Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Avengers Assemble . . . Somewhere Else
Over the next couple of months, the super hero team will watch as a lot of its members die gratuitously in battle and suffer less tangible losses (no more sanction from the UN, for all the good that does, and so on). By December, a new Avengers team will rise from the ashes with a membership that includes Captain America and Iron Man, Spider-man, Wolverine from the X-Men, Spider Woman, a 70s blaxploitation character called Luke Cage, and a newbie called the Sentry.
Why the destructive swath that has seen Avengers members Hawkeye, Ant Man, Jack of Hearts, and the Vision die? It's another case of comic company copying.
You see, the premiere super team of arch rival DC Comics is the Justice League of America, which features household name super-heroes battling the forces of evil. You know these guys - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern. Hell, Aquaman - you even know Aquaman.
The Avengers, by contrast, while usually featuring Captain America, Iron Man and Thor (who you might have heard of) also made members of characters like the Wasp (a rich heiress turned small super hero), D man (a homeless super hero), Ant Man (another small super hero), and others of similarly single-A pedigree.
So this is the solution. Major leaguers Spider-man and Wolverine will join the fold. That'll drive up the readership.
Of course, the problem is that Marvel Comics isn't really built for a Justice League type of group. In DC Comics, the world likes its super heroes. In Marvel, not so much. Probably the biggest Marvel characters are the X-Men, Spider-man, and the Fantastic Four's The Thing - all of whom speak to man's isolation from fellow man. Even if you just saved fellow man from Dr. Doom.
There is no Superman in Marvel Comics. Captain America comes close, but he can't fly - and rumor has it that he's pretty unpopular in Islamic nations. Iron Man's sort of like Green Lantern, but he's an alcoholic with heart disease. And really, there's no Wonder Woman. No A list female character at all.
So I'll check out these new Avengers and all. But I'm skeptical.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Now this is more like it . . .
Last night, I went to my orientation for the UCLA Professional Screenwriters Program. I'll be in the program for a full school year - from October until June - and over that time, I'll write a couple of new scripts, hone my craft more than a little, and hopefully get a couple of connections along the way.
At the orientation, I met a couple of my teachers - folks who are recognized experts in the field - and learned about some of the graduates of this program. They include the writers of the Tom Hanks movie Terminal, the Diane Lane flick Walk in the Clouds, and maybe coolest of all, Spider-man.
I've been wanting to do this kind of work since I was back in college, so it's great to be back on the film and writing track. For the first time since we worked on Rest of Your Life, I feel like I'm making progress. I feel like a writer again. Even though I'm in the middle of a proposal for work right now, I can't help but smile.
More to follow.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Just a couple of weeks ago, my boss appeared at the door to my office. He wanted to know what I had planned for the weekend. Given that I've only been here a little while, what I had planned was unpacking, maybe seeing a movie or going to the beach.
Uh-uh, he said. I was headed to a Star Trek convention.
How is this part of work? Well, here's the skinny. By day, I'm a mild-mannered Director of Corporate Relations at the LA Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. And one of the most beloved Star Trek actors of all time - James Doohan, aka Scotty of the first series - has recently been diagnosed with the disease. More than that, he's one of the few Trek veterans to head out to these conventions on a regular basis, so fans love him all the more. But he's got AD, and he's retiring from public life . . . so this was a celebration in his honor, hosted in part by a Foundation that we'd been looking to partner with for some time.
Hence, I went Trekking.
Now, I'm not a huge Trek fan. I saw a lot of the original series on reruns when I was 8. I've seen a couple of the movies, and I think the Wrath of Khan is pretty cool. That's about it. I was totally out of my element.
I knew these Trek conventions were a huge industry. But this sheer mass of this thing was silly. Do you know that every weekend - every weekend! - there are at least three Trek conventions in the US? Well, you know now. Sometimes there are two or more in Los Angeles proper alone!
Dress for the Saturday night dinner and roast of Mr. Doohan was described on the invitation as "dress-casual or festive." Festive, by the way, in the land of Trek means "dress up like a Klingon or some other creature". I came in a suit, no tie. Plenty of the other people there came as Klingon warriors - complete with orange make-up, head ridges and armor. There were Scotty impersonators, and Vulcans in flowing robes.
At the event I sat next to a hardcore Trekkie who had gotten his seat by working for a member of our Board. When I say hardcore, I mean it. Sitting next to him was a blessing and a curse. "I am a Trekkie," he said, as I introduced myself. "There have been over 750 novels written about Star Trek, and I own all of them." It sort of went downhill from there.
On the plus side, the guy kept me in the game. When a woman got on stage to sing and dance to the tune of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," only with key words and phrases changed to make it Trekkier, I wasn't completely in the dark. "I'm assuming that she's one of the blah blah blah dancers from the episode blah blah blah of Deep Space Nine." Uh, OK.
He could also tell me what the two Klingons on stage were singing about. In their native tongue.
On the downside, there was the evening itself. I learned a lot about Trek and its cast that I didn't need to know. Did you know that Scotty lost his finger in the D-Day invasion? No, not the character Scotty, the actor guy - and not in some sort of time travel thing. NO! The real guy. I learned about that.
I saw Scotty's wife. He's 84, she's maybe two or three years older than I am.
I learned about how Scotty used to take advantage of the nurses in the army hospital after the injury to his hand in WWII. I learned that they used a hand double for him in close-ups when he'd take control of the Enterprise.
Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) spoke - a long, rambling sort of tribute to Scotty with a song she'd written. That's right, a song she'd written. The guy next to me sighed, chuckled and said, "Ah, Nichelle . . ."
Checkov spoke, too. He didn't say much. Sulu would have come, but he was in Toronto at another con. Shatner would have come, but he demanded $30 thousand to show up. The promoters said no. I think that's OK, though, because the rest of the original cast made a point of dissing Mr. Shatner and his hair piece.
Toward the end of the night, the hosts thanked all the guests. Turns out that fans paid $9900 to attend the event, go to the dinner, and get an autographed photo of Shatner. That's without travel expenses, without hotel. So the lesson, I guess, is that Trekkies live large. When it was all said and done, we learned that people had come to the con from places as far flung as Virginia and Italy.
"Italy?" I said, almost choking on my iced tea.
"Well, it's not that surprising," my Trekkie friend said. "Trek's pretty big in Italy."
"Italy?" I said again. "The Italy?"
"Oh, sure, you can always find an Italian trekkie," he said. "That's why I have my Klingon-Italian dictionary."
Monday, September 13, 2004
Nobody Knows Nothing
Case in point. College ball this weekend. Michigan v. Notre Dame. Notre Dame is reeling from a loss to Brigham Young, which hasn't been good since Steve Young played there. Sure, they're hampered by the fact that the players have to wear short-sleeve white dress shirts instead of uniforms, and sure, they have to wear the special Mormon underwear, but still - they beat Notre Dame. So naturally, Michigan was going to kick them to the curb.
Not so much. Nope. I'm living in a world where, Michigan is worse than Notre Dame, Ohio State (my team since I'm 3 years old) is only a hair better than Marshall, Texas (one of my other teams) is barely better than Arkansas, and Indiana is better than a ranked Oregon team.
(Indiana, by the way, is a third of the way to a bowl game. If they can pull it off, it'll be the first time in more than ten years that the Hoosiers make the jump to the post-season. If they can pull it off, shouldn't we all make a visit to the Motor City Bowl to watch them play valliantly against the MAC co-champion?)
Then, on Sunday, we had the new football season. I'm always rolling my eyes listening to Newton rant about the Redskins, about his near romantic obsession with John Riggens, the whole thing. Well, we caught the game out here - and they did indeed look tough. And here I thought there was no way that they win their opening game.
For that matter, I figured that if my own hometown Bengals lost, there was no way it would be after scoring 24 on the J-E-T-S-Jets-Jets-Jets. What the hell was that all about?
Anyway, I'm glad it's all here. Ah, football.
Oh, and I saw probably my favorite movie this year (so far) this weekend. The wife and I headed out to the Pacific Theaters in Culver City to finally see Garden State. Really terrific. It's been a long time since I last saw a movie that spoke so clearly and, I thought, correctly about the struggles that so many people go through coping with their past, their friends, their family, and the general looney tunes world we live in. My wife thinks this might be the year for Natalie Portman to get the Oscar nom, and she's probably right.
(I generally can't deal with movies she's in - I still think back to all those mid-90s flicks with her, like Beautiful Girls and The Professional, where she's underage and really oversexualized and it gives me the creeps). But she was great in this one. And I'll go one step further. I've seen a lot of movies in my day where people fall in love on screen. I don't think I've ever been so sure that they were really, really in love as I was in this flick.
Terrific all around. And I have to get the soundtrack.
Coming soon: Comics news and the Star Trek convention. I swear.
P.S. It bears mentioning here, for no reason in particular, that when I spell-checked this post, the word "Hoosiers" came up as unknown. The suggested change? "Hookers". I'm not sure what it means, but OUTSTANDING!
Friday, September 10, 2004
Football in the Southland
Bill Plaschke of the LA Times understands this, and writes about it more eloquently than I will. I haven't mastered the whole idea of putting links on this thing yet, so bear with me. Here's the story:
This being the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the last pro football season in Los Angeles, it is perhaps a good time to mourn and remember what our community has missed by not possessing an NFL team.
We've missed nothing.
We've lost nothing.
Two teams gone? We have more teams than ever.
We have a dozen teams on living room TVs, a handful of teams on our car radios, and every single team in the cafe down the street.
We have two Monday night teams. We have two Thursday night teams. We have fantasy league teams. We have office pool teams.
We have internet teams and talk radio teams and newsletter teams and Sunday-morning-dress-up-in-your-Brown-or-Bill-or-Packer-jersey teams.
If you don't think we have teams, check out the Raider fans at Burbank airport on Sunday morning, the partying fans at an Anaheim sports bar on Sunday afternoon, the exhausted fans driving bumper-to-bumper on I-15 from Las Vegas on a Sunday night.
We have as many teams as New York, as much passion for those teams as Green Bay, and a knowledge of those teams as sophisticated as any fan's in Dallas.
A real, live, backyard team?
One that costs big money and causes huge traffic and is personally witnessed by a tiny percentage of our population for a minuscule period of time?
Fun, but not necessary. Interesting, but of little importance.
Because the NFL is everywhere else in our lives, I don't miss its occasional presence in a downtown stadium.I don't know anyone else who misses it either. Not once in the last seven or eight years have I heard anyone even complain about it.
It has taken a decade to make this point, but Los Angeles has proved what many long suspected.We're not like the smaller towns that desperately need to have their names on a football uniform to believe they are real.
We're a town that knows the difference between a monument and a "Movie of the Week."That's what the NFL has become for us, a "Movie of the Week" that we watch and cheer and enjoy from afar. If they want to start filming in our backyard again, well, whatever.
Turns out, the NFL needs us more than we need it.
Indeed, it is the NFL that looks bad by not having a team in the nation's second-largest market, not us.
Thus, it will be the NFL that will initially pay the freight when it finally returns here in 2008.For a place that has no teams, we've just scored one of the biggest NFL victories ever.
"The NFL has experienced things here that it hasn't experienced elsewhere," said John Moag, the point man for the group attempting to bring a team to the Rose Bowl. "The NFL has accepted that it is a very different culture here."
What league officials have learned, their arrogant owners will soon understand.You want to play local sites and officials against one another? The locals don't care. Play wherever. Don't play at all. Wake us when it's over.
"The league has accepted it, on its face, that it will not be able to get public funds in Los Angeles," said Moag.
You want to make statements at meetings about how much Los Angeles is being deprived by not having one of your $700-million assets? Um, fellas, we're doing just fine watching those three games every Sunday that are free.
"Having the NFL would add to our life, as opposed to changing our life," said Shel Ausman, a local businessman who was part of an earlier stadium project.
The difference there lies in millions in tax money that we will not pay, and countless unique concessions that the NFL will give.
The guess here is, next year the league will announce plans to play at the Coliseum, mostly because it's the cheapest option.
Then the league will search for an owner willing to pay back the enormous loan given to refurbish the place.
Then that owner — either of an existing or expansion team — will announce the league's most expensive ticket prices to cover his debt.
Thus, in the fall of 2008, when a Los Angeles team takes the field, it will not be forced upon us, or paid for by the general public.
It will simply show up like a new musical at the Pantages, supported only if it deserves it, embraced only if it works for it.This may not be the NFL way, but it's the L.A. way.
The league finally paying for a decade-old mistake, it's the only way.
OK, Wieland here. Couldn't have said it better.
I checked the listings for this weekend's games, and they're not yet announcing which games will be on the tube. That's cool. I do know which ones they're pitching. At 10 a.m., Fox will be showing either Rams-Cardinals or Buccaneers-Redskins; CBS will be showing Titans-Dolphins or Raiders-Steelers.
At 1 p.m., Fox will have one of three games: Giants-Eagles, 49ers-Falcons, or Cowboys-Vikings. CBS will have Denver-Kansas City.
Chicago will be showing the Bears v. the Lions. No lie.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Sorry about that
I'm just learning all this blog stuff, so bear with me. Yeah, yeah, I know. You've read the same post twice. Twice! Two times of me talking smack about my friends and family! Two occasions where I try and tell you that LA's not all that bad, even if there is no NFL team.
I'll be good from now on. I promise.
Here's the thing. New blog subjects are forthcoming in the next day or so. And I'll try and make it funny. Really, really funny. Like the tragic sitcom of a life we all have.
So here's the TV Guide version of the next post:
OUR MAN IN LA (Sitcom) - "The Klingon to Italian Dictionary" - Chris goes to a Star Trek convention for work; drives out to the Valley; and shows his wife's family the sites.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
It seems only right here to make a couple of notes on the whole idea of a yuppie couple from the Midwest pulling up roots and heading to California. People are bitterly divided on the idea of manifest destiny these days.
I mean, on the one hand, everyone agrees that there's something wholly American about going west. Everyone, even folks who don't like to drive, talk about wanting to take a road trip cross country - and from the East to the West, people, into the sunset. There's still a class of people out there (I'm among them) who imagines taking the mother road - Route 66 - all the way from its beginning at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago to its end at the Santa Monica Pier.
On the other hand, a goodly portion of the folks back East - from North Carolina to Ohio to Chicago - are among the first to tell you that they'd never go out to "that place", meaning southern California. It's expensive, they say. The people are all completely fake. Everyone's had plastic surgery. Everyone's just looking to hook up, or get ahead, or something.
Of course, when you're being told this sort of thing in a Wrigleyville singles bar, you have to be careful to not step on all the irony.
There's smog, they say. It's too expensive. The government has too many regulations. And so on, and so on.
Well, be that as it may (and I'm not sure that it may, to be honest), the wife and I took the deepest of all breaths, and we up and moved to the West Coast. We've traded in our two and a half bedroom, 1 bath apartment in a Roscoe Village two-flat for a two-bedroom, two bath place in a complex in the Palms neighborhood just north of Culver City. The complex is in a nice, safe neighborhood, and it's got the pool, the fitness center, the basics.
For the rest of the report here, I'll break up the information with subheads and whatnot. If you get bored, skip to one that interests you . . .
The Relocation Information
So what are the details on the new place, you might be asking? Well, here it is:The Palms neighborhood is firmly ensconced on the West Side of LA. It's about 15 minutes down Venice Boulevard to the infamous Venice Beach, and it's close to Santa Monica and Westwood, not to mention Pacific Coast Highway. It's a real mix of folks in Palms - not like any neighborhood in Chicago, really. The people are a combo of young professionals both single and married, the occasional young family, and the occasional grad student at UCLA.
Folks in Chicago freaked out a couple of years back when Trader Joe's came to town. It was the talk of the town. Here in LA, there are three of them within a mile radius.
Here's another note worth mentioning. If you lived, as we did, on the North Side of Chicago in the last ten years, you saw a particular type of person. We called them Chads and Trixies. They drove Ford Explorers and Volkswagens. They worked at the Board of Trade and the PR agencies. Throw a rock at Wrigley Field or the Cubby Bear and you hit dozens of them.
In LA, there is no such animal. There's no majority type of person here - at least not on the West Side. This is a city with more diversity than I've ever seen, and it's completely melted together, the way America's alleged to be. I'm told - and I haven't checked the statistics on this (and probably won't) that there is no majority in Southern California. Racially, ethnically, nobody dominates - Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian Pacific Islander populations all have similar sized pieces of the pie.
The New Car
OK, it is LA. Everyone drives everywhere. The subway only exists for action movies - and it's not on the West Side, anyway. And the buses, I'm told, are not that reliable.
So we bought the wife a new car. She's now the proud owner of a new Toyota Rav4, which, as an SUV, is no doubt contributing the famous smog problem that LA is known for. What the hell, if you can't beat them, join them.(Of course, the irony here is that my Volvo, product of naturally beautiful Sweden, and a car from allegedly less-polluted Illinois, failed the smog test).
So whatever. We've passed the California DMV test and have new licenses on their way. Soon both of our cars will be registered here. The practical stuff is getting done.
What can I tell you? Today began like pretty much every other day so far. It was chilly and hazy in the morning - say 64 degrees or so. Right now, at 3 in the afternoon, it's in the mid-70s. This evening, it'll get back down to that mid-60s temperature again.
And you know what? That's it. That's the whole thing. Get used to that. It's like that pretty much every day. And it's humidity free. For those of you back in Chicago, you know that sticky, gross feeling you have every day that you're outside when it's not winter? That's not here. You take a walk outside, and you don't feel like you're walking through a haze of swamp air. No sir.
But I don't want to spend a lot of time on the weather here. There'll be time enough to gloat about it when it's winter back there.
Well, OK. Here's one more tidbit. We were really concerned about air conditioning when we found a place. After all, it's warm weather year round, so we'll need A/C, right? The locals told us that they never used it, but we knew that they were "California people" who couldn't possibly know what they were talking about.
So OK, we do use it a little. But we turn it off a lot of the day. It's just not that necessary. There's usually an ocean breeze flowing around, and that helps out a lot. Sometimes at night, it gets a little warm for the heavy down comforters. Ah well.
Clearly, we've been in the wrong places, but we haven't seen too many celebs around. My wife's cousin hangs out all the time with Marcia Wallace, the voice of Mrs. Krabappel on the Simpsons.
I did see Fred Willard of Best in Show at the airport when we were here to find our place. But honestly, that's about it. I'll try harder.
Oh, it is worth noting that Jonathan Brandmeier and Danny Bonaduce, two radio hosts that used to play Chicago, are both out here doing that wacky morning shtick. My buddy Rob is a Brandmeier freak, and so he'll be happy to know that today he interviewed a deputy sheriff from somewhere who's completely obsessed with the TV show Miami Vice. The deputy, who owns a basset hound named Crockett (a pet alligator seemed wrong for his split-level house), said he would choose his Miami Vice collection over his wife if forced to choose.
Bonaduce, on the other hand, and his wacky morning co-host were talking about a guy who cheated on his girlfriend in Las Vegas - in Vegas!
At this stage of the piece, I think it might be wise to talk about those subject matters that all guys everywhere can relate to, namely sports, comics, and movies. We'll start with the sports.
Before I left Chicago, my buddy Chris Glynn threw this bon mot out at me: "You can't leave Chicago. You're going to miss all this good baseball." Now, I'm not the hugest baseball fan, but I thought it might be a pretty easy transition from Chicago to LA, baseball-wise. Both cities have a favored National League team in blue, and an underappreciated American League team. And while the Cubs and White Sox haven't won or been to the World Series since the 40s, the Dodgers and the Angels have . . . won them in my lifetime.
OK, so I haven't been out to a game yet, but in the words of sportscaster Lee Corso, I've got to tell my buddy Chris "not so fast, my friend." The Dodgers are in first place in the West by five games, and last I checked, the Angels were in the thick of the American League wild card race. They beat the Royals yesterday by a score of 21-6. That's a football score! So while neither Chicago team might make the playoffs, both LA teams might. And while neither team plays in a beer garden quite like Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium's still a pretty storied venue.Oh, and it appears that LA likes its baseball more, too. It seems that the LA market leads the league in attendance. The LA Times reports that the Dodgers are the 2nd best attended team in MLB, and the Angels are like 3rd. First place belongs to the Yankees, but whatever. More than 7 million fans will see a live game either in Chavez Ravine or with the Rally Monkey this year. Will this translate into a Freeway World Series? Probably not. But stranger things have happened (Nicole Ritchie, David Lee Roth, a team called the Jazz that's based in Salt Lake City are all examples).
Next report: Pre-season college football rankings.
California Myths Shattered
With each report, I'll take aim at a myth about Southern California, and I'll question the veracity of the thing.
This week: the traffic.
All right, so the traffic out here's pretty bad. If you hit one of the freeways at the wrong time - like say rush hour - you'll be in a parking lot for a long, long time. And the drivers here aren't so much rude as they are lost in their own worlds. They may or may not be paying attention to other motorists as they're driving along.
But it's not all freeways in this here town. I can go from home to office all on surface roads. My wife's got it the same way. And our commutes are actually shorter than the ones we had in Chicago - whether we took Lake Shore or the Kennedy.
Really so much of it is where you choose to live and work. If you want to live way out in the Valley or the Inland Empire (which sounds ominous, but is apparently pretty boring) and you want to work downtown, well, then yeah, you're going to have a long commute. But my West Side to Mid-Wilshire commute ain't no thing. And there are tricks for the motorist to follow, once you're comfortable with the city. Don't like the 405 freeway? You can take Sepulveda, which runs parallel from South Bay to the Valley. And so on.
Final word on the traffic: Well, sure, it's not quick and painless. Find me a big city that is. There are more than 8 million people here, Cochise. You want a commute like you find back in Rock Island, you've got to live in Rock Island.
The wisest people to ever touch comic book material - the creators of Batman: the Animated Series - have done something really amazing for this season of their Justice League animated show. They've decided to open up the books in DC Comics and feature guest appearances by as many as 60 super-heroes previously untouched by animators anywhere.
This is how it works. Every episode, a couple of the Justice League mainstays (Superman or Batman, Green Lantern or Wonder Woman) will be on hand, along with some new members selected for the Crisis at hand. Pretty cool, huh? The guest stars run the gamut from fan favorite to really obscure. Green Arrow, a womanizing leftist radical super hero who shoots arrows, will be in a few. So will the Atom, the shrinking guy. But there will also be appearances by some you've probably never heard of. I'm talking characters like:
Hawk and Dove, two brothers who fight crime, only Hawk's really tough and mean and Dove likes to pursue peaceful negotiation with super-villains;
Vixen, a super model who can take on the powers of different animals (down, boys!);
Booster Gold, an NFL star from the future who has super armor;
Members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, a little-known super group from the 40s (a team that included the Shining Knight, the Star-Spangled Kid, her sidekick STRIPE, and the old West themed Vigilante).
And there's more. Now, normally, if you told me there was a cartoon on television featuring Vibe, a Puerto Rican gangsta turned hero with the power to make stuff vibrate (down, girls!), I wouldn't plan on watching. But the guys behind this show have earned my attention. Nobody else has done such a great take on the really classic DC heroes. They might as well take a shot with the B and C list characters.
Oh, and in one episode, there's a musical number featuring Batman.
Next report: Marvel's The Avengers are on their way out.
Saw Collateral last week here. Downtown LA is as much a star of this one as Cruise or Foxx. It was good stuff. I'm a big Michael Mann fan, and this is one of his better flicks. Maybe not as good as The Insider, but it's good cops and robbers action.
One of the joys of seeing a movie out here is that there are so many rock star cool movie theaters. I saw Collateral at the Arclight, which is a big white dome on Sunset Boulevard. It looks like that spherical building you see on the ads for Epcot Center in Florida. The place is huge. The screen's not IMAX, but it's close. And there's assigned seating, so if you come late, you're not screwed into sitting in the front row next to the teenager crunching popcorn with his mouth open.
So anyway, that's about all of it - my first couple of weeks in LA. I don't have a tan yet (though I've gotten some sun), and on a clear day, I can see the ocean from my office window.
It ain't so bad. Don't be afraid. There might be something to this manifest destiny stuff.