Mar 23, 2011 Review

Mar 22, 2011 Review

Mar 20, 2011

Gordon and the Whale Review...

DirectorBrian Crano
WritersBrian CranoJake Sandvig
Cast:  Jason RitterJake SandvigChandler CanterburRebecca HallCarrie PrestonCarrie PrestonAmanda Seyfried

Alan and Ben are a pair of slackers who pay rent by working valet at funerals. No, wait, wait that’s very incorrect. Alan and Ben are a pair of slackers who pay rent by boosting cars while posing as valet employees at funerals. Sounds morbid and cruel, but A BAG OF HAMMERS is actually a that is a bag of charm.

In any case, Alan (Jake Sandvig) and Ben (Jason Ritter) are too lazy to work normal jobs, so they steal cars and sell them to a local car shop for scrap. They live in a little duplex and rent one out to a struggling mother and child, Kelsey (wonderfully played by Chandler Canterbury). When that mother winds up abandoning the child, Alan and Ben take him in to build a family of their own. Think Two and a Half Men, but without the tiger blood. 

A BAG OF HAMMERS is co-writer/director Brian Crano’s first feature film, and I’m crossing my fingers (and torso) that it’s not his last. Crano manages to give an unhealthy story about two misfit adults who commit grand theft auto a lot of heart. Crano understands how to mix clever adult humor with serious life themes. A BAG OF HAMMERS does take an unexpected turn, but Crano does not drop the ball, not once; as the title suggests, sometimes life throws us a bag of hammers and we just have to deal with it.

Full disclosure: I’ve never really paid much attention to Jason Ritter’s career and now I’m thinking this was a bit foolish of me; Crano’s feature-length directorial debut is a hammering heads up that it’s now time for everyone to be more aware of this man. Ritter channels his brilliant father’s comedy and gives us a hilarious performance as Ben, that slacker you just hate to love. He’s charming, funny, and means well – even if he doesn’t know he’s meaning well. I must also note that Ritter bounces wonderfully off fellow actors Sanvig, Canterbury, and Rebecca Hall.

A BAG OF HAMMERS is a heavy reminder that you don’t need to be fast and furious to tell a smart and entertaining story about stealing cars.

Mar 19, 2011



"This is a movie that can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a madcap comedy or an intricate drama, and that turns out to be a very good thing. Most films marry their comedic and dramatic elements by watering down each to create a somewhat consistent tone. But A Bag of Hammers repeatedly juxtaposes sharp, quick-cutting wisecracks with sober treatments of some truly heart-rending issues. The back-and-forth could give you whiplash in an inferior movie, but first-time director Brian Crano makes it work in spades. In fact, it’s one of the most moving comedies in years. It doesn’t hurt that he draws such wonderful performances from his actors. Rebecca Hall — who will win an Academy Award someday — is superb, and Jake Sandvig is an excellent comedic sidekick. Carrie Preston gives the film an incredible anchor with a heartbreakingly desperate performance. But Jason Ritter is the story here. He’s hilarious, he’s charismatic, he’s effortless on screen. When he has a run of physical comedy midway through the film, you can almost feel the audience fondly remembering his father. And his father would be proud, of this movie and of his rising star of a son."

Mar 16, 2011

Lost In Reviews reviews BAG

A Bag of Hammers had its world premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival on March 12, 2011, and Lost in Reviews was in attendance.  The movie follows two young men (I would say they were in their 20′s), Alan (Jake Sandvig) and Ben (Jason Ritter), who have made a living out of scamming people and stealing from them.  Both men have had something happen in their past that was traumatic, and this forged a strong relationship between them.  They both make decent money considering how good they are at scamming and stealing.  They live in the backyard guest house of a house they rent out for income.  They live fairly unattached to the world around them; they do not have girlfriends and only have a couple of friends.  One of those friends is Marty (Todd Louiso) they take the nice stolen cars to for a cut of the profits.  The other would be Alan’s sister Melanie (Rebecca Hall) who works at a quirky little diner, but still relies on the occasional financial help from her brother.

The story gets complicated when the men rent out their house to a mother and son, Lynette (Carrie Preston) and Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury), who have fled Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.  Lynette does not have a job and is having a hard time making ends meet.  She does try to get a job, but she is not qualified enough for an office job.  The stress of the money situation and trying to raise her son on her own results in Lynette repeatedly yelling at Kelsey and taking her anger out on him.  Kelsey starts at a new school and becomes the victim of bullies almost immediately.  Kelsey is also left to fend for himself most of the time while at home.  He seems to subsist on Monster energy drinks and Hungry Man microwave meals.  Carrie is absent from the home a lot, but the audience does not ever get told why.  One day, Melanie goes inside the house after Kelsey offers her a soda.  She sees that the house is a mess with trash everywhere, and Carrie is nowhere to be found.  Melanie ends up contacting the Department of Family and Child Services about the situation, even though Ben and Alan beg her not to.

Eventually, Kelsey is left without a mother.  Alan and Ben decide to hide the situation from the police, fearing that Kelsey will be moved to a group home.  Ben thinks that taking care of Kelsey is only temporary.  On the other hand, Ben has formed in his mind to try to keep Kelsey and raise him.  This disagreement causes a rift between them.

A Bag of Hammers is directed by Brian Crano and written by Crano and Jake Sandvig.  While many may perceive this film to be all comedy, it is also a drama that deals with some serious issues.  The audience may find itself laughing out loud in one moment and shedding a tear in the next.  This is the evidence of a great script, one that can seamlessly meld the comedy and drama elements together seamlessly.

The actors are top-notch in their performances.  Jason Ritter and Jake Sandvig have great comedic timing.  There are a few times where they banter back and forth and do it so well, I had to wonder if there was a bit of adlibbing.  Both actors were equally as good with delivering the serious lines of their characters.  Their characters change into different people by the end of the movie.  They are no longer selfish and immature, but willing to grow up and give a boy who came into their lives a chance.  They realize that things may not work out, but they take the risk.  Rebecca Hall is great at playing Melanie.  You have to admire an actress who is willing to dress up in a ridiculous waitress costume and make up her own little dance that she uses to greet new customers.  Her character is a bit conflicted morally with what her brother does for a living.  She wants him to stop stealing and get a normal job, but she will still accept money from him to make ends meet while she is still in college.  Hall has been friends with the director, Brian Crano, for several years and this role was written for her.  It was a small enough part that she was able to complete the shots for her character in five days.

Chandler Canterbury as Kelsey is excellent.  He plays a character that is neglected and verbally and physically abused.  While Alan and Ben like to keep to themselves, Kelsey seeks out their company and friendship and eventually breaks down their walls.  Canterbury did have a decent amount of lines, but what really struck me was his ability to convey his emotions and feelings when he had no lines.  I find it remarkable that kids so young can have an understanding of what their characters are going through.  They more than likely have no experience in their own lives to relate to their characters.  I am sure Canterbury will have a long acting career in front of him.

I really have no complaints about the film.  Everything about the movie is well done.  There is a montage towards the end of the movie that may confuse some audience members, but that was not an issue for me.  The way the story ends leads me to want to ask more questions of how everything worked out, but I do not want to spoil the ending for anyone.

The title of A Bag of Hammers refers to a metaphor that Ben uses to explain to Kelsey what happens after something tragic happens to you.  The film is not about tragedy or the many problems you encounter in life, but how you decide to live your life and change to become a better person.  Ben and Alan were immature delinquents who took the easy road in life, no responsibility, no complications.  Then a boy nudged his way into their lives and they changed and grew up.  They became dads.  A Bag of Hammers is truly a great independent film that deserves the wider audience and buzz that SXSW can generate for the film.

***Remember to stay through the beginning of the end credits.

I give A Bag of Hammers 4.5 “Monster energy drinks” out of 5.

indieWIRE Blog about BAG

Not all of the facts are correct... but it's close.

Mar 14, 2011

BAG in a Variety Article "Buyers turned out for Brian Crano's comedy- drama feature bow "A Bag of Hammers."

"A wider array of U.S. and foreign buyers hit SXSW Film's weekend screenings, signalling the fest's evolution as a key post-Sundance destination for talent discovery and pickups or, at least, the start of formal negotiations."

"The enthusiastic aud and industry reception for haunted hotel thriller "The Innkeepers" bodes well for Chicago writer-director Ti West, while Brian Crano's comedy-drama feature bow "A Bag of Hammers" saw a full complement of buyers turn out."

PAPERMAG's SXSW Top Ten List...

Mar 10, 2011

VARIETY calls BAG a film with "Buyer Buzz"

"Docu competish feature "Fightville" from SXSW vets Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein ("Gunner Palace"), is attracting buyer heat. While features like Alison Bagnall's "The Dish and the Spoon," starring SXSW darling Greta Gerwig; misfit comedy "Bag of Hammers"; Matt D'Elia's directorial bow "American Animal"; Joseph Kahn's teen horror-comedy "Detention"; and Kyle Smith's "Turkey Bowl" -- all world preeming at SXSW -- are among dozens of acquisition titles with buyer buzz."

Carrie Preston shout out from True Blood Fansite THE VAULT

Daily Bruin Article on Brian Crano and UCLA Alumni at SXSW

Mar 7, 2011

Newport Beach Film Festival 2011

A Bag of Hammers has been invited to screen at the Newport Beach Film Festival 2011.

Mar 6, 2011

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