M. Blash’s drama “The Wait” turns such mundane sights as wind chimes and sparks from a fire into uplifting auguries. This mystical tone makes plausible the drama acted out between sisters played by Chloe Sevigny and Jena Malone, who accept to varying degrees a psychic’s claim that their recently deceased mother will return from the dead. The psychic’s accuracy ultimately proves less interesting than in seeing both Sevigny and Malone emotionally dance along the borderline between near-madness and spiritual awakening.
Turning away from Oregon-based mysticism, Hao Jie’s award-winning Chinese film “The Love Songs Of Tiedan” immerses viewers in Chinese quotidian rural life. Sadly, the effect of seeing the film’s ethnographic detail gets compromised by its emotionally unengaging story-telling.
Tiedan is the son of an Er-ren-tai singer who has gone blind. The film follows Tiedan from probably the late 1960s to possibly the early 1980s as he goes from a childhood climaxed by the loss of a loved neighbor to feckless directionless youth to finding fame and responsibility after he hones his own abilities in singing Er-ren-tai.
Hao provides enough performances of the Shanxi province-originated singing form banned by the Cultural Revolution to keep tedium at bay. However, those seeking a deeper immersion in Hao’s fictional world will not learn why Er-ren-tai performances were banned or even specifically when the film’s events take place.
Ridicule may understandably be directed at seeing middle-aged actors playing 20-ish characters. But Hao’s dedication to finding actors who can deliver credible Er-ren-tai performances meant favoring actual talent over appearance.
The film’s use of poetic allusions and visual metaphors to depict sex and desire foreshadows the film’s major weakness. Tiedan’s traumatic heartbreaks don’t get transmuted into his singing performances. Instead, love’s joys and pains only come across in seeing countryside footage and the public performances of Er-ren-tai.
Calling Drew Tobia’s hilariously squirm-inducing film “See You Next Tuesday” a dysfunctional family dark comedy/drama doesn’t capture its ability to wipe self-satisfaction and complacency from smug viewers’ minds.
Very visibly pregnant and mentally disturbed Mona lives in a New York City SRO hotel. Obnoxious fellow workers and insulting customers describe the rotten daily bread of her supermarket checker grind.
Mona’s immediate family doesn’t provide an emotional counter-balance. Her former drug addict mother May flips between motherly compassion and petty rageaholism. Party animal lesbian sister Jordan can’t screw or drink away either her continued unemployment or her own short temper. After an angry break in Mona and May’s relationship occurs, the resultant emotional black hole in the pregnant woman’s psyche pulls in and trashes unfortunates who spend time with Mona.
Cate Blanchett’s anti-heroic Jasmine in “Blue Jasmine” is a far different creature than Eleanore Pienta’s lower class anti-heroic Mona. While Jasmine’s sophistication can charm the unwary, Mona’s alternating poles of childlike vulnerability and easily triggered rages inspires an earlier desire for distance. Pienta’s character never displays a malicious streak that would make Mona’s misfortunes schadenfreude bait. Yet Tobia simultaneously avoids offering any easy avenues for empathizing with Mona. Flying into a rage on being asked how she’ll handle her baby’s post-natal development is the wrong answer. Nor will Mona’s pregnancy ever excuse her spray-painting of a hate symbol.
If May and Jordan serve as Mona’s only emotional lifelines, the length of their support is very short. May lacks the type of close contact social skills that allows her to play nice with others. Jordan’s limited sympathy for Mona’s struggles seems spurred by an unstated fear of catching her sister’s loser cooties.
Sylvie, Jordan’s lover, balances goodheartedness with firm boundaries. Yet even she proves ineffective in dealing with Mona. Viewers who futilely pray Mona won’t melt down at a farewell party will still have their hearts clench at seeing Mona howl for her mother.
Tobia’s alternately disturbing and ruefully funny work satisfactorily recognizes that seeking the emotionally easy answer only serves the person who wants to sleep away difficult problems. For viewers made of sterner stuff, they will accept and maybe treasure the film’s decision to not necessarily provide easy dramatic resolutions.
Toronto International Film Festival animation award-winner “Asphalt Watches” delivers entertaining mind-melting goodness. Underground cartoonists Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver’s autobiographical road movie takes viewers on a semi-hallucinogenic trip through backroads Canada.
Bucktooth Ghost and Skeleton Hat are two young hobos hitch-hiking across the Canadian countryside. In their travels, the two young men encounter such entertainingly eccentric drivers as a truck driver who turns CB handles into spoken word poetry and a psychotic “real St. Nicholas” who rants about secret conspiracies and special elf training.
In keeping with “Asphalt Watches”’ semi-surrealistic atmosphere, the film’s visual style can be likened to “South Park” simplicity as drawn by an intensely stoned “World War 3 Illustrated” artist. How else can one characterize a rendering of oil overconsumption as a large pool of oil having a giant straw sticking out of it?
Having a decidedly offbeat musical score provides a perfect aural complement to the film’s semi-surrealistic visuals. Simple clichés such as “My compliments to the chef” or “Say hello to Granny,” set to electronic beeps and boops, wind up transmuting into amusingly catchy chants.
The title’s reference is never directly explained. Yet the film’s titular “watches” implicitly refer to the highways both lead characters ride along to get farther east. Curious viewers will just be happy to see where the duo lands up next.
(“Asphalt Watches” screens February 14, 2014 at 7 PM and February 17, 2014 at 7:00 PM. “The Love Songs Of Tiedan” screens February 15, 2014 at 2:30 PM and February 16, 2014 at 12:15 PM. “The Wait” screens February 16, 2014 at 4:45 PM and February 19, 2014 at 9:15 PM. These screenings take place at the Roxie Theater (3117-16th Street, SF). “See You Next Tuesday” screens February 18, 2014 at 7:00 PM at the New Parkway Theater (474-24th Street, Oakland). For further information, go to www.sfindie.com