Can't Stop the Movies - No One Can Stop The Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Gorogoa (2017)

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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.

A popular analogy for proponents of Intelligent Design is one of the watchmaker.  It's an argument from design, basically stating that the physical laws of the universe lend credibility to the presence of a deity overseeing the construction of our existence.  I thought of it often in Gorogoa's later sections as the lucid dream of the opening frames gave way to a path of steady construction complete with "tick tock" sounds of footsteps and labor.  The curtain came off, and Gorogoa's world revealed itself as a carefully designed labyrinth.  With the curtain pulled, so too did the magic fall.

But the magic never disappeared, not completely, and Gorogoa's successes - particularly in the immersive joy of my first hour playing it - should be one model of evocative design.  The premise is tantalizing in its brevity, opening with the title followed by a single page of blank space and a square illustration of a modest city.  The architecture places it nowhere in particular, with domed roofs standing alongside canopy peaks and triangular points, all hinting at a shared dream space instead of favoring one style over another.


Detroit (2017)

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The summer is long, the heat of the day bleeds into the night, and the citizens of Detroit grow restless. After suffering one too many injustices from the police, a riot begins.  In the center of the chaos a small group of police officers hold several men and women hostage, demanding answers for a crime that doesn't exist.  Kathryn Bigelow directs Detroit, with the screenplay written by Mark Boal, and stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, and Algee Smith.

Detroit is a film without sympathy.  Director Kathryn Bigelow displays just enough knowledge of the economic backdrop of the Detroit riots to bring up the question why she did not present those implications visually.  Detroit is a film without empathy.  Time and again, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal settle for thin stereotypes of characters while finding ways of demeaning or presenting "both sides" as childish adults given too much power with not enough sense to use it without getting people killed.

Detroit is a moral failure so complete that I felt pity for the faces paraded about to be beaten, stripped, cursed at, and treated without mercy for over two hours of oblivious commentary.  This film is beyond shame, it should be taught as an example of white creative authorities stepping far outside their comfort zone without asking if what they were making was of any value.  It reinforces the worst stereotypes of liberal thinking - that a few childish officers are to blame for widespread violence against black Americans while going the extra grotesque step of blaming black Americans for their condition.  There is no systemic analysis, no characters that exist without degradation, no grasp that the conditions of the Detroit riots were brought about in-part by ignorant and hateful white people.

Bigelow steps wrong with the first frame and continues spiraling down.  The economic conditions of Detroit get a cartoon explanation, which suggests Bigelow sees the very real White flight as a fantasy, and never follows up by showing poverty in action.  Boal writes employed characters, on the cusp of breaking out into musical stardom, or otherwise able to provide for families in a way that runs counter to history.  The phrase, "knowing enough to be dangerous," raced to the front of my mind so many times - how could Bigelow and Boal be aware of history without putting it to work creatively?


Atomic Blonde (2017)

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The Berlin Wall is about to come down, but not before the spies who've staked their claim make one last gasp for global supremacy.  Lorraine Broughton, stoic and strong MI6 field agent, enters the fray hoping to secure a list that threatens to expose every spy in Berlin.  David Leitch directs Atomic Blonde, with the screenplay written by Kurt Johnstad, and stars Charlize Theron.

New rule, which I hope is broken some day, James McAvoy and Eddie Marsan appearing in the same film is a sure sign what I'm watching will not rise above mediocrity.  They were in the awful "edgy" Filth together and both have supporting roles in Atomic Blonde, another film so insufferably up its tailpipe in slick self-aware cool that I briefly wanted to switch it off.  I've come to appreciate aspects of McAvoy performances and frequently love Marsan, so here's hoping they find a way to never cross paths again.

For Atomic Blonde itself, by god is the first hour an absolute chore to get through.  Director David Leitch worked with Chad Stahelski on the first John Wick film, and it's hard to shake off the sensation that Leitch is looking to prove he is the powerhouse creative talent.  Between spraying graffiti on interstitial text details setting the stage for spy game shenanigans of Lorraine (Charlize Theron), and lens flare dominating so many scenes I'm surprised J.J. Abrams doesn't have a cinematography credit, Atomic Blonde demands attention.  It reeks of desperation to please, an idea not easily shaken by totally unnecessary lesbian sex scene and the death of James Gasciogne, played by Sam Hargrave.  Hargrave's resemblance to both Keanu Reeves and Roger Moore combined with his early death is yet another loud, "This isn't John Wick and/or James Bond!"


The Shape of Water (2017)

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Elisa dreams of a watery paradise, a place she's free with her desire and far from the bureaucratic drudgery of her working life.  Her chance to live this dream comes from an unimaginable source, blocked by government conspiracy, and limited by the dimmed hopes of her loved ones.  Guillermo del Toro directs The Shape of Water, with the screenplay written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, and stars Sally Hawkins.

The Shape of Water filled me with such effervescent delight that language ceased to matter the first hour or so after the credits began to roll. My skin erupted in goosebumps, recalling the rush of adrenaline after emerging from the ocean's waves threatening to drag me under and the sight of my wife on our wedding day. Melancholy is my default state, but not without optimism, and The Shape of Water created a world so wholly romantic that the sullen feeling slipped away and I let myself feel rejuvenated in its healing tide. What a rare beauty this film is.

Guillermo del Toro's films shoot not for the stars but for the folds of our imagination - the often forgotten bits of ourselves we leave in attics. Sometimes they stumble as in the visually lush gothic romance Crimson Peak leaning too heavily into the gothic for the romance to spark. In truth, del Toro fumbles a fair bit in The Shape of Water as well.  But when the story is this sparkling, the results this evocative, the slight stumbles in del Toro's vision come across as one part of a man's creative sojourn reaching the pinnacle of heart and craft.  This is del Toro's masterwork, ugly spots and all.


Mafia 3 (2016)

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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.

Start with his name, "Lincoln Clay."  First name borrowed from the President known for freeing slaves via legislature and the Emancipation Proclamation, last a tip of the hat to Cassius Clay - better known as Muhammad Ali - the greatest sportsman in history with a rich legacy of fighting for Civil Rights.  Neither had it easy, and on name alone the player character of Mafia 3 has mighty expectations to bear on his shoulders.  Whether developers Hangar 13 bothered to think this far with his name or not is irrelevant, this is his name and this is what it invokes.

Had Hangar 13 bothered with nuance in respect to Mafia 3's player character it might have had something interesting on its hands.  Instead, Mafia 3 goes about treating Lincoln and his surroundings with the vaguest understanding of what life was like in the 1960s for black Americans.  Hangar 13 gets the vernacular down just fine with plenty of moments where Lincoln is referred to or calls others the n-word.  But this is like a suburban white kid rapping along with Public Enemy, the energy comes from saying the word instead of understanding the political, social, and economic conditions that make it such a violent slur.