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Selfie app maker Meitu eyes overseas gaming market with $340 million deal – TechCrunch



China’s largest selfie app maker Meitu has been busy working to diversify itself beyond the beauty arena in China. On Wednesday, the Hong Kong-listed company announced in a filing that it has agreed to pay about HK$2.7 billion ($340 million) for a 31 percent stake in game publishing company Dreamscape Horizon.

Dreamscape Horizon, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed games group Leyou, specializes in making video games for personal computers and consoles, and owns 97 percent of Canada-based studio Digital Extremes. This global connection will potentially hasten Meitu’s overseas expansion, and the foray into games, on the other hand, will help the Xiamen-based firm capture more male users. (Operating out of Xiamen might have also been convenient for Meitu to meet the coastal city’s booming hub of game developers.) Out of Meitu’s 110 million monthly active users overseas, only 30 million are male.

“The collaboration with Leyou is not only focused on mainland China but also the global market,” says a Meitu spokesperson in a statement. “Mainland China currently accounts for the majority of Meitu’s earnings. The acquisition will broaden our business scope and diversify the geographic streams of our income.”

The overseas move appears to be a tactical one as the domestic gaming market is crowded with established players like Tencent, NetEase and hundreds of smaller contenders. The local environment has also turned hostile to gaming companies as Beijing steps up scrutiny amid concerns of titles being violent and harmful to young players. The result was a months-long halt in game approvals that dragged down Tencent’s stock prices and prompted a major reshuffle in the giant. And before long, Tencent announced it would deepen its ties with Garena to distribute games in Southeast Asia. The hiatus ended in December, but companies are still feeling the chill as China is reportedly mulling a further pause this week.

Meitu is most famous for its suite of photo-editing and beautifying apps, but hardware has been its major income source for years. For the first half of 2018, the company generated 72 percent of its revenues from selling smartphones optimized for taking selfies, a category proven popular in a country where touched-up photos have become the norm. But Meitu’s hardware business is shrinking as smartphone shipment slows in China and phones from mainstream brands like Xiaomi and Huawei now come equipped with filters. It has, however, found a new home for its barely mainstream smartphone brand after Xiaomi gobbled it up in November to lure more female users.

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Review: Old is a mostly solid film undermined by jarring twist ending



A family on a tropical holiday discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly in Old, a new thriller from M. Night Shyamalan.

Director M. Night Shyamalan has a well-known fondness for his signature surprise twist endings. When those twists work organically, we get classics like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. When they don”t—well, if you’re lucky, you get something like his new film, Old, in which everything that comes before is sufficiently compelling that you can almost shake off a jarring final twist that feels so forced, it’s almost like it belongs in an entirely different movie.

(This being an M. Night Shyamalan film where surprise twists are tantamount, I have taken great pains to avoid spoilers. There is nothing discussed in the review below that has not already been revealed in the film’s trailers.)

Old is based on a French graphic novel called Sandcastle, written by Pierre Oscar Levy (also a documentary filmmaker) and illustrated by Frederik Peeters. It’s about a group of 13 people who find themselves trapped on a mysterious, secluded beach where time moves much more quickly—so quickly that young children reach puberty in a matter of hours, and everyone will reach old age and die within 24 hours. Shyamalan received a copy of the book as a Father’s Day gift, and was immediately touched by how it humanely grappled with the all-too-human fear of aging and the relentless passage of time.

Shyamalan’s film is not a direct adaption of the graphic novel, although it keeps the same central premise and several key scenes. It’s more of a re-imagining, with the director fleshing out the narrative and amping up the tension to create an existential thriller that feels more like a “two-hour Twilight Zone episode,” per Shyamalan. Married couple Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal, Mozart in the Jungle) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps, The Phantom Thread) Cappa decide to take a family vacation at a luxurious tropical resort with their two children: daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton), age 11, and son Trent (Nolan River), age six.

The resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) arranges a special excursion for the family: a day at a secret, secluded beach. They are not the only chosen ones. There is also a hip-hop artist named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre, Krypton); another married couple, nurse Jarin (Ken Leung, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and psychologist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Jupiter Ascending); and a cardiothoracic surgeon, Charles (Rufus Sewell, Man in the High Castle), his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee, Lovecraft Country), his mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant, The Affair), and their six-year-old daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley).

Nothing seems amiss at first, despite the lack of cell phone service, although the children do discover a stash of other people’s personal belongings half-buried under the sand. Then the corpse of a young woman washes up on the beach, and things take a turn for the creepy. Anyone who tries to leave the beach inevitably blacks out. The corpse decomposes in record time, and the children age several years over the course of a few hours. The beach essentially reduces 50 years of life into a single day, making their collective escape a matter of survival.

This is a fantastic concept, and one can see why it appealed to Shyamalan, who uses the premise to explore how the very different personalities trapped on the beach respond to their predicament. Visually, Old is a gorgeous film, almost entirely shot at Playa El Valle in the Dominican Republic. Shyamalan said his angular cinematographic approach was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Rashomon, in order to create an increasingly claustrophobic feel to what starts out as an idyllic beach setting. Composer Trevor Gureckis’ score reinforces the sense of foreboding with strings playing detuned harmonies, and tribal bass drums evoking the relentless forward march of time.

There are some truly lovely moments in Old, especially with the Cappa family. Guy and Prisca must confront the issues in their marriage, and struggle with watching their kids grow up way too fast—something Shyamalan, father to now-grown daughters, understands very well. Both Bernal and Krieps give exquisitely subtle performances, while Thomasina McKenzie (JoJo Rabbit) and Alex Wolff (Hereditary) are equally effective as the teenaged Maddox and Trent, respectively

Unfortunately, the other characters aren’t nearly as fully developed, although the talented cast does its best to bring depth to underwritten roles that amount to little more than stereotypes. This is especially disappointing in the case of Chrystal, the trophy wife, whose entire sense of self-worth rests on her youth and physical beauty. Ours is a culture that treats aging women particularly harshly, and there could have been a fascinating character arc for Chrystal where she genuinely grappled with what sudden, rapid aging means for her sense of self. Instead, she becomes increasingly monstrous, which is far less interesting.

The biggest issue with the film is that Shyamalan just can’t resist trying to be clever, thereby undermining the reflective, almost elegiac notes he achieves in the final act. All I will say about that twist ending is that it feels tacked on as an afterthought, and is utterly inconsistent in tone with everything that comes before. Some things are best left unexplained. (The graphic novel that inspired Shyamalan, for instance, never explains the strange aging anomaly on the beach, and ends with a cryptic scene of a young child building a new sandcastle all alone.)

I came out of the screening with mixed feelings, convinced that Old would prove to be divisive with both critics and audiences, and thus far that seems to be the case. (It’s even languishing a bit at the box office, although that’s probably as much due to spiking COVID cases dissuading folks from going to theaters as anything else.) Shyamalan has made several films hammered by critics at the time of their release, which were later re-assessed more favorably (see The Village). Perhaps Old will also be favorably re-assessed a few years down the road, despite its flaws, since it really does successfully evoke both an existential sense of dread, and an ultimate acceptance of human mortality.

Old is now playing in theaters. We strongly recommend only watching movies in theaters if you have been fully vaccinated.

Listing image by Universal Pictures

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Star Trek: Lower Decks S2 trailer promises more scrappy underdog adventures



Our favorite ensigns are back with more wacky hijinks in the second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks.

The animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks was one of our favorite TV shows of 2020, so we’ve been looking forward to its second season. We won’t have long to wait. S2 drops next month on Paramount+, and the studio debuted its first trailer during the Star Trek Universe panel at Comic-Con@Home 2021. That same panel also gave us our first teaser for another new animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy.

(Spoilers for S1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks below.)

As we’ve reported previously, this is the first animated Star Trek series since the Emmy-award-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS), which ran from 1973 to 1974. Lower Decks is part of a five-year overall deal that Star Trek: Discovery co-creator and showrunner Alex Kurtzman signed with CBS to expand the franchise. Kurtzman tapped Rick and Morty head writer Mike McMahan to spearhead the project. Chronologically, it takes place after the events of the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis; the name is an homage to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). 

The first season, which premiered last August, introduced us to the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the USS Cerritos, in 2380: Ensigns Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), and D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells). Mariner adopts a lax approach to following the rules, which contrasts sharply with the attitude of Boimler, who is a stickler for the rules and dreams of being captain of his own starship one day. Rutherford sports a cyborg implant and bears some resemblance to Geordi La Forge from TNG, while Tendi is an eager-to-please new addition to the medical bay. As Mariner says, “We’re not really elite. We’re more the cool, scrappy underdogs.”

Their madcap S1 adventures included the crew dealing with an alien viral outbreak that turns crew members into raging zombies; Boimler getting slimed by an alien farm animal; Tendi creating a pet dog despite her limited knowledge of canine anatomy; and Mariner getting drunk with a Klingon general who proceeds to steal the shuttlecraft.

Who could forget Boimler’s briefly homicidal holographic assistant Badgey? And we could all benefit from “The Boimler effect,” a mandate that encourages scheduling in “buffer time” so crew members can complete tasks at their own leisurely pace. We also got guest appearances by Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), and everyone’s favorite extra-dimensional being, Q (John de Lancie).

In her review for Ars Technica, Kate Cox described the series as “comfort food with a comic twist.” It included sufficient winks and nods for hardcore Trekkies without veering too far into over-indulgence. “In a universe of lofty goals and monologued moral exhortations, Lower Decks primarily begs us to check ourselves before (and after) we wreck ourselves and to take the opportunities to screw around, have fun, and enjoy the absurdities of space when they are presented,” she concluded.

So what can we expect from S2’s ten episodes? McMahon has said the season will combine standalone episodes with season-long character arcs, including one involving Mariner and Tendi. The season will not undo any of the events of S1, which saw the demise of security chief Lieutenant Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore), who sacrificed himself to save Rutherford. Rutherford will be struggling with some lingering memory issues as a result of those events, and Boimler will now be working on the USS Titan. Meanwhile, Mariner and Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis)—revealed to be her mother last season—will be learning how to work together. We’ll also be seeing more of Riker as captain of the Titan, plus some additional cameos by other characters from past Star Trek series.

Teaser for new animated series Star Trek: Prodigy.

Star Trek: Prodigy will be a very different beast, aimed at a younger audience than the usual Star Trek fare. It’s set in 2383 and takes place after the events of Star Trek: Voyager. In fact, Kate Mulgrew will return to voice Captain Kathryn Janeway—or rather, her appearance as the ship’s Emergency Training Hologram. The show is expected to be different from Lower Decks in both tone and visual style, and this first teaser is certainly in keeping with that idea. Per the official premise:

Star Trek: Prodigy is the first Star Trek series aimed at younger audiences and will follow a motley crew of young aliens who must figure out how to work together while navigating a greater galaxy, in search for a better future. These six young outcasts know nothing about the ship they have commandeered—a first in the history of the Star Trek Franchise—but over the course of their adventures together, they will each be introduced to Starfleet and the ideals it represents.

The main cast features Brett Gray as Dal, a 17-year-old “maverick”; Rylee Alazraqui as Rok-Tahk, an eight-year-old Brikar who loves animals; Angus Imrie as Zero, a non corporeal energy-based Medusan; Jason Mantzoukas as Jankom Pong, a Tellarite who enjoys playing devil’s advocate; Ella Purnell as Gwyn, a Vau N’Akat who grew up on a mining planet; and Dee Bradley Baker as Murf, an “indestructible blob” who likes to chow down on ship parts. In addition, guest star Billy Campbell will be back as rogue freighter captain Thaius Okona from TNG.

Star Trek: Lower Decks S2 will debut on Paramount+ on August 12, 2021, and the show has already been renewed for a third season. Star Trek: Prodigy is expected to land later this year with ten episodes on Paramount+. After that, it will air on Nickelodeon.

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Snake Eyes film review: More like “G.I. No”



Earlier this year, I gave a tepid recommendation to Mortal Kombat‘s latest theatrical reboot. What I didn’t know at the time was how quickly I’d feel nostalgic for its quality and pacing.

That’s how I felt after Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, which I went into with next to zero expectations. The trailers looked fun! Charm volcano Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) as an action star sounded intriguing! And it couldn’t be worse than the previous G.I. Joe movie, right? Right?

Sadly, Snake Eyes takes the uneven formula, momentum, writing, and acting of Mortal Kombat 2021 and turns down the expectations dial in every department imaginable. By the end, Snake Eyes dampens its own so-bad-it’s-good potential, in case you hoped to at least laugh and cheer while watching your favorite childhood action figures.

“I looked into your eyes, and I saw honor”

To its credit, Snake Eyes‘ opening 30 minutes are so dizzyingly bad that the filmmakers appear to be in on the joke. My favorite examples include:

  • every fight has no less than 10 henchmen screaming in unison while swarming our hero (serious “YARRRGH!!” territory with eyes directed at the camera)—then they circle him, attack one at a time, and get their asses handed to them;
  • the initial exposition whips by so quickly and nonsensically that I thought I was watching a gamer lay on the A button to skip past the plot of a video game;
  • every argument in the brooding brother-and-sister conflict includes million-dollar glares and bombastic declarations about trust and loyalty—usually repeated a few times in case we don’t catch the foreshadowing that someone is, like, totally about to be betrayed;
  • and the British-born Golding pops in and out of his native accent roughly once every four minutes, despite playing a native-born American.

Snake Eyes opens with something resembling a backstory for Snake Eyes, a man who never knew his given name, and it’s a sharp pivot from whatever you remember from the G.I. Joe comics or cartoons. This time, Snake watches his father get murdered by a mysterious assassin, which we see play out in dark, serious staging. This sends the adult version of Snake on a path to… wander from town to town in search of fight clubs, where he beats the crap out of strangers, collects a paycheck, and hits the road. (Also, his nickname is “Snake Eyes” because the man who killed his dad rolled some dice before doing so. When the dice landed on a pair of ones, that was apparently reason enough to kill said dad.)

How did Snake get from preteen trauma to a Tyler Durden lifestyle? What happened to his original origin story about traumatically losing his voice? And wasn’t Storm Shadow the one with the “hunt for a family member’s killer” plot in the first place? Whoa, watch it, bub: questions like those will get you beat up in logic-free zones like Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.

“Your fishboy life in LA is over”

Snake’s eventual collision with all things G.I. Joe-related—complete with a showdown between a willing Joe coalition and a shadow organization smothered in Cobra logos—is similarly slapdash.

I think I have this right: Snake gets a tip about his father’s killer, which leads him to working on a dock and packing illegal guns into fish carcasses so the carcasses can be shipped around the world on the Yakuza’s behalf. (This dock, by the way, has a gaggle of giggling teens who routinely hang out in a nearby alley and play pick-up soccer, seemingly so that Snake can show his lighter side for roughly 10 seconds. There has to be a better place to practice soccer, kids. Snake’s character development isn’t worth it.)

Within weeks of getting this job, Snake is asked to murder the dock’s lead contraband manager, Tommy Arashikage, over a business disagreement. Why is Snake suddenly given such a macabre responsibility when he’s clearly the dock’s nice-guy youth-group leader? We never find out, because Snake immediately spares Tommy’s life instead of following orders. Instead, he starts beating the crap out of every thug in eyeshot. (Cue the “dozens of men screaming and running to form a circle” motif.) After watching the big boss get away, then running away from what’s clearly an entrenched Yakuza stronghold, Tommy somehow safely whisks Snake away on a private jet to Tokyo… where we learn Tommy is actually the heir to a honor-bound family dynasty (which, I’ll add, doesn’t know about his fish-stuffed-with-guns enterprise).

… and this trip is what the bad guys wanted all along! From there, Snake Eyes transforms into a sluggish montage of Snake ninja-training under Tommy’s care to become a true member of his family (no, not that family, Vin Diesel). Deep into this montage, mysterious fireball conjuring enters the chat. And that is followed by two female, Uzi-toting assassins flatly reading index cards ordained by Hasbro brass to explain that this “train in philosophical, noncombat philosophies” sequence somehow connects to G.I. Joe and Cobra Command.

“I’m pretty good at finding people. Especially people who kill other people.”

Character motivations remain muddy even as they trickle into the film’s confusion tributary. We catch glimmers of likability in Golding and his friend-then-foe-then-friend-again co-star Haruka Abe (Late Shift), but no one gets any sensible motivation. Snake repeatedly goes to great lengths to stop a bitter double-cross plot only to have a trinket dangled in front of his face, which is when he makes a Goofy-like “gawrsh” noise and becomes shady again.

I could tolerate all that if the warped plot wasn’t scotch-taped together by stiff acting and stilted dialogue or if the action sequences between each overlong-yet-unsatisfying exposition dump approached anything that could be called “unique,” “exciting,” or “stomach-safe.”

If you’ve ever thought that the multiplex’s glut of comic- and toy-licensed action films needed more motion blur and erratic camera cuts, Snake Eyes has your back (but not your barf bag; you’ll need to bring your own). Hand-to-hand combat is generally impossible to track amidst all the grunts, even though the heavies are almost all dispatched one at a time. Car and gun combat scenes play out in kill-by-numbers fashion. An eventual mysterious foe commands walls of flame, which emerge from the ground like gas fireplaces at a pub’s outdoor seating area. Honestly, I loved the cheap trashiness of that effect, but Snake Eyes is more about bare-minimum effects and choreography than it is about hilarious cheese.

Having laughed through some of Snake Eyes, I hope fans eventually put together a 60- or even 80-minute edit once the movie is on Blu-ray. This week’s version suffers the most when its “cinematic universe” aspirations get in the way of what’s really going on: a child grabbed various action figures and slammed them together while shouting nonsense, and a group of excited adults scribbled down his every exclamation of “Yo Joe!” to commit it to this script.

But this G.I. Joe film has no idea what that branding arrangement should mean, and it never commits either to its Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon inspirations, its meaningless character alliances, or its “guns and cars go boom” bravado.

Listing image by Paramount

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