June 2007

June 27, 2007

Long in the Tooth

Zahi1 Our friend Zahi Hawass's mug was on the front page of the Times again today. What is it this time? A landmark discovery of the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, based on the surprising, unexpected find of a tooth in her long-familiar sarcophagus. The exciting news was ably chronicled by John Noble Wilford. But the key to the entire exercise was snuggled in the middle of the piece: "The search for Hatshepsut’s mummy by Egyptian archaeologists and medical scientists will be described in a television program, “Secrets of the Lost Queen of Egypt,” scheduled for July 15 on the Discovery Channel." Et voila! Zahi does it again! This will be Exhibit A in the thesis that front-page finds by Egypt's Indiana Jones usually precede some major exhibit of television special featuring -- you guessed it -- Zahi Hawass. Here's the rest of the piece.

June 26, 2007

She's Pretty Hot

Blogpix_004 Editor-turned-writer Tina Brown gathered with a few friends -- David Geffen, Michael Eisner, Martin Landau, Steve Martin - for a little lunch at the Bel-Air Hotel today, to celebrate her new book, "The Diana Chronicles." They served Diana's favorite dish -- fish and chips -- which was a little crazy. Who on the West Side of Los Angeles, did they think, was going to eat fried food? Anyway, Brown and her book have quickly become the toast of literati/glitterati circles. Her meditation on the death of Diana (could we stand another one? apparently) has managed to win glowing reviews, and is about to land at Number Two on the NYT Bestseller list. It's hard to miss Brown on her nonstop media whirligig tour, but this was an undeniably fun event: Geffen wore a suit, for once, and introduced Brown as "Guantanamo with an English accent." (This is David Geffen's version of a compliment.) Brown charmed the powdered masses with her wit and tales of a complicated princess. (One nugget I'd overlooked: Diana pushed her stepmother down some stairs after her father died. The stepmother apparently deserved it, but still.) And she got in a dig at Rupert Murdoch, who bought the Times of London when her husband, Harold Evans, was editor there. "Rupert will do what he likes with the Wall Street Journal," said Brown. "He always knows how to get a Yes."

June 25, 2007

Hollywood Perils

Just a word to note that "Evan Almighty," that hulking, $175 million comedy behemoth, sank like a stone this weekend, taking in just $31 million in this country. That is very disappointing news for Universal, which tried hard to make this laugh-challenged story appeal to the Christian audience (where were they when they're needed?) when it became clear that the studio didn't have the Steve Carrell-Tom Shadyac homerun they thought they would. For comparison's sake, MGM's tiny thriller "1408" opened to $20.6 million, but it only cost $25 million to make. There's a lesson there somewhere.

Sword of Intolerance

The L.A. Film Festival is heating up. AuthoCarrolljamesr and journalist and fallen Roman Catholic priest James Carroll came to the world premiere on Sunday night in Westwood of the new documentary, "Constantine' Sword," based on his book of the same title. The film, by Oren Jacoby, takes the viewer on a 2,000-year trip through the Christian faith's relationship with violence and anti-Semitism. Where did it start? And why? As a once-true believer, Carroll is the empathetic heart of the film, and he goes back to the time of Constantine to trace the roots of Christian holy war. Constantine conquered and then converted Rome 300 years after the death of Christ, after having a vision of a cross in the sky. From that time forward religion and violence, Carroll learns, have an intimate connection in the Christian faith, an apt lesson for those of us quick to condemn Islam as a violent creed. "The truth will set you free," he said in the q&a after the screening, quoting the gospel. "But first it will break your heart."

The film does not yet have distribution.

June 18, 2007

Is Marvel Marvel-ous?

18marvel2190 David Maisel is a new player on the Hollywood scene, though he's been here for more than a decade. Now at the helm of Marvel Studios, I take a look at his business plan and the impression he has made on others in today's Business section. Both have their critics. "Until recently a little-known deal maker trained by the former kingpin Michael S. Ovitz, Mr. Maisel has quickly become a serious Hollywood player. No longer content to leave the actual moviemaking (and most of the profits) to the studios, Mr. Maisel is able to green-light movies of his choosing at budgets up to $165 million, backed by $525 million of financing. “I don’t think there’s been a new studio making $100 million movies since DreamWorks,” he said. “We’re going Hollywood, but in a smart way...'"  Maisel has left bruised relationships with Avi Arad, who hired him at Marvel, and Ryan Kavanaugh, who devised the financial plan that gives Maisel his power. Remains to be seen whether these relationships come home to roost. One point not in the story: Ladies, he's single...

Rehab Rates

17rehab1902 I've often wondered whether rehab really works. Is it worth all the money and effort expended? I took a look at that this weekend in Sunday Styles and learned the following: "Optimism, it turns out, is one of the main things offered at rehabilitation centers like Promises, the luxurious Malibu retreat for patients suffering from alcohol and substance abuse where Ms. Lohan now lives. Much harder to come by is evidence that these programs work. The quiet truth in the upper-crust rehabilitation industry is that $49,000 a month may buy lots of things — including views of the Pacific, massage therapy and blue-ribbon chefs. But whether it buys sobriety is very uncertain. Reliable statistics about drug rehabilitation as a whole are hard to come by, and are near impossible to isolate for the luxury-level rehab programs that attract so much attention in the news media.....Government studies suggest that drug treatment does reduce drug abuse — a sprawling, vague term for the vast catalog of substance-related ills — by 40 to 60 percent. But government studies also suggest that 80 percent of addicts will relapse after treatment. And experts in the field seem to agree that the success rate for rehab programs, most of which are based on the 12-step therapy created by Alcoholics Anonymous, hovers somewhere between 30 percent at best, and below 10 percent at worst." (Here the rest.) 

In the meantime, I've received some interesting reader mail on the topic. Here's a couple of thoughts: "For a change, your article was well-balanced informative, and fair. It was especilly enlightening, however inadvertantly, in illuminating what the recovery business is all about. It's not about addiction, methods, success percentages, hope, support, reaffirmations, or any other fascade these unregulated, unsupervised, and private rehab centers offer and/or present - it's all about one thing only. Money. As usual, candy coated- arrogance-dipped, ego-infused, money-loving, blathering "experts" talk alot and have nothing to say. If their words offered anything of value, the centers would be near empty."
and this, from a recovering alcoholic:
" I am an alumnus of Promises. I completed 30 days residential treatment on New Year's Day 2005. I then completed a 30 day stint in a "sober living home," owned by Promises. During this time I completed out-patient follow-up treatment. The entire time I was subjected to random, bi-weekly urine analyses. I have never met Mr. Rogg, but I did see his shiny new Range Rover on the campus. Yes, it is a business, a lucrative one at that. And I am grateful for its existence. It is now over two and a half years later and I can say with pride I am still sober. I have not relapsed. Not once."

Lord Almighty

Blogpix_001 A little late, yes, but we're busy. We attended the premiere of "Evan Almighty" a week ago, a modest but sprawling affair at Universal Studios (one might have expected live elephants; there were none). Meantime, Universal has good cause to be nervous about the opening of this $175 million behemoth, directed by the single-minded Tom Shadyac. It's far softer than its predecessor, "Bruce Almighty," and most of the laughs come from Wanda Sykes, a supporting character, rather than Steve Carrell, the lead. The movie is not tracking terribly well, and we all know that comedies traditionally do not perform overseas as well as their action counterparts. At the premiere, lots of NBC-Universal love was in the house; top dog Jeff Zucker was there, as was the new NBC entertainment chief, Ben Silverman, looking preppy and sounding upbeat (this is pretty much the only direction NBC can go from here). Universal chief Ron Meyer looked suitably in charge and relaxed, despite the cost of this film. He's a rare breed in this industry: a survivor, and just re-upped his contract for five years.

June 09, 2007

A Fun Group, but Foul-Mouthed

Nwc_2 This adorable group of guys, friends from community college in tiny Walnut, California who transfered to UCLA together, are now performing a play they co-wrote about race and the destructive power of language. In a story about them in today's paper, I write:  "Lest anyone think that a play with three ethnic slurs in its title is going to dance around the subject of race and the limits of tolerable discourse, be advised that the bombshells are hurled from its opening moments: An Asian actor, dressed in blue Chinese pajamas, steps onstage chanting rhythmically, “CHINK-chink-chink, CHINK-chink-chink.” He is followed by a Latino actor, in flood pants and a do-rag, chanting the word “Wetback,” who is then followed by a strutting African-American actor in a floor-length red coat and feathered hat, chanting “Nigger,” over and over, in syncopation to the other slurs." The play is on at the Ivar in Hollywood for the next two months, a stimulating and often funny evening. Here's the rest of the article, which tells you what it's been like for them to tour the country for the past two years.

Payback's a Bitch

Paris This story fell to me yesterday, as the resident celebrity writer Left Coaster. I'd been following the duelling sagas of Paris and Lindsay for the past couple of weeks. Which drama would hit the front page first? It was Paris, by a nose: "The national obsession with celebrity collided head-on with the more serious issue of the equal application of justice on Friday, as a judge sent the socialite Paris Hilton back to jail some 36 hours after she was released for an unspecified medical problem," I wrote in today's paper. Readers of the Times may be above this sort of prurience, or so we might presume, but it turns out that a one-paragraph brief that I wrote the previous day about Hilton being sprung from jail was the slim news around which hundreds (I was told a thousand, but I find that impossible to believe) of comments were posted by our readers. Nonetheless, I was heartened to get this email this morning from an anonymous subscriber: "Sharon, You must feel proud to work for the New York Times so you can write lame articles about Paris Hilton. The Times has become a joke. Why not just work for Inside Edition?!"

June 03, 2007

The Most Fun Ever, in High School

Jackson Yes, that's Jackson Browne at the mike, and a grandfatherly David Crosby looking on, at one of the most fun times I've had recently, a fund-raising concert for arts programs at Santa Monica high school on Saturday night. This was a fantastic gathering of music-loving friends of the musicians and local parents and fans (director Cameron Crowe was in the audience, so was director Paul Haggis), with a bunch of songs joined by students from the high school's music program. Jackson's rocking version of "The Pretender" included all the strings, and the horns, the slide and the beautiful baby grand piano, along with his still sweet vocals. Crosby was backed on classic CSNY songs like "Woodstock," "Carry On" and "Long Time Gone" by the extremely eager (but able) local band, Venice, who started the concert with their own set. They managed to nail the tricky CSNY harmonies. Near midnight, drummers from the school's marching band came down the aisles to pound out the opening beats of "Four Dead in Ohio." In all, the room rocked, the students beamed, Jackson Browne looked almost the same after all these years. I hate to say it, but this was a Cleveland girl's dream come true.

Book Leave!

As anyone who has been reading this space knows, I have been working on a book on antiquities, and will be taking a leave from my Hollywood job to work on it full-time. This has now been reported elsewhere with the breathless excitement attached to actual news, which it isn't really. So, to those keeping track: starting July 1, I will be taking a six month leave of absence from the Times, to write a book (for the Times) on antiquities and the debate over who should own them, museums or source countries. I will be traveling to the Middle East and other parts of the Mediterranean this summer to better investigate the source countries' side of the story, and have been busy over the past six months hearing the museums' side (among my other duties, of course). After that, I truly am not sure on what I will be doing. I asked my editors back in February for a chance to take on a new challenge after many years of covering Hollywood. They've agreed in principle, but nothing specific has been decided. There it is. I'm certainly open to suggestions.