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Egypt First

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 06:37 AM PST

In November 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) launched an impulsive bid to isolate Iran by forcing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a visit by the latter to Riyadh. The Crown Prince was counting on the support of his Sunni Arab allies, but one notable Arab country abstained. Instead of backing its key regional benefactor, Egypt immediately aligned itself with French efforts to broker a diplomatic solution, hosting Hariri in Cairo and championing his return to Lebanon as prime minister. Egypt’s stance, focused on “the importance of preserving Lebanon’s stability and elevating Lebanon’s national interests,” struck a discordant note with Riyadh’s recent “with us or against us” attempts to reorder the Middle East along Manichean lines between itself and Tehran.

Hariri was not the only high-profile visitor to Cairo to raise concerns among Egypt’s longtime patrons: on December 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the country to highlight deepening ties between Egypt and Russia, including a potential agreement that would reportedly allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases-this despite Egypt’s four-decade, $50 billion defense partnership with Washington.

Such independence may frustrate Cairo’s foreign benefactors, but it should not come as a surprise. Egypt’s willingness to go its own way has been a consistent feature of the country’s foreign policy since at least July 2013, when a popularly-backed military coup ousted President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Under the new presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Cairo has gradually been formulating a new foreign policy doctrine based on ideological commitments to anti-Islamism, respect for traditional and often retrograde notions of sovereignty and non-interference, and a defiantly nationalistic reassertion of Egypt’s freedom of maneuver within the region. Taken together, they are leading Egypt away from its traditional allies and toward a more independent-and uncertain-future.

A NEW WORLDVIEW

The roots of Egypt’s new foreign policy lie in the 2011 uprising that led to the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. Under the midcentury leadership of President Gamel Abdel Nasser, Egypt had been the political and cultural leader of the Arab world and a prominent force on the world stage. But, during his nearly 20 years in power, Mubarak transformed the country into a reliable and largely predictable U.S. client and close ally to U.S. partners such as Saudi Arabia, albeit one lacking dynamism and regional influence.

Mubarak’s departure, however, put this stance into question. Although foreign-policy concerns were secondary to the domestic issues that animated the uprising, the protestors’ demands included an inchoate notion of restoring national dignity that extended to the realm of foreign policy and survived throughout Egypt’s tumultuous transition.

Throughout the early post-Mubarak period, Egyptian elites and members of the public debated how to restore their country’s independence of action and diversify its relationships abroad. Morsi’s yearlong presidency, for example, featured visits to Beijing and Moscow. This post-coup foreign policy orientation was partly an outgrowth of urgent economic, political, and security needs at home, above all the country’s fight against Islamists and its budgetary shortfalls. But, over the last few years, as Egypt’s economic and political life has partly stabilized under Sisi, these initially scattered tendencies have increasingly evolved into a coherent worldview.

The first and most important element of this worldview is anti-Islamism. Zealous, rigid opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots has been the ordering principle of the Sisi regime and is now the most dominant feature of Egyptian political life. Although the Sisi regime has targeted all forms of political expression and dissent, it has been particularly focused on the Brotherhood. In its efforts to eradicate the organization, the government has resorted to broad-based repression, outlawing the Brotherhood, jailing tens of thousands of its members and sympathizers, and engaging in outright violence to quash the possibility of future mobilization.

Egypt’s anti-Brotherhood campaign doesn’t stop at the border-Cairo views the group as a transnational threat, and it has sought to pressure and weaken groups it perceives as Brotherhood affiliates in Libya and the Gaza Strip. (Egypt’s recent moves to improve ties with Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, are a rare pragmatic exception to its usually unremitting hostility to political Islam.) Egypt has also been adamant in its opposition to the use of Islamist militant proxies as a tool in any of the region’s conflicts-an official warned one of the authors in an interview of the dangerous “quagmire” such an approach would yield in Syria. This anti-Islamism led Egypt to quietly align itself with the government of President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian backers-who share Egypt’s dim view of Sunni Islamism and faith in stability through sovereign repression-rather than Saudi-led efforts to cultivate rebel forces and topple Assad. 

The second, related commitment of Sisi’s Egypt is an attachment to stability derived from state sovereignty. As its neighbors intervene to remake the region along sectarian or Islamist lines, Egypt has in this respect emerged as perhaps the most prominent status quo player in the Middle East. Early glimpses of this approach could be seen in Egypt’s dealings with Iraq during the rise of the Islamic State, when Sisi publicly supported Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Egypt’s stance has been all the more notable given Saudi Arabia’s emergence as an unpredictable revisionist power, as seen in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. The kingdom’s foreign policy revisionism has mostly been in the service of its rivalry with Iran, yet Egypt has refused to follow Saudi Arabia’s hard line, eschewing anything more than pro-forma anti-Iranian sentiments and resisting the sectarian polarization that has destabilized the region in recent years. Egypt has neither resolved its longstanding tensions with Iran nor restored full diplomatic relations. It has simply refused to be drawn into regional conflict.

In the hierarchy of its foreign policy interests, however, Egypt’s attachment to state sovereignty remains secondary to its anti-Islamist agenda. When these principles are in direct conflict, anti-Islamism still trumps all other considerations. This is evident both in the ongoing crisis with Qatar (whose sovereign rulers now face an Egyptian-backed, Saudi-led embargo largely due to past support for Islamists) and in the chaos of Libya’s multi-sided conflict (where Egypt’s chosen partner in securing its porous western flank, General Hafter, is waging his own existential war against Islamists and once declared that “Libya needs a Sisi”).

EGYPT’S RIGHTFUL ROLE

The third and final commitment behind Egypt’s newfound assertiveness and independence is a resurgent nationalism that seeks to restore the country to what its history and vanity suggest is its rightful role in the region. Although this has tipped into jingoism at times, as seen in the anti-American conspiracy theories and suspicion of foreigners that dominate the Egyptian press, it has accentuated Egypt’s desire to make itself relevant to regional affairs. It has also produced an abrasive suspicion, opportunistically stoked by some Egyptian officials, that outside powers seek not just to sway Egypt but to dominate or destabilize it. This has offended each of Egypt’s most generous benefactors, leading to serious diplomatic tensions not merely with the United States, but with Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as well.

In the years after 2011, Egyptian leaders, including Sisi, have spoken frankly about the need to focus on addressing internal challenges, but such sentiments have often been displaced by Egypt’s enduring, inflated sense of its own role-including the mistaken but widespread conviction that no major regional conflict can be solved without Cairo. This view, prevalent among the Egyptian people and the governing elite (though Sisi has been more realistic), is a function of its size, past centrality, and cultural predominance within the Arab world. Such sentiments, however, have only a limited connection to Egypt’s actual power and influence. Since the country’s heyday a half-century ago, when it was the undisputed leader of the Arab world, the Middle East’s power and wealth have migrated eastward to more dynamic economies such as Israel and Turkey and the petro-states of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, and Iran. These countries (albeit to varying degrees) are able to use their wealth, military power, and regional proxy networks to project power in ways that Egypt simply cannot. Geography means that Egypt has continued to play an important role in Libya and Gaza, but elsewhere Cairo has sought to turn its relative weakness into diplomatic currency-for instance by attaching itself to diplomatic initiatives and seeking a position as a broker between rival regional factions, as it did during the Lebanon crisis.

Egypt is unlikely to anchor a fourth major regional bloc alongside the Saudi-led revanchists, the Iranian hegemonists, and the Turkish-Qatari pro-Islamists, but a regional constituency may well exist for one. Egypt’s voice in the Middle East’s conflicts has so far been muted, and the country has been more of a battleground for regional supremacy than a contender in its own right. Yet Egypt’s domestic politics remain a bellwether for others-as when the rise and fall of Egypt’s Islamists set the tenor for the region as a whole-and Cairo’s refusal to adopt Saudi Arabia’s maximalist line has both benefited Egyptians and pointed the way toward a less sectarian regional politics.

In particular, Egypt today is an example of the limits that MbS could encounter if, as the preeminent Sunni Arab leader, he attempts to dictate others’ political choices. These limits were on full display in spring 2015, when Egypt refused MbS’s surprise call to join a Sunni Arab military coalition to fight the Houthis in Yemen. As a senior Egyptian official remarked to one of the authors, “We’re Egypt-you cannot call us at three o’clock in the morning and expect us to go to war in the morning.” Egypt belatedly made limited contributions to the Arab military coalition but by and large steered clear of what has proven a disastrous and costly fight. 

WHERE CAIRO GOES FROM HERE

Since 2013, Egypt’s go-it-alone spirit has been tempered by its desperate need for international legitimacy, security aid, and, above all, tens of billions of dollars from wealthy Gulf nations (which have, in Sisi’s memorable phrase, “money like rice”). Yet, while Egypt has been happy to cash foreign checks, it has often rejected foreign advice, whether from Washington or Abu Dhabi. Now, however, a number of conditions could give the country’s leaders the confidence to pursue an even more independent approach.

For one, rather than face continued pressure from the United States over human rights, Sisi has received an uncritical endorsement and Oval Office embrace from U.S. President Donald Trump. Egypt’s IMF-backed structural reforms have also brought a measure of economic stability, despite inflation and joblessness. And both the Saudi-led embargo of Qatar and the violent instability that followed the Arab uprisings have contributed to a region-wide decline of Islamist groups, setting the stage for a mending of previously-strained Egyptian-Saudi ties. Perhaps most importantly, Egypt has assumed that it is simply too big to fail, and so far its allies have acted accordingly. Perhaps because so many of its neighbors are plagued by instability and militancy, Cairo’s unorthodox moves have not led to any diplomatic ruptures. Instead, Egypt’s partners have accommodated themselves and remain loath to challenge Cairo at this delicate juncture.

Ultimately, Egypt’s attempt to return to regional prominence will depend on Sisi’s ability to shore up power at home. To project influence outside its borders, Egypt will need to bring about a more stable and secure economic, political, and security base at home, including significant reforms to open space for a vibrant public square and a private sector rather than putting the burden of Egypt’s national renewal on its government alone.

The more Egypt goes its own way, however, the harder it will be to reconcile the contradiction at the heart of contemporary Egyptian foreign policy: on the one hand, Egypt seeks to maintain its traditional alignment with Riyadh and Washington, receiving money from the former and arms from the latter. On the other hand, Cairo is increasingly refusing to follow Saudi Arabia’s regional line and cozying up to Russia, potentially opening its bases to the United States’s principal geostrategic competitor in the region. If Egypt continues to pursue this two-track policy, Riyadh or Washington may at some point present Egypt with a sharper choice. Until they do, Egypt is certain to test their limits. 

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

¿Qué pasará si los robots se vuelven locos?

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 06:03 AM PST

El corresponsal extranjero y columnista de The Miami Herald y El Nuevo Herald

Al comenzar el año 2018, hay muchas advertencias sobre los peligros que enfrenta el mundo, desde una guerra con Corea del Norte hasta una explosión de violencia en Medio Oriente. Pero yo tengo un temor mucho más simple: que los robots y algoritmos que estamos incorporando a diario en nuestras vidas de repente se vuelvan locos.

Ustedes pensarán que he estado mirando demasiadas películas de ciencia ficción durante las vacaciones, pero no fue eso. Fue una experiencia personal que tuve con Alexa, la asistente virtual de Amazon Echo que mi hijo me regaló como regalo de cumpleaños hace más de un año, y que ha estado en mi sala de estar desde entonces.

Para aquellos que no la conocen, Alexa es una asistente virtual como Siri de Google, que vive dentro de un pequeño parlante con forma de cilindro, con una luz en la parte superior. El parlante se enciende cuando escucha la palabra “Alexa”, y uno puede preguntarle lo que quiera.

Uno también puede pedirle a Alexa que toque una canción, nos dé el pronóstico del tiempo o nos pase las últimas noticias. También podemos pedirle a Alexa que nos ordene una pizza, o que compre un libro en el sitio de internet de Amazon. Alexa ya está en más de 20 millones de hogares estadounidenses, según la compañía.

En casa, hemos usado a Alexa principalmente para obtener el pronóstico del tiempo y recibir las últimas noticias de la National Public Radio (NPR). Más que nada, ha sido un buen tema de conversación, especialmente cuando tenemos visitas de otras partes del mundo donde Alexa aún no está disponible.

Pero, aunque mi experiencia con Alexa en general ha sido positiva, tuve un incidente un tanto inquietante con ella hace unos meses que me hace preguntarme qué pasará a medida que permitimos cada vez más que nuestra vida cotidiana sea asistida -si no dirigida- por asistentes virtuales en nuestras casas, navegadores GPS en nuestros carros, robots de diagnóstico médico en los hospitales y otras máquinas inteligentes en todos lados.

Estaba trabajando en la oficina de mi casa, y de repente escuché una voz masculina en la sala de estar. Al principio, ni se me cruzó por la mente que podría ser Alexa. Estaba solo, mi esposa estaba de viaje, y no tenemos mascotas. No había nadie en casa que pudiera haber despertado a “Alexa” llamándola por su nombre.

Asustado, y frustrado por no encontrar ningún objeto sólido a mano con que pudiera enfrentar a un posible ladrón, caminé lentamente hacia la sala de estar, con mi corazón latiendo a todo dar. Una vez allí, descubrí que no había nadie. Solo estaba Alexa, que se había encendido sola y estaba transmitiendo las últimas noticias de la radio pública.

Pregunté al departamento de atención a clientes de Amazon, y un representante muy amable me dijo que era un incidente inusual, que podría haber sido causado por una “falla técnica”.

Anteriormente, un miembro del departamento de prensa de Amazon me había dicho que el programa de radio de NPR podría haber estado en modalidad de “pausa”, y que Alexa podría haber “pensado” que escuchó la palabra “reanudar”. Otra posibilidad era que alguna radio o televisor prendido en la casa hubiera pronunciado la palabra “Alexa” seguida de “NPR”, y el aparato se hubiera disparado.

Ninguna de esas posibles explicaciones me satisfizo, porque Alexa había estado apagada durante días, si no semanas. Además, no había ninguna radio o televisor encendido. Todavía estoy en contacto por e-mail con el departamento de atención al cliente de Alexa, que ha iniciado una investigación sobre el caso.

Intrigado por mi incidente con Alexa, volví a leer durante las vacaciones el libro “Homo Deus”, del historiador israelí Yuval Noah Harari, sobre el futuro de la humanidad en un mundo cada vez más manejado por robots. En él, Harari escribe que “cuando Google, Facebook y otros algoritmos se conviertan en oráculos omniscientes, bien podrían evolucionar para convertirse en representantes, y finalmente en soberanos”.

Tal vez sea así. Pero antes de que las máquinas inteligentes se vuelvan tan astutas que puedan gobernar el mundo, deberíamos preocuparnos por una amenaza mucho más elemental: que simplemente se vuelvan locas.

Julia Roberts spooked during movie shoot

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 06:00 AM PST

Julia Roberts has been haunted by a ghost on the set of her latest movie.

The 50-year-old actress is currently shooting new drama movie ‘Ben Is Back’ and she was required to film one scene in a New York cemetery for the story.

Whilst bringing her alter ego Holly Burns – the mother of the titular Ben – to life, Julia was reportedly “pushed” by a supernatural entity.

A source told the new issue of America’s Star magazine: “As Julia regrouped for another take near the tombstones, she suddenly felt someone or something shove her. She quickly turned, but there wasn’t a soul around! Julia hopes it was just a crew prankster having a laugh.”

Little is known about Julia’s new film other than the plot focuses on the title’s character Ben Burns who is in serious trouble and makes the decision to return to his family home on Christmas Eve.

Roberts will star alongside Lucas Hedges, who will play Ben, Kathryn Newton as Ben’s sister Ivy Burns, Alexandra Park as Cara K and

Courtney B. Vance as Mr. Burns – who is Holly’s husband and Ben and Ivy’s stepfather.

British Indie Horror Movie ‘Aura’ Wraps (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 05:41 AM PST

U.S.-set, U.K.-produced horror movie “Aura” has wrapped. The film revolves around the concept of photographing your own aura, known as Kirlian photography, and stars Shane Taylor (“Band of Brothers”), newcomer Janine Nerissa, and veteran British actor Rula Lenska.

Steve Lawson (“Survival Instinct”) wrote and directed the picture, which was produced by Hereford Films, the U.K. indie behind the “We Still Kill the Old Way” gangster movie franchise.

Hereford has moved into horror and hopes to emulate the success of Jason Blum’s production house, which has made a string of cost-effective genre pictures including “Insidious,” “The Purge” and the Hammer Horror movies of the 1950s-1970s.

“In the wake of the huge success achieved by Blumhouse Productions in the U.S., we have been busy establishing a horror division at Hereford to produce quality, commercial genre films for the international market,” said Richard Watts-Joyce, Hereford’s CFO. “The relatively low budgets make these films attractive for investors who can see returns on this type of films quickly.”

Lawson is set to direct another of Hereford’s genre pictures, “Pentagram,” which is inspired by “The Devil Rides Out” and, like “Aura,” will be set in the U.S.

It is part of the slate of genre movies that also includes sleep-paralysis feature “Tormented” and an adaptation of Shaun Hutson’s latest novel, “Chase,” which will also shoot this year. Hutson and Hereford struck a deal last year spanning several projects, and the author has adapted “The Chase” for the big screen himself.

Hereford is not abandoning its “We Still Kill the old Way” pictures, with a third installment in the series, “We Still Die the Old Way,” set to start shooting this spring, with Zackary Adler attached to direct.

Also in the gangster realm, the producer is about to start shooting “The Krays: Dead Man Walking,” a new take on the story of the infamous London crime-lord brothers.

Madonna to build four schools in Malawi in 2018

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 05:00 AM PST

Madonna has announced plans to build four new schools in Malawi in 2018.

The 59-year-old singer has taken to Instagram to reveal her plans to bring eduction to thousands more Malawian children as her charity Raising Malawi will be teaming up with buildOn to build four more schools in the area, bringing their total to 14.

Madonna also called on her followers to “be the change [they] want to see in the world” as she posted an adorable snap of herself with a group of Malawian children on the site on Thursday (01.04.18).

She wrote: “Let’s start 2018 off right! ! I’m challenging you all to stand up, come together and BE the CHANGE you want to SEE in the World! ! This year we’ll begin by building 4 brand new schools in the Kasungu District of #Malawi . with @RaisingMalawi and @buildOn!! That’s 14 schools in total that will help thousands of kids get the education they so rightfully deserve! Now is the time! Join the#revolutionoflove! #RaisingMalawi #knowlege #power #educationchildren #life #love (sic)”

The ‘Like A Prayer’ singer adopted her children David, 12, Mercy, 11, and five-year-old twins Stelle and Estere from the African country, which she has been visiting since 2006 when she first set up her charity, which aims to help with the health and education system in the area.

Previously, Madonna – who also has 21-year-old daughter Lourdes, and 17-year-old son Rocco – dubbed herself as “crazy” for tackling the task of building a hospital in Malawi through her charity.

Speaking about her thoughts on her charity work, she said: “I’m a crazy person. What am I doing this for? So here we are. It happened. It’s built, and it’s up and running. And children’s lives are being saved as a result. And I feel like, you know, sometimes you can’t think too far in advance.”

Natasha Bedingfield shares photo of son

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 05:00 AM PST

Natasha Bedingfield has shared the first photo of her son.

The ‘Unwritten’ singer gave birth to her first child with her husband Matthew Robinson at the end of last month, and after announcing the birth of her son on Instagram on Sunday (12.31.17), she has now posted the first picture of her newborn tot.

Natasha, 36, is yet to reveal the name of her son to the public, but she has admitted she is “blessed” to be a mother, and is “thrilled” to start her journey alongside her newborn baby.

She wrote on Instagram on Thursday (01.04.18): “I wonder what the world looks like the very first time you go out into it? We are thrilled to welcome our son into our arms this week and take him home. To witness the many firsts . What a pure soul he is . I feel so blessed . (sic)”

It comes just days after the ‘I Wanna Have Your Babies’ hitmaker confirmed she had given birth when she took to social media to share a picture of herself from her hospital bed clutching a Starbucks coffee cup with the word “Mum” written on it.

She captioned the photo: “Omg! Guess what just happened at the very end of this year! The happiest new Year ever! (sic)”

Natasha first revealed she was expecting a baby in October, when she gave an interview stating she and her spouse – whom she married in 2009 – were “so exited” to begin their journey into parenthood.

She said at the time: “Becoming a mum is ­something I’ve always dreamed of but for a long time I felt it was way off in the distance. Now the bump is starting to really show, it’s sinking in that this is really happening. I’m so excited to embrace this huge life-change. And Matt is super supportive.”

Getting High-Tech with Globo: Latin America’s Largest Broadcaster Talks up its Most Technically Ambitious Telenovela to Date (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 04:59 AM PST

Brazil remains one of the Latin American countries where telenovelas dominate daily TV schedules the most, and Globo, the country’s largest media firm and broadcaster, is working hard to keep the classic format vital by making sure its new programming has a look and feel that modern audiences expect in high-end TV.

To that end, the broadcasters says its newest telenovela, “Deus Salve o Rei” (God Save the King), will have as much as eight times more special effects than anything they have done before. The first episode alone has 288 individual visual effects, and they promise to keep that scale and caliber at the highest level throughout the series.

A change like this doesn’t happen overnight, and to that end “Deus Salve o Rei,” had an unprecedented nine-month pre-production period. Every prop, set and costume was made from scratch. The team responsible for the show’s sets traveled to eight different countries and recorded nearly 4,000 images and videos they can insert behind the locally fabricated sets, without ever having to leave their warehouses.

The medieval-themed, fantasy series focuses on the border between two nations, which have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial trade relationship. As families age, and ambitions change, conflict arises and long-standing traditions are broken. The series is intended for the whole family, and the creators say they are working hard to employ elements of adventure, comedy, suspense and romance to keep a varied audience tuning in.

Leading the charge towards change are director of entertainment technology at Globo, Paulo Rabello, and the artistic director for the series Fabrício Mamberti. Variety spoke with the two about their ambitious new project.

Where did the technicians working on the special effects for the show come from?

Rabello : Specialized professionals are developed and trained internally. We also brought back two former Globo technicians that were working in New Zealand to help us. For more general demands, we brought in professionals from the Brazilian advertising market and film industry. I would also like to point out that there are many professionals who were trained at Globo that are now working abroad.

It is said that there will be up to eight times more special effects in this telenovela than in any other Globo production. Does that refer to quality or quantity of effects?

Rabello: We have a set of solutions in which we combine these two items. More quantity and quality. We had to adjust our internal processes focusing on optimization and increased speed. We also make use of state-of-the-art technological resources, such as smart cranes, motion capture, particle simulations and machine learning.

What is the impact of using a high cost technology in a telenovela with so many episodes?

Rabello: We prepared ourselves by implementing technological tools that enable us to optimize time and, therefore, costs. To meet such high demands we created a digital library with the basic special effects concepts, which can be altered and specifically tailored according to the needs of the scenes. We also developed a digital book with the main framings of the shots and lenses variations, in this way speeding up the montage process.

‘Deus Salve o Rei’ is set in a fictional place and time, so where did the show’s look come from?

Mamberti : We based it on the end of the Middle Ages. This was the starting point to all of the departments involved, because we needed a real base for us to build our own identity and have artistic freedom, without losing sight of the fact that we are creating a work of fiction with contemporary characters. This is important for the audience to identify with the characters.

Had you previously worked in any production like this? How much more time do you spend away from the sets focusing on special effects compared with shooting a more traditional production?

Mamberti: I have been working with visual effects for 20 years, but this is the first time on a production of this scale. Great planning was needed. The pre-production phase lasted almost nine months, which started with the creation of concepts. We produced over 400 creative concepts in order to ensure that all the teams had the same perspective of our visual identity.

This telenovela represents a move forward for Globo as its first medieval telenovela, and you are at the head of it. Can you talk about making that move?

Mamberti: It is one step forward in the sense of it being our first medieval telenovela but also in view of all the technology involved. Before this series, we didn’t have any props or references or anything. Everything was thoroughly researched and then had to be created and produced. It is a huge challenge, which we find highly stimulating. There is also the additional challenge of working with a huge amount of special effects on a daily basis. And we must keep up with this level of quality and grandiosity from the first episode to the last. In the case of ‘Deus Salve o Rei’ I believe that we are really creating a paradigm shift.

Gaming Site IGN Fires Editor-in-Chief Over Misconduct Allegations

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 04:59 AM PST

IGN Entertainment, a digital-media company covering video-game entertainment, has fired editor-in-chief Steve Butts over allegations of misconduct.

“IGN initiated an investigation into alleged misconduct involving Steve Butts. As a result of the investigation, the company has appropriately determined to part ways with Mr. Butts,” Mitch Galbraith, IGN Entertainment‘s executive VP and GM, said in a statement. The news was first reported by Kotaku.

An email to Butts seeking comment produced an out-of-office autoreply directing editorial inquiries to other staff members. Butts had first joined IGN in 2012 as managing editor before being named EIC six months later, according to his LinkedIn profile.

With Butts’ departure, IGN co-founder and chief content officer Peer Schneider will assume the EIC role on an interim basis.

The company’s investigation into Butts’ behavior came after an unidentified staffer accused him of harassment during an internal IGN meeting about workplace misconduct, according to the Kotaku report. Those meetings were organized after Kallie Plagge, an ex-IGN employee now at GameSpot, in November posted a #MeToo account on Twitter that described former IGN editor Vince Ingenito sexually harassing her and another woman over a period of several months. Plagge alleged IGN’s HR department and senior managers told her she engaged in “inappropriate flirtation” in the situation and forced her to sign a document stating that she had “behaved inappropriately.”

San Francisco-based IGN was established in 1996 and acquired in 2013 by Ziff Davis, which is a subsidiary of j2 Global. As of June 2017, IGN claimed to reach more than 148 million unique monthly users.

Last month, Ziff Davis completed its acquisition of Mashable at a deep discount off its previous valuation; Mashable laid off around 30% of its staff with the deal.

International Newswire: BBC-AMC Crime Drama ‘McMafia’ Recruits Advocates in Britain

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 04:37 AM PST

In today’s International Newswire, ‘McMafia‘ woos British pundits, pay-TV lifts off in Spain, the U.K. music biz enjoys a revival, and Paris market Rendez-Vous readies for its bow.

McMafia,” BBC and AMC’s drama about organized crime, has bowed in Britain to applause from the critics, with comparisons being made to the Emmy-winning “The Night Manager,” and a few suggestions that the show’s star, James Norton, would make a fine James Bond.

Assessing the merits of the opening episode, which attracted more than 5.7 million viewers, the Guardian said the show is “beautifully put together, the script is a cut above average, and there is a sense of much more power and energy waiting to be unleashed.”

The Radio Times, which – despite its title – is the U.K.’s leading TV listings magazine, said that the description of “the ins and outs of international finance” can at times be “a little dry and dense,” but “it’s usually not too long before an act of brutal violence or a sunny international visit pops up to kick the story back into gear.”

The Telegraph said: “There’s enough grit in [Norton’s] acting, and intrigue in the plot, to guarantee my place on the sofa” for the subsequent episodes.

The U.K.’s best-selling tabloid The Sun said the show was “an eight-episode rehearsal for star James Norton to step into Daniel Craig’s 007 shoes.”

Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, was far less keen on the show, initially. “Watching McMafia. Pretty appalling that all the villains so far are explicitly Jewish,” he tweeted, although he admitted he’d only watched 30 minutes of the show. He was later persuaded to watch the rest of the episode. “Glad I did – it’s promising…,” he tweeted.

PAY TV LIFTS IN SPAIN, FINALLY
Total 2017 TV figures for Spain are in. For the sixth-year running, Mediaset España’s Telecinco topped out the year as Spain’s most-watched free-to-air channel, with a 13.1% share.

Mediaset España and Atresmedia maintain their dual dominance of Spain’s TV ad market, their bouquets of channels taking a combined 85% slice of total investment.

But the big news cuts two ways, according to a Barlovento Comunicación study, released Tuesday. Kicking in from 2014, Spain’s TV ad market recovery is slowing, at least for the first nine months of the year, with investment over January-September 2017 coming in at €1.528 million ($1.711 billion), just 0.9% up on Spain’s €1.515 billion ($1.697 billion) for the same period, 2016. Second, once a laggard in Europe, Spain’s pay-TV market is finally lifting off, accounting for 22.3% of total viewership in 2017, vs. 20.4% a year earlier. Reason? The hike in fiber optic connections, used in 6.3 million of Spain’s 18.3 million TV homes by October. And the proliferation of new OTT offerings and initiatives, spearheaded by market leader Movistar +’s launch of its first original series, and the launch of Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime Video in Spain, which now rates as a primarily internet TV country. Spain has 6.1 million pay-TV homes, 3.483 million of them IP TV households, according to the latest figures from Spain’s National Market and Competition Commission, its market and antitrust regulator.

BRITISH MUSIC BIZ SEES 9.5% ALBUM SALES RISE
The British music biz is enjoying a continuing revival with sales across all formats rising steeply.

A total of 135.1 million albums or their equivalent were either streamed, purchased on physical format, or downloaded over the past year, according to record labels’ association the BPI. This represented a 9.5% rise on 2016, and marks a third year of consecutive growth and the biggest rise so far this century.

U.K. acts accounted for eight of the top 10 best-selling artist albums last year, with Ed Sheeran leading the way with “Divide.”

The growth was driven by a 68.1 billion streams, which represented a 51.5% rise on 2016, and a 1,740% increase since 2012. Streaming accounts for more than half (50.4%) of all British music consumption.

The vinyl revival continues, with 4.1 million LPs purchased in 2017 – an annual rise of 26.8%, and up by 1,892% since their low point of just 205,000 copies sold in 2007. Vinyl LP sales are now at their highest level since the start of the 90s, with close to 40,000 albums released on vinyl in 2017. Almost one in 10 of all physical purchases are now on vinyl format.

Vinyl occupies a growing niche that accounts for 3% of the music consumed, while CDs repped 30.8%.

UNIFRANCE RENDEZ-VOUS: A GOING CONCERN at 20
As the industry increasingly questions the future of film markets, its first in 2018, the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, will celebrate its 20th edition in Paris with little sense of self-doubt. That comes with the territory. For all its soul searching, even not counting Luc Besson, France remains one of the few countries in Europe capable of producing, financing or selling independent movies which clock up more than $100 million at the worldwide box office. Gaumont’s “Leap!” is a case in point.

Paris is also a capital of exportable comedy. The Rendez-Vous’ lineup still has to be announced but judged from the comedies bowing in early 2018 in France, the 20th edition may be a particularly strong one. It is also, very obviously, the world’s biggest art-film hub. Juliette Binoche, star of Claire Denis’ “Let the Sun Shine In,” which has sold to 42 countries, will pick up this year’s UniFrance French Cinema Award.

Running Jan. 18-22, the Rendez-Vous kicks off with Jean Becker’s just post-WWI drama of conscience, “The Red Collar,” the kind of bigger plusher period piece that France also often does very well.

Timothee Chalamet, Daniel Kaluuya in the Running for BAFTA’s Rising Star Award

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 04:07 AM PST

“Get Out” star Daniel Kaluuya and “Call Me By Your Name” lead Timothee Chalamet are among the nominees for this year’s BAFTA Rising Star award.

The pair, who recently talked about their work in Variety’sActors on Actors” series, are among five nominees alongside Josh O’Connor, Florence Pugh and Tessa Thompson.

O’Connor starred in BIFA best film award winner “God’s Own Country” and won a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit accolade last year. Pugh stars as Katherine in “Lady Macbeth,” another film that registered strongly at the BIFAs.

Thompson appears as the female lead, Valkyrie, in “Thor Ragnarok,” having previously starred in “Dear White People,” and “Selma.”

Kaluuya has already received Golden Globe, SAG, and Gotham Award best actor noms for his role in the Jordan Peele genre picture “Get Out.” This year he will star in Marvel picture “Black Panther,” and Steve McQueen thriller “Widows.”

“I’m honoured and grateful to BAFTA and the Jury for the nomination and can’t wait to celebrate it in my home city,” Kaluuya said.

Chalamet said of his nomination: “‘Call Me By Your Name’ came out in the U.K. prior to the states, and British audiences embraced the film in a uniquely strong and passionate way. I feel an enduring sense of gratitude seeing this response echoed around the world, and for being included in this category.”

The award is voted for by the public and will be announced at the EE British Academy Film Awards on Sunday 18 Feb.