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My Recent Media Diet, Spring 2022 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2022

Well hey there, it’s been a few months, so it’s time for another roundup of what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and experiencing recently. In addition to the stuff below, I have a few things in progress: the second season of Russian Doll, Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, and I just started dipping into Rebecca Woolf’s forthcoming memoir, All of This. Oh, and I’m listening to Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World on audiobook and the third season of Michael Lewis’ Against the Rules podcast. All always, don’t sweat the letter grades too much.

Everything Everywhere All at Once. This movie is a little bit of a miracle: action, comedy, heartfelt, and a little bit of a mess, all together in a perfect balance. This is the best movie I’ve seen in ages. (A+)

Encanto. The kids and I liked it fine. (B+)

The Expanse (season six). I’m going to miss spending time in this world with these people. (A-)

Matrix by Lauren Groff. Was delighted and moved by this work of historical fiction about Marie de France. (A)

Station Eleven. I loved the slow burn and resolution of this show. I didn’t think I wanted to watch a TV show about a flu pandemic causing the end of civilization, but it was actually perfect. Both actresses who played Kirsten were fantastic. (A/A+)

The Last Duel. Every director is entitled to their Rashomon I guess? And I’m not sure Matt Damon was the right choice here… (B)

Pig. Had no idea what to expect from this one. Even so, Taken + Truffle Hunters + Fight Club + Ratatouille was a surprise. (B+)

Strafford ice cream. This Black-owned dairy farm makes the richest, creamiest ice cream I’ve ever had. So glad I randomly bought a pint of it a few months ago…I’m never going back to anything else. (A)

Severance. Fantastic opening credits sequence and while I wasn’t as enamored as many were after the first few episodes, the show definitely grew on me. (A-)

My Brilliant Friend (season three). I don’t know why there’s no more buzz about this show. The acting, world-building, story, and Max Richter’s soundtrack are all fantastic. And the fight against fascism! (A)

The Gilded Age. Exactly what I wanted out of a period drama from the maker of Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. (B+)

Exhalation. Second time through, this time on audiobook. I love these stories - Chiang is a genius. (A)

The Book of Boba Fett. This turned into season 2.5 of The Mandalorian and I am totally ok with that. (B+)

Other People’s Money podcast. As a snack-sized in-between season for his excellent Against the Rules podcast, Michael Lewis revisits his first book, Liar’s Poker, written about his experience working for Salomon Brothers in the 80s. (A-)

The King’s Man. Not as fun as the first movie but more fun than the second one? But they all could be better. (B)

Turning Red. I loved Domee Shi’s short film, Bao, and this film is similarly clever and heartfelt. (A-)

Drive My Car. Really appreciated the cinematography of this one; wish I could have seen it in the theater. (A-)

Jennifer Packer at The Whitney. I was unfamiliar with Packer’s work before seeing this exhibition, but I’m a fan now. (A-)

Licorice Pizza. I’m really flabbergasted at the two pointless racist scenes in this film. PT Anderson is a better filmmaker than this. It’s a shame because I enjoyed the rest of the film — the two leads are great. Can’t recommend it though. (D)

Death on the Nile. These movies are fun. Sometimes all you want to do is watch Kenneth Branagh chew scenery as Hercule Poirot. (B+)

Moonfall. Not as fun or coherent (I know, lol) as some of Emmerich’s other movies. The acting in this is…not great. (C+)

Hawkeye. Fun but I don’t know how many more Marvel things I want to keep up with. (B)

Spider-Man: No Way Home. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is always fun. (B+)

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Better than the overcomplicated sequel and Mikkelsen was a better Grindelwald than Depp. The story wrapped up so nicely that who knows if there will be a fourth movie. (B)

The Tragedy of Macbeth. Brilliant cinematography and set design. (B+)

The Batman. Oh I don’t know. I guess this was a pretty decent detective story, but I’m not sure why Batman needed to be involved. (B)

The Northman. This would have been much better had it ended 20 minutes sooner. Not sure we needed another movie that concludes with ultimately pointless violent masculine revenge. (B-)

Kimi. Soderbergh does Rear Window + The Conversation. The direction is always tight and Zoë Kravitz is great in this. (A-)

The Mysterious Benedict Society. The kids and I enjoyed this solid adaptation of the first book of a popular series. (B+)

Armageddon. The pace of this movie is incredible — it just drops you right into the action and never stops for more than 2 hours. Also, the top question when searching this movie title on Google is “Is Armageddon movie a true story?” *sigh* (B-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2022

You have to admire Daniel Radcliffe for his movie & theater role choices since Harry Potter. He’s done Swiss Army Man, Equus on Broadway, all sorts of small & independent films, several on- and off-Broadway plays, and now he’s starring as Al in a Weird Al Yankovic biopic. And……it works? Variety calls it a “scripted mockumentary”. I’ll watch.

How Postwar Italy Created The Paparazzi

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2022

From film fan Benito Mussolini and the postwar explosion of Italian filmmaking to a financial rule with big effects and Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Evan Puschak tells the story of how the paparazzi was created.

The history of celebrity paparazzi disrupted the highly manicured image movie stars had enjoyed since the golden age of Hollywood. They brought these gods of our culture down to the messy earth. Interestingly though, this didn’t dampen our obsession with fame, as you might expect. No, it turbo charged it. Something about seeing our celebrities brought low — catching a glimpse of their flaws and pains — it didn’t push the famous off these weird pedestals we put them on. It only intensified our fixation with them.

Natasha Lyonne Revisits Her Breakout Characters

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2022

Today I discovered that all I want to do is listen to Natasha Lyonne talk about her experiences in showbiz. But instead I got a little more than 7 minutes and that’s just fine:

I’m a few episodes into the second season of Russian Doll right now and it’s so good.

Turn Every Page: A Documentary on Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2022

This looks interesting: a feature-length documentary on the life and work of Robert Caro and his longtime editor Robert Gottlieb, directed by Gottlieb’s daughter Lizzie Gottlieb.

Pulitzer Prize winning writer Robert Caro and legendary editor Robert Gottlieb have been working - and fighting - together for 50 years. At 86, Caro is battling time to finish work on his long-promised fifth and final volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Now 90, Gottlieb continues to edit, write and pursue his myriad and unexpected passions, attempting to “love and be silent” until he and Caro can begin to edit Caro’s final masterwork.

Directed by Gottlieb’s daughter Lizzie Gottlieb, Turn Every Page is an intimate look into artistry, mortality, antagonism, and friendship. Gottlieb chronicles the behind-the-scenes drama of the making of Caro’s The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson volumes. The film is a deep-dive into the power dynamics of creative collaboration, the peculiarities and work habits of two ferocious intellects, and the culmination of a journey that has consumed both of their lives.

No trailer and no release date that I can find, but I will absolutely see this whenever it comes out. See also the New-York Historical Society’s ongoing exhibition, “Turn Every Page”: Inside the Robert A. Caro Archive.

Spoiler Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2022

Spoiler Paintings by Mario Garcia Torres

Spoiler Paintings by Mario Garcia Torres

Spoiler Paintings by Mario Garcia Torres

For his series of Spoiler Paintings, Mario García Torres silkscreened short texts on colorful backgrounds that reveal major plot points of movies like The Usual Suspects, The Matrix, E.T., Basic Instinct, Heat, and Fight Club.

Although the Spoiler Paintings may seem conventional and harmless, they were produced with the intention of displacing the reaction in a work of art by producing tension even before seeing the piece. This objective is achieved by using the widespread notion that knowing the end of a film destroys its experience.

Michelle Yeoh and the Daniels Break Down a Scene from Everything Everywhere All At Once

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2022

I saw Everything Everywhere All At Once a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it — best movie I’ve seen all year and I can’t remember having a better time seeing a film in the theater in the past 3-4 years. So watching this short making-of featurette of Michelle Yeoh and the Daniels was really nice. It’s not surprising how thoughtful yet open to creative chaos they are, given the magic of the end result.

Can Documentaries Change the World?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2022

The Thin Blue Line got Randall Adams out of jail after 12 years. Blackfish almost bankrupted Seaworld and pressured them to end their orca breeding program. Making A Murderer almost got Brendan Dassey out of jail. But in this video essay, Eliz Mizon “argues that documentaries start conversations, but they can’t spark real change.”

Tales of Filmmaking From Edward Zwick

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2022

On his Twitter account, filmmaker Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai) is writing these amazing short threads on the films that he’s made and the lessons he’s learned, many of them celebrating actors he’s worked with (these are my favorites). Here are some selections from some of the threads.

Daniel Craig:

The Fates can kiss or kill. I’d been working on Defiance, off and on, for ten years. Daniel read the script the night it arrived as he sat in bed and wrote back the next day to say yes. I was floored. It was only the first of many times he would astonish me.

Daniel simply said he was moved by the script. I later learned that his grandfather was among the first British soldiers to enter the camps at Bergen-Belsen. I found this out from Dan’s girlfriend; it would have been unlike Daniel to talk about himself.

We shot in freezing rain and snow. Our forest set was miles from base camp and Dan never set foot in his trailer. When I once dared compliment him at the end of a scene, he looked perplexed, “Not hard to act cold when you’re freezing your nuts off,” he said.

Movie fashion:

Anthea Sylbert tried two hundred jackets on Warren Beatty before finding one sexy enough for SHAMPOO. Imagine Anna Taylor-Joy’s character without outfits evoking chess pieces in The Queen’s Gambit? The costumer doesn’t dress actors, she clothes the movie.

Getting personal:

All good writing is personal. That doesn’t mean autobiographical. Whether a period piece or a sci-fi space opera, characters aren’t created, they pre-exist and must be found within you. Imagine yourself as a sinner or a saint and you’ll find their voices.

Why write something personal when the studios want superheroes? The secrets you think are yours alone are the ones people will respond to. Ask yourself, what is my own story about? What is it REALLY about? And why the fuck should anyone care?

Matt Damon’s first big role:

During rehearsals, I kept Matt and the others apart from Denzel Washington, whose interrogation of them drives the plot. As fate would have it, his first day of shooting was scheduled opposite Denzel. And his close-up was up first.

You can tell something special is happening on set by watching the crew. Even the dolly grip, who had made hundreds of movies, was paying attention. As the two actors began to work, it was as if a spell had been cast over the set…

As we finished Matt’s coverage, Denzel caught my eye and nodded approvingly. Later, he took me aside. “Who is the kid?” he asked? I told him it was Matt’s first big role. “Damn,” he said, “Better get my game on. He almost blew me off the screen.”

The house that Apocalypse Now built:

Joe was cast as the Sergeant who brings a drunk Martin Sheen his orders and throws him into the shower. It was the most exciting day of Joe’s life. Shooting went slowly and they planned to finish the scene the next day. That night, though, Sheen had a heart attack.

They sent Joe home, promising to bring him back when Sheen recovered. But Joe had been hired as a day player rather than on a ‘drop-and-pick-up’ so they were obliged to keep him on salary. Every producer’s nightmare was Joe’s dream. Then the Hurricane hit.

Anne Hathaway and crying on cue:

I asked Jake Gyllenhaal to go first. He was every bit as anxious but agreed without hesitation. As we rolled, though, it just wasn’t happening and he knew it. Off-camera, Anne could see he was having trouble and realized he needed help.

It’s impossible to exaggerate how much one actor’s work influences another’s. But as Jake found the magic and his performance blossomed, I happened to glance off-camera and saw Anne’s face wet with tears. She was giving herself to him completely.

Some of the threads are a series of blind items, slices of life about the movie biz. Like:

The lead actor wouldn’t take direction. His co-star sensed disaster. She begged him to help her run lines each morning, during which she would subtly direct the scenes. The stellar reviews credited the director with eliciting great performances from them both.

What happens in season 3 of a TV show?:

You’ve worn out the various permutations of relationships among the principal cast. Do you… a) go around once more? B) kill off a character? C) introduce a new lead? Why not surprise them and break the mold. Remember, The Wire was reinvented every year.

Working with Brad Pitt:

At times our disagreements erupted. We yelled, swore, threw chairs. The crew would walk away and let us have it out. But after each blow up, we’d make up and mean it. It was never personal; Brad’s a good guy. The movie we made reflects our passion.

Brad wasn’t pleased with my cut. He felt I’d underplayed the character’s madness. He was also unhappy when People Magazine named him Sexiest Man of the Year. After we were both nominated (and lost) at the Golden Globes, Brad and I didn’t speak for a year.

There can be only one:

When Zemeckis was directing Used Cars, Spielberg started to take over. Kurt Russell told him, ‘I can take direction from you or I can take direction from Bob. I don’t care who, but it can only be one of you.’ Spielberg apologized. He didn’t on Poltergeist, though.

Ahead of schedule:

By lunch on Welles’ first day the studio was angry he hadn’t gotten a shot. By 3 they were apoplectic. Minutes before wrap they were about to fire him when he called action. The 7 minute opening shot of Touch Of Evil is genius. “Cut!” he yelled. “We’re 3 days ahead!”

Jim Belushi:

As we stood on the platform shouting ‘Fuck You, No, Fuck You’ the train sped off for another loop. With it went the crew. I remember the producer’s horrified face pressed against the window as they disappeared. The deserted platform was suddenly quiet.

After a few more fuck you’s we were running out of dialogue. Suddenly I heard myself say, “Jim… I’m scared. If we fall behind, I’ll get fired. Maybe they’ll fire us both.” He looked at me. “Aw, don’t worry,” he said, “I got ya.” And pulled me into a hug.

All this has got to be for a book or something, right? Or should be…

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, The Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2022

Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate are turning the subject of their series of short films into a feature length movie. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, shot in a mockumentary style, features the titular character searching for his family. The trailer is very cute. Here’s the original short, from 2010. (via cool stuff ride home)

There’s No One In That Spider-Man Suit: Superhero Movies and Digital Doubles

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2022

If you’ve seen a superhero film in the past 10-15 years, chances are that when you see a character wearing a suit, what you’re seeing is almost 100% computer generated. Sometimes the character on the screen is motion-captured but sometimes it’s completely animated. It’s amazing how much these movies are made like animated movies — they can make so many different kinds of changes (clothes, movements, body positioning) way after filming is completed. (via @tvaziri)

Francis Ford Coppola Breaks Down His Most Iconic Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2022

Francis Ford Coppola, a legendary filmmaker no matter how you slice it, sat down recently to talk through his most notable films: The Godfather films, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, and a new movie he’s working on called Megalopolis. I really enjoyed this. Some tidbits:

And this is a great way to think about creative projects:

Learning from the great Elia Kazan, I always try to have a word that is the core of what the movie is really about — in one word. For “Godfather,” the key word is succession. That’s what the movie is about. Apocalypse Now,” morality. “The Conversation,” privacy.

(via open culture)

The Collected Photography of Roger Deakins

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

a dog jumps off of a wall onto the beach

a row of deck chairs sit empty in front of the ocean

an empty chair next to a James Bond sportscar

a seagull faces off with a wooden carving of a bear

It’s no surprise that the cinematographer responsible for some of the beautifully shot films ever made is also an avid and talented photographer. Roger Deakins, who won Oscars for his work on Blade Runner: 2049 and 19171 and shot almost all of the Coen brothers’ films, has published a book of his black & white photography from the last five decades: Roger A. Deakins: Byways.

Although photography has remained one of Roger’s few hobbies, more often it is an excuse for him to spend hours just walking, his camera over his shoulder, with no particular purpose but to observe. Some of the images in this book, such as those from Rapa Nui, New Zealand and Australia, he took whilst traveling with James. Others are images that caught his eye as walked on a weekend, or catching the last of the light at the end of a day’s filming whilst working on projects in cities such as Berlin or Budapest, on Sicario in New Mexico, Skyfall in Scotland and in England on 1917.

Artnet has an interview with Deakins about the collection and his photography.

Looking back through these photos, I wondered if my eye had changed, and I don’t think it has, really. The photographs I took back then are really quite simple; they’re pared down in terms of what’s in the frame. I guess that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

  1. Lol, I really want to see a Blade Runner: 1917 now…

How Galaxy Quest’s Thermian Aliens Were Created

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2022

In this short clip, the cast of Galaxy Quest looks back on how the speech, mannerisms, and culture of the Thermian people were developed. One of the actors came up with the voice in an audition and the filmmakers and actors just ran with it. (via digg)

Apollo 10 1/2

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2022

From Richard Linklater (Boyhood, A Scanner Darkly) comes a new Netflix movie called Apollo 10 1/2, in which a young boy growing up in Houston, TX in the 60s gets recruited by NASA to land a accidentally-too-small lunar lander on the Moon. It’s animated1 and premieres on Netflix on April 1.

  1. The movie is rotoscoped, like Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. I have to say, the rotoscoping effect is not my favorite. Why couldn’t this have been live action? I bet it would find more of an audience that way…

Seeing Faces on the Big Screen

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2022

In this video essay, Evan Puschak argues that explode-y superhero movies aren’t the only movies worth seeing on the big screen, asserting that “massive faces emoting on massive screens is just as epic, if not more epic, than explosions and battles”.

Update: Meant to mention The Spielberg Face here. “If Spielberg deserves to be called a master of audience manipulation, then this is his signature stroke.”

Tarantino’s Fan Fiction: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2022

From Kirby Ferguson (Everything is a Remix), a short video essay about how Quentin Tarantino remixed reality in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Quentin Tarantino is well-known for mashing up different movies into his own. The peak of this method is Kill Bill, which is loading with bits taken from other films. Since then, Tarantino seems to have changed — there hasn’t been nearly so much obvious copying in his movies. But actually he’s still doing the same thing. He’s just copying in a different way, and the sources he copies from are less often movies and more often reality.

The Stairs of Alfred Hitchcock

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2022

Stairs show up all over the place in Alfred Hitchcock’s movies — here’s a supercut of some of those scenes from his more than 50 years of movie-making.

In the first shot of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925), a line of women stream down a spiral staircase backstage at a theater. In the last shot of Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976), Barbara Harris sits down on a staircase, looks into the camera, and winks. In the fifty years and over fifty films between these bookends, Hitchcock made the staircase a recurring motif in his complex grammar of suspense — a device by which potential energy could be, metaphorically and literally, loaded into narrative, a zone of unsteady or vertiginous passage from one space to another, always on the verge of becoming a site of violence.

(via storythings)

Alien in 60 Seconds

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2022

In just one minute and with what seems like a budget of only $60, these folks made their own version of Alien. The effects, they are certainly special. Remember sweded films? (via digg)

Titanic with a Cat

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2022

What if Titanic, but with a cat in a leading role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio? This is pitch-perfect, right down to the post-credits scene.

See also Paddington in Film. (via waxy)

Casino Cheating Expert Reviews Card Counting and Casino Scams From Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2022

Sal Piacente is an expert in casino game protection (aka he thwarts cheaters & people who are beating the house) and in this video, he shows us some literal tricks of the trade while reviewing card & dice gambling from movies like Rain Man, Rounders, The Sting, Austin Powers, and Casino. Fascinating. My eyes widened when he started talking about juiced cards — check out this video for more about them. Genius.

See also Casino Boss Breaks Down Gambling Scenes from Movies (Casino Royale, The Hangover, Ocean’s 13, Casino, etc.)

Star Trek Warp Jumps Through the Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2022

Along with the transporters and communicators, one of the marquee bits of technology in the Star Trek universe is the warp engine. From Star Trek: The Movie to DS9 & Voyager to Picard and Lower Decks, this video takes a look at how the warp jump special effect has changed over the years. Surprising thing I did not know: there was no warp jump special effect in the Original Series.

See also Star Trek Transporters Through the Years and In a Race to the Edge of the Solar System, Which Star Trek Ship Would Win?

Practices of Viewing

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2022

In a series of video meditations on what he calls “Practices of Viewing”, Johannes Binotto explores techniques that filmmakers have used since the invention of film but are now within the control of home viewers: fast forward, mute, pause, screenshotting, and masking. Great stuff; this series was the most-mentioned in the recent Sight & Sound poll of the best video essays of 2021. Communications professor Katie Bird wrote of Practices of Viewing:

Beyond inspirational, and field changing, nothing made me want to throw in the towel on making more than seeing Binotto’s playful, critical, and incisive video series Practices of Viewing. Each one challenged our ways of ‘seeing’ and making, each one carefully bringing in new techniques to test the boundaries and possibilities of videographic form. But whatever trepidation I felt, was always overshadowed by the openness and curiosity that grounded each of Binotto’s experiments and his welcomeness as a videographic maker joyfully throwing out these gambits for the rest of us to up our games.

They’re so good and succinct, but somehow only one of them has over 500 views (and even that one hasn’t broken 1000 views). If you’re even a casual student or fan of film, take a few minutes to watch the first one and you’ll get sucked into the rest.

The Role of Type in Wes Anderson’s Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2022

a film still from the French Dispatch showing a magazine scheduling flowchart

In an interview with Creative Boom, type designer Marie Boulanger talks about Wes Anderson’s use of type and typography in his films, specifically The French Dispatch.

I’m just speaking for myself, but I recently rewatched all of his films in chronological order. You can see typography become a more and more prominent component over time — it’s quite fascinating. In later films like Isle of Dogs and the French Dispatch, it almost becomes its own character rather than a visual or narrative flourish. Especially in a story about writers and publishing, every book, every page, every shop sign, every poster.

Even thinking about the three stories contained within the film, graphic design and typography are really at the core of each one: exhibition posters, protest signs and even menus. You piece a lot of key information together just through certain objects from the set, as well as emotional nuance: humour, joy, sadness. With such a huge part of the narration depending on typography, you have to expect a high level of detail.

Some people can be quite dismissive of Anderson’s work as preoccupied with mere aesthetics, so it’s great to hear Boulanger talk about the depth that something that’s ostensibly aesthetic like typography brings to his films. I loved the use of type in The French Dispatch…so much information conveyed with “just” words. (via sidebar)

Can a Human Really Be Friends with an Octopus?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

Using My Octopus Teacher as a jumping-off point, Ferris Jabr writes about what we know of octopus intelligence and social habits and wonders if humans and octopuses can actually form friendships.

On first viewing, it’s easy to perceive these interactions as a form of genuine companionship — an impression encouraged by lingering close-ups and swelling music. The apparent emotional connection between Foster and the octopus is precisely the aspect of the film that provoked such a strong response from audiences and critics. Upon further reflection, however, the true nature of their relationship becomes more ambiguous. Only one member of the pair speaks directly to the camera. Any conclusions about the octopus’s subjective experience are based entirely on interpretations of her often-enigmatic behavior. Maybe what looks to us like tenderness is mere curiosity or bemusement. Perhaps an ostensible embrace is actually a deflection. No doubt some people are extremely fond of octopuses, but can an octopus really be friends with a human?

My Recent Media Diet, the Belated End of 2021 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

“Recent” is increasingly becoming a lie with these media diet posts…the last one I did was back on Sept 13, right before my life went to hell in a handcart for a couple of months.1 So let’s get to it: a list of short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV shows, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) in the last few months of 2021 (as well as a few 2022 items). As usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades — they are subjective and inconsistent. Oh and some of this stuff might have already popped up in my end-of-2021 review, but I’ll try and say something different about them here.

The Great British Baking Show. I already covered this in the last media diet (and the year-end review), but I wanted to include it here as well because it’s become a real favorite. Rahul 4eva! (A)

Project Hail Mary. After my whole family read this and couldn’t stop talking about it, I had to read it too. And……it was alright. I guess I don’t quite get the acclaim for this book — reminded me of a sci-fi Da Vinci Code. Looking forward to the movie being better. (B)

The French Dispatch. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums? (A)

The Hunger Games. I watched all four movies in this series because I needed something familiar and also mindless to switch my brain off. (B+)

Ted Lasso (season two). Not quite as good as the first season and definitely not as beloved because they had some new ground to cover, but I enjoyed the season as a whole. And put me down as a fan of the Coach Beard Rumspringa episode. (A-)

Izakaya Minato. I don’t exactly know what it was about this meal, but I’m still thinking about it more than 3 months later. Really fresh, clean, creative food. (A)

Magnus on Water. Amazing cocktails, great service, and the outdoor seating area was just right. (A-)

The Lost Daughter. Gah, so good! Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley are all fantastic and the direction and cinematography (all those tight, almost suffocating shots) were just great. Gonna be thinking about this one for awhile. (A+)

Therapy. I’ve got more to say about this at some point, but I’ve been seeing a therapist since September and it’s been really helpful. (A)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I enjoyed this quite a bit, more than Black Widow or The Eternals (haven’t seen latest Spidey yet). (B+)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings soundtrack. Really, really good — been blasting this in the car a lot lately. (A)

Dune. Felt good to see a serious blockbuster in the theater again. And to be able to rewatch it on HBO Max a couple of weeks later. (A-)

Ravine. I’ve only played this a couple of times with the kids, but it got high marks all around for fun and quick rounds. (B+)

The Power of the Dog. A slow burn with a great payoff. Wonderful cast & direction. (A)

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I loved the first half of this book — lots of pithy observations about social media. (B+)

Don’t Look Up. Everyone is comparing this to Dr Strangelove and while it’s not quite on that level, it certainly does some of the same things for climate change that DS did for nuclear war. (A)

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut. A super interesting mix of historical fact and narrative fiction about the swift technological changes that took place in the early 20th century that altered history in small and large ways. (A-)

Wingspan. Bought this game after reading Dan Kois’ review and our family has been enjoying it. (B+)

Pirates of the Caribbean. Still fun. I remember being very skeptical before seeing this for the first time back when it came out, but as soon as Jack Sparrow stepped off his sinking ship right onto the dock, I knew it was going to be good. (A-)

Clear and Present Danger. I don’t actually remember watching much of this…must have switched off my brain too much. (-)

Spies in Disguise. I read the plot synopsis of this on Wikipedia and I still don’t remember watching any of it. I think the kids liked it? (-)

The Courier. Solid spy thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on a true story. (B+)

Finch. Charming but nothing much actually happens? (B)

Eternals. Now that the Infinity Saga is done, I’m not sure how much interest I’m going to have in some of these new characters & storylines. (B)

Mad Max Fury Road. Seventh rewatch? Eighth? I just plain love this movie. (A)

No Time to Die. I am not really a James Bond fan but I liked this one. (B+)

Succession (season three). This got off to a bit of a slow, meandering start, but the last few episodes were just fantastic. (A)

Omicron variant. You think you’re out but they keep pulling you back in. (F-)

Swimming with bioluminescent plankton. Thought the water was going to glow as I swam through it, but it was more like sparkly fireworks. Magical. (A)

Xolo Tacos. We stumbled in here for dinner after nothing else looked good and were rewarded with the best tacos on Holbox. The carne asada taco might be the best taco I’ve had in years and we ended up ordering a second round. (A)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney. I liked this one slightly less than her first two novels. But only slightly. (A-)

Free Guy. Fun entrant into the video game movie genre. (B+)

Hacks. It was fine but ultimately didn’t understand why so many people on my timeline were raving about this. (B+)

NY Times Crossword app. I’ve never been much for crossword puzzles, but the Times app does all the fiddly work (e.g. of finding the current clue’s boxes, etc.) for me so I’ve been enjoying dipping my toe into the Monday and Tuesday puzzles. But the Minis and Spelling Bee are where it’s at for me. (B+)

The Hunt for Red October. Still a great thriller. (A-)

Avatar: The Last Airbender. After watching The Legend of Korra, the kids and I went back to watch Avatar. The first season and a half is kinda uneven, but overall we really liked it. The beach episode has to be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen on television and the one where Aang is hallucinating from the lack of sleep made my kids laugh so hard I thought they were going to pass out. (A-)

The Matrix Resurrections. I am someone who didn’t dislike the second and third Matrix movies as much as everyone else seemed to, and so it is with this one as well. Wish I could have seen this in the theater, but Omicron. (A-)

The Wrong Trousers. The last five minutes is still maybe the best chase scene in movie history. (A)

Preview of the next media diet: I am enjoying the hell out of Lauren Groff’s Matrix, want to read The Lost Daughter, just started the last season of The Expanse, listening to the audiobook version of Exhalation, want to check out Station Eleven on HBO Max, and plan on watching Pig, Drive My Car, and Licorice Pizza. Oh, and I need to dig into the second seasons of The Great and For All Mankind. And more GBBO! We’ll see how much of that I actually follow through on…

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. Nothing serious, I am embarrassed to say. I just got really into the weeds with a number of things and I kinda fell to pieces.

The Vega Brothers from Quentin Tarantino

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2022

One of the (I would assume) many movie ideas from Quentin Tarantino that never quite got off the ground was a prequel about the Vega brothers starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs’ Vic Vega) and John Travolta (Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega). In this imagined trailer for The Vega Brothers, Luís Azevedo cleverly uses footage from older films starring Madsen & Travolta that Tarantino synthesized into Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction as well as subsequent movies starring Madsen & Travolta that were in turn influenced by Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction and fashions it into a coherent, fun narrative.

A Video Countdown of the 25 Best Films of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

I look forward to this every year: David Ehrlich’s video countdown of the 25 best films of 2021. It’s like a trailer for an entire year’s worth of movies, lovingly constructed by a movie fan, critic, and editor, chock full of vivid imagery, memorable moments, and homages to great films of the past. I want to take the rest of the day off and just watch all of these…

Powers of Ten, Updated With Current Science

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2022

Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 short film Powers of Ten is one of the best bits of science communication ever created…and a personal favorite of mine. Here’s a description of the original film:

Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward — into the hand of the sleeping picnicker — with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.

As an homage, the BBC and particle physicist Brian Cox have created an updated version that reflects what we’ve learned about the universe in the 45 years since Powers of Ten was made. The new video zooms out to the limits of our current observational powers, to about 100 billion light years away, 1000X wider than in the original. (I wish they would have done the zoom in part of the video too, but maybe next year!)

And if you’d like to explore the scales of the universe for yourself, check out the Universe in a Nutshell app from Tim Urban and Kurzgesagt — you can zoom in and out as far as you want and interact with and learn about objects along the way.

18 Things That Kept Me Going In 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2021

a snowy peak through the trees

For a few years now, I’ve been keeping track of all the stuff I read, watch, listen to, and experience — I call it my media diet. As 2021 comes to a close, I’m sharing some of my favorite things from a year that was somehow even weirder than last year.

The French Dispatch. I saw this twice and loved it. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Tenenbaums? (That feels crazy to say but also might be true?)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. This podcast conversation with poet David Whyte felt like a turning point in my year.

Strava. I first tried mountain biking in the fall of 2020 and this year it blossomed into a favorite hobby. Despite a lot of other responsibilities and engagements, I got out on the bike once or twice a week during the spring, summer, and fall and missed it when I couldn’t manage a ride. I recorded all of my rides with Strava and was gratified to see progress and to try and beat my personal bests.

Handshake Speakeasy. Post-vaccination (and pre-Delta and Omicron) I was able to travel a bit. This new-ish bar in Mexico City had some of the coolest, tasty, and unique cocktails I’ve ever had. (Handshake was named the 25th best bar in the world earlier this month.) Baltra Bar was also quite good. Restaurant-wise, Quintonil was amazing. But just walking around the city, eating street food, going to museums, ducking into bookstores, and wandering through markets was such a fantastic experience after a difficult 16 months.

Fleabag (season two). I rewatched this when I was deep in the emotional weeds this summer and I think it might be the best season of television ever made. I laughed like a maniac and cried like a baby. The final scene is absolute perfection.

The Great British Bake-Off. My kids got me into this over the summer and it is, as many of you discovered in early 2020, the perfect low-stakes entertainment for getting one’s mind off of current events for 60 minutes at a time.

Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) Covid-19 Vaccines. Getting vaccinated (full three-series) and seeing my kids & friends (and their kids) get fully vaccinated was the absolute best thing that happened to me this year. Getting back to some semblance of normalcy, at least in certain situations at certain times with certain people, while being protected against severe disease and death, felt incredible.

The Premier League. I’ve watched a lot of football this year, mostly the Premier League but also the occasional PSG, Dortmund, Bayern, and Barca matches. Oh, and the Euros and Copa America. I don’t have a favorite team, I just like watching the best players in the world play football at a high level. I know this particular way of being a sports fan is often offensive to Real Sports Fans™ because you need to have a team and get upset and rend your garments when they lose and beat up the other teams’ fans, but my parents didn’t happen to live within 20 miles of an English soccer stadium when I was born, so I can do what I like.

You’re Wrong About. For the second year in a row, my favorite podcast. I couldn’t wait for the new episodes to drop on Monday. However. Michael Hobbes left the show in October and while I’ve been giving the show’s new format the benefit of the doubt, I’m not sure about it. Both Hobbes and co-host Sarah Marshall are individually wonderful but it was their combination that made the show marvelous and that bit is missing now.

Succession (season 3). My interest waned at times in the middle of the season, but I thought the last two episodes were outstanding. Plus, in preparation for this season, I watched season two’s finale and got to see this scene again.

The ocean. This should be on the list every year. Visiting the ocean nourishes my soul like little else and I was able to make that happen several times this year.

The Painter and the Thief. Remarkable documentary and maybe the best film I saw this year.

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. I lived in this thing for most of the year — so comfortable.

Dune. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this movie so much.

Donda. Ugh, I know. I continue to hate how much I love parts of this album.

The pandemic scribes. Even if you’re not a conspiracy theorist in thrall to religion, fascist media, or “wellness”, it’s been difficult to find steady, non-hysterical information, analysis, and opinion about the pandemic. I’m grateful to Zeynep Tufekci, Eric Topol, Ed Yong, Katelyn Jetelina, Jodi Ettenberg, Carl Zimmer, and others for keeping me informed.

NYC. I missed this place immensely: the restaurants, the bars, the museums, the people, the subway, the bookstores, the architecture, the crowds, the culture, the walkability. Keep all the outdoor seating and space reclaimed from cars please!

Wandavision. I was extremely charmed by this wonderful love letter to television.

I also enjoyed Mare of Easttown, Nixon at War, Summer of Soul, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Ted Lasso (season two), Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Soul (+ the soundtrack), and Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin but don’t have anything specific to say about them, for secret reasons. I’ll see you in 2022.