Saturday, May 31, 2008

That Voodoo That He Did So Well

From the Carol Burnett Show, to BLAZING SADDLES, to the Great Gazoo on THE FLINTSTONES, Harvey Korman delighted us for years.

Our TVs Sing No More

The Washington Post (via the LA Times) pays tribute to TV composers Earl Hagen and Alexander Courage, who passed away last week. Between them, the two composed most of the great TV themes of the past. Hagen alone composed themes to such shows as THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, I SPY, and THE MOD SQUAD -- as well as that most noir-ish of jazz standards, "Harlem Nocturne." Courage will live on in TV history forever for composing the original STAR TREK theme.

The era of great original TV themes is plainly past. Shows such as LOST practically eschew opening themes. Others, like the CSI shows, use pre-existing music.

It used to be that a familiar opening theme song was enough to magnetically pull viewers from every corner of their house to the TV. Apparently producers don't place a premium on that anymore.

The Treasures of Ancient Grease

According to the New York Times, grease from fast food outlets may not be worth its weight in gold, but it is worth $2.50 a gallon on the commodities market, because it can be converted into engine fuel. That makes it a prime target for -- yes -- grease rustlers.

To Infinity -- and Beyond

This morning, we watched a great documentary on Starz about Pixar Studios. Coincidentally, this afternoon I watched the launch of the Discovery space shuttle in HD. The mission not only brings the Japanese Pressurized Module to the International Space Station, but also transports a Buzz Lightyear action figure, part of a program to educate kids about space travel. (Yes -- he got a chance to actually fly.)

Dreams of Avalon

Amy and I have been talking about spending a three-day weekend in Catalina for longer than we've been married. This past Memorial Day Weekend, we finally went.

Avalon reminded me somewhat of my youthful days in Seaside, Oregon. It had that saltwater tang in the air, without the admixture of pollution common to the California coastline. It's definitely touristy, with the downtown area crowded with tchotchke shops and bars, the latter serving folks who come over to spend a weekend drinking in a town where everything is so close there's no need to drive.

It was grey and rainy for large portions of Saturday and Sunday, with the sun coming out only in the afternoon. But Memorial Day itself was bright and sunny, showing off the town and bay to its best advantage.

Highlights included dinner at Armstrong Seafood, right on the edge of the water, with the fish in the bay swimming up to watch us feast on their broiled brethren; watching the latest "Chronicles of Narnia" movie (which was essentially mounted as a "Guns of Navarrone" war movie -- the Pevensie kids essentially left war-torn Britain for war-torn Narnia) in the gorgeous art-deco theater in the Casino building; a submarine ride in the bay, during which fish blackened the portholes with their numbers (they know the submarine means food); and some relaxation by the bay.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Guess it Doesn't Run in the Family

Cousin Lee -- who'll be attending Comic-Con: San Diego in July -- quips in his blog about hygiene advice extended to Comic-Con attendees.

Cousin Anea takes the opportunity to comment, "[C]omic-cons GROSS ME THE F*** OUT!"

We have two conventions slated for July.

Do Meds Make McCain the World's Mightiest Mortal?

What happens when you acronymize the first letters of the pills and medications John McCain is taking?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tales of the King

Another link to a Fresh Air segment -- an interview of Mark Evanier about the subject of Evanier's most recent book: Jack Kirby, the late King of Comics.

Is Opportunity Knocking?

Today I received Issue #2 of the official magazinef for the 2008 Comic-Com International: San Diego. It's jam-packed with information about the con, including some helpful tips on how to get the most fun out of a con visit.

But one ad in the magazine -- reproduced above -- gave me pause. It states that the San Diego Bloodbank is "offering Comic-Con attendees the chance to purchase opportunity drawing tickets to win a one-of-a-kind Honda Element . . . ." The statement that one has to "purchase" tickets raised my antennae, because California strictly regulates raffles.

Then we get to the fine print at the bottom of the ad, which states, "No purchase or donation necesary to enter drawing."

To confuse things even more, the ad is accompanied by a coupon that sets forth "suggested" donations, which are essentially $5 for 6 entries and multiples thereof.

There's nothing "suggested" about the website for the drawing; it directs customers to pay for their tickets.

So if someone sends in the coupon without paying a cent, will that person have the same chance of winning as someone who pays a dollar for a ticket?

In the News Again

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Elder Mistake

Will Elder, 86; original cartoonist for Mad magazine - Los Angeles Times

Yesterday's LA Times printed this excellent obituary for Will Elder, who was a singular satirical comics artist renowned for crowding his comics panels with hilarious throwaway gags.

Well, it's excellent except for an odd mistake: A Mad Magazine editor raves for a couple of paragraphs about Elder's purported work on Mad's classic Superman parody from the '50's, SUPERDUPERMAN.

That's odd because Elder didn't draw SUPERDUPERMAN; Wally Wood did.

Nor is it an easy mistake to make. Wood and Elder have completely different styles -- indeed, two of the most unmistakable styles in comics. Further, Wood signed the SUPERDUPERMAN story in the first panel, complete with a poster with a caricature of himself and a bit of doggerel. And SUPERDUPERMAN is not an obscure story; it's one of the most reprinted stories from Mad's days as a color comic book. (In fact, the reprints below are taken from the SMITHSONIAN BOOK OF COMIC-BOOK COMICS.)

To illustrate, here's the first page of SUPERDUPERMAN:

And here's a page of Elder's satire of Howdy Doody, HOWDY DOOIT:

Both are copyrighted by EC Comics/Warner Communications.

I can tell the difference. I'm sure the quoted editor can too. I am guessing the reporter pulled a quote from the editor before he could confirm his memories by doing some research.

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The Big Box Lifestyle

We had a pleasant Sunday morning today. We drove down to the Marina del Rey/Playa del Rey Tanner's Coffee for breakfast; swung by Fisherman's Village to make reservations for our trip to Catalina Island, slated for next weekend; and then pulled into Costco for a combination of shopping and sightseeing.

There's something magical about visiting Costco around now, near the cusp of late spring/early summer. You get the feeling that you could have a magical outdoor lifestyle, if you simply picked the right paraphernalia. All you'd need is one of those deluxe patio sets that seats 10 people; one of those ice chests on wheels that could keep the Fifth Army's provisions chilly for a decade; one of those L-shaped barbecue islands, with a built-in sink and a grill big enough for one of Fred Flintstone's racks of brontosaurus ribs; and an inflatable pool toy that could have dramatically improved the survival rate of the Titanic's passengers.

Oh yeah: You also need a yard big enough for all this stuff. And a pool. And a second mortgage, to afford everything. And a lifestyle.

Collector's Item?

I had to shake my head when I read that some folks gathered at the California Supreme Court's San Francisco courthouse on Thursday were buying 10-15 copies of the Supreme Court's In re Marriages decision.

Didn't those folks know that the opinion was and is available free on the Web -- right here? Granted, the opinion is around 150 pages long -- including all of the concurring and dissenting opinions, and 10 pages of parties, attorneys, and amici curiae. Still, I hazard that one could print out 15 copies of that decision for less than $150.

By George

The front page of the LA Times today featured an interview with Ronald George, presiding justice of the California Supreme Court. The interview is unusual for three reasons.

First, the Times rarely seems to interview jurists -- and seldom do such interviews make the front page.

Second, it's unusual for a judge to comment on a just-decided case -- particularly one as monumental as Thursday's same-sex marriage decision. (The interviewer states that George skirted most questions about the decision, but he does describe, for instance, the scene when the decision hits the streets.) Traditionally, judges intend decisions to speak for themselves; they don't provide editorial comments. In part that's because future lawyers and courts will have to construe the decision's implications, and apply it to other factual scenarios; and any comments by the drafting judges might be used as guides to the jurists' intent.

Finally, it's odd because the Sunday Times generally eschews timely news stories. The Sunday paper focuses on long-term stories -- particularly since it goes on sale Saturday.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Fresh Air is Kira

More from NPR: FRESH AIR analyzes the manga/anime DEATH NOTE.

Favreau Gets the Treatment

KCRW's The Treatment, with film critic Elvis Mitchell, chats with IRON MAN director Jon Favreau, who waxes eloquent about Marvel Comics, superhero films, popcorn movies, and art.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gene Colan's Health

As the IRON MAN movie smashes box office records, attention should be focused on one of the all-time great Iron Man comic book artists: Gene Colan, who in the '60's drew perhaps the most invincible-looking Iron Man of all.

Up to now, Colan himself has seemed pretty invincible: He has continued to create fantastic art, and meet his fans at conventions, as he progresses through his eighties.

But now comes the sad news (from Colan's wife) that Colan is in poor health: His liver is failing.

Everyone who enjoys the IRON MAN movies should send their wishes to Colan for a quick and complete recovery.

Speed Racer: Hi-Octane Colorstorm

I saw two movies this weekend. On Friday, I saw on video MICHAEL CLAYTON, an engrossing drama about a man who stands neutral in the face of evil until circumstances force him to take sides. Today, I saw SPEED RACER, an engrossing drama about a man who shifts from neutral when circumstances force him to drive through psychedelic backgrounds.

I mock, but I truly enjoyed SPEED, even thrown up onto the humongous Imax screen. Granted, there is a perversity of Antoinette-like proportions in spending umpteen millions of dollars to replicate in live-action the look of cheap animation. But against odds, the Watchowski Brothers' directorial follow-up to the MATRIX movies has a lot of heart -- which it wears on its sleeve in an entirely straight-faced way that is rather refreshing in an era of ironic distance. The film benefits tremendously from excellent performances by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon as the Racer 'rents, as well as Cristina Ricci as a Trixie who brightens up the screen (and that's saying something) everytime she appears. Emile Hirsch does a decent job as Speed, whose moral compass is always oriented even if his intelligence is somewhat limited; and Matthew Fox manages a few knowing glances (when he's not masked) as Racer X that communicate more than his laconic lines.

As for the visuals, much derided by critics: Well, sue me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps because I was weaned on the op-art of the '60's, the eye-stabbing colors and the baroque backgrounds looked great. They reminded me of Jim Steranko's experiments in comic-book art. I have to admit that they often fail to serve the story (did we really need a zoetrope of a galloping zebra lining the walls of a racetrack?), but they never grew tiresome for me.

As things stand, the film will likely never amount to much on the big screen (it's projected to gross about $20 million in its opening weekend, whereas IRON MAN is on track to pull in another $50 million); but I've no doubt that it will pay off its investors through merchandising, home video, and foreign releases.

The latter raises an interesting question: When SPEED RACER is released in Japan, will the translators keep the names imposed by American licensors; or will Speed revert to his Japanese identity as Go Mifune, and the title to MACHGOGOGO?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tokyo International Anime Fair

Here's an English-language report -- complete with photos -- on the 2008 Tokyo International Anime Fair, attended by over 150,000 people.

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Velocity Cafe

The Velocity Cafe sits on Lincoln Boulevard, south of Pico, in Santa Monica (or, as the cafe's Website describes it, "Satan Monica"). It features the usual bohemian decor, including a swordfish, giant mirror, and funky mural behind the coffee bar and a motley assortment of kitchen chairs, armchairs, and a futon. There's a rack of books to read, and magazines racked along the walls.

Pluses: Good strong wi-fi, with no password. Lots of electrical outlets along the walls. There's a breakfast and lunch menu. I had the Grommet wrap, which was tasty. The lattes and green tea freezes are pretty good. It's freeway convenient.

Minuses: Noisy Lincoln boulevard is right outside. The bar was out of soy milk.

Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon

Walla Walla Barer

My brother Steve has posted an item to his blog about the 34th annual Walla Walla Balloon Stampede, which is being held this weekend.

For decades (as indicated by the "34th") hot-air balloonists have congregated in Walla Walla, Washington for a spring weekend and engaged in daring aeronautic feats, most of which involve wind, champagne, and squashing a portion of some local farmer's asparagus or wheat crop.  (The stampede thus continues a love-hate relationship between farmers and balloonists that probably stretches back to ballooning's origins in the countrysides of 18th-century France.)

When members of my family besides my brother lived in Walla Walla, my parents would volunteer for "chase crews" that aided the balloonists.  A chase crew is necessary because a balloon's ability to navigate is limited; it is largely at the command of the prevailing winds, much like John McCain.  The crew helps stretch out the deflated balloon on a large field (when I was a kid, the Walla Walla High School athletic field); then holds onto ropes to keep the balloon straight as the balloonist inflates it with the burner mounted above the basket.  Once the balloon sails off, the crew hops into a van or pickup truck; and follows the balloon as it floats through the atmosphere.  When the balloonist brings the balloon down for the final time (by controlling the influx of new hot air into the balloon), the crew gathers up the balloon, rolls it up, and stashes the balloon and basket in the back of the chase vehicle.

When I was about 12, my parents got me involved in chase crews.  That involved waking up at 4 O'god on a weekend morning, grabbing a pair of canvas gloves from my dad's store, and enjoying a primo view of the balloons as they inflated and sailed off.  I got to ride in the balloons twice, which was a transcendent experience.  Since balloons move with the wind, there is almost no wind on a balloon flight, resulting in a smooth sailing experience.

If you live anywhere near the Walla Walla area, I recommend heading over there, sampling some wine, and watching the flight of man's oldest flying machine.

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Some Words on the Last Words in IRON MAN

Ok, Jinxworld Exclusive Time, I Can't Hold It In Anymore... The Iron Man Epilogue... - Jinxworld Forums

Here's an odd factoid:  Marvel Comics scripter Brian Michael Bendis partially scripted the post-credits epilogue to the IRON MAN movie.

Another is that the epilogue was left off of advance screenings of the film, just so that it would be a surprise.

Fun stuff.
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News so Fresh It Hasn't Happened Yet

The LA Times is so eager to report the weekend box office grosses that it published them in yesterday's paper -- before the weekend even started. Have they handed their movie reporting to the cops from "Minority Report"?

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Spirit of the Web

Here's a widget from the folks who are producing next year's movie adaptation of THE SPIRIT.

More Movies to Make Mobs Marvel

Flush with success from IRON MAN's box-office barrage, Marvel Entertainment today announced Marvel Studios' 2010 and 2011 film slates:

April 30, 2010: The inevitable IRON MAN 2.

June 4, 2010 : THOR.

May 6, 2011 : CAPTAIN AMERICA.

And in July 2011, the movie Marvel cognescenti would expect following the release of flicks starring Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: THE AVENGERS.

No word yet on the oddball project Marvel announced along with IRON MAN and THE HULK at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con: ANT MAN.

Thanks to Superhero Hype.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Hulk Smash Puny Blogger!

The Bridge's lobby features quite the display for the upcoming INCREDIBLE HULK movie.

Tony Stark is So Money

I am pleased to report that the IRON MAN movie lives up to its hype. It not only joins the ranks of the first two SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN movies as superior Marvel adaptations, it rates as the most Marvel-like of the movie adaptations so far.

It not only features superior performances from Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and an extremely disturbing Jeff Bridges (who uses his lovable-guy persona to nasty ends), but the scenes with Iron Man himself are delightful wish-fulfillment. Further, it features a 40-something hero who lives on the westside, and who spends his maiden flight soaring over the Santa Monica Pier and buzzing Sunset Boulevard. What more could I ask for?

That question was answered by the bit after the closing credits.

Jon Favreau (the first Marvel director who has already played a Marvel character -- he was Foggy Nelson in the DAREDEVIL flick -- and who plays a supporting character in this one, the dour "Happy" Hogan) has a wonderful feel for both the dramatic and the action bits. And it looks like the movie has benefited from beating all the other summer movies to the door.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Iron-Clad Memories

Last week was my birthday, and one of my birthday presents from my

wife (besides the dinner at Lawry's Prime Rib -- I got to enjoy two extremely important dishes to natives of Southeastern Washington, prime rib and shrimp cocktail) was a pair of advance tickets to a showing of the IRON MAN movie tomorrow night, at The Bridge Cinemas.

With Iron Man on my mind lately, thanks to the media blitz accompanying the movie, my memories harked back to the very first Iron Man comic I read, the cover of which looked, well, exactly like this:

I recently picked up a copy on Ebay (where memories can be had for the right bid). When I read it, most of the story (written by Mike Friedrich, drawn by veteran artists George Tuska [who celebrated his 92nd birthday last month!] and Vince Colletta) was unfamiliar to me, which indicates to me that most of the tale either went right over my seven-year-old head or eluded my nascent reading skills. About the only scenes that rang a bell to me were the cover scene (where Shellhead's armor is melting like candlewax -- as he thinks, "My armor -- melting like candlewax!") and a bit where Tony Stark hears about trouble at one of his plants while out driving with his fiancee, and then changes into the Iron Man armor in front of her. The fiancee sighs, and thinks, "It's like being married to a doctor!" (I don't know if I was more surprised by Stark changing into his secret identity in front of the young woman -- a startling concept to one who was used to the idea of inviolate secret identities -- or by a man dressing in front of a woman to whom he wasn't married. Hey, I was seven.)

The story itself is heady stuff. It's written in the second person, which is practically a guarantee that the prose will be purple. Stark distinguishes himself with Type A behavior throughout the issue: He wrests control of his company back from a renegade board of directors through ham-fisted tactics that send the stock plunging; he swills down cocktails at a party and then goes tearing around dark country roads while his fiancee panics. And as a reminder that the story takes place in the early seventies, the bad guy, Firebrand, is a student radical turned armored supervillain. That fist insignia on his chest is no accident. And true to his name, Firebrand cannot stop giving incidiary speeches.

Ah, the comics of our past -- the ones that imprint themselves upon us, and shape our perceptions of all of the stories we will read in the future