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Entertainment news for the week of Dec. 5

”Meet Joe Black,” Meg Ryan, and chihuahuas are in the news this week

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BLACK AND BLUE Death stops for no one — not even irate neighbors armed with court papers. Universal’s Meet Joe Black, inspired by 1934’s Death Takes a Holiday, with Brad Pitt playing the grim reaper, recently finished filming — no small feat, given the three different legal motions that attempted to stop the production during its four-month shoot. In Warwick, R.I., last August, the studio had to fend off an unnecessary-noise complaint by temporarily relocating a local family; in September, a Rhode Island judge gave Black a 1 a.m. curfew after residents filed another noise complaint; and when filming moved to Brooklyn, a state assemblyman tried to file an injunction against Black because of the noise and traffic caused by the production (no ruling was made, and filming continued). While it’s not uncommon for location shoots to upset the neighbors, it is rare for such complaints to lead to actual legal tussles. Neither Universal nor Black‘s producers will comment, but Pitt shrugs off the grievances with black humor: ”I guess it was all that Soundgarden I was listening to.”
— Casey Davidson and Anna Holmes

DOG DAYS Madison Avenue’s new big deal is a small dog. Seems like everywhere you look, there’s a Chihuahua staring back. The tiny pooches have recently been seen scooting forward on a console in a Nissan spot, shivering in a Sunbeam electric-blanket commercial, dressed with biker chains in Levi’s silverTab jeans ads, and strutting down a street in a standout Taco Bell promo. Why are these diminutive dogs suddenly looming large? ”Public cynicism has peaked,” says Sean Mullens, art director of Foote, Cone & Belding, the agency that created Levi’s ads. ”Consumers are unwilling to buy into a perfect world of beautiful people, so advertising is responding — with Chihuahuas.” The newfound popularity of the breed also reflects the triumph of the underdog — or the underweight dog. ”I once saw a Chihuahua motoring down the street going after what he wanted, and he didn’t care that he was three pounds,” says creative director Chuck Bennett of TBWA Chiat/Day, maker of Taco Bell’s spot. ”Chihuahuas show that the little guy is cool.”
— Coeli Carr

ETC. To hear Meg Ryan tell it, the reason she agreed to star in Nora Ephron’s You Have Mail, an update of 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner, was costar Tom Hanks. ”I’m looking forward to working with Tom for the first time,” says Ryan. But Ryan has worked with Hanks. Twice. ”I feel like I’ve never worked with him,” she explains. ”I played three wackos in Joe Versus the Volcano, and in Sleepless in Seattle we had two scenes together. We’re amazed when people talk about our chemistry.”
—Cindy Pearlman