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Archive for Friday Finds

Friday Finds: “Apollo 11”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently experienced.

Today’s find: Apollo 11
Genre: Documentary, Feature Film
Origin: CNN Films, Statement Pictures
Find it: Cinemas (mostly art house or specialty)

Apollo 11 movie posterIn this edition of Friday Finds, it’s time to start celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing by seeing Apollo 11. This documentary is an excellent recap of the historic mission solely using original film shot in that period. It’s highly recommended.

The story behind much of the film used is quite interesting. NASA had contracted with a film studio to cover the mission using theatrical, wide-screen 70mm cameras. Never used, this film sat forgotten for over four decades in a NASA storage facility – I keep imaging the warehouse in Indiana Jones – until the documentary crew discovered it.

The use of this large format film provides some segments in Apollo 11 that are of amazing quality. One sequence showing the Saturn V rocket lifting off and clearing the launch gantry is so crisp, it could have been CGI. The segments of the mission itself are supplemented by interesting non-flight sequences. One example is the crowds awaiting lift-off on the shores of Florida near the Kennedy Space Center – which included a dapper Johnny Carson in sports jacket and ascot.

Another choice by the filmmakers is to use historic audio to provide a narration. Walter Cronkite and other news reporters describe different aspects of the flight at an overall level. Recordings from Earth-Apollo transmissions provide insight into flight details. This was fine for someone like me, who lived through the era, or those with a particular interest in the Space Race. But I fear it might be a little thin for younger people not so familiar with the Apollo flights.

Nine Year Old Space Cadet

As a nine-year-old space fanatic in 1969, I had followed every flight as closely as I could. For me, Apollo 11 is a nice reminder of those days. First Man, the biopic about Neil Armstrong released last Fall, was also a worthy reminder of the Space Race. Although it was a bit dry at times, this was perhaps indicative of its subject, who barely raised his blood pressure even during lift-off or the Moon landing.

It’s hard to believe that flight was half a century ago. Or that I’m old enough to remember something half a century ago! Despite the successes (and sacrifices) of the Space Shuttle program, it does seem a great shame that the Moon landing didn’t lead to a more extensive stay on the Moon or other journeys beyond Earth orbit. But it’s a great reminder of what the United States is capable, when enough people and resources are thrown at a problem.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Friday Finds: “Tales From the Tour Bus”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus
Genre: Half hour animated documentary
Studio: Judgemental Films/Zipper Bros/Sutter Road
Find it on: Cinemax, seasons 1 (8x) and 2 (8x)

Tales from the Tour Bus poster

Since the demise of its “Skinemax” adult late-night fare, Cinemax has been struggling to define an identity. It’s unfortunately best known as the destination for big brother HBO’s hand-me-down movies, and Canadian or British series likely already passed over by PBS, Amazon Prime, and Netflix.

All that being said, there are a few glimmers of hope. Among these is Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus. Although I’ve come late to the series, I’ve been an enthusiastic viewer since discovering it in its second season.

Tales from the Tour Bus is an animated documentary series, created by Mike Judge. Judge is most famous as the creator of the animated series Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, as well as bringing us HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Now, I will admit an “animated documentary” does sound a bit odd, but it works quite well. Interviews are shown via what I presume is some type of rotoscoping (animating regular video). And animation also allows the re-creation of interesting scenes from the subjects’ lives.

I first tuned in when the description of Season 2’s opening episode caught my eye as I scrolled through my FiOS program guide – George Clinton and P-Funk. Despite being a blue-eyed, white Boomer from suburban New Jersey, I do love me some funk, so I tuned in. The episode immediately grabbed my attention and it turns out Season 2 is all about funk. I watched each week as new episodes covered subjects like Bootsy Collins, Morris Day and The Time, Rick James, and James Brown.

Season One covered country stars such as Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, and Jerry Lee Lewis. I had to go back and catch up on via Cinemax video-on-demand. Country’s not so much my thing, but the format of the series still made it interesting.

On the Road Again

So take a detour from your usual viewing and check out the first two seasons of Tales from the Tour Bus. No news yet on a renewal for a third season, but let’s hope Cinemax keeps this magical mystery tour around for a while yet.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, The Genius Box. Details here . 

Friday Finds: “Homecoming”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: Homecoming
Genre: Half hour drama
Origin: Amazon Studios/Universal Cable
Find it on: Amazon Prime, season 1 (10x)

My wife and I are not typically super-binge viewers. However, the new Amazon series Homecoming saw us watch all 10 episodes over the course of a weekend afternoon.

Based on a podcast of the same name, Homecoming starts off a bit slowly in the first episode. The series does quickly gather steam as the story progresses. Sadly, little can be said about the story without getting into possible spoilers. The savvy viewer will figure out the basics of the story by the third episode. The suspense is in watching the characters discover what’s happening, and in learning the details about how the characters ended up where they are.

One thing about the story that is not spoiler-y, is that it takes place in two time periods that are four years apart. The creative team uses some interesting production techniques – some obvious, some subtle – to differentiate between the two periods, and to visually illustrate certain characters’ confusion. Less positive are some subplot parallels that are rather overt echoes of the main action, but that’s me being picky.

The Cast

The acting is excellent. The series features Julia Roberts in her much-ballyhooed initiation into series television. Key roles are played by up-and-comer Stephan James and Boardwalk Empire alumni Shea Whigham and Bobby Cannavale. This being a big-budget Amazon production, we also see big names like Sissy Spacek and Durmot Mulroney populating characters around the periphery of the story.

Another interesting note is the varying times of each episode. From my count, these varied from 26 to 33 minutes. As noted in my new book “The Genius Box,” Peak TV and streaming has given creatives the power to film an episode to the story, rather than keeping within a set 30 or 60 minute time frame to fit legacy television time slots. This series is a prime example of this trend.

Don’t forget to check out Homecoming on Amazon.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Read his new book, “The Genius Box” – details here
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Friday Finds: “Lodge 49”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: Lodge 49
Genre: Hour comedy
Origin: AMC Prods.
Find it on: AMC, season 1 (10x)

Lodge 49 posterLodge 49 has just ended its season run on AMC, and it’s taken me that long to consider writing about it. It’s a difficult to describe hour – mostly comedy, some drama, and a lot of quirky.

The series features famous offspring Wyatt Russell (son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russel, as Dud) and Sonya Cassidy (as Dud’s sister, Liz). Lodge 49 looks at the struggles of these “adult” children as they deal with the death of their father and their own issues through the use of a lot of symbolism and allegory.

The Lodge 49 of the title is the Long Beach-located branch of a slowly decaying fraternal order. However, the lodge setting provides much of the amusing whimsy in the series. Is there really some magic or special powers behind the usual grandiose trappings of the order? This may be, but the lodge serves the plot as the locus of all the quirky souls who cross paths in the course of the series.

Also prominently featured in the first season are Brent Jennings, playing Ernie, a Don Quixote to Dud’s Sancho Panza; Linda Emond as Connie, Ernie’s erstwhile girlfriend; and the always enjoyable Bruce Campbell as The Captain. A variety of interesting character actors fill out the large cast. The final episode introduces a new character to whom we can hopefully look forward in season two; look quickly or he’ll be “up in smoke.”

Character-Driven Creative

Lodge 49 is definitely a shaggy dog story; it takes its own sweet time moving around Long Beach and this story of its denizens. If you have a weakness for character-driven series, give it a try. Lodge 49 is currently available through AMC pay TV VOD, AMC streaming, or for purchase at Amazon Prime Video.

Friday Finds: Appreciating “Grand Prix” amid the debris of racing films

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently experienced.

Poster from "Grand Prix"I’m a big fan of car racing and racing films. Not so much today’s scene, but racing from the early ’60s to the late ’70s. Thus it was with a pleasurable surprise that I saw this week that a film is heading to production this fall, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, about the mid-’60s battle between Ford and Ferrari for supremacy at Le Mans.

It has all the elements of a good story. Two industry titans (Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari) going toe-to-toe. Ford depending on good ol’ Texas boy and racing genius Carroll Shelby to design and produce his challenger, and British driver Ken Miles to test the beast. A classic story of New World versus Old World at the macro level, and an oil-and-water buddy story at a personal level.

The Curse

However, despite A-list actors and director (James Mangold), this film will have a hard time to avoid the historical curse on movies about car racing. Ron Howard’s Rush was the last attempt at a prestige racing film. It failed miserably at the box office. Racing films are unfortunately more represented by candidates for the annual Razzie awards, including Sylvester Stallone’s Driven, Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder, and even Elvis Presley’s Speedway (apologies to The King).

One has to go all the way back to 1966, to John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix – starring James Garner and featuring many real Grand Prix drivers in cameos – to find a racing movie that was both a critical and a box office success. It was a technical and editing tour de force. Grand Prix remains one of my all-time favorite movies, period.

Others might point to Steve McQueen’s Le Mans (1971). It’s more a product of the late ’60s confusing creativity with a hot mess. But the filming of the cars and racing of this era is undeniably well done (and features my favorite Porsches!).

Looking for a Win

Ironically, documentaries have recently fared better than features. Senna (2010), Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015), and The 24 Hour War (2016) all present interesting stories (the latter also being about the Ford-Ferrari battles in the mid-’60s).

As for the new Ford-Ferrari feature, if having Matt Damon and Christian Bale can’t open it and get it past the checkered flag, then this niche market may have seen the last racing film for some time. Heck, since Damon somehow got The Great Wall to pull in $45 million in US box office, he might be able to drive this new film to a win and beat the curse.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: 2001 A Space Odyssey

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently experienced.

Today’s find: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Genre: Science Fiction, Feature Film
Origin: MGM
Find it: Special engagements in cinemas

2001 poster
It’s hard to believe it is half a century since I dragged my father to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when it opened. To celebrate that anniversary, I dragged my son to see 2001 at a special screening in New York City. The circle of life!

The impetus for our trip to the city? An original 70mm print of 2001 which is visiting different cities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the movie’s release, with the help of director Christopher Nolan

While I’ve seen the film dozens of times on television – at least the middle, less confusing parts of it – I have no memory of seeing it in a theater. As an print, not a digital remaster, the touring version is much as I saw it in 1968 – although this time we can see much more of it since it is in 70mm format!

The sequence showing Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) traveling from the Earth to the Moon, with a stop at the space station, is probably my favorite movie sequence of all time. It will always be what I think of when I hear the Blue Danube being played.

I was again reminded of the prescience of the movie by its depiction of seat-back TV screens (on the Orion spaceplane from Earth), earbuds (on the Aries shuttle to the Moon), and tablets (on the Discovery One spaceship). These accurate looks forward in technology are countered, however, by worse predictions for brands: Pan Am, the Bell System, and Howard Johnson’s – prominently depicted on the space station – had all but disappeared a decade before the real 2001 actually appeared on our calendars.

Still confused…

While it took me a number of years to get a grasp on the opening Early Man sequence, the end Star Child sequence still leaves me a bit unsure of what Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke are intending to say – although that may have been their intent.

Perhaps by the 65th anniversary there will be another Tice to drag to 2001… if move theaters still are around!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: “The Terror”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: The Terror
Genre: Hour period suspense/thriller
Origin: EMJAG Prods./Entertainment 360/Scott Free Prods.
Find it on: AMC, season 1 (10x)

The Terror posterBoasting a strong headlining cast of Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, and Ciarán Hinds, AMC’s new series The Terror takes an unlikely setting – a Victorian expedition to the Arctic – and puts in motion a tale that appears to combine man against nature, and perhaps the supernatural.

The plot is based on the true story of the Terror and the Erebus. These two explorer ships from the Royal Navy were lost without a trace while trying to find the mythical Northwest Passage in 1848. The ships were finally discovered just a few years ago, in 2016, but their true story has been lost with their crews.

This series posits more sinister doings than just an ill-advised trip to the Arctic by overconfident Victorians. The series is anchored by a trio of experienced Britsh stars whose faces are likely more recognized than their names. Harris (Mad Men) plays Captain Crozier, whose caution on the expedition is ignored by expedition leader Sir John, played by Hinds (Rome, Game of Thrones). Menzies (Outlander) plays Fitzjames, an adventurer allied with Sir John, whom I think we’ll find out isn’t as brave as he likes to imply from his wardroom stories.

Despite its expanse, the Arctic is a suitable setting for this suspenseful thriller. Its unforgiving terrain and weather means any step off the ships can end badly, creating a sense of claustrophobia and constant dread. This Arctic effect has also worked well in films such as The Thing and Ice Station Zebra. Add in the potential for a supernatural menace stalking our intrepid crews and the suspense notches up even more.

Frozen thumbs up!

The first three episodes (a two-episode premiere and a regular hour) really caught my attention. While the story of two British ships stuck in the ice in the 1840s may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, it should be worth your while to give it a taste.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: Neil Young Archives

Friday Finds shares media content I’ve recently discovered and find interesting enough to share

Today’s find: Neil Young Archives 
Genre: Rock music
Origin: Neil Young and various record companies
Find it: NeilYoungArchives.com

Neil Young Archives homepage

Today, Friday Finds enters the music arena to share information about Neil Young’s new archival website. If you’re a fan of Young (or CSNY or Buffalo Springfield), read on… and if you don’t recognize any of those bands, you are excused from reading further but should really consider the hole there must be in your (music) life.

The Neil Young Archives site combines several media to present really interesting insights into Young’s long and varied career. Most importantly, it has all of his music available in streaming format – original releases, live cuts, and some alternative cuts – presented in the high fidelity format Young prefers.

This Note’s For You

As some of you may know, the cantankerous older Young has railed for years against the effects of compression on the quality of music playback. According to Young, CDs have only about 20% of the audio information that is found on vinyl, and MP3s only about 5%. The Archives songs stream at a high resolution (about 4,000 KB/sec, compared with the standard streaming speed of 320 KB/sec), although the slower speed can be selected if your equipment will not support the higher resolution. Of course, to make this really worthwhile and pick up the differences, you need to play through proper speakers.

Neil Young Archives file exampleIn addition to the music, there are also other archival materials available. The site is set up as a virtual file cabinet for each album, with a file folder for each album and song.  The file for a song shows its recording details as well as tabs for related documents (such as handwritten original lyric sheets or gold record certifications), photos, and memorabilia (such as covers for 45 singles). There are also buttons for the final official lyrics and for videos (sometimes of the song, sometimes of interviews about the song).

Long May You Run

That’s the very quick overview of the site – there is a lot to explore. The site went live on December 1 to be free to use for six months until May 1. A recent L.A. Times interview with Young about the archive project can be found here.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” VR experience

Friday Finds shares media content I’ve recently discovered and find interesting enough to share

Today’s find: Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire
Genre: Virtual reality experience
Origin: The Void / Lucasfilm / ILMxLAB
Find it: The Void locations in Anaheim, Orlando, and London

 

poster for Star Wars VR experience

Today we’re expanding Friday Finds from not just observed media, but to immersive media. Having just experienced the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire virtual reality (VR) experience in Orlando, I can heartily recommend this new mashup of story-telling, tech, and thrill ride.

Before we get to the experience, let’s set up the stakeholders. The Void is a chain of facilities offering VR experiences. It is located in seven locations worldwide, of which three offer Star Wars. The experience is designed in cooperation with Lucasfilm and ILMxLAB (a division of Industrial Light & Magic), both of which are under the larger Disney umbrella. The Star Wars VR experience opened at Disney Springs in Orlando in December, and in Anaheim at Downtown Disney in January.

The experience itself is a bit like an escape room. After donning the necessary equipment (more on that later), each group of four enters a small cubical room, lowers their visors, and engages the VR. Immediately, the room takes on the appearance of an imperial shuttle, taking your rebel team to an imperial base. And in your vision, all your group looks like stormtroopers (your disguise to infiltrate the base).

Without delving too much into the details and giving away spoilers, the mission to the imperial base on Mustafar includes firefights and mild puzzles, among several rooms, hallways, and moving platforms. Even the heat from molten Mustafar (remember Episode 3?) comes into play.

The experience is much fun – especially if one is a Star Wars fan – and lets you spend about 12 minutes within that universe.

Drawbacks

The main drawbacks are the equipment required and the prices. The equipment consists of an upper body vest (to simulate hits from enemy stormtroopers) with a connected helmet/visor. This equipment is heavy enough that one dons it while is is suspended from a rack. I could see the size and weight of the helmet being burdensome for smaller people. For those with kids, be warned they need to be at least 48″ tall to play.

As far as cost, it’s $30 each for the experience. That includes assistance with outfitting and the mission itself. For us, on a not-busy January Monday, the full time taken took about 40 minutes, of which about 12-15 minutes was in the VR experience. At busy times, I would expect very long waits.

The future of VR?

I’m still not convinced VR is a mainstream play in the home – aside from the obvious application of gaming – but I could see dedicated VR facilities like these as becoming more common, especially if the price point can be brought down somewhat. Aside from Star Wars, The Void’s different locations also feature content based on Ghostbusters as well as its own “Void” experience.

One could even see, distant in the future, where VR could be alternatives to theme parks – along the lines of Star Trek‘s holodecks or Ready Player One‘s OASIS.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: “The Shape of Water”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: The Shape of Water
Genre: Sci-fi drama/romance
Origin: Fox Searchlight
Find it on: your local movie theatre

The Shape of Water posterWhile Friday Finds is nominally an occasional column on TV content, I was so impressed by The Shape of Water that I feel I must include it here as a recommendation.

With an appreciation for Guillermo del Toro as well as a weakness for period pictures set in the mid-50s to mid-60s, I had an interest in The Shape of Water to begin with. With the ads already giving away the main plot line – woman falls in love with fish-man – I had expectations of a film that was going to be weird but made interesting enough by GTD’s talents.

I came out of the theatre thinking this may very well be the best movie I saw in all of 2017. The story, characters, and acting all were a surprise to be experienced. The main cast of Sally Yates, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Doug Jones do a great job. GDT does a fine job directing with some impressive sequences, especially the first few minutes that introduce us to Yates’ character and her world. As usual, GDT also imbues his creature with empathy and life in partnership with his long time collaborator Jones.

Despite Jones’ resemblance to the monster from the Black Lagoon, the film does not include anything horrific. There is some “standard” violence and  blood, but nothing worse than any other contemporary action movie. It’s a romance crossed with action crossed with caper, and a most enjoyable two hours.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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