Sunday, May 31, 2009

Walla Walla Wedding Wedding

I am presently in my home town of Walla Walla, Washington, where mere hours ago I participated in the wedding of my younger brother, Steve, to new sister-in-law Dawn Marie.

Walla Walla is pretty much identical to how it was when I last visited here three years ago: a city that was once dominated by the wheat and sweet onion business, but that now focuses on tourism revolving around the multitude of wineries in the area.

Shops that were around when I was kid are still around, run by the same people. I stopped into Earthlight Books, still run by David Crosby (no, not that one), and picked up a first edition paperback of I, THE JURY, kinda beat up (as is appropriate for a hardboiled novel) for a few bucks. Hot Poop records, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, is still around, on Main Street, and still run by Jim McGuinn. Amy and Jim traded stories about the tour of the Dead that both watched, albeit at different tour dates and locations.

Today we gathered in Pioneer Park for the wedding, I in a tux. The weather cooperated; although it's been roasting lately in Walla Walla, nature's thermostat turned itself down slightly. So we had the best of all worlds: Sunny skies, slight breezes, and temps in the 70's and low 80's. The wedding went off without a hitch (except the obvious one), and matrimony ensued.

The most action-packed moment in the ceremony was when Steve stomped the wine glass. Beforehand, there were concerns that the glass was too sturdy, and that the soft grass of the park would render shattering difficult. But Steve is a black belt in karate. With the encouragement of the rabbi, he shouted a kyaa and pulverized the glass into sand molecules.

Unfortunately, I didn't bring anything to connect my camera to my laptop; so no photos can be posted yet. (Soon.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What I Did on My 3-Day Weekend

This past Memorial Day Weekend -- the hallowed weekend for watching new movies -- I bucked tradition and watched two old (and long) movies. On Friday night, I rented Otto Preminger's ANATOMY OF A MURDER on DVD. And on Sunday we went to the Aero Theater in Santa Monica for American Cinematheque's twice-yearly showing of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 70mm. (They purportedly sell out each time they show it; they certainly sold out this time.)

It was interesting to contrast these two classics, made within a few years of each other. ANATOMY OF A MURDER, although shot with a snappy visual style, is based foremost on the spoken word -- or, more accurately, on the spoken version of the written word. LAWRENCE has eloquent writing as well; but as one would expect from a Panavision epic, it draws most of its storytelling power from its visuals. It's hard to imagine a scene in ANATOMY in which the camera simply focuses on an empty horizon for awhile until a tiny figure materializes; but such shots are the bread and butter of LAWRENCE.

Oh, and I also bicycled from West LA to Hermosa Beach on Memorial Day. (I lazed out for the trip back -- Amy met me with the car.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What Were They Smoking?!

This comes from Mark Evanier's blog. When I was a kid, the Lawrence Welk Show was often on at various grandparents' homes -- but I certainly don't remember them doing this number.

Did they know what they were singing about? I'm sure they did. They were musicians.

Wonderful Time-Waster

If you have some time to kill (or don't have to be anywhere anytime soon), a page that is likely to suck you in is, discussing trends that run through TV shows (and all of fiction) with numerous examples. Tremendous fun. (At least for me.)

Give Me Steam

For anyone who thinks the new "Star Trek" movie is just a bit too modern-looking . . . .

Is the Neverending Battle the Neverending Story?

A post in this NPR blog poses the question of whether continuing characters, whose stories never really end, violate the basic concept of what a "story" is.

One response in the commentary is that a neverending cycle of stories is a mythology. Or life.

Wedding Bells in Riverdale

In the latest publicity ploy from Archie comics, movie producer (and '70's comics writer) Michael Uslan will collaborate with veteran Archie artist Stan Goldberg on a story, set in the future, in which septugenarian teenager Archie Andrews will get engaged and then get hitched.

Which of course raises the age-old question: Betty or Veronica? (Or someone else?)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Strange Visitor from Another Planet

Greenbriar Picture Shows

Superman's first appearances in movie theaters came in the form of the Fleischer cartoon shorts of the early '40's, which debuted about two years after Superman's first appearance in comics and soon after his radio show debuted.  Nowadays, the cartoons (readily available on DVD) are viewed as masterpieces, with their fluid animation and art deco stylings.  This blog article looks at some of the critical reaction of the time -- and how much of it was negative.  A lot of the negativity stems from the stereotype that animated shorts were supposed to be comedic, not adventurous. Some of it is difficulty buying the adventures of a man clad in circus tights who flies (or leaps, in the earliest shorts) through the air and bends steel -- after all, the concept of costumed superheroes was brand new.

 The most surprising criticisms are of the animation quality.  Critics call the animation "jerky" and "terrible"; and complain that Superman looks like a wooden puppet.  Anyone who has seen these shorts will find it difficult to believe these critics actually saw them, since the animation is anything but jerky.

Ironically, about 20 years after the last Superman short was made, Superman had perhaps his greatest animated success -- in Filmation's "The New Adventures of Superman," which essentially created the genre of the Saturday morning superhero cartoon, but which was animated far more statically (and cheaply) than the Fleischer cartoons.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Defensive Spelling

Here's a safety tip for reviewers: If you're going to criticize a book for spelling errors, don't misspell "griped" as "gripped." And for heaven's sake, don't make that mistake when reviewing my cousin Tod Goldberg's book. A merciless mocking awaits.

Going Medieval on an Auction

Or actually Renaissance, to be exact.

According to this L.A. Times story, a woman was moved by recent news stories on "enhanced interrogation techniques" to offer up for auction a collection she inherited, with part of the proceeds to go to Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.

The collection: A set of 16th-century torture implements, designed to cause mayhem (in the traditional sense of the word) to various parts of prisoners' bodies. The collection, which will be sold as a set if possible, is estimated at more than $3 million in value; and it will be sold only to a buyer deemed morally worthy to take possession of these hellish devices without using them for their intended purpose.

Steal This Movie

Last night I headed over to the Aero Theater for a double bill of Jules Dassin's euro-caper movies, RIFIFI and TOPKAPI. The two films are literally night and day: RIFIFI is dark film noir, from the era in which France was besotted with the genre and gave it its name (and in this case, hired an American to direct an FN movie), while TOPKAPI is a candy-colored confection. (Boy, when they made brightly-colored films in the sixties, they made them bright!)

What unites the films, besides exiled director Dassin, is that each features a group of experts who unite to pull off a high-stakes theft; and each features a long heist sequence that is among the best in cinema history. RIFIFI has a 30 minute long burglary that is shown without dialogue and without music, and which is riveting. TOPKAPI has the hanging-trapeze scene that has been copied by countless movies and TV shows. Further, the structure of bringing in folks to carry off a job (in the case of TOPKAPI, amateurs) has been the inspiration of numerous properties, most noticeably MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE. (Indeed, the sudden disability of one of the team members -- the same disability, caused in the exact same manner -- was used on Wally Cox in one of the first season M:I episodes.)

Although RIFIFI was more emotionally gripping than TOPKAPI, both were reminders of how entertaining it can be to sit in a theater and watch bravura filmmaking -- the kind that sucks you into the filmmakers' world and forces you to accept the most outlandish situations as logical plot developments.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: The Coffee Connection in Mar Vista

This WFWH is on Centinela just south of Venice Boulevard, around the corner from the far busier Venice Grind. It is operated by -- and physically attached to -- the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a church. (The only aspect of the church operation apparent is the stained glass windows in the front.) Coffee Connection is marked by its quiet atmosphere (everybody in it on a Saturday afternoon seems to be studying or banging away on a computer), the nice dark-wood interior, the strong wi-fi signal, and a garden-like courtyard/patio. The drinks are ok, but not spectacular. There's also free parking (although, since I rode my bike there today, I didn't use it.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I remember the thrill my 17-year-old self felt in the summer of 1982 when I watch STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN in Walla Walla's Liberty Theater, and thought, "They got it. They made a good Star Trek movie." Yes, they captured the deft blend between the profound and the cheesy, between solemnity and sillyness, between ideas and action, that defines the best of this decades-old franchise.

Twenty-seven years later, I felt much the same watching the new STAR TREK movie. With all the years being jaded by special effects and failed attempts at meaningful spectacle, and after multiple STAR TREK series turning the franchise into the equivalent of the chewing gum that had been chewed far too many times, I found great delight in being thrilled, touched, and entertained by a new summer movie -- and even better, a new Star Trek movie.

If you have the means, I heartily suggest seeing the movie in Imax, where it will run for just two weeks. Bigger can be better.

Anime Simulcasts: Give Them Steak and They Demand Filet Mignon

Back in the '80's (yes, it's one of those "back when I was a kid" stories, except I wasn't a kid at that point), when we wanted to watch Japanese animation, we watched videotapes sent from correspondents in Japan, without dubbing or subtitles; and sometimes we watched a second- or third-generation copy. And the tapes would be distributed by daisy-chaining VCRs. And we liked it! Well, we liked it because there was nothing better available.

A couple of decades later, the Internet gave rise to fansubbing, the phenomenon in which fans in Japan would upload video programs soon after they aired, and fans would add subtitles and distribute them in the U.S. -- all without the copyright owners seeing a dime.

Even when shows were licensed and sold in the U.S., fans would stick with their fansubs. The main reason given was that the licensed product wasn't released fast enough in the U.S. And it wasn't free. That is likely one of the factors that popped the bubble of anime sales in the U.S. (along with the general decline of the economy and of the DVD market).

Now various Japanese studios and licensors have struck deals by which Japanese animated shows are professionally subtitled and shown on streaming video in the U.S., free of charge to viewers (the profit is from advertising at the beginning of the stream), often simultaneous with or within hours after the Japanese showings.

That's light years from what we had in the '80's. Surely that would be enough to stop the flight to fansubbing.

Well, no. When a copyright enforcer from licensor Funimation was interviewed on Anime News Network, fans wrote comments complaining about these streams. They're too slow, the fans write. The buffer rates are frustrating. The translations aren't as good as fan-produced ones. (If the viewers can tell the difference, why do they need subtitles at all?) They complain about hypertechnical video quality details.

To quote Brian from Monty Python's LIFE OF, "There's just no pleasing some people."

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Blood: The Last Vampire Live Action Movie

Many live-action adaptations of manga and anime properties are terrible. This trailer, as well as the one on the Sony site, suggests this summer's release of BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE may be different. It doesn't look deep, but it does look like fun.

Shields Up

Well, we almost got a head start on the rest of the country in seeing the new STAR TREK movie. We had a pass for a Wednesday showing at The Bridge Cinemas. Unfortunately, so did just about everyone in the LA area who had ever heard of STAR TREK. Although I got there an hour before the screening time, a representative told us and lots of people in front of us that the theater was overbooked and full.

We then retired to the theater and bought advance tickets for a regular showing. Because we wanted to see it in Imax, the earliest showing that would not require us to press our noses against the screen was tomorrow.

So tomorrow afternoon we'll see the movie the rest of the country has seen and is raving about.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Bad Words! Bad! Bad!

What word did Justice Harlan write in the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court opinion Cohen v. State of California, but none of the justices who wrote the majority, concurring, or dissenting opinions in last week's FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. spell out?

Here's a hint: It's a word that is used, described, and testified about in courthouses of every level across the U.S. Spelled out in full. Not spelled with asterisks or by its first letter, a hyphen, and the word "word." Both of which euphemistic abbreviations are used in Justice Scalia's majority opinion in the FCC case.

Here's another hint: It starts with an F, and rhymes with a large vehicle used to haul freight. (And no, I don't mean "flocomotive." Although that might make a good interjection.)

If a word is the subject matter of a court case, is it too much to ask that the court actually describe the word?

Is It Gonna Get Them?

Of all the theme songs Chase Manhattan could have chosen for its ad campaign introducing itself to the California market . . ..

Why pick "Instant Karma?"

Yet Another Anime Casualty of the Economy

This morning we visited our neighborhood anime store, Power Anime, only to learn that it is closing its brick-and-mortar store in the Westside Pavillion mall. This is news we received with great sadness. PA has come a long way in the last five years, from a tiny kiosk in the mall hallway, through multiple locations in the mall, and finally to a huge location on the ground floor in the former Waldenbooks space. The Rancho Park area used to boast multiple anime stores, including PA, Anime Gamers, and Banzai Anime; now, apart from some import stores in the Sawtelle area, it has none.

Power Anime is running some great store-closing deals right now, so if you're in the area this is a good time to stock up.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Another Anime Victim of the Economy

Central Park Media Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy (Update 2) - Anime News Network

American anime and manga distributor Central Park Media filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and closed its doors this past week. According to Anime News Network's story, this was at least in part a chain reaction This from the bankruptcy a few years ago of the retail chain Musicland, which put a strain on many DVD sellers.

As ANN reports:

CPM and its Software Sculptors, U.S. Manga Corps, and Anime 18 labels were once the North American homes of such prominent works as Grave of the Fireflies, Utena, Mobile Police Patlabor, Record of Lodoss War, Slayers, Night on the Galactic Railroad, Project A-Ko, Dominion Tank Police, Descendants of Darkness, Demon City Shinjuku, Urotsukidoji, and La Blue Girl. It later branched out into the book publishing field by releasing Comic Party, Record of Lodoss War, Slayers, Embracing Love, Kizuna, and other titles under the CPM Manga and Be Beautiful Manga imprints. It sponsored the Big Apple Anime Fest earlier this decade.

The market has changed significantly from where it was just a few years ago, when it seemed American licensors were grabbing every anime propery in sight. Now licensors are hunkering down and going with only the most commercial-seeming titles.

One last refuge for more obscure stuff: The online sites, such as Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu. Funimation, in particular, is running the 1970's Leiji Matsumoto series CAPTAIN HARLOCK and GALAXY EXPRESS 999 -- neither of which, to my knowledge, was ever released on DVD in the U.S., or released uncut on video here.

Private Jet Operators Need Love Too

An adicle (my portmanteau for an article that is actually a paid advertisement) in a recent issue of FORTUNE, paid for by a company that operates fleets of private planes and sells fractional shares in them, bemoaned the drop in private jet usage after Congress and the press lambasted the Big Three chiefs who jetted to Washington to beg for money. The article complained that legislators misunderstood the convenience, importance, and, yes, economy of private airplane travel to business. It asserted that many users were "middle management" and salespeople. And it worried that the legislators' attacks endangered the jobs of over a million people who worked in the small plane air travel business.

All of which missed the point: It looks really bad when you travel in luxury to plead poverty.

Happy Free Comic Book Day!

Yes, today you can head down to your local participating comics shop, and pick up free comics samplers put out by the major companies. We did.

Here's an apropos spokesman for FCBD:

He's the Best There Is at What He Does -- and What He Does Is Okay

We saw the WOLVERINE movie -- or, excuse me, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (colons really do not belong in movie titles. Didn't they learn anything from BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER?) last night at The Bridge. In my opinion, the creators did a magnificently adequate job.

The pacing went down well. The acting was up to the job; and Hugh Jackman is a lot of fun to watch as Jamie Hewlett, aka Logan, aka Wolverine. The set pieces were enjoyable, and looked like comics scenes brought to life. (Though at some point the PG-13 suspension of disbelief starts to ebb: You have characters slicing and dicing each other multiple times with blades and claws and big swords, with nary a drop of blood shed. Granted, watching people realistically slice each other into coldcuts wouldn't be very entertaining (at least to me); but the dishonest treatment of the aftermath of violence starts to edge into the offensive.) The story served as an okay frame for the punching and kicking and slicing and booms.

But I felt zero emotional connection with what was going on. And that is not par for the course. I did connect with the first two X-Men movies; with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films; with the Iron Man flick; and, crossing over into DC territory, with Chris Nolan's Batman films and the first two Supermans. Yet I viewed this movie as an efficient summer comics entertainment, out to put butts in seats and keep them there through the closing credits. (I've heard reports that there are different final post-credits scenes for different prints of the flick.) No more than that.

There are a number of reasons:

-- The director was not as good as Chris Nolan, or Sam Raimi, or Jon Favreau. He put the story on the screen. He didn't go into any layers beneath the story.

-- As with many of these films, there are two many licensable characters crammed in. The scenes with Gambit are fun, but not particularly vital to the film. The Blob scene could be razored out without perceptible effect. Sure, the advantage of these X-Men films is the ability to put in multiple superpowered characters, because that's the way the X-Men comics have always been. But larding a story with so many distractions hampers its ability to reach any kind of emotional threshhold.

-- Finally, and this is personal to me, I'm rather disenchanted with the comics the movie was adapting. It draws on several stories done in the 90's and 00's designed to flesh out Wolverine's past. Frankly, that past did not demand fleshing out. He was much more effective as a mysterious figure with a shadowy past, with bits and pieces occasionally floating to the surface. True, the character stayed that way for over 20 years before these backfill stories were released -- Wolverines been in the comics for over 35 years, after all. But I feel no connection with the stories. I have to imagine the average moviegoer, who has never picked up a Wolverine comic or any comic in his or her life, will feel even less.

So not a negative review. Not an overwhelmingly positive one either. Somewhere in the enjoyable but not excellent category.