Movie Review: ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ Proves That There Are Still New Ways to Make a Movie

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CREDIT: A24

Starring: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock

Director: Joe Talbot

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for A Mild Mix of Profanity, Brief Nudity, and Drug Use

Release Date: June 7, 2019 (Limited)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco has one of the most (if not THE MOST) valuable qualities in cinema, and art in general, insofar as it truly feels unlike anything else that has come before it. It’s about lifelong pals Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), who have a sort-of-magical journey living in the title city while squatting in the house that Jimmie claims his grandfather built years ago. The story is based on Fails’ own life, and I greatly appreciate the visionary perspective he provides along with director Joe Talbot.

This isn’t a movie I loved right away, but it’s one that I want to keep in mind to see how it sticks with me months, years, or even decades from now. It is one that I can imagine expanding in my mind as I digest more of its unique flavors. I saw it about a month ago, and I haven’t thought about it too much unprompted since then. For now, as I’m purposefully reflecting upon it, I must make sure to note my love of an early scene in which Jimmie and Montgomery skateboard through the city to the tune of a Philip Glass-esque composition, and I must also mention that former Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra plays a dorky tour guide. So that’s where we are in 2019.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is Recommended If You Like: San Francisco Geography and Architecture, Discovering a New Voice, Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Squatters

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Uncle Drew’ Shows the Youngbloods How It’s Done

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CREDIT: Quantrell D. Colbert/Lionsgate.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2018.

Starring: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Erica Ash, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, Mike Epps

Director: Charles Stone III

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for General Shenanigans and a 7-Foot-Tall Man’s Bare Behind

Release Date: June 29, 2018

One of the joys of growing up in the 1990s was savoring the plethora of sports movies and athletes moonlighting as movie stars. It was something of a golden age, or at least that’s how it appeared to my impressionable mind. There were the minor, but era-defining hits like Rookie of the Year, Shaq was basically allowed to do whatever he wanted, even Dennis Rodman teamed up with Jean-Claude van Damme before he became buddies with Kim Jong Un. And of course there was the landmark success of Space Jam. This is all to say, movies like Uncle Drew, which stars NBA star Kyrie Irving as a character he originated for Pepsi Max, don’t really get made anymore. And while it certainly does not reinvent the sports flick or old-people-drag genres, it is heartening to know that something like this can still exist.

The title character, a Harlem streetball legend spoken about in mythical terms, certainly plays into a desire to return to past glories, as he chastises and schools young ballers on the right way to play the game. He is also prone to decry the “rappity-hippity-hop” music of today’s “youngbloods,” instead preferring to listen to hours-long funk jams on the eight-track player in his vintage van. But the film manages to avoid unhealthy nostalgia, as Drew’s version of the past is too goofy and demented to tempt anyone away from dismissing reality. The humor of this team of old farts, while certainly broadly drawn, is based on actual characterization instead of shallow punch lines. Actual NBA and WNBA stars like Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie have plenty of natural charisma. And there is just something inherently satisfying about dressing Shaq up like Wolverine’s grandfather and continuing to rib Chris Webber for one of the biggest mental lapses in basketball history.

What will make Uncle Drew a great choice over the coming years to watch for the hundredth time with friends is its fundamental niceness. We come to meet Drew via Dax (Lil Rel Howery), a streetball manager dedicated to the game but who gave up playing it years ago after a mortifying middle school defeat. Recently homeless, he is desperate to win the $100,000 grand prize at a high-profile Harlem tournament, thus why he turns to Drew and his band of old coots despite their clashing personalities and body temperatures. When the team finds out about Dax’s financial troubles, they feel a little betrayed upon discovering his true motivations, but they mostly encourage him to get back in touch with his love of the game. That ethos of bonhomie is matched by Uncle Drew‘s fundamentally welcome silliness and lovingly shot footage of between-the-legs dribbling, lights-out three pointers, and slam dunks.

Uncle Drew is Recommended If You Like: Space Jam, Coming to America, ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries

Grade: 3 out of 5 Boom Boom Rooms

This Is a Movie Review: Eli Roth’s ‘Death Wish’ is Plenty Entertaining If You Don’t Want to Grapple Too Much with Vigilantism’s Complicated Morality

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CREDIT: Takashi Seida/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, Beau Knapp, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Mike Epps

Director: Eli Roth

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Brutal Gunfire and the Corresponding Bloody, Bone-Breaking Injuries

Release Date: March 2, 2018

By Eli Roth standards, Death Wish – a remake of the notorious 1974 Charles Bronson franchise-starter of the same name – is actually rather tame. The director of such modern-day exploitation as Cabin Fever, Hostel, and The Green Inferno has made a career out of pushing buttons, but the most objectionable elements of Death Wish are borrowed from the original. Based on the evidence on display here, I don’t know if Roth is an advocate for vigilantism, or if he even necessarily has any fully formed opinion. But no matter his own personal feelings, the film is plenty confrontational and liable to stir up heated feelings.

The setup is essentially the same as the original: Chicago-based surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) turns to vigilantism after a robbery by professional burglars leaves his wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) dead and his daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) in a coma. He is frustrated by the lack of leads in the case and the constant gang-related violence in his city, so he takes to heart those who bandy about the maxim that police only arrive after the crime has happened. So he procures a gun, dons his hoodie, and does what he can to clean up the streets, initially dispatching the likes of carjackers and soon working his way up to executing career criminals in broad daylight. He becomes a viral sensation, with some calling him the “Guardian Angel,” with others opting for “Grim Reaper.” There are some clear racial overtones, underlined by footage of real talk radio personalities discussing his activity, as Kersey is white and his targets tend to be people of color. But pointedly, he is also protecting many people of color. Admirably, Roth actually lets this issue remain as complicated as it deserves to be, but it could still have been addressed more head-on

When viewed straightforwardly as action movie fish fulfillment, Death Wish is well-crafted, crackerjack entertainment. I cannot deny that I was thrilled, nor can I dispute the comic relief that comes in the form of Vincent D’Onofrio as Paul’s schlubby but loyal younger brother, or Mike Epps as the resident horndog doctor, or just a well-timed gunshot. But naturally enough I find myself hesitant to cheer any movie in which a vigilante is the clear hero. That is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Paul is so clearly a decent person and that everyone he kills is clearly a bad guy. But then that clear demarcation between good and evil makes for its own problems. That stark opposition can work, with Lord of the Rings perhaps the best example.

So I would like to propose a theory of the Uncanny Valley of Realistic Violence, wherein a fantastical setting makes it easier to stomach an inherently good character killing an inherently evil character. But the closer the setting is to reality, the harder the killing is to accept, because the good/evil split is not so easy in real life. Roth flirts with examining that complication, but for the most part he is more interested in being a showman. Despite my problems with Death Wish’s ickiness, I do not feel too compelled to condemn it all that strongly on moral grounds. After all, it is clearly a fantasy, because where else but in the movies would the lead detective (Dean Norris) close the case with a delicious bite of pizza and an equally delicious one-liner?

Death Wish is Recommended If You Like: Eli Roth’s in-your-face style, Bruce Willis downplaying while remaining intense, Comic relief when it might not be appropriate

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Head Shots