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Have national security clearance? Facebook wants you

Facebook is reportedly looking for employees who have national security clearance.

Iain Masterton/Getty Images

Facebook[1] wants to hire employees who have national security clearances to help prevent foreign entities from impacting future American elections, Bloomberg reported Monday[2]. The social network wants to use these people, who can access information classified by the US government, “to search more proactively for questionable social media campaigns ahead of elections,” according to Bloomberg. Facebook officials declined to comment on the report.

Fake news[3] disseminated online in the lead-up to Donald Trump[4]‘s presidential victory last year has become a hot topic that has entangled tech giants including Facebook[5], Twitter and Google.

Numerous reports say fake news shared on social networks helped Trump[6], and was connected to the Russian government[7].

References

  1. ^ Facebook (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ Bloomberg reported Monday (www.bloomberg.com)
  3. ^ Fake news (www.cbsnews.com)
  4. ^ Donald Trump (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ Facebook (www.cnet.com)
  6. ^ helped Trump (www.cnet.com)
  7. ^ connected to the Russian government (www.cnet.com)

Matt Damon sci-fi comedy ‘Downsizing’ is a small wonder

Here’s a fun game to play at the movies. Before you take your seat for the new Matt Damon sci-fi comedy “Downsizing”, take a guess at where you think the movie will end up. The closest guess wins a free dinner or a million bucks or whatever — the prize doesn’t matter because neither you nor your buddies will guess anywhere near what actually happens.

“Downsizing” is a new sci-fi comedy written and directed by Alexander Payne[1], the man behind such heartfelt, low-key treats as “Sideways[2]” and “The Descendants[3]“. It begins with an exciting breakthrough in technology as scientists discover a way to shrink people down to 5-inches tall, which of course shrinks their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment at the same time. Payne engagingly explores this technology and the new world it creates, and then… well, just kind of keeps going.

What starts off feeling like a lighter episode of “Black Mirror[4]” heads off on an unexpected and very lengthy tangent. Matt Damon[5] stars as Paul Safranek, a schlubby everyman from a quiet corner of Omaha. Struggling with money and frustrated aspirations, he and his wife, played by Kristen Wiig[6], come around to the idea of being shrunk down to miniature size.

When you’re a few inches tall, a dollar buys a lot more — even a multiple-room mansion or a diamond necklace are affordable when they’re teeny-tiny. And so we head for the miniaturised town of LeisureLand, an idyllic community of tiny people in tiny houses under a protective bubble (to keep out insects).

Matt Damon and director Alexander Payne take on the small-minded in “Downsizing”.

Merie W. Wallace

Payne hilariously puts the the shrinking process and shrunken world under the microscope.

The cheerfully surreal first half of the film is packed with sight gags and lovely comic detail, like a regular-sized clip-on lapel microphone becoming a huge mic for a shrunken scientist, or full-sized nurses carefully spooning newly-miniaturised little people onto tiny stretchers with special spatulas. But obviously things don’t go to plan for our mini heroes, who soon find the problem with starting a new life is you bring your old problems right along with you. Hong Chau and Christoph Waltz gleefully steal the second half of “Downsizing”, which played during the 2017 BFI London Film Festival.

John Phillips

Payne’s fictional solution to environmental problems slyly suggests people will only make positive changes if there’s something in it for them.

And the film examines the idea that we all live in a bubble, comfortably unchallenging of our prejudices and blissfully ignorant of the wider world’s problems. Yes, it does this by literally putting the characters in an actual bubble, but it’s realised with such charm and so many great gags that we’ll forgive how on the nose it is. Once miniaturised, Damon’s character finally begins to see the invisible lines that divide society, noticing the haves and have nots for the first time.

As well as covering the environment, the mini metaphor allows the film to touch on healthcare, migration, consumerism, globalisation and other hot topics. Interesting as this is, the film kind of starts again half-way through. Clocking in at 135 minutes, you could practically split “Downsizing” into two movies, so disjointed is the second half from the first.

Wiig and Jason Sudeikis[7] are both prominently featured in the first part of the film only to shrink from view in the second, leaving us with just Damon’s amiable loser to carry on. The problem is he’s deliberately boring, an example of the small-minded small fry who would benefit from enlarging their horizons. Fortunately Christoph Waltz[8] and Hong Chau[9] turn up to provide some big laughs in the small world, but having spent so long on the setup the spiralling second half soon outstays its welcome.

The laughs dry up for something more worthy before tipping over into frankly baffling, setting up an ending you almost certainly won’t see coming. “Downsizing” opens in Australia and the US in December, and the UK in January. It certainly has big ambitions, even if the wandering story could do with being cut down to size.

Tech Culture[10]: From film and television to social media and games, here’s your place for the lighter side of tech.

Batteries Not Included[11]: The CNET team shares experiences that remind us why tech stuff is cool.

References

  1. ^ Alexander Payne (www.metacritic.com)
  2. ^ Sideways (www.metacritic.com)
  3. ^ The Descendants (www.metacritic.com)
  4. ^ Black Mirror (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ Matt Damon (www.metacritic.com)
  6. ^ Kristen Wiig (www.metacritic.com)
  7. ^ Jason Sudeikis (www.metacritic.com)
  8. ^ Christoph Waltz (www.metacritic.com)
  9. ^ Hong Chau (www.metacritic.com)
  10. ^ Tech Culture (www.cnet.com)
  11. ^ Batteries Not Included (www.cnet.com)

Aardman’s ‘Early Man’ took Maisie Williams to her early days

Aardman’s plucky prehistoric protagonist Goona, voiced by Maisie Williams.

Aardman

It’s probably been 25 years since I last played with Play-Doh, but here I am, in the bowels of a hotel in London, attempting to sculpt a prehistoric pig from soft putty and cocktail sticks. But instead of being watched over by Miss Jimmison in year 2, I’m being guided by people who’ve graduated to making a living from such Plasticine-like models: the puppetmakers of Aardman Animations, who’ve come to London to share a peek at their new film “Early Man”. Stars Eddie Redmayne[1] and Maisie Williams[2] lend their voices to the clay-modelled characters.

For “Game of Thrones[3]” star Williams, the film was both a new challenge and a return to younger days. Following the success of previous stop-motion films like “Chicken Run[4]” and the Wallace and Gromit series, Oscar-winning Aardman is going back in time with “Early Man”. Director Nick Park[5] once again employs stop-motion animation — with a bit of computer wizardry around the edges — to tell the story of a group of cavemen and prehistoric creatures roaming the earth at the dawn of time.

The assembled journalists and I are doing our best to recreate one of the film’s characters, the loveable be-tusked pig Hognob. Like all the characters, Hognob is sculpted from modelling clay — commercially available Newplast, to be precise. Aardman mix their own colours at their studios in Bristol, sometimes adding a little chalk to the mix for strength.

While filming, the warmth of studio lights keeps the models malleable rather than threatening to melt them, while the advent of cooler LED studio lights helps keep the shape of the models. The Aardman team have brought a few of the models along today, and looking at them up close I’m amazed by the subtle detail, variations in texture and above all the life-like character they conjure in each one.

This isn’t a CG-enhanced still from the film — these are the actual models.

Aardman

When we’ve finished sculpting our own attempts at an Aardman character — with varying quality results — we’re shown a couple of scenes from the film. It is, of course, hilarious. Eddie Redmayne[6] provides the voice of curious caveman Dug facing off against the villainous Lord Nooth, voiced with gusto and a thick French accent by Tom Hiddleston[7]. Timothy Spall[8], Richard Ayoade[9] and Gina Yashere[10] also lend their tones to the film as members of Dug’s prehistoric tribe.

Maisie Williams adopts a broad Scandinavian accent to play the plucky Goona. Speaking at the screening, Williams revealed that the film brought her back to her roots in more ways than one: she was excited to work with Nick Park because she grew up in Bristol, where Aardman is based. And the film brought her full circle to some of her earliest work: “When I was younger I used to go my friend’s house and make little stop-motion claymation films!” she smiled.

Guess which one was made by an expert Aardman modeller and which one was made by a ham-fisted journalist.

Richard Trenholm/CNET

Park also turned to his youth for inspiration.

The film’s prehistoric setting harks back to films like “One Million Years B.C.” in which prehistoric creatures were realised by stop motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen. In fact, there are two dinosaurs in the film named Ray and Harry. Giving her character a voice meant a new way of working for Williams. “It was a challenge to take away all your other tools as an actor and only use your voice,” she said. “When you strip things back and that’s the only tool that counts, it can get every intricate.”

The intricate recording process saw Park and the team seeking out different variations on the dialogue to find the best combination between the different actors’ performances. “In the first few sessions it took a lot of getting used to because I wanted to try and get it right,” said Williams, “but there’s a million and one ways you can say a line… it’s not until you go and animate it that you know which is the right one to choose. You go again and again and do multiple lines and only one of them will work. But it’s not like a test — Nick opens it up to messing around and having fun.”

“Nick was always chasing the funniest line reading,” said Tom Hiddleston of the recording process. “I basically just tried to make Nick laugh,” he said, explaining that he’d try each line various ways in search of the sign of approval from Park: a silent thumbs-up. “Early Man” will be released on 26 January 2018. Tech Culture[11]: From film and television to social media and games, here’s your place for the lighter side of tech.

Batteries Not Included[12]: The CNET team shares experiences that remind us why tech stuff is cool.

Get up close to classic sci-fi props, art and costumes

References

  1. ^ Eddie Redmayne (www.metacritic.com)
  2. ^ Maisie Williams (www.metacritic.com)
  3. ^ Game of Thrones (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ Chicken Run (www.metacritic.com)
  5. ^ Nick Park (www.metacritic.com)
  6. ^ Eddie Redmayne (www.metacritic.com)
  7. ^ Tom Hiddleston (www.metacritic.com)
  8. ^ Timothy Spall (www.metacritic.com)
  9. ^ Richard Ayoade (www.metacritic.com)
  10. ^ Gina Yashere (www.metacritic.com)
  11. ^ Tech Culture (www.cnet.com)
  12. ^ Batteries Not Included (www.cnet.com)

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