Hammer to Nail Review: First Girl I Loved

Teenagers get a bad rap for being difficult. And while that’s not a false accusation, it’s also not entirely their fault. They are minutes past being children but suddenly expected to take on a slew of new responsibilities including figuring out what kind of person they want to be, all while attempting to keep their surging hormones at bay. Writer/director Kerem Sanga’s First Girl I Loved is an astoundingly accurate depiction of the agony of first heartbreak for Anne, a teenager who is simultaneously coming to terms with being gay – something that still isn’t as much of a non-issue as it should be.

Anne (Dylan Gelula, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is a bit of a weirdo but she embraces it. She revels in taking photos for the yearbook and ditching school with her best friend, Cliff (Mateo Arias). Everything gets upended, however, when Anne falls for Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand, Deadpool), the popular star of the school softball team. Anne pretends to interview Sasha for the yearbook as a ruse to meet her. They hit it off and soon are hanging out and texting late into the night. Anne is awash with a cocktail of elation and anxiety; thrilled to have such definitive romantic feelings for someone, but unsure if her love is requited. To complicate matters, when Anne reveals her crush to Cliff, coming out to him in the process, he responds with aggression and jealousy. Much to Anne’s shock and dismay, Cliff’s reaction destroys their friendship and triggers an avalanche of transgressions from all parties within the love triangle…


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Film Int. Review: Phantom Boy

Co-directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol follow up their Oscar nominated film, A Cat in Paris, with Phantom Boy, a film that is perplexingly set in New York City, though everything else about it is as French as can be including the humor and animation style. The script (by Gagnol) tells the story of Leo, an eleven-year-old boy who, afflicted with an unnamed, but serious enough illness to require chemotherapy, learns that he can escape the loneliness of his hospital bed through astral projection for brief stints. When Leo meets Lt. Alex Tanguy (Édouard Baer), an injured police officer with a knack for getting on his boss’s nerves, he uses his power to help ensnare a criminal mastermind who threatens to bring the city to its knees. Phantom Boy is perhaps too simple a story to appeal to all ages, but for children, it is a terrific introduction to heady themes like crime noir and, more importantly, grave illnesses and mortality…


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Film Int. Review: Fantastic Planet Criterion DVD

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first stumbled upon René Laloux’s surreal animated French language sci-fi film, Fantastic Planet (1973). I assume I was old enough to read subtitles, but I’m not 100% sure because the visuals are engaging and unusual enough to hold the attention of anyone, regardless of language comprehension. I believe it was broadcast on television in the mid 1980s, which means I would have been between 7 and 10 years of age. I must have been by myself because for years after, when I attempted to describe what I saw, I received only blank looks. After a while, I began to wonder if I had, in fact, dreamed it. The film certainly possesses a dreamlike quality. But sadly, my dreams are not quite so brilliant. Finally, in my early twenties, I stumbled upon a movie poster in an independent video store and my fuzzy memories were validated.

With the 2016 release of the Criterion edition, it’s clear that La Planète Sauvage (the original title) has staying power that reaches beyond the basement-dwelling 80s child demographic. After re-watching it, this is hardly surprising. The 1973 film is a piece of art that transcends time and space. The paper cutout animation brings Terry Gilliam’s Flying Circus segments to a new level, seamlessly blending moving pieces with the background to create a fluid visual. I’d call it a lost art; only graphic designer Roland Topor is peerless in his skill and vision. His images are mesmerizing and all encompassing. It’s a trip that you can take without the need for mind-altering drugs or a rocket ship…


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Hammer to Nail Review: Mustang

When watching Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Turkish film, Mustang, one cannot help but recall The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola’s haunting fable about a father’s fear of his daughters’ burgeoning womanhood. Only, in the case of Mustang, things are much worse for five orphaned sisters who are imprisoned in their own home by their oppressive uncle. Though they couldn’t see it, the Lisbon sisters of Suicides, could have waited out their childhood until adulthood emancipated them. The only escape for Mustang’s Lale, Nur, Ece, Selma, and Sonay is to be married off. They would merely be replacing Uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekan) with a new patriarch. To achieve true independence in their world means literally risking their lives and running as far away as possible. If only it were that easy…


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Hammer to Nail Review: Tickled

I don’t know about you, but I hate being tickled and always have. There’s something insidious about a person forcing uncontrollable laughter out of you despite not enjoying how they’re doing it. Inexplicably, both my children love being tickled and will even request it. If they ask me to stop, I do so immediately. Their laughs are genuine, though I can’t imagine why. Even as a child, I detested it and would become furious when subjected to it. On more than one occasion, my brother received a bloody nose in response to his non-consensual tickling. So when I heard about “Competitive Endurance Tickling” – the subject of New Zealand directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s documentary, Tickled – my first thought was, “DEAR GOD, WHY?!” The easy answer is the same as the reason people do anything unpleasant – money. A lot of money. But, as Farrier and Reeve soon discover, there’s a lot more to the story than that…


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Hammer to Nail: The Complete History of Seattle

The Complete History of Seattle doesn’t just eschew the band documentary formula. Nick Toti’s film, which is mainly about 90s Christian experimental punk group, Raft of Dead Monkeys, binges on the genre and then simultaneously craps and barfs it back up. Believe it or not, this is not a criticism. It’s quite refreshing and exciting to watch something from a typically formulaic genre and not have any clue where you’ll end up.

Part of the reason the film is structured this way is due to Raft of Dead Monkeys’ wholly unique stage show. The band rose from the ashes of 90-Pound Wuss and Roadside Monument – two popular Christian punk bands that were darlings of the faith-based Seattle indie label Tooth & Nail. Taking their name from a throwaway joke in an Adam Sandler SNL skit, they were not your garden variety Christians. Raft’s music was particularly profane and noisy, and their performances invoked many provocative images including bloody crucifixions, fascism, monkeys barfing bananas, male and female go-go dancers, and sexy junkie nurses (played by their wives and girlfriends). At the time of their formation, the band members were feeling disillusioned and alienated from both their fellow Christian musicians and the secular punk scene at large. According to their manifesto, they were attempting to create the music that would usher in the apocalypse. In response to feeling shunned, they basically became Christian anarchists…


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SIFF 2016 Wrap-Up

Another SIFF has come and gone. This year, the Seattle International Film Festival ran from May 19th to June 12th and featured 421 films from 85 countries. I have to say this was one of my favorite years. With so many options, it’s always hard to narrow down one’s itinerary. Plus, even when most of the films are great, seeing so many in such a concentrated period of time tends to make them all blur together. But I loved so many of the films I saw this year, that when I receive the inevitable question, “what’s good?” I have a long and enthusiastic answer. If you’re reading this, I assume you would have asked me the same question. So here it is…


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