Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Open Letter To DirecTV

Beware: DirecTV holds its customers to contracts even when equipment fails. DirecTV has horrible customer service and has failed to stand by the verbal contacts created by its associates. 

Below is my harrowing experience in an open letter to the company.

Dear DirecTV,

For eight years I was a satisfied DirecTV customer.

That all changed, after a very frustrating call with your customer service department in February of 2012.

After several months of recurring technical issues, I called to cancel my services. I was informed that I was bound to a cancel fee of over $300, for a replacement DVR box ordered in April of 2011 that carried a two year contract. I understand the way your contracts work, but the only reason I WAS canceling service was due to YOUR inability to fix my recurring technical issues.

This goes back to September, when several of my channels starting dropping out. The picture and sound would become incomprehensible, similar to what you would see during severe weather storms. But it was only on several channels, and the drop outs were intermittent. After trying to rectify the problem with service calls, DirecTV sent a service tech.

The service tech checked the satellite settings, replaced the hub in the basement and checked the wiring on the individual boxes. After he was done, the "problem" channels all seemed to be working, and I thought the issue had been rectified.

A few weeks later, the same issue started up again, with a slightly different set of channels. DirecTV created a case file and sent out a second tech, an "expert tech," as they called him. That service tech checked the satellite settings, wiring, and replaced one of the DVR boxes in case that was the problem. Again, all seemed well when he was done. I asked him if there was any possibility a tree had grown larger or something was partially obstructing the satellite, and he said that couldn't be the problem, as there was nothing physically blocking the dish.

A few weeks later -- you guessed it -- the problem started yet again. In the course of over 3 months, several phone calls and service calls failed to rectify the problem, and no one at DirecTV could ascertain exactly what was causing the problem. The fact it was intermittent made it more difficult to diagnose.

With that, I investigated AT&T U-Verse and decided to give them a trial run. The signal seemed satisfactory, so that's when I called to canel. And that's when I was informed I was still bound by the early cancellation fee.

I reasoned that I have not had a consistent user experience in months, and it was only the failure of your service and equipment that prompted my cancellation. Had everything worked satisfactorily... or been fixed.... I would still be a customer in good standing. But that was not the case. I understand the techs did what they could, but it still resulted in sub-standard service for months.... while I was still paying over a hundred dollars a month for partial TV service. It was reasonable to me, that a "good faith" company would waive the cancellation fee in this instance.

The first customer service rep told me this was not possible. I asked to speak to her supervisor, as I found this unacceptable given my situation. After several minutes, the supervisor also told me it was not possible to waive the fee. She then quoted me from a phone service call I made in October, after weeks of recurring bad reception, as "refusing service." This, because I stated on the call, "I just want my TV to work." And, I'm sure I said that, out of frustration. But I told the supervisor, "I obviously didn't actively call DirecTV to resolve an issue and then refuse service." This was quite galling, and rather ridiculous.

I then asked her to explain the subsequent failed attempts to fix the problem. The two service techs who still failed to rectify the problem. She had no response. I asked her why I should be beholden to a two-year contract based on an equipment purchase.... when your own equipment and service didn't work. It failed me. For months. She still insisted I was bound by the contract.

I then stated that I had been a customer in good standing for 8 years, and had never had an issue with DirecTV. I even regarded the tech calls as good-faith efforts, although they ultimately failed to resolve the problem. I told her this is an important moment, because she needed to decide what impression she wanted to leave with me as far as DirecTV goes as a company. I told her if she waived the fee, I would be open to returning to DirectTV at a later date. But if she didn't, that she would lose me as a customer forever.

Her response? "My job is more important to me."

I told her I found this whole experience beyond outrageous, and with that, I heard what sounded like a snicker on the other end of the phone. When I asked her plainly, "are you laughing right now?" She paused, then replied, "I was coughing. I have a cold, sir." Your customer service rep's attitude had a lot to be desired.

After an e-mail to DirecTv, I spoke with one of your specialists (Mark R ID U5924), who agreed to waive the cancellation fee an noted "I see you made several efforts to rectify the issue over a number of months." He also suggested I had the option of putting my account on hold, if I wanted to keep the option open to resume service. I clarified with the rep, "Either way though, my cancellation fee is waived, correct?" He assured me it was.

Six months later, I called to cancel service, and to my utter dismay, I was told that the cancellation fee was not noted, and I was still beholden to it. It was not waived, as I had been previously assured. Shocked at this, I asked the rep to listen to the recorded call or contact the specialist I spoke with. She said she could not do either, and I would need a court order (!) for DirecTV to release the call, which I found appalling. Another customer service fail in so many ways.

I accessed my previous information and attempted to call Mark R, but the grievance code was no longer active. I spoke with yet ANOTHER specialist, who suggested I e-mail DirecTV.

I e-mailed DirecTV and closed with, "Someone needs to listen to that call and honor the word of your associate. It would also restore my faith in your company and leave the option open for future business."

After two days, I received this message: "Regarding the phone call in which you opted to place your services in suspension, please note, calls are recorded at random for quality assurance purposes only.  Should this recording even exist, it would be available for internal use only.  I sincerely apologize for any previous miscommunication.  Please note, while we are unable to waive your programming agreement, please know that we will do everything possible to assist you with your technical issues."


I tried several times to resolve the technical issue. DirecTV's own techs couldn't resolve it.  I don't believe I should have to pay a cancellation fee when your equipment and service has failed me since September of 2011. Especially when you consider that I had been paying FULL PRICE for MONTHS what had been PARTIAL SERVICE.

If the fee is not waived, I'm afraid you'll lost a customer for life. Additionally, this story will be sent to http://consumerist.com/ as well as other consumer advocacy sites.

I anxiously await your reply.


UPDATE: DirecTV replies, "Regarding the phone call in which you opted to place your services in suspension, please note, calls are recorded at random for quality assurance purposes only.  Should this recording even exist, it would be available for internal use only.  I sincerely apologize for any previous miscommunication.  Please note, while we are unable to waive your programming agreement, please know that we will do everything possible to assist you with your technical issues. "

They maintain the cancelation fee of $360.00.

Their limp suggestion was to send out more tech experts. Too late, DirecTV. After rounds of horrible customer service, botched attempts to correct the issue and shady business practices, I am NOT going to be restarting service to give you more money and only get partial service.

DirecTV is a dishonest company that doesn't care about its customers. Pass it on.

Friday, July 6, 2012

"[Not So] Amazing Spider-Man" Movie Review


So I went into AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with hopes it would be a solid reboot, Certainly, the casting is fine. And the movie definitely has a modern-Hollywood flair. It also treats the subject matter seriously, so no issues there.

But about halfway through the movie I had this feeling of inertia. That I was watching a soulless movie that was not so much telling a story, as checking off plot points. It lacked panache, energy, urgency. For the second half of the movie, I became pre-occupied with where this venture derailed. And I ended up with a lot of thoughts on the matter.

THE ORIGIN: Spider-Man's comic book origin, for my money, is just about the most perfect origin in all of comic-dom (Batman comes second). It goes beyond the how and actually get to the why. Look at Flash, Green Lantern,  Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Hulk... and a host of others... and their origins are really just one Incredible Event (belted by gamma rays, bathed in electrified chemicals, etc...) With Spider-Man, it's not just that he was bit by a radioactive spider, it's everything that followed in that sequence of events -- from his misplaced sense of pride to the terrible lesson he learns about power and responsibility. It's super-powered but it's also deeply human.

It's also the way this plays out, which Sam Raimi realized was pretty much perfect as is. Here, the origin gets a wane retelling that neuters its most dramatic moments. There's no initial freaked-out joy when Peter realizes his powers... instead, it's a manic subway freak out. There's no path of great pride the wrestling match gave us... instead, he confronts Flash in a very un-Peter-like moment. There's no painfully dramatic warehouse realization that the criminal he let go at the height of his hubris was the man who killed his uncle.... Instead, Peter gets into a snit with Uncle Ben, then a snit with a convenience store worker, and only realizes through a police sketch who killed Ben. Every step of this revised origin is neutered, failing to adequately show Peter's path of "Fuck y'all" self-righteous indignation. All the dramatic moments squandered for smaller ones that have 1/10th the emotional wallop.

Spidey's origin is a pop culture Greek tragedy. It's a super-powered parable. And when done right, that last moment needs to inform his entire existence as Spider-Man. In the course of this movie, he NEVER finds the killer, and that's his main quest as Spidey. So, he still isn't Spidey because "it's the right thing" and "with great power comes great responsibility." No, he's just a guy looking for revenge. And that's a major fumble to me.

Also, would it have killed them to say the words "with great power comes great responsibility"?

I understand the producers probably wanted the origin to play different from a movie still fairly fresh in audience minds. They should had either 1. Done an origin montage sequence at the start of the movie like in INCREDIBLE HULK or 2. opened with Ben's funeral and just given us enough snippets/nightmares/flashbacks to fill in a bit as we go.

PETER PARKER: On the surface, it may seem that they got Peter Parker "right." But this Peter was "wrong" to me in some key ways. First, he comes across more as a loner than a geeky social pariah. Very much an 80s-era John Cusack. In his second scene, he's standing up to Flash Thompson in a way that doesn't make sense knowing what comes next in his character arc as Spider-Man. Plus, he's clearly not the lowest on the high school food chain, something else that felt "wrong." And, we don't et a sense of Peter really being shunned by anyone other than Flash. We don't even know where Gwen lies on this social spectrum.... it was all very ill-defined and lacks that instant character identification of Peter as a geek pariah.

It was also bothering me the amount of times Peter was using his powers openly at school. Won't someone connect these dots later? The Peter that teases Flash Thompson with the basketball also didn't feel "true" to me. In the Raimi version, Pete's retaliation against Flash is very "in the moment." Here, Peter is pre-meditated in his actions. I guess you can see that as his "pride" moment, a substitution of the wrestling ring incident... but I didn't get the feeling Peter was there yet with embracing his powers. He comes across as too aggressive. Likewise, the dinner scene with Captain Stacy; He not only tips his hand to his dual identity, he's openly argumentitive with the father of the object of his affections... which again, seemed non-Peter like and even a bit hostile.

Looking at a LOT of the "character arcs", a lot of them don't really track from point A to point B in a logical fashion.

GWEN: Other than what little Emma Stone can add to the character, we get little sense of who she is. She's the smartest girl in school, and clearly gorgeous. As mentioned, where is she on the social strata? Is it weird for her to be interested in Peter, or is she way out of his league? We never get a sense of their relationship, or what obstacles may threaten it. And even when they get together, it's almost perfunctory. I blame the director a bit here; I believe the identity revealing web-spinning rooftop kiss was imagined as something romantic and heroic, but it came across as a fast stolen moment. I was expecting a Superman: The Movie type night-time flight when Peter took Gwen web-slinging, but the scene was cut fairly quick. We never ever got a sense of who Gwen is, how she sees the world, her father or Peter. She more or less performs her role as "the girlfriend."

FLASH: Even more problematic. I didn't "get" his arc at all. He's a bully, until Peter humiliates him utterly and then Pete's uncle dies. And then Flash is a reformed bully and later even says "You're coming along Parker!" wh-at? It felt like there was a missing scene or two here. And while I appreciate Flash as more than a jerk-bully, this certainly needed more.

FORKLIFT GUY: Did I miss something? He's like "we have to help Spider-Man!!" So-- the city is gridlocked and is being evacuated.... and somehow, this guy makes it across town within MINUTES during this pandimonium (which isn't possible in NORMAL NY traffic. And... what does he think he's going to do anyway? Why would he think Spidey was gonna fall? This made ZERO sense except to dumb America who didn't think about this sequence for more than 2 minutes. Also, I might be wrong-- but doesn't this all occur during/after they established Gwen is waiting 8 minutes for the antidote? How is all this occuring in this time window?

LIZARD: I know a lot of people had issues with his story, or how the character was presented. The truth is, if EVERYTHING else worked (The origin, Peter/Gwen, the tone, the dialogue), this would have been serviceable. 

I guess I felt the Lizard was as generic as the script. By the time the movie got around to him in the second half, I was already disengaging. In a rewrite, he could have been made more tragic. He wasn't the least tragic until the very end, where we saw more in hindsight that the injection caused much of his delusions.
I was really annoyed when Lizard kept doffing his lab coat. That image of a Lizard-Man in a lab coat is horror-movie-awesome... why change it?

PETER'S PROMISE: Peter makes a dramatic deathbed promise to Captain Stacy. Then he ducks the guy's funeral. And it's like, dude, you could have gone to the funeral. He hurts Gwen big time, which was unnecessary and even cruel in her hour of need. And then, all of two days later, we get the hint that "promises are hard to keep" or whatever he says in class, a knowing nod that he won't be staying away from Gwen for long. Wha-? A deathbed promise that lasted less than a week? Again, sort un-Peter like. This sort of thing should TORTURE him. The movie should have ended with them apart... again, Raimi got this aspect of the Spider-Man mythos.

and lastly, THE JACK BAUER PRINCIPLE: Spidey is shot, and unable to stand--- until he puts webbing on his leg to stop the bleeding--- and then he rallies and he's all better? what? Again, this script needed another pass or three.

I get the feeling that the producers were moved by Nolan's Batman and some of those sensibilities crept in -- the driven crime fighter and byzantine conspiracy. Like, they thought "this is the future of super-hero movies.... !" And, no. It feels like an ill fit for Spidey. And if you trace back some issues, a lot might be attributed to this.

I did enjoy Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy. And Sally Field as a spry Aunt May. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are fine. But the script let them down. There's no sparkle, no playful dialogue, no cute upside-down kisses, no big moments or either triumph or tragedy. The rare attempts at levity were either lame or tame (Gwen's period talk with Daddy, for example.... Spidey's really unfunny banter for another).  

In short, you don't walk away from this movie with an indelible impression of any specific scene or moment. It's all rather paint-by-numbers Spider-Man and he deserves better. He deserves to be Amazing.