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Sisters with Transistors: Electronic Music’s Unsung Heroines

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

Sisters with Transistors (great title!) is a documentary film by Lisa Rovner about the overlooked female pioneers of electronic music.

The history of women has been a history of silence.

As one of the film’s subjects, Laurie Spiegel explains: “We women were especially drawn to electronic music when the possibility of a woman composing was in itself controversial. Electronics let us make music that could be heard by others without having to be taken seriously by the male dominated Establishment.”

The film’s subjects, which you can read about here, include Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, Delia Derbyshire, Maryanne Amacher, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, and Laurie Spiegel. Oram, for example, was one of the founding members of BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop:

With many of her country’s men serving in the second World War, she began her career in radio broadcasting in the early ’40s. Galvanized by the ongoing developments in audio technology, she devoted much of her free time to exploring new ways to make sounds with electronics. One of the founding figures of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, she was one of the earliest British composers to produce electronic sounds and compose from field recordings — Musique Concrete, the ancestry of today’s electronic music.

Sisters with Transistors has been playing at some online festivals but I couldn’t find any info about release dates or screenings in the US. Hopefully it will be out there soon? (via open culture)

21 Things That Kept Me Going In 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2020

overhead view of my home office

For the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of everything I read, watch, listen to, and experience in my media diet posts. As a media diet wrap-up, here’s the most compelling content & experiences from 2020, stuff that helped stimulate and sustain me in a year of isolation and pandemic.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This was the final movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic hit; I chose well. Not a week has gone by this year that I didn’t think about some aspect or another of this film.

You’re Wrong About. By far my favorite episodic podcast. The joy with which the hosts delight each other with insights and humorous asides is the engine that drives the show. Literally my only complaint: I wish they hadn’t changed the theme music.

The Queen’s Gambit. Seems like everyone watched this miniseries this fall and I loved it just as much as anyone.

The Rain Vortex at Singapore’s Changi Airport. An enchanting oasis in the middle of an airport indicative of Singapore’s incorporation of natural elements into urban spaces.

MASS MoCA. For my birthday, I treated myself with a road trip to this superb museum. The Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, and Jenny Holzer exhibitions alone were worth the trip. I sorely miss museums.

Ted Lasso. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood + Major League. Who knew you could make radical empathy funny? Everyone I’ve recommended this show to has loved it.

The Land That Never Has Been Yet from Scene on Radio. An essential series on American democracy. Like, do we even have one? It’s hard to choose, but the episode on how the libertarianism of the contemporary Republican Party was the result of a deliberate campaign by just a few people that increasingly came to dominate American politics is my favorite.

Carol. I remember liking this back when it came out, but my rewatch a couple of months ago was a revelation. A remarkable, sparkling film.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson has a gift for finding new ways for her readers to think about entrenched systems and behaviors.

Devs. This show got neglected a little in the end-of-year lists because of an early-in-the-pandemic release, but it was one of my top 2-3 shows this year.

The Great. I really enjoyed this Hulu show as I watched it and it’s grown in my esteem in the months since. It’s one of the first shows I recommend when friends ask what I’ve been watching lately. Huzzah!

Nintendo Switch. To distract themselves from the pandemic, did America spend more hours playing video games or watching TV? I did both. Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 35, Rocket League, Fortnite, Minecraft, Among Us, and all the old NES games were popular in our household this year.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I found reading difficult for most of the year — I only finished three books in the past 10 months. But this one I couldn’t put down; finished it in two days.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Perfect little stories expertly told. Don’t miss the endnotes, where Chiang reveals where the ideas for each of his stories came from.

AirPods Pro. The best augmented reality device yet devised — the music feels like it’s actually in your head more seamlessly than ever before.

Little Women. Fantastic casting, performances, and direction. Waiting patiently for whatever Gerwig does next.

My Brilliant Friend (season 2) & Normal People. I didn’t think anyone could effectively adapt either of these authors, but somehow the shows nearly equalled the books.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Everything from Larson is great and this book about the Battle of Britain and the triumph of leadership resonated throughout this pandemic year.

Future Nostalgia. I listened to this more than anything else in 2020. Also notable because IMO there are no skippable songs on this album.

Tomidaya shoyu ramen. This tiny ramen shop in the Little Tokyo section of Saigon is supposed to closely resemble Japan shops. One of the best bowls I’ve ever had.

The Mandalorian. I was lukewarm on season one but loved season two. Of all the recent Star Wars things, this show best channels the sometimes goofy/campy magic that made the original movie so compelling.

The image above is an overhead view of my home office, where all the kottke.org magic happens.

A Sneak Preview of Peter Jackson’s Documentary About The Beatles

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2020

The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s documentary about the making of Let It Be, was delayed by the pandemic, so he and the studio have released a montage of about four minutes of the film as a sneak peek. The film, constructed from 55+ hours of largely unseen footage and 140 hours of audio recordings, seeks to portray the making of the band’s final studio album in a better light than previous accounts. The project has the support of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison and will out in August 2021. (via ted gioia)

My Recent Media Diet, The Late 2020 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2020

Forgive me reader, for I have been lazy. It’s been 7 months since I’ve shared a list of the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts that I’ve been watching/reading/listening to, uh, recently. But I’ve been diligently keeping track1 and so here’s everything I’ve consumed since early May. Warning: soooo much TV and soooo many movies (and bad ones at that) and very few books. At the end of most days — after work, parenting, cooking yet another meal I’m not actually in the mood for, and constantly refreshing Instagram — I just don’t have enough left in the tank for books. (Oh, and as usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades!)

Winds of Change. A fun ride but ultimately kind of empty? (B)

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Perhaps not what you’d expect going in — thought-provoking on almost every page. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show — Madeline Miller. Super interesting, especially if you’ve read Song of Achilles or Circe. (A-)

Godzilla. This was sort of the tail end of my pandemic disaster movie film fest. (C+)

Fetch the Bolt Cutters. I love that this exists but it is not for me. (B-)

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel. I knew it was coming, Thomas Cromwell’s downfall; it’s historical fact after all. But somehow the actual moment shocked me, despite Mantel’s careful foreshadowing over hundreds of pages. (A)

Normal People. No way in hell was this going to be as good as the book, but they somehow did it. Stellar casting. (A-)

Fleabag Live. I wanted to love this like I loved the TV show but could not get into it. (C+)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Whatever else you might think about the third SW trilogy, the casting was fantastic. (B+)

Partysaurus Rex. One of my favorite Pixar shorts. (A-)

Iron Man 3. The only MCU movie I hadn’t seen. It was…fine? (B)

Dunkirk. A masterpiece. (A)

Arrival. Another masterpiece. (A)

Kursk. This should have been better. (B)

Harry Potter at Home. My kids and I listened to this in the car and loved it. (A-)

Watchmen. After admitting I’d stopped watching after a few episodes, several of you urged me to keep going. I finished it but still was not as dazzled as everyone else seemed to be. Maybe if I’d read the graphic novel? (B+)

Against the Rules with Michael Lewis (season two). This season was all about coaching and may have been even better than the first season. (A-)

The General. A silent film masterpiece from Buster Keaton. The kids were a little bored at first but ultimately loved it. (A-)

The Endless. Solid sci-fi horror. (B)

13th. A powerful argument that slavery is still constitutionally legal and alive & well in the United States. (A)

Ida. Beautiful film. (B+)

The Last Dance. I grew up watching and rooting for Jordan and the Bulls, so this was the perfect nostalgic entertainment. Jordan comes off as both more and less of a dick than I remember. (A-)

Da 5 Bloods. This was a mess. (C+)

Undone. Inventive animated sci-fi with plenty of plot left for season two. (B+)

Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor. Borrowed this from my daughter to brush up on how to help her approach some changes coming down the pike. (A-)

Beyond Meat. I snuck some of their ground “beef” into a casserole to try it out and see if the kids would notice. They didn’t at first, but once I told them, the three of us agreed that it was not that tasty — and definitely didn’t taste like beef. Plus I had an upset stomach until noon the next day. (C-)

Knives Out. I enjoyed this much more the second time. (A-)

Honeyland. A maddening microcosm of modernity. (A)

The Conversation. Maybe this hit me on an off-night? (B+)

The Great. Super fun show from the screenwriter of The Favourite. (A-)

Hamilton. Obviously better in person (and 4 years ago), but the performances and music are so great it doesn’t matter. (A)

Slate Money — Modern Monetary Theory. Really interesting alternate way of thinking about the economy, federal debt, inflation, and taxes. They kinda jumped right into the middle of it though, leaving this interested MMT beginner a little baffled. (B)

12 Monkeys. So very 90s. Brad Pitt is great in this though. (B+)

Cloud Atlas. An underrated gem. (A)

The Old Guard. Engaging and built for a sequel. But what isn’t these days? (B+)

Cars 2. I’d only ever seen the first 2/3s of this because my then-4-year-old son was so upset that the onscreen baddies were going to kill Lightning McQueen that we had to leave the theater. (B-)

Nintendo Switch. Such a fun little console that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (A-)

Greyhound. Not Hanks’ best effort. (B)

Radioactive. An overly complicated movie about a complex woman. (B+)

Ratatouille. The scene where Ego takes his first bite of ratatouille still gives me goosebumps. (A)

The Speed Cubers. Heartwarming story. (B+)

Project Power. Incredible that they were able to turn the story of Henrietta Lacks into a superhero movie. (B+)

Pluto TV. Am I the last person on Earth to find out about this app? Dozens of channels of reruns that you can’t pause and are interrupted by ads, just like old school TV. I’ve been watching far too much old Doctor Who on here. (B+)

Folklore. I don’t really get Taylor Swift and that’s ok. (C)

This Land. Excellent and infuriating — this had me yelling at my car radio. (A)

13 Minutes to the Moon — Apollo 13. Not as good as season one about Apollo 11 or Saving Apollo 13, but still compelling. (B+)

Black Panther. Had to rewatch. Rest in peace, Chadwick Boseman. What a loss. (A-)

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. Anything she writes, I will read. (A)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I had forgotten how slow this starts, but once it gets going it’s completely gripping, even the quiet parts. (A-)

Contact by Carl Sagan. First time I’d read this in many years. Did not resonate as much as it had in the past. (B+)

Contact. They should have sent a poet. (A-)

True Grit. Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic in this. (A)

Being John Malkovich. Terrific performance by Malkovich. This was a favorite movie of mine for years but its impact on me has lessened. (B+)

Reply All, Country of Liars. The origin story of QAnon. But let’s just say there are some unreliable narrators in this story. (B+)

Jurassic Park. A blockbuster masterpiece. (A)

50 First Dates. One of the very few Sandler comedies I really like. (B+)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Really did not vibe with this one. (C+)

Pride & Prejudice. I am a huge sucker for this film. (A)

MASS MoCA. Took a day trip down here back in October. My first museum since Feb. Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, Jenny Holzer, great building, virtually no one here on a weekday — very much worth the 6-hour RT car ride. (A+)

Palm Springs. Groundhog Day + 50 First Dates. (A-)

Kona Honzo. After getting a taste of mountain biking on a borrowed bike, I upgraded to this hardtail. Had some really great rides on it but also stupidly crashed, landed on my face, had to go to the ER, and got 9 stitches on my chin. Would not recommend crashing (stupidly or otherwise, but especially stupidly), but I liked mountain biking enough to get back on the bike a couple of weeks later. (A-)

My Octopus Teacher. As I said previously: “It’s such a simple movie but it packs a surprising emotional wallop and is philosophically rich. Even (or perhaps especially) the bits that seem problematic are thought-provoking.” (A)

His Dark Materials. I like the show but the main character is so irritating that I don’t know if I can keep watching… (B+)

You’re Wrong About — Princess Diana. I never fully understood the appeal of Princess Diana but now I do. Excellent 5-part series. (A)

Human Nature. Documentary on Netflix about the discovery and potential of Crispr. (B+)

The Booksellers. Was ultimately not that interested in this. (B)

Ted Lasso. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood + Major League. Who knew you could make radical empathy funny? (A+)

The Queen’s Gambit. So well done in almost every way. (A)

Haywire. Solid Soderbergh thriller. (B+)

Enola Holmes. I will watch almost any Sherlock Holmes adaptation, riff, or spin-off. (B+)

The Trial of the Chicago 7. I loved this. Classic Sorkin and great ensemble cast performance. (A)

Zama. Maybe surrealist film is not my cup of tea. (B)

AlphaGo. I’d read a lot about the events in this film, but seeing it play out was still gripping and surprising. This and My Octopus Teacher would make a great double feature about the shifting definition of what makes humans human. (A)

The Way I See It. Pete Souza reflects on his proximity to power. (B+)

The Queen. Had to watch this after the Princess Di You’re Wrong About series. (B+)

Lego Star Wars Holiday Special. Is this canon now? If so, I have some questions. (C)

Carol. Holy shit, wonderful! I think I held my breath for the last two minutes of the movie. (A+)

Song Exploder. TV version of the OG podcast. The REM episode was great. (B+)

Rogue One. I wouldn’t call this the best Star Wars movie, but it isn’t not the best Star Wars movie either. (A-)

Little Women. Rewatched. I love this movie. (A)

Tenet. Primer + James Bond. Maybe the pandemic has made me dumber, but this totally confused me. In a bad way — it could/should have been simpler. (B)

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. A masterful examination of the skin color-based caste system of the United States, compared and contrasted with the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. (A)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. People have asked so here’s the extensive system I use to keep track of everything: the Notes app on my phone.

Our Friend

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2020

That’s the trailer for Our Friend, a movie based on the true story told in this Esquire article by Matthew Teague: The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word.

His wife was just thirty-four. They had two little girls. The cancer was everywhere, and the parts of dying that nobody talks about were about to start. His best friend came to help out for a couple weeks. And he never left.

I remember very clearly that essay and the day I read it — I think about it all the time. I don’t know if the movie is going to be any good (I hope so), but if you’ve never read this essay, carve out some time to do so today.

Blade Runner Soundtrack Remastered into a Feature-Length Soundscape

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2020

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to argue that much of the enduring success of Blade Runner comes down to how well the potent combination of the film’s score, created by electronic composer Vangelis, and the visuals instantly evoke, even in 2020, the future. Ok, a dystopian neo-noir future, but the future nonetheless. A YouTuber has reworked that score, along with ambient sounds and dialogue from the film, into a feature-length soundscape that, as Colin Marshall put it at Open Culture, “feels a great deal like watching Blade Runner without actually watching Blade Runner”. I think I’ll be listening to this as I work today. (via open culture)

Virtual Sets Are Replacing Green Screens

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2020

The green screen is a staple of visual effects for movies and TV. You film actors in front of a green or blue screen and then use digital editing technology to replace the solid color with any background you’d like. But as Phil Edwards explains in this video, the effects teams for some movies and shows (like Disney’s The Mandalorian) have swapped green screens for virtual sets. In lieu of block colored backgrounds, the actors are surrounded by massive LED panels that display the background and background action so everything can be filmed in one go.

It’s a pretty cool technique. Among the benefits of such a system: you get the “natural” light from the LEDs falling on the actors and other objects in the scene, so you don’t need to add it in later digitally or use extra on-set lighting.

AlphaGo - The Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

I missed this back in March (I think there was a lot going on back then?) but the feature-length documentary AlphaGo is now available to stream for free on YouTube. The movie documents the development by DeepMind/Google of the AlphaGo computer program designed to play Go and the competition between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, a Go master.

With more board configurations than there are atoms in the universe, the ancient Chinese game of Go has long been considered a grand challenge for artificial intelligence. On March 9, 2016, the worlds of Go and artificial intelligence collided in South Korea for an extraordinary best-of-five-game competition, coined The DeepMind Challenge Match. Hundreds of millions of people around the world watched as a legendary Go master took on an unproven AI challenger for the first time in history.

During the competition back in 2016, I wrote a post that rounded up some of the commentary about the matches.

Move after move was exchanged and it became apparent that Lee wasn’t gaining enough profit from his attack.

By move 32, it was unclear who was attacking whom, and by 48 Lee was desperately fending off White’s powerful counter-attack.

I can only speak for myself here, but as I watched the game unfold and the realization of what was happening dawned on me, I felt physically unwell.

Back to the Future: Reimagined

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2020

Back to the Future is 35 years old this year and to celebrate, Universal has cut together eight fan-made animations of action from the film into an abridged version of the beloved movie.

See also a deepfake version of BTTF with Tom Holland as Marty and Robert Downey Jr. as Doc.

“Reverse Toonification” of Pixar Characters

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2020

Using an AI-based framework called Pixel2Style2Pixel and searching for faces in a dataset harvested from Flickr, Nathan Shipley made some more photorealistic faces for Pixar characters.

reverse toonification of Pixar characters

reverse toonification of Pixar characters

reverse toonification of Pixar characters

In response to a reader suggestion, Shipley fed the generated image for Dash back into the system and this happened:

reverse toonification of Pixar characters

I cannot tell where these images should live in the uncanny valley. You can see some similar experiments from Shipley here: a more realistic version of Miles from Spider-Verse, images of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera “reverse engineered” from paintings, and an image generated from a Rembrandt self-portrait.

The Way I See It, a Documentary Film About Former White House Photographer Pete Souza

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2020

Pete Souza was the White House photographer for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Reflecting on his experience and the how the current President comports himself while in office, Souza published two books: Obama: An Intimate Portrait and Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents. Those books form the basis for a documentary directed by Dawn Porter on Souza and his work called The Way I See It.

Based on the New York Times #1 bestseller comes The Way I See It, an unprecedented look behind the scenes of two of the most iconic Presidents in American History, Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, as seen through the eyes of renowned photographer Pete Souza. As Official White House Photographer, Souza was an eyewitness to the unique and tremendous responsibilities of being the most powerful person on Earth. The movie reveals how Souza transforms from a respected photojournalist to a searing commentator on the issues we face as a country and a people.

I didn’t know that Trump’s presidency is not really getting recorded photographically as past presidencies have, but I’m not surprised.

The film was shown on MSNBC the other day…I don’t know if they’re rerunning it or what. It’s also out in theaters but with many of those still closed, I assume it’ll be out on streaming at some point soonish? (Update: According to the MSNBC schedule, it looks like it’s re-airing at midnight on Friday.)

Darren Aronofsky & His Cast Reunite for the 20th Anniversary of Requiem for a Dream

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2020

To mark the 20th anniversary of the debut of Requiem for a Dream, MoMA organized a virtual reunion of director Darren Aronofsky and the four principle cast members (Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans) to talk about “the film and its impact on cinema and culture”. Would have loved to hear from cinematographer Matthew Libatique and Clint Mansell (who did the fantastic music for the film) as well, but even six-person online panels are a little unwieldy. (via open culture)

Copaganda: The Biased Portrayal of Police in TV & Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2020

YouTube channel Skip Intro is making a series of videos about copaganda, which Wikipedia defines as “the phenomenon in which news media and other social institutions promote celebratory portrayals of police officers with the intent of swaying public opinion for the benefit of police departments and law enforcement”. The introductory video embedded above introduces the concept and tracks the history of how police have been portrayed on TV in the movies. Two subsequent videos take a closer look at two contemporary police shows: Blue Bloods and Brooklyn Ninety-Nine.

See also Dan Taberski’s excellent podcast Running From COPS, which covers some of the same ground as the video series. (thx, david)

Update: Jacqui Shine wrote about the influence Dragnet had on how many Americans perceived the police: ‘Dragnet’ was straight up LAPD propaganda, on national TV for years.

When we see a cop on TV, we’re seeing the legacy of Dragnet. Everything we think we know about crime and law enforcement — and everything we believe about the police — bears the imprint of the show. It did no less than fashion the idea of modern policing in our cultural imagination. And, as viewers were reminded each week, all of it was true. But what most of us don’t know is that Dragnet was also calculated propaganda: the Los Angeles Police Department did far more than provide technical assistance, essentially co-producing the show.

Accidentally Wes Anderson, the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2020

Accidentally Wes Anderson book cover

Inspired by the symmetry and color palettes of Wes Anderson’s movies, the Instagram account Accidentally Wes Anderson has been collecting and featuring photos from folks all over the world that wouldn’t look out of place in The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel. The creators have turned it into a new book called Accidentally Wes Anderson, which features many of the best contributions from the account. It sounds like it’s kind of a travel book, a visually oriented Atlas Obscura.

Now, inspired by a community of more than one million Adventurers, Accidentally Wes Anderson tells the stories behind more than 200 of the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on Earth. This book, authorized by Wes Anderson himself, travels to every continent and into your own backyard to identify quirky landmarks and undiscovered gems: places you may have passed by, some you always wanted to explore, and many you never knew existed.

And while we’re here, I picked out a few of my recent favorites from their Instagram:

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

The Alvin and the Chipmunks Version of Koyaanisqatsi

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2020

Koyaanisqatsi, featuring Alvin and the Chipmunks

This album cover was tweeted out the other day by Philip Glass’s official account with no additional comment. What really makes it IMO is the song titles listed at the bottom of the cover: Those Speedy Clouds, Escalators of Death, Run For It…Rockets Are Exploding All Over the Place!

I tried to track down who made this, but the only other instance I could find online was on Philip Glass’s Instagram exactly one year ago. Koyaanisqatsi is a serious work of art — it’s refreshing to see how playful Glass is about its representation. You could imagine other artists/musicians not being so chill about it.

Update: Aha, designer Cris Shapan made this. (via @jdpbbank)

Update: Here’s a short snippet of what this album might sound like.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2020

Now streaming on Netflix, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, a documentary about the 94-year-old broadcaster, naturalist, and international treasure.

In this unique feature documentary, titled David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the celebrated naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen. Coming to Netflix October 4 2020, the film addresses some of the biggest challenges facing life on our planet, providing a snapshot of global nature loss in a single lifetime. With it comes a powerful message of hope for future generations as Attenborough reveals the solutions to help save our planet from disaster.

In the trailer (embedded above), Attenborough says “I had the most extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary.” In saying that, he’s speaking not only as a living legend whose long career in television and science has brought him nearly universal acclaim, but also as someone who can look back and see how recognizably and thoroughly the Earth has changed during his lifetime. The depletion of animal populations, the changing climate, the shifting habitats — he’s witnessed firsthand how much humans have fucked up the planet. We should listen to his testimony and suggestions for fixing what he calls “our greatest mistake”. I hope it’s not too late.

Totally Under Control

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2020

In secrecy over the past several months, filmmaker Alex Gibney has been making a documentary film about the US government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic called Totally Under Control. He and co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger interviewed “countless scientists, medical professionals, and government officials on the inside” to produce the film.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, directing with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, interrogates this question and its devastating implications in Totally Under Control. With damning testimony from public health officials and hard investigative reporting, Gibney exposes a system-wide collapse caused by a profound dereliction of Presidential leadership.

Gibney previously directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Going Clear, and Zero Days (all excellent documentaries). The film comes out in theaters on October 13 and on Hulu on October 20.

Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2020

In this experimental feature-length film that played at Cannes in 2012, director György Pálfi constructed a love story using clips from 450 films that span nearly the entire history of cinema. I was afraid this would be gimmicky, but it’s so well constructed and so smoothly adheres to the tropes of romantic movies that I got totally sucked in. It reminded me a lot of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, a 24-hour film made from hundreds (thousands?) of other movies and TV shows where the on-screen action is synced to the viewer’s time of day. (via waxy)

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, a New Documentary Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2020

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is a new documentary film by Ric Burns about famed author and neurologist Oliver Sacks.

A month after receiving a fatal diagnosis in January 2015, Oliver Sacks sat down for a series of filmed interviews in his apartment in New York City. For eighty hours, surrounded by family, friends, and notebooks from six decades of thinking and writing about the brain, he talked about his life and work, his abiding sense of wonder at the natural world, and the place of human beings within it. Drawing on these deeply personal reflections, as well as nearly two dozen interviews with close friends, family members, colleagues and patients, and archival material from every point in his life, this film is the story of a beloved doctor and writer who redefined our understanding of the brain and mind.

The film is playing in virtual cinemas around the country right now: you can check out the list at the end of this page for more information and showtimes.

My Octopus Teacher

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2020

I don’t want to give away too much about this movie but I’d recommend watching the trailer and then the movie (you can find it on Netflix). I watched it last night at Kevin Kelly’s urging:

This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. Nothing about its subject would suggest greatness, but it was perfectly crafted.

It’s such a simple movie but it packs a surprising emotional wallop and is philosophically rich. Even (or perhaps especially) the bits that seem problematic are thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

See also A Dreaming Octopus Changes Color.

The Typography of Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2020

Star Trek title card

poster fro Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek typography

In an extended excerpt from his book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies (Amazon), Dave Addey goes long on the typography and design of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and Trek in general).

Alas, The Original Series’s inconsistent typography did not survive the stylistic leap into the 1970s. To make up for it, The Motion Picture’s title card introduces a new font, with some of the curviest Es known to sci-fi. It also follows an emerging seventies trend: Movie names beginning with STAR must have long trailing lines on the opening S.

The Trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2020

I’ve never read or seen any of the Dunes (Herbert’s book, David Lynch’s movie, or even Jodorowsky’s Dune) but I have very fond memories of the video game Dune II and will watch anything that Denis Villeneuve makes, so I’m definitely going to check this out when it’s released…let’s see….on December 18, 2020 in theaters? WTF?

Ok, so just watch the trailer if that’s what you’re here for, but I remain baffled that movie theaters are a) currently open (Tenet was showing in 2810 US theaters last weekend) and b) slated to still be open in December in a country trapped in a pandemic death spiral. Easy testing w/ quick results and contact tracing, the twin keys to controlling the virus, are still a mess. A safe & tested vaccine that’s distributed widely by the end of the year? I wouldn’t hold my breath. And you’re going to put a bunch of people who are laughing and gasping together in a room for two-plus hours with a virus that’s airborne1 and assume they’re going to stay properly masked up (except for when they are eating popcorn and nachos!) and properly distant from each other? (Have you met Americans?!) Even if you assume that movie theater screening rooms are huge & well-ventilated (some definitely are not) and capacity is restricted, I repeat: What The Fuck? And in terms of societal trade-offs, reopening places where people gather indoors for entertainment is more important than ensuring our kids can safely go to school? *extreme hair-tearing-out noise*

Update: Aaaaand the Dune release has been delayed until Oct 2021. Between the Trump debacle2 and the CDC acknowledging that the virus may spread through aerosols, I feel like people are coming around to the idea that indoor gatherings, entertainment, and dining are going to be problematic for several more months.

  1. Along with the lack of testing and tracing, the evidence that the virus can be transmitted through aerosols is the important bit here. Most people and organizations are still acting as though it’s not airborne because the measures would be different if they were taking that into account. See this expert’s advice about movie-going for example — there’s not a single mention of aerosols in the entire piece, so it’s tough for me to take it seriously.

  2. Just to clarify, I mean the outbreak of Covid-19 in the White House and not any other previous or future debacles.

Coronation, Ai Weiwei’s Documentary about the Pandemic Lockdown in Wuhan

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2020

Coronation is a feature-length documentary film by Ai Weiwei about the lockdown in Wuhan, China, during the initial Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020. The trailer is not super compelling tbh, but it’s Ai Weiwei and the description sounds interesting:

The film showcases the incredible speed and power of China’s state machinery with its construction of massive coronavirus hospitals, deployment of roving sanitation-fogging robots, implementation of an exhaustive testing and contact-tracing protocol, and punctiliously engineered protective measures for health workers.

On the other side of the scale is the crushing bureaucracy of that same machine, its totalitarian decision-making, clear deception of ordinary citizens, the absence of civic communication, and perhaps, worst of all, a cold-eyed lack of empathy for those suffering loss and kept away from home.

Ai Weiwei paints a moving and revelatory portrait not just of China’s response to the pandemic but also of ordinary people in Wuhan, showing how they personally cope with the disaster.

Hyperallergic’s Dan Schindel has a review of the film. You can watch Coronation on demand at Vimeo or Alamo. (via colossal)

Marvel Pays Tribute to Chadwick Boseman

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2020

Actor Chadwick Boseman died on Friday after a four-year battle with colon cancer. Boseman played both Jackie Robinson and James Brown in films, but he was best known for his role as T’Challa / Black Panther in four Marvel movies. In this short video featuring behind-the-scenes footage from those films and interviews from his colleagues, Marvel pays tribute to the best possible person they could have gotten to play that role.

I watched Black Panther for the third or fourth time over the weekend and while Michael B. Jordan always blows me away, it’s Boseman’s quiet intensity and magnetism that grounds Jordan’s performance and makes the whole “the bad guy has a point” plot work. Yeah ok, it’s just a superhero movie, but I think Black Panther is going to be one of those films that’s going to be relevant and reverberate for a long time.

Ammonite

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

Ammonite is an upcoming romantic drama from director Francis Lee. It takes place in the 1840s and stars Kate Winslet as a palaeontologist & Saoirse Ronan as her assistant; the pair clash then fall in love. The story is based on the life of Mary Anning, who made several important contributions to paleontology.

Paleontology wouldn’t be the same without Mary Anning. She scoured the dreary coast of southern England for secrets not seen since the Jurassic, fueling the nascent 19th-century field of fossil studies with evidence of strange sea dragons, flying reptiles and other fascinating fragments of life long past. And now, over 170 years after her death, she’s got her own movie.

However, there’s no evidence that Anning and her friend, Charlotte Murchison, ever had a romantic relationship.

I have to wonder what Anning would say to this. As she wrote in a letter, “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.” In the sexist, male-dominated world of 19th-century science, Anning’s finds were celebrated while she herself was barred from joining academic societies or even finding a path to gain equal footing with the likes of William Buckland, Gideon Mantell and other traditional heroes of paleontology who parasitized her labor. Now, in having her life’s story made a fiction, is the world using Anning again?

Ammonite opens in US theaters in November? (I mean, they reopened schools in Florida against all expert advice and common sense, so why not theaters?) Anyway, looking forward to the third movie in the Portrait of a Lady on Fire trilogy next year.

2020: An Isolation Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2020

Isolation does funny things to people. Just ask designer Lydia Cambron, who recognized a certain kinship between the themes of her lockdown in Brooklyn this spring and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Over the course of two months, Cambron meticulously recreated 2001’s ending scene in her apartment, not only shot-by-shot but nearly look-by-look, and produced a tiny masterpiece of her own.

The adapted version delineates the passing of time through wardrobe rather than age, identifying each phase of the character’s journey with a product of self care or PPE. Tools of private entertainment or self betterment are also used as props, questioning our confidence in products and productivity as anchors during times of uncertainty. Multitasking while #wfh, conjuring guilt or longing with unused exercise equipment, your entire being reduced to a measure of time — these scenes all illustrate the absurd comedy of trying to maintain control during this unprecedented and unpredictable time.

(via daring fireball)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a New Film from Charlie Kaufman

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2020

I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation), director. Łukasz Żal (Ida, Cold War), cinematographer. Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights), Jessie Buckley (Chernobyl), Toni Collette (too many amazing things), David Thewlis (Lupin from Harry Potter). Adapted from I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. Netflix. September 4. Trailer above. Excited! Bye.

And Now a Message from Mask Spokesman Bane from The Dark Knight Rises

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2020

The Auralnauts, who have rejiggered the dialogue and sounds from your favorite movies with hilarious results (most notably Star Wars), have reimagined Bane from The Dark Knight Rises as a coronavirus mask advocate for their latest video.

Do I look like I live in fear of anything?! I’m wearing this mask for you, the people of Gotham, who, I can’t help but notice, are not social distancing!

A Keen Analysis of the Influences on Inception

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

Ten years on from the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society smartly traces the key influences of the film, rejecting the simplistic notion that Inception is just a rip-off of Paprika or The Matrix. Instead, he delves into long-standing themes in science fiction and other genres that Nolan is able to synthesize into something new. (Remember, everything is a remix.)

Also, kudos to Saladino to getting through an entire video on the ideas that influenced Inception without making an inception joke or reference, e.g. “Dark City incepted Nolan into including malleable architecture”. Clearly I could not have resisted.

How Slow Motion Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

The kids and I were talking about how slow motion video works the other day, so I was happy to see this new video from Phil Edwards detailing how the technique works and its history in cinema, from Eadweard Muybridge to Wes Anderson and from Seven Samurai to The Matrix.

I am an unabashed fan of slow motion; you can check out dozens of slow motion videos I have posted over the years, including this video of Alan Rickman dramatically drinking tea.