2017 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)

The age of vampires is nearing its end.  Their oldest and deadliest enemies, the lycans, have all but eliminated the remains of vampire society.  New factions in both the vampire and lycan worlds begin a hunt for Selene, whose blood may be the key to ending the war.  Anna Foerster directs Underworld: Blood Wars, with the screenplay written by Cory Goodman, and stars Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, and Lara Pulver.

The Underworld franchise always made for an easy joke about the laziness of franchises due to its over-reliance on blue photography and lore-heavy dialogue.  When I watched Underworld: Evolution back in my theater days I was supremely grateful for a night vision goggle shot to fill the screen with green instead of the overwhelming blue.  Now, in 2017, the Underworld franchise has chugged along with different directors that hasn't made as complicated a web as the Mummy franchise, but still has its own prequel sequels followed by sequels to prequels to sequels.  Given my dislike of previous entries, and a near 15-year trail of films, I wasn't expecting much from Underworld: Blood Wars.

I wanted more.  Dammit, at the end of Blood Wars, I wanted more movie - which is the opposite of what I expected reading the most basic descriptions of Blood Wars.  The photography is as dark as ever, to the point where I needed to rewind a couple of times to figure out just what the hell was going on in some scenes.  The dialogue is similarly leaden, with grave tones imparting words of covens, different factions both overt and secretive vying for power, and Kate Beckinsale tasked with saving the day once more.


Persona 5 (2017): The Complicated Praxis of Giving A Damn

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

Fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight? Never running from a real fight? I know this brings a certain pleat-skirted senshi to mind, but here, we're trading the tiara in for a mask and a glock! Pixels in Praxis returns to the concept of "millennials in the wreckage" with Atlus' latest venture in Persona 5 (P5 from this point on)!

Persona has always been a series of bildungsromans, taking Jungian psychology and anything from the return of Hitler as effected by a Lovecraftian force of terror in P2 to the personification of the human death drive in P3. While generally successful at creating a cast of teenagers struggling with society and their place in it, none of them have been as overtly political as P5.

As I understand it, Japanese youth are feeling relatively disenfranchised and powerless with regards to politics. And in the West, a rise in activism seems to be coinciding with an increase in often well-placed cynicism. In that kind of setting, I really found the growth of the party's motivation from destroying their personal abusers to rescuing not just the country but the world to be inspiring. It's been a long time since a game felt so earnest to me. A lot of that might have been the brilliant braiding of dungeon themes to thematic thief heists and building to a climactic trickster mythology style of story.

In opposition to the last console Shin Megami Tensei release, the spin-off Tokyo Mirage Sessions, P5 embraced the idea of the rabble-rouser - the sort of Romantic figure that jolts public consciousness. There were times that I felt the game was vague about it, and I think it constrained itself towards the end, but I thought it really made an effort to show us that there is a way out of the societal wreckage millennials inherited and I appreciated that. What say you, Drew?

My lack of anime knowledge became glaringly apparent reading your first paragraph and asking myself, "Pleat-skirted...what?" At this point I wonder if I lack some of the necessary background research to adequately comment on P5. So it's time to "fake it 'til I make it" and push against my anime apathy in the name of the common good.

My broadest opinion on P5 can most likely be communicated by my save game file. I'm on my second play-through at about 200 hours, making it easily the most played game in my PS4 library, and one of the games I've spent the most time with since I was old enough to move from left to right in Super Mario Bros. But a raw hour total only communicates quantity not quality of play. I started a second game because I wanted to deepen all the relationships I left dangling at the end of my first, I wanted more of the staccato rhythm of your pointed actions in combat, and I wanted to spend more time with Morgana because we are bros for life.

You touched briefly on what makes P5 so addicting and may also be a hurdle of potential annoyance for some players. The bulk of the action in the turn-based combat is given a glorified shine that was absent in the masochistic attacks of P3. Instead, your avatar (Prichard Lei for mine - but I'll refer to him as Joker here on out) and combat partners revel in the obvious correctness of their youth. Doubt and delay are two things removed from the turn-based combat, giving each button a specific action instead of having to wade through multiple menus, and it flows so quickly that P5 feels more like conducting a dance-off than fighting off the eternal indifference of apathetic humans.

I loved the idea that these kids felt so confident and free in combat with their personas. It fits in both with that notion of Romantic heroes as you mentioned, but also adolescents on the verge of adulthood trying on a guise that makes them feel comfortable for the first time in their lives. Even before we get into some of the political and societal overtones of P5's plot, the transformation roots itself in painful adolescent sexual awakening. The moaning and writhing of feeling "almost there" before popping in relief echoes some painfully satisfied voice acting. P3 and P4 had transformations that felt a bit too mature for the age of their participants with P5 arriving at a borderline erotic truth of teenage discovery that avoids going "too far."


Goodbye Grandma, Thank You For The Lessons

Note: the following appeared as a personal post on Facebook.  I wanted to repost it here to explain why Can't Stop the Movies has been quiet recently.  My grandmother's celebration of life is this Friday and I will be returning to my full update schedule the following Monday.

One of my favorite reactions to a sudden realization about how/why I'm the way I am came from my friend Paul back in Ohio. He was asking me some questions about my family and I launched into my usual rambling spiel about mom 'n pops. A solid two beats of silence followed the end of my spiel while he stared at me, blankly, and eventually said with a surprising amount of purpose, "So much about you makes sense now."

If I were to transfer that spiel into text, and will have to someday, it should be annotated heavily with footnotes and asides about my grandma. She cultivated my reading habit with weekend trips to the bookstore and sleepover visits where we'd read Beatrix Potter stories aloud. While I played with toys or listened to the Rubber Ducky record from Sesame Street, she'd be doing crossword puzzles in-between whatever book she was reading at the moment, stopping to make sure I wasn't doing anything I wasn't supposed to be doing and more often than not being surprised I would be reading or drawing. One of our favorite memories was when I was over on a weekend sleepover and she asked if I wanted to go read with her. I hurried to the bookshelf, picked out The Tale of Benjamin Bunny from the hardcover slipcase, and started reading to her. Cue a huge smile bordering on teary from my grandma, and instead of interrupting or congratulating me she just smiled in silence as I continued to read out loud to her.

She liked packaging little lessons in her gifts. When my family went to her house in Hartwell, GA for Christmas, there were only two gifts under the Christmas tree for me, neither of which were wrapped, both with a bow and name cards written with "To: Andrew, Love: Grandma and Grandpa." The first was a Gameboy, the second was a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. I was immediately thrilled but before I could get too excited she bent over, got on her knees, and as she put her arm around me asked me, "Do you know about the difference between quality and quantity?" Not quite the purview of many 10-year olds, but I explained the difference in a hurry, and as I rushed through my words she had the same smile on her face then as she did when I was reading Benjamin Bunny to her.

My grandma adored animals. I've told some of you the story of Mystery, how I opened the door to my apartment in Normal and saw him sitting there, so I looked at him, he looked at me, and we decided this was a partnership that would work. I owe a lot of that pragmatic compassion to my grandma. She was in her car when she noticed a dog with its legs injured. After calming the dog down and putting it in her car, she stopped at McDonald's to get the dog a cheeseburger and got one for herself. The dog, eventually named Lucky, gobbled them both up immediately and from that point on was both deeply protective of and immensely spoiled by my grandma. When any of my cats follow me around for love it's because I learned how to forge a mutually respectful and adoring relationship with animals thanks to her.

(Side-note: in case anyone I've been close to turned an eyebrow up in quizzical amusement at my stuffed animal collection, you'll note most of them were dalmatians - my grandparent's favorite dog breed - and my grandma would buy me new figurines or plush dalmatians of various sizes every Christmas)

She died last week. Part of the reason it's taken me so long to write about it is I want other people to feel some of the same fierce pride, compassion, and intelligence she instilled in me - but I don't want anyone to be sorry.

So, if you got to this point, please don't be sorry. Just tell me about a pet bonding moment or fun life lesson you got from one of your extended family. Or, hell, if you want to make it more personal tell me about a moment I did the same for you.

How I feel is complicated right now. I'm not doing as badly as I expected, but my total lack of motivation right now is a sure sign I'm not doing as well as I think. So I sat down to write and work my way through both of these things.

It's a weird sort of painful relief. She lived a huge life in multiple states of our republic, was fiercely intelligent and compassionate, and earned her retirement with a wide array of jobs. She also had dementia in the last years of her life, and the complicated emotions I feel now that she's gone pale in comparison to watching what happened in that time.

In the end she was able to go peacefully, at home, with her daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and well taken care of pets in arms reach. And I've got lessons in my head and heart to spare, all thanks to her. I live with the love of those lessons every day of my life, and I'll miss her, but few people are more deserving of the rest she earned.

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Stormblood (2017): Yoshi-P Built Raubahn’s Wall and Made Us Pay For It

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

An unusual roadblock stymied my progress barely a handful of quests into Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood.  Raubahn, the one-armed beast of a man, requested help from the Warrior of Light to ambush an Imperial squad carrying an experimental weapon.  I was hoping it would be a break from the bland design of the zones I'd seen so far whose aesthetic consisted of water, rocks, and a lot of dirt.

What followed was a sociological experiment more honest than anything The Stanford Prison Experiment produced.

Dozens of players swarmed his location in The Fringes, one of the first areas in Stormblood, and could not proceed.  Raubahn refused to budge and scarcely came into existence to grant the start of the quest.  If he did appear and you were lucky enough to start the quest, then you had to hope the pre-fight cutscene would play.  Assuming the cut-scene played and you loaded into the map, you had to then pray nothing would kick you offline and prevent you from finishing the quest.  As my computer caught up with the network I found that the number of players trying to get through Raubahn's quest was in the hundreds, not the dozens, and different pockets of players tried applying a social means of coping with a technical issue.

A few players started shouting for everyone to get in a line so that we could try one at a time to start the quest.  Because of the lag I needed to wait a while to see how far back the line went, and once about forty or so players loaded in I had to see how many swarmed Raubahn's spawn point.  It was impossible to count the mass of players there, and as I stared at the crowd trying to get a headcount my screen suddenly flashed to an error message that kicked me out of the game.  "Gaze not into the abyss," I thought, then reloaded my character to find something else to do because the coping mechanism of both mobs of players was doing nothing to solve the problem and just making everyone angry.


Baby Driver (2017)

Planning a getaway?  You need Baby behind the wheel.  He's been stealing cars and leaving the police in a disappearing trail of exhaust since he was a kid.  Just when Baby thinks he's found love and can get out of the getaway business, he's called back for one last job.  Edgar Wright wrote the screenplay for and directs Baby Driver, and stars Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx.

Let me pull you in on a secret I've been able to keep for about an hour and a half - I was rooting for Buddy (Jon Hamm) toward the end of Baby Driver.  I have a soft spot in my critical heart for villains who abandon the pretense of meaning behind their actions and are upfront about what they do.  It's not always this way with Buddy, and a common theme of all Edgar Wright's characters in Baby Driver is that they put on a false front to push themselves through their crimes.  Buddy is a driven villain by the end, and as cheesy as his promises to get Baby (Ansel Elgort) are, Hamm drives them home with his best big-screen performance while Wright bathes the combatants in blue and red lighting that make Buddy's showdown with Baby a titanic good vs. evil clash.

The other reason, and the one more troubling for Baby Driver, is that Baby is a blank slate living selfishly and without consequence.  Wright crafts Baby with a conventionally heartbreaking backstory that doesn't excuse the callous way Baby treats the world.  We get glimpses of this in a bravura single-shot sequence where Baby dances through Atlanta without a second thought to the people around him.  Baby shoves people, rightly earns scorn from a coffee shop employee who wants to get this kid his coffee so he'll leave, walks in front of traffic with a bow and a smile, and generally acts like the kind of entitled ass who needs a slap.