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Can't Stop the Movies

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (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.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (just Echoes moving forward) is almost as traditional and conservative as turn-based RPGs can be.  Any gamer familiar with the series will slide in comfortably to Echoes' skill system, patient battles, and spiritual story. There's no pretense to buzzword-heavy originality, only skilled hands who have made a consistent product for decades returning to the series for a single-player game for the first time in nine years.

Even with that familiarity, I was shocked at the number of times Echoes moved me to tears.  This is a humbling game that reminds me how unnecessarily bombastic and leaden turn-based RPGs have been the last few years (even Persona 5 could have used a touch of subtlety at times).  Echoes asks us to lay still with the faith of its characters, to sit in quiet contemplation of their decisions as time moves on without them, and explore a beautifully lived-in world.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

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Morgan Neville directs Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about the life and work of Fred Rogers.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? could have embraced Fred Rogers' teachings in its presentation.  The stillness and beauty he inspired is too often interrupted by talking heads on or off-screen.  This disrupts Mr. Rogers' serenity and, in its worst moments, director Morgan Neville and editors Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden craft montage that comes across as insincere instead of heartfelt.  Worse still, there are aspects of Mr. Rogers that are brought up only to be lightly brushed aside to keep up his aspirational image.

Still, this is a documentary about Mr. Rogers and you'd be hard-pressed to find another film this year that provides a comparable amount of sincerity, catharsis, and vulnerability.  The near wall-to-wall keys plunked down in the music by Jonathan Kirkscey along with choice selections from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood find an easy home with the older and more recent footage.  There are insights, some I had a sneaking suspicion about and others I was not prepared for, that keep intrigue up even when treading well-known territory.


Revenge (2018)

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Richard is looking forward to his annual hunting trip with friends Dimitri and Stan. He's also anticipating debauched times with his mistress Jen.  These are men who will have their way by whatever means necessary, and they're about to learn Jen will respond to their sins in kind.  Coralie Fargeat wrote the screenplay for and directs Revenge, which stars Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, and Guillaume Bouchède.

Upfront, let's dispense with the idea that Revenge subverts the exploitation film - something I've read too many times in relation to this and other films.  Every new flavor of the month piece of cinema with a bit of self-awareness in style seems to get the subversion label slapped on without a second thought.  Revenge is exploitative.  Richard (Kevin Janssens) indulges Jen's (Matilda Lutz) fantasies of being in control while stringing her along as a bright toy.  After Richard's friend Stan (Vincent Colombe) rapes Jen, Richard chastises Stan like Stan smudged his favorite action figure.

What creates the wide gulf of quality between a film like Quentin Tarantino's exploitative low-point Death Proof and Revenge writer/director Coralie Fargeat's powerfully successful approach is a matter of emphasis.  Exploitation film comes with a bit of nudging to the audience, a whisper of, "You bastards are enjoying this - aren't you?"  Tarantino would linger on enjoyment. Fargeat lingers on bastard.


Detention (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.

Detention defines itself through absence and horrific spectacle.  The former weighs on the latter after Wei Chung Ting disappears searching for a phone to call for help.  The latter makes its presence felt as soon as Wei goes missing with Fang Ray Shin waking up in a nightmare version of her auditorium with Wei's corpse hanging upside-down above her.  There is no way this story can end well, at least in the way we're accustomed to with survival and acceptance.  The only way Detention can end is through repetition or resignation, repeating the horrific spectacle or wearily letting go of the time lost.

Playing Detention is a sometimes exhausting experience but - save for one break I needed to get some outside air - it's one I willingly took on myself from start-to-finish.  The only other game I felt compelled to do this with in recent memory is Night in the Woods.  The parallels aren't immediately apparent, yet they're pressing.  Both have to do with the ways struggling communities under the weight of some oppressive regime expect their young (women, in particular) to sacrifice themselves for temporary relief.  There are even matching scenes where the depressed protagonists stare at themselves in the mirror and are saddened or disgusted by the person peering back.


TSPDT 19-22: Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

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I'm going through the list of all the films I have not seen on They Shoot Pictures Don't They.  It is arguably the most comprehensive and varied "best ever" list assembled.  If I have seen a film on the list previously, I will write short thoughts followed by a full review of the unseen film alternating between the top and bottom of the list.  Today's film is from the top of the pile, Dziga Vertov's 1929 experimental documentary Man with a Movie Camera.

19. Persona (Like) - Discussed at this link.

20. Rashomon (Like) - Discussed at this link.

21. The Godfather Part II (Like) - I'm not big on The Godfather but finally broke down at some insistence and watched Part 2.  All the apathy I felt for the original turned around in this sequel.  A big reason for that is the parallel plot structure of the now deceased Vito and Michael struggling with the power his father built.  It requires no investment in the first film because of how clearly Coppola communicates the inter-generational cycle of violence.

22. Man with a Movie Camera -

In 1929 the Soviet Union was post-Lenin, pre-famine, and surging forward on a wave of industrialization that took Russia from a borderline feudalistic country to one of the great powers on our planet.  Even knowing what's to come, Stalin's brutal dictatorship twisting the foundation of communism into an unrecognizable ghoul away from its ideological roots, Man with a Movie Camera is a breathless and bold statement of a country ready to flex its newfound power.  There's nary a whiff of the military in Dziga Vertov's film, instead focusing on the everyday pleasures while not ignoring the strain rapid industrialization placed on the populace.

Shots come and go so quickly the most accurate descriptor of Vertov's style is that old cliche, "blink and you'll miss it."  That doesn't come close to correctly describing the affect of Man with a Movie Camera.  Vertov's montage is so crisp and precise that even when the shots change from apartment outcroppings to hospital cradles arranged in aesthetic similarity the connection is emotionally clear even if the intellectual threads aren't immediately apparent.  This is not a film interested in the artifice of fiction or keeping cinema rooted in stage theatrics.  Vertov's trying to usher us into a new way of thinking about, crafting, and experiencing cinema with all the confidence and bluster of his fellow citizens.

Man with a Movie Camera isn't entirely free of artifice or, at least, Man with a Movie Camera requires a certain suspension of disbelief regarding what we know cameras and the human body are capable of.  When the titular man emerges from a frosty mug of beer we know intellectually that he's not gearing up for the worst hangover in human history.  What we're seeing is in-camera special effects, superimposing one image atop another to emotionally prep the audience for a night of fun.