[FILM REVIEW] Aparajito (Satyajit Ray, 1956)

In the year 1920, a young boy named Apurba Roy – or Apu – has left his home in rural Bengal with his parents, Harihar and Sarbajaya, settling into an apartment in the bustling city of Varanasi. Working as a priest, Harihar has been making a decent amount of money, and with the tragic death his first child weighing on his mind, he is determined to make as good of a life as possible for Apu. The family couldn’t possibly have known at the time exactly what plans fate had in store for them.

Originally, Satyajit Ray had no intentions of ever creating a sequel to Pather Panchali. However, because of its critical and commercial success, he found himself compelled to continue the story, thus Aparajito – or The Unvanquished. Pather Panchali, by Mr. Ray’s own admission, featured a rambling narrative. Children, regardless of their background, typically have limited freedom, so it makes sense from a narrative standpoint that Pather Panchali would be driven by random events occurring to the protagonist and his family.

Taking place shortly after the events of Pather Panchali, Aparajito begins similarly. Mr. Ray presents his audience a day in the new life Apu and his family lead. Their lifestyle is still modest and low-key, but it’s a definite step up from their former squalid living conditions. At this point, the family is content – the only thing resembling a conflict is when monkeys get into their apartment, forcing an annoyed Sarbajaya to drive them out. Apu naturally adores the monkeys and feeds them whenever he can.

However, these good times are not to last. Shortly after finding stability, Harihar catches a fever. The doctors do what they can to save his life, but it is no use. As Harihar was the family’s breadwinner, this development places Apu and Sarbajaya between a rock and a hard place. Apu’s mother begins working as a maid, but his great-uncle arrives and encourages them to return to Bengal. They then settle in the village of Mansapota.

If Pather Panchali chronicled Apu’s early years, Aparajito shows what happens when a child finally begins to grow up. The previous film ended with Apu beginning to show agency when he threw a necklace that his sister stole into a pond, thus preserving her memory. Once he and his mother move to Mansapota, however, he seeks to deviate what his family expects out of him. He apprentices as a priest at first, but what he really wants is to attend the local school. This scene is especially powerful for anyone who grew up in a country with a strong educational system. While such countries often produced media in which kids are shown to hate school, Apu pines for what they take for granted. Notably, he has to persuade his mother to allow him to attend. Shortly thereafter, he impresses the headmaster with his aptitude. A few years later, he has succeeded enough to gain a scholarship. His new school happens to be in Kolkata – one of the largest cities in India.

What truly allows this film to succeed is that Apu’s interactions with his mother are amazingly nuanced. Sarbajaya is reluctant to see her son pursue these lofty goals, but it’s not for a selfish reason. Having lived her entire life in poverty, she doesn’t think Apu’s interest in science and art will amount to anything. She has only ever concerned herself with the short term out of pragmatism. There’s no sense in learning about these abstract concepts if you don’t have enough food to last the month, after all.

Apu convincing her of the education’s merits is compelling in that it’s a real conflict, yet Mr. Ray doesn’t feel the need to make it melodramatic. He calmly and politely explains to her just how much the world is changing and that, in the long term, he could make a better life for the both of them. What helps is that, while they don’t agree on everything, their affection for each other is very real. At one point, Apu deliberately misses a train so he can spend an extra day with his mother.

Alas, even with his newfound ability to think and act for himself, Apu still doesn’t have control over fate. In the final act, Apu becomes accustomed to city life and visits his mother less and less. Eventually, she falls ill, though she doesn’t disclose her affliction to Apu, worrying his studies will falter if she does. It’s not until his great-uncle writes to him that he learns of his mother’s illness. If the audience was expecting Apu to arrive back to see Sarbajaya one last time, the look on his great-uncle’s face tells them everything they need to know. Just like in real life, death can be sudden, disallowing that one final heartfelt moment between the dying and their loved ones commonplace in fiction. With the final apron string linking himself to his childhood forcibly severed, Apu rejects the idea of becoming a priest and returns to Kolkata.

It is a true testament to the quality of Aparajito that, going into the twenty-first century, it remained the only film sequel to ever win the grand prize at Venice, Berlin, or Cannes – some of the medium’s most prestigious festivals.  This is especially notable because sequels were, and still are, largely shunned by film critics. It therefore stands to reason that Aparajito managed to be something truly special. Mr. Ray must have invented some kind of new film language that overrode common critical sensibilities – if only for a moment. However, I feel the reason it succeeded is actually very simple. Whereas complacent directors – or producers chasing the dollar – seek to give their audience more of the same, Mr. Ray went in a new direction with his canon. What was once a rambling narrative now has a cohesive plot partially driven by its protagonist’s actions. It was the perfect way to show that, while Apu had grown up, there were plenty of aspects of his life he still couldn’t control. In other words, Aparajito is exactly what any artist should strive for when creating a sequel.

For that matter, Mr. Ray’s work also has the honor of being the first to win the Golden Lion, Cinema Nuovo Award, and the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award. The takeaway is that if this film appeared at a given awards show or festival, Mr. Ray likely walked away with the grand prize. All of those triumphs were well deserved, for Aparajito stands to this day as an exemplary film of its genre. It absolutely deserves to be seen by anyone even vaguely interested in the medium. His work manages to transcend the typical slice-of-life formula, offering those who usually find them boring with a compelling narrative they will want to see through to the end.

Final Score: 8/10

[FILM REVIEW] Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

Kayla is an eighth grade student attending Miles Grove Middle School. She often posts motivational videos on YouTube to help those with little self-esteem, though they receive little attention. Her advice is quite ironic, for she herself is quite the shy person, having few friends at school. It is to the point where she is voted “Most Quiet” by her classmates. She also has difficulties connecting with her father, who tries, and largely fails, to ween her off of social media. In spite of her emotional baggage, Kayla spends her last week as a middle school student determined to leave her comfort zone.

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[GAME REVIEW] Kirby’s Adventure


Kirby’s Dream Land was one of HAL Laboratory’s greatest successes when it launched on the Game Boy in 1992. It proceeded to sell over one-million copies over the next few years. Despite this, the game drew a fair bit of criticism. Veteran gamers in particular were critical of its short length and lack of difficulty. Even gamers of a middling skill level could blaze through the experience in the course of an afternoon. Nonetheless, its stellar commercial performance all but ensured a sequel would be made. Series creator Masahiro Sakurai found himself in the director’s chair once more, and his team was determined to expand upon the gameplay established by his inaugural title.

In order to successfully implement the myriad ideas they had for this new game, HAL Laboratory turned their attention to Nintendo’s home console. However, despite the Super Famicom, or Super NES as it was known internationally, having been released two years prior to the debut of Kirby’s Dream Land, the team decided the next game would debut on its predecessor – the Famicom. The game was named Kirby of the Stars: The Story of the Fountain of Dreams and saw its domestic release in March of 1993. It then debuted internationally in North America and Europe later in the same year retitled Kirby’s Adventure. By 1993, the fourth console generation was in full swing. It was a period of console gaming defined by the fierce rivalry between Nintendo and Sega. This did not prevent Kirby’s Adventure from becoming a bestseller. Unlike Kirby’s Dream Land, the game was a hit with critics as well. Retrospectives have since deemed it the NES’s swansong. In the midst of a battle that placed a great emphasis on presentation and technical prowess, how, exactly, did Kirby’s Adventure win over its predecessor’s detractors?

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A Question for the Readers #16: Save Early, Save Often!

When you consider what an incredibly basic feature it is, it’s difficult to believe there was once an era in gaming in which the ability to save was a novelty. Because of the technical limitations at the time, developers sought to make simple experiences that weren’t really meant to be completed in the traditional sense, but rather played like a game of pinball wherein you kept going until you expended all of your lives. When console gaming truly took off, however, the idea of playing a game in multiple sessions became mainstream after being pioneered in the PC gaming scene for a number of years.

Considering how long the ability to save has been around, one might think there’s nothing to the process anymore, but you would be surprised how easy it is to mess up.

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[FILM REVIEW] Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)

This story takes place in the year 1969. An aging actor named Rick Dalton has been stuck playing the role of antagonists in various films for several years. He was once the star of a Western television series called Bounty Law in the 1950s, but his time in the sun has long passed. He often confides to his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth that his career is effectively over. Despite his dire situation, Rick lives in a comfortable house on Cielo Drive. He realizes he may have a second chance on his hands when two rising talents, Sharon Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski, move into the large house next door to him.

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[GAME REVIEW] Pilotwings


With their Family Computer (Famicom), Nintendo proceeded to dominate the market throughout the entirety of the third console generation. The console proved to be such a success, it managed to revitalize the North American gaming industry after it crashed in 1983. Dubbed the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) aboard, the console was responsible for injecting gaming into the mainstream. However, during the life of the Famicom, Nintendo gained two new rivals. First, NEC Corporation launched the PC Engine – internationally known as the TurboGrafx-16 – in 1987. Shortly thereafter in 1988, Sega launched the Mega Drive – rebranded the Genesis in North America. Although its launch titles had difficulties standing out from the competition, it was clearly a piece of technology superior to the Famicom with a graphical presentation that emulated arcade games in the latter half of the 1980s.

Masayuki Uemura, the Famicom’s designer, realized he needed to come up with something to surpass his lauded invention to ensure his company remained relevant, and thus made it so. In 1990, the Famicom’s successor, the Super Famicom, was launched. Nintendo realized it wouldn’t be enough to just continue their big-name franchises on this new platform. If consumers were under the impression the Super Famicom offered only a superior graphical presentation, they likely wouldn’t have been interested in purchasing it. They needed something to prove that the console was to offer experiences simply not possible on the aging Famicom software.

To this end, Nintendo formed a team consisting of various members of the Research and Development divisions. The team was named Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development (Nintendo EAD). Under the leadership of producer Shigeru Miyamoto, the team created three games within fifteen months of the Super Famicom’s inception. One was Super Mario World – the official sequel to the universally praised Super Mario Bros. 3. The second was F-Zero, a fast-paced racing game. The last of these games, however, would be something the medium had seen only a few times by 1990: a flight simulator. Named Pilotwings, this game was released one month after the Super Famicom’s launch. The console then proceeded to debut in North America the following year where it was renamed the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES). Pilotwings was highly regarded upon release and is still considered one of the console’s premier titles in retrospectives. How was it able to grab the attention of consumers and critics alike back in 1990?

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July 2019 in Summary: Another Arduous Month

July is usually my favorite month of the year, though these past two ones have been unusually difficult for some reason. I apologize for the sudden lack of content, though some decidedly strange circumstances ended up interfering with my writing process. For instance, my internet went down at the end of this month, resulting in this update post being delayed. I didn’t even get to see any films at home, though I personally blame that on Stranger Things.

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[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Diamond and Pearl


Although Pokémon as a cultural phenomenon was over by the third generation’s debut in 2002, the Ruby and Sapphire versions of Game Freak’s popular franchise managed to move sixteen-million units, making them the best-selling titles on its platform. The successor to the Game Boy Color was a highly praised piece of technology for allowing players to have portable gaming experiences comparable to ones provided by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. However, just like the Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance wouldn’t last for long before its own successor saw the light of day.

Just before the debut of Ruby and Sapphire, the president of Nintendo at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, proposed the idea of a handheld console with two screens. The product from Mr. Yamauchi’s imagination would be announced in 2003. However, they claimed it would succeed neither the Game Boy Advance nor the Nintendo GameCube. In early 2004, the console was formally unveiled with the codename “Nintendo DS”. The acronym stood for “Developers’ System” or “Dual Screen”. The system’s specifications were highly advanced for its time, having two three-inch screens and one gigabit of semiconductor memory. The most notable aspect of this console was that the bottom screen would respond to touch commands. It wasn’t entirely unprecedented, for Tiger Electronics released a console in 1997 dubbed the Game.com. Its poor sales ensured the innovative idea died with it – or at least until Nintendo realized its potential. Mr. Yamauchi’s successor, Satoru Iwata, was enthusiastic about the DS, believing it would bring Nintendo into the forefront in terms of innovation. Released in 2004, its most notable launch title was a remake of Nintendo’s own game-changing Super Mario 64.

Although the Nintendo DS wasn’t created with the intent to succeed the Game Boy Advance, this scenario is precisely what came to pass. With many franchises such as Tetris and Super Mario Bros. gaining original entries on this system, it was only a matter of time before fans of Pokémon began speculating on the next generation. The year 2004 saw the debut of Pokémon Dash – a racing game that exclusively used the touch screen. Much like Yoshi’s Touch and Go, Pokémon Dash received fairly negative reviews. Critics believed developer Ambrella relied entirely on the touch screen to ferry an otherwise entry-level experience.

Even so, fans wouldn’t have to wait long before an official announcement was made. In 2004, the development of the fourth set of mainline games, Diamond and Pearl, was made known to the public. They would be the first set of games not developed by series co-creator Satoshi Tajiri with Junichi Masuda instead helming the project alone. With the tough experiences of developing Ruby and Sapphire still fresh in his mind, Mr. Masuda was nonetheless determined to create the ultimate version of Pokémon. Diamond and Pearl were initially slated for a 2005 release, but the team needed more time to implement the new ideas they had. As such, their domestic release was delayed until September of 2006. They reached the West in 2007 and Korea in 2008, marking the series’ official debut in the latter region.

Both games fared well critically with many people praising the new ideas Ms. Masuda and his team brought to the table. Even better, by the time of its release, the series had begun to make a comeback. The children who played Red and Blue in the late 1990s were either in high school or moving on to college, allowing them to wax nostalgia about the series without fear of ridicule. Because of these factors, it is no coincidence that Diamond and Pearl ended up selling eighteen-million copies – two-million more than their predecessors. Were Diamond and Pearl emblematic of the series’ resurgence in popularity?

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[FILM REVIEW] Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)

A teenager by the name of Christine McPherson, who usually goes by her nickname Lady Bird, has just finished touring a series of Californian colleges. She is now being driven back to her home in Sacramento by her mother, Marion. After graduating, she intends to apply to schools outside of California, discontent with the boring life she leads. Marion, believing Lady Bird to be ungrateful, does not agree with her decision and swiftly rebukes her. Lady Bird, deciding she would rather throw herself out of a moving car than suffer her mother’s interminable lectures one second longer, proceeds to do just that.

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[FILM REVIEW] The Farewell (Lulu Wang, 2019)

Billi is a Chinese-American woman attempting to gain a Guggenheim Fellowship while living in New York City. She, along with her mother and father, had moved to the United States when she was very young, leaving behind their remaining relatives – including her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai. One day, they receive distressing news; Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. However, she herself does not know of her affliction with her sister deciding not to inform her. Using their nephew’s haphazardly planned wedding as an excuse to see Nai Nai one last time, Billi and her family travel to Changchun to surreptitiously bid her farewell.

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