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kottke.org posts about TV

My media diet for the past two weeks

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two weeks or so. I’ve been working and traveling, so there have been fewer books and more podcasts in my life. On the way home from NYC, I started The Devil in the White City on audiobook and can’t wait to get back to it.

From Cells to Cities. Sam Harris podcast interview of Geoffrey West, author of Scale. Two genuinely mind-blowing moments can’t quite salvage the remained 2 hours of rambling. (A-/C-)

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. I much prefer the book. (C+)

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Entertaining enough. I’ll give the new one a try. (B+)

Philip Glass Piano Works by Vikingur Olafsson. This is relaxing to listen to in the morning. (A-)

Luciferian Towers by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This sounds very much like all their other albums and I am not complaining. (B+)

mother! An intense film but it was too overly metaphorical for me to take any of the intensity seriously. (B)

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. “A fun, high-quality, serial mystery that can be described as Goonies meets Spy Kids meets Stranger Things for 8-12 year olds.” My kids and I listened to season one over the course of a week and they could not wait to hear more. (A-)

The Vietnam War original score. By Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. An unusual choice for the score to a Ken Burns film. (B+)

Blade Runner 2049. Seeing this in IMAX (real IMAX not baby IMAX) really blew my doors off. Visually and sonically amazing. At least 20 minutes too long though. (A-)

New Yorker TechFest. I hadn’t been to a tech conference in awhile because the ratio of style to substance had gotten too high. The caliber of the speakers set this conference apart. My full report is here. (B+)

Items: Is Fashion Modern? Great collection of items, but I’m not sure I’m any closer to knowing the answer to the question in the title. (A-)

LBJ’s War. A short, 6-part podcast on Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, consisting mostly of interviews and audio recordings from the period in question. A good companion to the PBS series on the war. (B+)

Driverless Dilemma by Radiolab. Revisiting an old episode of Radiolab about the trolley problem in the context of self-driving cars. (B)

Max Richter: Piano Works by Olivia Belli. Short and sweet. (A-)

Jerry Before Seinfeld. This felt pretty phoned-in. Some of these old jokes — “women, am I right?” — should have stayed in the vault. (B-)

Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. A critical part of the movie that also stands alone. (A-)

Spielberg. A solid appreciation of Spielberg’s career, but more of a critical eye would have been appreciated. Also, was surprised how many of his movies referenced his parents’ divorce. (B+)

Universal Paperclips. Ugh, I cannot ever resist these incremental games. What an odd name, “incremental games”. Aren’t most games incremental? (A-/F)

Black Mirror is a parade of tragedies. So why do we watch it?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2017

Black Mirror, which has a fourth season coming out in the near future, is an unflinchingly dark show, full of bad things happening to people that don’t necessarily deserve them. Centuries ago, Aristotle defined tragedy as:

A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language; … in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions.

But as Evan Puschak argues in this video essay, that’s not the whole story of why we watch Black Mirror.

FYI: If you haven’t seen the series yet, there are major spoilers for Black Mirror (and also for Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones).

That time I was on Halt and Catch Fire

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2017

Kottke Halt

*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up back in the 1970s with such a sweet jacket and bitchin’ mustac— Ok all jokey tropes aside, I got to appear on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire last night as a background extra. (Mild spoilers follow.) This season of the show is set in the 90s, but this episode flashes back to the 70s soon after Gordon and Donna get together. My scene takes place during this flashback and is pretty short. Gordon is at a gas station, waiting to use the pay phone. A man (that’s me!) exits the station with a 6-pack of beer, gets into his car, and drives off after Gordon crosses the pavement to the phone. And that was it! But as a big fan of the show — and I refuse to have any chill about this — it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in forever.

I’ve been watching the show since the first season, when the action focused on a small company trying to build one of the first IBM-compatible PCs on the market. (You may have read about this show on kottke.org once or twice. Or a dozen times. I have an unauthorized Cardiff Electric t-shirt I bought from some sketchy site online. Did I mention I was a big fan?) At some point during the next two seasons of the show, when the action moved from PCs in Texas to online services & anti-virus software in Silicon Valley, I followed the two creators of the show, Christopher Cantwell and Christopher Rodgers on Twitter. And at some later point, they followed me back and we tweeted at each other a handful of times.

Meanwhile, the show got renewed for a fourth and final season. At the end of season three, the characters started talking about this new thing called the World Wide Web and it was clear that season four was going to focus on early 90s web startups. Now, I don’t know if you know this about me or not, but I love the web. (Oh, you could tell? I let that slip at some point?) And I am so very nostalgic for the early days of the web in the 90s — the Mosaic days, the Altavista days, the Bobaweb days, the Entropy8 days, the Suck days, the CSotD days, the alt.culture.days, the 0sil8 days, the Yahoo on the akebono server at Stanford days. The days when I was young and dumb and decided to quit grad school in a promising field without talking to a single other person about it because I just knew I needed to do whatever I could to get a job working on the web, a job that didn’t even exist at the beginning of my junior year in college. Season four was going to be about those days?! Holy shit.

In June, Chris Cantwell, who was down in Atlanta to direct an episode of the fourth season, tweeted that he was in the hospital, on dilaudid waiting for a kidney stone to pass and was available to answer any questions his followers had about the show. After a crap-can month of May, I’d been focusing on being more direct with what I want, so fuck it, yolo, totally trying to take advantage of this poor guy being hopped up on goofballs, I tweeted back:

Do you need extras for s04? Will do retro web design on screen for zero pay. I still can code circa-1994/5 HTML by hand.

Which was like 30% joking and 70% serious. A few minutes later, he replied:

Dude if you can fly out here I’ll put you in a long wig and put you at a gas station.

I had no idea what the hell he was talking about — remember, he was super fucking high — but we followed up via DM and I bought a plane ticket for Atlanta and booked a hotel the next morning. Sometimes, just sometimes, you get what you want, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for.

Kottke Halt

Kottke Halt

Less than a week later, I’m in Atlanta. They put me through wardrobe, where I tried on two sets of 70s clothes (they ended up using a mix of clothes from the two looks). I got a tour of the storeroom where they keep all of the clothes for the series; it was massive…I kept thinking I was going to uncover the Ark of the Covenant in there. I went from there to hair & makeup, where they fit me with a wig and mustache for Cantwell to approve. My scene wouldn’t shoot until the next evening, so they had to take it off that afternoon and put it all back on the next day:

Kottke Halt

I got to meet the actors that played Gordon, Donna, and Joe…they were super nice. Hell, everyone was super nice and professional and seemed to be having fun…a good crew. I was there to be an extra, but since I knew Cantwell, I was also “a friend of the show”. (Everyone kept saying, “oh, you’re the blogger!”) So they took me out to a couple of the sets, and I got to see Mackenzie Davis do her thing (<3!). They showed me how everything on-set worked and gave me a headset so I could listen in on what was happening. I met the show’s producers, one of whom told me that with my hair and mustache, I looked just like his friend Bill Paxton from 20 years ago, in Tombstone…to the point where it freaked him out a little to see his recently deceased friend standing before him. I saw a stuntman jump off a cliff into a quarry. They gave me a chair to sit in so I could watch the action on the monitors in real-time. I ate so much food at the end-of-day meal. I got to drive a big-ass Chevy from the 70s. I read a call-sheet for the next day’s shoot that totally spoiled the season’s biggest reveal and I didn’t even care that much.

On the day of the shoot, the scene took place at night, so my call time was 6pm. Did the hair and makeup thing again, ate, sat around, got dressed, and then was shuttled out to the set at around 10pm. I watched them set up and then it was go time. I did my scene probably 8 or 10 times. They shot it with two different camera setups and had me change little things here and there…like the first time I walked out of the store, I didn’t have the beer in my hand:

Kottke Halt

And then, right around midnight, it was done. I filled out my sheet to get paid ($51.64 after taxes) and somehow stayed awake on the 90 minute drive back to Atlanta.

That last-minute, three-day trip totally blew my travel budget for the summer. Was it worth it? When I was a kid, there was nothing I was more interested in than computers. My dad bought one of the first available IBM PC-compatibles on the market. I’ve read and watched a ton about the PC revolution. I used online services like Prodigy. And the web, well, I’ve gotten to experience that up close and personal. One of the reasons I love Halt and Catch Fire so much is that it so lovingly and accurately depicts this world that I’ve been keenly interested in for the past 35 years of my life. Someone made a TV show about my thing and it was great, a successor to Mad Men great. Getting to be a microscopically tiny part of that? Hell yeah, it was worth it.

Update: Will Fitzgerald pointed out that I now have a Bacon Number of 2.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a parlour game based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. Movie buffs challenge each other to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and prolific character actor Kevin Bacon. It rests on the assumption that anyone involved in the Hollywood film industry can be linked through their film roles to Bacon within six steps.

While not strictly within the rules (HaCF is TV, not film), I was in an episode of Halt and Catch Fire with Toby Huss and Huss was in R.I.P.D. Because of a few physics papers I co-authored in college, I also probably have an Erdös Number (I’d estimate 5 or 6?). I’ve got a ways to go on an EGOT, but I’m doing pretty well on the Bacon-Erdös scale!

The music of The Vietnam War

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2017

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War on PBS. Much like the war itself, the series is epic and complicated and weird and perhaps even too long.1

NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik says that The Vietnam War “is not Mr. Burns’s most innovative film”, but I would argue that doesn’t apply to the music. Half of the music is what you would expect: rock and folk music from 60s & 70s groups and musicians like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, CCR, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, etc. More than two hours of songs used during the series have been released on this album:

Even The Beatles were part of the soundtrack:

Then there’s all that popular music from the 60s and 70s: more than 120 songs by the artists who actually soundtracked the times, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and even the ordinarily permissions-averse and budget-breaking Beatles. Of the Beatles, Novick noted, “They basically said, We think this is an important part of history, we want to be part of what you’re doing, and we will take the same deal everybody else gets. That’s kind of unprecedented.”

But an original score was also provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that sounds a lot like their work on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Seven episodes in, I’m used to the mix of music, but the effect is definitely discongruous; the transitions pulled me out of the narrative more than once. Not sure that’s the effect they were going for…

  1. The whole series starts off on a wrong note. Literally the first thing you hear in the first episode is a shout-out to the sponsors: “Major support for the Vietnam War was provided by…”, which my brain quickly filled in as “Robert MacNamara, Dow Chemical, the American military industrial complex, etc etc”

Real websites for Halt and Catch Fire’s Rover and Comet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

HACF Comet

This season on Halt and Catch Fire, competing teams made up of the main characters are building web apps. One team is making a hand-curated directory called Comet and the other is building a search engine with a unique algorithm called Rover. It’s Yahoo vs. Google, more or less. AMC has put up the sites as they appear on the show up on the web: Comet and Rover. They also put up the Cameron Howe fan page seen in the most recent episode, The Howe of It All (that’s a perfectly anachronistic name). See also Yahoo’s website circa 1994 when it was still hosted on a server at Stanford.

A character in the most recent episode also mentioned Justin Hall, creator of the early web’s most well-known personal site, Justin’s Links from the Underground.

Anyone know where I can get a Comet t-shirt? (I already have a Cardiff Electric shirt. (No, really.)) Oh, maybe this?

Blue Planet II

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Having achieved spectacular success with Planet Earth II, the BBC and David Attenborough are revisiting another of their previous nature documentaries, the 2001 series The Blue Planet, “a comprehensive series on the natural history of the world’s oceans”. Blue Planet II, Attenborough promises, will use new technology and our increased understanding of the natural world to great advantage in telling the story of the animal and plant life — dancing yeti crabs! dolphins spitting to trick prey! TurtleCam! — that dwells in our oceans.

The score is by Hans Zimmer, who also collaborated with Radiohead to rework an old song of theirs for the series. Bloom, off of King of Limbs, was originally inspired by the first Blue Planet series, so it’s come full circle with its inclusion in the new series. Vox examines how Zimmer and the band adapted the song:

If you listen closely enough to Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s rework of “Bloom” for Blue Planet II, you can hear a really fascinating orchestral trick at work. They call it the “tidal orchestra” — it’s a musical effect created by instructing each player to play their notes only if the person next to them isn’t playing. The result is a randomly swelling and fading musical bed for the entire series that captures the feeling of ocean waves. It’s a captivating way to score a soundtrack for the ocean — but it also fits in with a long history of capturing randomness in music composition.

The “tidal orchestra” technique was inspired by pointillism and randomness: using small individual sounds to build a soundscape rather than starting with a specific tune. For some reason, it also reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797. (No idea what inspired Yorke’s pants though. MC Hammer? Wow.)

Planet Earth II was probably my favorite movie/show/media from the past year, so I am really looking forward to Blue Planet II.

My media diet for the past month

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. I’ve been watching too much TV and not reading enough books. I’m currently trying to get through Scale & Behave and listening to Superintelligence on audiobook and they’re all good & interesting, but I’m having trouble staying interested enough to actually pick them up in lieu of zoning out in front of the TV. I think I need something with more of a narrative.

The Vietnam War. Excellent, a must-see. (A)

The Matrix. Holds up well. I saw this in the theater in 1999, not knowing a damn thing about it, and walked out in a daze…”what the hell did I just see?” (A)

The Founder. There’s a certain kind of businessperson for whom the Ray Kroc depicted in this film would be a hero. Travis Kalanick, etc. Fuck those people. I stand with the McDonald brothers. (B+)

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. I aspire to this level of sandwich obsession. (B)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I should have stopped watching after 15 minutes but then I would have missed perhaps the worst closing line in movie history. (C-)

Inception. This might be my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. (A-)

american dream by LCD Soundsystem. I’ve never been able to get into LCD Soundsystem. Is there a trick? What’s the secret? (B-)

Basic Instinct. This movie is not great and hasn’t aged well. But you can totally see why it made Sharon Stone a star…she’s the only thing worth watching in the film. (C-)

Minions. *whispers* I kinda like the Minions and think they are funny and not as insipid/cynical as many others think. (B)

The Antidote. “Reread” this as an audiobook. I recommend this book to others more than any other book I’ve read in the past few years, save the Ferrante books. (A+)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I enjoyed it the first time, but this movie is so much better when watching it with two kids who think that everything coming out of every character’s mouth is the funniest thing they have ever heard. Biggest laugh was “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” (B+)

Everything Now by Arcade Fire. Gets better every time I listen to it. (B+)

10 Bullets. Neat little one-button game. There’s an iOS version (and sequel) but they don’t work on iOS 11. (B)

Dunkirk. Saw this again on a larger screen (not IMAX sadly) and liked it even more this time. (A)

Champlain Valley Fair. I love fairs. We ate so many mini donuts and saw a dog walking a tightrope! (B+)

Logan Lucky. I was somewhat lukewarm on this leaving the theater but thinking back on it now, I definitely will see this again. (B+)

Sleep Well Beast by The National. Meh? (B-)

War for the Planet of the Apes. I saw this 3-4 weeks ago and can’t remember a whole lot about it, but I enjoyed it at the time? I do remember that the CG is seamless. (B-)

Applebee’s Artichoke and Spinach Dip. Way better than it had any right to be. I will make a special trip to eat this again. (A-)

Blade Runner. Rewatched in advance of the sequel. The final cut version, naturally. I watched the original cut for about 20 minutes once and had to shut it off because of the voiceover. (B+)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Beautiful opening credit sequence for Star Trek: Discovery

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

I haven’t had a chance to watch the new Star Trek series yet. The early reviews are good, but the opening credit sequence is really good.

HBO documentary on Steven Spielberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Early next month, HBO will premiere a 2.5-hour-long documentary on the life and career of Steven Spielberg, a director who has arguably shaped how movies are made today more than any other single person. Director Susan Lacy, creator of American Masters PBS series, interviewed Spielberg for 30 hours for the documentary (in addition to talking to nearly everyone he’s worked with in his 50-year career). Really looking forward to this.

Halt and Catch Fire music playlist for season 4

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

Season four of Halt and Catch Fire finds the show in the 90s and the music has changed accordingly. Here’s the official playlist on Spotify.

See also the playlists for season 3, 1985, 1984, and many more from the show, including playlists for each main character.

A man got to have a code

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

In a multi-part series, ScreenPrism will be looking at the codes and values of some of the main characters in The Wire. The first installment is about Jimmy McNulty, who is “good po-lice” but also doesn’t always take personal responsibility for his actions (“what the fuck did I do?”).

Study: watching Fox News has big effect on voting patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

A newly released study by Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukolu published in the American Economic Review shows that watching Fox News has a significant effect on the overall Republican vote share in Presidential elections. They analyzed the channel position of the three major cable networks (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN), compared it to voting patterns, and found that “Fox News increases Republican vote shares by 0.3 points among viewers induced into watching 2.5 additional minutes per week by variation in position”. Using that result, they constructed a model to estimate the overall influence.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant. Finally, we find that the cable news channels’ potential for influence on election outcomes would be substantially larger were ownership to become more concentrated.

6.3% is an astounding effect. Fox News appears to be uniquely persuasive when compared to the other channels, particularly in bringing people across the aisle:

Were a viewer initially at the ideology of the median Democratic voter in 2008 to watch an additional three minutes of Fox News per week, her likelihood of voting Republican would increase by 1.03 percentage points. Another pattern that emerges from the table is that Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans.

They also estimate that cable news has contributed greatly to the rise in political polarization in the US over the period studied:

Furthermore, we estimate that cable news can increase polarization and explain about two-thirds of the increase among the public in the United States, and that this increase depends on both a persuasive effect of cable news and the existence of tastes for like-minded news.

This analysis is especially interesting/relevant when you consider other recent activist media efforts with an eye toward conservative influence: the Russian ad-buying on Facebook during the last election (and related activities), billionaire Trump-backer Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and conservative-leaning Sinclair Media’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. (via mr)

Mr. Robot season 3

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2017

I was lukewarm on season 2 of Mr. Robot but am hoping, based on this trailer, that season 3 is a return to form for the show. See also the teaser trailer.

Oh, and you can reacquaint yourself with last season in just 7 minutes. Handy!

Jerry Before Seinfeld

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2017

On September 19, Netflix is airing Jerry Before Seinfeld, a comedy special about how the world’s richest comedian got his start.

(BTW, Netflix is killing it this fall. Without having to seek anything out specifically, I already have at least 5 things I want to watch on there between now and November…not counting the backlog.)

Disturbed by on-field violence, top football TV analyst quits

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2017

Former NFL player Ed Cunningham has resigned from his job as a college football color analyst for ABC/ESPN because of “his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week”.

If Ed Cunningham had not already seen enough, he would be back in a broadcast booth on Saturday afternoon, serving as the color analyst for another top college football game televised on ABC or ESPN. It is the work he has done each fall for nearly 20 years.

But Cunningham, 48, resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.

Another domino falls. Unless there are big changes to the game play, sooner or later football will likely become a marginalized sport in the US.

Politically, who played the Game of Thrones best in season seven?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2017

Cersei Politics

The amount of media coverage of Game of Thrones was a touch too much this summer, but this ranking of the political strategies of the main players in season seven by Zack Beauchamp was both entertaining and informative. I mean:

To understand Cersei’s success, we need to reach back to the classic work of Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz.

Before looking at the list, I’d assumed Jon Snow would get lower marks (he left the North vulnerable and cratered his coalition’s chances at a truce with Cersei), but Beauchamp makes a good case here.

I’ve argued before that the best way to think about the White Walkers, from the human point of view, is as a threat akin to climate change — a massive collective threat that humans were ignoring in favor of petty internal squabbling. Jon, to his immense credit, is the only leader who recognized the enormity of the threat early enough to try to rally others to stop it. He’s kind of a Westerosi Al Gore, only he succeeded in getting to run a country.

So the best way to think about Jon’s mission is through the lens of environmental diplomacy: He needed to convince the world’s leading powers to abandon the internecine struggle over the throne and refocus on the White Walker threat. He didn’t have a ton to work with: The North is a distinctly third-tier power, weaker militarily than both the Targaryen and Lannister alliances and the country most vulnerable to the White Walkers.

Jon may have failed to rally Cersei to his cause, but he succeeded in bringing on Daenerys. And that’s by far the most important, mostly because her dragons and cache of dragonglass represent the only chance humanity has at fending off the White Walker threat. If it weren’t for Jon, humanity would be fundamentally doomed.

Errol Morris’ new Netflix series, Wormwood

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2017

True crime OG Errol Morris has teamed up with Netflix for a 6-part series called Wormwood. The series is an exploration of the CIA experiments with LSD in the 1950s and the death of CIA employee Frank Olson, who was covertly given LSD more than a week before he died. Olson’s death was ruled a suicide, but many years later, the US government settled a potential wrongful death lawsuit out-of-court with a $750,000 payment to the family.

The show itself is a mixture of documentary and historical reenactment (starring Peter Sarsgaard & Bob Balaban) that is now somewhat standard in the true crime genre, having been pioneered by Morris in The Thin Blue Line. Of the show, Morris writes:

Isn’t journalism the pursuit of truth? But what if the truth proves to be elusive, hard to get at? How far does one go? Where does one stop? Are there limits, emotional and otherwise, to the pursuit of truth? Can it be injurious to one’s health? Here we have the story of one man’s sixty-year quest to identify the circumstances of his father’s death. Did he jump from a hotel window? Or was he pushed? And if he was pushed, why? What for? A shadowy world of hidden and imagined intentions coupled with dark and horrifying revelations. In many ways, a personal family story, but in many other ways, a story of America’s decline in the period following World War II. It asks the question: To what extent can a democracy lie to its citizens and still, in the end, remain a democracy?

On Netflix on December 15.

My recent (and not-so-recent) media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Somehow it’s been almost two months since my last installment?

Paterson. I would pay to watch Adam Driver read the phone book and that’s kinda what this is so I was satisfied. (B)

Despicable Me 3. I have a soft spot for the Minions movie (don’t know why, afraid to ask myself) but not for this one. (C+)

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. This was my favorite book to read to my kids, but both of them can read by themselves now, so this is perhaps the last time I will get to sit down and read it with them and oh no I’m crying right now. (A+)

Mr. Holmes. This could have been good but 24 hours after watching, I’d forgotten everything about it. (C)

Spider-Man: Homecoming. My brain let out a big ol’ “ohhhhhh” after I realized two-thirds of the way through where they got the title. (B)

The Defiant Ones. Great. But I felt Dre’s apology for his violence against women was lacking. As with many apologies from the wealthy and powerful, it had more to do with him than with his victims. (A)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I love reading weirdo books with my kids. (A)

Game of Thrones (season 7). Pure pulp and soap at this point. (A-)

Hey, Cool Job Episode 21: Wellness Expert And Swole Woman Casey Johnston. I LOL’d at “I’m going to remain poor and right”. (B+)

Dunkirk. I feel like Christopher Nolan watched Mad Max: Fury Road and said, “I can do that…but my way.” Also reminded me strongly of Run Lola Run. (A-)

Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack contributed heavily to my enjoyment of this film. (A)

Baby Driver. A 2-hour music video. If were 25 and had never seen a Tarantino movie, I would have thought this was the coolest shit ever. (B)

The total solar eclipse. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will attempt to replicate at the earliest opportunity. (A+++)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Black Mirror season four

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2017

Six new episodes of Black Mirror are headed our way when the fourth season premieres later this year. There’s a short teaser trailer (above) and Netflix has also announced casts and directors for the season.

“Arkangel” stars Rosemarie Dewitt, Brenna Harding and Owen Teague. It is directed by Jodie Foster.

“Black Museum” stars Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright and Babs Olusanmokun. It is directed by Colm McCarthy.

“Crocodile” stars Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Gower and Kiran Sonia Sawar. It is directed by John Hillcoat.

Characters saying the opening quotes from The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2017

At the beginning of each episode of The Wire, a quote from one of the show’s characters is shown on the screen, a epigraph that suggests the theme of the episode. This video shows the characters from each episode saying those opening quotes — Lester: “all the pieces matter”; Omar: “all in the game”; The Greek: “business, always business”; Poot: “world going one way, people another” — for all five seasons.

Freaks and Geeks and the 70s-ness of the early 80s

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2017

James Poniewozik, chief TV critic for the NY Times, wrote about his favorite scene from Freaks and Geeks. Here’s the scene:

I loved this bit:

First, the music. “I’m One” by the Who, from the 1973 album “Quadrophenia.” It builds from mournfulness (“I’m a loser / No chance to win”) to a defiant chorus. And it’s a great example of how “Freaks and Geeks” chose its soundtracks. The episode is set in 1981, but it avoids on-the-nose ’80s-song choices. Paul Feig, the show’s creator, once told me that the thing about the early ’80s in the Midwest was that they were really still the ’70s.

I grew up in the Midwest in the early 80s and though I’ve never really thought about it before, Feig’s observation that they were still really the 70s is spot on. (via @tcarmody)

Trailer for season 2 of The Crown

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2017

The first season of the Netflix series The Crown was a surprise for me. I thought it was going to be pleasant-but-soapy look at the royals a la Downton Abbey (which I love, don’t get me wrong), but the acting and the substance of the script and production elevated it, putting it among the best shows to debut last year. Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth, in particular, was a revelation; her one-on-one scenes with her sister and with Churchill were some of the best TV I watched last year. From the season 2 trailer, it appears that we’re in for more of the same come December.

Recreating the Loot Train Battle from Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2017

Oh, this is a clever bit of TV/film analysis by Evan Puschak: he reconstructs the Loot Train Battle from the most recent episode of Game of Thrones using clips from other movies and TV shows (like 300, Lord of the Rings, Stagecoach, and Apocalypse Now). In doing so, he reveals the structure that many filmed battle scenes follow, from the surprising enemy attack presaged by the distant sound of horses (as in 300) to the quiet mid-chaos reflection by a shocked commander (as in Saving Private Ryan). Everything is a Remix, right?

This reminds me of how the Rogue One production team made a full-length reel of the film for director Gareth Edwards from scenes from other movies so that the timing and pacing could be worked out.

It’s very simple to have a line [in the script] that reads “Krennic’s shuttle descends to the planet”, now that takes maybe 2-3 seconds in other films, but if you look at any other ‘Star Wars’ film you realise that takes 45 seconds or a minute of screen time. So by making the whole film that way — I used a lot of the ‘Star Wars’ films — but also hundreds of other films too, it gave us a good idea of the timing.

For example the sequence of them breaking into the vault I was ripping the big door closing in ‘Wargames’ to work out how long does a vault door take to close.

This fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the battle doesn’t allude to any such storyboarding, but as Puschak notes, battle scenes from dozens of other movies surely weren’t far off in their minds while putting this one together.

The Vietnam War documentary series by Ken Burns

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2017

Together with Lynn Novick, filmmaker Ken Burns, who has previously made long documentary films on The Civil War and World War II, has made a film about perhaps the most controversial and contentious event in American history, The Vietnam War. The film runs for 18 hours across 10 installments and begins on September 17 on PBS.

David Kamp interviewed Novick and Burns for Vanity Fair and proclaims the film a triumph:

I watched the whole series in a marathon viewing session a few days before meeting with the filmmakers — a knock-you-sideways experience that was as enlightening as it was emotionally taxing. For all their unguarded anxiety about doing the war justice, Burns and Novick have pulled off a monumental achievement. Audiovisually, the documentary is like no other Burns-branded undertaking. Instead of folksy sepia and black-and-white, there are vivid jade-green jungles and horrific blooms of napalm that explode into orange and then gradually turn smoky black. The Vietnam War was the first and last American conflict to be filmed by news organizations with minimal governmental interference, and the filmmakers have drawn from more than 130 sources for motion-picture footage, including the U.S. networks, private home-movie collections, and several archives administered by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The series’s depiction of the Tet offensive, in which the North Vietnamese launched coordinated attacks on the South’s urban centers, is particularly and brutally immersive, approaching a 360-degree experience in its deft stitching together of footage from various sources.

The sound and music promises to thrill as well. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who did the scores for The Social Network, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) provided original music to supplement popular music contemporary to the time. They even got The Beatles.

Then there’s all that popular music from the 60s and 70s: more than 120 songs by the artists who actually soundtracked the times, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and even the ordinarily permissions-averse and budget-breaking Beatles. Of the Beatles, Novick noted, “They basically said, We think this is an important part of history, we want to be part of what you’re doing, and we will take the same deal everybody else gets. That’s kind of unprecedented.”

I’m very much looking forward to this.

Trailer for Narcos season three

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2017

With Pablo Escobar out of the picture, the third season of Narcos focuses on the activities of the Cali drug cartel. It’ll be interesting to see if the show holds up as well without Wagner Moura, who was fantastic as Escobar. And was that Halt and Catch Fire’s Kerry Bishé I saw briefly in the trailer? (Narrator: It was.) The new episodes will be available on Netflix September 1st.

Trailer for Transparent season four

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2017

Transparent, aka my favorite TV show of the last few years, is back for a fourth season on September 22.

The Pfeffermans take off on a spiritual and political journey as they dig deep into their family’s history. Maura heads to Israel to speak at a conference and makes a startling discovery. Adrift in the desert, Maura, Ali, Sarah, Josh and Shelly set off on their own paths to find acceptance, love, and truth.

Live TV coverage of Apollo 11 landing and moon walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

48 years ago today, the lunar module from the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon. Later that same day, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the module, set foot on the surface, and went for a walk. And the entire world watched them do it. Live.

For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

Here’s what I wrote when I launched the project:

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

This is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done, and it almost didn’t happen this year. I woke up this morning assuming it was just going to work again, just like it had the previous 8 years, but a bit of testing revealed that YouTube had discontinued the API I was using to display and time the videos. I wasn’t sure I had the JavaScript chops to fix it in time for the big show this afternoon. Luckily, I was able to solicit some help on Twitter and as the internet continues to be absolutely amazing, Geoff Stearns fixed the problem. As he said in his tweet, Stearns works for Google and wrote the YouTube API that had been discontinued, which is a bit like Marshall McLuhan popping out from behind a poster in Annie Hall, but instead of saying “you know nothing of my work”, he says “I’m gonna fix this up real quick”. Reader, it took him 14 minutes from saying “I’ll help” to posting the solution, and I’d bet half of that time was spent running to the fridge for a LaCroix and selecting the proper coding playlist on Spotify. So big thanks to Geoff for making this happen today! And thanks also to Brian Seward, who landed a solution in my inbox a bit after Geoff’s.

Oh, and no more Flash! So it’ll work on any modern browser with no plugins. But I tested it on my phone and it still doesn’t seem to work properly there…the video loads but doesn’t autoplay. Something to improve for next year!

Mad Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

On the 10th anniversary of the premiere of Mad Men, Caroline Framke wrote about how the the women on the show changed a great deal (in contrast to the men).

When we first meet Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, they’re secretaries who know they’re smart, but are also staring down an endless row of grinning frat-guy superiors and trying to be realistic about their chances of success beyond their assigned desks. Betty Draper is barely a blip on the radar, only appearing in the final minutes of the episode as the twist of Don’s suburban life. And while Peggy’s storyline in season one develops into an obvious parallel to Don’s as she reveals a knack for advertising, Joan was never supposed to become the powerhouse she became down the line. In fact, as per creator Matthew Weiner, Joan’s original purpose was just to be a “courtesan” who taught people the ways of the office. Eventually, all three women reveal rich inner lives their male counterparts never bothered to consider were there, and create the kind of lives they once assumed they never could have.

I rewatched the entire run of Mad Men a few months ago and what moves the show from “really good” territory to “all-time great” territory is the emphasis on the women. As Framke notes, Don Draper pretty much ends up where he starts off while the real hero’s journey in the show is undertaken by Betty, Joan, and especially Peggy. Had they stayed on the sidelines, the show would have been far less interesting.

How Eminem was discovered by Dr. Dre

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

In an extended clip from the HBO series The Defiant Ones, this is the story of how a white rapper from Detroit and rap’s best producer got together to start one of the decade’s signature musical collaborations. It’s evident from how Eminem and Dre tell the story that their first session in the studio was like falling in love…you only click like that with something a few times in a lifetime and then you spend the rest of your life trying to get back to that feeling.

This isn’t an official clip from HBO (they uploaded a much shorter segment) but after seeing it, I am definitely watching the whole series.

The Sesame Street version of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage music video

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

I mean, this is pretty good, but the original Sesame Street rap mashup is hard to top:

Respect.