Review 5.2: Bojack Horseman Season 5

Bojack Horseman is by far my favorite show on Netflix and by extension probably my favorite show on television. The animated story of a washed-up celebrity voiced by Will Arnett in horseface started off dark and has only gotten moreso as the seasons have gone on. I loved the show all the way back in Season One, more than most. Season two really changed things, though, particularly with its episode “Hank After Dark,” centered on a Cosby-like character in an alternate reality where a woman tries to bring him down instead of a man. And, well, she fails where Hannibal Burress in the real world succeeded. That marked a turning point for the show’s cultural relevance – the moment where the show went from a darn great show to a vital one.

I watched the entirety of Bojack Horseman Season 5 in less than seven hours. Skipping the opening and closing credits – which Netflix makes very easy to do – puts the runtime at about five. In those extra hours, I was, well, this, mostly; recording Monday’s episode about Islands of Adventure. Also, eating dinner. I did watch while I was cooking, though.

An oft-documented problem with the dropping-every-episode-at-once paradigm is that in the full year or so that comes between seasons (or more, as in the case of Stranger Things), it’s easy to forget what’s going on. When shows air over months, the first episode of a new season is comparatively pretty soon after the finale of its previous one. Unless it’s, like, Game of Thrones. Because it’s been a year since I last watched Bojack Horseman, something that will now probably become an actual reference point for the passage of time in my life, I had honestly forgotten the narrative threads left off at the end of Season 4. Instead, I remember its most effective and powerful moments, or even entire episodes that are dedicated more to character than to plot. Episodes like Stupid Piece of Sh*t and Time’s Arrow are genuinely incredible and have left indelible marks. But I couldn’t tell you what happened in the last few minutes of the season, so it took me half an episode to actually get my bearings.

The show continues to focus on four-plus-one characters. There’s Bojack, washed up sad horse trying to make a comeback; Princess Carolyn, Bojack’s ex-girlfriend and still agent and now producer of this season’s show within a show; Todd, asexual comic relief formerly crashing long term on Bojack’s couch and now doing so on Princess Carolyn’s; and Diane, Bojack’s closest friend and biographer turned blogger.

Diane’s now ex-husband and all-around good dog Mr. Peanutbutter weaves his way in and out of everyone else’s storylines and gets some of his own screentime this season, but even that is ultimately in service of developments relating to those other characters, mostly his ex-wife.

In that way, Bojack Horseman season 5 isn’t necessarily welcoming to newcomers. As before, the timelines are fluid, with flashbacks fleshing out backstories that only returning viewers will see and be like, “Ohhh! So that’s how that happened.”

But most of those moments are over as soon as they begin. No one would accuse Bojack Horseman of meandering along the way so many Netflix shows do. It’s thing after thing after thing. The exception may be the incredible sixth episode, which I think is formally one of the most daring the show has done yet for its commitment to minimalism as little more (and yet so much more) than a 20 minute monologue, but even that covers a whole lot of character ground and features probably the best performance Will Arnett has ever done. If ever a man deserved a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance, it would be for this.

But even in that, the show retains its constant stream of jokes and/or other emotions. There is so much going on in Bojack Horseman at any given moment, with half a dozen visual gags in the background of every establishing shot, and dialogue that you barely register before it’s onto the next thing. It lends itself well to the things that Netflix is good for: binging and rewatching.

By binging the show, you commit yourself to its descent into madness. Each episode goes deeper into the psyches of its broken characters while simultaneously serving as a scathing indictment of society in general and the entertainment industry in particular. It’s often uncomfortable, frequently hard to watch, and always impossible to look away from.

This time around, Bojack Horseman takes on, among so many other terrible things, sexual harassment and the widespread forgiveness of abusers. And… it’s rough. The main harassment plot line is fairly light at face value but has depressing implications.

Henry Fondle, a sex robot built by Todd as a would-be gift that says, well, wildly inappropriate sex… things, says those things to people until it makes him literally the head of the company producing Philbert, the aforementioned show-within-a-show that everyone else is tangled up in. In a way, it’s reminiscent of the bizarre Vincent Adultman arc from the first season, where what was very children on top of each other’s shoulders nonetheless had a relationship(?) with Princess Carolyn, because no one could see the obvious except for Bojack.

But while the idea of a robot sex-talking its way to the top of the food chain is ridiculous, remove the robot from the equation, then take the overtly sexual language and mask it just a little bit, and suddenly you’re faced with something that feels very real. That people accept it as part of the company culture because they think that that’s just how business is done. It’s by sheer force of talent that, even once you realize that deep down none of this is funny, you can’t stop laughing.

The prevalence of forgiveness is much more straight faced, resulting in a much more complicated series of emotions. The existence of an award ceremony called the Forgivies that a Mel Gibson-a-like wins is something that people can laugh at and feel superior about because it’s so obviously terrible, at least as long as they didn’t see Hacksaw Ridge. Which I did not.

(You’re so brave!)

But the whole show is built around a character who does not deserve forgiveness – oh and does he not deserve forgiveness – but it’s so easy to put that out of your mind when he isn’t actively being a monster. You feel for him. You maybe even want to forgive him.

I mean, he’s trying to change! Slowly. Inconsistently. Maybe circumstances won’t let him, but how much does that matter? Maybe it’s circumstances that won’t let him, though… does that even matter? “I would like to be judged solely by my intentions this time,” he says early in the season. But the road to hell, right?

Bojack Horseman never lets its title character off the hook, per se, but the show is now grappling with its potential to normalize the behavior that it has made so much effort to not glamorize. And in dialogue, largely given to Diane and co-star of Philbert, Gina, Bojack Horseman talks to itself just as much as its protagonist about that very fact. The conflict there is obvious. The audience, too, is implicated in all of this. But what can you even do?

Whether you see that implication as an accusation or a good faith attempt to open a dialogue says little about the show and a whole lot about you.

I still don’t know what it says about me.

Nine point two out of ten

Review #5 – Islands of Adventure

I spent last weekend and the start of the week visiting my friend Christine in Oviedo Florida, a town that is named after Oviedo but lost the Spanish inflection somewhere along the way to becomeOveedo.” Oviedo is not all that interesting, but it provides proximity to Orlando, home of Walt Disney. Orlando as a city is also not super interesting for anything but its glut of theme parks, but that one aspect of it is very interesting indeed.

The five big ones: Disney World, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios, all cater to slightly different groups, but my favorite has always been Islands of Adventure. I’m a fan of rides over non-specific “attractions,” and I’ve considered that one the best of the bunch as far as that goes.

It has been about thirteen years since I was last in Orlando, and the park has changed in some parts and remained identical in others. There are fewer roller coasters now, largely a result of the removal of the Dueling Dragons, which I missed this time around. In their place was a whole lot of construction, and the giant crane visible over Olivander’s Wand Shop definitely diminished some of the Magic of Diagon Alley.

Other than those, the rides I remembered were there, plus a few more, thanks to the addition of Harry Potter World and a ride themed after Kong: Skull Island.

The deemphasis of roller coasters (Harry Potter has only an entry-level coaster) has been met by a bigger push towards more high tech rides with greater property integration. I find myself somewhat conflicted about this.

On the one hand, the experiences offered by trusty old Spider-Man (asterisk for reasons we will talk about in a bit) and the newer ones like Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey and Skull Island: Reign of Kong create some genuinely thrilling and unique experiences unlike any you can experience at other parks.

On the other hand, I really like roller coasters.

And sure, I could go anywhere to get on roller coasters; there are a bunch of cheaper coaster-heavy options in Orlando even, though why anyone would travel to the home of Disney and go to a non-Disney themed park is beyond me. But also, The Incredible Hulk is my favorite ride at the park and easily one of my favorite coasters period. I greatly enjoyed Dueling Dragons as well back in the day. I want some loops, you know? And there’s only one place in the whole park to get them. That’s a bit of a shame.

Christine had never been to an amusement park before. That made the visit particularly special. And our first ride, her first ever amusement park ride, was Spider-Man.

In Spider-Man, you put on a pair of 3D glasses and get sent out into Manhattan (not where I was looking to be on my vacation away from… Manhattan) in a car with a bunch of other folks. You see Spider-Man. You see villains. You see actual flames and water and you get lifted into the air and dropped and it’s all very exciting. But… it broke. In the climax, the projection gave out. First, the audio lost sync, then the video looped, and then it went black. And in that moment, the illusion was lost. A moment I remembered, one of the most intense of the entire ride, as you feel like you’re falling, is nothing.

It was actually kind of fascinating in the sense that it makes you realize just how much work your brain is doing to make the whole thing work. The vehicle barely needs to move for you to feel intense movement. But… you want to feel it from start to finish. It made me wonder if we were a one-off or if something was generally wrong with the ride and no one bothered to inform the operators. I considered it but didn’t; maybe no one else did either.

This wasn’t an isolated incident either. Two rides, Spider-Man and Jurassic Park, and one queue, the one for The Incredible Hulk, had moments when the theme park broke through the façade.

Despite the glitch, I enjoyed the ride. Christine did too. One down. It’s a start!

The last time I went to a Disney theme park, my family picked up the tab. This time, the $115 ticket – more, I imagine, than it was in 2005 – ripped a hole right in my wallet. But, ya know what, vacation, am I right? If I can’t make not-always-financially-sound decisions while I’m traveling, why even bother having money in the first place?

Before going on another ride, we experienced the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad, a live show with some not-necessarily-great fighting but pretty great other stunts. That was fun. As with Spider-Man, there was actual fire, and it was something that I could feel. But unlike Spider-Man, where it was probably fifteen to twenty feet away, here it was probably sixty or more; and I still felt it. I can’t even imagine how hot it is for the people onstage within spitting distance of the flames.

Christine bought butterbeer in the Wizarding World, which seemed like something that just had to happen. It tastes like cream soda with butterscotch topping. I had about five sips of it. I liked it well enough but could tell it would send me into a sugar coma if I had any more.

The Hippogryph coaster was fine. Christine screamed a lot. It seemed like a good introduction.

Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey was perhaps the most interesting ride of the whole visit, owing largely to Christine’s intensely adverse reaction.

Forbidden Journey felt like the modern version of what Spider Man was trying to do. It didn’t use 3D glasses, and it didn’t need 3D glasses. The ride is long and the projections immersive as heck. It relies even more on those than Spider-Man. It has actual props and sets that you flip and turn your way through, but there’s no, for example, real fire. The effects themselves are are digital.

About those flips, though: Because it is a hanging ride with the track above rather than below, and there is only one row of seats to manipulate, a lot more can be done to these seats, including two instances of near upside-downness. I did fine with all this. Christine did not.

I left the ride thinking that it felt like the logical evolution of Spider-Man. The lack of glasses, the more intricate projections – it all felt very modern where Spider-Man felt retro. This even extends to the set. One of the most fun things about these attractions is the work that goes into the pre-ride. Long corridors with lovingly crafted sets to get you in the mood. Videos and props crafted just for the ride. If your ride wait is less than 40 minutes, you’re going to spend that whole time in this environment, and it adds greatly to the experience.

We went on a Monday after school was already in session. Much like my trip to Nuevo Vallarta, this off-season visit resulted in waits that were manageable *at worst*. These lines are built to accommodate such large groups that, so when the expected wait is 20 minutes, you can spend literally five just getting to an actual person to stand behind. This was truest with Harry Potter, but there were long walks to at least three separate rides. Still, we never waited more than half an hour. And while we watched the people with their express passes skip ahead, I never felt the urge to drop the extra $65.

So, not completely financially unsound.

Going on Kong’s ride made me realize that I was wrong in my original assumption about Harry Potter, however. The newest ride is even more projection-heavy yet requires 3D glasses. It has to do with your experience of it. As with Spider-Man, Kong puts you in a car with a number of others. You all experience it together vs the feeling of isolation you have with Harry Potter. And you’re able to look around at projections that come at you from both sides. In this environment, the glasses are a necessity.

Kong’s line has the most impressive animatronic I’ve ever seen, of an elder woman making what are probably religious proclamations about Kong. After the fun but silly ones on the Jurassic Park ride, where you can literally hear the movements, the jump in tech was again on display.

Jurassic Park didn’t glitch, but the in-ride intense voice-overs were mitigated somewhat by the actual voice coming over the intercom on four separate occasions “Row Three Take Off Your Hat,” chastising someone who wasn’t even on my ride. He was in the one behind, and clearly he didn’t care at all, because we kept hearing the messages.

The Incredible Hulk went down while I was in line, which resulted in some weird dissonance while an in-park voice-over while one voice over the intercom said “We are experiencing a brief delay and will update you when anything changes” and “Status Update: Gamma Radiation at full,” which sound like they could be related but aren’t. But I kept thinking that maybe they would be and waited for far too long… which was frustrating, particularly since they made me put away my cell phone, camera, etc. in a locker, resulting in me being alone and bored.

Eventually, though, I got on, and gosh darn was it good. Such a fun coaster. Gave me a bit of a headache as it knocked me around, but totally worth it.

We went on one other ride and walked through one other attraction: the Ripsaw Falls log flume and Fury of Poseidon, uh, walking tour.

Ripsaw Falls is a classic, and it’s a ride that people will literally stop to watch others experience. Jurassic Park has that too, though seen from a different angle.

More importantly, Ripsaw Falls makes you the rider, much wetter.

It costs $4 to rent a locker by the ride. It was the only money I spent once we got into the park itself. It was also a great purchase. Some rides – Harry Potter, Incredible Hulk – will give you free locker access because it would be dangerous to have loose stuff hanging around during them. The water rides don’t have that, but, like, if you’re walking around with a camera because you’re vlogging in a theme park, rent a locker. Your stuff is going to get soaked and probably not work anymore and then not be under warranty because of severe water damage, and then people will laugh at you.

And deservedly so.

Lastly, Poseiden’s Fury. This was the one older attraction that I hadn’t done before, and I’m both sad and glad about that. Sad because it was super cool and I wish I hadn’t missed it the last times around and glad because it was super cool and I got to experience it for the first time. In its climax, the whole space opens up in a way that is genuinely awe-inspiring, and though the projectors appear to be in dire need of bulb replacement, resulting in some muddled visuals, it was nonetheless a pretty incredible show.

And that was the experience in a nutshell. Sure, it would have been nice for things to have worked properly and that guy in the Jurassic boat behind me to not have been wearing a hat while a disembodied voice berated him, but though they impacted the immersion in those moments, they did little to diminish the overall experience.

In fact, there was something kind of amusing about seeing behind Disney’s curtain. They work so hard to keep you from seeing the seams, and to see them fail feels like a special thing.

Nine point zero out of ten.

Review #4: Moon Pies vs. Choco Pies

You may be wondering why I want to compare Moon Pies and Choco Pies. It’s a fair question, but it’s got a simple answer: Moon Pie’s official twitter account. Twitter is generally a nonsense cesspool, but one beacon of light is the full commitment to post-irony that you’ll find in such gems as:

Describe how a brand uses questions as bait to get quote tweets and attention in 5 words

When I say this account is family friendly I mean I will be friends with your mom and dad

Anyone who’s good at Twitter always follows the 4 p’s: Proactiveness / Placement / Please Linda / Please come back

And those are all since the beginning of August. If you dig back further, it’s all amazing.

A lot of brands do this kind of thing (Old Spice comes to mind as one that has been in the game longer than anyone), but I don’t think even they compare to Moon Pie for sheer commitment. I mean, look at this one:

“A lot of people ask me “Hey, are Moon Pies any good” and I would say I’d probably eat them even if I didn’t work here that’s a pretty big endorsement”

Can you imagine another official brand account saying “probably” like that? Of course not. That’s ridiculous.

And it worked. Ever since I learned about the account late last year thanks to an AV Club article, I’ve been craving a Moon Pie. And only in the past few days have I finally gotten to have one.

That’s not for lack of trying – though I’ll admit I didn’t try very hard – but there just aren’t Moon Pies in New York City. I checked out at least a half dozen stores that the Moon Pie website says would typically stock them in a different place where I don’t live, including one that says it should stock them in the place where I do live but to no avail.

I would have to enjoy tweets like this one about Frisbee chat rooms being all up on those disc-shaped delights without supporting the company that makes it possible.

But the desire went at least somewhat deeper than just wanting a Moon Pie because their socials were tops; I actually just wanted the snack. I like smores. I wanted to try what are effectively bagged smores. Is that an enticing way to phrase it? Doesn’t matter.

One day, though, I was in an M2M, which is a Korean-plus grocery store that has sadly lost most of its locations over the past couple of years. I was buying pocky or something and noticed they had an individually wrapped thing called a Choco Pie. It looked kind of like what I thought a Moon Pie was supposed to look like. It was 50 cents.

I went to the internet and looked up the difference been a Moon Pie and a Choco Pie. Unfortunately, no one had made a clear, straight-to-the-point YouTube video that I could quickly watch and get the necessary facts from while I awkwardly stood in the aisle – an issue that I have just fixed by releasing this video (you’re welcome, internet).

I bought it. It was delicious. This was at least six months ago. It satiated the specific snack sensation I was so inspired to find, but Choco Pie doesn’t have hilarious marketing, so I still wanted the actual thing.

Well, having spent the weekend in a small city upstate. I finally got myself an actual Moon Pie.

Moon Pies are pretty big, though. I was actually a little surprised at their size, since I have been used to the smaller Choco variant. Let’s unwrap these bad boys and see this a little bit better.

I should have suspected, since Moon Pies have a full hundred calories on Choco Pies (220 vs 120), but this is a lot smore snack. Almost too much, I think. And the Choco Pie? Bite-sized by comparison. I don’t feel compelled to eat another Moon Pie, but I’d be digging the concept of another Choco Pie if I hadn’t just eaten both.

When I was researching the difference all that time ago, I learned that the real measure of this sorta snack is to briefly microwave it and have it warm. Only then will I really know what’s what.

For science.

Law of diminishing returns, am I right?

The Moon Pie is an institution, having been around for literally more than 100 years. The Choco Pie and every other thing like it – there are many – inevitably is naught but an imitation of the thing that the Moon Pie website says was conceived of in a coal mine back in the terrible teens. This Choco Pie comes from Lotte, a Korean mega corporation that has also an film production/distribution subsidiary that released great films like Eungyo, Very Ordinary Couple, and The Terror, Live. They have their hands in a lot of, uh, insert pun here, but for real though.

A box of 12 Choco Pies costs $4. A dozen Moon Pies costs $6. But, that comparison isn’t really fair. A Moon Pie, as we have established, is a little bit too big, but you’re getting more unhealthy snack food for the money. A more direct comparison would be the Moon Pie Mini, which I do not have but is closer in size to the Choco Pie (which lacks a “Maxi” equivalent), and that cost $4 a dozen as well. At that point, it’s not a matter of cost but of taste and convenience.

The latter we addressed – it’s difficult to get my hands on a Moon Pie by any means other than an online shipment, and these types of snacks are exclusively impulse buys for me. Placing an order with the knowledge that I’ll be having a dozen of these things hanging around in my kitchen is a surefire path to intense regret similar to the one I’m feeling right now. So I can’t get the things in the first place, but even if I could, would I? Is the original actually better than its imitation?

Yes, it is. I don’t know if all those extra toxic-sounding chemicals that make up the Choco Pie are resulting in a taste that isn’t quite-but-almost-the-same but still just isn’t quite as good. I mean, it’s less good for you probably, but neither of these things could by any measure be considered healthy, so do the degrees even matter? You shouldn’t eat either, really, so if you’re going to go against what I assume is a doctor’s advice, go with the tastier option.

That’s the Moon Pie

Moon Pies: Seven Point Five Out of Ten

Choco Pies: Seven Point Zero Out of Ten

Review 3: Submitting to Film Festivals (Withoutabox vs FilmFreeway)

Four years ago now, my friend Gerard and I ran a small but ultimately successful Kickstarter for a martial arts short film called Reel. Though we filmed the bulk of it in late 2014, it wasn’t finished until… a month ago. There are a lot of reasons for this that don’t matter here, but the point is that it weighed on my mind for literally the entirety of the intervening time and if I hadn’t finally finished it, I probably never could have gotten this whole YouTube thing off the ground.

But I digress. The movie is actually pretty good, something that I think shocked just about everyone involved. If it gets into a festival, I’m going to review it here. It would be a largely positive review.

Because of that, we decided that it may actually be worth sending out to film festivals. In my years as a film critic, I went to a lot of festivals and saw some of my favorite movies ever and also my most hated. There are certain projects that just, like, why? So bad. Sometimes the New York Times loves a film that you absolutely hate and you just can’t even.

And when you see those movies, you can be fairly sure that your movie is good enough to show somewhere, but obviously it’s more complicated than that.

It’s complicated because the job of a festival programmer is complicated. The selection of a film isn’t based just on its merits – it must function as part of a cohesive whole that is the festival’s ideal. And this is even more true when it comes to shorts, since they have to work as part of programs or a lead-in to a feature.

Which leads to a lot of tough decisions.

Your film might be the perfect length for its story but too long for the shorts block. You might execute your thematic intent perfectly but no one else submitted anything to complement it.

I know that Reel is at least as good as some of the films that will play at the New York Film Festival, but I also know that the festival doesn’t show movies like it and therefore couldn’t accept it if they wanted to. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important to know what you’re submitting to and why you’re submitting there specifically. If you don’t, well, that submission fee ain’t coming back.

On the other hand, there’s something kind of nice about the shorts-specific complexities, because you can tell yourself that a rejection was not an indictment of your work but of everyone else’s – and there’s a non-zero chance you’ll be right.

In 2018, it’s easy (if not exactly cheap) to submit your movie to dozens or hundreds of festivals with a few button presses. Sure, some festivals, like Cannes or Telluride, have dedicated platforms, but the bulk of festivals of all shapes and sizes are accessible via one or both of two platforms: Withoutabox and/or FilmFreeway.

Each service does the exact same thing – connects your film with festivals, but the experience of using each is different in key ways. FilmFreeway offers much more robust tools for filtering through the enormous list of participating festivals – all right from the home page. Aside from sliders and radio buttons on the left sidebar allowing you to select for customizable entry fee ranges or event types or film categories and there’s a wider variety of sorting tools, including popularity and user ratings.

For those numbed by the sheer volume of options, there are a handful of curated lists, including 33 of the “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee” from Moviemaker’s list – one that I’ve used in the past as a way to narrow down my submission decisions.

Withoutabox, too, has filtering tools – if you dig into the “Festival Search” page – though they’re not as wide-ranging as FilmFreeway’s. It also has some easily accessible lists, including “Hot List” – for highly popular options – and “Deal Time” – for those with lower-priced entry, but it lacks the ability to sort by that popularity and has no user reviews; both have quick links to their Oscar-qualifying festivals.

But what Withoutabox has that FilmFreeway does not is a parent company with a household name: Amazon. Withoutabox, then, shares an owner with IMDb, meaning there are some integrations between those services that doesn’t exist elsewhere. The project page you create for your film can automatically become an IMDb page. Considering how user-unfriendly the IMDb interface is, it’s a major step up. Additionally, there is a button right up there in the corner of Withoutabox telling you that you can have your film put on Amazon’s Prime Video Direct if you want to self-distribute your work.

These are nice.

Since the last time I used it, FilmFreeway has introduced a profile system that they bill as “Like IMDbPro, except it’s free,” but let’s be real: No. FilmFreeway’s profile system is an IMDb competitor in the same way that YikYak was a Twitter Competitor.

RIP YikYak.

Withoutabox is the OG here, and with that status has come complacency. And fair enough: you don’t need the most efficient browsing system when you offer exclusive access to Sundance, Slamdance, Tribeca, Fantasia, etc.

To take on Withoutabox, then, FilmFreeway would need the sleeker interface and more modern feel. And it has that. Every aspect of the service feels more thoughtfully designed. Certainly, they’ve got a complex going on, considering their dedicated page of tweets from people favorably FilmFreeway against its competition.

Maybe if I tweet out this review, I will get added to their page. Probably not. It’s a bit much.

You can decide which subject is the “it” in that scenario, and you’ll probably be right.

But the flip side of Withoutabox’s hold on the big names is that its selection of smaller festivals is less impressive.

For example, my last short played at the Women Texas Film Festival in 2016 – shot after Reel, but finished much earlier. Maybe I’m a little biased, but it’s a great festival, and it’s only on FilmFreeway.

I asked Justina Walford, the festival’s creative director and most impressive person I have ever met, why that is, and she told me it was a combination of complexity, cost, and ultimately just need: enough people use FilmFreeway to fill their slate with quality productions, so why even bother with its competitor?

But this means that a filmmaker will inevitably have to use both: Withoutabox for the big names… and FilmFreeway for everything else. Because for the festivals that use both – Austin, Fantastic Fest (also in Austin), Female Eye, etc. – there is no reason whatsoever to go with the dinosaur.

But regardless of the platform, it’s unequivocally the case that getting your work in front of programmers is more-or-less infinitely easier than it once was. With a single video file (maybe even a Vimeo link), you can get your work seen by programmers all over the world. And though both FilmFreeway and Withoutabox seem to take issue with the fact that Reel has two directors, they take a lot of the frustration out of information gathering. You know you have the stuff that you need, because there are boxes that you’ve gotta fill or else you can’t submit. It’s easy. It’s nice.

And then, of course, you can obsessively check the status of all of your various submissions from the comfort of a single dashboard (or… two).

These platforms take the stress out of submission itself, FilmFreeway more than its competitor, which frees up time that you can use to… stress out about where those submissions are at.

So stressful.  

Seven-Point-Zero out of Ten

Review 2: Dashboard Confessional

Dashboard Confessional, or Dashy Confesh, as I assume the cool kids call them, is currently touring their first album in nine years with All Time Low on the so-called “Summer Ever After” tour, which stopped by New York last Sunday night at the Rooftop on Pier 17, an outdoor venue at the top of a former mall wrecked by Hurricane Sandy that has genuinely the nicest bathroom of any concert venue I’ve been to in my entire life.

Unlike several hundred other people, I read the list of restricted items, so I knew not to bring an umbrella. There was an enormous pile of umbrellas next to the security desk by the time I got there, at which point I was ushered through before I could stop to take a picture. 

I made a Spotify playlist 15 months ago called Developing Intensity (2004-2009). It charts the course of my musical taste over that time. I was always more into modern rock than the classic stuff, and it got heavier and heavier as the years went by. By the early 2010s, the words in much of the music I listened to were growled rather than sung.

But that meant that, by the time All Time Low was picking up steam, I was already outside of their sphere of influence. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of them until their song Backseat Serenade showed up on a Spotify radio station one day. After “Missing You” followed, I was hooked. When I met my girlfriend, Danielle, not long after, her love of the band cemented my own affection for… both, I guess?

DashCon, on the other hand, I had always been vaguely aware of – they were formed in the first decade of my life – but I had also literally never listened to them until last weekend. And I’m all emo about it now that it took so long, because they’re really good. Frontman Chris Carrabba has an excellent voice, and the musicianship is solid throughout. They have great stuff on every album, up to and including their latest release, Crooked Shadows.

But the act of first discovering, and then seeing them perform, in 2018 is kind of fascinating.

They’ve been around for a very long time, so it makes sense that Carrabba would be in his early 40s – 43, to be precise – but that knowledge makes the concert a little strange. Without any nostalgia to draw on, I was focused differently than most of the people there were. I thought at least as much about the context of what I was watching as I did the content.

Even though the man writing the words for Crooked Shadows is older and presumably wiser, he seems just as focused on youth as he ever did. But that fact feels different now. These are the opening lyrics of the album: “We were the kids that left home, probably too young.” At his age, he could easily have had kids who left home right on time.

That type of digging back to the past is a little… sad. And not sad in the way emo music inevitably must be. I mean sad in a varsity-football-star-still-wearing-his-class-ring kinda way. Here is a forty-three-year-old man who stood on the stage and talked about having recently graduated from high school and then correcting himself by getting younger – he’s going back in just a few weeks, he told the crowd. Sure, he’s joking, but the dude hasn’t been in high school since before at least half – and probably much more – of the people in the crowd were born.

It’s weird.

I get it. He’s pandering to his audience of almost entirely girls and young women who are listening to his band in high school or listened to them when they were, in the same way Kane Brown is pandering to whatever demo he’s playing for – I mean, have you heard him on the alternate version of Camila Cabello’s Never Be The Same? I am still not convinced that that’s the same guy who sang What Ifs. I like those songs (actually though), but dude’s faking it for at least one of those audiences. Maybe both.

But while pandering is an almost-inevitable part of a being a band that peaked in an earlier decade, it eventually becomes discomfiting. Though I can’t tell you exactly where the line is, 43 is definitely past it. (I’m lying, the line is the day you graduate from college.)

DaCo seems determined to stay forever relevant to that demographic too, as evidenced by the featured artists on Crooked Shadows: Chrissy Costanza, singer of Under the Current and person I hadn’t thought of since I got really into watching Alex Goot YouTube covers five years ago, appears on the final track – my favorite of the bunch. A quick check-up on where her band’s at shows that her voice has changed a lot in the intervening years. Kind of interesting, that.

Dancing violinist YouTube sensation Lindsay Stirling is also there, which makes me think I shouldn’t even call them features; I should call them collabs. Because, you know, YouTube. But are those collabs genuine, or are they ploys to ensnare a new decade of their target demographic?

Maybe it’s both. Does it even matter?

It’s not like they’re the only ones pining for the olden days. Heck, they weren’t even the only ones at that concert doing so, where All Time Low came out with nostalgic bangers like “Good Times” that feature lyrics like “Chasing girls who didn’t know love yet,” a lyric one can only hope is in reference to the time around their formation back when they were also young enough to not know love yet, because at some point that went from sweetly naïve to actually a crime. Lead singer/songwriter Alex Gaskarth is 30, which is comparatively young… but it ain’t that young.

On a personal note, there’s a benefit to having similar music tastes to this particular demographic, because 99.6% of women in it are shorter than me, resulting in excellent sight lines for the whole concert – so long as they don’t bring their often distressingly tall boyfriends . (I tweeted something about this just over four years ago.)

Halsey came out for a song – All Time Low’s, not DC’s. That was cool. I didn’t know it was Halsey, because the last time I wanted to know what Halsey looked like her hair was a different color, but I knew I recognized her voice. It’s kind of like how Lady Gaga is in that new movie with Bradley Cooper, and you’re like “Huh, she looks kinda familiar” and then you hear her singing voice and you’re like I know that, and then they also show her name on screen, and you’re like Oohhhhh, duh.

It was the kind of cool, unexpected appearance that makes seeing live concerts such a pleasure. Chris Carrabba himself came out again briefly to show off his ridiculous lung capacity during another ATL song. I liked that.

Look, as odd and slightly uncomfortable as it is to hear a very grown adult pretend to be a high schooler, I am totally on board for their music. Even not having a history with it, I can’t help but get caught up in the feelings that it very honestly does portray.

Plus, they put was a great show.

Eight-Point-One out of Ten

Thank you so much for watching. This is the second week of this channel and the first week where I am doing the thing in the way it’s meant to be done. A colleague asked me how many reviews I have stashed away, and he called me an idiot when I told him none. But it’s true, which is both exciting and frightening. I am unsurprised that my Death of Moviepass review has thus far been the most popular, and I expect that the wildly disparate topics I’ll be covering will result in ridiculous fluctuations of viewership in the long term. But if you’d like the take the journey with me regardless, there’s a button that lets you do so below, right next to some buttons that let me know you care enough to press more buttons.

Also, if you want to talk about this subject or any other, hit me up in the comments or on Twitter. As you may have noticed, I’m a fan of talking.

I hope to see you next week.

Review 1.4: The Death of MoviePass

I signed up for MoviePass in January of 2016, long before an alarmingly low price point for the movie theater subscription service changed everything. At the time, I was paying $45 per month. I was newly single and a fan of movies, but tickets in New York City start at $15 and only go up from there, so seeing films in the theater was not a luxury I would be able to afford more than a few times a month. With MoviePass, then, I was already saving money on the third ticket. Anything after was just gravy.

Eight months later, the price went up $5. Now it was slightly more than the price of three tickets. The value proposition had diminished, but I was still getting use out of it. Eleven months later, the price dropped by 80%. I almost canceled my subscription on the day it dropped. The previous few months, the company’s business model made a little bit of sense: I didn’t see four movies, and they made a few dollars off me. I was frustrated about that, but inertia is complicated. Not too long before, MoviePass added a photo requirement. I didn’t like that. I resolved that, soon, I would cancel my subscription. So when I saw an email titled “You’re gonna love this ellipses heart emoji,” I was done. I didn’t open the email but resolved to finally get rid of it.

Then I saw the headlines. Change of plans.

The price drop was announced a year ago last Wednesday. Not only did I not cancel my subscription on that day, but I immediately told everyone I knew that they should sign up for it. I wanted others to get in on it, both so they would go see movies with me and because we all knew it couldn’t last. When they announced the one-year-for-$8-a-month plan, I didn’t take it, because I didn’t expect the company to be solvent for long enough to save me money.

They proved me wrong there. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I am not happy to see MoviePass fail. While specifics remain in flux, its final form is becoming clearer. In the end, it will be a service that saves people a little bit of money on a limited number of movie tickets each month. That was its destiny, the route that its long-solvent, forever-niche European competitor Sinemia took.

But MoviePass did something special for me, and for hundreds of thousands if not actually millions of others. In New York City, the service was always a particularly good deal for its subscribers and a particularly bad one for its bottom line. MoviePass works – worked – all over the city, from the big theaters with 25 screens down to repertories with one or two. Only a handful held out. With it, I went to see movies again – this time big: Boogie Nights, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (with live piano accompaniment), Hausu, and In the Mood for Love – all on 35mm.

I saw movies that I really, really liked that I normally would have relegated to Netflix or whatever other streaming service, if I ever saw them at all: Upgrade, Strangers 2, Game Night, Blockers.

And on and on.

MoviePass has been an important part of my life for the past few years, but I have no loyalty to the company itself. At this point, I don’t think anyone does. The headlines have been hard to miss.

Maybe it was a mistake to hire former Netflix exec Mitch Lowe as its CEO from a business perspective – I think we’ll know sooner than later – but if the goal was to ensure the company’s place in the film history books, no one could have done better. Whatever happens, its legacy has been cemented. Dropping those prices made MoviePass a simultaneous smashing success and colossal failure in the way that only Silicon Valley tech-bro types seem able to do.

It’s disruption.

You rock the status quo so hard that you become an indispensable part of the industry – financials be damned – while everyone struggles to catch up and the titans die out.

MoviePass thought they could bully their way into a profit share, getting a cut of concessions from the people they brought into the theater. They claimed, maybe even believed, that they had become indispensable. That they called the shots.

And maybe something like that could have been possible with the lesser-known theaters. A MoviePass E-Ticket from the Cinepolis in Manhattan shows that the company only pays $12 for a ticket that costs the rest of us $16, so there were deals being cut somewhere up the supply chain.

But AMC, the titan-iest titan of them all, called their bluff. The largest theater company in America introduced a 3-a-week subscription, one that costs double what MoviePass did but adds IMAX, 3D, etc. to the mix. An IMAX ticket in New York City is $26. For me, the value propositions are pretty much equal.

For the companies, though, it’s something else entirely. Investor Mike Maples Jr, on an episode of the excellent podcast Converge with Casey Newton, unknowingly made the economic case for A-List when he was presented with the idea of MoviePass. To whit:

When I think about movie theaters, it’s a high-fixed-cost, low-variable-cost business, right? So, once the movie starts, you can never fill that seat again that you didn’t fill. And so, when you have a business like that – the airline business is like this too – the cost of filling that seat is almost zero (variable cost). So, if you have a business that fills the seats in the theater – fills the seats in the planes – sometimes you can charge what seems to be really low prices, but because the marginal cost to them serving that customer is low, it can work.

AMC A-List has hit 175,000 subscribers in two months, and it’s likely that there’s some similar logic underlying their push for it. Before a (sold out) screening of Crazy Rich Asians this past weekend (Eight Point Seven Out of Ten), there were two separate pitches for the service, and signs were up everywhere. It’s a big deal.

Outliers like Cinepolis excepted, MoviePass pays retail prices on every ticket their subscribers select. AMC, on the other hand, gets things wholesale. And even more than that, AMC is able to somewhat arbitrarily decide how much studios make on the deal. A Wall Street Journal article says that AMC is basing the amount they pay to studios on a theoretical ticket price – specifically $8.99 for a 2D film, lower than the average AMC actual ticket price for such a movie, meaning they pay studios less for an A-List “ticket” than a MoviePass one. This improves their already safer margins, so if the majority of theater-goers do indeed only see three movies a month, as MoviePass has claimed, AMC will make money where MoviePass always lost it.

And they get the full benefit of folks more willing to spend $6 on a soda since hey, the movie was free!

Anecdotally, that in particular has worked out for theaters from all of these services. My movie-going companions often get concessions they never would before. I don’t join them in that, though.

The last time I bought concessions was in 2010, when an employee at the IMAX theater in the Providence Place Mall in Providence, RI made me pay $4.50 for a cup of water, shortly after which I run-jumped down some stairs trying to get to the bathroom before the movie started only to miss a step, sprain my ankle, and spend the next month on crutches and the following two with a cane, something I was told would make me desirable to the opposite sex but most assuredly did not.

I still haven’t watched Tron Legacy.

But even if the economics work, it’s hard to imagine that AMC would have implemented A-List on the timeline it did without MoviePass, or perhaps even without the big public spat between the two companies when MoviePass cut off access to certain AMC theaters. I know that for the duration of that conflict, I went to other theaters when I might have considered the AMC.

That whole event was a sign of things to come. Ever since, it’s been a string of increasingly bizarre or frustrating headlines: from the acquisition of the by-all-accounts atrocious Gotti (even free, I wouldn’t dare) and the subsequent anti-media campaign they waged to the introduction of peak pricing and the removal of blockbusters in the midst of summer, being a subscriber has been… odd.

I have found the flailing attempts to stay afloat kind of funny, to be honest, where most people have just been frustrated. The whole thing is so dramatic that I can’t help be at least a little amused. I mean, forcing people to see only one of two movies at a handful of inconvenient times and the majority of theaters are shut out entirely? Un-canceling subscriptions? Then limiting options to only a handful of ever-changing movie options each day during a “transition” period? And that’s just the past week!

They’re trying to cauterize the wound with a flamethrower, and everything is burning.

For a while, that fire was glorious. The near-daily headlines, thinkpieces, podcasts, YouTube videos – 2018 was the year of MoviePass. And that fact built it up on a rickety structure that had no choice but to collapse. When the last embers finally burn out and the news cycle moves on, MoviePass won’t matter anymore.

But it did once.

Five-Point-Zero out of Ten

Review 1.3 – Vacation in Nuevo Vallarta

Recently, I was fortunate enough to go on a trip with my and several other families to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. Now, this is not the more well-known Puerto Vallarta, which contains the airport that one flies into if they’re trying to get to Nuevo Vallarta. In fact, despite their names and proximity, the two aren’t even in the same state. Puerto Vallarta is in Jalisco; Nuevo in Nayarit.

Nuevo Vallarta is interesting because it is not really a place for people to live but for them to vacation. It’s a city of resorts. According to the most recent census information (from 2010), there are around 1302 people there, though I came across other estimates ranging from less than 500 to, um, over 100,000 (nice going, Wikipedia page that calls itself out for a complete lack of sourcing).

At the same time, TripAdvisor lists 41 separate temporary lodgings – hotels, B&Bs, etc., meaning that the capacity for outsiders dwarfs the permanent population, so it’s pretty clear what’s up.

Speaking of pretty, I stayed at the Occidental Nuevo Vallarta, and oh my gosh is it that.

The Occidental is an all-inclusive resort, which means that your basic needs – food, drinks, Michael Jackson impersonators – are covered. It’s a place meant for you to relax. You don’t have to sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find in a city devoted exclusively to tourism.

And I don’t mean that derisively. A city whose sole industry is tourism may be a risky bet that could result in a decimated economy should the whims of an ever-more-fickle public change – even moreso for typically international destinations, but as long as people are willing to buy, they can continue to thrive. Nuevo Vallarta certainly looks like it’s thriving, with the construction of even more resorts going on while I was there.

But the benefits of these industries are often hyper-localized. The last time I went to an all-inclusive resort was a decade ago with many of the same people. It was in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. That resort, too, was a gorgeous place – I have always described it as walking into a postcard, which now feels like an outdated concept and would today probably have been a reference to Instagram – but outside the resort enclave, it was a completely different, extremely poor world. Chris Rock said it well in his most recent special, his first in 14 years: 

You know when you go to the Caribbean, you land and you get in that van? That drive. That scary-ass drive… from the airport to the resort. And you’re looking out the window, you’re like, “What the fuck? What the fuck is that shit? Oh, my God! Whoa!” You see little kids eating dreadlocks. You see Shabba Ranks stabbing a dog. Shabba. Shabba. Shabba. Shabba. See, people looking like they never saw a car before. Wheel. Wheel. Then you get to the resort and you’re like, “Jamaica’s nice.” “It’s so nice. We should invite your mother.” Shit. They give you one piña colada… and you forgive the worst poverty you’ve ever seen. You take one sip, you’re like… “That baby wasn’t really dead, right?” “I can’t wait to jet ski.”

You should watch that special, by the way. It’s called Tamborine, and it was directed by Bo Burnham, whose own Make Happy is probably my favorite comedy special of all time. They’re both on Netflix. Netflix has great comedy specials. Like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, which has deservedly broken out into the mainstream media for its deconstruction of the form. But I’m not taking about Netflix comedy specials. Not today, anyway. Today I’m talking about Mexico.

And the drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport was not particularly depressing. In fact, I was more struck by how familiar it was as I passed by Dominoes, Carl’s Jr, and a The Home Depot.

But I never saw Puerto Vallarta beyond that. In fact, I didn’t leave the hotel at all for the first two-thirds of the six-day trip. This was partially a result of my intense desire to just chill out, but it was also because my girlfriend, Danielle, got food poisoning. They say you shouldn’t drink the water on trips like these, lest you end up like that one character in the Sex and the City movie, and for the first couple of days I didn’t. I stayed with bottled and the presumably filtered stuff they had at their bars and restaurants. But at some point, I switched over to the occasional top off from the tap, and… it was fine.

So it probably wasn’t the water that got her. But we don’t know what did. It only happened to her. (Her version of this review would likely be less positive.)

The all-inclusive nature of the Occidental is as such: access to the buffet; a couple of visits to their fancier restaurants; pool, beach, etc.; and free-flowing alcohol. I don’t drink, so the latter doesn’t hold particular appeal for me, but they had a truly delicious non-alcoholic concoction called a Copcabana which I have sadly been unable to find the recipe for – everyone else has boozed it up. I was told by those who indulged that the drinks tended to be on the weak side, which I imagine was partially an economic decision and partially one to minimize the number of patrons who die of alcohol poisoning after spending an entire day drinking in 90something-degree heat.

The makeup of those patrons was interesting to me. The hotel was not, as I had expected, full of Americans. Or even Europeans, as many of the visitors at Punta Cana were. They were, by and large, Mexicans. The relative whiteness of my group stood out, so much so that a young woman from Guadalajara asked why we were there instead of Cancun, though I think the answer is in the metacontext of the question itself.

On the plane, I played Mario Kart 8 like I was in a commercial for the Nintendo Switch with a 23-year-old financial analyst who was going to Cabo for the weekend. Because of course he was. Because that’s where people like that go. There and Cancun. I live in New York City. I get enough of Americans in general and finance bros in particular in my daily life. I don’t need to see them when I’m vacationing too.

We went during the off-season, which meant that, aside from the general lack of Americans, there was an overall lack of people. It never felt crowded anywhere that I was. Only once in the whole trip did I see a pool that looked like it had “enough” people in it, and I wasn’t looking to swim at that time, so it didn’t even matter. I was probably on my way to lunch.

Lunch was great. I was honestly a bit shocked at the quality of that buffet. I looked forward to going there for each meal. The restaurants were pretty good too, with the sushi/hibachi spot being particularly unique. While the moves were familiar, the flavors were unexpected. Little did I know, a main ingredient in Mexican sushi is cream cheese.

But as much as I enjoyed the food, I also just enjoyed the act of eating with that view.

The day after I returned, I went back to work and had lunch at a hot bar buffet staring at a mid-town parking lot.

It was depressing.

Danielle improved for the back half of the trip, and we decided to get touristy. This took two forms: a trip to the nearby town of Sayulita and then a boat “excursion” with Vallarta Adventures to Las Marietas Island. Both were gorgeous in totally different ways. Sayulita blew me away with its colors, ones so vibrant that I don’t think it’s even possible for a digital screen to replicate it. I had seen buildings painted that way, in movies and photographs, but there’s really nothing like seeing it yourself.

Las Marietas is a small island bird sanctuary that we weren’t showed to touch but could snorkel around. It, too, was beautiful, though the experience was somewhat marred by the fact that I was stung by literally hundreds of jellyfish.

Literally. Not figuratively. Literally. We snorkeled around the island, a bird sanctuary that none of us were allowed to actually touch. And in order to get from the boat to the little cove we swam in, we had no choice but to swim through schools of small jellyfish, each of which stung like a tiny little gnat.

Some folks went back to the boat. We did not. The stings were unpleasant, but it was all worth it. And the crew did a show with some pretty great dancing too. Big fan of that.

Speaking of dancing, I saw a Minion doing Michael Jackson choreography.

Eight-Point-Nine out of Ten

Review 1.2: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines is set in modern times in an America where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated as president-elect, the Civil War never happened, and slavery was never abolished. Instead, it was enshrined in a series of amendments that were themselves enshrined in a new eighteenth amendment, an excerpt of which is the first text the reader sees. I spent several minutes staring at this, focusing particularly on the first sentence:

No future amendment of the Constitution shall affect the five preceding articles…and no amendment shall be made to the Constitution which shall authorize or give to Congress any power to abolish or interfere with slavery in any of the States by whose laws it is, or may be, allowed or permitted.

It’s a little cutesy that the actual eighteenth amendment, Prohibition, is the only one to have ever been amended, but historical in-jokes aside, I find it to be a genuinely interesting thought experiment. The concept of an unamendable amendment is ludicrous on its face – “childish,” the novel’s protagonist, Victor, calls it, “like the child who wishes for infinite wishes.” But, followed to its conclusion, had such a thing happened, how could it have been overturned? It guarantees that any states still profiting from the practice would vote against a repeal that would require 75% of states to pass, and in the novel, those in power who do try to put a stop to it end up getting Abraham Lincoln’d themselves.

“Compromise. It’s how the union survives.”

(It even rhymes.)

This, of course, is all very much beside the novel’s point, as is most of what I have to say about it. I read enough interviews with Winters – whose last name is there to remind you that he, like me, is very white – to know what he was going for, and I think up to a point he did thatl. I’m not going to litigate the question of who gets to tell whose story, but I will say that not everyone gets to judge every aspect of a story’s success. I can tell you if the mechanics of Underground Airlines’s narrative work (more-or-less); I can’t speak to its success or failure in the portrayal of blackness.

But what I want to discuss has nothing to do with the color of its author’s skin, nor its protagonist’s, and everything to do with its vision of alternate history. I think it is worth digressing for a moment here to talk about two of Winters other novels, the ones that may well represent the peak of his public consciousness. You see, he is the author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina, two books not a lot of people have read but almost everyone is vaguely aware of. They followed up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who went off to write Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter while Winters filled the shoes of Austenian – then Tolstoyan – parody.

Abstracted, each of these books are alternate histories of the narratives that inspired them. Adding horror and steampunk elements, respectively, changes them in fundamental ways, but the world must remain familiar lest it stop being parody and become homage or something else entirely.

In that way, Underground Airlines is a clear continuation of his earlier work: Make the United States clearly the United States but with whatever tweaks are necessary to make the point. Unfortunately, while it may have worked for Winters’ parody, it doesn’t for his drama.

The USA in Underground Airlines is distinctly recognizable, but not in the way you’d expect: the states themselves, particularly in Part 2, which takes place in Alabama, where slavery remains legal, are described in ways that feel alien. But its culture has developed along the exact same tree. Here are four people who still exist(ed) in the same roles at the same time period in this alternate timeline:

  • Michael Jackson
  • James Brown
  • Denzel Washington
  • Henry Kissinger

The latter of whom is referenced only in the context of his decision to remove the United States from the United Nations, as though a United States that had slavery would have been able to form the United Nations in the first place. As though a United States that had slavery would have been able to unite itself against the horrors of a European fascist regime in the first place. As though as though as though.

I’ve seen it said that all this is evidence that Winters lacks imagination. Why else would the motel Victor stays at show CNN? Why else would Michael Jackson have an album called Ben? But I don’t think that’s right. If not for these pop culture references, the world would feel too disconnected from our own, and that would undermine Winters’ real message: that this world he imagined isn’t so different from the one we live in.

The subtext is made text in when Victor travels to Alabama. He is taken in by a group of slaves who are owned by a man – conscience heavy for moral crimes committed many years prior – who leaves them be. Victor asks why they don’t leave. One, Ada, answers:

“Go north? … Get followed around in stores the rest of my life? … Get pulled over every time I’m driving? Get shot by some cop, walking down the street?”

Ada isn’t talking about Alternate USA here; she’s talking about Actual USA. She must be, because she lives in a place where armed guards keep a close watch on anyone of color in the town square. The threat of violence is far more pervasive in this South than its North. She may be comfortable with or used to it, but the idea that the North is Just As Bad is, frankly, silly. It serves no narrative purpose; instead, it is there to remind you, the reader, that America is a horrible place for black people. That North is all of America. And Underground Airlines rubs it in your face.

Look, if an author is going to @ their audience, they could choose a much worse thing than reminding them of systemic inequality and brutality… but it hurts the narrative. Each time you read a reference to a real person, place, or thing, you leave the fictional world and return to the real one.

There are some clumsy attempts at changing known entities up. Victor drives a Nissan Altima… but it still has a tape deck (that he uses to listen to Michael Jackson)! This is a token reference to how global reactions to a slave-holding United States has kept technology imports back a couple of decades, which is an interesting tidbit, except that it’s still a Nissan Altima, a car that was built for its 20 years on the market in the United States South. If you don’t think about it too hard, there’s an interesting interpretation that some worldly developments were inevitable: a Japanese company called Nissan would inevitably have sprung into existence and inevitably released a car called an Altima that they would have assembled themselves. It denies America’s role in global history. There’s something compelling in that.

But it’s also, you know, not what Winters is going for. That’s me digging for a deeper meaning: it’s a Nissan Altima because that’s the Nissan car that anybody could say off the top of their heads and can thus fairly easily visualize from the various Nissan Sales Events they have seen commercials for in their lives. It’s an easy point of reference, and it ostensibly connects the alternate world to our own. But it doesn’t actually do that. It just disconnects you from the story.

But ultimately that leads to a question of how much and of this even matters. Sure, you constantly leave Victor’s side to wrap your brain around the bizarro development of this alternate Earth, but it’s also not such a complex story that it requires your full attention at any given moment. You quickly get hooked on the central mystery and want to see it through. It’s a breezy read, if not always an easy one – though considering its subject matter, it could be a heckuva lot worse. And once it’s done, five-ish hours after it began, it definitely gives you something to think about.

Maybe make a YouTube video about.

Six-Point-Three out of Ten

Review 1.1: Creating a YouTube Channel

If somebody – inevitably over 40 – asked me to explain YouTube, I would instead tell them why I decided to start a YouTube channel.

That decision, immediate and immutable, to answer with a personal anecdote instead of some fully reasoned Theory of Content, I think, is central to what such a Theory would ultimately be.

Welcome to that YouTube channel, by the way, all shiny and new. It’s called The Week I Review, and it is – of course – a review show. But it’s a not a typical review show, focused on one medium or technology. Instead, its reach is broad, driven solely by what I, Alec Kubas-Meyer – nice to meet you, find interesting. Unfortunately for any chance I might have had to find a consistent audience, that’s a pretty wide net.

I have some experience with this, having written about video games and tech for publications like The Daily Beast and Destructoid as well as film for Filmmaker Magazine(‘s website), Indiewire, and Flixist. This thing I’m doing right now I cut my teeth on briefly for the latter a few years back.

I have also directed short films ranging from drama to martial arts psychodrama – with more in the works – and two one-man shows that had a collective audience of thirteen – think I’m done with those. Oh, there was the time I was writing rap songs that wouldn’t have gone anywhere but had novelty long since passed on and honestly it would just make me seem more wanna be than I gotta be considering, well, just look at me, so it’s something I turned my back on.

And now I’m on YouTube. Because it’s the next step.

The inevitable result of our collective obsession with social media is a shift towards platforms – YouTube, Twitch, Instagram – that let us literally scream into the void. On YouTube, more than any other, there is an expectation that the scream be packaged, auto-tuned.

Life, sponsored by Adobe Premiere Pro.

From July 2014 through the end of 2017, I used an app called 1 Second Everyday. The TED talk given by its creator, which I will link in the description below, convinced me to put down $1 and capture a moment from each day for three and a half years. Its two goals:

  • Remind you of the life you have lived
  • Remind you to go live a life

The first one is obvious. The second, important. When you have to record a second of your life every single day, knowing that you will look back on – and subsequently share – it, you feel a compulsion to something. You don’t want that girl who broke your heart in middle school to think your life is less interesting than hers, do you? So you go to a concert, a party, another country, anything to give your life… meaning? I dunno. But the secret is that you only need to be there for one second; once the footage is on your phone, you may as well have been there all night.

It becomes a habit, and there is some comfort in that habit, but it nags at you any time you think about just being lazy: Hey, Alec, this isn’t fun. You don’t look cool and interesting and unique.

That pressure to perform the daily ritual of Something Interesting eventually wore me down. I’m grateful for the experiences that the app forced me to have, though, and for someone who needs some motivation to get up and do, I recommend it. (Four-point-seven-five out of five.)

This channel will not feature daily videos, nor is it intended to be a complete catalogue of my life’s events. But it follows the same impulse. Each Monday, I will review the most interesting thing I did, saw, played, or otherwise experienced in the previous seven days. Maybe it’s new. Maybe it isn’t. But it will be the thing on my mind that week.

“Interesting,” of course, does not necessarily mean “good.” Some things are interesting precisely because they aren’t good – how a thing fails is often more interesting than how it succeeds, or so says the cynic in me.

A friend who heard the pitch asked if the reviews were going to be serious or if it was some kind of ironic meta-joke. And: they will be serious insofar as I will seriously be approaching each week with a critical eye and scoring things on an alarmingly precise 100-point scale. But I’m a deeply sarcastic person, so, ya know, that’ll be there too.

Much – if not most – of the time, the videos will be a lot of me here talking into the camera; if you don’t like my face, you’re going to hate this channel. Also, you’re so mean. 🙁

Some things lend themselves to more – B-roll, media footage, etc. – and when I have the ability to do more I will, but I’m committing to a posting schedule and have long since committed to the day job that funds this, so there’s only so much I can guarantee.

Actually, while we’re at it, set all your expectations low but one: I will never to lie to you. I might joke about things, maybe even regret them down the line, but it’s going to be real.

I have a fundamental aversion to dishonesty that has caused, um, complications in my life. If I were to lie to you in a YouTube video, I’d be unable to sleep for several days and then have to post a follow-up video detailing the lie. Some folks might find click value in that, but I think all of us would hate it – so let’s just not.

It’s important to me that I be realistic and honest. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it properly – in a way I can feel good about. This whole channel is a legit-in-the-economics-101-sense-of-the-word investment for me.

People aren’t wrong when they say that the barrier to entry on YouTube is approaching zero. Channel creation is free, and if you shoot videos on a smartphone, I guess that might be considered “free” as well.

But I’m not shooting on a smartphone, and the equipment I’m using wasn’t free. Some I had already owned. Much of it I did not. Also new: This website. This all costs money. Perhaps not much in the grand scheme of things, but enough that I feel it in my bank account.

And even if I never make that money back, at least as likely as not, it’s important that I spent it. It proves to me – if not to you – that I take this thing seriously. Plus, while money does not guarantee quality, it helps.

If you’re going to be staring at my dumb face until it haunts your nightmares, the barest minimum I can do is make that scene look kind of interesting – to have a background other than an empty wall, put some light and depth in there. The teleprompter means I can speak quickly without jump cuts – unless I want them for specific effect.

Plus, because this is pre-written, I won’t ever waste your time asking questions I should have just looked up beforehand. I’ll do the research and, if necessary, link to my sources.

I write the way I talk, something that can come off poorly in professional emails and even social texts. Audio ensures my inflections are adequately expressed. The video adds my overly animated demeanor – one that literally half my life ago caused a girl I once called beautiful in a language I didn’t know to make fun of me.

I talk with my hands, my eyebrows; I emote and express and probably look silly, but this is YouTube. Everything is silly.

Increasingly, though, it’s silly in the most serious of ways. YouTube is an equalizer, a place where anyone can find an audience. People all over the world are making their livelihoods here. I am not. I don’t expect to ever be.

Hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. It’s entirely possible there are dozens of shows just like this one that neither I nor anyone else has ever heard of. Nothing makes mine particularly special, but it’s mine.

When I was a teenager, I would look at all the celebrities in their twenties. Though I knew that they had started out younger than I was at the time, I felt some solace in the fact that I had a few years to go before their success made me feel “old” and “purposeless.” Now, the rising stars are all younger, and there’s no way to intellectualize it. I needed to stop complaining and start doing.

To be clear: I’m not looking for celebrity, and maybe that fact alone means I’ll never achieve it. That’s fine. What I, like so many others, created a YouTube channel for was to have this thing that I can pour my creative energy into on my terms and mine alone. I needed to have an outlet – this outlet.

So here I am.

Eight-Point-Five out of Ten