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.