All the best TVs I didn’t buy

I was hoping to snag a nice TV this Black Friday to upgrade from my current (discontinued) Panasonic 50″ plasma television. This Panasonic was one of the first things I bought when I first moved to Seattle many years ago and it’s served me well for both movies and videogames. Plasmas aren’t sleek and they eventually became commercially unviable, but their image quality is still great, even compared to what we have today.

The majority of TVs out there right now are LED and OLED screens (plus QLED, if you’re into that sort of thing). In looking for an upgrade, I wanted a TV that met the following conditions:

  • Significantly larger than my current TV (65″ and up)
  • Superior image quality to my current TV
  • Less than $1000

Turns out it was difficult to find a television that met all of these conditions. While OLED and high-quality LED prices for great TVs continue to decline, they still aren’t all that cheap.

I spent a lot of time researching which models would be best for my needs (Digital Trends and RTings were invaluable resources), so I thought I’d share some of my findings. Here are the TVs I seriously considered this Black Friday/Cyber Monday. I’ve linked to the 65″ models.:

TCL 6-series [Amazon, Best Buy]: This budget TV offers some great bang for your buck. It also features a Roku OS, which is super easy to use and contains lots of great services built in from the start. Unfortunately it’s been plagued by inconsistent panel quality, which produces clearly visible vertical bands in some models. Even at $800 for the 65″ model, I just couldn’t trust that this would deliver a better image quality than my current device.

Vizio P-Series [Amazon, Best Buy]: Vizio’s P-series delivers some great image quality, with some sophisticated full array local dimming. On the downside, these TVs have an OS that is very sluggish and difficult to use. On net, though, I actually wanted to buy one of these for about $900 but my local Best Buy ran out before I could pull the trigger. There’s also a P-Series Quantum that offers some advantages over the P-Series, but it is significantly more expensive and difficult to find in stock anywhere.

Sony X900F [Amazon, Best Buy]: Overall, a great TV with a responsive OS that’s well-reviewed (it also looked great on the Best Buy display wall) but its biggest downside is price. At around $1600 for a 65″ version, you’re getting up into OLED territory. And if you’re going to spend that much, why not just go all the way?

LG C8 [Amazon, Best Buy]: LG produces the best OLED panels in the industry, so it’s no surprise that their 8 series is considered the holy grail of OLED TVs. OLEDs produce some of the most gorgeous images available to consumers today, although I am nervous that I would experience screen burn-in while playing videogames. But the biggest downside is this TV is still pretty expensive. As of this writing, a 65″ C8 is still $2600. That’s just too high of a threshold for me, especially for a product that will likely be significantly cheaper in a year or two. Still, I’ll be saving up my ducats for this one and hoping that a killer deal eventually comes through.


Other TVs I considered not buying: I thought about getting the Samsung NU8000, which was also on sale this weekend,but having owned Samsungs at other times in my life I’ve been pretty unimpressed with their performance in dark rooms and their viewing angles, and it didn’t seem like the Nu8000 did a particularly great job of solving either of these issues. Samsungs are also still relatively expensive, given what you get.

The Vizio E-Series also seemed really appealing on a price level, but it doesn’t have as advanced local dimming as the P-Series and I wasn’t convinced that it would deliver better image quality than my existing Panasonic plasma.

Conclusion: There are a ton of great TVs out there, but I think I’m going to have to wait a little while longer before ones I want drop to a price that I consider to be palatable.

Am I missing any obvious solutions? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Creed II and the problem with modern boxing movies

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I love underdog sports films. There’s something about the balletic performances of talented athletes, the forging of the bonds of friendship, and the triumph of a group of determined folks against all odds that just gets to me at my core.

But recently, I’ve started to think I can’t enjoy boxing films anymore.

Other sports can be problematic for a variety of reasons. Football is still in the process of coping with an epidemic of CTE. Hockey can frequently be violent. But boxing is one of the only sports where the objective is to punch someone repeatedly until they pass out. It feels like a barbaric spectacle, with many parties being enriched as a massive audience cheers two people nearly beating each other to death. Boxing movies invite you into that audience and ask you to cheer too.

Of course, the Rocky films weren’t always about the spectacle. The first Rocky in particular was about the beauty of perseverance, and focused intensely on the Rocky/Adrian relationship. As the films went on, they mirrored Stallone’s other action franchise (Rambo) and became increasingly conventional, bombastic and unmoored from reality.

The problem with Creed I and II are that they add to the mythos, but they don’t really do anything to challenge or interrogate the ideas behind the franchise. The creation of the character of Adonis Creed (played with quiet intensity by Michael B. Jordan) is unquestionably a great achievement. But neither of the Creed films engage meaningfully with any of the interesting questions behind boxing as a modern acceptable profession.

Creed II in particular posits the concept of not boxing as an event greater sacrifice than boxing. On one side is Adonis Creed’s pride and his reputation as the heavyweight champion, but with a large possibility of a crippling or fatal injury. On the other: a fulfilling life with his family. In the end, Creed makes the predictable choice. The moral of the story is that might makes right. Boxing might not fix all your problems, but if you DO box, you should win. Winning is what gives you your value.

The films are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, with fairly predictable arcs and endings. That doesn’t make them bad films, but it doesn’t make them particularly interesting ones either.


Here are a few things I’ve been reading this week:

What I’m thankful for this year (2018)

A non-exhaustive list, in no particular order:

  • I’ve had some health challenges this year, but overall I’m grateful that I continue to more or less get by, living in a city (Seattle) that’s beautiful, thriving, and whose best days are still ahead of it.
  • I’m thankful to be working for a company that is writing the future of how people interact with commerce and technology. It’s not a privilege I take lightly.
  • I’m thankful that the American people were given a voice in this year’s Midterm Elections and that as a result, some form of balance has been restored to our government. Trump’s legislative agenda, which has imperiled minority groups of all kinds, is dead for now.
  • As usual, I continue to be thankful for all the people who engage with me online, whether by reading my blog/newsletter, listening to my podcasts, or emailing me. Your engagement has been delightful, encouraging, and thought-provoking. And it reminds me why I do what I do.
  • I’m thankful for any and all the collaborators who’ve taken a chance on working with me (or who continue to do so). Any collaboration is always a leap of faith for all parties involved. I do my best not to underestimate the trust involved.
  • I’m thankful for Sony’s mirrorless cameras (and specifically the A7III and A6500), which have not only pushed the industry forward but have also pushed my photography forward too.
  • I’m thankful for my family, from my father who helps keeps our affairs in order, my mother who still makes me food and brings it to me in Tupperware containers, and my brother, who’s helped me put this blog together. They continue to play an important part of shaping who I am.
  • I’m thankful for the privilege of being married this year, for all the friends and family who came to celebrate with us, and for all I’ve learned about being a better person through it.
  • I’m thankful for the amazing year of videogames we’ve had, from the exceptional God of War to the hugely ambitious Red Dead Redemption 2. Many of my most memorable entertainment experiences have been through games this year.
  • Lastly, some film-related thanks:
    • I’m thankful for all the film-related podcasts I listen to (e.g. The Next Picture podcast, Filmspotting, Blank Check, among many others), the YouTube channels I subscribe to, and all amazing film writing I’m privy to reading each year. All of it continues to expand my mind, make me laugh, and remind me how much further I have to go.
    • I’m thankful for all the amazing movies I’ve been able to see this year, from big budget hits like Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War, which show it’s still possible to make interesting choices on a massive scale. Meanwhile, smaller indies like Bodied, Sadie, and Prospect inspire me and show me that it’s still possible to create something great using sheer force of will.
    • I’m thankful to newsletters like Richard Rushfield’s The Ankler and Casey Newton’s The Interface, which have taught me not just the value of interesting, outside perspectives on technology and entertainment, but also the level of quality it takes to turn a newsletter into a business.
    • I’m thankful to any folks who continue to take chances on my work, like the fine people of Winchester, VA who screened The Primary Instinct this year. It reminded me of the power of movies and how things can still find an audience years after the fact.
    • Finally: AMC Stubs A-List, baby.

If you’re a new or longtime reader/listener, thanks so much. I’ll keep going for long as I can, and as long as you keep showing up.

The Darjeeling Limited Perspective

I love many of Wes Anderson’s films, but this video essay by Leon Thomas (AKA Renegade Cut) does a great job of identifying the flaws in one of Anderson’s weakest, The Darjeeling Limited.

Describing a late plot development, Thomas writes:

The brothers realize, after the first half of the movie plagued with infighting, that they have to stick together. All they were missing was a dead Indian boy. The child does the demanding work of dying tragically so that the privileged white Americans won’t have to die spiritually or emotionally. There is no joke here. The scene is played to tug at our heartstrings, and as quickly as the Indian boy is mourned, he is forgotten.

It’s all very brutal but accurate.

The evolution of public shaming

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In a piece for Vanity Fair this week, Monica Lewinsky opened up about why she decided to participate in a docuseries called The Clinton Affair:

Filming the documentary forced me to acknowledge to myself past behavior that I still regret and feel ashamed of. There were many, many moments when I questioned not just the decision to participate, but my sanity itself. Despite all of the ways I tried to protect my mental health, it was still challenging. During one therapy session, I told my therapist I was feeling especially depressed. She suggested that sometimes what we experience as depression is actually grief.

Grief. Yes, it was Grief. The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire. (You can imagine how those constructs impacted my personal and professional life.) Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole.

Lewinsky has made a few public statements about her experiences in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and I’ve found them all to be insightful and moving (see: her TED talk on the price of shame). Lewinsky continues:

Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words. Muriel Rukeyser famously wrote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Blair Foster, the Emmy-winning director of the series, is testing that idea in myriad ways […] I may not like everything that has been put in the series or left out, but I like that the perspective is being shaped by women. Yes, the process of filming has been exceedingly painful. But I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life—a time in our history—I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.

The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal happened while I was a teenager, but I think I’m still coming to terms with how our society and the media completely annihilated everyone involved. Weeks of newspaper headlines and endless jokes on late night TV served to normalize mockery of this young woman who was caught in a vortex of circumstances that any normal person would barely be able to comprehend (This representative clip from David Letterman is absolutely cringe-inducing to watch today).

I had a similar thought when I watched Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentary about Amy Winehouse, Amy. Winehouse was ridiculed endlessly for her background and drug problems, and the documentary implies that the public scrutiny drove her to the substance abuse that ultimately took her life.

The notion that society and the media prey upon celebrities (often women) until they have extracted all they can from them is not a new idea. South Park made an episode about it. The Onion satirized it. People like simple narratives, but what these instances reveal is that by reducing individuals down to an idea, a catchphrase, a single act, we perform a kind of psychic violence upon them. We strip them of their individuality and their complex fullness. We make them into punchlines.

The difference now is that there finally seems to be a stronger willingness to reflect on the decisions we’ve made in how we think about and discuss these things. In doing so, hopefully we can finally reckon with who we were and who we should become.

Also: For a thorough and engrossing rundown of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, check out the second season of Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast.


Michael Bay: An American auteur

As usual, I’m really appreciating Patrick Willems’ latest video essays. This past month he’s put together an ambitious two-part series on Michael Bay’s contributions to American cinema.

Some interesting observations from the videos:

  • It is extremely difficult to reverse engineer or replicate Bay’s style, which in and of itself tells you that there’s something undeniably distinct about it.
  • Taken as a whole, Bay’s films don’t really have a cohesive political point of view, and Bay practically never speaks about politics, despite how many of his films glorify the military and seem to be in the tank for “real (red state) Americans”.
  • I guess The Island probably wasn’t that bad after all.

Check out the videos above and find more on Patrick’s Youtube channel.

Pocket iOS App Review (with Listening/Text to Speech Feature)

Between my podcasts, my blog/newsletter, and my social feeds, I do a lot of reading online to keep up with what’s going on online. For years I’ve used apps like Pocket and Instapaper on iOS to save articles for later reading offline. I use both because it’s nice to have a backup of all the stuff I’m saving, and often if an article doesn’t format correctly in one app it looks fine in the other.

But recently, Pocket added a listening feature that’s made me use the app much more heavily. It uses Amazon Polly to create a listenable text-to-speech version of every article you’ve saved. This means you can now listen to saved articles instead of being forced to read them.

As a result, I’ve now been consuming articles at a much higher rate than before. There are many contexts where it’s easier and more acceptable to be listening to something rather than reading it, and this app makes things easier in those contexts.

As great as this is, there are a few things I wish they’d improve:

  • It’s currently not possible (or at least not obviously possible) how to make a custom audio playlist with articles you’ve saved. This would be a cool feature to add in the future.
  • I wish I had the ability to choose which voice I wanted to read the article. On Android, I believe this is already a feature.
  • My most desired feature is the ability to start consuming an article in one format, and then resume it later in another. For instance, sometimes I’ll be reading an article via text on a bus, then need to get off at my stop. It would be great to switch to audio right then. Currently the app does not allow you to resume right where you left off.

You can check out Pocket at getpocket.com.

 

The 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, in 20 statistics

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We’re less than 48 hours from the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, but for me, here are the statistics that defined it:

  • 29: The number of seats Democrats gained in the House, as of this writing
  • 2: The number of Senate seats Republicans gained in the Senate
  • 46,143,122: The number of votes cast in favor of Democratic Senators
  • 46: The number of Senate seats Democrats now control
  • 33,593,564: The number of votes cast in favor of Republican Senators
  • 51: The number of Senate seats Republicans now control
  • 2.6%: The percentage vote that Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke lost by
    • 95%: The percentage of black women that voted for Beto O’Rourke
    • 71%: The percentage of white men that voted for Ted Cruz
  • 62,712: The margin of victory in votes that Georgia governor Brian Kemp won by, over Democrat Stacey Abrams (a runoff is possible but unlikely)
    • 1.5 million: The number of voters Georgia purged from rolls under Kemp (source)
  • 1.2%: The margin of victory that Democrat Tony Evers beat governor Scott Walker by in Wisconsin
    • 1%: The maximum margin of victory under which a competitor in the governor’s race can demand a recount, thanks to Scott Walker
  • 61%: In exit polls, the percentage of people ages 18-44 that voted for Democrats (source)
  • 92%: Percentage of Democrats in exit polls who believe Congress should impeach Trump
  • 100+: The number of women elected to Congress, many of them running for the first time
  • The first openly gay male governor ever elected: Jared Polis
  • The first and second Muslim women ever elected to Congress: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar
  • The first Native American woman ever elected to Congress: Sharice Davids
  • The youngest woman ever elected to Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Overall, this week was a big victory. Dems gained control of the House, there’ll now be a check on executive power, Trump’s legislative agenda is basically dead, and many people from underrepresented groups were elected. That said, I can’t help but think about the fact that millions still voted in favor of bigotry, weakening our institutions, and taking away the rights of others. It feels like our country is on the knife’s edge and a healthy majority of people, woefully underrepresented in our current governmental structure, are just barely holding us back from oblivion.


A few more takes to consider: