sacramento news & review

The Barnesyard’s Sacto/SF Now Playing Power Rankings (September 1-7, 2017)

Click the links to read my reviews.

* = playing in SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

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

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) The Wedding Plan
21) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
*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
Birth of the Dragon
*Crown Heights
The Dark Tower
Despicable Me 3
The Emoji Movie
*The Fencer
47 Meters Down
Girls Trip
The Glass Castle
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Ingrid Goes West
Kidnap
Leap!
*Marjorie Prime
*The Midwife
The Nut Job 2
The Only Living Boy in NY
*Rumble: The Indians Who…
*The Trip to Spain
Tulip Fever
Valerian and the City…

These rankings are updated every Thursday, 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.

The Barnesyard’s Sacto/SF Now Playing Power Rankings (June 30-July 6, 2017)

Click the links to read Daniel’s reviews.

* = playing in SF Bay Area only

OFFICIALLY BUMPED

*1) Your Name
*2) Get Out
*3) Kedi
*4) Harmonium
*5) A Quiet Passion
6) Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
*7) Maudie

MIXED-POSITIVE

8) The Beguiled
9) Cars 3
10) Alien: Covenant
*11) The Women’s Balcony
12) Beatriz at Dinner
*13) Nowhere to Hide

MIXED-NEGATIVE

*14) My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea
*15) The Big Sick
*16) Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
17) Wonder Woman
18) The Hero

OFFICIALLY DUMPED

19) Transformers: The Last Knight
*20) Paris Can Wait
21) The Mummy
*22) The Wedding Plan
23) Letters from Baghdad
24) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
25) Beauty and the Beast
26) The Book of Henry

HAVEN’T SEEN

All Eyez on Me
Baby Driver
*The Bad Batch
The Boss Baby
*Buster’s Mal Heart
*Chuck
*Dean
Despicable Me 3
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
47 Meters Down
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
The House
*It Comes at Night
*The Journey
*Like Crazy
*Manifesto
Megan Leavey
*Moka
*My Cousin Rachel
Rough Night
*Slack Bay
Snatched

These rankings are updated every Thursday, 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.  Underlined films are on my catchup list.

Daniel Barnes @ the SN&R – 12/3 and 12/10 issues

index*In this one-note adaptation of Macbeth, director Justin Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw strive to balance heavily stylized visuals with a heavily intimate tone. Mostly, it’s just heavy. There’s a lot to like on a conceptual level, but the execution is monotonous, like Zack Snyder without the comic book zeal.

*A clever but clunky riff on the Mary Shelley classic, Victor Frankenstein possesses an ambition far beyond its range.

*After an excellent first half and an astonishing centerpiece fight sequence, Ryan Coogler’s Creed plummets into tired convention, proving just good enough to be disappointing.

2015 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part III

indexBy Daniel Barnes

More coffee-fueled palaver about meaningless awards and reductive categorizations?  No problemo! Click HERE for Part I and HERE for Part II of the Cramfest, and strap yourself in for a jam-packed Part III.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25

Love & Mercy ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Bill Pohlad; GRADE: B+)

The only real change from my original assessment of this Brian Wilson biopic is that I severely underrated Paul Giamatti’s performance, probably because he’s playing the same sort of splenetic sociopath we’ve seen him do dozens of times. After this film and Straight Outta Compton, though, can any young, aspiring musician ever trust Paul Giamatti again?  If I could nominate ten actors per category, Giamatti, Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks would all make the cut; but limited to five, they’ll probably all get left off my ballots.

Janis: Little Girl Blue (Dir.: Amy Berg; GRADE: B)

Pretty square in its construct, but light-footed in the execution, and very sincere in its attempt to clear away the bullshit legends and find the real Janis.  Through a careful selection of interview subjects and a goldmine of Joplin photographs, clips and personal effects, the film shows us not just Janis the heedless white-soul belter, but Janis the daughter, sister, girlfriend and friend, the thoughtful and introspective woman who was mercilessly bullied as a child, saved by rock and roll as a teenager, and killed by heroin at the age of 27.  A solid emotional and musical experience.index2

The Duke of Burgundy ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Peter Strickland; GRADE: A-)

No real changes from my original assessment, although a second viewing may have nudged supporting player Chiara D’Anna into my top 5.  One of the top 10 films of 2015.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 26

Jurassic World ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Colin Trevorrow; GRADE: B+)

My original assessment of Colin Trevorrow’s franchise-reviver was un-enthusiastically favorable, but I had even more ridiculous, regressive fun with a belly full of Thanksgiving turkey and barrel-aged beer.  I’ve been complaining for years that not enough movies feature a Tyrannosaurus Rex as the hero, and the film’s insane ending sequences set the table for the Jurassic movies to move in a Planet of the Apes-like direction.

The Second Mother (Dir.: Anna Muylaert; GRADE: B+)

Mike Dub covered the film well in his ESFS review, although I enjoyed it slightly more than him. The film plays like a decaffeinated Almodovar, wisely insidious and restrained where Almodovar is often wild and impetuous. Regina Case gives a stunning and utterly convincing performance as a domestic servant who has spent her life raising another couple’s child instead of her own, although she’ll probably fail to make my ballots in a crowded year for Best Actress candidates.

index.3jpgFRIDAY, NOVEMBER 27

Far from Men (Dir.: David Oelhoffen; GRADE: B-)

After Jauja, the second best 2015 movie in which Viggo Mortensen wanders a barren landscape speaking a foreign tongue. A bone-dry “adventure” with revisionist western overtones, as an Algerian-born white man (Mortensen) is tasked with delivering a prisoner to a faraway fort, all while dodging increasingly violent rebels and an unforgiving environment.  Decent but fairly unmemorable.

The Wonders (Dir.: Alba Rohrwacher; GRADE: B)

The moody, low-fi flipside to the brash rebel yell of Mustang, another story of womanhood flowering in patriarchal soil.  While the adolescent daughter of a fiercely independent beekeeper slob dreams of a world beyond the dilapidated family farm, the discomforting realities of her life conspire to frustrate her petty ambitions.  Quietly engrossing in the early scenes, with a third-act narrative wrench that I never saw coming.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Dir.: Stanley Nelson; GRADE: B-)

A solidly constructed but determinedly unspectacular history lesson about the Black Panthers, told with great enthusiasm by the surviving members (and in a few cases, by the cops, politicians and spooks who violently opposed them).  Inspiring and timely, but also stuffy and vain in the by-now familiar Boomer doc style, to the point that it might as well be called The Black Panthers: We Were the Coolest People to Ever Save the World, Just Don’t Get Me Started on These Kids Today.index4

Bridge of Spies (Dir.: Steven Spielberg; GRADE: B+)

Impeccable craft and vision from top to bottom, and consistently riveting even when Spielberg predictably indulges in his Franklin Mint-worthy views on American history.  Sturdy work by lead actor Tom Hanks, brilliant work by supporting actor Mark Rylance, and unlike in last year’s awful Unbroken, you can actually hear the voices of co-screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen in the finished product.  Check out my updated Steven Spielberg Power Rankings HERE.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28

Legend (Dir.: Brian Helgeland; GRADE: B-)

Tom Hardy might be the only actor alive who could make a movie this slapdash and predictable into required viewing.  He plays twin brothers Reginald and Ronald Kray, ruthless gangsters who ruled London during the swinging sixties, and delivers two distinct but rhyming performances.  Just try to imagine a Colin Firth or Eddie Redmayne type (or perhaps even worse, a Jason Statham or Vinnie Jones type) in the role and you’ll understand how essential Hardy is here.  The rest of the film is problematic as fuck.

In Jackson Heights (Dir.: Frederick Wiseman; GRADE: A-)

index7In an era dominated by documentaries that begin with a conclusion and then structure the rest of the film around reaching it, the let-the-camera-roll patience and empathetic discovery of Frederick Wiseman feels more and more like a luxurious throwback.  A great chronicler of institutions, Wiseman plants us in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, a community that proudly boasts of its unprecedented diversity, and fights hard to maintain its local character.  Over the course of three quietly riveting hours, Wiseman shows us the best that democracy has to offer, and the best that documentaries have to offer as well.

Eden (Dir.: Mia Hansen-Love; GRADE: B-)

A low-pulse, strangely disaffected alternate history of the French EDM movement, following the lives and loves a handsomely expressionless suburban DJ who comes of age right across from Daft Punk.  It’s a pretty classic rise/fall music industry parable, but it’s all trappings and no drama, curiously watchable as window dressing and yet never more than superficially involving.

Listen to Me Marlon ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Stevan Riley; GRADE: A-)index

A second viewing only confirmed my original assessment: mesmerizing; enlightening; disturbing; deeply personal. The best documentary of 2015.

Check out my updated rankings of every 2015 NYC theatrical release HERE, and come back later this week for the fourth and final edition of the 2015 End-of-Year Cramfest!

2015 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part II

indexBy Daniel Barnes

I’m dedicating the month leading up to the SF Film Critics Circle awards on 12/13 to my End-of-Year Cramfest.  It’s my own personal War on Xmas – I’ll be screening the awards contenders, catching up on overlooked movies, and rewatching some of my favorites from 2015.  Click HERE to read Part I, and check back later this week for Part III.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20

Shaun the Sheep Movie (Dir.: Mark Burton and Richard Starzack; GRADE: B+)

Energetic and playful and droll, with the rolling invention of a silent comedy, this blessedly anarchic and endlessly clever stop-motion animation is one of the best animated features of the year.  It comes from Aardman, based on a TV show I’ve never seen, but with a look and spirit that are kindred to Aardman keystones Wallace and Gromit.  There’s no dialogue, only grunts and growls and nonsense, so this is essentially a silent film with sound effects and music.  Cinephile parents – this could be your kids’ gateway drug to the Criterion Collection!

index2The Stanford Prison Experiment (Dir.: Kyle Patrick Alvarez; GRADE: B)

A sturdily crafted disturber based on the real-life experiments conducted at Stanford University in 1971.  The experimenters hired students and randomly assigned them a role as either prisoner or guard, turning the basement of a faculty office building into a makeshift “prison.” But the experiment got out of hand almost immediately, as the guards inflicted unnecessary physical and psychological punishments, and the prisoners begged for release.  Billy Crudup leads the study team, and a cast of familiar young faces (including Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller and Thomas Mann) play the guards and prisoners.  Smarter and more penetrating than the strangely overpraised Experimenter, spare but effective, with a solid, lunch box ensemble.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21

indexJames White (Dir.: Josh Mond; GRADE: B+)

Do not open until mid-December.

Of Horses and Men (Dir.: Benedikt Erlingsson; GRADE: B-)

Less an Icelandic Wild Tales than an Icelandic Amores Perros that fancies itself an Icelandic Au Hasard Balthazar, this bold but uneven anthology centers on the nosy citizens of a remote valley village, showing the emotional horrors they inflict on each other, and the physical horrors they inflict on their horses.  More bodily fluids than any other 2015 film I can recall, with some inspired moments counterbalanced by some truly horrific ones, all executed in the deadest of Nordic deadpans.  Hard to recommend, or shake.

The Creeping Garden (Dir.Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp: GRADE: B)

Mike Dub did an excellent job summarizing this sci-fi documentary in his review, so I’ll just add that it feels like an episode of Nova directed by Errol Morris, pitting human obsession against primordial instinct.  Slime mold wins, because slime mold always wins.images6

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22

Writing day, no movies.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23

Tom at the Farm (Dir.: Xavier Dolan; GRADE: B)

This homoerotic Hitchcock from French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan was made a year before Mommy, but released several months afterward.  Dolan plays the lead role, a young gay man who travels to the country to mourn his closeted lover, only to find that the dead man’s dangerously homophobic brother would prefer to keep their relationship a secret. An interesting checked box for the young filmmaker, taut and kinky, easily his least exuberant effort, but I’m not ready to dub him a master of suspense just yet. Check out my updated Xavier Dolan Power Rankings HERE.

Entertainment (Dir.: Rick Alverson; GRADE: C)

images7Self-satisfied grotesqueness from the director of The Comedy – part Neil Hamburger concert movie, part savagely deadpan dark comedy, part on-the-nose portrayal of the spiritual bankruptcy of life on the road, and all empty, nihilistic, fuck-you-for-giving-a-shit posturing.  God bless John C. Reilly, though.

The Good Dinosaur (Dir.: Peter Sohn; GRADE: B)

A minor effort from Pixar, a weird, alternate-universe story jumble about a family of dinosaur farmers who come into contact with a wild scavenger that looks a lot like a human boy.  Visually splendid and teeming with ideas, many of them half-cooked, like the mixture of broadly cartoon-ish character designs and photo-realist landscapes.  Still, I found the individual elements extremely compelling, even if the center doesn’t always hold.  Check out my updated Pixar Power Rankings HERE.

index8TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24

Where to Invade Next (Dir.: Michael Moore; GRADE: B)

It’s so easy to blame Michael Moore for everything annoying about contemporary documentaries that we often overlook his skill as an entertainer.  One good laugh from Moore is worth a million of Alex Gibney’s paranoid whispers.  Where to Invade Next puts Moore back in high-concept territory, as he “invades” foreign countries to steal their ideas for social change, such as Finnish school reforms and Portuguese drug policies.  It won’t change the world, but neither will The Good Dinosaur.  Check out my updated Michael Moore Power Rankings HERE.

Youth (Dir.: Paolo Sorrentino; GRADE: D)

Do not open until Xmas.

imagesSon of Saul (Dir.: Laszlo Nemes; GRADE: B+)

Do not open until 2016.

Ricki and the Flash (Dir.: Jonathan Demme; GRADE: B-)

How do you get a band to stop taking encores?  The first hour of this Diablo Cody-scripted drama about a washed-up “rock star” (Meryl Streep) forced into responsibility by her estranged family has a loose, humane vibe and a number of interesting character swerves (e.g., Ricki’s square family are the liberals, while she’s an Obama-baiting right-winger).  But the story is effectively resolved by the end of the second act, so Streep and her band run out the clock by performing uninspired karaoke cover songs for a solid half hour. Check out my updated Jonathan Demme Power Rankings HERE.

LATER THIS WEEK: End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part III, with mini-reviews of Bridge of Spies, Legend, Eden and more.

2015 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part I

indexBy Daniel Barnes

It’s that time of year again…awards season, baby!  Let those silly naysayers focus on the dark side of the process: the wastefulness of awards campaigns, the annual sanctification of the middlebrow and the bland, the shameless celebrity gladhanding, the bloated self-importance of mediocre critics, the petty and insipid arguments and controversies, the fact that you’re inevitably choosing from a preselected group of “contenders”, the utter folly of declaring an objectively “Best” anything…

Wait, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah: awards season, baby!  The best time of the year!   Hollywood’s season of quality, love it or leave it, Jack!  Once again, I am devoting late November/early December towards cramming for my best of 2015 lists and SFFCC awards ballot – catching up on the movies I missed, screening as-yet-unreleased awards hopefuls, and re-watching some of my favorites from earlier in the year. You can check out my frequently updated 2015 Ranked list HERE, and follow my 2015 Catchup list HERE.  I’ll be posting these Cramfest updates every few days for the next three weeks, and I’ll culminate the series by publishing my full SFFCC ballot.

And now…on to the Cramfest!

images5SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14

Brooklyn (Dir.: John Crowley; GRADE: B)

As I wrote on Letterboxd, Old New York has never looked more maple-glazed than it does here.  Telling the story of an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan, simultaneously sickly and luminous) divided between continents, obligations, ambitions, emotions and men, Brooklyn lays it on thick, from cinematographer Yves Belanger’s bronzed images to Michael Brooks’ honeyed score, but somehow it works.  There’s a warmth and sincerity that blasts through the fossilized nostalgia like a sunbeam, and the supporting cast is very strong, especially a scene-stealing Julie Walters.  On the other hand, I’m turning 40 next year, and it kind of freaks me out that I like both this movie and Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes so much.  How long before I’m clamoring for The Eleventh Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?

Southpaw (Dir.: Antoine Fuqua; GRADE: C+)

index22015’s other Rocky knockoff, the tragic downfall and inspiring rebirth of a self-destructive champ, as though the Rocky franchise got rebooted with Rocky II as the origin story.  Pretty pudgy and flavorless, with only Jake Gyllenhaal’s committed mumble peaking out beneath the genre cliches, but Fuqua brings just enough energy to avert the disaster of Kurt Sutter’s watery script.

Hungry Hearts (Dir.: Saverio Costanzo; GRADE: B+)

An uncanny nailbiter, this one plays like a non-supernatural version of Rosemary’s Baby where Rosemary turns out to be the Devil, as a baby gets caught in the blades of its helicopter parents (Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver, both excellent).  Disturbingly unbalanced, constantly in danger of pulling apart at the seams, frequently edging into exploitation and parody, but united by a skin-crawling dread.

Manglehorn (Dir.: David Gordon Green; GRADE: B-)

index3A mangy old cat of a movie, barely pasted together by soulful performances from Al Pacino and Holly Hunter.  Yet another funky and inscrutable deep sigh from David Gordon Green to go with Prince Avalanche and Joe, as Pacino’s lonely locksmith writes letters to a lost love who may have never existed, while wooing Hunter’s sweet bank teller.  Forgettable but oddly charming.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15

The 33 (Dir.: Patricia Riggen; GRADE: C)

Reviewed in 11/19 issue of Sacramento News & Review.

Song of Lahore (Dir.: Andy Schocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; GRADE: B)

Like Junun, a documentary about traditional musicians working in popular genres and collaborating with famous westerners, and like The Wrecking Crew, a deeply personal story of an under-appreciated supergroup.  Song of Lahore tells the story of Pakistani musicians persecuted by the Taliban, rejuvenated by a new generation, and embraced worldwide for their covers of American jazz standards.  Stylistically slick and skimpy on details of musical culture and Taliban occupation, but the music is great and the vibe is warm.index6

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16

Trumbo (Dir.: Jay Roach; GRADE: D)

Reviewed in 11/26 issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

Heart of a Dog (Dir.: Laurie Anderson; GRADE: B-)

The dictionary definition of a mixed bag, as pieces of a galvanizing memoir/political screed swim in a pool of self-indulgence and half-formed ideas.  Artist/musician/filmmaker/iconoclast Laurie Anderson (Home of the Brave) offers her first feature film in three decades, using the life and death of her beloved rat terrier as a launching pad for excursions into post-9/11 paranoia, the slippery nature of creativity, and Tibetan concepts of death and ghosts.  It’s exciting and annoying and surprising, kind of like finding out that your strange neighbor with all the dogs is actually Laurie Anderson. When I wasn’t shaking my head and sighing loudly, I was enthralled.indexmeow

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Dir.: Francis Lawrence; GRADE: C+)

Reviewed in 11/26 issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 18

Creed (Dir.: Ryan Coogler; GRADE: B-)

Reviewed in 11/26 issue of the Sacramento News & Review.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19

images4Tomorrowland (Dir.: Brad Bird; GRADE: B)

A solid rule of thumb: if mainstream critics feel comfortable piling onto a nine-figure, major studio blockbuster, there’s a better than average chance that the film is at least interesting.  All too often, broad critical consensus tilts toward a film’s real or presumed box office viability.  Brad Bird’s gleaming, awe-obsessed vision has some definite structural issues (the antagonist doesn’t materialize until the third act, and even worse, it’s exactly the sort of Ayn Rand-ian social critic villain we’ve come to expect from Bird), but it’s also scruffy and weird in a Joe Dante/Robert Zemeckis fashion, with two complex young female characters at its core.