Editors Picks HT Business

US job growth slows sharply in sign of hiring struggles


Troy Warren #business-all #picks-all


America’s employers added just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply lower than in March and a sign that some businesses are struggling to find enough workers as the economic recovery strengthens.

WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s employers added just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply lower than in March and a sign that some businesses are struggling to find enough workers as the economic recovery rapidly strengthens.

The economic rebound from the pandemic recession has been so fast that many businesses, particularly in the hard-hit hospitality sector — which includes restaurants, bars and hotels — have been caught flat-footed and unable to fill all their job openings. Some unemployed people have also been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus.

Others have entered new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

In addition, construction companies and manufacturers, especially automakers, have been left short of parts as a result of clogged supply chains and have had to slow production for now. Both sectors pulled back on hiring in April.

With viral cases declining and states and localities easing restrictions, businesses have added jobs for four straight months, the Labor Department said Friday. But as more people have begun looking for work, more people are being counted as unemployed: In April, the unemployment rate ticked up from 6% to 6.1% in March.

At the same time, optimism about the economic recovery is growing. Many Americans are flush with cash after having received $1,400 federal relief checks, along with savings they have built up after cutting back on travel, entertainment and dining out over the past year. Millions of consumers have begun spending their extra cash on restaurant meals, airline tickets, road trips and new cars and homes.

Most economists expect job growth to strengthen as more vaccinations are administered and trillions in government aid spreads through the economy. Even if another uptick in COVID-19 cases were to occur, analysts don’t expect most states and cities to reimpose tough business restrictions. Oxford Economics, a consulting firm, predicts that a total of 8 million jobs will be added this year, reducing the unemployment rate to a low 4.3% by year’s end.

From month to month, though, the gains in the job market could prove choppy, as Friday’s jobs report suggested.

“This sort of stop-start pace of hiring means the job market recovery could be more laborious than hoped,” said Leslie Preston, an economist at TD Economics. “We continue to expect that with government stimulus and ongoing vaccinations supporting a release of pent-up demand that hiring will return to a more solid pace over the coming months.”

Among industries, the sharpest loss last month was in temporary work, which shed 111,000 jobs. Construction companies added no jobs in April after having added 97,000 in March. Manufacturing lost 18,000 positions after hiring 54,000 the previous month. And transportation and warehousing cut 74,000 jobs after months of solid gains.

By contrast, restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues — businesses that have complained the loudest about a shortage of workers — added 331,000 jobs in April, even more than their 206,000 increase in March.

In its report Friday, the government also sharply lowered its estimate of March’s job gain to 770,000 from its earlier estimate of 916,000.

But job postings are now significantly above pre-pandemic levels, evidence that companies are increasingly confident that business is picking up and that they want to hire. Yet there are still about 4 million people who dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic.

In an encouraging sign in Friday’s report, 430,000 people started looking for jobs in April, though not all found work, which is why the jobless rate rose slightly.

As more consumers venture out of their homes to shop, travel and attend entertainment venues, many businesses say they need workers. On Tuesday, at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Virginia, customers for the indoor water park and hotel were plentiful. Yet job-seekers for the company’s hiring open house were relatively scarce.

Nick Locastro, general manager for the lodge, said customer demand is running higher than the company can accommodate because it’s still limited to roughly 50% of its capacity by state rules. He said he expects business to return to pre-pandemic levels by summer if capacity restraints are lifted.

Locastro would like to hire about 100 workers — lifeguards, kitchen workers, hotel cleaners and others — to meet that demand. For now, the company has about 400 on staff, most of whom it recalled after it was allowed to reopen in September. The company had about two dozen interviews scheduled for Tuesday, along with some walk-ins.

“We’d love to have more, if you know of any,” Locastro said. “It’s becoming an increasingly more competitive market.”

Other nearby entertainment venues are also staffing up for summer, including Busch Gardens, Kings Dominion and Colonial Williamsburg.

David Earl who worked at Great Wolf for three years until he left to focus on his college classes just before the pandemic, was among those applying for a job Tuesday. For now, Earl, who is 27, is working at a grocery store chain but said Great Wolf pays more. He tells friends that Great Wolf is hiring, but many are still fearful about catching the virus and are reluctant to apply.

Such strong demand for workers is expected to grow along with the economy. In the first three months of the year, the economy expanded at a vigorous 6.4% annual rate. That pace could accelerate to as high as 13% in the April-June quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

One government report last week showed that wages and benefits rose at a solid pace in the first quarter, suggesting that some companies are having to pay more to attract and keep employees.

President Joe Biden’s relief package also added $300 to weekly unemployment benefits. Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer calculated that for people who earned under $32,000 a year at their previous job, current unemployment aid pays more than their former job did — a reality that could keep up to 1 million people out of the workforce. In addition, higher stock prices and home values might have led up to 1.2 million older Americans to retire earlier than they otherwise would have.


Breaking News Editors Picks HT Local News

4 ex-cops indicted on U.S. civil rights charges in Floyd death

By The Associated Press

Troy Warren #local-all #breaking-all #picks-all

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal grand jury has indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest and death, accusing them of violating the Black man’s constitutional rights as he was restrained face-down on the pavement and gasping for air, according to indictments unsealed Friday.

The three-count indictment names Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao. Specifically, Chauvin, Thao and Kueng are charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and excessive force. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care. Chauvin was also charged in a second indictment, stemming from the arrest and neck restraint of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.

Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Kueng appeared via videoconference in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Chauvin was not part of the court appearance.

Chauvin was convicted last month on state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death and is in Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison as he awaits sentencing. The other three former officers face a state trial in August, and they are free on bond. They were allowed to remain free after Friday’s federal court appearance.

Floyd, 46, died May 25 after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, even as Floyd, who was handcuffed, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Kueng and Lane also helped restrain Floyd — state prosecutors have said Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. State prosecutors say Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, argued during his murder trial that Chauvin acted reasonably in the situation and that Floyd died because of underlying health issues and drug use. He has filed a request for a new trial, citing many issues including the judge’s refusal to move the trial due to publicity.

Nelson had no comment on the federal charges Friday. Messages left with attorneys for two of the other officers were not immediately returned, and an attorney for the fourth officer was getting in an elevator and disconnected when reached by The Associated Press.

Floyd’s arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked protests nationwide and widespread calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.



Editors Picks HT Movie TV

Paramount+ Plans to Debut One Original Movie a Week Beginning in 2022

BY GEORG SZALAI | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren #reviews-all #picks-all

Before that, Antoine Fuqua’s sci-fi pic ‘Infinite’ — starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor — will forgo a theatrical release and go straight to the streamer this June.

ViacomCBS has big movie plans for its streaming service Paramount+.

Infinite, a sci-fi thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor and directed by Antoine Fuqua for the conglomerate’s Paramount Pictures, will bypass a theatrical release and debut directly on the streamer in the U.S. in June, CEO Bob Bakish announced on Thursday’s ViacomCBS first-quarter earnings conference call.

ViacomCBS is following the suit of other major studios who are trying to promote their streaming services by sending new movie straight to streaming, although the company has previously stressed that it continues to support a robust theatrical release for many of its biggest titles, at least for six weeks. Infinite, like many other films, was initially supposed to open on the big screen in 2020 but was waylaid by the pandemic.

The company did not immediately detail the international distribution plan for Infinite.

Bakish also touted a planned expansion of Paramount+’s film catalog this summer, along with a planned “Mountain of Movies” advertising campaign.

“Turning to movies where we are poised to dramatically enhance the scale of our offering,” Bakish said. “In fact, we will shortly kick off a ‘Mountain of Movies’ marketing campaign, where we will highlight the thousands of new movies we are adding to Paramount+, including blockbuster hits and exclusive originals.”

The CEO said 1,000 additional movies will go live on the streamer in early June, “with additional titles following through July, bringing the total to over 2,500.” He added: “Hits like The Avengersand Skyfall will be available on the service soon, as well as a bunch of great Paramount films like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Rocketman, Sonic the Hedgehog and more.” Paramount in February unveiled a new deal with Epix that also gives the studio more flexibility in its post-theatrical windowing strategy, allowing for new and library titles to become available on Paramount+.

Bakish reaffirmed John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place Part II will be available on the streamer 45 days after it opens in theaters over Memorial Day. “And we will follow that with the Paw Patrolmovie – a treat for families eagerly awaiting a feature-length version of the most popular pre-school characters in the world. In addition, new original movies like Paranormal Activity, and The In Between will premiere on Paramount+ by the end of ’21.”

In 2022, Paramount hopes to further strengthen its original film offerings, with Bakish saying “all of this is a preview to a substantial ramping up of original movies next year, when we expect to begin averaging an original movie a week in 2022.”

He didn’t immediately share full details, but told the earnings call: “We will have more on this in the months ahead.” Management has in the past signaled it would tap into content and units across ViacomCBS to feed Paramount+.

Infinite, based on D. Eric Maikranz’s novel The Reincarnationist Papers, was originally set to be released in August 2020, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The most recent plan was for a Sept. 24 theatrical release.

Other cast members include Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Toby Jones and Dylan O’Brien.

The screen story is by Todd Stein, the screenplay by Ian Shorr, and the film is produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, Mark Huffam, John Zaozirny, Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson. Executive producers are Fuqua, Rafi Crohn, Brian Oliver, Bradley J. Fischer and Valerii An.



Editors Picks Technology News

Facebook Oversight Board Upholds Trump Ban

BY Ashley Cullins, Alex Weprin | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren #picks-all

The platform suspended the former president indefinitely following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but the Oversight Board leaves the door open to Trump returning in the future.

Facebook’s Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld the social media giant’s decision to suspend President Donald Trump in the final days of his presidency. However, the Board also required Facebook to justify the indefinite nature of the ban, and left the door open to Trump returning to the platform in the future.

“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” the Oversight Board wrote in its ruling. “However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.”

The Board added that “It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.”




Editors Picks HT Classic Cars

Used car sales are soaring, making it a great time to consider selling

By Avery Newmark, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Troy Warren #picks-all #carnews-all


The thinning supply of new cars has made the demand for used cars skyrocket.

“Lightly used vehicles, those that are a couple of years old with low mileage, are now selling for 75% to 80% of their original sticker price.”

– Ivan Drury, auto industry analyst

Amid an economic revival, a computer chip shortage and other supply chain delays disrupting new car production, the supply of new cars is likely to get even tighter during the next few months.

That diminished supply has, in turn, driven up used car prices, making now a great time to consider selling.

Ivan Drury, an auto industry analyst with, told CNN, “Lightly used vehicles, those that are a couple of years old with low mileage, are now selling for 75% to 80% of their original sticker price. As recently as 2019, a more normal year, those cars would have been going for 65% to 70% of their original price.”


There are many websites, such as Manheim, that offer a value appraisal of your vehicle and even firm offers to buy it. But experts say that alone may still not get you the best price.

“Just like their customers, car dealers have different needs and wants depending on where they are and the types of customers they serve, so it’s good to check with individual dealers in your area,” Matt Jones, director of industry education at TrueCar, told CNN.

For instance, a Chevy dealership in the South will likely see a bigger demand for trucks, so that dealer will have more incentive to buy your nicely used truck. A Kia dealer might be willing to buy it, too, but it probably won’t pay as much.

“Even if you’re not seriously thinking of selling your car right now,” said Drury, “it’s a good idea to go online regularly and stay abreast of, generally, what your car is worth. Car prices aren’t expected to return to normal very soon. As you’re looking, keep in mind what that car is costing you to maintain and insure.”




Editors Picks

Bill Simmons Adds Converted Malibu Barn to Packed Property Portfolio

by James McClain,

 Troy Warren #picks-all


The podcaster paid $4.7 million for the 1.2-acre ranch-style property featuring a 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home.

Bill Simmons doesn’t just discuss ballers for a living — he lives like them, too. The popular podcaster and ex-ESPN sports commentator boasts a world-class property portfolio that would put all but the very wealthiest athletes to shame. Chief among his holdings are a $16 million mansion in L.A.’s exclusive Hancock Park neighborhood, acquired just last year, and a $10 million cottage on Malibu’s Carbon Beach, in addition to at least two other multimillion-dollar homes.

Now the 51-year-old and his longtime wife Kari have added to their already portly portfolio by acquiring a second Malibu property, this one a 1.2-acre ranch spread tucked into the hills just above Carbon Beach. Anchored by a candy-apple red converted barn, the estate ran the couple a cool $4.7 million, per records. Ryan Jancula and Trevor Montano of Compass held the listing; Katie Bentzen of Coldwell Banker repped Simmons.

But the Massachusetts native can well afford his lifestyle, thanks to Spotify. Back in 2020, the streaming giant agreed to acquire The Ringer, the media company/podcast network Simmons founded in 2016, for a widely reported $200 million. (Simmons remains The Ringer’s CEO, and has previously pledged that the company will maintain its editorial independence despite the acquisition.)


Built in 1940 and described in the listing as “a piece of Malibu history,” the once-rustic barn has been totally transformed into a chi-chi getaway that would likely make for an epic Airbnb, complete with a lap-lane outdoor swimming pool and a nearly all-new kitchen with designer Wolf and SubZero appliances. The entire property is walled and gated for privacy, naturally, and watched over by an elaborate security system.

Inside, the barn’s original red brick floors are mixed with trendy contemporary elements like marble and other imported stone for an authentic modern farmhouse look — and not the new-construction kind of modern farmhouse you often see in magazines.

The dining room sports its own wine fridge, plus a fireplace and seating for 10 guests. The stunning lounge/family room features wood-paneled walls and a vaulted ceiling that makes the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves even more appealing. Per the listing, the upstairs master bedroom and bathroom are part of the barn’s original hayloft area, now serving as a very swank retreat for the lucky homeowners. There’s also an ensuite guest bedroom upstairs, with big picture windows overlooking the lush landscaping. Outside, brick patios wrap around the estate, and well-maintained landscaping includes colorful perennials.

Various stone and brick pathways meander through the sycamore-shaded lot, eventually leading up to a wee guesthouse — more like a luxe treehouse, actually — with a bathroom, bedroom, and an office, plus a deck overlooking the main house.



Editors Picks

Yes, it’s possible to get post-vaccination COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know

Stephanie Innes | Alison Steinbach | Arizona Republic

Troy Warren #picks-all


As Arizona legislator Alma Hernandez reported this week, it’s possible to get infected with COVID-19 post-vaccination, though such cases remain rare.

Hernandez, a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives from Tucson, announced Wednesday that she’d tested positive for the new coronavirus in spite of being fully vaccinated. She’d been vaccinated for more than 11 weeks when she tested positive, she said in a tweet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls post-vaccination infections “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases.

The CDC’s definition of a breakthrough case is a person who tests positive for COVID-19 14 days or more after completing their vaccine series. In other words, getting infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, even when fully vaccinated.

While COVID-19 breakthrough cases have been very rare among the large numbers of those vaccinated, they can still happen because no vaccines are 100% effective. 

Health officials are quick to emphasize that breakthrough cases represent a small portion of all those vaccinated, and that COVID-19 vaccines remain key to ending the pandemic.

Here are five things to know about COVID-19 cases post-vaccination: 

Getting COVID-19 after getting vaccinated is possible, but it’s very rare


Arizona health officials had identified 947 breakthrough cases in all 15 counties as of Tuesday, none of whom had died. 

More than 2.2 million people in Arizona have been fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson, meaning the identified breakthrough cases represent less than 0.1% of those vaccinated. 

Nationally, the CDC had received reports of 7,157 breakthrough infections as of April 20 though those numbers are likely an undercount. At that time, more than 87 million people in the U.S. had been fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, said while there have been some breakthrough cases, “those numbers are very low.” 

“If you have been vaccinated, you are in pretty good shape,” he said. “If you are vaccinated and you are around other people who are vaccinated, there’s very low risk and you pretty much can behave as you did back in the days before COVID-19.”

Vaccines still largely protect against severe outcomes

There is some evidence that getting vaccinated and then getting infected makes the illness less severe, according to the CDC.

In Arizona, of the 947 identified breakthrough cases, no one is known to have died, according to the state health department. 

Statewide statistics from the start of the pandemic show that 2% of all known cases end up dying. 

About 10% of the known breakthrough cases have been hospitalized, but it’s unknown if that was because of COVID-19 or if they were just tested when they were hospitalized and COVID was detected.

Of the 7,157 breakthrough infections reported nationally, 64% were females and 46% were 60 and older.

Thirty-one percent of those infected showed no symptoms and 7% were hospitalized, although about one-third of the hospitalizations were asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19. Eighty-eight people, or 1% of the breakthrough cases, died, but 11 of those deaths were asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19, according to the CDC.  

Breakthrough cases have been identified in less than one-tenth of 1% of Arizona’s fully vaccinated population


Interim results from an ongoing study of nearly 4,000 health care personnel and other front line workers found that those who were fully vaccinated with mRNA vaccines were 90% less likely to get infected with the SARS-CoV-​2 virus that causes COVID-19 than those who were not vaccinated.

“This is real-world, it’s not a clinical trial,” said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. “Being 90% assured that I won’t get it and practically 100% assured that it won’t kill me, that’s enough for me to get back to normal.”

The workers in the “real world” study of the vaccine’s effectiveness was published April 2 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The vaccinated workers in the study had received either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

The bottom line: it’s no surprise to public health experts that there are breakthrough cases. The flu vaccine in a good year is 60% to 70% effective. Humble said he recalls thinking last summer that if the COVID-19 vaccine were to be 75% effective he’d be jumping for joy.

The fact that the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines is 90% in the recent real-world study and was even higher in clinical trials shows the vaccines are effective, Humble said.

No vaccine is ever 100%

Some breakthrough cases are to be expected, the CDC says. 

“COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control. However no vaccines are 100% effective at preventing illness. There will be a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated who still get sick, are hospitalized, or die from COVID-19,” CDC officials say. 

That does not mean the vaccines are not working as they should, but just that some people will get infected — symptomatic or asymptomatic — even after getting vaccinated because the vaccines are not perfect. 

Of Arizona’s known breakthrough cases, the breakdown by vaccine type is: 

Pfizer-BioNTech: 562 cases (60%).

Moderna: 305 cases (32%).

Johnson & Johnson: 80 cases (8%).

By and large, the approved vaccines are good. New large-scale, real-world data from the CDC found that adults 65 and older who were fully vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna were 94% less likely to be hospitalized with the virus than people their age who were not vaccinated. 

“In the end, the decision that people will have to make for themselves is what kind of protections do they want to continue to follow, recognizing that this will probably always be a sporadic disease,” Humble said. “Even if we get to herd immunity it doesn’t mean zero cases.”

Health officials are watching for any patterns in the breakthrough cases

The national numbers are likely an undercount, the CDC says, because the national surveillance system relies on voluntary reporting.

The CDC says breakthrough case numbers are a “snapshot” and that they “help identify patterns and look for signals among vaccine breakthrough cases.”

State and federal health officials are watching for any patterns in the case demographics, like ages or medical conditions, or vaccine characteristics among people with post-vaccination infections.

No unexpected patterns have been seen so far, per the CDC.

Health officials are watching to see whether the circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, some of which seem to be more infectious, are impacting the number of breakthrough cases. The CDC says data so far suggests the approved vaccines protect against most variants, but variants will still cause some of the post-vaccination infections. 

The CDC plans to focus more on investigating only breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death rather than tracking all vaccine breakthrough infections. 

Hernandez, the Arizona legislator, had attracted nearly 250 comments on her Twitter announcement about her breakthrough infection by midday Thursday, including several questions about her COVID-19 illness. She has a fever, “horrible migraine, and I can’t taste or smell,” she said.

But Hernandez emphasized she was not trying to stir doubt about the usefulness of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“As a public health professional, I’m in no way advocating for you NOT to get vaccinated,” she tweeted. “If you haven’t, do ASAP. This is just to REMIND you a vaccination does not mean immunity to contracting #Covid.”




Editors Picks HT Movie TV

Why the “New Normal” at Theaters May Mean a Premium Experience for Moviegoers

by Pamela McClintock | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren #reviews-all #picks-all


As vaccines roll out, restrictions lift and theaters reopen, audiences have been willing to pay more for an enhanced experience because — after a year stuck at home — “why do the ordinary?”

More than a quarter of moviegoers returning to theaters for Godzilla vs. Kong have paid an upcharge of $3 to $5 to experience the monster spectacle in Imax and on other premium large-format screens, both in the U.S. and around the globe. That’s well above the norm.

The expanding appetite for an enhanced theatrical experience has given the film and exhibition business a shot of confidence and a weapon against streamers amid devastation caused by the pandemic. Yet it also means theaters that don’t offer upscale sight and sound, plush seats and other amenities might struggle to lure customers.

“People have been sitting in their living rooms for a long period of time. When they go out, they want something really special,” says Imax Corp. CEO Richard Gelfond. “In many places, there are some screens that are kind of small and not that different from televisions in the home. As we all come out of this, we’re going to say to ourselves, ‘Why do the ordinary?’ “

Warner Bros. and Legendary’s Godzilla vs. Kong — the first Hollywood tentpole of 2021 and the first to launch after Los Angeles and New York City theaters were finally allowed to flip on the lights — opened to a mighty $48.1 million in North America despite capacity restrictions in top markets and the continued closure of many theaters (45 percent). Through April 25, the film’s global total stood at more than $400 million, including more than $86 million in America.

A larger portion than usual is coming from premium large-format (PLF) screens, including Imax, Dolby Cinemas — AMC Theatres’ partner in the U.S. — and Cinemark XD. Even Alamo Drafthouse has its own PLF brand.

In the U.S., approximately 27 percent of audiences are seeking out premium large formats to see Godzilla. Usually, that is closer to 15 percent. “People coming back to theaters are seeking out the most premium presentation first,” says Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. Adds AMC executive vp worldwide programming and chief content officer Elizabeth Frank: “We are seeing more evidence that patrons are planning their night out. There is more demand for PLF showings and private screening parties.”


The importance of such foot traffic can’t be overstated in the fierce arms race between theaters and streamers, which have flourished during the pandemic — especially as the COVID-19 crisis triggered the collapse of the traditional theatrical window. Godzilla vs. Kong, for example, debuted day-and-date on HBO Max.

“From an industry perspective, we anticipate the shift to a shorter theatrical exclusivity window will increase the significance of PLF offerings to exhibitors,” says Dolby Laboratories’ Doug Darrow, senior vp of the Cinema Business Group. He adds that on Godzilla’s opening weekend, PLF screens generated 25 percent of the total box office despite accounting only accounting for 3 percent of all screens in North America.

Imax is the only member of the PLF club that discloses grosses. The circuit has been doing huge business in countries where box office has recovered, beginning with China, Japan and other Asian markets. Chinese blockbuster Detective Chinatown 3, for example, set a record for Imax opening-weekend admissions in China (2.1 million), and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train has become the highest-grossing Imax film of all time in Japan with more than $27 million in ticket sales.

A “premium” theatrical experience also includes state-of-the art digital projection and sound, out-of-the ordinary environs, plush seating and expanded food and drink offerings.

But there are no guarantees, even for upscale houses. Decurion Corp., a Los Angeles-based real estate company, stunned the industry by announcing in early April that it was closing ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters, including the ArcLight Hollywood and the adjoining Cinerama Dome. (The two chains had not reopened since the pandemic began.) Sources say there are numerous suitors who would take over operation of ArcLight Hollywood, but so far, Decurion is remaining mum.

Meanwhile, upscale chains Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas and Studio Movie Grill — one of the first chains to offer swanky dining — were able to emerge from pandemic-induced Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after winning over financing partners.

“When we talk internally, we feel like we aren’t competing against other movie theaters, but against all of entertainment,” says Studio Movie Grill CEO Ted Croft.  Adds Alamo co-founder Tim League, “Offering a banner experience has been our business model since the very beginning in order to differentiate ourselves. As we approach a new normal, venturing outside the house needs to be special, perfect and amazing.”

Or, as one studio exec says, “people aren’t going to leave their homes for fold-down seats, sticky floors and crappy concessions.”


Restaurant quality food at Studio Movie Grill.




COVID-19 Updates Editors Picks

Global COVID cases top 150 million; U.S. death toll surpasses 575,000

By The Associated Press

Troy Warren #covid-all #picks-all

The U.S. still leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, but while the pandemic is showing signs of slowing here, other nations remain in desperate conditions.

On Thursday, Brazil became the second nation to surpass 400,000 COVID deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. Only the U.S. has more, with more than 575,000 dead since the pandemic began more than a year ago. Approximately 100,000 people have died in Brazil over the last month.

Brazil’s Health Ministry registered more than 4,000 deaths on two days early in the month, and its seven-day average topped out at above 3,100. That figure has tilted downward in the last two weeks, to less than 2,400 deaths per day, though on Thursday the Health Ministry announced another 3,001 deaths, bringing Brazil’s total to 401,186.

Local health experts have celebrated the recent decline of cases and deaths, plus the eased pressure on the Brazilian health care system — but only modestly. They are apprehensive of another wave of the disease, like those seen in some European nations, due to a premature resumption of activity in states and cities combined with slow vaccination rollout.

Less than 6% of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Our World in Data, an online research site. President Jair Bolsonaro, who is now being investigated by a Senate panel over his administration’s handling of the crisis, has repeated he will be the last to get a shot and he has attacked mayors and governors who enforce restrictions to control the virus’ spread.

Shortly after the grim landmark was published, Bolsonaro said in a live broadcast on his social media channels that “a big number of deaths has been announced,” adding that he is “sorry for every death.” But he repeated his stance against social distancing measures.

“I pray to God so there is not a third wave” of the coronavirus, the president said. “But if the lockdown policies continue this country will be dragged to extreme poverty.”

Globally, more than 150 million COVID cases have been reported, with India trailing the U.S. in that category. India has tried to fight skyrocketing coronavirus infections by increasing its production of vaccines and banning their export, cutting off supplies to neighbors such as Bangladesh and Nepal as they struggle with infection surges of their own.

These nations have imposed lockdowns as residents of big cities flee to the countryside seeking safety. They are also turning to China and Russia for vaccines in a desperate effort to deal with a pandemic that is becoming bigger and deadlier across South Asia.

Although new, more transmissible variants appear to be partly behind the surge, experts say other factors are contributing, including large holiday gatherings and growing fatigue with social distancing and mask wearing.

Elsewhere, Europe’s economy shrank 0.6% in the first three months of the year as slow vaccine rollouts and extended lockdowns delayed a hoped-for recovery, and underlined how the region is lagging other major economies in rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic.

The fall in output for the 19 countries that use the euro currency was smaller than the 1% contraction expected by economists but still far short of the rebound underway in the United States and China, two other pillars of the global economy.

Figures announced Thursday showed the U.S. economy grew 1.6% during the first quarter, with business supported by strong consumer demand. On an annualized basis, the U.S. grew 6.4%.

In Europe, the second straight quarter of falling output confirms the region is in a double-dip pandemic recession after a rebound in growth in the third quarter. Two quarters of falling output is one definition of a recession.

France showed unexpected growth of 0.4% compared to the quarter before, while the main negative surprise came in Germany, the continent’s largest economy. Activity there shrank by a larger-than-expected 1.7% as the manufacturing sector was hit by disruption of parts supplies on top of the hit to services and travel from pandemic-related restrictions on activity.

French authorities are anticipating the COVID-19 outlook in the country to be better next month, when a greater proportion of the population will be vaccinated. The government is slowly starting to lift partial lockdowns, despite still-high numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalized COVID-19 patients. President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that the outdoor terraces of France’s cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen on May 19 along with museums, cinemas, theaters and concert halls under certain conditions.

Worry about a potential second straight lost vacation season has clouded the outlook for Mediterranean countries Italy, Spain and Greece, which rely heavily on tourism. Greece has lifted quarantine restrictions on visitors from EU countries and will allow restaurants and cafes to reopen for outdoor service from May 3. Travel receipts there sank 75% last year.

Economists said they expected an upturn in the coming weeks as vaccinations accelerate. The International Monetary Fund forecasts growth of 4.4% for the eurozone for all of this year. Thus far, Europe’s unemployment rate has increased only gradually to 8.1% in March, thanks to extensive furlough support programs that help companies keep workers on. The U.S. saw its jobless rate fall to 6.0% after spiking as high as 14.8% during the worst of the pandemic.

A major factor holding back the recovery in Europe is the slow vaccine rollout, which has led to prolonged lockdowns. Another is less fiscal support for the economy from new government spending. U.S. President Joe Biden’s $1.9 billion relief package, coupled with spending from earlier support efforts, will mean additional cash support of about 11-12% of annual economic output for this year, according to economists at UniCredit bank. By contrast, the European fiscal stimulus amounts to about 6% of gross domestic product, even after Europe’s more extensive social safety net is factored in.

China was hit first by the pandemic but got it under control through strict public health measures and was the only major economy to grow in 2020. The U.S. was hard hit by the virus but has rolled out vaccinations at a rapid pace.



Editors Picks

Feds to indict Chauvin, 3 ex-officers on civil rights charges

By Tim Darnell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Troy Warren #picks-all

Federal prosecutors are reportedly planning to ask a grand jury to indict Derek Chauvin and three other ex-Minneapolis police officers on civil rights charges in the death of George Floyd.

Prosecutors want to indict Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, according to the Tribune News Service. Earlier this month, Chauvin, 45, was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd. The jury in the internationally watched trial concluded his actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death and his use of force was unreasonable.

Federal prosecutors not only want to indict Chauvin in Floyd’s death but also for his actions in a 2017 arrest of a 14-year-old boy. In the latter case, Chauvin struck the teen on the head with his flashlight, then grabbed him by the throat and hit him again, according to court documents.

The other three ex-officers would be charged only in connection to Floyd’s death. The federal case will be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.

The charges would run in addition to the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Minneapolis police engage in a pattern and practice of unlawful behavior. Justice officials announced this investigation the day after Chauvin’s guilty verdict, another calculated move designed to avoid interfering with the state’s trial.

Floyd died last May after Chauvin, a white officer, pinned his knee on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for about 9 ½ minutes in a case that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.

Chauvin’s sentencing has been pushed back to June 25, according to online court records. Under Minnesota statutes, Chauvin will only be sentenced on the most serious one: second-degree murder.

While that count carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, experts say he won’t get that much. They say that for all practical purposes, the maximum he would face is 30 years, and he could get less.

The convictions came after a jury deliberated for parts of two days following three weeks of testimony from bystanders, medical experts and police use-of-force trainers.