Monday, June 5, 2023

Don't Leave Quality Control to the End User

 Back in the 70s there was the infamous Ford Pinto memo where executives basically said it was cheaper to settle a few wrongful death suits than to recall their shitty product.  You'd think companies might have learned something from the public outcry to that, but nah.  Companies, especially cheap Chinese manufacturers don't really seem to give a shit about quality and leave it up to consumers to find the flaws in their poor designs and manufacturing.

I think in one entry I talked about some really stupid things I got from Vine, like a watch where the hands would cover the digital display at the 45th minute of every hour or all through either 9 o'clock.  It was something so obvious I couldn't believe no designer realized the flaw.  Or an in-room air conditioner that creates a bunch of excess moisture you really need to drain every time you use it or it starts making a lot of noise--but they put the drain so low to the ground it's really hard to do without making a mess.  Because everyone has a floor drain handy, right?  And everyone wants to unhook the air conditioner to wheel it over to the floor drain, right?  Nope to both.  After trying to find a pan or dish that could fit under it, I found a solution:  diapers!  I got some diapers and incontinence pads from Amazon Vine and found putting one--or really just one half of a diaper--under the drain would soak up the moisture without much mess.  Still, if they had just put the drain an inch or so up, I wouldn't have to go to the trouble.

A few months ago I got this coffee mug that has a thing to stir your drink.  It's a magnetic pellet that looks like a vitamin capsule.  You put that in the bottom and then it'll mix stuff up.  Which does work.  But the obvious flaws were A) the mug is about the size of a 32oz cup but only holds about 12oz of liquid and B) they give you a flat lid instead of a sippy lid.  The latter makes it very difficult to drink on the road because you either have to A) keep taking off the lid and putting it on or B) not open it the whole trip or C) open it and every time you hit a bump (frequent on Michigan roads) your coffee sloshes all over.  I was already in a bad mood so I wound up getting so frustrated by the shitty design that I threw the fucking thing out the window.

Often ordering stuff from Amazon Vine feels like you're getting stuff from the Island of Misfit Toys.  There are dollar store-quality action figures and pens they charge people real brand prices.  There was a stuffed "banana duck" with so little stuffing that he couldn't stand; fortunately they had the foresight to put a zipper in back so I could use some stuffing I had in my closet.  There was a camping toilet with legs that wouldn't go on the proper way; you either have to put them on backwards so they won't lock in place or else the feet of the legs won't be flat on the ground to make your toilet wobbly.  A fan that's supposed to plug into the USB port of a car didn't actually work on my car's USB port; it does work if I plug it into an adapter for the 12V port--the former cigarette lighter.  Even then it wouldn't really work in my car because the dashboard is too high.  When I tried plugging it into portable chargers, it only worked with one--and only on the lowest speed.  But it does work pretty good plugged into my computer.  So that's something.  What I found out from the company is the thing is overpowered so a lot of older chargers and apparently the USB plug in my car don't have enough power to run it.  I got a new portable charger with more power (Tim Allen grunt) that mostly runs the thing fine.  Still, it's the kind of thing I wish someone would have mentioned.

Another example is I got an MP3 player that claimed to hold 48GB, which is good because my music collection on MP3 is somewhere around 37GB, so it's too big to put on a 32GB unit but 64GB leaves a lot of empty space.  When the thing comes, I find out that it might hold 48GB, buuuuut that's 16GB internally and 32GB in an external card.  Which is annoying then because I have to split my music between them instead of just putting it all internally or externally.  I checked and it does say that in the product description, but it's a few mind-numbingly poorly written bullet points down.  It'd be better to just say it's a 16GB expandable to whatever.

A few days after I gave that MP3 player a 3-star review, someone going by the name "Cynthia Nelson" started to harass me by email about taking down the review or changing it.  She even offered me $30--ha ha.  I kept refusing and saying that if Amazon found out I took a bribe I'd lose my account--maybe all of my accounts.  They kept at it and I finally said to fuck off.  Then they started over with the same boilerplate email they sent the first time.  At which point I said I was changing my review to 1-star and mentioning this harassment.  The weird thing is they had plenty of 4-star or higher reviews and the product wasn't even available to buy and my review was 3 stars so it wasn't really hurting them.  Why go to all this effort to try to get rid of it?  And I'm sure if I'd taken the review down they would have just ghosted me instead of paying me; I'm 99.9% sure Cynthia Nelson was not a real name.  I don't even know how these assholes get my Amazon email because I've removed it from my profile; maybe there's some Contact button for sellers to contact reviewers.

Then there was a particularly weird time when I ordered candles.  The listing said "romantic candles" but I didn't think much of that.  I mean most people consider candlelight romantic, right?  But when the package came there was a white box and inside were two smaller boxes for "bondage candles."  According to the box description they were meant to be used for S&M play.  But looking at the reviews, one woman who tried this--wisely just on her arm--got burned.  So what seems pretty obvious is the company was stuck with a bunch of "bondage candles" that couldn't be used for bondage so they decided to remarket them as regular candles.  Except they were too lazy to fully repackage them and just put a blank box over them.  Or maybe they did intend for people to use them that way and didn't give a crap that people could get burned--see the Ford memo.

At work one of the things that really irks me is when I get checks that shouldn't have even come to me.  A lot of the time it's that the person or business mailing them was supposed to send the payment to a sister company in Warren.  What happens is whoever is doing the accounting doesn't bother to check the paperwork they get from the courts to see where the payments go so they just send it to where they sent it before.  Then the payment gets tied up for weeks getting sent back and resent to the right people.  Or sometimes they actually put the Warren address and then I don't really know what they're thinking in sending it to Novi.  I mean, they're like 30-40 miles apart.

One time, before the pandemic even, I got a check from a company in San Jose, California to another company in Los Angeles.  Somehow this check mailed from California and going to California went 2500 miles east, through numerous stops along the way, for some reason got delivered to our office, and the person in the mailroom put it with our accounts receivable to end up on my desk.  In other words, no one looked at the damned thing until I did or else they would have realized there was no way it should have been given to me.

With most products now, the instructions they give you are almost worse than useless.  I'm not sure if they write them in AI or just write them in Mandarin and Google Translate them, but the English is so bad that often it's just gibberish.  Quite a few of them say "Warm Tip" instead of "Warning."  One said to use "dig soap" instead of "dish soap" and another kept saying "armyworm" to refer to its glue pad to catch bugs.  I always think to myself, "Couldn't they just pay someone $5 on Fiverr or somewhere like that to do a proper translation?  Would that really be so difficult?  At least have someone who knows English as a first language proofread it for you so it doesn't come out as gibberish.

But especially as AI grows, you can probably expect more stuff like that.  No one really looking at things or evaluating the designs or instructions or anything.  Just slap it together and ship it out and let the user find the flaws.  Which like with the Ford Pinto can be deadly.  But it's easier to deal with a few bad reviews or a lawsuit--especially if you're some fly-by-night company in China--than to spend the money to do things right.  

A lot of these silly Chinese companies lately will come after me if I post a bad review, like the one I mentioned above.  They're not mean so much as just really stupid.  They keep offering a "refund," which isn't possible for Vine products.  And when I tell them that they propose a replacement.  If the first one sucks, why would I want another?  Because usually it's not that these products are defective so much as just poorly designed and manufactured.  Anyway, the not-so-subtle ask is that if they give you a refund or replacement you'll change or delete your review, which is against the rules but if they don't directly say that it's not illegal.

Of course these problems also happen with writing.  You get people who think spellchecking a book is enough editing or don't even bother with that and slop out a "book" filled with typos and horrible formatting.  In a few cases that's me when I put out books like First Contact and Waking Prometheus from 1995-2000 that have comma splices and stuff that are too numerous to be fixed easily.  Though I did know about the problems; I was just too lazy to fix them.  Is that better?  No.

You should definitely not be so lazy that you don't take time to do a proper editing pass.  Or have someone do it for you if you don't really know spelling or grammar or anything like that.  It took Ford a while to recover its reputation and to some people it still hasn't.  For an author, especially a new one, getting a bunch of bad reviews or ratings because you didn't bother to fix obvious problems may not be something you can recover from.

Friday, June 2, 2023

What Kind of Collector Are You?

 Back on the X entry of this year's A to Z "Challenge," CD Gallant-King remarked:

You would know better than I, but I don't understand how they decide to make which figures. Like Amanda Waller, while a major characater, I guess wouldn't be a very INTERESTING figure. Yet that made that infamous "Bob the Goon" figure from the original Batman movie...

And it got me thinking.  First, I wish I really did know how they choose what figures to make.  But more than that, I think there are a few factors that go into it.

The most obvious one when you have something like DC, Marvel, or Star Wars is:  What new movies/shows are coming out?  Because usually if there's a new movie, you're going to want to try to take advantage of it with some new figures from that.  So with the Flash movie coming out, McFarlane of course made a few figures and vehicles from the movie:

That's the most obvious reason, but to dig deeper, I think collectors generally have a couple of different philosophies on what they buy.

There are those who collect mostly one character or maybe just a few characters, but they want basically everything of that character.  So you might have someone who really loves Batman and wants every single Batman McFarlane can pump out--which is a lot.  Or every Deadpool Hasbro can come out with.  Or every Darth Vader Hasbro can make.  Or every Optimus Prime or Starscream or Megatron Hasbro can make.

Then there are people like me who are more interested in collecting breadth.  By which I mean, I like to have lots of different characters.  I get one Superman I like and that's enough.  Same for Batman, Deadpool, Wolverine, etc.  I don't fixate on just one character, not even favorites like Azrael or Batgirl.  Getting back to CD's comment, I would absolutely love an Amanda Waller figure or especially a Bob the Joker's Goon figure.  And for me, the wackier they are, the neater it is to have a figure of them.  I would be thrilled if McFarlane came out with Kite Man or Condiment Man or some of the weirder ones like that.  But if you're the sort who's more into Batman, you probably wouldn't be.

Adding to that is another huge factor:  Money, ca-ching!  In Empires & Puzzles, some people talk about "whales," ie the people who can spend hundreds a day on the game.  Then there are poor-ass bitches like me who can't afford $2 on the game.  With action figures you have the same thing.  Some people have the money (and space) to get every single thing.  Others, like me, have to be choosier.  So I can pass on another Batfleck figure or Flash figure.  But the Keaton Batman or the Supergirl one that haven't been made before are much more interesting to me.

But everyone is different, so if you collect anything, what's your philosophy?  That can apply to action figures, comics, or even regular books.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Naked Poker Club is Not A Perfect Cozy Story But Fun & Free

The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book OneThe Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book One by Ann Warner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this free from a newsletter. I don't usually read "cozy" books but the name was funny so I decided to give it a try. The rotating first-person is always a little annoying because I listen to the books in my car so I don't see the words for the most part, which sometimes makes it hard to know at first whose turn it is, but it wasn't too hard to figure out. Which really that's more my problem but I digress--

There is no nudity among the old people in the book. The "naked poker" involves telling stories. And at first you might think this is going to be the whole thing, but then the strong-willed Josephine and handwriting analyst Lillian find out that an aide is stealing money from residents and some valuable objects have gone missing. They enlist Devi, an aide with a mysterious past, to help them along with a local cop.

Most of it is pretty light until the last act. I was annoyed by the plot to steal the painting because it didn't really make much sense. Hide it under the victim's bed and then ransom it? That seemed really silly. Especially since there had already been mention of an empty apartment; they could have stashed the painting there where no one would be likely to look for a few days. And then I'm not really sure one character actually needed to be shot; that seems a little too hardcore for a "cozy" book. Couldn't the guy have just tried to grab her and she's saved by the cop? But then I suppose that would have complicated things with Josephine's plot. Still, times like that I wish I'd been a beta reader for it.

But for the most part it was a fun book and I enjoyed the main characters. I would like to read more about them, so I'm rounding up to 4 stars.

That is all.

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Monday, May 29, 2023

There was a M*A*S*H the Book? Yes, and It's A Decent Read Too!

MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors (M*A*S*H, #1)MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I watched M*A*S*H reruns most every day after school growing up. Hawkeye was always my favorite and probably helped to shape my personality in some unfortunate ways. It took a lot longer before I watched the movie, which was OK but I was so used to the TV show that it wasn't that great to me. I didn't even realize there was a book--let alone 15--until a frenemy read it and wrote a review.

The book is a lot more like the movie, both of which had the luxury of not being bound by early 1970s TV standards so it could be more foul-mouthed and have more adult situations and things like that. It is of course interesting to note the differences from the TV series in the different names and personalities of the characters. A lot of the characters like Hawkeye, "Trapper" John, Colonel Blake, Radar O'Reilly, Frank Burns, "Hot Lips" Houlihan, and Father Mulcahy show up but are different than on the show or in the case of Burns and Houlihan not nearly as major players. Other characters like Klinger, BJ Hunnicut, Colonel Potter, or Major Winchester do not appear; the latter three probably because they were all replacements for departed characters.

But at the core it is still the same thing, alternating between hijinks and the horrors of war. The writing style is brusque and impersonal but not bad. Overall, especially if you're a fan of the movie or TV show, it's a good read.

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(Fun Fact:  Here's the series page on Goodreads.  From someone's review, only Books 1, 2, & 15 were written by the original author while the rest were ghostwritten to exploit the success of the TV show.  There's kind of a Police Academy or I guess those "Road" movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby they parodied on Family Guy vibe as they're all "MASH Goes To..."  I don't think I'll be checking any of those out.  None except this first book are on Kindle so I'd have to buy them used in paperback or something.  Like the Wingman books, it'd probably be best then to look for a complete set on eBay if I cared--which I don't.)

Friday, May 26, 2023

Stuff I Watched Since A to Z

Need something to watch this weekend?  Here's some Stuff I Watched since the A to Z Challenge began:

Devotion:  This came out in the same year as Top Gun Maverick, features one of the same actors, and also features Navy aviators.  But this is a lot less dumb as it's based on a true story, so of course it flopped.  Starting shortly after WWII, it follows a squadron that starts on the East Coast and learns to fly the newer Corsair fighter.  The squadron has a black aviator (Jonathan Majors, aka Kang in the MCU) named Jesse Brown and of course some of his squadronmates aren't thrilled.  A new lieutenant (the discount Iceman guy in Maverick) goes out of his way to befriend Jesse.  Soon they're sent to the Mediterranean, where on leave in Cannes they meet Liz Taylor.  Then they're sent to Korea as the war begins.  There are a couple of dangerous missions; in one they have to deal with a new MiG-15 jet fighter.  The end is kind of depressing.  Overall it's an entertaining story but when you get to the end, I'm not sure it really did a great job of selling the main point, which was the friendship between the two pilots.  Maybe they needed to trim some of the earlier stuff to focus more on the later stuff summarized in text and pictures. Still, if you want a movie about real naval aviators and not bullshit action movie cliches, it's worth a watch. (3/5)

Dungeons & Dragons:  Honor Among Thieves:  I think I've mentioned before I'm not a big D&D player.  I did play some computer games in the early 90s but that was about it.  So I wasn't all that knowledgeable going in.  But you don't really need to be.  The things you need to know are explained well enough and most of the story is easy enough to understand even if you're not a fan.  It focuses on a "Harper" (a secret order of good guys) named Edgin (Chris Pine) who loses his wife to red wizards and turns thief until an attempt to steal a "Tablet of Resurrection" ends up going bad and he and his friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) go to a dungeon prison until they escape a couple of years later.  Then they hatch a plan to reclaim Edgin's daughter and the Tablet from Forge, a con man they used to work with (Hugh Grant).  But to do it they need to recruit a cleric and a shapeshifter.  And they meet a powerful paladin too.  There's a Hellboy-esque scene where they interrogate corpses and a battle with the Jabba the Hutt of red dragons.  It's an epic quest and pretty fun for the most part.  Characters have enough build-up without being too overbearing.  Some of the effects aren't great but for the most part it's an entertaining movie.  Like I said on Facebook, it's basically Guardians of the Galaxy meets Lord of the Rings and like the former it even has Bradley Cooper in literally a small role. (3.5/5) (Fun Facts:  I'm sure there were plenty of Easter eggs.  I recognized a few of the place names like Baldur's Gate from video games.  A rival team in the maze near the end is based on the 80s cartoon.)

The Black Phone:  I missed this on Peacock but then it came to Amazon Prime so I watched it there.  Not really that great of a horror movie.  It's basically a dramatized version of those old PSAs telling kids not to talk to strangers.  In 1978 someone called "The Grabber" is kidnapping boys.  A boy named Finney is the next victim.  He's locked in a basement by a magician (Ethan Hawke) who wears sort of a gargoyle mask and...doesn't really do a lot.  I mean it's R-rated but he doesn't abuse the boy sexually or anything like that.  Ironically the most gruesome scene is a fight between two boys early in the movie and Finney's dad whipping Finney's sister Gwen.  Anyway, the title comes from a black phone that periodically rings so the ghosts of the Grabber's victims can communicate with Finney.  Meanwhile his sister has dreams of the Grabber but because her mother killed herself for having similar dreams, her dad won't listen to her.  The end was OK but it's not particularly scary or thrilling.  It would probably be scary to kids who watch it when they're not supposed to. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  I think this is what Scott Derrickson did after he got himself fired from Doctor Strange 2.  He reteams with Ethan Hawke, who starred in Derrickson's Sinister that landed him the Doctor Strange gig.  The cirrrrrrrcle of life!)

M3gan:  Basically it's like if you take that AI movie from Spielberg at the turn of the century and combine it with Child's Play.  A girl's parents die on the way to a ski lodge in Oregon so she's sent to live with her aunt, who's working on advanced robotic toys sort of like more advanced Furbies.  She's also secretly working on a sort of sentient My Buddy doll called M3gan (which is an acronym of some sort).  She decides to basically test M3gan by pairing her with the kid.  Soon they're best friends and M3gan starts to get too protective of the kid and kills a dog, old lady, and little boy she sees as threats to the kid.  When the aunt starts to realize M3gan is going rogue, the android goes on a killing spree.  Mayhem ensues!  A lot of it was pretty predictable and cliché; I predicted one card they'd play during the final battle, but of course it took the characters a little longer to do it.  Overall it's pretty well-made and not bad.  I did watch the "unrated" version on Peacock, though I have no idea what might have been cut out from the theatrical version. (3/5)

Cocaine Bear:  Also on Peacock, this is one of those Snakes on a Plane things where it has a kooky title but the actual movie turns out to be really disappointing.  Based extremely loosely on a true story, it features lame jokes, terrible effects, and plenty of gore.  The CGI black bear looks worse than the black bears in the hunting game I played on my Kindle Fire in 2014.  Maybe they should have just gone the "guy in a suit" route like so many cheesy movies back in the 50s and 60s.  A veteran cast including Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Isaiah Whitlock Jr, and Ray Liotta can't save this turkey. My epic Rifftrax-inspired burn:  this makes me miss the quiet dignity of Grizzly.  That at least had the bear getting shot with a rocket launcher and exploding like it was filled with TNT.  (1/5) (Sad Fact:  This was one of Ray Liotta's final roles.)

Cocaine Bear The Real Story:  After the movie, Peacock jumped to a documentary about the real bear.  True story:  the bear stumbled across some cocaine, ate a few grams, died, and was found a few weeks later.  An autopsy revealed the cocaine it had eaten.  There was no bear going on a killing spree.  Most of this is about the guy who dumped the cocaine, who in the movie is shown dancing around before hitting his head and falling out of the plane.  He really should have a whole movie about himself.  He was from a rich Kentucky family, joined the military during Vietnam, served with distinction, became a crooked cop, and then left to become a drug smuggler before his mysterious death.  His body was found with a "spy watch" that could spray tear gas, pockets full of diamonds and Krugerrands, and wearing fancy paratrooper boots.  But in nonfiction and fiction he's overshadowed by the bear.  I mean, in the movie he doesn't even have a line.  Sucks for him. (3.5/5)

Burn (2019):  I watched this indie thriller on the Roku Channel.  (It's also on Amazon Prime and I don't know where else.)  It was surprisingly good.  There are two attendants at an Ohio gas station:  the prettier sassy blonde Sheila and the really insecure brunette Melinda, who is so obviously desperate for any kind of human contact from how she invites a guy smoking by a pump to smoke by her car and is willing to strike up conversation with just about anyone who shows up.  When a cute young guy robs the place, Melinda volunteers to get money for him and asks to go with him.  He begs off, which ends up creating a standoff.  Melinda increasingly goes off the rails, though she wasn't much on them to begin with.  Melinda's pathetic desperation to be seen and appreciated is so palpable that it made me sad.  You've probably never heard of Tilda Cobham-Hervey but she gives a tremendous performance.  The rest of the cast is pretty decent too considering there's no well-known A-list talent involved.  I am grading on a curve a little because a movie like this obviously doesn't have the kind of budget as Avatar 2 for effects and actors, but it does really well with what it has.  If you can watch it, do so! (5/5) (Fun Fact:  I like how the star of the movie is barely even featured on the poster.)

Corner Gas:  Facebook "friend" Al Sirois recommended this show and so when I found it to watch on Amazon Prime (or the Freevee app) free with ads, I started to watch it.  This Canadian show from about 2002-2009 focuses on the Saskatchewan town of Dog River.  The eponymous gas station is run by Brent, the shlubby, balding creator of the series.  There's a cast of somewhat oddball characters like his slacker friend Hank, know-it-all employee Wanda, foul-mouthed dad Oscar, strong-willed mother Emma, clueless senior cop Davis, his younger/less clueless partner Karen, and then in the first episode a young woman from Toronto named Lacey takes over the café attached to the gas station.  There are a lot of hijinks that are never too vulgar.  There's a little bad language (Oscar's catchphrase is "Jackass!") but not much and no real sex or nudity.  At the end of season 1 there's the inkling that Lacey might have a thing for Brent but it's quickly blown off in season 2 and to the show's credit they never have any of those lame "will they/won't they" romantic plots that ruin so many American sitcoms.  Basically it's like a PG-13 Andy Griffith Show if it were transplanted to 21st Century Saskatchewan.  I would say the only knock is sometimes maybe it's a little too innocuous to the point of being kinda bland.  But most of the time it's pretty fun. (3.5/5) (Fun Facts:  A lot of Canadian politicians appear in cameos, including the prime minister of the time Stephen Harper, as well as NHL player Travis Moen, comedian Colin Mochrie, singer Jann Arden, "Dog" Chapman of Dog the Bounty Hunter, and Gordon Pinsent who was Fraser's dad in Due South among other thingsThere's a meta joke in one episode when Oscar says the show Street Legal sucks when of course he was in that series.  Throughout the series, Brent is usually holding a comic book that's folded over, but from the bits of title available a lot of them are Savage Dragon from Image Comics, which was co-founded by Canadian artist/writer Todd McFarlane.)

Corner Gas: The Movie:  Five years after the show ended, this feature-length movie was Kickstartered into existence.  As far as TV show movies go, it's actually better than The Simpsons Movie, the South Park movie, or most of the Futurama movies, though maybe not as good as Beavis & Butt-head Do America.  All of the original actors return and they seem to have all the same locations as the show.  The one change they have to make is the actress playing Karen was pregnant so they mention that she has a husband who's overseas, thus we never see him.  The story is that the town is facing bankruptcy after the mayor invested a bunch of money in Detroit real estate. (Slam on Detroit out of nowhere! Boom!) To try to get some money to avoid bankruptcy, Lacey enters Dog River in a quaintness contest. Meanwhile, Brent buys the local bar and tries to keep it running while Wanda turns Davis's rumpus room into a speakeasy. It's all pretty fun and not too far removed from the TV show.  And funny that after avoiding hooking up Brent and Lacey, the movie springs a surprise in the last couple of minutes. (3.5/5) (Fun Fact:  the credits feature footage from "Dog River Days" in Rouleau, Saskatchewan, which was the town used for the real locations in the show.  Sad Fact:  This was the final appearance of Janet Wright as Emma as she died in 2016.)

Corner Gas Animated:  A few years after the movie, Freevee (and probably some service in Canada) brought Corner Gas back as a cartoon.  And really not much changes.  They have a little more freedom since it's animated, especially with some fantasy sequences, but mostly it's the same show.  Except for the deceased Janet Wright, everyone reprises their roles.  I'm not sure how I feel about recasting Emma for the cartoon.  On one hand you can tell it's a different voice and the character maybe even acts different.  On the other hand this isn't the sort of show that could really deal with a death like that.  And if you don't have Emma, who would rein-in Oscar?  So it makes sense but I don't feel great about it.  Otherwise if you like the live action show you'd like this.  Basically I think if you put on a blindfold and watched a random episode of this and random episode of the live action you'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart except for Emma's voice. (3.5/5) (Fun Facts:  There are more celebrity cameos like Sarah McLachlan, Stephen Page of Barenaked Ladies, comedian Rick Mercer, and Ryan Reynolds.  The animated show seems to pretty much ignore the movie as Karen is single and doesn't have a baby and Brent & Lacey still aren't together.  In an episode about a Pioneer Days festival, one notable pioneer woman was named Jane T Wright as an homage to Janet Wright.)

No Clue:  This low-budget Canadian movie is from that school of movies about an ordinary guy who gets in over his head.  In this case a shlubby middle-aged guy (Brent Butt of the Canadian sitcom Corner Gas who's also the writer/producer) sells "specialty advertising goods" or stuff like mugs and keychains with a corporate logo on it.  One night a woman comes in thinking he's the detective down the hall.  She claims her brother is missing and so he agrees to help her.  But he really has no clue what he's doing.  Though of course he stumbles onto some truths as he finds out about the guy, a designer of a big video game who recently started a new company, and the woman who employed him.  It's fun and light and not too badly made even with the TV movie-quality visuals. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  the most recognizable actor is David Koechner, whom you probably don't know by name but would recognize from movies like Anchorman and Waiting.  Or like me you might confuse him with John Caroll Lynch who was in Fargo and The Drew Carey Show among other things.  They were actually both in the Simon Pegg movie Paul from what I read on IMDB anyway.)

Man With the Screaming Brain:  This is a low-budget TV movie in the tradition of Frankenstein or those Two-Headed Transplant movies of the 70s.  In this case, Bruce Campbell (who writes & directs) is in Bulgaria on business when he's murdered by a Gypsy woman.  A Russian cab driver is also killed and a mad scientist (Stacy Keach) combines their brains in Campbell's body.  Meanwhile, Campbell's wife is also murdered by the Gypsy woman and her brain put by the mad scientist into a primitive android.  It's low-budget, silly fun.  You obviously can't expect a lot from it. (2.5/5) (Fun Facts:  Campbell & Keach had previously appeared together in the even lower-budget action movie Icebreaker I've seen probably a hundred times on the Rifftrax app.  Ted Raimi plays the scientist's henchman and also appeared in most of his brother Sam's movies like the Evil Dead movies along with Campbell.)

Murder of a Cat:  This is like if John Wick or Revenge for Jolly were made as a lighthearted comedy.  A nerdy loser who lives with his mom finds his beloved cat Mouser dead one morning with a crossbow bolt stuck in him.  He begins investigating and finds out the cat has been living a double life as "Horatio" with a young woman named Greta.  They team up to try to find out who killed the cat, which leads to Ford's Megastore, a sort of off-brand Walmart founded and run by Greg Kinnear.  Mayhem ensues!  While there's obviously a lot less violence than the movies I mentioned at the start, there is a little violence, but mostly it's light and fun.  While I didn't recognize the leads, besides Kinnear you have Blythe Danner (Gweneth Paltrow's mom) as the loser's mom and JK Simmons as the town sheriff.  It's a pretty fun movie that at least right now is on Amazon Prime. (3/5) (Fun Facts:  The movie is produced by Sam Raimi, which maybe in part explains JK Simmons being in it but also explains why Ted Raimi has a cameo as a deputy at the end.  But no Bruce Campbell or Danny Elfman score like most movies Raimi directs.  Amazon Prime listed the movie as being from 2022 but the copyright says 2013 and IMDB says 2014 so it's pretty obvious Amazon messed up.  Whatever program they used to create the captioning also wasn't very good.  I'm just saying.)

Emergency:  This 2022 Amazon Original seems that at first like it might be a Harold & Kumar or Superbad-type comedy but soon turns a lot less funny with probably too much real world drama.  It's basically like if Jordan Peele had written/directed Superbad.  When two black college students and their Latino friend find a white girl passed out drunk in their house, they decide to take her to the hospital, afraid that if they call the cops they'll get blamed.  But the trip soon becomes an epic journey.  Real-world drama pops up when for instance they stop outside a house with a "Black Lives Matter" sign only for the white people who live there to shoo them away, thinking they're drug dealers.  Then there's the sister of the girl and her friends who are following her with a bike/skateboard and report them to 911.  That brings in cops who point guns at everyone and condescend to the black and Latino students.  There are a few funny moments but probably too much drama to make it enjoyable. (2.5/5)

Redtails:  Tony Laplume's review reminded me I had never actually watched this movie.  Since it's on Disney+ I finally figured I might as well.  It's a decent war movie but never really rises about the cliché.  There's plenty of aerial action but to cram the story into just over 2 hours they cut out a lot of things like the recruitment of the Tuskegee Airmen and their training and being sent overseas.  It just starts in Italy in 1944 with the Tuskegee Airmen flying rickety P-40s against really no targets before they're assigned to help protect an amphibious landing.  From there they get newer P-51 Mustangs and battle against German jets while escorting bombers.  An all-star cast including Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Michael B Jordan stars as the black pilots while Bryan Cranston is a racist colonel and Gerald McRaney is a general who reluctantly allows the Tuskegee Airmen to help his bombers.  It's an important story and an exciting movie, but not particularly great. Since Lucasfilm was behind this there was a lot of nonsensical trying to compare it to Star Wars, but really it's just a typical war movie.  It doesn't even quite rise to the level of Glory in the air.  (3/5)

The Bad Batch, Season 2:  I didn't really love the first season.  Or really hate it either.  It was OK but never really seemed to lean into any concept.  They had the perfect setup for an A-Team style show but never really managed it.  Nor do they in this season either.  There's a little less trying to plug our heroes into Star Wars history and a slightly more focused story.  A lot of it is going into the transition away from clones now that Kamino has been destroyed and it kind of retroactively makes the Emperor's return in Episode IX plausible.  It also adds the "Emperor's storehouse" on Mt. Tantiss in the original Timothy Zahn trilogy back in the early 90s to the canon by making that where the "Advanced Science Division" is experimenting on clones.  The Batch itself is really the least interesting part of the show as they kind of do some random stuff before seeming to find a refuge before of course "one last job" that goes sour with one member seeming to be killed.  I say seeming because it's not like they showed a body and this is the universe where a guy was literally cut in half and survived.  The best episode was probably the one that focuses on Crosshair (the former member of the Batch who joined the Imperials) and a clone attempting to obey ridiculous orders from their Imperial commander.  It was sort of Catch-22 absurdity only not as funny and with a tragic ending.  The cliffhanger ending sets up the start of a season 3, but it still wasn't great. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  Wanda Sykes voices a treasure hunter character who becomes an ally of the Batch.  When I wondered online why they seemed to use a cut-rate version of Dr. Aphra from the comics instead of the real one, someone schooled me that she would probably be too young since this is right after Episode III.  And I have to concede the point.  It can be hard to keep track of all this stuff sometimes.)

The Clone Wars (2D):  Before the beloved CGI show, Cartoon Network originally aired a bunch of short episodes of a 2D Clone Wars show.  Disney+ gathered them together into two "episodes" of about an hour apiece.  Since I hadn't watched them, I decided to watch it on May 4th.  Even before I saw the credits, I could tell it was done by Genndy Tartakovsky, who did Samurai Jack and Primal, because it's kind of that same style.  I haven't watched either of those shows, so I don't know if they have the same shifts in tone from serious (albeit bloodless) depictions of war to fairly goofy stuff, mostly with C3PO.  While not as good as the CGI series, you can see some of the same aspects and the origin of characters like Ventress and Luminara's apprentice.  It also explains some things not seen in the movies or CGI show like Anakin becoming a Jedi Knight, 3PO getting his gold plating, and why Grievous is coughing so much in Episode III--because Mace Windu crushed his chest with the Force during Palpatine's kidnapping.  Because these episodes are shorter, it's not really as good as the CGI show and it really would have been nice if Disney had separated them a little more with some title cards or something because they just run into each other at breakneck speed and you might get whiplash from how quickly it jumps from one story to another.  The clones don't get as much development as they do in the CGI show and there's no Ahsoka, but if you're a fan of the CGI show or just the prequels, then it's a good way to fill in some blanks.  Also, there's no Jar-Jar in it. Woo hoo! (3/5)

The Legend of Vox Machina, Season 2:  In season 1, a band of hapless heroes managed to save the kingdom of Whitehall from evil vampires.  At the start of the season they're being hailed as heroes by the king of Tal'Dorei when dragons suddenly appear and kill or enslave most everyone.  Our heroes then go on a quest to find "vestiges" of ancient powers to use against the dragons.  But while a lot happens in the season, not a lot is solved in the end.  I mean, I don't think they even find half the vestiges and there are still at least 3 dragons--and the hint more are going to hatch.  So it feels kinda hollow in the end.  There are also some questions left unresolved, like who is this "Ripley" person helping the dragons who seems to have a history with Vex and Vax?  And what about the main dragon's "heart" that Vex and Vax seemed to know something about?  I think this season did do more into developing the various characters and getting into their backstories more than the first season.  I guess I just hoped it'd accomplish more. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  I don't think there are a lot of celebrity cameos, but the Fonz, Henry Winkler, voices an elderly gnome.  So sit on that.)

Animal Control:  I mentioned this last time I did an entry but I had only watched a few episodes.  Having watched the whole season for the most part I liked it.  I really liked Joel McHale's grizzled animal control officer who's sort of the Hawkeye (M*A*S*H Hawkeye) of their unit and I really liked the lesbian Kiwi lady.  The Indian-American family guy was pretty good too.  Unfortunately they waste time in the last few episodes with a love triangle between the young black woman running the office, the former head of the office who had an ear bitten off by a mink, and a former snowboarder nicknamed Shred who has a thing for the black woman but she's going out with the other guy and blah blah blah.  I don't care.  It was like Superstore only with less hateable characters in the love triangle.  If there's a season 2, I wish they'd just drop that.  Those plots are always death. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  In the first few episodes there was a chubby redheaded office manager but after an episode where she sleeps with Joel McHale, she disappears for a few episodes to the point I wondered if it was one of those older brother on Happy Days/middle child on Family Matters things where a character just vanishes but she turns up for very brief appearances in the last couple of episodes.)

Beavis & Butt-Head (2022):  After the fairly lame movie last year to bring the two dimwits into the present, there comes this soft reboot series on Paramount+.  I watched the first 4 episodes and was pretty disappointed.  While the original quickly gained fame and infamy for its crude teenage leads, this is just pretty tepid garbage.  Literally most of these 4 episodes is just them getting stuck in/on something:  on a roof, in a box, on a raft, and whatever.  If you're going to transport your main characters 25 years into the present, maybe you have something to say about 1990s culture versus 2020s culture?  Nah, just have the two idiots get stuck in/on something.  Huh-huh.  It makes me angry how badly Mike Judge mails this in and yet still gets a second season because Paramount is so desperate for non-Trek IPs to mine.  It really doesn't give me any hope for a King of the Hill reboot if Judge is going to put so little effort into it. (1/5)

Amateur Hour:  I'll have to double-check but I don't think I watched this movie before I watched it on Amazon in April.  Jason Biggs (aka the pie fucker) has lost his job and his wife is about to give birth.  To get money to keep their insurance, he takes a job on Craigslist to drive three prostitutes to a party in LA.  Mayhem ensues!  There are some funny parts and some sexy parts.  It's not really as good as those wacky urban quests like Adventures in Babysitting and Trojan War, but it's not bad either.  (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  Like Cocaine Bear, this insists it was inspired by real events.  The credits leave exactly how much is true up to interpretation.)

Breakout:  In this 2013 movie on the Roku Channel, a chubby Brendan Fraser with two different bad hairpieces is a convict in Canada who has to save his kids from two Americans, Dominic Purcell and a mentally handicapped Ethan Suplee who keeps calling Brendan Fraser's wife with their daughter's cell phone thinking it's his mother.  It's a serviceable action movie, especially considering writer/director Damian Lee made such Rifftrax fodder as Copper Mountain, Street Law, and Abraxas Guardian of the Universe. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  the movie was shot outside Sault St. Marie, Ontario, which is across the Soo Locks from Michigan.)

Standoff (2016):  This is one of those movies that has a pretty simple setup with not a lot of actors or sets so it could basically be a play.  A little girl goes to visit her parents' graves when an assassin (Lawrence "don't call me Larry" Fishburne) shoots some lady and her bodyguard at another grave.  The girl catches the assassin's face on camera and so he chases her to a farmhouse where Thomas Jane is an ex-soldier planning to kill himself after his son died in a stupid accident.  He and the girl go upstairs with a shotgun while Fishburne is downstairs in the house with a handgun.  From there it's a standoff.  I was glad the movie answered the question I quickly thought of:  why the fuck doesn't the assassin just burn the fucking house down?  As insurance, Thomas Jane puts the film from the camera in a bag in the toilet tank so if the house burns down, the evidence might survive.  From there it does a pretty good job of creating tension.  A bumbling rookie deputy is not used particularly well, the wife isn't that great of an actress (probably because they didn't need her much and blew the budget on the stars), and the little boy's accident was kinda silly, but that's small potatoes stuff.  Definitely not a bad way to entertain yourself for about 100 minutes. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  This movie was also filmed in Sault St. Marie, Ontario.  Among the producers is Anakin Skywalker himself, Hayden Christensen!  Probably because it was made and financed in Canada.  He does not appear in the movie, which is too bad--or is it?  Though if you put a Jedi and Sith in these roles it'd be good for one of those Visions shorts they've done on Disney+ the last two years.)

24 Hours to Live:  This 2017 movie I watched on the Roku Channel is like if you crossed The Hitman's Bodyguard with Kevin Costner's 3 Days to Kill.  Ethan Hawke is an assassin who goes on "one last job" to kill a guy who worked for "Red Mountain," a shady mercenary company.  The guy is going to testify against Red Mountain with the help of an Interpol agent (who's a Chinese woman so they could secure Chinese financing for the movie).  When things inevitably go south, Ethan Hawke is killed by the Interpol agent and brought back to life with an experimental procedure that brings him back--but only for 24 hours--see what they did there?  So he joins with the Interpol agent to get the memory card of the guy's testimony to the proper authorities.  It's one of those cheap but not really cheap action movies that's not as good as the ones I mentioned.  It's entertaining enough for 90 minutes or so and not completely stupid, so that's fine. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  Rutger Hauer cashes a paycheck as Hawke's father-in-law and Liam Cunningham of Game of Thrones cashes a paycheck as the evil head of Red Mountain.)

The Job:  I was expecting this to be more of a caper movie, but it's a caper within a long con that reminded me of Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men.  Based on a play, this 2008 movie is about some guy who's lost his job and pretty much broke when he meets a cowboy (Ron Perlman) who gives him a business card for some place that at first seems like a job agency.  Which it kinda is--only for assassins!  The guy is offered $200,000 to strangle a rich guy who needs to die in a "robbery" for insurance and to keep the cops from investigating too hard.  Everything is all arranged so he only need to go in and strangle the guy and steal some shit so it'll look like a robbery.  But while he really wants the money for himself and his girlfriend with a big forehead who's a waitress but was maybe on some kind of soap opera at one point, he can't bring himself to do it, so he asks Ron Perlman to help and split the money.  But then of course things go sideways and the con starts to be revealed.  For fans of Star Wars, think of it this way:  what if Obi-Wan and Padme were agents of Palpatine to turn Anakin to the dark side?  That's basically the con here.  For a fairly low budget movie it was fun and you wouldn't really see the twists coming.  (3/5) (Fun Facts:  Joe Pantoliano plays the head of the job agency with really fake bushy eyebrows.  While they never really say where the movie takes place, it was filmed in Detroit and surrounding areas back before Rick Snyder ruined that like he ruined Flint's water; the LLC for the production was actually called "The Detroit Job."  To tie the two fun facts together, Pantoliano's character is named Mr. Perriman and in the 90s, Brett Perriman was a receiver for the Detroit Lions--who played in Pontiac, but still.) 

Echo Boomers:  This was a "Roku Channel Original" that's not extremely original.  Lance (Patrick Schwarzenegger) has graduated college but can't find a job.  His cousin Jack says he has a job in Chicago, so Lance goes there only to find the "job" is breaking into rich people's houses and stealing shit.  It's a pretty lucrative business and so he goes along with it.  Other than the notion that the thieves are all Millennials looking to get back at the Boomers, there's not much new about this.  It copies the "rules" thing of Zombieland and rips off the girl overdosing and being dumped at the hospital from Pulp Fiction--only without the best part, the syringe of adrenaline being plunged into her heart.  Like some others on this list it's an OK way to divert yourself for 90 minutes but not really that great. (2.5/5) (Fun Facts:  Michael Shannon cashes a paycheck as "Mel," the crew's fence who initially also supplies them with jobs.  While the movie is supposed to be in Chicago, it was actually filmed in Michael Offutt's backyard in Salt Lake City; I'm sure he would have liked to be on the set with all the hunky young guys.)

Exposure (2016):  This could be the secret origin of Ana de Armas or the movie that got her the role in No Time to Die.  I'm not really sure.  What I am sure of is this movie was lame.  The plot could have been a gritty crime thriller that was pretty straight-forward.  Instead, the writers decide to throw a bunch of fake supernatural shit into it to make it seem fancier than it is.  The basic plot is thus:  de Armas is Isabel, whose brother-in-law is being watched by a cop whose partner is Keanu Reeves.  Isabel goes to the subway to get on a train, the cop follows her, rapes her on the platform, and then she kills him.   Reeves investigates his partner's death and finds he was a real piece of shit while the cop's wife (Mira Sorvino) starts coming on to him.  Meanwhile Isabel gets pregnant but since her husband was in Iraq (and then killed) everyone thinks she's a slut and doesn't believe her when she says it's an immaculate conception--which it's not.  But that's not how it's actually presented.  Instead, we don't see the rape until later and Isabel imagines seeing some albino guy floating over the tracks and later some weird white-skinned woman who escaped from a Guillermo del Toro movie.  She also imagines a little girl named Elisa who is actually herself as a child who was molested by her father, whom she murders at the end.  Now here's the kicker:  de Armas and Reeves share 0 seconds on screen together.  So if you're going into this thinking how neat it'll be to see that lady from the last Bond movie with John Wick, don't bother.  Basically this is like if the guy who made Donnie Darko tried to adapt a Dennis Lehane book like Mystic River.  de Armas is really good while Reeves is just sorta around and Christopher MacDonald cashes a paycheck as the not-angry police captain. (2/5)

King of New York:  This 1990 movie I saw on the Roku Channel stars Christopher Walken as Frank White, a drug lord who gets out of prison and almost immediately gets up to his old tricks...I guess.  I mean, isn't that what put him in prison?  I'm not really sure and the movie isn't that interested in telling us.  What's interesting is how much then-not-really-known talent appears in the movie.  Frank's main henchman is Lawrence "Larry" Fishburne and Steve Buscemi is a guy who tests the drugs they buy for purity.  Giancarlo Esposito is appropriately Frank's accountant.  Opposing him are cops played by David Caruso (foreshadowing his gig on NYPD Blue) and Wesley Snipes.  That's a pretty deep bench for a movie I have never heard of.  It's just too bad the movie never really comes together.  There's some noise about Frank wanting to fund a hospital in the Bronx but not much comes of it because the movie can't decide whether it wants to be a Robin Hood story or Scarface.  There's a female lawyer working with Frank but nothing really comes together there either.  If they had decided what kind of movie they wanted to make, it probably would have been better.  But if you can watch it for free, maybe do so just for the gratuitous terrible Walken dancing scenes. (2/5) (Fun Facts:  The head cop in the movie is played by Victor Argo; about a year later in McBain, Argo plays the evil Colombian president and Walken plays the titular hero so it's like they basically switch roles.  Near the end there's a scene taking place in the "Silvercup" building that was also prominently featured in the original Highlander movie.)

Unhuman:  This Blumhouse movie made for ePix takes a bunch of horror movie cliches and then throws in a pretty ridiculous twist that is in no way possible.  A bunch of high school kids are on a bus that seems to come under attack from zombies and as some kids seem to be turned into zombies, others take shelter in some kind of building.  Of course there's a jock bully and a nerd and a fat kid and a slut and a popular girl and whatever cliches.  It's just lame and boring and then turns really dumb when we find out that two boys have staged this whole thing to make themselves heroes and shame the bullies.  To do this they have to recruit the bus driver and a guy to play the zombie and use some kind of drug that's bright green and makes people act like zombies.  As if just about any of that is possible.  I mean if you want to be heroes, why not have someone stage a school shooting?  Then they could have just stepped in and stopped the shooter and been heroes.  Sadly a lot more plausible.  Or if you want to use the bus scenario, have the guy get in a Bigfoot costume or something like that.  It would have been a lot easier to just have the fake Sasquatch grab people and stash them then the whole dumb drug thing. I'm sure this was pitched as "Scream only with zombie movies" and yet it never rises to that level.  In part because meta-horror has been done to figurative death and in part they don't really do a good job of packing in zombie movie references except a couple of vague ones.  They do rip off Jamie Lee Curtis's dialogue from the original Halloween, so that's something.  Anyway, as if it can't get worse, the mid-credits scene threatens us with a possible sequel.  Ugh.  No thanks.  Something particularly stupid is during the bus crash there's all this stuff sort of flying at the screen despite that this was produced for a cable channel, thus there was like a 1% chance of people watching it in 3D where that kind of thing would work better.  I guess at least this wasn't as boring as Blumhouse's Halloween movies. (1/5) (Fun Fact:  the movie is written and directed by the guys who wrote Feast in 2005 for Project Greenlight.)

Amazon on the left & Movie House on the right

Cowboy & Indiana:  I had literally put this on the Movie House app about 200 times without once ever actually watching it just because it's the longest movie on the app.  Then early one morning I stayed up to watch it for no reason at all.  I wasn't really missing much.  It's really just a bunch of cliches that's all really predictable.  The eponymous "Cowboy" is an alcoholic/drug addict named Tulsa whose friend is killed by a bull.  When he's busted for drugs, Tulsa is forced to mentor Indiana, the son of a bull rider who went to jail.  Then Tulsa helps train Indiana's father to ride a bull for a million dollar prize.  You'll never guess what happens next!  Oh, wait, you totally could guess what happens.  It's pretty obvious.  But there is a funny part where they let a bull loose in a gangbanger's house--ironic considering the bull that kills the guy at the beginning was named Gangbanger for...reasons.  (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  the version on the Movie House has the aspect ratio on the movie messed up so it's kind of stretched on both of my TVs.  Freevee/Amazon's version looks better.  Question I don't think they answer:  why didn't they put Gangbanger down after he kills the guy at the beginning?  Isn't that traditionally what happens to animals that kill humans?)

Like A Country Song:  I hadn't put this on the Movie House app quite as many times as Cowboy & Indiana but I had put it on a bunch and never watched it.  I finally decided to sit and watch the whole thing.  And similarly it wasn't that interesting.  Mostly a lot of clichés and since it's from "Risen Media" you know in the end everyone's going to find God and live Happily Ever After.  So no matter how much drama they try to throw into the proceedings, I never really felt any tension.  The story is that a young country singer and his estranged dad (Billy Ray Cyrus) are both alcoholics and struggling until they find each other and Jesus.  There's a musician who keeps popping up who could be an angel or God or something.  Besides Billy Ray Cyrus, there's no one notable involved unless maybe you're really familiar with Nashville in 2014. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  I was near Nashville in December 2014 but other than getting lunch at a Red Robin south of the city I didn't really stop anywhere there.  So it's unlikely I saw anyone or anything from this movie then.)

Foxfur:  One Sunday I figured I was going to bed in just about an hour and nothing good was on so I put on a random shorter movie on the Movie House app so at least I'd get a point or two.  As I said on Facebook, this is like if Ed Wood had made Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.  There's a lot of blather about multiverses and aliens but the acting and effects are all really, really terrible.  In case you're wondering, Foxfur is a woman at the center of...whatever the hell is supposed to be happening. (1/5)

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Writers, Don't Character Assassinate Your Own Characters

A few months ago, I got this box set for free from one of my book newsletters.  I didn't even realize it was a bundle until I started it.  And it's books 4-6, not even the first ones.  I threw caution to the wind anyway and started reading them.

The first book, Florida Shuffle, was OK.  There were a couple of things I didn't like:  the unsubtle bad guys and the switch between first and third-person mostly.  Still, it was tolerable.

That book introduced me to the main character Will Harper, who is a semi-retired reporter who lives on a boat in Florida.  He's sort of a super-cut-rate Travis McGee in that he solves crimes and lives on a boat.  But instead of being a PI (or unlicensed PI) he's a reporter. 

In that book, his girlfriend is named Callie.  She worked at a halfway house or rehab place until her life was put in danger.  When they flee to the Keys, Callie is almost killed twice but Will barely manages to save her.

At the end, a rich guy takes over the paper Will submits to and contracts him and Callie to write stories.  He gives them a big expense account to do the stories they want.  Hooray!  The book ends with a pastor friend coming to them about three Guatemalan immigrants who have basically been forced into slavery after being smuggled into the US.

So now we get to the next book, Deadly Traffic, (after skipping through the end material of Book 1 and front material of Book 2, which is just really lazy; when you're doing a box set, have the good sense to trim most of that stuff off unless you have different authors or dedications or something) and that's where everything takes a swan dive.  It's a couple of months later (but before the epilogue of the previous book) and Will has basically done nothing.  Meanwhile, Callie is looking into stories but getting frustrated with Will's lack of direction.  Since he's the big, somewhat famous writer, the story has to be his, but he doesn't want to do anything.  He just wants to hang out on his boat, drinking and fucking.

So while in the previous book, when Callie wasn't working with Will, they got along pretty well, now that she's working with him (or supposed to be) they're bickering a lot.  And Callie goes off to research stuff with a male editor at the paper while Will just hangs out on the boat.  It's kind of a 180.

Even when we get back to the epilogue of the previous book and they find out about the Guatemalan immigrants, Will is somewhat reluctant to get involved.  The silly thing then is all three immigrants are saved not by Will or his friends.  One guy saves himself by hitting a dude with a rock and escaping a tomato farm.  His sister who was forced to be a housekeeper for a rich guy escapes twice from him pretty much on her own; one of Will's friends gives her a ride the second time.  Their younger sister is made a sex slave on a "party boat" and escapes thanks to a young crewman on the boat--and the Russian mob blowing the boat up at a convenient time.

It really doesn't make Will seem very heroic.  But the thing is, since most of the book is told in first-person from Will's POV, we get his view of things, while not really getting Callie's side.  We get third-person scenes in the POV of the immigrants and the bad guys but not Callie.  So the book makes it seem like Callie is acting irrational and picking fights with him about getting to work and spending a lot of time with an editor at the paper and we, the audience are supposed to think she's in the wrong.  

But I didn't!  Will seemed like a lazy asshole to me most of the time.  He didn't really seem to get that just because he's set with money and his career, Callie might not feel the same.  Especially since she lost her job and was nearly killed by her former bosses twice in the last book.  And when you're supposed to be the hero of the book, you should really get off your lazy ass and do something about the immigrants, not wait for them to save themselves.

When, like the original Spider-Man movies, Mary-Jane Callie is kidnapped again, Will's search for her is pretty lethargic.  He and his former Army Ranger friend and former sea captain friend make sure to stop for meals and drinks.  I mean, Callie could be getting beaten or raped, but why rush, right?  That's what she deserves for dumping him, right?

In the end, Callie comes crawling back to him (why?) and he blows her off.  Then he takes up with an old girlfriend in the next book while making horndog moves on Callie's research partner as just about every other woman in the book is throwing herself at him like he's emitting pheromones.  And he continues rebuffing any attempts by Callie at reconciliation.  I'm of course supposed to cheer Will for being such a player and putting that bitch Callie in her place, right?  And, really, most of what Callie does in the last book is complain that he's keeping her frozen out of the story they're supposed to be working on.  Which, again, I kinda gotta side with her; the editor assigned her to work with will and he's being a total dick going off with his new old girlfriend and keeping her in the dark.  Really I'm not sure why Callie was in this at all because she didn't do much except continue to look bad.

The biggest irony then is he says in his narration how much he respects women.  Um, yeah, buddy, maybe show us, don't tell us.  Because you're showing a completely different attitude towards women than you're telling me.  He only wants to be with Callie when she's not cramping his style by wanting him to do the job for which he would be paid.  And also the job that would actually help people.  If she even mildly threatens his cozy lifestyle then push her away.  And then claim that she's the one who broke it off.  Maybe she did, but only because you were pushing her away!  It never occurs to him (or I guess the author) that she wouldn't have been working with an editor at the paper if Will had gotten off his ass to work with her.

It was very frustrating as the reader because clearly my opinion differed from the author's in regards to who was in the wrong and who was in the right.  The author thought I would share his latent sexism and think, "Bitches be crazy!"  And/or, "He saved her life twice and she repays him by wanting a career and to help people in trouble?  Pshaw!"

It reminded me of when I read the 4th book of the Miss Peregrine series, which I wrote about in this entry almost a year ago. In the first three books Jacob and a girl named Emma with pyrotechnic powers became a couple and everything was fine.  But in the 4th book when they go back in time to the 60s for a brief time, Emma contacts Jacob's grandpa, whom she dated back in the 40s.  When Jacob finds out, he drops Emma like a hot potato.  Which seemed really weird that he was so completely unforgiving and completely lacked empathy of her situation.  I mean, so she wanted to talk to the other guy she loved again, wouldn't most people do the same thing?  As I say in the article, mostly I think it was to clear Emma out of the way to set up a new girlfriend for Jacob.

I didn't really understand the sudden change with Callie.  Why would the author do this to his own character?  Sometimes there is a reason for it like in the Miss Peregrine book.  Or like in the Scarlet Knight books, Becky is angry with Emma through most of the 3rd and 4th books but that's because she blames Emma for her fiancé being murdered.  When they swap bodies in the 4th book, they work through their difficulties and become friends again.  But in this case there seemed no point to making Callie such a bitch all the sudden.  It was like the author didn't want to write about her anymore and just decided to make her as unappealing as possible.  Or maybe she was based on a real person the author had fallen out with so he did this out of spite.  But like the title of the entry says, it was like he was assassinating his own character's character!  And since I didn't hate the character as much as the author did, it really struck me as wrong.  It was even worse than in the Miss Peregrine book because Callie's whole personality basically changed from one book to the next.

This is a danger in writing first-person (at least in part):  you might like your character and think what they're doing is right, but I might not.  I know some people had this problem with Where You Belong where they didn't like Frost because he was too passive--which he was supposed to be; a big part of the story is about him learning to stand on his own and find where he belongs.  But the point is just because you and your character agree on something, doesn't mean I, the reader, will agree with it.  In the case of Where You Belong, I knew what I was doing, but in this case, I'm pretty sure it was unintentional.

In some stories I write in first-person, the main character isn't supposed to be a good guy--or at least not at first.  Or you have other books like American Psycho where obviously the main character isn't someone you're supposed to sympathize with.  But this was a case where there was a clear disconnect that the author didn't intend.

It's another good reason to have someone else read your stories.  Maybe it doesn't have to be someone who completely disagrees with you politically and socially, but you really need someone who can see that other side and how people might view things.

But of course this has hundreds of positive ratings and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so I guess most people don't really care.  It's probably different when you are an author and thus are probably more sensitive to sudden changes with characters.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Alexa, Nintendo Wii, and Other Products Defeated Mostly By Infrastructure

 I saw this little article in an affiliate marketing newsletter I sometimes get.  I hadn't really thought Alexa was a colossal boondoggle for Amazon, but I guess maybe it is:

It was a huge deal when Amazon released the Echo in 2014. The Alexa voice assistant would take on the iPhone's “Siri” and revolutionize how we do… everything.

With the opening of the Alexa skills app store, Amazon hoped to foster the same kind of third-party innovation Apple managed to do with its app store. The dream was to have Alexa run your entire house, from lights to garage door to microwave… all via voice control.

Alexa was immediately useful, sparking huge early interest, resulting in over 100 million Echo units sold during the first four years. But while many dreams about what a voice assistant could be became a reality, Alexa is now considered a colossal failure.

Why? Amazon’s “Alexa” division is on track to lose $10 billion this year. Amazon sold Alexa units at cost, hoping that getting them “out there” would increase sales on Amazon.

That hasn’t happened. Maybe the novelty factor wore off… or people just realized that sitting down at your computer to make your order was faster than Alexa reading two minutes of copy about dishwasher pellets to ensure you're ordering the right brand.

People may have also realized that flicking the light switch was easier than asking Alexa.

Some tech analysts believe Alexa’s critical weakness is that Amazon does not own its platform. They don’t have an operating system like Microsoft or Apple… or a mobile platform like Google’s android or iOS.

Or, as Benedict Evans rather pessimistically put it: "Amazon has succeeded in selling a huge number of glorified clock radios!"

To see how desperate they are to get people to adopt these things, they had a sale in December where if you buy a Music Unlimited subscription you get an Echo Dot for a buck.

You can see why they're losing billions when they're basically giving these away as door prizes.

The sad decline of the Echo reminded me of the Nintendo Wii.  That was the one that had the motion capture gimmick where essentially you were supposed to be the controller.  It was a cool idea and the Wii Sports game it came with was really fun, so fun that after buying a Wii for my sisters, I bought one for myself.

But soon the novelty wore off and the problem, I realized, was besides Wii Sports there weren't many games that took full advantage of the technology.  Maybe some of it was Nintendo didn't want to share a lot of details of their tech with outside companies.  Or maybe software companies were just too lazy to make versions of their games specifically tailored for the Wii.

The point is, the motion capture thing didn't really take hold because it was only half-assedly exploited.  So it became a fad and then largely faded away.  I think the Nintendo Switch has a similar thing and there are virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, but those are still not largely adopted.

The problem with the Wii was similar to what had happened about 20 years earlier with the "Power Glove" for the Nintendo.  That was a glove you wear that had controls so you could in theory control your game with it and even make your character or car or whatever move by waving your hand around.

Except it was rushed to market and so there weren't many games that could use it and some of those ones that could didn't work great.  So other than a line in the goofy movie The Wizard, most people don't really remember the Power Glove anymore.

By the same token, this article about Alexa seems to be saying kind it's meeting the same kind of demise.  Sure with an Echo or Echo Dot Alexa can do stuff...but only if you have the right stuff for it to work.  I mean, if I buy an Echo, Alexa can't turn on my lights or appliances, because they're old and not "smart" products.  And who's going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars upgrading everything just so you can tell a machine to turn on the lights or whatever?  Those of us in apartments can't even do that unless we get permission from the landlord and then if we move out in a few months it'd all be for naught.

I did see where I could get a "smart plug" that works with an app so I could plug that in and use my phone to turn the lights on.  But how often would I really use that?  I mean sure maybe I could use it when I get home to turn the lights on before I get in the door, but the hallway of my building is usually lit and my light switch is just inside the door, so that's not important.  Mostly my apartment is small enough that it'd probably be easier to just get up and flip the switch than get out my phone, load an app, and tell it to do the thing.

The article brings up the problem with trying to use voice commands for shopping.  I haven't really tried it though I probably could on my phone.  But really I think it's easier to use the computer (or phone) and just find what I want.  It's easier for me to look at the screen and scroll around and stuff than trying to listen to Alexa report on everything.

The GPS navigator in my car has a voice feature, but I don't use it a lot.  The reason is it's pretty wonky.  I usually have to say "Voice Commands" 3-4 times just to activate it.  Then it's bulky getting it to do what I want unless it's just "Go Home."  It's usually quicker and easier to just use my fingers.  That's probably how it is for a lot of people with these Echo devices and so forth.

Of course these devices would have their uses.  Like for someone who's paralyzed or blind and so can't really use the normal way.  Or people with other mobility, accessibility issues.  But that's not a huge market.

It's not to say this technology is stupid or pointless or bad; it's just not efficient enough for mass consumption.  Sometimes you have a technology that is a good idea in theory but the practical applications don't work out for one reason or another.  For most of these things, what you really need is the infrastructure to make it easy to use.  Like with the Echo, you need the lights and other things that can respond to Alexa.  With the Wii and Power Glove, you needed games that worked well and utilized their special features.

Part of the problem for EVs and previous attempts at non-gas-powered cars like hydrogen fuel cells is the infrastructure.  You need stations where people can charge their non-gas-using cars or it's all pretty pointless.  Though electric cars are gaining ground, it's still pretty hard for someone like me to use one.  I don't have a garage or outdoor plug where I could charge the car up and the nearest charging stations are a Walmart in Novi almost 10 miles away, whereas the nearest gas station is about a block away.  This Business Insider article talks about trying to create a national network for plugs on highways, but of course there would still be a challenge for many. My local news had a story a few days ago about a new "EV Corridor" between Kalamazoo, Michigan and Toronto; they're installing free charging stations along the highways there so people can stop to charge EVs.  Still, that's just a small part of the thousands and thousands of miles of roads you'd need to equip to really make it easy for people to use EVs.  Hydrogen faces even more of an uphill battle because you'd need specially equipped stations.

There was a brief period when carmakers were excited about E85, the "FlexFuel" that features about 15% corn alcohol.  My first Focus didn't have E85 capability, but the 2014 Focus I bought last year did.  So I thought I'd try it, especially when I got some additive on Amazon Vine that would supposedly make it better.  But like these other things there are too many drawbacks to E85.  It is cheaper than regular gasoline (from about $0.40-$1.00 per gallon depending on where you go) but there aren't a lot of stations that have it.  Also, it's not great for your car's engine.  Even with that additive from Vine, my car's gas mileage was going down over 1mpg and maybe it was my imagination that the engine didn't run as smoothly.  The other problem was when carmakers got excited about E85, so did farmers and then there was the problem of either needing a lot more corn or having less corn for feeding livestock and such.  So while it seemed like a good idea, it turned out not to be and now when I go to stations with E85, that pump is usually idle or taken by someone who probably went inside to use the bathroom or buy cigarettes and/or coffee.  But there obviously still has to be some demand or stations wouldn't have it, right?

Recently I got an old Susan B Anthony dollar in some change from a car wash.  Part of the problem with dollar coins is that Americans are spoiled babies who don't like change, ie the metric system.  But also there's the practical reason that dollar coins can be kinda annoying.  I mean those Susan B Anthony ones look like quarters (so much so that it was mixed in with a bunch of quarters) so if I give it to some fast food jockey he/she will probably think it's a quarter and then mumble that I didn't give them enough money.  And when I say it's a dollar coin they'll just stare dumbly and mumble incoherently.  And going to a bank to get a dollar bill for it is kind of a waste of time, innit?  And there aren't really any machines that would take it as a dollar coin.  I couldn't put it in the laundry machines in my building or the soda machines at Walmart or something.  The latter issue is really a big reason those dollar coins don't catch on.  If I can't use it for my laundry or to get a pop, how much good is it?  That's part of the infrastructure that needs set up for that to work.

When electricity was "discovered" and telephones were invented, they would never have caught on without the infrastructure being developed.  The same for regular/cable/satellite TV, cell phones, and the Internet.  If you don't put the infrastructure in place, those technologies might be revolutionary, but useless.  For a single product like the Echo or Wii it can be difficult to get that infrastructure in place because you're largely leaving it up to the consumer.  Or for electric/hydrogen cell cars you're up against the deep pockets of Big Oil, who don't really want to share the market.

An added problem for Echo and similar things is all this "AI" stuff now.  Compared to ChatGPT, Alexa, Siri, and whatever else seem pretty old school.  Why get an Echo or whatever the Apple & Google equivalents are when they're already outdated tech?

Amazon has dumped a lot of money into Alexa tech, but it seems like it's likely to end up with the Wii, Power Glove, virtual reality, E85 gas, Google Glass, hydrogen cell cars, and plenty of other things in the junkyard of good ideas that don't have the infrastructure to become a standard.

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Movie House App's Death Spiral

 It was a little over a year ago I saw ads on Pluto TV for "the Movie House" that promised free "premium" movies if you watched.  It sounded like a scam but I was intrigued--and bored--so I installed the app on my Roku to check it out.  And as I wrote, it was misleading but not a scam.  I mean, you didn't get free movies, just $5 credits at Vudu or Amazon.  Those couldn't buy--or in most cases even rent--the "premium" movies but the gift cards could be used for anything on Amazon so I started using the app and using the $5 credits on my ordinary purchases.

At first you just got points for watching movies but after a few weeks they added a wheel you could spin once a day and after 5 spins you got a bonus gift code.  At the time I'm writing this in January, I made $490 in gift cards since the previous April.  Which is pretty cool.  On the dates listed, you can see there are a lot of times when I got two gift cards in one day or maybe just a day apart:

Your Gift Card Code History

  • Tue Jan 24 2023
  • Wed Jan 18 2023
  • Sat Jan 14 2023
  • Mon Jan 09 2023
  • Thu Jan 05 2023
  • Sat Dec 31 2022
  • Sun Dec 25 2022
  • Tue Dec 20 2022
  • Fri Dec 16 2022
  • Sun Dec 11 2022
  • Mon Dec 05 2022
  • Mon Dec 05 2022
  • Wed Nov 30 2022
  • Fri Nov 25 2022
  • Fri Nov 25 2022
  • Sat Nov 19 2022
  • Sat Nov 19 2022
  • Mon Nov 14 2022
  • Sat Nov 12 2022
  • Thu Nov 10 2022
  • Mon Nov 07 2022
  • Thu Nov 03 2022
  • Tue Nov 01 2022
  • Sat Oct 29 2022
  • Sat Oct 29 2022
  • Tue Oct 25 2022
  • Mon Oct 24 2022
  • Fri Oct 21 2022
  • Wed Oct 19 2022
  • Tue Oct 18 2022
  • Fri Oct 14 2022
  • Thu Oct 13 2022
  • Sun Oct 09 2022
  • Sun Oct 09 2022
  • Mon Oct 03 2022
  • Mon Oct 03 2022
  • Wed Sep 28 2022
  • Wed Sep 28 2022
  • Fri Sep 23 2022
  • Fri Sep 23 2022
  • Mon Sep 19 2022
  • Sat Sep 17 2022
  • Tue Sep 13 2022
  • Tue Sep 13 2022
  • Thu Sep 08 2022
  • Wed Sep 07 2022
  • Sun Sep 04 2022
  • Thu Sep 01 2022
  • Wed Aug 31 2022
  • Mon Aug 29 2022
  • Sat Aug 27 2022
  • Tue Aug 23 2022
  • Sun Aug 21 2022
  • Wed Aug 17 2022
  • Tue Aug 16 2022
  • Fri Aug 12 2022
  • Fri Aug 12 2022
  • Tue Aug 09 2022
  • Sun Aug 07 2022
  • Fri Aug 05 2022
  • Tue Aug 02 2022
  • Mon Aug 01 2022
  • Thu Jul 28 2022
  • Tue Jul 26 2022
  • Fri Jul 22 2022
  • Thu Jul 21 2022
  • Sun Jul 17 2022
  • Wed Jul 13 2022
  • Sun Jul 10 2022
  • Sun Jul 10 2022
  • Thu Jul 07 2022
  • Sun Jul 03 2022
  • Sun Jul 03 2022
  • Tue Jun 28 2022
  • Tue Jun 28 2022
  • Fri Jun 24 2022
  • Thu Jun 23 2022
  • Sun Jun 19 2022
  • Sun Jun 19 2022
  • Wed Jun 15 2022
  • Sun Jun 12 2022
  • Sun Jun 12 2022
  • Wed Jun 08 2022
  • Thu Jun 02 2022
  • Fri May 27 2022
  • Fri May 20 2022
  • Mon May 16 2022
  • Mon May 09 2022
  • Fri May 06 2022
  • Mon May 02 2022
  • Mon May 02 2022
  • Wed Apr 27 2022
  • Sat Apr 23 2022
  • Thu Apr 21 2022
  • Sun Apr 17 2022
  • Fri Apr 15 2022
  • Tue Apr 12 2022
  • Sat Apr 09 2022

But what you might notice is after December 5th there are no more of those double days.  Why?  Because they stopped giving you a free gift card with 5 spins.  Instead they only gave you 50% added to your completion bar.  The added kick in the pants is that the 50% won't carry over.  So if you have 90% already, you only get 10% of that 50%.  That might motivate you to turn on a movie or two so you can get to 100% before the 5th spin.

But by the time they downgraded the wheel, they had downgraded most of their movies to the point of being worthless.  I mean most of their movies are already pretty worthless from an entertainment standpoint, but by December, the longest movie--a rodeo movie from 2018 called Cowboy & Indiana--was only worth 3.88%.  By April it was worth only 3.27%!  Most of the movies that are in the 70-90 minute range would be worth less than 2 points.  So if you want to get that 10% to round up your completion bar, you can either watch C&I 3 times or watch 5-6 other movies.  It's kind of a lot of work.

This is the classic death spiral of failing businesses.  Take that most prominent example:  the post office.  They're losing money so they raise the price of stamps.  There might be a slight bump as people rush to get "Forever" stamps at the old price, but inevitably they start losing money again so they have to keep raising the price of stamps.  The more they raise prices, the fewer stamps they actually sell.  Between that and technology making for less and less need to mail things with postage, it's a death spiral that has been going on for decades.

You see this death spiral with non-government businesses that are going under.  A department store like Sears, Kmart, or now Bed, Bath, & Beyond starts closing locations to save money.  The fewer locations generate less revenue while inevitably the savings from the shuttered business don't offset the lost revenue. (And of course we can't have crappy executives cut their salaries or bonuses.)  So they close more locations.  In most cases the cycle continues until there's nothing left of the business.  Though I talked about B&N, which had seemed like it was entering into that death spiral, managing to pull out.  Few businesses do manage to do that; instead the downward momentum ends up crashing them into the ground.

In the case of the post office, we can mostly blame computers for fewer and fewer people mailing stuff.  With most retailers we blame Amazon.  Some like Kay-Bee Toys and Toys R Us we can blame unscrupulous capital firms.  Others like Steve & Barry's college merchandise outlets, Hill's department store, or Love's furniture stores you can blame expanding too quickly. (In the weird case of Love's, they bought a whole bunch of Art Van Furniture stores that were going out of business, but within about six months the Love's stores were also out of business.  Most of those then got sold to Gardner White or Value City furniture stores.)

But there are usually also some missteps or poor business practices.  The post office is notorious for shitty service; I think we've all witnessed this first-hand.  KMart couldn't meet the price, selection, or service of its competitors like Walmart and Target.

With the Movie House app we can see a few poor business practices.

1.  Bait & Switch:  the whole concept of the "premium movies" sounded like a scam.  And while it wasn't really, it was pretty much a bait & switch.  You show up thinking you'll be able to watch Everything, Everywhere, All At Once or The Batman but instead you have to watch movies you've never heard of to get a gift card that might pay for half to a quarter of one of those "premium" movies.  So if you're already wary that it's a scam, this will make you more inclined to feel that way.

2.  Low Selection, Not Updated:  There are probably less than 100 movies on the app you can watch, plus TV episodes, so it's not a huge selection.  A lot of "free" movie apps like Tubi TV, Crackle, or Popcornflix have a lot more movies/TV to choose from.  And adding to the problem, the Movie House doesn't add new movies very often.  They added a few around the holidays--that then disappeared again after the holidays.  I would say that in the last six months they've actually lost more movies than they've added.

3.  Low Quality Selections:  What you notice right away when browsing the app is that you'll have heard of exactly 0 of the "Standard" movies.  There are a few more professional offerings like Grand Theft Parsons or Like Sunday, Like Rain featuring real actors and decent production values.  But 99% of what they offer is stuff that would be more at home on the Rifftrax app than Netflix.  (In the case of Feeders, it actually is on the Rifftrax app!)

4.  Poor Tech Support:  There's already a limited selection of movies and many are pretty low quality in terms of acting and production values.  But then you have some that are low quality technically.  I noted in one "Stuff I Watched" entry I wanted to watch the movie The Architect, but while the video would play, there was no sound!  There are a few more like that.  There are others that don't play at all, like basically the entire "Urban Entertainment" section.  And weirdly there are a couple with software watermarks still on them, which makes me wonder if they're even the final version or a rough cut that someone somehow obtained.  I made mention of some of the affected movies to their email but never received a response and none of the movies were fixed or removed.  Even Cowboy & Indiana, which I put on all the time, has a weird aspect ratio because they basically use a full screen version instead of the widescreen on Amazon/Freevee:

Amazon on the left, Movie House on the right

5.  The Ads Debacle:  Usually when a streaming service like Disney+ or Netflix announces ads, people are pissed.  When the Movie House revealed it was going to have ads, I was actually happy.  Ads might mean they could upgrade the site or even get some new movies.  You know, correct the death spiral.  But instead of using the same ads that everyone from Disney+ down to Popcornflix uses, they went it alone and used some stupid ad system.  So for over a week if you played a movie every two minutes you'd have this commercial shouting, "V.O.T.E., VOTE!..." at you.  Every two minutes on the dot.  The same fucking commercial every time.  I mean, try watching a movie when every two minutes it does that.  It's fucking terrible.  (Plus, I had already dropped off my ballot so contrary to what Trumpers think, I had done the maximum amount of V.O.T.E.Voting that I could do.)  After a while I had a Pavlovian reaction where I'd be like, "Oh God, has it been two minutes?"  I emailed them that why don't they do like 2 ads every five minutes or so?  Then people could get into the movie a little more.  Maybe I wasn't the only one because they attempted to do that.  Attempted.  Except then the ads didn't work!  It'd just stop the movie to a black screen for a few seconds.  And while I should be happy, it kinda defeats the purpose of having ad breaks when they don't play.  Plus sometimes it'll cause the Roku to crash.  And I doubt it's bringing in any money to upgrade the app or get more/better movies.  The whole thing was just a mess.

Later, I started to wonder if it's that the ads don't work or simply that they haven't been able to get any sponsors.  Which seems almost impossible, doesn't it?  I mean you'd have to be really incompetent not to find any businesses who want to sponsor your app.  Even when Pluto TV started they had weird local ads, which were kinda cool because you could see ads for a dentist in Arizona or jewelry store in Florida.  Anyway, if cut-rate apps like Popcornflix and the like can have ads, I don't know why they can't manage it.

So in large part because of these factors, the app is in a death spiral and if it's not dead yet, it probably will be before the end of the year.  What I really wish would happen is one of the bigger apps would buy this out and adapt the concept.  I mean it'd be great to get rewards for watching stuff I want to watch anyway on Disney+, Paramount+, Hulu, Amazon, or whatever.  Or one of the free ones like Tubi or Crackle might want to try it to see if they get more people to watch stuff.  I mean most of these apps right now are just trying to compete by adding content, often desperately mining IPs to draw eyes.  A rewards program would be a way to get views without having to actually spend the money to license an IP and create a show.  It seems so obvious that I don't know why no one is doing it.

Anyway, it's another example of how a business can fail.  Might be an interesting case study for business textbooks.

UPDATE:  The end really might be here as May 6th I got the 100% and never received a gift card code.  I emailed them and got a terse reply basically gaslighting me saying, "all eligible gift codes for movies were sent out today."  So, what, you're saying I'm not "eligible?"  I did the same thing and got the same email as 120 times before only this time I never got paid.  And after that email they just stonewalled me with a boilerplate FAQ.  I put them on notice that if this happened the next time I'd stop using the app because really what use is it if you're not getting paid?  The next time I reached 100% I got a gift card like a minute later.  The same for on Wednesday when I hit 100% again.  So maybe my warning worked?  Or not.  Still, it's something to keep an eye on.


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