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kottke.org posts about movies

My Sabbatical Media Diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

As you’ll soon read in a comically long “what I did on my summer break” post I’m writing, almost everything I do on a day-to-day basis when I’m working on the site came to a complete halt when I went on sabbatical back in May - I stopped reading online, unsubscribed from all newsletters (save one or two), ignored Twitter, stopped paying attention to the news, didn’t really read my email. Pretty much the only concession I made was to keep track of what I was reading, watching, and listening to. So here you go, my media diet over the past seven months.

Russian Doll (season two). A worthy second act of Natasha Lyonne’s surprising hit. The NYC subway is the best time machine since the police box and the DeLorean. (A-)

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. Another Burkeman banger. If The Antidote was a self-help book for people who don’t like self-help books, this is time management for people who don’t want to organize their lives like a Toyota factory. (A-)

Middlemarch by George Eliot. By far the best thing I read during my sabbatical and one of my favorite books of all time. For whatever reason, I thought this was going to be stuffy liht-tra-chure but it turns out it’s hilarious? Almost every page had me laughing out loud. The writing is exquisite and Eliot’s observations about human behavior are still, 150 years on, remarkably astute. And there’s a scene near the end of the book that is almost cinematic — she painted such a vivid picture that it took my breath away (like, literally I was holding my breath). (A+)

All of This by Rebecca Woolf. You’re about to split up with your husband and then he gets cancer and dies. That is a complex emotional landscape; Woolf describes how she navigated her relief and grief as her life was torn apart and put back together again. A brutally honest read. (B+)

Conversations with Friends. Not quite up to Normal People’s high bar but still pretty entertaining and affecting. (A-)

Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby. Unexpectedly resonant — one of a number of things I’ve read recently by people who have discovered they’re on the autism spectrum as adults. (B+)

Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante. Didn’t like this one quite as much as her excellent Neapolitan novels. (B+)

Old. Decent M. Night Shyamalan effort. The Sixth Sense remains the only film of his I’ve actually liked though. (B-)

The Mt. Qi Pork Hand-Ripped Noodles Meal Kit from Xi’an Famous Foods. I find most restaurant meal kits to be expensive and the resulting food unsatisfyingly unlike what you’d get at the restaurant. Not so with this one…I feel like it’s an incredible bargain (when paired with some bok choi or something it feeds 4-6 in my experience) and it tastes exactly like what you get at the restaurant. I’ve recommended this to several folks and everyone loves this kit. Note: neither the ingredients or the finished product freezes well — order this when you can make and consume the whole thing over the course of a few days. (A)

Apple Watch. I haven’t worn a watch since the early 90s, so it took me awhile to talk myself into this. But I wanted a good way to track my exercise and perhaps use my phone less. The Watch has succeeded on the first point but not really on the second, and I’m convinced that this thing has no idea how to accurately track calories on mountain bike rides. (B+)

Blade Runner 2049. Always up for a rewatch of this. I (sacrilegiously?) prefer it to the original. (A)

Gattaca. I always use the title of this movie when I need to remember the four nucleotide bases of DNA. Which, admittedly, is not super often. (A-)

Against the Rules (season three). Timely and fascinating exploration of the role of experts in our society by Michael Lewis. (B+)

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. Finally got around to reading this after finding it on a local bookstore’s table of banned books. A masterpiece. (A+)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I guess I am having a little trouble with caring about Marvel stuff after Endgame. Also, Sam Raimi’s horror thing doesn’t jibe with my dislike/indifference of/about horror movies. (B-)

Everything Everywhere All At Once. Second time. I love this movie so hard. (A+)

Top Gun: Maverick. I was shocked at how much I liked this movie — a Top Gun sequel didn’t have any right to be this entertaining. Straight-up no-frills thrill ride that’s best on a big screen. Loved Val Kilmer’s scenes. (A)

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. I was a little wary of watching this; from what I’d read, it seemed like it was a bunch of Bourdain’s friends and loved ones blaming Asia Argento (who was not interviewed for the film) for his death. It’s a delicate balancing act, but the film doesn’t actually do that, IMO. And the stuff about his early-mid career is great and was personally resonant. (A-)

Slow Burn: The L.A. Riots. I was 18 years old and a busy freshman in college when the 1992 LA riots happened, so this was fascinating to listen to. Joel Anderson was the perfect host for this — authoritative, probing, and skeptical in all the right places. (A)

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann. Nearly unbelievable family stories combined with fascinating insights on what it’s like to be an uncompromising artist. (A-)

Red Notice. Fun but forgettable. (B)

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Read this after my kids and I watched the Disney+ series. (B+)

Obi Wan Kenobi. This could have been terrible or messed too much with the original trilogy timeline/vibe, but they pulled it off. (B+)

Operation Mincemeat. If you like war dramas, this is a war drama. (B)

Last Night in Soho. Not my favorite Edgar Wright film. (C+)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. A friend recommended this after I read Maus. Another masterpiece about the effects of authoritarianism. (A)

The Card Counter. Good performances but ultimately not that memorable. (B+)

The Grand Budapest Hotel. A rewatch after many years. Anderson’s most commercially successful film but not my favorite. I love that there are hundreds of reviews of the hotel on Tripadvisor. (B+)

Thor: Love and Thunder. Natalie Portman is a great actress who sometimes seems like she’s a bad actress — see also Star Wars. Maybe superhero sci-fi is not her bag? Also, I think they went a little overboard on the stuff that made Ragnarok so much fun…it just didn’t work as well here. (B)

Persuasion. Oof. A poor adaptation of Austen through the lens of Fleabag. (C-)

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Hinton was in high school when she wrote this so it’s a little uneven, but the voice is amazing. (A-)

For All Mankind (seasons two and three). Not as good as the first season IMO. It’s tough for alt-histories as they get farther and farther from where the timelines split. That said, I am a sucker for such an artfully placed Radiohead song. (B+)

Schitt’s Creek. Late to this but what a delightful show! Was very sad when it ended; I wanted to spend more time with these people. P.S. If you’re in the US and missed this on Netflix, it’s available on Hulu now. (A)

The Bear. I’ll admit I didn’t love this at first — I got my fill of the edgy/grungy aesthetic in the 90s — but it crescendoed nicely. (A-)

Saap. Nisachon Morgan, the chef of this unassuming Thai place in the tiny town of Randolph, VT, won the 2022 James Beard award for best chef in the northeast. A friend of mine has been a regular there for years, so we stopped in for a meal. Let’s just say the Beard Foundation got this one right. (A)

The Gray Man. Gotta be honest — I think I got this confused with Red Notice. (B-)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Still incredible that this was written in 1931 — it’s strikingly modern in many ways. (A-)

Deception Point by Dan Brown. Total beach read. Tom Clancy did this sort of book much better though. (B)

Lightyear. Solid Pixar effort. (B+)

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. I don’t understand the poor reviews of this series and its (unfair) comparison to the sexier House of the Dragon. It was engaging throughout, though maybe a little slow in places (I didn’t care much for the Harfoots plotline.) And it’s a setup for an epic tale that lasts four more seasons…there’s bound to be a lot of table-setting. (B+)

The Great Canadian Baking Show. Not as good as the original but worth a watch if you’re in Canada (either physically or via VPN), if only to catch how judge Bruno Feldeisen pronounces “sponge” and “layers”. Seasons one and two feature the delightful Dan Levy as one of the hosts. (B+)

Junior Bake Off. I understand that they’re children, but Bake Off just isn’t as fun when the baking is, uh, not great. (B)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. With five different stories spanning hundreds of years, this was challenging to listen to as an audiobook at first. But it paid off well in the end. (B+)

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Love anything and everything that Chiang writes. (A)

Source Code. I’m not sure this aged super-well but it was entertaining. (B)

Escape into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions by Evan Puschak. Not quite the target audience here — I feel like this book would have hit me straight between the eyes in my late 20s or early 30s. (B-)

The US and the Holocaust. Essential documentary by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein about how the United States responded (and failed to respond) to Nazi Germany’s persecution and murder of European Jews in the years before, during and after WWII. (A+)

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees. I’ve watched and read a fair bit about the Holocaust over the years, but watching The US and the Holocaust and reading Maus spurred an interest in learning about how the Holocaust happened in detail. After some research, I settled on this book by Laurence Rees, which provides a good overview on how the Nazis harnessed European anti-Semitism to gain power and then used it to murder six millions Jews. It was unsettling to read but important to know this history so that we do not let it repeat. (A)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. The perfect little murder mystery. Like a magician revealing her tricks, Christie lays bare how murder mysteries are structured — and it takes nothing away from the thrill of the story. (A-)

Renaissance. Not my favorite Beyoncé album — it’s a little all over the place and the disco/house vibe isn’t exactly my jam — but there are some definitely bangers on here. All Up in Your Mind is my favorite track…I just wish it were longer! (B+)

Star Fluxx. A friend recommended this after I asked him for card/board games that would be good to play with my now-teenaged kids. Part of the game play includes changing the rules of the game as you go…we’ve been enjoying it. (B+)

Unspoken Words. Ambient-ish electronica from Max Cooper. My favorite track from this one is Everything. (A-)

See How They Run. Fun murder mystery with a few laugh out loud moments and great performances by Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell. (B+)

Cool It Down. First new album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the first time in nearly a decade? Yes yes yes. Spitting Off the Edge of the World is sublime. (A-)

Downton Abbey: A New Era. Sometimes, nothing but a low-stakes British period drama will do. (B+)

Night and Fog. An illuminating but difficult-to-watch companion to my other explorations of the Holocaust. (A)

Munich — The Edge of War. Solid historical drama that takes place around the events of the Munich Agreement that gave the so-called Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in exchange for postponing WWII for about a year. (B+)

The Worst Person in the World. Really interesting and affecting in parts and a great performance by Renate Reinsve. (A-)

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I can’t say that this book made me want to become obsessed with surfing, but maybe it made me want to become obsessed with something again. Beautifully written and personally resonant. (A)

Enemy. Good acting and direction but this is the type of film that I don’t think I care for anymore. (B)

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. Compelling and well-researched. The Troubles happened during my lifetime and I saw bombings on the news as a kid, but I didn’t have any more than a vague sense of what it was all about until I read this. (A)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I thought Coogler and co. did a good job in paying tribute to Chadwick Boseman while moving the story forward. But the kids and I agreed that we missed some of the fun and lightheartedness of the first film. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We listened to the audiobook in the car over several months — the British Stephen Fry version not the (IMO) inferior Jim Dale versions. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The rules are, when you finish the audiobook, you watch the movie. (B)

Her Place. A unique dining experience that’s not unlike going over to someone’s house for a dinner party. There are two seatings a night, at 6:00 and 8:30; all parties are seated at the same time. It’s a set menu with no substitutions and everyone in the restaurant is served at the same time. Every course or two, the chef quiets the diners to explain what’s coming up, who cooked it, where the ingredients are from, and anything else she thinks is relevant. It’s operationally smart and creates a great dining environment. Esquire just named it one of the best new restaurants in America. (A)

Tim Carmody’s wedding. Tim has been my friend and a vital part of this website for more than a decade, so it was a real pleasure to be able to join him and Karen McGrane for their wedding. We got to walk through a 20-foot-tall model of a human heart at the Franklin Institute! What a metaphor! (A)

The Handmaid’s Tale (seasons four and five). The first two seasons of this show were great. And then…well, they turned June into an antihero and a superhero, neither of which was very compelling. I dunno, maybe I just can’t get past how Elisabeth Moss can play someone escaping a cult-driven society while belonging to a cult herself. (C)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve given it a chance over the past several months but the new iteration of You’re Wrong About isn’t as good as the Sarah and Michael version. The show is still interesting and guests are fine, but the podcast is missing that comfortable witty banter, pacing, and Michael’s sharp editing (the double intro and outro are awkward and should be discarded). One odd thing for a show that is literally about explaining things: since the format changed, they often don’t plainly describe the subject matter at hand — it’s just assumed that we all know what they’re talking about (the eugenics and Henry Lee Lucas episodes for example). (B)

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. If I ever own a restaurant, it’s gonna serve one thing, really fucking well. (A)

Arnaud Nicolas. Absolutely mind-blowing charcuterie. (A)

Trains in Europe. Specifically in Switzerland & France and to a lesser extent in Portugal & Italy. *sigh* (A)

The Strasbourg astronomical clock. A mechanical wonder located in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame in Strasbourg, France. I stayed for quite awhile, examining all the details. (B+)

Venice. This city seems fake, like you’re on a movie set or something. Even though Venice is unbelievably crowded in the touristy areas and the food is often so-so, it’s so so so relaxing and quiet to walk around a city without cars. (A)

Switch Sports. Nice to have a sports game on the Switch, but I miss the golf and a couple of games from Wii Sports Resort. (B+)

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. Couldn’t get into this one. (C+)

Benfica vs. Newcastle United. My very first time watching a football match in a European stadium and wow, what a stadium and experience. Great crowd for a preseason friendly and an 89th minute winner by the home club didn’t hurt either. Almirón, who is making some waves in the Premier League this season, scored two goals for the away team. (A)

Bar Kismet. Reminded me of my dearly departed favorite place in NYC. Great food, great casual atmosphere, creative cocktails, friendly service. (A)

Snowden Deli. My new favorite place for smoked meat in Montreal. (A-)

The Wok: Recipes and Techniques by Kenji López-Alt. Have only scratched the surface of this one, but it’s upped my wok cooking game already. Also, does anyone else’s entire family groan when I weigh in on some food question with “well, Kenji says…” or is that just me? (A-)

Legacy of Speed. Great story about athletics, politics, and activism. (B+)

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson. Conventional overview of the discovery of CRISPR and what it means for the future of humanity. I think there’s a better book to be written about this though. (B)

Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut. Despite it being a modern American classic, I had very little idea what this book was about. I was not expecting….Tralfamadorians. (A-)

Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think about Abortion by Gabrielle Blair. A clever & compelling common-sense reframing of the abortion debate that places much more of the responsibility for birth control on men (for a whole host of reasons enumerated by Blair). Fellows, this is worth your attention and consideration. (A-)

Enola Holmes 2. Fun and entertaining but could have been 20 minutes shorter. (B)

Tár. Incredible performance from Cate Blanchett. I’m not going to weigh in on what I thought the film was about, but do read Tavi Gevinson’s take in the New Yorker. (A)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Greatest Films of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

Since 1952, Sight and Sound has been asking critics and other folks in the film world what the greatest films of all time are. For decades, Citizen Kane was in the top slot and therefore occupied this seemingly unassailable position in western culture as the greatest film ever made. Then in 2012, Kane was unseated by Vertigo. This year, Sight and Sound polled more than 1600 academics, curators, critics, archivists, and programmers to determine the current list of The Greatest Films of All Time. Here’s the top 10:

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
2. Vertigo
3. Citizen Kane
4. Tokyo Story
5. In the Mood for Love
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. Beau Travail
8. Mulholland Drive
9. Man with a Movie Camera
10. Singin’ in the Rain

I have to confess, I’d never heard of the top pick before today (which appears to be 3 hours and 21 minutes long and on HBO Max if you’re interested.). The most recent film that’s highest on the list is the excellent Portrait of a Lady on Fire, coming it at #30. (And boy some folks on social media are big mad about it!) A second poll was taken among directors and their top 10 was slightly different:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Citizen Kane
3. The Godfather
4. Tokyo Story
4. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
6. Vertigo
6. 8 1/2
8. Mirror
9. Persona
9. In the Mood for Love
9. Close-Up

China’s Van Goghs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

I did not mean to watch an entire 75-minute documentary in the middle of my workday, but this sucked me right in and it might do the same to you. Zhao Xiaoyong is one of thousands of painters in Dafen, China who hand-paint replicas of famous paintings by the likes of Matisse, Degas, Renoir, Leonardo, and Kahlo. But a favorite artist amongst many of them, including Zhao, is Vincent van Gogh.

Zhao says, “I’ve been painting his paintings for nearly 20 years. I want to see the originals.” He works from photos of paintings and believes his work will be better if he can see them in person. And so, he and a few others make the trip to Europe — to visit a buyer of their paintings in the Netherlands, to see the originals of their replicas in the Van Gogh Museum, and to visit some of the places he lived and worked. It quickly becomes a spiritual journey. On a street in Arles, they came across a scene that van Gogh painted in 1888:

Here we are! Oh, it is like this. Things from a hundred years ago are still here. See, the sky in my picture is so blue. The sky is so blue! Van Gogh also painted this picture at dusk. Now I know why his sky is so bright. It was at dusk when he painted. Just like how we experienced today. It’s just like that.

Never having painted from life before but inspired by the scene, Zhao paints the scene as van Gogh would have more than a century before — that is, as van Gogh would have stood there painting but also in the artist’s signature style and informed by Zhao’s deep knowledge of having made many replicas of that specific painting over the years.

After his trip, while sitting around a dinner table with friends, Zhao asks, “Have I become an artist? Do I have anything that deserves appreciation?” and it’s not difficult to imagine any number of painters and artists throughout the centuries and asking themselves those same questions over dinner and drink. Fascinating documentary.

P.S. You can follow and buy Zhao’s work on Instagram. (via open culture)

The Case of the Missing Scorsese Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

Movie poster for Goncharov

In 1973, Martin Scorsese made a film called Goncharov starring Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, and Cybill Shepherd. But no one has actually seen it. Because it doesn’t actually exist…a bunch of scamps on Tumblr made it up.

So a few years ago, a Tumblr user posted a photo of some “knockoff boots” they had ordered online that had a very strange tag on the tongue: “The greatest mafia movie ever made. Martin Scorsese presents GONCHAROV. Domenico Proccacci production. A film by Matteo JWHJ0715. About the Naples Mafia.”

This mostly went ignored until 2020, when another Tumblr user reblogged a comment made on the original post, reading: “this idiot hasn’t seen goncharov.” Like the good lord himself and the Guardian’s coffee machine, the internet works in mysterious ways; earlier this month, Tumblr user beelzeebub made a fake poster for the film, tens of thousands of people were suddenly sharing it and lo: a new Scorsese film was born.

You can find the poster here. In a text to his daughter Francesca, Scorsese acknowledged, “Yes. I made that film years ago.” The way movies and memes work these days, it’s a solid chance this gets made in the next two years, as a “remake” with Scorsese executive producing.

Jodorowsky’s Tron

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

imagined film still from Jodorowsky's Tron

Cult avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky famously did not make his ambitious adaptation of Dune but what if he had brought his unique brand of surrealist psychedelia to the screen with a version of Tron in the 70s? Using the AI platform Midjourney, Johnny Darrell imagined what Jodorowsky’s Tron might have looked like. I love these — I would like to see this movie please.

See also Jodorowsky’s Frasier.

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?