Friday, December 31, 2010

I Sing the Book Electric

I've had my Nook e-reader since November 2009, and my iPad since its April 2010 release, so let's round it out and say I've been reading e-books for a year. In addition to the Nook, and the Nook and Kindle apps on the iPad, I've got Nook and Kindle apps on my Droid phone, which are handy for pulling out a book when you're stuck somewhere.

In that time, I have read, to completion, around 14 e-books, mostly on the Nook. I haven't compared that to the number of non-work physical books I read in years past -- mainly because I usually don't keep track of such things. But my sense is that I am reading more now, in part because of the convenience: When I finish a book, I don't have to dig or shop for a new one; it's a couple of clicks away.

I've also switched from buying my family's books in physical format to buying them electronically. The tough part is getting them signed. Autographing electrons takes a very small pen . . . .

A Tron in a Much Larger Game

I'm diving into the holiday movie season, which is much like the summer movie season except with a little more lead-shot weighting at the bottom, Oscar noms being so close and all. As I write, I'm waiting at the Landmark Theater to watch the current adaptation of TRUE GRIT; and last weekend I saw TRON LEGACY at the Majestic Crest Theater.

What can I say about a sequel/reimagining of a 28-year-old movie that I didn't care for when I saw it? Well, I liked it better than I liked the original. The original came out at a time when Disney was trying for slightly more edgy live-action movies than the family fare for which it had become known. It had not yet formed its Hollywood Pictures branch; this was more the CONDORMAN era. TRON therefore had the feeling of a studio groping for a style and failing to really achieve it. I wasn't wowed by the graphics; and without the graphics there was just the novelty of people pretending to be computer programs, on dark soundstages in neon clothes.

The 2010 TRON seems to have more of a storytelling flow, although it, like the original, is choppy in places. Logic ebbs and flows, and a lot of the technology explored in the story has to be taken on faith (kind of like the tech in INCEPTION) because there's no effort to explain it that makes any kind of sense.

But what the movie does have going for it is some humanity in the tripartite relationship between Jeff Bridge's Flynn, his son (the protagonist) Sam, and CLU -- a computer avatar of Flynn who has captured Flynn's world view at a young age, and has not let it go. In contrast to the older Flynn, CLU does not learn with age. So we have a sort of family drama with son, dad, and dad's obnoxious brother. Oh, and there's Quora -- Olivia Wilde, buffed out, mascaraed, and sealed in a skintight suit -- who is the only female character with any depth and therefore must fulfill all the roles permitted to women in a boy's adventure movie: Little sister, warrior babe, foundling, victim to be protected, and love interest. She must be exhausted.

Since it's a special effects movie, the story devotes little time to exploring the family dynamic (and probably too much time, to the folks who want to see light cycles blow up). But it adds a bit of substance to the eye candy of the CG, and the delight of a world where you can leap into space and form a light-jetplane around yourself.

It makes for a fun time in the theater, and a pretty experience for your eyes. But not necessarily a best picture nomination.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Tis the Season

Here are my recommended gifts for the season:

-- Charity gift certificates. Literally the gift for the person who has everything. You give the recipient a certificate he or she can use to give a charity of the recipient's choice. My favorite provider is Seattle's Tisbest (

-- Books. The bookselling industry (and, by extension, the book publishing industry) is in trouble. Buying from independent bookstores is good, but even giants like Barnes & Noble and Borders are suffering.

-- DVDs/Blu-Rays. Video sellers are also in trouble. Blu-ray discs are an especially appropriate gift for folks who have PS3s or one of the blu-ray players that have gone way down in price.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Warriors. Way.

There's nothing new or innovative about the peanut-butter-and-chocolate melding of westerns and eastern martial arts. The cultural cross-pollination between westerns and samurai movies starting in the fifties, the contribution of asian immigrants to the building of the west, and the ubiquity of westerns during the time that kung-fu became popular in Hollywood, have all contributed to a half-century of martial arts westerns. Certainly anyone who watched TV in the seventies -- or who has watched reruns from that era -- recalls "Kung Fu," the most popular martial arts western in the U.S. And Asian countries have contributed to the subgenre, with works such as the 1985 anime movie "Dagger of Kamui" in which a gold hoard from Catalina Island funds the overthrow of the shogunate.

So there's nothing new about "The Warrior's Way" in terms of theme. What's new are the technological innovations that make what would otherwise be a cheap B-movie into something that's visually entertaining -- sort of a live-action anime -- particularly the scenes with the ninja-like warriors dropping from the sky like black rain. And what would otherwise be a matte-painting background is now a digitally-painted background, unreal and real at the same time.

There's not a lot of brain power in "The Warrior's Way." The filmmakers don't bother to give most of the killed bad guys any personality. Neither do they explain what country the protagonist or his opponents come from (Korea? China? Japan? Some mythical amalgam of them?) or how literal armies of warriors can be brought across the desert or across the ocean. (How are they billeted? Provisioned? Paid?) But it's a fun weekend afternoon of martial arts, six-shooter entertainment.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hey Kids! Free Books!

For those who have just obtained Kindles, Nooks, or iPads, and are looking for ebooks to put on the devices, I heartily recommend the Baen Books Free Library of ebooks. ( These are science fiction books that the authors or right-holders have elected to offer for free, either as the initial books in series or as examples of the authors' work. And these authors aren't z-list; they include some of the biggest names in science fiction -- such as Larry Niven, Andre Norton, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Keith Laumer. They're available in a variety of formats, so that you can read them on most devices. You can even read them online without downloading them, if you choose.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Desert Trip

Today, we took a road trip down to Rancho Mirage to visit Dad and Regina, along with my brother Steve and my sister-in-law Dawn. Along with a great dinner at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion, one of the highlights was Dad reading aloud from his book, while Steve and I took turns videoing him.

Here's some footage of Dad reading about his parents' courtship:

Watch "Dad reads a story from his book." on YouTube

Update: Dad's book is now available on as a paperback for $9.02 ( and as an ebook for 99 cents ( We are making the book available at cost.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Loscon 2010

This afternoon, we wrapped up our three-day attendance at Loscon, the annual science fiction convention of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the oldest science fiction club in the world. Although we've attended many Loscons in the past, the 37th one was marked by Amy's local debut as a dealer in the dealer's room. She ran a table for her embroidery company, Heart of the Star. She set up one of her computerized embroidery sewing machines at the table, along with a laptop and monitor so folks could see the designs take shape on the screen. She also sold patches and pieces of lace. Most important, she gave out business cards inviting people to give her commissions. And a lot of people showed interest in the prospect.

Naturally, I helped set up and break down the table, and worked the table along with her. Working a convention as a dealer solo pretty much guarantees you won't be able to see any of the convention's daytime events, so a partner is invaluable. You must still pick and choose the events you will attend, since only one of you can attend at a time. That meant about one panel per day for each of us.

The success of a convention depends largely on the caliber of the guests. This con had excellent luck in that department. The themes for this year's Loscon were steampunk, urban fantasy, and SF Noir. Writer Guest of Honor Emma Bull covered the urban fantasy ("War for the Oaks") and SF Noir ("Bone Dance") categories, while art guest of honor Phil Foglio ("Girl Genius") handled the honors for steampunk. Ms. Bull's services as a GOH came with a bonus, since her husband, writer Will Shetterly, came too and appeared on several panels. Further, the programmers did not repeat the mistakes of past Loscons, which did not know what to do with their art guests. Aided by Foglio's talent as a writer and entertainer along with his artistic skill, the programmers put him on multiple panels.

The convention themes were also well-chosen. Due in part to LASFS's venerable status, the convention attendees tend to skew older. (A telling comment from one participant to another during a first-day panel: "Will I be as bitter as you when I get old?") But since steampunk is au currant with younger fans, the theme brought in some fresh blood as folks who never attend Loscons descended on a dealer's room stuffed with top hats, goggles, pocket watches and gears.

The conventions I enjoy most are those at which I can talk to people. At this con, I had the chance to hobnob with folks that span the multiple decades I've spent attending California conventions. That's particularly nice when spending a lot of the convention behind a dealer's table.

We've reserved a table for next year, so we'll be doing it again in 2011.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hallow Hallow

I'm positive that a certain percentage of the massive moviegoing crowd descending upon theaters to watch HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS has neither seen any of the previous movies nor read any of the novels, and will wander out of the theater wondering, "What the hell was that?"

Because the filmmakers aren't wasting any time trying to orient folks watching this for the first time. It's too late for that, so you either grab on and enjoy the ride or get flung off.

The DEATHLY HALLOWS is one of the best of the film series. Not only has director David Yates (who directed the previous two movies as well) found his storytelling tone for this movie, but the film benefits greatly from three developments. One is cutting the final Potter novel into two parts, allowing time for this movie to actually tell a cinematic story rather than be consumed by the labrythine plot. Another is that the characters and cast have become young adults -- which makes some of the plot developments and scenes a lot less creepy (in the non-entertaining sense) than they would otherwise be. And finally, the story breaks away from that damned school, allowing Harry, Ron and Hermione to traipse and apparate over the length and breadth of England, from the heart of London to the cliffs of Dover, as they become a guerilla band of resistance fighters, sort of Harry Potter and His Hogwarts Commandos.

Another great touch is a scene in which Hermione tells a folk story integral to the plot, which the filmmakers depict in animation which recalls shadow puppets and El Greco art.

And the production values are stunning. Little expense has been spared, with a cast of thousands including lots of characters from previous movies.

Unfortunately, the slow, depressing segment of the novel -- in which the characters wander around, accomplishing nothing but getting on each other's nerves -- is here in its entirety, just as slow and just as depressing. True, there's some quality character development in the segment (one scene with Harry and Hermione, added for the movie, is just delightful). But it's a bit of a slog. Fortunately, the action scenes more than make up for the slow sections. (The segments with Voldemort's giant snake pal, Nagini, are truly cringeworthy.)

We saw the film at a 9:30 a.m. Imax presentation. The presentation was sold out. To me, that indicates the film is going to make a huge chunk of change this weekend -- as will the final film this summer. But the folks watching this won't care. They'll just enjoy a well-made fantasy adventure.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bay Area Vacation Photos

As promised, here are photos from our trip -- including the ones I took during our boat trip out to the Farallon Islands.

Tron Shop

This afternoon, we had lunch at Royal/T Cafe, the maid cafe/art space in downtown Culver City. The cafe was abuzz because Disney had opened a sleek TRON LEGACY pop-up store ( there.

After eating a couple of "Reco Burgers" (buffalo burgers with fried onion rings, and circuitry drawn onto the plate) we toured the shop. The store and the merchandise look very sleek, all black surfaces and blue neon lights. We didn't buy anything, however. I kept in mind that stuff that looks shiny and slick on the shelves may not look as nice a few months or years after it lands in your closet. Besides, I saw the original TRON in theaters back in the eighties, and was unimpressed. It's possible that this sequel, despite all the buzz, won't reach its full charge when it comes out. And if any merchandise looks especially tempting, it may be available on eBay for pennies on the dollar.

Nevertheless, I was happy to see the business and publicity the store generated for Royal/T. It's a great place, and I don't want to see it fade away.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back from the Bay

We are back from our shark vacation to the Bay Area. Alas, we saw no sharks -- apart from the ones at the Fisherman's Wharf aquarium. During our Saturday trip to the Farallon Islands, we saw whales, seals, jellyfish, and amazing scenery; but the sharks were laying low. And our second trip (on Monday) was canceled due to high winds at the dive site.

Still, we had plenty to do during our trip. We were blessed with lots of sunshine (which, in true Bay Area style, occasionally turned to fog or pouring rain in the afternoon). We relived some of the experiences of my law school years in San Francisco by taking outings to the Wharf, Japantown, and the Haight. We met Walnut Creek cousin Steven Barer and his family. We had a dinner at Chez Panisse, the home base for California Cuisine. We encountered multiple persons with altered mentation.

I'll put up some photos soon.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Goodbye to Jan

My cousin Jan Curran was laid to rest this past week. I was always impressed with her sophistication and wit. To my knowledge, she was the first author in our family to have a book published. I remember my excitement when I attended a book signing she had in Walla Walla in the mid-70's for her self-help book about coping with divorce, "The Statue of Liberty Is Cracking Up." Incredibly, each of her four children grew up to become published authors. In fact, the last time I saw Jan was at another book signing, this one held for her son Tod's latest book. And at that signing, Jan was grieving over the passing of her own mother earlier that day.

I've been watching the Japanese animated series "Tegami Bachi," in which one of the underlying conceits is that a person's humanity, or "heart," is a quantifiable and finite energy, and that letters or other writings are like batteries that store within them the "heart" of the person who writes them -- an energy into which the reader taps. Jan undoubtedly poured a lot of her heart into her writings. And her writings remain -- on her blog, in her Facebook posts, in the two books she wrote, and in her children's writings. The ability to preserve the energy of humanity through writing is one that should never be taken lightly. It allows portions wonderful people like Jan to remain after they themselves have left us.
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Friday, November 05, 2010

Vacation, Had to Get to Bay

I'm finishing up Day 2 of our Bay Area vacation. Yesterday was spent kicking back and walking around the waterfront near our Berkeley marina hotel. Today we picked up a wetsuit for Amy in San Francisco, which she'll use tomorrow when we go out on the first day of our two-day shark-watching adventure.

We indulged in touristy stuff in San Francisco: We BARTed into town and took a cable car to and from Fisherman's Wharf. Since I lived in SF during the late '80's, and my last couple of visits have been for business purposes, I found doing the tourist thing in the city amusing.

Tomorrow: The sharks.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"A Barer" Blog Posts Collection Now Available

"A Barer: Blog Posts 2006-2009" -- a collection of excerpts from my dad's blog -- is available at:

We haven't put any markup on the book; is the only party making money on it. A hard copy of the book (perfect-bound trade paperback) is $9.02; an ebook version (pdf) will set you back the princely sum of 99 cents.

Obviously, I'm biased; but when I pick a copy up and read it, I find it hard to put down. It's filled with anecdotes about our family; about Dad growing up in Walla Walla, Washington; about the famous people Dad has known; about the various personalities who have worked at the family business; and about life in general, from someone who has lived it.

For samples, see Dad's blog at

The Mystery of Muscle

I'm a sucker for the COMIC BOOK LEGENDS REVEALED column on the Comic Book Resources Website, which inquires into the truth or falsity of various urban legends about comics. (Those do tend to proliferate in the age of the Internet.) The current installment at explores the legal fallout from Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery, Grant Morrison's sly parody of the Charles Atlas ads which appeared in DC's Doom Patrol comic in the early '90's. It amused me when it came out. It did not amuse the Charles Atlas company.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Father Makes (a) Book

In the benign sense of the phrase.

I've been working on compiling posts from my father's blog ( into a paperback book, published on An initial edition was not formatted to my tastes, and so I spent this afternoon reformatting the manuscript and uploading it.

If this edition is satisfactory, I'll post the URL for purchasing the book. We will be making it available at cost, with no markup.

Just a few years ago, putting together this sort of project would require paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to a publisher or "vanity press"; and the result would be an ungainly-looking pamphlet. Today, a service such as provides the software tools for putting together a professional-looking perfect-bound paperback, with a color cover, for no money upfront. Money is paid only when a book is ordered and printed.

In an era in which the entire traditional book publishing and distribution industry is in jeopardy, I'm glad that services such as this are available to help people preserve history via the written word.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Releasing the Unreleasable

Warner Communications is a conglomerate that certainly doesn't need my endorsement. But I do want to plug one of their little-publicized projects: Warner Archive.,default,sc.html

The Archive takes movies and TV series from the Warner Archives that have never been released on DVD (presumably due to lack of perceived interest) and offers them as print-on-demand DVDs, complete with professional packaging. So far I've obtained from them the 1975 Doc Savage movie ( which I had to watch to confirm my memories of how bad it was) and a complete collection of the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon from the early '80's, which featured character designs by Alex Toth and Jack Kirby and scripting by Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas and other comics writers. A DVD of Hammer's version of SHE, with Ursula Andress, is on its way. Check it out and see if there's some half remembered treasure you'd like to own on DVD.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Drawing Batman

As someone who has read and collected Batman comics for decades -- and who has read many Batman comics stories published before he was born -- I have to say that many current comics artists simply do not "get" Batman. The Batman is one of the best-designed superhero characters of all time. That's plain from the number of consumers who have never read a Batman comic, and perhaps have never seen the character's 1960's TV show or all of his various animated incarnations over the last 45 years, yet are drawn to T-shirts or toys or other merchandise bearing his image. Batman, when drawn right -- with the right balance of shadow and light, fluidity and solidity -- looks cool. No matter that a Dick Sprang Batman from the mid-fifties is drawn in a completely different style from a Marshall Rogers Batman from the mid-seventies, or that a Jerry Robinson Batman from 1942 does not look exactly like a Carmine Infantino Batman from 1967. When the artist gets it right, you know it's Batman.

Unfortunately, many artists these days don't get it right. They have the necessary costume elements there; but it's not Batman. It's a character in a Batman suit. That doesn't mean the art is necessarily bad. They just don't get the character right.

What a treat, therefore, that the week of October 7, 2010 brought two new comics from artists who know how to draw Batman -- artists who first became known for drawing the character around 40 years ago.

One of the comics was issue #4 of BATMAN ODYSSEY. ODYSSEY is an extraordinary monthly series written, pencilled, and in its first two issues inked by my favorite Batman artist, Neal Adams.

Adams intends ODYSSEY as his definitive take on the character. I take some issues with his vision of Batman: Chatty, somewhat smart-assed, and wearing his emotions on his sleeve. That's particularly true in this issue, in which he thinks a criminal has killed a little girl that he was protecting, and he proceeds to pound the guy into hamburger while Commissioner Gordon and his cops try to talk him out of killing the man. (And I won't get into Adams's mulleted Aquaman.) But I have no complaints about the art, which not only equals the work Adams did from the late '60's to the early '70's on Batman but surpasses it. Even more extraordinary -- both for Adams, given his track record, and for modern comics in general -- is that each monthly issue has come out on time.

The week also brought a nice presentation of an inventory story (from an unspecified year -- although, from the art style, I believe it would be the early '90's) by Bernie Wrightson, ably inked by Kevin Nowlan.

This treat is accompanied by a reprint of Wrightson's first Batman story, a 1973 issue of his and Len Wein's SWAMP THING series, with an appreciation by Wein at the end. In this case, the art in the earlier story is better, in my opinion, than in the later Wrightson tale. But that does not lessen the fun of reading a comic in which the artist gets Batman right.

Fans who have read the character only in recent years may take issue with my preferences. That's fine. Batman is a resilient enough character to accommodate many artistic visions. But I'm glad that I can occasionally see new comics featuring Batman.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I've been enjoying Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series of steampunk novels quite a bit. I've read the first two entries in the series (SOULLESS, released in 2009, and CHANGELESS, released in 2010) and have the latest, BLAMELESS, sitting on my Nook ready to read. The books take the approach (interesting if done right) of analyzing a fantasy conceit through the science fiction lens, and conveying it all in a tongue in cheek, hyper-Jane-Austin style that is a lot of fun to read. So much so that I don't even mind that it incorporates one of the current fantasy cliches, vampires vs. werewolves (although here, the conflict is more in manners than in tooth vs. claw combat).

So I found the interview with "Ms. Carriger" in the current Locus magazine interesting. Not only did the author create Gail Carriger as a pseudonym (due to her involvement in academia when formulating the series), but she has created an entire persona around the nom de plume. When she makes appearances as Carriger, she dresses in more vintage clothes, and adopts a more Anglicized and mannered conversational style than normal. Her stated goal is to create Gail Carriger as a brand. And it is working. CHANGELESS debuted on the NY Times bestseller list, as did BLAMELESS last month.

It's no secret that an author's public persona can be an effective marketing tool, particularly when the author is an entertaining bon vivant or a fun curmudgeon. To what extent can a persona be created as an advertising tool -- particularly where, as here, the author's true identity and the persona's creation are open "secrets?"

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Stephen J. Cannell

Perhaps the most graceful way to deal with a death is to write with joy about that person's life. That is what my cousins Lee and Tod Goldberg have done to address the passing of Mr. Cannell.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Open Road; The Open Mouth

On Saturday night, I enjoyed a double feature of two Alex Cox movies: REPO MAN, from 1984, and SEARCHERS 2.0, from 2007. In between, three actors who are in both features (Del Zamora, Ed Pansullo, and Sy Richardson) along with fellow RM actors Dick Rude and Olivia Barash did a Q & A with the audience; and the three SEARCHERS actors stuck around through the second feature and chatted with the audience in the lobby.

SEARCHERS 2.0 is, in some ways, the stereotypical indie movie. It's shot on a tiny budget, on HD video, and is mostly talk. And talk. And a bit more talk. Fortunately for both the movie and the audience's sanity, the talk is fun and entertaining, and the characters just the right mix of sympathetic and obnoxious that we don't mind spending 93 minutes in their company.

The basic story would fit on the back of a cereal box. Two former kid actors from Western movies learn that a screenwriter who once abused them on a movie set will be appearing at a film screening in Monument Valley. They immediately embark on an Ill-thought-out mission to drive from L.A. to the valley and take revenge on the writer. Because they must take the SUV of the daughter of one of the actors, the daughter comes along on the trip. The actors engage in endless discussions about American films, primarily westerns about revenge. The daughter -- who rereads "The Fountainhead" obsessively -- alternately complains about the conversation, or critiques the underpinnings of American films. It's all fairly straightforward, but takes a Cox-like surreal turn when they get to Monument Valley. It's not entirely satisfying, and certainly not a work that captures the zeitgeist like "Repo Man" did 26 years ago. But it's certainly worth a viewing when it comes out on video next month -- particularly if you're a movie fan who can stand to see your favorite movies take a little needleing.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's a Melody Played in a Penny Arcade.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful that Los Angeles has a public radio jazz station, KKJZ, allowing me to listen to jazz all day at work. But I do think the station's programmers have to acknowledge that there has been new jazz music composed in the last 30 years. K-jazz's programming consists of old performances of old music, and recent arrangements of old music. I like the jazz music of the past. But the genre is still alive. I wish the station would treat it as such.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

To Catch a Thief, Go North by Northwest

On Friday night, I played hookey from Yom Kippur evening services and Amy and I headed to the Aero Theater, where American Cinematheque is in the middle of a Hitchcock tribute. Friday's double feature comprised two of the movies Cary Grant made with Hitchcock: NORTH BY NORTHWEST and TO CATCH A THIEF.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I have it on laserdisc, and I've seen it several times. I'd seen TO CATCH A THIEF once, on a pan-and-scan VHS cassette with bad Copyguard problems (the top of the frame skewed to the left). I didn't recall much from it, except that when I rented it I mistook it for the similarly-titled 1960's TV series, IT TAKES A THIEF.

Seeing NORTH BY NORTHWEST on the big screen was a delight (even though we had bad seats -- to the left of the screen, and close up) and brought out how painterly the late '50's Technicolor could make a movie. TO CATCH A THIEF also looked great on a big screen, especially since so many of the movie's charms are visual. THIEF doesn't have the action or suspense that NORTHWEST packs; but it has beautiful scenery (the French Riveria, with lots of helicopter shots of the hills and water), beautiful costumes (from Edith Head -- when the plot calls for an 18th-century-themed masquerade, the camera lingers on the details of each period costume), and beautiful people (Grant and Grace Kelly, who met her future husband during the movie shoot).

While Grant does get to look Ninja-cool in THIEF, decked out in black and lurking on rooftops, nothing compares with NORTHWEST, the movie that influenced all the spy flicks and TV series in the '60's. NORTHWEST even boasts actors who would later be in three of the top spy series of the swinging sixties: MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE (Martin Landau), GET SMART (Edward Platt), and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Leo G. Carroll).

As an added treat, Eva Marie Saint strolled onto the stage at the front of the Aero Theater between movies, to answer questions about her role in NORTHWEST and other movies. Ms. Saint was all old-school-movie-star charm and dry wit. And her looks prove that fine cheekbones survive the decades. ("No Botox!" she exclaimed.) She discussed tidbits about the production, such as how Hitchcock avoided contemporary fashions in his movies because he thought nothing "dated" a movie worse than clothing. Another is that the Wright-type house on top of Mt. Rushmore in the movie didn't exist in real life. It was just a painting on a scrim on the soundstage. The Mt. Rushmore face on which the actors crawled in the climax was also a soundstage mockup -- although high enough up that there were padded mats on the floor to catch the actors if they fell.

The demand for this showing was so high that the theater was filled and many people were turned away. (And the Aero is a fairly large theater.) Just goes to show that well-made movies on the big screen can still pack 'em in.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wi-fi Watering Holes: The Talking Stick

A bohemian vibe permeates this coffeehouse, built in what appears to be a former diner space in a Lincoln Boulevard stripmall. You've got your standard mismatched chairs, tables, and couches. You've got a fairly large stage in the corner, with a nice sound system. You've got art on the walls. In addition, there's a used book shop/exchange in a side room (with stuffed chairs for comfortable reading) and an upstairs meeting room. Oh, and the coffee and the wraps are pretty good. Recommended.

Travels with iPad

I've just returned from a three-day business trip. And while it's certainly no substitute for Amy, I found my iPad a most accommodating travel companion. When I wanted to read, it gave me novels and comic books. When I wanted to watch TV, it gave me streaming anime fresh from Japan. It provided me with music on command. And when I needed to work, it swallowed two-foot piles of trial transcripts (without showing the slightest bulge) and provided them to me in full-sized pages that looked clearer than the paper originals.

I did supplement the iPad with my netbook, because the Pad doesn't do WordPerfect and isn't great for typing. But the Pad provides.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Pierce the Heavens

I've been watching Japanese animation for a few decades now, and occasionally I'll get so weary of the more mediocre and repetitive products of the anime industry that I'll be tempted to think the industry's best days have ended. Then I see a series like 2007's GURREN LAGANN, which takes a concept as shopworn as giant combining robots and turns it into a brilliant work of storytelling, filled with emotion and wonder (not to mention quite a bit of silliness).

GURREN LAGANN doesn't look quite like any TV anime before or since. It starts out featherweight and then keeps spiraling (pun intended) into something that touches on the profound -- without ever growing ponderous.

And fortunately, the series is available online at

Not Quite Despicable

DESPICABLE ME is a minor computer-animated work -- certainly not on the level of the Pixar or Shrek films -- and features some lamentable lapses in logic. But for what it is, it's well executed, and certainly a pleasant way to pass 90 minutes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. Movie Audiences

We saw SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD last night, and had a great time. I wouldn't want every movie, or even every comic-book adaptation, to be like this; but as a stand-alone cinema experiment, it worked nicely.

The movie essentially handles the ups and downs of a relationship between two young people (and the others in their lives) as an exercise in video game reality. Thus Scott must do more than compete with his new girlfriend's memories of her various exes; he must actually battle and vanquish them. And, without explanation, they and he have the sort of superpowers, battle abilities, and resilience seen only in video games and superhero comics. That results in a quirky mixture of honest human interaction and over-the-top stylized violence, complete with jump-cut editing, written-out sound effects, and real-life manifestations of cartoon symbols for emotion (a girl literally has stars in her eyes; a face turns into an emoticon).

It's well-done and well-acted enough that it veers more toward entertainment than annoyance. I hope this film has a second life on video.

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Priscilla's Gourmet Coffee & Teas

We visited this charming WFWH ( morning on our way to the Vintage Textile & Clothing Show in Burbank. A testament to how popular this place is: With a Starbucks catty-corner from it, and the historic Burbank Bob's Big Boy a couple blocks away, Priscilla's was still filled with customers on a Sunday morning.

Besides a menu filled with specialty espresso drinks, coffee and tea, Priscilla's looks great, albeit femine, inside. A mural of a provincial country scene winds its way between wall-filling shelves stocked with colorful gift tumblers. An alcove is stuffed with bins of coffee beans, a wall of teas, and a greaseboard with a dizzying list of coffees for sale by the pound. I imagine Priscilla's is popular with industry types, since Warner Brother's Studio is down the street and Disney a few miles west of that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dreaded Deadline Doom

Entertainment guru Mark Evanier posted on his blog an excellent essay on deadlines ( ) and an equally excellent follow-up ( They contain several solid recommendations -- backed up by the sort of anecdotes a professional storyteller delivers best -- but the central message is that no matter how brilliant your work is, if you can't turn it in by the assigned or promised date, you're unlikely to get the next job.

This advice applies not only to creative work, but the perhaps-less-creative field of Law. In law, blowing deadlines can have consequences far more serious than losing future work (although that can happen too).

It's also important to remember that reliability doesn't just mean meeting the deadline. It also means turning in good work at the deadline. Two deadline risks are presenting ineffective work product at the last minute; and what I call polishing the fire engine while the alarm is ringing -- revising and revising a project to make it as good as it can be, which can ironically result in more errors since the project can't be checked before it's turned in.

All this means that a person should learn that person's abilities and realistically assess how long a project will take -- which is what Evanier recommends in his second post. That's what enables people to turn in good work on deadline. That's one of the hallmarks of a professional.

Lean Times for Japanese Animators

The L.A. Times published this piece (,0,7946983.story) about the low wages animators in Japan earn ($10,000 a year on average -- and, having been to Tokyo a couple of times, I can attest that you can't live very well there on $10,000 a year) and the trend toward outsourcing. There's not much new about this news: Animators have likely been making low wages there for decades; and I heard back in the '80's that Japanese studios were outsourcing to Korea the animation that American animation companies outsourced to Japan.

What is news is the threat this poses to the industry's future. Both outsourcing and low wages are shrinking the number of experienced animators. (I suspect that the number of anime artists who can do completely hand-drawn animation -- as opposed to the computer ink-and-paint process that has been in place since the 1990's -- is shrinking as well.)

I wonder if at some point Japan will change its economic model for anime. It needs to take the money all the ancillary merchandising makes for the rights owners and channel more of that yen to the folks who create the actual animation.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Miyazaki Minus the Magic

TALES FROM EARTHSEA, Goro Miyazaki's adaptation of Oregon SF author Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea stories, is finally playing in the U.S., three years after its debut in Japan. (The reason for the delay: SyFy Channel had the exclusive U.S. rights to the Earthsea stories until this year.) And one of the five theaters in the U.S. showing the movie is the Landmark here in West L.A.

I wish I could recommend that you run out and see it if it's playing near you. Unfortunately, I can't. I saw the movie on a DVD I picked up during our 2007 Japan trip (thank you, Disney, for putting English subtitles on the Japanese DVDS of Studio Ghibli movies); and found it drained of most of the magic prevalent in the anime made by Goro's father, Hayao Miyazaki. I blogged about TALES OF EARTHSEA here (

It's great to see anime on a big screen. And EARTHSEA does boast character designs based on the elder Miyazaki's art. But EARTHSEA serves primarily as a reminder of everything extraordinary about Hayao Miyazaki's movies -- because all of that is missing from EARTHSEA.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

How I Spent My Saturday Afternoon

No real need for me to blog in detail about the Golberg book signing I attended yesterday, since my cousin Burl has already done so.

I got there late, and so missed the picture-taking.

I did, however, make sure Burl was included in the book-signing magic by bringing two rare tomes for his signature: His 1994 book about the MAVERICK movie and TV series; and his 2006 novelization of the movie STEALTH, which was published only in Japanese. (I showed him where his name was spelled out in Katakana.)

Whither Wi-Fi Watering Holes?

Folks who have read this blog for any length of time may recall my fondness for coffee houses that have free wi-fi. They furnish a nice oasis for work if I have to toil over the weekend -- I can take a trip out and still get work done. I haven't blogged about them for a while, because I haven't discovered any new ones of note recently.

If this article (,0,2492467.story) is to be believed, coffee houses have been unplugging free wi-fi en masse, because (a) folks abusing the privilege hog long tables all day long, depriving other potential customers of places to sit, sip, and sup; and (b) now that Starbucks offers unlimited free wi-fi (as of last month), offering the same service is less of a customer draw.

Of course, there's some reason to doubt that the trend is as widespread as the article suggests. Although this is a Los Angeles Times article, the article does not list many L.A. coffee houses that are turning off the wi-fi and turning out the users. The reporter goes as far afield as San Francisco and Seattle to find examples. That suggests the reporter is inflating the significance of what he's reporting a bit.

And any article that features a college professor expounding, "The coffeehouse is a manifestation of our desire for that connection to community and more vibrant life than in our homes," is probably just an attempt to fill column inches on a Sunday.

Venice Beach in August

This morning, I rode my bike out to Venice Beach. Amy and I brunched at the Sidewalk Cafe, and then strolled the beach just as the sun came out. It takes moments like these to remind us that, yes, we do live on the Pacific Coast.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Comic-Con 2010 Post-Mortem

Well, I told myself I'd do blog posts about Comic-Con while it was going on. I even have an app on my phone that enables me to do blogging on the go. But here I am, nearly two weeks after the first day of the con, doing my post. Blame Facebook -- it's so immediate that it's the perfect place to do on-the-spot comments. Also blame the exhaustion of dealing with an extremely crowded con.

And it seemed more crowded this time than usual. That makes no logical sense, as the attendance this year was officially the same as last year due to capped attendance and a sell-out of memberships. But we were more conscious than usual of the masses. That was particularly true in the dealers' room at the very beginning (preview night) and end of the con, when no other programming was going on and just about every attendee was jammed into the enormous space. The other was when we would wait in line for one of the major presentations in Room 20 (the next largest room, after Hall H) and would not get into it -- despite spending a couple of hours in queue.

This was the second year that we did not even attempt to get into Hall H, where the big movie presentations that make the news are put on. Folks were literally camping out in line the night before to get into the Hall and stay put for the day. That was particularly true on Saturday, the day both Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig showed up as surprise guests, and the cast of the Avengers movie attended the Marvel Films panel. Attending a Hall H presentation often means attending nothing else for the day, so we didn't want to make the time investment.

Here are some of the highlights of our con experience -- as usual, with photos.

Preview Night was our chance to check out the booths that we could get to in the limited amount of time (and movement space) we had. Definitely the most impressive booth we saw was Marvel's. The booth displayed various pieces from upcoming Marvel films throughout the con, but the most spectacular was Odin's throne from next year's Thor movie.

Also impressive was Stan Winston Studios' booth, which featured not only a life-size giant robot from AVATAR, but also a set of armors from both Iron Man movies.

Not to be outdone, the Gentle Giant booth had a life-sized Na'vi female from AVATAR.

And a huge Green Lantern power battery sat in front of the Mattel booth.

I also found the Square Enix booth impressive. The Japanese publishing/game company had showcases devoted to various properties it had licensed, or was trying to license, to the U.S. (such as BLACK BUTLER, HEROMAN, and DURARARA) that included shikishi sketches apparently done just for the con:

Promotion for movies and TV has reached gigantic proportions at Comic-Con, as this supergraphic on the wall of the Hilton next to the convention center shows:

Or the whole helicopter that was apparently landed near the convention center to promote BATTLE: LOS ANGELES:

Thursday started with the spotlight on a guy who had never been to Comic-Con before, but who fit right in: Composer Danny Elfman. He told wistful tales of when he was a child, and would inject flies with radioactive isotopes. (Really.)

Thursday also brought the BURN NOTICE Panel -- one of the few big Industry panels we got into -- which featured not only series regular Bruce Campbell, but also creative folk such as frequent episode director(and occasional guest-star) Tim Matheson.

The highlights on Friday included the panel for BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which featured voice talents Diedrich Bader (Batman) and John Dimaggio (Aquaman):

This fan-favorite series is rolling into its final 13-episode season. Production is ending as WB starts its next DC animated series, YOUNG JUSTICE.

Another highlight of Friday was the annual ritual of the media tie-in panel, moderated by my cousin Lee Goldberg:

This time, the lineup on the panel included Lee's TV writing partner, Bill Rabkin.

A guest present on several of the comic book panels we attended was Comic-Con special guest Neal Adams, who was promoting several projects including his current Batman comics maxi-series. Adams is that rare creative person who has both a big ego, and the talent to back it up.

We finished up Friday with dinner at the Spaghetti Factory (a staple from previous cons, which went away for a while but returned last year); and the Eisner Awards, which featured celeb presenters such as Thomas Jane and the entire cast of the Scott Pilgrim movie.

Saturday was steampunk day for us.

We donned our steampunk outfits and participated in the massive SP gathering at the back of the convention center.

The gathering included a huge photoshoot that a representative from Guinness was there to witness, as the largest Steampunk photogathering yet.

After that panel, I was glad to get into the "can't miss" panel for me that year: A panel about Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams's revamp of Batman in the early '70s, featuring Adams and O'Neil (along with former DC publisher Paul Levitz):

That evening, we left the convention center to go to a non-convention event: The League of Temporal Adventurers Gala, a steampunk party at the Queen Bee's club deep in downtown San Diego. Queen Bee's is a terrific party space, with an all-ages performance stage, a fenced-off over-21 area for beer and wine, and a separate espresso lounge where conversation is actually possible during performances. The attendees were treated to several talented performers.

The climax was when prominent goth/humor musician Voltaire took the stage in a solo performance, and had the audience rolling on the floor with his hilarious performance.

For his last song, Voltaire had several women from the audience join him onstage to sing backup:

On Sunday, we packed up, went to a few panels (such as The Art of the Cover), had one last go at the dealer's room, and headed home -- where, amazingly enough, we got home before 11 pm.

Yes, Comic-Con can be a hassle, with its crowds and its hard-to-access super-panels. But contrary to rumors, it is still about comics; and it's still a lot of fun if you know how to approach it. We'll be back. We'd better be. On the last day, we bought our memberships for last year. And they are now way too expensive to waste.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Inception of a Good SF Movie

We had the pleasure of seeing two excellent movies in one weekend. On Friday, we saw the harrowing country noir, WINTER's BONE; and this afternoon we saw the SF noir, INCEPTION.

INCEPTION is a big-budget studio movie with an independent film sensability -- the kind of movie a director like Christopher Nolan could make only if he previously delivered one of the top-grossing movies of all time, which he did with DARK KNIGHT.

Although INCEPTION features several of the actors from the Batman movies, it actually owes more to Nolan's movie MEMENTO, in that it is an intricately structured puzzle that connects together multiple layers of simultaneous storytelling. Further, different parts of the story are taking place at different speeds. Nolan's task is to connect all this together, and still create a story about human beings that we care about. Amazingly, he does all that. The result is a bit chilly (as you might imagine with a story that demands so much thought on behalf of the viewer) but it definitely works.

INCEPTION is also well-structured as a science fiction story. Scientifically, it's all smoke and mirrors -- the story makes no effort to explain how the central conceit (entering another person's dream) actually works; and it's so far from any known science that it's practically magic. Still, the story follows an SF discipline in taking the one outrageous concept and then following its logical consequences -- the "ask the next question" model of science fiction. And although it has the requisite scenes of characters sitting around and explaining what they are doing, those scenes are interesting enough visually that they don't weigh the story down.

I don't know how well the story will play to mainstream America. At least one person I saw in the lobby after the showing complained, "I will never understand it, no matter how many times you explain it to me." But I'm glad that we can occasionally enjoy big budget SF movies that engage the brain, the eye, and the heart.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Comic-Con Tips

With Comic-Con next week, I figured I should post some of the tips I've picked up from attending over 20 of these shows over 30 years:

  • Plan as much as possible. This is easier than ever before: The Comic-Con website ( not only features the entire schedule (including autographs and anime presentations) online before the show, but it features a link to the Sched website which allows you to put together a custom program of the stuff you're interested in and export it to platforms such as Google calendar.
  • When planning the events you will attend, bear in mind that the con center is large; the hallways will be crowded; and that some may be one-way only. It may take a while to get where you're going.
  • Bear in mind that most rooms will not clear the audience before the next panel. If you're going to a panel that you know will be crowded, you may want to situate yourself in the room for an earlier program. Try not to be obnoxious about it -- don't sit in the front row of an event you're not interested in and take a loud, snoring nap.
  • There will likely be lines in which you'll have to wait. Bring something to amuse yourself over a long period -- like, say, a book or comics to read.
  • If you can, bring some nonperishable food so that you don't have to miss the panel you want while you have lunch. That will also save you from the choice of eating expensive mediocre con food or wasting a long time heading into the Gaslamp District to a restaurant.
  • Think comfortable and light. Comfortable clothes and shoes. Light bags. If necessary, use the bag check at the con. Anything you carry will get heavier as the day goes on.
  • If you start freaking out from the crowds, try exiting the back part of the con center and strolling down to the bay.
  • If you're with a group, try to arrange a central place to meet. The con generally won't do pages. Texts are useful.
  • Bathe, use deodorant, brush your teeth, and change your clothes. The life you save may be your own.
  • Take some time to enjoy the night life and restaurants around the con center.
  • Instead of driving out of San Diego immediately after the con, you may want to stick around and have dinner and a movie. You'll miss the traffic, and the overall time you spend may be the same as it would have been if you hit the freeway right after the con closes.
  • Have fun!

Some quality time with the Pacific Ocean

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bali Hai May Call You

On Saturday, Amy and I attended a production of SOUTH PACIFIC at the Ahmanson Theater. This is the revival that won a passel of Tonys on Broadway.

I was in a production of SOUTH PACIFIC 27 years ago, so I know the songs and a lot of the script by heart. I certainly know the ending. Doesn't matter. I was thoroughly entertained. There's a special connection between the performers and the audience in live musical theater that you can't find anywhere else. And when the performers are as accomplished as these, being in the same theater with them as they perform is a unique pleasure.

I was struck by the simple staging: A backdrop with some rear projection, and some moveable set pieces (moved by the cast, mainly). It was quite a change from the elaborate staging you'll see in modern Webber and Disney musicals. SOUTH PACIFIC doesn't have that, because it doesn't need it.

Follow the Mark

Comic-Con is coming up in a couple of weeks. Every Comic-Con, folks complain, "It's all about movies now. What about the comics?" Obviously, those folks are ignoring the numerous panels Mark Evanier moderates every year, which explore the depth and breadth of comic book history. His agenda for this year's Comic-Con appears here (

Monday, July 05, 2010

It's Family Day at the Bookstore Tomorrow

Tomorrow, July 6, 2010, will see the release of not one, but two books from my family. And not small-press literary journal or niche stuff, either. No, these are novels that tie into major past and present TV series. Specifically, Lee Goldberg's latest Monk book (yes, his book series has outlasted the TV series), MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT (, will hit bookstores, Wal-Marts and airport newsstands the same day as his brother Tod's new Burn Notice book, THE GIVEAWAY (

Obviously, I'm going to buy both of them (what else is family for), but you really should too.

AX 2010: Post Bubble

From July 1 through 4, 2010, we attended one of the two big annual Southern California conventions we frequent: Anime Expo. AX has been going through a number of changes over the last few years, as the industries it celebrates (Japanese animation and manga) have themselves changed. Specifically, anime and manga exploded in the early to mid part of the 2000's, spurred by imports of anime shows to cable stations like Adult Swim and the rise of DVDs. That bubble burst in the late part of the decade, as it ran right into the recession, the decline in the home video market, the shrinking of retail outlets (driven by the bankruptcy of the Musicland chain), a lack of super-popular franchises from Japan, and the growth of Internet piracy of new material from Japan.

Since AX functions in large part as a promotional arena and marketplace for the industries, it has had to roll with the punches. Many of the companies that once sponsored AX and had big exhibitor booths there have disappeared. AX once hosted large numbers of American dub actors for the Japanese shows; but in recent years, the dubbing market has shrank and the actors are less visible.

Nevertheless, the convention has continued, as its other leg -- fandom -- has remained strong. The fans still enjoy coming to the con, making and dressing up in costumes, playing arcade games, buying import items from Japan, watching the latest anime, and meeting guests that AX imports from Japan.

Guest imports this year were strong. A new administration took charge of AX's parent company, SPJA, for this year; and I speculate that the administration sought to show its chops a bit by spending lots of money for guests. Hence, there were numerous Japanese musical performers (including AKB48, a 63-member girl band -- although I don't think the entire franchise was at the con); creative folks for projects such as EDEN OF THE EAST (to be released on video here this fall), BLACK LAGOON (manga creator Rei Hiroe came to celebrate the continuation of the TV series, shown in the U.S. on Starz, as a series of original videos), and TRIGUN (the movie for which was premiered at Sakuracon a few months ago, and premiered in a subtitled form at this con); and such reliable guests as "Nabeshin," the flamboyant director of the popular "Excel Saga" series.

The changes, unfortunately, are reflected in the prices. The preregistration for all 4 days was $75 a person; and there were separate charges for events such as the masquerade ($20!), the Meet the Guests reception (in previous years, around $20 a ticket; this year, a steep $50 a person for a continental breakfast), and concerts. In part this is likely because the con had use of the Nokia Theater and Club Nokia, which are high-class venues. Still, the charges added up, particularly for younger attendees; and likely cut into the attendees' spending in the dealers' room.

No matter the problems, we had a fun time. We attended the opening ceremonies, the closing, various anime premiere, and the masquerade. We saw lots of beautiful and inventive costumes. We participated in the Steampunk gathering on Saturday, and Amy participated in the Hellsing photoshoot on Friday.

As in previous years, my favorite event was the Meet the Guests reception. The attendance was small (likely because of the price), which was a mixed blessing as it allowed us to have exclusive audiences with creators. I had a 10 minute conversation with BLACK LAGOON creator Hiroe (he was surprised to have a Los Angeles lawyer as one of his readers), and we had a terrific talk with the creators of EDEN OF THE EAST.

Although AX's changes have not been met with critical acclaim, and the industries themselves are changing, I don't see AX itself going away anytime soon. Lots of people went; and as long as they do, AX will continue.

Here are some photos:

There were a lot of Guests of Honor. This doesn't even include the 16 members of girl band AKB48 who attended.

Speaking of AKB48 . . . .

One of the friendliest guests from Japan was Masakasu Morita, the voice actor for Ichigo Kurasaki in BLEACH. He made a point of shaking the hands of numerous attendees.

Here are the director and the producer of EDEN OF THE EAST, an anime series Funimation will release in the U.S. on DVD in September. We saw the first three episodes, and it looked top-drawer.

Lots of people in hallway costumes were cosplaying as characters from DURARARA, an anime TV series that wrapped up its run shortly before AX. The series was simulcast in the U.S. on, so it got lots of exposure. The most popular costume was Shizuo Heyajima, the guy in the waiter outfit -- possibly because the costume would be relatively easy to make.

More Durarara cosplayers. In the show, Shizuo often rips vending machines out of the ground and throws them. So a few cosplayers made their own cardboard vending machines to heft.

As always, the craftsmanship on several of the costumes -- like this one of Fai from Tsubasa -- was amazing to behold.

On the first day, Amy attended in the astronaut suit she embroidered for her recent birthday. Here she is with our friend Christy.

Our friends Sarah and Natalie.

HELLSING, the manga and the anime adaptation, remains popular with costumers. Here's one of the photos from the Hellsing photoshoot, with Amy in costume.

The TRINITY BLOOD manga and anime adaptation also remains a popular subject for cosplayers, in part because of its elaborate outfits.

On Saturday, we took part in the Steampunk photoshoot. No photos of me in this set - yet -- because I was taking the photos.

The gathering packed a punch!

A view from above of the food court shows the blend of cosplayers and attendees in mufti.

A sampling of the dealer's room -- somewhat diminished from previous years, as anime licensor booths have disappeared.

And so the sun sets on another AX. We'll be back next year. We'd better -- we've already bought our memberships.