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.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

iPads for e-Inking

All kinds of nice photos and stuff I took at BEA and maybe I will have time to post more on the subject at some point.

One quick post I did want to make was about the array of eReaders that were on display at BEA. We could play with the Kobo, which is the new eReader that Borders will be selling, and the BeReader, and the Sony Reader, and at least one or two more.

The good news for Amazon is that nobody's been able to improve upon the Kindle in a total way even though all of these people have had plenty of chances to learn from the Kindle's mistakes.

The Kobo Reader is cheaper than the others, and the navigation wasn't bad, but it seemed a little slow going from one screen to another. It also felt cheap, without the same heft as the others. On balance, I do think this might be a good purchase if you want to go below the $150 price point on an eReader, but it's not a threat to the Kindle.

The Be, I didn't like that very much at all from a quick playing around with.

I finally played with the Sony Reader Daily Edition which is a slightly bigger screened reader. It had much better navigation for going from place to place in the sample May 17 Wall St. Journal which was installed on it, so that was better than the Kindle newspaper reading experience. But they still have a dreadfully unintuitive note-taking experience, and I still don't like the glare on the touch screen.

So, yeah, it's not like these are bad, but none of them are near good enough to overtake the market position that Amazon brings to the Kindle.

On the other hand, the Kindle and the Kobo and the Be and the Nook and the Sony -- they all look so 2008 to me. The e-Ink screens love bright sunshine, but anyplace else they look dingy and gray and have an overall unattractive appearance, the way all PC-based computers looked boring beige before Apple starting doing funky thinks with the Mac and Mac laptops. They all refresh pages much slower than my iPod Touch or an iPad. They all turn pages with a back button and a forward button, but for anything more complex the navigation is not intuitive or appealing or quick.

So the bad news for Amazon is that I don't think any eInk based eReader compares favorably to an iPad, other than maybe for battery life if you don't leave the wireless on your eReader. They cost less than an iPad, but that's it. The iPad isn't dedicated to doing this one thing, but as part of the many things an iPad can do, the iBooks application is fantastic. And then you can have a fantastic experience with the Marvel app, and then check your e-mail, show off your photos, so many other things. I've never been fond of having 3-in-1 office machines, but for this, I know just from playing around with it that I want to get an iPad and pay more for a machine that does many things than pay less for an eReader that does that very well. By 2008 standards.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kick Ass

Kick Ass was a little frustrating to me. Very good in some ways, but yet not as good as I think it should have been or could have been.

The biggest problem I had with the movie was the tone. I don't mind violence in movies, per se, but there was something about the violence here that struck me as being gratuitous and inappropriate. When one of the bad guys is crushed in his car in a junkyard in a much bloodier way than we need with some kind of classical-ish music playing in the background, we're very definitely getting into Clockwork Homage territory, and I don't think Kick Ass is the kind or type or place or whatever of movie for this. Would the movie have been less fun if the blood hadn't been smattering around like in 300? We're able to see when Kick Ass it getting his ass kicked outside the convenience store that this isn't a glamorpatch, we maybe didn't need the unmasking/torture scene to be served up with quite so much brutal relish.

Second biggest, why even bother saying this is taking place in New York when you're going to so little effort to make it look like it? There are plenty of things that are supposed to take place in New York that are filmed in Toronto, but it's not a good idea if you're doing it that way to have scenes where the Eaton Centre is looming in the background, its big Sears sign overhead, looking 100% totally and exactly like Yonge St. It's not a good idea to have a character walking past what is clearly a Toronto sidewalk recycling bin. There were some scenes where they cut from something where they actually were making it look like Times Square to where the next shot is very definitely Yonge St. in Toronto looking south. Holy Location Scout, Batman!

On a plot level, things work pretty much. The bad guy is a really cartoony kind of bad guy, but this is Kick Ass based on a comic book. Big Daddy/Hit-Girl seemed like they came from another comic book, but OK. The big problem for me here was with the Chris/Red Mist role played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. For this movie to work, and for the underlying motivation as we move forward into possible sequels to work, we need to buy the blind-faced idolatry that Chris has for his cartoony bad-guy father. I didn't buy it. The movie does nothing to make me want to buy it. It relies 100% on the assumption that all children of mobsters should want to grow up to be in the mob just like growing up to be astronauts or firefighters. This motivation doesn't need to be like we're watching the young Henry Hill in Goodfellas, but nor should it rely entirely on what we bring to this movie from having watched Goodfellas. From the internal elements of this movie, it would have been just as believable for Red Mist to tell Kick Ass "jeez, my father turned out to be a total dick, don't miss him any, can we become a superteam?"

I didn't thrill to Clark Duke in Hot Tub Time Machine, I didn't thrill to him here as one of Kick Ass' high school buds. Evan Peters was much better.

Aaron Johnson's performance as Kick Ass/Dave Lizewski is another of those things in Kick Ass that seemed just a little bit off to me. Part of it is his fault. As an actor, he's no Christopher Reeve, at least not yet. The brilliance of Reeve's performance as Clark Kent/Superman is that we only see Superman bleed into the Clark Kent side in those exact instances when the actor wants and needs it to be. In Kick Ass, Aaron Johnson seems like he's trying constantly to announce to the world that he might be playing a dweeb, that he might be walking around this movie in a geeky haircut, but See My Smile, I Am A Movie Star. And part of the fault for that has to go to the director instead of the actor. That aspect of the performance could probably have been noticed in the dailies and toned down, the makeup and hair people could probably have made the dweeb a little less of a superficial skin on the character.

A lot of these problems seem to have the same root, that the people making the film just aren't 100% sure what they want to be doing with it.

All that being said, the movie is a nice way to spend a couple hours. Clark Duke aside, the cast is likable. If you like comics, how could you not want for your local comic book store to be like Atomic Comics? Maybe Midtown Comics in NY should install a booth or two overlooking Times Square. Getting your ass kicked aside, you do understand why Dave Lizewski might enjoy being Kick Ass, and the movie is not without its aspirational qualities.

If you think Kick Ass is the kind of movie you might like, then almost certainly it is a movie you will like. But it should have been better, could have been better, and I'm not 100% able to get rid of that aftertaste.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

the vagaries of life

This is the week when the TV networks are announcing their fall schedules, and it's always interesting to see what does and doesn't get picked up.

Like, over on Fox, the Simpsons gets 6.3 million viewers last week, 24 gets 8+ million. The Simpsons is coming back next year, and 24 is not. And you could find conundrums like that up and down the scheduling announcements.

Well, it's a lot like that in book publishing sometimes. There are the numbers where nobody will want you and the numbers where everyone will want you, and then there are the numbers in between where life isn't fair. Where this author selling 12,000 copies in paperback gets dumped while that author who is selling 9,000 copies gets to return for another day.

There's one big difference in publishing, which is that demographics aren't as important to we book people, while in TV it can be much nicer to have 3 million views of 8 that are those hard to find younger viewers than to have 1.2 million younger viewers from a 9 million audience.

But a lot of the reasons for this can be very similar. Is one series on a growth curve, while another series is on the downward path? Can you buy that next book for the 9K selling author for $5500 while the author selling 12K is getting a much bigger advance that you can't as easily cut? Do you have a relationship in the one instance that might be important to you while you really don't care so much about your relationship with the other guy?

A lot of it is about the numbers. But it's never all or only about...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Before we Kick Ass

Haven't done a movie review in a while. Haven't actually seen many movies in a while. In fact, in the past three weeks the only movie I saw prior to belatedly Kicking Ass yesterday was a screening of Harry Brown. So a few quick movie reviews in this post, and then I'll talk at more length about Kick Ass in a post just a little bit later.

Now, Harry Brown, that's the new Michael Caine movie. I saw it as part of a Michael Caine evening arranged with the Museum of the Moving Image and BAFTA and held at the DGA Theatre in Manhattan, which included an hour of conversation with Caine supplemented by a few film clips. The conversation was wonderful. Caine is wonderful, he's a born raconteur, I'm sure some of the stories he was telling us he has told to 89 other audiences, but he has the gift for making it seem like we were hearing them for the very first time that night. Harry Brown is not so wonderful. When I realized 30 minutes in that it was essentially a Brit remake of Death Wish with Caine in the Charles Bronson role, only more violent and overmade, I decided that I was very tired, that I didn't need this, and that it would be a good time for a nap. I have no regrets about that decision.

When I was in London, I saw How To Train Your Dragon. This was an OK movie. It's a very archetypal movie, kind of like one of those sports movies we've all seen in 10 variations where you can check off the required scenes on the checklist. Every once in a while you see a really archetypal movie that manages to be great in spite of it because it's just so so so good, or has some kind of fresh approach that somehow manages to elevate the stale material. This movie wasn't that good. But it was good enough to hold the attention of an adult, and it was very lively. If this doesn't sound like a rave ... well, it's not. But most animated movies these days I don't even want to see, and the fact that I did want to see this and didn't mind having done so puts it above at least two-thirds of its peers.

I also saw something called I Love You Phillip Morris. The recent movie The Informant with Matt Damon was really good and fun and zesty, and this is a poor man's version with Jim Carrey and Ewen McGregor. Carrey plays a truth-challenged con man, prison escapee, etc. etc. who is in love with a character named Phillip Morris and played by McGregor. If there's any chance of Carrey avoiding recidivism, his efforts to stay with and lure the McGregor character undo it. Carrey isn't bad at all. But McGregor, who shows some of his inate British puckishness to very good effect in the otherwise overrated Ghost Writer, here has gone back to the dark side of the force. It's a character role playing a 33rpm playing on a 45 weird off version of a southern gentlemen with a bad accent, icky effeteness, and weirdly subdued. And Carrey is playing his character with a zest and joy that's delightful and appropriate to the role, but he's the only person doing that. The movie as a whole seems under-acted, under-lit, under-decorated. You can make a good low budget movie, but whatever the budget was on this it really wanted and needed to have been higher.

Friday, May 7, 2010

WJR

And while I'm linking from the Washington Post...

Columnist Tracee Hamilton gives some love to long-time Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, who passed away this past week.

Harwell was a great baseball announcer. I had the honor of hearing him often during my college years, including during the 1984 season when the Tigers dominated baseball.

And the lines Tracee quotes from which Harwell recited at each season's opening -- they were in my family's Hagaddah as well and recited every year at Passover. The man had taste.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

weed

So here's an article from the Washington Post on Monday, one of the many places in the country where medical marijuana is slowly working its way into the mix.

In it, DC AssistantPolice Chief Peter Newsham says: "People don't feel marijuana is dangerous, but it is, because of the way it is sold. We frequently recover weapons when serving search warrants associated with the sale of marijuana."

Well, ain't that just the best argument in favor of legalizing I've ever seen.

If the only dangerous thing he can come up with is a direct result of the fact that it has to be sold surreptitously and illicitly and thus involving guns, then let's legalize it and make it safe.