Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Viacom Emotionally Blackmails America's Children!

Viacom, the broadcasting giant which owns 19 channels carried on Time-Warner Cable (our local carrier), is playing hardball in its demand that Time-Warner pay it another $39 million in programming fees. It is threatening to pull all of its programming at midnight tonight if T-W doesn't pay up. Worse -- far worse -- it is running newspaper ads featuring Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants crying because of that mean Time-Warner.

"Why is Dora crying?" one ad asks. The all-caps reply: "TIME WARNER CABLE IS TAKING HER OFF THE AIR TONIGHT!"

Nothing says show business like making children cry until you get your way.

Oh, Please Ban These Words

Lake Superior State University has published its 2009 list of "Banished Words" -- words and phrases that wore out their welcome in 2008, and which should be excised from the english language. They include "green" (as in environmentally, well, something), "carbon footprint," "maverick" (in a political sense), "first dude" (ditto), "bailout," "Wall Street/Main Street," "_____ monkey" (well, "code monkey" still holds a special place in my heart), "<3" (yes, an emoticon), "staycation," and "not so much."

A phrase I'd add: "Oh, please." Heard far too much in this election season. In just two words, and as many syllables, it says, "Your point is so far beneath my consideration that you must be a blithering idiot to have even consider raising it. It certainly does not merit an intelligent response. Go away."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy 86th Birthday, Stan Lee

Happy birthday to the guy whose work sucked me into comics collecting in the first place.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What's One Hour and Forty-Eight Minutes in a Man's Life?

The SPIRIT movie:

It was a bad piece of work, Frank.

You shouldn't have signed it.

Kitaro's US DVD Adventure

Western stories of humans encountering the supernatural are usually told from the viewpoint of the humans; and usually feature the humans as either victims or warriors battling hostile magical beings. While all of that also appears in Japanese popular culture, the Japanese also have stories where humans and the other-worldly try to coexist, often through the efforts of a protagonist who is of both worlds.

One example that is wildly popular in Japan is GEGEGE NO KITARO, a manga feature that first appeared in 1959 and that has been adapted into multiple animated series and movies over the decades. When we visited Japan in 2007, toy stores were packed with merchandise from this series.

The DVD of 2007's live action KITARO movie has been released in the U.S., and I watched it this afternoon. From what I've seen of the original, the story and design are fairly faithful to the original; and while the effects are relatively low-budget, the effects folks do a good job of translating into CGI creatures that look ripped from the comics page. The biggest departure is the transformation of the lead character, the one-eyed half human Kitaro, from a short, pudgy-faced kid into a eurasian teen dreamboat played by Eiji Wentz.

The whole affair is plainly meant for kids, so the scares aren't too scary and the plotline does not delve deep. But there is plenty of wonder and beauty in the visuals. Certainly, a supernatural creature who looks like a bearded head mounted in a flaming wheel, who reproduces himself multiple times and becomes the wheels of a steam locomotive that chugs into the afterlife, is something seldom seen in live-action cinema.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Hell of a Batman Cover

In an article on a recent Batman comics storyline, "Batman R.I.P., the Comics Buyers Guide reprinted several covers from the last forty or so years on which Batman appeared to die. This one, which came out in 1977, caught my eye on the newsstands when I was a kid. I recall being surprised and vaguely disturbed at the language on the tombstone. It's a good bet the tombstone was inspired by the last scene in the movie CARRIE, which had been released the previous year.

The Hot Poop on Hot Poop

"Hot Poop" is a track on a Frank Zappa album. It is also a slang term for inside information. And it is a record/CD/video store on Main Street in Walla Walla that is the oldest independent record store in Washington State.

This news video discusses Hot Poop's 35th anniversary. I became a customer there 30 of those years ago. No matter when I visit -- most recently in 2006 -- owner Jim McGuinn recognizes me, the kid who used to ride his bike up to HP when it was in the Eastgate and pore over the underground comix he sold. I recall taking the first paycheck I earned at a job, and spending it on an audiocassette of "Abbey Road" at Hot Poop.

Thanks to my brother Steve for the heads up on the video.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Take Me To Your Backpack

The Costco Alienware computer backpack. Nothing like an inexpensive backpack that fairly cries out, "Hey! I have an extremely portable expensive gaming computer in here! Take me!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Farewell to the videocassette

Twenty-seven years ago, my family bought a JVC VHS VCR. It cost an eye-popping amount, and blank tapes were reused constantly because they cost $20 each.

About five years ago, at the Anime Expo convention, a dealer was hawking anime VHS cassettes, which had been released for about $30 each MSRP, for a couple of bucks a pop. "The death of the medium is your friend!" he called out.

Now, JVC has stopped making VCRs; and will stop selling them when its supply runs out. Commercial programming isn't released on videocassette. This LA Times article discusses the gradual demise of VHS. It's following the eight-track tape, the home reel-to-reel player, and the audiocassette into entertainment oblivion. (At least the LP has a die-hard strata of audiophiles to keep it alive.)

An interviewee in the article predicts that Blu-Ray will supplant DVDs in a few years. I doubt it. But then, I'm the guy with boxes of VHS cassettes and a shelf full of laserdiscs.

"City Hunter" Goes International

Tsukasa Hojo's most popular manga series, CITY HUNTER, has already been adapted into a long-running anime series in the '80's and '90's (most of which has been translated and sold in the US on DVD) and a goofy live-action early '90's Hong Kong movie starring Jackie Chan (also recently released in the US on DVD). Now comes word that a joint production between Korea's SSD and the US's Fox TV will release a live-action CITY HUNTER TV series in Japan, Korea, and the US. The episodes will be written in English, shot in Korea and Tokyo, and released worldwide.

Anime News Network reports that the series was originally going to feature a different cast in a different company each season, suggesting that the series was going to be a less than faithful adaptation of the manga (which was set almost entirely in Tokyo, and revolved around a single set of characters.) Current plans, however, are now to feature the same lead throughout the series.

Continuing the tradition set by Chan's CITY HUNTER, this production features a non-Japanese actor in the lead -- Korean actor Jung Woo-sung.

Here's the singularly stylish closing credits sequence from the first season of the CITY HUNTER animated TV series, circa 1987. We'll see if the live action series can achieve the same sense of style.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hanukkah with an Alternating Current

My cousin Burl points out the shortcomings of electric menorahs:

Yes, you screw in each bulb as the nights go on --- no messy wax...but what do you do on Friday night if you are orthodox? You can't turn the damn thing on!!

Happy Hanukkah, everyone. May your holidays be bright -- just not electric.

It Looks All Pretty With the Tinkly Synthesizer Playing, But . . .

My brother Steve, back in Walla Walla, points out that my home town is buried under two feet of snow (on top of a layer of ice!) Driving in snow is really one thing that I don't miss about Walla Walla. Many drivers are like old fish: They stink on ice.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You Know You're In the Entertainment Capital of the World When . . . .

In the men's locker room of the West Los Angeles YMCA, you hear two Screen Actors' Guild members arguing about whether to strike.

(No, I didn't look to see who. Did I mention it was the locker room?)

Hellsing Ultimate Vol. 5: London Calling

On Friday, we watched the Japanese DVD of HELLSING ULTIMATE VOL. V. This will eventually be released in the US in a dual-language edition by Funimation; but since we wanted to see it ASAP, we watched it in pure, unsubtitled Japanese.

If you haven't seen it, or the stories on which it is based, here's a SPOILER WARNING for you.

As reported in previous posts, this is a slavishly-faithful adaptation of Kouta Hirano's manga series. To up the stakes for the series, Hirano stranded his protagonist, the vampire-killing-vampire Alucard, on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic, while incredibly nasty Nazi vampires (yes, Nazi vampires) invaded England in a massive zeppelin and, well, ate London. Since the manga was published on a monthly basis, that meant Alucard was missing from the action for about two years of manga stories (which occupied just a few hours of story time). That means that Alucard just appears in a couple of framing sequences in this volume of the DVD series; the balance is made up of beautifully animated yet nightmarishly horrific scenes of the Nazi vampires wreaking apocalyptic revenge upon London for the Allies' triumph in WWII.

(Plus, as Hirano has stated in US convention appearances, he once visited London and had a lousy time. So he decided to destroy it in his story.)

It's not all doom-and-gloom. As adventure fiction demands, the secondary players step up to the plate in the star's absence, and battle on. The truly spectacular battles will be on the volumes to come.

They're the Flintstones

For those who don't mind knowing that there are flesh-and-blood actors who provide the voices for animated characters, Mark Evanier's blog features a photo of the original 1960's voice cast of THE FLINTSTONES.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, R.I.P.

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, a thread of continuity connecting all of the various incarnations of "Star Trek," has died of Leukemia.

In addition to marrying series creator Gene Roddenberry after the series began (the 1990's lawsuit between her and Roddenberry's previous wife, "Roddenberry v. Roddenberry," established several important points of California civil procedure), she played multiple characters in the various "Star Trek" series and movies: First Officer Number One in the pilot; Nurse Chapel in the series and in the movies; Deanna Troy's mother in "Star Trek: The Next Generation"; several voices in the animated series; and in every incarnation, the voice of the Enterprise's computer. She also co-founded Lincoln Enterprises, Roddenberry's merchandising company, whose mail-order catalogs helped keep "Star Trek" fandom alive in the '70's between series and movies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bebop -- "Whoa"

Keanu Reeves, who appears dedicated to starring in every science fiction motion picture released, talks to the MTV Movie blog about his desire to star as gangster-turned-bounty-hunder Spike Spiegel in Fox's in-development American live-action remake of the Japanese animated series COWBOY BEBOP. We'll see if he gets a perm in order to play the curly-coiffed kung fu master.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Internationally Debuting Anime

Mindful that some anime fans use the time-lag between release of new anime in Japan and its official translation in America as an excuse to create unlicensed fan-sub copies, licensors have been working on narrowing the release gap between Asia and the U.S.

The latest example is Kurokami, a fantasy series that will debut simultaneously in Japan, the U.S., and South Korea. Even more impressive, the release in the U.S. will be dubbed, using Screen Actors Guild actors, rather than subtitled. To accomplish this, the American producers reportedly dubbed it off of pencil test footage rather than final animation.

Can They Rely on the Old Man's Money?

Jstache | Cartoon Brew: Leading the Animation Conversation

I don't think the world is -- or ever will be -- ready for the adventures of "Jstache": The crime-fighting mustache of John Oates.

A Sound of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.

Recent magazine articles have mentioned that during the '60's, when James Bond movies ruled the box office and Bond merchandising lined the shelves, DC had an option to put out a James Bond comic book series -- and never exercised it.

But in fact, Bond was never as big an influence on '60's comics as was the TV spy show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Nearly every comics company developed its own homage/ripoff of that show. The two best known examples are Marvel's NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (which survives to this day, and resulted in both a David Hasselhoff Nick Fury TV pilot a few years ago and this year's appearance in the IRON MAN movie of Samuel L. Jackson as Fury); and Tower Comics' beautifully-illustrated T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. This post from DIAL "B" FOR BLOG takes a look back at the latter feature.

The post includes a short autobiography by the Agents' principal artist, Wally Wood. Wood writes that his career ambition is to retire. That's poignant, because Wood never did retire; in 1981, at the age of 54, he killed himself.

'The Spirit' That Never Was

In Neil Gaiman's comics series THE SANDMAN, he wrote of a library that exists in The Dreaming that contains shelves and shelves of books that were written only in dreams.

If that library has a film section, it should have a place of honor for the SPIRIT animated film that was in development in the early '80's. This article by Steven Paul Leiva tells about his collaboration on future Oscar winner Brad Bird, STAR WARS producer Gary Kurtz, future Pixar founder John Lasseter, and others on what could have been a seminal animated superhero feature -- if it had ever found funding.

There was a SPIRIT movie made in the '80's; but it was a TV movie that aired on ABC in the summer doldrums of 1987, and starred Sam Jones as the masked crime fighter and Nana Visitor as Ellen Dolan. It was a pale shadow of the comic, and failed to capture the -- I have to say it -- spirit of the original.

The Other Shoe Drops

George W. Bush made a final visit as president to Iraq. Here's part of his reception.

The Secret Submersibles

Yes, I know these homemade mini-subs are used for nefarious activities, and pose a threat to U.S. security. But come on; they're home-made secret mini-subs. How cool is that?

Most Inane Comment in a Major Newspaper about Hugh Jackman Hosting the Oscars

"Yes, Jackman . . . is Wolverine of 'The X-Men,' but do we want Wolverine hosting the Oscars? Probably not." Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

Well, if he was drawn by John Byrne and Terry Austin . . . .

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bettie Page, R.I.P.

Bettie Page, Queen of Pinups, Dies at 85 - Obituary (Obit) -

After a tumultuous life, this pin-up queen from the '50's has passed away. This obit from the NY Times, unlike the LA Times's obit, mentions that the late Dave Stevens headed the revival of her popularity in the '80's by basing a character in THE ROCKETEER comic book on her. The obit doesn't mention that Stevens became a friend to Page, including helping her out financially.

The LA Times obit not only doesn't mention Stevens; it states that Page's revived popularity stemmed from the Rocketeer movie in the early '90's. In fact, the movie steered away from Page's image, possibly out of concern that the movie's producers would have had to give page money. The Betty character from the comic was played by Jennifer Connelly, who was not made to look at all like Page. Surprisingly that the LA Times, which now has an online blog devoted to comic books, would slight a comics version of a character in favor of the movie version.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Star Trek and Babylon 5 Cross Over in HEROES

Heroes is well-known (or perhaps infamous) for stunt-casting large numbers of science fiction veterans (not to mention sticking Stan Lee in as a bus driver). For three seasons, George Takei has played Hiro Nakamura's father. In this past Monday's episode, Hiro's mother was shown for the first time -- and she was played by Tamlyn Tomita.

I'm familiar with Tomita's work because she attended UCLA at the same time as I did (we never met, to my knowledge -- it's a big campus), and because her movie debut was in KARATE KID II, which I watched in Walla Walla with my family (we took my grandfather and grandmother, who had lived in Okinawa, because the movie was set in Okinawa. "That sure wasn't Okinawa," Grandfather commented after the movie.

But most pertinently here, Tomita played the second-in-command in the pilot movie for the series BABYLON 5. (Her character was swapped out for the TV series, to be replaced by Claudia Christian.) So her playing the wife of STAR TREK's Mr. Sulu was like a marriage of state between two occasionally feuding powers. (Of course, for interseries cameos it did not match the episode of BABYLON 5 in which Gene Roddenberry's widow, Majel Barret, played "the emperor's wife.")

Once Again, I Plug My Family's Books

If you're a fan of the BURN NOTICE TV series, or a reader of the first tie-in novel, THE FIX, gives you the chance to order my cousin Tod's second tie-in novel, THE END GAME, a mere six months before it comes out.

The publicity-still cover is cool; but I can't help thinking the book would look even cooler with a painted cover -- particularly one like the cover on the Hard Case Crime novel I just finished reading, THE FIRST QUARRY by Max Collins:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Blue Mondays Return

Comic Book Resources > CBR News: Thieves Like Us: Clugston on Blue Monday

BLUE MONDAY, Chynna Clugston's various comics miniseries about a group of new wave loving high school kids in the early '90's, is a favorite of mine.  So I was happy to see this preview of the latest BLUE MONDAY miniseries, "Thieves Like Us."  It's been a few years since the last miniseries, and it looks like Chynna's art style has evolved from its earlier manga-centric focus to a more detailed and realistic mode.
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Sometimes It Takes a Brit to Explain America to Us

Neil Gaiman on why standing up for the First Amendment's Freedom of Speech sometimes means defending speech that one finds, well, icky.

Eight Million Stories

Last night I watched the 1948 movie THE NAKED CITY on DVD. The movie is usually classified as film noir, but to me it's a bit too brightly lit and cheefully narrated for that. It is, however, a police procedural -- in many ways, the grandaddy of shows like LAW AND ORDER.

The movie is unique for many reasons. There's that narrator, the producer, who talks more than just about any non-documentary narrator in film history. There's the fact that the narrator announces at the beginning of the film, during the airplane shot of Manhattan: The movie was shot entirely on location, on the streets of post-war New York and in its office buildings and apartments. There's New York's status as the main character in the film; outside of Barry Fitzgerald (playing the most Irish of Irish cops), there are no stars in the movie, and the film abounds with long shots that shrink the characters in relationship to the cityscape around them. And of course there's one of the most famous lines in cinema history in the last scene: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

I was struck by how the close the tone of the movie was to several of Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT comics stories from the same era, both those done before and after the movie's release. If a movie had been made of THE SPIRIT back then, it might have looked like this.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Read the Book? Naw, I Saw the Comic

Bookgasm: Reading Material to Get Excited About » Blog Archive » CAPES, COWLS & COSTUMES >> Adaptation

Comics writer Paul Kupperberg writes about an odd subvariety of media tie-in novels:  novelizations of comic book miniseries.
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The Blackest Black Friday

A very dark Black Friday - Los Angeles Times

In Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's novel THE SPACE MERCHANTS, they hypothesized that as the population grew, we would see more and more extreme cases of selfless heroism; and more and more extreme cases of outrageous depravity.  It's just statistics.

I try to keep that in mind when I read about something like this:  The incident at the Wal-Mart in Long Island last Black Friday, in which the crowd trampled a store worker to death when the doors opened -- and in which onlookers cracked jokes and laughed as the paramedics tried to save the dying man.
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Harry Potter Promo Stuff

The Rock and the Emotional Line

At the 1990 San Diego Comic-Con, I was waiting in line to obtain a sketch from Joe Kubert. A small boy ahead of me brought a handful of comics up to the then-64-year old writer artist and asked him, "Are you Sergeant Rock?"

"No," chuckled Kubert, "I created Sergeant Rock, but I'm not Sergeant Rock."

As with many such assertions in the comics business, that was not quite true, but true enough. Actually, writer-editor Robert Kanigher created the comic book character Sgt. Rock, and Kubert did not draw the first Rock story. But Kubert created the look of Rock, his men, and his world, and is therefore in my opinion at least a creator of the character.

What brings this to mind now is reading the first two issues of writer-artist Billy Tucci's comics miniseries, SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION.

Tucci -- wisely, I believe -- opted not to copy Kubert's version of Rock or his men, and instead drew them in his own semi-realistic style.

Tucci's series is well-written, beautifully drawn, and highly researched. (He went to France to see the settings for the story in person)

But to me, it isn't Sgt. Rock.

The soul of Sgt. Rock is in Kubert's design for the character. A cartoony style, carried off by a master, conveys emotion and subtext that a photorealistic depiction of the same character cannot duplicate. The very weight of the line and crosshatching Kubert uses when drawing The Rock of Easy Company speaks volumes about Rock, his worldview, his experiences and his abilities. You know looking at him that he's battle-hardened and capable, caring and tough at the same time.

That's why, no matter how slick comics art gets, and no matter how spectacular computer-aided comics printing becomes, there should always be a place for the skilled cartoonist. Like a journeyman craftsman, the cartoonist puts soul into his or her work that no production line can match.

Friday, December 05, 2008

R.I.P. Forry Ackerman

Science fiction had no greater supporter than Forrest J. Ackerman, literary agent, magazine editor, historian, and all-around Ackermonster. I'm glad that I got to meet him, and to see him win an award at the 2006 Hugos.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Watchin' the Directors

Sci Fi Wire has an article about Zack and Deborah Snyder, the husband-and-wife directing/producing team behind the WATCHMEN movie, whittling the flick down to running time -- and discussing the video version, which will not only run much longer, but also incorporate an animated version of TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER (a pirate comic book story one of the recurring characters in the graphic novel reads that provides an ironic counterpoint to the main narrative).

The article also features a new trailer for the film -- one that makes me extremely hopeful for the movie. It truly looks like the graphic novel come to life.

At a Loscon panel on movies based on comics, Len Wein revealed that he'd seen the movie, and that he thought it was the comic. Asked how he got to see it, he reminded the panel that he had edited the original comic book.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Spy in Black

I like James Bond films. I like Johnny Cash music. But the mixture of the two is not nearly as nice as the meeting of peanut butter and chocolate.

My cousin Lee's blog has clips from a BBC special that include samples of various rejected Bond movie themes -- including a jaw-dropping one for THUNDERBALL from The Man in Black that would be best suited to a movie in which the hero rides off into the sunset while twirling a lariet.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More about Mr. Monk

My Cousin Lee Goldberg's latest novel, MR. MONK IS MISERABLE, was released today -- and already has two user reviews on the Amazon site, apparently from speed readers.
Be sure to pick up a copy or two, and make the holidays a little brighter for the Monk fan in your life (and for the Goldbergs).

The Gift of Knowledge One Laptop per Child XO Laptop (Give a Laptop, Get a Laptop): Electronics

For folks who'd like to donate to charity and also give a gift to a child they know, One Laptop Per Child is running a campaign through which you can purchase an XO laptop (designed for rough environments and low power) to a child in a developing country, and also get another one to give to the child of your choice.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Beautiful, Horrifying, Fascinating World of PSAs -- Thanksgiving Edition

Embedded Video

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Loscon 35

After a pleasant Thanksgiving at home with just the two of us, Amy and I spent three wonderful days at Loscon, LA's most prominent annual science fiction convention. I've discovered that the key to truly having a good time at a con is to know people there. Several folks who hadn't been to Loscon in years showed up at this one, including our friends Doe and Janine and writers extraordinaire Will Shetterly and Emma Bull. There was also writer GOH John Scalzi (who is a very nice guy) and regular writer guests such as Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Jane Espenson, J. Michael Straczynski and others. The various combinations of the above folks on panels made for fascinating discussions on storytelling in its many forms. At the end of each day I could feel my grey cells tingling from stimulation.

I had a chance to talk with Straczynski about his screenplay for "Changeling," and how he managed to feature a broadcast evangelist and a lawyer as heroes. "Yeah, I'm probably going to hell for that," he replied.

Loscon does have its share of crackpots and annoying folks (none of the people listed above fall into those categories), but this one definitely delivered in the entertainment department.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Only Meant to Stay Awhile

Saw "Twilight" this weekend, as did many, many people who had only x chromosomes.

In honor of "Twilight"'s success, here's one of my favorite pieces of Japanese animation from the '80's: the opening animation to the Daicon IV SF convention. You'll see (or hear) the connection.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mazel Tov to Anea

The last time I saw my cousin Anea Barer, she was a pre-teen. Tempus fugit. She's gotten married. The above link goes to a photo of her from her proud papa Burl's blog.

(I've got a slightly better record with her brother Jordan. He was in high school when I last saw him. Ten years ago.)

Now, That's the Spirit

While I do wish the best to Frank Miller's movie version of THE SPIRIT, opening next month, I must say that the ads so far have not filled me with confidence. Yes, Miller was creator Will Eisner's friend, and his disciple, and much of Miller's comic book work has been, er, spiritually attuned to Eisner's. One of my favorite recollections of the Golden Apple Comics store in Hollywood is of the mid-1980's Saturday afternoon when I saw Miller -- who just weeks before had been feted at the same store for the release of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, with lines stretching out the door as fans waited hours for his autograph -- slipping into the store without fanfare, and buying the latest issue of Kitchen Sink Press's reprint of THE SPIRIT.

But those ads. The most recent features the Spirit's arch-foe, the Octopus. Eisner's Octopus was a criminal mastermind whose true face was never seen, who stood behind curtains or went about in disguise, his only distinguishing feature his gloves with three fat vertical lines on the back. In the latest ad, Samuel L. Jackson, as the Octopus, has the gloves; but he also has outrageous mascara, and platform boots, and, well, a pimp coat. Stuff like this makes me suspect that the SPIRIT movie might meet the same fate as SPEED RACER.

For those who'd like to see the true Spirit, I recommend picking up one of the two inexpensive reprints DC Comics has put out recently. DC, which obtained the rights to the Spirit from Eisner shortly before he passed away, has certainly done right by the property; it has reprinted the entire 1940's-1950's run of the comic in expensive color hardcovers; it has an ongoing Spirit series, currently written by veteran cartoonist Sergio Aragones and his collaborator Mark Evanier; and it continues to put out reasonably-priced collections of the best of the original run. A couple of weeks ago, it put out a wonderful trade paperback of femme fatale stories from the series (or rather a selection from those stories, since more femme fatales appeared in the Spirit than could be contained in a single volume); and the comic shown above, released this past week, showcases four stories that contain elements that will be highlighted in the movie.

Specifically, the SPIRIT SPECIAL features 1948's "Sign of the Octopus," a tale of the villain in all his sinister glory (a particularly brutal splash page has vignette after vignette of the Octopus's gloved hands beating the hero in the head with a cane and with brass knuckles); 1949's "Black Alley," an incredibly atmospheric tale of a hitman hired to kill the Spirit; and 1950's two part "Sand Saref" story.

The "Sand Saref" story is remarkable, not only for the fantastic storytelling and art, but also because it is one of the few SPIRIT strips to depict a character from the hero's past -- an odd point, since the story was originally not meant to be a SPIRIT story at all. It was prepared as a story for the first issue of JOHN LAW, a comic book that Eisner tried but failed to sell; the art and story were then retouched to turn eyepatch-wearing cop John Law into mask-wearing vigilante the Spirit.

I'm still hoping that the movie can capture the Spirit as well as these reprints do.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

As the Piemaker Makes His Last Pie

"Pushing Daisies" -- one of the most delightful network TV series in years -- will, alas, end. ABC is allowing all of the episodes produced to be aired, but is not ordering new ones.

Cabinet Priorities

Here's a sign of the economic crisis's effect: on the front page of the LA Times, Obama's pick of Timothy Geithner for Secretary of the Treasury got a bigger headline than his pick of Hilary for Secretary of State.

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Espresso Profeta

This excellent WFWH is located in the slightly quieter part of Westwood Village, on Glendon across the street from the Napa Valley Grill. It's a quick (albeit uphill) bike ride from my house. It was previously known as West Burton Coffee and Tea (I'm not sure where the West Burton part came from, as it's nowhere near Burton Avenue in BH); it assumed its new identity a few months ago.

Besides the delicious espresso drinks (drawn Italian style), the standouts are the beautiful vine and rose covered patio (where I'm sitting now), the antiques-stuffed interior (many of the antiques are for sale), a large menu of teas, which the staff will happily make into lattes; and of course the free wi-fi, likely de riguer for any coffee, tea or boba establishment that stands in the shadow of UCLA.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The White House is Full of Excelsior!

On Monday, Marvel guru Stan Lee was among the recipients of the National Medal of Arts at the White House.

Other recipients included 92 year old Olivia de Haviland; and the Sherman Brothers, who wrote lots of alternatively enchanting and annoying songs for Disney and others.

More Monk

Everybody's favorite differentially-mentally-abled detective has been renewed for an eighth -- and reportedly final -- season. Thank goodness; if the series had ended with an odd-numbered season, the symmetry-obsessed sleuth would probably have gone catatonic.

Hurm. . . . .

A sign of how important the comic-book movie genre has become to Los Angeles: Sunday's LA Times had a box on the front page about its story discussing the legal battles surrounding the WATCHMEN movie project.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Forlorn Posters for Canceled TV Shows

Despite huge promotion during the Olympics, NBC's MY OWN WORST ENEMY has been canceled after only a few episodes.

After hearing about the cancelation, I saw the huge MOWE promotional poster that still adorns the bus shelter at Olympic and Sawtelle, and reflected how the poster would remain throughout the lease period, advertising a show that viewers could no longer see, serving no purpose except to hide a blank shelter wall.

The same goes for the gigantic poster for THE EX LIST that is plastered onto a main archway inside the Westside Pavilion mall. Advertisements for a product that is unavailable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quantum of Disappointment

I wanted to like QUANTUM OF SOLACE. I really did. But I found it quite a disappointment after CASINO ROYALE. I still think Daniel Craig makes a good Bond. But here's what I didn't like:

1. Not enough fun. The best Bond films manage to balance both drama and fantasy. Heck, in Casino Royale lives were riding on a card game. The only fantasy here was Bond's ability to come through nasty situations without dying; and (spoiler warning) to knock out a whole elevator of fellow agents in two seconds. (And these are his co-workers! Boy, is he going to be unpopular in the service from now on.)

2. Lack of a good through-line for the story. CR benefitted from following the arc of the novel on which it was based (though it departed from the story, particularly in making Bond more active than reactive). This one was just one event after another until the story came shuddering to a halt.

3. Choppy action sequences. Credit the Jason Bourne movies and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for the subjective, fast-cutting, shaky-camera action sequences that attempt to put the viewer into the action by making things confusing. Well, it was so confusing here that I couldn't tell who was doing what to whom. The editor needs to sit down and watch FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER fifty times so that he can figure out how to cut a fight scene and make it both exciting and coherent.

4. Too damn loud. The volume started with the commercials (used to be that The Bridge had minimal commercials; that's apparently a thing of the past) and stayed throughout the movie. I complained to the theater manager, who informed me that the Sony people had been out before the movie's premiere to calibrate the visuals and sound and that the director had prescribed the precise sound level he demanded. Sounds to me like the director is mistaking a loud soundtrack for a well-crafted soundmix.

5. (Spoiler warning) Bond doesn't get nearly as much sex as he should. (See Point #1.)

On the plus side, the trailer for the STAR TREK movie was cool, as was the one for Bryan Singer's VALKYRIE. (Singer just can't stay away from those nazis, can he?)

The Brave & the Bold & The Wacky

The first issue of the original run of the comics series "The Brave and the Bold" I read, nearly 30 years ago, was issue #150.

Although the art, by Caniff-inspired illustrator Jim Aparo, was fairly modern, I could tell that the writing was more old-fashioned than the other Batman comics coming out at the time. Seventies Batman comics stories by such writers as Denny O'Neil, Steve Engelhart, Archie Goodwin and Len Wein made an attempt to feature fairly modern and realistic (albeit stylized) dialogue. Writer Bob Haney, however, was quite willing to throw in such silliness as Commissioner Gordon addressing Batman as "World's Greatest Detective" in casual conversation, without a hint of sarcasm.

Upon reading back issues of B & B -- which, in the last approximately fifteen years of its existence, was a team-up book teaming Batman with whichever guest DC wanted to promote -- revealed that Haney's stories often tended toward the wacky. He wrote one story in which miniature superhero The Atom jumps inside the head of a brain-dead Batman; and animates him by dancing on the Caped Crusader's brain. (And yes, Batman is restored to normal at the end of the story -- after solving the case!) In another, Batman and the guest hero were battling a gang of terrorists when suddenly a group of the bad guys attempted to kidnap Haney and Aparo and force them to write an ending in which the terrorists won. Really.

Now Cartoon Network has turned "The Brave and the Bold" into a cartoon series. The first episode aired last night. And the creators are plainly dedicated to bringing to life the wackiness of the show's comic book predecessor. They have eschewed the current Dark Knight incarnation of Batman, and have turned for inspiration to the character's late fifties and early sixties comics incarnation -- a period when Batman might head off to an alien planet for an adventure, or travel in time, or volunteer for a scientific experiment, or perform for charity in broad daylight. Thus, in the premiere episode, Bats and the latest incarnation of The Blue Beetle (a character who, in various iterations, has been around almost as long as Batman) is rocketing into space to stop a meteor when a wormhole transports the two heroes to an alien planet. Batman, of course, takes this in stride. "Judging by the position of the stars," he observes, "we're on the other side of the Milky Way." The two B-heroes then square off against old Justice League villian Kanjar Ro to save a race of intelligent protozoa. Yep, wacky.

The series's challenge is to give full reign to this wackiness, while retaining the coolness-ratio of the character -- something those fifties-to-sixties stories had trouble doing. Judging from the first episode, the creators are managing to do so, by both playing Batman straight and using the Dick Sprang version of the character --replete with muscles, dramatic shadowing, and sharp angles.

If the rest of the series is handled as well as the first episode, this show should be wacky fun.

Writing Damages

The latest edition of CALIFORNIA LITIGATION magazine -- the publication of the California State Bar's litigation section -- features an article from me, as part of a "Point - Counterpoint" bit in which I gave the defense side on an issue, and a plaintiff's attorney gave the plaintiffs' bar's side. We made the cover:

As the cover indicates, the subject is of tremendous interest to attorneys who handle personal injury cases; and will be ultra-esoteric to just about anybody else.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Batman v. Batman

When a film is as big a hit as THE DARK KNIGHT, the weird lawsuits are going to come out of the woodwork.

Few are as weird as this one. The mayor of the city of Batman, Turkey, has told the press he is preparing a suit against Warner Brothers and TDK director Christopher Nolan for, er, using the city's name without permission. The mayor reportedly wants to blame unsolved murders and female suicides on the film's success's psychological impact on the Batmanians.

No word on where the mayor will file the suit. In fact, a WB rep says the studio hasn't seen a lawsuit. Could be there'll never be one.

Obviously, Wayne Enterprises needs to swoop in and simply buy the city. That'll settle things.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quantum of Merchandise

There's a long, not-so-proud history of merchandising for the James Bond film franchise; around the mid-sixties, the markets were stuffed with Bond gewgaws for tots and adults alike.

The upcoming Bond flick, "Quantum of Solace" (which has the distinction of earning over $100 million before it's even opened in the US) is generating lots of upscale merch. Indeed, several of those obnoxious digital billboards that clutter West LA's lower airspace are devoted solely to images of 007 and the devices he's hawking. The images strobe between posters for the movie, ads for Omega watches, plugs for the incredibly expensive Sony paper-thin TV (the one early adopters will buy at 11 inches because they can't wait for the technology to be used to create a decent-sized TV), a billboard for Bond booze, etc.

It all stands in stark contrast to the worsening economy and the increasing penny-pinching of the world's consumers. One wonders how many Bond watches Omega will move when times are so tough that MI-6 likely confiscated Bond's timepiece and curtailed his expense account.

Besides, anyone who buys a multi-thousand-dollar item merely because James Bond endorses it needs some serious reality therapy.

Circuit City Short-Circuits

Circuit City has gone Chapter 11 -- and my reaction was, "What took it so long?" Its closest rival, Good Guys, is gone; and most of the CC's that used to be near us (on Sepulveda at National, and on Westwood at Wilshire) have disappeared. CC kept itself on life support for awhile, possibly by selling some DVDs and CDs along with the electronic stuff; but it probably couldn't compete in that arena with the big box Best Buy behemoths.

I used to go to CC to buy electronic stuff, because that was where you bought such stuff. Then I went there because you could haggle sometimes and get discounts. Then I went there to check out stuff in person and then find it on the Internet for less. Then I stopped going in there at all.

Mark Evanier has a good notion of what went wrong at Circuit City: Bad service. Specifically, sales people who know less about the items they're selling than the customers. Folks will go to a store for either low prices or superior service. They won't go to a store with higher prices than they can find online, and cruddy service (unless, say, it's 4 pm on Christmas Eve and there's an empty stocking).

As the retail market gets nastier, the weaker members of the herd are going to be dying off . . . .

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Graphic Novel Agents

Graphic novelist Colleen Doran has been doing budding creators a tremendous service by listing in her blog contact information for literary agents willing to represent graphic novelists. The link takes you to her latest list, which in turn has links to her prior lists.

The World of L.A. Wi-Fi

Here's a list of free wi-fi spots in the L.A. area. Warning: This contains some out-of-date listings (such as one for Circles Cafe, which was replaced by a Pinkberry a couple of years ago). So before heading to a new place, check with the location's Website or phone number to make sure it's still there.

In the Ballots of Madness

John McCann looks at the election from a Lovecraftian perspective.

Mud-Slinging Mess

This year's election, like many others, started out with promises that negative campaigning would be reduced; and, like many others, ended with the mud flying fast and furious.

Even with the election over, we are seeing the aftermath: Anonymous McCain campaign staffers allegedly lashing out at Sarah Palin by accusing her of not knowing Africa was a continent; Palin lashing back by accusing the staffers of being "cowardly" and "jerks"; folks blaming the "liberal media" for originating the story (said "liberal media" being Fox ); and Rush Limbaugh declaring war on the Republican Party.

And then there are the defamation lawsuits, like Kate Hagan's against Elizabeth Dole for campaign ads that had another woman imitating Hagan's voice and saying, "There is no God." (Hagan won the race.)

It's time to hose the mud off the walls and get to work rebuilding a shattered economy and a shredded constitution.

Extra! Extra! Barack Obama's election win sends newspaper sales soaring - Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times's publisher may be gutting the print edition of the paper in favor of the online version, but this week's election showed that the electronic incarnation of the newspaper can't supplant the print version in one respect: as a commemorative of history.

The Times writes of its Wednesday edition, reporting Barack Obama's victory, selling out on newsstands and retail outlets; and of customers lining up at the paper's downtown offices to buy extra copies -- either to frame or to hawk on Ebay.

The Web may be convenient, but ultimately its the tangible medium of print we reach out for when we want to capture a moment in time.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Do You Solemnly Swear

On the Supreme Court docket: bleeeeeep - Los Angeles Times

It's a mark of the ambivalence with which Americans view centuries-old coarse terms for excretion and sex that this L.A. Times article discusses the upcoming oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on FCC fines for fleeting uses of those terms, without ever stating the terms themselves.

I suppose the Times is protecting its reputation as a family newspaper -- on the off-chance that there is a single child in Los Angeles who reads the Times for news.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Riding the Rails

Proposition 1A, on the ballot Tuesday in California, would authorize the state to borrow $10 billion as a down payment on a bullet train between LA and San Francisco. Sounds like a cool idea, and anything that moves people around while reducing the number of cars on the road is a step in the right direction, but it sounds like if the project gets built at all it'll be completed around the time mankind invents the warp drive.

Here's my not-so-modest proposal: Build a passenger railway through the desert between LA and Las Vegas. Bullet or otherwise. Fund it with private money from Vegas casino conglomerates and California tourist attractions. Charge a premium to passengers on high-traffic dates, like three-day weekends, on which driving to and from Vegas is hell on wheels. Have slot machines and craps tables on board that are unlocked when the train goes over the Nevada border. After paying back the investors, the train should generate plenty of money to pay for rail systems all over California.

Winners: The environment, the tourist industry in both states, and lots of gamblers.

Losers: The gas stations in Barstow; and The Mad Greek restaurant.

Saturday-Afternoon Syndicated Fantasies

In the mid-nineties, before cable TV original programming further fragmented the TV audience, there was a phenomenon known as the syndicated hourlong adventure show. The programs that ruled the syndicated roost were the HERCULES and XENA shows produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. At their best, these were fun, goofy, action-packed shows that carelessly tossed together Greek mythology, Conan-type sword and sorcery, fantasy martial art movie wirework, and superhero stories. They tapered off after they began taking themselves too seriously and the whole market faded.

Raimi and Tapert are now exploring the same territory 10 years later, with their new series LEGEND OF THE SEEKER. It's the first attempt I know of to bring one of those modern Tolkien-inspired fantasy series that have swarmed the SF-Fantasy sections of bookstores for the last 30 years or so. It adapts a best-selling series of really thick (in terms of page count) books by Terry Goodkind. I've never read them, so I can't analyze how faithful they are to the source, but the opening episode indicates that the TV series features a "chosen-one" type farmboy turned ultra-warrior, an attractive-yet-complicated magic-using warrior woman, an eccentric wizard who dispenses wisdom where needed, and lots of innocent folks to be helped and wrongs to be righted as they take on a nasty dictator. All set against the same New Zealand scenery as the prior Raimi-Tapert shows. So diverting, but not necesarily earth-shattering.

All of the actors were fairly competent with the subject matter, but the scene-stealer was Bruce Spence (the gyro captain in THE ROAD WARRIOR) as the crusty wizard. The teaser for the next episode shows that, as with most Sam Raimi projects, Sam's brother Ted will appear in a supporting role. And it's only a matter of time before Raimi's old pal Bruce Campbell makes an appearance.

Double-Maverick Sad Grandpa

I won't be voting for him; but I must concede Senator McCain's comic timing is pretty good. Here he is on SNL's "Weekend Update" early this morning.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Magazines Flip-Flop on Election

The new issue of the American Bar Association's ABA Journal, mailed to subscribers this past week, featured a flip-book format. One side featured John McCain being sworn in on the cover, and discussed the lawyers that McCain would likely include in his cabinet. Flip the magazine over, and the other side featurs Obama being sworn in and discusses the lawyers he'd include in his administration.

On his blog, Mark Evanier recalls that over 40 years ago, another prominent publication -- Mad Magazine -- did the same thing.

Doonesbury "Accuracy"?

In what appears to be a successful publicity stunt, Garry Trudeau has announced that his already-created Doonesbury storyline for next week will announce Barack Obama as the winner of the presidential election.

The Los Angeles Times, in turn, has announced that if Obama loses, the Times will not publish the strips. Instead, it will publish reprints that the syndicate will make available.

I find the Times' concern for "accuracy" incredible. "Doonesbury" is not a news report. It is a comic strip in which one of the characters is an anthropomorphic cigarette butt.

Perhaps, in the interests of "accuracy," the Times comic strip editor should note that dogs, cats, coyotes, pigs and horses do not talk; that no human being has a nose as long as Darryl's in "Baby Blues"; that the kids in "Family Circus" are now retirement aged; and that Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead are in their 90's.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Ultimate in Shallow Relationships

While California fights over whether the government can tell its citizens who they can marry, a group of otaku in Japan are petitioning for the right to marry two-dimensional anime or manga characters.

Imagine: the melding of monogamy and origami.

Thanks to Don Burr for the link.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Movie Magic May Happen

With even Marvel second-stringers like Blade nabbing box-office gold (at least when handled well -- c.f., ELEKTRA), it may be only a matter of time before Marvel adapts to the screen one of my favorite comics characters, Dr. Strange.

Here's some interesting -- albeit shadowy -- news about the possibility of a movie about the Sorceror Supreme. Essentially, Marvel's president of production, Kevin Feige, is saying he "would not be surprised" to see a Dr. Strange movie. More interesting, Guillermo del Toro stated that he would be interested in putting together a Dr. Strange movie with Neil Gaiman. More recently, Gaiman said that writing a Dr. Strange movie "would be absolutely one of my dream jobs[.]"

At this point, however, everything is at the "I'd like to do this" point with both Gaiman and del Toro; and in Hollywood, that generally means the project is as solid as the morning fog.

I wasn't too fond of the Marvel adaptation del Toro has done, BLADE II; but anyone who's seen the HELLBOY movies and STARDUST knows that Gaiman and del Toro could make a magical mage movie indeed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"The Gangster Squad"

Crusaders in the underworld: The LAPD takes on organized crime - Los Angeles Times

In today's issue of the L.A. Times, the paper starts (with a front-page position of honor) Paul Lieberman's story of an off-the-books squad of LAPD officers who operated to "gather intelligence" in the post World War II years on east-coast mobsters who moved into town. According to the article, "gathering intelligence" appeared to include routinely violating civil rights, escorting thugs to the county line, and driving mobsters up to Mulholland, sticking guns in their ears, and inviting them to sneeze.

The first installment features several great accounts of how these cops put the skills they picked up fighting the war into service harassing the mob -- including how gangster Mickey Cohen's love for early television resulted in Cohen paying huge tips to a TV "repairman" for actually maintaining the bug planted in his set. ("You know," the fake repairman deadpanned to Cohen, "there's a lot of bugs in televisions and stuff you have to work out.")

So there's really no need for an over-the-top, overripe paragraph like this one:

"Noir L.A. was a time and place where truth was not found in the sunlight, and
justice not found in marble courthouses, and where not a single gangland killing
was solved, not one, for half a century. Not on paper, anyway."

The article tastes just fine without a side of cheese.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


"Changeling," in limited release this weekend, is an extraordinary movie of deepest horror and steadfast courage, all based on a true story. It's singular in that it depicts abuse of governmental power -- specifically, police power -- that has reached a totalitarian stage; yet ultimately it looks to the structures of authority and democracy -- the city council, the townhall meeting, the courts -- for salvation.

The film is written by fantasy novelist, SF TV writer-producer, and comic-book writer J. Michael Stracynzski (in his trademark declamatory style, which is highly appropriate for this period piece; and in its exploration of the benefits and dangers of authority it reflects themes he explored in his best-known work, the '90s TV series BABYLON 5. Clint Eastwood directs it with the eye of an older man who has seen the best and worst that humanity has to offer, and his old-fashioned storyteller sensibility pulls the viewer through the 2 1/2 movie (much of it filled with nastiness) with ease. Angelina Jolie gives a knockout performance as the lead (reminding us there's more to her than Lara Croft and Brangilina headlines); and John Malkovich and Jeffrey Donovan are also excellent.

Just about the only flaw in the film is a distinct lack of subtlety. Much like "The Dark Knight," every point is discussed explicitly.

Still, it's a movie to see. Just don't expect it to be light entertainment

Tom Fagan, R.I.P.

Tom Fagan was a Rutland, Vermont newspaper reporter who made comic book history for founding his town's Hallowe'en parade (in 1959), wearing a Batman costume every Hallowe'en, and featuring superheroes in his parade. In the early seventies, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams used the parade as the background for their classic Batman story, "Night of the Reaper" (Fagan appeared in the story, shook hands with Batman, and complimented him on his costume); and Roy Thomas and John Buscema used the parade as the setting for an Avengers story (in which Fagan appeared costumed as Marvel's then-parody of Batman, Nighthawk).

I never met Fagan; the closest I came was being in the same audience with him at a panel about the early days of comics fandom.

Alas, Fagan passed away just long enough before his beloved holiday to prevent him from realizing one of his wishes for his funeral: riding in the parade in a casket.

Then, the Enterprise Sling-shotted around the Sun and High-Tailed It Back to the 23rd Century

Top secret files declassified Monday state that in 1957 two U.S. fighter planes were scrambled and ordered to shoot down an Unidentified Flying Object over the English countryside. The object gave a radar reading like a flying aircraft carrier, and reached estimated speeds of 7,600 mph. A UFO expert theorizes that the image may have been the result of a U.S. project to create false aircraft images on Soviet radar screens. But that's the thing about UFOs: They're unidentified, by definition.

Walla Walla's Winning Wines

Wednesday's LA Times featured this article about my home town's recent renown for syrahs, along with a sidebar of recommendations.

When I lived in Walla Walla, the wine business there was all but unknown. Indeed, according to the article, the Walla Walla appellation was first registered in 1983, the year I moved to California; and at that time there were only five wineries in the area. Today, the region is filled with wineries, and the wines vinted there are sold at premiums around the world.

Speaking of wines, Reuters has this story about the manga "Kami no Shizuku" ("Drops of God"), a mystery series in which a man stands to inherit a fortune from his wine-critic father's estate if he identifies the 12 wines listed in the father's will. According to the article, the manga has raised the sales in Japan (and in China and Korea, where translations of the manga are sold) of each wine identified in the story so far. It appears that the wines discussed in the manga are primarily European ones, so I'm guessing there won't be any Walla Walla syrahs identified in it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

James Bond moments: when 007 was off target - Times Online

Cousin Lee's blog points viewers to this London Times article listing some unfortunate moments in James Bond films.

Interestingly, lots of them appeared in the trailers for those films.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stuff I'm Enjoying Currently

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon: This has been sitting on my to-read pile for over a year. I finally cracked it open on Yom Kippur (yes!) and am thoroughly enjoying my trip through it. Chabon uses language the way a spider uses silk, weaving gorgeous word pictures that seem to float in midair (and which trap you within) -- and he'd never write a metaphor as lame as that one.

"Gurren Lagann": This recent Japanese animated giant roboot series from Gainax (the studio founded by fans, which created the apocalyptic Evangelion and the epically silly Gunbuster) made headlines in the anime world this past year when ADV picked up the American license, started publicizing it, and then lost the license. Bandai USA picked it up and rushed out the entire series on DVD, subtitled, before it started putting out the dubbed version. We're about halfway through the series, and are delighted with the story (by turns slapsticky and deeply touching), the sharply-drawn characters, and the fluid animation. It truly bucks the stereotype of giant robot anime as filled with barely-moving humans talking up a storm as robots slug it out.

"Lego Batman: The Video Game": This is a nice counterpart to the crepuscular version of the character in "The Dark Knight": A silly, snarky, fun Batman and Robin who punch Lego villians until they fall apart. (You can even head to the Batcave and punch out Alfred, if you feel he's been serving that tuna cassarole once too often.)

"True Blood": Much more pulpy and tongue in cheek than we were led to believe by the pre-show publicity, which painted it as a sober meditation on what would happen if vampires tried to "mainstream" with mortals.

Live from New York, it's Sarah Palin on 'Saturday Night Live' - Los Angeles Times


I saw Palin on SNL last night -- and I have to admit she's a good sport.  (And much better on camera than Lorne Michaels.)  Still doesn't make me want to vote for her.

The story gets one thing wrong:  Tina Fey didn't say "By-uh"; she uttered a very Bugs Bunny-ish, "Bye-eee!"

It also leaves out Palin's rejoinder to Alec Baldwin.  "I've always thought your  brother Steven was my favorite Baldwin brother."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New "Trek" Photos

The Entertainment Weekly I got in the mail yesterday has several photos from the upcoming Star Trek prequel flick. Those photos (and others) also appear in this article from the Daily Mirror.

To me, the folks who look most like their original series counterparts are Zachary Quinto (who's excellent on HEROES) as Spock and Karl Urban (from the LORD OF THE RINGS MOVIES) as McCoy.

We'll see if this movie is the kick in the dilithium crystals that this franchise has needed for so long.

Fraud to the Left of Me, Fraud to the Right

Fresh on the heels of the ACORN investigation for alleged fraudulent registrations for the Democratic party, Young Political Majors -- which has contracted with the Republican Party to get people to register as GOP voters -- has allegedly duped California voters who thought they were signing petitions into actually switching party affiliations.

As horrible as these alleged schemes are, they at least show that voting matters.

Neal Hefti, RIP


Neal Hefti was a gifted jazz composer and arranger who helped folks like Count Basie and Frank Sinatra sound good.  He wrote the unforgettable theme song for "The Odd Couple."  But the piece of music for which he may be remembered forever is what his son describes as "a 12-bar blues with a guitar hook and one word" which children and adults have been humming and scatting for over 40 years:  the theme to the 1966 BATMAN series.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dave "Rockin" Cochran

Barers of Maple Valley

My brother Mike writes about hometown DJ Dave Cochran on KTEL (the radio station, not the TV record seller).

When I was a kid, I'd sometimes read comic books drawn by artist Dave Cockrum; and wonder how the same guy could be a DJ in Walla Walla and draw Marvel Comics.  (To be fair, Dave Cockrum the artist was from Pendleton, Oregon, a short drive from Walla Walla.)
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Poisonous Rhetoric

Footage of recent Republican rallies indicate that John McCain and Sarah Palin and their workers have stoked anti-Obama sentiments in their supporters to the point where some supporters are turning on their own candidates. In an incident yesterday, a crowd at a McCain event actually booed McCain when he called Obama "a decent person."

Not to mention this exchange at the same event:

Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky: Good from Start to Finnish

One of the joys of living in a metropolis like LA is being able to impulsively spring for a sudden weekend adventure, like a last-minute sprint to the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown to buy tickets for one of the LA Philharmonic's last performances with principal conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. This is the Finnish conductor's final season as music director and PC with the Phil, after which he'll devote more time to composing. So the audiences for him are big (the Disney hall was filled for the 2 pm concert), and the ovations are thunderous.

Today's concert featured two works by Stravinsky (the short "Fireworks for Orchestra" and the really long complete "Firebird" ballet) and Tchaikovsky's magnificent Piano Concerto No. 1. The Stravinsky pieces were top notch, but it was the concerto that really made the concert for me. It's one of those pieces that you hear over and over again on classical music stations (the sole surviving LA classical broadcasting station, KUSC, had the intro to the concerto as its bumper music for some time), but there is no substitute for seeing and hearing it live. The pianist was Russian-turned-Isreali-turned-American virtuoso Yefim Bronfman, a bear of a man who seemed to slam his hands deep into the keyboard and yank each note out of the bottom of the grand piano by the roots. You could seek the works of the piano flex and vibrate as he channeled his passion into it. The performance triggered a huge standing ovation, with multiple bows for both Salonen and Bronfman (who playfully pointed to each other in a "You're the man, no, you're the man" routine). The LA Times had a similar opinion of the performance.

The review notes that, surprisingly, this is the first time Salonen has conducted the concerto in 15 years; and that Bronfman added the piece to his repertoire only five years ago.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Is Branagh Gettting Mighty Thor?

When I started reading Shakespeare as a teen, I was comfortable with the Elizabethan phraseology, because I had been reading THOR comics for years. So it's entirely appropriate that the Bard's foremost movie interpreter of late, Kenneth Branagh, is in talks to direct the planned MIGHTY THOR movie coming from Marvel Studios. Next step: Finding a huge blonde side of beef who sounds convincing saying, "Surely, 'tis most passing strange."

Red, White and Blue Taxes

My dad responds to Sarah Palin's statement that taxes are unpatriotic by relating his grandfather's story about the predatory tax practices of the old country.

Candidate Red, Candidate Blue

Presidential Material

Every presidential election has its collectible memorabilia -- buttons, books, action figures, etc.

IDW Publishing's contribution to the genre is a pair of comic book biographies, one about Obama and one about McCain. J. Scott Campbell drew both covers. Each has its candidate standing, arms akimbo, in front of an American flag flapping in the wind -- but the sky on Obama's cover is pure blue, while the sky on McCain's has a distinctive red tinge.

Further, while McCain has a wide grin on his cover, Obama is scowling dramatically on his. Is there a reason for the difference?

For those on the fence, the publisher is offering a "flip-book" trade paperback that combines both biographies. And it will also make the comics available on cell phones, for those who just can't be bothered with that old-fashioned paper stuff.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Another "Batman" TV Series Without Batman?

CW's 'Graysons' takes flier on Robin - Entertainment News, TV News, Media - Variety

The folks who produce SMALLVILLE for the CW have created the longest-running live action comic adaptation show by doing a Superman series without Superman (albeit with Clark Kent).  Some years ago, they also tried to do a Batman TV show without Batman:  the hopelessly-convoluted BIRDS OF PREY, which ran only one low-rated season. 

Now, oddly enough, they are developing yet another Batman-less Batman series as a possible replacement for SMALLVILLE.  THE GRAYSONS is planned to tell the tale of Dick Grayson's (aka Robin's) life before his parents are killed and he ends up as Batman's apprentice.

I have to say that I have no idea how they would make such a series interesting.  Nor how the zen-like practice of creating superhero shows without showing the superhero can be spread over multiple series.
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The Beautiful, Horrifying, Fascinating World of PSAs, Part III

I'm looking for one of those surreal animated anti-smoking PSAs that ran on Canadian TV in the seventies. We got a CBC channel in my home town, and those things gave me a few nightmares.

But for now, here's a slightly more recent live-action one from the Great North:

And here's an article from Esquire on what the writer considers the Five Most Disturbing Public Service Announcements of All Time, featuring PSAs (including some from Canada and Britain) that are way too nasty for me to embed on this blog. (They really want people to see this stuff on TV?)

Nobody Knows What It's Like To Be the Bad Man

For every movie viewer who envies James Bond, there's a sizable number who wishes he or she could be one of the villains Bond thwarts. After all, these European businessmen (apparently the greatest threat to world peace is old-world entrepreneurs in designer suits) have the best digs, the coolest machines, gobs of money, hordes of lackies, hot women (albeit ones with a weakness for MI-6 agents), and generally a pretty good life before they meet their respective ends. (If I were one of these guys, I wouldn't bother trying to take over the world. Who needs the headache?)

It's therefore no surprise that, as WALL STREET co-writer Stanley Weiser reveals in an essay published in today's LA Times, so many young people who've viewed that Oliver Stone flick in the last 21 years have viewed Michael Douglas's character Gordon Gecko as a role model. Never mind that he is the undisputed villain of the piece, the Dark Father to Charlie Sheen's protagonist who battles Good Father Martin Sheen for the younger Sheen's soul. (Judging from "Two and a Half Men," it's hard to see who won.) Never mind that Gecko loses his cool at the end of the movie, punching out young Sheen and blabbing incriminating evidence to the wire-wearing ex-protege. Never mind, even, that he's named after a lizard that walks up walls. Gecko's "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good" speech has apparently inspired multitudes of nascent capitalists to abandon scruples and try to lie, cheat and steal themselves into riches.

The writer offers fascinating insights on the inspirations for Gecko (apparently Gecko's rapid-fire insulting pieces of inspiration were based on Oliver Stone's snippy phone messages to Weiser), the demands of working for Stone ("Read 'Crime and Punishment' over the weekend and we'll talk Monday"), and some speculation on what Gecko might be doing today, with Wall Street flaming and tumbling around him due to the very greed Gecko lauded:

"Then Gekko would slither forward, sucking the victuals in his path dry like
a raw egg. How exactly would he do this? Well, I am only a screenwriter, I can't
tell you the specifics. But under the circumstances, what he'd undoubtedly do
would be buying and selling. Selling and buying. Even if he was barred from
trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission, he would find a way around
it. Even if he fled the country, and the economy was going down the tubes the
way it is, he'd find a way around it. Selling and buying. After all -- what else
could he do?"

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Iron Man, Super-Salesman

We watched IRON MAN last night for the second time, this time on DVD. We enjoyed it as much as we did when we saw it in the theater.

One aspect I focused on more in this viewing: The product placement. I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, it's obnoxiously blatant in some scenes (a closeup of Stark's Bvlgari watch, or his bag of Burger King cheeseburgers). On the other, some namechecking is necessary to establish that this takes place in something nominally resembling the real world; and to establish Stark's status as a really rich guy who wears and uses all the top brands. (Although as an LA resident, you'd think Stark would have visited a local non-chain burger stand, like Hamburger Habit, for his first cheeseburger after escaping captivity.)

Hellsing Sings Its Last Chorus

The November 2008 issue of the manga anthology YOUNG KING OURS was released on September 30, and contained the final installment of Kohta Hirano's HELLSING manga story. Our local import bookstore, Asahiya Books in West LA, had our copy for us the next day. (How do they do it?)

Readers of this blog may know that HELLSING has been a favorite of the Barer household. In its eleven years of publication, the manga has been adapted into anime twice (the 2001 HELLSING TV series, released here by Pioneer, and the ongoing HELLSING ULTIMATE OVA series, released here by Geneon and then Funimation), released here in translated form by Dark Horse Comics (Volume 9 to be released this month), and generated more fan interest in the US than in Japan.

We haven't read the final installment (to the best of our ability, since it's in Japanese) yet. The moment should be right.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

This chain, which used to charge for wi-fi, now offers it free. I tried it out this evening in the store near Pico and Westwood, and it worked fine. The password was on the video screen on one wall of the store.

Los Angeles Station Censors Conan O'Brian

Mark Evanier's blog contained a link to this story. Apparently last night Conan O'Brian was setting up a comedy bit involving colliding trains. The west coast broadcast is run 3 hours after the east coast broadcast. In the interim, the NBC affilliate station in Los Angeles apparently decided such a comedy bit would be inappropriate for a city still reeling from a train collision that killed 24 people and seriously injured many more. So the LA broadcast cut at that point to a news anchor explaining why the station was cutting away from Conan -- and to John McCain starting to issue a soundbyte about the bailout plan.

You'll Believe a Man Can Fly

For those who thought that IRON MAN's vision of a person-sized apparatus that enables a man to fly was too fantastic, here's an astounding video of a Swiss adventurer jumping out of a plane and using a jet-propelled wing to fly -- yes, fly -- 22 miles across the English Channel, from Calais to Dover, before parachuting to a safe landing.

It's only a matter of time before United and Southwest require their passengers to do the same.

Salesmen and "Schnorrers"

"Schnorrer" is one of those Yiddish perjoratives that has been welcomed into the English language because it has no precise English analogue. A schnorrer is a begger, but not necessarily one who begs out of poverty. The schnorrer is a moocher. He takes without giving back, out of a sense of entitlement and a lot of chutzpah (another Yiddish word that defies precise English definition -- you know it when you see it).

The current issue of FORTUNE magazine celebrates the humble salesman. It is full of advice for making and closing sales, such as this one by a sales psychologist who describes sales slip-ups. The recurring refrain is that successful selling depends on getting inside the potential customer's head -- feeling his pain, knowing his needs, irritating him as little as possible (while staying within his radar), and giving him something extra whenever feasible. This last piece of advice seems counter to the entire idea of schnorring.

Yet my dad's recent blog post , in which he describes a schnorrer of his aquaintance -- an itinerant fund raiser for Jewish causes -- shows that this particular schnorrer had mastered the empathy essential to successful sales:

I remember him calling on my father and he or his predecessor probably called on
my grandfather so as soon as I finished my phone call or the paperwork in front
of me I would reach into my desk for a checkbook.

One year instead of
reaching for the check book I turned to him and said, "I am sorry. We have had a
really lousy year I'd like to skip the donation this year."

He fixed his
gaze on me and responded, "So you had a lousy year. How did it feel?"

Well it was depressing and I had to tell the family to cut back on extra

"So why would you do that to me?"

He left with a
generous check

Women of Wonder

When I went to my first San Diego Comic-Con in 1980, there were a number of girls and women who dressed in costumes. Over the years, that number has exploded -- likely precipitated by the increase in women drawn into fandom by anime, manga and videogames.

In fact, the number of women who dress in costume at Comic-con was so large last year that a British professional photographer has filled a 192-page book with photos taken just at that convention.

The book is sprinkled with quotes from the cosplayers, setting forth the reasons they dress up. For some, it's grown-up Halloween; for others, it's a social experience; and for others, an escape from complicated everyday life by becoming a character in a simple saga of good against evil.

Somewhat inevitably, there are at least two women depicted in the book whom we know.

The photographer and his collaborater should be credited with not limiting the book to cosplayers with supermodel bodies (although there are some).

There are some interesting trends. Princess Leia is a popular choice, particular in her slave/harem costume from RETURN OF THE JEDI -- a costume that requires a certain attitude, a certain confidence, a certain amount of fixative, and a certain amount of sunblock. There are several dressed as Wonder Woman, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the costume. A surprising number of women dress as Power Girl, the DC superheroine who wears a longsleeve top with a keyhole chest. And race is no barrier to portraying characters; one set of photos shows a white Storm next to an African-American Poison Ivy.

The book is available in the US as an import at specialty shops, or by mail order.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Best Title Ever for One of My Relative's Books

I'll bet Roger Corman wishes he had directed a movie with this title:

Three words, one syllable each. Just like "In Cold Blood." But with a parent added.

From my cousin, Burl Barer. It goes on sale next month. Look for it at a bookstore, newstand, or CVS Pharmacy near you.

The Beautiful, Horrifying, Fascinating World of PSAs, Part II

Here's an example of a PSA that's beautiful, horrifying, and fascinating. I don't recall seeing this as a kid -- or maybe I did, and blocked it out as too traumatizing. I don't know what it is, but even watching this as an adult the climax chills me to the bone. Far nastier than any horror movie.

Watch at your own peril. And don't do drugs, kids.

That this was done by Hanna-Barbera -- with hints of the sugar-cereal style they were using for shows like JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS -- just makes it all the creepier.

The Beautiful, Horrifying, Fascinating World of PSAs, Part I

Various anti-stuff (anti-drug, anti-smoking, anti-pollution) public service announcements played a big part in my young psyche, probably in part because I watched too much TV and in part because the nastier, creepier ones stuck in my mind and kept me up late at night. Heck, some of them can still freak me out -- even though I'm in my forties, and never smoked or used drugs. (And I avoid littering.)

The PSAs of my youth have been turning up on YouTube. Here's a terrific one that started in the mid-sixties, and kept running into the early seventies.

In Communications 101, Professor Jeffrey Cole taught that in the '60's the FCC required anti-smoking PSAs to be run in the same proportion as the cigarette commercials stations were running. Then came the ban on cigarette advertising on TV. Who was behind the ban? Big Tobacco -- those PSAs were eating into its bottom line.

This is an example of an animated PSA. The animated ones were often more powerful, mainly because they were surreal and more chaotic. Here's a particularly effective one featuring that scourge of the old west, Johnny Smoke:

And on a lighter note, here's an anti-littering ad I saw a lot in the seventies:

There's a longer version which I rarely saw.

And speaking of anti-litter commercials, here's the all-time classic, with Iron Eyes Cody:

Happy Birthday, Dad!

As of today, my father, Alan Barer, has been gracing this earth with his presence for 79 years.

Please read his blog (see the link on this page). You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What GI Joes and 4th Generation iPod Nanos Have in Common

Those who have either studied marketing or were kids in the '60's and '70's are likely aware of the marketing model that made toys such as GI Joe and Barbie a success: The base toy -- the doll (or, in Joe's case, the *ahem* action figure) -- is relatively inexpensive; where the company makes its money is in the accessories: clothes, vehicles, townhouses, space capsules, etc.
That came to mind recently as I was trying out my newest tech toy: a 16 gig silver iPod Nano, the replacement for my 30 gig iPod video which went belly-up after 2 1/2 years of usage.
Now, I'm delighted with the Nano. It's truly beautiful, with its razor-thin profile (I think I could shave with it) and bright curved glass screen. Plus, it's the same color as my car. And it has the cool coverflow feature when you turn it on its side, and it scrolls the covers of your albums under the music menu. Not to mention the increased battery life.
But there've been some negative changes. We have some iPod docks scattered through the house, made by third-party vendors such as Logitech and Onkyo. When I stick the Nano onto these docks, the screen announces that the accessory will not charge the Nano. Turns out these devices use Firewire charging technology; and this little guy just won't eat Firewire. At least the Logitech dock will play the nano; the Onkyo won't
Further, with previous video iPod, users (like me) have been able to hook it up to a TV with a cheap cable from Radio Shack, and enjoy a DVD-quality picture without springing for a multi-hundred-dollar Apple TV device. Considering the vast array of inexpensive TV episodes on iTunes, that's been a great resource.
But when I tried to hook up the Nano to the TV that way, the Nano's screen told me where to go. Specifically, it told me to go to the Apple store, because Apple has reworked the TV connection on its video iPods so that only cables with Apple's proprietary technology will convey video from the iPod to a TV.
Yes, Apple is apparently cracking down on the third-party devices sold out there, and driving iPod consumers to buy Apple and officially Apple licensed stuff.
I wonder if they'll put out a space capsule.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Award for Most Surprising Use of the Opening Theme from a Ten Year Old Anime Series

The "AMC First Look" featurette that ran at the movie theater we visted last night, which ran promos for various TV shows debuting this season, used as bumper music "Tank!", Yoko Kanno's rousing jazz theme for the 1998 Japanese animated TV series COWBOY BEBOP.

Hope she gets a nice royalty for that.

APPALOOSA: Cowboy Love

Last night, we went to the AMC in Santa Monica and watched APPALOOSA, the new western starring Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, and Jeremy Irons (who is obviously the villian, since he has a British accent).

The movie is truly Harris's baby. He directed it (earnestly and without a hint of subtlety), co-wrote the script, and even sang the closing theme, an unbelievably campy ballad.

The film follows the spirit of last year's 3:10 TO YUMA remake by presenting a traditional, undeconstructed western flick, although APPALOOSA is, er, a horse of a different color. The storyline is unremittingly straightforward; like the train that conveys its characters around the scrubby landscape, it follows its rail with nary a twist or hairpin turn. It's entertaining in its way, with the pretty photography that make westerns such a pleasure on the big screen, and some witty exchanges between lawmen-for-hire Mortensen and Harris. (Plus, it has Timothy Spall, who seems to be in every movie we see -- his role as Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies have apparently made him the go-to guy for servile characters in American movies).

The theme of the story is also a traditional one of the western flick: That the platonic love between two male friends is far purer and more dependable than any relationship with any woman -- particularly (spoiler warning) the two women in this film, who seem to be only women (other than servants or background elements) in the entire west. Or, as a later generation would crudely put it, "Bros before hos." (Again, appropriate for the female characters in this flick.)