Video On Demand

VOD Review – “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille

The Lost City of Cecil B. Demille (2017; Dir.: Peter Brosnan)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Premieres Tuesday, October 3, on VOD services.

An amateurish but compelling documentary passion project from Brosnan, a low-level screenwriter who spent several decades obsessing over a piece of Hollywood history buried in the California sands.  When Cecil B. DeMille filmed his 1923 silent version of The Ten Commandments, he was forced to shoot in  Guadalupe, a small coastal town situated 25 miles south of San Luis Obispo, rather than in Egypt.  DeMille compensated by constructing one of the most lavish and stunning sets of the silent era in the Guadalupe dunes – an enormous Egyptian palace complete with a couple dozen sphinxes and gigantic statues of the pharaoh.  A legend persisted that DeMille ordered the set buried after production wrapped, and the story sparked Brosnan’s imagination, beginning a long odyssey to examine and excavate the site.  Brosnan intercuts his own journey through local bureaucracy and unreliable corporate sponsorship with a somewhat dubious biography of DeMille, but despite some chintzy production values, it’s still an absorbing story of Hollywood archaeology.

IN THEATERS (SF) – “The Last Face”

The Last Face (2017; Dir.: Sean Penn)

GRADE: D

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday, July 28, at the Presidio in San Francisco, and on VOD services.

Every bit the self-righteous howler we all hoped and feared after its hostile reception at Cannes 2016, The Last Face makes the humiliating narcissism of Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea look timid by comparison.  It would take a proper Dare Daniel review to catalog every embarrassment, so I’ll just single out a few of my favorites:

1) Dental hygiene as foreplay. Yes, there is a scene in this film where Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem’s painfully dedicated relief aid doctors initiate sex by flirtatiously brushing their teeth. I just thank God cinema wasn’t alive to see this.

2) Very…very…long……PAUSES! Penn’s overuse of absurd dramatic pauses and companion shock cuts extends from the nonsensical opening crawl to the overwrought conclusion. It’s the sort of thing you might expect from a film school freshman, not from an accomplished director. Not…from…an accomplished…DIRECTOR!

3) Red Hot Chili Peppers sex scene. Let me be perfectly clear about one thing: there is a sex scene set to a Red Hot Chili Peppers song in this film. Have I mentioned yet that this “sweeping love story” unfurls against a backdrop of bloody African genocide, and that the conclusion involves a child choosing to shoot himself in the head rather than murder his father?  But yeah, Peppers sex scene!  Sweet!

Theron and Penn are both deeply committed to these causes in real life, but the film’s bumbling mix of drippy romance, fetishized violence and self-serving sermonizing in a context-deficient void only makes a mockery of that commitment.  One character delivers a rambling monologue about how magical it is to dance with a girl with a slashed vagina, and he comes as close as anyone to articulating the film’s pedantic yet psychotic worldview.  After a while, you get the feeling that black bodies are just indistinguishable, awareness-raising props to Penn, and so he wallows in Mel Gibson-like viscera.  The Last Face doesn’t do much for the displaced people it depicts, but it’s a feast for Bad Movie aficionados.

The Year in Barnesyard – 2017 Mid-Year Review

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017

1) Your Name.

MY TAKE: “It’s the rare work of art that can base an extraordinarily powerful moment of emotional catharsis on a recurring joke about compulsive boob-squeezing, but that’s the miracle of this movie.”

2) A Ghost Story

3) Get Out

MY TAKE: “Writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a smart and stylish sociological horror movie more akin to recent revisionist genre entries like The Babadook and It Follows, albeit with a healthy helping of What We Do in the Shadows-level belly laughs.”

4) Kedi

MY TAKE: “Part God-mode Cats of Instagram story stream, part sly travelogue of modern-day Istanbul, Kedi follows about a dozen different street cats and the lives that they have touched. ”

5) John Wick: Chapter 2

MY TAKE: “Good acting is good acting, however you get there, and Reeves is flat-out great in John Wick: Chapter 2.  Every line of dialogue gets strangled in his throat, every life-loathing emotion scars his face, every gesture suggests a ghost who doesn’t realize he’s dead yet.”

6) The Little Hours

7) Logan

8) A Quiet Passion

MY TAKE: “Get pumped to loiter over the sumptuous anti-sumptuousness of Terence Davies’ meticulous yet ethereal Emily Dickinson biopic.”

9) Harmonium

MY TAKE: “A borderline unbearable bummer at times, but also quietly captivating, with smart and evocative framing and a trio of excellent performances.”

10) Free Fire

MY TAKE: “The hard-boiled, insult-comic dialogue might sometimes lean a little closer to Guy Ritchie than Quentin Tarantino, but the energy and momentum are undeniable—the film has a way of relentlessly slicing forward every time you expect it to stagnate.”

BOTTOM 5 FILMS OF 2017

1) Baywatch

MY TAKE: “Almost every shot is framed to appease corporate sponsors. The only exception is a seemingly endless sequence toward the beginning of the film that involves a plucky slob who gets his genitals stuck in a beach chair — according to recent Pentagon leaks, that scene was created to torture prisoners of war.”

2) Bitter Harvest

MY TAKE: “The supporting cast mixes abashed slummers like Barry Peppers and Terence Stamp with equally abashed no-names, and as the wishy-washy protagonist who learns to love the saber, 30-something “adolescent” Max Irons gives a performance that can only be described as bad.”

3) The Book of Henry

MY TAKE: “A first half of magical treehouses, Rube Goldberg contraptions, brassy best friends and half-witted intelligence is bad enough, but a midpoint twist flips The Book of Henry into a Manic Pixie Rape Revenge movie.”

4) In Dubious Battle

MY TAKE: “Director and star James Franco clearly called in every favor he was ever owed to fill the cast of this John Steinbeck adaptation, especially since this punishingly literal film feels like a low-budget, heart-on-sleeve vanity project. ”

5) Beauty and the Beast

MY TAKE: “This latest incarnation is a high-gloss recycle job, designed to do nothing more than massage your nostalgia sensors for two interminable hours – this is a film that wants to stand on the shoulders of giants, while still acting like it’s winning the dunk contest.”

TOP 10 2016 RELEASES THAT I STILL NEED TO SEE

Baby Driver

Contemporary Color

Frantz (GRADE: C+)

Graduation

In Transit

It Comes at Night (GRADE: B)

The Lost City of Z (GRADE: B)

The Lure (GRADE: C+)

Personal Shopper (GRADE: B+)

Song to Song (GRADE: B-)

AWARD WORTHY PERFORMANCES

Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston, Alien: Covenant

Tony Shalhoub, The Assignment

Salma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner

Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, The Beguiled

Nick Kroll, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Anne Hathaway, Colossal

Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dyrholm, The Commune

Sharlto Copley and Cillian Murphy, Free Fire

Catherine Keener, Daniel Kaluuya, Bradley Whitford and Allison Williams, Get Out

Rooney Mara and Johnny Mars, A Ghost Story

Mariko Tsutsui and Tadanobu Asano, Harmonium

Sam Elliott, The Hero

Emma Booth and Ashleigh Cummings, Hounds of Love

Melanie Lynskey, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

Keanu Reeves, John Wick: Chapter 2

Allison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and John C. Reilly, The Little Hours

Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen, Logan

Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, The Lovers

Jason Schwartzman, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea

Richard Gere, Norman

Ahn Seo-hyun, Okja 

Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion

Damien Bonnard, Staying Vertical

Steve Zahn, War for the Planet of the Apes

Avraham Aviv Alush, The Women’s Balcony

Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman

RELATED LETTERBOXD LISTS AND LINKS

2017 New Release Power Rankings

2017 Catchup list

Top 25 “Discoveries” of 2017

2017 Letterboxd stats

“Okja”

Okja (2017; Dir.: Bong Joon Ho)

GRADE: B

By Daniel Barnes

*Premieres Wednesday, June 28, on Netflix.

More high-energy genre subversion from South Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho (SnowpierecerThe HostMemories of Murder), who this time uses a Spielberg-ian children’s fantasy template to bluntly satirize issues related to animal rights, environmental destruction and corporate greed.  Just imagine a more politically engaged E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial combined with a more action-oriented My Neighbor Totoro, only in this version the magical creatures get brutally raped by much larger and scarier magical creatures while animal rights activists watch on a webcam feed.

***cough***

Snowpiercer supporting player Tilda Swinton gets a Co-Producer credit here, and a plum part as the CEO of a Monsanto-like conglomerate (as in Hail, Caesar!, Swinton also plays her own twin sister), but its Jake Gyllenhaal who delivers the biggest, broadest deal-breaker of a comedic performance in Okja.  Squawking like a strangled clown, sporting Michael Medved’s mustache and flapping about in your dad’s cargo shorts and black crew socks combination, Gyllenhaal plays Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a fading TV star and the public face of the Mirando Corporation.  In an entrancing prologue, Swinton’s Lucy Mirando announces an international competition to grow the biggest and tastiest Superpig, a new breed of animal engineered in the Mirando labs, and so they send Superpiglets to respected farmers across the globe.

Ten years later in South Korea, a self-aware Superpig named Okja has grown to remarkable proportions, traipsing through the woods with the farmer’s granddaughter Mija (An Seo Hyun) like a Studio Ghibli creation come to CGI life.  When Dr. Johnny and the rest of the Mirando stooges come to collect the Superpig, Mija chases them to Seoul and then to America, becoming a viral sensation in the process.  Okja offers a lot of the same elements that made Snowpiercer so successful, but it misses that film’s irrefutable narrative progression, especially in an out-of-control second half.  The film finally lands on an incredibly beautiful final shot, albeit one that feels divorced from the previous hour of tonal and thematic chaos.  If nothing else, Okja makes for an interesting anti-“kids movie” double feature with My Life as a Zucchini.

THE BEST OF DANIEL BARNES 2016

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 nearly 200 published movie reviews in 2016.  Whatever the results, I worked hard on this stuff, so before it all gets swept into the dustbin of yesteryear, let’s take one last look back at the year in Barnesyard.  You can also revisit Best of Barnes 2014 HERE and Best of Barnes 2015 HERE.

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

*Safe in Hell/Three on a Match (posted on 2/28/16)
The mot juste: “Safe in Hell is one of the five films that William Wellman directed in 1931, along with The Public Enemy. Three on a Match is one of the six films that Mervyn LeRoy directed in 1932, along with I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. They worked on breakneck schedules for relatively small salaries. The cameras were heavy and difficult to wield; the lamps were blazing hot; the sound equipment restricted movements. Contract employees were borderline indentured servants, and could get loaned out to other studios at any time. But I’m sorry, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, I interrupted your story…you were telling us about the time that you got cold and had to put on an extra sweater?”

rsz_safe-in-hell-20120213-162318-large*Francofonia (posted on 4/28/16)
The mot juste: “A docu-narrative discombobulation of historic footage, new footage, reenactments, photographs, pixellated Skype sessions and drone shots, Francofonia is just too punishingly cerebral and preciously meta-textual to fully embrace, but there’s also too much going on in Sokurov’s head to ignore his tenuously connected ravings.”

*Office (posted on 5/4/16)
The mot juste: “The entire film is dominated by gigantic, geometrically intricate sets that feel like IKEA showrooms arranged by Jacques Tati, or a Busby Berkeley version of the stage play from Clouds of Sils Maria.  Offices, board rooms, apartments, dive bars, fancy restaurants, hotel rooms, gymnasiums and 24-hour convenience stores are all rendered as a series of vertical lines, Mondrian prisons that dwarf and mock the petty manipulations of the characters.”

*High-Rise (posted on 5/12/16)
rsz_office-01The mot juste: “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.”

*A Monster with a Thousand Heads (posted on 5/25/16)
The mot juste: “You won’t find a stronger proponent for unconventional running times than this critic – in the world where I rule you like a god, the multiplexes play 50-minute movies right along with 500-minute movies, and everyone eats a flavorless mush I call “root-marm.”  Mexican director Rodrigo Plá’s crusty anti-HMO screed A Monster with a Thousand Heads clocks in at 74 minutes, conspicuously short by today’s standards but longer than some of William Wellman and Charlie Chaplin’s best films, so fuck you, today’s standards.  Unfortunately, Plá’s iron-fisted approach to the thriller genre wrings out any possibility of tension or mystery, leaving only an over-baked and undernourished gimmick movie.”

*Chevalier (posted on 6/9/16)
rsz_high-rise2The mot juste: “Tsangari seems less interested in satire than in digressive dawdling, and while she probably achieved exactly the sterile tone that she wanted, a lot of Chevalier plays like Kubrick on horse tranquilizers, empty and benumbed.  God help me, but I was longing for a revved-up American remake starring Seth Rogen and Ed Helms by the end of this thing.”

*Three (posted on 6/30/16)
The mot juste: “With his constantly moving camera, square-jawed themes, propensity for action and seamless movement between genres, To recalls muscular old-school greats like Howard Hawks and William Wellman, but he also possesses the ability to gracefully juggle an infinite number of narrative balls, even in the center of a chaotic shootout.”

*Little Men (posted on 8/12/16)
rsz_three-2The mot juste: “With this wistful number and 2014’s autumnal Love is Strange, the films of Ira Sachs are becoming the cinematic equivalent of rustling leaves.  I’m fairly sure that I don’t mean that as a compliment, and while Little Men is a delicately constructed and achingly restrained tour-de-force of emotional repression set in a rapidly changing New York, the filmmaking is probably just too tranquil and sedate to get a rise out of me.”

*Lo and Behold… (posted on 8/18/16)
The mot juste: “It’s hard not to get a little incredulous when Herzog waxes all end-of-days about soccer-playing trash cans, or when he lingers with horror on an extremely frail robot unscrewing an empty jar (“Soon it vill be unscrewing youuuuu,” he seems to whisper).”

*The Handmaiden (posted on 10/27/16)
The mot juste: “It would be a shame to spoil any of the silky curves of the story, or reveal any of the bizarre obsessions and talismans at the heart of the tale, but sufficed to say that silver bells aren’t just for Christmas time in the city anymore.  I haven’t been so mystified and tantalized by a film, so curious to understand the spell it cast over me, since Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.”rsz_maxresdefault

10 BEST IN PRINT (ordered by publication date)

*The Revenant (published on 1/7/16)
The mot juste: “The film works as a visceral experience, yet on the whole The Revenant is a frustrating mess. There is a change jar of messages regarding the pitiless beauty of nature and the savagery of man, but Iñárritu only knows how to lay it on thick, so it amounts to a lot of puffed-up finger-wagging. More than anything, Iñárritu excels at hectoring and exhausting his audience, and The Revenant is no exception—he’s good at grinding you to a nub, and not much else.”

*Anomalisa (published on 1/21/16)
The mot juste: “From its gorgeous opening shot of a commercial airplane gliding through a birth-canal sky, the camera pulling back to reveal the inside of a different plane, the film captures the fluidity between the real and the surreal, and between insides and outsides.”

rsz_thumbnail_23485*I Saw the Light (published on 3/31/16)
The mot juste: “And here we go again, unfolding and assembling the timeworn critical arguments against bad biopics as though they formed some sort of ghastly memorial quilt. At this point, is there anything more tiresome than critics bemoaning the hoary conventions of musical biopics? Believe me, I return to this dry well without any enthusiasm, but as long as studios insist on recycling this inane movie mold like editions in some Godforsaken Franklin Mint collection, I will continue to meet their perfunctory with perfunctory.”

*A Hologram for the King (published on 4/28/16)
The mot juste: “Cracks in his facade begin to show almost immediately, but the entire film is obviously traveling on a monorail toward messages about embracing the real and letting go of your shit, so just relax.”

*The Man Who Knew Infinity (published on 5/12/16)
rsz_rev-247-embedThe mot juste: “Instead of focusing entirely on Ramanujan and his life and work, the narrative is inexplicably framed as a flashback-memoir of Jeremy Irons’ twinkly-eyed professor G.H. Hardy, effectively turning Ramanujan’s story into one of those simpering, pseudo-inspirational, I-tried-to-tame-the-savage-beast-but-really-I-was-the-beast-and-he-tamed-me-whaaaaa cinematic aspirin tablets. Brown clearly identifies with Hardy the rogue imperialist rather than with the meager and rigorous Ramanujan, which is a problem.”

*Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (published on 6/9/16)
The mot juste: “At this point, it’s hard to imagine a subject less deserving of affectionate satire than the egos and excesses of the entertainment industry. It takes a knife as serrated and vulgar as David Cronenberg’s underrated Maps to the Stars to slice through that bubble of absurd privilege. Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone’s likeable but limp music mockumentary, on the other hand, still has its comedic baby teeth, nibbling on subjects it should be ripping to shreds.”

rsz_1maxresdefault*Maggie’s Plan (published on 6/16/16)
The mot juste: “There are no real laughs in Maggie’s Plan, only chuckles of recognition at the rough cadence of comedy, acknowledgments of the empty spaces where we expect humor to reside. The twinkly acoustic guitar score from Michael Rohatyn feels programmed to accompany an open-air luxury mall stroll, just right for a film without any unexpected notes.”

*Snowden (published on 9/22/16)
The mot juste: “Stone, who co-wrote the film along with The Homesman screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald, has had a lot of success in his career twisting and perverting the biopic form for his firebrand objectives. But if you had any hope that the hot-button recentness of the subject matter would rouse Stone out of a two-decade stupor, forget it—Snowden is one of Stone’s most numbingly prosaic films.”

*Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (published on 10/27/16)
rsz_jake-nocturnal-animalsThe mot juste: “On the one hand, Cruise deserves a lot of credit for staying in his lane and allowing these powerful women to take over his films, letting them flash the charisma and panache while he commits to steely-eyed terseness. But on the other hand, it only makes you wonder why these actresses aren’t headlining their own big-budget genre pictures instead of Cruise. I’m a lot more excited to see what Smulders does next than I am to see Cruise do the same thing again and again.”

*Nocturnal Animals (published on 11/24/16)
The mot juste: “Seven years later, Ford delivers his follow-up film, and it finally feels like he means business. The storytelling is both more refined and more brutishly personal, and the film strikes a balance between inscrutability and accessibility, between David Lynch-ian art horror and Deliverance or Death Wish-like exploitation. A Single Man was the work of a talented tourist; this is the work of a true filmmaker.”

2016 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part III

rsz_the-handmaiden-cannesA final awards season observation before we flush this turd of a year down the toilet:  Critics groups and other end-of-year awards-giving organizations don’t honor the best so much as they honor the most.  In other words, the award for best acting is really an award for the most acting (thus the sliding scale of difficulty that tends to reward physical transformations, physical hardships, accents, portrayals of diseases and public figures, etc.), the award for best writing awards the most writing, best picture the most picture, best editing the most editing, and so on.  Of course, there are also working critics who would argue that the best editing is the kind that you don’t even notice, to which I can only reply: What in the serious f?  Are you literally sleeping through these movies, you inveterate hacks?  Notice editing, goddammit!  Do it!  NOW!

And now on to the final chapter of my 2016 Cramfest. Check out Part I HERE and Part II HERE.

Saturday, November 26

The Handmaiden ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Park Chan-Wook; GRADE: A-)

rsz_960No real change from my rapturous review of a couple months ago, although it was fun seeing how the plot pieces all clicked into place this time.  As I said back in October, the aesthetics here are flawless, but the important thing is that they all pour back into the story, characters and themes.  Nothing is wasted or gratuitous, not even the octopus.

American Honey ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Andrea Arnold; GRADE: A-)

Another rewatch as my stack of screeners started thinning out, and once again no real change from my original review, just another affirmation that this film was designed to be compatible with my operating system.  Equal parts cultural anthropology, never-ending party, social critique and waking daydream.  The ensemble cast of the year.

Sunday, November 27

Toni Erdmann (Dir.: Maren Ade; GRADE: B+)

rsz_dontbreathetrio0Do not open until 2017.

Loving (Dir.: Jeff Nichols; GRADE: C)

Reviewed in the 12/1 issue of the SN&R.

Monday, November 28

Holy Hell (Dir.: Will Allen; GRADE: C+)

A documentary about a magnetically slimy cult leader made  by the person with perhaps the least critical distance – one of his most devoted followers. Fairly fascinating in a purely voyeuristic sense, but the utter lack of rational perspective is infuriating.

Wednesday, November 30

The BFG (Dir.: Steven Spielberg; GRADE: B)

A solid and unfairly dismissed children’s fantasy from Spielberg – it’s a messy and weird stargazer where most movies of its kind are blunt and safe, although even I could have done without the extended dinner sequence in the final stretch (we get it, we get it…the giant is comically large).rsz_1maxresdefault

Don’t Breathe (Dir.: Fede Alvarez; GRADE: B)

Effective and atmospheric horror, as a gang of callow Detroit thieves invade the house of the wrong sight-challenged sadist.  Keeps pushing forward and mutating when most films would nestle into their own unambitious concepts, although considering some of the second-half twists, you certainly wouldn’t call this a progressive portrayal of the blind.  Quite the opposite, in fact!

Thursday, December 1

Paterson (Dir.: Jim Jarmusch; GRADE: B)

Do not open until Xmas.  Check out my updated Jim Jarmusch Power Rankings HERE.

Friday, December 2

rsz_methode_2ftimes_2fprod_2fweb_2fbin_2f47b59b1a-7054-11e6-acba-85f5c900fc1aArrival (Dir.: Denis Villeneuve; GRADE: C+)

More sustained, thudding portent from Villeneuve, closer to the tongue-clucking, two-and-a-half hour skull contusion of Prisoners than the comparatively focused and electric Sicario, with an ending that roots the entire film in a Bill & Ted concept of space-time.  Note to makers of movies: please stop putting Jeremy Renner in things.  He is awful.

A Monster Calls (Dir.: J.A. Bayona; GRADE: C+)

Do not open until Xmas.

Saturday, December 3

La La Land (Dir.: Damien Chazelle; GRADE: C+)

rsz_3063128-poster-p-1-emma-stone-melts-our-heartsI get the feeling that Chazelle’s entire concept of classic cinema was gleaned from watching Chuck Workman montages, rather than the actual films.  This would-be throwback offers all the exuberance and bright colors of an Old Navy ad, without any of the substance.  Impossible to despise, and the leads have chemistry, but La La Land offers such a shallow, juvenile perspective on film musicals, on classic Hollywood, on Los Angeles, on artistic integrity, on dreams, on jazz, on love. I could go on, but why?  You’re either gonna eagerly mainline this human-emoji daftness into your bloodstream or you aren’t.

Hacksaw Ridge (Dir.: Mel Gibson; GRADE: C)

Fuck Mel Gibson.  That is all.

Sunday, December 4

Man Down (Dir.: Dito Montiel; GRADE: C+)

rsz_alwaysshine_web_2Reviewed in the 12/8 issue of the SN&R.

Monday, December 5

Hidden Figures (Dir.: Theodore Melfi; GRADE: B-)

Do not open until 2017.

Tuesday, December 6

Evolution (Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic; GRADE: B-)

Reviewed for E Street Film Society on December 9.

Always Shine (Dir.: Sophia Takal; GRADE: B)

An uneven but extremely promising weird-out from Takal, a prolific indie actress directing only her second feature.  She also offers meaty roles to her lead actresses, although I was less enamored with Mackenzie Davis’ showy transformation than other critics.rsz_baden-baden

Baden Baden (Dir.: Rachel Lang; GRADE: B-)

An airless, nearly Sundance-ready story of a post-collegiate slacker (Salomé Richard) falling back into bad habits and bad relationships while doing piss-poor repair work on her grandmother’s bathroom.  Lang’s debut feature is the final chapter in a trilogy that started with two short films I haven’t seen, so it’s possible I’m missing some key context.  Either way, this is extremely minor, but Lang still shows an intriguing eye and ear.

Saturday, December 10

Fences (Dir.: Denzel Washington; GRADE: B)

Reviewed in the 12/22 issue of the SN&R.

rsz_389c0ddc00000578-3798362-image-a-2_1474378570794Moana (Dir.: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams; GRADE: B)

Utterly delightful, if you don’t mind the usual limp Disney spirituality and shameless cultural appropriations (not to mention Lin-Manuel Miranda’s shockingly insipid lyrics and melodies).  Funny and thrilling, not to mention self-aware in the mold of Hercules and The Emperor’s New Groove, and so much more satisfying than Disney’s more celebrated 2016 release Zootopia.

And that’s a wrap for the 2016 movie year!  As of December 21, I watched 354 movies in the calendar year of 2016, and 205 of them were list/ballot-eligible releases.  That’s a lot, but there were still many well-reviewed and/or intriguing films that I failed to watch before deadline, including:

Silence; (GRADE: A-) Allied; Miss Sloane; Gold; Patriots Day; (GRADE: B) Rules Don’t Apply; (GRADE: B) Passengers; (GRADE: B-) The Light Between Oceans; (GRADE: C-) Newtown; Voyage of Time; The Age of Shadows; The Alchemist Cookbook; Closet Monster; Creepy; The Eyes of My Mother; The Innocents; Happy Hour; London Road; One More Time with Feeling; Operation Avalanche; (GRADE: C) Under the Shadow; and many more.

I did as thorough a job as possible catching up with 2016 releases, and even though I felt like it was a down year at the movies overall, I’m happy with my top 10 list.  And yet it’s still quite possible that an even better top 10 could have been pulled just from that above list of unseen titles.  It’s really quite humbling, and an important reminder that no matter how much we think we know, there is always so much left to learn.  Onward to 2017!