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

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.


The Post (2018)

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The United States government has kept its people in the dark about the long-term disaster of the Vietnam War.  Because of one conscientious citizen, The Washington Post is in a unique position to expose the years of deception if the paper's leaders can work through the road blocks of government officials and financiers alike.  Steven Spielberg directs The Post, with the screenplay written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and stars Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Bob Odenkirk.

One peril of historical dramas is how the storytellers choose to ignore, or incorporate, perspective on the events portrayed.  Our relationship with media - newspapers in particular - has shifted dramatically since the events of The Post took place.  The power of one story no longer (if it ever did) has the effect of making or breaking someone's career.  We need only go back to the 2016 election to see our confirmation bias in action, or look at the current "Me Too" wave of women bringing down men who were able to keep their victims silent for too long.

I am suspicious bordering on hostile toward the rosy, arguably old-fashioned, approach to media Steven Spielberg takes with The Post.  His direction is completely sincere, which is part of the problem.  There's no winking at or hinting toward how the moneyed interests that prove to be stumbling blocks in The Washington Post's plan to publish the Pentagon Papers are the same forces that helped Donald Trump limp over the electoral finish line.  Instead, Spielberg presents the power behind the money as an annoyance, with the true enemy the boorish man in the White House who will go on to win a second term in a historic landslide.


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.


Detroit (2017)

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The summer is long, the heat of the day bleeds into the night, and the citizens of Detroit grow restless. After suffering one too many injustices from the police, a riot begins.  In the center of the chaos a small group of police officers hold several men and women hostage, demanding answers for a crime that doesn't exist.  Kathryn Bigelow directs Detroit, with the screenplay written by Mark Boal, and stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, and Algee Smith.

Detroit is a film without sympathy.  Director Kathryn Bigelow displays just enough knowledge of the economic backdrop of the Detroit riots to bring up the question why she did not present those implications visually.  Detroit is a film without empathy.  Time and again, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal settle for thin stereotypes of characters while finding ways of demeaning or presenting "both sides" as childish adults given too much power with not enough sense to use it without getting people killed.

Detroit is a moral failure so complete that I felt pity for the faces paraded about to be beaten, stripped, cursed at, and treated without mercy for over two hours of oblivious commentary.  This film is beyond shame, it should be taught as an example of white creative authorities stepping far outside their comfort zone without asking if what they were making was of any value.  It reinforces the worst stereotypes of liberal thinking - that a few childish officers are to blame for widespread violence against black Americans while going the extra grotesque step of blaming black Americans for their condition.  There is no systemic analysis, no characters that exist without degradation, no grasp that the conditions of the Detroit riots were brought about in-part by ignorant and hateful white people.

Bigelow steps wrong with the first frame and continues spiraling down.  The economic conditions of Detroit get a cartoon explanation, which suggests Bigelow sees the very real White flight as a fantasy, and never follows up by showing poverty in action.  Boal writes employed characters, on the cusp of breaking out into musical stardom, or otherwise able to provide for families in a way that runs counter to history.  The phrase, "knowing enough to be dangerous," raced to the front of my mind so many times - how could Bigelow and Boal be aware of history without putting it to work creatively?


Mafia 3 (2016)

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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.

Start with his name, "Lincoln Clay."  First name borrowed from the President known for freeing slaves via legislature and the Emancipation Proclamation, last a tip of the hat to Cassius Clay - better known as Muhammad Ali - the greatest sportsman in history with a rich legacy of fighting for Civil Rights.  Neither had it easy, and on name alone the player character of Mafia 3 has mighty expectations to bear on his shoulders.  Whether developers Hangar 13 bothered to think this far with his name or not is irrelevant, this is his name and this is what it invokes.

Had Hangar 13 bothered with nuance in respect to Mafia 3's player character it might have had something interesting on its hands.  Instead, Mafia 3 goes about treating Lincoln and his surroundings with the vaguest understanding of what life was like in the 1960s for black Americans.  Hangar 13 gets the vernacular down just fine with plenty of moments where Lincoln is referred to or calls others the n-word.  But this is like a suburban white kid rapping along with Public Enemy, the energy comes from saying the word instead of understanding the political, social, and economic conditions that make it such a violent slur.