Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bye to Barnes & Noble

For the eight years Amy and I have lived in our current neighborhood, we've been spoiled by being within walking distance of the Barnes & Noble at the Westside pavilion (and until recently the Waldenbooks, also at the Westside pavilion). The B & N isn't a monster, like the one at the Grove, but it does have three stories, a cafe, a study space, and a magazine stand. I went to signings there by William Gibson and grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, and saw Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner there. Cousin Tod Goldberg has given talks there.

Now, alas, it is going away. The section of the WP in which it's ensconced is being remade into a movie theatre complex, and B & N is a casualty.

True, there's a nifty Borders up the street, south of Westwood Village (a long walk or short drive away); and another B & N over in Santa Monica, six miles away. But it's not the same.

Reflections on 2005

Since I was born in a year ending with a five (1965, to be exact), years ending with zeros and fives tend to be exceptionally momentous ones for me. This was no exception. Some stuff that happened this year:

-- I turned 40 - and survived.

-- I started -- and amazingly, maintained -- this blog. And survived.

-- My brothers, my cousins Tod Goldberg and Burl Barer, and likely millions of others started blogs too. I commenced communicating with several family members electronically.

-- I had no published (i.e., put in the law books) appellate decisions. That is the first time that has happened since 1999. I hope to have a couple in 2006.

-- I participated in a six-week trial that was written up in the LA Times, the Associated Press, and the local TV and radio news. I used the phrase "roman a clef" in a brief, and it was quoted in a newspaper. (Now I just have to be quoted using the words motif, vis-a-vis, and theme, which will drive Tod Goldberg crazy.)

-- I celebrated eight years of marriage. (Yay!)

-- Amy and I vacationed in Seattle, where we spent lots of time with family members and with our friends Rick and Beverly.

-- We went to several conventions, including an Anime Expo that was Amy's Best. Convention. Ever.

-- We went to several terrific concerts, by folks like U2, David Byrne, Si Se, and the Arcade Fire.

-- I saw a lot of fun movies, including Sin City, Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Good Night and Good Luck, The Ice Harvest, and Howl's Moving Castle.

Let's see what 2006 brings.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Miyazaki Mish-mosh

Some items about the most-recognized Japanese animation filmmaker in the west, Hayao Miyazaki:

-- His studio, Studio Ghibli, has announced its next feature film project, due for release in 2006: Ged Senki: Tales of Earthsea, based on the Earthsea novels written by Oregon writer Ursula K. LeGuin. The movie will be directed by Miyazaki's son, Goro Miyazaki. It's interesting that H. Miyazaki's last film, Howl's Moving Castle, was an adaptation of a fantasy novel by a British author, Diana Wynne Jones; and this project is an adaptation of an American writer's fantasy novel series.

A couple of years ago, Sci-Fi Channel did a live-action Earthsea miniseries, which LeGuin lambasted for several reasons (including that it turned several characters of color into Aryan white folks). It will be interesting to see the Miyazakis' take on it.

-- On Thursdays in January, Turner Classic Movies is running a nine-film salute to Hayao Miyazaki . The occasion is Miyazaki's 60th birthday. The films will include Whisper of the Heart(written by him, and directed by a protege who died shortly after the film was released) and Only Yesterday (produced by him), neither of which is available on domestic video; and My Neighbor Totoro, previously available from Fox, but now being released by Disney with a new dub. The films will be shown both in dubbed versions, and in Japanese with English subtitles.

-- At the Christmas party I attended Sunday at my in-laws' house, I put on a DVD of one of Miyazaki's films from the '90's, Porco Rosso. In short order, it got nearly everyone at the party watching it, from a five year old girl to a man in his '50's. We watched the dubbed version. Disney produced an exceptional dub for the movie, with Michael Keaton playing Porco, Cary Elwes voicing his American rival Donald Curtis, and David Ogden Stiers dubbing aircraft engineer Piccolo. The movie itself is sui generis -- a parody of action films that's also a meditation on middle-aged melancholy, a romance, and a valentine to aircraft, with some of the most stunning flying scenes ever animated.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Honeybaked Hanukkah

Yesterday was the first time Christmas and the first night of Hanukkah coincided since 1959. As a result, I lighted the first candle of Hanukkah at my in-laws' Christmas party -- coincidently, right next to the ham.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Vincent Schiavelli RIP

One of the great character actors of the last couple of decades, Schiavelli was striking as a mental patient in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," one of the Red Lectroids in "Buckaroo Banzai," Patrick Swayze's poltergeist mentor in "Ghost," the voice of Zatarra in "Batman: The Animated Series," Salieri's valet in "Amadeus," and numerous other TV and movie appearancees.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Finding Narnia

We saw two movies about British fantasy this week: We saw The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (the title is almost as long as the movie) at the theatre, and saw Finding Neverland on cable.

The Narnia movie was well-done, but kind of left me cold. Unlike, say, the first Harry Potter movie, or the Lord of the Rings movies, it didn't leave me with a burning desire to consume the Narnia books (and we have a box set in the house). I am glad that they updated the kids' dialogue from the books -- the film may be set in the 40's, but it would still be hard to buy the kids saying, "Oh, do tell us about it!"

Also, the scene where Santa (excuse me, Father Christmas) shows up feels even weirder than it did when that part of the book was read to me as a kid -- particularly since he functions partly like Galadriel in LOTR and partly like Q in the James Bond movies, supplying the kids with their own deadly weapons.

Finding Neverland was soft-focus and certainly sugar-coated, but it was a delight to see. I have a soft spot for movies where audiences are overcome with the power of theatre. One of my favorite scenes in Shakespeare in Love is the one where the audience sees Romeo and Juliet performed for the very first time -- and sits in wide-eyed silence afterward, too overcome even to applaud. Julie Christie has a scene very much like that in this movie.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Holiday Happy

To: The folks who aren't satisfied that Christmas saturates our stores, our airwaves, our streetcorners, our lampposts, our malls, and our brains from late August through January, and are pitching a fit whenever someone utters the greeting "Happy Holidays!"

From: A Jewish man who grew up in a small town where he was the only Jew his age; where there were no bar mitzvahs between his brother's (in 1970) and his (in 1978); where public school teachers admonished him when he declined to sing religious hymns (e.g., "Silent Night") by telling him that they knew plenty of Jews who sang them; where a gym teacher once took him aside and asked, earnestly puzzled, how anyone could not believe Jesus was the Messiah;

I have two words for you:


Monday, December 19, 2005

You Go Back, Jack, and Do it Again

With multiple remakes at the multiplex (King Kong, Fun with Dick and Jane, Zorro -- even Narnia, which has been adapted a couple of times on TV), people grumble at the lack of originality in today's films. While there is some justification to that criticism, I think there's nothing wrong with remaking a classic story, just as a new interpretation of an old play or opera by an innovative director and a new cast can be a new work of art.

People sometimes forget that many of the Hollywood movies that are deemed classics are remakes of stories that had earlier been turned into films -- such as:

-- John Huston's The Maltese Falcon.

-- 1939's The Wizard of Oz (adaptations of Oz are almost as old as film storytelling).

-- Cecille B DeMille's The Ten Commandments.

-- Ben-Hur.

-- The 1940's Thief of Bagdad.

-- The Bela Lugosi Dracula.

The question, of course, is what sort of story can support multiple interpretations.

What contemporary stories will be adapted again and again, like Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, or Agatha Christie's Poirot, or ERB's Tarzan?

Will those who grumble at the story elements left out of the Harry Potter movies see a new adaptation of the novels, with different cast members, ten or twenty years into the future? Imagine a BBC series adapting the novels in slavish detail, with some yet unborn kid playing Harry.

Bush League

I heard the President's press conference this morning, one of a series he's been giving lately in an effort to shore up his falling approval ratings.

Now I recall that back in the 20th Century, a bunch of folks howled for President Clinton's political blood, and actually went through the political upheaval of an impeachment trial (which, in another country, would probably have led to civil war) because Clinton cheated on his wife and then lied about it. True, that was the act of a cad, but hardly a crime of constitutional dimensions.

What then should be the reaction to George W. Bush, who exhorted Congress to pass the Patriot Act (and even now practically calls the senators opposed to it traitors), had the advantage of a FISA court that could deliver search warrants, without a showing of probable cause, in short turnaround, and nevertheless admits to bugging American citizens without a warrant? Who says he's done it multiple times, and will keep doing it as long as America's enemies threaten (i.e., forever)?

Of course, he says he only uses this "program" for short-term eavesdropping, and uses a FISA warrant or the Patriot Act procedure for longer-term wiretaps (what's the definition or short or long-term?); only uses it for known Al-Qaeda members (how do they know?), and only for calls going in and out of the country (i.e., they're getting wire taps within the United States without warrants).

There will always be barbarians at the gate. There will always be reasons to surrender our civil rights for the greater good. Our leaders must remember that are rights are a good chunk of what they are striving to defend.

It's a Yule-Tide!

In an event dubbed "Santarchy," drunk Kiwi Santas go on a rampage in Auckland.

Yeah, I think I had that dream once.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Looking Fine at 99

Today my grandfather, Ed Granek, turned 99. As the photo shows, he probably has several more years ahead of him.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Cruddy Classic

John Jackson Miller, a columnist for the COMIC BUYERS GUIDE, is auctioning off for charity a curio from his collection: a file copy of FANTASTIC FOUR No. 5 (the first appearance of Dr. Doom) from creator Stan Lee's collection, so beat up that the Comics Guarantee Corp. (a company that grades comics, then seals them in plastic slabs -- a controversial practice to those of us who believe comics are for readin') graded it at 0.5 out of ten.

As Miller writes: "This four-color tatterdemalion -- this paralellepiped of history -- this slab full of shreds -- strikes awe and wonderment in all who witness its decaying glory. Alas, no one should own The Ring too long -- and now it comes time to part with it."

At last glance, the bids were up to $406.00.

The Holiday Spirit

DC Comics, which has put out some terrific reprint trade paperbacks this year (see past blog posts), has given fans of Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT a present for the holidays.

Some years ago, DC licensed the rights to reprint Spirit stories from Eisner (who passed away earlier this year); and has been chronologically reprinting the stories from 1940 on in nice, expensive hardbacks -- pretty soon they'll reach the features end from the early '50's, when Wally Wood was drawing the stories over Eisner's layouts and Jules Feiffer was scripting them with Eisner.

But as a treat for those who don't want to shell out a couple thousand for the hard back series, DC has published "The Best of THE SPIRIT," a 14.95 paperback that reprints a whopping 22 stories from throughout the run, as they were meant to be seen -- in color, and on newsprint. Further, despite the inexpensive paper, the color and printing are excellent.

As for the stories, any "Best of" collection will be controversial; but the book does include my two favorite Spirit stories (and therefore two of my all-time favorite comics stories): "Ten Minutes," a tense experimental story co-written by Feiffer and Eisner that takes place in "real time" (complete with a ticking clock as the first panel of each page) , describing the last ten minutes of a man's life; and "The Story of Gerhard Schnobble," a sad, funny and poetic parable about a man who learns as a boy that he can fly; has his talent beaten out of him; and then forgets it until he is middle-aged and suddenly seeks to fly again.

This book is a must-read for anyone who is seriously interested in comics as a storytelling medium; anyone who enjoys film noir or "Saint" type wisecracking adventurers; or anyone who wants to see a master storyteller at the top of his game.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Comic Book Art as Art

On Saturday, Amy and I went to see the Museum of Contemporary Art's half of the Masters of American Comics exhibit running in LA through March. (MOCA is running comic book art from the latter half of the 20th Century; the Hammer Museum in Westwood is running comic strip art from the beginning of the 20th Century on.) The creators (all of them were writer-artists) displayed were Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Crumb, Gary Panter, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware. The fact that I just typed those names from memory shows that I brought something to the exhibit that most of the attendees probably didn't.

I can only guess how someone not familiar with these creators would view the show and what it was communicating. I had already seen much of this work (particularly Eisner's and Kirby's) in printed form; to me, my favorite part of the exhibition was the rare chance to see original comics pages (some from the 40's!) taken out of private collectors' hands and put on display. For instance, there were three complete seven-page Spirit stories by Eisner displayed on the wall and in a showcase -- all from the mid-to-late forties, when he returned from the war full of ideas, grabbed a bunch of assistants, and took his already-impressive comics feature to a level of artistry that has seldom been equaled. One story on the wall, "Stop the Plot," casually pulled off tricks of storytelling (you see an outdoor snow-covered stairway and a huge snowball at the bottom; you immediately know that in the time it took you to move to this page, two characters have been struggling with each other and rolled down the staircase); light and shadow (in the snow, the details of a tenement stoop are shown by just a few select blobs of black and deft feathering); and even special effects (a face is grotesquely reflected in the crystal of an alarm clock -- just before the clock explodes) that most comics creators would sell their first-born to master.

Following the natural progression of the exhibition, one could follow some logical progression: Eisner's creative storytelling and pacing flowed into Kirby's clean-cut dynamicism and abstraction; that segued into Kurtzman's characature and manic energy in his '40's comic strips, his work on the early issues of MAD, his EC war and science fiction stories, and his collaboration on Playboy's LITTLE ANNIE FANNIE; Kurtzman obviously influenced Crumb, with his counter-culture wallowing in scatalogical territory never before seen in comics; that spirit was alive in Panter's raw, depressing social satires and Spiegelman's talky, artsy, New-York-Intellectual comics; and finally, the work of the youngest creator there, Ware, who combines insane draughtmanship, a sense of history, the downbeat realism of Crumb's and Spiegelman's work, and the smart-ass satire of Kurtzman into his dreamlike stream-of-culture creations.

The choice of works also highlighted connections between the artists. An Eisner Spirit story parodied various comic strips. One of Spiegelman's stories recounted his presentation to a class taught by Kurtzman that was all about Kurtzman's contribution to comics history. Several of Kurtzman's MAD satires of comic strips and books were displayed.

My major criticism of the show was that the descriptions of the work downplayed the creators' collaborators. One might understand the failure to mention Eisner's many assistants, but it made little sense to ignore not only scriptor Stan Lee's contributions to Kirby's Marvel work, but also the various inkers he worked with, who had such an influence on his work. And in regard to Kurtzman's work, pages were credited only to him when in fact he only did thumbnail layouts for them, and other artists such as Bill Elder or Wally Wood not only did the actual pencils and inks but even signed them.

Overall, it was a terrific Saturday afternoon. I'm looking forward to seeing the other half of the exhibit.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Richard Pryor and Eugene McCarthy, R.I.P.

Yesterday, Richard Pryor died of a heart attack, and former senator Eugene McCarthy succumbed in his sleep. I was a toddler during the 1968 presidential election (the first election that I actually recall was the 1972 one, when I was seven), so McCarthy's passing didn't really have as much of an impact on me as Pryor's.

In the late '70's and early '80's, Pryor dominated cable television with his comedies "Silver Streak" and "Stir Crazy," and particularly his "Richard Pryor -- Live in Concert" film. The latter had me rolling on the floor with laughter, tears in my eyes, as Pryor narrated and acted out the ballet of Muhammed Ali boxing, or how a guy being mugged will suddenly turn into "Mah-cho Man!" and then usually transform into "Dead Motherf*****er." Then there was the wonderful Saturday Night Live skit (which I had on a comedy record) in which Chevy Chase interviewed Pryor's character for a job, and played a "word association" game that turned into a rapidly escalating battle of racial epithets -- one Pryor decisively won when Chase uttered the "N" bomb, and Pryor responded with, "Deeead Honkey." And of course, Pryor helped shaped the comedic world of the '70's with the script to "Blazing Saddles" that he co-wrote with Mel Brooks.

Pryor's career melted down in the late '80's, with his freebasing "accident" (later revealed as a suicide attempt) and his health problems. But he definitely cemented his place in comedy history.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I'm Sure Bruce Wayne Will Pick Up a Half-Dozen

Volkswagen has unleashed the Bugatti Veyron, the fastest and most expensive production car in history. Not only does it look like a Batmobile, but it performs like one too: It goes from zero to 200 mph in 20 seconds, and reaches 253 mph in 53 seconds. (After traveling at that rate, it runs out of gas in 12 minutes; a necessary safety feature, since the tires start to soften after half an hour). And it costs a mere one-and-a-quarter-million. I'm sure it will take up a stall in many a man's fantasy garage.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Do You Know the Way . . . .?

The first city I ever visited in California (29 years ago!) was San Jose, and the first airport I ever landed at (my first plane ride) was San Jose airport. On Monday, I made a return visit to that airposrt, for an argument at the Sixth District Court of Appeal (which is on the 10th floor of the CoAmerica building downtown). Didn't get to see much of the town; at around 8 pm I took a cab from the airport to the Hotel De Anza, did lots of cramming for the argument for the rest of the evening; woke at 6, worked out, did the breakfast buffet, crammed some more, packed up, then crossed the street and argued. I finished at 10 minutes to 11 am, and flew out of town at 11:50 am. Yep, just 15 hours in Silicon Valley. Oh, and I headed to the office and put in a full day there. Whee.

Monday, December 05, 2005

X-3 Marks the Spot

20th Century Fox has put a teaser trailer online for the third X-Men movie. Despite the departure of Bryan Singer as director, it looks pretty damn amazing. Uncanny, even.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Rich and Fictional has posted its list of the 15 richest fictional characters. Surprisingly, Bruce Wayne is only 8th on the list, between '60's sitcom tycoons Jed Clampett and Thurston Howell III. Fellow comics billionaires Daddy Warbucks (#2), Richie Rich (#3), Lex Luthor (#4), and Uncle Scrooge McDuck (#6) all outrank the Dark Knight Detective. Even the Simpson's C. Montgomery Burns has a higher bottom line than the Gotham Guardian. Still, I bet few of them could fund an entire orbiting headquarters for the Justice League and conceal it as a "line item" on his privately-held corporation's budget (as Wayne did in the "Justice League" animated series.)

Bling Tut

If the term "bling" ever had any street cred, that cred has fled. According to today's LA Times, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is promoting the King Tut Exhibit traveling to it from LA (where Amy saw it a couple of weeks ago) by calling him "the original King of Bling."

Of course, those of us who were sentient in the '70's remember when Tut was "born in Babylonia, had a condo made of stone-a."

Father stuff

Dad and Regina visited us yesterday. Dad and I watched the UCLA-USC game, and Dad marveled at the picture on our Sony HDTV as USC pounded my alma mater into guacamole, 66-19. (The UCLA score only ventured into double digits because UCLA scored a couple of touchdowns in the last two quarters.) I don't follow football, but Reggie Bush's prowess was evident even to the college-athletics-challenged like me. Mr. Bush apparently needs reminders that there is an opposing team on the field, since he tends to dash down the gridiron as if the guys desperately trying to tackle him didn't exist. He even bounded over the head of one Bruin yesterday a couple of times, in two different quarters, without breaking stride. (The above photos are from the LA Times.)

We all later had dinner with family friend Aaron Epstein at La Serenata Gourmet, one of our favorite restaurants in the area. We are blessed to live in a neighborhood with numerous eateries of various ethnicities and levels of sophistication.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Words are Weapons, Sharper than Knives

Words are tools; and like any tools, they can be dangerous if you use them without knowing what you're doing.

The Orange County Register today had a column from Frank Mikadeit describing a flyer that a self-described "conservative Republican" and "traditional Christian" in Texas had printed and sent to about 70,000 households behind the Orange Curtain, supporting a local anti-illegal-immigration candidate for congress. The headline on the flyer was, "Warning: A Vote for Lying Scumbag John Campbell is Hazardous to Your State and County" (emphasis in original)."

Mikadeit telephoned the Texan who issued this charming message, and discovered that the gentleman was purportedly unaware that a "scumbag" is a used condom. The Texan noted that dictionaries list the word as denoting a "despicable person," as indeed many do. Nevertheless, his ignorance of the source of the epithet not only made him a laughingstock in a prominent newspaper, but also embarassed the candidate he touted (who stated he would apologize to his opponent, even though the candidate had nothing to do with the mailing).

A worse fate befell the unnamed subject of an anecdote from an employment discrimination seminar I attended a couple of months ago. A white supervisor, in an effort to sound "hip," decided to emulate that well-known polyglot Snoop Dogg, and respond to a question from his employee by riposting, "F'r shizzle, my nizzle." The employee was African-American. One lawsuit later, the supervisor learned that "nizzle" was a variation on another word with the same number of letters that also begins with "ni" -- one generally not used in polite company. Oops.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Animated Writers and Deceased Bears

The LA Times today has a fun article about literati Tom Wolfe, Michael Chabon and Johnathan Franzen lending their voices to "The Simpsons" -- which, sniffs Wolfe, "is the only show of any sort that I watch on television[.]" Incidently, Chabon has been the toast of Comic-Con International: San Diego for the last few years as a high-profile comics fan, based on his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which I loved), his script for Spider-Man 2, and his various comic book projects since.

Meanwhile, in sadder news, cartoonist and children's author Stan Berenstain has passed away. He and his wife Jan were best known for their "Berenstain Bears" books. A pity. The world can always use more cartoon bears.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The December 12, 2005 issue of Fortune Magazine has an interesting article about the business side of translating anime and manga -- though it's largely a puff piece about one company, Texas's ADV.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Another Scrabble Game

Smudge pores over the Scrabble board, contemplating his next move.

Loscon Highlights

On Friday through Sunday, Amy and I attended Loscon, a long-running science fiction convention held near LAX. Some highlights:

-- A photo with me, Allison, Janine Young, Doselle Young, Alan Williams, Tanya Williams, and Kory.

-- A scrabble game Saturday night between me, Amy, and fellow attendees Donny and Jon.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Something to Be Thankful For: Smudge is a Good Kitty

I didn't grow up with cats. My mom was allergic to felines. We did have a dog for a couple of years in the early '70's, until he got too big for the back yard. (I was told he was taken out to a farm to live. Dad recently informed me that he actually was taken out to a farm to live.)

In 1994, when I began dating Amy, I first made the acquaintance of Amy's (or Amy's mom's) cat, Smudge. Smudge lived with Amy and her mom onthe Palos Verdes Peninsula. On one of my trips there, I was sitting outside when Smudge marched up to me, decided I was okay, and sat in my lap -- which is generally a way to get on my good side.

In 1997, when Amy and I got married and we bought our house, Amy brought Smudge and his brother, Goldie, to the house. Initially, Amy was thinking of giving away Smudge, since he had a habit of fighting with other cats; but I warmed to the kitty and asked that we keep him.

Living with Goldie, Smudge, and the other cats who took up residence at our house, I was exposed to the varied personalities of cats, which I previously believed was mere hyperbole promulgated by cat afficionados. Smudge started out rather pugnacious, but has mellowed as time went on. When Goldie passed away last year, Smudge became measurably more affectionate toward people. He used to hide under the bed when guests came over; now he's quite willing to venture out and be stroked by complete strangers. Recently, he's developed the habit of walking over to us and tugging on our pantslegs when he wants to be picked up, stroked, or just paid attention.

Smudge has had some health scares. He takes regular medication; lost a lot of weight a few years ago as he became more finicky about his food; and was on a periodic IV of ringers solution for a while. Nevertheless, he has made it to the advanced age of 19 years old.

Unfortunately, Smudge's long life will probably soon end. In September, he was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his head. We are therefore just making Smudge as happy and comfortable as we can during his last months of life. And indeed, he still purrs readily when stroked (or even just when he's sitting with Amy and me). He still leaps up onto the bed, when he's able -- sometimes he needs a boost. And he's still a good kitty.

Something For Which I'm Not Thankful

We've received notice that next year our area code (310) is going to have an overlay. That means that new phone numbers in our area will be assigned a different area code. It also means that we will have to dial the area codes for all numbers we call -- including calls in our area code. If I want to call down the street, I'll have to dial the area code. We'll also have to reprogram all of our programmed numbers for our cell phones, etc. The price of progress.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lifesaving Disclaimers

Last night, I took a class in Infant/child CPR at the neighborhood Red Cross. My previous CPR class was back in 1979. A few things have changed: the instructer started out the class by telling us about the Good Samaritan law in California and other states; and the instructions for life-saving included always asking the victim (or if the victim's a child, the parent or guardian) for consent before heimliching or rescue-breathing them. Liability before lifesaving . . . .

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Ink about Graphic Novels

Today's LA Times Book Review features a review of Harvey Pekar's new graphic novel "The Quitter", and of an omnibus reprint of the late Will Eisner's graphic novels "A Contract with God" (1970's), "A Life Force" (1980's), and "Dropsie Avenue" (1990's). This follows up the Times' Weekend Section cover story on comics, printed on Thursday. Fortunately, none of this strays into "Zap! Pow! Comics for Adults!" territory.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Big(ger) in Japan

When I started receiving the new, large-format TV Guide in the mail, I thought it looked familiar. So I compared it to the issue of TV Guide I picked up in Tokyo last year when we were touring Japan. The Japanese TV Guide is larger, and the layout isn't identical (after all, the Japanese edition is based on the right-to-left and top-to-bottom flows of Japanese writing), but I wonder whether the Japanese edition was a major influence on the American re-design.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Goblet of Fire Party

Okay, so this is how it happened. We got an e-mail from the downtown Santa Monica Harry Potter tchotchke store, Whimsic Alley: The store was throwing a party for the release of the latest HP movie. The party would begin at eight, and for a fairly low sum per person, you got a catered party, a bag of party favors, a ride in a rented double-decker bus to the Third Street Promenade, and tickets to the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the Mann Criterion. Sounds like a good deal. One catch: costumes are mandatory.

Now, I'm really not the type who attends movie premieres (or even walks around conventions) in costumes. Really. But just for costume parties, I have in my closet a Regency-style coat and puffy shirt (straight out of Seinfeld) that I figure will suffice. After all, it'll just be a few folks who want to be up until after 3 am on a work night.

Little did I know that Stan, the owner of Whimsic Alley, put out a press release; and the press has come. There's CNN, and news photogs; and wonder of wonders, they want to take pictures of me and Amy, and interview me. I suppose I could have said no; but I was caught up in the moment.

So if the footage of me gets broadcast, and I become a laughing stock, I suppose I've only myself to blame.

Big props to Whimsic Alley for putting together a magical night. Photos below.

The Goblet of Fire party at Whimsic Alley. Posted by Picasa

Slugging down Pumpkin Ale. Posted by Picasa

More magical folks chow down at Whimsic Alley. Posted by Picasa

A dead ringer for Harry. He says that when he's in the costume, kids ask him for autographs. Posted by Picasa

The double-decker bus that drove us over to the theatre (about a two-mile trip). Posted by Picasa

Amy and me atop the double-decker bus, as downtown Santa Monica rushes by behind us. Posted by Picasa

Folks posing at the theatre. Posted by Picasa

The host for the evening, Stan. Posted by Picasa

Us, at the theatre. Posted by Picasa

Stan makes sure everyone is having an enchanting evening. Posted by Picasa

Audience members get photos taken with the costumed folk in the theatre.

Harry Potter and the Hormones of Fire

We saw a midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (and yes, I've only had a few hours' sleep, so please excuse any grammatical weirdness). It was a fun and well-publicized affair -- I'll post photos soon; and you may catch me on CNN on Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, the movie: I thought it was the best yet. In no small part, that's due to child actors who have grown to the point where they can do some serious acting; and a director who is adept at working with human beings and making them believable as human beings. The director and screenwriter also deserve massive credit for hewing a taught, exciting two-and-a-half-hour thriller out of what was perhaps J.K. Rowling's most rambling narrative. In the process, the movie makers of necessity sliced out huge slabs of the story (there are parts of the Potter mythos that may just never show up on screen), but the film is still awash in elements of the Potter story that will dominate the next two books: Death Eaters, Dark Marks, the Nuremburg-like trials of Voldemort's followers, the unforgiveable curses. And most of all, the kids are definitely hitting the maelstroms of adolescents. The critics who cheered the adolescence metaphors of the previous film are going to be amazed with this one, where Hermione can complain that her new boyfriend is more "physical" than loquacious, and Harry can respond with a smirk.

The one discordant element was the depiction of Dumbledore. Although Michael Gambon is still a delightful actor to watch, the director has turned the supernally even-keeled headmaster into a high-strung chap given to shouting and even pushing Harry backwards into a glass case.

Anyway, I predict this is going to make another bushelful of money for all concerned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Republican Superheroes and Hobbits

Tomorrow's Los Angeles Times features a dandy article about comics and graphic novels for the uninitiated. But today's edition featured one of those op-ed pieces that makes me stop and shake my head -- in disgust, amazement, or equal parts of both.

Brian C. Anderson, author of something called "South Park Conservatives," has written this piece of creative revisionism, in which he asserts that the current downward trend of Hollywood box office is based on appeal to "liberal elites"; and characterizes recent blockbusters as "right-friendly." His four examples are SPIDER-MAN 2, THE INCREDIBLES, the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

PASSION is a gimme, true, but one can only buy his argument about the others if you accept his swiss-cheese premise that only right-wing folks care about families, doing the right thing, and helping others. He disregards a couple decades of long-haired folk wearing "Frodo Lives" t-shirts when he asserts that the LOTR trilogy's "martial values were long jeered at by liberal Hollywood — values that underline the need to stand up with massive military force to totalitarian evil." In addition to the family values in THE INCREDIBLES, he derives a "master race" theme from it that pleases him: "The defense of excellence (and frustration with the politically correct war against it) is a central theme of 'The Incredibles.'"

And his characterization of Spider-Man as a red-stater is simply beyond the pale. He calls a doctor who tells Spider-Man he has choices an "aging hippy." (God forbid anyone should have free will!) Trumpeting Peter's decision to take up the webby mantle again, he comments, "The movie's message is exactly contrary to the 'just do it' ethos of liberalism and the 1960s: Sometimes you have to do your duty." Seems to me that the ethos of the '60's was more, "Ask not what your country can do for you . . . "

Now, Spider-Man was created by writer Stan Lee and plotter-artist Steve Ditko. Ditko was and is not only conservative, but a dyed-in-the-wool Ayn Rand individualist -- as anyone who has read his "Mr. A" and "The Question" comics can attest. Lee is more of a middle-of-the-road type, equally at home writing the ultra-conservative Iron Man (defending industry from savage communists in armor) and the ultra-liberal Silver Surfer. But if Peter Parker's politics were pinned down, I'd characterize him more in the bleeding-heart camp than the Karl Rove domain. And certainly, the writers who came after Lee tended to be the aging-hippy type.

But ultimately, Spidey isn't left-wing or right-wing. He's a hero. And there's both red and blue in his costume.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Comcast: Spoilsport

This afternoon, I finished watching Wednesday's episode of Lost. (I managed to miss most of the first season, but through the magic of DVR I've been keeping up with this season, even though it runs opposide Veronica Mars.) It had a surprise-twist ending -- but it wasn't a surprise to me. My Internet service provider. Comcast, put a headline revealing just that plot twist on its homepage -- the homepage that loads every time I sign onto the Web. Further, it posted that headline mere minutes after the episode finished on the west coast. (For that matter, it may have been up earlier -- that's just when I saw it.)

Now, the LA Times ran a story about the same spoiler (complete with a photo of the character involved) on Friday, but with a newspaper article one can glance at the headline and choose to skip the story. (If you don't want to skip the Times story, here it is.) Not so with a headline that pops up as soon as you click the Internet Explorer article.

Boo to Comcast, for failing to realize that TV viewers time-shift -- something they've been doing since Betamaxes were introduced nearly 30 years ago.

Speaking of Lost, either the caption-writer or the copy-editor of the LA Times seems a bit lost: In a story about DVD box sets in the front section of today's paper, a photo caption (click on the caption that reads, "Success Found") refers to the first season of Lost as "ratings challenged"; and contends that the box set resulted in the second season's huge ratings. Does being in the Top Ten shows (and sometimes at the top of that list) every week really constitute being "ratings challenged?" A review of the article shows that the reporter was actually referring to Alias as ratings-challenged. Still, considering Lost was a phenomenon of the 2004-2005 season -- one of the most, if not the most, successful SF/Fantasy series ever --you have to wonder how a writer or even a typesetter could make that mistake.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Serious Words about Funny Books

A couple of Los Angeles museum exhibits about comic book/strip art -- at the Hammer and the Museum of Contemporary Art -- have resulted in some positive press in the L.A. Times that goes far beyond the usual "Zap! Pow! Comics Aren't Just for Kids!" stories seen in newspapers.

Today, the Times Calendar Section featured a nicely-illustrated story about critical favorites Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, and R. Crumb. (Unfortunately, the online version omits the illustrations.)

And on Wednesday, the Kid's Page sidebar had a story about Jack Kirby, illustrated with the cover to Fantastic Four #50. Considering that most kids these days probably grow to adulthood without seeing a comic book (despite being inundated with comic-book heroes in movies, videogames, and animated cartoons), this is a nice hook to try to get the rugrats to pick one up. One problem: They probably won't find a contemporary comic with art as gorgeous as Kirby's jump-off-the-page cover to FF # 50. (From the early '60's on, Stan Lee, never one for modesty, put the masthead "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" on Fantastic Four covers -- and during the period that Lee and Kirby were at their peak on the title, from about 1963 to 1969, few would dispute that boast.) Nor will they find one at the 1996 price of 12 cents -- now that the cheapest comics sell for $2.95.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tortured Thoughts

Oh, for the halcyon days when the US Government at least said that it did not assassinate people and that it viewed torture as an abomination.

The assassination thing went out the window after 9/11, when the US sent killer flying robots (excuse me -- unmanned drones) to try to take out Bin Laden and Saddam. Now, with the Senate passing (90-9) an anti-torture bill, sponsored by John McCain (who, unfortunately, knows about torture, since he was tortured as a POW), Dick Cheney (who as far as I know hasn't been tortured or been a POW, but who got arrested a few times in his twenties) went in and asked that the CIA be exempted from the bill. Further, the White House (excuse me -- Cheney, via Bush) is threatening to veto the bill, even as Bush protests that the US doesn't torture anyone.

Now, it seems to me that banning torture is a pretty good idea, and the White House asking for the right to torture is a pretty bad one, for various reasons:

-- The nations that torture folks as a policy are usually the ones that the US Government boycotts (or tries to depose).

-- Torture is morally wrong.

-- State-sponsored, state-conducted, and even state-condoned torture does not make the US a shining example that other nations want to emulate.

-- Torture as a means of getting information seems based on the questionable premise that if you hurt someone, he will tell you the truth (as opposed to telling you whatever he thinks you want to hear, so that you'll stop hurting him).

-- If we abandon the Geneva Convention and torture "enemy combatants," we put Americans -- including military personnel -- in greater danger of the same treatment if captured.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Good Night, and Good Movie

I saw GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK tonight, and found it to be a gripping , spare, and beautifully-photographed movie. It's certainly timely, too; when people, in archival footage, criticized charges brought on "hearsay and rumor," it seemed almost quaint. The movie also featured nice bits of irony for the present-day audience -- such as advertisers using Murrow's name and integrity to tout Kent cigarettes, twelve years before cigarettes killed Murrow.

I was left with two questions, however:

1. Why was Technicolor's logo in the closing credits? It was a black-and-white movie.

2. The movie was rated "PG" for "thematic elements." Since when do freedom and attacks on the misuse of power require Parental Guidance?

The Siren Call of Caffeine

Here's a fun story I found about the evolution of the Starbucks logo siren, from naughty to family-friendly.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bring Me a Dream . . .

The official Website for the third Spider-Man Movie has posted this picture of Thomas Hayden Church from the film, playing Flint Marko, and showing that striped green T-shirts and brown slacks didn't go out of style in 1963. He's even got that weird curly hair that Steve Ditko used to draw (and which the filmmakers ditched when it came to depicting Harry and Norman Osborn in the first two films). The site asks us to guess which villain he is -- but anyone who has read a Spider-Man comic book, or seen the cartoons, or drank from a Marvel Slurpee cup, in the last 43 years can probably answer that question.

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Calle Vista Coffee

This coffee house on the corner of National and Sepulveda in West LA (in the same strip mall as Hamburger Habit and Baja Bud's) has recently gone from pay wi-fi to free wi-fi with purchase.

Positives: Good wi-fi connection, some comfortable chairs, electrical outlets (some work, some don't), and pretty good panini.

Negatives: The coffee drinks, tea drinks, and boba are pretty mediocre. The service is ideosyncratic; the counter folks often disappear for long stretches of time, and you have to yell for them.

Harry Potter and the Clips of Fire

For those who want a taste of the movie, which is coming out in two weeks, here's 13 clips from it. Looking good.


The real-life sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean appears to be Pirates of the Somalian Coast.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Dreams Can Come True, It Can Happen to You

Here's a story from the L.A. Times about a magical experience for a young band that U2 brought up on stage to play at the sold-out Staples Center -- and Amy and I were there Tuesday to see it. Frankly, until I read the story, I thought that the whole thing was a set-up and that the band, Exit, was a plant, since they sounded too good to really be a band U2 pulled out of the audience. But turns out it was on the up-and-up. As Bono said at the concert, "L.A. has a history of great girl bands."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How Long, How Long Will We Hear This Song . . .

Back in 1987, in my first year of law school (Hastings, in San Francisco), a friend told me that U2 was playing a free show in the Embarcadero. Since everything is within walking distance of everything else in downtown SF, I hoofed it over to the Embarcadero, and waited for about an hour past noon for the concert to start. (I had a break between classes, and this was more fun than studying.) Eventually, U2 popped out, I watched them perform "People Get Ready" (about which Bono said, "Curtis Mayfield co-wrote this song with God. All the best songs were co-written by God.") and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" before I had to catch the subway back to the Tenderloin for civil procedure class. I therefore missed the infamous moment -- captured on the film being shot during the concert, U2: Rattle & Hum -- when Bono climbed the ugly sculpture and spray-painted graphitti on it.

Could I have anticipated on that San Francisco afternoon that 18 years later I'd be watching U2 perform a spectacular show at the Staples Center, as I did yesterday? Well, maybe. After all, even in the mid-eighties we were treated to the spectacle of folks like The Who, The Stones, and the surviving Beatles continuing to perform long after their youth had wafted away. Rock and Rollers may hope they die before they get old; but if they survive, they keep on rocking.

Anyway, Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry put on a hell of a show, one of the best concerts I've ever been to. The lighting effects and stage design alone were stunning. And watching them, you realize that no one sings quite like Bono, no one plays a guitar that sounds exactly like The Edge, and Larry's drumming is unique. (As for Adam, most bass players sound about the same.)

Monday, October 31, 2005


Hallowe'en time again. Amy put up the decorations. My contribution was the skull-carved pumpkin on the right. Patterns are wonderful. Posted by Picasa

Our Hallowe'en decorations paled in comparison to the folks in our vicinity who built this pirate ship on their front lawn! Posted by Picasa

The Pirate Ship in our neighborhood, after dark (with lots of photo alteration going on to brighten it up). Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Moon is Full

Another minor, whiny annoyance. Yesterday, I was getting a boba milk tea at a shop in West L.A., and both of the young ladies behind the counter were wearing "low-riser" jeans. I suppose they were trying to look sexy, trendy, or cute; but all I could think was that these women were serving me food with their tuchuses hanging out. Not appetizing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Fiddling While Rove Burns

Today, the Los Angeles Times published at least 14 different features (including stories, sidebars, and political cartoons) about the "Scooter" Libby (wasn't he one of the "Blue Blaze Irregulars" in Buckaroo Banzai?) indictment. True, it's a big story, but I wonder if it's big enough to warrant exploring from every conceivable angle. This scandal won't bring down the Bush administration, any more than the various scandals in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton presidencies brought down those administrations. The only scandal in the last few decades that actually destroyed a president was Watergate.

I suspect that journalists are especially enamored with this story because journalists play such a key part in it. Nothing like doing a story about your colleagues.


The Los Angeles Times has printed this astounding account by one of the McMartin child witnesses about how -- according to him -- investigators and other adults (including his parents) pressured him into making up allegations against the McMartin defendants. Something like this just leaves you wondering: What is the truth, and what is the lie?

Simply Allred

My candidate for my favorite comic book this year (so far) is DC Comics' SOLO issue 7, written and drawn by rock musician, independent filmmaker, and comic book maker Michael Allred. This issue is Allred's love letter to the DC comics he loved as a kid in the sixties and seventies. He is the perfect artist to draw tributes to and satires of this era. His work is like good rock music: a little nostalgia, a little cutting edge, a little slick, a little rude.

The issue includes fun little stories, like one where golden-age superhero Hourman takes his Miraclo pill, which gives him super-powers for an hour; responds to a false alarm; and then, like a crank addict, frantically burns off the extra energy the pills gave him -- painting a house in two minutes, delivering a pizza in 10 seconds, heading to the gym and juggling three guys with his feet. Another crazy story (bottom) features the two most self-consciously "hip" series of the sixties, the Doom Patrol and the Teen Titans, in a hilarious generation-gap riot that manages to squeeze in scores of minor characters (in both age and magnitude).

The standout feature, however, is a dark tale of Batman and Robin (top right), in which the hermetic, perfectly-ordered world of the sixties Batman TV series is invaded by the "relevance" that would dominate comics in the seventies. "Real life" concerns interrupt the hero-villian dance, with Commissioner Gordon deriding Batman as irrelevant while he and Chief O'Hara head off to quell a race riot. As Alfred frets in the story, "Why is it the good things are never 'real life,' only the bad?"

The only negative aspect of this comic is the price: $4.99 is way too much for a comic, even one with pretty printing and no ads.

All of the above images are copyrighted 2005 by DC Comics.