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Indie Focus: Generations clash in ‘Tigertail’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The American Film Institute has launched its AFI Film Club, where each day it selects a movie and tells you where it is streaming. It also features introductions from actors and filmmakers, with recent entries including Elisabeth Moss on “When Harry Met Sally,” Cynthia Erivo on “The Devil Wears Prada” and Brad Pitt on “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

In its own search for a way to keep engaging with audiences while it can’t screen movies in theaters, the American Cinematheque is streaming a rare short film by Agnès Varda, “The Little Story of Gwen From French Brittany.” The film was shot over several years beginning in 1996, and the Gwen in the title is Gwen Deglise, who is currently head programmer at the Cinematheque.

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Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is now available on Hulu, along with Bong’s earlier pictures “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “Mother” and “The Host.” As Christi Carras wrote, the official Hulu Twitter feed was quick to shut down anyone complaining that the non-English-language film had won the Oscar for best picture.

Premiering on Netflix this week is the documentary “L.A. Originals,” directed by Estevan Oriol, on tattoo culture in Los Angeles. Daniel Hernandez spoke to Oriol and one of the film’s main subjects, tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon, for a look at this vibrant piece of Los Angeles culture and history.

“A lot of great art has come from struggle, struggle in people’s own lives, in their community and in their head-space,” said Oriol, a noted photographer. “Most of the Chicano art comes from out in the streets, from the revolution, fighting for their place in the community.”

Times film critic Justin Chang collated a list of 12 movies for Passover and Easter, including “Au Hasard Balthazar,” “Uncut Gems,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” “The Ten Commandments,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” and “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

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This week on our podcast “The Reel,” I interviewed Kenneth Turan on his last day after nearly 30 years as film critic at The Times. It was a warm, reflective conversation, covering some of his most memorable reviews and interviews, the impact of film criticism and the future of Hollywood.

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‘Tigertail’

Written and directed by Alan Yang — best known as cocreator of the series “Master of None” — “Tigertail” stars Tzi Ma as Pin-Jui, a Taiwanese immigrant to the U.S. looking back on his life, as his grown daughter (Christine Ko) struggles to connect with him emotionally. The movie is available on Netflix.

In his review for The Times, Glenn Whipp wrote, “‘Tigertail’ examines those unspoken family stories and, specifically, serves as a nuanced look at the Taiwanese immigrant experience — the sacrifices, the loneliness and the sheer exhaustion that can break people and leave them unrecognizable.”

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Jen Yamato spoke to Yang and Ma for a story on the film that will be published soon. “I think there is something inherent in the culture that tells them and tells you and us, frankly, as kids, that it’s strong to be stoic. It’s strong to deny your emotions and not express them to people,” Yang said. “And that’s one of the themes of the movie: being able to tell the people you love that you care about them and that it’s never too late to share that.”

For the New York Times, Kristen Yoonsoo Kim wrote, “Spanning more than half a century, ‘Tigertail’ goes back and forth in time, tracing the events that allowed Pin-Jui to achieve his American dream yet made him so aloof to his loved ones. It does this to mixed results.”

For IndieWire, Eric Kohn wrote, “A slow-burn immigrant drama with visual polish to spare, the movie molds the leisurely plot into a lush, moving portrait of American dreams undercut by harsh reality checks. Yang infuses his earnest, semifictionalized story (inspired by his own father’s experiences) with the evocative narrative traditions of modern Asian cinema, from Wong Kar Wai to Edward Yang, resulting in a rich and intimate atmosphere at every turn. While the movie doesn’t achieve the narrative mastery of its influences, Yang’s first feature has a touching emotional throughline grounded in authenticity.”

Tzi Ma and Christine Ko in "Tigertail," a drama from Alan Yang now streaming on Netflix.
(Sarah Shatz / Netflix)

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‘We Summon the Darkness’

Directed by Marc Meyers (“My Friend Dahmer”) from a screenplay by Alan Trezza (“Burying the Ex”), the new horror-comedy “We Summon the Darkness” has fun with the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, when people feared there was a connection between heavy metal music and violent occultism. Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth are three friends who meet three guys at a rock show and go to hang out and party afterwards, when things take a turn for the bloody. Distributed by Saban Films, the film is available on video-on-demand.

For The Times, Noel Murray reviewed the film as part of a VOD roundup that included “Sea Fever,” “Stray Dolls” and others. Of “Darkness,” Murray wrote that the film “never seems as committed to the ‘kids getting butchered out in the sticks’ part of this story as he is in the ‘Metallica fans hanging out and swapping stories’ part. ‘We Summon the Darkness’ is fine throughout, but it peaks in its first third, when nothing much is happening beyond some very good actors re-creating the small-town rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of the recent past.”

Reviewing the film when it played as part of the annual FrightFest for Sight & Sound, Anton Bitel wrote, “‘We Summon the Darkness’ steadily upends conventional prejudices (and cinematic clichés) concerning gender, class and religion — even if, after a relatively early reveal of the Big Twist, there is nowhere really left to go beyond standard cat-and-mouse maneuvers and chaotic farce.”

For Bloody Disgusting, Meagan Navarro wrote, “This film crafts its story around an interesting ’what if’ scenario involving the ’80s Satanic Panic craze that gripped America with fear. Ultimately, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or present anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s so damn fun that it’s hardly a flaw. It’s a throwback horror-comedy that offers up just enough surprises and a pair of scene-stealing performances by Hasson and Daddario that will make you throw up a pair of devil horns and hail Satan.”

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For Vulture, Jordan Crucchiola interviewed Daddario, also a producer on the film, about her role. As Daddario said, “The character in [‘We Summon the Darkness’] is just a ton of fun and totally off her rocker. All the actors put so much effort into not being judgmental and into trying all different kinds of things; I got to explore a different side of myself. There’s a lot of freedom in playing someone who isn’t perfect, and it allows for a lot of nuanced silliness.”

Alexandra Daddario, Amy Forsyth and Maddie Hasson in "We Summon the Darkness."
(Saban Films)

‘About a Teacher’

Written and directed by Hanan Harchol, “About a Teacher” is based on his own experiences teaching film at a New York City public high school. Played in the film by Dov Tiefenbach, Harchol depicts both his own personal struggles outside of school, those of his students and his learning how to reach them. The movie is available on Amazon Prime.

In a review for The Times, Michael Rechtshaffen wrote, “More aligned to the docudrama stylings of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach than the likes of a ‘Lean on Me’ or ‘Stand and Deliver,’ Harchol’s inspirational film eschews mainstream tropes in favor of a bracingly candid sociological study that has compellingly done its homework.”

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For the Hollywood Reporter, Frank Scheck wrote, “Unlike in so many films of its type, the central character’s difficulties don’t get solved in days or weeks. ‘About a Teacher’ takes place during the first three years of Hanan’s career, depicting his long struggle to get better at his profession. Although the film thankfully eschews hokey melodramatics (there is no gun waving, for instance), it realistically depicts such episodes as camera equipment suddenly going missing and a student violently grabbing Hanan’s wrist.”

Dov Tiefenbach in the movie "About a Teacher."
(Hanan Harchol Productions)

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