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Can't Stop the Movies
26Jun/170

The Nice Guys (2016)

Jackson Healy is hired by a ragged college student who wants to get some men off her trail.  Holland March, aided by his daughter Holly, doesn't know he's on the girl's trail but is about to receive a painful introduction to Healy.  When the two hash things out, they realize their respective cases have larger implications and team up to figure out what the girl has to do with a rash of murders connected to porn and catalytic converters.  Shane Black directs The Nice Guys, with the screenplay written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi, and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

Shane Black's career is punctuated by intense violence and smartass quips.  I'm fine with well-deployed sarcasm but Black's writing roots the dialogue in character-based insecurities as much as he does being a smartass for his own sake.  Starting with Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005, the visuals started being in on the joke as well.  This led to the delightful for some, eye rollingly silly for me, image of Abraham Lincoln appearing at the end to congratulate the hero on surviving the movie.

Black dips back into the world of Presidential hallucinations as one of The Nice Guy's tedious dips into sarcastic visual humor involves a specter of Richard Nixon appearing to Holland March (Ryan Gosling).  You don't need to pay too much attention to the dialogue to remember that March was told a story by Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) about Nixon appearing to a dying motorist.  Problem is, the earlier Nixon story mostly serves as a setup for the Nixon hallucination, and does little for the relationship between March and Healy.

25Jun/170

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (2017)

If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

Historical context in video games is difficult to grasp.  Since so many companies are primarily interested in rehashing the past either in the form of copy/pasted emulation ports or remakes of varying quality, it means the core experience or appeal of different franchises may be lost as the game is tinkered with from one generation to the next.  Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (just Echoes moving forward) is trying to preserve video game history without losing touch with the advancements of technology.  As a player who only got into the Fire Emblem series starting with Awakening, Echoes came as a shock for the features it cuts out and streamlined combat.  One similar map to another led to quick boredom, and the vanilla heroics of deuteragonist Alm didn't thrill me.

Then, as it happens sometimes, Echoes clicked.  It wasn't because of Alm and his growing army counterattacking an evil foreign power.  Instead, protagonist Celica (and I'll argue to my grave she's the protagonist), and her small crew of dedicated fighters got to my heart.  The Celica side of Echoes is less immediately gripping as she is journeying on what amounts to a religious pilgrimage which isn't helped by the number of similar boat maps she starts out on.  But the subtle shifts of the combat system in Echoes is felt more keenly on her side than the volume of soldiers available in Alms, and the intimate focus leads to better storytelling through the maps, dialogue, and tactics needed to succeed.

16Jun/170

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Hank is alone on an island and on the verge of suicide.  Right when it seems Hank is about to take the final plunge a corpse washes ashore.  As the corpse comes back to life Hank teaches what it means to live and how they might both find a way home.  Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan wrote the screenplay for and directed Swiss Army Man, and stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.

Sometimes I become so aware of the living trap that is my body I fall, punch the floor, and scream.  I have depression, anxiety, chronic kidney stones, migraines, and a whole list of other health issues that might serve as tools for the corpse at the center of Swiss Army Man.  There's pain, then there's confusion, then there's more pain, and it whirls together until I accept my existence as the bleak joke it is or have another fighting match with the floor.  Thanks to medication and years of therapy, my losing streak of fights with the floor have mostly come to an end, but learning to live with depression means living with the thought in the back of my mind that this mess of a body is no good to anyone so why should it mean anything to me.

I didn't expect much of anything from Swiss Army Man.  Decades of high-concept / low-payoff films have taught me finding ways of dealing with death, let alone something a difficult to live with as depression, leads to pathetic returns.  One of the most improbable movie franchises ever, Weekend at Bernie's, treated death like an easy joke to be ignored while cult classics like Heathers have lines like, "I love my dead gay son," to distance the characters from the reality of death while being a tad homophobic in the meantime.  Swiss Army Man succeeds where many fail because the joke isn't on the dead body, nor is it on the living, but finding a way to cope with the existence we all share and ends the same way.

14Jun/170

Wiener-Dog (2016)

Passed from owner to owner, a dachshund bears witness to the troubles of connecting in a world that is advancing while people find ways to stay apart.  Todd Solondz wrote the screenplay for and directs Wiener-Dog, and stars an ensemble cast led by Ellen Burstyn, Danny DeVito, Greta Gerwig, and Julie Delpy.

This year I've lost two good friends, both to cancer, and both with social media pages that are still up for viewing.  Even if I wanted to get away to mourn on my own terms I run the risk of logging in with my social media platform and seeing someone post under the dead person's name.  With all these advances in technology we can preserve the memory of those who have died and refuse to let go.  Death awaits us all, so why do we need our technology to keep that which is no longer with us?  Fundamental human nature, I suppose, and with Todd Solondz's latest Wiener-Dog he comes closest to any other director to show what humanity we've lost in our progress.

There is cause for celebration in the four sections that form Wiener-Dog.  Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) would have succumbed to cancer in earlier decades but is now on the upswing.  So why don't his parents, played with pitch-perfect passive-aggression by Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts, celebrate the advancements that kept their child alive?  Because the struggle of life continues on whether Remi lived or died.  The fears Remi's parents refuse to give voice to in-between their bickering are reflected in the titular dog, bought by Remi's father as a way of easing his child back into the "real world."  When Wiener-Dog eats granola and begins the slow process of dying, it's hard not to think that his parents are imagining a world where their child was also able to go peaceably instead of having to create an environment where Remi can flourish.

10Jun/170

HyperNormalisation (2016)

When the political and economic realities of our day-to-day lives become untenable, is it better to seek change or embrace the new normal?  Adam Curtis examines this question beyond any binary answer in the dense HyperNormalisation by examining decades of narrative building around the accumulation of power.

My political circles have intersected with the philosophies of Adam Curtis but never his movies.  He's a fascinating speaker, refusing to play partisan roles in his complex examination of the systems of power that work invisibly throughout society.  I kept distancing myself from his movies because I was so fascinated with the man.  "Don't meet your heroes," is an applicable expression, and I was afraid his movies would not have the same impact as his speech.

I began HyperNormalisation with some truths about myself made clear.  This is not a documentary you can watch passively, nor one where you can even check your phone for a text.  The comparative density of each chapter does not become fully apparent until later down the line.  For the average viewer, and I thought I was not part of this group, the walls of information and seemingly unrelated tangents may be frustrating to a maddening degree.  My plea to you is to do your best to put down any possible distraction, give HyperNormalisation your full attention, and take a look around at what fabricated reality you've chosen for yourself.