Amazon vs Netflix: iPad App Viewing Experience

I only subscribe to Netflix when there’s a show I want to watch, which lately means a new season of Longmire or House of Cards. Being a month out from the later – read my thoughts on season four here – I logged in tonight to cancel until Longmire comes out in September.

For the last year and a half, Amazon Prime has been my streaming provider of choice. You could debate which one has the better television library. Prime has the HBO library, I think Netflix has more Showtime archives (it’s an add-on to Prime). Netflix probably has more heralded original content with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black compared to Transparent as Prime’s most notable show. Unless you consider The Man in the High Castle notable for being awful. Prime definitely tops Netflix for streaming movies. The point is, which has the better streaming library depends on what you want to watch.

But after using both, it’s definitively the case that the Prime viewing experience in the iPad is far superior to Netflix. Here is a screenshot comparison.

Prime has several overlay options for navigation and information. You can hop forward or backward by 10 seconds while Netflix only lets you go backward. Both let you turn on closed captioning, and Netflix has an option to jump straight to a different episode (upper right, to the left of closed captioning).

From there, Prime leaves Netflix in the dust. Prime has an awesome overlay feature it calls X-Ray. Powered by the IMDB, X-Ray delivers everything IMDB knows about what you’re watching: actors, music, trivia and characters. It’s a fantastic feature, especially if you’re the, “Hey, wasn’t she in…” type. Which I am. I enjoyed it most when I was watching X-Files, which I eventually gave up because it was boring. But before that I swear every episode had an actor who went on to appear in some other show I watch. It’s like the Bill Walsh coaching tree of television.

Netflix:

Netflix House of Cards Season 4 Screenshot

Prime:

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You’ll notice the second Prime screenshot is when using Airplay to send it from the iPad to Apple TV. Lack of an Apple TV app is Prime’s biggest shortcoming if you’re in the Apple universe, but Airplay works just fine and an app is surely coming.

This isn’t intended to be a total Prime vs Netflix comparison because that would surely entail a much deeper look at their catalogues and pricing. But if you are keeping track at home, Prime has one feature Netflix can’t match: Offline viewing. Prime lets you download TV episodes and movies to your device to watch offline, such as in the car, on the bus or at the gym. Netflix isn’t doing this, for the most preposterous reasons you can imagine.  Basically it thinks you’re too stupid and lazy to do it.

I won’t be re-upping with Netflix until the Longmire season five (season four ended with someone breaking into Walt’s house while he and his GF were getting friskay). Until then I’ll enjoy the superior viewing experience Prime offers and wondering why Netflix is so far behind.

Batman v Superman Fails and Betrays

This review contains major spoilers about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I know it might seem like I’m violating my spoiler policy by saying that, but this is a movie and if you read the policy carefully it doesn’t apply to movies. Director Zach Snyder pleaded with viewers seeing the pre-release to not spoil the plot, and even though the movie is out I’ll stick to his wish. It is truly a movie you have to go into spoiler-free.

To bump the spoilers down the page, here are some pretty photos. After them this review will begin.

IMG_1786 IMG_1841 IMG_2348
How will they do this in a movie? I have been asking myself that question for more than 20 years since I put down The Death and Life of Superman: A Novel by Roger Stern. It wasn’t exactly the same as the comic book version, which is canon, but it was a page turner and remains one of my favourite books. It began my teenage comic book years, which did eventually circle back to include the death of Superman and the storylines that came after it. It was superb storytelling and I still go back and read it every few years. In fact I just re-read it today.

As I sat in the theater late last night and Alexander Luthor introduced Superman to his Doomsday I instantly realized the question would be answered right here, right now. The Death of Superman had come to the movie screen.

Except it hadn’t. Not at all. Superman dies in Batman v Superman, but this is not the Death of Superman. This was Doomsday thrown into the end of a sprawling, incoherent film that appears to exist for no other reason than to justify its sequels and the movie franchise they’ll be a part of. The Death of Superman was humble and heroic. It spared Metropolis. It was the only way to stop the creature Doomsday. It was…unavoidable.

His death here wasn’t. Batman could have got close enough to plunge the pure kryptonite (which he spent half the movie stealing from Luthor) spear into Doomsday’s hide. So could have Wonder Woman, who was more than holding her own against the unbreathing monster.

Instead we got Superman, who had just been rendered useless by simple kryptonite gas during his fight with Batman, grabbing this killer spear and maintaining the strength to fly it into the monster, take a spike thru his own chest and still being strong enough to thrust it into the chest of his doom. As Doomsday died, dead Superman fell from his giant hand. Batman lowered him from a pile of rubble into Wonder Woman’s arms, who gave him to Lois to hold for a few tears and a goodbye kiss.

Come on. This is not how it was supposed to be. Superman didn’t die in the dead grip of some monster. He died in Lois’s arms. I was mezmerized by the surprise of it happening and thrilled to finally see it. But it was all wrong. I’m not asking for it to be exactly like it happened in the comic books, but the spirit of it has to hold true. It didn’t here. There are not even any call outs back to Superman 75. No cape on a stick, no reflection in Jimmy’s camera lens.

The worst part for Superman fans and for moviegoers is that we only get one shot at this story. You can’t kill Superman in the movies twice. If someone tries to go back and tell the Death of Superman on the big screen it will fall flat because it’s already been done. The surprise is gone. I will give Snyder and his team credit on this point. After being surprised, I think that was the best way to present it to viewers. The comics made it known ahead of time, but comics have to sell comics. Warner Bros. doesn’t have to worry about people going to see this movie, so it could afford to hide the reveal as long as it possibly could.

That was well done. It was the only thing.

I feel some sympathy for the critics charged with viewing and critiquing Batman v Superman ahead of its release. It would be difficult to talk about it without talking about Superman’s death. But they were right to savage this movie. It’s a mess. There’s too much here. It’s the first movie with Superman and Batman and the introduction of superheroes who will appear in future Justice League movies. And it’s Superman’s death. That’s a lot to fit into one movie and it sucked because of it.

Prior to revealing Doomsday, the only scene that held any resonance was Superman appearing before a United States Senate committee on…on Superman. This seemed to be a forced reaction to fans’ reaction to the wanton civilian destruction in Man of Steel. But the scene was gold. From Superman walking into the hearing to him standing as the only remaining life inside an orange wall of fire it was perfectly done. In that moment you could see and feel his pain knowing that he was steps from a bomb he failed to detect, and it cost hundreds of lives. It proves there is some storytelling ability here.

Unfortunately it’s only a glimpse. Superman’s death has come and gone from the big screen. The final act in a movie that failed its content in every way.

Top 15 Play-By-Play Announcers in #MLB

Local radio host @philmackey​ yesterday claimed on his 9-1 show that Dan Shulman was the best play-by-play announcer in baseball right now, which got my ears up. Shulman does Sunday Night Baseball for ESPN television and playoff radio for the network, and I knew right away I wouldn’t put him in my top five, or even my top 10. That’s not an insult or a knock on Shulman. There are like 80 announcers who do play-by-play across television and radio, so to put him outside my top 10 still isn’t too shabby.

I’m pretty serious about baseball broadcasters and make a point to watch every team’s local broadcast at least once during the season. That makes me feel pretty qualified to give my opinion. Can you say you’ve listened to Rich Waltz or Dave Sims recently? Do you even know who Jerry Schemmel is? Didn’t think so.

When I posted my list to Twitter, Mackey gave me the ol’ “with all due respect…” before calling me nuts. Can’t honestly say I am surprised, though. I knew some of them would be controversial locally and nationally. Here I will attempt to give my opinion and justification for who I ranked and where.

If I’m scrolling through MLB.tv here are the announcers who would have to not be on the air at that time for me to stop on a game done by Dan Shulman.

1. Vin Scully.

2. Don Orsillo. Orsillo formed the best booth in baseball with Jerry Remy in Boston before being unjustly dumped after the 2015 season. Orsillo was beloved in Boston, and rightly so. He’s by all accounts and outstanding guy and a true top-tier broadcaster. I hoped he would head west to replace Vin Scully, but the Padres got him. He’ll be doing split work between TV and radio this year before taking over TV full-time in 2017 after Dick Enberg retires. I don’t like the Red Sox, but I watched a lot of Red Sox games because of Don Orsillo.

3. Joe Buck. After Al Michaels, Joe Buck is the best “network voice” in sports. He’s the first voice on the list who is unjustly detracted for being the son of a legend, but after nearly two decades as the lead baseball voice for FOX he has proven his place is more than earned.

4. Duane Kuiper. I’m probably elevating him in part because he pairs so well with Mike Krukow, but I believe he stands on his own as a solid broadcaster who delivers excitement when he needs to while also being able to carry the game through its slow points. And, yes, as this list indicates, he’s the best announcer in San Francisco.

5. Gary Cohen. He’s got to work with Ron Darling, who is much more tolerable on Mets broadcasts than he was on FOX.

6. Buck Martinez. Initially I didn’t expect Buck to be good at play-by-play, he seemed like more of a color guy. But really he’s both. He could carry a game on his own and that makes him a superior play-by-play voice. Being able to call and commentate on a game is a rare combination.

7. John Sciambi. Sciambi does Sunday night radio on ESPN and he does it really, really well. I initially had him just off my list, but after being chastised by Glen Perkins and then moving him to the 14th spot I re-re-considered and put him in the top 10 where he belongs.

8. Victor Rojas. Rojas does TV for The The Angels Angels (the team pretending to play in Los Angeles). He got some national exposure on MLB Network and with TBS during the postseason where his work was solid. I believe he deserves a higher profile on the networks.

9. Brian Anderson. The regular TV voice for the Brewers, Anderson also has national exposure with TBS (plus a growing resume of non-baseball work). He’s really solid.

10. Dick Bremer. Bremer catches deserved flak locally for trying a little too hard to prop up the Twins during their down streaks, but that shouldn’t overshadow how sound a broadcaster he is. I think it really shows on Saturday games when FOX elevates him to do the national broadcast for Twins games (along with Mitch Williams). In that setting he accomplishes the task of being an objective announcer and the polish he shows from more than 30 years behind the mic for Twins baseball is evident. He’s a pro.

11. Ryan Lefebvre. The second-most unsung voice on my list, he got his start with the Twins before moving on the the Royals.

12. Don Sutton. There aren’t many Hall of Famers who do play-by-play in any sport. Sutton does it well.

13. Chip Caray. Staying in the south, this is the one I knew would be controversial. I stand behind it 100 percent. Like Joe Buck, Caray gets blasted as undeserving because his father is a giant in broadcasting lore. But also like Buck he’s proven he belongs and that he knows baseball. He has the pipes to belt out an exciting call when the situation calls for it but like everyone else on the list can carry a boring game if he needs to. I’d bet most opinions on him are based on his national work, but his regular work with the Braves deserves more weight.

14. Jerry Schemmel. The most unheralded voice on my list. I will admit outside factors influence the decision here. If you don’t know Schemmel’s story, take the time to read it.

That brings us to Shulman. He’s not a bad broadcaster, but I’m really down on play-by-play announcers who scream their way through a broadcast. That’s what I feel Shulman does, or at least does too much.

Once you get past this list, in my opinion, baseball broadcasting is a pretty barren wasteland. I originally had Duane Kuiper’s brother Glen on my list, but realized that was an error, so he would be number 16 after Shulman at 15 because he’s still pretty good.

One obvious name missing from this list is Tom Hamilton of Cleveland. I know he should be here. I’ve tried and tried and tried. I can’t get into him. You’ll also notice longtime ESPN Sunday voice Jon Miller is missing. With good reason: He’s not that great. Go listen to his calls from the end of the 2014 NCLS or World Series. Underwhelming would be a compliment.

What can you glean from this about what I look for in a play-by-play announcer? I like narrators. We’re in a time when the ascending baseball announcers grew up in the television era and it’s leading to a fundamental change in the way games are called. Voices who grew up in the radio-dominated era intentionally or unintentionally grew into narrative broadcasters because that’s what you have to do on the radio. Theater of the mind. It’s a different type of play-by-play than television.

To see it play out you can pull up a Dodgers home game with Vin Scully. The first three innings get simulcast on radio and he calls the game more descriptively than he does when his only audience has a visual. He even admitted as much last year when they broke off the simulcast for a few games because he had a cold and couldn’t talk as much as he needed to to do radio play-by-play.

Modern broadcasters, to take nothing away from their talent, don’t always get this distinction. Listen for it. You’ll notice radio play-by-play broadcasters not calling a pitch until it’s caught or put into play or not telling you what direction an infielder moves to field a ball, or whether he used two hands or a backhand. The names on my list who primarily do radio – Sciambi, Sutton, Schemmel, Lefevbre – get it.

That’s my list, and I’m sticking to it.

House of Cards Season 4: Quick Review

The first episode stunk, let’s move on to the next. Here are my unedited notes from watching season four of House of Cards.

Chapter 41
I have a hard time believing a president would announce and then back a Congressional candidate in his state of the union speech. That’s not has bad as announcing the vote count in Claire’s confirmation vote backwards, at least not for this former political stooge. Pretty up yours move by Frank though – the kind of stuff that made the first two seasons enjoyable.

All of Frank’s machinations needed the people he was playing to be too dumb to fight at his level. Maybe this fight with Claire will give him an opponent who isn’t a dimwit.

She never did drink the whiskey.

That is some awfully smooth peanut butter!

Grab us a little bit of Clintons, a little bit of Putin. Inspiration is all around us!

Claire is an awful person. But for murder she might be worse than Frank.

Chapter 42
I’ve never thought about this but I suppose when you go into witness protection you can’t just do the same work you always did.

Where do I recognize the Congresswoman’s daughter from? South Carolinian? I would say South Carolinan.

I’ve never slept in anything with lapels.

This isn’t Seth’s fault, Doug. Get a grip.

I don’t have much faith in voters but I do like to think they wouldn’t hold a son at fault for his dad’s sins.

Whoa that’s what she just said! I should write for Hollywood.

What responsible campaign aide would put this guy in front of their candidate???

And then she said the same thing! Sending my resume to Hollywood now…

A re-enactor? Oh come on. This is absurd.

Meechum had a threesome with them. You don’t just betray that bond.

“You don’t get second chances in elections.” Boy ain’t that the truth.

Is she gonna suggest herself as VP?

Ahahahaha. That’s awesome.

Oh-ho score for Claire!

Chapter 43
Back on board with this show.

I feel something is going to go wrong with the Russian guy.

I was just thinking what Claire’s ultimate trump card could be. I feel stupid for not seeing it. This reminds me of a Djokovic-Nadal tennis match, two competitors battling it out from the baseline.

Aww Charlie Gibson. This is an excellent presentation. The foreshadowing here, again should have been obvious.

Wait until it gets out that Dunbar met with the guy and talked to the AG about him.

This guy is a 24 president! That is to say he’s a terrible president.

It’s so dry in my house. I need to run the humidifier. This has nothing to do with the show.

Hahahaha. This guy. Claire is redeeming herself after being such a bore last year.

Chapter 44
Oh that’ll be public Doug.

I wonder what it’s like, to sit across from the president and know he’s a complete idiot.

My opinion is they shouldn’t wait a day to divulge the news about the president. They can’t risk the Soviets leaking it. Would be a disaster.

Do we know why Remy left?

I love Doug. From “What the f*ck are you doing?” to wait what you can help me in the blink of an eye. Like I’ve always said: Hypocrisy is a virtue.

Do we really go on TV and pray for a healthy liver to make its way soon?

Oh now you’re pissing of Hammerschmidt! Hesch will find you!

This speech is so far out of line.

I don’t like Seth’s chances.

Almost. Dang it.

The look on Doug’s face when she said Tusk was here. I love acting.

I love this so now it’s Claire vs the administration and Claire has all the cards.

This reminds me of when Tony Soprano was in the hospital, only not quite as confounding.

Chapter 45
Is it just me or do all the sets for this series seem slightly cheap? Not a criticism. It seems like there’s one layer missing compared to other shows. Something to look into. And those green screens. Or maybe it’s the lighting. It’s always been flat on this show.

You know better than this, Doug. You’ll be tainting the whole rest of his life. Come on, man.

As Frank sits her convulsing I notice I feel like the show can go on without him.

What is this search engine thing?

What the? Where did that come from? Or was that tied to the search thing?

Dunbar just said it doesn’t matter if the president lives or dies. That’ll come back to bite her. She also sounds just as unhinged as what’s his name. Total disaster.

Is Petrov being human here or is he acting? He’s also treating Claire as far more of an equal than he ever did Frank.

He kinda looks like Russell Crowe with this white hair.

Chapter 46
Who are these people?

They need to do a better job of indicating how much time is passing. Now Frank is up making breakfast?

This reminds of how 24 would shift its storyline halfway through the season. Russia is gone, now we’re onto terrorists. I like it a lot, it keeps stories from dragging on too long.

Oh, he’s the opponent. What happened to the senator guy?

Goodness me this is a terrible character. I’ll put in my cover letter to Hollywood that I can write Republican characters.

Yes, we noticed he stopped before the Clinton portrait.

I knew she would be back. She’s source zero.

This livecast is a terrible idea. The guy is going online to say he’s running a mini-NSA. This will scare the sh*t out of people, they’ll transfer this guy giving up his privacy to them all losing theirs.

Are they hitting all these visitors with cookies for regathering and custom audiences?

Oh man that’s gonna do him in.

Chapter 47
You see how stupid these two guys are. That’s what I meant about Claire being on Frank’s level. She’s manipulating them now.

What the hell is going on here?

Two military guys on the ticket?

I’ll let you take it from here. Reading over them now, it’s neat to see my evolution toward becoming totally engrossed in this show again. What I enjoyed most about the first two seasons of House of Cards is that while it seemed to be about politics it was really about Frank and Claire’s marriage. More accurately, about Frank manipulating Claire into thinking they were equals. We all knew someday she would see through him, and that led to the sour memory of season three: Claire’s torturous path to realizing how Frank really saw her.

Season four gave us Claire’s elevation, and it was told expertly. The first half of the season showed her going round after round with him and not giving an inch. Then – and only then – could she make a believable ascent to being Frank’s equal. That’s what they are after his recovery: Equals. For the first time in the series, and maybe the first time in their marriage, they are co-dependent.

And they are more terrible than ever.

Amazon’s Mad Dogs Goes For A Walk In Pilot

It seemed a little odd early in the pilot of Mad Dogs, a new Amazon original series, when the four main characters received handheld video cameras as gifts in their limo ride from the airport. Smartphones have made them obsolete to all but the biggest traveling dorks so you could guess at some point there had to have been a reason for not only giving one to each of them, but for featuring them. Sure enough, there was.

That’s kind of how the Mad Dogs pilot went. Four college buddies reunite in Belize at the sprawling mansion of the fifth friend, the one who chased the dream and struck it rich. You see the set up and you know exactly what’s coming:

  • They will party;
  • One will have an attack of conscience;
  • One is a sleaze ball;
  • One is a screw up;
  • One missed his chance to cash in;
  • The rich one is a prick and everyone gets mad;
  • Someone will appear wearing an animal head.

There were times during the 60 minutes when I would think Okay, Steve Zahn isn’t going to do something a Steve Zahn character would do. Then he would. It was disappointing when the premiere got to the point where I realized all it would do is go down the checklist and dutifully mark the story points as it passes them by. By the time the bizarre animal head appeared, it had no impact. Of course someone walked into this completely open Central American mansion wearing a giant animal head.

I wasn’t a fan of Amazon’s adaption of The Man In The High Castle, but at least that had ambition. Bosch, which I sped through but haven’t written about, was formulaic but at least based on a book. Needless to say, Amazon’s original content hasn’t struck with me yet.

Mad Dogs is adapted from a UK show of the same name, by the same creator. Based on its pilot, it’s going to be more Gracepoint than it is House of Cards.