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.