The phrase “Free Movies!” usually gets my attention. I like movies, and I like it when they’re free. So when I was flipping through the menus on my videogame console, and it told me to press this button in order to start watching free movies on something called Crackle, I took the plunge. Minutes later, I had downloaded the Crackle app onto my PlayStation 3, and was watching… an ad. Specifically, an ad for Scotiabank (“You’re richer than you think!”) that promises free movies. (Curses! They’ve analyzed my weakness!) This ad would become very, very familiar as I began my Crackle-using experience. I think Sony really needs to find a second advertiser.
Crackle, y’see, is a sort of digital network that broadcasts movies and TV shows onto various home and portable media devices. It’s a bit like Netflix, only with ads instead of subscription fees. Or rather, “ad” as in singular. You watch the same ad over and over. Are free movies worth this headache? Well, yeah, kind of.
I once called the selection of available shows on the Canadian version of Netflix “laughable,” which is unfortunate, because the selection on Crackle is much, much, MUCH smaller. If you’re only interested in recent blockbusters, you’ll blow through Crackle’s selection in a single weekend. Neophyte Japanophiles, on the other hand, will be in hog heaven, using the service to check out lots of popular Anime shows and 90s Godzilla flicks. (That’s a recommendation. If you haven’t seen Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) you need Crackle right freaking now.)
The selection of TV shows is even punier. Check out these titles: Diff’rent Strokes, 227, Sanford and Son, Fantasy Island, Soap, What’s Happening, and Charlie’s Angels. Those are by far the best-known shows in the lineup. I think the most recent show on offer is V.I.P. with Pamela Anderson. So again, if your tastes are mainstream, you’ll feel a little bit time-shifted, but that’s not to say that this stuff isn’t worth watching. Plus, they’ve got School Rumble, which is great.
Watching Crackle on a PS3 is a bit weird, because it’s designed to be navigated by the game controller. You can’t rewind or fast forward — you just pick a spot on the progress bar, jump there, and hope for the best. If you prefer to use the PS3 BluRay remote, like I do, you’ll find the Mario-like control scheme awkward, and you’ll be chagrined that your “Stop”, “Play” and “Pause” buttons don’t work.
But never mind, it’s time to pick a movie! Let’s see here…. Oooh, they’ve got classic film noir The Big Heat (1953)! Awesome! Also, Living in Oblivion (1995), Full Contact (1992), American Movie (1999), and most of the Monty Python flicks! Wait, there’s one film here that I don’t recognize at all... some kind of sleazy shot-on-video Japanese softcore action trash called Oppai Chanbara (a.k.a. Striptease Samurai Squad)(2008).
Well, it’s obvious that I must watch Striptease Samurai Squad. I mean, come on.
Let’s get this sucker started! Here goes…. Oh, hello Scotiabank ad. Back so soon? What’s that you say? I’m richer than I think? Well isn’t that nice.
I can’t fast forward, and pressing “right” brings up a progress bar that helpfully points out how many commercial breaks I’ll be sitting through while trying to watch topless babes sword fight. Can I advance past the ads? Well yes, but when I do, it just shows the ad again, from the beginning. In a fit of frustration, I stop the film, and return later. Crackle remembers when I left off, but it insists on showing that Scotiabank ad again before starting up. Somebody really wants me to know that I’m richer than I think. Gah!
Eventually, I get all the way through Striptease Samurai Squad, which does indeed contain a topless babe who time-travels 300 years into the past in order to swordfight another topless babe. Both women must bare their breasts in order to… I dunno, become stronger fighters, I guess? The film isn’t that clear on the topic. On the other hand, their boobies glow in the dark whenever the swords come out. Cool. The film is cheap, shoddy, crass and ridiculous, but is still slightly better than that damn Scotiabank ad. Plus, I saw it for free, and didn’t have to ask for it at a store. My anonymity is safe! Nobody knows that I watched Striptease Samurai Squad! (Well, except for you guys. Keep it under your hats, okay fellas?)
Despite it’s many irritations, Crackle is worth checking out. It’s free. You can afford that. After all, I have it on good authority that you’re richer than you think.