Month: July 2016

IN THEATERS (SF) – “The Witness”

rsz_thewitness1_kittyheadshot-1024x683The Witness (2016; Dir.: James D. Solomon)

GRADE: B

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

I recall a college Sociology professor giddily, almost lustily retelling the story of Kitty Genovese’s murder.  After all, it’s the stuff of college Sociology professors’ wet dreams – in 1964, the bar manager (“barmaid” in the press) was stabbed to death outside of her apartment building in Queens, screaming for help the entire time while dozens of neighbors watched and heard and did nothing.  Only nah, not exactly, but whatever, close enough, book deal.  Kitty’s story, told and retold over the decades with little regard for the hard facts of the case, became a ready-made symbol for urban apathy and moral culpability through inaction.  But for her younger brother Bill Genovese, Kitty’s death was only a symbol for an overwhelming and unresolved grief that nearly tore his family apart.  The Witness documents Bill’s decade-long obsession with uncovering the true story of Kitty’s life and death, and we see how her story was mangled and manipulated by overeager and unethical caveman journalists and embraced by a public all too eager to believe the worst about humanity (the hard-won moral lesson: never trust anything printed in The New York Times or taught by college Sociology professors).  Even brother Bill does a little too much manipulating, as this otherwise righteous and restrained documentary makes an ill-advised veer into The Act of Killing-style self-awareness in the final sequence, hiring an actress to recreate Kitty’s screams at the scene of the crime.  It’s a loud false note at the end of a fine film.

 

IN THEATERS (SF) – “Phantom Boy”

rsz_phantom_boy_stillPhantom Boy (2016; Dir.: Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol)

GRADE: B

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.

The New York-based independent distributor GKIDS is becoming as important an imprimatur of quality animated cinema as Pixar or Laika.  Specializing in importing the best in hand-drawn foreign fare, GKIDS has racked up eight Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations in less than a decade, and in the last few years alone they released such enchanting and challenging movies as Ernest & Celestine, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Song of the Sea, When Marnie Was There, Boy & the World, and this year’s April and the Extraordinary World.  Their latest film is Phantom Boy, directed by the same French team that made the Oscar-nominated GKIDS import A Cat in Paris, and it’s as charming and inventive yet modest and unpretentious as most of the films that carry the GKIDS label.  Phantom Boy weaves together comic book, film noir and supernatural sci-fi tropes into a sensitive (but not lugubrious) story of a young chemotherapy patient discovering new powers while his mortal body wastes away.  As a phantom, the boy can travel anywhere he chooses, teaming up in the hospital with an injured cop to bring down a disfigured supervillain who tries in vain to reveal his origin story.  There’s just barely enough film here to make it to feature length, even with a silly finale that involves guessing a computer password while a clock ticks down, but there’s a nice balance between genre homage/send-up and a genuinely eerie and affecting story of death and disease, with a vision of New York City so loving and romantic that it could only come from a foreign visitor.

IN THEATERS (SF) – “Microbe and Gasoline”

rsz_microbe-and-gasolineMicrobe and Gasoline (2016; Dir.: Michel Gondry)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Now playing at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.

A lo-fi, low-stakes charmer from Michel Gondry, light years removed from the insufferable manic quirk of Mood Indigo, but still a disconnected effort just barely tethered to its own meager narrative.  Bullied misfit artist Daniel (branded “Microbe” for his short stature) and new kid gearhead Théo (labeled “Gasoline” because of the grease permanently caked under his nails) set out on a quest to “kick the future’s ass,” constructing an unlicensed vehicle that transforms into a house whenever a cop comes near.  This is easily the least fantastical feature Gondry has ever made, and a lot of the film has the feel of a memoir, with an innocent but angst-ridden charm largely missing from his recent work.  There are a lot of lovely and imaginative sequences, such as Gasoline pantomiming his way through an imaginary capacity crowd at Microbe’s unattended art gallery opening, but it still feels unformed and slim.  Gondry can’t latch on to anything for more than a couple of minutes at a time, and a lot of the narrative threads (including Audrey Tautou in a throwaway role as Microbe’s mother) are left to  flap in the breeze.  When the film sticks with the kids, there is at least some truth in there; when it strays, Microbe and Gasoline becomes just more coming-of-age/road/message movie pablum.

The Year in Barnesyard – 2016 Mid-Year Review

rsz_the-witch-movie-reviewTOP 10 FILMS OF 2016 SO FAR

1) Three

MY TAKE: “A genre-hopping blast, the anonymously named Three works as part solemn morality play and part gonzo white-knuckle thriller, part huge-hearted ensemble dramedy and part pitiless three-hander, with an almost unbearable escalation of tension that explodes into one of the most insane action sequences you’ll ever see.”

2) The Witch

MY TAKE: “Undeniably disturbing and strangely elegant, The Witch creates its horror with such care that the film may be over before you realize it’s a tour-de-force genre classic.”

3) 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

MY TAKE: “I always suspected that the Transformers movies might be kind of great if you just removed Shia LeBeouf and all of the sass-backing robots. Suspicions confirmed.”

4) Love & Friendship

rsz_11maxresdefaultMY TAKE: “There is an almost perfect overlap between the sensibilities of Stillman and Austen, to the point that all of Stillman’s previous New York-based films now feel like reverse-engineered Austen adaptations.”

5) April and the Extraordinary World

MY TAKE: “Pure enjoyment, but then I’ve always been in the bag for humanist sci-fi, lizards wearing robot armor, unusual and meticulous production design, and adventure stories where one of the heroes is a brainy woman and the other is a talking cat.”

6) High-Rise

MY TAKE: “High-Rise slices forward fearlessly, relentless in its narrative thrust and yet overflowing with show-stopping setpieces.  The effect is dazzling, although I should be noted that I’m a sucker for this sort of heavily stylized decadence and decay.”

7) Rams

MY TAKE: “Hákonarson’s last film was a documentary about an Icelandic country priest, and he brings the observational eye of a documentarian to Rams while exuding the quiet confidence of a natural storyteller.”

rsz_love-friendship-600x3738) My Golden Days

MY TAKE: “The details of the story aren’t particularly compelling, but Desplechin’s telling casts a spell that’s curiously thrilling, as the film seems to be constantly reinventing itself as it goes, mutating and evolving like an unpleasant memory.”

9) The Lobster

10) The Measure of a Man

MY TAKE: “Impotent resistance versus soul-sucking compliance in the bloody coliseum of capitalism; human dignity loses either way. ”

10 MORE GOOD ONES

Aferim!

Dheepan

Embrace of the Serpentrsz_johnnie-to-three-2016-zhao-wei-louis-koo

Fireworks Wednesday

The Jungle Book

Mountains May Depart

Neon Bull

Swiss Army Man

10 Cloverfield Lane

Tickled

TOP 10 2016 RELEASES THAT I STILL NEED TO SEE

rsz_960Cemetery of Splendor (GRADE: B+)

De Palma (GRADE: B)

Everybody Wants Some!! (GRADE: B)

Finding Dory (GRADE: B)

Knight of Cups (GRADE: B-)

Krisha (GRADE: A-)

O.J.: Made in America (GRADE: A-)

Only Yesterday (GRADE: A)

Right Now, Wrong Then (GRADE: B+)

Weiner (GRADE: B+)

rsz_hiddleston-xlarge_trans--3hvejul2wvjxejb3jwusshndml-fnbpvlkwcwvkdhwuAWARD-WORTHY PERFORMANCES

Teodor Corban, Aferim!

Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, A Bigger Splash

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Brothers Grimsby

Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Dheepan

Lea Seydoux, Diary of a Chambermaid

Antonio Bolívar, Embrace of the Serpent

Hedye Tehrani and Hami Farokhnezhad, Fireworks Wednesday

Geoffrey Rush, Gods of Egypt

Channing Tatum and Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!

Sally Field, Hello, My Name is Doris

rsz_rams-cannes-film-festival-2Tom Hiddleston and Luke Evans, High-Rise

Tom Hanks, A Hologram for the King

Noah Emmerich, Jane Got a Gun

Ross Partridge and Oona Laurence, Lamb

Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Angeliki Papoulia and John C. Reilly, The Lobster

Kate Beckinsale and Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship

Greta Gerwig, Maggie’s Plan

Kalki Koechlin, Margarita, with a Straw

Catherine Frot, Marguerite

rsz_the-lobsterVincent Lindon, The Measure of a Man

Susan Sarandon and J.K. Simmons, The Meddler

Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst, Midnight Special

Zhao Tao and Sylvia Chang, Mountains May Depart

Juliano Cazarré, Neon Bull

Keanu Reeves, The Neon Demon

Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Rams

Christopher Plummer, Remember

Agyness Deyn and Peter Mullan, Sunset Song

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man

Salma Hayek, Tale of Tales

John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lanersz_my-golden-years-cannes-film-festival-4

James Badge Dale and John Krasinski, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Wallace Chung, Wei Zhao and Louis Koo, Three

Woody Harrelson, Triple 9

Pilou Asbaek, A War

Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie and Harvey Scrimshaw, The Witch

RELATED LETTERBOXD LISTS AND LINKS

Top 10 of 2016 Power Rankings

2016 Unranked

2016 Catchup

The Barnesyard’s 2015 Mid-Year Review