2018 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
29Nov/180

Legendary Gary (2018)

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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.

I love that first glimpse of the titular Gary on the title screen of Legendary Gary. Gary's eyes peek out over the start bar with intelligence, a bit of bemusement, and surprise. "A game about me?", I can hear him asking while I hover over the New Game option. Yes Gary, a game about you, and by extension a game about the forces at work to keep our motivation down while recognizing the role escapist art plays in our day-to-day existence.

Escapism through art is not inherently good nor bad, though recently I've been more annoyed by the concept or tired of seeing pop culture brought out as an attempt to rouse us from our collective depression. You see this every time someone posts a meme about Harry Potter, usually accompanied by text urging the various houses to come together so that we can get through our political moment. What that use of pop culture gets wrong is in its failure to diagnose the problem. Few want to discuss the evils of capitalism after getting a smile from their favorite wizard house acknowledging their existence. Evan Rogers understands the need to be seen through our escapism and to not only be roused but also direct our attention toward the problem that needs fixing.

21Nov/180

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

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Confident and determined, Ron Stallworth is ready to prove his mettle as the first black officer of the Colorado Springs police department. His opportunity comes when a casual inquiry into an advertisement from the Ku Klux Klan pulls him into a web of connections he didn't imagine. Spike Lee directs BlacKkKlansman, with the screenplay written by Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott, and stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Laura Harrier.

Why should we trust anything we see in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman? The narrative comes from a memoir penned by Ron Stallworth, revealed decades after the events of both film and memoir, and is poised to comment directly on our slide into white fascism. Spike addresses any suspicion with a pair of parallel stories told by Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) and pseudoscience peddled by the vile David Duke (an excellent Topher Grace). On the side of Mr. Turner we listen and watch a crowd of black humans coming into themselves over oral tradition, settling on twin philosophies of never again and power to all people. Duke begs credibility in the form of a Nobel Peace Prize winner's eugenic research that conclusively proves white humans are better than black.

The oral tradition is backed by historical fact and bolstered through community uplift. Spike's closing scenes, which shocked me even with advance warning to emotionally guard myself, reinforce that oral tradition as the warning constantly echoed but rarely heeded. Black stories have warned us of the evil behind phrenology and eugenics which roll right into today's incel community embrace of skull size as a determination of what your standing will be in life.

What is it going to take to get us to listen?

11Nov/180

Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)

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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.

Among the many pleasures and surprises in Return of the Obra Dinn lay an embrace of one truism working insurance claims.  When someone puts in a claim they may be using their insurance on the worst day of their life.  Between the rotted corpses, potential mutiny, monster attacks, and sickness rampant on the Obra Dinn it's unlikely you'd find a worse day in the lives of its passengers or crew. But the insurance adjuster must go on and work backwards to figure out what happened so the claims may be paid.

That truism embraced - I'm head over heels enamored with Lucas Pope's Return of the Obra Dinn as it seems custom-built to appeal to each of my loves and past work as an insurance adjuster (Fire claims for four years among other insurance duties). What Pope nails is the process of working claims.  The damage has already been done and it's up to you, playing the adjuster, to piece together the events that brought the Obra Dinn to its end.

17Oct/182

First Reformed (2018)

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The cold weather does little to encourage attendance at First Reformed church. Reverend Ernst Toller's dispassionate approach to his sermons provide little reason to stay. When one of his parishioners comes to Ernst with ecological concerns, Ernst begins an uneasy journey through what remains of his faith. Paul Schrader wrote the screenplay for and directs First Reformed, which stars Ethan Hawke.

"Courage is the solution to despair. Reason provides no answers."

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) offers the above line of cold comfort to Michael Mansana (Philip Ettinger) in the opening passages of Paul Schrader's First Reformed. Michael despairs over the condition of the planet, neatly presented with charts and factoids aplenty as the stunned Reverend listens. The difference between Michael and Ernst is Michael has reason to despair and Ernst is so mired in codependency he's latched on to Michael's despair as a way to build reliance on himself in a way religion failed to do so.

Ernst's codependency is a fascinating subject that receives little attention outside Schrader's specific aim - to show what happens when a Reverend meets an atheist and goes online for what seems to be the first time. This places First Reformed into broad cynicism, not informed despair, and shallow nature of Schrader's pessimistic screenplay gets no favors from Hawke's equal parts self-pitying and growling performance.  First Reformed is a bad film, one that continues Schrader's downward trend from The Canyons, and so thoroughly lacks in compelling attributes that I started to wonder how this man could also be responsible for Bringing Out the Dead and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.

10Oct/180

Isle of Dogs (2018)

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A boy falls downward
Among abandoned canines
They will soon fight back

Wes Anderson wrote the screenplay for and directs Isle of Dogs, which stars Bryan Cranston and Koyu Rankin.

Wes Anderson's niche of whimsy by way of dry dialogue and meticulous visuals already found a successful animated venture in The Fantastic Mister Fox.  After Isle of Dogs, I would be content if Anderson never made another live-action film.  Isle of Dogs is - without question - his most brutal film and a surprise considering his humor lends more to melancholy than violent reality.

Anderson's appreciation for world cinema has never been more thoroughly integrated into the substance of his film. There's an extensive list of Akira Kursoawa references throughout Isle of Dogs, but Anderson is not content to rest on the laurels of one Japanese master. In Anderson's unblinking look at violence I thought most often of Masaki Kobayashi, whose samurai films and humanist epics rivaled Kurosawa in length, style, and the depths humans must go through to adhere to their moral codes.  The moments of quiet recall Yasujirō Ozu alongside a quiet running gag of cats appearing in the corners were Ozu's red teapot might have. Anderson goes beyond Japan, calling on The Plague Dogs (the British-American animated follow-up to the childhood-wrecking Watership Down), 101 Dalmatians, and the food preparation of Korean cinema à la Oldboy.