Author: barnesyardonfilm

Film critic for the Sacramento News and Review and the Colorado Springs Independent. Member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

IN THEATERS (SF) – “The Unknown Girl”

The Unknown Girl (2017; Dir.: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday, September 22, at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco.

The Dardenne Brothers, those Belgian purveyors of austerity and despair, have always been a tough sell for mainstream audiences.  Their films are so raw, so pure, so devoid of artifice and often so hopeless, it’s hard to explain how the act of watching them can be such an engrossing, white-knuckle experience.  Still, even the auteur geeks shrugged their shoulders at Luc and Jean-Pierre’s latest effort when it premiered sixteen months ago at Cannes, and for good reason – this disaffected, by-the-numbers effort feels more like the work of the filmmakers they influenced than the real McCoy.  Adèle Haenel plays Jenny Davin, a talented doctor who goes into a liberal guilt tailspin when an unidentified young woman denied late-night entry into the clinic winds up dead.  In an attempt to determine the dead woman’s identity, Jenny obsessively pursues the case, crossing one professional line after another while maintaining a strangely strict confidentiality policy.  All of the Dardenne Brothers elements are in place, including regulars Olivier Gourmet and Jérémie Renier in key supporting roles, but the film never manages to build tension, and we don’t get emotionally involved in Jenny’s journey.  A sleepy lead performance from Haenel certainly doesn’t help, but the bigger problem is that much like the lead character in Lorna’s Silence, Jenny’s only defining trait is her kamikaze self-sacrifice. I’m sure there’s a Christian allegory that I’m missing here, but a blandly sturdy, stutter-stop drama is a blandly sturdy, stutter-stop drama in any denomination.

The Barnesyard’s Sacto/SF Now Playing Power Rankings (Sep. 15-21, 2017)

Click the links to read my reviews.

* = playing in SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

1) Dunkirk
*2) The Little Hours
3) Logan Lucky
*4) Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
5) Wind River
6) Spider-Man: Homecoming

MIXED-POSITIVE

7) War for the Planet of the Apes
8) Cars 3
*9) Patti Cake$
10) Atomic Blonde

MIXED-NEGATIVE

*11) Columbus
12) The Big Sick
13) Wonder Woman
*14) The Girl Without Hands
*15) Menashe

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

16) Transformers: The Last Knight
17) Gook
18) It
19) An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
20) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

HAVEN’T SEEN

American Assassin
Annabelle: Creation
Baby Driver
*Beach Rats
Birth of the Dragon
Brigsby Bear
California Typewriter
The Dark Tower
Despicable Me 3
*Dolores
The Emoji Movie
*The Force
Girls Trip
The Glass Castle
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Home Again
Ingrid Goes West
Leap!
Mother!
*Rebel in the Rye
*The Trip to Spain
Tulip Fever
Valerian and the City…

These rankings are updated every week, and are only intended to reflect 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.  Repertory showings are excluded, because they are obviously the superior option wherever available.  Underlined films are on my catchup list.

IN THEATERS (SF) – “The Girl Without Hands”

The Girl Without Hands (2017; Dir.: Sébastien Laudenbach)

GRADE: C+

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday, September 15, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

In this woozy adaptation of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, a young girl is sold to the devil by her poor father in exchange for a river of gold…with sexy results!  She is protected by her cleanliness and leaves her family for the forest, where she meets a water goddess and marries a prince, but the devil’s persistent schemes eventually drive them apart.  It always kills me when I have to lambaste a hand-animated passion project, but French director Laudenbach’s half-drawn watercolor images largely left me unmoved.  Even at a mere 76 minutes, the muddy pacing, vague designs and muted emotions of The Girl Without Hands make it a bit of a chore.  To its credit, the film feels like a more faithful version of the Grimm Brothers than we usually get from the edge-sanding Disney adaptations, but it ultimately cares more about splashing around in a pool of hippy-dippy aloofness than developing strong characters.

The Barnesyard’s Sacto/SF Now Playing Power Rankings (Sep. 8-14, 2017)

Click the links to read my reviews.

* = playing in SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

*1) Good Time
2) Dunkirk
*3) The Little Hours
4) Logan Lucky
*5) Detroit
*6) Step
*7) Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
8) Wind River
9) Spider-Man: Homecoming

MIXED-POSITIVE

10) War for the Planet of the Apes
11) Cars 3
12) Patti Cake$
13) Atomic Blonde

MIXED-NEGATIVE

*14) Columbus
15) The Big Sick
16) Wonder Woman
*17) Menashe

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

18) Transformers: The Last Knight
19) Gook
20) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
21) It
*22) An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
23) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
24) I Do… Until I Don’t

HAVEN’T SEEN

All Saints
Annabelle: Creation
Baby Driver
*Beach Rats
Birth of the Dragon
The Dark Tower
Despicable Me 3
*Dolores
The Emoji Movie
*The Fencer
Girls Trip
The Glass Castle
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Home Again
The House
Ingrid Goes West
Leap!
*The Midwife
9/11
The Nut Job 2
*The Trip to Spain
Tulip Fever
Valerian and the City…

These rankings are updated every week, and are only intended to reflect 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.  Repertory showings are excluded, because they are obviously the superior option wherever available.  Underlined films are on my catchup list.

2017 Fall Movie Preview – The Barnesyard’s 10 Most Anticipated Films

By Daniel Barnes

Some movies are so universally craved that it seems redundant to include them on a list of most anticipated films.  This Christmas, there is one film that will undoubtedly unite every moviegoer in the galaxy.  The follow-up to the 2015 box office sensation that incorporated familiar faces into a new cinematic universe, this film doesn’t need any extra promotion, as rabid fans of the franchise will eagerly watch and re-watch it to dissect every background detail for references and clues.  Therefore, I did not include Daddy’s Home 2 on this list of my most anticipated films of the rest of 2017 (for good measure, I also left off Star Wars: The Last Jedi).

Mother! (September 15)

Jennifer Lawrence’s last two awards season vehicles (the joyless Joy and the passable Passengers) were drippy duds, and the pitilessness and severity of Darren Aronofsky might be the cure.  Back in Black Swan psychological horror mode after dabbling in Biblical epics with Noah, Aronofsky wrote and directed this story of a woman whose blissful domestic life gets unsettled by unexpected house guests.

The Florida Project (October 10)

Sean Baker’s Tangerine was one of the left-field surprises of 2015, an energetic and empathetic look at transsexual prostitutes on the streets of Los Angeles.  It was Baker’s fifth feature film, but marked a commercial breakthrough for the low-budget filmmaker, and now familiar faces like Willem Dafoe and Caleb Landry Jones show up in this candy-colored follow-up about mischievous children.

Wonderstruck (October 20)

When the rigid perfectionist Martin Scorsese wanted to warm up and make his first film about children, he turned to Brian Selznick’s Hugo for source material.  And now that the rigid perfectionist Todd Haynes (Carol) is ready to do the same, back we go to Selznick, who adapts his own book about a generations-spanning mystery.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (November 3)

Some foreign-born directors are never able to find their footing in English-language efforts, but something about the singularly impudent sadism of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos made for an effortless American-ization in last year’s The Lobster.  More confusing animal imagery comes our way with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a revenge story about a surgeon (Colin Farrell), his wife (Nicole Kidman) and the disturbed young man that they tragically befriend.

Last Flag Flying (November 3)

If you told me that my list of the most anticipated films of the fall would include a spiritual sequel to The Last Detail starring Bryan Cranston as “Badass” Buddinsky and Steve Carell as Larry Meadows (Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid, respectively, in Hal Ashby’s 1973 classic), I would have scoffed, but Richard Linklater makes one do strange things.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (November 10)

The first film from English writer-director Martin McDonagh since 2012’s ridiculously underrated Seven Psychopaths, and only the second since his striking 2008 debut In BrugesThree Billboards… is a bloody, hyper-literate mid-western crime comedy about idiot cops and philosophical lawbreakers.  And if that’s not Coen Brothers-esque enough for you, the film also stars Frances McDormand as a grieving mother engaged in battle with the local police department.

The Shape of Water (December 8)

The last time that Guillermo del Toro tried to mingle horror and romance, we got 2015’s murky and overheated Crimson Peak, so it’s a little disappointing that he sprinted right back to that well with The Shape of Water.  But with del Toro, there is always the tantalizing possibility of another Pan’s Labyrinth, so fingers crossed that this 1960s-set love story between a mute janitor and an amphibious lab experiment fulfills that promise.

Downsizing (December 22)

Alexander Payne’s first movie since Nebraska in 2013, and the first truly fantastical premise from a filmmaker best known for his sharp sociological observations.  Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon play a couple who voluntarily elect to be shrunk down to four inches in height, allowing them to reduce waste and live a more lavish lifestyle.  No trailer exists as of press time, so we’ll have to trust that the creator of Election and About Schmidt will find a way to make that annoyingly high-concept premise work.

The Post (December 22)

While 70-year-old Steven Spielberg prepares this story about the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers for an awards season push, he is also deep into post-production on Ready Player One, a sci-fi action thriller slated for a March 2018 release, deep into pre-production on the historical biopic The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, and he has a producer credit on over a dozen upcoming releases.  Buried lede: you are lazy.

Phantom Thread (December 25)

Details are still sketchy about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest effort, his first film since Inherent Vice in 2014, but here’s what we know: Daniel Day-Lewis stars; Anderson writes, directs and serves as his own cinematographer; Jonny Greenwood composes the music; it’s set in the London fashion industry in the 1950s.  Sold!

Check out my Top 5 Films of 2017 So Far article HERE.

The Barnesyard’s Top 5 Films of 2017 So Far

By Daniel Barnes

1) Your Name.

In a year filled with films that successfully cohabited honest humanity with the supernatural, this animated teenage symphony to God from Japanese director Makoto Shinkai rises above them all.  Restless yet wise, the film plays like a Studio Ghibli version of an emotionally loaded, metaphysical mind-scrambler like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Donnie Darko.

2) Good Time

Robert Pattinson has made some bold choices in recent years, preferring to work with outsider directors instead of cashing in on his fame, but he continued to exude a low-energy indifference until his startlingly brilliant turn in Josh and Benny Safdie’s outrageous urban nightmare.

3) Personal Shopper

Sign that we’re living in the last days, No. 7,830,268: the two best lead performances of the year so far were delivered by the stars of the Twilight franchise (cue: locusts).  Kristen Stewart re-teams with Clouds of Sils Maria writer-director Olivier Assayas for this entrancing and unsettling story of a medium trying to connect with her recently deceased twin brother.

4) A Ghost Story

The most literal ghost movie of 2017, but also the most unexpectedly challenging, as director David Lowery conjures supernatural cliches (including spirits in white sheets with holes for eyes) only to rewire them into this Linklater-meets-Kubrick story of the timelessness of grief.

5) Get Out

As the darkest recesses of white privilege and hate continue to strut their stuff on the national stage, Jordan Peele’s smart, funny and stylish Black Lives Matter horror movie only grows more pungently cathartic.

Check out my 2017 Fall Movie Preview HERE.