Sunday, April 30, 2006


My feelings toward the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held at my alma mater UCLA, have always been mixed. On the positive side, it's a delightful event, with tens of thousands of literate Angelinos crowding onto the campus to buy the wares of authors famous and obscure. On the negative side, it's always held on a weekend around the time of my birthday. For that reason, this is the first time I've attended both days of the Festival; usually I'm preparing for and holding a birthday party on the Saturday of the Festival. (And last year, since my party and trial work swallowed the weekend, I couldn't go at all.) But this year, I held the party the weekend before the Festival, freeing us to avail ourselves of two days of Festival events.

And it's a good thing we were there both days, because from our perspective this year our family took over the event. That's because all four of the Goldberg siblings -- Lee, Karen, Linda, and Tod -- were signing books; and Tod was also participating in multiple panels and events. Further, their uncle, Burl Barer (top left), showed up on Sunday for Lee's, Karen's and Linda's joint signing at the Borders booth on Sunday.

Also pictured: The ever-elegant (even as a great-grandmother) Julie Andrews answers questions on the Target kid's stage. (One kid asked her, "Are you Mary Poppins?" She hesitated, then replied, "Yes. Yes, I'm Mary Poppins," provoking thunderous cheers from the children in the audience. Another kid then asked, "Where's Bert?", referring to Dick Van Dyke's character from the movie. She replied, "He lives near here, along the California coast.") Lee, Karen, and Linda, signing at the Border's booth. Tod, signing with his fellow participants on the Saturday afternoon panel, "The Art of the Short Story." Finally, (traveling back in time, as Blogger seems to like to do with photos), a picture of that panel.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mighty Marvel Movies?

This month, Business 2.0 magazine features an article about Marvel Entertainment's plans to produce its own movies about its superheroes who have not been previously licensed out (and at least one, The Hulk, whom the studios don't want anymore). The reason? Marvel says it's only been receiving pennies on the dollar from the success of movies like the Spider-Man and film series, which have reaped cosmic-sized bucks worldwide. If it seizes the means of production, it stands to reap the majority of grosses from the flicks. To accomplish this, Marvel borrowed around half a billion dollars, in an elaborate deal that uses the characters themselves as collateral. One problem is that Marvel's most iconic characters -- Spidey, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil -- are licensed out. Even characters like Ghost Rider, Iron Fist, and (ahem) Man-Thing are either in the process of being turned into movies or have already been flickerized. True, the Blade movies have been successful using a third-banana character from the Tomb of Dracula comic. But will Marvel have the same success with Nick Fury (a James-Bond-like character, already turned into a bad Fox TV-movie starring David Hasselhoff), Ant-Man (whose chief claim to fame in the media is a sketch on Saturday Night Live, with Garrett Morris as the little guy), or Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu (who's, y'know, a master of kung-fu)?

Further, articles like this seem to ignore that Marvel had its own studio in the eighties. Marvel Animation made a few attempts at exploiting the company's comic-book characters (Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, a Hulk cartoon, and an unsold pilot for an series); but had its greatest success licensing toy lines. Its Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons transfixed millions of baby-busters.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Birthday Events

We celebrated my 41st birthday with two events: A barbeque at my house on Saturday the 22nd (amazingly, the party ended before sunset); and a nice dinner out with Amy on my actual birthday, the 24th, at the glitzy Literati II restaurant on Wilshire in Brentwood.

On my birthday, I worked 10.6 hours, landed a new client, won an appeal, and ruined a Brooks Brothers windowpane shirt when a red pen came uncapped in the pocket. Overall I think I came out ahead.

Photos below -- in reverse chronological order, 'cause that's how Picassa works.

Amy and me at Literati II on my birthday. Posted by Picasa

The decadent appetizer we enjoyed at Literati II on my birthday: Squab on toast. Tasty little bird. Posted by Picasa

On Saturday, at the birthday party, presents were had. Posted by Picasa

Sitting in the backyard during Saturday's party. Posted by Picasa

The backyard barbeque. Posted by Picasa

At the party, folks chow down in the backyard. Posted by Picasa

The birthday cake -- scanned from a CLAMP manga cover -- courtesy of Amy. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Greed in Combat

I recently saw the 1970 movie Kelly's Heroes (or rather, I saw it except for the first ten or so minutes -- cable movies are somewhat of a throwback to the old movie-theatre custom of coming in at any point in the movie and watching it to the end). This was a flick that I'd seen snatches of for years on video-store screens or TVs in restaurants; and it had intrigued me -- partly because of the all-star cast (Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton, Carroll O'Connor, and a bunch of those guys who appeared in every WWII movie made in the sixties); partly because of the uber-late-sixties theme song, "Burning Bridges", written by future lieutenant governor of California Mike Curb (he also wrote the theme to the "Hot Wheels" animated TV series -- the stuff you learn on the Internet!); and partly because I'm a sucker for well-made WWII movies.

Anyway, this comedy-drama-adventure movie is essentially an Ocean's Eleven-type heist movie set in 1944 France. Eastwood, a disgraced US Army officer, learns of a bank 30 miles behind enemy lines that has $16 million in gold bars. He organizes a group of misfits to go there and knock over the bank. In the process, they end up jump-starting the bogged-down allied efforts in occupied France, rendering the clueless general in charge (O'Connor) ecstatic. It's beautifully shot (I love that late-sixties-early-seventies cinematography), has great action scenes, and is often hilarious. Particularly funny is Sutherland's anachronistic hippy tank commander, Oddball.

The movie makes an interesting contrast to the early sixties all-star WWII epic The Great Escape, one of my favorite movies. The theme of Escape is that when motivated by freedom, a man can do anything. The theme of Kelly's Heroes is that when a man is motivated by abject greed, he can do anything. A nice transition from the sixties to the seventies.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hostile Reality

Today, the California Supreme Court rendered a decision in the high-profile case Lyle v. Warner Brothers, in which a female comedy writers' assistant, hired to write down the sexually-charged writers' conferences on the sexually-charged sitcom Friends was fired, and then sued the writers and production company for creating a hostile environment -- due to the sexually-charged writers' conferences. This was after she was advised that the conferences would be sexually-charged, and she replied that she didn't mind. The trial court threw out the sexual harassment causes of action on a summary judgment motion, and awarded the defendants attorney fees on the ground the suit was frivolous. The lower appellate court (0ur Los Angeles appellate court) reversed and held that the plaintiff could take the hostile-environment claim to trial. The California Supreme Court sided with the trial court; and found that general smuttiness that was not directed to the plaintiff did not rise to the level of a hostile environment.

I like the concurring opinion of Justice Ming Chin, in which he addresses what I think is the main issue: Creative freedom. Had the plaintiff been allowed to pursue her suit, then any movie, play rehearsal, or discussion about sexual subjects posed the danger that someone involved might sue the other participants for harassment.

Birthday Business

My forty-first (gulp!) birthday is coming up on Monday. I've never understood folks who always take their birthdays off from work. Last year, I worked 14 hours on my birthday -- and it was on a Sunday! (I was in the middle of a trial. Fortunately, I got the previous day off, for my birthday party.) This year, I've got a couple of big filings due on Monday; so it looks like another busy birthday.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Prime Batman

DC/Warner books has released the third and final volume of its spiffy hardcover reprint series, Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams. This volume reprints a series of stories illustrated by Adams and written by Dennis O'Neil that in my opinion represent a high mark in the character's nearly seventy-year history.

The stories have to be put into historical context. At the beginning of the sixties, Batman -- who at that time had been published for over twenty years -- was seen as practically played out. The stories (sometimes produced by creators who worked for publisher DC; other times created by ghosts who worked for Bob Kane, the nominal creator of Batman) had abandoned the mysterio version of Batman, and depicted him in increasingly silly and boring science-fiction stories. DC was actually on the verge of cancelling the Batman comics, since DC's contract with Kane made Batman comics more expensive to publish than others. Editor Julius Schwartz managed to save the character with his "New Look" Batman, which featured a more realistically drawn caped crusader -- primarily due to artist Carmine Infantino -- in less-silly stories that focused on Batman's detective skills. The Batman TV series of the mid-sixties then transformed the comic into the best-selling one in the nation; but to pander to the TV show audience, the creators camped-up the comic, writing intentionally silly stories.

When the TV series was cancelled, sales dropped, and Batman was once again in need of a new direction. DC's solution was to combine the gothic aspect of the series (which had always lurked in the background, and which was then popular due to the Dark Shadows TV series and early seventies horror movies) with a variation on the hard-boiled noir prevalent in detective novels of the time, as well as movies like Point Blank and Bullett. Batman ditched the showy Batmobile in favor of a less-conspicuous Corvette. He relied less on gadgets. He sent Robin off to college; and abandoned Stately Wayne Manor for an in-town penthouse. His repertoire of fighting moves -- previously limited to punches and the occasional kick -- expanded to various martial arts disciplines. Writer O'Neil gave him a more relaxed speech pattern that veered between knight-errant heroism and Chandler-esque cynicism, with occasional Joe-Friday-like observations, such as, "Even Criminals get old! Those who don't end up in prison, the gutter . . . or the grave!"

Best of all, Adams -- with a background in advertising art -- used his illustrator skills to redesign Batman. He gave him a sleek, gymnast's physique, a narrow jaw, a feline grace when he moved, lots of shadows, and best of all a cape that practically became another character. (Per Adams, the swirling cape was inspired by Christopher Lee's in his first Hammer Dracula movie.) As O'Neil's stories improved, Adams writes in the intro to this volume, he began experimenting with storytelling. The layouts became more cinematic, the illusion of movement more pronounced.

The O'Neil-Adams stories here were originally published from 1971-1973. I actually have the original comics, and reprints of the same stories in other volumes. But it's great to have them in one book, combined with other rare Adams stuff (such as the two Batman book-and-record sets he drew for Power Records in the mid-seventies; and his 1991 redesign of the Robin costume, in which he finally gave the poor Boy Wonder a pair of pants.) Plus, Adams and his staff (i.e., his children) re-colored these stories, and Adams did corrections on the art -- which might be bad from an historian's viewpoint; but since, as I said, all the stories are available elsewhere, the artistic tweaking is palatable.

As for the stories themselves, you get:

-- The three O'Neil-Adams stories that introduced Batman's most powerful opponent, the centuries-old ecoterrorist Ra's al Ghul (who can also be seen in last year's movie, Batman Begins.) These stories take Batman out of his familiar Gotham City millieu, and literally around the world. Decades later, O'Neil would adapt the first story, "Daughter of the Demon," for the Bruce Timm Batman animated series; and would novelize Batman Begins.

-- "Night of the Reaper," a chilling story of a vengeful Nazi hunter, done with a horror story's atmosphere.

-- "Half an Evil," the re-introduction of Batman's most Dick-Tracy-like opponent, Two-Face.

-- "The Bruce Wayne Murder Case," a story of deadly political corruption, featuring an especially cynical Batman, who saves one dirty-tricker from being murdered by another. You can see echoes of Watergate in this story.

-- My favorite, "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge." The Joker was originally introduced in 1940 as nothing less than a serial killer. Over the years, he had been softened into a mildly amusing bad guy, who stole stuff in clown-related crimes but never actually hurt anyone. That changed with this story, in which the Joker breaks out of Arkham Asylum with designs on revenge against the member of his gang who betrayed him to the police. We never learn who did so, since the Joker's approach is to simply kill all five men. Batman sets out to protect four of them -- mostly unsuccessfully. This story provided the template for numerous Joker stories to follow, as it painted the sadistic clown in operatic terms as a homicidal madman who happily poisons his men, hangs them, blows them up, and feeds them to sharks -- yet who declines to kill Batman while he lays unconscious at the Joker's feet, since doing so would be rob him of the grand confrontation he seeks.

The images above are copyrighted by DC Comics.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Sun Also Rises

At the risk of wearing out my welcome, here's some more fun anime stuff:

-- The trailer from Tales of Earthsea: Gedo Senki, the upcoming film from Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, directed by Miyazaki's son and based on the Earthsea novels by Oregon novelist Ursula K. LeGuin.

-- The first half of the first episode of the TV anime adaptation of XXXholic, the manga from CLAMP currently being published in the US by Del Rey Books.

Sorry, both are in Japanese, with no subtitles.

CLAMP cropping

I've edited the post below about CLAMP's appearance at Anime Expo by removing the scanned CLAMP artwork. I did so after reading one of the English portions of CLAMP's Website, which allows fan artwork and "cosplay" (costuming) depicting CLAMP characters; but very politely asks that scans of CLAMP's artwork not appear on Websites:

"Just as other creators wish to display their 'works' under 'ideal and intended conditions', CLAMP desires to give viewers the opportunity to view works belonging to CLAMP under ideal and intended conditions. CLAMP asks for your understanding and cooperation regarding display policies applying to its works."

As a substitute, since CLAMP encourages cosplay concerning their characters, here are two photos of fans dressed as characters from the CLAMP manga "Cardcaptor Sakura." The photo on the left is a young lady at Anime Expo Tokyo dressing as Sakura; on the right are two girls at Anime Expo 2004 (in Anaheim) as Sakura and Tomoyo. You'll note that the American girls seem to be having more fun. Japanese cosplayers often have astounding costumes, but they tend to look deadly serious.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Well, Now You've Got It

On his blog, Mark Evanier solves one of the great mysteries of the ages: Who originally drew that much-photocopied cartoon of long-nosed guys laughing hysterically, with the caption, "You Want It When?"

Now I'd like to find out the origin of a cartoon that was on a wall at B. Barer & Sons for decades. It depicted a businessman filled with gears and machinery, and featured the wise caption: "Make Sure Brain is in Gear Before Mouth Engaged."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Anime Expo, the west coast's quintessential anime convention, has scored a major triumph in the guest-of-honor field: the first American appearance of CLAMP. CLAMP is/are a group of four female comics writers/artists who started out in the late '80's producing Doujinshi (amateur fan-fiction comics), then graduated to creating some of the most successful manga of the last 15 years. The quartet was notoriously publicity-shy for several years, but have been emerging lately for fashion-magazine pictorials, book signings, and now a U.S. convention appearance.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fans Gone Wild

Colleen Doran's blog relays the strange saga of a purported fan of Lord of the Rings who allegedly passed herself off as a male relative of Elijah Wood, and bilked a lot of folks out of their time, money, and pride. It might be called Fangirls Don't Cry, but instead it's been written up in a book called When the Fan Hits the Sh*t (only without the asterisk).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Judge Junctions

This past week was a heavy one for me for extracurricular appellate activities. (That's a lot easier to write than to say.) On Wednesday, I attended the annual luncheon the LA County Bar Association Appellate Courts Committee throws in honor of the California Supreme Court. (Although I've been a committee member for over five years, this is the first such luncheon my schedule permitted me to attend.) The keynote speaker was LA Times reporter and bureau chief Jim Newton. The appropriate part of his speech was an excerpt from his forthcoming biography of California Governor and revolutionary US Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren. The inappropriate part was a jeremiad about journalistic access to the courts and to police personnel records. Considering that this is a topic that is bound to come before the California Supreme Court and the lower appellate courts shortly, subjecting the Supreme Court and appellate court justices attending to essentially an ex parte argument on these subjects, while they were a captive audience, was a bit embarrassing.

I engaged in a more fun activity yesterday, when I was a volunteer judge for the Roger Traynor Moot Court Competition, held by the Witkin Institute. Law schools throughout California vie against each other in the Competition; and the Institute invites both sitting appellate justices and (ahem) experienced appellate attorneys to act as judges. This year had the added bonus of using a case for the argument that dealt with liability for a dangerous condition of public property -- an area of law I know well, having defended such cases for over 15 years and having written amici curae briefs before the state Supreme Court in key dangerous condition cases.

Preparation for the judging was burdensome -- I was reviewing the record and sample briefs after midnight on Friday, as well as Saturday morning -- but the judging itself was a blast. I got to wear a robe, and was allowed to gently terrorize these incredibly bright students with sharp questions challenging their positions. On the morning round, Second Appellate District justice Dennis Perluss was on my panel as our presiding justice; on the afternoon round, Steve Renick, an attorney with whom I've often worked, was on my panel as an associate justice. Two bonuses for the competition: It was held at Southwestern Law School, which occupies the gorgeous art deco Bullocks Wilshire Building near downtown LA; and at the end of the day Amy and I were treated to a delicious catered dinner in the Louis XVI room of the building.

Matzo Man

A little bit of nonsense for the holidays.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

He Can't Be a Man 'Cause He Doesn't Eat the Same Rice Krispies as Me

The Internet is a vast pop-cultural Sargasso, and this has just floated to the top: A 1964 Rice Krispies ad, with a song from some obscure R & B cover band called the Rolling Stones.

Breakfast rocks.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Your Friendly Neighborhood Totoro

Buena Vista, which holds the American distribution rights for Hayao Miyazaki's movies and those from his studio, Studio Ghibli, has been turning on the publicity machine lately. Cartoon Network has been having "A Month of Miyazaki," showcasing one of his movies every weekend; and last month BV released three Miyazaki/Ghibil films: "Howl's Moving Castle," Miyazaki's latest film, which came out last year; "Whisper of the Heart," a wonderful movie about the frustrations of creativity and adolescence, written by Miyazaki and directed by his protege (who alas died soon after the film was released); and "Tonari no Totoro," known in the US as "My Neighbor Totoro."

"Totoro," which came out in the late eighties in Japan, is probably the most successful Miyazaki movie in the US. In the early '90's, a dubbed version of the movie (produced by Streamline Productions) played briefly in US theatres; and was then released on video by Fox. After it received an enthusiastic endorsement by Siskel and Ebert, it became a popular children's video release. And Japanese merchandise from the film became popular with teenagers both there and here.

The new DVD edition of "Totoro" is worth buying for folks who already have the Fox DVD, for several reasons. First, it's in widescreen format; the Fox release was pan-and-scan. Second, it features both a subtitled Japanese-language version and a new dub, featuring Tim Daly as the father and sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning as sisters Satsuki and Mei. Third, it restores several scenes that were cut from the Fox edition, probably as too culturally specific to Japan (such as shots of Shinto shrines), and thus reflects the director's original intent in regard to pacing and length. (Fortunately, the Fox version retained the charming scene where the father and his daughters, ages four and nine, bathe together in an old-fashioned Japanese bath.)

The movie itself is gorgeous, and highly recommended for all ages. When it came out in Japan, I brought an unsubtitled, Japanese-language copy of it to a friend's house. His then four year old sister watched it, enraptured, even though she could not understand a word of the dialogue. When it was finished, she asked, "Can we watch that movie again?" That's pretty high praise.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Panera Bread

I've been to the Santa Monica Panera Bread (on Wilshire) and the Westchester one (on Sepulveda, south of Manchester); but I've only used the wi-fi at the Westchester one.

A big disadvantage of the Santa Monica location is that they turn off the wi-fi between 12 and 2, so that the wi-fi folks don't interfere with the lunch crowd.

Advantages: bright chain-restaurant location, not as funky-grungy as some WFWH's. Very close to LAX; a good place to hang out while waiting to pick someone up (since you can't wait at the terminal without a boarding pass these days). Comfortable seats. Good food. Decent coffee drinks. Pretty good access to wall outlets. Big parking lot in the back.

Disadvantages: Fairly crowded, even on a weekday. The wi-fi signal was low, and the service rather slow; that may have been because I was using the office laptop (about five years old) and a USB wi-fi adaptor without a high-speed USB port. The table bussers began nagging me about taking my plate after about an hour, even though I was still snacking on bread as I computed.

Hatch Map

For those who have a lot of time to burn, here's a reproduction of the black-light map in the hatch from Wednesday's episode of Lost. This is from the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. There's no copyright bug for the map, but I'd say it's copyright Warner Communications (for EW magazine), Bad Robot Productions, and ABC Television.