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

Darkest Hour (2017)

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The beaches are in peril.  Nazi Germany is on the march, beginning Hitler's conquest of Europe, and Parliament sits divided on how to respond.  The only way forward is compromise, setting the stage for Winston Churchill to fly or falter under the pressure of his appointment to Prime Minister.  Joe Wright directs Darkest Hour, with the screenplay written by Anthony McCarten, and stars Gary Oldman and Kirstin Scott Thomas.

Darkest Hour plays like a riff on one of England's oldest traditions, pulling out a production of Shakespeare's Henry V when the country is facing hard times.  Only in Darkest Hour, the mighty leader is a compromise slob who can barely string coherent sentences together in his barely restrained bloodlust who is appointed by the shadowy upper-crust needing a potential fall guy.  Rare is the motion picture that combines disdain for the upper class, astonishment that governments survive long enough to do any kind of good, and still manage to be a fully rousing experience.

I have some hesitation in giving it a full recommendation because Darkest Hour repeats some arguments that enrage me.  Chief among them is the idea that leaders come to us via divine providence and their flaws are what give them strength.  Director Joe Wright anticipates this somewhat, making the bulk of these arguments come from the exquisite Kirstin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill.  When she intones that Winston's lack of grace builds him up, it's hard not to hear echoes of those who defend Donald Trump's similar (to put it charitably) awful viewpoints.  Yet, Thomas says these lines with a hint of humored reservation, and Gary Oldman's near-slobbering take on Winston does little to make the line ring true.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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The police of Ebbing, Missouri drag their feet on the investigation into the rape and murder of Mildred's daughter.  Tired of waiting on them to give her any information, she rents three billboards guaranteed to draw attention just where the police don't want it.  Martin McDonagh wrote the screenplay for and directs Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell.

The McDonagh brothers are agonizing and brilliant, sometimes flipping between these modes from one scene to the next.  John Michael McDonagh annoyed me with The Guard, then created a powerful testament to faith in CalvaryMartin McDonagh, who wrote the screenplay for and directed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (shortening to Three Billboards moving on), crafted a gorgeous ode to Bruges with In Bruges then plastered Seven Psychopaths with just enough meta-awareness to be infuriating.  "Too clever by half" doesn't cut it with the McDonaghs as they've got the skill to back up their writing, but it's not far from the sometimes exhausting experience watching their work.

Three Billboards is often too clever.  There's one moment Penelope (Samara Weaving) walks in on a domestic violence situation and starts rambling about how she needs to use the bathroom but the moment looks, "inconvenient," only to talk more about how she's looking after the, "disabled's horses" since she lost her job.  This highlights two big concerns about Three Billboards.  The first is that Martin's often funny dialogue cuts against the emotional core of some scenes in a way that distracts from their power.  The second is how Martin's cavalier approach to disability and race as he stretches too far to make clever use of still-damaging slurs (heavy shades of brother John's The Guard here.)


Little Red Lie (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.

What was the last lie you told?  Mine was, "I'm okay."  Combination of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and codependence made it difficult to discuss the chronic kidney stones, bleeding hemorrhoids, ulcer, and bizarre issue where ear wax coated my sinuses (don't ask for an elaboration, my doctor sure as heck didn't have any suggestions.)  I was clearly not okay, hence the lie, but is there a sincerity in my commitment to make sure no one was burdened by my problems that made it true?

These are the kinds of questions I asked about myself, and the characters, of Will O'Neill's Little Red Lie.  It's the first videogame I've touched that gave me a cognitive headache trying to piece together what each of the characters lies about.  These aren't simple lies, like when my mom used to tell me, "Don't sit so close to the television or you'll go blind."  The two main characters, Arthur Fox and Sarah Stone, lie about themselves, their surroundings, the people in their lives - just about everything there is to lie about, they will at some point.


Night in the Woods (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.

We are the generation of trauma and Youtube.  Your path through this hell may be different - but I see you.  I see you when you post a dog or kitten video that gives you life, or rage against another person dying too young because the richest nation in the world can't see fit to take care of any of us.  How anyone can have an imagination, or hope for the future, is almost beyond me these days.  My country has been at war my entire adult life, the public school systems that were supposed to protect me failed, I gradually wasted away to self-hatred working in insurance for over a decade, and now struggle to make even minimum wage writing these words.  This is what I know, this is what I do, and I can't find a spot in this world able to accept and support that.

Night in the Woods sees us.  It sees us in our pain and our optimism.  It offers small glimpses into my kind of hell, the one of endless calls and corporate metrics where something as deadly as smoking serves as a momentary break where I was free to dream.  You might not see them, or stop to listen to them, but that's okay.  I've got my peace to work toward and the seemingly futile efforts of one background character to find happiness outside their micromanaged professional world might not be where you want to stop.  But I had to - I had to stop and listen, read, simply exist in the moment where at least this one character was slowly able to work themselves up and out of their hell.


I, Tonya (2017)

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Tonya Harding - misunderstood and unlikely heroine of figure skating, or psychopathic abuser with delusions of grandeur?  The wildly contradictory stories don't paint a consistent image, but that won't stop this film from trying.  Craig Gillespie directs I, Tonya, with the screenplay written by Steven Rogers, and stars Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, and Sebastian Stan.

I don't like I, Tonya, but I do respect that director Craig Gillespie decides on a trashy aesthetic early on and proceeds with no pretensions of taste.  This is the sort of film that is self-aware enough to start in tight pseudo documentary frames taking up barely half the screen, and when the delusional loser Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) talks about his role in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) the camera cuts to a separate television playing Shawn's interview.  Shawn is such a dangerous loser that he can't be allowed to share the same interview frame as Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) or Tonya's mother LaVona (Allison Janney).  He's isolated to his own little world in a manner suitable to his delusions and Hauser smacks the air at the end of each sentence like he's tasting an imaginary buffet of his own lies.

Where I, Tonya goes from here is just as trashy as the opening interviews and lands on a presentation of lower-class America I can't endorse.  The big problem with I, Tonya is that Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers aren't interested in the why behind Tonya so much as the setting.  They take every opportunity to saddle Tonya with symbols of white trash while breaking the fourth wall often enough that it becomes a cruel joke.