Godzilla Vs. Kong now has $415 million worldwide while Demon Slayer is now the biggest global grosser of 2020.
Funimation’s Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train was the top movie at the domestic box office this weekend, with both it and Mortal Kombat taking brutal second-weekend drops. Neither plunge would be a surprise in conventional times, as both were R-rated fan-specific IP plays which met much of the demand last weekend. On the plus side, the theatrical box office is doing better than a year ago, when summer kicked off with IFC’s The Wretched grossing $65,908 in 12 theaters. The old-school supernatural horror throwback would top the box office, among films actually offering box office grosses, for five weekends before being topped by the Kevin James/Lulu Wilson actioner Becky with its whopping $209,394 debut in 45 theaters. Yeah, the drops among last weekend’s robust openers is unfortunate, we’ve seen worse.
Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train grossed $6.426 million in weekend two, a drop of 71% from its boffo $21.14 million debut. Even with better weekday grosses compared to Dragon Ball Super: Brolly, this one couldn’t maintain the momentum into the weekend. With $34.1 million in ten days, it has already passed Amélie ($33.225 million in 2001) to become the seventh-biggest grossing (sans inflation) foreign-language film ever in North America. It sits behind Pan’s Labyrinth ($37.634 million in 2006), Instructions Not Included ($44.467 million in 2013), Parasite ($53.4 million in 2019), Hero ($53.71 million in 2004), Life is Beautiful ($57.2 million in 1999) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($128 million in 2000). After a weekend like this, it isn’t challenging Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning Holocaust dramedy for the silver medal.
Needless to say, this is still a big win for Funimation, and the film itself has earned over $473 million worldwide since October of 2020. That’s $356 million in Japan alone (over $400 million by late 2020 currency exchange rates), a record for any Japanese release ever. Sorry to Spirited Away, which will now have to merely exist as the greatest animated movie of all time. With a global gross above the $472 million cume of China’s “shot on IMAX” pre-World War II epic The Eight Hundred, Demon Slayer The Movie is now the biggest global grosser of 2020. And, yeah, to the extent to which it matters, Japan’s action fantasy toon has made far more of its money outside of Japan than did China’s various local blockbusters outside of China.
Mortal Kombat earned another $6.235 million in weekend two, dropping a harsh 73% from its $23.3 million domestic debut. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation fell 59% over Thanksgiving weekend after a $16 million launch in 1997. It’s the fourth-biggest second-weekend drop ever for a video game flick, just below Warcraft (-70% from a $24 million debut in 2016) and Doom (-72.7% from a $15.5 million launch in 2005) and just above In the Name of the King (-77% from a $3.25 million debut in 2008), Bloodrayne (-81% from a $1.5 million debut in 2006) and DOA: Dead or Alive (-92% from a $260,000 debut in 2007). Now to be fair, the video game-based sub-genre is awash with huge second-weekend drops, with 19 (out of 48) dipping at least 62% in weekend two.
Absent the HBO Max variable (which allowed folks to relish their favorite scenes at home), this drop likely would have been closer to a Resident Evil sequel (-65% to -68%) than Doom. However, while Wonder Woman 1984 suffered a similar fate (-67% after a $16.4 million debut last Christmas), Godzilla Vs. Kong and Tom & Jerry did not. With mixed-negative reviews and comparatively mixed word-of-mouth, this one wasn’t going to leg out in conventional circumstances even if it had opened sky-high (in a non-Covid timeline) in January of 2021 as the first biggie of the year. Like quite a few video game flicks, this one played to the fans, with little success (thus far) in terms of reaching the unconverted. Its total is now $34.087 million domestic and $66.9 million worldwide.
The $55 million, R-rated action fantasy will now likely end up closer to Resident Evil: Retribution ($42 million in 2012) than Resident Evil: Afterlife ($60 million in 2010). Now for the record, Wonder Woman 1984 eventually pulled a 2.8x weekend-to-final multiplier ($46 million) following its 67% second-weekend plunge, while Tom & Jerry has earned $44.2 million from a $14.1 million debut (3.13x) after a 53% second-weekend drop. Can Mortal Kombat stick around and flirt with $60 million? Maybe, but we’re about to get a handful of “big” studio releases. With Wrath of Man, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Those Who Wish Me Dead, A Quiet Place part II and Cruella opening between May 7 and May 28, Warner Bros. will no longer be the only game in town for “big” theatrical releases.
Godzilla Vs. Kong passed $90 million domestic in its fifth weekend of release, earning $2.73 million (-36%) for a new $90.33 million cume. So clearly the Mortal Kombat drop can’t be pinned entirely on the HBO Max factor. The $165 million MonsterVerse flick, which already has an Adam Wingard-directed follow-up in very early development, might just be the first movie to top $100 million domestic since Sonic the Hedgehog ($146 million) in February of 2020. With $415 million worldwide, it’ll eventually pass the $430 million worldwide cume of Bad Boys for Life from back in January of last year, becoming the biggest Hollywood release since the year-end spree of Joker ($1.073 billion), Frozen II ($1.45 billion), Jumanji: The Next Level ($800 million) and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ($1.072 billion).
Walt Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon has earned $41.6 million domestic in nine weekends of domestic release. That’s a generally/conventionally miserable total for a big Disney toon, but it’s the leggiest “opened on a Friday” biggie of the pandemic era, earning 4.77x its $8.7 million domestic debut. For reference, The Croods: A New Age has earned $57.7 million from a $14 million Wed-Sun Thanksgiving debut. Tenet, which just premiered on HBO Max yesterday, has earned $58 million from a $20.4 million 11-day Labor Day week launch. That doesn’t make the well-reviewed Kelly Marie Tran/Awkwafina action fantasya success, even as it passes $100 million worldwide. However, the folks who wanted to see it in theaters are clearly doing so at their relative convenience or as theaters near them re-open.
There were a handful of new releases this weekend (Separation, Limbo, Four Good Days, A Walk With Herb, The Virtuoso and China’s Cliffwalkers), all of which earned a total of $2.36 million combined. Meanwhile, Universal re-released Scott Pilgrim vs. the World into 152 Dolby Cinema theaters in America. The Edgar Wright action comedy fantasy was a prime example of how online fandom doesn’t translate into general audience interest. The “Twilight for boys” flick (that’s not a criticism) earned $31.5 million domestic and $47.7 million worldwide on a $60 million budget, even as everyone in the supporting cast (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, etc.) went on to fortune and glory. It earned $720,000 for a new $32.4 million cume. It’ll have the biggest per-theater-average, $4,737 per-theater, in the top 23.
Russia has produced a batch of the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine for animals, the country’s agriculture regulator announced Friday, which could help prevent dangerous mutations emerging, protect vulnerable animals and support animal-driven industries, such as mink fur farming, that have been crippled by the pandemic.
17,000 doses of the Carnivac-Cov vaccine have been produced at Russia’s Federal Center for Animal Health, the agriculture regulator said Friday.
The initial batch will be distributed across several Russian regions, it said, with companies from countries including Germany, Poland, Kazakhstan, Thailand and South Korea having expressed interest in purchasing future doses.
It is unclear what animals are expected to receive the first batch—Forbes has reached out to the regulator for comment—though the vaccine was registered in March after tests showed responses in dogs, cats, mink and foxes.
The watchdog said it was in the process of preparing an application to register the vaccine in other countries around the world, notably the European Union.
While a vaccine for animals may not seem like a priority in the midst of a pandemic where many humans do not have access to them, safeguarding animal populations is an important aspect of long-term disease control. The virus responsible for Covid-19 is, experts believe, highly likely to have spilled over into humans from animals, which has happened with many major diseases including influenza (flu), Ebola and HIV. Humans are also capable of spreading the disease to animals—including pets, like cats and dogs, and agricultural animals, like mink—where dangerous mutations can possibly develop and spread back into humans.
The U.K., which monitors cases of Covid-19 in some animals, reported two instances of cats seeming to have caught the virus from their owners. One, a four-month-old kitten, died after developing breathing difficulties. While there is no evidence that domestic animals can transmit the virus to humans, scientists warned of the need to monitor transmission in case they can act as a “viral reservoir.”
Cybersecurity startup Darktrace, one of the U.K.’s most promising tech companies, has started trading on the London Stock Exchange, valuing the business at $2.3 billion (£1.7 billion). The company said Friday morning that it had raised $200 million as a result or the initial public offering (IPO).
Trading began at 8am London time under the ticker “DARK” and has had an auspicious opening, with shares trading up from 250p per share to 350p on opening. That would give it a market cap of $3.3 billion.
It’s an exciting start for the cybersecurity company, which had been dogged by the continuing allegations of fraud facing one of its key investors, Mike Lynch, who helped launch the company back in 2013. Lynch is facing extradition to the U.S. where he faces criminal charges relating to HP’s $11 billion acquisition of his old company Autonomy. Lynch has denied all wrongdoing. Reports had also raised issues around Darktrace’s hard-driving sales culture, whilstForbes had previously reported on the abiding influence of Lynch and another former Darktrace director, Sushovan Hussein, who was convicted in the HP fraud case, though has been fighting an appeal. There were also allegations of sexual harassment within the startup.
The Darktrace offering will also be a boon for the London Stock Exchange, which has struggled to compete with New York and Hong Kong for high-growth tech listings, with food delivery startup Deliveroo’s IPO flop weighing on its prospects. Shares of the company slumped 30% on opening. That knocked $2.6 billion off the Amazon-backed company’s value.
“Our company is deeply rooted in the UK’s tradition of scientific and mathematic research so we are especially proud to be listing on the London Stock Exchange,” said Poppy Gustafsson, chief executive of Darktrace. “This is a momentous day for Darktrace and for the UK’s unparalleled science and technology sector.
“Our mission has always been to apply fundamental technology to the universal challenge of cybersecurity and we would not have got to this point without the determination and dedication of our talented employee base, as well as the continuing loyalty and feedback from our customers. As we look to the future, we are eager to build on our AI technology and to accelerate its deployment in existing and new markets worldwide.”
Darktrace claims its artificial intelligence can learn how networks operate and then spot anomalies, with the ability to eradicate threats on its own without human intervention. It’s one of a handful of British tech companies worth more than $1 billion, in a country where few cybersecurity businesses grow so large or go public. Its past customers have included corporate giants like BT and HSBC.
The company says it plans to use its new funds to invest in its research center in Cambridge, U.K., and expand globally.
Lionsgate dropped a few new release dates yesterday. The big one was a June 29, 2022 (Wednesday) release date for Shotgun Wedding. That rom-com stars Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel (replacing Armie Hammer) as a couple dealing with their last-minute cold feet and their opinionated relatives as their destination wedding party gets taken hostage. If things remain as-is, that will give two Jennifer Lopez-starring romantic comedies for early-2022, with the Owen Wilson co-starring Marry Me opening February 11, 2022 following a one-year delay due to Covid. Moreover, Marc Forster’s White Bird: A Wonder Story, a spin-off of (but not direct sequel to) the Owen Wilson/Julia Roberts/Jacob Tremblay sleeper smash Wonder, will open September 16, 2022. In yet another change for summer 2021, Martin Campbell’s The Protégé has been moved up to August 20, 2021.
That action flick, courtesy of the director who rebooted James Bond twice (via GoldenEye and Casino Royale) and gave us a classic superhero epic in The Mask of Zorro, stars Maggie Q as a contract killer vowing revenge for the murder of her mentor (Samuel L. Jackson) in a journey that also involves a fellow murderer played by Michael Keaton. Even if you didn’t like Green Lantern or The Legend of Zorro, Campbell is one of the best around in terms of grounded, real-world action flicks. Vertical Limit and Edge of Darkness are both pretty damn good, and his most recent, the Jackie Chan/Pierce Brosnan thriller The Foreigner, was an unqualified winner. So, yes, I’m very much looking forward to this one. It also means that Lionsgate now has three summer release which all star Samuel L. Jackson.
Summer unofficially begins with Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which stars Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in a soft-reboot of (and direct sequel to) the previous Saw films. Helmed by series vet Darren Lynn Bousman (who set the tone and structure for the sequels with Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV), the Chris Rock-produced flick features someone cosplaying as Jigsaw seemingly targeting corrupt cops. That frankly seems par for the course for the franchise which has always been partially defined by casual police corruption and/or incompetence in its unnamed “makes Gotham look pleasant” city. Jackson plays Chris Rock’s retired cop father, so we’ll see what role he plays in the newest Jigsaw adventure. Counting Thursday previews, Spiral opens two weeks from tonight and once again the marketing has told us almost nothing about it.
The August 20 date now occupied by The Protégé was until-recently occupied by The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. But after Disney moved Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy to August 13, Lionsgate shifted the Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson/Salma Hayek action comedy sequel to June 16 (a Wednesday). Patrick Hughes’ The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a sleeper hit in summer 2017, earning $71 million from a $21 million debut and $156 million global on a $30 million budget. I argued then and now that a key to its success was that it was Jackson’s first full-on major-studio starring vehicle since (the underrated) Lakeview Terrace in April of 2008, just a month before his Iron Man cameo birthed the MCU. Movies like that, non-franchise, of-the-moment topical, were already becoming an endangered species. The next decade would see them become almost extinct.
Jackson would spend the next decade headlining VOD/DVD flicks like Big Game, Unthinkable and Cell while being an MVP supporting player in the likes of Django Unchained, Oldboy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Legend of Tarzan and Kong: Skull Island along with his turns as Nicky Fury in several MCU flicks. We can debate whether he’s the lead in Quinten Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (he certainly ends the movie as a key protagonist), but The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a return to the kind of movies that made him a star in a (comparatively) less franchise-centric era. He would follow that up with Glass, another Shaft and Apple TV’s terrific The Banker (co-starring Anthony Mackie). Don’t cry for Mr. Jackson, he parlayed his “added value element” status into key supporting roles which made him the highest-grossing actor in Hollywood history.
Samuel L. Jackson’s movies have earned a combined $27.5 billion worldwide. Not counting cameos (Out of Sight, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, the last two Avengers moviesand Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker among others) along with “before he was famous” flicks (Coming To America, The Exorcist III, Sea of Love, etc.), his films have grossed just over $22 million worldwide since his breakout role in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever 30 summers ago. While none of these three old-school R-rated flicks are expected to break out (all three would be okay with $100 million and thrilled with $150 million worldwide), and to my knowledge he has no screen time in Marvel’s Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or Eternals, it’s still amusing/intriguing that Lionsgate is essentially betting their entire theatrical summer on Samuel L. Jackson.
On Manhattan’s Billionaires’ Row, just off Central Park, a luxury four-bedroom residence is up for sale. Featuring ten-foot ceilings, four-and-a-half bathrooms and an eat-in kitchen, the unit also includes 24-hour concierge service. The catch? Good luck finding it on the open market. The seller, whose identity was not disclosed, is soliciting offers from just a select group of buyers. If you don’t have the connections, you’ll never stand a chance.
The Manhattan apartment deal is part of a booming trend in real estate that’s been spurred on by a massive shortage of residential properties: homes for sale that are never publicly advertised on major databases, better known as “pocket listings.”
The practice is most commonly associated with luxury enclaves, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s $27.8 million home purchase this month, which closed off-market. High-profile and wealthy sellers often view the deals as a way to protect their privacy.
But pocket listings are used across price ranges, and are gaining traction in this hot market. In some cases the transactions can offer the seller a fast-tracked deal with better terms. Broadly speaking, however, the practice has drawn scrutiny both from many real estate professionals and regulators due to its lack of transparency and the way it tilts sales to better connected buyers. Off-market transactions are inherently exclusionary, critics say, and can worsen housing segregation. The National Association of Realtors trade group moved to ban them in 2019.
“It’s part of the real estate industry’s dark, smoke-filled room where, when listings are scarce, real estate agents don’t market the home to everyone. They just market the home to their own network,” says Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin.
Redfin reports that, in places like Chicago, Indianapolis, Orlando, Las Vegas and New York, the use of pocket listings has at least doubled—and in the case of Las Vegas quadrupled—since 2018. “You’re starting to see just the openness of the housing market break down,” Kelman says. Overall use varies by city; in Chicago, for instance, Redfin estimates that 6.5% of total transactions likely closed off-market in March. In Las Vegas, that figure stood at 2.5%, despite the large percentage gain since 2018.
Elizabeth Korver-Glenn, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico, has studied pocket listings’ effect on fair housing. “I think they fly in the face of housing equity,” she says. “What happens when real estate agents use pocket listings is that they are essentially granting access only to those people in their networks. And within the context [of] racially segregated networks, that means that white agents… are opening them up disproportionately, almost exclusively, to potential homebuyers who are almost always white.” In some cases, she adds, sellers don’t list their homes publicly with the explicit intention of blocking certain buyers, generally people of color.
The impetus for pursuing an off-market listing varies by case. Certain listing agents push for them because they can collect fees from both the buyer and seller if they tap their own network to close the deal—depending on local regulations. “I would love to hear that conversation… because there’s no freaking way that this serves the seller’s best interest,” says Antonia Ketabchi, a Redfin agent based in Maryland, who argues that open-market deals by definition attract more bidders.
In other cases sellers insist on selling off-market. Chris Fry, a real estate salesperson at Elegran in New York City, says he typically pushes for a public listing, but when clients refuse—generally in the name of privacy— he markets the properties to prospective buyers through emails and other targeted outreach. “I think there are 22 contracts out in the West Village that are going to be closing and I’d say probably a third of them to half of them were off market,” he says.
Frans Preidel, an associate broker at Brown Harris Stevens, is also generally opposed to pocket deals, but says there is an exception for cases when a buyer approaches the seller seeking to purchase a “listing that is not traditionally on the market.”
Still, Kelman is quick to point out that pocket listings affect the entire market, and increasingly so, as inventory shortages intensify across the country.
“Everyone’s going to talk about selling Tom Cruise house…. It is totally not about that. That is not the main problem,” he says. “The main problem is a $1.2 million home in Orange County, California, where a lot of people would be interested… and the listing agent says there are just so many people who want to buy this I’m going to market it my own network.”
Because of that, Kelman is pushing to end the practice, despite its surging popularity, as is Korver-Glenn, but in the absence of a government or legal intervention, the deals are likely to go on.
Eight years ago this month, the Bank of Japan embarked on one of economic history’s most audacious journeys to end deflation. How far has Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s team gotten?
Not very. In fact, by some measures, the BOJ is now shifting into reverse. That’s the sad implication of Kuroda admitting on Tuesday that rather than 2% inflation, his team will be lucky to hit 1% by 2023.
Where things went so wrong has myriad lessons for policymakers from Seoul to Washington.
When Kuroda announced the 2% goal in April 2013, the plan was for a two-year timeline. The BOJ began with a series of monetary “bazooka” blasts and pledged to fire a minimum of 80 trillion yen, or $740 billion, annually into the government bond market. This overwhelming-force strategy drove the yen down by about 30%, boosting exports and corporate profits.
After that, Kuroda & Co. kept adding tools to its arsenal. The BOJ increased and broadened debt purchases, cornering fixed-income trading. It loaded up on stocks via exchange-traded funds. So much so that by 2018, five years into the journey, the BOJ’s balance sheet surpassed the size of Japan’s $5 trillion economy, a first for a Group of Seven nation.
Yet the intended effects never materialized.
Inflation, for example, barely made an appearance. At the high point, consumer prices barely got halfway to 2%. And when it did, it was the bad kind: imported through higher energy prices with an undervalued currency amplifying the effects.
The bigger problem is that wages never quite perked up as the government hoped. At first, Japan Inc. got into the swing of things with annual pay bumps here are there. Yet a nation racked by deflation dating back to the 1990s needs steady, sizable and sustained salary increases to enliven consumer behavior. Not a 2% boost here, and a bonus here and there.
In 2013, when then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hired Kuroda, his government tried to make the 1980s great again. Abe rose to power in December 2012 with a bold plan to restructure an aging, unproductive economy watching China zoom by in gross domestic product terms. The specter of shock therapy added some spring to Japan’s step, globally.
Mostly though, Abe outsourced the job to the BOJ. Abe laid out a seemingly audacious Big Bang plan to loosen labor markets, cut bureaucracy, catalyze a startup boom, empower women and import waves of foreign talent. It turned out to be a series of tiny pops.
Abe’s most obvious win was improving corporate governance. Steps to increase the number of outside directors and return on equity helped drive Nikkei 225 Average stocks to 30-year highs. Yet it didn’t translate into CEOs sharing profits with workers. Nor has Japan been swamped with takeover attempts from abroad.
Ultimately, Abe was endeavoring to bring back old-school “trickle-down” economics. He bet that filling corporate coffers would be enough to kick off a virtuous cycle of huge wage increases, boosting consumption and then fueling even greater profits. That, and staging a wildly successful Tokyo Olympics, was deemed boost enough to end 20 years of falling prices.
The gamble failed, as evidenced by how quickly GDP collapsed 15 months ago when Covid-19 arrived. Within a few months, Tokyo was scrambling to toss more than $2.2 trillion, 40% of GDP, at collapsing demand. A few months after that, Abe—his poll numbers in the 30s—stepped down.
Few economists seem to appreciate how the Tokyo Games set to begin in July—depending on Covid-19 cases—set back the economy. Abe wagered that the sugar high from the event would pay off spectacularly. Worse, he put virtually all of Tokyo’s reform chips in the run-up to the Olympics.
Odd as it sounds now, Team Abe believed that planning for the Games would work its magic to internationalize business practices, increase innovation and have corporate chieftains moving headquarters from Hong Kong and Singapore to Tokyo. It worked in 1964. Abe figured it could happen again.
To be fair, Japan couldn’t have seen the pandemic coming—or a one-year delay for Tokyo 2020. But even bigger than the loss of overseas tourism is the “opportunity cost” of not raising Japan’s economic game these last eight-plus years.
Abe’s replacement, Yoshihide Suga, now faces the return of deflationary pressures investors assumed were history. Suga, though, faces an economic ammunition problem. Overwhelming fiscal and monetary bazookas have already been deployed.
Thankfully, China is leading the global recovery, providing a market for Japan’s export giants. Shipments to the mainland jumped 37.2% in March from a year earlier, particularly for chip-related gear and automobile makers.
Yet export surges from 2013 to 2019 didn’t have corporate CEOs fattening paychecks or investing big in new industries or greater innovation. That sort of virtuous cycle is even less likely as a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections hits Japan.
Japan’s dismal failure with getting a vaccination program going also speaks to a bureaucracy that needed some serious shaking up back in 2013. Instead, we got the Olympics.
Today, the handwringing is over the roughly $25 billion Tokyo lavished on an Olympics that might not happen. Yet history will probably add a zero or two to how a couple of weeks of sports distracted Japan from building economic muscle for the decade ahead.
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While some industries were devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, funding kept flowing to startups using artificial intelligence to solve business challenges. Several healthcare companies made the annual Forbes AI 50 list, which identifies some of the most promising companies in the space. Komodo Health uses algorithms to help identify patients for clinical trials and track drug effectiveness after it hits the market. Viz.ai examines CT images to try to reduce the number of stroke victims who don’t receive the right treatment in time. Verge Genomics combines AI with human genome data for drug discovery, and its candidate to treat Lou Gehrig’s disease will enter clinical trials next year.
New York-Based Digital Health Startups Raised $2.4 Billion In The First Quarter Of 2021
New York City has become a hotbed of digital health investment, with 64 companies raising a record high of $2.4 billion in venture funding in the first quarter of 2021, according to a new report. Last year, it took nine months to achieve the same level of funding. While many of the companies were well capitalized before the pandemic, Covid-19 necessitated scaling up new solutions. Virtual care and digital pharmacy startup Ro had the biggest funding round at $500 million, followed by healthcare billing startup Cedar. Read more here.
Health insurer Humana said it would buy the remaining 60% stake of Kindred Healthcare’s home care business in a deal valued at $8.1 billion.
Cash-pay digital health startup Sesame raised $24 million in funding for its in-person and telehealth services.
A new report predicts colorectal cancer will become the leading cause of cancer death in people aged between 20 and 49 by the year 2040.
India continues to be hit hard by a massive surge of Covid-19 cases. The country’s total death toll passed 200,000 Wednesday, and experts say this is likely a big underestimate. The country is trying to roll out Covid-19 vaccines, but on the first day where registration was open for all Indians over the age of 18, the online portal quickly crashed. Meanwhile, other countries have started sending foreign aid to help with the surge. The U.K. has sent hundreds of ventilators and oxygen containers, and more supplies from America, Germany and Australia are expected to arrive soon.
Pharma Companies Expand Access To India
Pharmaceutical companies are working to get medicine into the hands of Covid-19 patients in India. Here’s how they are expanding access to needed drugs. Read more here.
Other Coronavirus News
Yesterday popular podcaster Joe Rogan said that young people shouldn’t get a Covid-19 vaccine; Dr. Anthony Fauci says that’s incorrect.
The current surge of Covid cases in India continues to strain the country. Over the past week, the country has been reporting over 300,000 new cases per day, and over 200,000 people have died from the disease. The sharply rising case counts are overwhelming hospitals, which face shortages of equipment and supplemental oxygen.
To help contain the crisis, countries, organizations and companies have pledged medical equipment to the country. Others are promising to donate vaccines and the raw materials to manufacture them. But while vaccines may help contain the spread of Covid, they can’t help currently suffering patients. To that end, several pharmaceutical companies are working to expand access to their Covid treatments in India.
On Monday, Gilead Sciences announced that it is donating 450,000 doses of its antiviral drug remdesivir to India, as well as providing support to its local manufacturing partners in India. The company said that it would also work with its generics licensees outside of India to expand capacity to make up for doses produced in India that will no longer be available for export.
Remdesivir is an antiviral drug, and is the only fully FDA-approved treatment for Covid-19 in the U.S. It’s been authorized for emergency use in India and other countries for hospitalized patients. Clinical trials under randomized control conditions in the United States showed that remdesivir reduced time to recovery for patients, reducing hospital stays by several days. A different study, conducted by the World Health Organization, did not show a reduced time to recovery, but that investigation used a less rigorous methodology.
On Tuesday, pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that it has entered into licensing agreements with five generic pharmaceutical manufacturers in India for the production of its antiviral treatment molnupiravir, which the company is developing with Florida-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. The drug is currently undergoing a phase 3 clinical trial in the United States, where it is expected to apply for emergency use authorization in September or October. The drug is not yet authorized for use in India, but manufacturing licenses are geared towards making doses available if regulators give it an okay. The company also said it would be donating over $5 million worth of equipment, masks and other supplies to India.
Molnupiravir is an antiviral pill that is aimed at patients who test positive for Covid but are not yet hospitalized. In its phase 2 clinical trial, Merck found that a lower percentage of patients who received the drug were hospitalized or died compared to the control group, and that the amount of virus present in each patient was lower for the group that took the drug.
So far, the best clinical treatments for Covid-19 patients have proven to be antibody therapies. These treatments have been shown to reduce hospitalizations among patients with symptomatic cases of Covid by over 70%, and have also been shown to prevent Covid infections when administered prophylactically. In the United States, both Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have received emergency authorization for their antibody cocktails to be administered to Covid patients. Neither has yet been authorized for use in India, however, but both pharmaceutical companies are working on it.
A spokesperson for Roche, which is manufacturing and distributing Regeneon’s antibody cocktail internationally, said in an email that it “is urgently working with local health care authorities to accelerate an emergency use authorisation.” Once that authorization has been received, that “would enable the import of globally manufactured product batches to the country as soon as possible.”
In addition to its antibody cocktail, Lilly has also received authorization from the FDA for administration of its rheumatoid arthritis drug, baricticinib, in combination with remdesivir for hospitalized Covid patients. A spokesperson for the company said in an email that it’s still in discussion with India’s regulators about authorizing its treatments. They went on to say that the company is “in active dialogue with the regulatory authority and government of India to determine if a donation of Lilly’s COVID-19 treatments – including both our neutralizing antibody therapies and baricitinib – would be appropriate to potentially provide relief.”
Despite my misgivings with Without Remorse, I would love to have seen the film theatrically instead of on a screener. There are screenings taking place tomorrow night, but none of the theaters are terribly close to me, so I opted to watch it at home and write up the review accordingly. Point being, I imagine there are folks who have missed the theatrical experience enough to find any reason to go to a movie theater, even if it’s not to see a movie. On that note, Iconic Events announced today that they have enlisted theatrical circuits representing over 1,000 locations to its expanding network playing its programming. As announced by Executive Chairman Michael Lambert, theatrical distribution and exhibition expert Steve Bunnell is joining the company as its chief financial officer.
Iconic Events was formed last year by Lambert, a longtime movie theater owner, along with former Cinemark CEO Tim Warner (among others). The goal is for Iconic Events to be a major player in terms of exhibiting “not just the big new movies” event programming in a theatrical auditorium. Think, offhand, sporting events, concerts, live Q&As for movie premieres, cast reunions and more. This isn’t a new idea, as most of us have probably gone to a theater to see something comparatively unconventional at least once or twice in our lives. I saw the 1999 Oscars (where Shakespeare In Love beat Saving Private Ryan) in a movie theater, and I was among many who attended the theatrical showing of Sherlock: The Abominable Bride in January of 2016.
I will never, ever forget the screening of A Nightmare On Elm Street in September of 2006 that temporarily featured the wrong audio track. The shocking thing is that the audio for Bryan Barber’s Idlewild damn-near matched the onscreen events for Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street, but I digress. Anyway, Fathom Events has made their fortune in this capacity, and we’ve certainly seen a rise of “for one night only” theatrical screenings in the VOD era. Iconic is hoping to increase the footprint of so-called “event cinema,” as it’s now five times smaller in North America than in Europe. For those who want to see UFC fights, awards shows, television events and related “not a blockbuster movie” content in theaters, well, this is only good news.
The current conundrum is that Hollywood still needs movie theaters, especially when it comes to big-budget franchise films. If Hollywood didn’t need theaters, then we wouldn’t still be waiting on the release of No Time to Die, F9 and Top Gun: Maverick. The money from VOD, DVD and streaming isn’t anywhere near the raw revenue from a global theatrical release. If theaters were an unnecessary middle-man they would have been cut out of the equation 15 years ago. While overall box office (pre-Covid) was up and ticket sales were only somewhat down from the peak of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, more moviegoers were spending more of their annual theatrical dollars on a smaller portion of big-scale “event movies.” Moreover, theatrically-bound movies are still the most valuable enticement for streaming platforms.
The notion of less movies making up more of the overall box office is more of a problem for studios than theaters, since a large popcorn for Tenet costs the same as one for The Broken Hearts Gallery. And while it would be easy for theaters to start shifting more and more of their films to streaming or VOD, theatrical movies still dominate in terms of viewership on the various streaming platforms. We’ll see how that hashes itself out over the next few years (maybe more movies existing in nationwide release for a week or three before debuting on VOD or streaming), but the notion of more “event cinema” will give theaters have something of value to program on a Wednesday night or a Thursday afternoon.
It’s no secret that theatrical moviegoing is a peak-hours business, as you can usually stroll into the opening Friday morning or first Tuesday night of any mega-blockbuster and buy a ticket. If we start seeing more operas, sporting events, UFC fights, Broadway shows or lectures taking up space in auditoriums, well, once again, a large popcorn purchased during Downton Abbey: The Movie costs the same as one purchased for Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell. We’ll see how this plays out over the next few years, but it would be nice to have a reason to go to a theater even if you’ve seen all of the big movies currently playing.
The press release:
ICONIC EVENTS SIGNS UP THEATER CIRCUITS REPRESENTING OVER ONE THOUSAND LOCATIONS AS INDUSTRY VETERAN STEVE BUNNELL JOINS TO BE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER COMPANY POSITIONED TO CAPITALIZE ON GROWING DEMAND IN THE EXPANDING EVENT CINEMA SECTOR FOR LIVE AND Special Event Programming
April 28, 2021, Los Angeles, CA – The fast-growing event cinema company Iconic Events announced today that the company has enlisted theatrical circuits representing over 1,000 locations to the expanding network of theaters playing its programming, and that Steve Bunnell, the respected theatrical distribution and exhibition veteran, is coming on board to lead Iconic’s growth efforts as chief executive officer. The announcement was made by Iconic Events Executive Chairman Michael Lambert.
Iconic Events was formed last year by Lambert, a longtime owner of movie theaters, along with former Cinemark CEO Tim Warner and several leading media, exhibition, and entertainment industry entrepreneurs with extensive experience in the industry. The event cinema company was quietly launched after Lambert and Warner consulted with key members of the community, who enthusiastically endorsed the need for exhibition to have more programming choices for their theaters and have since signed up to be part of the Iconic network.
Iconic Events has already become a significant distributor of live sports events and other unique and desirable fan favorite programs. Iconic is focused on working with its theater partners and expanding the variety and types of event cinema content presented in their auditoriums. Event cinema programming includes on stage access to rare concerts, live Q and A’s for premieres of new movies, cast reunions of classic movies, anime, premiere episodes of beloved series from networks and streamers, and even regional and local sports.
Event cinema, defined as non-traditional entertainment released in theaters as special limited-engagement event programming, is the fastest growing segment in exhibition in the United States.
Event cinema’s audience is five times larger in Europe and other international markets than in the U.S. The appointment of Bunnell, one of the industry’s most accomplished and recognized veterans, to lead this new venture is a further sign of Iconic’s commitment to capitalizing on the potential growth opportunity and increased demand for specialized content in this sector. Live and special event programming is built on activating content-specific fandoms and followings, who will share the excitement of new content.
“Iconic Events has had an incredible start by securing the rights to UFC fights, live boxing matches, and other highly desirable and marketable content for distribution to our growing network of movie theaters,” said Lambert. “Steve Bunnell understands the business like few others. His special vision for expanding live and other content through his relationships and experience on both sides of the theatrical aisle at Cinemark, Universal, Regal, and most recently Alamo Drafthouse, makes him uniquely qualified and perfectly suited to lead Iconic as we broaden our programming and extend into categories including concerts, music videos, live Q and A’s for premieres of new movies, cast reunions of classic movies, anime, premiere episodes of beloved series from networks and streamers and even regional and local sports.”
“Now, more than ever, theaters need the additional programming choices like those being offered by Iconic. We already have access to over one thousand theaters representing nearly ten thousand screens in the US, with more live-capable theaters being added every day,” said Bunnell. “There’s enormous potential for growth in this sector of the business in the United States by making this content broadly available to any and all exhibitors, and I’m tremendously excited to be leading Iconic’s efforts. Putting optionality into the hands of exhibition and giving them more choices for their customers couldn’t be more important.”
Fueling growth in the Iconic network is a no-strings approach to building long term relationships with partners. “More and more, the multiplex is seen not just as a local theater. It is a community entertainment center and an event destination. We are delighted to have such fantastic response from our community – they understand their customers want more event cinema in their theaters, and more importantly, they understand the upside for their bottom line – especially right now, when every dollar counts,” said Bunnell.
Iconic Events has already seen significant success with live UFC events, starting in January with the Connor McGregor/Dustin Poirer fight. The company has quickly grown from just a dozen test locations to over 150 live-event-capable theaters that brought the most recent UFC live event to audiences this past weekend. Iconic will also bring audiences the super middleweight fight between Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders on May 8 through a new partnership with DAZN, and will bring the rematch of McGregor/Poirer to theaters in the just-announced UFC event on July 10.
Behind Iconic Events is a world-class team of industry leaders. Founded by Michael Lambert, Mark Rupp, Steven Menkin, and Tim Warner, Iconic is dedicated to bringing live and other special events programming to movie theaters. For information on the company, or updates on future Iconic Events programs coming to theaters near you, visit www.iconicreleasing.com
“In fact, if you really want to take a deep dive, tequila was birthed out of colonialism because the Spanish-Mexicans owned the land they grew agave on,” Quiñonez explained further. “While mezcal is truly ancestral, because it’s made by the indigenous communities of Mexico, who own their own land and the agaves they cultivate in it.”
It was heady stuff to digest for sure. But it’s no secret that Quiñonez certainly knows much more than the usual spirits professional. And I’m glad she brought up all this historical information, while many others often hesitate to go that far back and shy away from inconvenient facts. In that sense, she’s fearless—talking about heritage, culture, and people without any of the usual marketing jargon. Instead, she used her 20-year career working in the spirits industry—15 of which was spent as a global brand ambassador for Diageo—shedding light and dispensing valuable intel that go way past what’s trending at any given time.
“My romance with agave and Aztec culture began as a teenager in the ’90s while growing up in Eastside San Jose, California—where I enrolled in Mexican and Aztec studies at local colleges to understand the history, language, and mythology,” Quiñonez says. “I’m a first-generation Nicaragüense and I was raised in a diverse and culturally rich community dominated by hard working Mexicanos from Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. My first experiences with tequila were mainly during celebratory and joyful occasions: family gatherings, weddings, and holidays. And the brands that resonated with my early years were Chinaco, Siete Leguas, and Tres Magueyes, because they had always represented quality and tradition.”
Today, Quiñones is still in the spirits industry, but she’s made the leap to become her own boss: She’s now the CEO and founder of her own boutique consulting firm, which specializes in global route-to-market strategies—focusing on agave-based beverages, cannabis, and the multi-cultural luxury world at large, where she works only on projects and clients she truly believes in.
“I can proudly say that I’ve had a unique front row seat into the world of tequila, not only within my own career and extensive travels throughout Mexico but through my mother’s as well,” Quiñonez says. “She ignited a new and early passion for the industry—as she was an amazing bartender and cocktail waitress for 25 years. I was learning about tequila, rum, Cognac, and fine Scotches from the age of 14, so my early love for history, culture, and hospitality created the perfect foundation to an illustrious path into the world of fine spirits.”
Here, Quiñonez listed some of her favorite tequilas and mezcals—many of which are not part of the “Big Boys” club she had previously worked with: Beyond that she’s also worked with the the “Big Boys” of tequila—Don Julio, Jose Cuervo, Herradura, Cazadores, and DeLeon. Instead, she wanted to highlight more offbeat distilleries than aren’t going to be in every single big box store or retailer. These picks are more artisanal in nature, and in its own way, truer to the way locals—not Americans—drink.
“The curated list is a tribute to the legacy, art, and craft of the unsung heroes in the industry: the agaveros, los jimadores, tequileros, and mezcaleros. For centuries they have honored a past that connects tradition, the magic of the land, and its people,” Quiñonez emphasizes. “The tequilas and mezcales that I selected are the finest representation of Mexican heritage, in my opinion…not only for their exceptional taste but in the manner with which they’re produced. All use mindful and sustainable cultivations practices. Several continue to use pre-Hispanic milling methods such as the tahona—an art and rarity in the 21st century. There’s the fractional aging of reposado and añejo tequilas; techniques seen in aging fine Sherry wines; and the hand selecting of the most mature agaves to deliver the most remarkable profiles, styles, and flavor combinations. And although Cinco de Mayo is not traditionally celebrated in Mexico, it does represent the most important holiday for tequila and mezcal sales in the United States. I only hope that whatever agave-based spirit that you choose to celebrate with, you appreciate not only its great taste but its unique origins.”
The Best Tequilas and the Best Mezcals for Cinco de Mayo—and Beyond
“El Tequileño Reposado Gran Reserva isa favorite among tequila drinkers, judges, and connoisseurs. El Tequileño, located in the heart of el Valle de Tequila with its 60-year-old tradition and legacy, has created one of the best-tasting reposado tequilas in the market,” Quiñonez says. “This blend of eight-month-old reposados and reserve 18-month añejos create absolute perfection from start to finish. Bold notes of vanilla, nuts, dried fruit and spice. I really enjoy sipping on this with a large cube of ice and great company.”
“This expression comes from an incredible distillery with heritage, using tradition and artisanal methods with five generations of production and history,” Quiñonez says. “‘SS’ is a very special sipping-style blanco at 46% ABV. A must have for any tequila lover, it boasts of beautiful earthy notes combined with bright fruit and cooked ripe agave. I like to sip SS on the rocks or with tonic and a lemon peel.”
“Terroir plays a vital role in tequila production, as it does in most fine spirits and winemaking—and the single estate grown agaves yield some of the sweetest piñas from the highland region,” says Quiñonez. “A wonderful bouquet of herbal, citrus, and floral aromas deliver balance and elegance with every sip. I really enjoy drinking this plata style on the rocks. You’ve got crisp notes of green apple, fresh herbs like basil, and yerba buena and sweet tropical fruit.”
“Cascahuin Tahona Blanco is a true display of harmony, ancestry, and balance,” Quiñonez says. “There are powerful notes of cooked agave, herbal, sweet fruit, and mineral essence. It’s my favorite tequila among the ‘tahona-style’ tequilas for its purity and elegance.”
“I highly recommend that you record the day and time you taste this,” Quiñonez insists. “This is yet another masterpiece from destilería La Tequileña, where only the finest most mature agaves are able to make the cut. Their use of fractional aging, combined with the different styles of barrels used for maturation, such as French Limousin oak, American white oak, and wine casks deliver an exceptional liquid with an even more exceptional finish. Notes of cooked agave, dried fruit, spice and caramel offer a sensational añejo style for any agave connoisseur.”
“This expression, from destilería La Tequileña in the heart of el Valle de Tequila, only utilizes hand-selected estate-grown Highland agaves to produce Don Fulano Blanco, which provides exquisite beauty and elegance. Blanco tequilas—to be properly classified—are typically unaged. So to sample a six-month-aged tequila reinforces the bounty of the land and the maguey. The aging creates more delicate fruit, herb, and spice notes to deliver one of the best tasting blanco tequilas in the market.”
“Fortaleza Blanco is another beauty from NOM 1493. You can pour Fortaleza Blanco in a mixed drink, neat, or on the rocks—and it will not disappoint,” Quiñonez says. “It’s all sophisticated and refined sweet notes—with hints of citrus, butter, and white pepper. Copper pot distilled, alongside the use of the traditional tahona milling method, adds mineral notes—making it a standout tequila for me.”
“This is a true beauty,” Quiñonez says. “This reposado is aged for six to eight months and it’s everything that you would want in a classic ‘valley-style’ reposado. Notes of cooked agave, honey, and vanilla produce depth and body with a silky rich finish. I prefer to sip on this reposado with orange wedges to enhance the spice and honey notes.”
“El Tequileño Reposado Rare is absolutely unique, not only for its aging method—as they blend añejo tequilas that have been aged for over six years in a ‘pipon,’ which is a wooden oak tank that’s able to hold more than 23,000 liters of tequila—but for its depth of flavor and deep finish,” Quiñonez says. “With its elegant notes of dried fruit, ripe pineapple, honey and cooked agave, I recommend using a tequila glass or a champagne flute to truly take in the expression’s bold flavors and luxurious taste.”
“This is the perfect daytime drinking style reposado of the bunch! This reposado is rested for a little over eight weeks in ex-bourbon barrels. It’s got a rich fruit-forward nose with notes of honey cooked agave, tropical fruit, mango, and apricot—the perfect reposado to have neat or in my favorite cocktail, the Paloma.”
“La Gritona reposado is such a special tequila from Distillery NOM 1533, not only for its great taste but for their standout master distiller, Melly Barajas,” Quiñonez says. “Only a small number of female master distillers produce tequila—and an even smaller number have an entirely female production team! La Gritona utilizes nine- to ten-year-old mature agave from the highlands region of Jalisco—so these agaves yield more sugar and tend to be sweeter and more aromatic. This reposado is incredible: so many exploding flavors such as cooked tropical fruit, honey, spice, hints of clove, and aniseed deliver a wonderful reposado style tequila from start to finish.”
“Master distiller Felipe Camarena has created such a refined, elegantly crafted, rich sipping style añejo,” says Quiñonez. “It’s incredibly expressive on the nose with hints of cooked pear, apple, vanilla, cinnamon, and clove spice. It’s a stunning representation of flavor, complexity, and harmony—with elegant hints of oak, honey cooked fruit, and spice on the palate. Certainly one of my favorite añejos on the market.”
“This is the perfect dessert-style reposado, to sip neat or with a large cube of ice,” says Quiñonez. “It has a velvety feel with notes of chocolate vanilla, cinnamon, and butterscotch with complex spices such as chile de arbol and clove. Expressive from nose to finish. The pretty bottles make for interesting conversation as well.”
“I absolutely enjoy the bold earthy, smoky, and herbal notes that this reposado delivers. The honey and white pepper notes carry forward along with hints of fresh cut herb, wood, and citrus peel—creating a rich long dry finish,” says Quiñonez. “I recommend pairing this with oysters or ceviche, on the rocks or in a long drink.”
“Such a great classic añejo style from the incredible state of Guanajuato. This añejo is aged for 12 months in oak barrels, is bottled at 38% ABV, and delivers bold flavors of charred wood, herbs, nuts, and sweet piloncillo. Such rustic classic flavors from beginning to end.”
“Founded in 1873, the Santa Rita factory has been producing tequila for 15 generations,” says Quiñonez. “This jewel of a blanco offers complexity, harmony, and depth. It delivers a range of rich flavors—from wild honey, cooked agave, fresh cut grass, tropical fruit, citrus, and smoke. As a higher-proof blanco at 45% ABV, it creates a long rich finish, one of the best tasting blanco tequilas on the market!”
“I absolutely love this añejo: so expressive on the nose with notes of bourbon, butterscotch, dried fruit, figs, and raisins,” says Quiñonez. “Beautifully rich on the palate with a silky finish. I recommend enjoying this añejo with a dessert or cigar pairing.”
“This expression is the perfect link to bridge the old world to the new. This joven mezcal delivers a well-rounded body and a sophisticated finish,” Quiñonez says. “The floral hints of cooked fruit, smoke, and spice create the ideal introduction to a traditional-style mezcal made in the fashion of tequila. Produced in the small village of Huitzila, Zacatecas, near the Valley of Tequila, master distiller Jaime Bañuelos continues the tradition of pre-hispanic artisanal production methods, while maintaining complexity and balance with every sip.”
“What an incredible treat to have gotten my hands on this beauty,” says Quiñonez. “San Bartolo is produced in the gorgeous village of Yautepec by award-winning mezcalero Valentín Martínez López, who was recently recognized by the CRM (Consejo Regulador del Mezcal) for his historic 50-year contribution to the production of mezcal! So much harmony and balance: a fine blend of floral, citrus, and tropical fruit notes such as pineapple and mango—with light pepper and smoke flavors that deliver a refined and elevated liquid. This made me smile from ear to ear. A wonderfully refined representation of the category.”
“Tosba mezcal from the remote village of San Cristóbal Lachirioag in Oaxaca embodies passion, heritage, and an outstanding commitment to community and the land,” Quiñonez says. “Bold and expressive, its earthy, herbal, vegetal, and smoky notes deliver an outstanding full body and perfectly balanced espadín mezcal. I recommend sampling this neat in a Champagne flute to truly appreciate its rich complexity and elegance.”
“This expression is made with wild agave that naturally grows in the high plateau of San Luis Potosí. From the village of Charcas, the mezcal cultivated in the desert delivers a more sweet, floral, and herbaceous mezcal—unlike in any other place in Mexico,” Quiñonez says. “Maestro mezcalero Manuel Perez showcases the expression’s beauty, balance, and intensity by foraging for dry salmiana leaves and quiotes to use as fuel during the cooking process.”