2015 Updates

2015 in Review: 9/22 – 12/31

Wrapping up 2015 with homes, disorder, men going to battle, boys in worlds, mockingjays, stinking heavens, white knights, and much more.

An Overview of the 2015 Animation Show of Shows

“When I present my shows to studios and schools, I’m often fond of saying that if they don’t like a particular film, then just wait another three or four minutes, because something new will come along that will excite them,” he says. “This year, it’s hard to say that, because all the films are very entertaining, lovely to watch, and tell truly unique stories. Each short packs a punch—it’s like drinking 11 shots of espresso without any breaks. And these films get better each time we see them. They are truly sophisticated narratives with many layers of story to discover. Watch them a second time, and you’ll discover a whole new set of experiences.”

99 Homes review

99 Homes is stuck in the very strange position of scolding its characters along every beat of their journey, sometimes literally in the form of Dern’s character (scolding and/or worrying is all she ever gets to do). It’s the least graceful form of parable, one that doesn’t trust its audience to think for themselves for one minute. Carver is the bad guy and we should disapprove greatly of him, but every scene without him is a bore. It was almost enough to make me want to go into predatory real estate just to spite this movie.

Truth review

Blanchett is good as Mapes, better than Truth deserves. If there’s anything worthy in the film, it’s her embodiment of a woman enduring endless degradation (no small amount of which is infused with misogyny) for crossing the post-9/11 media party line. The rest of the cast is filling space, a lineup of talented character actors given little to do besides deliver or receive exposition–the best example of which is Elisabeth Moss, who is present and literally there for nothing else. And Redford’s Rather is a hilarious bore, a figure of reverent awe who is never anything but saintlike, and whose ultimate resignation is portrayed as a fittingly religious martyrdom. Rather’s career died for our sins and Mapes’ mistakes. Shame on us, says Truth. “Fuck off,” says I.

Goosebumps review

Social media has already spent years plundering ’90s nostalgia for all its worth, and Goosebumps is likely a sign of things to come for pop culture. Besides Harry Potter, Goosebumps was the most popular children’s book series of the decade. But while it got a TV adaptation at the same time the original iteration of the books were being published, the climate wasn’t quite right for a full-fledged film. Now, with Goosebumps not merely popular but entrenched in the psychological background radiation of two whole generations, is the time. Hence, Goosebumps the film.

Tokyo Tribe review

Many critics have attempted in vain to hurl comparisons to films past at the madness that is Tokyo Tribe, only to watch their references pathetically slide away from its majestic visage of grimy neon. Sure, one can draw the line from this to The Warriors or Streets of Fireor what have you, but to do so will not adequately prepare any viewer for what they have in store. Even to call it a perverted ultra-violent dystopian Japanese gang war hip-hop musical, while covering all the bases, would miss what makes the film so indelible.

Brooklyn review

Brooklyn is not an American film—it’s an Irish/U.K./Canadian co-production—but it nonetheless takes place entirely within an idealized vision of the American immigrant experience. The movie does not dwell too long on familiar signifiers like Ellis Island (shots of immigrants gazing wondrously upon the Statue of Liberty as their ship draws into port are thankfully absent), but it feels like what a romantically minded young white person might project in their mind when imagining their grandparents or great-grandparents coming to the country. The atmosphere is so gentle that even the most emotionally charged conflicts feel low-pressure. The world is so clean that the dirt on a plumber’s jeans seems decorative, and any swearing is rendered adorable by the inflection of an Irish brogue. Brooklyn is tasteful almost to the point of being anodyne.

Interview on The Russian Woodpecker

“The film is not about the specific details of the crime in this catastrophe, in this cover-up. Fedor, and I have all of these … I think of them as irradiated puzzle pieces. Fedor put them together in a way that makes sense. Whether it was the right way or the only way, I think is unknowable. There’s another theme in the film: the impossibility of uncovering truth in a land where everything is surreal and where truth never grew in the ground. The ground is fertile for paranoia and conspiracy, not for truth. To me, the film is about Fedor’s journey, how he is facing the criminals responsible for Chernobyl and many other tragedies in his life and in his family’s lives. To me, that’s the story.”

Disorder review

As always, Schoenaerts carries stoic masculinity like a familiar haversack. Most aspects of the film’s depiction of PTSD are clichéd (bolting awake at night, flash-quick memories triggered by innocent incidents), but he’s nevertheless able to make a steely, haunted brooding turn magnetic. Yet he and Kruger can’t sell the low-key attraction that develops between their characters, which turns a lot of the stakes — and the story’s resolution — into absolute shrugs. This is what Disorder ultimately adds up to.

Field Niggas review

Any sense of narrative structure is eschewed. The various snatches of dialogue could barely even be called vignettes, since there’s rarely anything approaching a full conversation. This vividly evokes the feeling of walking a city sidewalk at night, overhearing brief parts of other people’s lives with every pause at a crosswalk or bus stop or simply to take in one’s surroundings. Reinforcing this is the brilliant digital camerawork, capturing every variety of night blacks and hazy lights. So, too, does the scant, hourlong runtime — about the length of any walker’s commute.

Southbound review

The short format is presumably attractive to horror filmmakers because it lets them get setup out of the way as quickly as possible before jumping to “the good stuff.” These directors have taken it as license to rush plots into full-on incoherence. But then the plots are all excuses for pulling out jump scares or open wounds or whatever might make a midnight audience whoop. At its best, the undiluted sociopathy of horror-movie enthusiasts allows for filmmaking at the most elemental level. At its worst (this), it leads to a cavalcade of ugliness that isn’t even morally risible because it’s so predictable and boring. Of course no one makes it out alive. Of course the fates are senseless. Of course the blood flows freely.

Men Go to Battle review

Mumblecore and the period drama have (somehow) come together, and the result is far better than people who are generally allergic to the subgenre may expect. On a miniscule budget, writer-director Zachary Treitz and his crew have laid out a fully realized recreation of the South during the American Civil War — and it’s more than convincing recreations of an era’s aesthetic. Where many historical films are concerned with the movers and shakers of well-known events, Men Go to Battle is all about the micro view. It tells a story that happens to be set against a volatile backdrop, but is more about what it was like to live day-to-day in such a time.

Those Who Feel the Fire Burning review

Though blisteringly timely, Those Who Feel the Fire Burning never preaches politics on the subject of European migration. It presents snippets of the lives of the people at the center of the controversy in unvarnished detail — albeit with tremendous visual verve. A man talks on the phone to his sweetheart back home. Young children scamper through adults’ legs at supper time. People flock to a street corner, toward a possible source of employment. While the narration sometimes gets in the way of that simple humanism, it can’t dilute it too much.

The White Knights review

The portrait of its protagonists is damning, and the title only reads as more sarcastic the longer it goes on. Move for Kids’ plan is tainted with deceit from the start: the workers ask villages for orphans under the auspices of housing and educating them in-country, never revealing that they will in fact be taken to France for adoption. The villagers don’t understand why anyone would only accept orphans for local aid, and the distrust and miscommunication between them and the foreigners only dominoes into more chaos. All the while, documentarian Françoise (Valérie Donzelli) observes the lies but never interferes, serving as a twisted parody of journalistic objectivity.

Chronic review

Roth is engaged in this role in a way he hasn’t been in at least a decade. Physically, he becomes an avatar of gentleness and safety whenever David steps into his role as caretaker. He lifts, cleans, feeds, and assists people with a supernaturally effortless grace and unlimited patience. Everywhere else, David is a mess, and Roth makes himself disturbingly pathetic in a variety of ways, from his incidental identity theft, to his extraordinarily ill-advised attempt to reunite with a patient he’s been legally barred from seeing, to his painful inability to connect with his daughter.

Stinking Heaven review

The performances, a video aesthetic which gives every color a filthy mud quality, and the queasy synth score all make watching Stinking Heaven a vicious experience. It’s miraculous that the film doesn’t feel like an endurance test. Doses of ultra-dark humor do absolutely nothing to leaven the mood, but they do prevent the grimness from being overwhelming constant. It’s a bitter drink for most audiences, especially since it doesn’t offer any more catharsis than the characters will get, but the experience is unmatchable.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 review

Making Coin a possibly just-as-bad option as Snow doesn’t really add nuance to the conflict; it’s only emblematic of a quite basic “What do you do when both sides do bad things?!” concern. That’s only more complex than a good-and-evil battle in the same sense that three is a greater number than two. Ultimately, despite its grimness, The Hunger Games adds up to little more than an adolescent feel-good tale about an evil dictatorship getting overthrown by a bunch of teenagers—one of whom can beat trained gun-wielding soldiers with a bow and arrow.

Kingdom of Shadows review

That message is somewhat softened by Kingdom of Shadows’ truncation. Though there is genuine emotion within, the documentary feels more like an extended prime-time news investigation. Tightening the focus to any one of its leads would have been a huge boon. It seems that every drug war documentary wants to have both a macro and micro view, but always in a standard amount of time (Cartel Land and Narco Cultura, for instance, both run 90 minutes). We haven’t yet gotten the epic doc we need on the topic, and in the meantime, films with a more specific focus (such as 2011’s El Velador) have proven more artistically successful

Boy and the World review

Boy and the World is a child’s-eye view of a host of social ills, from deforestation to police brutality, not even couched in allegory so much as presented in a slightly more palatable form, thanks to the animated milieu. It’s not a coming-of-age tale in which the protagonist comes into himself through conquering one simple challenge after another, in the manner of a Dreamworks or Disney flick. No bad guys are toppled here. Growing up is simply coming to grips with the way things are. Though it completely lacks the spoken word, this movie has far more on its mind than any kids’ film whose script is laden with “witty” repartee and adult-pandering references. Family films are generally so ideologically sanitized that something this nakedly political is a tremendous shot in the arm.

By Dan Schindel

Born and raised in Maryland and currently based in New York, Dan Schindel is an associate editor at Hyperallergic, freelance culture writer, and available for any copy-editing/proofreading needs you may have. This website was originally a blog called Days of Docs, and chronicled his attempt to watch and review a documentary every single day for a whole year. He was mostly successful at this, and now he knows everything. He puts this knowledge to use by writing about movies, TV, games, books, comics, art, and more.