Thursday, June 30, 2005

Now and Then

Here's an odd contrast: A photo of long haired, bearded Danny from 1983 (18) and another of short haired, bearded Danny from 2005 (40).

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Arcade Fire Byrnes

On Sunday I was treated to a fantastic concert experience. Literally treated: It was the first installment of my 40th birthday present from my wife.

For my birthday, Amy gave me a subscription to the World Music programs playing at the Hollywood Bowl this summer with terrace-level boxes, no less. This Sunday was the first concert in the series, just two nights after the Bowl's season kicked off.

The box was a delightful luxury. My past experiences with the Bowl had been confined to the hard benches near the back of the bowl that grow increasingly uncomfortable as the night wears on and the air grows colder. The box, on the other hand, features moveable (and quite comfortable) canvas chairs and tables that fold out from either side. The two men who shared the box with us were just finishing their dinner when we showed up, a half-hour before the 7 pm showtime. We spread a tablecloth on our table, and hauled out Amy's baked chicken, cantaloupe, cheese, and a bottle of Coppola Sauvignon Blanc. As the concert began, we gradually drained the bottle. That, my friend, is the way to enjoy a concert.

The first act on the bill was a band from New York called Si*Se ('). They set a relaxed yet eclectic pace for the night with a shimmering summer samba sound, mixed with rock guitar and a silky-voiced lead vocalist reminiscent of Sade (albeit with Latin overtones).

Next was The Arcade Fire (, an arty rock band from Montreal that's getting increased radio play on "alternative" stations. They fielded a huge number of players, including a lady who alternately played the viola and the accordian, and two drummers/percussionists who ended up attacking each other and other band members with their drumsticks (while keeping the beat). The lead singer sounded occasionally like Robert Smith, and on other occasions like David Byrne. Which was appropriate because . . . .

The final act was David Byrne (! He's become somewhat of a gray eminence since his Talking Heads days, but he can still do whatever he did with his voice back then; he can still do that herky-jerky white art student dance like no one else; and he still puts on a great show. He started with several pieces from his solo albums, but then slid into such great Talking Heads standards as "Road to Nowhere," "Psycho Killer," "This Must Be the Place" (sung with Arcade Fire); and, most memorably, a finale of "Burning Down the House," performed with the Extra Action Marching Band from San Francisco, and featuring cheerleaders (of both sexes) in g-strings and platinum wigs swinging pom-poms on the catwalk around the orchestra boxes. Dang.

The next concert is in July. No David Byrne -- in fact, no performers I'm familiar with -- but it'll be an adventure. And that's what a good concert should be.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sharkboy and Batman

The summer movie season has given me two extremely different superhero movie viewing experiences in the span of a week. On Saturday, June 18, I watched Batman Begins on the Imax screen at the Bridge Cinema in Westchester. And today I watched a matinee of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D, again at the Bridge (albeit on a normal-sized screen).

The movies were literally night and day. I can't imagine watching the Batman movie as a matinee; it was of the night and for the night. Sharkboy, on the other hand, was such a perfect matinee movie that it's hard to picture donning 3-D glasses at 10 at night and watching it.

Batman is squarely aimed at teens and adults, with its intense pace and images. (But I note that unlike its 1989 predecessor film, Tim Burton's Batman, this one was essentially free of swearing, and featured a Batman who was [eventually] loathe to take human life. In that way, it's perhaps more kid-friendly than the Burton flick.) Shark Boy belongs squarely to the camp of kids films (although kids in their 40's, like my wife and me, can certainly enjoy it.) Shark Boy also contrasts sharply with writer-director Roberto Rodrieguez's other 2005 movie, Sin City -- which assuredly wasn't for kids.

Further, while Batman focused on a particular era's version of a particular character (that is, the version of Batman popular from the mid-eighties to the present), Shark Boy tries to boil down the wish-fulfillment essences of superhero comics, by filtering a Wizard of Oz type story through the tropes and dialogue of a comic-book plot.

Both films succeed admirably at what they set out to do; and more important, manage to entertain while they do it. They show that the keys to a solid comic-book adaptation film (or in the case of Shark Boy, an adaptation of a comic book that was never made) are the keys to any film: solid direction, good acting, and a story that doesn't insult the intelligence.

The question of fidelity to the comic book original is an interesting variable. Rodrieguez's Sin City, of course, was an attempt at the most faithful comic-book adaptation ever made, with the creator of the comic as co-director and layouts that mimicked the panels of the comic. But fidelity to a character like Batman is a relative thing: with so many versions of the character over his 66-year history, one cannot criticize the movie for coming up with, for instance, its own version of what happens to the murderer of Bruce Wayne's family; the comics themselves have changed that backstory several times. It's more important to isolate whatever there is about that character that grabs people, that endures throughout the different versions; and then make sure that essence comes across in the film.

Batman Begins does that spectacularly. It highlights the human vunerabilities of Bruce Wayne, which are not the weaknesses but the strengths of Batman. This is not the automaton-of-justice Batman, shorn of feelings; or the campy boy-scout-leader other extreme of the character. This is a man who is driven by guilt and anger, and is channeling it into helping others in a way that only works in fictional works like Zorro, The Green Hornet, and this one: dressing up in costume and acting as a vigilante. The trick of any superhero movie is to create a world where that choice appears to be not only a believable one, but the most logical one. That is where Batman Begins succeeds best.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Steve Barer's Bar Mitzvah, Walla Walla, 1984 Posted by Hello

Family Photo from the '80's

My brother Steve had this photo up on his blog. Somehow, it's dropped off, so I scanned my copy of the photo and posted it. It was taken at his Bar Mitzvah during the summer of 1984.

This photo is historically significant for several reasons:

-- Due to family living away from home, and my mom passing away in '97, this is one of the last photos of me, my siblings, and my parents together.

-- This is one of the last photos I have of my mom standing up. (She was in a wheelchair from '85 on.)

-- On a lighter note, it shows me with the moustache I had (without a beard) from '84 through '91. I was clean-shaven from '91 to 2002; and have sported my current goatee since the fall of 2002.

Incidentally, I videotaped the Bar Mitzvah with a rented videocamera (Betamax, since it was 1984). I'm therefore the only family member who doesn't show up in the videotape. I'm glad the photo was taken, so people know I was there at all!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Four-colored Phantasmagoriae

The major comic book publishers usually put out some fun books for the summer, and this is no exception. Here's some delightful stuff I've read in the last two weeks (see illustrations above) .

Marvel's GIANT-SIZE X-MEN # 3 is significant for a couple of reasons. First, comics historians may recall that the first Giant-Size X-Men came out in the mid-70's and debuted the "New X-Men" (Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine [who had appeared earlier elsewhere]) -- the characters that would dominate the superhero comics scen from the late 70's onward. Second, the lead (short) story is by writer Joss Whedon (famed both for his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and his recent comic book writing) and artist legend Neal Adams. I believe this marks Adams's first X-Men story since his run on the title nearly 35 years ago. It's also his first story featuring the "new" X-Men (if they can be called new after 30 years of publication). Further, it's a damn good story. When someone in an Adams story gets gut-punched, you can definitely feel the impact.

In an earlier post, I mentioned DC's current comics miniseries Batman: Dark Detective, a biweekly series that reunites the stellar creative team of Englehart, Rogers and Austin. The fourth issue (see cover below) came out this week, and it's the best one yet. It features the sort of experimental panel layouts and storytelling tricks that made the trio's 70's run so exciting. It also features The Scarecrow, who figures prominently in the Batman Begins movie. Coincidence? I think not . . . .

Speaking of movie tie-ins, Marvel has put out a volume reprinting several of the Fantastic Four stories that one of my favorite artists, George Perez, illustrated in the mid-t0-late 70's. They say the "golden age" of comics is 12; and at 12 I was reading these comics. Marvel has done a spiffy job of putting this together, on slick paper with bright colors that far surpass the crappy printing on the originals. The stories are by Roy Thomas and Len Wein, and they are fun too (although they held together better when I was a kid). Perez's art (drawn when he was in his mid-20's) is kind of stiff at this point (it would loosen up in the 80's), but he still loves to put lots of detail in every panel, with the exuberance of someone who loves drawing this stuff. And he's ably supported by the inks of Joe Sinnott. My only criticisms are that the covers by artists other than Perez (including some magnificent ones by the original FF artist, Jack Kirby) are not reprinted full size; and because there are gaps of as much as six issues between Perez stories, there are maddening lacunae in the storytelling. One issue the FF are cursing an alternate world version of Reed Richards; the next they are weeping over his noble sacrifice of his life for the team (off-stage, since it was in a non-Perez, non-reproduced issue).

Finally, DC has put together a trade paperback of the various races between The Flash and Superman over the last 38 (!) years. The sixties and early seventies stories with these races are pure, unadulterated fun. They are like an argument between elementary school kids come to life. Indeed, the first race story was written by Jim Shooter when he was just a teenager, with a child's delight at the absurd twists and turns thrown into the plot. My favorite story is a two-parter from the early seventies written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Dick Dillon and Joe Giella, in which the two must race across the universe, through a sun, and into a parallel dimension. Further, it climaxes with the two heroes crawling to their destination. The various stories in the volume from the late 70's, 90's, and 2002 attempting to pay homage to the earlier races don't match the originals for sheer delightfulness. If you would like to give a kid a comic that shows how much fun superheroes can be, this is the one. One deficit: The Alex Ross cover is surprisingly bland compared to the original covers for these stories, reprinted inside, drawn by Carmine Infantino and that Neal Adams guy.

Howl's Moving Movie

Watching Miyazaki's latest animated feature, Howl's Moving Castle, last Sunday in the El Capitan theatre (in Japanese with subtitles -- thank you, Disney!) what struck me most was the contrast between familiarity and freshness.

There is much familiar in Howl. The movie adapts a British young adult novel which takes place in a world where -- rather like Shrek's world -- the magical icons of various fairy tales are real. The setting looks like turn-of-the century Europe; it uses the Western fantasy-literature versions of wizards and witches; and like most post-modern fairy tales (and several pre-modern ones) the plot weaves together several metaphors for psychological experiences and coming-of-age journeys. There are many elements familiar to Miyazaki fans too: His fascination with weird aircraft; his young female protagonist, who learns her own strength through supernatural adversity; his middle aged and elderly women, who hold positions of power (sometimes temporarily); his clean and attractive character designs; and even the European setting, which he used effectively in Laputa, Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso (all now out on DVD in the US -- thanks again, Disney!)

Further, as with Miyazaki's last several films, this one deals with the interaction of the supernatural world with the mundane world. Here, as in Princess Mononoke and Kiki's Delivery Service, the so-called normal folk accept magic as a fact of life; witches, wizards and demons are to be used when useful, and avoided when dangerous.

Yet despite the familiarity, watching the film I was amazed at how, by comparison, so many movie plots are predictable and unsurprising. So many film stories move through their preordained stages like set gymnastic routines, only varying the placement of the apparatus a little to distinguish one film from another. Yet when watching a Miyazaki film, you're assured you won't be able to predict where the story is going. It twists and turns, with the powerfull becoming helpless and the downtrodden becoming powerful in the blink of an eye. Like most fairy tales, it deals with transformation and empowerment; but how it uses those storytelling tools will startle and delight you. Part of the magic is that Miyazaki refuses to use two-dimensional stereotypes as characters. I don't know how much of the depth lent to Sophie, Howl, the Witch of the Waste, and even the fire demon Calcifur and the animated scarecrow Turnip Head comes from the source material and how much was provided (or preserved) by Miyazaki, but the characters are full-blooded enough to seize the story from any rote pattern and spread it so that it billows like a sail in one of Miyazaki's beloved windstorms.

If you get the chance, I heartily recommend you see this movie in a theatre, on a big screen. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Reviewing the Bat Part II -- Turan Turan

Following up on his rave review of Howl's Castle, on Tuesday Kenneth Turan offered a glowing review of Batman Begins in the LA Times, which he summarized on NPR's Morning Edition.,0,7779875.story?coll=cl-home-top-blurb-right

I can't wait to see this one. My plan is to catch it Saturday on the IMAX screen at my favorite movie theatre, The Bridge.

Last weekend, I saw Howl's Moving Castle at the El Capitan. I'll post a review later (when it's not 10 minutes to 11 pm on a worknight).

Wi-Fi Watering Holes Pt. II -- Cafe Court

This place is not really in my neighborhood; it's 65 miles east, in downtown Riverside. I was there Tuesday morning before a court appearance.

Benefits: It's across the street from the Riverside Courthouse, and there's free wireless access in the area. So it's a great place to get a little work done before appearing on a case. The lattes are pretty good too. It has a pretty marble bar lining the window facing the street.

Detriment: No electrical outlets that I could find.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Wi-Fi Watering Holes, Part I -- Cafe Paradiso

Since one of my recent joys is to go to local tea and coffee places that have free wi-fi and do work, blogging, or other online stuff, I'm going to start reviewing my favorites. I welcome comments with other suggestions for spots with excellent boba, free wi-fi, or both.

I'm posting this from Cafe Paradiso, in the Japanese neighborhood on Sawtelle just north of Olympic in West LA. . The boba drinks (particularly the passion fruit tea, jasmine milk tea, and almond milk tea) are great, the room is small but fairly comfortable, the wi-fi doesn't require any passwords or complicated logins, and there are electrical outlets (albeit in one corner of the room). A very nice space.


Update on 6/4/06: The cafe is now called "Catch 21."

Reviewing the Bat

As part of the continuing build-up for next week's Batman Begins movie, the LA Times Book Review supplement today had two serious reviews of books that reprint Batman comics. Mystery writer and sometimes comic book writer Max Collins writes the main review, which compares the recent Batman Chronicles (which reprints the earliest Batman stories from the 30's and 40's, in chronological order) with 1987's Batman: Year One. Why is Collins reviewing an 18-year-old graphic novel? Because (a) it was written by Frank Miller, who is undergoing a new wave of mainstream popularity because of the Sin City movie; (b) from the previews I've seen, Batman Begins apparently uses some elements of the plot from Year One; and (c) Collins thinks Year One artist Dave Mazzuchelli drew the best Batman ever.,1,5638724.story?ctrack=2&cset=true

The sidebar review examines Batman: Cover to Cover, the recent coffee table book which collected several of the nicest Batman comic covers from the past 65 years. I got the book as a birthday present and found it delightful. (It even has an essay from a graphic designer on how the Batman comic's logo has changed over the years.),1,6733313.story

Myself, I'm enjoying the current comics miniseries Batman: Dark Detective, done by the creative team that, nearly 30 years ago, produced one of the best runs of Batman stories: Writer Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers, and inker Terry Austin. (They even got the original letterer for their 70's stories, John Workman, to letter this series.) All three have worked together in various combinations on other stories, and each has worked on his own on Batman stories since the mid-seventies, but this is the first time all three have been together on the Dark Knight since 1978. So far the miniseries hasn't jelled like the first run did -- the problem with 27 years of expectations -- but it's still delightful to read in an era in which most Batman comics are filled with boring stories and ugly art.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Silly musings on Revenge of the Sith [spoiler alert]. . . .

Okay, so your former apprentice Anakin Skywalker has gone over to the dark side and become Darth Vader. His wife birthed twins before she died. You want to hide the kids from the Dark Lord. Do you (a) change the kids' names and place them with an anonymous family on some random planet? Or (b) name the son Luke Skywalker, and place him on Anakin's home planet with Anakin's relatives (whom he met before he went bad)?

Turns out Obi-Wan does both. No wonder the Jedi got wiped out.

So Darth finds out about Luke in short order. ("Imperial intelligence, my Lord. The name of the pilot who blew up the Death Star was Skwalker." "Ahhh . . . .") But he's so ignorant of Leia that he tortures her without realizing she's daddy's little girl. In fact, he doesn't learn she's his daughter until blabber-brain Luke gives it away by thinking about it too hard.

Danny, with a friend from the movie Laputa, on the roof of the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan in 2004. Posted by Hello

Musings on Miyazaki

Back in 1987, a dubbed version of Hayao Miyazaki's animated feature Castle in the Sky: Laputa played in the LA area as part of an animation festival. The Los Angeles Times assigned animation writer Charles Solomon to write a review. Solomon invariably gave Japanese animation features bad reviews, and this was no exception. Memorably, he slammed the movie's "computer animation" -- even though there was no CGI in the film.

Flash forward to the summer of 2005. Charles Solomon is now an advocate of Japanese animation. His review of Laputa on gushes: "The exciting flying sequences, appealing characters, and fantastic vision of a steam-powered future Jules Verne might have imagined make Castle in the Sky a must-have for fans of Japanese and Western animation." (

Two years ago, Miyazaki won the best animated film oscar for his feature Spirited Away. Now his latest feature, Howl's Moving Castle, is playing at Disney's El Capitan Theatre, Hollywood's magnificent old deco movie house. And the Los Angeles Times assigned its top movie critic, Kenneth Turan, to review the film. The normally-crusty Turan pulls out the stops for this review (,0,3637816.story):

"Parse it any way you like, Miyazaki's gifts as an animator place him in a category of his own. To see his latest film is to be somehow reminded of Italians who could hear Verdi's operas as soon as they were sung or English readers who could experience the novels of Dickens episode by episode.

"Like those fortunate folk, we can have the excitement and joy of seeing new work by one of the greatest animators who ever lived just as soon as he creates it. Future generations will envy us our luck."

The wheel in the sky keeps on turning . . . .

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Some Petty Spoiled-Brat Gripes

So during Memorial Day Weekend we got an HDTV (which I love) and on Thursday Comcast set us up with an HDTV/Digital Video Recorder cable box (which I like). Here are my two gripes:

1. Comcast runs ads touting their HDTV installation. In them CC states it will connect the sound on the HDTV box to your stereo. CC says the same thing on its Website. Yet the installation guy (who otherwise did a great job) connected the sound to the TV using RCA cables -- rather than to the surround-sound receiver sitting right next to the TV, with an optical cable that would enable the digital Dolby sound. I had to do the optical cable connections myself. That leads to the second petty gripe:

2. For years I've been trying to get true surround sound from broadcast TV. Now I finally get a cable box with an optical cable output, connect it to my TV, and discover there are numerous cable-available stations (even those that do not broadcast in HD) that send out a 5.1 Dolby Surround signal. How long has this been going on? And why haven't I been able to access it with the digital cable box Comcast previously supplied? The normal Motorola digital cable box from Comcast has all sorts of connections that Comcast never uses (a phone line, audio and video inputs, etc.), but no jack for an optical cable.

Yeah, yeah, I'll go have some cheese with my whine . . . .

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Jasmine Green Tea -- Great for Jasmine Tea Pops Posted by Hello

Frozen Jasmine Tea Pops!

Here's how I've spent a lazy Saturday (so far).

After watching some Saturday Morning cartoons, Amy and I headed over to our mutual hair stylist, Joseph, so that I could get a beard trim. On the way out of our alley-access garage, we saw that someone had put a clothes dryer next to our garbage. I walked across the alley to a house where an addition has been under construction for nearly a year, and asked the workers there about the dryer. They immediately walked over and moved it to the garbage area at that house. Apparently they saw nothing wrong with leaving me with the bill for disposing of a major appliance -- until they got caught at it. (Meanwhile, they also filled my recycling bin with nonrecycleable refuse; and someone -- possibly them -- left a child's bicycle in my garbage area. Sigh.)

Anyway, we got over to Joseph's in Venice, where I had the first really professional beard trim I've received since my trial started in April. We went over to our favorite brunch place in Marina Del Rey, Paninni, where Amy had the lamb chop salad and I had a breakfast burrito and a hazelnut cafe au lait. On the way back, we stopped at Mitsuwa, a West LA Japanese market, and bought lots of Japanese bevereges and the thick bread we fell in love with in Japan last year. Amy also bought various kitchen tchotchkas there, including a frozen pop mold (which figures into the story later).

When we came back, we tried out the Comcast cable DVR we had installed (along with a Hi-Def cable box) on Thursday. I exercised on a mini-stepper while we watched episodes of TEEN TITANS and THE BATMAN that had been recorded automatically.

While we were watching, Amy got a brainstorm: yes, frozen jasmine tea pops! At Mitsuwa, I had bought several cans of one of my favorite Japanese teas, Pokka Green Tea with Jasmine (see photo above). Amy used the pop mold she had bought to make jasmine tea pops. We had them later that afternoon and pronounced them delicious.

Anyway, after exercising, I donated an old TV (a 20" stereo Mitsubishi which I bought 18 years ago, and which still works like a champ) to Goodwill; stopped by Radio Shack and bought various cables needed to rewire our Audio-Video setup (more fallout from the new TV and cable box); paid bills; took them over to the Westside Pavillion, where I discovered that the post office that used to be open Saturdays and Sundays is now only open on weekdays; put the bills in a street mailbox; walked over to the new CompUSA across the street from the Pavillion, and bought a power inverter so that I can plug our laptop in while riding in our car; stopped by the Anime Gamers store next to the CompUSA, and bought the latest DVD volume of SAMURAI CHAMPLOO; went home looked up the register for the housewarming party we're going to tomorrow; and went to Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up a housewarming gift (after waiting in several lines).

Still to come is to do some work-type work for Monday, and to do some of the audio-video wiring for which I bought the new cables.

I also discovered that my brother Steve's new blog had generated multiple comments from relatives, including one who thought that Steve was me.

I love Saturdays. They're so relaxing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Blogging Barer Brothers!

As the column of links to the right shows, both of my brothers -- older brother Mike and younger brother Steve -- have debuted their own blogs. The Barer Boys are blogging up the place.

Mike's is at

Steve's is at