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kottke.org posts about movies

The making of seven iconic movie posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2018

Do The Right Thing Poster

As an art director in the 80s and 90s, Tom Martin created some of that era’s most memorable movie posters. In this post, Tony Pierce writes about the creation of seven of Martin’s most iconic posters, including those for Jurassic Park, Do The Right Thing, Twins, and Schindler’s List.

On a very different Steven Spielberg film, Schindler’s List, some of the submissions that weren’t chosen as the final poster are as interesting as the one that was due to the fame of their designers.

Tony Seiniger, Anthony Goldschmidt, and Bill Gold were among the designers who took a crack at the poster. And then there was legendary designer Saul Bass.

“It was one of the high points of my career,” Martin says. “I was in a meeting at a sound studio and it was Saul Bass, Steven Spielberg, and myself, in a room, looking at Saul’s poster.”

Even though Bass was well established at that point in his career he still fought for his ideas and pitched his posters to Spielberg with as much conviction as anyone.

“There was still that competitive drive,” Martin remembers. “Saul was still competitive. He still wanted to be chosen, still… wanted that approval.”

Unfortunately for Bass, his work ultimately lost out to independent art director Georgia Young who designed the final poster.

See also this massive online collection of movie posters and this other massive online collection of movie posters.

An honest trailer for every Wes Anderson movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2018

As Isle of Dogs prepares to enter theaters,1 Honest Trailers created a bitingly truthful trailer for all of Wes Anderson’s films, in which they ding the director for symmetry, nostalgia, whimsey, whip pans, the overwhelming maleness of his ennui-suffering & disaffected protagonists, and Bill Murray on a tiny motorcycle in a profile shot. The description of his films as “meticulously crafted awkward family fables that make you kinda happy, kinda sad, and kinda unsure when you’re supposed to laugh or not” is pretty much spot-on and the reason I like them so much.

In 2012, before the release of Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson talked about his approach to movies on NPR’s Fresh Air:

I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting. That’s just sort of my way.

And that’s why he’s “your barista’s favorite director”.

  1. But only in a limited release, as I found out this morning. 27 theaters this weekend and not in wide release until April 13. I’d have to drive to fricking Boston to see it earlier than that. :(

Stunt pilot restarts his single engine in the nick of time

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2018

I always feel a little silly when I click through to watch videos with titles like “Plane Miraculously Flies To Safety After Sudden Engine Failure”, like I’m indulging in clickbait, a sugary online snack when I’m supposed to be consuming healthier fare. But my dad was a pilot when I was a kid, so I will watch any flying video that comes along (along with 35 minutes of “related videos” on YouTube…send help!)

But this one in particular is worth a look because all the drama lasts for less than a minute and the first person view from the camera (which is mounted on the pilot’s head) puts you right into the cockpit.1 One of the coolest things about wearable cameras like the GoPro is that ability to put the viewer into the action, to create a visceral sense of empathy with that person doing that thing. That pilot’s eyes are our eyes for those 60 seconds. You see the engine fail. Your arm reaches out to the controls and attempts to address the problem. You pull the plane up into a glide. You look around for somewhere to ditch. Ah, there. You turn the plane. You keep trying to restart the engine… I don’t know about you, but my palms were pretty sweaty by the time that video was over.

I’ve been paying way more attention to the different ways in which filmmakers use the camera to create this sort of empathy since watching Evan Puschak’s video on how David Fincher’s camera hijacks your eyes. The first-person camera view, where the camera moves as if it were swiveling around on a real person’s neck, is a particularly effective technique. Even if the scene in this video weren’t real, it would be difficult to convince your brain otherwise given your vantage point. (via digg)

  1. And don’t skimp on the sound either, put those headphones on. The sound of the suddenly rushing wind after the engine quits, of gravity asserting itself, is quite alarming.

The trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighbor

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2018

Morgan Neville’s documentary about Fred Rogers will be out in theaters on June 8; the trailer above just dropped today.

Fred Rogers led a singular life. He was a puppeteer. A minister. A musician. An educator. A father, a husband, and a neighbor. Fred Rogers spent 50 years on children’s television beseeching us to love and to allow ourselves to be loved. With television as his pulpit, he helped transform the very concept of childhood. He used puppets and play to explore the most complicated issues of the day — race, disability, equality and tragedy. He spoke directly to children and they responded by forging a lifelong bond with him-by the millions. And yet today his impact is unclear. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? explores the question of whether or not we have lived up to Fred’s ideal. Are we all good neighbors?

You can watch a clip of the film here.

Errol Morris on Stephen Hawking, “a king of infinite space”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2018

From an interview with Errol Morris on his friend Stephen Hawking (about whom he made a documentary), Morris shares why Hawking’s A Brief History of Time resonated with so many people beyond the scientific community.

I read the book on the plane on the way over. I was surprised, because I had been told that it was a book about theoretical physics and cosmology. But it was something much more than that. It was a work of literature.

He had done something strange and unusual and powerful. He had described himself and his own situation in terms of his science. Hawking’s greatest discovery — Hawking Radiation — was, in its own way, a tour de force. He was combining elements from general relativity, from quantum mechanics, and from thermodynamics in a new way. There’s something extraordinary about it, but what was most extraordinary about it is that here you have this entity, a black hole, from which nothing can escape. The gravitational field is so strong, surrounded by an event horizon. Nothing can escape from the black hole. Nothing inside that event horizon can get out.

What did Hawking show? Hawking showed that black holes are not entirely black. Radiation can escape from a black hole. He showed the mechanism through which this could occur.

At the same time, he’s telling you that he’s been condemned to this chair, to motor neuron disease, to ALS, and is really unable to talk. He’s lost his ability to speak, and now has to use a computer device, a clicker, a screen with a built-in dictionary and cursor. Despite the disease, he’s not trapped inside of himself. He’s able to communicate. He would always cite the famous line from Hamlet, “Bounded …”

“… in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.”

The whole thing is well worth a read. Like this bit about Hawking’s voice double:

Q: What was the process of working on the film with him like? Not all of those passages are from the book. Were you sending him questions?

A: Yes. He was writing answers, and some of the material was taken from lectures that he had given. Some of it was written for the film. I called him the first nontalking talking head. It became pretty clear that you had to assemble a dictionary of Hawking shots, but there’s no point in interviewing him for those, because it’s not synced. It’s a voice synthesizer. He gave us the voice synthesizer so we could just assemble his voice in the office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he insisted on calling “the pseudo-Cambridge.” There’s nothing like this project.

Q: Wait. He sent you the synthesizer so he could send you an answer and then you could feed it through the synthesizer to get the sound of his voice delivering the answer?

A: That’s correct.

Isle of Dogs cast interviews

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2018

As a promo for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, snippets from the cast interviews were animated using the dog characters played by Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Bob Balaban, and others. It’s amazing how much some of the dogs’ features & expressions mirror those of the actors who provide the voices. The bit starting at 2:30 with Jeff Goldblum is just straight flames.

A surgery resident analyzes medical scenes from TV & movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

Annie Onishi is a general surgery resident at Columbia University and Wired asked her to break down scenes from movies and TV shows featuring emergency rooms, operating rooms, and other medical incidents. Spoiler alert: if you seek medical treatment from a TV doctor, you will probably die. Secondary spoiler alert: that adrenaline-shot-to-the-heart scene in Pulp Fiction is not as implausible as you might think, even if some of the details are wrong.

Physics giant Stephen Hawking dead at age 76

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

Lego Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, who uncovered the mysteries of black holes and with A Brief History of Time did more than anyone to popularize science since the late Carl Sagan, has died at his home in Cambridge at age 76. From an obituary in The Guardian:

Hawking once estimated he worked only 1,000 hours during his three undergraduate years at Oxford. In his finals, he came borderline between a first- and second-class degree. Convinced that he was seen as a difficult student, he told his viva examiners that if they gave him a first he would move to Cambridge to pursue his PhD. Award a second and he threatened to stay. They opted for a first.

Those who live in the shadow of death are often those who live most. For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease, and witnessing the death from leukaemia of a boy he knew in hospital, ignited a fresh sense of purpose. “Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research,” he once said. Embarking on his career in earnest, he declared: “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

From Dennis Overbye’s obit in the NY Times:

He went on to become his generation’s leader in exploring gravity and the properties of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits so deep and dense that not even light can escape them.

That work led to a turning point in modern physics, playing itself out in the closing months of 1973 on the walls of his brain when Dr. Hawking set out to apply quantum theory, the weird laws that govern subatomic reality, to black holes. In a long and daunting calculation, Dr. Hawking discovered to his befuddlement that black holes — those mythological avatars of cosmic doom — were not really black at all. In fact, he found, they would eventually fizzle, leaking radiation and particles, and finally explode and disappear over the eons.

Nobody, including Dr. Hawking, believed it at first — that particles could be coming out of a black hole. “I wasn’t looking for them at all,” he recalled in an interview in 1978. “I merely tripped over them. I was rather annoyed.”

That calculation, in a thesis published in 1974 in the journal Nature under the title “Black Hole Explosions?,” is hailed by scientists as the first great landmark in the struggle to find a single theory of nature — to connect gravity and quantum mechanics, those warring descriptions of the large and the small, to explain a universe that seems stranger than anybody had thought.

The discovery of Hawking radiation, as it is known, turned black holes upside down. It transformed them from destroyers to creators — or at least to recyclers — and wrenched the dream of a final theory in a strange, new direction.

“You can ask what will happen to someone who jumps into a black hole,” Dr. Hawking said in an interview in 1978. “I certainly don’t think he will survive it.

“On the other hand,” he added, “if we send someone off to jump into a black hole, neither he nor his constituent atoms will come back, but his mass energy will come back. Maybe that applies to the whole universe.”

Dennis W. Sciama, a cosmologist and Dr. Hawking’s thesis adviser at Cambridge, called Hawking’s thesis in Nature “the most beautiful paper in the history of physics.”

Roger Penrose, the eminent mathematician and physicist who collaborated with Hawking on discoveries related to black holes and the genesis of the universe, wrote a lengthy scientific obituary for Hawking in The Guardian.

Following his work in this area, Hawking established a number of important results about black holes, such as an argument for its event horizon (its bounding surface) having to have the topology of a sphere. In collaboration with Carter and James Bardeen, in work published in 1973, he established some remarkable analogies between the behaviour of black holes and the basic laws of thermodynamics, where the horizon’s surface area and its surface gravity were shown to be analogous, respectively, to the thermodynamic quantities of entropy and temperature. It would be fair to say that in his highly active period leading up to this work, Hawking’s research in classical general relativity was the best anywhere in the world at that time.

And then there was that time Hawking threw a party for time travellers but didn’t advertise it until after the party was over (to ensure only visitors from the future would show up).

Tonight is perhaps a good night to watch Errol Morris’ superb documentary on Hawking (with a wonderful Philip Glass soundtrack) or build a version of Hawking out of Lego.

A close reading of Miyazaki’s sound design in The Wind Rises

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 12, 2018

I recently rewatched a bunch of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, although “watched” is a bit of a misnomer. I was playing them in the background while I was working, or reading, or trying to sleep, so really I was re-listening to them, and not especially closely.

This almost feels like a sin for movies as beautiful as these, but it did help me notice something. Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind looks different from Princess Mononoke or The Wind Rises, sure; however, it sounds way different. The music, the foley effects, the subtler cues, the sheer sound density are completely different from one end of the career to another.

This made me wonder whether somebody had charted this transformation. I didn’t quite find that, but I did find an outstanding series of blog posts specifically on the sound design in The Wind Rises, which stands in nicely. It’s not well copyedited, but it’s attentive and insightful. A few samples:

Jiro enters his airplane, adjusts his aviator gloves and starts the artisanal machine. By now we have noticed the sound effects of the valves and exhaust pipes made of human mouth sounds and with vocalisations. The first engine starts and it’s clear that human voice is used to portray this activity. But once the propeller activates a low rumble sound effects is introduced, and a sound effect of a servo ascending is applied to the airplane rising, triggered by Jiro’s pulling the lever, and it’s in harmony with the music score. One occurrence with the sound that emphasises the oneiric dimension of this scene is the ‘dreamy’ quality of the reverb applied on the last blow of the machine lifting before it goes crossing the skies [00:02:03].

Here’s a clip a little later in the sequence — I’d never recognized that the dream engine sounds were being made by human mouths, but once you hear it, it’s perfect.

Or consider the earthquake, detail by detail:

It is now that we are in the presence of the horror lived in this earthquake and sound plays such a big role with all its brutality. Different to the traditional approach of western film, the main elements heard are a composition of :

  • horrified human screams on a higher-pitch range,
  • medium-low pitch throat growls and groans like coming from a big beast,
  • that moves upwards in pitch as the image from the houses undulates from a farther plane to a closer one.
  • an earthy impact stinger

These elements are introduced a couple of frames before we see the houses being ripped apart.

In the next scene the audience is shown, through close-ups, how the ground is animated in brutal waves breaking and disrupting the order of all man-made constructions. We no longer hear the horrifying screams and the sound designer paints the scene with sound of the ground disrupting, by utilising rumbles and earth debris. The sounds here are in the same universe as those indicated on Jiro’s first dream - choir-like sounds mimicking up and down movements, in which the upwards vocalisations are like rising stingers.

It really helped me appreciate these movies again, as sonic masterpieces.

“LA is the best”

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 07, 2018

If you’re back east enjoying a snow day today, might I recommend cozying up with the brilliant Ingrid Goes West? Documentary of the year 2017, IMHO.

(Yes, that is Ice Cube, Jr.)

Profile of 21-year old film student Ryan Coogler

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2018

In 2007, the East Bay Times profiled a 21-year-old Ryan Coogler, director of Creed and Black Panther.

He graduated this year with honors from Sacramento State University. Next month, he begins a three-year master’s program at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

He wants to write and direct movies and he wants to direct them in Richmond and Oakland, the nation’s fourth most dangerous city. He lived in Oakland with his family until he was 8.

“My goal is to start a (film) business in this area, something that can employ people,” he said. “It will be something the people can point to and kids can see it, saying ‘I can do that,’ instead of doing things that are glaring to the environment.”

Ryan and his father Ira were interviewed for the story at the Century Hilltop 16 theater, “where they hope Ryan’s films will be shown one day”. I’m sure Creed and Fruitvale Station both played at the Hilltop 16 when they came out, but a look at today’s showtimes at the theater reveals that Coogler has achieved the dream of his youth many times over:

Black Panther Movie Times Coogler

(via @alexismadrigal)

Trailer for Wreck-It Ralph 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2018

The original Wreck-It Ralph came out in 2012 and was the first inkling of Disney Animation’s revival that has continued with Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana. In Wreck-It Ralph 2 (which is properly titled “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2”), the arcade gets an upgrade in the form of a modem, which gives Ralph and his pals access to the internet. And if you watch the trailer, the movie’s view of the internet is pretty dystopian (but sadly not all that inaccurate). They’re dumped into a a massive shopping mall where they’re constantly interrupted by the IRL equivalent of the chumbox, attend an eBay auction for bad cat-related art, and digitally overfeed a video game bunny until it explodes, perhaps a sly metaphor for how relying on digital treats such as likes or retweets for self-esteem is problematic.

But the movie looks fun! I guess? Like the internet! The internet is fun! I guess? Right? Hello…

The cool futuristic typeface from the Black Panther ending credits

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2018

If you’ve seen Black Panther, you likely noticed the distinctive typeface used for the location labels and, more prominently, in the ending credits:

Black Panther Font

The typeface is called BEYNO and was designed by Swiss designer and illustrator Fabian Korn. It looks like some of the letters were slightly modified for the movie (the “E” and “Y” for example). You can buy the original font from Korn for $5 on Creative Market so you can make your own captions from the movie:

Black Panther Font

Fahrenheit 451

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2018

Coming to HBO in May is an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451. It stars Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon.

In a future where the media is an opiate, history is rewritten and “firemen” burn books, Jordan plays Guy Montag, a young fireman who struggles with his role as law enforcer and with his “mentor”, played by Shannon.

The book, which got its title from “the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns”, begins like so:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

The previous film adaptation was by Francois Truffaut in 1966, who cast Julie Christie in two of the main roles. It was Truffaut’s only English-language film and the first one in color.

Famous scenes from 2018 Oscar-nominated films recreated by three young girls

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2018

Oscar Reenact 2018

Oscar Reenact 2018

Oscar Reenact 2018

Since 2015, the Storino sisters have been reenacting scenes from Oscar nominated films. This year, Sophia, 7; Sadie, 5; and two-year-old Sloane, have recreated stills from Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, The Post, The Shape of Water, and several others. Vanity Fair showcased the project and ran an interview with the girls’ mother, Maggie.

By helping her three daughters emulate the year’s most-celebrated movie characters, Storino has grown aware of how often her girls are tasked with portraying Hollywood’s many male leads.

“What started as a lark has taken on additional meaning as the conversation around representation has evolved in Hollywood,” says Storino. “In the past, it’s been a struggle to find stills that are identifiable by the female lead. This year felt much different. The future is female, and increasingly so are the films. My girls had so many strong actresses to emulate in 2018, from Saoirse Ronan to Frances McDormand to Sally Hawkins to Meryl Streep. I also loved being able to show them Greta Gerwig in the director’s chair. What I’m most conscious of now is how much imagery matters.”

I wonder if they have had similar conversations about race? You can follow their recreations on their website or on Instagram.

See also Oscar nominated films reimagined as Winnie the Pooh adventures.

Why are action movie trailers sounding more musical lately?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2018

Did you watch the teaser trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story or the recent trailer for Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp? Here they are if you need a refresher:

In both clips, you’ll notice how the sounds of the action — phaser blasts, switch flicks, explosions, engine revs, gun shots, tires squealing — are synched to the music…and in some cases, make music of their own. This is most apparent in the Ant-Man trailer starting at around 0:45.

Pacing in-movie sound effects to sound musical isn’t exactly new (martial arts flicks come to mind, as do the rapid-fire cuts from Requiem for a Dream), but these recent uses of the technique in these trailers have to be influenced by Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s 2017 “action musical”. Just about every action in the movie is timed to the soundtrack. Take a look, or rather, take a listen at the gunfight that starts at around 1:20 in this clip:

What’s particularly interesting about the use of this technique in the Ant-Man trailer is that Wright was replaced as the director of the first Ant-Man movie (which he refuses to watch), which freed him up to direct Baby Driver. I wonder if the trailer’s sound design is a subtle fuck you to Wright on behalf of Marvel/Disney, a sly homage by the person who cut the trailer together, or just the unwitting borrowing of an ear-catching technique?

I’d expect to see more usage of this technique as the summer action movie trailer season heats up. Has anyone noticed any other recent uses?

Update: Here are several more trailers that use this effect, although none of them quite to extent of Ant-Man or Baby Driver: Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, Deadpool, an upcoming Mission Impossible movie (as well as an older one), Suicide Squad, The Punisher, and even the Coen’s A Serious Man.

That’s four Marvel trailers that do it. I wonder if Wright drew inspiration from them instead of the other way around? (via @opeyre, @celiacunningham, @vlavallee, trailer town, @paulstachniak)

Black Panther, a suggested comics reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2018

Black Panther Comics

Over the weekend, I saw Black Panther. Twice. It’s such a vibrant world that I wanted to experience more of, so I asked some comics nerds on Twitter:

Black Panther is the first superhero movie I’ve seen that makes me want to read the comic book. Where should I start?

Here’s what they suggested for a beginner Black Panther reader.

Black Panther #1-49 (1998) by Christopher Priest. “Black Panther reinvented as a sharp and witty political satire? Believe it! T’Challa is the man with the plan, as Christopher Priest puts the emphasis on the Wakandan king’s reputation as the ultimate statesman, as seen through the eyes of the U.S. government’s Everett K. Ross.”

Black Panther #1-12 (2016) by Ta-Nehisi Coates. “A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) takes the helm, confronting T’Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before.”

Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay & Yona Harvey. “You know them now as the Midnight Angels, but in this story they are just Ayo and Aneka, young women recruited to become Dora Milaje, an elite task force trained to protect the crown of Wakanda at all costs. Their first assignment will be to protect Queen Shuri… but what happens when your nation needs your hearts and minds, but you already gave them to each other?”

Panther’s Rage by Don McGregor. In Comics Alliance, Tom Speelman wrote that this three-year run of Black Panther in the mid-70s “pioneered modern comics”. The story of how McGregor talked his way into this reinvention is pretty interesting. “I kept saying to them, ‘I can’t believe you guys are printing this racist material in the 1970s.’”

See also the NY Times’ list of what articles and essays to read after seeing the movie.

The Spielberg Light

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

Jorge Luengo Ruiz put together a supercut of scenes from Steven Spielberg movies where the director uses lighting to create high-contrast scenes.

Typically, Spielberg uses brightly lit backgrounds with silhouetted figures in the foreground…think Elliot riding his bike in front of a full moon in ET or Indiana Jones in any number of scenes.

Spielberg Light

Spielberg Light

Spielberg himself called it “God Lights”.

I’ve always loved what I call “God Lights,” shafts coming out of the sky, or out of a spaceship, or coming through a doorway.

Pairs well with The Spielberg Face.

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.