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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The scrappy pre-Code years of William A. Wellman — FilmStruck's director of the week

Posted By on 08.14.18 at 06:00 AM

William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
  • William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
Even though William A. Wellman directed more than 80 films between 1920 and 1958—including the first Oscar-winner, Wings—he's still best known for the iconic 1931 James Cagney gangster film The Public Enemy. Streaming channel FilmStruck features Wellman as their "director of the week" and we've picked five of his 1930s pre-Code films, when he was at his best.

The Public Enemy
Time hasn't been terribly kind to this 1931 gangster drama, which suffers more than it should from the glitches of early sound. But James Cagney's portrayal of a bootlegging runt is truly electrifying (he'd already made three films, but this one made him a star), and Jean Harlow makes the tartiest tart imaginable. The famous grapefruit-in-the-kisser scene (the recipient is Mae Clarke) is only one of the fiercely misogynistic moments that stud the career of director William Wellman. With Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, and Donald Cook. 84 min. —Dave Kehr

Night Nurse
A William Wellman curiosity done for Warners in 1931, this gritty thriller, a favorite of film critic Manny Farber, is of principal interest today for its juicy early performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Clark Gable. Hard as nails, with lots of spunk. 72 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Safe in Hell
William Wellman directed this racy precode tale of a saucy prostitute (Dorothy Mackaill in a terrific performance) who unintentionally kills one of her clients and flees to a tropical island that serves as a haven for criminals. Awaiting the arrival of her true love (Donald Cook), she fends off lecherous advances from a motley assortment of international rogues, including the island's nefarious chief of law enforcement. Wellman's splendid direction animates an otherwise static script, deftly blending comedic moments with surprisingly dark undertones. This 1931 drama may lack the punch of Wellman's The Public Enemy, released the same year, but it's still a fine display of his talents. 73 min. —Reece Pendleton

Heroes for Sale
This scrappy, cynical pre-Code drama (1933) comes from the most fruitful period of William A. Wellman's career, when the director was turning out a half-dozen programmers like this on a yearly basis. Richard Barthelmess stars as a soldier who gets snubbed for decoration in World War I after a buddy takes credit for the act of heroism he performed in battle. The protagonist develops a morphine addiction while recovering from his wounds but pulls himself back up, only to descend and ascend the social ladder several more times. Wellman crams an astonishing amount of narrative incident into the short running time, with more developments every ten minutes than most contemporary Hollywood productions cover in their entirety. This is also bracingly egalitarian, attacking the hypocrisy of communists and capitalists alike. 71 min. —Ben Sachs

Wild Boys of the Road
The underrated William A. Wellman made many neglected classics during the Depression, and this 1933 feature is one of the very best—a Warners social drama with Frankie Darro as a boy who leaves his parents to save them the burden of his support and joins up with a gang of similarly disenfranchised kids who wind up riding the rails. Pungent stuff. 68 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Jean-Pierre Melville's brooding cinema surveyed on FilmStruck

Posted By on 07.31.18 at 06:00 AM

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai
  • Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai
French director Jean-Pierre Melville is featured this week on the streaming channel FilmStruck. Beginning in the 1940s, he created a body of work that furthers the brooding quality of American film noir, and his films influenced everyone from the French New Wave directors to Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino. Check out these five key Melville features:

The Silence of the Sea
Melville made this film, his first, in 1948 on a minuscule budget and without securing the rights to the famous resistance novel (by Vercors) it was based on. It's an allegory of French-German relations during the occupation, played out largely in a single sitting room where a German officer (Howard Vernon) bares his soul in endless monologues for his silent, unwilling French "hosts" (Nicole Stephane and Jean-Marie Robain). The minimalism of the material anticipates Bresson, while the theatrical dash of the staging suggests the strong influence of Orson Welles. Though too often abstract and rhetorical, the film is sustained by mood and visual resourcefulness; it's a strong debut for Melville, who went on to become one of the great eccentrics of the French cinema (Bob le Flambeur, Le Samourai). In French with subtitles. 88 min. —Dave Kehr

Bob le Flambeur
This light, breezy 1955 heist film is probably the least characteristic movie Melville ever made. It replaces his sternly fatalistic philosophizing with a benign, genuinely comic spirit, and his rigidly classical style yields to a pleasant informality. Yet the characters—professional gamblers, craftsmanly safecrackers—and their code are recognizably Melvillian, and the portrait of Pigalle after dark is superbly evocative and romantic. The plot—a gambler on a streak of bad luck plans the robbery of the Deauville casino—is largely lifted from The Asphalt Jungle, though the suspense has been wittily inverted: we're made to hope that the robbery doesn't come off. In French with subtitles. 100 min. —Dave Kehr

Two Men in Manhattan
Melville brings his particular brand of moral rot to New York City for this hard-boiled mystery (1959), which feels like a Hollywood release but trades in such taboo elements as prostitution, lesbianism, and full-frontal nudity. A reporter from the French press agency (Melville in his only starring role) is dispatched to track down a vanished delegate to the United Nations; accompanied by a greedy and unfeeling paparazzo (Pierre Grasset), he follows a trail of sexually available women back to the missing diplomat, but the truth is unpublishable. The story is full of Melville's ethical shadings and complications, and the nighttime street scenes, shot by Nicolas Hayer, are dazzling, a foreigner's delirious vision of Manhattan after dark. 85 min. —J.R. Jones

Le Samourai
Melville's 1967 story of a lonely hit man (Alain Delon) is stylish and elegant, though not really the holy writ that Quentin Tarantino and John Woo have claimed. Though Melville sustained himself with American-style thrillers in the last decade of his life, his best versions of American noir arguably remain the earlier ones in black and white (my own favorite is 1966's Le Deuxieme Souffle). This one certainly has its moments (particularly the coordinated police chase through the Paris Métro), but its women characters are faintly ridiculous, while the men are mainly suave icons. Henri Decae's brilliant color cinematography finds something metallic blue gray in virtually every shot, and the film is alluring as long as one remains captivated by its mannerist and slightly monotonous style. Despite a hefty (and fabricated) quote from The Book of Bushido about the loneliness of the samurai, this is all about attitude and machismo rather than soul, which is why it winds up feeling somewhat flat. Based on Joan McLeod's novel The Ronin. In French with subtitles. 101 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Le Cercle Rouge
Melville's austere heist film, made in 1970, was his next to last; it opens with a Buddhist aphorism about fate binding two men to meet again, and ends with a police chief pronouncing all men ultimately guilty. Two prisoners return to society—Corey (Alain Delon) has served his sentence and is released, while Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè) escapes from a speeding train. They team up with a sharpshooting ex-cop to mount an exquisite jewel theft. Melville renders the taciturn crooks and corrupt inspectors with the nocturnal blue palette that is his signature. Key action points are edited with finesse, but the denouement, with its dutiful hail of gunfire, is heartless and mechanical. With Yves Montand, André Bourvil, and François Périer. In French with subtitles. 140 min. —Bill Stamets

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Video games are public enemy #1 . . . again

Posted By on 06.19.18 at 10:05 PM

Lots of kids play a lot of Fortnite, but it's not a sign of the apocalpyse. - YOUTUBE
  • YouTube
  • Lots of kids play a lot of Fortnite, but it's not a sign of the apocalpyse.

Earlier this week, Red Bull launched Rise Till Dawn—an all-night Fortnite tournament in July starring local streaming sensation Tyler "Ninja" Blevins on the 99th floor of the Willis Tower. It's no surprise that the event sold out in a few short minutes, Fortnite is arguably the breakout entertainment hit of 2018—played by 40 million people—and Ninja is the game's biggest star.

Still, the timing of the announcement of the dusk-'til-dawn tournament—one that resembles a compulsive gaming binge—was notable.

On Monday, the World Health Organization announced that it had officially recognized "gaming disorder" as a condition in its International Classification of Diseases. To be diagnosed with the disorder, you have to do more than just play the games a lot: you have to play compulsively despite suffering negative consequences for more than a year.

In other words, you can be addicted to video games. The disorder reportedly affects between 1 and 3 percent of gamers.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Famous feline Lil' Bub gets her own arcade game—built by Chicago’s Logan Arcade

Posted By on 05.23.18 at 06:38 AM

Mike Bridavsky and Lil' Bub pose with the arcade game Hello Earth at Logan Arcade. - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Mike Bridavsky and Lil' Bub pose with the arcade game Hello Earth at Logan Arcade.

It was a long time coming when Logan Arcade owner Jim Zespy followed music producer Steve Albini onstage to introduce the arcade cabinet he'd constructed for a video game starring his friend's famous cat.

"I've known Mike for a long time. I never thought I'd be running an arcade and he'd have a world-famous cat," Zespy said to a crowd of several hundred fans who'd crowded into his arcade bar in Logan Square last Friday night for the game's premiere party.

That's Mike as in Mike Bridavsky, the owner of sound studio Russian Recording, in Bloomington, Indiana, who's famous for being the "dude" behind Internet star Lil' Bub, a rescue cat he adopted in 2011. Often just called "Bub" for short, she was born with dwarfism and other genetic disorders that led to her compact size and unusual but adorable appearance: oversize, saucer-shaped eyes and a pink tongue that continuously protrudes because of her toothlessness and underdeveloped jaw.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

David Lean, FilmStruck’s Director of the Week, has more to offer than just Lawrence of Arabia

Posted By on 05.08.18 at 06:00 AM

Katharine Hepburn in David Lean's Summertime
  • Katharine Hepburn in David Lean's Summertime
British filmmaker David Lean is the current Director of the Week on the streaming-video channel FilmStruck, which offers almost all of his films for viewing. Tucked between his celebrated Charles Dickens adaptations from the 1940s and his later, grandiose epics are four more unassuming films from the 1950s, leading up to the classic Bridge on the River Kwai.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

FilmStruck’s ‘Early Hitchcock’ shows the master of suspense mastering suspense

Posted By on 04.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Alfred Hitchcock's Number 17
  • Alfred Hitchcock's Number 17
The streaming-video channel FilmStruck is currently featuring Alfred Hitchcock's early British features from the 1920s and '30s. Many of the director's favorite themes, motifs, and visual devices are already in evidence, as is his dark, sardonic wit. Highlighted below are two of his more famous films from the period (The Lodger and Sabotage) and two real obscurities.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Undercover cops infiltrate FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 04.10.18 at 06:00 AM

Anthony Mann's T-Men
  • Anthony Mann's T-Men
The streaming-video channel FilmStruck is currently featuring a small but potent package of crime films and thrillers focused on undercover cops. The fact that two are directed by Anthony Mann did not affect our decision to select this grouping for our list this week. Nope. Not one bit.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Apple CEO Tim Cook's undercooked plan to help underserved Chicago schools: $300 iPads; app development for all

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 11:55 AM

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks for an MSNBC special taped in Chicago
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks for an MSNBC special taped in Chicago

How would Apple ensure it was helping underserved communities and schools in Chicago and not just the best and brightest?

Tim Cook hesitated slightly before answering.

This was quite possibly the most challenging moment of the Apple CEO's Chicago exhibition so far.

Cook's education-themed product launch had been framed as a heroic one and he arrived at Lane Tech College Prep High School in appropriately conquering fashion. Attendees waiting in line under a slight drizzle held Apple-issued umbrellas as they walked past Apple Store-like structures erected on the school's front lawn, and hey—wasn't that a statue of Al Gore? Nope, it was the former vice president in the flesh, just another audience member who—along with a worldwide audience via livestream—watched as Cook announced the release of a new iPad and the citywide expansion of Apple's "Everyone Can Code" program.

On Wednesday, the tech giant's top executive returned for an hour-long MSNBC interview special with anchor Chris Hayes and Recode tech reporter Kara Swisher—a show that had been branded "Revolution: Apple Changing the World." Cook sat comfortably in the center of a gymnasium turned television studio on the second floor of the selective enrollment high school as several hundred students, faculty, press, and ticketed members of the public showered him with applause every few minutes.

But then MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes asked Cook a tough question. He wanted Apple's top executive to respond to a clip from an interview with a young African-American man from Chicago who expressed frustration with the way the public and private sector kept investing millions of dollars in projects like the DePaul basketball stadium while neglecting the needs of the south and west sides.

"That's a good question. We've priced this iPad as low as we can," Cook told Hayes. Because the company's devices were built to last three to four years, $300 becomes "a very reasonable expenditure." Also, he added, Apple was ready and willing to teach students all over Chicago how to code and develop apps.

That's right, on the same day that a group of Chicago youth from the #NoCopAcademy movement staged a “die-in" at City Hall to demand that the city defund a $95 million police academy to fund education, one of the richest men in America was here to tell Chicagoans that even if they were stuck in underfunded, failing, or closing schools—hey, our tablet is a pretty good value, and did you hear about our cool new computer club coming to your classroom?

Tiny Apple stores were erected on the front lawn of Lane Tech High School during Tuesday's announcement. - MITCH DUDEK/SUN-TIMES
  • Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
  • Tiny Apple stores were erected on the front lawn of Lane Tech High School during Tuesday's announcement.

Rather than pushing revolution, the CEO’s message reinforced the dominant economic ideology—an extreme form of meritocracy and market supremacy—held by America’s elites. That ideology essentially sees no problem with the fact that Cook earned $102 million in 2017 (enough to purchase new iPads for nearly all of CPS's 371,000 students) while 34 percent of African-Americans in Chicago live in relative poverty, earning less than half of the local minimum wage.

Extreme inequality is fine, in other words, if everyone is perceived as having been granted a fair shot at gunning for the top. "Our desire as a nation is to offer equal opportunities and we haven't succeeded at that," Cook noted. "We've got to reach out to women and underrepresented minorities."

His solution is a technocratic twist on the old conservative axiom: Teach a man to code and he'll eat for life.

That's essentially the concept behind Apple's partnership with the city of Chicago. Lane Tech will serve as a central hub to train local high school teachers on the computing company's Everyone Can Code curriculum. The idea is that the teachers would learn to use Swift—a simplified programming language used to develop iOS apps—and then that knowledge will be taught to Chicago's students. Then, as the logic goes, students would be prepared for an employment marketplace increasingly dominated by computer science fields and those who know how to code.

"We have to get used to the idea of continuously retraining ourselves for the jobs of the future," Cook said. Not surprisingly, many of these said jobs would be in service of his company.

Apple is suddenly hiring in America. The Cupertino, California-based company has long been criticized for outsourcing jobs and manufacturing to China while stashing more than $250 billion in cash overseas to dodge paying into what Cook called a "crazy" tax system. It had a change of heart with the passage of Trump's tax overhaul, the one that lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2018 (Cook praised the Trump plan multiple times on Wednesday as "good for America"). The company opted to shift its mountain of offshore cash from a tax haven in the English Channel back here with a one-time tax of $38 billion. That means Apple essentially avoided $40 billion of taxes.

Meanwhile, it also announced a plan to invest $30 billion in capital spending here over the next five years—creating 20,000 new jobs and a new campus somewhere in America. Call it Apple HQ2, though Cook bristles at the idea of holding a Hunger Games-like competition for it similar to the way Amazon is doing with theirs ("We’re not doing a beauty contest thing, that’s not Apple," he said).

It's possible then that Cook and Apple have long-term plans to bring their next headquarters to Chicago and this "Everyone Can Code" initiative is little more than a way to turn CPS into a kind of grandiose Apple internship program.

If that happens, the kids best equipped to succeed in Apple's brave new world aren't the ones living in segregated and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. It will be the kind of high-achieving students who've scratched and climbed their way up America's increasingly precarious meritocratic ladder to schools like Lane Tech and have the time, energy, and resources to thrive in a coding club. It will likely be the students for those whom buying a $300 iPad every few years is "a very reasonable expenditure."

For everyone else in Chicago's marginalized communities and schools? Good question.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Remembering Chicago Craigslist Personals, the Wild West of Internet dating

Posted By on 03.23.18 at 04:43 PM

craigslistpersonals.jpg

RIP Chicago Craigslist Personals.

They're a victim of the Senate's overwhelming 97-2 vote on Thursday to pass the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The bill makes a change to a key part of the Communications Decency Act that makes it easier for victims of sex trafficking and prosecutors to take legal action against companies that fail to keep exploitative content off their websites.

Note the irony: Congress refuses to make gun companies or retailers liable for the shooting deaths of its users, but it has made websites liable for hosting sex trafficking content created by third parties (its users).

Advocates of free speech and a free Internet say that the bill, if signed into law—and President Trump is expected to sign it—will cause a chilling effect that hurts consenting sex workers who use the Web or—as is the case with Craigslist—just two strangers looking for a date.

Craigslist preemptively reacted by taking down its personals on Friday. When you go to the site now, it sends you to a message that says:

US Congress just passed HR 1865, "FOSTA", seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.
Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

It's not as if the website used to desperately seek out a "FWB" (that's friends with benefits) in the Casual Encounters section or a Missed Connection with that attractive person you eyed on the Blue Line was some kind of utopian paradise of human relationships. Still, it's a little sad to know that it's no longer an option. 

There was a brief era in which if you wanted to meet a random stranger for friendship, love, or sex—and let’s face it, there was a lot of sex—you’d go to Chicago Craigslist’s Personals section. Its usage peaked about a decade ago, when it bridged the gap between the clunky pay-for-play print personal ads era of the 90s and early 2000s (like the ones in the Reader, remember?) and the effortless swipe-a-thons of Tinder, Grindr, Bumble or whatever apps the kids are staring at on their phones all day.

The ads were like the Wild West of dating—full of spammers, weirdos trying to collect photos of strangers, and horny jerks eager to e-mail you dick pics—but they were often incredibly entertaining reading. The Missed Connections section was especially good browsing material—many posts read like personal diary entries full of internal psychodrama or the plots of Woody Allen films.

screen_shot_2018-03-23_at_4.09.36_pm.png

You can still read some of the final ads if you do a Google search for "Craigslist Missed Connections," and it's a wistful reminder of what the Internet was like pre-Zuckerberg—weird, awkward, hilarious. Here's a random sampling of posts from the past 24 hours:

  • Handsome, swarthy buff guy in steam early a.m. - m4m (XSport)
  • Beautiful curly red haired lady searching for pasta (Southport Jewel) ("I was in the pasta aisle at the Jewel on Southport when I turned, saw you, and was immediately struck by how gorgeous you are.")
  • Pilsen college girl? You gave me a golden shower - Older WM - m4w ("I met you at your place while your roommates were out, one Sunday afternoon, a few weeks ago. You gave me a golden shower, and if you are up for it, I would love another.")
  • Cute McDonald's manager - m4w
  • girl at dunkin donuts ("I was at dunkin donuts in Bloomingdale a couple months ago. I was wearing skin tight compression pants because I was going to the gym. You were checking out my bulge.i wanted to talk to you. I'm very fit.")
  • Tresure island in gold coast. - m4w ("We were stuck behind a woman with days worth of produce and coupons that were just not working. You were very cute and had what looked the makings of a tasty salad.")

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Monday, March 19, 2018

The nation’s hottest entertainer right now is a suburban Chicago video-game streamer named Ninja

Posted By on 03.19.18 at 03:10 PM

Tyler "Ninja" Blevins
  • Tyler "Ninja" Blevins
Ready or not, welcome to 2018—the year that the hottest emerging entertainer is a 26-year-old man who wears a yellow headband and goes by the nickname Ninja. His job? Broadcasting himself playing video games in the basement of his suburban Chicago house.

Meet Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, the spiky blue-haired phenom who reportedly earns more than $560,000 a month from subscribers who pay to watch him play games on his personal computer. The Lake Villa native first broke the Internet when he joined forces with Drake and a small cast of other rappers and celebrities on Wednesday night to play the megapopular survival shooter Fortnite. The unlikely team-up with the Canadian hip-hop artist instantly began trending on Twitter and shattered viewership records on video-streaming platform Twitch. The event attracted 628,000 concurrent eyeballs at its peak—more than, for instance, the 445,000 who witnessed Shaun White win his third Winter Olympics gold medal on an Internet device last month or the 372,000 viewers who watched Amazon's first livestream of Thursday Night Football in 2017.
Not all of the hundreds of thousands of viewers were there for the online presence of the Grammy winner. Ninja is currently the top video-game streamer on the Internet, and one of his avid followers is Drake, who played the role of fawning fanboy to the gamer during their casual shooting-and-chatting session. Drake's avatar was killed by enemy gunfire in the midst of one early match, prompting Ninja to offer to finish the game alone while earning a win for both members of the team. "You can back out, I can carry the win," he told Drake. "Nah," the rapper responded. "I want to watch the god work."

It was a surreal moment—the musical superstar behind the number one single "God's Plan" calling Ninja "the god." 

Ninja leaped back into the national consciousness just two days later due to his online interactions with NCAA tournament darling UMBC. The 16th seed's bench celebrated big moments of its history-making win over top-ranked Virginia on Friday night with various Fortnite-themed choreographed celebrations. In the locker room after the game, UMBC forward Nolan Gerrity compared the feeling of beating a top seed to being "like your first Fortnite victory" and bragged that "we got the number one Fortnite player in the world, Ninja, to tweet about us."


This once-in-a-lifetime surge of mainstream fame isn't all the result of dumb luck. Blevins has been served well by a combination of superior hand-eye coordination, onscreen charisma, and dogged perseverance. His professional gaming career began almost a decade ago. The young Illinoisan competed in Halo tournaments for cash prizes starting in 2009, but eventually left the grind of what's now dubbed "eSports" to focus on the pursuit of streaming games.

The act of streaming games might sound banal or easy—but it's more than being skilled with a keyboard or controller. Ninja has earned more than 890 wins in Fortnite solo matches and does so while broadcasting himself for hours at a time while constantly interacting with a community of fans. Imagine if, for instance, Tom Brady was asked to beat the Bears while simultaneously doing color commentary and giving fans in the stands quarterbacking advice. Streaming doesn't take the physical toll of pro football, of course, but it's more than just fiddling with a controller.

Ninja was a marvel of relentless multitasking during his Sunday-night broadcast, a team-up with Connecticut rapper Witt Lowry. As 200,000 viewers tuned in, he kept one eye on a TV to watch his pals at UMBC play Kansas State while simultaneously dominating Fortnite games with Lowry and bantering with fans who were typing comments and questions into his Twitch channel. "What's my favorite animal? A dog," he said in rapid response to a viewer who tipped him $20 while knocking down an opponent with a sniper rifle from 150 yards away.
img_0382.jpeg

Over the next 30 minutes, Ninja delivered gaming tips and relationship advice, gave a few Casey Kasem-like shoutouts to family and friends of fans, and muttered his way through a Seth Rogen impression, all while skillfully winning three games in a row. Then between matches, he donned his yellow headband and enthusiastically danced to a techno track as animated ninjas popped up in the background. He stopped only to go to the bathroom and eat pizza delivered by his wife/manager, Jessica.

Still, Ninja might be doing these same things in relative obscurity if not for striking virtual gold when he switched to Epic Games' Fortnite. The shooter's thrilling "Battle Royale" mode is loosely based on the 2000 Japanese film of the same name about a group of randomly chosen junior high schools taken to an island and forced to fight to the death by the Japanese government. Fortnite's cartoonish take on the dystopian movie involves 100 solo players or teams of two or four people packed into a flying bus who parachute down onto an island with only the clothes on their back. Once they land, players quickly become scavengers who hunt for hidden guns, grenades, shields, and other items that help them conquer each other with force. The last person—or team—standing wins.

The free-to-play Battle Royale mode exploded in popularity in December after taking home the prize for Best Multiplayer Game at the 2017 Game Awards, and as of January it had been played by more than 45 million people worldwide and upwards of 3.1 million players concurrently on PC and console systems. Of the 26 Xbox consoles available to play at Ignite Gaming Lounge in Avondale, Fortnite is being played on an average of 20 of them, said Matt Garrity, Ignite's general manager. "It's growing massively and quick, we have calls about it all the time. We've had whole parties of 20 people and it's the only game they play," says Garrity.

Ninja's rise has been equally meteoric as Fortnite's: he hit 10,000 Twitch subscribers in December, 18,000 in mid-January, and 60,000 in late February, and now nearly 200,000 people pay $5 a month to watch him. He and Witt marveled at this and other recent milestones during one of their duo matches on Sunday night: "I can't believe it, five million subscribers on YouTube, almost a million followers on Twitter and Instagram." And now after his star-making gaming session with Drake and his flirtation with America's new darling college basketball team, he's earned international headlines and is suddenly in demand everywhere.


This newfound popularity also means adjusting to new demands. He rescheduled an interview with the Reader during a brief break on Sunday in order to fit in other appointments, including facetiming with members of the UMBC Retrievers just before their second-round loss to Kansas State to try to inspire them to make the Sweet Sixteen. On Monday, he was interviewed on CNBC. Fame has brought new challenges that can't be conquered with a video game controller.

"Dude, this has been an insane week," Ninja said to Witt later that night as they kept gunning down virtual islanders. "I'm getting so many e-mails and interview requests and I'm only sleeping like five or six hours a night. . . . I can't do it all, but it's like, this is it. You only get one moment like this on the Internet."

In other words, this Ninja won't be pulling a ninja-like disappearing act anytime soon.

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