Month: December 2015

THE BEST OF DANIEL BARNES 2015

imagesWhen you add up my weekly reviews in the Sacramento News & Review, my work here at E Street Film Society, and my contributions to other print and online publications, I penned over 250 published movie reviews in 2015.  At an average of 300 words a pop, that’s about 75,000 words, or roughly the length of Catcher in the Rye (but where’s my National Book Award?).  Whatever the results, I worked hard on this stuff, so before it all gets dumped into the dustbin of yesteryear, let’s take one last look back at the year in Barnesyard.

10 BEST ESFS-ONLY REVIEWS (ordered by post date – click the title to read my full review)

The Duke of Burgundy (posted on 1/23)
The mot juste: “It’s tempting to label the all-female Burgundy as Strickland’s sex-movie-without-sex  B-side to his violent-movie-without-violence Berberian, especially since both films seem to encode their protagonists’ third-act psychological breakdowns into the DNA of their images.  But Strickland penetrates much deeper into the psyches of his characters here, finding the erotic in the banal, the banal in the erotic, and infinity and insanity between a lover’s knees.”index2

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (posted on 2/3)
The mot juste: “It’s fascinating to see a young Scorsese as a sort of James Mangold-ian director-for-hire, and you can feel him struggling against the limitations of studio filmmaking like a trapped bird, just as Alice frantically and helplessly flaps her arms against the sliding glass door of her suburban prison.  Scorsese takes an intensely personal approach to his films – if he can’t find himself in the material, he can’t envision the movie – and I love that this project forced him to forge an intense personal identification with a complex female character.”

Danny Collins (posted on 3/27)
index11The mot juste: “A teeming mass of quirks, tics, and inexplicable behavior, Danny’s family could have been assembled by a Sundance Film Festival selection committee.  There is the dewy-eyed but inwardly tough pregnant mother, the resentful but sensitive father hiding a Big Secret, and an adorably sass-mouthed moppet named Hope.  They come straight out of Juno’s Buyers Club of Little Miss Station Agents, and the contrivances stack up whenever they’re around.”

Albert Maysles films about Christo/Jeanne-Claude (posted on 5/8)
The mot juste: “Valley Curtain is a perfectly lean concept film, contrasting the safety and tranquility of the studio where Christo meticulously prepares his models and sketches against the unpredictability of the outside world where the final product is constructed. Working in windy conditions, a simple snag in the curtain endangers the lives of the wire workers, but the end result is a remarkable feat of engineering and blue-collar labor in the service of pure whimsy and wonder.”

images3
Paris, Texas (posted on 5/18)
The mot juste: “Wenders doesn’t have a particularly ostentatious style, but there is something dreamy and unreal about the way he lingers over the cinderblock hotel rooms, the stripped orange plastic of truck stop restaurant booths, the neon clutter of roadside signage, and the incessant hum of the freeway. He finds desolation not just in the desert, but in the new-growth trees of the L.A. suburbs, and in the cold, grey metropolis of Houston.”

Live from New York! (posted on 6/12)
The mot juste: “Superficial and self-serving insights abound (“The 70s was great! People used to go to New York to make it!”), anti-establishment hepcats like Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams and Al Gore attest to the show’s enduring satirical relevance, and every hard-hitting question about the institutionalized racism and sexism at SNL comes with its own readymade apologia and perfectly cherry-picked clip.  Also: 9/11, 9/11, the Twin Towers, 9/11, Rudy Giuliani, 9/11, and 9/11, and did we mention 9/11?”images5

Rosetta (posted on 6/26)
The mot juste: “Rosetta is a study in contrasts – she has the angelic face of a young girl but the broken posture and heavy gait of an old washerwoman; she’s fiercely independent, but in a way that seems more resentful than proud; she wants the unemployment benefits for which she’s ineligible but refuses to collect her rightful welfare; basically, she’s internalized the cruelty and caprice of capitalism.”

Testament of Youth (posted on 7/9)
The mot juste: “It’s an embalmed and humorless slog, an interior design spread masquerading as biography, nothing but a decorative pose of noble suffering. I’m tempted to compare the act of watching Testament of Youth to trudging through a wax museum of war movie clichés, but that makes it seem as though the film might be mildly entertaining. It’s more akin to becoming a wax figure for 129 of the most interminable minutes of your moviegoing life. My experience watching Testament of Youth was exactly how it must have felt like for Han Solo inside of the carbon freeze – a cold, numb, endless waking coma.”index6

The Mend (posted on 9/18)
The mot juste: “Where in the wide world of fucks did this crazy thing come from? First-time writer-director John Magary makes an exhilarating debut with The Mend, an NYC-based comedy of ill manners that exudes a weird, nervous energy from the opening seconds and never relents. I couldn’t shake this film – it persisted in my mind like an stubborn houseguest. It recalls the Coen brothers in its singularity of voice and tone, offering not a new cinematic language but rather a new dialect, simultaneously tense and liberated, gleaming the edge between fussy and shambling, and by the end you feel as though the film has chewed its nails down to the nub.”

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (posted on 9/24)index6
The mot juste: “A series of mordant, magnificently composed blackout sketches shot entirely in a studio, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch feels like Schizopolis directed by Jacques Tati, or a less manic and navel gaze-y Holy Motors, or Stanley Kubrick’s lost Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy, or Monty Python punching up a Peter Greenaway script, or Wes Anderson and Ingmar Bergman flushing their meds for three months and collaborating on an art installation. I’m trying to say that it’s great.”

10 BEST PRINT REVIEWS (ordered by publication date – click the title to read my full review)

American Sniper (published in Sacramento News & Review on 1/15)
indexThe mot juste: “American Sniper possesses the sweep and scope of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, but very little of that movie’s romantic grandeur. Eastwood is after something smaller and more personal—while Cimino turned the Vietnam War experience into myth, Eastwood undermines the legend of a contemporary American warrior even as he is creating it.”

Focus (published in Sacramento News & Review on 2/26)
The mot juste: “In the moment, it’s an entertaining enough hustle, but scratch the paint and a lot of formulaic chintz starts to show. All of the cinematic “glamour”—the lounge-pop soundtrack and the subdued sky bar lighting and the Out of Sight jump cuts—look as phony as a three-dollar bill, just osmosis of style from dozens of better films. The whole thing unravels the second you step away.”images7

Wild Tales (published in San Antonio Current on 3/25)
The mot juste: “Wild Tales is the revenge film to end all revenge films, a glorious and bonkers blast of visual creativity and storytelling energy, and one of the most purely entertaining films of the year. If the naughty-boy, early-1990s ouevres of Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino were somehow able to copulate, then Wild Tales would be their sick and beautiful sextuplet offspring.”

Far from the Madding Crowd (published in Sacramento News & Review on 5/14)
The mot juste: “If there’s a quibble with the film, it’s that you can occasionally feel it catch its breath, the sprawling narrative cinched too tight to accommodate an exactly 120-minute running time. It’s a testament to Vinterberg and editor Claire Simpson (Platoon) that the film moves with such relentlessness and precision, without a wasted frame or gratuitous flourish.”images8

Saint Laurent (published in San Antonio Current on 5/28)
The mot juste: “An exposed and soul-sapped Saint Laurent retreats into the narcotic comfort of prescription medication and the lifeless company of ennui-drenched, hard-partying sycophants. While the world outside goes through the wringer of social unrest, Saint Laurent remains sealed in a disco fishbowl ribboned with neon rainbow skies, a blaring temple to “bodies without souls”.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (published in Sacramento News & Review on 6/25)
The mot juste: “This is just about the Sundance-iest Sundance movie that Sundance ever Sundanced, so aggressively quirky and needy and contrived that it makes The Spitfire Grill look like A Woman Under the Influence. Every line, gesture, story beat and camera move might as well have air quotes around it, and yet Gomez-Rejon also insists on plying us with insipid life lessons. It’s like Juno on crystal meth.”index9

Magic Mike XXL (published in Colorado Springs Independent on 7/1)
The mot juste: “While Magic Mike elevated a trashy script by giving it the American Gigolo spiritual ennui treatment, Magic Mike XXL revels in trash, eschewing complex themes and character arcs in favor of low humor and a genial, let’s-put-on-a-show vibe.  Unfortunately, McConaughey didn’t make the return journey, and Magic Mike XXL desperately misses his mystical conviction, or any conviction at all for that matter.”

The End of the Tour (published in Sacramento News & Review on 8/20)
The mot juste: “Unsurprisingly, Jason Segel is getting awards buzz for his performance, but Jesse Eisenberg is even more impressive as Lipsky, the smirking Salieri to Segel’s awkward Amadeus, all needy, nervous laughter and simmering resentment. Their crackling chemistry is essential for a film that finds all of its action in conversation.”

index9
Creed (published in Sacramento News & Review on 11/26)
The mot juste: “Ryan Coogler’s alternately thrilling and deflating Creed marks Sylvester Stallone’s seventh go-round as Philly palooka turned heavyweight champ and Red scourge Rocky Balboa, and it’s easy to see why Stallone can’t quit this character. Despite his checkered background and violent vocation, Rocky stands as the one essentially decent character in Stallone’s entire filmography, all alone on a shelf in a gallery of smug jerks and grim authoritarians.”

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (published in Sacramento News and Review on 12/24)
images11The mot juste: “There’s a cozy familiarity to The Force Awakens—Abrams doesn’t set out to make or break myths, but rather to keep the old myths in circulation. He takes the same irreverently respectful approach to Star Wars that he took to his Star Trek pictures, recycling everything people loved about the originals and adding a half-twist. Abrams isn’t what you would call an “idea machine”—he takes an existing invention and puts a clock in it, and the contents of his magic boxes are never as interesting as the design of the latches.”

The Barnesyard’s Now Playing Power Rankings (January 1-7, 2016)

index* = SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

*1) Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
*2) The Look of Silence
3) The Hateful Eight
*4) James White
*5) Approaching the Elephant (pictured)
6) Carol
*7) Bridge of Spies
*8) Mustang
*9) Janis: Little Girl Blue
*10) Room
11) The Good Dinosaur
*12) Heaven Knows What
*13) Call Me Lucky
14) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakensindex
15) Brooklyn
*16) Hitchcock/Truffaut

MIXED-POSITIVE

17) Creed
*18) I Believe in Unicorns
*19) Steve Jobs
20) Spotlight
*21) Queen of Earth (pictured)
*22) Heart of a Dog

MIXED-NEGATIVE

*23) Macbeth
*24) Suffragette
25) Concussionindex

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

26) The Martian
27) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
28) The Danish Girl
29) The Big Short
30) In the Heart of the Sea
31) Joy (pictured)
*32) Trumbo
33) Youth

HAVEN’T SEEN

indexAlvin and the Chipmunks 3
*Chi-raq (pictured)
Daddy’s Home
Goosebumps
Hotel Transylvania 2
Krampustu
Love the Coopers
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
*Meet the Patels
The Peanuts Movie
*Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
Point Break
Sisters
Spectre

These rankings are updated every Thursday, and they reflect the opinion of Daniel Barnes only. All films playing in Sacramento area theaters are listed, as well as most films playing exclusively in the S.F. Bay Area. Underlined films are on my catchup list.

The Barnesyard Presents: Best of Filmmusic 2015

mad-max-furyTHIS is my Xmas/New Year’s present to my readers: a carefully curated Spotify mix of the best original film scores of 2015. This is not intended to be an authoritative list, but rather a cohesive and thoughtfully sequenced mix that celebrates some of the finest filmmusic of the year.  To that end, I have included tracks from several of the films on my #officiallydumped list; after all, Alexandre Desplat didn’t write the terrible script for The Danish Girl, but he did compose its lovely score.

In order to make this task more manageable, however, I created a few stipulations:

-Only 2015 NYC commercial releases were considered for the mix.
-Only films that I’ve seen were considered.
-I only allowed one (and in rare cases, two) tracks per movie.index
-I only considered original scores (my Best Film Songs of 2015 mix is coming soon).
-The soundtrack had to be available on Spotify.

Although that last stipulation eliminated excellent original scores from Slow West, Heaven Knows What, The Mend and many more, it still left me with an overabundance of fantastic and incredibly varied filmmusic.  This mix encompasses the entire sonic rainbow of 2015 cinema, from the thundering herd of Tom Holkenborg’s Mad Max: Fury Road to the quiet longing of Carter Burwell’s Carol, to the workhorse output of Michael Giacchino, who makes the cut for four separate films. I hope you enjoy my Best of Filmmmusic 2015 mix, and I’ll see you in 2016!

Listen to the complete mix HERE

TRACKLIST (film and composer in parentheses)

1) “Survive” (Mad Max: Fury Road – Tom Holkenborg)
2) “Brothers in Arms” (Mad Max: Fury Road – Tom Holkenborg)
images33) “I Hate My Life” (Jupiter Ascending – Michael Giacchino)
4) “Theme from Ant-Man” (Ant-Man – Christophe Beck)
5) “Humdrum Day” (Shaun the Sheep Movie – Ilan Eshken)
6) “Relatos Salvajes” (Wild Tales – Gustavo Santaolalla)
7) “Football Without a Ball” (Timbuktu – Amine Bouhafa)
8) “Bunzo” (Kumiko the Treasure Hunter – The Octopus Project)
9) “Mistess America” (Mistress America – Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips)
10) “Being Maudlin” (Grandma – Joel P. West)
11) “You’ve Piqued My Pin-trist” (Tomorrowland – Michael Giacchino)
12) “Solomon Lane” (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Joe Kraemer)
13) “Mr. Holmes” (Mr. Holmes – Carter Burwell)
14) “Into the Portal” (Poltergeist – Marc Streitenfeld)
15) “Getting to Work” (Victor Frankenstein – Craig Armstrong)
images716) “Suffragette” (Suffragette – Alexandre Desplat)
17) “It’s Not Working” (Steve Jobs – Daniel Pemberton)
18) “Detroit” (It Follows – Disasterpeace)
19) “Overture” (The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone)
20) “The Beast” (Sicario – Johann Johannsson)
21) “After the Ghost” (Crimson Peak – Fernando Velazquez)
22) “Goofball No Longer” (Inside Out – Michael Giacchino)
23) “The Shoe” (The End of the Tour – Danny Elfman)
24) “Black Madonna” (The Duke of Burgundy – Cat’s Eyes)
25) “John Connolly” (Black Mass – Tom Holkenborg)
26) “Ejection Protocol” (Bridge of Spies – Thomas Newman)
27) “Gone Day” (Room – Stephen Rennicks)
images28) “Sinking” (Queen of Earth – Keegan DeWitt)
29) “End Title” (Gemma Bovery – Bruno Coulais)
30) “Tom” (Tom at the Farm – Gabriel Yared)
31) “The Child, Pt. 1” (Macbeth – Jed Kurzel)
32) “The Child, Pt. 2” (Macbeth – Jed Kurzel)
33) “Hoover Dam” (San Andreas – Andrew Lockington
34) “Out” (Ex Machina – Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow)
35) “Spektral Plains” (Welcome to Leith – T. Griffin)
36) “Can You Believe It?” (Manglehorn – Explosions in the Sky, David Wingo)
37) “The Danish Girl” (The Danish Girl – Alexandre Desplat)
38) “Packing for the Voyage” (Brooklyn – Michael Brook)
39) “Outside the Valley” (Z for Zachariah – Heather McIntosh)
40) “Hungry Beach” (Hungry Hearts – Nicola Piovani)
41) “The Park is Closed” (Jurassic World – Michael Giacchino)index
42) “Epilogue” (Paddington – Nick Urata)
43) “End Credits” (Far from the Madding Crowd – Craig Armstrong)
44) “Lale’s Theme” (Mustang – Warren Ellis)
45) “Crossing” (Carol – Carter Burwell)

The Barnesyard’s Sacto/SF Now Playing Power Rankings (December 25-31, 2015)

imagesWEEK OF DECEMBER 25-31, 2015:

* = SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

1) The Hateful Eight
2) Carol
*3) Bridge of Spies
*4) Mustang
*5) Janis: Little Girl Blue
*6) Room
7) The Good Dinosaur
*8) Beasts of No Nation
9) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
10) Brooklyn
*11) Hitchcock/Truffaut

MIXED-POSITIVE

images12) Creed
13) Spotlight
*14) Steve Jobs
15) Legend
*16) Heart of a Dog

MIXED-NEGATIVE

*17) Macbeth
*18) Suffragette
19) Concussion

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

20) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
21) The Danish Girl
22) The Big Short
23) In the Heart of the Sea
24) Joy
25) Trumbo
26) Youth

indexHAVEN’T SEEN

Alvin and the Chipmunks 3
*Chi-raq
Daddy’s Home
*Everything Will Be Fine
Goosebumps
Hotel Transylvania 2
Krampus
Love the Coopers
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
*Meet the Patels
The Night Before
The Peanuts Movie
*Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
Point Break
Sisters
Spectre

These rankings are updated every Thursday, and they reflect the opinion of Daniel Barnes only. All films playing in Sacramento area theaters are listed, as well as most films playing exclusively in the S.F. Bay Area. Underlined films are on my catchup list.

The Barnesyard’s Now Playing Power Rankings (Dec. 18-24, 2015)

images* = SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

*1) Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
*2) In Jackson Heights
*3) Carol
4) Bridge of Spies
*5) Janis: Little Girl Blue
*6) Sicario
7) Room
8) The Good Dinosaur
*9) Beasts of No Nation
10) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
11) Brooklyn
*12) Hitchcock/Truffaut

MIXED-POSITIVE

index13) Creed
14) Spotlight
*15) Steve Jobs
16) Legend
*17) Heart of a Dog

MIXED-NEGATIVE

18) Macbeth
*19) Suffragette
*20) Theeb

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

21) The Martian
22) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
*23) The Danish Girl
*24) The Big Short
25) In the Heart of the Sea
26) Trumbo
27) Youth

indexHAVEN’T SEEN

Alvin and the Chipmunks 3
*Chi-raq
*Everything Will Be Fine
*Freeheld
Goosebumps
Hotel Transylvania 2
Krampus
The Letters
Love the Coopers
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Minions
The Night Before
The Peanuts Movie
*Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
Sisters
Spectre

These rankings are updated every Thursday, and they reflect the opinion of Daniel Barnes only. All films playing in Sacramento area theaters are listed, as well as most films playing exclusively in the S.F. Bay Area. Underlined films are on my catchup list.

IN THEATERS – “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”

imagesStar Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (Dir.: J.J. Abrams)

GRADE: B

By Daniel Barnes

“Luke Skywalker has vanished.”

With those four words, strategically chosen by director J.J. Abrams and his co-screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt to begin the opening crawl of Episode VII, the Star Wars franchise returns to the world of things you give a rat’s ass about.  Nothing about trade embargoes.  Nothing about filibusters in the Galactic Senate.  No parliamentary procedure bullshit at all, just a terse and mysterious setup largely focused on characters that you like.

Anyone who goes way back with The Barnesyard knows my tortured history with the Star Wars franchise.  I won’t rehash it here, but sufficed to say that the words “George,” “Lucas,” “is,” “dead,” “to,” and “me” would probably dominate a word cloud made from my mid-2000’s movie blogs.   The infantile fussiness of the prequels flattened the Star Wars universe to the point of discouraging imagination, but The Force Awakens turns it back into a tangible and dimensional cinematic world.

imagesIt’s a real Star Wars movie; it’s just not a great Star Wars movie.  The Force Awakens is built on the framework of A New Hope, and there are innumerable callbacks to the 1977 original, at least several dozen in the opening twenty minutes alone.  There’s a real sense of overcompensation – it’s telling that while the prequels eschewed any sort of “Han Solo figure” (i.e., a clumsily charming rogue in a cool jacket) and focused almost exclusively on the monotonous, self-rubbing mysticism of the Jedis, The Force Awakens features at least three different Han Solo figures, including the actual Han Solo (Harrison Ford, making more of an effort than in Crystal Skull).

Abrams doesn’t set out to make or break myths, but rather to keep the old myths in circulation.  He takes the same irreverently respectful approach to Star Wars that he brought to his Star Trek pictures – it’s everything you loved about the original with a half-twist.  Abrams isn’t what I would call an “idea machine” – he takes an existing invention and puts a clock in it, and the tease is always better than the follow through.  After watching The Force Awakens, I’m actually somewhat excited for future Star Wars movies, and yet it’s hard for me to imagine children playing Kylo Ren vs. Finn the way that I used to play Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker. But for a film tasked with kick-starting a theoretically infinite number of sequels and spinoffs, and burdened with setting up stories and characters that may or may not ever pay off (Hi, Poe Dameron!  Bye, Poe Dameron!), a decent tease is good enough.