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kottke.org posts about movies

Pixar’s AI Spiders

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

As I mentioned in a post about my west coast roadtrip, one of the things I heard about during my visit to Pixar was their AI spiders. For Toy Story 4, the production team wanted to add some dusty ambiance to the antique store in the form of cobwebs.

Toy Story Cobwebs

Rather than having to painstakingly create the webs by hand as they’d done in the past, technical director Hosuk Chang created a swarm of AI spiders that could weave the webs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

All the animators had to do is tell the spiders where the cobwebs needed to be.

“He guided the spiders to where he wanted them to build cobwebs, and they’d do the job for us. And when you see those cobwebs overlaid on the rest of the scene, it gives the audience the sense that this place has been here for a while.” Without that program, animators would have had to make the webs one strand at a time, which would have taken several months. “You have to tell the spider where the connection points of the cobweb should go,” Jordan says, “but then it does the rest.”

Chang and his colleague David Luoh presented a paper about the spiders (and dust) at SIGGRAPH ‘19 in late July (which is unfortunately behind a paywall).

The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

I love cross-disciplinary lists like this: The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years.

We polled critics and other culture obsessives from Slate and beyond to assemble an enormous master list of influential characters. They were animated and live-action, wizard and Muggle, human and avian, fictional and based on actual persons, living and dead. They came from movies, books, TV series, video games, tweets, podcasts, comics, songs, and (in a surprise to us) more than one musical. Reflecting our franchise-driven time, many of them came from many of those media at once. The only rule was that they must have originated in a work of culture sometime in the past quarter-century, which meant no Simpsons or hobbits or diner-dwelling New Yorkers who argue about nothing. Then we ruthlessly winnowed down the list to the most crucial of those characters, the ones who have left an outsize mark on our planet circa 2019, to assemble this new pantheon.

Hermione Granger

Many of my favorite characters made it on there: Thomas Cromwell from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies; Omar Little from The Wire; Tracy Flick from Election; and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, a much more inspired pick than the titular hero for reasons I’ve already articulated. The full list is worth a read.

The Opposite of Superman

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 30, 2019

Namor-the-Sub-Mariner.jpg

The late 1930s were a time of explosive creativity in the comics industry, with the creation of Superman, Batman, and Marvel Comics’ own unlikely fan favorite, Namor, the Sub-Mariner. I enjoyed reading this short précis on Namor in honor of his 80th anniversary.

Namor is less an early superhero than the last of the pulp icons, an antihero who threatened humanity with death and destruction. Unlike Superman, he’s not a secret alien raised by the best of humanity to save us all; he’s a hybrid mutant raised by a nonhuman race here on Earth that regards humanity as overgrown, ill-tempered children. And unlike Zack Snyder antiheroes who have to be twisted from their origin stories to bring them up to date, Watchmen-style, nothing about Namor needs to be changed to make him genuinely menacing, alien, and scary, while retaining his sexy charm. Namor’s just got it going on.

Namor’s film rights have been circuitously tied up for years, so we’ve never seen him on the silver screen. The first hit that always comes up when you search for him is Keanu Reeves, and Keanu at any age wouldn’t make a bad Namor. There’s talk of introducing him into the MCU via the Black Panther franchise, and that’s a great idea as well, since the main thing Black Panther and the Sub-Mariner share is that they’re not really super-heroes; they’re kings.

(Superman is precisely interesting to the extent that he is neither a king nor a god, but a man; these two things are not mutually exclusive. Hollywood’s inability to grasp this is part of why superhero movies have so much trouble, despite being the most dumb-simple megagenre of all time.)

Supercuts of the Stylistic Cues of Master Filmmakers

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2019

Video essayist Jacob T. Swinney makes makes these great little supercuts of the stylistic habits of filmmakers. His two latest ones are of Barry Jenkins’ close-ups and Christopher Nolan’s wide shots.

Barry Jenkins may be the modern master of the close-up shot. Jenkins’s close-ups are reminiscent of those crafted by the late, great Jonathan Demme — shallow focus with the character looking directly into the camera’s lens. Take it from close-up aficionado, Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson once told Jenkins, “I’m very jealous of your close-ups. There’s a long line of people who have really tried to do Jonathan Demme close-ups and I try all the time, but I have to say, you got it right better than anybody.” In Jenkins’s last two features, MOONLIGHT and IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, the close-ups seem to transcend the narrative of the films. Time seems to stand still as we gaze into the eyes of the characters. They are intimate and profound, and they are simply pure cinema.

For a man whose films cover everything from masked vigilantes, to dream heists, to interdimensional travel, Christopher Nolan is a rather personal and intimate filmmaker. This is expressed in the way that he tends to position his camera. Nolan prefers to keep his camera close to his characters, often hugging their bodies in warm medium shots or close ups. So when Nolan chooses to back off and take a step back from his characters, we are going to feel it. Nolan’s wide shots are obviously beautiful, but what they convey extends far beyond a stunning visual. They convey magnitude and significance, isolation and disorientation.

Swinney has also done supercuts of David Fincher’s wide shots, the sound design of Jurassic Park, the use of shallow focus by Denis Villeneuve, P.T. Anderson’s reflective silence, and Darren Aronofsky’s extreme closeups. May I suggest some women filmmakers for the next round of videos though? Lynne Ramsay and Ava DuVernay for starters…

The Railrodder, Buster Keaton’s Final Silent Film from 1965

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

In 1965, long after his days making some of the most iconic and physically demanding silent films, pioneering physical comedian Buster Keaton made one last silent flick with the National Film Board of Canada.

This short film from director Gerald Potterton (Heavy Metal) stars Buster Keaton in one of the last films of his long career. As “the railrodder”, Keaton crosses Canada from east to west on a railway track speeder. True to Keaton’s genre, the film is full of sight gags as our protagonist putt-putts his way to British Columbia. Not a word is spoken throughout, and Keaton is as spry and ingenious at fetching laughs as he was in the old days of the silent slapsticks.

Buster Keaton Rides Again, a 55-minute documentary about the making of The Railrodders, might be even more interesting because you hear Keaton talking about his craft and career.

See also The Scribe, a film that was released the following year that was Keaton’s final starring role, Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag, the small collection of posts about Keaton here at kottke.org, and this video of some of his most amazing stunts (with a voiceover of Keaton talking about his career):

(thx, marcus)

The 100 Best Movies of the 2010s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

Indiewire is early out of the gate with their list of the 100 best movies of the decade, betting that anything coming out in the next 5 months will not be worthy of inclusion. There are a few eyebrow raisers on there — 75. A Star Is Born? 26. Magic Mike XXL?? 5. Inside Llewyn Davis??? 2. Under the Skin?????!!? (reader, I didn’t like it) — but mostly this list is a goldmine for good movies I haven’t seen. Here are some that I have seen and enjoyed seeing on the list:

92. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
78. Inside Out
72. The Handmaiden
63. Inception
60. Black Panther
37. Roma
32. The Grand Budapest Hotel
23. O.J.: Made in America
13. The Tree of Life
9. Mad Max: Fury Road
7. Carol

I love that Fury Road made its way into the top 10…it might be my favorite film of the past decade.

Update: Also from Indiewire, the 25 Best Movie Scenes of the Decade.

Oh, and I thought of some films that definitely should be on that list but weren’t: Arrival, Dunkirk, Selma, Upstream Color, Senna. And I will continue to stubbornly go to bat for Cloud Atlas.

Trailer for Harriet, the Harriet Tubman Biopic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2019

Harriet is a biopic about freedom fighter Harriet Tubman coming out in November. Tubman is played by Cynthia Erivo, who looked super familiar but I couldn’t place her…turns out I’d seen her in Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale. Erivo is joined by fellow castmembers Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, and Clarke Peters.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2019

Well, this trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is our first look at Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers and, hmm. I dunno. Hanks looks a little stiff to me, unnatural, but maybe no one could actually play such a beloved childhood figure in a convincing way. I was so young when I watched his show every day for years on end that Mr. Rogers’ movements and mannerisms were imprinted on my super-plastic preschool brain, never to be forgotten. Mr. Rogers tossed his shoe between his hands a little bit differently every day, but he never tossed it like Hanks does in that trailer.

But who am I kidding, I will still see this movie. It’s based on Can You Say…Hero?, a piece that Tom Junod wrote about Rogers for Esquire magazine.

Mister Rogers weighed 143 pounds because he has weighed 143 pounds as long as he has been Mister Rogers, because once upon a time, around thirty-one years ago, Mister Rogers stepped on a scale, and the scale told him that Mister Rogers weighs 143 pounds. No, not that he weighed 143 pounds, but that he weighs 143 pounds…. And so, every day, Mister Rogers refuses to do anything that would make his weight change-he neither drinks, nor smokes, nor eats flesh of any kind, nor goes to bed late at night, nor sleeps late in the morning, nor even watches television-and every morning, when he swims, he steps on a scale in his bathing suit and his bathing cap and his goggles, and the scale tells him that he weighs 143 pounds. This has happened so many times that Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you.’ Isn’t that wonderful?”

If you’ve never read it, you should…it’s a lovely piece of writing about a wonderful human. I reread it every year or so, just to fill up my cup.

How Alfonso CuarĂ³n Uses Long Takes in His Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2019

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has become the modern director most associated with the long take. In this video, The Royal Ocean Film Society takes a look at the long shots in his films, from Great Expectations to Gravity to Roma and considers how his approach evolves over time and what separates them from the use of long takes as “an obnoxious mainstream gimmick”.

All of the sequences discussed in the video are available to watch in full length here.

(I looked up Cuarón’s filmography and noticed he’s only directed 5 films in the past 20 years and only 8 total. I would have guessed more.)

Character Routing Maps of Famous Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

Illustrator Andrew DeGraff makes what he calls Cinemaps, maps of movies and their plots in the style of the dotted-line wanderings of The Family Circus comic strip or Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map. He’s done maps for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Princess Bride.

Cinemaps

Cinemaps

Cinemaps

My favorite DeGraff drawing is probably Back to the Future, with Hill Valley represented twice on the same page: 1955 in pink underneath 1985 in blue.

Cinemaps

DeGraff collected these maps (and several more) into a book called Cinemaps. (via fairly interesting)

The Shining Starring Jim Carrey

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

Taking advantage of inexpensive and easy-to-use software, deepfake artist Ctrl Shift Face has replaced Jack Nicholson’s face with Jim Carrey’s face in several scenes from The Shining. If you pay close attention it looks a little off — it’s not as good as the Bill Hader / Arnold Schwarzenegger one — but if you were unaware of Nicholson or The Shining going in, you probably wouldn’t notice.

These Shining videos are clever and fun and we’ve talked a little bit about how deepfakes might affect our society, but this Hannah Arendt quote from a 1974 interview is likely relevant:

If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

This is the incredible and interesting and dangerous thing about the combination of our current technology, the internet, and mass media: “a lying government” is no longer necessary — we’re doing it to ourselves and anyone with sufficient motivation will be able to take advantage of people without the capacity to think and judge.

Deflating the Black Director Boom of the 1990s

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 12, 2019

Dickerson.jpg

In the early 1990s, there was a mini-boom of films made by black filmmakers. Spike Lee and John Singleton led the way, but there was also Ernest Dickerson (who’d been Lee’s director of photography), Julie Dash, Matty Rich, Darnell Martin, and more. The New York Times talked to a good-sized group of these directors about their careers, and how each of them, separately, found themselves in “director jail,” unable to get new projects or find new collaborators. It’s a pretty riveting conversation.

Dickerson is a favorite of mine — in addition to directing Juice and working as DP during Lee’s great period, from She’s Got To Have It to Malcolm X, he’s done terrific work for television. Here’s his story:

I made a movie called “Bulletproof,” with Damon Wayans and Adam Sandler. Working on that film was the only time I ever got mad enough to punch a hole in the editing room wall. It was supposed to be a raunchy, R-rated comedy slanted more for an adult audience. But I could see we had trouble when they were giving out tickets to 15- to 16-year-old kids at the first preview. Afterward, I had to really sanitize the relationships. It meant savaging the movie.

It still opened at No. 1, but I got the worst reviews of my career. I was criticized for not having everything I was told to take out. I had several projects lined up — I had been developing “Blade,” with Wesley Snipes. The whole idea of where “Blade” went was mine. But the producers looked to “Bulletproof” and thought I had completely lost my street cred. After that, nobody would touch me. I think I’m still in jail, in a way, because I’m doing television. [Dickerson — like many of his peers, including Martin and Dash — has found work on the small screen, with credits on “The Wire” and “The Walking Dead.”] I consider myself a filmmaker who’s working in television.

A common thread through all of the stories is articulated by Ted Witcher:

White people get more bites of the apple. That’s just true. You can fail three, four times and still have a career. But if you’re black, you really can only fail once.

Christopher Walken Can Dance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

This is an older clip so maybe you’ve seen it before, but if you need something a little bit fun & joyful today, you can’t do much better than this video of Christopher Walken dancing in dozens of his movies, edited together to C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat”.

Walken is, of course, a wonderful dancer…a throwback to the “Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, dance on air” era of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. See also Walken dancing in Spike Jonze’s video for Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice.

10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2019

Japanese public broadcaster NHK has produced a four-part documentary on legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki called 10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki. The behind-the-scenes film follows Miyazaki as he made his last two films for Studio Ghibli, Ponyo and The Wind Rises. Here’s the synopsis of the first episode:

An exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the genius of Japan’s foremost living film director, Hayao Miyazaki — creator of some of the world’s most iconic and enduring anime feature films. Miyazaki allowed a single documentary filmmaker to shadow him at work, as he dreamed up characters and plot lines for what would become his 2008 blockbuster, “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.” Miyazaki explores the limits of his physical ability and imagination to conjure up memorable protagonists.

The whole show is available to watch online at NHK with English subtitles and narration.

See also Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki. (thx, yuko)

How The Shawshank Redemption Humanized Prisoners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

The Shawshank Redemption came out in 1994. Although crime rates had already started falling across the country, the media (with shows like COPS) and government (Joe Biden & Bill Clinton’s push for a crime bill now considered disastrous) were still pursuing and glorifying a punitive criminal justice system. But as this excellent video by Pop Culture Detective explains, Shawshank offered 90s audiences a different view of prison and the criminal justice system.

On a narrative level The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about the power of hope in the face of extraordinary hardship. But underpinning Andy Dufresne’s story we also find a blistering critique of the prison system and criminal justice policy in the United States.

In the film, the audience gets to see the system as harsh & corrupt and the prisoners as, well, people — human beings worthy of rehabilitation. In the 25 years since Shawshank debuted (and bombed) at the box office, public opinion in America has shifted away from the punitive view of the 90s to the more humanistic perspective embodied by the film.

See also Running from COPS, Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th. (via waxy)

My Recent Media Diet, Summer Solstice 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month. I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; I loved his The Devil in the White City. On the TV front, I’m holding off on season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and season 2 of Big Little Lies for some reason…don’t want to get sucked into anything right now, I guess. Ditto for catching up on the Historical Cinematic Universe…just not feeling it at the moment. As always, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades…they’re higher in the summer than in the cold, depressing winter.

Deadwood: The Movie. A fitting end to one of the best shows on TV. It was great to be able to spend a little more time with it. (A-)

Booksmart. I loved this movie. Great soundtrack too. (A)

Thermapen Mk4. Finally got tired of my anxiety about overcooking my meat. Been using it with the reverse sear to great effect. (B+)

Serial season 3. I couldn’t make it through more than two episodes of each of the previous two seasons, but I went the distance on this one. Is the American system of justice just? I doubt it. (A-)

Working by Robert Caro. The DVD extras for The Power Broker and the LBJ books. I don’t have time to read a 3000-page biography of Lyndon Johnson right now, but Working made me want to do it anyway. (A-)

Persuasion System. The latest album from Com Truise. Great for working to. (B+)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. An idiosyncratic and deeply personal little museum. I felt very much at home there. (A)

Small Steps, Giant Leaps. Apollo 11 artifacts paired with historic scientific tomes from the likes of Galileo & Newton go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (A-)

Mary Queen of Scots. Nothing much here to distinguish this from your usual historical drama. (B)

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. Great show at the MFA. Was not a particular fan of Toulouse-Lautrec before but perhaps I am now. (A-)

Street Food. Interesting to compare this to David Gelb’s other show, Chef’s Table. Same focus on quality ingredients and serving great food, but very different ends of the economic spectrum. (B+)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Caught the peak of the cherry blossoms. Beautiful. But crowded. (A-)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. This wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see what other people love about it. The final episode is the strongest and I thought Nosrat’s emphasis on shopping as a vital part of cooking was interesting. (B)

Summer in Vermont. It’s been spectacular here lately. (A)

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I burned through this in only two days. (A)

Cumulonimbus Mammatus

Cumulonimbus mammatus. They’re no asperitas clouds, but cumulonimbus mammatus is still one of the best clouds around. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show interview with Alison Gopnik. Gopnik’s ideas about gardeners vs carpenters and explore vs exploit are fascinating frameworks for thinking about human creativity. (A-)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s tough to maintain a coherent story told over several generations, but Lee manages it easily. (A-)

No Country for Old Men. Masterful. (A)

Chernobyl. Sometimes bureaucracy is no match for the truth. See also the accompanying podcast. (A-)

The Lives of Others. Got on a bit of a Cold War kick. (A-)

Always Be My Maybe. Strong ending. (B+)

Toy Story 4. Hollywood is often accused of being super liberal, but I thought the values depicted in this movie were quite conservative. (B+)

Anima. Thom Yorke’s solid third solo album. (B+)

13 Minutes to the Moon. There’s lots of Apollo stuff out there right now and some of it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But this podcast from the BBC is substantial, with interviews from key players, including Apollo software engineer Margaret Hamilton, who doesn’t give many interviews these days. (A-)

Bad Times at the El Royale. Rhymes with Tarantino but not that well. This should have been 90 minutes long. (B-)

Long Shot. Why did this flop? It’s not exactly great but it works fine. (B)

Whitney Biennial 2019. Things that caught my eye were Christine Sun Kim’s hand-drawn graphs about “deaf rage” and Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of Olympic gymnasts based on these composite photos in the NY Times. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

“I Want to Make Beautiful Things, Even if Nobody Cares”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2019

Saul Bass is one of the most celebrated designers of movie posters and title sequences in the short history of cinema. He created iconic poster designs for movies like Vertigo, The Shining, Anatomy of a Murder, and Schindler’s List. In this short film, we learn the strategy behind Bass’ designs: symbolize and summarize.

See also several rejected concepts by Bass for The Shining movie poster, with scribbled notes from Stanley Kubrick.

A Documentary on Jim Henson’s Creative Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2019

Defunctland has produced a six-part documentary series on Jim Henson. Each episode focuses on a different creative project that Henson did. Here’s the trailer:

The first four episodes are already out…here’s the second episode on Sesame Street:

You can watch the rest of them on YouTube.

30 Films You Should Watch According to Christopher Nolan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

Christopher Nolan will be out with his latest film next year, Tenet. To celebrate, IndieWire has collected a list of 30 films that Nolan has mentioned in the past as having an impact on his filmmaking. The title of that post calls these his “favorite” movies, but it’s perhaps more fair to call it his list of blockbuster influences, films that are grand in scale, personal in nature, and a little cerebral…with some quirky oddballs thrown in for good measure. Here’s a selection:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Blade Runner
Alien
For All Mankind
Koyaanisqatsi
Star Wars
Street of Crocodiles
The Tree Of Life

Jurassic Park but With Pee-Wee Herman in Place of the T-Rex

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2019

This is gold — a perfect 30 seconds of entertainment. I have watched this at least 10 times and Pee-Wee rolling around on the ground at the end cracks me up every time.

See also The “Welcome to Jurassic Park” Scene But With The Dinosaurs Digitally Removed and Jurassic Park but with the Dinosaurs from the 90s TV Show Dinosaurs.

Chasing the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

In July, American Experience will air Chasing the Moon, a 6-hour documentary film about the effort to send a manned mission to the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

The series recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama. Utilizing a visual feast of previously overlooked and lost archival material — much of which has never before been seen by the public — the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in these historic events. Among those included are astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and a leading Soviet rocket engineer; Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year old “mathematics whiz” who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the Air Force pilot selected by the Kennedy administration to train as America’s first black astronaut.

Among the stories not usually told about the Moon missions is that of Ed Dwight, NASA’s first black astronaut trainee:

Since 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, there’s a *lot* of stuff out there about the Space Race and Apollo program, but this film looks like it’s going to be one of the best. The film will start airing on PBS on July 8 and the Blu-ray & DVD comes out on July 9. There’s a companion book that will be available next week.

The Trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2019

The first trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix’s long-awaited prequel to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, is finally here. From Vanity Fair:

The new series, which takes place years before the events of the original film, follows three creatures, called Gelfling, who discover the horrifying secret behind the power of a group of villainous critters called the Skeksis. The heroes — Taron Egerton’s Rian, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Brea, and Nathalie Emmanuel’s Deet — embark on an epic journey to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world, which, at the time of the film, is dying, with sickness spreading across the land as the Skeksis control the powerful Crystal of Truth.

As you can see from the trailer, the series uses puppets and not CGI characters, just like the original. The 10-part series debuts on Netflix on August 30. In the meantime, the original 1982 movie is available on Netflix right now.

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a documentary film on the legendary Nobel Prize-winning author of Beloved.

Navigating a white, male world wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t even interesting. I was more interesting than they were, and I wasn’t afraid to show it.

The film opens in theaters June 21.

Concept Drawings from Studio Ghibli Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Tales From Weirdland has a collection of posts that feature concept drawings from several Studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Castle in the Sky. I poked around a little and found artwork & concept drawings from Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises, and Porco Rosso. Hand dawn and it all just pops off the screen. Wonderful.

Looks like a lot of this is available in book form as well: The Art of Spirited Away, The Art of Princess Mononoke, The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle, etc.

TV & Movie Spy Scene Breakdowns from the Former CIA Chief of Disguise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

For Wired’s series Technique Critique, former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez looks at several TV shows and movies to rate how good their spy scenes are.

Mendez gives high marks to characters from Alias and The Americans for effective use of disguises and low marks to The Bourne Identity and Homeland. In relation to Philip’s disguises on The Americans, she discusses the concept of the little gray man, the CIA’s goal for its agents to look like harmless middle-aged men, something she also mentioned in this Washington Post piece:

Rhys makes the case, however, for disappearing under nothing more than a knit cap and a pair of glasses, a scruffy mustache and a messy wig. He becomes the consummate little gray man, invisible, the one nobody can remember was even on the elevator.

Mendez also talks about the three cover identities that CIA agents were not allowed to use: clergy, media figures, and Peace Corps volunteer. She previously did this video with Wired about how the CIA used disguises.

The Bit Player

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

The Bit Player is a documentary film about Claude Shannon, the underrated “Father of Information Theory”, whose work, more than anyone else’s, laid the foundation for the information age in which we find ourselves currently immersed.

In a blockbuster paper in 1948, Claude Shannon introduced the notion of a “bit” and laid the foundation for the information age. His ideas ripple through nearly every aspect of modern life, influencing such diverse fields as communication, computing, cryptography, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cosmology, linguistics, and genetics.

The film is directed by Mark Levinson, a former particle physicist, who also directed the excellent Particle Fever (about the search for the Higgs boson). The Bit Player premieres later this month at the World Science Festival in NYC and presumably will be out in theaters sometime after that.

Philip Glass on Soul Train

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

It turns out that the fourth track off of Philip Glass’ soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi matches up pretty well to the dancers in this clip from Soul Train.

I don’t know whether to like this or hate it. Actually, I think I love it. See also Soul Train dancers backed by Daft Punk. (via @tedgioia)

The World Building Bureaucracy of Sequels

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

An intriguing insight from Khoi Vinh in his short review of the third John Wick movie:

This is what usually happens: a film creates a compelling fantasy world and fans clamor for more. So sequels build that world out, they show more of its mechanics, its people, its history. But “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” demonstrates one little acknowledged principle of escalated world building: the inevitable outcome is bureaucracy.

[…]

Things that were at first only suggested become explicit, mysteries are explained, and idiosyncrasies metastasize into red tape. Suddenly filmmakers find themselves in a position where building the world becomes its own motivation.

See also Why the Writing in Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Feels Off. (via @capndesign)

The Trailer for the Downton Abbey Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

The Downton Abbey movie is nearly upon us (it’s out in Sept) and the first full-length trailer is here. The action picks up a couple of years after the TV show ended and concerns the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the estate. I’ve embedded the UK trailer above — it’s better than the American trailer even though it gives away a bit more of the plot. Plus, in the UK version you get to see the deployment of Carson in the Battle of the Head Butlers. Carson’s glance of disdained indifference toward the royal butler might be the most spine-tingling battle moment since Aragon uttered “for Frodo” and charged headlong into the hordes of Mordor.

Update: Some real talk from Robert Bennett about the escapist fantasy of Downton Abbey:

really the point of the entire show was to let middle american viewers dabble in the lavish lives and costumes of the edwardian .001% without feeling bad about what made that lifestyle possible

anything that threatened that “safari in the aristocracy” aspect — be it the realism of class warfare, or the actual, historical evolutions of the era that would have upended everything that happened — was quickly neutered and turned into quaint fluff.

Still excited for the movie though. Butler Battle 2019!!