Film Review: Clara’s Ghost

All that most moms* really want is to feel appreciated. Of course, everyone has a different metric for what that entails. But for the most part, it doesn’t mean gifts or grand gestures. It definitely doesn’t mean homemade coupons for foot massages. Just a simple “thank you” every once in a while, would suffice. They want someone to notice (and care) that they did your laundry or stayed up late cleaning the kitchen. After all, “Somebody has to do it.” But being a mom is practically the denotation of a “thankless job”. And when someone spends 20–odd years getting shit done for their family, the lack of appreciation can take its toll. That’s what happens to the titular matriarch in Bridey Elliott’s wonderful debut, a gothic black comedy called Clara’s Ghost.


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Film Review: Mr. Roosevelt

Noël Wells’ feature debut is not expressly autobiographical, but there are certainly many parallels between the flailing comedian protagonist and the writer/director/star of the film. Wells was on one season of SNL, but really turned heads as Aziz Ansari’s season 1 paramour on Master of None. Her first film proves that though she’s a talented actress, she’s an even better writer and director. Those others were just holding her back…

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Film Review: Driftwood

Paul Taylor hates exposition so much; he created a film that has none whatsoever. Without dialogue, people can’t say unnatural things like, “You’re my brother,” and “you know how we robbed that bank together?” Instead, Taylor drops the audience right into a world that looks a lot like ours, but, as we soon come to realize, it has some fundamental differences. Mainly, this is a world in which young adults wash up on the beach like so much Driftwood. These beach people come partially dressed but entirely devoid of worldly knowledge. The first one we meet is a Young Woman (Joslyn Jensen). We never learn her name or if she even has one. Nor do we learn the name of the Old Man (Paul C. Kelly) who gathers her up and takes her to his home. It’s never clear where she’s from or why she needs someone to teach her how to eat, groom, and use the toilet. What she doesn’t need, however, is the patriarchal form his help takes, nor the increasingly iron fist with which he rules…

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Film Review: Sammy Davis, Jr.: I Gotta Be Me

“Even if you win, you don’t win.”

That’s the lesson Sammy learned the day he got jumped by a racist fellow infantryman and won the fight. Nursing his well-deserved wounds, the man told Davis that he was “still a [n word].” That was the moment that Davis decided fighting wasn’t getting him anywhere. If he was going to change the hearts of white America, he had to try another tactic.

Samuel D. Pollard’s documentary about the career of Sammy Davis, Jr. is more than just a Hollywood biography. At a time when race relations have returned to the forefront of America’s consciousness, Sammy’s struggle rings true to a shameful degree. Despite his innumerable talents, he still faced plenty of discrimination on account of his skin color and later, his Jewish faith. But his unflappable spirit was also a beacon of hope for other marginalized people. As one interviewee puts it, his success, “made [African Americans] feel special and for a time feel equal”.

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Film Review: Cassette

1cassetteZach Taylor’s wistful documentary Cassette is an in-depth exploration of a recording format that lives on despite having been declared dead more than 20 years ago. It’s not just niche hipsters and nostalgic punk old timers that are keeping it alive.

It’s the concept of the “mix tape” in particular that endures. The mix-tape is an ideology. It’s the notion that we can curate what we hear and what we share with others. Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose work is undeniably cool but also inarguably mainstream, originally called his smash Broadway musical “the Hamilton Mix-Tape.”He later released a successful album of re-mixes and covers with that title. Taylor’s documentary is also a mix-tape. It’s a compilation of tributes to the format alongside more factual information about its history.

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Hammer 2 Nail: The Reagan Show

“No wonder your president has to be an actor. He’s gotta look good on television!”-Doc Brown, Back to the Future

When asked if he thought his acting background was an advantage to doing the job of president, Ronald Reagan replied, “There are times I’ve wondered how you could do the job if you hadn’t been an actor”. It’s a telling statement from a president who spent two thirds of his time on public relations, logging more screen time up to that point than the combination of all other politicians since the advent of television. Sierra Pettengill (Town Hall) and Pacho Velez (Mankamana) created their documentary, The Reagan Show using news and behind-the-scenes footage from Reagan’s two-term presidency (1981-89). The result is equal parts amusing, upsetting, and apropos with regard to our current political poop show. Like with Trump, it was easy to make fun of Reagan when he didn’t have his finger on the nuke button.

The film has no narration, as none is needed. The footage speaks for itself. It’s a mostly chronological explanation as to why a man who was so ineffectual (if not downright detrimental) is considered by many to be “the Great Communicator”. No one can deny that he was charismatic. Like any actor, he knew how to smile, hit his mark, wave, and take direction. He was in his element at photo shoots, even coming up with a couple of ideas himself. POTUS was his meatiest role. But riding horses and inviting Mr. T to the Oval Office did nothing for the failing economy, the Cold War, or the threat of nuclear annihilation. As Ted Koppel so eloquently put it, “He’s a leader…but to lead us where…and into what?”


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Hammer to Nail: SIFF 2017 Wrap-Up

Better late than never!

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival, which runs for 25 days every spring in the Emerald City, is four weeks of wall-to-wall, butt-numbing entertainment. This year’s festival took place May 18th to June 11th and featured 400 films from 80 countries. All told, there were 750 festival screenings and events, including 36 world premieres. That’s a lot of time spent in a dark theater. On the festival’s final day, the SIFF employees who introduced the screenings asked the audience how many of them had seen over 100 SIFF films this year. I was shocked when a couple of people actually raised their hands. Those folks averaged 4 films per day. My itinerary wasn’t quite as impressive, but I did manage to squeeze in 26 films, at an average of 1 per day. Hey, I had to see my kids some time.


Special honored guests included Angelica Houston, who received an award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting; and the buttery-voiced cowboy Sam Elliott, who spent an afternoon reminiscing about his career and taking questions from an enthusiastic audience.

There were a lot of great films this year.

Read about them on Hammer to Nail!