Sunday, July 31, 2005

Urth to Santa Monica

Amy and I had a terrific brunch today at the Urth Caffe on Main Street in Santa Monica. I had an Italia Cappucino that was astoundingly delicate in taste, complete with a design drawn in the foam on top that nearly lasted through the drink. I also had a Mexican omelet that was far superior than the average egg dish foisted off as a Mexican omelet. Instead of drenching the eggs in cheese and salsa, Urth mixed sauteed green chili peppers into them and filled the omelet with flavor. A green salad and a brioche completed the dish. Amy had a breakfast bread pudding with sliced apples on top that was exceptionally rich, and a superb hot chocolate. On top of the terrific food, the cafe is only a few blocks from the beach. We sat on the front patio and enjoyed a beautiful sea-adjacent summer morning Another plus for Main street, crowded with restaurants: Valet parking.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Space Garbage

My joy at watching a seemingly-flawless shuttle liftoff has turned to chagrin at the news that (a) a two-and-a-half-foot chunk of foam flew off the external fuel tank -- the same type of foam that doomed the Columbia -- and only by luck did it miss the orbiter; and (b) although NASA spent two-and-a-half years and nearly two billion dollars since the Columbia tragedy working on making the shuttle safer, they took few or no steps to prevent the foam from coming off the external tank -- even though that caused the Columbia incident. Instead, they worked on developing scenarios for astronauts to deal with and survive another foam crash -- kind of like learning to use an extinguisher instead of working to prevent house fires. Here's the LA Times story.

Oddly enough, this and other current events have me thinking about two Japanese animated TV series.

One is Planetes (see picture above and left), a series that ran on Japanese TV in 2004 and is now being released in the U.S. It is a rarity in many ways. Hard science fiction is seldom attempted in movies or TV; even more seldom in animation. And media science fiction even more seldom deals with "blue collar" stories, with non-military working joes in space. (The first Alien movie is a noteable exception.) Yet this series strives for scrupulous realism as it depicts a group of workers for a private company that pulls pieces of space debris out of orbit when they pose a hazard to space navigation. The DVD includes interviews with real members of NASA's orbital debris tracking program, who supply the sobering statistic that there is literally millions of pounds of space debris in orbit -- all put there by man -- that could potentially pose a hazard to shuttles and other spacecraft.

The animation in Planetes is above average, and the artwork is beautiful. Unfortunately, from the first three episodes I've seen, the stories run to the trite, with a young, idealistic rookie and her mentor, a slightly-less-young cynic, as the focus. (Plus, although they work for a multinational company, the office structure is noticeably Japanese.)

The other series brought to mind is the excellent '90's science fiction series Cowboy Bebop, which runs here on Cartoon Network. One episode of the series, Wild Horses, featured an engineer named Doohan who lives on Earth and cares for old spacecraft and aircraft. When the series lead, Spike, ends up in trouble while in Earth orbit, Doohan lumbers out an old shuttle to come to his rescue. And the shuttle is -- the Columbia!

Now both the Columbia and James Doohan are gone. And we need to get our space-faring priorities straight. Instead of running an aging shuttle fleet into the ground, we need to develop new, more efficient space vehicles -- with redesigns to address safety problems, instead of merely contingency plans to rescue the astronauts when those problems occur.

I am strongly behind the space program -- but we deserve a smartly-run space program.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Up, Up, and Away!

Saw the shuttle launch this morning in HDTV. This must be what Hi-Def was invented for.

(Of course, I know that's wrong. Hi-Def was invented for sporting events, movies, and porn.)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Charlie's Garden State

Within the course of a week, I watched two very different movie portraits of alienation and redemption.

Last week I tivo-ed and watched Garden State from cable. GS is a dark, quirky, funny, and often achingly touching independent film, written, directed by and starring Zach Braff (Scrubs.) The movie is about a twenty-something struggling actor living in LA (and, like most struggling actors, waiting tables) when he learns that his paraplegic mother has died. He returns to his small New Jersey hometown to bury his mom. We then learn that he has been (un)comfortably numb on a pharmacopia of heavy-duty antidepressants since he was 16, when he was institutionalized by his psychiatrist -- his own father (a very non-Bilbo-like Ian Holm). He decides to go off the meds during his visit; and spends a few days visiting with his oddball friends, falling in love with the bohemian (and very un-Padme-like) Natalie Portman, and gradually struggling his way back to feeling something.

Although at heart a romance, the movie eschews traditional romantic-comedy tropes and follows its own rhythms. Anybody who's felt numb as he has returned to his hometown after years away can certainly find a little of himself in the movie. And the soundtrack is great.

The previous weekend I saw Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, I'm a big fan of the 1971 Gene Wilder version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which I saw as a six-year-old after receiving my own Wonka chocolate bar factory (a bunch of molds and candy-bar wrappers, designed for double-boiler-melted chocolate chips) in the mail from Quaker Oats. I found it freaky then and still do now.

I did not enjoy this version as much as the old film. Wilder was more fun to watch, the kids had much more personality (particularly Julie Cole as Veruca Salt), and the tunes were much more tuneful. That said, I found aspects of this version fascinating. Burton brought the pre-Factory scenes to life much more effectively than the director of the 70's version; you could feel the desperation of Charlie and his family more acutely. The biggest difference was in Wonka himself. Wilder, with his snatches of literary quotes and his shifting languages, was a trickster-god Wonka. He was always in control, and weird because he liked being weird. Johnny Depp's Wonka is Edward Scissorhands with a manicure. He is deeply neurotic, uncomfortable, and weird because he can't help it. He is not in control; in fact, the Oompa Lumpas seem to be the ones in control (which makes it even weirder that he uses them for scientific experiments).

I also found the ending of this movie more interesting than the first one -- and far less conventional. Judge for yourself.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wi-Fi Watering Holes IV -- Infuzion Cafe

The best thing about this coffee/tea place is its location: Santa Monica, at Wilshire and Third, a quarter-block north of the Third Street Promenade and three blocks east of the beach. On a hot day like today, you can't beat the ocean breezes.

The next best thing is the mint tea latte -- the best one I've sampled. The boba is good, too. As one might guess from the name, there is a large menu of fruit infusions, along with numerous tea and coffee drinks. I don't find the food selections too exciting.

There are electrical outlets available for laptops, the wi-fi is free, and there is a desktop computer with internet access free for cusotmers' use. Underground parking is available a block to the east, with two hours' free parking.

One minus: The hours. It closes at 7 pm every night.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Swinging Sixties

Here's the earliest photo I have of me with my family -- it was taken in the summer of 1969. Steve isn't in the picture because he was still a couple of years in the future.

In the News

Here's an article from today's Daily Journal (Los Angeles's legal newspaper) that discusses a motion I've filed in connection with my trial a few months ago.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sunday at Comic-Con

We spent the last day of Comic-Con completely in the Dealer's Room until it closed. As you can deduce from the photos, the dealer's room was gigantic to an indescribable degree. You could spend the entire convention there -- and probably many did.

After the con con-cluded, we had dinner at the Marriott Hotel (formerly the Clarion) a few blocks away with sister-in-law Helen; went with our friend Bill to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at a downtown theatre until traffic died down; then drove home. Bill stayed at our place in LA overnight.

The final photos are below. As before, they are in reverse chronological order.

From the Gentle Giant booth: Yoda squares off against Darth. Posted by Picasa

More from the Lucasfilm Pavillion: A Lego Star Destroyer. Posted by Picasa

A poster for Mirrormask, the Henson film coming out from Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Posted by Picasa

Part of the astounding Lucasfilm display: dozens of model Star Wars fighters swarm inside a skeletal Death Star infrastructure. Posted by Picasa

Two crimefighters from Gotham City: The Huntress (in the skimpy costume) and Nightwing. Posted by Picasa

Danny and Luffy. Posted by Picasa

Dr. Doom confronts a beaten up Peter Parker. Posted by Picasa

Batman Begins props at the Mattel booth. Posted by Picasa

Mattel had a display of props from the movie Batman Begins. Here is The Scarecrow's mask on a straight-jacketed dummy. Posted by Picasa

A gigantic display for X-Men Legends II. Posted by Picasa

Literacy-promoting cartoonist Phil Yeh. I've known Phil for 23 years. Posted by Picasa

Alphonse Elric from Full Metal Alchemist Posted by Picasa

A huge Boba Fett towers over the Gentle Giant booth at the dealer's room. Posted by Picasa

San Diego Comic-Con: Saturday

Below are select photos from Saturday. That was a day for panels, and some short visits to the huge dealers room.

A nice view of the Marina from the convention center. A beautiful setting for a convention. Posted by Picasa

A fan dressed as a giant box of Pocky.  Posted by Picasa

Hanging out in back of the convention center, with the Marina behind me. Posted by Picasa

Zatanna, Mistress of Magic. Fishnets and a tuxedo . . . sigh. Posted by Picasa

Poison Ivy. Posted by Picasa

Batman and some Green Lanterns. Posted by Picasa

From left to right: Romano; Rob Paulson (subbing for Ron Perlman); Kevin Michael Richardson (Trigon); Greg Cipes (Beast Boy); Tara Strong (Raven); Hynden Walch (Starfire); Khary Payten (Cyborg); and writer David Slack (subbing for Scott Menville as Robin). Posted by Picasa

One of the coolest panels: The voice actors for the Teen Titans animated series did a table read-through of the first act of the episode that aired that Saturday night. Leading them was voice director Adrienne Romano (at the lectern). Posted by Picasa

A wardrobe was part of the display for Disney's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe display. Posted by Picasa