Hammer to Nail Review: The Art of the Prank

Artist, Joey Skaggs, has been orchestrating elaborate pranks since the 1970’s. But the difference between what he does and, say, the people who post bogus articles on Facebook, is that exposing the truth is a crucial part of Skaggs’ mission. In this way, he is able to shed some light on social issues and, more importantly, embarrass the media for failing to do their due diligence. He’s always known exactly what elements he needs to include for baiting big news outlets like CNN, the Village Voice, and the Huffington Post. Director Andrea Marini profiles Skaggs in his fascinating new documentary, The Art of the Prank. Marini crosscuts to the greatest hits of Skaggs’ past and back to the present as plans for his latest prank unfold.

Skaggs conceived his life’s work after the local news misinterpreted a Vietnam protest he organized as merely a gathering of littering hippies. He was dismayed that they had gotten it so wrong. He wondered how outlandish a story had to be before they would actually do any investigation, so he decided to test his theory. What he does aren’t merely April Fools jokes. Usually there’s a social message behind the deception. The main one being, don’t believe everything that you hear. Someone isn’t necessarily an authority simply because they present themselves as such. The media manipulates us all the time. Why not manipulate them back?…

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Hammer to Nail Review: Foreveryone.net

(The 2016 Sundance Film Festival is in full swing and we have boots on the ground as well as eyes on screener links for the whole festival! Stay tuned to Hammer to Nail as reviews start rolling in…)

I don’t think I need to explain how essential the World Wide Web is to our daily lives. And yet, as evidenced by the opening of Jessica Yu’s short film, Foreveryone.net, very few people know who is behind it all. That person was a humble genius named Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and he’s perfectly content living in obscurity because he didn’t invent it for notoriety and profit. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

Foreveryone.net tells the story of Berners-Lee and how he came to create something that changed the landscape of the world forever. But it also goes beyond his story, making a strong case for the magnitude of Net Neutrality – that is, keeping the internet free and accessible to everyone in the world, regardless of location or socio-economic status. Berners-Lee knew that the only way to do this was to limit, if not outright avoid, regulation of the Web…

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Hammer to Nail Review: How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town

(The 2016 Slamdance Film Festival is in full swing and we have boots on the ground as well as eyes on screener links for the whole festival! Stay tuned to Hammer to Nail as reviews start rolling in…)

Writer/Director Jeremy LaLonde (Sex After Kids) returns below the belt with his second feature, a bit of good, dirty fun called, How to Plan an Orgy in a Small TownAs the result of a humiliating sexual encounter, teenager Cassie Cranston (Jewel Staite, TV’s Firefly) is almost literally run out of her small Canadian hometown of Beaver’s Ridge. Twelve years later, she reluctantly returns to tie up loose ends after her estranged mother’s funeral and finds that her former peers still hold a grudge. You see, following her exit, Cassie moved to the Big City, and published a scathing piece, exposing Beaver’s Ridge as a wretched hive of wasps and repression. Her article went viral thanks to a literary connection with the town, drawn by her mother, an “Ann of Green Gables” type author, who erroneously depicted the place as wholesome and idyllic. In the years that followed, Cassie gained more notoriety as a sex columnist, further mortifying the conservative townspeople.

What her former peers don’t know, is that Cassie isn’t quite as sexually adventurous as she lets on. And what Cassie doesn’t know, is that the people she grew up around are capable of more open-mindedness than she gave them credit for. Alice (Katharine Isabelle, Ginger Snaps), Cassie’s former best friend, is in the process of exploring her sexuality as she tries to wrap up a divorce with her reluctant husband, Bruce (Mark O’Brien). Heather (Lauren Lee Smith, TVs The L Word) wants to get pregnant ASAP so that she can catch up with the rest of the housewives, and treats her sad-sack husband, Adam (Ennis Esmer), like little more than a baby batter dispenser. And Chester (Jonas Chernick), just finds it difficult to get laid when he feels like he already knows everyone around him. So, for various reasons, they all agree to plan the titular orgy, with Cassie as their guide. She, in turn, will make it the subject of the contractually obligated book she is long overdue writing…

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Hammer to Nail Review: Chemical Cut

(The 2016 Slamdance Film Festival is in full swing and we have boots on the ground as well as eyes on screener links for the whole festival! Stay tuned to hammer to Nail as reviews start rolling in…)

Chemical Cut is the more-than-semi-autobiographical first feature written, directed by, and starring former America’s Next Top Model contestant, Marjorie Conrad. But this isn’t a dramatic reenactment of her time under the tutelage of Tyra Banks, nor is it a straightforward account of Marjorie’s experiences attempting to forge a modeling career after ANTMChemical Cut is about modeling, but it’s moreover the tale of a sheltered young woman attempting to thrive in a hostile world and discover her true self.

23-year-old Irene (Conrad) is indecisive about her career, but she knows she doesn’t want to stay in her dead-end retail job. So when, thanks to a dramatic new hairdo, she is scouted by a modeling agency, she decides to give it a try. She is immediately met with opposition, as well as discouragement from her parents and her emotionally abusive childhood friend, Arthur (Ian Coster). Her new agent is grotesque in both appearance and personality. And though he bombards her with dehumanizing criticisms the moment she walks in the door, she decides to stick with it, determined to make the most of the “one good year” she has left to be a model…

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Hammer to Nail Review: Bread and Butter

That line from Clueless popped into my head repeatedly as I watched Liz Manashil’s filmmaking debut. Brittany Murphy delivers the “way harsh” insult to Alicia Silverstone as a means for discrediting her. If you’re a virgin who can’t drive, who are you to give someone life advice? Of course, those characters are teenagers, so they aren’t exactly brimming with wisdom. Amelia (Christine Weatherup), the protagonist of Bread and Butter, is thirty years old.

Early on, Manashil cleverly establishes Amelia’s desire to “live in a French movie”. This sets the audience up to expect a certain quality of whimsy (that her name is so close to Amelie can’t be a coincidence). When she finds an annotated novel in a used bookshop, and vows to meet the man behind the notes, you think you know what’s coming. But Amelia is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s more like a Manic Normal Human Woman. And Bread and Butter, is a romantic comedy about what dating is really like for socially inept oddballs…

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Hammer to Nail Review: Circle

(The 2015 Seattle International Film Festival started May 14 and ran all the way until June 7. HtN was on the scene and a festival wrap-up is coming later this week. In the meantime, check out this review of Circle, the latest from filmmakers Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione).

Circle is the most fun you can have watching a diverse group of strangers get systematically executed. Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione crafted a shrewd script for their Twilight Zone inspired morality tale about fifty people who are forced to stop being polite and start getting judgmental.

It begins with everyone returning to consciousness after a blackout, to discover that they are standing in a circle, facing each other, in a dark room. They soon learn that they cannot move too much or try to step off the red dots under their feet, lest a machine in the middle of the room electrocutes them. And that’s not even the bad news. Every two minutes, the machine also kills one person at random. They can’t stop the death, but they do have the power to choose the next victim by popular vote. There are other rules and nuances that they ascertain along the way, all of which play into their harrowing discussion about who should be the next to die and if “winning” this sadistic game is even an option…

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Hammer to Nail Review: Sleeping with Other People

(The 2015 Seattle International Film Festival started May 14 and runs all the way until June 7. Keep an eye on HtN for several reviews like this one, the latest from Writer/director Leslye Headland).

Writer/director Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People is a Rom-Com that exists in the space between sincerity and satire. It’s hard to top Headland’s own description: “When Harry Met Sally for assholes.” But if you were truly an asshole, you’d be annoyed by the film’s frequent moments of earnestness. Moreover, fans of that saccharine, genre-defining film might have trouble empathizing with Headland’s deeply flawed protagonists. With its sexual implicitness, casual swearing, and unabashed recreational drug use, Sleeping with Other People is more akin to the films of Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller than to Rob Reiner…

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