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kottke.org posts about Evan Puschak

The problem with action scenes in DC movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

In his latest video, Evan Puschak compares the action scenes from Marvel and DC superhero movies and shows how DC comes up short. Some don’t appreciate all of the humor packed into Marvel’s films, but the DC movies take themselves WAY too seriously. And don’t even get me started on Zack Snyder — outside of 300, his take on action is not good. It’s not a coincidence that Snyder didn’t direct Wonder Woman, the best of the DCEU films in terms of action (and everything else).

See also the problem with action movies today and why are action movie trailers sounding more musical lately?

20 Years of Lauryn Hill

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

Yesterday, hip hop legend Lauryn Hill announced The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary Tour 2018.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of seminal hip-hop album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, and Lauryn Hill is marking the occasion with a special anniversary tour dedicated to the album. Hill will be performing Miseducation in full, and each stop on the tour will feature “special guest performers” that haven’t been named yet. Plus, a portion of ticket sales will be donated to Hill’s MLH Foundation, which backs a huge group of charities built to help people all over the world-including the Africa Philanthropic Foundation, Appetite For Change, Apps & Girls, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

And Nerdwriter’s Evan Puschak, always with his ear to the ground (or perhaps with his ear to Drake’s Nice for What), just came out with this mini-doc celebrating of Hill’s music, influences, and people she’s influenced:

This might be one of the best Nerdwriter videos yet: no commentary, just clips of Hill performing and talking, music she was influenced by, and people & music that were influenced by her…an impressionistic portrait of a significant and uncompromising artist.

Fooling online users with dark patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2018

From Evan Puschak, a quick video on dark patterns, UI design that tricks users into doing things they might not want to do. For instance, as he shows in the video, the hoops you need to jump through to delete your Amazon account are astounding; it’s buried levels deep in a place no one would ever think to look. This dark pattern is called a roach motel — users check in but they don’t check out. I wonder how much this single pattern has added to Jeff Bezos’ personal net worth?

The influences of Call Me By Your Name

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2018

In this episode of the Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak imagines a film school class that studies the influences of Call Me By Your Name, which include a pair of Merchant Ivory films, A Room With a View and Maurice. One of the best love stories I’ve seen in recent years, Call Me By Your Name is one of those movies I’m waiting to watch again after some time, saving it like the last chocolate in the box.

Is Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son the most disturbing painting?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2018

In the latest installment of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak explains why Francisco Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Son is so disturbing, not only from the standpoint of the subject matter but also the circumstances surrounding its creation.

I am especially fond of Art History Nerdwriter because the first video of his I ever watched was on Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates. I’ve been a fan ever since.

The genius physical comedy of Mr. Bean

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2018

For the latest installment of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak explains the distinct brand of physical comedy practiced by Rowan Atkinson, best known for his character Mr. Bean. For my money, this scene of Mr. Bean running late for a dentist appointment is one of the funniest things ever put on screen.

This is the comedy of personality rather than the comedy of gags. It’s not about doing funny things. It’s about doing something quite normal in a funny way.

Atkinson himself explained and demonstrated the principles of physical comedy in a 60-minute documentary called Funny Business; here’s part 1:

This is really odd timing. Just two days ago, I was watching some videos with my kids and we stumbled across Rowan Atkinson performing as Mr. Bean at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics in 2012, which a) opens Puschak’s video, b) I had completely forgotten about, and c) is perhaps the most British thing ever.

Seeing with your ears, the importance of sound design in film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2018

Using a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Munich that features very little dialogue, Evan Puschak shows how much sound design contributes to the feeling and tension of a film. I love the two head fakes Puschak does with the sound at the beginning of the video. It’s like, oh wait, he fooled me a bit there, so I need to pay more attention.

A guide to the musical leitmotifs in Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2018

In the New Yorker, Alex Ross points to Frank Lehman’s Complete Catalogue of the Motivic Material in ‘Star Wars,’ Episodes I-VIII, which has been updated to include The Last Jedi. Ross goes on to note that composer John Williams did some of his strongest work for the film, deftly employing musical themes called leitmotifs to supplement (and sometimes subvert) the on-screen action. (Spoilers, ho!)

In early scenes set at a remote, ruined Jedi temple, we keep hearing an attenuated, beclouded version of the Force motto: this evokes Luke’s embittered renunciation of the Jedi project. As the young heroine Rey begins to coax him out of his funk, the Force stretches out and is unfurled at length. Sometimes, the music does all of the work of explaining what is going on. In one scene, Leia, Luke’s Force-capable sister, communicates telepathically with her son Kylo Ren, who has gone over to the dark side and is training his guns on her vessel. Leia’s theme is briefly heard against a dissonant cluster chord. Earlier in the saga, we might have been subjected to dialogue along the lines of “Don’t do this! I’m your mother!” Williams’s musical paraphrase is more elegant.

If you’re looking for a primer/refresher for the use of leitmotif in film, Evan Puschak’s video on Howard Shore’s music for the Lord of the Rings films is a good place to start. (via anil dash)

How to Design a Comic Book Page

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2017

Using a single page from Art Spiegelman’s Maus (considered by many as one of the finest graphic novels ever written), Evan Puschak considers how Spiegelman used the page (and not the individual panel) as the atomic unit of the narrative of his father surviving the Holocaust. Designing the page is the thing. In making this point, he quotes the cartoonist Seth (Gregory Gallant):

The ‘words & pictures’ that make up the comics language are often described as prose and illustration combined. A bad metaphor: poetry and graphic design seems more apt. Poetry for the rhythm and condensing; graphic design because cartooning is more about moving shapes around — designing — then it is about drawing.

On the origin of time travel in fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2017

Drawing from David Wittenberg’s book, Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative, as a guide, Evan Puschak goes in search of the origins of time travel in fiction. Along the way, he connects Charles Darwin’s work on evolution to the largely forgotten genre of utopian romance novels to the depiction of time travel in modern sci-fi.

P.S. While I was in France, I met up with Evan for lunch (we happened to be in Paris at the same time). We’d never met before, and it was really strange hearing the voice of one of my favorite YouTube channels coming out of an actual person.

The movement of David Fincher’s camera is a surrogate for your eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2017

This is a really keen observation by Evan Puschak about the camera movement in David Fincher’s films: it mimics your eyes in paying attention to the behavior in a scene. The effect is sometimes subtle. When a character shifts even slightly, the camera keeps that person’s eyes and face in the same place in the frame, just as you would if you were in the room with them.

Black Mirror is a parade of tragedies. So why do we watch it?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2017

Black Mirror, which has a fourth season coming out in the near future, is an unflinchingly dark show, full of bad things happening to people that don’t necessarily deserve them. Centuries ago, Aristotle defined tragedy as:

A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language; … in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions.

But as Evan Puschak argues in this video essay, that’s not the whole story of why we watch Black Mirror.

FYI: If you haven’t seen the series yet, there are major spoilers for Black Mirror (and also for Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones).

An appreciation of Norm MacDonald’s comedy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

In a new video, Evan Puschak explores the comedy of Norm MacDonald. Even if you don’t care for MacDonald’s work, you may come away from this with more respect for his comedy and craft. Me? I can’t even tell if MacDonald is funny anymore…I hear that deadpan-but-smiling voice and I just start to laugh in a purely Pavlovian way.

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.

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.

Logan: when superhero movies get old

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

Using John Cawelti’s 1977 article “Chinatown” and Generic Transformation in Recent Films as a guide, Evan Puschak examines the genre of superhero movies (and Logan in particular). In the piece, Cawelti offers four possible responses to the conventions of a genre becoming well-known (or, less kindly, stale):

1. Humorous burlesque
2. The cultivation of nostalgia
3. Demythologization
4. The affirmation of myth

Puschak examines each of these in relation to superhero movies and wonders what sort of response Logan represents.

Has Reservoir Dogs aged well?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2017

Evan Puschak looks at Reservoir Dogs 25 years after it was released and analyzes whether the film still holds up. I’m probably not giving anything away by saying his answer is “yes” (with a small caveat). I’ve probably watched that movie more than a dozen times, but I hadn’t seen it in 10-12 years before a viewing a few months ago. It is very much a first film, almost like a student film — it’s definitely no Pulp Fiction, but what is? — but all of the stuff that makes Tarantino Tarantino is very much in evidence.

I was way into Quentin Tarantino in the mid-90s. When I was designing my very first personal homepage, a large part of it was going to be a Tarantino fan page. There were already several QT fan pages on the web, but I thought I could do better. While I dropped the QT content and went in a slightly more creative direction with my page back then, I eventually ended up making that fan page after all.

How MLK’s I Have Dream speech was composed

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2017

Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech is one of the greatest examples of American oratory. In this video, Evan Puschak looks at how King’s speech was constructed and delivered, examining King’s references to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address & Shakespeare, his use of lyrical techniques like alliteration and anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses), and the mixture of plain and poetic language throughout the speech. Spoiler: King was a rhetorical genius and there’s a lot going on in that speech.

(Fair warning: Trump comes in abruptly at the 6:00 mark. I get the point he’s trying to make with the contrast, but I wish Puschak would have done without it.)

Arrival: future communication, past perspective

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2017

In his newest video, Evan Puschak talks about Arrival, calling it “a response to bad movies”. Arrival was perhaps my favorite film of 2016, and I agree with him about how well-made this film is. There’s a top-to-bottom attention to craft on display, from how it looks to how it was cast (Amy Adams was the absolute perfect choice for the lead) to the integration of the theme with story to how expertly it was adapted from Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life. The whole thing’s tight as a drum. If you happened to miss it, don’t watch this video (it gives the whole thing away) and go watch it instead…it’s available to rent/buy on Amazon.

Looking back through the archives, I’m realizing I never did a post about Arrival even though I collected some links about it. So, linkdump time!

Wired wrote about how the movie’s alien alphabet was developed.

Stephen Wolfram wrote about his involvement with the science of the film — his son Christopher wrote Mathematica code for some of the on-screen visuals. 1

Science vs Cinema explored how well the movie represented actual science:

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer wrote about how he adapted Chiang’s short story for the screen.

Jordan Brower wrote a perceptive review/analysis that includes links to several other resources about the film.

Update: The director of photography for Arrival was Bradford Young, who shot Selma and is currently working on the Han Solo movie for Disney. Young did an interview with No Film School just before Arrival came out.

I’m from the South, so quilts are a big part of telling our story. Quilting is ancient, but in the South it’s a very particular translation of idea, time, and space. In my own practice as an image maker, I slowly began to be less concerned with precision and more concerned with feeling.

Quiltmakers are rigorous, but they’re a mixed media format. I think filmmaking should be a mixed media format. I’m just really honoring what quiltmakers do, which is tell a story by using varying texture within a specific framework to communicate an idea. For me, with digital technology, lenses do that the best. The chips don’t do it now-digital film stock is basically all captured the same, but the lenses are how you give the image its textural quality.

(thx, raafi)

Update: James Gleick, author of Time Travel, wrote about Arrival and Story of Your Life for The New York Review of Books.

What if the future is as real as the past? Physicists have been suggesting as much since Einstein. It’s all just the space-time continuum. “So in the future, the sister of the past,” thinks young Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, “I may see myself as I sit here now but by reflection from that which then I shall be.” Twisty! What if you received knowledge of your own tragic future-as a gift, or perhaps a curse? What if your all-too-vivid sensation of free will is merely an illusion? These are the roads down which Chiang’s story leads us. When I first read it, I meant to discuss it in the book I was writing about time travel, but I could never manage that. It’s not a time-travel story in any literal sense. It’s a remarkable work of imagination, original and cerebral, and, I would have thought, unfilmable. I was wrong.

(via @fquist)

  1. Christopher was 15 or 16 when he worked on the film. His LinkedIn profile states that he’s been a programmer for Wolfram (the company) since he was 13 and that in addition to his work on Arrival, he “implemented the primary cryptography functions in Mathematica”.

How Louis C.K. tells a joke

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2017

Evan Puschak looks at a single joke Louis C.K. tells about playing Monopoly with his daughters and takes it apart to see how Louis builds and delivers his material. By the end, you’ll likely have a new appreciation of the efficiency and power of Louis’ performance…every word he utters is doing work.

You know, more than anything else I think I’m obsessed with articulation, with the magic of putting things just the right way. There are 207 words in this joke and not a single one is wasted. They’re used either in meaning or in rhythm to contribute to the overall effect, an effect that lets us see the world from a different angle, and more importantly, makes us laugh.

Good phrase, “the magic of putting things just the right way”.

Amazon Go is AWS for retail

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Some interesting speculation from Evan Puschak on what Amazon is up to with Amazon Go. Basically, Puschak thinks Amazon Go is Amazon Web Services but for retail stores. In the same way that AWS provides hosting for sites like Netflix and Reddit, Amazon Go will provide patent-protected technology infrastructure for “self-shopping” supermarkets and retail stores. But it remains to be seen whether it’s more like their one-click patent, which was licensed by a few others (notably Apple) but everyone else was able to do without it.

Anthony Hopkins can still bring it

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2016

When Westworld started, I thought Hopkins’ character, park founder Robert Ford, was going to be a relatively minor player, an accomplished but past-prime actor popping up occasionally to function as a one-man chorus interpreting a tragedy for us. But as Evan Puschak shows in his breakdown of the Oscar winner’s performance in a single scene from Westworld, Hopkins is still near the height of his powers and Ford is at the center of the narrative. (Shout out as well to Jeffrey Wright and especially Thandie Newton, who along with Hopkins has been the stand-out performer so far.)

The genius of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan battle scene

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2016

For a recent episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak takes a look at how Steven Spielberg constructed the intense opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. His decision to film the Omaha Beach landing from the perspective of a battlefield cameraman — something he cribbed from actual WWII battle footage and John Ford’s The Battle of Midway, where scenes in which on-set explosions made the film skip were kept in the finished movie — made it one of the best depictions of war ever created. I need to watch this movie again soon.

An incredible detail Puschak notes: the shot-length in that scene was surprisingly long, particularly for a battle scene. In fact, the shot length in that scene was more than double that of the entirety of 300, any Transformers movie, and Inception.

Amateur professionalism in online video

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2016

Evan Puschak does a good job of explaining why Casey Neistat’s videos are so entertaining: a combination of seeming amateurism and professionally honed skills in storytelling & video production. I don’t keep up with them regularly, but I love Neistat’s videos. He is definitely among a handful of video producers who have developed genuinely potent forms of video entertainment in the age of YouTube.

The fundamental flaw in Batman v Superman

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2016

In his latest video, Evan Puschak takes Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder to task for filling his movies with flashy moments instead of scenes that would give the movie more emotional punch.

It’s a convincing argument. But before watching this — and full disclosure: I have not seen Batman v Superman — I thought he was going to discuss the real flaw in BvS which is very simply: Superman is an invincible man and Batman is a normal guy in a fancy suit. If this were not a movie designed to entertain 14-year-old boys but a real thing happening in an actual world, Superman would just deal with Batman as trivially as you or I might swat a mosquito. And don’t get me started on kryptonite and Superman’s greater Achilles Heel, his goodness and love of humanity. As a storyteller, how many more interesting ways can you exploit those weaknesses? Superman is the most boring superhero — a nearly invincible man with very obvious flaws — and that’s why no one can make a contemporary film about him that’s any good.

P.S. Actually, Superman’s biggest flaw is that he wants to be a writer when he could quite literally do anything else with his time, like fly around or make time go backwards. What an idiot.

An appreciation of The Darjeeling Limited

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2016

I am not alone in saying that The Darjeeling Limited is perhaps my least favorite Wes Anderson movie (even though Ebert liked it). But it’s Evan Puschak’s favorite and he does an admirable job in raising my appreciation for the film.

Where did Brexit come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2016

Evan Puschak examines the rise of the independence movement in Britain, from their entrance into the European Community in 1973 to Thatcher’s rumblings about EU governance to UKIP’s rise, culminating in Brexit last week. I thought this was a pretty succinct summary of right-wing political tactics:

And that’s the point about far-right political organizations: they use the fulcrum of populism and fear to lift many times their weight in people.

Update: More on the history of the movement to withdraw Britain from the EU from Gary Younge in The Guardian.

Why is Game of Thrones stuck in medieval times?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2016

Riffing on Ken Mondschein’s Strategies of War in Westeros, Evan Puschak explores why Westeros seems culturally and technologically stuck in the Middle Ages.

Update: Or does Game of Thrones depict the early modern period?

What Martin actually gives us is a fantasy version of what the historian Alfred Crosby called the Post-Columbian exchange: the globalizing epoch of the 16th and 17th centuries. A world where merchants trade exotic drugs and spices between continents, where professional standing armies can number in the tens or hundreds of thousands, where scholars study the stars via telescopes, and proto-corporations like the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Spicers of Qarth control global trade. It’s also a world of slavery on a gigantic scale, and huge wars that disrupt daily life to an unprecedented degree.

(via @arbesman)

Hollywood movies: too much fan service

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2016

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.

How to understand a Picasso painting

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2016

It’s impossible to tell someone how to interpret paintings by Picasso in only 8 minutes, but Evan Puschak provides a quick and dirty framework for how to begin evaluating the great master’s work by considering your first reaction, the content, form, the historical context, and Picasso’s own personal context.