Why is everyone talking about Netflix’s Bird Box?

Netflix’s Bird Box was likely not on your radar a few weeks ago, but it has become an unexpected phenomenon seemingly overnight.

The film, directed by Susanne Bier and starring Sandra Bullock, takes place in a world where a mysterious supernatural force causes people to involuntarily commit suicide if they look at it. To stay alive, they must wear blindfolds. The story cuts between two time periods: one immediately after the sudden deaths, and one five years later when Bullock’s character must protect two young children in what appears to be a desolate wasteland. Think A Quiet Place — but with sight instead of sound.

Most Netflix original movies just kind of come and go, but within the first few days of its debut on Dec. 13, it became clear that Bird Box was really catching on. Memes inspired by the film engulfed Twitter. A week later, Netflix, which is usually fairly secretive about its viewership, took the rare step of releasing numbers for Bird Box, revealing that the film had the best ever debut for a Netflix movie, with 45 million accounts watching at least 70 percent of the film in the first week.

For perspective, Netflix only has about 118 million subscribers. The number doesn’t take into account people who simply clicked into Bird Box by mistake or quickly turned it off.

So why is Bird Box such a hit? The movie itself is certainly not one of the year’s best, but it’s a crowd-pleasing, fairly well-made post-apocalyptic drama starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world, which popped up for free on Netflix right before subscribers were about to have a lot of free time on their hands over the holiday week. That, in combination with social media buzz, added up to a winning …read more

Source:: The Week – Business


Mary Poppins Returns has a fantastic second weekend after a light debut

Mary Poppins Returns seemed like it could end up a box office disappointment when it had a fairly subdued debut last weekend. But a cover is not the book.

The Disney sequel impressed in its second weekend with $28 million, per Box Office Mojo. That’s up from $23 million in its three-day pre-Christmas opening; whenever a film manages to actually improve its performance in a sophomore outing, that’s typically a sign it will have great legs in the coming weeks, as moviegoers who weren’t necessarily in a rush to go see it initially check it out after hearing good things. It’s looking like the film should have no problem ending up as a solid grosser for Disney.

This weekend’s total comes after Mary Poppins Returns already impressed over the holiday week, taking in $11.6 million on Christmas Day. It has now made $173 million worldwide, $98 million of that coming from the United States.

But Mary Poppins Returns is not nearly the hit that Warner Bros.’ Aquaman has become. That film easily topped the box office for a second time this weekend with another $51 million after making $67 million in its three-day debut. The superhero flick has now taken in about $750 million worldwide and looks like it could end up passing $1 billion, which would make it the first DC film since The Dark Knight Rises to do so.

…read more

Source:: The Week – Business


How American corporations squandered $538 billion in 2018

Here’s a story about how U.S. corporations completely wasted $538 billion in 2018.

You’ve probably heard of stock buybacks by now: These are where companies repurchase their own stock from shareholders. The practice was actually forbidden by federal regulations until a rule change in 1982, and it’s taken off like a rocket since. Between 2010 and 2017, U.S. companies dumped hundreds of billions into stock buybacks each year.

But 2018 will probably be top of the heap. In just the first nine months of this year, companies on the S&P 500 spent $538 billion on stock buybacks, the Wall Street Journal reported. That’s a 52 percent increase over the same period in 2017, and according to the Journal it’s on track for a full-year record.

That avalanche of money was helped along by the tax cut package President Trump and the Republicans passed back in December 2017, which was a massive windfall for corporate coffers. In fact, stock buyback announcements — as opposed to stock buybacks actually carried out — topped $1 trillion this year, an all-time record.

Here’s the gag: By dropping at least $538 billion to buy back their own shares, U.S. companies overpaid by billions of dollars.

Remember, those are the purchases up through September of this year. And as you may have noticed, the stock markets completely tanked since then.

Share prices across the economy are now considerably lower than what companies paid for them. Apple, for example, forked over $62.9 billion to investors to buy back stock that’s now only worth $53.8 billion — overpaying by $9.1 billion in the process.

“If they made an acquisition that decreased in value this much, people would be up in arms,” Nell Minow, vice chairwoman at the consulting firm ValueEdge Advisors, told the Journal. “They have one job, …read more

Source:: The Week – Business


Fake porn videos weaponized to harass and humiliate women

By Drew Harwell | The Washington Post

The video showed the woman in a pink off-the-shoulder top, sitting on a bed, smiling a convincing smile.

It was her face. But it had been seamlessly grafted, without her knowledge or consent, onto someone else’s body: a young pornography actress, just beginning to disrobe for the start of a graphic sex scene. A crowd of unknown users had been passing it around online.

She felt nauseous and mortified: What if her co-workers saw it? Her family, her friends? Would it change how they thought of her? Would they believe it was a fake?

“I feel violated — this icky kind of violation,” said the woman, who is in her 40s and spoke on the condition of anonymity because she worried that the video could hurt her marriage or career. “It’s this weird feeling, like you want to tear everything off the internet. But you know you can’t.”

Airbrushing and Photoshop long ago opened photos to easy manipulation. Now, videos are becoming just as vulnerable to fakes that look deceptively real. Supercharged by powerful and widely available artificial-intelligence software developed by Google, these lifelike “deepfake” videos have quickly multiplied across the internet, blurring the line between truth and lie.

But the videos have also been weaponized disproportionately against women, representing a new and degrading means of humiliation, harassment and abuse. The fakes are explicitly detailed, posted on popular porn sites and increasingly challenging to detect. And although their legality hasn’t been tested in court, experts say they may be protected by the First Amendment — even though they might also qualify as defamation, identity theft or fraud.

Disturbingly realistic fakes have been made with the faces of both celebrities and women who don’t live in the spotlight, and the actress Scarlett Johansson says she worries that “it’s just a matter …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business


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