Tag Archives: TV

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Stuff & Things: 27 December

Here are some things I enjoyed online this week.

// STUFF //

Grantland // The Raid 

A piece analysing True Detective and modern TV through the lens of one exceptionally well-crafted one-take scene.

It’s as if True Detective happens in a diorama. Walking out of a coroner’s office, Cohle tells Hart, “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town. And the memory’s fading.”

Staring at this diorama like a blinking god, watching these men at a crossroads, watching their cars coursing across gray highways is Fukunaga’s camera. With the wonderful cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom, Top of the Lake), he captures the two protagonists as they are pulled toward their inevitable reckoning.

In the early episodes, this perspective has a unique power. It’s like Cohle and Hart are the only two people on earth. True Detective’s pacing mirrors Cohle’s drug use. In the first three episodes, it’s moody and ponderous, as Cohle pounds cough syrup and swallows ’ludes. But as Cohle hooks back into the “Crash” persona and meets up with his old Iron Crusaders cohort, switching to speed and coke, Fukunaga tightens the vise — the cutting gets quicker, the scenes play faster, and the camera movement goes from languid to frenetic.

Grantland // The Birdcage

An examination of the movies that are being made, and just how little originality is out there. I love this description of a scene from the movie Birdman.

“Now, in a hospital bathroom, he finds himself face to face — or really, beak to beak — with not only his own remade reflection but Birdman himself, who has, in full costume, made himself comfortable on the commode in a way that reawakens questions about certain superhero practicalities that have crossed the mind of every kid who ever read a comic book. So there they are, the two of them, taking each other in: silent, irritated, perplexed. Whatever kind of contest between Riggan and Birdman we’ve just been watching, it seems to have ended in a futile tie.

What does this moment mean? In the movie’s artistic scheme, it means Riggan can’t ever truly free himself of the needy, frail ego that his sturdy, gruff alter ego represents. But if you work in or follow the movie business, what we have here is a grim joke with a grimmer punch line: There is no escape anymore. We will never get away from Birdman, even as he threatens to poop all over everything. If movies have, for a century, been the repository of our dreams, and every generation gets the dreams it deserves, then ours is Rodin’s The Thinker reimagined as a superhero poised on the edge of the crapper, and the rest of us poised on the edge of … well, it may be a little extreme to invoke the abyss. But we’re on the edge of something, and thesomething is big and dark and annihilating. So call it what you will, but come up with a name fast, because we’re all about to get sucked in.”

Overthinking It // Icons and Empathy: on the weird difficulty of player identification in videogames

I’ve spent a bit of time wondering about how, given the emerging sense that video games are an art form, we’ll start to see some interesting stuff that goes beyond the ‘games make young men violent’ trope exploring the idea that how we approach games, and in game decisions, might reveal something about our own character, and also teach us about the world around us. This is an interesting exploration about how games where you play as someone not like you, or very like you, might do different stuff for you. I’ve also read some cool stuff like the dad who watched as his four year old played GTA, just as an emergency services worker (alternatively, there’s this violent cussing grandma playing it very differently – language warning), how another guy played Skyrim committed to non-violence (there’s a whole movement of non-violent gamers, more), a guy who played Far Cry 2 as though he only had one life (then wrote a 391 page book about the experience), and a piece about a war photographer who found playing a war game hit too close to home for him when he conducting an in-game photo shoot. What’s interesting to me is the way the approach we take to games completely transforms our experience of those games – such that when people talk about how a game necessarily produces X result for all people who play it, those people are talking about games from a much more linear time, and not really understanding the medium.

But while the solitary experience of reading a book is mitigated by the ability to share it with other people (since everyone more or less experiences the same events in a book in the same order and context), the solitary experience of gaming increasingly loses the sense of being a shared experience the more choice is presented to the player; when you can choose not only whether you traverse none, some, or all of the optional side-quests, when you can choose whether or not to romance one or more of the other characters, when a vital character might die halfway through for me but live to the end for you, when even the name, race, gender, appearance, sexuality, specializations and abilities are certain to be different for every player who takes on this protean persona, a game risks exchanging an increased sense of empathy for a draining-out of the sense of community that comes from having the very same aesthetic and narrative experience as countless other experiencers out there in the world.

I’m not sure that’s a game design problem, exactly…but it’s a design decision that’s important to consider and to keep in mind, whether you’re making a game or just playing one: what does this game force me to be? About what or who does this game compel me to care? Just how far can you abstract empathy? If Hawke can be whoever you want, who actually is Hawke?

The Guardian // The Guardian view on religious intolerance: the burden of the cross

An interesting story about the persecution of Christians around the globe, but especially in the Middle East, with a pretty anthropocentric conclusion.

“Just as important is a resolute stand for the principle of religious freedom everywhere. Religious belief is fundamental to many human identities. Freedom of faith must be defended, irrespective of whether the attacks come from totalitarian atheist regimes or theocracies. For the faithful, what they believe about God is inseparable from what they understand about human beings. But God’s rights must never be allowed to trample on human rights.”

The Australian // Is Science showing there really is a God? (the Google search results will let you get to this otherwise paywalled article)

I hover between thinking the argument from fine-tuning is compelling evidence for God, and finding Douglas Adam’s sentient puddle quote a useful antidote to overreaching with the explanatory power of this kind of thing.

“This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

I find most of the tit-for-tat arguments around the existence of God based on natural evidence neither here nor there. The bits that show how incredibly complex the natural order of things, which I believe are naturally ordered by God, fascinate me, and reveal something to me about the nature of the God I believe in, but I feel like, if I try to unpack why I believe in God, I can see things from the other side of the fence.

I feel like science, the data it produces and our understandings of the mechanics of life in this world, will only ever support the view of the person interpreting the data. I might be wrong. But I think it’s only when we’re able to say that finding out about the universe God made doesn’t actually do anything but describe the world God has made that we can properly talk about science and God. We’re not going to find God’s signature in the mathematical improbability of our existence if we’re not looking for God, and a better place to look for God’s signature is in the way he marks the world with word and image. Jesus. His word made flesh, the man made in the image of the invisible God. And people being transformed by God into bearers of this image.

I think, when I read articles like this, and when I think about why I believe what I do, that I don’t necessarily believe in God because I’m alive, as a product of my very existence, I believe in God because I am convinced Jesus lived, died, and was raised.

// THINGS //

This Hipster Business Name generator is pretty awesome.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 3.05.07 pm

I don’t know why I find this sort of video as funny as I do.

Jesus: Watch, Listen, Follow

At church in term 1 next year we’re experiencing the Gospel of Mark as though social media was around when Jesus was alive. Through the eyes of the characters who feature as eyewitnesses in Mark. It’s potentially going to be a lot of fun. Join in from afar. Or near.

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Tommy Westphall’s mind

So a casual reference to multiple universes in the James Bond post yesterday, and the link to an old post about the space time continuum jumping scene which links the British and American Offices when David Brent visits the American Office, meaning that two almost identical days happen to two different people who exist in the same universe, led me to one of the coolest pop culture memes I’d never heard of.

The theory of Tommy Westphall’s mind – which, in a nutshell, through crossover characters and references between programs, ties over 300 TV shows to the imagination of one autistic character in a show I’d never heard of called St. Elsewhere named Tommy Westphall.

The last scene in the St. Elsewhere show allegedly made it apparent (it’s disputed by at least one article) that the entire show had been in the imagined world of Tommy Westphall. Characters from St. Elsewhere, appeared in the series Homicide. Homicide’s character Detective Munch, has been in seven different shows, other than St. Elsewhere – including Homicide, SVU, Arrested Development, The X-Files, The Wire, 30 Rock, and even Sesame Street… Characters from those shows have been in other shows. Tying them to the same universe. Tying them to Tommy Westphall’s mind.

Here’s the map.


Image Credit: The Tommy Westphall Multiverse Map (bigger)

Here’s the key to the grid (PDF), explaining the crossovers.

According to this interview with one of the guys who came up with that map, some of the crossovers are more tenuous than others, but about 70% of them are meant to be fairly tight connections by character – rather than references to entities or corporations that are fictional presences in more than one series.

They even mention the theory that all of Tarantino’s movies occur either within the same universe, or as movies within the Tarantino universe that characters from the main universe watch.

An open letter to Australia’s Television Networks Regarding the Royal Wedding

Dear Seven, Seven2, Nine, Ten, 11, ABC, SBS, Mate, Go, Gem, 1HD, and anybody I’ve missed,

I don’t care about the royal wedding. I’m sure there are thousands, nay, millions of other men and women out there in the Australian populace who feel the same way. On a scale of one to “I really don’t care about this stupid wedding” I’m about a 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. I would rather have my eyelids removed with a potato-peeler than keep them peeled to your stupid coverage featuring irrelevancies like Ita Buttrose, and Dame Edna, who you’ve dragged out of the closet to cover the circus. Only it’s not a circus. There are no monkeys. Actual monkeys I could tolerate. I could even tolerate the Arctic Monkeys – and they are British.

The royal family are, always have been, and always will be, an anachronism. Foisted on us by history. Irrelevant except that they adorn our currency, provide us with an annual public holiday for the Queen’s Birthday, and open the Commonwealth Games. Which are like the Olympics, only we win.

Please stop. Resume normal coverage. Stop blabbering on about dresses. British etiquette. Telemovies about the lovely romance of two boring English people. Don’t take me through the empty house that Kate once lived in as though it is news and not just some PR consultant’s attempt to jack up the price of British realty. And stop interviewing the bogans who went to England for the wedding as though they are normal Australians. They are freaks.

I would prefer a bunch of Biggest Loser outtakes, Eddie Macguire game show pilots, anything with Sam Newman, or whatever non-ratings dregs you can drag up to fill the air – even endless repeats of old seasons of NCIS – and I’m sure I’m not alone. This charade has gone too far. I’m calling it what it is. Television for the lowest common denominator, by the lowest common denominator.

If we were to score some sort of public holiday from this process I’m sure we could come to some sort of agreement.

That is all.

P.S – Seriously. Channel 10, I know you think you’re really clever juxtaposing the “food is fuel, not pleasure” mantra of the Biggest Loser with the “we need more butter and amazingly decadent desserts” mantra of MasterChef – but surely some crossover episodes could have been arranged where the contestants from the former learn to eat healthy, but tasty food, and those from the latter learn to cook the same…

That is really all. Seriously.

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A deadly serious mistake

I love this story. Partly because it’s about zombies. I haven’t written about zombies for a long time. Partly because it’s one of those advertising placement stories that is almost too good to be true.

A billboard ad for a zombie TV show, The Walking Dead, was placed on the external wall of a funeral parlour.

“An advertising firm has apologised for placing a billboard for a TV show called The Walking Dead on the side of a funeral parlour.

The unintended, “unfortunate juxtaposition” caused raised eyebrows in Consett, County Durham.

The roadside advert for the Channel 5 post-apocalyptic drama has since been removed from the exterior wall of the Co-operative Funeralcare premises.”

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Piper on movies

John Piper has an interesting take on consumption of culture – particularly trivial culture – similar to Philip Jensen’s thoughts that I posted a while back, and quite different to Mark Driscoll’s. Mark Driscoll should get a comission from Tivo he talks about it so much… Piper says he doesn’t watch TV because it’s trivial – but if he does he takes the following position…

I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.

I’ll put it bluntly. The only nude female body a guy should ever lay his eyes on is his wife’s. The few exceptions include doctors, morticians, and fathers changing diapers. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). What the eyes see really matters. “Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Better to gouge your eye than go to hell (verse 29).

This is one of those points where I come down on the Driscoll side of the equation – I think understanding culture involves understanding what people are filling their minds with. But I tend to feel the same way as Piper. Violence and swearing don’t really bother my Christian sensibilities.

YouTube Tuesday: I should have just conchord

For those who missed it – Flight of the Conchords is now on SBS on Mondays after South Park.

Last night Murray invested the band’s emergency funds with a Nigerian friend he met on the Internet.

Brilliant. Here’s a sample of their brilliance.

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Jensen on TV

I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Philip Jensen. Possibly. He conducted the marriage of my parents. And was the minister at the church where they met – where he was under strict instructions to make sure mum didn’t marry anyone dodgy. His success or otherwise at that is debatable.

Anyway, I digress. Philip Jensen is the Dean of St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. He has a blog. Of sorts. His latest post is about TV and the immorality – or otherwise – of modern television. It’s an interesting tie in to the post I wrote on the Wire. He starts off talking about Channel 10 news:

“It is hard to watch TV without, gratuitous violence, sexual exhibitionism, vulgarity of speech, dehumanising of the body in grotesque forensic murder investigations and comedians who rarely rise above toilet humour.”

No, sorry, that’s about all TV.

Here’s what he says about the news (with a note on their need for compelling disaster content:

“The alternatives are to watch the news and the sports shows. But the news is distorted by the need to have visuals (e.g. they love bush fire season, floods and train wrecks) and by the agenda of politically motivated journalists. And the sports shows appear dominated by gambling, the abuse of alcohol and overpaid professional celebrity athletes.”

He makes a lot of interesting points – worthy of consideration by Christians from the consumer standpoint – and against censorship – which is the natural position of Christian lobby groups when it comes to “inappropriate content”…

“As a society we do not want censorship. Censorship is always dangerous – as the censor’s power grows, truth is often his victim. Instead our society has chosen individualism and “community standards” as the basis of public entertainment. This assumes that what is watched does not affect community standards. It opens the door for the steady descent of the community into accepting decadence. So far only child pornography has been left as a taboo. “

He also makes the point that we’re all indirectly paying for free-to-air television (not just the ABC).

“The solution that is given to us is: “If you do not like it then switch it off. Nobody forces you to watch it and it is not costing you anything.” It is true that we do not have to watch it but it is not true that it costs us nothing. Taxpayers pay for the ABC and the free-enterprise taxation system called advertising pays for the commercial stations. All products we buy are more expensive because of TV. Whether or not you ever watch it – you are paying for TV.”

He likes DVDs of TV series as alternatives to the tripe that we’re dished up when we turn on the box.

“Of recent times I have purchased and watched DVDs of TV series. This means I can see what I want to, when I want to, without the intrusion of commercials (that for some reason are always louder than the show they interrupt). It means that I can better monitor what fills my mind. God, in Philippians 4:8, commands us to fill our minds with whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Given the cost of DVDs one wonders whether in the future parish churches will develop community libraries to pool our resources of quality viewing.”

A library of quality viewing isn’t a bad idea.

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Keep the Customer Satisfied

You may think this post, with a nominal reference to a Paul Simon song, would be about our return home. Given that the opening lyrics are: 

“Gee but it’s great to be back home
Home is where I want to be
I’ve been on the road so long my friend
And if you came along I know you couldn’t disagree”

But it’s not. Today’s story is about our recent experiences with each end of the customer service spectrum. 

The good (it’s a long story)

Just prior to leaving Townsville we decided to buy a TV. We’d heard that prices were going to go up post Christmas and we’d been saving for an upgrade for a while.  We spent an evening price matching at various outlets in Townsville. We knew what we were looking for and we were quoted various prices roughly within the same $800 ballpark. Until we got to Dick Smith Powerhouse  – where we were quoted a figure of $650 for a Panasonic we’d seen elsewhere for $1000. We were pretty sure it was a good deal. But we wanted to check two more shops before confirming the purchase. We were told by another shop that this was below cost – and we should take it. Upon our return our friendly salesman went out the back to get the TV. He came back empty handed. The TV out the back was broken. He could only sell us the display model. I asked if we’d get a further discount. He said yes, he could sell it to us for a further $20 off – for $830. $830? But he’d just quoted us $650… no, the salesman couldn’t possibly give us that price. It was a mistake. $830 was still the best price we’d found on the unit in question – and we had decided we liked it. We got to the counter, and much to our surprise the salesman told the guy at the counter to sell it to us at $630. Hooray. At the last moment he went around the counter to check the details – and ammended the cost to $830. But I said this was the good. We reluctantly paid the $830 – having made noises about how we should have been given the $630 price – even though it was a mistake. The customer is always right. Right? 

Two days later I wrote used the Dick Smith website’s customer feedback page to write a letter. The basic format of a good complaint letter is some heartfelt praise for the company, the reason you chose to do business with them, a lengthy description of the circumstances, and a closing argument “I know you’re a company that prides itself on customer satisfaction… blah, blah blah…” and contact details. The letter worked. After Christmas I got a phone call from the store manager promising to refund the $200 on our return to Townsville. That happened today. So good on Dick Smith Powerhouse and their most excellent customer service. We now have a $630 TV that we are more than happy with – and they get a mention on the internet, unsolicited.   

The Bad

I mentioned the grumpy lady at Hanmer Horses in my review of our time at Hanmer Springs – she was not a great picture of customer service – but she was not the worst case we came across on our New Zealand adventure. The worst case predated our arrival in New Zealand – and carried through to our travelling companion’s (another gratuitous Paul Simon reference) departure. Cancellation fees can be a legitimate way for a business to recoup lost earnings, a protection for operators against unscrupilous bookings designed to hurt the bottom line, they can be a tax on stupidity, or they can be extortionate revenue raising. Cancellations are the bane of tourism businesses. I know this. Robyn and I both booked accommodation through the same company in the same town on the same night – and they graciously waived the cancellation fee for us. $30 they could by rights have held onto. For that, Alpine Holiday Homes can have a free link. And a hearty recommendation as a cheap, good quality accommodation option in Hanmer Springs. But this is “the bad” – the Interislander Ferry has a monopoly on travel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand – unless you want to fly. The Interislander also demands a 50% cancellation fee on any of their bottom end bookings. Sure, it’s there in the terms and conditions, but that shouldn’t rule out compassion – particularly if you want to maintain a reputation as customer focused. That 50% figure comes regardless of notice – and regardless of the fact that they will operate cancellations notwithstanding. This is an example of extortion. We learned the hard way. Robyn’s sister booked us on to the boat thinking that we would be accompanying them to the North Island as they departed. We were planning to continue circumnavigating the south. We notified the Interislander service by email as soon as we realised a mistake had been made. A month prior to their departure. We received no reply. We had to call them three days before to check that the cancellation had been made. It hadn’t. They gave no quarter. Showed no compassion. And whacked us with a $65 fee for what essentially was an innocent mistake. That was poor. Dreadful service – and a dreadful way to handle customer emails. Even a cursory response to acknowledge the email had been received but ignored because of heavy email traffic would have been nice. A standard autoreply. But no. So they earn a terrible review here. I hope lots of people google the Interislander and find their way here. The interislander ferry is evil.

The Ugly

This is not a first hand experience – unlike the others. This is a case of terrible practice using the user generated content phenomona. I linked to the initial story using my google reader shared items post yesterday. Belkin. Maker of modems, routers and other technowizardry, has been caught trying to solicit 5/5 reviews from users on Amazon. Amazon has a service called Mechanical Turk – a chance for human users to be paid to do pseudo robotic tasks too simple for computers to manage. Collate articles on a topic, summarise an article etc… you can earn Amazon credit – or get paid cash. Not only did Belkin want reviewers to write perfect reviews, in perfect English, they wanted them to pan other reviewers who had been less than flattering of the product. Worse still, Belkin got caught. Now everybody knows what a flagrant disregard they have for customer feedback and customer satisfaction. That’s ugly.

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Americans to get Summer Heights High…

…or probably not. I suspect it’ll be the latest in a long line of exported Australian comedies to go over their heads thanks to an underdeveloped sense of humour. Still it will be interesting to see how many Americans think is Ja’mie actually a real person. Something the early Australian audience had trouble dealing with when “We Can Be Heroes” was released and “she” was interviewed on radio stations across the nation.

I’m not really fazed by the failure of the American audience to appreciate Kath and Kim – I didn’t like our version the first time round (or second, third or subsequent screenings for that matter). But Chris Lilley is a comic genius – so it would be a shame to see it not receive critical acclaim worldwide.

Anyway – this post was entirely based on the heading – and the fact that I suspect they won’t get it. I should stop writing posts purely on the basis of a pun laced heading.

Summer Heights High to screen in US