the movie, there are many times where the protagonist and his best friend yell “AAAHHHHHHHHH!!!” at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason. Am I watching a NatGeo special? Is this animalistic hollering common in the remaining black population of San Francisco? Does it communicate something? I suppose I’m not versed in the language of “primal scream” — those scenes only served to disturb and annoy me.

There are half a dozen or so scenes of a group of black men standing in front of a house shouting (talking to?) each other: every other word out of their mouths is “nigga.” I don’t understand the purpose of these scenes either. They do draw a contrast between the two main characters and the stereotypical young black man, but to what end, I have no idea.

I did appreciate that the movie touched on how the Fillmore was a Japanese neighborhood until World War 2 when the government forced them into internment camps. Did blacks take over the empty houses as squatters en masse at that time? I can’t find any sources willing to print that outright. This brings the point that the protagonist’s grandfather’s claim to the house may not have been more legitimate than his own.

The movie doesn’t cogently address any of the issues I thought would come up. There isn’t much about gentrification or race or even why there are fewer and fewer blacks living in San Francisco. Maybe I was expecting something different: a documentary or a comedy. What I got was a gorgeously shot but bloated pointless meandering that didn’t even have someone for me to root for. It’s still not as bad as Apocalypse Now, but it’s definitely among the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Maybe worth watching on mute to see pretty SF scenery: you can just fast forward through the “nigga” and yelling scenes.

Over the holidays…

We didn’t go anywhere. N tells me working is more productive when no one is in office. I believe it. What did I do? Some baking. Peppermint sandwich cookies were a hit, but the optimal amount of frosting for looks and for eating are different. The former is about 2x the latter. These are pretty but too sweet.

We had some friends over for the traditional French Christmas Eve dinner. You know, 6+ courses, lasts all night, feels like your stomach will rupture at the end? It started with canapés on crap toast, which seems strange, given how snobby the French usually are about bread. I made the NYT lamb tagine, but disliked the sour note from the apricots.

(Do you like the La Boulange plates? Wish I had found some bowls too..)

Here’s our cheese course. One of them is called tarentaise, but I mistakenly called it “tartinaise” at the Cheese Board and asked if it was for slathering on bread.

Not pictured: 3 desserts. Chocolate lava cake, strawberry/blueberry tarts and a fluffy Korean style cake brought by a guest.

These are our gifts. One Muji shirt each and some assorted stocking stuffers. Like pocket notebooks and hair elastics. Nothing fancy. You know me. The real haul comes from the after-Christmas sales.

In the quiet week when everyone goes to their real home (no one’s from San Francisco, she says, except maybe her) we went to watch Call me by your name.

Um. Stunning. Left me speechless and still feeling it a week later. If you see one movie this year, let it be this one. It’s the best of both worlds between French and American film. It’s an ideal enough setting with interesting people (and, an actual plot) that it could be an American film. But it’s also realistic enough, thoughtful enough, emotional enough that it could be French. No, I take it back. It can’t be French. It doesn’t end at a random point in the story. Let’s just say that now I know what most French films are aiming for. I don’t think anyone ever said the word “gay” during the movie*. Not once. Sexuality should be on a case by case basis, shouldn’t it? Aren’t we all asexual when it comes to some 70%+ of the population?

*edit: not true. There was one conversation about gay dinner guests where the son, Elio was making fun of them and the dad demanded to know why he was acting that way: “Is it because they’re gay? Or because they’re ridiculous?”

I am another you

I went to see this film curious how it would compare to “Into the Wild.” You know the trite sayings like “Not all who wander are lost”? I have been looking for someone who chooses this life and also, well, isn’t lost. Hint: I still haven’t found that story.

Director Nanfu Wang is curious about the same, and follows Dylan, who she thinks may be that ideal. She discovers that the story is more complicated, and Dylan himself eventually admits that he didn’t really have a choice about his lifestyle.

Based on the trailer, I thought Dylan would be a criminal mastermind. There’s a snippet of a SWAT team breaking down a door. The mundane explanation is that Dylan’s father is a detective and the SWAT team had nothing to do with him.

Still, the director asks interesting questions. Like, “why are people so generous to Dylan, but not to other homeless people?” Is it because he’s attractive and personable? Or could it have something to do with his having chosen the life? She asks herself if she is exploiting him. She asks and answers whether his choice to live on the streets is a result of his family life.

In the end, this movie is about the romance of something that may not exist*: the person who truly chooses this life for themselves in a clear-eyed and thoughtful way. That person isn’t Dylan, at least.

* Yes, I still need to read Walden. It’s probably the closest I’ll find.

Birdman

I only watched this movie because it won the Academy Award for best picture. Unsurprisingly, I found it to be thoroughly mediocre. I guess the award was because the voting members could see themselves or people they knew in the struggle of the celebrity-turned-stage-actor main character?

One annoying feature was the drum noise. It happened throughout, sometimes during dialogue, sometimes while characters were walking around. Yeah, there was an unnecessary amount of people walking — down the street, in hallways, back and forth on the stage, etc. Even more obnoxious than the drum noise was the attempt to cleverly explain it, e.g. the walking character would pass a guy drumming in the street.

There was character development that never amounted to anything. Details that had nothing to do with the main story and weren’t interesting or detailed enough to be side-stories. Too many scenes left me wondering, “what was the point of that?” This question was never answered. There was no point.

If a movie can’t have a compelling plot or an interesting story, I understand. Not every story can keep an audience interested just on the merits of its plot. Then at least the characters should be appealing. I should want to know what happens to them — I should care. And lacking both of those things, a move should at least be visually stunning. This movie offers none of the above.

The acting is mostly people getting worked up and shouting monologues at each other. The one worthwhile scene is when the main character’s daughter (played by Emma Stone) tells him that he doesn’t matter:

Actually, I think it’s a good message for everyone. Let’s say the movie wasn’t a complete waste of time. The moral is good: I don’t matter. You don’t matter. No one cares. Get over yourself. Or, to spin it in a more positive way, don’t let what others may think of you dictate what you do with your life.

The Dark Knight Rises

count this as a spoiler alert, even though i found the movie itself so devoid of content that   “spoiler” is almost a joke.

i think my disappointment can be explained by how high my expectations were after the last batman movie. this movie did not make me care about any of its characters, and it did not make me believe in any of their motivations. where does that leave me? repetitive  fight scenes and flashy fake futuristic vehicles. here are some more specific comments:

1. it was impossible to understand any dialogue from the two main characters. batman, with his billions and billions of dollars, doesn’t have a voice-disguiser more sophisticated than talking in an incomprehensible growl. bane’s face mask mixed in just enough static to make him sound like he wasn’t speaking english.

2. why were they driving around every day with the bomb? why not keep it somewhere undisclosed?

3. how does bane eat?

4. if the goal was to annihilate gotham, why twiddle around for 5 months? why was torturing batman important to any of the characters?

5. why was hopping from one ledge to the next necessary to get out of the jail-hole? there were foot/hand holds all the way up, and if a rope could be anchored where it was, couldn’t someone just be pulled up to that point using the first rope and install an anchoring point a foot or two up, then repeat until the top?

6. why did the other prisoners care enough about a kid escaping to tear off bane’s face?

7. why would the federal government believe that the trigger-holder in gotham would be aware if a single person escaped the city?

my main problem with this movie is that there was never a point at which i wanted to know what was going to happen next. the characters, motivations, plot and dialogue were all so weak that it just didn’t matter. i would rate this movie a don’t-even-bother-once-it’s-on-tv.

The Avengers

I was bribed to see this movie. I am helpless before buttered movie theater popcorn.

Dislike
– Drawn out fight scenes
– Preaching about nuclear weapons
– Black Widow & Hawkeye because:

    • their characters were not explored enough to make me care
    • they were very mortal, without neat superpowers
    • they were generally uninteresting

– Ironman, because he’s arrogant in an ugly way and his technologies are contrived
– Redirecting of a nuclear warhead by Ironman in his flying suit

Like
+ Loki (this is another post entirely)
+ Dynastic/fraternal struggle between Loki and Thor
+ Hulk and his Hulk-smashing, especially of Loki and of Ironman
+ The idea that freedom is an illusion
+ Captain America’s naive, lost little boy outlook
+ Those giant flying worm-type creatures at the final battle

I understand now why I don’t volunteer to watch these things. They’re addictive. There will probably be at least one character I’m drawn to, and then I become a ridiculous fan girl. I also don’t find epic battles, intergalactic struggle (at the government level), explosions and combat that fun to watch. This means I was bored for about 80% of the movie, but I’ll likely watch the next one to learn a little more about the one character I care about. I’ll be bored for the vast majority of that movie too, and inevitably feel wistful at the very end of the series that I never got to know that one mischievous god well enough to satisfy my curiosity.