“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” searches for heart and home

Updated: Jan 16


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

(1) Best friends Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Mont (Jonathan Majors).

(2) The Victorian "Painted Lady" that Jimmie Fails believes he has a right to live in, since it was built by his grandfather. 









“THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for language, drug use, nudity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple (4K), FrandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, Vudu,


Best extra: Feature commentary by director Joe Talbot

















SOME leave their heart in San Francisco. Others are born and live there.


The debut film was directed and co-written by Joe Talbot from a story by co-writer Jimmie Fails, who stars as himself. Native San Franciscans, they met as 10-year-olds, as are many members of the cast and crew, which include Danny Glover, who still lives there today.


It’s a semi-biographical tale about Jimmie and his obsession with the beautiful Victorian “painted lady” house built by his grandfather. It was lost when the Fillmore neighborhood became gentrified, and African American families who lived there were forced out. With a drug-addicted mother and a mostly unemployed father, Jimmie has never had any place he could really call home. His childhood was spent living in a group home, a car, or being completely homeless.


As the film begins, Jimmie is staying with his friend Mont (Jonathan Majors). They visit the old Victorian when its owners are away and do what they can to keep it looking good, repainting trim or planting flowers. When the current owners, who are white, are forced to leave, Jimmie and Mont move in. They are there illegally, but hope Jimmie will get a bank loan and reclaim what he believes is rightfully his.

Talbot, who is also white, knows some viewers don’t trust his ability to tell Jimmie’s story according to an article in Vanity Fair.


Fail responded: “A lot of people have a misconception of Joe trying to tell a black story, but that’s not what it is. He’s telling his friend’s story, and I just happen to be black.”


(1) Long overdue toxic waste clean-up in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. (2 & 3) San Francisco street scenes. (4) Mont and Jimmie watch the toxic clean-up. (5) The guys ride Jimmie's skateboard from Hunters Point to the Victorian house.





VIDEO

Talbot and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra captured the film’s dreamy and poetic scenes with the ARRI ALEXA Mini digital camera (1.66 aspect ratio). Various San Francisco street performers and eccentric characters populate cameo moments. These dramatic performances, including those by many first-time actors, are all convincing. Fails and Majors especially stand out in their portrayal of the quiet, irresistibly appealing characters of Jimmie and Mont.


Lionsgate provides an exclusive 4K/Dolby Vision presentation on two digital platforms, and on a physical Blu-ray. This was probably a low-budget film, but both formats look great. The streaming 2160p with HDR toning offers deeper black levels and saturated primary colors throughout. Greens dominate the city’s landscape. Skin tones are natural and true, while the overall sharpness is top notch – especially since so much was framed in wide-angle. It’s an outstanding picture.  


AUDIO

Audio is also superb featuring a six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack (Blu-ray) and the lesser compressed 5.1 Dolby Digital on streaming. The dialogue is clear and centered, and the lovely, understated score by Emile Mosseri perfectly complements the drama



(1) Mont and Jimmie gaze at the The Victorian "Painted Lady". (2) The couple that owns the house try to get Jimmie to go away. (3) He continues to repair a peeling paint job.

(4) After the couple lose the house, Jimmie and Mont check to make sure nobody's home.





EXTRAS

There are two main bonus features, the “making of” featurette “Ode to the City: Finding ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco,’” and the very fine director’s commentary. Talbot begins by explaining the opening of the film, in which a street preacher complains about the long-overdue cleanup of the chiefly African American Hunters Point neighborhood. Parts of Hunters Point were built on toxic waste from the Navy shipyard there. It polluted the Bay, and has the highest cancer rates in the area.


Talbot says a special, extra-large skateboard was built for the film so that Jimmie and Mont could ride it together. Talbot notes it took over a year to find the right house for the film, which turned out to be one he “passed on the way to school when I was a kid … one of the dream Victorian houses.” Talbot tells a story about one of the actors, Jamal Trulove, a former school friend who plays street-tough Kofi. Trulove had been wrongfully convicted of murder, and served 6 1/2 years in prison. During filming, he successfully sued the SFPD, and was awarded $10 million.


Majors, whose character Mont is a playwright, is a Yale Drama School grad with a “deep background in theater,” Talbot says, and had “lots of ideas for the film,” as well as being a great acting coach for Jimmie. According to Talbot, “Everyone brought their personal stories of San Francisco to the movie … it felt like a family production in a lot of ways.” Cameos in the film include Jello Biafra, formerly of the San Francisco punk band Dead Kennedys, playing a Segway-riding city tour guide; and Daewon Song, a professional Bay area skateboarder, as Jimmie’s aunt’s boyfriend, Ricky. An especially funny moment has Ricky wiping out on Jimmie’s board.


Another cameo is by the woman playing Jimmie’s mother, who is his real mother, in a scene that mimicked something that actually happened in their relationship. Talbot says he cast Thora Birch, who has a brief moment toward the end of the film, because he loved “Ghost World,” which he says is “one of the films that made me want to make movies.” Talbot’s high school drama teacher also has a small cameo, which Talbot, who dropped out, says was especially meaningful. His teacher always believed in him.


What a pleasure to find a good film this summer that doesn’t depend on explosions, bullets and martial arts. A story that blends heart and heartbreak, Talbot concludes the film “began as a conversation between two friends … and ended up feeling like it was made by an entire city.”


— Peggy Earle and High-def Watch producer Bill Kelley III contributed to this review



(1) The group of street toughs who constantly harass Mont and Jimmie in Hunters Point.  (2) Mont's sketchbook. (3) Mont and his Grandpa Allen (Danny Glover). (4) Jimmie and Mont ride with Jimmie's uncle, in the car he lives in and had stolen from Jimmie and his father. 





(1) Jimmie and Mont talk to a San Francisco real estate agent and get more info on the house. (2) They hear the story of why the couple were forced to sell.

(3) Mont and Jimmie move into the unoccupied house. (4) Jimmie plays the organ in the house, which the actual owner repaired them for a living. (5) Jimmie and Mont return after a night in Hunters Point, and discover all their belongings thrown out. (6) Mont sees the realtor's sign and knows he was the one who did it.





(1) Jimmie's father (Rob Morgan) comes to the house to see a play Mont has produced. (2) Jimmie and Mont embrace the next day, after a painful confrontation at the play.

(3) Jimmie rows out into the ocean.







TRAILER


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