All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.

([v] video piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)





Tiger Tail in Blue (Frank V. Ross)

[NOTE: This is an excerpt from a longer review, published in Cinema Scope 53.] Frank V. Ross's previous film, the subtle yet highly audaciousAudrey The Trainwreck, announced its maker not as a leader of mumblecore but a graduate of it, a major U.S. auteur on par with the likes of Andrew Bujalski and Aaron Katz. Tiger Tail In Blue, which I was fortunate to catch on a brief preview on NoBudge, is less of a breakthrough than Audrey, but it is a full consolidation of Ross’s prior achievements. More accessible than the previous film without sacrificing one iota of intelligence or insight, Tiger Tail is a film that cuts a little closer to the bone than some of Ross’s previous work. Because of a few small torques in his prior maneuvers, the director may find himself in the unenviable position of having to answer intimations from critics that the film may be somehow autobiographical.  But this would be unconscionably lazy; beyond its immediate surfaces, Tiger Tail is a story far too capacious in its observation of relationship anxiety to be summed up by any local specificities.  Yes, Ross himself plays the male lead, and his character Chris is a writer (and a waiter), rather than the usual middle-class working stiffs who populate the director’s previous films. But this “artistic” side does not exactly afford Chris any privileged insight into the film’s primary scenario. (Based on what we see, he may not be a particularly gifted writer in any case.)


Chris is married to Melody (Rebecca Spence), a high school teacher; Chris works nights. Their opposite schedules result in intense marital strain, although as Tiger Tail builds steam, Ross shows us certain pre-existing fissures in the relationship, ones that are only magnified under the additonal stress. In particular, Chris has had difficulty pulling his weight financially, and “type-A” Melody tends to over-direct Chris’s drift. Chris begins counterbalancing the relative absence of Melody in his life with a rather brazen flirtation with Brandy (Megan Mercier), a younger waitress on his late shift. Tiger Tail exhibits customarily sharp editing from Ross, as well as warm, rich cinematography by filmmaker Mike Gibisser, working with Ross for the first time. However this is not a film of visual or spatial motifs in the same way Audrey was. Above all, it’s a film that affords room for its actors to inhabit a script characterized as much by pursed lips and silences as by direct speech. (Spence is particularly strong as Melody, a young woman flustered as she detects her inherent sexiness slipping away under a barrage of adult responsibility.) While Ross’s latest effort could bea bit too subtle to be conventionally commercial, it does avoid excess stylization in favor of a direct examination of a male perspective that, while not completely deluded, is certainly too blinkered to see who he is and what he’s got. Chris is perfectly adequate, and Tiger Tail In Blue is, in part, a story about being grateful when you find that one person who was born to overvalue you, flaws and all.




Amity (Alejandro Adams)

[NOTE: This is an excerpt from a longer review, published in Cinema Scope 53.] Like many, I have not yet seenAlejandro Adams’s third film Babnik (2010), a Russian-language feature about human trafficking that premiered at Cinequest and traveled very little after that. (It could well be that a lo-fi American indie in Russian was too much of a niche-buster.) But Amity, his latest, is a determinedly small film in the mold of his debut, Around the Bay. (In terms of style and theme, it seems quite likely that Adams' disjointed organ-transplant tone poem Canary will prove to be a glorious one-off.) It finds Adams moving into mode less defined by overt formalism and instead organized around a single damaged character and those pulled into his toxic orbit. Some early responders have drawn parallels to early Neil LaBute, but I think that’s more than a bit offbase. The dialogue in Amity is sculpted and delivered not in order to generate some sort of vulgar poetry of male prerogative but to enframe a misplaced sense of entitlement, the sort designed to elicit cringes of recognition. Greg (Greg Cala) is introduced in close-up; he’s at a party in a hot tub, puffing a stogie and delivering crass racist pronouncements. Eventually someone else in the group makes a move toward checking Greg’s boorish behaviour, whereupon he unleashes a belligerent tirade. We soon learn that Greg’s a career military man, estranged from his kids, and has decided to surprise his daughter (named Amity, who we never see) on her graduation day by showing up with a rented limo.


This ill-advised maneuver – needless to say, she’s got other plans – leads the wounded Greg to tool around in the paid-for limo, treating its taciturn driver (the excellent Michael Uimari) as his captive audience and rent-a-buddy. Greg is a classic type. He becomes more obnoxious the more vulnerable he feels. Adams really gets cooking once the limo “journey” (around suburban San Jose) begins; visually, Amity makes use of its cramped quarters to tell its story through tense, claustrophobic close-ups. A from-the-underbelly companion to Anderson’s The Master in this regard (although I doubt Adams will appreciate the comparison), Amity frames faces as though the pixels themselves were going to push discomfort and aggression right out of the actors’ pores. The key scene of the film, in which Greg tries to impress a gaggle of drunk party ladies (including Marya Murphy) in the back of the limo, is an extended workout on the dynamics of shifting power, tension accumulating and finally boomeranging onto its macho source. Recalling the fine early work of Bruce Sweeney, Amity is perhaps too subtle a machine to connect with audiences as diverse as those who embraced Canary. But it’s without a doubt one of this year’s most assured “minor films,” in the Deleuze / Gunning sense – a Carveresque short story about bombast giving way to pitiable frailty.