Thursday, August 31, 2006

Prime Rib with a Side of Tyson Frozen Dinner

Mike Tyson, former heavyweight champ, convicted rapist, and sometime ear-cannibal, has been reduced to the status of a Vegas sideshow, training in public near the Aladdin Casino's buffet line.

He complains that fighting has left "a bad taste in my mouth." Well, that's what happens when you eat your opponents.

Courts as Literary Critics

Copyright infringement and plagerism suits involving fiction force judges into the unusual role of literature analysts and critics, comparing the works at issue and determining whether they are similar enough to prove that one work was ripped off from the other. Some judges take to this job with relish.

Take Judge Betty B. Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who recently penned this opinion in the case of Funky Films, Inc. v. Time Warner Entertainment. The suit contends that the HBO TV Series SIX FEET UNDER was copied from a screenplay, "The Funk Parlor," that was submitted to the president of original programming at HBO three months before the president's "top lieutenant" solicited Alan Ball to develop SIX FEET UNDER. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment granted to HBO/Time-Warner by the district (trial) court.

Judge Fletcher compares the two works. Among her observations:

"The encounters explored in 'The Funk Parlor' are at
times pedestrian, and the dialogue, at times, rather trite. The
characters play beer-drinking games like 'I never' and
express concern about 'burning in hell' and that 'God is punishing
us.' 'Six Feet Under,' by contrast, is full of complex
and subtle dialogue, including ironic turns of phrases that
heighten the already-fraught interactions among the characters."

"Although both works explore themes of death, relationships,
and sex, they do so in very different ways. 'The
Funk Parlor,' a murder mystery, is driven by a series of murders,
which catalyze the salvation of the business. The use of
death in 'Six Feet Under' is quite different: there, death pro-
vides the focal point for exploring relationships and existential
meaning. As noted by the district court, the general theme
of 'Six Feet Under' 'is that sex and death provide focal
points for relationships,' while the predominant theme of
'The Funk Parlor' is that 'sex and religion don’t mix.'"

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Worldcon photo problems

For some reason, I'm currently unable to post photos to the blog. Until that's solved, you can see photos from the con here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

LA Con IV: WorldCon

When I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention, LA Con II in 1984, I took a bus there, stayed in a hotel room with friends, and immersed myself in the experience. When I attended my second, LA Con III in 1996, I commuted by car. 2006 brought Worldcon back to the LA area with LA CON IV, held (like the others) in Anaheim. This time, in a summer full of conventions, Amy and I devoted just one day to the con.

The Worldcon was different, in several ways, from the recent anime and comics conventions we'd attended. The attendance was smaller -- around 9,000 to 10,000 members, as compared to 41,000 for Anime Expo and 120,000 for Comic-Con. The members were older; at least a couple of panels referred to the age of the audience members. A sign of the age issue was that two of the con guests of honor -- fan guest Howard Devore and media guest Frankie (Tom Corbett, Space Cadet) Thomas -- passed away before the convention. Another indication of age was author, raconteur, and all-around hellraiser Harlan Ellison's announcement that this would likely be his last con -- not because of health, but because he's 72 and figures he's accomplished everything con-wise that he wants to do.

Photos will follow -- once Blogger starts cooperating, and allows me to post photos.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Those Who Forget the Past are Doomed to Eat It

A restaurant , "Hitler's Cross," in an urban financial district in India decides to go with a Nazi theme, complete with a big, stern picture of Hitler in the door.

"We are not promoting Hitler," insists the owner, despite the evidence to the contrary. "But we want to tell people we are different in the way he was different."

All together now: YECCCH!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hoo hoo, hoo hoo

My wonderful anniversary present from Amy is two tickets to The Who's concert in November at the Hollywood Bowl. I've been a fan of The Who since I saw "The Kids are Alright" on cable in the early eighties, but I've never had the chance to see them live. Considering that only two of the original Who are still on this mortal coil, I may not get the chance again.

The band, of course, is enjoying attention from a new g-g-generation of folks who know them from the themes they do for the various CSI series.

Which raises a trivia question: How many tv series have had well-known rock songs as themes? I'm guessing licensing difficulties and costs prevent it when a producer with less clout than CSI's Jerry Bruckheimer wants to do it. I recall that the Vietnam series "Tour of Duty" in the late 80's used "Paint it, Black" as its theme; and the nineties series "Get a Life" with Chris Elliott used REM's "Stand." The first episode of "Happy Days" used "Rock around the Clock" by Bill Haily and the Comets. There are probably other examples that I can't think of. I also recall a story that the producers of the short-lived comedy SLEDGEHAMMER! wanted to use the then-current Peter Gabriel song, but couldn't get the rights (or they cost too much).

Series starring the musicians, or facsimiles of them -- like the seventies "Jackson 5" and "Osmonds" cartoons, or the recent "Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi" animated series -- don't count.

Welcome to the Grand Illusion

Watching Neil Burger's sumptiously beautiful film THE ILLUSIONIST at the Arclight Theatre one night after struggling through ULTRAVIOLET on DVD was like savoring a dinner crafted by a master chef hours after choking down a 10-year-old Almond Joy.

THE ILLUSIONIST is old-fashioned. It's free of MTV editing. There's no CGI. It's a period piece that doesn't star Johnny Depp. (Although it does have Jessica Biel, whom I last saw fighting vampires while wearing an Ipod in BLADE:TRINITY.) But what it excels at is telling a story: a romantic, gripping story, where each scene draws you into the next, where you care about the characters and demand a resolution that somehow gives each of them what he or she deserves. Even when I saw some parts of the story coming, I didn't care, because I was in the grip of a master storyteller and I could enjoy the trip even when I recognized the route.

There's a reason THE ILLUSIONIST sold out showing after showing at the Arclight yesterday, at $14 a ticket. See it. It's far better than a summer movie deserves to be.

Friday, August 18, 2006



I rented this expecting a fun B-movie. Instead, it was a pretentious, bad, hard-to-watch B-movie.

It might have been visually interesting, if the director and cinemtographer could come to a decision on what the movie should look like. It has a totally unreal, green-screen, animated background look, except when it has a more realistic look, except when it has a candy-colored dayglow TRON look, except when it looks really murky. (Apparently, the advances in sophisticated high-definition video cameras enable cinematophers to turn crappy, grainy shots into crappy, colorful shots. Add in the merest whisper of a story, the absence of any emotional resonance, lots of head-shaking WTF moments, and a villain who actually says, "Oh, it's on," when confronting the heroine, and you've got bad-bad, not fun-bad.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Cereal Numbers

The latest goodies that Mark Evanier has posted on his blog from YouTube: vintage Quaker Oats cereal commercials for their Quisp (green-suited, propeller-headed alien with yiddish inflection), Quake (lantern-jawed muscleman), and Quangaroo (a kangaroo with a sorta-Australian, sorta-Brooklyn accent) cereals. If there was a feud between Quisp and Quake (as depicted in the commercials), Quisp must have won; I recall his cereal remaining on the shelves long after Quake and Quangaroo sunk into the ground.

Quisp cereal consisted of saucer-shaped chunks of sugar, with maybe a molecule of grain each. Far better than the cereal were these commercials, produced by the same wacky geniuses who created the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.

The Marvelous West

Marvel's western comics thrived in the late Fifties and early Sixties (when westerns thrived in every popular medium), before super-heroes began to beat Marvel's other genres down. Marvel tried reviving them in the early Seventies (primarily with reprints), and has taken occasional stabs at mini-series and the like, if only to keep its trademarks alive.

Marvel's style of western was always dominated by two kinds of heroes: the "kids" (Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt Outlaw . . . .) and Lone Ranger-type superheroes.
This summer, Marvel's doing a bunch of western one-shots, as part of a Marvel Western Summer Event. An extremely nice entry that came out this week is "Strange Westerns Starring the Black Rider." The Black Rider is a dark vigilante type; and appropriately enough, this story features writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers -- renowned for their work on Batman in the mid-seventies -- for a particularly crepuscular Black Rider adventure. In my opinion, this story features some of Rogers' best work in years, harkening back to his adventurous days in the late seventies and early eighties. He combines an amazing sense of atmosphere, his usual skill at architecture, and his fondness for innovative panel layouts and storytelling to create a terrific piece of summer entertainment.

This issue also features a story written by horror novelist Joe Lansdale, and two reprints from the early days of Marvel westerns of stories written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. I can't say the comic is a bargain (it's $3.99, f'r cryin' out loud!), but it's worth checking out.

Images are copyright 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc.

The Convention and Hotel Season

Lots of convention-goin' and travelin' going on these days. We've already done Anime Expo 2006 in Anaheim and Comic-Con in San Diego, both last month. Then, the first week of August, Amy went to Baltimore for another anime convention, Otakon, where she dressed as the lead character from the manga HELLSING. (That's her with the coffin, with lots of other Hellsing cosplayers.) The creator of Hellsing, Kouta Hirano, was at the convention, hence Amy's sojourn there.

Next weekend's the World Science Fiction Convention. Although it's going on for five days (starting Wednesday), we're only going Saturday, since they forewent the custom of holding the con on Labor Day Weekend.

But on Labor Day Weekend, it's yet another convention, as we drive to Sin City for Anime Vegas. (Yes, the creator of Hellsing will be there too, so . . . ) Then, later in the month, we're going on our annual vacation -- to Kauaui. (Thank goodness for timeshares!)

There are wi-fi watering holes everywhere, so no matter where I go, I will blog. (If I get the time.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happy Anniversary to Us!

On August 16, 1997, in the Doubletee Hotel in Santa Monica, Amy and I began our journey through life together as husband and wife. Tonight we celebrated with a wonderful dinner at Malibu's Moonshadows restaurant (which, alas, has been associated recently with Mel Gibson's drunken escapade), where we sat overlooking the crashing surf and toasted our continuing adventures together.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Those Durned Kids! No Ideology!

Patrick Goldstein's column in today's LA Times, "The Big Picture," crabs that young moviegoers these days don't listen to critics. He has some good points, but they're pureed in with the sort of dumb statements some column writers make when they're trying to be profound. Such as:

"[T]oday we're in an era in which shared enthusiasm matters more than analysis, stylistic cool trumps emotional substance. The world has changed. The vanguard filmmakers of the '60s — the era that spawned our last great generation of critics — were Godard, Kubrick and Antonioni, filmmakers under the spell of the intellectual fervor sparked by existentialism and Marxism. The filmmakers with a youth-culture following today, be it Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, are largely ideology free, masters of detachment and stylistic homage. Like their audience, they prefer irony to Big Ideas. "

Riiiight -- no detachment, stylistic homage, or irony in the Sixties.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Clerk's II: Back to the Counter

Last night, we saw CLERKS II , which debuted less than three weeks ago but already seems on its way out of theatres; locally, it's playing in the Beverly Center (where we saw it) on a postage-stamp screen, and in outlying places like Norwalk and Redondo Beach. That's no doubt the result of the onslaught of summer movies, and the art-house vibe of this and other Kevin Smith flicks.

Smith's last movie was JERSEY GIRL, his stab at doing a comedy/drama at least nominally aimed at an older audience; one that did not depend on the stable of characters who inhabited his previous movies. Sadly, JG did not do well in the box office; partly due to some creative failures, and partly due to the fallout from the other Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie, GIGLI. Smith has now returned to familiar territory, his first actual sequel (to his 1994 black and white debut film) to one of his films. Back are his Greek chorus, the innocent and scatological drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob, along with counter dwellers Randel (a force of chaos who never stops talking) and Dante (moderately more mature than Randel, but a spineless wonder who does whatever he's told by Randel or anyone else, albeit complaining all the way), and the usual cameos from Afflek and fellow Smith alumnus Jason Lee. Back are the fannish touches, the highlights of which are a meditation by geeky 19 year old Elias at the connections between The Transformers and Jesus, and a trash-talk face-off between Star Wars devotee Randel and a Lord of the Rings loving customer. The customer mocks Christian Hayden's wooden acting; Randel mocks the LOTR movies as consisting of endless walking. ("In the second one, even the trees were walking!"

In terms of entertainment, CLERKS II is somewhere between my favorite Smith movies (CHASING AMY and DOGMA) and the lesser ones in his Jersey cycle (MALLRATS and JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK). It's a mix of scatology and earnestness in which the journey is much more important than the destination: The message of the movie seems to be to stick to what you like and enjoy as you mature, rather than following others' paths. That seems to be what Smith has done with this movie. Still, I think the true masterpiece is in Smith's future. The guy's a terrific writer, with a wonderful insight into human nature, and a lack of the obligation to homage that has limited Quentin Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez's work. I hope that Smith can retain the charm of his Jersey movies, and yet attempt more experiments with different kinds of movies. Perhaps then he'll realize his potential.

Act Now Before It's . . . Too Late!

On his blog, novelist/teleplay writer/producer/showrunner/clandestine operative Lee Goldberg is offering you the last chance to buy his out-of-print novel, BEYOND THE BEYOND. "It's bullets over Baywatch" raves USA Today about this 1997 comic mystery, the second book in the Charlie-Willis-Trilogy-Minus-One. Willis, the hero of Lee's novel MY GUN HAS BULLETS, was the ex-LAPD cop who entered the bizarre world of the television industry, as a bribe for not prosecuting the Angela-Lansbury-like actress who daintily shot him during a traffic stop. This sequel explores the alien worlds of science fiction conventions, overzealous fans, and the has-been show creators who exploit them. Yes, fan-fiction's # 1 enemy levels his satirical streetsweeper shotgun at fandom -- and the results are sticky. But funny.

Destined for collector's item status on Ebay -- and barred from the nation's bookstores because of the unfortunate dustjacket, depicting a pink phallic spaceship bursting from a TV screen -- this book can be yours at a relative pittance.

And no, I don't get a penny from this book's sales. But I will get a pat on the head from relatives for plugging my cousin's book. And hey, Lee used to get me free issues of STARLOG about 23 years ago, so I figure I owe him.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Mike Douglas, R.I.P.

When I was a kid, and spent weekdays at home during summers and holidays, pretty much the only talk show I watched was the Mike Douglas show. (David Frost was a bit too cerebral for my youthful brain.) I fondly remember the episode in which Stan Lee was a guest (Stan and the other guests reminisced about EC Comics, with Stan of course pointing out the EC alumni who worked for Marvel), which culminated with Douglas (ever a good sport) emerging on stage in a very silly Batman outfit.

Douglas, whose show lasted for 21 years, passed away this morning at age 81.

On his blog, Mark Evanier (who basically has encountered everyone in entertainment) tells an anecdote about how Douglas could do anything -- except tell a dirty joke.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hirotaka Suzuoki, R.I.P.

This veteran Japanese voice actor passed away of lung cancer at age 56. Coincidentally, this morning I was just watching a subtitled episode of SAINT SEIYA that featured him as Shiryu, the Dragon.

He played key characters in several anime, such as cross-dressing warrior Yellow Belmont in MOSPEADA, Olsen in ORGUSS, and Lynn Kaifun in MACROSS; but will probably be best remembered as Bright Noah, the stiff-upper-lip junior officer who became (by attrition) the captain of White Base, in the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Birthdays, Birthdays Everywhere!

Lots of belated Barer birthdays:

-- Happy Birthday, Mike Barer! (July 19)

-- Happy Birthday, Steve Barer! (July 30)

-- Happy Birthday, Burl Barer! (August 8)

Sigh. I figure as long as I remember my anniversary date, and my wife's birthday, I'm safe.

More from the Lair of Lehrer

Another Lehrer video from THE ELECTRIC COMPANY. This one was always my favorite -- an explanation of the magical Silent "E":

He turned a "dam" -- alakazam! -- into a "dame!"
But my friend "Sam" -- stayed just the "same . "

Sunday, August 06, 2006


As a child of the sixties, my first exposure to the brilliant musical satirist Tom Lehrer was watching THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, for which he wrote and performed educational songs in the early '70's. Mark Evanier's blog features a link to an animated video clip from the show, in which Lehrer explains the virtues of the suffix "ly."

Crash Into Me

I watched THE WEDDING CRASHERS for the first time last night, via cable. I don't watch too many of what passes for comedy movies these days, because most of them fall under the catagories of sophomoric parody (which somehow I don't find as funny as I did movies that came out when I was a sophomore -- go figure) or super-formulaic romantic comedy. But I could see why this one made money. It pulled off the trick of taking two lead characters who are absolute jerks at the beginning, and making us root for them by the end. The secret is to create characters with multiple levels, and having them played by actors who both inhabit their roles and work well together. (It also helps to have a villain who's far more of a jerk than the main characters.) It's a bit startling to have Christopher Walken playing the aristocratic paterfamilias, but it works well. Recommended.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Tricky Trade Dress?

When I saw an advertisement for the reissued DVD of Hayao Miyazaki's feature-film directing debut, THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, I thought that Disney had aquired the licensing rights to the film. After all, the packaging looked nearly identical to Disney releases of Miyazaki films like NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND -- same red border at the top, same basic layout of the cover image (main characters of the film front and center, with an establishing-shot background behind them).

But no. Manga Video is merely reissuing the DVD it issued a few years ago, albeit in a "special edition" -- one packaged to look like a Disney Miyazaki release. Fooled me, until I saw the tiny Manga logo in the ad.

This makes me curious as to whether Manga has any agreement with Disney concerning use of Disney's packaging -- what they call "trade dress."

Incidently, the main character of CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO is Arsene Lupin III -- a thief.

Bob Thames, R.I.P.

Bob Thames, the creator of the Frank and Earnest comic strip, died on August 1. According to his family, he was semi-retired at the time, with another creator doing the strip; so the strip will probably continue. The strip wasn't always funny (a daily comic strip that is always funny is one of the rarest of treasures in the world), but it definitely gave me some smiles -- particularly in the seventies, when Thames was still the creator.

Something Rotten under the Rock

Some may wonder why Mel Gibson's escapade last weekend -- getting roaring drunk at Moonshadows, zooming down PCH with an open bottle of tequila, then expounding to the Jewish sheriff's deputy who arrested him about Gibson's hitherto-denied sociopolitical views of the Jewish people -- got so much press that it eclipsed the hideous tragedy in Seattle, in which an anti-semite from the Tri-Cities allegedly held a gun to a 13 year old girl's head, went into a Jewish community center, murdered a woman, and wounded others. After all, the incident in Seattle was an actual murder; Gibson's tequila-fueled driving was just a murder waiting to happen.

One clue may be found in Steve Lopez's column in the LA Times last Thursday. Lopez discussed e-mails he received about Gibson, many of them favorable to the Road Warrior. These went beyond the banners folks held up during OJ's slow-speed chase. At least none of the banners displayed (to my knowledge) expressed approval of the practice of (allegedly) slaying one's ex-spouse. But with Gibson, according to Lopez:

"[...]I've read far too many e-mails from readers supporting Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks, which included his accusation that 'the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.'"

Lopez proceeds to quote some of the most virulent comments, which I won't repeat here -- basically because I'd rather not give them more bandwith.

So beyond America's treatment of its movie stars as the substitute for the royalty it rejected back in 1776, Gibson's comments are newsworthy as reminders that anti-semitism is still alive and well in America, and just waiting for a chance to express itself -- whether in a drunken tirade; an e-mail to a newspaper columnist; or a sick act of violence. Sometimes the rock gets lifted, revealing the rot beneath.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Fun with Monk

A fan Web page devoted to the "Monk" TV show, The Monk Fun Page, included this photo of me and cousin Bettie Rae Young in line for Lee Goldberg's signing at The Mystery Bookstore two weeks ago. (See additional photos below.)