Sunday, December 30, 2007
Commercially, the movie adaptation of the graphic novel PERSEPOLIS has a lot against it. It's a 2-D animated film. In black and white. In French (with subtitles). It deals with emotional complexities. It portrays in a favorable light characters who espouse Communism. (Indeed, in one hallucinatory sequence, God and Karl Marx share space in Heaven.) And the viewpoint character is an Iranian woman.
Screw commercial success. PERSEPOLIS is one terrific film. Co-directed by the writer/artist of the original graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi, PERSEPOLIS tells Satrapi's story of growing from childhood to young womanhood, first in Iran during the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, then in Vienna in the mid-eighties, back in Iran, and then finally moving back to Europe. Satrapi portrays herself as a smart-mouthed and fallible intellectual who feels out of place everywhere, whether buying bootleg Iron Maiden tapes on the streets of Tehran or shouting at her European friends for espousing Nihilism while people in Iran are imprisoned, tortured and executed for their beliefs. It can drag the viewer into the depths of Satrapi's depression, and then suddenly convulse the viewer with hilarity (including a montage in which a twenty-something Satrapi works to pull her life together, while singing -- off-key -- "Eye of the Tiger," shadow-punching the camera to the beat.)
The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The line is what does it. Gracefully curving, it evokes both Al Hirschfield and Aubrey Beardsley in its expressiveness, and in the balancing of white and black. Cartoonists often say that drawing with a simple line is harder to pull off than filling a drawing with details, because the honesty of simplicity leaves no room to fake it. The animators have pulled it off. Also notable are the scenes told in silhouette, which are reminiscent of UPA and Disney animation of the '50's.
If there's any justice, PERSEPOLIS should do well at the Oscars. The commercial dice will fall where they will.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
In the first season, Peter Graves had not yet joined the series; Steven Hill plays the IMF team leader. The episodes, at least initially, did not begin in the style that later became the series signature: the hiss of the message self-destructing fading into the flute of the opening theme. Instead, the episodes have no teaser; they begin with the fuse being lit in the opening credits. Further, in the pilot, the assignment is delivered on a swing LP; in the next episode, "Memory," it's delivered on a printed card. (Nowadays, I imagine the IMF gets its orders via MP3's. Or do they destroy an Ipod for every mission?)
Watching the pilot and "Memory," I learned some important tips about espionage:
- If your cinematography, lighting and music are great, you can get away with cheap production values and stock footage.
- Both South American jungles and the woods of the Balkans look a lot like Pasadena or the Arboretum.
- The IMF's job is easier when their foes are complete idiots. In the pilot, a Castro-like dictator stores two nukes in a hotel vault. (Why? Who knows?) The hotel -- which knows what is stored there -- nevertheless allows Willie the strongman to stash in the same vault two sample cases large enough to hold a person each without searching them. D'oh!
- It's easier for Martin Landau's character to impersonate a target when the target is also played by Martin Landau. And:
- Twenty-five minutes into the pilot, Barbara Bain strips off her cocktail dress -- in front of two bound and gagged guards -- and appears wrapped in a tiny towel. I think at that point, the series was sold.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Today, the most successful writer/editor/promoter combo in the history of the business turns 85 years old. In between hosting his own reality show, acting, and continuing to write, maybe he'll take a rest. 'Nuff said.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Conceptually, a comic book cover -- like any magazine or book cover -- is an advertising poster, the goal of which is to persuade the viewer to buy the publication without seeing the contents.
By that standard, the 1968 cover to Batman issue 199 -- beautifully drawn by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, published during the Bat-mania of the mid-sixties, and plugging no less than seven other DC comic books -- may be the perfect comic book cover.
My cousin Tod, the literary writer, occasionally mocks KRCW pundit Michael Silverblatt's silverblatherings about books. I thought he was exaggerating -- mostly because Silverblatt is on Thursday afternoons, and I'm generally too busy working then to listen to KCRW. But then I tuned in this past week while stuck in traffic driving through Beverly Hills (see posting below); and heard him talking about a book in which a black woman in prison channels Mark Twain. I was treated to a long, rambling sentence from the learned commentator, full of clauses that twisted and turned like Lombard Street, never quite connecting to each other; and ending with his description of the book as "the whole -- and varied -- enchilada." Don't take my word for it. Listen for yourself.
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Last night, we went to the Gibson Amphitheater to watch the Brian Setzer Orchestra's Christmas extravaganza. The Gibson, formerly the Universal Amphitheater, is where I saw my first rock concert (with my older brother) back in 1980, when the Amphitheater was still an open-air venue. Setzer is the gent who, in the syth-drenched days of the early '80's, convinced the world that what they really needed to hear was the rockabilly music of the '50's; and consequently obtained a couple of top-40 hits with his band, the Stray Cats. In the early '90's he hit on the idea of marrying his rockabilly guitar licks with big-band swing; and founded the BSO -- complete with a stand-up bass, a rock drummer, saxes, trumpets, trombones, and female backup singers.
We sat through a fun opening act of a rockabilly band from England, which included a sit-down pedal steel guitar. (How does an Englishman get inspired to learn to play one of those?) Then, in the intermission, a gentleman slurring his words approached our seats, near the back of the amphitheater, and asked us if we'd like to be in the orchestra pit for the main act. Somewhat leery, we nevertheless said yes. He handed us two plastic wristbands and two backstage passes. "To what do we owe this blessing?" I asked, still suspicious. "It's Christmas," he replied, "and I had a couple extra." (I suspect that they had sold fewer pit passes than they expected; and gave audience members upgrades so that the pit would be full. Then again, they may just have been impressed because I wore a jacket and tie.)
We cautiously headed to the pit; and the guard waved us in. The wristbands were genuine.
We then enjoyed a fantastic concert, close enough to the stage to see every hair in the formerly-blond pompadour that Setzer had allowed to turn a distinguished silver. I'm delighted to see a band that not only masters their musical chops but also puts on a good show. Particularly wonderful were Setzer's drummer and bass player (both named John; I forget their last names). John the bass player showed off all sorts of tricks -- playing the bass (almost as big as he was) upside down, sideways, and backwards; playing it while Setzer lounged on the upper part of it; and even standing on one corner of it, balancing there while he continued to play!
Along with raucous versions of his Stray Cats hits "Rock this Town" (spectacular with a full brass section) and "Stray Cat Strut" (which morphed without breaking stride into "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"), he played the BSO versions of "In the Mood" and "Jump, Jive, and Wail"; several Christmas songs, and his reworkings of "In the Hall of the Mountain King," "Flight of the Bumblebee," and "Fur Elise" from his new album, "Wolfgang's Night Out." At the mid-point, he brought the curtain down on the big band and played several songs with just the bassist and the drummer; then, in the middle of "Route 66," he brought the big band back in seamlessly.
Afterward, our backstage passes indeed allowed us backstage, into an open-air reception courtyard (complete with hosted bar and a pile of chips on a table), where we got to chat with various band members, including the bassist and the opening act.
And to all a good night.
Update: There's a nice write-up of the Friday night concert in the LA Times. And on Sunday, we were channel-flipping when we came upon a video of the BSO's 2005 LA Christmas show on one of the high-definition channels.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
I've inadvertently become part of a market trend.
Back in 1999, I won a Palm V pda as a door prize at a legal tech show. The metal and glass pda had little power, a black and white screen, and no expandable memory. But it was incredibly efficient and easy to use. A single charge to its battery would last it weeks. I found the alarms I could set as reminders for events to be indispensable. I became a Palm fan.
Simultaneously, I've been a Verizon cell customer ever since the mid-90's. So long as Verizon continues to rate highest in customer satisfaction, I wasn't about to give that up.
As time went on, I replaced the Palm V with a Palm Tungsten E, with its color screen, SD memory card slot, and video-playing capability. But what I really wanted was a smartphone -- a combination pda and cellphone. When Verizon finally adopted the PalmTreo 600, I snapped it up. It was nifty, and I enjoyed accessing the Internet and work e-mail on my pda. But it had a terrible battery capacity -- particularly when compared to my old Palm V. A single charge would barely last it a day (less, with heavy use). Eventually, last year, the 600 got fried in a Radio Shack related accident; and my phone insurance bought me a 650. The 650 had far better battery life, a clearer screen, and a nicer camera.
Still, I began to desire the Treo 755p -- the new generation Treo Palm introduced at the beginning of this year. It was smaller, lighter, and more streamlined. It had a brighter screen, broadband Internet capabilities, and the ability to play streaming video from the Internet.
The problem was that the 755 was only available from Sprint. Rumors pegged Verizon (which, like Sprint, has a CDMA network) as getting the 755p in mid-summer. Then September. Then November.
I grew disappointed with the constant rumors of the Verizon 755p. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. The problem, purportedly, was that Palm kept submitting 755p models made for Verizon to the carrier; and Verizon, which has high standards in phones, kept rejecting them.
The alleged result: While Palm had a $12.77 million profit in the first quarter, it took a loss of $9.6 million in the second quarter. This was despite an 11 percent increase in its smartphone sales. According to the Treonauts blog, the increase was due to sales of the latest Palm smartphone to hit Sprint: the tiny Centro, which sells under a Palm imprint rather than a Treo one. The loss, according to the blog, "was blamed on the late arrival of the Verizon Treo 755p which began shipping after the end of Palm’s quarter as well as warranty costs of older legacy products." Palm's stock sunk, and it layed off a bunch of folks.
But Monday, Palm finally unveiled the Verizon Treo 755p. I immediately ordered one (I was eligible for an upgrade discount from Verizon), and it arrived today. Whether this device can lift Palm from its sales funk remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is Palm's fate if the Apple iPhone becomes available from carriers other than AT& T -- like Verizon.Tr
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Thursday, December 20, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Among my favorites:
- An employee in a German screw factory stole thousands of screws every night, eventually swiping around a million units. He sold the screws on the Internet at cut-rate prices; and single-handedly depressed the screw market.
- Google's Blogger (the hosts of this blog here) labeled a company blog as spam -- and disabled it.
- Passengers forked over $15,000 each for tickets on the maiden flight of Singapore Airline's Airbus 380. They got a private double-bed suite on the plane, with endless champagne. But the airline asked the jet-setting passengers to refrain from having sex on the plane. (For $15,000, the airline should provide the sex . . . .)
- Whenever we're in Japan, we marvel at the high-tech toilets, with built-in push-button bidets, cleaning jets, and seat warmers. But Toto Corporation of Japan had to issue apologies and offer free repairs when three of its super-commodes caught fire.
- Taco Bell opened a store in Mexico City. It assured potential customers that it "does not pretend to be Mexican food."
- An airline rewarded a gold-level frequent flyer riding in first class by taking the body of a woman who died in economy and plopping her mortal remains down in the seat next to him -- while he slept. When he requested compensation from the airline, they told him he should "get over it." And:
- Intel promoted its Core 2 Duo Processor with an ad depicting a white businessman and, well . . . just look at the ad.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Considering the anger directed toward Lee by many in the science fiction fandom community, I expected his latest Monk book, "Mr. Monk in Outer Space," -- in which the OCD-afflicted sleuth must solve the murder of the creator of a cult SF show, committed just outside of a convention -- to be a vicious character attack upon the SF community. Yet I found the book to be even-handed and, yes, even compassionate and understanding toward fandom. I expected to see blood on the floor. I found only Bactine and band-aids. (Yes, lousy metaphor. There's a reason my relatives are the novelists.) Still, fun book. And still time to buy lots of them for friends for the holidays. Only eight shopping days and all that . . . .
Replied his partner, "What's to know? You just send an e-mail!"
Conversations like that make me concerned that knowledge of the Internet is becoming mandatory for attorneys. Starting next year, the United States District Court for the Central District of California -- like all of the other federal district courts in the state -- will require mandatory e-filing for all cases. (It already requires e-filing for intellectual property and criminal cases.) Some state courts -- particularly complex-case courts -- require e-filing. Further, the Central District is forcing all attorneys admitted to practice before it to either undergo e-filing training or supply proof of training from another California District court; or face sanctions.
Also, if the California Supreme Court approves a State Bar proposal, every attorney licensed to practice in California will not only have to register with the bar online every year, but will also have to furnish an e-mail address. So yes, that elderly lawyer will have to learn to make an e-mail.
I have mixed thoughts about e-filing. It eliminates filings that are late because the messenger could not make it across town before the filing window closed; and it allows filing documents from across the state (or country, or world). It also saves ink, paper, and (when other parties can be served electronically) postage. On the other hand, if your (or the court's) Internet connection goes down at a crucial time, you can be in trouble. Further, most district courts that require e-filing also require filers to send a paper courtesy copy of the document directly to the judge -- which kind of erases some of the benefits of e-filing. The ideal solution would be optional e-filing; but the courts appear to consider that too cumbersome.
Some photos I took yesterday during a bike ride on Venice Beach. Note the sand berm built at the end of Venice Boulevard.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Can a comic catch a killer? We'll see.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
On Sunday, the LA Times' Calendar section published this article about Robert Heinlein's legacy, as the SF giant's 100th birthday nears. The reporter makes some attempt at a balanced article, but the overall tone of the piece is negative and somewhat bitchy. Lots of modern commentators (who appear mainly to be critics and bookbuyers, rather than writers themselves) treat Heinlein as a literary dinosaur, lumbering and crushing his way through mid-20th-century science fiction.
Certainly Heinlein's work furnishes support for such polarized opinions. On the one hand, he was a gifted, enthralling storyteller, who believed in the promise of science and technology to help humans evolve into their best selves. On the other, his work (especially his later novels) abounded with polemics, chest-thumping, omnicompetent know-it-alls and crusty crankcases. (I must agree with those who like his "juveniles" best; books like "Have Space Suit -- Will Travel" and "Podkayne of Mars" maximized his entertaining writing while minimizing the polemics.
Still, I doubt that the detractors in the article will have as much influence and adulation 100 years after their births as Heinlein has now.
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The trailer for the Wachowski Brothers' live action (sorta) SPEED RACER movie is up on the Web. If the trailer is any indication, this is not just an adaptation or an approximation of SPEED RACER; they've actually made a SPEED RACER cartoon, albeit with live-action actors. It's fun in a short burst; the only question is whether it will be too cloying or annoying in a two-hour chunk. I can predict, though, that audiences will love it and critics will be predicting the end of Western civilization as we know it.
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Sunday, December 02, 2007
Evel Knievel, iconic American daredevil, dies at 69 - Los Angeles Times
The celebrities we remember best are the ones that somehow embody not the American dream, but an American archetype.
The Northwest's Robert Knievel -- nicknamed in his youth "Evel," likely because of his criminal past -- was not just famous for his increasingly ambitious stunts. Instead, he was exactly what America needed in the turbulent, ambiguity-filled days of the late '60's and early '70's in which I grew up. He was so many things America loves. He was a showman. He was a braggart. He was physically smashed repeatedly, only to rebound and come back for more. He was a bit of a rogue, and a bit of a thug. Indeed, he may have inflated his accounts of his criminal past: He told the media that when he sold motorcycles in Moses Lake, Washington in the mid-sixties he embarked on a crime spree of safe-cracking, armed robberies and beatings.
His popularity, perhaps not coincidently, coincided with our cinematic celebrations of brilliant but rough-edged fanatics ("Patton") and slick, daring criminals ("The Sting," "Paper Moon," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Bonny and Clyde.")
Europe may have invented and perfected the circus, but America perfected the carny. Knievel was carny through-and-through -- a side-show attraction who could make us momentarily forget about Watergate by such Wile E. Coyote antics as shooting across a canyon on a rocket-powered "motorcycle" (and, like Wile E., landing on the canyon floor with a quiet "poof.")
To me, and to many other boys who spent their single and early double digit years in the sixties and seventies, Knievel was an action figure. Literally. Likely no kid who was around during the seventies can forget the commercial for the Knievel action figure. The figure came with (appropriately) a "swagger stick," and one of the most marvelous accessories in the history of seventies' toys: a scale-model stunt motorcycle, complete with shock absorbers. The kid would place the bike in a red device with a crank. Through the magic of gears and friction, turning the crank would produce a whine that parodied a high-performance engine revving. At maximum torque, the bike would shoot out of the starter, across a ramp, and then crash into the ground. The Knievel figure was made of rubber, so that it could bounce back like Knievel. The bike would eventually be smashed to bits -- again, much like the real Knievel.
As may be typical of Americans, Knievel wrote physical IOUs in his early years that his body began to call as he aged. Much like the American economy, the body can seem to bounce back from catastrophic traumas; but each one weakens the infrastructure in ways that can never fully be eradicated. Hence, Knievel ended up in a walker when other men his age were still out jogging.
In short, he never needed to wear those stars and stripes on his Nomex coveralls. He was unmistakeably American.
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Yesterday's LA Times featured this article on a new Website, www.leveragecard.com, at which gift card recipients can register their gift cards and track their value. The article includes an important tip: Under the law of California and other states, gift cards issued by retailers cannot expire and cannot decrease in value. But gift cards issued by banks (such as the Visa Gift Card) and malls are not subject to those regulations. So if you plan to give someone a bank gift card, a check is probably a better gift.
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As might be expected from Gaiman, who has made a cottage industry out of probing, prodding and post-moderning the enduring myths and stories of the western world, BEOWULF follows the broad contours of the poem; but is less interested in telling a straight account of events than in a "print the legend" exploration of what the "true" events behind the poem's account might be. The creators don't take the magic or the essence out: Beowulf's just as mighty and foolhardy as he is in the poem (albeit quite a bit less noble); supernatural monsters and demons are just as real as in that tale; and Beowulf's fights with Grendel and the dragon are as slam-bang satisfying as one could hope. Indeed, the dragon may be the best such fire-breather ever realized on film.
But the filmmakers introduce complexity into the story, by making Beowulf, Hrothgar, and the other folks in the saga three-dimensional (I'm not just referring to the headache-inducing glasses the audience was wearing); by making Grendel sympathetic, and giving him and his mom motives for their acts; by exploring some of the mysteries of the poem (if Beowulf kills Grendel's mom in her watery lair, why does he haul back Grendel's head?); and by recognizing that one can obtain revenge on a man in far subtler ways than beating the crap out of him.
The motion-capture animation generally looks great, although the hair-thin line between animation and reality is sometimes jarring. And the 3-D effects pose an inherent visual storytelling problem. A primary goal of framing a shot is to focus the audience's attention on whatever the object is on screen that is most crucial to telling the story. But 3-D focuses the audience's attention on whatever is flying at them, be it a rat snatched by a hawk, an arrow, or half of a bisected warrior. For instance, in one scene Beowulf and his men drag their ship up onto a rocky beach. Our attention is not on the men; not on the ship; but on the millions of water-polished stones in the foreground (i.e., floating over the front row's heads). Now, the stones are visually impressive, and the thought of generating them in a computer is daunting. But what part to they play in telling the story of Beowulf?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
From Friday through today, we attended Loscon 34, an LA-area science fiction convention. Every convention has its own personality. Loscon's is of a well-read, highly-educated and extremely vocal party guest who knows more than you do about any subject you bring up. Perhaps because the organization that puts it on, LASFS, is close to JPL, the con is suffused with experts on history, science, and even cruise ship lore. (When we were in line for the masquerade, one line-member's comments about the Titanic were met with a torrent of corrections from another, who worked for a cruise line.) This often leads to disagreements between those who believe they know more than the experts at their sides. One panel on pulp fiction featured contradictory comments from pulp historians on whether the paper used to print pulp magazines was the same grade as or lower grade than the paper on which comic books were printed.
Loscon is also well-known for its Saturday-night room parties. One of the more unusual ones we visited last night was thrown by an author to promote her small-press fantasy novel. The author herself dressed up in a Xena-type warrior-woman outfit to plug the book.
As we were leaving this costume-filled milieu early Sunday morning, we shared an elevator ride down with two young women wearing costumes of a different type -- i.e., short skirts and low-cut tops that could barely contain their surgically-bestowed assets. One dropped a hotel key card as the elevator descended; but she waited until we left the elevator before bending down to retrieve it -- for obvious reasons.
Plainly, these women were not fans; they were "pros."
"Although we are now accustomed to carrying around record collections and multiplexes in our pockets, to my ancient mind there is still something pleasantly improbable about the thought that all 105 episodes of 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' have been put onto DVD and packaged in a single cardboard 'attaché case' roughly the size of a complete volume of Shakespeare. . . . That a laser beam is at the heart of the technology that has made this possible is also suitably science-fiction, and poetically appropriate, regarded with a mind that can still thrill at the words 'laser beam.' Laser beam! Oh!"
Lloyd comments that nearly forty years after the series left the air, he no longer watches it with the wide-eyed wonder of a cold-war-era kid; but rather with "amused, ironic detachment." But, he continues,
"is not 'amused, ironic detachment' the very essence of the character of the modern filmic secret agent? Really, the whole world could use a lot more of that."
I've got an odd relationship with the whole U.N.C.L.E. phenomenon. As with many '60's TV shows, I have hazy memories of watching both U.N.C.L.E. series in the sixties (I particularly recalled the animated opening titles); but because the reruns weren't syndicated in my part of the country until the '80's, I didn't actually watch whole episodes growing up. Instead, my knowledge of the show came primarily from merchandising. There was a Whitman juvenile U.N.C.L.E. tie-in novel (written by Walter Gibson, the author of the SHADOW pulps)around the house; and I'd occasionally come across board games and other tchotchkes from the show. In the early '80's, there was an U.N.C.L.E. reunion movie, which my cousin Lee covered extensively for STARLOG magazine; and occasional articles about the show. It wasn't until I moved to San Francisco in the late '80's that I was able to see multiple episodes of not only the Man from U.N.C.L.E., but also the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Because Silicon Valley wonks had an appetite for science fiction programming, the bay area local stations -- both private and public -- ran extensive science fiction programming.
As with the Connery Bond movies, I'll probably never be able to appreciate U.N.C.L.E. with the same viewpoint as those who grew up watching the show in the sixties. But I can still enjoy a worldview where the greatest threat to our planet is neither geopolitical forces nor ecological IOU's, but rather nasty businessmen who name themselves after birds.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Meanwhile, Lee's latest Monk book, MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE, sits on my pile of books to read. It's a Monk mystery set at a science-fiction convention. Is it a frisson of fear that prevents me from immediately cracking it open?
Monday, November 19, 2007
Japan, Ink: Inside the Manga Industrial Complex
The cover story in the current WIRED magazine discusses the manga business in Japan, which writer Daniel Pink deems (perhaps hyperbolically) the hub of all popular culture in the land of the rising sun.
Pink's focus is on the symbiotic relationship between professional manga publishing and doujinshi -- the limited-press fan-published comics that draw hundreds of thousands of buyers to festivals like Comiket, and that violate creators' and publishers' intellectual property rights outrageously. How do publishing companies that fanatically protect their copyrights coexist with store chains like Mandarake and K-Books that buy, sell and trade doujinshi? As Pink describes it, the secret is an unwritten agreement between the fan publishers and the professionals -- and a mutually-beneficial business model that, he suggests, Western media might do well to emulate.
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Sunday, November 18, 2007
If you're lucky enough to get the Imaginasian channel (Channel 157 on Time-Warner in LA), I recommend that you tune in at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. That's because the cable channel's Anime Ener-G programming block (sponsored, ghostlike, by Geneon, even though Geneon itself is in reorganization and won't be buying advertising anytime soon) will rerunning episodes of a series we've grown to love, KAMICHU.
KAMICHU is a program that I cannot imagine an American channel would run -- in part because the concept is deeply rooted in Japan's pantheistic Shinto religion. The series' main character is Yurie (pronounced yury-eh), a rather immature 13-year-old girl who lives in a small seaside town near Hiroshima in the '80's. In the first episode, Yurie announces to her best friend that the previous night she somehow discovered that she is a god. And she is. In the Shinto religion, there is a god for everything that exists. And so the existence of a junior high school god is worthy of some note (there's an announcement on the school PA right after she inadvertently creates a typhoon with her face in the eye of the storm), but not a lot of fuss.
The title of the series is the magic word her friends make up for her to say to summon her power -- a contraction of the Japanese words for god and junior high student.
We learn that she's more powerful than the resident god in the Shinto shrine where her friend Matsuri lives (a god who acts more like a servant than a deity, and who yearns to be a rock star). We learn that the land is swarming with gods, who are generally invisible to all but Yurie and those whom she temporarily gives magical sight. She sets up a consultation tent at her school during lunch hours, and grants wishes to some who approach her with worthy wishes (although one of her first supplicants, the Prime Minister, turns out to have an agenda).
One could imagine that a comedy about a teenager who obtains divine powers would devolve into slapstick or lowball comedy. Certainly most kids Yurie's age could not be trusted with such might. But Yurie simply does not think of abusing her power for personal purposes (except, say, to change the TV channel from across the room without a remote). She remains dedicated to trying to live her life as a normal junior high student, yearning to catch the attention of the largely oblivious boy she likes, and dealing with Matsuri's various schemes to capitalize on Yurie's powers to help Matsuri's shrine.
The series overall has a soothing, relaxing feeling, from the opening harmonica theme through the cute closing. Aiding this is terrific writing from Hideyuki Kurata (creator of the READ OR DIE franchise, and screenwriter for the HELLSING ULTIMATE series) and the creative team that produced the ROD THE TV series a few years ago. A sign of the care put into the series is the attention paid to the setting. The town in which Yurie lives, the hill she rides her bike down, the ferry she and her friends ride to school, the businesses and the shrine all feel so real that if the viewer woke up in the town tomorrow, they could probably navigate their way around.
If you want to watch an anime that does not go down like a twice-frozen TV dinner (which happens with some of the more derivative series), check out KAMICHU.
The other is the cover for the program for the summer Comic Market, or Comiket, for 2007.
The question for me was whether I'd perceive the movie differently now than the first time I saw it in a theater -- which was in the Liberty Theater in Walla Walla, Washington back when I was 17. What would I bring to the story, after 25 years (including seven years of higher education and ten years of marriage) of living life?
Frankly, I'm not sure. I was hyper-conscious of how the Blade Runner look influenced movie and TV for years, much as 2001 had 14 years earlier. I wondered what exactly it was that made Deckard such hot stuff in hunting down androids that his former boss essentially forced him back onto the job. (And yes, I know it's because of what he is.) After all, he doesn't do much in the movie beyond basic detective work, whenever he's not mooning after Sean Young. I did feel much more sympathy for Rutger Hauer's replicant character, Roy Batty, who is by far the most expressive character in the movie (over the top, in fact, like someone who has just discovered emotions and is so drunk on them he can't help gushing them like a geyser).
I also found that the special effects were still fantastic-looking, even after 25 years of increasing sophistication. Without a whisper of CGI, the effects draw us into this futuristic Los Angeles completely.
Incidently, the movie is set in 2019. Somehow I don't think we're going to develop Darryl Hannahdroids in the next 12 years, let alone attack ships burning off the shoulder of Orion. But as someone once said, it's not science fiction's job to predict the future; its job is to imagine the future.
The fall in Starbucks attendance strangely coincided with an increase in the price of drinks chain-wide (four months ago), a dip in the chain's stock, and rising gas prices (not to mention the sub-prime mortgage debacle) that have led some to believe that perhaps a $4 a day latte habit is not, financially, a good idea.
Throw in the number of local coffee bars that have taken a page from Starbuck's playbook and charge nearly identical prices for the same types of lattes, cappucinos, and froufrou drinks, and you'll find the Starbucks mermaid facing some rough seas ahead.
Perhaps a good starting point for Starbucks to regain its momentum is to reconsider its previous strategy of saturating the market with stores like a spilled machiato saturates a bar-towel. At some point, too many Starbucks is too many Starbucks. If you can hardly take a step without tripping over a Starbucks, it stands to reason that the sales in each store is going to go down.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Premium cable channel Starz's Action Channel has in the past run the HELLSING anime TV series a few times on its ANIMIDNIGHT umbrella show, which runs at midnight (duh) on Friday nights (now on Starz Edge). Next year, it will be running the newer, more faithful, and far nastier incarnation of the story, HELLSING ULTIMATE; along with fellow Geneon kill-em-up, BLACK LAGOON.
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In Cousin Lee's latest war-correspondent post from the front lines of the WGA strike, he describes an only-in-Hollywod (well, actually Burbank) scene: Some of the original munchkins from 1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ hand out donut holes to strikers (assuring them, "The Lollypop Guild is with you"), while an onlooker asks if John Edwards (scheduled to visit) talks to dead people.
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Monday, November 12, 2007
comes this picture of him and his cute daughter Madison picketing in Studio City.
I recall that in 1988, when we had the last extended writer's strike, TV entertainment options included home video (mainly rented) and cable movies; but was still far more limited than now. Today's couch potato has ready access to thousands of hours of TV series, on DVD, on iTunes, even illegally on YouTube. Will they feel the pinch of a lack of new TV content?
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Easy: Just have Alex Ross paint a cover like this one.
Worked for me.
The second teaser trailer for next year's IRON MAN movie is up on the web -- and like the first one (seen in slightly different form at Comic-Con), it looks terrific. This flick better not disappoint me.
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This afternoon, I rode my bike to Synergy in Culver City, and found it deserted. According to this LA Times article, it's not alone. Several wi-fi watering holes favored by writers are feeling the pain of the WGA strike, as writers who normally pound out scenarios while ensconsced with a latte and a muffin are hitting the picket lines or staying home, watching their budgets. Will L.A.'s purveyors of overpriced java survive?
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Greg Gilmore, whom I attended high school with, apparently studied acting; appeared in various movies and TV shows; and last year co-produced videos featuring INXS and Orthodox-Jewish rapper Matisyahu.
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Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Is it my imagination, or did Turner draw the "Heroes" cast as the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" cast?
Monday, November 05, 2007
No such luck. The system just combines a bulletproof vest with a computerized helmet.
"We've been somewhat perplexed by the overwhelming response," deadpanned (I imagine) a spokesperson. Apparently, one of the researchers nicknamed the system "Gundam," so the Ministry innocently put that into their program. Uh-huh.
Of course, if one were to actually build a giant land-based war machine, shaping it like a humongous humanoid -- let alone like a huge suit of samurai armor -- would be extraordinarily impractical. Not only would the resulting monstrosity be unable to stand up without its legs collapsing under the suit's weight, but locomotion on two legs would be insane. Imagine picking up a hi-rise, swinging it out into space, plunking it down again, and using it as a pivot to swing another one outward. Imagine doing that over and over. Now imagine all the stuff getting squashed underfoot.
Best to leave the true Gundams on the battlefield of the imagination.
Japan's 'Gundam' Personal Equipment System Revealed - Anime News Network
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Sunday, November 04, 2007
Product placement? Apparently. A generic video MP3 could be used; or a DVD.
The odd part: Due to acrimony between Apple and NBC/Universal -- which airs HEROES -- earlier this year, NBC announced it would yank its programming off iTunes. That includes HEROES.
So why would the network give Apple millions of dollars worth of advertising in the form of product placement? Two guesses. First, the scene may have been filmed before the Apple/NBC brouhaha. Second, Apple still buys lots and lots of TV advertising time; so staying on the company's good side might still pay dividends.
What is it about the comedy/parody/fantasy anime THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZIMIYA that inspires so much passion? Here's a Youtube video of fans around the world -- and I mean around the world -- performing the highly-choreographed dance from the closing credits of the anime.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Any time I feel like I'm too smart for my own good, I can head over to my friend Rick Marshall's blog, VERBAL MEDICINE. Rick posted a review of a volume translating Heraclitus's works, and received a thank-you e-mail from the translator.
Sigh. Think I'll write some more about Batman and Peanuts.
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Yesterday was Amy's birthday. At her request, we had dinner out at Yamashiro. Yamashiro is a gorgeous restaurant up in the Hollywood Hills (the ones Bob Seger sings about), just above the Magic Castle and overlooking Tinseltown. It was built near the turn of the last century, and is modeled after a castle in Kyoto. Although Yamashiro predates the glory days of the area, it is inherently and iconically Hollywood.
Although we think of Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters as quintessentially American, they truly belong to the world. The Japanese passion for cuteness -- and for gift-giving -- likely drives the success of Peanuts collectibles in Japan.
While we were in Yokohama in August and September, we visited the Yokohama branch of Snoopytown, a Peanuts tchotchke store chain. (We saw a bigger store in the Harajuku section of Japan, but didn't go in.) Among the items tailor-made for the location were these hand-towels. (Hand-towels are often seen in gift stores there, possibly because many public restrooms don't provide paper towels.) One depicts Yokohoma's Chinatown; the other the downtown Yokohama skyline, complete with the Cosmo World Clock ferris wheel and the Landmark Tower.
The Peanuts images are copyright by United Features Syndicate.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Cousin Linda writes in her blog about visiting Walla Walla this past week for Aunt Dorothy's funeral. She illustrates her post with some photos of the town that, somehow, look more beautiful than the photographed objects ever did in real life. Even if you grow up in a place, you never truly see it until you look through an artist's eyes.
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Other perspectives on the pilgrimage to Walla Walla come from Linda's brother Tod, and their uncle Burl Barer
Saturday, October 27, 2007
An upcoming episode of the TV mystery series NUMB3RS, titled "Graphic," is set at a comics convention. To add authenticity, the set decorators borrowed art, photos, toys, and entire booths from actual comic convention exhibitors. Colleen Doran's booth, posters and art will be there -- but Colleen won't; she couldn't make the trip out to LA for filming.
Wil Wheaton (who played Wesley Crusher on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION about a generation ago) will play a comics creator on the episode. The above link is to photos he took on the set -- including of a table covered with autographed STTNG photos. And yes, one of the photos depicts Wheaton in his Wesley Crusher role.
My cousin Lee Goldberg's next MONK tie-in novel, MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE, depicts Monk at a science fiction convention. If the book is ever filmed as an episode, maybe they can buy some stock footage from this NUMB3RS episode. (Then again, so many SF folks are also Monk fans that they could probably get loans of materials just like the NUMB3RS producers.)
Thanks to Ms. Doran for the info.
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Thursday, October 25, 2007
I snapped these, using my phone camera, from the Plaza Del Sol of the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort (which used to be the Fess Parker Red Lion Hotel) in Santa Barbara, where I'm staying for a client conference. I took the train up, which gave me a look at some of the ugliest parts of LA before I finally hit coastline in Ventura County. Some may recall Mr. Parker as the actor who portrayed both Davy Crockett and (later) Daniel Boone on TV.
In his blog, Mark Evanier writes about the various attempts to produce an animated TV series about the Marx Brothers. As with many of Groucho's routines, the punchline is worth the price of admission. (How the line got in the punch, I'll never know .)
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
You may remember the episode of Friends in which Phoebe confesses that when she was young, she used to target "comics shop nerds" for mugging -- and that she had mugged a pretreen Ross.
Apparently this team of twins didn't mug anime fans on the streets of Akihibara -- they didn't have to. Instead, they exploited both the rigid etiquette rules of Japan and the fear of real-life females that these fans likely hold; and extorted money from the fans as an "apology" for bumping into the female twin.
Fortunately, the long arm of the law punished them for their rampant otaku exploitation.
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This evening, I attended my cousins Linda and Karen's book signing/interview at Borders Westwood; and learned the sad news that their grandmother -- my Aunt Dorothy -- passed away this morning at the age of 95. Linda, Karen, their brothers Tod and Lee, their mother Jan, and their families were all there to celebrate the sisters' latest accomplishment -- and the life of their grandmother. The photo is from Linda and Karen's blog. Follow the link for their tribute to their Nana.JOURNAL REVOLUTION: oh no, Nana died!
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Monday, October 22, 2007
Our 10th wedding anniversary was back on August 16. But we were so busy in August & September that we ended up throwing our celebration on October 21. That afternoon, we threw a brunch at Kay & Dave's Cantina in West LA. We had about 22 people show up, including friends and family. Several margaritas, tacos and burritos ensued, in addition to a bread pudding and a pumpkin flan (served in a pumpkin!)
Plus, a few days earlier, our favorite comic book store (the one in which we first met), Comics Ink, threw us an impromptu champagne-and-fruit celebration. The event turned into a "This Is Your Life" overview of my Southern California comics store experience -- lots of people from the store's past showed up, including Mondo, my boss when I worked at the Westwood Graphitti store in the mid '80's.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Rowling's official site apparently has nothing (yet) about her outing of Dumbledore. But it does answer one question left unanswered at the end of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. Go to the site, click on "Wizard of the Month," and then click on the "dark mark" (green skull with a snake in its mouth) to reveal this "spoiler."
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I shot these clips on the first evening of our Japan trip (August 29, 2007) on the "Airport Limousine" bus that was transporting us from the Narita Airport to Yokohama.
The music is "Beautiful World," written and sung by Utada Hikaru. This song is from the Evangelion movie that premiered in theaters while we were in Japan.
I'll be posting more videos and other images from Japan in the near future.
Friday, October 19, 2007
According to Mugglenet.com, in a New York appearance this evening, J.K. Rowling revealed a hitherto unknown fact about her character Dumbledore that will likely raise a few eyebrows.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
This afternoon I road my bike up Westwood Boulevard to the Borders bookstore on the outskirts of Westwood Village (if South of Wilshire counts as the outskirts). Cousin Tod and other writers published by Other Voices press read excerpts from their works. All of the excerpts featured unfortunate characters doing and saying inappropriate things. Fun stuff.
Castro calls Chavez during live broadcast - CNN.com
Castro is unfortunately ignoring the time-honored rule: No red, white and blue track suits after Labor Day.
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Saturday, October 13, 2007
But I've read enough articles to know that she specializes in outrageous comments that seem designed to offend and call attention to her and her writing -- like a pet who signals her annoyance by piddling on the carpet.
According to the LA Times:
"The latest furor erupted over an exchange Coulter had Monday with CNBC host Donny Deutsch on his show, 'The Big Idea,' during which she said the country would be better off if everyone were Christian. When Deutsch -- who is Jewish -- asked if she wanted to get rid of Judaism, Coulter responded, 'We just want Jews to be perfected.'"
This comment about my people makes me wonder several things. First, whether this will be the comment that finally turns people off from her sideshow, and allows her to fade into obscurity. Second, how many ignorant bigots will cheer her for it. And finally, how my late Uncle Dave would have responded to her comments, based on my father's blog post about Uncle Dave's pointed riposte to a customer who uttered similar remarks.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Anyway, I was saddened last week to read of the death of Lois Maxwell, the original (and best) Miss Moneypenny from the James Bond movies. Moneypenny was an indispensible part of the Bond formula -- indeed, she shows up early in the first JB novel, CASINO ROYALE.
Ironically, on the day she died I watched the first part of the beautifully restored DR. NO released on DVD last year. You can see in the movie how crucial her few minutes in each Bond film were to the story. The movie opens with two macabre murders. We switch to the MI-6 radio receivers' room; then to the club where we first see Bond. In his first scene, Bond, as played by Sean Connery, is elegant, but as cold as ice. Only when he pops into M's antechamber and banters with Moneypenny do we see a hint of humanity in him. Granted, he shamelessly sexually harasses Moneypenny, but those scenes are just as valuable as the ones in M's office, where we see that M is the only man who can make even James Bond feel like a schoolboy caught in a shameful prank.
As M finally said in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, "What would I ever do without you, Moneypenny?"
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Being one of the charter members of the Sesame Street generation, I've grown up with the short attention span endemic to one exposed to faster and faster TV editing. Thus, I've always enjoyed the short story as one of my favorite literary vehicles. I think genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror) in particular benefits from the short form: there are many clever ideas that will support a short tale and a punchline, but that cannot be developed far enough to support a whole novel.
In this New York Times article, Stephen King -- the editor of the 2007 BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, and a fellow who knows something about genre fiction -- describes the limited marketing and availability of short stories today; and the resulting inbred, airless nature of many such stories. (Stories from my relatives excluded, of course.) The problem he describes -- the "bottom shelf" nature of short story magazines -- has probably been an issue in genre fiction ever since the surviving pulps mutated from 8 1/2 by 11 broadsides into digest-sized periodicals that are still carried in supermarkets and drug stores -- albeit on the shortest shelf in the store, just above the ant traps and the rat poison.
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