Film Review: King of Beasts

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It’s nearly impossible for a documentary to remain purely objective. Even without narration, the director is still choosing who to interview, what to film, and what to leave out in the editing room. The filmmakers still have a stance, whether or not they choose to reveal it to the audience. Nonetheless, Tomer Almagor and Nadav Harel come very close to presenting the subject of King of Beasts in an unbiased light. Their protagonist is Aaron Neilson, a middle-aged white man who makes more than a livable income as a hunting guide in the Colorado mountains. He leads a relatively simple life, and gives his girlfriend shit about how much she’s spending at the nail salon. Meanwhile, he’s planning his fourteenth trip to Tanzania so that he can add to his prodigious lion trophy collection. He kills plenty of other animals too, but lions are his passion. They’re the reason he spends thousands of dollars and flies 9000 miles. He reminds me of my daughter with her endless amassing of plushies. It would be amusing, were it not for the fact that his toys were once majestic living creatures. But he maintains that his hobby is misunderstood. They have to go to Tanzania and see it for themselves. Through this film, we can do just that. And guess what? It’s still not a great look.

Almagor and Harel offer all this without comment – there are no titles or narration in King of Beasts. It’s a true fly-on-the-wall account. Neilson tells the camera that he just wants a chance to show things from his side. The animal rights activists who admonish him on the internet haven’t met a lion up close. They haven’t felt the thrill and righteousness of knowing you’re at the top of the food chain. He respects the animals, he says. But it’s his god given right to take their lives. He’s not murdering Simba from The Lion King. These animals are nothing but natural born killing machines. On top of that, he’s totally helping the people of Tanzania by bringing them his tens of thousands of dollars…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

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Film Review: This World Alone

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Everyone is feeling pretty bleak these days. The Worldwide Magic 8-Ball keep coming up “Outlook Not Good.” So there seems to be no shortage of cinematic post-apocalyptic hellscapes. This World Alone is set after the collapse of modern society known as “The Fall.” But what sets this film apart is that it manages to paint a pretty effective picture of post-electronic life through dialogue and forest settings. Screenwriter Hudson Phillips wrote a powerful story that could be produced on a shoestring budget. His debut feature tells the story of 3 women attempting to thrive in a remote cabin, apart from a society that has embraced Old Testament thinking to bring order to the chaos. Director/editor Jordan Noel compliments the script with his intimate direction and slow-burn pacing.

Belle Adams stars as Sam, a 20-year-old woman who grew up with only books to inform her world view. And so, she longs to see what’s left of the world. But her hardened mother Connie (Carrie Walrond Hood), doesn’t think Sam would make it a day out there on her own. Connie tries to prepare Sam for a harsh world by teaching her to fight and forcing her to sacrifice her pet pig for their supper. Sam is less than enthused about these lessons, creating a familiar mother/daughter power struggle. You can expect to hear Sam make vows about how she will treat her own children someday…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: Mapplethorpe

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Like most Americans, I was first introduced to Matt Smith as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who. That’s why a part of me will always feel a little scandalized by his darker roles. His performance in Womb haunts me to this day. I feel a bit like his mother when I see him bare his ass for extended periods of time on screen. “My stars, Matthew!” I think. “Is that really necessary?”

In regard to a biopic about “the Shy Pornographer,” Robert Mapplethorpe, it is necessary. Mapplethorpe would hate to be pigeonholed in such a way, but his legacy is, essentially, photos of butts and penises. This is acknowledged in the film when Mapplethorpe preps his colleagues for an upcoming exhibition. Even though Mapplethorpe aspired to be a “modern Michelangelo,” he knew that, “people will be expecting some cock.”

Mapplethorpe Director Ondi Timoner (Dig!) also knows this. More importantly, the woman knows how to capture difficult artists. She makes it seem perfectly reasonable – crucial, even – for the subject to get angry when someone tells him his behavior hurts people. It’s a tale as old as time. Hurting people is part of the process…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: All About Nina

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There may come a day when movies like All About Nina seem antiquated. Remember when the patriarchy infected everything, including comedy? And women had to struggle every second of every day to achieve equal opportunity and respect? And they were slut-shamed and victim-blamed for the transgressions of powerful men? And it was often painful simply to exist as a woman on this earth?

Unfortunately, Eva Vives directorial debut couldn’t be timelier. The prevalence of “#MeToo” might create the illusion that we’re making progress. But change is coming at a snail’s pace. People (not just men) are holding on to the status quo for dear life. That includes the world of comedy, in which women have to work their asses off to justify their inclusion. Most of the time, talent and hard work aren’t enough. All About Nina is a dramedy that’s heavy on the dram. But it’s also a breath of fresh air because it confronts the toxic masculinity that infects the comedy world…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Podcast: Mandy

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The wonderful fellas behind Ex Rated Movies invited me back for a “Quick and Dirty” discussion of Panos Cosmatos’ revenge flick, Mandy (2018). It was great fun attempting to process this insane movie in real time with them. Listen here!

Film Review: Skate Kitchen

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Vérité teen dramas don’t have to be depressing. Documentary filmmaker Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack) makes her narrative debut with Skate Kitchen, a coming-of-age tale which follows an 18-year-old Long Island native on her journey to both independence and finding her tribe. Apart from conflict with her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez, Orange is the New Black), and a little boy drama, nothing horrific happens to Camille (Rachelle Vinberg). Instead, she joins the ranks of the titular girl skate group, and they traverse Manhattan in empowering formation.

The driving drama comes after a board-related trip to the E.R. Camille’s mom tells her she got lucky, and makes her promise to quit skating. Camille tries to get her fix through the Instagram exploits of the Skate Kitchen. But when they post about a “girl’s skate sesh”, Camille can’t help herself. She creates a cover story and makes the long journey into the city to carefully orchestrate a “casual” meet-up with the like-minded ladies. Because Camille’s talent for skating matches her passion, it’s not long before they’re posting videos of Camille’s tricks and welcoming her into the fold…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Ex-Rated Podcast: Wild at Heart

1133333I recently had the opportunity to spew my guts out about one of my all-time favorite movies, Wild at Heart, on the Ex-Rated Podcast (so-named because the hosts used to date). Ryan Weadon and Matt Fisher were very fun to talk to about the movie, the Lynchverse, and Nic Cage’s eccentric spending habits, amongst other things. Please give it a listen over at Ex-Rated Movies.

https://app.stitcher.com/splayer/f/126373/55658253