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kottke.org posts about movies

Ridley Scott talks about when Rachel and Deckard meet in Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Ridley Scott’s favorite scene in Blade Runner is when Deckard meets Rachel in Tyrell’s office. In this video, he breaks the scene down and highlights some of the most interesting aspects of the production.

In all my films, I’ve been accused of being too visual, too pretty, and I’m going, well, we are dealing in pictures so how can I be too visual?

Lego Grand Theft Auto

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

This video by Nukazooka of Grand Theft Auto being played by Lego characters is uncommonly well done. It looks more or less like the Lego Movie but made with a fraction of the budget.

Off-topic, but on their Twitter account I also discovered this cool 5-second video illustrating how air moves due to a passing semi truck. I can’t stop watching this!!

Video on social media: the return of the silent film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

At the first movie studio in the US, Thomas Edison filmed cat videos, which are also popular on social media now.

In the NY Times, Amanda Hess writes about the parallels between the type of video that works well on social media these days and silent films from the first part of the last century.

All of that has given rise to a particular kind of video spectacle on social media, one that is able to convey its charms without dialogue, narrative or much additional context. To entertain soundlessly, viral video makers are reanimating some of the same techniques that ruled silent film over 100 years ago. “For coincidental reasons as much as knowing reasons, we’ve seen a rebirth of a very image-forward mode of communication,” said James Leo Cahill, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Toronto. Among its hallmarks: a focus on spectacle, shocking images and tricks; the capture of unexpected moments in instantly recognizable scenarios; an interplay between text and image; and a spotlight on baby and animal stars.

The very first short-form cinematic experiments — silent clips that arose even before film evolved into a feature-length narrative form in the early 20th century — have become known as what film scholar Tom Gunning calls the “cinema of attraction,” films that worked by achieving a kind of sensual or physiological effect instead of telling a story.

Created by early filmmakers like the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière and the American inventor Thomas Edison, these early movies took cues from the circus and the vaudeville circuit, featuring performers from that world, and were then played at vaudeville shows. Taken together, they formed what Gunning has called an “illogical succession of performances.”

Social media has created a new kind of variety show, where short, unrelated videos cascade down our feeds one after another. If early films were short by necessity — the earliest reels allowed for just seconds of film - modern videos are pared down to suit our attention spans and data plans.

The Black List, the humble origins of a Hollywood kingmaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

For Vox, Phil Edwards profiled The Black List, an annual listing of the best Hollywood scripts that have yet to be produced.

Phil Edwards has a chat with Franklin Leonard, the creator of The Black List, Hollywoods’ famous anonymous survey of unproduced screenplays. The Black List isn’t a guarantee that a script will be produced, however, it does give overlooked scripts a second shot of getting on the big screen. A handful of academy award- winning-films found their second chance on the Black List. And in an industry brimming with multi-year contracted sequels, and well-established franchises, the Black List survey has become one of the few places in Tinseltown where one-off scripts have a chance to make it to the big screen.

Scripts that have gone on to be made into movies include Spotlight, Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, and a Mel Gibson talking beaver movie I’d never even heard of.

Bilbo Baggins, The Drug Lord of the Rings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Bilbo Smoke

In a epic series of tweets, Matt Wallace reveals the secret truth behind the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy: it’s a story about Middle Earth’s drug wars.

Here it is, straight-up: The Hobbit economy makes no fucking sense unless Hobbits are running a secret drug empire spanning Middle Earth.

That’s right, the unassuming, perpetually dismissed and ignored ‘harmless’ little Hobbits. They are the Walter White of Middle Earth.

It all started with Sauron. He was indeed trying to conquer Middle Earth……’s illegal pipe weed drug trade. He was the original kingpin.

So the Elves — NOTORIOUSLY anti-pipe weed, the Elves — band together to topple Sauron’s massive drug empire. And they do.

Enter Hobbits, seizing an opportunity. No one would EVER suspect them. They fill the Sauron gap, start manufacturing/distributing pipe weed.

The genius move is they UTILIZE their profile among the other races. They’re openly like, “Yeah pipe weed it’s a harmless lil Hobbit habit.”

“You know us Hobbits,” they say, “smokin’ our pipe weed, being lazy an’ shit.” They turn their illicit product into a comical affectation.

Meanwhile, the Hobbits are stringing humans OUT on pipe weed. Making mad gold. Everyone’s got a dope house filled with gourmet cheese.

See also other alternate tellings of familiar stories: A People’s History of Tattooine (and other Star Wars theories), Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy, and Daniel is the real bully in Karate Kid.

Downsizing

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) is coming out with his latest film in December. Downsizing, which stars Kristin Wiig, Matt Damon, and Christoph Waltz, is about a world where humans are able to shrink themselves down to five inches tall.

When scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to over-population, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.

I’ve been waiting on this one since posting about nano sapiens last year:

When humans get smaller, the world and its resources get bigger. We’d live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars that use less gas, eat less food, etc. It wouldn’t even take much to realize gains from a Honey, I Shrunk Humanity scheme: because of scaling laws, a height/weight proportional human maxing out at 3 feet tall would not use half the resources of a 6-foot human but would use somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 of the resources, depending on whether the resource varied with volume or surface area. Six-inch-tall humans would potentially use 1728 times fewer resources.

I’m sure the movie skews more toward a generic fish-out-of-water tale rather than addressing the particular pros and cons of shrinking people down to the size of hamsters (e.g. cutting human life span by orders of magnitude), but I will still be first in line to see this one.

The first ever sketch of Wonder Woman

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

Original Wonder Woman

This is the first ever sketch of Wonder Woman by H.G. Peter from 1941. On the drawing, Peter wrote:

Dear Dr. Marston, I slapped these two out in a hurry. The eagle is tough to handle — when in perspective or in profile, he doesn’t show up clearly — the shoes look like a stenographer’s. I think the idea might be incorporated as a sort of Roman contraption. Peter

The Wonder Woman character was conceived by William Moulton Marston, who based her on his wife Elizabeth Marston and his partner Olive Byrne. (Reading between the lines about WW’s creation, you get the sense that Elizabeth deserves at least some credit for genesis of the character as well.) On the same drawing, Marston wrote back to Peter:

Dear Pete — I think the gal with hand up is very cute. I like her skirt, legs, hair. Bracelets okay + boots. These probably will work out. See other suggestions enclosed. No on these + stripes — red + white. With eagle’s wings above or below breasts as per enclosed? Leave it to you. Don’t we have to put a red stripe around her waist as belt? I thought Gaines wanted it — don’t remember. Circlet will have to go higher — more like crown — see suggestions enclosed. See you Wednesday morning - WMM.

From Wikipedia:

Wonder Woman was created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston (pen name: Charles Moulton), and artist Harry G. Peter. Olive Byrne, Marston’s lover, and his wife, Elizabeth, are credited as being his inspiration for the character’s appearance. Marston drew a great deal of inspiration from early feminists, and especially from birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger; in particular, her piece “Woman and the New Race”. The character first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941 and first cover-dated on Sensation Comics #1, January 1942. The Wonder Woman title has been published by DC Comics almost continuously except for a brief hiatus in 1986.

William, Elizabeth, Olive seemed like really interesting people. They lived together in a polyamorous relationship (which I imagine was fairly unusual for the 1940s) and William & Elizabeth worked together on inventing the systolic blood pressure test, which became a key component in the later invention of the polygraph test. Olive was a former student of William’s and became his research assistant, likely helping him with much of his work without credit.

Update: The upcoming film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a biographical drama about the lives of William, Elizabeth, and Olive. Here’s a trailer:

The Imaginary Worlds podcast also had an episode on the genesis of Wonder Woman (featuring New Yorker writer Jill Lepore, who wrote The Secret History of Wonder Woman):

(via @ironicsans & warren)

Studio Ghibli characters in real world scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A South Korean video editor named Kojer took characters from Studio Ghibli films and digitally inserted them into real world scenes and background. So you get to see Ponyo running on a lake, Totoro waiting in the rain on an actual train platform, the Catbus running through a real meadow, and Howl’s castle moving through a city.

This is super-cool…the effect is nearly seamless. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how he did the rotoscoping, touch-ups, background replacement, and shadow work on the animated characters:

It’s incredible how much the tools and technology have advanced when one person using off-the-shelf software on a single computer can do what took months to accomplish using traditional cel animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

You Were Never Really Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

You Were Never Really Here is a thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix as an enforcer for hire. The film is based on a short novel by Jonathan Ames of the same name.

A former Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe has seen one too many crime scenes and known too much trauma, and not just in his professional life. Solitary and haunted, he prefers to be invisible. He doesn’t allow himself friends or lovers and makes a living rescuing young girls from the deadly clutches of the sex trade. But when a high-ranking New York politician hires him to extricate his teenage daughter from a Manhattan brothel, Joe uncovers a web of corruption that even he may not be able to unravel.

Oh, and Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack. Looking forward to this one. (via @craigmod)

The Blade Runner 2049 backstory

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2017

The original Blade Runner was set in 2019, so 30 years have passed since then by the time the action picks up in Blade Runer 2049. While I imagine some of what happened in the interim will be covered in the new film, too much exposition is a narrative killer. So the filmmakers are releasing three short films that fill in the 30 year gap. The first one is set in 2036 and focuses on Niander Wallace, a character from Blade Runner 2049 played by Jared Leto.

In 2023, government authorities legislated an indefinite “prohibition” on replicant production, as a year prior a massive EMP detonated on the West Coast and is pinned on Replicants. So in this Wallace piece, we’ll see the beginnings of the new Replicants that are created after the prohibition is lifted.

At Comic-Con earlier in the year, a Blade Runner timeline was shown to fans:

2018: After a bloody mutiny by a Nexus 6 combat team in an Off-world colony, Replicants are declared illegal on Earth — under penalty of death.

2019: A prototype Replicant, Rachael, and Officer Rick Deckard, a Blade runner, escape Los Angeles together.

2020: After the death of founder Eldon Tyrell, the Tyrell Corporation rushes a new line of Nexus 8 Replicants onto the market for use Off-world. Unlike previous Nexus models, built with 4-year lifespans, the Nexus 8s have open-ended lifespans, as well as ocular implants for easy identification

2022: The Blackout. An EMP of unknown origin detonates somewhere in the West Coast. Cities are shut down for weeks. Electronic data is corrupted or destroyed over most of the United States. Finance and trade markets crash worldwide. Food supplies become dire. Theories spread as to the cause of the Blackout; none are proven. The most popular blame Replicants.

2023: Replicant Prohibition. The governing authorities legislate an indefinite “prohibition” on replicant production. Nexus 6 models are now all decommissioned due to their programmed 4-year lifespans. Surviving Nexus 8 models are to be retired. Those that can, go into hiding.

2025: Idealistic scientist Niander Wallace pioneers advancements in genetically modified food and shares his patents for free, marking an end to a global crisis. His company, Wallace Corporation, E&C, expands across the globe — and into the Off-world colonies.

2028: Niander Wallace acquires the remains of the bankrupt Tyrell Corporation.

2030s: Niander Wallace improves upon Tyrells’ genetic engineering and memory implantation methods to make replicants obedient and controllable.

2036: Prohibition is repealed. Wallace reintroduces a new line of “perfected” Replicants — The Nexus 9.

Early 2040s: The LAPD commits additional resources to bolster its existing Blade Runner unit, tasked with locating illegal Replicants and retiring them.

2049: When we return to Los Angeles, 30 years after the original movie, climate change has caused the sea level to rise dramatically. A massive Sea Wall has been built along the Sepulveda Pass to protect the Los Angeles basin. Los Angeles is even more uninhabitable than before and filled with poverty and sickness. Humans, who were not well enough to leave for the off-world colonies are left behind. There is no fresh food, and inhabitants survive on Wallace’s genetically modified food products sold from vending machines at street markets.

I’ll include the other two short films here as soon at they’re posted. (thx, david)

Update: The second short is out, starring Dave Bautista (Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy) as a replicant on the run.

My recent (and not-so-recent) media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Somehow it’s been almost two months since my last installment?

Paterson. I would pay to watch Adam Driver read the phone book and that’s kinda what this is so I was satisfied. (B)

Despicable Me 3. I have a soft spot for the Minions movie (don’t know why, afraid to ask myself) but not for this one. (C+)

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. This was my favorite book to read to my kids, but both of them can read by themselves now, so this is perhaps the last time I will get to sit down and read it with them and oh no I’m crying right now. (A+)

Mr. Holmes. This could have been good but 24 hours after watching, I’d forgotten everything about it. (C)

Spider-Man: Homecoming. My brain let out a big ol’ “ohhhhhh” after I realized two-thirds of the way through where they got the title. (B)

The Defiant Ones. Great. But I felt Dre’s apology for his violence against women was lacking. As with many apologies from the wealthy and powerful, it had more to do with him than with his victims. (A)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I love reading weirdo books with my kids. (A)

Game of Thrones (season 7). Pure pulp and soap at this point. (A-)

Hey, Cool Job Episode 21: Wellness Expert And Swole Woman Casey Johnston. I LOL’d at “I’m going to remain poor and right”. (B+)

Dunkirk. I feel like Christopher Nolan watched Mad Max: Fury Road and said, “I can do that…but my way.” Also reminded me strongly of Run Lola Run. (A-)

Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack contributed heavily to my enjoyment of this film. (A)

Baby Driver. A 2-hour music video. If were 25 and had never seen a Tarantino movie, I would have thought this was the coolest shit ever. (B)

The total solar eclipse. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will attempt to replicate at the earliest opportunity. (A+++)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Last Flag Flying

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2017

Directed by Richard Linklater, Last Flag Flying tells the story of three army buddies (played by Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Laurence Fishburne) who reunite when one of their sons is killed in combat. Judging from the trailer, this looks great, but what’s interesting is that this is a sequel of sorts to a Hal Ashby movie from more than 40 years ago.

Last Flag Flying is a sequel to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, which arrived all the way back in 1973. Both movies are based on novels of the same name from Darryl Poniscan (he published Last Detail in 1970 and Last Flag in 2005), and both feature the same trio of characters. Last Flag Flying finds Steve Carell playing the role Randy Quaid filled in Ashby’s original, Cranston filling in for [Jack] Nicholson, and Fishburne stepping in for Otis Young.

How to make a blockbuster movie trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2017

Sure, blockbuster movie trailers are formulaic. But…actually, no buts, they are formulaic and this cheeky short video by the Auralnauts gives away all the secrets to making a really effective engaging exciting unique aggressively bland trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster movie.

Update: It’s a bit dated, but Cracked did a Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever:

(via @lanewinfield)

The Death of Stalin

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2017

The Death of Stalin is a satirical film about the political aftermath of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. It stars Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin (as Vyacheslav Molotov, for whom the Molotov cocktail was named), and Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev (who, spoiler alert, eventually wins the succession battle for leader of the Soviet Union).

Hilarious recipe videos in the style of famous directors

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2017

David Ma is a food artist and director who recently made a series of four short recipe videos in the style of famous directors. There’s spaghetti and meatballs a la Quentin Tarantino (my favorite):

S’mores in the style of Wes Anderson:

What if Michael Bay made waffles?

And finally, here’s a pancake recipe in the style of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity:

Hopefully round 2 of Ma’s project will include the likes of Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, or Yimou Zhang.

Recreating the Loot Train Battle from Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2017

Oh, this is a clever bit of TV/film analysis by Evan Puschak: he reconstructs the Loot Train Battle from the most recent episode of Game of Thrones using clips from other movies and TV shows (like 300, Lord of the Rings, Stagecoach, and Apocalypse Now). In doing so, he reveals the structure that many filmed battle scenes follow, from the surprising enemy attack presaged by the distant sound of horses (as in 300) to the quiet mid-chaos reflection by a shocked commander (as in Saving Private Ryan). Everything is a Remix, right?

This reminds me of how the Rogue One production team made a full-length reel of the film for director Gareth Edwards from scenes from other movies so that the timing and pacing could be worked out.

It’s very simple to have a line [in the script] that reads “Krennic’s shuttle descends to the planet”, now that takes maybe 2-3 seconds in other films, but if you look at any other ‘Star Wars’ film you realise that takes 45 seconds or a minute of screen time. So by making the whole film that way — I used a lot of the ‘Star Wars’ films — but also hundreds of other films too, it gave us a good idea of the timing.

For example the sequence of them breaking into the vault I was ripping the big door closing in ‘Wargames’ to work out how long does a vault door take to close.

This fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the battle doesn’t allude to any such storyboarding, but as Puschak notes, battle scenes from dozens of other movies surely weren’t far off in their minds while putting this one together.

10 hidden clues you never noticed in classic movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2017

Directors sometimes like to hide clues about a movie’s plot (or even ending) in the background of earlier scenes, a practice that rewards repeat viewing. Some examples cited in this video are from The Shining, Reservoir Dogs, Psycho, and The Usual Suspects. I’ve seen The Shawshank Redemption several times, and I never picked up on the hidden meaning of Red’s admonishment of Andy’s plan as “shitty pipe dreams”. (via film school rejects)

mother!

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2017

Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) is coming out with a new film in September called mother! It’s a “psychological horror-thriller” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The score is by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who did the excellent score for Arrival, and not by Clint Mansell, Aronofsky’s long-time collaborator.

The most beautiful shots in film of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Ignacio Montalvo compiled a list of the most beautiful scenes pulled from dozens of movies from the first part of this century and edited them into a succinct video less than 3 minutes long. He included scenes from movies like Spirited Away, Kill Bill, Sunshine, Mad Max: Fury Road, Moulin Rogue, Children of Men, Wall-E, Melancholia, and Interstellar.

The infinite auditory illusion that makes the Dunkirk soundtrack so intense (and good)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

I remarked on Twitter recently that “Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Dunkirk is outstanding”. The music blends perfectly with the action on the screen without being overbearing; it’s perhaps the best marriage of sound and visuals I’ve experienced in a movie theater since Mad Max: Fury Road or even Tron: Legacy.1

Zimmer and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan achieved that effect by utilizing an auditory illusion called the Shepard tone, a sound that appears to infinitely rise (or fall) in pitch — the video above refers to it as “a barber’s pole of sound”. From a Business Insider interview with Nolan:

The screenplay had been written according to musical principals. There’s an audio illusion, if you will, in music called a “Shepard tone” and with my composer David Julyan on “The Prestige” we explored that and based a lot of the score around that. And it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals. Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own with a particularly insistent ticking and we started to build the track out of that sound and then working from that sound we built the music as we built the picture cut. So there’s a fusion of music and sound effects and picture that we’ve never been able to achieve before.

  1. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this — because it fits somewhere between “unpopular opinion” and “embarrassing admission” on the scale of things one doesn’t talk about in public — but seeing Tron: Legacy in 3D IMAX was one of the top 5 movie-going experiences of my life. The Light Cycle battle was 80 feet tall and because of the 3D glasses, it looked like it extended out from the screen to immediately in front of my face, to the point where I actually reached out and tried to touch it a couple times. And all the while, Daft Punk was pounding into my brain from who knows how many speakers. I was not on drugs and hadn’t been drinking, but it was one of the most mind-altering experiences of my life.

One way to deconstruct a movie, using There Will Be Blood as an example

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Evan Puschak takes us behind the curtain at the Nerdwriter a little bit and shows us that one way to deconstruct a movie is by counting the number of cuts. If you do this with PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood for example, you’ll notice that the average scene is quite long compared to most contemporary movies, which makes the viewer pay more attention to each cut.

The Shape of Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) is out with a new movie this fall called The Shape of Water.

…an other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa is trapped in a life of silence and isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda discover a secret classified experiment.

As the trailer reveals, the secret is a merman, who Elisa befriends and attempts to help. Pan’s Labyrinth was a masterpiece and this trailer has me hoping that The Shape of Water is in that same zip code.

The 12 signature characteristics of a Christopher Nolan film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

This short video from ScreenPrism details the 12 things you’ll find in a Christopher Nolan film, from non-linear storytelling to moral ambiguity to ambiguous endin…

My favorite observation in the video is that Nolan films his movies from the subjective point of view of his characters, so that the viewer often only knows as much as a characters know, which turns the audience into detectives, trying to unravel mysteries alongside the characters.

If you enjoyed that, ScreenPrism has also made a longer video that takes a more extensive look at Nolan’s career patterns and influences.

Darkest Hour

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, a historical drama about the legendary Prime Minister’s efforts to lead Great Britain to victory in World War II.

A thrilling and inspiring true story begins at the precipice of World War II as, within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

Before watching John Lithgow playing him in The Crown, I’d thought Churchill was too much of his own character to be played by a well-known actor, but Lithgow was amazing…and it looks as though Gary Oldman, looking every bit his surname, will be similarly outstanding.

Awaken, a documentary full of arresting imagery

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

This might be the most beautiful three minutes of your day. Director Tom Lowe is making a feature-length documentary “exploring humanity’s relationship with technology and the natural world” called Awaken. This trailer is stuffed with some of the most arresting imagery I’ve seen in a long time. Perhaps most striking is the moving time lapse footage, which was shot from a helicopter using equipment of Lowe’s own design…I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before.

Awaken will be out next year and, unsurprisingly, is being executive produced by Terrence Malick (Voyage of Time) and Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, etc.).

The top 10 movie crimes of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2017

From the always entertaining and informative Cinefix, a list of the best crimes depicted in movies. The list is broken down by the typical elements of a cinematic crime: the motive, the team, the plan, the getaway, the cover-up, and so on. The video features Dog Day Afternoon, Ocean’s Eleven, Chinatown, Se7en, and Reservoir Dogs. Would loved to have seen a tiny mention of Bottle Rocket in there, but nope!

An appreciation and reevaluation of Contact, 20 years after its theatrical release

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, is on its face a movie about science vs. religion. On the 20th anniversary of its release, Germain Lussier rewatched the film and came away with a different impression: director Robert Zemeckis wanted viewers to think about our relationship to media and technology.

Once Ellie and her team discover the signal from Vega, seemingly every scene in the film features a monitor or some kind of television-related paraphernalia. Whether that’s unpacking a TV to unveil the Olympic footage, people watching news reports on CNN, a terrorist videotaping himself, or multiple scenes in the screen-filled Mission Control, Contact is filled with monitors, forcing both the characters and the audience to watch them. Full scenes of the film are made up of fuzzy TV footage. There are numerous press conferences on TV. The selection of the Machine representative unfolds via the news. Ellie’s interactions with Hadden are almost entirely done over a monitor. Even in scenes where the camera is in a room with the characters, Zemeckis often films them watching TV, or simply puts TV monitors in the frame to constantly remind us they’re there.

But that’s not it. People video chat regularly, which was not common in 1997. The terrorist attack on the Machine is first discovered on a TV monitor and subsequently played out there too. Then, finally, what’s the smoking gun of Ellie’s whole trip at the end of the movie? Eighteen hours of video footage. I could go on and on with examples where Contact uses television and monitors, but once you start seeing the film’s obsession with video, it’s almost comical how often it’s used. Which poses the obvious question, “Why?”

In this light, the organized religion & organized science depicted in the film are just other forms of mediated experience, separate from the personal experience of seeing something with your own eyes.

Contact is one of my favorite movies — I watch it every 12-18 months or so — and this makes me appreciate it all the more. And I had forgotten how good the trailer was:

It’s dead simple: that amazingly resonant Vega signal sound over a series of quickly cut scenes that tells the story in miniature. Surely this belongs on best movie trailers lists as much as any of these.

Oh, and while I’m not generally a fan of reboots, I would love to see what Denis Villeneuve could do with Sagan’s story. I’m also not crazy about Jodie Foster — I find her less and less tolerable as Arroway with each viewing — so it would be cool to see another actress in the role. Arrival’s Amy Adams is almost too on the nose…how about Lupita Nyong’o, ?Emma Watson, Janelle Monáe, Brie Larson, or Emma Stone?

The stories behind the 100 most iconic props in movie history

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2017

Movie Props

Movie Props

Thrillist has a great feature on 100 of the best props in movie history and how the directors, production designers, and artists found, chose, designed, bought, borrowed, or stole them to be a part of their films. About the plastic bag from American Beauty:

“It was a very low-budget movie. A tiny budget, and I had a tiny portion of the tiny budget. When I talked to Sam [Mendes, director] about the shopping bag, he was very specific about it not having markings on it. No store name, no ‘thank you, have a nice day’ — he wanted a plain, white plastic bag.

“Back in 1998, it was the early days for internet shopping. Now I do most of my prop shopping online, but back then it was yellow pages and finding things. I made calls to various manufacturers but the only way I could get one unmarked plastic bag was to buy 5,000 unmarked plastic bags. Even though it didn’t seem like a lot at the time, it was still in the range of $500. Which with my $17,000 budget or about that, I couldn’t afford it.

“The bag was always going to be filmed separately. Sam was going to take the video camera [that Wes Bentley used] and go out with the special effects guys with lawn blowers. It wasn’t slotted in the schedule. So I started my prep and I said, I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. Towards the end of my prep, my assistant and I were in downtown LA and we’re buying all sorts of stuff from all sorts of stores for all the characters. We came back to my house, and we’re unloading my car, and we’re piling all these bags on to the table, and right in the middle of the pile, is this white plastic bag with no markings. And I’m like, THAT’S THE BAG. We didn’t know where it came from — we’d been to 55 different places. The receipts just say ‘item number whatever.’ I have no idea where that bag came from, but it came to me. It came from the prop gods who knew I’d never find one otherwise.”

The cup of water in Jurassic Park:

“I was at work and Steven [Spielberg] calls into the office. He goes, ‘I’m in the car, I’m playing Earth, Wind & Fire, and my mirror is shaking. That’s what we need to do. I want to shake the mirror and I want to do something with the water.’ The mirror shaking was really very easy — put a little vibrating motor in it that shook it. The water was a another story. It was very difficult thing to do. You couldn’t do it. I had everyone working on it. Finally, messing around with a guitar one night, I set a glass and started playing notes on a guitar and got to a right frequency, a right note, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do.”

Oh, and the red stapler from Office Space!

“I wanted the stapler to stand out in the cubicle and the color scheme in the cubicles was sort of gray and blue-green, so I had them make it red. It was just a regular off-the-shelf Swingline stapler. They didn’t make them in red back then, so I had them paint it red and then put the Swingline logo on the side.

“Since Swingline didn’t make one back then, people were calling them trying to order red staplers. Then people started making red Swinglines and selling them on Ebay and making lots of money, so Swingline finally decided to start making red staplers.

“I have the burnt one from the last scene. Stephen Root has one that was in his cubicle. There were three total that we made. I don’t know where the third one is.”

Ahhh, I could read these all day. Wait, the horse head in that scene in The Godfather was real?!

“John Marley, the guy who played the movie producer, was a pain in the ass because he was a complainer every time he was on screen. Now, we go to shoot the famous scene. We’re shooting out on Long Island on a winter day, which is cold, dark, and rainy outside. We’re down at an elegant old stone mansion, and John is wearing his silk coat and his pajamas, standing by the bed. Now, four grips walk in carrying this huge metal case. He has no idea what the hell’s inside. I’m not exaggerating — it was probably about 6 to 8-ft square with the latches on each corner. He stands by the bed, and they lower this thing on the floor. They take off the four latches, and he almost faints. He sees this fucking horse’s head with the tongue hanging out. Oh, Jesus Christ!

“The next thing we know, the head is on the bed, on the yellow sheets. So you know, the horse’s head was frozen with dry ice, so it was fucking cold. Francis figures, ‘This is my shot to get him.’ They put all the phony blood. John refuses to stretch his legs out. He’s got his legs pulled in so it doesn’t hit the horse’s head. Francis kept telling him to straighten out. His scream was blood-curdling. What you hear in the movie was not done later on. We were laughing at a certain point. We were fucking howling. He was freaking out. When that scene was over, he ran off the set, throwing the bloody shit on the floor. He was gone for the rest of the day.”

Ok, that’s enough, go read the whole thing already.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Lots of music & TV and fewer movies & books this time around.

Enemy of the State. Ripe for a remake. (B-)

Cafe Society. Jesse Eisenberg is the worst version of Woody Allen yet. (C+)

Behave. I’ve barely started reading this (and then stopped because I was in the mood for fiction instead) but aspire to finish because I’ve heard really great things from a diverse array of trusted sources. (n/a)

Narcos. Season 2 is less compelling than the initial season, but Wagner Moura as Escobar is flat-out amazing. If you skipped this show, do yourself a favor and try season 1. (B+)

My Struggle: Book 2. I generally don’t find myself in characters in books, historical figures, or working artists, but the degree to which I identify with Karl Ove Knausgaard as depicted in the first two My Struggle books scares the shit out of me. On practically every page, he writes something that resonates with me and how I approach the world. I’m not sure any other book has helped me identify and understand the good and bad parts of myself as much as this one. (A+)

Zen Shorts. A recommendation by several kottke.org readers after the story of the Chinese farmer post. (A-)

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray. The only Dave Eggers book I’ve read in recent years. Sparked an interest in Art Deco in my kids a couple years ago. (A-)

Melodrama. After such a strong debut, it’s great to see Lorde come back with such a strong sophomore effort. (B+)

It Will Be Forever. Recommended by a friend who never gets it wrong. (He also put me onto this.) Tycho-esque. (B+)

Ctrl. Haven’t listened to this much but want to give it more attention. (B)

Cars 3. Way better than the deplorable Cars 2 but it felt very much like a sequel in a way that the Toy Story movies didn’t. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire. Rewatching from season one, which ppl will tell you to skip, but they’re wrong. I had forgotten how good it is, right away. Looking forward to their final season starting in August. (A-)

GLOW. Enjoyable television: really fun and just a little meaty. (B+)

OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. A reissue of one of the best albums of all time? Sure. (A+)

Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve seen all of these multiple times, and I just love them. Even the ones where Troi is possessed and Geordi falls in love with Holodeck characters. (A)

Iteration. If you love Com Truise, you will love this. (B+)

Big Fish Theory. The album of the summer? I haven’t been able to stop playing this in the car. (A-)

Okja. I wanted to like this way more than I did. Felt muddled. Never a good sign when you stop a movie halfway through to go to bed. (C+)

4:44. But I liked this way more than I thought I would. It’s no Lemonade (the fingerprints of which are all over 4:44), but Jay-Z has reminded everyone that he’s still a formidable artist. And the way he says “okay” after “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” is pitch perfect. Further reading: ‘4:44’ is a Shawn Carter album. Jay-Z is dead., ‘4:44’ Producer No I.D. Talks Pushing Jay-Z, Creating ‘500 Ideas’, and Jay-Z’s Pitch for Generational Wealth. (A-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Check It, a documentary about a black LGBT+ gang in DC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

Check It is a documentary film about a Washington DC gang with an all-LGBT+ membership.

At first glance, they seem unlikely gang-bangers. Some of the boys wear lipstick and mascara, some stilettos. They carry Louis Vuitton bags, but they also carry knives, brass knuckles and mace. As vulnerable gay and transgender youth, they’ve been shot, stabbed, and raped.

Once victims, they’ve now turned the tables, beating people into comas and stabbing enemies with ice picks. Started in 2009 by a group of bullied 9th graders, today these 14-22 year old gang members all have rap sheets riddled with assault, armed robbery and drug dealing charges.

Led by an ex-convict named Mo, Check It members are now creating their own clothing label, putting on fashion shows and working stints as runway models. But breaking the cycle of poverty and violence they’ve grown up in is a daunting task.

Louis CK is one of the films executive producers and he has put the film up on his site as a $5 download. In a recent newsletter, he explained why:

Look, I know this isn’t what you’re expecting from me. Nor am I the guy you’re expecting to get this film from. I guess that’s why I’m doing this. When I saw this film, I knew that no one I know will ever see it. Documentaries are MUCH harder to make than the things that I do and they are FAR more expensive to the filmmakers in terms of their time and their lives and their emotional energy. And nobody much watches them. Those who do watch documentaries are usually people who are likely to be interested in the subject they cover already. But what a great value there is in showing people films about something that just isn’t on their radar. So that’s why I asked Steve, and Wren Arthur, who produced the film, if I could host “Check It” on my site so that lots of people can see it who may not have had it put in front of them.