Thursday, November 26, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
As you might guess, Audry and I went to see Twilight: New Moon last night. It was the 7:00 showing, so the theater was filled to bursting with girls aged 9 to 19, and they put on quite a show. As for the movie itself (what I could hear of it, anyway), it's not bad considering it's laboring under the book's numerous plot problems. Chris Weitz is a more polished director than Catherine Hardwicke, but the rough edges were part of what made the first film so exceptional. New Moon is slicker than Twilight, with considerably more action sequences and special effects, so replacing Hardwicke was probably a good financial decision, if a poor artistic one. The cast is uniformly good, with Michael Sheen delivering the campiest performance of his career, and Dakota Fanning briefly showing that she may yet make quite a good grownup actress some day. Taylor Lautner is the standout as wolf-boy Jacob. He's likable, believable, and MAN are his teeth white. The computer-generated wolves are not good, and I'm beginning to think that CG has reached the threshold of what it can accomplish with furry things. As with the first film, New Moon has has a couple of unintentional laughs, particularly Alice's vision of Bella in the future, which was met with hoots of derision from the ladies in the house. But they went absolutely berserk at the film's last line of dialogue, so bring on Eclipse!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Lately, I've found myself obsessing over old jazz albums. The best of them capture a long lost era of Cool, and and crackle with the energy and optimism of the era. The Blue Note covers of the the Fifties and Sixties, for instance, are legendary for their black and white photos and bold, often monochrome graphics. Here are few examples:
Now, as for the bizarre title of this post. While recently adding some early 50's jazz discs to my collection, I came across three truly weird covers, all for famous jazzmen, all drawn by the same artist, extremely well known for his subsequent work but quite obscure at the time he did these. Let's see if you can guess who he is:
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I was ready to move on to the next shop, but Audry insisted she had promised Liz she'd try it on. We went in, and while she went into the fitting room I sat down and waited with grim expectations.
A few minutes later Audry stepped out from behind the curtain, and I nearly fell out of my chair.
This dress, which had been a drab sack with green beads, transformed into a thing of utter beauty when Audry wore it. She brought it alive. She was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.
Months later, in Orlando, on our wedding day, she was as radiant as a princess. (Click for larger view.)
I bring this up because eight years ago today, Audry and I were married, at Disney World. It was the happiest day of my life. Here's the highlight of the ceremony:
Notice how Liz doubles over in surprise, but immediately snaps back by saying "That's legal!" Thank god we were married by a comedy writer.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
(Bonus cultural references from Yours Truly: Jenna says "Cowabunga" and there is a woman dressed as Optimus Prime at the gay Halloween party.)
Friday, October 23, 2009
But mention "Me and My Arrow," or "Without You" or "Everybody's Talkin'" or say "Put de lime in de coconut," and odds are good that no matter their age, their eyes will light up with recognition: "Oh, that guy! I love that song!"
Recently while digging around the Internet I stumbled across the fact that Harry, who died in 1994 just before the big L.A. earthquake, was buried at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village. I drive past that place all the time -- it's next to our local Costco, Pet Smart, and Staples -- and I never knew Harry was there.
A little further digging revealed that in the final years of his life, Harry lived right here in my hometown of Agoura Hills. Agoura seems a strange place for such a successful musician to have lived; it ain't exactly Malibu -- it's not even Westlake Village. On a little more investigation, I learned that Harry, whose career had taken a sharp downturn in the late Seventies owing to his general iconoclasticity, his refusal to tour or play concerts, and his notorious carousing with John Lennon, was financially wiped out when his business manager embezzled all his money, for which she did two years and never had to make any sort of restitution.
I never met Harry, but I've occasionally met people who knew him (including Lennon, and the great Van Dyke Parks), and my producer/co-conspirator on nine years' worth of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was Fred Wolf, who single-handedly animated Harry's film The Point, which is awesome and full of win and which you should see immediately. For some reason, discovering that Harry had lived here made me want to pay him a visit.
I'm not a terribly morbid person by nature. The only time I've been to a celebrity grave was to see Oliver Hardy, who's buried near the old Disney TV animation building, where I used to work. But as someone who has loved Nilsson's music his entire adult life, I felt compelled to pay him my regards.
And so Audry and I headed out this morning, armed with the exact GPS coordinates of the gravesite, and went looking for Harry. We found him at the top of this hill, just east of Lindero Canyon Road.
Audry put a flower on the stone.
The notes of Harry's song "Remember" were transcribed and hand-etched on the stone by Van Dyke Parks himself. Among the many musicians at the funeral was George Harrison.
Turns out the several famous people are buried here, including Artie Shaw, Jack "King" Kirby, and Karen Carpenter. On our way back, we encountered one of them:
Strange thing about being in a cemetery: you think about the people there, and wonder what their lives were like, what worried them, what was important to them, what upset or delighted or enraged them -- and you instantly realize that none of it matters now. It reminds you that whatever you're worried or upset or angry or afraid about ultimately is going to be meaningless. And maybe that's a good thing to think about once in a while. Gives you perspective.
Apropos of that, here is Harry's song "Think About Your Troubles," from The Point:
Monday, October 12, 2009
"One way or the other, directly or indirectly, good fiction tends to be about money."
I think (hope?) what Chip is referring to is not money per se, but its effects on people -- in their circumstances, in having or not having it, in the pursuit of it, and in the effects it has on peoples' emotions.
It's a great way to force you to think about fiction from a different angle, but I think it's overstated. (I imagine Chip would be the first to agree.) He's also left himself a couple of outs, through the qualifiers "good" (no one is going to always agree with you about what constitutes "good" fiction) and "tends to be about" (which allows for exceptions).
Money of course is representative of various aspects of both our survival (food, shelter, etc.), which motivates fictions both complex (Les Miserables) and simple (any Road Runner cartoon), and our aspirations: achieved, thwarted, gained but to no good end, and even (in the case of a book like Siddhartha) rejected. (Money is such a ubiquitous part of human existence that you could just as easily say that most good fiction tends to be about clothes. After all, we all wear 'em.)
Equally interesting, Chip says that you pretty much can't write fiction without establishing your characters' financial circumstances. Fascinating and true. But again, I think we do this in order to provide context for the characters' emotions and behaviors.
Money, in the long run, is just paper and metal. Even in the real world, it's basically symbolic. Personally, I think fiction -- most fiction -- good, bad or indifferent fiction -- is about only one thing:
Something stands in the way of what I want.
The "something" may be an antagonist, or circumstances, or myself -- and ideally it's a combination of all three. This too is an over-generalization, and is considerably more simple-minded than Chip's statement -- but I think it comes fairly close to describing the essence of storytelling, for what it's worth.
Monday, October 5, 2009
"Her words seemed to thaw out some sort of ice dam inside of me..."
From Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic, published this year:
"[He] felt some ice dam in his heart break apart..."
Okay, maybe he says it better than me, but still... Get out of my head, Russo!
I won't say my story's better, but it does have lots more time-travelling, senseless killing, half-baked superheroes from the future, revelations of a higher intelligence in the universe and playing of the game "Monopoly" than Russo's book. (Both have marital breakups in them, though the one in my story only lasts for about ten seconds.) I'm just sayin'.
Monday, September 28, 2009
This is what you get for messing with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman while they're working:
Other than their convenience and usefulness in an emergency, is there any worse invention in recent memory than the mobile phone?
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Jeeze! They looked way better in the old Saturday morning cartoon! God save us from CG.
Friday, September 25, 2009
There were some other good books in the bottom nine, which makes me wonder if Foyles' clientele is divided between people who read Dan Brown and people who read real books.
Of course, a more likely reason for a best-seller list crammed with good books is that nobody buys books anymore unless they're written by Dan Brown, and the titles that actually manage to sell a copy or two the rest of the week make up the rest of the list.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Schnikey! How the Times have changed! In 1956, NYT critic Bosley Crowther called the original Godzilla "an incredibly awful film" and derided everything about it, including the acting. (Ironically, a few years later Crowther's review of Ikiru cited the performance of the film's star, Takashi Shimura, as "measuring up with the top film actors anywhere." Shimura was, of course, one of the leads in Godzilla, and many other Toho monster movies. Think this is just a typical example of 1950's cultural insensitivity? Five years ago, when Godzilla was re-released here in its original uncut, non-Americanized version, Roger Ebert dumped grief all over the acting, while almost simultaneously placing Ikiru in his "100 Greatest Films of All Time" list.)
So how is it that these campy "Ho-Hos from Toho" have become respectable? Part of the reason is that camp itself has become respectable. Multiculturalism has played a part, too: Japan isn't as weird and different as it used to be. And then there is the rise of Geek Culture, where pop-cultural artifacts like the Toho films are studied seriously and people like Quentin Tarentino champion the work of Ishiro Honda, director of the original Godzilla and most of the other Toho monster and SF movies through 1974. (Indeed, the early scenes of Tokyo in Kill Bill Part 1 utilize leftover miniatures from Godzilla Final Wars. And Tarentino showed Honda's War of the Gargantuas to Uma Thurmon and Daryl Hannah prior to filming, explaining that he envisioned their climactic fight scene as a "War of the Blond Gargantuas.") The availability of the uncut, undubbed original versions of almost all the Toho monster films on DVD have also improved their reputation of late.
But I think the biggest reason is the qualities of the films themselves, which are only now beginning to be appreciated. For starters, they are rich in emotion and thematic subtext. I first saw Godzilla on television when I was nine; I knew enough about special effects to immediately recognize that the monster was not an armature puppet like King Kong, but a man in a rubber suit. As a huge fan of stop-motion animation, I felt that using a suit was cheating somehow. But the film stayed with me because it was in some strange way a deeper emotional experience than most other giant monster movies: it had sadness to it; you saw the people, displaced, damaged and suffering because of Godzilla's rampage (reflecting Japan's devastation in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I later realized). As Terrance Rafferty wrote in the New York Times, reviewing the recent release of the uncut version, Godzilla has a "haunted, elegiac quality." The films of Ray Harryhausen may have vastly superior special effects, but with one or two exceptions they are dramatically inert. The effects in a Honda-directed Toho film may look cheesy, but the movies deliver emotion and atmosphere in spades.
This, I think, is because while Honda was basically a journeyman director, he was extremely talented. After all, you don't get to be Akira Kurosawa's assistant on virtually all of his major films by slinging cheese. As AK himself said of Honda: "His films are full of his sincere humanity and his tender personality -- films like Godzilla. I like it very much. His films have remained popular because there were shot honestly and sincerely -- they're naturally good." (Kurosawa himself expressed a strong desire to direct a Godzilla film, to which the head of Toho snapped, "Your films already cost too much! You'd bankrupt the studio!")
But for me the enduring quality of Honda's monster movies is their atmosphere. Most were made during the Showa-30 era which marked the beginning of postwar Japan's "Economic Miracle," and this atmosphere drenches the films as thoroughly as the Gothic atmosphere of the Universal horror films of the 30's. The films have a type of strangeness, both artificial and optimistic, that you can't find anywhere else. Surrealism is one of the natural hallmarks of SF and fantasy (I defy you to show me anything in La Chien Andalou that tops the image of King Kong looking through the window of Fay Wray's hotel room), and Honda's genre films dish it out by the bucketload. As Tarentino has said: "Nothing in an Ishiro Honda film looks real. But everything looks cool."
With their defiantly artificial sets, the world of these films is the world of the film studio: interiors and many exteriors (even city streets) are shot inside soundstages. And of course when the monsters begin to fight, the whole world is enclosed inside a soundstage.
For my money the best of Honda's monster films is Rodan (1956). It's not just a really good monster movie, it's a really good movie, period -- well-plotted and thoughtful, genuinely scary, with a scale that relentlessly grows from the intimate to the colossal. At the beginning of the film, a mining town is menaced by monstrous 10-foot-long insects that emerge, unnervingly, from the murky waters of a flooded mine, feasting on unfortunate miners and ultimately crashing throujgh the ricepaper walls of the miners' houses. Shigeru, a supervisor, investigates the deepest part of the main shaft and vanishes, only to turn up a few days later with total amnesia. As he recuperates, a mysterious flying object, barely glimpsed, is terrorizing the sky, flying so fast that its shockwave destroys several aircraft. Then, as Shigeru lies dazed in his hospital bed, his girlfriend notices that the eggs are hatching in a bird's nest outside the window; she brings the nest over to his bed to see -- and as one of the eggs cracks, his memories come crashing back. He recalls that he came to a massive underground cavern beneath the mines, containing hundreds of the huge insects -- and a huge egg, 150 feet tall. As he watches in horror, the egg cracks open, and the head of a giant reptillian bird emerges -- and proceeds to eat one of the giant insects like a falcon plucking up a tiny maggot. And that's just the baby Rodan! Oh, and by the way, there are TWO of them!
The rest of the film is mainly Rodan(s) kicking the hell out of Sasebo, a city near Nagasaki. Like most of the Toho monster films, the minature work is brilliantly excecuted and photographed in a way that guarantees you'll know they're miniatures. It's a lot of fun, but the sequence of Shigeru's memory-return is one of the finest in cinema. And its masterstroke is the shot where the camera dollies in on the little bird nest, and one of the tiny blue eggs starts to crack, and the previously silent orchestra suddenly blasts out a bone-rattling chord of existential doom. That, boys and girls, is surrealism of the highest order.
Enjoy the original Japanese trailer for Mothra, below.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. (Research.)
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas.
Gothic! (YA short-story collections; more research and a MAJOR slog.)
The Writer’s Tale by Russell T. Davies. The Doctor Who writing process, by a genius who’s not afraid to burn his bridges.
Ophelia Speaks by Sara Schandler. (More research.)
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. (Yet more research.)
About Writing by Samuel R. Delany. (Chip’s astounding knowledge, erudition, and writing chops have always been a source of profound irritation for me.)
The Jewish War by Josephus. Found my father’s copy of this old Penguin – printed in Isreal! – last June in NYC. You can only read a few pages at a time. Dense, but chock full of violence, treachery, depravity, and other Roman goodness, written by one of the most fascinating characters in literature – a Jewish historian and commander of the Jewish army in Galilee who became a Roman citizen; upholder of Jewish tradition to the Romans, Roman apologist to the Jews, and a guy for whom the phrase “You can’t please everybody” apparently held no terror. I am reading his famous account preparatory to reading Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel Josephus.
A bucketload of plays by my friend Rob Shearman.
The first draft of Audry’s novel.
Next from the stack:
Blood Promise by Richelle Mead. (That I might better understand what flips Audry out.)
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. (Penguin Read Red, loaded with win!)
Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenter & Seymour by J.D. Salinger. (Can’t believe I never read this one.)
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link.
Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam by David Kaufman.
…unless I change my mind and grab something else instead.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
So, after all the disappointing crap this summer, the prefab thrills of G.I. Joe and Transformers, at last, a fantasy film that really thrills, that overwhelms the senses, that actually rearranges the way you see the world. But I'm not talking about "District 9." I'm talking about the other film we saw this week, "Ponyo" -- another miracle of cinema from Hayao Miyazaki.
I've been singing Miyazaki's praises since I first saw "Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro" in 1980. I think "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Spirited Away" are two of the greatest movies ever made. And in this day and age, when animated movies are almost all ugly-looking CG comedies about wisecracking animals, his special brand of of hand-made genius seems especially precious.
Unlike Disney's upcoming "Frog Princess," which seems to be trying to hide its 2-D nature under layers of CG effects, "Ponyo" celebrates its hand-drawn origins: the character designs are simplicity incarnate; the backgrounds are often deliberately sketchy; and in an extended sequence after the heroine unleashes a tsunami of magic on the ocean, the waves come to life with abstract simplicity: they look like something by Hokusai -- if he had illustrated children's books instead of making those famous woodblock prints. Miyazaki's legendary attention to the smallest details of everyday life is present in every scene. (In the sequence where Ponyo opens a thermos, she twists the stopper off exactly as a 6-year-old child would do it.) I won't say anything about the story, except that it accomplishes something that no special effects -- and very few films -- have ever managed: to put pure, unadulterated joy up on the big screen.
(Bonus: voice work by Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchette, and Matt Damon.) (Matt Damon!)
Here is the trailer. Unfortunately, the official, hi-res trailer can't be embedded. (Click here to see it.). This is a somewhat poorer-resolution version with an incredibly dopey intro by a woman who epically fails to pronounce a single Japanese name right, including the name of the film.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
According to this entry in the Transformers Wiki, the BBC sound effect for the Dalek control room was used in one of my Transformers episodes!
I'm such a hopeless Doctor Who geek that this discovery completely made my day.
"Are you aware that we've been making threats to a test pattern all this time!?"
* Okay, I didn't use it in "Zorro" or "Conan & The Young Warriors," but it is in most of them.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go lie down...
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
His original Cleveland gallery, of which I have virtually no memory:
Saturday, July 18, 2009
You have to pay T'Pau
Unfortunately, I shut off Audry's little Flip Mino camcorder an instant before Dorothy herself told this anecdote, but I did manage to capture most of the highlights of this historic occasion, the first time Dorothy had met the woman who played T'Pring, Spock's betrothed in the episode.
It all started when Audry introduced Wendy Pini to Arlene Martell, who had a table next to our publishing company's booth at an SF convention. "Amok Time" is one of Wendy's favorite Trek episodes, and when she learned that Arlene has never met Dorothy, she decided to throw a party so the two ladies could meet. By the way, Dorothy was my first story editor, commissioning the animated Star Trek script I wrote with Russell Bates; and Theodore Sturgeon, who wrote "Amok Time," was one of my writing teachers a the Clarion Workshop. (As was Harlan Ellison, who wrote an Outer Limits episode Arlene apeared in, "Demon With a Glass Hand.")
Also in attendance: Marv Wolfman, voice actor Crispin Freeman, and Richard Pini of course. Grab some punch and enjoy.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
was a block down Sixth, at Joe Jr’s, one of those authentic NYC diners (run by Greeks, of course) that serves nothing but great food. Even the fruit cocktail is awesome, as you shall see.
Now I’m back – with a stomach virus, or shellfish poisoning, or something. Blurg.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Six days of nearly continuous clouds and rain. I’ve been amusing myself by writing a Lovecraft pastiche about a rainstorm that never ends and a high tide that refuses to go out. Our house has no heating other than fireplaces, and over the weekend it was so cold that Audry and I had to run down to Eastham for some portable heaters. Audry bought an adorable knit wool fisherman’s cap, and now she looks ready for The Deadliest Catch!
This afternoon, the sun suddenly broke through, and we went tearing off to P.J.’s, our local burger joint. This being Cape Cod, they have terrific lobster rolls and fried clams, too.
Now calling itself P.J.’s Seafood, I have been going here since I was a kid, when it was called P.J.’s Dari-Burger. This is the sort of place where you went to with your older brother (always better to go with your older brother than your parents) for burgers and frappes (what they call milkshakes out here), eaten in the car with the top down and the Beach Boys on the radio.
Last year I was appalled to see that P.J.’s had burgers with asiago cheese (!!!) on the menu, an obvious attempt to compete with the upscale restaurants which have sprouted up in Wellfleet. This year such questionable fare was no longer on the menu – a strange and merciful side effect of the current economy, perhaps. (Click the pic to read the menu – mmm!)
Right next door to P.J.’s is an ancient graveyard…
…whose mouldering stones bespeak an unwholesome antiquity – but there I go off into Lovecraft Land again!
Me writing this:
Friday, June 19, 2009
Oh, that rain. A week of it. At least. Everything is gray and damp.
Here's a non-sunny view of the Breuer House, going out to my main man Bob Crais:
Still, gray days on Cape Cod have their charm, so Audry and I packed our stuff and headed into town to the Lighthouse, the only restaurant with wifi...
...and a really old anchor.
I had a "Wellfleetian" omelet (made with Portuguese linguiça sausage) and Audry had an English muffin egg sandwich.
Later, we'll build a fire at the house, and I'll read "Seabiscuit" to my mother.
All that was needed was a new TMNT movie, and I'd have had a perfect hat-trick. It got me thinking about the influence I've had on culture, and my strange place in it. I have been involved in myth-making and character creation for some of the biggest pop-culture phenomena of the 20th century. Nobody knows who I am. But when they find out, they frequently start doing the "we're not worthy" bows. (Seriously. This has happened to me in places as desperate as the Electronic Arts office in L.A. and a subway in Tokyo.)
I never cared much for adulation or fame. But I'd kill for a way to monetize my influence! Suggestions welcome.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Kensington Gardens is home to the famous statue of Peter Pan. The park has many connections to Peter; J.M. Barrie lived across the street from the park, conceived his idea of a story for a boy who wouldn't grow up while walking through the park, and met the family who was the model for the Darlings here.
Our ultimate destination was this circus-tent-like theater, where a new production of Peter Pan is being staged, literally on the spot where it was conceived.
The production is a new version of the story, presented in the round, and the cone of the tent serves as a screen on which is projected a continuous 360-degree, 3D computer graphic backdrop.
The children are portrayed by young adults, which means we get a male Peter for a change. Ciaran Kellgren is great in the role, as is Jonathan Hyde as Hook.
Eschewing Disney glamour, Tinkerbell is played as a scruffy, semi-verbal urchin. (She does light up, though.)
All in all a memorable time, with an incredibly noisy audience, most of it under eight years old.
Our destination, however, was the massive Doctor Who exhibition in the middle of the centre.
As always, click on the photos for a full-sized view.
A Weeping Angel from "Blink."
"You've got something on your back." Donna Noble's costume (and giant time-sucking bug) from "Turn Left." As in the episode, she's surrounded by the time-mirrors that Rose Tyler and U.N.I.T. use to set the timelines aright.
Tick-tock robot from Stephen Moffat's classic episode, "The Girl in the Fireplace."
Giant wall-mural photo of David Tennant on location at Cinecitta in Italy during the shooting of "The Fires of Pompeii."
L to R: Early Rose Tyler costume; Christopher Eccleston's leather jacket and 9th Doctor clothes; David Tennant's robe and jimjams from "The Christmas Invasion," Martha Jones' trademark purple leather jacket and jeans.
Captain Jack Harkness' costume, complete with stain on lapel.
Rose Tyler's whacking big gun from "Journey's End."
Cybermen!! "Prepare to be upgraded or face deletion!"
Daleks with Emperor Dalek. Exterminate!
"Hey! Who turned out the lights?" A victim of the Vashta Narada from Moffat's "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" episodes.
K-9! I have one of these at home.
The Ood pose with Donna's costume from "Planet of the Ood."
Ood brain and assorted props, along with a quote from "The Impossible Planet."
Spoiler alert! River Song's sonic screwdriver and copy of the Doctor's Diary from "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead."
Robot angel from "Voyage of the Damned."
A scarecrow from Paul Cornell's "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood."
Emerging from the exhibition, we managed to escape the Who shop without spending a penny, and promptly hoofed it over to Cardiff Bay and the Millennium Centre -- home to Torchwood and the Rift.
The mirrored waterfall facing the Centre -- and the secret entrance to Torchwood.
Audry in front of the Centre...
...And the waterfall. (Note the fob watch!)
We then walked a couple of miles down Lloyd George Road to central Cardiff.
At the end of this street we visited Cardiff Castle -- but that's another two dozen photos I'm too lazy to post just now!