H2N Review: The Fabulous Allan Carr

1carrOne of the greatest things a documentary can do is introduce a wide(r) audience to someone who contributed to the cultural zeitgeist without receiving proper recognition. Case in point: Allan Carr, a movie producer who brought us the musicals Grease, and La Cage Aux Falles and invented both the Village People and saying, “And the Oscar goes to…” instead of “And the winner is…” Maybe Grease didn’t influence your life per se. But I bet you know at least a couple of bars of “Summer Lovin’.” And even if you aren’t proud of that fact, chances are you’ll find something to love about The Fabulous Allan Carr.

Director Jeffrey Schwarz (I Am Divine) knows his way around a gay icon biopic. His latest film is based on the biography, “Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr” by Robert Hofler. Schwarz didn’t have a lot of personal video archives to work with so he had to animate some of the story using a sort of art deco, “Bewitched” style. Sometimes animation can overwhelm a documentary, but since Carr was a larger-than-life persona, it works. Schwarz also collected a stellar group of people to discuss Allan’s legacy including close friend Lorna Luft, the singular Bruce Vilanch, and sound-bite master Frank DeCaro. Allan had a lot of friends. Really, almost every talking head in the film is identified as a friend of his. And they all loved him.

Read the rest of the review at Hammer to Nail!

This film played at the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

H2N Review: The Hippopotamus

1hippoThe opening of John Jenck’s The Hippopotamus is a flawless, wordless introduction to the film’s protagonist, Ted Wallace. It starts with a close-up of a book baring a snippet of the identically titled poem by T.S. Eliot: “The broad-backed hippopotamus rests on his belly in the mud; although he seems firm to us, he is merely flesh and blood”. While the original poem is a metaphorical takedown of the Catholic Church, Ted Wallace, a lapsed poet and current theater critic, is a man who is skirting the edge of oblivion with his lifestyle.

The camera pulls out from the poem to reveal an unmade bed covered in books, an overturned lamp, and a full ashtray. A hand tosses a porn magazine atop the pile of intellectual vice. The camera cuts to a nearly empty whiskey bottle set on a brimming bookshelf. The hand snatches away the whiskey bottle, revealing a photograph of Wallace with his son and a postage stamp over the face of one who can only be his ex-wife. He pours the whiskey into a glass. He unbuttons his shirt, exposing a large, round belly. The camera cuts to a wide shot, as Wallace lowers himself into a claw foot bathtub of steaming water. He immerses himself, comes back up spouting water, and then brings the whiskey glass to his lips as the title appears. We already know so much about this man without the utterance of a single line of dialog. Once Wallace starts speaking, however, he never stops…

Read the rest of the review at Hammer to Nail!

H2N Review: Infinity Baby

1infinIf you’re going to freeze your offspring at a certain age, the one in which they need the most care seems like the worst choice. But the eponymous company in Bob Byington’s Infinity Baby doesn’t make their money by selling babies that don’t age. Rather, they are a subsidiary of a pharmaceutical company who created these babies by accident and now must find homes for them. The pharmaceutical company most certainly makes money and lots of it. Those who choose to adopt an Infinity Baby are given a check for $20,000 and a supply of pills that nourish the baby once per day, keep it happy and sleepy, and somehow prevent it from soiling its diapers more than once per week. These kind souls are basically getting paid to help clean up corporate messes.

Read the rest of this review at Hammer to Nail!

This film played as part of the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

H2N Review: Handome Devil

1devilFew things can make you feel more alone in this world than being surrounded by people whose priorities are completely at odds with your own. Ned (Fionn O’Shea) knows this pain all too well. He’s the only artistic fellow in a posh Irish all-boys boarding school where rugby is religion. If you aren’t part of the game, you’d best be cheering from the sidelines. And if you aren’t doing that, you’re in for a rough time. But when Ned gets stuck rooming with the new kid, a fetching rugby prodigy named Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), he finds kinship in an unexpected place.

Writer/director John Butler knows a thing or two about rugby fanatics. While the film isn’t autobiographical, per se, he did base the school in Handsome Devil on his own childhood alma mater. Ned is a suitable “every freak,” with a general interest in the arts, minus the talent to focus on any particular area. He gets good marks for writing, but only because he passes off song lyrics as his own. That all ends when a passionate and hip younger man (Andrew Scott, TV’s Sherlock) replaces the doddering old English teacher, and immediately spots the plagiarism.

Read the rest on Hammer to Nail!

Handsome Devil played at the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

 

 

H2N Reviews: Family Life; The Transfiguration; Score: A Film Music Documentary

Family Life (Vida de Familia)

Chilean directors Alicia Scherson and Cristian Jimenez teamed up for this tragicomedy about a trainwreck of a man who is ill-advisedly hired by his distant cousin to housesit for the family of 3 while they’re in Paris for several months. The script deftly hits on several beats including a satire of married life with a small child, the weird things people do when they’re alone in a house, and the trope of misunderstandings getting out of hand. Jorge Becker shines as the emotionally stunted house sitter who falls into a relationship with a single mother based on a fleeting ruse in this entertaining, dark, and occasionally poignant film.

Score: A Film Music Documentary

Matt Schrader wrote and directed this auditory treat about how music went from simply a distraction from the noise of a projector during silent film screenings to an indispensible part of the movies we love. You can’t think of Jaws, Psycho, or Star Wars without humming the score. Instrumental Gods like John Williams, Hanz Zimmer, and Danny Elfman discuss the nuances of their work and the process behind composing the most iconic music in film history. It’s lots of fun revisiting favorite emotional cinematic moments and also noting the vastly different outfits that score orchestra musicians choose to wear to work, from business suits to sweats.

The Transfiguration

Just when you think you’ve seen every possible take on vampires, Michael O’Shea presents a story that’s both genre subversion and a love letter to other subversive bloodsucker tales. Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a bullied teenage orphan living in the projects with his older brother. Whether or not his bloodlust is supernatural is left ambiguous, but he’s certainly studied. When he hangs with a similarly down-and-out neighbor girl, he ranks the realism of vampire iterations (his favorite being Let the Right One In). Dramatic irony meets urban allegory in a bleak but compelling story that will certainly resonate with fringe audiences.

These 3 films played at the 2017 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Reviews originally posted on Hammer to Nail

 

 

 

 

H2N Review: A Date for Mad Mary

1maryIrish writer/director Darren Thornton’s feature, A Date for Mad Mary, is an outstanding debut. After serving 6 months in prison for assault “Mad” Mary McArdle (Séana Kerslake) finds that she remains grandfathered into the “Maid of Honor” position for her childhood best friend’s impending nuptials. Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) wants her big day to be perfect, and she repeatedly lets Mary know that she doesn’t trust her to do the job right. She all but strips Mary of her title, in the feigned interest of not wanting to put too much pressure on her. After all, Mary has enough on her plate what with finding the one man in her small town that hasn’t been scared off by her reputation and would be willing to be her plus one for the wedding.

A Date for Mad Mary is a comedy, but it’s not exactly a romantic comedy. It’s more about how changing friendships can sometimes be as painful as a breakup. It’s also about the challenge of overcoming your demons when everyone you love believes that you can’t. Most of all, it’s a film about forgiveness and how incredibly hard a thing that is. Despite having done her time, everyone in Mary’s life seems to hold some resentment for her past misdeeds. She can smell it on them. And so she repeatedly gives them the Mary they expect, even as she realizes that it’s not who she is anymore…

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H2N Review: The Incredible Jessica James

The Incredible Jessica James could just as well be called The Incredible Jessica Williams, because it’s basically a feature-length reel for the talents of the effervescent former Daily Show correspondent. Williams has got the dramedy chops and the charisma to sell what would otherwise be a medley of romantic comedy/self-exploration tropes. Netflix picked up this Sundance favorite, written and directed by Jim Strouse expressly for Williams. She played a supporting role in his last film, (the comma defying People Places Things) with such aplomb that he wondered why she hadn’t yet helmed a film.

Jessica James is a mid-twenties playwright living in Brooklyn. The thing about Jessica (both James and Williams) is that she doesn’t do anything half-assed. She boogies her way through the opening credits, celebrating life and immediately luring in the audience with her awesomeness. That’s not to say that she’s devoid of challenges. She struggles with a recent breakup. (Though she initiated the split, she continuously fantasizes about run-ins with her ex [LaKeith Stanfield, TV’s Atlanta] wherein he begs for her to take him back before being abruptly killed in a variety of freak accidents.) She papers her walls with rejection letters from theater companies, paying her bills with a job mentoring kids in the (read with British accent) art of theatre at a non-profit. She desperately wants her students to match her passion for the craft, and she gets a little overbearing when it seems like her favorite kid isn’t trying hard enough. Jessica is lovable but she’s also flawed and complex. That’s just not something you see very often in female-driven comedies…

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Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!