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kottke.org posts about movies

Leaving Neverland

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2019

Set to air on HBO starting March 3rd, Leaving Neverland is a two-part documentary film about the experiences of two men who were befriended by and allegedly sexually abused by Michael Jackson as young boys. Here’s the trailer:

Leaving Neverland is a two-part documentary exploring the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James Safechuck, at age ten, and Wade Robson, at age seven, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, the film crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of his own.

As this quick timeline of abuse allegations against Jackson notes, both Safechuck and Robson previously denied that Jackson had abused them.

Robson, by this point a choreographer for stars like Britney Spears, testified that he had spent the night at Neverland more than 20 times but that Jackson had never molested him or taken a shower with him.

James Safechuck, who had met Jackson as a young boy in the 1980s when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial, also denied publicly that he had been abused, although he was not called to testify.

David Ehrlich saw the film at Sundance and was completely convinced by the stories of the two men.

It may not be much of a secret that Michael Jackson acted inappropriately with a number of young boys, but there’s no way to prepare yourself for the sickening forensic details presented in Dan Reed’s four-hour exposé. It’s one thing to be vaguely aware of the various allegations that were made against the King of Pop; the asterisks that will always be next to the late mega-star’s name. It’s quite another to hear the horrifyingly lucid testimony that stretches across the entire duration of “Leaving Neverland,” as two of Jackson’s most repeat victims bravely lay bare how a universal icon seduced them away from their realities, splintered their families beyond all recognition, and leveraged their love for him into a disturbing litany of sexual acts.

The eloquent and straightforward “Leaving Neverland” was made for no other reason than to give shape to a nebulous cloud of rumors, many of which were floated in public before they were silenced behind settlements, and none of which a jury was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In the wake of Reed’s film and the shattering interview footage that it exists to share with us, there’s no longer a reasonable doubt. There’s no longer any doubt at all. Not only do the documentary’s two main subjects perfectly corroborate their separate accounts in all of the most tragic of ways, but they do so with a degree of vulnerability that denies any room for skepticism.

Other stars who previously had private or ignored abuse allegations leveled against them — Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Woody Allen, Louis CK — have been judged more harshly and their accusers have taken more seriously in recent years, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Jackson after the documentary airs.

My Recent Media Diet, the “Please God Let Winter Be Over Soon” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2019

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced since the beginning of the year. One of the reasons I like doing these posts is the great recommendations I get back from readers. Turns out some of you know me and my tastes pretty well by now. For instance, a reader emailed a rec for the amazing Apollo 13 podcast listed below. I never would have found that on my own…thanks, Jason (no relation).

Vice. Inventive filmmaking from McKay. Watching parts of this was difficult though…Cheney is a ghoul. (B+)

Bird Box. Mindless but fun. The aliens made no sense… (B)

Rainbrow. Faces weren’t designed to control games. I think I may have sprained my eyebrows? (C+)

Roma. A masterpiece from Cuarón. My pick for the best film of 2018. (A)

A Fish Called Wanda. What was the middle one again? (B+)

The Apollo 13 series on the Brady Heywood Podcast. Sean Brady is a forensic engineer and in this five-part series about the Apollo 13 mission, he does a play-by-play of what went wrong on the mission and how the NASA and the three astronauts worked together to solve it. This is five hours of storytelling stuffed full of technical details and I was completely riveted the entire time. A thrilling engineering tale. (A)

Uplift standing desk. Still getting used to it, but I like being able to alternate between sitting and standing. (B+)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I read the Simon Armitage translation to the kids as our bedtime story over the course of a few weeks. The English epic was not the fan favorite that Harry Potter or the Odyssey were. (B)

The Departed. Probably not the best Scorsese film but perhaps my favorite? (A)

Desktop Tower Defense. I still love this game. (A-)

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris. A bracing history of how humans learned where and when we are in the universe. (B+)

They Shall Not Grow Old. The restoration & colorization brought World War I right into the present, but I found myself wondering if all the digital editing & sound effects crossed the line into fiction. (B+)

Shoplifters. What does “family” mean in the 21st century? Watching this made me think of this story about older Japanese women purposefully shoplifting in order to go to jail. (A)

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. I had no idea going in that this movie was exactly about my family: an older boy (who likes space battles) and younger girl (who likes Friends and parties) who struggle to play Legos together under constant threat of me chucking all of them into the trash if they don’t stop fighting. They nailed it, right down to the crack about Radiohead’s music being depressing…every time I play RH in the car, I hear a chorus of boos from the back seat. (A-)

The Mule. I don’t know who this movie is for or why I went to see it. (D+)

Minding the Gap. You might think this is about how skateboarding binds three friends together. And it is! But it’s also about the compounding debt of domestic violence, toxic masculinity, and economic depression in America. My sole complaint is that it could easily have been 30 minutes longer. (A)

Classic Doctor Who marathon on Twitch. Nothing makes me more nostalgic for my childhood than old episodes of Doctor Who. I may have over-indulged in this marathon. (B+)

You Were Never Really Here. Excellent direction, music, and sound design. (B+)

Widows. Fun ensemble thriller. (B+)

Burning. Engaging but the slow burn was a bit too slow. I also watched this in a terrible theater and my opinion might have been different if the quality were better. (B+)

If Beale Street Could Talk. Beautifully filmed romantic dread. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad at the end. (A-)

Russian Doll. Groundhog Day adjacent. Natasha Lyonne is mesmerizing. (B+)

Killing Eve. Was I supposed to hate both of the very annoying main characters? And why is everyone so incompetent at their jobs? Villanelle is so sloppy and arrogant she would never have gotten away with one murder, let alone a dozen. I don’t think this show is for me, but I can see why others like it. (B-)

The Three-Body Problem trilogy by Liu Cixin. A re-read…burned through all three books in a week, by far the most concentrated reading I’ve done in years. (A)

Crazy Rich Asians. A rewatch. I’m not suggesting this should be up for Best Picture at the Oscars or anything, but this movie deserves some end-of-the-year recognition as a romantic comedy that also did some heavy thematic lifting without being either frivolous or overbearing. The filmmakers hit it just right. (A-)

Heat. This is Allen Iverson’s favorite movie. No one chews scenery like Pacino in this movie. Wow. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Steven Soderbergh’s Theories on the History and Future of Movies

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

Soderbergh - iPhone.jpg

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh had a very interesting interview with The Atlantic’s David Sims. Here are some excerpts.

The first (and maybe the juiciest) is on how September 11 changed the genre palate of the movie industry.

Sims: Most of the studio movies you made were in the the mid-budget tier that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. What happened to it?

Soderbergh: Look, I have a lot of crackpot theories about how moviegoing has changed and why.

Sims: I would like to hear your crackpot theories.

Soderbergh: One of the most extreme is, I really feel that why people go to the movies has changed since 9/11. My feeling is that what people want when they go to a movie shifted more toward escapist fare. And as a result, most of the more “serious” adult fare, what I would pejoratively refer to as “Oscar bait,” all gets pushed into October, November, December.

Sims: And people have become conditioned, in the fall, to go and see a couple of serious movies.

Soderbergh: Put on a heavy coat and go see something serious. What that creates is what you see now, which is this weird dichotomy of fantasy spectacle; low-budget genre, whether it’s horror or comedy; and the year-end awards movies. I guess that’s a trichotomy.

Sims: From January to March, you can have some cheap fun, then in March, here we go …

Soderbergh: The big shit’s coming.

The second (and maybe the most interesting) is how partnering with distributors like Amazon and Netflix might create different markets for different kinds of movies.

Sims: You tried [a simultaneous in-theaters and home release] with Bubble in 2005, back before anyone thought that was a thing you could do. You tried it with The Girlfriend Experience in 2009. Were you just inventing the wheel before there was a car to put it on? What’s changed in the past 15 years?

Soderbergh: Well, I ran into the problem that all platforms are having, which is that the big chains don’t want to engage with this. I know [the National Association of Theatre Owners president,] John Fithian well, and have had a lot of interaction with NATO, and I am sympathetic to this issue. What I don’t understand is why everyone in this business thinks there is one template that is gonna be the unified field theory of “windowing” [or how long a movie screens in theaters]. The minute that I knew, which is usually around Friday at noon, that Logan Lucky wasn’t going to work and that Unsane was definitely not gonna work—as soon as that happens, the studio should let me drop the movie on a platform the next week. There should be a mechanism for when something dies at the box office like that.

Sims: A backup option of, You know what, if it doesn’t hit this number on opening weekend, then release it online.

Soderbergh: I think in abject failures, they should let you do whatever the hell you want. If Unsane drops and doesn’t perform, who’s harmed exactly by me 10 days later putting this thing on a platform? You can’t prove to me that that’s hurting your business.

And last, and the most concise, is on how Soderbergh would change the Oscars if he were in charge.

Sims: What do you think of the Oscars potentially excluding some categories from being televised live?

Soderbergh: There was some discussion for a minute about the Oscars doing what the Emmys do—having two ceremonies. Everybody shouted that down and said they would be creating two tiers. What I wanted to do was produce that show: We’ll go back to the Roosevelt Hotel, every nominee can bring a plus-one, and that’s it. Super intimate, food, drink, all that, you can get up there and talk all you want. It’s not televised. It’s a private event for the nominees and their significant others. Make it fun and cool. ‘Cause here’s the dirty secret: Going to the big thing is not fun. It’s more fun to watch on TV. The trick would be doing something super cool and small.

I also think it’s both interesting and cool that Soderbergh is shooting video using an iPhone now. The small size, he argues, is actually an advantage. As he tells Sims, “The more things you can eliminate that actors have to ignore, the better.”

Why James Baldwin Is This Century’s Essential Voice, Too

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2019

James Baldwin - Cig.jpg

Back in 2015, I wanted to write an essay for The Message (where I was working at the time) about James Baldwin. At that time, it seemed to me, Baldwin was everywhere, but somewhat below the radar; everyone was talking about him, but nobody seemed to notice that everyone was talking about him, or about the things he talked and wrote about. But The Message turned over its writing staff and quickly shut down, and that was the end of that.

Four years later, Baldwin is not below the radar. Baldwin is everywhere, and we know he’s everywhere; we all know we’re talking about him, and if we’re not reading him and citing him, we’re apologizing about it. In short, James Baldwin is finally getting his due as the essential voice not just of the 20th century, but also of the 21st—a bridge not very many thinkers of his generation (or the one before or after) managed to cross.

If Beale Street Could Talk, snubbed at the Oscars for Best Picture (although it is up for Best Adapted Screenplay), is the best film I’ve seen since Children of Men. This magnificent essay by Kinohi Nishikawa focuses on how writer/director Barry Jenkins adapted Baldwin’s book, paying particular attention to Baldwin’s (and Jenkins’s) innovative use of time:

Nearly 45 years later, Jenkins has adapted Beale Street in the spirit of its author’s vision. Most notably, he emphasizes, rather than diminishes, Tish’s point of view. In the film, Tish (KiKi Layne) narrates her romance with Fonny (Stephan James) as if situated in a future point of time. The reflective quality in her voice points to an understanding to come, a bridge between her innocence and her experience….

Restoring Tish’s voice also shows how the novel’s social consciousness is issued from the future, not the past. Jenkins’ aestheticized style, with its dramatic shifts in tone, echoes Baldwin’s shifts in temporal register. A scene of the lovers wooing conjures the magic of rain-drenched streets in classic Hollywood cinema; a later one of Fonny’s confrontation with Officer Bell (Ed Skrein) evokes the grit of movies like Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. But in the film’s most powerful scene, Tish watches Fonny take out his anger at Bell by throwing a bag of tomatoes against a wall. The resulting tableau resonates so powerfully because Fonny’s justified rage, and the risk of having it turn on him, feels like it could have happened yesterday.

Baldwin is also the unifying force of a new group exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery, curated by New Yorker critic Hilton Als. Holland Cotter writes openly as “a white kid in the process of working my way through the sociopolitical dynamics of [the 1960s] through reading” Baldwin and other writers.

In 1948, Baldwin left New York for Europe, where he would stay for several years. He returned in the late 1950s to immerse himself in the American civil rights movement. During that time he became a cultural star, a political fixture (within black activism, a controversial one), and one of the grand moral prose rhetoricians.

In the process, Mr. Als suggests, he also disappeared from public view as a knowable, relatable person, someone still wrestling with conflicted ideas about race, sexuality, power, family, and his own creativity (he wanted to make films but never did); someone who could describe himself, in his late 40s, as “an ageing, lonely, sexually dubious, politically outrageous, unspeakably erratic freak.”…

He was skeptical of uplift. As a teenager he left preaching, he said, after he came to see it as just another form of theater. My guess is he sometimes felt the same about the salvational spirit of the early civil rights movement. To the very end, he was negative in his assessment of progress made. “The present social and political apparatus cannot serve the human need,” he wrote bluntly in his final book, “The Evidence of Things Not Seen” (1985). He believed in the positive potential of community, though “in the United States the idea of community scarcely means anything anymore, except among the submerged, the Native American, the Mexican, the Puerto Rican, the Black” — the one hopeful word here being “except.”

“I have had my bitter moments, certainly,” he once said, “but I do not think I can usefully be called a bitter man.” I think he can usefully be called a hero. When I was a kid I felt he was one because of what I took to be his furious moral certainty. Now I look to him for his furious uncertainty. And I still have my copy, time softened with touching, of “Notes of a Native Son,” with him on the cover, his face furrow-browed but dreamy, his gaze fixed somewhere outside camera range.

It’s also useful to explore the ways that Baldwin came up short—usually, moments where he was honest about his own limitations. There are plenty in this nearly two-hour conversation with poet and activist Nikki Giovanni, which is nevertheless worth watching in full:

I don’t know. Baldwin has been such a formative influence on me that it’s hard to remember a time when his writings haven’t been on my mind. As I get older, I become more and more aware of how acute and omnivorous of a cultural critic he was, writing not just about books, but about movies, television, theater, and more. He was clearly one of the most penetrating thinkers about race, sexuality, literature, and their entwining in American culture in our history. I sometimes say that he was maybe the greatest mind the American continent produced, and this is a part of the world that has not gone untouched by genius. He was also a phenomenal stylist; it’s impossible to read him for very long without finding his inflections and rhythms invading your own. And a great storyteller, capable of mixing styles and registers in a way that would have done Shakespeare proud.

If Beale Street Could Talk is in some ways an uneven book, but it’s also where everything that’s great about Baldwin comes together in a single place. You should see it (in the theater, while you can), and you should read it (anytime). There’s a notable set of changes at the end of the movie that make it different from the book, and I’ve been dying to talk to anyone about them for weeks.

Nishikawa also quotes a great line from the book that didn’t make it into the movie: “Whoever discovered America deserved to be dragged home, in chains, to die.” If Beale Street Could Talk was finished on Columbus Day, and Baldwin is picking a fight with Saul Bellow (who modeled his Augie March on Columbus in his own attempt to tell an all-American novel). It is a fight that badly needed to be picked then, and needs to be picked still.

In a Race to the Edge of the Solar System, Which Star Trek Ship Would Win?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2019

These visualizations of the speed of light I posted last week somehow demonstrate both how fast light speed is and how slow it is compared the vastness of the galaxy & universe. Science fiction often bends the rules of physics as we currently understand them, with fictional spacecraft pushing beyond the speed of light. In Star Trek, the measure of a ship’s velocity is warp speed. Warp 1 is the speed of light, Warp 6 is 392 times the speed of light, etc. In this Warp Speed Comparison video, EC Henry compares the top speeds of various Star Trek vessels (the original Enterprise, Voyager, the Defiant), racing them from Earth to the edge of the solar system.

Once again, you get a real sense of how fast these ships would be if they actually existed but also of the vastness of space. It would take 10 seconds for the fastest ship to reach the edge of the solar system at maximum warp and just over 6 hours to get to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Wikipedia lists a few dozen stars that are within a day’s journey at full warp…a trip that takes light more than 16 years. The mighty speed of light is no match for the human imagination. (thx, jim)

Trailer for “Apollo 11”, a Documentary Based on Pristine 65mm Footage of the Mission

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2019

We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which means an increase in Apollo 11 media. This is a strong early entrant: “Apollo 11”, a feature-length documentary on the mission, featuring “a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage” of starting clarity.

Miller and his team collaborated with NASA and the National Archives (NARA) to locate all of the existing footage from the Apollo 11 mission. In the course of sourcing all of the known imagery, NARA staff members made a discovery that changed the course of the project — an unprocessed collection of 65mm footage, never before seen by the public. Unbeknownst to even the NARA archivists, the reels contained wide format scenes of the Saturn V launch, the inside of the Launch Control Center and post-mission activities aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier.

The find resulted in the project evolving from one of only filmmaking to one of also film curation and historic preservation. The resulting transfer — from which the documentary was cut — is the highest resolution, highest quality digital collection of Apollo 11 footage in existence.

The film is 100% archival footage and audio. They’ve paired the footage with selections from 11,000 hours of mission audio.

The other unexpected find was a massive cache of audio recordings — more than 11,000 hours — comprising the individual tracks from 60 members of the Mission Control team. “Apollo 11” film team members wrote code to restore the audio and make it searchable and then began the multi-year process of listening to and documenting the recordings. The effort yielded new insights into key events of the moon landing mission, as well as surprising moments of humor and camaraderie.

This. Sounds. Amazing. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival a few days ago and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Here’s David Erhlich writing for Indiewire:

It’s rare that picture quality can inspire a physical reaction, but the opening moments of “Apollo 11,” in which a NASA camera crew roams around the base of the rocket and spies on some of the people who’ve come to gawk at it from a beach across the water, are vivid enough to melt away the screen that stands between them. The clarity takes your breath away, and it does so in the blink of an eye; your body will react to it before your brain has time to process why, after a lifetime of casual interest, you’re suddenly overcome by the sheer enormity of what it meant to leave the Earth and land somewhere else. By tricking you at a base sensory level into seeing the past as though it were the present, Miller cuts away the 50 years that have come between the two, like a heart surgeon who cuts away a dangerous clot so that the blood can flow again. Such perfect verisimilitude is impossible to fake.

And Daniel Fienberg for The Hollywood Reporter:

Much of the footage in Apollo 11 is, by virtue of both access and proper preservation, utterly breathtaking. The sense of scale, especially in the opening minutes, sets the tone as rocket is being transported to the launch pad and resembles nothing so much as a scene from Star Wars only with the weight and grandeur that come from 6.5 million pounds of machinery instead of CG. The cameraman’s astonishment is evident and it’s contagious. The same is true of long tracking shots through the firing room as the camera moves past row after row after row of computers, row after row after row of scientists and engineers whose entire professional careers have led to this moment.

There will be a theatrical release (including what sounds like an IMAX release for museums & space centers) followed by a showing on TV by CNN closer to July.

Thirty Years of Spike Lee

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 25, 2019

Spike Lee - Black KKKlansman.jpg

Spike Lee’s first film, She’s Gotta Have It, came out in 1986, but the writer/director/actor’s best film, the one that made him famous, Do the Right Thing, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this summer. It’s worth reading contemporary reactions to Lee’s film—Joe Klein’s infamous “Spiked?” is the classic example—if only to see how terrified Lee made people.

Lee’s Q&A in Cannes in 1989 is also required viewing:

Lee still does should-be-shocking things—last year at Cannes, he repeatedly called Donald Trump a “motherfucker”—but the reaction to him is very different. He’s become an elder statesman, part of the fraternity, an academy nominee for Best Director and Best Picture thirty years after his best work got shut out from award consideration.

It’s all about timing. Lee thinks the Academy has come a long way from where it was thirty years ago, but warns against becoming complacent:

“Hollywood has really ramped it up,” he said. “They are making more diverse films. But in order to make sure this is something that is steady and not a trend is for us to see diversity among the gatekeepers, the rarified individuals that decide what we’re making and not making. That’s the only way to ensure against more cyclical droughts, that’s the new frontier. We’ve got a lot of stuff now, but what films are coming out next year? I’m not going to have a film. Who’s going to be there next in the marketplace? The only way to ensure this does not become a trend is that it should be commonplace.”

He used saltier language with the New York Times, but still suggested that the different treatment of his newer film is largely a matter of good timing:

Does any part of you feel like it’s overdue?

I mean, look, it’s no secret. 30 years is a long [expletive] time. But I’m not complaining! It’s a joyous day. I’m blessed for this day. Blessed for the recognition. And there’s a feeling that it’s not just the people that worked on this film [that have earned recognition], it’s the people that have been working on my films since 1986.

You’ve made all kinds of films — some independent, some with studios, some that you wrote, some that were written by others — was there anything about “BlacKkKlansman” that you thought had the potential to resonate in a different way?

Well, when Jordan Peele called me up and gave me the pitch “Black man infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan,” I was intrigued, because with the absurdity of that premise comes humor. Kevin Willmott [a co-writer of the film] and I knew that if we could use the movie to connect the past with the present, we could do something that connected with people. And it was a tough thing to do. But it was successful, and it speaks directly to the world we live in today with this guy in the White House. Today, when 800,000 Americans need a break as we go into another week of this temper tantrum about how this guy wants his money for his wall. A wall he wants to be built upon the border of a country that he says [is home to] rapists, murders and drug dealers. And that they’re gonna pay for! Which is not true.

This film deals directly with the madness and the mayhem of this Looney Tunes, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs world [laughs]. And I feel that many years to come, when historians search for a piece of art that clearly shows what is happening today, “BlacKkKlansman” will be one of the first things they look at. Because this film is on the right side of history.

But if you really want to use Do the Right Thing to understand contemporary film, the best example is this magisterial essay by Wesley Morris, “Why Do the Oscars Keep Falling for Racial Reconciliation Fantasies?

From Driving Miss Daisy (which won the Best Picture Oscar the year Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated) to the past year’s Green Book, pictures about race the Academy loves tend to have a common structure, where racism is somehow not enabled by capitalism (and vice versa) but abated by it:

The white characters — the biological ones and somebody supposedly not black enough, like fictional Don — are lonely people in these pay-a-pal movies. The money is ostensibly for legitimate assistance, but it also seems to paper over all that’s potentially fraught about race. The relationship is entirely conscripted as service and bound by capitalism and the fantastically presumptive leap is, The money doesn’t matter because I like working for you. And if you’re the racist in the relationship: I can’t be horrible because we’re friends now. That’s why the hug Sandra Bullock gives Yomi Perry, the actor playing her maid, Maria, at the end of “Crash,” remains the single most disturbing gesture of its kind. It’s not friendship. Friendship is mutual. That hug is cannibalism.

Do the Right Thing blows up that structure, which is why it was so threatening:

Closure is impossible because the blood is too bad, too historically American. Lee had conjured a social environment that’s the opposite of what “The Upside,” “Green Book,” and “Driving Miss Daisy” believe. In one of the very last scenes, after Sal’s place is destroyed, Mookie still demands to be paid. To this day, Sal’s tossing balled-up bills at Mookie, one by one, shocks me. He’s mortally offended. Mookie’s unmoved. They’re at a harsh, anti-romantic impasse. We’d all been reared on racial-reconciliation fantasies. Why can’t Mookie and Sal be friends? The answer’s too long and too raw. Sal can pay Mookie to deliver pizzas ‘til kingdom come. But he could never pay him enough to be his friend.

One Film / One Shot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

For more than a year now, Jon Lefkovitz has been making short videos of iconic scenes from films backed by the same musical score, a short clip of “Canis Lupus” from Alexandre Desplat’s Fantastic Mr. Fox score. Here’s Groundhog Day, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park (featuring a great example of the Spielberg Face), and the beautiful 2-minute shot from Big Night:

Each clip is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes 30 seconds long. Here’s the whole playlist.

“All Truths in Roma Are Revealed by Water”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

Yesterday on Twitter, Guillermo del Toro shared “10 personal musings about ROMA”, the film by Alfonso Cuarón that just won best film at the Critics’ Choice awards. It is also a tiny masterclass in how to watch a film.

1) The opening shot suggests that earth (the shit-infested ground) and heaven (the plane) are irreconcilably far even if they are joined — momentarily — and revealed, by water (the reflection). All truths in ROMA are revealed by water.

2) These planes of existence, like the separation within classes in the household cannot be broached. The moments the family comes “closer” are fleeting… “She saved our lives” is promptly followed by “Can you make me a banana shake?”

This bit in particular makes me want to watch the whole thing again:

In every sense, ROMA is a Fresco, a Mural, not a portrait. Not only the way it is lensed but the way it “scrolls” with long lateral dollies. The audio visual information (context, social unrest, factions & politics / morals of the time) exists within the frame to be read.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Roma. It’s still showing in a few theaters but is also available on Netflix.

Why Snowpiercer Is a Sequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

In this video, Luke Palmer makes a surprisingly compelling case that Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is actually a sequel to the beloved 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. (Spoilers for both films to follow.) The main idea is that Charlie Bucket inherits the Wonka fortune and grows up to be Wilford, who builds the train to save humanity.

They’re both two movies about groups of people that work their way through a large fantastic structure. One-by-one, a person from the group is removed in each room until one person makes it to the very end, who then found out that the entire thing was a test because a wealthy industrialist needed to find a new successor.

I love this, but I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s a sequel. A reboot maybe or an homage. (via @mulegirl)

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

Recorder Movie

In 1979, a woman named Marion Stokes started recording live television and didn’t stop for more than 33 years. Director Matt Wolf is making a movie about Stokes and her archive.

Marion Stokes was secretly recording television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we were, and show how television shaped the world of today.

The Internet Archive is supposedly archiving them and putting them online (so says this 2013 Fast Company article) but there’s no evidence that any of the videos are live on the site. (Rights issues? Budget?) In the meantime, you can check out this Tumblr has a collection of stills from the Stokes tapes.

The Best of My Media Diet for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2019

2018 Bestnine

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts. In this post, I’m gonna share some of the very best of that content, stuff that stuck with me in one way or another. I marked my absolute favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine Instagram images of 2018.)

Books. I made an effort to read more books this year, particularly those written by women. Hope to continue both of those trends in 2019.

After years of reading the entire Harry Potter series with my kids, we spent several months reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I was unsure whether they would be into it, but they’d routinely ask for some extra reading time before bed.*

Charles Mann is one of the best nonfiction authors out there, a master of combining culture, history, and science into compelling stories. The Wizard and the Prophet is his latest book and I recommend you read it.*

Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

(The theme of the book also popped up in Avengers: Infinity War.)

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I will always be a total space nerd and this is a great history of the Apollo program.

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Lots for me to chew on in this one, not least of which is the value of a non-traditional childhood.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kitchen Confidential read by Anthony Bourdain. This book is 18 years old but aside from some details, it felt as immediate and vital as when it came out. What a unique spirit we lost this year.

Circe by Madeline Miller. A fun and engrossing “sequel” to The Odyssey.

In response to this post about They Shall Not Grow Old by Tim Carmody, Stephan Pimpare wrote: “Howard Zinn is derided for a sometimes simplistic and sloppy history, but his singular contribution was a kind of historical Rashomon — the urgent lesson that the shape of all histories can and should be inverted.” Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is an inversion of sorts of the traditional history of Silicon Valley.

Movies. Geography has hindered my movie choices since moving to Vermont, and I haven’t seen many of the movies on everyone else’s best of lists. But my movie-viewing has also been less adventurous this year; I’ve preferred less challenging fare after long work days.

Somehow, Black Panther came out this year? It seems like it’s always been with us. BP is the 2018 movie I’d most like to erase from my memory so I could watch it again for the first time. (Honorable mention to Avengers: Infinity War.)

Isle of Dogs. The cinematography and production design of this were just so good. I left the theater wanting to make great things.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I waited to see this one at home because I didn’t want to be caught sobbing in public.

Even in the age of Netflix, going to the theater can still be a lot of fun. I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night with a bunch of Queen fans and they made the theater shake with their singing, clapping, and stomping.

Three Identical Strangers. A fascinating documentary about nature vs nurture.

TV. I watched a lot of TV this year, perhaps too much. But not a whole lot of it ended up being that substantial…I saw nothing this year as good as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, or The Vietnam War. Maybe I should watch a little less next year?

The Americans. An excellent final season and a very strong and heartbreaking last episode.*

My Brilliant Friend. I spent the first 3-4 episodes disappointed that it wasn’t the books, but by the end, I was ready for a second season. The two lead actresses were excellent, particularly Margherita Mazzucco as Elena Greco.

The Handmaid’s Tale. Many people felt this stumbled this season, but I was not one of them.

Music. Not a musical year for me. The only thing I would single out is Kendrick Lamar’s album for Black Panther.

Podcasts. I like listening to podcasts with discrete seasons or topics these days…so not a lot of Reply All or Radiolab but more like the following…

Seeing White. Recommended by a reader, this 14-part series on race and whiteness is essential listening.*

Slow Burn. Two seasons, one on Watergate and the other on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Both excellent.*

Caliphate. Upsetting and important. This is a look at ISIS you don’t get on cable.*

Experiences & misc. Most of my favorite stuff falls into this category this year.

An Incomplete History of Protest. This exhibition at the Whitney was up for a long while, so I got to see it a few times.

Alto’s Odyssey. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite games. Several months ago, I made it up to #2 on the global high score list. I deleted it from my phone last week because I was playing it too much.*

Kennedy Space Center. Hoping to go back for a launch sometime soon!*

Lots of things about Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, my breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi, and having dinner on a tiny street of tiny businesses, loosely joined.*

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. What Chrysanthe said.

Electricity. Ok, let me explain. I live in a rural area and work from home so when it’s really windy or there’s an ice storm, the power goes out. Sometimes it’s out for an hour or two, sometimes longer. It would be quaint if I didn’t have stuff to do. When electricity isn’t the default, you come to appreciate it a lot more.

The Deutsches Technikmuseum. Science and technology museum in Berlin. Along with the Topographie Des Terrors, this was my favorite thing from my stay in Berlin.

Foggy hikes. I’d never hiked in the fog before and now I think I might prefer it to sunny days?*

My new electric toothbrush. I’ve had it for months now and I still look forward to brushing with it. My mouth and teeth feel so much cleaner.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. After spending so much time in the Wizarding World on the pages of books and on movie screens, it was a complete trip to wander around Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and the rest.*

Solo roadtrips across the United States. Probably my favorite thing of the year. Can’t wait to do this again, perhaps in the American Southwest.*

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. Watching those two boosters land back on the surface at almost the same time was mind-blowing.

Sleep. Getting at least 7 (and often 8+) hours of sleep every night has transformed my life. This is even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation.

Goodthreads t-shirt. I’m heading into uniform territory and having plain white t-shirts that fit me perfectly is essential.

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

As he does every year, President Obama shared his favorite reads of the year on Facebook, books that he found “thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved”. Among them are:

Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

This year, Obama also shared his favorite movies and songs. The movie list contains some pretty interesting entries: Annihilation, The Death of Stalin, Shoplifters, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. I wonder if he sees these in the theater or via Netflix/Apple/Amazon or he just gets a ton of screeners from the studios?

And Mr. President, let me know if you ever want to contribute a guest media diet post…I will try to squeeze you into my editorial calendar.

The Best Movie Posters of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Check out these and many other top posters of the year at Creative Review, The Playlist, Little White Lies, and MUBI Notebook.

The Very Slow Movie Player

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

My pal Bryan Boyer has built a device he calls a VSMP (Very Slow Movie Player). It’s an e-paper display that shows a movie not at 24 frames/sec but at 24 frames per hour.

Films are vain creatures that typically demand a dark room, full attention, and eager eyeballs ready to accept light beamed from the screen or projector to your visual cortex. VSMP inverts all of that. It is impossible to “watch” in a traditional way because it’s too slow. In a staring contest with VSMP you will always lose. It can be noticed, glanced-at, or even inspected, but not watched. That’s one of the things I like about the Bill Viola pieces. You don’t watch them because they’re not films; they’re portraits so you see them, and it just so happens that you see them in four dimensions.

Ahhh, look at this gloriously retro aesthetic:

2001

His whole essay about the project is worth reading for the thoughtful insights throughout. I totally want a wall-sized VSMP in my bedroom.

Update: Inspired by the VSMP, Jon Bell built a web page that will show Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation stretched out over the course of the next year. You can watch here.

Update: Inspired by the projects above, Nic Magnier made Yearlong Koyaanisqatsi, a Twitter bot that will show Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi very slowly over the course of the next year, one frame every 6 hours.

The Top 10 Title Sequences of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

From the Art of the Title, the picks for the best opening credits sequences of the year. Their #1 is Babylon Berlin, which would have been my pick as well.

Babylon Berlin Titles

The list also includes the titles for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which might be the most visually inventive box office #1 in recent memory.

Interestingly, two of the sequences on the list aren’t from film or TV but from conferences: Semi Permanent 2018 and Made In The Middle 2018. Only three out of the ten were from movies.

My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Against Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

W.H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling once published a rather unusual review of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In it, they write:

What a relief to resist what one can entirely respect and even admire! What a comfort it is to be not always defending oneself from vulgarity, or enlightened stupidity, or the masked cliché, or smallness of aim, but sometimes to stand out against the force of greatness.

Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is not Finnegans Wake, but it is a stunning technical achievement made by a filmmaker and producer at the top of their form. If I had seen it in my twenties, when I was obsessed with the Great War, with war in general, and with films that emphasized both the quotidian and the unthinkable nature of violence, I would have doubtlessly been very taken with it. But as I am today, given everything I’ve learned about cinema and the universe, I can’t help but refuse and reject this picture in the strongest possible terms. It is a brilliant film that is also, unfortunately, a total mistake.

I’m not interested in films that plunge themselves headlong into violence any more. I’m not interested in the manipulation of multitudinous evidence to tell a simple, linear story. I’m not interested in British soldiers fighting Germans on the Western Front, telling stories about their time in the trenches. I came to the film looking for a story I hadn’t seen or heard before, and those stories were nowhere to be found.

To be sure, the best parts of the film are about the everyday life of soldiers: what they ate, what they wore, the things they carried, how they kept themselves clean, how they occupied themselves in downtime, how they made tea using water heated by tank chassis and took a shit by sitting six abreast on a long pole. This is rich material.

The problem, however, is principally who gets to tell their story, and how their story is told. Peter Jackson took hundreds of hours of archival film footage, and later audio recordings of veterans made by the BBC, and artfully juxtaposes the two.

Despite the many voices, it is almost as if a single soldier is telling his story: he enlisted young because he felt a peculiarly British call of duty, and to alleviate boredom on the home front; he trained and drilled relentlessly until his body was whipped into shape; he was dispatched to fight and kill Germans in defense of France; he visited brothels and became a man; he was gassed and recovered, wounded and recovered; he dodged artillery shells launched by both the enemy and his own side; and he killed Germans in a heroic over-the-top charge across the no-man’s land that soon ended the war; he returned to ungrateful civilians who couldn’t possibly understand the horrors he’d seen, and how they’d forever changed him.

Any differences between these men, of class, of region, of age or experience, of height and weight, of rank or distinction achieved during the war, are completely washed away. They are simply young British infantrymen, made entirely generic and interchangeable. This is whose experience we’re getting in the film: not any particular men with individual stories, but a monolith.

Jackson can do this because he’s already selected these soldiers for their homogeneity. He tells us after the film that he’s discarded any footage that falls outside what really is a quite narrow view of the war and the people who fought it. He’s not interested in any of the other fronts of the war or the nations who fought in it. He has hours of footage of aircraft and pilots. He doesn’t use them. He has footage of women working as nurses and drivers and support staff, on and around the battlefield. He discards it. He has really quite stunning footage of women working in factories to produce the arms and gear that he so lovingly dotes on when they’re in his beloved soldiers’ possession. He throws it away. And, he tells us, he chose not to tell the story of the British colonial soldiers, men from all over the world, or their allies, including Chinese soldiers who fought on the Western front, or white or black Americans or anyone else.

He takes the “world” out of the first world war. And then, he tells us, unbelievably, that this extremely diluted, abstract take on the British soldier could stand in for any soldier who fought in the war. Whether they were German, Canadian, American, Polish, Turkish, or Russian, he thinks their experience of the war was likely very much the same as the British soldiers whose stories he smashes together.

Ask a black American soldier, fighting in a segregated regiment, whether his experience of the war was the same as the British soldiers he fought besides. Ask one of the Arab irregulars immortalized and distorted in Lawrence of Arabia what it was like to fight across German soldiers, who turned out to be really not so different after all, in trenches. Ask the African soldiers who fought and died in Europe. Ask what their equipment situation was, whether they got paid, or what their lives were like when the war ended. Ask the civilians whose lives were uprooted by these soldiers killing and destroying the countryside in their midst. Ask one of the women who cranked out artillery shells in the factory only to be turned away from her job at the war’s end whether or not anyone else could really understand her wartime experience.

Go ahead, ask them. I’ll wait.

Because Jackson didn’t have any footage of hand-to-hand combat, he chose instead to do a kind of Ken-Burns-effect dramatic pan over contemporary cartoons from war magazines. The trouble is that, as Jackson notes, these were racist propaganda magazines that he just happened (for some reason?) to have a complete personal collection of. But, he promises, he and his editors avoided the most egregiously racist images.

Jackson’s depiction of violence in this movie is jolting. One technique he loves is to pick a voice-over of a veteran describing the death of a friend that he witnessed, laying this audio over a zoom-in of a soldier smiling and laughing, then quick-cutting to a dead body lying in a heap, with blood and bodily matter everywhere. The blood isn’t the matted black stuff of reality that the men saw, but a sickly, B-movie red.

If you loved watching orcs get their heads split open in The Lord of the Rings, you will love this movie. If you loved Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, or any war movie that substituted blood and guts for gritty realism, you will love this movie. If however, you think, as I do, that these films, while works of a kind of genius, ultimately worked to manipulate our emotions and make us less feeling and less human, you will have huge problems with this movie.

Ultimately, at this point in my life, when movies like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk and Creed and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exist, I’m less interested in brutality for brutality’s sake, and much more interested in the possibility of love between fully realized, lovingly rendered human beings. I’m much less interested in white people’s stories, and the white man’s gaze, especially when they are stories we have heard so many times before, from a point of view that everyone is expected to pretend has no differences from their own.

You will learn nothing about love in They Shall Not Grow Old. You will learn nothing about World War 1 that you didn’t already know if you’d read a few Wilfred Owen poems and skimmed a high school history book. You honestly learn very little that you don’t learn from the trailer.

You get no sense of what the war was about, why it was fought, how it changed anything, or why it mattered, or even if it did matter. The world that it shows is seen through a peephole in a trench, made by a boy who fantasized about reliving his grandfather’s experiences.

That peephole is not a door that can take you anywhere. The shift from a narrow, small black and white screen to a full-screen 3D color experience is just a camera trick. You never left Kansas, not even for a minute.

In an ideal world, Jackson will return to all that footage he left behind, and make the film he should have made, telling the stories of the war that truly have not already been told. As it stands, though, this film is a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick. In trying to celebrate their heroism, it distorts and distends the memories of all those who died in the war, who didn’t return to tell their stories.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

A Short History of Computer-Generated Visual Effects

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

While it’s billed as “How Pixar Helped Win 27 of the Last 30 Oscars for Visual Effects”, this video from Wired works pretty well as a short history of computer-generated visual effects, from the Genesis visualization in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs to Pixar’s own Coco.

Die Hard, the Greatest Christmas Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

The tradition of fans recutting trailers and clips of movies and TV shows into different genres — like Toy Story as a horror film and The Shining as a romantic comedy — has been around almost as long as YouTube itself. But I think this trailer by 20th Century Fox is the first official effort I’ve seen. Die Hard has become an unlikely holiday favorite so I guess they figured, hey, let’s put out a trailer that explicitly recasts the it as a Christmas film. Merry Christmas Hans!

The Importance of Food in Howl’s Moving Castle

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Howl's Moving Castle - Food.jpg

Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorites if not my very favorite movie. I’ve written about it here before at some length. I use pictures from it as my Twitter background, as my login prompts on both of my computers, and my pinned tweet is a quote about the film and its simple-yet-allegorical applicability to understanding your own life and psyche.

One aspect of HMC I haven’t touched on here, but is essential to understanding the film and its appeal, is the importance of food in the film. Luckily, Sarah Welch-Larson at Bright Wall/Dark Room has you covered.

First, there’s this remarkably concise and comprehensive survey of food in the Miyazaki-verse:

In Studio Ghibli movies, food is a feast for the eyes. Nearly every one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films includes a memorable shot of food, some more extravagant than others. A monk stirring a pot of soup on a cold night in Princess Mononoke. A herring pie, golden and steaming, fresh from the oven, in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Ramen noodles piled with toppings in Ponyo. Piles of roasted meat and dumplings spilling across the counter of an enchanted restaurant in Spirited Away. Even the Miyazaki films that don’t focus so heavily on food still allow their characters a chance to pause and eat. Nausicaä stops for a moment to eat a small bag of nuts as the world falls apart around her. Porco Rosso eats spaghetti bolognese as he hides out from the Italian authorities. Extravagant or simple, quick or languorous, the shots of food in Miyazaki films all tempt the senses.

Then this close reading of food and its themes in Howl:

In Howl’s Moving Castle, food is more than just a necessity. It sustains life, in every sense of the phrase: it helps a body hold skin and sinew together, and acts as an expression of love and care. We get the sense that Howl is a good person from the way he prepares breakfast. He has a sure hand, and a light touch. He might be flighty, but he cares enough to put together a well-cooked breakfast big enough for everyone in the room, including Sophie the interloper.

Food is also an expression of identity. Howl’s cooking is simple and elegant, but feels like a feast. The bacon is thick and crackling, and the eggs are perfect, cooked sunny-side-up with not a single yolk broken. Sophie’s own choices of food are plain and practical, like her, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable than the more extravagant examples of food we see in other Miyazaki films. Her bread and cheese look just as tasty as Howl’s bacon and eggs, and they’re likely just as satisfying. Calcifer, too, needs to eat, despite being a supernatural creature. He stuffs logs into his mouth, one by one, every time he needs to move the castle. When he isn’t active, he’s still perpetually consuming wood, albeit at a slower pace; fire is a hungry creature, and will go out if it is not fed.

Hunger in Howl is twofold: it can be the desire to be sustained, and it can be the desire to possess. This second desire takes the form of gluttony, and it is a destructive force. While he’s out in his wanderings, Howl comes across battles between the two rival countries. He refuses to fight, but he can’t stay away; the war is encroaching. Other wizards who swore loyalty to the king take part in these battles, and on more than one occasion, Howl is chased through the skies by the “hack wizards” who turned themselves into monsters in service of the war. They’re horrible half-lizard, half-dragonfly things, all oily skin and gaping mouths full of sharp teeth, open as if ready to devour. Miyazaki’s war imagery tends toward images of devouring, but the action of eating here is neither life-giving nor sustaining. War is gluttony, a force that needs to mindlessly consume until there is nothing left.

And this remarkable conclusion:

The kitchen is said to be the heart of a home, and Howl’s kitchen was empty until Sophie talked her way in to clean it. Food and love are both life-sustaining forces, but only when held lightly, without thought of possession or ownership. Sophie saves Howl without a thought for her own happiness, and, in return, Howl loves her back of his own free will. Neither takes what the other is not willing to give. Their love is neither greedy nor ravenous, but rather a hunger for food that sustains and leaves the hungry satiated.

I’m convinced: food, and the overlapping and contradictory economies of food, are the keys to this movie! This puts it up with Babette’s Feast as my favorite movies about food, love, and community. Thank you, Sarah, for helping me appreciate this remarkable film in a whole new way.

(Thanks too to @nandelabra for pointing this my way.)

The 2018 Movie Trailer Mashup: One Big Trailer to Rule Them All

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Sleepy Skunk took audio and footage from dozens of trailers of movies that came out in 2018 and mashed them together into one mega movie trailer. And it’s actually coherent! Or at least as coherent as trailers for blockbuster movies typically are. I dunno, I’d watch this movie.

What Was Inside the Glowing Briefcase in Pulp Fiction?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Before I started making my own web pages, I spent a not-insignificant amount of my time on the Internet trawling the alt.fan.tarantino newsgroup for bits of knowledge about Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs. A big topic of discussion back then was speculation about the contents of the briefcase that Jules and Vincent were tasked to retrieve for Marsellus Wallace. Was it gold? Diamonds? Wallace’s soul? No one knew and Tarantino wasn’t telling. It was the most compelling MacGuffin since Hitchcock himself.

Now, after nearly 25 years, we finally learn what was in the briefcase:

Pulp Fiction Briefcase

If you’d like to make one of your own, just follow these instructions.

If you want a Bad Motherfucker wallet just like Jules’, here you go.

Into the Spider-Verse is One of the Five Best Superhero Movies Since Blade

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Spider-Verse.jpg

Since 2014, Abraham Riesman has kept a regularly updated list of the best superhero movies since Blade. This is partly an arbitrary starting point (would it really be so hard to rank the early Superman and Batman movies too?), and partly not: Blade moved away from the Superman and Batman top character mini-franchises, kicked off Marvel’s entry into modern superhero cinema, and started the pattern of every-other-year/no, every-year/wait-how-many-superhero-movies-are-out-this-year? sprawling multiverses we associate with the genre(s) today.

While there were a lot of superhero movies between 1998 and 2014, there have been, um, a lot more since. And some of the very best ones, too. “When I did the first edition of this list in the fall of 2014, I did not in any way predict that it would become my life’s work in the way it has,” Abe writes.

Today, a new entry cracks the top five. Abe rates the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, starring the former Ultimate Comics hero Miles Morales, fifth on his list, well ahead of the rest of the Spider-movies and just behind the highly revered The Dark Knight. Abe writes:

The unassuming and artistic Miles, a more recent addition to the comics’ Spider-canon, feels new and Zeitgeist-y in a way that Peter hasn’t in decades, and we want desperately for him to find his footing as he tries to be a hero. Luckily, he has the assistance of an array of other Spider-people from alternate dimensions — a gimmick common in comics, never before dared on the big screen, and here executed with deft and thrilling elegance. The story, performances, and jokes are all top-flight, but perhaps the greatest delight is the film’s awe-inspiring mastery of visual whizbang: Rather than try to ape reality, everyone is designed to evoke a feeling, be it the hulking intimidation of the inhumanly massive Kingpin or the proud wackiness of the stoutly cartoony Spider-Ham. It’s a damn shame that Lee and Ditko both died a matter of weeks and months before they could see the release of Into the Spider-Verse (though the famously reclusive Ditko wouldn’t have watched it, anyway), but their beloved baby is in good hands.

I love Miles Morales, and can’t wait to see him on screen. It’s been surprising that Marvel and DC haven’t done more with animation outside of television: cartoons are proven family-friendly money makers at the box office, and there’s a natural connection between comics and animation. Here’s hoping this spurs the superhero cabal to give more formats a try.

Miles is also in a new comic book series, written by Saladin Ahmed and drawn by Javier Garrón. Issue #1 comes out next Wednesday, December 12.

Time Lapse of the Sushi Scene in Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

My favorite scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the sushi-making scene. It’s a pure showcase of stop motion animation goodness and wordless storytelling.

Andy Biddle has posted a behind-the-scenes time lapse video of him and Anthony Farquhar-Smith animating that scene:

From the costume changes, it looks like that 40 seconds of video took about 29 days to complete, although obviously not full days in many cases.

You can see more of Biddle’s work here and Farquhar-Smith’s work here.

Update: Somehow I totally missed the days counter in the upper left corner of the video…the sequence took 32 days to do. (This is like the awareness test with the moonwalking bear.) (thx, all)

Update: Isle of Dogs’ head puppet master explains a bit more about what goes into making these stop motion scenes.

The Top 25 Films of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

My favorite end-of-the-year review of movies is always David Ehrlich’s video countdown of the top 25 best films. In this year’s review, I was surprised to see Annihilation on the list (I thought it was ok?) and also delighted by the high ranking of Paddington 2. Eighth Grade, The Favourite, and First Reformed all deservedly made the list, along with Mission: Impossible - Fallout, which I really liked. Would have liked to have seen Black Panther on there though.

Ehrlich shared the best moment from each of the 25 movies at Indiewire.

Learn About Tom Hanks, Star of Tuber & Hoonis

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

From Neil Cicierega, who you may remember from this hilarious recap of J.R.P.G. Torkelson’s Lorne of the Rings trilogy, comes this short guide to the film career of Tom Hanks, including his best-known works like Tuber & Hoonis, Sadness in the Saddle, and You’ll Get Soil. I woke up feeling a little blah this morning, but this cheered me right the hell up.

They Shall Not Grow Old

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2018

Earlier this year, I wrote that director Peter Jackson was working on a documentary about WWI that would feature film footage cleaned up and colorized with the same special effects technology used to produce massive Hollywood films like Jackson’s own LOTR movies.

The footage has been stabilized, the grain and scratches cleaned up, and the pace slowed down to from comedic to lifelike. Jackson’s also planning on using colorization to make the people in that old footage seem as contemporary as possible.

The brief glimpses of the cleaned and colorized footage in the initial trailer were tantalizing, but the newly released trailer above is just breathtaking or jaw-dropping or however you want to put it. I’ve watched it three times so far…some of those scenes are so vivid they could have happened yesterday! That what viewing early color photography and film does to you:

Until recently, the color palette of history was black and white. The lack of color is sometimes so overpowering that it’s difficult to imagine from Matthew Brady’s photos what the Civil War looked like in real life. Even into the 1970s, press photos documenting the war in Vietnam were in B&W and the New York Times delivered its news exclusively in B&W until the 90s, running the first color photograph on the front page in 1997.

Which is why when color photos from an event or era set firmly in our B&W history are uncovered, the effect can be jarring. Color adds depth, presence, and modernity to photography; it’s easier for us to identify with the people in the pictures and to imagine ourselves in their surroundings.

Jackson talked to the BBC about how the film was made:

Check out this post at Open Culture for more about the making of the film.

They Shall Not Grow Old just became my #1 most-anticipated movie for the rest of 2018. It’s only showing in the US on Dec 17 and Dec 27…I just got my ticket here.

The End of Space Travel?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2018

Remember Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity? A missile strike on a satellite causes a chain reaction, which ends up destroying almost everything in low Earth orbit. As this Kurzgesagt video explains, this scenario is actually something we need to worry about. In the past 60 years, we’ve launched so much stuff into space that there are millions of pieces of debris up there, hurtling around the Earth at 1000s of miles per hour. The stuff ranges in size from marbles to full-sized satellites. If two larger objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) collided with each other, the resulting debris field could trigger a chain reaction of collisions that would destroy everything currently in that orbit and possibly prevent any new launches. Goodbye ISS, goodbye weather satellites, goodbye GPS, etc. etc. etc. The Moon, Mars, and other destinations beyond LEO would be a lot harder to reach because you’d have to travel through the deadly debris field, particularly with crewed missions.

RIP, Pablo Ferro

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2018

Film & design legend Pablo Ferro died this weekend at the age of 83. Ferro was known for designing the iconic opening title sequences for Dr. Strangelove and Bullitt (among others).

He also designed what is probably my favorite movie trailer, for A Clockwork Orange:

I wrote about Ferro’s work with Stanley Kubrick in this post 10 years ago. From a piece by Steven Heller that I linked to in the post:

Kubrick wanted to film it all using small airplane models (doubtless prefiguring his classic space ship ballet in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Ferro dissuaded him and located the official stock footage that they used instead. Ferro further conceived the idea to fill the entire screen with lettering (which incidentally had never been done before), requiring the setting of credits at different sizes and weights, which potentially ran counter to legal contractual obligations. But Kubrick supported it regardless. On the other hand, Ferro was prepared to have the titles refined by a lettering artist, but Kubrick correctly felt that the rough hewn quality of the hand-drawn comp was more effective. So he carefully lettered the entire thing himself with a thin pen.

The Art of the Title also interviewed Ferro about the Strangelove opening credits.

The titles for Strangelove were last-minute; I didn’t have much time to produce it. It came up because of a conversation between Stanley and I. Two weeks after I finished with everything, he and I were talking. He asked me what I thought about human beings. I said one thing about human beings is that everything that is mechanical, that is invented, is very sexual. We looked at each other and realized — the B-52, refueling in mid-air, of course, how much more sexual can you get?! He loved the idea. He wanted to shoot it with models we had, but I said let me take a look at the stock footage, I am sure that [the makers of those planes] are very proud of what they did and, sure enough, they had shot the plane from every possible angle.

Update: The Art of the Title also did a huge three-part interview with Ferro as a career retrospective. Great deep dive into a substantial career.