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.