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'The Exorcist' author William Peter Blatty dies at 89

Author William Peter Blatty, who wrote the best-selling horror novel, "The Exorcist," has died at the age of 89.Blatty died Thursday, according to William Friedkin, who directed the film adaptation of "The Exorcist." 

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William Peter Blatty, dear friend and brother who created The Exorcist passed away yesterday— William Friedkin (@WilliamFriedkin) January 13, 2017

RIP William Peter Blatty, who wrote the great horror novel of our time. So long, Old Bill.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 13, 2017

Blatty won an Academy Award for his screenplay adaptation of "The Exorcist," which is about a young girl who becomes possessed by a demon.

China overtakes US in screens but cinemas sit empty

The brightly-decorated 3-D cinema in this town outside Beijing is showing the latest Chinese and Hollywood films, to row after row of empty red seats. So few people come to watch films here that the theater manager rents out the halls to travelling sales companies or music teachers.

China has overtaken the U.S. in terms of the number of its cinema screens, becoming the world's biggest movie market by that measure. But away from the bigger cities you wouldn't know it.

In this theater in a county seat near Beijing, the ticket-seller sitting behind the counter with nothing to do and a ticket-collector lying down watching films on his phone are signs something's amiss with China's non-stop building of cinemas.

Industry analysts foresee only more and more screens. But Zhuolu's residents are typical of Chinese who are not in the habit of movie-going, preferring to watch films online for free.

"We don't have many customers — only a couple on weekdays and a few dozen during the weekends," said Wang Xudong, the manager of Zhuolu County Digital Cinema, which has three screens and 400 seats for a county of 350,000 people.

"Sometimes we rent the halls out for meetings to earn some money and then we can only break even," said Wang, who also provides drum kits for cinema hall lessons for amateur musicians. Companies sometimes rent the halls for promotions of products such as health supplements and water dispensers.

China had fewer than 20,000 cinema screens in 2013, but it has now surpassed the U.S., which had 40,759 indoor and drive-in screens as of July, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Theatre Owners. As of Dec. 20, China had 40,917 screens, according to the national film bureau.

As the most populous country, at 1.4 billion, China's cinema market still has plenty of room to grow as theater chains expand into smaller cities and rural areas.

Box office takings are still much smaller in China, at more than $6.5 billion in 2015, compared to $11 billion in North America, including cinema advertising revenue.

There are just 23 screens per million Chinese, compared to 125 per million in the U.S., according to IHS Markit, a London-based market researcher.

Analyst David Hancock estimates China's screen density ratio will grow to about 57 screens per million over the next five to 10 years.

"The country is still under-screened, and there seems to be little reason to stop building screens where there are none," Hancock said.

China's countryside had around 3,000 cinemas in 2016, out of 7,000 in the whole country, said Fu Yalong, research director at leading entertainment consultancy EntGroup.

"It takes time to foster the habit among people of going to the cinema," he said. "This is still a market with potential for development."

Beijing, with 22 million people, added more than 100 cinemas in 2016, up from about 70 in 2015.

The cinema in Zhuolu, an apple and grape-growing area 160 kilometers (100 miles) away, opened in 2014. It's surrounded by shops, banks and restaurants operating underneath apartment blocks.

On a recent weekday afternoon, a couple bought two 35-yuan ($5) tickets to watch the Hollywood film "Hacksaw Ridge" and had the whole theater to themselves. That's equivalent to about the cheapest cinema ticket for sale in Beijing.

Growth in China's box office takings has begun to slow after years of record-breaking expansion, increasing by just 3.7 percent in 2016 compared with an annual jump of 48.7 percent in 2015. That has pushed back forecasts of when China's box office sales will overtake North America's to 2019, from as early as this year.

Limited purchasing power and competition from online viewing are taking a toll. So is the generally mediocre selection of films, like the widely panned 2016 staple "League of Gods," a fantasy epic starring Jet Li and Fan Bingbing that is based on a 16th-century Chinese novel. Ticket prices have risen after several online ticket platforms stopped giving discounts.

For decades after the Communist Party took power in 1949, state-owned cinemas showed propaganda films starring peasants and soldiers. Even after economic reforms began in the 1980s-90s, cinemas charged as little as 2 mao (3 cents) for showings of both foreign and domestic films.

As China's economy became more market-oriented, state-operated theaters in places like Zhuolu closed and people lost the cinema-going habit. Companies like real estate conglomerate Wanda Group, which owns the American AMC movie theater company, have led a private cinema chain revolution in large cities.

The new cinema in Zhuolu opened its doors two years ago, more than a decade after the old state-run one was torn down.

Once an avid movie-goer, 66-year-old farmer Zhao Youling has never visited the new cinema just 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) away from his village.

"It isn't that the ticket is too expensive, it is that I am too poor," Zhao said.

"I always stay at home and watch TV because it is free," Zhao said. "I was a movie fan 30 years ago and as far as I can remember I could afford to watch a film almost every week and I loved to watch films featuring the lives of farmers or stories in the countryside."

Scant as they are, the Zhuolu cinema's audiences have been growing, says Wang, who contracts the space from the county government's cultural bureau and keeps it open daily, from 8:30 to midnight.

"We have to offer screenings and be ready because we don't know when there will be an audience," he said. "We have to be open all day — we can't let people see a locked door."

___

AP researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.

Film historian and author Betty Lasky dies at 94

Film historian and author Betty Lasky has died. She was 94.

Lasky's longtime friend Mark Penn said Thursday that Lasky died Saturday in Los Angeles from complications from pneumonia.

The daughter of Paramount Pictures co-founder Jesse L. Lasky, Betty Lasky developed an interest in film history at a young age. She contributed articles about Hollywood to Players Showcase Magazine in the 1960s. In 1983, she published a book on the history of RKO studio called "RKO: The Biggest Little Major of Them All."

Lasky also donated a collection of her father's artifacts to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California.

Penn said memorial plans are pending.

Women plead guilty to Tyler Perry movie rights fraud

Federal prosecutors say two women have pleaded guilty to taking almost $300,000 from people who thought they were investing in a Tyler Perry movie.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Columbia, South Carolina, said in a news release that 50-year-old Sharon Johnson wrote a book and 66-year-old Patricia Sullivan published it.

To gain more attention, authorities say the women started lying that movie rights to the book, "The Struggle of Love," had been bought by the famed director and actor.

Prosecutors say the women took pictures in mansions, forged accounting documents to make it look like Perry bought the rights and forged bank records to show they had millions of dollars pending.

The women pleaded guilty to wire fraud Wednesday and face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced later.

Directors Guild announces nominees for film achievement

It was another sunny day Thursday for Damien Chazelle's Los Angeles musical "La La Land" and Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age tale "Moonlight" on the long journey to the Oscars.

After winning the top film awards at the Golden Globes, Chazelle and Jenkins both scored their first nomination for a Directors Guild Award, further enhancing the likelihood of an Oscar nod.

The guild's nominees for outstanding directorial achievement for a feature film also included "Manchester by the Sea" director Kenneth Lonergan, "Lion" director Garth Davis and Denis Villeneuve of "Arrival."

Davis is also nominated for best first feature along with Nate Parker for "Birth of a Nation." Publicity about a 17-year-old rape allegation against Parker had seemed to sink his chances for awards. Parker was acquitted.

Other first feature nominees include Dan Trachtenberg for "10 Cloverfield Lane," Tim Miller for "Deadpool" and Kelly Fremon Craig for "The Edge of Seventeen."

While the DGA nominees for feature film achievement rarely match up exactly with nods for the Academy Award, the guild choices can be a formidable predictor of the eventual Oscar winner.

With nearly 16,000 members, including television and commercial directors, the guild often selects a more populist lineup when compared with the selections of the nearly 400 members of the directors' branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Last year, Alejandro G. Inarritu picked up the feature film award for "The Revenant" before going on to win best director at the Oscars.

Voting for Oscar nominations closes Friday, and nominees will be announced on Jan. 24.

With nominations from the Producers Guild this week, "La La Land," ''Moonlight" and "Manchester by the Sea" appear to be the front runners.

Notably absent from the guild nominations were Martin Scorsese for "Silence," Denzel Washington for "Fences" and Mel Gibson for "Hacksaw Ridge," a film that left the Golden Globes empty-handed.

Winners of the 69th annual Directors Guild awards will be announced at a dinner in Los Angeles on Feb. 4.

Study: Just 7 percent of top films in 2016 directed by women

A new study finds that just 7 percent of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2016 were directed by women.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University on Thursday issued the 19th annual edition of its report, titled "The Celluloid Ceiling," authored by the center's executive director, Martha M. Lauzen. The rate of female directors was down 2 percent from last year.

Despite widespread attention in recent years to gender inequality in the film industry, the study found not only that opportunities aren't improving, but are getting slightly worse. Nearly 20 years ago, in 1998, 9 percent of the top films were directed by women.

Researchers found the disparity across the board. In 2016, women comprised 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers in the top 250 domestic-grossing films. That also is a decline of 2 percent from 2015.

In recent years, gender inequality in Hollywood has drawn increased scrutiny, including an ongoing investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Numerous stars have also spoken out about pay disparity. Most recently, Natalie Portman, who last year released her directorial debut, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," told Marie Claire that she was paid three times less than co-star Ashton Kutcher in 2011's "No Strings Attached."

The center's study also showed the trickle-down effect of hiring female directors. In analyzing the top 500 films, researchers found that on films with female directors, women accounted for 64 percent of writers. On male-directed films, just 9 percent were women.

Legend, Grande to record 'Beauty and the Beast' theme

John Legend and Ariana Grande will record the theme to Disney's live-action "Beauty and the Beast" remake.

The pair will sing the duet first sung by Angela Lansbury in the 1991 animated film and then recorded for the movie's soundtrack by Celine Dion and Peabo Byson for the 1991 animated film. The song, penned by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, won an Oscar and a Grammy.

"Beauty and the Beast," starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, will be released March 17.

Jane Fonda says people should not be fooled by Trudeau

Actress Jane Fonda said Wednesday that people should not be fooled by "good-looking liberals" like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who "disappointed" her by approving pipelines from the Alberta oil sands.

Fonda said after touring the oil sands area that environmentalists everywhere were impressed by Trudeau at the Paris climate conference in late 2015.

"We all thought, well, cool guy," Fonda said. "What a disappointment ...

"He talked so beautifully of needing to meet the requirements of the climate treaty and to respect and hold to the treaties with indigenous people. Such a heroic stance he took there, and yet he has betrayed every one of the things he committed to in Paris."

Fonda, on a trip organized by Greenpeace, is calling for a stop to pipelines and oil sands development.

"I guess the lesson is we shouldn't be fooled by good-looking liberals no matter how well-spoken they are," Fonda said.

Last year, Trudeau approved Kinder Morgan's plans to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Coast, and he approved replacing Enbridge's Line 3 to Wisconsin.

But he also pushed ahead with a national carbon price and he rejected Enbridge's Northern Gateway project to northwest British Columbia, which would pass through the Great Bear Rainforest as his Liberal Party government tries to balance the oil industry's desire to tap new markets in Asia against the concerns of environmentalists.

Fonda, a 79-year-old political activist and two-time Oscar winner for best actress, is the latest celebrity to visit and express concerns about the Alberta oil sands. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Hollywood film director James Cameron have also visited.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Fonda is using her celebrity to promote ill-informed generalizations.

Notley said Fonda should not lecture oil workers about getting jobs elsewhere and added that it was "super tone deaf" for the actress to visit Fort McMurray, Alberta, so soon after devastating wildfires that destroyed 2,400 homes and buildings.

Notley, who leads the left-leaning New Democratic party, also said Alberta has a plan that makes the province a climate leader in North America. Notley said provincial officials were to have met with Fonda to explain the government's plans but it didn't happen.

"Dining out on your celebrity is something that someone ought to pair with knowledge and research and she failed to do that," Notley said.

"It's very clear she didn't know what she was talking about."

A Trudeau spokeswoman referred comment to the office of Canada's Natural Resource Minister

"Our government believes that the environment and the economy go hand in hand. The oil sands are an important source of jobs and economic prosperity for Canadians," spokesman Alexandre Deslongchamps said in an email. "We believe we can only develop our natural resources when we can do so sustainably. That's why we are putting a price on carbon pollution, strengthening environmental and safety standards, and making real investments in clean technology."

Alberta, which has the world's third largest oil reserves, needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil production. Approving Trans Mountain helps diversify Canada's oil exports to Asia. Ninety-seven percent of Canadian oil exports now go to the U.S.

Michael Keaton apologizes for 'Hidden Fences' flub at Globes

Michael Keaton says anyone who reads something discriminatory into his Golden Globes garble of "Hidden Fences" is "extraordinarily incorrect."

"I mean, almost like calling Al Gore a climate change denier," Keaton told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Keaton said he "made a mistake reading the teleprompter and the cue cards" when he conflated the titles of "Hidden Figures" and "Fences" at the awards ceremony Sunday. Both films have predominantly black casts.

Keaton said Wednesday that he is sorry for the error and feels especially bad for the makers of "Hidden Figures" for the flub that diminished the title's recognition at the show, where he introduced supporting actress nominee Octavia Spencer.

"The Founder" star said he's a longtime civil rights supporter who taught his son the importance of being socially conscious.

Review: In 'Patriots Day,' a community disarms terrorism

"Patriots Day," which recreates the 2013 Boston Marathon and the subsequent four-day manhunt, is the third in a string of docudramas for Berg, following the Navy SEAL drama "Lone Survivor" and the recent oil rig disaster film "Deepwater Horizon."

In tales of real-life American heroes, Berg has found a potent balance of fact and fiction, mixing expert big-budget filmmaking with realism. Following the all-around disappointment of "Battleship," he has made his muscular, masculine tales leaner and truer. In each, a skillfully visceral chronology culminates cathartically in moving codas of the real people from the movie.

"Patriots Day," coming just over three years after the bombing that killed three and maimed many, could easily seem like typical Hollywood exploitation of a tragedy, or, on the other side of the coin, simple-minded rah-rah patriotism.

That it's neither is due in part to the detail of Berg's many-peopled portrait of American life. Everyone here is an individual, a family member, someone doing their job. The film, from a screenplay by Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, weaves together a spectrum of characters from across the city — police detectives to victims to the bombers.

While Berg gravitates toward tough-guy realms like the battlefield and the gridiron, he's most at home in the home. His films are grounded in quotidian family life, of husbands kissing wives goodbye and parents making breakfast for their kids. (The tremendous home life of Berg's TV series, "Friday Night Lights," is the best example of this.) He has surely made a close study of John Ford Westerns and their tender lingering on the hearth.

Beginning in the hours before the pressure-cooker bombs explode, Berg visits the home or workplace of the characters he'll stitch together throughout the film: newlyweds planning to watch the race (Rachel Brosnahan and Christopher O'Shea), an MIT officer (Jake Picking) flirting with a student (Lana Condor), and others. The final stop is the Tsarnaev brothers home, which, aside from the jihadist video playing, isn't so different from the others.

The characters are all based on real people except for one: Boston police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg, who starred in Berg's last two). He's a composite invented to connect the movie's many parts, a movie-star MacGuffin who happens to be there for every plot turn.

His presence isn't jarring, though, in the superlative ensemble that includes Kevin Bacon (as the FBI team leader), John Goodman (as the Boston police commissioner), J.K. Simmons (as a Watertown sergeant) and, in one blistering scene, Khandi Alexander as a government interrogator. The Tsarnaev brothers are played by Themo Melikidze (as Tamerlan) and the especially good Alex Wolff (as Dzhokhar) who's presented here as a frivolous, foolhardy teenager most concerned with an iPod jack to play tunes in the carjacking of Chinese student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang).

"Patriots Day" has too little curiosity for the motives of the bombers; its street-level perspective doesn't go beyond Boston. Berg's film isn't seeking answers; it's seeking solace. "Patriots Day" puts forth a vision of a multicultural society that rises up to reject the fear of terrorism. Its heroes are of all colors, immigrants and Southies, alike.

"Patriots Day," a CBS Films/Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use." Running time: 133 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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