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

The Shivah: Kosher Edition (2013)

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

There are two questions guiding the gameplay of The Shivah: Kosher Edition (TS:KE moving forward), the remake of the 2006 adventure game The Shivah.  First question, "Why would former synagogue member Jack Lauder leave Rabbi Russell Stone money in his will?"  The second, "Who killed Jack Lauder and why?"  That first question, which has grave implications for who Rabbi Stone is as a person, forms the intriguing web of long-held grudges and questions about the usefulness of faith in initial acts of TS:KE.  The second question brings TS:KE to the sort of bog-standard conspiracy thriller that feels out-of-place in the grounded struggle with faith that comes before.

While TS:KE is grappling with the first question it's excellent.  I was raised on a steady diet of Sierra adventure games with their varying degrees of punishment for using specific items or information in ways that would prevent a no-win state.  TS:KE is considerably more forgiving than those poorly aging titles, and - to my surprise - if you're studious in surveying the information and items available then you can solve the mystery using logical connections made through one of TS:KE's great investigative gameplay tools.


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."


Rings (2017)

Samara Morgan will never rest now that she's part of the digital age.  A researcher looking into the existence of the soul thinks he can control Samara's vengeance, but is unaware of the evil that can pour out of any screen.  F. Javier Gutiérrez directs Rings, with the screenplay written by David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, and Akiva Goldsman, and stars Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, and Vincent D'Onofrio.

It's been a long time since I felt this disappointed over a forced sequel hook.  Despite a meandering middle section filled with the kind of bog standard horror investigation that needs to be trimmed, there are fascinating aspects to the logical conclusions Rings arrives at.  I've long wondered what would happen if the literal viral video starring Samara Morgan was introduced to modern technology. Since we're in an age of quickly passed misinformation bordering on outright lies, Rings feels relevant in a way the previous American Ring films didn't.

Our society is saturated in violent propaganda right now with a Commander-in-chief callously using technology to seed fear into an already tense population.  There are easy parallels to the anxiety on the rise, Americans dying younger, and the only benefit going toward corporations who don't have to worry paying out as much in retirement.  Fitting - then - that the villain of Rings isn't Samara or casual ignorance.  Gabriel Brown (an excellently cast Johnny Galecki in full arrogant mode) thinks he can control the flow of information to prove there's some greater purpose to our existence.


Layers of Fear (2016) and Inheritance (2016)

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

There was reassurance, darkness, and - finally - pain.  My doctor assured me the stint did not need to stay in for long, it only needed to be installed as long as it took for my body to finally expel the stones it carried around.  I was taken care of for a bit then I was alone.  At some point in the night I developed a fever, the pain medications barely kept the needles digging through my crotch at bay, I couldn't lay down and could barely walk but the fever and pain kept me moving.  Eventually I found my notebook.  I'd been writing poetry before the surgery.  In between my screams, stomping, and falling I scribbled whatever thoughts came to my mind.  The trips between the bathroom, my bedroom, and living room where I insisted on keeping my notebook bled together.  When it finally ended my scribbles were useless, the words were barely coherent, and whatever usable prose remained tied too strongly with the feverish pain from previous nights.

My madness felt like it had no end and when it finally caved to the pain meds as the fever broke I don't remember what happened to me afterward.  Any time I read a video game managed to create a feeling of madness I left disappointed.  Not that it's a sensation I have any wish to return to, but that developers are unable to grasp the tenuous balance between being in control and at the mercy of my worst impulses.  Layers of Fear, despite an intriguing premise, led me to think I'd be entering another video game experience where madness equates to hallucinations out of the corner of the game's vision or my save file refusing to chart my progress.  Those are the sorts of design choices that may lead a player to frustration - not madness.


Between Us (2017)

Dianne and Henry resist the life other people want for them.  They're living together, unconcerned with marriage, and trying to get by in life.  Their relationship is put to the test as each begins to imagine life without the other, and the thoughts unsaid create fresh tension they might not be mature enough to deal with.  Rafael Palacio Illingworth wrote the screenplay for and directs Between Us, and stars Olivia Thirlby and Ben Feldman.

An upfront admission - I zoned out of Between Us somewhere around the 40-minute mark and had to rewind.  The glacially paced relationship struggles of Dianne (Olivia Thirlby) and Henry (Ben Feldman) were effectively visualized in the first few seconds of Between Us by a stagnant cloud hanging over the couple's living room.  That cloud turned out to be more than an effective metaphor for the couple's stagnation as Between Us plodded from one shot of monotony to the next as overlapping dialogue shares banal observations that theoretically could have saved the relationship.

Rewinding my rental to the last point of Between Us I remembered gave me time to ponder all those criticisms.  I can't recall the last time I've seen a relationship as inert and boring as the one between Dianne and Henry.  Neither one of them have lives, just dramatic conveniences that set up easy conflict points when each meets the living embodiment of what they want from the other.  Henry's inner monologue remembers when he met Dianne and they had oodles of sex, so his temptation comes from Veronica (Analeigh Tipton) who throws orgies and makes electronica in her spare time.  Dianne admires Henry's artistic ambition though laments his ability to do anything with it, so she meets the playwright Liam (Adam Goldberg) who has some of the same ideas as Henry but puts them into practice.