TV Reviews: Mindhunter

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What separates a killer from a serial killer?

This the fundamental question in the pilot of Mindhunter. People commit crimes. Horrible crimes. Despicable crimes. Sometimes over and over again. How do we catch them? It’s surprising, at least the way the show portrays the FBI, were stuck in 1950s style investigations even as Charles Manson was orchestrating a mass murder.

Based on a non-fiction book, it is hard to tell how much the show will deviate from the source material. One thing is clear … I’ll never read the book.

David Fincher directed the opening two episodes, setting up the sequence of events that launches the build-out of a psychology unit of the FBI. Fincher goes back to his usual cinematic style that directors after him mimic the best they can, sort of like with House of Cards (the 2 seasons back when it was good) There are a lot of creative subtleties in the first two episodes that are sorely missed later on, especially a few episodes in the middle.

The show works, not because they cast a great leading actor. In fact, Jonathan Groff plays it as square and boring as it gets. It’s not really his fault, per se. He is written to have zero edge. I assume in later seasons he’ll develop a personality. I guess only straight edge people can really hunker down and understand the psychosis of a psychotic.

Anna Torv is rather good, convincing playing a elitist academic with a profound curiosity for the criminal mind. Holt McCallany plays the partner that is opposite of Groff’s character. It is sort of a buddy cop trope where the seasoned cop doesn’t give a shit anymore. (One fun link: Holt McCallany played a minor role in Fight Club, a cult classic also directed by David Fincher)

The key to the series, in my view, is getting convincing actors to play a serial killer. And boy, do they get one. Cameron Britton, at six foot-infinity, is a towering human with a crazy look that is sort of the look of the red stapler guy in office space, except on steroids. The crazy words that come out of his mouth completes the picture of a lunatic.

I added the show to my list of binge-all-weekend views that Netflix once in a while gets right.

First Season Rating: 9/10 Decapitated Heads

Movie Reviews: Night Owls

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When you are a night owl searching for a flick to watch in bed, what’s more fitting than a movie called Night Owls?

It is yet another story of boy meets girl.

Boy sleeps with girl.

Boy finds out she is crazy.

Whether or not art is imitating life, or life is imitating art is a tricky question in this case. One thing is known though, is this movie probably won’t be remembered as art. Madeline and Kevin are foes throughout. Adam Pally seems like he was told to do his best impression of Seth Rogan. Rosa Salazar seems like she was told to do her best impression of Aubrey Plaza.

The problem is, neither are funny.

Neither are believable playing it serious. For something as serious as the event that happens ten minutes in, I would expect to see more panic on both sides.

I’m not saying the acting is terrible. It’s okay. The best they can do is work with the material given to them. For most of the film, they are the only two characters struggling against each other on a single set.

In movies, opposites attract. Throughout the film, I didn’t really think Kevin or Madeline felt anything towards each other. Here, it seems they keep a disdain for each other up until the end. Madeline doesn’t show any real closure with her previous flame. Kevin doesn’t truly conquer his obstacle, not unless you count pouting off away from the conflict.

The movie sort of ends where it begins.

A more interesting movie would have been what happens next. At least then, we could have watched a change in the characters.

Movie Rating: 5/10 mace sprays in the face

 

 

Movie Reviews: Logan Lucky

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If I was to assemble a dream team to rob a Nascar race, what would be my top 3 draft picks?

1)Thomas Crown

2)Danny Ocean

3)The Joker (Dark Knight version)

I understand what happened. Instead of one James Bond, they replaced him with a newer James Bond. Instead of one heart throb, they replaced him with Magic Mike. Instead of one over-the-top villain, they replaced him with Kylo Ren.

I’m sure the movie pitch was something like “Magic Mike plus James Bond plus Star Wars meets Nascar meets Oceans 11 meets Little Miss Sunshine. “Cinematic gold,” the group of producers would exclaim before high fiving each and heading off to their lunch meetings at Nobu.

I saw how the other half steals. To me, it seemed just like how regular criminals steal: with a bad plan. In movies, bad plans are often replaced with overtly ambitious plans executed by underachievers. This is because boring plans by overachievers is too serious. It’s Heat. It’s the opening of The Dark Knight. The protagonist is typically the authority chasing them.

The movie itself is worth a watch. The gimmick is watching Daniel Craig play an American down on his luck. Channing Tatum does a serviceable job in his performance but it was hard to believe Adam Driver was his brother. Part of me thinks the movie would have worked better if Adam Driver was the main POV. The obstacles would have been even more challenging, and maybe with the war backstory there would have been a more clever ending.

Movie Rating: 7/10 John Denver songs.

 

I sold $110K on Amazon in December

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Why is retail imploding before our eyes? The statistics of brick and mortar bankruptcies are alarming. Compounded with the launch of Amazon Go with a cashierless experience and an entry into pharmaceuticals, there is major displacement on the horizon.

Or is this just pie-in-the-sky thinking for people who don’t truly understand the mechanics behind Amazon’s success with their FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) program.

To sum it up, Amazon essentially was fighting in the low margin inventory discount business for the first ten or so years. They had buyers of all background scouring inventory channels to keep them stocked on a losing game of “demand prediction.” They were competing against the well funded rise of big box empires of any niche category. Toys. Pet supplies. Office supplies. Books. Food. Movies. Whatever you want. Instead of ma and pa shops imploding through an invasion of big box stores, a revenge is now happening.

As they entered the web services business, they understood the scale and profitability of becoming a services company. The technology would be the strength. Now, Netflix goes through Amazon to stream and store all their catalog of content, despite being a direct competitor.

For the retail portion, Amazon outsourced inventory risk to individual sellers. At first, this caused some price spikes with shortages in supply, especially at key times of the year like Black Friday. After a few years, competition has become so fierce, there is massive discounting that happens from inexperienced sellers as the gold rush to join the program continues. Now, over 60% of what is sold on Amazon is sold via FBA. Our products are shipped and stored and ordered from an Amazon warehouse. Many small sellers, with no business acumen or credit, get slaughtered in their first deep Q4.

The fees are high. In all, about three times as high as Ebay.

We pay to have items shipped to an Amazon warehouse. We eat the returns and pay for storage in the warehouse. Then, Amazon takes a hefty fee on top of that.

FBA has essentially paid for the massive warehouse expansion the last 8 years. Sellers are getting more savvy. We scour price disparities between vendors and arbitrage the difference. We hunt for clearances and buy in bulk. Many, who want scale, go for private label dreams and search on Alibaba and AliExpress for cheap products to “brand” and ship to the US.

This is a gold rush and it is killing brick and mortar. Call it the uberization of retail and nationwide clearances.

In my first full year of Amazon, I learned a ton. As a business major, I’d say more is learned in the first year of a startup operating under your own capital than business school. Application always trumps theory.

There are so many mistakes a I made through the year, so even though I sold $110K in just one month, I felt like I didn’t do enough. I could have scaled so much bigger. On Facebook reseller groups, there are people doing ten times the amount every month, which creates a followership cycle of business envy. It’s almost like Reseller Porn. “Hey, look at my sales!” We all have secret tricks. Amazon has gated so many categories and brands that there is an actual economic moat for many small sellers.

How can a brick and mortar store compete against an army of small business with extremely motivated and savvy sourcers who look for the smallest of price disparities on Jungle Scout? How can it fight whispers of special nationwide deals on social media? It can take six weeks for a department store to source a T-shirt in a rush. Now, a teenager in their basement can be the largest t-shirt designer in their state by uploading a design to Merch by Amazon. They don’t have to take on any inventory. They get paid a royalty when it sells.

This is sort of the concept behind self publishing. Anyone can do it. There is no barrier to entry.

There are a few safe places. Large items in particular are insulated. So furniture stores are okay for now. As Tesla knows, there is a dealership network that makes it difficult to do direct sales in the auto market. Walmart remains the only colossus that stands in Amazon’s way to win the last mile.

2018 is here. I’m still sourcing part time, on top of a full time job and other projects. I already have a list of SKUs to go deep on for next christmas season to 10X my sales. Do you?

 

 

 

TV Reviews: Black Mirror – San Junipero

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I had heard about Black Mirror, a show that is part twilight zone and part technological cautionary tale, from a couple friends who recommended some episodes for me to watch now that I’ve binged Stranger Things. It’s streaming on Netflix, so I figured there was nothing for me to lose.

I watched the first episode, and to be honest, I was a little turned off by the show. It felt more like satire with little technological caution, outside of the power of viral social media. Much of it could have been summarized in a 5 minute spoof with the same impact I think. What I did observe was the production quality of the show was actually surprisingly good.

So I gave it a chance.

I watched the next episode and it was a little bit technological, but more of a social satire to me. It was darker than the first episode in a couple ways, but overall, I was beginning to dig the “final reveal” groove that gave the show a comparison to the twilight zone.

I made up some nachos and pressed play on one of the episodes recommended to me, San Junipero. I was bored at first, then intrigued. Then all of a sudden, I was like holy damn shit did they really just do that? Not to spoil a damn thing here, but it was one of the most sci-fi stories told in the most un-sci-fi way. The acting was superb. The story was deep and had me thinking long afterward about the mind, body, and soul. Going in spoiler free was part of it, so I’ll leave you one of my rare spoiler free reviews.

Unlike many trash movies, this TV shows deserves to be watched spoiler free.

Movie Reviews: A Bigger Splash

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As many who know me can attest, I am a fan of foreign films. Usually, I would even admit that English films that take place in Europe usually get a pass from me for effort. In some regards, it is even more relatable to watch the cultural fish out of water story than something more authentic and locally made. You can read my review of Lost in Translation as an example of this. It had an impact on me that a Japanese made film with Japanese actors could not.

To a certain degree, most Science Fiction works this way. We want to see humanoids battle space dictators and enter light speed. Seldom are the protagonists in film a six foot one-eyed blob called Qloip.

Simply, we want to relate.

A Bigger Splash basically throws those principals out the window. Most of the characters are so unlikeable  an uninteresting that they might as well be Qloip. I was incredibly bored most of the movie, despite the effort Ralph Fiennes put in to try to make it entertaining. There is a limit an eccentric character can save a film if it isn’t a comedy.

Then, there were the flashbacks as if it would reveal some secrets that audience couldn’t infer from the acting and dialogue.

Tilda Swinton, despite being a decent actor, is pretty unbelievable as a rock star. Matthias Schoenaerts is pretty unforgettable in playing the boytoy boyfriend that represents a physical outlet.  Dakota Johnson is just as convincing as she was in Fifty Shades of Gray.

Ralph Fiennes is decent, and maybe it would have been a better story if it just followed him  in his POV the entire time, even to the splashy ending.

This movie simply will be flushed from my mind, which is a rather difficult feat with an interesting environment.

Movie Rating: 2/10 splashes

Movie Reviews: London Has Fallen

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London Has Fallen directed by Babak Najafi

Just in case moviegoers were confused whether or not London Has Fallen was a sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, the marketing folks made sure to clarify that. With White House Down, Air Force One, the last season of 24, and Vantage Point all telling similar stories, the movie populace could have easily confused this for one of those Redbox Ripoff movies. You know, the low budget films shot for under a million bucks in an attempt to bait and confuse people.

To me, I think I might have been more entertained with the Redbox Ripoff flick.

I mean, how many times can a President be put under siege with the only guy to save him is his best friend and secret service agent. What are the odds? And let’s be honest, what is the point of it all when there is a line of succession? (Ironically enough the plot of the latest Jack Bauer Keifer Sutherland TV show) Heads of State are important people, but in Democracies, there is really little point.

I know, the classic “Revenge at all costs” plot makes it clear that logic isn’t the point of motive.

If you want to watch this film, go ahead. Turn off your brain. You might as well play some Call of Duty in my opinion because at least that has some inventive storytelling.

The movie does have some pretty kick ass special effects, mostly in the attack sequence. But with that said, some of the effects were downright CGI-ish. Morgan Freeman was pretty good playing himself. Gerard Butler picks up another paycheck. I assume he has pretty much given up trying to be a real actor. Aaron Eckhart plays the typecast role that was predominant of the 80s and 90s.

I did beat Call of Duty Advanced Warfare on the same night I watched this. Kevin Spacey made for a better villain.

Movie Rating: 2/10 London Bridges