Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Portfolio, Long Beach

This is the sort of coffee house people think of when they think of "coffee house" (at least, those that don't have pictures of mermaids all over the place). It's got two rooms filled with eclectic mismatched furniture. It's got an array of espresso, coffee, loose-leaf tea, and other beverages, as well as a menu filled with sandwiches and wraps. The back room has a stage, and Portfolio holds storytelling sessions (a storyteller was reading and singing to kids when we were there for breakfast today), poetry readings, open-mike nights, and musical performances. Whatever they're doing seems to be working; this morning, there was a long line at the counter and the place was packed. Plus, there's a bike rack out front shaped like a steaming mug of coffee.

Not only do they have free wi-fi, but they also have a cadre of computers in the front room for rent.

Downtown LB seems to have a lot of wi-fi watering holes, but this one is the most impressive one I've seen.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ooo My Desdemo-ona

With the remake of FAME debuting in theaters (to tepid reviews), my mind slipped back to the 1980 movie and the not-too-shabby-but-often-silly 1982 TV series. The most memorable bit from the series was this gloriously cheesy Andrew Lloyd Webber style version of Othello.

Dig the feathered hair, and the pink thermal vest. Yes, I lived through the '80s. All of them.

They'll Pave Nude Nudes and They'll Put Up a Parking Lot

For decades, the first glimpse of L.A. sleaze that visitors have gotten as they drove or rode out of LAX is the "Live Live Nude Nudes" sign in front of the Century Lounge on Century Boulevard. (If you saw the movie "City of Angels," Nicholas Cage's character sat on the bus bench in front of it.) But now the nude nudes will have to get dressed and leave. The lease ran out on the property; and the Lounge will be razed and turned into part of the Wallypark parking structure next door.

While the sign is tawdry, I've always thought Live Live Nude Nudes would be far preferable to Dead Dead Nude Nudes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eureka Dysfunction

I went to the AMC 15 to watch the nationwide simulcast to theaters of the anime movie EUREKA SEVEN: GOOD NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, YOUNG LOVERS. Alas, the video glitched about 10 minutes in; and after waiting a half-hour for them to fix it, I walked out and got a refund. Doesn't speak well for the future of simulcast video in movie theaters. Especially since it was a one-night-only event. Guess I'll have to wait for the DVD.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Infinite University

I'm watching the season premiere of HEROES on the DVR, and am struck by the amazing fact that universities all across the country look exactly like UCLA.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Japanese Comics Creator Dies in Climbing Accident

Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Crayon Shin-chan creator dies in climbing accident

Yoshito Usui, creator of the manga feature CRAYON SHIN-CHAN, apparently fell while mountain climbing and perished.

I was not a huge fan of CRAYON SHIN-CHAN, but I must respect its gigantic success.  Usui produced stories of the rude, obnoxious five-year-old for 19 years straight.  The comic (published in the U.S. by CMX, a DC imprint) was turned into a hit anime TV series (shown in the U.S. on ADULT SWIM); and the series, in turn, generated some 17 animated features.
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Kirby Heirs File Notices of Termination on Marvel Characters

Disney Faces Copyright Claims Over Marvel Superheroes -

Newspapers are carrying the story that heirs of Jack Kirby -- who created, co-created, or had a hand in creating most of the Marvel characters of the 1960's -- filing notices of termination, represented by the same law firm that represents the heirs of Jerry Siegel in their successful quest to terminate a portion of DC's copyrights in the earliest Superman stories.  (Incidentally, the federal judge who ruled on the Superman case recently announced that he is leaving the bench for a private law career, unable to support his seven children on a federal district judge's salary.)

The terminations won't have an immediate effect (the earliest would take place in 2014); and most likely would not result in the characters being ripped away from Marvel, since Marvel would still own rights in them.  More likely the heirs would then negotiate licenses for their portion of the copyrights with future Marvel owner Disney.

The real effect of this story is bringing to the public's attention Kirby's role in creating these characters -- a role that has always been overshadowed by then-writer-editor Stan Lee, who always gave good interview.Jack
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Dream Center & Coffee House, Bakersfield

On Tuesday, I was in Bakersfield for an appearance at the courthouse. After my appearance, I spotted this wi-fi watering hole on 18th street, a short walk from the courthouse.

The Dream Center & Coffee House is unusual in a couple of ways. First, the building is apparently designed so that the entire front wall of the lounge area can be opened up to the parking lot when the weather is nice (as it was when I visited), creating an open-air lounge. Second, according to the WFWH's Website, the Dream Center assists current and former foster youth in Kern County transition to independence and self-sufficiency; and the Coffee House is designed to give the foster youth work training and job skills.

I didn't try their coffee, but the iced chai I had there was a perfect refreshment on a hot day.

Sunday Art Fix

Welcome to The Art of Stephanie J. Frostad

My childhood friend Stephanie Frostad is a renowned artist whose Wyeth-like paintings are packed with emotion and meaning. She now has a Website up showcasing her work. Check it out.

Huskies Bite Trojans

Huskies stun No 3 USC 16-13 on late field goal - Road Runner

So my Dad's alma mater vanquished my alma mater's cross-town foes. By three points. How about that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Raxing Rhilosophical rabout Rooby-doo

When I was a kid, I watched a lot of cartoons. I watched and enjoyed SCOOBY-DOO, and watched (but enjoyed less) Hanna-Barbera's attempts to copy the Scooby formula, such as THE FUNKY PHANTOM (in which a dead Revolutionary War soldier who spoke like Snagglepuss took the place of the speech-impaired Doberman). But I don't think I ever pondered the philosophy of why SCOOBY-DOO worked as a series -- perhaps because I was six years old, and my philosophical comprehension was somewhat limited.

On his blog, Mark Evanier -- who worked on various seasons of SCOOBY-DOO, and who had a hand in the development of Scooby's nephew Scrappy -- muses on the appeal of SCOOBY-DOO:

The appeal of the show was always, I thought, in the easy-to-watch energy of the characters, especially Scooby and Shaggy, and also in a certain cumulative effect. I don't think you could ever be much of a fan of Scooby Doo if you watch the occasional episode. No one episode is particularly memorable and some of them are quite silly and contrived, even by Scooby Doo standards. But watch enough of them and...I dunno. Maybe it's your senses atrophying. Maybe the characters become so much a part of your family that you'll forgive them anything.

And he also ponders why fans thought much less of Scrappy:

Scrappy did exactly what he was supposed to do: He got Scooby Doo renewed for another season. I don't think he was a good addition to the format and the fact that he could talk, while his Uncle Scooby sorta couldn't, tore the already-frail "reality," to use that word in the loosest-possible manner. Then again, the underlying premise of "there's no such thing as ghosts" was shredded somewhat during the seasons that the show had guest stars and so Scooby was teaming up with Speed Buggy (a talking car) and Jeannie (a genie). Later, of course, they gave up altogether on the notion that the supernatural did not exist and had Scooby and Shaggy chased by real werewolves and mummies and space aliens.

Actually, as a kid, I don't think I ever really got the premise in SCOOBY-DOO that the supernatural didn't exist. I think I did wonder why in each episode the "ghost" would be unmasked as some non-supernatural real estate developer or smuggler, after the bulk of the episode showed that purported fake performing feats possible only of some supernatural creature -- and often staying in character despite the absence of any logical reason to do so. Besides, it was a cartoon -- and in a cartoon, everything was magical. Drawings were moving! (Just barely. But still.)

But yes, I was one of the kids who despised Scrappy, and found it impossible to watch an episode involving him. I took some pleasure in the live-action SCOOBY-DOO movie of a few years ago, which featured the indelible image of Scrappy piddling on Daphne.

Westwood Groceries

Earlier this afternoon, I visited the Whole Foods Market on Gayley in Westwood. Back when I was living on campus at UCLA, a quarter-century ago, we would have killed to have not just a supermarket, but a relatively healthy (albeit expensive) supermarket within walking distance of campus -- rather than just the student store at Ackerman and a few liquor stores in the Village.

Why didn't we have places like this in Westwood then?

Oh, that's right -- we had movie theaters.

Challah Heart!

From dinner at Junior's Deli last night:

Amy and I wish everyone a sweet new year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Temper Tantrums

Here's the Kanye West/Joe Wilson equation, as I see it:

Boorish behavior + subsequent show of contrition = lots of attention.

It's not a new equation. Ask any parent.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Carroll and Swayze

Farewell to Patrick Swayze (gotta admit it, I was a sucker for "Ghost." And "Roadhouse" was at least half a good movie.) and Jim Carroll (whose "People Who Died" manages the rare feat of entertaining the listener while telling the stories of teenagers dying in awful ways).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Diamond Car, You Sure Do Shine

A perfect gift for the multi-billionare who has everything: The Koenisegg Trevita, with a carbon weave body the fibers of which are coated with a diamond finish. They're making only three. No word on whether you should get it appraised by a jeweler after buying.

"9" Is a Magic Number

Last night, we saw "9" (and not "Nine," or "District 9" -- and is it any coincidence that all these movies are coming out just as the hype about the Beatles Rockband game explodes? Number 9 . . . Number 9 . . . ) It's a visually fabulous, fast-paced and exciting movie. The story is, well, fairly elementary -- in a film like this, a simple story is needed, to avoid running over and drowning out the mise-en-scene. That the film manages moments of happiness and triumph in such a bleak setting speaks to its power.

This has been an amazing year for animated films. "Coraline," "Up," "Ponyo," and "9" show just a fraction of the range of storytelling and visual styles that fit within that rubric.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Disney Ninjas

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN, the sequel anime TV series adaptation of the shonen manga series NARUTO, will be shown on Disney's Disney XD channel.

This is significant for a few reasons:

-- It confirms that Cartoon Network, which ran imported episodes of the original NARUTO series (presumably to pretty good ratings, because the show was popular in the U.S.) is continuing to divest itself of licensed anime (and animation in general, for that matter).

-- Along with Disney's purchase of Marvel, it shows Disney's quest to rope in preteen and teenage boys, since Disney has secured its audience of little girls (with the Princess and Tinkerbell franchises) and preteen-teen girls (with the Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers enterprises).

-- It raises the question of whether Disney will slice and dice this show just as Naruto does with his opponents. This is a violent series where people get killed, maimed, and dealt physical and psychic injury. The question remains whether it will fit into Disney XD's "programming for kids age 6-14, hyper-targeting boys . . . ." (Of course, uncut episodes of the series are currently available on-line, legally, for free; and licensor Viz will also release the episodes on DVD. So the unedited stuff will be obtainable regardless.)

"Little Brother" in a Big World

I just finished "Little Brother," Cory Doctorow's young-adult science fiction novel from last year; and I recommend it highly. It's strongly reminiscent of the Robert Heinlein juvenile novels of half-a-century ago: A propulsive plot centering on a young, smart, iconoclastic hero who is in a tough situation and has to think his way out of it. Actually, that's not quite true: The hero has the option of surviving by simply lying low and ignoring what's happening around him. But that wouldn't make a very interesting book; and it wouldn't convey Doctorow's message of doing something about the world.

The hero, 17-year-old Marcus Yallow, is a techno-fan who spends his time learning computer tech from the inside out and thwarting the oppressive surveillance systems at his San Francisco high school. Then, when the city is attacked by terrorists, Marcus and his friends are picked up by the Department of Homeland Security and brutally interrogated, simply because they were out on the street during the incident. After his release, Marcus is deathly afraid that the DHS will pick him up again. But he also vows to take down the DHS for creating a police state of fear that is doing little to stop actual terrorists. And so, he becomes what some would call a monkey-wrencher, and others would call, well, a terrorist, as he wages a guerilla war against a repressive government.

Much like a Heinlein book, this novel wears its Electronic Frontier Federation philosophy on its sleeve -- a philosophy hammered home by the afterwords from a security expert and from a university-based hacker. The message is that to keep themselves free, young people need to question and try to break security systems, firewalls, and cyphers; and publish the results when they do so. The reasoning (made explicit several times) is that security systems that depend on secrets are weak. Only a security system whose weaknesses are probed and explored and remedied actually works. Doctorow draws his parallels to cryptography: cyphers that depend on keys being kept private are apparently far easier to break than ones where the underlying code is made public, so that thousands can come up with exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions.

Of course, the problem with this philosophy is that it works so long as people have good intentions. If they want to use hacking to get rich, or to mess up people's lives for fun, learning how to crack systems will only help them in their dark pursuits. Doctorow would likely respond that if good people know how to hack, they can stop the bad hackers. Perhaps, but the cynic in me draws parallels to mutual nuclear deterrence.

Any book that raises such questions, and is highly entertaining to boot, deserves to be read.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What's the Opposite of a "Heckler's Veto"?

Rep. Joe Wilson's boorish outburst during the President's speech yesterday may be the best thing that ever happened to the President's healthcare plans.

Monday, September 07, 2009


A one-day convention being held in the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday the 13th will feature a signing event with the original cast of the '80's animated G.I.Joe TV series -- including Dick Gautier. Those familiar with Mel Brooks's TV work will recall Gautier as Hymie the Robot in GET SMART, and Robin Hood in the underrated '70's series WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN. (At least, I thought ROTTEN was hilarious when I was in elementary school. I don't know how it's aged.)

Mark Evanier's blog features one of Gautier's lesser-known roles: An early-'70's National Labor PSA for the equal pay initiative, featuring Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, Burt Ward as Robin, the TV series's producer as the familiar voice of the narrator -- and Gautier doing such an uncanny Adam West imitation as Batman that few must have realized it wasn't West.


Last night, we saw INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (a title designed to give copy editors fits) at the Landmark Theater. (Digression: A few years ago, the Japanese manga title "Bastard!!" was reprinted as a monthly comic book in the U.S. That led us to go to our local comic shop and ask, "Is there a 'Bastard!!' in the box?" or, if we were trying to find it on the shelves, "Where is that 'Bastard!!'?" Eventually, we imagined, if the title gained popularity in the U.S. (it didn't), folks could be buying boxes of "Bastard!!" by the boatload, for beaucoup bucks . . . .)

As with many Quentin Tarantino movies, I left the theater shaking my head at Tarantino's raw talent, and how he devotes it to making deliberately trashy movies. BASTERDS, as you may have heard, is a take-off on every World War II mission/caper movie ever made, with a healthy dollop of the SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS comic series thrown in. (The scene of Hitler raging about the latest antics of the Basterds is certainly reminiscent of SGT. FURY; and the saga of Hugo Stigler brings back memories of Eric, the German soldier who became a Howler.)

Also as with many Tarantino movies, the film delights in its inconsistencies and indirection. Characters and backstories that seem to be of great consequence are dropped unexpectedly, and plotlines don't lead you where you think. Although the movie follows the path of an action film, great swaths of it are taken of with dialogue and character development. The movie ads lead you to think that Brad Pitt's character Aldo Ray, the Basterd topkick, is the lead character in the movie; but in fact the lead may be the most prominent villian, one of those aristocratic Teutonic egomaniacs it's so easy to hate. And although the film purports to be about the Basterds' exploits, most of those exploits take place off-screen.

Against all odds, the audience we saw it with loved it; and we were entertained throughout its two-hours-and-forty-two minute length. Will Tarantino ever assay a non-genre movie, one of those cinematic classics that he adores? Or will he keep making tributes to flicks past?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The End of ADV

Yet another chapter in the sad story of the decline of anime licensing in the U.S. Texas-based A.D. Vision, one of the top U.S. licensors of Japanese animation in the '90's and most of this decade, has shut down as an entity, its assets transferred to other companies with such spiritual names as "Aesir," "Valkyrie," and "Seraphim."

This is sad news to those who enjoyed the many superb titles that ADV brought to the United States, such as "City Hunter," "Neon Genesis Evangelion," "Excel Saga," etc., etc.

Entertainment Weekly's Backward Lists

This week's issue of Entertainment Weekly cover-features The Beatles, due to the release of the Beatles edition of the "Rock Band" video game. The issue includes the magazine's choices of the Top 50 Beatles songs. And as with every top # list the magazine runs, the list begins with the number one choice ("A Hard Day's Night," if you want to know -- yes, even though "Yesterday" is one of the most-recorded songs of all time, and "Something" has been covered by dozens, and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is the band's most iconic song in the U.S., and "She Loves You" has the "Yeah Yeah Yeah" chorus, and there's everything on "Sgt. Pepper" . . . well, it's a good song but a controversial choice), and then runs the rest seriatim (look it up).

Apparently, the mag wants to spare its readers the least possibility of suspense, so it gives away the best choice at the beginning -- leaving the reader to plod through the rest of the list toward the increasingly less desirable choices (if they want to).

Why not start at the bottom, and work our way up? Why not build to a crescendo -- as the Beatles often did?

Business Travelers Choose Wi-Fi over Food

According to a story in today's L.A. Times about airlines racing to provide wi-fi for passengers, a survey conducted by the Wi-Fi Alliance indicated that "[m]ore than 70% of those surveyed would choose an airline with Wi-Fi over one that provided meal service . . . ."

Food for thought.