Wealthy celebrities like Weinstein better-armed to face sex charges

IN handcuffing powerful movie producer Harvey Weinstein Friday, US authorities justice appeared to confirm that no one escapes the long arm of the law in the United States.

But the record shows that celebrity and wealth promises a better outcome for the accused, especially in sex cases.

That legal ambivalence was on view Friday with the arrest of Weinstein in New York on rape and sex crime charges. After turning himself in, the multi-millionaire behind a slew of award-winning Hollywood films was quickly freed after posting a steep cash bail of US$1 million (RM3.9 million).

Wealth allows him to hire one of the country’s toughest criminal defence lawyers, Benjamin Brafman.

The powerhouse attorney notably defended pop icon Michael Jackson and former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn against sex charges, as well as the rapper and producer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs against weapons violations and bribery charges. None of the three were convicted.

‘Privileged’

While justice may be catching up with Weinstein, it is also testament to his wealth, fame and power that it has taken this long – the complaints detail more than two decades of alleged sexual misconduct against women.

“I didn’t believe this day would come,” said actress Rose McGowan, who accused Weinstein of having raped her in 1997.

She said the producer was “privileged” to be arrested Friday, at the beginning of the long Memorial Day holiday weekend when Americans are likely to take less notice of the news.

For the wealthy, it is easier to avoid a public trial. The US legal system leaves a lot of room for negotiation between the accused and their accusers.

Nine out of ten criminal cases are resolved in a plea deal between prosecutors and the accused, rather than by a jury decision.

Brafman said Weinstein intends to plead “not guilty,” but also said he will continue pressing the New York prosecutor “to dissuade them from proceeding” with the investigation – a possibility rarely available to poorer defendants.

The odds, and history, favour Weinstein. The greatest example is the 1995 case of OJ Simpson, the celebrated football player who hired a top-notch legal team to fight murder charges and won.

Expensive hush payments

Money and powerful lawyers also allows celebrities to avoid trials by buying off accusers, getting them to sign hush agreements to keep a possible scandal or lawsuit under wraps.

Such “confidentiality” agreements was the specialty of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Money equally allows celebrities to file counter-suits, and to hire private detectives to dig into the pasts of their accusers in hopes of finding information to discredit them.

That was the approach of Tom Mesereau, one of Michael Jackson’s lawyers who recently defended wealthy comedian Bill Cosby against multiple rape accusations.

Like Weinstein, the accusations against Cosby took decades to surface, in part because of the power of his celebrity and accusers’ fear they would not be believed.

Mesereau’s defense rested on attacking the accusers based on their past behaviour and statements, and their slowness to complain.

In that case the tactic failed. Cosby was found guilty on April 26 of drugging and molesting a woman at his Philadelphia mansion in January 2004.

Intimidated prosecutors

Wealth and fame can also intimidate prosecutors, many who are elected and whose careers can be made or broken by big-name cases, especially those involving sexual assault.

Sometimes they are reluctant to go after a celebrity because it is an unpopular and risky move. If they fail to win such a case, their careers can stall.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, whose office brought the charges against Weinstein Friday, was earlier criticized for having declined to indict the film mogul in 2015, when an Italian model accused him of sexual assault.

And in 2011 Vance took heavy flak from all sides for arresting the powerful Strauss-Kahn for alleged sexual assault on a hotel maid, and then later dropping the charges, saying he could not make a strong enough case.

‘Equal justice’

Most Americans still believe in the principle of “equal justice under law,” the motto engraved above the entrance to the Supreme Court in Washington.

This includes applying the same humbling police station treatment to suspects, regardless of their power and popularity: fingerprinting them, mug shots, and the “perp parade” – being handcuffed for all, including celebrity-chasing paparazzi, to see.

And for his accusers, seeing Harvey Weinstein arrested Friday offered something of a comfort.

“I have a visceral need for him to have handcuffs on,” said McGowan. — AFP

Weinstein charged with rape, sex crimes by NY police

NEW YORK: Disgraced Hollywood powerbroker Harvey Weinstein was arrested and charged Friday with rape and sex crimes on two women, nearly eight months after his career imploded in a blaze of assault accusations that triggered the global #MeToo movement.

The former mogul — once the toast of Hollywood and whose films won scores of Oscars — is expected to appear before a Manhattan court later on Friday morning, where he is expected to plead not guilty.

The New York police department announced in a brief statement he was “arrested, processed and charged with rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse and sexual misconduct for incidents involving two separate women.”

They mark the first criminal charges against the twice-married, shamed former titan faces criminal charges, despite being hit by a slew of civil lawsuits and reportedly being under federal investigation.

“The NYPD thanks these brave survivors for their courage to come forward and seek justice,” the New York police department said in a statement.

The 66-year-old former studio boss walked into the downtown Manhattan police station shortly before 7:30am (1130 GMT) wearing a white shirt, pale blue sweater and dark blazer before a mob of television cameras and photographers.

He stepped out of a black SUV, clutching several books — what appeared to be the Rodgers and Hammerstein biography “Something Wonderful,” a book on director Elia Kazan and a black Moleskine-type notebook — and looking glum as he walked up the steps into the station.

Weinstein was understood to have had his mugshots and fingerprints taken at the station, close to his former Miramax office in Tribeca and the Manhattan townhouse he once shared with his estranged wife.

Bail package

As part of a bail package negotiated in advance, he will put up US$1 million (RM3.98 million) in cash and will agree to wear a monitoring device. His travel will be restricted and he will surrender his passport, The New York Times reported.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office and police have been investigating Weinstein for months, coming under growing pressure from the Time’s Up movement and Hollywood actresses to bring the disgraced producer to justice.

Lucia Evans, who said Weinstein forced her into oral sex in 2004, is thought to be at least one of the women whose cases triggered charges.

New York police have previously confirmed an active Weinstein investigation regarding Evans, who was an aspiring actress at the time, and a credible rape allegation after “Boardwalk Empire” actress Paz de la Huerta accused the former producer of raping her twice at her New York apartment in late 2010.

Ben Brafman, Weinstein’s powerful defense attorney, has declined to comment on his client’s planned surrender.

Weinstein’s career went down in flames last October over sexual assault allegations following bombshell articles in The New York Times and New Yorker, which sparked a sexual harassment watershed across the United States.

More than 100 women have since accused Weinstein of crimes ranging from sexual harassment to assault and rape going back 40 years.

Salma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are among more than two dozen actresses who say they were sexually harassed by the producer. A few, including Asia Argento and Rose McGowan, said they were raped.

The outpouring saw people around the world come forward with cases of sexual mistreatment, leading to resignations and sackings of powerful men across industries, and the disgrace of Oscar winner Kevin Spacey.

‘Stop, don’t’

Evans, now a marketing consultant, told The New Yorker that Weinstein approached her in a club in 2004 and that an assistant subsequently set up a daytime meeting at the Miramax office in Tribeca.

“He forced me to perform oral sex on him,” she said. “I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t,'” she added.

Weinstein has denied any non-consensual sex and has reportedly been in treatment for sex addiction.

His downfall has seen his Weinstein Company file for bankruptcy, his fashion designer wife, Georgina Chapman, leave him and sparked police investigations in London and Los Angeles.

But for all the media hoopla Friday, experts warn that any trial — let alone a criminal conviction — would still be a long way off.

Sexual assault cases, particularly those that allegedly happened years ago, are notoriously hard to prosecute and often lack substantive forensic evidence.

Weinstein’s lawyer Brafman is one of America’s most celebrated criminal defense attorneys.

His past clients include former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who ultimately escaped criminal prosecution for alleged sexual assault in 2011.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, whose case against Strauss-Kahn fell apart, has been heavily criticized for failing to bring a criminal case against Weinstein for allegedly groping and harassing Italian model Ambra Battilana. — AFP

Danny Boyle to direct new Bond film out in October 2019

LONDON: Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle will direct the next James Bond film, with actor Daniel Craig returning for the fifth time as the legendary British spy, the movies’ producers announced Friday.

The 25th as yet untitled film in the storied 007 franchise will begin production later this year and hit cinemas in Britain first, on 25 October, 2019, EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM) said in a statement.

“We are delighted to announce that the exceptionally talented Danny Boyle will be directing Daniel Craig in his fifth outing as James Bond in the 25th instalment of the franchise,” said producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

Production will start at Britain’s Pinewood Studios in December with Universal Pictures the international distributor, they added.

Boyle, 61, who won an Academy Award in 2009 for “Slumdog Millionaire”, will partner again with screenwriter John Hodge on the new Bond film.

The pair worked together on two “Trainspotting” movies, in 1996 and 2017, and “The Beach”, starring Leonardo di Caprio.

Boyle, who also directed 2015’s “Steve Jobs” and “28 Days Later” in 2002, had previously said he was working on “a great idea” for a James Bond script but was unsure if it would be made.

The film is expected to be Craig’s last time playing the spy, having previously starred in “Casino Royale”, “Quantum of Solace”, “Skyfall” and “Spectre”.

“The unparalleled combination of Danny’s innovative filmmaking and Daniel’s embodiment of 007 ensured we simply had to be partners in the next chapter of this iconic series,” said Universal Pictures Chair Donna Langley. — AFP

Lucasfilm planning ‘Star Wars’ spin-off on Boba Fett: Reports

STAR Wars fan favourite Boba Fett is to get his own spin-off movie in Lucasfilm’s epic space franchise, US entertainment media reported on Thursday.

Logan and Cop Land director James Mangold has been tapped to write and helm the standalone movie, according to the Hollywood Reporter, following spin-offs Rogue One (2016) and Solo, which hits theatres this weekend.

Boba Fett, who has developed something of a cult following, has been played by various actors, starting with Jeremy Bulloch, who also appeared in several James Bond films in the 1970s and 80s.

The bounty hunter’s first film was The Empire Strikes Back (1980), although he has subsequently been worked digitally into the original movie, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

Fett was seen careening into the deadly Great Pit of Carkoon – home to the many – tentacled, sharp-toothed “Sarlacc” monster on the desert planet of Tatooine – in Return of the Jedi (1983).

He then appeared in George Lucas’s much-maligned prequel trilogy, and his story is picked up in the animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

He turns up, apparently having survived his scrape with death on Tatooine, in much of the Star Wars Legends fan fiction which is no longer considered canon.

“Some sources close to the project stress that the Boba Fett movie is in development, and not yet greenlit or dated. As they have before, things could always change,” Entertainment Weekly said.

Josh Trank (Fantastic Four) was developing a Boba Fett spinoff in 2015, but dropped out, citing the enormous pressures of being involved with the franchise.

Disney-owned production company Lucasfilm reportedly has several other Star Wars projects in the pipeline, including an origin story on Luke Skywalker’s mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Crown) in talks to direct.

The studio has not made any official announcement on release dates for the Boba Fett movie or the other projects and didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The next Star Wars release looks set to be the ninth episode in the main series, which is slated to hit US theatres on Dec 20, 2019, directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). — AFP

Morgan Freeman apologizes after sexual harassment claims

LOS ANGELES: Octogenarian Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman apologized Thursday after a report of multiple sexual harassment accusations, making the actor the latest high-profile figure to face allegations of misconduct in the #MeToo era.

Sixteen people — eight of whom say they were victims — described to CNN a range of troubling behavior by Freeman on production sets or promotional tours.

The downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein last October triggered a US reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse that has toppled a litany of powerful men across a variety of sectors including entertainment, politics and media.

The actor, who turns 81 next week, issued a quick apology after the news network published its report.

“Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy,” Freeman said in a statement.

“I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.”

One of the most bankable, respected actors in the business, Morgan was honored with a lifetime achievement award in January that the Screen Actors Guild is now considering withdrawing, the organization told AFP.

A spokeswoman for the guild acknowledged Freeman’s right to due process but described the allegations as “compelling and devastating,” and said its starting point was to believe the “courageous” women who had complained.

“Given Mr. Freeman recently received one of our union’s most prestigious honors recognizing his body of work, we are therefore reviewing what corrective actions may be warranted at this time,” she said.

“Freaked out’

CNN quoted a young production assistant who said Freeman harassed her over a period of months in the summer of 2015 while she was working on his bank heist comedy “Going in Style.”

She accused Freeman of touching her repeatedly, resting his hand on her lower back or rubbing it without permission, and frequently making comments about her appearance.

The woman said Freeman continually tried to lift her skirt and kept asking if she was wearing underwear.

Actor Alan Arkin, one of Freeman’s co-stars in the film, “made a comment telling him to stop. Morgan got freaked out and didn’t know what to say,” the woman said.

A senior member of the production staff on “Now You See Me” (2013) — another bank heist film, this time featuring a team of illusionist thieves — also said Freeman had acted inappropriately with her and her assistants.

Team members knew “not to wear any top that would show our breasts, not to wear anything that would show our bottoms,” or any fitted clothes if Freeman would be near them, she told CNN.

Freeman is also accused of staring at women’s breasts, asking a woman how she felt about sexual harassment and asking women to twirl for him.

He won the best supporting actor Oscar in 2005 for boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby” and was nominated four other times for Academy Awards.

His other major films include “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Se7en,” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” as well as several “Batman” movies.

With his deeply resonant voice, Freeman also did the voiceover for an award-winning documentary, “March of the Penguins.”

Weinstein, whose case triggered a greater willingness among victims to speak out against abuse, has been accused by more than 100 women of impropriety going back 40 years, ranging from harassment to rape.

Reportedly in treatment for sex addiction, he is expected to surrender to authorities in New York on Friday following a months-long investigation into the allegations, US media reported.

Other Hollywood figures who have been accused of sexual misconduct include actors Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, and director-producer Brett Ratner. — AFP

Guns N’ Roses to perform in Sunway Lagoon this November

ICONIC rock band  Guns N’ Roses is scheduled to perform in Sunway Lagoon’s Surf Beach on Nov 14 as part of their Not In This Lifetime Tour. 

Produced by Galaxy Group in association with LAMC Productions & Rockstar Touring, Guns N’ Roses Fan Club will have exclusive access to purchase pre-sale tickets beginning June 1 at 10am to 11.59pm through Buytickets.com.my.

For the general public, fans can pre-register at Buytickets.com.my from May 28 to May 31. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on June 2 at 10am at Buytickets.com.my

Following the group’s 1985 formation, Guns N’ Roses injected unbridled, unrivalled, and unstoppable attitude into the rock scene.

They went on to captivate the world with the release of their 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction–the best-selling US debut ever, moving 30 million copies globally.  

Follow-up albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II occupied the top two spots of the Billboard Top 200 upon release.

Over the past decade, Guns N’ Roses have performed sold out shows and headlined festivals worldwide following the critically acclaimed release of 2008’s RIAA platinum-certified Chinese Democracy.

Six studio albums later, Guns N’ Roses is one of the most important and influential acts in music history and continue to set the benchmark for live performances connecting with millions of fans across the globe.

Guns N’ Roses’ line-up is made up of Axl Rose (vocals, piano), Duff McKagan (bass), Slash (lead guitar), Dizzy Reed (keyboard), Richard Fortus (rhythm guitar), Frank Ferrer  (drums), and Melissa Reese (keyboard).  
 
For more information, visit galaxy.com.my for details.

Book by ‘Game of Thrones’ author to be animated film

NEW YORK: Warner Bros is set to produce an animated film based on an early book by the author of the “Game of Thrones” saga, a source familiar with the matter told AFP Wednesday.

The report, which first appeared on the specialty website Deadline, says that author George R.R. Martin will produce the film based on “The Ice Dragon,” published in 1980.

The book, written for young people, appeared well ahead of Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series and does not take place in the land of the Seven Kingdoms, the setting of the “Thrones” medieval fantasy series.

George R.R. Martin fans are eagerly awaiting the sixth “Game of Thrones” series, titled “The Winds of Winter,” which has been promised since 2012.

In late April, the author announced that readers will have to wait at least until 2019 to see the book published.

Martin has fallen so far behind in his book writing that the hit HBO TV series has already gone past the storyline in the books.

The much anticipated eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is expected in 2019. — AFP

China box office tops N. American market in first quarter

SHANGHAI: China surpassed North America to become the world’s largest movie market during the first quarter of 2018, fuelled in part by big-grossing domestic films, according to US and Chinese box-office figures.

China’s movie market made 20.21 billion yuan (RM80 billion) between Jan and March, according to the China Movie Data Information Network, while US trade journal Variety said the North America box office reached US$2.85 billion.

Almost three quarters of the revenue — 15 billion yuan — came from Chinese-produced movies, the China data showed.

Of the top 10 films watched in China during the first quarter, seven were domestically produced, and Chinese-made movies occupied the top five slots.

Military blockbuster “Operation Red Sea” was the top-grossing film in China during the period, with a take of 3.6 billion yuan.

Along with action film “Detective Chinatown 2” and the fantasy genre “Monster Hunt”, the three Chinese movies accounted for almost half of China’s total box office during the first quarter.

US super-hero film “Black Panther” and sci-fi flick “Pacific Rim Uprising” did well after their releases in China, moving up to second and third in the March-only box office.

The Chinese numbers were also boosted by movie-goers flocking to cinemas during the extended Lunar New Year holiday in Feb.

China’s box-office revenues surged in 2017 after slowing sharply the preceding year, official media reported in Jan.

Ticket revenue grew 13.45% to 55.9 billion yuan (RM34 billion) in 2017, state-run news agency Xinhua had said, citing data from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

Hollywood has a keen eye on China’s potentially lucrative movie market, although Beijing strictly limits the number of foreign films that can be released in Chinese cinemas.

China also takes measures to help boost domestic films’ performance, including limiting the screening of foreign films during peak seasons and rewarding cinemas for playing more domestic titles. — AFP

Seminal American novelist Philip Roth dead at 85

NEW YORK: Grand man of American letters Philip Roth, a fierce and prolific talent who achieved fame with the sexually explicit “Portnoy’s Complaint” in 1969, has died at 85, US media reported Wednesday.

The New Yorker magazine and the New York Times both reported the death of Roth, who won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his acclaimed novel “American Pastoral”.

Roth, who lived in New York and Connecticut, was best known for mining the Jewish-American experience in his more than 30 novels.

Roth said he reached a turning point when he realized he could use his own world as literary raw material, be it his upbringing or the setting of his New Jersey home town.

“You can’t invent out of nothing, or I can’t certainly,” he said in a 2011 documentary. “I need some reality, to rub two sticks of reality together to get a fire of reality”.

But Roth’s giant stature on the post-World War II literary scene stems from the universality of his message — in his own words: “I don’t write Jewish, I write American”.

A contemporary of Don DeLillo, Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer, the late novelist was the doyen of a whole literary era.

He won numerous US literary prizes including two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, three PEN/Faulkner awards, and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction — but the Nobel prize evaded him.

He collected the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction in 2011, followed the next year by Spain’s Prince of Asturias award for literature and in 2015, France presented Roth with the insignia of Commander of the Legion of Honor — a laurel the author called “a wonderful surprise”.

Retirement

His final novel “Nemesis”, about a 1944 polio epidemic, came out in 2010.

Two years later, he stunned the literary world with the announcement that he would no longer write fiction.

A prolific essayist and critic as well as a novelist, Roth long managed to sustain his literary output both in terms of quality as well as quantity, exemplified by his widely admired political trilogy — “American Pastoral” (1997), “I Married a Communist” (1998) and “The Human Stain” (2000).

“It’s a bit like hearing that Keith Richards has given up rock and roll, or that the Pope is abandoning religion,” the critic James Walton wrote at the time.

But Roth was true to his word and, he claimed, perfectly content with life-after-literature, even though he readily admitted that writing had long served as a way to keep depression at bay.

“I had reached the end. There was nothing more for me to write about,” he told the BBC in 2014. “I set out upon the great task of doing nothing. I’ve had a very good time”.

Roth’s 2004 novel “The Plot Against America” was thrust back into the public eye following the election of Donald Trump.

The novel’s alternative American history — which imagines Franklin D. Roosevelt being defeated in 1940 by Charles Lindbergh, an aviator with pro-Nazi leanings — led some left-wing critics to draw comparisons with Trump’s populist sweep to power.

Roth dismissed the notion of a parallel, but also made clear his disdain with the occupant of the White House, describing a president “ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance … and wielding a vocabulary of 77 words”.

The author has repeatedly insisted on a distinct line between fact and fiction in his work, but as he advanced into his 80s poignant reflections on mortality haunted his later novels, including “Everyman” and “Nemesis”.

“The time is running out,” he told an interviewer matter-of-factly back in in 2011. “There’s nothing I can do about that, there’s nothing to be done”.

Reclusive

Philip Milton Roth was born March 19, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, the grandson of European Jews who were part of the 19th-century wave of immigration to the United States.

He published his debut collection of short stories, “Goodbye, Columbus”, at the age of 26 — a close-to-the-bone look at the materialist values of the Jewish immigrant milieu in which grew up.

Although the work earned near-universal praise, and won the prestigious 1959 National Book Award, many Jews felt betrayed by what they saw as an unflattering depiction of the Jewish-American experience.

Two novels followed, but it was the third — “Portnoy’s Complaint” — that brought fame with its comic description of the sexual problems facing a young middle-class Jewish New Yorker burdened with a domineering and possessive mother.

The book topped The New York Times best-seller list for the year and turned its reclusive author into a celebrity — an uncomfortable position that he would later satirize in novels like “Zuckerman Unbound” (1981) and “Operation Shylock” (1993).

Readers have long argued over the true level of autobiography in Roth’s novels and the character Nathan Zuckerman, whose passage from aspiring young writer to socially compromised literary celebrity Roth traced in five novels, has generally been seen as the author’s alter ego.

Roth’s personal life was dragged into the spotlight following his messy breakup with British actress Claire Bloom, who painted a grim picture of life with her ex-husband in her 1996 memoir “Leaving a Doll’s House”.

In the words of his contemporary novelist John Updike, “As the wronged ex-wife of Philip Roth, she shows him to have been, as their marriage rapidly unraveled, neurasthenic to the point of hospitalization, adulterous, callously selfish and financially vindictive”.

Reportedly infuriated, Roth exacted revenge by caricaturing Bloom as a poisonous character in “I Married a Communist”. — AFP