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kottke.org posts about TV

A Bite of China

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2017

A Bite of China is documentary TV series on food and cooking in China. Writing for The Guardian, Oliver Thring called it “the best TV show I’ve ever seen about food” and one commenter called it “the Planet Earth of food”. While A Bite of China predates it by 3 years, Chef’s Table might be a better comparison. Here’s a trailer:

China has a large population and the richest and most varied natural landscapes in the world. Plateaus, forests, lakes and coastlines. These various geographical features and climate conditions have helped to form and preserve widely different species. No other country has so many potential food sources as China. By collecting, fetching, digging, hunting and fishing, people have acquired abundant gifts from nature. Traveling through the four seasons, we’ll discover a story about nature and the people behind delicious Chinese foods.

The first season is available on Amazon Prime (with English subtitles) but you can also find it on YouTube at varying levels of quality with and without subtitles and dubbed in English. (thx, seamus)

My recent media diet, special Amsterdam edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past three weeks or so. I was in Amsterdam recently to speak at a conference. I had some free time and as it was my first time there, I took in some obvious sights. No books this time…Scale is currently on hold (and perhaps abandoned permanently) while I read Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True and listen to Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci on audiobook.

Thor: Ragnarok. Henceforth, all superhero movies should be as fun as this. (B+)

Mindhunter. This one had a slow burn to it and got better as the season went on. Also, now that I know what to look for, the David Fincher camera thing was impossible to ignore. (B+)

Requiem for a Dream. The last 30 minutes of this movie is relentless. (A)

The Book of Life. I tried to steer the kids away from this one to no avail. (C)

On Margins with Kevin Kelly. The bits about how much of the world used to be pre-industrial until fairly recently and how most people only took 20-30 photos per year in the 70s were especially interesting. (B+)

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel (season two). Not quite as good as the first season, but my kids are still riveted. (B+)

Doctor Who. I’ve been slowly introducing the kids to Doctor Who, which I watched as a kid with my dad. So far, we’ve seen Jon Pertwee’s final episode and a handful of early Tom Baker episodes…probably the show’s sweet spot. I didn’t want to throw them into the deep end with William Hartnell right off the bat. (B+)

The Dark Knight Rises. A parable for our times: a white, female Bernie supporter (Selina Kyle) votes for Trump because she believes the system needs a reset but comes to appreciate what a terrible fucking idea that was. (A-)

Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum. Kevin Kelly recommended this impressive little magazine shop to me…they must have carried over 1000 different titles. (B+)

Whisky Café L & B. They stock more than 2300 whiskies (!!)…but the space is so small that I don’t know where they keep it all. (B+)

Van Gogh Museum. Maybe the best small museum I’ve ever been to? Utterly fascinating to see how his entire life and career unfolded. (A)

Rijksmuseum. I missed a lot of this one, but what I did see was great. Gaping at the impossibly exquisite lighting in Vermeer’s The Milkmaid for 15 minutes was itself worth the price of admission. (A-)

Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Really conflicting feelings on this. On the one hand, there were hordes of drunken men walking the streets literally shopping for women’s bodies…anyone unclear on what the male gaze means only need spend a few minutes in De Wallen on a weekend night to fully grasp the concept. On the other hand, it can be empowering, economically and otherwise, for women to engage in sex work. Is the RLD sex-positive? I… (-)

Schiphol. Much faster wifi than at my house. Really lovely airport…it would get an “A” if it weren’t actually an airport. (B)

Amsterdam (generally). Visit if you’re a process and infrastructure nerd. Van Gogh Museum and a boat ride in the canals are musts. Didn’t have enough time to sample as much food as I wanted, but I will definitely be back. (A-)

Michael Clayton. I liked this a little less than I remember, even though its star has been on the rise lately. (B+)

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. I knew next to nothing about Didion before watching this — aside from her hiring Harrison Ford when he was a carpenter. It’s probably better if you’re already a fan? (B)

Heavyweight: Jesse. One man in a car hits another man on a bike and both are changed forever. And for the better? (B+)

Arrival. Maybe my fourth time watching this? A friend commented on the economy of the storytelling…not a second is wasted. (A)

iPhone X. Most of my early impressions still hold. Still don’t like the notch, it is ridiculous. (A-)

Transparent (season four). The recent allegations against Tambour took the shine off of this season for me, but this is still one of the best TV shows in recent years. (A-)

Coco. I didn’t love this as much as everyone else did, and I don’t know why. (B+)

The 21-minute Frozen “short” that played before Coco. Total unimaginative and cynical garbage. This is what happens when marketing has too much pull. (F)

Stranger Things 2 soundtrack. The music is the best part of the show IMO. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Trailers for Black Mirror season four (starts Dec 29th!)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2017

Netflix has released two trailers ahead of the release of season four: one for an episode called Arkangel and the other for one called Crocodile. Arkangel, directed by Jodie Foster, seems particularly Black Mirror-ish…helicopter parenting x100 in a society where people live for hundreds of years.

Update: Here’s the trailer for a third episode, Black Museum.

Update: Trailers for two more episodes:

Eventually they might tell us when the full episodes will be available on Netflix?

Update: Finally…a premiere date (Dec 29th) and a full trailer. (thx, david)

An AI makes up new Star Trek episode titles

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2017

Star Trek Ai Titles

Dan Hon, who you may remember trained a neural network to make up British placenames, has now done the same thing with Star Trek. He fed all the episode titles for a bunch of Treks (TOS, DS9, TNG, etc.) into a very primitive version of Commander Data’s brain and out came some brand new episode titles, including:

Darmok Distant (TNG)
The Killing of the Battle of Khan (TOS)
The Omega Mind (Enterprise)
The Empath of Fire (TNG)
Distance of the Prophets (DS9)
The Children Command (TNG)
Sing of Ferengi (Voyager)

Spock, Q, and mirrors are also heavily featured in episode titles.

Mosaic, Steven Soderbergh’s app/HBO TV series thingie

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2017

Steven Soderbergh’s latest project, Mosaic, takes two forms. The first is a free iOS app that contains an interactive miniseries with over seven hours of footage that you can move through in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure, with “DVD extras” built right into the story. Mosaic will also air in a more conventional linear form on HBO in January. Both versions star Sharon Stone, Beau Bridges, and Garrett Hedlund. Wired has the story of how Mosaic came to be.

Where they ended up was a smartphone-enabled story, developed and released by Silver’s company PodOp, that lets viewers decide which way they want to be told Mosaic’s tale of a children’s book author, played by Sharon Stone, who turns up dead in the idyllic ski haven of Park City, Utah. After watching each segment — some only a few minutes, some as long as a standard television episode — viewers are given options for whose point of view they want to follow and where they want to go next. Those who want to be completest and watch both options before moving on can do so, those who want to race to find out whodunit can do that too. Because each node, filmed by Soderbergh himself, feels like a TV show, launching Mosaic can be akin to sneaking a quick show on Netflix while commuting to work or waiting on a friend; but because it’s long story that’s easily flipped through, it can also enjoyed like the pulpy crime novel on your nightstand, something you chip away at a little bit at a time before bed. It’s concept isn’t wholly original — Soderbergh himself notes that “branching narrative has been around a long time” (the most obvious analogue is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but Soderbergh cringes at that analogy) — but that it finds a way to appeal to both fans of interactive storytelling, and people who just want to watch some decent TV.

Matt Zoller Seitz also interviewed Soderbergh about the app/show for Vulture. It’s a really good interview (not surprising with Seitz at the helm); they inevitably got into the question of Hollywood and abuse of power:

MZS: Do you believe that in order to make memorable art, you have to be disturbed in some way?
SS: Not at all.

MZS: That’s what’s often raised as a defense of Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, and others.
SS: No, I don’t believe that at all. It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility.

You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he accomplished all that he had because of the way he behaved.

MZS: Meaning, like a bully.
SS: Yes, and I would argue instead, “You’re 50 percent of what you could have been, because of the way you behave.” Ultimately, there is a large group of people who are talented, who you want to be in business with, but who won’t be in business with you. I don’t know how you view that as being your best self, or the best version of your business, but I’m really curious to see going forward what changes.

The Crown, season two

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2017

Netflix has released the trailer for season two of The Crown, a historical drama about the rule of Queen Elizabeth II. The excellent Claire Foy returns as Elizabeth. The release date is December 8th. The Crown was TV’s most pleasant surprise last year. I watched with the expectation of another Downton Abbey (which would have been fine) but was rewarded with unexpectedly fine dialogue, acting, and drama…particularly the scenes featuring Elizabeth with her sister and with Churchill (played superbly by John Lithgow). Really looking forward to this second season.

My recent media diet, special French edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two weeks or so. I recently took a trip to France to visit friends and log some time in one of my favorite places on Earth, so this particular media diet is heavy on Parisian museums and food. If you take nothing else away from this post, avoid The Louvre and watch The Handmaid’s Tale at the earliest opportunity.

Dial M for Murder. This Hitchcock film, with its relatively low stakes and filmed mostly in one room, is more suspenseful and thrilling than any of the “the world/galaxy/universe is in peril” movies out today. (A-)

Musée des Arts et Métiers. Before ~1950, you could look at a machine and pretty much know what it did and how it worked. After the invention of the digital computer, everything is an inscrutable black box. (A)

Manon des Sources. This movie feels much older than it is. (B+)

Marconi. The chef from my favorite NYC restaurant recently opened this place in Montreal. Best meal I had during my trip (Paris included). (A)

The Big Sick. It may have been a little predictable, but I really liked this movie. Lots of heart. (B+)

Le Chateaubriand. The skate tartar and a dessert with a smoked cream were the highlights, but the whole experience was top-notch and chill. (A-)

Candelaria. You will never feel cooler in Paris than having an excellent cocktail in a bar behind a hidden door in the back of a taqueria. (A-)

Musée Picasso. Not much else to say about Picasso at this point, is there? That creep can roll, man. (A-)

Women in Physics. My daughter is pretty interested in science and scientists (she’s a particular fan of Marie Curie), so books that highlight women scientists can always be found around our house. (B)

Café de Flore. You will never feel cooler in Paris than sitting outside at Café de Flore at night, reading a book, and drinking a Negroni as Hemingway might have done in the 20s. (Tho Hemingway probably didn’t have a Kindle.) (A-)

Stacked. I recently rediscovered this hour-long mix by Royal Sapien. The two-ish minutes starting at 32:00 are sublime IMO. (A-)

The Devil in the White City. A gripping tale of architecture and serial killing. Chicago 1893 is definitely one of my hypothetical time travel destinations. (A)

Sainte-Chapelle. My favorite church in Paris. Literally jaw-dropping, worth the €10 entry fee. (A)

Rough Night. I will watch anything with Kate McKinnon in it. But… (B-)

Balanchine / Teshigawara / Bausch. An amazing building. (I got to go backstage!) The third act of this ballet was flat-out amazing. (B+)

The Louvre. The best-known works are underwhelming and the rest of this massive museum is overwhelming. The massive crowds, constant photo-taking, and selfies make it difficult to actually look at the art. Should have skipped it. (C)

100 Pounds of Popcorn. Forgettable kids book. (C-)

Kubo and the Two Strings. A fun thing to do is tell someone halfway through that it’s stop motion animated. (A-)

Musée d’Orsay. The building and the art it contains elevate each other. Probably the best big museum in Paris. (A-)

The Handmaid’s Tale. This is both a not-implausible future of the United States and a metaphor for how many women and LGBT+ folks feel about how our society treats them. Excellent, a must-watch. (A)

Musée de l’Orangerie. Two rooms of huge Monet Waterlilies? Yes, please. (A-)

Brasserie Lipp. The steak frites was so-so, but the people watching from my table near the entrance was fascinating. You’ll never feel cooler…etc. etc. (B+)

Monograph by Chris Ware. This thing is *huge* (like it weighs almost 9 pounds) and beautiful. (A-)

D3 Traveller. I bought this on sale, but even so it was an epic splurge for me. Now that I’ve been on 4-5 trips with it, I can say I love love love this bag. Will likely last a lifetime. (A)

Blade Runner 2049. Rewatch, this time on a smaller screen. Despite its flaws, I definitely like this more than the original. (A-)

The Simpsons’ “steamed hams” gag as a Guitar Hero song

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2017

OMG, this is super nerdy and I am so here for it. Like it says on the tin, this is the scene where Principal Skinner has Superintendent Chalmers over to dinner for “steamed hams” presented as if it were a Guitar Hero song. (via @andymcmillan)

Stranger Things season 2 soundtrack

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2017

One of the best parts about Stranger Things is the music. 80s tunes, the opening title music, and the synth-heavy scores. The second season of the show is out on Netflix and with it are the score and the soundtrack from the first season (featuring the likes of Corey Hart, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and Scorpions).

Add to this volume one and volume two of the season one soundtrack, baby, you’ve got yourself a stew going.

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.

Update: Here’s the full trailer for Wormwood:

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)