Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Farenheit F*******ds?

My cousin Tod Goldberg has entered into a -- er -- heated discussion on his blog concerning a bookstore in the heartland that has taken to disposing of its excess stock by burning the books. Publicly. As a dialogue on the decline of literacy, according to a "friend of the bookstore" who has taken to debating Tod without revealing his real name.

I suppose burning books and then contacting the media about it is one way to get rid of one's unsalable books -- just like one way to cover the hole in one's coat sleeve is to wear a swastika armband. It gets the job done; but it also sends the wrong message.

Secret Service to Sue Silver Surfer for Serious Statutory Scofflawery?

Once again, the silvery Sentinel of the Spaceways has run afoul of the US Government. Specifically, Fox and the Franklin Mint are planning a promotional campaign in which the FM will deface a bunch of California Quarters with an ad for the upcoming Fantastic Four 2 movie, all featuring a shiny shot of the Silver Surfer. The US Treasury has warned the producers of the movie that this scheme may violate a federal statute that forbids affixing advertisements to legal tender; and may lead to fines.

When, oh when, will they leave the Surfer in peace?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Evil That Men Do Lives Long After Them

Had you told 15-year-old me that people would even be aware in the 21st Century of the inane song "Funkytown," my skepticism would have been strong. And if you had told me that in the far-off year of 2007, one could use a computer to call up a video of Lipps Inc. doing the robot while performing their eponymous action on a German TV show, I'd have seriously considered distracting you while calling the men in the white coats.

Yet, here we are.

Hurray for the future.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Big, Bouncy, Shiny and Whiney

On the eve of the Silver Surfer's debut as a movie character in the second Fantastic Four movie (and with the Surfer's simonized dome protruding from the tops of billboards all over SoCal), Marvel has issued the SILVER SURFER OMNIBUS, which collects all 18 issues of the Surfer's late-sixties early-seventies comic book series -- plus a frequently-reprinted Surfer solo story from a FANTASTIC FOUR annual, and a Surfer parody story from Marvel's satire comic NOT BRAND ECHH -- into a substantial, 570-page color coffee-table hardcover.

The book retails for $75 (although I bought mine for $60 at my local comics emporium; and you can get it for about that price at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online). That's actually a pretty fair price, since Marvel's "Masterworks" reprint books run about $60 for ten issues' worth of reprints (with less quality). Plus, the Surfer comics featured longer-than-normal stories; and the Omnibuses, unlike the Masterworks editions, feature the letter columns from each issue.

The comic series is a fascinating slice of comics history from the era of the King and Bobby Kennedy assasinations, of Vietnam and demonstrations. Writer/editor Stan Lee used the comics as a vehicle for his most philosophical writing -- resulting in lots of panels in which the Surfer sails around the outer atmosphere, gesticulating like a ham Shakespearean actor, whining about man's inhumanity to man, interspersed with kick-ass action sequences. The stories in general take a dark view toward humanity, emphasizing the menace of mobs, intolerance as the normal human condition, and paranoia vying with greed.

This mix does not necessarily result in uniformly well-written stories. Lee's forte was and is not necessarily brilliant plots -- indeed, most of his Marvel stories consisted of loose plots or discussions with the artists, leaving the artists to essentially plot and lay out the story before Lee stepped in and wrote the dialogue. Here, Lee must contend with a protagonist who is powerful enough to rearrange the molecular structure of matter with a gesture. About the only limit to the Surfer's power is the barrier that his former boss, Galactus, placed around the Earth to pen the Surfer in -- the cause of much of the Surfer's kvetching. Faced with trying to create challenges for such a puissant main character, Lee makes the Surfer's nemesis no less than the Devil Himself -- personified as Mephisto, whom artist John Buscema depicts as a red, muscular man with a leonine face. Since Mephisto moves in mysterious ways, his plots don't always have to make strict sense -- and they don't. One has to read the two-part story in which Mephisto turns the Flying Dutchman into a claw-handed cyborg (???)to appreciate the loopiness of the story.

Where Lee's writing shone, however, was in his language. Lee is a writer who, like Bradbury and Vonnegut, is in love with the music of the English language. Working in the clipped vernacular endemic to comics, Lee nevertheless uses rhythm, alliteration, bardic appellations, and a sparkling vocabulary to make the abundant dialogue sing. There are phrases in these stories that pop into my head at times decades after I've read them, such as Mephisto's description of his negotiation technique: "Now, where CAJOLERY has failed -- let CARNAGE succeed!"

The best run of the series comes early, in issues 3 through 5. Issue 3 features Mephisto's New Testament style attempt to first tempt, then beat, then extort the Surfer into giving up his soul -- including using the Surfer's girlfriend from his home planet, the Barbara Feldman lookalike Shalla Bal, as a bargaining chip. Issue 4 is a beautifully-drawn battle between the Surfer and the Marvel versions of the Norse Gods, including Thor. Issue 5 is a convoluted yet intriguiging story, in which the Surfer is faced with raising a lot of money in a hurry. Being an honest soul, he goes out in a trenchcoat, sunglasses and slacks -- looking unsettlingly like Michael Jackson would thirty years later -- and tries to get a job; but can't land one without experience or a Social Security card. He tries to rob a bank, but his conscience gets the better of him. He finally acquires the money by cheating his way through a rigged craps game, letting the thugs who ran the game roll him, and then stealing the money back!

The art for these issues is, without exception, excellent -- some of the best Marvel has produced. John Buscema drew every issue except the last (which Surfer creator Jack Kirby illustrated), and his art before and after was never as superb in its spectacle and storytelling as it was here.

The letters columns are a treat in themselves. In light of its philosophical bent, the column attracted correspondence from college students across the nation, themselves engaged in the societal soul-searching of the time. The letters definitely do not toe any line of political correctness. In issue 5 of the series, physicist Al Harper befriends and aids the Surfer. When SS asks Harper why, Harper -- who is black -- muses, "Mebbe it's 'cause I know how it FEELS to be pushed around!" In issue 8's letter column, a correspondent from North Carolina apparently takes this comment personally. "That was uncalled for!" he protests. "For months you've been knocking 'us' (you know who I mean). It sounds as if we were all big, bad murderers who liked hurting minorities." The writer insists, "I'm not a racist," but states he doesn't want Marvel "ruined" by something "that really doesn't concern you as comic publishers" -- i.e., a "civil rights protest." The response to the letter replies that "such matters as racism and equality do concern us . . . as human beings."

The SILVER SURFER OMNIBUS is worth checking out -- not just as a time capsule, but as a fun example of what made Marvel Marvel.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More on Cat's Eye's and Orguss's US TV Debuts

Imaginasian TV will begin broadcasting its block of TMS shows -- including my fave, CAT'S EYE, and '80's gem ORGUSS -- on June 5. Further, anime retailer Right Stuf has landed the exclusive retail rights for the DVDs of the shows. The DVDs will be printed-to-order, and feature extremely low price points -- the starter sets for the first volumes (including a case for the remaining DVDs) will be $12.99, and subsequent volumes will be $9.99 each. (By comparison, most DVDs of anime TV series are $24.99 to 29.99 MSRP, and starter sets run in the $35-50 range.) Right Stuf announces that the first volumes should be ready in early July -- which, I believe, should be just in time for Anime Expo.

I'm there, dude.

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Venice Grind

This WFWH is easy to find if you're driving or riding down Venice Boulevard in Culver City near Bundy -- it's between Bundy and Grand View, and sports an enormous red "COFFEE" marquee reminiscent of the '30's or '40's. Inside, you'll find an enormous fiberglass-and-aluminum sculpture behind the counter of a phoenix, with a coffee cup instead of a head. Not only is there the typical local-artist art on the walls, but there are galleries on either side. The location is particularly bicycle-friendly, with Venice's generous bike lanes on either side of the street and a bikerack nearby on the sidewalk. The espresso drinks are pretty good, as is the chai; and it has a nice selection of teas. There's a sectional sofa and a bunch of hassocks in front, under the front window -- a substitute for the mis-matched living room furniture one often finds in coffee- houses. There's also a back porch with tables -- a nice feature for SoCal when the weather's nice. They also have thoughtfully placed electrical outlets liberally next to the tables.

One minus is that the wi-fi signal could be faster and stronger -- Blogger is occasionally choking as I type this. The hours are both a blessing and a curse: It opens earlier than most WFWHs (7 am on Sunday, 6 am every other day) but closes earlier than many (10 pm each day).

Beach Blogging Part Deux

I had a terrific ride along the beach. I rode the Santa Monica Beach Bike Path from Venice Boulevard up to Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades (about 6.1 miles), then back south to Pico. Next to the Santa Monica pier there's a ramp with 180-degree switchbacks (forcing you to either walk your bike or ride it very short distances) that takes you up the seawall to street level.

The bike path is terrific. It's flat and clear (except for the other users -- and there were a lot), and you feel like you could ride forever on it. It's for all levels of experience (it has to be, with all the bike-rental stands along the way), so you'll encounter all ages of bicyclists out there. And although the path is periodically marked with "Bikes Only" legends, this being SoCal people flagrantly ignore it. They blade; they walk; they stand absently in the middle of the damned path with a vacant expression on their faces.

My ride to, from and on the beach afforded me my expected portion of stereotypical SoCal sights: One old bag-lady who laid a curse on me as I rode by; one young woman roller-blading in a bikini; one young man strumming an electric guitar with no amp attached; one meditation class; one setup for a beach wedding; several beach volleyball players, in various stages of scantily-clad-ness; and lots and lots of views of that big blue wet thing that's always present just west of here.

Beach Blogging

I'm writing this entry on my Treo at the famous Sidewalk Cafe in Venice. I'm starting out my holiday weekend by realizing one of my SoCal dreams: riding my bike down to Venice and then biking on the beach bike path. I've already rode my bike down the path to this point. We'll see how far on it I go fortified by a hearty breakfast. The weather is perfect: The sun is out and the temp is in the low '60's. I've brought my internal thermo up high enough to make that comfortable. I'll post photos when I get home.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Landmark in My Backyard

Today's LA Times featured this article about the new 12-screen Landmark Theater that's being built at the intersection of Pico and Westwood, replacing the former "Westside Two" section of the Westside Pavillion. (Angelinos might recall that the Pickwood theater used to be approximately at that point.) The theater is not literally in my backyard, but it's close enough that I can see the parking lot from my front porch.

When I heard that it would be running "independent films" only, I wondered how it could possibly find enough current indies to fill 12 screens. (I thought that it might end up with "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" running on 4 screens every month.) Apparently, I'm not the only one wondering about the programming. "Exactly what kind of movies the Landmark will play is in dispute," the article notes. The Chief Operating Officer states that, were the venue open today, "Spider-Man 3" might be playing on as many as three Landmark screens. But as the article notes, the company has repeatedly told the theater's neighbors (i.e., us) that it would not run big, wide-distribution movies like that.

The article comments that the success of theaters in Century City has threatened those in Westwood, traditionally a mecca for those who want to see movies on big screens that dwarf those in multiplexes. (Of course, there's just one theater in Century City now, the AMC Century 15 -- the theater at the former ABC Entertainment Center died with the Entertainment Center a few years ago.) Now the Landmark will have to contend with the Century 15 for bookings in the area -- a daunting prospect, given that AMC is a national chain with tremendous clout; and given that the Century 15 has a screen set aside for independent movies.

I will welcome a luxury theater (with a lower ticket price than The Bridge and the Arclight, my current favorite movie venues) within walking distance of my house. But I will not welcome it so much if it draws loud, rowdy crowds. Or if it goes out of business, leaving a multi-story abandoned hulk a couple of blocks away.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

I Want to Ride My Bi-See-Cull, I Want to Ride My Bike

I've been working on taking my new bike farther and farther from the house, to build up bike-riding chops that rusted after riding only stationary bikes for over twenty years.

Yesterday (one day after Bike to Work Day, but still within Bike to Work Week), I rode it from my house to my office in Century City. I discovered the bike lane (bless bike lanes!) on Santa Monica Boulevard, starting around Veteran, which provided a fast and relatively hassle-free ride for a few miles Eastbound. Only one problem with the lane: It ends abruptly in mid-Century City; and it terminates with a lane of car traffic between it and the sidewalk! So it left me stranded in the middle of the street during rush hour. The cars in the lane to my right were very understanding . . . .

This morning, I was scheduled to donate blood at 9:30. Exercising after giving blood is verboten. So I woke up at 6 (Yes! On my day off!), hopped on the bike before 7, and rode 4 1/2 miles to Maxwell's Cafe in Culver City/Marina Del Rey. The place is usually packed on weekends, with lines stretching out the door; but that early in the morning I was able to walk in and sit right down at the counter. I had the basic diner breakfast (listed in the menu as the basic breakfast): Two perfectly scrambled eggs, home fries, and toast (dry sourdough for me). Biking early in the morning, riding by the grocery stores loading up for the day and the bakeries with the pastries and bread in the oven, reminded me of riding my bike to Garrison Junior High when I was a kid, and occasionally stopping into Fleenors Grocery Store, where they served day-old maple bars to the customers gratis. (Yes, I ate them. No, I didn't gain weight. I had the metabolism of a shrew. Back then.)

From Walla Walla to the Bada-Bing

At various times in my life, I've wanted to become an actor, a novelist, a comic-book writer, etc. I did not become any of those things; but I'm amazed at how several of the people I've known have wanted to become a figure in the arts -- and then went on to do it. They did become published novelists, successful comic book writers -- and yes, actors.

Into the latter category falls a friend of mine from Sharpstein Elementary School and Walla Walla High School, Mike Walsh. When we were in Sixth Grade together, Mike was into films, theater and cartooning; and wanted to be an animator and an actor. Several years ago, he worked as a TV animator in LA; and he is now living in New York and acting under the stage name of Mickey Pizzo.
I saw him in the credits of last Sunday's episode of the Sopranos (you know, the one where Tony Soprano establishes that he is the most selfish bastard ever to be depicted as the lead of a TV show, one who will do anything to eliminate an inconvenience . . . . ) It's always a shocking paradigm shift for me to see someone I actually know join the little people inside the glowing TV box.

Lloyd Alexander, R.I.P.

Lloyd Alexander wrote high-fantasy novels for younger readers that never quite achieved the stature of Tolkien's works, but which had legions of fans. I read several of his books when I was in Junior High, and I found them vastly entertaining. His writing was the best kind of writing for kids: Simple, yet full of music. I've never watched the Disney animated film made of one his Prydain novels, THE BLACK CAULDRON, because I've heard bad things about it; and one thing I don't want to see is bad movies made from good books.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Catch-22 RIP

It was with moderate sadness that I observed the demise of Catch-22, a wi-fi watering hole in the Japanese neighborhood on Sawtelle in West LA. Catch-22's predecessor, Cafe Paradaiso, in the same space is where I first had a jasmine boba milk tea -- and the rest is history. I also recall fond Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent plugging away at my laptop there. The replacement: "Baby Waffles." I guess with the Pinkberry outlet around the corner in the Olympic collection, dessert places are absorbing boba palaces.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Comic Wars

In this age of movie DVDs that issue a month after a movie debuts in theatres, novelizations and comic-book adaptations of films are essentially anachronisms of the pre-Betamax era. Yet such tie-ins once played an important role in publicizing films, as well as serving as a souvenir of the flicks.

The current issue of ALTER EGO, a magazine about comics history edited by longtime comics writer/editor Roy Thomas, features a fascinating article by Thomas about how the comic-book adaptation of STAR WARS came to be. Folks may recall that the novelization of STAR WARS (by Alan Dean Foster, ghost-writing as George Lucas) came out in paperback about a year before the movie; and the six-issue STAR WARS movie adaptation began running a few months before the movie came out -- raising fears at Marvel that the adaptation would be a fiasco if the film bombed. Lucas and his assistants approached Thomas with the project, since Lucas, a comics fan, specifically wanted Thomas to write the adaptation and Howard Chaykin to illustrate it. The plan was to raise consciousness of the film using the comics miniseries.

The movie, of course, did not bomb. Whether the comic book helped add to the movie's bottom line may never be known. But the project certainly helped Marvel; once the movie started going gangbusters, the comic sold in prodigious amounts -- especially after Marvel reprinted it several times, in multiple formats.

Grist for the Grindhouse

We saw GRINDHOUSE yesterday. This tribute by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to the cheap, nasty '70's movies of their youth reminded me of when I was in grade school, and kids (generally boys) who had managed to see R-rated films (probably through the expedient of the local Drive-in) would enthuse about the nastier scenes they saw -- like a POV shot of a man falling out of a window, or an ill-advised use of a shotgun on a human body. The two movies were uneven, to say the least; and did not quite capture the spirit of the '70's flicks. The Rodriguez movie was far too well photographed, and had far too nicely-done special effects, to qualify as a trash-flick. And the Tarantino movie interspersed its excellent car-wars scenes (and the tremendously-charismatic Kurt Russell) with endless scenes of women talking with each other -- scenes that went on so long that they seemed parodies of similar bits in Tarantino's earlier movies.

I had to agree with friends who told me the absolute best part of GRINDHOUSE was the faux coming-attraction trailers, by Rodrieguez (doing a satire of blaxpoitation trailers) and guest directors like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie.

Those who follow Rodriguez's films will recall that Tarantino often appears in them; and that when he does, his character usually meets a bad end. This movie continues the tradition; and Tarantino's nasty rapist mercenary meets about the worst, nastiest fate ever shown in cinema.

My New Wheels

One of the consequences of being a middle child was that I never had a new bicycle. I only obtained my own bike during college, when I bought a used bike from a friend who was heading back to Europe -- and I only enjoyed that purchase for two weeks before the bike was stolen from the UCLA campus.

Now, in my '40's, with two car purchases under my belt, I'm finally ready -- to buy a new bicycle.

Here it is. I picked it up at Helen's Cycles in Santa Monica (which has great service) yesterday. It's a cruiser-style mountainbike. Since I've little intent to actually bike in rough terrain, I had test-drove a couple of cruiser-style street bikes (which reminded me of the Huffy bike I first rode as a little kid); but I found this one the easiest to handle.

My ambition and plan is to ride the bike down the Santa Monica Beach bikepath on beautiful weekend mornings. That, for me, is one of the ultimate Southern California living experiences.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pulpy Heroes

Anthony Tollin is doing wonderful work. Working with Nostalgia Ventures, the longtime comic book production man and radio/pulp historian has brought back to print the adventures of the two greatest pulp-magazine superheroes: Walter Gibson's THE SHADOW and Lester Dent's DOC SAVAGE. Better yet, he is releasing them in luxurious 7" x 10" editions (the approximate size of the original pulps), two novels to an edition, using the original typesetting, two-column layout, and text illustrations.

Doc Savage is most notable for having touched off two publishing phenomena. His original magazine from the 1930's and 1940's was a best-seller. In 1964, Bantam Books began reprinting his adventures in a series of numbered paperbacks, with magnificent covers by James Bama. (Bama created the look most readers of that time associate with Doc -- a vaguely-Lee-Marvin-looking bronze giant, with rippling muscles and that utterly bizarre widow's peak crewcut.) The paperback run continued through 1991, and racked up tremendous sales, with millions of Doc Savage paperbacks in print.

As a kid in the late '70's, I'd pick up Doc Savage novels by the handful, and inhale one in a Sunday. They feature some of the most engaging pulp writing of the era (outside of the Hammett-Chandler school of hard-boiled detective prose). True, it's purple as a two-day-old bruise, and bereft of subtlety and subtext. But it's colorful, compelling, fast-paced, humorous, and delivers the goods on action and atmosphere.

Much the same can be said for the SHADOW books. Whereas Dent's inspiration was international explorers and adventurers (of which Dent himself was one), Gibson's influences were his own career as a stage magician and escape artist, along with ninjas, mystics, and other Asian men of mystery. The result was a hero who operated more like a villain -- he dressed in black, he melted into the shadows, he blasted opponents to oblivion with long-slide .45 automatics, and his trademark was a sinister laugh.

The Shadow's pulp adventures were also reprinted in a series of paperbacks -- most notably, in a run with covers by comic book writer-artist Jim Steranko.

The Nostalgia Ventures editions feature covers taken from some of the original pulp paintings. But a variant cover to the first Doc Savage edition reprints the magnificent Bama cover to the paperback reprint of THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE (yep, Doc had the fortress before Superman did) -- complete with the funky '60's-font logo.

The Media and Me

An article about an appellate case I'm working on -- one that includes some quotes from me.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Comics Adaptions in Review

In honor of the release of SPIDER-MAN 3,, the Web compendium of movie-critical mass, lists the 100 best-reviewed comic adaptations of all time ("best" being, of course, a relative term when you discuss movies at the bottom.) The list ranges from "Son of the Mask" and "Elektra" at the bottom of the barrel to "American Splendor" and "Spider-Man 2" at the top. The lesson: A good comic-book adaptation, like a good book adaptation, must be, first and foremost, a good movie.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

No Mouth to Mouth?

I took a class today in infant and child CPR, and the teacher (a nurse) gave me some startling information: Mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing, according to the nurse, is no longer recommended. Instead, in 2006, the standards for CPR changed: They now focus almost entirely on chest compressions, with a couple of breaths every 30 compressions primarily to make sure the airway isn't obstructed. The nurse stated that studies showed chest compressions themselves drew oxygen into the body and circulated it to the brain. Further, the air that the compressions draw into the body are outside air, which contains much more oxygen (the stuff the brain and body needs) than the exhaled air breathed into the mouth. CPR guidelines have also been simplified greatly -- in part because under stress, people are unlikely to remember complicated guidelines; and in part because getting the procedures exactly right is not as important as starting them in the first place.

You can find out more about the American Heart Associations CPR guidelines here.

The Reruns All Become Our History

This week's LA Times featured an article that appeared to take as a given that the American electorate is really, really stupid.

Fred Thompson is a very conservator former senator. He is also an actor, who has been working in movies and TV for decades. One of the roles he played, on the Stephen Cannell series WISEGUY, was a demigogue named Knox Pooley who led a neo-Nazi group of malcontents. I watched the story arc back in the eighties. It was most memorable -- to me -- for the whacked-out follower of Pooley who took hostages and then demanded, in quavering tones, "I ... wanna see ... Knox ... POOOOley!" A friend and I took to saying "Knox POOOOley" to each other as a punch line for weeks afterward.

This footnote in TV history has come to the forefront now, because folks are talking about fielding Thompson as a presidential candidate. And, believe it or not, people are wondering if opponents will use Thompson's WISEGUY role against him.

"How does a performer eyeing a presidential run deal with a video history that can be downloaded, taken out of context, chopped into embarrassing pieces and then distributed endlessly though cyberspace?" asks the article.

The reporter distinguishes Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting history as a killer robot, on rather snide grounds: "In some ways, Thompson is too good an actor and looks too convincing in the part — a problem Schwarzenegger never had."

The Wired Supreme Court

Although the Roberts Supreme Court is viewed as potentially one of the most conservative in recent memory (as shown by its partial-birth decision a few weeks ago), an opinion this past week, Scott v. Harris, featured a startling innovation: the court put a video that was crucial to its decision on the court Website.

In the Scott case, a police high-speed chase of a speeding motorist ended when the police chase unit rammed the speeder's car, sending him off the highway and crippling him. He sued the officer and the police department under the federal civil rights statute (42 USC section 1983) for violating his fourth amendment right to be free from excessive force.

The officer moved for summary judgment. Summary judgment is a device for terminating a case (or part of it) before it goes to trial. Generally, when a party moves for summary judgment, if the court determines that there are no disputed facts that matter to the judgment, and under the law as applied to the undisputed facts the moving party is entitled to judgment, the court will grant that judgment. If there are any issues of material disputed facts, the court has to deny the motion without ruling on the merits. A federal civil rights statute case like this, where a public employee defendant moves for summary judgment, has a slightly different standard: Fact issues will not by themselves defeat the statute. Instead, the court resolves all factual disputes in the plaintiff's favor; and decides under those facts (1) whether the defendant violated the plaintiff's civil rights; (2) if so, whether the right was clearly established in the law and facts; and (3) if so, whether the defendant made a reasonable mistake as to the facts or law. A no answer to the first two questions, or a yes answer to the third, entitles the defendant to summary judgment.

That's where the video came into play. The officer gave a version of the chase in which the plaintiff's driving endangered those on the road. The plaintiff gave a version in which he drove safely. The lower courts ruled that on summary judgment this dispute had to be resolved in plaintiff's favor -- even though the video of the chase, according to the Supreme Court, supported the officer's version.

The majority of the Supreme Court ruled that where the record (here, the unimpeached video) flatly contradicted the nonmoving party's version of events, the court did not have to resolve the dispute in the nonmoving party's favor. The Supreme Court therefore accepted the video as true; and decided, based on the video, that the officer did not violate the plaintiff's constitutional rights.

That was the innovation in the law. The innovation in technology was the Court's footnote inviting readers of the opinion to judge the video for themselves; and then putting the video on the Web. For a court that still refuses to let its arguments be televised, it was a surprising move -- and yet another sign of the coming of the Youtube age.

Spider-Man: Third Time's Charming

Last night, we went to The Bridge to see SPIDER-MAN 3. Although the theatre had been showing the movie on multiple screens round-the-clock since midnight, the 10:30 p.m. showing was packed. That augers well for a movie that has apparently been scheduled to jump to the head of a summer season packed with sequels. (The other two big #3's -- SHREK and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN -- are also scheduled to open this month.)

As for the movie, I was primed for dissapointment, based on the reviews by Kenneth Turan (for the LA Times and NPR) and Owen Glieberman (for Entertainment Weekly). Fortunately, I was disappointed in my disappointment: It was pretty damn good. In fact, the three Spidey movies have set a benchmark among superhero franchises in maintaining a high level of quality through three movies. (Remember SUPERMAN 3? Or, if your memory doesn't go back that far, last year's X-MEN III?) A large chunk of the credit must go to keeping the same visionary director (Sam Raimi) and the same excellent cast across three movies.

This, of course, is the movie where the creators broke from the previous two movies' format of one bad guy per movie (each of whom dies in the movie -- cinema villains seldom go to jail); and instead had multiple bad guys. Even revealing how many they had would be giving away good sections of the plot. Even so, the plot does not just focus on the external hero vs. villain battles (although those are some of the most spectacular ever captured on film); this is a movie about relationships in trouble. All kinds of relationships. Current boyfriends and girlfriends. Past boyfriends and girlfriends. Guy-guy friendships. Guy-guy-girl friendships. Work rivalries. Even a broken relationship between a guy and a black puddle of goo from outer space. (Hell hath no fury like a symbiote scorned.)

It also features Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) either out of costume, or wearing it like a pair of power underwear, through several conflicts -- both emotional and physical. Even when he's in the Spidey-suit, the director finds every excuse to either rip his hood off or tear it open. Part of it is his desire to focus on that expressive hounddog-puppy face of Maguire. But I can also see the logic in staging some of the battles in civilian clothes: A scene of two guys whaling the tar out of each other feels a lot more personal when they're clad in mufti than when they're wearing face-concealing masks.

The movie loses some of the benefits the previous two drew from having a single villain, who could be developed in depth. The second one also had the asset of a screenplay by Michael Chabon. The lack of these assets no doubt set off a lot of the critics who loved the first two. But I still walked away feeling I had received my umpteen dollars (The Bridge's tickets are expensive) worth.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Don't Panic

Don Burr and Pam Gross, two of the friends who came to my birthday party, have posted party reports on their respective blogs. Both blog about the movie I showed at the party, THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY -- a must, since the party celebrated my 42nd birthday.

Watching a 2005 HHGG movie was definitely an odd experience. Back in the early '80's, HHGG was initially a British radio show, then a series of books that everyone was reading (my sister, who was definitely not an SF fan, was reading the first book, if that gives you a clue), then a BBC TV miniseries. The miniseries was the first way I enjoyed the story; the books and radio show came later.

So a couple decades after the radio show, the books, the TV show, and even the comic book series, we have a movie that reiterates a lot of the punchlines and bits from the other media. Of course, punchlines that convulsed me with laughter 25 years ago now merely provoke a pleasant glow of nostalgia.

Apart from the recycled bits, the story has changed every time it's been told in a different medium -- even though the same writer, Douglas Adams, was behind every iteration. That's what amuses me about the folks who despised the movie, on the ground that it's not faithful to "the story." To which story should it have been faithful?