Friday, March 10, 2006


A Very Late Tuesday Top Five

OK, so now we're starting to get caught up, aren't we? Folks, you've read the headline, and so you know what's coming next. Why should I prolong your suffering just to hear myself type?

Away we go with a late, but hopefully fair-to-middling Tuesday Top Five:

5) JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. We're going to have a couple of comics-related items today, and I sorry for that if it's just not your thing. But this show, brought to you by the folks who produced the Batman and Superman animated series, is in high gear right now, and it's just about as great as you can imagine. Now in its final season on Cartoon Network, the writers have told most of the great, important super hero stories, and now they're having fun with their characters.

Case in point, last Saturday's episode "The Great Brain Robbery". Through a confluence of events almost taken from a THREE'S COMPANY episode, the Flash (a good guy prone to telling jokes and hitting on women) switches brains with Lex Luthor (a megalomaniac super-villain who you've probably heard of). Then wackiness ensues.

What kind of wackiness? Both Lex and Flash know they're dead if anyone figures out they've switched bodies. So they have to keep mum. The jokes abound. The moment when Lex decides to learn Flash's secret ID, pulls off the mask, and doesn't recognize the red-headed kid staring back at him. How about Flash as Lex having a confrontation with Dr. Polaris in the Legion of Doom men's room. All very, very funny.

Check your local listings.

4) Wild Flour Pizza on Main Street in Santa Monica. Coming from Chicago, and having spent a good deal of time in New York over the years, it's pretty clear to me LA is not much of a pizza town. Or so I thought. I had occasion this past weekend to try some of the wares at Wild Flour, which lies in the midst of the ultra-quaint Main Street drag. Good stuff.

It's even sort of its own invention, taking a little bit from both the Chicago and New York traditions. Liked the sweeter sauce and the bready end crust, but it was nice to have the slice crispy throughout. More to the point, Wild Flour does what most pizza places in LA doesn't do - it creates a pizza experience, something you don't just get at your local Papa John's.

You walk in to the dark, wood-panelled, sawdust on the floor counter, and you order your pie. There's about six tables inside and a few out on the dark patio. That's how pizza places are supposed to be - dark, all-business, and not pre-fabbed like they're part of a chain.

I hadn't found a pizza I really dug till we ventured to this little spot. But I'll be back.

3) AMERICAN SPLENDOR by Harvey Pekar. Another no-brainer on the comics front today. I hadn't read any of this for a good long time, since well before the movie. But a few weeks ago, I couldn't resist picking it up again with the new "Best of American Splendor" edition.

Put simply, Pekar's amazing. The pathos, the grumbling, and especially the hope that he displays as he - and his pen and ink self - trudge through normal life and its indignities . . . well, it's all really affecting. I heard someone say not too long ago that real life is like the strangest, greatest novel of all time - filled with symbolism, coincidence, foreshadowing, conflict, remarkable characters, and all you could ever want from reading. The problem with real life, the person said, is that it comes with no real hook, other than it belongs to you.

That seems like a good way to summarize Harvey and his work. There's no particular concept or hook to what he does. And yet it's fascinating. It doesn't take itself too seriously, force its perspective too hard. It's just the experience of one man who's occasionally miserable, occasionally happy, and deluged as we all are with the moments that normally happen between the panels of the comic book or cartoon strip.

2) THE BIG KNOCKOVER by Dashiell Hammett. Longtime readers know that I'm a huge fan of detective lit, and that pretty much all American detective lit comes from Hammett. So little by little, I've been working my way through all of the man's work. I've hit THE MALTESE FALCON, THE THIN MAN, and THE GLASS KEY about a gajillion times. So I've moved on to his short stories.

This book features a mix - some of his earliest work stirred in with some later work that he never quite finished. But they all feature one of his lesser-known heroes (albeit the one he wrote the most about): The Continental Op. If you're a Hammett fan, you know that prior to practically inventing the hard-boiled American detective novel, he was himself a private eye with the Pinkerton Agency. He investigated for the agency in Philly and Baltimore, in Montana and Arizona, and for the longest time in San Francisco (setting for most of his stories).

The Op allegedly was based on one of his colleagues, and he's not exactly the kind of leading man we think of in detective stories. He's not tall, he's not thin, he's not young. But he is tough and very smart. He's been around the block so many times that virtually no lie or story gets past him. We never learn his name, or much about his background, but through his eyes and feelings we come to find a personal connection to each of the crimes he describes.

Good stories abound in this volume. THAT KING BUSINESS probably ranks as my favorite, but I also like CORKSCREW, which is almost a western, and the unfinished TULIP. Whatever your tastes, if you like mysteries and detective fiction, this is some of the best quick hit material of all time.

1) NCAA BASKETBALL. There's a lot to celebrate about the upcoming weekend. The Sopranos are back, it might snow in LA for the first time since the 50s . . .

But nothing outranks "Selection Sunday". Sixty-five teams - theoretically the best in college basketball - will be playing in the best sporting tournament of all time, for the greatest prize in the sport. Sorry, NBA championship, March Madness is just better.

It's a great year to be Our Man in LA watching the games, I should mention. Some of the hated rivals - the Duke Blue Devils, for example, apparently peaked too soon. Coach K's boys are hobbling into the post-season, and we can all just hope that they don't figure out how to turn things back on.

Two of Our Man in LA's favorite teams are likely to be pretty high seeds. Most of the projections I've seen have the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Mighty Mighty Texas Longhorns both as two seeds, which is a pretty good way to start a tournament. What more could I ask for? This is where it starts to get fun.

Thanks for bearing with me on the lateness of all this. Talk later.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?