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Can't Stop the Movies

It Comes at Night (2017)

A disease has spread across the world, leaving few survivors.  Those that remain cling to small superstitions in the hopes they might avoid the contagion.  A dwindling family, faced with the prospect of adding more to their home, questions what steps they need to take if they want to survive in this world.  Trey Edward Shults wrote the screenplay for and directs It Comes at Night, and stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Joel Edgerton, and Carmen Ejogo.

I spent the first fifteen minutes of It Comes at Night wondering if film-makers have reached the breaking point of slow horror.  I'm thinking of films like The Lords of Salem, It Follows, The Witch, The Blackcoat's Daughter.  Films where molasses-slow camera movements pair up with ominous droning on the soundtrack and sparse dialogue explains little about the predicament of the plot.  It Comes at Night starts with a slow conversation with a dying man whose daughter has to speak through a gas mask and protective gear, then nudges the audience into the rhythm of life in this world one second at a time.

The turning point came not from Paul (Joel Edgerton), who rules the house with a cautious pragmatism and deep suspicion, or Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), who is better at thinking about the long-term consequences for their actions.  It comes from Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), caught in the middle of an argument between Paul and Sarah while not saying a word, and writer/director Trey Edward Shults does not shift the camera between Paul or Sarah.  Instead, when the camera starts to move toward Sarah, it stops on Travis.  We watch Travis, passive in action but deep in thought, listening as his parents argue, and gradually wondering what the point is in survival.


The Boy Who Stole The Sun: Devlog #6

New features! Whenever I get a new piece of the game implemented with minimal fuss, I have to celebrate and thank the central processor. On this update: there is a functional health system! The flurry critters have the ability to dash at the player and take his health away on collision. And casual non-dashing bumps between the flurries and player result in freezing up the player's hearts. The flurry also now goes into its "hurt" animation whenever it collides with the player, regardless of whether it's from a dash or a casual bump.

A friend also recommended I put in a screen flash to indicate when a heart is totally frozen. So I whipped that up this morning and got it into a functional state. Most of these features are in a testing state, not the final version by any means. But sometimes you gotta load up on features just to make sure they work.

Flurries are meant to be a low-level, easy-to-avoid critter that will probably only freeze the player a bit, and not be able to damage health directly. It's actually totally confusing to have it be able to do different kinds of damage with the same general action. Screen flashes are currently set to cyan for regular hits, and white for when a heart gets completely frozen. I will probably take out the cyan flashes later, but it's helpful to have things happen often when testing. And when you're coding solo, nobody can tell you not to make temporary features.

Hearts currently take 4 hits to deplete them, and 4 freezes to freeze them completely. And the player starts with 4 hearts, which means there's 16 total health points, and 16 temperature points. Remains to be seen whether all those values will be appropriately balanced.

Coming up next: Gotta get some particle effects in there for taking health damage. I think I'll probably do general impact effect for general hits, and a blood effect for when a heart is totally depleted. I want to be able to toss flurries into the water and freeze that square into ice. The game already tracks the drop-position in front of the player to make sure you can't drop something out of bounds. I can use that position to check the tile beneath and see if it's marked as a water tile. If so, I can do a freezing animation on it and re-build some data. In theory, this will allow for delightful puzzle solving and navigation options. I just have to make sure to constrain the possibilities such that the player doesn't have enough resources to build an bridge right off the edge of the map. Not sure if this'll be in the next update, but I may need to introduce the first tool to this game, and the give the player more than just bare hands to pick things up and mess around.

In the mean time, enjoy a little gameplay-in-progress video! Thanks for reading (and watching).


Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

After society nearly collapsed following the great blackout, an entrepreneur refines the previously outlawed process of creating human slaves known as replicants.  The older models are hunted down by newer replicants given the title "blade runner" and created to obey orders.  K, one of these new blade runners, stumbles onto a mystery that throws his existence into question and suggests the replicants are more than their masters envision.  Denis Villeneuve directs Blade Runner 2049, with the screenplay written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, and stars Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, and Sylvia Hoeks.

And how came Jesus into the world?
Through God who created him and the woman who bore him.
Man, where was your part?
-Sojourner Truth-

Sleep hasn't been easy after watching Blade Runner 2049.  My mental film reel keeps going back to the "birth" of a new replicant under the watchful eye of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto.)  That might seem a tasteless turn of phrase on my part as Wallace is blind.  But he leans his neck to his custom-made assistant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), to attach a chip that allows him sight.  Nearly a dozen black phallic cylinders, previously haunting the corridor, begin circling the terrified woman whose introduction to this world was a five foot drop from a sac of fluid into a hostile environment.  Wallace tenderly caresses the replicant before slicing her abdomen open and leaving the remains for someone else to clean up.

Denis Villeneuve's latest turn as director has few scenes as directly menacing as the slaughter of that replicant, but barely a moment went by without my emotions playing chicken with my mind trying to process what I was seeing.  Blade Runner 2049 is the logical cinematic end-point for what feminist scholar bell hooks calls, "imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy."  It is a whole, with no separation, as each part plays its role in the subjugation and destruction of the world.  We don't need to look further than Wallace's commodification of black penises, in our world where black sexuality is often weaponized, as the ultimate signifier for a system of oppression as he nakedly sizes up the flesh of a woman for slaughter using sexuality he has no claim to.


Kuroneko (1968)

Yone and Shige live in a peaceful bamboo grotto, both waiting for the return of Hachi.  A band of soldiers descends on their home, devouring their food before raping and murdering the two.  In the cinders of their once-peaceful home, a black cat perches itself on the two, and soon a mysterious force begins murdering the local samurai.  Kaneto Shindo wrote the screenplay for and directed Kuroneko, which stars Nobuko Otowa, Kiwako Taichi, and Kichiemon Nakamura.

A thought experiment.  In the United States, we have a system of justice that's built on the bones of racist and sexist oppression.  I snap my fingers and, tomorrow, this system is gone.  No police, no militarized zones for patrolling, no drug raids - nothing that resembles the system of justice we have.  What does society look like?  Has it collapsed with the disappearance of our system of justice and enforcement, or have those who lived under those conditions continued to live their lives in a freer state?

Kuroneko, in ways both unsettling and revolutionary, suggests that any system that thrives on the pain of those it's supposed to protect needs to be eliminated.  All at once is impossible barring some total societal collapse, but one at a time the weeds can be plucked from the spring of human existence until we come to a place where a measure of peace might be obtained.  There is no peace in Kuroneko, not in the terrifying opening moments or the tragic conclusion.  Yet there's some part of me that can't help but think maybe, just maybe, these women who were once innocent and alive are onto something by destroying the system that was supposed to protect them one samurai at a time.


Cuphead (2017)

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My education in animation started early in the morning and late at night.  Syndicated re-runs of what would become my favorite cartoon, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, introduced me to the joys of silly scenarios and groan-worthy puns tied together with good cheer.  It's those late nights that felt foreign when networks would show cartoons from the early 20th century featuring caricatures of then-popular stars colliding with one another in dive bars and smoky jazz clubs.  It was the perfect way to teach young me that animation wasn't just silly scenarios and chipper characters, there was an undercurrent of danger complete with firearms and cigarettes.

Enter Cuphead, a long time coming labor of love from Studio MDHR, and to its bones understands the giddy thrill of watching late-night cartoons while not fully understanding what they're about.  Studio MDHR takes familiar building blocks of the more family friendly, if still threatening, early 20th century cartoons into fights that border on the sort of hallucinatory nightmare children might have after watching those old cartoons.

The enemies fit into this mold perfectly, and when I was fighting a carrot beast who clearly imbibed a few too many psychedelic drugs (which for kids could easily be translated as psychic powers) I knew I was in good hands.  Aside from the boss battles, which form their own stages with multiple phases of attack patterns, all the enemies have a rubbery sense of menace about them.  Fish flying through the air have an oblivious look to their path of destruction, then seemingly friendly platforms suddenly spring to life as angry crabs, all while grumpy spiked urchins get an annoyed look as they come to life to try and hinder Cuphead (or his pal Mugman.)