The day Netflix came to town..

Currently airing on the Netflix, the subscription internet TV streaming service is a title called The End of the F***ing World.  It is an adaptation of a graphic novel and was made by E4 and Netflix.

Sometime in early May 2017, I received the following letter – as did all my neighbours – about upcoming filming on our street.  For me, having worked on a fair number of Hollywood blockbusters in my time (granted, in the post-production sector – though I did do a bit of travelling and got to studios and even set visits on the odd occasion), the whole thing felt surreal.  I blanked out bits to protect phone numbers and locations.

I only started seeing them set-up for the filming on the day itself (one day after my 41st birthday!) as I had to head to work, but the final shots can be seen in the cafe sequence in episode one of The End of The F***ing World in which our two protagonists (or maybe even antagonists – it’s certainly not a black and white situation) are having something to eat – you can see the road I live on (but thankfully not my house) in the background.

As for the show itself?  It’s extremely dark.  Somebody compared it to a really messed up Wes Anderson film.  I kind of thought it felt like Harold & Maude, but except Maude being a teenager and a lot more antagonistic (at least in the beginning).  Whatever you compare it to, the whole thing is a very dark tale.  But it must be said that the performances from the two leads are outstanding, and production values are top notch.

To boldly go.. where Klingons chew wasps

Star Trek Discovery is a rather interesting show.  It fits more within the J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe than it does the original Gene Roddenberry one – with fancy computers, holographic communication, and a decidedly non-kitsch set dressing.

Even the Klingons have been given an upgrade – long gone is the Cornish pasty forehead and in comes a ton of rubber and latex and extraordinary false teeth.  And while it looks good, the actors clearly can’t speak properly with their falsies in, so it’s just as well they’ve given the Klingon actors lines entirely in Klingon.  If you’ve never heard of the Klingon language, it’s has a very guttural sound to it.  Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog were naturals (well, Spit the Dog was – absolutely fluent in Klingon – he just never knew it). I’m quite surprised that none of the actors are covered in each other’s spit and drool at the end of each scene.  And as for the Klingon costumes – they’re so rigid looking, you might as well be dealing with Daleks.  Daleks with Austin Powers teeth.

The albino Klingon called Voq (pronounced *coughs up hairballs* Vochhhhhhh *spits*) partly resembles one of the Prometheus/Alien Covenant engineers.  The prosthetics defining facial muscle tone and shape that without the ridges and bumps, you’d practically get an Engineer.

As you may be able to tell, I think they’ve ever so overdone the Klingons this time around.  It’s as if they’ve put them in the oven, went off on a 24-hour bender, then come back to an overcooked dinner.  How the actors deal with all that stuff is quite remarkable.  The overall effect DOES look great – but practical wise, let the poor actors can’t form words properly without looking as if they’re chewing wasps.  There’s only so many teeth one can hold in one’s mouth.  And give them clothing that doesn’t make them look as if they’ve added 60 tonnes of starch to their laundry.

The latest episode of Discovery resembles a mash-up of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets Dune.  At one point I was sure the crew of The Discovery were going to initiate the Infinite Improbability Drive and all end up as penguins or missing their limbs floating in space.  As for the “navigator” – very spice melange if I may say so.  Very spice melange.

All in all, it’s an interesting journey so far.  Well presented (albeit the Klingons do need to go to the dentist and look for better stylists) and entertaining.

American Gods: Will it ever be released on UHD Blu-Ray or 4K UHD iTunes?

As much as I loved the first season of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods on Amazon Prime Video UK, I’m reluctant to buy it on Blu-Ray or it’s current version on iTunes for one particular reason: while it was shot in Ultra-High Definition (aka 4K), and I can watch it as often as I like on Amazon in UHD, I can’t buy it in any form in UHD – especially UHD Blu-Ray.

It’s a bit ironic that American Gods has a character called Technical Boy who “invites” people into his limousine via virtual reality.  In reality, however, I cannot easily buy a TV series in UHD.

The biggest problem with the TV industry at the moment is that only a subset of it (generally the two largest online streaming services – Netflix & Amazon Prime Video) is producing content in UHD.  It is also still costly to mass produce UHD content on physical media.  In the film industry, for example, not all films are given releases in UHD. Only the really big blockbuster movies are getting the UHD Blu-Ray treatment at the moment, and those cost between £20-£25 each, about £10-15 more than regular Blu-Ray.

Making UHD content available to buy via download or streaming is a different matter.  Though that too introduces some hurdles.   Do you really get to keep the content?  As I found out recently with the BBC Store – if that goes away, so does any content you’ve bought.  But thankfully the BBC refunded me entirely and even gave me a bit of a bonus to use with Amazon – for streaming content (whether to rent or buy – I used it to rent).

Apple is said to be announcing a 4K/UHD capable Apple TV next week.  This is all well and good, but unless Apple has 4K content to go with it, the upgrade won’t be worth it.  The 4th generation Apple TV has been okay for the most part, and practically all my HD content I’ve purchased (or rented) has been excellent (with the exception of Breaking Bad – we need iTunes Extra for TV shows, Apple!).  But the biggest problem with the Apple TV has been the lack of support from UK broadcasters.  I’m still waiting for ITV Hub, Channel 4, Channel 5 and other UK broadcasters to pull their fingers out of their bottoms and develop their catch-up apps for it.

But I still concede that iTunes/Apple TV is still the best method of buying and keeping content.  If Apple can get 4K/UHD on there, it’ll be a start.

I believe it’s about time that at least one broadcasting company steps up to bat and starts to invest in UHD outside of just making content and streaming it as part of a subscription service.  It has taken a very, very long time to get to UHD/4K televisions, and yet support for it outside the streaming ecosystem is still very poor.

Starz – please let me buy American Gods in UHD.  Either in UHD Blu-Ray or via iTunes (in 4K/UHD) when the hardware is available.  Or even both!

Halt and Catch Fire: Irony Edition

I’ve previously mentioned how AMC, the US-based TV broadcaster, has about as much grasp on international marketing and promotion on Twitter as a badger has for astrophysics.

Well, they’ve just taken that to a whole new level.  A TV show called Halt and Catch Fire, which I’ve watched all three seasons within the past few weeks, is about to start season 4.  So AMC are promoting it.  It’ll be on Amazon Prime UK too.  But, as they’ve done for Better Call Saul, any clips are strictly limited to the US only.

The irony is that season 4 of the show, which is a fictional drama that’s set around key points of the computer industry in the 80’s and 90’s (season 1 – IBM clones, season 2- starting up a BBS/online gaming company, season 3- much the same, with hints of the internet about to come on the scene) .  Season 4 will heavily feature the internet.  The same internet which I can’t view AMC’s clips because they’ve geoblocking all video on social media and on their web site.

Again, the official social media from AMC doesn’t cater for international users.

Halt and Catch Fire, along with HBO’s Silicon Valley which is also a favourite, is a brilliantly written and performed show that combines a strong storyline with the crazy technologies that I fell in love with as a kid.

Digital video: renting vs buying, and why Apple is best for buying

With news that iTunes’ share of video sales and rentals are falling against competitors such as Amazon (Prime) Video and other services, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on why iTunes is the better platform for buying movies digitally, despite my brain screaming at me, “Look what happened to the digital BBC Store.”

iTunes offers iTunes Extras of which an increasing number of titles are including the same features as physical media.  Audio commentaries are regularly included, for example.  No other service offers this.

iTunes has one of the best device allowances of any service – and this includes the ability to download the content to a Mac, Windows PC, iPad and/or iPhone.

The UI of iTunes is much better than that of the competitors.  The Apple TV, not so much, but still considerably better than most.  Therefore it’s easier to manage existing titles.  And in all the years I’ve been buying movies from iTunes, I’ve never lost a single title due to film studios deciding to withdraw from the platform.  This could change, of course, but I’m sure if that happened, consumers would be lining up to lynch whoever decided it was a good idea to do so.

In terms of renting, Amazon (Prime) Video very narrowly outshines iTunes. There’s almost always a promotion which allows me to pay far less for renting an HD title via Amazon (Prime) Video than iTunes.  For example, I’ve just rented Hidden Figures (*superb* film) and T2: Trainspotting (also very good) – both in HD – £2.49 for both titles.  Amazon Video is baked into my LG television, making it very easy to access.

Don’t get me started on the UltraViolet digital platform.  It’s a completely useless pile of sputum devised by the film studios to make them look kind and generous by providing a non-physical digital copy of a film.  The truth is that it’s a massive pain in the arse to manage and I don’t bother with it anymore.   TalkTalk’s app (TalkTalk having bought Blinkbox which in turn is an UltraViolet partner) for LG televisions is awful.  I accept that one has to log in again occasionally, but the process is just stupid.  Look at what Google is doing for logging in to YouTube – much, much easier for televisions.  Entering a password via a remote control is the epitome of piss-poor user interface design.  But TalkTalk isn’t the only one guilty of this crime (NOW TV, Amazon, and even Netflix are guilty – but their TV apps allow for significantly long log in times).

BTW, I also hate the Amazon Prime Video UI too – it makes discovery difficult and it seems so random that I rarely watch anything on the service other than the really big TV productions.  I watched the German comedy, Toni Erdmann the other day (very, very funny – especially the nude party scene), but I had to manually enable the subtitles (found under CC for closed captioning – usually referencing subtitles for the hard of hearing – in my case, hard of not knowing enough German to understand the film without English subtitles).

The only other service I’ve purchased films from is Google Play.  I can watch the films on a tablet, my phone and even my TV through the YouTube app.  But those titles are generally either freebies or were heavily discounted.

Otherwise, I’ll be sticking with iTunes for future film purchases.  The next one, in fact, will probably be Hidden Figures because it was just such a great film, and there’s an audio commentary included in iTunes Extras which should give the film even more value.