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kottke.org posts about movies

The Trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2020

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

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Pays Tribute to Chadwick Boseman

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2020

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

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

Ammonite

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

2020: An Isolation Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2020

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

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

(via daring fireball)

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2020

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2020

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

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

A Keen Analysis of the Influences on Inception

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

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

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

How Slow Motion Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

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

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

The Claudia Kishi Club

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2020

The Claudia Kishi Club is a short documentary by Sue Ding about the impact of the Claudia Kishi character from The Baby-Sitters Club book series on a group of Asian-American creatives. They read the books when they were kids and in the film, they reflect on the importance of Claudia in shaping their perceptions of themselves in an era where Asian-American characters were rare in books, movies, and TV.

The six people interviewed in the film are novelist Sarah Kuhn, YA author CB Lee, Naia Cucukov (executive producer of the Netflix series The Babysitter’s Club), comic book artist & author Yumi Sakugawa, blogger Phil Yu, and Gale Galligan (author of The Baby-Sitter’s Club graphic novels, which my daughter loves).

The Claudia Kishi Club is now streaming on Netflix, the trailer is embedded above, and here’s a clip.

Baseline, a Decades-Long Film Series About Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2020

Taking a page from The Up Series, director John Sutter is making a series of films that revisit four geographic locations every 5 years until 2050 in order to document the effects in those areas due to climate change. The name of the series is Baseline and it’s a reference to the concept of shifting baselines, which the trailer above defines as “a phenomenon of lowered expectations in which each generation regards a progressively poorer natural world as normal”. The four areas the films will focus on are Alaska, Utah, Puerto Rico, and the Marshall Islands.

Sutter did a TEDx Talk about shifting baselines and climate change — the clip he shows right at the beginning featuring the shifting sizes of fish caught in Key West, Florida is astonishing.

He also wrote a piece about the series and the Alaskan village featured in it.

Radioactive, a Biopic of Marie Curie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2020

From director Marjane Satrapi, who made the acclaimed animated film Persepolis, comes Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and the only person to ever win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines. Curie is played by Rosamund Pike and the film is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Lauren Redniss, a finalist for the National Book Award.

Radioactive debuts on Amazon Prime on July 24.

The Handwritten First Draft of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Do The Right Thing first draft

Do The Right Thing first draft

Do The Right Thing first draft

Do The Right Thing first draft

In March 1988, Spike Lee wrote a first draft screenplay for his movie Do The Right Thing in just over 2 weeks. Four pages of this handwritten draft are pictured above. I wasn’t able to track down the entire screenplay, but the typed second draft can be found here. From a book companion to the film, here’s an excerpt from Lee’s journal from the day before he began writing:

Yesterday I began work on the script. Well, actually, I began the last work before the actual writing of the script. I put down all the ideas or scenes and dialogue on three-by-five index cards. TOMORROW, I’ll begin to write this motherfucker.

This morning I got up early to go to my corner store, T and T, to buy the paper. The young guys who work there had a Run-D.M.C. tape on. The owner, an old Italian guy, says, “What da fuck is dat? Turn that jungle music off. We’re not in Africa. It’s giving me a stomach ache.” Sooner or later it comes out. Okay, so you don’t like rap music. But why does it have to be about jungle music and Africa? I should have Sal say the same words to Radio Raheem in the movie.

And sure enough, on page 77 of the second draft:

SAL: Turn that JUNGLE MUSIC off. We ain’t in Africa.

BUGGIN’ OUT: Why it gotta be about jungle music and Africa?

SAL: It’s about turning that shit off and getting the fuck outta my pizzeria.

And on the day after finishing, he wrote:

Tuesday morning I finished the first draft of Do The Right Thing. It came in at roughly eighty-seven typed pages. It’s the fastest script I have ever written. In all, the actual writing of the first draft took fifteen days, but I have been taking notes since December.

(via criterion collection)

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Netflix has put When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s 4-episode mini-series about the Central Park Five, in front of their paywall for free viewing. Here’s the trailer:

The 2013 Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five is available to watch on the PBS site and also on Amazon.

As previously noted, DuVernay’s 13th and Selma are also both available to watch online for free.

Now Streaming - Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

For 35 years, activist and archivist Marion Stokes recorded television news coverage on VHS tapes, amassing a collection of hundreds of thousands of hours of footage. Matt Wolf has produced a documentary about Stokes called Recorder: The Marian Stokes Project.

For over 30 years, Marion Stokes obsessively and privately recorded American television news twenty-four hours a day. A civil rights-era radical who became fabulously wealthy and reclusive later in life, her obsession started with the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 — at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 as the Sandy Hook massacre played on television while Marion passed away. In between, Marion filled 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows and commercials that show us how television shaped the world of today and in the process tell us who we were.

A mystery in the form of a time capsule, Recorder delves into the strange life of a woman for whom home taping was a form of activism to protect the truth (the public didn’t know it, but the networks had been disposing their archives for decades into the trashcan of history) and though her visionary and maddening project nearly tore her family apart, her extraordinary legacy is as priceless as her story is remarkable.

The trailer is above and you can watch the whole thing for free on PBS for a limited time.

White Noise, a Film About “the Seductive Power of Extremism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

The Atlantic is releasing their first feature-length documentary later this month.1 The film is called White Noise and it’s about the white nationalist movement in the US. Director Daniel Lombroso spent four years embedded in the “alt-right” movement to figure out how it works.

Progressives like to believe that racism is an opiate of the ignorant. But the alt-right’s leaders are educated and wealthy, groomed at some of America’s most prestigious institutions. The more time I spent documenting the movement, the more ubiquitous I realized it was. I bumped into one subject dancing in Bushwick with his Asian girlfriend, and another walking around DuPont Circle hitting a vape. Their racism is woven into the fabric of New York, Washington, D.C., and Paris, just as much as Birmingham, Alabama, or Little Rock, Arkansas.

During a visit to Richard Spencer’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, I began to understand how the alt-right works. Evan McLaren, a lawyer, wrote master plans on a whiteboard. A band of college kids poured whiskey for Spencer, adjusted his gold-framed Napoleon painting, and discussed the coming “Identitarian” revolution. Spencer offered a sense of historical purpose to his bored, middle-class followers. In his telling, they weren’t just “white Americans,” but descendants of the Greeks and Romans. “Myths are more powerful than rationality,” Spencer told me. “We make life worth living.”

White Noise is about the seductive power of extremism. Hatred feels good. But the fix is fleeting. As the film progresses, the subjects reveal the contradictions at the heart of their world. Southern advocates for traditional gender roles, but resents the misogyny and sexism of her peers. Cernovich warns that “diversity is code for white genocide,” but has an Iranian wife and biracial kids. Spencer swears he’ll lead the white-nationalist revolution — until it’s more comfortable for him to move home to live with his wealthy mother in Montana. For so many who feel lost or alone, these avatars of hate offer a promise: Follow us, and life will be better.

I mean, I’d roll my eyes if these assholes weren’t so effective and dangerous.

The film is premiering online at AFI on June 20. There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available (which seems odd) but I’ll update this post if one materializes.

  1. And probably last? The Atlantic laid off their entire video staff in mid-May, including the director and producer of this film.

Ava DuVernay’s Selma and 13th Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

Last month, Netflix posted a number of their educational programs on YouTube for free, including Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary 13th on race, justice, and mass incarceration in America. Here’s the full-length film (discussion guide):

On Friday, Paramount Pictures started offering DuVernay’s Selma for free rental on a variety of platforms (Apple, Amazon, etc.). Selma is an historical drama about Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. If you haven’t seen it, it’s excellent — here’s a trailer:

As DuVernay said of the film on Twitter:

We’ve gotta understand where we’ve been to strategize where we’re going. History helps us create the blueprint.

In addition, legal drama Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan and Jaime Foxx is available online for free until the end of the month and The Criterion Channel is making movies that “focus on Black lives” available to non-subscribers. (via open culture)

Errol Morris’s Next Documentary Is About Psychedelic Guru Timothy Leary

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

The next documentary film from Errol Morris is about LSD advocate Timothy Leary and will debut on Showtime later in the year. The film is still untitled but is based on a memoir by Joanna Harcourt-Smith called Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story.

A FILM BY ERROL MORRIS (w/t) asks the question why Leary, the High Priest of LSD, became a narc in 1974 and seemingly abandoned the millions he urged to turn on, tune in and drop out. Was his “perfect love” Joanna Harcourt-Smith a government pawn, as suggested by Allen Ginsberg? Or was she simply a rich, beautiful, young woman out for the adventure of a lifetime? Morris and Harcourt-Smith will reexamine this chaotic period of her life and explore the mystery of the Leary saga: his period of exile, reimprisonment and subsequent cooperation with the authorities. Devotion or selfishness? Perfect love or outright betrayal? Destiny or manipulation?

This is Morris’s second foray into the topic of LSD — his 2017 Netflix series Wormwood explored the use of the drug by the CIA.

The Top 50 Sports Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

On the occasion of ESPN’s hit documentary The Last Dance finishing up, Axios’ Kendall Baker shared his list of the top 50 sports documentaries of all time.

It’s unsurprising that Hoop Dreams comes out on top — I need to make some time to watch that again. OJ: Made in America comes in at #2 and is indeed excellent, one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in recent years. But is it actually a sports documentary? It’s about a guy who used to play sports… The Last Dance finishes in third place; I haven’t seen it yet1 but my guess is that’s too high, especially considering Jordan had a lot of control over the finished product.

Loved seeing some of my other favorites on there too: Senna, When We Were Kings, Pumping Iron, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and Minding the Gap (which should have been way higher on the list). (via @mikeindustries)

  1. I don’t know if this is happening to you during all of this, but I have limited energy at the end of the day for any form of televisual entertainment that’s supposed to be “good”. So even though I was a massive Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls fan in the 90s, I haven’t worked up the energy to tackle this yet. I guess part of me is also anxious about how invested I was in that story back then and what it might dredge up for me, feelings-wise.

Da 5 Bloods, a New Spike Lee Joint

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2020

Spike Lee’s newest film, Da 5 Bloods, is coming to Netflix on June 12 and the trailer, driven by the Chambers Brothers’ psychedelic rock anthem Time Has Come Today, is really compelling.

From Academy Award(R) Winner Spike Lee comes a New Joint: the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul’s concerned son (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature — while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.

Having recently been to Vietnam and done a bit of reading about US veterans retiring there, I’m interested to see how Lee handles that dynamic and portrays the country.

Chair Times: A History of Seating

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2020

Vitra Chair Times

For a limited time, you can view the feature length documentary Chair Times: A History of Seating online for free courtesy of Vitra, a Swiss design company. Here’s a trailer:

In the focus are 125 objects from the Collection of the Vitra Design Museum. Arranged according to their year of production, they illustrate development from 1807 to the very latest designs straight off the 3D printer, forming a timeline to modern seating design.

Accompanying the film is a book of the same name. (via moss & fog)

An Oral History of Mad Max: Fury Road

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2020

Fury Road

The endlessly rewatchable Mad Max: Fury Road has become one of my absolute favorite films, so I really enjoyed digging into this oral history of the movie (with contributions from director George Miller, editor Margaret Sixel, Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and many others). It is a miracle this thing got made and downright impossible that it was so good.

HARDY: Charlize arguably laid down the finest lead character in an action movie, and that credit is much deserved, in my opinion; both to her as a phenomenal talent and also to George for recognizing from the very start that it was time to pass Mel’s shoes onto Furiosa.

THERON: At first, Furiosa was this very ethereal character, with long hair and some African mud art on her face. It was a different costume designer back then, before Jenny Beavan, and the costume felt a little more Barbarella-y. I worried about it.

JENNY BEAVAN (costume designer): I am not into fashion, and I don’t particularly care what people look like — the clothes have to come out of the stories they tell. Since she travels long distances, Furiosa needed very practical clothing, and when I met with Charlize, that was one of the things we talked about. That, and what on earth would she do with her hair?

THERON: George was really incredible in just hearing me out. I called him and said, “I don’t know how she’s getting by in the mechanics’ room with all this hair. I think we need to shave my head, and she needs to be a more androgynous, grounded character.” You know, he trusted me so much that it kind of makes me emotional. In that sense, I feel like I let him down.

Sixel won an Oscar for her editing of Fury Road:

SIXEL: There was this constant thing from the studio: “How much shorter is it?” That’s all they wanted to know. I just got so sick of it. They were just obsessed with getting the film under 100 minutes, which I knew was impossible.

MILLER: When someone is directing a film, they’re thinking about it every waking hour, and even processing it in their dreams. The problem is, if you’re a studio executive, you tend to think about it for 10 minutes on a Wednesday.

SIXEL: It was an incredibly painful film to cut. I think the studio didn’t believe in it, so it was really difficult to keep going. Eventually George and I decided, “We’re just going to make the film we want to make, and if no one else likes it, that’s fine.” And that last four months is when the film really came together.

And it blew people away and was taken seriously when it came out, which surprised the filmmakers:

MILLER: In Japan, there was a critic who was telling me about the film, and I was astonished by the degree to which he read the subtext, all the stuff you hope is there. I said, “How many times did you see the film?” He said, “Only once. Can I show you something?” And he opened up his shirt, and he had the logo of the Immortan tattooed in red on his chest. So when you see things like that, you’re sort of humbled by it.

(thx, david)

Update: The author of the oral history shared some outtakes on Twitter.

The first time Charlize Theron saw FURY ROAD, it was a 3-and-a half hour cut, and she fell hard for it: “I felt like for the first time in my career, I was part of something where you could truly say, ‘This feels original.’”

And Theron herself posted some photos, videos, and memories of the filming, including this:

I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing my war rig for the first time and realizing holy shit, George is not f*cking around.

She also posted the photo at the top of this post. (via @thatneilguy)

Radiohead’s Rejected Spectre Theme Song Played Over the Film’s Opening Credits

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

My kids have been making their way through the Daniel Craig Bond movies so when I mentioned that our local theater was planning on showing drive-in movies on a screen in the parking lot, my son said, “ooh, maybe they’ll show the new Bond movie”.1 Then they began to speculate who would be singing the theme song in the new movie, and I piped in: it’s Billie Eilish and they’ve already released the song.

So we listened to it and, since they had just watched Spectre, I also played Radiohead’s rejected theme song, which I obviously prefer to Sam Smith’s bland Oscar-winning song. This morning, while trying to figure out who sang the official one, I ran across the video of Radiohead’s version played over the opening credits (embedded above). Gah, so much better. What a missed opportunity.

P.S. Funny story from my research: not only was Smith unaware that Radiohead had been asked to do the theme song before them, they were also apparently unaware of who Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke even was.

  1. We’ll have to wait until at least November for that, although I suspect that as the summer goes on and people don’t go back to movie theaters even if they reopen, the studios will have to start releasing films straight to digital/Blu-ray. The can’t delay everything for a year or two.

Becoming, a Film About Michelle Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

Based on her memoir of the same name and produced by the production company she created with her husband, Becoming is a film about Michelle Obama that premiered on Netflix today.

Becoming is an intimate look into the life of former First Lady Michelle Obama during a moment of profound change, not only for her personally but for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House. The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.

The trailer and a clip from the film are embedded above. The clip features Obama talking with a group of young black women on her book tour and one of them asks about getting her life “back on track” after her husband’s presidency. Obama’s answer is remarkably timely:

What I’ve learned is that…get back on what track? It’s a whole new track. It’s not going back — it’s just all different and it’s different forever. So it’s not getting back on track, it’s creating my next track.

I think many Americans and people across the world are struggling with accepting that idea in the midst of the pandemic.

Daniel Radcliffe Reads the First Chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

As part of the Wizarding World’s Harry Potter at Home initiative, they’re having an all-star cast read the first book in the series aloud on video. The first chapter was just released and it’s read by none other than Daniel Radcliffe himself. You can also listen on Spotify:

A new chapter with a different reader will be released each week — readers of future chapters include Stephen Fry, Dakota Fanning, and Eddie Redmayne.

Update: The next few chapters have been released: Noma Dumezweni’s chapter 2, Eddie Redmayne reads chapter 3, and Stephen Fry does chapter 4. The kids and I have been listening to this on Spotify in the car and we’re loving it. I liked Redmayne’s narration the best so far and Fry does an uncanny impression of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid voice.

My Recent Media Diet, The Pandemic Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2020

Well, it has been awhile. I have not done one of these since late December. First I was away for a few weeks and then, well, you know. I’m not even sure if anyone wants to read this sort of thing right now — I barely wanted to write it — but I know a lot of people are stuck at home, looking for stuff to watch, read, and listen to. Plus, keeping the media diet going feels normal, at least a little.

If you’re strapped for time/attention, my top recs are Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Devs, Exhalation, Little Women, Unbelievable, Future Nostalgia, The Overstory, and You’re Wrong About.

Devs. Fantastic. I loved every minute of this gem. (A)

Unbelievable. Based on a true story. Excellent performances by Toni Collette and (especially) Merritt Wever. (A)

The Report. Also based on a true story. The Bush presidency still does not get the credit in terms of the harm it did, and continues to do, to America. (B+)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Killer collection of tech/science stories. (A)

Slow Burn (season 3). Not just about Biggie/Tupac, but about 90s hip-hop & the cultural reaction to it. (B+)

AirPods Pro. Wearing these feels a little like the future. (A)

Aeronauts. Perfectly fine. (B)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Straight-up masterpiece. (A)

Don’t F**k with Cats. How on Earth did I not hear anything about this case when it originally happened and why is it not more widely known? A media-obsessed wanna-be serial killer caught by online sleuths? It seems like fiction. (B+)

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. This maybe would have been better at half the length. (B+)

1917. Technically stunning but I never truly got involved in the story because I was trying to see where the cuts were. (B+)

Icarus. Almost unbelievable where the story goes in this. (A-)

Little Women. My choice for the best 2019 movie. (A)

My Brilliant Friend (season 2). The second part of the first season set a high bar to clear, but I’m loving this season so far. (A)

Jojo Rabbit. Like Inglourious Basterds directed by Wes Anderson. (A-)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Fittingly finished this on the plane to Vietnam. (B+)

Anthropocene. Typically excellent look at the impact of humans on the Earth by Edward Burtynsky. (A-)

Frances Ha. Baby Adam Driver! (B+)

Catch Me If You Can. Spielberg (and DiCaprio) at their most entertaining. (A-)

Edge of Tomorrow. Love this movie. An underrated gem. (A)

The Overstory by Richard Powers. A wonderful novel about trees and the natural world. (A)

Titanic. A masterclass of blockbuster filmmaking and storytelling. (A)

Good Place (season 4). Loved the ending to this. (A-)

Outbreak. Contagion. Deep Impact. 2012. The Core. I Am Legend. I have been watching all of the disaster movies. They are terrible and I love them. (A/C-)

The Aftermath. The ending of this felt random, a gotcha to the audience rather than the natural end to the story. (B)

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. I had medium hopes for this, but the Seth Rogan episode made me laugh harder than I have in months. (B+)

Watchmen. The first three episodes gave me this-is-gonna-end-like-Lost vibes and then they announced there wasn’t going to be second season, so I stopped watching. (B-)

The Farewell. Wonderful. (A-)

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Started slow but finished strong. Keep your eyes peeled for all of the sci-fi references. (B+)

Birds of Prey. This was mindless. And not in a good way. (D)

McMillion$. My main takeaway was being aghast at how much time, energy, and money the FBI put into this case, which one of the lead investigators only pursued because it was fun. (B)

Star Trek: Picard. I would have voted against bringing this beloved character back (for fear they’d ruin it) but I enjoyed almost every second of this. (B+)

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Another great book from Larson. The Battle of Britain is surprisingly relevant to these pandemic times. (A-)

Onward. Not my favorite Pixar, but solid as always. (B)

Future Nostalgia. Love this album, not a single weak song. (A)

The Mandalorian. It took me too long to realize that this was a western. I don’t care that much for westerns. (B)

Star Wars Episodes I II III. I needed some true garbage to watch about two weeks into my self-quarantine. These movies are mostly terrible. (C-)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve mentioned this podcast before, but You’re Wrong About has become essential listening for me. The OJ and DC Sniper series are both great, and their episode Why Didn’t Anyone Go to Prison for the Financial Crisis was excellent and surprisingly didn’t really mention the actual crisis at all. (A)

Iron Man. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. The kids and I are rewatching all the MCU movies in release order. Some are better than others. (B)

Tiger King. I watched the first episode and…is this anything more than just gawping at yokels? Does this documentary have anything important to say about society or is it just reality TV? (C)

LBJ and the Great Society. A fascinating look at a brief moment in time when our government worked and how that happened. (A-)

The Case of the Missing Hit. You’ve likely heard this instant-classic episode of Reply All by now, but if you haven’t, it’s worth the hype. (A-)

Tempest in a Teacup. Outside/In talks to Charles Mann about a passage in 1491 about passenger pigeons, which suggested that their famous abundance was a relatively recent occurence caused by the decimation of indigenous populations in the Americas by Europeans and their diseases. (B+)

The Living Room. The episode of Love + Radio that inspired the Oscar-winning The Neighbor’s Window. (A-)

Simulcast. Tycho’s instrumental companion album to Weather. (B+)

Minority Report. This was cheesier than I remembered it. Hasn’t aged well in some ways. (B)

Pelican Brief. So 90s. But I’d forgotten the star power of Denzel and Julia Roberts, even in a mediocre movie. (B)

Murder on the Orient Express. Rewatch. Branagh sure does chew the scenery, but it is fun to watch. (B+)

Gemini Man. Action. Sci fi. Mostly forgettable. (B-)

Yesterday. Cute flick. (B)

Monsters University. This was the only Pixar movie I had never seen. And now I have. (B)

Dark Phoenix. Slightly more entertaining than I was expecting. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Social Distancing As Demonstrated in Wes Anderson Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2020

Characters in Wes Anderson’s films are often misfits, outcasts, or are estranged from one another for various reasons. That apartness is often depicted cinematically using physical distance between individuals onscreen, with the aesthetic side effect of using all of that gorgeous 1.85:1 or even 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Luis Azevedo made a short supercut of moments in Anderson’s movies where the characters are practicing good social distancing techniques.

Blade Runner - The Lost Cut

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2020

Of the various cuts of Blade Runner done over the years, Blade Runner - The Lost Cut is perhaps the oddest. Billed by creator Leon Chase as “a radical re-envisioning of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic”, this cut boldly includes footage from other films like The French Connection, Star Wars, The Jerk, and The Blues Brothers. A few of the films whose footage was used, including the Coen brothers’ Fargo, were released well after Blade Runner came out.

Daring! But does this cut go too far? Or not too far enough?

Netflix Posts Dozens of Their Educational Programs on YouTube for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2020

In the Before Times, Netflix let teachers stream their programming in the classroom. With schools not in sessions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Netflix has decided to put some of their educational programming on YouTube for free (full playlist here). For instance, they’ve put all 8 episodes of David Attenborough’s nature series Our Planet online in their entirety. Here’s the first episode:

The Our Planet website also has tons of educational information for schools and kids.

13th is a feature-length documentary by Ava DuVernay about how racial inequality in America drives our high incarceration rates:

13th is currently rated 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and NY Times reviewer Manohla Dargis called it “powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming”. Here’s a discussion guide.

Eight full episodes of the first season of Abstract: The Art of Design are also available on YouTube (discussion guide). Here’s the episode featuring illustrator Christoph Niemann:

Several episodes of Vox’s series Explained are included, like this one on the racial wealth gap:

Also included are The White Helmets & Period. End of Sentence. (which each won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject) as well as Knock Down The House, the documentary on the 2018 Congressional campaigns of four women (including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). See the full list of included shows and the full playlist on YouTube.

The Implausible Covid-19 Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2020

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post interviewed Scott Z. Burns, who wrote the screenplay for Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s film about a bat-borne illness that starts a global pandemic. What’s most striking about the interview is how outlandish Burns finds certain aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic, so ridiculous in fact that people would find them implausible if this were a fictional story.

I would have never imagined that the movie needed a “bad guy” beyond the virus itself. It seems pretty basic that the plot should be humans united against the virus. If you were writing it now, you would have to take into account the blunders of a dishonest president and the political party that supports him. But any good studio executive would have probably told us that such a character was unbelievable and made the script more of a dark comedy than a thriller.

On Twitter, director Sarah Polley recently had a similar take.

This is the worst movie I have ever seen.

Unsurprising that this movie doesn’t work — the screenplay was a dog’s breakfast.

So much heavy handed foreshadowing. The apocalyptic footage from Wuhan, the super villain American president, the whistleblower dying, the Russia/China border closed while people still claimed it was just a flu, the warnings unheeded. Insulting to the audience’s intelligence.

And then — that most annoying of horror/disaster movie tropes — the hapless idiots walking into disaster after disaster, all of which the audience can see coming from a mile away.

The over the top details of world leaders and their wives falling ill, the far fetched idea that industrialized countries wouldn’t have proper protective gear for front line workers and ventilators. Pleeeeaaase. This movie needed a script doctor.

It’s interesting that there are certain boundaries in fiction related to the audience’s suspension of disbelief that are are routinely ignored by reality. I’m also reminded of how Margaret Atwood approached The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, using only elements that have historical precedent:

The television series has respected one of the axioms of the novel: no event is allowed into it that does not have a precedent in human history.

And yet some critics consider the events from the novels and TV show to be too much, over-the-top.

Update: Ted Chiang from a recent interview:

While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there’s no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn’t be dangerous if competent people were on the job. A pandemic story like that would be similar to what’s known as an “idiot plot,” a plot that would be resolved very quickly if your protagonist weren’t an idiot. What we’re living through is only partly a disaster novel; it’s also — and perhaps mostly — a grotesque political satire.

I am currently blazing through Exhalation (Kindle), Chiang’s collection of science & technology fables. (via @jasondh)