New in Theaters Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

After society nearly collapsed following the great blackout, an entrepreneur refines the previously outlawed process of creating human slaves known as replicants.  The older models are hunted down by newer replicants given the title "blade runner" and created to obey orders.  K, one of these new blade runners, stumbles onto a mystery that throws his existence into question and suggests the replicants are more than their masters envision.  Denis Villeneuve directs Blade Runner 2049, with the screenplay written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, and stars Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, and Sylvia Hoeks.

And how came Jesus into the world?
Through God who created him and the woman who bore him.
Man, where was your part?
-Sojourner Truth-

Sleep hasn't been easy after watching Blade Runner 2049.  My mental film reel keeps going back to the "birth" of a new replicant under the watchful eye of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto.)  That might seem a tasteless turn of phrase on my part as Wallace is blind.  But he leans his neck to his custom-made assistant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), to attach a chip that allows him sight.  Nearly a dozen black phallic cylinders, previously haunting the corridor, begin circling the terrified woman whose introduction to this world was a five foot drop from a sac of fluid into a hostile environment.  Wallace tenderly caresses the replicant before slicing her abdomen open and leaving the remains for someone else to clean up.

Denis Villeneuve's latest turn as director has few scenes as directly menacing as the slaughter of that replicant, but barely a moment went by without my emotions playing chicken with my mind trying to process what I was seeing.  Blade Runner 2049 is the logical cinematic end-point for what feminist scholar bell hooks calls, "imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy."  It is a whole, with no separation, as each part plays its role in the subjugation and destruction of the world.  We don't need to look further than Wallace's commodification of black penises, in our world where black sexuality is often weaponized, as the ultimate signifier for a system of oppression as he nakedly sizes up the flesh of a woman for slaughter using sexuality he has no claim to.


Gerald’s Game (2017)

Looking to revitalize their diminished sex life, Jessie and Gerald take a vacation up to a secluded cabin for a love-in.  When Gerald's tastes threaten Jessie's safety, her decision to fight back leaves her trapped in the cabin with only ghosts and a dog to keep her sanity in check.  Mike Flanagan directs Gerald's Game, with the screenplay written by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard, and stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

When I went to the library my mom had only one rule for me - take out as many books as you want but only if you're sure to read them.  Like many rules there was one exception, I was not allowed to take out Gerald's Game.  The cover of the bedpost and handcuffs wasn't like the usual monsters or psychopaths that graced most Stephen King novels.  This made it a tantalizing prospect and, when I was left alone at the library for once, I pulled it from the shelves and started reading.  The "danger" was real. I read the words and barely understood what they were waking up as I felt aroused by the King's descriptions of the room, flesh, and cuffs against Jessie's skin as she struggled to get herself free.

Mike Flanagan's adaptation of Gerald's Game keeps the illusion of kink with little of the danger, none of the arousal, and a scant whiff of the catharsis.  King's book was dedicated to six of the most important women in his life, and that framework of admiration carries through to the litany of mostly women voices that bring Jessie to freedom.  Flanagan's take makes this catharsis a performance, summoning first an audience of one man for Jessie to perform her pain for, and cramming the entire support network of the book into a mirror image of Jessie.  Adaptations are sometimes able to transcend their written material.  That does not happen with Gerald's Game.


It (2017)

It feeds, and a group of outcast children calling themselves the Losers Club may be the only people able stop it.  Andy Muschietti directs It, with the screenplay written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, and stars an ensemble cast led by Bill Skarsgård and Sophia Lillis.

I closed my eyes.  Couldn't stop the tears, then I couldn't stop the shakes, and I felt my body freezing up.  I wasn't in control anymore.  I had to remind myself - I am here.  I am not what I am seeing onscreen, I am not bleeding, I am not being held down, I am not being attacked for being different, I am here with my wife and holding her hand trying to focus what bit I have control over to listen to her.  "Do you need to leave?"  I can't answer.  I'm desperately trying to ground myself.  I will not let it beat me this time.  It can't hurt me anymore.  It can't hurt me anymore.  It won't hurt me anymore.  I breathe, feel my feet on the ground, count the seats in front of me when I can open my eyes, and I am here.  Back in this theater.  Realizing now that I can't watch It so much as withstand watching my trauma laid bare in violent detail right on the screen.  I am dazed, but the fear has passed, and I am able to finish It knowing I'm not done with It and I can't imagine a time when It will be done with me.

There's a subsection of It's audience that may not be able to ground themselves when confronted with the brutally real violence of It.  I'm not talking about the scenes with Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), those have visual metaphors to cushion the lingering pain of trauma, a space where I could visualize my pain without having to face it.  Those kids are able to visualize the metaphors Pennywise uses to attack them because they're on the cusp of adulthood.  The way forward lies through disease, bigoted violence, distorted perceptions of biological changes, and each kid - be it because of their weight, asthma, sex, skin color - have to deal with the pain now instead of gaining distance to transform their experience into art.  When It claws into me it's through blood, in broad daylight, as victims of violence struggle alone against bullies who get no greater thrill than seeing those they perceive as weak suffer.


Baby Driver (2017)

Planning a getaway?  You need Baby behind the wheel.  He's been stealing cars and leaving the police in a disappearing trail of exhaust since he was a kid.  Just when Baby thinks he's found love and can get out of the getaway business, he's called back for one last job.  Edgar Wright wrote the screenplay for and directs Baby Driver, and stars Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx.

Let me pull you in on a secret I've been able to keep for about an hour and a half - I was rooting for Buddy (Jon Hamm) toward the end of Baby Driver.  I have a soft spot in my critical heart for villains who abandon the pretense of meaning behind their actions and are upfront about what they do.  It's not always this way with Buddy, and a common theme of all Edgar Wright's characters in Baby Driver is that they put on a false front to push themselves through their crimes.  Buddy is a driven villain by the end, and as cheesy as his promises to get Baby (Ansel Elgort) are, Hamm drives them home with his best big-screen performance while Wright bathes the combatants in blue and red lighting that make Buddy's showdown with Baby a titanic good vs. evil clash.

The other reason, and the one more troubling for Baby Driver, is that Baby is a blank slate living selfishly and without consequence.  Wright crafts Baby with a conventionally heartbreaking backstory that doesn't excuse the callous way Baby treats the world.  We get glimpses of this in a bravura single-shot sequence where Baby dances through Atlanta without a second thought to the people around him.  Baby shoves people, rightly earns scorn from a coffee shop employee who wants to get this kid his coffee so he'll leave, walks in front of traffic with a bow and a smile, and generally acts like the kind of entitled ass who needs a slap.


Wonder Woman (2017)

Sculpted with clay, given life by Zeus, and gifted with immense strength - Diana, princess of the Amazons, cannot ignore the war that has engulfed the world outside her island.  Sword and shield in hand she embarks on a journey to slay the god of war and put an end to years of death.  Patty Jenkins directs Wonder Woman, with the screenplay written by Allan Heinberg, and stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.

Starting with Man of Steel in 2013, the movies of the DC universe have grappled with a question of faith.  Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wrestled with what good faith in a higher power can do in a world beset with evils.  David Ayer upped the mortal ante on the question of faith in Suicide Squad showing the hubris of humans who think themselves deities trying to control forces they barely understand.  Now it's Patty Jenkins' turn to call, raise, or fold the question of what good faith can do, and she raises the stakes in the graceful Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman is at its best in the opening act that has modern-day Diana (Gal Gadot) receiving a photograph that sends us back in time to her origins.  There is no question if deities exist on the island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, as Diana's existence is owed to a clay figure created by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and given life by Zeus.  Knowing first-hand that your existence is due to divine intervention puts the question of faith on hold for a different question.  Now that we know the deities exist, why haven't they come to our rescue?

The answer lies in the setting of Wonder Woman - not Themyscira - but a world engulfed in total conflict.  World War I, and the resulting loss of faith in religion, imperial power, and basic decency, was one of the catalysts that spread Modernism as an art form.  Humans the world over began to reject old teachings and embrace ways of making it new (to paraphrase Ezra Pound.)  One scene between young Diana and her mother illustrates this perfectly as a picture book comes to life when Hippolyta tells Diana how the gods fell.  Jenkins draws from Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, the stop-motion action of Jason and the Argonauts, and a child's innocence to present a largely bloodless conflict of animated figures.