Category Archives: Ben Sears’ Columns

Ben’s Column: The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) Movie Review

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Premise: A young man searches for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind.

A young black girl stares up at a man in a hazmat suit while a street preacher rants and raves about the contaminated water poisoning the residents. This is the introduction we get to Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Monty’s (Jonathan Majors) version of San Francisco in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”; far from the trolleys, five-star restaurants and tech headquarters of the city. The Golden Gate Bridge is off in the distance, but it’s far enough away that you may forget that it exists. Reality is certainly heightened here, but not so much to seem unbelievable. The film is loosely based on the true-life story of Jimmie Fails, who shares a story credit with first-time director and his childhood friend, Joe Talbot. Jimmie and Monty- both young, under-employed black men with dreams of bigger and better things- share a crowded bedroom in Monty’s blind grandfather’s house on the outskirts of the city. At night, when Jimmie isn’t working at a nursing home, the three watch old movies as Monty lovingly describes the action. On occasion, the two skate into the city to look after and fix up an old Victorian home in the Mission district that’s currently owned by an elderly white couple. Why is Jimmie so immersed in the upkeep of the home? He explains early on (to a Segway tour full of white people, of course) that the house was designed and built by his grandfather with his own two hands after World War II. Soon, the couple moves out and the home is abandoned, so Jimmie and Monty take over and renovate as they believe it should be, preserving as many details as Jimmie’s grandfather intended.

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Ben’s Column: Jawline (2019) Movie Review

Jawline (2019)

Premise: The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

What is the American dream, if not to get rich and famous? In 2019, the quickest and easiest way to get rich and famous is to make it big on social media. Such is the subject of Liza Mandelup’s newest documentary, “Jawline”. The film splits its time focusing on two groups of influencers at various stages of success. First there’s Austyn Tester, a 16-year old high school dropout from rural Tennessee who wants to use his good looks, sunny disposition, and rabid online fan-base to “get famous, so then I can change the world.” The second half goes to a group of interchangeable teen boys (we’re never given their ages, but at best, they’re fresh out of high school) living together in an LA home under the iron fist of their manager Michael Weist. Theirs is a tightly regulated lifestyle where any time not spent posting, tweeting, live-streaming, etc. any branded content is met with Michael’s scorn. At one point, an argument ensues about whether or not to open a video with “hey guys”, lest they alienate their non-female fans. Even though it’s not as well done as the Tennessee portions, the LA half of the film mostly serves as a distant warning to Austyn: this is the fate that awaits the rich and famous in 2019. Thankfully, the amount of time spent between the two is more heavily weighted to Austyn and his struggles.

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Ben’s Column: Her Smell (2019) Movie Review

Her Smell (2019)

Premise: A self-destructive punk rocker struggles with sobriety while trying to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success.

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