Disney backs theatrical releases for remaining 2021 films

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By JAKE COYLE AP Film Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — After endless disruption due to the pandemic and the super-charged growth of streaming services, moviegoing may be going back to something a little like normal.

The Walt Disney Co. on Friday announced that all of its remaining films this year will open exclusively in theaters. That includes the Marvel release “Eternals” (Nov. 5), Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” (Oct. 15), the animated release “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Oct. 22), Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” (Dec. 10) and the Kingsman sequel “The King’s Man” (Dec. 22).

All of the films will have a minimum run of 45 days in theaters before streaming. The animated fantasy “Encanto” (Nov. 24) will head to Disney+ after 30 days.

Disney’s move comes after a year in which the studio, with a few notable exceptions like the recent hit “Free Guy,” premiered many of its releases both in theaters and on Disney+ in so-called “day and date” releases. That included the Marvel movie “Black Widow,” after which star Scarlett Johansson sued Disney, alleging the day-and-date approach breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings. Disney has said the release complied with Johansson’s contract and called the suit without merit.

But it increasingly appears that the days may be number for day-and-date, at least when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters. Warner Bros., which has released all of its 2021 films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, has pledged to revert to exclusive theatrical runs next year. One pandemic shift sure to linger — shorter theatrical runs, as the once-traditional 90-day window has shrunk to 45 days or less for most studios.

Disney’s strategies are especially closely watched because of its enormous sway in the industry as the largest Hollywood studio. Disney accounted for 38% of domestic moviegoing in 2019. But its commitment to theatrical releases was sure to be a huge relief for cinema owners and a sign of some normality returning to moviegoing this fall.

Day-and-date releases proliferated during the pandemic while studios turned to boosting their in-home streaming services and compensating for diminished ticket sales. Theater owners have said that sacrifices many millions in box office and may deter from a movie’s cultural impact.

And, lately, the box-office returns — even during the recent coronavirus surge — have been promising. Disney’s “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” smashed the record for Labor Day openings last weekend, earning $90 million over the four-day weekend. Many in the industry have taken that as proof of the power of a theater-only release, and a positive sign for the fall movie season. Sony Pictures immediately after moved up the release of its Marvel sequel, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.”

“Following the tremendous box office success of our summer films which included five of the top eight domestic releases of the year, we are excited to update our theatrical plans for the remainder of 2021,” said Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, in a statement. “As confidence in moviegoing continues to improve, we look forward to entertaining audiences in theaters, while maintaining the flexibility to give our Disney+ subscribers the gift of ‘Encanto’ this holiday season.”


No cashiers, please: Futuristic supermarket opens in Middle East

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By ISABEL DEBRE Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Middle East on Monday got its first completely automated cashier-less store, as retail giant Carrefour rolled out its vision for the future of the industry in a cavernous Dubai mall.

Like Amazon’s breakthrough unmanned grocery stores that opened in 2018, the Carrefour mini-market looks like any ordinary convenience store, brimming with sodas and snacks, tucked between sprawling storefronts of this city-state.

But hidden among the familiar fare lies a sophisticated system that tracks shoppers’ movements, eliminating the checkout line and allowing people to grab the products they’ll walk out with. Only those with the store’s smartphone app may enter. Nearly a hundred small surveillance cameras blanket the ceiling. Countless sensors line the shelves. Five minutes after shoppers leave, their phones ping with receipts for whatever they put in their bags.

“This is how the future will look,” Hani Weiss, CEO of retail at Majid Al Futtaim, the franchise that operates Carrefour in the Middle East, told The Associated Press. “We do believe in physical stores in the future. However, we believe the experience will change.”

The experimental shop, called Carrefour City+, is the latest addition to the burgeoning field of retail automation. Major retailers worldwide are combining machine learning software and artificial intelligence in a push to cut labor costs, do away with the irritation of long lines and gather critical data about shopping behavior.

“We use (the data) to provide a better experience in the future … whereby customers don’t have to think about the next products they want,” Weiss said. “All the insights are being utilized internally in order to provide a better shopping experience.”

Customers must give Carrefour permission to collect their information, Weiss said, which the company promises not to share. But the idea of a vast retail seller collecting reams of data about shoppers’ habits already has raised privacy concerns in the United States, where Amazon now operates several such futuristic stores, known as Amazon Go. It’s less likely to become a public debate in the autocratic United Arab Emirates, home to one of the world’s highest per capita concentrations of surveillance cameras.

With the pandemic forcing major retailers to reassess the future, many are increasingly investing in automation — a vision that threatens severe job losses across the industry. But Carrefour stressed that human workers, at least in the short-term, would still be needed to “support customers” and assist the machines.

“There is no future without humans,” Weiss said.


China allows couples third child amid demographic crisis

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BEIJING (AP) — China will now allow couples to legally have a third child as it seeks to hold off a demographic crisis that could threaten its hopes of increased prosperity and global influence.

The ceremonial legislature on Friday amended the Population and Family Planning Law as part of a decades-long effort by the ruling Communist Party to dictate the size of families in keeping with political directives. It comes just six years after the last change.
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New Zealand loses its precious ‘Rings’ series to Britain

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By NICK PERRY Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand has long been associated with “The Lord of the Rings” but with the filming of a major new television series suddenly snatched away, the nation has become more like Mordor than the Shire for hundreds of workers.

In a major blow to the nation’s small but vibrant screen industry, Amazon Studios announced Friday it would film the second season of its original series, inspired by the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, to Britain.

“The shift from New Zealand to the U.K. aligns with the studio’s strategy of expanding its production footprint and investing in studio space across the U.K., with many of Amazon Studios’ tentpole series and films already calling the U.K. home,” the company said in a statement.
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UN Women hopes $40 billion will accelerate gender equality

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By EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The outgoing head of the U.N. women’s agency is hoping that in five years the $40 billion recently pledged to promote gender equality will lead to many more women in leadership positions, a reduction of violence against women, and the more than 40 million women who fell into extreme poverty because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and more — escape the poverty trap.
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Will gyms go the way of arcades and movie rental stores?

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By JOHN SEEWER Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Going to the gym was always part of Kari Hamra’s routine until last year’s government-ordered shutdowns forced her to replace the workouts with daily rides on her Peloton stationary bike.

That’s when she discovered something surprising — she did not miss the gym. At least not the driving back and forth, filling water bottles, changing clothes and most of all, taking time away from her husband and two boys.

Now that her gym in Springfield, Missouri, is open again, she’s slowly returning. But finding a more convenient exercise schedule at home and seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases in her hometown this summer have her questioning how much she needs the gym. She figures that if there never had been a coronavirus outbreak “I would still be a gym rat.”
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As stock prices peak, markets begin to fear looming threats

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By STAN CHOE AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — With the U.S. economy humming, corporate profits flowing and stock prices peaking, investors on Wall Street are beginning to pose an anxious question: Is it all downhill from here?

Financial markets are always trying to set prices now for where the economy and corporate profits are likely to be in the future. And even though readings across the economy are still at eye-popping levels, investors see some areas of concern.

New variants of the coronavirus are threatening to weaken economies around the world. Many of the U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts are fading. Inflation is raging as supplies of goods and components fall short of surging demand. And the beginning of the end of the Federal Reserve’s assistance for markets is coming into sight.
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UNESCO watching as Venice grapples with over-tourism

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By COLLEEN BARRY Associated Press

VENICE, Italy (AP) — Away from the once-maddening crowds of St. Mark’s Square, tiny Certosa island could be a template for building a sustainable future in Venice as it tries to relaunch its tourism industry without boomeranging back to pre-pandemic day-tripping hordes.

Private investment has converted the forgotten public island just a 15-minute waterbus ride from St. Mark’s Square into a multi-faceted urban park where Venetians and Venice conoscenti can mix, free from the tensions inherent to the lagoon city’s perennial plague of mass tourism.

“This is the B-side of the Venetian LP,” said Alberto Sonino, who heads the development project that includes a hotel, marina, restaurant and woodland. “Everyone knows the first song of the A-side of our long-play, almost nobody, not even the most expert or locals, know the lagoon as an interesting natural and cultural environment.”
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5 years after Brexit vote, divided UK still feels shockwaves

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By JILL LAWLESS Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Five years ago Wednesday, Britons voted in a referendum that was meant to bring certainty to the U.K.’s unsettled relationship with its European neighbors.

Fat chance.

Voters’ decision on June 23, 2016 was narrow but clear: By 52% to 48%, they chose to leave the European Union. It took over four years to actually make the break and the former partners are still bickering, like many divorced couples, over money and trust.

And five years after a fractious referendum campaign that sparked family arguments and neighborhood disputes, Britain is still as split over Europe as ever.
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UEFA asks Euro 2020 teams to stop removing sponsor bottles

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By GRAHAM DUNBAR AP Sports Writer

GENEVA (AP) — Reacting to a bottle-snatching trend at the European Championship started by Cristiano Ronaldo, players on the 24 teams have been asked to stop removing strategically placed sponsor drinks from the news conference platforms, UEFA said Thursday.

Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Manuel Locatelli all removed sponsor bottles away from the view of cameras when taking their seats at official media sessions this week.

Euro 2020 tournament director Martin Kallen said UEFA has “communicated with the teams regarding this matter.”

“It is important because the revenues of the sponsors are important for the tournament and for European football,” Kallen said in a briefing.
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