Friday, December 21, 2018

WORLD to CELEBRATE 200 YEARS of Christmas Carol “SILENT NIGHT”

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Only four days are left before Christmas comes to the year 2018, which itself is drawing to a close. On the other hand, there are only three days left before the anniversary of a significant contribution to the Holiday music tradition. This was a Christmas carol that was first heard for the first time in a small village in Austria, where the song’s very origin has become the subject of legend as well. Next week on Christmas Eve, yuletide musicians and merrymakers may take time to remember a simple but globally influential Christmas carol with a two-word title: “Silent Night”.
Historians of Christmas carols would have it that the genesis of “Silent Night” in Austria, year 1818, was quite the exciting Holiday story: at the village of Oberndorf, the chapel organ was broken so the curate, Joseph Mohr, needed to make a Christmas song that could be played decently on guitar. He enlisted the help of the schoolmaster and organist Franz Gruber, and together they put together a song, in Mohr’s lyrics and Gruber’s composition. They finished in time to perform the carol – “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” – for the Oberndorf Christmas Eve Mass. But according to the preservation society the Stille Nacht Association, Mohr already wrote the words since 1816, so the creation of what in English would become “Silent Night” was not really hectic.
Whatever the case, eventually this simple but heartwarming carol was eventually carried across Europe, then America and overseas, by various composers and folk performers. Our most familiar English version was done in 1859 by Episcopal priest John Freeman Young in New York City, with three of the original six German stanzas translated. Further legends claim that the song was sung in the trenches during World War I by soldiers from opposing sides, causing them to stop fighting on Christmas Eve.
“Silent Night” at present is said to be known in no less than 140 languages and dialects, proving its remarkably universal appeal. It is no surprise therefore, as The Japan Times tells it, a 200th Anniversary celebration will be held at Oberndorf near Salzburg in Austria, centered on the memorial chapel that stands on the site of Father Mohr’s original St. Nicholas chapel, where “Stille Nacht” was first sung. Oberndorf tourism office head Clemens Konrad claims they predict double the usual number of local and international tourists for December 24, 2018 due to “Silent Night”.
Even Pope Francis has a fondness for the carol. He has expressed regret at being unable to accept from the Salzburg regional government to drop in at Oberndorf for the commemoration of what he claims is his favorite Christmas song.
Image from Stille Nacht Association

AMAZON’S ALEXA INTEGRATING Search Function with “ANSWER ENGINE” WOLFRAM ALPHA

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To some internet users, it may have felt like only yesterday when typing in a query for information in a search engine website on an internet browser felt like a novelty. These days we have smart assistants on computers or dedicated gadgets like home speakers that can recognize human speech to do what has been asked. But with many of these smart speakers, requesting info may still result in a display of websites with the answer, rather than spelling it out. Amazon’s Alexa speaker however, is integrating with an online “answer engine” to potentially reply the answer to any question directly, such as math calculations.
According to The Verge, Amazon has followed the lead of Apple by having their Alexa smart assistant be integrated with Wolfram Alpha, an answer engine developed since 2009 by computational tech developer Wolfram Research. This will now enable her to do more in responding to a user’s query for information than just presenting a list of results from search engines and similar resources. Before this integration, Alexa searches usually comb through online general info services like Wikipedia, Accuweather, Stats.com and Yelp. Now, with the algorithm power of Wolfram Alpha, Alexa speakers can now just state the answer to a question.
The precision and sheer scale of processing power devoted to Wolfram Alpha enables its standalone answer engine website to reply to “factual queries” – questions of fact – through computation of an answer from curated data take from the internet. Therefore, a question put to the Wolfram Alpha engine like “What is the value of Pi down to ten decimal places?” will have it reply with the exact figure, the same as for when it is asked what the current wind speed in a given location is. It is no wonder that more schools are beginning to put their trust on the Wolfram Alpha service for facts.
Smart-home owners that rely on Amazon Echo speakers with Alexa on them might be pleased to know that she can now do mathematical equations and similar feats alongside its usual functions following the integration of Wolfram Alpha. Amazon customers can finally have the same advantages afforded to Apple’s own assistant Siri, which was the first prominent smart assistant to get Wolfram Alpha integration since 2011 on the iPhone 4S. Both Alexa and Siri might arguable have the edge now in answering capabilities over Google Assistant, which prefers to get results from its proprietary search engine.
Image courtesy of Tech Crunch

“SPIDER-VERSE” Film’s CHRISTMAS ALBUM Made Real in SONY Digital EP

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About a week after its premiere in cinemas worldwide, Marvel and Columbia-Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” has established itself as a surprise hit animated movie that has wowed critics, thrilled audiences, filled box offices and snagged a variety of award nominations for next year. One of its greatest strengths is easily agreed by many to be its rich sense of self-aware humor. One might recall Peter Parker’s Spider-Man talking in-film about how in passing years of super-heroics he got comic books, cereals and a Christmas album to his name. Even better, said album was partially realized by the producers.
Comic Book Resources has it that Sony Pictures Animation is set on de-fictionalizing the comically parody of Christmas songs briefly shown in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” into actual recordings, a real Christmas EP on digital release. It is set to hit digital music platforms this Friday, December 21, and it promises to be as much of a hoot as it implies. Viewers of the film who watched the end credits all the way through might have even heard a sample of one of those Spider-carols.
That song would be “Spidey-Bells” as sung by actor Chris Pine who voiced the Peter Parker/Spider-Man of the movie universe where Miles Morales lives (the alternate Peter who actually trains Miles later is voiced by Jake Johnson). What starts off as a fun, “realistic” take on a non-singer covering a well-known song dissolves into a hilarious bout of self-depreciating lines.
“Spidey-Bells” will be one of five songs in the digital “A Very Spidey Christmas” EP, featuring the voice talents of Pine, Johnson, and Jorma Taccone (voice of the Green Goblin). The former two sing a couple of Spider-Man themed carols apiece while Taccone as the Goblin “recites” the famous yuletide poem “The Night Before Christmas”.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is still showing in theaters, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman. It also stars Shameik Moore as the movie’s lead Spider-Man Miles Morales, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Luna Lauren, Lily Tomlin and Liev Schreiber. Aside from the “A Very Spidey Christmas” EP, the film’s official soundtrack and score have already released, the former including performances from Post Malone, Blackway and Black Caviar, Nicki Minaj, Vince Staples and Jaden Smith.
Image courtesy of Google News

FIRST IMAGES of DISNEY’S LIVE-ACTION “ALADDIN” Remake Gets DIVISIVE Reactions

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These days, Walt Disney Pictures is operating on the notion that the only thing that could be potentially better than their decades-spanning library of classic animated films is doing big-budget effects-laden adaptations of them, one at a time. Despite complaints from the more traditionalist quarters of its massive global fandom, Disney has gone and produced several live-action versions of their Animated Canon, from “101 Dalmatians” to “Cinderella” to “Jungle Book” to “Beauty and the Beast”.
One of their upcoming projects in this vein, arriving next year, is an adaptation of the 1993 film “Aladdin”. After a teaser released months ago, official images of the cast in character have been revealed. And fan consensus thus far, is a mixed bag. Entertainment Weekly, true to form, has gotten exclusive images of the “Aladdin” stars all made up in costume and on set. Social media kicked up a storm about them, and the opinions currently weigh more into the “do not want” side.
Cosmopolitan has caught wind of the backdraft from social media reactions to the “Aladdin” cast images. Some of the sticking points for the detractors are the seemingly unnecessary elaborations to the characters’ outfits. Why is Aladdin wearing a shirt under his vest? Why is Jasmine’s midriff covered up this time? Why is the Genie even wearing clothes above his belt? And why is Will Smith not blue-skinned like his animated counterpart? Despite assurances by director Guy Ritchie that the SFX to change Smith’s skin color was not yet done in time for the photo-shoot, nostalgic fans feel a bit leery at the natural dark tone.
Speaking of Will Smith and his taking the role of the Genie of the lamp, the most serious point of contention is the fact that he is not the late Robin Williams, who was said to have put so much of his comedic spirit into the character. Smith’s own idea of making the role his own by replacing the Williams humor with Hip Hop humor…did not meet appreciative fan response.
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But not everything about the live-action “Aladdin” is negative. Once reactors saw Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari as the villain Jafar, all other faults seemed to be forgiven. Some fans went so far as to hope that the villain wins in this movie, if he could look as good as Kenzari.
“Aladdin” also stars Mena Massoud in the title role, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, Navid Negahban as the Sultan, and Billy Magnussen as new character Prince Anders. The film is slated to premiere May 24 of 2019, about two months before another Disney remake arrives, “The Lion King” on July.
Images: Pakistan Express Tribune, PopSugar

MEMBER of K-POP Band N.FLYING LET GO by Management Due to Accusations of HARASSMENT, MISCONDUCT

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In East Asia, particularly Japan and South Korea, the entertainment industry can appear to outsiders, especially westerners, to be operating under an atmosphere of restriction. This is perhaps no more visible anywhere than in South Korea, whose star-making process, particularly with pop boy and girl groups, can be compared to an assembly plant. Furthermore, the talents that come out of the “packaging process” as ready entertainers remain shackled by a vast number of regulations, as they are presented to the public without any hints of private personal lives. Those who break the rules can get slammed hard, like this case.
CNN reports that a K-Pop boy band, N.Flying, has had to let go of one of its members due to his being embroiled in online accusations of sexual misconduct with their fandom. A statement released Wednesday, December 19, by N.Flying’s management FNC Entertainment relates that Kwon Kwang-jin, better known by only his first name (Kwangjin), has made a “voluntary exit” from his group. The crux of the matter was an upsurge of allegations in Korean social media that Kwangjin was engaged in questionable behavior with fans, some of which who became his detractors launching a Twitter hashtag that means, in English, “#Leave the band, Kwangjin”.
An elaboration by FNC Entertainment however reveals that while they have met with some of the fans who have complained about Kwangjin’s indiscretions, they are skeptical of claims that he has been involved in dating scandals or outright sexual harassment with the fans. On the other hand, they have confirmed that the embattled N.Flying member has initiated meet-ups with fans of the K-Pop group that were not approved or monitored by FNC Entertainment. Such actions are a big no-no in Korean show business, with no possible reason acceptable for such a breach of talent contract.
“Until we are able to discover the full truth regarding the ongoing rumors, Kwangjin will halt all broadcast and promotional activities and partake in a time of reflection,” the company’s statement concluded, with the added notice that while they have rendered the errant N.Flying member inactive, if FNC can also prove conclusively that the online accusations against him are proven to be malicious slander, then they will take “strict legal action” against the parties involved.
Image from Japan Daily Sun

Thursday, December 20, 2018

GOOGLE ASSISTANT AD Reimagines “HOME ALONE” in Age of SMART HOMES with Star MACAULAY CULKIN

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The smart home, a residence that has an online smart speaker connected to its appliances and utilities, is something of a growing trend in this second decade of the 21st Century. Home automation, or at least the potential of it, seems to be the endgame of the rise of gadgets such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, with their respective virtual voice assistants Alexa and Google Assistant. And this Holiday season, Google is highlighting just how different home life can be with their smart home tech, courtesy of an awesomely hilarious sendup to Christmas film “Home Alone”, with the lead star himself to boot.
The Verge has it that Google has score a coup for their current “Make Google Do It” slogan via their latest ad “Home Alone Again with Google Assistant”. The commercial reimagines the events of 20th Century Fox’s smash hit Holiday classic “Home Alone”, and how left-behind kid Kevin McCallister gets the run of the house while at the same time keep it safe from some determined if dimwitted burglars. This ad sees actor Macaulay Culkin reprising the role he immortalized as a child 28 years ago, going through the events of the film, with a little help from Google Assistant.
As the video shows, Google went for some awesome shot-for-shot remakes of scenes from the movie, but altered by the presence of a Google Assistant system in the McCallister home. Kevin this time knows he has the home to himself thanks to Google calendar; he has the Assistant add aftershave to his shopping list, and remind him to clean the sheets of the bed he is using as a trampoline (poor Kevin’s back). Then we have Kevin accepting the pizza delivery (paid for online), shutting up the creepy furnace with a command, and ultimately launch “Operation Kevin” to lock the doors and activate the mannequins to fool the Wet Bandits. This time around, the Michael Jordan standee cutout on a model train is replaced by Kevin Durant, plus a Roomba.
Viewer reaction to “Home Alone Again” has been utterly positive and fueled by nostalgia, though they did notice Kevin using a seeming Google Pixel smartphone that does not look like any model already known. Opinions are divided between commenters on whether it was just a mockup or a Pixel 3XL.
To tie in with this ad, Google has also updated Google Assistant with some quirky quote responses from “Home Alone”. Asking “Hey Google, did I forget something?” will trigger Mrs. McCallister screaming “KEVIN” from Google Home or an Assistant-using smartphone. It is beginning to look a lot like a booby trap-laden Christmas all over again.
Image courtesy of 9to5 Google

MAGNOLIA Boots ALASKA 102-86 for 2018 PBA GOVERNORS CUP Championship

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When his team defeated the other side and won the 2018 Philippine Basketball Association – Governor’s Cup Finals this past Wednesday evening, Chito Victolero remarked of the occasion, “So this is how it feels to win a championship here in the PBA.” For this he can probably thank the resilient legacy of his team the Magnolia Hotshots, whose name they carry now is only the latest in many monikers used throughout its three decades in the PBA. Their most famous team name is Purefoods, and this week they have added to their formidable championship tally by beating another top team: Alaska.
ESPN 5 reports that the PBA Governor’s Cup Finals for this year never needed to go the distance of all seven games when, on Game 6 at the Ynares Sports Center this December 19, The Magnolia Hotshots took the Alaska Aces out of the running in a high-scoring game that ended 102-86 for the former. The main offensive of the Hotshots for this critical game was centered on import Romeo Travis, who contributed 32 points and 17 rebounds. The team also had a solid foundation to their scoring by exploding into action on the first quarter with a 12-0 run.
Travis’ strong showing here as part of Magnolia was also something of a refutation to his last PBA finals appearance back in 2015, as part of the Alaska Aces even. He had not been able to help them to victory then (with his reception of the Bobby Parks PBA Best Import of the Conference being something of a consolation), but with the Hotshots Travis was able to put that behind him; 15 of the points Magnolia ticked down in their 32-18 First Quarter over the Aces were from his hand, and despite a determined pursuit by Alaska, they never led.
The American (and naturalized-Macedonian) Magnolia import may have decided to conserve his energy and underperform during Game 5 so he would have gas in the tank for this encounter. And it was not a one-man show anyway; Travis’ fellow Hotshots chipped in as well, with Paul Lee (16P-4R-2A), Mark Barroca (13P-5R-4A) and Jio Jalalon (11P-4R-5A) bolstering the score. Jalalon also made sure the last charge from Alaska in Q4 (96-86) never amounted to anything, while it was Barroca who would be named the Finals MVP.
All in all, 2018 was a one-year monopoly of sorts for the three PBA teams under the San Miguel umbrella, with the SM Beermen being the All-Filipino Cup champions, Brgy. Ginebra the Commissioner’s Cup champions, and of course the Magnolia Hotshots pulling the hat trick for the Governor’s Cup championship.
Image courtesy of ABS-CBN News

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

First “DIE HARD” Gets RECUT “CHRISTMAS MOVIE” TRAILER from FOX

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Way back in 1988, 20th Century Fox premiered an action film starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, about a hostage situation in a Los Angeles skyscraper during the Holiday season gets frustrated by an unexpected guest, a gung-ho NYPD detective trying to reconcile with his estranged wife, one of the hostages. This movie was the beginning of a multi-film action franchise – “Die Hard” – that codified the “lone hero vs. terrorist mastermind and gang” plot of many movies that followed. Despite its midyear release the studio also hyped the first “Die Hard” as a Christmas movie. On the movie’s 30th Anniversary, Fox released a recut trailer to reinforce that Holiday distinction.
The Hollywood Reporter has it that 20th Century Fox edited one of the original trailers for the “Die Hard” film in 1988, presenting it in one and a half minutes with a chipper voiceover and Christmas tune instrumentals. The trailer happily narrates the story of John McClane, a New York cop with a penchant for violence and who enforces the law with disproportionate brutality to criminals. Visiting his company executive wife during a Christmas party, he finds himself having to foil a hostage-taking by German terrorist Hans Gruber, armed with only his sardonic wits and whatever weapons he picks up.
The “debate” regarding the status of “Die Hard” as a Christmas movie (holiday-themed but premiering in July of the year) has been ongoing over the past decades. Fox had already informally described it as such, though Bruce Willis terms it only as “a Bruce Willis movie”. But audiences seem to agree with the studio’s jesting opinion, if the statistics from StreamingObserver telling how “Die Hard” is the most-searched film for streaming during Christmas on four US states – Washington, Missouri, Wisconsin and Virginia – Is any indication.
In addition to the good-humored “Christmas movie” re-trailer of the original “Die Hard”, it and its four sequels are also part of the 4K digital media package that is the “Die Hard Collection”, which is also out during the Holidays.
“Die Hard” is often considered to be the film that cemented Bruce Willis’ reputation as a 1980s to early 90s action hero, and Hans Gruber was considered to be the most memorable role of the late British actor Alan Rickman, before the land the part of Professor Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” film series. Please enjoy the recut trailer of this action classic here.
Image courtesy of Comic Thrill

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION Reveals LATE US PRESIDENT BUSH Sponsored FILIPINO CHILD through Them for a DECADE

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It has been 19 days since George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, passed away at the age of 94; and 13 days have passed since he was laid to rest next to his wife and one of their daughters near his Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. While not as widespread as during the days immediately following his death, stories regarding the former President’s life and legacy continue to be told. One particular case involves the elder George Bush, under an alias becoming a pen pal to a Filipino child and financially supporting him for ten years.
CNN Philippines tells us that Compassion International, a nonprofit charitable organization that aids children from poverty-line communities around the world, has publicized some letters written by an incognito George H.W. Bush since 2002, addressed to a Filipino boy named Timothy whom he has offered to sponsor via the organization’s correspondence program. An Office of George H.W. Bush spokesperson, Jim McGrath, certifies that the letters shared by Compassion International were genuinely from the hand of the former President himself. But the whole story between Bush and Timothy began one year earlier.
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Bush learned of Compassion International while attending a Washington DC Christmas event, according to their former president Wess Stafford. Upon learning of the organization facilitating sponsorships from well-meaning benefactors to impoverished children, Bush decided to take on the case of Timothy, born 1993 in the Philippines (just months after he left office). Using the pen name George Walker, the former President, then 77, became a pen pal to Timothy, asking of his home life and schooling, and giving him advice. Despite rules about not sending gifts aside from financial aid, Bush did so anyway, giving Timothy books and art materials based on his hobbies. He also tried to hint to the boy his true identity.
Timothy only learned that his friend “George Walker” was George H.W. Bush when he was 17 years old and graduated from the Compassion International program, after a representative of the organization told him. Compassion International eventually lost contact with him, but Stafford recalls that Timothy described the revelation about his mysterious sponsor as something he felt has changed his life. “We may not know where Timothy is, but we know he’s now living a successful life,” Stafford concluded. “Sponsoring a child, even if they are still in the womb, can encourage them and guide them to become great human beings.”
The Compassion International organization is partnered with more than 7,000 local churches across 25 countries worldwide. Their sponsorship support is a boon to poor families, from childbearing mothers to children in need of early education. And their sharing has revealed more feel-good stories about the departed President George H.W. Bush.
Images: Google News, ABC News

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

PRESIDENT DUTERTE OK for MEDICAL MARIJUANA Following Q&A Remarks of MISS U Winner CATRIONA GRAY

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In the fallout of the dramatic triumph that was Miss Philippines Catriona Gray winning the 67th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Thailand just last Monday, December 17, discussion has begun – anew that is – regarding the advocacy that the now-fourth Miss Universe titleholder dropped during the contest’s Question and Answer portion. Asked whether she would support her country legalizing marijuana, the iconic narcotic drug from the cannabis plant, Catriona mentioned that she would support the promotion of marijuana for strictly medical purposes and not for recreational use. This subject has already been discussed in Congress before, but now it has gotten a response from the top.
CNN Philippines reports that President Rodrigo Duterte is amenable to signing any proposed introducing medical marijuana use in the Philippines. This was revealed by Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo during a MalacaƱang press briefing this Tuesday, December 18. “He (The President) is in favor of limited use of marijuana,” Panelo told reporters when the matter of Catriona Gray’s Q&A response during the Miss Universe pageant only yesterday was brought up. “Logically then he will support and sign any bill that would be consistent with his stand.”
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It all came back to focus once again when Catriona, representing the Philippines in Thailand, advanced to the Top 5 contestants of Miss Universe 2018. Her question, asked by now-familiar pageant host Steve Harvey, was her opinion of the Philippines possibly legalizing marijuana after Uruguay and Canada, the latter having done so just this October. “I’m for it being used in a medical use but not so for recreational use,” Catriona responded, elaborating that allowing also for recreation would cause an avalanche of restrictions being lifted on other substances like tobacco and alcohol. “Well everything is good but in moderation,” the Philippine bet pointed out.
Before that question was asked on Monday, the last discussion done in Congress regarding medical marijuana was in September 2017. The House of Representatives put forth House Bill No. 6517 – the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act – that would allow for limited manufacture of marijuana for medical purposes under a strict regulatory framework laid down by the bill’s principal author, Rep. Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela. The bill would complement the existing R.A. No. 9165 (Dangerous Drugs Act 2002) that enables patients whose symptoms can be alleviated by marijuana (chemotherapy side effects and HIV/AIDS-induced appetite loss) to apply for a “compassionate special permit” for the drug.
Salvador Panelo remarked that Catriona Gray’s support for medical marijuana in the Philippines on Miss Universe may have been influenced by earlier statements made by President Duterte on regulated marijuana use for strictly medical purposes. Until then however, marijuana remains illegal and possession of it can result in life imprisonment.
Images: Philippine Star and GMA News

“ROLL-UP” FLAT-SCREEN TV from LG Teased for CONSUMERS by 2019

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In this age of ever advancing technologies, one direction that manufacturers are taking mobile gadgets and appliances is the “big size but easy storage” question. That pertains to having devices with screens like smartphones and TVs being as large as can be, only to be stored in some unorthodox fashion. It can either be a smartphone that can “unfold” into a tablet with a bigger screen (and fold back into a phone) or a flat, flat-screen TV that can be – of all things – rolled up. Such a device is one of Korean electronics manufacturer LG’s bleeding-edge projects, revealed way back in January and being made available for consumers next year.
Bloomberg reports that LG Electronics is gearing up to mass-manufacture the nifty roll-up flat-screen TV they have been developing for general consumers in 2019. Their most recent preview of the unusual device in its latest development stage was during the Consumer Electronics Showcase 2018 from the beginning of this soon-to-end year. Where an earlier prototype of the roll-up TV was merely rolled up by hand, the CES display units featured a base for the ultrathin flat-screens which house the automatic roll-up spool to store the screen when not in use.
As mentioned by an anonymous source within LG, the proposed roll-up TVs have 65-inch flexible screens, made with OLED rather than LCD due to having materials that are easily to roll or fold, not to mention generate superior crisp images. A button press on the TV base will have the screens roll out and switch on, the same for turning off, like an automated projector screen but with the image coming from the screen itself. Analysts project that the new LG roll-up TVs may help increase the proliferation of OLED screens, when about 98% of available flat-screens still use LCD.
LG is determined to drum up interest in their new appliance to aid in revitalizing the South Korean electronics industry, which is also beginning to be seriously challenged by the rise of competing and more price-friendly alternatives from China. Once the roll-up TV becomes available for consumers next year, observers posit an optimistic increase in OLED-screen TVs by up to 70%, going from this 2017’s 2.35 million units to a potential 4 million in 2019. Furthermore, LG is also hoping to have a new smartphone of the 5th generation (5G) ready for unveiling on the first half of next year.
Image courtesy of The Verge

“SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE” Might Be the BEST SPIDER-MOVIE EVER

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One line that gets repeated over and over in Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, which premiered last week, goes: “Let’s do this one last time”. Whenever that line was delivered, a stylish flashback sequence started that detailed the backstory of the character that mentioned it. And that was something of a necessity considering just what kind of film it was: yet another adaptation of Marvel superhero Spider-Man. But the driving element of “Into the Spider-Verse” was the notion of numerous iterations of a web-slinging spider-powered hero, and on that account the movie has done something never really seen before – in terms of Spider-Man movies.
Based on a story by “The LEGO Movie” writer Phil Lord, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a very loose adaptation of the “Spider-Verse” event from Marvel Comics. About the only trapping from that storyline used was the opening of parallel worlds from which to gather quite the variety of alternate versions of Spider-Man, the masked costumed crime-fighter that spins webs, so on and so forth. Audiences have already had to go through three different live-action versions of this from Sony (and then Marvel Studios), retelling the story of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Now we have something different.
What is different is that while the main character of this movie is Spider-Man, it is already a different one: Miles Morales, an African-American-Latino teenager from Brooklyn, New York (where Parker was from neighboring Queens). He has very different life circumstances (has both parents and an uncle) and cultural background. What ties Miles and Peter together is that both would get powers from a “radioactive spider”; and in this version, Miles gets his in time for Peter as Spider-Man to meet him and offer to train him how to use his new powers. That proves difficult when Peter gets killed.
Yes, this Peter Parker dies in battle with New York’s Kingpin of crime, who is running a secret project that accesses various alternate universes and brings over those many different Spider-Men, or Spider-People, I talked about. There is another Peter Parker, older and more jaded but with the necessary wisdom to teach the very confused Miles. Then there is a female Spider-person, Gwen Stacy; another girl, Peni Parker, with a spider-powered robot; a private eye Spider-Man rendered in black and white; and a cartoony Spider-pig called Peter Porker/Spider-Ham. They must find a way to return to their respective universes before time runs out as the Kingpin’s plans come to fruition.
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To really sell the widely varying cast to the audience, Sony and Columbia Pictures assembled quite the selection of voice talent for the many characters. Rapper Shameik Moore is incredibly earning and young-sounding as Miles Morales, and serves as an effective foil to Jake Johnson as the older alternate-universe Peter Parker, who impresses and tickles with both smarts and humor. Hailee Steinfeld completes the movie’s main Spider trio with sharp snark that belies personal vulnerabilities. And Live Schreiber voices the sinister Kingpin/Wilson Fisk, who indirectly threatens New York’s very existence for a surprisingly emotional reason.
Other voices round out the ensemble: Nicholas Cage is the comically serious Spider-Man Noir, comedian John Mulaney is the Looney Tune-like Spider-Ham, Kimiko Glenn plays the anime-inspired Peni Parker, Bryan Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren are Miles’ loving parents, Mahershala Ali as Miles’ secretive uncle, and Lily Tomlin provides a voice of reason as the late Peter Parker’s Aunt May.
The second primary selling point for “Into the Spider-Verse” is the animation style. Rendered in 3D with a deliberately-choppy frame-rate, Sony manages to make all animated motions come across as both fluid and comic book-inspired.
Last but not least is the magnificent soundtrack selection of the film. Where past Peter/Spider-Man movies tended to go orchestral in their scoring, this movie, seen primarily from Mile Morales’ point of view, is all rap and hip-hop inspired with some prominent genre artists such as Post Malone (who contributed the theme single “Sunflower”), Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Jaden Smith, and Blackway and Black Caviar who perform the highly-energized action scene theme “What’s Up, Danger?” Every song fits every story sequence they provide background to, and helps to establish the distinctive personality of Miles, the main Spider-hero of the story.
The late Marvel character creator Stan Lee described superheroes as “those who would help others because it needed to be done and because it was the right thing to do.” Of all the superheroes he conceptualized for Marvel, none arguably approach the above ideal as close as Spider-Man and his adventures did. And “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” goes so far as to inspire in the viewer the idea, also supported by Lee, that anybody could “wear the mask” and be a hero. Thanks to the three-hit combination of cast, animation and soundtrack, whoever watches the film could believe this notion.
Images: Variety and Seattle Weekly

Monday, December 17, 2018

CATRIONA GRAY Makes FOUR MISS UNIVERSE Titles for the PHILIPPINES

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December tends to be the golden time of the year for the beauty pageant scene, as this month is the general timeframe wherein the Miss Universe pageant, one of the so-called “Big Four” beauty competitions and the second-oldest of them, is held. The 67th Miss Universe pageant being held at the closing of 2018 happened this Monday, December 17 in Bangkok, Thailand. Already it has achieved a record high of 94 participating countries and territories around the world, surpassing the 92 contestants from last year. And finally, after some fierce but overall friendly competition, a Miss Philippines wins the Miss Universe crown anew, only three years after the last one.
CNN Philippines reports that on this Monday morning in Bangkok (Sunday night elsewhere), the 66th Miss Universe Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa passed on her crown and title to Filipina-Australian Catriona Gray, 24-year-old model, singer and TV personality who has already made her country proud before in another Big Four pageant, placing in the Top 5 of the 2016 Miss World pageant. This time, Catriona will not be denied, and she has won the Miss Universe honor for the Philippines just three years after Pia Wurtzbach’s eventful triumph in 2015.
Catriona’s second foray into the international beauty pageant scene has found her in a news-making Miss Universe competition. Among her fellow contestants was Spain’s Angela Ponce, the first transgender woman to vie for this particular crown. There was also friction when the American bet Sarah Rose Summers had some mean things to say about the competitors who were not native English speakers. Through it all Catriona came through with a grace and poise both natural and finely practiced. Her uncommon catwalk technique described as a “live slow-motion” turn earned high praises from such luminaries as the legendary supermodel Tyra Banks.
The progression of Catriona Gray through the pageant stages, from Top 15, to 10, to 5, showed a mixture of well-deserved natural dazzle and some strategic choices. Her “Ibong Adarna” inspired evening gown held its own during the pageant preliminaries; and she was easily picked out of the crowd for wearing her red gown among her mostly white-garbed fellow top-placers. Catriona also played on continuity and playful superstition by wearing her distinctive “Philippine sunray” earrings which she designed herself, and a variation of which she wore during the Binibining Pilipinas pageant that earned her spot for Miss Universe in Bangkok.
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From the Top 5 hopefuls that included Vietnam and Puerto Rico, Catriona and her fellow contestants from South Africa and Venezuela were chosen to place. In the final phase of the pageant, Venezuelan Sthefany GutiƩrrez won Second Runner-up and South African Tamaryn Green got First; with a measure of pride in his voice, now-four-time pageant host Steve Harvey declared another Filipina as Miss Universe, and this time he did not flub it as with Pia Wurtzbach on his first outing way back in 2015. Congratulations and Mabuhay to Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray, the fourth Miss Universe title-holder from the Philippines. We are proud of you; the country is proud too.
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Images from Inquirer.net, ABS-CBN News