Thoughts on Amazon Prime.

What’s this? Two blog posts in one day? After I published my last one I decided to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for a few months now, and sign up for a thirty day trial of Amazon Prime. Even in just the few hours  I’ve had it I’ve made a few observations about the differences between that and Netflix. I wanted to try Amazon Prime for two reasons: I’ve gotten really bored with Netflix’s lackluster selection and I wanted to also see what the Prime Reading option had in store for me as well when it comes time for me to resume writing book reviews in March.* There are other services as well which I’ll also go over but those were just extra icing on the cake for me.

I’ll start with a comparison of the Netflix streaming service versus Amazon Prime’s streaming. For the most part I watch both on my television through my Nintendo Wii. Because it matters I should point out that I’m watching both on a standard definition television. I would love to get a more modern (and bigger) set but as I have some big financial plans this year I don’t see myself upgrading anytime soon. I also have the slowest speed available through Comcast around here, although I haven’t noticed any effect on either service.

Netflix looks just fine on my television. I never had any complaints there. The interface, while a bit basic and having less options than the web version, serves its purpose without any regular lag. Amazon’s channel took quite a while to load the first time today, but I’m guessing that had to do with the change in my account. Since then it boots up at the same speed. However, I’m noticing that with many of the selections so far the picture quality is slightly lesser than what I would find on Netflix. I especially compared Star Trek: The Next Generation which is available on both services. If I didn’t already have Netflix I wouldn’t even think about the quality of Amazon Prime’s picture. I have read that depending on the user’s setup the quality can be comparable, so it could be my equipment that’s making the difference. Could it be that this would inspire me to upgrade that as well?

As far as the selection is concerned, I like what I’m seeing so far on Amazon Prime. Of course by switching I’m potentially losing some titles on Netflix that I would have enjoyed, but Amazon’s selection overall looks to be much better. Not only that, but through the same channel on my Wii I can access all of the instant videos that aren’t offered through the Prime service. Many of them can be rented quite affordably. I’m a bit of a cheapskate so I would really want to see the movie, but it’s nice to know that the option is there.

I also wanted to compare Prime Reading to visiting the public library to read new or at least somewhat new book releases so I could review them on my blog. Right off the bat I noticed that Prime has a small selection the newest book was released nearly four months ago. Neither problem is potentially that much of a concern when it comes to selecting a book for a review, but when I could chose from many more and much more recent book through the Maine public library system I wonder if the convenience is worth it. But it is more convenient than physically going to the library. That’s not to mention if I have a specific title that I want to order, which I have to wait to be delivered to my local branch. Cost is also significant. Borrowing a book from the library is free. Then again, technically it’s not—I pay taxes. I could apply the same logic to Prime Reading if I keep the service for video.

But, alas, I could also get Amazon Kindle Unlimited for unlimited reading of millions of books for approximately the same cost as what Prime would amount to once a month. Then I really would be paying for the convenience of not going to the library. Is it really worth that cost?

Like I said, there are other services that come with Amazon Prime, such as streaming of digital music. There are many albums that I can listen to either online or on my phone (provided I get a good enough signal) at no additional cost. It is a bit annoying that there are many albums that I want to listen to that aren’t offered through Prime, or if they are, not in their entirety. But, like I said, this was just a bonus for me. I have other legal means to stream music, even if it does mean listening to the occasional ad. Besides, sometimes I really would rather buy an album in order to support the artist.

But wait, I could also sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited, which would give me access to the albums I want plus many more, all for the same price as Prime.

There are many other services that I could go into and this post is getting pretty long, so I’ll only point out one other one that caught my attention when I signed up for this. Amazon owns Audible, and offers many audio books to Prime subscribers for free. They also have a thing called Audible Channels, but it’s essentially the same thing as podcasts (and in fact, even includes podcasts that are already free anyway).

But wait, I could upgrade to Audible for the same cost per month as Prime—noticing a trend here? It looks like in many cases being a subscriber to Amazon Prime offers a limited version of other services through Amazon, and if you want to get more you have to pay more. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with the idea of a tiered program Unfortunately the cost is a bit ridiculous. Okay, so you don’t have to be a Prime member to also sign up for one of these other services. But I would think that if you chose to upgrade, being a Prime member should give you a discount on the other subscription. For example, you pay nine dollars a month for Kindle Unlimited, or you pay nine dollars a month for Prime and then five for Kindle Unlimited on top of that. I’m not particularly interested in any of these other services myself but I can’t imagine somebody signing up for Prime, making the yearly payment and then signing up for a monthly bill for an upgraded portion of what they’re already getting, ultimately doubling the cost.

So, when it comes down to it, am I going to follow through with the trial period and sign up for Amazon Prime and cancel my Netflix account? Honestly, I’m on the fence. The better selection and access to other services, albeit limited, make up for the slightly lesser picture quality of Amazon’s video. When it comes down to it, the yearly payment for Amazon Prime comes out to less per month than my monthly Netflix bill. That may end up being the deciding factor between the two.

For that matter, I could just save my money and cancel both services. After all, I can always borrow movies through the library (even though that raises other concerns, such as my history of borrowing damaged discs frustratingly often) or rent them individually through Amazon or Redbox. (That also has a trade-off: assuming that I’m only going to watch a movie once anyway, Redbox’s cheaper price and DVD quality offsets Amazon’s convenience and still lesser picture quality.) I’m probably still going to borrow books from the library anyway. Should I just be a cheapskate and cancel all of these services?

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*As a side note for those who may care, because of potential plans for the first weekend of March I may end up not getting to the first book review until the second Monday.

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Sunday List: Top Five Movie Sequels I’d Like to See.

I’ve read and heard a lot of complaints about how there’s no originality in Hollywood anymore, considering all of the sequels, reboots and adaptations that are released to theaters in recent years. While none of these things are new, it feels like we’re getting inundated with a whole series of rehashed stories and characters that just won’t die. I say fine, while we’re at it, then let’s make some decent sequels to great movies that aren’t getting this treatment.

I put together my own fantasy list of films I’d like to see sequels for. I’m sure that none of these will get made. In some cases the people responsible for making them have already said that they aren’t willing to work on sequels. In some cases these are older movies and the sequels would have only worked if they were made years ago. But I can still have my fantasy movies, can’t I? So here are my top five wanted (though unlikely) movie sequels.

  1. True Stories. David Byrne said he won’t make a sequel to this movie. And I’m perfectly happy with it on its own. But there’s a lot of potential for somebody to go back to this fictional town thirty plus years later and see what the residents and their grown-up children are up to. The original movie had a lot of characters based on stories Byrne read in tabloid newspapers at the time. I would think that now with the Internet there would be plenty of source material for even more wild characters. Oh, and it would provide a reason for more David Byrne songs.
  2. Big Trouble in Little China. I agree with the statement Kurt Russell made about the remake: wish it well, but there’s no point. I’ll watch it if it looks interesting but part of the charm of the original film was the atmosphere that only films made in the eighties can have. I would have liked to have seen a direct sequel made by John Carpenter. Sure, Lo Pan died at the end, but some of his followers survived. Couldn’t they try resurrecting him? That, and I felt cheated that snow wasn’t covered by one of the Storms.
  3. UHF. I’m cheating a little bit here. I just want another Weird Al movie in the same vein as UHF. It can be a spiritual successor, if you will. The plot of the first movie was barely there and largely forgettable, and there aren’t UHF stations anymore. Then again, perhaps George becomes a YouTuber?
  4. Napoleon Dynamite. It surprises me that this hasn’t already happened. Not only was the movies a big success, there’s plenty of room to make more in that world. Yes, I know there was the animated series. It’s just not the same.
  5. The Transformers: The Movie. “What are you talking about? They’re already working on the fifth one!” I hear you (probably not) say. But I’m not referring to the live-action toy commercials that are being made today. I’m talking about the animated toy commercial from the eighties. For many of us who grew up at the time, the movie was the pinnacle of the animated form of The Transformers. Yet it wasn’t a box office success, which didn’t prompt another film. Sure, we got the third season of the show which acted as a sequel in a way, but aside from a few high points it didn’t really live up to the standards set by the film. But I would take this sequel even further: instead of picking up the story where the Rebirth miniseries left off, have the sequel completely ignore the American cartoon. This would allow writers to forget the Quintesson-origin story and incorporate Primus into the animated universe. Okay, now I’m really nerding out and I reached my word count. I’m going to end with that.

Five thoughts about “Doctor Strange.”

Earlier today a friend and I went to see Doctor Strange, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t usually post movie reviews and I usually make lists on Sundays, so tonight I’m offering five thoughts on the movie. You could say that I’m just making an outline for a review and am being too lazy to actually write it out. You’re probably right. But I’m more or less picking five thoughts on the film at random. I’m also leaving out a lot of stuff as well. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

  1. I’m fully aware of the controversy surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, and it didn’t bother me. I know that many people have had a problem with the “whitewashing” of an Asian character, as well as changing its gender. At the same time I know that the director of the movie offered a pretty lame excuse for doing so. I really do sympathize with those who take offense at this, even though I don’t have a horse in the race myself. But honestly, I’m such a fan of Tilda Swinton that I forgot all about it.
  2. I wish I had another beer or two before watching this one. Out of all of the Marvel movies, this one is the “trippiest” so far. I could understand what was going on. But I would like to see the movie with some sort of mind, or at least mood alteration before going in. Oh, and by the way, my two-nights-a-year regarding alcohol went right out the window. There’s always New Year’s.
  3. I did have a problem with one scene in particular. Despite all of the fantastic effects in this film, there was one moment which I thought they fell short. There’s a moment in the film when all of the characters are on a giant stone disk in the sky (well, sort of the sky… hard to explain) and their circling each other discussing the situation before they start fighting. In the background the skyline of New York City has been completely distorted and is facing in all different directions. Yet, even with all of the advancement in this area of movie-making technology, I could still tell that they were in front of a green screen. It didn’t help that the villains looked like they were rejects from the Mortal Kombat movies. It ended up feeling like a scene from a 90’s Saturday afternoon martial arts show than a big budget motion picture.
  4. Despite the above two comments, I’m glad I saw this on the big screen. Overall, the effects are amazing. I’m glad that they finally got around to putting this character in a movie and that this was the one that we got. I’m wondering if I would still like it on my small television at home, though. This movie is yet another reason why I need to pay off my credit card bill and buy a big screen T.V.
  5. Overall, it was a fun movie. I always liked Marvel’s celestial characters and the related story lines, that they’re getting close to the Infinity War that they’ve been building up to with the Cinematic Universe. This movie does feel like a step in that direction while at the same time holding it’s own. They do beat the morals of the story over the audience’s heads a bit too often, but I don’t watch superhero movies for substance. I expected fun escapism going into the theater, and that was what I got.

Six things that I hate.

This is not an original topic for a list presented on the Internet, not by a long shot. Therefore I’m going to dispense with the usual long-winded introduction. If anybody’s keeping score, this is supposed to make up for the fact that I didn’t get around to publishing a list on Sunday like I normally do.

  1. Obnoxious people in a movie theater. This came to mind specifically because of a bad movie-watching experience last night. I went to go see a 1922 Swedish movie about witchcraft in Portsmouth last night, the proceeds of which goes to the Portsmouth Halloween Parade. The movie was accompanied by live musicians, so it was a pretty good evening overall. Yet it was ruined, at least for the first half of the movie, by these two women behind me that wouldn’t shut up during the filming. Apparently the live music made people feel like it was a rock concert instead of a film viewing. Finally the guy next to me said something to them and they shut up, at least for the most part. Then people elsewhere in the theater started shouting.
  2. Wasting my time at comic convention. This came to mind because of the convention that I went to in Portland this past weekend. I know that the organizers of these events have to pay to host them at convention centers and the like. Still, I hate having to pay to go in somewhere to shop. But if I didn’t, then the vendors would probably have to raise their prices. Then again, I have had such bad luck finding anything that the higher prices wouldn’t really affect me, anyway. I’m not saying that comic conventions have problems. I just have my own problems going to them.
  3. My employers restricting my Halloween costume at work. This year the company I work for is specifying the if we wear costumes to work on Halloween, we can’t wear masks or full-face make-up. I get it. You want to be able to identify people on camera. It’s a loss prevention issue. But it also throws all of my costume ideas out the window. I like to think that I work better creatively with restrictions but now I’m having a hard time coming up with something.
  4. There’s all this stuff on the Internet and I keep visiting the same handful of websites. I’m sure mindless scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds isn’t something readers of this blog wouldn’t understand. But I’m always just scratching the surface of the Internet. It’s not just that I’m stuck in a rut. I just don’t have any clue what else to look for that would interest me. The most I get out of the Internet, most of the time, is publishing this blog. Then again, I’m paying for my Internet connection. So I’m paying to work. Something doesn’t seem right there.
  5. People who don’t understand what the world “yield” means. I’m not talking about when I’m driving past an on-ramp and somebody cuts me off when they’re supposed to yield to me—although that is pretty annoying. I’m referring to when I’m on the on-ramp and am yielding to oncoming traffic, and the person behind me gets right up on my ass and gets pissed off at me. This is especially infuriating when there’s no room for me to move into traffic. What the hell do they expect me to do? Yeah, I stopped my car. Deal with it, asshole.
  6. The fact that my tooth still hurts. Seriously, I’ve been going to the dentist for pain on the left side of my mouth for years now. It hasn’t always been the same tooth—at first a tooth on the bottom was giving me problems, and ultimately I had to have root canal therapy done on it. But now the tooth above it hurts. I’ve already been several times for this one. He keeps trying to adjust the filling he just did as that could cause pain, but it doesn’t seem to be working. The worst part is that I’m not completely sure which tooth it is. It could be the one on the bottom I’ve had problems with before. I really hope not, as that would mean he would have to extract it entirely and give me an implant.

Nerdy Saturday: Thoughts on “Star Trek Beyond.”

I decided not to do a flat-out review of Star Trek Beyond for a variety of reasons, but primarily because it’s already been out in theaters for a while now. There are plenty of other places to go for more in-depth reviews of this film. I’m willing to bet that most people who would see it have by this point (as of the time I’m writing this, that its). Still, I suppose it’s customary for me to mention that as I give thoughts to this film I’m going to be giving spoilers.

I felt conscious throughout this film of factors of modern life outside the film affect its story-telling. First and foremost is the controversial moment of when we see Sulu with his male partner (we don’t find out if this is a husband or not, but we assume it’s the other father of Sulu’s daughter), as an homage to George Takai. Putting aside the controversy of including the scene (primarily coming from Takai himself speaking against the decision to make Sulu gay), it feels very much stuck in the movie only to serve as said homage and also to show how progressive the movie studio has come, yet not really necessary to the story.

On the other hand, there are also references to the passing of Leonard Nimoy in the movie, as current-day-alternate-timeline Spock learns of the death of Ambassador Spock, who was played by Nimoy himself in the previous two movies. This not only caused me to well-up in the theater—yes, I’ll admit it—it actually served a purpose to the story. I suppose Sulu’s daughter was a motivation for him to help with the rescue of the mega-space station Yorktown, as if his duty as a Starfleet Officer could somehow be doubted.

But that moment was so quick and inconsequential to the movie that I can let it pass pretty easily. The one contemporary reference that really bothered me was the use of the song “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys as a weapon that destroyed an entire alien fleet of ships. The film had to do a lot of work to explain this, and even then it was just too corny, even for Star Trek. Yes, it was entertaining, energetic and the song did work as a good soundtrack to the destruction of all of those ships. But it was also really stupid.

Another contemporary reference that stood out in the film was that Captain Kirk ends up riding a motorcycle as a tactic to distract the villains at their prison camp/base. This didn’t really bother me so much other than I had to wonder where they got the gas. Even if it there was gas in storage in the abandoned starship the bike came from, would the gas still be usable? I’m not trying to point out a flaw. I really don’t know. If anybody could clarify this for me please tell me.

All of these things serve to prove that no matter how far you set a science fiction piece in the far future it can still feel dated. This used to be the case with production values. I didn’t get that feeling so much with this film in that regard, but it’s going to be a few generations before people forget all of the contemporary references in the film. Then the scene of Sulu on Yorktown is going to really look out of place.

Lest anybody think that I didn’t like the film, bear in mind that the above gripes are about minor points in it. The special effects were stunning. The action sequences were exhilarating. In typical Star Trek fashion, the script was intelligent. I particularly liked the idea of separating the crew and putting them through hardships as a way to show character development. And the acting this time was brilliant. I used to complain that in the previous two movies that it felt like some of the actors were trying to imitate the original series’ actors rather than present their own takes on the characters, especially Karl Urban as Bones. But this time, they look like they’ve eased into the characters a lot more comfortably.

Also, in typical Star Trek fashion, somebody occasionally remembers that Bones is from the South.

Friday News Roundup… sort of.

I haven’t been able to keep up with the news over the past week as much as I normally do. If anything, in trying to catch up on the podcasts that I missed last week while I was away I’ve been getting a mix of bits and pieces of the past two weeks. So I’ll address those bits and pieces this time. Considering that I’m still fighting jet lag that’s probably all I can do this time.

I guess the most current news is that the opening ceremonies for the Olympics in Rio is tonight. I haven’t been watching Olympics over the past decade as I don’t have even basic cable. I always used enjoy at least the opening ceremonies and their pageantry. With so much conflict in the world, even an illusion of everybody coming together in friendly competition is both hopeful and useful. I know there’s been a lot of controversy in recent years around Rio hosting these games, Russia’s involvement, the refugee team and so on. But in the end that illusion keeps drawing me back (when I’m able to view it).

All over the news in the last couple of weeks were the Republican and Democratic conventions. I already made my decision who to vote for months ago so I didn’t care. But it’s entertaining to hear about how much of a shit show the Republican National Convention was and how the party is continuing to fall apart. The Democratic National Convention has some strife coming from the Bernie Sanders supporters (I agree with Sarah Silverman: you’re being ridiculous) and others but largely seems to have held together more. I suppose it does have the benefit of going second—the organizers saw how bad the Republican convention went, and they can put together a more coherent, if less amusing, event. That could be reading too much into it, though. It could just be that the Republican convention really was just a shit show.

There’s three new “nerdy” movies that have come out recently: the Ghostbusters remake, Suicide Squad, and Star Trek: Beyond. I’ll wait for Ghostbusters to come out on DVD. I didn’t want to spend the money on that one but it does look amusing enough. I’m holding off on Star Trek as I’m going out with a fellow fan on Sunday. We might see it then, we might now. And I have no interest in Suicide Squad. The trailers look horrible. I’ve heard it’s even worse than Batman v. Superman, which I also haven’t seen but have heard terrible things about. I’m a fan of the Joker and was excited to finally see Harley Quinn on the big screen—which is particularly is why I’m not going to see this one. If it really treats these characters as badly as I’m hearing I don’t want to risk it. I don’t know, maybe someday. But I’m sick of hearing about it.

Yeah, I told you I really didn’t follow the news that much this week. I’ll be more focused next week. And for those interested, I do have a book to review for Monday. I’m a little nervous about my first book review, but I’m not going to apologize for it at the beginning of that blog post like I did with this one.

Nerdy Saturday: Defending the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” movies.

When it comes to Star Trek, I can get into all of the different aspects of the franchise (well, not Enterprise so much) but when it comes to lazy afternoon marathon viewing I’ll always revert back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. While Deep Space Nine I think is technically better, TNG is my favorite. I think it comes down to which kind of show you prefer. TNG offers a more old-fashioned sense of science-fiction with a TV drama setting, while DS9 is more of an action/adventure with soap opera elements in a sci-fi setting. I personally prefer the TV drama.

One aspect of TNG that seems to get a bad reputation these days re the movies. (I of course base this on a conversation with one guy and listening regularly to one relevant podcast.) Generations was a bit of a mess; First Contact, well, okay, was pretty good; Insurrection wasn’t necessarily bad but wasn’t really a big enough story to warrant a movie and felt like another episode of the show; Nemesis to some doesn’t feel like it belongs with the others.

I’d like to offer a defense for these movies. (Full disclaimer: I liked Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Deal with it.) Yes, Generations was a bit of a mess production-wise but it wasn’t necessarily a bad story. I do have a problem with the moment when Riker orders Worf to fire on the Klingons when he clearly had them at a point when he could capture them. It made for some cool action sequences but it didn’t feel like the Starfleet way. Other than that, though, it was cool to see Captains Kirk and Picard together. It really felt like the movie was mostly a vehicle to do just that, but that’s a worthy reason to make a movie, isn’t it?

Like I said, First Contact is just a good movie. I’ve seen it so many times by this point I got sick of it, but it’s still good nonetheless.

I agree that Insurrection feels like it should have been an episode of the show rather than a movie. But is that really a bad thing? The show was great, by that point the show was canceled, so anything TNG that feels like TNG is still a good thing. Plus, we got to see Data as a flotation device.

I’ve always said that Nemesis is the “coolest” of the TNG movies. I don’t mean to say that it’s necessarily my favorite. But it was trendier-looking, darker and edgier than the others. It would be hard to make a movie still look like TNG while keeping up with trends in blockbuster movie-making. The movie ended up looking both trendy and out of date. It’s kind of like when your parents try to look cool in front of your friends. They might get the style right, but they still don’t look cool as they’re your parents.

That said, that’s really my only gripe about the movie and it’s not really that big of one. It doesn’t make the movie all that disjointed. Plus, we get some really big moments, such as Wil Wheaton’s cameo as Wesley Crusher that you can just barely see off to the side during Riker and Troi’s wedding reception. Seriously, though, it was one of the best-looking Star Trek movies, effects-wise, up to that point. Also, by making the story more personal about Picard facing his evil doppelganger, it actually felt bigger than the previous movie and it’s planet of youth.

I realize that these aren’t many arguments and I could take them a lot deeper. But that would really entail taking an entire blog post to look at each movie. Perhaps I could do that with each Star Trek movie from the beginning. What do you think? Should I attempt it?