Day: September 10, 2023

Meta Platforms reportedly building open-source generative AI system to rival OpenAI’s ChatGPT
Facebook and Instagram parent Meta Platforms Inc. is looking to rival OpenAI LP in the generative artificial intelligence landscape with an alternative, but open-source model that’s likely to be as powerful as GPT-4. Meta’s new model will be “several times more powerful” than the Llama 2 generative AI model that was released earlier this year,

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‘Flipside’ review: Judd Apatow, Starlee Kine, and David Milch talk art and failure

A documentary that risks being awful turns out brilliantly. Review. A still from

For film festival veterans, there are several red flags in the plot description for Flipside

First off, it’s a documentary in which its director turns the camera on himself, a move that can lead to a rivetingly vulnerable exploration of self, but which more often results in ruthlessly self-indulgent navel-gazing. Second, documentarian Christopher Wilcha is looking back at his past from the precipice of a mid-life crisis, a starting point ripe for wallowing. Third, his pal and collaborator in this effort is Judd Apatow, a contemporary comedy titan who is also known for beleaguering runtimes and sentimental excesses. And yet, for all the potential pitfalls that could pitch this picture into an abyss of groaning solipsism, Flipside deftly leaps over each one, landing on something funny, thought-provoking, and sublime.  

Remarkably, Wilcha begins with a tone that might set more jaded viewers on edge, a real risk considering his key demographic will likely be fellow angst-ridden Gen X-ers. But he thoughtfully broadens focus, connecting his story of artistic ambition, capitalist compromise, and fear of mortality to other artists and creatives — including an eccentric TV personality and the TV legend David Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue). Together, they form a patchwork that invites the audience to reflect on their own lives, as well as the comfort that we’re not alone.

Watch out, though. If you’re not second-guessing your choices already, you might be once Flipside is through with you. 

What’s Flipside about? 

Named for the New Jersey record store that Wilcha worked at as a teen, Flipside is several stories all at once. The first is about Wilcha, who was a filmmaker on the rise 20 years ago, thanks to his challenging documentary The Target Shoots First. There, he’d made a mockery of his survival job at Columbia House to criticize the stodgy capitalism of his parents’ generation. This was a time when being a “sellout” was a cultural crime, though rent comes dues whatever your principles.

Over the years, Wilcha made more documentaries, teaming with Ira Glass for This American Life‘s TV show (which won him a Primetime Emmy in 2008) and shooting a behind-the-scenes special for Apatow’s flop Funny People. However, his side hustle began to pay off, pushing off his passion projects to be forgotten on a shelf of dust-covered hard drives. And before he knew it, he was no longer the “damn the man” documentarian, he was a commercial director who feared he’d become what he once most loathed — reality bites, indeed.

Within Flipside, Wilcha confronts his failures in not finishing these films by bringing their footage into this one. At first, their inclusion seems almost masochistic, as he reveals lovely interviews and patient, evocative footage, all of it urging us to imagine what might have been. Then, it seems these forgotten projects will be the fuel to finish the one about the titular record store, its owner an aging connoisseur whose hoarder aesthetic and jerky-smelling shop doesn’t connect to the modern vinyl collector. But as Wilcha weaves from one story to another, mirroring his previous project-hopping, he ties seemingly disparate stories together into a common cause

Flipside is a story of failure and forgiveness. 

One such project was a documentary about a storied jazz photographer. Another intended to follow radio producer/podcast luminary Starlee Kine as she confronted writer’s block while drafting a book. Shot over decades, these untold hours of footage have fresh meaning, even if the photog has passed and Kine’s book was never published. They all speak to the challenges of an artistic vocation. What drives you? What scares you? What stops you from pursuing the dream project you so badly wanted? 

While this might sound like an topic rich in self-loathing, Wilcha is romantic in his regard for every element of the messiness that is creation. He connects to these artists’ struggles; using close-up shots as his interviewees spill their secrets reflect how close he got to them and how close he still feels to them. We’re invited in to metaphorically share the same air, fraught with panic and possibility. Like his subjects, his plotting zigs back and forth, reflecting on a past now nostalgic and sweet, musing on a present that feels impossible to hang onto, and fretting over a future we cannot truly predict. And within all this, Wilcha finds humor and humanity — which might be no surprise to fans of This American Life. 

Perhaps the funniest moment is when Judd Apatow takes a FaceTime call from Wilcha’s mother, who unleashes on him for being the reason her son moved her grandchildren across the country to Los Angeles. It’s an alarmingly intimate moment, and Mrs. Wilcha doesn’t hold back, not for the sake of civility or her son’s camera. Apatow takes the blows like a prize fighter, but there’s a genuine sadness from each as they realize what powerful consequences can come from deceptively simple decisions. 

Here is the heart of Flipside. Wilcha examines not only his own life and foibles but also those who’ve entrusted him with their stories. In these tapes, he has found moments of loss, grace, bitterness, and tenderness. He doesn’t center the story on himself, but he does expose his own subjectivity. Interviews are not shot in stark rooms with staunch wide shots. These people curl up on their couches, crash onto battered office chairs, or lean on a box of raggedy record sleeves. There’s no feigned distance between him and his subjects, because they are connected. And through Wilcha’s gently persistent narration, we are guided through every interaction. His tone is more familiar than that of a tour guide, though, and we’re not just the audience but also fellow passengers on this voyage. 

Flipside is about more than one person or one record shop. It’s about the quest to find purpose in art and vocation. But more than that, this finished film is about forgiving yourself for things not working out as you planned and making peace with the present by creating something new with the pieces of past failings. It’s beautiful and inspiring, and it might just spur you into some mind-fucking self-reflection. Good luck.

Flipside was reviewed out of its World Premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. 

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Apple Stores prep for iPhone 15 and USB-C, bigger focus on in-store setup, more

Ahead of Tuesday’s iPhone 15 event, Apple’s retail system is in full swing, preparing for what’s to come. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman is out with a few last-minute details, including an interesting tidbit that Apple will “push in-store setup further” this year than in prior years for iPhone buyers.


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Rumor: Apple to discontinue silicone accessories, including iPhone cases and Apple Watch bands

We are less than 48 hours away from Apple’s “Wonderlust” event, where it will announce the all-new iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro. A new last-minute rumor today suggests that in addition to retiring its lineup of leather cases this year, Apple might also start gradually discontinuing its silicone accessories.


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‘All the Light We Cannot See’ review: A sweet, if heavy-handed, adaptation of a beloved novel

Based on Anthony Doerr’s novel, “All the Light We Cannot See” is a Netflix series about two young people in World War II. It releases November 2. A young woman in a blue dress holding a radio microphone.

August, 1944. American aircraft bomb the Nazi-occupied French city of Saint-Malo. In a townhouse, a blind girl reads Jules Verne over a radio broadcast, waiting for her great-uncle and father to come home. Not far from her, in an upscale hotel-turned-fortress, a German soldier listens to her words. Their lives are inextricably connected and are about to become even more so, but as the bombs rain down, they are unaware of the forces that tie them together.

So begins Netflix’s All the Light We Cannot See, opening in near-identical fashion to Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on which it is based. Spanning years and much of the European continent, Doerr’s novel is a densely layered war epic. Cursed gems, radio technology, and secret codes all play a part within its many, many pages.

Given the novel’s heft and immense popularity, adapting it for the screen presents a tricky challenge — one that director Shawn Levy (Stranger Things, Free Guy) and screenwriter Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Serenity) mostly rise to meet. The four-part limited series is unable to replicate Doerr’s lyrical prose, resulting instead in some fairly heavy-handed dialogue. However, it more than makes up for that shortcoming with its genuine earnestness and high-quality production, which results in an adaptation that is cinematic and sweet in equal measure.

All the Light We Cannot See is part war story, part coming-of-age tale.

A man in a dark coat and hat kneels before a young girl in a red coat holding a mobility cane.
Nell Sutton and Mark Ruffalo in “All the Light We Cannot See.” Credit: Netflix

While All the Light We Cannot See opens with a boy and a girl weathering the bombing of Saint-Malo, there are several years’ worth of story leading us to that point. The series winds back the clock to explore each character’s childhood, using the events in Saint-Malo as a framing device. Notably, the series spends far more time in Saint-Malo than in the past: one of the many changes Knight’s adaptation makes from original book. However, the chronological back-and-forth recalls the structure of Doerr’s novel, all while creating a sense of inevitability: Everything in the boy’s and girl’s lives has been leading to these fateful few days in Saint-Malo.

The girl is Marie-Laure LeBlanc (Aria Mia Loberti). Before Saint-Malo, she lives in Paris with her father Daniel (Mark Ruffalo), the master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. He makes her a scale model of their neighborhood to help her learn its roads by touch, and he tells her about the many wonders of the Museum. One such wonder is the famed jewel known as the Sea of Flames. Legend has it that whoever possesses it will live forever, but that their loved ones will suffer great misfortune. (The greatest misfortune that Marie’s portion of All the Light We Cannot See suffers are the British accents put on by all these supposedly French characters. A common trait in period movies, I know, but an aggravating one nonetheless.)

Luckily, what these scenes lack in accent realism (charming as he is, Ruffalo’s is extra shaky), they make up for in whimsy, whether that’s Daniel teaching a young Marie (Nell Sutton) how to use the Paris model or Marie listening to illuminating radio broadcasts from a figure known simply as “the professor.” Even when the Nazis’ invasion of Paris forces Marie and Daniel to flee to Saint-Malo to live with Daniel’s Uncle Etienne (Hugh Laurie), Marie seeks out the professor’s broadcast wherever she can.

The boy listens to the professor, too. He is Werner Pfennig (Louis Hofmann), a German orphan who’s a whiz at building and fixing radios. His genius catches the eye of an elite Nazi academy, where Werner faces unspeakable cruelty. The only things that keep him believing in the good of humanity, even as he’s sent on missions to eliminate illegal radio transmissions, are the professor’s words of guidance and kindness. Nations apart, both Werner and Marie look to those words as lifelines to hang on to as the world grows dark around them.

Marie and Werner’s discussions of light and darkness can tend towards being too on-the-nose, especially when you’ve heard variations of them over and over again. However, both Loberti and Hofmann wear their hearts on their sleeves, each performer creating a portrait of hopeful, clear-eyed youth. It helps that both actors are relative unknowns to U.S. audiences. Hofmann is most recognizable for his work in the German series Dark, while Loberti is a complete newcomer. Their takes on Marie and Werner shine throughout the series, and while they rarely share the screen, All the Light We Cannot See makes sure to draw parallels between their resourcefulness, kindness, and perseverance.

All the Light We Cannot See is a feast for the senses.

A young man in a soldier's uniform runs along a wall as an explosion occurs nearby.
Louis Hofmann in “All the Light We Cannot See.” Credit: Netflix

In addition to the strength of its two leads, All the Light We Cannot See benefits from a beautifully realized world. While much of the series was shot in Budapest and Villefranche-de-Rouergue, exterior shots of the real Saint-Malo help ground us in the city, from its narrow streets to its massive wall extending along the sea.

All the Light We Cannot See also relishes in the tactile — a choice that drops us right into Marie’s point of view, as touch is one of the primary ways in which she navigates the world. We watch young Marie examine the nooks and crannies of the wooden Paris model with her hands, and later reach for familiar touchstones in Etienne’s house, like bannisters or tables and chairs. Thanks to this focus on texture, we become extra receptive to everything from bomb shrapnel to the rubble strewn across Saint-Malo.

Equally captivating is the show’s use of that all-important titular light. Whether it’s the sun’s golden rays diffusing through a room or a campfire keeping the darkness at bay, light is everywhere in All the Light We Cannot See. The show’s nighttime scenes in particular make for a much-needed antidote to the majority of overly dim night scenes in film and TV today. Here, crisp shadows and blue hues win out over shapeless darkness. (Fitting, given the show’s many speeches about how light always overcomes the dark.) A sequence in which sinister Nazi gemologist von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger) hunts Marie through a darkened grotto is especially representative of this feat. It establishes the presence of light through the reflection of the moon on the water and the explosion of bombs outside — a juxtaposition of natural beauty and wartime horror in full effect.

That same dichotomy between beauty and the horrors of war runs throughout All the Light We Cannot See. The Sea of Flames is a stunning gem, shining as if lit from within, yet its supposed curse — and von Rumpel’s dogged obsession — make it more of a danger than something to be treasured. James Newton Howard’s soaring score contrasts with the whistles and explosions of bombs and artillery. But the most prominent source of duality in All the Light We Cannot See is none other than the radio. Nazi officers and French resistance members alike refer to the radio as a tool of war, but for Marie and Werner, it’s a means to connect with others, and to feel less alone during a time of great strife. The latter is the path All the Light We Cannot See emphasizes again and again, rejecting any cynicism in favor of bringing an optimistic message to beautiful, blinding light.

All the Light We Cannot See was reviewed out of its world premiere at 2023’s Toronto International Film Festival. It hits Netflix Nov. 2.

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