A post about food television and how it has changed my life.
Looking though my drafts folder I see that I made an attempt to write about this in 2018. The first sentence I wrote is as follows
2017 for me was the year I started watching food shows in earnest. Prior to last year I had watched several seasons of Chef’s Table but only because my wife had been interested. I think we only were watching that because we had seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi and knew it was the same director.
Oh how things have changed! Where to start? In my recent year end list I mentioned that I do not include food programming because…well I don’t really know. There is not a good reason to exclude food programming from a year’s end list. I also exclude it from my private “Things I’ve Watched” list. My only explanation is that I consider this content different. Perhaps because of the educational component. Perhaps because I tend to watch it more than anything else. It is odd.
Where it all began for me was with the Netflix show Cooked. Based on a book by Michael Pollan cooked is a heady exploration into the world of cooking and culture. It’s dense and rewarding. I never thought much about many of the issues and concerns raised in this show. It radically changed the way I think about food and cooking.
In particular one point of Mr. Pollan’s struck me as such a simple truth – that a corporation is going to prepare the food you eat much differently than a person. This seems like an obvious truth but if you follow the thought you realize that a corporation will begin to do things to your food, things that your food does not need or want, thinking that it is in your best interest (or more likely, their own). The example he provides concerns bread and how the original recipes have the nutrients and minerals that our bodies need. The companies mass producing bread removed these and then attempted to re-add them to the bread. Which is nuts. Which is why it does not taste as good and is not as healthy for you to eat. Never mind substitutions being made that have no nutritional or flavor value at all (looking at you high fructose corn syrup).
What I love about this show is that it isn’t just a David versus Goliath story. Michael Pollan did not set out to take down large corporations with his book and show. It is an intellectual exploration of food and cooking and the state of things as they are. I was fascinated watching it and hungry for more once it was done.
Mind of A Chef
Somewhere around this point I came across the PBS show Mind of a Chef. Prior to this I had never heard of David Chang. Since then I have watched it enough times with my son that he refers to a chef’s knife as a “David Chang Knife”. There are worse things I suppose.
Anthony Bourdain narrates the show and very occasionally appears on screen. The heavy lifting is done, at least in season one, by David Chang and his occasional guests. The cooking is truly the star of the show and it is done in a no fuss manner. I like that.
I think if Mind of A Chef had started with any of its other chefs (with the exception of Ed Lee) I doubt I would have stuck with it. David Chang brings something wonderful to the table that appeals to me (having read his memoir since starting this post I now know that this was meant to be an app created by Lucky Peach and that essentially the rights were sold and his project was taken away from him. This makes sense). He’s a successful chef, a seemingly down to Earth person and a font of knowledge. Whereas Michael Pollan cooks things with his friends (who are not chefs), or chats with pit masters as they barbecue, David Chang cooks dishes he (and his fellow chefs) invented. He offers history and context to the weird creations he serves and he does it in a straightforward manner.
What I have encountered in so much food programming since is the bluster and the need to pontificate. The episode must begin and close with ponderous questions in hushed voices about what cooking really is. Anthony Bourdain does this with Mind of A Chef but then he fades away and you are left with some funny, interesting episodes about things like noodles and fermentation. The show is well made and fast paced. It does not rely on classical music and fancy dining rooms to hold your attention. So many of the scenes are in hot kitchens where the chefs mop their brows and cook food. I love it.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
I am not certain what I watched next but I believe it was Salt Fat Acid Heat. That feels correct. The four episodes are directed by Caroline Suh (who directed the episode of Cooked that featured Ms. Nosrat) and center on Samin Nosrat. They are based on her cookbook of the same name and each episode is about one of the four words. It is delightful. It is beautiful. It is educational but in a topical manner that feels fresh and alive. So many of the staples of food television are present, trips to fish markets and the host attempting to do the jobs of the farmers and fishermen and doing them poorly. What makes it all work is that Ms. Nosrat is charming and lovable. She’s passionate about food and a joy to watch.
I connected with her when watching this show to such a degree that even the staged segments, Samin asking questions she knows the answers to with the butcher, still work and feel correct. She has a charming screen presence. It does not hurt that they travel the world and have so many wonderful experts and chefs join her on screen. My favorite is Rodrigo in Mexico who is listed simply as “salsa lover”.
I learned more about the basics of cooking from this show than any other. It seems so simple now that Ms. Nosrat has broken the elements of cooking down into these four categories but I never thought of them this way before. Now it seems bizarre to take any other approach. Hers was the first cookbook I bought for my wife and it is continually being read and reread.
Somewhere in all of this we returned to Chef’s Table. What to say about this show? It is so incredibly uneven. If you make an evening of watching you go from an episode of Massimo Battura, who might be the most charismatic and lovable chef in the world to that guy, you know, in Upstate New York (It’s Dan Barber and I don’t mean to pick on him, I do remember his name). My point being that because the episodes have different directors and different approaches they vary from great to middling.
Reading an interview with one of the directors (Abby Fuller) it is clear why. She was assigned the chefs to make her episodes about. As such her first episode follows an incredible chef from Slovenia that she connected with and made a terrific episode about. Her next assignment was with a German chef that it is clear she did not care for. It is all there on the screen and is baffling. No one was done any favors with this system and I think it is why my viewing fell off drastically after Chef’s Table France (except for the Chef Tosi and Sean Brock episodes).
The four episodes in France are incredible and I urge everyone to watch them. I think of them often. Not just for the food but for the incredible stories told. Each one is so dense and rich, sometimes I find myself confusing them simply because there is so much to sift through in my mind.
The Chef Show
Which brings us to The Chef Show. It is an odd show with an odd premise. Filmmaker Jon Faverau enjoyed his time preparing for the Chef movie so much that he created this show in order to spend more time with Roy Choi. If you have ever seen Roy Choi in anything this is easy to understand. Mr. Choi is such a calm, positive, brilliant chef that watching him work and interact with others is a joy.
The show is interesting because Mr. Faverau is at times the attentive student and at others the blustering dilettante. When he attempts to lead the show lags as Roy stands patiently in the background waiting to work. When they both play the parts they were assigned, Roy the chef teaching Jon the student how to make a dish, it soars.
They have numerous episodes with guests and some are positively delightful. When Roy cooks with other chefs you can see the thoughts coming and being translated into food. The shorthand he has with other chefs, the respect for one another, it is wonderful to watch. A favorite is when Jazz Singsong cooks with Jon and Roy. She seems quite taken with Jon and nutures him and makes sure he is careful with the Chili’s. She allows Roy to cook but gives guidance which he accepts with humility. It’s really quite lovely to watch.
Taste The Nation
Taste The Nation is an odd show. The trailer gave me the sense that it would have more of a focus, that it would allow the chefs and cooks more of a platform to share their ideas and talents. To some extent it does but the show never lets you forget that the star of it is Padma Lakshmi. Which isn’t a terrible thing except she’s not a chef. She’s a model, turned television host and cookbook author who really likes food.
This show makes me think of what The Chef show is like when Jon takes command. It’s not bad but it is certainly less interesting. I think Ms. Lakshmi has more knowledge and skill in the kitchen but it isn’t her thing. With the shows that really work it’s because you have someone that has been running a kitchen for ten, twenty years, creating the dishes that you are seeing them make. They aren’t stopping by to see how something is made, taking a few bites and then jaunting off to the next location. For me the real pleasure and learning comes from seeing people who are established enough in their craft that they are able to transfer their knowledge and wisdom onto the viewer. It’s less interesting when the person seems slightly better informed than I am.
Which brings us back to David Chang and Ugly Delicious. I did not have a sense of what this show would be but my love of Mind of A Chef is strong and I dove right in. What I love about this show (season one in particular) is how many other great chefs and cooks are in it. The structure of having an episode be about one topic (pizza, noodle) and then going all over the world with different people, is great. There are so many incredible people I did not know (or had heard of but not really seen) that this show makes into stars. Rosio Sanchez comes to mind.
Ugly Delicious is so much more than a cooking show. Or perhaps it’s just the right kind of cooking show, that is offering more than recipes and reactions. There is a lot of history and socio-political debate about the importance of dishes and kinds of foods for various people and communities. The fried chicken episode in particular is wonderful for this. What I appreciate most is that questions are asked and often there is no final word from David Chang or anyone else. It is a thought-provoking show that feels like what I wish my life was like. Going about with friends, eating amazing food and having incredible conversations.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Sadly this was followed by Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. A show that should have a solid premise and foundation but is ultimately not knowing what it wants to be or do. It is also crippled by having two guests who bring very little to the table in terms of deep thoughts or interesting conversation. It reminds me of what television used to be, largely uninteresting with moments sprinkled in that are pretty great. I am being harsh but my expectations for this show, which came out of nowhere like a great pandemic gift, were so very high. I appreciate what David Chang does and this was very much a let down.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the Great British Baking Show (or Bake Off for those not in America). It’s not a mistake, I have not watched the show. My wife watches it. My children watch it but I cannot. I greatly dislike every form of reality television and even that show, which I think is about as pure as reality TV can be, is not for me.
What is for me is Nadyia Hussain. Period. Full Stop. She’s the best. I watched Nadia Bakes first and I love it. I’m not much of a baker but she makes everything so easy and effortless that by the time an episode is over I am convinced I can do it all. She feathers in so many tips and tricks while making her cakes and biscuits that it is easy to feel this way. I enjoy both of her shows on Netflix but I greatly prefer it when she bakes. We’ve tried so many of her recipes in my home and I am so pleased we have.
Waffles and Mochi
I feel a little goofy for including Waffles and Mochi, it is a children’s show after all. There are puppets and talking mops and a magic cart. Yet, there is also a lot of wonderful content about food and cooking. Some fantastic chefs (and familiar faces) are on the show and a lot of the information is quite advanced given that this program is made for children. It has Michelle Obama as a grocery store owner. I’m just going to own it, I love Waffles and Mochi. My children? Not so much. But my wife and I occasionally watch it without them so there you have it. Mochi is adorable, Waffles is my hero and I definitely want a Magic Cart of my own now.
It feels like I am leaving other programs out but for the life of me I cannot think of them. I’m not including standalone films (or fiction films like East Side Sushi, which is amazing). One thing that stands out to me with most of the programs I have written about is how well they stand up to multiple viewings. I have no idea how many times I have watched some of these. I’ve learned so much about fermentation or how to properly salt beans or even just the wonders of eggs in the past few years. It is incredible. My children don’t appreciate this in the same way they don’t appreciate cell phones and being able to find most anything on YouTube but I am thrilled that we have access to such wonderful shows. My children are going to absorb so much of this knowledge and understanding and not even realize it.
The way that watching these shows and recreating these recipes have changed my household is tremendous. I do actual proper cooking and baking in the kitchen now. Whereas before I did what I knew worked – now I experiment. My kids experiment. We try things together and sometimes they work. It’s not often that I can point to television and say, “This improved my life” but here I can and I think that is amazing.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to have the same person appear opposite themselves onscreen. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time trying to talk people out of doing this unless they have an interesting idea to explore (which is not to say my concept satisfied this condition – I had no one else to work with and made do). I’ve done this because to pull off this technique requires planning, time and effort. All things that I never utilize properly. I also advise against playing around with doubles because it’s something that has been overused and often feels a bit silly.
That being said I recently watched The Innocents and found they did a good job of incorporating this technique with a concept that felt fresh and interesting.
What I enjoyed most about this show was the choice to spend time with all of the characters and not focus solely on two sixteen year olds. By having three distinct age groups of characters and letting the story wander between these groups gave the show depth and interested me more than if had just been about the young lovers.
I can’t help but feel that when you have great actors, adults in particular, capable of portraying complicated emotions and dealing with “grown up” material, that this is the correct approach. I do not mean to be dismissive of the younger actors, they did an excellent job. I think I am reacting largely to a trend I see on sites like Netflix, where a great deal of programming seems to be aimed at an audience much younger than I am. I imagine this has been going on as long as there has been television and movies, but to see wonderful actors who are now shunted into the role of mom and dad and given nothing to do is depressing.
I started writing this post some time ago so my memory of this show has faded. I recall liking it but not loving it. The big “twist” is interesting in so far as they took a concept that most of us are familiar with and made it feel new. It’s easy to dismiss something like that but it is not easy to do and I commended the filmmakers for their work. Guy Pearce is always interesting and the rest of the cast was, for me, expected and welcome. If you are looking for something different and unusual, something that the algorithm has already forgotten and most likely will not send you way, I recommend checking out The Innocents.
Today Netflix released the following teaser trailer:
I love it. It looks like a solid basketball movie with Adam Sandler and I cannot wait to watch it. I went to share the trailer on social media and immediately found no reason to do so. Everyone was already talking about the movie. In particular they were talking about how Adam Sandler is a pretty good actor and “Hey look! He’s doing a serious role.” Which is weird.
It’s weird because he received a lot of attention and praise for Uncut Gems, which was not that long ago, but more so because this happens every time he plays a serious role. The Internet, it would appear, has a forgetting problem.
To rectify this I have decided to make a list of Adam Sandler performances that I like and think qualify as “dramatic”. I am doing the quotes thing on that because some of this is surely subjective and I am a coward.
The Wedding Singer
By far the most iffy “dramatic” role in my list, I have chosen to begin with the wedding singer. Here’s what I can say, there are many funny parts to this movie. I feel, ultimately, that it is at least equal parts drama and that Adam Sandler gives a solid performance. Drew Barrymore is wonderful (as always) and despite not seeing this since it came out (1998) I can remember quite a bit about the film. Remember this Internet!
Punch Drunk Love
I think this is the first dramatic role that people noticed. I chose the Criterion Collection poster to emphasize how well regarded this film is now despite its poor initial reception. When I saw this movie I was devastated afterwards – which I realize was probably not most people’s response to the film. I found the character to be so emotionally crippled and unhappy yet unable to bring about change in his life and it touched me deeply. I think it’s a great performance and hopefully the goldfish that is the Internet will do better remembering it.
I feel like Spanglish is a truly forgotten film (I want to start a series about this). Directed by James L. Brooks, starring Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Thomas Haden Church and Cloris Leachman it is a solid, wonderful film. This was not long after several remakes of films like Eat Drink Man Woman and I know when I saw the title I suspected this would be another lackluster version of a non-English speaking film.
Thankfully it isn’t. Adam Sandler gives an understated performance as a chef struggling to make his home-life and business work. So many of the typical pitfalls and traps of this type of film are avoided and instead we are given a film for grown ups. It’s warm, it’s touching and absolutely deserving of being remembered.
Reign Over Me
Three years later Adam Sandler starred in Reign Over Me opposite Don Cheadle. It is a spectacular film with another amazing cast. It is very much a movie for “grown ups”. Mr. Sandler plays a widower who has retreated from life. He reconnects with an old friend, Mr. Cheadle, and then everything goes wrong (or right, it’s messy).
It’s an interesting film about grief and how to help others deal with it. I certainly had not seen this movie before. It’s also interesting because it is clearly a two-handed film – both leads are doing the heavy lifting and Mr. Sandler keeps up with Mr. Cheadle which is impressive.
A film written and directed by Judd Apatow, starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen is largely dramatic. I know, weird. I am sure this is part of the reason why it was not as successful as earlier films made by either Mr. Apatow or Mr. Sandler.
The funny bits of the movie are given to the side characters, played by Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman (and even Eric Bana). It’s an interesting film in terms of the Adam Sandler performance. This certainly feels like a road-not-taken, could-have-been-Mr. Sandler’s-life kind of film. So it is interesting to see him play the successful, but personally unfulfilled movie star opposite of the young and naive Seth Rogen. I’m not sure the movie fully works but it qualifies in terms of being a dramatic role and a solid performance from Mr. Sandler.
I’d also like to point out that I think it has been largely forgotten, which is the purpose of this post after all. Given that all of the people in this movie have continued working and are successful that just further reinforces my point that people on the Internet have no memory.
Films I Am Excluding Because I Have Not Seen Them
I agree, this is odd. Look, my viewing habits changed once I had kids and these movies came out after I had little people in my life. I can’t see them all!
Of these four titles only one is questionable in terms of being a dramatic performance. I think, and I am telling you I have not seen these, that Blended does have some dramatic aspects to the role.
The other three are quite obviously more serious which you can tell by their posters (I kid and yet…look at them! Men Women and Children just screams “I am an important indie film!’). The trailer for The Cobbler had me wanting to see it but as of yet I have not. So whether I am correct about Blended or not we have three more dramatic roles from Mr. Sandler to add to the list. Heed my words.
We conclude with the most recent and possibly best known dramatic performance of Mr. Sandler’s career. It’s a good film, I am pleased that it received so much attention and that so many people claimed to see it.
To conclude: stop it. In the past twenty years Adam Sandler has done a dramatic role every four years (or less). He’s good. We know this. Let us remember this and get excited each time a new role is announced.
Let’s be clear here – I am not talking about their predictive algorithms that tell you what you want to watch next. I’ve been using Netflix since 2004, I’ve rated well over 3,000 films and they either offer me films I’ve already watched and rated (on their platform) or things I have no interest in. Kanopy, a service I’ve used for about a year and ranked nothing on offers me selections that are 99.9% accurate. So to begin, Netflix, hire more people and learn from Kanopy (and Hulu and The Criterion Channel) and stop using math for people like me who want to watch Tenet, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan and The Philadelphia Story – you don’t stand a chance. What I am writing about today is YouTube and how Netflix understood long before me that it makes sense to post exclusive content on the site.
Let’s go back in time briefly. They year is 2012 and if you are a filmmaker looking to share your work online where do you post it? I said filmmaker so chances are you post it on Vimeo, the only site I knew of, where filmmakers of all levels of experience posted and shared their work. I’m not sure if YouTube was for anyone over the age of twenty at the time (to be fair I only used it to find music videos so maybe it was great and I was ignorant but I didn’t know anyone who used the site much) but I do know that if you wanted to find short films you went to Vimeo.
Now a quick search tells me that season one of House of Cards released in February 2013, which means at this point Netflix is still relying mainly on its DVD business and getting the rights to films and television shows made by other companies. In short, they aren’t doing much that is unique and wonderful to them. Did they have a YouTube channel? Did YouTube Channels exist then? I don’t really know. I had a YouTube account because I had a Google Video account that turned into a YouTube account at some point after the acquisition in 2006 and from that point on I’ve kind of/sort of used the site. My terrible point being I wasn’t paying attention and I don’t think many people were until…well that’s the point of this post.
When did YouTube start making sense? When did it stop being full of nonsense and America’s Funniest Home Videos content and become a smart choice for individuals and businesses to use as a platform for hosting video content? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question. It had to be after Facebook became a closed system (by which I mean when you could search the Internet and access everything from within the Facebook browser) because before that it certainly made sense to have a website for everything. Do we remember this? When each movie had its own website with as much (or as little) content as they wished to put on the site? When did this change?
I am rambling more than usual and I am sure little of it is interesting so let me try and say something of value. At some point it started to make sense to have a central hub for content rather than hundreds or thousands of individual sites that users had to find on their own. Netflix chose not to be a hub, I am assuming, because they are behind a paywall. It makes little sense for them to put their promotional material on their own site – you will only have access to people who have an account. You cannot tempt in new users from within the site. YouTube is free and available to anyone, therefore posting advertising clips and trailers on the site makes the most sense.
So, back to the title of this (what did Netflix know?) and this simple answer – that YouTube is better than other social media sites for promoting things, because they aren’t behind a paywall or require a membership to view content. Presumably their search engine is better because they are owned by Google but I don’t know this for sure. I do know trying to find things on Twitter is agonizing and Instagram is changed with such frequency that I never know how to do anything.
As someone who stopped using Facebook once the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke I can attest to how annoying not being able to access the site can be. A number of products that I use only post their tutorials or help forums on that site. Many companies use Facebook as the entry point for customer support and use groups to share tips and tricks for their products. Without an account I can’t access this content and every once in a while I find myself wondering if I shouldn’t just go back.
But this is the problem and it extends to all social media now, save YouTube, that everyone requires a membership and they track and sell your data (to the best of my knowledge YouTube can be used without a membership, I imagine while still tracking and selling your data). So, as always, the question remains: what should I be doing? When it comes to the Internet and social media I have no clue. I continue to post things on this site despite it being a poor way to share what I have written. Without a larger presence online I have little hope of reaching a larger audience.
A long ramble about the value of video stores, making sense and the “one poster” rule.
Not long ago I had a conversation with a filmmaker about how we decide which movies we will see. At the time we were at a film festival and I was remarking on how I seemed to be out of sync with my fellow audience goers. On film in particular “Pickle” struck me as being a somewhat melancholy story about a couple and the pets they have loved and lost over the years. Everyone around me responded like we were watching Austin Powers. Uproarious laughter, elbow nudges to one’s neighbor – this was clearly funny stuff!
The film festival experience is an interesting one, at least for short films where people go into the theater with little to no information about what they are going to watch. I almost always watch a trailer for a film or series beforehand so I have a sense of what I am about to see. Looking at comments online I am surprised at how few people go in with an idea of what it is they are about to watch.
I spoke with my filmmaker friend about this and he was convinced that I am in the minority. That few people watch the trailer for anything and in fact nearly everyone goes into a viewing experience blind. The numbers on YouTube paint a different story, millions of views for each trailer released often in the first day or so. But I think he’s not entirely wrong.
Lately I’ve been struggling to find films (and television shows) I’d like to watch. I feel, in part, this is because of the fragmentation of how I watch these days. Instead of paying for each film (or television show) I belong to several subscription-based services. I think, in this regard, I am typical.
What I have found is that I spend more time searching for things to watch than I did when I was seeing films in the theater or renting them on DVD. While this makes sense, a targeted approach rather than taking a look around to see what is available, what frustrates me is that because of how these services operate I know this will not change.
Visiting a video store, even a large one like the Hollywood Video that used to be in Arlington, Virginia (they boasted 55,000 titles) became easy after five or six visits. Typically the sections and subsections stayed in the same parts of the store. They added titles but rarely removed them. If you spent fifteen minutes in drama once a month after a few visits you had a good sense of what was there and the order you would come across these titles in (alphabetical).
Now if I want to find a specific title I work my way through the streaming sites (unless I know the title is specific to one particular service). If, at this point, it appears that no one has the title – which I would say happens at least fifty percent of the time, I have to choose to pay to rent/buy the title. How is this better than before?
I digress, although I do think the problem is only going to get worse. With Disney Plus and Apple TV (and the other numerous new streaming platforms) and Netflix continuing their push to show only their original content I miss belonging to the DVD side of their service. It wasn’t perfect and it certainly became much slower in 2019 and 2020 but it made some kind of sense. Titles didn’t disappear and reappear in a haphazard fashion. Films made by Paramount were not excluded because of some deal I could care less about.
I may be able to afford subscriptions to sites like Mubi and The Criterion Channel (I mention them because they offer curation, which is wonderful. Their selection is much less than other streaming sites and certainly more artsy – which does not always work for me) but that is the antithesis of what I want from my online experience. I want less clutter not more. I want to spend less time navigating various sites to find interesting content and more time enjoying the films and shows.
Case in point, last month I heard about a show starring Martin Freeman called Startup. Having never heard of it but finding the premise exciting I looked for it. At present I could only watch the show at crackle.com or via their app. The good news is I didn’t have to pay more money to watch it, just suffer through commercials. The bad news is despite being owned by Sony, Crackle has one of the worst apps I have ever used to stream content. Finding the show took three steps each time. Another two steps to get to the episode I wanted to watch. It doesn’t remember where you leave off and each time you try to watch the show it pushes season two, episode one at you as though this must always be the answer. Every other commercial break causes the app to crash forcing you to restart the process to find the show again. You then have to scrub through the footage to get back to where you stopped watching. Considering I was using this as a show to run to on the treadmill I amazed at how long I kept watching. Startup is that good. (And all three seasons were just added to Netflix last week so if you read this anywhere near the time I have posted you are in luck!)
Now all of this complaining aside I want to delve into the real purpose of this post, to say something about how we find good content to watch. I’m not a snob, I watch many different kinds of things and depending on what I am doing (running for one) I want different content. That being said the age we live in, when it should be easier to find the things we like, seems to be making it harder.
When I was in college I worked in a bookstore and Roget Ebert published a book called “I Hated Hated Hated this Movie.” It sparked a bit of conversation among us who were interested in movies. I recall saying, “Who even reads his reviews?” and someone answered, “People who think like him.” Recently Martin Scorcese was quoted speaking against Rotten Tomatoes and the mindset the site inspires. While he two took ideas and put them together, the problem of being focused on the box office as the main means of determining the success of a film and lumping reviewers together to create a “score”, I feel that his point is related.
While many people came to understand who Roger Ebert was and what his tastes were, today most people, I believe, are seeing headlines and reviews from people they are unfamiliar with. In the past week I have looked at my Twitter feed and noticed the headlines from sites like Film School Rejects and Film Stage and others and realized that I’ve been letting them affect my thoughts regarding films. Based on my social media feeds Blade Runner 2049 is a “box office failure” and a “missed opportunity”. Yet looking at it’s scores on Rotten Tomatoes I can see it has a 88% freshness rating with critics and 82% with audiences. So…
While I think the site has little value for helping me, personally, choose what to watch it is interesting to see how these scores so quickly refute sites that make outlandish claims. I don’t know who writes the reviews for these sites and even reviewers I do know, A.O. Scott and Anthony Lane to name two, I can’t say I have a good sense of. I know that Mr. Lane is going to rip apart the new Tom Cruise movie and prefer something less commercial but where does he land on something like The Neon Demon? I just looked it up and read it and honestly I still don’t know. He doesn’t praise the film but he doesn’t damn it either. Instead he gives some of the plot and says that the director Nicholas Winding Refn likes beauty and pretty images. I’m not sure who that helps or what that adds to the discussion.
My point here is that I think it used to be simpler. Siskel and Ebert would give a film two thumbs up (reviewers) and Pauline Kael wrote columns and everyone would think deep thoughts about how 1776 wasn’t all that good (a critical, incorrect take). Now there are sites that don’t seem to name the authors of the reviews, aggregates that compile the reviews and assign them an overall score and random bloggers who sound off on the whole matter. It’s a lot and most of it is noise.
This is saying nothing of the algorithms sites like Netflix use to suggest titles to you. Whereas before I would see a trailer before a film and think, “I’ve got to see that!” now Netflix has a small screen that plays automatically when I turn on the app. Or sometimes they have trailers for their content on their site. Or on YouTube.
They divide up content on their site somewhat like the video store but it’s not alphabetical, it isn’t easy to quickly scan and the titles appear and disappear on a mostly random basis making it impossible to create a mental inventory of what they have to offer. To me it feels a lot like watching HBO in 1990 only I get to choose when I watch the limited offerings. I guess that’s progress but given how much time has passed it doesn’t feel like much.
I’d like something more complete and comprehensive. I’d like a streaming service that owns its content and doesn’t play this game of here today, gone tomorrow. I’d like to be able to customize how I use these sites and apps and how I organize and view the titles they have. I’d like better and more detailed subcategories. I’d like each service to pick one poster for a title and never, ever change it.
Mostly I’d like things to make sense. Just this past month I discovered that HBO Max, which is either owned by or owns (or something in between) Warner Brothers no longer offers the Harry Potter movies (at the time of me revisiting this post I can see they do have the Harry Potter movies but they may be gone again when you read this). They did but now all of the Harry Potter films are available on Peacock (the absurd new NBC streaming service) which makes absolutely no sense. If a film studio owns a streaming service their films should be on that service. All of them. Simple. I, the customer, do not care about licensing rights and copyright law and whatever other nonsense that complicates who has what. Think again of the video store, where titles from different studios sat comfortably side by side. All of us, blissfully unaware of who owned what or if there was a parent company pitting our two favorite shows against each other on opposing networks. Just the stuff we wanted to watch sitting on a shelf. That just makes sense. Let’s go back to making sense.
Yet another excellent short film from Apple made to showcase the iPhone.
Show of hands, who knew that Apple had been commissioning films for Lunar New Year for the past five years? It wasn’t just me? Great. Moving on.
Last week I discovered a new film, shot on iPhones, made to celebrate the Lunar New Year. You may recall I gushed over Lulu Wang’s film, Nian, which was also made on iPhones to celebrate the Lunar New Year. This is neat.
I really enjoyed this film despite being a bit put off by the beginning. It is big and fancy and not what I was expecting. Turns out, that was the point. Stick with it.
I love this kind of film. It has a simple story told in a heartfelt manner. I’m sure this why I like the Nian so much, these are just my kind of movies.
I also love seeing the videos that show how these films were made. There is a lot of ingenuity and creativity in their filmmaking process. Simple solutions to get interesting shots. I am posting both videos below – enjoy!
A long list of the noteworthy things I watched in 2021.
Last year I derived a lot of pleasure from making this list. This year not so much. In fact as I write this I have not complied a full list. Typically I have a word document I update every week with what I have watched. This year I stopped in April. There was no good reason other than lack of interest in keeping a list. That being said I found that what I wanted to watch this year was quite different than usual..
A number of incredible films and television shows came out in 2021. Things that in a different time and headspace I would have loved to watch and think about. This year the thought of watching Underground Railroad was simply too much (which is a cop out. I watched The Last Duel a few days ago and it is amazing – just because you are sad does not mean you cannot appreciate sad things. Forgive me Mr. Jenkins!).
If I had to sum up my viewing habits this past year it would be thus: 1) I needed to watch things that did not deepen my sense of dread and despair and 2) I only finished about half the things I watched.
It is strange looking back at all of the movies and shows I simply stopped watching. I do not usually do that. Even if it’s a season of television, I typically muscle through and finish it. Partially to see if it improves and partially out of respect for the people who put the time and energy into making it. For some reason I gave up this year. Quite a lot. I gave up on enough things that I managed to circle back to some and, lo and behold, discovered that they were very good. Be patient with me.
If there is one thing I have tried to remind myself through the year it is that no one wants to make something bad. I have attempted to keep this in my mind even when something has struck me as awful. I have looked for the intention of the project. Perhaps this is unnecessary. I would rather be looking for the light than just sitting in the dark wallowing at this point.
So, without more blathering, a list!
DEATH TO 2020
I didn’t plan on watching this film. It was one of those terrible moments where I was in the mood to watch something and nothing looked good. The concept of this film was not appealing. But the trailer, oh the trailer, it did the trick.
Quick side note: trailers are my favorite thing when it comes to film and video. I wish more people felt this way. Watch them. Use Apple’s site to watch them so you can avoid commercials and advertising. Take back the trailer!
Anyway, this film is funny. It is laugh out loud funny. Unlike many things that I attempted to watch last year regarding the pandemic this does not try to coddle or offer solace. It just pokes fun at every idiotic thing that was done (and not done) to deal with a global pandemic. Everyone in it is incredibly funny. Laurence Fishburne (as the narrator) easily has the best lines (and delivery of those lines) from any film. Ever.
The Magicians: Season 5
In the past I wobbled a bit as to why I was watching this show. I read the books, thought they were decent, and gave the show a chance. Some of the changes they made were interesting (I liked the name change to Margot to avoid confusion with Julia) others seemed like typical Hollywood nonsense.
What I found over the seasons were the common annoyances of any show – forced storylines or big problems that suddenly do not matter because the people writing the episodes no longer wish to explore them (or a character that is forced on you, repeatedly, for some unknown reason).
What I like about this show and why I am glad I finished it:
They improved the Penny character. In the books he does not have much depth or much purpose. Here they gave him an interesting arc and by season five a lot of complexity. I dig it.
Margot. Dear lord everything Margot. This may be the best example (perhaps Steve Harrington from Stranger Things is tied) of an amazing character pivot. In the books this character was not interesting to me. In season one – same thing. Just a boring, vapid character that I felt brought nothing to the show. Somehow, somehow! They managed to take this one dimensional uninteresting character and, in my humble opinion, make her the star of the series. Margot went from “Why is she here?” to “Why isn’t she in every scene?”. It’s incredible.
The character of Josh (and to a lesser degree Fen) are also wonderful examples of supporting characters who grew and flourished and became important and lovable. I am glad I was able to see that.
It’s not a perfect show and there are certainly forgettable parts but I am very pleased I finished it.
Better Than Us
Netflix has a long history of making/releasing movies and television shows and doing absolutely nothing to promote them. I suppose all of the streaming services are doing this now but I’ve been paying attention to Netflix the longest so their sins strike me as the most egregious. Better Than Us is a prime example of this neglect.
It is a Russian television show about a society dependent on robots. What I like about this show is the focus isn’t just on the haves and the have nots. It’s not a dystopian show that wants to wallow in a future society where the one percent have it all and the rest are slowing dying in the sewer. I mean, it’s Russian, so there are absolutely elements of people dying in the sewer. I’m just trying to say that the focus is not the same old, same old and I appreciate that.
I haven’t been keeping up with all of the robot/synthetic shows so it is possible that this borrowed from Humans. For me it’s a fresh story that focuses on a man and his estranged family. There is also a mysterious robot and hijinks.
What I love most about a show like this is that because it is Russian none of the actors have any baggage for me. I’m not continually spotting the police chief and saying, “Oh it’s that guy”. Everyone is fresh and new. It helps with the storytelling. Especially because there are twists and turns that I don’t think a Hollywood production would have made. It’s different and interesting.
Just before I watched this show I realized I was getting sick of watching superhero films and shows. We have reached a point where so much of what is being made is a comic book adaptation. Most of those seem to be about superheroes. Which up until recently I did not mind, having grown up reading these comic books. But, you need variety (both in terms of the kinds of things being made and the stories being told).
That being said I watched the trailer for this series and it looked interesting. Rather than just a story about a family with super powers Jupiter’s Legacy is largely about the mystery of how did these people get these super powers? The biggest compliment I feel I can pay anything I watch is that I did not see the ending coming.
Throughout this season the present day action is intercut with how the original group came to become superheroes. It is very well done. At no point was it clear to me what, exactly was going to happen next. It was interesting and surprising. Enough so that when the season ended I was quite pleased I had watched the show. I was genuinely looking forward to what the next season would be like. It was immediately canceled. Thank you, Netflix.
I think I heard about this film when it came out. None of the three leads were people I really knew and it did not look like much of a film to me. Then, in 2021, I saw it on Netflix. The trailer spoke to me. It said, “You can watch me and have a good time. There is no sadness within”. This was what I needed and I watched.
I have yet to watch Silicon Valley so perhaps that helped the experience. I do not know. This was fresh to me in terms of seeing two of the leads interact with one another. Aside from some basic sexism and misogyny, thrown with some force at the always wonderful Alison Brie, it’s a fun and funny film.
There are a number of unexpected moments, some truly comedic moments where people like J.B. Smoove let loose and deliver the goods. It’s a late night watch that won’t make you cry and right now I appreciate that greatly.
The Witcher – Seasons 1 & 2
When the first season of The Witcher came out, I watched. I wasn’t really excited about the show but it looked like it could be interesting. I did not love it. I am not sure if I liked it. My response to it was a step above indifference. I finished it, felt no need to think about it or discuss it. It had happened.
Last month season two was released and after watching the recap of season one I dove in again. What can I say? Season two is vastly better. Enough so that when I finished it I watched season one. Then season two again. For all the cleverness of the scene where that scamp of a bard, Jaskier, fires back at his critic with comments designed to defend the first season, it does, ultimately, fall short. Because season one is needlessly convoluted and confusing.
It’s not only that they made no attempt to ground the audience in the different times the story takes place but they also intentionally told the story out of sequence without an indication of when in time you were. Personally I think season one would work better if it were linear, like season two, as there is so much happening that you do not need to rely on a narrative trick to keep the audience entertained.
And entertained I was with season two (and I might add with season one after watching season two – because I then had a sense of who everyone was and what was happening). The show is well made and is a feast for the eyes. The character development with Ciri worked very well. It was nice to see them improve upon the first season and makes me hopeful for what comes next.
Homecoming – Season Two
What I like best about season two is that they didn’t try and replicate the first season. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the weird cropped image that was used to portray Julia Roberts in the present day in season one. That was strange and off-putting. Honestly this modern mania for altering aspect ratios from shot to shot (and so often now within the same shot) needs to stop. More often than not it is simply distracting rather than illuminating. It took me reading several interviews about Legion before I could “understand” what, exactly, they were trying to achieve with their numerous aspect ratios on the show.
I digress! Did I like season two? About the same as season one – which is to say not overly. I watched season one for Julia Roberts. The actor I know best in season two is Chris Cooper and frankly I don’t feel he was given enough to do. Everyone in this show is great, they all do a wonderful job with their characters and I no mean to slight them in anyway. I became invested in everyone and I felt that each character had a unique perspective. It’s just a tough show to like. The overall story and message is not easy.
If there are two things I like, it’s movies I cannot predict and Anthony Mackie. Anthony Mackie has become one of those actors who manages to appear in five movies a year without you noticing. Julianne Moore did it and I swear I am the only person who caught on. It’s a neat trick and when it works well you, the viewer, reap all of the rewards (I mean I’m sure they get paid but…you get it).
Synchronic is the good kind of low budget science fiction. I think the movie Kin almost nailed what this movie gets right. You can’t do a lot of big fancy stuff so you have to imply things. It’s like Steven Spielberg and Jaws. If his shark had worked correctly we would have had a very different and possibly less scary movie. This film greatly benefits from what is not shown.
I don’t want to say much of anything about the plot, this is a good one to see knowing little. Both actors gave solid performances and I enjoyed watching the movie.
Zach Snyder’s Justice League
Of the many things you simply could not get away from in 2021 was this film. Long touted as a myth, Zach Snyder and HBO did the weird thing and released The Snyder Cut. To say it is an anomaly is an understatement. To allow a director to come back, shoot new material and radically recut a film for a rerelease on a digital platform – it’s a first is what I am saying. No one has done that before.
Sadly it looks like it will not be happening again any time soon, which is a shame. All of the other DC directors who publicly clamored for the same treatment where systematically shut down. I am not a money person, so I can appreciate that from a financial perspective it probably makes no sense to do this. But from the perspective of a viewer (and aspiring filmmaker) I am at a loss. No one on the Internet seemed to talk about anything else for months. There is definite interest.
I have no idea how successful this film’s release was but the film itself is a vastly better film than the original. It is long. It is so terribly long. And it is in 4:3 format which just smacks of weird.
Yet it’s a much better movie because suddenly those moments from the original film, when the big thing happens and it is supposed to matter – they matter in this film. You are given the time and context to understand that the big circular building is filled with Amazons. Or anything relating to Joe Morton has an actual backstory and consequences.
There are about fifty moments in this film that make sense, that offer an emotional payoff, that were not there in the previous version. Lois Lane not only has an arc but her presence when Superman returns actually makes sense (rather than her being the “big guns” that Batman and Alfred refer to in a previous scene). I keep saying that but it is true – there are so many elements of this film that make sense from a storytelling perspective that did not in the prior version. That is nice to see.
I feel odd saying something that takes away from this film because it is so vastly superior to its predecessor, but, it’s not amazing. It is really, really long. And not all of the stories pay off or make sense. But I am glad, both as a viewer and aspiring filmmaker, that this was made. It gives me hope that there are actually people in the Hollywood system who want to support filmmakers.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Keeping with the DC films I saw this year I need to mention Birds of Prey. My expectations for this film were so terribly low. Between the trailer and the reaction when it was released I thought it would be terrible film. Much worse than Suicide Squad (not The Suicide Squad which had not yet been released). I was wrong.
This is a very good movie. It many ways it makes me think of Hustlers from last year. I want my daughter to see it. Maybe not yet, but someday. I like the message of the film, I like the way it was made and I really enjoyed this version of Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie won me over in this movie. This character was truly alive on the screen and I enjoyed going on this journey with her.
The rest of the cast was good as well. The men were all quite terrible as they were meant to be. I had heard about the breakfast sandwich scene and on paper it did not seem like it would be good. But as a person who has fallen in love with foods (and as a man who has watched his wife when she has fallen in love with foods) I can safely say I enjoy that sequence. It feels correct and earned. I’d love to see Cathy Yan get a chance to do her version of Justice League with the film (as she has expressed a desire to do so). I’m very happy with how it is, so it would be interesting to see what she was forced to exclude.
Mare of Easttown
I’ve been watching Kate Winslet forever. In that time I have endured a fair number of films that I would rather not have watched. I have done so because I think she is a fantastic actress. That was certainly the case with Mare of Easttown. This show does not fall into my happy/fun/unchallenging category of 2021. This is a tough watch and for me it was compounded by the whole “living in a small town despite you always wanting to get out of a small town” thing (even though her small town seems quite large). Parts of this hit close to home.
Thankfully the really bad parts do not. I am grateful for that. This is a well made show with a ton of great performances from the supporting characters. Once again Kate Winslet demonstrates she is an amazing actress with no fear. I can’t imagine that many people would want to play this role (or at least play it the way she did). It isn’t glamorous or flattering. It is also not so far in the opposite direction as to be “awards acting” (thinking of Charlize Theron in Monster or Nicole Kidman in The Hours – I don’t mean to put these performances down, it’s just a different kind of performance) but is a very grounded, realistic portrait of a woman in this particular place and time.
There are several films I have been putting off writing about and Tenet is near that top of that list. That this film did not receive universal acclaim is beyond me. That it is not the best film I saw in 2021 is astounding.
I’m not someone who praises Christopher Nolan because I consider him a great filmmaker and infallible. On this site I wrote about my struggles with the ending of Inception. It makes no sense. Michael Caine revealing that he knows the true ending only makes it worse. I found Dunkirk to be a well made movie that did not need to be made. I am trying to earn my praise for this film and I fear it is not working.
The amount of thought that must go in to writing a script like Tenet is baffling. Everything has to be known and understood before they begin any of the preproduction planning. I cannot imagine. When I think about sequences of this film, like the section on the highway and the case being passed between the vehicles I blanche. Perhaps when you write that you just put something in like, “some cars are inverted, things are complicated, the case gets passed” I’m not sure. But you have to know who is where and when, how that would work if some are inverted, and so on. It makes my head hurt. That type of work feels more like engineering than writing to me.
I love this film. I love that it opens and just goes. I think you are into the action in the first two minutes of the movie. I love that it shifts and coils and unfurls and that at each stage you feel like you have a handle on things. Then ten minutes later, despite having seen it five times this year, you find yourself trying to work the logistics out in your mind. To then have something happen onscreen that breaks your concentration and makes you realize you don’t really understand how all the pieces fit together.
What I appreciate most about this film is how incredible cerebral it is and how you can just sit and let it wash over you. It works on all levels, as spectacle and thought-exercise. It is incredible. Of all the stellar cast members I was most impressed by John David Washington. I had a similar response to him when I watched Black Klansman. At first he doesn’t seem quite right, a bit too timid or out of his depth. Then there is a moment in the film, for me it’s the fight scene in the kitchen, where you just realize how perfect he is. Each time I watch that scene I am amazed at how well done it is, how the action is clear and his power is undeniable. It is truly impressive.
For the life of me I do not know why people failed to respond to this film. I am grateful that it exists and that I am able to watch it, again and again.
It feels odd to say it but I was quite nervous about watching Dune. There was so much that was unknown and I had allowed myself to get excited about it. The trailers were all very, very good. I read the book about two years ago and I was amazed at how well the trailers captured the essence of it. My hopes were up and so often, it seems, that leads to disappointment with movies.
My first viewing of Dune was mixed. I was not quite sure. There were parts I enjoyed very much. Others were odd, or lackluster. It was not what I expected. In the month that it was showing on HBO Max I think I watched it five times. It is a film that holds up to rewatching quite well. It is a long movie that feels like a long movie. Tenet is a long movie that knocks you about enough that you stop paying attention to its length. Dune is so calm and controlled that aside from a few sequences you notice the passing of time but that passing is pleasant. It is like a warm afternoon that you spend in your backyard sitting in silence with someone you care about. It is comfortable.
There is something special about this film, something different, that pleases me greatly. It is not just the fidelity it has to the book, although that is wonderful. This story has a calm center to it, to my mind it is like a person that has achieved inner harmony and feels neither fear nor desire, that is pleasant to be around but is also unknowable. It is a unique experience and I look forward to the second film to see if the two halves are greater than the sum of their parts.
The best film I saw in 2021 is easily Girlhood. I do not feel qualified to write about it. What makes this film so good? It feels like a documentary rather than a narrative, fiction film. Somehow I feel as though I have been a fly on the wall in this young woman’s life and seen so many amazing moments – yet I feel none of the ickiness that comes with such voyeuristic moments in documentaries.
Of the many things I appreciate about this film I love that race is not the issue. I am assuming this is possible because it is a French film, I do not really know. When I was watching this film I kept being struck by the idea that a white woman in America could not have made it. For many reasons. I have a sense of how things are here, in America, and to not attempt to address these issues would be dishonest. Does the same hold true in France? I don’t know. I do know that I love that the film does not have to deal with the same issues and can simply be what it is. A complex coming of age story with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a film. Celine Sciamma is getting no shortage of praise lately but after seeing Girlhood I am certain she deserves more.
The Wheel of Time
My expectations for this show were on par with The Witcher. I was aware of the books but never read them. From the promotional material for the show I only had the sense the Rosamund Pike was the center and it would be something like The Lord of The Rings. The trailer did little more to help (except show some not great looking creatures, they do not look as terrible in the show itself so perhaps they were unfinished).
What I ended up watching was quite lovely. The young people are, well, young people. They are pretty, they are rather dim and not all of them are developed (as characters). But the rest of the characters, even those who are only slightly older, are interesting and a joy to watch. The relationship between Moiraine Damodred and Lan Mandragoran in particular is rich and rewarding. You have a sense of it and then it shifts and then shifts again.
I think the most interesting aspect of this story is the notion that only women can access the one power without going mad. Yet this does not stop men from trying to access the power nor does it mean women are the rulers. It is a painful and accurate depiction of the problem of power between men and women. The numerous dynamics this creates in the show are what I found most interesting and rewarding.
I saw this in December, after a year of watching many things on numerous streaming services. It struck me (I believe I watched this after finishing The Witcher) how good everything looks now. Even low budget films like Killerman which was shot on film. We have reached a point where the technology and the know-how is so advanced and good that things just look fantastic. It’s wonderful, it really is. I don’t say this in a dismissive way, I think the writing on The Wheel of Time was quite good and I was impressed with the relationships on the show. It’s a fantasy show and the language is somewhat unnatural to my ear, but it works. It is just as impressive to me that they went to these amazing locations, shot at the correct time of day, and captured so many stunning images for what just a few years ago would have been “just a television show”.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
One of the bigger surprises for me in 2021 was this film. I had never heard of let alone read the comic. I had never seen Simu Liu in anything. I didn’t know that Tony Leung was in the film until it began. To say that I enjoyed this film is an understatement. It is everything I want right now in a movie. It does not put me into a three day funk where I question life, my place in the world or how this is all going to affect my children. It is fun, it is funny and it has some truly inspired action sequences.
I highly recommend anyone who wants to learn more about this film and how it was made to look at the Corridor Crew videos:
These videos do such an excellent job of showcasing all that is wonderful and good in this film. In particular the stuntmen react video gives you a sense of how much the people working on this film cared and wanted to do a good job.
The story is interesting and the relationships believable. Each part adds up to something more and there is true character development and growth over the course of the film. The villan, Shang’s father, is completely understandable and relatable. So much care and love was put into making this movie and it is obvious from the result.
Much like the rest of the world, I have been won over by Ryan Reynolds and his social media presence. What started as commercials for his gin company has spiraled and morphed into something unnamable and wonderful.
Because of this I have been aware of Free Guy for some time. He mentioned it often and how much he loved it. Which I found amusing since he had a decent number of films come out just before or after it that he said next to nothing about. Perhaps I am the only person who finds that weird.
Regardless he built up my expectations for this film and I have to say they were met. The premise of the film and its execution are both solid and satisfying. The conclusion felt true and justified. It’s a fun movie and it is a funny movie. Jodie Comer does not feel wasted in the film and Lil’ Rey Howery all but stole the show. The movie has a lot of heart and it isn’t afraid to show it. I like that.
The Harder They Fall
I had never heard of Jeymes Samuel before this film. After watching and looking him up the use of music suddenly made a lot more sense. The trailer gave me an impression that the main character would be Idris Elba. This is not so. The opening sequence disabused me of the notion that Mr. Elba would be the hero – decidedly not so.
I almost did not include this film because my reaction to it was split – I did not love it. But I am happy that it exists, that it was made and it is so rough and nasty, and that I get to watch it and debate whether I like it or not. This was the second project I saw Jonathan Majors in this year (I have still yet to watch Lovecraft Country) and that the other was Loki, the range the he displays is impressive. The cast of this film is amazing and the locations are incredible. It is just another great example of people going out into the world and capturing stunning locations.
The Mosquito Coast
So I haven’t read the book and I could never bring myself to watch the film. I love Harrison Ford but he had several films from the late 70’s and 80’s that just looked unappealing. This was certainly one of those films.
The trailer for this show is solid. I felt going in I had a sense of all four of the main characters and what the story would be. I did to a point. I have a feeling that this will be the kind of show that once you have more episodes you can appreciate the breadcrumbs that were sprinkled early on.
What I loved about this show, Justin Theroux’s masterful portrayal of Allie Fox. By the end of the first episode you are absolutely smitten and charmed by him. By the end of the season you are a bit disgusted and afraid of him. It’s a wonderful character arc and it feels fully earned.
Despite a few questionable moments with the children I also enjoyed their journeys and how they were handled. Some moments, like when the family is hiding in Mexico and both parents just leave the kids for a day, did not feel right. The children have been sheltered from the world, hidden away and taught nothing about how to navigate on their own…and these overprotective parents are out the door and thinking not at all about the kids? It doesn’t work like that.
I digress. The only aspect of the show that felt a bit like watching a television show concerned Margot and her “secret”. It becomes clear somewhat early on that she has an important secret, that all is not as it seems. To end the season with that unresolved felt a bit too manipulative for my taste. I can’t wait for the next season though and I hope they are able to explore the characters further.
Riders of Justice
I had felt that I had finished my list (largely because I don’t have a full year accounted for as I normally would) when I saw something about Riders of Justice and remembered the film. When I saw it I thought, “This might be the best film I’ve seen this year” and it certainly is one of them. I try not to rank (despite doing so with Girlhood) but sometimes it is hard.
This film, based on its trailer, really seems to be one thing. I had thought it would be a simple, straightforward story about a man bent on revenge. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it is much more than that. It is a rich, layered film that sneaks up on you. There is nothing formulaic or predictable about Riders of Justice and I love it for that. So many moments are singular, they feel spontaneous and unrelated to the rest of the story. But they belong and they are connected and what ultimately unfolds and is a fantastic film.
Despite having seen him in many movies and one utterly disgusting television show, Mads Mikkelsen continues to defy my expectations. He is such an interesting actor, capable of great humor and terrible violence, and watching him in this film is a treat. That being said the supporting characters steal the show. There is no question that the three men who come to be his “team” and his daughter and her boyfriend are all important and interesting.
This film pleased me and excited me when I watched it. It made me want to get to my computer and get writing to try and tell stories as interesting and wonderful as this.
I am concluding my list here. I have, yet again, not including any of the cooking or food related shows and films I watched this year. Why? I do not know. It doesn’t feel right. I have no documentaries on this list but honestly I don’t watch that many. I think I watched two this past year. A lot of food and cooking programming though. I think that needs it’s own list so perhaps I will do one soon.
Last year I included a list of films and shows I was anxious to see in the upcoming year. At the moment my mind feels too scattered to put that together properly. There are always things on the horizon to be excited about and I certainly am.
Since learning about KFC Gaming it’s been hard to think about anything else. How are we not all talking about this? Will it lead to other companies making gaming consoles? Imagine other fast food chains incorporating their products into a gaming console! This fills me with glee.
In case some of you are still in the dark, the main feature of this console is the “chicken chamber”. From their website –
Never risk letting your chicken go cold again thanks to the patented Chicken Chamber. Utilising the systems natural heat and airflow system you can now focus on your gameplay and enjoy hot, crispy chicken between rounds.
Now perhaps, like the three people who have been willing to speak to me about this, you find yourself with no further thoughts on the matter. Fear not, I will share with you my thoughts and eventual concerns. My sincere hope regarding this development is that there will be imitators.
I give you the first potential imitator – The McDonald’s gaming console, with built in “McFlurry Dispenser”. Think it through, less messy than chicken wings, more reliable than the in-store machines. Plus you can drink/eat something with a straw with greater ease while you play.
Next up, a departure from the world of food (we’ll be back) Supercuts decides to hop on this trend and makes a gaming console with “Vacuum Clippers” (we all know it’s a Flowbee). Cut your hair while you game (and don’t worry about the clippings!).
Staying in the world of hygiene and self-care we then see Nail Garden create their own gaming console complete with “Pedicure Center” which allows gamers to tend to their follicles while exploring new worlds.
Back to the food world Red Lobster decides to take things in another direction and makes their console contain an “Aquarium Center”. Customers can use the small aquarium for either entertainment purposes or to store fish they intend to later cook for their supper.
Moving away from chains I’d like to see Momofuku come out with their own console, featuring a “Pork Bun Chamber”. Similar to KFC, I know, but perhaps David Choe could be tapped to design the module.
For something completely different, perhaps Napa Auto Parts could have a “Cleaning Chamber”. Small, grease-covered objects could be placed inside and cleaned while you play. No town is without an auto parts store so this seems like one of my safer bets.
It would make me terribly happy to see DJI Global get into the mix, perhaps creating a “Drone Chamber” containing two miniature drones. Gamers could use their controllers to fly the drones around their homes while waiting for load screens or delinquent partners to come online.
Party City seems like a no brainer for this. A plethora of chamber options would be available including: mini helium tank, confetti dispenser, or your choice of “dining for one” – paper plate and cutlery set (Harry Potter or My Little Pony) themed.
Taking this into a “pay to play” direction, BMG music would offer a “Tunes Chamber” requiring you to insert twelve cents in order to listen to twelve albums of your choice. You could then pay full price for further albums or cancel your membership and start over.
Time for the low-hanging fruit, Aviation Gin – they create a “Gin Console”, a mini bar filled with tiny bottles and a holder for one, perfect lime (knife not included).
Low hanging fruit number two (no offense intended to Mister Reynolds – I feel like I’m doing your work right now) Mint Mobile makes a gaming console that contains a “Phone Chamber”. Inside is a fox-shaped phone with a six month, prepaid unlimited plan and daily voice messages from the owner.
Seizing the opportunity Nespresso joins the fray, releasing their own gaming gaming console. Surprising no one they include a mini espresso machine with two George Clooney cups!
Jasper Hill Farms could surely enter this competitive world. Considering that they offer a monthly cheese club (and a cheese and chocolate club) as well as charcuterie – the work is all but done. A special chamber to hold your cheese (chocolate) and meat – what more could you want? What better way to game then with some excellent cheese?
One more for my Vermont people – Hill Farmstead Farm offers a “home brew chamber”. Think about it, you spend all this time by your gaming console and home brewing takes what, a month to make a batch of beer? Combine your efforts, delve deeply into fermentation and make some tasty beer (obviously this one is adults only).
I am stopping now – not because I don’t have more ideas but because I think it is better for me if I do. The possibilities are endless! Why KFC is doing this I have no idea. It makes me incredibly happy that they are. There is no practical reason for a fast food chain to make a gaming console – but here we are. Forget the flying car, we should all be focussing on having gaming consoles with chambers!
So I started shooting this short in March. I quickly lost interest and gave up. Then, sometime in October I realized that other than random drone footage I really had not shot much this year (I only just realized that my last post on this site was February 14th 2021). So I tinkered and rethought what I wanted to do.
Let me link this video before I say more –
It isn’t Citizen Kane but it also isn’t terrible. I’m happy about that. 2021 was supposed to be a year where I did some formal interviews and took the test so I could use my drone footage to make money. Neither happened. A lot of homeschooling happened as well as a lot of waiting for a vaccine (June for me) and all of the other nonsense we’ve all been dealing with.
What made me happy about taking a break from this video is it went from being a lot of footage of brewing coffee (I shot about an hour’s worth) to being something kind of fun and playful. It’s absolutely the kind of thing I wanted and needed to see and do this past year.
Hopefully someone watches this. If you do and want to tell me what you think I’d like that.
In an effort to be more productive and stop skulking around the house I’ve decided to start making short films and upload them on YouTube. As a result I will be posting here about that process and linking the videos. What. A. Treat.
This past week the company Moment uploaded a review of the new Sony A1 camera. The review was made by the filmmaker Joshua Martin . He’s made a number of videos for Moment this past year and I’ve enjoyed his laid-back style. He started this review with a cinematic short film to demonstrate what the A1 is capable of. I enjoyed that greatly as most reviews are just a person sitting and talking at the camera.
I enjoyed the short so much that I stopped the video when that ended and found myself thinking about how I would like to make a similar video and the proceeded to daydream about what I would do for quite some time. The following day I had time to myself so I went out and shot two hours worth of footage and make my own version.
Once I had everything ingested into my computer I went through the footage and saw all the mistakes I had made. I shot near noon, which is never a good idea, but it was a sunny day. For portions of the video I was shooting handheld and moving the camera in front of my face and body. Shadows of the camera and mic kept playing on my face and chest, ruining the shots. There were a number of other mistakes I had made, forgotten shots, things being out of focus and it became obvious that I would have to reshoot most of the footage.
I spent the night brooding on this and thinking of how to improve the story I was telling while also adding new elements and not making mistakes. A number of firsts came out of this process, like making a shot list and mounting my gimbal onto a tripod for shots in my car and I am pleased with the results.
Did I get it all right? Not even close. I still forgot shots, misunderstood the placement of my camera and shot at a terrible time of day in unflattering light. As tempted as I was to redo everything again I didn’t, I worked with the footage and came up with what I think is a decent video. It’s not perfect but it’s done.
So this is part of my new plan, I hope to write more here that isn’t just about cameras or plugging my videos – in addition to making videos on a regular basis for YouTube. There is more certainly a stigma attached to doing such things and interestingly I am finding freedom in this particular act of self-publishing. There is an audience, not cost to the creator and absolute unchecked creativity in what is possible. It’s kind of amazing.
Please take a look and let me know what you think.