Month: January 2016

Short Reviews of Short Movies – 2016 Oscar Nominated Shorts at the Crest

index*The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Film Program plays at the Crest Theater in Sacramento tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow at 4pm.  The Oscar Nominated Live-Action Short Film Program plays tomorrow at 7:30pm.

ANIMATED SHORT NOMINEES (from best to worst)

World of Tomorrow (Don Herzfeldt; USA)

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Konstantin Bronzit; Russia)

I already raved about both of these films last October in my review of the 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows, so it’s no surprise that they’re far and away the class of this field.  Herzfeldt’s bleakly hopeful World of Tomorrow is unique among the nominees in its verbosity and wide-ranging ideas – the rest of them are essentially one-track-minded silent films.  We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, a clever, heartbreaking and efficiently told story of best friends and possible lovers training to become cosmonauts, is easily the best of these silents, all clean visual and narrative lines.

indexBear Story (Gabriel Osorio Vargas; Chile)

Mythic and bittersweet, this one is about an aging bear who shares his life story through an impossibly intricate mechanical diorama.  We see the bear ripped away from his family by evil circus masters (an obvious but effective symbol for the dictatorial oppression of Pinochet) and forced to perform increasingly dangerous and demeaning stunts.  Slight and sweet.

Prologue (Richard Williams; UK)

An interesting use of space here, as the frame swoops around and over a few menacing figures, seemingly uncertain whether they’re fighting each other or some unseen, off-page enemy.  The comic book-style pencil drawings look like something my friend Tim would have passed me in a high school math class, so it’s got that going for it, but mostly this feels like a half-realized exercise.  A last-second twinge of conscience hurts more than it helps, especially since it arrives right after someone gets stabbed in the asshole.

indexSanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel; USA)

The obligatory Pixar entry, this one played before The Good Dinosaur during its theatrical run, so you probably didn’t see it (domestic box office zing!).  It’s a heartfelt, colorful, semi-autobiographical story about bridging cultural and generational gaps…so why didn’t I like it very much?  Probably because the intersection of religious fervor and comic book fandom sits about as far away from my own heartstrings as you can get.

Live-Action Short Nominees (ranked from best to worst)

Everything Will Be Okay (Patrick Vollrath; Germany/Austria)

Clocking in at exactly 30 minutes, this is the longest of the shorts, and also the best.  A mini-Dardenne slice of banal desperation, fully realized from innocuous start to devastating finish.  It stars Simon Schwarz as a divorced father spoiling his young daughter over their joint custody weekend, although it doesn’t take long to realize that his goals are far scarier.  Only 30 years old, writer-director Patrick Vollrath is already a prolific director of short films (according to his IMDB page, this is his seventh), and he’s a filmmaker I plan to keep an eye on.index

Ave Maria (Basil Khalil; Palestine/France/Germany)

In a largely grim field, an irresistible morsel of irreverent levity.  An Israeli family crashes their car outside of a convent on the Palestine border, setting off a series of events that causes both Jews and Catholics to abandon their religious convictions.  Ave Maria offers 15 minutes of nonstop sight gags (a beheaded Virgin Mary statue bleeding oil; holy water poured into a carburetor) and relentless energy without ever breaking a sweat.  It’s a blast.

Shok (Jamie Donoughue; UK/Kosovo)

An emotionally resonant but weirdly impersonal memory piece about an abandoned bicycle that inspires a flashback to a charged childhood memory.  Most of the film takes place in Kosovo during the 1990s, when ethnic tensions between Albanians and Serbs escalated into war, but the story revolves around the severely tested friendship of two Albanian boys caught in the middle.  A good story, well-acted and directed, but the script is a mess, simultaneously underwritten and overwritten.

indexStutterer (Benjamin Cleary; UK)

A likable but uneven romantic comedy about a lonely young man with a speech impediment, and the  anxiety he feels over meeting his online girlfriend for the first time.  At times a funny and observant character study, at others an insufferably narcissistic shoegazer.  Maybe it’s just weird to me that anyone would want to become the next Richard Curtis, as Cleary clearly does.

Day One (Henry Hughes; USA)

The only film of the ten that I would call “bad,” a grossly slick war movie about a female military interpreter’s hellish first day on the job.  There are some impressive shots, but it feels like Hughes only made this to prove that he could direct the films that Marc Forster and James Mangold reject.

The Barnesyard’s Now Playing Power Rankings (January 29 to February 4, 2016)

index* = SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

1) Anomalisa
2) The Hateful Eight
*3) 45 Years (pictured)
*4) Son of Saul (pictured)
5) Carol
*6) Bridge of Spies
*7) Mustang
8) Room
9) The Good Dinosaur
*10) Aferim!
11) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
12) Brooklyn

MIXED-POSITIVE

index13) Creed
14) The Revenant
*15) Steve Jobs
16) Spotlight

MIXED-NEGATIVE

17) Concussion

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

18) The Martian
19) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
20) The Danish Girl
21) The Big Short
22) In the Heart of the Sea
23) Joy
24) Jane Got a Gun
*25) Trumbo
*26) Youth

indexHAVEN’T SEEN

The Boy
Daddy’s Home
Dirty Grandpa
The 5th Wave
Fifty Shades of Black
The Finest Hour
The Forest
Hotel Transylvania 2
*Ip Man 3
*La Jaula de Oro
Kung Fu Panda 3 (pictured)
*The Lady in the Van
*The Messenger
Norm of the North
*Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
Point Break
Ride Along 2
Sisters
Spectre
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers…

These rankings are updated every Thursday, and they reflect only the opinion of Daniel Barnes. 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 (January 22-28, 2016)

index* = SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

1) Anomalisa (pictured)
2) The Hateful Eight
*3) Cartel Land
*4) Son of Saul
5) Carol
6) Bridge of Spies
*7) Mustang
*8) Janis: Little Girl Blue
9) Room
10) The Good Dinosaur
*11) Aferim! (pictured)
12) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
13) Brooklyn
*14) Hitchcock/Truffaut

MIXED-POSITIVE

index15) Creed
16) The Revenant
*17) Steve Jobs
*18) The Treasure
19) Spotlight
*20) Heart of a Dog

MIXED-NEGATIVE

21) Concussion
*22) Theeb

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

23) The Martian
24) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
25) The Danish Girl
26) The Big Short
27) Joy
*28) Trumbo
*29) Youth

indexHAVEN’T SEEN

*All Mistakes Buried
Alvin and the Chipmunks 3
*Band of Robbers
The Boy
*Chi-raq
Daddy’s Home
Dirty Grandpa
The 5th Wave (pictured)
The Forest
Hotel Transylvania 2
*Ip Man 3
Krampus
*The Lady in the Van
Norm of the North
The Peanuts Movie
Ride Along 2
Sisters
Spectre
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers…

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 (SF) – “The Treasure”

imagesThe Treasure (2015; Dir.: Corneliu Porumboui)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

Another deadpan, three-headed Romanian history lesson from the director of 12:08 East of Bucharest, this time in the form of a treasure hunt.  Struggling family man Costi (Toma Cuzin, who also figures prominently into the superior Aferim!, this week’s other Romanian new release) gets an irresistible offer from his desperate neighbor Adrian – front the money for a metal detector specialist, and they will split the buried treasure that Adrian assumes is buried on his dilapidated family farm.  Unable to afford a reputable outfit, they hire black-market weekend warrior Cornel, the Communist proletariat to Adrian’s aristocratic asshole, while the lunkish Costi keeps a tentative peace during a contentious dig.  A film so wispy and deadset against narrative momentum that it threatens to float away, The Treasure doesn’t stick around very long, but writer-director Porumboui’s emotional restraint, cultural intelligence and minor-key humor keep you tethered for the duration.  As they dig closer and closer to the unidentified nonferrous metal buried under the surface, they seem to be digging through layers of Romanian history, from one era of tumultuous revolution and peasant neglect to the next.

IN THEATERS (SF) – “Lamb”

indexLamb (2016; Dir.: Ross Partridge)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Now playing at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

Journeyman actor Ross Partridge writes, directs and stars in this restrained but discomforting drama as David Lamb, a middle-aged man stuck in a downward spiral.  Into his life comes Tommie (Oona Laurence), a precocious but misguided preteen peer-pressured into asking this troubled older man for a cigarette.  Their interaction kicks off a secret friendship that begins with a make-believe abduction and proceeds with an actual abduction, as Lamb takes the girl to visit the family farm owned by his recently deceased father.  Everything that Lamb says and does fits the profile of a child predator, and he’s also a skilled manipulator of vulnerable women, so even though there is a strange purity to his behavior, we’re never certain whether he’s nurturing this neglected young girl or grooming her.  Despite its bottomless empathy and measured tone, Lamb can’t quite surmount the ickiness of its own premise.  Still, the performances are good, and Partridge the director displays a strong command of tone and perspective.  These are essential traits for a film concerned with right decisions made for the wrong reasons, and wrong decisions made for the right ones.

The Barnesyard’s Now Playing Power Rankings (Jan. 15-21, 2016)

images* = SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

*1) Anomalisa
*2) Mad Max: Fury Road
*3) The Look of Silence
4) The Hateful Eight
*5) Son of Saul
6) Carol
*7) Bridge of Spies
*8) Mustang
*9) Janis: Little Girl Blue
*10) Room
11) The Good Dinosaur
12) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
13) Brooklyn
*14) Hitchcock/Truffaut

MIXED-POSITIVE

index15) Creed
16) The Revenant
*17) Lamb
*18) Steve Jobs
19) Spotlight
*20) Heart of a Dog

MIXED-NEGATIVE

21) Concussion

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

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

indexHAVEN’T SEEN

Alvin and the Chipmunks 3
*Band of Robbers
*Chi-raq
Daddy’s Home
*Flowers
The Forest
Goosebumps
Hotel Transylvania 2
*Moonwalkers
Norm of the North
The Peanuts Movie
Point Break
Ride Along 2
Sisters
Spectre
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers…

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.