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22May/180

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire (2018)

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If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

When Pillars of Eternity came out in 2015 it was like a period of darkness broke with the slightest sliver of hope that the golden days of isometric RPGs à la Baldur's Gate and Fallout might return.  I devoured PoE lustily, getting caught up in its unique take on souls and religion alongside its complicated characters such as the bigoted, sexist, altogether repugnant Durance.  Playing PoE again in preparation for PoE 2: Deadfire (just Deadfire moving forward) served as a cold shower to my early excitement.

PoE scratched an itch that had developed into a sore and any isometric ointment would do.  Revisiting PoE was a chore, the dour plot and plodding combat proving counter-intuitive to my investment in its world.  Deadfire advertised itself as a more swashbuckling adventure that serves as a direct continuation of my choices in PoE while updating the combat and class system to the more successful Tyranny (still the best of this latest glut of isometric RPGs).

18May/182

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

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A shade over ten years ago, the most I would have had to say about Michael Mann's films is, "Collateral was cool."  An accurate statement?  Sure, but one that I now feel does disservice to the rich texture of his films.  This didn't come about quickly as Manhunter, Heat, Miami Vice, and all his other films - except The Last of the Mohicans which remained unseen - went into and out of my brain leaving so little impression that I could only recall Manhunter as that absurd film with the weird "In A Gadda Da Vida" rampage.

Enter Blackhat, the 2015 thriller so poorly received it barely made 25% of its budget back with the critical reception about as frosty.  I saw, then felt, something special in Blackhat.  The oily textures and synesthetic gunfights made a deep impression on my skin as I watched Chris Hemsworth's Nicholas Hathaway (no relation to myself) find his way through the conspiratorial darkness.  I was so impressed a nagging doubt entered and would not leave my mind resulting in a question - have I been wrong about Mann this whole time?

Yes, I was wrong.  Manhunter chilled me my second time through, the maze of concrete corridors and pillars that were supposed to lead Will away from the monstrous Hannibal only lead to panic, and the "In A Gadda Da Vida" sequence an expulsion of tragic violence birthed from abuse and let loose by a sadist.  Even Miami Vice, which had editing so confusing it was easy for me to think that Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell were enjoying a shower together, improved considerably.  I saw men trying desperately to make sense of their immediate surroundings, grabbing what facile pleasures they can from touch, and getting into firefights as uncertain as the conspiracy surrounding them.

CollateralCollateral's still cool, and I look forward to my rewatch of that so I can hopefully drag myself out of that shallow (if fun and accurate) opinion.

This left one glaring spot in my evaluation of Mann's films, The Last of the Mohicans, a film I was terrified was going to yield space to the mystic/noble savage trope recently deployed in The Revenant.  One scene and line of dialogue from Chingachgook (Russell Means) worried me, but quickly gave way to a grounded sense of his faith that's no different than my mother saying a quick prayer before eating any meal.  Chingachgook has the first and last lines of dialogue in The Last of the Mohicans, and the true heartbreak in-between lies not with poster star Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) or his love Cora (Madeleine Stowe).  They get the big lines and most overtly dramatic moments, but they're speaking for the ones who choose not to - whose passion and connection plays in the power of the greatest silent films.

I speak of Uncas (Eric Schweig) and Alice (Jodhi May).  Their romance, expressed through tender touch and reassuring glances, is what gives The Last of the Mohicans its transcendental quality.  Hawkeye and Cora's romance makes for a fine bit of passion, but Uncas and Alice's wordless connection is where the magic lay.  I'm not going to be doing a typical review for this because my relationship with Mann's films has changed so much that watching The Last of the Mohicans is the closest I've had to a pure spiritual experience since Upstream Color.

To that end, here is the story of Chingachgook's love for Uncas, who loves and is loved by Alice, and how Mann avoids tropes of the mystic/noble savage to ground their romance in bravery and tragedy.  It's a romance, not just of the man/woman variety, but in a father's love for his son and son's love for his father.

Let's begin.

11May/180

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives (2018)

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Hari Kondabolu discusses the modern capitalist hell of airports, his love of mangoes, and ineffectual liberalism in this standup comedy special.

Warn Your Relatives is currently available on Netflix.

To get an idea of how dense Hari Kondabolu's Warn Your Relatives is - make sure you keep the opening visual gag in mind until damn near the end of the special.  Kondabolu arrives at the venue with a toy crown atop his head and a bicycle driver that looks like Shia LaBeouf after a perm.  On a surface level, it's just another example of a comedian taking the piss out of themselves and good for a smile.  With a bit of history, it's an inversion of the British oppression of India and sets up an amazing punchline about what accent Kondabolu's uninterested in hearing under duress.

If you only know Kondabolu from his appearances on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell or his standup bits then you'll enjoy the special.  The bigger appeal for me lay in the beautiful talk he had with bell hooks in 2016.  There are genuinely tender moments in that conversation where Kondabolu and bell hooks connect over a shared weariness about their status in the United States along with the comforts of their respective faiths.  That's the Kondabolu I saw in Warn Your Relatives, and that's exactly why all of this special has superglued itself to my brain.

10May/180

Changing Reels Season 2 Episode 7 – Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

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In this episode Courtney and Kristen discuss the origins of Wonder Woman, polyamorous relationships and the strong and complex women in Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. They also spend time with their online short film pick of the week, Heather Fink ‘s The Focus Group written by and starring Sara Benincasa.

Show notes:

If you like what you hear, or want to offer some constructive criticism, please take a moment to rate our show on iTunes! If you have a comment on this episode, or want to suggest a film for us to discuss, feel free to contact us via twitter (@ChangingReelsAC), follow us on Facebook and reach out to us by email (Changing.Reels.AC@gmail.com). You can also hear our show on SoundCloud or Stitcher!

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Filed under: 2017, Podcasts No Comments
6May/180

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (2018)

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Adol Christin, frozen in time with his striking red hair and piety toward sword-based justice, is an enduring figure who has anchored the Ys series for a shade over three decades now.  He doesn't have the cultural cache of Mario or Kirby nor the creative restlessness of those two figures.  Ys has instead endured through sparse tinkering and consistency.  Whether it's through the destruction derby battle system of Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished or the rapid party switching break fights of Ys: Memories of Celceta if I saw Adol's red hair on the box I knew I'd be in for a good seven to ten hours of tightly focused combat.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (just Lacrimosa of Dana moving forward) is a relatively big departure for the Ys franchise.  Lacrimosa of Dana leans less into fine-tuning the battle system and more in providing the kind of sprawling story that Memories of Celceta provided.  It's a self-conscious stab at maturity for the long-running series, and one that reminds me that just because something is more mature doesn't make it better or more enjoyable.  In the case of Lacrimosa of Dana, that maturity comes with a massive slog of flat storytelling punctuated by a few moments of silent power.