2014 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
28Aug/170

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

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

Twenty years before the release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (just Shadow of Mordor moving forward), what I then knew as Final Fantasy III came out for the Super Nintendo.  In a sequence more inventive than anything in Shadow of Mordor, the main scenario splits into three paths and I followed the martial artist Sabin as he witnesses the kingdom of Doma withstand a siege from the Empire.  To break the siege, nihilistic antagonist Kefka poisons the water supply of the Doman people.  This sends the Doman warrior Cyan into a frenzy, trying to take on the Empire's siege camp alone, and puts Cyan on a collision course with his grief after deciding to join up with Sabin.

I might be old-fashioned - feel free to fire away if you agree - but I'm starting to miss protagonists who are heroic.  In an early mission of Shadow of Mordor, the player character Talion moves stealthily into an Uruk encampment to poison their food supply.  Upon completion of the mission I was treated with the sight of orcs foaming at the mouth as they writhed in pain to their eventual death.  This is more war crime than battle, and had Shadow of Mordor taken a nuanced look at Talion's rage then there might have been room for commentary on what we collectively accept in war when our side is in the "right."

13Apr/170

Changing Reels Episode 13 – Beyond the Lights

The world of pop music is often explored in film through a satirical lens. Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights is one of those rare films that takes an honest look at the complexities of the industry. Centered around a romance between a pop star and a police officer, the film boldly examines topics such as race, depression, and the objectification of women in the media. We also take a moment to discuss our short film picks of the week: Elizabeth St. Philip’s The Colour of Beauty and the Michael K. Williams starring Am I Typecast?

Show Notes:

If you like what you hear, or want to offer some constructive criticism, please take a moment to rate our show on iTunes! If you have a comment on this episode, or want to suggest a film for us to discuss, feel free to contact us via twitter (@ChangingReelsAC), follow us on Facebook and reach out to us by email (Changing.Reels.AC@gmail.com). You can also hear our show on SoundCloud or Stitcher!

Filed under: 2014, Podcasts No Comments
9Oct/160

Changing Reels Episode 2 – The Caveman’s Valentine

In episode two of Changing Reels we turn our focus to Kasi Lemmons’ 2001 thriller The Caveman’s Valentine. The film follows a homeless man, Romulus (Samuel L. Jackson), who was once a promising composer but now lives in a cave in New York City. When the frozen body of a young man appears in a tree near his dwelling, the paranoid schizophrenic Romulus ignores the police’s assessment, of it being an accidental death, and embarks on a quest to find the killer.

We also discuss our short films picks of the week: Ryan Coogler’s Locks and Sara Kenney’s Angels and Ghosts.

Lastly, you can now subscribe to our show on iTunes!

Show Notes:

  • 0:58 – Locks by Ryan Coogler
  • 7:59 – Angels and Ghosts by Sara Kenney
  • 14:08 – The Caveman’s Valentine by Kasi Lemmons

Filed under: 2000's, 2014 No Comments
3Aug/160

Denis Villeneuve Podcast: Enemy (2014)

Enemy

Courtney Small of Cinema Axis joins Andrew for a conversation about the surreal, and spider-laden, examination of sex, education, and power in Denis Villeneuve's Enemy (previously reviewed by both Andrew and Courtney.)

Both the introduction and outro on the podcast come from composer Jóhann Jóhannsson for Sicario ("The Beast") and Prisoners ("Through Falling Snow").

2May/160

Why Video Games: Transistor and screaming in silence

Earlier video game writing was under the banner Why Video Games, now Pixels In Praxis.  For a FAQ on Pixels In Praxis and explanation of spoiler policy, click here.

We aren't going to get away with this Supergiant Games. Transistor. I can't speak for the developers, but I think they chose these names well, and I'm gonna go ahead and read into both of these names as we kick off this article. I'm a  visual person, and when you put a word like Supergiant in front of my face, I'm gonna see pictures in my mind that correspond. Not a giant, but something large enough that merely 'giant' wouldn't fit the bill. When I play a game made by a company using that name... I'm thinking "These guys are using big words, I hope they deliver an experience that lives up to their big words."

Transistor. We're talking computers now. That's a sort of vague reference by itself, but we have this strong theme. We have excellent visuals. Lady with a talking sword. From the beginning of the launch trailer we see this light-up sword corresponding with the primary voice actor's dialog. He's talking about friends and enemies. There are some tech-y looking elements here and there, but nothing to explain the title of Transistor. What's going on here?

That's both my interpretation and the theme of this game. There's a story, but that story, to me, is a vehicle for a entirely unseen, unspoken narrative that has something to do with electronics, processing, computers, or what-have-you. "What's going on here?" is a question which is figuratively pasted all over the game world. And I'm pretty sure that question is an invitation as well. One of the rabbit-hole sort of invitations that can lead anywhere, pending your willingness to submit to the process of finding answers to your questions.

So before we dive down the rabbit hole. Let's define transistor outside of the game. What did this word mean before there was a game borrowing its name? In short, a transistor is a device which regulates the flow of electricity in a circuit, often within a larger electronic device. The other half of this question is "what do they do?". Often, they are used as a switch or gate, in other words as physical unit of logic for how an engineer wants power to flow through a device.

What does it have to do with a talking sword or a mute warrior lady? To be honest, I'm not sure, even after reaching the end. But I'm not sure whether it's completely important to understand the characters themselves. If we return to our thesis statement that video games are the approximation of some experience, we'll be hard-pressed to come up with any suitable answer if we draw directly and only from the actions of our protagonists.

Since this is my first time writing the opening statement, I'm going bold. Gonna lay out my big idea at the beginning here and see if it holds up through the rest of the conversation. I think Transistor is about observing choices, opposition, and other binaries in a linear narrative track. In other words - what it's like to be aware, to have understanding, but to have no control over an outcome.

This idea is informed both by my experience in-game, and by my experience outside of it. In-game, it's a weird-but-awesome battle against robots and other creatures that seem to be in a position of power or dominance (or are deployed from such a position). Outside the game, I'm working through another set of game-like obstacles... inside my head. I have fought many battles there, too, and this video game has illustrated some of those internal battles. I started to see Transistor as a fairly accurate representation of a personal breakdown (mental, or otherwise).

Logic gets applied, strategies are formed, power is gathered where it can be gathered. But the path is linear, the obstacles are set and staged, the ending is determined (Note: I have not played the Recursion mode and have no idea whether there are multiple endings in either mode). The sense I got through the whole thing is that all the time I'm powering up and learning the game, my power and effectiveness was actually being stripped away. That's not to say I didn't figure out how to kill bad guys. But I didn't figure out to save those people and things to which I had given my focus and attention. And I didn't make the world a better place. Not for the protagonists, anyway.I will kill who should be my sisterI can work with big ideas, and Supergiant Games entered the realm of Big Ideas with Transistor.  Their previous effort, Bastion, was a good game, but not one which caught my imagination.  It may be because I grew up with classic Western heroes in a cinematic sense as the narrator of Bastion reminded me of Sam Elliott, or John Wayne if you caught him on a day where he'd had nothing but cigars and whiskey for sustenance.  The setting of Bastion wasn't too unique either as I've grown up with video games like Joust and Chrono Trigger, so I was accustomed to the idea of a decaying world either being propped up or collapsing from the sky because of powers our avatars couldn't understand.

On the gameplay front, Bastion also reminded me of a slightly more action-packed DiabloBastion wasn't anything I hadn't seen before, but as you mention their care in naming I'd be ignorant not to say that the idea of a bastion, or a bulwark against annihilation, wasn't core to both the narration and the constant barrage of action.  With Transistor, the name already prepares us for an amplification of Bastion, but instead of going bigger with Transistor - because how much more can we go than the end of the world? - it goes smaller, and by that I mean more focused.

A transistor in "real life" isn't the end of an electric signal as all that happens within the transistor is it gets amplified or moved to a separate current.  What happens within Transistor is just that, painful and sudden changes from one state of being to the next.  The narrator is already trapped within his (its?) next state of being, transitioning from a human existence to one which has to settle for cool and disaffected narration throughout most of the gameplay.  The protagonist Red, on the other hand, is stuck in a phase before the transition.  She calls out to the world with words and expressions which don't mean anything in face of the apocalypse.

To that transition, I want us to consider the words of my video gaming equivalent of Roger Ebert - the magnificent Tevis Thompson.  With respect to the narration and Red's role in it, he said, "...how is a voiceless woman with a sword-lover who will not shut up a good idea?"  Considering the problems women have had with representation in the video game world, I think he makes a crucial point.  As an idea to consider alongside that point, it's the silences between combat, the communication which comes from the text and not the audio, which I feel is the most important part of Transistor.  What you mentioned, about being in control of an avatar who is explicitly not in control, is where Transistor's ideas about gender and humanity's next phase of evolution with technology come into play.

You literally play a woman who isn't in control of herself, and she's not in control of herself because of a man.  Yes, it's a sword, but as we find out it's men who masterminded the conspiracy which killed the world.  Transistor is a companion piece to Mad Max: Fury Road in this way.  So while the combat pushes Red toward a future where she has to let go of herself, the spaces in-between show Red trying desperately to communicate with a world which may have never been listening too hard to begin with.  I want you to take these Big Ideas, and start cramming them into the gameplay, because I feel we have a lot to work with here.