Tag Archives: Los Angeles Times

Movie Review: “East L.A. Interchange” – A Documentary

east la interchange

Does a documentary film about the Hispanic community of Boyle Heights shy away from tackling the major issue of the day?

Boyle Heights, a community just east of downtown Los Angeles, is a very interesting place. When I lived in Los Angeles, I would often head there on the weekend to make use of the parks, eat at the fine hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or soak up the multicultural feel of the community. “The Heights” was once known as the “Ellis Island of the West” because of its multiracial nature (it was once the largest Jewish community on the West Coast until the end of World War II), but tensions have hit the barrio. As the Los Angeles Times (“Gentrification pushes up against Boyle Heights – and vice versa”; March 6, 2016) recently noted: “Once the landing spot not only for Mexicans, but also for Japanese, Russians, Italians, and Jews, Boyle Heights has long been perceived as a neighborhood sitting on the brink of the next metamorphosis.”

Yes, the dreaded Spanish word gentefication, or gentrification in English, has now struck. Like Brooklyn, Sacramento (Oak Park), and San Francisco (The Mission District), Boyle Heights is trying to decide whether it wants to be old, interracial, and comfortable; or hip, progressive, and an expensive place to live. Community activists vociferously argue that there are too many art galleries in the city and they rail against the replacement of neighborhood bars by overly cool brew pubs.

brooklyn theater boyle heights

Against this background, I had high hopes for the documentary East L.A. Interchange, a one-hour documentary film narrated by actor Danny Trejo. It’s a film that’s currently being screened at selected colleges. To my eyes, it’s a missed opportunity.

One problem is the title. East L.A. Interchange leads people to think this is either a program about East Los Angeles – which is just east of Boyle Heights, or about the Los Angeles freeways. A better title might have been La Colonia: Boyle Heights.

I will return to the problematic issue of gentrification. What Interchange does well is to deal with the history of Boyle Heights, as heard mostly from U.S.C. professors. And one of the intriguing points made in the documentary is that social discrimination issues began to ease as the predominantly Mexican-American students at Roosevelt High School began to learn about the history of their city: “One of the cradles of Mexican-American culture in the U.S.” Knowledge precedes pride.

To its credit, Interchange is not only well researched but beautifully filmed. And yet its Achilles heel is that the documentary refuses to take a stance on the key issue of gentrification. We learn that Jews first left the community, then Russians were forced out by freeway construction, and now the low to middle-income Hispanics who live in Boyle Heights are threatened by newly prosperous Hispanics and rich hipsters.

BH protest

In order to afford a typical new housing unit in the area, one needs an income of $90,000 and above. Yet the median household income in the Heights is $41,821. It’s a big problem and results in stress, grief and anger. As one current resident states, in Spanish: “I would like it to stay just as it is.” Gentrification, of course, will make this impossible.

The creators of Interchange, after illustrating how the poor have been displaced from the area in the past, inform the viewer that 1,187 affordable housing units are scheduled to be destroyed and replaced by 4,400 new and pricey units. And yet, even after imparting this information, they remain neutral.

The documentary asks the question, “What constitutes beneficial (versus harmful) development?” but fails to answer it. Instead, at its conclusion we hear an elderly Jewish gentleman assure us that, despite recent changes in the neighborhood, everything will be alright. It’s hardly convincing.

Boyle Heights

One key statement heard in Interchange is, “We’re not trying to get out of the barrio. We’re trying to bring the barrio up.” Fine, but in life one must ultimately choose between stasis and change. In electing to support neither the status quo nor change – neither the past nor progressivism, East L.A. Interchange loses its raison d’etre.

Joseph Arellano

The reviewer was provided access to a press screener. The film was directed by Betsy Kalin.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

Movie Review: ‘East L.A. Interchange’ – A Documentary

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Elusive Hummingbird

Fastest Things Amazon

Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood by Terry Masear (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00, 306 pages)

When Frank and I first moved into West Hollywood, twenty years ago, it took me three months to attract one hummingbird to my feeder. Now, with the explosion in the local population that has resulted from over five hundred releases and their progeny, new sugar feeders immediately draw dozens of interested birds.

Hummingbirds, the zippy little colorful creatures that fascinate the young and old alike – humans and felines, are well documented in Fastest Things on Wings. Educator-writer Terry Masear has dedicated her “free time” to rescue and rehabilitate hummingbirds that have dropped from nests, been caught by cats, or fallen down while perched on tree branches trimmed by city maintenance workers. You name it, and Ms. Masear has heard of a way that these little birds have been put in peril. She takes calls from people who have found them in dire straights.

As there are two sugar feeders hanging from a gazebo just outside our kitchen door and a large bougainvillea climbing nearby, the daily visitors are often the subjects of excited viewing. Other than the recipe for their food (one-half cup of white granulated sugar dissolved in two cups of boiling water that is then left to cool) there’s not much this reviewer knew about our little buddies.

During the months that I don’t have to teach classes in the morning, I gather fresh flowers for the fledglings in large flight cages and young adults in the aviary.

Ms. Masear, like her subjects, flits between narratives of her own experiences fueled by an undeniable dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating the tiny birds and a somewhat repetitive discourse on the growth and development of hummingbirds in general. This back and forth between the styles is interspersed with in depth segments chronicling the challenges presented by one or two standout birds in particular. Ms. Masear’s writing style tends toward very long sentences. This book could have benefited from more editing.

The book includes color photos toward the last half of the text. These photos provide the reader with the opportunity to get up really close to the little buzzing wonders.

Well recommended to hummingbird and nature lovers.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “This is a book that is actually a book about love.” Los Angeles Times

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Hill Street Blues

The Drop: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company; $27.99; 416 pages)

“It was a city where not enough people cared about making it a better and safe place to live.”

Michael Connelly, author of the tremendously successful Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer, The Reversal, The Fifth Witness) and Harry Bosch novels, returns with what is likely his strongest tale yet.   The Drop stands for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Deferred Retirement Options Plan, which allows police officers and detectives to stay on as retired annuitants working past their normal scheduled retirement dates.   As we join the story, Bosch is bored, underworked, underappreciated and counting the months until the day of his departure from the Hall of Justice.

“Two days ago he didn’t think he could leg out the last thirty-one months of his career.   Now he wanted the full five years.”

Then, suddenly, Bosch is given not one, but two major cases to solve.   One assignment comes to him directly from the police chief.   Without explanation, a powerful city councilman who is a foe of the LAPD in general – and a long-time enemy of Detective Bosch – requests Harry’s services in resolving the death of his son.   The son’s death appears, at first blush, to be a suicide but is it something more?   And will the powers that be in the city permit Bosch to pull the strings even if it unravels a major political power broking scandal?

The second matter is a cold case investigation into a murderer, seemingly lost somewhere in southern California, who may be a rival to Ted Bundy as a dangerous serial killer.   While spending virtually every minute of the first 48 hours cracking the first case, Bosch and his partner also find and create the time to solve the mystery of the second.

Boomers will identify with Bosch, who is conflicted over whether he should remain on the job, retire immediately or stay on longer.   It will be familiar territory for some mature readers.   As Harry says to his 15-year-old wise, prospective-detective daughter, “I’ve been chasing my tail all week…  and you know what?   I think you were right.   You called it at the start and I didn’t.   I must be getting old.”

In this 22nd novel from Connelly, we find a protagonist who has never seemed more likable, more flawed and more human.   This is about as good as it gets when it comes to fiction set in the City of Angels.   And don’t just take my word for it:

Thank God for Michael Connelly…  (He) retains his journalistic gifts; his eye for detail is spot on…  his 22 novels form an indispensable, compelling chronicle of L.A.”   Los Angeles Times

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Drop will be released on November 28, 2011, and will also be available in e-reader form (Kindle Edition and Nook Book), and as an unabridged audiobook on CDs.   “Connelly is a master of building suspense.”   The Wall Street Journal

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Coming Up Next…

A preview-review of The Drop: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly, which will be released on November 28, 2011.

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Runnin’ Down a Dream

33 Days:  Touring in a Van.   Sleeping on Floors.   Chasing a Dream.   by Bill See (Lulu; available as a Kindle and Nook Book download)

Bill See’s account of a band on the run has its moments but…  If L.A.’s Divine Weeks was chosen as one of the best bands in the mega city by the hallowed Los Angeles Times in 1987, one has to wonder why its four members (George, Bill, Raj and Dave) decided they needed to make a tour of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and the mid-west to southern United States to prove their worth.   If you believe See’s words, it was not for a lack of ego:  “Sometimes you can tell the crowd wants it…  you have to understand something.   We really do believe we’re operating on a totally different plane than other bands…  we’re completely full of ourselves…”

Well, you can see videos of Divine Weeks on You Tube and judge for yourself.   To my eyes and ears, this was a decent band for the time (the late 80s), but nothing special – not great nor horrible, and on a par with what you’d see in a typical Sacramento club during this era.   Was Divine Weeks on the same plane as, say, Jane’s Addiction?   Absolutely not.   (Personal disclosure:  I was not a fan of Jane’s music, but their musicianship was beyond question.)

What 33 Days does offer is a glimpse of what life is like on the road for a struggling traveling band.   In itself that’s an interesting tale, but See detracts from it by spending a bit more time than is necessary telling us about his off-and-on relationship with quasi-girlfriend Mary.   It proves to be both distracting and tiring.

The best moment in the narrative is when See explains, early on, the power of music.   “Ever since I’ve known music, I’ve felt that my life could be lifted up by it.”   This is admirable but the egocentric prospective winds up making this a band biography that is less than the sum of its parts.   This reader came to feel as if only truly got to know two members of the band – the Paul McCartney-like Bill and the George Harrison-like Raj.   It felt, in the end, as if something was missing.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

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The Sins of a Family

The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers (St. Martin’s Griffin; $14.99; 320 pages)

murderer's daughters amazon

First-time novelist Randy Susan Meyers certainly knows how to draw a reader into her story while creating empathy for her characters.   Young sisters Lulu and Merry become orphans in July of 1971 when their jealous father stabs their mother to death.   The novel chronicles their major life events and experiences beginning with that fateful day in 1971 to December 2003.

The murder and the ensuing hardships shape the girls’ lives; however, Lulu and Merry are resilient and spunky kids who won’t succumb to being victims.   The first quarter of the book is nearly overwhelming with sadness.   Thankfully, the remainder of the book is rich with texture and emotion that are more easily processed.

murderers-daughters-back

Meyers gives the reader each sister’s perspective on what happens to them as they grow up via the chapter titles identifying whose narrative is being read.   This device is well employed and is not the least bit gimmicky.   The characters who factor prominently in shaping Lulu and Merry’s lives are their father, grandparents on both sides of the family and classmates.   Their relatives exhibit the characteristics we can all recognize as being either frustrating or endearing.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

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The L.A. Times Book Festival Goes Trojan

L. A. Times Festival of Books Comes to USC

The Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California today announced that the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, one of the Southland’s most cherished and engaging weekend celebrations, will kick off its 16th storied year in a new home at USC’s University Park campus from April 30 to May 1, 2011.

Angelenos of all ages interested in famous authors, celebrity appearances, speaker panels, superstar chefs and local musicians will have something extra special to look forward to as the celebration debuts downtown.

“After 15 years on the Westside, we are very excited to move the Festival of Books to its beautiful new home and have the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with USC to ensure we grow bigger and better in the future,” said Times publisher and CEO Eddy Hartenstein.   “Attendees and exhibitors can expect more to see, do and experience in addition to great access and a refreshing change of scenery.”

USC President C. L. Max Nikias said, “We are thrilled that the festival has a new home here.   The Festival of Books is known for sparking just the kind of intellectual curiosity and energy that are at the heart of USC’s mission.   The festival is a great fit for our world-class faculty authors and writing programs, as well as for our literacy work in the community.   USC and the Los Angeles Times are two of the oldest institutions in Los Angeles, and it’s fitting that we would be joining together for this event that is so important to the intellectual life of Southern California.”

The move allows for increased attendance due to USC’s central location, proximity to public transportation, abundant parking and newly enhanced campus facilities.  The Times and the university will work together to best utilize the University Park campus to expand programming, provide exhibitors and sponsors with the benefit of more  useable space and other concession opportunities.   The Festival of Books previously was held on UCLA’s campus in Westwood.   (Noted the L.A. Times: “UCLA is a bigger campus, but USC spokesman James Grant said his university had plenty of room for the festival’s many outdoor activities and indoor seminars and lectures.”)

Last year, more than 140,000 people enjoyed the nation’s largest public literary festival, where more than 400 authors blended with hundreds of exhibitors representing booksellers, publishers, literacy and cultural organizations.   Poetry, mystery, politics, young adult, comic book, graphic novel and manga all flavor the festival’s author readings, book signings, intimate Q&A’s, comedy, children’s activities and more.   The event, which is free to the public, delivers a celebration of all the written word inspires.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was created in 1996 to promote literacy, celebrate the written word and bring together those who create books with the people who love to read them.

Source: USC News, September 22, 2010 (Used by permission).   Information on the L. A. Times Festival of Books will be available at: http://latimesfestivalofbooks.com .   Pictured above: USC President C. L. Max Nikias and L.A. Times publisher and CEO Eddy Hartenstein.

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The Barricades of Heaven

The Opposite Field: A Memoir by Jesse Katz (Three Rivers Press)

“Better bring your own redemption when you come/ To the barricades of Heaven where I’m from…”   Jackson Browne

“Some nights I think, just maybe, I have found the place I belong.”   Jesse Katz

There are probably just three groups of people who will be attracted to this memoir by Jesse Katz – parents, baseball fans and those who love the greater city of Los Angeles.   No, make it four groups, as nomads must be included.   Nomads in this case being defined to include those who were born and grew up in one part of the United States but found their true, instinctual home in another part of the country.

Jesse Katz is one of those nomads but in his case it was genetic.   His parents met and were married in Brooklyn, but felt the need to move a million miles west to Portland, Oregon.   This was the pre-hip Portland, a city of mostly white persons before it became the ultra-cool city that attracted Californians – a city with a bookstore so big that it requires a map to get around inside of it.

Author Katz grew up in a humble apartment complex near downtown Portland’s Chinatown, his father a suffering artist and later a professor at Portland State.   Katz’ mother was a late bloomer, a Robert F. Kennedy inspired feminist-activist who eventually was elected to the State Legislature, then became the first woman elected as Speaker of the Assembly before becoming a two-term Mayor of the Rose City.

But this is Katz’ story which describes his escape from Portland as a teen, moving to the wilds of Los Angeles, a city that he so accurately describes as the anti-Portland.   In L.A. Katz – “a white boy” – found that, “I had become a minority, the exception…  I was a curiosity even.   God how I loved it!   Los Angeles…  Where had you been all  my life?”

Katz first lives north of downtown before he moves to the multicultural community of Monterey Park.   Monterey Park, a city of taco stands, noodle shops and Mexican restaurants, bereft of national retailers, where the local 7-Eleven sells the Chinese Daily News.   There he burrows into the Hispanic-Asian suburb (yet an independent city) just 7 miles east of downtown L.A.’s skyscrapers.   And he finds a new life that centers around the seemingly minor sport of Little League baseball.

Katz, a reporter by profession, becomes the Little League coach of a team that plays at the La Loma fields in Monterey Park; coaching a team that includes his son Max.   Max, unlike his father, is himself multicultural, the product of his Jewish father and Nicaraguan mother.   The game of baseball as played by children may not seem to offer great lessons, but Katz comes to find the truth as expressed by writer John Tunis:  “Courage is all baseball.   And baseball is life; that’s why it gets under your skin.”

The game gets under Katz’ skin to the point where he agrees to serve as the Commissioner of Baseball for the multi-age league centered at La Loma.   This means that every waking moment for several years, not devoted to reporting on gangs for the Los Angeles Times or writing about the city for Los Angeles magazine, is reserved to keeping the league afloat.   It is, in many respects, serious business but also fun…  “I could not escape the feeling that Little League was like summer camp for adults, a reprieve from whatever drudgery or disorder was besetting our regular lives, a license to care about things, about events and people, that otherwise would have passed us by.”

Katz wisely chooses to omit little of the successes and failures that he encountered, both as “The Commish” and as the single father of a teenage son.   This is a look back at a life lived both large and small, and a look at a city, Los Angeles, that embraces the people who make up its communities.   Yes, the city and its suburbs embrace its citizens in a fashion that is far more real than the media’s myths of L.A.’s violence and tawdriness.

This reader, who lived in L.A. and learned to love it (and was embraced by it), would love to raise a toast to Jesse Katz (AKA Chuy Gato).   Perhaps one day he will let me buy him a beer at the Venice Room in Monterey Park (“the seamy cocktail lounge that sooner or later everyone ended up at…”).   A toast to greater L.A., the barricades of Heaven; a place to which we were not born, a place we discovered before it was too late.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from The Crown Publishing Company.   The Opposite Field was released in trade paperback form by Three Rivers Press on July 13, 2010.

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A New Giveaway

“No one writes better mystery suspense novels than Scott Turow.”   Los Angeles Times

The good news is that Innocent, the new novel by Scott Turow will be released on May 4, 2010.   This is the sequel to Presumed Innocent, originally published in 1987.   Innocent is another great courtroom drama from Turow, but you may more fully appreciate the sequel if you’ve read the initial part of the story, Presumed Innocent.   Because of this, and thanks to Valerie at Hachette Book Group USA, we’re going to give away 3 trade paperback copies of Presumed Innocent!

Rusty Sabich is a married chief deputy district attorney in a city in the Mid-West who supports his boss’s re-election as D.A.   But his boss loses the election and suddenly Rusty finds himself charged with the brutal murder of Carolyn Polhemus, a fellow prosecutor and former mistress.   Rusty’s prosecution is going to be handled by the his long-time friend and professional rival, Tommy Molto.   Did Sabich kill Polhemus or is he the subject of a political and personal vendetta?   You will have to read Presumed Innocent to find out.   

Here are a couple of the comments that accompanied the original release of Presumed Innocent:   

Presumed Innocent is an achievement of a high order – with marvelous control and touch, an awesome capacity to assemble and dispense (and sometimes withhold) evidence, and a cast of characters who are dismayingly credible.   Nobody who picks it up is going to lay it down lightly.   Wallace Stegner

After two days of non-stop reading I put down Scott Turow’s novel feeling drained, exhilarated and sorry it was over.   Presumed Innocent is one of the most enthralling novels I have read in a long, long time.   Turow has created a world that makes everyday reality feel naive and mundane.   Pat Conroy

In order to win a newly-released copy of Presumed Innocent, all you need to do is to post a comment here or send an e-mail with the heading “Presumed Innocent” to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   In order to enter a second time, tell me what the best book is that you’ve read recently and why you enjoyed it.   The deadline to enter is Friday, May 14, 2010 at midnight PST.  

In order to win a copy of Presumed Innocent you must live in the United States or Canada and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be mailed to P.O. boxes.   This is it for the contest rules.

Good luck and good reading!

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