Tag Archives: USC

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

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Author’s Perspective

This is the first part of an interview with author Nora McFarland whose latest book, Going to the Bad: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery, will be released tomorrow (August 7, 2012).

1.  Joseph Arellano (JA):  You live in Macon, Georgia but your Lilly Hawkins mysteries (and Going to the Bad is the third in the series) are set in Bakersfield, California.   Why?

I lived in Bakersfield when I started writing the first book in the series, A Bad Day’s Work.   I’d been a shooter – industry slang for a TV news photographer – and knew it would make a great set-up for a mystery.   I also loved Bakersfield and its quirky heritage.

2.  JA:  Do you periodically visit Bakersfield in order to update the descriptions of the local scenery, or do you write completely from memory?

I visit once a year.   What I like to do is write a rough draft, visit, see how badly I’ve remembered certain details, and then fix it in the second draft.   On that same trip, I can research ideas for the next book that’s not been written yet.   That’s a great way to get inspired.   For Going to the Bad, I had an idea that I wanted a scene set in an oil field, so I spent a day visiting the more accessible ones near Bakersfield.   I took notes on everything I smelled and heard, as well as the terrain.   While there I realized the scene should be a chase, either at night or in the fog when visibility is bad.

3.  JA:  Is there a chance that the character of Lilly Hawkins will someday relocate to the state of Georgia?

The grit and color of Bakersfield are an important part of Lilly’s character.   I’d never move her.   Lilly was born there and she’ll probably die there.

4.  JA:  We’re fellow Trojans, so I’d like to ask you what you learned from attending the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema and Television that apply to your writing?

The screenwriting courses I took as part of my degree in production laid the groundwork for everything I’m doing now.   They taught us story structure, pacing, and dialog among other things.   Probably the biggest lesson I took away from those classes was that your main character has to change.   I think that’s the core of drama and storytelling.   Your main character must begin in one place and end in another.

5.  JA:  In an alternate life, you’re not writing books or filming the news.   What would you be doing?

If it’s a fantasy where I could do anything I wanted, then I’d say screenwriting.   I love movies as much as books.

Thank you to Nora McFarland.   Part two of this interview, with five additional questions for Nora to answer, will run in the very near future on this site.   Going to the Bad will be available as a trade paperback book, and also as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Bang Bang

Gun Games: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow, $25.99, 375 pages)

“She kissed his shoulder.   He was a ball of coiled muscle.   ‘I’m sorry.’   She kissed his shoulder and he felt a tear drop onto his skin.”

Enter a new generation of characters for the charming and endearing series about Rina Lazarus and Pete Decker written by Faye Kellerman.   Now that the older children have been launched into the adult world, Uber-parents Rina and Pete are devoting time and energy to Gabriel Whitman, the son of acquaintances with Las Vegas mob connections.   Gabe is a 15-year-old piano prodigy who studies with a professor at the University of Southern California – Fight On!!!

Gabe has been invited to live with the Deckers until he is ready to head off to college.   This is a desirable placement for all concerned, what with his dad being a gangster and his  mom having run off to faraway lands to have someone else’s baby.   Some of his time is spent at the private school where Rina’s two sons by her first husband were students.   The school provides a suicide victim, Gregory Hesse, a student whose mother refuses to believe he took his own life.   The investigation centers on the weapon used in the suicide or murder.   It seems that there are students at the school who are fixated on guns.

The twist to this plot is Ms. Kellerman’s use of a passionate love/youthful romance between Gabe and a 14-year-old girl, Yasmine, the daughter of devout, observant Jews.   This sets up a bit of a culture clash that is the reason for a whole lot of sneaking around and trysting at the local coffee shop.   The detailed scenes of their passion border on kiddie porn and this reviewer often felt like it was a bit too much.

The story moves slowly for the first two-thirds of the book and the tale is spread among many characters; Pete, his co-workers, the kid’s parents and a few guest appearances by Rina.   The gears of the story finally engage and the last third reads more like a John Grisham novel of years ago.

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Gun Games is also available as an Audible Audio Edition, and as a Nook Book or Kindle Edition download.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

A review of Gun Games: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Expecting to Fly

My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir by Mark Whitaker (Simon & Schuster; $25.99; 368 pages)

“Perhaps there was something buried in this memor that I kept missing, something that I kept searching for in vain.   It may be buried somewhere…”

The best memoirs take off and soar as they take us on a journey through the writer’s life.   This memoir by CNN Chief Mark Whitaker seemed to taxi on the runway from its beginning on page 1 until its conclusion 367 pages later.   This reader never felt the presence of Whitaker’s mind or personality in an account that was overly flat and dry:  “My mother taught and my father began writing his dissertation and I played with the other faculty  brats in the spacious yard outside while my brother grew into a toddler.”   The language, in fact, was so dry that I began to wish that this had been prepared as an “As told to…” or “With…” version with some energy to it.

It’s difficult to see what major statement about life was meant to be imparted by this work.   Whitaker’s professor father divorced Whitaker’s mother when Mark was young; thus, he seems to view himself as a unique member of a group that “…had grown up without our fathers around and with very little money in the house.”   That’s actually quite a large group in our society.   Moreover, Whitaker reminds us again and again that he wound up at Harvard.

There’s simply far too much here about Whitaker’s time at Harvard, and the lifelong connections he made there.   It seems that wherever Whitaker goes in the world, he meets people – primarily women – of whom he states, “She had also gone to Harvard.”   It becomes a very clubby account, and it’s hard to see why this would be of interest to the general reader.

“Angry men don’t make great husbands.”

In an attempt to create a story of interest, Whitaker casts aspersions on his father who is portrayed as either “a cruel bully or a selfish baby.”   Cleophaus Sylvester “Syl” Whitaker is also portrayed as a major alcoholic although it’s noted that he only missed teaching three classes in a long and distinguished academic career.   (He once entered a rehabilitation center for treatment.)   Syl held numerous impressive teaching and administrative posts at Swarthmore, Rutgers, UCLA (where he was a key assistant to Chancellor Charles E. Young), Princeton, CUNY and the University of Southern California (from which he retired, at age 60, as professor emeritus of political science and former USC College Dean of Social Sciences).   He was never found asleep in a gutter or under a bridge, so it is hard to see how this squares with Whitaker’s notion that his father’s life was an “arc of blazing early success fading into self-destruction and financial hardship.”

Perhaps there was something buried in this memoir that I kept missing, something that I kept searching for in vain.   It may be buried in a sentence such as this one, which I found to be a bit too clouded to understand:  “It was as if the longer I was separated from my father, the more I lost touch with the outgoing child who had modeled himself after him.”

Joseph Arellano

An advance review copy was received from the publisher.   My Long Trip Home will be released on October 18, 2011.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

MacArthur Park

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender  (Anchor Reprint Edition; $15.00; 304 pages)

“I wondered what he knew about the family; what he didn’t know.   What family he lived in.   My mind wandered around.”

This novel begins with a charming and unique premise.   A young girl, Rose Edelstein, finds that by eating food prepared by others she can taste (experience) the moods and feelings of the preparers.   This has particular relevance when it comes to her mother’s sadness, but later her guilt.   Her mother is having an affair, the knowledge of which Rose wishes she did not possess.

“The guilt in the beef had been like a vector pointing in one direction…  I hated it; the whole thing was like reading her diary against my will.   Many kids, it seemed, would find out that their parents were flawed, messed-up people later in life…  I didn’t appreciate getting to know it all so strong and early.”

This discomfort on the part of our protagonist also affects the reader; at least, it affected this reader.   Rose has been given a power she does not want and it makes her life messy and unpleasant.   At one point, early in the story, she is hospitalized after raving about wanting to get rid of her mouth.   If she didn’t have her mouth in her face, she wouldn’t have to eat and wouldn’t have to feel what others are feeling.

“Over the course of several packed days, I’d tasted my mother’s affairs and had (a) conversation with my father…  I was not feeling good about any of it…”

Rose has a boring attorney father, a brother who isolates and who is soon departing for college, and an unhappy mother who regularly disappears for a couple of hours of errands – which is when she meets her lover.   She lives in a household of people who hardly communicate; people who regularly ask questions of each other that go unanswered.   This also applies to others in Rose’s life.   For example, she asks her Spanish teacher, “How was your weekend?” before her instructor turns away and walks off to roam the aisles of the junior high school classroom.

Aimee Bender’s writing style is clipped; words often appear to be missing from sentences, from paragraphs, from pages.   Maybe the words are missing because, in this imaginary world, humans simply don’t understand each other – relatives or strangers – and, therefore, are not competent about talking, listening, responding.   Perhaps the oddest of all things is that this story is not set in an isolated small town (Mayberry, if you will).   No, it is set in an earlier day Los Angeles, where mega communication was already the order of the day.

There must be an intended message buried somewhere in this 304-page novel that I missed.   After its charming opening pages, Lemon Cake seemed to immediately bog down.   It read more like a novella or an overly extended short story than a true novel.

Perhaps I just don’t have the taste for this recipe.   Lemon Cake left me feeling empty and sad and confused and hungry for something with some heft.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake will be released in trade paper form on April 19, 2011.   “Surprisingly, only a couple of critics mentioned that The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is derivative of Like Water for Chocolate.”   Bookmarks Magazine



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized