Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spitfire Brunch

We celebrated the second day of the holiday weekend with a brunch at the Sptifire grill, accompanied by Uncle Arny, Aunt Carol, and family friend Anne Epstein.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


So it's over, and people are frustrated that they didn't explain everything (despite the producers saying, in multiple interviews, that they weren't going to explain everything); and a complicated series boiled down to a rigidly-simple ending.

But (spoiler warning) I found rather comforting the thought of Hurley as the guardian of light, with consumate betrayer Benjamin Linus as his assistant (whom he insisted on calling his, er, "number two").

And I wonder if I'm the only viewer in America who watched the ending and thought of the climax of "The Ideon: Be Invoked." (

Ridin' Against the Wind

Sometime's a man's reach, and all that. On Saturday, Amy was working in Redondo Beach, and I decided to ride my bike over there. It worked fine -- even spectacularly -- on the way over (where I shot these photos). The weather was in the '60's, it was sunny, and when I rode south along the beach bike path, there was a soft breeze blowing behind me. So riding 17 miles to Amy's workplace was not much of an issue.

The issue arose on the way back. The soft breeze had turned into something out of the opening of WRATH OF KHAN -- and this time, it was blowing in my face. I soldiered on until I reached a parking lot in El Segundo; and then did the mature thing, and gave up. I called Amy to pick me up. So I ended up riding only 22 out of 34 miles round trip.

Someday, perhaps, when the wind is becalmed, I shall return . . . .

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Taylor and the King

The Los Angeles Times dinged the Hollywood Bowl concert last week by James Taylor and Carol King as tired and uncreative. It's a pity that the concert the reviewer wanted to see wasn't the concert that the two performers delivered, because Amy, I, and the rest of the folks in the sold-out Bowl concert on Friday had a terrific time. Some folks are annoyed by aging rockers; but I'm impressed by voices from my past that can still deliver the goods. Carol King's voice may not be as strong as it was 40 years ago, but she still sprints, dances, and Loco-motions across the stage with amazing energy and agility for someone who started writing hit songs in the late 1950's. Taylor's voice and guitar playing are still as smooth as fine bourbon, and both can still mesmerize an audience. A particular treat was a duet by the two on "You've Got a Friend," the song King wrote that produced separate hit singles for King's and Taylor's versions.

With this concert, and the Eagles concert last month, we've had two great Bowl experiences before the official Bowl season has even started.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Iron Man 2: Pump It Up

IRON MAN 2, as numerous reviews will tell you, lacks the just-opened effervescence of the first movie -- which ranks as one of my favorite comic book adaptations. And there's some sequel-itis: The producers feel the need to pump everything up, with more locations, more characters, bigger battles, more bombastic special effects, and louder music. So I'm grateful that despite all this, the movie doesn't lose its sole -- or its capacity to entertain.

As with the first movie, the anchors are Robert Downey Jr.'s terrific performance as Tony Stark, and Jon Favreau's witty and human direction. Whenever the film strays from these tentposts -- when, for instance, a night-time aerial battle turns into a bunch of streaking lights in the sky -- the movie palls. So it's a good thing that Downey is onscreen in nearly every scene, playing Stark as alternatively charming in his wit and brilliance, and grating in his narcissism, self-destructiveness, and willingness to take endless advantage of those who care about him.

I was impressed that the filmmakers were able to tie together so many storylines from Iron Man's nearly fifty-year-long comic book run into a semi-cohesive film story. (It draws most from the Stan Lee-Gene Colan stories from the sixties, and David Michelinie-Bob Layton's run in the late seventies and early eighties. Fortunately, all of these creators are named in the closing credits.) There were also many fun bits for comics fans, including meaty scenes with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury; Scarlett Johansen underplaying The Black Widow (a villain-turned-hero who got her start in the early IM comics stories); Favreau expanding his own role from the first film as Stark's ex-boxer chauffeur, "Happy" Hogan; an antagonist who pays tribute to the Cold-War Iron Man stories in which IM repeatedly faced off against armored Russians; and the now-traditional post-credits scene, which ties the movie to the next upcoming Marvel Studios adaptation. The movie also benefits from a scenery-chewing turn by Mickey Rourke as Stark's Russian mirror image; and from John Slattery's portrayal of Stark's father as a cross between Howard Hughes and Walt Disney.

Overall, this is a nicely entertaining summer film. And it looks to be one of the few; this summer seems rather bereft of "tentpole" films (although the trailer to Christopher Nolan's "Inception" looks intriguiging). The IRON MAN series remains the most Marvel-like of the Marvel movie adapatations.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Double Dose of Ditko

This past week I picked up two books issued this year that celebrate some of the more obscure work of Steve Ditko, co-creator of SPIDER-MAN and one of the most individual stylists in mainstream comics.

THE ART OF STEVE DITKO ( is a beautifully-designed book, created by graphic designer and comics historian Craig Yoe, that reprints Ditko stories done for Charlton Comics in the '50's, '60's and '70's in oversized color format, combined with key Marvel and DC comics pages shot from the original art and essays from the likes of Stan Lee and John Romita.
Althoug the title is misleading, in that it's not really a thorough survey of Ditko's art, it's a great volume at quite a low price for such an impressively-put-together hardback

THE CREEPER is a collection I didn't think I would see. It's a hardcover compilation (on rather cheap paper, unfortunately) of one of the few superheroes Ditko worked on at DC Comics. There's little to set the Creeper apart from other superheroes in regards to powers -- he's superstrong, and can change in and out of his secret identity by pushing a button -- but he still stands out as aggresively weird. After all, his costume consists of a yellow body stocking, green briefs and wig, yellow makeup, and a red sheepskin rug around his neck; he creeps around, using the type of bizarre body language that highlighted Ditko's work on Spider-Man; and he tries to creep crooks out by talking weird. That's enought to support a short-lived comics series in the late sixties, and some backup strips in the seventies. Despite the shortcomings, the stories are memorable; and having them all in one volume is an unexpected delight.

Last Weekend

Last weekend was busy enough that I'm blogging about it this weeked.

On Saturday, April 24, I turned 45. I marked the day with an energetic bout of yardwork and housework, and then a delightful party that Amy and I hosted.

Among the terrific gifts I received was a PS3, along with various games and a Blu-Ray Disc of "Kingdom of Heaven," from Amy. A PS3 was a device that I had been contemplating for a while, but had shied away from buying since, just by circumstance, I bought some other gadgets (a Droid phone, a Nook, and an iPad) within a short time period. But the PS3 proved propitious. I find it a fascinating "convergence device," as the kids call it nowadays, in that it brings together hi-def videogames, Sony's Blu-Ray video format, and various Internet-connectivity features.

On Sunday, April 25, we made our traditional journey to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books that is inevitably held on or around my birthday. (In 2008 and 2009, we took advantage of that by holding the birthday party at the Festival.) Two notable, and seemingly contradictory, points about the Festival: First, it was enormously crowded -- more so than in previous years; and second, the major bookseller chains, Borders and Barnes & Noble, have eliminated their presence at the Festival. The first point seems to indicate a strong interest in books, even here in the land of TV and motion pictures. Sure, many of the guests at the Festival were TV, movie and musical folk who had one toe dipped into the literary world; but people there were definitely buying, talking, and savoring books. The second point indicates that the chains that dominate bookselling (increasingly forcing independent booksellers to the periphery) don't find renting space at the festival and pitching their wares worthwhile.

Although in past years I've brought home stacks of books, this year I purchased only two: the graphic novel "Hunter's Fortune" (; and the literary short-story collection "You Must Be This Happy to Enter" by Elizabeth Crane (, which the publishers seem desperate not to label as "fantasy," "slipstream," or even "magical realism" despite zombies, time travel, and buildings turning transparent. I view this less as disenchantment with print than as a recognition of the piles of physical books in our house, and the appeal of ebooks as a no-clutter alternative.