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A surgery resident analyzes medical scenes from TV & movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

Annie Onishi is a general surgery resident at Columbia University and Wired asked her to break down scenes from movies and TV shows featuring emergency rooms, operating rooms, and other medical incidents. Spoiler alert: if you seek medical treatment from a TV doctor, you will probably die. Secondary spoiler alert: that adrenaline-shot-to-the-heart scene in Pulp Fiction is not as implausible as you might think, even if some of the details are wrong.

Katja Blichfeld’s personal reinvention

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018


We should all be talking more about High Maintenance, a show sort of about weed but really about the human condition. 

Last season’s episode “Grandpa” is unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV, but do yourself a favor and start with their original webisodes and work your way up to the current season on HBO. “Rachel” is also not to be missed (Dan Stevens plus Rachel Comey, swoon).

Emily Gould’s recent profile on co-creator Katja Blichfeld
 gives a look at half of the real-life (former) couple behind the show. I particularly like the story of her career trajectory.

Before she was known for High Maintenance, Blichfeld was a casting director, a job at which she was very successful (she won an Emmy for her work on 30 Rock) and at which she arrived via an indirect path. Born in Long Beach, California, to Danish parents, she grew up attending Evangelical Christian schools, where she was taught that much of pop culture was the devil’s doing. “Like I couldn’t watch The Smurfs,” she explains, “because of witchcraft and sorcery.” She spent a couple of semesters at Long Beach City College, dropped out, moved to Chicago, worked in admin at a university, and then, in 2004, followed a relationship that had begun on Friendster to New York. “We were watching a lot of movies together, and the way that I would talk about movies was always very actor-centric. And I remember this person saying, ‘You should be a casting director.’” Blichfeld decided she’d try to get an internship. She made a list of people she wanted to work for, topped with Jennifer McNamara, who had just won a bunch of awards for her work on Sex and the City: “She, being a casting director — you know, very good at seeing potential — saw it in me, lucky me, and took me on.

The life-imitates-art-imitates-life aspect of Blichfeld’s breakup and the show really gets me, too.

8-bit scenes from TV shows

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2018

Pixel Art TV

Pixel Art TV

Pixel Art TV

Pixel Art TV

For his Pixel Art TV project, Gustavo Viselner illustrates scenes from TV shows in a pixelized video game style. Looks like he’s done scenes from Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, Breaking Bad, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Seinfeld, Star Trek, and several others. (via @john_overholt)

Update: See also The Screenshots, a project by Jon Haddock from 2000 in which scenes from historical & fictional events are rendered in a The Sims-like style. (via @dens)

Mister Rogers learns to breakdance and moonwalk

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2018

In this clip from an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, breakdancer Jermaine Vaughn shows Mister Rogers and his television neighbors a few moves, including some popping and locking and the moonwalk.

That guy is game for anything, even if it makes him look dorky…probably especially if it makes him look dorky. Rogers knew the value of not letting what others might think about you get in the way of your curiosity or a new experience.

Also, DJs and producers take note: his lines “like there’s a wave going the whole way through your body” and “then make it come back, huh” are ripe for sampling.

My recent media diet, special Black Panther & Olympics edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I have fallen off the book reading wagon…I really really need to find some time to start reading more. Maybe after the Olympics are done and I’ve made it through all of the levels in Alto’s Odyssey

2018 Winter Olympic Games. Yes, the Olympics are corrupt & corporate and NBC’s coverage is often lacking, but on the other hand, all of America gets a two-week look at all of these amazing women, immigrants, children of immigrants, and openly gay athletes (some of them just children) displaying many different kinds of femininity and masculinity while performing amazing feats and suffering humbling defeats. The Olympics, as the joke goes, is the future that liberals want and America is watching and loving it. (A-)

Black Panther. Really entertaining and affecting after an expositional slow start. (B+)

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Leonardo da Vinci is not overrated. (B+)

Alto’s Odyssey. A worthy successor to one of my favorite games. (A-)

Reply All: The Bitcoin Hunter. Is admitting that you bought illegal drugs on Silk Road a thing you can do without the risk of being prosecuted? (B+)

Black Panther The Album. I can’t wait to drive around playing this as loud as I can. Also, based on my experience, movies should put more effort into their soundtracks. The really good ones (like this one) inspire repeat viewings and cause me to remember the movie more fondly. (A-)

Paddington. If more people in the UK over 65 had watched Paddington, Brexit wouldn’t have happened. (A-)

Paddington 2. Seriously, these Paddington movies are better than they have any right to be. Smart and lots of heart. (B+)

See You in the Cosmos. Read this to the kids as a bedtime story over the past few months. We all loved it. Rocketry, Carl Sagan, the Voyager Golden Record…what’s not to like? (A-)

Allied. Bland and forgettable. (C-)

On Being: interview with Isabel Wilkerson. An excellent interview of the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. (A-)

Phantom Thread soundtrack. More strong work by Jonny Greenwood. But don’t listen if you want something upbeat. (B+)

Song Exploder. A podcast where musicians break down their well-known songs. Always solid. I recently caught the episodes about the Stranger Things theme song and DJ Shadow. Oh, and I’m going to give the Arrival score a listen soon. (A-)

Apollo 13. One of my I’ll-watch-this-whenever-it’s-on movies. Love the scientific and engineering detective scenes. (B+)

Alias Grace. Several people asserted this was a better Margaret Atwood adaptation than The Handmaid’s Tale, but I didn’t think so. (B)

I, Tonya. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. (A-)

Goodthreads T-shirt. Goodthreads is one of Amazon’s house brands. Ordered a couple of these after a recommendation from Clayton Cubbitt and damn if they’re not some of the most comfortable and best-fitting t-shirts I’ve ever worn. And only $12! My new go-to. (A-)

Sleep. One of the best things I’ve done for my work and my sanity is going to bed at about the same time every night and getting at least 6.5 hours (and often 7-8 hours) of sleep every night. (A+)

This American Life: Chip in My Brain. Holy parenting nightmare. (B+)

Professor Marston & The Wonder Women. The surprising role of BDSM in the development of Wonder Woman. (B+)

Atomic Blonde. John Wick-like. I wanted to like this more but the plot was a little muddled. (B)

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. That choreographed double booster landing… (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

An oral history of the “fuck” scene in The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2018

In the fourth episode of the first season of The Wire, the one that really hooks you fully into the show, detectives Bunk and McNulty enter a crime scene and scour it for potential clues, communicating with each other almost entirely using variations of the word “fuck”.

It’s a great scene, almost pure visual filmmaking and an homage to a singularly versatile word. In his new book, All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, Jonathan Abrams details how this scene came to be made. New York Magazine has an excerpt.

David comes up to us and describes a scene. He says, “You’re going to go to the scene. You’re going to realize that [the previous] detective, he did a bad job. Wendell, you’re going to see the photos of the girl. Dominic, you’re going to start getting the stats, looking at what the report was. Going back over, you’re going to realize it’s impossible to have gone down the way it was reported, because the guy would have to be like eight feet tall to get that trajectory. If he did, then something must be left in here, and you’re looking for any evidence that may be around, and Wendell, you discover that there’s a shot through the window. The glass is on the inside. It means it came from the outside. That means whoever the perpetrator was wasn’t inside, like the person they say in the report. The bullet came from outside. From there, let’s see the trajectory. It would be right here, in the refrigerator. Let’s see, not the wall. In the refrigerator, we find the bullet here. Let’s go outside, make a new discovery.” He explained the whole scene to us. He said, “Now you guys are going to do that whole thing, but they’re going to be on me about the profanity and language that we use.” So, I said, “Let’s just come out the box with it.” He said, “You’re going to do that whole scene, but the only word you can say is ‘fuck.’” I said, “What?”

The history and lifecycle of CRT television sets

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 09, 2018

Sony TV Guide.JPG

Adi Robertson at The Verge has a fun, informative history of old cathode ray tube television sets, plus the people who study them, keep them working, and continue to use them. One maybe-surprising constituency: retro gamers.

Old games may look torn or feel laggy on a new TV. That’s in part because LCD screens process an entire frame of an image and then display it, rather than receiving a signal and drawing it right away.

Some games are completely dependent on the display technology. One of the best-known examples is Duck Hunt, which uses Nintendo’s Zapper light gun. When players pull the trigger, the entire screen briefly flashes black, then a white square appears at the “duck’s” location. If the optical sensor detects a quick black-then-white pattern, it’s a hit. The entire Zapper system is coded for a CRT’s super fast refresh rate, and it doesn’t work on new LCD TVs without significant DIY modification.

Old-school arcades, too, need to constantly maintain and replace their old tube monitors. Weirdly, this makes old television sets extremely valuable, even as it’s more and more difficult to have them recycled or thrown away.

“CRTs are essentially the bane of the electronic recycling industry,” says Andrew Orben, director of business development at Tekovery, one of the companies Barcade uses to dispose of irrevocably broken hardware. The tubes contain toxic metals that could leach into a dump site, and 18 states specifically ban sending them to landfills. They’re made of raw materials that are often impossible to sell at a profit, primarily glass that’s mixed with several pounds of lead.

They’re also insanely heavy. Even in 2002, a 40” tube TV would weigh more than 300 pounds. (Bigger TVs used to be rear-projections, remember?)

How Martin Luther King Jr. really felt about advertising

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2018

The worst commercial aired during last night’s handegg match was this Dodge Ram ad featuring a snippet of a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. King, of course, was an outspoken critic of capitalism. In fact, later in the very same speech, he railed against this type of advertising. Here’s the audio of that part of his speech overlaid on the Dodge Ram commercial:

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. That’s the way the advertisers do it…

It often causes us to live above our means. It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. But it feeds a repressed ego.

You can listen to King’s speech in its entirety here:

(thx, hyder)

The genius physical comedy of Mr. Bean

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2018

For the latest installment of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak explains the distinct brand of physical comedy practiced by Rowan Atkinson, best known for his character Mr. Bean. For my money, this scene of Mr. Bean running late for a dentist appointment is one of the funniest things ever put on screen.

This is the comedy of personality rather than the comedy of gags. It’s not about doing funny things. It’s about doing something quite normal in a funny way.

Atkinson himself explained and demonstrated the principles of physical comedy in a 60-minute documentary called Funny Business; here’s part 1:

This is really odd timing. Just two days ago, I was watching some videos with my kids and we stumbled across Rowan Atkinson performing as Mr. Bean at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics in 2012, which a) opens Puschak’s video, b) I had completely forgotten about, and c) is perhaps the most British thing ever.

My recent media diet for January 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I worked so much in January, mostly on getting the Noticing newsletter launched, that by the time the evening rolled around, all I wanted to do was collapse and watch a little TV or maybe go to a movie (I’ve seen all the Oscar Best Picture nominees this year). But I still managed to read a couple books and am currently working my way through two more: Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey and Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet.

Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield at ICP Museum. A retrospective of Greenfield’s photographic survey of wealth. Also available in book form. (A-)

Lady Bird. This one’s been growing on me since I saw it. (B+/A-)

The Post. My main problem with this movie is that Streep, while otherwise excellent, does not properly sell the transformation of her character at the end. (A-)

The Farthest - Voyager in Space. I had no idea about many of the amazing things about the Voyager program. If I’d seen this as a kid, I might work for NASA right now. (A-)

Black Mirror season four. Perhaps not as strong as some of the previous seasons, but USS Callister is one of the best episodes of the series. (B+)

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. A compelling argument that Buddhists figured out thousands of years ago how to route around a human brain designed to delude us, a tendency that neuroscientists and psychologists have only learned of more recently. (B+)

Call Me By Your Name. A touching love story. One of the best movies of the year. (A)

Jane. Jane Goodall is a remarkable person, one of the best scientific researchers of our time. The footage in this movie of her early career is stunning, like it was filmed specifically for the documentary. (A-)

Jane soundtrack. Philip Glass. What more needs to be said? (A-)

Darkest Hour. Churchill is over-acted by Oldman, like an SNL character. I much prefer Lithgow’s take in The Crown. (C+)

The Shape of Water. This was ok, I suppose. (B)

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: interview with Errol Morris. I could listen to Errol Morris talk about film and truth all day. (A-)

Phantom Thread. One of those movies that gets better once you read about it afterwards. (B+)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Frances McDormand is amazing in this. I’m also unconvinced of the straightforward reading of the movie as the redemption of a racist cop. (B+)

Slow Burn. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. (A)

The New York Times For Kids. The rest of the paper should be more like this. (A-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

A Mister Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks (WHAT!!?)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2018

Variety is reporting that Tom Hanks is set to play Fred Rogers in a biopic called You Are My Friend.

“Now more than ever, we all need a re-introduction to Fred Rogers’ message of uncompromising love and kindness between all living things. Mari Heller is the perfect visionary filmmaker to bring Noah and Micah’s script to life and because of her vision and this remarkable script, we have the quintessential actor to play Fred Rogers,” said Turtletaub and Saraf.

The script is loosely based on Tom Junod’s Esquire piece about Rogers, Can You Say…Hero?, which is very much worth a read if you’ve never had the pleasure.

Nearly every morning of his life, Mister Rogers has gone swimming, and now, here he is, standing in a locker room, seventy years old and as white as the Easter Bunny, rimed with frost wherever he has hair, gnawed pink in the spots where his dry skin has gone to flaking, slightly wattled at the neck, slightly stooped at the shoulder, slightly sunken in the chest, slightly curvy at the hips, slightly pigeoned at the toes, slightly aswing at the fine bobbing nest of himself… and yet when he speaks, it is in that voice, his voice, the famous one, the unmistakable one, the televised one, the voice dressed in sweater and sneakers, the soft one, the reassuring one, the curious and expository one, the sly voice that sounds adult to the ears of children and childish to the ears of adults, and what he says, in the midst of all his bobbing nudity, is as understated as it is obvious: “Well, Tom, I guess you’ve already gotten a deeper glimpse into my daily routine than most people have.”

Oh, I hope this doesn’t get derailed. Unless it’s going to be bad, in which case: shelve away!

The sounds in that cute falling penguin video are likely fake

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2018

In the past few weeks, a old video of a penguin falling down and its pals hooting sympathetically has been making the rounds on social media again: “Penguin falls down resulting in best sound ever”.

It’s funny, right? The sounds are also probably fake, added in the editing phase of whatever nature documentary this came from. Foley is the process used by filmmakers to add and enhance sounds in the editing phase…almost every movie and TV show uses them, including nature documentaries.

Whilst I’m no wildlife expert, it’s fairly straightforward to conclude that such an unpredictable and uncontrollable subject as wildlife would have prompted the need to often shoot on long lenses, thus making it almost physically impossible for a sound recordist to obtain ‘realistic’ recordings that would match the treatment and emotive style of the programme. Combine this with the shooting climate, as well as the need for frequent communication between crew just to capture the necessary shots that will cut well in the edit suite and you have a recipe for failure in regards to obtaining useable sound. Therefore, it’s not only impractical but virtually impossible to capture the ‘real’ sound that some of these disgruntled viewers may be protesting for.

I mean, just listen to the footsteps of the penguins in that video. There’s no way that was recorded on a mic while shooting that scene from that distance. The noise of the penguin falling? Probably a foley artist punching the innards of a watermelon. Now, maybe the penguins really did make noises that sounded like that and they recreated them in the studio, but maybe they also juiced them a little to seem more anthropomorphic. It’s impossible to know.

Perhaps this is a case of “even if it’s fake it’s real”, the idea that there’s genuine meaning in that video even if those penguins were completely silent in real life. You can imagine some group of penguins somewhere doing exactly that so it’s funny & life-affirming. But you know what…I don’t like the direction “even if it’s fake it’s real” has taken in our culture lately. I’m ready for “if it’s fake, call it out and look for the truth” or something like that, even if it makes penguins a little less cute.

Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2018

Oooh, the trailer for season two of The Handmaid’s Tale. The first season was one of the best things I watched last year. Season two premieres on Hulu on April 25th. Season one episodes are available on Amazon and elsewhere, but if you’re going to binge it, it’s cheaper to just sign up to Hulu (30 days free then $8/mo).

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, David Letterman’s new Netflix show

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2018

David Letterman is returning to TV with a Netflix series called My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. There will be six 60-minute shows in the series and he’ll interview only one guest per show. The guests will be George Clooney, Malala Yousafzai, Jay-Z, Tina Fey, Howard Stern and President Barack Obama. The Obama show is first up on January 12, with an additional show following each month after that.

This is a big departure from how Netflix normally releases shows. Usually they put all the episodes of a series out there at once. Is this the first instance of them releasing episodes one at a time?

My other big question: do any of his guests play the drums?

Update: This isn’t the first time Netflix has episodes of a show one-at-a-time: Chelsea Handler’s show and Riverdale have also been released that way.

Oh, and here’s the story behind “Are those your drums?” (thx @t_w_t, @ShaneMBailey, @inayali)

Update: Here’s a short clip from Letterman’s interview of Obama; they’re discussing Obama dancing onstage with Prince.

Custom minifigs of Star Trek: The Next Generation characters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2018

Star Trek Minifigs

Oh these are cool: custom-made minifigs of all your favorite Star Trek:TNG characters. The Wesley Crusher one is kinda funny, but Wil Wheaton makes a good case as to why it’s unfair to the character. And it turns out, you can get custom minifigs for just about everything, from LeBron James to Game of Thrones to yourself. (via io9)

Your fave TV shows, but with animoji characters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2018

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s get the year started off on a good note with some lowbrow laaaaaaaaffffs. Video funnyfolk Corridor took scenes from TV shows & movies (Stranger Things, Arrested Development, The Office, Full Metal Jacket) and replaced the actor’s heads with iPhone X animoji. The Gob scene is *kisses fingers*.

The best of my media diet for 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2018

EOY Media 2017

In 2017, I kept track of almost everything I read, listened to, watched, and experienced. I don’t know about “the best”, but as the year draws to a close, these are the things that I thought about the most, that made me see things in a slightly different way, or taught me a little something about myself. I marked my very favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine images of 2017 from Instagram.)

Books. I don’t know how many books I read this year, but it was fewer than I wanted. My work demands a lot of reading online, so when I’ve finished with that most days, reading for leisure or enrichment is often not enticing.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann were perhaps the best books I read…you’ll hardly find anyone who speaks ill of either one.

Wonderland by Steven Johnson pulls together technology, culture, and science in a way that I aspire to.

I enjoyed Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem when I read it early on in 2017 but it grew in my esteem as the year went on. Crazy, but I might reread soon?

The Devil in the White City. A masterful dual tale of two men who seized the opportunity due to cultural and technological changes in late 1800s America, told through the events of the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.

I reread Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote…no recent book has helped me more in figuring out a path forward in life.

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 2 blew my doors off. I have never felt so uncannily like a writer has been rummaging around in my brain. *

Television. What even is television anymore? To paraphrase US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it. And I saw a lot of it this year. And much of it was excellent.

The Crown (season two). I kept expecting this to falter as it went on, but it never did. A keen portrait of changing times and a dying empire.

Mad Men. Rewatched it all the way through for the first time since it aired. One of the all-time great TV shows.

Halt and Catch Fire (season four). Very strong finish to a great series. I kind of want a season five in about 5 or 6 years that’s set in 2002. Still can’t believe I got to be on the show for like 2 seconds.

The Vietnam War. I feel like this didn’t get the attention it deserved. Along with OJ: Made in America, one of the best documentaries of recent years in terms of understanding the United States culturally and politically.

Wormwood. What the hell is even a documentary anyway? Errol Morris is at the top of his game with this one.

The Handmaid’s Tale. My favorite drama series of the year. So hard to watch but also essential and so well done. *

Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II. Incredible. Aside from the eclipse, these are the best things on this list. *

Honorable mentions: I anticipated Game of Thrones more than anything each week, but I’ve already forgotten most of what happened. There were dragons? Big Little Lies was very solid and enjoyable, but the last episode was some of the best television I’ve ever seen. Zoom out a little, and The Defiant Ones was actually about creativity, collaboration, and management.

Movies: Though I haven’t seen many of the end-of-the-year movies yet, I felt like this was a strong-ish movie year. But only four films stuck with me.

The Handmaiden. I don’t even know how to classify this film, but I wish they’d make more like it.

Maybe Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t great, but I saw it twice and have thought about it often since. Amazing visual experience.

Paths of the Soul. A window into the lives of people very unlike mine. Underscores how much living “the simple life” in wealthy countries is made possible by good infrastructure, social safety nets, and privilege. The simple life in most of the world is neither a choice nor easy.

Dunkirk. Absolutely thrilling. My favorite movie of the year. *

Music. Let’s be honest, Lemonade was probably the album of the year. But I guess some good music came out in 2017 as well. Oh, and I’m old so I still listen to albums.

Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples got the most airplay in my car this summer and fall. Early fave track was Crabs in a Bucket but BagBak came on strong later in the year.

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. Probably my favorite album of the year…every track hits the mark. *

4:44 by Jay-Z. The contrast between his last album (lazy, full of swagger) and this one (introspective, urgent) could not be more stark. This wasn’t the best or even my favorite album of the year, but I thought about it more than any of the others I listened to this year. Worth noting this album was only possible because of Beyonce’s superior Lemonade…imagine the hypothetical Jay-Z album had she not slammed him to the wall with that.

Experiences, etc. As I said on Instagram, I prioritized experiences over things this year. But because things like books, movies, and TV shows are easier to summarize and review, I kept most of the experiences for myself. You have to hold some things back or you lose your edges.

Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists and I’m grateful I got to spend a few hours witnessing how his career came together and his life fell apart. One of the best museums I’ve ever been to.

D3 Traveller. I travelled quite a bit this year, and it would have been more difficult without this bag. Worth the huge splurge.

Sainte-Chapelle. I am not religious at all, but you can’t help but feel something in this wonderful building.

iPhone X. A remarkable machine.

Rijksmuseum. I keep going back to two works I saw here: Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (I spent a good 15 minutes with this one) and this early self-portrait by Rembrandt (the lighting! the curls!).

The total solar eclipse. By far the best thing that I witnessed this year…or maybe in my life. It still gives me chills just thinking about it. *

How to make Baltimore foods (pit beef, lake trout) featured on The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2017

For the holidays, the dusky-voiced gentleman behind Binging with Babish prepares some of the Baltimore specialties featured on The Wire…like pit beef and lake trout, which as Bunk says, features “no lake, no trout”. He even prepares the beer with an egg cracked in it enjoyed by the dock workers, although I didn’t appreciate his “kind of inferior season two” remark.

Speaking of inferior seasons of The Wire, I wonder if it’s time to go back to see how season five holds up in this current atmosphere of fake news. Maybe it wasn’t so outlandishly over-the-top after all?

My recent media diet, special Star Wars edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I’ve been busy with work, so leisure reading time has been hard to come by…but I’m still working my way through Why Buddhism is True. Lots of great TV and movies though.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’ve been watching Star Wars for almost 40 years, and I can’t tell if any of the movies are any good anymore. At this point, Star Wars just is. Even so, I really enjoyed seeing this and will try to catch it again in a week or two. This is a favorite review that mirrors many of my feelings. (A-)

Wormwood. Errol Morris is almost 70 years old, and this 6-part Netflix series is perhaps his most ambitious creation yet: is it a true crime documentary or a historical drama? Or both? Stylistically and thematically fascinating. See also Morris’s interview with Matt Zoller Seitz. (A)

Flipflop Solitaire. Oh man, this game sucked me waaaaay in. My best time for single suit so far is 1:25. (B+)

The Hateful Eight. I liked this way more than I expected based on the reviews, but it lacks the mastery of Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino at his self-indulgent best though. (B+)

Our Ex-Life podcast. A divorced couple, who live almost next door to each other in a small town, talks about the good old days, the bad old days, and co-parenting their three kids. (B+)

Paths of the Soul. A documentary about a group of Tibetan villagers who undertake a pilgrimage to Lhasa that has a genre-bending scripted feel to it. I’ve been thinking about this film since watching it…it’s full of incredible little moments. What do I believe in enough to undertake such a journey? Anything? (A)

Stranger Things 2. The plot of this show is fairly straight-forward, but the 80s vibe, soundtrack, and the young actors elevate it. (B+)

Stranger Things 2 soundtrack. As I was saying… (A-)

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography. Huge Errol Morris fan (see above), but I was a bit bored by this. (C+)

The Crown, season two. This is one of my favorite new shows. I know she’s not the actual Queen, but I still want to have Claire Foy ‘round for tea. (A)

Blue Planet II. Just as good as Planet Earth II. Incredible stories and visuals. Premiering in the US in January. (A+)

The Moon 1968-1972. A charming little book of snapshots taken by astronauts on the Moon. (B+)

Donnie Darko. This one maybe hasn’t aged well. Or perhaps my commitment to Sparkle Motion is wavering? (B)

Part-Time Genius: Was Mister Rogers the Best Neighbor Ever? Yes, he was. (B+)

The Circle. This hit way way way way too close to home, and I couldn’t finish it. Also, not the best acting. (C)

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom. Really interesting, but I stopped listening to the audiobook because I wasn’t in the mood. (B)

A Charlie Brown Christmas. You know, for the kids. (B)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Charming, perhaps my favorite holiday short. (B+)

xXx. An un-ironic favorite. Sometimes, dumb fun is just the thing. (B)

Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez. Tim’s recent post about smell reminded me of this book, which is a masterclass in criticism. (A-)

Young Frankenstein. I’d only seen this once before, but I wasn’t feeling it this time around. (B-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Sesame Street puppeteers explain how they play their characters

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

If you grew up watching Sesame Street but are now old enough to realize that Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, and Oscar aren’t actually real, this behind-the-scenes video about how the puppets are controlled is a must-see. What struck me most was that the puppeteers do both the movement and the voice for these characters…the guy inside the Snuffleupagus suit is actually speaking the lines. It would be so easy to separate the two activities with voiceovers added later, but I bet the final result wouldn’t be as good as using the on-set full-body performance.

See also Four things about Mr. Snuffleupagus, including the unusual reason his existence was finally revealed to the grownups on the show. (via @simplebits)

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)