2018 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire (2018)

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When Pillars of Eternity came out in 2015 it was like a period of darkness broke with the slightest sliver of hope that the golden days of isometric RPGs à la Baldur's Gate and Fallout might return.  I devoured PoE lustily, getting caught up in its unique take on souls and religion alongside its complicated characters such as the bigoted, sexist, altogether repugnant Durance.  Playing PoE again in preparation for PoE 2: Deadfire (just Deadfire moving forward) served as a cold shower to my early excitement.

PoE scratched an itch that had developed into a sore and any isometric ointment would do.  Revisiting PoE was a chore, the dour plot and plodding combat proving counter-intuitive to my investment in its world.  Deadfire advertised itself as a more swashbuckling adventure that serves as a direct continuation of my choices in PoE while updating the combat and class system to the more successful Tyranny (still the best of this latest glut of isometric RPGs).


Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives (2018)

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Hari Kondabolu discusses the modern capitalist hell of airports, his love of mangoes, and ineffectual liberalism in this standup comedy special.

Warn Your Relatives is currently available on Netflix.

To get an idea of how dense Hari Kondabolu's Warn Your Relatives is - make sure you keep the opening visual gag in mind until damn near the end of the special.  Kondabolu arrives at the venue with a toy crown atop his head and a bicycle driver that looks like Shia LaBeouf after a perm.  On a surface level, it's just another example of a comedian taking the piss out of themselves and good for a smile.  With a bit of history, it's an inversion of the British oppression of India and sets up an amazing punchline about what accent Kondabolu's uninterested in hearing under duress.

If you only know Kondabolu from his appearances on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell or his standup bits then you'll enjoy the special.  The bigger appeal for me lay in the beautiful talk he had with bell hooks in 2016.  There are genuinely tender moments in that conversation where Kondabolu and bell hooks connect over a shared weariness about their status in the United States along with the comforts of their respective faiths.  That's the Kondabolu I saw in Warn Your Relatives, and that's exactly why all of this special has superglued itself to my brain.


Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (2018)

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Adol Christin, frozen in time with his striking red hair and piety toward sword-based justice, is an enduring figure who has anchored the Ys series for a shade over three decades now.  He doesn't have the cultural cache of Mario or Kirby nor the creative restlessness of those two figures.  Ys has instead endured through sparse tinkering and consistency.  Whether it's through the destruction derby battle system of Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished or the rapid party switching break fights of Ys: Memories of Celceta if I saw Adol's red hair on the box I knew I'd be in for a good seven to ten hours of tightly focused combat.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (just Lacrimosa of Dana moving forward) is a relatively big departure for the Ys franchise.  Lacrimosa of Dana leans less into fine-tuning the battle system and more in providing the kind of sprawling story that Memories of Celceta provided.  It's a self-conscious stab at maturity for the long-running series, and one that reminds me that just because something is more mature doesn't make it better or more enjoyable.  In the case of Lacrimosa of Dana, that maturity comes with a massive slog of flat storytelling punctuated by a few moments of silent power.


Pass Over (2018)

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Moses and Kitch, stuck on the corner, start imagining what their paradise would be if not for the realities of life keeping them where they are.  Spike Lee directs Pass Over, a theatrical production with collaborating director Danya Taymor, with the screenplay written by Antoinette Nwandu, and stars Jon Michael Hill and Julian Parker.

Every few years, Spike Lee takes time away from his own work to collaborate with the creative team of a theatrical production to bring it to the cinema.  My favorite Spike films are in this vein, from the nervy excitement of Freak to the heartbreaking creativity of Passing Strange.  They're as much a creative exorcism as they are a focused realignment, freeing Spike from multiple duties to place his faith in the theatrical talent and bring the closed-off world of the stage to the screen.  Pass Over is not as entertaining as Freak or Passing Strange, but vibrates with uncertainty and pain on a level similar to A Huey P. Newton Story.

The wordsmith behind Pass Over is Antoinette Nwandu, a name I was not familiar with prior to Pass Over and now realize I have much to learn from.  She's a passionate and powerful speaker which is reflected perfectly in the dialogue of Pass Over as the lightly reserved Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) wait for something - anything - to free them from the corner.  Their waiting might be familiar to anyone who has seen Waiting For Godot but the affect taps into a tension I feel sitting in restaurants, going to the theater, or buying groceries.  The tension that at any point someone who feels my life is theirs to do as they see fit can snuff out my existence on this planet.


Proud Mary (2018)

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Mary's been working for, and finding love in, one of Boston's most powerful crime families.  Danny was orphaned by Mary after she kills his father during a routine assassination.  Some time later their paths cross with Mary hoping to break the cycle of violence and take Danny with her.  Babak Najafi directs Proud Mary, with the screenplay written by John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin, and stars Taraji P. Henson.

Taraji P. Henson has a spot on my personal list of performers who make everything better by simply appearing in their product.  From the big to small screen - Henson has squared off with the likes of Terrence Howard, William Shatner, and Janelle Monáe, stolen the spotlight from them, and made whatever product she's in feel more unpredictable because of her presence.  The only other performer I can say that about is Eva Greene, and should the two cross paths in a film somewhere down the line I may rip myself apart like a '90s superhero.

A star of her caliber should not have been forced to carry the entire promotional work of Proud Mary on her own and that's essentially what happened earlier this year.  Now that I've seen Proud Mary, I understand why but not to distributor Paramount's benefit.  Proud Mary isn't the slam-bang action film the trailer might have made it out to be.  Instead, Proud Mary is something weirder and more entertaining with Henson's unpredictable performance as Mary spreading to the rest of the cast, resulting in a once charming then menacing turn from Danny Glover and others.