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

Justice League (2017)

Superman is dead, and with him the hopes that humanity might join him in the stars. Batman, wracked with guilt over his role in Superman's death, feels the rumblings of an invasion and begins assembling a team to confront the horrors of the future.  Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon direct Justice League, with the screenplay written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, and stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, and Ray Fisher.

Zack Snyder started the cinematic superhero renaissance with Watchmen, anticipating and critiquing the blithe indifference of most superhero films.  Warner Brothers initially went all-in on Zack's vision, resulting in the deeply empathetic and triumphant Man of Steel, and following up with the complex interrogation of United States ethics in Batman v Superman.  David Ayer and Patty Jenkins added their stamps with Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, further complicating the ethical pool and questioning the good of heroics for a species prone to perpetual war.

Now, thanks to Joss Whedon, what was once a series of complex and challenging films has been reduced to just another superhero film.  It might seem unfair to place the blame squarely on his shoulders but to say otherwise would mean ignoring the vast changes he made as soon as he took the production over from Zack.  As a director, Joss' vision has not evolved passed the "people standing around talking" visual level that even fellow nerd savant Kevin Smith got bored with.  His involvement tears Justice League to pieces, resulting in a third of a film that puts the best of us on the front lines for a spiritual reckoning, and the other two-thirds where Joss gets to write a joke about how thirsty Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is.


Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

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

Super Mario Odyssey is the logical end-point of Mario's moral regression ever since he got the ability to abandon Yoshi to a bottomless pit for a boosted jump.  I could dig further than that, and think of how Mario imprisoned Donkey Kong, forcing Donkey Kong Jr. on a journey of revenge as Mario throws other creatures at the diaper-clad gorilla.  Manipulation has always been part of Mario's appeal, whether he's claiming natural resources to hurl fire or forcing poor attention starved Luigi to fend for himself.  The rest of us craft whatever narrative we need to make his platforming journey one of heroics instead of selfishness.

Sound deep?  Possibly! I just recall how many times Odyssey stopped to remind me I'm playing it incorrectly.  It never comes right out and says it, but all those little tidbits of extra movement are easier if I undock the controllers and play with wristbands.  I considered it for a moment then, out of spite, decided I would continue to play with both controllers firmly attached to the Nintendo Switch screen and get those moons without the help of all those passive-aggressive reminders ( I would prefer not to.)  I didn't need onscreen prompts to show me how to get through the maze of fortresses in Super Mario Bros., nor to get to 120 stars in Mario 64, so I took the needling reminders on as a challenge.


Fire Emblem Warriors (2017)

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

When did "button masher" become a bad thing?  I ask in part because Fire Emblem Warriors (just Warriors moving forward), with all its cut-scene super moves and nearly endless sea of faceless baddies, is unapologetic in the amount of buttons it asks me to mash to make it through each map.  It may be possible to get through the game by just mashing the light attack button and have a poor time with Warriors, but I'd get the satisfaction of seeing the credits roll. Thankfully, I'm more interested in combat that allows a bit of room to mash more than one button, and Warriors is just smart enough in its design to keep my attention in areas other than where I'm swinging my character's sword.

Fire Emblem Warriors is an odd duck considering its two main points of inspiration are the Fire Emblem tactical series not known for impulsive gameplay, and the Dynasty Warriors games that are.  Much to my chagrin, this blend focuses heavily on the Nintendo 3DS line of Fire Emblem games Awakening and the Fates trio, leaving the most recent (and best) Shadows of Valentia twisting in the wind.  As much as I'd love to have my boy Valbar on the field of Warriors, his trauma-riddled backstory would be an odd fit for the timegate multiple dimension shenanigans that form Warriors' story.  So it's better that Warriors reserves that slot for the future daughter of one warrior in a potential timeline to join her father in someone else's world for swordplay.


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.


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.