1917 : Review

I’ve always loved war movies even though they have been far and few between recently. Upon witnessing teasers of the film 1917, I put a great amount amount of restraint on myself and deliberately held back my excitement for the upcoming movie. All I knew for sure was that I desired to see this film in the biggest screen possible with the highest quality sound that I could find.

I’m certain that the film’s critics will confine the impact of this film into a small box. A box that says this film is simply spectacle and nothing else but after seeing what it had to offer I’d have to strongly argue against this. A strong parallel for this film would obviously be Nolan’s Dunkirk. That film housed solid performances similar to George McKay’s in 1917 but where 1917 really shines is its ability to create sympathy.

The lack of characterization for both of these films is present but felt much more so with Dunkirk. While Dunkirk somewhat frustrated me with its indistinguishable characters Roger Deakins and Sam Mendes overcomes these shortcomings with their direction and work.

Sam Mendes has gone on to say he wanted to convey a story that anyone could relate to despite their previous knowledge. This is a war film that puts its focus on the war itself and in turn successfully emphasizes the futility and horror of war. The film’s single shot approach adds an extra layer of immersion that allows you to engross yourself into the era and feel the harrowing consequences and effects of armed conflict first hand.

I would be disingenuous if I said this film didn’t lean heavily into its technical and awe-inspiring cinematography. I don’t reckon Deakins had a single bad shot in this entire film. Yet, I think he does it effectively and it gives us a film that is a blast to watch.

While I personally don’t believe that this film will have a broad appeal beyond war movie buffs it did something that Nolan’s Dunkirk failed to do for me. It kept me truly engaged. 1917 is truly stirring artistry and conveys Deakins prowess and Sam Mendes deft hand. These two are true leaders in their respective fields. This film soars beyond it’s simple plot and premise and lands into something surprisingly great.

Review: Do yourself a service and watch this while it still rolls in theaters.

 

 

Shoplifters(2018) : Review

Shoplifters is a gripping movie directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. If you enjoyed his previous film Nobody Knows which also tackled the issues of poverty, this movie is right up that alley. It depicts a very realistic look into the lives of a rag-tag bunch.

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The star of this film is definitely Sakura Ando, who deservingly won an award for “Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” through the 42nd Japanese Academy Prize ceremony that was held in March, 2019. I knew she was amazing actor going back to her role in Love Exposure but this movie definitely elevated her for me. I’m looking forward to seeing more from her going forward. Lastly, you can’t talk about acting from this film without applauding the performances from the child actors. They are the center of story from beginning to the end and will leave a lasting impression on you and touch your soul.

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I highly recommend this movie to anyone that wants to try out a good Japanese film.

10/10

Chihayafuru Trilogy (2016-2018) : Review

Chihayafuru is a trilogy of films about the world of competitive Hyakunin Isshu Karuta and how this traditional card game brings people together. For people that aren’t familiar with the game, the basic rule of the game is that a poem is read and the players pitted against each other must swipe/clear the cards from their territory before their opponent to win. The film does a good job with explaining the intricacies of the game which was really nice for someone with no knowledge.

 

This film is an adaptation of the manga. I don’t watch many animes or read mangas, so I can’t give you an honest opinion on how genuine the adaptation was to manga but the general consensus that I got from from forums and review websites is that people thoroughly enjoyed it. Though, I don’t think that would apply to me anyway. I often enjoy Japanese shows/movies that are heavily criticized by fans for it’s adaptations.

The films were a great balance of comedy and drama . The romances depicted throughout the films weren’t too on the nose and didn’t take away from the film at all.  It almost feels like the movies were made for TV; That’s not to take away from them, since I enjoyed watching them all. Chihayafuru will surprise you how intense a card game can be while exploring many themes such as the definition of strength and the meaning of a legacy. The films have an extremely likable cast of characters with some characters that will surprise you with how deep they are. I highly recommend this slice of life trilogy.

8/10

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Threads (1984) : Review

I’ve heard rumblings of this film through the most bizarre of places. I was in search of a horror film and came across an off-hand comment that swore by the statement that Threads was and continues to be, in his memory the scariest movie he had ever scene.

After a little research I discovered an avid fan-base for the movie with similar thoughts regarding the nuclear holocaust drama. Threads is a film that depicts the immediate aftermath and continuing effects that a nuclear war would have on city.

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I jumped into the film with a little hesitation. How could a film with these topics be considered essentially horror. The film portrays a world in political turmoil and on the brink of catastrophe. It takes an up close and personal look at a small group of people as they experience nuclear annihilation. The film displays a step by step thorough  documentary style and disturbing breakdown of the events with incredible effect.

Threads is a relentless depiction of societal breakdown. I found it particularly potent how the film illustrated the futility of keeping order in a world of destruction and chaos. One arc in the film follows a group of public servants responsible for administering aid and support during and after the event. You can almost taste the fear as they experience the same sense of dread as those outside their fortified bunker. Then as the audience you you have to witness the same ones responsible for allowing the world to continue to move forward meet their slow and painful deaths.

I can only fathom the way kids growing up during the cold war may have felt experiencing a film such as this. As the doomsday clock ticks closer and closer to the brink of annihilation, a drama style documentary releases, preying on everyone’s current fears. The imagery of the film is shocking but ultimately forces you to examine what an event of this magnitude would actually entail. One scene in the film is particularly striking as the bombs begin to fall and all hell breaks loose. A character in the film stares up at the looming mushroom cloud and says in the most defeated and fearful way, “Jesus Christ, they’ve done it.”

After the end of the film, I thought deeply of what I would do in a world like this. I thought of how unprepared personally and as as people we are for something like this. Where would I go? Where would I meet my loved ones?  How could anyone survive in a world where every scrap of food is the difference between life and death. How does a government decide who should live or die with massive food shortages? The tag line for the film is “The closest you’ll ever want to come to nuclear war”. This sentence is pretty much a spot on endorsement. What defines a “scary” film? Threads is a film that gnaws at our inner fears and exposes the ever-present depravity of human nature. If this realistic living nightmare brought to the screen isn’t horror, I don’t know what is.

Review: Threads is a profound film that shouldn’t be missed.

 

 

John Wick 3: Parabellum: Review

John Wick returns for another action packed and fun sequel. The gun-fu series now sees John Wick on the outs from his previous masters. The film hosts some very beautiful aesthetics as we see John evading harm on the gritty streets of New York. The fight scenes and shootouts are still a blast to watch. Well choreographed and filmed martial arts is hard to come by and continues to be a front and center staple for this entry. John Wick’s mastery of close quarters combat is a delight to watch and I don’t see myself ever growing tired of. New notable characters played by Halle Berry and the Asia Kate Dillon (Billions) are a welcome addition.

Yet one of my favorite entries had to be from the introduction of a tag team duo of killer dogs being commanded by Sofia(Berry). Bringing into the fold a genre I didn’t even think was possible– Dog-fu? The series itself seems to have begun developing an ever expanding lore of its own. The John Wick series never seems to rest on it laurels. A growing number of antagonists and allies continue to give myself and audiences a reason to cheer. With the impressive ability to make me root for foes just as easily as friends; John Wick still has a lot of gas in its tanks.

9/10 – Good old fun.

Fallen Angels(1995): Review

Just when I’d gotten somewhat bored with movies , a deep dive into my backlog of forgotten films brought me across Fallen Angels. Fallen Angels is movie that has to be seen to understand its magic. The story runs the gambit from a coming of age tale all the way to a burnt out hit-man looking to get out. One of the most surprisingly impactful thread is in the romantic elements of this film. Pessimism and cynicism somewhat pervade all throughout the story and these characters as we follow them in the film. This sense of dread seemingly even bleeds visually into almost every frame. The relationships contained in the film are as broken as they come but through them we also get hope and genuine optimism that really ties it all together.

You wouldn’t think you would get such touching moments from the characters in the film. One such character in the film is a complete mute who hijacks businesses at night while they are closed and physically forces pedestrians to pay him. Another is an assassin who is torn and divided on the idea of real human companionship. These two main actors are accompanied by a truly authentic couple of convincing and polar opposite supporting actresses that compliment the cast greatly. However the real standout is Takeshi Kaneshiro who plays the role of the mute He Zhiwu. A pure performance piece for him as he never utters a line of dialogue. The overall arching narrative in Fallen Angels never stretches itself too thin and leads to a fantastic climax and very satisfying wrap up resolution. Character arcs don’t lead to complete transformations or existential epiphanies . Instead we get a more developed and subtle character progression but it is more potent. In all the chaos of their lives it is the smaller human things that spoke the most to me in this film, such as He Zhiwu’s relationship to his father.

Fallen Angels is a hyper stylized film that is truly a visual feast. Scene by scene we are dazzled and treated to masterclass cinematography through some of the best camera work I’ve seen in a very long time. On a technical perspective I don’t think any Asian film has ever impressed me as much as this. I’m unsure what element of the cinematography impressed me the most. Was it the unorthodox angles, film distortion, or bombardment of color frame by frame? It could have also been the downright nostalgic and superior look of non digital film in the 90s with all it’s “flaws”. I’ll be sure to take a look at Christopher Doyles other works.

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I can’t recommend this film more for movie buffs out there. Fallen Angels has an effective musical score, unforgettable visuals, and truly authentic ensemble of convincing and supporting actors.

Although my romantic relationship with cinema can even lead me to becoming altogether estranged from the medium once in awhile, all it takes is that one special film to show me that i’m always In The Mood For Love. This is that film. Go watch it folks.

The Vault(2017): Review

The Vault is an interesting  genre mix up. A mash up of your standard b-movie heist genre and a weird combination of unexpected horror. As far as bank heist films go, this film is pretty adequate. All the right beats for suspense in the first half of the film are hit as the would be robbers go in to make a score. Unfortunately they don’t know what they have gotten themselves into. As their plan unravels through predictable bank heist mistakes, so does a much darker under tone for the film.

A paranormal component to the film is introduced when the crew looks to target the vault in the basement. The horror element in the movie is relatively rushed. Their isn’t any real build up or pay off for the horror side of the film.The film doesn’t rely on jump scares but instead unnerving hallucinations and gore. Looking back at the film I believe the horror aspect of the film proved to be one of The Vault’s weakest characteristics.

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Cinematography takes a realistic approach and it fits the grittiness of the subject materials. No scenes in particular really hit home for me in that regards.  The writing in the film isn’t horrible but is very unexciting because everything is as expected. Taryn Manning gives a solid performance for her usual skitzy typecast character. The dialogue is run of the mill,  however Francesca Eastwood’s acting is pretty much wasted for this film and was a pleasant surprise. I look forward to seeing her in new roles.

James Franco the most prominent actor and main focus of  promotional material in the film is just there to attract viewers it seems. Franco only speaks about 5 lines of dialogue and only  holds onto a minuscule amount of screen time  the whole film. This film won’t last the test of time but I recommend firing it up when it goes up on your favorite streaming service.The vault is good fun and I would recommend for  a boring night you want to stay in and stream something with a friend.

 

Sicario: Review

Sicario is a great film. It’s a film that should get big numbers but probably won’t because of the current box office offerings and that’s a real shame. I dare to say this will be a film that will be looked back on as a classic in ten years but was overshadowed by blockbusters. It has suspense and delivers a tense and very believable world.

A large credit of that should go to the cinematographer. The film is incredibly authentic and grounded and complimented by the camera work. As for the actual acting; the stand out performance comes from Emily Blunt.

Emily Blunt does a fantastic job portraying a woman way over her head without falling to far into being a girl who is the typical helpless damsel that the industry usually pushes out. Some of my favorite parts of the film were the interactions or lack of interactions that Emily’s characters was receiving. How that sexual barrier in a male dominated police/military was portrayed was really compelling.

It’s a violent/graphic film but it’s done extremely well. Characters choices and motivations feel weighty and hold a sense of purpose. There are a couple scenes in this film that will probably bring up some controversy but I don’t believe film makers should back away from difficult topics and I applaud the people who went through with including some of the themes in this film.

One portion of the film that stood out to me and could be seen as a potential negative in a mostly positive review would be the tunnel scene in the film. I’m not sure if it was a bad cut or it could have done with some better editing but when Emily Blunt’s character exits and confronts one of the central cast members outside the tunnel it’s done in a very off putting manner. It felt like something was missing or edited out. It’s a small thing sure but it felt a little rough around the edges.

There’s nothing as satisfying as a well done ending and Sicario delivers. Greatness in simplicity, was what they achieved. It was filled with truth , sadness and reveals perfectly the reality of it all.

I highly recommend this crime thriller!

Self/Less: Review

Self/Less is a film which reminds you constantly not to suspend belief. The plot in Self/Less isn’t bad in itself but paired with bad writing/dialogue and a flat performance from Ryan Reynolds it pushes the film from being a promising B-  film to a soulless cash in on tried formulas. An over reliance on action movie tropes ,such as exaggerated military training capabilities, makes Self/Less fall into the category of outright silliness at times.

Characters behave and react to events in illogical and absurd manners. We are treated with a relatively disappointing and weakly written female supporting roles in a post-Mad Max society. A thoroughly unscientific plot attempts to prove that it is grounded but falls painstakingly short and expounds the gullible nature of Ryan’s on-screen “wife” even further. What could have been embraced as a distant undiscovered possibility is squandered by unconvincing narrative.

This movie had an intriguing premise which would be better suited to relish in its obscurity. It focuses on tried and overused devices in Hollywood filmmaking. With a lack of rational characters and motives, Self/Less fumbles while searching for it’s identity. While there is an obvious protagonist and antagonist, there really shouldn’t be. The audience is essentially forced into an opinion which would be fine if there was some sort of reasonable payoff.

We are given a glimpse about a debate on who is really right and wrong but ultimately do not care due to lack of execution. Self/Less isn’t a terrible movie but it certainly isn’t one that treats its audience as though they are remotely intelligent.

Verdict: 4/10 (Skip)

 

How Naughty Dog Fit Crash Bandicoot into 2MB of RAM on the PS1

“Here’s a related anecdote from the late 1990s. I was one of the two programers (along with Andy Gavin) who wrote Crash Bandicoot for the PlayStation 1.

RAM was still a major issue even then. The PS1 had 2MB of RAM, and we had to do crazy things to get the game to fit. We had levels with over 10MB of data in them, and this had to be paged in and out dynamically, without any “hitches”—loading lags where the frame rate would drop below 30 Hz.

It mainly worked because Andy wrote an incredible paging system that would swap in and out 64K data pages as Crash traversed the level. This was a “full stack” tour de force, in that it ran the gamut from high-level memory management to opcode-level DMA coding. Andy even controlled the physical layout of bytes on the CD-ROM disk so that—even at 300KB/sec—the PS1 could load the data for each piece of a given level by the time Crash ended up there.

I wrote the packer tool that took the resources—sounds, art, lisp control code for critters, etc.—and packed them into 64K pages for Andy’s system. (Incidentally, this problem—producing the ideal packing into fixed-sized pages of a set of arbitrarily-sized objects—is NP-complete, and therefore likely impossible to solve optimally in polynomial—i.e., reasonable—time.)

Some levels barely fit, and my packer used a variety of algorithms (first-fit, best-fit, etc.) to try to find the best packing, including a stochastic search akin to the gradient descent process used in Simulated annealing. Basically, I had a whole bunch of different packing strategies, and would try them all and use the best result.

The problem with using a random guided search like that, though, is that you never know if you’re going to get the same result again. Some Crash levels fit into the maximum allowed number of pages (I think it was 21) only by virtue of the stochastic packer “getting lucky”. This meant that once you had the level packed, you might change the code for a turtle and never be able to find a 21-page packing again. There were times when one of the artists would want to change something, and it would blow out the page count, and we’d have to change other stuff semi-randomly until the packer again found a packing that worked. Try explaining this to a crabby artist at 3 in the morning. 🙂

By far the best part in retrospect—and the worst part at the time—was getting the core C/assembly code to fit. We were literally days away from the drop-dead date for the “gold master”—our last chance to make the holiday season before we lost the entire year—and we were randomly permuting C code into semantically identical but syntactically different manifestations to get the compiler to produce code that was 200, 125, 50, then 8 bytes smaller. Permuting as in, ”

for (i=0; i < x; i++)

“—what happens if we rewrite that as a while loop using a variable we already used above for something else? This was after we’d already exhausted the usual tricks of, e.g., stuffing data into the lower two bits of pointers (which only works because all addresses on the R3000 were 4-byte aligned).

Ultimately Crash fit into the PS1’s memory with 4 bytes to spare. Yes, 4 bytes out of 2097152. Good times.”