About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Norwescon !!

I'm super excited to be going to Norwescon this year.  It's my first time going to this convention, and my first time in Seattle in almost ten years, which is way too long to be away from such a beautiful city.  I'll have some great company.  My long-time client Tanya Huff is a Guest of Honor at this year's Norwescon, and my more recent discovery Adam Rakunas is a finalist for this year's Philip K. Dick Award for his excellent debut novel WINDSWEPT.  DAW Books, which publishes Tanya Huff and many of our other authors, is the publisher honoree.  There will be lots of other JABberwocky clients around,  and I'll be joined by my JABberwocky colleague Sam Morgan.

I'm going to be on two panels on Saturday, March 26:

Sat 1:00pm - 2:00pm - Cascade 9
First Page Idol
Phoebe Kitanidis (M), Frog Jones, Nicole Dieker, Paul Constant, Joshua Bilmes

Sat 3:00pm - 4:00pm - Evergreen 3&4
Comic Book Movies
Rafeal Richardson (M), Paul Constant, J. Rachel Edidin, John Lovett, Joshua Bilmes

It's a great opportunity to meet up with me, and I hope I'll have a chance to say hello to some of you at Norwescon.  Of course, you can also submit your query letter to me; guidelines here!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscars 2016

Midnight:  Spotlight.

11:57  I like Leonardo DiCaprio a lot, liked him from when I first saw him in Gilbert Grape a very very long time ago.  In Wolf of Wall St., in Titanic, in lots of movies.  I just wish he wasn't getting an Oscar for The Revenant.

11:53 PM I would happily see Michael Fassbender or Malcom's dad or Matt winning for Best Actor.  But this is not likely to end happily.  Steve Jobs was a great movie, and Fassbender's performance is a huge part of that. Matt Damon was too good, made it seem too easy!  Trumbo better for me than for most critics.

11:45 PM Best Actress is a depressing category for me.  Saw 45 Years, and not a fan.  And not a fan of Brooklyn, or of Carol.  Didn't see Joy.  So I guess I'll hope for Brie Larson to win, as she is touted to do.

11:38 PM Not a surprise, but I so wish something or someone else would have won for Best Director.  What can he do next year in his quest for Best Award Bait?  Maybe we'll find out he's secretly been filming a movie for a few days every year that takes some character from his bar mitzvah through his 30th birthday.  Yes, he is "very lucky."

11:35 PM  For all the people complaining how long the Oscars are... well, it's actually not much longer than seeing a bloated 2:20+ superhero movie with the accompanying previews of coming attractions.  And here, you got to tweet and eat and do the whole social media thing and complain at the TV set, and just now you got to learn about an exciting drug to ask your doctor about.  Which beats needing ear plugs during the overblown SFX CGI spectacular half hour battle at the end of the bloated superhero movie.

11:34 PM  If they could do a revote after seeing the performances tonight, would the same song have won?

11:33 PM Curious to see what movies won Best Score when Ennio Morricone could have won for The Mission, The Untouchables, or Casualties of War.  His collaboration with Brian de Palma was, for me, a particularly rewarding period for Morricone's work.

11:26 PM  Look at Ennio Morricone's filmography, it's stunning he's never won an Oscar before, and wonderful for him to get one for something that's good on its own terms, rather than Leonardo DiCaprio potentially winning for something like The Revenant that is far from his best role, movie, or performance.  Much as I like John Williams, and hope he'll get one more Oscar for his career, thks deserved to be Morricone's year.

11:17 PM  Happily Lady Gaga's great moment is followed shortly thereafter by another one of those great Kohls ads.

11:15 PM Lady Gaga is kind of special.  Very powerful moment that crept up in the middle of a song.

11:08 PM No rooting interest in Foreign Language category.  The more reviews I read of Son of Saul, the less interested I was in seeing it.  So the only one of the five nominees I ended up seeing was the Danish film A War, which opened in NYC just this month.  Which was good, though I'd say the director's earlier A Hijacking was somewhat better.

11:05 PM  So they found a way to get Jacob Tremblay on to the stage in the year of his amazing performance in Room. A way that worked kind of nicely.  This is a really, really sweet moment.  Kudos.

11:02 PM  It was not a good year for the art of cinematography, with Slocombe, Zsigmond and Miroslav Ondricek all passing away.

11:01 PM Douglas Slocombe passed away just recently.  He did additional filming on Close Encounters, leading to work as Director of Photography on the Indiana Jones movies.  Only in the Oscar memorial crawl am I noticing that he passed in the same "Oscar year" as the primary cinematographer for Close Encounters, Vilmos Zsigmond.

10:51 PM  So I guess I am celebrating an anniversary of seeing Whoopi Goldberg's Oscar-winning performance in Ghost.  I saw Ghost at the Loews Elmwood.  Where did you see Ghost?

10:48 PM  The award for Best Tweet from @isaacbilmes: Patricia Arquette seems bored and confused
I wish I'd come up with that one.

10:46 PM  I don't even get the joke about the kids and Price Waterhouse.  But I feel like Chris Rock is very very in command of the festivities this evening.

10:43 PM  Per my comment a little while ago, Amy was great.  The Best Documentary award might have gone to the actual best documentary of last year.

10:39 PM  If you want to understand the regard for the caliber of Mark Rylance's performance in Bridge of Spies, just look at his filmography.  It's full of, frankly, not very much.  The award isn't being given for career achievement.  But he's done enough that it isn't being given for being someone we've never heard from and won't hear much from again, which is another tradition in the supporting categories.  I first heard Rylance's name associated with Angels and Insects, an overrated UK artsy film that came out some twenty years ago.  And it isn't like I've heard it in association with much else since.  Lots of Shakespearean and UK theatre credits.  But this is an award that's given for a great performance that commanded recognition.

10:37 PM  And the clip for Sylvester Stallone showed why the Oscar didn't go to him, shouldn't have.  It's said that acting is about listening, and the quickest glimpse of Michael B. Jordan listening to Sylvester Stallone's Rocky shows so much in just a few seconds of quiet listening.  So much feeling, so much thought, so much thinking about what's being said.  I mention in my #OscarsSoWhite post that it's tough to judge negatively on categories Creed could have been nominated in and wasn't; which Best Actor nominee do you boot in favor of Michael B. Jordan.  But Jordan delivered a better performance in Creed than Sylvester Stallone did, and let's hope Michael B. Jordan's time will come...

10:32 PM  Glad to hear Mark Rylance singling out Tom Hanks for praise.  Tom Hanks should be the Men-yl Streep, picking up nomination after nomination in the Best Actor category, and he isn't.  He's so effortless and so likable that it's hard to appreciate just how good he is, continues to be, in many different roles.

10:31 PM  The win for Mark Rylance is something of an upset, but he gives a great performance in Bridge of Spies.  Which I really liked.  And which now has an Oscar win.

10:30 PM  Everyone thinks Stallone wins for Creed, but the Supporting Actor category is full of great performances from Stallone, Bale, Ruffalo and Rylance.  Anyone but Tom Hardy for The Revenant.

10:20 PM  These Android ads.  This was better than the first, but still has so little to do with the product that I don't think it works.  And did I suggest that Kohls start the search for a new ad agency?

10:15 PM  Will take advantage of song to finish my cole slaw from my take-out last night from the excellent John Brown Smokehouse.  Better BBQ than any place in NC or TX or KC or wherever, just a ten-minute walk from my apartment.  For good BBQ, come to NYC and join me at John Brown Smokehouse.  I got there too late yesterday, though, and they were out of turkey.  Sigh.

10:14 PM  I also like Kevin Hart's tux.  If I ever have to go the National Book Awards or something, I hope I can find a tuxedo with pizzazz.  Not that this is a problem I am very likely to have to worry about.  But yes, "a suit with shiny stuff on it," as Kevin Hart just said.  That's the way to go.

10:13 PM I didn't like Inside Out at all, but I guess as a 51-year-old I can't muster the energy to hate what happens in the Animation category.  Don't go to many of the movies.  I liked Peanuts Movie, which wasn't even nominated.

10:11 PM Is there any chance that people voted for Bear Story in the Animated Short category because they thought they were voting for the Bear Mauling in The Revenant, thus heightening the chances that some other, better movie will take the Best Picture award?

10:10 PM I'm going to talk a little about documentaries while the Minions are speaking.  2015 was a great year for documentary films, and most of the best to me aren't even on the Oscar ballot.  From those we can choose from, Amy is my hands-down favorite.  It's informative, enlightening, happy, sad, opinionated but even-handed.  Takes a musical figure I'd known only from a great distance and humanizes her.  Finds the tragedy without dwelling in sadness.  Don't know if it will win tonight.  Do know I would strongly suggest checking it out.

10:07 PM  They don't have near enough boxes for 3000 people.

10:05 PM  Is Wednesday's episode of The Goldbergs finally the excuse I need to give it a try?  Have an hour of TV to replace The Flash with.  Try that? Try Black-ish?

10:02 PM One of my professional frustrations is the ghettoization and lack of appreciation of serious science fiction.  Ex Machina should have gotten even better reviews, been seen by even more people.  But there are a lot of people who don't even have the tools to understand and evaluate Ex Machina, to appreciate the suppleness of its writing, the elegance with which the performances conveyed those words, and the idea that Alex Garland put into them.  So it is incredibly, incredibly sweet to have it take something home on Oscar night.  It takes some unexpected yet obvious turns, in the tradition of but more serious than something like Sixth Sense.  I would see this again if it popped up at a New York movie house.

9:57 PM  And I am kind of stunned and kind of super happy that Ex Machina has taken an actual Oscar to go with its honorary win for Alicia Vikander in the supporting arts category.

9:57 PM  Quick glimpse of bear mauling sequence that would have cut The Revenant short.  Too bad it didn't.

9:55 PM  Very nice gesture to single out Andy Serkis for some special recognition, since his contributions to movies like the Planet of the Apes and Lord of the Rings sagas have been hard to acknowledge within traditional acting categories.

9:53 PM  Quite a year for achievement in unexpected sequels, with both Mad Max Fury Road and Creed setting a standard that I can pretty much guarantee won't be exceeded by the next Avengers or Superman movie.

9:52 PM  We're now at six wins for Mad Max: Fury Road; we can safely say it will be taking home the most Oscars on the evening.  Maybe not the biggest Oscar, but definitely the most of them.

9:50 PM  One of those Mad Max dudes is wearing a great tux.  The Mad Max tech crew is setting the bar high for wardrobe tonight, which is probably not what they were covering on the red carpet.  Like, I want that tux.

9:49 PM Maybe Star Wars can get a token win in one of the sound categories?

9:45 PM  Two dud ads from Kohls.  I vote they start the search for a new ad agency first thing Monday morning.

9:43 PM  Hasn't Liev Schreiber come a long way from lighting up the screen in the Scream movies?  Lots of  critics have him on their "Should have" lists for Spotlight.

9:41 PM  Four wins now for Mad Max Fury Road, and against tough competition.  Spotlight and The Big Short also had serious cred for winning in this category.

9:40 PM Editing is a category with a snub.  I think Bridge of Spies should have gotten a nod in this category.

9:38 PM  Not a surprise to see The Revenant win for photography.  It looked beautiful in the 30 minutes I saw of it.  But this was a category with a lot of achievement from all of the nominees.

9:34 PM:  McDonalds ad just used the word "montage," hopefully to better results than Sam Morgan rolling it out when we played Codenames in the office on Wednesday.

9:33 PM:  Steve  Jobs hasn't been in the discussion much this awards season, and I just want to interrupt to say how good a movie it was.

9:30 PM:  I saw Mad Max Fury Road with noted YA author and JABberwocky client E C Myers!

9:30 PM:  The bear -- nice touch!

9:27 PM  Are these three straight tech wins for Mad Max Fury Road three leaves at the bottom of a tea cup?

9:25 PM  Can we acknowledge that the "thank you" crawl at the bottom isn't working, and do away with it before the end of the evening?

9:23 PM  And I kind of am surprised.  But not going to complain.  Anything but The Revenant is my motto for the night, and Mad Max Fury Road was a very well-crafted film.

9:23 PM  Will be surprised if The Revenant doesn't win Production Design.

9:21 PM  Costume Design for Mad Max!  I didn't have an opinion until they started announcing the awards, and they got to Mad Max, and I said "you know, these costumes had to be created actually from whole cloth to form a full world that couldn't be based on pictures from a book or a newspaper."  I'm happier about this than I would have thought.  And the winner is wearing quite a costume, herself.

9:17 PM  Followed by an ad for Mr. Holland's Opus.  Wait.  No.  An ad for Android.  How couldn't I have figured that out?

9:16 PM  Cadillac ad is a glorified version of the Kohl's ad.  So well done, so intriguing, all the art and artistry.  And it's an ad for a car nameplate.

9:13 PM:  Yeah.  I don't like it when someone wins for a movie I didn't see, but since she was in another movie this year that I saw, and that movie was really good, and she was really good.  Congrats to Alicia Vikander.

9:12 PM:  Even Alicia Vikander from the movie I didn't see.  I can pretend it's for Ex Machina, instead.

9:10 PM:  Anyone but Rooney Mara in this category.  Please.  Anyone.

9:10 PM:  So each Best Picture gets about as much time as the bits during the screenplay award presentations?

9:06 PM:  Over 35 minutes in.  2 awards presented.

9:04 PM  One of the worst ever James Bond movies has as many Oscar nominations as Straight Outta Compton.

8:57 PM:  I feel like the Kohl's ad is a fail.  It doesn't have any association with the product it's advertising.  Would have fit in with all the bad ads during the Super Bowl telecast.

8:56 PM:  The Samsung Galaxy 7 ad was better filmmaking than some of the Best Picture nominees. So was the Diet Coke ad.

8:52 PM And the three-way Best Picture race lives on, with The Big Short staking its claim.

8:50 PM Another tough category in Adopted Screenplay.  Martian, Big Short, Room -- all three, I could make a case for.

8:48 PM:  It's now official.  One of the year's best pictures will not win an Oscar.  And one of the year's best pictures is guaranteed at least one.  Keeps Best Picture race alive; if Compton had pulled an upset here, highly unlikely Spotlight would have still been in running for the top prize.

8:46 PM:  Tough category.  I want Straight Outta Compton to win an Oscar.  And of course, I loved Ex Machina.  And Spotlight.

8:40 PM  "Sorority Racist" -- I detect a hash tag.

8:35 PM I worry about wearing white clothes because they'll get stained so easily.  I hope no one plans on giving Chris Rock a newspaper to read during the commercial breaks, and that he ate beforehand.  Newspaper ink is deadly.

8:33 PM  I don't understand this montage.

8:31 PM And we're off!

8:26 PM  I'd be happy to see either Spotlight or The Big Short win for Best Picture, of the three movies considered to be in a three-picture race.  Last year I was totally bummed when Boyhood lost to the overrated Oscar Bait that was Birdman, and if Alejandro Inarrituthe director of that film can do it again this year with The Revenant, I will not be happy.  You can reference my "#OscarsSoTrite" post for further details on my reaction to The Revenant.  In fairness, a reaction that is based on only the first 30 minutes, because I couldn't tolerate longer.  Also this year, #OscarsSoWhite, best exemplified by the failure of Straight Outta Compton to be nominated for Best Picture.

8:25 PM In a year full of over two dozen nominations for movies I didn't see or didn't like very much, I have lots of opinions this year.

7:58 PM Coming soon, my annual live blog!

#OscarsSoTrite

When it comes to plot-driven media like books and movies, I'm an opinionated SOB.

As such, Oscar season will never be my across-the-board favorite time of year.  There will be critical darlings that aren't actually very good. Worthy movies that are just that.  Frenzies, tulip bubbles, and more.  Usually there will be a few things, but only a few, that I haven't seen; after all these years I can do a good job smelling out the movies that will leave an aftertaste.

I can't remember a year with as many of those movies.  And after making a dutiful effort to catch up, only one of them was considerably better than I feared or suspected.

It sure isn't The Revenant.  12 nominations for a movie I never wished to pay for, and which I could stomach for just 30 minutes when I was finally able to plan it as part of a "double feature." The plot skeleton I studied thirty years ago this week when I was handed a copy of WRITING TO SELL by Scott Meredith on my first day at his literary agency starts with an identifiable lead character, and The Revenant has none.  There is a lead role played by a movie star, and thus we are expected by default to root for the character.  But nothing -- nothing!! -- is done atop of that.  Is the novel like that?  I would reject any such novel.  Furthermore, the movie should have ended before I could walk out.  The lead character shouldn't have survived the bear attack.  In a Hollywood action movie I am willing to let pass that the lead character rarely misses and the bad guys can rarely aim, so maybe I should have more tolerance for the bear missing Leo.  Yes, the photography in the movie was crisp and beautiful, but the movie is a turd.

Then we come to Carol. Director Todd Haynes has spent his entire career as a critics darling, but the critics don't seem to notice that Haynes isn't actually a very good director of actors.  I wasn't a fan of Haynes' Far From Heaven, and if not for the chance to see late in the season at the Museum of the Moving Image.  And to an extent, Carol was a pleasant surprise because it is better than Far From Heaven.  Haynes is better at craft than at performance, and Carol is better at its craft.  Far From Heaven had a certain mise en scene but never felt like Hartford. Carol does make Cincinnati into a solid enough approximation of New York City.  But oh dear, what a mess to behold if you actually look at the script and acting.  Rooney Mara and Kyle Chandler have both shown acting chops elsewhere, but they flail here.  Chandler plays a cuckolded husband with no back story, no internal or external life, basically just a human embodiment of the male ethos of the day, and has no idea what to do, other than to do it like he's playing to the last row of the balcony.  Rooney Mara received awards for this movie?  In this movie, her look for all seasons is that of a mousy deer caught in the headlights.  Happy, sad, lonely, fresh off sex, whatever she's doing she has this one expression.  The best I can say for Carol is that it's better than The Revenant, and better than my worst fears.

Brooklyn is another movie that sent out "skip me" pheromones during the coming attractions, and also ended up screening at Museum of the Moving Image.  This had more moments than either Carol or The Revenant.  Efforts were made to provide an identifiable lead character, including the establishment of nemeses in Ireland.  Maybe I could teach a senior seminar or get a PhD comparing and contrasting the department store scenes in Brooklyn with those of Carol.  But the longer Brooklyn goes, the more it digs holes for itself.  I rested my eyes for a few minutes in the middle, and when I woke up there were toe people deeply and madly (or is it almost kind of?) in love.  I don't think I was resting my eyes long enough for the relationship to be suitably established.  When the lead character returns to Ireland she is very quick to both forgive her enemies and forget her marriage.  She doesn't make an internal decision to return to her husband.  The decision is forced upon her.  I am better able to see merits in Brooklyn, but I have long been picky about plot structure and can't myself forgive the shortcomings in that area.

Much as Amy Adams staked her claim as an actress of note in the little seen Junebug, Brie Larson made her mark in Short Term 12, simply brilliant as a counselor in a home/halfway house for deeply troubled kids.  When Room played at the festivals last year, garnering acclaim for Larson's performance I was intrigued, and yet when the movie finally opened last fall, the more reviews I read the more my interest in actually seeing the movie diminished.  I finally went a couple of weeks ago.  I was both right and wrong.  In terms of the Oscar race, Brie Larson has a strong claim to the award everyone is certain she will win, but yet her performance is the second best in the film, and her very young costar Jacob Tremblay could easily have been nominated.  And these excellent performances aren't islands in a sea of problems; the movie around them is solid.  My one big problem was with the musical score.  It does nothing, and becomes actually bad at the very end of the movie, to the point that I noticed it in a negative way as the notes started to flourish at the end of the movie.  And yet I also feel like my life would have gone on without Room.  There's something missing in the movie.  It's too good to be written off as Award Bait, but nothing about it inspires any passion in me.

Some 25 Oscar nominations given to movies that, at best, I could go either way on.

And then. we come to another handful of nominations for The Danish Girl, which I never even toyed with seeing after nominations were announced.  I did Eddie Redmayne, Master Thespian, last year, with the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.

So when it gets to be 11:30 EST, anything but The Revenant.

#OscarsSoWhite

Movies are the one, or at least the longest, constant in my life. 

I can easily recall movie moments from my teenage years, even early in.  I was twelve when I saw Star Wars, and know that I saw it in Monticello. 

So Oscar night is always special to me, the High Holidays of my secular religion.

But this year has an off taste for me, part #OscarsSoWhite, discussed below, and part #OscarsSoTrite, which will be discussed in another post and/or within my live blog of this year's Oscar ceremony.

A year ago, I thought Selma was a worthy movie, kind of like how I felt about Gandhi when I saw that 33 years ago, and how I've felt about quite a few biopics over the years.  With Selma nominated in the Best Picture category, with its elastic number of potential nominees, #OscarsSoWhite felt abstract to me.

But in 2015, two movies, Love and Mercy and Straight Outta Compton raised the bar for the genre of the musical biopic.  Considering how many appreciably triter biopics have garnered award nominations,  I'd like for both to be more prevalent on the Oscar ballot.  But Love and Mercy didn't do great box office, got mixed critical reactions, has too many problems staking its claim on the ballot. I can't feel sorry for Love and Mercy.

But
1. What's the excuse for Straight Outta Compton?
2. Why am I making the argument for Straight Outta Compton, rather than for Creed instead of or in addition to?

The second question is the easier one, so I'll tackle that first.

Yes, Creed was another highlight of the 2015 Year in Cinema.  It was a creatively driven resurrection of a series that was widely thought to have crucified itself.  The resurrector was a black writer/director, Ryan Coogler.  He oversaw top-notch creative efforts from a female director of photographer, a Swedish composer, and a brilliant young black actor, Michael B. Jordan.  And with Creed, as with Straight Outta Compton, the nominations are #OscarsSoWhite.

And yet, in the history of the Academy Awards, how many seventh movies in a series have ever been nominated for Best Picture?  To ask the question is to answer it, and it's an easy way to divert self-introspection.

The other categories where Creed could have been nominated have a cap on the number of nominees.  Maryse Alberti did an exceptional job photographing Creed, but there are five strong nominees in that category.  Even Carol, wildly overrated as it is, shines most in the technical categories like photography.  If I really really had to choose I could find a nominee to boot out of the Director and Original Screenplay categories, but it would be a hard choice.  I would prefer to see Creed in the Original Score category over Carol or Bridge of Spies.  But whatever my own choices would be, there are choices like this which can be made, rationalized, justified.  Any Oscars voter could too easily say "if only I had room for one more on the ballot, Creed would have been it."  Again, self-introspection can be avoided.

But what''s the excuse for Straight Outta Compton in the Best Picture category, with two open slots?

1. It was #19 on the box office chart for 2015.  If you look at the movies above it and provide basic screening tests like "no 7th movies in series" "no comic book movies" "no animated movies" "no 50 Shades" and feel that it would be really really nice if box office successes had some correlation with the Oscars, then Straight Outta Compton has to be your second or third choice, in a category with ten nominees.

2. It's a biopic.  A genre that mints Oscar nominees.  See Coal Miner's Daughter in the musical biopic category.

3. Is it good enough?  It has an 88% critic's rating and a 93% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.   The Revenant, a contender to win Best Picture, is worse in both categories.

4. Is it part of the National Conversation? Well, duh!  The scene of the N.W.A. members being harassed by the police outside of the recording studio couldn't be more timely if it came with a carillon chiming the hour.

I loved the movie.  Like Boyhood in 2014, it demonstrated that it's possible to have a film flirt with three hours and justify each and every minute.  That's great directing by F. Gary Gray.  Not that it should matter if I liked it or not.  Every year I have to resign myself to the fact that some movie I don't like will be nominated for Academy Awards because it is so totally part of the National Conversation or so clearly a Critics Darling or the kind of movie that attracts award nominations like fruit flies to apple cider vinegar. Straight Outta Compton is, for all reasons noted above, the exact kind of movie that forces acquiescence to its presence on the ballot, regardless of one's personal opinions.  And white as Hollywood might be, enough of Hollywood is capable of acknowledging that.  Its omission from the elastic Best Picture category is ultimately much harder to justify than its presence would have been.

In a few instances, those questioning the omission can find a scapegoat. The Oscars take cues from the studios themselves.  I have a subscription to the Los Angeles Times, which is a prime venue, especially in its "The Envelope" special sections that run frequently during the Oscar and Emmy award seasons, for award campaign advertisements.  In spite of the excellent reviews it received and the strong box office reception it garnered, I feel that Straight Outta Compton could have received a stronger, more persistent, from the word "go" awards campaign than it did. But if the Oscar campaign for Straight Outta Compton was underwhelming, it reflects decisions made by the studio, which are likely influenced by the lack of diversity in the studio and/or by an acknowledgment of the realpolitik of putting money behind this movie in advertising to the older, whiter, "maler" constituency of Oscar voters.  The scapegoat goes off with the sins, but ends up wandering right back to those wishing absolution.

So there are no good excuses.  I'm a 51-year-old white dude, and I can see this.  And so can many, many other people.

The creators of and the driving forces behind Straight Outta Compton might not have a chance at Best Picture, but there's reason to think (or at least hope) that their failure there might win a bigger prize in forcing change upon the film industry.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Boskone 50 - My Schedule!

I'm eagerly looking forward to being at Boskone 50 from February 19-21 at Boston's Westin Waterfront Hotel.  My road to being a science fiction fan, and thus to JABberwocky, started in the Boskone dealer's room in the late 1970s.  And I've got my fingers crossed that we're about to sell a first novel for an author I first met at Boskone a few years ago.

My full schedule is below.  In addition, you'll often find me hanging around the dealer's room or schmoozing in the hotel lobby, and it's one of the best events during the year to get some good quality time with me.

Hope to see you in Boston!

The Perfect Pitch

Friday 16:00 - 16:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Pitching a story can be intimidating, especially if you're new to the field or must change agents/editors. This is your chance to find out what agents, editors, and publishers want from their current writers, from writers fresh to the market, and from writers transitioning to someone new. Hear from the pros about what—and what not—to do when preparing the perfect pitch. (If there even is such a thing...)

Joshua Bilmes , Melinda Snodgrass , Michael Stearns


Mistborn: Final Empire Discussion Group

Saturday 10:00 - 10:50, Harbor I-Discussion Group (Westin)

Mistborn: House War is a semi-cooperative, resource-management game set during the events of the first Mistborn novel by Brandon Sanderson. Join agent Joshua Bilmes for an early look at the game and a lively discussion about this exciting new board game that is coming out in 2016!

Joshua Bilmes


Rebooting Comics

Saturday 17:00 - 17:50, Harbor I-Discussion Group (Westin)

DC has released two revamps of their comic book line in the past 5 years, with “The New 52” and now “DC YOU.” What about Marvel’s single “All New, All Different” changeover? Which reboot really clicks? Let's have an informal discussion group chat about the reboot.

Joshua Bilmes


Digging in with Military Science Fiction

Saturday 20:00 - 20:50, Griffin (Westin)

Is military SF the most enduring category within science fiction? If so, why? If not, it certainly has endured. What is it about this subgenre that gives it such staying power?

Christopher Weuve , Joshua Bilmes, Charles Gannon, Walter H. Hunt , Vincent O'Neil

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Walter Reade's Ziegfeld Theatre, 1969-2016

The first movie I ever saw at Walter Reade's Ziegfeld Theatre was Gandhi.

It was Christmas break between my first and second semesters in college.  It was a sold-out show.  There were a lot of those at the Ziegfeld in the 1980s and 1990s.  I was not one of the first to arrive, and I found my way to a seat on the far right side of the theatre, fairly near to the front.  The theatre smelled of food; Gandhi was a very long movie, and people were prepared with more than popcorn.

The Ziegfeld and Gandhi turned out to be very similar to one another.  They were worthy.  You couldn't not like Gandhi, could you?  I mean, it was a long epic biopic about an incredibly important historical figure,  You could learn so much of such importance about such an important personage.  Of course, it wasn't actually a good movie.  It was a quintessential biopic. The actual filmmaking by Richard Attenborough was kind of plodding.

So it was with the Ziegfeld.  It was a single screen movie theatre with over 1000 seats, and a reasonably large screen.  But the rake was practically non-existent, making it difficult to see over the head of anyone sitting in front of you.  Long and narrow isn't the best dimension for a movie theatre, but that was the Ziegfeld.  A whole city block long.  From the raised mezzanine at the back, a very long way to the screen, which didn't dominate the field of vision from such a distance.  Four urinals, three stalls, two sinks for the men's restroom; imagine the lines after a full house.  Small lobby and concession area.  No accessibility for the handicapped.  There were lots of chandeliers, and some exhibits on the original Ziegfeld Follies theatre.  

The Loews Astor Plaza, built just a few years later, was much better.  Great rake.  Better dimensions.  Bigger screen.  Bigger lobby.  Nicer everything, just not as fancy.  I came to be very frustrated that many more people knew about the Ziegfeld, which got better press and was more often booked for Hollywood premieres and exclusive general releases.

As it turns out, I've likely seen more movies at the Ziegfeld than on any other screen (emphasis on "screen," because some multiplexes I've gone to more often, but spread out over many screens).  But going to the Astor Plaza always exhilarated me, and I never felt that way about the Ziegfeld.  I was often as happy to see a movie on the big screens at the multiplexes than at the Ziegfeld, and I never felt that way about the Astor Plaza.  Looking at the long list of movies I saw at the Ziegfeld, and at full lists of movies that played the Ziegfeld that are on Cinema Treasures, I'm as impressed with the list if movies I could have seen there and didn't.

When I read in 2004 that the Astor Plaza was closing, I cried.  When I read in 2016 that the Ziegfeld was closing, it was more "sigh, I guess I'll have to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet again."

Nonetheless, an era passes with the closing of the Ziegfeld.  It was the next-to-last single screen movie palace to open in Manhattan, with the Astor Plaza the only that came after, and it was the very last large single screen movie theatre to close. I decided to treat the entire office to the final 2D show at the theatre so that they'd all have a chance to experience it before it closed for good.

The last show at the Astor Plaza, opening weekend for The Village, had a few dozen people on a Sunday night.  The Friday night show had hundreds and hundreds of people, but the quick falloff showed how difficult it was to make money running a really large movie theatre.  Of those few dozen people, no more than a dozen were there to bid farewell to the Astor Plaza itself.  And even as the opening credits were rolling, a few workmen came in to begin disassembling.

The last 2D show at the Ziegfeld, with three more 3D to go, had 200, maybe 250 (anyone on the internet saying 500 is lying).  Half of them were still in line to buy tickets.  Three ticket windows, but only one had an actual computer to sell tickets, because they rarely needed even that many.  People stayed.  They took pictures.  It was a scene.  And Star Wars: The Force Awakens, gets worse and worse with each viewing. 

At some point maybe I'll append a reasonably accurate list of the movies I saw at the Ziegfeld to this post.  But the bottom line is that I won't miss the Ziegfeld, while I miss the Loews Astor Plaza often.


The Paris Theatre is the last of the holdouts.  The link takes you to the Cinema Treasures website, which makes the Paris seem much nicer than it actually is.  Almost 600 seats, and it does have a balcony.  But the leg room isn't good.  The rake isn't good.  The screen isn't very big.  The lobby area is practically non-existent.  Some commenters on Cinema Treasures are trying to say the Paris isn't the last single screen theatre in Manhattan, but they are as wrong as the ones saying I saw Force Awakens with 500 other people.  The other single screen theatres like the Walter Reade aren't commercial theatres showing first run movies.  And if the Paris closes. I won't miss it very much, either. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

David G. Hartwell

I got to participate in an SF Signal "Mind Meld" this week, to talk about a science fiction ship I might want to ride upon. My mind often goes in weird directions, and I decided I'd enjoy riding on a nameless ship one might happen upon wandering the world of Severian's New Sun, from the classic Gene Wolf tetralogy The Book of the New Sun.

As I sent my Mind Meld off a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be nice, when the Meld appeared, to drop David Hartwell a note, and let him know that these books he had edited 30, 35 years ago, still resonated with me. I never had the opportunity. When I woke up on the morning of January 20, I was greeted with two things: the Mind Meld I'd participated in had gone live on SF Signal. And David Hartwell was unexpectedly, critically ill, news that had broken overnight.

Titles from early in David G. Hartwell's editorial career.  One look says it all.
Gene Wolfe was hardly the only great writer that David Hartwell had edited, The Book of the New Sun far from the only book he'd touched that went on to have a long impact in the field. His career spanned 45 years, and touched pretty much anyone who worked in science fiction and fantasy over that time. Besides many a Gene Wolfe book a quick glance at my bookcase reveals Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, Gregory Benford's Timescape and Across the Sea of Suns, Philip K. Dick's The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, and Norman Spinrad's The Void Captain's Tale, all from Hartwell's years at Simon & Schuster/Pocket's Timescape imprint in the early 1980s.

By the time Hartwell moved, first as a consulting and then as a full-time editor, to Tor Books in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was a professional in the field with little time to read for pleasure, and my relationship with Hartwell evolved. He wasn't an editor whose acquisitions I had much time to read, and instead, he was the editor I badly wanted to sell to, in large part because I needed only to look at my bookcase to see the influence he'd had on Joshua Bilmes. And as a professional, one of the things I appreciated most about Hartwell in those early years was the professional respect that I received from him. I didn't get that from everyone. Why would I, really. I was in my 20s, I had some accomplishments, and I expected a certain amount of associational respect solely by virtue of working at the Scott Meredith Agency, which was at the time a leading agency in the field. But David G. Hartwell went beyond that. He treated me like a peer. When I told him I had a first novel that seemed just right for him, he told me how he often purchased books that had that effect on people, and he seemed quite sincere in saying so.
The Tor Books cover for Outpost, by Scott Mackay


David Hartwell also gave the impression that he knew what he wanted to do when he woke up in the morning, that he had a vision for what he wanted to buy, an actual point of view. And again, I didn't get that from everyone. There are editors I've known about as long whose point of view eludes me still. Why be in this business if you don't have a strong sense of the mark you'd like to leave on it? When I cracked the Hartwell code and sold him Scott Mackay's OUTPOST in the mid-1990s, I was a very very happy man. I'd like to say that I went on from there to have this incredible agent-editor thing with David Hartwell. I can't. OUTPOST didn't do well, and he wasn't able to buy a second novel from Scott. I can wrack my brain and have a hard time thinking of the next book I sold to him, though my colleague Eddie Schneider recently cracked the code with something that's currently wending through the contracts process.

The publisher I like most will always be the one I've never done any business with recently. It's inevitable when you're in business with people that you'll get to have problems together. David Hartwell could be slow tending to his submission pile, a trait common to many editors in the sf/fantasy genre; and one of the reasons why we didn't do more business together. If we didn't think a project was tailor made for David Hartwell, we'd tend to steer submissions in other directions at Tor. We disagreed on the cover for the Scott Mackay novel. He liked it because it was appropriate to the Canadian market, which he was trying to cultivate. I was dubious; even a well-cultivated Canadian market for a Canadian author was going to be smaller than the US market. I thought if they could have gotten a 9-copy shelf display with OUTPOST by the cash registers at bookstores that people would pick up the book and ask to return it.

But it didn't matter. However much or little the business we did together, the mutual professional respect we had was a constant. We'd schmooze at his table at Boskone; there will be more than an empty spot in the dealer's room this year. I joined his children for dinner one night in Dublin during EuroCon in 2014. We stayed late at the bar in the San Antonio Marriott, and he shared his very clear opinion of the networking style of an aspiring author several tables away. The author wasn't being humble enough, he said, the conversations were too much about the author, the author needed to be listening more and talking less. It was a question of respect.

Respect.

David Hartwell gave it, and he commanded and demanded it. One of his most important contributions to the field of sf and fantasy is exactly that. Many of the books and authors he advocated for, acquired, edited, nurtured, were authors that could command respect outside the community of science fiction and fantasy. The anthologies he edited were often designed to be boats landing on the shore of mainstream literary respectability, the stories they contained part of an attack on the sands of the beach that separated us from them. There always seems to be this neutral zone, the sands that the water touches as it goes from low tide to high tide and back again that separates the sf and fantasy communities from respectable literature, and David Hartwell never doubted that we could cross that strip of sand.