The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) Written by Jimmie Falls, Joe Talbot, and Rob Richert Directed by Joe Talbot
San Francisco has existed since 1846, formerly the Spanish town of Yerba Buena renamed in the wake of the Mexican-American War. The city boomed with the Gold Rush and despite destructive earthquakes hasn’t seemed to stop growing ever since. These days, San Francisco is at the center of the tech boom, neighborhoods gobbled up by startups and associated service industries that cater to these companies. The long-time residents of San Fran, whose family lineages go back to the first boom of the Gold Rush and the subsequent migrations, are being pushed to the fringes. The gentrification is even crossing the Bay into Oakland. Like every city center in our nation afflicted by “urban revitalization,” the result is always the local is pushed out for the transplant or the tourist.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Alita is a movie almost 20 years in the making. In 2000, James Cameron registered website domain names that involved this property as a film. In 2003, he confirmed he was going to direct a movie based on the early 90s manga. And then delays began, and Avatar went into production, and other projects came about. Eventually, Cameron stepped aside, taking credit as screenwriter and producer. Robert Rodriguez came onboard in 2016 with the film set to be released in July of 2018. That didn’t happen, and the movie was delayed to a primo January release in 2019. All this is to say that this film has had so much time to be worked on tweaked and improved so it should be great. But there is a common theme in Hollywood where a film has a window between enough pre-production and too much that it overbakes. Alita was burnt to a crisp.
Stranger Things Season 3 (Netflix) Written by Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, William Bridges, Kate Trefry, Paul Dichter, and Curtis Gwinn Directed by Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, and Uta Briesewitz
When the 1980s is referenced in modern popular media it is typically with bright neon colors and pop music, nods to Ghostbusters, Goonies, and Gremlins, the sound of Mario snatching a coin backed by synthesizers. When did the 1980s as an aesthetic and unique cultural touchpoint begin? The early 1980s are naturally a carryover of the late 1970s but when did this decade come into its own? 1985 is a reasonable touchpoint; when the color got turned up, and the consumption of the Reagan era went into full swing. If you noticed a marked difference in the look and feel of Stranger Things, you wouldn’t be wrong. This third season is unashamedly dripping in its time, arguably more so than the previous seasons. This is also the most cohesive season if we look at the plot structure with very clear throughlines that bring us to a conclusion. There’s not a lot of character downtime, for better or worse.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers Directed by Jon Watts
Spider-Man is a character who has many phases in his life, unlike Batman and Superman, who are static in their development for the most part. Right now Superman is married with a son in the comic books, yet I anticipate the time will come where the reset button is hit, and that is erased. While many a Robin has come and gone and developed in their unique ways, Batman is never changing, always returning to his starting position. When looking over Peter Parker’s life, there are the high school years, the college years, the married years; the shivers clone saga and eventual reset, the successful businessman phase. Parker is dynamic and grows yet for the movie-going public nothing quite beats high school Spider-Man. He is reflective of our foibles and awkwardness, forced to choose between a normal life and one as a hero.
Ari Aster proves doubters wrong with his sophomore feature, a return to familiar themes of family and grief centered around pagan ritual. In contrast to the dark, emotionally volatile tone of Hereditary, Midsommar presents itself with a bright yet neutral atmosphere. Aster manages to tackle romantic relationships and their conflicts with the same sure hand he brought to examining the bleak inner workings of dysfunctional families. There’s a sense of hypnosis as we journey into the world of this film, a warm uncertainty, feeling doubts about treading further only to be nudged forward by a deceptively friendly hand. Before you know it, we are too far along to turn back and can only grimace at the horrors played out before our eyes.
Fiction Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado I’d heard much acclaim about this short story collection and figured it was time to sit down and read it finally. I’m thrilled I did. Machado reminded me a lot of Kelly Link, weaving themes of feminism and horror into stories that stand strongly as genre pieces or a literary piece to be dissected. There’s an incredible inventiveness to the stories Machado tells. She repurposes the old folktale/urban legend about the girl the green ribbon around her neck to tell a story about a woman having her sexuality slowly but surely stolen from her over the course of decades. There’s a tale about a store clerk uncovering the horrific truth behind the seams in the prom dresses she sells that is chilling. The stand out work is the novella “Especially Heinous” that starts as TV Guide-style episode synopses of Law & Order: SVU. Things get strange when a narrative strand begins to connect these summaries, and we see a story unfolding of evil twins and demon possession. It’s one of the most ingenious ways to twist how a horror story can be told and well worth the read.