Chances are you didn't see "The Last Black Man in San Francisco."
Though it won awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" was released in the middle of summer to barely 200 theaters. Now that the movie is streaming on Amazon Prime, audiences have an opportunity to see 2019's most underrated film.
Director Joe Talbot's feature-length debut stems from a story he and actor/writer Jimmie Fails wrote. Here, Fails plays a version of himself, and the events are partly based on Fails' life. In the film, Fails attempts to reclaim his childhood home, one that he thinks his grandfather built. The larger idea at play here is a restless search for identity.
In this modern-day version of the city by the bay, 100-year-old houses have been flipped into million-dollar properties. Fails now lives in a studio-sized apartment with his friend, Mont (Jonathan Majors). Once predominantly black, the neighborhood has been replaced with skyscrapers, shopping centers and software companies.
Fails, his friends, family and neighbors can't believe or understand what has become of their home. Neighbors who fancy themselves gangsters can't hide their insecurity and boredom. Mont uses his voice and love of drama to write a play about the death of a childhood friend. Fails wants to keep what he loves close, but the struggle only grows further out of his control.
This is powerful stuff. Though it never is as loud or brash, this feels like a cousin to Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing." Like Lee's 1989 masterpiece, Talbot and Fails show how people live and move together while industry, economic forces and time show no remorse.
As vibrant and timely as it is, "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" should be in the awards discussion. One can only speculate why it isn't — its release date, its subject matter, audiences' preoccupations with comic book movies, etc. However, Fails' story does give me hope, because smaller indie films tackling real issues with energy and personality are still being made.
No matter the response, after watching this, we can agree: Whatever Fails does next, chances are more people will be watching.
ALSO STREAMING THIS MONTH
On Amazon Prime: "Almost Famous," "The Aviator," "Bug," "The Pawnbroker," available now; "Light of My Life," available Dec. 9; "Fast Color," available Dec. 11; "Bumblebee," available Dec. 13; "The Aeronauts," available Dec. 20; "What Men Want," "Wonder Park," available Dec. 30; "Man on the Moon," available Dec. 31.
On Disney+: "Glory Road," "Thor: Ragnarok," available now; "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," available Dec. 26.
On HBO Go/Now: "The Abyss," "American Woman," "Being Julia," "Bridesmaids," "Grandma’s Boy," "Hoop Dreams," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "What About Bob?," available now; "Long Shot," available Dec. 7; "Hellboy (2019)," available Dec. 14; "Pokemon Detective Pikachu," available Dec. 28; "Her Smell," available Dec. 30.
On Hulu: "Fast Color," available Dec. 11; "Bumblebee," "The Sound of Silence," available Dec. 13; "American Gangster," "Wild Rose," available Dec. 16; "Cold Case Hammarskjöld," available Dec. 19; "What Men Want," "Wonder Park," available Dec. 30.
On Netflix: "Austin Powers" trilogy, "Malcolm X," "Marriage Story," "Sweet Virginia," available now; "It Comes at Night," available Dec. 9; "6 Underground," available Dec. 13; "The Two Popes," available Dec. 20; The Secret Life of Pets 2," available Dec. 27; "Lawless," available Dec. 29.