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Exclusive: Inside London’s Struggle to Wean Itself From Russian Billions

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Inside London’s Struggle to Wean Itself From Russian Billions

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In the early hours of March 14, a small group of men, dressed mostly in black, pried open an entrance to one of London’s grandest mansions, triggering its alarm system. The six-story residence, with a white stucco frontage, sits on a highly trafficked 19th-century development that has for decades housed various viscounts, earls, and dukes. Not far from Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster Parliament building, and an archway commemorating Britain’s victory over Napoléon, the property shares a prestigious zip code with the embassies of Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Turkey, and Norway. Once the home of Britain’s secretary of state for war and the colonies, 5 Belgrave Square has more recently been one of several London outposts for a rather different but no less acquisitive sort of empire—that of Russian wealth.

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The intruders called themselves London Makhnovists after an early-20th-century anarchist who sought to create a stateless society in what is now Ukraine. However, the target of their protest was not a state per se, but the 2003 purchaser of the building, with its list price of $39 million. Oleg Deripaska, a trained physicist who founded aluminum giant Rusal, is one of a handful of extremely rich Russian businessmen to have snapped up plum properties in the British capital. And so just a few weeks after Moscow’s forces had parachuted into Kyiv and millions of Ukrainians began pouring across the borders of Eastern Europe, the anarchists decided the vast, empty Belgrave Square property would be ideally suited to house refugees. They hung banners from its façade: a sky blue one asserting “this property has been liberated,” and a red one exhorting the Russian president Vladimir Putin to go fuck himself.

Their actions channeled a coalescing sense among ordinary citizens in various Western nations that the wealth of Russia’s elite businessmen—often built on the back of state-owned enterprises—should no longer be a welcome import. In the U.K. that view has coincided with an extraordinary shift at the heart of the establishment, in recent months concentrating the firepower of the justice system, finance ministry, and other levers of the state at several Russian individuals with alleged ties to Putin—after cosseting them for the past two decades with all the comforts, perks, and privileges the British capital and its political class has to offer. The men in question—for they have almost always been men—have wrapped their arms around soccer clubs, country estates, celebrity friendships, and society-column inches. Roman Abramovich, a one-time Deripaska business partner, bought a vast mansion just yards from Kensington Palace, around the corner from the Russian embassy, for well over $100 million. While still in college, documents show, the Russian foreign minister’s stepdaughter Polina Kovaleva paid $6 million cash for her swish London apartment in a luxury new-build; she has detailed her glamorous life of yachts, swimming pools, and sunny days in Kensington on Instagram. These real estate swoops have earned London the moniker Moscow-on-Thames, with oligarchs’ kids populating the city’s more prestigious schools and clubby society haunts. The wives, girlfriends, and mistresses shop at Harrods, frequent the Serpentine Gallery, and seek record-breaking divorce settlements in British courts. Practically overnight, their financial and physical assets, along with their social capital, have been put on ice. Some object that innocent individuals with no ties to the Kremlin, and their political donations, have been unfairly identified amid the fervor. Yet in interviews with Vanity Fair, more than a dozen activists, politicians, and former government ministers lament that it took such dire events to trigger these actions, and several questioned how long the budding allergy to Russian wealth can possibly last, particularly where the governing Conservative Party is concerned.

Either way, in Belgrave Square the city’s Metropolitan Police had not received the memo. Within several hours almost a dozen of its vehicles were stationed outside the property, with some 200 officers involved at a cost of more than $100,000. Following a drawn-out period of door breaches, clashes atop a cherry picker, and harnessed hard-hats haplessly attempting to scale a balcony, the protesters were forcibly removed. They had by then found a “basement full” of booze (no food) and captured video of opulent interiors, with furniture from a company founded by David Linley (a.k.a. the Earl of Snowdon, Queen Elizabeth’s nephew), along with “so much stuff that a normal human being shouldn’t have,” as one anarchist remarked to a journalist. The Makhnovists left no damage, but four were arrested for squatting.

Deripaska, an absentee landlord, appeared displeased—and far from eager to be identified as the landlord at all. He insisted through a representative that it was in fact members of his family who own 5 Belgrave Square. British land-registry documents identify the home’s legal owner as a company called Ravellot Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands. But a U.K. high court ruling in 2007 recorded the Belgrave Square house as belonging to Deripaska, and there are no indications its title deed has been transferred since. His spokesperson said the family was “appalled at the negligence of Britain’s justice system shown by Boris Johnson’s cabinet in introducing the sanctions and colluding with the sort of people who raid private property.” Back in February, Deripaska had predicted there would be no invasion of Ukraine; after Russia’s assault, he called for peace talks. By late March he called the conflict a “madness” in which “all sides are recklessly gearing for a long-term war that will have tragic consequences for the entire world.” But when U.K. authorities targeted his assets, he lashed out, declaring there is “not a single fact in support of Boris’ cabinet’s fantasies.”

Forget Robert Mueller III’s inquiry into the links between Kremlin figures and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The complex, intertwined relationship between Russian billions and modern Britain goes far beyond high-priced real estate. Successive Conservative prime ministers, from David Cameron to Theresa May to Boris Johnson, have been obliged to respond to repeated geopolitical provocations, including Crimea’s 2014 annexation and the 2018 poisoning of a former Russian spy living in Salisbury. But at the same time, each has sought to avoid the kind of overt criticism that might impair their valuable relationships with a small coterie of wealthy political donors of Russian origin. February’s invasion of Ukraine made that already precarious tightrope nigh impossible to walk, however, and in the months since, government ministers have lined up to promote their anti-Putin bona fides with weapons shipments to Ukraine, yacht impoundings, property seizures, and bank freezes. The U.K.’s transport secretary—who famously fell victim to his own department’s COVID-related travel policies while on a family vacation—recently arrived at a London dock, news crew in tow, to publicize the detention of a superyacht called Phi. He said the vessel—with an “infinite” wine cellar and freshwater pool—had been “mired in all sorts of layers of almost deliberate, we think in fact deliberate attempts to hide its true ownership.” The Conservative government’s recent crackdown masks an insidious malaise, with a number of Russian chickens coming home to roost. As a Belgrave Square protester told reporters before police arrested him, “The same money that funds the Russia war machine funds the Conservative Party.”

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Exclusive: Couples From ‘The Challenge’ You Forgot Dated: Wes, KellyAnne and More – TalkOfNews.com

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Exclusive: 10 Essential Elvis Presley Movies – TalkOfNews.com

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10 Essential Elvis Presley Movies

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Austin Butler, the star of Baz Luhrmann’s all-shook-up biopic Elvis, joins an eclectic list of men who would be King. Among them: Don Johnson (Elvis and the Beauty Queen), Kurt Russell (John Carpenter’s Elvis), Bruce Campbell (Bubba Ho-Tep), and Nicolas Cage (Tiny Elvis, SNL). But there is nothing like the real King.

Elvis Presley made 31 films in 13 years, from the 1956 Civil War Western Love Me Tender to the 1969 social drama Change of Habit, in which he portrayed a hip young doctor who unwittingly falls for a nun portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore. From the start, Hollywood was as anxious to harness his charisma and star power as Presley was to follow in the Oscar-winning footsteps of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, who had parlayed their own pop stardom into respected film careers. His best films show his potential: the raw energy, the presence, the commitment to embody a character that was distinctly not himself.

“His career is complex,” Susan Doll, author of Elvis for Dummies and The Films of Elvis Presley, tells Vanity Fair. “When you say, ‘Elvis movie,’ everyone thinks of the musical romances, what Elvis himself jokingly called ‘the Presley travelogues.’ Elvis plays this archetype where he’s a free spirit with an exciting job in a vacation spot, so he’s never part of the humdrum, everyday world. And then he meets up with his costar, the leading lady. She either wants nothing to do with him and he chases her, or he’s not interested, but she chases him. But that’s what gets him to settle down.”

But in the films he made prior to Blue Hawaii, which set the template for the rest of his screen career, Elvis took his film career seriously. “He learned not only his lines, but everybody else’s lines,” Doll said. “There were prominent actors in some of the films and he would ask them for advice.”

Decades after his breakthrough, Presley remains the standard-bearer rock icon. (In The Beatles: Get Back, Paul McCartney even calls him “our gracious king.”) Yet his movies, by and large, get little respect, something Presley himself fed into. By the late 1960s, as he got his singing and concert career back on track, The King was “chomping at the bit to get back on the stage,” Doll notes. “When he does, as part of his stage patter, he jokes about his movie career. That’s where the bad reputation for his movie career begins—with Elvis himself because he was so disappointed in the direction it went.”

But the early films, especially, which tended to support Presley with strong directors and supporting casts, show a great deal of promise—and several of the travelogues are immensely entertaining. A little less conversation: Here are 10 essential Presley films to see after watching Elvis.

10. Wild in the Country (1961)

With only three songs, it’s not your typical Elvis fare, but with a script credited to Clifford Odets, this was probably the type of prestige film that Presley envisioned for himself when he pursued an acting career. It was also his last attempt at a straight dramatic role following the box office success of G.I. Blues. Here, Presley is not an aspiring singer, but a troubled kid whose social worker (Hope Lange) inspires him to develop his writing talent. Millie Perkins and—speaking of wild—Tuesday Weld shine as competing love interests. “If you want to see Elvis trying to disappear into his roles,” Doll said, “that’s the hook for Wild in the Country and Flaming Star.

9. G.I. Blues (1960)

Elvis’s first star vehicle after his military service pairs him with Juliet Prowse, an established star dancer and actress who would help Elvis develop a more mature image (the two were briefly romantically involved). Presley is a soldier stationed in Germany, where he bets his buddies he can make time with Prowse’s nightclub dancer with the cold shoulder reputation. The title tune is great, and “Big Boots” is a lovely lullaby. One of Presley’s top five box office hits, this return to the screen confirmed his star power.

8. Flaming Star (1960)

Released shortly after G.I. Blues, this Don Siegel–directed Western did not fare as well at the box office. Presley sings only two songs in a straight dramatic role as Pacer, the son of a white rancher (John McIntire) and a Native American (Dolores del Río), and who desperately tries to ease racial tensions between the white homesteaders and the Kiowa tribe before ultimately choosing where his loyalties lie. It’s a “demanding” role in a film with something for everybody, Variety said at the time: “Indians-on-the-warpath for the youngsters, Elvis Presley for the teenagers and socio-psychological ramifications for adults who prefer a mild dose of sage in their sagebrushers.”

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7. Blue Hawaii (1961)

Presley’s film career can be viewed in two phases: pre–Blue Hawaii and post–Blue Hawaii. One of his biggest box office hits to date was a game changer that prompted manager Colonel Parker to insist that Presley give up any Oscar dreams and give his fans what they wanted, which was Elvis in an exotic location and singing enough songs to fill a best-selling soundtrack. Blue Hawaii had 14, the best of which is “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

6. Roustabout (1964)

Presley is a hot-tempered drifter (he does karate on some college boys, which gets him fired from his latest music gig) who winds up working at a struggling carnival. He holds his own opposite Barbara Stanwyck, but was in for a rude awakening when he read a 1964 syndicated article with an interview with producer Hal Wallace, who basically said that top-grossing movies like Roustabout were what helped to pay for more prestige projects like the multi-Oscar-nominated Becket, starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. “That was a breaking point” for Presley, Doll said. “He was still hoping that Wallace would put him in better movies. After that, he knew his place.”

5. Girl Happy (1965)

The funniest of the Presley travelogues finds Elvis and his rock combo dispatched to Fort Lauderdale by a Chicago mobster during spring break to keep watch over his girls-just-wanna-have-fun daughter (Shelley Fabares). There’s great character work by Harold Stone as “Big Frank”; Joby Baker, Gary Crosby, and Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life) as Presley’s bandmates; John “Piglet” Fiedler; and Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester on The Addams Family). Fabares was Elvis’s favorite female costar. “Elvis had a torrid affair with Ann-Margret on Viva Las Vegas, but Fabares was sunny, fun, and easy to work with,” Doll said. Plus, there are decent songs, including the ballad “Puppet on a String” and the unlikely dance sensation “Do the Clam,” which was invented by choreographer David Winters. (He also created the Slide for Viva Las Vegas.)

4. Follow That Dream (1962)

An underrated and overlooked gem that breaks the travelogue template. Presley, playing a cross between Li’l Abner and Forrest Gump, is the dutiful son of an enterprising man who claims squatter’s rights on a strip of Florida highway and sets up a home for his makeshift family. The title tune is a keeper (Bruce Springsteen has performed it in concert), but the film’s few songs take a back seat to the story. Elvis also acquits himself nicely in a courtroom finale in which his heartfelt testimony and simple-hearted smarts outwit the social worker trying to break up Presley’s family.

3. Viva Las Vegas (1964)

Not the best film Presley made, but surely the best Presley travelogue. Presley hit the jackpot with this throwback to the classic MGM musical. (Director George Sidney also helmed Show Boat and Annie Get Your Gun.) His chemistry with costar Ann-Margret is off the charts, and the dynamo, hot off her breakthrough role in the screen version of Bye Bye Birdie, matches him shake for shake and shimmy for shimmy. In her autobiography, Ann-Margret herself called Presley her soulmate. While this doesn’t have the gravitas or promise of Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, this is what we’re talking about when we talk about Elvis movies. And that title tune!

2. Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Convicted of manslaughter, Elvis’s Vince Everett is shown the ropes by his cellmate (Mickey Shaughnessy). Once out of the joint, he becomes a singing sensation who only looks out for number one on his way up the charts. The only Elvis film inducted into the National Film Registry of “historically, culturally or aesthetically significant” American films has a great soundtrack that includes perhaps Elvis’s most galvanizing three minutes onscreen, performing the hell out of the title song.

1. King Creole (1958)

As singing delinquent Danny Fisher, Elvis was in the best of hands with Michael Curtiz, who directed Bogie in Casablanca, Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood. He was also ably backed up by his strongest supporting cast, including Walter Matthau as a ruthless mob boss who insists that Danny sing at his nightclub, Carolyn Jones as Matthau’s good bad girl, and Vic Morrow as a Matthau henchman who tries to lead Danny down a darker, more violent path. The American roots music soundtrack captures Elvis at his rawest. “Jailhouse Rock has that great production number,” Doll said, “but in King Creole, it’s just a man on a stage, and he has everybody in the palm of his hand.”

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Exclusive: Sarah Michelle Gellar Reveals Whether Her Daughter Is Team Angel Or Spike On ‘Buffy’ – TalkOfNews.com

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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

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Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s kids, Charlotte, 12, and Rocky, 9, have officially finished watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which Sarah starred as the titular character Buffy for seven seasons between 1997 and 2003. As Sarah, 45, promoted her partnership with the Wells Fargo Active Cash Visa® Card, she revealed to HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY if her daughter is team Spike or team Angel. “I will tell you my daughter is definitely a pro Angel,” the actress divulged. For those who might need a refresher, Angel and Spike served as Buffy’s love interests and the end of the show didn’t reveal who Buffy would ultimately end up with. 

Regarding how both her kids felt about the cliffhanger ending, Sarah said she believes they’re “happy with it” because they watched it so long after it ended and did not binge-watch it. “I think there’s less pressure on the ending to satisfy so many people because it’s not in real-time. Right?” she theorized. “And so they’re excited to see things wrapped up and they know what’s coming and I think it takes away a little of that. Pressure of pleasing everybody. And I think you’ll find that with most shows that people discover later. They’re less critical of an ending or things they don’t like. It’s sort of an interesting phenomenon with streaming and binging.”

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Sarah Michelle Gellar’s daughter is team Angel, Sarah told HollywoodLife (Photo: Everett Collection)

As for her other projects, Sarah said she will “probably let” Charlotte see Scream soon, but said she does not need to watch Cruel Intentions until she’s married. “I’m not sure anyone needs to see their mother in that movie,” she quipped.

The I Know What You Did Last Summer star also spoke about getting back out following her coronavirus diagnosis. “Talking about Active Cash and Wells Fargo today has really hit home for me because I’ve been feeling down and feeling sorry for myself and I’m like, ‘I’m going to go online shopping and I’m going to buy myself some new clothing so that when I get out of this, I’m going to be fabulous,’” she recalled. “It’s like you realize how important those moments of joy and those things that make you smile are, and that we really need to do them and bring those into our life. It was like kind of a funny full-circle moment.”

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Sarah Michelle Gellar has partnered with Wells Fargo to help people ‘pursue their passions’ (Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Michelle Gellar )

The collaboration between Sarah and Wells Fargo is meant to “help consumers pursue their passion via an Instagram sweepstakes.” The sweepstakes, which launches June 24 and ends July 1st, will give 10 people a chance to win funds ($400 each) for their hobbies, and two of them will get a 30-minute financial consultation with Marsha Barnes, a certified financial, social worker, and founder of The Finance Bar.

“I love what they are doing,” Sarah continued. “It’s hard after two years of sitting on your couch and not going anywhere. It makes you realize that life is short and we have to take advantage of those things that bring us joy and and be smart about them too, not go crazy, but really encourage ourselves to dip our toe back in and to keep doing those things.”

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