IN THEATERS (SF) – “Evolution”

rsz_evolution-lucile-hadzihalilovic-torontoEvolution (2016; Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic)


By Daniel Barnes

*Opens today at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

An unusual, fairly original entry into the horror genre, blending together Lost-style intrigue, Cronenberg-ian body horror and European neo-miserable disaffection.  Unfortunately, despite a truly disturbing core and some nightmarish moments, I often felt disconnected from and unmoved by French director Hadzihalilovic’s icy approach and occasionally indifferent style.  Even though the first significant plot reveal comes less than fifteen minutes into the film, Evolution is fairly impossible to write about without digging into spoilers, if only because the entire story could be described from start to finish in a couple of well-worded sentences.  I’ll ladle out this much soup: it’s set on a remote island run by fish-faced women who dote on their sons with a little too much intensity.  And I’ve said too much already!  Bizarre and singular enough to maintain your interest, with some potent images and icky ideas, but the film’s long, terse tease proves equally enticing and frustrating.

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)

ESFS Classics – “Kagemusha” (1980)


Kagemusha (1980; Dir. Akira Kurosawa)


By Mike Dub

It might be hard to think that, at the age of seventy and already recognized around the world as a master of modern cinema, Akira Kurosawa would be capable of surprising us with a film that is as grand and captivating as Kagemusha. His previous effort Dersu Uzala was a staid crowd-pleaser that felt mired in its simple and old-fashioned narrative, and suggested that perhaps the march of time was creeping in on the genius who gave us Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Ikiru, among so many others.

But while Dersu is tepid, with an easygoing message delivered with kid gloves, Kagemusha is anything but. Released five years after Dersu, Kagemusha replaces the contemplation of it predecessor with pointed incisiveness, yet it also feels more expansive in its themes. The result is a grim, beautiful, harrowing, and, at times, oddly humorous study of war, identity, politics, and tradition.

Based on a true story, the film takes place in 16th century Japan, an era of constant war among three major clans vying for control of the country, and primarily follows the Takeda clan, led by Lord Shingen. When Shingen’s brother discovers that a petty thief who is scheduled to be executed has a remarkable resemblance to Shingen, they decide to spare his life, assuming he will be of use to them in the future. Years later, Shingen is fatally wounded in battle, and with his last breath he commands that his death be kept a secret for three years, so as to keep his loyal army intact and to avoid emboldening his enemies. Shingen’s brother and a select few executive statesmen train the boorish thief, known as the kagemusha (which translates as “the shadow warrior”), to act as Shingen.

kagemusha_akira_kurosawa_criterion_blu-ray_movie_imageKurosawa’s narrative may seem simple, but, like The Godfather (probably the film’s closest cinematic antecedent), the somewhat straightforward storyline and character motivations belie the film’s depth and ambition. While Kageumsha contains a sprawling network of subplots, along with two grandiose battle sequences, it is most concerned with the study of the kagemusha and his dual identity as both pawn and king in a system that is so much larger than himself.

Even during what we would normally expect to be a massive, epic battle sequence, the camera remains restricted to the kagemusha’s perspective. Kurosawa has been properly lauded throughout his career for his masterfully choreographed and edited battle sequences, particularly the intricate staging of the combat in Seven Samurai, but here he pulls a sleight-of-hand trick. The horror of war is not illustrated through blood and carnage, but by simply focusing on the kagemusha, his shock, his fear, and his horror at the carnage occurring in front of him. When several of his bodyguards are shot protecting him, he watches in stunned silence. They know he is not the real Shingen, and yet they have died protecting him, still in service of their dead leader. There is as much honor as absurdity in their deaths.

film-kagemusha-l-ombre-du-guerrierThroughout the film, Kurosawa works with a dazzling, baroque visual palette that provides an unsettling surrealism to the horror of war. Highlighted by sequences that show armies marching along a disturbingly artificial blood-red horizon, Kurosawa unloads a panoply of colors that are as beautiful as they are sinister. Every moment of the film is expertly framed, intermingling the calm blue hues of nature, the fiery reds of nightmares, and the barren, earthly browns of the battlefield.

Kagemusha was the third film in Kurosawa’s “comeback,” after years of professional and personal tumult, including a failed suicide attempt. It revisits several themes that Kurosawa has investigated in the past: the individual’s place among the collective, family dynamics, the virtue and limits of tradition, the power and horror of war. But there is a peculiar kind of nuance in Kagemusha. On one hand, he examines those themes with the weight of his age and his recent past – he seems more cynical here, less conflicted. Here, war is a tragedy. On the other hand, he seems artistically inspired, his visual presentation as ambitious and youthful as ever – he was perhaps inspired by the New Hollywood of the 1970s (Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas helped secure financing to finish the film). Kurosawa may have once been close to death, but Kagemusha is a film full of life.



* = SF Bay Area only
$ = new this week

1) Inherent Vice
*2) Boyhood
*3) Mr. Turner
4) Foxcatcher
*5) The Grand Budapest Hotel
$6) American Sniper (pictured above)
7) Gone Girl
*8) Nightcrawler
$*9) A Most Violent Year (pictured below)
*10) Citizenfour
11) Selma
*12) Whiplash
*13) The Babadook


$*14) Still Alice
15) Big Hero 6
*16) St. Vincent
17) The Theory of Everything
18) Wild


19) Interstellar
20) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I
21) Penguins of Madagascar
*22) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night


23) Birdman
24) The Gambler
25) Unbroken
26) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
27) Into the Woods
28) The Imitation Game
29) Taken 3

indexHAVEN’T SEEN (in alphabetical order)

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
*Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Big Eyes
$Blackhat (pictured above)
The Book of Life
Dumb and Dumber To
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Horrible Bosses 2
$*Human Capital
$My Big Bossing
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
$*The Search for General Tso
$Spare Parts
*Top Five
$The Wedding Ringer
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

This list is updated every Thursday evening/Friday morning. The rankings reflect the opinion of Daniel Barnes only. All films playing in Sacramento area theaters are listed, as well as select films playing exclusively in the San Francisco Bay Area.