Month: March 2019

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Craig Palmer hasn't left his Manhattan apartment in four years, but on a recent afternoon, the 78-year-old made a transatlantic voyage—while seated upright in his bed. He visited Stonehenge, a favorite vacation site of his; the streets of London's Russell Square, near his old apartment; the stretch of Broadway where he lived and worked for so many years. A singer and actor for most of his career, Palmer was eager to poke his head backstage at the Triad, an Upper West Side nightclub he used to frequent. Back and forth the man moved his head, his eyes obscured by the Gear VR headset he wore.

Sitting at the foot of the bed, Jake Kahana kept a close eye on Palmer, guiding the trip via tablet. Show tunes played quietly in the distance, and car horns blared from a window outside. "This is awesome," Palmer said, tilting his head under the weight of the headset. "I get homesick for everything." The experience was among Palmer's first with VR, but that made it no less important. The bedridden man represents a population that Kahana fears has been forgotten by the VR industry: seniors.

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"Everyone talks about VR as a millennial thing," says Kahana, a New York-based designer and film director. "But the elderly are the fastest-growing segment of the population, and there really weren't that many people looking at how this could work for them." Kahana wanted to be one of those people, so he created BettVR With Age, a series of films designed to benefit seniors. The films, which he officially unveils today, are the result of more than 18 months of production, testing and focus groups. "They want entertainment," Kahana says. "I know this sounds silly, but seniors are just like us."

Kahana's idea for the project came about through his own struggles in communicating with his own grandmother. First they spoke on the phone, but transitioned to writing letters. When that became too difficult for her, he told her that he wished she could be in his living room in New York—a realization that inspired him Kahana, who worked as the creative director for the Clinton Foundation's Emmy­-nominated VR film Inside Impact: East Africa, to try and find a solution.

Despite precipitous growth in VR research over recent years, less exists around applications for the elderly. However, findings in other fields may hold a clue to VR's benefits. Researchers have learned that listening to music from the 1930s or 1940s can jog memories for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. At Stanford, researchers found that virtual reality simulations had a direct impact on how people behaved in the real world, even after they took off their headsets—in fact, as neuroscientists at UCLA discovered, the part of one's brain that responds to their VR surroundings is different than the part that responds to the real world, raising questions about the new ways in VR it could affect memory.

Given the dearth of literature, Kahana opted for field work. He spent close to six months visiting community centers like DOROT, a senior facility in Manhattan's Upper West Side, talking to seniors about what they might want from a VR experience. (Headsets and phones were donated by Samsung and software by Rendever, an MIT startup focused on bringing VR to the elderly.) His work with the Clinton Foundation had involved grandeur—sweeping vistas, the streets of Nairobi—and he expected that his new audience would also thrill to the possibility__. __Yet, the seniors he spoke with simply missed the everyday experiences they could no longer physically access: museums, concerts, tours. Despite being anxious about using a new technology, Kahana says, the seniors were above all excited. "They love to learn," he says. "They had these limitations, physical or otherwise, but they still wanted new experiences."

Kahana then set out to direct the 10 films that make up his series. In one, a pair of violinists play a cozy apartment concert for friends. In another, viewers experience a concert at an LA bar today where patrons and performers are still clad in World War II-era clothing. There's a tour and concert at the a Lower East Side museum; a peek into a dance rehearsal; a guided mediation and chorus. Hoping to avoid the motion sickness that can affect VR users, Kahana's shots are mostly from a stationary standpoint, surrounded by movement that isn't too jarring or sudden. They're simple, yet powerful in concept and execution, highlighting elements of a experience many take for granted while creating a sense of intimacy. The technology and films will be donated to DOROT to use for senior programming—and Kahana is already training nursing home staff how to use the headsets on their own.

New York to Amsterdam and Back

Back in Craig Palmer's apartment, a violin concert unfolded before his eyes. The sedentary lifestyle has been frustrating for Palmer—a sharp contrast to a decades-long career as a singer and performer on Broadway. Much of his days now are spent watching Chelsea FC soccer games and the news, or listening to a rotation of show tunes. Being in a wheelchair and unable to see the latest theatrical productions "is terrible," he said. "But you have to accept what you have."

After watching Kahana's films, Palmer asked if there was anything else he could see. Kahana launched Google Maps' VR app, and sent Kahana to Amsterdam. "I was on that canal," Palmer said, watching the boats and bicycles. "It doesn't smell!"

Next stop: London, a city where Palmer had lived off and on for years. "That place had the most horrible bacon you've ever had," Palmer said.

"I'm a vegetarian, Craig," Kahana said.

"Good! Then you won't have to taste it."

Kahana moved him across town to the Tate Modern. "Oh, is that the Thames?" Palmer asked. "I fell into that once. Accidentally, after a party."

After about 15 minutes, the experience ended; Kahana gently lifted the headset off of Palmer's head and asked the man how he felt. "It was awesome," Palmer said. "But it would be better if I had a scotch and a cigarette."

"Is there anything you want me to pass on to people who will be there?" Kahana asked of the launch party, tucking the headset back into his bag.

"Don't ever say 'pass on' to a senior," Palmer said.

There's slightly more than a month to go before Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes it to the multiplex, and Disney is reportedly already leaning on theater owners to toe the line in order to be able to show the movie. Does the studio's strict set of guidelines mean they know they've got a masterpiece on their hands? Or is it just a quest for box office domination? While you ponder those important questions, here's what else has been happening in the galaxy far, far away … but be warned, there are at least two potential spoilers ahead for those who seek to avoid such things.

Han Solo Is a New Man—Well, 80 Percent of Him Is, At Least

Source: Internet rumormongering

Probability of Accuracy: The odds are worryingly good.

The Real Deal: So, it turns out the reshoots on Solo: A Star Wars Story might have been just a little more extensive than people thought. Like, a lot more. According to a report on ScreenRant, citing the latest episode of The Resistance Broadcast, new director Ron Howard reshot around 80 percent of the movie after he was brought on board, a process that reportedly almost doubled the budget. That's the kind of reshoot that makes the last-minute Rogue One reshoots look like less of a big deal. Of course, Lucasfilm hasn't commented on this rumor, nor is the studio likely to, so perhaps this should merely be filed under "Who can ever tell?"—but, given the time the reshoots took, it's far from impossible. What is it about these Star Wars Story movies, anyway?


The WIRED Guide to Star Wars

Luke Skywalker Almost Didn't Appear In The Force Awakens

Source: The Last Jedi himself

Probability of Accuracy: As on-target as Luke's Death Star killshot.

The Real Deal: Did you know Luke Skywalker almost didn't appear in The Force Awakens? It's true; Mark Hamill said so himself. That's not to say that Lucasfilm didn't want Skywalker in the movies. Instead, Hamill wasn't sure he wanted to reprise his role. "I thought, why mess with it? The idea of catching lightning in a bottle twice was ridiculously remote," he told The New York Times. Nervous that audiences didn't really want to be disappointed by the sight of older versions of their heroes, he felt convinced that he wouldn't have to say no to J.J. Abrams because there was almost certainly no way Harrison Ford would return as Han Solo … and then he did, forcing Hamill's hand. "Can you imagine if I was the only one to say no? I'd be the most hated man in nerd-dom," the actor said. So, now you know: Harrison Ford is the man who saved Star Wars. Who'd've thought it?

Did Kylo Ren Just Spoil The Last Jedi?

Source: Adam Driver, either accidentally or dropping an amazing tease

Probability of Accuracy: Is this some Sith-inspired misdirection?

The Real Deal: Just how casual does Adam Driver get during interviews? Apparently pretty loose considering fans are freaking out over some beans the actor spilled in a recent chat with British GQ. (Read on at your own risk; you have been warned.) Talking about the different layers of his character, Driver said, "The person Kylo's pretending to be on the outside is not who he is. He's a vulnerable kid who doesn't know where to put his energy, but when he puts his mask on, suddenly, he's playing a role. J.J. had that idea initially and I think [director] Rian [Johnson] took it to the next level." Pretty straightforward. But then Driver added, "You have, also, the hidden identity of this princess who's hiding who she really is so she can survive and Kylo Ren and her hiding behind these artifices." Is… Is that Rey he's talking about? Technically, it could be Leia, hiding behind her identity as a general, or perhaps a new character, but it definitely sounds like Rey. The question then becomes: Is this really something that Driver could accidentally let slip, or is this some kind of strange misdirect about Rey's parentage? (Also, if she is a princess, who are her parents? Outside of Leia, there aren't any other royals in the series…)

Did a New Poster Just Spoil The Last Jedi?

Source: A piece of artwork, of all things

Probability of Accuracy: Difficult to say, but it seems pretty likely, considering.

The Real Deal: How much faith do you put in a poster to be true to the movie it's advertising? That's a question many fans are pondering after a new international poster for The Last Jedi showed Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber, despite everything else leading up to the movie suggesting he had rejected the Force and the Jedi Order entirely. Will Luke end up having to go back to his old ways for some as-yet-unknown reason during the movie? Or is this a piece of artwork that knows exactly what fans want and isn't above manipulating them to ensure that they buy tickets? All will be revealed in a month and a half.

Why Chewbacca Likes Porgs So Much

Source: The man in charge of making aliens for the galaxy far, far away

Probability of Accuracy: If you can't trust the man who makes decisions about this kind of thing…

The Real Deal: Finally, something about The Last Jedi that isn't a potential spoiler.

By now you probably know that fans are very excited about the porg in the new trailer for The Last Jedi. But what you might not know is that Chewbacca is wild about him too—and with good reason. According to Neal Scanlan—the man in charge of the Creature Workshop for all Star Wars movies—the porgs were designed with Chewie in mind. "That porg [on the Millennium Falcon in the trailer] in particular shows some very Wookiee traits in the way he’s colored," he told Empire. "His patterning is very similar to Chewie’s." Scanlan also revealed that the Caretakers of the Jedi Temple on Ahch-To are related in some way to the porgs, and that the crystalline foxes briefly glimpsed in the latest trailer are a product of their environment. "The theory is they’ve fed off this planet for so long that their fur has become crystalline," Scanlan suggested. "They’ve taken on the very surface of the planet they live on." Pretty cool, huh?

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Star Wars Announces Episode VIII in Production

Star Wars Announces Episode VIII

You’ve seen the iconic snapshot: Rihanna in midnight shades and a coat with a mustard-colored fur lapel, seated next to Lupita Nyong’o, waring poindexter frames and a modest crewneck sweater. You’ve also doubtless heard the story that arose after it: In 2014, the photo surfaced on Tumblr, along with a movie concept; three years later, Black Twitter brainstormed the digital pitch into a caper film; now, that film is reportedly in development at Netflix with Rihanna, Nyong’o, director Ava DuVernay, and screenwriter Issa Rae attached.

Fan-casting has long been routine among comic book and YA readers whenever popular titles are adapted, but the Rih-pita film’s genesis is so far singular: a Twitter-sourced idea grown from the ether, from story to casting. It might not be the last, though; over the intervening months, Black Twitter has embraced its power to “make it happen” in terms of filmmaking. The internet has since pushed for Tracee Ellis Ross to play Miss Frizzle in a live-action version of The Magic School Bus (a role that Ross gladly encouraged), as well as turned an Essence cover into a remake for the ages:

At their core, these Twitter-generated film concepts evince a desire for representation beyond Hollywood’s limited, predominantly white imagination. But while Black Twitter continues to be an unprecedented vehicle for creativity—and, increasingly, a reliable form of audience focus-testing for Hollywood—can a viral fancasting phenomenon like this realistically change the industry’s status quo?

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Social media campaigns aren’t likely to alter the system, but they can crack the code and, in small part, disrupt current power dynamics. “When you’re putting a project together, you’re ultimately putting it together for an audience to view,” says casting director Nancy Nayor (Proud Mary, Slender Man). “In the past, studios would make films and do this test-market research to see: do people like the story, do people like the characters, do people like the chemistry between the stars? But that was always after the fact. Now we have input from the future audience sooner than later. It’s not always going to dictate how projects are made, but if that input inspires a great combination of actors or stories, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Despite its insularity, Black Twitter is hugely influential as a driver of larger online humor and creativity. When ideas blow up, though, the individuals behind them remain uncompensated (black teen creatives in particular), instead settling for internet recognition (via retweets, essays, etc.) rather than monetary reward. In the past few years, copyright experts have had their hands full explaining this reality to lay users who rightfully wonder why no one is ponying up. “In the example of the proposed heist movie starring Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o, what was proposed was an idea—a genre of film and a casting choice,” says Dorna Mohaghegh, an intellectual property lawyer at firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz in New York. “It’s up to the studio, in this case Netflix, to engage a screenwriter and take that idea and flesh it out to create a protectable expression. The idea of doing a heist movie isn’t protectable. Heist movies are a genre and vary widely, from Ocean’s 11 to Baby Driver.”

IP law aside, exactly how an impromptu brainstorming session traveled from Twitter to Netflix remains unclear. Netflix allegedly acquired the project at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but there’s no official account of which party or parties brought the project to Netflix, or whether a creative at the company simply saw the idea online and pushed it along. When WIRED inquired, a Netflix representative would only state, via email, “We aren’t commenting on the status of that project.”

The project is only a draw with Rihanna and Nyong’o attached, of course, and that idea was only made possible by a photo, the virality of which only Twitter could create—through retweets. Still, if social media isn’t significant in terms of copyright—and if, in turn, movie producers have no obligation to it—then the Twitter users who helped the concept go viral likely won't get paid. “The credit will probably come through articles and online discussions about the origin of the project,” says casting agent Nayor. “But I wouldn’t say it makes sense to give it a screen credit. Every project comes together in miraculous ways. It’s amazing that anything actually gets made because there are so many turning points where a project could fall apart.”

A representative for Issa Rae confirmed to Vanity Fair that the users would receive some unspecified credit. New York-based writer Mikelle Street, the Twitter user who first got a verbal commitment from Ava DuVernay, says most of the individuals who fueled the idea on Twitter are in communication, and have agreed to notify each other if any party is contacted about credit. (None of them have been contacted, to Street’s knowledge.) “The idea that people are in a group, talking crazy, and they come up with a movie concept—that has happened before. It hasn’t happened before using these platforms,” he says. “Now you have a record that you did it first. We have a log that it started here. There’s always the argument that those things don’t do well at the box office and we’ve seen countless times that that’s patently untrue. If this does well, it will be another point for people who argue for black leads and black talent.”

But points aren't percentages. Even if it would be revolutionary for social media to play a major (and acknowledged) role in nominating an actor of color for a motion picture in development, Hollywood functions in such a closed loop that it’s hard to imagine such a thing happening. Copyrights and trademarks, in part, serve to make creators feel comfortable in their ownership—and explicitly guard against nebulous or crowdsourced ideas that might dilute intellectual ownership.

That may change in the future, given the hand-wringing over dwindling box-office performance in the streaming age. “Going viral has become a goal in and of itself," says Mohaghegh. "The question has shifted to figuring out how to credit an idea that has demonstrated its value through its popularity, but maybe hasn’t been developed to the point of warranting legal protection. It is in the interest of the entertainment industry to build goodwill with social media users so studios can continue to take advantage of great ideas with built-in buzz and fans, and social media users have an interest in seeing movie ideas that they are excited about become reality.” For now, creativity is the biggest currency—but compromise may soon join it.

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Comedy is a funny thing: A joke that makes one person howl with laughter can just as easily fall flat with whoever’s sitting next to them. But whether you prefer highbrow laughs to scatological humor (or vice versa), there are true genre gems that cater to all kinds of comedy connoisseurs. So which ones should you be watching right now? Here are the funniest films you can currently find on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh again.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

While future generations might find it strange that mid-‘80s audiences fell in love with a film about a bow-tied man-boy who meets an array of wild characters as he travels the country in search of his stolen bicycle, today the film remains a classic—both as a comedy and a road movie. PG-rated James Bond kind of stuff. It also birthed Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the brilliantly bizarre and creative Saturday morning series that premiered in 1986, and marked the feature directorial debut of Tim Burton, who would go on to turn outcasts into heroes with movies like Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Ed Wood (1994). If you’re jonesing for more Pee-wee, check out Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which Netflix premiered last year.

Where to stream it: Netflix

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Jeffrey Lebowski may not be a common name, but there are at least two of them in Joel and Ethan Coen’s version of Los Angeles—one of them a millionaire whose much younger wife (played by Tara Reid, which reminds you that this was the 1990s) gets kidnapped, the other one, well, The Dude. Jeff Bridges plays the White Russian-guzzling slacker—aka His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino (“if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing”)—who is enlisted to help the other Lebowski get to the bottom of his trophy wife’s disappearance. Though the movie was a major box office flop at the time of its release, it has since transcended the motion picture medium to become a pop culture institution, with an annual festival dedicated to all things Lebowski that attracts thousands of fans from around the world.

Where to stream it: Amazon

Step Brothers (2008)

In his one-and-a-half star review of Step Brothers, Roger Ebert wrote that the film "has a premise that might have produced a good time at the movies, but when I left, I felt a little unclean." With all due respect to Ebert: He’s wrong. Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) are two 40-year-old layabouts who both still live at home with their respective parents, eating cereal and watching Cops. When Brennan’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) and Dale’s dad (Richard Jenkins) get married, it becomes one big dysfunctional family. Though there is a basic plot, the movie is really a showcase for the rapid-fire comedic chemistry between Ferrell and Reilly. One warning, though: You’ll never hear Montell Jordan in the same way again.

Where to stream it: Amazon

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Decades before films like Scary Movie, Meet the Spartans, and Star Worlds Episode XXXIVE=MC2: The Force Awakens the Last Jedi Who Went Rogue were tainting the definition of what a spoof movie is supposed to be, Mel Brooks was perfecting the parody equation with projects like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. In the latter, Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frederick “That’s Fronkensteen” Frankenstein, who is desperately trying to disassociate himself from his infamous family (he is the grandson of Victor Frankenstein). But when he’s forced to visit Transylvania after inheriting the family estate, he realizes that mad science just may be in the DNA. That Brooks released Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein just 10 months apart is a testament to both his prolificacy and versatility. Also: If you don’t laugh at Wilder and Peter Boyle (as the Monster) performing “Puttin’ on Ritz,” you need to check your pulse.

Where to stream it: Netflix

Best in Show (2000)

Christopher Guest may not have invented the mockumentary, but he is undoubtedly Hollywood’s foremost practitioner of the form. And he has a knack for choosing to focus on subjects that could never sustain a 90-minute runtime if they were anything but a parody. Case in point: Best in Show, a painfully accurate dive into the surreal world of show dogs and the people who love and judge them. The film features Guest’s regular ensemble of actors, including Eugene Levy, who co-wrote the film and plays the two-left-footed pet parent of a Norwich Terrier named Winky. Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Michael McKean, and Guest himself play fellow dog owners, though it might be Fred Willard who steals the movie with his never-ending “color” commentary on what he’s witnessing in the ring.

Where to stream it: Netflix

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Truth be told, there are probably two types of comedy fans: Those who love Will Ferrell movies and those who do not. Considering that this is the second Ferrell film on this list—though, more importantly, the second Ferrell/John C. Reilly joint—it’s obvious that we’re falling on the pro-Ferrell side. Much like Step Brothers, Talladega Nights paints Ferrell and Reilly in a Tom and Jerry kind of scenario, where they alternate between being best friends and mortal enemies. Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) has dreamt of being a racecar driver all his life, and finally gets the chance while working as part of the pit crew for Nascar superstar Terry Cheveaux (Adam McKay). Suddenly, Ricky Bobby becomes an overnight racing sensation and he and his best friend Cal Naughton Jr. (Reilly) bask in their newfound fame. But when a horrible accident ruins Ricky Bobby’s career, Cal decides it’s his turn to climb into the driver’s seat. For some reason, Reilly’s background as a dramatic actor makes his comedic roles even funnier, with their chemistry landing somewhere between Bogie and Bacall and Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

Where to stream it: Amazon, Hulu

Clueless (1995)

Before a generation of youngsters actually began trying to keep up with the Kardashians, movie audiences were laughing at the vapidity of Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a shallow-but-well-meaning Beverly Hills teen who frequently puts the happiness of others before her own. A loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, the film—which was written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who also helmed 1982’s groundbreaking Fast Times at Ridgemont High—had a significant impact on mid-'90s culture, and proved that teen films weren't all dumb. (As if!)

Where to stream it: Amazon, Hulu

Hot Fuzz (2007)

The second film in what has become known as Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy is both a play on the uber-intense action films of the 1980s and 1990s, and a worthy addition to that catalog (despite its release date). Simon Pegg plays police constable Nicholas Angel, a member of London’s Metropolitan Police Service whose extreme dedication to the job makes his colleagues look bad. To neutralize his do-goodery (and save their reputations) they transfer him to the picturesque village of Sandford, where a missing swan is about as hardcore as the town gets. But when a couple of locals are murdered, Angel suspects that this storybook place has got some hidden secrets, and enlists the help of his bumbling, action-movie-loving partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) to get to the bottom of it—escaped swans be damned!

Where to stream it: Netflix

Superbad (2007)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg turned their semi-autobiographical script about an epic night in two high school best friends’ lives into one of the highest-grossing comedies of 2007. Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) are on the brink of graduating from high school and going their separate ways for college. When Seth’s dream girl, Jules (Emma Stone), invites him to a party at her place, he doesn’t hesitate to say yes—and promises that he’ll bring some booze with him. When their friend Fogell, aka McLovin’ (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), tries to procure alcohol using the world’s worst fake ID, he finds himself in the middle of a liquor store robbery and becomes a key witness for police officers Michaels and Slater (Rogen and Bill Hader). Directed by Greg Mottola and produced by Judd Apatow, the movie has a few gross-out moments—but it’s more cringe-worthy for how realistically it represents the high school experience, which only becomes funny in hindsight.

Where to stream it: Amazon

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

In the more than 30 years since its release, many well-known musicians have gone on record to say that This Is Spinal Tap plays more like a real documentary than a fake one. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film set the standard for all mockumentaries that followed—including the work of Christopher Guest, who co-wrote the script and plays Nigel Tufnel, one part of the fictional British rock band the film follows on a never-ending series of mishaps and public embarrassments as they mount an American tour. The jokes are unforgettable, but part of what makes This Is Spinal Tap truly timeless is the music, which is pretty good if you just ignore the lyrics.

Where to stream it: Amazon, Netflix

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Sci-fi author Marie Lu sets her trilogies in shadowy realms, from a militarized police state (Legend) to a hunted secret society (The Young Elites). But as a former videogame designer for Disney Interactive Studios, Lu was conjuring up dark, fantastical worlds long before her books became best sellers. In Warcross, out this month, Lu embraces her gamer roots.

Marie Lu's Work

2011: LEGEND

Lu publishes her first dystopian young-adult novel. The trilogy sells 3 million copies.


The series follows Adelina Amouteru, a pandemic survivor with godlike superpowers.

2016: GEMINA

Lu illustrates the YA best seller, set in a space station at the edge of the galaxy.


Hacker-heroine Emika Chen battles dark forces in a dangerous videogame realm.

2018: BATMAN: Nightwalker

Lu unravels the superhero’s psyche in this YA spin on a DC Comics icon.

The novel is set in a global video­game controlled by a secretive tech CEO. Creating the immersive digital realm was a dream job for Lu, who infuses the Warcross universe with all the futuristic capabilities she longed for as a player. “I approached the writing process like a game studio with an infinite budget,” she says. Though the book takes inspiration from the insularity of Silicon Valley, Lu’s virtual world is low on bros—it features a ­rainbow-haired, ­Chinese American hacker-­heroine, as well as disabled and gay characters.

Next up, the hit-maker is finishing a novel exploring the life of teenage Batman, scheduled to be published by Random House next year. For Lu, whose belief in righteous resistance was formed while growing up in China (she was 4 at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests), the project was a chance to inhabit the conflicted mind of the Dark Knight. “I love that Bruce Wayne is this nuanced character who literally lives in the shadows,” she says. “Now I can actually say, ‘I’m Batman.’”

Who: Marie Lu, YA sci-fi writer

Favorite Game: Journey. “It’s this sweeping ode to the vast unknown. I played it through twice and cried
both times.”

Guilty Pleasure: Assassin’s Creed: Brother­hood. “It’s so deliciously fun. I love the Renais­sance Italy open world.”

Idol: Brian Jacques, the Redwall series. “I worshipped his work as a kid.”

Modern Hero: Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes series. “Everything good fantasy should be: cinematic and epic.”

This article appears in the September issue. Subscribe now.

Social Inequality Will Not Be Solved By an App

March 20, 2019 | Story | No Comments

An app will not save us. We will not sort out social inequality lying in bed staring at smartphones. It will not stem from simply sending emails to people in power, one person at a time.

New, neoliberal conceptions of individual freedoms (especially in the realm of technology use) are oversupported in direct opposition to protections realized through large-scale organizing to ensure collective rights. This is evident in the past 30 years of active antilabor policies put forward by several administrations and in increasing hostility toward unions and twenty-first-century civil rights organizations such as Black Lives Matter. These proindividual, anticommunity ideologies have been central to the anti-democratic, anti-affirmative-action, antiwelfare, antichoice, and antirace discourses that place culpability for individual failure on moral failings of the individual, not policy decisions and social systems. Discussions of institutional discrimination and systemic marginalization of whole classes and sectors of society have been shunted from public discourse for remediation and have given rise to viable presidential candidates such as Donald Trump, someone with a history of misogynistic violence toward women and anti-immigrant schemes. Despite resistance to this kind of vitriol in the national electoral body politic, society is also moving toward greater acceptance of technological processes that are seemingly benign and decontextualized, as if these projects are wholly apolitical and without consequence too. Collective efforts to regulate or provide social safety nets through public or governmental intervention are rejected. In this conception of society, individuals make choices of their own accord in the free market, which is normalized as the only legitimate source of social change.

It is in this broader social and political environment that the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission have been reluctant to regulate the internet environment, with the exception of the Children’s Internet Protection Act and the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007. Attempts to regulate decency vis-à-vis racist, sexist, and homophobic harm have largely been unaddressed by the FCC, which places the onus for proving harm on the individual. I am trying to make the case, through the mounting evidence, that unregulated digital platforms cause serious harm. Trolling is directly linked to harassment offline, to bullying and suicide, to threats and attacks. The entire experiment of the internet is now with us, yet we do not have enough intense scrutiny at the level of public policy on its psychological and social impact on the public.

The reliability of public information online is in the context of real, lived experiences of Americans who are increasingly entrenched in the shifts that are occurring in the information age. An enduring feature of the American experience is gross systemic poverty, whereby the largest percentages of people living below the poverty line suffering from un- and underemployment are women and children of color. The economic crisis continues to disproportionately impact poor people of color, especially Black / African American women, men, and children.

about the author

Safiya Umoja Noble is an Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School of Communication. Noble is the co-editor of two books, The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Culture and Class Online and Emotions, Technology & Design.

Furthermore, the gap between Black and White wealth has become so acute that a recent report by Brandeis University found that this gap quadrupled between 1984 and 2007, making Whites five times richer than Blacks in the US. This is not the result of moral superiority; this is directly linked to the gamification of financial markets through algorithmic decision making. It is linked to the exclusion of Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans from the high-paying jobs in technology sectors. It is a result of digital redlining and the resegregation of the housing and educational markets, fueled by seemingly innocuous big-data applications that allow the public to set tight parameters on their searches for housing and schools. Never before has it been so easy to set a school rating in a digital real estate application such as to preclude the possibility of going to “low-rated” schools, using data that reflects the long history of separate but equal, underfunded schools in neighborhoods where African Americans and low-income people live.

These data-intensive applications that work across vast data sets do not show the microlevel interventions that are being made to racially and economically integrate schools to foster educational equity. They simply make it easy to take for granted data about “good schools” that almost exclusively map to affluent, White neighborhoods. We need more intense attention on how these types of artificial intelligence, under the auspices of individual freedom to make choices, forestall the ability to see what kinds of choices we are making and the collective impact of these choices in reversing decades of struggle for social, political, and economic equality. Digital technologies are implicated in these struggles.

These dramatic shifts are occurring in an era of US economic policy that has accelerated globalization, moved real jobs offshore, and decimated labor interests. Claims that the society is moving toward greater social equality are undermined by data that show a substantive decrease in access to home ownership, education, and jobs—especially for Black Americans. In the midst of the changing social and legal environment, inventions of terms and ideologies of “colorblindness” disingenuously purport a more humane and nonracist worldview. This is exacerbated by celebrations of multiculturalism and diversity that obscure structural and social oppression in fields such as education and information sciences, which are shaping technological practices. Research by Sharon Tettegah, a professor of education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, shows that people invested in colorblindness are also less empathetic toward others. Making race the problem of those who are racially objectified, particularly when seeking remedy from discriminatory practices, obscures the role of government and the public in solving systemic issues.

Central to these “colorblind” ideologies is a focus on the inappropriateness of “seeing race.” In sociological terms, colorblindness precludes the use of racial information and does not allow any classifications or distinctions. Yet, despite the claims of colorblindness, research shows that those who report higher racial colorblind attitudes are more likely to be White and more likely to condone or not be bothered by derogatory racial images viewed in online social networking sites. Silicon Valley executives, as previously noted, revel in their embrace of colorblindness as if it is an asset and not a proven liability. In the midst of reenergizing the effort to connect every American and to stimulate new economic markets and innovations that the internet and global communications infrastructures will afford, the real lives of those who are on the margin are being reengineered with new terms and ideologies that make a discussion about such conditions problematic, if not impossible, and that place the onus of discriminatory actions on the individual rather than situating problems affecting racialized groups in social structures.

Formulations of postracialism presume that racial disparities no longer exist, a context within which the colorblind ideology finds momentum. George Lipsitz, a critical Whiteness scholar and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that the challenge to recognizing racial disparities and the social (and technical) structures that instantiate them is a reflection of the possessive investment in Whiteness—which is the inability to recognize how White hegemonic ideas about race and privilege mask the ability to see real social problems. I often challenge audiences who come to my talks to consider that at the very historical moment when structural barriers to employment were being addressed legislatively in the 1960s, the rise of our reliance on modern technologies emerged, positing that computers could make better decisions than humans. I do not think it a coincidence that when women and people of color are finally given opportunity to participate in limited spheres of decision making in society, computers are simultaneously celebrated as a more optimal choice for making social decisions. The rise of big-data optimism is here, and if ever there were a time when politicians, industry leaders, and academics were enamored with artificial intelligence as a superior approach to sense-making, it is now. This should be a wake-up call for people living in the margins, and people aligned with them, to engage in thinking through the interventions we need.

From Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. Courtesy of NYU Press.

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ARMS, a fighting game for the Nintendo Switch, insists on commitment. Each of its colorful pugilists possesses two elastic arms designed to punch, slash, or blast across an entire arena. Think the spring-loaded boxing gloves from Looney Tunes, deployed on a stretchy coil like a telephone. (The other kind of telephone. The one people used before everyone carried supercomputers everywhere.) Each arm is vulnerable while uncoiling, and you can't make another attack until it completes its arc and returns. Picture a slapstick, slow-mo boxing match, each flailing blow landed by a boomerang.

That imprecision makes for a uniquely considered take on the genre. You must plan your position, carefully time your strikes, and gently nudge your weapons in the right direction midflight. At their best, fights feel distinct and deliberate without ever sacrificing fluidity. It's a matter of waiting, watching, and punishing mistakes. These dynamics lie at the core of every fighting game, but for anyone who lacks the skills for combo-heavy, highly technical fighters, ARMS offers an accessible alternative. When it comes arrives June 16, ARMS will be one of the only major titles released on the Nintendo Switch since its launch, and in many ways it lives up to the best ideas of the console. It's easy to pick up and play—and just smart enough to hold attention for longer sessions, with a promise of hidden depths to explore.

ARMS subscribes to the same multiplayer game philosophy as Blizzard's Overwatch: a vision of cooperative and competitive play that's inclusive and friendly, a fireburst of soothing colors and diverse characters. The 10 playable characters feature only minute tactical distinctions, but significant aesthetic differences. Compelling visual design gives the cast brightness and pop. Twintelle fights with her coiled blonde hair instead of her arms. Ribbon Girl infuses her combat with a bubblegum pop persona. Helix is basically Gumby with large strands of DNA attached to his sides.

That said, the game offers slim singleplayer offerings. The closest thing ARMS has to a story mode gets periodically interrupted by mini-games you won't find nearly as fun as the fighting. This clearly is meant to be a party game, and could be a very good one. It offers several control options, including using the Switch's JoyCons as motion controllers. (Punching through the air feels great, though the positioning is clumsier than using with standard buttons and joysticks.) You can even split the two JoyCons into two separate, though slightly uncomfortable, controllers for two people.

ARMS is a piece of software as flexible as the Switch itself, able to contort itself into whatever form required for the social situation at hand. But don't forget that this is a fighting game in a crowded and competitive field. This is where it falters; Nintendo seems ignorant of what's needed for longevity. Despite solid foundations, the game lacks the strategic depth needed to entice anything more than the most casual gameplay. The game doesn't offer enough characters, enough diversity of play styles in the equippable arm attachments, or nearly enough thought about what might make ARMS engaging.

I don't have many complaints about the content of ARMS. Mostly, I'm frustrated there's not more of it. The game asks you to commit to your moves, to think and act carefully, and does so while sparkling with a light, bubbly energy. It's precisely the kind of game you'd want Nintendo to release for the Switch, and it feels like the start of something special. It's just not quite there yet.

According to Twitter's well-worn origin story, the 140-character limit for tweets was born out of the now bygone restrictions of text messaging. The founders wanted Twitter to be used via SMS; at the time, messages were capped at 160 characters. (The extra 20 accommodated user names.) A few years after the company’s founding in 2006, text message limits had disappeared, but Twitter's restriction remained. It became a cultural institution. People like working within its constrictions; it's almost an art form for some. But today, Twitter announced that it’s toying with the idea of upping the character count to 280. And just like that, Twitter became that annoying jackass on Twitter who screenshots something from the Notes app to try to get more words in edgewise.

The news provoked an immediate reaction, not much of it good. #280characters became a popular hashtag; users bemoaned what would happen if President Trump had even more runway; even Jack Dorsey's biggie-sized tweet announcing the news got worked over. In general, the news did not go over well. (Though, some cheered the idea that a few more characters might curtail the #thread.)

But is this actually bad? It's just Twitter, right? Sure, but here’s the thing. While all social media services change—Instagram gets new filters, Facebook integrates bizarre emoji reactions—Twitter isn't just trying out a new feature; the company is basically altering one of the last pure, long-standing rules of online culture. Granted, Twitter has tested the boundaries of the character limit for a while now, but it never fully broke them. Millions of users have condensed their witticisms to 140 characters or less for over a decade now; removing that one constant just feels wrong.

Twitter has been under a lot of scrutiny lately—for not handling harassment very well, for not letting users edit tweets, for providing trolls with a platform and playground. It deserves most of those criticisms, but they stem from things Twitter didn’t do, issues the service hasn't responded to quickly enough. For the expanding-character-limit initiative, the critiques focused squarely on something Twitter did that it didn’t have to. They focused on Twitter screwing up the one thing it’s always done right.

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You stocked up on iTunes digital movies a decade ago because it was the only game in town. You’ve got a handful of favorites on Google Play, because at some point you switched to Android. And you stash some classics on Amazon Video, thanks to that one holiday blowout sale you couldn’t resist.

As far as hardships go, having your movie collection sprinkled among a few different digital retailers ranks somewhere below "poured skim instead of half-and-half." Still, it’s frustrating to have to dig through two or three or four digital shelves to find what you’re in the mood for right now. You also, for the most part, won’t have to anymore, thanks to Movies Anywhere.

The promise of Movies Anywhere, which launches right now, is deliciously simple. Once you create an account, any movie you buy from one of the five major studios—Paramount and Lionsgate are holding out, apologies to Transformers fans—will show up in the Movies Anywhere app, available on Android, iOS, Roku, and pretty much any other streaming device you can think of. And before you seize up from a bad flashback to Ultraviolet, the floundering DRM scheme that studios have pushed for years, know that those movies will also all show up automatically in your iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and Vudu accounts, if you choose to link them.

Not only that, but the service applies retroactively. Meaning that if the movies in your various digital libraries are among the 7,300 available today on Movies Anywhere, they can be in all of your libraries at once. Switching between Amazon and iTunes for whatever reason? It’ll know where you left off.

Technically, Movies Anywhere already existed; Disney launched it three years ago, but only for Disney (or Disney-owned, like Marvel) movies. It also, like so few things in this life, works exactly as advertised; films bought on one platform pop up on all the rest instantly. That reliability comes from Disney’s KeyChest technology, which creates a sort of digital locker for all of your purchases outside of the traditional retail outlets. Think of it like your own personal, movie-only Dropbox bin, which you can tie to your iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and Vudu accounts.

Or you can just use the Movies Anywhere app, which Movies Anywhere general manager Karin Gilford hopes will become a destination unto itself, not just air traffic control. “It’s feature film-focused,” says Gilford. “Everything from the search, the browsing, it’s all based on that user experience.”

In other words, it strips away all the clutter that you find in other places: the original series, the streaming options you may or may not care about. If you’re in the mood for just a movie you love enough to already own, the argument goes, Movies Anywhere can get you there better than anything.

There’s no real downside for consumers here; the only question is how many people buy enough digital movies to care that Movies Anywhere exists in the first place.

“I think what they’re doing is just giving consumers more options in the market. Hey, great. There’s consumers who want more options,” says Dan Rayburn, a streaming media analyst with Frost & Sullivan. “Are they providing a service consumers are clamoring for? No, not that I’ve seen.”

The numbers bear that out somewhat. Subscription streaming revenue outpaced digital movie purchases by a factor of three in the first half of 2017, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, an industry organization. Still, those sales are increasing year over year. And Gilford argues that streamlining the buying—and storing—experience can only help.

“Purchase and streaming have always been side by side,” says Gilford. “It’s a formidable revenue stream. Whenever you can improve the consumer experience, you see things.”

That’s especially true if Movies Anywhere manages to win over the two studio holdouts, and adds more retail partners to its stable. It also doesn’t hurt that Movies Anywhere is offering as many as five free movies—Ice Age, last year’s Ghostbusters, Big Hero 6, Jason Bourne, and The Lego Movie—for people who join and link at least two retail accounts.

And even without the freebies, Movies Anywhere gives a certain kind of movie fan—the kind that likes to shop for deals, the kind that hasn’t gone all-in on one ecosystem, or might want to explore another—freedom that was previously unimaginable outside of Disney flicks. It may not save digital movie sales from streaming, but it might just save you some hassle.

If it were up to Walt Disney, no one would ever leave his world. Like Howard Stark, a man whose identity the late animator's company now owns, he wanted to create massive, fantastical expos that showed off the possibilities of human innovation. Science fiction builds worlds with words and pictures; Walt Disney did it for real.

In so doing, Disney (the man, not the company) didn’t just illustrate princess castles—he built them. He did it first in Disneyland in Anaheim in the 1950s, then in Orlando's Walt Disney World in the 1970s. But decades later, Disney (the company, not the man) has a lot more worlds to build. A series of shrewd 21st-century acquisitions have given it the rights to the massive comic book world of Marvel; the far, far away galaxy of Lucasfilm; and the animated lands of Pixar. It literally owns so much fictional property, it could never build it all IRL.

But that doesn't mean it's not trying.

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Now that all of the studio’s film units are seemingly on blockbuster autopilot, Disney is fully invested in bringing its cinematic universes to its theme parks. The first—and most hotly anticipated—is Star Wars land (as it's commonly but unofficially known), a pair of 14-acre complexes slated to open in 2019 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. As with all things associated with Lucasfilm, the company is tight-lipped when it comes to specifics about the world, but have promised that it will let people take control of the Millennium Falcon and put themselves in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. No one is saying exactly where this face-off will happen, but this week at Disney’s D23 fan event in Anaheim, the company unveiled a large model of the theme park environment and revealed that it will be a place that’s known in the Star Wars universe but has never been on film before. Visitors will find a cantina (naturally), places for rebels to hide, stormtroopers—everything that falls in the Venn diagram where Star Wars movies and theme park trips meet. In other words, get ready for blue milkshakes at every concession stand.

How magical or realistic these spaces end up being—and how immersive it can feel when stormtroopers are walking alongside tourists in flip-flops and tank tops—won’t be known until 2019, but what seems more certain is that this is just the beginning. As sure-fire successful IP gets consolidated into just a few franchises, moving those franchises into other storytelling formats is going to become the next frontier in monetizing them and expanding their reach. Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter was only the beginning; Pandora – The World of Avatar opened at Walt Disney World in June, and the D23 Expo this week featured a model of “Mission: Breakout!”—the new Guardians of the Galaxy twist on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride. And as virtual reality and augmented reality become more of a, well, reality, parks like Disney’s will be able to merge their cinematic and IRL offerings even further.

Even if Walt Disney couldn’t have predicted Star Wars, let alone that his company would one day own it, immersing visitors in his company’s stories and ideas couldn't be more on-brand. Disney didn’t live to see Walt Disney World completed, but before he died he was deeply involved in building it, as well as its “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (EPCOT). "Disney wanted a community where people really lived," former Disney executive Marty Sklar would say later. In other words, he wanted to build a science fiction world, without the fiction. And now, as D23 visitors are learning, even the fiction is becoming fact.

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