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kottke.org posts about movies

Kenobi, a Star Wars Fan Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Although the announced Disney+ series about Obi-Wan Kenobi may shed some light on the matter, we don’t know too much about what “Ben Kenobi” was up to on Tatooine after the events of Revenge of the Sith, besides keeping an eye on Luke. This short film made by a group of Star Wars fans as a “love letter” to the series shows what may have happened after the Empire makes its presence known when Luke is just a young boy. (via kevin kelly)

The Best Best Picture Lineups in Oscar History

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Using their extensive database of member ratings, Letterboxd averaged the ratings for the Best Picture nominees for each year to determine which years ranked highest. The top five are (official Academy winners marked w/ an asterisk):

  1. 1975 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville)
  2. 2019 (Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite)
  3. 1976 (Rocky*, All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Taxi Driver)
  4. 1974 (The Godfather Part II*, Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno)
  5. 1994 (Forrest Gump*, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption)

1975 was apparently the clear winner but 2019 in the #2 spot is a very strong showing, especially considering there are the ratings of nine nominees to average instead of just five. But as this analysis shows, the Academy and Letterboxd users do not often agree on which Picture is “actually” Best:

It is often said that The Academy doesn’t always choose the nominee that *actually* deserves Best Picture. And according to the average ratings of the nominees on Letterboxd, that is true about 76% of the time!

I’d guess there’s also a recency bias at work (newer films tend to get rated higher), as well as age-related (I’d guess Letterboxd skews young-ish?) and gender-related (majority male, but probably not as much as IMDB) biases. It would be neat to see how controlling for those effects would affect the average ratings. (via @mrgan)

How 1917 Was Filmed to Look Like One Long Continuous Take

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2020

1917 is the latest in a string of one-shot movies, where the action is presented in real-time and filmed to look as though it were done in one continuous take. This video takes a look at how director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and editor Lee Smith constructed the film. In this interview, Smith & Mendes say that the film contains dozens of cuts, with shots lasting anywhere from 39 seconds to 8 & 1/2 minutes. My favorite parts of the video are when they show the camera going from hand-held to crane to truck to cover single shots at a variety of speeds and angles. It’s really impressive.

But — does the effect work to draw the audience into the action? I saw 1917 last night and was distracted at times looking for the cuts and wondering how they seamlessly transitioned from a steadicam sort of shot to a crane shot. Maybe I’d read too much about it going in and distracted myself?

Steven Soderbergh’s Media Diet for 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2020

Every year, director Steven Soderbergh publishes a list of the movies, books, TV series, short films, and short stories he’s watched and read over the course of the year (one of the inspirations for my media diet posts). For many creators, the key to making good work is to read and watch widely with an emphasis on quality — it’s difficult make great work if your ingredients are poor — so Soderbergh’s 2019 list is a fascinating look at the director’s inputs for the next year’s creative endeavors.

Some observations:

Retitling “Little Women” So Men Will Go See It

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2020

The audience for Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is running about 2/3 women and 1/3 men. Bruce Handy has some suggestions for a title change that would entice more men to check the movie out.

“Star Wars, Episode X: The Rise of Amy”
“Four Girls, One Teacup”
“Into the Marchverse”
“The Jo Supremacy”

I saw Little Women on New Year’s Day and loved it — one of my favorite 2019 movies for sure. It’s idiotic that Gerwig didn’t get nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

See also Kaitlyn Greenidge’s opinion piece, The Bearable Whiteness of ‘Little Women’.

Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana in the 80s & 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

Africa Movie Posters

Africa Movie Posters

Africa Movie Posters

In order to drum up business for local movie theaters in Africa (most notably in Ghana), theater owners would commission local artists to paint movie posters.

When Frank Armah began painting posters for Ghanaian movie theaters in the mid-1980s, he was given a clear mandate: Sell as many tickets as possible. If the movie was gory, the poster should be gorier (skulls, blood, skulls dripping blood). If it was sexy, make the poster sexier (breasts, lots of them, ideally at least watermelon-sized). And when in doubt, throw in a fish. Or don’t you remember the human-sized red fish lunging for James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me?

“The goal was to get people excited, curious, to make them want to see more,” he says. And if the movie they saw ended up surprisingly light on man-eating fish and giant breasts? So be it. “Often we hadn’t even seen the movies, so these posters were based on our imaginations,” he says. “Sometimes the poster ended up speaking louder than the movie.”

You can check out more of these amazing artworks in this Twitter thread, this BBC story, on the AIGA site, and at Poster House, which has an exhibition of these posters up through Feb 16.

Update: I removed this modern-day spoof of the Ghanaian posters from the post. The tell is the reference to this amazing GIF. (thx, erik)

Ian McKellan’s 1999 Lord of the Rings Blog

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2020

Gandalf Mckellan

Starting in 1999 with his casting as Gandalf and continuing through 2003, Ian McKellan wrote a blog called The Grey Book about his experiences starring in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. (His website is getting pounded right now, so check out the Internet Archive mirror if you can’t get through.)

So the journey has begun without me. On Monday 11th October, Elijah Wood et al gathered in Hobbiton — and I hear they are behaving themselves! I have been in Toronto, masquerading as Magneto, the master of magnetism, on the set of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” I have just sent Peter Jackson an e-mail of good luck. I don’t expect an immediate reply — directing a film is totally time-consuming.

Meanwhile, Tolkien aficionados are mailing to the “Grey Book.” From teenagers and readers old as wizards come the advice, the demands, the warnings — united by the hope that the film’s Gandalf will match their own individual interpretations of the Lord of the Rings. I take comfort from the general assurance that they approve of the casting (not just of me but of all the other actors so far announced - thrilling news that Cate Blanchett is joining us.) Yet how can I satisfy everyone’s imagined Gandalf? Simply, I can’t.

And yet I believe he did satisfy almost everyone. Maybe McKellen will even reprise his role as the wizard in the upcoming Amazon series. (via a very excited Stephen Colbert)

Parasite’s Perfect Montage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2020

From Evan Puschak, this is an analysis of a tightly edited five-minute montage in the middle of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite in which a family of schemers removes the last obstacle in their way of a luxurious life of service.

(This next bit is way off topic…I am not even going to try and connect it to the movie or Puschak’s thoughts on editing.) In looking for an appropriate quote from the video, I went searching in YouTube’s automatically generated transcript of the video and instead discovered whatever fancy AI program they’ve employed for transcription had some problems with the Korean language spoken in the video:

well the Kogi’s held on crew could to work a contra cut under something crazy kangaroo hot lava could carry yours a tiny car would cause a huge bang engines in his element saw cars motherfuckers Christian wear boxers and couvent a easy call it to Minaj Monica City on criminals chief juniper gun and a car don’t belong back in case come on Joey tell him to cool on the cloud Coronas our tornado man hold it up on watch from Atlanta

Also, peaches are a thing now in movies!

My Recent Media Diet, The Late 2010s Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since late October.

Uncut Gems. Watching this movie replicates very closely what it feels like to live in NYC (and not in a good way). This movie contains one of my favorite scenes of the year and Sandler is a genius. (A)

Seduce And Destroy with Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie & Paul Thomas Anderson (A24 Podcast). The best bits of this were fascinating but some of it was too inside baseball. Listen to this after seeing Uncut Gems. (B+)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. The Iliad as a romance novel (of sorts). Loved it. (A)

Hustlers. Jennifer Lopez did not require fancy cameras or the de-aging CGI of The Irishman to make her look 20 years younger. (B+)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Such a great alchemy of subjects — kind of a miracle how it all works together. (A-)

Jesus Is King. Boring. Christian hip hop isn’t any better than Christian rock. Born again Kanye? I miss the old Kanye… (C-)

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Wonderfully creative. A couple of really disturbing parts though for kids. (A-)

The Dark Crystal. Watched this after Age of Resistance and it holds up really well. (B+)

Tunes 2011-2019. Gets better with every listen. (A-)

The Laundromat. Soderbergh and Streep? This should have been better. (B)

The Fifth Season by N.K Jemison. Liked this but it didn’t make me want to immediately start the next book in the series. (B+)

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Lots to chew on in this one but I ultimately didn’t finish it. But that’s more on me than Harari. (B+)

David Whyte: The Conversational Nature of Reality (On Being). “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.” Whyte sounds like a fascinating person. (A-)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Re-watched the entire series over the past several months. Strong in the middle seasons but not a great ending. (B+)

The OJ Simpson Trial (You’re Wrong About…). Excellent multi-part reexamination of the OJ trial centered on the women, principally Nicole Brown Simpson but also Marcia Clark and Paula Barbieri. It took me awhile to get used to the sometimes-too-casual banter about distressing subject matter, but their knowledge and discussion of the subject matter won me over. (A-)

Ad Astra. The filmmakers couldn’t find a way to do this movie without the voiceover? Just let Pitt act…everything he says is obvious from his face. Beautiful though. (B+)

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Engaging account of the sinking of the Lusitania, which eventually & circuitously led to the entry of the United States into World War I. (A-)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This wasn’t my favorite book I’ve read with my kids. (B-)

The Devil Next Door. Interesting story but I wanted more from this re: the nature of truth & evil. (B)

The Lighthouse. Sunshine x Fight Club. (A-)

Ford v Ferrari. Driving home from the theater, it took every ounce of self-control not to put the pedal on the floor and see if my car can do 120 on a Vermont county road. (A-)

The Crown (season 3). I didn’t like this quite much as the first two seasons, but I did like the overt and not-so-overt references to Brexit. There was a low-stakes-ness to this season which fits with other exported British media (Downton, British Baking Show) and the country’s rapidly dwindling status as a world power. (B+)

Menu Mind Control (Gastropod). Really interesting discussion of how menus are constructed to balance the needs of the restaurant and the desires of the diner. Buckle up though…Gastropod is one of the densest podcasts out there. (A-)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. A surprisingly trippy adaptation of one of my favorite magazine articles on Fred Rogers. Hanks is great as usual. (B+)

Coco. Another Pixar gem. (A-)

A Table for Two, Please? (Talk Money). From a new podcast by my pal Mesh — the first episode is about the business side of opening and running restaurants. (B+)

Knives Out. From the hype this got, I was expecting a bit more than a good murder mystery but it was just a good murder mystery. (B+)

Marriage Story. Great performances all around, but Jesus why did I watch this? It captures very well the feeling and experience of divorce. Total PTSD trigger though. (D/A-)

Galatea. Engaging short story by Madeline Miller. (B+)

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. Impossible at this point for anyone to objectively review the ninth movie in a series which in some ways has defined culture of the last 40 years. I loved it, even the hokey parts. (A)

High Life. Not even sure what to say about this one. (B-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Eyeless Girls

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

Hélène Delmaire paints portraits of girls without eyes.

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Delmaire did all of the paintings for the film Portrait of a Lady On Fire and even appears painting in the film.

I did pretty much all the paintings except the one that’s without a face. Céline and the actresses would work out how the scene was going to go. Once that was set up, I’d come, take a photo and while they were shooting the scenes, I went to a little corner of the castle and did my sketches.

Delmaire sells originals and prints of her work here. (via @alteredq)

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

I am fascinated with the sound of movies, from the soundtracks to the foley effects and even temp music. Making Waves is a documentary about this integral aspect of cinema. Here’s a trailer:

Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

Featuring the insights and stories of iconic directors such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Barbra Streisand, Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola and Ryan Coogler, working with sound design pioneers — Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom — and the many women and men who followed in their footsteps.

(thx, dunstan)

Star Wars Spoiler Generator

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2019

From Randall Munroe at XKCD, here’s a spoilers generator for the latest Star Wars movie.

Xkcd Star Wars Spoiler Generator

In this Star Wars movie, our heroes return to take on the First Order and new villain Theranos with some help with their new friend Dab Tweetdeck. Rey builds a new lightsaber with a beige blade, and they head out to confront the First Order’s new superweapon, the Moonsquisher, a space station capable of cutting a planet in half and smashing the halves together like two cymbals. They unexpectedly join forces with their old enemy Boba Fett and destroy the superweapon in a battle featuring Kylo Ren putting on another helmet over his smaller one. P.S. Rey’s parents are Obi-wan and Laura Dern.

The 25 Best Films of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Hey, Merry Ehrlichmas! David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his top 25 films of the year is one of my most anticipated end-of-the-year thingers. Viewing it always makes me want to watch movies for three straight days. As a companion, Ehrlich listed the movies here, along with the most memorable moment from each.

Watching “The Irishman,” especially for the first time, you get the sense that it’s teeming with hidden moments that will cling to you like barnacles for the rest of your life. Some of them are more apparent than others: Pacino chanting “Solidarity!” Pesci saying “It’s what it is.” Ray Romano asking De Niro if he’s really guilty at heart. The film’s most indelible treasures are lurking a bit deeper under the surface. On my second viewing, nothing hit me harder than the rhyme between two distant confrontations: As a child, Peggy suspects that her father is hiding some demons, but Frank directs his daughter back to her breakfast. Years later, Peggy wordlessly confronts her dad with daggers in her eyes, and Frank is so far beyond salvation that his only recourse is to keep eating his cereal like nothing ever happened.

Some random thoughts on the list and the year in movies: Surprised to see Ad Astra so high — I didn’t hear great things so I skipped it. I thought I saw a lot of movies this year, but this list once again proves me wrong. I can’t wait to see Uncut Gems. No Booksmart? I really loved Booksmart. I did not like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Knives Out as much as everyone else did. I mean, they were fine, but… Great to see Hustlers on the list — when Jennifer Lopez gets good roles, she knocks the cover off of the ball. Give Jennifer Lopez more good roles!

See also these two 2019 movie trailer mashups:

(thx, brandt & david)

The Trailer for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s Next Time-Bending Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Christopher Nolan loves to play around with time. In most of his films — Interstellar, Memento, Dunkirk, Inception — time flows slow, fast, and in unexpected directions. His latest project, Tenet, appears from the above trailer to be no different, with events occurring in reverse and characters observing events that haven’t happened yet. You can read more about the movie here, but here in the real world, we’re going to have to somehow wait through the normal passage of time until July 17th, 2020 to see it. (thx, aaron)

Come and See

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Elem Kilmov’s 1985 Soviet anti-war film Come and See is getting a 2K restoration and theatrical re-release in 2020. In a 4/4 star review of Come and See, Roger Ebert called it “one of the most devastating films ever about anything”:

It’s said that you can’t make an effective anti-war film because war by its nature is exciting, and the end of the film belongs to the survivors. No one would ever make the mistake of saying that about Elem Klimov’s “Come and See.” This 1985 film from Russia is one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead.

Director Steven Soderbergh called it “one of the best things I’ve ever seen”.

Cool Multiplane Animation in this Pinocchio Clip from 1940

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

This is a 45-second clip from Pinocchio, an animated film made by Disney in 1940.

The scene itself isn’t that exciting…until you actually start to wonder, wait, how was this made? The way the camera effortlessly swoops past buildings and through archways like one of Pixar’s infinitely pliable virtual cameras, the depth of field changing as we pan and zoom toward Pinocchio’s door — how did they do that 80 years ago, animating by hand? The film’s animators achieved this effect using a relatively recent invention, the multiplane camera.

The basic idea is that instead of animating characters against a single static background, you can animate several layers of independently moving scenes painted on glass. In a 1957 film, Walt Disney himself explained how the camera worked:

And here’s how Disney used the technique in dozens of scenes from Snow White to Bambi to 101 Dalmatians:

Because we’re seeing the output of an actual camera zooming and panning, many of these scenes feel more grounded in reality than even some of today’s best digital output. Even 80 years later, the effect is impressive, a real testament to the collaborative talent of Disney’s animators & technicians.

Fantastic Fungi

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2019

That’s the trailer for Fantastic Fungi, a feature-length documentary about the worldwide network of mushrooms & mycelium that thrives beneath our feet. Here’s a description of what the film covers, from its companion book:

Fantastic Fungi is at the forefront of a mycological revolution that is quickly going mainstream. In this book, learn about the incredible communication network of mycelium under our feet, which has the proven ability to restore the planet’s ecosystems, repair our health, and resurrect our symbiotic relationship with nature. Fantastic Fungi aspires to educate and inspire the reader in three critical areas: First, the text showcases research that reveals mushrooms as a viable alternative to Western pharmacology. Second, it explores studies pointing to mycelium as a solution to our gravest environmental challenges. And, finally, it details fungi’s marvelous proven ability to shift consciousness.

In a review for RogerEbert.com, Matt Fagerholm called the film “one of the year’s most mind-blowing, soul-cleansing and yes, immensely entertaining triumphs”. (via colossal)

The Time-Traveling Cinematography of The Irishman

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2019

Here’s a short clip of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto talking about his work on The Irishman.

The movie takes place over several decades and Prieto worked with director Martin Scorsese to build a distinct look for each period based on different photo processing techniques: Kodachrome for the 50s, Ektachrome for the 60s & early 70s, and neutral for the film’s present-day:

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Prieto also talks a little bit about the three camera system needed to “youthify” the actors. (You Honor, I would like to state for the record that Jennifer Lopez did not require fancy cameras or de-aging CGI to make her look 20 years younger in Hustlers. I rest my case.)

If Hogwarts Were an Inner-City School (Key & Peele)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2019

In this faux HBO documentary short from Key & Peele, we visit Vincent Clortho Public School for Wizards, the American inner-city answer to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

“The hallways are a-bluster with the conversation of our Quidditch team.”

“Half the team is back here riding mops. We got two little [kids] on Swiffers.”

If the name “Vincent Clortho” sounds sorta familiar, that’s because they borrowed it from Ghostbusters (Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster).

Wonder Woman 1984

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2019

This, my friends, is the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984. Ok, let’s see what we have here. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the only DC Comics movie superhero worth a damn since Nolan’s Batmans. 1984, one of the best years ever for movies and pop culture. A remix of Blue Monday by New Order, still the best-selling 12” single of all time. Patty Jenkins is directing and came up with the story this time (instead of having to deal with Zack Snyder’s nonsense). YES PLEASE.

The Breakthrough that Made Animation Look Natural

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

In the latest in a series of videos on film innovations that came from outside Hollywood, Phil Edwards highlights rotoscoping, a process of filming live action and transferring the motion to produce realistic animated movement invented by Max Fleischer.

As the above video shows, it started with Max’s brother Dave dancing on a roof in a clown costume. Footage of that was then used to model the classic Koko the Clown cartoons, which formed the basis for many Fleischer Studios films. Today, animators still use techniques like rotoscoping to turn real movement into animation.

A number of the studio’s most memorable cartoons used footage of legendary jazz singer Cab Calloway to create fluid animated sequences, like this dancing walrus from Betty Boop.

As Edwards notes, Fleischer’s studio also invented an early multiplane animation device, which allowed for the independent movement of different parts of the background to create the illusion of depth, resulting in yet more realism. Here’s Steven Johnson describing Disney’s more sophisticated multiplane camera in his book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World:

All of these technical and procedural breakthroughs summed up to an artistic one: Snow White was the first animated film to feature both visual and emotional depth. It pulled at the heartstrings in a way that even live-action films had failed to do. This, more than anything, is why Snow White marks a milestone in the history of illusion. “No animated cartoon had ever looked like Snow White,” Disney’s biographer Neil Gabler writes, “and certainly none had packed its emotional wallop.” Before the film was shown to an audience, Disney and his team debated whether it might just be powerful enough to provoke tears — an implausible proposition given the shallow physical comedy that had governed every animated film to date. But when Snow White debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre, near L.A.’s Hancock Park, on December 21, 1937, the celebrity audience was heard audibly sobbing during the final sequences where the dwarfs discover their poisoned princess and lay garlands of flowers on her.

The Origins of Stop Motion Animation

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2019

In this episode of the Almanac video series from Vox, Phil Edwards takes a look at how an early film using stop motion animation, a 1912 short of dancing bugs made by an insect collector, showed the promise of the technique.

Though people have been experimenting with stop motion since the beginning of film, the new art really took off when an insect collector named Wladyslaw Starewicz (later Ladislas Starevich, among other spellings) wanted to see his beetles move.

His 1912 film, The Cameraman’s Revenge, was the most significant of those early experiments. By that time, he’d been discovered as a precocious museum director in a Lithuanian Natural History Museum, and that enabled him to make movies. The Cameraman’s Revenge was his boldest experiment yet, depicting a tryst between star-crossed (bug) lovers.

Starevich’s later films influenced the stop motion work of Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson, as well as its earlier use in King Kong. Here’s the The Cameraman’s Revenge in its entirety:

2019 Films as Simpsons Screencaps

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2019

On Twitter, Hannah Woodhead posted a thread of screencaps from The Simpsons that uncannily encapsulate movies released in 2019. My two favorites are Parasite and The Lighthouse:

Simpsons 2019 Movies

Simpsons 2019 Movies

If you’d like, you can make your own using Frinkiac, the Simpsons screencap search engine. I did this one for Booksmart:

Simpsons 2019 Movies

Spotlight and the Difficulty of Dramatizing Good Journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2019

For the lastest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak reviews the history of movies about journalism and shows how the makers of Spotlight (and also All the President’s Men) show the often repetitive and tedious work required to do good journalism

I loved Spotlight (and All the President’s Men and The Post), but I hadn’t realized until just now how many of my favorite movies and TV shows of the last few years are basically adult versions of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?

Speaking of, watching this video I couldn’t help but think that David Simon1 faced a similar challenge in depicting effective police work in The Wire. Listening to wiretapped conversations, sitting on rooftops waiting for drug dealers to use payphones, and watching container ships unloading are not the most interesting thing in the world to watch. But through careful editing, some onscreen exposition by Lester Freamon, and major consequences, Simon made pedestrian policing engaging and interesting, the heart of the show.

  1. Puschak shared a quote from Simon near the end of the video and Spotlight director Tom McCarthy played the dishonest reporter Scott Templeton in season five of The Wire.

Going to the Movies with Jackie Kennedy

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2019

Carly Simon’s recent piece in the New Yorker about going to the movies with Jackie Kennedy (an excerpt of her book Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie) was unexpectedly moving. And funny. And thoughtful. Trying to avoid seeing anything related to Oliver Stone’s JFK — “scarier, even, would be a two-minute trailer for ‘JFK’ inserted before the feature-length film we’d gone to see” — the two opted instead for Warren Beatty’s mobster flick, Bugsy.

Every time a shot sounded on the screen — and the film was plenty violent — she reacted physically, dramatically, her body mimicking the victim’s.

How do you deal with trauma like that when society keeps reminding you of it, not only generally (with gunshots in movies) but specifically, with blockbuster conspiracy movies that depict in detail the exact moment when your life was torn apart? And how can you be a good friend to someone who suffered from PTSD (and perhaps never recovered)? How do you assure her that you’re a safe harbor for her thoughts and feelings, that you’ll help insulate her without isolating her?

P.S. Somehow, in everything I’ve read/seen about the Kennedys over the years, I’d never heard that Jackie had given birth to a premature baby boy named Patrick in August of 1963. The baby died 39 hours after his birth. Her husband was assassinated just 105 days later. I… Jesus.

What Would Mister Rogers Do?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2019

Mr Rogers Trolley

In 1998, Tom Junod wrote an article for Esquire about Fred Rogers. It is a particular favorite of mine and if you’ve never read it, I would recommend setting aside some time soon to do so.

Koko weighed 280 pounds because she is a gorilla, and Mister Rogers weighed 143 pounds because he has weighed 143 pounds as long as he has been Mister Rogers, because once upon a time, around thirty-one years ago, Mister Rogers stepped on a scale, and the scale told him that Mister Rogers weighs 143 pounds. No, not that he weighed 143 pounds, but that he weighs 143 pounds…. And so, every day, Mister Rogers refuses to do anything that would make his weight change — he neither drinks, nor smokes, nor eats flesh of any kind, nor goes to bed late at night, nor sleeps late in the morning, nor even watches television — and every morning, when he swims, he steps on a scale in his bathing suit and his bathing cap and his goggles, and the scale tells him that he weighs 143 pounds. This has happened so many times that Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you.’ Isn’t that wonderful?”

The article has been adapted into a movie called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; it stars Tom Hanks and will be out in two weeks time. Here’s a recently trailer — my skepticism about Tom Hanks playing Rogers is fading:

Junod recently wrote a piece about his friendship with the television icon, which began with the writing of the Esquire piece, continued until Rogers’ death in 2003, and clearly still reverberates in his life.

What would Fred Rogers — Mister Rogers — have made of El Paso and Dayton, of mass murder committed to fulfill the dictates of an 8chan manifesto? What, for that matter, would he have made of the anti-Semitic massacre that took place last fall in his real-life Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill? The easy answer is that it is impossible to know, because he was from a different world, one almost as alien to us now as our mob-driven world of performative slaughters would be to him. But actually, I think I do know, because when I met him, one of the early school shootings had just taken place, in West Paducah, Kentucky — eight students shot while they gathered in prayer. Though an indefatigably devout man, he did not attempt to characterize the shootings as an attack on the faithful; instead, he seized on the news that the 14-year-old shooter had gone to school telling his classmates that he was about to do something “really big,” and he asked, “Oh, wouldn’t the world be a different place if he had said, ‘I’m going to do something really little tomorrow’?” Fred decided to devote a whole week of his television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to the theme of “little and big,” encouraging children to embrace the diminutive nature of their bodies and their endeavors — to understand that big has to start little.

The whole piece is great, but the latter half, where Junod writes about Rogers’ complicated legacy, the failure of his grand task, and how the people who idolize him today might nevertheless find it difficult to follow his example…well, I’m going to be thinking about that for awhile.

Polygon looks at the past 10 years in pop culture

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 07, 2019

Mad Max: Fury Road

Is this the first salvo in the end of year barrage of reviews? Polygon are going all out anyway, with a review of the whole decade! “Looking back at the past 10 years in pop culture.” There’s lots to read and I can’t say I’ve gone over the whole thing yet but it’s a fun mix.

The second decade of the 21st century was marked by seismic shifts in media and entertainment — loot boxes, games as a service, esports, livestreaming, virtual reality, smartphones, streaming services, “binge” watching, cloud computing, corporate consolidation, and a blockbuster takeover of the box office. It’s tempting to dismiss those items as big-picture developments rather than changes that affect us personally. But as we increasingly rely on pop culture as the lens through which we process the world around us — and, as ever, a mirror that reflects that world back at us — it’s important to take a breath every so often to ponder how we got here and what it all means.

They’ve got a bunch of lists, some which are actually lists of lists by various team members, like The best movies of the 2010s (some surprising choices as well as some Fury Road and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), or doing one detailed selection like The best comics of the 2010s, and also some deeper dives in individual topics, like Why Minecraft is the most important game of the decade.

Counting Minecraft among the most influential games of the 2010s is a no-brainer. According to its developer, Mojang, Minecraft recently became the bestselling video game of all time, beating out Tetris by moving over 176 million units. Unlike Tetris, it hit that number in a single decade. (Emphasis mine.)

A Documentary Film about Anthony Bourdain Is in the Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

Morgan Neville is directing a documentary movie about Anthony Bourdain.

CNN Films, HBO Max, and Focus Features are partnering on the still-untitled film, which is produced by Neville’s Tremolo Productions. Focus will release the documentary first in theaters before a television premiere on CNN, followed by a streaming bow on the soon-to-launch HBO Max, coming in 2020. Dates for the release have yet to be announced.

Neville is the director of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Fred Rogers documentary that may have made you cry recently. It will be interesting to see what this film can add to the extensive self-documentation that Bourdain put out into the world through his books and TV shows.

Drag Performer Jaremi Carey Cosplays New Harry Potter Character Each Day in October

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

Jaremi Carey Potter

Jaremi Carey Potter

Jaremi Carey Potter

For his project 31 Days of Wizardry, Jaremi Carey has been dressing up as a different Harry Potter character each day in October and posting the results to his Instagram. These are great. Strong Cindy Sherman vibes when you view them all together. And his Dobby! He’s only done one of the main characters so far though (Hermione on polyjuice)…perhaps he’s saving Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, and Voldemort for the final days?

Carey previously did a similar 365 Days of Drag project in 2016. (via @rel_games)

My Recent Media Diet, Decorative Gourd Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since last month. It’s a little light because I’ve been working and a full rewatch of The Wire took some time. Stuff in progress includes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the kids and I are reading it together), The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, and the second season of Abstract.

The Wire. Over the past two months, I rewatched all 5 seasons of The Wire. It very much holds up and is still the best TV show I’ve ever watched. Season 4 in particular is fantastic and devastating. Even season 5, which seemed a bit outlandish at the time with the serial killer plot, is great. (A+)

Downtown Abbey. Not great but it’s always nice spending some quality time with the Crowley family. (B+)

Mario Kart Tour. There’s something deeply un-Nintendo about this game. The use of all of the casino-like iOS tricks to keep you playing (and hopefully spending money on in-game currency) runs counter to the DNA of the company. $70 for 135 rubies is $20 more than the Switch version of Kart is going for right now on Amazon — ridiculous. And remember that the original Wii periodically suggested taking a break if you’d been playing for awhile? Still, racing in Mario Kart is always fun. When they turn networked multiplayer on, it might be a game-changer. (B+)

Peanut Butter Falcon. Feel-good? Eh. More like heavy-handed treacle. And LeBeouf’s character treats the kid with Down syndrome like a normal person but is creepy and borderline abusive to a girl he likes? Yuck. (C)

Succession. I hate that I love this show so much. (A)

1619. Very good podcast, particularly the third episode about the birth of American music. (A-)

Transparent Musicale Finale. I was skeptical about watching a 2-hour musical to end the series, but I ended up liking it a lot. My god, that last song though… (B+)

Parasite. Downton Abbey a la Bong Joon Ho. (A-)

Bottle Rocket. Rough but many of Anderson’s trademarks are already on display here. (A-)

Diego Maradona. Another examination by Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy) of how talent and fame can go wrong. (A-)

Kevin Alexander on the Beginning and End of America’s Culinary Revolution (House of Carbs). Listened on a rec from a friend because Alexander’s book sounded interesting, but the bro-ness of the host is almost unbearable. What if the discussion about food was more like sports radio? No thank you. (C-)

Joker. The pre-release coverage of this movie being dangerous or problematic was mostly overblown. (B)

The new MoMA. Full review here. (A-)

Silence and the Presence of Everything (On Being). Really interesting interview with an acoustic ecologist. More here. (A-)

The Testaments. A sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale could have easily gone wrong. This very much did not. (A-)

Tonic. I used this for a few days but the recs weren’t great so I stopped. (C-)

Amazon Go. A marvelous and unnerving experience for this law-abiding introvert. Shopping without interaction was cool, but walking out without paying felt like shoplifting. (B+)

Machine Hallucination. Impressive display, like being immersed in an IMAX movie. But not sure it’s worth the $25 entry fee. (B)

Liberté, Égalité and French Fries (Rough Translation). How do we define work and community in the age of global mega-corporations? This story takes an amazing turn about 20 minutes in. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.