Friday Flicks June 21: “This One’s for the Ladies” & “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”

M.V. MoorheadJune 21, 2019
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Opening at Harkins Arizona Mills 25:

This One’s For the Ladies
This documentary, directed by Gene Graham, chronicles the African-American male stripper scene in Newark, New Jersey, from the point of view both of the dancers and their devoted fans. But if the term “male stripper” has you picturing Magic Mike or the Chippendales, understand that the performances you’ll see in this NC-17-rated movie make those mainstream acts look like your six-year-old-nephew’s dance recital.

This is seriously raw, raunchy stuff. There’s physical (pretty intimate) contact between the dancers, with their flailing (pouched) genitalia, and the audience members, while everybody watches, whooping and wailing and showering dollar bills on their bodies. At times, it comes across less like a show, really, and more like some ancient orgiastic rite; something from a Greek play.

What makes the film surprising and delightful, though, is the contrast between this pagan erotic abandon and the look Graham gives us at the everyday lives of these modest, funny people – the ladies singing in the church choir, with no sense of incongruity, caring for their families, feeding the homeless, participating in activism. This movie is graphic, make no mistake, but its warm, loving side is what you’re most likely to take away from it.

Now playing at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square:

The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Last weekend was one of those periodic logjams of interesting movie releases that make it impossible to see and review everything, but it would be a pity if this fascinating, unsettling drama got lost in that shuffle. The protagonist is a young black man named Jimmie Fails, played by, and based on, an actor named Jimmie Fails. He’s a quiet, guileless San Franciscan who lives with his best friend, an aspiring playwright named Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) and Montgomery’s blind father (Danny Glover).

Seemingly Jimmie’s only passion in life is to reclaim the beautiful old mansion in the Fillmore District, with an unmistakable “witch hat” spire, that used to belong to his family. He even sneaks on to the grounds when the elderly white couple who now occupies (and neglects) the place aren’t around, to make repairs. If you let him, he’ll be glad to tell you the story of how his grandfather built the house back in the 1940s, even though it looks Victorian.

A legal wrangle leaves the house unoccupied, so Jimmie squats there, but as you can guess, that isn’t anywhere near the end of the story of this strange, hard-to-define movie, directed by the debuting Joe Talbot from a script he wrote with Rob Richert, based on a story by Talbot and Fails. The theme is love of, and alienation from, one’s community of origin, but from scene to scene the tone shifts from realism to absurdist comedy to a poignant, dreamlike reverie.

At times, the movie seems to verge on quietly apocalyptic sci-fi, with HAZMAT-suited figures engaged in some mysterious cleanup and apparently mutant fish pulled out of the bay. At other times, driven by Emile Mosseri’s thrilling musical score, The Last Black Man in San Francisco has an ecstatic, almost hallucinatory beauty reminiscent of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi-style visions. But really, this isn’t all that comparable to anything you’ve seen before. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s undeniably original.


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