At a recent New York toy fair, a Mattel representative introduced the newest version of Barbie by saying: "Welcome to New York, Barbie."
The doll, named Hello Barbie, responded: "I love New York! Don't you? Tell me, what's your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion or the sights?"
To revive the sinking sales of its flagship brand, Mattel is bringing Barbie to life with voice-recognition software that will allow the doll to "listen" to children speak and give chatty responses. It will learn over time, remembering your dog's name and adjusting to new topics.
This WiFi-connected Barbie may soon be a hit among children used to tinkering with iPads, but children's privacy advocates are crying foul. Hello Barbie may be more accurately called "eavesdropping" Barbie, says one advocacy group. Another popular description? Creepy.
Hello Barbie works by recording a child's voice with an embedded microphone that is triggered by pressing a button on the doll. As the doll "listens," audio recordings travel over the Web to a server where the snippets of speech are recognized and processed. That information is used to help form Hello Barbie's responses.
"If I had a young child, I would be very concerned that my child's intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analyzed," Angela Campbell, faculty adviser at Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology, said in a statement.
The concern underscores a tricky challenge facing the toy industry as it struggles to keep up with children's growing affinity for technology and Web-enabled gadgets. Sales of Barbie have plummeted recently, while demand for children's apps and online games has exploded. Children are forging their digital footprint earlier than ever, forcing parents to make thorny decisions about what kinds of technology limits to put in place during playtime.
Mattel and ToyTalk, the San Francisco-based start-up that created the technology used in the doll, say the privacy and security of the technology have been their top priority. "Mattel is committed to safety and security, and Hello Barbie conforms to applicable government standards," Mattel said in a statement.
In an interview, ToyTalk chief executive Oren Jacob stressed that the audio files the doll collects will be used only to improve the product, including helping it build better speech recognition models for children. "The data is never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all," Jacob said.
But the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched a petition Wednesday calling on Mattel to scrap the doll. The technology could leave children vulnerable to stealth advertising, the group says. Children could, for example, be subtly encouraged to ask their parents for related Barbie toys or accessories, they say.
"Kids using 'Hello Barbie' aren't only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial," Susan Linn, the group's director, said in a statement. "It's creepy - and creates a host of dangers for children and families."
The criticism of Hello Barbie comes at a difficult time for Mattel. Bryan Stockton resigned as the toymaker's chief executive in January after a string of poor earnings results. In the fourth quarter, Mattel's profit tumbled 59 percent. Sales of Barbie sank 21 percent, and sales of its baby-oriented Fisher-Price brand declined 16 percent.
Mattel says Hello Barbie will offer children a highly engaging play experience, in part because the doll will learn about its users over time. At the demonstration at the New York toy fair, the Mattel representative chatting with Hello Barbie mentioned that she liked being onstage. Later in the conversation, when the Mattel representative asked Hello Barbie what she should be when she grew up, the doll responded, "Well, you told me you like being onstage. So maybe a dancer? Or a politician? Or how about a dancing politician?"
Parents can choose to receive daily or weekly e-mails with access to the audio files of their children's conversations with Hello Barbie. "We want to make sure parents are in control of their family's data at all times," said Jacob, ToyTalk's chief executive.
But even that extra layer of transparency is "troubling," Linn said.
"Children confide in their dolls," she said. "When children have conversations with dolls and stuffed animals, they're playing, and they reveal a lot about themselves."
More articles by Sarah Halzac, Washingtom Post
Recent Nesta research estimates that in 2014 the Alternative Finance market in the UK will reach £1.7 billion. Reward-based platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Crowdfunder where “backers” fund projects in exchange for rewards are especially popular in creative industries like video games.[i] Some games projects like Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2 or Shadowrun Returns have raised millions of dollars in Kickstarter.
The UK has also seen some big success stories in this space, such as Elite Dangerous or Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse Adventure. However, there is little hard data about the state and evolution of crowdfunding for UK video games projects.
To address this, we scraped Kickstarter data about UK video games projects launched between September 2011 and January 2015.[ii] We collected data on 678 projects, capturing 90% of all UK projects in the video games category. [iii]
What did we learn?
1. UK video games projects have raised more than £5m since 2010
In total, UK games projects sought to raise £20,5m, and received pledges worth £6,5m from 213,409 backers.[iv] 119 projects (17.6% of the total) were successful in reaching their funding target, raising £5.45m.[v]
Although this amount pales by comparison with the budgets for AAA console games (which frequently go upwards of £50m), it is not a trivial either: the publicly backed Abertay Games Prototype fund has distributed £5m to games projects since 2010.
It is also worth noting that many projects use Kickstarter as a source of “seed funding” which is then complemented with capital from other sources, including “early-access” sales and publishers.[vi]
2. The top five projects raised almost 60% of the funds
The distribution of funds raised is very concentrated (see figure 1 below). Only one project (Elite Dangerous) raised more than £1m, and only 50 projects raised more than £10,000. 32 successful projects raised less than £2,000.
This concentration is similar to what we see in other creative markets, which tend to be dominated by a few blockbusters, followed by a raft of B-list projects with smaller budgets, and finally a long tail of niche projects.
3. Individuals set up 50% of the projects, but raised 15% of the funds
Kickstarter has low barriers to entry – we would expect to see one-man bands and hobbyists jostling for funding with larger companies. How do their outcomes compare?
As figure 2 shows, just over half of the projects in our list were set-up by individuals.[vii] Individual-run projects were in general less ambitious in their funding goals (they sought to raise 39% of the total funding sought), and less successful in raising funds (they only raised 15% of the total funds raised)
This makes sense: nowadays, Kickstarter campaigns require a significant investment in concept development, videos, promotion and so forth, which can be more easily afforded by a company. Audiences can also be wary of backing individuals with big goals and/or less of a track record in professional games development. A company’s bigger network can also help increase the reach of a Kickstarter campaign.
4. What are the trends in Kickstarter funding for UK video games projects?
After several early hits, there has been a decrease in the amounts raised by UK video games campaigns (see figure 3). The does not appear to be caused by a decline in the number of projects looking for funding, or in the amounts of funding sought by new projects (the red bar in Figure 3).
One potential explanation is that ‘Kick-busters’ like Elite Dangerous or Broken Sword bring one-off backers to Kickstarter without increasing the overall level of funding available for other projects. It could also be that UK video games projects are facing stronger competition from projects in other media and territories. Determining what is happening here is an interesting topic for further research.
5. Adventure games tend to be more successful, and strategy games raise the most money
One often hears that Kickstarter gives video games developers the opportunity to work in projects that are less attractive for mainstream publishers and investors. We looked at the types (“genres”) of games launched and funded in Kickstarter to explore this issue.[viii]
Our findings support the idea that Kickstarter enables creative experimentation in niche genres. Whereas shooters, sports games and casual puzzles dominate games charts, Kickstarter brims with games straddling multiple genres, as well as strategy and role-playing games (see the right-hand panel in Figure 4).
This point is strengthened by the high success rates of Adventure games, a venerable and well-loved type of game that had until recently been all but abandoned by commercial publishers (left-hand panel in Figure 4), and the popularity of strategy and adventure games in terms of total funds raised (Figure 5).
6. The geography of UK video games Kickstarter activity
We have mapped an index of local Kickstarter activity.[ix] This reveals “hotspots” of activity across the UK, including several “games hubs” identified in previous research.[x] Our Kickstarter index correlates significantly with the measure of games specialisation we calculated in that project.[xi] This stands to reason: vibrant games industry hubs host a critical mass of games-making talent who might start Kickstarter projects on the side, or use Kickstarter to fund spinouts from existing companies.
What about other Kickstarter hotspots in the map? Could our Kickstarter index work as an ‘early warning sign’ for the groundswell of creative and entrepreneurial energy anticipating the emergence of a new gaming cluster? We’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case.
In the last four years, Kickstarter has channelled a considerable amount of money into video games development in the UK. This does not mean that it is a panacea for games financing. Kickstarter might be democratic in access, but as it often happens in creative digital markets, it is not so democratic in outcomes.
Most funding goes to a few popular projects, often run by companies with the resources to organise a “professional” campaign. The amounts raised are, in general, dwarfed by commercial AAA budgets (although admittedly, those AAA games tend to target consoles, rarely the focus for Kickstarter projects).
Consistent with this, the profile of Kickstarter video games projects is quite different from what we see in mainstream charts. Kickstarter seems to be enhancing the diversity of UK games-making ecosystems in terms of the video games that get made, by whom and in what locations.
8. Last question: How does Kickstarter contribute to entrepreneurialism and innovation in the UK games economy?
41 companies in our Kickstarter list also appear in the list of video games companies compiled for “A Map of the UK Games Industry.”[xii] Interestingly, 11 of these companies were incorporated in the same year or the year after their Kickstarter campaign, suggesting that Kickstarter provided an initial venue for their entrepreneurial activities.
More research is needed to understand the trajectory of “Kickstarted” projects and companies, and also the extent to which creative experimentation in Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms creates wider spillovers (e.g. by showing that new and niche genres have commercial traction).
From a regional angle, does Kickstarter enable games production in younger hubs that have less visibility and access to finance and networks than established games-making clusters?
These are very interesting - and complex - questions. The wealth of Kickstarter data we have started exploring in this blog post will help us tackle them.
(This blog benefitted from helpful comments from Liam Collins and John Davies, in Nesta P&R; the "Lego Crowd" image comes from Charles and Adrienne Eseltine's Flickr).
[i] They still comprise a small segment of the market though – Nesta estimates they will reach £26m of the market in 2014.
[ii] Although Kickstarter is not the only rewards-based platform channeling funding into creative projects, it is widely agreed that it is the most important one for video games. This is why we focused on it.
[iii] We did this by downloading the results of an advanced Kickstarter query for UK videogames projects, and extracting information about each project in it with R. This information included URLs for individual projects, which we crawled for additional information. Although the initial project search announced “765 UK video games projects” in Kickstarter, the query only returned information for 678 projects (90% of the total). The count for successfully funded projects was consistent across queries.
[iv] There is likely to be double counting here, since people often back more than one project in Kickstarter. It is also worth noting that the budgets for projects launched before the official launch of Kickstarter in the UK were only available in dollars. We converted them into pounds using the average monthly exchange rate between USD and GBP in the month when the Kickstarter campaign ended, which we accessed from XE Currency Converter.
[v] Kickstarter projects that fail to reach their funding goal do not receive any money.
[vi] This can be controversial among backers.
[vii] We classified projects as “individual-run” by matching the first word (“John”) in each Kickstarter artist’s name (“John Doe”) with a list of 5,494 English names. If there was no match, we assumed the project was set-up by a company.
[viii] We allocated projects to gaming genres (based on Wikipedia) by looking for keywords (“shooter”, “first-person-shooter”, “fps”) in their project description. If a project matched more than one genre, we labeled it as ‘Multigenre.’ If it did not match any, we labeled it as “Other.”
[ix] The index normalises local Kickstarter activity (measured using project location information) with population data from the Census. The census data was obtained from ONS, The Scottish Census Website, and the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service at the Output Area level (referred to as “Small Area” in NI), and allocated to TTWAs after looking-up via the National Statistics Postcode Lookup. Matching project locations to Travel to Work Areas capt uring local labour markets was not trivial, given the lack of consistency in the geographical levels provided in Kickstarter project locations (which included cities like e.g. “Brighton & Hove”, areas like “North Yorkshire” and even nations like “Wales”). We used a fuzzy matching approach between location names and TTWA names, followed by some corrections by hand (e.g. allocating Leamington Spa projects to the Warwickshire and Stratford-Upon-Avon TTWA). This method failed to clearly allocate projects to TTWAs in 101 cases, and in some cases, the allocation was rough (e.g. York includes some projects in the Yorkshire area due to similarity in names). Caution is advised in the interpretation of this exploratory analysis.
[x] They are Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Cardiff, London, Warwick and Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Edinburgh.
[xi] Interestingly, the Kickstarter index has a stronger correlation with measures of games specialisation estimated using Nesta’s “big data” approach, than with measures based on official Standard Industrial Classification – SIC – codes, suggesting that the former approach is better at capturing ‘under the radar’ games development activity.
[xii] This number (15% of all ‘companies’ in our Kickstarter list) sounds reasonable. Leaving aside the fact that it is based on a perfect match between an organisation’s name in Kickstarter and our games dataset, many companies operating in Kickstarter might not yet have published a commercial game which would have been discussed online, and therefore, identifiable using the “big data” approach in A Map of the UK Games Industry.
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37) Represent: 200 Years of African-American Art
Philadelphia has one of the best collections anywhere of black American painting, photography and applied arts, and this show of more than 100 artists will insist on both the breadth of the black experience and its centrality to US art history. Decorative arts from the 19th century by both free and enslaved African Americans form the starting point for a pluralist showcase that takes in academic painting and folk art, street photography and textiles. Rather than isolate abstract black painters and sculptors from politically engaged artists such as Glenn Ligon and Lorna Simpson, the show articulates a vibrant, unified tradition.
From 10 January to 5 April, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
38) Rubens and His Legacy
The swirling energy of Rubens makes his art a feast of colour, violence, eroticism and history that entranced the rulers who paid him to decorate palaces across early 17th-century Europe, and has fascinated artists ever since. From the French Romantic painter Delacroix, whose fierce chromatic fireworks owe Rubens everything, to Picasso, who claimed to loathe Rubens but was manifestly influenced by him, this promises to be a truly stupendous celebration of a cultural giant.
From 24 January to 10 April, Royal Academy, London.
39) Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden
In a retrospective that blurs painting and drawing, the personal and the public,Dumas portrays people with exceptional tenderness and vulnerability, humour and sadness, from sexy, bare-all watercolours to portraits of the living and the dead. Pasolini and Phil Spector, Osama bin Laden and Alan Turing are among her roll call of heroes and villains.
From 5 February to 10 May, Tate Modern, London.
40) History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain
John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Hiorns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth and Jane & Louise Wilson each curate a section of a spiky show that takes British society from 1945 to the present, touching on everything from the CND movement to the BSE outbreak, urban planning and reality TV. Expect icons and iconoclasm.
From 10 February to 26 April, Hayward Gallery, London.
41) Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
Signalling Manchester’s growing importance as a centre for the visual arts, the Whitworth’s £15m expansion opens with multiple exhibitions and displays, including key works and new commissions by Cornelia Parker, the beautiful watercolours of Thomas Schütte, and a 45-metre-long gunpowder drawing by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.
Opening 14 February.
42) Walkie Talkie sky garden
Guy de Maupassant said his favourite place to dine was the Eiffel tower, because it was the only place in Paris where he couldn’t see it. So Londoners will be relieved to hear that the panoramic “sky garden” of the Walkie Talkie tower will open from spring, serving refreshments out of the glare of its death ray. 20 Fenchurch Street, London.
43) Architecture of Independence: African Modernism
Heroic concrete archways, daring domes and enigmatic pyramid structures will feature in what promises to be a fascinating German show of African modernist architecture from the 1950s and 60s – a little-known period of bold experimentation following many central and sub-Saharan countries’ independence. Curated by Manuel Hertz, with photographs by Iwan Baan, the exhibition will chart more than 50 public buildings in countries such as Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Ghana and Senegal.
From 20 February to 22 May, Vitra Design Museum, Weil-am-Rhein, Germany.
44) A house for Essex, by FAT and Grayson Perry
Looking like a souped-up gingerbread house crossed with a Thai temple, this fairytale holiday home in the Essex countryside designed by Grayson Perry and FAT architects will open for bookings in spring. Prospective Hansels and Gretels will be able to dine beneath a motorbike chandelier and sleep tucked up in a nest of gaudy tapestries.
45) All of This Belongs to You
One of the first exhibitions produced by the V&A’s new contemporary architecture and design department, this provocative show will infiltrate the rambling pile in London’s South Kensington with a series of specially commissioned interventions from the likes of Muf and James Bridle, exploring civic issues from technology and security to citizenship and democracy, to tie in with the general election.
From 1 April to 19 July, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
46) Jason Rhoades: Four Roads
First museum survey of the late LA artist Jason Rhoades, whose labyrinthine installations combine everything from industrial machinery, power tools, salmon eggs, neon, dirty words and US west coast kitsch. There’s horror and zany politics, autobiography and poetic overload, and a lot of craziness to unpack.
From 20 February to 31 May, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead.
47) Tate Britain Commission 2015: Christina Mackie
Taking on the Duveen Galleries in an installation inspired by her interest in pigments and colour, Mackie’s complex tableaux mix materials and processes, the found and the made in a rich multilayered meditation on the world around us. Call it painting without paintings, sculpture without sculptures.
From 24 March to 18 October, Tate Britain, London.
It’s quite the thing in the art world to “rediscover” artists whose works are dismissed as a bit slight. So often, such exercises by curators or critics are unconvincing. John Singer Sargent is the exception – a truly brilliant painter whose work is infinitely more serious and provocative than it might seem at a cursory glance. This American artist who worked in Britain and Europe was the painter par excellence of the wealthy world in the age of Henry James (one of his portrait sitters). Yet he was also au fait with French impressionism and friends with Monet. His subtle, silvery, seductive portraits are not just swaggering; they are disconcertingly truthful, uneasily modern and full of glittering irony. The golden bowl is cracked.
From 12 February to 26 May, National Portrait Gallery, London.
49) Leonora Carrington
This British surrealist who died in 2011 had a spectacularly adventurous life in which she married Max Ernst, fled the Nazis, was institutionalised after a mental breakdown and finally settled in Mexico. This exhibition is a fascinating opportunity to see how her art lives up to her life.
From 6 March to 31 May, Tate Liverpool.
The Icelandic experimental pop star gets a full-scale exhibition, organised by puckish curator Klaus Biesenbach. Björk’s albums, from Debut to Biophilia, are just one part of her accomplishment; she pioneered the coextensivity of art and pop, often through bold collaborations with directors (Michel Gondry), designers (Alexander McQueen) and visual artists (Matthew Barney, her ex). And it would be surprising not to see that swan dress. The museum is promising a new “music and film experience” commissioned especially for MoMA.
From 7 March to 7 June, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
51) Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
Was the late fashion designer a great British artist? His surreal imagination and appetite for shock made him the sartorial contemporary of the Young British Art generation. His designs still have the surbversive quality many of them have lost.
From 14 March to 19 July, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
52) Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art
Sculptures from the Parthenon in the British Museum collection will be displayed alongside loans from all over the world in what promises to be an unprecedented opportunity to understand one of the great moments in art. Around the start of the 5th century BC, the stiff archaic forms of Greek sculpture escaped their fetters and the dynamism and realism known as the “classical” style was unleashed. At its heart was a completely new lifelikeness in images of the human body. The Greek body beautiful is the theme of this epic, sexy encounter with some of humanity’s highest achievements.
From 26 March to 5 July, British Museum, London.
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has the best collection of Japanese art outside Japan – and the biggest cache anywhere of prints by the first Japanese artist to achieve international fame. Alongside his indelible prints of the Great Wave or Mount Fuji, this huge deal of a show, spanning seven decades of Hokusai’s career and accompanied by two different publications, will present lesser-known pieces such as screen paintings, dioramas and delicate illustrations done on paper lanterns.
From 5 April to 9 August, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
54) Whitney Museum of American Art
Just what the world needs: another museum designed by Renzo Piano. Yet for all the grumbling that has accompanied the Whitney’s departure from its beloved Brutalist home in uptown New York, the new building – beside the Hudson River, at the foot of the packed-to-capacity High Line park – will offer its curators unprecedented space for exhibitions, as well as a swanky waterfront theatre for performance art. The inaugural exhibition will draw exclusively from the Whitney’s permanent collection; the old Whitney building will be handed off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who will use it as a satellite location.
From 1 May, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
1) The Theory of Everything
Were this not quite such a strong year for lead actors, Eddie Redmayne would be a sure thing for his miraculous, buckled portrayal of Stephen Hawking in this biopic based on the memoirs of his first wife, Jane. Felicity Jones takes her role, and handles it just as beautifully; James Marsh is as rigorous with the facts as he was on the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. 2 January (all release dates below UK only).
Michael Keaton gives us a career best with his performance as Riggan, an actor who became rich and famous playing a superhero called Birdman but is now trying for artistic credibility by starring in his own self-produced Broadway play. As his personal and professional life unravels, Riggan is haunted by the derisive voice of Birdman, his alter ego, telling him to forget this art nonsense and return to making commercial movies for the masses. 2 January.
Jake Gyllenhaal vies with Jake Gyllenhaal for top billing in the Dostoevskian tale of a man (Gyllenhaal) who meets and exploits his exact double (Gyllenhaal). Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve adapts Nobel prize-winner José Saramago’s posthumously published novel into a sickly story of paranoia and fatigue. Gyllenhaal(s) have rarely been better. 2 January.
4) Taken 3
Using his very particular set of skills, Liam Neeson cranks it up once again for another go-round of the French-produced, Hollywood-inspired hostage drama. Originally a flag waver for the geri-action phenomenon, the first Taken’s surprise success in 2008 turned the now 62-year-old Neeson into an improbable thug grappler. Judging by its trailer, Taken 3 has more of the same, with Neeson’s ex-special ops guy Bryan Mills pursued by every law enforcement agency known to man after he’s arrested for the murder of his wife. 8 January.
An extraordinary but still little-known true story is at the heart of this movie about toxic maleness. Steve Carell gives a superb and deadly serious performance as John DuPont, a spoiled billionaire who, in the 80s, decided to bankroll the training facilities for the US Olympic wrestling team — and tried to befriend the sport’s top stars, the Schultz brothers - Mark and Dave - played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. The atmosphere of warped mentoring and competition is compelling. 9 January.
6) Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim’s musical smash has now been adapted into a Disney movie starring Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt. The drama explores and reinvents the myths and legends of the Grimm Brothers’ universe, with echoes of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella. A childless couple are forced to venture into the woods to confront the witch who has cursed their attempts to have children. 9 January.
A talented young drummer (Miles Teller) shreds sticks and nerves under the monstrous tutelage of Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), his abusive music teacher. Dubbed Full Metal Juilliard on the festival circuit, Whiplash is a beats, not bombs war movie. When the kid fouls up, the general throws a cymbal at his head. Frantic, relentless, punky and fun, Whiplash is at our tempo. 16 January.
8) American Sniper
At 84, Clint Eastwood is in no mood to slow down. His new film is based on the autobiography of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the self-proclaimed “most lethal sniper in US military history”. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle himself, who later achieved celebrity in a civilian life that became as dramatic and extraordinary as anything on the field of battle. 16 January.
9) Testament of Youth
Thirty-five years after the BBC series based on Vera Brittain’s first world war memoirs comes another adaptation by Auntie: this one gorgeous and swooning, much more Euro-movie than Brit flick with Alicia Vikander as the headstrong Oxford hopeful Vera. Dominic West and Emily Watson are ma and pa and Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington is among the young men Vera knows who are dispatched to the trenches. 16 January.
Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir about hiking 1,100 miles to deal with the death of her mum is taken off into the wilderness by screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). Wild is a tough road movie, a two-hour hallucinatory montage of sight and song as Cheryl (Oscar-tipped Reese Witherspoon) stamps her way to redemption. 16 January.
11) Beyond Clueless
Film essayist Charlie Lyne goes back to school with a coy examination of the 90s and 00s teen movie scenes. From exposing the frat boy comedy Euro Trip as a homoerotic odyssey, to pilloring Josie and the Pussycats as a rallying cry for consumerism, Lyne revels in analysing silliness with thoughtful sincerity. 23 January.
12) La Maison de la Radio
France’s gentlest, most compassionate documentarian returns a few years afterNénette (about an orangutan in Paris’s botanical gardens’ zoo) and a dozen after his best-known work, Etre et Avoir, with this peek behind the scenes of France’s national radio. He shot over 24 hours inside the beehive of Radio France, as music was played and fiction was created, news broke and pundits jabbered. Unique and inspired stuff. 23 January.
Johnny Depp channels his inner Englishman once again for a comedy based on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Charlie Mortdecai novels, about a top-hole art dealer with a penchant for getting mixed up in unpleasant crimes. Exuding an Austin Powers meets PG Wodehouse vibe, this looks pretty funny, even if no actual English chap appears to have got anywhere near the principal credits. 23 January.
14) The Gambler
Devotees of tough, murky 70s American cinema will fondly recall The Gambler, James Toback’s fictionalised account of his years of addiction. Now the film has been remade with Mark Wahlberg in the old James Caan role as the jittery English professor mired in debt and menaced by hoodlums. Salvation or disaster is just a dice throw away. 23 January.
15) A Most Violent Year
Sidney Lumet may be dead, but his spirit lives on in the form of talented writer-director JC Chandor. A Most Violent Year is a pungent, potent tale of early 80s New York, riddled with crime and crusted with snow. Oscar Isaac shines as the ambitious immigrant entrepreneur, Jessica Chastain rides shotgun as a Brooklyn Lady Macbeth. 23 January.
16) Kingsman: The Secret Service
You wait all year for an ironic take on the bowler-hatted 60s, and two come along at once. Following hard on the heels of Mortdecai comes this deconstruction of the Ian Fleming-style gentleman spy, with Colin Firth as the veteran agentattempting to instruct his wayward nephew (Taron Egerton) in the arts of the great game. This reunites the team behind Kick-Ass - director Matthew Vaughn, screenwriter Jane Goldman, comic-book writer Mark Millar – and there’s no reason to suggest this won’t be a repeat of the earlier film’s high entertainment value. 29 January.
17) Big Hero 6
How do you follow up a generation-defining event like Frozen? Having stolen the thunder from its sister company Pixar, Disney is now set to horn in on its hipster-superhero territory by exploiting the properties of yet another company it recently bought: Marvel. A kid called Hiro, living in a futureworld amalgam of San Francisco and Tokyo and his balloon-like robot chum Baymax thwart a conspiracy with the help of a gang of friends with superpower suits. This beat Interstellar on its opening day in the US, so the portents are good. 30 January.
18) Son of a Gun
Former Home and Awayer Brendon Thwaites is the petty criminal offered a Faustian pact in jail from Ewan McGregor’s hardened robber: protection for a favour on the outside. The stage is set for a mix of mentor-mentee bust-ups, gold-oriented heist action, and steamy romance with Sweden’s Alicia Vikander. 30 January.
19) Inherent Vice
If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t actually there. And if you can explain Inherent Vice, you’ve surely been watching it wrong. Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film is a ramshackle joy, full of double agents, shifty hippies and renegade cops. Our guide through the revels is Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner PI, but he’s so glazed and befuddled that he’s shooting at shadows. Your best advice: tune in, turn on and enjoy the trip while it lasts. 30 January.
Those on the lookout for the next Slumdog Millionaire should keep their eyes on this boisterous, sentimental tour of the developing world, directed by Stephen Daldry from a Richard Curtis script. Trash spotlights a trio of teenage foragers on the rubbish dumps of an unnamed South American city. A mysterious wallet may just provide their ticket out of the ruins. 30 January.
Selma is about the 1965 US civil-rights marches led by Martin Luther King that set off from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery to protest against the insidious obstruction of voter registration for black Americans. The 600 marchers were attacked with clubs and tear gas by police. David Oyelowo plays King; Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King and Tom Wilkinson plays President Lyndon Johnson. 6 February.
22) The Duke of Burgundy
Excitement levels are high and the temperature is boiling ahead of the arrival of The Duke of Burgundy, in which a libidinous lepidopterist makes the housemaid her mistress. Director Peter Strickland burnishes his credentials as one of the UK’s most distinctive film-makers with a playful, teasing slice of erotica that aims to fire the mind as well as the loins. 6 February.
23) Jupiter Ascending
One minute Mila Kunis is playing a down-on-her-luck caretaker with no prospects. The next (apparently) she has met a genetically modified strongman (Channing Tatum) and been told she’s the intergalactic heir to the planet Earth. You can never accuse the Wachowskis of setting their sights low. Jupiter Ascending is their $200m space opera, tipped as a gaudy, ambitious marriage of Star Wars and The Matrix. 6 February.
24) Love is Strange
Ira Sachs’s snuggles-only old-age romance won a restrictive “R” rating from the US censors, presumably because the long-term couple it depicts are men. Still, US audiences have flocked to this very moving story of New York couple John Lithgow and Alfred Molina who get married after decades together, only to find themselves forced to live apart when the Catholic school at which Molina teaches fires him for coming out. 6 February.
25) Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
Shaun the Sheep has come a long way from a throwaway gag in A Close Shave. Having evolved into a highly successful kids TV series, the feisty ovine now gets his own feature film, proving there’s life post-Wallace and Gromit in the Aardman stop-motion stable. There’s a Pig in the City kind of thing going on, with Shaun and his woolly chums heading off to the big smoke to track down the hapless Farmer. 6 February.
26) Fifty Shades of Grey
“Mr Grey will see you now,” runs the tagline. And you, no doubt, will see a fair bit of Mr Grey. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s take on EL James’s bonkbuster has The Fall star Jamie Dornan on kit-off duty. He plays the mysterious business type whose relationship with a young college graduate (Dakota Fanning) heads into sexy, slappy territory. 13 February.
27) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Ol Parker’s grey-pound cash cow opens its doors once more. Most of the old faithfuls are still checked in – Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie and Penelope Wilton – leaving two newcomers to squabble over the only spare room. These fresh prospective residents at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful are, rather weirdly, Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig. 27 February.
District 9 director Neill Blomkamp reunites with actor Sharlto Copley for the third time in this artificial intelligence sci-fi yarn, in which Copley provides the voice for the newly minted robot of the title. With a name like that, it ought to be a comedy, but first glimpses suggest there’s a seriousness of intent here, as Chappie grows and learns in a human-like fashion. Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel are along for the ride. 6 March.
29) Still Alice
Julianne Moore is a dead cert for the best actress Oscar for her role in this drama about a neurology professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s – it’s a devastating, immaculate performance that blows the competition out of the water. There’s strong support from Alec Baldwin as her husband, torn between caring for his wife and furthering his career, and Kristen Stewart as their apparently irresponsible offspring, who winds up saving the day. 6 March.
30) The Face of an Angel
Michael Winterbottom handles hot potato material – the murder of Meredith Kercher and subsequent trial of Amanda Knox – with deft fingers. His approach is to turn the focus inwards, exploring why a young director (played by Daniel Brühl) might find the case so interesting, and how the gathered international press (in particular Kate Beckinsale’s glam hack) feed off the story – and each other. 6 March.
31) Jane Got a Gun
Natalie Portman stars as a woman defending her home against a gang of no-good cowboys in Gavin O’Connor’s western. A rocky production saw the saloon doors hit Lynne Ramsay on the way out. Jude Law left town with her, before Ewan McGregor climbed into the saddle. Let’s see what state the film’s in now the smoke’s cleared. 6 March.
32) Suite Française
Irène Némirovsky’s novel of the same name had a belated publication: the manuscript was discovered by her daughters in 1998, 56 years after she died at Auschwitz. Its path to the screen since publication in 2002 has been fairly swift, then: Michelle Williams stars as the married woman in occupied France who becomes attracted to a German officer (played by Matthias Schoenaerts). Saul Dibb directs, and Kristin Scott Thomas is Williams’s formidable mother-in-law. 13 March.
33) In the Heart of the Sea
The Essex was a US whaling ship that was sunk by its quarry, leaving its starving survivors adrift in the ocean. Now up sails director Ron Howard, adapting the bestseller by Nathaniel Philbrick, to dredge this tragic nugget of history up from the depths. We’re seeing this one as Moby Dick meets Alive. 13 March.
34) Top Five
Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in this romcom about a washed-up comedy action star (Rock) engaged to a ghastly reality-TV star and making a bid for serious artistry with a 12 Years a Slave-style flick about the Haitian revolution. Rosario Dawson’s New York Times reporter tags along with him for the day, with predictable – but uproariously funny and irreverent – results. 20 March.
35) Wild Tales
“I see violence all over the place,” says one character in this extraordinary portmanteau movie from Argentina. This is a collection of wild tales: angry, crazy, untamed. A fashion model on a plane makes a bizarre discovery about her passengers and there is calamity. A waitress recognising a nasty customer leads to bloody mayhem. A road-rage incident culminates in bizarre farce. And lots more. 27 March.
36) Furious 7
Make vrrrrroom for chunky Vin Diesel and beefy Dwayne Johnson as they squeeze into sports cars to put the Fast and Furious franchise’s pedal to the metal once more. They’ve gained a baddie (Jason Statham playing the terrifying-sounding “Ian Shaw”), but must lose a friend. Co-star Paul Walker died in a high-speed car crash while Furious 7 was being filmed. 3 April.
Here’s an interesting look at the magic that goes into making movies look the way they do. The video above shows how scenes in one particular movie looked straight out of the camera compared to the finished version after colour grading. It’s like the video equivalent of the before-and-after post-processing examples photographers often share on the Web.
The footage was shot using a Sony F55 at 4K in LOG and was then colour graded by Taylre Jones of the Kansas City-based Grade.
The web concepts you need to understand in 2015
Spending time on the internet can sometimes feel like navigating a treacherous sea full of shipwrecks and jagged rocks. For many of us, the online world is real life, just as much as our 3D interactions are, but that doesn’t mean navigating web culture is simple. Offline norms have taken millennia to develop, but we’ve had just a few decades to get used to living with the internet. So, if you truly want to “get” online culture in 2015, here are the five concepts you need to know.
Anti-virality and the Kool-Aid Point
You could have set your watch by it: as soon as articles praising the Serial podcast(“the most ambitious narrative non-fiction ever”) began to appear, a vacuum was created. This vacuum was swiftly filled by articles decrying the podcast (“a very popular version of cultural tourism and white privilege”).
Welcome to anti-virality. This is the idea that everything that goes viral will also create a backlash, as the popularity of the original phenomenon also creates a market for those who wish to debunk or demur from the tide of prevailing opinion. (In extreme cases, this can lead to Kneejerk Contrarianism, also known as Brendan O’Neill’s Disease. Please give generously, because more than a dozen Spiked contributors succumb to this tragic illness every year.)
For women on the internet, anti-virality can manifest as The Kool-Aid Point, a phrase popularised by blogger Kathy Sierra, who was driven off the internet by death threats. If a woman reaches the Kool-Aid Point, it means she has become so popular that some people become obsessed with “exposing” her as the charlatan she surely is – they want to stop others “drinking the Kool-Aid”. Alongside Sierra, another classic example is video games commentator Anita Sarkeesian, whose decision to crowdfund a feminist video series still causes burst blood vessels among angry basement-dwellers to this day.
In the 1950s, sociologist Erving Goffman described what happened to humans who live in cities. “When in a public place, one is supposed to keep one’s nose out of other people’s activity and go about one’s own business,” he wrote in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. “It is only when a woman drops a package, or when a fellow motorist gets stalled in the middle of the road, or when a baby left alone in a carriage begins to scream, that middle-class people feel it is all right to break down momentarily the walls which effectively insulate them.” Dara Ó Briain picked up this idea in a standup routine in which he dared people to get into a lift last, and then, instead of facing the door, turn and face the other occupants. It would be truly chilling.
Civil inattention happens all the time in everyday life, unless you’re the kind of a weirdo who joins in other people’s conversations on the train. But we haven’t got the grip of it in the “public squares” of the internet, like social media platforms and comment sections. No one knows who is really talking to whom, and – surprise! – a conversation between anything from two to 2,000 people can feel disorienting and cacophonous. There have been various attempts to combat it – Twitter’s “at sign”, Facebook’s name-tagging, threaded comments – but nothing has yet replicated the streamlined simplicity of real life, where we all just know there is NO TALKING AT THE URINAL.
We live in a world ruled by algorithms: that’s how Netflix knows what you want to watch, how Amazon knows what you want to read and how the Waitrose website knows what biscuits to put in the “before you go” Gauntlet of Treats before you’re allowed to check out. The suggestion is that these algorithms are apolitical and objective, unlike humans, with their petty biases and ingrained prejudices. Unfortunately, as the early computer proverb had it, “garbage in, garbage out”. Any algorithm created in a society where many people are sexist, racist or homophobic won’t magically be free of those things.
Google’s autocomplete is a classic example: try typing “Women are ...” or “Asians are ...” and recoil from the glimpse into our collective subconscious. Christian Rudder’s book Dataclysm discusses how autocomplete might reaffirm prejudices, not merely reflect them: “It’s the site acting not as Big Brother, but as Older Brother, giving you mental cigarettes.” Remember this the next time a tech company plaintively insists that it doesn’t want to take a political stance: on the net, “neutral” often means “reinforces the status quo”.
The problem of communicating online is that, no matter what your intended audience is, your actual audience is everyone. The researchers Danah Boyd andAlice Marwick put it like this: “We may understand that the Twitter or Facebook audience is potentially limitless, but we often act as if it were bounded.”
So, that tasteless joke your best Facebook friend will definitely get? Not so funny when it ends up on a BuzzFeed round-up of The Year’s Biggest Bigots and you get fired. That dating profile where you described yourself as “like Casanova, only with a degree in computing”? Not so winsome when it lands you on Shit I’ve Seen On Tinder and no one believes that you were being sarcastic. On a more serious level, context collapse is behind some “trolling” prosecutions: is it really the role of the state to prosecute people for saying offensive, unpleasant things about news stories in front of other people who have freely chosen to be their friends on Facebook? I don’t think so.
What is happening here is that we are turning everyone into politicians (the horror). We are demanding that everyone should speak the same way, present the same face, in all situations, on pain of being called a hypocrite. But real life doesn’t work like this: you don’t talk the same way to your boss as you do to your boyfriend. (Unless your boss is your boyfriend, in which case I probably don’t need to give you any stern talks on the difficulties of negotiating tricky social situations.) To boil this down, 2015 needs to be the year we reclaim “being two-faced” and “talking behind people’s backs”. These are good things.
What’s Kony up to these days? Did anyone bring back our girls? Yes, surprisingly enough, the crimes of guerrilla groups in Uganda and Nigeria have not been avenged by hashtag activism. The internet is great for what feminists once called “consciousness raising” – after all, it’s a medium in which attention is a currency – but it is largely useless when it comes to the hard, unglamorous work of Actually Sorting Shit Out.
The internet encourages us all into performative piety. People spend time online not just chatting or arguing, but also playing the part of the person they want others to see them as. Anyone who has run a news organisation will tell you that some stories are shared like crazy on social media, but barely read. Leader columns in newspapers used to show the same pattern: research showed that people liked to read a paper with a leader column in it – they just didn’t actually want to read the column.
So, next time you’re online and everyone else seems to be acting like a cross between Mother Theresa and Angelina Jolie, relax. They might leave comments saying “WHAT ABOUT SYRIA?” but they have, in fact, clicked on a piece about a milk carton that looks like a penis. As ever, actions speak louder than words.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE GUARDIAN by HELEN LEWIS