Tag Archives: house

Gentrification and displacement, in THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO.

Jimmie Fails in The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO. Country, USA. Director: Joe Talbot. Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Mike Epps, Tichina Arnold, Finn Wittrock, Thora Birch. Screenwriter: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert. Language: English. Runtime: 122 minutes. Venue: Angelika Film Center, NYC. Rating: A+.

So far, this has been a landmark year for original voices telling their stories, and in this case, there have been so far three movies tackling the topic of gentrification and cultural identity in widely dissimilar ways. The Farewell, currently playing in cinemas, takes on the loss of a cultural heritage through the guise of the impending death of a much loved relative. The yet to be released De Lo Mio from Dominican Republic gets a bit closer to gentrification through the omnipresence of a house in Santiago, about to be demolished. The one I’m about to review i also from a first time director. Joe Talbot adapts Jimmie Fails’ story of trying to recover his childhood home in San Francisco in the poignant, melancholic mood piece The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which focuses on two close friends, Jimmie (Jimmie Fails, playing a version of himself) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) whose lives are closely tied to a Victorian house in the Fillmore district of San Francisco.

Jimmie has been closely guarding this house as if he were a faithful guard-dog waiting for the past to come back, At the start of the film you get to see him lovingly tending to it as if he were its lifelong caretaker. This is a man who truly loves this house in question and you wonder, “Why? It’s not his.” You see, Jimmie used to live in this house, which his grandfather told him he built in 1946. His very sense of identity, itself braided into memory, is tied to this place that now houses a white yuppie couple who seem to know who he is, but who don’t really care for his intrusions, particularly the wife, who seems a bit off as well.

It’s never quite explained what exactly went wrong with Jimmie’s family. It seems that Jimmie’s father hit on some hard times and bad business deals. The mother, who appears in a brief scene later, left. Jimmie himself was rendered practically homeless, going from place to place. Essentially, Jimmie became rootless, and now spends time with his artist and writer friend Mont and his disabled father (played by Danny Glover, in a quiet but thoughtful performance).

As luck, destiny, maybe the gods themselves, would have it, some situation happens and the yuppie couple is forced to move out. An idea springs into Jimmie’s head. In a wonderful sequence full of joy and warmth, Jimmie and Mont enter the house and begin to occupy every frame of it. Jimmie, for an ecstatic moment, is back where be belongs, basically claiming the house as his, placing the utility bills to his name, It’s a wonderful fantasy, but where there is a house in a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification, there will be a realtor coming in for the spoils to then renovate and place a price tag in the millions. And that is money that Jimmie does not have.

Even so, we root for Jimmie while all the time basically shaking our heads. The guy is really likeable, but a bit clueless as to how life itself works. There are moments when you want to scream at the camera for Jimmie to get on his feet and get his head out of the clouds. Even a visit to his sister (Tichina Arnold, in two sharp as nails scenes that are too brief), who has moved out of the city and into a neighborhood she can afford seems to beg at Jimmie to please wake up. However, as can happen with places where one has a special connection to, outgrowing that isn’t as easy as it seems. Soon, a major plot point involving the aforementioned specter of a realtor (Finn Wittrock) and a play Mont is writing will come to the foreground to threaten Jimmie’s dream.

Stories like these are heartbreaking because they basically only offer one solution, and that one is a step that Jimmie just can’t take, and his inability basically leaves him hanging, and no, that is not a spoiler. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a sad song filled with broken dreams that can never be put back together, and is a bleak reminder of what happens to neighborhoods that lose their own sense of identity to real estate developers swooping in to create ultra chic enclaves for the affluent. Like Wuthering Heights, Jimmie is inextricably bound to this house, and perhaps will be for the remainder of his life. And that, in a way, is a tragedy.

ON VOD: DON’T HANG UP

DON’T HANG UP
USA
Director: Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot
Runtime: 83 minutes
Language: English
Mostlyindies’ grade: C+
Take a familiar horror movie trope, switch the genders, update the technology, add a little nasty sadism courtesy from the Saw franchise, and you have yourself a nifty little picture by unknown directors Damien Mace and Alexis Rojsbrot who make their film debut with Don’t Hang Up, a movie you may not have heard from because it perhaps played only at Cinema Village (where micro-indies go to play for a solid week). Luckily for online platforms and FilmPulse, I was able to catch this little piece of nasty right in the comfort of my living room a couple of months ago and it still resonates in my mind.
Without revealing too much of what happens — even though after so many “the caller is inside the house!” movies featuring starlets who can scream, run, and wield a laundry list of throwable and sharp items in the name of self-defense you probably might find yourselves doing the biggest eye-roll ever when you approach this film. After all, how many variations can there be on the genre? Well — this is where Don’t Hang Up enters the picture. A woman gets woken in the middle of the night by a phone call. It’s a police officer, and he tells her she’s in danger. There is an intruder inside house. The woman instantly fears for her daughter’s safety. The officer tells the woman her daughter has been kidnapped, but not to make any sudden moves since the house is surrounded by the police. The woman, clearly terrified, doesn’t take any chances and grabs a gun. Before we get to know what happened we cut to a YouTube channel run by teen age boys who prank call people and then post their reactions on the net for all to listen to, or as trolls would say, ‘for the lulz.’ [To credit, this has been a common practice on YT for over 10 years now, so the premise isn’t too far fetched.]
What the boys — unlikeable, all of them, even when they look as pretty as Garrett Clayton, last seen as porn star Brent Corrigan in last year’s King Cobra — haven’t prepared for is for happens next. They find themselves getting calls from someone who seems at first as merely taunting — your typical complainer condemning these extreme pranks — but who starts to turn the tables onto them with terrifying speed. It’s not long when a battle of wits ensues and gets extremely ugly, fast. Mace and Wajsbrot clearly know their way around a set as their camera wanders in and out of the house where the entire picture takes place almost as an omniscient stalker. Unfortunately, their cast is pretty much throwaway. None of the two main characters — Brady (Clayton) and Sam (Gregg Sulkin) get much in the ways of sympathy from the viewer, considering they’re both pretty much bundles of testosterone, bros if you will, looking for cheap laughs at the expense of someone else’s humiliation, and I have to admit the effect of seeing them on the other side was satisfying. It may be a slight change in gears, but as a solid little piece of pulp cinema, Don’t Hang Up is solid.






A DARK SONG

 

A DARK SONG
Ireland / UK
Director: Kiam Gavin
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: English

3/5

This has been a year of mildly good horror movies that satisfy but not in any way memorable — certainly not like the terrifying The Eyes of My Mother, to name one. A Dark Song hails from a country that has produced some truly disturbing pictures, and when it premiered at the IFC it was shown as a double-bill with The Kill List, a movie that if you haven’t seen it, you should, it;s that good. Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song navigates a fine line between the real and not real in telling its story of a young mother determined to summon up dark forces to bring her dead son back from the dead.

From the word go, the mood is a little unnerving. Steve Oram, seen previously in 2012’s Sightseers with Alice Lowe (herself seen earlier this Spring in Prevenge which you can catch via Shudder, by the way), plays his warlock/wiccan role with an almost frightening intensity and subjects co-star Catherine Walker into what seems to be a form of boot-camp for the magically inclined before sealing the house they’ve rented far, far from the world, and commencing with the ritual. At first we don’t see too much happening and there are stretches of time where all we get are the two characters bickering at each other, and in one uncomfortable scene, an act that technically amounts to visual rape, where Oram orders Walker to remove her clothing — not for anything magical, but to simply masturbate.

Once the paranormal starts manifesting itself, the movie takes a turn and one scene in particular is a cut above the rest. We see Walker approaching a couch that may or may not have a dark figure sitting on it, apparently having a smoke. As she gets closer, it becomes clearer and clearer that something is in the room with her, looking at her with unknown intent, but a slight change of the angle, and poof! The thing, whatever it was, is gone. Nothing like this matches the sense of dread that has been building up — partly because Oram’s Joseph is so mentally volatile and Walker’s Sophia oscillates between wanting something very badly and disbelieving of it all since nothing has actually happened of note. It’s the age-old saying that horror movies are at their best when they withhold rather than show and in this aspect, A Dark Song uses this to great effect, until the denouement arrives, and then it just becomes another typical horror flick that almost went over and into the abyss but stopped just short.






HOUSE OF HORRORS: Under the Shadow and The Invitation

undertheshadow

 

Whoever said horror was a genre gone South clearly hasn’t been paying attention. I mean let’s face it, for every Annabelle or Paranormal/Last Exorcism rehash that (allegedly) attempts to scare the living daylights out of you and succeeds only in either a) putting you to sleep, b) screaming a the television to characters too stupid to live or c) actually contemplating throwing your smart TV out the window in a fit of rage and rushing out into the night to commit some act of mayhem (inside your head, never in the flesh, we are all Walter Mittys at heart, heh-heh), there often comes one or two smaller ventures either straight out of Sundance, SXSW or other film festivals and sneaks into select art-house theaters. There these movies, dripping atmospheric dread to spare and leaving any CGI or green screen effect to a bare minimum (a throwback to Lewton and even J-Horror), singlehandedly manage to creep right under the skin and stay with you as if they were a cinematic version of Morgellen’s disease.

And that’s a good thing. No one wants to see a movie, no matter how good it is, and barely even recall it days later. If and when you see a horror movie that vanishes into thin air moments after the credits roll, call it a night and watch some creepy pastas on YouTube.

From Iran and currently showing at the Montclair Film Festival after having debuted at Sundance, SXSW and New Directors/New Films in March comes is Babak Anvari’s debut feature film Under the Shadow, a truly eerie story of an oppressed woman dealing with a mysterious force from outside in wartime Tehran. Shideh is an unconventional Iranian woman: she won’t use the chador in the house, she exercises to Jane Fonda VCRs (the story takes place in the late 80s), and she’s given support to a liberal cause. It’s the cause that has landed her in hot water when reapplying for medical school. Because of this, the doors to a higher education close on her. Her husband fares better, being called off to war to work as a doctor and leaves Shideh alone with her daughter Dorsa.

Once alone, whatever was out of kilter starts to manifest itself: Dorsa’s doll goes missing. Outside, missiles fall upon the city, leaving terrorized residents to seek protection from fallout in basement shelters. A missile actually manages to fall into Shideh’s apartment building, landing on the floor above, but ominously does not go off. It does, however, leave a crack in her ceiling . . . and with it, something invisible and ominous starts to manifest inside Shideh’s apartment, with unknown intent.

When it becomes clear that the must leave the apartment, Dorsa’s doll goes missing and Dorsa herself starts talking to an unseen person. It’s here when Babak Anvari ratches up the tension with some truly frightening jump-scares along the way, all the while keeping the story’s location grounded in Iranian reality (for example, an attempt by Shideh to leave the house with Dorsa from the unexplained presence which seems to be getting stronger within the minute lands her in the wrong hands of the law because she did not have her chador on. In many ways, Under the Shadow could very well, like The Babadook, be a horror allegory encompassing female oppression at the hands of forces outside her control. While the heroine in Babadook was fighting a metaphysical manifestation of her own grief, Shideh seems to be fighting against her country and it’s anti-woman laws itself. under the guise of a disembodied thing seeking to come in and wreck havoc.

Under the Shadow is a strong debut and a well-composed visual piece. Even at its brief run — a mere 80 minutes not counting end credits — and treading over familiar horror tropes, it doesn’t feel stale or go for cheap shocks, and takes its own time to get the wheels rolling. It’s amazing what lighting can do to a place: Anvari slowly turns Shideh’s apartment from a relatively safe haven into dark corridors, pools of shadows, and I on more than one occasion kept myself at the edge of  my seat waiting for something. I didn’t know what — I just knew something could appear, anywhere. That to me makes a horror movie memorable, and this picture is dread in the flesh.

[Under the Shadow as of this writing doesn’t have a release date.]

invitation

Imagine you’re invited to go to a gathering with friends. Once you get there, you get a sense that despite how nice, pleasant, and polite everyone seems, something is not right. Imagine that your hostess also seems to be playing up the “everything is perfect” role — almost to a shrill fault — even when you can clearly see that it’s an act from a mile away.

Will and Kira (Logan Marshall-Green and Emayatzy Corinealdi) are en route to the Hollywood Hills to meet up for a dinner party thrown by his former wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michael Huisman). We get some backstory that Eden and Will lost their son and Will hasn’t seen Eden since, and even before he and Kira arrive he seems on edge. Almost as if summoned, they strike a coyote with their vehicle and Will has no choice but to beat it to death with a blunt object.

Once at the party, things proceed smoothly, but Will continues to be something of an odd-man out. It is understandable since this was his former home and memories linger rather vividly, but there’s an odd giddiness to it all that seems off kilter. A party guest unwittingly becomes the receiver of Eden’s out of nowhere violence early on, but she continues to behave almost in a state of a high. And then, David brings out a video that seems to be selling a concept of a cult and suicide. What’s going on here? Some are intrigued, and one guest who leaves early, upon seeing how intent David and Eden are into presenting this alternative belief to their guests, expresses her discomfort into what seems to be a cult belief. And there is a guest no one knows from, a man who charmingly tells everyone about his wife’s death.  And a girl who continuously tries to throw herself onto Will and looks . . . a little loopy.

Director Karyn Kusama keeps everything very much under control for a long stretch of her story but the sense of dread reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby permeates the entire mise-en-scene. As the party changes gears ever so subtly from simple to sinister and even we question if Will is all there or perhaps about to suffer some mental breakdown, Kusama suddenly yanks the rug from under you and the gloves are off. The Invitation’s slow escalation takes a hard turn left and as all the pieces fall into place, the real reason for them all being there explodes in everyone’s faces. This is a very good horror film that points the finger at the dangers of drinking the Kool Aid; it’s tense, moody, and equal parts terrifying because it presents a situation that could and has happened before.