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Saturday, June 28, 2008

- NAMES & FACES - washingtonpost.com

Fashion mogul Kimora Lee Simmons wants only the best for her two daughters with soon-to-be-ex-husband, Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons-- and according to terms of a custody agreement reached yesterday, Ming Lee, 8, and Aoki Lee, 5, are certainly set for a while.

Papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday granted Kimora Lee, 33, sole custody of the girls, allowing their father one week of visitation out of every eight weeks and extra time for summer vacations and holidays, People magazine reports.

Furthermore, Russell Simmons, 50, must pay $20,000 per child per month in child support, which stops when each reaches the age of 19 1/2 -- or until the daughter is married, emancipated, becomes self-supporting, joins the armed forces or stops living with her mother. Once they can drive, he's required to buy or lease a car valued at $60,000 or more for each of the girls . . . once every 24 months.

Kimora Lee, CEO of the Baby Phat clothing line, cited irreconcilable differences when she filed for divorce from Russell in March after nearly 10 years of marriage. She recently said she is "kind of" engaged to her boyfriend, actor Djimon Hounsou.

Now She Tells Us

Almost a decade after the fact, Jennifer Lopez has been served with a subpoena to testify in a lawsuit over a New York City nightclub shooting involving her ex-boyfriend Sean "Diddy" Combs, the New York Post reports.

The subpoena came last week from lawyers for Natania Reuben, a woman who was shot in the face during a Dec. 27, 1999, incident at the now-closed Club New York. Reuben is mounting a $130 million lawsuit against Combs and Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, who both went on trial in 2001 on charges related to the shooting.

Lopez, now 38, was with Combs at the club on the night of the shooting but has never publicly recounted what she saw. She was not called to testify at the 2001 trial, where Combs was acquitted. Barrow was convicted of first-degree assault and other charges and sent to jail for 10 years.

Richardson the Winner

A handful of former Bill Richardson presidential campaign staffers joined attendees of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' Edward R. Roybal gala Thursday night, where their former boss got the night's top honors.


Among the 1,000 or so guests at the Mellon Auditorium were Reps. Joe Baca and Lucille Roybal-Allard, daughter of the late California congressman. After accepting an award for his public service, Richardson (still sporting a well-groomed beard) said that four things stood in the way of his bid to be the Democratic presidential nominee: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, money and votes.

Making the Scene

For a hot and muggy end of the workweek, it was pretty lively around town. Spotted: Sen. Barack Obama (dark blue baseball cap, gray T-shirt, black pants) working out at the Washington Sports Club in Columbia Heights early yesterday morning; started with cardio, then moved toward the weights . . . At Nationals Stadium, a couple of rows behind the home-team dugout, Alberto Gonzales, the seldom-seen former attorney general, with Office of Management and Budget's Clay Johnson, a pal from their Texas days, when George Bush was governor . . . Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas sitting with his two kids at the opening of "The Lion King" at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night . . . Georgetown center Roy Hibbert getting a pedicure while waiting to hear his fate in the NBA draft at Totally Polished in Potomac on Thursday afternoon (he was snapped up by Toronto, likely to head to Indiana) . . . Former Pro Bowl NFL wide receiver and ESPN sports analyst Keyshawn Johnson, with several guests, lunching on tuna tartare and lobster mac-and-cheese at Zola on Thursday.

End Note

Engaged: Uma Thurman and Swiss multimillionaire boyfriend Arpad "Arki" Busson, People reports. The pair have spent much time on separate continents since becoming an item last summer. The wedding will be Thurman's third -- she was married to Gary Oldman until 1992 and has two children with more recent ex Ethan Hawke-- and the first for Busson, who has two sons with former girlfriend Elle Macpherson.

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Timur Bekmambetov on 'Wanted' - Entertainment News, Film News, Media - Variety

The director is in the details.

At the beginning of "Wanted," one of the world's deadliest assassins dents a steel elevator with his heel as he propels himself outside the shaft at supersonic speed before leaping off the skyscraper to another rooftop. While the scene emphasizes the landing, the attention paid to the takeoff reveals what director Timur Bekmambetov is all about.

The Kazakh-born helmer is a stickler for detail. And Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' 2004 graphic novel "Wanted" gave him an adventure with details woven into its fabric. Literally.

"Wanted" follows Wesley Gibson, a panicky 25-year-old accountant living a miserable existence in Chicago with an unfaithful girlfriend and a boss from hell. He leaves that life behind when he's recruited by the Fraternity, an ancient league of supersensory assassins who seek to restore balance to the world by carrying out coded orders woven into the threads of the Loom of Fate.

In 2004, producer Marc Platt ("Legally Blonde") optioned the series of six comic books and lobbied Universal to hire Bekmambetov, whose vampire thrillers "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" were huge hits in Russia. "The comic is dark and edgy but it also has an ironic, comedic tone beneath its violent action," says Platt. "Timur's visual style and unique sensibility seemed compatible with the material."

Bekmambetov sparked to the premise, he says, "because it's a drama pretending to be fantasy. Part of what makes the film unique is its mix of genres. It's a comedy, a tragedy, a drama, a melodrama. Every scene, we change genres and that's why our movie is different."

When Universal expressed reservations about handing a potentially lucrative action franchise to a filmmaker who had never made an English-language film, much less a big-budget Hollywood tentpole, Platt convinced the studio that he could "create an environment that would allow Timur to be himself as a filmmaker and exercise his creative muscles," he says. "We wanted to fit the broad structure of the studio system of filmmaking around Timur to make him more comfortable."

Bekmambetov, an established auteur in Russia, put his faith in Platt; they developed the story together with writers Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and Chris Morgan. Platt pushed the studio to hire the director's Russian visual effects company, Bazelevs.

"Marc was very helpful to me," says the director. "He's the first Hollywood producer I've worked with. Working within another culture, I needed translators, so Marc was like my eyes. It created a good atmosphere to do something unusual and interesting. You always hear stories about how the studio is a monster that imprisons creative people, but that's just a negative stereotype. I had freedom and support and much more resources."

After Angelina Jolie signed on for a $15-million payday as a superstar assassin, the movie was a go. "Angelina was helpful and honestly, this movie happened because of her," says Bekmambetov. "Not only is she beautiful, determined, focused, smart and athletic, but she's also feminine and charming. She was also tough as nails during the creative process."

Platt and Bakmambetov wanted quiet everyman James McAvoy to play Wesley and screen-tested him a year before the studio saw "Atonement," which earned the Scottish actor an Oscar nomination. (This is McAvoy's third go-round with an American accent.) "He brings a reality and truthfulness to the character and to the character's transformation both physically and emotionally," says Platt. "He's not a superstar action hero. He's an everyday guy. And hopefully that makes for a more satisfying journey."

"'Wanted' is about the transformation of Wesley's character," says Bekmambetov. "James told us at the beginning that he would spend a lot of time building himself up. By the time he finished the movie, he was a different person than when he started. He did a lot of the stunt work himself."

The director also quelled his anxiety by importing some of his Russian team, including his costume-designer wife and "Night Watch" star Konstantin Khabensky, who portrays a villain known as the Exterminator. "I cannot make a movie without him," says Bekmambetov. "He's a great actor who brings a lot of energy and charm to the set. He's always making jokes, like a clown, but he's also like a talisman for me."

Universal had initially slated "Wanted" for March release, but decided that the pic was robust enough to take on the summer blockbusters. "Wanted" is also the summer's only hard-R actioner.

The film's distinctive style has brooked comparison to another R-rated summer movie, "The Matrix," bu Platt demurs. "The visual language, style of storytelling, depiction of characters and violence are unique and singular to Timur," he says.

 "Wanted" is "very different" from "The Matrix," insists Bekmambetov. "The foundation of this movie is the drama of the characters and the story. All the genre elements, like curving bullets, flying people, fast cars and the huge train hanging between two rocks, those are all interchangeable. They are just an extension of the drama, a way to present and explore the characters and their special abilities. The story is really about the discovery of truth and finding yourself. The whole movie is ironic -- but that's how I like to do things."

Up next, Platt and Bekmambetov will each produce a movie with roughly the same title. Platt is prepping the Rob Marshall musical "Nine" with Daniel Day-Lewis, while Bekmambetov is a producer on "9," an animated film directed by Shane Acker. Bekmambetov says he isn't yet ready to direct "Twilight Watch," the third and final installment in his franchise. "It was a long time ago, and now I feel it may be difficult to go back. For now I don't know how or when it will happen."

Meanwhile, Bekmambetov and Platt await boxoffice results. They're already talking story on a "Wanted" sequel. "Great characters often yield franchises," says Platt, "because the audience wants to come back and take another ride with them. 'Wanted' is not one of those films you walk out of and don't remember who the director was. You will know when you leave this movie it has been made by Timur Bekmambetov."

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Wall-E | Movie Review | Entertainment Weekly

There's a way to measure how well an animated film takes over your imagination. Do you forget, during the movie, that you're even watching animation? Do the textures and settings, the fantasy-land characters, become — for lack of a better word — real? That, or something close to it, is what happened to me during WALL-E, the puckishly inventive, altogether marvelous new digitally animated feature from Pixar. The movie sets us down in a rusty, postapocalyptic urban desert, all glaring sun and junk-heap skyscrapers, where the only living thing, or at least the only thing that moves, is WALL-E, a cute, squat robot with droopy binocular eyes whose name stands for Waste Allocation Load-Lifter Earth-Class. That's a very fancy way of saying that WALL-E is a roving trash compactor — and, in fact, he's the last of his breed. Hundreds of years after humans fled the earth, he's still doing what he's been built to do, molding scrap metal into bricks and piling them into neat towers.

For a while, WALL-E is nearly wordless, and the director, Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), stages the early scenes with a gentle, unhurried mystery that is unabashedly Spielbergian. He forges a world that's casually amazing in its tactile metallic grandeur. In Toy Story, computer animation perfectly reproduced the waxy sheen of plastic playthings, and here, in a comparable way, you feel as if you could reach out and touch all the metal detritus. As a character, WALL-E is like R2-D2 gone Charlie Chaplin in the land of The Road Warrior. Almost everything he does is something he's been programmed to do, but after centuries he's developed stubborn wisps of individuality, like his penchant for plopping in a scratchy videotape of the 1969 Hollywood version of Hello, Dolly! WALL-E uses several of that film's musical numbers (in particular, the gorgeous ''It Only Takes a Moment'') in a way that's at once tenderly romantic and almost Kubrickishly eerie.

After a while, a spaceship lands, and WALL-E meets EVE, a frictionless white pod with cathode-ray eyes who's been sent to earth to search for organic life. (Her name stands for Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator.) These two don't talk, exactly, but they hold hands and burble each other's names. It's love at first digital bleep. WALL-E is a movie you want to discover, but without giving too much of it away, I'll just say that the early ''silent movie'' section, quietly enticing as it is, is merely the prelude to an eye-boggling future-shock adventure. WALL-E himself is the movie's mascot and unlikely hero; it's up to him to save a spacebound colony of humans who've ''evolved'' into hilariously infantile technology-junkie couch potatoes. Yet even as the movie turns pointedly, and resonantly, satirical, it never loses its heart. I'm not sure I'd trust anyone, kid or adult, who didn't get a bit of a lump in the throat by the end of WALL-E, a film that brings off what the best (and only the best) Pixar films have: It whisks you to another world, then makes it every inch our own. A

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Tomato 'repacking' vexes salmonella trackers

A widespread practice of mixing tomatoes from different farms at produce distribution centers has made it impossible so far to trace the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds, federal regulators said Friday.

Dr. David Acheson, an associate commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, acknowledged that the extent of the practice, known as "repacking," was a surprise to agency investigators, and that it vastly complicates the process of tracing the path of tomatoes from farm to store.

"We are learning that this is a very common practice," said Acheson. "Possibly 90 percent of tomatoes are repacked."

The agency has found, for example, that tomatoes from Mexico have been shipped to Florida, repacked and sold with tomatoes from Florida. Similarly, tomatoes from the United States are sent to Mexico, where they are repacked and shipped to the United States as a product of the United States.

None of these juggled tomatoes has yet been linked to the salmonella outbreak, but the practice illustrates one reason why FDA disease detectives have had no success in tracking the bug back to the farms in Mexico or southern Florida, where they think it may have originated.

"We've got to examine the whole traceability system," Acheson said.

Meeting customer needs

Distributors frequently repack tomatoes to meet the needs of commercial customers, such as restaurant chains, that demand that each box contain vegetables of similar size and ripeness.

Not only does repacking make it harder to figure out where a bad tomato may have been grown, it raises the prospect that consumers who think they are buying produce from one of the many designated "safe" states - California is one of them - may be getting tomatoes comingled with produce from other regions.

No tomatoes grown in California have been implicated in the outbreak, but fear of the bug has spread chaos in the nation's fresh tomato industry.

Acheson said investigators are inspecting warehouses nationwide to see if the repacking process is a source of contamination, which has been going on since April and has spread to 36 states. He acknowledged that tomatoes from suspect regions may have traveled to repacking sheds that handle tomatoes from areas the FDA had declared safe.

Attempts to find sources of vegetable contamination are notoriously difficult, because the product is perishable, tends to be consumed quickly, and seldom has the kind of labeling found in processed foods.

"It is possible that this investigation will not provide a smoking gun that allows us to pinpoint a source," said Acheson. "With repacking built into this as a potential problem, it is obviously important for us to re-examine what we are doing here."

Commingling forbidden

Jay Van Rein, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, insists that this is not likely to be a problem for consumers of California tomatoes, because state law forbids co-mingling when the produce is sold with the state name on the label.

"Almost every California grower wants to add 'California' to their label," he said.

Jim Gorny, executive director of the Postharvest Center at UC Davis - which specializes in the study of produce distribution - said one problem with repacking is a lack of control over what boxes are used when one batch is emptied and another refilled. A box from Florida could easily be refilled with tomatoes from a box from Mexico, and vice versa.

However, he said that because tomato shipments from areas still under suspicion for the salmonella outbreak are being closely monitored, it is unlikely at this point that contaminated tomatoes would reach a repacking plant. "I don't think consumers should be alarmed by this at all," he said.

Disease investigators are puzzled that salmonella cases continue to be recorded long after the harvests have been completed in south Florida and Mexico where the contamination was thought to take place.

"We have no evidence that the outbreak is over," said Dr. Patricia Griffin, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

810 reported sickened

At least 810 Americans have been sickened by the strain Salmonella Saintpaul, which can cause stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, making it the largest recorded outbreak of the illness ever traced to produce.

She also acknowledged that, for every reported case of salmonella, there can be as many as 30 people who recover without a visit to the doctor or whose illnesses go unreported.

The ongoing nature of the outbreak has also caused disease investigators to consider that some other food product or process may be responsible for the salmonella poisoning.

Fresh tomatoes grown this spring in South Florida and Jalisco, Coahuila and Sinaloa, Mexico, remain the primary focus of the investigation, although tests of 1,700 samples so far have turned up no trace of the bug.

"The source of contamination has been ongoing at least through early June. And we don't have any evidence that whatever the source is, it's been removed from the market," Griffin said.

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Virgin Mobile USA

Virgin Mobile to Buy Helio

Virgin Mobile USA is buying Helio, a struggling cellphone carrier that was founded to bring the advanced features of South Korean phones to the U.S. market, for $39 million in stock.

At the same time, British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group and SK Telecom, the South Korean carrier that is the majority owner of Helio, will each invest $25 million in Virgin Mobile. That will give SK Telecom a 17 percent stake in Virgin Mobile.

Helio has 170,000 subscribers, down from nearly 200,000 at the beginning of the year.

Virgin Mobile said it will keep operating Helio's advanced data services and its contract-based service plans. Virgin Mobile's own plans are prepaid and lack contracts. But the Helio brand will probably be phased out, said Dan Schulman, Virgin Mobile's chief executive

XM Offers to Pay Higher Interest

XM Satellite Radio Holdings agreed to quintuple the interest it would pay on $400 million in debt maturing next year to avoid full repayment if the company's sale to Sirius Satellite Radio succeeds.

Aside from the interest rate, terms will remain substantially the same, XM said.

XM, of the District, said investors won't demand that XM buy back the notes at face value if the merger succeeds. The $2.7 billion combination of XM and its smaller rival Sirius is awaiting final regulatory approval.

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Battered by Oil, Dow Touches Bear Territory - NYTimes.com

A brief 155-point slide on Friday afternoon brought the decline in the Dow to 20 percent from its October peak, an ignominious figure that is generally regarded as marking the start of a bear market. The index ended down 107 points, a mere 0.1 percent above the threshold. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has not fallen quite as much.

The eight-month journey has roughly followed the twists of the subprime mortgage crisis, with a significant drop after the Bear Stearns collapse and a tantalizing rally when the economy appeared to recover slightly last month.

But in June, as the price of oil kept rising and the pain in the financial industry showed no signs of easing, the losses gained momentum. Many investors concluded that the economy was in worse shape than they had initially feared. This month, as the price of crude has gained about $13, the Dow has shed more than 1,000 points. The index closed at 11,346.51.

Few of the 30 companies in the Dow industrial index were spared Friday, reflecting growing concern among investors that the ongoing credit squeeze and record energy prices are taking a severe toll on industries throughout the economy. Procter & Gamble fell 2.2 percent. Boeing sank almost 1.9 percent. General Motors, which had plunged to its lowest level in decades on Thursday, eked out a small gain.

“The problem is, right now, things are too simple,” said Brian Gendreau, a strategist at ING Investment Management. “Whether it’s for airlines or automobiles or industry after industry, the market as a whole has become a play on energy, on oil.”

The broader stock market has fared better than the Dow, but only slightly. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, a broader measure of American stocks, fell 0.37 percent on Friday to close at 1,278.38. It is 18.3 percent off its October high.

Entering a bear market is a bleak milestone, if primarily a symbolic one. But it would make official what investors have known for months: The economy is in trouble, with little relief in sight.

Since the Dow reached its record high last October, all but three of the 30 stocks in the index have lost value. The biggest losers are General Motors (down more than 70 percent), Citigroup (down 64 percent) and the American International Group (down 60 percent).

Wal-Mart has gained almost 25 percent. Chevron Corporation and I.B.M. have posted modest gains.

“Three months ago, I could have said, well, we’re in a dual economy,” Mr. Gendreau said. “Some sectors like housing or finance aren’t doing well. Other sectors are doing fine. Now, a lot of those assumptions have been called into question. It’s all been driven by developments in a single commodity market.”

A similar pattern has popped up all over the world, where several central banks have warned about encroaching inflation, primarily as a result of the run-up in energy prices.

Nearly halfway through the year, stock-market investors the world over are nursing losses. Blue-chip indexes in France, Germany and other European countries are down more than 20 percent. Emerging markets in China and Vietnam have lost about half their value.

And there appears to be little on the horizon to stanch the losses.

“We still have worries about high oil prices, worries about inflation, in my mind still questions about the economy,” Richard Sparks, an analyst at Schaeffer’s Investment Research, said. “Even though we’ve seen consumer spending bump up with the retail checks, my question is what happens at the end of next month when there are no stimulus checks coming out any more.”

The last bear market, as measured by the broad S.& P. 500 index, stretched from March 2000 to October 2002. During that time, the S.& P. 500 fell almost 48 percent.

During the 20th century, the stock market went through three great bear runs: 1901-21, 1929-48 and 1965-82. Those periods coincided with geopolitical or economic turbulence — wars, the Depression, stagflation. Of course, all of those periods eventually gave way to great bull markets.

While stock prices have fallen this year, shares still are not all that cheap by historical standards. On Friday, the 500 stocks in the S.& P. 500 traded at an average of 21.2 times those companies’ earnings per share. Since 1990, that price-earnings ratio has averaged 24.3.

The Nasdaq Composite Index, heavily weighted with technology stocks, closed down 0.25 percent, or 5.74 points, at 2,315.63. Treasury bond yields fell, and the dollar weakened against the euro.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose 17/32, to 99 8/32. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction, fell to 3.97 percent, from 4.03 percent.

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Bill Gates bids a teary farewell to Microsoft | Reuters

By Daisuke Wakabayashi

REDMOND, Washington (Reuters) - Bill Gates said a teary goodbye on Friday to Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research), the software maker he built into the world's most valuable technology company based on the ambitious goal of placing a computer on every desk and in every home.

He leaves his full-time executive role at Microsoft, which he co-founded with childhood friend Paul Allen in 1975, to focus on his philanthropic organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest charity, funded in part by his vast fortune.

At an event at Microsoft's headquarters campus here, Gates, who will become a non-executive chairman and work part-time, joined Chief Executive Steve Ballmer on stage to deliver a short speech and field questions from employees.

"There won't be a day in my life that I'm not thinking about Microsoft and the great things that it's doing and wanting to help," said Gates, who wiped away tears as the group of employees rose to give him a standing ovation.

Ballmer, a Harvard University classmate who joined Microsoft at Gates' behest, got choked up as he tried to describe Gates' impact on the company and society at large.

"There's no way to say thanks to Bill. Bill's the founder. Bill's the leader," said Ballmer. "We've been given an enormous, enormous opportunity and it was Bill that gave us this opportunity."

Gates will leave behind a life's work developing software to devote energy to finding new vaccines or to microfinance projects in the developing world. He will still work on special technology projects at the company.

Once the world's richest man, Gates' personal fortune has been estimated at about $58 billion, according to Forbes Magazine. He has slipped to third place, behind investor and good friend Warren Buffett and Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim.
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