It’s a truly sad day for the movies. It’s been announced that the Arclight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres won’t be reopening, and possibly for good. I’ve only been to the glorious Cinerama Dome a few times, but it was always a special experience. 🎥
Speaking of AT&T and its acquisition of Time Warner, and therefore also HBO, the whole deal has always disappointed me.
On the one hand, HBO Max has done well for AT&T. It got 4.1 million new signups in its first month of existence, which is nothing to sneeze at. Even more impressive is that it’s accomplished this while demanding $15 a month, making it one of the most expensive streaming services available. By all accounts, it’s a big success for AT&T. No doubt it was helped along by the COVID pandemic; when we’re all stuck at home, it helps to have excellent and fresh programming to consume.
The decision to premiere feature films that otherwise would have been theater exclusives on the service was another boon for them. Sure, it upset many people involved with both the entertainment and theater industries, but their objections were never going to sway business daddy AT&T. Until HBO Max starts losing money, nothing will deter them from their present course.
On the other hand, HBO as we knew it before the acquisition is gone and will likely never return. The blame for that lies entirely on the shoulders of AT&T’s CEO, John Stankey.1 In an incredibly detailed and well-researched CNBC article, Alex Sherman details the rocky process of this acquisition. The article boils down to this quote from a former HBO executive:
If HBO stood for anything, it was making a product for the customer, not the advertiser. It’s not as though John is unpleasant. He doesn’t throw stuff. He just knows much less about television than he thinks and won’t be debated.
Is Time Warner and HBO’s acquisitions by AT&T good for business, or at least the business of AT&T? Undoubtedly. This opens up a bevy of new revenue opportunities, which will, in turn, make the bottom line of the telecommunication giant look great. However, I don’t believe this will improve the quality of the content that’ll appear on HBO Max in the coming years. HBO was doing just fine without AT&T’s heavy, leading hand before the acquisition. You can expect the familiar HBO quality to get watered down as AT&T spreads the focus to areas that have never mattered to past HBO. In an interview with Jillian Morgan at Realscreen, executive vice-president of original non-fiction and kids programming, Jennifer O’Connell, says:
There is a ton of weight on unscripted… We’re doing dating, we’re doing social experiments, we have competition shows, we have really big competition shows… That is an area that, for example, our colleagues at HBO, they are not necessarily in that space so deeply, so it’s very rich, very fertile ground for us to dig into.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with unscripted programming. It’s enormously popular for a reason—people flock to those shows in droves. However, it was never HBO’s area of interest. AT&T doesn’t care about that history. It cares about making money, and there’s a lot of money to be made in unscripted, non-HBO style content.
If you’re looking for a future replacement for HBO, the service that’s making the strongest play is Apple TV+. Netflix has become flooded with content that’s aimed at appealing to the broadest number of viewers. A service like Hulu has an advertising-supported pricing tier, meaning their content is ultimately beholden to other entities. Disney+ has shown that they’re interested in telling unique stories, but they’re doing it off the springboard of their massive library of previously made content.
The only service out there that’s charting a unique course is Apple TV+. They’re walking the HBO path of debuting movies and shows that will, over time, grow to be a body of impressive work that’s all their own. They’re going to stumble along the way—even HBO was never perfect—but they’ll catch themselves and improve on their mistakes. They’ve invested too much money already to just ditch all their hard work. I’m looking forward to seeing where they’ll go.
It’s just a damn shame about HBO.
I probably don’t need a Stream Deck, but maybe I should get one? I do enjoy automation, and it sure would make doing tedious computer things easier.
I’d probably be required to become a Twitch streamer, though. Hmm…
I’m continuing to watch Mr. Mercedes. It’s been a fair adaptation, but I’ve also found it to be fairly tame relative to other adaptations of Stephen King’s work.
Also, it’s an “AT&T Original.” AT&T owns HBO. Why isn’t this show on HBO Max right now? 📺
The Fall was written by Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Tarsem Singh, and was directed by Tarsem Singh. It was released in 2006. Radical Media and Absolute Entertainment produced the film, while Roadside Attractions distributed it. The title design was done by Stefan G. Bucher and John R. Waters. The main title typography was done by Stefan G. Bucher and 344 Design.
The film stars Lee Pace as a hospitalized stuntman named Roy Walker, who is bedridden in early 20th century Los Angeles. While in the hospital, he meets a young girl recovering from a broken arm named Alexandria, played by Catinca Untaru. He takes a friendly liking to her and spins her a fantastical tale about five mythical heroes. Her youthful imagination allows us to witness Roy’s story as he tells it. However, Roy is in a bad way, and between tellings of his story, convinces Alexandria to steal morphine pills from the hospital. He wishes to end his life. Thankfully, that doesn’t pan out for Roy, and he’s willed by Alexandria to tell her the full, wonderful story.
This film’s heart, its story, the beauty of its production design, costume design, and cinematography, are all unlike anything that’s ever been set to film. The entire title sequence is itself a masterwork of storytelling and filmmaking. It exists in its own microcosm within the film. In it, we see a large group of locomotive workers attempting to lift a horse out of a river beneath a railroad bridge. It does not appear to have any direct connection to the rest of the story. Instead, it sets a time and place, along with a unique mood. It’s shown in black and white, slow motion, and accompanied by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto. Watching it, we understand that we’re entering a world of hardship and backbreaking work. There will be no modern conveniences. No mobile phones or television or internet. It’s a tough world where rescuing a horse from a river requires a band of sweaty, yelling men and a freaking train. Color-wise, it’s quite the contrast with the rest of the film, which is shown in brilliantly saturated hues of many colors. This title sequence is a wonder.
In fact, it’s so remarkable that you must watch it. This title sequence is a compelling short film in its own right. 🎞
Suhauna Hussain and Jenny Jarvie reporting for Los Angeles Times:
Over half of the 3,215 employees who cast ballots by mail since early February voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Ala., according to a preliminary tally Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
What a damn shame. This could have been something positive, not just for the employees at this particular Alabama warehouse and not just for all Amazon employees, but for workers everywhere. Instead, it suggests that it’s okay for the heavy boot of all too powerful corporations to remain on the backs of the people those corporations need the most—their employees.
On the other hand, perhaps the exposure this unionizing effort has gained is still a good step in the right direction.
I wasn’t alive when labor unions were at their peak in this country, but I would hazard an educated guess that things were better back then. At the very least, more progress was made than it is now.
The public vote count came after more than a week of the labor board reviewing and certifying each ballot cast behind closed doors, with representatives from both the union and Amazon contesting the eligibility of some ballots. The union said about 500 ballots total had been challenged, largely by Amazon. The union said it intends to challenge the results.
We’ll see what comes of that.
Well, if this doesn’t make for a phenomenal day, then I don’t know what will. I feel great about doing my part to help us all move past this terrible disease.
I first made reference to this problem in a previous post. That one dealt more with the thoughts I was having about separating art from the artist, but it’s still a good primer.
On April 6, The Hollywood Reporter released this lengthy story that delves further into the heaps of bullshit that actor Ray Fisher has had to deal with concerning the production and aftermath of Justice League. It’s a fine read. What I find unpleasant is that Fisher is still engaged with this fight with Warner Bros., and how much he’s having to defend his own grievances and actions. There appears to be a lot of disbelief over his side of the story, as if he’s a person who would willingly risk the ruination of his acting career just to stick it to some film industry execs. And for what? Out of spite? Boredom? Please.
Isn’t it far more likely that Fisher is telling the truth, and Warner Bros., Joss Whedon, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns are now scrambling to cover their asses for fear of public backlash and losing future employment? This story is continuing to develop, but I believe this latter scenario to be the truer one. 🎥
Back in late 2016, venerable tech journalist Andy Ihnatko broke the news in a tweet that Sal Soghoian, Apple’s Product Manager of Automation Technologies, left the company when his position was terminated.
In 2017, Apple acquired Workflow, the delightful iOS automation app that punched way above its weight.
Workflow became Shortcuts and was released alongside iOS 12 in September, 2018. It would later become a default app installed on all devices running iOS 13 when that update was released the following year.
The Mac automation app, Automator, has seen no appreciable improvements or updates in a very long time. Indeed, it appears to have been forgotten. In contrast, Shortcuts has seen relatively consistent updates since its release. Automation touches many aspects of iOS now, including within the Home app. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shortcuts and Home run on much of the same underlying code.
This sequence of events leads me to believe that there is a dim future for Automator on the Mac. Since the acquisition of Workflow, I’ve believed that we’ll see Shortcuts appear on the Mac one day. Apple downsized its old automation department and has subsequently invested heavily in its Shortcuts team.
In many ways, Automator is a remarkable app, but it’s never been user-friendly in the way that Shortcuts is. For people who don’t know much about automation, it’s far too complex and demanding.
Shortcuts, on the other hand, is bright, friendly, and hides its complexity behind action blocks that are easier to figure out. I may not use it as frequently as some people, but when I do the end result is more success and less headaches. If Apple wants non-power user people to get into automation, the answer does not lie in Automator.
I believe Shortcuts is the future of automation on the Mac. I really want to see it on that system. I think it will happen one day. 🍎
Los Angeles, CA. January, 2010.
I was taken on a breezy tour of the Jim Henson Company Lot several years ago. Along the way, I spotted a curious impression in the cement. Turns out the location I was standing in used to be the film studio that Charlie Chaplin completed in 1919. Many of his most famous films were shot there.
(I also inadvertently stole Paul F. Tompkins’s parking spot that day, too.) 📷🗺
I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life trying to fashion a career out of something I’m extremely passionate about. Lately I’m wondering, would I be happier just doing any acceptable job and leaving my passions out of work?
I had to take the unfortunate action of turning off the could-be-great Transfer to HomePod feature on my phone. I got very tired of my screen being taken over by the request to transfer what I have playing to my HomePod minis. It’s far too aggressive.
Starting today, More Movies Please! is kicking off a whole month of animated films. This week, Steven and I watched a charming film about a lonely robot who falls in love with a futuristic bot from the stars. Make sure to listen to our episode about WALL•E today!🎙🎥
It’s taken me far too long to get into it, but I think I’ve found the text editor that’ll give me everything I need: Drafts by @Agiletortoise. It’s developed into far more than just a place for quick text snippets. I’m really enjoying it.
The film stars Martin Sheen as Kit and Sissy Spacek as Holly. The pair fall for each other hard and right away.1 Holly’s father disapproves, which leads to his violent death at Kit’s hands. The pair go on the run, leaving a growing trail of dead people behind them as they try to evade capture.
This was not the first Malick film I’ve seen. That distinction would go to The Thin Red Line, but by the time I got to Badlands (which was not long after), I was an avowed and major fan of his. I find this one fascinating because it doesn’t quite feel like his other films, but you can already see sprinklings of several of his trademarks. The calm voice-over throughout (done in this one by Spacek); the introspective reflection on life, spirituality, and our place in the world; and of course, the beautiful cinematography from a trio of artists: Brian Probyn, Tak Fujimoto, and Stevan Larner. It may still be Malick’s most straightforward film, and therefore, his most accessible. It’s not the first film about star-crossed murderers, but it is one of the most captivating. There’s violence in this film, but it’s perpetrated by someone with such charisma that the pair even seduces the officers and National Guard troops that eventually end up catching them. For me, this is far more captivating than movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma & Louise, or Natural Born Killers.
Be sure to enjoy this video from The Criterion Collection which delves into Malick’s use of voice-over throughout his work. Editor Billy Weber, who did uncredited work for Badlands, discusses Malick’s inspirations and history with this filmmaking tool. 🎞
It’s safe to say that if an item ends up in the “Someday” section of my Things app, then that task is lost forever. Like tears in rain, as they say. It’s where tasks go to die.
I recently started watching Mr. Mercedes (after having enjoyed the Stephen King trilogy it’s based on). It’s interesting how many episodes are written by Dennis Lehane. I wonder how many other television adaptations are written by authors who are contemporaries of the original? 📺
Total movies watched: 24
Be sure to follow me on Letterboxd! 🎥
I could swear it’s been Friday for the last five or so days.
After much searching, purchasing, disappointment, and finally success, I think I’ve gotten my workspace to a place that makes me happy. It’s all working well.
Did I end up trying IKEA again? Yeah… But that’s beside the point. It turned out well in the end.
A part of me feels drawn to using Craft. The idea of a “second brain” app is enticing. I also feel very hesitant about it. It’s silly, but I’ve used Ulysses for so long that consolidating my writing away from it feels like a betrayal.
Is there something about pickles that I’m just not getting? Everybody I know loves them, and are happy to just eat them straight. Vinegary, sometimes dill-tastin’ gherkins seem like a waste of a good cucumber!
I’m reminded of Craig Mod’s excellent essay, Fast Software, the Best Software, when I consider the current state of streaming video player interfaces. In the essay, he says that it’s not innovative features or a flashy UI that makes a piece of software the best. Instead, the mark of good software is in how well it performs, or rather, how fast it feels. Software that takes ages to load, bogs down when dealing with a hefty project, or otherwise feels as if you’re trying to work while submerged in a vat of molasses is not the best. I would add to Craig’s thesis that easy to parse and manipulate software also makes for the best software.
Similarly, the various interfaces through which we control our streaming video each have their own speed and feel. Some are so well-designed that using them feels like the screen in front of you is an extension of your body. Others are so damn awful that using them maybe makes you harbor thoughts of flinging your tablet or phone like a Frisbee through an open window.
It’s not luck that turns any of them into a joyful experience. It’s iteration and thoughtful consideration. The poor ones feel slapdash, and appear to be made by people who never actually use the product on which they’re working.
I haven’t used all of them because there are just so many available to us now, but I’ve used several. They all stand out in their own way: some are great, others just get the job done, and a merciful few are loathsome. This is a subjective ranking from worst to best. All images are taken from the iPad versions of these services.
I love The Criterion Collection and their Criterion Channel is a treasure trove of artistry and delight. To be involved with their work in any way would be a dream. Perhaps my job could be improving their player interface because their current offering is a pile of hot garbage.
The major problem with this app is hitting play on a video doesn’t bring it to the fore in glorious full screen. Instead, it starts playing in the description window for the film. Giving yourself the full-screen experience requires additional button presses to get there.
This isn’t unique behavior—YouTube works the same way. However, YouTube doesn’t default to a full-screen player because YouTube is also a social network. It features comments made on videos, additional content to watch, and a description for what you’re watching. Criterion Channel is not a social network. It’s a tightly curated collection of some of the best that cinema has to offer, and there’s nothing but friction involved with it.
Every element feels small and cramped. Good luck hitting pause when the skip buttons are only a few short pixels away from it. Criterion Channel appears to embrace the current “small is hip” trend. There’s nothing wrong with large buttons; they actually make things faster and more enjoyable to use. With these issues, I find myself not wanting to even open the app. It’s a damn shame.
Much like any interface design Amazon tries its hand at, this one just feels clunky and careless. It looks like Amazon’s trying their best, but when stacked up next to something prettier, like Hulu or Discovery+, Prime Video just can’t compete.
What it lacks in pleasantness, Prime Video makes up for in information density. It can surface and display actors who are currently onscreen, trivia about what’s being viewed, and music that’s being played. This is due in large part to IMDb being an Amazon-owned company. For movie and tv lovers, it’s a treat.
When you dig deeper into the interface, and the service as a whole, it becomes clear that something is a little off. The whole thing feels like it’s being held together by duct tape and chewing gum. It’s the little things like icon alignment that shouldn’t be an issue but are. For example, the small icons in the upper-right corner of the player window aren’t vertically aligned and it’s all I can see now:
This sort of thing shouldn’t happen when a corporation as large as Amazon is making the app. Yet, this sort of laziness appears to be okay with them.
It’s a damn shame that the massive shortcomings of this service overshadows the niceness of this interface. Seriously, what the heck is going on with Paramount+? Aside from a logo change, it’s currently the exact same thing as its predecessor, CBS All Access, and that wasn’t a great service either.
Here’s what the player looks like:
It’s very nice. Here’s a fine example of an economy of information. We know what’s being played, we can play/pause and skip around with ease, and there’s a couple of extras in the top right. This may be the most spartan interface on this list, and I’m down for it. It makes the whole mess of Paramount+ a little easier to stomach.
Seriously, though, what’s wrong with that service? Why doesn’t it have anything resembling a watchlist? Why did they think a logo change and a SpongeBob movie was enough to shake the streaming world? Maybe there’s a mountain of entertainment, but the way to the peak is filled with disappointment.
Still, the player interface is nice and quick.
Discovery+’s interface comes so close to greatness. It flirts with being one of the best of the bunch, but it falls down in a way similar to Criterion Channel. On the one hand, we’ve got some clear, well-defined buttons throughout this interface. There are no hard or sharp edges. Indeed, it feels welcoming.
On the other hand, the play/pause and skip buttons in the center of the screen are positioned so close together that pressing the correct one becomes a challenge. They’re too small and too close. It’s a real letdown.
As a content player, it’s snappy enough. It’s not going to feel too sluggish at any point. The app’s reliance on slow screen animations, e.g., going from a window to a full-screen view, slows things down a touch, but not enough to be frustrating. This is a middle of the road player, and that’s fine.
Curiously, this is also one of the only streaming services that currently doesn’t blank out its content when you take a screenshot. I guess they’re not too worried about piracy.
Admittedly, Peacock is the service I’ve used the least. I only signed up for a trial when it premiered because I wanted to watch Psych 2: Lassie Come Home. I’m not that big of a fan of The Office, so I didn’t have any interest in paying for or using the service.
That being said, here’s the interface:
In terms of its speed, it feels adequate. This may have been because it needed to serve me an ad before playing a video, so getting itself going was a small endeavor. Once my chosen video finally started playing, there wasn’t anything about its speed to complain about. Perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue on their ad-free tier?
The buttons throughout the interface are well-designed and well-spaced. It’s all comfortable to use, and nearly everything is clear. My only gripe is with the row of three buttons in the lower-right corner. At first glance, it’s not evident what those buttons are supposed to represent. There’s no accompanying text, so there’s some trial and error involved. If you’ve used many other streaming services, then they may be familiar, but that’s not a sure bet. It could be clearer and more accessible.
You could place the interfaces of HBO Max and Disney+ side-by-side and they’d both come out as equal winners. The minimal nature of the interface is a big part of why this interface looks so good:
This interface appears to have been designed by someone who doesn’t want to have to squint at their screen. All of its buttons are sized and placed well. The play/pause and skip buttons in the middle are the sort you could probably press accurately with your eyes closed. Heck, even the numbers in the progress bar at the bottom are easy to see.
However, the app’s reliance on slow-moving animations to transition between screens and when starting a video is terrible. It slows down what would otherwise be a fast piece of software. Screens push each other over on every button press, but only after a pause of a second or two, as if the app needs time to think. Getting a video playing is also an exercise in patience, and I have decent internet. The sluggishness of the HBO Max app makes the experience of using it less pleasant; it could have been a real contender.
With YouTube TV, we’ve got an interface with small, close-packed buttons right in the middle of the action. I wouldn’t mind the multitude of control buttons if they were just spaced further apart. This is especially egregious on a device like an iPad, where the substantial screen real estate goes sadly unused.
The service is quick enough, and that saves it from a world of hurt. You’re not going to find yourself waiting around for screens to animate in or content to start playing. The app feels as present as regular YouTube. Were it anything else, YouTube TV would be closer to the bottom of this list.
Apple’s player window feels omnipresent, and indeed may be the inspiration for many current video players. This is an interface that millions of people are familiar with on an intimate level. Most video you play on an iPhone or iPad is going to be controlled with this interface:
It’s basic, and includes everything a person needs to view and control video on a screen. Notably, it’s one of the few in this list of players that doesn’t obscure any video in the center of the screen with its play/pause or skip buttons, which bucks the current trend. Not only is Apple’s version unique, in this case it also makes hitting those controls less reliable. Compared to HBO Max or Netflix, it’s all too easy to skip around a video instead of pausing it, or vice versa. I don’t have sausage fingers, but I still find the controls a bit too small. Having to be precise in my tapping slows me down. Slow software is not the best software.
No other service in this list resembles Apple’s player interface as much as Hulu’s does. I think that’s to its credit. We’re in familiar territory with this one:
Hey, if it works for Apple, then why shouldn’t it work for Hulu? This is a curious design, though, considering Disney owns Hulu. I would have expected it to resemble Disney+, or vice versa, in the name of corporate uniformity. Clearly, there are different teams working on these services, and they may want to avoid confusion between the two.
We’ve got a service and a player interface that feels acceptable, and that’s where it stops. It falls prey to the same drawbacks that Apple’s player does. Sticking the play/pause and skip buttons in the lower-left corner makes for a tough time when trying to press the correct button. On the other hand, it’s as speedy as Disney+, and that’s a good thing. You’re not going to feel held back.
Now we’re talking. Considering the money that was spent to ensure that the launch of Disney+ was a success, it’s no wonder that its player interface is a minimalist marvel (no pun intended).
What Disney has chosen to give you feels refreshing. You have only what you need, and that’s more than enough. It’s clear what every button does, and mercifully, the play/pause and skip buttons are large and given a pleasant amount of breathing room. There’s not going to be any accidental button presses here.
This entire service feels refined and snappy. Selecting a video to watch brings up the player instantly, with only a quick wipe animation to sit through. They probably figure there’s no time to wait when young children want to watch their shows. What do they care about flashy animations? This is a pleasure to use.
Netflix is the gold standard of player interfaces. This isn’t a surprise considering how long they’ve been in the game. Heck, when it comes to streaming content, they were among the first to make online video easy to watch.
However, their lead is becoming tenuous. There’s strong competition coming from the likes of Disney+, and that’s not going to stop. Disney is signing people up for their service at lightning speed.
Browsing through Netflix and starting a video feels smooth and quick. There’s nothing to slow you down when you get a good steam going. They don’t subject you to animations that serve no purpose. It just plays your content when you tell it to. Many other streaming services on this list should take note.
My only concern with Netflix’s interface is it’s beginning to feel heavy. There are many buttons available, and most of them are crammed down at the bottom. Were this player interface to resemble Disney+ more, then it may have earned a perfect score. On the plus side, everything is easy to see and press. It continues to be joyful.
We’ve never had more or better streaming services available to us, and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s nice to have such an assortment of good content waiting for us at any time.
The player interfaces of these various services shows that there’s always room for improvement. In some cases, there’s a desperate need for improvement.
Instead of spending so much of their considerable resources on trying to acquire more content than their competitors, these companies should apply time and effort1 toward making the prettiest and quickest interface imaginable. Admittedly, that’s a tough sell for an aspect of the service that should be mostly invisible. However, an interface that isn’t good-looking or fast is not going to be invisible. It’s going to be screamingly obvious and bad.
Friction drives people away. Ease invites people in.
It’s a real shame to see that the unique and clever American Gods has been canceled. This was the first Neil Gaiman book I ever read, so it holds a special place in my heart. I hope they’ll be able to wrap things up with a possible movie. 📺