2018 Archives - Page 2 of 7 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
11Feb/190

Roma (2018)

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As the tumult builds in Mexico City, Cleo works to keep her employers happy and needs fulfilled. Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay for and directs Roma, which stars Yalitza Aparicio.

Over the course of two hours and some change, Roma drip-feeds us a steady intake of gorgeous poison. The patient cinematography, courtesy of director Alfonso Cuarón, pans repeatedly with an impassive eye as Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) navigates rooms with sturdy beams keeping each dweller in their own universe. She's little more than a pet to the family that employs her as each resident has motivations as separate and sturdy as the pillars that keep the home up. Across the rooftop there's another servant doing the same, and the camera pans more to reveal another, and another, and another. All trapped in the same cycle of servitude and pain.

This reads cynical but Cuarón's carer is peppered with cynicism. Roma, for all its beauty, takes place in a world no less apocalyptic than the one Cuarón created in Children of Men. There, at least, was a film that suffocated us in despair until a single cry from one baby is enough to stop a war that's been boiling under the surface. With Roma a baby is just another baby, not worth stopping the world over, and the machinations of privilege that keep Cleo from living a safe and happy life continue on after the credits have dropped. Here is reality with no savior within sight.

10Jan/190

Bandersnatch (2018)

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The Black Mirror shatters, and aspiring game developer Stefan struggles to make sense of the pieces. As he celebrates the opportunity of a lifetime his world becomes tinged with deja vu, and the world he lives in may be one of many where happiness is a long shot. Charlie Brooker writes Bandersnatch, directed by David Slade, and stars Fionn Whitehead and Will Poulter.

Calling Bandersnatch experimental is a generous stretch of the term I'm not inclined to grant. It's not even experimental for Netflix as they released a choose-your-own-adventure edit of Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode game as an interactive film. While Minecraft: Story Mode ended up highlighting the shortcomings of Telltale's offering as a videogame by showing just how little player interaction mattered, Bandersnatch takes things into a further pit of by not even having the courage of adhering to its own conceit.

I played the part of Bartleby the Scrivener and called Bandersnatch's bluff about its choose-your-own-adventure structure by refusing to choose. It took only two minutes for the heavily advertised choice to mean nothing. In the first of multiple bludgeoning explanations about choosing, the narrator explained that I needed to click on an option. I declined, and the narrator once again told me to click. When the timer ran out Bandersnatch had its first and only chance to let me know it meant business by closing itself. After all, if I didn't want to play along there's no reason they needed to cater to me. Instead Bandersnatch began and about two boring hours later it finally came to a limp close.

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1Jan/190

2018 in review: how do we leave the shimmer?

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Much of 2018 challenged how I consume art and whether criticism matters a lick of damn. It started because of Annihilation, a film that so thoroughly represented my depression that it felt all other experiences I could have in the theater would have to compare to Natalie Portman's face against the shimmer. That ended up being prophetic as other films came and went but I felt the same drag back toward the abyss that takes human shape in Annihilation's penultimate chapter. Enjoyment was sparse and, aside from the working class joy of Logan Lucky and the bizarre Proud Mary, I accepted no other film would measure up.

Then came the defining struggle of 2018 that challenged one of my positions in my Annihilation review - the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. It was a brutal affair over a monster's choice for a monster who gets to serve the rest of his life on the only branch of government that seems to be able to make any change anymore. The confirmation hearings sparked conversation and confrontation among those who doubt the testimonies of women while granting leeway to powerful men. What shocked me, and immediately rebuked my previously held experience that my mental health never needed to be explained to women, was how many white women rushed forward to Kavanaugh's defense. I found myself angry with women who did not understand, or more accurately did not care to understand, how victims of abuse and sexual assault are pressured into silence.

What good does it do if I can see something touching and painfully true about trauma in Annihilation but fail to communicate the same about my reality to people who doubt it? I touched on some of this helplessness during my conversation with Tevis Thompson about Night in the Woods. I foolishly thought that collaboration, as rich and rewarding as it turned out to be, would be the trigger to get me out of this depression and back toward being productive. In the words of Rob Thomas during his time with Matchbox 20, "It's me, and I can't get myself to go away." There is no one project or piece that is going to make everything snap together and, with barely a week to go in 2018, I identified my complacency in writing as one major source of depression. The work is the work and I have been lazy in the work.

So I must challenge the work and my perceptions of the work. That led me to a phenomenal criticism of Nanette, which I still rank among the greater experiences of 2018, that scaffolds artistic and political points so effectively that Yasmin Nair revitalized my faith in criticism. The same also led me to continue exploring why I loathed Black Panther, a film where the common reaction among white liberals was to pat themselves on the back for patronizingly helping a black superhero "arrive".  Better to read criticisms by Chris LeBron ("Why should I accept the idea of black American disposability from a man in a suit, whose name is synonymous with radical uplift but whose actions question the very notion that black lives matter?"), Kimberle Crenshaw ("Like remembering a drunken night thru a hangover haze, I kept wondering how I'd come to dance on the table for the CIA?"), and Armond White ("Rather than any account of that hopeful, aggrieved, inspiring, yet violent and always controversial social-activist group, we get the story of a monarchy.")

Before Black Panther was the considerably more interesting Proud Mary, and afterward Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time. Those two films barely made a dent compared to Black Panther's box office while all three have been largely abandoned in immediate cultural conversation. Maybe it's time to have those conversations about why white liberals congratulated themselves on buying tickets to Black Panther while ignoring the others when the CIA proudly coopts what feeble criticism Black Panther mustered, American imperialism gets reduced to a punchline, and the pastiest of pasty white boys gets to model a "Wakanda Forever" sweater. I need to direct my rage against this self-congratulatory commodification of urgent problems instead of self-destructing.

Easier written than done but this gives me a plan of how to escape the shimmer that began overtaking me early 2018. As I continue to work, here's a breakdown with links (when applicable) to the artistic experiences that shaped my year:

The Best

Great

Good

Zone of Indifference

Bad

 

Wretched

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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?