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Intelligent robots don't need to be conscious to turn against us

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Stuart Russell

Last week Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and more than 16,000 researchers signed an open letter warning against the dangers of autonomous weapons.

A top signatory who studies artificial intelligence (AI) was Stuart Russell, a computer scientist and founder of the Center for Intelligent Systems at the University of California. Russell is also the co-author of "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach," a textbook about AI used in more than 100 countries.

In the past few months, Russell has urged scientists to consider the possible dangers AI might pose, starting with another open letter he wrote in January 2015. That dispatch called on researchers to only develop AI they can ensure is safe and beneficial.

Russell spoke to Tech Insider about AI-powered surveillance systems, what the technological "singularity" actually means, and how AI could amplify human intelligence. He also blew our minds a little on the concept of consciousness.

Below is that conversation edited for length, style, and clarity.

TECH INSIDER: You chose a career in AI over one in physics. Why?

STUART RUSSELL: AI was very much a new field. You could break new ground quite quickly, whereas a lot of the physicists I talked to were not very optimistic either about their field or establishing their own career. There was a joke going around then: "How do you meet a PhD physicist? You hail a taxi in New York."

TI: That's funny.

SR: It's slightly different now. Some PhD physicists write software or work for hedge funds, but physics still has a problem with having very smart people but not enough opportunities.

TI: What's your favorite sci-fi depiction of AI?

SR: The one I would say is realistic, in the not-too-distant future, and also deliberately not sensationalistic or scary, is the computer in "Star Trek" onboard the Enterprise. It just acts as a repository of knowledge and can do calculations and projections, essentially as a completely faithful servant. So it's a very non-controversial kind of computer and it's almost in the background. I think that's sort of the way it should be.

In terms of giving you the willies, I think "Ex Machina" is pretty good.

TI: If the Enterprise computer is realistic, what sci-fi depiction would you say is the least realistic?

SR: There's a lot of them. But if everyone was nice and obedient, there wouldn't be much of a plot.

In a lot of movies there is an element of realism, yet the machine somehow spontaneously becomes conscious – and either evil or somehow intrinsically in opposition to human beings. Because of this, a lot of people might assume 1) that's what could actually happen and 2) they have reason to be concerned about the long-term future of AI.

I think both of those things are not true, except sort of by accident. It's unlikely that machines would spontaneously decide they didn’t like people, or that they had goals in opposition to those of human beings.

ex machinaBut in "Ex Machina" that's what happens. It's unclear how the intelligence of the robot is constructed, but the few hints that they drop suggest it’s a pretty random trial-and-error process. Kind of pre-loading the robot brain with all the information of human behavior on the web and stuff like that. To me that's setting yourself up for disaster: not knowing what you’re doing and not having a plan and trying stuff willy nilly.

In reality, we don't build machines that way. We build them with precisely defined goals. But say you have a very precisely defined goal and you build a machine that's superhuman in its capabilities for achieving goals. If it turns out that the subsequent behavior of the robot in achieving that goal was not what you want, you have a real problem.

The robot is not going to want to be switched off because you’ve given it a goal to achieve and being switched off is a way of failing — so it will do its best not to be switched off. That's a story that isn’t made clear in most movies but it I think is a real issue.

TI: What’s the most mind-blowing thing you’ve learned during your career?

SR: Seeing the Big Dog videos was really remarkable. Big Dog is a four-legged robot built by Boston Dynamics that, in terms of its physical capabilities, is incredibly lifelike. It’s able to walk up and down steep hills and snow drifts and to recover its balance when its pushed over on an icy pond and so on. It’s just an amazing piece of technology.

Leg locomotion was, for decades, thought to be an incredibly difficult problem. There has been very, very painstakingly slow progress there, and robots that essentially lumbered along at one step every 15 seconds and occasionally fell over. Then, all of the sudden, you had this huge quantum leap in leg locomotion capabilities with Big Dog.

Another amazing thing is the capability of the human brain and the human mind. The more we learn about AI and about how the brain works, the more amazing the brain seems. Just the sheer amount of computation it does is truly incredible, especially for a couple of pounds of meat.

A lot of people talk about sometime around 2030, machines will be more powerful than the human brain, in terms of the raw number of computations they can do per second. But that seems completely irrelevant. We don’t know how the brain is organized, how it does what it does.

TI: What a common piece of AI people use everyday they might take for granted?

SR: Google or other search engines. Those are examples of AI, and relatively simple AI, but they're still AI. That plus an awful lot of hardware to make it work fast enough.

TI: Do you think if people thought about search engines as AI, they'd think differently about offering up information about about their lives?

SR: Most of the AI goes into figuring which are the important pages you want. And to some extent what your query means, and what you’re likely to be after based on your previous behavior and other information it collects about you.

It’s not really trying to build a complete picture of you, as a person as yet. But there are lots of other companies that are doing this. They’re really trying to collect as much information as they can about every single person on the planet because they think its going to be valuable and it probably already is valuable.

Here's a question: If you're being watched by a surveillance camera, does it make a difference to you whether a human is watching the recording? What if there's an AI system, which actually can understand everything that you're doing, and if you're doing something you're not supposed to — or something that might be of interest to the owner of the camera? That it would describe what was going on in English, and report that to a human being? Would that feel different from having a human watch directly?

The last time I checked, the Canadian supreme court said it is different: If there isn't a human watching through a camera, then your privacy is not being violated. I expect that people are going to feel differently about that once they're aware that AI systems can watch through a camera and can, in some sense, understand what it's seeing.

TI: What's the most impressive real-world use of AI technology you've ever seen?

SR: One would be Deep Mind's DQN system. It essentially just wakes up, sees the screen of a video game, and works out how to play the video game to a superhuman level. It can do that for about 30 different Atari titles. And that's both impressive and scary, in the sense that if a human baby was born and, by the evening of its first day, already beating adult human beings at video games.

In terms of a practical application, though, I would say object recognition.

TI: How do you mean?

SR: AI's ability to recognize visual categories and images is now pretty close to what human beings can manage, and probably better than a lot of people's, actually. AI can have more knowledge of detailed categories, like animals and so on.

There have been a series of competitions aimed at improving standard computer vision algorithms, particularly their ability to recognize categories of objects in images. It might be a cauliflower or a German shepherd. Or a glass of water or a rose, any type of object.

The most recent large-scale competition, called ImageNet, has around a thousand categories. And I think there are more than a million training images for those categories — more than a thousand images for each category. A machine is given those training images, and for each of the training images it's told what the category of objects is.

Let's say it's told a German shepherd is in an image, and then the test is that it's given a whole bunch of images it's never seen before and is asked to identify the category. If you guessed randomly, you'd have a 1-in-1,000 chance of getting it right. Using a technology called deep learning, the best systems today are correct about 95% of the time. Ten years ago, the best computer vision systems got about 5% right.

There's a grad student at Stanford who tried to do this task himself, not with a machine. After he looked at the test images, he realized he didn't know that much about different breeds of dogs. In a lot of the categories, there were about 100 different breeds of dog, because the competition wanted to test an ability to make fine distinctions among different kinds of objects.

The student didn't do well on the test, at all. So he spent several days going back through all the training images and learned all of these different breeds of dogs. After days and days and days of work, he got his performance up to just above the performance of the machine. He was around 96% accurate. Most of his friends who also tried gave up. They just couldn't put in the time and effort required to be as good as the machine.

TI: You mentioned deep learning. Is that based on how the human brain works?

SR: It's a technique that's loosely based on some aspects of the brain. A "deep" network is a large collection of small, simple computing elements that are trainable.

You could say most progress in AI has been gaining a deeper mathematical understanding of tasks. For example, chess programs don't play chess the way humans play chess. We don't really know how humans play chess, but one of the things we do is spot some opportunity on the chess board toward a move to capture the opponent's queen.

Garry Kasparov Deep Blue

Chess programs don't play that way at all. They don't spot any opportunities on the board, they have no goal. They just consider all positive moves, and they pick which one is best. It's a mathematical approximation to optimal play in chess — and it works extremely well.

So, for decision-making tasks and perception tasks, once you define the task mathematically, you can come up with techniques that solve it extremely well. Those techniques don't have to be how humans do it. Sometimes it helps to get some inspiration from the brain, but it's inspiration — it's not a copy of how the neural systems are wired up or how they work in detail.

TI: What are the biggest obstacles to developing AI capable of sentient reasoning?

SR: What do you mean by sentient, do you mean that it's conscious?

TI: Yes, consciousness.

SR: The biggest obstacle is we have absolutely no idea how the brain produces consciousness. It's not even clear that if we did accidentally produce a sentient machine, we would even know it.

I used to say that if you gave me a trillion dollars to build a sentient or conscious machine I would give it back. I could not honestly say I knew how it works. When I read philosophy or neuroscience papers about consciousness, I don't get the sense we're any closer to understanding it than we were 50 years ago.

TI: Because we don't really know how the brain works?

SR: It's not just that: We could not know how the brain works, in the sense that we don't know how the brain produces intelligence. But that's a different question from how it produces consciousness.

There is no scientific theory that could lead us from a detailed map of every single neuron in someone's brain to telling us how that physical system would generate a conscious experience. We don't even have the beginnings of a theory whose conclusion would be "such a system is conscious."

There is no scientific theory that could lead us from a detailed map of every single neuron in someone's brain to a conscious experience. We don't even have the beginnings of a theory whose conclusion would be "such a system is conscious."

TI: I suppose the singularity is not even an issue right now then.

SR: The singularity has nothing to do with consciousness, either.

Its really important to understand the difference between sentience and consciousness, which are important for human beings. But when people talk about the singularity, when people talk about superintelligent AI, they're not talking about sentience or consciousness. They're talking about superhuman ability to make high-quality decisions.

Say I'm a chess player and I'm playing against a computer, and it's wiping the board with me every single time. I can assure you it's not conscious but it doesn't matter: It's still beating me. I'm still losing every time. Now extrapolate from a chess board to the world, which in some sense is a bigger chess board. If human beings are losing every time, it doesn't matter whether they're losing to a conscious machine or an completely non conscious machine, they still lost. The singularity is about the quality of decision-making, which is not consciousness at all.

TI: What is the most common misconception of AI?

SR: That what AI people are working towards is a conscious machine. And that until you have conscious machine, there's nothing to worry about. It's really a red herring.

To my knowledge nobody — no one who is publishing papers in the main field of AI — is even working on consciousness. I think there are some neuroscientists who are trying to understand it, but I'm not aware that they've made any progress. No one has a clue how to build a conscious machine, at all. We have less clue about how to do that than we have about build a faster-than-light spaceship.

TI: What about a machine that's convincingly human, one that can pass the Turing Test?

SR: That can happen without being conscious at all. Almost nobody in AI is working on passing the Turing Test, except maybe as a hobby. There are people who do work on passing the Turing Test in various competitions, but I wouldn't describe that as mainstream AI research.

Almost nobody in AI is working on passing the Turing Test.

The Turing Test wasn't designed as the goal of AI. It was designed as a thought experiment to explain to people who were very skeptical, at the time, that the possibility of intelligent machines did not depend on achieving consciousness — that you could have a machine you'd have to agree was behaving intelligently because it was behaving indistinguishably from a human being. So that thought experiment was there to make an argument about the importance of behavior in judging intelligence as opposed to the importance of, for example, consciousness. Or just being human, which is not something machines have a good chance of being able to do.

And so I think the media often gets it wrong. They assume that everyone in AI is trying to pass the Turing Test, and nobody is. They assume that that's the definition of AI, and that wasn't even what it was for. 

TI: What are most AI scientists actually working toward, then?

SR: They're working towards systems that are better at perceiving, understanding language, operating in the physical world, like robots. Reasoning, learning, decision-making. Those are the goals of the field.

TI: Not making a Terminator.

SR: It's certainly true that a lot of funding for AI comes from the defense department, and the defense department seems to be very interested in greater and greater levels of autonomy in AI, inside weapons systems. That's one of the reasons why I've been more active about that question.

TI: What's the most profound change that intelligent AI could bring to our lives, and how might that happen?

SR: We could have self-driving cars — that seems to be a foregone conclusion. They have many, many advantages, and not just the fact that you can check your email while you're being driven to work.

Google self drivingI also think systems that are able to process and synthesize large amounts of knowledge. Right now, you're able to use a search engine, like Google or Bing or whatever. But those engines don't understand anything about pages that they give you; they essentially index the pages based on the words that you're searching, and then they intersect that with the words in your query, and they use some tricks to figure out which pages are more important than others. But they don't understand anything.

If you had a system that could read all the pages and understand the context, instead of just throwing back 26 million pages to answer your query, it could actually answer the question. You could ask a real question and get an answer as if you were talking to a person who read all those millions and billions of pages, understood them, and synthesized all that information.

So if you think that search engines right now are worth roughly a trillion dollars in market capitalization, systems with those kinds of capabilities might be more 10 times as much. Just as 20 years ago, we didn't really know how important search engines would be for us today. It's very hard to predict what kind of uses we'd make of assistants that could read and understand all the information the human race has ever generated. It could be really transformational.

Basically, the way I think about it is everything we have of value as human beings — as a civilization — is the result of our intelligence. What AI could do is essentially be a power tool that magnifies human intelligence and gives us the ability to move our civilization forward. It might be curing disease, it might be eliminating poverty. Certainly it should include preventing environmental catastrophe.

If AI could be instrumental to all those things, then I would feel it was worthwhile.

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Twisted new horror movie 'The Gift' will keep you guessing

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the gift bateman edgerton hall

"The Gift" is the director's debut feature, but it's so assuredly handled and well put-together that you'd never know it. 

Actor Joel Edgerton ("Warrior,""Exodus,""The Great Gatsby") wrote, directed and stars in the film, which is clearly reminiscent of similar thrillers like "Fear,""Fatal Attraction" and even Michael Haneke's fantastic "Caché," but gleefully twisted enough to distance itself from the pack. 

"The Gift" opens with Robyn (Rebecca Hall) & Simon (Jason Bateman) moving into their new California home, having left Chicago and some bad memories behind. They run into Gordo (Edgerton), an ex-classmate from Simon's childhood, and politely make small talk and feign interest in catching up with no intention of actually doing so. 

Gordo, however, has every intention of making it happen and continually shows up at their home unannounced, always when Robyn is home alone. As Simon grows more and more irritated, Robyn does some digging and begins to suspect that Simon is hiding something sinister from he and Gordo's past. 

the gift bateman dinnerThe real horror of "The Gift" has nothing to do with the jump scares, although they are incredibly efficient and well-paced for a debut feature. The real terror runs deeper than the surface level 'imposing stalker' angle — what's more unsettling than discovering deep, dark secrets buried in your spouse's past? The quiet, human moments in which the characters grapple with their realities are far more disturbing than any of the loud crashes and bangs. 

The drama here plays out like a great stage play, where the internal conflict and tension between the characters is the real driving force. Careful attention is paid to backstory and detail, and Edgerton's script does a masterful job of revealing character intricacies at the opportune time for maximum dramatic effect. The film's third act is particularly memorable and a satisfying conclusion to all the build-up. 

the gift rebecca hallNothing is spoon-fed here, and Edgerton is great at "showing" the audience what's happening visually rather than "telling" with clunky exposition. The film aggressively tries to keep the audience guessing — Edgerton often presents something that changes the stakes in one sequence only to expand upon and turn it on its head in the next. None of this misdirection feels manipulative or cheap and only further serves the constantly bubbling sense of tension and unease. 

"The Gift" is a tight, neatly wrapped throwback that is familiar enough to inspire comparison yet brazen enough to merit its own conversation. 

Watch the trailer below.

"The Gift" opens in theaters nationwide this Friday.

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This 'Ghostbusters' superfan spent over $150K recreating the famous vehicle from the film

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Paul Harborne, a superfan of the film "Ghostbusters," has made one of the film's famous props a reality. The West Midlands, England man purchased a used 1960 Cadillac Miller-Meteor five years ago and has repaired the vehicle himself. The refurbishing job cost around £100,000 GBP.

Produced by Emma Fierberg. Video courtesy of Associated Press. 

 
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Sony announces 2 'Bad Boys' sequels

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bad boys

Sony announced Wednesday that it plans to release more sequels of the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence action comedy, "Bad Boys."

"Bad Boys 3" will be released on February 17, 2017 and "Bad Boys 4" is slated for July 3, 2019, according to The Wrap

The previous two "Bad Boys" films have grossed over $400 million worldwide. 

Sony has also announced that the upcoming "Ghostbusters" movie, starring Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, will open July 15, 2016. And the Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence comedy "Passengers" will hit screens December 21, 2016. 

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These charts show how brutally non-diverse Hollywood is

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jerry weintraub george clooney matt damon brad pitt

The numbers are staggering in a report released Wednesday by USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative.

Examining gender and race/ethnicity across 700 top-grossing US films from 2007 to 2014, the study shows troubling findings like only 30.2% percent of speaking characters in those 700 films were female; out of the over 4,600 speaking roles in the top 100 films in 2014, only 19 were lesbian, gay or bisexual (none were transgender); and in 2014 only 17 of the 100 top films featured a lead or co-lead from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

The report, spearheaded by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, is even more disturbing when made up as charts. Here are a few from the report:
stat 2

stat 1

stat 4stat 3

stat 5stat 6 Looking at the report, New York Times critic Manhole Dargis writes in regards to lack of women in movies: “Among other things, the findings are a blunt reminder that female-driven blockbusters like 'The Hunger Games' and African-American dramas like 'Selma' remain exceptions in a largely homogeneous field.”

This is not the first time a study by Dr. Smith revealed a white, male-dominated movie industry.

The study on the same topics she did looking at 500 films from 2007-2012 motivated Senator Barbara Boxer (D - California) and four other female senators to send a letter to the major movie studios asking them to respond to Dr. Smith’s findings. In June of this year, Boxer praised Warner Brothers for their recent hires of females for some of their upcoming big movies, Variety reported.

“When women’s voices are heard, whether in the U.S. Congress or in the film industry, it strengthens our country,” Boxer wrote in a letter to Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, according to Variety. “I will continue to follow the issue of women directors and your studio’s efforts to expand diversity at all levels.”

BI reached out to Senator Boxer for comment on Dr. Smith’s latest report, but have not yet received a response. We will update this story where appropriate.

SEE ALSO: Actor BD Wong blames "racial exlusion in Hollywood" for his small role in "Jurassic Park"

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The release of a new 'Dragon Ball Z' movie proves why this action cartoon is still a phenomenon after more than 25 years

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dragon ball z resurrection f poster

"Dragon Ball Z" was something of a pop culture phenomenon — created in 1989 and brought to the US in 1996, the anime series (and its accompanying animated movies) about a group of warriors defending the earth from various strange and powerful threats was a watershed moment for the rising popularity of Japanese animation in America.

Thanks to its syndication on channels like Cartoon Network and The WB, along with immensely popular (albeit scattershot) home video releases, "Dragon Ball Z" became an entire generation's introduction to anime. 

It's also in the middle of a huge revival in fan interest — last year marked the series' 25th anniversary, and also saw the premiere of "Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods", the first new project with a story by creator Akira Toriyama in 18 years. This year, the "Dragon Ball Z" revival continues with "Resurrection F", a second film that revisits what fans consider one of the best stories from the original series. 

"We were shocked. That movie took us by surprise," says Christopher Sabat, a veteran voice actor famous for his role as the English voice of fan-favorite characters Vegeta and Piccolo across various English dubs, remasters, and video games over the past fifteen years. "All of last year and 'Battle of the Gods' was a blur, it was so new to us — we knew it was important, but it was very difficult to wrap our head around exactly what was happening."

dragon ball z resurrection f screenshot

Sabat has been involved with all things "Dragon Ball Z" since 1999, when American distributor Funimation committed to building its own in-house voice cast after an initial mid-90s attempt to bring the series to American audiences failed to garner interest. 

"When I first started working on 'Z' — this was in the late '90s — a lot of us were just mystified as to what we were even working on," Sabat told Tech Insider. "We weren't even a hundred percent sure what it is that 'Dragon Ball Z' was going to become. And then we started going to conventions, and there was this giant fan outpouring — I'd never been to a convention before — and we suddenly realized that there was this giant fan base for it."

According to Sabat, these new movies — the first in almost two decades — are coming at a perfect time, one where fan conventions are more popular than they've ever been and anime is far more accessible thanks to popular streaming services like Hulu and more specialty platforms like Crunchyroll

dragon ball z resurrection screenshot 2

"It's all at its absolute peak. Con culture is growing, so many people are going to conventions and they don't even have to be super fans to go — they know the name Comic-Con and they're like, 'I'm gonna go check one of those things out.' I'm meeting so many people who loved this show many years ago. I was just [at] Tampa Bay Comic-Con over the weekend, and somebody brought me an action figure that I had signed thirteen years ago. And I resigned it in gold and said 'Come back in 2028!'"

To Sabat, that's one of the most rewarding parts of being involved in bringing "Dragon Ball Z" to America — seeing the way the show has inspired its many fans as they grew up. 

"It's so heartwarming to hear them tell you stories about them running home from school every day," says Sabat. "Or how it inspired them to get through kidney dialysis, or how they're a black belt in karate. It's incredible, none of us ever knew that it'd be anything like this." 

"Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F" is currently in theaters for a limited theatrical release August 4-12.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: I've never watched anime before — but this new 'Dragonball Z' movie looks like a blast

The release of a new 'Dragon Ball Z' movie proves why this action cartoon is still a phenomenon after more than 25 years

0
0

dragon ball z resurrection f poster

"Dragon Ball Z" was something of a pop culture phenomenon — created in 1989 and brought to the US in 1996, the anime series (and its accompanying animated movies) about a group of warriors defending the earth from various strange and powerful threats was a watershed moment for the rising popularity of Japanese animation in America.

Thanks to its syndication on channels like Cartoon Network and The WB, along with immensely popular (albeit scattershot) home video releases, "Dragon Ball Z" became an entire generation's introduction to anime. 

It's also in the middle of a huge revival in fan interest — last year marked the series' 25th anniversary, and also saw the premiere of "Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods", the first new project with a story by creator Akira Toriyama in 18 years. This year, the "Dragon Ball Z" revival continues with "Resurrection F", a second film that revisits what fans consider one of the best stories from the original series. 

"We were shocked. That movie took us by surprise," says Christopher Sabat, a veteran voice actor famous for his role as the English voice of fan-favorite characters Vegeta and Piccolo across various English dubs, remasters, and video games over the past fifteen years. "All of last year and 'Battle of the Gods' was a blur, it was so new to us — we knew it was important, but it was very difficult to wrap our head around exactly what was happening."

dragon ball z resurrection f screenshot

Sabat has been involved with all things "Dragon Ball Z" since 1999, when American distributor Funimation committed to building its own in-house voice cast after an initial mid-90s attempt to bring the series to American audiences failed to garner interest. 

"When I first started working on 'Z' — this was in the late '90s — a lot of us were just mystified as to what we were even working on," Sabat told Tech Insider. "We weren't even a hundred percent sure what it is that 'Dragon Ball Z' was going to become. And then we started going to conventions, and there was this giant fan outpouring — I'd never been to a convention before — and we suddenly realized that there was this giant fan base for it."

According to Sabat, these new movies — the first in almost two decades — are coming at a perfect time, one where fan conventions are more popular than they've ever been and anime is far more accessible thanks to popular streaming services like Hulu and more specialty platforms like Crunchyroll

dragon ball z resurrection screenshot 2

"It's all at its absolute peak. Con culture is growing, so many people are going to conventions and they don't even have to be super fans to go — they know the name Comic-Con and they're like, 'I'm gonna go check one of those things out.' I'm meeting so many people who loved this show many years ago. I was just [at] Tampa Bay Comic-Con over the weekend, and somebody brought me an action figure that I had signed thirteen years ago. And I resigned it in gold and said 'Come back in 2028!'"

To Sabat, that's one of the most rewarding parts of being involved in bringing "Dragon Ball Z" to America — seeing the way the show has inspired its many fans as they grew up. 

"It's so heartwarming to hear them tell you stories about them running home from school every day," says Sabat. "Or how it inspired them to get through kidney dialysis, or how they're a black belt in karate. It's incredible, none of us ever knew that it'd be anything like this." 

"Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F" is currently in theaters for a limited theatrical release August 4-12.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: I've never watched anime before — but this new 'Dragonball Z' movie looks like a blast

'Fantastic Four' is getting slaughtered by critics

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fantastic four

Things do not look promising for the latest attempt to reboot one of Marvel’s flagship superhero teams.

20th Century Fox will be releasing “Fantastic Four” on Friday with high-powered young Hollywood talent as the leads, including Miles Teller (as Reed Richards), Kate Mara (Sue Storm), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm), and Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm, aka The Thing).

Micahel B Jordan Fantastic Four Alan Markfield FoxThough on paper it looks like Fox couldn’t go wrong, the film has had to deal with controversy from the get-go. First, some fans weren’t happy with the casting of Michael B. Jordan, an African-American actor, in the role of Johnny Storm (who in the comics is white). Then there were the rumors of the erratic behavior of the film’s director Josh Trank on set, followed by 11th hour reshoots. 

All of that can be forgotten if a movie is good, but from the looks of its 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s not likely. 

Let’s check out why the critics weren’t into “Fantastic Four.”

The beginning of the movie is promising, but apparently then goes down hill.

Time Out London believes “the first 45 minutes or so, ‘Fantastic Four’ is actually a lot of fun.” 

the fantastic four DF 14999r_rgb finalAnd Forbes felt the film was “a mess” with “the halfway decent first 45 minutes or so giving way to a stupefyingly generic and wrongheaded superhero origin story.” 

It’s hard to get over the fact that the actors are supposed to be teenagers.

“We flash-forward seven years to a high school science fair (we’re supposed to believe, I guess, that the characters in this movie are 17-18 years old even though the average age of the actors is 29)…” notes Screen Crush

The ending is a CGI fail.

“Flashes of freshness are utterly M.I.A. in 'Fantastic Four''s final act, which is where its human drama is preempted by stagey, CGI-addled superhero posturing,” according to The Daily Beast

the fantastic four TS0245_v358_0145_rgb final“The special effects are often lousy in 'Fantastic Four,' with poorly rendered CGI backdrops that make the fact that the actors are all standing on a soundstage all the more apparent, and this is particularly glaring during the climax,” writes The Playlist

But as a whole, the movie just isn’t good.

“'Fantastic Four' is a synthetic bum-out, an assembly-line product, a movie a group of people made just because they could,” according to the Miami Herald

JoBlo’s Movie Emporium feels “...this is like a generic TV pilot for a show you wouldn’t want to watch....” 

"'Fantastic Four' feels like a 100-minute trailer for a movie that never happens," writes The Hollywood Reporter

SEE ALSO: 12 Marvel comic series ever fan should read

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NOW WATCH: It's harder than you think

Doctor Doom is an all-time great villain — even if the movies keep getting him wrong

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fantastic four doctor doom

This might be hard to believe given that the early buzz on 20th Century Fox's big "Fantastic Four" reboot has been overwhelmingly negative, but the "Fantastic Four" comic books the movie is based on really are incredible.

It cannot be stressed enough how influential the "Fantastic Four" comics kicked off by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee are. Writing them off is a terrible mistake that's unfortunately very easy to make thanks to their apparent inability to crack into the wider pop culture consciousness, but that doesn't change the fact that almost everything you love about modern superheroes (and Marvel in particular) started with "The Fantastic Four."

And that doesn't change the fact that the villain at the center of the new movie, Doctor Doom, was always going to be the biggest challenge this or any "Fantastic Four" movie was going to face. 

If it's hard to believe that the comic books from which the Fantastic Four sprang to life are enduring classics, trying to convince you that a guy named "Doctor Doom" (real name: Victor Von Doom. Not kidding) is one of the best villains in comics isn't that far off from asking you to perform a trust fall over a pile of broken glass. It sounds preposterous!

Look, you're not an unreasonable person if you do think this. I thought this, until not too long ago. But then I read some Fantastic Four comics featuring Doctor Doom, and they were some of the best superhero books I've ever read. 

One of these comics is "Fantastic Four" #67 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. It's the prologue to a story called "Unthinkable," (an early highlight of Waid and Wieringo's now-classic run, well worth reading in its entirety). "Unthinkable" is a great, hard-to-put-down read that does a lot to sell Doctor Doom as Greatest Villain Ever, but if you only have time to read a single issue instead of five, read "Fantastic Four" #67. 

It'll surprise you, mostly because the Fantastic Four aren't really in it. Instead, it's about Victor Von Doom traveling incognito in search of his lost love. Interspersed between scenes of his ongoing search are moments from his youth and how he fell in love, which goes a long way towards making Doom sympathetic, but don't sacrifice the arrogance that is integral to his character. Fantastic Four Unthinkable prolougeIt ends with one of the most chilling twists in Marvel comics — a ruthless act that cements Doom's place as one of the best Marvel villains for being both shocking and completely in character. 

One of the things that makes Doom such a great character is that he isn't straight-up maliciously evil — he just believes that he is above everyone else with every fiber of his being. He would be the world's greatest hero, if it meant that it would prove that he was better than everyone alive. But because that's something that people he considers beneath him spend their time doing — like Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four — he'd rather devote his time to destroying them in order to prove that he is a man of superior intellect and fortitude.

Probably the best moment to ever illustrate this was in "New Avengers" #24 by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato, Jr, in which one character, humbled by the utter failure of his last-ditch attempt to save the entire universe, turns to Doom for help. Doctor Doom in That's one of my top five pages in all of superhero comics, because it's such a perfect encapsulation of Doom's character, and why he's unlike anything else in all of fiction. "Doom is no man's second choice" is a line so good, I want it tattooed on my forearm so I can read it every time I pick up a comic book. 

All of this serves to illustrate how there's a certain purity to Doom's character that is utterly compelling for a villain to have. That he's the ruler of a sovereign nation while being both a brilliant scientist and master sorcerer whose machinations have often brought him within reach of godhood (a goal he's achieved in Marvel's big "Secret Wars" epic that's going on right now) just serves to amplify these traits and make him a frighteningly formidable foe.

Whatever the new movie portrays Doctor Doom as — at this point it's probably a spoiler to talk about in detail, other than the fact that it looks like the movie's really off-base — chances are that we won't see this Doom onscreen. It requires too much faith in Doom as a character and a concept, something that a studio trying so very hard to make the Fantastic Four "dark" and "cool" isn't likely to do. 

Which in turn, is probably while we'll never get a good version of the heroes he faces in theaters, either. 

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NOW WATCH: Meet the dark side of the new 'Star Wars' cast

'Fantastic Four' director blames studio for the movie's horrid reviews

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josh trank fantastic four final

"Fantastic Four" director Josh Trank took to Twitter on Thursday night and blamed the film's studio, 20th Century Fox, for the film's disappointing reviews.

Trank quickly deleted the tweet, but Variety took a screengrab of it while it was still online:

josh trank tweetThe film has been slaughtered by critics; on Friday morning it had a 9% rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. (To put that in perspective, "Pixels," the only other summer movie the critics universally hated, has an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Some reactions toward the film include blurbs such as JoBlo's Movie Emporium's: "...this is like a generic TV pilot for a show you wouldn’t want to watch...." And The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "'Fantastic Four' feels like a 100-minute trailer for a movie that never happens."

This is the latest controversy for a film that has been dealing with bad press since the reboot of the Marvel superheroes was announced. There has been internet scorn over casting and rumors that Trank was erratic on set (which may have caused him to lose his directing gig on a "Star Wars" spin-off).

Despite Trank's views and those of the critics, early box-office projections have "Fantastic Four" topping the weekend grosses with an estimated $45 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

SEE ALSO: "Fantastic Four" is getting slaughtered by critics

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NOW WATCH: There's a new trailer out for 'Fantastic Four,' and it has us excited about the reboot

1,000 studio workers behind 'Revenge of the Sith' gathered to watch this epic Darth Vader scene get shot

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revenge of the sith vader

"Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakes" is coming out December 18. 

That's a long time for a "Star Wars" fan to wait. And it's been a while since the last "Star Wars" movie came out in 2008. So to hold you over, let's relive the last film in the prequel, "Revenge of the Sith," specifically the last 15 minutes of the film, a moment Star Wars fans waited decades to witness and producers pulled out all the stops to pull off.

(For more "Star Wars" recaps, check out the on-going series, "Star Wars" Rewind).

2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith” would mark the final film in the saga George Lucas would be involved in. “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” were fine, but for the most part “Star Wars” fans were left feeling unsatisfied. "Episode III" would hopefully give fans the answers they had been wanting for decades, and some redemption for Lucas.

“Revenge of the Sith” had a mature feel compared to the previous two films and captured the horrific fall of the Jedi. In it, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) finds himself moving closer to the dark side as Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) — who we come to learn is the Emperor, Darth Sidious — convinces Skywalker that he’s the greatest Jedi of them all. This leads to Skywalker leading the rise of the Empire.

But it’s the final 15 minutes of the film that set it apart from the others in the prequel.

In it, Anakin loses the light saber battle against Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and is left for dead as he burns alive on the volcanic planet of Mustafar.

revenge of the sith 6The Emperor saves Anakin and what follows is something “Star Wars” fans waited decades to see — Anakin turns into Darth Vader.

Industrial Light and Magic’s Rob Coleman was the animation director on all of the “Star Wars” prequels and he is on the commentary for the Blu-ray version of “Revenge of the Sith.” He said the Darth Vader sequence was one he’d “been thinking about since I was 13 years old.”

Visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett described the idea behind the setting for the construction of Anakin into Vader in the commentary: “We wanted to get that interrogation look with this ridiculously hot top light,” he said. “Uncomfortable and very unsympathetic.”

revenge of the sithThen there was showcasing the iconic Vader mask and helmet.

revenge of the sith 2“I love this idea of getting inside the mask,” Guyett said in the commentary. “And the other touch was seeing him breath for the first time. I remember we did the shot and George came back and said, ‘Just disturb the smoke enough above the mouth piece so you can see him breath for the first time.”

revenge of the sith 7But perhaps the most memorable moment was the filming of Vader when his construction is complete. James Earl Jones, who voiced Vader in the original trilogy, returned to do the dialogue in this scene. And according to producer Rick McCallum on the commentary, Christensen was inside the Vader costume for the scene.

“I went to go pick up Hayden in a golf cart [to bring him to the set] and he insisted to play this,” said McCallum. “He wanted to be in the suit.”

The scene was shot 10 days before principal photography on “Revenge of the Sith” wrapped, and McCallum recalls the incredible sight when he got to the set with Christensen.

“There were about a thousand people on the stage,” he said. “Everyone from the studio. We opened the stage doors and I let four hundred to five hundred people in, as many as we could get in. People were sitting on the floor. George did a couple of takes, Hayden got off [the set], and everyone just came up and touched him."

revenge of the sith 8"Most of these people honestly had gotten into the film business because of ‘Star Wars,’" said McCallum. "It was just a great day.”

Though Lucas took a lot of heat on the internet following the release of the prequels as many thought they didn’t hold up to the original trilogy, it’s hard to argue that the ending of “Revenge of the Sith” is completely satisfying.

Along with seeing the creation of Darth Vader, we see the birth of Luke and Leia Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 being handed over to Captain Antilles who erases their memory in order to protect the whereabouts of the twins, and how the twins are split up to protect them from Vader ever finding them, following the death of Padmé (Natalie Portman) during child birth.

The film concludes with Kenobi giving Luke to his uncle and aunt on Tatooine, where 20 years later the Jedi master and future apprentice would find each other in “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.”

revenge of the sith luke

“I always wanted to end the movie on the twin suns, it was such a strong image in ‘Episode IV,’” said Lucas in the commentary.

a new hope lukeAbout the ending to “Sith,” Lucas added, “There’s something very satisfying about having all the little pieces wrapped up.” 

Watch Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader:

 

SEE ALSO: George Lucas was scared to death to shoot this epic scene in "Attack of the Clones"

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A Keanu Reeves movie is being turned into a virtual reality game where you get to be the man himself

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john wick keanuDid you like last year's Keanu Reeves action flick "John Wick"? Odds are you did — it was a huge box-office hit and critically acclaimed. But even if you didn’t, there’s a chance you could better enjoy his adventures if you actually lived them yourself.

That’s right, “John Wick” is about to become a virtual reality game. Specifically, it will be a first-person shooter that lets you experience life as the titular assassin who’s forced to come out of retirement after being provoked by violent mobsters.

According to the Friday press release from game publisher Starbreeze Studios, which partnered with “John Wick” producer Lionsgate on this game, “multiple VR platforms,” including the upcoming HTC Vive, will introduce “the world and characters of the John Wick films” next spring.

This move seems beneficial for several parties: Starbreeze, Lionsgate, John Wick fans, and fans and creators for virtual reality could all benefit from a quality John Wick experience in an entirely new form of computing and entertainment.

As Keanu Reeves and company are currently working on a “John Wick” sequel coming next September, this cross-platform game will promote the films, the franchise, and the virtual reality platforms that are launching early next year, including HTC’s Vive. HTC will demo this game during its upcoming World Tour, where they’ll drive trucks around North America and Europe to let people try their new VR platform.

HTC ViveVirtual reality platforms need all the attention they can get before they start going mainstream early next year: Today's gadgets are easy to advertise because we can see what they can do, but it’s impossible to understand virtual reality unless you actually try it in person.

That said, I tried HTC’s virtual reality headset last month, which will work with this “John Wick” VR game, and I was totally blown away. I’m convinced we’re on the verge of a major change in computing, and these kinds of entertainment experiences in VR are going to pave the way for further developments and applications down the road in almost every single industry, from medicine to retail to education.

In the short-term, Starbreeze will integrate John Wick’s storyline into its popular “Payday” game, which is a first-person shooter developed by Overkill Software that’s centered on performing heists. But that will only serve as an appetizer to the main course, which we look forward to trying before its launch on VR headsets next spring.

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NOW WATCH: It's harder than you think

There's one very memorable scene in HBO's new Kurt Cobain documentary

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After receiving three Emmy nominations following its airing on HBO in May, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is back in theaters Friday. 

The documentary has a treasure trove of never-before-seen material that looks back on the childhood and private life of the legendary lead singer of Nirvana, who tragically took his own life in April 1994 at the age of 27. 

But there’s one particular piece in the film, directed by Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”) that no one, not even Cobain’s family or closest friends, ever knew existed. 

Morgen had been working on the project for five years when he finally got the call. In 2013, he was granted access to a storage space where Cobain’s most intimate materials — journals he wrote and paintings he created — are kept.

“One of the things that would change the direction of the film was a box that I found that said, ‘cassettes,’” Morgen told Business Insider.

montage of heck finalSurprised to find the box, as no one told him any audio was stored there, Morgen tracked down a few cassette decks and began transferring them into digital files. 

Hidden among the hours of recordings of Cobain playing music and joking around, he came across a story Cobain taped in 1988.

“I knew instantly it was different because he was performing it and was doing multiple takes on it,” Morgen explained. “It was a little more narrative than most of Kurt’s art.”

The story Cobain tells in the recording is of his first sexual encounter, which then leads to the first time he contemplated suicide. 

Morgen brought the recording to the Cobain family, who had never heard it. He even brought it to the attention of Cobain’s biographer, Charles R. Cross, who wasn't aware of its existence, either.

Morgen knew it needed to be in the film, but how could he make it work visually for the movie?

Morgen is famously known for using animation in his work. In "The Kid Stays in the Picture," he used effects to bring still photography to life in his story of Hollywood mogul Robert Evans.

robert evans

And the 2007 film, "Chicago 10 a look at the anti-war protestors put on trial following the 1968 Democratic National Convention  is entirely animated. 

But Morgen admits he initially had no intention of animating the Cobain audio.

“We were going to animate his art and his journals (made for the film by artist Stefan Nadelman), but there was never a discussion about animating Kurt,” he said.

But then he came across the work of Dutch artist/filmmaker Hisko Hulsing and his animated film, "Junkyard.

“I felt that he had a similar dystopian view of the world that Kurt had, but a much better craftsman than Kurt,” said Morgen of Hulsing. “But the view and the tone had a lot of similarities, a lot of darkness and twisted reality.”

Junkyard finalMorgen asked Hulsing to join the project to animate the Cobain audio story. Hulsing also animated another audio sequence later on in the film in which Cobain is recording the mundane moments of his life while living at his girlfriend’s house in the ‘80s.

“I’ve never been a Nirvana fan,” Hulsing admits. “I think I was 21 when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ became a hit and I just had a dark, psychotic adolescence, so it didn’t strike a right cord for me.”

But Hulsing said he agreed to come on because he was fascinated by Morgen’s mission to celebrate Cobain’s life, not mythologize his death.

kurtcobain06 Wendy O'Connor HBOMorgen played Hulsing an edited version of the audio that was more polished and streamlined than the original recording he discovered in the cardboard box. Morgen also came up with a shot list for Hulsing to follow while making the animation, and the two went back and forth for months on storyboards.

From his small studio in Amsterdam, Hulsing compiled a team of 27 people (18 of them animators) and for four months they worked on not only the Cobain audio story, but also on the other portion of the film Hulsing was responsible for. For the 85 shots that were Hulsing's responsibility, they produced 6,000 animations and 60 oil paintings on canvas. Some of those canvas paintings were as large as six feet.

Hulsing would then take a digital picture of the canvas, input the animation that would go in front of it, and send it to Morgen back in L.A. for approval.

Here's an animated rendition of Cobain as a teenager.

cobain bedBelow is an excerpt from Cobain’s audio story in "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," accompanied by select GIFs of Hulsing’s animation from the sequence in the film.

cobain friendsTrevor was a guy I hated but resorted to becoming friends with because he was the only person I could get pot from. He was the kingpin. Trevor, Ace, John, Darin, all white-trash low-life scum of the earth, according to the jocks. They had been going to this girl's house after school and they invited me. We got to the door and a very fat girl let us in.

cobain funny girlIt wasn't obvious to me for over an hour that this girl seemed kind of quiet until one of the guys pointed out that she was in a Special Ed class. I'm sure a lot of kids would call her a retard and some just slow, and at the time, and still to this day, I would call her quiet and illiterate. But not retarded.

cobain stairsThe object of the guys who'd been going there for the past month was to steal booze from the downstairs basement of her house. While others distracted her, one would go down and take a fifth and then exit the downstairs. We did this routine every other day and got away with it for, oh, about a month. 

And during that month happened to be the epitome of my mental abuse from my mother. It turned out that pot didn't help me escape my troubles too well anymore, and I was actually enjoying doing rebellious things like stealing booze and busting store windows.

cobain stealBut nothing ever mattered. I decided within the next month I would not sit on my roof and think about jumping but I'll actually kill myself. And I wasn't going out of this world without actually knowing what it was like to get laid. 

cobain contemplateSo one day after school I went to the girl's house alone and invited myself in and she offered me some Twinkies and I sat on her lap and I said, "Let's f---."

cobain girlAnd I touched her and she went into her bedroom and got undressed in front of me and I watched and actually realized it was actually happening. So I tried to f--- her but didn't know how, so I asked her if she'd done this before and she said, a lot of times, mainly with her cousin. 

I got grossed out very heavily with her smell and her sweat reeked, so I left. My conscious grew to where I couldn't go to school for a week and when I did I got in-house suspension for skipping.

cobain classAnd that day the girl's father came in screaming and accusing someone of taking advantage of his daughter. And so during lunch rumors started and by the next day everyone was waiting for me to yell and cuss and spit at me, calling me "the retard f----r." 

cobain bottleI couldn't handle the ridicule. So I got high and drunk, I walked down to the train tracks and laid down and put two big pieces of cement on my chest and legs and waited for the eleven o'clock train.

cobain trainAnd the train came closer, and closer, and closer and went on the next track besides me. And it stood over me over.

cobain tracksDetention from school had an effect on me, and the train scared me enough to try to rehabilitate myself by lifting weights and mathematics seemed to be improving so I became less manically depressed. I still didn't have any friends because I hated everyone for they were so phony.

Hulsing said the bleak look he gave the animation came from what he observed looking at photos of Aberdeen, Washington, where Cobain grew up.

"Images and videos of Aberdeen clearly show that it's often grey and rainy," Hulsing said. "I believe that the somber palette adds a lot of darkness and hopelessness to the story of young, suicidal Kurt."

cobain aberdeenHulsing also said that Cobain’s blank facial features in the story came from how he and Morgen believed Kurt felt in his social setting. "He's hanging out with a group he's not a real part of," he said. "Kurt's own voiceover already explains his own state of mind as a teenager, the way he felt rejected and ridiculed, I didn't want to overdo that."

cobain blinkThere were also some visuals that don’t match what Cobain says, particularly the line when he goes to the railroad tracks to commit suicide: “Put two big pieces of cement on my chest and legs and waited for the eleven o'clock train." According to Morgen, that was intentional. "I decided to take that one moment and deviate from Kurt's narrative just a bit to kind of embrace the subjectivity of the sequencing and acknowledging that we are interpreting these events," he said.

The music played over the telling of the story is a string arrangement of the Nirvana hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit," arranged by composer Jeff Danna. "There was already some existing music of strings playing 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,'" Hulsing said. "So [Morgen] put that under my moving storyboards in the beginning and it really worked for Brett, so later he had a new composition done."

kurtcobain10_TheEndOfMusicLLC_HBOLooking back on making the film, Morgen said Hulsing’s work was always the wild card. 

"Once we saw the final assembly edit, Joe Beshenkovsky, who edited the film with me, both of us felt we were pretty comfortable where we landed," said Morgen. "But at the same time we knew Hisko was just getting started [on animating]. There was this fear: 'Hisko is going to be our Achilles heel if he doesn't deliver.' It's not like we could cut out the sequence. I've had some treacherous experiences with animation not really working out the way you'd hoped."

But when Hulsing delivered the first drawings, all the anxiety rushed away. 

“He gave me a gift," Morgen said. "He was really committed to the work. He really wanted to get it right and I really appreciate that about him."

Hulsing said with a chuckle about the experience, "I'm still recovering."

Hisko Hulsing Jaroslav ReptaWhat’s fascinating to learn about Cobain’s audio story is that it may not be true. 

“I met Krist Novoselic, the bass player for Nirvana, at Sundance and he said that he knew Kurt very well from a young age and he never heard that story before," said Hulsing.

Morgen and Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, also questioned the story’s veracity at a Q&A following the film’s screening at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. 

But, Morgen told BI, whether it’s real or not doesn’t interest him. 

“I’m not a writer or a historian,” he said. “I’m making a movie and it’s a depiction of his art, so I’m out for an emotional truth.”

SEE ALSO: Dave Grohl isn't in HBO's new Kurt Cobain documentary, but he wanted to be

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NOW WATCH: New HBO documentary reveals what controversial singer Kurt Cobain was really like

Why Deadpool is the Internet's favorite superhero

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Deadpool is the new black. 

The forthcoming movie starring the Marvel Comics antihero is quite unlike any other superhero film we've seen so far, an R-rated action-comedy with a self-deprecating, fourth-wall breaking sense of humor that's evident right from the very first official video released for the movie: A trailer for its trailer.

If you aren't familiar with Deadpool from the comics, this is exactly the sort of thing he's known for — self aware jabs at the conventions of the genre he appears in. It's one of the things Deadpool fans love about him. The trailer plays directly into this — on the movie's official Facebook page, the post accompanying the trailer reads:

 "#Deadpool did a trailer to a trailer. What a post-modern assh***."

That's the sort of meme-y glibness the Internet just loves. In fact, Deadpool might be the perfect superhero for Internet fandom. 

"He really is the Internet's. He came of age along with the Internet,"current "Deadpool" comic writer Gerry Duggan tells Tech Insider. "There is something to that — there are people who only know him from Tumblr ... there was a newness to Deadpool, and he wasn't that hard to sort of go back and reread everything that had been done because as much of it as there was, you're not talking about a legacy character like Spider-Man or Captain America that goes back decades and decades. He was a bit easier to mine."

Deadpool is unique among superheroes in that he has — by no real effort on the part of his creators or Marvel — grown to become the comic book personification of internet memes. 

"It's definitely a double-edged sword," says Duggan. "I think there are people that dismiss Deadpool stories out of hand, because maybe they have seen stuff online that someone makes that we didn't make, and they think 'Oh that's just crude and crass.' And that's not really our bag, we're really trying to write humor. It may or may not be crude, but Deadpool is a character that's out there just selling himself now. Whether it's in cosplay, or fanfic — even if it's just taking pages out of context — they sort of live online."

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NOW WATCH: It looks like Ryan Reynolds may be giving the performance of his life in this trailer for 'Mississippi Grind'

Doctor Doom is an all-time great villain — even if the movies keep getting him wrong

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fantastic four doctor doom

This might be hard to believe given that the early buzz on 20th Century Fox's big "Fantastic Four" reboot has been overwhelmingly negative, but the "Fantastic Four" comic books the movie is based on really are incredible.

It cannot be stressed enough how influential the "Fantastic Four" comics kicked off by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee are. Writing them off is a terrible mistake that's unfortunately very easy to make thanks to their apparent inability to crack into the wider pop culture consciousness, but that doesn't change the fact that almost everything you love about modern superheroes (and Marvel in particular) started with "The Fantastic Four."

And that doesn't change the fact that the villain at the center of the new movie, Doctor Doom, was always going to be the biggest challenge this or any "Fantastic Four" movie was going to face. 

If it's hard to believe that the comic books from which the Fantastic Four sprang to life are enduring classics, trying to convince you that a guy named "Doctor Doom" (real name: Victor Von Doom. Not kidding) is one of the best villains in comics isn't that far off from asking you to perform a trust fall over a pile of broken glass. It sounds preposterous!

Look, you're not an unreasonable person if you do think this. I thought this, until not too long ago. But then I read some Fantastic Four comics featuring Doctor Doom, and they were some of the best superhero books I've ever read. 

One of these comics is "Fantastic Four" #67 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. It's the prologue to a story called "Unthinkable," (an early highlight of Waid and Wieringo's now-classic run, well worth reading in its entirety). "Unthinkable" is a great, hard-to-put-down read that does a lot to sell Doctor Doom as Greatest Villain Ever, but if you only have time to read a single issue instead of five, read "Fantastic Four" #67. 

It'll surprise you, mostly because the Fantastic Four aren't really in it. Instead, it's about Victor Von Doom traveling incognito in search of his lost love. Interspersed between scenes of his ongoing search are moments from his youth and how he fell in love, which goes a long way towards making Doom sympathetic, but don't sacrifice the arrogance that is integral to his character. Fantastic Four Unthinkable prolougeIt ends with one of the most chilling twists in Marvel comics — a ruthless act that cements Doom's place as one of the best Marvel villains for being both shocking and completely in character. 

One of the things that makes Doom such a great character is that he isn't straight-up maliciously evil — he just believes that he is above everyone else with every fiber of his being. He would be the world's greatest hero, if it meant that it would prove that he was better than everyone alive. But because that's something that people he considers beneath him spend their time doing — like Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four — he'd rather devote his time to destroying them in order to prove that he is a man of superior intellect and fortitude.

Probably the best moment to ever illustrate this was in "New Avengers" #24 by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato, Jr, in which one character, humbled by the utter failure of his last-ditch attempt to save the entire universe, turns to Doom for help. Doctor Doom in That's one of my top five pages in all of superhero comics, because it's such a perfect encapsulation of Doom's character, and why he's unlike anything else in all of fiction. "Doom is no man's second choice" is a line so good, I want it tattooed on my forearm so I can read it every time I pick up a comic book. 

All of this serves to illustrate how there's a certain purity to Doom's character that is utterly compelling for a villain to have. That he's the ruler of a sovereign nation while being both a brilliant scientist and master sorcerer whose machinations have often brought him within reach of godhood (a goal he's achieved in Marvel's big "Secret Wars" epic that's going on right now) just serves to amplify these traits and make him a frighteningly formidable foe.

Whatever the new movie portrays Doctor Doom as — at this point it's probably a spoiler to talk about in detail, other than the fact that it looks like the movie's really off-base — chances are that we won't see this Doom onscreen. It requires too much faith in Doom as a character and a concept, something that a studio trying so very hard to make the Fantastic Four "dark" and "cool" isn't likely to do. 

Which in turn, is probably while we'll never get a good version of the heroes he faces in theaters, either. 

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NOW WATCH: Meet the dark side of the new 'Star Wars' cast

'Fantastic Four' gets clobbered at the box office

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Fantastic Four 2015 Poster

The latest reboot of "Fantastic Four," one of the legendary Marvel superhero teams owned by Twentieth Century Fox, looks to be heading for a forgettable theatrical run as the film took in a measly $26.2 million (estimated) its opening weekend, according to BoxOffice.com.

That wasn't enough to top "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation," which was No. 1 at the box office for a second week in a row with an estimated $29.4 million, according to Exhibitor Relations.

Playing on close to 4,000 screens, projections had "Fantastic Four" earning $45 million, according to Box Office Mojo. That's even counting the horrid reviews the movie received, which have left it with a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But things likely went from bad to worse when "Fantastic Four" director Josh Trank tweeted, and later deleted, Thursday night that it was the studio's fault for the film's poor reviews.

Here's Trank's tweet that many screen-grabbed for posterity.

josh trank tweetTrank's comments combined with the bad word of mouth likely led to the film's poor showing.

The big winner of the weekend is "The Gift," which came in third place with an estimated $12 million, according to Deadline. The indie thriller starring Jason Bateman is already in the black, as it was made for around $5 million with a $2.5 million marketing cost, according to Deadline.

SEE ALSO: "Fantastic Four" director blames studio for the movie's horrid reviews

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Intelligent robots don't need to be conscious to turn against us

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Stuart Russell

Last week Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and more than 16,000 researchers signed an open letter warning against the dangers of autonomous weapons.

A top signatory who studies artificial intelligence (AI) was Stuart Russell, a computer scientist and founder of the Center for Intelligent Systems at the University of California. Russell is also the co-author of "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach," a textbook about AI used in more than 100 countries.

In the past few months, Russell has urged scientists to consider the possible dangers AI might pose, starting with another open letter he wrote in January 2015. That dispatch called on researchers to only develop AI they can ensure is safe and beneficial.

Russell spoke to Tech Insider about AI-powered surveillance systems, what the technological "singularity" actually means, and how AI could amplify human intelligence. He also blew our minds a little on the concept of consciousness.

Below is that conversation edited for length, style, and clarity.

TECH INSIDER: You chose a career in AI over one in physics. Why?

STUART RUSSELL: AI was very much a new field. You could break new ground quite quickly, whereas a lot of the physicists I talked to were not very optimistic either about their field or establishing their own career. There was a joke going around then: "How do you meet a PhD physicist? You hail a taxi in New York."

TI: That's funny.

SR: It's slightly different now. Some PhD physicists write software or work for hedge funds, but physics still has a problem with having very smart people but not enough opportunities.

TI: What's your favorite sci-fi depiction of AI?

SR: The one I would say is realistic, in the not-too-distant future, and also deliberately not sensationalistic or scary, is the computer in "Star Trek" onboard the Enterprise. It just acts as a repository of knowledge and can do calculations and projections, essentially as a completely faithful servant. So it's a very non-controversial kind of computer and it's almost in the background. I think that's sort of the way it should be.

In terms of giving you the willies, I think "Ex Machina" is pretty good.

TI: If the Enterprise computer is realistic, what sci-fi depiction would you say is the least realistic?

SR: There's a lot of them. But if everyone was nice and obedient, there wouldn't be much of a plot.

In a lot of movies there is an element of realism, yet the machine somehow spontaneously becomes conscious – and either evil or somehow intrinsically in opposition to human beings. Because of this, a lot of people might assume 1) that's what could actually happen and 2) they have reason to be concerned about the long-term future of AI.

I think both of those things are not true, except sort of by accident. It's unlikely that machines would spontaneously decide they didn’t like people, or that they had goals in opposition to those of human beings.

ex machinaBut in "Ex Machina" that's what happens. It's unclear how the intelligence of the robot is constructed, but the few hints that they drop suggest it’s a pretty random trial-and-error process. Kind of pre-loading the robot brain with all the information of human behavior on the web and stuff like that. To me that's setting yourself up for disaster: not knowing what you’re doing and not having a plan and trying stuff willy nilly.

In reality, we don't build machines that way. We build them with precisely defined goals. But say you have a very precisely defined goal and you build a machine that's superhuman in its capabilities for achieving goals. If it turns out that the subsequent behavior of the robot in achieving that goal was not what you want, you have a real problem.

The robot is not going to want to be switched off because you’ve given it a goal to achieve and being switched off is a way of failing — so it will do its best not to be switched off. That's a story that isn’t made clear in most movies but it I think is a real issue.

TI: What’s the most mind-blowing thing you’ve learned during your career?

SR: Seeing the Big Dog videos was really remarkable. Big Dog is a four-legged robot built by Boston Dynamics that, in terms of its physical capabilities, is incredibly lifelike. It’s able to walk up and down steep hills and snow drifts and to recover its balance when its pushed over on an icy pond and so on. It’s just an amazing piece of technology.

Leg locomotion was, for decades, thought to be an incredibly difficult problem. There has been very, very painstakingly slow progress there, and robots that essentially lumbered along at one step every 15 seconds and occasionally fell over. Then, all of the sudden, you had this huge quantum leap in leg locomotion capabilities with Big Dog.

Another amazing thing is the capability of the human brain and the human mind. The more we learn about AI and about how the brain works, the more amazing the brain seems. Just the sheer amount of computation it does is truly incredible, especially for a couple of pounds of meat.

A lot of people talk about sometime around 2030, machines will be more powerful than the human brain, in terms of the raw number of computations they can do per second. But that seems completely irrelevant. We don’t know how the brain is organized, how it does what it does.

TI: What a common piece of AI people use everyday they might take for granted?

SR: Google or other search engines. Those are examples of AI, and relatively simple AI, but they're still AI. That plus an awful lot of hardware to make it work fast enough.

TI: Do you think if people thought about search engines as AI, they'd think differently about offering up information about about their lives?

SR: Most of the AI goes into figuring which are the important pages you want. And to some extent what your query means, and what you’re likely to be after based on your previous behavior and other information it collects about you.

It’s not really trying to build a complete picture of you, as a person as yet. But there are lots of other companies that are doing this. They’re really trying to collect as much information as they can about every single person on the planet because they think its going to be valuable and it probably already is valuable.

Here's a question: If you're being watched by a surveillance camera, does it make a difference to you whether a human is watching the recording? What if there's an AI system, which actually can understand everything that you're doing, and if you're doing something you're not supposed to — or something that might be of interest to the owner of the camera? That it would describe what was going on in English, and report that to a human being? Would that feel different from having a human watch directly?

The last time I checked, the Canadian supreme court said it is different: If there isn't a human watching through a camera, then your privacy is not being violated. I expect that people are going to feel differently about that once they're aware that AI systems can watch through a camera and can, in some sense, understand what it's seeing.

TI: What's the most impressive real-world use of AI technology you've ever seen?

SR: One would be Deep Mind's DQN system. It essentially just wakes up, sees the screen of a video game, and works out how to play the video game to a superhuman level. It can do that for about 30 different Atari titles. And that's both impressive and scary, in the sense that if a human baby was born and, by the evening of its first day, already beating adult human beings at video games.

In terms of a practical application, though, I would say object recognition.

TI: How do you mean?

SR: AI's ability to recognize visual categories and images is now pretty close to what human beings can manage, and probably better than a lot of people's, actually. AI can have more knowledge of detailed categories, like animals and so on.

There have been a series of competitions aimed at improving standard computer vision algorithms, particularly their ability to recognize categories of objects in images. It might be a cauliflower or a German shepherd. Or a glass of water or a rose, any type of object.

The most recent large-scale competition, called ImageNet, has around a thousand categories. And I think there are more than a million training images for those categories — more than a thousand images for each category. A machine is given those training images, and for each of the training images it's told what the category of objects is.

Let's say it's told a German shepherd is in an image, and then the test is that it's given a whole bunch of images it's never seen before and is asked to identify the category. If you guessed randomly, you'd have a 1-in-1,000 chance of getting it right. Using a technology called deep learning, the best systems today are correct about 95% of the time. Ten years ago, the best computer vision systems got about 5% right.

There's a grad student at Stanford who tried to do this task himself, not with a machine. After he looked at the test images, he realized he didn't know that much about different breeds of dogs. In a lot of the categories, there were about 100 different breeds of dog, because the competition wanted to test an ability to make fine distinctions among different kinds of objects.

The student didn't do well on the test, at all. So he spent several days going back through all the training images and learned all of these different breeds of dogs. After days and days and days of work, he got his performance up to just above the performance of the machine. He was around 96% accurate. Most of his friends who also tried gave up. They just couldn't put in the time and effort required to be as good as the machine.

TI: You mentioned deep learning. Is that based on how the human brain works?

SR: It's a technique that's loosely based on some aspects of the brain. A "deep" network is a large collection of small, simple computing elements that are trainable.

You could say most progress in AI has been gaining a deeper mathematical understanding of tasks. For example, chess programs don't play chess the way humans play chess. We don't really know how humans play chess, but one of the things we do is spot some opportunity on the chess board toward a move to capture the opponent's queen.

Garry Kasparov Deep Blue

Chess programs don't play that way at all. They don't spot any opportunities on the board, they have no goal. They just consider all positive moves, and they pick which one is best. It's a mathematical approximation to optimal play in chess — and it works extremely well.

So, for decision-making tasks and perception tasks, once you define the task mathematically, you can come up with techniques that solve it extremely well. Those techniques don't have to be how humans do it. Sometimes it helps to get some inspiration from the brain, but it's inspiration — it's not a copy of how the neural systems are wired up or how they work in detail.

TI: What are the biggest obstacles to developing AI capable of sentient reasoning?

SR: What do you mean by sentient, do you mean that it's conscious?

TI: Yes, consciousness.

SR: The biggest obstacle is we have absolutely no idea how the brain produces consciousness. It's not even clear that if we did accidentally produce a sentient machine, we would even know it.

I used to say that if you gave me a trillion dollars to build a sentient or conscious machine I would give it back. I could not honestly say I knew how it works. When I read philosophy or neuroscience papers about consciousness, I don't get the sense we're any closer to understanding it than we were 50 years ago.

TI: Because we don't really know how the brain works?

SR: It's not just that: We could not know how the brain works, in the sense that we don't know how the brain produces intelligence. But that's a different question from how it produces consciousness.

There is no scientific theory that could lead us from a detailed map of every single neuron in someone's brain to telling us how that physical system would generate a conscious experience. We don't even have the beginnings of a theory whose conclusion would be "such a system is conscious."

There is no scientific theory that could lead us from a detailed map of every single neuron in someone's brain to a conscious experience. We don't even have the beginnings of a theory whose conclusion would be "such a system is conscious."

TI: I suppose the singularity is not even an issue right now then.

SR: The singularity has nothing to do with consciousness, either.

Its really important to understand the difference between sentience and consciousness, which are important for human beings. But when people talk about the singularity, when people talk about superintelligent AI, they're not talking about sentience or consciousness. They're talking about superhuman ability to make high-quality decisions.

Say I'm a chess player and I'm playing against a computer, and it's wiping the board with me every single time. I can assure you it's not conscious but it doesn't matter: It's still beating me. I'm still losing every time. Now extrapolate from a chess board to the world, which in some sense is a bigger chess board. If human beings are losing every time, it doesn't matter whether they're losing to a conscious machine or an completely non conscious machine, they still lost. The singularity is about the quality of decision-making, which is not consciousness at all.

TI: What is the most common misconception of AI?

SR: That what AI people are working towards is a conscious machine. And that until you have conscious machine, there's nothing to worry about. It's really a red herring.

To my knowledge nobody — no one who is publishing papers in the main field of AI — is even working on consciousness. I think there are some neuroscientists who are trying to understand it, but I'm not aware that they've made any progress. No one has a clue how to build a conscious machine, at all. We have less clue about how to do that than we have about build a faster-than-light spaceship.

TI: What about a machine that's convincingly human, one that can pass the Turing Test?

SR: That can happen without being conscious at all. Almost nobody in AI is working on passing the Turing Test, except maybe as a hobby. There are people who do work on passing the Turing Test in various competitions, but I wouldn't describe that as mainstream AI research.

Almost nobody in AI is working on passing the Turing Test.

The Turing Test wasn't designed as the goal of AI. It was designed as a thought experiment to explain to people who were very skeptical, at the time, that the possibility of intelligent machines did not depend on achieving consciousness — that you could have a machine you'd have to agree was behaving intelligently because it was behaving indistinguishably from a human being. So that thought experiment was there to make an argument about the importance of behavior in judging intelligence as opposed to the importance of, for example, consciousness. Or just being human, which is not something machines have a good chance of being able to do.

And so I think the media often gets it wrong. They assume that everyone in AI is trying to pass the Turing Test, and nobody is. They assume that that's the definition of AI, and that wasn't even what it was for. 

TI: What are most AI scientists actually working toward, then?

SR: They're working towards systems that are better at perceiving, understanding language, operating in the physical world, like robots. Reasoning, learning, decision-making. Those are the goals of the field.

TI: Not making a Terminator.

SR: It's certainly true that a lot of funding for AI comes from the defense department, and the defense department seems to be very interested in greater and greater levels of autonomy in AI, inside weapons systems. That's one of the reasons why I've been more active about that question.

TI: What's the most profound change that intelligent AI could bring to our lives, and how might that happen?

SR: We could have self-driving cars — that seems to be a foregone conclusion. They have many, many advantages, and not just the fact that you can check your email while you're being driven to work.

Google self drivingI also think systems that are able to process and synthesize large amounts of knowledge. Right now, you're able to use a search engine, like Google or Bing or whatever. But those engines don't understand anything about pages that they give you; they essentially index the pages based on the words that you're searching, and then they intersect that with the words in your query, and they use some tricks to figure out which pages are more important than others. But they don't understand anything.

If you had a system that could read all the pages and understand the context, instead of just throwing back 26 million pages to answer your query, it could actually answer the question. You could ask a real question and get an answer as if you were talking to a person who read all those millions and billions of pages, understood them, and synthesized all that information.

So if you think that search engines right now are worth roughly a trillion dollars in market capitalization, systems with those kinds of capabilities might be more 10 times as much. Just as 20 years ago, we didn't really know how important search engines would be for us today. It's very hard to predict what kind of uses we'd make of assistants that could read and understand all the information the human race has ever generated. It could be really transformational.

Basically, the way I think about it is everything we have of value as human beings — as a civilization — is the result of our intelligence. What AI could do is essentially be a power tool that magnifies human intelligence and gives us the ability to move our civilization forward. It might be curing disease, it might be eliminating poverty. Certainly it should include preventing environmental catastrophe.

If AI could be instrumental to all those things, then I would feel it was worthwhile.

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Pixar figured out the recipe for making perfect movies — now it's unstoppable

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monsters inc pixar

The first reaction test audiences had to "Monsters, Inc." wasn't the bottomless sense of wonder drummed up by most Pixar movies: It was boredom.

"I thought, 'Oh, a film about monsters who scare kids for a living. That hook should be enough to make people engaged,'" director Pete Docter told Tech Insider. "After about 15 minutes, people began checking their watches and asking what is this movie about."

And so it was back to the drawing board. Docter, a Pixar veteran since 1989, had long been wrapped up in his work at the upstart California animation studio. His life took a sharp turn around this time, however, when he had his first child. As he found himself focusing on something other than work, he recognized a vital parallel in his movie.

"I knew I still wanted to do work and that was very important, but I wanted to be with my son, so that really became the heart of what that film is about," Docter said.

"Monsters, Inc." (2001) became the story of Sully, the king of scares in a corporation of monsters, discovering his softer side as he is forced to protect a girl named Boo.

The director points to this as the change that saved the movie — and the final product was good enough to collect high box-office sales and an impressive 96% rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

That deep emotional core, often based on real life, is present in Pixar movies ranging from "Toy Story" (1995) to "Inside Out" (2015). It is what makes the movies so engaging for all ages — and what allows them to tackle such complex and adult concepts as loss, sadness, and compassion.

The deeper meaning

Pixar understands that the most important stories resonate with people because they appeal to some core truth about being alive — regardless of whether those stories are seen through the eyes of monsters, clownfish, robots, or cars.

toy story disneyThe company's first feature, "Toy Story," taught kids the virtues of cooperation over pridefulness. Only after Woody teams up with Buzz Lightyear does he realize that being the favorite toy isn't as important as the solidarity offered by friendship. Early screenings of the film, packed with zip-lipped children, proved the studio was on to something.

Pixar writer and director Andrew Stanton says in the early 2000s he was inspired to craft a story after feeling as if he was being overprotective of his son. From that parental concern came the 2003 megahit "Finding Nemo," in which a worrywart clownfish showed parents the dark side of helicoptering.

Fearless kids saw in that panic-stricken journey how their actions could affect adults. Independence is liberating, we learn, but you need to have some compassion while you find it.

In 2007, Pixar released "Ratatouille." Remy, the rat who inhabits the hat of a young culinary hopeful, fulfills his dream of becoming an accomplished French chef. It's an unlikely achievement — going from food scraps to fine dining — but one that, as the movie's villainous food critic Anton Ego reminds us, shouldn't be all that surprising. "Not everyone can become a great artist," a softening Ego says at the end of the film, "but a great artist can come from anywhere."

Two years later, Pixar gave audiences "Up," in which a curmudgeon named Carl, never having realized the dream he and his wife had of living in Paradise Falls, finally gets the chance with Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer. Perhaps Pixar's most fantastical film, "Up" reminds audiences that holding resentment stops us from growing as people. A friend may not be the same as a spouse, but living a life of solitude surrounded by enemies is hardly any better.

inside out rileyPixar's latest venture, "Inside Out," was also directed by Docter. In it he mirrored two personal experiences — his childhood move from Minnesota to Denmark, and his daughter's slide from goofball kid to angsty preteen. Bringing those stories together literally inside the mind of an 11-year-old, personifying her emotions, only gave Docter more room to explore those themes.

Indeed, Riley seems like a normal 11-year-old who is sad her family is moving. Not until everything goes wrong, and her constant need to be happy comes into focus, do we realize what the film is arguing: To keep our brains healthy, we need to respect our emotions, even the bad ones.

"I've had a lot of people say, 'My son had a lot of problems talking about how he feels, but watching your film kind of unlocked something,'" Docter says. "Which is pretty cool."

It is through this focus on complex characters solving real problems that Pixar elicits such a strong emotional response.

"The main character is like a surrogate for you, the audience member," Docter says. "They're learning and discovering information at the same time you are, so that by the time the film ends, you feel like you've gone on the same emotional journey the character has."

Leaving an impact

Like all of the best stories, Pixar movies can help shape people in positive and lasting ways.

"I think that's one of the nice things about Pixar movies," child psychologist Omar Gudino says. "They really deal with something that might be considered darker in tone or more adult in subject matter in a way that's really accessible."

Research is finding that when children between 3 and 5 years old watch movies, they come away with impressions about the natural state of the world. Even if those young viewers can't understand or describe everything happening in the movies, they still perceive complex emotions.

The way those emotions are portrayed can have dramatic effects on development. A 2007 study, for example, found that preschoolers from the US and Taiwan tended to see happiness differently depending on how it was portrayed in storybooks. To American kids, happiness looked like excitement. To the Taiwanese kids, it more resembled calm.

As children mature into adolescence, they gain the ability to put themselves inside characters' heads, and they begin judging the characters' actions and values against their own. Whether we carry these lessons into adulthood typically comes down to how much films get us talking, Gudino says.

Colin Stokes, a father of two, adheres to the philosophy that movies supplement the other aspects of traditional child-rearing. "Like so many things in parenting," says Stokes, who gave a TEDx lecture in 2013 lamenting the predictability of most kids movies, "you're creating a consistent set of values that you demonstrate by your actions more than you are doing something to have an effect."

WALL E

Even after two decades, Pixar is only beginning to acknowledge the impact it leaves on audiences.

Historically, Pixar's greatest critics have taken issue with the studio's lack of female and culturally diverse characters, a decision that has struck some as odd given how progressive the studios have been in other storytelling domains.

Jim Morris, president of Pixar Animation Studios, doesn't deny the problem. "Certainly we want the movies to be appealing to a wide audience — that's why we make 'em," he says. But he also concedes Pixar hasn't taken "as good advantage of opportunities we did have to create a level of diversity in the films."

Today the company is taking measures to improve diversity. One strategy the studio has started using to gauge gender equity in its films is line-by-line analyses of dialogue "to see how male and female characters are represented in the films," Morris says.

"Inside Out" could be a good omen: In addition to Riley being female, both main characters inside her head, Joy and Sadness, are voiced by female actors. Morris also points to a coming project centering on the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. Little information has been released on the still untitled film, but if the film reaches theaters, it would be Pixar's first feature to celebrate a minority culture.

Then there are the stories that are simply fun to tell.

Later this year, Pixar will release "The Good Dinosaur," a film that asks, "What if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed Earth entirely?" From there it follows a fearful apatosaurus named Arlo on a journey with a human friend in which Arlo must confront his fears. That may sound like a wild plot, but audiences should feel confident come November that the story they will watch will, in some way, ring true.

"When you get right down to the core of it, they're not grandiose ideas," Morris says. "They're small things we all go through."

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This brilliant plug-in allows you to sync up your Netflix with someone else’s so you can watch shows together

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When Harry Met Sally

One of the biggest problems with binge-watching shows on Netflix is that everybody watches at their own pace. It takes away the shared experience of watching an episode or two and then having someone to talk about it with immediately after the credits roll.

Never fear: A brilliant extension for Google Chrome solves that problem. Meet Showgoers, a plug-in that allows you to sync up your stream with someone else's so you can watch together. (It's not affiliated with Netflix in any way; we reached out to Netflix for comment, but have not heard back.) For now, Showgoers only works for Netflix. Sorry, HBO GO and Hulu users.

Here's how to install Showgoers

Go to the Showgoers website (showgoers.tv), where an "Install Showgoers" button will direct you to the Chrome store. Once you download this feature, go check out your Netflix account and you will notice a pair of old fashioned 3-D glasses:

Netflix Showgoers

Unfortunately, this won't allow you to watch "Wayne's World in 3D, but it will allow you to watch a classic like this with somebody else! 

Once you click on the glasses, it will lead you to this message:Screen Shot 2015 08 03 at 9.38.23 AM

Send that link to anybody you want to share your viewing experience with. (They also have to have Showgoers installed.)

Once you're watching, the pause, rewind, and fast forward options will all be in red:

Screen_Shot_2015 08 03_at_9_52_36_AM

This year, Netflix's original programming has increased in an unprecedented way. Their ambitious slate of television shows has surpassed both FX and HBO. Unlike FX and HBO, Netflix does not provide the option of watching shows live at a set time. This option could bring Netflix users one step closer to actually being on the same page about "Orange Is the New Black" and "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

In terms of film, Netflix plans to have a few original movies as well, including a four movie deal with Adam Sandler. Use Showgoers and it will be like a virtual trip to a theater, except you get to choose who shares the stadium seating with you and the snacks cost a lot less.

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Chinese internet companies are taking over the film industry

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monster hunt

Pointing to the success of Chinese movies like Tencent-backed Monster Hunt, Chinese internet companies are restructuring the country’s burgeoning film industry with their technology and online platforms, pundits say.

Some go further and predict that internet companies will take over the industry altogether.

“Filmmaking will be new media-oriented and characterized by the internet,” said Feng Jun, a senior analyst with EntGroup, a leading research centre for China’s entertainment industry. 

“It is possible that all movie companies in China will work for Chinese internet companies in the future,” she added.

Not that such a transition comes without risk: only 15 per cent of Chinese films released at domestic theatres turn a profit, Feng said. 

Monster Hunt is a genre-straddling fantasy comedy that blends live-action and animation over two fun-packed hours. The movie, which cost 350 million yuan (US$56.35 million) to make, has already set several milestones in China.

It is the highest-grossing Chinese movie ever made, having netted over 1.6 billion yuan (US$257.6 million) since its July 16 debut. It is also the fastest to rake in 1 billion yuan in China, a feat it achieved in just eight days. 

If that is not enough, it earned more in a single day at the Chinese box office on July 18 than any other home-grown movie to date, reaping 180 million yuan.

Some film critics have attributed its popularity to the timing of its release, but there seem to be several other factors, including protectionism, at play. 

Although Hollywood unloads its big-gun summer blockbusters at this time of year, China’s censors protect domestic films in July by banning foreign movies from being screened at domestic theatres. 

However, industry observers like Feng claim it was the financial and marketing support of China’s Tencent, Asia’s second-biggest internet company after Alibaba, that made the difference in Monster Hunt’s fortunes. 

And as the market changes, consumers would rather have their favorite dish made to order than wait to see what the chef serves up – a goal that industry experts say is very achievable in an increasingly democratic internet age.

monster hunt

“In the future, the model will be: we find out what you want to watch, and then we make it for you," said Cheng Dai-Wai, secretary general of the Guangdong Film Industry Association, which is based in the southern Chinese province of the same name.

“Only those investors that understand the internet and mobile users will be able to turn a handsome profit from filmmaking,” he told the South China Morning Post by phone.

Chinese internet companies have been involved in most of the top-grossing movies at the domestic box office since last year, serving as producers, distributors, exhibitors and even ticket vendors, Feng said.

In March 2014, Alibaba Group, the powerhouse behind China’s now-dominant online shopping channels Taobao and Tmall, obtained a majority stake in ChinaVision, since renamed Alibaba Pictures Group, for over US$800 million.

This led to another milestone just over a month ago when the subsidiary announced that it would be partnering with Paramount to promote the latest installment of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise, marking Alibaba’s first movie investment in Hollywood. 

Companies like these are tapping their resources and technologies, such as big data, social media and online ticket sales to help better discern internet users’ tastes as well as to help promote and sell the movies, Feng added. 

China now ranks as the world’s second-largest movie market after the US. Box-office receipts last year hit 29.64 billion yuan, up 36 per cent from 2013 and five times the 2009 figure of 6.01 billion yuan, according to industry figures. 

The country is also building infrastructure on a colossal scale. It added more than 5,000 new screens for each of the last two years to leave the number hovering around 23,600 in 2014, according to Statista.com.

Alibaba continued its eclectic shopping spree this year by snapping up aUS$382 million stake in Beijing Enlight Media, a production company that specializes in filmmaking.

Visitors use their smarts phones underneath the logo of Tencent at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing May 6, 2014.  Chinese internet service provider Tencent Holdings plans to acquire an 11.3 percent stake in digital mapping service provider Navinfo Co Ltd for 1.17 billion yuan ($187.33 million), Navinfo said late on Monday.   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (CHINA - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS LOGO)

Enlight was the lead producer and distributor of Lost in Thailand, the 2012 smash hit that topped the Chinese box office helped spur a tourism boom in the "Land of Smiles". The movie about two men who go hunting for their boss in Thailand earned over US$200 million at the Chinese box-office.

In the last 12 months, Alibaba has also purchased a 16.5 per cent stake in online video giant Youku Tudou and acquired an 8 per cent stake in another Chinese production company, Huayi Brothers. 

In April, Alibaba Pictures Group dipped into its coffers to acquire Guangdong Yueke Software Engineering, one of the largest suppliers of cinema-ticketing systems on the Chinese mainland, for the bargain price of US$134 million. 

China’s top search engine Baidu is also getting in on the action. But the company, which recently announced a US$1 billion buyback of its shares after seeing its market price slide, is involved in movie production largely through iQiyi, the online video platform it launched in 2010.

It launched iQIYI Pictures, a production company, this July and claims to already have seven Chinese and one Hollywood movie in the pipeline.

More internet giants are forging links with the Chinese film industry and offering diversified products and services, from making films available to online viewers to selling discounted tickets. 

Online ticket seller Maoyan saw its movie ticket sales reach 5 billion yuan in 2014, a number it expects to triple this year, media reports show.

Both Cheng and Feng say the success of Monster Hunt highlights the power of China's big internet companies and points the way forward. 

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The movie was originally invested in by Bill Kong, president of Hong Kong's Edko Films, and scheduled to be released at the end of 2014. 

But production plans and promotional campaigns ground to halt after its lead actor, Taiwan’s Kai Ko was arrested with Jackie Chan's son Jaycee Chan for possession of narcotics in August of last year.

In China, any actors, industry professionals or entertainers who are convicted for taking illegal substances, engaging in prostitution or committing other such misdeeds are given lifetime bans from appearing in future filmed productions.

With the movie apparently destined for the junk yard, Kong changed the storyline by investing another 70 million yuan and re-shooting it with the financial backing of Tencent Video and Heyi Pictures, the film unit of Alibaba-backed internet television company Youku Tudou. 

Kong chose several artists who are popular with China’s younger internet users and changed the plot to match their taste, Feng said. 

The promotional campaigns that subsequently played out on the Chinese internet companies' mobile and online platforms were crucial to the film’s success, she said.

Maoyan is an online-to-offline (O2) company, which means it focuses on connecting users of its internet site to physical goods and services nearby.

After running trial screenings of Monster Hunt at hundreds of Chinese cinemas, it found the audience demographic skewed in favor of female spectators and customized its marketing accordingly, the company said. 

The tickets it sold online made up 40 per cent of the 171 million yuan the movie earned in revenue on its opening day in China, according to EntGroup.

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