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

The Salesman (2016)

Late night destruction throws Emad and Rana from their home.  Emad grows distracted from Rana as he has to help find a new place to live, continue his job teaching, and star in a production of The Death of a Salesman.  After Rana is attacked, Emad's scattered focus becomes more violently intense, and creates a rift between him and his wife.  Asghar Farhadi wrote the screenplay for and directs The Salesman, and stars Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti.

The Salesman embarks on a series of firsts for Iranian master writer/director Asghar Farhadi.  It's the first of his movies I've seen where the complex sprawl of characters with their own ethical spaces pared down to primarily focus on one.  That one, Emad (Shahab Hosseini), works hard as a teacher and lead performer in a production of Death of a Salesman.  This leads to another first where the pressures of life on Emad, and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), have a tidy in-universe parallel between Farhadi's look at Emad's anxiety and Emad's role as the titular salesman.

A bit too tidy for my taste.  Farhadi's earlier movies have a unique propulsion as we get fly on the wall glimpses into the lives of each player on his board and watch as their private impulses staggered out into unavoidable conflict.  Grounding The Salesman so thoroughly into Emad's internal ethical conflict does make things a bit "easier" to follow compared to Farhadi's other work.  It also means that the universal conflicts of faith, culture, and class winnowed to a parallel with one of the most overused fictional works of all time.


I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

Raoul Peck takes the remnants of author James Baldwin's last manuscript to create a documentary about Baldwin and his relation to modern-day struggles.

"I can't be a pessimist, because I'm alive. To be a pessimist means you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I'm forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive."

There, from James Baldwin's mouth, is the driving force of Baldwin's writing which has given me so much hope in this Trump-era of United States politicking.  Whatever issues I have with the loose biographical account of Baldwin's work in director Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro, and there are many, I can't deny Peck has given to the world a useful glimpse into Baldwin's life.  If I Am Not Your Negro drives any viewer to pick up Notes of a Native Son or (my favorite) The Devil Finds Work then it's doing a great good for our society.

But I wonder how many of those potential readers would be attracted to Baldwin's writing because of his handful of appearances in I Am Not Your Negro over the impact of the film itself.  Peck, a tireless documentarian and experimental director, picked a difficult subject.  It's not because of our ongoing struggles with racism or identity, though that certainly plays a role.  Instead it's because I Am Not Your Negro is a loosely assembled collection of thoughts and montages based on collections of sometimes unrelated Baldwin writing that was to form Remember This House.


Warcraft (2016)

The wall between the world of orcs and the world of humans has been broken.  Sinister magics work in the background to ensure the blood is saturated with offerings from each race.  As war looms on the horizon, a small cadre of orcs and humans plot of a way to end the conflict before it escalates beyond their control.

"Why aren't there any good video game movies?"

I've heard some variation of the question ever since Super Mario Bros. made it to cinemas with a terribly intoxicated Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo in tow.  For my part, I'm actually entertained by the Super Mario Bros. movie and wish more artists would take creative liberty with the games they adopt to cinema.  Because the biggest problem with translating games to movies is the removal of player input, which tells as much of the story as any dialogue or graphics do.  What we're left with is the frequently terrible plots of video games, many times warmed over from cinema, and diluted once more back onto the big screen.

Warcraft is a useful case study in how the transition could be successful and is also held back by the debt video game stories have to older artistic forms.  Duncan Jones, a talented hand at direction behind the camera, treats the source material with as much respect as possible while still creating a coherent story.  Video games tend to prize complex lore more so than straightforward stories and Warcraft has legions of text boxes you can peruse to find out about the background of every character or event.  So Jones, who also cowrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt, pares the lore down to the basic conflict.  There are orcs, there are humans, and they must go to war with one another.


Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Whether he's Kid Conner or Conner4Real, Conner Friel was born to make music.  Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is the backstage look at the rise of Conner and the people he's left behind.  The Lonely Island wrote, stars, and directs Popstar.

Your mileage will vary, but the boys of The Lonely Island - Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone - were a blessing for the internet because their humor works well in three to four-minute bursts.  They start a song, get some basic jokes in, throw in a big twist, and end on as high a note as possible.  Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Popstar moving forward) shows they're talented but the same approach that works at three minutes grows tiring at a feature-length run.

Culture is also moving so fast now that whatever trends Popstar mocked barely over a year ago have been replaced by manic horror.  We can seriously have discussions about whether the idiot occupying the office of President of the United States has a piss-filled sex video.  Popstar's jokes about appliances playing music were out of date as of 2016.  Now it's harder than ever to celebrate the over-the-top success of three white boys who are decently good at imitating musical genres while being excellent comedians.


Virginia (2016)

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I've been playing through Final Fantasy XV and, unless something drastic happens, the overall experience has been one of gradual madness sometimes begging the game to perform the action I want it to.  The least of its insane approach to player interaction is the driving, billed as a selling point, but one where you listen to the same inane conversations, answer the same questions, and assuming you want to take the wheel yourself are reduced to holding R2.  Last night I took an unskippable boat ride lasting about five minutes where absolutely nothing of note happened.  This isn't fun, nor insightful, and makes me wish more games realized that the chatter in-between long stretches of unskippable travel is a devolution of the art form.

Enter Virginia, that I played and completed before I picked up FFXV, and while I can't recommend it there are enough promising ideas in play that other developers might learn a thing or two.  FFXV hyped its travel and bonding experience while Virginia showcases editing and a thrilling mystery.  The effectiveness of both are shaky, at best, but when I know my destination and I'm controlling the player character the courtesy of cutting the boring middle part of walking to get to "the good stuff" is one I wish more developers would embrace.