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Can't Stop the Movies

Logan (2017)

Logan, the once near-invincible fighting beast, is dying.  Age is catching up to his healing powers and the adamantium skeleton bolstering his strength is poisoning him.  Logan's presented with an opportunity to do some good, lead kids to a safe haven, and give his now struggling mentor one last chance to instruct his wayward pupil.  James Mangold directs Logan, with the screenplay written by James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green, and stars Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen.

One of my rules for reviewing movies is to do my best to separate myself from other critical writing.  That was damn near impossible in the case of Logan which, hopefully, stands as the last time director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman team up.  Most of my cineaste circles praised Logan as a gritty, heartfelt, and stirring return to form with American Western cinematic motifs sprinkled throughout.  With respect to those who hold that opinion, the only sign Logan is operating in the world of Westerns is the appearance of the classic Shane.  It's like listening to people talk about how The Winter Soldier was like a '70s paranoid thriller with barely a thought about how the aesthetics actually contribute to the genre.

The inspiration Logan draws from has more to do with fables than it does lone gunmen riding off into the sunset.  In this frame, and not one of a Western, Mangold and Jackman do a spectacular job creating a fable with no strong moral point to make save the sins visited on children to become stronger for the future.  Logan recalls Joe Wright's wonderfully violent fable Hanna than it does Mangold's own 3:10 to Yuma and is all the stronger for it.  The X-Men cinematic series and its various offshoots have screwed up their overt social commentary so many times that it's refreshing to see Logan jettison that for a dreamy road trip.

Typical Western conventions involve a collision between civilizing and frontier forces, questioning honor in a locale where the term has shifting value, and battles over the "soul" of a community.  Logan features a long-depressed warrior going on a cross-country adventure with a mentally powerful wizard on his last legs and a child prodigy raised to be a feral weapon.  Heck, there's even a supposed magical sanctuary at the end of all this, and potions that help bring the warrior back his former fighting spirit.


For the week of 5/24/2017 on Can’t Stop the Movies

I was browsing Amazon earlier today and, wouldn't you know it, Logan is available to rent.  So, screw it, we're gonna have an action week here at Can't Stop the Movies.  Starting off is Hugh Jackman's supposed final ride in James Mangold's Logan.  We'll take a detour into the jungle for a different kind of wild man with The Legend of Tarzan.  The other side of the X-universe centers the week in X-Men: Apocalypse.  Finally, as I'm still one of the few folks on earth willing to defend Star Trek Into Darkness, I figured it's time to look at Star Trek Beyond.

Remember, no one can stop the movies.

Lighter in tone than NieR Automata, if no less weighty in implication, The Sexy Brutale features on this week's Pixels In Praxis.  I'm still figuring out my approach to video game reviews so I'm going to try and push myself to do at least one a week moving forward.


Elvis & Nixon (2016)

In 1970, Elvis got bored of his wife and father complaining about how much money he was spending, so he decided to go to Washington D.C. to get a Federal Narcotics badge.  Nixon, struggling to connect with the American youth, trusts his aides that this is an okay idea.  Liza Johnson directs Elvis & Nixon, with the screenplay written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes, and stars Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey.

In addition to providing whichever partisan slant you subscribe to, the major news networks provide the exciting alternative to actual governance.  Watch a few hours of C-SPAN and you'll see that the day-to-day actions of running the government boil down to a lot of bookkeeping.  That's not a bad thing, and while the fistfights in other governments might be good for intrigue they're bad for healthy functioning.  Keeping this in mind, Elvis & Nixon is more accurate to how the government really works than any number of political dramas.

I can't say I was expecting Elvis & Nixon to be so dry I felt the need for an IV drip at one point.  But I can't say it was very entertaining either.  Big surprise all things considered as Michael Shannon, playing the "king of rock and roll", and Kevin Spacey, getting to play the President whose scheming is surely felt in House of Cards, are both actors who often swing for the fences.  The shock relative to Elvis & Nixon is they both play their roles relatively straight and there's little wiggle room to ham it up.


Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

The battle over real estate value begins once more as the Radners, looking to move their home out of escrow, take on the new sorority filled with girls who are tired of rules around their partying.  Nicholas Stoller directs Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, with the screenplay written by Nicholas Stoller, Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen, and stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, and Chloë Grace Moretz.

Seth Rogen's recent run of socially conscious films has been a disaster.  It's hard to place an exact starting point but I'd have to say it was The Interview, where the satirical potency is rendered toothless by Rogen and company casually glossing over the sexual slavery to get to the yuks about Rogen sticking capsules up his bum.  I thought it wouldn't get worse than that, but little did I suspect Sausage Party was on the horizon with its brazen arrogance on religion.

Now comes Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, where the level of feminist knowledge applied to the plot consists of mostly dry reproduction of facts in the dialogue.  The strongest indicator we're dealing with bargain basement feminism is in one of the last scenes involving women telling other women it's okay to dress how they want.  It's "woke" dialogue 101, taking one of the most easily communicated points about cultural relativism with respect to dress and presenting it as a climactic thought on sisterhood.  Sit with me in stunned silence while we process that five men needed almost an hour and a half to get that across.


Done?  Alright, let's move on to the rest of this disappointment.


NieR: Automata (2017)

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

"When we're down to eating our ancestors," she asked, "what is left?"
-The World Without Us, Alan Weisman-

Playing NieR: Automata (Automata after this point), a question kept popping into my head.  Since manic depression is a condition we deal with, can a lesser variation - a sort of joyful melancholy - exist as well?  I ask because Automata has no shortage of gaming pleasures, while the plot takes all sorts of detours that left me reflecting on the fragile beauty of the landscape in-between spots of robot-busting swordplay.  No matter how many shoot-em-up segments I completed, I'd be back to side-quests of community building where I watched and listened to survivors struggling to make a life for themselves.

I was shocked that Automata had such a deep affect on me considering the level of polish courtesy of Platinum Games.  The original NieR, directed by Yoko Taro, was an ugly duckling of a game.  There were traditional third-person action fighting scenes interspersed with top-down segments more akin to Smash TV before jettisoning most graphic assets to turn into a pure text adventure.  NieR wasn't smooth, but by going from one gameplay extreme to the other it fostered a sense of lonely identity between the different communities.  Even when the world is down to a handful of survivors, everyone's trying to find a way to isolate themselves from the other.