Film Review: Banana Split

1banana
The plot of Banana Split is very simple but, in many ways, the story is revolutionary. April (co-writer Hannah Marks, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) is a high school senior who is reeling from a breakup with her first love, Nick (Dylan Sprouse). Their 2-year relationship ended because they will soon attend college on opposite coasts. April is gutted when Nick immediately takes up with Clara (Liana Liberato). But just as April’s final summer at home begins, she meets Clara at a party and, instead of battling, they become instant besties. What follows is a touching tribute to the profundity of platonic first loves between young women, colored by the existential angst of that emotional limbo between high school and college.

The Romantic Comedy begs for subversion and Banana Split delivers. First-time director Ben Kasulke, uses a light touch, letting the performances and character arcs effortlessly breathe new life into a stale genre. Both April and Clara’s relationship with Nick takes a back seat to their burgeoning friendship, while the underdeveloped quip machine in an advisory role is a straight white boy named Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts)…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: Wild Nights with Emily

1emily

History isn’t always written by the winners. Sometimes, it’s written by mediocre opportunists capitalizing on the talents of others. Regardless, history has always had a patriarchal hue, even when written by women. We now know that Emily Dickinson was not a spinster recluse, but a passionate and vibrant woman who understood that if she wanted to follow her heart in the 19th century, she would have to do so in secret.

Madeleine Olnek’s third feature film, Wild Nights with Emily, is more than just an attempt to right the way history has wronged Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon). Though the story takes a few narrative liberties, a great deal of it is based in fact. Olnek used Dickinson’s letters and poems – with permission from Harvard University Press – in order to piece together an honest supposition regarding Dickinson’s personal life. She suggests that the person responsible for creating and perpetuating the myth was likely also a victim of her time. Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz) forged Dickinson’s persona without ever actually meeting the woman. Furthermore, she did so whilst carrying on an affair with Emily’s married brother, Austin (Kevin Seal). Seimetz plays Todd with a lighthearted humblebrag swagger atop a desire to do what she felt was necessary to get Dickinson’s work published. Todd erased the name “Sue” from many of Dickinson’s more impassioned works. It’s likely that she wasn’t acting completely out of self-interest. She thought that the world wasn’t ready for a lesbian poet, but that Dickinson’s verse was too revolutionary to keep hidden…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: Porno

1porno

Porno is a promising feature debut from director Keola Racela and his college collaborators, writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli.

The story kicks off in July 1992, with a group of devout teenage employees closing up their small-town movie theater. But these God Warriors are all carrying Christian guilt. Todd (Larry Saperstein) and Abe (Evan Daves) are best friends with conspicuous voyeuristic tendencies. Chastity (Jillian Mueler) is dabbling in Gothdom but still loves the Lord. Ricky (Glenn Scott) just got back from a “transformative” camp run by the theater owner and spiritual mentor, Mr. Pike. Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tann) doth protest his straight edge ways too much. While the Jesus crew debate which of the latest releases should close out their evening (it’s between Encino Man and A League of Their Own), an inebriated tramp crashes through the lobby and disappears through a previously concealed doorway. Their curiosity gets the better of them and they wander into a burned-out basement filled with remnants of a very different kind of movie theater. The sort of place that showed titles like “10 Foot Hole 10 Foot Pole” and “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em.”…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: Jezebel

1jez-1

The webcam industry has come a long way since 1998. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the perspective of the women on the other side of the computer: This is a job. Some may be particularly skilled at making their customers feel special, and they may genuinely appreciate the occasional gifts, but for most of these women, it’s not a passion project. It’s a means to an end, and that end is keeping the lights on. Writer/director Numa Perrier’s semi-autobiographical feature, Jezebel, is not just a coming-of-age story but also one of entering the workforce as a woman.

19-year-old Tiffany (Tiffany Tenille) lives in 1998 Las Vegas, where she shares a microscopic apartment with her older sister, Sabrina (played by Perrier herself), their brother Dominic (Stephen Barrington), their youngest sister Juju, and Sabrina’s boyfriend Dave (Bobby Field). They are crammed together like sardines in what they clearly thought would be a temporary situation, while their mother ailed in the hospital. To make matters more awkward, Sabrina works nights as a phone sex operator, keeping everyone awake through the paper-thin walls. But when their mother dies, the other siblings must find work to help pay the rent. Dominic and Dave shirk their responsibilities immediately, and Juju is too young for employment. That leaves Tiffany, who is at a loss as to where to turn for her first job. But Sabrina knows of a burgeoning industry called “internet modelling” which offers good, fast money and doesn’t require any face-to-face contact with customers. Tiffany decides to try it on, and Sabrina boosts her confidence with a little makeover involving the “Jezebel” wig; long, flowing black tresses which frame her face in a more grownup way than her youthful 1950s pinup bangs…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail.

Film Review: King of Beasts

1beasts

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!

Film Review: This World Alone

1world-1

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

1mappel

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!