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kottke.org posts about movies

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.

Mortal Engines

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

Mortal Engines is a forthcoming post-apocalyptic movie about giant mobile cities roaming the Earth in search of smaller cities to scavenge.

Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns.

The Lord of the Rings team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson wrote the screenplay, adapted from the first book in Philip Reeve’s series of the same name. Here’s concept of the book from Wikipedia:

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by a “Sixty Minute War”, which caused massive geological upheaval. To escape the earthquakes, volcanoes, and other instabilities, a Nomad leader called Nikola Quercus installed huge engines and wheels on London, and enabled it to dismantle (or eat) other cities for resources. The technology rapidly spread, and evolved into what is known as “Municipal Darwinism”. Although the planet has since become stable, Municipal Darwinism has spread to most of the world except for Asia and parts of Africa. Much technological and scientific knowledge was lost during the war. Because scientific progress has almost completely halted, “Old Tech” is highly prized and recovered by scavengers and archaeologists. Europe, some of Asia, North Africa, Antarctica, and the Arctic are dominated by Traction Cities, whereas North America was so ravaged by the war that it is often identified as “the dead continent”, and the rest of the world is the stronghold of the Anti-Traction League, which seeks to keep cities from moving and thus stop the intense consumption of the planet’s remaining resources.

This sounds like it could be great…if they don’t muck it up.

How extensive editing rescued Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

The first version of Star Wars that George Lucas showed publicly (to Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma) was, as Spielberg later related, a mess. This video from RocketJump shows how Lucas and the film’s team of editors, particularly George’s then-wife Marcia Lucas, recut the film into the classic it is today. The beginning of the film was extensively reworked — some scenes were cut and others moved around to give the story more clarity. In other spots, small cutaway scenes were added to improve the flow, to explain plot details without expositional dialogue, and to smooth over rough transitions. And the drama of the end of the film was totally constructed in the editing phase by using off-screen dialogue and spliced-in scenes from earlier in the film.

There are greater examples of editing in other films, but Star Wars is such a known entity that this is a particularly persuasive take on just how important editing is in filmmaking. (via fairly interesting)

The first trailer & great poster for Ocean’s 8

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2017

Published just the poster last night and lo-and-behold, the first trailer is out this morning. Can’t wait for this.

Oceans 8 Poster

Oh don’t mind me, I’m just hyperventilating over this poster for Ocean’s 8. Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, and Cate Blanchett. Can’t wait for this!

The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2017

In an episode of Pop Culture Detective, Jonathan McIntosh discusses The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander. Scamander is the hero of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie that takes place in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Many reviews of the film found Scamander to be a weak hero, but McIntosh argues that the character offers a view of masculinity that we don’t often see in movies, “a gentle empathetic version of heroic masculinity”. Scamander is not The Chosen One (like Harry or Luke Skywalker)…he’s a male hero who is emotional and nurturing and whose strengths are vulnerability, sincerity, and sensitivity.

It’s funny, when I was reading Harry Potter with my kids, we talked a lot about the flaws in Harry’s heroism, e.g. how his hotheadedness frequently put him and his friends into danger. But I didn’t notice how much of strong and vulnerable hero Scamander was. I’m gonna have to go back and watch this again.

The trailer for Spielberg’s Ready Player One

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2017

The first full-length trailer for Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ready Player One is out. I enjoyed the book, but the teaser trailer was awful. This trailer’s much better and it’ll be interesting to see late Spielberg’s remix of early Spielberg in action.

“Stuntmen don’t get laughs”, the silent comedy of Jackie Chan

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2017

In this video, Bradley Dixon argues that Jackie Chan belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of silent comedy, along with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Like those three legends of the silent film era, Chan uses simple stories, stunts, visual humor, ordinary props, and practical effects to connect with his audience on a non-verbal level.

See also Every Frame a Painting on how to do action comedy, Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag, and silent film special effects revealed. Oh, and just for fun, Mad Max vs. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin’s time traveller.

How Technicolor changed movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands after being brought to Oz by a tornado, she opens the door and, bang!, Technicolor. It’s a surprising transition, one of the most effective in film history. But it wouldn’t have been a complete shock for audiences in 1939 because Oz was not the first film to feature the color technology. In this video, Phil Edwards details the history of Technicolor, how it works, and how it changed movie making.

Many people recognize Technicolor from The Wizard of Oz, but the technology existed long before then. Two strip Technicolor and three strip Technicolor both revolutionized the film industry and shaped the look of 20th century film.

But Technicolor also influenced movies through its corporate control of the technology. People like Natalie Kalmus shaped the aesthetic of color films, and directors redesigned their sets and films based on the Technicolor look that the company — and viewers — demanded.

Edwards also did a “director’s cut” video with further information that wasn’t in the first video.

The top 25 films of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

Nothing makes me want to quit my job and just watch movies all day than David Ehrlich’s annual video countdowns of the year’s best movies. Although I’m still a little irritated at him for leaving Arrival off of last year’s list, I’m looking forward to seeing Phantom Thread, The Post, Columbus, Lady Bird (which has been difficult to come by living in a rural area), and many others from this year’s list.

At Indiewire, Ehrlich explains his picks. I wasn’t as keen on Baby Driver and Get Out as Ehrlich and seemingly everyone else was, but here’s what he wrote about Dunkirk, one of my favorite films of the year:

“Virtual reality without the headset.” That’s what Nolan has called the experience of seeing this film’s aerial sequences in their proper glory, and he wasn’t kidding — “Dunkirk” is the ultimate fuck you to the idea of streaming a new movie to your phone. The director and his team customized an IMAX rig so the camera could squeeze into the cockpit of a WWII fighter plane, and the footage they captured from the sky is so transportive that every ticket should earn you frequent flier miles. One shot, in which we share a pilot’s POV as they make a crash landing on the water, singlehandedly justifies this entire portion of the film long before Nolan inevitably converges it with the other two for the rousing final act.

I might splurge on a bigger, better TV just to watch this one in 4K at home.

P.S. Also from Ehrlich: Wreath Witherspoons. LOL.

RIP Every Frame a Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2017

Sad but expected news: Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos have shut down their excellent video series on film, Every Frame a Painting. They wrote about their decision in the form of the script for a final episode that never got made:

(TONY) As many of you have guessed, the channel more or less ended in September 2016 with the release of the “Marvel Symphonic Universe” video. For the last year, Taylor and I have tinkered behind-the-scenes to see if there was anything else we wanted to do with this YouTube channel.

(TAYLOR) But in the past year, we’ve both started new jobs and taken on other freelance work. Things started piling up and it took all our energy to get through the work we’d agreed to do.

When we started this YouTube project, we gave ourselves one simple rule: if we ever stopped enjoying the videos, we’d also stop making them. And one day, we woke up and felt it was time.

I was a huge fan of the series and posted many episodes on kottke.org. Here are a few particular favorites:

Cheers to Tony and Taylor…you made a great thing and knew when to quit (unlike some people).

P.S. Poking around, I found a mini Every Frame a Painting that Zhou and Ramos did for Criterion about The Breaking Point, posted to YouTube back in August:

Gah, that just makes me miss it even more!

My recent media diet, special Amsterdam edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past three weeks or so. I was in Amsterdam recently to speak at a conference. I had some free time and as it was my first time there, I took in some obvious sights. No books this time…Scale is currently on hold (and perhaps abandoned permanently) while I read Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True and listen to Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci on audiobook.

Thor: Ragnarok. Henceforth, all superhero movies should be as fun as this. (B+)

Mindhunter. This one had a slow burn to it and got better as the season went on. Also, now that I know what to look for, the David Fincher camera thing was impossible to ignore. (B+)

Requiem for a Dream. The last 30 minutes of this movie is relentless. (A)

The Book of Life. I tried to steer the kids away from this one to no avail. (C)

On Margins with Kevin Kelly. The bits about how much of the world used to be pre-industrial until fairly recently and how most people only took 20-30 photos per year in the 70s were especially interesting. (B+)

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel (season two). Not quite as good as the first season, but my kids are still riveted. (B+)

Doctor Who. I’ve been slowly introducing the kids to Doctor Who, which I watched as a kid with my dad. So far, we’ve seen Jon Pertwee’s final episode and a handful of early Tom Baker episodes…probably the show’s sweet spot. I didn’t want to throw them into the deep end with William Hartnell right off the bat. (B+)

The Dark Knight Rises. A parable for our times: a white, female Bernie supporter (Selina Kyle) votes for Trump because she believes the system needs a reset but comes to appreciate what a terrible fucking idea that was. (A-)

Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum. Kevin Kelly recommended this impressive little magazine shop to me…they must have carried over 1000 different titles. (B+)

Whisky Café L & B. They stock more than 2300 whiskies (!!)…but the space is so small that I don’t know where they keep it all. (B+)

Van Gogh Museum. Maybe the best small museum I’ve ever been to? Utterly fascinating to see how his entire life and career unfolded. (A)

Rijksmuseum. I missed a lot of this one, but what I did see was great. Gaping at the impossibly exquisite lighting in Vermeer’s The Milkmaid for 15 minutes was itself worth the price of admission. (A-)

Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Really conflicting feelings on this. On the one hand, there were hordes of drunken men walking the streets literally shopping for women’s bodies…anyone unclear on what the male gaze means only need spend a few minutes in De Wallen on a weekend night to fully grasp the concept. On the other hand, it can be empowering, economically and otherwise, for women to engage in sex work. Is the RLD sex-positive? I… (-)

Schiphol. Much faster wifi than at my house. Really lovely airport…it would get an “A” if it weren’t actually an airport. (B)

Amsterdam (generally). Visit if you’re a process and infrastructure nerd. Van Gogh Museum and a boat ride in the canals are musts. Didn’t have enough time to sample as much food as I wanted, but I will definitely be back. (A-)

Michael Clayton. I liked this a little less than I remember, even though its star has been on the rise lately. (B+)

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. I knew next to nothing about Didion before watching this — aside from her hiring Harrison Ford when he was a carpenter. It’s probably better if you’re already a fan? (B)

Heavyweight: Jesse. One man in a car hits another man on a bike and both are changed forever. And for the better? (B+)

Arrival. Maybe my fourth time watching this? A friend commented on the economy of the storytelling…not a second is wasted. (A)

iPhone X. Most of my early impressions still hold. Still don’t like the notch, it is ridiculous. (A-)

Transparent (season four). The recent allegations against Tambour took the shine off of this season for me, but this is still one of the best TV shows in recent years. (A-)

Coco. I didn’t love this as much as everyone else did, and I don’t know why. (B+)

The 21-minute Frozen “short” that played before Coco. Total unimaginative and cynical garbage. This is what happens when marketing has too much pull. (F)

Stranger Things 2 soundtrack. The music is the best part of the show IMO. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary film about Mr. Rogers

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2017

Mr Rogers Trolley

I’m hyperventilating over here…Morgan Neville is making a documentary film about Fred Rogers called Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? will be out in theaters in June 2018.

Teaser trailer for Incredibles 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2017

I’m posting this mostly for my son. We were talking about this movie the other day and he remembered exactly where we were and what we were doing when I first told him Pixar was making an Incredibles sequel. Like it was the Moon landing or JFK getting shot.

Cutaway illustration of a film camera reveals iconic movie scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2017

Directors Cut

This might be Dorothy’s best print yet: a cutaway view of the Arriflex 35 IIC camera used extensively by directors like Stanley Kubrick but the guts of the camera has been replaced with some of the most iconic movies scenes of all time. The full print contains 60 scenes, but even in the small excerpt above, you can see The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Strangelove, The Empire Strikes Back, Forrest Gump, and The Godfather.

The Road Movie, a feature-length compilation of Russian dashcam videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2017

The Road Movie, out in theaters in January, consists of nothing but videos taken from Russian dashboard cameras. There are car accidents, animal hijinks, fistfights, high/drunk people, meteors, and fires. The trailer is really entertaining…I’m curious to see the entire film to see how it’s stitched into something resembling a narrative that can sustain a viewer’s attention for more than 20 minutes.