The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power teaser is here, and it’s spectacular

The first teaser trailer for Amazon’s new original series Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is here.

The Super Bowl brought us our first eye-popping teaser for Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Studio’s prequel fantasy series. Until late last week, Amazon had kept pretty much every detail about the new series tightly under wraps. But the dam has now burst, beginning with a big Vanity Fair exclusive with first-look images and in-depth interviews. The article is also full of casting information.

(There are some spoilers for those unfamiliar with the LOTR mythology below.)

The idea of making a spinoff series from Peter Jackson’s visionary Lord of the Rings film trilogy dates back to 2017, with Amazon Studios, Netflix, and HBO all vying for the rights. Amazon won out, in part because then-CEO Jeff Bezos was a major Tolkien fan. Amazon paid a whopping $250 million for the rights and committed to what is believed to be a five-season run. Hollywood insider gossip hints that the show could cost between $100 to $150 million per season, adding up to well over $1 billion for all five seasons.

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Amazon will increase the annual price of Prime in the US

A package with the name

Enlarge / An Amazon Prime-branded shipping box.

Amazon will increase the price of its catch-all Prime membership to $139 annually in the United States, up from the prior price of $119. For those who subscribe month-to-month, the monthly charge will rise from $12.99 to $14.99.

As far as new sign-ups go, the new price will go into effect very soon: February 18. The change will happen with the first renewal date after March 25 for existing members.

Amazon cited higher transportation costs and wages as well as expanded products and services within the membership as reasons.

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Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings TV series gets a name and a teaser video

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power teaser video.

Amazon has been hyping its Lord of the Rings TV series for a while now, but details have been scarce. That changed a bit this week, as Amazon finally announced the name of the series and released its first teaser video.

The name of the series is The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

The title is a mouthful (and maybe redundant), but it ties in with the time period in which the show is set. Amazon has previously said the series is set in the Second Age, the era preceding the events depicted in author J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famous books (The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy).

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Prime Video releases red-band trailer for Legend of Vox Machina animated series

The Legend of Vox Machina is based on the hugely popular livestreamed Dungeon & Dragons-based web series Critical Role.

Rowdy misfits-turned-mercenaries become unlikely heroes in the red-band trailer for The Legend of Vox Machina, a new adult animated fantasy series coming to Prime Video.

The series has an inspiring origin story. A group of professional voice actors used to get together to play Dungeons & Dragons, and when actress Felicia Day (Eureka, The Guild) heard about the game, she invited the actors to play in a livestreamed format for her YouTube channel, Geek & Sundry. (Day herself played a guest role as a human wizard named Lyra.) Voice actor Matthew Mercer served as Dungeon Master, and the campaigns took place in a fictional world he created called Exandria. The web series Critical Role was born.

Eventually, the folks at Critical Role formed their own production company and split from Geek & Sundry in February 2019, streaming new shows on their Twitch and YouTube channels and launching a spin-off comic book. Episodes typically run for three to five hours, and between 30,000 to 40,000 people watch live each week. Add in VOD and YouTube, and most episodes garner around 1 million views each week, making Critical Role a bona fide media mini-empire.

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Amazon’s new Prime Video app for Mac enables local downloads on desktop

The Amazon Prime Video app for macOS.

Enlarge / The Amazon Prime Video app for macOS. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Amazon has released a Prime Video app that runs natively on the Mac. The app offers many of the same features as the mobile app but is available in the Mac App Store.

The app is free to download but requires an Amazon account to access content. That content includes both shows and movies that stream free with Amazon Prime Video, as well as purchases and rentals from Amazon’s entire catalog. In fact, there’s a prominently placed toggle button labeled “Free to me” in the top-right corner of the app. Checking this means that you’ll just see content that is free with Prime.

The app is broken up into home, store, find, downloads, and my stuff tabs.

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The solar system is at war in trailer for final season of The Expanse

The solar system is at war in the sixth and final season of The Expanse.

Fans of The Expanse were devastated several years ago when SyFy canceled the beloved series after just three seasons. Fortunately, it got a second lease on life through Amazon Prime Video, coming back stronger than ever with stellar third and fourth seasons. But all good things must eventually come to an end, even for the intrepid crew of the Rocinante. Amazon just dropped the official trailer for the sixth and final season of The Expanse, and it promises to be the most high-stakes season yet.

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below, especially S5.)

As we previously reported, The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions breaking out all over a Solar System long since colonized by humans (known as Earthers, Martians, and “Belters”). Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling but also for its use of accurate physics.

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Full Wheel of Time trailer has monsters, magic, and a virtual 3D gimmick

The new trailer for Amazon’s Wheel of Time offers “a first-of-its-kind immersive experience that allows fans to view the traditional 2D trailer in a virtual three-dimensional ‘wheel.'”

It’s been a long wait, but we finally have the full official trailer for Wheel of Time, Amazon’s highly anticipated adaptation of the late Robert Jordan‘s bestselling (and much beloved) 14-book series of epic fantasy novels. It’s a doozy, chock-full of monsters battling magic-wielding warriors set to appropriately dramatic music and an ominous voiceover by star Rosamund Pike, who plays the central character, Moraine.

The only downside is that the streaming platform has decided to be a bit too clever for its own good. On YouTube, fans can view the trailer in the traditional 2D manner or in a virtual three-dimensional “wheel.” That’s thanks to YouTube’s “360 Experience” immersive capabilities, which, for example, let viewers see two sides of the same fight. And clicking on an arrow in the upper left-hand corner will bring you enhanced imagery of the action. As Amazon described it in a press release:

To the left of the screen, [viewers will] discover Moiraine’s powerful ‘One Power’ channeling—featuring her voice and faces, artifacts, and symbols hidden amongst the energy weaves. On the right, the corruption of the Dark One represents a dissention [sic] into madness. The trailer also features spatial audio that gives fans a more immersive experience as objects appear from either side of the ‘wheel.’

I get that all this is meant to be a bonus, and there are probably fans who will appreciate it. But most of the Wheel of Time fans here at Ars found the gimmick annoying. We’re still pumped to watch the series, though.

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The Wheel of Time teaser is here, and it looks and feels exactly right

It’s been just a few weeks since we got our first look at still images from Amazon’s forthcoming The Wheel of Time series, adapted from the late Robert Jordan‘s bestselling 14-book series of epic fantasy novels. And now we have the first official teaser trailer. Count several Ars staffers among the many fans of Jordan’s books who have been eagerly following the years-long development of the series. From what we’ve seen, it looks like showrunner Rafe Judkins (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) has gotten the overall look and feel of the books exactly right. Fans should be pleased.

As I’ve written previously, the TV series will center on Moiraine (played by Oscar-nominee Rosamund Pike), a member of a powerful, all-woman organization called the Aes Sedai. Magic, known as the One Power, is divided into male (saidin) and female (saidar) flavors. The latter is the province of the Aes Sedai. Long ago, a great evil called the Dark One caused the saidin to become tainted, such that most men who show an ability to channel that magic go mad. It’s the job of the Aes Sedai to track down such men and strip them of their abilities—a process known as “gentling” that, unfortunately, is often anything but. There is also an ancient prophecy concerning the Dragon Reborn: the reincarnation of a person who will save or destroy humanity.

Given the epic scope of the novels, it’s no surprise that the TV series boasts a sprawling cast. In addition to Pike, Josha Stradowski stars as Rand al’Thor, while Marcus Rutherford plays apprentice blacksmith and dream-walker Perrin Aybara. Zoë Robins plays healer Nynaeve al’Meara, and Madeleine Madden plays Egwene al’Vere. Barney Harris plays series comic relief Matrim Cauthon. Hammed Animashaun has been cast as Loail, a close friend to Perrin and Rand al’Thor. Alexandre Willaume portrays Thom Merrilin, a “gleeman and adventurer”—basically a traveling bard—while Johann Myers plays the villainous Padan Fain, and Alvaro Morte plays Logain.

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We have our first look at images from Amazon’s new Wheel of Time series

Promotional image for upcoming streaming fantasy series.

Enlarge / The hotly anticipated Wheel of Time series is expected to debut in November 2021 on Amazon Prime. (credit: Amazon Prime)

So far, we’ve only seen a few tantalizing video teasers (which contain only split seconds of actual footage) and some poster art for The Wheel of Time, Amazon’s long-awaited TV adaptation of the late Robert Jordan‘s bestselling 14-book series of epic fantasy novels. But Entertainment Weekly just unveiled an exclusive first look at the new series, featuring four stunning images that give us a welcome taste of showrunner Rafe Judkins’ (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) vision for this fictional world.

(Some spoilers for the first book in Jordan’s series below.)

Wheel of Time is the first fantasy series that really dove into the political and cultural worlds of all these different characters,” Judkins told Entertainment Weekly. “It was also one of the first to dive into multiple POV characters, so you’re following an ensemble, with each of them having their own agendas and approaches to everything. That’s always felt to me like the missing piece of the fantasy-literature landscape that hasn’t been brought to TV or film yet.”

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Amazon expands same-day Prime delivery to 6 more U.S. cities

Amazon announced this morning it’s expanding its faster, same-day delivery service to half a dozen more U.S. cities. The service, which the retailer has been working to make same-day delivery even faster over the past year, now offers consumers in a number of markets the ability to shop up to 3 million items on, then receive their orders in only a few hours.

To do so, Amazon invested in what it called “mini-fulfillment centers” closer to where customers lived in select U.S. markets, initially in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, and Dallas. Those customers could then shop across a dozen merchandise categories, including Baby, Beauty & Health, Kitchen & Dining, Electronics, Pet Supplies, and more. As the pandemic continued to impact Amazon’s business, in November 2020, Amazon expanded its faster same-day service to more cities, to include Nashville and Washington, D.C.

With today’s expansion, Amazon is rolling out same-day delivery to Prime members in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte, and Houston, bringing the total markets served to 12. In these markets, shoppers will be able to place orders online throughout the day then have items on their doorstep in as fast as 5 hours, Amazon says. Customers can also place orders by midnight to have their orders arrive the following morning.

The service continues to be free with no additional charges on orders over $35 that qualify for same-day delivery. Orders under $35 have a $2.99 fee for Prime customers, and a $12.99 fee for non-members. Prime membership, meanwhile, is $12.99 per month or $119 per year.

The time frame commitments for same-day delivery are the same as those Amazon promised last year when it first announced its plans to speed up Prime delivery. Orders placed between midnight and 8 AM will arrive today by 1 PM. Orders placed between 8 AM and 1 PM arrive by 6 PM; those placed between 1 PM and 5 PM will arrive by 10 PM; and those placed between 5 PM and midnight will arrive overnight by 8 AM. That means customers can place orders fairly late and receive their items before they head out of the house the next day.

Faster same-day delivery has been one of the most significant services Amazon has used to challenge rivals like Walmart and Target, who both benefit from having a large brick-and-mortar footprint that allows them to more quickly serve their customers through same-day order pickup, curbside pickup, and same-day delivery services. While Walmart partners with third-parties on its same-day service, Express delivery, largely focused on grocery, Target acquired delivery service Shipt in 2017 to bring its fast delivery services in-house.

In response to the growing competition, Amazon has been recently acquiring smaller warehouse space inside major urban metros, including in these six new markets where it’s now announcing same-day delivery, as well as larger markets, like New York, and even suburban neighborhoods. It also acquired Whole Foods for $137.7 billion in 2017, not only to more fully participate in the online grocery business, but also in part because of its large retail footprint.

As Amazon has sped up the pace of what’s available under “Prime” delivery, it has wound down its older “Prime Now” business, which was retired Aug. 30 and will be fully shut down by year-end. The separate app had allowed customers to shop items that were available in one or two hours for an additional fee.

The news follows Amazon’s earning miss last week, when the retailer fell short of Wall St.’s estimates for revenue, and gave a weaker than-expected outlook for the quarter ahead, which Amazon attributed to difficult comparisons with a time frame that included Covid lockdowns during height of the pandemic in 2020. The company reported $113.08 billion in revenue and earnings of $15.12, versus expectations of $115.2 billion and $12.30.

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #amazon-com, #baltimore, #charlotte, #chicago, #dallas, #delivery-services, #detroit, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #houston, #nashville, #new-york, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #orlando, #philadelphia, #phoenix, #prime, #prime-now, #retailers, #shipt, #tampa, #target, #united-states, #walmart, #washington-d-c, #whole-foods

The Lord of the Rings TV series has finished filming, and it has a release date

The first live action promotional image for Amazon's new <em>The Lord of the Rings</em>-related series.

Enlarge / The first live action promotional image for Amazon’s new The Lord of the Rings-related series. (credit: Amazon Studios)

Today, Amazon Studios announced that its new TV series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has finished filming its first season. The season is expected to premiere on September 2, 2022, “with new episodes available weekly,” Amazon says.

Additionally, Amazon tweeted out one of the first visuals from the series, seen above. It depicts a person standing in a field looking out at a spectacular fantasy landscape.

Thirteen months might seem like a long gap between the conclusion of filming and the airing of the series, but a series like this is likely to have many visual effects that could contribute to a prolonged post-production period.

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Last-mile delivery in Latin America is ready to take off

In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.

Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.

E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

The holdout: Latin America

Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).

Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.

Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.

In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.

Operational and technological roadblocks abound

Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.

By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.

And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.

Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.

Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #argentina, #brazil, #chile, #colombia, #column, #costco, #doordash, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-latin-america-and-caribbean, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #instacart, #latin-america, #logistics, #lyft, #mercado-libre, #mexico, #nuro, #startups, #transportation, #uber, #walmart

Amazon makes its its lossless music streaming service a free upgrade

On the heels of this morning’s announcement of Apple’s next-generation music service featuring lossless audio and spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos, Amazon is making a move likely aimed at retaining its own streaming music subscribers. The company says that going forward, its high-quality streaming tier, Amazon Music HD, will be made available to all eligible Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers at no extra cost.

Amazon first announced Amazon Music HD in fall 2019 with access to over 50 million songs that would stream in what Amazon is calling HD, with a bit depth of 16 bits, and a sample rate of 44.1kHz (around CD-quality). It also promised “millions” more songs that would stream in Ultra HD, or 24-bit, with a sample rate of up to 192kHz (or better than CD quality).

Today, Amazon Music’s HD catalog has grown to over 70 million songs and there are over 7 million Ultra HD tracks available. Amazon Music HD customers can also access a growing catalog of songs remixed in 3D Audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and Sony 360RA, which can be played back on Amazon’s own high-fidelity speaker, the Echo Studio.

Music in 360RA can also be streamed via Amazon Music HD on Sony’s RA5000 and RA3000 speakers by using Alexa Cast, the company notes.

The launch of HD streaming was seen as a way to counteract the threat from the music streaming service Tidal, which had been catering to audiophiles with higher quality streams, as well as a way to differentiate its service from larger streaming rivals, like Apple and Spotify — the latter which recently announced a high-end subscription of its own, Spotify HiFi, whose pricing and launch date is yet unknown.

Before today, Amazon Music HD was priced at $12.99 per month for Amazon Prime subscribers and $14.99 per month for anyone else. Now, Amazon says that new and existing subscribers to the Amazon Music Unlimited Individual Plan ($7.99/month for Prime members and $9.99/month otherwise) or the Family Plan ($14.99/month) can upgrade to Amazon Music HD at no additional cost — essentially a $5 per month savings.

The changes will kick in at the next billing cycle, and are supported in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada, France, Italy, and Spain.

“When we first launched Amazon Music HD, our goal was to lead the industry by enabling music fans around the world to stream the best quality recording, the way artists intended their music to be heard,” said Steve Boom, VP of Amazon Music, in a statement about today’s news. “We’re thrilled now to make Amazon Music HD available to everyone at no extra cost. All music fans should have access to this quality of music, and now they do,” he added.

The move by Amazon to make its HD catalog a free upgrade follows this morning’s announcement from Apple that it will add lossless audio to Apple Music at no additional cost, starting next month. The upgrade will also bring spatial audio with support for Dolby Atmos. Given the shift in the market, the pressure is on Spotify to make its HiFi music service competitively priced, as well.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-music, #amazon-music-unlimited, #amazon-prime, #echo-studio, #media, #music, #music-streaming, #prime, #streaming-service, #surround-sound

Best Buy takes aim at Amazon Prime with its own membership program

Little cartoon people explain the advantages of Best Buy membership.

Enlarge / Extended warranties and unlimited tech support—including on things you didn’t purchase from Best Buy in the first place—are bigger potential value-adds to Best Buy Beta than the ubiquitous free shipping. (credit: Best Buy)

Best Buy is floating a new membership program called Best Buy Beta in some test markets. The new program, somewhat like Walmart’s Walmart+, takes aim at Amazon’s immensely popular Prime membership service—but does so while focusing on Best Buy’s own corporate strengths, in addition to the usual free shipping perks.

For $200 per year—or $180, for Best Buy credit card holders—Beta members get unlimited Geek Squad tech support, included extended protection (up to two years) on most purchases, free standard shipping, and free installation for most products and appliances. There’s also a 24/7 “concierge” service available exclusively to Beta members by phone, chat, or email.

The details Best Buy’s corporate announcement provides about the concierge service are slim, but it sounds like a sort of generic “niece or nephew who’s good at technology” who can can answer questions. (Nibling as a Service?)

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Review: Sean Bean gives Snowpiercer a charismatic villain to stir the pot

The unexpected arrival of the presumed-dead Mr. Wilford throws a wrench into the revolutionaries’ plans to reform governance aboard the train, in the second season of Snowpiercer, TNT’s TV adaptation of the 2013 film of the same name, directed by Bong Joon-ho. Most of the talented ensemble cast members who made S1 so worth watching are back and as good as ever, but ultimately S2 belongs to Sean Bean, whose portrayal of Wilford gives the series the charismatic, larger-than-life (human) villain it needed to really raise the emotional stakes.

(Spoilers for S1 below. Major spoilers for the S2 finale below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we’ve reported previously, TNT’s series is set seven years after the climate catastrophe that produced the Freeze. Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Blindspotting) plays Andre Layton, a prisoner at the tail end of the train (aka the “Tailies”)—those without tickets for the train who managed to climb onboard at the last minute, before the train departed and left the rest of humanity to die. In S1, Layton gets caught up in a revolutionary struggle against the strictly imposed social hierarchy aboard Snowpiercer. The conditions in the tail are squalid and typical punishment for insubordination is having one’s arm stuck through a portal into the cold outside until it freezes solid and shatters off. There’s also a prison car to punish more serious infractions, whose occupants are kept in suspension in “the Drawers.”

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #snowpiercer, #television, #tnt, #tv-review

Backed by YC, Vendease is building Amazon Prime for restaurants in Africa

For small and mid-sized restaurants in Nigeria and most of Africa, food procurement can be a complex process to manage. The system is such that a business can easily run out of money or have considerable savings. Most restaurants don’t have access to deal directly with farms to get better deals because they lack the staffing to chase them. Besides, they also don’t have the aggregation pull as single entities to directly get good value from the farms.

Nigerian startup Vendease solves this problem by building a marketplace that allows restaurants to buy directly from farms and food manufacturers.

The company was founded by Tunde Kara, Olumide Fayankin, Gatumi Aliyu, and Wale Oyepeju. The idea for Vendease came when founders who have been friends for more than five years noticed their favorite restaurants in cities like Lagos and Accra shutting down. Inquisitive, they asked the owners who were acquaintances why, and the problems boiled down to the unreliable and expensive nature of food procurement in the cities.

Some months later they saw a hotel manager openly complain to a vendor about the unsteady supply of produce the hotel was getting. It sparked an idea in the founders’ minds.

The established processes involved staff or a contract employee going to the market or using third-party vendors. The founders saw that these processes were often unreliable from the two unrelated events, and restaurants lost a lot of money from price inflation and bad produce.

“We thought to ourselves that if restaurant owners and hotel managers have these problems, let us actually do some research and find out if it is a problem we can solve, scale and make money while doing it,” Kara said to TechCrunch.

At the time, Kara, the CEO, and Fayankin, the COO, held the respective positions at a Pan-African media consulting company called RED Media. Aliyu, the chief product officer (CPO), also held a similar role at another Lagos and San Francisco-based, YC-backed startup, 54gene. Oyepeju, the CTO, was working on a couple of technology projects for corporates.

Before Vendease, they had founded an adtech startup for ride-hailing companies, which didn’t survive for long. So this was another shot at another entrepreneurial journey, and after two and half months of iteration, the founders decided to launch the company in January 2020. They also closed an undisclosed pre-seed round to kickstart operations. 

On its website, it is described as “a procurement platform that provides a transparent process for hotels and restaurants to get the best quality products at the best possible price.” But Kara has a more fanciful description: The Amazon Prime for restaurants in Africa.

Customers can order anything ranging from bread to grains and meat to vegetables on the website. The order notification goes to the farms or food manufacturers, gets processed, and delivery is done within 24 hours. 

“Why we call ourselves that is because we are deliberate about fulfilling our orders to restaurants and hotels in less than 24 hours. As most of us know, this is similar to how Amazon Prime prioritizes delivery,” he commented.

The speed and timely manner in which Vendease carries out its operations are such that it currently completes 80% of on-time and one-time deliveries across all orders.

Image Credits: Vendease

To further highlight how effective the company has been thus far, Kara claims that a good number of the 100 businesses using Vendease went from procuring only one type of produce to 80% of their catalog in two months.

As much as Vendease helps restaurants a lot, it also looks out for the vendors and farmers involved in the supply chain. Typically it takes two to three months for these set of customers to get the payments and this happens because restaurants and hotels take too long to balance their books before making payments. In effect, farmers and vendors mark up their prices to mitigate losses, making products more expensive for restaurants and hotels

While growing up, Kara and Fayankin were on both sides of the vicious cycle. Growing up on a farm and helping his parents with livestock and crop care, Kara knows what it means to be owed for a long time.

“Those experiences help fuel what I do right now. Then, we had a problem selling our products and most times we ended up consuming them because we didn’t have enough off-takers. Even when you did, they’ll owe for six months. And this problem still exists to date.”

On the other side of the marketplace is Olumide, who grew up in a hotel and restaurant business. He runs and handles procurement activities and his experience is vital to how Vendease handles issues around unreliable and expensive supply of food produce. But now they are helping these customers reduce the waiting time to days.

Although they would’ve wanted to solve these problems earlier, their careers strayed toward media and energy. However, it has brought them back, and they’re solving additional problems they didn’t recognise in the past. They soon figured that customers couldn’t track most of their orders and be certain of what they got alongside the supply and cost issues.

Vendease has built all that to help these businesses digitize, track and automate their procurement and inventory management processes. It also helps with logistics, warehousing, quality control and financing where restaurants can buy goods and pay later.

In the next five years, the one-year-old company wants to be the operating system for food supplies in Africa. Kara talks of plans to expand to other African cities in the coming months but is tight-lipped on the names. As Demo Day approaches, the team will be looking to raise some money and follows Egypt’s Breadfast as the only restaurant-focused companies from Africa (although they have very different business models) that the accelerator has funded.

#africa, #amazon-prime, #food, #lagos, #logistics, #restaurant, #startups, #tc, #vendease

Can’t figure out how to end your Amazon Prime sub? These complaints could help…

Amazon’s use of dark patterns that add friction to the process of terminating a Prime subscription is being targeted by 16 consumer rights groups in Europe and the US which are taking coordinated action to urge regulatory intervention.

One of them — Norway’s Consumer Council (NCC) — has also published a report calling out what it describes as the ecommerce giant’s “manipulative” and “unreasonably cumbersome” unsubscribe process for Prime. The report has been punningly titled ‘You can log out, but you can never leave‘.

“It should be as easy to end a subscription as it was to subscribe in the first place. Amazon should facilitate a good user experience instead of hindering customers and tricking them into continuing paid services they do not need or want,” said NCC director of digital policy, Finn Lützow-Holm Myrstad, in a statement.

“In our view, this practice not only betrays the expectations and trust of consumers but breaches European law,” he added.

The Prime subscription is a key tool in Amazon’s arsenal, generating reliably recurring revenue while simultaneously encouraging users to lock themselves in to making additional purchases via the carrot of unlimited ‘free’ fast shipping (which applies to a subset of qualifying items on the marketplace).

Other perks Amazon throws in to juice Prime membership include streaming movies, TV shows, music and games, plus exclusive shopping programs and discounts (though the exact bundle varies by market).  

However a lock-in vibe also applies when trying to end a Prime subscription, per the complaints, because Amazon requires users to successfully navigate multiple menus, select from confusingly worded multiple-choice options and scroll past various distracting and/or irrelevant interstitials and dead space in order to locate the button that actually ends their subscription.  

And, don’t forget, this is the same company that famously patented a ‘1-click’ button for consumers’ cash to pour into its coffers…

The NCC has made the below video illustrating the various dark patterns Amazon deploys to try to nudge Prime subscribers away from unsubscribing — including a cartoon of a dog barking because, uh, we have no idea tbh…

Complaints against Amazon’s click-heavy process for Prime unsubscribing are being filed by consumer groups in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Switzerland and Norway and the US — so a variety of national and regional consumer protection laws are involved.

The NCC’s complaint, for example, makes reference to Norway’s Marketing Control Act — which implements the EU’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive — providing a framework for “what marketing, commercial practices and terms of service the service providers are allowed to use in different markets”, as it explains in the complaint.

“The Marketing Control Act section 6 implements the general clause in Article 5 of the Directive which states that an unfair commercial practice is banned. What constitutes an unfair commercial practice is defined in the second paragraph of section 6, which states that a commercial practice is unfair if it breaches ‘good business practices’ toward consumers, and is able to significantly alter a consumer’s financial conduct, so that the consumer makes a decision that they would not otherwise have made,” the NCC argues.

Some of the coordinated complaints will be less formal, taking the form of letters written to consumer protection agencies urging them to investigate. In the US, for example, the FTC will be urged to “investigate Amazon’s practices and analyze whether they violate Section 5 of the FTC Act”.

While in Germany the VZBV consumer protection agency told us it’s currently assessing Amazon’s cancellation process for Prime — which it noted “looks a bit different” to the one in the Norwegian complaints — saying it’s not yet clear whether or not it will file a court injunction over the issue.

“Unlike the other consumer organisations taking part in this concerted action, we’re not sending complaints to authorities,” the VZBV spokesperson added. “My employer, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv) is able to send legal warnings and, if demands to cease and desist are not being met, sue companies infringing consumer protection laws in its own capacity. We will do so if there is enough legal merit to this case. But as I said, it is not completely decided yet.”

We contacted Amazon for comment on the complaints against the Prime unsubscribe process and it denied making it unclear and difficult for members to cancel their subscription, arguing that it only takes “a few clicks” online or “a quick phone call”.

Here’s its full statement:

Amazon makes it clear and easy for Prime members to cancel their subscription at any time, whether through a few clicks online, a quick phone call or by turning off auto renew in their membership options. Customer trust is at the heart of all of our products and services and we reject the claim that our cancellation process is unfair or creates uncertainty. We take great pride in the Prime service and the number of ways it makes our members lives easier, but we make it easy for customers to leave whenever they choose to. The information we provide in the online cancellation flow gives a full view of the benefits and services members are cancelling.

Consumer groups banding together to apply pressure on tech giants to change dubious practices is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2018, for example, a number of European groups coordinated complaints against Google’s ‘deceptive’ harvesting of location data. Just under a year ago the Irish Data Protection Commission opened a formal investigation — which remains ongoing.

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #consumer-protection, #dark-pattern-design, #norwegian-consumer-council, #tc

Owen Wilson must choose between real and fantasy worlds in Bliss trailer

Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek star in the forthcoming science fiction film Bliss.

Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, Zoolander) plays a man who finds himself flitting between two worlds, one of which is supposedly a simulation, in Bliss, a new science fiction film coming to Amazon Prime next month that co-stars Salma Hayek (Desperado, Frida). Sure, the basic concept sounds a bit like a ripoff of The Matrix with a dash of Solaris, but Mike Cahill is the director, which bodes well for Bliss being a fresher take on a familiar premise.

Cahill, you see, also directed the 2011 indie sci-fi film, Another Earth—his first feature—which received a standing ovation at its premiere and won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It was also among the top 10 indie films of the year selected by the National Board of Review Awards. Cahill’s 2014 followup feature, I Origins, also snagged the Sloan Prize; Cahill is the only director to have twice won the award. In short, he’s got some serious indie sci-fi film street cred.


The plot of Another Earth centered on the discovery of a mirror Earth planet, where everyone has a doppelgänger. Clearly, Cahill is interested in exploring themes of duality, because he’s returned to that rich vein for Bliss (not to be confused with the 2019 Fantastic Fest selection of the same name.) Per the official premise: “An unfulfilled man (Wilson) and a mysterious woman (Hayek) believe they are living in a simulated reality, but when their newfound ‘Bliss’ world begins to bleed into the ‘ugly’ world, they must decide what’s real and where they truly belong.”

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#amazon-prime, #bliss, #entertainment, #film, #gaming-culture, #mike-cahill, #owen-wilson, #science-fiction

What makes The Expanse so great: Good science, balancing epic with personal

<em>The Expanse</em> returns to Amazon Prime for another epic season.

Enlarge / The Expanse returns to Amazon Prime for another epic season. (credit: Amazon Prime)

Amazon Prime’s epic science fiction series The Expanse is back for its fifth season. In her review last week, Ars’ Tech Policy Reporter Kate Cox called it “the best [season] since its first, a long-awaited high-stakes payoff to several seasons’ worth of setup,” adding, “if you drifted away from the show during earlier seasons, like something accidentally dropped in microgravity, this new season makes it worth finding a way to come back.”

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As we’ve noted previously, The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions that are breaking out all over a Solar System long since colonized by humans—mostly between Earthers, Martians, and “Belters.” Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and its devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling but also its excellent use of accurate physics.

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #science-fiction, #science-fiction-television, #streaming-television, #the-expanse

Walmart+ takes on Prime by dropping $35 minimum on purchases

Walmart+, the retailer’s lower cost alternative to Amazon Prime offering same-day delivery of groceries and other items, is making its service more appealing with today’s launch of a new perk. The company says that starting on Friday, December 4, it will remove the $35 shipping minimum on orders from for its members. However, this doesn’t apply to the same-day orders of groceries or other items fulfilled by Walmart stores, but rather online shopping where orders are placed through Walmart’s traditional e-commerce channels.

That means there’s no longer a minimum order requirement on the next-day and two-day shipping that’s offered on items shipped from, no matter the basket total. The change, arriving only a couple of months after Walmart+’s launch, positions the new program as more of a true alternative to Amazon Prime, as Prime’s biggest perk has always been its free fast shipping service that encourages consumers to shop online without worrying about minimum order sizes.

Meanwhile, Walmart+’s biggest perk until now had been its same-day delivery service, with a particular focus on groceries — similar to Instacart or Amazon Fresh. The service didn’t charge fees on same-day grocery if the orders were at least $35, and this aspect continues today.

The Walmart+ program itself grew out of Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited, an earlier version of the service that had also involved having Walmart store staff pick orders which are handed off to delivery partners. In the past, those partners have included Postmates (now acquired by Uber), DoorDash, Roadie, and Point Pickup, among others. More recently, Walmart acquired last-mile delivery operation JoyRun, to bring more of its delivery logistics business in-house. 

Unlike some grocery delivery services, Walmart’s advantage in same-day is that it could also fulfill orders of other everyday items from its store shelves, not just food and household goods. When Walmart+ launched in mid-September, it promised same-day delivery of over 160,000 items.

The program also includes a small handful of other perks like fuel discounts at nearly 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express stations and access to Scan & Go to skip the checkout lines when shopping in-store.

Today, Walmart said it’s also expanding the fuel savings to over 500 Sam’s Club gas stations, too.

While Amazon Prime has expanded over the years to include all sorts of benefits, like free music and streaming video, e-books, audiobooks, gaming perks, and more, Walmart+ so far remains focused on its core features — like shipping benefits and cost savings. And coming in at $98 per year (or $12.95/mo), it’s cheaper than Prime’s $119 per year membership, which could appeal to consumers only interested in free delivery.

Walmart, like many large retailers, has benefitted by the acceleration of e-commerce driven by the pandemic. The company, in its third quarter earnings, reported U.S. e-commerce sales were up by 79% in the quarter, with earnings of $1.34 a share on revenue that was up 5.2% year-over-year to $134.7 billion.

So far, Walmart has declined to share how many customers have signed up for Walmart+ much to investors’ dismay. (One third-party estimate puts it at 19M members, however). The retailer notes the program is available at over 4,700 stores, including 2,800 stores that offer delivery — the latter which reaches 70% of the U.S.

#amazon-prime, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #retail, #retailers, #sams-club, #united-states, #walmart

Creeptastic Truth Seekers takes its horror seriously—but not too seriously

(l-r) Emma D'Arcy, Nick Frost, and Samson Kanyo star in <em>Truth Seekers</em>.

Enlarge / (l-r) Emma D’Arcy, Nick Frost, and Samson Kanyo star in Truth Seekers. (credit: Amazon Prime)

A lonely broadband installer with a side gig as a ghost hunter and his new partner encounter more supernatural intrigue than they bargained for in Truth Seekers, a new comedy series on Amazon Prime, created by Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders. We’re fans of Paul, Shaun of the Dead, and the rest of the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, so it’s nice to see Frost and Pegg back together on-screen again. Truth Seekers brings their unique comic sensibility to the topic of paranormal investigation.

Per the official synopsis:

Truth Seekers is a supernatural comedy series about a team of part-time paranormal investigators who team up to uncover and film ghost sightings across the UK, sharing their adventures on an online channel for all to see. However, as they stake out haunted churches, underground bunkers and abandoned hospitals with their array of homemade ghost-detecting gizmos, their supernatural experiences grow more frequent, more terrifying and even deadly, as they begin to uncover a conspiracy that could bring about Armageddon for the entire human race.

Frost plays Gus—a lonely widowed guy with a boring job installing broadband for a company called SMYLE—who moonlights as an amateur paranormal investigator. The titular Truth Seekers is the name of his YouTube channel. Pegg has a somewhat smaller role (in terms of screen time) as Gus’ cheerfully exuberant boss, Dave, who sports a positively disastrous wig and seems to be very keen on always maintaining “100 percent coverage.” Is he really that gung-ho about customer service, or is there some ulterior motive at SMYLE?

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #nick-frost, #simon-pegg, #streaming-television, #television, #truth-seekers

Review: Don’t call it a comeback—The Boys returns better than ever in S2

Superheroes abuse their powers rather than using them for good in The Boys, which just concluded its second season.

In my review of The Boys S1 last year, I called the Amazon Prime series “a wickedly funny, darkly irreverent adaptation” and “ideal late-summer therapy for anyone who has grown a bit weary of the constant onslaught of superhero movies.” I wasn’t alone in my love for the show: The Boys was a massive hit, and that success has continued with S2, which was the most-watched global launch of any Amazon series to date, pretty much doubling the show’s worldwide audience. S2 is even better than its predecessor, deftly tackling timely themes and hot-button issues, while never sacrificing all the biting satire and good, gory fun that we loved about S1. And can we just give Antony Starr an Emmy already for his stunning performance as Homelander?

(Spoilers for S1 below; some spoilers for S2, but no major reveals.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. The most elite superhero group is called the Seven, headed up by Homelander (Starr), a truly violent and unstable psychopath disguised as the All-American hero, who mostly bullies his supe team into compliance. The other members include A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who boasts super-speed but has also become addicted to the experimental performance-enhancing substance called Compound-V. The Deep (Chace Crawford) can breathe underwater, thanks to having gills—voiced in S2 by Patton Oswalt during a hallucination sequence—and converse with marine creatures.

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #the-boys, #tv-reviews

Review: Utopia is a very good series released at exactly the wrong time

It’s a rare TV series that gives me pause about even writing a review, but Amazon’s new sci-fi thriller Utopia turned out to be just that. Not because it isn’t good—on the contrary, I found it both entertaining and thought provoking. But there are several key elements of the central plot that proved disquieting enough (even for someone like me who is not generally squeamish) that I had to ponder the pros and cons of giving space to a show whose release perhaps should have been postponed by a few months, given current world events. (I mean, read the room, Amazon! Geez!) In the end, the pro arguments won out.

(All major spoilers are below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we reported previously, the series is a reboot of the 2013 British version, about online fans of a graphic novel called Dystopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel, Utopia, and this makes them targets of a secret organization. Amazon has kept the same basic premise (with a few tweaks) and swapped in an American cast. Per the official premise: “When the conspiracy in the elusive comic Utopia is real, a group of young fans come together to embark on a high-stakes twisted adventure to use what they uncover to save themselves, each other and ultimately humanity.”

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #tv-review

Amazon Prime Day 2020: All the best tech deals we can find

Amazon Prime Day 2020: All the best tech deals we can find

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

It’s later than usual, but Amazon Prime Day has arrived. The Dealmaster is here to guide you away from the junk and toward 2020’s best Prime Day deals—particularly when it comes to discounts on gadgets and gear.

Much like last year, Prime Day 2020 is actually a 48-hour affair, live through October 13 and 14. The sales event remains a way for Amazon to bolster its hugely popular Prime membership program first and foremost, so you’ll still need to subscribe to Prime to take advantage of the myriad Prime Day sales. Those on a free trial can take part, but trials are only available to people who haven’t been a Prime member within the last 12 months.

For those who haven’t bothered with Prime Day in the past, know that most of the “deals” Amazon advertises aren’t, well, deals. Sometimes, a product’s advertised price isn’t much cheaper than its typical street price; other times, the product itself just isn’t worth buying in the first place. This hasn’t changed with Prime Day 2020.

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#amazon, #amazon-prime, #amazon-prime-day-2020, #dealmaster, #features, #staff

The future of the Belt has begun in first trailer for The Expanse S5

The fifth season of the sci-fi series The Expanse will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on December 16, 2020.

Amazon Prime debuted the first trailer (embedded above) for the upcoming fifth season of The Expanse during the series panel at the New York Comic Con’s Metaverse today. And the stakes are high. According to the official premise, “The future of The Belt has begun as Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) wages Armageddon against the Inners for a lifetime of oppression and injustice.”

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below.)

As we previously reported, The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions that are breaking out all over a Solar System long since colonized by humans—mostly between Earthers, Martians, and “Belters.” Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and its devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling, but also its excellent use of accurate physics. The third and fourth seasons earned a rare 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes (seasons one and two earned 76 percent and 96 percent, respectively).

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #science-fiction-television, #streaming-television, #the-expanse, #trailers, #tv-trailers

Here’s the trailer, release date for Simon Pegg/Nick Frost sitcom Truth Seekers

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play ghost hunters in the new Amazon Prime horror comedy Truth Seekers.

Back in July, during the virtual San Diego Comic-Con@Home, Amazon Studios released a beguiling teaser for Truth Seekers, the forthcoming sci-fi/horror/comedy series starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It looked like a lot of fun—how could you go wrong with a reunion of Pegg and Frost? The full trailer just dropped, and it definitely reinforces that positive first impression. We also now have a release date: Amazon will screen the first two episodes at the Canneseries festival on October 10 and will release the full series on Prime Video on October 30, 2020.

As we reported previously, the series was created by Pegg, Frost, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders. It’s envisioned as a cross between The X-Files and the British TV series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. Each of the eight episodes will focus on a specific paranormal incident, a throwback to a classic monster-of-the-week format. Rather than going with pure spoof, Truth Seekers will apparently take its horror aspects seriously.

Per the official synopsis:

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #nick-frost, #simon-pegg, #streaming-television, #trailers, #truth-seekers

Introducing Apple One, Apple’s subscription bundle answer to Amazon Prime

Apple One tiers.

Enlarge / Apple One tiers. (credit: Apple)

After months of rumors that it was right around the corner, Apple’s subscription bundle has finally been announced. Dubbed Apple One, the service combines multiple Apple services like Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, and Apple News+ into one subscription—a page from Amazon’s book, to be sure.

Apple One will offer three tiers. The lowest-priced one, at $14.95/mo, includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50GB of iCloud storage for a single user. The next one up, “Family,” offers those same services to multiple family users for $19.95/mo. The highest-priced “Premier” tier, at $29.95/mo, includes bundled magazine subscription service Apple News+ and Fitness+ as well, along with a bump to 2TB of iCloud storage.

Apple says these plans will roll out “this fall,” with a 30-day free trial for all new users to determine which tier is best for them.

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#amazon-prime, #apple, #apple-arcade, #apple-news, #apple-one, #apple-tv, #tech

A dark comic book conspiracy turns out to be all too real in Utopia trailer

John Cusack and Rainn Wilson star in Amazon Prime’s black comedy/conspiracy thriller, Utopia.

Last month, at the virtual San Diego Comic Con, Amazon dropped the first teaser for Utopia, a reboot (adapted by Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn) of the controversial 2013-2014 British black comedy/conspiracy thriller. Now the streaming platform has released the official full trailer, and the series looks like it’s going to be quite the wild ride.

As we reported previously, the series is about online fans of a dystopian graphic novel called Utopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel (which supposedly also predicts future world events). This makes them targets of a secret organization called The Network.

The British version received critical praise for its originality and visual style, offset by strong reservations about its extreme violence, which struck many as unnecessarily gratuitous. (The most famous scene involved a torturer using a spoon to gouge out a victim’s eye). It remains to be seen if Amazon’s Utopia will match the same scale of violence, although Flynn recently told Deadline Hollywood that it wouldn’t be as prominent.

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #trailers, #utopia

Review: Rosamund Pike is riveting as Marie Curie in uneven biopic Radioactive

Rosamund Pike stars as Marie Curie in the film Radioactive, now streaming on Amazon Prime.

A resolute young woman in Paris in the 1890s sets the scientific world ablaze with her revolutionary discoveries in Radioactive, a film about the life of Marie Curie, based on the 2010 graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss. Director Marjane Satrapi‘s film is part earnest biopic, part arthouse film, elevated by a luminous, intense, and riveting performance by Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) as Marie Curie.

(Some spoilers below for those unfamiliar with the life of Marie Curie.)

Satrapi is perhaps best known for her powerful autobiographical memoir, Persepolis, depicting her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in graphic novel form, which she later adapted into an animated film. So it’s not surprising that she would admire Redniss’ graphic novel about Marie Curie. Still, Satrapi admitted in an interview that she was initially reluctant to take on the project. “I was like, why the hell would you make another script about Marie Curie? There are already four of them,” she told WWD. In the end, she became “obsessed” with making the film, which she views as being as much about the aftermath of Marie Curie’s discoveries as her life and science.

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#amazon-prime, #biopic, #entertainment, #film, #film-review, #gaming-culture, #marie-curie, #physics, #physics-history, #radioactive, #radioactivity, #rosamund-pike, #science

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost return to horror-comedy roots with Truth Seekers teaser

Amazon’s new supernatural comedy series Truth Seekers reunites Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

A group of part-time paranormal investigators team up to uncover a deadly conspiracy in the first teaser for Truth Seekers, a forthcoming sci-fi/horror comedy series from Amazon starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The first teaser was unveiled today at San Diego Comic-Con @Home, which has had to switch to an online-only, virtual format this year due to the continuing pandemic.

Created by Pegg, Frost, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders, the eight-episode series is envisioned as a cross between The X-Files and the British TV series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. Each episode will focus on a specific paranormal incident, a throwback to a classic monster-of-the-week format. Rather than going with pure spoof, Truth Seekers will apparently take its horror aspects seriously.

“You have to not make fun of the horror,” Pegg said during the Comic-Con panel. “It’s tempting with genre fare to parody that… but I think the key for horror-comedy is to take the horror seriously.”

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#amazon-prime, #gaming-culture, #nick-frost, #san-diego-comic-con, #simon-pegg, #streaming-television, #trailers, #truth-seekers

Hear how three startups are approaching quantum computing differently at TC Disrupt 2020

Quantum computing is at an interesting point. It’s at the cusp of being mature enough to solve real problems. But like in the early days of personal computers, there are lots of different companies trying different approaches to solving the fundamental physics problems that underly the technology, all while another set of startups is looking ahead and thinking about how to integrate these machines with classical computers — and how to write software for them.

At Disrupt 2020 on September 14-18, we will have a panel with D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz, Quantum Machines co-founder and CEO Itamar Sivan and IonQ president and CEO Peter Chapman. The leaders of these three companies are all approaching quantum computing from different angles, yet all with the same goal of making this novel technology mainstream.

D-Wave may just be the best-known quantum computing company thanks to an early start and smart marketing in its early days. Alan Baratz took over as CEO earlier this year after a few years as chief product officer and executive VP of R&D at the company. Under Baratz, D-Wave has continued to build out its technology — and especially its D-Wave quantum cloud service. Leap 2, the latest version of its efforts, launched earlier this year. D-Wave’s technology is also very different from that of many other efforts thanks to its focus on quantum annealing. That drew a lot of skepticism in its early days, but it’s now a proven technology and the company is now advancing both its hardware and software platform.

Like Baratz, IonQ’s Peter Chapman isn’t a founder either. Instead, he was the engineering director for Amazon Prime before joining IonQ in 2019. Under his leadership, the company raised a $55 million funding round in late 2019, which the company extended by another $7 million last month. He is also continuing IonQ’s bet on its trapped ion technology, which makes it relatively easy to create qubits and which, the company argues, allows it to focus its efforts on controlling them. This approach also has the advantage that IonQ’s machines are able to run at room temperature, while many of its competitors have to cool their machines to as close to zero Kelvin as possible, which is an engineering challenge in itself, especially as these companies aim to miniaturize their quantum processors.

Quantum Machines plays in a slightly different part of the ecosystem from D-Wave and IonQ. The company, which recently raised $17.5 million in a Series A round, is building a quantum orchestration platform that combines novel custom hardware for controlling quantum processors — because once quantum machines reach a bit more maturity, a standard PC won’t be fast enough to control them — with a matching software platform and its own QUA language for programming quantum algorithms. Quantum Machines is Itamar Sivan’s first startup, which he launched with his co-founders after getting his Ph.D. in condensed matter and material physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Come to Disrupt 2020 and hear from these companies and others on September 14-18. Get a front-row seat with your Digital Pro Pass for just $245 or with a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package for $445. Prices are increasing next week, so grab yours today to save up to $300.

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #computing, #d-wave, #emerging-technologies, #events, #ionq, #quantum-cryptography, #quantum-machines, #quantum-mechanics, #qubit, #startups, #tc

First teaser for The Boys S2 promises another wild and bloody ride

Our vigilantes are on the run from Homelander (Antony Starr) and the rest of the Seven in the second season of Amazon Prime’s The Boys.

The war between corrupt, evil superheroes and a ragtag band of vigilantes out to expose their true nature and curb the power of “super” in society will escalate dramatically, judging by the first teaser for S2 of The Boys. The Amazon Prime series—one of the most-watched on the streaming platform when it debuted last year—is based on the comics of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson.

(S1 spoilers below.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is a self-appointed vigilante intent on checking the bad behavior of the so-called “supes”—especially The Seven, the most elite superhero squad and, hence, the most corrupt. Butcher especially hates Seven leader Homelander (Antony Starr), a psychopath who raped his now-dead wife. Butcher recruits an equally traumatized young man named Hugh “Hughie” Campbell (Jack Quaid, son of Dennis) to help in his revenge, after another Seven member, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) used his super-speed to literally run through Hughie’s girlfriend, killing her instantly.

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #television, #the-boys, #trailers

Amazon Prime Video will finally offer one of Netflix’s most basic features

Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

Enlarge / Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

At long last, Amazon Prime Video is catching up to competitors like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ with a key feature: user profiles. The feature is rolling out in the mobile and set-top box versions of the Prime Video app starting today.

The feature allows multiple people sharing an Amazon Prime subscription to maintain separate watch histories and watch lists. Additionally, Amazon has made a distinction between user profiles for kids and profiles for adults, with different rules. Users can configure up to six profiles in any mix of children’s and adults’ profiles. All this is rolling out starting today, but it won’t reach all users right away.

According to TechCrunch, multiple user profiles were supported in India and Africa previously, and they are only now making their way to the rest of the world, including the United States. The rollout brings Amazon closer to feature parity with Netflix and other big streaming players. The majority of major apps in this space offered this feature, but there are some outliers—like CBS All Access.

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Amazon Prime Video to globally premiere 7 Indian movies as theaters remain closed

Amazon has secured rights to premiere seven Indian movies that were initially scheduled for a theatrical release directly on its Prime Video on-demand streaming service in a move that has prompted two major movie theater chains to express “extreme displeasure” and “disappointment.”

The e-commerce giant, which is reportedly in talks to buy AMC theater chain, said on Friday that it will release these movies, which include “Gulabo Sitabo” starring Indian legend Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, and “Shakuntala Devi” featuring Vidya Balan as lead, over the next three months starting with May.

Prime Video subscribers won’t have to pay an additional fee to access these movies, which span five Indian languages, the company said. Other “highly anticipated” titles are Tamil drama “Ponmagal Vandhal”, “Penguin” (Tamil and Telugu), “Law” (Kannada), “French Biryani” (Kannada), and “Sufiyum Sujatayum” (Malayalam).

The move comes as India maintains a nationwide lockdown that has left more than 9,500 theaters and other public places shut.

PVR and INOX, two large theater chains in India that together run about 1,500 screens in the country, said they were alarmed and concerned by the move.

“Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners. Needless to say, INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends,” said INOX in a statement.

Amazon, which began selling movie tickets in India last year, has been attempting to challenge, in INOX’s words, “age old, windowing-pattern.” In the last one and a half year, the shopping giant has struck deals with movie studios to narrow the window for a movie’s theatrical release to its debut on a streaming service to a few weeks, down from two to three months in India.

INOX and PVR are not alone. Last month, AMC Theaters said it will no longer screen films made by Universal Pictures, which released “Trolls World Tour” directly to streaming.

Amazon, which bundles Prime Video in its $13-a-year Prime subscription plan in India, said it is providing these movies a platform that reaches 4,000 towns and cities in more than 200 countries and territories. The company has not disclosed how many Prime Video subscribers it has amassed in India, or elsewhere. Amazon Prime Video competes with Disney’s Hotstar, Netflix, and more than three dozen other services in India.

Gaurav Gandhi, Director and Country General Manager of Amazon Prime Video India, said in a statement that “Indian audiences have been eagerly awaiting the release of these 7 highly anticipated films and we are delighted that Amazon Prime Video will now be premiering these movies for our customers – who can enjoy watching these from the safety and comfort of their homes and on a screen of their choice.”

It appears that Amazon hasn’t had to spend a ton to acquire rights for these titles. In an interview with Huffington Post India, Ronnie Lahiri, co-producer of “Gulabo Sitabo” said “it wasn’t like we got insane money from Amazon” though he called the deal a “win-win.”

“We’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena, not seen since World War 2. These are the times when things change. Initially, people have apprehensions but one has to adapt. That’s how human civilisations have prospered. The minute we stop adapting, we’re done. Instead of waiting for the situation to get better, you tackle it with other alternatives,” he said.

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It’s a wonderful afterlife: smart, funny Upload is a sheer delight

Screenshot from Upload trailer

Enlarge / Nathan (Robbie Amell) is impressed with the digital afterlife service so far on Upload, now streaming on Amazon Prime. (credit: YouTube/Amazon Studios)

A cocky tech-bro discovers that living forever in a digital afterlife isn’t quite the paradise he’d envisioned in Upload, a new comedy series from Amazon Prime Video. When the trailer first dropped in March, I pointed out the strong The Good Place vibes, which set a very high bar for any new comedy dealing with the afterlife. Fortunately, Upload is a sheer delight in its own right: smart, funny, warm-hearted, and perfectly paced, trading in The Good Place‘s witty takes on moral philosophy for more of an emphasis on class-based social hierarchies.

(Some spoilers below.)

Series creator Greg Daniels—best known for his work on The Office, Parks and Recreation, and King of the Hill—purportedly came up with the concept many years ago while working as a staff writer on Saturday Night Live, although Amazon didn’t green-light the pilot until 2017, ordering a full ten-episode series the following year. It’s definitely got something of that Parks and Recreation vibe. Per the official premise: “In the near future, people who are near death can be ‘uploaded’ into virtual reality environments. Cash-strapped Nora works customer service for the luxurious ‘Lakeview’ digital afterlife. When party-boy/coder Nathan’s car crashes, his girlfriend uploads him into Nora’s VR world.”

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Amnesiac Janelle Monáe tries to recover her past in Homecoming S2 trailer

Janelle Monáe stars in Homecoming season 2, coming soon to Amazon Prime.

Janelle Monáe plays an amnesiac woman with a mysterious past who suspects that everyone around her is covering up a dark secret in the second season of Homecoming, Amazon Prime’s critically acclaimed psychological thriller. The first season, starring Julia Roberts, was an adaptation of the popular podcast of the same name, developed for television by showrunner Sam Esmail.

(Some spoilers for S1 below.)

The first season alternated between early 2018 and 2022. In the earlier time period, Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) is a caseworker with a secret government facility known as the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, in charge of treating a young veteran named Walter Cruz (Stephan James), recovering from trauma experienced during his last deployment. In 2022, Heidi is living with her mother in Tampa and working as a waitress. She is approached by a Department of Defense investigator named Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) about a past complaint that Cruz had been restrained at the facility against his will. But Heidi has no recollection of Cruz or anything pertaining to his case.

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Haunting Tales from the Loop brings ’80s alternative timeline to vivid life

Tales from the Loop trailer.

Residents of a rural town find themselves grappling with strange occurrences thanks to the presence of an underground particle accelerator in the new series Tales from the Loop, inspired by the stunningly surreal neofuturistic art of Swedish artist/designer Simon Stålenhag. The eight-episode series was originally slated for a limited premiere at SXSW last month; the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans, along with our collective social lives. But now everyone can watch the series on Amazon Prime, and I highly recommend that you do so. It’s visually arresting, with powerful performances from a very talented cast, and brings out the underlying humanity and hope of all great science fiction.

(Mild spoilers below.)

Tales from the Loop has its roots in Stålenhag’s 2014 narrative art book of the same name. That book, and 2016’s Things from the Flood, centered on the construction of a fictional particle accelerator dubbed “the Loop” and its impact on the surrounding people and environment. (A third book, The Electric State, focused on a young girl and her robot companion traveling across the western US, which in that reality is known as Pacifica.) A child of the 1980s, Stålenhag grew up on the rural outskirts of Stockholm, a witness to the decline of the Swedish welfare state. That sense of decline infuses his Loop-based work, which sets rural settings and easily recognizable common objects like Volvo cars alongside mysterious structures and mechanical robots.

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