Thursday, June 29, 2006

Still More Anime Expo

Not satisfied with this past Sunday's advertising supplement, the LA Times has an article in today's Calendar Weekend session about the upcoming Expo.

What I can't understand is why the editor decided to use italics (symbolizing a foreign word) for the term "manga," but none for "anime." Anime is one of those terms Japanese borrowed from the Romance languages (along with such terms as the Japanese word for bread, pain); I first encountered the word when I was studying French in high school. I guess "anime" has been absorbed -- not just dubbed or subtitled -- into English.

Emo, Emo Superman . . . .

Once again, I've got that punch-drunk feeling of getting too little sleep, because we went to a late-night mid-week showing of a new superhero epic. Last month, it was X-Men 3; this time, it's -- of course -- Superman Returns.

We caught the 10 pm show at The Bridge Cinema's Imax Theatre (complete with nifty-keen 3-D scenes -- green glasses on screen to don specs, red glasses means doff them). That was also the chosen showing for a bunch of industry types (including a licensing exec from Warner who sat next to us at the X-3 movie), who stayed through the closing credits and cheered lustily when the LA special effects crew's names appeared.

As for the movie: Was it the spiffiest, coolest, hi-octane-ist lalapalooza ever?


Was it a fun, thought-provoking, and often nail-biting epic?


I definitely missed Christopher Reeve in the lead role (he's unavailable -- unlike Marlon Brando, who won't let death get in the way of another cameo); Mr. Routh is capable enough in most scenes, although he has a tendency to severely underplay most of his role. To balance that out, however, Kevin Spacey is a terrific Lex Luthor, far more menacing than Gene Hackman. (And he finally got himself some choice thugs -- they can use micro-callipers, and beat people up!)

I was impressed with how well Bryan Singer cherry-picked the look and feel of the first Reeve movie, while excising the goofier bits and replacing it with a more quiet humor (as well as his own visual touch -- the cinematography looks like polished alabaster, and should win an Oscar.)

But one of the problems with cutting the silliness was also cutting a lot of the joy. I kept wishing that someone in the movie (other than the strangely old Jimmy Olsen) would crack a damn smile. I haven't seen such glum faces since Schindler's List. Especially the kid, who lets nary an emotion reach his shaggy-bang-wreathed face.

The big treat, of course, is the action. The set pieces are as big and loud and thrilling as you could wish. Those who loved Reeve's Superman pushing the San Andreas Fault back into place from underground will have their dreams of spectacle fulfilled. Just about my favorite scene (tiny spoiler warning): Supes zooming above a city street, on his back, heat vision vaporizing rubble falling from a block of skyscrapers.

The movie is, at heart, a sometimes uncomfortable marriage of emotional depth and shallow action thrills. When they meet in the crucible, they reach a middle ground that may entertain you, turn you off, or accomplish both.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

CLAMP on Camera

For those awaiting this weekend's Anime Expo, with its special guests CLAMP, here's an appetizer: A video on YOU TUBE (apparently from a Japanese TV newsmagazine) of the CLAMP crew at work in their (impressive) studio.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ain't That a Shamus

Congratulations to cousin Lee Goldberg, whose novel "The Man with the Iron-On Badge" has been nominated for a 2006 Shamus award by the Private Eye Writers of America. Lee's competitors include best-selling authors Walter Mosely and Michael Connelly. I'm hoping the organization bypasses those guys (who have enough honors) and recognizes Lee, who's been working in the private-eye genre -- both in print and on TV -- for around 20 years.

O Superman, Where Are You Now?

The countdown to the Man of Steel's return to being the Man of the Silver Screen continues. We have our tickets for a Wednesday night showing of SUPERMAN RETURNS at the Bridge Cinemas Imax screen.

Meanwhile, the LA Times gets into the act with another Superman-themed piece on the op-ed page. This one is from sometime comics writer Gerard Jones, who places Superman and the upcoming movie into historical context; notes that the 1978 movie was tonic for a war-and-scandal-weary America; and wonders if the new film will fill the same need.

My prediction is that the movie will make a wad of money, but less than Pixar's CARS, which we saw and enjoyed last night.

As Jones's piece accurately states, Superman was originally far less of a Boy Scout in personality. The early Superman was -- like many children of Jewish immigrants (or in this case, a grandchild) -- tough, angry, and very, very liberal. This more pugnacious Superman protected unions by battling labor goons, opposed crooked politicians, picked up a South American state torturer like a football and tossed him into the horizon, and waged a violent campaign against sellers of defective automobiles. He eventually became more Superman Red State than Superman Blue State.

The Web version of the article omits the cartoon that accompanied the piece: Superman standing in a city street phone booth, looking forlonly at the passersby, who chat on their cellphones and ignore him.

The Los Angeles Times Guide to Anime

The annual Anime Expo, which has been held in Anaheim for the last few years, has grown tremendously: The first one, held in San Jose in 1991, had about 2,000 attendees, while the 2005 Expo attracted nearly 40,000.

A sign that even more will be at next weekend's Expo (the 15th anniversary) is an advertising supplement to today's Los Angeles Times: "From Manga to Anime: Your Insider's Guide to Anime Expo 2006." Appropriately for an advertising supplement, it consists primarily of colorful ads by various American distribution and translation companies for upcoming manga and anime releases, with an emphasis on those connected with guests who will be at this year's Expo (such as Fullmetal Alchemist, the director of which will be there; and various works by guest of honor CLAMP).

If you're planning to attend AX this year, I suggest that you:

-- Pre-register at;

-- Get to the convention center early on whatever day you get there; and

-- Bring both comfortable clothing and shoes, and reading material for if you have to wait in line (which you will, if you are going to any of the main events).

The image on the cover is copyrighted 2005 Yahichiro Takahashi/Mediaworks.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wi-fi Watering Holes: Lollicup on Sawtelle

This is on the northern end of the Japanese retail neighborhood between Olympic and Santa Monica. It's in a mini-mall on the east side of the street, at Sawtelle and La Grange.

Pluses: Fun neighborhood. Near the Nuart. Good boba (although sometimes the boba are a bit powdery). Large selection on the menu, including lavender milk tea boba. Strong signal (I'm posting this while I'm there). Clean. Open late. Has the usual cards and board games. Friendly service.

Minuses: No easily accessible outlets (although the manager offered to get me a powerstrip when he saw me on the laptop). This afternoon, the place was busy, and the front counter forgot my drink order until I approached them with my receipt asking about it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Man in Northwest Arrested for Flagrant Wi-Fi Piggybacking

Something to give pause to those folks who drive around with their laptops on, looking for unsecured wireless networks.

Wi-fi Watering Hole Etiquette, people: If the establishment is providing free wi-fi, go in and buy something.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hellsing on the Horizon

For those who've been eager to see the Hellsing Ultimate OVA (and who didn't score Volume One through an import store, as we did), there is hope: Anime Expo in Anaheim has posted its video/film schedule; and it shows that Hellsing Ultimate is scheduled for late night Sunday, July 2nd. No indication on whether it's subtitled, dubbed, or "raw," but my money's on subtitled.

Monday, June 19, 2006

On Dental Examinations of Gift Horses

Recently, Amy and I went to a fun birthday party up the coast, thrown by friends there. While the vast majority of people there had a good time, the hostess of the party told me that some partygoers had complained: about the available food (there was plenty); about the timing of the food; and even that cake was served later in the party (as it is at most birthday parties.)

Okay. Time for some of my philosophy on life. Your mileage may vary, but:

You have a right to complain if you pay for a good or service, and it is not up to your expectations. If you contract for something, or someone owes you an obligation (for instance, a public servant), you have a right to call them on mistakes.

But. No one has an obligation to give you a gift. No one is obliged to invite you to a party, or to serve you free food. Unless you're in the mob, no one has to do you a favor.

So you have no right to complain if someone does something for you or gives something to you for free. You can take what's offered; you can politely decline it; you can make helpful suggestions; but no complaints.

It's simple courtesy.

Now if someone can furnish a rationale for complaining in that situation, I'm all ears. Otherwise, that's where I stand.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The 24-hour Day is So 20th Century

On his blog, Mark Evanier posted a story about Sav-On drugs, a Southern California institution, being bought by CVS Pharmacies. Officially, if not in name, they all became CVS Pharmacies a few days ago.

Our neighborhood Sav-On (at National and Sepulveda) is a 24-hour store -- one of the reasons I do business there. Recently, the store passed out a flyer touting the advantages of the store becoming a CVS pharmacy. One of the promised changes: "More Convenient Hours."

CVS has obviously found a way to fracture the space-time continuum, and offer more than 24 hours a day. If so, I'll be a customer for life.

Will they have surplus time on their hands? If so, can I buy some time? Can I save time, or do I have to invest my time?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tugging on the Cape: The Best of Superman

On Sunday, in preparation for the premiere of Superman Returns later this month, I watched the 1978 "Superman" movie on DVD -- and damn if it doesn't hold up well. Even though the special effects are nearly 30 years old (the movie was filmed between 1976 and 1978), and the budget wouldn't pay for Julia Roberts's salary today, the flick still has some of my favorite scenes in all of cinema. The whole sequence with the helicopter is pure joy to watch. So is the scene in Lois's apartment where she steps into another room; Clark Kent removes his glasses and straightens up, and suddenly it's not Kent standing there, it's Superman in a business suit. Then, as Lois approaches, he puts the glasses back on and he's Clark again. No special effects except acting.

The movie is a prime demonstration of what superhero films can accomplish. I've never been as big a fan of Superman as I have been of Batman, or the Marvel characters, or even second-bananas like Green Lantern, primarily because the bulk of the comics stories about Supes over the years have been profoundly boring. When a character can do anything, it's no fun to watch him do anything. Flying, in particular, became old hat pretty fast. But the film returned the awe and the wonder to the character. Flying scenes that would evoke a yawn in the comics became flights of wonder and imagination. You watch Superman nonchalantly lift off from a helipad and arch backwards as he flew into the night, and you suddenly realize how amazing it must be to live in a world where you can look out a window and see -- not a bird -- not a plane -- but Superman flying by.

In the spirit of both the old film, and the new one that's coming, here's my list -- in no particular order -- of my all-time-favorite Superman comic book stories.

-- Superman vs. Muhammed Ali (1978): Yes, you read that right. Talk about weaving silk from the proverbial swine ear. By all rights, this should have been the dumbest comic story ever. But instead, this large-format comic was drawn and plotted by Neal Adams, one of the greatest comic artists of all time; and he turned in one of his best art jobs ever. From drawing a two-page splash of a city street that comes alive in every gritty detail, to a knockout scene of Superman flying through the engine rooms of a line of alien spacecraft at once, to wonderfully choreographed boxing scenes, this was like a movie with a billion-dollar budget. The script (by Neal's frequent collaborator, Denny O'Neil) was fun too.

-- The Amazing Story of Superman-Red, Superman-Blue (1963): This was one of the "imaginary stories" that Mort Weisinger, Superman editor of the fifties and sixties, liked to do so much. In it, Superman splits into two Supermen; and together they solve not only every problem in Superman's life, but every problem facing mankind: disease, crime, the Cold War, all fall before the redoubled efforts of the Men of Steel. One of the most giddy, optimistic comics stories of all time. Drawn by master Superman artist Curt Swan; written by Leo Dorfman.

-- The Girl in Superman's Past (1959) : This story was a celebration of the fairy-tale magic that was possible in Superman's world. It tells of the college-age Clark Kent's romance with a mysterious wheelchair-bound coed, Lori LeMaris, who spurns Clark's marriage proposal. At the end of the story, we learn why: Because she's a mermaid! A wonderfully innocent story, written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger and drawn by Wayne Boring (who penciled a ravishing Lori). It makes you glance at the people on the street, and wonder if any of them are magical beings in disguise. When John Byrne did his re-mastered Superman in the mid-eighties, he retold this story; the original art for Byrne's cover to that issue hangs on my living-room wall.

-- For the Man Who Has Everything (1985): A year before writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons redefined comics with their Watchman series, they produced this Superman annual, which is a nearly-perfectly plotted superhero story. When Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman gather at the Fortress of Solitude for Superman's birthday, they find that a vengeful alien warlord named Mongul has already paid his respects: An otherwordly plant that clamps onto the chest of its victim, and paralyzes him while it creates the hallucination that the victim's fondest dream has come true. For Superman, that fondest dream is a reality where Krypton never exploded. But he finds that a world in which his father is an embittered, broken man -- whose prediction that Krypton would explode was proven to be a fraud -- is hardly the paradise he wished. What makes this story so emotionally gripping is that Moore doesn't warp the lead characters' personalities; these are the same heroic, rather chipper Superman, Batman, etc. that we saw in the sixties and seventies. Yet they are bantering and acting like three-dimensional characters. That makes it all the more chilling when Superman is driven to stare at Mongul, his eyes glowing red with heat vision, and whisper, "Burn."

-- Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (1986): The other main Alan Moore Superman story, this "imaginary story" finished off the series before Byrne rebooted the character. Since it was drawn by classic Superman artist Curt Swan, and edited by longtime editor Julius Schwartz, it was a marvelous link between the past and future of comics. This two-parter was an alternatively happy and chilling story that told the final fates of the Superman characters. It started with a wonderful prologue by Moore, in which he sums up everything good about Superman. He finishes the prologue with the perfect tag line: "This is an imaginary story . . . aren't they all?"

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Art Alert

Anyone who's visited our living room knows that we have a good representation of writer/illustrator Colleen Doran's art on our walls. Colleen has put out a request on her blog that people who have purchased original art from her long-running comic book series, A Distant Soil, either send her scans of the artwork, or loan her the artwork herself. If you've got any such art, e-mail Colleen at .

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Supporting the Family Business

As a good Barer, I make an effort to buy the books my relatives write (although it's not an exhaustive effort -- buying every Lee Goldberg book ever published might exhaust my 401k). Here's my latest acquisition, and certainly one of the hardest to acquire in the U.S.: My cousin Burl Barer's novelization of last year's movie STEALTH, published only in Japan.

I don't pretend that my two years of college Japanese will enable me to read more than a few words of even this slim tome; but I do recognize that the katakana on the cover just under the English word "Stealth" is a phonetically-spelled "Ba-ru Bey-ah-ra-," which is as close as you'll come in Japanese syllabries to "Burl Barer."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

LA County Voters Vote Highly Experienced Judge Out of Office, and Elect a Bagel-Bakery Chain Owner Who Doesn't Practice Law Regularly Instead

No, the above headline is neither a gag nor an exaggeration.

I've appeared in front of Judge Janovs a few times, and am sorry to see her go. Especially under these circumstances.

**** Update*****
According to today's Daily Journal, some highly-placed public lawyers in LA County are talking with the Governor's judicial appointments secretary about getting Judge Janovs re-appointed to the bench.

****2nd Update******

According to the 6/10/06 LA Times, the Governator is reappointing Janovs to the bench:

"Responding to speculation that voters had failed to pick the Latvian-born Janavs in part because of her name, the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger in a written statement said: 'I can relate to the problem of having a name that is hard to pronounce.'

"The governor also said the election's 'unfortunate result should not rob California of a fine jurist.'"

Good part: The judge is back.

Bad part: It renders the election essentially meaningless.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Long-Form Commercials: The Early Years

I've always been a big fan of Saturday Morning Programming, as my family can probably attest. Lord knows why as a child I loved to watch the most inane shows on Sat-Am; probably because the animated world (as badly animated as it was in the sixties/seventies) seemed much more exciting than the real world. That's probably also why I continue to watch and enjoy animation as I sail through my forties.

As a kid, of course, I did not realize that the raison d'etre of Saturday Morning programming is to press ads for toys, fatty snacks, and sugary cereals upon innocent and receptive minds. Since I was a big fan of toys, snacks and sugary cereals, the myriad of ads for them didn't bug me at all.

On Monday, the LA Times ran an obituary for toy marketeer Bernard Loomis. Loomis, according to the obit, came up with the idea of debuting Mattel's Hot Wheels toy cars by producing a Sat-Am cartoon that was a series of half-hour ads for the toys. I remember the show, and recall it as being fun. Alas, it didn't last long (1969-1971), because the FCC took note and ruled that toy-based cartoons (or portions thereof) had to be counted as ad time by networks -- essentially making the series too expensive to air.

The Times obit asserts that, "Although other toys had been spun off successful TV shows, no one had ever started a children's show with such a blatant commercial purpose." Mark Evanier belies that statement with his blog post from yesterday that tells the story of the "Linus the Lion-Hearted" series, a 1964-1969 Sat-Am cartoon produced by Post Cereals, starring various Post mascots (including Dean Martin sound-alike Sugar Bear). It too came to an end along with the sixties.

Toy-based cartoons returned in the eighties, courtesy of the Reagan administration and its deregulation kick. Suddenly, you couldn't get an animated series produced unless it had a toy or similar product tied in. Hence, we had Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, etc.

One taboo remains: Broadcasters aren't supposed to run, say, a commercial for Yu-Gi-Oh collectible cards during the commercial breaks in a Yu-Gi-Oh episode, since the rugrats might think that the ad is part of the show. That rule certainly doesn't apply in Japan, where the anime we saw usually featured ads for a show's spin-off products during the show's commercial intervals.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Coffee Attic

Yes, this is the second WFWH that I visited yesterday. This one is down in Redondo Beach, near Amy's workplace (she was working that day; we met that evening, went to Fry's, and then had dinner at LA Food Show.)

Pluses: The Cinnamon Oblivion latte is very good. They offer any of their many free-trade teas iced. Generous electrical outlets. The chairs are comfortable (something many WFWHs screw up on). The place is neat and clean. The atmosphere is cheery.

Minuses: The cafe's Website needs to be updated. It not only states that the cafe serves boba (aka bubble tea), it features an entire article on the history of the beverage. Yet the cafe no longer serves that Taiwanese treat. Also, the place is smaller than it looks in the fisheye-lens photo on the home page.

A Rosie Plug for Linda and Karen's Book

Congratulations to cousins Linda and Karen for the plug for their book, Visual Chronicles, from none other than Rosie O'Donnell. It really is a terrific book. Since each member of my family has either bought this book, or knows that he or she should, the non-family readers of this blog should immediately buy some copies.

Comics in the News

Two comics-related stories in the L.A. Times today:

-- Former Superman writer (and politician) Elliot S. Maggin writes an op-ed piece comparing Al Gore to Jor-El. (Parenthetically, I was briefly corresponding with Maggin via e-mail in the early '90's, when we were both on the CompuServe Comics forum.)

-- Eight days after comics artist Alex Toth died, the Times has printed a nice obituary discussing the often-cranky creator and his place in pop culture history.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wi-fi Watering Holes: Dolce Vita Cafe

This is a cafe and coffee house on a busy stretch of Sepulveda in Culver City. I'm there as I type this.

Pluses: Good breakfasts and pretty good lunches. The coffee drinks are tasty. There's a lot of baked goods, including fresh-baked bread. Friendly service.

Minuses: Only two outlet plates, and they're both against one wall. Today (when the temp outside is in the high '80's), it's sweltering. The bathroom light is a motion-sensitive one on a timer; it went out at an inopportune time.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Arad Away!

Avi Arad, the Isreali-born entertainment exec who shifted from Toy Biz to Marvel in the 90's, and who helped save the company after Ron Perelman ran it into the ground, has resigned his position as as chairman and CEO of the company's film studio and chief creative officer of the parent company. He is reportedly starting his own production company, which will produce various Marvel film projects (such as Spider-Man 3). This might be seen as just a move away from the duties of a corporate executive and into a more creative position -- except that Arad simultaneously sold $60 million worth of Marvel stock. According to, some analysts think Arad is leery of Marvel's plan to produce its own films, which entailed the corporation taking on a half-billion in debt. We'll see.