kottke.org posts about movies

Movie references in The SimpsonsFeb 11 2016

From Celia Gomez, a supercut of some of the most notable movie references from The Simpsons. The Simpsons came out when I was 16 and while I loved it immediately, the show started making a whole lot more sense after I watched The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, and Dr. Strangelove in my 20s. Lots of Kubrick in the Simpsons.

The real story of The RevenantFeb 10 2016

Revenant Mountains

From Richard Grant, the real life story of Hugh Glass, who is played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. As Grant allows, the story of Glass's life is "a blend of history and mythology" and is only a little less plausible than the events of the movie (and the novel on which the movie is based).

The expedition leader, a terminally luckless man named Andrew Henry, assigned two hunters to travel ahead of the main group. Most historians think that Hugh Glass was not one of them, because these northern plains and mountains were a new environment to him, and other men had more experience hunting here. But Glass was a loner by nature and stubborn as they come, and it seems clear that he was off breaking orders, hunting by himself when he surprised a huge female grizzly bear with cubs.

She might have weighed 500 pounds, even 800 is not inconceivable. He shot her as she charged, but as he surely knew, even a .53 calibre rifle ball was unlikely to stop an enraged grizzly. She ripped his scalp to ribbons with her three-inch claws and shredded his throat. Accounts of the mauling vary slightly, but all agree that Glass was "tore nearly all to peases", as one mountain man later recorded. There were deep lacerations on his back, his face, one leg, his chest and one shoulder and arm. In Michael Punke's book, based on Glass's life, she picks him up in her teeth and shakes him. Most versions of the story have the dead bear, having finally succumbed to the rifle wound, lying on top of the half-dead Glass.

I saw The Revenant two weeks ago and thought it was good but not great. Underwhelmed, I guess I'd say. As usual, Leo was too distracting as himself to fully blend into the rest of the movie...Leo's DiCaprio-ness always breaks the fourth wall for me.

If movies ended when someone said the titleFeb 04 2016

What a great idea. I just wish it were better executed. The weird music they use for the end credits of each movie is too much...it would have been better to just play it straight and let the gag stand by itself. (via cynical-c)

The top 10 closing movie shots of all timeFeb 02 2016

Um, spoilers. Their picks include 2001, Gangs of New York, The 400 Blows, and Inception. I really thought Cache would be on the list.

Trailer for the upcoming Lego + The Force Awakens video gameFeb 02 2016

Lego and Disney are teaming up for a Star Wars: The Force Awakens video game, out this summer. The trailer for it is possibly more fun than the movie was and is well worth watching if you enjoyed The Lego Movie.

Oscar nominated films reimagined as Winnie the Pooh adventuresFeb 02 2016

Twitter user @dilsexia posted the first one with the caption "The Revenant":

Pooh Oscars

Polish blogger Dawid Adamek ran with the idea and created several more Pooh/Oscar mashups:

Pooh OscarsPooh OscarsPooh Oscars

I Hate the Lord of the RingsFeb 01 2016

Remy Porter hates The Lord of the Rings because it feels too much like work, too much like "every crappy enterprise IT project". The tale begins with Gandalf, a legacy systems developer who pushes off important work onto Bilbo, who reluctantly became a developer after becoming proficient at spreadsheet macros. I wasn't expecting too much from this video b/c of the title, but it's a surprisingly entertaining analogy.

Every Oscar Best Picture winner everJan 29 2016

As we gear up for the upcoming Oscars... Ok, let's stop right there. There are a lot of problems with the Oscars, starting with diversity, but I just love movies. And this review of every Best Picture winner is a fun trip through motion picture history.

Oh, and here's a look at all of the films nominated for Oscars this year (not just for Best Picture):

There are lots of movies from the past year I haven't seen yet (The Revenant, Carol, Creed, Anomalisa), but the best 2015 movie I saw was The Big Short. Spotlight and Mad Max were up there as well.

What Errol Morris thinks about Making a MurdererJan 27 2016

Oh, this interview with Errol Morris where he talks about Making a Murderer is so so spot on.

To me, it's a very powerful story, ultimately, not about whether these guys are guilty or innocent -- but it's a very powerful story about a miscarriage of justice.

Yes! If you came out of watching all ten episodes convinced one way or the other whether Avery was innocent, I humbly suggest that you missed the point. And further that you can't actually know...it's a TV show! The tip of the iceberg.

Another thing that I was struck by watching Making a Murderer was the feeling of the inexorable grinding of a machine that is producing, potentially, error.

This was my favorite aspect of the show. A lot of people complained about them showing huge chunks of Avery's and Dassey's trials, saying that it was too boring, but that's the whole thing! The crushing boredom of the justice system just grinds those two men and their whole families into the result that the state wanted all along. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch, like a traffic accident in super slow motion.

If you're asking me, would I sign a petition stating that I believe that Steven Avery is innocent? Well, I don't know. I really don't know from watching Making a Murderer, but there's one thing I do know from watching Making a Murderer -- that neither Brendan Dassey nor Steven Avery received a fair trial, and that that trial should be overturned.

My thoughts exactly. If I had to guess, Dassey is entirely innocent and Avery is maybe guilty, but neither of them should have been convicted on the evidence presented or the procedure followed.

Anyway, read the whole thing...his stories about making The Thin Blue Line are great. And he's making a six-episode true crime show for Netflix? YES!

The first feature film shot entirely with a Prius backup cameraJan 26 2016

Watch these inspiring film pioneers in this behind the scenes look at the first movie shot entirely with a Prius backup camera. (via @kevin2kelly)

The importance of composition in cinematic storytellingJan 26 2016

In this video, Lewis Bond shows how the composition of movie scenes can not only result in beauty, but can reveal relationships and convey meaning.

The ChickeningJan 26 2016

The Chickening is a surreal visual remix of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining done by Nick DenBoer and Davy Force. It mostly defies description, so just watch the first minute or so (after which you won't be able to resist the rest of it). The short film is playing at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

But seriously, WTF was that?! (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Visual effects breakdown for The MartianJan 26 2016

My main thought in watching these VFX videos for The Martian, Star Wars, and Mad Max is how amazing visual effects are now. The effects folks do their jobs so well now that audiences don't even notice the effects...it's almost boring.

Related: see also how much video game graphics have improved from the beginning of Kobe Bryant's NBA career to now.

Kobe Bryant, Now And Then

Max Mad: Fury Road sped up 12X is still watchableJan 25 2016

Film editor Vashi Nedomansky took five movies whose ASL (average shot length) is under 2 seconds and sped them up by 12 times. You can judge for yourself, but according to Nedomansky, Mad Max: Fury Road is the only one that's still comprehensible at that speed. Huge props to director George Miller and editor Margaret Sixel.

A look at the visual effects in Mad Max: Fury RoadJan 22 2016

Fury Road was by far the prettiest movie I saw in the past year. Lots of practical effects, but every single frame of the film was also digitally altered (mostly color correction). This piece goes way more into detail.

The top 10 opening shots in filmJan 21 2016

I like how Cinefix does these videos. They pick the ten films, but they also mention other films that take similar approaches. In this case, the picks are also more populist than usual, which I appreciate.

That time that Prince ditched Questlove in favor of Finding NemoJan 20 2016

Questlove tells some great stories -- I'm partial to the one about Will Smith's house -- and this story about his attempt to DJ for Prince and how a Pixar movie intervened is top notch.

Harry Potter as a teen comedyJan 20 2016

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince reimagined as a wacky teen comedy. Excellent editing and music choice elevate this above similar efforts.

Product companies were told to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandiseJan 20 2016

This is maddening if true: according to an industry insider, vendors making tie-in products for the new Star Wars movie were directed by Disney1 to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandise.

In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm's Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.

The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

"We know what sells," the industry insider was told. "No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it."

What good does it do our culture if JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy work to make popular movies with progressive characters if the cowards in marketing are not going to follow suit?

Update: Lots of people are sharing this story, and I wanted to highlight and explain the "if true" in the first paragraph. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the article I linked to. It relies completely on a single anonymous source. I have no idea what Sweatpants and Coffee's fact-checking procedures are. There are also many Star Wars related products featuring Rey (like Lego), so clearly the directive to "exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise" was either not issued in such a restrictive manner or was disregarded in some cases.

  1. The article was annoyingly unclear on who was doing the directing, but you have to assume it's Disney. Who else in the room would have the authority to so direct?

Lo and Behold, a film about "the connected world" by Werner HerzogJan 20 2016

Well, holy shit...Werner Herzog has made a film called Lo and Behold about the online world and artificial intelligence.

Lo and Behold traces what Herzog describes as "one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing," from its most elevating accomplishments to its darkest corners. Featuring original interviews with cyberspace pioneers and prophets such as Elon Musk, Bob Kahn, and world-famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the film travels through a series of interconnected episodes that reveal the ways in which the online world has transformed how virtually everything in the real world works, from business to education, space travel to healthcare, and the very heart of how we conduct our personal relationships.

From the trailer, it looks amazing. Gotta see this asap.

A brief history of swearing in moviesJan 20 2016

Swearing in Hollywood movies was banned from the 1930s until 1968. And even then it took two more years for a movie (MASH) to use the word "fuck". NSFW if you've got your fucking sound turned up.

The Godfather EpicJan 19 2016

This month, HBO is airing a special edition of The Godfather that presents scenes from the first two movies in chronological order with some deleted scenes mixed in for good measure. It's more than 7 hours long. It's not listed anywhere on HBO's site, but supposedly it'll run all month on HBO and their online and on-demand services.

How to make perfect soft-scrambled eggsJan 14 2016

I love watching Gordon Ramsey make scrambled eggs. I first saw this video years ago and, possibly because I am an idiot, have yet to attempt these eggs at home. You and me, eggs, next weekend.

P.S. Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes scrambled eggs in a very similar way. Not quite soft-scrambled...Serious Eats calls them fancy French spoonable eggs.

P.P.S. Anyone have a square Japanese omelette pan I can borrow?

P.P.P.S. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (now on Netflix!), an apprentice talks about making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) over 200 times before Jiro declared it good enough to serve in his restaurant.

That apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, is now the head chef at Sushi Nakazawa, one of the five NYC restaurants that currently has a four-star rating from the NY Times (along with the aforementioned Jean-Georges and not along with Per Se, which recently got dunce capped down to 2 stars by populist hero Pete Wells).

Why The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best Harry Potter movieJan 14 2016

Evan Puschak, aka the Nerdwriter, explains why the third movie in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, is the best film in the series -- spoiler: because Alfonso Cuarón -- and why that matters for the young fans of the series: for some, it's their first exposure to good filmmaking.

Visual effects breakdown for The Force AwakensJan 14 2016

A look at how some of the most arresting visual effects were done in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The filmmakers used many real sets and models (i.e. practical effects), but there were also 2100 shots in the movie with digital effects.

Update: The original video was removed, but I replaced it with one that's a bit better.

Alan Rickman, RIPJan 14 2016

In this short video (oh just be patient and watch the whole damn thing), Alan Rickman demonstrates how I feel this morning that he has died of cancer at the age of 69. (Same age and affliction as Bowie, you'll note.)

That Rickman never won an Oscar (he did receive a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Bafta and many more) became a perennial topic in interviews but did not seem to trouble the actor himself. "Parts win prizes, not actors," he said in 2008. It was the wider worth of his art to which Rickman remained committed, saying that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity.

"Actors are agents of change," he said. "A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."

I loved Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and as Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, but I'll remember his turn as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films the most. Among several fantastic actors in that series, Rickman's performance was arguably the best. Many characters in Potter struggled between the good and not-so-good sides of themselves (including Harry and Dumbledore) but none of them carried that battle off as well as Rickman's Snape.

Kubrick in ColorJan 13 2016

A video exploring Stanley Kubrick's use of color in his films. See also Kubrick's use of the color red. (via @john_overholt)

Editing as Punctuation in FilmJan 12 2016

Riffing on Kathryn Schulz's piece about the five best punctuation marks in literature, Max Tohline explores how editing in film can function as punctuation to separate or join together characters, shots, and ideas within movies.

Filling plot holes in The Force AwakensJan 11 2016

Some people were bothered over supposed gaps in the plot in The Force Awakens. I wasn't...save the hand-wringing for more weighty fare. But if you were, the novelization of the movie connects some of the dots left detached. Here are some of the more interesting ones (spoilers, obvs):

The Resistance had no idea Starkiller Base existed. This is extrapolated on quite a bit. Snoke's decision to destroy the New Republic is about flushing out the Resistance. Utter annihilation of the enemy is a mere side effect. Snoke knew using the weapon would give away the base's location. The Resistance would then send a reconnaissance team to scout the place and the First Order could follow the scouts back to the Resistance HQ and destroy them once and for all. While this is what happens in the movie, the motivations are a bit murkier.

Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. After failing to call Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber to his hand, Ren turns to Rey -- who is now holding the blue lightsaber -- and he declares, "It IS you," and then the fight begins.

Ok, whoa. What does that mean?

Han hadn't seen Kylo Ren/Ben since he became an adult. When Ben removes the helmet of Kylo Ren, Han Solo is shocked by how grown-up his son looks as he hasn't seen him since he became an adult. This lends credence to the theory that Snoke seduced a teenaged Ben to the Dark Side. Speaking of which, Leia knew Snoke was trying to get his claws in her son since he was a child and never told Han until right before the Starkiller mission.

[Rey] struggles with the Dark Side almost immediately. Rey might look serene as she finds the Force and battles a badly injured Kylo Ren, but she is fighting with rage. After beating down her opponent, a voice inside her encourages her to kill him. She rejects the notion, but is still struggling with herself when the rift opens up and separates the two of them.

[Ren] also cracked open something in Rey's mind. One of the advantages of a book is internal narration. When Ren attempts to retrieve the map from Rey's brain he senses something weird within her mind. Not resistance, but a barrier. Probing at it is what causes Rey to suddenly find herself -- with no provocation -- inside Ren's mind. Now this is just speculation, but it certainly sounds like someone had walled off Rey's Force sensitivity and Kylo Ren accidentally broke down the wall.

The script for the movie clarifies a few things as well.

Luke Skywalker Immediately Knows Who Rey Is and Why She Is Here. The script describes Luke Skywalker as being older now, with white hair and a beard. It says that he looks at Rey with a "kindness in his eyes, but there's something tortured, too." Most interestingly, it says that Luke "doesn't need to ask her who she is, or what she is doing here." Does this mean that he knows Rey is his child? Or does this mean that he knows because of the Force? The script only adds that "his look says it all."

Kylo Ren Is Horrified By His Actions. The script gives us some internal insight into Kylo Ren after he just killed his father Han Solo. The screenplay notes that "Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act," noting that he is "horrified" and his "SHOCK is broken only when" Chewbacca cries out in agony.

Fun fact that I just discovered: the novelizations of all three of the original Star Wars movies were released before the movies came out! Star Wars the book came out 6 months before the movie, Empire a month before, and Jedi a couple of weeks before. I'm amazed you could walk into a bookstore an entire month before The Empire Strikes Back was released and discover that Vader was Luke's father. Truly a different approach to spoilers.

What makes Star Wars Star Wars?Jan 08 2016

A short entertaining look at Star Wars' secret sauce. Joseph Campbell? Kurosawa? Flash Gordon? The ancient future? The sounds? (PS: The Wilhelm Scream shows up pretty early on in The Force Awakens, as Poe and Finn exit the First Order hangar bay.)

"What a film director really directs is the audience's attention."Jan 05 2016

From Tony Zhou comes another episode of Every Frame a Painting. In it, he uses Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder to explore ensemble staging, how movies can direct an audience's onscreen attention when many people are on the screen at the same time, and why a director would want to do that.

The outside edition of Inside OutJan 05 2016

Jordan Hanzon made an edit of Inside Out showing only the "outside" parts of the film...so, none of the stuff with Joy, Sadness, Anger, etc. I bet Pixar had an internal cut like this just to make sure the outside stuff hung together independent of the inside. (via devour1)

  1. I love Devour. They find great videos and curate their selection well. But they never credit their sources. More than a dozen times in recent months, I'll post a video to kottke.org and it'll show up on Devour within 30 minutes or so. (How do I know they're taking from me and not the place I originally found them? Because I often don't post stuff right away because of my scheduling, pacing, etc.) Anyway, it's not just me...they take stuff from Colossal and other places as well. It sucks. I've complained to them on Twitter and nothing changed. For the past few months, I've been using a tit-for-tat approach and not crediting Devour for finding a video on their site. Since it's the new year, I'm giving them another chance. Come on, Devour, stop being a leech and credit your sources!

Radiohead's James Bond themeJan 05 2016

Radiohead were commissioned to write the theme song for Spectre, the newest James Bond movie. The movie's producers decided to go in a different musical direction, so the band recently put the rejected song up on Soundcloud. Enjoy. (via df)

Of Oz the Wizard, an alphabetized version of The Wizard of OzJan 04 2016

Of Oz the Wizard is the entire Wizard of Oz movie presented in alphabetical order by dialogue. So it starts with all the scenes where Dorothy and the gang say "a", "aaiee", "along", and proceeds through "you're" and "zipper". Even the words on each of the title cards are sorted alphabetically.

(I feel like I've posted this before -- or something like it -- but I can't find it in the archives. Anyone?)

Update: Ah yes, I was thinking of this alphabetized version of Star Wars (which I've seen before but somehow never posted):

Another example is Thomson & Craighead's The Time Machine. Matt Bucy, the creator of Of Oz the Wizard, seems to have pioneered this technique (the Vimeo page indicates it was completed in April 2004) but didn't post the video online until a few days ago. (via @Mister_Milligan, @sannahahn)

Is Han Solo Force-sensitive?Jan 04 2016

How can Han Solo talk to and understand any alien he meets? Why is he such a gifted pilot? In this short piece from 2008, Tim Carmody answers those questions and more: Han Solo Has the Force.

Luke and Vader (especially young Anakin) are remarkable, inventive pilots, as is Lando, but Han blows them all away. In one scene after another in Empire, Han is able to perform feats that Artoo or Threepio say are mathematically near-impossible. He does this in a ship that has a remarkable warp-speed computer but which appears singularly unsuited for close-quarters maneuvers. Finally, he gets the drop on Vader in Episode IV, and while Vader may have been distracted by his sensations re: Luke, this is still evidence that we are dealing with a very special pilot.

And there's further evidence from The Force Awakens (slight spoilers!): he shoots a stormtrooper with a blaster without looking. As I recall, it wasn't a look-away, like this Cristiano pass or this Jordan assist, it was more like he could actually see the stormtrooper behind him. (Of course, Cristiano and Jordan might also be Force-sensitive, but that's another post.)

I am putting myself to the fullest possible useDec 24 2015

2001-movie.jpg

A behind-the-scenes photo from "2001: A Space Odyssey" from Coudal's treasure trove of "Stuff About Stanley Kubrick."

An interview with director Charlie KaufmanDec 23 2015

anomalisa.jpg

Charlie Kaufman, who wrote "Being John Malkovitch" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and wrote and directed "Synecdoche, New York," talks about his latest writing/now co-directing project, "Anomalisa," which is "a stop-motion animated dark comedy about a depressed customer-service expert who falls in love on a business trip":

Is it weird for me to say that Anomalisa contains the most realistic sex scene I've ever seen in a movie? Given that it's happening between puppets?

It's not weird. Almost everybody we speak to feels that way. We worked really hard on that scene. It took six months to shoot. We were very aware of people coming into it thinking it was going to be like Team America, that it was going to be a joke, and we didn't want it to be [like that]. We knew there would probably be some laughing at first because it's puppet sex. We weren't opposed to that, but what we found is that there is the occasional laugh at that point out of nervousness, but then people get really quiet.

There's also an interview with co-director Duke Johnson that starts, "'There were a lot of penises,' says Duke Johnson. 'They break very easily because they're tiny.'"

Alien: Convenant gets its starDec 21 2015

Katherine Waterston has been cast to star in "Alien: Covenant," the sequel to "Prometheus" to be directed by Ridley Scott. Waterston starred in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" and is the daughter of actor Sam Waterston.

So what's the storyline?

prometheus-david.jpg

Specific plot details are being closely guarded, but it is believed to follow the crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet, who discover what they believe is an uncharted paradise. But in fact it's a dark, dangerous world whose the only inhabitant is David (Michael Fassbender), the "synthetic" and survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

15 thoughts about Star Wars: The Force AwakensDec 19 2015

1. There are SPOILERS in this post. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. I've only read one other review of the movie, so much of this may be stated elsewhere (and better) by others.

2. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. But thinking back to The Phantom Menace, I also enjoyed that quite a bit in the same spine-tingling way. But this movie is way better than the prequels were.

3. The cast was excellent and the casting progressive. I love that the two new protagonists are a black man and a woman. "Why are you grabbing my hand?"

4. Carrie Fisher's voice has changed a lot. It suited her character.

5. By far the best part of the movie at the showing I went to didn't appear on screen. I went to a matinee at 11am and the audience was mostly adults...probably 98% over the age of 30. When Rey uses the Force to persuade the Stormtrooper to release her, a little kid's voice from the front row echoed out loudly across the entire theater: "Jedi mind trick". The place exploded in laughter. A perfect comedic moment.

6. How many times are they going to keep making the same movie though? The plots of A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens are more or less the same: a small band of resistance fighters going up against an evil superpower headed by two practitioners in the Dark Side discover a weakness in the enemy's planet-sized superweapon and destroy it with some X-wing fighters in the nick of time. Also: stolen plans in a droid, a young orphan discovering the ways of the Force, a trench run by a gifted young pilot to blow up the superweapon, a bailing-out of the X-wing fighters by the crew of the Millennium Falcon, sons/students striking down their fathers/masters, and so on. Is this part of the reason that Empire Strikes Back is considered the best of the series, because it's different?

7. When Lucas made the first trilogy (and when he and Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark), he constructed it from a bunch of different sources from when he was a kid and in film school. With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams did the same thing, but instead of pulling from Flash Gordon and Kurosawa like Lucas did, he pulled from what he grew up with as a kid and in film school...Star Wars and Spielberg. In a way, The Force Awakens is a reboot of the original 1977 Star Wars, similar plot and all. And even if it isn't a true reboot, it sure does rhyme.

8. Aside: when is the Empire/First Order going to learn not to put all of their eggs in one basket? Their superweapon strategy has failed three times now. They always seem to know where the rebels are hiding, they possess overwhelming force...why don't they just defeat them through conventional means?

9. More synchronicity. When I watched the original Star Wars as an adult, one of the things I noticed is what a relatively minor character Vader is in the Empire when compared to his importance to the story and his increased power & responsibility in Empire and Jedi. He's not in command, he's not really part of the military at all, and the military leaders aren't all that impressed with The Force. It's almost almost like he's the Emperor's personal assistant. Kylo Ren's role in The Force Awakens is similar...he's not in charge (General Hux is), he's not really part of the military (although he commands troops), and according to Snoke, Ren hasn't even completed his training. (What was Vader's excuse, then? He presumably completed his training long before the events of A New Hope...what was taking him so long to gain power?)

10. The scene at the very end bugged me. Having discovered the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, the Resistance sends Ren, Chewy, and R2 to see what's up? I get the symbolism and all, but wouldn't Leia be interested in seeing her brother again? Or more persuasive in getting him to come out of retirement?

11. We're going to hear more about Rey's parentage, right? She's Luke's daughter or something? (I'm guessing not. Waaay too obvious, even for Star Wars.)

12. Speaking of parentage, why is Snoke so big? So we're not wondering if Rey is Snoke's granddaughter or something? Or is it that Snoke's hologram is big and he's normal sized? (Wookiepedia says Snoke is 7 feet tall but doesn't cite a source.)

13. If you liked this movie, you have to give the proper credit to George Lucas for allowing it to exist. He could have sat on this series until after his death and beyond. But he didn't. He sold the whole shebang to Disney and trusted Kathleen Kennedy to make more movies.

14. Ok, Kennedy. Now I want to see Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars. Wes Anderson's Star Wars. Miranda July's Star Wars. Seriously, do this. (I do not want to see Kevin Smith's Star Wars. That one you can keep.)

15. All theaters should have assigned seating. I got the exact two seats I wanted (two months ahead of time) and showed up to the theater about 10 minutes before showtime, sat down, and the lights went down soon after. So much less stress than getting there 45 minutes (or 2 hours) beforehand and playing Are These Seats Taken? with strangers.

Update: 16. Does Han's death scene reference the cantina scene w/ Greedo in Episode IV? He and Ren are both holding the lightsaber. Ren tells Han he needs to do something but doesn't know if he can go through with it. Ren asks Han to help. The lightsaber activates and Han dies. Does Han activate the lightsaber, thereby causing his death? In other words, does Han shoot first? (Bonus update: I just saw the movie again and I don't think Han activates the lightsaber. He looks too surprised and Ren definitely thrusts the saber into him.)

Update: 17. In his belated review, Chris Blattman notes the remarkable agreement on the lack of spoilers on social media:

Humanity's tacit agreement to abide by a no-spoilers-on-social-media rule was one of the greatest acts of social cooperation I have witnessed. And we used it up to keep you from learning Han Solo is killed.

Star Wars Minus Star WarsDec 17 2015

Star Wars Minus Star Wars is a video essay on the original film that doesn't use a single shot, sound, or snippet of music from the original movie. Instead, it strings together scenes and sounds from movies that influenced George Lucas in making the film and also from movies that have been influenced by Star Wars.

It's impossible to overstate the impact of Star Wars. Its arrival in theaters on May 25th 1977 marked the end of one chapter in film history and the beginning of another. It's a hinge on which film history swings. Upon its release, critic Pauline Kael derided the film as "an assemblage of spare parts-it has no emotional grip... an epic without a dream" Twenty years after its release critic Roger Ebert remarked that the film "colonized our imaginations, and it is hard to stand back and see it simply as a motion picture, because it has so completely become part of our memories."

They're both right. Star Wars succeeded because of its roots in film history and mythology, and its influence over generations of filmmakers can be felt in countless works that came after it. For better or worse, Star Wars engulfs the past and future of moviemaking.

That was super-fun to watch. See also Where did Star Wars come from? and Paul's Boutique Minus Paul's Boutique. (via @tonyszhou, who calls it "the best Star Wars video essay ever")

Update: This might be even more impressive. John D'Amico made a full-length shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars using material that influenced (or may have influenced) Lucas in making the film. Very cool.

(thx, jim)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them teaser trailerDec 15 2015

The most teasing of teaser trailers is out for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Harry Potter prequel that everyone insists isn't a prequel. Out November 2016. (via trailer town)

DauDec 14 2015

For the past few years, Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky has been working on a film called Dau about Soviet physicist Lev Landau. Well, sort of. Khrzhanovsky had a huge set built in Ukraine containing a version of a mid-20th century Soviet research institute. For two years, he filmed hundreds of volunteers living on the set as though they were Soviet scientists.

Participants were required to live in period costume (the on-set tailor updated the fashions of the moment as required), to eat period food in period packaging, paid for in Soviet roubles, and to renounce all anachronisms, physical and verbal. No mobile phones, no internet, no laptops; no mention of the state of Israel before the on-set calendar reached 1948. News was supposed to be provided exclusively by the fully staffed on-set newspaper and the on-set radio station. Women were forbidden to wear modern tampons: Soviet-model cloth versions were made available.

When journalist Michael Idov visited the set in 2011 for GQ, even he had to be in character.

ROSENBERG: That's when Khrzhanovsky appeared. Wearing strangely outdated clothing and spectacles, the director looked sort of like a young Albert Einstein. He would be giving Michael a personal tour of the set, but first Michael would have to be processed.

IDOV: Because you were not supposed to admit that the film shoot was in fact a film shoot. Instead, everyone was operating under the notion that it's the '50s. That day it was 1952. So I needed to be made into a 1952 version of myself. They took away my clothes. They gave me a new haircut with, like, temples shaved off and gave me an incredibly itchy period suit - including the underwear.

The one thing I was allowed to keep was my watch. I had a vintage watch from 1959 and after a pretty intense discussion they decided it was OK to let me keep this watch from the future.

ROSENBERG: Then Khrzhanovsky instructed Michael to give his freshly minted Soviet passport to a man guarding an otherwise nondescript hallway.

Makes me think of the play staged by Philip Seymour Hoffman's character in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. (via @philgyford)

The Nice GuysDec 10 2015

Am I crazy or does this 70s crime comedy starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling actually look good? I mean, it likely won't be that good, but entertaining this pleasant fiction will make us happy until next May, when we'll know for sure. FYI: this is a "red band" trailer, so NSFW and all that.

Trailer for The BFGDec 09 2015

Here's the teaser trailer for the Spielberg-directed adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG. Hmm. (via the slick new trailer town)

A video countdown of the best films of 2015Dec 07 2015

One of the things I look forward to at the end of each year is David Ehrlich's video compilation of his favorite films of the year. 2015's installment does not disappoint.

Don't Let Kids Play FootballDec 07 2015

Today, the NY Times is running an editorial by Dr. Bennet Omalu called Don't Let Kids Play Football. Omalu was the first to publish research on CTE in football players.

If a child who plays football is subjected to advanced radiological and neurocognitive studies during the season and several months after the season, there can be evidence of brain damage at the cellular level of brain functioning, even if there were no documented concussions or reported symptoms. If that child continues to play over many seasons, these cellular injuries accumulate to cause irreversible brain damage, which we know now by the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a disease that I first diagnosed in 2002.

Depending on the severity of the condition, the child now has a risk of manifesting symptoms of C.T.E. like major depression, memory loss, suicidal thought and actions, loss of intelligence as well as dementia later in life. C.T.E. has also been linked to drug and alcohol abuse as the child enters his 20s, 30s and 40s.

The story of Omalu, his research, and its suppression by the NFL is the subject of Concussion, a movie starring Will Smith that comes out on Christmas Day, as well as a book version written by Jeanne Marie Laskas.

Behind the scenes of The Grand Budapest HotelDec 03 2015

"DVD extras" is a phrase that's rapidly receding in the pop cultural rearview mirror, but YouTube is chock full1 of them for many popular movies and shows. Here are a few behind-the-scenes looks at Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Bonus video: how to make a Courtesan au Chocolat from Mendl's:

  1. "Chock full" is another antique phrase, although I bet people will still be using "chock full" long after "DVD extras".

Jar Jar is a Sith Lord and other alternative Star Wars theoriesDec 02 2015

With the new Star Wars movie only a couple weeks away, fans and Star Wars scholars have gone into hyperdrive1 spinning alternate theories about what the series of movies are all about. The most popular such theory attempts to rehabilitate the worst character in the prequels, Jar Jar Binks. Because maybe he's the most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy? Who uses drunken fighting like Jackie Chan?

Another theorist asserts that the prequels were secretly brilliant because of a little-discussed over-arching theme related to the Jedi Code and the corruption of the Jedi.

But my personal favorite theory suggests that the past and future Star Wars movies are about ridding the galaxy of a bacterial plague carried by the Jedi.

I don't know what Midi-chlorians actually are. They might be something like symbiotic/parasitic bacteria or archaea, they might be organelles that live inside a cell, they might even be coherent chunks of molecular code...machines living inside the very DNA of their hosts.

What I do know is what they can do. They manipulate their hosts, they control them and eventually take them over. Eventually, they force them to fight while releasing as much dark energy as they can possibly manage, because that's how they continue their life cycle.

Being force sensitive just means you're more heavily infested and more easily manipulated.

Update: The Radicalization of Luke Skywalker suggests that the first three Star Wars films about Luke Skywalker becoming a terrorist.

A more focused study, however, is needed to truly understand that the Star Wars films are actually the story of the radicalization of Luke Skywalker. From introducing him to us in A New Hope (as a simple farm boy gazing into the Tatooine sunset), to his eventual transformation into the radicalized insurgent of Return of the Jedi (as one who sets his own father's corpse on fire and celebrates the successful bombing of the Death Star), each film in the original trilogy is another step in Luke's descent into terrorism. By carefully looking for the same signs governments and scholars use to detect radicalization, we can witness Luke's dark journey into religious fundamentalism and extremism happen before our very eyes.

  1. Cue the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive malfunction noise...

What went wrong with The Hobbit movies?Dec 01 2015

In this video about the making of The Hobbit movies, members of the film crew, including director Peter Jackson, admit that they didn't really have a good idea of what was going to happen in the movies until they were on the set filming and that they made a lot of it up as they went along.

The above clip is from a behind-the-scenes video on the Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray, and it features Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, and other production personnel confessing that due to the director changeover -- del Toro left the project after nearly two years of pre-production -- Jackson hit the ground running but was never able to hit the reset button to get time to establish his own vision. In comparison, he spent years prepping the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, and on the Hobbit things got so bad that when they started shooting the titular Battle of Five Armies itself they were essentially just shooting B-roll: footage of people in costumes waving around swords, without any cohesive plan for how the sequence would actually play out. (A choice Jackson quote: "I didn't know what the hell I was doing.")

No idea why they would release a video like this which pretty much admits that the movies weren't as good as they should have been. I mean, they still made a crap-ton of money at the box office (a combined $3 billion worldwide), so happy ending for them anyway I guess?

Lucas on the Star Wars divorceNov 25 2015

George Lucas says he had nothing to do with The Force Awakens and furthermore that the movie was not done the way he would have done it.

"The issue was ultimately, they looked at the stories and they said, 'We want to make something for the fans,'" Lucas said. "People don't actually realize it's actually a soap opera and it's all about family problems -- it's not about spaceships. So they decided they didn't want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing so I decided, 'fine.... I'll go my way and I let them go their way.'"

Soooooooooooooooo, if Star Wars is a family story, why did you make it about spaceships and special effects?

The movie that no one will see for 100 yearsNov 23 2015

Perhaps inspired by the long time scale filmmaking of Richard Linklater's Boyhood, John Malkovich and Robert Rodriguez have teamed up to make a movie that won't be released until 2115. Why? As a promotion for luxury brand Louis XIII Cognac, which is also aged 100 years. According to io9, Louis XIII is sending out 1000 tickets to people whose descendants will be able to see a screening of the film 100 years from now.

I wonder how serious they are about this? To what extent have they futureproofed their media? The io9 piece says the movie is "preserved on film stock"...is that and an old movie projector sufficient? Have they consulted with MoMA or Danny Hillis?

Buster Keaton and the Art of the GagNov 23 2015

For the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou examines the artistry and thought silent film master Buster Keaton put into the physical comedy in his movies. I used to watch all sorts of old movies with my dad (Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy) and had forgotten how good Keaton was. If you're anything like me in wanting to head down a Keaton rabbit hole, Zhou recommends starting with the first short film he directed and released, One Week.

See also Studs Terkel's 1960 interview with Keaton, a video showing Keaton's use of symmetry and center framing (Wes Anderson, Kubrick), Every Frame a Painting episode on Jackie Chan, and The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection, a 14-disc Blu-ray box set.

Noma: My Perfect StormNov 20 2015

Noma: My Perfect Storm is a feature-length documentary about chef René Redzepi and his Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which is currently ranked #3 in the world.

How did Redzepi manage to revolutionize the entire world of gastronomy, inventing the alphabet and vocabulary that would infuse newfound pedigree to Nordic cuisine and establish a new edible world while radically changing the image of the modern chef? His story has the feel of a classic fairy tale: the ugly duckling transformed into a majestic swan, who now reigns over the realm of modern gourmet cuisine.

The film is out Dec 18 in theaters, on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

Zoolander 2 trailerNov 18 2015

Stiller. Wilson. Cruz. Ferrell. Cumberbatch. Wiig. Bieber? If this is even half the goofy fun of the first one, I will be happy.

You won't live to see the final Star Wars movieNov 17 2015

Someone on Twitter said this is the best piece about the upcoming Star Wars movie, and I think he's right. But it's not so much about Star Wars specifically as it is about how Hollywood studios are trying to build infinite series of movies.

These new movies won't just be sequels. That's not the way the transnational entertainment business works anymore. Forget finite sequences; now it's about infinite series. [...] Everywhere, studio suits are recruiting creatives who can weave characters and story lines into decades-spanning tapestries of prequels, side-quels, TV shows, games, toys, and so on. Brand awareness goes through the roof; audiences get a steady, soothing mainline drip of familiar characters.

Forget the business implications for a moment, though. The shared universe represents something rare in Hollywood: a new idea. It evolved from the narrative techniques not of auteur or blockbuster films but of comic books and TV, and porting that model over isn't easy. It needs different kinds of writers and directors and a different way of looking at the structure of storytelling itself. Marvel prototyped the process; Lucasfilm is trying to industrialize it.

Harry Potter could be a great infinite series, but it'll be interesting to see if Rowling is interested in heading in that direction. Ditto Middle-earth and Tolkien.

Teaser trailer for Finding DoryNov 10 2015

The teaser trailer for Pixar's sequel to Finding Nemo is out. I'm excited for this one. Nemo was my favorite Pixar movie for a long while, until Wall-E came out. (via devour)

Japanese trailer for The Force AwakensNov 06 2015

This is a Japanese trailer for The Force Awakens. It's similar to the most recent trailer released in the US, but it contains a bunch of new footage. Still no Luke. (via @gavinpurcell)

Can we trust the Jedi?Nov 05 2015

From a 2005 post on Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen, an alternate take on the Star Wars movies positing that while the Jedi aren't the bad guys, they are also not to be trusted.

1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy. Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.

2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway? The Anakin critique of the Jedi Council rings somewhat true (this is from the new movie, alas I cannot say more, but the argument could be strengthened by citing the relevant detail). Aren't they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that? As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs. Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.

See also Darth Jar Jar and Luke Skywalker, Sith Lord. I also wanted to link to a video I saw within the past year that suggests that instead of a rebel leader, Princess Leia is a petulant child whose father, Vader, is attempting to bring to heel. Ring a bell? The internet is so choked with crackpot theories about Star Wars that it's impossible to search for one in particular. (And now this post is part of the problem.)

Update: Aaah, yes, the Auralnauts. (via @peteashton & @Lemur_Lad)

The Modern OceanNov 04 2015

Details about Shane Carruth's new film have been scarce, but there are a few things to share. First off, here's what The Modern Ocean is about:

The storyline revolves around vengeance and the fierce competition for valuable shipping routes and priceless materials that converge in a spectacular battle on the rolling decks of behemoth cargo ships.

"This epic tale, fraught with danger and intrigue, takes us from the ancient trading houses of Algeria to the darkest depths of the ocean floor."

Carruth expanded on his ideas for the film in an interview with Motherboard a few months ago. He's also got himself some stars for the film: Anne Hathaway, Keanu Reeves, Daniel Radcliffe, and Jeff Goldblum are gonna be in it.

So, let me get this straight. Has Carruth somehow taken the idea of the long zoom, combined it with Marc Levinson's book on shipping containers and supply chain pieces like I, Pencil, What Coke Contains, and How to Make a $1500 Sandwich, and made all that into a high-seas adventure movie starring Keanu Reeves and Anne Hathaway or is that just me reading way too much into what I want the movie to be? (via @von_hutchins)

Chi-raq trailerNov 03 2015

Have you noticed that non-mainstream films are increasingly being produced/financed/released through Amazon, HBO, and Netflix and not the big studios? The latest example is Spike Lee's new joint, Chi-raq. Set among the gang violence in modern-day Chicago, the film is an adaptation of an ancient Greek play by Aristophanes called Lysistrata.

Originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC, it is a comic account of one woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace -- a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes. The play is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society.

Even with all the big names attached -- Lee, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, John Cusack -- I wonder if a movie with a predominantly African-American cast, strong women characters, and based on an Aristophanes play would get greenlit at a major studio these days.

Trailer for Charlie Kaufman's AnomalisaNov 03 2015

Seven years after his directorial debut with the fantastic Synecdoche, New York comes Charlie Kaufman's second movie as a director, a stop-motion animated film called Anomalisa. The film successfully raised funds on Kickstarter and will be out in select theaters in December.

Moving film postersOct 30 2015

Pablo Eyre took a number of movie posters featuring photography from their respective movies and replaced the photos with the actual scenes. I imagine this is what movie posters look like in Harry Potter.

(Something must be in the air lately. This video is similar to two other videos I've linked to recently: book covers in motion?and a comparison of movie posters and the scenes that inspired them.)

Sound designing a lifeOct 28 2015

The Foley Artist a charming short film on how a Foley artist would sound design a day in an ordinary life. Running hands through spaghetti noodles stands in for hair washing, a spray bottle sounds like rustling sheets, that sort of thing.

See also this fascinating short documentary about what a Foley artist does.

An ode to movie propsOct 28 2015

Rishi Kaneria examines the use of props in movies, from the sled in Citizen Kane to the oranges in The Godfather to the cardboard box in Se7en. A transcript is available here.

When used like this props become more than just objects. They become symbols. A symbol that represents a friendship. Or a marriage. Science. Or God.

A prop can be a symbol of reality. Or Illusion. Of the future. Or the past.

And the same prop can symbolize childhood in one film...but death in another. But death can also be symbolized like this. In the Godfather, Coppola associates death with something unexpected: oranges. This isn't the kind of thing that's in the foreground of filmmaking. But it's there if you're looking for it.

Interactive bendy map of ManhattanOct 27 2015

Bendy Map of Manhattan

From Mapzen's exploration of map projections other than the familiar (and often misleading) Mercator, an Inception-style view of Manhattan (or anywhere you want to point the map to...like Paris or London), inspired by Berg's Here & There project (which I was a fan of, obviously).

A comparison of movie posters and the scenes that inspired themOct 27 2015

From Candice Drouet, a short video with side-by-side comparisons of scenes from movies and the movie posters inspired by them.

Saul Bass on his approach to designing movie title sequencesOct 26 2015

In 1977, Herbert Yager interviewed designer and title sequence designer Saul Bass about his approach to designing opening title sequences for films such as North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho.

I began as a graphic designer. As part of my work, I created film symbols for ad campaigns. I happened to be working on the symbols for Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones and The Man With The Golden Arm and at some point, Otto and I just looked at each other and said, "Why not make it move?"

It was as simple as that.

I had felt for some time that audience involvement with a film should begin with its first frame.

Until then, titles had tended to be lists of dull credits, mostly ignored, endured, or used as popcorn time.

There seemed to be a real opportunity to use titles in a new way -- to actually create a climate for the story that was about to unfold.

No where in that excerpt did Bass or the interviewer reference Bass' wife and collaborator Elaine Bass, who worked closely with him on almost all of their film projects. In recent years, there's been a push to recontextualize their working relationship as a partnership. Elaine did start off working as his employee but clearly they worked as true collaborators for much of their careers.

View from the Overlook: Crafting 'The Shining'Oct 26 2015

From 2007, a 30-minute documentary on the making of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Includes interviews with Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg, and Sydney Pollack.

The subtle ways in which Pulp Fiction visually inspired Breaking BadOct 23 2015

There are a few shots in here that are generic to many movies but many others have the feel of definite homage. See also this list of similarities from a couple of years ago.

The moment when Walt spots Jesse's escaped hostage on the road is very reminiscent of the moment when Butch sees Marcellus. The scene where Walt chooses the weapon to kill someone looks exactly like the scene where Butch wonders what to use as he comes back to rescue Marcellus. In one scene Walt is forced to visit his home and there is a great chance someone is waiting there to kill him. Sounds familiar?

Michael J. Fox is 54 years old; Christopher Lloyd was 46 in Back to the FutureOct 21 2015

Marty Doc age BTTF

If you haven't heard, today is the day to which Doc, Marty, and Jennifer travel forward in time in Back to the Future II.

Oct 21 2015 BTTF

Because of this and my love of cultural time travel, I thought I'd take the opportunity to point out that Michael J. Fox (aka Marty McFly) is nearly 8 years older now than Christopher Lloyd was when he played Doc Brown when Back to the Future was released in 1985. That's heavy.

Quentin Tarantino's desired cast list for Pulp FictionOct 20 2015

Pulp Fiction CastPulp Fiction Cast

Quentin Tarantino is the type of writer/director who writes roles in movies with specific actors in mind. For Pulp Fiction, he wanted Harvey Keitel to play Winston Wolf, Tim Roth to play Pumpkin, and Ving Rhames to play Marcellus Wallace. But he also wanted Michael Madsen to play Vincent (with Travolta as a strong second choice), John Cusack to play Lance, Matt Dillon to play Butch, and Laurence Fishburne to play Jules. Another possibility for Jules was Eddie Murphy, and Tarantino also specified "No Rappers" for that role. Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman weren't even listed for their respective roles. Gary Oldman, Nicholas Cage, Johnny Depp, and Alec Baldwin were considered for several roles but ultimately didn't appear in the film.

Here's the full list. (via open culture)

The official Star Wars trailer (whatever that means)Oct 19 2015

Trailer: watched. Tickets: bought. Luke Skywalker: still missing.

What makes a Miyazaki film a Miyazaki film?Oct 16 2015

Lewis Bond takes a look at the work of master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and what sets him apart from other makers of animated movies, including his work's realism and empathy.

8-bit Mad Max: Fury RoadOct 14 2015

With its straightforward plot and action sequences, Mad Max: Fury Road would make a pretty good 8-bit video game. (via devour)

50 unknown facts about Star WarsOct 13 2015

50 unknown facts about Star Wars, many gleaned from How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. I've heard some of these before, but not many...the list doesn't include low-hanging fruit like Harrison Ford's carpentry.

Favorite facts: 1. Early on, Luke Skywalker's nickname was "Wormy". Wormy! 2. The actor who portrayed Vader, David Prowse, spoke his dialogue on set not knowing he would be dubbed over. Because of his West Country accent, the other cast members referred to Prowse as Darth Farmer.

Speaking of Harrison Ford's carpentry, the new biography of Joan Didion has a good story about that time Didion and her husband John Dunne hired Ford to do some construction for them.

Off and on, for over six month, the Dunnes engaged a construction crew to expand the waterside deck, install waxed pine bookshelves, and lay terra-cotta floor tiles. The men tore out prefabricated plywood walls and pulled up "icky green" flooring. Harrison Ford headed the crew. "They were the most sophisticated people I knew," Ford said. "I was the first thing they saw in the morning and the last thing they saw before cocktails."

In Vegas, Dunne wrote, "[W]hat had started as a two-month job ... [stretched] into its sixth month and the construction account was four thousand dollars overdrawn... I fired the contractor. 'Jesus, man, I understand,' he said. He was an out-of-work actor and his crew sniffed a lot of cocaine and when he left he unexpectedly gave me a soul-brother handshake, grabbing my thumb while I was left with an unimportant part of his little finger." The next day, Dunne realized the only thing separating him and his family from the Pacific Ocean was a clear sheet of Pliofilm where the French doors were supposed to go. "I rehired the contractor," he wrote. "'Jesus, man, I understand,' the contractor said."

Much later, when Didion's daughter was ill, Ford did the family a further service.

The following day, Didion flew from Teterboro to Los Angeles on Harrison Ford's private plane, along with her friend Earl McGrath. Ford "happened to be in New York and heard about Q's condition ... and called to offer to take Joan," said Sean Michael. "I find that to be a beautiful thing," he said. "A man you hire to build cabinets, thirty years later is flying you in his private jet to your daughter's hospital bedside."

Jesus, man, I understand.

Update: Some of Ford's comments from the book were taken from Carolyn Kellogg's reporting on an awards festival.

As if to make up for her absence, a parade of stars was in attendance. Harrison Ford, who was prepared to present her the award, spoke somewhat extemporaneously instead. "I just want to tell you all how much her friendship has meant to me," he said. Forty years ago, Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, were "The most sophisticated people I knew."

Then a carpenter, Ford was hired by Didion and Dunne to build their beach house in Malibu. "I was the first thing they saw in the morning and the last thing they saw" -- he paused -- "before cocktails."

The Good Dinosaur: "A Stunning Masterpiece"Oct 09 2015

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 has a great preview of Pixar's upcoming film, The Good Dinosaur, including some juicy details on how the film was made. Because the film uses many big landscape shots, which would have been impossible to render in a timely fashion using their usual processes, the filmmakers needed to come up with another solution. They ended up using real topographical data and satellite images to render the landscapes.

Enter the U.S. Geographical Survey, which posts incredible amounts of topographical data to its website-including the height above sea level of all of the land features, and lots of satellite images. So Munier and his team tried downloading a lot of the USGS data and putting it into their computer, and then using that to "render" the real-life landscape. And it worked: They were able to take a classic Ansel Adams photograph of the Grand Tetons and duplicate it pretty closely using their computer-generated landscape. And with this data, they could point a digital "camera" anywhere, in a 360-degree rotation, and get an image.

Hail, Caesar!Oct 09 2015

Hail, Caesar! is the name of the Coen brothers' new movie. It stars George Clooney as a movie star (what casting!) who is kidnapped during the shooting of a epic Roman gladiator picture called Hail, Caesar! This one looks fun. And with the exception of The Big Lebowski, the Coen's fun movies are underrated,...I quite enjoyed both Intolerable Cruelty and Burn After Reading.

Kubrick: more like music than like fictionOct 06 2015

How many videos can we watch about the films of Stanley Kubrick? If you're anything like me, the answer is never enough. This montage hinting at connections between his films is particularly well done.

Hell's Club, a place where all fictional characters meetOct 06 2015

Mashups are so ubiquitous and overdone that the bar for actually watching one is pretty high. But this one, no joke, might be the best visual movie mashup I've ever seen. Hell's Club is a tour de force of film editing, seamlessly combining scenes from dozens of different films -- Austin Powers, Cocktail, Star Wars, Terminator, Staying Alive, Boogie Nights -- into one cohesive scene. Give it 30 seconds and you'll watch the whole thing.

Whistleblower Edward ScissorhandsSep 30 2015

HLN (which used to be CNN Headline News) needed someone to talk about Edward Snowden, US government whistleblower. They meant to invite a gentleman named John Hendren, a journalist for Al Jazeera, onto the show but instead invited funnyman Jon Hendren, who goes by the username of @fart on Twitter. Hendren, Jon used the opportunity to defend both Edward Snowden, briefly, and then sexy-but-misunderstood barber Edward Scissorhands.

Well, you know, to say he couldn't harm someone, well, absolutely he could. But I think to cast him out, to make him invalid in society, simply because he has scissors for hands, I mean, that's strange. People didn't get scared until he started sculpting shrubs into dinosaur shapes and whatnot.

The best part is that anchor Yasmin Vossoughian just keeps on plowing right through her script like they're not talking suddenly about a man with scissors for hands, deftly demonstrating what a farce these TV news "conversations" are. (via nymag)

Hitchcock/TruffautSep 30 2015

Kent Jones has directed a documentary on the 1962 meeting where a young François Truffaut interviewed a seasoned Alfred Hitchcock about his films (the output of which was a beloved book). As the narration from the trailer says, "[Truffaut] wanted to free Hitchcock from his reputation as a light entertainer", to which Peter Bogdanovich adds, "it conclusively changed people's opinions about Hitchcock".

In 1962 Hitchcock and Truffaut locked themselves away in Hollywood for a week to excavate the secrets behind the mise-en-scène in cinema. Based on the original recordings of this meeting -- used to produce the mythical book Hitchcock/Truffaut -- this film illustrates the greatest cinema lesson of all time and plummets us into the world of the creator of Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo. Hitchcock's incredibly modern art is elucidated and explained by today's leading filmmakers: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.

Truffaut's recontextualization of Hitchcock and his work reminds me of the point Matt Daniels recently made about younger generations deciding how work from older artists is remembered in his post about timeless music:

Biggie has three of the Top 10 hip-hop songs between 1986 and 1999. This is a strong signal that future generations will remember Biggie as the referent artist of 80s and 90s hip-hop. And there's No Diggity at the top -- perhaps it's that glorious Dr. Dre verse.

Hip hop heads will lament the omission of Rakim, Public Enemy, or Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt. It's a depressing reality that exists for every genre and generation: not every artist will be remembered. The incoming generation will control what's relevant from the 90s and carried into the future, independent of quality and commercial success. For rock, that might be Blink-182. For electronica, that might be Sandstorm.

Take Star Wars as another example. I've had conversations recently with other parents whose young kids are really into the series. The way they experience Star Wars is different than my generation. We saw Episodes IV-VI in the theater, on VHS, and on DVD and then saw Episodes I-III in the theater accompanied by various degrees of disappointment and disregard. Elementary school-aged kids today might have watched the prequels first. They read the comics, play the video games, and watch the Clone Wars animated series. To many of them, the hero of the series is Anakin, not Luke.1 And Generation X, as much as we may hate that, there's not a damn thing we can do about it.2 Unless... there is... another... (via subtraction)

  1. Thanks to Anil or David for this insight...I can't remember which one of you said it.

  2. You know, the Anakin-as-the-true-hero view has its merits, despite how it was presented in the prequels. Anakin was a good kid who fell because he couldn't handle the power given him but, in the end, was redeemed by the actions of his children. That's a solid heroic narrative arc. And, glad you noticed, it ties neatly into what I'm trying to say about younger generations rehabbing older ones.

70s cocaine paraphernalia advertisingSep 29 2015

Before the Reagans cranked up the War on Drugs in the early 80s due to the massive influx of cocaine from Latin America, advertisements offering all kinds of coke paraphernalia could be found in magazines. The World's Best Ever collected a bunch of ads offering spoons, mirrors, straws, knives, and the like for America's coke sniffers.

Cocaine adsCocaine ads

I am an episode and a half into Narcos on Netflix. Pretty good (but not great) so far.1 (via adfreak)

  1. They should have found a way to do it without the voiceover. Too much telling and not enough showing. (I have a thing about voiceovers. My first exposure to Blade Runner was Ridley Scott's Director's Cut, which omitted Deckard's voiceover, and when I started watching the original version on TV a few months ago, I nearly threw the remote through the screen...so grating and entirely unnecessary.)

Human, the filmSep 24 2015

Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand is known for his aerial photography of the Earth's landscapes, but in his film Human, he blends his trademark overview style with simply shot interviews with people from all over the world.

Humans made its debut earlier this month and is available in its entirety on YouTube in three 90-minute parts; start here with part one. (via in focus, which is featuring several photos from the film)

Mad Max: Fury Road as a silent B&W filmSep 23 2015

In an interview with Slashfilm, Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller stated that "the best version of this movie is black and white" and that the purest version of the film would also be silent (which it very nearly is anyway). Miller wanted to include the B&W version on the Blu-ray, but the studio decided to delay the release of that until a Super Special Ultra Gimme All Your Money Blu-ray Edition can be arranged at some later date. Until then (or, more probably, until Warner's lawyers get around to taking it down), we have this fan-made edit of the film in B&W without dialogue. (via @SebastianNebel)

Update: Well, that was fun while it lasted. Good thing I totally didn't grab a copy to watch later using a Chrome extension. (And before you ask, no I won't.)

Vancouver Never Plays ItselfSep 21 2015

In the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou talks about the different techniques filmmakers use to make shoot locations like Vancouver (Zhou's hometown) look like New York, India, Chicago, Shanghai, and San Francisco in the finished films.

Edward Burtynsky, WaterSep 18 2015

With California in the midst of a particularly intense multi-year drought and 2015 looking to be the warmest year on record by a wide margin,1 Edward Burtynsky's "Water" series of photographs is especially relevant.

Burtynsky WaterBurtynsky WaterBurtynsky WaterBurtynsky Water

Many of photos in the series are on display in Berkeley through February and are also available in book form.

Update: Burtynsky also collaborated on a documentary about water called Watermark. Here's a trailer:

The film is available to watch on Amazon Instant and iTunes. (via @steveportigal)

  1. I mean, look at this chart from the NOAA of the warmest years since 1880...2015 is a Lionel Messi-esque outlier. And Eric Holthaus says that with the strong El Niño, 2016 is forecast to be even hotter.

Alice in a Neural Networks WonderlandSep 17 2015

Gene Kogan used some neural network software written by Justin Johnson to transfer the style of paintings by 17 artists to a scene from Disney's 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland. The artists include Sol Lewitt, Picasso, Munch, Georgia O'Keeffe, and van Gogh.

Neural Wonderland

The effect works amazingly well, like if you took Alice in Wonderland and a MoMA catalog and put them in a blender. (via prosthetic knowledge)

Hidden connections in Tarantino filmsSep 17 2015

The worlds in many of Quentin Tarantino's movies are connected; here are ten of the biggest connections, including the Vega brothers, Red Apple cigarettes, and Big Kahuna Burger. Tarantino has even said that some of his movies are watchable within others...e.g. the characters in Pulp Fiction could have watched From Dusk Till Dawn in the theater.

A supercut of all Wes Anderson supercutsSep 16 2015

Posted here purely for the sake of completeness, here is a supercut of every1 supercut, parody, analysis, and compilation of Wes Anderson and his movies, the whole twee ball of wax.

  1. I don't know if every single one is in there, but there are a lot. I've probably linked to at least half of them.

The effect of choosing and changing aspect ratios in filmSep 16 2015

The aspect ratio of a movie can have a significant effect on how the scenes in the movie are perceived by the viewer. Changing the ratio during a movie (as in Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.) can be an effective way to signal a thematic change.

Children of Men: Don't Ignore the BackgroundSep 15 2015

The Nerdwriter takes on Children of Men, specifically what's going in the background of Alfonso Cuarón's film, both in terms of references to other works of art & culture and to things that push the plot along and contribute to the tone and message of the film.

Donald Trump on Citizen KaneSep 07 2015

Many years ago, Errol Morris interviewed Donald Trump about Citizen Kane as part of a project called The Movie Movie.

The table getting larger and larger and larger with he and his wife getting further and further apart as he got wealthier and wealthier, perhaps I can understand that.

Trump acquits himself pretty well on Kane and its lessons -- although I would not characterize Kane's fall as "modest" -- and his commentary about the film is probably the first actually interesting thing I have ever heard him say. But I watched all the way to the end and he shoots himself in the foot in the most Trumpian & misogynistic way -- it's actually perfect.

The Movie Movie, according to Morris' web site, was based on the idea of putting modern day figures like Trump and Mikhail Gorbachev into the movies that they most admire. So Trump would star as Kane in Citizen Kane and Gorby would be in Dr. Strangelove as who, Strangelove himself? Man, what a fantastic idea. Joshua Oppenheimer used a variant of this idea to powerful effect in The Act of Killing, a film executive produced by Morris.

Morris himself turned a bit of the original The Movie Movie idea into a 4-minute clip for the 2002 Oscars of people -- some of them famous: Trump, Gorbachev, Tom Brady, Christie Turlington, Keith Richards, Philip Glass, Al Sharpton -- talking about their favorite movies.

Star Wars Episode IV: Laser Moon AwakensSep 04 2015

The Auralnauts provide an alternate soundtrack and dialogue for Star Wars.

(via @waxpancake)

Making NemoSep 03 2015

From 2003, a 25-minute documentary (plus a few extras) on how Pixar made Finding Nemo.

How far does Pixar go to get a movie made correctly? Far. For instance, everyone on the Nemo team got certified in scuba diving. (via @drwave)

The Danish GirlSep 02 2015

The Danish Girl is an upcoming film starring Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. It's based on a novel of the same name which presents a fictionalized account of Elbe's life.

The film may well net Redmayne another Oscar nomination, but I don't know how the transgender community will react. From a quick look on Twitter and the past reception of Oscar-hopeful films dealing with similar issues (see The Imitation Game's portrayal of Alan Turing's sexuality), I'm guessing it may not be so well-received.

The Wolfpack, the lost tribe of the Lower East SideSep 02 2015

The Wolfpack is a documentary that follows the six Angulo brothers, whose father kept them sequestered (along with their sister and mother) inside a four-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for fourteen years because he thought the city unsafe, allowing only annual or semi-annual trips outside. The boys' only access to the outside world was through movies, which they recreated in their tiny apartment. The trailer:

With no friends and living on welfare, they feed their curiosity, creativity, and imagination with film, which allows them to escape from their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Everything changes when one of the brothers escapes, and the power dynamics in the house are transformed. The Wolfpack must learn how to integrate into society without disbanding the brotherhood.

They did not mess around when it came to their filmmaking...this is a surprisingly realistic Batman costume made out of cereal boxes and yoga mats:

Wolfpack Batman

The Wolfpack won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, and the brothers made a few videos to thank the festival for their prize. Here are the Clerks and The Usual Suspects thank yous:

They also filmed a scene from one of their favorite movies of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel:

The Wolfpack was out in US theaters earlier this summer and is now on Amazon Instant...I think I'm going to watch this tonight. (via @quinto_quarto)

Mad Max: Fury Road as an ancient Egyptian paintingSep 01 2015

From illustrator @takumitoxin, a wonderful rendering of the events of Mad Max: Fury Road in the style of an ancient Egyptian painting.

Mad Max Fury Egypt

Fury Road is out on Blu-ray today (and streaming). This movie was the perfect summer entertainment.

ConcussionAug 31 2015

Concussion, starring Will Smith, is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered the link between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and will be out in December.

The movie is based on the 2009 GQ article, Game Brain.

Let's say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let's say the scientific community -- starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country -- comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?

Saw someone on Twitter saying that maybe this will be football's The Insider. Let's hope it moves the needle.

Update: From the NY Times, Sony Altered 'Concussion' Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests, Emails Show.

In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.

"Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn't planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn't be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge," Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote in an email on Aug. 6, 2014, to three top studio executives about how to position the movie. "We'll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet's nest."

(via @masterofn0ne)

The art of sound in the moviesAug 28 2015

Skip Lievsay is one of the best sound designers in the business, having won an Oscar for his work on Gravity and worked on such films as Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, Do The Right Thing, and all of the Coen brothers' movies. Jordan Kisner recently profiled Lievsay for The Guardian.

It is a central principle of sound editing that people hear what they are conditioned to hear, not what they are actually hearing. The sound of rain in movies? Frying bacon. Car engines revving in a chase scene? It's partly engines, but what gives it that visceral, gut-level grist is lion roars mixed in. To be excellent, a sound editor needs not just a sharp, trained ear, but also a gift for imagining what a sound could do, what someone else might hear.

Maybe Daniel is the real bully in The Karate Kid?Aug 25 2015

Everyone knows that The Karate Kid is the story of Daniel LaRusso, an undersized new-kid-in-school who, with the help of a wise mentor and unconventional training in the martial arts, is able to triumph over a gang of bullies picking on him. What this video presupposes is, maybe Daniel is the real bully?

To no one's surprise, Johnny advances to the final round and karma catches up with Daniel when his leg is injured by the boy he wantonly attacked on the soccer field. However, just as Johnny is about to be awarded his trophy, Daniel is granted unnatural strength by the demon sorcerer Miyagi, enabling him to defeat Johnny and win the tournament in an upset.

See also more revisionist history of beloved media: Hermione Granger as the real hero of the Harry Potter books and Tim Carmody's The Iceman List, which is about "classic movie antagonists who were actually pretty much right all along".

A total clustercussAug 24 2015

I hadn't realized there was so much cussing swearing in Wes Anderson's movies. Here are some damn examples:

Just realized what the world is missing: the "fuck fuck fuck" scene from the first season of The Wire, but done in the style of ("cuss cuss mothercusser") and with the characters from Fantastic Mr. Fox.

J.R.P.G. Torkelson's Lorne of the Rings trilogyAug 24 2015

This is a guide to the famous Lorne of the Rings trilogy of movies. All your favorite characters are here, from Samsclub Gunjeans to Starman to Flowbee the Haddock to Aerosmith, daughter of Lord Efron to Gumball, son of Groin.

This is one of those that goes from "oh how can this predictable thing actually be funny" to "oh my pants are wet because I peed in them because laughing" very quickly. (via waxy)

The Sunshine HotelAug 20 2015

Two weeks ago, 99% Invisible broadcast an audio documentary from 1998 about one of the last remaining flophouses on The Bowery in NYC called The Sunshine Hotel. It is an amazing time capsule from a Manhattan that just doesn't exist anymore.

The Sunshine Hotel opened in 1922. Rooms -- or really, cubicles -- were 10 cents a night. The Sunshine, like other flop houses, was always a men-only establishment. In 1998, the hotel had raised it's rates to 10 dollars a night and it was managed by resident Nathan Smith. He sat behind a metal cage at the front desk, answering the phone and doling out toilet paper to residents for 35 cents. Smith had once worked in a bank until he was injured, and then fired. His wife left him and he ended up in the Bowery, and eventually at the Sunshine Hotel.

The interviewees sound like they're characters in a play, not real people. It's so good. There is also a documentary film released in 2001 about The Sunshine Hotel which is available on Amazon Instant; here's a trailer:

"Pixar is bulletproof, assholes"Aug 17 2015

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, writing in The Onion: I've Got You Dumb Motherfuckers Eating Right Out Of My Hand.

Yes, after the success of our first few movies we had a hunch you'd continue to enjoy the wonderfully designed animation and our smart, lyrical writing, but I didn't think we'd create a horde of drooling morons ready to drop everything just to watch a fucking rat cook dinner. Time and time again, though, there you chumps are, lined up around the block with your stupid little kids, eager to have your stupid little hearts filled with whimsy.

See also Disney's Lasseter: Woody will find love in 'Toy Story 4'.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National LampoonAug 14 2015

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a documentary about National Lampoon coming out this fall. Here's the trailer:

From the 1970s thru the 1990s, there was no hipper, no more outrageous comedy in print than The National Lampoon, the groundbreaking humor magazine that pushed the limits of taste and acceptability -- and then pushed them even harder. Parodying everything from politics, religion, entertainment and the whole of American lifestyle, the Lampoon eventually went on to branch into successful radio shows, record albums, live stage revues and movies, including Animal House and National Lampoon's Vacation. The publication launched the careers of legends like John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest and Gilda Radner, who went on to gigs at Saturday Night Live and stardom.

Director Douglas Tirola's documentary about the Lampoon, DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON, cleverly chronicles its founding by two former Harvard students, its growth, demise and everything in between. Told thru fresh, candid interviews with its key staff, and illustrated with hundreds of outrageous images from the mag itself (along with never-seen interview footage from the magazine's prime), the film gives fans of the Lampoon a unique inside look at what made the magazine tick, who were its key players, and why it was so outrageously successful: a magazine that dared to think what no one was thinking, but wished they had.

(via subtraction)

Homme LessAug 13 2015

Mark Reay is a former model, actor, and fashion photographer who was homeless in NYC for six years. Homme Less is a documentary on Reay; here's a trailer:

So began a period of my life sleeping rough. It was pretty tiring, and I didn't have much luck with the photos, but I stuck it out. I've never let the lack of money stop me having a good time, and I still had (dwindling) savings from my modelling. It was a happy time. At night I would always treat myself to a rotisserie chicken, but I always wanted a chilled rosé with it. So, in the afternoon, I would sneak into a minimarket, get the cheapest one from the shelf and hide it under the frozen peas. Then, at night, I would put on a fresh shirt and go to one of the fancy bars with my wine in my bag. Again, maybe because I had a certain look, no one ever checked my bag. I'd just go in, nick a glass off the counter and drink my wine surrounded my millionaires.

You can get away with anything if you're confident. Oh, and male, white, and good looking.

The Hateful Eight teaser trailerAug 12 2015

Here's the teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. (This one was certainly not the trailer.)

Update: A second longer trailer is out:

overshare: the links.net storyAug 11 2015

Justin Hall has been sharing his life online for over 20 years at links.net. Justin's Links from the Underground was one of the first sites I found and read regularly, back in the mid 90s. Now Hall has made a documentary about his time online, overshare: the links.net story.

Starting in 1994, my personal web site Justin's Links from the Underground has documented family secrets, romantic relationships, and my experiments with sex and drugs.

overshare: the links.net story is a documentary about fumbling to foster intimacy between strangers online. Through interviews, analysis and graphic animations, I share my motivations, my joys and my sorrows from pioneering personal sharing for the 21st century. In 2004 the New York Times referred to me as "perhaps the founding father of personal weblogging." I hope this documentary reveals that I was a privileged white male with access to technology who worked to invite as many people as possible to join him in co-creating an internet where we have a chance to honestly share of our humanity.

The movie is available in various formats, including as a digital download with extra footage from VHX for $11.99.

The speed of sci-fi ships, rankedAug 05 2015

From Back to the Future's DeLorean to Dr. Who's Tardis, here's a listing of sci-fi vehicles ranked from slowest to fastest.

Sci-fi spaceships speed

In the ongoing struggle of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Wars is the clear winner in the speed category: the Millennium Falcon is thousands of times faster than the Enterprise. Also, I didn't know the Death Star was so fast!

Why movie CG sucks (except that it doesn't)Aug 04 2015

Are computer generated special effects ruining movies? Freddie Wong says no; CG is so good these days that we only notice it when it's bad and in bad movies.

My biggest concern with CG is with unrealistic camera movements, e.g. like when the camera is following Spider-Man swooping all over NYC. I can't not notice it and it almost always takes me out of the experience, which is the opposite of what I want. (via @tonyszhou)

Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm BoyAug 03 2015

Lucasfilm is coming out with a set of books about the first three Star Wars movies written by authors of acclaimed teen and preteen books. The first is Star Wars: A New Hope. The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy.

Star Wars Kids Books

The other two are called Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. So You Want to Be a Jedi? and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (via dooce)

The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'Jul 31 2015

Making of 2001

Last year, Taschen came out with a limited edition book on The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Only a couple thousand were made and one of them is selling on Amazon for $1750. This year, they're releasing a regular edition for a much more reasonable $47. (via @michaelbierut)

Powers of Ten flipbookJul 27 2015

Using images found on the internet through Google's visually similar images feature, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, and various mapping services, Kelli Anderson recreated part of the Eames' iconic Powers of Ten as a flipbook. Watch a video here:

Or play around with a virtual flipbook at Anderson's site. This could not possibly be anymore in my wheelhouse. Here's the nitty gritty on how she made it happen.

The inspiration for making discontinuous-bits-of-culture into something continuous goes back to 2011. Some of my friends camped out on a sidewalk to see Christian Marclay's The Clock. Like a loser with a deadline, I missed out-only catching it years later at MoMA. In the day-long film, Marclay recreates each minute of the 24-hour day using clips from films featuring the current time-on a clock or watch. It runs in perfect synchronization with the audience's day (so: while a museum crowd slumps sleepily in their chairs at 6am, starlets hit snooze on the clocks onscreen.)

Trailer for a Steve Jobs documentaryJul 27 2015

There's a documentary on Steve Jobs coming out called Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. The director is Alex Gibney, who directed the excellent Going Clear (about Scientology), We Steal Secrets (about Wikileaks), and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. The trailer:

The origin of sci-fi movie soundsJul 24 2015

From Aaron Reese at Hopes&Fears, a piece on sci-fi movie sound effects. It's chock full of interesting tidbits, like where King Kong's chest-beating sound came from:

Initial attempts hitting a fixed kettle drum with paddled-drumsticks didn't work, with Spivak saying the sound wasn't "fleshy" enough. An experiment beating the floor failed as well. So Spivak decided to beat one of his assistant's chests with drumsticks instead, saying "If wood will not take the place of flesh, then let's use flesh." Sure enough, this was the sound used for production.

The stabbing noise in Psycho is a knife plunging into a melon:

In a recording studio, prop man [Bob] Bone auditioned the melons for Hitchcock, who sat listening with his eyes closed. When the table was littered with shredded fruit, Hitchcock opened his eyes, and intoned simply: "Casaba."

And my favorite, from Terminator 2:

In Robert Patrick's T-1000 prison break scene, the robot phases through the cell bars with a slurpy metallic sound. Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom revealed the effect was achieved by a simple solution from the sound of dog food being slowly sucked out of the can.

See also a short video tribute to the sounds of Star Wars.

The Art of the Car ChaseJul 24 2015

Casper Christensen cut together footage from dozens of movie car chases into one big coherent chase. Well, as coherent as you can get when you're dealing with car chases.

There's some fun and clever editing in here...I particularly enjoyed the stitching together of Indiana Jones and Axel Foley. And I loved the brief clip of C'était un rendez-vous, which if you haven't seen it, is a quick and thrilling watch.

Magic Mike XXL embraces strip club classicsJul 23 2015

In Pitchfork, Susan Shepard writes about how Magic Mike XXL uses strip club music to full advantage.

MMXXL functions more like a musical in that it uses the dance sequences deliberately to advance the plot; Mike doesn't talk about wanting to get the band back together, he dances about it when "Pony" comes on in his workshop. Big Dick Richie finds the heart of his stripper character dancing to "I Want It That Way". Malik challenges Mike to "Sex You". And ultimately, they all find out something about themselves when they create new routines to new songs for the finale. It could transition seamlessly to the stage. They're even already acting out the lyrics, which are for the most part of "this is what I want to do to you" tradition of R&B.

The film gets at the heart of strip club culture with its scenes at Domina, the exclusive club run by Mike's former lover and working partner, Rome. All the best strip club ideas come from black clubs, specifically those in the South. Every good innovation in strip club dancing, music, and costume styles started in Atlanta or Houston or Miami clubs. The way the Florida dancers feel when they walk in and see Augustus, Andre, and Malik outdance and outperform them is exactly what it feels like to walk into Magic City from the Cheetah. Here is the future, here is how far behind it you are with your fireman routines and Kiss songs.

Having never been to a strip club in my entire life (WHAT?!! I know! I know!), I had no idea that Nine Inch Nails' Closer was a strip club staple.

My very first stage performance was to the Revolting Cocks' version of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" and Nine Inch Nails' "Closer", about a month after it had come out. It is one of those songs strippers fight over performing to because it's that good and gets such a crowd response. "Closer" might as well be strip club furniture.

But it makes sense. Closer is one of the catchiest pop songs ever made. Shortly after it came out, I remember going to an on-campus party at which a friend of mine was DJing. He was playing mostly dance music -- some club, some top 40ish, and some electronica -- but threw on Closer for the benefit of a friend of ours who was a big industrial and NIN fan. Everyone loved it and got out onto the dance floor: the jocks, the ravers, the sorority girls, the physics club geeks. Our friend wasn't too happy about it though. Somehow, Nine Inch Nails now belonged to everyone. Cultural appropriation is a biiii....

Ultimate commentary on Raiders of the Lost ArkJul 23 2015

If you are a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- and who isn't? -- then this is your holy grail: a feature-length commentary on the movie by Jamie Benning that includes seemingly every tidbit related to the film, including deleted scenes, audio commentary from the cast and crew, behind the scenes video, and much more. An incredible resource in understanding the film.

Benning has also done similarly excellent commentaries for Jaws, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. (via @drwave)

Star Wars-style opening crawls of the day's newsJul 23 2015

Every day, a program written by Julien Deswaef selects a war-related news item from the NY Times, formats it in the style of the infamous Star Wars opening crawl (complete with John Williams' score), and posts the results to YouTube.

Published yesterday, the crawl for Episode XXVII was taken from a NY Times article about an Obama speech about the Iranian nuclear deal.

Here's how the project was made and if you'd like to try it yourself, grab the source code. (via prosthetic knowledge)

The top 10 most beautiful movies of all timeJul 23 2015

Ok, so narrowing down all of the beautifully shot movies in the world to a list of just 10 is absurd, but to their credit, the gang at Cinefix manage to mention more than 50 or 60 movies in their top 10 review. If you've only seen even a few of these, you're doing well.

Manhattan, Citizen Kane, The Fall, 2001, Hero, The Tree of Life. Damn.

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