Wednesday, February 28, 2007

No, Mr. Blaze, I Expect You to Fry!

For the second straight week, the GHOST RIDER movie has roared right over almost uniformly negative reviews and skidded to a stop on top of the box office charts.

Could be that -- as I posted below -- fire, skeletons, and bikes all look great on film.

Or it could be that Ghost Rider is one of the few Marvel heroes whose name can be sung to the tune of "Goldfinger":

Ghost Ri-der (wah waah wah! Badabadabum)
He's the ghost
The ghost with the fla-min' head --
Is he alive -- or dead? (Wawawawawaaah)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wi-fi Watering Holes: The Novel Cafe

This is one of the larger wi-fi watering holes I've seen -- it not only has two downstairs rooms, but an upper floor too. And it needed the space; on the Saturday I was there, it was bustling with people pounding on their laptops and on the various desktops provided. There are work-desk-sized tables, but they're in short supply; most of the tables are little ones that can scarcely fit a laptop, a drink, and some food. Electrical outlets are plentiful. The place is also a used-book store, although I didn't see anyone buy any literature while I was there.

The food is the usual sandwich/salad fare so prevalent at WFWH's. The coffee drinks and chai are pretty good.

The cafe also has a pretty good parking situation. It has metered bumper-to-curb parking in front; and it's within walking distance of various public metered parking lots on trendy Main Street in Santa Monica.

One big deficit: The cafe charges for wi-fi -- up to $6.99 for a day pass, which is just a little less than you'd pay at a Starbucks. One wonders how many of the patrons were paying for the wi-fi, and how many were merely taking advantage of the multiple unsecured wi-fi networks blazing away in the neighborhood. Since so many excellent WFWHs offer free wi-fi -- including several in Santa Monica -- you have to either really like the place, be real desperate, or be on a company credit card to want to pay for it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Published Works

Here's a mini civics lesson. All three branches of government make law. The legislature, of course, passes legislation; the executive branch promulgates administrative regulations; and the judicial branch interprets the legislation and regulations, as well as general uncodified law (in most states, and the federal courts, known as the common law).

Almost all judicial lawmaking occurs at the appellate level. All decisions of the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court are published in the lawbooks. Most intermediate state and federal appellate court decisions are unpublished. Unpublished opinions only control the case in which they are decided; they have no value as precedent, and other courts aren't obligated to follow them. A small number of intermediate appellate court decisions are published. The courts only publish an opinion if it does something new: creates a new rule of law; applies an existing rule to a new situation; disagrees with another court's interpretation of the law; or sets forth a thorough examination of the law in a given area.

If a California state court issues an unpublished decision, anybody can ask the court to publish it, on the ground that it meets any of the above criteria. Conversely, if a case is published, anybody can ask the California Supreme Court to depublish it.

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to an article about an opinion in one of my appellate cases. That opinion was unpublished. I asked the court of appeal to publish the case. My opponent agreed that it should be published. So, apparently did the court. Here is the case. Another glimpse at what I do in my day job.

Memorial Garden

Two of my Grandfather Granek's passions were gardening and the small synagogue in my hometown of Walla Walla. Appropriately, the synagogue has turned its front yard into a memorial garden for Grandfather. (I and my family chipped in donations.) My cousin Cherie was in Walla Walla recently, and sent me these photos. It should look beautiful come spring.

Monday, February 19, 2007

That Muffled Pop was My Mind Being Blown

Cousin Tod has posted on his blog not one, not two, but three fan fiction stories involving a much skinnier version of him; Dave Navarro, Carmen Electra; and the Daggit from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Parallax Parallels

At the suggestion of my friend S.R., I continued my exploration of the paranoid cinema of the '70's by renting Alan Pakula's THE PARALLAX VIEW, starring Warren Beatty and a passel of other talented folks, including a post-GRADUATE, pre-KNIGHT RIDER Williams Daniels.

THE PARALLAX VIEW likely had a big influence on comic book writers in the '70's. Comics in those days were mainly written by young men in their '20's who went to college in the '60's and who were likely receptive to stories of conspiracies and assassins.

Further, the movie itself had several comic book connections. Among them:

-- The bizarre "Parallax Test" montage in the middle of the film prominently featured panels from the Marvel comic THE MIGHTY THOR drawn by Jack Kirby.

-- One of the people credited for the montage was the late cartoonist, author, and nude photographer William Rotsler. Among his accomplishments were writing novels based on comic book characters, including one of Marvel Comics' DOCTOR STRANGE.

-- Lorenzo Semple Jr., who co-wrote the screenplay, was the main writer on the '60's BATMAN series; and also wrote the screenplays (such as they were) for the '80's FLASH GORDON and '90's SHEENA movies.

Like a Dodecahedron Die are the Myriad Dark Sides of Fandom

While I truly enjoy the world of fandom and conventions, every so often -- well, okay, quite often -- I read something on the 'Net that just makes me sit and bow my head and shake it ever so slowly back and forth. Like:

-- A whole discussion board dedicated to attacking my cousin Lee, and lauding his much more sarcastic brother Tod. Or:

-- A column about anime fans who earnestly believe they are reincarnations of various anime characters.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Another Barer Heard From

My brother Steve is not only posting on his blog again, but has a second blog -- devoted to wrestling and similar mayhem.

Valentine's Day plus three

Amy and I spent a delightful Valentine's Day Evening at French 75 Bistro, a new restaurant in the Century City Shopping Center. The only negative note was our initial bill, apparently compiled by someone who didn't know what "prix fixe " meant, which charged us extra for the chocolate souffle we shared for dessert. Fortunately, when we pointed out the mistake to the waitress, she adjusted the bill.

Highway to Hell

The image of a damned soul, clad in biker leathers, his skin flayed away and his skeleton streaming flames, defying the Devil and roaring down dusty highways on a hellfire motorcycle hits so many American archetypes of coolness that it's a wonder Marvel's Ghost Rider hasn't been turned into a movie before. Now, 35 years after the character's creation by editor Roy Thomas, writer Gary Friedrich, and artist Mike Ploog (depicted here in a photo taken last week, shaking hands with Amy while writer J.M. DeMatteis sits in the background), The Most Supernatural Superhero of All has torn his way into America's cinema houses. And the results are . . . mixed.
Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson's movie is at its best when it shamelessly plays off the mythic vibe of the character -- like the opening, set in the old west, all desolation and flatlands and heat lightning, while an electric guitar strikes blues chords on the soundtrack. And the scenes with Ghost Rider himself are simply splendid. Few comic adaptation movies (outside of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films or Richard Donner's Superman film) have captured the over-the-top fire and beauty of comic-book mayhem like this film. When Ghost Rider burns his bike up the glossy side of a skyscraper, or smacks down fallen angel goons that have elemental powers, or hits his throttle and instantly bursts into flame, you know you're watching a particularly well-drawn comic come to life. And Sam Elliott (as a grizzled gravedigger with an eldritch past) and Peter Fonda (who played "Captain America" in EASY RIDER, and here plays Marvel's version of Satan) play their roles with just the right tone.

The rest of the movie is the problem. Nicholas Cage, as Johnny Blaze, with hair that looks like he borrowed it from GLADIATOR's Maximus, seems to have trouble figuring out how to play his brooding Evel Kneivel character whenever he isn't blazing. As for his love interest, I approve of the Marvel movies' trend of recasting white characters in the comics with actors from other races (here, the comic's extremely white Roxanne Simpson is played by Latina Eva Mendes); but alas, Ms. Mendes's perfomance falls flat. And while it's nice that the actress has a truly comic-book-like figure, did her reaction to every peril have to be showing off more cleavage?

Then there's the script. Apparently, Mr. Johnson's flair for recreating Ghost Rider's comic book visuals did not extend to snappy patter for the Spirit of Vengeance. When Ghost Rider initially faces off against his opponents, his first line -- uttered in a terrific, sepulchre growl that seems carved out of smoking brimstone -- is, "Yer goin' down!" Yeah, yeah, there's a double entendre there, since he's trying to send the blackguards back to the nether regions -- but come on.

Also [mild spoiler] the story has one of those plot tropes I could never understand: When the bad guy is demanding the magical Maguffin that will make him all-powerful, and the good guys have it in there grasp -- why do they always give it to him?! Yes, the hero always has some plan to defeat the souped-up baddie; but wouldn't it be easier to just defeat him before he becomes all-powerful?

Anyway, I doubt this film will win bouquets from critics; but it's essentially critic proof. It's a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle. Pyrotechnics look great on film. So do skeletons. So do motorcycles. Put 'em all together, and you should have a moneymaker.

The cover above is copyrighted by Marvel Enterprises (or whoever the parent company is now); and the still is from Columbia Pictures.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Just Around the Corner, There's a Rainbow in the Sky

This afternoon, nature treated me to a double rainbow outside my Century City office window. Here it is, arcing over Beverly Hills. Its terminating point is the Beverly Hilton Hotel-- where, undoubtedly, there are pots and pots of gold.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

How Far Ahead of Deadline is Parade Magazine Prepared, Anyway?

I realize that Parade Magazine and its most prominent feature, Walter Scott's Personality Parade, has to be prepared ahead of the publication date so that it can be stuck inside the Circuit City ad in Sunday papers nationwide. But one would still think that some editor (one of the numerous staff editors listed in the indicia, perhaps) would catch a particular item in today's Personality Parade; and this correction (copied from the Personality Parade Webpage) wouldn't be necessary:

"Editor’s note: In the Feb. 11 edition of “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade,” we reported that 2006 Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro was in stable condition. Sadly, Barbaro developed serious complications after we went to press, and the horse had to be euthanized on Jan. 29."

Well, I guess "stable" is one way to put it . . . .

Another Barer Blogger Crossover!

Alan Barer (Dad) and Mike Barer (brother) -- each of whom has his own blog (see the links) -- dropped by yesterday for lunch and a chat.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Write! Write! You Bloody Well Write!

Somewhere amongst our various family blogs, it was said that the family businesses are writing, the law, and scrap metal.

Well, I never worked out with the scrap metal thing. But I've done okay with the law; and now I'm doing a bit with the writing stuff. I revised eight chapters of this thirteen-chapter work.

Unlike my cousins' books, this one is unlikely to show up on any bestsellers' lists; be reviewed in the Washington Post; produce any signing parties on the second floor of the Westwood Borders; or even be analogized to fanfiction. But it does have the distinction of being one of the most expensive books written by a family member (although Burl Barer's scholarly works on The Saint may come close). Further, it may get cited to me by one of my opponents on a case.

I wrote a good chunk of this on our September vacation to Kauai, while Amy sewed. (Good thing our condo had broadband.) In fact, I worked on it just a few hours after breaking my wrist; and finished my draft with my wrist in a splint. My inspiration was my cousin Lee, who wrote at least one novel with both arms broken. (Lee, not the novel.) The deadline was a stirring inspiration too.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Meanwhile, in My Day Job . . . .

Here's a news article about a case in which I represent the appellants (that is, the people who are appealing).

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Superman Drops a Dime on Chewbacca

All together now: "Only in Hollywood . . . ."

Ninja Bond!

How do you make James Bond even cooler? Why, turn him into a ninja!

Last night, Amy and I went to another vintage double feature at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica: new (and extremely sharp) prints of the fourth and fifth Bond movies, THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. I've seen both movies numerous times on video, of course, but nothing matches seeing them on a big screen, with good prints, and a full audience. That's particularly true for YOLT, with its gorgeous photography, vistas of Japan, and the spectacular set pieces. I'd never quite appreciated how thrilling the helicopter-autogyro battle and the slam-bang finale inside the (full size!) volcano base set were until I saw them on the big screen. (The same goes for Thunderball's frogman battle.)

But about those ninjas. YOLT came out in 1967, when ninjas were not quite the adopted part of American culture they became in the 80's (remember Lee Van Cleef as THE MASTER? All three episodes of it?). But even if they weren't the novelty they were forty years ago, the audience still cheered when Bond asked Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service, "Do you have any commandos?" and Tanaka gloats, "Much better than commandos! We have ninja!"

This conversation takes place in front of Himeji Castle -- which, as it turns out, is also Tanaka's ninja training camp. (I wish I had recalled that when I was touring the castle three years ago. I wonder if the ninjas had to dodge pesky tour groups.) We then see the Bond' producers' idea of ninjitsu training -- which involves breaking blocks of ice with foreheads, bo staff training, judo, and rocket-pistol target practice. (Don't ask.) Plus the single katana expert. (He repeats his Benihana routine during the finale -- although he still might have been more effective carrying, say, a submachine gun.)

Although time is of the essence, Tanaka insists that operations have to grind to a halt until Bond undergoes ninjitsu training. It's unclear why; after all, he's already freakin' James Bond! But just as in a Shonen Jump type manga story, he can't go on his mission until he obtains Special Training.

The one disadvantage of the gorgeous new prints: During the scene in THUNDERBALL where the Vulcan bomber lands in the sea, the wires attached to the top of the bomber miniature were shamefully visible. You don't want to see the wires in a Bond film -- unless they're in the hands of a villian trying to garrote Bond.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Potter July

The release date for the final Harry Potter book, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, has been set: July 21, 2007.

The last few books have had summer release dates. ORDER OF THE PHOENIX came out in June 2003 (while I was in Walla Walla for my 20th high school reunion, in fact) and THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE was released in July 2005 (while I was at the San Diego Comic-Con).

I'm highly tempted to grab the book when it comes out and read it as fast as possible, to avoid the inevitable spoilers.