Bac Launches ‘Alice And The Mayor,’ ‘My Days of Glory’ at UniFrance Rendez-Vous (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 06:19 AM PST

Paris-based Bac Films is launching a slate of new acquisitions at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris, including Nicolas Pariser’s “Alice And The Mayor” with Fabrice Luchini, and Antoine de Bary’s concept comedy “My Days of Glory” with Vincent Lacoste.

“Alice And The Mayor” stars Luchini as Paul Théraneau, a prominent French mayor who has run out of ideas after thirty years in politics and enlists the help of a brilliant young philosopher, Alice (Anais Demoustier). The film revolves around their relationship which ultimately shakes the mayor’s convictions.

Marie Garrett, Bac Films‘s VP of international sales, said a scene from “Alice And The Mayor” will be shown to buyers at the UniFrance showcase. The executive said the film could almost be described as a philosophical drama dealing with the existential crisis that politicians can experience.

A popular French actor, Luchini starred in “Courted,” “Ma Loute” and “A Man in a Hurry.” Demoustier, a rising French actress, previously starred “The House by the Sea” and “Through the Fire” which is currently playing in French theaters and having a strong box office run.

Pariser made his feature debut with “The Great Game,” winner of the prestigious Louis Delluc prize for best first film in 2015. The movie is produced by Bizibi Productions.

“My Days of Glory,” meanwhile, stars Lacoste (“Amanda”), one of France’s busiest actors, as Adrian, a former child star who is approaching his 30’s and has turned into a loser. While living with his parents and looking to jumpstart his failing acting career, he crosses paths with Lea (Noée Abita) and hears about an audition for the role of a young Charles de Gaulle. The movie is being produced by well-established banner Iconoclast Films (“The World is Yours”).

Bac Films is also kicking off sales on “Cuties,” Maimouna Doucouré’s anticipated feature debut following her critically acclaimed short “Maman (s);” and Julien Abraham’s “Bro,” a drama thriller starring the popular French raper MHD and Aissa Maiga.

Featuring a vibrant cast of non-professionals and newcomers, Doucouré’s film tells the story of Amy, an 11 year-old girl who joins a group of dancers named “the cuties” at school, and rapidly grows aware of her burgeoning femininity; upsetting her mother’s values in the process.

“Maman” received the Cesar Award for best short film in 2016 after winning a prize at Toronto and Sundance.

“Bro” stars MHD as Teddy, an ordinary youth who is accused of murder after trying to protect his younger brother from their violent father, and ends up in a detention center where he is confronted with a brutal world. While there he meets Enzo. Together, they will do whatever it takes to escape their situation.

All four films are in post-production. “Cuties” and “Bro” are produced by Bien ou Bien Productions and Agat Films, respectively.

At the UniFrance Rendez-Vous, Bac Films is hosting the market screenings for Josephine de Meaux’s “Snowlidays” and continuing sales on Eric Tosti’s animated feature “Terra Willy.”

Ex-Agent Stuart Manashil Ordered to Repay CAA in Fraud Case

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 06:12 AM PST

Former literary agent Stuart Manashil was ordered on Thursday to repay a $23,975 commission to CAA, which he admitted he had illegally diverted to a friend.

Manashil, who now runs his own management company, pleaded guilty in March 2018 to a federal wire fraud charge. In a letter to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, Manashil admitted to making a “terrible mistake” in 2012 when he was a CAA agent. He said he diverted the commission to his friend, producer Steven Brown.

“While I personally did not benefit from this transaction financially, I did knowingly help divert that commission to Mr. Brown,” Manashil wrote. “I arrogantly thought it was not important and that no one would ever know or care.”

When he was at CAA, Manashil worked with Oliver Stone, Edward Zwick, Tommy Lee Jones, and Lawrence Kasdan.

The theft came to light in an investigation of Brown, who was arrested in 2016 and charged with defrauding film investors.

Manashil said he had been friends with Brown since Manashil was an assistant at UTA, and that Brown had helped him through some difficult times. He said he justified the theft in his mind, rationalizing that “I was helping a friend who had helped me, and CAA would never notice or care about this commission.”

According to prosecutors, Manashil and Brown directed a co-conspirator to concoct phony invoices, which were sent to a producer who had worked with one of Manashil’s clients. The funds were then deposited in an account that resembled the agency’s name, but which was controlled by the co-conspirator.

Brown was sentenced in November to 63 months in prison for a fraud that spanned eight years, in which at least nine investors in various film projects were swindled out of more than $12.5 million.

In the letter to the judge, Manashil said he had lost one of his highest-earning clients due to publicity about the case. He said he had also had to remove himself as a producer on two projects.

Manashil was sentenced on Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in New York. He was ordered to pay restitution, but will not face jail time.

‘Overwatch’ Voice Actor to Host 3rd Annual Bit Awards

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 06:00 AM PST

Overwatch” voice actor Carolina Ravassa, best known in the gaming community for her role as the voice behind Blizzard‘s cyberpunk hacker Sombra, will host the 3rd Annual Bit Awards in New York on Feb. 1, New York-based gaming community Playcrafting announced on Thursday.

Celebrating this past year of gaming, the 2019 Bit Awards will take place at the Auditorium at Parsons the New School in New York at 7pm EST.

“Through my work, I’ve grown to appreciate all the talented people behind the games that make people move, laugh and play,” said Ravassa. “From the nominees and participants, who are as diverse and creative as the games and developers we’re celebrating, to the show segments that will transform Parsons’ Auditorium into a playable production like no other, this year’s Bit Awards will reflect everything that makes the gaming community so special, and I’m honored to be this year’s host.”

“Our incredible community is the heart and soul behind everything we do at Playcrafting,” said Dan Butchko, Playcrafting’s Founder and CEO. “The Bit Awards is the one time a year we gather creators and fans from across the country to honor games and industry leaders – both rising and established – through an interactive show that is sure to surprise and delight.”

A full list of nominees, chosen out of hundreds of eligible games and thousands of eligible individuals, can be viewed below.

Dungeonhaven by Cold War Game Studios
Evergate by Stone Lantern Games
KungFu Kickball by WhaleFood Games
LampLight City by Grundislav Games
Punch Planet by Sector-K Games
Swimsanity! by Decoy Games

Hamsterdam by Muse Games
Imposter Drawster by Up at Night
Into the Dark: Narakan by Orc Punk
Mew and Me by Mew and Me
Repertoire by Playful People
Sound Sky by HIGHKEY Games

Clear the Decks by Crispy Games Company
Saturday Morning Games by Plausible Studio
Gladius by Victoria Cana and Alexandre Uboldi
Hero: Tales of the Tomes by Jimmy Ellerth Entertainment
Smack Talk Showdown by Double Turn Games
Status Report! by Offcut Games

0°N 0°W by Colorfiction
Ambition: A Minuet in Power by Joy Manufacturing Co.
Evergate by Stone Lantern Games
Hamsterdam by Muse Games
Jupiter and Mars by Tigertron
Punch Planet by Sector-K Games

Cubism by Thomas Van Bouwel
HOST by Garrett Fuselier
Jupiter & Mars by Tigertron
Mister Mart by Studio217
The Rig by Sunset Division
The Take by Stuido Studios

Anyball by Team Anyball (NYU Game Center)
Flight Simulator by Hosni Auji (NYU Game Center)
Into the Dark: Narakan by Orc Punk (Playcrafting)
King of the Hat by Business Corp. Incorporated (Dawson College)
Roll Control by Andrew Simon Thomas (Playcrafting)
Seasons (季节) by David Su and Dominique Stars (MIT)

Jen MacLean, Executive Director, International Game Developers Association (IGDA)

Sam Eng (New York), Caroline Murphy (Boston), Don Bellenger (San Francisco)

GRIS by Nomada Studio
KungFu Kickball by WhaleFood Games
Swimsanity by Decoy Games
Tornado Roulette by Luis Delacruz
Where Shadows Slumber by Game Revenant
Zarvot by snowhydra games

TV Academy to Eliminate Emmy DVD Screeners in 2020

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 06:00 AM PST

The Television Academy will eliminate distribution of DVD screeners for eligible shows beginning with the 2020 Emmy cycle.

Designed to eliminate both monetary and physical waste, the move will have a substantive impact on the strategy of Emmy marketers. It also makes the academy the first major entertainment-industry organization to bar physical screeners.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the Academy to take an important first step to move the industry forward in an area of great concern for both our partners and members, reducing costs and delivering a tremendous positive impact for the environment,” said Television Academy chairman Frank Scherma. “Television has an ever-expanding role as the world’s most innovative and popular entertainment medium, and this decision embraces the evolution of viewing practices and preferences of the Academy’s 25,000 members and the industry at large.”

The new policy will go into effect immediately following this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards, scheduled for Sept. 22. Going forward, screeners will be provided only via digital platforms hosted by producers and distributors, or through the Television Academy’s viewing platform.

Spending on DVD screeners has ballooned in recent years, as the number of Emmy-eligible programs has skyrocketed — with some companies, such as Netflix, spending millions of dollars on physical screeners alone.

Trump’s Foreign Policy Is No Longer Unpredictable

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 05:39 AM PST

It has become a commonplace to describe the foreign policy of U.S. President Donald Trump as unpredictable. But doing so mischaracterizes the man and the policy. In fact, although Trump’s actions may often be shocking, they are rarely surprising. His most controversial positions-questioning NATO, seeking to pull out of Syria, starting trade wars-are all consistent with the worldview he has publicly espoused since the 1980s.

The unpredictability of this administration originated not in Trump’s views but in the struggle between the president and his political advisers on the one hand and the national security establishment on the other. Until recently, these two camps vied for supremacy, and it was difficult to know which would win on any given issue.

At the two-year mark, it is now clear that the president is dominating this struggle, even if he has not yet won outright. For the first time, it is possible to identify a singular Trump administration foreign policy, as the president’s team coalesces around his ideas. This policy consists of a narrow, transactional relationship with other nations, a preference for authoritarian governments over other democracies, a mercantilist approach to international economic policy, a general disregard for human rights and the rule of law, and the promotion of nationalism and unilateralism at the expense of multilateralism.


Many U.S. presidents have been elected with no real foreign policy experience. Some had ideas that contradicted a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy-for example, Jimmy Carter’s position in favor of pulling troops out of Korea. Trump, however, is different. He is the only president ever elected on a platform that explicitly rejected all of the pillars of U.S. grand strategy.

Although Trump has changed his mind on many issues, he has clear, consistent, visceral foreign policy instincts that date back three decades. He has long rejected the United States’ security alliances as unfair to the taxpayer and accused allies of conning Washington into defending them for free. He has long seen trade deficits as a threat to U.S. interests and has rejected virtually all trade deals that the United States has negotiated since World War II. And he has a history of expressing admiration for strongmen around the world: in 1990, for example, he lamented in an interview that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had not cracked down on demonstrators as Beijing had in Tiananmen Square one year before.

During his presidential campaign, Trump not only refused to disavow these instincts but doubled down on them. He drew a moral equivalence between the Kremlin under Russian President Vladimir Putin and the U.S. government; criticized NATO; praised Saddam Hussein’s toughness on terrorists and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s ascent to power; and opposed free trade. His position on foreign policy had an immediate and enduring effect: it prompted dozens of Republican foreign policy experts to condemn him publicly.

Bereft of establishment advisers, Trump managed to sign up a handful of unknowns and a couple of former officials-for example, Michael Flynn and Walid Phares-but this was largely for show. Throughout his campaign, Trump relied on his own instincts and added a few new issues, particularly strong opposition to illegal immigration and criticism of trade with China.

After he won, Trump had a problem. He was completely unprepared to govern and had hardly anyone on his team who was qualified to hold high office in matters of national security. This dearth, coupled with his continuing grudge against the establishment experts who opposed him during the campaign, led him to turn to retired generals and captains of industry, including James Mattis as secretary of defense, Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council, and, after a few weeks in office, H. R. McMaster as national security adviser.


The first phase of Trump’s term in office-that of constraint-lasted from his inauguration until August 2017. During these seven months, Trump said and did many controversial things. He refused to endorse NATO’s Article 5 while giving a speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels, and he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change. But for the most part, the administration followed an interagency process (whereby decisions were made through a formal consultation process with the relevant departments and agencies, culminating in meetings of the national security team in the Situation Room) and Trump grudgingly accepted the advice of his cabinet. He did not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He reversed himself on NATO. He reached out to Asian allies. And he remained in the Iran nuclear deal.

Soon, however, the president began to push back against his advisers. In mid-July 2017, he complained bitterly about having to renew the waivers as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and blamed his advisers for not giving him an option to withdraw. A few weeks later, at a Camp David meeting to decide on Afghanistan policy, he grew frustrated at McMaster’s assertiveness in arguing to keep U.S. troops in place. Trump grudgingly conceded but let his displeasure be known.

By the fall of 2017, the second phase of the Trump administration’s foreign policy-that of unilateral action-had begun. In this period, which continues to the present day, Trump has tried to bypass the formal deliberative interagency process in his decision-making and has made his preferences clear. In December 2017, over the objections of his team, he announced he was moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. In May of last year, he withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. He imposed tariffs on friends and rivals alike. He renewed his criticism of NATO at the 2018 Brussels summit and pushed hard to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. Perhaps most famously, he decided to meet with Kim in Singapore without consulting his national security cabinet and also made the unilateral decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and proceeded to defy his advisers by embracing the Russian leader at the summit’s press conference.

To facilitate this shift, Trump needed a new team that would empower him, not stand in his way. This was the story of 2018. It began with the removal of Tillerson, McMaster, and Cohn in a three-week period in March and April. Their respective replacements-Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Larry Kudlow-all had one thing in common: personal loyalty to Trump. The trend continued with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s departure and concluded with Mattis’ resignation on December 21 following Trump’s announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria.

The appointment of Bolton was particularly crucial to Trump’s foreign policy autonomy. As long as a member of the national security establishment held the position of national security adviser, Trump was deprived of the agenda-setting power that controlling the interagency process entails. Bolton gave him this power. There were bumps along the way, of course. Bolton reportedly had to promise Trump that he would not drag him into a new war, and several weeks into Bolton’s tenure, Trump blamed him for trying to sabotage U.S. outreach to Kim. In general, however, Trump now has a team that seeks not to minimize the impact of his decisions but to maximize it.

There have been some positive developments during this phase of Trump’s foreign policy. In December 2017 and January 2018, for example, the administration put forth a National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy that shifted focus from terrorism to great-power competition, a development that many foreign policy experts in Washington welcomed. The strategies recognized the challenge that Russia and China posed to the U.S.-led international order and affirmed the importance of alliances. The president, however, seems uninterested in the change of emphasis, having spoken about it only once. In his remarks introducing the National Security Strategy, Trump uttered a single sentence about rival powers-immediately followed by a plea for the importance of cooperation with Russia.


The struggle between the president and his team defined his first two years. Although there is still a substantive gap between them, there is now considerable alignment as well. For the first time, observers can identify a unified, if still incomplete, Trump foreign policy in which the administration accommodates the president’s impulses and seeks to act on them.

This unified foreign policy is one in which the Trump administration has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. It takes a transactional approach with all nations, places little value in historical ties, and seeks immediate benefits ranging from trade and procurement to diplomatic support. As it happens, authoritarian governments are more inclined to offer such swift concessions to the United States, with the result that the Trump administration finds it easier to deal with them than with democratic allies. Consider the contrast between Saudi Arabia and Japan. Saudi Arabia was able to reduce the price of oil to appease the president after the president sided with it following the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. By contrast, Japan lost out despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s early efforts to flatter the president-Trump’s embrace of Kim has unnerved Japanese officials, and he continues to threaten to impose tariffs on Japanese cars.

The Trump administration is now united in its willingness to use tariffs, including against allies and partners, to advance its economic agenda. There may still be some differences over other tactics, but the larger debate on international economic strategy, which raged in 2017, is over. The administration regularly seeks to use U.S. leverage to gain an economic advantage over other countries. Consider, for example, how Trump’s team entertained Poland’s bid to pay for a U.S. military base in its country and how the administration has pressured the United Kingdom to pursue a hard Brexit so that the United States could pocket concessions in talks on a bilateral U.S.-British free trade agreement.

The administration has embraced nationalism and disdained multilateralism as part of its overarching philosophical framework-something evident in speeches by Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo. The administration also has little regard for democracy and human rights, except in the cases of Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela. This worldview is manifest in Washington’s opposition to the European Union, support for authoritarian leaders who defy international norms, and withdrawal from international organizations and treaties. At the same time, the administration’s thinking remains ad hoc and unsophisticated-the administration is leaning heavily on Germany to cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but according to the doctrine the German government should just follow its own interests.

Trump’s approach to Europe varies by region. The administration is engaging unconditionally with central and eastern Europe, where it provides political support to Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orban and is working on increasing liquefied natural gas exports to counter Russian influence. By contrast, its agenda with western Europe has been much more hostile and seems to consist only of points of disagreement, including opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, free trade with Europe, and defense spending on NATO, as well as its disagreements with the European Union over Iran.

In East Asia, Trump’s policy has two main components-China and North Korea. On the former, Trump’s desire to win the trade war with Beijing has led him to support the broader efforts to balance China that some of his advisers have championed, which include countering Chinese political influence and reorienting the U.S. military to compete with China. But this support could be tested as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rhetoric on Taiwan heats up, and particularly if the trade war is resolved-would Trump stand up to China over Taiwan if he felt he was championing a trade deal that offered the United States significant concessions? The administration’s North Korea policy, meanwhile, consists of an informal bargain whereby the United States allows for a thawing of relations so long as Kim agrees not to test missiles or nuclear weapons, even if this brings no meaningful progress on denuclearization. Some administration officials, particularly Bolton, have reservations about this strategy of accommodation, but they defer to the president.

Differences remain between the president and his team. The most striking example is in U.S. Middle East policy. Trump and his advisers agree on taking a hard line against Iran. But the president is deeply reluctant to commit U.S. resources to rolling back Iranian influence in Syria and would like to see a retrenchment from the region. In his view, U.S. efforts should be confined to supporting allies in taking any actions they deem fit to counter Iran (such as Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen), imposing sanctions, and pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This is the one issue where the president’s current team has made statements that appear to contradict him. For instance, on a trip to the Middle East, Bolton said that U.S. troops would not leave Syria until the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) was fully defeated and the Kurds were protected. On the whole, however, Trump’s foreign policy is more unified than ever before.


Paradoxically, the advent of a more unified and predictable U.S. foreign policy is likely to weaken American influence and destabilize the international order. A deeply divided Trump administration was the best case for those who believe in the United States’ postwar strategy, defined by strong alliances, an open global economy, and broad support for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Because Trump was never going to change his worldview, his administration has had to be marked by either division or agreement on his terms. We now have the latter. Thus begins phase three-the impact of a unified Trump administration on the world.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Congo Kicks the Can Down the Road

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 05:39 AM PST

On December 30, 2018, millions of citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo braved torrential downpours, navigated chaotic crowds, and stood in long lines to do something they had not done in seven years: vote. According to Congo’s constitution, elections were supposed to have been held in 2016, but the regime repeatedly delayed them. After a failed effort to lift presidential term limits, Congo’s leadership finally relented to mounting domestic, regional, and international pressure, agreeing last year to hold elections and endorsing a successor from the ruling coalition.

Some Congolese voters held out hope for peaceful change in a country that has been ruled for 21 years by the Kabila regime-first under Laurent-Désiré Kabila and now under his son Joseph. But many suspected that the electoral commission would rig the vote on behalf of the ruling coalition’s candidate. It came as a surprise, then, when, on January 10, the commission made the provisional announcement that someone else had won: Felix Tshisekedi, the son of a long-time opposition hero.

The outcome was quickly called into question. Leaked data from the electoral commission and from the Catholic Church, which fielded 40,000 electoral observers, indicates that the true winner was a different opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, and rumors are swirling of a backroom deal in which Kabila agreed to name Tshisekedi president, presumably in exchange for continued control over the security services and the maintenance of the Kabila family’s wealth. The regime seems to have calculated that anointing the ruling party candidate as president would have been a bridge too far in a country where the governing class is deeply unpopular, and so it settled on Tshisekedi, apparently a more accommodating opponent than Fayulu, as a fallback option.

In the short run, the announcement of an opposition victory likely averted an immediate popular uprising. But by demonstrating to Congolese that true reform is unlikely to happen through the ballot box, it has sown the seeds for deepening disorder and instability down the line. In the last three years, Congo has seen a remarkable proliferation of homegrown citizens’ movements and nonviolent protests, particularly among young people in cities. Now, however, many Congolese are beginning to express doubt that nonviolent action will bring about the political change they want-a misgiving that will only grow if Tshisekedi’s presidency fails to deliver, as is likely. And so Congo may end up reverting to a method of political protest that it knows all too well: violence.


Congo’s election was not supposed to play out like this. The candidate Kabila chose as his successor was Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a member of parliament whom the president seems to have picked precisely because he lacked a power base of his own and was thus a good proxy. But given how unpopular Shadary was-a pre-election poll put his share of the vote at just 19 percent-naming him the victor would no doubt have set off mass protests.

Nor could Kabila have let the presumed winner, Fayulu, become president, since that would have endangered both Kabila’s control of the security services and the wealth he has earned during his tenure. Had Fayulu won, he would have allowed the return to Congo of Kabila’s most prominent rivals: Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, both of whom live in exile and, after being barred from running for president, endorsed Fayulu. By handing the presidency to Tshisekedi, Kabila managed to avoid both mass protests and a complete loss of control.

Many Congolese are in fact pleased with the result of the election. Tshisekedi’s party-the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, or UDPS-is the oldest and best-organized political opposition party in Congo, and its supporters are jubilant. The provisional win has succeeded in neutralizing the party’s more militant members, known as “the combatants,” who had threatened to take to the streets had Shadary emerged victorious, and it has quieted the very vocal UDPS diaspora, too. The decision also satisfies many outside the party, including people who are simply relieved to see an opposition leader win the presidency, no matter how questionable the result. “Anyone but Kabila,” went one popular refrain that presumably covered his designated successor, as well. Thus, the protests that followed the announcement have been relatively muted.

The electoral commission’s announcement has also succeeded in dividing Congolese human rights and civil-society groups that have bedeviled the president and rallied many in the international community against him. Some of these, including the Catholic Church, have called for a recount, arguing that the voice of the Congolese people must be heard. Fayulu himself has challenged the results in court. Others, however, contend that a negotiated deal between Kabila and Tshisekedi is the best outcome that can be expected, and that annulling the election results would hurt the country.

The decision has also divided external actors. Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union have all called for a recount and for the publication of detailed results broken down by polling station. In the region, the International Conference on the Great Lakes called for a recount, whereas the Southern African Development Community initially urged one, too-only to backtrack and advocate a unity government. An African Union meeting convened by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, its current chair, called for the postponement of the final results and agreed to send a delegation to Congo to find “a way out of the post-electoral crisis.”

Within Congo, the announced results have further strengthened an already potent politics of identity. In the eyes of some Tshisekedi supporters, particularly his ethnic brethren in his home region-the Luba people in the Kasai-other regions and ethnic groups have all had a shot at national power. The Bakongo people had their moment after independence from Belgium in 1960 with President Joseph Kasavubu, the Equateur region got its 32-year feast under Mobutu Sese Seko, and Katanga province had a profitable 20-year spell with Laurent-Désiré Kabila and his son Joseph. But having struggled for years in opposition, those who back the UDPS or come from the Kasai region have never managed to get their turn until now. They are likely to protest any attempt to take the presidency away from them. Fayulu, on the other hand, hails from a multiethnic province without a dominant group, so his home region is unlikely to rise up effectively in his defense.


If the provisional results hold, the outcome will probably have staved off massive, nationwide protests. But this will do little to address the countless, long-term problems afflicting Congo, from persistent poverty to the proliferation of armed groups to widespread corruption. Most Congolese people are deeply disappointed with the way they have been governed at all levels for the last two decades. They have repeatedly displayed great faith in the electoral process and displayed a strong anti-incumbency streak. In the past, they have consistently used parliamentary and provincial elections to vote in new representatives.

That tendency is at odds with the announced results of the legislative elections that were held at the national and provincial levels, in which the ruling party (including members of Kabila’s family) scored major victories. Whether these results are real or fake is up for debate, but they will have major consequences. The National Assembly (the lower chamber of Parliament) elects the prime minister and will probably put a Kabila ally in the position. The provincial legislatures, meanwhile, elect the members of the Senate (the upper chamber of Parliament) and provincial governors across the country. And as a former head of state, Kabila himself has the constitutional right to serve as a senator. That means he could conceivably have himself elected president of the Senate-first in the line of presidential succession. Then there are the security services, which will likely remain in the hands of the current regime, since if there indeed was a deal between Kabila and Tshisekedi, maintaining control of the security services would be one key element of it. The bottom line is that Tshisekedi will probably end up being a figurehead with no real power.

Elections-even imperfect ones-have consequences. Kabila already disappointed some members of his coalition who have political ambitions of their own when he named Shadary as his successor. His decision to hand the presidency to an actual opponent has no doubt alienated even more of his supporters and allies. Thus, Kabila risks being weakened within his own party.

Tshisekedi has his own political problems to worry about. Many UDPS parliamentary candidates who failed to win seats will have difficulty squaring his victory with their loss. If there was a backroom deal, Tshisekedi risks being seen by his own party as having negotiated only for himself. If the discontent deepens, his circle will narrow, and the UDPS-the only party with a long-standing national base-could be reduced to a regional party popular only in the Kasai, or even limited to his ethnic base there, the Luba.

In other words, what may look now like a win-win deal for Congo’s outgoing president and its incoming one may turn out to end badly for both. The real losers, however, will be millions of Congolese-the loyal citizens who exercised their democratic right in the vain hope that it would bring about real change.


How long before grievance converts into violence? A year ago, the sensible argument to make was that after years of violent conflict, few Congolese would support any sort of violent uprising. Now, one cannot be so sure. If the current ruling elite retains real power or if Tshisekedi’s win continues to be questioned, then whatever combination of elites ends up running the country will very likely fail to improve the everyday lives of Congolese.

If that happens, then the hopes of those who sought to alter the country’s governance through the election will have been dashed. Under these circumstances, it is easy to imagine more and more Congolese losing faith in nonviolence and once again taking up arms in pursuit of revolutionary change. This would be a terrible turn of events for a people who have already suffered so much violence.

It is a common refrain among some observers that the Congolese people, beaten down by decades of dictatorship, will never rise up-or that if they do, they will last only a few days before the bullets send them running. But such thinking elides Congo’s revolutionary history. In the years after Congo’s first post-independence leader, Patrice Lumumba, was deposed and assassinated, the country saw a national revolutionary movement-the so-called Congo Rebellions of the 1960s-that would have been victorious had the West, especially the United States, not sent military forces to put it down. In 1977 and 1978, Congolese rebelled again against their central government and were once again defeated by Western military intervention. In 1996, a coalition of neighboring states invaded the country and joined forces with Congolese armed groups to topple Mobutu and replace him with Laurent-Désiré Kabila. Two years later, new rebellions aimed at removing him from power were foiled by regional interventions. It’s a similar story, again and again: the Congolese rise up against their rulers in the capital, and when they fail to oust them, it is because the central government has been rescued by foreign backers.

Now, armed groups have grown in number and power. In the east, they have gained control of territory and have positioned themselves as public authorities in opposition to, and in some cases in the place of, state institutions. They draw their legitimacy from the voluntary compliance of communities in which they are socially embedded, even when they are fundamentally ruling through coercion. Far from demonstrating passivity, since independence, the Congolese people have shown a remarkable tendency to resist the central government not just through peaceful means but also with force.

Even though no two are alike, revolutions are generally the product of a combination of risk factors. Sadly, today, Congo has all the ingredients for a violent uprising: an unpopular political elite, declining standards of living, massive inflation, rising economic inequality, brutal repression of dissent, an unfair justice system, growing protest movements, and proliferating armed groups. Moreover, today’s younger generations do not have the discouraging memory of failed attempts to overthrow their rulers. In 1978, the American sociologist Charles Tilly explained how such perfect storms of discontent lead to revolution, through what he called an “idealized revolutionary sequence.” First, the ruling establishment fragments; then, the people mobilize against it; finally, the regime is unable to contain that mobilization. Congo has moved through the first two steps of this sequence and is somewhere in the middle of the third.

Predicting what may happen in Congo in the coming months is futile. But if the pattern of recent years is any indication, in the absence of a single leader to channel violent action into an armed nationwide movement, the country could see something much more fragmented: deteriorating security conditions, increased localized violence, and the continued proliferation of armed groups. This would be a nightmare scenario for the Congolese people, above all, but also for Congo’s neighbors, which have a long history of competition and backyard interventions.

In coping with delay after delay, the Congolese people have been profoundly patient. In showing up to vote in elections that were rife with problems, they demonstrated an enduring faith in the power of the democratic process. But now, many see an election they waited for and supported as having produced illegitimate results. It is only logical, then, to expect that they will lose both their patience and their belief in elections. That opens the door for violent revolution.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Holiday Sales Dropped For GameStop in 2018 Compared to 2017

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 05:39 AM PST

Video game retailer GameStop saw a 5% drop in global holiday sales compared to the same nine-week holiday period in 2017, the company reported today.

Total global sales for the holiday period were $2.63 billion.

New hardware sales dropped 6.1%. That drop, GameStop says, was because of 2017’s strong Xbox One X sales, but was also offset by strong growth in Nintendo Switch sales. New video game sales dropped 8.3%, driven primarily by the difference in launch timing of Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 which released in October 2018, compared to Call of Duty: WWII which released in November 2017, the company said. Pre-owned sales dropped 16.4%.

Video game accessories sales grew 28.7% while collectibles sales increased 3.7% to $219.2 million. Finally, digital receipts increased 16.8% to $352.9 million driven primarily by strength in sales of digital currency.

GameStop says it plans to report its fourth quarter and full fiscal year 2018 results in late March and will provide fiscal 2019 guidance at that time.

Earlier this week, GameStop reported that it will use proceeds from the recent $700 million sale of its Spring Mobile business to reduce outstanding debt, repurchase shares, or reinvest in the core gaming and collectibles business.

Despite being the largest brick-and-mortar games retailer in the U.S., the company has struggled with its relevance in an era of digital game sales and popular online retailers like Amazon which offers more competitive pricing and direct shipment to consumers.

GameStop continues to engage with third parties about a possible sale.

Federico Cuervo to Head New Management Structure at Viacom International Studios

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 05:10 AM PST

Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) -Americas has announced a new management structure for its fast-expanding Viacom International Studios (VIS) which will see Federico Cuervo filling the role of senior vice president-head of VIS, reporting to Darío Turovelzky, newly named SVP of global contents at VIMN Americas. Turovelzky remains co-chief of VIMN.

Under the new structure, all functions of content creation from all brands and countries of VIMN Americas within VIS will be unified and led by Cuervo. A ten-year veteran at VIMN, Cuervo and his team will lean heavily on the experience gained in his time as the brand head of Comedy Central and Paramount Channels.

Launched officially last year, Viacom International Studios is the unit of development, production and distribution of contents for VIMN -Americas. The branch encompasses original contents of VIMN Americas for its global brands such as Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central; contents of Telefe, Argentina’s top-rated free-to-air TV channel; and products of Porta dos Fundos, the main comedy content producer in Brazil.

“We are focused on taking the business of production and distribution of content to another level, so we have created this new 100% structure dedicated to the growth of VIS,” Pierluigi Gazzolo, president of VIMN-Americas, said in a press release.

He added: “I am sure that Darío, a local and international reference in the creation of content and someone who has been key in the growth of our study business, together with Federico, who has a vast experience as responsible for production within Viacom and other companies, will form the ideal team to consolidate VIS as one of the main studios in the region.”

Viacom International Studios boasts a massive content portfolio in both Spanish and Portuguese which crosses multiple genres and target demographics. In addition, the studio plays a key role in third-party productions and the production of its own content, to distribute and market in the Americas and throughout the world.

Warning: Your Investment Return May Be MUCH Lower Than You Thought

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 04:52 AM PST

The smartest investors I know don’t worry about asking what may seem like stupid questions.

SEE ALSO: Need a Retirement Income Plan? Here’s Where to Start

After all, putting your hard-earned dollars into an investment isn’t the same as simply stashing it away in a checking or savings account. There are risks involved, and you should know what you’re getting for your money.

Sometimes, when you hear an investment will earn a certain rate of return — whether it’s 5% or 6% or even 10% — you aren’t necessarily getting the whole picture. You need to be prepared to challenge that number and to ask questions that will determine the true bottom line.

For instance, if you’re told an investment will get you a 5% return on your money, you might think it means that if you put in $100,000, at the end of the year you’ll have $105,000. Seems like simple math. But what if the financial professional proposing that product charges an annual fee of 1.5%? Then the net to you is really only 3.5%. And what if the investment has an internal fee? Then your net is even less.

The first question you should ask is, “What’s the net to me?” Or, to be more specific, “What will I actually end up with at the end of the year if I do this?”

The second question you should ask is whether an investment is giving you a return on your money or a return of your money. The wording is subtle, but there’s a difference.

Recently, I had some clients come in — we’ll call them Mary and John — and they told me about a “great” investment they were considering.

It would guarantee them 7% growth every year for the next 10 years, which meant their $100,000 investment would just about double to $200,000. After those 10 years, they would receive $10,000 a year in income for the rest of their lives.

See Also: How to Beat the 2 Top Risks Retirees Face

The 7% growth sounded wonderful to them. The thought of doubling their money in 10 years was certainly appealing — as was the idea that they’d get $10,000 a year for life, guaranteed.

But I had questions about the real return for this investment.

Mary and John are both 65 years old. Hopefully, they will live a good long time — at least to the average age of about 85 to 87. But even if they do, after 10 years of getting income, from age 75 to 85, they will have only gotten back their own money — their original $100,000 investment. After 20 years — 10 years of growing the money and 10 years of taking income — the actual return would be zero. And that’s only if they live that long.

Now, let’s say one or both of them should live to 95, and they actually end up getting the full $200,000 in income over the years. Yes, they did double their original investment, but it will have taken 30 years, not 10.

Doubling your money in 30 years is a 2.4% return. Not terrible for a low-risk investment. But not “great.”

With that information in hand, John and Mary potentially could make a better decision about the benefits of this particular investment versus others they might want to consider. It took a closer examination to understand the complete picture.

“Return” is a tricky word in the financial world. Don’t be reluctant to ask a trusted adviser — preferably a retirement professional — to do the math with you, to break it down for you, and to help you understand every option you should consider as a part of your retirement plan.

See Also: If You Want to Retire Comfortably, It Isn’t All About Investing

Kim Franke-Folstad contributed to this article.

Investment advice offered through JCG Investments, LLC. (JCG), an independent registered investment advisory firm. Securities transactions for JCG are placed through TDAmeritrade, Fidelity, and Trust Company of America. Insurance and Annuity products are offered through Monolith Financial Group, Inc. Licensed California Insurance Agent #0777322

Comments are suppressed in compliance with industry guidelines. Click here to learn more and read more articles from the author.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Copyright 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors

All contents copyright 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Berlin: Edko Films Picks up Zhang Yimou’s ‘One Second’

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 04:39 AM PST

Hong Kong studio Edko Films has picked up international rights to “One Second,” the newest movie by top Chinese director Zhang Yimou. The film will have its world premiere in competition in Berlin, it was announced this week.

“One Second” is pitched as Zhang’s personal love letter to cinema, and as a return to his auteur roots after a string of big-budget films including “The Great Wall,” and the recent “Shadow.” The story evolves from the moment when an enigmatic film reel spawns an unlikely friendship between a fugitive and a homeless girl.

The film stars Zhang Yi (“Operation Red Sea”) and Fan Wei (“I Am Not Madame Bovary”). It was shot in remote mountainous locations in mid-summer last year, between the end of production on “Shadow” and that film’s triumphant Venice and Toronto outings.

“Shadow” was produced by Perfect Village, a joint venture between Chinese games to film group Perfect World and Australia’s Village Roadshow, and financed by LeVision Pictures, the movie-making offshoot of ambitious technology and entertainment conglomerate LeEco. Zhang had also been set as artistic director across LeVision’s slate of pictures. However, since LeEco ran into severe financial difficulties, it has unwound many of its activities.

“One Second” is backed by Huanxi Media, a fast-moving production company founded by entrepreneur Dong Ping, whose film credits include “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Dong’s business track record includes the reinvention of stock market-listed ChinaVision, which was later acquired by e-commerce giant Alibaba and became Alibaba Pictures Group. Huanxi, which also has a Hong Kong stock market listing, is built around new generation directors Ning Hao and Xu Zheng, who are among its major shareholders.

Huanxi’s ability to issue shares and raise substantial finance has helped it build up a stellar roster of mainland Chinese and Hong Kong directing talent, including Wong Kar-wai and Peter Chan Ho-sun. In 2018, the company was involved as producer on Jia Zhangke’s Cannes competition film “Ash is Purest White” and surprise smash hit “Dying to Survive.”

Over the Chinese New Year holidays, which overlap with the Berlin festival, Huanxi will release “Crazy Alien,” the latest film to be directed by Ning. It was picked up for release in China by a consortium distributors who provided a guarantee of $415 million (RMB2.8 billion) theatrical box office receipts.

“Our strategy of only focusing on the very best directors is rewarded by the selection of ‘One Second” for competition in Berlin,” said Steven Xiang, Huanxi CEO.

No theatrical release date has yet been set for “One Second.” Edko is handling worldwide rights.

Claudia Boderke, Lars Mering Talk ‘The New Nurses,’ Gender, Class

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 04:06 AM PST

The inevitable comparison for SF Studios’ “The New Nurses,” at least from a Danish broadcast perspective, is “Something’s Rockin,'” another 2018 TV 2 Charlie show which was retro but forward-looking. “Something’s Rockin'” described the birth of an independent radio with culture in Denmark.

Produced by SF Studios’ Senia Dremstrup (“Norskov”), “The New Nurses” talks cleverly about gender equality by flipping the focus to men battling a conservative establishment to become Denmark’s first nurses. This will make the lack of equality seem even more arcane to even more people.

In another reset, reverting classic telenovela, you have a working class man in love with an upper-class girl. Erik (Morten Hee Andersen, “Ride Upon the Storm” ), a soldier who fought in WWII, attempts to sign up for Denmark’s first nursing school which accepts male nurses. A working class lad without even the money to pay for the basic text books, he faces a battle with nit only entrenched authorities at the hospital, who have ecumenic reasons to oppose male nurses, but upper-class snobbery when Anna (Molly Egelind), the daughter of a stinking rich local family, catches his eye.

Light its tone, despite its dashes of melodrama – Anna thinks Erik is two-timing her when a thankful patient wife’s with gives him a peck on the cheek – “New Nurses” is a social democracy origins story which deals in social ailments which Denmark has yet to cure: Class bigotry, gender bias. In this sense, 1952 is 2018…..

“The New Nurses” bowed on TV2 Charlie (Denmark) in October 2018 and simultaneously on their VOD platform TV2 Play, proving TV2 Charlie’s biggest audience hit to date.

“SF Studios aims to produce various TV-series for the TV-channels in Denmark, Scandinavia and the rest of the world,” said Dremstrup. “We do not limit ourselves to certain genres or budgets. It is important to us, however, to produce TV-series of high quality for a broad audience.”

Variety talked to writers Claudia Boderke and Lars Mering in the run up to the Göteborg Festival, Scandinavia’s biggest film-TV event, where “The New Nurses” competes for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for outstanding writing.

“The New Nurses” talks about gender equality, but cleverly does so, by focusing partly on men: The reticence of Denmark’s arcane establishment, embodied in a senior doctor, to allow men to train as nurses. This will makes the lack of equality seem even more arcane to even more people. Could you comment?

As we were researching, to find an interesting angle into a new historic drama taking place in the ’50s, we read about an experiment, that took place at the main hospital, Rigshospitalet, in Copenhagen in 1951. Here seven men got the chance to prove that they were suitable for the nurse-job, even though they of course could’t possess female qualities like empathy, motherliness and a strong caring gene. We felt that this kind of reverse gender discrimination was highly topical. There still is a nurse shortage in Danish hospitals today – especially regarding men. In Denmark only 3.5% of all nurses are male and those men who dare to chose this job often have to cope with prejudices and some kind of reverse discrimination. Gender bias in the other direction to what we’re used to.

In fact, men were especially skeptical about that experiment in the ’50s. They felt it went “against nature” that men should be trained as nurses. Who is staying home with the kids? Of course the mother. Why suddenly change something that has worked for decades? On top of that the male doctors were afraid of losing their position as alpha males. They were used to be “admired” by the female staff and didn’t want to loose their status.

Gender issues are deepened by the fact the same man who opposes male nurses also tries to get his wife to give up her career and just be a mother so that he can carry on an affair with a younger nurse. Anna’s wealthy ex can’t understand why she wants to spend her days emptying bedpans, when she doesn’t need to work at all. Again, could you comment?

“The New Nurses” premise is [to explore] prejudices and obdurate points of view that prevents innovation and equality. According to that premise, we wanted all of our characters either have to face prejudices – or to be the one who has them. Our chief physician is – just like Anna’s ex-fiancé – a typically old-fashioned man that has some stubborn standpoints about where women belong. Especially women that have a social background that makes it possible for them, that they don’t need to earn money.

Denmark actually holds a global 78th place in the world judged according to the number of women in leading positions – behind Ghana and Guatemala. Officially the main reason for that is that women choose family instead of career. Nevertheless, the new focus on gender issues is a good start to discuss what we all could do better in the future. But in the end we didn’t focus too much on writing a series about gender, but a series about human beings instead.

“The New Nurses” also talks about class. Anna’s fathers calls over three young male nurses to help Anna up to her room with her things, including a designer cabinet, rather like a lord of a manner ruffling up a posse of serfs. That could be seen asa historical comment but you’re also talking about contemporary Denmark, and indeed Western Europe.

The series takes place in a time before the welfare society in Denmark was established for real. At that time the gap between rich and poor was even more visible. “Feminism” still was a word, not really many women even knew about. But the fact that life in the 50s was even more rigid, narrow-minded and bigoted doesn’t mean that these issues are not relevant anymore nowadays. We still do not treat men and women equally. Still the wealthy part of the society has a tendency to feel superior and act condescending toward those who are disadvantaged. By choosing the ’50s we had the opportunity to illustrate this kind of “gender and class disharmony” in a slightly caricatured way.

Reflecting as a producer about “Something’s Rockin,” also backed by TV2 Charlie, Adam Price commented that SAM wanted “to show that we could produce drama for a specific audience and on a budget in another price range.” We’re you conscious at all of targeting a more senior generation of viewers in “The New Nurses”? If so, how did that work?

Writing “The New Nurses” we actually had in mind, that our main target group would probably be “a little more mature” because the series was screened on a TV channel, whose audience is usually above 50. This is why we spent some time on illustrating details of the life in the ’50s, that some viewers might recognize from their own past and to use iconic music from that time. However, it has always been important to us not to feel limited while writing. Our aim is to create a series we would love to see ourselves, and even better – that our kids would be happy to watch together with us. And luckily that worked out. After the series premiered on TV and VOD we found out that we actually have reached a much broader audience – people of all ages and with different backgrounds – than we had dreamed about.

“The New Nurses” is just six episodes long, Did that create challenges for you when Scandinavian series have traditionally been twice the length?

In the first season we wanted to talk about the new nursing-trainees’ probationary period stretching over four months – from their very first day to the day where they become “real students”. Because we only had six episodes to do so, we were forced to tell the story in a bit more episodic fashion. That means that in between the episodes life went on at the nursing school, even though “we weren’t there”. We jump-cut to a new experience with new patients. This was a little challenging but a gift as well, because we had the opportunity to talk about one specific topic – for example the polio-epidemic – in only one episode and did not have to follow the same patients with the same illnesses in every episode. Writing the first six episodes, we developed the project as limited series. Luckily, we very quickly got picked up for a second season and shortly will have 12 episodes in total for people to watch.

As writers whose careers stretch back one or two decades, how has Danish TV evolved in that time?

In the ’90s Lars was quite successful with a cartoon-like comedy-series where a real macho-guy tried to help his shy and clumsy friend to score a girl. Nobody was offended at that time but we would be afraid that these days where feminism and discrimination of women are constant topics, people could find that bizarre, that women are (of course in an ironical way but nevertheless) degraded to be objects, that want to be “scored”.

For some time, while writing on various projects together, we didn’t even think about, which gender our main-character should have. We just chose them with gut feeling. But now we actually think about our choices twice in order not to unconsciously privilege men. In a way it is good to be aware of not falling back into old habit patterns, but sometimes it can feel a little restrictive and too conscious as well.

What are you working on now?

We just finished writing the Season 2 of “The New Nurses” and are right now writing a shooting draft of a comedy movie. When we have finished that, we have planned to write a modern black comedy about impatience.

‘Black-ish’ Star Deon Cole Talks Diversity in Television and Landing New Dream Role (Exclusive)

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

2019 is shaping up to be Deon Cole‘s year, and to hear the actor and comedian tell it, “the stars have lined up and everything is coming together.” Fresh off the Season 2 premiere of Freeform’s “Grown-ish,” with Cole reprising his “Black-ish” role of Professor Charlie Telphy, the actor takes on a slightly different role this month, as the brand new global ambassador for Old Spice.

The venerable grooming brand unveiled its “Men Have Skin Too” campaign today, featuring Cole as the face of Old Spice‘s new “Fresher Collection.” The actor will appear in broadcast and digital spots, as well as social media ads promoting the new antiperspirant, deodorant, body wash and shampoo line, which focuses on fresh scents and real ingredients (think: products infused with lavender, mint, charcoal and shea butter).

For Cole, partnering with Old Spice has been a dream come true, and validation after years spent hustling to find roles he could be proud of and stand behind. A vocal advocate for diversity in television, Cole says he’s also proud to continue the tradition of strong, African-American men representing the Old Spice brand, following in the footsteps of Terry Crews, Von Miller and Isaiah Mustafa, whose viral, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign has racked up more than 55 million views to date.

“I’ve grown up on Old Spice my whole life, from seeing my grandfather use their products, to my uncles, to my cousins, so I feel like it was inevitable that we would eventually work together,” Cole says. As for why he thinks he’s the perfect spokesperson, Cole says it’s all about finding humor in life and always keeping it real.

“Old Spice came to a guy with no abs and said, ‘Let’s make a deal with him,'” Cole chuckles. “They’re committed to helping young dudes navigate the seas of masculinity and I hope I can do the same through my comedy — and this campaign.”

What made you want to partner with Old Spice?
I actually have friends who once told me that I’d be a great “Old Spice Guy” and we would laugh about it, but never in a million years did I think that it could actually be a thing. I was so honored that Old Spice saw something different in me. I think it compliments how original they are with their products. The campaign has a funny vibe too, which I really liked. I grew up on films like “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun” and I like that type of quirkiness in comedy. Plus the idea that “Men Have Skin Too” was so great. We have skin too and we’ve been overlooked all these years; we’ve been played!

You’ve been working in the industry for more than two decades and you just landed a global campaign. What do you attribute your longevity to?
It’s simple: you’ve got to believe in yourself. I’ve learned that if somebody doesn’t pick you for a job, it’s okay. If you’re kind and unique, people will remember you. Look at yourself and see the differences between you and everyone else, and believe in what you have to offer. See what you can bring to your industry or to the world.

Everybody’s doing the same thing in movies and music and it’s hard, but I’m here to tell you: I hardly ever got anything I auditioned for, from TV shows to writing jobs; I never ever got anything. I had meetings of course, but nothing ever panned out. And now it’s all panning out. Hard work pays off.

There’s been a lot of talk about increasing diversity in television, but what about diversity in commercials and campaigns?
I remember watching “Soul Train” and they used to show Black people in Afro Sheen commercials and I would think that was so great, to see Black people represented in advertising, even if it was just on a show like “Soul Train.” This is definitely something I’ve dreamed about from a young age, to be an ambassador not only for a brand, but for my community. From Isaiah [Mustafa] to Terry [Crews], Old Spice has always been great with diversity and giving everyone a chance; I always respected them for that. To be another African-American man that’s now a part of their brand is such an honor; it blows my mind every time I think about it.

You’ve been vocal about telling more authentic stories, both in front of the camera and in real life. Why?
There are a lot of things and a lot of people that have a Black face these days, but not a Black voice. And that’s contributing to what’s going on in America right now. Everybody is lying and not being real. And the number one thing for me is to not only be bold and humorous and thought-provoking, but to be real. I think that’s why I appreciate “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” and a lot of the other great Black television shows right now — they’re not just showing a Black face, but representing the Black voice.

The more real I am and the more honest I am, the more people are going to resonate with the things I get behind. It’s not a coincidence that we got Cardi B winning over the music business right now — people love her because she’s just being herself. And of course Kenya Barris (the creator of “Black-ish”) is dominating TV and now Netflix (Barris recently signed a reported $100 million deal to create original content for the streaming giant). People connect with real people. They want to see real stories come across their screens. With Old Spice, I plan to be me, I plan to be honest, I plan to be real.

What do you hope people take away from this new campaign?
As an iconic American brand, Old Spice continues to evolve and listen to what guys want. Everybody in commercials usually walks around like they’re so perfect, but we’re showing a more human side to this. You know, it’s not about having abs; I’ve got one ab — one big ab. This campaign’s about a common man helping other men with common problems. And that’s what’s going on.

Old Spice’s nature-inspired “Fresher Collection” introduces five new antiperspirant, deodorant, body wash and shampoo scents and is available online at Walmart.com. The full product line will be available across all retailers on Feb. 4.

VarietySPY editorial products are independently selected. If you buy something through our links, PMC may earn an affiliate commission.

Cardi B lands Pepsi deal

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Cardi B will star in Pepsi’s Super Bowl commercial.

The ‘Bodak Yellow’ hitmaker will be the soft drinks giant’s spokesperson for the next 12 months and according to TMZ, has already filmed an advert that will air in the TV breaks during the NFL flagship game next month.

The Pepsi ad is considered the premiere commercial during the sporting event and is viewed by an audience of hundreds of millions.

Last year, Cindy Crawford featured in the clip, while the likes of Spice Girls, One Direction, Beyonce, Britney Spears and the late Michael Jackson have previously featured in the company’s advertising.

It was previously claimed Cardi had been in talks to join Maroon 5 during their half-time set during the game.

However, the 26-year-old star was said to have been in dispute over whether or not she secured a solo spot as well as performing their collaboration ‘Girls Like You’.

The ‘Moves Like Jagger’ hitmakers will now be joined by Big Boi and Travis Scott for their set at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on February 3.

Ahead of the announcement, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine Adam had previously hinted they were performing at the show, and admitted he would be “equal parts nervous and excited” about the gig if it took place.

He said: “It’s the Super Bowl. It’s a great event and there’s gonna be a band performing, or an artist of some kind performing at halftime. And it’s gonna be great regardless of who it is. Whoever is lucky enough to get that gig probably is gonna crush it … Whoever does it is probably equal parts nervous and excited. This is all speculative because I don’t know who I’m talking about. If it were me, I’d be excited, I’d be nervous … If I were doing it, which I can’t confirm or deny I am, I would be excited.”

Chrissy Teigen had major row with John Legend at Kimye wedding

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Chrissy Teigen and John Legend had a “major blow-out” row at Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West’s wedding.

The ‘Lip Sync Battle’ star – who has children Luna, two, and Miles, seven months, with her spouse – admitted she wants to apologize to the couple every time she sees them because of the tension she caused at their 2014 nuptials in Italy.

Asked about the row by a caller on ‘Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen’, John said: “I don’t even remember what it was about.”

Chrissy added: “We try to think about this all the time. It was a major blow-out to the point where every time I see them I feel like apologizing for it.”

While John, 40, thought the pair had managed to keep the bad feeling hidden from the bride and groom, his wife disagreed.

She said: “Ohhhh everyone knew!”

The 33-year-old model blamed her own insecurity and being “intimidated” by her fellow guests for the argument, admitting she took her own feelings out on the ‘All of Me’ hitmaker.

She explained: “I think I was really intimidated. I think it came from a lot of insecurity and I took it out on John.

“I don’t know, it was a lot of fabulous, amazing people in one room. I think that’s where it stemmed from. I was just very insecure. You know how things snowball into a bigger thing. And also drinking so that doesn’t help.”

The couple were also asked about Kanye’s famous Twitter rants and John admitted he finds it “weird” that it’s always something he’s quizzed on because his friend is responsible for his own actions and he doesn’t agree with a lot of what he says.

He said: “When I see some of it, I just shake my head like a lot of people that love Kanye, love his music.

“I don’t agree with a lot of the things he says. He owns it. He says what he’s gonna say. And it’s on him. It’s weird because I get asked about it all the time, and I can’t be accountable for what he’s gonna say.”

Laura Linney finds Oscars surreal

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Laura Linney finds attending the Oscars “surreal”.

The ‘Ozark’ actress – who has been nominated for Academy Awards in 2001, 2005 and 2008 – admitted she’s often in awe when she comes face-to-face with people she admires or who have inspired her when she attends the prestigious event.

She said: “It is a wild thing, it’s surreal when your life intersects with people you admire or who’s work has inspired you.

“Suddenly you’re there and you can’t believe your luck.

“It’s a wonderful thing and it’s hard to believe it’s actually happening.”

The 54-year-old actress is starring on stage in London in one-woman show ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ and she admitted she gets “very, very nervous” about holding the stage alone and finds it difficult afterwards because there’s no one to compare notes with about the performance.

She said: “It’s terrifying, it’s the most unnatural thing to do, it is strange and odd. It’s bizarre to go out on stage alone, I get very, very nervous and I have to throw myself out there.

“Then after, I think, ‘What just happened?’ and there is no one to compare notes with.”

However, the ‘Mystic River’ star has no regrets about signing up for the production.

She told UK talk show host Graham Norton: “But, I’m so happy I’ve been about to do it and I love it because the material is so beautiful.”

Laura – who was previously married to David Adkins and has son Bennett, five, with spouse Marc Schauer – also spoke about working on ‘Love Actually’ and admitted she and co-star Rodrigo Santoro comforted one another about their respective break-ups during filming.

She said: “It was so much bigger than I thought it would ever be and I had the best ever kiss in that movie with Rodrigo Santoro We were broken hearted at the time as we’d both been dumped, so all day we made each other feel a lot better!”

Gladys Knight’s national anthem vow

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Gladys Knight has vowed to give the US national anthem “back its voice” at the Super Bowl.

The 74-year-old music legend will sing ‘The Star- Spangled Banner’ before the flagship NFL game kicks off at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in her hometown of Georgia, Atlanta, on February 3, and she thinks it is “unfortunate” that the song has been “dragged into” a debate about police violence and injustice.

Gladys gave a lengthy statement when asked her thoughts on the NFL’s treatment of former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick, who was exiled from the NFL for his #TakeAKnee movement, which saw him and several other players refuse to stand during the national anthem at games because of the protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

She told Variety: “I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice.

“It is unfortunate that our national anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the national anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone.

“I am here today and on Sunday, February 3 to give the anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good — I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl LIII.

“No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it.”

And the ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ hitmaker “prays” the song will bring everyone together so they can “move forward”.

She added: “I pray that this National Anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us.”

Robert Redford to Receive Honorary Cesar Award

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 02:58 AM PST

Legendary American actor and director Robert Redford is set to receive an honorary Cesar award, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, at the 44th annual César ceremony, which will take place on Feb. 22 in Paris.

“An iconic actor, an exceptional director, a passionate producer, founder and president of Sundance, the most revered festival of independent films in the world, Robert Redford has left his mark through all his endeavors in the film world, said Alain Terzian, the president of the Academy of Arts and Techniques of Cinema.

In the statement announcing Redford’s honorary Cesar, Terzian praised Redford’s career as an actor, filmmaker and philanthropist.

“Robert Redford is definitely a monument. Many of his films, in front or behind the camera, have now become classics. Rare are the careers which have had such a lasting impact on the History of Cinema,” said Terzian, citing Redford’s Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning film “Ordinary People,” which marked his directorial debut; as well as “Barefoot in the Park,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Candidate,” “The Way We Were,” and “Out of Africa.”

Redford, who began his acting career on Broadway in the play “Tall Story” in 1959, was previously honored with the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Redford said last summer that he planned on retiring after his latest film, “The Old Man and the Gun” directed by David Lowery, but he later said it had perhaps spoken too soon.

He’s an executive producer of Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s “The Mustang” which stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman Coleman, a violent convict who participates in a rehabilitation therapy program involving the training of wild mustangs.

Past recipients of the honorary Cesar include Penelope Cruz, George Clooney, Michael Douglas, Meryl Streep and Sean Penn.

Co-Writer Hakan Lindhe on Politics, Image in Viaplay’s ‘The Inner Circle’

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 02:41 AM PST

David Ehrling, Sweden’s Minister for Enterprise, who is tipped to be its next Prime Minister, spends a lot of the time in Sweden’s “The Inner Circle” not preparing his speeches, or in impassioned discussion of key political issues, but staring into the mirror, rain checking on his strong-jawed image.

He spends much of his enterprise, not developing a program to take Sweden into the future, but attempting to sidestep sexual and financial scandals fueled by an ever-present media. Welcome to the world of modern Swedish politics, indeed much politics at large.

Sold by DRG, and produced by Fundament Film for the Nordic Entertainment Group-owned Viaplay, a Scandinavian VOD platform powerhouse of original series production, “The Inner Circle” begins with Ehrling (Niklas Engdahl) being advised by Sweden’s prime minister that he is a candidate to succeed her. As Almedalen Week, Sweden’s annual early July political forum, takes place in the sun-kissed quaint city of Vilby, Erhling is soon plunged in seemingly impossible to survive scandal, accused of frequenting prostitutes, financial legerdemain to obtain ownership of a Swedish port, an affair with his press attache (Nanna Blondell). He is even suspected of murder.

But Ehrling, one suspects, will fight back. Or maybe none of the above really matters when it comes to choosing a country’s next P.M.

Billed as a exposé of the scheming, dirty tricks and power plays of modern politics, “The Inner Circle” is co-written and co-directed by Håkan Lindhé, who directed four episodes of the Fremantle-sold “Modus.”

Almedalen Week has been criticized as an event where, increasingly, image, not discussion of complex issues, is all. “The Inner Circle” challenges the viewer to buy into this from the get-go and then question the mindset.The most important thing about the series, in other words, is not what David Ehrling has done, or his political program, but whether he gets away with it. Variety talked to Lindhé in the build up to the Göteborg Film Festival where “The Inner Circle” competes for the Nordisk Film & TV Prize.

“The Inner Circle” suggest that in politics, image is all. Could you comment?

Isn’t image what politics is about these days? Image, ego, vanity, hunger for power, much more than ideology and the really important political issues of today? Many politicians, all over the world, seems to be more interested in themselves, money and power, than doing something good for the world. In this season (we hope to do a few more) we focus on David Ehrling’s struggle to becoming the next Prime Minister of Sweden. In the next I’d like to dig deeper into how it feels to run a country – while your own life is falling apart.



Ehrling is accused of frequenting prostitutes and a potential conflict of interests, having masterminded the purchase of a Swedish port facility by now-sanctioned Russian business interests. But he can deliver an inspiring off-the-cuff speech, and he looks great on camera. The questions which “The Inner Circle” raises is whether these qualities make him totally appropriate or inappropriate to become Sweden’s next prime Minister. Again, could you comment?

I think you could be a great Prime Minister, even if you have done a few things in the past that you’re very not proud of. Of course, nothing criminal, or in other ways questionable. But we’ve all made mistakes. The important thing is that we’ve learned from it. In Davids Ehrlings case, there is a lot of smoke… But – without spoiling anything – everything is explained in the end.

The first half of “The Inner Circle” is tensed by political skullduggery and an all-intrusive press which makes privacy impossible. What we have yet to see is much spin or collusion between the forces of government of order and big industry. Can we expect these to come to the fore as Erhling attempts to dig himself out of a huge hole?

Well, as I said, I don’t want to spoil anything. But I can promise you one thing – it’s worth seeing the whole series to the end. I think you’ll be surprised.

“The Inner Circle” also registers the new paradigms of politics in an Internet age. Politicians careers are decided by social media and media, not elections, and can be over in one day. Per Schlingmann novel was published in 2017. Was there anything you chose to emphasize even more while making the series….

The novel had the arena, a vague political plot and the main characters. And that was great. But it wasn’t enough to make an 8 episode series. So my job was to bring some drama to the table: Interesting backstories, problematic relationships, family secrets etc. I changed the whole premise, created new characters and wrote a totally new ending. We decided early on that Schlingman’s novel is one universe, “The Inner Circle” is another.

Most episodes end on a cliff-hanger. Will Viaplay release all the episodes of “The Inner Circle” at the same time?

No, I think they will release two episodes per week.

Setting is crucial in “The Inner Circle.” Much takes place at the Almedalen. Did you shoot there as well? Yes, we started in Almedalen, which was both crazy and inspiring. We knew that some of the scenes, we just had to get there. They would be too expensive to stage. We worked day and night for five days, with two teams. But we got what we needed. After that, the rest of the shoot was a “walk in the park”.

Political exposes are common in U.K. fiction, rarer on the continent, though “Borgen” of course manages this for Denmark. Are they still relatively rare in ? Does it need more?

We had an interesting trilogy made by SVT a few years ago; “Kronprinsessan,” “Kungamordet” and “Drottningoffret.” But not much else. I hope there is a new interest in that genre now. And I hope “The Inner Circle” can fill that hole.

“Modus” brought a religious twist to Nordic Noir. “The Inner Circle” at least has a murder in its early stretches. Would you see it as part of a growing diversification in Nordic Noir, and where does Nordic Noir stand today?

I think many of us are getting a bit bored of two gloomy cops trying to solve a murder. At least, I am. I hope and think we’ll see a development in style, Nordic Noir 2.0, where we create compelling and interesting stories about something else than dead bodies.

‘Invisibles’ Director Louis-Julien Petit on his Socially-Minded Smash

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 01:11 AM PST

PARIS — Far from a dumping ground, the months of January and February have become synonymous in France with the kinds of highly polished crowd-pleasing comedies that dominate the annual box-office.

This year is no exception, only nestled among the likely blockbusters “Serial Bad Weddings 2” and “City Hunter” is Louis-Julien Petit‘s socially minded dramedy “Invisibles.” The story of a group of social workers fighting to keep a woman’s homeless shelter from closing, the film has opened to significant box-office numbers in these early weeks of year, and that’s no accident of timing.

Petit took inspiration from author-filmmaker Claire Lajeunie’s documentary and book about France’s invisible women and built a crowd-pleasing comedy around the subject. Produced by French shingle Elemiah and being sold by Charades, the film mixes well-known comedic stars like Audrey Lamy and Noémie Lvovsky with several non-professional actresses, a number of whom also appeared in the original doc.

Appearing under pseudonyms like Lady Di, Brigitte Macron and Chantal Goya, these non-professional actresses lend the project an air of authenticity, and the boisterous performs aren’t afraid to share their stories. “These women are combatants,” says Petit. “They have seen great precariousness in their lives – many of them have lived on the streets or in the margins – and because we shot in sequence, the film is a narrative of them pushing through.”

Was it a challenge to strike that balance between social realism and crowd-pleasing comedy?

I wanted to make it a comedy in order to create a link, a bond, between the viewer and the subject. It was important to find light and positivity in this material, and I must admit that took some time. The script went through several versions and most of them ended up in the garbage because they were too anchored to the original documentary. After I saw that film I spent a year doing my own research, going to shelters and seeing for myself, and so I wanted to write a film that could help, that could be of assistance to the people who volunteer there.

The humor, the characters and the décor all came directly from the book and doc. My job was to work them into a larger story. The work required a meticulous and benevolent touch at every step of the process. It took me three tries to get the screenplay right, and I had to be very precise with the editing and the music. The film needed to laugh with these characters, but never at them. Nor could the film could go too far to other side of the spectrum; it needed to stay at a human scale and not dip towards miserablism.

Which is interesting, because the current festival marketplace incentivizes a more somber treatment of such subjects, a path you wanted to forgo.

As both a filmgoer and citizen, I need to laugh. I worked with Isabelle Adjani on my previous film [“Carole Matthieu”], and she said that the movies should either entertain or reflect hard truths, and I wanted this film to do both. I wanted audiences to have good time while still recognizing the real world.

I was inspired by a lot British comedies made in Thatcher and post-Thatcher eras. Films from directors like Ken Loach and Stephen Frears that examined a highly pressurized society and were still able to laugh at it. You could say that we’re in a similar situation today. Things are tense in France these days. People either feel left behind or feel like they’ve got a hand around their throat. Today, those people demand to be seen and heard, and I think it’s entirely possible to do so with warmth. I say that as a filmmaker. I think we can tell those stories in a positive light, to tell them in order to fight for what’s right.

There’s a big debate in the film world right now about the politics of representation – you know, who has the right to play certain character from certain backgrounds. You sidestepped some of those questions by casting many non-professional actresses who had lived some of the experiences depicted in the film.

I didn’t really ask those questions on a larger scale. Still, there are two characters in the film that I directly transposed from the original documentary, and there was never a possibility that those two women wouldn’t play themselves. Nobody else could bring their truths. The film needed to be true, it needed to have complexity and diversity, and that came with the cast. The cast is also multi-generational and multi-ethnic, because that reflects our own world. That is French society today.

As a filmmaker, you’re always looking to stay credible. I wanted to stay true. I had written the roles and created the characters, but I hoped they would impart their own realities, that they would bring their own responses and emotions to the film, which I think they did really well. Audrey Lamy, Corinne Masiero and the other professional actors said that the non-professionals pushed them to be better, to be more natural.

“Invisibles” is not a huge production. It only opened on 311 screens across France, and still managed to sell nearly 300K tickets within its first week of release. Did you anticipate such a response?

You can never know that kind of thing. We had good responses at festivals and won some audience prizes, but we weren’t expecting anything upon release. As always, you’re scared and nervous waiting for the numbers on the first day. We had a strong first weekend, and the film received the highest audience satisfaction score since 2011. The film got an average of 9.7/10, which is incredibly rare. The highest scoring film last year was “Capernaum,” which was9.6/10. So I’m excited to screen the film abroad, to see how international audiences respond. And we’re going to slowly start down that path. I hope to take Lady Di, Chantal, Beyoncé on the road. I want them to represent the film.

So you will take them along?

If we’re invited, we’re coming! Chantal and Lady Di have never taken a plane before, and they told that they want to change that as soon as possible. [Laughs] I heard from Lady Di, today. She was out buying groceries and plenty of people stopped her, asking her about the film. I’m happy for them, because this experience has been so positive. [And it’s been positive on a larger scale as well]. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, saw the film at festival in August and then went on to open a shelter in Paris. Since December 13t, 45 women have been given a secure place to live in Paris’ City Hall. Hidalgo told me that she saw the movie and wanted to act, and she did. I hope she opens even more going forward.

You could say the film was a success before it ever opened.

The fact that we must open more and more shelters is obviously not great. Though I’m pleased that civic institutions are reactive to the issues that the film tries to bring to light, because we’re at a critical point.

Alibaba Pictures Buys Into Chinese Director Han Han’s Film Studio

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 01:04 AM PST

Alibaba Pictures has invested an undisclosed amount in Chinese celebrity blogger-turned film director Han Han‘s Shanghai Tingdong Film, it confirmed to Variety Thursday. Han’s upcoming “Pegasus” is one of the most anticipated films of the year.

Alibaba Pictures, part of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is now the second-largest stakeholder in Tingdong. It has a 13.1% stake, according to Chinese finance publication Caixin.

The deal is a “long-term strategic partnership that covers content production, distribution and marketing, merchandise and artist management,” Alibaba told Variety. It falls under the umbrella of a new initiative launched in November called the “Jin Cheng Co-Production Plan” — with “jin cheng” roughly translating in English to “golden orange.”

Under this plan, Alibaba intends to co-produce 20 films over the next five years with various top production teams. The films will be released during at the four busiest movie-going times of each year: the Chinese Lunar New Year, summer, national day and end of year periods.

A race car driver who rose to fame as a satirical blogger and published his first bestselling novel at 17, Han, now 37, was hailed in his younger days as the voice of the post-Tiananmen generation of Chinese youth. He shifted to movies in 2014 with “The Continent,” a road-trip comedy that marked his first turn as screenwriter and director.

He established Tingdong in 2015. The company has since produced five films that brought in some $355 million (RMB2.4 billion), said Caixin. Titles include “Duckweed,” a 2017 Chinese New Year hit written and directed by Han that grossed more than RMB1 billion ($148 million).

Its latest feature “Pegasus” is scheduled for release on February 5, the first day of the Chinese New Year, and already seems poised to beat out stiff competition. More than 280,000 people have indicated they want to see the film on ticketing platform Maoyan, making it the most second most hotly anticipated title out of the whopping 13 films lined up for release that same day.

This is the third round of financing obtained by Tingdong since Han deployed a modest RMB15.2 million ($2.2 million) of startup capital. In February 2016, the company received tens of millions of yuan from Puhua Capital. And in October 2017, it received a $45.8 million (RMB310 million) joint investment from Bona Film, Chenhai Capital, and a Shanghai-based cultural center, the Beijing News cited the Tianyan business database as showing. The latter represented at 15.5% stake at the time, it added — indicating that the company’s valuation had then already reached $295 million (RMB2 billion).

Information from Tianyan shows that on Jan. 9, 2019, Tingdong brought in Li Jie, senior VP of Alibaba Pictures and head of Alibaba’s ticketing platform Tao Piaopiao, as a company director. Han Han currently has 14 companies other than Tingdong registered in his name, ranging from film and TV outfits to cultural communications and tech, Tianyan shows.

The first film to be released under Alibaba’s “Jin Cheng” plan is “Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year,” a co-production with Entertainment One that will hit theaters on Feb. 5 as well. The next in the plan’s line-up will be a 2020 fantasy suspense movie whose Chinese title translates to “The Assassination of a Novelist.” A co-production with Huace Media and Beijing Free Whale Pictures, it will be directed by Lu Yang, best known for the 2014 martial arts movie “Brotherhood of Blades” and its 2017 sequel.

Alibaba’s investment in Tingdong comes at the start of what will be a difficult year for the local Chinese film industry, which faces massive production slowdowns and uncertainties due to new tax regulations and cautious investors. But losses for the Chinese industry’s smaller players may create opportunity for Hollywood, and for China’s best capitalized players.

Last week, an Alibaba producer announced that Golden Globe-winning “Green Book” will get a China release sometime this year but did not reveal an exact date, Chinese state media reported. Alibaba describes itself as an investor in the film, though its name was not on the credits when the film premiered in September at the Toronto festival.

“It is such an amazing picture, which includes humorous dialogues, excellent acting performance, and touching friendship,” Alibaba Pictures president Zhang Wei said, according to the Chinese state broadcaster’s English-language channel CGTN. “We are so honored to participate in the course of co-production, as well as to introduce it to the Chinese audience.”

Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger move in together

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 01:00 AM PST

Chris Pratt recently moved in with his fiancee Katherine Schwarzenegger.

The ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ star and the author – who is the daughter of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver – recently got engaged and now it has been revealed that the couple relocated to west Los Angeles last week.

An insider told People magazine: “Since they started dating, Katherine has taken Chris to all of her favourite neighbourhood places.

“And Chris clearly likes her neighbourhood.”

As part of his divorce settlement with ex-wife Anna Faris – with whom he has six-year-old son Jack – Chris has to live no more than five miles apart from the ‘Overboard’ star and their little boy.

The actor lived in the Hollywood Hills with Anna, and she is also believed to have moved to west Los Angeles.

Last week, the 39-year-old star shared a video of him helping to move Katherine out of her Santa Monica home.

Chris captioned the Instagram clip: “I love moving!! Picking up heavy things and moving them into the back of a truck was my major in college! (Full disclosure Chris Pratt did not go to a moving college but he did went to community college for a hot second). Point being… Need a dryer moved? Call Chris. Almost nobody in LA even has a truck so every time they have something to move they call me. Hey Chris, you still got that truck? “Oh hell yeah!!!

“Now I have a brand new truck thanks to @chevrolet !” DM me with your location and what you need moved and I will be over very soon in my new Silverado.

#sponsored #ad (sic)”

Sources recently claimed the newly-engaged couple are already “talking about” having their nuptials this summer.

A source said: “They are one of those rare couples that you root for from the beginning. It won’t be a long engagement – Katherine has already talked about having a summer 2019 wedding.”

‘Jurassic World’ star Chris shared the news of their engagement on social media over the weekend, with a picture of him and Katherine, 29, hugging, with her engagement ring on display.

Alongside the snap, he wrote: “Sweet Katherine, so happy you said yes! I’m thrilled to be marrying you. Proud to live boldly in faith with you. Here we go!”

Katherine later reposted the photo to her own Instagram, adding: “My sweet love. Wouldn’t want to live this life with anyone but you.”

Reese Witherspoon talks to kids on Snapchat

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 01:00 AM PST

Reese Witherspoon uses Snapchat to communicate with her kids.

The ‘Big Little Lies’ star – who has Ava, 19, and Deacon, 15, with ex-husband Ryan Phillippe and six-year-old Tennessee with spouse Jim Toth – has discovered the best way to get through to her teenagers is to simply send them short messages on the app.

Reese took to her Instagram account to share a selfie with a filter that had the words “Go clean your dirty room” written across it.

She captioned the post: “How to talk to teenagers on Snapchat #momlife.(sic)”

The 42-year-old actress has previously admitted she and her daughter are so close, they share everything with one another.

She said: “We can talk for hours. There is nothing like the love I have for my daughter.

“We share every emotion with each other, our hopes, and dreams. I think the way Ava and I are most alike is our strong opinions and our empathy.

“From the time that she could speak, Ava has always had her own ideas, and I love to watch her express herself.”

And the ‘Legally Blonde’ star has also confessed to turning to Ava when she needs advice because she’s such a good listener – but she has also learned things from her plain-speaking son Deacon, who isn’t too afraid to call her out when she’s being “embarrassing”.

She confessed: “Well, my daughter is pretty good at giving advice. She’s, you know what? She’s a really good listener. And then my middle son, Deacon, who is 14, kind of tells me when I’m embarrassing everybody in the family. So, that’s kind of good advice to know. [He’s embarrassed] when I say things like lit? He’s like, ‘Don’t say that.'”

Khloe Kardashian breaks beauty rules

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 01:00 AM PST

Khloe Kardashian has broken her beauty rules since becoming a parent.

The ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ star – who has nine-month-old daughter True with partner Tristan Thompson – isn’t particularly impressed that she’s found herself falling asleep with her make-up on and not even bothering to take it off in the morning.

She said: “There’s been a lot of nights where I would fall asleep with my make-up on, which I never used to do,” Khloe said while promoting their limited-edition #BECCABFFs Collection with BECCA Cosmetics. “And I will still wear the next morning! I never used to do that. It’s the one thing that I’m like, ‘Ugh, how did this happen?’ “

And the 34-year-old beauty has had to strip back her make-up regime because she can’t keep True distracted for too long.

She told ‘Entertainment Tonight’: “Mom life is a juggling act, but just learning how to put some highlighter on — and highlighter’s a little distracting.

“So even if you have a breakout, you’re like, ‘OK, I don’t have time for concealer.’ And giving your daughter make-up brushes goes a long way. I learned that. I’m like, ‘OK, you’re good, right?’ “

Khloe admitted True likes to “play” with her cosmetics and joked the tot “looked really good” after delving into her make-up bag while she was trying to get herself ready for the day.

She said: “She’s playing with my make-up. But she doesn’t know what she’s doing.

“She was playing with highlighter earlier today and I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is OK, but it’s [helping me] finish getting dressed today, so… We’ll clean her up later.’ But she looked really good, sparkly!”

Harvey Weinstein and his lawyer part ways

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 01:00 AM PST

Harvey Weinstein and his criminal defence lawyer Ben Brafman have parted ways.

The 66-year-old film producer – who is in the midst of a rape and sexual assault case – and the attorney have ended their professional relationship in amicable fashion, and Brafman has pledged to co-operate fully with Weinstein’s new legal team.

They said in a joint statement: “Both parties have agreed to part ways amicably, and Mr. Brafman has agreed to co-operate fully with new counsel for Mr. Weinstein so as to ensure an orderly transition.”

Weinstein – who is reported to have clashed with Brafman over the strategy for his case – will soon announce his new legal team.

The disgraced movie mogul is facing allegations he sexually assaulted production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and that he raped another woman in a hotel in Manhattan in 2013.

However, Brafman previously won a motion to dismiss the case of a third accuser, Lucia Evans.

He contested the allegations on the grounds of prosecutorial and police misconduct, and it was subsequently determined that New York detectives had failed to notify prosecutors of potentially exculpatory evidence.

Weinstein has denied the allegations of non-consensual sex.

Meanwhile, the filmmaker previously admitted he’s experienced “the worst nightmare” after being accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women.

In an email sent out to several people he previously worked with, Weinstein wrote: “I’ve had one hell of a year… The worst nightmare of my life. As you can see from these articles, the police have played a very difficult role in my investigation. All 3 police officers have either been retired or repositioned from the SVU. The articles are self explanatory but I’d like to speak to you on the phone if you have some time.

“There is more to this story… I appreciate your confidentiality.

“Have a read of these articles. I wish I didn’t have to ask but I’d be very appreciative of your time.

“Best, Harvey (sic)”

Nicolas Philibert: ‘A Director Driven To Make A Statement Cannot Make Cinema’

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:32 AM PST

PARIS — For over two decades, French documentarian Nicolas Philibert has examined his country’s various public institutions with a watchmaker’s calm and anthropologist’s curiosity.

In films like “To Be and To Have,” “La Maison de la Radio” and “Louvre City,” he’s taken his camera into schoolhouses, broadcast hubs and the world’s most famous museum. His latest film, “Each and Every Moment” takes a look at his country’s healthcare system, following a group of nursing students as they undertake their first on-the-job training.

With Doc & Film International handling worldwide sales, the film plays UniFrance’s Rendez-Vous With French Cinema on Friday Jan. 18.

How has the documentary landscape evolved throughout the course of your career?

The documentary landscape has greatly changed in recent years. In France, there are now more documentaries playing in theaters than ever before. There seems to be one or two every week, which means that something between 50 -100 come out every year. Twenty years ago, there were a lot less. However that does not make the process any easier. While there are a greater number of possible financiers, those sources don’t always offer that much money. Today filmmakers turn to local TV channels, crowdfunding platforms like KissKissBankBank and self-financing, and often work with pretty tight economy. Though it’s tough to generalize, because in documentary as in narrative fiction there are rich productions and poor productions and everything in between.

Broadcast and cable have always been key partners in terms of getting the films out there, but they haven’t always been reliable for funding.

There’s real difference between documentaries financed by and for the cinema, and those that are simply made for television. In actual fact, there are very few films financed by the major TV players for the cinema. ARTE produces only three per year, and now Canal Plus is doing even less. Canal co-produced many of my earlier films, but not my latest one. They were never that interested in documentaries, though I used to be among the exceptions.

And there’s a large divide between the films we see at festivals and those we watch on television. They’re not the same by any stretch. Most made-for-television documentaries are journalistic by nature; they often have voice-over and a desire to teach and inform. On the other hand, the docs that get made for festivals have a stronger authorial voice. They’re more singular, more cinematic. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t in any way look down on journalism, but someone like Wang Bing is not a journalist!

Do your name and reputation make it easier to get projects off the ground?

I have the good luck to have a few years experience behind me; I’m not entirely unknown, so that helps with financing. I might have an easier time than others, but that isn’t to say that it’s always a straight shot. Financing any project still takes time and work. There’s also another element at play: Today, young filmmakers have to give a number of guarantees when applying for financial support, and those guarantees include a detailed treatment. They must present an ordered list of every scene they plan to film, and that simply does not work in documentary, which thrives on the unknown. I don’t always know what will manifest before me, and thankfully I have the good luck to skip that requirement. People trust me now, but I’m not sure I’d have that same benefit-of-the-doubt if I was just starting today.

Do you feel like your filmmaking approach has changed over the years?

I’d like to say yes and no. Yes, because each film required a new approach and a method tailored to the world I was exploring. No, because my methods still have a few invariables. I try not to prepare or research much before I start shooting. I need to save my appetite and curiosity for the actual shoot. If I knew too much going in, I wouldn’t want to make the film. Shooting is a process of learning and discovery, of confronting an unknown world. And so I don’t make films from a perch of knowledge, but rather one of ignorance. I don’t try to tell my audience how to think or how to feel, because I don’t know much more than they do. And that’s never changed.

Your 2002 film “To Be and To Have” was a bona fide phenomenon, and it found international success uncommon to most documentaries. Looking back, what was that period like?

Nobody was more surprised by that whole experience than myself! I never expected the film to have such a life. I didn’t do anything differently and didn’t set out to make a hit. That’s not a good way of working, really – just make the films that you want to make and either they’ll work or they won’t. So when the film sold 1.5M tickets in France and a similar number abroad, I was very surprised! Luckily, I was already 50 years old by that point, so I think I was well equipped to deal with that. I didn’t let it change me too much, and you know, the film I did next [2006’s “Back To Normandy”] didn’t work at all, so life is like that. [Laughs]

At the same time, my film came out the same year as “Bowling For Columbine” and only a couple years after “Buena Vista Social Club,” and those films helped all documentaries during that period. Those successes took documentary out of its ghetto and helped change the public’s perception. The public was shook of the impression that docs were dusty and annoying and saw that they could be joyous and full of life.

Your latest film, “Each and Every Moment”, follows a class of nursing student with observational remove, and it ends with series of interviews. That felt like an interesting new texture for a film in line with the direct cinema school of thought.

I would say that there’s a difference between a subject-to-camera interview and a conversation between two people. When the trainees return from their internships they have a sit-down with their program leaders, and that creates a different kind of interaction than a journalistic interview. The mentors were also trainees at one point, and they’re trying to help their young charges confront their challenges. It’s not easy for an eighteen or nineteen-year-old to be all of a sudden confronted with disease and mortality. It’s hard for them to keep the proper distance – they can’t get too close and lose themselves to emotion, nor can they stay too distant and treat their patients too coldly. These conversations help them work through that, because that’s the next step in their training. It starts with theory, and then on the job practice, and ends with that interaction.

[I understand that] some respond poorly to fixed camera, ‘talking-heads’ style interviews because they seem too easy, [but] there’s been an overall rejection of recorded speech in modern documentary, and I think that’s too bad. There’s nothing more beautiful than speech, interpersonal exchange, and language.

How do you balance your desire to make observational films with your own political points of view?

Well, my films have political dimensions. I’m just not branded as a political filmmaker because I don’t make activist films. An activist film is one that tries to convince, something that has a clear message for the audience. I don’t want to lead my viewers into that position. I don’t tell them what to think, but I do hope the films encourage them to think for themselves. “Each and Every Moment” touches on the economic dimension of healthcare and it talks about the financial pressures facing today’s hospitals if we listen closely to what the characters say. These things are said in passing, because the film is not meant to be a catalogue of complaints.

What are some of those issues?

In today’s hospitals, the value placed on listening and interpersonal relations is getting more and more fragile, and that’s mostly because of money. Everyone has to be fast, and to do the work of two or more people because there’s not enough means and not enough personnel. Those points are all in the film, but I don’t use a color highlighter to emphasize them.

Why not?

What does a film lose when it tries too hard to emphasize a specific message? It loses everything that makes it cinema. A director that’s too driven to make a statement cannot make cinema. Cinema has mysterious element as well; it’s driven by what we say and what we don’t say. Cinema is what we film and what we leave offscreen. So you don’t need to say absolutely everything, and you should never push too hard.

Film Review: ‘Don’t Come Back from the Moon’

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:18 AM PST

Cinematographer-turned-director Bruce Thierry Cheung offers an artful and affecting mix of harshly defined specifics and impressionistic storytelling in “Don’t Come Back from the Moon,” a cumulatively poignant drama about absent fathers and abandoned families in an economically devastated desert community. Structured more like a tone poem than a conventional narrative, it’s an elliptical memory play set in some fuzzily defined yesterday — judging from the appliances and automobiles, maybe 20 or so years ago. At the same time, it also evokes a sense of bleak devastation that suggests a futuristic tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic world.

Such stylization seems altogether appropriate for a film that, at heart, really is a story about the aftermath of a disaster.

“Don’t Come Back from the Moon” is based on a novel by Dean Bakopoulos (who collaborated in adapting the screenplay with Cheung) that was set in a declining Rust Belt town; the story has been relocated to Bombay Beach, a once-thriving Salton Sea resort community that fell upon hard times and, from what we see onscreen, never fully recovered. For the purposes of the plot, the locale is a factory town that went bust when the factory shut down.

Driven by equal measures of shame and desperation, Roman (played, fleetingly, by executive producer James Franco) skips town after a long stretch of unemployment, leaving behind two sons — 16-year-old Mickey (Jeffrey Wahlberg, nephew of Mark and Donnie), the film’s occasional narrator, and his younger brother Kolya (Zackary Arthur) — and his wife, Eva (Rashida Jones). He is but the latest in a long line of husbands and fathers who have fled for parts unknown, a phenomenon that has cued the loved ones left behind to refer to the departed men as having “gone to the moon.”

Eva spirals into alcohol-fueled depression — then lifts herself up through sheer force of will, and sets up a home-based hair salon. But her sons and their friends remain aimless, unfocused and, when they allow themselves to think of their absent fathers, bitterly resentful. They spend their summer days playing games with an enthusiasm that seems forced rather than deeply felt, or salvaging scrap from abandoned homes to trade for bikes and other items. At night, they drink to excess (one of the departed dads owned a bar, and he’s no longer around to check I.D.’s or demand payment) and, it seems, to forget. At one point, Mickey drifts into a sexual relationship with Sonya (Alyssa Elle Steinacker), another teen who’s sorely miffed at an absent father. But their relationship is threatened — and her anger incrementally diminishes — when her prodigal dad unexpectedly returns.

With its shadow-streaked images of a community declining into rust and ruin, and its repeated hints that some eruption of rage might at any moment disrupt the wall-to-wall air of ineffably beguiling languor, “Don’t Come Back from the Moon” reflects the influences of early David Gordon Green (especially “George Washington”) and more recent Terrence Malick, but stops well short of feeling derivative or affected. The performances, running the gamut from Wahlberg’s implosive Mickey to Steinacker’s feisty but needy Sonya) are pitch-perfect across the board. (Some supporting players are effectively cast nonprofessionals from the Salton Sea area.) Chananun Chotrungroj’s relentlessly roaming hand-held cinematography enhances the overall sense of spontaneity and discovery.

There are times, unfortunately, when Cheung pushes too hard, and struggles to wring symbolism from aural and visual allusions to the moon (including what sound like archival news accounts of NASA explorations). Much more often, however, the movie captivates and fascinates as a free-form dream constantly poised on a knife edge between roiling nightmare and reassuring resolution. The surprising yet satisfyingly ambiguous ending allows for either option.

Palm Springs Review: ‘Carlos Almaraz: Playing With Fire’

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:08 AM PST

Though he passed away three decades ago, Carlos Almaraz’s reputation as a major American painter — which was just getting started when he died of AIDS in 1989 — promises to continue to gain traction with the years. Documentary tribute “Playing With Fire” by his fellow-artist widow Elsa Flores and Richard Montoya mostly transcends standard artist-appreciation terrain by virtue of a diverse, colorful and energetic package that amplifies the subject’s own aesthetic. The film would seem a natural fit for artscasters and other programmers, particularly those in search of Latino cultural relevance. Input from surviving admirers and friends like Edward James Olmos and Cheech Marin lend a certain marquee value.

After a somewhat conventional introduction, the movie gears up to present Almaraz’s life story in terms that are as busy, antic and assimilative as his art. Born in 1941 in Mexico City, he moved with his family as a child to the industrial midwest, then to Los Angeles. That compound identity as Mexican native, “melting pot” emigre and newcomer in the “fortress” of East L.A. Latino culture would prove primary to his work, even if early on, his greatest love was animation (and its king, Walt Disney).

Arriving as a young man in the wildly exciting New York City art landscape of the mid-’60s, he both fed on and felt at odds with the then-dominating vogue of minimalism, his instincts being more passionate and personal. After a couple of breakdowns exacerbated by alcohol abuse (which nearly killed him), he landed back in Southern California just as the Chicano Power Movement was gathering force. His work immediately became more overtly political and ethnically specific, lending itself to the agitprop needs of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta (both interviewed here, the former in archival footage). His newly embraced Communist ideals led to the formation of a collective with three other leading Chicano male artists. “Los Four” attracted considerable attention, including the first Latino exhibit at a major U.S. museum (LACMA), but their clashing aims and egos made for a short-lived experiment.

In any case, Almaraz was at this point ready to express himself in more idiosyncratic terms than any political or artistic movement could allow. Insanely prolific, his skills now greatly honed, he “arrived” in commercial gallery terms with a series of violent yet oddly playful car-crash paintings that riffed on his L.A. environs as well as on a general sense of American excess. Like so many of his images, they made a jolting first impression underlaid with prankish humor and complex layers of meaning, as well as a ravishingly vivid color sense.

Various observers here compare him at times to the impressionists, Chagall, Diego Rivera and others, a sprawling assortment that nonetheless could duly be detected in his uniting of lyrical, political and pop elements. Though he’d tried his best (and failed) in New York to paint like a trendy abstract-minimalist, his voluminous mature work was emotional, passionate, often both rhapsodic and disquieting, not at all cold or theoretical.

Though note is made of darker periods and appetites, the film emphasizes Almaraz as a sunny dynamo who found his life balance at last upon marrying significantly younger artist Flores and fathering a daughter. At times one wonders how much this is an “authorized” view preferred by his widow, particularly as “Playing With Fire” seems a bit politely dismissive of his apparent primarily gay orientation earlier on, as if homosexuality or bisexuality were adverse conditions he eventually recovered from. Despite its title, the documentary presents the artist not as a self-destructive figure but a life force snuffed out far too soon, short of age 50.

Whether this is a definitive, balanced portrayal or not, it’s nonetheless an appealing one. Almaraz certainly seems happy in vintage footage, notably a 1980 video where he explains his artistic ethos while standing in front of a 12-foot canvas depicting a local burrito stand.

Fellow artists, activists, curators and others offer the requisite appreciations. But most of the film’s potency comes from the sheer force of its subject’s imagery, which sometimes come to life in flip-book form, at other times (and to more variable effect) via actual animation of drawings and paintings. Montoya (of the veteran performance trio Culture Clash) and Flores also interpolate a cleverly selected range of archival ephemera, including news clips, vintage ads and a wide-ranging soundtrack of pre-existing cuts. (Los Lobos’ Louie Perez contributes the original score.) As Almaraz absorbed and utilized elements in his environment for art’s sake, so does the film create a kind of careening collage-effect to capture his sensibility.

Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano’s ‘The Specials’ Already a Gaumont Sales Hit (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:08 AM PST

Following the widely successful “C’est La Vie,” Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s (“The Intouchables”) passion project “The Specials” (“Hors normes”) starring Vincent Cassel and Reda Kateb, has already lured major buyers in key territories.

Gaumont, which delivered the largest number of French B.O. hits overseas in 2018, has pre-sold “The Specials” to Germany, Austria (Prokino), Greece (Seven), Italy (Videa), Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands (Cineart), Portugal (Lusomundo), Spain (A Contracorriente), Switzerland (Ascot Elite), Israel (Lev), Canada, (MK2 Mile), Scandinavia (Scanbox), China (E Star), Taiwan (Moviecloud), Abania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro (MCF Megacom) Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (Mauris Films) and Poland (Kino Swiat).

“The Specials” is an uplifting drama about the true story of Stephane Benhamou and Daoud Tatou, two friends from different religious faiths who, 20 years ago, created a pair of non-profit organizations for children with severe autism.

Toledano and Nakache are best-known for directing “The Intouchables,” which scored $450 million worldwide. Their last film, “C’est la vie,” is the second-highest grossing French film worldwide this year so far.

“The Specials” is being produced by Toledano and Nakache’s regular partners at Paris-based production banner Quad. Gaumont is co-producing with Toledano and Nakache’s company Ten Films. Gaumont is also handling international sales and will release the movie in France on Oct. 23.

Toledano and Nakache received the French Cinema Award at a reception hosted at France’s culture minister and organized by UniFrance.

More to come.

Verizon Plans Multiple Ad Plays Leading to Super Bowl Commercial

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:04 AM PST

If Verizon gets its way, its Super Bowl advertising plans will include a 60-second commercial during the game – and a half-hour documentary that gives viewers even more of what will be discussed in the ad.

The telecommunications giant is often scrutinized for the communications resources it provides its customers, but its Super Bowl campaign will highlight service of a different kind. The campaign kicks off Sunday with a 60-second TV ad that airs during the NFL’s AFC and NFC championship game, and tells stories of 12 NFL stars – one coach and 11 players – who were rescued from car accident, natural disasters, house fires and more by first responders. That group will be dubbed “The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here.”

The goal is to highlight the reliability of Verizon‘s service, says Diego Scotti, Verizon’s chief marketing officer and aligning with rescue workers can play a role in driving that message home. “We want to make sure that continues to our big point of differentiation,” he said. Verizon burnished a similar theme in an ad it placed in Super Bowl LIII in 2018 – marking a return to the big event after a seven-year absence.

The company is in negotiations to air a half-hour documentary as part of the run-up to the Super Bowl, Scotti says. It is produced by Peter Berg and will premiere in Atlanta on Thursday, January 31.

The company will donate up to $1.5 million to First Responders Outreach a group that provides grants for emergency relief, training, and equipment for first responders, giving a dollar for each time someone shares a Verizon social post with a special hashtag on Facebook or Twitter or posts on Twitter with the hashtag.

“The moment the country is in right now, paying homage to others who serve or people who serve others is really an important message,” says Scotti.

The Story Behind Meta, the AR Startup That Just Had Its Assets Sold to a Mystery Buyer

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:01 AM PST

“It’s a pretty dramatic moment in my life.”

To say that Meron Gribetz, co-founder of the augmented reality headset startup Meta, has had a busy couple of months is an understatement. Meta made headlines in September when it furloughed most of its workforce after an investment round from China failed to go through. Since then, Gribetz has tried non-stop to raise new funding and keep the company alive. “I was feverishly, constantly on the road, 24/7.”

This week, he admitted in an interview with Variety that those efforts ultimately failed, leading to the sale of Meta’s assets. Gribetz didn’t disclose the identity of the purchaser, but promised that the new owner would continue to support Meta’s existing products and its users. “The Meta assets have a future,” he said. “That future was not so clear a few months ago.”

The story of Meta’s demise is as much about the augmented and virtual reality industry as it is about hardware startups, their founders, and their often futile attempts to compete with billion-dollar companies. Variety spoke with numerous sources, including former employees of the company as well as Gribetz himself, to find out what happened.

An industry with lofty promises

Meta was founded in late 2012, and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for its first developer kit headset in March of 2013. But the company didn’t really get much public attention until Gribetz unveiled the second version of his company’s headset during a TED talk in early 2016. The talk, which is still available online, describes augmented reality as a transformative technology, capable of bringing humanity together and freeing us from the isolation of the mobile phone.

“In the next few years, humanity is going to go through a shift,” Gribetz told the TED audience. “We are going to start putting an entire layer of digital information on the real world.” He promised that in just a few years, mobile AR glasses would allow consumers to access these digital layers everywhere. Gribetz also talked at length about building more human-centric interfaces, and moving away from the user interface metaphors of desktop computers and mobile phones. “As a neuroscientist, I always dreamt of building the iOS of the mind, if you will,” he said

That kind of sky-high thinking wasn’t totally out of the ordinary for an industry that still had to sell the general public on its vision. Magic Leap‘s CEO Rony Abovitz, whose company wasn’t going to unveil its own headset for another 2 years, was at the time also busy telling the world about the earth-shattering potential of spatial computing. “It’s hard to think of an area that doesn’t completely change,” Abovitz told a reporter that same year.

One notable difference was that Magic Leap had managed to raise close to $800 million by early 2016, and would go on to raise another $1.5 billion in the following years. Meta on the other hand was in the middle of raising its series B when Gribetz took the TED stage, which brought the total amount of funding raised by the company to a comparably small $73 million.

That didn’t stop Gribetz from making some pretty bold claims. “This is gonna replace phones in not too long,” he said. Gribetz also promised that his company’s entire staff would simply use the Meta 2 going forward for all of its computing needs. “We are all going to throw away our external monitors and replace them with a truly and profoundly more natural machine.”

Manufacturing problems and shipping delays

Gribetz was great at selling Meta’s vision, but internally, the company was struggling early on. Two former employees told Variety that the Meta 2 development was plagued with challenges, which included flickering displays and other hardware issues during the manufacturing process.

This didn’t just cost the company a lot of extra money, but also delayed shipments. The Meta 2 headset was supposed to ship in 2016, but the company didn’t begin making it available to the general public until August of 2017. It didn’t sign its first commercial distribution deal until early last year.

The hardware that ultimately shipped was both more advanced and less powerful than some of the products made by its competitors. Thanks to a different approach to optics, the Meta 2 offered a much wider field of view than Microsoft’s Hololens, for instance. Meta’s headset also sold for about half the price. But it required users to connect it to a desktop computer, making it unsuitable for a lot of the enterprise in-the-field work that Hololens is known for.

The company’s Meta 2 headset.

“The Meta 2 had its successes, and it had its drawbacks,” admitted Gribetz, who described the development of the device as a learning process. “We did something ambitious, and we did our best.”

Shipping delays and hardware shortcomings also had an effect on sales, if former employees are to be believed. Internally, Meta was forecasting to sell 10,000 units of the Meta 2, and predicting that it would be able to sell ten times as much once it was going to introduce the next version of the headset.

One former employee estimated that the company sold fewer than 5000 Meta 2s, while another put the number closer to 3000. Even developers who did buy the headset didn’t seem to get all that much out of it. Repeat usage was very low, with only around 10% of owners still turning on their headset after 3 months, according to an employee with access to the company’s analytics tools.

Gribetz declined to discuss actual sales numbers with Variety, but said that the company came close to hitting the sales goals it had communicated to its board. “The Meta 2 almost sold out organically,” he added.

Even if Meta had sold its entire inventory, it likely wouldn’t have made a whole lot of money on the headset. The Meta 2 was still a device primarily geared towards developers, and priced aggressively. One former employee even told Variety that the company lost money on every headset it sold. Gribetz disputed that. “We were making a very, very modest amount of profit for each headset,” he said.

Elusive funding and an empty office floor

At the same time, Meta was looking to raise more funding for the development of the next version of its headset — and Gribetz quickly hit roadblocks. “The funding environment in the U.S. and Europe pretty much dried up,” he recalled.

To keep the lights on, Meta raised a significant amount of debt financing, with one filing from early 2017 pointing to $10 million in liabilities. And to get enough money for the next version of its headset, Gribetz went to China, where investors were still generously spending on AR and VR, and generally seemed more willing to take risks.

The road to China was one that many AR and VR companies had been taking around 2016. But doing business in the country came with its own set of challenges. “It’s not as straightforward,” recalled Gribetz. He worked with Chinese venture capital companies for many months trying to close Meta’s Series C funding. “I took 25 trips to China,” he said.

During that time, a big new cash infusion always seemed just around the corner, former employees told Variety. At one point, Meta even rented out another floor in its building, effectively doubling its office space, in anticipation of a slew of new hires that were supposed to be made after the funding closed. It never did, and the entire floor remained empty for months.

Furloughs, layoffs and an eviction notice

These days, visitors to Meta’s former office find few traces of the startup, save for an eviction notice from the building’s landlord. The company left its existing offices in September, when it became clear that Gribetz’ hunt for new funding had come to a standstill.

A deal he had struck in China fell through, something that Gribetz blamed on the escalating trade war between the two countries. That trade war, and new Chinese regulations about investments in foreign companies, killed an already secured cash infusion, and put the survival of the company in doubt. “We ran out of cash,” said Gribetz.

An eviction notice, posted at Meta’s deserted former offices.

As a result, Meta furloughed the vast majority of its staff, keeping a small team of around 15 employees around to work on a path forward. Meta put out a press release that suggested it was in the process of securing new financing, and had plans to open new development centers in China and Israel. Internally, the company was also looking at other ways forward. One idea was to license Meta’s intellectual property to a computer maker, and focus on developing its operating system and software.

Gribetz was able to raise a small amount of bridge funding, but the necessary Series C round didn’t materialize in time. Meta laid off all furloughed staffers a month after word of its struggles first became public. From that point, the gears moved at a fast pace: The bank securing Meta’s debt recently pulled the loan and sold the company’s assets to a new owner as part of a so-called UCC auction. “Nobody was expecting that it happened so quickly.” Gribetz said.

Word of the untimely ending of the company first surfaced last week, when AR/VR news site Next Reality News unearthed court documents from a lawsuit against Meta. In November, Meta’s attorney withdrew from that lawsuit. When the court asked the company to retain a new counsel, its chief financial officer John Sines responded that its assets had been sold to a third party. “Meta Company is insolvent,” Sines wrote.

Meta’s chief financial officer John Sines first revealed the asset sale in a court filing.

Meta’s official response to that story was puzzling, to say the least. “Contrary to recent industry rumors, the company remains in full operation and continues to develop, sell and support its products working with a team of engineers and product specialists,” it said in a press release issued a week ago.

It’s possible that the release was written while the company leadership was still holding out for a 13th hour miracle, which ultimately didn’t materialize. This week, Gribetz acknowledged in our conversation that Sines’ filing had been accurate. “I’m no longer the owner of the company,” he said. “The assets changed hands to (the) new owner.”

Augmented reality is hard

The trade war clearly didn’t make it easier for the company to secure funding, but some have also blamed Gribetz for the company’s demise. A source close to one of Meta’s funders bluntly alleged that the former CEO had run the company into the ground, and didn’t cut spending until the very last minute.

A former employee said that he felt himself reminded of Meta when he read “Bad Blood,” the book chronicling the downfall of the infamous blood testing startup Theranos. Gribetz constantly quoted Steve Jobs, and was more show than substance, according to that employee — criticism that was also echoed in a recent Glassdoor review of the company.

However, Gribetz also continues to have supporters among former employees. With lots of charisma and big ideas, he was the right person to sell brands and potential investors on the vision of AR, said one former employee, who argued that this was necessary to introduce an entirely new product category to the world.

Gribetz himself acknowledged mistakes during his conversation with Variety. “I was learning on the job,” he said. Given the chance of a do-over, he would focus on a “killer app” — a must-have use case for the product that clearly differentiates it from existing technology- from day one.

However, he also defended himself against suggestions that the company spent too much, and said that took pride in the things that Meta did achieve. “We spent less than a tenth of the resources of our competitors to build a product that was competitive with them,” Gribetz argued.

Perhaps the best post-mortem for the company came from Barmak Heshmat, a former optical engineer for Meta, who recently held a TEDx talk that was a kind of reality check for the entire AR industry. Companies had talked up AR for too long, Heshmat said, without mentioning his former employee by name once.

The hard truth was that the technology was still struggling with technical limitations, he argued. “AR image quality is gonna suck for a very long time.”

Heshmat also seemed to directly refute his former boss, who less than 3 years before had promised that his company would get rid of all of its computer monitors in favor of its headset. “This thing is just not gonna replace your cell phones or monitor screens any time soon,” he said.

“AR/VR is hard,” conceded Gribetz this week. “It requires more money and more expertise than anyone in the industry expected.”

Money, one might add, that Meta ultimately just didn’t have.

New mom struggles with the family petri dish

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:01 AM PST

Dear Amy: I had a baby daughter four months ago. My in-laws called three days before Christmas to tell us that they all had colds, but insisted that we come over anyway because the entire family would be there.

My pediatrician said that the baby is fine to go out in public at her age, and we have been in many public places and attended large family gatherings. But our doctor also said that until she is 6 months old, she could get much sicker than an adult would from the viruses that cause the common cold.

When I expressed my concerns, I was belittled, told I was being overprotective and that the baby has to get exposed to sicknesses eventually.

Amy, I do not delude myself into thinking I’m creating a germ-free bubble. I don’t sanitize her world. But if my baby were to get sick after this visit, I would feel terrible.

I deeply value family time, especially since this was her first Christmas.

Should I have risked getting my baby sick in order to spend it with family, or should we have stayed away?

— Very Cold Christmas

Dear Cold Christmas: I don’t have the expertise to weigh in on the health risks that visiting your family’s holiday petri dish would pose to your baby. Your baby’s pediatrician does have that expertise, and you followed this recommendation.

Most importantly, you are your baby’s mother and for the next couple of decades it is your job to make decisions regarding her welfare. Making health decisions on behalf of your child is challenging, and it is the highest calling of parenthood.

Your family of in-laws has chosen to dive in and belittle you for exercising your parental judgment. I hope that their behavior was basically a non-serious, knee-jerk expression of their temporary disappointment. But … talk about acting like a bunch of babies…!

Buck up, dear mother. As the months go by, you will become even more competent and confident. You have opportunities to learn from more experienced parents, so try to stay open to their points of view. And then continue to exercise your best judgment.

Depending on the context, push back calmly — or laugh off — these attempts to control you. You got this!

Dear Amy: A dear friend of mine just got married. I am concerned that she does not know her new husband, “Bard’s,” background.

He has a bad criminal past. He has been in prison for B&E’s, drug sales and possession, felony firearm possession, and more.

My husband looked him up and found out all of this. He verified that it was Bard.

I am having a hard time knowing all of this and trying to be happy for my friend.

I am concerned about how things will turn out for her. I don’t want to see her get hurt. We have been friends for a long time.

Should I tell her about this, or should I keep this to myself and see how things turn out for her?

In this day and age, I can’t believe she didn’t look him up!

— Concerned

Dear Concerned: For argument’s sake, I’m going to assume that all of the information your husband claims to have is correct (it might not be).

As her friend, do you have the right to hold onto information about her husband and not share it with her?

It is of course possible that your friend already knows everything about “Bard’s” past. If so, she wouldn’t be the first person to choose to ignore past crimes and misdemeanors. The course of true love does occasionally run through the jailhouse.

You don’t say what prompted your husband to snoop around about this man, but I suggest that you be completely honest: “This is tough to tell you, but my husband decided to do some sleuthing. He’s learned some things that he thinks you should know about Bard’s past…”

This will affect your friendship, but if you believe her safety is on the line, you should take that risk.

Dear Amy: “Finding My Way” described her struggle to find affordable childcare so she could work. Her friends banded together to provide a safety net for her and her children. This took me back. When I was a newly single mom, my friends stepped up in so many ways. I am teary with gratitude.

— Grateful

Dear Grateful: Informal networks of women (family and friends) are the solution to so many childcare challenges. I too, am teary with gratitude.

(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: ASKAMY@amydickinson.com. Readers may send postal mail to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.)

OMARR’S DAILY ASTROLOGICAL FORECAST, For release 01/18/19 for 01/18/19

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:01 AM PST

BIRTHDAY GUY: Actor Jason Segel was born in Los Angeles today in 1980. This birthday gal portrayed Marshall Eriksen on “How I Met Your Mother” from 2005-2014. He also played Nick Andopolis on the cult series “Freaks and Geeks.” On the big screen, Segel’s film resume includes “The Discovery,” “The End of the Tour,” and “The Five-Year Engagement.” He is next slated to star in the upcoming series “Dispatches from Elsewhere.”

ARIES (March 21-April 19): It can be lonely at the top. You might feel that you are temporarily isolated from mainstream activities or significant others. The more strenuously you seek security the less likely it is that you will find it.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): You may want to please someone so much that you can be gullible. Don’t buy something based on an advertisement as you may miss the fine print. You are at your best when engaged in physical activities.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Those who are innovative and inventive receive the most applause but may not be dependable. Meditation and deep thought will reveal who is true blue in your life. You may not be at your best in social situations.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Ambitions may make someone seem ruthless or inconsiderate. Avoid disagreements with family members and try to be more sensitive to their needs. What seems important now will seem petty in hindsight.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Put precious pennies back in your bank. There could be a situation that tempts you to sign a contract or prods you to act quickly without adequate investigation. Be smart and don’t bite into an attractive hook.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): You don’t need to pretend to be someone you aren’t. Some people merely repeat the words of others without understanding the content. If you want others to listen to you then you must think for yourself.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Big jobs get smaller quickly with more than one pair of hands. Passing flirtations are not serious but can make time fly. You could experience unexpected events or be subjected to interference by well-intentioned friends.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): It is wise to be suspicious of candy from strangers, but it isn’t necessary to throw everything that is offered in to the dumpster. You must judge who you can trust and who has your best interests at heart.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Practice makes perfect. Your enthusiasms may be temporarily placed in check. You may need to repeat an action repeatedly before you can get it right. Hold onto your wallet and make no major purchases.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Roll with it, without kicking the ball yourself. You may consider yourself quite crafty, but you may over think a situation or act from a defensive position. You could easily regret any major steps you take.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): You won’t go wrong if you remember that money isn’t everything. Keep your thoughts, finances, and emotions focused on achieving long-term goals rather than seeking instant gratification and employing quick fixes.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): Bring kindling to build the fire. The spark of imagination that lights up your life can give you hours of pleasure. Even the most stable of relationships might experience reversals if you give in to impulsive behavior.

IF JANUARY 18 IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: During the next four to six weeks your fantasy life may be as important as reality, making this a good time for a vacation or romantic getaway. Your creativity may also be in high gear, so you could find inspiration in mundane things. April offers you opportunities to expand your scope of influence in the business world. You will be adept at handling money and shrewder than usual when handling negotiations. Life may teach you some lessons in June if you are too intent on finding romance or blinded by surface appearances. Maintain a low profile and steer clear of new romantic or financial entanglements. September is a good time to begin new projects or put plans into motion because you will be wiser than usual. Be grateful for help and assistance but don’t depend upon others to do what you yourself should be doing.

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This is one plate you don’t want to use for dining purposes

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:01 AM PST

WHAT: Many collectors yearn for the finest but cannot indulge because of price. It’s the old “Champagne taste with a beer pocketbook” syndrome. But in some cases, it’s OK to buy new. Take for instance the plate shown here. Made by recognized French contemporary potter Geoffrey Luff, it follows the style of Palissy majolica wares produced during the Renaissance.

Maiolica (the original name) ceramics originated in 16th century Italy as soft, low-fired earthenware notable for raised decorations painted with bright lead-based colors

MORE: Bernard Palissy, a French potter of the 1500s, recreated the tin glaze of Italian majolica, using brights on wares decorated in a naturalistic manner featuring clay shells, reptiles, fish and plants. Needless to say, old and original Palissy ceramics in good condition are now pricey.

Sought by collectors since the start, Palissy’s take on nature became a rage in Victorian England.

SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: What most readers see today dates from the 1850s, when English pottery Minton & Co. trademarked “Majolica” because it aimed to sell wares done in the style to Victorians, who loved bright colors. Palissy from that time is a special niche in majolica to this day.

Note that majolica emphasizes visual impact over function. One would not dream of eating off a Palissy plate or any other antique majolica.

HOT TIP: Palissy naturalism is a multi-step process. Luff’s snake, shown biting the leg of a salamander, is pre-made and applied, as are ferns, lizards, shells, frogs and a butterfly.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite market ups and downs, top majolica has long appealed to collectors. Ditto for nature wares from Bernard Palissy, or in the style of Palissy. When master artisan Luff nails technique so beautifully, smart collectors cannot be blamed for wondering if his works will ultimately appreciate. A buyer can always hope.

Reasons to refinance your mortgage

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:01 AM PST

Q: If you have a fixed rate mortgage, why would you ever want to refinance if you plan to stay in the home for duration of mortgage?

A: That’s a good question. There are a bunch of reasons you might want to refinance your 30-year or 15-year fixed rate mortgage. The first and best reason would be to save money.

When Sam purchased his first home, back in 1987, he took out a 30-year fixed rate mortgage with an interest rate of 12.75 percent. Any meaningful drop in the interest rates after he took out his loan meant he could refinance and save a bundle of money over the remaining years on his loan.

Over the last 10 years or so, interest rates have remained extraordinarily, almost historically, low. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate average has fluctuated between about 5.6 percent back in June 2009 and a low of about 3.3 percent in December 2012 according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis website. Today the 30-year fixed rate interest rate stands around 4.5 percent.

If you locked in a loan at 4 percent and interest rates never fell below that level again, you might not be able to save money by refinancing. If interest rates ever fall below that point, it might be a financially smart move to refinance and obtain a lower interest rate for the loan.

We usually have advised our readers to make sure they understand what they are doing when it comes to refinancing a loan. Not all refinancing is worth it. If the interest rate is marginally lower and the costs to refinance are high, you could be worse off with a new loan than with the old one.

We’ll try to describe it rather simply. If you take out a $200,000 loan for 30 years at 4.5 percent, you’ll have a monthly payment of about $1,013. (Remember, this payment is only to pay back the principal and interest owed on the loan and does not include our real estate tax or insurance payments.)

If mortgage interest rates drop to 4 percent a year later and you refinance, your new 30-year mortgage payment would drop to about $954 but — and this is important — you’d have added a whole year of loan payments to our loan. Your old loan would have been paid off in full in 2049 and the new loan would be paid off in full in 2050.

To compare these loans apples to apples, you’d want to figure out what your payment would be if you paid off the new loan in 2049 so that both loans would terminate at the same time.

Using simple online amortization calculators, you can compute what you’d need to pay on your new loan to get it paid it off in 29 years: around $972 per month. So the actual difference in the monthly payment in the old loan at $1,013 per month and the new one at $972 is a savings of about $41 per month.

Here’s the kicker. You need to know what it will cost you to refinance. Again, you need to remember to exclude tax and insurance escrows or other payments that you’d make no matter what. When the lender tells you that you’ll have to pay title company or settlement company fees of $2,000 along with recording or other government fees of $500, you’ll know that your closing costs due solely to refinancing will be around $2,500. Since you will save $41 per month on the new loan, it will take you a bit more than 5 years to break even on the refinance.

Spending $2,500 today and saving only $41 per month may not be worth it. Having said that, if you actually refinance and keep that same loan until 2049, you’ll save a bit over $20,000 over the life of the loan.

Of course, we’ve made all kinds of assumptions and the reality is most Americans don’t stay in their home for 30 years. Every year, millions of Americans move. You’d want to balance the odds that you’ll stay in the home for a given length of time with the savings you’ll get from refinancing. The lower interest rates go and the lower the costs to refinance, the better you do in the short term and over the length of the loan.

If you’re not going to save money, why else might you refinance? to take cash equity out of your home.

Let’s say you purchased your home for $200,000 15 years ago, and now the home is worth $400,000. You may have children heading off to college, parents with medical issues, adult children that need assistance buying a home or a myriad of other situations that may require you to have cash on hand. In these situation, you may have paid down your original loan substantially and now need to tap some of the equity.

You could get an equity line of credit or a second mortgage on your home. However, with interest rates as low as they are now, you may want the security of fixing your interest rate for the loan term. So, maybe you apply for a cash-out refinance with a 15-year loan term. Once you have those funds, you can pay off debt, pay off medical expenses, help your kids with college or home buying costs, or help your aging parents with any issues they may have.

For a home run refinance, try to find a deal that helps you do these four things: lower your interest rate, shorten your loan term, lower your monthly payment, and control your closing costs.

(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her website, ThinkGlink.com.)


Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:01 AM PST



             By J. McCarthy  


Portland is 35-16-1 against the spread its last 52 home games. The Trail Blazers are 4-0 against the spread their last 4 games after scoring more than 125 points the previous game. New Orleans is 0-7 against the spread its last 7 Friday games. Take Portland -3 for another Best Bet winner.




 Favorite            Points   (O/U)       Underdog  


                Sunday, Jan 20th.              Conference Championships   NEW ORLEANS           3 1/2  (57)         LA Rams   KANSAS CITY           3      (55.5)   New England  




 Favorite            Points   (O/U)       Underdog  


 Brooklyn              1      (216)        ORLANDO   BOSTON                10 1/2 (206)        Memphis   DETROIT               2      (207.5)        Miami   MINNESOTA             1      (225)    San Antonio   UTAH                  15     (214.5)    Cleveland   PORTLAND              3      (233.5)  New Orleans   Golden St             6      (241.5)  LA CLIPPERS  


               College Basketball  


 Favorite            Points               Underdog  


 OHIO ST               2                  Maryland   SAINT LOUIS           8              St. Joseph's   Northwestern          1 1/2               RUTGERS   BUFFALO               16         Eastern Michigan   TOLEDO                11                     Ohio   VILLANOVA             10 1/2               Xavier                     Added Game   IONA                  6                    Marist  




 Favorite            Goals     (O/U)      Underdog  


 Toronto            Even-1/2   (6)         FLORIDA   COLUMBUS           Even-1/2   (6)        Montreal   CAROLINA           1-1 1/2    (6.5)        Ottawa   WASHINGTON          1/2-1     (5.5)  NY Islanders   Pittsburgh         Even-1/2   (6)         ARIZONA   CALGARY            1-1 1/2    (6.5)       Detroit   VANCOUVER          Even-1/2   (5.5)       Buffalo  


               Home Team in CAPS  



Spending: How to avoid fees on phones, cable and internet plans

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 12:01 AM PST

A cellphone fee here, a cable fee there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. Here are some ways to avoid fees on devices and services many of us use daily, which can save you real money.

Activation and upgrade fees

When you start a new line of service with a wireless phone carrier or upgrade your phone, you may pay an activation or upgrade fee, ranging from about $25 up to $45. Ask the carrier to waive the fee. Or watch for promotions — carriers sometimes drop the activation fee for a limited time, says Tina Chang of WhistleOut.com, a phone-plan comparison website. Sprint, for example, recently offered a promotion for a year of free unlimited data, talking and texting, and waived activation fees for those who switched to the carrier and brought their own eligible, unlocked phone to the plan.

With some companies, you may avoid the upgrade fee by purchasing an unlocked phone from outside the carrier (say, from the manufacturer or on Amazon.com or eBay). Verizon Wireless charges no upgrade fee if you buy an unlocked phone and put your previous phone’s SIM card in it yourself.

Early-termination fees

Contracts with wireless phone carriers have gone the way of the dodo, but cable and satellite TV companies still offer them. If you break a contract, you’ll likely face an early-termination fee, which may run about $15 to $20 for each month left on your contract. If you’re moving to an area where the provider doesn’t offer service, it may not charge the fee.

Or if you’re switching to a competing company, see whether it will reimburse you. Spectrum and Verizon Fios will cover up to $500 of the previous provider’s early-termination fee for new customers who sign up for eligible plans.

Installation and service fees

Cable companies may tack on fees of $50 to $100 or even more to have a tech set up your home for cable, internet or landline service or to fix a problem with your existing service. If your home is already wired and installation is limited to connecting basic equipment, see whether you can do it yourself; some providers offer self-installation kits for free or for a reduced fee.

Or ask the provider to waive the installation fee — you’ll have more leverage if you make the request before you start service than if you wait until the fee hits your bill, says Peter Zimbicki, head of operations for BillFixers, a service that negotiates lower bills for consumers. It’s worth asking the company to remove service-call fees, too, especially if the problem is the provider’s fault.

Equipment-rental fees

Renting a modem from your internet provider may cost you about $10 to $15 a month. Instead, buy your own — you may pay $100 to $200, but you should recoup the cost within a year or two.

(Lisa Gerstner is a contributing editor to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.)

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