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Zack Snyder, Wes Anderson, and Rebecca Hall Led 2021’s Revival of Boxy, Black-and-White Pictures




Zack Snyder, Wes Anderson, and Rebecca Hall Led 2021’s Revival of Boxy, Black-and-White Pictures

It’s March 2021. You’re fired up for the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, better known as The Snyder Cut. After nearly four years of waiting, the director’s true vision for the team-up of all your favorite DC heroes has finally arrived.

But you notice something when you start the movie on HBO Max. The image looks square, with black bars on either side of your widescreen TV. What’s going on? You notice something else. Another version is on the app, called “Justice is Gray.” You click on that. Not only is the image square and boxy, but this version is in black-and-white, too! It’s as if Zack Snyder traveled back in time and decided to make a superhero movie in the 1940s.

Snyder is not the only Hollywood director to adopt a format that hasn’t been in regular use for nearly 70 years. Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, Passing, is on Netflix and uses the same square, black-and-white style. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, out now on VOD, switches constantly from color to black-and-white, widescreen to square. These movies have the backing of major studios and feature oodles of Hollywood stars, from Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot to Tessa Thompson and Andre Holland. While nobody is expecting square black-and-white movies to make any kind of real comeback, big studios are allowing big-time filmmakers to explore what the style might do for a modern audience.

A quick history lesson: before 1953, almost every movie ever made was shot in what’s known as the Academy ratio: 1.37 times as wide as it is high. Have you ever watched Casablanca or It’s a Wonderful Life? That’s the ratio those movies and every other movie of their time were made in.

Meanwhile, color didn’t come into regular use until 1935, and until the mid-1950s, it was incredibly expensive, so most movies were still shot in black-and-white.

Widescreen formats and cheap color film made black-and-white movies in Academy ratio extinct in the mid-1950s, but the style didn’t completely disappear. However, since it was now the exception instead of the rule, the format could still be found in artier movies from Europe and the American independent scene.

Why did Snyder, Hall, and Anderson decide to make their movies in black-and-white and Academy ratio, and why were their studios comfortable with their decisions? All three recognized the visual possibilities of a square image, and adapted it for very different ends.

Photo: WarnerMedia

Snyder has claimed that he always intended Justice League to be in the square, 1.43:1 ratio, since it’s the native shape of a true IMAX screen. (Snyder may be rewriting history a bit here.) According to him, the added height of a square ratio allows for the cosmic scale of his superheroes to register with the audience. For “Justice is Gray,” he could push the already heavily desaturated image of the color version to its logical conclusion.

Snyder is not entirely successful here, in my view. By merely desaturating a color image, “Justice is Gray” doesn’t create a great deal of contrast or the kind of detail that movies actually shot in black-and-white can offer. Similarly, if the square image is meant to show the scale of Superman and Wonder Woman, he rarely gives us other visual cues to make us feel that. Snyder shoots his characters in the way that most movies shoot characters: with the human body as the main point of interest, rather than setting that body into an environment. Scale is lost, and with it, the awe that Snyder wants to invoke.

Photo: Netflix

If Snyder was looking to add height to the Snyder Cut, Hall wanted to subtract width in Passing. As she put it, she wanted her characters to feel “constrained.” The story of two women in 1920s Harlem struggling with their racial identities is perfect for such an approach. Hall emphasizes this constraint by framing her characters in doorways, hallways, and windows. The outside world is always boxing them in, just as racism has confined the way that they see themselves.

Black-and-white also manages to abstract the image, and blur the perception of the characters’ physical appearance. Clare (Ruth Negga) has been passing as a white woman for decades; Irene (Thompson) has tried it, and is both seduced and repulsed by Clare’s behavior. Hall blows out the image so that the women’s skin tones are never stable. As Hall put it, “black-and-white isn’t actually black-and-white. It’s thousands of shades of gray, just like everything else.”

Photo: ©Searchlight Pictures

Anderson is well versed in using Academy ratio from his experience on his previous live-action feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and his approach to the frame in The French Dispatch doesn’t alter much from the earlier movie. What he adds to it is by using black-and-white as his base palette, and then switching to color as a tool of emphasis.

The French Dispatch tells several stories set in a fantastical, New Yorker-inspired France, and a couple of them are specifically about artistic pleasure making the world a more exciting place. Much like The Wizard of Oz, the sudden injections of color into Anderson’s stories bring the sensations of experiencing a beautiful painting—or of enjoying a transcendent meal—to thrilling life. The black-and-white moments are drab reality, allowing for color to be glorious, ecstatic truth.

Even though all three filmmakers had different goals, the ways in which Snyder uses black-and-white and the square aspect ratio almost as an afterthought in “Justice is Gray”, while Hall incorporates both into every storytelling decision in Passing, are striking. Anderson, meanwhile, uses black-and-white as the next piece of his elaborate stylistic puzzle to help make his color shots even more breathtaking, and thus more Anderson-esque.

But then again, as one side of the Snyder Cut flame wars so forcefully argued, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Snyder’s dullness. Hall’s achievement, however, is as surprising as we are likely to get from a Netflix movie this year. Anderson bending stylistic choices to his own eccentric will is as predictable as the weather. Will their use of square, black-and-white imagery become more commonplace in Hollywood? Probably not, but it’s exciting to see it being added to the menu of options.

Evan Davis is a writer living in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDavisSports

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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