Tag Archives: trailer

Things September 2017 – Roads, Fish, DJ Shadow

Road Diet

If expanding or adding roads induces more people to drive and so creates worse overall flow, does it follow that reducing or removing roads could improve it? In some cases, yes. (Incidentally, that’s on Kottke.org, which you should definitely follow if you like Things, since it’s the same sort of idea but better).

Up All Night

Beck’s recent music video directed by Canada reminds me of what was (for me) the golden age of music videos, with a simple conceit, intriguing editing and strong visual metaphor, all well executed. I also like the way the choice of frame for the video thumbnail sets expectations:

If you want to know about Numbers

Via Clare, there is a Wikipedia article for the number 1001, which is nice, but does raise certain questions. Fortunately, some of those questions can be answered in the ambitiously-titled article List of Numbers.

Death and Social Media

As Facebook continues to execute its global man-in-the-middle manipulation/monetisation of social interaction, it unsurprisingly runs into some very difficult territory. Reading their blog series on these topics, I’m actually quite impressed with their approach to social media mortality, and was very interested to read how they balance their policy on hate speech.

Generic Film Trailer

With Inception’s percussive brass sound slotting in alongside plenty of other tropes, witness a surprisingly compelling and fully generic trailer:

Would you Rather be a Fish?

Laurie Anderson’s song “Monkey’s Paw” has plenty of strange memorable phrases, but one stayed with me over the years: “Would you like to be… a fish?” The video embedded below is edited from relevant shots from the Terminator TV series, so don’t watch if you’re averse to cyborg gore:

In Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (2016), the strange power of the phrase is explicitly noted in a poem:

… except of course he was referencing the song “Swinging on a Star”, which I assume first coined the phrase:

I rather like the idea that much as I was struck by Anderson’s aquatic question, she herself must have been similarly struck by it in Swinging on a Star, as were Jim Jarmusch (writer-director of Paterson) and/or Ron Padgett (poet for the film). All of which makes it all the more tragic that (via Clare) the opening of late 80’s kids series Out of This World reworked the lyrics to “Swinging on a Star” to present the dilemma of aliens choosing to live as humans on earth, but singularly failed to suggest the fish alternative.

What is it that makes a short phrase like this stand out? I’m reminded of Admiral Ackbar observing “It’s a trap!’ in Return of the Jedi, a far more banal turn of phrase which nonetheless gathered enough pop culture awareness that you can make a comic like this, and people will track down the original voice actor and get him to deliver the line eight different ways 33 years later and get 36,000 YouTube views as a result.

Mind you, Star Wars is the kind of overblown phenomenon that has entire phalanxes of fans dress like an obscure background character who happened to be carrying an odd-looking prop, so may not be the most reliable of reference points.

Find, Share, Rewind

DJ Shadow goes long on both the ‘D’ and ‘J’ elements, shooting to fame in 1996 with his debut album Endtroducing, possibly the first album composed entirely from samples, which he drew from his extensive and ever-growing vinyl collection. If you’re not familiar, the result is a lot more interesting than one might suppose.

DJ Shadow in his natural habitat

More than most artists, while he moves on musically, much of his fan base clings to the past. In a moment I expect is repeated often, at his recent gig in Brighton when he announced he would play “some old stuff and some new stuff” a member of the crowd shouted “No! Artistic stasis or death!”

Kind of. I mean, they actually just shouted “Old stuff!” but we all knew what they meant.

Anyway, the reason I bring up DJ Shadow is that he has (had?) a monthly 2-hour slot on KCRW to present some of his favourite music, and if you enjoy best-radio-station-in-the-world Fip, you might also like this, as it is similarly diverse and intriguing. There are four episodes up so you have an interesting eight hours ahead of you, if you choose to brave that path. Admittedly it starts at the less accessible end, but skip ahead in 15 minute increments for each major section if industrial electronic drone isn’t for you and you’d rather get to the Jefferson Airplane section.

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Things trivia postscript
Endtroducing’s brief ‘Transmission’ tracks (“You are receiving this broadcast as a dream”) – which I later found are sampled from the film Prince of Darkness (1987), a horror film just as mysterious and unnerving as the samples imply – are the reason I end Things posts like this:

- Transmission ends

Things August 2015: Movies, books and stand-up comedy

Momo (1973 novel)

Six years before The Neverending Story, Michael Ende wrote Momo, well known in his native Germany but undeservedly less well known here. It takes a fairly common message (to do with how you should spend your time / what is important in life), but rather than using a fantasy setting to metaphorically imply the message, he uses a fantasy setting as a way to state the message as directly and clearly as possible. Some books change how you look at life if you take the time to really think about them; Momo leaves you no choice. I thought it was brilliant.

Also, here’s a a quote from it that I like:

He looked down at the tortoise. ‘Cassiopeia, my dear, I’d like your opinion on something. What’s the best thing to do when you’re under siege?’

 

‘HAVE BREAKFAST,’ came the reply.

 

‘Quite so,’ said the professor

 

Street Fighter (1994 film)

The Street Fighter movie is fascinating. Here’s a few key facts that let you know right away something weird is happening:

  • Written and directed by Steven de Souza (the writer on Die Hard, The Running Man, among others)
  • Budget $35m ($57m in 2015 adjusted for inflation)
  • IMDb rating 3.7
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating 12%
  • Worldwide gross $99m ($161m in 2015 adjusted for inflation)

If nothing else, I highly recommend reading the Polygon article Street Fighter: The Movie – What Went Wrong, which pieces together the extraordinary story of how that movie came about. It sounds as if de Souza had a truly nightmarish experience as director, blocked from making the movie he wanted to at just about every turn (seriously – it’s incredible the movie got finished at all).

Having read the article I just had to see the movie for myself. As it turns out, it’s a rather brilliant B-movie that knows exactly how silly it is, and is tremendously enjoyable as a result! This often seems to be the case when the IMDb rating dips below 4.0 (it’s the 4.0-6.5 region you should avoid). My personal highlight: Guile (Van Damme), leading an assault on the bad guy’s base, in his state-of-the-art stealth speedboat, takes a moment to watch some home movie footage of himself and his good buddy (now captured) on a VHS casette he evidently brought with him, on the CRT monitor built into the stealth-speed-boat control panel, perhaps to remind himself what he’s fighting for. Amazing.

Even more brilliantly, there’s a director’s commentary evidently recorded by de Souza a few weeks after the movie came out (intended for the Laserdisc edition), in which he betrays no bitterness about the process of getting the film made, but rather conveys a genuine warmth for the material and pride in what they managed to achieve. The Street Fighter movie is a great example of someone being given life-lemons and making life-lemonade out of them.

Mitch Hedberg

I originally referenced Mitch Hedberg back in Things 104 in 2011. I finally bought one of his CD’s, Strategic Grill Locations, which is as funny as the many YouTube clips you can find of him would suggest, but instead lasts for almost an hour, which is pretty great.

He has some nice one-liners, such as:

I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.

But what I didn’t adequately convey in Things 104 is his delivery style. His laid-back demeanor and accent are part of it, but his unusual prosody is what really makes his material work. So I can give you this quote, which is okay, but it’s infinitely better when he’s saying it:

I was at the airport a while back and some guy said “Hey man, I saw you on TV last night.” But he did not say whether or not he thought I was good, he was just confirming that he saw me on television. So I turned my head away for about a minute, and looked back at him and said “Dude! I saw you at the airport… About a minute ago… And you were good.”

Stewart Lee

In some ways the mirror opposite of Mitch Hedberg and his non-sequitur one-liners, Stewart Lee makes long-form stand-up comedy. I didn’t really understand what he was trying to do until I read his book, which I guess makes him hard to recommend.

That said, when I saw him live, I found one particular segment – in which he responds to a silly statement from UKIP with a 12-minute long Reductio ad absurdum argument – to be a brilliant result of the weird territory he has been exploring. So I was glad to find that someone has taken that segment from his TV series and put it online.

 

Zathura (2005 film)

Let’s have another breakdown:

  • Written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones… 4) and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Cowboys and Aliens)
  • Budget $65m
  • IMDb rating 6.1
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating 75%
  • Worldwide gross $64m

… ouch. So what went wrong there?

One problem was the release timing: they went out against Disney’s Chicken Little (which people went to in droves, assuming Disney’s first foray into 3D would be as good as Pixar – Chicken Little made more money than Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, conclusively disproving money as a measure of movie merit), and in the second week when people realised Chicken Little wasn’t that good, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out.

The other problem was the perception that Zathura was just “Jumanji in space, without Robin Williams”… which is actually a very accurate description.

But while it is that, it’s also brilliant, partly because space is cooler than jungle, and partly because Robin Williams isn’t the best thing about Jumanji anyway. Jon Favreau makes use of practical effects wherever possible (for example in the trailer below, that robot smashing through the doorway is literally doing that; even the jet-flames on the ships are practical), and this is particularly effective for the ever-increasing destruction of the house. Also featuring before-they-were-famous starring roles for Josh Hutcherson and Kristen Stewart, it’s just a really lovely film that is unjustly overshadowed by its precursor.

Okay, one caveat: there’s some stuff that’s almost cool sci-fi but then is instead just fantasy, which some of you might find a bit disappointing. As is so often the case, keep in mind it’s a fantasy film rather than a sci-fi one, and it’s all good.

- Transmission ends

Things 119: Journey, Tree Record, Climb and Descent

Game: Journey
If you’re a gamer, you’ve probably heard about Journey. If you’re not a gamer, then you should have heard about it anyway, because it’s quite beautiful and amazing, and only takes 2-3 hours to play through, which means you could visit a friend that has a PS3 and play it in one sitting.

But why would you want to do that?

In this interview, Jenova Chen, the game’s creative director, says:

“Augustine wrote: ‘People will venture out to the height of the mountain to seek for wonder. They will stand and stare at the width of the ocean to be filled with wonder. But they will pass one another in the street and feel nothing. Yet every individual is a miracle. How strange that nobody sees the wonder in one another.’

“There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player over the Internet, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. […] It is the system that made the player cruel, not the player themselves. So if I get the system correct, the players are human and their humanity will be drawn out. I want to bring the human value into a game and change the player’s assumption.”

The reason I say the game is amazing is that it succeeds at this seemingly impossible aim. I’ve played through it a few times now, and each time I’ve had at least one incredibly positive and sustained play experience with a complete stranger.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mF8KkDiIdk

[Video not working, try this search – metatim, 02/08/15]

Film: The Cabin in the Woods
If you like horror films, you really should watch The Cabin in the Woods. I don’t think it quite succeeds at Joss Whedon’s stated aim (which you shouldn’t look up until after you’ve seen it), but it’s worth it for the wonderfully insane final half hour or so, which, impressively, the trailer largely resists showing any of:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ENUBUdFswM

[Video not working, try this search – metatim, 02/08/15]

Video: Tree Record / Years
The technology to turn wistful ideas into a reality is in our hands. Look at this device and imagine what you want it to do:

Now check out the video, where it does exactly that:

Read a bit about it here.

Puzzle: Climb and Descent
Tarim recently introduced me to levels 1 and 2 of a puzzle I’d only ever previously heard set at level 3. This week: level 1.

On Day 1, Joss Whedon hikes his way up a mountain, starting at the bottom at midday, and reaching the top (with a few rest stops along the way) 12 hours later, at midnight. He basks in the glory of his achievement for 12 hours, then at midday on Day 2 sets off back down the mountain, reaching the the bottom 12 hours later again, at midnight.

The question: is there a particular time at which he passed through exactly the same altitude on both his Days 1 ascent and Day 2 descent?

Answer: Voice recognition
A long time ago I asked what one could do to improve the chances of having your words understood by one of the many would-be voice-recognition services we find around us today.

After a bunch of googling around, the answers seem to be:

  • Reduce ambient noise where possible
  • Don’t speak too loudly and close to the microphone
  • Leave longer gaps between words than you might in natural speech
  • Speak with the accent the device was tested for

That last point is the one I’m most interested in. The question is, what accent should you use?

It seems the various companies offering this service (Apple/Siri, Google voice search, Xbox Kinect) do have to release different versions for different parts of the English-speaking world (I don’t have a good source for that, but it’s the impression I get from their staged releases, people’s reported experiences, and common sense).

My next plan is to carry out a small personal test in which I try putting on different accents. Results will of course be reported here.

@metatim

Things 118: Cindy & Biscuit, Tron Dance, Into The Abyss

Comic
Cindy and Biscuit is a comic by Dan White which consists of various short episodes, and the best way to communicate what sort of thing they’re about is probably just to show you this representative one-pager:

Cindy is of a character-type I find particularly inspiring: defiantly unbowed by the insanity the world presents her with, and generally willing and able to tackle that insanity head-on. You can read Cindy & Biscuit in The Snowman here, or just enjoy my favourite panel below, or go ahead and order the comic directly, or pick up Vol. 2 from Gosh! like I did. (And if you’re on the fence on whether or not to spring for it, read this much more detailed review).

Video
This is a fantastic use of technology in combination with dance. It’s quite a slow build, so if you’re impatient just make sure you at least catch 1’12” to 2’37”.

Film / TV
Werner Herzog has been making documentaries in one form or another since 1969. I’ve only seen two of his more recent ones (Cave of Forgotten Dreams and most recently Into The Abyss), but the impression I’m forming is that these decades of experience must be the reason he’s able to elicit such insightful responses in interviews seemingly without effort and even while apparently willfully derailing the conversation along frivolous tangents.

The most striking example I’ve heard so far, which you can hear (but unfortunately not see) at the 2’34” mark in this Kermode & Mayo review of Into The Abyss, occurs when the death row pastor happens to mention seeing squirrels (and other animals) while unwinding at the golf course. This prompts Herzog to request “Please describe an encounter with a squirrel”, to which the pastor responds with an initially jovial anecdote that quite suddenly leads straight to the heart of his feelings about his role in executions.

You can watch the trailer for the film, but it doesn’t really do it justice:

There’s also a series of three 45-minute TV episodes (still viewable on 4oD at the time of writing) which I haven’t yet seen but will presumably be similarly insightful and gut-wrenching.

Picture
Such an elegant concept: Eirik Solheim extracted sequential vertical slices of  3,888 photos he took out of his window over the course of 2010, and composited them to produce one year in one image:

(You may recall a similar idea applied to video that I posted a short while ago, A History of the Sky).