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‘Solo’ is a serviceable Star Wars story

In the trailer for Solo, Chewbacca dangles for dear life from a high speed train barreling through a snowy landscape. “Chewie!” the young Han shouts, as the Wookiee’s head comes within spitting distance of a rocky mountainside, moments before everything goes black.

For those with even a passing familiarity with the Star Wars universe, it’s about as low stakes as cliffhangers get. Chewbacca will be fine. He’s made it to 190, and by all accounts, he survives well into the sequel trilogy, several cinematic decades later. It’s a bit silly, as far as these things go, but it also just might be the perfect setup for the film.

Solo is, by its very nature, low stakes. The fate of the galaxy is never at play, nor are the destinies of any of its familiar faces. In many ways, it’s a slight film, so far as the grandiosity of epic space operas are concerned, and for the most part, its filmmakers seem perfectly content to operate within those parameters.

Fans of the franchise were understandably skeptical in the lead up to release. It never bodes particularly well when a film’s directors are fired so late in the game. And while we may never get a straight answer as to why Chris Miller and Phil Lord were unceremoniously dumped by Disney toward the end of filming, rest assured that the unamicable parting of ways between the two sides is never peeks through the film’s shiny veneer.

If you should ever find yourself in charge of a major film studio, looking to deliver the latest entry in the world’s premier film franchise on time and in one piece, you can do a heck of a lot worse than Ron Howard. The man behind Apollo 13 and those Dan Brown movies is Hollywood’s leading auteur when it comes to delivering a film right down the middle of the road. 

However you might have ultimately felt about The Last Jedi, the movie was downright giddy in its attempts to subvert the series’ tropes. Solo, on the other hand, revels in them — at least as much as a film can that isn’t directly tied to the Skywalker saga and the never-ending tug of war between Jedi and Sith.

Like The Phantom Menace before it, the anthology entry is downright obsessed with tracing the origins of every available nook and cranny of the original trilogy. But where the prequels had a much larger mythology to explore, Han’s story is decidedly more narrow. As such, the film is content to offer the origins of elements you almost certainly never wondered about.

Why, for example, does Solo call Chewbacca “Chewie?” Or how about the fact that Lando pronounces “Han” differently that practically everyone else in the series? All of these questions, and more, are answered. If Solo winked at the camera any more, it would be flying with its eyes closed.

But Howard and a capable cast weave those elements into a largely enjoyable experience. In an era of blockbusters with ensemble casts 100 actors deep, Solo feels lean. It’s one part western and one part heist film, never requiring you to think too hard, instead just letting the film wash over you. In those moments when planned courses of action do get complex, however, never fear — there’s bound to be someone on screen explaining their plan.

Alden Ehrenreich is capable in the unenviable role of filling Harrison Ford’s massive shoes. Like the film itself, the actor plays it down the middle. He’s charming, but not overly so, and while Solo falls into some of the Episode I traps of excessive exposition, his Han is almost instantly more fleshed out than the young Anakin. From the opening scenes, which play like a cross between Oliver Twist and Blade Runner, it’s clear that Han Solo came into this world fully formed.

Donald Glover, for his part, clearly revels in the role of Lando Calrissian — a character like Solo himself, that is seemingly inextricable from its originating actor. But there’s a overwhelming joy in watching him inhabit the role it seems he’s been waiting his entire life to play — a force of chaotic-good cloaked in a velvet cape and goatee.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37, however, is undoubtedly the film’s breakout character. The bipedal droid presents a moral center of a kind in a film without otherwise populated by ethically ambiguous characters. A strong-willed crusader for robotic rights, L3-37 is easily the film’s most entertaining addition to the canon, as well as a sly thumb in the eye of fanboys who have turned their backs on a more inclusive Star Wars universe.

Droid aside, however, those concerned that the most recent films has strayed too far from the films of their youth will find plenty to like in Solo. It’s a perfectly middle of the road adventure that’s unlikely to end up at either the top or bottom of anyone’s list of Star Wars films.

To paraphrase Han, “I’ve got a perfectly okay feeling about this.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Rumored full mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One could change the gaming landscape

Microsoft may be readying a new weapon that could shift the balance in the interminable console wars: the mouse. Wait, you say, didn’t they promise that years ago, and aren’t there peripherals already available? Kind of. But going whole hog into PC-style controls allows Microsoft to create powerful synergies with Windows, performing a flanking maneuver against arch-rival Sony.

Mouse and keyboard is, of course, the control method of choice for many games on PC, but it has remained elusive on consoles. Some fancy accessories have made it possible to do it, and years ago Microsoft said it would be adding in mouse support to games on its console, but the feature has in practice proved frustratingly limited. More on-screen pointing has been done with Wiimotes by far.

Windows Central got hold of an internal presentation ostensibly from Microsoft that details what could be a full-court press on the mouse and keyboard front, which is one the company is uniquely suited to attempting.

In fact, you may very rightly wonder why it hasn’t been attempted before now. The trouble isn’t implementing it but the changes that have to be made downstream of that implementation.

One of these things? Why not?

For one thing, hardly any games will support the control method out of the box. They’ve all been made with very specific hardware in mind and it’s nontrivial to add a pointer to menus, change relative camera movement to absolute movement, and so on.

And for another, mouse and keyboard is simply a superior form of input for some games. Certainly for the likes of real-time strategy and simulations, which involve a lot of menus and precise clicking — which accounts for the relative lack of those on consoles. But more importantly in the gaming economy, first-person shooters are massively dominated by mouse users.

That may sound sort of like a gauntlet thrown to the ground between PC and console players, but this argument has played out before many times and the mouse and keyboard players always come out on top, often by embarrassing margins.

Usually that doesn’t present a big problem, since, for example, competitive Call of Duty leagues are pretty much all on console. You just don’t have match-ups between mice and controllers.

That’s starting to change, however, with the introduction of major cross-platform games like Fortnite. When you have Xbox, Switch, and PC players all on the same server, the latter arguably has a huge advantage for a number of reasons.

You don’t bring an analog stick to a sniper fight.

And on the other hand, the Xbox One is lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in sales and in attractive exclusives. A fresh play that expands the Xbone into a growing niche — say, pro and competitive gaming — would be a huge boon just about now.

That’s why the document Windows Central received makes so much sense. The presentation suggests that all Windows-compatible USB mice and keyboards will work with Xbox One, including wireless ones that work via dongle. That would change the game considerably, so to speak.

The devices would have to report themselves and be monitored, of course: it wouldn’t do for a game to think it’s receiving controller input but instead getting mouse input. And that leaves the door open to cheating and so on as well. So device IDs and such will be carefully monitored.

Whether and how to implement mouse and keyboard controls will still be left entirely to the developer, the slides note, which of course leaves us with the same problems as before. But what allowing any mouse to be used does, combined with a huge amount of players doing so on a major property like Fortnite, is create a sort of critical mass.

Right now the handful of players with custom, expensive setups to mouse around in a handful of games just isn’t enough for developers to dedicate significant resources to accommodating. But say a few hundred thousand people decide to connect their spare peripherals to the console? All of the sudden that’s an addressable market — it provides a competitive advantage to be the developer that supports it.

Mouse support may also provide the bridge that enables the longstanding Microsoft fantasy of merging its Xbox and Windows ecosystems at least in part. It unifies the experience, allows for improved library sharing, and generally shifts the Xbox One from a dedicated console to essentially a standardized low-cost, high performance gaming PC.

This may have the further effect of helping put pressure on Valve and its Steam store, which dominates the PC gaming world to the point of near monopoly. Being able to play on Xbox or Windows, share achievements and save games, have gameplay parity and so on — this is the kind of compelling multi-platform experience Microsoft has been flirting with for years.

Imagine that: a Microsoft ecosystem that spans PCs and consoles, embraces competitive gaming at all levels, and is easy and simple to set up. Sony would have little recourse, having no desktop business to leverage, and Valve’s own attempts to cross the console divide have been largely abortive. In a way it seems like Microsoft is poised for a critical hit — if only it manages to take advantage of it.

Will this just be the latest chapter in the long story of failed mouse support by consoles? Or is Microsoft laying the groundwork for a major change to how it approaches the gaming world? We didn’t see anything at E3 this year, so the answer isn’t forthcoming, but Microsoft may be spurred by this leak (assuming it’s genuine) to publicize the program a bit more and speak in more concrete terms how this potential shift would take place.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Chirp brings Twitter to Apple Watch

Twitter’s history of being a bit unfriendly to developers building third-party clients hasn’t frightened off Will Bishop. The young Australian developer recently released a version of Twitter for Apple Watch called Chirp, in order to fill the void created by Twitter pulling its official app last fall. (Let’s see how long it will last, shall we?)

Bishop says he was already interested in building for Apple Watch before Chirp, having previously developed a micro version of Reddit called Nano. Afterwards, he heard from a lot of people asking for a Twitter watch app, he says.

“Seeing as so many people were disappointed when Twitter pulled their official app, it only made sense to at least try,” Bishop says of building Chirp. “A lot of people think using your watch for more than 30 seconds is ridiculous, but I figure if people want to use it, let them.”

The Apple Watch hasn’t served to become a sizable new app platform for developers, and actually saw a number of bigger names pull their dedicated Watch apps last year besides just Twitter, like Amazon, Google Maps, Instagram, Slack, TripAdvisor, eBay, and others. Instead, users tend to interact with their Watch through notifications – not by launching apps directly and tapping the tiny screen. It just doesn’t make that much sense for anything more than a quick reply, as your iPhone is likely nearby and does a better job.

But Chirp could fill the role of needing to quickly reply to Twitter notifications, like @mentions or DMs.

The app lets you interact with Twitter from the Apple Watch’s interface, including browsing your timeline, catching up on trends, viewing people’s individual profiles, and favoriting and replying to tweets, and more.

In an updated released over the weekend, the app now also adds support for reading and replying to Direct Messages and using Twitter Lists.

These features are available via Chirp’s paid tier, Chirp Pro, which is a pay-what-you-want upgrade starting at $1.99 and going up to $4.99 USD.

In addition to DMs and Lists, Chirp Pro lets you post and reply to tweets, search for users and tweets, and view more than five trends.

In other words, if you want to actually use Twitter not just view it from your wrist, you’ll want Chirp Pro.

Despite having a niche user base, attention detail has been paid here – Chirp even lets you customize the Watch app’s user interface by toggling on or off various elements like Images, the Retweet Counter, Like Counter, Retweet & Like Buttons, and Timestamps. This helps to reduce screen clutter, which is useful given the area Chirp has to work with.

Because of how Chirp is designed, Bishop said the app isn’t as impacted by the forthcoming API changes as other clients.

“The new API restrictions are mainly for the activity APIs, streaming in particular. However, the watch does not support streaming anyway, so fortunately I am not [impacted],” he said. “The only API I was affected by were the changes to the direct messaging API,” Bishop added, noting this is why Chirp didn’t have messaging right away.

Bishop says he plans to keep Chirp free, as “downloads mean more to me than money,” he says. But he hopes people who like using it will pay to unlock the expanded features. The app competes with Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and Bluebird on Apple Watch.

To use Chirp, download the iOS app and add it to your Apple Watch.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Delhi

Meru Health wants to make mental health care more accessible

Getting mental health services can be burdensome. And if you’re already going through a tough time, you’re probably looking for help sooner than later. But based on the current landscape, it can take months to find the right therapist who also takes your insurance.

This is where Meru Health hopes to come in. By providing its service as a benefit for employers to offer to their employees, Meru Health can operate as a first line of treatment where people can get help in a matter of weeks, Meru Health co-founder and CEO Kristian Ranta told TechCrunch.

Ranta, who lost his brother to suicide a few years ago, said there are “unfortunately lots of people suffering from depression and who are vulnerable to burnout.”

It’s true. Worldwide, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the World Health Organization.

Meru Health offers an eight-week treatment program for depression, burnout and anxiety. The program, currently led by five licensed therapists, utilizes both cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral activation and mindfulness-based intervention. Provided as an employee benefit, Meru Health only charges companies if the patients report feeling any better.

Meru Health’s current customers include WeWork and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. To date, Meru Health says 75 percent of the people who go through its program report symptom reduction.

Other startups working in the mental health space include Pacifica and Lantern, a mental health startup that offers tools to deal with stress, anxiety and body image. To date, Lantern has raised more than $20 million in funding. Another one is Talkspace, which aims to be an alternative to traditional therapy.

Down the road, Meru Health may make its service available to everyday consumers, but right now, Ranta said the focus is on selling to larger employers and doing clinical research. Meru Health is also looking to bring on board a doctor to help with medication management and, possibly, even providing prescriptions, Ranta said. Meru Health, which is currently participating in Y Combinator, envisions bringing on a medical doctor post-YC.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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