Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lyrically Stupid

A Writer's Life: Can Barnaby Jones Save The Human Race?

Today, while I was at work, I was listening to KJAZZ.  The DJ played a series of excellent Miles Davis numbers to which someone had the bright idea to add forgettable lyrics.  I've heard several jazz instrumentals that lyricists have felt needed words -- even silly, repetitive words.  Reminds me of the folks who insist all black and white movies must be colorized.  Also reminds me of a user comment I read on an instrumental piece that Itunes offered as its free download of the week.  It went something like: "This is a song?!!  WHERE ARE THE WORDS?"

Apparently some folks feel that instrumental TV themes need words too.  My cousin Lee Goldberg recently discussed a piece of BARNABY JONES fan fiction purportedly co-written (or at least written based on the notes of) Buddy Ebsen.  The book included fan-drafted lyrics to the Barnaby Jones theme, which included these apocalyptic verses:

"When naked terror rides the highways
And sudden death waits in the street,
one man alone will roam the byways
confronting crime he must defeat
Barnaby, Barnaby -- what driving force has set your pace?
Barnaby, Barnaby -- can one man save the human race?"

Thank goodness "highways" rhymes with "byways."  Otherwise, I'm sure the writer would have worked in the phrase, "I did it My Way."

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It's a Jewish Thing . . .

The religion of The Thing (Ben Grimm) of the Fantastic Four

It's no secret that many of the folks behind the classic comic book heroes of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics (including Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, etc.)  were (and Stan still is) Jewish.  That fact raises the question of which of their characters were Jewish, given that most superheroes' religious affiliations.  Michael Chabon has made the point that while Superman certainly doesn't look Jewish, he was an immigrant who changed his name from the Hebrew Kal-El to, well, Clark Kent.  Jules Feiffer commented that Eisner's character The Spirit's nose may have turned up, but he was Jewish.

Which made this Internet article about the most popular member of Lee and Kirby's FANTASTIC FOUR, the Thing (aka Benjamin Jacob Grimm) so interesting to me.  About six years ago, Marvel published a story acknowledging the Thing was Jewish.  But according to the article, Lee and Kirby always thought of him as Jewish; they just didn't have much of a chance to mention it in the sixties.  Ben, too, assimilated.

All of which makes this 1976 sketch by Kirby so wonderful.  I know that if I had seen it as a kid, growing up Jewish in a small town and wondering if any of the superheroes I read about were like me, it would have made me quite happy.

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Does That Make Him Crazy . . . .

Prosecutors say Snipes was warned | | Serving Brevard County and Florida’s Space Coast

People believe what they want to believe.  If you're Wesley Snipes, and you're paying literally millions of dollars in income tax, who's to say you wouldn't believe a nutso argument that American citizens have to pay taxes only on money earned outside the country?  Or that you can file demands for a refund of over $11 million in taxes that you've paid?  Or that you can pay your taxes with monopoly money called "Bills of Exchange?"

Alas, Snipes did all that.

Now Snipes, who made millions playing a vampire slayer, is battling a different breed of bloodsuckers.  He's on trial for tax fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy.  (One of his co-conspirators refuses to leave his cell and attend the trial, because he doesn't believe the court has any jurisdiction over him.  When it comes to federal income tax, it's hard to keep a straight face when using "federal court" and "no jurisdiction" in the same sentence.)  And he's facing 16 years in the federal white-collar prison (although it's unlikely he'll actually do that much time -- after all, while he's in prison, it's harder for him to pay his tax bill).

His lawyer's defense?  “Crazy ain’t a crime . . . ."

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Along . . . . the KOST


This Sunday's Drabble comic strip will have special meaning for those who've encountered Karen Sharp's LA radio request show -- "Love Songs on the KOST."

I must admit, sometimes when I'm driving home from work, and my head's pounding, I turn the show on for some soothing music -- as long as I can stand Sharp . . . .

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Losing Check

A Barer

My dad has posted another great story on his blog.  This one is a picaresque tale involving Sen. Warren Magnuson, FDR, Winthrop Rockefeller, and his (and my) Uncle Dave.

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Poughkeepsie Picking

I decided to spend this rainy night in LA by renting THE FRENCH CONNECTION on DVD. Although the title of this flick was synonymous with "action movie" when I was a kid in the seventies, I'd never gotten around to seeing it until now.

The movie deserves its reputation as a top-notch police thriller. Although the plot is relatively simple and straightforward, scenes like the cat-and-mouse game Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey play in the subway station show a delight in the sheer magic of movie storytelling.

TFC looks fantastic on DVD. There were only two downsides to watching it. One was knowing that in the 35+ years since the movie came out, there's been little that has done what this movie did, quite as well. The other was the rain pattering down on the roof of the TV room. The rain might have added atmosphere if there had been a rainy scene in the movie. Yet despite all the grit in the film, not one drop of rain falls.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Weird Words of Wisdom from Wonder Woman

Again With the Comics: Ask Golden Age Wonder Woman

The Golden Age Wonder Woman was one strange lady . . . .

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Ross Would Have Loved This: Super Friends

Embedded Video

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If You've Got the Inclination, I've Got the Crime

Crime was all over the pages of the LA Times this morning -- ranging from two Aussie sailors who allegedly brawled with a man in San Diego over the merits of Australian versus American football; to a family -- ages 5 through 59 -- accused of shoplifting together in Lodi; to the rookie trader for the Societe Generale bank in France who is accused of a crime that would flabbergast a James Bond villain: gambling -- and losing $7.2 BILLION of the bank's assets in purportedly unauthorized trades. No word on whether the Pet Shop Boys' song "Opportunities" was playing on his IPod when he allegedly did it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Quantum of Silliness

Remember when the James Bond movie producers changed the name of the movie "License Revoked" to "License to Kill," because Americans didn't know what "revoked" meant?

Now comes the recently-revealed title of the next Bond flick: "Quantum of Solace."

Sounds like either an ambassador to the United Federation of Planets ("I am Quantum, of Solace!") or a mid-90s Chris Carter TV series.

How many moviegoers will request tickets to "Condom of Soy Sauce?"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Brush Abuse

This evening, I was paging through a compilation of the seventies Marvel comics superhero title THE DEFENDERS.  At the time, penciller Sal Buscema had a different inker every issue.  For the uninitiated, a comic book inker is an artist who goes over the penciller's pencils and renders them in (duh) india ink, in the process adding shading and texture.  If the penciller is the director, the inker is the cinematographer.  Anyway, the inker plainly had a tremendous effect on Buscema's art:  Even though the same guy was pencilling every issue, it looked slick and exciting one month, rough and blah the next.

All that led into the above-linked post on ace comics artist Colleen Doran's blog, in which she showed a Wonder Woman page she pencilled for DC comics; and then the inks added by Jackson Guice, a fine artist in his own right.  In the first panel, Colleen drew a shot of WW's left shoulder and back that displayed fine rendering of WW's body.  Inexplicably, in the inked panel, Mr. Guice chose to cover a particularly well-defined portion of WW's anatomy with solid black ink.  Why?  I'm sure it was a good idea at the time.

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Heath Ledger, R.I.P.

In the mid-90's, the film adaptation of James O'Barr's comics series THE CROW became a footnote in movie history when the film's star, Brandon Lee -- son of Bruce Lee -- died during filming, victim of an on-set accident.

Now another comics adaptation will likely mark the final performance (in white greasepaint) of a young actor -- albeit one who is a bigger star. Heath Ledger, who will play The Joker in this summer's Batman sequel THE DARK KNIGHT, was found dead in his apartment this afternoon.

It's still not clear how or why this talented Australian actor died, possibly of an overdose of sleeping pills. But when watching THE DARK KNIGHT, I'm sure I'll have that slight feeling of horror mingled with sadness in the pit of my stomach that I had watching Brandon Lee mowing down thugs in THE CROW -- watching the onscreen images of someone who never got to watch the movie himself.

Anime LA Post-Mortem Podcast

Otaku no Podcast

Once again, the fine folks at Otaku no Podcast invited me to weigh in on the topic of the moment -- which was, this time, Anime LA 2008.  If perchance you want to hear me (and other people who are far more interesting) on your mp3 player or computer speaker, follow the link.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Slapping Myself on the Wrist

To the person who posted a comment today about a past post:

You are correct. My post was inappropriate. I've altered it. My apologies.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette, R.I.P.

"The Bob Newhart Show" was one sitcom that my family seldom missed during the seventies, so one of the most distinctive TV voices of my youth was Suzanne Pleshette's whisky-smokey tone as she bantered with Bob and the various wacky neighbors in their apartment complex. In one of Pleshette's final roles, she lent that voice to Hayao Miyazaki's characters Yubaba & Zeniba in the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away." Although that voice is now captured in hundreds of hours of film and TV soundtracks, we'll never hear it in anything new.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Transformation -- With Help

Embedded Video

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Hey, It's -- That Guy!

news from me - ARCHIVES

There were two obits of note in today's LA Times.  One was of Bobby Fischer, chess genius turned anti-semitic, anti-American nutcase.  The other was of Allen Melvin.  I didn't know Melvin's name, but I certainly knew his face and voice -- as did anyone who watched television, particularly sitcoms, during the sixties and seventies.  He was Sam the Butcher on "The Brady Bunch," Barney on "All in the Family," Henshaw on "Sgt. Bilko,"  and tons of other characters on other shows -- not to mention the voice of Magilla Gorilla and numerous other cartoon characters.  He was truly worthy of that cry of recognition that greets great character actors:  "Hey, it's -- it's -- you know -- him!"

Mark Evanier, naturally, has an anecdote about Melvin.    (See link above.) When Evanier and I were both on the comics discussion board on Compuserve, I noticed that whenever an entertainment figure was mentioned, Evanier would have a story about his encounter with that person.  "My God," I once messaged him, "you really do know every talented person in Hollywood."  "Yes," he messaged back.  "Both of them."

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And Where Does Your Candidate Stand on Animation?

Hey, Answerman! - Anime News Network

It seems I can't drive under an underpass in LA without being confronted by a banner demanding that I vote for Ron Paul.  That's not half as scary as a Paul-ite who e-mailed the "Hey Answerman" column on Anime News Network touting his or her candidate's advocacy of anime:

"Dear "Answerman" Zac Bertschy, I am writing to tell you about a presidential candidate named Dr. Ron Paul. He is the pro-anime candidate and his policies and beliefs will be welcomed by all anime fans, I believe anime fans will find their candidate of choice in Dr. Ron Paul who is against the big government and in favor of anime."

Why do I get the feeling that the noun "anime" in this message could easily be replaced with "basketball,"  "unicycles,"  "speedmetal," or "spotted cow collectibles"?

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Hard Discoveries of the Virtual World

Walla Walla Barer

How horrifying to discover my little brother is more proficient with Yiddish than I.

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One More Deus Ex Machina

What a tangled web Marvel weaves - Los Angeles Times

The LA Times Calendar Section ran this article about the climax of Marvel's "One More Day" storyline, in which (spoiler warnings) Marvel decided to do a "hard reset" on the hitherto linear storyline describing the life of Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man.  For the uninitiated, Spider-Man's been published for 46 years; and the various Spider-Man comics that were part of Marvel continuity told a long, serialized story of Peter's various loves and losses, culminating 20 years ago (our time, not Spidey's) in his marriage to Mary Jane Watson, the girl his aunt's best friend set him up with (and who he avoided like the plague for several issues, in a running gag that ended with one of the most famous comics panels of all time:  He meeting this supposed pity-date and discovers she is a ravishing beauty, as only John Romita can draw one).

Making a long story short (and again, due spoiler warnings given), Marvel recently put Spidey into quite a corner.  Due to misplaced trust, Peter revealed his secret identity on national TV.  The end result was that his beloved Aunt May took an assassin's bullet.  Peter compromised most of his moral values trying to save her life.  At the end, he and Mary Jane jointly accepted a Satan-like demon's offer to save May's life and erase the public's knowledge of Spidey's identity -- at the cost of erasing the fact that Peter and MJ ever married.

This rebooted continuity is apparently designed to make the title more friendly to those who jump over to it from the Spider-Man movies (where Peter and MJ are an item, but not married); and to please nostalgic fans who felt that the true Peter Parker was the nerd who kept throwing away his chances with gorgeous women.  But deus ex machina changes like this (which are SOP at Marvel rival DC) just erase any interest I might have in stories that rely on a continuity that changes with the prevailing wind.  I'm still up, however, for a fun Spider-Man story that focuses on character, not precedent.

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Trial and Appeal

The first appellate decision of the year involving one of my cases is a published decision that concerns the trial I blogged about almost three years ago.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Healing Noodle

My late great-aunt Dorothy Barer made the most marvelous desserts you've ever tasted.  Here, Aunt Dorothy's grandson, Tod Goldberg, talks to writer Maud Newton about Dorothy's cuisine and its effect on his life.

"Nana died a few weeks ago at the age of 95 and in her honor I came home from the funeral and made myself a kugel. It tasted like being seven and losing a soccer game; like being twelve and dining as the sun set over Loon Lake, Washington; like being thirty and sitting on her porch in Seattle; like being all the ages I’ve ever been."

I, too, have made a kugel from the recipe Tod recounts, which was reverse-engineered by Tod's sister Linda.  I can attest it is utterly delicious, and packed with 98% more memories than the average noodle dessert.
Maud Newton: Blog

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Caffeine at the Capitol

Senate Meets At Coffee Shop To Brainstorm Legislation | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

What if the Senate caucused over coffee at a wi-fi watering hole?  The Onion explores the possibilities.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Never Act with Children or Animals

This evening, we saw "The Golden Compass" as it continued its slip from the nice movie houses into the rattier ones (we watched it at Mann Culver Plaza, which was built in the '90's but has somehow managed to age 30 years during its lifetime -- that big stain in the middle of the screen certainly abetted our cinematic experience). The movie is filled with beautiful images, and the story keeps one's interest; but the flick is a testament to the importance of a good lead. The little girl who plays the the heroine, Lyra, is simply not emotionally engaging. By all rights, she should be upstaging all the adults around her; but with such engaging actors as Sam Shepard, Daniel Craig, and Nicole Kidman playing circles around her, she simply cannot compete. When the movie studio has paid a king's ransom to put onto the screen things you've never seen before, we need a human presence to keep us anchored -- and the girl simply wasn't up to the task. Indeed, the polar bear warrior (with the voice of Ian McKellen)who becomes Lyra's bodyguard is far more sympathetic then Lyra herself. Hell, I'd be happy if they dropped Lyra from future movies and just had the bear as the hero.

Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads

'Iron Man': L.A.'s hometown hero - Los Angeles Times

Today's LA Times Calendar Section includes this nifty article about the upcoming IRON MAN movie.  The piece ends with this quote from star Robert Downey, Jr.:  "[T]his is like playing an American version of James Bond in a flying Ferrari suit."

An odd choice of words from Mr. Downey, in that in the comics, one of Downey's character Tony Stark's allies (and occasional foils) Nick Fury actually has a flying Ferrari -- a custom-made 330/P4 Berlinetta, to be precise.  I hear the gas mileage sucks, but the tires wear forever.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Washington State Comics

Jeff Jensen's life long love of comics | X-Men | Pop Culture Commentary | News + Notes | Entertainment Weekly

Last week's Entertainment Weekly published this essay from journalist (and occasional comics writer) Jeff Jensen about the effects comics collecting has had on his life -- including leading him into crimes, of varying degrees of seriousness.  Jensen is younger than I am, but because he grew up in Seattle, his story and mine have some connections -- not the least of which Golden Age Collectibles, the Pikes Place Market comics store which I always begged my parents to take me to whenever we visited Seattle (and which remains there -- selling slightly overpriced collectibles, as befits a tourist trap).

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Ten Thousand Years of Iraq

From this past Sunday: John McCain believes that if Iraqis, instead of Americans, are dying in Iraq, no one will care if we remain in Iraq for 10,000 years.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

First Con of the Year

Anime LA 2008, held January 4-6, was an interesting experience. The membership was capped at 2400, so theoretically it should have been on the small side and not crowded. But logistics conspired against it. The convention committee entered into its contract with the convention hotel (at the Burbank Airport) when Hilton owned the hotel. But then the hotel was sold to Marriott -- which apparently took license with the contract terms (especially when it started renovating the hotel). The result: The con had far less space than it had contracted for; and crowding ensued.

The most fun part of the convention was the cosplay. A staggering percentage of the attendees were in costume. Many of them (not me) came from our house, as we played host to our friends Natalie, Sarah, and Logan from Utah, Brandi from Nevada, and Laurid from Colorado. The house was like a theater's dressing room, full of costumes, makeup and bodies. We also met our pals Don, Chad and John at the convention.

During the weekend, voice actor Patrick Seitz -- who played heavy Luke Valentine in the English-dubbed version of the Hellsing anime -- attended the con as a fan, rather than as a guest. On the last day, he posed in photos with folks from our party who were dressed in Hellsing-inspired clothes. (He's the tall guy in the "Just Say No to Dubs" shirt. Irony.) He got into the spirit, to the point of lifting various full-grown fans as he posed. ("A moment of fun," I warned him, "a lifetime of chiropractic.")

Anime LA 2008 photos

Photobucket Album

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Hope from the Grave?

Today's PARADE MAGAZINE supplement to the daily paper features a cover story that may be the biggest screwup in the supplement's patchy history.

Next to a soft-focus photo of Benazir Bhutto, the cover features this copy:

"Is Benazir Bhutto America's best hope against al -Queda?

"'I Am What The Terrorists Most Fear'

"An interview from Pakistan by Gail Sheehy"

The inside interview by the author of "Passages" discusses Bhutto's role in Tuesday's elections in Pakistan.

"Editor's note: The assassination of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27 occurred after PARADE’s Jan. 6 issue went to press."

Since the magazine is included with a newspaper, perhaps a press date of less than, say, two weeks before distribution might be a good idea?

Everybody Complains about the Weather . . . .

We're in the midst of the Anime LA convention in Burbank; and we have a houseful of guests who are using our place as their home base for the con. Meanwhile, yesterday Mother Nature was doing her darndest to mess up our convention plans, as one of the most violent rainstorms in the last couple of years hit the LA area. Apparently, things were tough elsewhere; my brother Mike has news video on his blog of a violent windstorm in his and my hometown of Walla Walla, Washington.

Friday, January 04, 2008