Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Frank V. Ross website

Frank V. Ross's new website just launched today, if my google alerts are to be believed. There's a page for the new film, Tiger Tail in Blue, along with a PDF that contains press/festival info.

I know I've kind of dropped off the map, for anyone reading. My internet access is not what it was a few months ago, but that's not really a valid excuse. I still plan on finishing the essays for the 9@Night series, and I have another post planned for something completely different. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hohokam (Frank V. Ross, 2007)

Frank Ross's Hohokam is the most minimal of his four released films. Whereas Quietly on By focused on one main character and his relationship with both his family and his close knit group of friends, Hohokam focuses on about a week in one couple's relationship. Queitly didn't have a conventional plot in the Hollywood sense, but it was apparent that Ross took great attention to detail about his characters' relationships and where things were heading. Hohokam still exists in that same space, giving off a sense that, for all the apparent improvisation and lack of plot, there is a perceptive eye behind it all, making sure that what we see is important. And what we see is a week in the life of a couple, enjoying each other's company, slogging through their nine-to-fives, fighting over things real people fight over, making up, and essentially making things work. 

Hohokam is Ross's shortest film to date, and so deceptively simple it seems to resist any sort of analysis. Or maybe I'm just letting myself off the hook. Whichever the case, I highly recommend it. 

Also: It was Frank Ross Week on Kentucker Audley's No Budge site a couple weeks back. I would have participated, but my internet was restricted to an iPhone until a few days ago. No Budge screened his new one, Tiger Tail in Blue, and it looks like the wheels are turning and more screenings will start to pop up in the months ahead. Here's a brief interview at Filmmaker.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sam Neave's Almost in Love

Last week I was fortunate enough to be offered a ride from Sam Neave himself to San Jose to see his newest, Almost in Love, which was playing as part of the local Cinequest film festival. Having been a fan of Cry Funny Happy for a number of years now, it was great to finally see a new work from Neave. His one film since Cry, First Person Singular, was not released on DVD, and I wasn't sure what the fate of the new one would be (according to Neave, both will get DVD releases, pending song clearances).

I don't normally write about films on here until I've seen them twice (being a critic is surely a tougher job than it seems), but I thought a few words were in order, especially since the film was so good. Almost in Love is a film about a love triangle of sorts between three friends. I say "of sorts" because the girl never really seems to be in love with either of the male characters, although she may have been once. The film consists of two 40-minute continuous takes. In the first, Sasha (Alex Karpovsky, the best I've seen him yet) is throwing a barbecue on his balcony on Staten Island, and has invited his old flame Mia (Marjan Neshat). Shasha's sometimes friend Kyle (Gary Wilmes) is mistakenly invited, and having briefly dated Mia after her breakup with Sasha, creates an awkward scene and nearly ruins the barbecue. At this point I was reminded of Cry Funny Happy's party-ruining breakdown scene, but Neave isn't intent on repeating himself; this one ends on a much different note. The second part takes place during a party on Long Island, roughly a year and a half later. It is Sasha's wedding night, but he's not married to Mia. All his friends are there, including some new ones, and the party has gone on through the night and is approaching dawn. Without revealing or summarizing too much, I will say that Sasha comes to terms with his heart's unmet desire, while we hope Kyle, who is shown to be a kinder person than we may have initially assumed, can do so with the same sort of grace.

The film is extremely well acted, and recalls Altman's 70's films using multiple mics and overlapping dialogue.  The second part is particularly impressive, given the choreography involved. There is never a dead or false moment during this scene, and DP Daniel McKeown makes it all look so easy with his agile camerawork. I'm forgetting a lot of nuance that would make this a better piece, but I'm hoping I've at least aroused some interest from any readers I might have, and maybe after a second viewing I'll post a better piece.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Links, 3/8/12

Here's an interview with Joe Swanberg. I did purchase the Collected Films 2011 box set and plan on writing about Silver Bullets after I give it a second viewing.

Here's a video for the new School of Seven Bells single "Lafaye," co-directed by Swanberg's occasional DP David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks.

Also, Kentucker Audley is selling DVD copies of Open Five. Only 50 will be sold.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quietly on By (Frank V. Ross, 2005)

I had been meaning to see Frank V. Ross's movies for years -- I had heard of Quietly on By and Hohokam as far back as 2006, and I knew him as one of Joe Swanberg's regular actors -- when I finally shot him an email asking if I could buy any of his work on DVD. I ended up buying all four of his releases, although his website for the films seems to have disappeared since then. I'm glad I got through to him during that window. The films are wonderful. Like a lot of the "mumblecore" (a term I resent, by the way) from mid-last decade, they're shot on DV, and often feature twenty-somethings during aimless or stagnant periods in their lives. And yet, Ross's films lack neither purpose nor meaning. Refraining from the urban anomie that is often associated with this type of filmmaking, Ross focuses on small town suburbanites, the kind that are rarely represented in films of any type. An intense interest in the behavior and interactions between the characters shines through in each film.

Quirtly on By focuses on Aaron, who lives at home with his younger sister Erin and their mother. A recent breakup with a long-term girlfriend and subsequent breakdown has left him in limbo, unsure of where to go or what to do next. He's neurotic, somewhat paranoid (he suspects a white SUV is following him around, but it's probably all in his head), and his behavior is often erratic and born out of desperation. But he does have friends, and his family is always there as a tether. His mom provides him with some advice ("It's what you do everyday"), and when Aaron repeats it to a friend at a party, it shows that he takes it seriously, cliched though it may be, and that he is trying.

Though Ross's films may be largely improvised, they feel focused and nuanced. His scenes are a balance of looseness and structure. He's also not afraid to break with the realism that digital video conveys and put in an effects shot, for instance, where Aaron imagines a past moment with his ex-girlfriend while talking to her on the phone in the present. It's a really nice touch (especially how it "fades out" of the current scene) in a film full of them, establishing Ross's idiosyncratic yet subtle style. The aforementioned white SUV is another such touch, something I didn't even notice as a thread in the film until my second viewing.

In addition to being a good stylist, Ross proves himself to have a great eye for behavior, and his superb cast of non-actors (I'm assuming) always feel natural. In the film's best scene, or at least its funniest, Aaron is nearly caught spying on a girl he likes, and after running back to his car he calls another girl whose number he'd gotten days before. The ensuing conversation is both pathetic and hilarious. But for all of Aaron's awkward moments, Ross is not making fun of him or looking down on him. Aaron ultimately proves to be likable; the film ends with a touching moment between him and his sister. I took it to be optimistic about his future without being sentimental.

Frank Ross is doing something that is not too far off from Mike Leigh's 1970s BBC work. Perhaps not as brilliant or insightful, but damn near close. It's always refreshing for me to see these types of down-to-Earth films. This isn't simply a slice of life; there's nuance and insight here.

I'll have a piece up soon on his next film, Hohokam.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"I don't want my pizza burning"

I don't really know what to say about this. Maybe the people at Absurdist Video Art can take a crack at it. What is there to say? It obviously has no subtext behind it, the way The Commercial Network does, for instance. I find it pretty amusing, if not quite hilarious. Many will find it cringe inducing. That's just the nature of this sort of thing, I guess. I'll never hear the Stones song again without thinking of this video, that's for sure.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kentucker Audley's No Budge

No Budge is a website run by Kentucker Audley, director of Team Picture, Open Five, and Holy Land. He's got some interesting looking films uploaded for free viewing on the site, including his own Holy Land, which I just watched and found to be his strongest yet. I have to admit, I'm a bit burnt out by the whole aimless twenty-something genre of so many independent films of the last few years, but Kentucker really does something fresh with it. It's even self reflexive at one point, something that might not have worked so well if Cole Weintraub (the film's main actor) wasn't so hilarious. I'll be checking out more of the website soon.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

9@Night #2: Used (Rob Nilsson, 2007)

Whereas the first film in the series seemed to deal with the fractured memories and experiences of its main character, Used finds that character dealing with his uncertain prospects for the present and future, and even finds him abandoning his past altogether. The film again introduces us to Ben Malifide, now living with the woman who befriended him in the previous film. That woman, St. Tre, is the owner of a strip club, and she's seemingly well off -- she owns a house with a great view in the hills, and she takes Malifide to her high-stakes poker games, where she loses and ends up owing Kenny, a photographer played by Nilsson, 90 grand. Thus, the smallest semblance of a plot is set in motion: Tre ends up taking Malifide's counterfeit money plates (a significant item in the last film) and making her own copy, after which Malifide suspects ill of her and ends up leaving for Nevada to find an old friend he knew in prison.

If Noise was an experimental film with a skeletal narrative, Used is very nearly a genre film, a mixture of crime drama and road movie (the slide guitar soundtrack recalls Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas). As always with Nilsson films, matters of plot don't quite matter so much as the emotional lives of the characters, and nothing is resolved, or even even left unresolved, in the way one might expect. So while film's story arc might seem weak to anyone who thinks film is primarily for telling stories, it's the emotional arcs that are the film's strength. If I mention plot (or lack thereof) often, it is because I think it is central that art film, independent film -- call it what you want -- abandons plot, the idea that a film's ultimate purpose is storytelling, in order to get down to what really matters. This is nothing new, of course. (Any of my anti-plot diatribes can probably be blamed on film school, but that's another story.)

When the film begins, Malafide is bathing outside Tre's house, proclaiming that he's on a vision quest. It's a half-serious joke, and when the time comes for him to leave, he sets out to meet up with an actual mystic, People T. It's unclear how much time has passed between this film and the last, but Malafide is nearly a different character; he has a different haircut, has grown a full beard, and at times seems psychologically unhinged, if only slightly. After leaving Tre's he tries to get rid of his bag, and even begins talking to it. It seems to have been with him quite a while, but it's clear that he would like to be rid of it and his past altogether. After having experienced some luxury for once in his life, he's trying his hand at the life of a tramp, the kind who hops trains. And he does just that, after meet Johnny, played by Edwin Johnson. It's unclear why Johnny is sleeping on railroad tracks when Ben meets him, and we're given few details about his life, but his is another recurring character in the series, and so far one of its strongest performers.

Meanwhile Tre convinces Kenny, to whom she owes the 90 grand, to go to Reno with her where perhaps her nephew will know how to turn her templates into counterfeit bills. I think that's the plan, anyway -- I've watched the movie twice and I'm still a little unclear on the details during these scenes. It's here that Used resembles a more conventinal crime drama -- Tre's nephew is even involved with some shady neo-nazi types who own the bar where he works. His plan to deliver them some free cigarettes via a freght train car fails to come through, and he crosses paths with Malafide and company at the freight station. It is here that Malafide meets an Aldo Modisco, played by David Hess, and over campfire in a homeless encampment they decide to trade identities. Malafide becomes Modisco and hands over the bag, which also contains a package addressed to the Parkway Theater in Oakland. I presume this is an important puzzle piece in the series.

In the end, no one really accomplishes what they had set out to do. Certainly Malafide hoped for something more with People T, who takes him and Johnny to his old spot in the Nevada desert, where he gives them some of his old horse riding mementos, including a chain whose purpose is unclear. Shortly thereafter, People T commits suicide by jumping off the train heading back to California -- it's this that finally pushes Malafide to give up his past for good. Tre's situation, on the other hand, concludes in a less-than-spectacular fashion, with Kenny cancelling the debt but admitting feelings for Tre, who doesn't feel the same. Malafide returns to Tre's, where they reconcile, and there's a montage of People T on his horse that gives emotional closure to Malafide's journey. A shot of the chain that locks the horses pen is a subtle and poetic touch: we recognize it as the chain he gave to Malafide.

Used concludes with us knowing that Malafide will soon be living under an assumed identity. However, the series' next film, Attitude, features Malafide as himself. As such, it is very possible that Attitude occurs within the events of Used. More on that next time.