Friday, January 3, 2020

Getting serial

You know what I'm getting really tired of? Modern TV series. Why, do you ask? Well, it's more because in the age of bingeable streaming TV, every TV series has now aligned themselves with having an overarching story-line which some would argue doesn't have a pay-off until the final episode. And herein lies the problem. In a not-so distant past, we had TV series which had self-contained episodes ... and, for those which were worth their salt, an overarching story and world-building. Notable examples were X-Files (For the first few seasons at least), Firefly, Star Trek (pre-Discovery).

What made them great was that you could watch an episode without having to know the backstory for the entire series. Each episode was a self-contained entity, with a beginning and an end. Perhaps not all plot devices were sorted out at the end (e.g. unrequited love) but you had your pay-off. Nowadays, you don't have that. Each episode plays out like merely a step towards the final realisation or, even more dastardly, season cliffhanger.

Which takes me elegantly onto the agenda of today's post: The Feed. This is another series brought to you by the Bezosian Amazon (um, wot? $35 billion pay-out - for a divorce?). It follows a halcyon/Orwellian future where most of the world have cerebral implants connecting them to basically the internet. I felt like it had smatterings of influence from Ghost in the Shell and Black Mirror, which is a good start, but in the end I couldn't finish the series. The first two-to-three episodes had a nice bit of world-building and a few (already covered by Black Mirror) technological/philosophical conundrums - but that was about the time the series ran out of steam.

In a nutshell the story revolves around The Feed which connects people and allows the sharing of experiences, social networking and making video/augmented reality calls. The system starts to fall apart when certain individuals are 'jacked' and forced to murder people. The rest of the series revolves around a baby with a non-invasive Feed integration (transferred through the blood supply, apparently), the philosophical implications of The Feed governing what you see, the moral privacy implications of being able to monitor feed users ... and that's about it. Most of this is covered in the first four episodes - but unfortunately the series still has six remaining episodes to fill. This meant that there was a whole lot of treading water required while the writers tried their best to wrap up a series about characters that we don't care about nor a story with a well-defined stance on whether The Feed is truly bad or not. Needless to say, there are a lot of slow pans, slow establishing shots, people staring off into the distance and swelling chords while absolutely nothing happens.

If we contrast this with the ill-fated Firefly series, it had distinct characters, very interesting world-building, distinct episodes (but an overarching story) and a relatively clearly-defined stance on good and bad - even if our heroes weren't nearly as black and white. Each episode could quite happily be watched out-of-order (as Fox did, for some reason) and you, as the viewer, would get their pay-off by the end of the episode. Having said that, not every episode was amazing (e.g. Jaynestown) but even that episode provided some nuance to what had initially been a one-note character.

And so, to summarise, I am not a fan of the current trend for series treating their episodes as merely stepping stones to their final pay-off. I would argue that if a series only gets good in the final episode, is it actually a good series? Just like with life, you need to enjoy the journey - not just the final destination. At this stage I would much rather watch an episode of Murder, She Wrote than sit through another episode of The Feed.

Friday, August 23, 2019

When it is okay to YOLO

Even if the kids created the term, I don't think they're using it correctly. When I think YOLO, or You Only Live Once, my mind regales back to cheesy Bond Films or, quite possibly, that you do only live once. 

Whereas the kids would yell out 'YOLO' when they're about to do something horribly irresponsible like jumping off a cliff or hitting themselves in the nuts, I would instead mutter 'YOLO' (thankfully under my breath) when drinking a fine wine or experiencing something new. Although, I shouldn't denigrate the kids too much; they did have the right intention. You do truly only live once (unless you're a Buddhist) and as long as you treat your time on this planet as such it makes it easier to motivate yourself to experience what life can provide. Perhaps there is an after-life but, if there isn't, isn't it worth doing everything you can in your power to ensure your flitting existence is worth your time?

It is quite easy to be paralysed with the fears and doom conveyed on the news; such that you are unable to live any part of your life due to the looming decimation of everything we have become accustomed to having. Perhaps it was the YOLO's of yesteryear which resulted in us being in this current predicament - but I don't think that's going to change unless we all become mental cases such as myself (joking!). We can remain mindful while still getting the most out of life - or at least that is my goal; that is my YOLO.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

My spirit animal

I will preface that it's taken me a while to come to the realisation that Charlie Brooker is my spirit animal. He is pensive, introspective, industrious and, for the liberal lavishing of icing on top of this steadfast foundation, he also has a good command of the language. It is nice to find someone else who skewers cultural devolutions and hypocrisies with such a driven consistency.

He first entered my consciousness at the point where I was first discovering Doug Stanhope - and much to my chagrin, some of his best bits came as a result of this unholy tryst (although I don't really mind - I just wanted more gold to be mined from Doug). Charlie was able to give me Doug and I was happy. Initially I wrote Charlie off as merely a TV host with nothing more to say than the words he read from the teleprompter. But I was wrong. Interestingly his views on film almost always aligned with mine. It was nice that he thought in a similar way to me and had similar views to me. But similarities do not mean you are the same entity.

His next notable foray was when he created Black Mirror which (I came to realise) is a series of disconnected episodes which almost always had a strong commentary on societal disconnects or the superficial, vapid desires which make up our culture today. But it all started with the first episode. I didn't like it, which was a problem. I was under the misconception that the next episode would follow on chronologically from this - and unfortunately I didn't enjoy the setting. But then, months later, I gave it another go and, lo and behold, the next episode was completely different ... and it was actually good (well, to my taste). This was my in - my gateway into bingeing everything else. I also realised that this Brooker fella couldn't be pigeon-holed (outside of having intelligence and high production values). Each episode was a present, waiting to be unwrapped - and then immediately tossed away. Watching on Netflix makes even great content disposable but the good shows still resonate in your subconscious even if they have seemingly been forgotten. Which brings me to my review of the latest season of Black Mirror.

Would you believe that a season could be as short as three? Nor did I but I don't mind. It had notable stars and very high production value (I would estimate at least 20 million per episode) but overall I was a little disappointed. The first episode was a bit bubble gum and a little too on the nose, with the evil music producer commoditizing a burned out pop star - and a cutesy CG robot doll. It was too meandering and not as subversive compared to the earlier seasons. The second episode was good, following the story of two old friends connecting through an innocent VR fighting game. It posed some pertinent questions which still resonate in my subconscious - even if I wish they wouldn't. Then we have the paint-drying hostage negotiation story with some bludgeoned-in cues around the evils of social media which is a little annoying. All in all I think Brooker is running out of cool ideas to pose. Perhaps it was just that he was contractually obligated to deliver a season and was forced to throw out a few B-roll ideas. I can't blame him, though - it's just that I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get more scathing social commentary. For those of you who haven't, check out Black Mirror - and stick through the episodes you don't like because I can guarantee that at least a few episodes (and, dare I say it, seasons) will stick with you - even if you don't enjoy them directly.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The writing is on the wall

The movie industry is a strange beast. It's getting to a point where cinema, as we know it, is quickly devolving to merely be a showcase for blockbusters, horror and perhaps a few seasonal genre films (i.e. Valentines / Christmas). The other interesting trend I've noticed is that the Disney conglomerate is dipping into anti-ageing their stars or mo-capping their stars into live-action with varying levels of success. Which is good news for the stars of yester-year as they are now able to draw out their career - but  only as long as they can still draw an audience.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it won't be too long till actors will no longer be needed for blockbusters. It seems pretty obvious that we're already at a stage where they're integrating significant fantasy characters using mo-cap e.g. Rocket Racoon / Kong and they've already 'mo-capped' de-aged stars numerous times e.g. Nicole Kidman / Michael Douglas / Kurt Russell / Bruce Willis. So, really, how long until we simply get a mo-cap to play the role of Michael Douglas instead? How long until an actor simply farms out a 3D scan and voice profile to movie producers? It sounds far-fetched but I truly doubt movie execs haven't already mapped out this unnatural progression. We're already at a stage we have trained AI to (ironically) make us do the robot or generate fake faces or simulate Ellen DeGeneres' voice or even lip-sync former US presidents.
It certainly seems clear to me that it may be time to dust off your civvies and go back to carpentry, chicken suits and chilis.

 Update: Needless to say, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm a soothsayer. Jame Dean is in the process of making an impromptu comeback.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

For technology's sake

Sometimes I wonder whether they thought things through. Or maybe I wonder if there's some other agenda in play. For privacy (as per Snowden) he recommends physically disabling the camera/mike in your phone and using a wired headphone instead - which may explain things. All I know is that wireless headphones don't work for games. I bought 'low-latency' Bluetooth headphones recently and I can say it's great at audio and great at battery life but terrible at latency. Perhaps it's Android but I get around a one-second lag between the sound and action in games.

Let's all let out a resounding 'ugh' in response.

That's not to say that they can't 'hack it' by artificially buffering the video inline with the audio lag in (e.g.) YouTube but, in the end, it's still a hack. The wired simply is superior and that just annoys me. It has taken LCD screens about 30 years to be on the cusp of breaking even with the visual fidelity of CRT technology which ain't great. It's the same story for WiFi - you get about 40% of the performance of wired - but only as long as you camp your butt on top of the router.

In conclusion, all this technology just proves to old codgers like me that we had it better in the good old days - and it ain't due to rose-coloured glasses tainting my view. As good old Joe Friday stated:

And that's what I live by.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Jonesing for a new iPhone

... or as an alternate heading:

Now before you think this could possibly be about me, for shame. I would never shackle my wrists within the confines of an iPhone but rather I thought I would provide a little commentary on why my staunch iPhone-loving girlfriend has decided to turn to the light and not get a new Apple product. 

For those of you able to follow my train of thought so far, yes, you are correct; it's all about the Benjamins (yo). She presently owns a paleolithic iPhone 6 and wanted to move to the last model with a headphone jack, which turns out to be the iPhone 8. Note that said iPhone 8 is now two generations out-of-date and is already viewed by most as obsolete - and yet Apple still thinks that they should be charging around $700 for the privilege. Say what now? How does that compute? You would think that they would be doing a little more (considering a quickly receding market share through a complete lack of innovation or respect for their fanatical supporters) to retain your patronage. Retrospectively who thought it was a good idea to charge over a grand for the latest incarnation - and still think it would be successful?

Needless to say my GF's not in a position to throw down a gorilla on her replacement and so has been cajoled into giving android a go - all for $280 for kick-ass hardware (well, by Android standards) and she also gets to keep her old phone for things like facetime and (shudder) iTunes. I think I can make a case for her complete conversion such that perhaps she won't go back to overpriced hardware for her next upgrade.

I guess the conclusion that I really should put forward is not that she saved over $300 on a comparable smart phone experience but rather why she's paying almost $300 on a device which will inevitably be made obsolete. I sometimes long for a time when smart phones were not a thing; where we no longer chase the next iteration of what is basically the same dang thing. Honestly who needs a folding phone? All we are doing is simply moving the target - in the end we will never get to that finish line if we keep our focus on what isn't really all that important. Sometimes the best thing we can do is not play the game at all and be content in living our lives amongst our friends and family.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ideas do have a cost

I have just came to the realisation that unpopular ideas will never start wars nor overthrow governments nor result in anything of any significance without at least some form of support. Which is why Trump's wall will never be built in its presently-proposed state. It is one thing to have the cockamamie idea of walling yourself up from your neighbouring countries, it's another to get the support to bring that to fruition. As Donald Drumpf should have hopefully realised, it's not enough to want something to happen - especially if that plans turns out to be unpopular.

In comparison, we have Elon Musk, a strange, enigmatic man who has somehow been able to to get grown-ups to believe in dancing electric cars, racing snails and going to mars. Most of us would probably admit that we also had crazy hopes and dreams when we were children but that they were set aside when less sexy things like earning a living took priority. And yet, despite all of these responsibilities we still put our hard-earned money towards his fanciful dreams. How is it that building a measly wall gets a hard no but racing a snail does?

Perhaps it's not so much whether the idea is crazy but whether you have the ability to get other people to metaphorically and physically invest in that same idea. I guess where building a wall falls down is in its tone. At its core it is symbolic of fear, bigotry and hatred whereas the ideas that Musk puts forward are at its essence messages of hope and for the benefit of mankind. I think Trump would find far more success if he were to reframe his hope for funding as one designed to enable those wishing to immigrate a more streamlined experience and perhaps putting in stronger countermeasures to vet those with more nefarious intentions. But, as the statistics have clearly stated, most Mexicans are not drug-dealers, murderers or rapists and the sooner that Trump reframes his message as such, the sooner he will get his funding. In a nutshell, you should simply ask yourself what can I do to help those around me? And perhaps you'd get a far better response