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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

angels UP demons

Up.  Seen Tuesday evening May 19, 2009 at the AMC Empire, screen 17.  2.5 Slithy Toads

Angels & Demons.  Seen Tuesday evening May 19, 2009 at the AMC Empire, screen 6.  3.5 Slithy Toads

So I'm sitting at home on a Sunday night with The Firm on as background noise; it's a TNT Free Movie On Demand, and hearing that Dave Grusin score...

It inspires me to write about movies.

Up is Wall-E redux.  It starts out with some wonderful stuff that nobody but Pixar does in an animated film, a music-and-pictures sequence that tells the life story of the lead character from youth to old age, for richer and poorer and sickness and health with the woman he meets at a young age, marries, and eventually survives.  There's another very nice scene not long thereafter when he snaps at the pressure of a development going up around the house he's holding on to, providing an opportunity for evil developer to get his way.  

[where is Gene Hackman.  I just hear his voice in The Firm and wish he were ageless.]

So if you've read anything about Up, you kind of know what happens.  The house floats away on a sea of balloons, there's a boy-scout-like boy stowed away, and they go to South American and have an adventure.

Sadly, all of the inspiration in the movie must have been left behind when the house lifted off, because there ain't a darned thing in the South Africa section that really makes any sense.  You've got a valuable bird, but why?  Dogs that talk, but why?  The old explorer the lead-as-boy once idolized is still alive even though he's got to be fifteen or twenty years older, and he's the dog master and bird hunter, but why?  So to me, Up ends up having the same second act troubles that seriously deflated Wall-E for me.  All that effort to start up the concept for a story, all the creativity and genius, but I don't think anyone knew what to do leading off from the idea. 

At their best, these movies show Pixar doing animation for adults that's serious and refreshing and at the same time accessible, and I'd rather see Pixar trying to do something than see the Dreamworks Animation formula being trotted out once more.  But to be honest, Pixar's starting to get credit like French films, just for being French or being Pixar.

The quality of the animation is often excellent.

The best part of the movie is the music by Michael Giacchino.  Jerry Goldsmith is gone.  John Barry and John Williams aren't gone but also aren't working much any more.  I've been wondering if there's anyone who might lay the claim to being a real go-to guy for film music.  There's this temptation for me to say its James Newton Howard who has some excellent work in Defiance and The Village, but I can't to that far in his favor.  Well, after listing to his work on both Star Trek and Up, I think we've found it, that his name is Michael Giacchino, and that it's a good thing maybe Lost is ending because perhaps if his work on that show is over he'll find time to do more movie music.  The score in Up is wonderful.  Yes, Giacchino is channeling Randy Newman something big, but there are worse things to do.  His music helps make the wordless sequences sing.  Great job.

Angels and Demons is this summer's Wanted, or perhaps the closest thing I've seen to the movie equivalent of Simon R. Green.  Like Wanted, it's not "great" movie-making, but it's just a helluva lot of fun.  I was rapt from beginning to end, never checking my watch for a 2+ hour movie (not even tempted until very near the end, and I said "no, it's close to the end, let it ride..."), enjoying myself thoroughly for the duration.  I'd mention Simon R. Green because Simon is a writer I've represented for 20 years whose work is often wonderful (and to give a plug, I think the book Daemons Are Forever which comes out in paperback this week may be the best book he's ever written with the prior Man With The Golden Torc very close behind) but whom I can't use as a good how to example.  Simon's sheer energy and verve and voice and all allow him to get away with being very "tell-y" sometimes when writers are supposed to show, not tell.  It's kind of like that with Angels and Demons.  You really shouldn't have Tom Hanks running around Rome stopping constantly to give little lessons in art history, geography, theology, and more.  You totally shouldn't.  But yet he does, and the movie's all the more endearing for enthusiastically charging ahead to do things you're not supposed to do.

This is better than DaVinci Code.  The formula might be the same, but the geography and time scale of Angels and Demons are much more compressed, so there's a ticking clock vibrancy that was lacking in the earlier move.   A lot of fun, Angels and Demons is, and the summer's off to a blessed good start to have it and Star Trek bringing joy and life and fun to the multiplex.

And I want to give some special mention to Ron Howard.  I haven't seen all of his movies, and some like Night Shift I really should have.  But The Grinch is the only Ron Howard movie in a long career that I wouldn't want to see.  Ron Howard hasn't made a great all-time classic movie like Martin Scorcese with Goodfellas, but neither has Howard made a turd like The Last Temptation of Christ.  Apollo 13 might be his best movie, and it was fun in Angels and Demons for me to see Howard channeling his inner Apollo 13 in the CERN sequences.  In Backdraft he almost pulled off the feat of making a good movie from a decidedly bad script.  He's made many different types of movies in many different genres and usually made them entertainingly.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

JTK meets IPH

Star Trek.  Seen Sunday evening May 10, 2009 at the AMC Empire, screen #6.  3 slithy toads.

This is the Star Trek meets Star Wars movie that we've all been waiting for, the one where James T. Kirk lands on the Ice Planet of Hoth, is attacked by a Tauntaun, gets rescued by Obi Wan, but somehow misses the Imperial Walkers.

Or is it the movie where Sar-Ek saves his son Spo-ck from the destruction of his home planet Vulton (Kyrpcan?) by putting him into a rocket ship?

I'm kidding some, but only some.  A large part of the pleasure from this very pleasurable re-boot of the Star Trek movie franchise is in finding all of the lifts not just from the Star Trek series but from any other sf movie franchise that starts with an "S" that's been around over the past 30 or 40 years.  

I was never a huge fan of the Star Trek TV show.  It's not that I disliked it, but I wasn't part of the cult that surrounded it.  But I faithfully saw all of the Star Trek movies, from ST:TMP at the Cate Plaza Twin in Middletown, to the classic Wrath of Khan at the RKO Stanley Warner Route 4 Paramus Quad, then Star Trek 3 and Star Trek 4 at the old Loews State Twin in Times Square.  After that closed, it was off to the Loews 34th St. Showplace for Star Trek 5, then to the Loews Orpheum for Star Trek 6.  The first movie I saw at the Loews Lincoln Square was Star Trek 7, and then I was very happy when the series returned to Times Square in grand style for the next few movies at my much beloved Loews Astor Plaza.  With the exception of Star Trek 2, I can't say I was thrilled with any of them, but the sf geek part of me always compelled me to the theatre, and always on the nicest screen I could think to go to.

So yeah, goosed by the excellent coming attraction and the attractive young cast, Star Trek is the first movie in a while I was heavily anticipating, and I saw it at the biggest non-Imax screen at the AMC Empire, and I had a really good time.

It's a very energetic movie, a lot of fun, the casting is excellent pretty much all the way around, it's got good action, good humor, nice eye candy.  I liked the depictions of all of the young characters, and don't have favorites or an "I liked all of them but..." reaction.  The special effects might be expensive but they're human scaled.  The move to warp speed wasn't so hot; I don't know if there will ever be a match to watching them go to warp in Star Trek 2 on the gigantic screen at the Paramus Quad with then state-of-the-art 70mm 6-track sound bringing it to life, but that's about the only aspect of the movie that left me feeling at all flattened by what JJ Abrams had wrought.  And the villain is no Khan, but Khan was the one and only...

I don't know if it's a great movie, or if it's something I'll want to see over and over again.  But paired as it was with the coming attractions for some pretty dismal summer stuff to follow like the new Transformers movie or Land of the Lost.  Land of the Lost looks truly totally dreadful on any level.

It's fun.  And not overblown fun.  I like that in a movie.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

credit where due

I've knocked on the Kindle a bit, but I should give Amazon some praise for having made some improvements in the Kindle operating system between my original Kindle that had something like 1.15y98y98u on it and the replacement in January with 1.2 (299870016) on it.  Still the first generation Kindle, but a slightly more developed version of the OS.

The first Kindle crashed just often enough that I kept thinking how nice it would be to travel with a toothpick to hit the reset button, not daily or even weekly, but at least once every month or two.  And then usually one crash would be followed closely by a second crash before it would then be good for a stretch.  So far, 3 months and counting, the replacement Kindle with the slightly updated OS hasn't needed a reset.

The first Kindle, every so often you'd put on the wireless and wait and wait for the Kindle to talk to Amazon and for the newspaper to download, and sometimes I'd have to give up, turn off the wireless, and try again.  3 months and counting, so far the replacement Kindle has checked in and quickly downloaded whatever there is to download in 60 seconds or so just like advertised.

Lynxswift commented asking me about the news reports  of a new bigger screen Kindle and other e-readers that might be more suited to a newspaper.

I would love this.  I'm very glad to be able to subscribe to the Washington Post and the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle.  Along with the NY Times which I get home-delivered they are the only good newspapers left in the country.  But the Kindle is not great for reading newspapers.  The content is all there, but I miss the ads and feel kind of guilty that I might be giving the Washington Post some part of the $9.99 Kindle subscription fee but not eyeballing the few ads that are left.  It's a lot of page turns and back and forth to read the paper.  Even on the 1st generation Kindle there's a little more aggresiveness particularly with the Wall St. Journal to put in charts, but they are often shrunk and take up an entire page.  And any page with a photo takes longer to draw on the screen thus slower to refresh thus adding time.  If the Kindle or some other company could come up with something that would give me more of the newspaper experience I've grown up with along with my newspaper, I would probably buy it in an instant.

In fact -- and it shocks even Luddite me to admit this --  I would even consider foregoing a printed NY Times subscription in favor of the electronic version so long as I could still have free access or very small add-on access to the web site (currently a Kindle WSJ subscription gives no access to their web site, which is probably reasonable when they get but pennies from Amazon on the $9.99 I'm paying) in order to print out the Sunday magazine crossword puzzle or something like that.  Yes, today we all have free access to the NYT website, but when they had their Times Select section blocked off I did get access for my home delivery $$.  The paid web site is coming back, someway somehow, and I would not want to have to pay for a Kindle subscription and then pay again for that.  

Or to put it simply in less detail, the Kindle is still inferior enough for reading newspapers that I'm sometimes happy to pay $1.50 for a Times in print instead of $.75 for a Kindle version when I am traveling.  Make the experience just a little better, and maybe I'm totally there.

Of course today it was nice in a drizzle on the way to Pathmark to buy Diet 7-Up and Ben & Jerry's that were on sale to read a printed NYT that holds up to a drizzle.  It's been very rainy in NYC the past week so the Kindle utility hasn't been great.  Maybe they can come up with a waterproof cold-weather friendly version with a little Kindle umbrella...

Friday, May 1, 2009

a pint by any other size

A pint of Haagen Dazs is now 14oz, in the latest instance of stealth price increases.  I don't know if a Ben & Jerry's pint is still a pint or not, but they have started to sell more aggresively a 4oz container of ice cream that can go on sale for $1, instead of the 2/$6 pricing that's been more common on the pints, and which doesn't inspire ice cream purchases.  Wednesday was 31¢ scoop night at Baskin-Robbins, and I had my full 3 scoop allotment, 2 World Class Chocolate and one Oreo Cookies 'n' Cream.  But I did not walk from the Baskin-Robbins at 42nd St. to the Baskin-Robbins at 46th St. so I could have six scoops.