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.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

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.