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ICE and illegal immigrants

Viewers of Immigration Nation will cringe at the way our laws are sometimes enforced

Despite what we read daily in the news, millions of people long to live and work in the United States, and each year tens of thousands cross our borders illegally with the hope to remain in this country. Immigration Nation probes how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforces the laws of the land, and the results are not pretty.

ICE granted the camera crews of directors Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz behind-the-scenes access to the workdays of officers throughout the country, and may have regretted granting this permission. While some ICE personnel behave honorably and treat illegal aliens with respect, there are many scenes that will make viewers cringe.

A deputy field director in the New York area sets quotas for his teams and takes perverse delight in the roundups of illegal immigrants. The ICE officers on his teams set out to find illegal immigrants who have criminal records but often encounter “collaterals,” other illegal immigrants living with the criminal. The number of these individuals who may be taken in varies based on the changing directives of the field director and those to whom he reports. “I don’t take in collaterals,” states one officer to the film crew riding with him, but minutes later his field director tells him not to return until he has apprehended at least two more people.

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Cameron Boyce
HBO

Television

Being a child actor isn’t just glitz and glamour

Showbiz Kids shows why

Would E.T. have been the wildly successful Steven Spielberg smash without Henry Thomas cast as the lonely, lovable 10-year-old Elliot who befriends the extraterrestrial? Can you imagine The Wizard of Oz without Judy Garland belting out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from a Kansas barnyard? Or The Black Stallion without Kelly Reno galloping across Arabian sand, clinging to the Black’s mane?

A talented child actor—believable, engaging, cute—can add the “wow!” factor that makes a movie a blockbuster. What happens behind the scenes may be no surprise but still is disheartening. HBO’s Showbiz Kids, through interviews with former child stars and others trying to become stars, reveals the seamy side of the business, without sensationalism (rated TV-MA for adult content and bad language). 

Former young celebs, including Thomas, Mara Wilson, Todd Bridges, Milla Jovovich, and Cameron Boyce, reveal negative aspects of childhood stardom, like constant pressure from pushy parents. Some no longer trust people. Others lost earnings to cheats. Several say older people abused them. Evan Rachel Miller comments, “No one ever asked how I was doing.” They just asked about her career. Jovovich talks about being sexually objectified on film.

Many wonder what they missed in a “real” childhood. Wilson, star of Matilda, says she never learned to ride a bike or play kickball. She didn’t know how to schedule days or develop a work ethic because she knew only how to follow directions.

Wil Wheaton, whose teen role in Stand by Me vaulted him to fame, resentfully concludes acting was all about his mom’s needs. Once, he says, she pushed him to do a horror movie: “It was phenomenally abusive … a terrible experience.”

But when the roles stopped coming, Wheaton didn’t know what to do anymore. He would ruminate, “Please, someone pay attention to me because that’s the only way I know how to exist.”

But constant attention does not a good boy (or girl) make. Simply google some of the names to see what’s become of them. How difficult to think clearly when your identity depends on a critic’s review or a successful audition. 

With nary a mention of faith, it’s not surprising these kids struggled into adulthood. Growing up, especially in the limelight, is tough enough. It’s odd, though, that filmmakers didn’t interview child stars Candace Cameron Bure or her brother Kirk, both committed Christians. 

With the film’s focus on fewer than a dozen stars, we get a smattering of what the industry is like. But the focus is the sad stories about child celebrities. After watching, you may be glad your acting career ended with your church Nativity play.

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Fear City documents the FBI’s successful bid to take down the Mafia

Matter-of-fact interviews and gritty details push against Hollywood distortions

There’s almost something criminal about watching a mobster film without Al Pacino or Robert De Niro in it. The cinematic wise guy, with his cartoonish bravado and brazen thuggery, has enthralled moviegoers for ­generations. 

But truth is more deranged than fiction. Real-life ­“murderers [and] psychopaths” populated the mob, says former FBI agent Joe O’Brien in Netflix’s new three-part series Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia. Organized crime families terrorized businesses large and small into ­cooperation, controlling a wide swath of commerce. The documentary rewinds the tapes four decades, when the FBI finally put together a plan that would significantly cripple the Mafia.

“People thought law enforcement couldn’t do anything about the Mafia,” says former FBI supervisor Jim Kossler. “It would be here forever.” I remember as a teenager believing that very thing: How can the Mob operate on American soil virtually as a sovereign enemy power?

“We prospered because we infiltrated every aspect of society,” explains Michael Franzese, a former Colombo family captain who in 1986 received a 10-year prison sentence. The Mob ran drugs, prostitution, and loan-sharking and dominated legitimate businesses—unions, construction, garbage collection, and more. Hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into Mafia coffers. Prosecutors occasionally locked up mobster “soldiers” but not bosses.

The tide turned in 1979 when Cornell law professor G. Robert Blakey, who had drafted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) years before, taught the FBI how to use the anti-racketeering law. A key (obvious now but apparently not then) was proving the heads of the five largest Mafia families were orchestrating illegal activities (cooperating, in fact), even if they weren’t personally committing the underlying crimes. How to gather evidence? Massive surveillance.

Through grainy video and garbled audio clips, Fear City (rated TV-MA for language and graphic crime scene photos) reconstructs in striking detail several surveillance operations. In one, the FBI discovered it could remotely disrupt and restore cable service, sending an agent disguised as a repairman to bug a Mafia head’s home television set. Another time—to practice installing listening equipment—the FBI purchased a Jaguar sedan identical to one a Mob boss drove. Dismantling the Mob would take equal parts guts, ingenuity, and patience.

A matter-of-fact tone pervades the interviews. Retired goons and G-men mostly say they were just doing their jobs. The ex-mobsters don’t voice remorse, and, except for a few expressions of moral outrage, the former FBI agents seemed to regard their task merely as a chess match, albeit a deadly one. No wonder, then, the entertainment-devouring general public has a distorted picture of mobster criminality.

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