Culture Feature

How PokemonGO Is Demonstrating The Way Every Company Should Handle Coronavirus

PokemonGO is demonstrating how quick, cohesive structural changes to a product can make it more appealing and more welcoming to users during the Coronavirus crisis.

TechRadar

In the Summer of 2016, all the cool kids were outside, armed with an excuse to spend time in the sunshine, commingling in large groups, their phones weaponized in the war against indolence.

That Summer, PokemonGO was released, forever changing the entertainment landscape. The game was predicated on movement, requiring so-called "trainers" to physically walk around in order to access most of the game's features. It was an immediate sensation. Niantic, PokemonGO's parent company, made $832-million in just the second half of 2016 in which their product was available (according to Sensor Tower). Millions of players swarmed the streets, stampeding after rare Pokemon.

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Film Features

How A24 is Saving Movies

How the Small Distribution Company is Giving a Much Needed Voice to First-Time Directors

a24films.com

My first proper date with my first ever girlfriend was to see Spring Breakers, the weirdest movie granted a wide theatrical release in 2013.

Directed by the mostly-underground Harmony Korrine, the film became notorious for James Franco's performance as Alien, an off-beat, very colorful gangster with a head covered in dreadlocks and an accent somewhere between a Tallahassee truck driver and Marcellus Wallace. I saw that movie in theatres. I didn't know it at the time, but the A24 Productions logo that kickstarted the experience would go on to become one of the most important symbols you could pin to a movie in the 2010's. It's since become a mark of excellence. Now, in 2020, you see a movie distributed by A24, and you know one thing: that movie will certainly be awesome, but might even be visionary, too. A24 is very quietly saving movies, and they're doing it by going against the most time-held and obvious of box office rules: They invest in uncertainties.

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Culture Feature

Here's What Would Have Happened in Every Major Sport This Season

The beauty of sport lies in its capacity for possibility.

The beauty of sport lies in its capacity for possibility.

Though only rarely is sport meaningfully memorable, there's always the potential that the game you're watching will matter historically. The batter walks to the box, knocking his bat on his cleats with that certain look in his eyes, and it's entirely in the realm of possibility that this is it, the home-run that goes farther than any ever has before.

In a time of frightening what-ifs, we could use the welcome and innocent unknown of sport more than ever. Alas, the seasons have been suspended or cancelled, and we are left with only our imaginations to fill in the blanks. But if our imaginations alone are going to decide the outcomes of such seasons, let's use that imagination to the fullest. Let's assume that every sport was going to have its most wild and historic season of all time. So, here are hyperbolic predictions for nearly all the major sports we won't actually get to see played this year.


National Basketball Association

The NBA never pauses play. Lebron James continues to lead the league in assists, continues to garner MVP-buzz over early-season favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo. With an eighth of the season left to play, however, many are still reluctant to cast their MVP vote for James. After all, Giannis had the highest PER (player-efficiency-rating) of all time. Of all time! Things look pre-decided.

Lebron holds a press conference with nine games left in the season, saying something along the lines of "I'm the best to do it. I'm no doubt the MVP. And I'm going to prove it." And then he proves it. Lebron goes at least 45-10-10 (points-rebounds-assists) every game until the end of the season, and copyrights the phrase Best To Do It, which gets immediately attached to shoe advertisements and Twitter bios alike. He wins MVP in a sudden landslide.


Lebron James goes up for a wind-mill dunk against the Houston Rockets NBA.com


The playoffs are otherwise a wash. Nothing else matters besides the collision course between Lebron, on a warpath, and Giannis, out to prove the doubters wrong. Both Lebron's Los Angeles Lakers and Giannis' Milwaukee Bucks sweep their first two playoff rounds, embarrassing teams by 20, 30, even 40 points. In the Conference Championships, the Lakers drop their first game to the Clippers, only to come back and win four straight. In that last game, however, Anthony Davis of the Lakers takes a hard fall and strains his back. Will he be able to play in the Finals? All anybody knows is that Giannis just went off for 60-21-8 as the Bucks beat the Boston Celtics in six games, setting up a showdown of titans.

Davis isn't coming back. He won't be cleared in time for anything but game seven, if the series even gets that far. And it doesn't look like it will. The Bucks beat the Lakers 122-100, 130-126, and 118-117 in three consecutive games. Lebron just ain't got it. Nobody's ever come back from 3-0. Khris Middleton of the Bucks says something acerbic in a presser, and fans on Twitter start making death threats, claiming he's jinxed the team.

And he's seemed to. The Bucks drop three-in-a-row, all close games, two of which go to overtime. Davis comes back in the Final game, and he helps the Lakers take a 25-point lead by the third quarter. They never let it go. The narrative around Giannis becomes dark: is he a born loser? Will he ever succeed in the NBA ? Can he be the best guy on a Championship team?

Meanwhile, Lebron gets another ring, and another MVP, and another Finals MVP. The line between him and Jordan looks cloudier than ever. Best to do it? Maybe so, after all.

Major League Baseball

The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers (great fake season for Wisconsin), Cleveland Indians, and San Diego Padres all win 100 games a piece. It's the first time five teams have accomplished such a feat in League history. Meanwhile, the cheating Houston Astros lose six of their nine Opening Day starters to various injuries. Either they were intentionally hit by fastballs, or divine intervention saw fit to take them from the game: torn ACL's, hyperextended knees, groin sprains galore.

Actually, the violence surrounding the Astros becomes one of the League's great storylines. Never before has the entirety of the MLB been so united against a common enemy, and by mid-way through the season, any instance of hitting an Astros player with a pitch is punishable by a full year suspension, as per commissioner Rob Manfred.That stops most people, but not everyone. Astros game viewership skyrockets, highest in the League. Everyone wants to know who's going to get beaned next.

The Yankees break their own record for most consecutive games with a home-run, at the same time as the Dodgers' superstar pair, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, become an unprecedentedly efficient duo. The two coastal powerhouses meet in the World Series, which goes to seven games. Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees gives up a home-run in the top of the 9th-inning to put the Dodgers up by two. The Yankees get one more chance, however.


Yankee Stadium in all of its glory. Yankee Stadium - Wikipedia upload.wikimedia.org


The first two batters go down swinging. Yankee Stadium is almost silent as Aaron Judge, the potential last out, comes up to the plate. Boom, he hits a solo home-run to bring the game within one run. Giancarlo Stanton, who only played half the season due to injury, does the same. And then Gary Sanchez etches his own name in Yankees history, hitting a third consecutive solo shot, lifting the Bombers over the Dodgers 6-5. It's their 28th title of all time, and perhaps the most dramatic.

The trio come to be known as the Tri-State Toreadors, and all stay with the Yankees for their next nine seasons, five of which result in championships. T-shirt sales hit unprecedented numbers.


National Hockey League

The abysmal Red Wings of Detroit don't win again for the rest of the season. With 11-games left to play, the 17-54 Red Wings just kind of roll-over and die. After their losing streak climaxes with one of hockey's longest-ever scoring droughts, the performance is deemed so bad by fans that after pouring out of Little Caesar's Arena, the Detroit crowd becomes riotous, flipping cars and breaking glass windows and looting wildly. Mike Duggan, Mayor of Detroit, declares a State of Emergency. The National Guard is called in. The NHL convenes a meeting of the owners. Citing "destructive fan tendency" but really just making good on a tacit promise made years ago to a pair of oil men in Little Rock, the league ignores the Red Wings' unprecedented 22-year-playoff streak in favor of the recency bias. The team is moved out of Michigan altogether. Stripped of city and name, they are re-christened the Arkansas Spartans. Their new logo is fittingly the omega symbol, as they are cursed by the Hockey Gods not to win another title for 75 years, when the NHL is finally splintered and moved off-planet.



All of the Detroit Red Wings' championship banners and retired jerseys hanging from the rafters. Detroit Red Wings Retired Jerseys and Championship Banners… | Flickr live.staticflickr.com


Though still a spot out of the playoffs when the season briefly stopped, the Vancouver Canucks use the short break to recover from their multitude of injuries. Vancouver superstars Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes combine talents with recently traded-for asset Tyler Toffoli, who spins his injury-replacement role into a full-time starting gig, and the team manages to squeak by into the playoffs. And they keep on squeaking by. They win series after series by late-game goals, by overtime magic, barely overcoming opponents. Yet despite Vancouver's best efforts, the Philadelphia Flyers (Flyers coach Alain Vigneault does incredible work with a young team and, especially, a young defense. Goalie Carter Hart proves himself one of the elite goaltenders in the sport, putting on a clinic night-after-night, helping the team remain nearly unbeatable at home) best them after six hard games in the Stanley Cup Finals. "Shockingly," Philadelphia also goes up in flames. Someone steals the Liberty Bell. Eight people die. A Ticker Tape Parade is still held. Cameras catch the deceased ascending to Valhalla.


The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics

Simone Biles performs a coterie of unseen moves that come to be known as the Simone Sequence. Each one she has created, innovated, and mastered. They're aptly named the Biles, the Biles II, the Biles III, and the Gymnast Formerly Known as the Biles. No other entrant dares attempt even a single one of them. Biles breaks her own record for gold medals won (they make a new category for her, Women's Domination, at her behest), but after the Games have ended, she bafflingly announces that she's hanging up the leotard, opting instead to focus on philanthropy. The Biles Brigade helps bring school supplies and talented teachers to under-served communities. Biles, through smart investments and evergreen accomplishment, becomes the first Olympic Billionaire. In 2036, she runs for Governor of Ohio.


Simone Biles straight flexin' at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. File:Simone Biles na Rio 2016.jpg - Wikimedia Commons upload.wikimedia.org


The Tokyo Olympics elevate Competitive Rock Climbing to the world's stage. Niche climbers and amateurs alike fall in to watch the festivities, to see what was once a hobby become a sensation. There were more of them than even they thought. Led by a resurgent performance from American climber Brooke Raboutou (following in the footsteps of Phelps and Bolt), climbing enters the public imagination. A generation of kids dream of competing in the new events themselves, not least because it looks so fun, and the forthcoming, figurative Mt. Rushmore is in need of faces. Harvard announces the country's first climbing scholarships. Yale, steeped in tradition, defies the wave. Within five years, they're excommunicated from the Ivy League, replaced by Bard College. The number of climbing gyms triple in the United States, and professional climbers become household names. Watching the 2020 Games from her home in Upstate New York, eight-year-old Connie Rodriguez dreams of becoming the youngest Olympic-climbing qualifier ever. Four years later, she does just that, landing the cover of Time Magazine, with an interview titled "World Domination, and Home in time for Supper."


Professional Golf Association

Tiger Woods wins the Masters. Again. It's one of the greatest sports stories of all time, pulling him within two of Jack Nicklaus' all-time majors record. And the specifics of the feat are even more staggering. Tiger's first two rounds are so full of mistakes he nearly misses the cut, but then he plays the two greatest rounds in Masters history, shooting a 62 followed by a 61.


Brooks Koepka answering questions next to his 2018 U.S. Open Trophy. File:Brooks Koepka with the U.S. Open Trophy.jpg - Wikimedia Commons upload.wikimedia.org


Simultaneous to Tiger's comeback, Brooks Koepka, world number three and then-leader, struggles in the final round, feeling Tiger's breath on his neck. After losing in a tense three-hole playoff, Brooks snaps his club on his knee, rips off his shirt, screams something in Latin, approaches and then assaults Tiger Woods on the green, bashing him in the face and arms repeatedly with the broken broad-side of a golf club. Koepka is sentenced to 20 years in Federal Prison for the crime, the televised trial of which draws O.J. Simpson-like press. Tiger is never able to play Golf again, but spins tragedy into accomplishment. He becomes an ambassador for the Sport, a role model for children, and a philanthropist. He sets a new record, delivering the most all-time College Commencement Addresses. The British Open is renamed the Tiger Cup. The PGA logo is changed to a silhouette of Tiger fist-pumping. He goes down as the consensus best athlete of all time. And if that weren't enough, he lives to become the oldest ever American, finally dying from heat stroke during a marathon at the age of 121. He is survived by 27 children mothered by 26 women.


NCAA Basketball Tournament

Baylor wins the women's tournament. Kansas wins the men's.

Film Features

Why Tom Hooper Is the Defining Director of the 2010s

Love him or hate him, he is THE director of our generation.

"Find you a man who can do both."

A bit of advice that began life as a meme, became general relationship advice, and finally settled in the culture as an identifier of any multi-talented individual. "A man who can do both" is what this generation demands of its lovers and heroes alike. It is the embodying cry of a generation that was forced via technology to adapt to multiple circumstances, to code-switch at will between professional and text speak, to lead a meaningful life in the midst of unavoidably-publicized global crises and catastrophe. We "do both" by necessity. We have built our culture around "doing both." This duality is what made Tom Hooper the perfect director for these times.

While Tom Hooper's name isn't exactly among household names like Steven Spielberg, Greta Gerwig, or Quentin Tarantino, he has been putting out critically and commercially acclaimed work for the last decade, enough to vault him into the same category as the aforementioned by any metric. His 2010 film, The King's Speech, cleaned up at the Oscars. Nominated for an astounding 12 awards, it won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Screenplay. He followed that up in 2012 with the best version of Les Miserables ever put to film, an enormously expensive production in which the actors sung live during each take, something that was previously unheard of for a movie musical. He finished his winning streak with The Danish Girl in 2015, a tragically under-seen powerhouse film that showcased two little-known actors who would go on to win Oscars: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, the latter of whom won for Danish Girl.

French poster for Tom Hooper's 2012 version of Les Miserables. Bruno Chatelin | Flickr live.staticflickr.com

Hooper became known in film circles for the performances he drew from his actors, his sweeping wide shots, his careful shot construction, and his intensely-purposeful plotting. He became quickly associated with other contemporary masters like Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher. After three consecutive films that garnered rave critical reviews and made their budgets back at the box office (Les Miserables made almost $500 million worldwide), the world waited with bated breath to see what Tom Hooper's next move would be. If you still hadn't heard of him after Danish Girl came out, you can be forgiven for your ignorance, because Hooper went into hibernation for the next four years. He emerged after all that time for one final masterwork, the film he is now most famous for, and the one he will undoubtedly be remembered for:

Cats!

In an unbelievable turn of events, Tom Hooper, who a decade earlier owned the Oscars, tried his hand again at making musicals, adapting Andrew Lloyd Webber's surrealist broadway smash-hit for the screen. It did not turn out well.

Cats!, released just last December, was an expensive disaster for a multitude of reasons. It was critically panned. It lost $25 million dollars on an estimated $100 million-dollar budget, much of which was invested in special-effects like "Digital Fur Technology" (i.e. digitally covering every actor in fur so they appeared more convincingly like anthropomorphic cats than if they were to wear costumes). Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian Mckellen, British thespians of the highest-degree, shared scenes with Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift. But weird sometimes works. It just didn't work here.

Two of the digitally-furred actors in Cats stare wistfully into the distance. Universal Pictures

At least during its wide release, it didn't. Although still under a year old, Cats is gaining new life in a cult-film scene that includes movies such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room. There is a growing contingent of the population interested in watching and re-watching the objectively awful CatsCats for the sake of its unintended hilarity and for how well it mixes with drugs or alcohol. This is the great coup of Tom Hooper. This is why he embodies this generation's defining decade better than any other director: he can do both.

Tom Hooper spent the better part of the 2010s proving he was a director of the highest caliber, who could create compelling films with varied budgets, varied casts, and in varied genres. Tom Hooper also spent the final month of the 2010s proving he could screw up almost every part of a film and still find success in it. There is an unprecedented and exciting element in his career. While it's not at all uncommon for acclaimed directors to make career missteps, none of his caliber has ever made such an appalling dud of a film after such a profound string of successes. Regardless of where his movies will eventually settle in cinematographic academia or how they will age, you can't look away from them. What does it say about his work that Cats is probably his best known film? But watch any of his three earlier hits, and one can see they're obvious masterpieces, smart and funny and often heartbreaking, well-acted and well-shot and well-written.

Defining this decade of film is a really heartening endeavor. Careers like Greta Gerwig's (Lady Bird, Little Women) and Ari Aster's (Hereditary, Midsommar) and Damian Chazelle's (Whiplash, La La Land) thundered to life. The masters like Tarantino (Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant) made some of their best work. Female directors were criminally under-utilized and under-recognized (only Gerwig was even nominated for Best Director this decade, joining only five women, ever), and perhaps that is the defining story of the decade.

But the defining director still must be decided, and Tom Hooper is the one with the most range, who created a classic Oscar darling, revolutionized movie-musicals, and crafted the next great midnight cult film. The defining director of the decade is the one who can and did do both. Tom Hooper may not be the best director, but his whiplashing career reflects the chaos of the 2010s, and the generation of millennials who claimed it as their own.

TV Features

Binge-watching Challenge: Start a Show at Season 3

It's possible to spare ourselves the slog of shows when they're just starting out.

Quarantine: when jobs have either been lost or relegated to the living room, wherein social functions are limited to Zoom, wherein the 24-hours in a day can really be felt.

With less to physically fill the time, the time remains unfilled. Fortunately, sequestered humans have never had such a bevy of entertainment options available to them. But that kind of freedom can be paralyzing. Never has there been a better time for binge-watching, but what are we to binge? And how?

Since all this free-time demands discipline, here's an unconventional suggestion: Pick one of the all-time great shows, something you've always wanted to watch but couldn't find the motivation nor time to do so, and start not at the beginning, but at season three instead. Whether it's a comedy or a drama or simply something you've put off watching because the plot is too involved or the show is too hyped, ignore the first two seasons entirely, and fall into a world that's already in motion. Using our knowledge of television in general, and by tapping into the cultural conversation of characters and references, we can spare ourselves the slow starts of seasons one and two, and get right to the meat of the matter. Why sit around waiting for a show to find itself? Why settle for less than the best?

First seasons are often uneven or uncertain, anyway. Second seasons are often better and more compelling, but shows that make it to season three emerge with a clear tone and complete characters: two necessities for any show with long-term success.

Examples abound of shows finding themselves in their third seasons. Arguably, the greatest comedies of the 21st century are The Office and Parks and Recreation, though contenders such as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm are important to the discussion, as well. As for dramatic examples, look to the Olympic podium of TV's Golden Era: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men.

Mad Men Season 3 Promo Photo

A weighted-review aggregation site like Metacritic is not the law, but it is useful. The numbers almost universally favor third seasons and beyond. Parks and Rec improves in score from a 58 in season one to an 83 in season three, a change signifying an ascension from "mixed or average reviews" to "Universal Acclaim," in the critics' words. The Office's highest overall score is season three's 85. Breaking Bad starts solidly with its first two season garnering scores of 73 and 84, but in its final three earns marks of 89, 96, and 99, an unprecedented run of greatness. Game of Thrones' two highest marks of 91 and 94 are for seasons three and four, respectively. Mad Men is the lone outlier of the bunch, as its second season outscores its third by a single point. However, its fourth season, ruled a 92, is the series' high-point. Why? Shows generally hit their strides in season three.

First, character development peaks at season three. First seasons tend to be myopic about their characters, hoping that closeness will lead viewers to love them. Season two is the experimentation room, wherein worlds shift, and season three is the fruit of that labor, with confident characters and expanded worlds.

By season three, the main characters have been poked and prodded for two full seasons, experimented on until their truest selves have been revealed. How? Conflict. Characters are made complete, in mold and mindset, through consistent conflict. They are built through what are essentially a series of thought experiments: How would x react if y? A byproduct of such conflict is a fleshing out of a show's world. Conflict requires fresh subjects to be placed before a character, be they fresh faces, strange circumstances, or unfamiliar situations.

For instance, two of Parks and Rec's most iconic characters, Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger aren't introduced until the very end of season two, where they immediately begin foiling Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones, the series leads. Breaking Bad's first two seasons lack the series' big bad, Gus Fring, creator of the fictional restaurant, Los Pollos Hermanos, the logo of which adorns the show's most popular merchandise; yet, it's only introduced in concept at the tail-end of the second season. The Office changes dramatically in season three, adding mainstay Andy Dwyer, flirting with a young Rashida Jones, and cementing Jim and Pam's relationship, which was until then a typical will-they-won't-they situation. Once resolved, it formed the literal backbone upon which the show is built.


Once they got together, Jim-and-Pam as a concept burst outside the confines of the show they were in, taking up real-estate in the general pop culture consciousness. The great shows, the all-timers, the ones you really should be watching in this quarantine time, share this Jungian trait. One doesn't need to have watched Seinfeld to understand the terms "shrinkage" or "close-talker." "We were on a break," is just part of our dialect.

Though this principle doesn't inform our viewing of many great shows, it does so with some of our touchstone comedies, like the aforementioned It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb your Enthusiasm. Shows of this format don't have one cohesive story pulling them along; it's possible, if not normal, to jump around to the great episodes through seasons, without care for continuity. Once it's known that the characters in Always Sunny are narcissists who work at a bar, it's easy to understand any episode, to jump in without further background. Ditto Curb, where Larry David is culturally understood to be an off-putting schmuck, and that's all one must know for maximum enjoyment.

Because the DNA of these two shows, and their dramatic brethren like Grey's Anatomy and NCIS, is accessible via collective unconscious, we culturally understand that it's unnecessary to sit and watch every single episode in a row. We know enough from our general human wanderings that we can skip the fluff and enjoy the standout performances and pieces, allowing superfluous details to slowly fill themselves in, as they always do.


Grey's Anatomy Season 3


Which of the truly great shows don't also already exist in our cultural consciousness? Nobody goes in blind to any piece of art nowadays, so it's hard to think of even one. Everyone knows Tony Soprano is a gangster in therapy. Lost takes place on an island post-plane crash. Jon Snow in Game of Thrones is a bastard, and if that isn't abundantly clear, they'll say it five or six times an episode.

No show is ever entered into truly blind. Between our bevy of previous cultural knowledge and the practice we've had in consuming other content en media res, it's possible to spare ourselves the slog of shows when they're just starting out. We've just never strayed from the unimaginative formula that shows are best began at the beginning. But that's clinging to tradition alone. Shows in season three will contain characters at their most compelling, jokes at their most pointed, worlds at their most alive. The show itself will be easier to enjoy, and that enjoyment will come quicker. Is that not the point? Maximum enjoyment, minimum commitment.

And when it's all over, when you love these people desperately and want so bad to live in their world for just a few minutes more, you can rejoice! For there are two more seasons for you to watch, saved, untouched. Their growing pains will seem quaint, their iffy characterizations cute. And the exercise alone will make you feel powerful, able to ground yourself in a world in movement.