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kottke.org posts about movies

My recent media diet, special Black Panther & Olympics edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I have fallen off the book reading wagon…I really really need to find some time to start reading more. Maybe after the Olympics are done and I’ve made it through all of the levels in Alto’s Odyssey

2018 Winter Olympic Games. Yes, the Olympics are corrupt & corporate and NBC’s coverage is often lacking, but on the other hand, all of America gets a two-week look at all of these amazing women, immigrants, children of immigrants, and openly gay athletes (some of them just children) displaying many different kinds of femininity and masculinity while performing amazing feats and suffering humbling defeats. The Olympics, as the joke goes, is the future that liberals want and America is watching and loving it. (A-)

Black Panther. Really entertaining and affecting after an expositional slow start. (B+)

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Leonardo da Vinci is not overrated. (B+)

Alto’s Odyssey. A worthy successor to one of my favorite games. (A-)

Reply All: The Bitcoin Hunter. Is admitting that you bought illegal drugs on Silk Road a thing you can do without the risk of being prosecuted? (B+)

Black Panther The Album. I can’t wait to drive around playing this as loud as I can. Also, based on my experience, movies should put more effort into their soundtracks. The really good ones (like this one) inspire repeat viewings and cause me to remember the movie more fondly. (A-)

Paddington. If more people in the UK over 65 had watched Paddington, Brexit wouldn’t have happened. (A-)

Paddington 2. Seriously, these Paddington movies are better than they have any right to be. Smart and lots of heart. (B+)

See You in the Cosmos. Read this to the kids as a bedtime story over the past few months. We all loved it. Rocketry, Carl Sagan, the Voyager Golden Record…what’s not to like? (A-)

Allied. Bland and forgettable. (C-)

On Being: interview with Isabel Wilkerson. An excellent interview of the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. (A-)

Phantom Thread soundtrack. More strong work by Jonny Greenwood. But don’t listen if you want something upbeat. (B+)

Song Exploder. A podcast where musicians break down their well-known songs. Always solid. I recently caught the episodes about the Stranger Things theme song and DJ Shadow. Oh, and I’m going to give the Arrival score a listen soon. (A-)

Apollo 13. One of my I’ll-watch-this-whenever-it’s-on movies. Love the scientific and engineering detective scenes. (B+)

Alias Grace. Several people asserted this was a better Margaret Atwood adaptation than The Handmaid’s Tale, but I didn’t think so. (B)

I, Tonya. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. (A-)

Goodthreads T-shirt. Goodthreads is one of Amazon’s house brands. Ordered a couple of these after a recommendation from Clayton Cubbitt and damn if they’re not some of the most comfortable and best-fitting t-shirts I’ve ever worn. And only $12! My new go-to. (A-)

Sleep. One of the best things I’ve done for my work and my sanity is going to bed at about the same time every night and getting at least 6.5 hours (and often 7-8 hours) of sleep every night. (A+)

This American Life: Chip in My Brain. Holy parenting nightmare. (B+)

Professor Marston & The Wonder Women. The surprising role of BDSM in the development of Wonder Woman. (B+)

Atomic Blonde. John Wick-like. I wanted to like this more but the plot was a little muddled. (B)

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. That choreographed double booster landing… (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

A short, melancholy review of Black Panther

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 16, 2018

Black_Panther_Fire.jpg

I’m certainly aware that one of the themes (perhaps the theme) of Black Panther is the gap between the world as it is and the world as it could be. I’m also aware that one of the main characters, when he finally sees the unimaginable beauty of Wakanda, finds it too bittersweet to bear. It’s a movie about hard choices and impossible expectations. Which makes it a movie about making movies, like all the other movies.

The closest analogy I can think of for Black Panther is The Lord of the Rings. (These are the two movies, in my lifetime, I have waited the longest to see, and held the highest expectations for.) Black Panther may be the closest Marvel has come, even counting the Thor movies, to merging high fantasy and superhero fiction. This pops up in deep and superficial ways: the characters fight with swords and spears more often than guns and blasters, and the plot is laden with intrigue of kings and clans, bloodlines, blood debts, and blood enemies, and magical (sometimes techno-magical) weapons that are too dangerous to be used lightly. I’ve heard other people call these parts of the movie Shakespearean, and I could see some parallels, but it feels more like fantasy.

Like the Lord of the Rings movies, Black Panther is a beautiful, improbably piece of filmmaking. Like them, the overlapping action plots sometimes get muddled, with one thread having to be sacrificed for another. And like them, when the movie has time to breathe, it is a quieter, emotional film, about characters who are able to convey or suggest deep connections with limited screen time.

It’s that movie, that other Black Panther, I want to stay in. The moments between friends, lovers, rivals, parents and their children quickly get bowled over by a very capable action fantasy superhero movie. And to make a version of Lord of the Rings that is antiracist and antiimperialist from start to finish, while preserving all the dramatic possibilities and ambiguities of what it means to be a king to a people, is no small thing.

But the genius of Creed — and as of today, after only one screening of Black Panther versus dozens of Creed, I’m going to provisionally maintain that Creed is the better Ryan Coogler film — was its ability to balance its obligations to the Rocky franchise with its subtle but penetrating portrayal of human relationships. Creed comes the closest I have seen, the closest I recognize, to what it means to love someone: a partner, a mother, a child, a father figure, a lost legacy. Black Panther only occasionally allows room for the same emotional range, and they’re the best moments of the film.

Creed’s Philadelphia shows the world as it is; Black Panther’s Wakanda staggers against the task of showing the world as it ought to be.

This brings me to the last way in which Black Panther is like The Lord of the Rings: its first cut, by several accounts was over four hours long. I am perfectly happy with the movie I saw. But I suspect that somewhere in those four hours, is the movie that I most especially wanted to see.

The trailer for The Incredibles 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2018

Last night at like midnight during the Olympic broadcast, Pixar dropped the first trailer for The Incredibles 2. The first movie, one of Pixar’s most entertaining, centered around the illegality of superheroics and its impact on a family of superheroes in hiding, particularly the patriarch of the family, Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible). Takes on the philosophical and political meanings were various and hot, among them that the movie espoused Randian views of society, but in hindsight and with the context of the present, the reading that makes increasing sense to me is The Incredibles is a parable for how white middle class men have lost their way in today’s world and are struggling to get back to the good ol’ days, i.e. Make Superheros Great Again.

From the trailer, it looks like The Incredibles 2 explores the same issue from another angle. As his wife’s star rises in the workplace, Parr is trying to figure out how to find fulfillment and an identity in being his family’s primary caregiver. It’ll be interesting to see where the movie goes with this, but I suspect Mr. Incredible will eventually find his way back into the workplace, creating an imbalance in his family life, just as it did in the first movie.

*extremely Tim Robbins voice* You know, for kids!

(I watched the trailer with my kids this morning and my son, who remembers exactly where he was when he heard that there was going to be a sequel to one of his all-time favorite movies, was kinda meh about it.)

Update: A second trailer. Looks fun!

Composer Johann Johannsson has died

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2018

I was very sad to hear about the death of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson at the age of 48. Jóhannsson’s soundtrack to Arrival is one of my favorite soundtracks in recent years.

He also scored Sicario & Prisoners for director Denis Villeneuve as well as The Theory of Everything, earning a pair of Oscar nominations for his work. Back in 2016, Jóhannsson did a breakdown of one of his Arrival tracks for Song Exploder.

Update: This is a great little story about Jóhannsson from musician Ólafur Arnalds:

My favorite Jóhann story is when he had spent a year writing the score for Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother” and at some point realised that the film was better with no music at all. He proceeded to convince Darren to delete everything. It takes a real, selfless artist to do that. To realise the piece is better without you.

The most important part of creating art is the process, and Jóhann seemed to understand process. The score needed to be written first in order to realise that it was redundant. So in my view, Mother still has a score by Jóhann. The score is just silence… deafening, genius silence.

Solo, A Star Wars Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2018

Someday, I will see the trailer for a new Star Wars movie and not get completely gooey inside. Today is not that day. Here’s the briefer “TV spot” (don’t call it a trailer!) that aired during the Super Bowl last night.

I think my insides and outsides briefly switched places when they showed Donald Glover as Lando.

Update: Demi Adejuyigbe made this fake Donald Glover / Childish Gambino song about Lando and it’s too good.

Update: The Solo trailer with a soundtrack of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage is an improvement on the actual trailer:

Which is not surprising…adding Sabotage to any fast-paced video sequence improves it.

Update: New longer trailer. Still cautiously optimistic!

My recent media diet for January 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I worked so much in January, mostly on getting the Noticing newsletter launched, that by the time the evening rolled around, all I wanted to do was collapse and watch a little TV or maybe go to a movie (I’ve seen all the Oscar Best Picture nominees this year). But I still managed to read a couple books and am currently working my way through two more: Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey and Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet.

Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield at ICP Museum. A retrospective of Greenfield’s photographic survey of wealth. Also available in book form. (A-)

Lady Bird. This one’s been growing on me since I saw it. (B+/A-)

The Post. My main problem with this movie is that Streep, while otherwise excellent, does not properly sell the transformation of her character at the end. (A-)

The Farthest - Voyager in Space. I had no idea about many of the amazing things about the Voyager program. If I’d seen this as a kid, I might work for NASA right now. (A-)

Black Mirror season four. Perhaps not as strong as some of the previous seasons, but USS Callister is one of the best episodes of the series. (B+)

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. A compelling argument that Buddhists figured out thousands of years ago how to route around a human brain designed to delude us, a tendency that neuroscientists and psychologists have only learned of more recently. (B+)

Call Me By Your Name. A touching love story. One of the best movies of the year. (A)

Jane. Jane Goodall is a remarkable person, one of the best scientific researchers of our time. The footage in this movie of her early career is stunning, like it was filmed specifically for the documentary. (A-)

Jane soundtrack. Philip Glass. What more needs to be said? (A-)

Darkest Hour. Churchill is over-acted by Oldman, like an SNL character. I much prefer Lithgow’s take in The Crown. (C+)

The Shape of Water. This was ok, I suppose. (B)

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: interview with Errol Morris. I could listen to Errol Morris talk about film and truth all day. (A-)

Phantom Thread. One of those movies that gets better once you read about it afterwards. (B+)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Frances McDormand is amazing in this. I’m also unconvinced of the straightforward reading of the movie as the redemption of a racist cop. (B+)

Slow Burn. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. (A)

The New York Times For Kids. The rest of the paper should be more like this. (A-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

A Mister Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks (WHAT!!?)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2018

Variety is reporting that Tom Hanks is set to play Fred Rogers in a biopic called You Are My Friend.

“Now more than ever, we all need a re-introduction to Fred Rogers’ message of uncompromising love and kindness between all living things. Mari Heller is the perfect visionary filmmaker to bring Noah and Micah’s script to life and because of her vision and this remarkable script, we have the quintessential actor to play Fred Rogers,” said Turtletaub and Saraf.

The script is loosely based on Tom Junod’s Esquire piece about Rogers, Can You Say…Hero?, which is very much worth a read if you’ve never had the pleasure.

Nearly every morning of his life, Mister Rogers has gone swimming, and now, here he is, standing in a locker room, seventy years old and as white as the Easter Bunny, rimed with frost wherever he has hair, gnawed pink in the spots where his dry skin has gone to flaking, slightly wattled at the neck, slightly stooped at the shoulder, slightly sunken in the chest, slightly curvy at the hips, slightly pigeoned at the toes, slightly aswing at the fine bobbing nest of himself… and yet when he speaks, it is in that voice, his voice, the famous one, the unmistakable one, the televised one, the voice dressed in sweater and sneakers, the soft one, the reassuring one, the curious and expository one, the sly voice that sounds adult to the ears of children and childish to the ears of adults, and what he says, in the midst of all his bobbing nudity, is as understated as it is obvious: “Well, Tom, I guess you’ve already gotten a deeper glimpse into my daily routine than most people have.”

Oh, I hope this doesn’t get derailed. Unless it’s going to be bad, in which case: shelve away!

John Williams conducting the opening fanfare for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2018

Director Rian Johnson has posted a short clip of the legendary John Williams conducting the opening fanfare (aka the Star Wars theme) for The Last Jedi. It is difficult to think of the Star Wars films without Williams’ music.

Seeing with your ears, the importance of sound design in film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2018

Using a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Munich that features very little dialogue, Evan Puschak shows how much sound design contributes to the feeling and tension of a film. I love the two head fakes Puschak does with the sound at the beginning of the video. It’s like, oh wait, he fooled me a bit there, so I need to pay more attention.

My picks for the 2018 Oscars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2018

It’s been yeaaars since I watched or even paid much attention to the Oscars, but this year I’ve somehow managed to watch all nine movies nominated for Best Picture, along with most of the films featured in the other main categories (actor, actress, director, cinematography). Here’s my completely subjective ranking for Best Picture:

1. Dunkirk
2. Call Me by Your Name
3. The Post
4. Lady Bird
5. Phantom Thread
6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
7. Get Out
8. The Shape of Water
9. Darkest Hour

Dunkirk and Call Me By Your Name are my definite 1 & 2 (same as David Ehrlich, just reversed), but the next three could be in any order…putting Phantom Thread in the fifth spot doesn’t do it justice. Three Billboards, The Post, and Phantom Thread all share the same problem — a significant shift in a main character’s behavior/character without the onscreen action properly selling it — but there were other things to recommend them. I don’t know why I didn’t like Get Out or The Shape of Water more, but they just didn’t do it for me. I don’t get the love for Darkest Hour…Oldman as Churchill shamelessly chews scenery and The Crown & Dunkirk were much better recent takes on Churchillian times. I don’t expect Dunkirk to actually win — nor perhaps should it — but it was my favorite.

For Best Lead Actress, I have not seen I, Tonya yet, but it would be difficult to top Frances McDormand in Three Billboards. For Best Lead Actor, I haven’t seen Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. but among the others I would go with Timothée Chalamet. For Best Director, Jordan Peele should get the nod for somehow creating a coherent socially conscious horror satire documentary, although I would happily cheer either Greta Gerwig or PT Anderson winning. And for Best Cinematography, I have not seen Mudbound, for which Rachel Morrison is the first ever woman to be nominated in this category, but Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 are two of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in the past few years; I would give it to Hoyte van Hoytema in an upset over Roger Deakins, who inexplicably has never won this category.

Fred Rogers: America’s Favorite Neighbor, a 2004 documentary hosted by Michael Keaton

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2018

A documentary about Fred Rogers just premiered at Sundance and will be out in theaters this summer on June 8; you can watch a short clip here. But in 2004, Michael Keaton hosted a documentary called Fred Rogers: America’s Favorite Neighbor. It’s somewhat hard to come by these days — the single remaining copy on Amazon is $79 — but there are a couple lengthy clips up on YouTube:

Why Michael Keaton? When he was young, Keaton worked for WQED, the television station that produced Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, as a member of the crew. He was even on the show a few times (see the first clip above). (via austin kleon)

Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack for Phantom Thread

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2018

Phantom Thread is director PT Anderson’s latest film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in what he says is his final movie appearance. As was the case with Anderson’s previous films, The Master and There Will Be Blood, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack, and it was just earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.

It’s available on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.

Massive vintage movie poster collection is being digitized and made available online

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2018

Movies Posters Ransom

Movies Posters Ransom

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin is currently digitizing and putting online their collection of more than 10,000 movie posters.

The collection encompasses upwards of 10,000 posters and spans decades: from when the film industry was just beginning to compete with vaudeville acts in the 1920s to the rise of the modern megaplex and drive-in theaters in the 1970s. The sizes range from that of a small window card to that of a billboard.

You can browse the collection here. They’ve scanned over 4000 of the posters already and there are currently 500 posters available online, but more of them “will incrementally be made accessible online”.

See also a short film about a one-of-a-kind collection of letterpress plates for printing film advertisements and an amazing online collection of 40,000 vintage film posters. (via @john_overholt)

A comparison of the visual similarities between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2018

Blade Runner 2049 takes place in the same location 30 years after the events in the original Blade Runner film, so it’s natural that the two movies share a visual style. But director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Roger Deakins also sprinkled their film with direct but subtle references to scenes in the old movie, as seen in this side-by-side video. In this discussion with Rian Johnson, Villeneuve talked about his approach:

This is the first time I was making a movie inspired by another movie and I didn’t try to stay away from it. I just kept it as a bible, as a reference, as music that was very close to me that I was always referring to every time I was directing, thinking about the spirit of the first movie.

The effect is not enough to be distracting, but there’s definitely some visual rhyming going on.

See also the visual effects breakdown for how they created the digital double for Rachael in Blade Runner 2049.

The cinematography of James Wong Howe

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 19, 2018

Did you know that the Google Arts and Culture app does more than just match your selfies to better identify you on Google Image Search to fun portraits in museums that highlight the overwhelming representation of white men in museal collections? It’s true. For instance, there’s this fun little article on the life and career of cinematographer James Wong Howe:

James Wong Howe was born Wong Tung Jim in Guangzhou, China on August 28, 1899. Howe’s father brought his young family to the US - what he described as the ‘mountain of gold’ - when Howe was 5 years old.

His first home was Pascoe, Washington, where his father opened a general store and became the first Chinese merchant in the town. As a child, Howe faced vicious racism. His first schoolteacher quit as she didn’t want to teach a person of Chinese descent. His second teacher changed his name to be more anglicised, which is how he became ‘James Wong Howe’.

James Wong Howe.png

Wong Howe pioneered the wide-angle lens, low key lighting (which earned him the nickname “Low Key Howe”), and deep focus. He was also one of the first cameramen to ever use a hand-held camera. But he also had some unusual approaches to the new technology of film….

Other ingenious techniques that Howe used included: shooting a boxing scene by rollerskating around the action; using the reflection of tin cans to light a scene up a hill without electric lights; shooting scenes while being pushed around in a wheelchair; and weighing down birds to make them land where he needed them to.

Howe photographed over a hundred films from the silent era to the seventies, including 1933’s The Power and the Glory (basically one of a few films that have a claim to have been Citizen Kane before Citizen Kane), The Thin Man, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Body and Soul (the boxing movie he wore roller skates for), Picnic, and Funny Lady. He won the Oscar for cinematography for The Rose Tattoo and the gorgeous, unforgettable Hud.

Howe was 63 when he photographed this movie. It’s relentlessly inventive without being showy. It looks like a Scorsese movie. Come to think of it—a lot of Howe’s movies look like Scorsese movies.

It’s worth poking around that Arts & Culture app. A lot of the stories could be better sourced and written, but they’re overwhelmingly stories worth telling. Plus, you already downloaded the stupid thing onto your phone. Might as well try to learn something.

First clip from the upcoming Mister Rogers documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary film about Mister Rogers, is premiering at the Sundance film festival tomorrow. This short clip is the first look we’ve gotten at the movie:

Love is at the root of everything — all learning, all parenting, all relationships — love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.

Love is the root of all learning. That has been a real theme around here lately. In my introduction to Noticing, I noted this recap by A.O. Scott of a favorite scene in Lady Bird:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

Oh, I can’t wait for this movie! (thx, katharine)

The magic carpet ride scene from Aladdin dubbed with realistic audio

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

This is silly and I loved it: someone took the clip from Aladdin when he and Jasmine sing A Whole New World while riding the magic carpet and dubbed realistic audio over it. I laughed embarrassingly hard at this. (via @JossFong)

Time… Lapsed: An Excerpt from Noticing #2, January 12, 2018

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 12, 2018

The second edition of Noticing, a still-new and all-free kottke.org newsletter, went out this afternoon. Here’s a short excerpt of the third and fourth sections, “Time… Lapsed” and “Ask Dr. Time.” We hope you’ll subscribe.

Time… Lapsed

This was a good week for historical snapshots. I was fascinated by Cinefix’s list of the top movie remakes of all time, including maybe especially Michael Mann’s Heat, which (I didn’t know) is a remake of a failed TV pilot Mann produced in 1989. The deep dive into Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu is also great. But all of the featured films, whether remakes, sequels, or adaptations, show the effects of time and choice, and wow, yeah, I am deep into those two things lately. Like, without getting completely junior year of college on it–the metaphysical context for being, and the active, existential fact of being itself.

Consider Alan Taylor’s as-always-gorgeous photo remembrance of 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in world and American history. (There are going to be a lot of 50th anniversaries of things I am not ready for there to be 50th anniversaries for.) Or acts of misremembrance and mistaken choices, like how late 1990s and early 2000s nostalgia for World War 2 (and a commensurate forgetting of Vietnam and the Cold War) helped turn September 11, 2001 into a new kind of permanent war that shows no signs of ending.

Or for lighter fare, see this photo of the cast of The Crown with their real-life counterparts, or try out Permanent Redirect, digital art that moves to a new URL whenever someone views it. Watch an English five-pound note be reconstructed from shredded waste, or see this film of time-lapse thunderstorms and tornadoes in 8K high-definition. (That last one is pretty scary, actually. But beautiful.)

Ask Dr. Time

Speaking of time–you may have missed the introduction of Dr. Time, the world’s first metaphysical advice columnist, last Friday. Last week we looked at the changing relationship between orality and literacy (or, I should probably say, oralities and literacies) from prehistory through digital technology. I don’t have anything quite so sweeping for this week; only this round-up of longevity research compiled by Laura Deming (which I mostly understand), and this exciting new scientific paper on reversing the thermodynamic arrow of time using quantum correlations (which I barely understand). 

So, this week, my advice regarding time would be (in this order):

  1. Try to restrict your caloric intake;
  2. Consider shifting some of your qubits into spin 1/2;
  3. Accept that we’re thrown into our circumstances, regardless of how shitty they may be, and greet whatever fate rises to meet you with resolute defiance.

The top 5 sequels, adaptations, remakes, and original movies of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2018

Lately, Cinefix has been examining movies based on their sources. First they chose the top five remakes of all time, including the expansion of La Jetée into 12 Monkeys:

They looked at sequels, including The Godfather Part 2, Logan, and Creed:

Then they chose their favorite adaptations, including Adaptation (from The Orchid Thief), Apocalypse Now (from Heart of Darkness), and O Brother Where Art Thou (from The Odyssey):

And finally, their top five most original movies of all time, including Holy Motors and Enter the Void:

I love watching these Cinefix videos. They don’t always pick the most obvious choices for these lists and I’m always so jazzed to watch more films afterwards.

A guide to the musical leitmotifs in Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2018

In the New Yorker, Alex Ross points to Frank Lehman’s Complete Catalogue of the Motivic Material in ‘Star Wars,’ Episodes I-VIII, which has been updated to include The Last Jedi. Ross goes on to note that composer John Williams did some of his strongest work for the film, deftly employing musical themes called leitmotifs to supplement (and sometimes subvert) the on-screen action. (Spoilers, ho!)

In early scenes set at a remote, ruined Jedi temple, we keep hearing an attenuated, beclouded version of the Force motto: this evokes Luke’s embittered renunciation of the Jedi project. As the young heroine Rey begins to coax him out of his funk, the Force stretches out and is unfurled at length. Sometimes, the music does all of the work of explaining what is going on. In one scene, Leia, Luke’s Force-capable sister, communicates telepathically with her son Kylo Ren, who has gone over to the dark side and is training his guns on her vessel. Leia’s theme is briefly heard against a dissonant cluster chord. Earlier in the saga, we might have been subjected to dialogue along the lines of “Don’t do this! I’m your mother!” Williams’s musical paraphrase is more elegant.

If you’re looking for a primer/refresher for the use of leitmotif in film, Evan Puschak’s video on Howard Shore’s music for the Lord of the Rings films is a good place to start. (via anil dash)

The soundtrack for Jane by Philip Glass

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2018

Despite the glowing reviews, I haven’t seen Jane, the National Geographic documentary about Jane Goodall…hopefully this week. But I discovered the soundtrack on Spotify this morning, composed by Philip Glass:

It’s also available on Amazon and iTunes.

A short film about a one-of-a-kind collection of letterpress plates for printing film advertisements

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2018

In 1999, two friends went into a Nebraska antique shop and found a massive collection of letterpress blocks and plates that were used to make advertisements for movies in newspapers. They bought the whole shebang for $2000 and have spent the last 17 years cataloging and cleaning the 60,000 plates & blocks (here is just a partial inventory). The collection, which spans nearly the entire history of the film industry from the silent era to 1984, was recently appraised at ~$10 million and is available for acquisition.

The short film embedded above is a must-see for design/movie nerds…my jaw hit the floor when these pristine posters for movies that were 50, 60, 70 years old started rolling off of the letterpress. I mean, look at this stuff!

Movie Letterpress

Movie Letterpress

Movie Letterpress

Note: I flipped the images of the plates so they would be readable. The actual plates are mirror images of the printed advertisements. Here’s what a print made from a plate looks like:

Movie Letterpress

Dunkirk, re-edited as a silent film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2018

One of the first things you notice when watching Dunkirk is the sparse use of dialogue. There are long stretches of the film, particularly on the beach, when no one says anything. In interviews, Christopher Nolan has stated that he wanted to use visuals to drive the story in the film…”looking to the visual masters of the silent era”. Tom van der Linden took Nolan at his word and recut Dunkirk into 7-minute-long silent film; it works remarkably well.

Someone did a full-length silent version for Mad Max: Fury Road as well after director George Miller stated that the purest version of the film would be silent, but it got taken down. In my quick review of Dunkirk, I said “I feel like Christopher Nolan watched Mad Max: Fury Road and said, ‘I can do that…but my way.’”

Noticing, a new weekly newsletter from kottke.org

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2018

As kottke.org enters its 21st calendar year of activity (!!!!), it’s time for something new. And old. Email was invented in 1972, the year before I was born, but is still going strong. The email newsletter has re-emerged in recent years as a unique way to connect with readers, distinct from social media or publishing on the web. So Tim Carmody and I have teamed up to launch Noticing, a free email newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Written by Tim Carmody and published by me every Friday, Noticing will contain a curated roundup of the week’s posts from kottke.org as well as some extra stuff that we’ll be introducing in the weeks to come. It most definitely won’t be a replacement for kottke.org…more like something to read alongside it.

Initial funding for the newsletter comes from two sources: the bulk of it from kottke.org (made possible through the support of members) but also from Tim’s supporters on Patreon. Noticing is an experiment in unlocking the commons.

The most economically powerful thing you can do is to buy something for your own enjoyment that also improves the world. This has always been the value proposition of journalism and art. It’s a nonexclusive good that’s best enjoyed nonexclusively.

The newsletter is very much a work in progress and a departure from the way I usually do things around here. For one thing, it’s a collaboration…almost everything else I’ve done on the site was just me. We’ve previewed it over the last two weeks just for members, but it’s still more “unfinished” than I’m comfortable with. The design hasn’t been nailed down, the logo will likely change, and Tim & I are still trying to figure out the voice and length. But launching it unfinished feels right…we aren’t wasting time on optimization and there’s more opportunity to experiment and move toward what works as time goes on. We hope you’ll join us by subscribing and letting us know your thoughts and feedback as we get this thing moving.

P.S. A quick note on the name. I thought of it while listening to the last part of Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci on audiobook on the drive home from NYC last week. One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

I also thought about one of my favorite scenes from Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. From A.O. Scott’s review:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

I agree. Drawing honest & straightforward attention to things I love is much of what I do here on kottke.org, so I thought Noticing was a natural name for its newsletter extension.

P.P.S. An additional programming note. In addition to doing the newsletter, Tim is also taking over the posting duties on kottke.org most Fridays. This will free me up to work on other site-related things that I haven’t been able to tackle due to the daily scramble. Again, thanks to member support for making this possible!

Your fave TV shows, but with animoji characters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2018

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s get the year started off on a good note with some lowbrow laaaaaaaaffffs. Video funnyfolk Corridor took scenes from TV shows & movies (Stranger Things, Arrested Development, The Office, Full Metal Jacket) and replaced the actor’s heads with iPhone X animoji. The Gob scene is *kisses fingers*.

The best of my media diet for 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2018

EOY Media 2017

In 2017, I kept track of almost everything I read, listened to, watched, and experienced. I don’t know about “the best”, but as the year draws to a close, these are the things that I thought about the most, that made me see things in a slightly different way, or taught me a little something about myself. I marked my very favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine images of 2017 from Instagram.)

Books. I don’t know how many books I read this year, but it was fewer than I wanted. My work demands a lot of reading online, so when I’ve finished with that most days, reading for leisure or enrichment is often not enticing.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann were perhaps the best books I read…you’ll hardly find anyone who speaks ill of either one.

Wonderland by Steven Johnson pulls together technology, culture, and science in a way that I aspire to.

I enjoyed Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem when I read it early on in 2017 but it grew in my esteem as the year went on. Crazy, but I might reread soon?

The Devil in the White City. A masterful dual tale of two men who seized the opportunity due to cultural and technological changes in late 1800s America, told through the events of the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.

I reread Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote…no recent book has helped me more in figuring out a path forward in life.

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 2 blew my doors off. I have never felt so uncannily like a writer has been rummaging around in my brain. *

Television. What even is television anymore? To paraphrase US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it. And I saw a lot of it this year. And much of it was excellent.

The Crown (season two). I kept expecting this to falter as it went on, but it never did. A keen portrait of changing times and a dying empire.

Mad Men. Rewatched it all the way through for the first time since it aired. One of the all-time great TV shows.

Halt and Catch Fire (season four). Very strong finish to a great series. I kind of want a season five in about 5 or 6 years that’s set in 2002. Still can’t believe I got to be on the show for like 2 seconds.

The Vietnam War. I feel like this didn’t get the attention it deserved. Along with OJ: Made in America, one of the best documentaries of recent years in terms of understanding the United States culturally and politically.

Wormwood. What the hell is even a documentary anyway? Errol Morris is at the top of his game with this one.

The Handmaid’s Tale. My favorite drama series of the year. So hard to watch but also essential and so well done. *

Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II. Incredible. Aside from the eclipse, these are the best things on this list. *

Honorable mentions: I anticipated Game of Thrones more than anything each week, but I’ve already forgotten most of what happened. There were dragons? Big Little Lies was very solid and enjoyable, but the last episode was some of the best television I’ve ever seen. Zoom out a little, and The Defiant Ones was actually about creativity, collaboration, and management.

Movies: Though I haven’t seen many of the end-of-the-year movies yet, I felt like this was a strong-ish movie year. But only four films stuck with me.

The Handmaiden. I don’t even know how to classify this film, but I wish they’d make more like it.

Maybe Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t great, but I saw it twice and have thought about it often since. Amazing visual experience.

Paths of the Soul. A window into the lives of people very unlike mine. Underscores how much living “the simple life” in wealthy countries is made possible by good infrastructure, social safety nets, and privilege. The simple life in most of the world is neither a choice nor easy.

Dunkirk. Absolutely thrilling. My favorite movie of the year. *

Music. Let’s be honest, Lemonade was probably the album of the year. But I guess some good music came out in 2017 as well. Oh, and I’m old so I still listen to albums.

Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples got the most airplay in my car this summer and fall. Early fave track was Crabs in a Bucket but BagBak came on strong later in the year.

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. Probably my favorite album of the year…every track hits the mark. *

4:44 by Jay-Z. The contrast between his last album (lazy, full of swagger) and this one (introspective, urgent) could not be more stark. This wasn’t the best or even my favorite album of the year, but I thought about it more than any of the others I listened to this year. Worth noting this album was only possible because of Beyonce’s superior Lemonade…imagine the hypothetical Jay-Z album had she not slammed him to the wall with that.

Experiences, etc. As I said on Instagram, I prioritized experiences over things this year. But because things like books, movies, and TV shows are easier to summarize and review, I kept most of the experiences for myself. You have to hold some things back or you lose your edges.

Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists and I’m grateful I got to spend a few hours witnessing how his career came together and his life fell apart. One of the best museums I’ve ever been to.

D3 Traveller. I travelled quite a bit this year, and it would have been more difficult without this bag. Worth the huge splurge.

Sainte-Chapelle. I am not religious at all, but you can’t help but feel something in this wonderful building.

iPhone X. A remarkable machine.

Rijksmuseum. I keep going back to two works I saw here: Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (I spent a good 15 minutes with this one) and this early self-portrait by Rembrandt (the lighting! the curls!).

The total solar eclipse. By far the best thing that I witnessed this year…or maybe in my life. It still gives me chills just thinking about it. *

Black superheroes and the secret history of a genre

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 29, 2017

blade-pop.jpg

In Februrary, BAMcinematek in Brooklyn will host a film series of black superheroes, ending with the opening of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.

It’s an eclectic mix: Blade and Blade 2 are there (but not Blade 3) as well as Catwoman and Robert Townsend’s Meteor Man, but also Melvin van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, John Sayles’s The Brother From Another Planet, the alien invasion film Attack the Block and the alien cop story Men In Black.

Even Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Forrest Whitaker) and Strange Days are, in some sense, superhero films. More importantly, they’re part of the context for Black Panther just as much as Thor: Ragnarok or Iron Man 3, even if it’s along a different axis.

Hollywood is making enough “straight” superhero films that they’re metastasizing into the broader film culture. They’re not as readily a definable genre as they were from the Richard Donner Superman, through the Tim Burton Batman and Sam Raimi Spider-Man. Even the Blade movies, which really kicked off the current wave of superhero films, were coming at the genre from a different angle, in no small part because the protagonist and multiple leads were black.

Genre lines are always more imaginary than real. Samurai movies borrowed from westerns, who borrowed right back; our favorite space operas borrowed from adventure serials and swashbuckler epics. Now we have superhero thrillers, superhero love stories, superhero tween dramas, and superhero westerns. And other movies are borrowing pieces from superhero films in turn. So, too, our histories of those genres are getting scrambled all over again.

Black Panther is likely to push the genre boundaries further, into sci-fi, fantasy, and a thriving tradition of black superhero film. It’s just going to be bigger and better than all of them, is all. (Can you tell I’m excited about this movie?)

Star Wars, from the perspective of C-3PO, is a relentless nightmare

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2017

Just before The Force Awakens came out two years ago, Alexandra Petri wrote a piece about how Star Wars looks from the perspective of C-3PO. Spoiler: not good.

Your master goes into a bar, where they refuse to serve you. Instead of leaving the bar in solidarity, he makes you wait outside.

Then you wind up in a giant space station. Your master leaves you behind with your eccentric colleague, who turns out to be carrying Very Important Information. You have no weapons. “What should he and I do if we’re discovered here?” you ask.

“Lock the door,” your new boss says, leaving nonchalantly.

“And hope they don’t have blasters,” adds his new friend, a jerk.

Reminds me of A People’s History of Tattooine, Howard Zinn-like take on Star Wars:

What if Mos Eisley wasn’t really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?

What do you mean these blaster marks are too precise to be made by Sand People? Who talks like that?

Also Sand People is not the preferred nomenclature.

Both are good reminders that it matters from whose perspective stories are told. One of my favorite moments in The Last Jedi (spoilers!) is when Finn and Rose are warned that they’re traveling to a dangerous and terrible place — if I recall correctly, the exact wording was a riff on Obi Wan’s opinion of Mos Eisley: a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” — but then they cut to a luxe casino full of ultra-rich people. That felt like an explicit reference to current events as well as a sly nod to A People’s History of Tattooine (which director Rian Johnson may have come across in his internet travels).

My recent media diet, special Star Wars edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I’ve been busy with work, so leisure reading time has been hard to come by…but I’m still working my way through Why Buddhism is True. Lots of great TV and movies though.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’ve been watching Star Wars for almost 40 years, and I can’t tell if any of the movies are any good anymore. At this point, Star Wars just is. Even so, I really enjoyed seeing this and will try to catch it again in a week or two. This is a favorite review that mirrors many of my feelings. (A-)

Wormwood. Errol Morris is almost 70 years old, and this 6-part Netflix series is perhaps his most ambitious creation yet: is it a true crime documentary or a historical drama? Or both? Stylistically and thematically fascinating. See also Morris’s interview with Matt Zoller Seitz. (A)

Flipflop Solitaire. Oh man, this game sucked me waaaaay in. My best time for single suit so far is 1:25. (B+)

The Hateful Eight. I liked this way more than I expected based on the reviews, but it lacks the mastery of Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino at his self-indulgent best though. (B+)

Our Ex-Life podcast. A divorced couple, who live almost next door to each other in a small town, talks about the good old days, the bad old days, and co-parenting their three kids. (B+)

Paths of the Soul. A documentary about a group of Tibetan villagers who undertake a pilgrimage to Lhasa that has a genre-bending scripted feel to it. I’ve been thinking about this film since watching it…it’s full of incredible little moments. What do I believe in enough to undertake such a journey? Anything? (A)

Stranger Things 2. The plot of this show is fairly straight-forward, but the 80s vibe, soundtrack, and the young actors elevate it. (B+)

Stranger Things 2 soundtrack. As I was saying… (A-)

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography. Huge Errol Morris fan (see above), but I was a bit bored by this. (C+)

The Crown, season two. This is one of my favorite new shows. I know she’s not the actual Queen, but I still want to have Claire Foy ‘round for tea. (A)

Blue Planet II. Just as good as Planet Earth II. Incredible stories and visuals. Premiering in the US in January. (A+)

The Moon 1968-1972. A charming little book of snapshots taken by astronauts on the Moon. (B+)

Donnie Darko. This one maybe hasn’t aged well. Or perhaps my commitment to Sparkle Motion is wavering? (B)

Part-Time Genius: Was Mister Rogers the Best Neighbor Ever? Yes, he was. (B+)

The Circle. This hit way way way way too close to home, and I couldn’t finish it. Also, not the best acting. (C)

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom. Really interesting, but I stopped listening to the audiobook because I wasn’t in the mood. (B)

A Charlie Brown Christmas. You know, for the kids. (B)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Charming, perhaps my favorite holiday short. (B+)

xXx. An un-ironic favorite. Sometimes, dumb fun is just the thing. (B)

Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez. Tim’s recent post about smell reminded me of this book, which is a masterclass in criticism. (A-)

Young Frankenstein. I’d only seen this once before, but I wasn’t feeling it this time around. (B-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Would you rather be “smart and sad” or “dumb and happy”?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

National political opinion polls are usually fairly staid affairs involving Presidential approval ratings, healthcare, and religious beliefs. Over the course of a year in partnership with a professional research firm, Cards Against Humanity is running a different sort of opinion poll with more unusual questions. The early results are at Pulse of the Nation.

They asked people if they’re rather be “dumb and happy” or “smart and sad”. The “dumb and happy” respondents were more likely to say human-caused climate change is not real:

Pulse Nation Poll

The majority of black people surveyed believe a second civil war is likely within the next decade:

Pulse Nation Poll

65% of Democrats surveyed would rather have Darth Vader as President than Donald Trump:

Pulse Nation Poll

And one’s approval of Donald Trump correlates to a belief that rap is not music:

Pulse Nation Poll

And farts. They asked people about farting. Jokes aside, the results of this poll bummed me out. Many of the responses were irrational — Darth Vader would be much worse than Trump and Democrats believe that the top 1% of richest Americans own 75% of the wealth (it’s actually 39%)…and people with more formal education guessed worse on that question. The divide on rap music is racial and generational but also points to a lack of curiosity from many Americans about what is perhaps the defining art form of the past 30 years. But the worst is what Americans thought of each other…Democrats think Republicans are racist and Republicans don’t think Democrats love America. The polarization of the American public continues.