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My Recent Media Diet, Summer Solstice 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month. I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; I loved his The Devil in the White City. On the TV front, I’m holding off on season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and season 2 of Big Little Lies for some reason…don’t want to get sucked into anything right now, I guess. Ditto for catching up on the Historical Cinematic Universe…just not feeling it at the moment. As always, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades…they’re higher in the summer than in the cold, depressing winter.

Deadwood: The Movie. A fitting end to one of the best shows on TV. It was great to be able to spend a little more time with it. (A-)

Booksmart. I loved this movie. Great soundtrack too. (A)

Thermapen Mk4. Finally got tired of my anxiety about overcooking my meat. Been using it with the reverse sear to great effect. (B+)

Serial season 3. I couldn’t make it through more than two episodes of each of the previous two seasons, but I went the distance on this one. Is the American system of justice just? I doubt it. (A-)

Working by Robert Caro. The DVD extras for The Power Broker and the LBJ books. I don’t have time to read a 3000-page biography of Lyndon Johnson right now, but Working made me want to do it anyway. (A-)

Persuasion System. The latest album from Com Truise. Great for working to. (B+)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. An idiosyncratic and deeply personal little museum. I felt very much at home there. (A)

Small Steps, Giant Leaps. Apollo 11 artifacts paired with historic scientific tomes from the likes of Galileo & Newton go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (A-)

Mary Queen of Scots. Nothing much here to distinguish this from your usual historical drama. (B)

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. Great show at the MFA. Was not a particular fan of Toulouse-Lautrec before but perhaps I am now. (A-)

Street Food. Interesting to compare this to David Gelb’s other show, Chef’s Table. Same focus on quality ingredients and serving great food, but very different ends of the economic spectrum. (B+)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Caught the peak of the cherry blossoms. Beautiful. But crowded. (A-)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. This wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see what other people love about it. The final episode is the strongest and I thought Nosrat’s emphasis on shopping as a vital part of cooking was interesting. (B)

Summer in Vermont. It’s been spectacular here lately. (A)

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I burned through this in only two days. (A)

Cumulonimbus Mammatus

Cumulonimbus mammatus. They’re no asperitas clouds, but cumulonimbus mammatus is still one of the best clouds around. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show interview with Alison Gopnik. Gopnik’s ideas about gardeners vs carpenters and explore vs exploit are fascinating frameworks for thinking about human creativity. (A-)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s tough to maintain a coherent story told over several generations, but Lee manages it easily. (A-)

No Country for Old Men. Masterful. (A)

Chernobyl. Sometimes bureaucracy is no match for the truth. See also the accompanying podcast. (A-)

The Lives of Others. Got on a bit of a Cold War kick. (A-)

Always Be My Maybe. Strong ending. (B+)

Toy Story 4. Hollywood is often accused of being super liberal, but I thought the values depicted in this movie were quite conservative. (B+)

Anima. Thom Yorke’s solid third solo album. (B+)

13 Minutes to the Moon. There’s lots of Apollo stuff out there right now and some of it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But this podcast from the BBC is substantial, with interviews from key players, including Apollo software engineer Margaret Hamilton, who doesn’t give many interviews these days. (A-)

Bad Times at the El Royale. Rhymes with Tarantino but not that well. This should have been 90 minutes long. (B-)

Long Shot. Why did this flop? It’s not exactly great but it works fine. (B)

Whitney Biennial 2019. Things that caught my eye were Christine Sun Kim’s hand-drawn graphs about “deaf rage” and Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of Olympic gymnasts based on these composite photos in the NY Times. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

“I Want to Make Beautiful Things, Even if Nobody Cares”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2019

Saul Bass is one of the most celebrated designers of movie posters and title sequences in the short history of cinema. He created iconic poster designs for movies like Vertigo, The Shining, Anatomy of a Murder, and Schindler’s List. In this short film, we learn the strategy behind Bass’ designs: symbolize and summarize.

See also several rejected concepts by Bass for The Shining movie poster, with scribbled notes from Stanley Kubrick.

A Documentary on Jim Henson’s Creative Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2019

Defunctland has produced a six-part documentary series on Jim Henson. Each episode focuses on a different creative project that Henson did. Here’s the trailer:

The first four episodes are already out…here’s the second episode on Sesame Street:

You can watch the rest of them on YouTube.

30 Films You Should Watch According to Christopher Nolan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

Christopher Nolan will be out with his latest film next year, Tenet. To celebrate, IndieWire has collected a list of 30 films that Nolan has mentioned in the past as having an impact on his filmmaking. The title of that post calls these his “favorite” movies, but it’s perhaps more fair to call it his list of blockbuster influences, films that are grand in scale, personal in nature, and a little cerebral…with some quirky oddballs thrown in for good measure. Here’s a selection:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Blade Runner
Alien
For All Mankind
Koyaanisqatsi
Star Wars
Street of Crocodiles
The Tree Of Life

Jurassic Park but With Pee-Wee Herman in Place of the T-Rex

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2019

This is gold — a perfect 30 seconds of entertainment. I have watched this at least 10 times and Pee-Wee rolling around on the ground at the end cracks me up every time.

See also The “Welcome to Jurassic Park” Scene But With The Dinosaurs Digitally Removed and Jurassic Park but with the Dinosaurs from the 90s TV Show Dinosaurs.

Chasing the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

In July, American Experience will air Chasing the Moon, a 6-hour documentary film about the effort to send a manned mission to the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

The series recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama. Utilizing a visual feast of previously overlooked and lost archival material — much of which has never before been seen by the public — the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in these historic events. Among those included are astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and a leading Soviet rocket engineer; Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year old “mathematics whiz” who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the Air Force pilot selected by the Kennedy administration to train as America’s first black astronaut.

Among the stories not usually told about the Moon missions is that of Ed Dwight, NASA’s first black astronaut trainee:

Since 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, there’s a *lot* of stuff out there about the Space Race and Apollo program, but this film looks like it’s going to be one of the best. The film will start airing on PBS on July 8 and the Blu-ray & DVD comes out on July 9. There’s a companion book that will be available next week.

The Trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2019

The first trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix’s long-awaited prequel to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, is finally here. From Vanity Fair:

The new series, which takes place years before the events of the original film, follows three creatures, called Gelfling, who discover the horrifying secret behind the power of a group of villainous critters called the Skeksis. The heroes — Taron Egerton’s Rian, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Brea, and Nathalie Emmanuel’s Deet — embark on an epic journey to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world, which, at the time of the film, is dying, with sickness spreading across the land as the Skeksis control the powerful Crystal of Truth.

As you can see from the trailer, the series uses puppets and not CGI characters, just like the original. The 10-part series debuts on Netflix on August 30. In the meantime, the original 1982 movie is available on Netflix right now.

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a documentary film on the legendary Nobel Prize-winning author of Beloved.

Navigating a white, male world wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t even interesting. I was more interesting than they were, and I wasn’t afraid to show it.

The film opens in theaters June 21.

Concept Drawings from Studio Ghibli Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Tales From Weirdland has a collection of posts that feature concept drawings from several Studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Castle in the Sky. I poked around a little and found artwork & concept drawings from Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises, and Porco Rosso. Hand dawn and it all just pops off the screen. Wonderful.

Looks like a lot of this is available in book form as well: The Art of Spirited Away, The Art of Princess Mononoke, The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle, etc.

TV & Movie Spy Scene Breakdowns from the Former CIA Chief of Disguise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

For Wired’s series Technique Critique, former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez looks at several TV shows and movies to rate how good their spy scenes are.

Mendez gives high marks to characters from Alias and The Americans for effective use of disguises and low marks to The Bourne Identity and Homeland. In relation to Philip’s disguises on The Americans, she discusses the concept of the little gray man, the CIA’s goal for its agents to look like harmless middle-aged men, something she also mentioned in this Washington Post piece:

Rhys makes the case, however, for disappearing under nothing more than a knit cap and a pair of glasses, a scruffy mustache and a messy wig. He becomes the consummate little gray man, invisible, the one nobody can remember was even on the elevator.

Mendez also talks about the three cover identities that CIA agents were not allowed to use: clergy, media figures, and Peace Corps volunteer. She previously did this video with Wired about how the CIA used disguises.

The Bit Player

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

The Bit Player is a documentary film about Claude Shannon, the underrated “Father of Information Theory”, whose work, more than anyone else’s, laid the foundation for the information age in which we find ourselves currently immersed.

In a blockbuster paper in 1948, Claude Shannon introduced the notion of a “bit” and laid the foundation for the information age. His ideas ripple through nearly every aspect of modern life, influencing such diverse fields as communication, computing, cryptography, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cosmology, linguistics, and genetics.

The film is directed by Mark Levinson, a former particle physicist, who also directed the excellent Particle Fever (about the search for the Higgs boson). The Bit Player premieres later this month at the World Science Festival in NYC and presumably will be out in theaters sometime after that.

Philip Glass on Soul Train

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

It turns out that the fourth track off of Philip Glass’ soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi matches up pretty well to the dancers in this clip from Soul Train.

I don’t know whether to like this or hate it. Actually, I think I love it. See also Soul Train dancers backed by Daft Punk. (via @tedgioia)

The World Building Bureaucracy of Sequels

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

An intriguing insight from Khoi Vinh in his short review of the third John Wick movie:

This is what usually happens: a film creates a compelling fantasy world and fans clamor for more. So sequels build that world out, they show more of its mechanics, its people, its history. But “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” demonstrates one little acknowledged principle of escalated world building: the inevitable outcome is bureaucracy.

[…]

Things that were at first only suggested become explicit, mysteries are explained, and idiosyncrasies metastasize into red tape. Suddenly filmmakers find themselves in a position where building the world becomes its own motivation.

See also Why the Writing in Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Feels Off. (via @capndesign)

The Trailer for the Downton Abbey Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

The Downton Abbey movie is nearly upon us (it’s out in Sept) and the first full-length trailer is here. The action picks up a couple of years after the TV show ended and concerns the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the estate. I’ve embedded the UK trailer above — it’s better than the American trailer even though it gives away a bit more of the plot. Plus, in the UK version you get to see the deployment of Carson in the Battle of the Head Butlers. Carson’s glance of disdained indifference toward the royal butler might be the most spine-tingling battle moment since Aragon uttered “for Frodo” and charged headlong into the hordes of Mordor.

Update: Some real talk from Robert Bennett about the escapist fantasy of Downton Abbey:

really the point of the entire show was to let middle american viewers dabble in the lavish lives and costumes of the edwardian .001% without feeling bad about what made that lifestyle possible

anything that threatened that “safari in the aristocracy” aspect — be it the realism of class warfare, or the actual, historical evolutions of the era that would have upended everything that happened — was quickly neutered and turned into quaint fluff.

Still excited for the movie though. Butler Battle 2019!!

Hollywood Dream Machines: an Exhibition of Vehicles from Sci-Fi Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2019

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

An exhibition called Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy just opened at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA. It features more than 50 vehicles from sci-fi and fantasy films like Blade Runner, Iron Man, Mad Max: Fury Road, Black Panther, Minority Report, Star Wars, Speed Racer, Back to the Future, and Tron: Legacy. The exhibition runs through March 2020.

“I, Pastafari”, a Documentary Film About the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2019

In 2005, Bobby Henderson wrote an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education about their decision to allow teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classrooms. In it, he introduced the world to the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster quickly became an internet meme and, shortly thereafter, an actual religion. *nudge nudge wink wink*

Touched Noodly Appendage

I, Pastafari is a feature-length documentary about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its adherents, the Pastafarians.

I, Pastafari is a story about a few brave Pastafarians, evangelizing the message of the FSM, while fighting against intolerant skeptics, for the freedom to access religious privileges in law granted to other “real” religions. In a time of flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, fake news, and alternative facts, the Pastafarians may be the savior the world has been waiting for. R’Amen.

I have a bad feeling that what started out as a satirical criticism of religion will be an actual religion in the future whose adherents won’t see the irony in or damage done by that shift. That’ll be fun.

Talking Chewbacca: “Where the Hell Have You Been?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

This is neat: Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca speaking English to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in a scene from Empire Strikes Back:

Mayhew’s dialogue provided context for Ford to play off of. Chewbacca’s more familiar voice was dubbed over the on-set dialogue in post production — listen to Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt describe how he created Chewie’s voice in this video at ~26:18. Mayhew passed away last week at the age of 74.

See also David Prowse’s on-set dialogue as Darth Vader, or as the other cast members called him, Darth Farmer (at 6:05 in the video). (via laughing squid)

Diego Maradona

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2019

Asif Kapadia, the director of Senna and Amy, has directed a documentary film about footballer Diego Maradona, one of the best to ever lace up the cleats.

Having never won a major tournament, ailing football giant SSC Napoli had criminally underachieved. Their fanatical support was unequalled in both passion and size. None was more feared. But how they ached for success…

On 5th July 1984, Diego Maradona arrived in Naples for a world-record fee and for seven years all hell broke loose. The world’s most celebrated football genius and the most dysfunctional city in Europe were a perfect match for each other.

Maradona was blessed on the field but cursed off it; the charismatic Argentine, quickly led Naples to their first-ever title. It was the stuff of dreams.

But there was a price… Diego could do as he pleased whilst performing miracles on the pitch, but when the magic faded he became almost a prisoner of the city.

The film will debut at Cannes and HBO just bought the TV and streaming rights. Senna is one of my all-time favorite documentaries, so I’m excited for this one.

Update: I’ve embedded the full trailer above and moved the teaser down here:

Update: According to this new teaser trailer, the film debuts on HBO on October 1.

Avengers Characters in the Style of Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

Avengers Woodblock

Japanese illustrator Takumi made these illustrations of characters from Avengers: Endgame in the style of Ukiyo-e prints. As Johnny Waldman notes at Spoon & Tamago, the artist took care in translating the the Marvel characters into the proper style:

The artist spent a lot of time thinking about the unique patterns and kanji names for each character. Thor is pronounced tooru in Japanese, so he assigned the Japanese equivalent, which is 徹(とおる). Thanos’ 6 infinity stones served as the inspiration behind that name, which references the 6 realms of Buddhism.

Fan-Made Productions Celebrate Alien’s 40th Anniversary

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Alien, 20th Century Fox commissioned six fan-made short films that continue the story of the Alien universe. Here’s the first film, Harvest:

The rest of the films can be watched here. According to Michael Nordine at IndieWire, Alone is the pick of the litter:

However good these films are, I’ll wager that none of them are as charming as the stage production of Alien put on by students at North Bergen High School. The play garnered so much attention that Sigourney Weaver showed up to an encore performance. You can watch the whole performance here with an intro by Weaver (skip to ~3:00):

Why Everyone Is Watching TV with Closed Captioning On These Days

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2019

Ice Law Order

A few months ago I noticed that several friends (who speak English and aren’t deaf) routinely watch TV and movies with closed captions and subtitles on. I asked about this on Twitter and the resulting thread was fascinating. Turns out many of you watch TV this way for all kinds of different reasons — to follow complex dialog in foreign or otherwise difficult accents, some folks better retain information while reading, keeping the sound down so as not to wake sleeping children in tight living spaces, and lots of people who aren’t deaf find listening difficult for many reasons (some have trouble listening to dialogue when there’s any sort of non-ambient noise in the background).

For instance, Stephanie Buck wrote:

I turned them on last night when watching Sex Education because the mixture of strong accents, British slang, and fast talking means I miss a lot otherwise. Also I’d had 2 margaritas.

David Sun Lee:

When I watch tv alone at night I gotta keep the tv low so the effects and soundtrack don’t wake up the kids. Usually that means the voice track is lost.

Jeremy Negrey:

Typically the whole family is in the living room, but some might be watching their iPad or on their phone so there is a lot of competing noise. I found it helps me focus on what I’m watching.

As Sebastian Greger notes in his summary of the resulting thread, closed captioning is a great example of how accessibility features can benefit everyone, especially those who may have disabilities or limitations that aren’t typically acknowledged as such.

The reasons why people watch TV with closed captions on, despite having good hearing abilities and not being constrained by having to watch muted video, are manifold and go far beyond those two most commonly anticipated use cases.

See also Why Gen Z Loves Closed Captioning.

This post first appeared in an issue of Noticing, kottke.org’s weekly newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Greek Weird Wave

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 11, 2019

Greek Weird Wave

Perhaps you saw The Lobster (stunning and strange dystopian love story starring Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell) or my recent Oscar favorite The Favourite (cheeky and wicked period drama with the powerhouse trio of Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman) or maybe you’ve been following him since 2009’s Dogtooth. All three are examples of the relatively new “Greek Weird Wave” cinema, from the genre’s godfather himself, Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s hard to find pieces on Weird Wave written in English, but Dazed has a roundup from a few years ago: Greece may be broke, but its film scene is rich. Here’s a more current list of films via IMDB.

A more recent piece on Medium went a bit deeper into what makes a film Greek Weird Wave, stylistically speaking:

Reclusive and isolated social groups, with specific rules and a tendency for confinement are certainly the center of Lanthimos movies. He uses his actors in an innovative way, directing them to play as unrealistically as possible, in a way that reminds us of marionettes or robots who are not yet really aware of the element of speech and thought. Every frame is designed and stylized strictly, to a great extent where the camera stays motionless in space, after being set in a carefully thought-out position, where the only movement comes from the actors playing in the scene. In this unorthodox way Lanthimos is trying to introduce us to his unique utopian environments and isolated social groups.

I’m hoping The Favourite’s ten Oscar nominations were enough to get Lanthimos and Greek Weird Wave more attention so we can see more films from the genre in coming years, especially ones filmed and produced in Greece. They can use the economic boost.

How All the Iconic Star Wars Sounds Were Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Ben Burtt was the sound designer for the original Star Wars trilogy and was responsible for coming up with many of the movies’ iconic sounds, including the lightsaber and Darth Vader’s breathing.1 In this video, Burtt talks at length about how two dozens sounds from Star Wars were developed.

The base sound for the blaster shots came from a piece of metal hitting the guy-wire of a radio tower — I have always loved the noise that high-tension cables make. And I never noticed that Vader’s use of the force was accompanied by a rumbling sound. Anyway, this is a 45-minute masterclass in scrappy sound design.

See also: how the Millennium Falcon hyperdrive malfunction noise was made, exploring the sound design of Star Wars, and This Happy Dog Sounds Like a TIE Fighter.

  1. Burtt was the sound designer for the Indiana Jones trilogy, E.T. (he got the voice from an old woman he met who smoked Kool cigarettes), and did the voice for Wall-E. He’s also a big reason why you hear the Wilhelm scream in lots of movies.

Buster Keaton, Master Architect

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Neighbors Keaton

Buster Keaton: Anarchitect is a lovely piece of analysis by Will Jennings about how the legendary silent film actor used architectural space in his movies.

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning — and constant, unexpected repositioning — of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time — and real-place — rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form.

Alex Honnold Breaks Down Iconic Rock Climbing Scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch Free Solo (my hands are getting sweaty and I’m feeling faint just thinking about it), but watching Alex Honnold critique famous rock climbing scenes from movies like Mission Impossible II, Star Trek V, and Cliffhanger is pretty entertaining and informative.

It’s no surprise that with a few obvious caveats, Tom Cruise’s climbing scene in MI:2 gets high marks. The MI stunt work is always legit.

My Recent Media Diet, Spring 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month and a half. For books, I’m currently reading Silk Roads and listening to the audiobook of Guns, Germs, and Steel, which are rhyming in interesting ways. Looking back, I haven’t listened to any significant new music in months and months. What am I missing?

Turnton kitchen scissors. Ernest Wright very kindly sent me a pair of their kitchen scissors. I’ve posted so much about their story that I can’t really be objective at this point no matter what, so I feel ok saying the craftsmanship of these scissors is flat out amazing. (A-)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Never not entertaining. (A-)

Tag. Kinda fun but the real-life story was better. (C+)

Alita: Battle Angel. The big eyes worked. (B)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Liked this even more the second time around and I love reading and watching all the making-of stuff. (A-)

Cold War. Along with Roma, Spider-Verse, The Favourite, and If Beale Street Could Talk, this was one of the most beautifully shot films of 2018. Every frame a painting, indeed. (B+)

The Grinch. I wasn’t expecting to sympathize so much with The Grinch here. The social safety net constructed by the upper middle class Whos totally failed the most vulnerable member of their society in a particularly heartless way. Those Whos kinda had it coming. (B)

Mortal Engines. Why was this panned so much? It wasn’t great but it was entertaining…this and Alita felt similar to me. (B)

Leaving Neverland. I wrote some thoughts about this here. (A)

Why Is This Happening? The Uninhabitable Earth with David Wallace-Wells. Fascinating and scary interview of David Wallace-Wells about his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth. Weirdly, I felt almost hopeful at the end of it though. (A)

Captain Marvel. I liked Brie Larson in this role very much. Looking forward to seeing more in Avengers: Endgame. (B+)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Great movie. Very few films have matched the inventiveness of its action sequences since it came out. (A)

Apollo 11. The nearest IMAX theater is more than a 3-hour drive from where I live, so I had to watch this in a tiny theater with what sounded like a single speaker located at the front of the room. This greatly diminished the intended effect of the pristine 65mm footage. (B)

Living more than a 3-hour drive from the nearest IMAX theater. (F)

The History of English Podcast. This was recommended to me by a reader because of this post. I listened to a pair of episodes about surnames: What’s In a Name? and Trade Names. Super interesting stuff. (A-)

Kohler 10282-AK-CP shower head. My shower head sucked, I replaced it with this one, and now my shower head doesn’t suck anymore. (B+)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. The Salt episode intensified my desire to go to Japan. (B+)

Aquaman. Not as good as Wonder Woman, but way better than Justice League or any of the other recent DC movies. (B)

Cooking As an Art, With Jerry Saltz. This podcast episode is pretty uneven in spots, but when Chang just lets Saltz talk, it’s a goldmine of quotable ideas. “Pleasure is an important form of knowledge.” (A-)

The Unknown Known. Late in the film, Donald Rumsfeld says to his interlocutor Errol Morris: “I think you’re probably, Errol, chasing the wrong rabbit here.” Morris got a bit unlucky here in his choice of subject — by the end of the movie, we don’t know anything more about Rumsfeld than when we started. (C+)

Chef’s Table, Enrique Olvera. Oh man, I can’t wait to go to Pujol next week. (A-)

Kindle Paperwhite. I upgraded from my old Paperwhite. I like the flat screen, that it’s lighter, and the waterproofing is going to come in handy, but the speed and screen quality are pretty much exactly the same. Are e-ink interfaces already as sharp & responsive as they are ever going to be? (A)

Bumblebee. Entertaining, but I still have a problem with the Transformers movies because the robots are so overly detailed that it’s hard to know where to look when they’re on-screen. They should be more abstract and iconic (a la Scott McCloud’s Big Triangle in Understanding Comics). (B+)

Emily Wilson on Translations and Language. Having not read multiple translations of Homer, some of this was over my head, but the rest was really interesting. (A-)

Generative.fm. Been listening to this while working more or less constantly for the past week, mostly the “Otherness” and “Meditation” tracks. (A-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

How Animators Created the Spider-Verse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2019

2018’s most visually inventive movie was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In this video, Danny Dimian, Visual Effects Supervisor, and Josh Beveridge, Head of Character Animation, talk about how they and their team created the look of the movie.

Two of my favorite details of the movie were the halftone patterns and the offset printing artifacts used to “blur” the backgrounds and fast-moving elements in some scenes. Borrowing those elements from the comic books could have gone wrong, it could have been super cheesy, they could have overused them in a heavy-handed way. But they totally nailed it by finding ways to use these techniques in service to the story, not just aesthetically.

Oh and the machine learning stuff? Wow. I didn’t know that sort of thing was being used in film production yet. Is this a common thing?

Update: Simon Willison did a Twitter thread that points to dozens of people who worked on Spider-Verse explaining how different bits of the film got made. What an amazing resource…kudos to Sony Animation for allowing their artists to share their process in public like this.

How Ian McKellen Acts With His Eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2019

In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak examines how Ian McKellen does a lot of heavy lifting with his eyes, especially in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. On his way there, I really liked Puschak’s lovely description of the physical craft of acting:

Part of that craft is understanding and gaining control of all the involuntary things we do when we communicate — the inflection of the voice, the gestures of the body, and the expressions of the face.

P.S. Speaking of actors being able to control their faces, have you ever seen Jim Carrey do wordless impressions of other actors? Check this out:

The Jack Nicholson is impressive enough but his Clint Eastwood (at ~1:15) is really off the charts. Look at how many different parts of his face are moving independently from each other as that jiggling Jello mold eventually gather into Eastwood’s grimace. Both McKellen and Carrey are athletic af in terms of their body control in front of an audience or camera.

Deadwood: The Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2019

Open the canned peaches because Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock, and the rest of your Deadwood favorites are back on May 31 in Deadwood: The Movie. Here’s a tease:

Swearengen: You ever think, Bullock, of not going straight at a thing?

Bullock: No.

I’m in 1000%. For more on the movie’s action/plot, read Tim’s post from December.