Bright is big budget action at its worst

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Bright is a flat out bad movie. Its screenplay has too much sophomoric dialogue and tonal whiplash. Unresolved plot threads abound. Any charisma from leads Will Smith and Joel Edgerton rarely registers above the film’s mediocrity.

Bright is also an action film with a ninety million plus budget, yet the shootouts are barely comprehensible. Fights lack a clear sense of continuity, editing, and direction. To examine how and why that is we’ll break down a single action scene midway through the film (watch the scene on Netflix; it starts at 1:01:36.)

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Mindhunter and the power of smart shot rhythm

All stills are property of their respective owners and are used here strictly for educational purposes only. Most shots are combined into a grid format – click or tap to enlarge.

Mindhunter shows how simple shot and editing techniques can elevate a series above a routine crime procedural. For this post we’ll look at one standout scene in the final episode of season one. Subtle changes in shot length, distance, and angle heighten emotions. David Fincher directs, Erik Messerschmidt serves as DP, and Kirk Baxter, who’s been Fincher’s primary editor for almost a decade, edits. (Mild spoilers follow.)

On paper the scene is a conversation between two characters that turns threatening. FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) profiles and studies serial killers. Incarcerated mass murderer Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) is Holden’s interview subject early in the season. This last scene serves as a reunion after many episodes apart; Kemper tried to kill himself, and Holden visits him in the hospital.

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On Nintendo Switch and player happiness

Nine months ago I wrote the Nintendo Switch off as a lost cause with bad specs, a poor launch lineup, and an unclear audience. Rarely have I been so wrong.

Mid-summer the Switch briefly came into stock, and I bought one. I first wrote the purchase off as a wasteful, impulsive buy fueled by Nintendo nostalgia. However, at this point I’ve been a Switch owner for five months, and pound for pound it’s the most fun console I’ve had in over a decade. What happened?

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Destiny 2 turns its back on casual players

After twenty plus hours with Bungie’s Destiny 2, the level of Bungie’s craftsmanship remains standout. There’s pitch perfect audio, and the intuitive controls and gameplay are arguably best in class for console shooters. There’s a wide variety of fun, distinctive weaponry yet as a more casual player jumping into Destiny the first time, I’ve hit a wall. The campaign is thin, competitive multiplayer intimidating, and the leveling process frustrating.

At least the campaign is cohesive, which is a step up from the first Destiny. But even with recognizable voice talent (Gina Torres, Lance Reddick, Nathan Fillion) no character leaves a lasting impression. The attempts at humor can feel forced, at times cringeworthy. We’ve seen the story many times before, sci-fi that blends the “putting the band back together” trope with Star Wars Episode IV.

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Blade Runner 2049’s visuals can’t escape character and pacing issues

Blade Runner 2049 stands up well to the 1982 original on a surface level. The film has an immaculate sense of place; DP Roger Deakins captures future L.A. in all its neon, rain drenched glory. The production design is stunning. Yet amazing visuals can’t overpower 2049’s thin supporting characters and pacing issues.

(Major spoilers ahead for Blade Runner 2049.)

Joi (Ana de Armas) – K’s (Ryan Gosling) futuristic mashup of Stepford wife and manic pixie dream girl – encapsulates Blade Runner 2049’s character problems. She starts the film with promise; Joi opens questions on how AI intersects with love, mobility, and even societal rank (Joi is technically a slave for another artificial slave.) And in a later memorable scene, Joi uses sex worker Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) as a physical substitute for herself. Joi tries to “sync” to the movements of Mariette; the unsettling imagery of this Joi/Mariette “hybrid” making out with K has implications for identity and even future-scape pornography.

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Pre-visualization for engineers

For engineers building user interfaces, I find there’s heavy emphasis on technical chops and little to none on design comprehension. Yet a subset of design skills can distinguish great from merely good UI engineers.

I’d term these skills “pre-visualization”: understanding design specifications before writing any code, and at a level beyond what designers formally deliver. A big part of pre-visualization is the ability to break down specs into reusable components. You discern visual patterns from existing parts of your app, site, or larger OS, and apply them to a designer’s work. In many, if not most cases, much of the spec maps cleanly to what came before. Common UI patterns like buttons, form elements, and navigation generally repeat themselves. Some will not.

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Microsoft’s shaky Xbox holiday strategy

At a glance, Microsoft had a decent E3. Their presser showcased a huge number of quality games, solid genre diversity, and decent pacing. Xbox head Phil Spencer remains a great ambassador for the brand. And the Xbox One X looks to be an engineering marvel, a cutting edge console in a svelte enclosure.

But Xbox doesn’t exist in isolation. Sony is well ahead in mindshare and sales. Nintendo surprised many (myself included) with the runaway success of the Switch. With E3 over, Microsoft has two chief questions to answer. Why should anyone buy an Xbox One X? And why invest in Xbox over the PS4?

Sadly, Microsoft stumbled on both questions. Like I wrote earlier, by leaning so heavily on 4K, Microsoft has put themselves into a weak position for the holidays.

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Spectre: uneven movie, great cinematography

With Roger Moore’s passing, I’ve been revisiting Bond movies. Catching up with Spectre wasn’t part of the plan. It’s overly long, with a convoluted plot, some slack action scenes, and a miscast villain. Yet in terms of camera work, Spectre is stellar. I’d rank it second only to Roger Deakins’ outing on Skyfall.

DP Hoyte Van Hoytema’s lensing gives the film a different look than other Bond films. Visually it’s romantic and elegant. Yet as with Van Hoytema’s other work (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Interstellar), Spectre has a dark tone. He deepens what’s an often lightweight picture with more thematic weight. (Mild spoilers for Spectre to follow.)

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Software means more to Xbox than Project Scorpio

Microsoft has bet big on Project Scorpio to generate Xbox sales and hype. Their PR cycle projects confidence: Scorpio is a large focus of their E3’s presser less than a month away. They also provided an extensive walkthrough of the hardware specs to Eurogamer weeks ago.

Yet Microsoft is kidding itself if it thinks the market for Scorpio is anything larger than a small niche. Raw horsepower won’t win a console war. In fact it’s the opposite: software, not hardware, would be transformative for Microsoft in the long run.

Scorpio, like the PS4 Pro, is a non-starter for the price sensitive casual market. A Project Scorpio will cost likely $500 or more, double the cost of a baseline PS4 or Xbox One. That’s too expensive, especially given both low and high end consoles share the same game library.

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Moonlight: personal, humanistic, and warm

All stills are property of their respective owners and are used here strictly for educational purposes only. Several shots are combined into a grid format – click or tap to enlarge.

It’s easy to see why Moonlight is the most critically acclaimed film of the year. Everything just works as a complete package, with stellar acting, direction, and screenplay. Its humanistic story is memorable, emotionally complex, and subverts racial stereotypes.

Among such skill, it’s Moonlight‘s striking visuals that left the biggest impression on me. Though it has been months since my last viewing, I can recall certain shots as though I saw the film yesterday. With strong saturated colors and high contrast, Wong Kar-Wai is a clear influence. Yet interesting changes in angle, perspective, and a heavy reliance on handheld give this movie its own unique character. (Mild spoilers for Moonlight ahead.)

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