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Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood this year are inspired by cult classics and horror films produced during the 1980s.  Executive producer of the event, John Murdy, reflected fondly on his own experience, “When I grew up in the ’80s, it was the ’50s that were cool. We looked to like ‘Happy Days,’ ‘American Graffiti’ and listened to The Stray Cats. So, it makes sense now, that in 2019, the ’80s are the hip thing.” The throwback event runs on every Thursday night, from September 19th to October 31st.  Guests are invited to dress in their favorite 1980s apparel – everything from neon leg warmers, to windbreakers and track suits. Fans will be able to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of the decade – 1980s music will be on the escalators and MTV-era music videos will be on the screens of the subway where the “Ghostbusters,” “Creepshow” and “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” attractions are located. The Ghostbusters attraction was approved by Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and offers memorable moments from all three Ghostbuster films. Several mazes with designs based on horror films are featured.  Last year there was one based on the first season the Netflix thriller Stranger Things.  This year’s Stranger Things maze is based on the second and third seasons of the show and promises to meet high expectations.

Event Stats

  • Dates: Consecutive Thursdaynights, from September 19th to October 31st
  • Time: 7pm
  • Location: Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA

Prices:

  • General Admission $64-$102
  • Universal Express Passes $159-$299
  • Multi-Evening Passes $109-$299
  • Various daytime/nighttime combo tickets $97-$147
  • All-inclusive R.I.P. Tours start at $279.
  • All passes are available at Hollywood.HalloweenHorrorNights.com
Apple Store’s search engine has come under scrutiny recently for favoring Apple’s company created apps in its results.  Scrutiny by regulators in Europe and the United States forced Apple to change its search algorithm in July. The New York Times had analyzed the search results for six years and found that Apple’s own apps ranked first with at least 700 search terms used in the store. According to the newspaper, the analysis since 2013 included a ranking of more than 1,800 specific apps for 13 keywords. The Wall Street Journal confirmed The Times reporting with its review that found similar results; Apple’s own apps often took priority. Before changes to the algorithm, when one searched for common terms such as “music” or “podcast,” Apple Music or Apple podcasts would come up and you’d see unrelated Apple apps, forcing Apple’s competitors down the lists. This is a natural result of the company’s tight control of the process.  iPhone apps can only be installed from Apple’s Store and Apple’s software competes with many of the independent developers in the store. Newspapers get involved when governments get involved.  This issue is the subject of a civil lawsuit in the US and the US Department of Justice is considering an Apple investigation. The Dutch are looking into it as well. Apple told The Times that it has made changes to help users better find the apps they are looking for.  After the changes, it appears that fewer of Apple’s own apps appear at the top of search results.
The way people watch TV and movies has shifted dramatically away from following scheduled releases to on-demand and streaming and binge watching. Waiting for a week until the next episode of your favorite show airs is largely of the past. However, Netflix, the folks that brought us binge watching, recently showed some sympathy for the older way of doing things.  Starting with Rhythm the Flow, their new music competition series featuring T.I, Cardi B and Chance the Rapper, they have chosen a hybrid release schedule. Several episodes will be released each week over a couple months.  This schedule retains some elements of binge while building the anticipation for the next group of episodes. This hybrid schedule reflects a clever business sense.  It recognizes that this program may be best if the formula is adjusted.  Likewise, Disney, a future competitor in the streaming space, plans to release shows like Loki and The Mandalorian in the traditional weekly format. Lesson: No format, style or business practice is cast in stone – in the age of downloads, vinyl records are making a comeback for audiophiles, so anything is possible.

The dangers of relatively new products are rarely understood, which makes them difficult to regulate. Government watchdogs are put in a ‘wait-and-see’ position.   Meanwhile, early users of products like e-cigarettes begin using based on the industry hype – it’s like a cigarette, but it’s safe.  In a concern about their real cigarette habit, smokers jump to the ‘safe’ alternative while young people gravitate to the new, cool thing that makes them look, in their own minds, more mature.

Then the evidence starts to accumulate.  Vaping, as it’s referred to, is like smoking cigarettes, but it may be as unsafe, though in different ways.  This new guilty pleasure may be responsible for 450 reported lung disease cases and at least five deaths so far.

As a result, the watchdogs are lining up.  The American Medical Association (AMA) has called on Americans to stop using electronic cigarettes of all kinds until scientists get a better grip on the cause of these illnesses.  As one of the country’s most influential physician groups, the AMA urged its members to inform patients about the dangers of e-cigarettes including its toxins and carcinogens.  And they asked doctors to promptly report any suspected lung disease cases related to the use of e-cigarettes to their state or local health department.

That recommendation followed the advice of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggested people not use e-cigarette products while they are investigating the cause(s) of this flood of severe lung disease cases related to vaping.  The CDC reports that many, but not all, cases involved vaporized oils containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis. On another track, they said that some laboratories have identified vitamin E acetate in product samples as a possible cause of the illnesses.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been under growing pressure to curb the rise in teenage use of e-cigarettes. This trend coincided with the increasing popularity of Juul e-cigarettes. AMA President Dr. Patrice Harris argued, “We must not stand by while e-cigarettes continue to go unregulated. We urge the FDA to speed-up the regulation of e-cigarettes and remove all unregulated products from the market.”

The message does get through to some.  Megan Constantino, 36, from St. Petersburg, Florida, stopped vaping after receiving reports about vaping-related illnesses and deaths. Like many users of vaping pens, Constantino began using the device after quitting smoking three years ago. Constantino is worried that many people will ignore the warnings.

Public health experts have found no evidence of infectious diseases and believe that these lung disease cases are likely to be associated with chemical exposure. Gregory Conley, President of the American Vaping Association, who advocates that cigarette smokers switch to non-nicotine-based vaping devices, said the AMA should be “ashamed of themselves for playing politics with people’s health and protecting the profits of drug dealers.”  Many lobbyists make such remarks in defense the profits of their constituents. We’ve seen this before from the fossil fuel and tobacco industries. The question is how many people are willing to believe the emerging science over public relations campaigns?

Apple’s fall conference was packed with new product announcements. First among them are the next generation iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.  The base model comes with an attractive glass design, a choice of six colors, a 6.1-inch display, a spacial audio sound field, a dual camera system allowing for wider photos, a night mode for brightening photos taken in the dark and, what the company claims is, the highest quality video ever available in a smartphone.

The iPhone 11 Pro is even more advanced, with the highest pixel density of any prior Apple phone, a super display, machine learning accelerators, better battery capacity, water resistance and something called Filmic Pro App, which allows for making multiple videos at once in different directions.

The iPhone 11 will sell for $699 while the iPhone 11 Pro will sell for $999.

Another featured product was the Apple Watch that the company claims is helping people with health research. Multiple, ongoing studies include:

  • A hearing study researching how daily sound experiences influence long-term hearing health.
  • A women’s health study that focuses on how menstrual cycles influence infertility and osteoporosis.
  • A heart and movement study that monitors the heart to understand its influence on overall human health.

Apple’s research promises users the right to data privacy.

Apple Watch Series 5 offers several new safety features including fall detection and international emergency calling. The Series 5 Apple Watch starts at $399. The Series 3 is still available at a lowered price of $199.

The 7th generation iPad comes with a large 10.2-inch display with 3.5 million pixels, a wider viewing angle for photos and claims to be two times faster than top selling PCs.

On the content front, trailers for the Apple TV Plus program lineup where shown to what was reported to be a great response. Many of the shows will be available starting November 1st for $4.99 per month.

The company also revealed a new subscription service for accessing games, editorial content and personalized recommendations called Apple Arcade. It will be available starting on Sept. 19th for $4.99 a month – with a one-month free trial.   You’ll have to raid the piggy bank for all these toys.

Celebrities, like the rest of us, don’t always get along. For us common folk, the offenses usually stay between us. Not so with famous people. Lately, a long simmering feud between Dywane Johnson and his former Fast & Furious co-stars resurfaced when Johnson was out promoting his F&F spinoff called Hobbs and Shaw. Tyrese Gibson, one of his F&F co-stars, went public with noise about the movie’s relatively low opening weekend box office…the lowest opening for the franchise since 2006.  Apparently, the friction goes back to 2016 when the Rock first criticized co-star Vin Diesel on Instagram and re-emerged when the Hobbs & Shaw shooting schedule forced a delay of the next Fast & Furious shooting schedule. Of course, the opening weekend in the US is a big deal, but with these high-adventure films, global numbers can matter more, which gave Dwayne Johnson his response.  It turns out that so far H & S has earned more than $700 million worldwide, fifth best of the franchise.  Don’t mess with The Rock.
Mobile tech company, DeNA, just released a Nintend-based, free-to-play Pokemon game called Pokemon Masters for iOS and Android phones. The game involves players forming teams of trainers and fighters. The combat involves three teams of trainers and fighters in combat with each other on the artificial island of Pasio. This exciting new contribution to the Pokemon gaming series started with a popular first week debut. According to Sensor Tower estimates, Pokemon Masters had a great first week having earned about $26 million.  It may be free-to-play, but if you want to really compete you will need to increase your chances with expert coaching.  That costs money. The strong opening week – second in the series to Pokemon Go – means that players are willing to spend to enhance their chances. Sixty-two percent of the revenue came from Japan, Nintendo’s home market, which was followed by United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan and France to fill out the top five markets.  Seventy-two percent of the revenue came from iOS phones. Nintendo will also release Pokemon Sword and Shield on November 15th, as well as a special edition of the Nintendo Switch Lite.
Contemporary life is surrounded by technology. For most of us, we have gotten so used to computers, cell phones and electricity that we feel like we could never live without them. Despite how useful these machines are, the technologies that we use in our daily lives are not danger free. Here’s one quick story about a cell phone charger to highlight the point. A teenager from Colorado received an Anker PowerCore charger from Amazon, a gift from his grandmother.  How nice. The teen settled downstairs to do some homework when he heard a frightening noise.  He looked down to see that his backpack was on fire. Acting quickly, he grabbed the bag, ran upstairs and threw the bag outside while his mother grabbed the fire extinguisher. He later said he was alerted when “I heard a fuse for like a firecracker firework go off.” The only injury in this case was that the charger burned a hole in the backpack. For its part, Anker requested that the charger be returned and said it would reimburse the family. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has documented several complaints about these types of chargers.  We’ve also heard of similar spontaneous combustion fires started from lithium-ion batteries in cars and laptops.  Lesson: Be aware of your electronic products and act quickly if you see smoke or flame.

Movies made by Marvel Cinematic Universe tend to be high impact films that drive the summer blockbuster season.  That’s the reason why Marvel films and actors tend to make so much money. Here’s a quick list of the ten richest Marvel actors.

Chris Pratt plays a leading role in Guardians of the Galaxy as Star-Lord in a role that helped him win a completely new level of fame. The popular actor has helped make this little-known comic story into an incredible film success. Outside the Marvel world, Pratt is the main actor in the Jurassic World series and also plays Emmet in the Lego films. Pratt is one of the fastest growing names in Hollywood and has a substantial net worth of approximately $40 million.

Jeremy Renner may not have been the focus of the Marvel films he starred in, but his role as Hawkeye has helped boost his net worth to about $50 million. Jeremy has been in all but one of the Avengers films and yet only in Avengers: End Game did Renner have a substantial role. It was in this film that he clearly showed us how great the Hawkeye character could be; furthermore, his emotional encounter with Black Widow was a scene stealer.

Chris Evans has portrayed heroic moral goodness as the Avenger leader ever since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chris was the perfect Captain America.  Although Evans’ time as Captain America came to an end and the cloak was passed on during Avengers: End Game, his time in that role was memorable, helping him reach a net worth of about $50 million.

Paul Rudd spent most of his acting career earning his impressive fortune in the range of $70 million through comedy films. That’s why it was surprising hear his name when it was first announced as Ant-Man.  Rudd played an important role in Avengers: End Game and has two Ant-Man films of his own. His comedic approach greatly helped his films stand out from the crowd.

Perhaps nobody on this list has ever worked harder to get a miracle film going than Ryan Reynolds did with Deadpool. The popular actor had a strong desire to play this character. When Reynolds finally managed to get the R-rated movie off the ground, it immediately became a hit for Marvel. This helped Reynolds, the voice of Pickachu, to increase his net worth to about $75 million.

Chris Hemsworth has starred in countless films from Rush to the latest movie Men in Black. He also played Thor in both his own films and in the Avengers films. Thor is one of the most powerful characters in the series and Hemsworth has done an incredible job in this role by giving it both a serious and comedic tone.  All together Hemsworth has accumulated a net worth of about $90 million.

Bradley Cooper is the voice behind the incredibly popular Rocket Racoon character, a member of Guardians of the Galaxy who also appeared in the Avengers franchise. Cooper has an incredible career, from the Hangover series to Silver Linings Playbook to A Star is Born, in which he wrote, directed and acted. From all of his great, high earning movies he’s earned a fantastic net worth of in the neighborhood of $100 million.

Hugh Jackman’s role as Wolverine really put this veteran on the map for the adventure audience. He has played this role countless times. Jackman has since withdrawn from the role, but not before he left a huge mark on the Marvel world.  His total career in film and on stage has yielded a net worth of approximately $100 million.

One thing Marvel never fails to have female actresses in their films, mostly in secondary roles. But that’s not the case with Scarlett Johansson, who portrayed the brilliant Black Widow in countless Marvel films.  Johansson is first and foremost a safe name in Hollywood. She is box office royalty.  She can carry a Marvel film. All of which has made her a wealthy woman with a net worth estimated to be $140 million. Scarlett Johansson topped the list of the richest female actresses this year. Who is the undisputed king of miracle superhero films? The answer might be Robert Downey Jr. with an incredible net worth of about $300 million; Robert Downey Jr. has created an incredible career, much of it through his role in the Iron Man franchise. Marvel gambled by hiring Robert Downey Jr. who had had years of addiction issues.  They had to believe those years were in his past – they were and he proved them right.

In the new world of media, content companies must make all their offerings available to their audience wherever and however they want it – broadcast, cable, PC or stream, mobile or wired, scheduled or on-demand.  In that regard, our friends at Apple Music will be launching a browser version of its music streaming service. Paid subscribers will be able to access the streaming service from any web browser by logging in using their Apple ID. The browser version of the application is currently in beta, offering listeners full access to their playlists and Beats 1 Radio. As part of the overall strategy, Apple confirmed that it is withdrawing iTunes and replacing it with a new package: Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple TV. Apple clearly has a strategy for matching every new trend in music technology with a clear and impactful response.