kottke.org posts about movies
Now available as a Kindle single (71 pages): Die Hard: An Oral History.
In this definitive oral history of "Die Hard," writers, actors, producers, and studio executives reveal behind-the-scenes stories, from the curious origins of the film's title, to the script's evolution from a depressing '70s character study to an optimistic Reagan-era blockbuster, to the seminal negotiations between 20th Century Fox and Willis's then-agent which sent his client's career into the stratosphere, to details of moguls Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver's famously tumultuous relationship while developing some of the '80s most successful franchises.
The Daily Beast has an excerpt on the casting of John McClane.
They went to Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere-turned it down. They went to James Caan-turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We've had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pussy. The reaction? "This guy's no hero." Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis.
This storyboarded scene from Zootopia shows an early and much darker direction for the plot: the predators need to wear collars that shock them if they get too excited. This reminds me that Woody was a "sarcastic jerk" in the early drafts of Toy Story. Oh, and Lightning McQueen was an asshole in Cars whose redemption the audience didn't completely buy, which Pixar didn't end up fixing.
Watch how far Pixar's skill in animation has come over the past 30+ years, from their initial shorts to the nearly photorealistic animation in last year's The Good Dinosaur to Finding Dory.
It's incredible how dated the original Toy Story looks now. It's going to look positively prehistoric in 20 years and it'll be impossible for anyone who didn't see it at the time to understand how astounding and groundbreaking it was.
Gary Hustwit, director of Helvetica and Objectified, is directing a movie on legendary product designer Dieter Rams. Here's the Kickstarter campaign.
This Kickstarter campaign will fund the film and also help to preserve Dieter's incredible design archive for the future. There's a trove of drawings, photographs, and other material spanning Dieter's fifty plus years of work, and it needs to be properly conserved.
To that end, we're working with the Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation to help them catalog, digitize, and save these documents. The public has never seen most of this material, and we intend to share some of these discoveries with our backers during the process of making the film.
Rams' designs have influenced an entire generation of designers, including one Jony Ive from a small company called Apple.
The Bear Jew. Hugo Stiglitz. The Jew Hunter. Bridget von Hammersmark. Names, identity, and personal reputation management are important elements in Inglourious Basterds, as they are in all of Tarantino's films (Vincent Vega, our man in Amsterdam; Mr. Pink; The Bride / Beatrix Kiddo / Black Mamba). In this video essay, Drew Morton shows how Tarantino's characters assert their identities over and over again, with varying results.
Adam Summers is a biomechanist who worked as a consultant on fish behavior and anatomy for Pixar's Finding Nemo and its sequel, Finding Dory. How do you figure out where and how to stick to the known science (or sneak it in sideways) in a movie about talking fish? It's not an easy question to answer.
This question is very important for the entertainment industry: does it matter whether you're right, when you're telling a story to entertain? Under some circumstances, I don't think it matters. But with an animated movie about real, living systems, when you use the truth -- their complexity and beauty -- as a springboard for the story, you add a level of gravitas that is vitally important to creating a broad and deep appeal. A young audience is much more sophisticated than you think, and a story informed by a lot of facts alerts them to the presence of real concepts. I got an e-mail from an eight-year-old about Finding Nemo, explaining that characters could not emerge from a whale's blowhole if they were in its mouth, because there is no link between the trachea and the oesophagus.
There are over 100 inaccuracies in Finding Nemo, but Summers says only one is a genuine error. (He doesn't name it, but it might be Mr. Ray, who lists names of classes in his song about aquatic species.) Everything else, from the whale's blowhole to ignoring clownfish's ability to switch between male and female (although what if Marlin does become female, but just never spawns again?) is an intentional gloss or omission for storytelling purposes.
Or aesthetic ones. "The claspers -- external, stick-like sexual organs on sharks -- were cut off Bruce the great white shark," says Summers, "not because of family values, but because he's spherical, and when you add a bunch of sticks to spherical sharks, they look really stupid." Noted.
Summers admits there's also just a lot about the species in Pixar's fish movies that nobody really knows.
They did ask me some questions about the biology of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) that we just don't know the answers to. It's the largest fish in the sea, yet I think there's just one record of a pregnant female, which revealed that they can have more than 300 pups at a time. That's not much to know about the reproductive biology of such an iconic fish.
Luc Bergeron's Space Story is a mashup of more than 20 movies that take place in space, from Alien to Apollo 13 to 2001 to Star Trek to Moon. Stick with it for a couple minutes...it starts slow but gets going around then.
See also Star Wars x Star Trek: The Carbonite Maneuver.
Bhautik Joshi took 2001: A Space Odyssey and ran it through a "deep neural networks based style transfer" with the paintings of Pablo Picasso.
See also Blade Runner in the style of van Gogh's Starry Night and Alice in a Neural Networks Wonderland.
From Cinefix, a list of 10 movies (plus dozens more runners-up) that broke the rules of filmmaking most effectively by using jump cuts, nonlinear narrative, lack of plot, surrealism, and breaking the fourth wall.
Jarrett Fuller examines the video essay, typically used for film criticism (e.g. Every Frame a Painting, F is for Fake), and argues for its use in design criticism. (via @tonyszhou)
The films of Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick share some interesting visual similarities. Any influence was a one-way street, of course. With the exception of Bottle Rocket, which was cinematically spare compared to his later work, all of Anderson's films were shot after Kubrick finished shooting Eyes Wide Shut.
A collection of super sad moments from movies like The Iron Giant, E.T., Wrath of Khan, Up, and Old Yeller. This'll have you sobbing in 3 minutes or your money back.
Cass Sunstein, author of the recently published The World According to Star Wars, says that while most people might dislike the three Star Wars prequels, they function well as "a quick guide to current political struggles".
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.
As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order -- and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.
A prominent voice, Anakin Skywalker, insisted, "We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what's in the interest of all the people, and then do it." And if they didn't, "they should be made to."
Eventually, something far worse happened. The legislature voted to give "emergency powers" -- essentially unlimited authority -- to the chief executive. An astute observer, Padme Amidala, noted, "So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause."
Well, that was kind of terrifying to read. My ill-feeling peaked at "a democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody's squabbling" as a cause of Hitler's rise in Germany. As Sunstein notes, the parallels between that situation and our do-nothing Congress & the authoritarian gentleman currently running for President are obvious and possibly significant.
Slate gathered a panel -- made up of people like film critic Dana Stevens, Selma director Ava DuVernay, and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. -- to choose The Black Film Canon, the 50 greatest movies by black directors.
We must recognize that even with the financial and systemic odds stacked against them, black filmmakers have long been creating great and riveting stories on screen. The academy's failure may have inspired a memorable hashtag, but that failure is deeply linked to the way nearly all movie fans remember cinematic history. In our never-ending conversation -- or argument -- about which films deserve to be remembered, which films are cultural touchstones, which films defined and advanced the art form, we habitually overlook stories by and about black people.
Included on the list are 12 Years a Slave, Boyz n the Hood, Killer of Sheep, and Do the Right Thing.
Swiss illustrator Martin Panchaud created a massive infographic that tells the entire story of the first Star Wars movie. How massive? It's 465152 pixels long.
This long ribbon reminds the ancient Chinese script rolls that had to be rolled in and rolled out simultaneously in order to be read. I like this stretch between ages, cultures, and technologies.
So cool. The style reminds me a bit of Chris Ware in places.
There are tons of movie references in The Simpsons, but the show leans more heavily on referencing Stanley Kubrick's films than perhaps any other director. As you can see in the video, there are dozens of references to 2001, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, and even Eyes Wide Shut sprinkled throughout the series.
In Ex Machina, Oscar Isaac's Nathan Bateman performs a dance number with one of his AI robots, played by Sonoya Mizuno. It's the scene where I decided I was going to like the movie. Mizuno is a ballerina as well as an actress, but Isaac has no problem keeping up with her as the pair dance to Get Down Saturday Night.
Now, Twitter account @oscardances is showing how you can plug pretty much any song into that scene and the dance still works. Here's Michael Jackson's Thriller:
Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys:
And Oops I Did It Again by Britney Spears:
And there are dozens more here. (via @gavinpurcell)
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.
In 2015, BBC Culture polled critics around the world and came up with a list of the best 100 American films. The video above offers a visual look at the list. Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg each have several films on the list. Although many of the films were edited by women, only one was directed by a woman.
In Drive 2, Ryan Gosling trades his robbery getaway driving gig for driving for Uber.
I was just thinking about Hamilton1 and Captain America: Civil War, two of pop culture's current obsessions, and thought, hmm, what if you made a superhero movie about the early years of American democracy? And then I quickly realized that Civil War in some ways echoes the political battle between Hamilton's Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans.
In the film (or at least the first part of it), Tony Stark is a Federalist; he realizes the need for regulation and oversight of the Avengers by the government. Captain America is a Republican; he believes in the rights of the smaller group (states' rights!) and that regulation comes at the cost of essential freedoms. Karen Walsh wrote much more about the parallels between the two.
Captain America: Civil War begins with a focus on the Sokovia Accords. As the Avengers split into two groups, Iron Man and his cronies focus on granting the Accords validity in order to remain a unified front and gain popular trust. Cap and his cohorts determine that sacrificing their freedom to the government allows for errors that overshadow the purpose of their ability to protect the people who most need them.
In essence, Iron Man and his team represent the Federalist belief that a strong central government is essential to aggregating the trust and the will of the people.
Update: Two more takes on the parallels between Hamilton and Captain America: Captain America, Aaron Burr, And The Politics Of Killing Your Friends and Best of Frenemies. (via @Chan_ing)
Not content with mere 3D, some movie theaters are outfitting themselves with what's being called 4DX technology, which makes going to the movies more like a theme park ride. The chairs can move, vibrate, and tickle, and the system can also generate wind, lightning, snow, and even smells1 from the movie.
With only the best technologies, 4DX motion chairs are equipped with three base movements of heave (move up and down), roll (move left and right) and pitch (tilt backward and forward) which can create an endless expanse of possible combinations to mimic such actions as flying and driving. The skilled team of 4DX editors, "i-Studio", are experts in maximizing the feeling of immersion within every movie without overstepping comfort bounds.
Yes, it actually snows in the theater:
There are only three theaters in the US with this system installed, including the Regal in Union Square, where you can currently catch Batman vs. Superman in 4DX. It'll cost you though. A regular screening of BvS at Union Square is $15.60 per ticket, 3D is $20.10, and 4DX is $28.10.
When it came out in December, Star Wars: The Force Awakens made a shed-load of cash, garnered positive reviews from critics and fans alike, but also got dinged for borrowing too much from the previous films, particularly the original. In this edition of Everything is a Remix, Kirby Ferguson considers JJ Abrams' remix settings on The Force Awakens and wonders if the essential elements of such an undertaking (copying, transforming, combining) were properly balanced.
Werner Herzog has made more than 70 films during his career of 50+ years. This summer, Herzog will be teaching an online filmmaking class at Masterclass. The fee for the course is $90 and includes 5 hours of video lessons about documentary and feature filmmaking, a class workbook, and the chance to get your student work critiqued by the man himself. The trailer above offers a little taste of what you'll be getting.
For example, I do not use a storyboard. I think it's an instrument of the cowards.
See also 24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog, including "carry bolt cutters everywhere" and "take revenge if need be".
Fifty films critics weighed in on their favorite movies directed by women and Fandor tallied the results into a top 20 list.
I think this might be my favorite Every Frame a Painting yet: Tony Zhou explores how a film editor does what she does. Or as he puts it, "how does an editor think and feel?" The point about emotions taking time is especially interesting, as is the accompanying comparison between similar scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and Ant Man.
Emotions take time. When we watch people onscreen, we feel a connection to them. And that's because we have time to watch their faces before they speak and time to watch them afterwards. Editors have to decide, "how much time do I give this emotion?"
Pedro Herrero celebrates The Universe of Christopher Nolan by showcasing the themes, both visual and not, that run through Nolan's films, like manipulating time and space, the malleability of memory and perception, and fear. (via one perfect shot)
Rope is a 1948 film by Alfred Hitchcock that appears to be shot in realtime using one unbroken take.1 But since film camera magazines at the time could only hold 10 minutes of film, there are actually ten cuts. Five of these cuts were carefully disguised and the other five occurred every 20 minutes or so during reel changes when the movie was shown at theaters (and which don't appear seamless when you watch the movie all the way through on DVD, etc.). This video shows all ten cuts (spoilers, obviously).
This video is a quick look at how Pixar thinks about its characters and storytelling. It focuses on one item on this loose list of Pixar's rules for storytelling:
Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
Robert Langdon is back. The Da Vinci Code's Dan Brown wrote a book about a secret riddle related to Dante's Inferno and Tom Hanks is back to star in the movie version. Oh yes.
Confession: The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons are two of my favorite guilty pleasure movies. Further even more embarrassing confession: my pleasure in The Da Vinci Code is not even guilty...I think it's just a straight-up good action adventure movie. In summary: are you sure you want to trust my movie advice in the future? (via trailer town)
Brooklyn-based illustrator and design Mark Dingo made these postcards based on Wes Anderson's films, one for each movie. (via @timothy_schuler)
From Nelson Carvajal, an examination of the visual influences of Beyonce's Lemonade visual album, from Pipilotti Rist to Terrence Malick to David Lynch.
The biggest influence present in Lemonade, is that of the great Terrence Malick. Imagery from his films To The Wonder and The Tree of Life (in particular a standout sequence involving a bedroom underwater) definitely inspired a lot of the overall tone of introspection and spiritual reflection that Beyoncé is striving for here. One of Lemonade's directors, Kahlil Joseph, shot B-roll on Malick's To The Wonder, so the impressionistic style of filmmaking has obviously carried over.
See also What to read after watching Beyoncé's 'Lemonade'.
Using 12 Angry Men, Psycho, The Godfather, and Gone Girl as examples, this video shows several different ways to end a movie. And so, spoilers.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Edward Snowden in this film directed by Oliver Stone. I was not at all curious about seeing this, but after watching the trailer, I may give it a shot. See also Citizenfour (which was excellent).
In The World According to Star Wars, Cass Sunstein explores the philosophy and life lessons of Star Wars.
In this fun, erudite and often moving book, Cass R. Sunstein explores the lessons of Star Wars as they relate to childhood, fathers, the Dark Side, rebellion, and redemption. As it turns out, Star Wars also has a lot to teach us about constitutional law, economics, and political uprisings.
Update: Sunstein, who is a professor at Harvard Law School, gave the commencement address last year at Penn Law. He starts off, dryly: "Graduates, faculty, family, friends, our topic today is Star Wars."
The Founder is about the early years of McDonald's and how Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton) came to gain control of the company. The official McDonald's corporate history glosses over the events of the film in a few sentences:
In 1954, he visited a restaurant in San Bernardino, California that had purchased several Multi-mixers. There he found a small but successful restaurant run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, and was stunned by the effectiveness of their operation. They produced a limited menu, concentrating on just a few items-burgers, fries and beverages-which allowed them to focus on quality and quick service.
Kroc pitched his vision of creating McDonald's restaurants all over the U.S. to the brothers. In 1955, he founded McDonald's System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald's Corporation, and six years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald's name. By 1958, McDonald's had sold its 100 millionth hamburger.
Kroc's Wikipedia entry provides more flavor:
The agreement was a handshake with split agreement between the parties because Kroc insisted that he could not show the royalty to the investors he had lined up to capitalize his purchase. At the closing table, Kroc became annoyed that the brothers would not transfer to him the real estate and rights to the original unit. The brothers had told Kroc that they were giving the operation, property and all, to the founding employees. Kroc closed the transaction, then refused to acknowledge the royalty portion of the agreement because it wasn't in writing. The McDonald brothers consistently told Kroc that he could make changes to things like the original blueprint (building codes were different in Illinois than in California), but despite Ray's pleas, the brothers never sent any formal letters which legally allowed the changes in the chain. Kroc also opened a new McDonald's restaurant near the McDonald's (now renamed "The Big M" as they had neglected to retain rights to the name) to force it out of business.
See also some early McDonald's menus.
Pele: Birth of a Legend is a biopic about the rise of Pele, the Brazilian footballer. It was written and directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, who also directed The Two Escobars, an excellent 30 for 30 film about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and Colombian footballer Andres Escobar. (via @ivanski)
Written, produced, and directed by Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation is a film about Nat Turner, the man who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. The movie won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and will be out in theaters in October.
P.S. If the name of the movie sounds familiar, it was deliberately given the same name as D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent film, which dramatized the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview, Parker said:
When I endeavored to make this film, I did so with the specific intent of exploring America through the context of identity. So much of the racial injustices we endure today in America are symptomatic of a greater sickness - one we have been systematically conditioned to ignore. From sanitized truths about our forefathers to mis-education regarding this country's dark days of slavery, we have refused to honestly confront the many afflictions of our past. This disease of denial has served as a massive stumbling block on our way to healing from those wounds. Addressing Griffith's Birth of a Nation is one of the many steps necessary in treating this disease. Griffith's film relied heavily on racist propaganda to evoke fear and desperation as a tool to solidify white supremacy as the lifeblood of American sustenance. Not only did this film motivate the massive resurgence of the terror group the Ku Klux Klan and the carnage exacted against people of African descent, it served as the foundation of the film industry we know today.
I've reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America, to inspire a riotous disposition toward any and all injustice in this country (and abroad) and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change.
(via trailer town)
Amazon is now offering the ability to subscribe to Prime and Prime Video monthly rather than just yearly. Prime Video is $8.99/mo (Netflix is going up to $9.99/mo soon) and the full Prime offering is $10.99/mo. A year of Prime is still $99.
In Prime Video, Amazon has built a worthy competitor to Netflix. And it actually might be better at this point. The stable of impressive Netflix originals aside (which Amazon is also doing *cough* Transparent *cough* best show in years), Amazon allows you to rent/buy digital movies not available for free streaming1, provides discounts for subscriptions to Showtime and Starz, and (if you opt for the full Prime) offers free shipping on most stuff in the store (as well as other benefits.) I sub to both services, but if I had to make a choice right now, I'd probably stick with Amazon.
For the Love of Spock is a documentary about Leonard Nimoy and the beloved character he played on Star Trek. Nimoy's son Adam is the director, the film was funded with the help of Kickstarter, and is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend (with special guest appearance by Zachary Quinto).
Body cameras, dashboard cams, and bystander videos all offer different views of police officers doing their jobs, which underscores the importance of perspective in skewing our perceptions of what's happening. For instance, body cams can tend to put you in the shoes of the wearer.
These details were not captured by the police body camera, though, revealing another important point: Body cameras prioritize the officer's point of view.
"When video allows us to look through someone's eyes, we tend to adopt an interpretation that favors that person," Professor Stoughton said, explaining a psychological phenomenon known as "camera perspective bias."
Thanks to Reed for sending me the link and pointing out the connection to how film directors use the camera to tell stories effectively:
The importance of composition in cinematic storytelling and "What a film director really directs is the audience's attention." What are these law enforcement surveillance cameras inadvertently directing our attention to?
From Fusion, a 45-minute documentary about the making of Zootopia.
Fusion spent two years with the production team of Disney's smash hit film. In 'Imagining Zootopia,' you will travel with the team to Africa to explore the animals in their natural habitat and find out how the storytellers and animators dealt with the very real themes of prejudice and bias.
I found this via Khoi Vinh, who writes:
A lot of careful thought went into how to render the emotional truth behind experiencing racism, and the documentary takes a detailed look at the filmmakers grappling with that. However, it also betrays one of the unfortunate truths of the production; the movie is commendably bold about addressing prejudice, but it's evident from watching the documentary that of the five-hundred plus people who contributed to the film, hardly any were non-white, and even fewer were African-American.
For a criticism of Zootopia's racial allegory, read Devin Faraci's A Muddled Mess of Racial Messaging... And Cute Animals.
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.
A24. Daniel Radcliffe. Paul Dano. What. The. Hell?!
A few days ago, I watched An Honest Liar, a documentary about the magician and charlatan-debunker The Amazing Randi. I had forgotten that in the 70s and 80s in America, belief in psychics like Uri Geller, faith healers like Peter Popoff, extraterrestrial abductions, and the like was not all that far from the mainstream. Such events and people were covered in newspapers, on the evening news, and featured on talk shows, including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
The media is awash in pieces attempting to explain the success of the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Many are puzzled...how could this happen in America!? After watching Randi debunking hoaxes, I'm no longer surprised at Trump's success. Maria Konnikova, author of a recent book on scams and cons, wrote about Trump and con artists for the New Yorker.
A line, thin but perceptible, divides even egregious liars from confidence men. People deceive one another for all sorts of reasons: they might lie to stay out of trouble, for example, or to make themselves seem more interesting, or to urge a business deal toward its consummation. David Maurer, a linguist turned historian of the con, said, "If confidence men operate outside the law, it must be remembered that they are not much further outside than many of our pillars of society who go under names less sinister." Still, there is a meaningful difference between an ordinary liar and a con artist. A grifter takes advantage of a person's confidence for his own specific ends -- ends that are often unknowable to the victim and unrelated to the business at hand. He willfully deceives a mark into handing over his trust under false pretenses. He has a plan. What ultimately sets con artists apart is their intent. To figure out if someone is a con artist, one needs to ask two questions. First, is their deception knowing, malicious, and directed, ultimately, toward their own personal gain? Second, is the con a means to an end unrelated to the substance of the scheme itself?
She doesn't express an opinion on whether Trump is a con artist -- it's difficult to tell without knowing his intent -- but it's clear that like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff, Trump is adept at making people believe what he is saying without a lot of hard evidence. Like The Amazing Randi said in the movie: "no matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived." Hopefully, like Geller, Popoff, and UFOs eventually did, the idea of Trump as a viable candidate for President will soon disappear back into the fringes of American discourse.
Koyannistocksi is a shot-by-shot remake of the trailer for Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi using only stock footage.
A testament to Reggio's influence on contemporary motion photography, and the appropriation of his aesthetic by others for commercial means.
When P.T. Anderson submitted the first draft of his script for Boogie Nights, the studio didn't think too much of it.
Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films. I'm glad Anderson stuck with it.
The trailer for the first "Star Wars Story" has dropped.1 Rogue One is about how the Rebellion stole the plans for the Death Star before the events of A New Hope. Don't read the comments on YouTube...there's whining about how the protagonist is a woman and the cast is diverse. :(
They go hard on the rhymes with A New Hope angle. I LOL'd when they called JJ Abrams "diet Spielberg".
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now out on Blu-ray and digital download. If you have Sphero's BB-8 toy, you can have BB-8 watch the movie with you and react to what's going on on-screen. Here's BB-8 reacting to seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time in the movie:
That's pretty cute. But I kinda wish it worked for any Star Wars movie. Or any movie period...like a Mystery Science Theater 3000 just with BB-8 reactions. (via nerdist)
Not sure if you've noticed this, but actors in movies like to say cool things before they kill people. Here are 100 of those one-liners, from "say hello to my little friend" to "happy trails, Hans" to "dodge this".
Using behind-the-scenes footage shot over the past decade, Magnus is a feature-length documentary about reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen.
From a young age Magnus Carlsen had aspirations of becoming a champion chess player. While many players seek out an intensely rigid environment to hone their skills, Magnus' brilliance shines brightest when surrounded by his loving and supportive family. Through an extensive amount of archival footage and home movies, director Benjamin Ree reveals this young man's unusual and rapid trajectory to the pinnacle of the chess world. This film allows the audience to not only peek inside this isolated community but also witness the maturation of a modern genius.
The Criterion Collection is coming out with a Blu-ray version of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Features include a restored 4K digital transfer and a bunch of interviews and short documentaries about the film. Strangelove is one of my top two favorite films of all time. (via df)
One of the things that a number of people commented on after seeing The Force Awakens (including me) was that the movie seemed to be a remix or an homage to the original Star Wars.
With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams did the same thing, but instead of pulling from Flash Gordon and Kurosawa like Lucas did, he pulled from what he grew up with as a kid and in film school...Star Wars and Spielberg. In a way, The Force Awakens is a reboot of the original 1977 Star Wars, similar plot and all. And even if it isn't a true reboot, it sure does rhyme.
Although some of the comparisons are a stretch, this video does a nice job highlighting the visual similarities of the two movies.
Related: Kenji Lopez-Alt took off his food nerd hat for a second and donned his Star Wars nerd hat with this piece at Medium: Rey is a Palpatine.
In this clip from Koyaanisqatsi, Andy Kelly replaced Philip Glass' score with music from the Wii Shop Channel. As he notes, the movie doesn't seem quite as haunting now. (via @daveg)
People seem to like this, but I don't know...I've got a bad feeling about it. Batman in The Lego Movie was cool and all, but is it enough to hang an entire film around? Not that this question isn't totally moot...in 10 years, every movie will feature Lego superheroes.
Update: And now there's a second trailer? Already?
At this rate, we'll be able to cut the whole movie together by the time it comes out next year, just from the trailers.
A quickfire look at scenes from 20 movies (Gravity, The Revenant, Planet of the Apes) that were done with the help of green screens and computer animation. What, no Carol?!
A new paper by climate scientists, including ex-NASA scientist James Hansen, warns that our climate could dramatically change within decades, not centuries.
Virtually all climate scientists agree with Dr. Hansen and his co-authors that society is not moving fast enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, posing grave risks. The basic claim of the paper is that by burning fossil fuels at a prodigious pace and pouring heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, humanity is about to provoke an abrupt climate shift.
Non-linear systems, man. Gradually, then all at once.
Update: Slate's Eric Holthaus has more on the paper and its potential implications.
In addition to the risk of "several meters" of sea level rise this century, which Hansen calls the most important finding, the final version of Hansen's paper gives new emphasis to the possibility that the ocean's heat circulation system may be in the process of shutting down. The circulation shutdown would precede the rapid increase in global sea levels. If the shutdown happens, simultaneous cooling of the waters near Greenland and Antarctica and warming in the tropics and midlatitudes could spawn frequent strong storms on the order of Hurricane Sandy or worse.
If that sounds a lot like the plot of The Day After Tomorrow to you, you're not alone.
Hansen also released a 15-minute video about the paper:
This is a fan edit of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace with all of the crappy bits removed and several other scenes reworked. Among the changes:
- Jar Jar is now a useful character instead of an annoying tag-along
- Queen Amidala's voice is pitch-shifted back to her normal pitch
- Midichlorian references removed
- Anakin is edited to be a more deliberate hero instead of an accidental one
Pro tip: the best Star Wars prequel is still Triumph The Insult Comic Dog interviewing people standing in line for Attack of the Clones.
It is the assertion of The Walk of Life Project that the Dire Straits song Walk of Life is the perfect thing to play at the end of movies. I have watched more than a dozen of these and they are all great, but I picked Lost in Translation, There Will Be Blood, and Terminator 2 to embed here.
The Coen brothers' Fargo was released 20 years ago and to celebrate, Cinefix has a video about seven things you (probably) didn't know about Fargo. The movie, not the city. There are probably way more than seven things you don't know about Fargo, North Dakota.
Fun fact: I was living in WI near the MN border when Fargo came out and remember all the Minnesotans complaining about the accents. While I won't say the accents were entirely accurate, all you had to do was turn on the MN State hockey tournament on channel 9 and listen to the announcers for a few minutes to confirm that they weren't all that far off. (See also the 2016 Minnesota State High School All Hockey Hair Team. Uff da.)
There are spoilers galore in Cinefix's look at the best ever plot twists in movies, sorted into categories including It Was All a Dream, Not Dead, and Unexpectedly Bad.
From Duel in 1971 to this year's The BFG, Steven Spielberg has made 30 feature-length movies. This short video features one iconic scene from each one in chronological order. Interesting to note that Spielberg has used Janusz Kamiński as his director of photography for every film since Schindler's List, a film that marked a new phase of his career. 1
Some friends were playing a game recently: name your favorite Tom Cruise movie and your least favorite Tom Hanks movie.2 I thought it would be fun to play a similar game with Spielberg standing in for Hanks but I can't really think of who the other director would be... Who is the directorial equivalent of Tom Cruise? Respected, huge box office, but is more sizzle than substance. Michael Bay? James Cameron? Roland Emmerich? One of these guys?
Just by watching how characters are introduced in movies, you can learn who's important, what someone is thinking, the film's theme, or a character's flaws.
Paul Feig is your director; Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones are your Ghostbusters; and NYC is the backdrop. I hope the movie is better than the trailer.
Update: A second trailer is out:
I love the concept, the cast, and the director. I want this to be good. But I'm just not feeling it from these trailers.
Hmm. I... Hmm. Up until Wall-E, Finding Nemo was my favorite Pixar film. And...I'm not sure about this. (via trailer town)
Not all of them are direct adaptations, but a number of the movies up for Oscars this year were based on books (or otherwise have book versions). We've already talked about The Revenant, The Martian, and The Big Short -- collectively henceforth known, along with The Danish Girl, as The The Media1 -- but I was unaware that Bridge of Spies and Carol were both based on books (Strangers on a Bridge and The Price of Salt, or Carol respectively). As for best picture winner Spotlight, the Boston Globe's investigative team wrote a book about the events that inspired the movie, Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church.
Mad Max, Star Wars, and Ex Machina have gotten all the VX press this year, but the special effects in Carol are off the chain, yo! I had no idea Andy Serkis played Rooney Mara's character in certain heavy VX scenes.
A quick three-minute look at how the same scenes were filmed in movies and their remakes. Includes scenes from Oldboy, Psycho, The Ring, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cape Fear, Planet of the Apes, Carrie, and Solaris.
Loving Vincent is an upcoming feature-length film about Vincent van Gogh that is animated in an unusual way: using 12 oil paintings per second. They've trained dozens of painters -- and are looking for more if you're interested -- in the style of van Gogh to illustrate every instant of the film. Here are some of the painters working on the movie:
From Candice Drouet, a short film called Last Word, a story told with the last words from 129 movies.
In this installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou examines how the Coen brothers shoot characters in their films close up with wide lenses to created empathy and comedy.
Spanish artist Mar Cerdà uses watercolor and paper to create amazingly detailed dioramas, including those made from scenes in Wes Anderson movies. So far, he's done scenes from The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Darjeeling Limited, and The Royal Tenenbaums. (via designboom)
When the song that became Thriller was first considered for the album that also became Thriller, it was called Starlight and had totally different lyrics.
We need some starlight starlight sun
There ain't no second chance we got to make it while we can
You need the starlight some starlight sun
I need you by my side you give me starlight starlight tonight yeah
Songwriter Rod Temperton explains:
Originally, when I did my Thriller demo, I called it Starlight. Quincy said to me, 'You managed to come up with a title for the last album, see what you can do for this album.' I said, 'Oh great,' so I went back to the hotel, wrote two or three hundred titles, and came up with the title 'Midnight Man'. The next morning, I woke up, and I just said this word... Something in my head just said, this is the title. You could visualise it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller'.
That story reminds me of the scene in the hot tub in Boogie Nights where Eddie Adams chooses his stage name:
I just want a name, I want it so it can cut glass, you know, like razor sharp. When I close my eyes, I see this thing, a sign. I see this name in bright blue neon lights with a purple outline. And this name is so bright and so sharp that the sign -- it just blows up because the name is so powerful ... It says "Dirk Diggler."
Thriller and Dirk Diggler. Both great names. (via @aaroncoleman0)
In the latest issue of Nextdraft, Dave Pell points to an episode of the Reveal podcast that goes behind the scenes of the investigation into the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal depicted in Spotlight.
Spotlight (one of the key contenders in the Oscar race) is an excellent movie that tells the story of an endangered species in American life: a well-funded, local, investigative reporting team. My friends at Reveal go behind the scenes to provide the backstory on how Boston Globe reporters broke the story of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, and provide a look into the latest developments in what is, sadly, an ongoing story.
Spotlight was one of my favorite 2015 movies.
Howard Shore, composer of the orchestral score for The Lord of the Rings, uses leitmotif to help tell the story, in the form of recurring thematic musical phrases that accompany certain actions, places, or characters. For instance, there's a Shire theme that plays when the hobbits are central to the action but which becomes less important as their physical distance from the Shire increases. Wagner famously used leitmotif in his Ring cycle and so did John Williams in Star Wars...Vader's theme is a good example.1
Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca in Star Wars, is tweeting out photos of his original Star Wars script from March 1976. As you can see, it was originally called "The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the 'Journal of the Whills'". So catchy...why'd they change it, d'ya think?
From as far back as 1927, when the award was for "Best Engineering Effects", here's a list of all the films that have won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Among the winners were Alien (x2), Titanic, Star Wars (x3), Lord of the Rings (x3), Ben Hur, Benjamin Button, Gravity, and The Matrix.
Silicon Cowboys is an upcoming documentary about Compaq Computer, one of the first companies to challenge IBM with a compatible computer.
Launched in 1982 by three friends in a Houston diner, Compaq Computer set out to build a portable PC to take on IBM, the world's most powerful tech company. Many had tried cloning the industry leader's code, only to be trounced by IBM and its high-priced lawyers. SILICON COWBOYS explores the remarkable David vs. Goliath story, and eventual demise, of Compaq, an unlikely upstart who altered the future of computing and helped shape the world as we know it today. Directed by Oscar(R)-nominated director Jason Cohen, the film offers a fresh look at the explosive rise of the 1980's PC industry and is a refreshing alternative to the familiar narratives of Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg.
There's no trailer yet, but the film is set to debut at SXSW in March. The first season of Halt and Catch Fire had a lot of influences, but the bare-bones story was that of Compaq.
Many reviews mention the similarity of the characters to Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but the trio of managers from Texas Instruments who left to form Compaq in the early 80s are a much closer fit. The Compaq Portable was the first 100% IBM compatible computer produced.
In film and video, which way the characters move across the screen affects how the viewers think about those characters. Generally, left-to-right movement is viewed positively while movement the opposite way is viewed more negatively. In the video, they mention a piece Roger Ebert wrote on How to Read a Movie, which is worth a re-read even if you saw it here many years ago.
Huh. Hollywood has invented a new type of movie trailer: the "we just started filming and here's 5 seconds of the film that's basically the last 5 seconds of the previous film" trailer. And whaddya know, idiot bloggers will post it because Star Wars Rey Luke squeeeeeee!!
From Celia Gomez, a supercut of some of the most notable movie references from The Simpsons. The Simpsons came out when I was 16 and while I loved it immediately, the show started making a whole lot more sense after I watched The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, and Dr. Strangelove in my 20s. Lots of Kubrick in the Simpsons.
From Richard Grant, the real life story of Hugh Glass, who is played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. As Grant allows, the story of Glass's life is "a blend of history and mythology" and is only a little less plausible than the events of the movie (and the novel on which the movie is based).
The expedition leader, a terminally luckless man named Andrew Henry, assigned two hunters to travel ahead of the main group. Most historians think that Hugh Glass was not one of them, because these northern plains and mountains were a new environment to him, and other men had more experience hunting here. But Glass was a loner by nature and stubborn as they come, and it seems clear that he was off breaking orders, hunting by himself when he surprised a huge female grizzly bear with cubs.
She might have weighed 500 pounds, even 800 is not inconceivable. He shot her as she charged, but as he surely knew, even a .53 calibre rifle ball was unlikely to stop an enraged grizzly. She ripped his scalp to ribbons with her three-inch claws and shredded his throat. Accounts of the mauling vary slightly, but all agree that Glass was "tore nearly all to peases", as one mountain man later recorded. There were deep lacerations on his back, his face, one leg, his chest and one shoulder and arm. In Michael Punke's book, based on Glass's life, she picks him up in her teeth and shakes him. Most versions of the story have the dead bear, having finally succumbed to the rifle wound, lying on top of the half-dead Glass.
I saw The Revenant two weeks ago and thought it was good but not great. Underwhelmed, I guess I'd say. As usual, Leo was too distracting as himself to fully blend into the rest of the movie...Leo's DiCaprio-ness always breaks the fourth wall for me.
What a great idea. I just wish it were better executed. The weird music they use for the end credits of each movie is too much...it would have been better to just play it straight and let the gag stand by itself. (via cynical-c)
Um, spoilers. Their picks include 2001, Gangs of New York, The 400 Blows, and Inception. I really thought Cache would be on the list.
Lego and Disney are teaming up for a Star Wars: The Force Awakens video game, out this summer. The trailer for it is possibly more fun than the movie was and is well worth watching if you enjoyed The Lego Movie.
Twitter user @dilsexia posted the first one with the caption "The Revenant":
Polish blogger Dawid Adamek ran with the idea and created several more Pooh/Oscar mashups:
Remy Porter hates The Lord of the Rings because it feels too much like work, too much like "every crappy enterprise IT project". The tale begins with Gandalf, a legacy systems developer who pushes off important work onto Bilbo, who reluctantly became a developer after becoming proficient at spreadsheet macros. I wasn't expecting too much from this video b/c of the title, but it's a surprisingly entertaining analogy.
As we gear up for the upcoming Oscars... Ok, let's stop right there. There are a lot of problems with the Oscars, starting with diversity, but I just love movies. And this review of every Best Picture winner is a fun trip through motion picture history.
Oh, and here's a look at all of the films nominated for Oscars this year (not just for Best Picture):
There are lots of movies from the past year I haven't seen yet (The Revenant, Carol, Creed, Anomalisa), but the best 2015 movie I saw was The Big Short. Spotlight and Mad Max were up there as well.
Oh, this interview with Errol Morris where he talks about Making a Murderer is so so spot on.
To me, it's a very powerful story, ultimately, not about whether these guys are guilty or innocent -- but it's a very powerful story about a miscarriage of justice.
Yes! If you came out of watching all ten episodes convinced one way or the other whether Avery was innocent, I humbly suggest that you missed the point. And further that you can't actually know...it's a TV show! The tip of the iceberg.
Another thing that I was struck by watching Making a Murderer was the feeling of the inexorable grinding of a machine that is producing, potentially, error.
This was my favorite aspect of the show. A lot of people complained about them showing huge chunks of Avery's and Dassey's trials, saying that it was too boring, but that's the whole thing! The crushing boredom of the justice system just grinds those two men and their whole families into the result that the state wanted all along. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch, like a traffic accident in super slow motion.
If you're asking me, would I sign a petition stating that I believe that Steven Avery is innocent? Well, I don't know. I really don't know from watching Making a Murderer, but there's one thing I do know from watching Making a Murderer -- that neither Brendan Dassey nor Steven Avery received a fair trial, and that that trial should be overturned.
My thoughts exactly. If I had to guess, Dassey is entirely innocent and Avery is maybe guilty, but neither of them should have been convicted on the evidence presented or the procedure followed.
Anyway, read the whole thing...his stories about making The Thin Blue Line are great. And he's making a six-episode true crime show for Netflix? YES!
Watch these inspiring film pioneers in this behind the scenes look at the first movie shot entirely with a Prius backup camera. (via @kevin2kelly)
In this video, Lewis Bond shows how the composition of movie scenes can not only result in beauty, but can reveal relationships and convey meaning.
The Chickening is a surreal visual remix of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining done by Nick DenBoer and Davy Force. It mostly defies description, so just watch the first minute or so (after which you won't be able to resist the rest of it). The short film is playing at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
But seriously, WTF was that?! (via @UnlikelyWorlds)
My main thought in watching these VFX videos for The Martian, Star Wars, and Mad Max is how amazing visual effects are now. The effects folks do their jobs so well now that audiences don't even notice the effects...it's almost boring.
Related: see also how much video game graphics have improved from the beginning of Kobe Bryant's NBA career to now.
Film editor Vashi Nedomansky took five movies whose ASL (average shot length) is under 2 seconds and sped them up by 12 times. You can judge for yourself, but according to Nedomansky, Mad Max: Fury Road is the only one that's still comprehensible at that speed. Huge props to director George Miller and editor Margaret Sixel.
Fury Road was by far the prettiest movie I saw in the past year. Lots of practical effects, but every single frame of the film was also digitally altered (mostly color correction). This piece goes way more into detail.
I like how Cinefix does these videos. They pick the ten films, but they also mention other films that take similar approaches. In this case, the picks are also more populist than usual, which I appreciate.
Questlove tells some great stories -- I'm partial to the one about Will Smith's house -- and this story about his attempt to DJ for Prince and how a Pixar movie intervened is top notch.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince reimagined as a wacky teen comedy. Excellent editing and music choice elevate this above similar efforts.
This is maddening if true: according to an industry insider, vendors making tie-in products for the new Star Wars movie were directed by Disney1 to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandise.
In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm's Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.
The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.
"We know what sells," the industry insider was told. "No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it."
What good does it do our culture if JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy work to make popular movies with progressive characters if the cowards in marketing are not going to follow suit?
Update: Lots of people are sharing this story, and I wanted to highlight and explain the "if true" in the first paragraph. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the article I linked to. It relies completely on a single anonymous source. I have no idea what Sweatpants and Coffee's fact-checking procedures are. There are also many Star Wars related products featuring Rey (like Lego), so clearly the directive to "exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise" was either not issued in such a restrictive manner or was disregarded in some cases.
Well, holy shit...Werner Herzog has made a film called Lo and Behold about the online world and artificial intelligence.
Lo and Behold traces what Herzog describes as "one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing," from its most elevating accomplishments to its darkest corners. Featuring original interviews with cyberspace pioneers and prophets such as Elon Musk, Bob Kahn, and world-famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the film travels through a series of interconnected episodes that reveal the ways in which the online world has transformed how virtually everything in the real world works, from business to education, space travel to healthcare, and the very heart of how we conduct our personal relationships.
From the trailer, it looks amazing. Gotta see this asap.
Update: Here's the official trailer for the film:
Have the monks stopped meditating? They all seem to be tweeting.
It's coming out in theaters and iTunes/Amazon on August 19th. Can't wait!
Swearing in Hollywood movies was banned from the 1930s until 1968. And even then it took two more years for a movie (MASH) to use the word "fuck". NSFW if you've got your fucking sound turned up.
This month, HBO is airing a special edition of The Godfather that presents scenes from the first two movies in chronological order with some deleted scenes mixed in for good measure. It's more than 7 hours long. It's not listed anywhere on HBO's site, but supposedly it'll run all month on HBO and their online and on-demand services.
I love watching Gordon Ramsay make scrambled eggs. I first saw this video years ago and, possibly because I am an idiot, have yet to attempt these eggs at home. You and me, eggs, next weekend.
P.S. Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes scrambled eggs in a very similar way. Not quite soft-scrambled...Serious Eats calls them fancy French spoonable eggs.
P.P.S. Anyone have a square Japanese omelette pan I can borrow?
P.P.P.S. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (now on Netflix!), an apprentice talks about making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) over 200 times before Jiro declared it good enough to serve in his restaurant.
That apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, is now the head chef at Sushi Nakazawa, one of the five NYC restaurants that currently has a four-star rating from the NY Times (along with the aforementioned Jean-Georges and not along with Per Se, which recently got dunce capped down to 2 stars by populist hero Pete Wells).
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.
A look at how some of the most arresting visual effects were done in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The filmmakers used many real sets and models (i.e. practical effects), but there were also 2100 shots in the movie with digital effects.
Update: The original video was removed, but I replaced it with one that's a bit better.
Update: Here's how the visual effects on the Millennium Falcon's escape from Jakku scene were done.
In this short video (oh just be patient and watch the whole damn thing), Alan Rickman demonstrates how I feel this morning that he has died of cancer at the age of 69. (Same age and affliction as Bowie, you'll note.)
That Rickman never won an Oscar (he did receive a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Bafta and many more) became a perennial topic in interviews but did not seem to trouble the actor himself. "Parts win prizes, not actors," he said in 2008. It was the wider worth of his art to which Rickman remained committed, saying that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity.
"Actors are agents of change," he said. "A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."
I loved Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and as Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, but I'll remember his turn as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films the most. Among several fantastic actors in that series, Rickman's performance was arguably the best. Many characters in Potter struggled between the good and not-so-good sides of themselves (including Harry and Dumbledore) but none of them carried that battle off as well as Rickman's Snape.
A video exploring Stanley Kubrick's use of color in his films. See also Kubrick's use of the color red. (via @john_overholt)
Riffing on Kathryn Schulz's piece about the five best punctuation marks in literature, Max Tohline explores how editing in film can function as punctuation to separate or join together characters, shots, and ideas within movies.
Some people were bothered over supposed gaps in the plot in The Force Awakens. I wasn't...save the hand-wringing for more weighty fare. But if you were, the novelization of the movie connects some of the dots left detached. Here are some of the more interesting ones (spoilers, obvs):
The Resistance had no idea Starkiller Base existed. This is extrapolated on quite a bit. Snoke's decision to destroy the New Republic is about flushing out the Resistance. Utter annihilation of the enemy is a mere side effect. Snoke knew using the weapon would give away the base's location. The Resistance would then send a reconnaissance team to scout the place and the First Order could follow the scouts back to the Resistance HQ and destroy them once and for all. While this is what happens in the movie, the motivations are a bit murkier.
Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. After failing to call Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber to his hand, Ren turns to Rey -- who is now holding the blue lightsaber -- and he declares, "It IS you," and then the fight begins.
Ok, whoa. What does that mean?
Han hadn't seen Kylo Ren/Ben since he became an adult. When Ben removes the helmet of Kylo Ren, Han Solo is shocked by how grown-up his son looks as he hasn't seen him since he became an adult. This lends credence to the theory that Snoke seduced a teenaged Ben to the Dark Side. Speaking of which, Leia knew Snoke was trying to get his claws in her son since he was a child and never told Han until right before the Starkiller mission.
[Rey] struggles with the Dark Side almost immediately. Rey might look serene as she finds the Force and battles a badly injured Kylo Ren, but she is fighting with rage. After beating down her opponent, a voice inside her encourages her to kill him. She rejects the notion, but is still struggling with herself when the rift opens up and separates the two of them.
[Ren] also cracked open something in Rey's mind. One of the advantages of a book is internal narration. When Ren attempts to retrieve the map from Rey's brain he senses something weird within her mind. Not resistance, but a barrier. Probing at it is what causes Rey to suddenly find herself -- with no provocation -- inside Ren's mind. Now this is just speculation, but it certainly sounds like someone had walled off Rey's Force sensitivity and Kylo Ren accidentally broke down the wall.
The script for the movie clarifies a few things as well.
Luke Skywalker Immediately Knows Who Rey Is and Why She Is Here. The script describes Luke Skywalker as being older now, with white hair and a beard. It says that he looks at Rey with a "kindness in his eyes, but there's something tortured, too." Most interestingly, it says that Luke "doesn't need to ask her who she is, or what she is doing here." Does this mean that he knows Rey is his child? Or does this mean that he knows because of the Force? The script only adds that "his look says it all."
Kylo Ren Is Horrified By His Actions. The script gives us some internal insight into Kylo Ren after he just killed his father Han Solo. The screenplay notes that "Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act," noting that he is "horrified" and his "SHOCK is broken only when" Chewbacca cries out in agony.
Fun fact that I just discovered: the novelizations of all three of the original Star Wars movies were released before the movies came out! Star Wars the book came out 6 months before the movie, Empire a month before, and Jedi a couple of weeks before. I'm amazed you could walk into a bookstore an entire month before The Empire Strikes Back was released and discover that Vader was Luke's father. Truly a different approach to spoilers.
A short entertaining look at Star Wars' secret sauce. Joseph Campbell? Kurosawa? Flash Gordon? The ancient future? The sounds? (PS: The Wilhelm Scream shows up pretty early on in The Force Awakens, as Poe and Finn exit the First Order hangar bay.)
From Tony Zhou comes another episode of Every Frame a Painting. In it, he uses Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder to explore ensemble staging, how movies can direct an audience's onscreen attention when many people are on the screen at the same time, and why a director would want to do that.
Jordan Hanzon made an edit of Inside Out showing only the "outside" parts of the film...so, none of the stuff with Joy, Sadness, Anger, etc. I bet Pixar had an internal cut like this just to make sure the outside stuff hung together independent of the inside. (via devour1)
Radiohead were commissioned to write the theme song for Spectre, the newest James Bond movie. The movie's producers decided to go in a different musical direction, so the band recently put the rejected song up on Soundcloud. Enjoy. (via df)
Of Oz the Wizard is the entire Wizard of Oz movie presented in alphabetical order by dialogue. So it starts with all the scenes where Dorothy and the gang say "a", "aaiee", "along", and proceeds through "you're" and "zipper". Even the words on each of the title cards are sorted alphabetically.
(I feel like I've posted this before -- or something like it -- but I can't find it in the archives. Anyone?)
Update: Ah yes, I was thinking of this alphabetized version of Star Wars (which I've seen before but somehow never posted):
Another example is Thomson & Craighead's The Time Machine. Matt Bucy, the creator of Of Oz the Wizard, seems to have pioneered this technique (the Vimeo page indicates it was completed in April 2004) but didn't post the video online until a few days ago. (via @Mister_Milligan, @sannahahn)
How can Han Solo talk to and understand any alien he meets? Why is he such a gifted pilot? In this short piece from 2008, Tim Carmody answers those questions and more: Han Solo Has the Force.
Luke and Vader (especially young Anakin) are remarkable, inventive pilots, as is Lando, but Han blows them all away. In one scene after another in Empire, Han is able to perform feats that Artoo or Threepio say are mathematically near-impossible. He does this in a ship that has a remarkable warp-speed computer but which appears singularly unsuited for close-quarters maneuvers. Finally, he gets the drop on Vader in Episode IV, and while Vader may have been distracted by his sensations re: Luke, this is still evidence that we are dealing with a very special pilot.
And there's further evidence from The Force Awakens (slight spoilers!): he shoots a stormtrooper with a blaster without looking. As I recall, it wasn't a look-away, like this Cristiano pass or this Jordan assist, it was more like he could actually see the stormtrooper behind him. (Of course, Cristiano and Jordan might also be Force-sensitive, but that's another post.)
A behind-the-scenes photo from "2001: A Space Odyssey" from Coudal's treasure trove of "Stuff About Stanley Kubrick."
Charlie Kaufman, who wrote "Being John Malkovitch" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and wrote and directed "Synecdoche, New York," talks about his latest writing/now co-directing project, "Anomalisa," which is "a stop-motion animated dark comedy about a depressed customer-service expert who falls in love on a business trip":
Is it weird for me to say that Anomalisa contains the most realistic sex scene I've ever seen in a movie? Given that it's happening between puppets?
It's not weird. Almost everybody we speak to feels that way. We worked really hard on that scene. It took six months to shoot. We were very aware of people coming into it thinking it was going to be like Team America, that it was going to be a joke, and we didn't want it to be [like that]. We knew there would probably be some laughing at first because it's puppet sex. We weren't opposed to that, but what we found is that there is the occasional laugh at that point out of nervousness, but then people get really quiet.
There's also an interview with co-director Duke Johnson that starts, "'There were a lot of penises,' says Duke Johnson. 'They break very easily because they're tiny.'"
Katherine Waterston has been cast to star in "Alien: Covenant," the sequel to "Prometheus" to be directed by Ridley Scott. Waterston starred in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" and is the daughter of actor Sam Waterston.
So what's the storyline?
Specific plot details are being closely guarded, but it is believed to follow the crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet, who discover what they believe is an uncharted paradise. But in fact it's a dark, dangerous world whose the only inhabitant is David (Michael Fassbender), the "synthetic" and survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.
1. There are SPOILERS in this post. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. I've only read one other review of the movie, so much of this may be stated elsewhere (and better) by others.
2. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. But thinking back to The Phantom Menace, I also enjoyed that quite a bit in the same spine-tingling way. But this movie is way better than the prequels were.
3. The cast was excellent and the casting progressive. I love that the two new protagonists are a black man and a woman. "Why are you grabbing my hand?"
4. Carrie Fisher's voice has changed a lot. It suited her character.
5. By far the best part of the movie at the showing I went to didn't appear on screen. I went to a matinee at 11am and the audience was mostly adults...probably 98% over the age of 30. When Rey uses the Force to persuade the Stormtrooper to release her, a little kid's voice from the front row echoed out loudly across the entire theater: "Jedi mind trick". The place exploded in laughter. A perfect comedic moment.
6. How many times are they going to keep making the same movie though? The plots of A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens are more or less the same: a small band of resistance fighters going up against an evil superpower headed by two practitioners in the Dark Side discover a weakness in the enemy's planet-sized superweapon and destroy it with some X-wing fighters in the nick of time. Also: stolen plans in a droid, a young orphan discovering the ways of the Force, a trench run by a gifted young pilot to blow up the superweapon, a bailing-out of the X-wing fighters by the crew of the Millennium Falcon, sons/students striking down their fathers/masters, and so on. Is this part of the reason that Empire Strikes Back is considered the best of the series, because it's different?
7. When Lucas made the first trilogy (and when he and Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark), he constructed it from a bunch of different sources from when he was a kid and in film school. With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams did the same thing, but instead of pulling from Flash Gordon and Kurosawa like Lucas did, he pulled from what he grew up with as a kid and in film school...Star Wars and Spielberg. In a way, The Force Awakens is a reboot of the original 1977 Star Wars, similar plot and all. And even if it isn't a true reboot, it sure does rhyme.
8. Aside: when is the Empire/First Order going to learn not to put all of their eggs in one basket? Their superweapon strategy has failed three times now. They always seem to know where the rebels are hiding, they possess overwhelming force...why don't they just defeat them through conventional means?
9. More synchronicity. When I watched the original Star Wars as an adult, one of the things I noticed is what a relatively minor character Vader is in the Empire when compared to his importance to the story and his increased power & responsibility in Empire and Jedi. He's not in command, he's not really part of the military at all, and the military leaders aren't all that impressed with The Force. It's almost almost like he's the Emperor's personal assistant. Kylo Ren's role in The Force Awakens is similar...he's not in charge (General Hux is), he's not really part of the military (although he commands troops), and according to Snoke, Ren hasn't even completed his training. (What was Vader's excuse, then? He presumably completed his training long before the events of A New Hope...what was taking him so long to gain power?)
10. The scene at the very end bugged me. Having discovered the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, the Resistance sends Ren, Chewy, and R2 to see what's up? I get the symbolism and all, but wouldn't Leia be interested in seeing her brother again? Or more persuasive in getting him to come out of retirement?
11. We're going to hear more about Rey's parentage, right? She's Luke's daughter or something? (I'm guessing not. Waaay too obvious, even for Star Wars.)
12. Speaking of parentage, why is Snoke so big? So we're not wondering if Rey is Snoke's granddaughter or something? Or is it that Snoke's hologram is big and he's normal sized? (Wookiepedia says Snoke is 7 feet tall but doesn't cite a source.)
13. If you liked this movie, you have to give the proper credit to George Lucas for allowing it to exist. He could have sat on this series until after his death and beyond. But he didn't. He sold the whole shebang to Disney and trusted Kathleen Kennedy to make more movies.
14. Ok, Kennedy. Now I want to see Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars. Wes Anderson's Star Wars. Miranda July's Star Wars. Seriously, do this. (I do not want to see Kevin Smith's Star Wars. That one you can keep.)
15. All theaters should have assigned seating. I got the exact two seats I wanted (two months ahead of time) and showed up to the theater about 10 minutes before showtime, sat down, and the lights went down soon after. So much less stress than getting there 45 minutes (or 2 hours) beforehand and playing Are These Seats Taken? with strangers.
Update: 16. Does Han's death scene reference the cantina scene w/ Greedo in Episode IV? He and Ren are both holding the lightsaber. Ren tells Han he needs to do something but doesn't know if he can go through with it. Ren asks Han to help. The lightsaber activates and Han dies. Does Han activate the lightsaber, thereby causing his death? In other words, does Han shoot first? (Bonus update: I just saw the movie again and I don't think Han activates the lightsaber. He looks too surprised and Ren definitely thrusts the saber into him.)
Update: 17. In his belated review, Chris Blattman notes the remarkable agreement on the lack of spoilers on social media:
Humanity's tacit agreement to abide by a no-spoilers-on-social-media rule was one of the greatest acts of social cooperation I have witnessed. And we used it up to keep you from learning Han Solo is killed.