Thursday, August 26, 2010

“B-movie director with links to Coachella Valley charged in Ponzi scheme - Desert Sun” plus 3 more

“B-movie director with links to Coachella Valley charged in Ponzi scheme - Desert Sun” plus 3 more

B-movie director with links to Coachella Valley charged in Ponzi scheme - Desert Sun

Posted: 25 Aug 2010 03:08 PM PDT

A Laguna Niguel movie producer has been charged with 89 felony counts for orchestrating a "cold and calculated" $9 million Ponzi scheme linked to his B-movie production company, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today.

A Yucca Valley woman, Deanna Salazar, 53, has also been implicated in the case, Brown said.

Mahmoud Karkehabadi, 53, who used the alias of Mike Karkeh and owned Alliance Group Entertainment, was arraigned late Tuesday on charges that he falsely promised investors up to 35 percent returns for making loans to his B-movie production company.

"This con artist sold securities under the guise of a loan to fool investors and try to avoid following the rules," Brown said. "He ran a cold and calculated scam, making promises he never intended to keep and using the funds of new victims to pay off the earlier ones."

The felony charges included securities fraud and grand theft.

More than 150 individuals from across the country made "movie production loans" to Alliance Group Entertainment, Brown said, which has produced four B-movie flops since 2005. Those films included "Confessions of a Pit Fighter" (2005) starring rapper Flavor Flav and "Hotel California" (2008).

Karkehabadi and his agents told investors they would get their money back within a year, regardless of a project's success, with returns of 18 to 35 percent, according to the attorney general.

When the year was up, Karkehabadi convinced investors to roll their "loans" over into the latest movie project or agree to extensions on the date for repayment.

Besides Salazar, one other California-based agent accused of selling securities to victims of the Alliance Group Entertainment scheme also is being charged: Timothy Cho (aka Hin-Kong Cho), 54, of Newport Beach.

Brown said Cho remains at-large while Salazar has agreed to surrender.

The Department of Corporations referred the case to Brown's office in 2007 after receiving complaints from victims. Brown's office launched an investigation in 2008, searching bank records and conducting interviews with investors across the country.

Bail on Karkehabadi has been set at $11 million. His bail hearing is set for Sept. 3 in Orange County Superior Court.

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Movie review: 'The Last Exorcism' - Savannah Morning News

Posted: 25 Aug 2010 11:29 PM PDT

The preacher is a charlatan, a huckster. And he knows it.

But Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is reconciled to that. He went into the family business, became a compelling performer and ekes out a living in his corner of Louisiana.

As a side business, he's taken up his dad's exorcism practice, "because if you believe in God, you have to believe in demons." Since he doesn't believe in either, it's not a big deal for him to visit the gullible, put on a show and chase away demons from the possessed - or a fee.

He's followed around by a film crew as he talks frankly, mockingly, about his work and "the business." The idea, he says, is to "expose exorcism for the scam it really is." After this, he'll change careers. "Maybe I'll sell real estate.

"The Last Exorcism" is a "Blair Exorcist Project" about Cotton's trip into the bayou - or that Hollywood corner of it where everybody is a rube even if nobody has an authentic accent - to exorcise a teenage girl named Nell (Ashley Bell). It's about what happens when a non-believer is confronted with evidence that his parlor tricks are not what's causing the lights to flicker and moans to rumble out of the walls.

Daniel Stamm's film (script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland) is a modestly chilling, drawn-out affair in which the characters and possible "scientific explanations" are more interesting than its predictable final destination. Bell is a perfectly demonic presence. Fabian is absolutely credible as a man who will not accept the supernatural, and who isn't shy about hustling the hicks.

But when he sees he can't help this child, he pushes her dad (Louis Herthum) into taking her to a doctor. He reaches out to her creepy brother (Caleb Landry Jones), despite the boy's constant threats. He tries to reason this out. He tries to do the right thing. He's a charlatan with a conscience.

Stamm's film would have benefited greatly from a more compact telling of the story, narrowing the focus, hard as that might be, to a day and then a long, chilling night (this takes place over a few days). There's humor in the unseen camera operator's fear, in the protective instincts of the director (Iris Bahr), who is ready to involve social services in whatever is going on here, a modern day big city solution for a backward, superstitious community's problem.

But strip it down to its basics and "The Last Exorcism," which occasionally breaks out of the documentary "found footage" format (music wells up on the soundtrack), will make the hairs on the back of your head stand up. Its grisly violence and ridicule-religion tone make it sort of the anti-"Exorcism of Emily Rose." And this hustle isn't slapped with a "Based on a True Story" come-on.


2 stars

Cast: Patrick Fabian, Irs Bahr, Ashley Bell, Louis Herthum

Director: Daniel Stamm

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material

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Movie review: 'Get Low' - Savannah Morning News

Posted: 25 Aug 2010 11:50 PM PDT

Felix Bush is the closest thing his Tennessee town has to Bigfoot.

Hirsute, antisocial and at times downright violent, the elderly hermit has kept real life at bay for 38 years, posting his backwoods property with No Damn Trespassing signs and patrolling the perimeter with a rifle.

This belligerent boogeyman has become such a mythic figure that when he rides his mule-drawn buckboard to town, the streets go hushed.

There could be no better actor for the role than Robert Duvall. In a sublimely observed performance, he does an emotional dance of the seven veils, revealing that old man Bush is strong and capable, courtly, burdened by pain and losses. He is also about half mad from doing a harsh, self-imposed penance for almost four decades.

The recluse comes to town because he reckons his days are numbered and he wants to go out with a bang. He visits Frank Quinn's funeral parlor to commission a send-off party while he is still alive.

Quinn, an apathetic vulture who sighs that "People are dying in bunches, but not around here," is perplexed.

When Bush puts a roll of bills the size of a coffee can on his desk, Quinn practically jumps out of his vest to organize the morbid hoedown. If his eccentric client wants to invite all the townsfolk who loathe him, giving them a chance to tell their stories about him, well, the customer is always right.

Quinn organizes radio appearances for the "crazy old nutter" and sells tickets to everyone in the county.

Bill Murray, who was born to play flakes and snake-oil salesmen, is perfectly cast as the hustling mortician.

Blessed by the gods of casting with two performers whose faces belong on any Mount Rushmore of American actors, "Get Low" could coast to the finish line and still be a fine little dramatic comedy.

Somehow director Aaron Schneider scored a trifecta, hauling in Sissy Spacek, too.

She plays Mattie Darrow, Bush's sweet old flame "a thousand years ago." She physically resembles a delicate, well-preserved china doll, but there's a core of iron to her.

As it comes to light that Bush is organizing his goodbye party because he needs a strong dose of redemption, in part because of the way he abused Mattie's trust, she calls him to account as no other character can.

Cinematographer-turned-director Schneider lights the film like an old master, and sees the feral glory of his boondocks locations.

He gets the look of Depression-era Tennessee just right: no cheap nostalgia, but shabbiness and beauty side by side. The screenplay by Chris Provenzano ("Mad Men") and C. Gaby Mitchell ("Blood Diamond") is based on an actual incident. It's a winning blend of light comedy and gallows humor.

The big reveal, a public pre-deathbed confession, isn't as surprising as you would hope, but Duvall's delivery - stammering, choking on his words, blinking back manly tears - is a bravura moment.

"Get Low" is one of the high points of the summer.


3 1/2 out of four stars
Cast: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs.
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and some brief violent content.
Director: Aaron Schneider.
Screenwriters: Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell.
Producers: Dean Zanuck, David Gundlach.
Running time: 102 minutes.

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Best movie ever alert: Melo, Dwight to star in Chinese NBA film - YAHOO!

Posted: 25 Aug 2010 01:06 PM PDT

Get excited, everyone, because this is happening for real and not in a fever dream like last time, when you dreamt you were Big Baby, which was weird for everyone — Carmelo Anthony(notes) and Dwight Howard(notes) will "star in a basketball film with an award-winning Chinese director named 'Amazing,'" the NBA and Shanghai Film Group announced Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that the NBA/SFG called the production "the first NBA-themed motion picture outside of North America." Filming in New York, Beijing and Shanghai will run through November, with an opening slated for next summer. Can't wait for the Ed Hardy tee-xedo that Dwight will wear to walk the red carpet. (According to our in-house statistician, that joke makes this the 314th consecutive Dwight Howard-related BDL post to include an Ed Hardy joke. Way to go, team!)

SIDE NOTE: I double-checked, because the syntax was bogglin' — "Amazing" is the name of the flick, not the name of the director. That bro's named Hu Xuehua, a.k.a. Sherwood Hu, a.k.a. All the Best Nicknames from this Collection of Cool Nicknames, especially "Oaf Dawg."

The Orlando Magic's website has the NBA's press release announcing the project, co-starring their eternally camera-ready pivot. Interestingly enough, the Denver Nuggets' site doesn't appear to have a palette-swapped story promoting Carmelo's role, which means I must don my offseason hype hat.

Clearly this means the Nuggets plan to sever ties with 'Melo forthwith. Doing this movie will lead to "Super Friends 2," which sounds like a movie but is actually a sequel to a basketball team. Detail for me immediately the best trade offer your favorite team can propose. Have you taken leave of your senses, man? They would never move him for that. "Small Wonder" was really about the '83 Pistons. Vicki was a metaphor for Earl Cureton and America's response to the advance of Japanese automotive technology. What is La La saying now? That is supremely relevant. OK, hat off.

Quoth the NBA/SFG release:

"Amazing," a basketball-themed movie about young people achieving their dreams through hard work, follows a long list of NBA-inspired movies made in the U.S., including "He Got Game" (1998), with Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington; "Eddie" (1996), with Academy Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg (1992); "Space Jam" (1996), with six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan; and "Forget Paris" (1996) with Billy Crystal.

OK, granted: Not exactly the greatest, most confidence-inspiring group of motion pictures there. The track record's pretty dicey when those are the four flicks you deliberately choose to include in your promotional statement. Then again, I guess you need to use something in order to keep the memories of "Celtic Pride" and "Like Mike" where they belong -- buried beneath a case of Boone's Farm and a solemn promise you made to yourself on a lonely Saturday afternoon.

But achieving dreams? Hard work? Young people? Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, well-known Asian actors and Eric Mabius of "Ugly Betty" and "The Crow: Salvation" fame? That all sounds excellent, and you're not raining on my parade, Mr. Cool Cineaste. I'd like to buy my ticket to paradise now, please.

Over at Pro Basketball Talk, the ever-ebullient Kurt Helin says he hopes the film is "in Chinese and they dub in the voices for Anthony and Howard. Then Woody Allen can get the rights and make 'What's Up, Tiger Lily? 2.'" This is a wonderful hope, and we here at BDL share his wishes.

Five more things we'd like to see in "Amazing," GO:

• An 11-minute wire-fu battle pitting Marcin Gortat(notes) against Renaldo Balkman(notes).

Vince Carter(notes) starting to jump in to help Marcin, then crumpling to the deck due to the effects of jumpers-in knee.

• Stan Van Gundy telling anyone who will listen that China will have the greatest year of any nation ever next year, all while winking and saluting an American flag.

• A subplot tracing the forbidden love affair between a beautiful, rebellious local girl (played by Zhang Ziyi) and a mysterious loner/renegade genetic engineer/barnstorming ballplayer (played by J.R. Smith(notes)).

• A stirring oratory (and, let's be honest, presumptive Oscar speech) given by an impeccably mustachioed Chris Andersen(notes) as he prepares to lead a troop of preternaturally gifted child warriors into a conflict from which they will not all return.

There won't be a dry eye in the house. Even notoriously severe critic Nene gives this project a positive review, "At the Movies"-style.

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