Month: February 2015

The Barnesyard’s Now Playing Power Rankings (February 27-March 5)

index$ = new this week
* = SF Bay Area only

BUMPED

*1) Inherent Vice
*2) The Grand Budapest Hotel
3) American Sniper
4) Two Days, One Night
*5) Timbuktu
*6) A Most Violent Year
$*7) Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem
*8) Citizenfour
$*9) Maps to the Stars
10) Whiplash
*11) Selma

MIXED-POSITIVE

12) Still Alice
13) Big Hero 6
14) Kingsman: The Secret Service
15) The Theory of Everything
16) Wild
17) Leviathan

index2MIXED-NEGATIVE

*18) Interstellar
$19) Focus
20) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

DUMPED

21) Birdman
22) Seventh Son
23) Unbroken
24) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
25) Fifty Shades of Grey
26) The Imitation Game
27) Taken 3
28) Project Almanac

HAVEN’T SEEN (in alphabetical order)

images3$A La Mala
$*All the Wilderness
Badlapur
*Ballet 422
*Big Eyes
Black or White
The Boy Next Door
The DUFF
English Only, Please
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Jupiter Ascending
$The Lazarus Effect
McFarland, USA
Night at the Museum 2
Old Fashioned
Paddington
*She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
*Song of the Sea
The Spongebob Movie
The Wedding Ringer
*What We Do in the Shadows

This list is updated every Thursday. The rankings reflect the opinion of Daniel Barnes only. All films playing in Sacramento area theaters are listed, as well as select films playing exclusively in the San Francisco Bay Area.

VOD Review – “Ida”

indexIda (2014; Dir.: Pawel Pawlikowski)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Ida is now available on DVD and streaming services.

Nominated for Best Cinematography and winner of Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, the bone-dry, black-and-white Ida is the fifth film from Polish writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, but it’s just his second in the last ten years. I have only seen one of Pawlikowski’s previous efforts, the sensitive and low-key 2004 coming-of-age drama My Summer of Love, a film best known for giving Emily Blunt a showy role that became her breakout performance.

By contrast, Ida does not offer a showy role with breakout potential to the title character played by Agata Trzebuckowska, a meek, moon-faced orphan raised in a closed-off Catholic convent. Instead, Trzebuckowska’s performance stands as a study in innocent, blank-eyed rectitude slowly illuminated by experience and emotion. It is understated and carefully controlled work, and quite impressive for a “nonprofessional” actress, but much like the film, her performance gets pared down so far that it rests a little lightly on the consciousness.

images3Raised by nuns under the name of Anna, the beatific Ida is prepared to take her vows as the film opens in the early 1960s, but is informed by her prioress that she will first have to visit her last remaining relative, a woman who she has never met. The relative is her Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza, also very good here), a coarse and hard-living opposite who informs Anna that her name is actually Ida, that she is Jewish rather than Catholic, and that her real parents were Holocaust casualties whose bodies were never found.

A tenacious ex-prosecutor for Poland’s Socialist government, Wanda has long given up trying to find meaning in her country’s tragic past, but she joins Anna in the search for her parents’ unmarked graves, if only for a sense of closure. Although Anna initially just wants her parents to have a proper burial, Wanda wants answers, and so they chase the ghosts of the past through old country villages and tentatively recovering cities.  Anna and Wanda are polar opposites, but they also represent the potential for reconciliation between wisdom and faith, albeit one that doesn’t make it any easier to live with loss and doubt.

images2Many of the images are so composed and tranquil that human motion feels almost intrusive, as though a still photograph had suddenly sprung to life.  Pawlikowski shoots much of Ida just slightly out-of-balance, often placing the characters excessively low in the frame, as though they were leaning away from the long-buried secret that is at the film’s center.  Unfortunately, that makes for some rather dull, overly pedantic compositions, and yet Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal’s gorgeously grainy black-and-white cinematography remains one of the film’s great strengths.

At its core, Ida is an examination of a Polish-Nazi complicity that most of the surviving Poles that we see would prefer  to leave buried – at one key moment, the location of the parents’ graves is bartered for land that has already been stolen – but like My Summer of Love, it is also a coming-of-age story. Dressed for almost the entire picture in a light gray habit, Anna is making her first and possibly last entry into a world of temptation and corruption, and her piety is tested  the closer she gets to the ugly, inhumane truth, while her commitment to asceticism is challenged the more time she spends with her cynical, sin-chasing aunt.

For his part, Pawlikowski has no problem whatsoever committing to a rigid asceticism, eschewing a musical score and at one point even denying us the violent pleasure of an onscreen car accident, only permitting the banal and non-bloody aftermath.  That embrace of monastic restraint is both of strength of Pawlikowski’s – at just 80 minutes, Ida is a textbook in narrative, visual and emotional economy – and also a weakness.  For all of the film’s delicately structured character arcs and hushed visual poetry, Ida never completely connects, and Pawlikowski’s cinematic reserve often makes the film feel arid and passionless.

DARE DANIEL (Academy Awards edition) – “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

indexExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011; Dir.: Stephen Daldry)

GRADE: D-

By Daniel Barnes

In the decade following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Hollywood made a few films that attempted to recreate the events and aftermath of that day, most notably United 93 and World Trade Center. However, neither of those films emerged as serious awards season contenders, both too catastrophic and bleak despite their central stories of heroism, too grounded in the horrible reality of the day. Instead, the first 9/11-themed film to get nominated for Best Picture was the utterly shameless Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and it’s revealing that the film identifies with a child who is literally unable to process the events. When the boy hides under his bed, the film hides under there with him, and you get the feeling that director Stephen Daldry would prefer to keep the covers over our eyes. It’s a 9/11 version of Life is Beautiful, or a Forrest Gump on antidepressants if you prefer. I would prefer to vomit.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is actually the final film in Daldry’s unofficial “comatose awards bait” trilogy, following the similarly embalmed The Hours and The Reader. Daldry might as well have been genetically engineered to craft the sort of stodgy prestige pictures that Oscar voters devour, and clearly his programming told him to exponentially increase the quirk factor here, while simultaneously omitting or obscuring anything that might upset us. He wallows in suffering and tragedy without context, and then offers reconciliation and acceptance without comprehension. In Oscar parlance, that’s what’s called a “shoo-in.”

images2The film is a nonstop barrage of cutesy MacGuffins (I counted at least half a dozen, including a magic key, a hidden “sixth borough” of New York, and a mysterious mute stranger with “Yes” and “No” tattooed on his palms) and meme-ready inspirational quotations, just hackneyed metaphors piled on top of hackneyed metaphors, and it portrays emotional invasiveness and manipulative behavior as noble pursuits (if you’re white). Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth push the idea that caring for troubled children is not just anyone’s responsibility, it’s YOUR responsibility. After all, it takes a village…of slaves.

Twinkly-eyed Tom Hanks and tear-streaked Sandra Bullock headline the picture, but they’re just bait-and-switch, poster-candy sidemen to star Thomas Horn, who plays nine year-old Oskar Schell. As the film opens, Oskar has just lost his father (Hanks), who was in one of the Twin Towers when they fell, while his mom (Bullock) has seemingly become catatonic with grief. When he was alive, Oskar’s father was a sort of Manic Pixie Superdad, cranking out elaborate treasure hunts faster than Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. Of course, the film takes place in a magical “movie New York” bathed in a perpetual autumnal glow, the kind of fable metropolis where parents trust the homeless men in Central Park to babysit their nine year-old children at any hour.  Yet it’s a storybook New York where 9/11 still happened, which is far more depressing than any of the film’s gutless attempts to wring tears from our eyes.

Oskar has a tastefully unnamed developmental disorder (clinical diagnoses might upset us, remember), and the treasure hunts were his father’s attempts to pry him out of his social shell. When Oskar finds a key hidden in a vase his father purchased just before his death, he assumes it’s the start to his final mission. The key was placed in an envelope with the name Black written on it, so Oskar sets out to visit every single person in New York City named Black, dumping his emotional baggage on their doorstep and demanding entry into their lives. Yes, this is literally a film where all Blacks (and to be sure, people of color are especially entranced and healed by this kid) are tasked with improving the mood of an affluent white family…insert your own Uncle Remus jokes here.

imagesWhile his mother blithely broods at home, Oskar spends months running across New York, meeting with strangers and looking for any clue to the origin of the key. The mute “Renter”, who may have a stronger connection to Oskar’s father than he initially lets on, also joins in the treasure hunt, before leaving and then coming back (and then leaving again and then coming back again). Eventually, the key turns out to be a false lead, not an answer but a coincidence, and Oskar becomes violently distraught. Bullock calms him down and reveals that it was her who orchestrated the entire adventure. In flashbacks, we see Bullock approach every single person named Black in advance of her son, setting up every encounter, and then pretending to be catatonic while he traipses unsupervised across New York City. She assures him, “I always knew where you were…always.”  Paradoxically, this explanation is supposed to make her behavior seem less insane.

Oskar seems inexplicably mollified either way, and so he writes a here’s-what-I-learned letter to the Blacks, and we see that their cardboard problems have all been cured by the ennobling touch of this little white kid. Naturally, there will be those who say, “Hey Barnesyard, of course you were gonna hate a feel-good 9/11 movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.  You had this film on a tee from the very first frame.  You’re one of those cynical leftist media types who hates everything pure and good about this beautiful country.  You probably want to put Obama’s face on the Euro and institute sharia law in Oklahoma.”

OK, fair point.  But I still say that if the terrorists won, they couldn’t find a better victory dance than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

 

Daniel Barnes @ the SN&R (2/19/15 issue)

index#barnesyardbumps:

*Featuring a career-best turn from Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night draws a profound image of working-class dehumanization.

#barnesyardharrumphs:

*Kingsman: The Secret Service is a juvenile, borderline sociopathic spy spoof, but there are enough exploding heads to hold your attention.

index2#barnesyarddumps:

*Fifty Shades of Grey is a vanilla-flavored slice of lifestyle porn, much closer to Sliver than Basic Instinct.

*Seventh Son is a rich man’s R.I.P.D., and yet still terrible.

THE BARNESYARD’S NOW PLAYING POWER RANKINGS (February 20-26, 2015)

index  $ = new this week
* = SF Bay Area only

*1) Inherent Vice
*2) Boyhood
*3) Mr. Turner
4) Foxcatcher
*5) The Grand Budapest Hotel
6) American Sniper
7) Two Days, One Night
*8) Timbuktu (pictured above)
*9) A Most Violent Year
*10) Citizenfour
11) Whiplash
12) Selma

MIXED-POSITIVE

13) Still Alice
14) Big Hero 6
15) Kingsman: The Secret Service
16) The Theory of Everything
17) Wild
$*18) Leviathan (pictured below)

index2MIXED-NEGATIVE

19) Interstellar
20) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
21) Penguins of Madagascar

DUMPED

22) Birdman
23) Seventh Son
24) Unbroken
*25) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
26) Fifty Shades of Grey
27) Into the Woods
28) The Imitation Game
29) Taken 3
30) Project Almanac

HAVEN’T SEEN (in alphabetical order)

index3$Badlapur
*Ballet 422
Black or White
The Boy Next Door
$*Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
$The Duff
$English Only, Please
$Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Jupiter Ascending
$*The Last Five Years
$McFarland, USA
Night at the Museum 2
$Old Fashioned
Paddington
*She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
Somewhere Only We Know
*Song of the Sea
The Spongebob Movie
$Temper
The Wedding Ringer
$*What We Do in the Shadows (pictured above)

This list is updated every Thursday. The rankings reflect the opinion of Daniel Barnes only. All films playing in Sacramento area theaters are listed, as well as select films playing exclusively in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Daniel Barnes @ the SN&R – 2/12 issue

index#barnesyardbumps:

*Marion Cotillard gives the best performance of her career in Two Days, One Night, the latest bleak slice-of-life from the Dardennes brothers.

#barnesyarddumps:

*The star-studded dud Seventh Son is the cinematic equivalent of an American flag produced in an overseas sweatshop.