Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Just as "Batman Begins" has been nominated for an Oscar, I've learned (from Mark Evanier's blog) of this delightful student film starring the Caped Crusader, done in Legos-style computer animation. They even managed to get Adam West as the voice of Batman, and Mark Hamill to reprise his role from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES as The Joker. Plus, Dick van Dyke voices Commissioner Gordon.

Comic Nods

A couple of comic book adaptation movies from 2005 received Oscar nominations: Best supporting actor and best adapted screenplay for "A History of Violence"; and best cinematography for "Batman Begins."

Personally, I think "Sin City" was a better candidate for best cinematography, with its razor-sharp black and white photography laced with startling color. But it was unlikely to receive any nominations, because (a) it was mostly shot against green screen rather than with actual sets and location shooting; and (b) Robert Rodrieguez likely pissed off most of Hollywood by quitting the Director's Guild so that Frank Miller could get co-director credit. Not to mention the fact that he makes reasonably-budgeted movies that do great at the box office -- and makes them in Texas rather than LA.

Two other comics adaptations received some less laudatory recognition: Jessica Alba received a Golden Raspberry award nomination for her role as Sue Storm in "Fantastic Four"; and "Son of the Mask" (the sequel to the 1994 hit adaptation of the Dark Horse comic) received eight GR nominations. I didn't see SOTM; the trailers promised a truly sad time at the cinema. But I saw and enjoyed the FF movie. Alba looked great; but I have to admit, she was not very convincing as a scientist (even when they put -- gasp! -- glasses on her.) She was much better in -- guess what -- "Sin City."

My Most Recent Appellate Project

Saturday, January 28, 2006

DVR Distress: A Lesson in Procrastination

We had a digital video recorder loaded with a backlog of episodic TV we had not yet watched. This week, it started having problems. It recorded shows, but would not play them.

This morning, a very apologetic Comcast technician came, shook his head, and swapped out the DVR. All that TV programming, stored up for a rainy day, is gone. Pfft.

I had backed up a lot of stored episodes onto VHS tapes, to free up space. But it will only dub programs to video in real time, so hours of shows took hours to copy. And we had to copy the eps one by one.

Further, although we had a dual-tuner DVR, the tech only had a single-tuner. For the last half-hour I've been on hold with a Comcast service rep trying to find out how to get a dual-tuner again; apparently, they are scarce.

The lesson: Don't trust the machines to keep your shows safe. Or as Darth Vader once put it, "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sgt. Rock and Roll

When I was a kid, the first comic books I enjoyed were DC's war comics. And the best DC war comics were the reprint books (of which there were a lot, as DC and Marvel engaged in a war over newsstand placement, and reprint comics were the cheapest way to crank out volume), because they would contain stories from the sixties drawn by Joe Kubert.

Kubert's art was unlike any other comics artist's. His trademarks were a lively, organic line that communicated much with a few strokes; impeccable pacing; characters with a haunted look in their eyes (ideal for war comics); and, in an era when DC's layouts tended toward the staid, wild "camera angles" that could take the reader's breath away.

In the late fifties, Kubert essentially created the look of the DC war comics, particularly with his flagship feature, Sgt. Rock. Rock's character evolved over a few stories, but then settled into the long run. His lead feature in OUR ARMY AT WAR lasted from the fifties into the mid-seventies, when Rock finally got his own series. Rock's feature petered out in the early eighties, with occasional reprint miniseries; and Kubert devoted more of his attention to his comic illustrator's school.

Yet, incredibly, over forty-five years after first drawing Rock, Kubert is still around; and he's once again drawing the combat-happy joes of Easy Company. A few years ago, he drew a Rock graphic novel, Between Hell and a Hard Place, written by Brian Azzerelllo. And now he is writing and drawing (and lettering and coloring!) a new Sgt. Rock miniseries. Even more incredibly, his artwork now is even better than it was then, as the art on the left shows.

Most comebacks are disappointments. But sometimes what seems like a comeback is only a second wind.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Barer Takeover of the Blogosphere Continues

The latest member of the Barer family to start blogging: my father, Alan Barer. His blog is titled -- simply and aptly enough -- "A Barer."

Things I learned on my visit this week to Walla Walla

I went to my hometown of Walla Walla, Washington this past week for my grandfather's funeral. Here are some things I learned:

1. Not to stay at the Travelodge in the future. The rates are low, but they're low everywhere in town. We got a beaten-up, cold little room, with a gutter drain constantly dripping outside. Plus, they made us pay in advance -- never a good sign.

2. Walla Walla is exploding with wi-fi-enabled restaurants. But you run into problems if you need wi-fi in the evening. The Mill Creek Brew Pub, which is wi-fi enabled, advertised itself as open until Midnight. But we went to it at 10 pm on Friday night, and it was locked up. Apparently, if there's no one in the place, they don't keep it open.

3. The best wi-fi watering hole we discovered was Ze Bagel at 216 E. Main Street, a couple blocks from our hotel. They opened at 6 am on weekdays; they had great coffee and tea drinks; their bagels couldn't be beat (we had them for breakfast every day of our stay); they have electrical outlets for every table; they play good music; and they didn't mind me staying there for hours taking care of business by remote control. Here are some photos of dad, Amy and the menu taken at Ze Bagel yesterday.

4. Walla Walla's best music store, Hot Poop, is still going strong -- despite its owner's heart attack in November. Thank God.


On January 18, 2006, one calendar month after his 99th birthday, my grandfather, Ed Granek, passed away. He was a strong-willed man who also had a gigantic heart; and he deserves the credit for a lot of what made me who I am today. I -- and everyone who knew him -- will miss him.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Unmasking the Secret Empire

[Spoiler Warning: If you don't want to prematurely find out the end of a 31-year-old comic book story, don't read this post or look at the scanned comics page on the left. You have been warned.]

The mid-70's were an interesting time for Marvel Comics. The plotter-artists who created the look and setting of the Marvel Universe, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, had left; various innovative second-generation artists, like Jim Steranko and Barry Windsor-Smith, had come and gone in a few years; and Stan Lee, the voice of Marvel, was writing few comics. Writers such as Steve Engelhart and Steve Gerber had read the Lee/Kirby/Ditko comics during their '60's college years, and wanted to bring both their fannish enthusiasm and a certain literary approach to the comics. That lead to storylines such as the 1974 Captain America Secret Empire storyline, just reprinted in paperback format by Marvel. The story is a sometimes-uneven admixture of cool kid's stuff (Cap's partner, the Falcon, gets a new pair of wings from ally The Black Panther, prince of a super-scientific African country); corny, unrealistic, declamatory dialogue; insight into Cap's psychology; and most important, a satire/parable of America's disillusionment in government as the Watergate scandal dominated the headlines.

The main plot is that The Secret Empire -- one of those SPECTRE/THRUSH type organizations that thrive in Marvel comics -- sets up a conspiracy in which the Committee to Regain America's Principles (and the organization's resemblance to the Committee to Re-Elect the President -- down to the unfortunate acronym -- is strictly intentional) smears Captain America using Madison Avenue advertising techniques, with the goal of setting up their own straw man superhero, Moonstone, in his place. It all comes to a head in a pitched battle on the White House lawn, in which Cap chases the Number One of the Secret Empire into the oval office. As the scanned page above shows, the story strongly implies that the leader of this villainous organization is, in fact, Richard Nixon -- who commits suicide in front of Cap!

The story is an historical document -- but one with echoes for the present time. When Quentin Harderman, the advertising mogul who spearheads the publicity campaign, tells his patsy superhero, "Call the media, of course -- the ones who've demonstrated a bias toward our side," one gets the feeling that Fox News would be CRAP's idea outlet.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Tough-Guy Cinema

We saw two vintage macho action movies at the New Beverly Cinema today: a double bill of Mike Hodge's hard-boiled 1971 British gangster revenge movie, Get Carter (starring Michael Caine); and Peter Yate's 1968 stylish cop drama, Bullitt (starring, of course, Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn). One thing that struck me was how subtle both films were, compared with most action movies today. These flicks told their story without camera angles that hid the menace until too late, or music-video editing, or wall-to-wall background music, or constant expository dialogue. They trusted the audience to connect the dots.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Some Good, Some Bad

Bad stuff going on: My 99-year-old grandfather is ill.

Good stuff going on:

-- Today, Amy and I visited my dad, who is in town to watch a show.

-- On Thursday, Turner Classic Movies hosted showings of one of the greatest animated movies ever, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. TCM showed it twice: Once in an English-dubbed version; once in Japanese, with English subtitles. The last time I saw Nausicaa played on broadcast TV (then in Japanese, without English subtitles) was in Tokyo, the same day Amy and I visited the Studio Ghibli Museum, dedicated to the works of Nausicaa creator Hayao Miyazaki. Plus, TCM coupled it with another one of Miyazaki's best movies from the eighties, Laputa (shown in the US as Castle in the Sky, since Laputa has nasty connotations in Spanish -- as the coiner of the name, Jonathan Swift, intended.)

-- On Friday, I participated in the third part of an educational program for high school kids. Last month, I and two other appellate attorneys spoke to the class about the appellate process. A couple weeks later, we and the kids came to court and watched the cases we discussed being argued. Since one of the cases was decided later in December, we visited the class again, held a moot court where the kids played attorneys and judges and argued the case, and then we revealed how the court actually ruled. The kids were amazingly enthusiastic.

-- I've joined the Ipod generation. I got one of the new 30-gigabyte players. I'm now rediscovering my music library as I fill the device.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Premature Review

Another petty annoyance: This morning, Amy and I were having brunch in Marina Del Ray at one of our favorite brunch spots, Panini, when we read an article in the LA Times calendar section recommending several new jazz albums. Since we were right next to Tower Records, we headed over to take a look at those albums. But none did we find. I asked the counter minder about one of them, Spiral by Hiromi; and he replied that it would not be released until January 24! Seems to me that if the critic who wrote the article wants people to pick up these albums, he should either do so after the albums "drop" (as the kids say nowadays) or at least close enough to their release date that they do not pass from potential buyers' crowded memories.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Cafe Balcony

Cafe Balcony (where I'm currently sitting typing this deathless entry) is located in my college-days neighborhood of the eastern border of Santa Monica, on Santa Monica boulevard at Centinela. It's a small-to-medium coffee shop with the usual collection of non-matching seats and tables. It's got bright red walls with unusual artwork, and a pleasantly bohemian vibe. The coffee (from Illy) is pretty damn good; and the Wi-fi is terrific. I just fired up my laptop, turned on the Internet Explorer, and I was in business.

Manga in the Mainstream

I've watched Japanese comics -- manga -- chart an interesting course in the American marketplace. American comics companies started selling Manga about 20 years ago. For years, it stayed a niche market. Then Pokemon and anime on Cartoon Network started pulling teens who had grown up without comics into anime fandom, and they started picking up compilations of manga sold in bookstores. Eventually, the monthly comic book style manga died away, supplanted by these graphic novels, which became one of the few segments of the book publishing biz that was expanding. The market overheated a couple of years ago, and some publishers went out of business while others stopped putting out new Japanese reprints and turned to American-produced manga-style comics.

Now comes the latest twist: Several newspapers, including the LA Times, will start running manga and manga-style comic strips. I'd previously noted a growing recognition of manga's influence in the Times' Calendar section, with critics throwing around terms like Shoujo (girls' manga) and yaoi (gay manga) without bothering to translate them. Whether this will affect the manga market remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the new controversial TV series "The Book of Daniel" (hey, isn't there already a Book of Daniel in the Old Testament? Trademak infringement!) is advertising a subplot where, as the Times puts it, " a moody teenage daughter . . . is caught selling marijuana to finance her manga animation . . . ." It's unclear whether the reporter means the daughter's drawing manga, animating manga, or buying manga and anime. But in any case, it's another sign that manga is either in the throws of popularity in the US or has passed into so-five-minutes-ago non-hipness.

*** Update****

Turns out the newspapers aren't putting actual Japanese comics into their papers; they're putting in comics drawn by Americans in a manga style. It's sort of the California Roll of manga. Here's a USA Today.com article about it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Beware the Slasher

So there I was, sitting at the al fresco Starbucks in the plaza between the downtown LA courthouse and the County Hall of Administration, waiting for a meeting, when I overhear folks who are walking away and discussing -- of all things -- slash fan fiction. For all I know, they might have sequed into a discussion of Lee Goldberg's war on fan fiction.

He Puts His Back into his Blogging

Here's a link to a fairly unusual blog maintained by a fairly well-known fellow user of Blogger, Pete Townshend.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

1.4 billion tix and still not enough

According to E! Online, here's the top 10 movies for 2005:

1. Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith, $380.3 million
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, $277.1 million
3. War of the Worlds, $234.3 million
4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, $225.7 million
5. Wedding Crashers, $209.2 million
6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, $206.5 million
7. Batman Begins, $205.3 million
8. Madagascar, $193.1 million
9. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, $186.3 million
10. Hitch, $177.6 million

What that list tells me is that folks are only willing to leave the comfort of their dens, with surround sound and ever-bigger TVs (not to mention pay-per-view movies for rent, so they don't even have to leave the couch to rent a flick) for the ad-infested, eardrum-splitting, bank-breaking cinemas when they can get something that only a theatre can provide: i.e., either spectacles; or an audience to laugh with.

Meanwhile, today the LA Times provided some historical perspective on all the whining from Hollywood about how the 1.4 billion ticket box office for 2005 proves that movies are in trouble. Turns out that in numbers of butts-in-seats, it's better than many years and not as good as others. Notably, in the late seventies and early eighties the movie industry was a lot worse off than it is now.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Long Kong

We saw Peter Jackson's King Kong remake today -- and, literally, my butt was numb by the closing credits. (Yeah, yeah, TMI.)

I had a love/hate relationship with this movie. There were many things to love, such as the scenes where Kong came to life, enjoying companionship or the novelty of sliding on the ice. I loved the tactile sense of bits like Kong grabbing a biplane by the fuselage and strut, spinning around with it, and hurling it at another plane over the dawn-lit New York skyline (and the complications of making a scene like that look lifelike would melt a non-computer-geek mind like mine), as well as the dinosaur vs. Kong sequences. Jack Black as Carl Denham seemed much more a slave to his own mania (he actually believes his own BS) than the Denham in the original. And of course Naomi Watts's character is more assertive and three-dimensional than the original Faye Wray character.

What I hated was the excess. We could have done with fewer, or shorter, scenes of Watts and Kong looking into each others' eyes and sharing an unspoken communication -- we get the point. And the bit on Skull island seemed to take forever. At heart, this isn't an adaptation of a classic of English literature, like Lord of the Rings was; it's a story about savage nature confronting urban humanity and succumbing to it. Or, more exactly, it's about a humungous ape who fights neat dinosaurs, kills humans like flies, becomes a fool for love, climbs a big phallic symbol and bashes biplanes. Trimming a bit would have been nice.

Big Bad Voodoo New Year

Amy and I rang in the New Year at yet another concert -- Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, at the Disney Hall. We had seen BBVD once before, as an opening act for the Steve Miller Band in the 90's, and they put on a hell of a show. They were even better this time. They even brought on stage some caberet dancers (including a PG-13 rated stripper) for their cover of "Minnie the Moocher" and for the finale. Jazz and lingerie -- what a way to welcome 2006!

This was the first time we had attended a concert in the Disney Hall. Even though we were wedged into the cheap seats in the balcony, it was a terrific venue. We had a great view of the stage.