Steve Mnuchin may be headed for U.S. Senate approval as America’s next treasury secretary, but he’s getting a big thumbs down from a film lending company that alleges in a lawsuit that the Wall Street and Hollywood financier helped cheat it out of more than $80 million.

In a legal filing late Thursday, RKA Film Financing accused Mnuchin and eight others of allowing money intended to release films from Relativity Media to be misspent for other purposes. Some $50 million of the misspent money went to a bank that the treasury secretary-designate founded, the lawsuit contends.

Mnuchin served as co-chairman of the financially-struggling, Beverly Hills-based Relativity at the same time he was chairman and CEO of Pasadena-based OneWest Bank. The lawsuit by RKA Film Financing alleges a suspicious chain of events in which Mnuchin and the other defendants purportedly allowed millions of dollars to be directed away from film promotion, before allowing the funds to be “swept” by OneWest, “in order to obtain and misappropriate the proceeds of the fraud.”

According to the lawsuit, the money began to flow to Mnuchin’s bank on May 30, just one day after he resigned from the board of Relativity Media. “To be sure, Mnuchin’s resignation from Relativity’s Board a single day before this misappropriation was intended to make the ‘sweeps’ look legitimate,” the lawsuit says. But the court action notes that OneWest Bank “did not lose money when Relativity declared bankruptcy,” two months later. Other creditors were out hundreds of millions of dollars.

The amended lawsuit comes several months after Charles Ramos, a Supreme Court judge in New York, rejected RKA Film Financing’s original complaint. The judge allowed the plaintiff to submit a revamped set of allegations.

“The claims against Steven Mnuchin are the same frivolous claims that were previously rejected by the court,” Mnuchin spokesman Barney Keller said in a statement Friday. “RKA never once spoke with, corresponded with or otherwise dealt with Mr. Mnuchin. RKA’s allegations are preposterous, don’t deserve coverage in Variety, and Mr. Mnuchin’s inclusion in this complaint is gratuitous and insulting.”

 

Related

Senator Seeks FBI Information on Steven Mnuchin’s Ties to Relativity Media

 

Mnuchin’s lawyer previously wrote Judge Ramos to say that he would seek sanctions against RKA Film Financing if the firm continued to make “baseless claims” against Mnuchin. “Mr. Mnuchin intends to follow through on that warning,” Keller said.

Variety first reported in 2015 on the dispute over the money loaned to Relativity for film distribution. Other creditors in the company’s bankruptcy said at that time they were disturbed that — while they got little or nothing — a bank Mnuchin founded was able to recover $50 million that it loaned the struggling movie company.

Also named in the lawsuit were Relativity founder Ryan Kavanaugh, several of his one-time executives and two other investors who also served on the company’s board of directors. The amended complaint says that Relativity drew down $73.6 million in funds, ostensibly to release and publicize four films — “Masterminds,” “Before I Wake,” “Solace” and “The Disappointments Room.” But only $1.7 million of the money went to P&A for the films. Three of the films flopped at the box office, while “Before I Wake” remains on the shelf, after several release dates came and went.

The rest of the $73 million money went to general overhead for the company, including paying salaries, and to other obligations, including repaying the loan to Mnuchin’s bank, the lawsuit contends. That violated the terms of the loan, RKA contends.

The lawsuit says that Kavanaugh put out a press statement, saying Relativity was free to use the money for other purposes. The Relativity statement read, in part: “When Steven Mnuchin joined as Co-Chairman of Relativity and made a sizable investment in the company, as part of his diligence he asked Relativity’s counsel, Jones Day, to provide an opinion on all of the company’s debt facilities, including the RKA facility. Jones Day provided the opinion that the facility may be used for working capital and was and had been used in accordance with all documentation.”

The lawsuit depicts Kavanaugh, 41, and Mnuchin, 54, as close friends who socialized regularly and even registered to co-own a three-engine Dassault Falcon jet. It says that Mnuchin’s bank eventually invested $160 million in Relativity.

 

Related

Relativity Media Facing Eviction From Beverly Hills Offices

 

Kavanaugh’s company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last April. But it has not been able to attract enough new capital to make and distribute movies. Most of the staff has been put on long-term furlough and those that remain now face possible eviction from their Beverly Hills office, because of unpaid rent.

Mnuchin passed a preliminary committee vote in the Senate to be confirmed as President Trump’s treasury secretary. His vote could come before the full Senate as soon as next week.

Most of the tough questioning of the nominee in the Senate has centered on OneWest Bank’s use of subprime mortgages and the resulting evictions of many home buyers. But there were also questions about Relativity Media and, before the hearings, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked FBI director James Comey for information on Relativity and Mnuchin’s relationship.

There is reason to believe questions about their interaction have been brought to federal investigators because a nonprofit watchdog group, MuckRock, previously filed a Freedom of Information Request on the topic. The FBI rejected the information request, citing concerns that the disclosure would “interfere with enforcement proceedings.” No more information has been revealed about the nature of those proceedings.

Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/news/steve-mnuchin-fraud-claim-relativity-media-1201977781/

Christian Ditter, who most recently helmed the romantic dramedy “How to Be Single,” has been tapped by New Line Cinema to direct the futuristic drama “States of Emergency.”

The German director is also in early talks to direct “One Plus One” for the studio.

Ditter penned an original treatment for “States of Emergency,” and has the option to produce and direct, which he’s likely to do.

The dealmaking for “One Plus One” is still in nascent stages, but if it closes, Ditter would direct the pic — an adaptation of the novel by Jojo Moyes. The story follows a single mother juggling two kids and a job, and struggling to make ends meet. She hits the road with her family to head to a competition that, if they were to win, could secure a better life for them all.

Before breaking out domestically with “How to Be Single” (starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, and Leslie Mann), Ditter was best known for his German hits like “The Crocodiles,” which is based on the children’s books.

He is repped by UTA, Casarotto Ramsay & Associates (U.K.), and Above the Line (Germany). The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/news/christian-ditter-states-of-emergency-one-plus-one-1201977788/

The Weinstein Company has bought distribution rights for the U.S. and Canada to the drama “Hampstead,” starring Diane Keaton, Brendan Gleeson and James Norton.

“Hampstead” is directed by Joel Hopkins from a screenplay by Robert Festinger (“In the Bedroom”). The project was produced by Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae at Ecosse Films.

The film, which went into production in early 2016, was acquired by TWC based on a short promo video. The project was financed by Motion Picture Capital and Silver Reel. Cornerstone Films handled the sale.

Keaton plays an American widow who can’t quite focus on things that need attention, like her lovely old apartment, her finances and her son while living on the edge of the British countryside. While looking out across the heath from her attic window, she witnesses an unkempt man (played by Gleeson) attacked by a group of professional thugs. Shocked, she calls the police and ventures into the woods in search of the man, discovering that his home is the target of property developers using heavy-handed tactics to remove him.

TWC Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein said, “We’re thrilled to work with Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae and the incredible Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson on this film. ‘Hampstead’ is a great example of the power we all can have when we stand up for our beliefs and fight for the people and things we care most about, something that is especially important these days.”

Gleeson starred in Ben Affleck’s “Live by Night” and won an Emmy for playing Winston Churchill in “Into the Storm.” Keaton has been nominated for four Oscars and won for “Annie Hall.”

The deal for the project was negotiated by David Glasser, Talia Houminer, Negeen Yazdi and Jennifer Malloy for TWC with Mark Gooder and Alison Thompson on behalf of Cornerstone Film and Laure Vaysse and Craig Emanuel for Motion Picture Capital.

 

Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/news/diane-keaton-brendan-gleeson-drama-hampstead-weinstein-company-1201977805/
Source: http://variety.com/video/novitiate-nun-movie-sundance-dianna-agron-margaret-qualley/

A clandestine hitchhiking couple on a rural road in India are sadistically toyed with by two men who give them a ride in Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s unscripted, deeply unpleasant third feature “Sexy Durga.” Working a “Kinatay” vibe that subjects both characters and the audience to an extended nightmare, this murky descent into unrelieved dread is meant to call attention to the dehumanizing way women are often treated. While it’s true the film foregrounds the unrelenting misogynistic threat of physical abuse, it can also be argued that Sasidharan indulges in torture porn to the benefit of no one, least of all women’s rights. Designed as an impressionistic mood piece combining nonfiction bookends with a minimalist fictional narrative, this uber-art-house slog will see scattered fest play, but little else.

The title is a teasing misnomer: Durga is one of the major goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, but it’s her sometime association with Kali, best known outside India as the goddess of destruction, that creates resonance. Since the main female character is also named Durga (Rajshri Deshpande), the idea is to highlight the stark division between Durga as worshipped goddess and Durga as degraded woman. Theoretically it might have seemed like a clever idea, and one can imagine a gallery installation (with a long artist’s statement) making it work, but instead Sasidharan (“An Off-Day Game”) cruelly torments the viewer with the characters’ fears, offering no intellectual justification for the inflicted distress apart from the title itself.

Although the opening images are some of the most difficult to sit through, they’re also the most classically cinematic. The south-Indian ceremony known as Garudan Thookkam renders homage to Kali and involves men in a trance state whose backs are pierced with large hooks and then dangled from grills attached to trucks and driven around the temple. Like the Native American Sun Dance, it appears to outsiders as an appalling, self-imposed form of macho brutality, and Sasidharan doesn’t shy away from gut-wrenching scenes of flesh being punctured and then inhumanly stretched. Remarkably – and this testifies to the undeniable talent of both the director and his cinematographer Prathap Joseph – the movie doesn’t sensationalize the event, and while it’s horrific to watch, there’s nothing lurid about the way it’s captured.

Following these disorienting images, the film switches to the main story: Kabeer (Vishnu Vedh) and Durga rendezvous late at night on the side of a poorly trafficked road. It’s clear they’re escaping from someone, but no background is ever offered; all we learn is that she’s a Hindi-speaker from the north, and he’s a Malayalam-speaking Muslim. They’re headed to the train station, and are picked up by two men (Sujeesh K. S., Arun Sol) in a minivan. The duo project a palpable sinister air, but Durga and Kabeer need to get to the station, so they accept the lift. For the remainder of the film, shot with little lighting, the two men toy with their prey, maintaining an oppressive atmosphere of barely repressed violence that seems to be leading inexorably toward rape.

Each time the panicking lovers succeed in exiting the van, they maddeningly get back inside again when they can’t find any other means of transportation. Warned of the dangers of staying outside at night in this remote locale, they choose almost certain violence in the minivan over the possibility of salvation from other quarters; by the time the tormentors (claiming to be good Samaritans) don masks and a clown nose, the grotesque farce has irredeemably lurched into unforgivable sadism.

Some may argue that the film’s ability to elicit such an appalled response is a sign of its success, but success at what? Illustrating man’s inhumanity to man, and, more particularly, woman? The incessant misanthropic nihilism offers no glimmer of hope, and feels designed mostly to elicit a sense of revulsion. Add claustrophobia, successfully conjured via the confining nature of the minivan and the disorienting penumbral lighting, and audience suffocation is nearly complete. Basil C. J.’s screeching death-metal aural assault provides the icing on the cake.

Rotterdam Film Review: 'Sexy Durga'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Tiger Competition), Jan. 27, 2017. Running time: 85 MIN.

Production

(India) An NIV Art Movies production. (International sales: NIV Art Movies, New Delhi.) Producers: Shaji Mathew, Aruna Mathew.

Crew

Director, writer: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. Camera (color, widescreen): Prathap Joseph. Editor: Sasidharan.

With

Rajshri Deshpande, Vishnu Vedh, Sujeesh K. S., Kannan Nair, Bilas Nair, Arun Sol.(Malayalam, Hindi dialogue)
Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/sexy-durga-rotterdam-film-review-1201977564/

Hot off winning a SAG Award for “The People vs. O.J.Simpson,” Sarah Paulson has come on board Amazon Studios’ serial killer drama “Lost Girls.”

Documentarian Liz Garbus is making her narrative feature film directing debut on “Lost Girls.” Michael Werwie wrote the script, based on Robert Kolker’s 2013 nonfiction book about a mother searching for her missing daughter in Long Island and discovering the murdered bodies of four girls in 2010. Kolker’s book, published in 2014, details the world of online escorts and the search for a serial killer who is still at large.

Kevin McCormick and David Kennedy are producing through their Langley Park production company. Pamela Hirsch is executive producing.

Paulson won the SAG, Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her work portraying prosecutor Marcia Clark in the FX series “The People vs. O.J.Simpson: American Crime Story.” Paulson also stars in “Rebel in the Rye” with Nicholas Hoult, which premiered at Sundance.

Garbus directed two documentaries that received Oscar nominations — “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “The Farm: Angola USA.” McCormick’s credits include “Gangster Squad,” “Arthur” and “The Lucky One.”

Paulson is also part of the ensemble cast of Warner Bros. “Ocean’s Eight,” starring Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway and Cate Blanchett. She’s repped by UTA.

 

 

Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/news/sarah-paulson-starringlost-girls-serial-killer-movie-amazon-1201977920/

Canadian filmmaker and marine biologist Rob Stewart’s body has been recovered off the Florida Keys, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed on Friday. Stewart, 37, had gone missing after going deep sea scuba diving Tuesday, visiting the wreck of the Queen of Nassau. He was in the area filming a sequel to his documentary “Sharkwater.”

The news comes after days of rescue operations. The Coast Guard solicited volunteer help, as did film distributor D Films, which worked with Stewart and considered him a “dear friend” of the company.

“If you have a boat with searchlights, please help,” a tweet for D Film’s account read, among other calls for help and retweeted articles and videos about the search.

Stewart was best known for directing and producing the 2006 film “Sharkwater,” a critically-acclaimed conservation film that helped get shark finning banned worldwide. The film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and won 31 awards internationally.

His next film, “Revolution,” expanded Stewart’s conservation efforts to at-risk ecosystems, the threats posed to the world environmentally and what young people can do to help solve the problem.

His family posted a message on the “Sharkwater” website. It read, “Rob has been found, peacefully in the ocean. There are no words. We are so deeply grateful to everyone who helped search, and happy that Rob passed while doing what he loved. We are working on how best to honour his incredible work. The Stewart family kindly asks that they are given some private time to grieve. Thank you everyone.”

Stewart grew up swimming and scuba diving. It blossomed to a love of the marine, leading Stewart to study biology in school at the University of Western Ontario and zoology and marine biology in Kenya and Jamaica.

Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/news/rob-stewart-dead-dies-sharkwater-1201977869/
Source: http://variety.com/video/major-lazer-cuba-concert-movie-give-me-future-sundance/

Oscar nominee Timo von Gunten will direct “Eiffel,” an action/heist film that chronicles the exploits of international con man Victor Lustig, Variety has learned exclusively.

Swiss director von Gunten and Giacun Caduff are nominated for a 2017 Academy Award in the live-action short film category for “La Femme et le TGV,” starring Jane Birkin in the title role.

“We are extremely pleased to be associated with Timo, a talented young filmmaker whose extraordinary short, ‘La Femme et le TGV’ has received a much-deserved nomination by the Academy,” said Silvatar Media principals Chady Eli Mattar and Scott C. Silver on Friday. “He brings an amazing level of creativity and boundless energy to our project and we strongly believe that he has the unique capability to bring ‘Eiffel’ to life.”

Morgan Hage wrote the script from an earlier screenplay penned by David Polcyn and Erik Rodgers based on a story by von Gunten. Silver and Mattar are producing alongside Jean de Meuron and David Willing, with Eric Dupont, Pavlina Hatoupis, and Alfred S. Newman executive producing.

One of Lustig’s cons involved building a “money-printing machine” that would produce $100 bills, while his most famous swindle persuaded victims that the Eiffel Tower was being sold for scrap and that he was selecting the dealer to carry out the task.

Von Gunten is the founder and owner of BMC Films. He is managed by Echo Lake Entertainment’s Mike Marcus and Adam Riback.

Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/news/timo-von-gunten-eiffel-victor-lustig-1201977887/

Recovery just might kill ya in “Havenhurst,” an OK horror outing with Julie Benz (“Dexter”) as a newly sober woman investigating a friend’s disappearance in the titular rambling Manhattan apartment complex. Ghosts of movies from “The Seventh Victim” to “Rosemary’s Baby” to Tobe Hooper’s “Toolbox Murders” remake haunt the musty halls of a competently crafted meller that never quite finds a distinctive narrative slant or atmosphere of its own. Nonetheless, director-co-scenarist Andrew C. Erin’s film will pass the time tolerably enough for genre fans. Already released in several territories, it opens in eight U.S. cities Feb. 10, simultaneous with its launch on VOD.

Discharged from a rehab facility, Jackie (Benz) is a bit shaky but determined to stay on a straight-and-narrow path, despite lingering guilt over the accidental death of her only daughter, caused by her boozing. She’s even more determined to find out what happened to recovery buddy Danielle (Danielle Harris), who’s seemingly vanished without a trace — and whose same apartment, in a fine old Gothic building, Jackie gets assigned in an eerie “coincidence.” Havenhurst’s doyenne is Eleanor (Fionnula Flanagan), a queenly matron who claims she lets the spacious flats out to people like them because she wants to help addicts of various sorts “stay sober and lead a good life.” If they fail to do so, however, they get evicted.

We’ve already guessed just what “eviction” means hereabouts, not to mention what really happened to relapsed Danielle and her boyfriend — who are violently punished for their sins by an unseen assailant in the film’s prologue. Similar fates await other tenants who backslide, including a not-so-ex-prostitute (Jennifer Blanc), and the cruel foster parents (Dendrie Taylor, Toby Huss) of a young girl (Belle Shouse as Sarah) to whom Jackie takes a maternally protective shine. Meanwhile, Eleanor claims to have no idea where Danielle went.

With police-detective friend Tim (Josh Stamberg) helping her out on the sly, Jackie snoops around Havenhurst, and what she finds looks more and more suspicious — particularly once she starts hearing the screams of adjacent neighbors, who are never heard of or seen again after receiving their “eviction” notices. It all leads to revelations involving secret surveillance cameras, hidden passages, a deep dungeon, and a serial-killer backstory that Jackie and Sarah uncover to their peril in a final reel that’s more hectic than frightening.

Indeed, despite some gore, much panicked fleeing, and the rather underwhelming introduction of a brawny maniac in “Mad Max” leather-bar attire (Douglas Tait), “Havenhurst” grows less scary the more urgently action-packed it becomes. It’s not that Erin’s direction lacks energy when needed, but rather that his and Daniel Ferrands’ script never develops any of its numerous familiar but viable plot themes enough to really give the film a distinguishing edge.

As a result, things end on a rather weak note that feels premature, as if the filmmakers simply forgot to include one last twist or flourish that might’ve made a workmanlike exercise memorable. It’s also disappointing that despite the splendid-looking hallways, lobby, and exterior of the apartment building (end-credits suggest the film was shot primarily in Southern California), the movie spends nearly all its time holed up with just a handful of characters in fewer-still apartments. We’re told there are 3,000 residents here, yet the building seems so underpopulated you might wonder if they’re all on vacation.

Nevertheless, a decent cast, brisk pace and proficient overall packaging make “Havenhurst” a respectable enough diversion within a niche — modestly budgeted, primarily direct-to-home horror — in which even “middling” often seems like a lot to ask for.

Film Review: 'Havenhurst'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Feb. 2, 2017. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production

A Brainstorm Media release of a Twisted Pictures presentation in association with Parsimony Pictures of a Protocol Entertainment and RMA Media Partners production. Producers: Tosca Musk, Jina Panebianco, Andrew C. Erin. Executive producers: Mark Burg, R. Wesley Sierk III.

Crew

Director: Andrew C. Erin. Screenplay: Erin, Daniel Farrands. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Thomas Hencz. Editor: Todd Zelin. Music: tomandandy.

With

Julie Benz, Fionnula Flanagan, Belle Shouse, Matt Lasky, Douglas Tait, Josh Stamberg, Danielle Harris, Dendrie Taylor, Toby Huss, Jennifer Blanc.
Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/havenhurst-film-review-1201977844/

Security fears, a lingering recession, and continuing uncertainty surrounding a stalled reform agenda have made for tough times in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and second-largest economy. Across the country, consumers have felt the pinch as the currency has lost more than 50% of its value in the past year.

But while it might hardly seem like a time for celebration, that hasn’t stopped audiences from turning out in record-breaking numbers for “The Wedding Party,” a romantic comedy that’s spent seven weeks at the top of the box office and become the first Nigerian film to pass the 400 million naira (around $1.3 million) mark.

“It has surpassed all our expectations,” says executive producer Mo Abudu. “It’s been an incredible ride.”

“The Wedding Party” capped a record-setting year for the Nigerian box office, which grossed 3.5 billion naira (around $11.5 million) in 2016, with nearly 30%  coming from local pics, marking the first time Nigerian films have crossed the billion naira threshold.

At a time of steady declines, it’s been a rare sign of resilience from the Nigerian economy.

“Cinema has become…a safe, fun, friendly outlet to ease the economic pressure,” says Kene Mkparu, CEO of Filmhouse Cinemas, which operates 11 theaters across Nigeria, and which co-produced “The Wedding Party” through its distribution and production arm, FilmOne. “It helps people deal with the challenges that we’re facing.”

The record-breaking B.O. is the latest hopeful sign that an industry built on the back of its low-budget Nollywood film biz – famous for slapdash storylines and straight-to-DVD releases – can mature into a cinematic powerhouse.

To succeed, Nigerian helmers face an uphill climb. The West African nation has just 28 cinemas servicing a population of nearly 180 million, though the number of screens has continued to rise since the first multiplex was built just over a decade ago.

The steady growth of the exhibition industry has in turn fueled a rise in the number of filmmakers who are upping the ante with big-budget, big-screen releases. “The mindset of a lot of producers is that they want to make films that go straight to cinema first,” says Mkparu.

Across the country, 50 local films had theatrical releases last year, an all-time high. Both literally and figuratively, says Mkparu, local filmmakers are starting to see the big picture.

“Historically, the Nigerian film industry has grown from television,” he says, noting how the industry’s propensity for cropped shots and extreme close-ups is suited to small screens. “Now they’re beginning to give a cinematic look and feel to their films.”

The results were on display in Toronto last year, when Lagos was featured in the festival’s annual City to City program. Among the eight films selected were many that would go on to have strong showings at the Nigerian box office, such as courtroom thriller “The Arbitration” and historical epic “76.”

But it would be City to City opener “The Wedding Party” that would make the biggest splash back home. Following its Toronto world premiere, the film arrived on Nigerian screens just weeks after comedian A.Y.’s “A Trip to Jamaica” had itself become the highest-grossing Nigerian film of all time.

Over the holiday season, despite stiff competition from the likes of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “The Wedding Party” continued to break records. Mkparu notes that the film’s success was just indicative of a broader trend, where “audiences are starting to choose Nigerian films as their first choice at the theater.”

Partly that owes to savvier filmmaking. While budgets have risen in recent years, so has an awareness that selling a film begins with scriptwriting and casting. “You can’t just wake up and say, ‘I’ve produced a film,’ and take a very ad hoc approach to how you promote it,” says Abudu.

Along with an aggressive social-media campaign and slick corporate tie-ins, the producers of “The Wedding Party” cast the film to appeal to a broad swath of a large, fractious country, going beyond the prime 18-35 demographic to target older audiences as well.

Ultimately, though, at a time of political and economic uncertainty, “The Wedding Party” might have succeeded because of a simple, powerful theme.

Source: http://variety.com/2017/film/global/wedding-party-fuels-record-nigerian-box-office-despite-ailing-economy-1201977878/