kottke.org posts about Evan Puschak
In his newest video, Evan Puschak talks about Arrival, calling it “a response to bad movies”. Arrival was perhaps my favorite film of 2016, and I agree with him about how well-made this film is. There’s a top-to-bottom attention to craft on display, from how it looks to how it was cast (Amy Adams was the absolute perfect choice for the lead) to the integration of the theme with story to how expertly it was adapted from Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life. The whole thing’s tight as a drum. If you happened to miss it, don’t watch this video (it gives the whole thing away) and go watch it instead…it’s available to rent/buy on Amazon.
Looking back through the archives, I’m realizing I never did a post about Arrival even though I collected some links about it. So, linkdump time!
Wired wrote about how the movie’s alien alphabet was developed.
Stephen Wolfram wrote about his involvement with the science of the film — his son Christopher wrote Mathematica code for some of the on-screen visuals. 1
Science vs Cinema explored how well the movie represented actual science:
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer wrote about how he adapted Chiang’s short story for the screen.
Jordan Brower wrote a perceptive review/analysis that includes links to several other resources about the film.
Evan Puschak looks at a single joke Louis C.K. tells about playing Monopoly with his daughters and takes it apart to see how Louis builds and delivers his material. By the end, you’ll likely have a new appreciation of the efficiency and power of Louis’ performance…every word he utters is doing work.
You know, more than anything else I think I’m obsessed with articulation, with the magic of putting things just the right way. There are 207 words in this joke and not a single one is wasted. They’re used either in meaning or in rhythm to contribute to the overall effect, an effect that lets us see the world from a different angle, and more importantly, makes us laugh.
Good phrase, “the magic of putting things just the right way”.
Some interesting speculation from Evan Puschak on what Amazon is up to with Amazon Go. Basically, Puschak thinks Amazon Go is Amazon Web Services but for retail stores. In the same way that AWS provides hosting for sites like Netflix and Reddit, Amazon Go will provide patent-protected technology infrastructure for “self-shopping” supermarkets and retail stores. But it remains to be seen whether it’s more like their one-click patent, which was licensed by a few others (notably Apple) but everyone else was able to do without it.
When Westworld started, I thought Hopkins’ character, park founder Robert Ford, was going to be a relatively minor player, an accomplished but past-prime actor popping up occasionally to function as a one-man chorus interpreting a tragedy for us. But as Evan Puschak shows in his breakdown of the Oscar winner’s performance in a single scene from Westworld, Hopkins is still near the height of his powers and Ford is at the center of the narrative. (Shout out as well to Jeffrey Wright and especially Thandie Newton, who along with Hopkins has been the stand-out performer so far.)
For a recent episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak takes a look at how Steven Spielberg constructed the intense opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. His decision to film the Omaha Beach landing from the perspective of a battlefield cameraman — something he cribbed from actual WWII battle footage and John Ford’s The Battle of Midway, where scenes in which on-set explosions made the film skip were kept in the finished movie — made it one of the best depictions of war ever created. I need to watch this movie again soon.
An incredible detail Puschak notes: the shot-length in that scene was surprisingly long, particularly for a battle scene. In fact, the shot length in that scene was more than double that of the entirety of 300, any Transformers movie, and Inception.
Evan Puschak does a good job of explaining why Casey Neistat’s videos are so entertaining: a combination of seeming amateurism and professionally honed skills in storytelling & video production. I don’t keep up with them regularly, but I love Neistat’s videos. He is definitely among a handful of video producers who have developed genuinely potent forms of video entertainment in the age of YouTube.
In his latest video, Evan Puschak takes Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder to task for filling his movies with flashy moments instead of scenes that would give the movie more emotional punch.
It’s a convincing argument. But before watching this — and full disclosure: I have not seen Batman v Superman — I thought he was going to discuss the real flaw in BvS which is very simply: Superman is an invincible man and Batman is a normal guy in a fancy suit. If this were not a movie designed to entertain 14-year-old boys but a real thing happening in an actual world, Superman would just deal with Batman as trivially as you or I might swat a mosquito. And don’t get me started on kryptonite and Superman’s greater Achilles Heel, his goodness and love of humanity. As a storyteller, how many more interesting ways can you exploit those weaknesses? Superman is the most boring superhero — a nearly invincible man with very obvious flaws — and that’s why no one can make a contemporary film about him that’s any good.
P.S. Actually, Superman’s biggest flaw is that he wants to be a writer when he could quite literally do anything else with his time, like fly around or make time go backwards. What an idiot.
I am not alone in saying that The Darjeeling Limited is perhaps my least favorite Wes Anderson movie (even though Ebert liked it). But it’s Evan Puschak’s favorite and he does an admirable job in raising my appreciation for the film.
Evan Puschak examines the rise of the independence movement in Britain, from their entrance into the European Community in 1973 to Thatcher’s rumblings about EU governance to UKIP’s rise, culminating in Brexit last week. I thought this was a pretty succinct summary of right-wing political tactics:
And that’s the point about far-right political organizations: they use the fulcrum of populism and fear to lift many times their weight in people.
Update: More on the history of the movement to withdraw Britain from the EU from Gary Younge in The Guardian.
Riffing on Ken Mondschein’s Strategies of War in Westeros, Evan Puschak explores why Westeros seems culturally and technologically stuck in the Middle Ages.
Update: Or does Game of Thrones depict the early modern period?
What Martin actually gives us is a fantasy version of what the historian Alfred Crosby called the Post-Columbian exchange: the globalizing epoch of the 16th and 17th centuries. A world where merchants trade exotic drugs and spices between continents, where professional standing armies can number in the tens or hundreds of thousands, where scholars study the stars via telescopes, and proto-corporations like the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Spicers of Qarth control global trade. It’s also a world of slavery on a gigantic scale, and huge wars that disrupt daily life to an unprecedented degree.
In his latest video, Evan Puschak argues that intertextuality in movies — you know, fan service: “hey look, that thing you know from the previous thing!” — is increasingly doing the heavy lifting of creating drama and excitement, resulting in weaker stories.
I loved seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time in The Force Awakens, the use of the original Jurassic Park vehicles in Jurassic World, and hearing Dumbledore’s name in the trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but yeah, those things have to be the cherry on top of good storytelling elements, not the whole sundae.
It’s impossible to tell someone how to interpret paintings by Picasso in only 8 minutes, but Evan Puschak provides a quick and dirty framework for how to begin evaluating the great master’s work by considering your first reaction, the content, form, the historical context, and Picasso’s own personal context.
In a new video, Even Puschak talks about the rise of the serialization genre, from Dickens to Flash Gordon to General Hospital to Star Wars. Now that our entertainment is increasingly serialized, he argues that audiences have a unique opportunity to shape what we watch. (Case in point: the increased importance of non-white and non-male characters in The Force Awakens and Rogue One.)
Further reading: Wired’s You Won’t Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie, which I’ve thought about almost every week since I read it.
Everywhere, studio suits are recruiting creatives who can weave characters and story lines into decades-spanning tapestries of prequels, side-quels, TV shows, games, toys, and so on. Brand awareness goes through the roof; audiences get a steady, soothing mainline drip of familiar characters.
Forget the business implications for a moment, though. The shared universe represents something rare in Hollywood: a new idea. It evolved from the narrative techniques not of auteur or blockbuster films but of comic books and TV, and porting that model over isn’t easy. It needs different kinds of writers and directors and a different way of looking at the structure of storytelling itself. Marvel prototyped the process; Lucasfilm is trying to industrialize it.
And Puschak recommends Consuming Pleasures by Jennifer Hayward.
Ranging from installment novels, mysteries, and detective fiction of the 1800s to the television and movie series, comics, and advertisements of the twentieth century, serials are loosely linked by what may be called “family resemblances.” These traits include intertwined subplots, diverse casts of characters, dramatic plot reversals, suspense, an such narrative devices as long-lost family members and evil twins. Hayward chooses four texts to represent the evolution of serial fiction as a genre and to analyze the peculiar draw that serials have upon their audiences: Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend, Milton Canif’s comic strip Terry and the Pirates, and the soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live. Hayward argues that serial audiences have developed active strategies of consumption, such as collaborative reading and attempts to shape the production process. In this way fans have forced serial producers to acknowledge the power of the audience.
All this makes me realize that I’ve often thought of kottke.org as a serial. The “family resemblances” amongst all my posts might be difficult to see sometimes, but it’s there most of the time. In my mind, at least.
Evan Puschak of Nerdwriter fame asked an interesting question on Twitter yesterday:
It’s 2006. You’re DJing a club. You have a 2016 iPod. What song do you put on to make everyone go nuts?
Puschak compiled the responses into a Spotify playlist:
What would you pick? It depends on what sort of club you’re talking about but in general, for maximum impact, it would have to be instantly catchy but also with adventurous production that sounds like it’s from the future (in a way that, say, Uptown Funk doesn’t).
Evan Puschak, aka the Nerdwriter, explains why the third movie in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, is the best film in the series — spoiler: because Alfonso Cuarón — and why that matters for the young fans of the series: for some, it’s their first exposure to good filmmaking.
Paul Cezanne’s The Large Bathers is the subject of the second video in The Nerdwriter’s series, Understanding Art. (The first was on Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates.)
The Large Bathers is part of a series of similar paintings by Cezanne. The one used in the video is housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
Other pieces include those from (top to bottom) The National Gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The Barnes Foundation:
From Evan Puschak, aka The Nerdwriter, comes an entertaining analysis of Jacques-Louis David’s neoclassical masterpiece, The Death of Socrates.
The Death of Socrates is on display at the Met here in NYC. From the Met’s catalogue entry:
In 399 B.C., having been accused by the Athenian government of impiety and of corrupting young people with his teachings, the philosopher Socrates was tried, found guilty, and offered the choice of renouncing his beliefs or drinking the cup of hemlock. He died willingly for the principles he held dear. Here he gestures toward the cup, points toward the heavens, and discourses on the immortality of the soul. The picture, with its stoic theme, has been described as David’s most perfect neoclassical statement.
The artist consulted Plato’s “Phaedo” and a variety of sources including Diderot’s treatise on dramatic poetry and works by the poet André Chenier. The pose of Plato, the figure seated in profile at the foot of the bed (who was not actually present at the scene), was reportedly inspired by the English novelist Richardson. The printmaker and publisher John Boydell, writing to Sir Joshua Reynolds, called The Death of Socrates “the greatest effort of art since the Sistine Chapel and the stanze of Raphael,” further observing that the painting “would have done honour to Athens at the time of Pericles.”
Here’s a bigger view of the painting, which you’ll want to pore over once you’ve watched the video. (via ★interesting)