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

Atomic Blonde (2017)

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The Berlin Wall is about to come down, but not before the spies who've staked their claim make one last gasp for global supremacy.  Lorraine Broughton, stoic and strong MI6 field agent, enters the fray hoping to secure a list that threatens to expose every spy in Berlin.  David Leitch directs Atomic Blonde, with the screenplay written by Kurt Johnstad, and stars Charlize Theron.

New rule, which I hope is broken some day, James McAvoy and Eddie Marsan appearing in the same film is a sure sign what I'm watching will not rise above mediocrity.  They were in the awful "edgy" Filth together and both have supporting roles in Atomic Blonde, another film so insufferably up its tailpipe in slick self-aware cool that I briefly wanted to switch it off.  I've come to appreciate aspects of McAvoy performances and frequently love Marsan, so here's hoping they find a way to never cross paths again.

For Atomic Blonde itself, by god is the first hour a slog.  Director David Leitch worked with Chad Stahelski on the first John Wick film, and it's hard to shake off the sensation that Leitch is looking to prove he is the powerhouse creative talent.  Between spraying graffiti on interstitial text details setting the stage for spy game shenanigans of Lorraine (Charlize Theron), and lens flare dominating so many scenes I'm surprised J.J. Abrams doesn't have a cinematography credit, Atomic Blonde demands attention.  It reeks of desperation to please, an idea not easily shaken by totally unnecessary lesbian sex scene and the death of James Gasciogne, played by Sam Hargrave.  Hargrave's resemblance to both Keanu Reeves and Roger Moore combined with his early death is yet another loud, "This isn't John Wick and/or James Bond!"


mother! (2017)

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mother awakens to an empty house, waiting for Him to tell mother what he needs.  As mother tries to make progress restoring their home an escalating number of strangers appears to mock mother's wish for a baby.  Darren Aronofsky wrote the screenplay for and directs mother!, which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.

Snark and sarcasm don't come easily to me.  I've always felt it better to write openly and honestly about my cinematic experiences so I can cut out the emotional distance some gimmicky writers employ.  Then there's mother!, a film whose title already invites an opportunity for snark (do I just refer to it as lowercase m mother exclamation point or alter the spelling for proper Mother! or what?)  By the time the centerpiece of mother! arrives, a exponentially destructive sequence lasting approximately thirty-eight minutes and eighteen seconds, I wasn't mortified so much as amused that writer/director Darren Aronofsky was going to, "go there."

When artists, "go there," it usually means one of two things.  The first is that the artist has so much confidence in their work that they need to follow it to its natural conclusion.  An example is  the arrival of alien angels followed by the destruction of the world in Alex Proyas' Knowing.  Then there's the reactionary, "go there," where immaturity follows a dense work that wasn't appreciated (I think of A Clockwork Orange here.)  Aronofsky has taken the latter path, having defined box office success on his own terms, and now sets the climax of mother! as the polar opposite of the gorgeous summoning of animals to the ark in Noah.


Torment: Tides of Numenera (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.

In recent months, I've come to find that videogames may be the most potent medium to experience empathy for another human being.  This is a driving force behind Torment: Tides of Numenera (simply Tides of Numenera moving forward), where science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke's maxim, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" takes an empathetic turn.  The memories of entire civilizations can be crammed into rocks, nanomachines capable of driving innocent farmers to self-destructive heroics burn with a righteous and malevolent fury, and God's discarded vessel can find a way to strike back via research instead of stumbling upon a holy force.  As far as Tides of Numenera's ambition is concerned, developers inXile Entertainment are dedicated to presenting a society where everyone is an open nerve seeking peace.

This has the makings for a chaotic experience since my player character, The Last Castoff, can tap into the thoughts of these shattered people and manipulate their emotions.  inXile, understandably and disappointingly, makes the safe choice by making emotions fall into simple categories.  It's not as easy as red equaling rage or silver equaling nobility, but each color of the emotional force called The Tides tidily places player character actions into one - and sometimes two - emotional statistics.  Rather than ride out the unpredictable nature of human interaction, The Last Castoff's emotional responses are just another power stat to keep track of, and it wasn't until the third act that my dominant tide (gold, for empathy and self-sacrifice) made me an easy target for people looking to unload their burdens.


Wind River (2017)

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Cory Lambert, on the hunt for predators in an Arapaho reservation, discovers the body of woman raped then left for dead in the freezing terrain.  Jane Banner arrives from the FBI to investigate the crime, trying to work her way through the reservation's suspicion of outsiders and the men hindering her efforts.  Taylor Sheridan wrote the screenplay for and directs Wind River, and stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.

When I reviewed Blade Runner 2049, I ended by questioning why men feel it necessary to advance artistically by making stories of men abusing women.  There was a point in my reviewing career where I applauded the self-awareness.  But the absence of women, particularly marginalized women of color, behind the scenes is becoming more noticeable with these films by the day.  Now comes Wind River, lacking many of the metaphorical and cinematic outs of Blade Runner 2049, and the gendered complications - while ostensibly the focus - are scattered amid stories of manly men feeling things.

I don't say this as a dismissal but more a succinct appraisal of writer/director Taylor Sheridan's skill.  He's got a deft hand when it comes to the emotional shorthand men use as a way to keep more sensitive sides of themselves locked up.  You can see this in Benicio del Toro's role in the Sheridan-penned Sicario, or the brother relationship at the center of Hell or High Water.  This results in Sheridan getting amazing performances from the supporting cast of Wind River, especially Gil Birmingham as Martin, the Arapaho father of Natalie (Kelsey Chow) who we see running across a frozen lake in the opening shots.


I Am Setsuna (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.

Nostalgia is the core of I Am Setsuna, created and marketed as a conscious throwback to the heyday of '90s JRPGs.  On that measure alone, I Am Setsuna is of questionable quality as its slight tweaks to what made those '90s JRPGs special range from streamlining the experience too much to obtuse mechanisms so poorly implemented I decided not to bother.  But the nostalgia isn't just part of the gameplay - it's fused with the soundtrack, the eternally falling snow, character motivations, and dialogue.  What emerges is an overwhelming sense of melancholy, morphing the questionable quality of the game itself to an overall experience that is an interesting failure.

Folks who grew up on those '90s JRPGs, with Chrono Trigger the most heavily sampled game for I Am Setsuna, will take to the gameplay no problem.  I maneuvered around the top-down world with my party of three without the need for explanatory texts telling me I would get the drop on enemies if I initiated combat from behind.  Those texts were an unnecessary intrusion of flat explanation in this cold world, making me wish I Am Setsuna's developer - Tokyo RPG Factory - took the Chrono Trigger influence more to heart and introduced mechanics inside I Am Setsuna's world instead of signposting around them.  This made I Am Sesuna's opening act cumbersome as semi-silent protagonist Endir, who's supposed to be a skilled mercenary, lurches his way toward meeting the titular Setsuna.