Sunday, February 26, 2006

More from the Swingin' Seventies

Here's a photo we found in my Grandfather's house after he passed away. We believe it was taken at my brother Mike's 1970 bar mitzvah by family friend Andy Epstein.
From left to right, the folks in the photo are my Uncle Paul (grandfather's brother), five-year-old me, Dad, and Mom.

Christopher Glenn Retires

Thank God, this post doesn't link to an obituary.

When I was a kid in the seventies, my parents loved to watch the network news, and I loathed the news. I don't know if it had anything to do with the bad stuff coming over the news at that time (Vietnam, the Yom Kippur War, Watergate), but I found any time devoted to the news to be utterly boring and a waste of valuable cartoon-viewing opportunities.

The one exception was a series of newsbits CBS ran on Saturday mornings, in the interstices between cartoons, called "In The News." These segments would take a current news item and simplify it to the point where a kid could understand it. Although CBS's top news program was 60 Minutes, these segments ran about 60 seconds, yet conveyed a clear picture of whatever they discussed.

The voice of In The News was Christopher Glenn; and incredibly, Mr. Glenn continued broadcasting with CBS news until his retirement this past Thursday, at the age of 67, after a fifty-year broadcasting career. If anyone deserves the fruits of retirement, it's Mr. Glenn.

Farewell to Smudge

This past November I wrote about our 19+ year old cat Smudge, whom we learned in September had inoperable cancer. On Thursday, we said goodbye to our kitty, as he was euthanized in his favorite place: Our bed.

I'm not necessarily a "pet person"; with the exception of a dog my family had when I was around eight-to-nine-years old, I grew up without pets. So I wasn't prepared for how hard Smudge's passing hit me emotionally. He was a good kitty.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tricky and Cheap

I'm still feeling a little ragged around the edges because this morning I went to bed around 1:15 am, and then got up at 6 am to go to a court appearance (one of two today).

Why? Because last night I got to enjoy my wife's Valentine's day present -- two tix to the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip to see Cheap Trick. And we got a primo spot in the standing-room-only club -- three people back from the stage's edge.

You may recall that Cheap Trick is a band formed back in the early '70's that languished in obscurity in the U.S. (but flourished overseas) until a song from their live album recorded at the Budokan in Tokyo, "I Want You to Want Me," caught fire and became a hit. A very photogenic band, they took to the new marketing tool of MTV videos and had a string of hits through the mid-eighties.

Incredibly, the same band line-up -- as lead guitarist Rick Nielson put it last night, "Four great guys and three lousy chords" -- are still together, still touring, and still rocking. True, lead singer Robin Zander no longer looks like a teen idol (more like an aged burned-out surfer in a ragged cowboy hat and cheaters), and Nielson looks less like a weird older brother and more like a weird sixties-survivor uncle, but they still sound terrific. Nielson is one of those rock guitar players who manage to make the guitar sound like no other player can. And he still displays his clown-prince eccentricities: changing novelty guitars with every song (including the amazing five-necked guitar, and another that looks like him), and flinging guitar picks to a grateful crowd (I got one, and Amy got two).

I always admire rockers who can last for decades without becoming parodies of themselves. Cheap Trick has been a parody for decades; but not of themselves.



As a visual aid for my description of the band, its web site has a photo of the band (posing with Roger Daltrey) taken the day before we saw them.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Jerry Maguire Goes to the Garden State

I decided to make this President's Day Weekend not only one in which I read a book about a president -- All the President's Men -- but also a three-movie three-day weekend. Sunday's movie was (as you read below) Night Watch, viewed in a theatre. On Friday night, I watched Lost Horizon on video (yes, the 1937 Frank Capra version, how could you even ask); and this evening, I watched Cameron Crowe's 2005 movie Elizabethtown on video.

Now, this movie was savaged by the critics, and pretty much ignored at the box office. Even though I love most of Crowe's movies (Singles landed with a thud, alas, and I didn't even try Vanilla Sky), I resisted going to see this one, because I would hate to see a terrible work by a writer-director I like.

So I was pleased that I liked Elizabethtown so much. It wasn't Almost Famous or or Say Anything or Jerry Maguire (but then, very little is), but it was funny, touching, and beautiful. Perhaps critics were put off that the Tom Cruise role was not being played by Tom Cruise (one of the producers of the film), but rather by Orlando Bloom, complete with a Tom Cruise-ish fake American accent. But contrary to the reviews, Bloom can indeed act without a sword or bow or other implement of death in his hand (although he does have a scene with a knife near the beginning). And they probably did not like a third act that some (like me) would find charmingly quirky, and others would find long, excessive, and self-indulgent.

As the title of this post implies, the plot resembles bits of JM (a high-flying executive must deal with a spectacular failure) and Zach Branff's Garden State (a depressed young man heads to a small town to bury a parent, and meets an eccentric young woman who helps him deal); but it takes enough twists and turns of its own to be more than the sum of those parts. Recommended.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Watching the Night

This afternoon, Amy and I went to see Night Watch, the dark urban fantasy imported from Russia. It obviously treads much of the same territory as the Blade and Underworld movies, albeit with less of the American sense of selfless heroism and more of a Russian sense of fatalism, not to mention the central concept that individual choices between light and dark (which is definitely not presented as a clear-cut decision) shape the bigger picture. It's one of the first movies I've seen to depict a modern, urban, post-USSR Moscow, mixing big-screen TVs (showing dubbed episodes of American shows) and cell phones with Soviet architecture and vehicles. It has also adopted American-style MTV editing and snappy music, which should make it particularly popular in American theatres. (The Nuart was packed, even though it was an early matinee.)

The American version includes some witty tricks with the subtitles, with titles smashing into walls and breaking apart, or turning into swirls of blood. It's an odd move, since usually translators don't want to call attention to the titles.

I fervently hope that no American studio decides to remake this, like that lame Bridget Fonda remake of La Femme Nikita.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Perhaps it's a positive sign for the local (L.A.) economy, but I seem to be surrounded by construction, and have been for the last few years. The Santa Monica Freeway (a state highway) has been torn up near my office for the last few years, as part of a massive construction project that promises to help traffic flow (and which is disturbing traffic flow in the process). The building I work in in Century City has been undergoing renovation since the summer of 2004 -- and the end probably won't come until this summer. My office's window is right at the level of the parking garage of the old Fox Sports building on SM Boulevard; and for the last several months, a crew has been slowly taking that building and parking structure apart, by jack-hammering sections (yes, right outside my window) and pulling up sections by pickaxe and shovel. (I've taken to plugging headphones into the computer's earplug jack and switching Itunes to a jazz radio station when the jackhammers are slamming.)

And since January of this year, the entire western portion of the local mall, the Westside Pavillion, has been vacated and torn up; the sidewalk in front of it on Pico has been closed off, and a gigantic green tarp thrown over it, as it's turned into an arthouse multiplex theatre. (I didn't think enough arthouse movies were produced a year to support a multiplex.)

I feel like I live in a world of change -- and bad traffic.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Hellsing Around

Every time I post a link concerning the new Hellsing Ultimate OAV series, I seem to get increased traffic, so here I go again . . . .

The first volume of the Ultimate OAV is out in Japan, in both a regular and a deluxe edition. We have a copy of the deluxe edition on order at the local Japanese bookstore. We're hoping we can latch onto one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Heart of the Hunter

While Amy and I were browsing around a Japanese gift shop on Sawtelle this past weekend, I saw a Hong Kong DVD with the first eight episodes of the anime show Angel Heart. After I picked it up, I learned that the AH tv series just started in Japan in October; and that the first Japanese DVD of the series would not be out until April! So this DVD is unlicensed, I betcha. Hong Kong tends to be pretty lax about copyright enforcement.

Angel Heart is based on a manga by one of my favorite manga creators, Tsukasa Hojo. Back in the early '80s, Hojo created the delightful Cat's Eye, about three leotard-wearing, art-stealing sisters, which was adapted into two terrific anime series by studio TMS. After Cat's Eye, Hojo did City Hunter, an adventure/comedy strip about Ryo Saeba, a cool professional "sweeper" who exuded sangfroide until he encountered an attractive woman, at which point he customarily devolved into an embarassing horndog. (Think Brad Pitt mixed with Jerry Lewis.) CH was also adapted into several anime series -- by studio Nippon Sunrise -- and an early '90's live action movie starring Jackie Chan as Saeba.

Angel Heart is a sequel to City Hunter. It features one of those darned trained-since-birth teenage assassins, code-named Glass Heart, who at 15 has already killed 50 people and is sick of it. She attempts suicide, damages her heart, and undergoes a heart transplant. The donor of the heart is one of the City Hunter cast members (I won't reveal who, in case there are readers or viewers out there); the heart was stolen en route to an organ bank. After a year of being in a coma, Glass Heart now has the memories of the heart's donor overlayed on hers. Meanwhile, Saeba is searching for her. AH takes place in the same demimonde of crooks, assassins, bartenders, corrupt politicians, Yakuza, rich losers, and weary mercenaries as City Hunter.

The anime version of Angel Heart is produced by TMS, and at least in the early episodes the animators are pulling out the stops to duplicate the heavily-detailed semi-realistic look of Hojo's work these days. (Typically, animation quality tends to slack off in later episodes.) That, the moody jazz score, and the return of the voice actors from the City Hunter series make Angel Heart fun to watch.

Cat's Eye has never been legally released in the US in either manga or anime form. A few volumes of City Hunter's manga was released here by Hojo's own company a couple years ago, before it went out of business in the US. But the City Hunter anime has apparently been a big success for American company ADV films, which has released hundreds of episodes of the series on DVD. I'm hoping that ADV or someone else releases Angel Heart, so I can buy it with a clear conscience.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Andreas Katsulas, R.I.P.

Few people will recognize Mr. Katsulas by name, unless they followed the marvelous TV series Babylon Five, in which he gave a multifaceted performance as the conflicted Narn G'Kar. He also played the One-Armed Man in the Harrison Ford movie version of The Fugitive. I saw him at a few conventions, and he was warm and witty. He will definitely be missed.

Monday, February 13, 2006

That Bites

Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, has passed away. I recall finding the hardcover novel in the mid-seventies and reading about halfway through it, enjoying the gory shark-bite descriptions and the sex. It wasn't until the movie premiered on cable TV that I finally got to see the rest of the story (albeit, typically, a slightly different story than the novel. In particular, Roy Scheider's Brody seemed much younger than the aging sheriff in the novel.)

The LA Times revealed that Benchley was originally going to call his first novel "Silence in the Water," which sounds like a bad Movie of the Week. He and his father tossed around 200 possible titles; one that gets mentioned is -- I kid you not -- "Wha's That Noshin' On My Laig.' "

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Most Snicker-Worthy Series Title

So how many network geniuses did it take to decide to call a new military special-forces series "The Unit"?

While an espionage show written by David Mamet sounds interesting, the title will likely provoke lots of sophomoric sniggering, similar to the kid's movie "Free Willie" and the '70's Marvel comic book "Giant-Size Man-Thing."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

CS Eye

Was it just me, or was Thursday's CSI episode the nastiest, goriest episode the series has ever run -- and thus, one of the nastiest, goriest hours in network broadcast TV history?

Written by Jerry "Permanent Midnight" Stahl -- CSI's specialist in the weird -- the episode revolved around the torture, mutilation and death of the college-age daughter of Lady Heather, Grissom's dominatrix ex-squeeze. Apart from the eye enucleation scenes, the usual y-cut autopsied corpses, the sampled bodily fluids, the torture, and the horrifying conditions in which the victims were found, the themes in the episode themselves were spectacularly creepy.

At least this time we skipped our usual habit of eating dinner while watching CSI.

All the President's Blogs

I'm in the middle of reading Woodward and Bernstein's All the President's Men, now almost 32 years old. I lived through the Watergate era, but was very young (I was seven in 1972) and didn't understand quite what was happening -- except that my parents had never had a high opinion of Nixon (we were small-town Democrats) and this seemed to confirm their opinion. I also never saw the movie version of the book, directed by Alan Pakula; but reading the book, I can see how it would make a crackerjack movie. The book is written in novel format, in the third person, complete with character analyses of Woodward's and Bernstein's flaws.

One important aspect of the book is how much work W & B put into confirming every lead they received with at least one other source -- besides contacting the subjects of their stories before publication and giving the subjects a chance to respond. (I just read the scene where Bernstein call John Mitchell late at night to confirm that he controlled the CRP secret fund while still Attorney General; and Mitchell explodes, "JEEEEEZUS!", followed by a graphic threat against the newspaper's female publisher.)

These days many opine that blog reporting will supplant the newspaper and television media as the source for news. But I wonder how many blog reporters are so careful to ascertain facts before publishing them.

You can find the actual Washington Post articles about Watergate (including the one quoting Mitchell's threats, albeit with a slang term for a portion of the female anatomy edited out) archived at


I donated blood to the Red Cross today, as I do pretty much whenever they call me up saying they need some A+ blood.

I don't want to hardsell this, but if you're physically able, donating blood has to be the easiest charitable act ever invented. You take a little time on the weekend (this morning it was an hour and ten minutes, counting the 15 minutes at the canteen afterward), you lounge on your back for most of it, you get license to eat and drink free sweet stuff, and you get out of doing any heavy lifting or exercise for the rest of the day. There are two minor punctures involved (a blood test, and then the needle), but those are really minimal.

The payoff? You get the knowledge that by lazing around for a few minutes, you save up to two lives.

To find out more, go to

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Prejudicial Error

"Prejudicial error" is what we appellate attorneys call it when a judge makes a legal mistake, and the ultimate result would probably have been different if he hadn't.

There probably wasn't prejudicial error in Judge Beverly Grant's courtroom in my home state of Washington last Friday -- just some bad judgment.

In a sentencing hearing for a man convicted of manslaughter -- with the tearful family of the victim in the courtroom -- Judge Grant ordered everyone to say, "Go Seahawks!" She decided people weren't loud enough, so she ordered them to repeat it. Then she resentenced the defendant to 13 1/2 years in prison.

I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Judicial power can be a scary thing. A judge's order can't be lightly ignored. A judge wields the power of the state, and can use the contempt process and control over the bailiff to immediately punish refusals to obey her power. So judges need to take care how they exercise that power. This did not seem to be a wise use.

Judge Grant apparently wanted to break the tension. Seems to me tension is unavoidable when you have a man's freedom and a family's sorrow at stake.

Tales of our Fathers

Any one who has not yet (or recently) checked my Dad's blog should do so. Dad has recently been telling the story of how my great-grandfather, B. Barer, got his wife and kids (including my grandfather) out of Russia in the early part of the last century. It's a gripping tale of suspected espionage, gunpoint interrogations, and honest corruption. I'm glad Dad's posting it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Sound of Defeat

I don't watch football very often, and lately the times I've done it haven't been very rewarding. Exhibit One: The Superbowl this evening, in which the Steelers hammered the Seahawks.

I couldn't help noticing that the sound mix on the half-time show by the Rolling Stones was utterly lousy. I was listening to the game in 5.1 Dolby surround sound, and I could barely hear Jagger. If they can put microphones on the players and pick up their comments, you'd think they could effectively mic rock musicians.

I also noticed that despite the much-publicized five-second delay, aimed at protecting America from the horrors of bared breasts and Anglo-Saxon expressions, nothing protected the viewers from commercials that were in questionable taste. Did family viewers really need to see a close-up of a blood-stained cell phone, as part of the promo for a new rip-off of CSI? (And on a big-screen TV, that bloody mobile was really in your face.) Did they need to see the ads for the new Lorne Michaels tv series, in which a cherubic little girl states, smiling, that some people are "going to Hell" because they are Jews? Explain that one to the little rugrats sitting in front of the TV with their Nerf footballs and their Steelers jerseys.

Used to be that commercials went out of their way not to offend anyone. But they are becoming increasingly coarse, particularly radio ads. A national car commercial talked about how one could "kick the crap" out of an SUV. A local ski resort ad featured folks coming up with lame excuses for playing hooky from work; one woman's excuse was that she "drank too much water and peed out my electrolytes!" I'm no campaigner for decency, but commercials are offensive enough by nature; they don't have to strive to offend.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Most Nauseating Product Placement Ever?

I'm about two-thirds of the way through last Thursday's episode of Smallville. It's too bad the producers decided to follow-up their highly-publicized 100th episode last week -- which likely pulled in new viewers -- with a real dog of a 101st episode. Rather than put a young Bruce Wayne in Metropolis -- as the producers have often hinted they would -- the creators featured a "Batgirl Lite": Vengeance, a cowled young woman in a long, capelike coat who received superpowers via a heart transplant from someone who lived in Smallville and was contaminated by the "meteor rocks" (kryptonite) which have been the device behind many of the show's plots -- kind of like radiation in the Marvel Universe. Everytime Vengeance appears on the dark Metropolis streets, the score plays a cheesy variation on Danny Elfman's "Batman" theme.

Anyway, the worst moment (so far -- haven't finished the episode yet) in this regrettable story occurs when Vengeance's bespectacled alter ego empties her bag in front of Clark Kent and his friend Chloe. She pulls out a brick-sized box of Acuvue contact lenses. The camera lingers on the box. Clark and Chloe look at Vengeance inquiringly. She quips that the glasses don't look good over the mask. "Acuvue to the rescue," Chloe intones reverently, shaking her head with wonder.

The story, which has ground to a halt, lurches forward again.

Ack! Ack! Ack!

From Dan Rather to the Dog Whisperer

Not only did I watch Dan Rather speak on Friday, but that evening I also got to watch another broadcast personality -- my cousin, Burl Barer -- on National Geographic's show "The Dog Whisperer." They flashed the covers of two of Burl's books on the screen, and gave him a chance to plug them. That should be good for a few more sales.

RIP: "Grandpa" Al Lewis

Al Lewis, aka Grandpa Munster, who remained hip and colorful through several decades, has died at 95.

Dan Rather

Yesterday, I attended the annual luncheon held by a defense counsel organization. This luncheon has a tradition of featuring some of the most prominent figures in the world as keynote speakers. I've attended luncheons where Al Gore and Rudolph Guiliani spoke; and the speaker last year (I was not able to attend, alas) was Bill Clinton.

This year, the speaker was Dan Rather. When I was growing up, practically the only network news my parents watched was CBS news (particularly when Walter Cronkite was the anchor), so I've heard Rather's voice on the TV all my life. Since Rather has been with CBS for 44 years, I gather a lot of you have heard Rather for a good portion of your lives. So I got that frisson you get when such a familiar voice is emanating from someone in the same room as you.

If I had to summarize Rather's presentation style in one word, it would be "gun-shy." (Well, two words joined by a hyphen count as one.) You'd think someone of Rather's standing and experience could weather the drubbing he took from the right after the controversial Bush Air Force Reserve story he presented two years ago, but I think the whole experience took its toll. Everytime he said something that migh vaguely be interpreted as taking a side, he equivocated or through in a disclaimer (e.g., "And this applies to Democratic Presidents as well as Republicans . . . .) At one point, he even said, "And don't go leaving this room saying Dan Rather is against the war." I almost felt like shouting, "Knock it off and take a position already!"

That aside, Rather is obviously a very smart guy with a global perspective; and it's a pleasure to hear a speaker who chooses his words so carefully.

The theme of his talk was a discussion of what's on the horizon. Here are some highlights of the views he expressed (and they are his views, not necessarily mine):

-- The U.S. is, perhaps for the first time in history, the sole military superpower and economic superpower. It might even be called a "hyperpower."

-- The key beneficiary of the second Gulf War is Iran. The war has allowed Iran to expand its influence in other Middle-Eastern countries.

-- The most serious potential flashpoint for a potential future world war is Northern Asia. North Korea has a dictator who is a puppet of the military, and a standing military of one million people (compared to less than half that of the United States). China also has a huge standing military, as well as nuclear weapons; and its stated goal is to assume economic and military superpower status equal to the U.S.'s. If either country should attack Japan, we would have to defend Japan.

-- Saddam Hussein (based on Rather's two face-to-face interviews with him) possesses a very keen and quick mind. Unlike many strong-arm dictators, he actually listens when people talk to him, which can make him especially dangerous. Two other important aspects to Saddam's personality: First, his definition of "winning" is surviving. He considers himself the winner of the first Gulf War, because he stayed in power and Bush was voted out of office. Today, imprisoned and on trial, he still considers himself the victor, because he's alive. Second, ever since he was a child growing up in Tikrit, Saddam's dream has been to follow in the foosteps of another son of Tikrit, Salidan, and march his troops through the streets of Jerusalem.

-- As a result of the competition between all of the news sources available today, television journalism has been "dumbed down, sleazed up and tarted up." One casualty is that networks have reduced their coverage of any overseas events except the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There was more, but those are the points that stuck with me. All in all, a great rubber-chicken event.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Miss Macross

A while back, I wrote about Mari Iijima, the Japanese singer/songwriter/actress who played Lyn Minmay on the Japanese animated series Space Fortress Macross 24 years ago, returning to the role -- this time, for a new English dub of the series. I've received a sampler DVD that contains an episode of the new dub. Hearing a 40-something Iijima playing Minmay in English is certainly a different experience than hearing the teenage Iijima play her in Japanese; and is also quite different from hearing Reba West, the American actress who voiced Minmay for the 1985 US version of the show, Robotech. Plus, I'm not used to hearing a voice on an American dub of a Japanese show who actually sounds Japanese. (And the character is Chinese. I suppose it all works out somewhere.)

I have the complete series, in non-dubbed subtitled form, from Animeigo, who previously had the Macross license; so I'm not about to buy the whole series again just to have a good dubbed version. But it's nice to know it exists.

Here's an interview of Iijima about the experience of revisiting her character a couple of decades later.