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‘F9’ Could Be the Blockbuster Hollywood Needs

LOS ANGELES — In February 2020, Universal Pictures used the Super Bowl to light a marketing match under “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. With any luck, the studio hoped, the movie would roar into theaters a few months later and take in more than $1 billion worldwide, just as a predecessor, “The Fate of the Furious,” did in 2017.

But the pandemic had other plans. Some rival studios hemmed and hawed over their release schedule, but Universal shocked Hollywood in early March 2020 by delaying “F9” for an entire year. “It was a very unpopular decision,” Donna Langley, chairwoman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, said recently in a phone interview. “A lot of people really did not agree with me.”

It was a $350 million-plus decision, between production and marketing costs, and Ms. Langley, like everyone at that stage of the pandemic, was operating in the dark. “It really was a gut call,” she said.

Avengers: Endgame” in 2019.

screen patriotic films with titles like “The Sacrifice” and “The Red Sun” at that time.

As Hollywood has contemplated how best to rev up moviegoing now that theaters are beginning to operate with some normalcy again, there has been a lot of talk about “the right movie at the right time.” It was not Christopher Nolan’s cerebral “Tenant,” which was released in September by Warner Bros. An old-fashioned monster mash-up, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” drew big crowds last month, but results were depressed because it was simultaneously available on HBO Max.

Could “F9” be the one? It will receive an exclusive run in theaters and features action sequences designed specifically for big screens. One of the film’s cars has an actual rocket engine attached to its roof.

“It feels like a big, beginning-of-summer, school’s-out celebration,” Ms. Langley said of the sequel. It finds Vin Diesel’s marble-mouthed Dom Toretto facing his younger brother Jakob (John Cena), an assassin working with the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron). Michelle Rodriguez returns as the brooding Letty. Tyrese Gibson, Helen Mirren and Ludacris also star.

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Scrounging for Hits, Hollywood Goes Back to the Video Game Well

LOS ANGELES — For 28 years, ever since “Super Mario Bros.” arrived in cinemas with the tagline “This Ain’t No Game,” Hollywood has been trying and mostly failing — epically, famously — to turn hit video games into hit movies. For every “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), which turned Angelina Jolie into an A-list action star, there has been a nonsensical “Max Payne” (2008), an abominable “Prince of Persia” (2010) and a wince-inducing “Warcraft” (2016).

If video games are the comic books of our time, why can’t Hollywood figure out how to mine them accordingly?

It may finally be happening, powered in part by the proliferation of streaming services and their need for intellectual property to exploit. “The need for established, globally appealing I.P. has naturally led to gaming,” Matthew Ball, a venture investor and the former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, wrote last year in an essay titled “7 Reasons Why Gaming I.P. Is Finally Taking Off in Film/TV.”

Sony Pictures Entertainment and its PlayStation-powered sibling, Sony Interactive, are finally working together to turn PlayStation games into mass-appeal movies and television shows. There are 10 game adaptations in the Sony Pictures pipeline, a big leap from practically none in 2018. They include “Uncharted,” a $120 million adventure based on a 14-year-old PlayStation property (more than 40 million copies sold). “Uncharted” stars Tom Holland, the reigning Spider-Man, as Nathan Drake, the treasure hunter at the center of the game franchise. It is scheduled for release in theaters on Feb. 18.

post-apocalyptic game of the same title. Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian” himself, is the star, and Craig Mazin, who created the Emmy-winning mini-series “Chernobyl,” is the showrunner. Executive producers include Carolyn Strauss, one of the forces behind “Game of Thrones,” and Neil Druckmann, who led the creation of the Last of Us game.

Sony games like Twisted Metal and Ghost of Tsushima are also getting the TV and film treatment. (Contrary to speculation, one that is not, at least not anytime soon, according to a Sony spokesman: God of War.)

In the past, Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive operated as fiefs, with creative control — it’s mine; no, it’s mine — impeding adaptation efforts. When he took over as Sony’s chief executive in 2018, Kenichiro Yoshida demanded cooperation. The ultimate goal is to make better use of Sony’s online PlayStation Network to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, has more than 114 million monthly active users.

“I have witnessed a radical shift in the nature of cooperation between different parts of the company,” said Sanford Panitch, Sony’s movie president.

Halo,” a series based on the Xbox franchise about a war between humans and an alliance of aliens (more than 80 million copies sold), will arrive on the Paramount+ streaming service early next year; Steven Spielberg is an executive producer. Lionsgate is adapting the Borderlands games (roughly 60 million sold) into a science fiction film starring Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Buoyed by its success with “The Witcher,” a fantasy series adapted from games and novels, Netflix has shows based on the “Assassin’s Creed,” “Resident Evil,” “Splinter Cell” and “Cuphead” games on the way. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the duo behind HBO’s “Westworld,” are developing a science-fiction show for Amazon that is based on the Fallout video game franchise.

And Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures studio responsible for the “Despicable Me” franchise, have an animated Mario movie headed to theaters next year — another new collaboration between a game publisher and a film company.

Still, Hollywood’s game adaptation track record is terrible. Why should the coming projects be any different?

For a start, the games themselves have evolved, becoming more intricate and cinematic. “Games have stories that are so much more developed and advanced than they used to be,” Mr. Panitch said.

first major game adaptation in three decades to receive a “fresh” designation on Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site. Since then, two more adaptations, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount) and “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Sony) have been critical and commercial successes.

“Quality has definitely been improving,” said Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game Awards, an Oscars-like ceremony for the industry.

The most recent game-to-film entry, “Mortal Kombat” (Warner Bros.), received mixed reviews but has taken in $41.2 million in the United States since its release last month, a surprisingly large total considering it was released simultaneously on HBO Max and theaters were still operating with strict coronavirus safety protocols.

Mr. Panitch acknowledged that “video game movies have a checkered history.” But he added, “Failure is the mother of invention.”

Game adaptations, for instance, have often faltered by trying to rigidly replicate the action and story lines that fans know and love. That approach invites comparison, and movies (even with sophisticated visual effects) almost always fail to measure up. At the same time, such “fan service” turns off nongamers, resulting in films that don’t connect with any particular audience.

“It’s not just about adapting the story,” said Michael Jonathan Smith, who is leading Sony’s effort to turn Twisted Metal, a 1995 vehicular combat game, into a television series. “It’s about adapting how you feel when you play the game. It has to be about characters you care about. And then you can slide in the Easter eggs and story points that get fans absolutely pumped.”

“Uncharted” is a prequel that, for the first time, creates origin stories for the characters in the game. With any luck, such storytelling will satisfy fans by giving them something new — while also inviting nongamers, who may otherwise worry about not knowing what is going on, to buy tickets. (The producers of “Uncharted” include Charles Roven, who is known for the “Dark Knight” trilogy.)

“It’s a question of balance,” said Asad Qizilbash, a senior Sony Interactive executive who also runs PlayStation Productions, an entity started in 2019 and based on Sony’s movie lot in Culver City, Calif.

Unlike in the past, when Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive pledged to work together and ultimately did not, the current collaboration “has weight because there is a win for everyone,” Mr. Qizilbash added. “We have three objectives. Grow audience size for games. Bring product to Sony Pictures. Showcase collaboration.”

The stakes are high. A cinematic flop could hurt the game franchise.

“It’s risky,” Mr. Qizilbash allowed. “But I think we can do it.”

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Gotchies, Gotch, Ginch, Gonch, Ginches, Gitch, Gitchies, Gaunch: Canadians’ Unmentionables.

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Back in 1998, bookstores in English-speaking Canada suddenly looked like their counterparts in France, with their windows and floor displays dominated not by novels or popular nonfiction but by dictionaries. More precisely, piles of the first edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

Katherine Barber, Who Defined Canadian English, Is Dead at 61]

When the article appeared online, it provoked a lot of Twitter conversation about Canadianisms, particularly over the correct term for underwear. In the first sentence of the obituary, I went with “gotchies,” which the first edition of the dictionary casts as the “diminutive of GOTCH.”

But many people had other ideas, including: ginch, gonch, ginches, gitch, gitchies and gaunch. (Forgive me if I missed some.)

Judy Gombita, a Torontonian who favors “gotchies,” finally offered this analysis: “So the word definitely BEGINS with a G and often ends with CH, but the in-between varies widely across English Canada’s regions.”

Letterkenny,” the streaming comedy series set in a fictional southern Ontario town, has taken that to new heights. While some of the (printable) terms used by its characters are standard hockey slang or Canadian English, like laneway and rez (for reserve), its writers have gone on to create their own fictional dialect.

article from Babble, an online language learning company, makes a compelling case that the fictional speech in Letterkenny is a “conlang” or constructed language like Newspeak in George Orwell’s “1984” or Nadsat, the mix of Russian and English that Anthony Burgess created for “A Clockwork Orange.”

As I wrote in Ms. Barber’s obituary, declining sales of print dictionaries mean that the Canadian Oxford has not been updated since its second edition was published in 2004.

Some, apparently younger, Twitter users posted that they had never heard some of the Canadianisms I included in the obituary. And while new Canadianisms have likely come along over the last 17 years, the fluidity of languages means that many others have just as probably fallen into obscurity. When I was growing up, the largest piece of furniture in my parents’ room that was devoted to sitting was the chesterfield. Its counterpart in my household is now getting new slip covers and no one has called it anything other than a sofa or a couch during the process.

There has been one update of sorts, however. Among the many sources Ms. Barber and her crew drew on was the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, which was published in 1967. It was a very different creature than the Canadian Oxford. Intended for scholars, it was essentially a collection of Canadian words going back to the arrival of English speakers in what became Canada rather than a general reference dictionary and a snapshot of Canadian English use, spelling and pronunciations at that time.

second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms appeared online. Its website is currently being updated, so it is currently only available in a less-than-ideal digital archived form at the moment.

Somehow, I never interviewed Ms. Barber. But her wit, good humor and enthusiasm always came through on the radio and on television. Her great passion was ballet and she was as well known in those circles as she was in the world of language.

But her sister, Martha Hanna, told me that Ms. Barber’s interest in language didn’t extend to crossword puzzles.

“She said: ‘I don’t want to spend my life thinking about how to answer these stupid questions,’” Ms. Hanna, herself a crossword enthusiast, said of Ms. Barber. “Perhaps she knew words too well to to find crosswords amusing.”


Canadian cities and towns are often impostors, doubling as other places around the world in movies and on television.

  • On Thursday, the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs met for the first time in a post season game since 1979. The Hab won 2-1, but I am not taking sides. Curtis Rush reports that the return of the playoff rivalry has been muted by pandemic restrictions. “Montreal is still known for its fashion and cuisine, flair and intimate quaintness, while diverse Toronto is known for its brashness, flashy skyline and economic clout,” he wrote. “Both fan bases claim they live in hockey’s mecca.”


  • A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

    nytcanada@nytimes.com.

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    Apollo Co-Founder Exits After Clash Over Epstein Ties: Live Updates

    give up day-to-day duties at the private equity giant, after clashing with his fellow founders over the departure of Leon Black as the firm’s chief executive.

    The departure of Mr. Harris, 56, comes months after he argued that Mr. Black should step down immediately following Apollo’s investigation into his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and registered sex offender. Mr. Harris was overruled by the other two members of Apollo’s executive committee, the firm’s other founders, Mr. Black and Marc Rowan.

    Mr. Harris served as one of Apollo’s most visible and hands-on managers, but instead of succeeding Mr. Black as chief executive, he lost out to Mr. Rowan, who had announced last year that he was taking a “semi-sabbatical” from the firm.

    In March, however, Mr. Black — who had agreed to step down as chief executive in July, while remaining chairman — unexpectedly gave up all his duties. Mr. Black, at the time, cited health reasons and continuing media coverage of his dealings with Mr. Epstein.

    But by then, Mr. Harris was seen as having less of a leadership role at the firm. It was Mr. Rowan who engineered Apollo’s takeover of Athene, a big insurance and lending affiliate that is expected to bolster the firm’s investing power.

    Mr. Harris was not on Apollo’s quarterly earnings call with analysts earlier this month, an absence noted by a participant on the call, which fueled speculation that his role at Apollo had diminished since Mr. Rowan’s ascension.

    Mr. Harris had wanted Mr. Black to make a complete break with Apollo after a law firm hired by Apollo’s board had found Mr. Black paid $158 million in fees to Mr. Epstein and lent him another $30 million in recent years. Mr. Harris was concerned that institutional investors in Apollo funds might be troubled by the law firm’s findings, even though the report concluded Mr. Black had paid Mr. Epstein for legitimate tax planning advice and had done nothing improper.

    Apollo’s stock, which had lagged its competitors while the law firm investigated the matter, has risen about 20 percent since Mr. Black said he was resigning as chairman.

    The board of Apollo hired the outside law firm to conduct review following a report in October in The New York Times of Mr. Black’s business and social dealings with Mr. Epstein, who died in federal custody in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

    Mr. Harris will officially step down after Apollo completes the Athene deal, which is expected to be completed early next year. He will remain a member of the firm’s board and its executive committee. Mr. Harris, like Mr. Black, is one of Apollo’s largest shareholders.

    He is expected to focus on an array of other business interests, including his co-ownership of several professional sports franchises — including the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team — and his family office. He is also expected to focus more on philanthropy.

    “I have become increasingly involved in these areas and knew that one day they would become my primary pursuit,” Mr. Harris wrote in an internal memorandum reviewed by The Times.

    Mr. Harris, whose net worth is estimated at just of $5 billion, recently bought a $32 million mansion in Miami.

    Stocks on Wall Street edged higher on Thursday, rebounding slightly from three consecutive days of selling.

    The S&P 500 rose 0.3 percent in early trading. The index had dropped 1.4 percent through the close on Wednesday, after falling by the same amount the week before.

    Concerns about rapid economic growth fueling inflation, as well as rising coronavirus cases in some parts of the world, have undermined recent optimism about the global economic recovery from the pandemic.

    On Wednesday, minutes of the latest Federal Reserve policy meeting showed several officials thought that “at some point in upcoming meetings” they could begin to discuss tapering the bank’s bond-buying program. Investors have speculated the central bank would have to do so as price increases accelerated. The same day, data showed Britain’s annual inflation rate doubled to 1.5 percent in April.

    European stock indexes were higher on Thursday. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.8 percent as gains in health care and industrial stocks outweighed a fall in energy company shares. The FTSE 100 in Britain rose about half a percent.

    Initial claims for state jobless benefits fell again last week, continuing a fairly steady decline since the start of the year, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

    The weekly figure was slightly under 455,000, a decline of 37,000 from the previous week and the lowest weekly total since before the pandemic. New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for jobless freelancers, gig workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits, totaled 95,000. The figures are not seasonally adjusted.

    New state claims remain high by historical levels but are less than half the level recorded as recently as early January. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as business return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

    More than 20 Republican-led states have said they will abandon federally funded emergency benefit programs in June or early July, saying the income is deterring recipients from seeking work as some employers complain of trouble filling jobs. Those programs include not only Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but also extended benefits for the long-term unemployed.

    Ford’s new electric F-150, called the Lightning, is expected to go on sale next spring.
    Credit…Ford

    Ford unveiled an electric version of its popular F-150 pickup truck on Wednesday called the Lightning, signaling a shift in the auto industry’s electric vehicle push, which so far has been aimed at niche markets.

    With an electric motor mounted on each of its axles, the vehicle will offer more torque — in effect, faster acceleration — than any previous F-150 and will be capable of towing up to 10,000 pounds, Neal E. Boudette reports for The New York Times. Its battery pack can put out 9.6 kilowatts of energy, making it able to power a home for about three days during an outage, according to Ford.

    For contractors and other commercial truck users, the Lightning will be able to power electric saws, tools and lighting, potentially replacing or reducing the need for generators at work sites. It has up to 11 power outlets.

    The truck is expected to go on sale next spring, with a starting price of $39,974 for a model that can travel 230 miles on a full charge. A version with a range of 300 miles starts at $59,974.

    The truck’s base price is a few thousand dollars less than that of a Tesla Model 3 and even that of the company’s own Mustang Mach-E sport-utility vehicle. The total cost is lower still because buyers of Ford’s electric vehicles still qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit available for the purchase of E.V.s. Some states such as California, New Jersey and New York offer additional rebates worth as much as $5,000.

    Adam Aron, chief executive of AMC, said on the most recent earnings call that the chain had been “within months or weeks of running out of cash” multiple times during the pandemic.
    Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

    The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain furloughed its 3,100 employees during the pandemic, declared bankruptcy in December, shut down three theaters as part of its restructuring plan and halted a planned project in Orlando. AMC Entertainment’s chief executive, Adam Aron, said this month that the chain had been “within months or weeks of running out of cash five different times between April 2020 and January 2021.”

    Now, theaters are trying to assure people that the troubles are over, Nicole Sperling reports for The New York Times. That movies are coming back, with a vengeance, and moviegoing should soon return to normal.

    “It’s magic, what we do,” Tim League, Alamo’s founder, said in a phone interview. He acknowledged that his company got dangerously close to running out of money in December before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. “We’re in the business of creating the best possible viewing experience — to get lost in an amazing story and have heightened emotions around it. It’s amazing when it’s done right, and we’re in the business of doing it right. I know that people are craving a return to any kind of out-of-home experience, being with people and having a sense of rejoining the community.”

    Some 70 percent of moviegoers are comfortable to returning to the theater, according to the exhibition research firm National Research Group. The box office for April hit $190 million, up 300 percent since February. That’s a welcome relief to the South African director Neill Blomkamp, whose new horror film “Demonic” from the indie outfit IFC will debut only in theaters at the end of August.

    “This brings me joy,” he said in a video message. “I want people to be terrified in a darkened theater.”

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    Cinemas are ready to fill up their seats again. Will audiences follow?

    The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain furloughed its 3,100 employees during the pandemic, declared bankruptcy in December, shut down three theaters as part of its restructuring plan and halted a planned project in Orlando. AMC Entertainment’s chief executive, Adam Aron, said this month that the chain had been “within months or weeks of running out of cash five different times between April 2020 and January 2021.”

    Now, theaters are trying to assure people that the troubles are over, Nicole Sperling reports for The New York Times. That movies are coming back, with a vengeance, and moviegoing should soon return to normal.

    “It’s magic, what we do,” Tim League, Alamo’s founder, said in a phone interview. He acknowledged that his company got dangerously close to running out of money in December before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. “We’re in the business of creating the best possible viewing experience — to get lost in an amazing story and have heightened emotions around it. It’s amazing when it’s done right, and we’re in the business of doing it right. I know that people are craving a return to any kind of out-of-home experience, being with people and having a sense of rejoining the community.”

    Some 70 percent of moviegoers are comfortable to returning to the theater, according to the exhibition research firm National Research Group. The box office for April hit $190 million, up 300 percent since February. That’s a welcome relief to the South African director Neill Blomkamp, whose new horror film “Demonic” from the indie outfit IFC will debut only in theaters at the end of August.

    “This brings me joy,” he said in a video message. “I want people to be terrified in a darkened theater.”

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