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Reviews, Rants and All That Other Good Stuff

Cough, Cough, Wheeze, Wheeze… May 2, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 8:51 am

Los Angeles has yet again been named the most polluted city in American by the American Lung Association.  You know we have it bad when the comforting words are “the number of days residents breathed the nation’s worst ozone levels was fewer than in previous years.”

 

The rankings in the study were based on ozone pollution levels that are produced when sunlight and heat are mixed with pollutants such as power plants and cars.  Also studied were particle pollution levels, which are emitted from these sources.  Of the 46 counties tested in California, 28 received a D grade or lower for “High Ozone Days.”  Twenty counties were in the same grade bracket for “Particle Pollution.”

The statistics for Los Angeles County:

High Ozone Days
Ozone Grade: F
Orange Ozone Days: 158
Red Ozone Days: 35
Purple Ozone Days: 16

Particle Pollution Days
Grade: F
Orange Particle Days: 128
Red Particle Days: 14
Purple Particle Days: 0

Pollution can contribute to lung cancer, heart disease and asthma attacks, and are particularly dangerous to young children and senior citizens.  There are 762,817 people suffering from asthma in LA County, 288,953 from chronic bronchitis, 114,234 from emphysema, and 498,089 from diabetes.  And I date a smoker!

Of the three other places I’ve lived, Dona Ana County (New Mexico) wins as the cleanest, air-wise.  They received an ozone grade of B, with only one orange ozone day and no red and purple ozone days.  Hartford County (Connecticut) earned a grade of C, with six orange days and no reds or purples.  Montgomery County (Maryland) received a D, with seven orange ozone days, one red, and zero purple.  As far as particle pollution goes, Montgomery County got a C (four orange particle days, no reds or purples), Dona Ana County received a D (eight orange particle days, no reds or purples) and Hartford County got an F grade (16 orange particle days, no reds or purples).

If those statistics don’t make you want to get involved in environmental causes, I don’t know what will.  Or you can join me in my move — Lake, Mendocino, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, here we come!

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Immigration Uproar Over…Pizza?

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 8:44 am

    Antonio Swad has become yet another pawn in the Great Immigration Reform

  Debate.

 

    Swad owns Pizza Patron, a Texas-based pizza chain.  There are 65 stores in six

  states.  Things have gone well since the first Pizza Patron opened in 1986.  And then

  Swad had to go ahead and try to expand his consumer base.

 

    The controversy has to do with the decision to accept pesos as well as dollars.  Sales

  have increased steadily since this practice was implemented at Pizza Patrons

  countrywide.  But so have the angry phone calls, emails and death threats.

 

    Swad contends that his decision was simply to reach out more to the Hispanic

  community, the chain’s largest consumer base.  For the customers that travel back to

  Mexico, they can “dispose of their pesos that they didn’t change at the border.”

 

    As Swad says, “we’re talking about $5 or $10.  We’re not talking about enough

  money to buy a new car.”  I’m not saying that this is the most brilliant idea that I’ve

  ever heard, but it’s not as if anarchy will arise through this one store’s choice to accept

  alternate currency.  People aren’t going to try and pay their taxes in seashells.

 

    American visitors to border towns in Mexico are allowed to use American dollars. 

  And sure, it can be argued that if Pizza Patron accepts pesos, will it also

  accept Canadian dollars, or other non-American currency?

 

    Some believe that all of this will discourage Mexican immigrants from assimilating

  into American culture.  I’m really not concerned.  The chances that they will get all of

  their consumer needs met at places like Pizza Patron are slim.  Even if more stores

  follow in the footsteps of the pizza stores, no big chain will follow suit.  And plus, I’d be 

  more concerned about how item packaging, signs and the like are in multiple

  languages.  If you move to a foreign country, and are able to communicate in your

  native tongue, there is less of an incentive to assimilate than if you are able to use

  some pesos to buy a dinner.  I agree with Swad: “I don’t think that assimilation is

  necessarily tied to that 100 peso bill you have tucked away in your sock drawer.  I

  think assimilation is…a much bigger and broader subject than that.”  Because this is

  such a heated subject, people are making mountains out of mole hills.

 

    As far as monetary issues facing America today, I am much more concerned about

  the massive deductions Uncle Sam makes out of my paycheck.  Where does that

  money really go?  What about the hundreds of dollars that people are forced to spend

  monthly to get where they need to go?  Why are the majority of Americans in some

  sort of debt?  Why is there so much poverty and homelessness?  Why are incomes

  being siphoned for social programs that don’t seem to combat these issues 

  very well?  No matter where you stand on the immigration dispute, it’s ridiculous to

  get riled up about issues as small as this one.  I think it weakens the side of people 

  fighting for immigration reform.  The people who send death threats (or threats of

  any kind) are extremists and irrational.  And with people focusing on the outlying

  events, no resolution will ever be reached.

 

In Reference to… May 1, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 3:02 pm

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…the backlash over the NBC affiliate cameraman who flew a Mexican flag while shooting a rally supporting illegal immigrants in Houston, Texas.  Y’all need to calm down.

He was captured on home video (which was posted on YouTube).  Counter-protesters were enraged by his actions, and I can’t wait for someone to make an even bigger deal about this.

According to the news director at the station, the cameraman’s flying of the Mexican flag “violates our policy, because we’re always objective observers of these situations.  We don’t take sides in news stories; we cover them. That policy was clearly violated.”  The cameraman, who has been with the station for five years, was disciplined, though details of this were not disclosed.

While the cameraman does work for a news media organization, he is also an American citizen, which guarantees him the right to free speech.  Just because that bothers a slew of conservatives (who by expressing their anger are taking advantage of the same right) doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Did he interview himself on camera sporting an “I Love Immigrants” t-shirt?  No.  My view on the whole thing is that regardless of what he was flying, he was capturing a news story on tape.  Everything you wear on your body or carry on your person make a statement.

I hope he didn’t eat a Hershey Bar — he could be taking a stance on free trade!  I hope he wasn’t wearing anything from Wal-Mart — another issue people could get up-in-arms about.  Did he drive a fuel-efficient car to get to the rally?

Apparently yet again we are supposed to be thinking in terms of black and white.  Who needs a gray area after all?

Look at the screen capture and you tell me what you think…

Photo courtesy of drudgereport.com

 

Patrick Goldstein’s THE BIG PICTURE: Mel Shavelson & Hollywood from a front-row seat

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 2:34 pm

Mel Shavelson has worked in Hollywood long enough to be unsentimental about most everything.

So he has a pretty good idea why I’ve come to his house off Ventura Boulevard, the one he’s lived in so long that it still has remnants of an old Valley orange grove at one end of his 3-acre backyard.

“When people want to talk to me or invite me to something these days, it’s usually because I’m 90 years old,” he says, pausing for an artful beat, his timing immaculately honed after writing comedy for nearly 70 years. “I don’t want to be loved just for being 90, although I guess you can’t prevent it.”

Not exactly a household name today, Shavelson doesn’t have the big-league reputation of a Billy Wilder or a Preston Sturges. But when you dig into his writing and directing credits, which include films with Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball, Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren, Clark Gable, Paul Newman, Bob Hope and Danny Kaye, you understand why it’s such a nice surprise to realize that he’s still around.

He’s wise-crack sharp and spry enough to lead me on a ramble around his sprawling compound before settling in at his desk to reminisce about the ups and downs of a career that began in the 1930s as a gag writer for Bob Hope and includes Oscar-nominated films, Emmy-winning TV series and three terms as president of the Writers Guild of America West.

Though he has a delightful new book out, called “How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying: P.S. — You Can’t!,” I got to know him in the modern way. For the last couple of years, we’ve corresponded via e-mail, which has largely taken the form of Shavelson playing the storyteller and me the eager listener.

When producer Carlo Ponti died in January, Shavelson noted that when he was making “Houseboat” with Grant and Loren, the movie was nearly capsized by Grant’s unrequited ardor for Loren.

As Shavelson recalls, Loren rebuffed Grant by telling him “she was in love with Carlo, even though he was a married man, as was Cary. While the film was shooting, Cary returned to pursuing Sophia until, in desperation, Sophia married Carlo by proxy in Mexico City the very day we were shooting her marriage to Cary aboard the houseboat on the set. And that’s how you make a successful family comedy in Hollywood.”

Shavelson’s tales are more timely than they might seem, since they illustrate how, when it comes to the power equation of Hollywood, star behavior today is no more fickle or mysterious than it was in Shavelson’s heyday. Arriving here in 1938 as a writer on Bob Hope’s radio show, Shavelson had much the same experience as writers today — the paycheck was good, but the Earth revolved around the star.

Hope had a regular writers meeting at 8:30 p.m. at the home of one of the writers. “Sometimes he’d show up, and sometimes he wouldn’t,” Shavelson recalls.

It took me a minute to catch on. Hope, who was married, was out with a girl. “No, he was in with a girl,” Shavelson corrects me. “The meeting was his alibi.”

Hope always made it clear who was boss. Once a week, on payday, the writers would show up at Hope’s house, which had a circular stairway leading to his upstairs office. Hope would stand out on the balcony, fashion the paychecks into paper airplanes and toss them down.

“We were indignant, but it was real money,” Shavelson recalls. “Bob used to say that us jumping around for the checks was the only exercise we got all week.”

From Alec Baldwin to Jim Carrey to Britney Spears, there is no shortage of bizarre star antics today. But it would be hard to top the icons of old Hollywood. Shavelson says Grant, who gave him an ulcer making “Houseboat,” was the strangest of all.

“He experimented with everything — sex, meditation, psychiatry,” he recalls. “And he was president of the LSD Society of California. He told me he learned French by listening [to French lessons] on a tape recorder under his bed when he was asleep.”

Grant had a carbuncle on his forehead before he began work on “Houseboat.” “He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll think it well.’ And when he showed up to start filming it was gone. He was convinced your mind controlled your body.”

In Shavelson’s day, as today, movies were often made for reasons entirely unrelated to the presence of a good script. James Cagney played a bit part in “The Seven Little Foys” free because the picture’s real-life subject, vaudevillian Eddie Foy, had given him free meals when Cagney was a starving chorus boy. Frank Sinatra signed on for a supporting role in “Cast a Giant Shadow,” a 1966 Shavelson biopic about an early Arab-Israeli war hero, because “he wanted to spend time with the girls at the nightclubs in Tel Aviv.”

Other actors took work because the script offered them an opportunity to change their image. Joanne Woodward, who starred with Paul Newman in “A New Kind of Love,” wanted to shed her girl-next-door reputation. The part cast her as a quasi-prostitute. When Shavelson showed her the first act of the script, he says, she told him, “I love it. It’s the dirtiest script I’ve ever read.”

Newman auditioned for his part by stopping by the director’s house, downing a few beers and taking him on the back of his motorcycle for a ride along Mulholland Drive. Not every actor was such good company. As with stars today, the conflicts were almost always about control.

Shavelson and Kirk Douglas fought so incessantly during the making of “Cast a Giant Shadow” that Shavelson at one point walked off the set, letting his assistant shoot the film for a day. After the film was released, Douglas sent Shavelson a letter, which still hangs on the wall of his office. “Mel, I think it was a good picture,” it reads. “It could have been better if I had paid more attention to you.”

Shavelson says he shares blame for their clashes. “It was very tough to argue with Kirk because he was very intelligent and very often he was right. He had to be the boss and I had to be the director, and there’s no in-between ground.”

A similar struggle marked the making of “Yours, Mine and Ours,” a comedy Shavelson did with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda that was remade in 2005. (Shavelson hated the remake.) Like many of today’s comedians, Ball felt she knew her comic strengths so well that she should be the de facto director.

The movie, about a couple whose second marriage creates a family of 18 children, was a hit. But the shoot was fraught with tension. After they finished the final scene, Ball asked Shavelson how he enjoyed working with her. The man who wrote hundreds of gags for Bob Hope was not at a loss for words. “Lucy,” he replied, “this is the first time I ever made a film with 19 children.”

Ball burst into tears and wouldn’t speak to Shavelson for a year.

Millions of words have been written about why filmmakers are ultimately better judges of material than movie stars, but no one puts it better than the 90-year-old veteran.

“There’s a difference between being the performer and being outside, watching the performer do the performance,” Shavelson says. “It just makes it easier for you to judge what’s going on. It’s not that you’re trying to control the actor. You’re just trying to do what you can to help get the best performance.”

So what advice would he give to today’s directors who find themselves working with a prickly star? “Study psychoanalysis,” he promptly replies.

Even though he hasn’t made a film in years and is now retired from teaching at USC, Shavelson remains a man curious about the world. He’s currently reading Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Albert Einstein. He’s also eager to boast about his children’s — and his grandchildren’s — accomplishments. But I felt obligated to ask him what he missed most about his days in Hollywood. Was it the artistic camaraderie? The social whirl? The creative tumult?

“That’s easy,” he says. “I miss being young.”


The Big Picture runs every Tuesday in Calendar. If you have questions or criticism, e-mail him at patrick.goldstein@latimes.com.

 

Star of the Week: Eli Wallach

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 2:10 pm

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American film, television and stage actor Eli Wallach was born on December 7, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York.  He went on to graduate with a B.A. from the University of Texas in Austin, and was trained at the Actors Studio and the Neighborhood Playhouse.

His Broadway debut was in 1945, and in in 1951 he won a Tony for portraying Alvaro Mangiaco in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.”  His first film was another work of Williams’, “Baby Doll.”  He was cast by director John Sturges as the Mexican bandit Calvera in “The Magnificent Seven,” but his best-known western is probably “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”  (He was Tuco, the “Ugly.”) 

He married actress Anne Jackson in 1948, and the couple, still married today, have three children.  Wallach, Jackson, and their daughter Roberta all have made guest apperances in “Law & Order,” though in different episodes. 

Though his collaboration with spaghetti Western director Sergio Leone was a successful one, their friendship soured.  Leone had asked Wallach to star in his upcoming film (“Duck, You Sucker”).  Wallach had a prior commitment, but according to the actor, Leone begged him to take the role.  Wallach cancelled the other offer and waited for Leone to raise some money to make the film.  However, the studio that agreed to finance the film insisted that Leone use Rod Steiger.  Wallach was hurt, and when he asked for a token payment for losing out on two jobs, the director decline.  Wallach said that he’d sue Leone, and Leone told him to “Get in line.”  The two never spoke again.

 Wallach published his autobiography, The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage in 2005.  He continues to act today, and was last seen in Nancy Meyers’ “The Holiday.”

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“The Magnificent Seven”: In the remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese classic “The Seven Samurai,” John Sturges directs a motley crew of actors in this stellar cowboy story.  When a bordertown in Mexico becomes fed up with the vicious bandit Calvera (Wallach) stealing their food and terrorizing their families, three villagers head into town to buy guns.  While there, they meet Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen), who agree to round up a few more men and come to protect the villagers.  The group includes Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn),  Harry (Brad Dexter) and Britt (James Coburn).  Rousing action and great dialogue ensue.   “The Magnificent Seven” does to the cowboy movie what “Platoon” did to war  movies — it humanizes the generic characters and themes.

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“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”:  Three men seek out a hidden fortune.  Blondie (Clint Eastwood), his occasional cohort Tuco (Wallach) and Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef).  Each knows one element of the treasure’s location and for that reason are tied to each other, though nobody wants to stick their neck out for anybody.  This epic film is set during the American Civil War and features Ennio Morricone’s beautiful, familiar music, as well as solid, enjoyable performances by all of the leads.

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“The Godfather: Part III”: Another epic, this is the final installment in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy.  Don Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is finally trying to make the family business legitimate, but keeps getting sucked back in.  At the same time, he is trying to link the family’s finances with the Vatican.  Corleone’s protege, Vincent (Andy Garcia) begins an ill-fated affair with Mary Corleone (Sofia Coppola, in a notoriously poor choice in casting), while the Don has to fight off rival gangster Don Altobello (Wallach).

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“Mystic River”:  Thirty-seven years after starring in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” with Clint Eastwood, Eastwood directed Wallach in a small part in this film.  After their lives are changed by a tragedy, childhood friends Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins) are reunited when Jimmy’s oldest daughter is murdered.  Sean is investigating the case, and Dave soon becomes the prime suspect.  It is impossible to not get emotionally involved in this film.  The story is heartbreaking and the characters are fascinating.  All of the elements are first rate — direction, acting, writing, music, you name it.  Wallach makes a cameo as a liquor store owner that was robbed.

Photos courtesy of imdb.com

 

Josh Groban, Round 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 11:34 am

I’m going to see him at the Honda Center in Anaheim on August 25th!  The countdown starts now!

 

On the “D.C. Madam” Scandal: I Don’t Feel Sorry For These People Either

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 11:00 am

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the woman who has been dubbed “the D.C. Madam,” has been indicted on charges of running a prostitution ring.  She has decided to “name names,” disclosing her client list, in the hopes that it will help her defense.  Apparently her assets were frozen, so she was unable to mount a proper defense, and saw this as her only option.  She initially refused to answer any questions, but will be interviewed on ABC’s “20/20” on Friday night.

She has already outed Randall L. Tobias, a deputy secretary of State and the “AIDS czar” of the Bush administration.  He resigned last week after acknowledging that he used her services, “but only to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage.”  According to Tobias, “no sex” was involved.

Where do I begin?

First off, Palfrey is playing the victim, which is just ridiculous.  She has set up a website for her legal defense fund, and complains about having to suffer “the full weight of the United States government bearing down upon her.”  Palfrey, who in the past served 18 months for attempted pimping in San Diego, apparently feels she has done nothing wrong.

If only people would understand.  The 130 “subcontractors” that she hired — women between the ages of 23 and 55 — simply went to clients’ homes and performed “legal high-end erotic fantasy” services for up to $300 an hour.  Palfrey said in a statement that “you can pay a legal escort to come to your home, get naked and get a massage and you haven’t broken any laws, assuming you stay on your stomach.”  In the thirteen years that she ran her business from Vallejo, California, she made over $2 million, though she did split some with her employees.

To begin, I don’t feel bad for anybody who makes $2 million doing anything.  If she wants to come pay my rent sometime, maybe I’ll feel for her more.  Secondly, I will state the obvious: there is no way that no sex ever went on.  I cannot imagine that “thousands and thousands” of clients shelled out that much cash to get a massage. 

A third point: Let’s say that I recently legitimately purchased several electronics items and want to sell them at a profit.  I am not going to sell them out of the back of my car.  What do you expect to happen when you run a suspicious service, even if everything your employees do is “legal”?  You gambled and you got caught.  Boo hoo.

Also, while I have never personally had a problem with them (knock on wood), I highly doubt that she is experiencing “the full weight of the United States government.”  Freezing assets isn’t what comes to mind when I try and comprehend what the “full weight” would be.

And now to the other “victims.”  Sure, it’s bad business practice to make public the names of your clients.  Palfrey is “genuinely sorry” about divulging that Tobias, a married father of four, was a client.  My first instinct is to feel sorry for the exposed Tobias.  But once common sense returns, it makes me want to scream, “Oh PLEASE!”

I feel sorry for Tobias’ family, and the families of the clients.  I would hate to be the one with the dad/husband/son that hired a call girl (there, I said it).  They did nothing wrong.  They weren’t the idiots that decided to spend some of the kids’ tuition money on “massages.”  They aren’t the ones that were just begging to get caught doing something stupid (and very probably illegal).  I guess when you spend your whole life being smart (climbing the career ladder, etc), you just have to be dumb once in a while.

People today are so rarely held accountable for their actions, that nobody really knows what to do when it actually happens.  While all of the craziness over the comments made by Isaiah Washington, Don Imus, et al. seemed a little overboard to me, what did they expect to happen when they said them?  The idea of free speech is still quite blurry to a lot of people, especially when individuals take advantage of it.  Despite the many freedoms we experience in this country, overall the United States is quite conservative.  And when it comes to sex, we (the people, the media, the government) either overreact or underreact.

To the clients and to Palfrey: my mother always says, “Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want the whole world to see.”  To paraphrase that, as the Washington Post writers Faye Fiore and Adam Schreck wrote in their article on the matter, “Don’t do anything you don’t want to see in tomorrow’s headlines.”