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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Funny Book Round-Up

DC Comics is doing many things these days that sound really interesting but too often aren't living up to my expectations. Which I could be happy about; bailing out of disappointments is keeping me from going back to the days of 18 or 25 years ago when I read dozens of comics a month. But honestly that would be a happy problem to have.

I'm seeing that a lot with Brightest Day and its many tie-ins.

Brightest Day itself had an interesting 0 issue with an interesting mix of heroes coming back from death or obscurity but by the second issue just a lot of fights and nothingness.

Same with JLA Generation Lost. Nice premise, evil mastermind has wiped memories of him from everyone but a few JLA characters. Who just end up fighting with everyone. Boring stuff.

I have been sticking with Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal. This is part of a big Green Arrow revival being undertaken as part of Brightest Day. Solid straightforward stuff as a grownup GA sidekick deals with the death of his daughter. Speedy on speed, you could say. I like the art, the writing is energetic. The plot isn't getting sidetracked in continuity hell.

Alas, hopes that this might be carried over to the resuscitation of the main new Green Arrow revival are quickly scuttled. Brightest Day: Green Arrow has a muddy story, muddy coloring, hugely disappointing.

I almost missed a very pleasant surprise on the DC list, the Legacies series written by Len Wein and illustrated by Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert. This is an Astro City type ground up view of superheroes in different eras of DC history. The story isn't new but it is very well told. And the art by the Kuberts is amazingly good. Richly detailed. Good storytelling. Makes you stop, admire, really notice. Gorgeous. That's one recommendation I am grateful for.

Superman #700 was OK. Not bad but I'd like more from a #700 issue. Previously the Superman books were all involved in a long fun interesting arc until I gave up when it became a big interstellar battle. Story #1 is an epilogue now that Superman is back home and reestablishing his relationship with Lois. Bad? No. But too long for what it does and not very special. The second story isna lighthearted one with Superman helping out a young Robin. Nice story by Dan Jurgens with finishes by Norm Rapmund. Art has some of the same nude touches as the Kubert's for Legacies. But do I want Batman and Robin in Superman's big anni issue? No! A fun generic story like this would be OK in a themed issue but here has no connection so it's like filler. And finally new writers J. Michael Stracyznski takes over the book and we have a reflective Superman in a story that is supposed to warm up for the new writer's run. Well crafted again with art by Eddy Barrows. A lot of craft all the way around but no special feel for Superman's special day.

I liked the first issue of the new Paul Levitz run on Legion of Superheroes more than the second but will keep with forma third for sure. When Levitz was doing his great Legion run 25 years ago the Legion was smallerish. I think Levitz is making a mistake to jump in with 20 heroes involved and we're just in issue 2. Why not start smaller, really get us involved with some of them, and then broaden out? The art is inconsistent, stylistically confused. Three or four different ways of drawing characters who should be around the same age.

A quick turn to Bart Simpson #54. Fantastic story by Peter Kuper that puts Bart thru the wringer. A one page Maggie's Crib from Sergio Aragones. Two other nice stories. This had been a kind of Simpsons for younger people kind of book, not bad but not textured and certainly uneven. But now to see something as daring in context as the Peter Kuper story -- they're taking some chances and having some fun and I'd love to see more. Well worth $2.99. Simpsons #167 is a solid effort. Snake comes to live with the Simpsons. Marge discovers eBay. It's not a classic issue, but it's a more than adequate one.

Over Vertigo way DMZ continues its slow but interesting journey to someplace. The pace of this series is so glacial I have a hard time explaining why I like it. But I do. The about to end Ex Machina and the Simpsons books are the only ones I've been with longer.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

E-Reading

So the Father's Day advertising war for various e-book devices, including the Kindle, Nook and iPad, was followed by the after-Father's Day price war. B&N came out with a bare-bones Nook that sells for $149 but has only Wi-Fi access, i.e., no 3G or no downloading a book anywhere with a cell phone signal. The fully-equipped Nook was also given a price cut. Amazon immediately responded by dropping the price of the Kindle to $189. Borders was already starting to sell some e-book readers, including first shipments in time for Father's Day, for $149. They're now offering a $20 gift card with that, and double Borders R Reward bucks. Since you get $5 for $150, then buy this and a truffle ball and your net price for the Kobo eReader becomes $120.

One article I read says that B&N is now making more Nooks than Amazon is Kindles, so they seem to have some quiet success leveraging their store presence to sell the e-reading device. And Apple has sold over 3 million iPads in just a few months, even though it's impossible to actually buy one anyplace because they're in a perpetual state of being sold out. Nobody knows how many Kindles or Nooks have sold, but the combined total would be well up into seven figures.

In part, this is a natural thing in consumer electronics. As more and more are being made and purchased the component price goes down and the fixed costs are more easily leveraged and the price comes down.

But there's also more flexibility on the gadget price because of the switch in pricing on the e-books. Last year Amazon was paying $13 for a DEAD AND GONE e-book and selling it for $10, losing money every time out. This year, DEAD IN THE FAMILY is now publisher-set at $12.99, and Amazon gets to keep $3.90 of that. When you make $4 on every book instead of losing $3 you can price the gadget for less.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Solitary Man

The third movie I saw this past weekend was Solitary Man. If Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work benefited from a good trailer, Solitary Man suffers from a bad one. It got across the point that the movie starred Michael Douglas and had three other actors who usually do interesting work: Susan Sarandon; Danny Devito, and Jesse Eisenberg. But it also made the movie seem dull, filled with boring talk about boring relationships. In fact, the movie is quite lively, and Michael Douglas gives a nuanced and energetic performance of a role that isn't easily played.

His character's that of a car dealer named Ben Kalmen who took a wrong ethics turn and ended up paying a huge fine. He's trying to get back in the game, but he also has a thing for self-destructive behavior which isn't helping. In particular, he's very fond of hitting on women 30 years younger than he. He's on somewhat decent terms with his ex-wife played by Susan Sarandon, but not on very good terms at all with his daughter, played by Mary Louise-Parker, in part because his grandson is treated kind of like a stuffed animal, supposed to be there when Ben needs him but without any sense that the grandson might have reciprocal needs out of the relationship with his grandfather.

Movies like this can easily be unpleasant. After all, rule #1 of the "plot skeleton" in Scott Meredith's Writing To Sell is to have a likable lead character. And Kalmen isn't likable. But here, he's played by a likable actor in Michael Douglas who makes the character watchable and entertaining in an absolutely horrifying kind of way. There's a definite element of Greek tragedy, which is beefed up when we're given an explanation if certainly not an excuse for the way the character behaves.

Making things even more interesting... for all of the unpleasantness of Ben Kalmen, for all that he deserves whatever comes his way -- oh boy, does he -- the people giving him his comeuppance are a nice bunch of cold fish as well. There are moments when it can be as horrifying to see the joy some people take in seeing the mighty taken down as it is to see what Michael Douglas is doing with his character.

Which makes the movie sound like you're watching horribly unpleasant people for 100 minutes, except you're not. Susan Sarandon has a nice relationship with her ex. Danny Devito plays an old college friend who's a mature version of the "always look on the bright side of life" stereotype. And Jesse Eisenberg is a college student who is taken under Douglas' wing but rises above.

Credit for the nicely textured screenplay goes to Brian Koppelman (interesting but flawed Rounders; Runaway Jury and Oceans 13). He gets solo credit here but co-directed with David Levien, a frequent writing partner of his. It's a good job all the way around, with a good script handled nicely by good actors.

And to continue the combo posts for the week...

In tennis, a well-contested tie-break set can take around an hour. During a typical tournament, a player might do first round on Monday or Tuesday, then have matches on Wed/Thu, Fri, Sat, Sunday. So maybe, if you're winning multiple well-contested best-of-three matches and advancing all the way to the final, you might play 9 hours over three consecutive days and 15 or 18 hours over the course of an entire week. And in the real world, it just doesn't happen that way. Rarely do you play three well-contested matches. Rarely do you win them all if you do, because you end up getting tired. In the grand slams, the men play best of five and can have five hour matches, but there's almost always an off day in-between. You can easily advance to the final of a grand slam with 16 hours on court over your six previous matches, sometimes even less.

You just never, ever, never ever ever, play 11 hours of match tennis over a three-day period.

Until this week, that is, when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut of France played for 11 hours and 5 minutes over 3 days to break every tennis record in the books. And likely never to be beat, any of them.

My eldest brother was at Part 2 of the match on Wednesday and tells me Isner didn't play a good match. Well, I don't know if the circumstances allow it. You're going to play very conservatively in this situation, where each point is very important. You should stick to your knitting and that might not be the best or more exciting tennis around. Honestly, it's the tennis equivalent of a soccer match after a point, lots of points but nobody actually scoring. Not even once did the players exchange breaks, where Isner lost a service game giving a chance for Mahut to serve and win. My brother also tells me you can't have a seat saved on an outer court at Wimbledon, so they sat in their seats the entire match, running out of food and water and no bathroom breaks. If they left, they'd have had to line back up for readmittance to the court. So my brother got to hold it in for several hours, but he certainly won't forget his first trip the All England Club.

And when you think on how unprecedented it is to do 11 hours of tennis over 3 days, you can understand why Isner had nothing left in the tank for his 2nd round match at 10:30 the next morning, around 18 hours after ending his marathon. Sore neck, no skin on his toes which all had to be taped up, no nothing left in the tank. We all turned in hoping to see something special with Isner making it through, and instead we all saw exactly what, deep down, we all could have/should have/were expecting, which was quick, dirty and sad to watch.

Nicolas Mahut did his best "Andy Roddick losing 18-16 in the fifth" imitation and looked totally miserable during the after-match ceremonies. I hope he comes to realizes he probably got the better end of it. His loss won't be forgotten, and he didn't have to drag himself out of bed the next morning to get drummed out of the tournament.

And let me say, I think this business of playing out the 5th set is ridiculous. All tennis matches anywhere should have a tie-break in the final set instead of having matches drag on like this one did. The argument against is that you should have to "play it out," or that you don't want the match to turn on just a few points. Please! If the rules say you play a tie-break, then there's nothing cheap or tawdry about playing it out and winning in a tie-break. The match that ended up ending at 70-68 in the fifth set ended up turning on just a few points, in the 138th game of the set. Let it turn on a few points in a tie-break instead.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WINTER'S BONE

Winter's Bone is a well-crafted well-acted film, the Frozen River of 2010, and I can recommend for that which is good about the film. But it also has one gaping problem, which is that the premise of the movie doesn't work for me at all.

The film is set in the Ozarks. Now, I readily admit to knowing nothing about the Ozarks, not in 2010 or 1990 or in any year you choose. I know there are backwoods parts of the US like Appalachia and maybe the Ozarks are like that but worse. The film doesn't just postulate the backwardness of economy, though. Its version of the Ozarks is a heavily clan-based version of seeming in-breeds with no ambition for better to be found where everyone answers to big daddy hidden atop like the old man of the mountain. And maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. I could buy the vision of the society.

In this society we have a man whose put up his house and property for a bail bond and is now gone missing. His 17 year old daughter, two younger children, and a mentally damaged mother will all be homeless if he doesn't show and the bond gets lost. The 17 year old sets out to find her pa.

There are clearly a lot of people in the area who know where he is or what happened to him. None of them want to talk, none of them want the daughter digging around.

And maybe I can buy that.

But...

All of these people, these members of the extended family, they're none of them giving her any good alternatives to digging around. The crazy cousin will take the teenage son. This one will give a dollar or two, nowhere near enough to compensate for loss of a home. If the community is as familial as the movie requires they have to be willing to help out a little more than this, can't just say "don't go digging around and ain't that a shame you'll be tossed on the street.". There's an inherent contradiction in the world building.

So I could admire the acting -- the performance by as the daughter is stunningly good -- and the atmosphere and the photography and the mise en scene and the unity of the directorial vision and so much else. But all of that in service of a world where the characters should be behaving in a way that would keep the film from existing.

I saw Winter's Bone on Saturday evening June 19, 2010 at Clearview's First & 62nd St., Aud. #5.

And now does the world really need another contribution on the McChrystal situation? There's stupid and there's stupid, and the stupidity would be a firable offense if nothing else was. Alas, we're still going to have time winning a war that requires winning the hearts and minds of a bunch of illiterates. And I don't say that just to be sarcastic. Literacy rates in Afghanistan are about as small as you can get. It's kind of a challenge to have illiterate police, illiterate army, to form some entrepeneurial middle class that might help better to fight back against the corruption, and so forth. "The Duke encourages all his troops to read and white" is a quote from the Sheepfarmer's Daughter audio I'm sampling which emerged at the very moment I typed the last sentence.

Joan of BP

Besides the excellent Toy Story, I saw three other movies over the weekend, and all of them are worth seeing.

First up, at the IFC Center screen 4 on Saturday June 19 was Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. I've never been a Joan Rivers fan but I haven't been opposed either. I've seen her as a personality famous for being a personality, kind of like what Harlan Ellison is these days. The movie shows enough of the early Joan doing actual comedy and enough tribute to her accomplishments in the field to give her some context. But it doesn't overdo it. It avoids the common documentary mistake of assuming the appropriateness of the subject without defining within the parameters of the film -- I.e. if you don't know why the subject is important before taking your seat you won't know after. And it avoids the other mistake of
becoming hagiography.

We see her current act and she's actually quite funny. We also see that she is a nest of insecurities. If she isn't working 24/7 she isn't working. We see all of this in a tight 90 minutes that covers a lot of ground. But she is confident enough in her insecurities to let us see them very up close and very personally. It's an intriguing combination of character traits. The film succeeds in part because of its craft but also as a matter of luck capturing a good rebound year for Rivers, which is the kind of thing you can't know in advance. Then again luck is the residue of design and this is a very well designed film. It also has a very good coming attraction. I'm not sure all the deservedly good reviews would have gotten me info the theatre if the trailer hadn't given me a good taste of what might be in store.

And now to pause for a moment or two to talk about a political issue of the day.

What do we do in the Gulf?

Here's the thing, the last penguin or pelican or national park or backyard, ultimately none of them will be safe because we need every drop or chunk of fossil fuel we can get. Our world revolves around fossil fuels. Nothing we can do is likely to change that. Nothing will totally substitute.

Should we try and use more wind power and solar power and maybe even nuclear power? Yes. Should we try and conserve and save where we can? Yes. That will do us all a lot of good, it will help relieve cost pressures, it will delay the day when the last penguin in the Arctic is battling with the last drop of oil underneath the Arctic shelf. But we'll still face more and more inexorable battles over resources.

Equally inevitable are regulartory capture issues that we have with Minerals Mining in the US Government. Though it is possible to run a system with more or fewer of those issues popping up depending on the level of leadership and the kind of people you hire. We need a good regulatory system because we need to drill, maybe not tomorrow but sometime, and it's pretty clear from Deepwater that too much of that drilling is done without a lot of regard to safety.

But the most important thing we need, and which we're not going to get, and which we don't have political leadership advocating for, and which too many special interests are lined up against, is a carbon tax. We all need to look in the mirror and recognize that our own decisions drive our need for gas, coal, and other energy, and without a carbon tax to help price our electric use properly, we're not going to have a serious enough incentive to change

While I'm sitting in the office, my apartment has a microwave and a range with stand-by clocks, two thermostats for my HVAC, a DVD player, a TV, a DVR/set-top box, a router, a telecom equipment box, two phone handsets, all little vultures sucking at little pieces of power. The set-top box is the worst offender, because my provider pays for the box while I provide the electricity, hence the cable companies and their box makers are able to fight off efficiency rules without cost for them. As I further settle in to my apartment, I'll have a computer and a printer and a clock radio, all eating up standby power in greater or lesser degrees.

Even though I turn my lights off and so far have only turned on my HVAC when I had people working in the apartment and don't drive and am oh so virtuous, I'm still using a lot of power. And I don't want to reach a day when I can't have all these gadgets because we don't have the power to run them, when I can't fly somewhere because there's no fuel for the plane. But in order to put those big sacrifices up, we need to get way more serious than we are about finding things to do here and there that leave more stuff for us to burn up tomorrow. Railroads, anyone, to reduce demand for airplane trips within 500 miles? Not leaving store doors open to the sidewalk when the AC is running? Setting up a drying rack in your utility room instead of using a clothes dryer?

So if you need to drive to your local theatre to see Joan Rivers, which is worth seeing, maybe find someone to go with or think for a few seconds on what else you can do efficiently while driving there and back.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Odd Job Wins

Dear Mr. Biederman:

I have never missed a year at the HBO Bryant Park Film Festival, but on account of your new security procedures, which cannot be justified, this year I will not attend.

Let me be blunt, here. In 2002, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, all years after 9/11, I was able to take a seat on the lawn and enjoy the film festival without going to an armed camp. Which is the way it should be. The line for the bag check is a soft target. Like people coming off a train at Grand Central or Macy’s on a busy day or the Sheep Meadow or the subway. I don’t feel more secure because you turn the Lawn into a barricaded camp, I wonder why there’s so much security and start to think it must be dangerous. To me, the Film Festival is a more menacing and dangerous place in 2010 than in any year before, because Bryant Park is acting like it’s a dangerous and menacing thing.

Did I worry occasionally over the past ten years sitting on the Bryant Park lawn once or twice a year for a movie that I could be killed if the person next to me had a bomb in their wine and cheese? Yes! But I live my life. After debating if I need the indignity of a bag search to enjoy myself on the Bryant Park lawn for a movie, I realized that if I had to think about it that long then it clearly wasn’t worth the invasion of my privacy.

I don’t know why you feel you need to do this now, but you don’t. Just say “no.” Challenge the mind set that acts like we’re safer because we waste time giving photo IDs to get visitor passes at anonymous office buildings with anonymous companies that nobody gives a shit about. Challenge the mind set that says it was OK for me to knowingly risk being blown up during Superman: The Movie in 2008 but that I can’t be an adult in 2010 and choose to see Goldfinger with 5,000 fellow New Yorkers all looking for a pleasant evening.

Every time our enemies add frictional time and frictional expense to our daily lives by forcing us through this bullshit -- yes, they’ve won. And your bag check, it wouldn’t catch Odd Job. His hat would get right through your bag check. It’s a sad day for NYC that I don’t feel safe and secure and comfortable going to watch a movie tonight.

JOSHUA BILMES
jabagent@aol.com

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Have a Buzz Up My Woody

Toy Story 3 may be the best movie I've seen so far in 2010.

It demonstrates that if Hollywood were to try, if it were to care, that it could make movies that were actually good. The people at Pixar care. They don't always succeed, and I haven't been as big a fan of Up or Wall-E as others. Not that either of them was bad, but I just didn't think they were as good as some of the fuss and bother had them to be. And when I see Toy Story 3, I'm seeing the difference between true greatness and some nice tries.

Why do I love this movie so much?

Well, the most important thing might be the characters. They're toys, but we really and truly and deeply care about them. There's something about the performances of the voice actors that goes a little bit deeper than the usual. Way back when the first Toy Story came out not every actor was lined up for these animation voicing jobs like it is now. That's a long time ago, it is, and we were just getting to Robin Williams in Aladdin or to Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in the Toy Story movies. These are real performances with heart and soul, and even so many years after the second Toy Story movie, we fit right in with these people -- yes, people -- kind of like we find the way to our favorite seat in the living room when we go back to the old family homestead.

And Pixar cares about the script, so the characters we care about aren't let down by writing that goes through the motions. The script fot this movie has the same qualities as some of the best scripts for The Simpsons. If you get the cinematic allusions that are thrown around to things like Cool Hand Luke, then you have something added, but you don't have to get the allusions in order to enjoy the script at the basic plot level. If you understand what it means when we're told those might not have been Lincoln Logs in the box, well that's a very nice joke, But the line works at another level even if you're not sure entirely what's meant by it.

With a real story to tell about real people, the film can include a lot of pop culture riffs without just being about them, which is a fault that I think Dreamworks Animation can fall prey to a lot of the time.

Most of you probably know the story from other reviews, but in brief Andy the human owner of our toys is about to go off to college. His toys end up donated to a daycare center, and there is disagreement amongst the toys over whether they were supposed to end up in the trash as Andy's discards or in the attic for some possible next generation of Andys. But they all know that Woody was going into the college box as one of those childhood memories Andy would keep with him in the next stage of his life. The daycare center turns out to have some issues; the new toys are left to the devices of the youngest toddlers who can play a little rough. So can they escape before Andy goes off to college?

It's not a complex story, but the emotions cut a lot deeper than the description of the plot. I was crying at the end. Yes, me, fortysomething and crying at Toy Story 3.

And because there are real characters, real emotions, a good script... When we get to the overloud overlong climax of a lot of Hollywood extravaganzas these days, let's think Transformers of the 2nd Narnia movie, we don't care. It has all the emotional impact of watching somebody else play a videogame. Here, there's never any doubt that our toys are going to survive but it's still gut-wrenching when it looks like they're going to go to that great trash-to-energy plant in the sky.

As good as that brief bio section at the beginning of Up is -- and is there anyone who doesn't love those opening ten minutes -- Toy Story 3 is that level all the way through.

I saw this at Clearview's Ziegfeld on Saturday June 19, 2010. The Ziegfeld is the last big single screen movie theatre left in New York, and I wish they were showing Toy Story 3 in 2-D. The glasses give an extra dimension on the screen but at the cost of shrinking the dimensions of the screen itself. I'm not sure I'd have lost as much seeing this on some smaller screen for $4 less as I would have on a 2D movie. That being said, for my $20 for the opening weekend at the Ziegfeld, we did get to see Buzz and Woody live in person between the coming attractions and the movie. I could have gotten my picutre taken. I did get a pat on the back from Buzz as he headed down the aisle. And there's that $20 thing. I don't want to pay $20 for a movie on a regular basis, and I think this may come back to bite Hollywood. There are some movies where I might be very happy to save some money, not have the 3-D, and not be paying so much. Hollywood and the theatre owners want us to be able to see movies in 3-D all the time with every screen digitally equipped to do it. But at least for me, there are going to be some movies I might skip if my only choices are the premium-priced 3-D because I'm just not going to think the movie's worth the extra bucks. I'm not sure 3-D should be seen as Hollywood's salvation, because I think they might lose a few admissions here and there that won't be noticed -- it's always hard to miss what you don't know you could have had -- even if they gain a little extra lucre on some of the admissions they do have.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pop Culture

First, I am so happy to hear that Breaking Dawn will be split into two movies, like the last Harry Potter movie. I was so worried that I would be able to skip only three Twilight movies, and now I know I can skip a fourth. Phew! Let me suggest The Dawner Party and Dawn & Dawner as two possible titles for the added movie in the series.

I watched some TV on the plane rides to/from LA for the Season 3 premiere of True Blood on Tuesday night.

I'd watched one episode of The Middle in November, and two more including the pilot/first episode on the aeroplano. This is a really good show, and it's all there pretty much from minute one of the pilot. The closest in ancestry might be Malcolm in the Middle, and it will be interesting to see if The Middle can hold up a little longer than Malcolm did. I think it has a couple advantages. The family in Malcolm in the Middle wasn't a real family. It was very close to one, but the exaggeration was just a little too much. The family in The Middle is exaggerated but I think is an exaggerated version of reality instead of going beyond it. The writing is sharp and snark without looking down on its characters. By keeping the focus more on the mother than on the children it may better be able to survive the inevitable aging of the cast which began to really hurt Malcolm because things that were fun when the kids were younger seemed not so fun at all when the kids were bigger. This is a show that deserves its success.

30 Rock, two episodes, has gotten a lot better than its earliest episodes from Season 1. I may give more time to The Middle next year now that I don't have 24 to watch and can look for another hour or so of network TV to amuse me. But I'm still not sure I like 30 Rock so much that I want to start making it appointment viewing. But it's decent.

The Big Bang Theory. Huh? From sampling that, I'm a little puzzled the show's taken off so much. It's not bad. I've watched bad sitcoms, this isn't one of them. One of the problems may actually be the show's laugh track. The show's funny, but it's not always THAT funny, and the disconnect between the uproariousness of the laughter on the laugh track and the actual quality of the jokes was incredibly distracting to me. The cast isn't bad, but they also seem visibly to be working while the best acting is the kind you don't notice. It reminds me somewhat of It's Like, You Know, a sitcom from ten years back with similar-ish characters similarly sitting around doing sitcom banter, but I kind of liked that the older show was a little dryer.

Friday Night Lights isn't airplane viewing, that's appointment viewing every week for me, and season 4 is no exception. Last week's episode had four different commercial breaks with lead out scenes powerful enough that it took me ten or fifteen seconds to decompress from the show before I could turn to my newspaper reading during the commercials. At the end of the prior episode we found out that the father of one of the main characters, the now-graduated QB of the Dillon Panthers, had been KIA in Afghanistan, this week we're dealing with his deeply conflicted feelings. There's a great scene when the QB visits his coach's family for dinner, and in the writing and the acting it's what the characters aren't saying that's as important as what they are. You're looking at the faces in the background. The QB storms out and nobody knows what to do and the coach says "I'll go talk to him," but what we see is that he doesn't really talk. He goes out, says "I'll walk you home," and maybe they'll talk or maybe they won't, but it's just being there for the person. The one thing I didn't like was the actual funeral scene. Season One of True Blood, one of the points that won me over as the show found its groove over the course of season #1 was when they had a funeral scene where not everyone in the show was wearing a black funeral suit. I was told by Tim Akers that it wasn't uncommon in his upbringing to have one of those hanging around, but I still think there are people in the world who don't have and don't buy and don't wear black. Well, not in last week's Friday Night Lights, where everyone is indeed dressed in black. No, no, no, no, no a thousand times no.

And speaking of True Blood -- well, yes, I'm biased, but I do think the show is hitting a home run in its third season. There's a strong consensus that the first season really started to get good around the 4th episode, that the second season was stronger than the first, and season 3 is at least the equal of the previous. Season 3 motors out of the starting gate picking up its characters right where the previous season left them, and moves forward with great energy. The actors and the writers are all finding their characters. Hence, in Season #1 there were occasional forced message moments with obvious metaphor and real life parallel. Those moments aren't gone in Season #3, but now they're totally in character. When Sookie's giving a message to someone, it's Sookie giving the message. There are an abundance of nice little touches throughout. I was especially fond of the menu for the meal between Bill and the vampire king of Mississippi played by Denis O'Hare. The meal starts out with blood taken from willing donors fed a tangerine diet for the past two weeks. If you're the kind of person who really digs the cage-free hens and the free-range chickens, you'll be able to laugh at yourself while taking the moment very seriously. And if you're the kind of person who thinks that whole cage-free hen stuff is exceedingly silly, you'll be able to take the moment the exact opposite way. It's written and played so dead-on straight that you can't tell which way anyone on the show is going with it, so the moment becomes your own. And let me assure you the second episode is worth watching entirely for the meal. Haven't enjoyed a movie meal moment so much in years, up there with Louis Jordan serving his speciality to James Bond in Octopussy.

If you haven't watched the first two seasons of True Blood, I'm not sure how much the recap at the start of episode #1 will help. Happily, enough people have been watching that it probably won't make a difference.

When they say "it's not TV, it's HBO..." Well, TV doesn't have the budget. The cast of True Blood keeps growing and growing and growing. This Variety review says they're now up to 29 regular characters and I wouldn't argue. In the real world of TV, you can't do that. Maybe once in a while you can have an episode where you drag in everyone for some event, and then the bean-counters will say you can't have any guest stars next week and must use only the regulars.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Kindle is on Target

& today's eReader news, Amazon and Target have announced that Target will become the first brick-and-mortar retail outlet to be selling the Kindle. So Best Buy can get your Nookie and your Sony going, Target will have the Kindle, Borders will have a huge selection of the eReaders nobody else has heard of.

And I'll be very eager to hear what SciFi Fan Letter thinks of her new Kobo...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

& more e-readers

Borders announced that it will be offering something called the Libre eBook Reader Pro as part of its "Area E" section come August. This comes from Aluratek, a company not heretofore known to me. So if Borders continues to sell the Sony, along with their major partnership with Kobo, and now the Libre, that's three eBook readers, and Borders is promising in their press release to be offering up to ten devices by the end of the year. And the Libre has the cheapest offering price yet of $119.

I'm beginning to like this approach. If you're too late, and Borders is too late by far to offer its own branded device, just like they were way too late with their own e-commerce site and way too late updating their IT and supply chain, this is probably the best way to go. While everyone else offers their own device, Borders is the place where you actually get to choose your poison. The best thing might be if Borders would come to an agreement with Apple to sell the iPad. It's not like Apple doesn't sell its products through third party channels, including iPods aplenty at Costco and a selection of things at Best Buy, why not Borders? I don't really think there's any chance of that happening, but that would kind of cover all choices to all people, instead offering whatever color of e-reader you want so long as it's another gray-on-gray E-Ink screen.

Here, Borders will be offering a clear choice to customers and differentiating itself in the market. The only question is whether it's kind of like having the other guy offering the Nestle cookie dough and the Pillsbury cookie dough and then you're offering six brands of cookie dough that nobody's ever heard of, wants to hear of, thinks they need to hear of.

e-Reading

Here's an interesting post from Pyr SF editor Lou Anders comparing some of the iPad e-reading apps.

The Kindle came out in December 2007 and it was a while before I started to see them. The iPad clearly seems to be ahead in month-to-month sales comparisons if my own experiences are any indication. Multiple people at Balticon had. My client Peter V. Brett got one the day before we headed down to the convention and was telling multiple people over the weekend that he never wanted to be without and would probably never again take a laptop around with him ever ever again. On the train ride back to NYC yesterday, somebody else in our car already had an iPad. This is a lot of adaptations, awfully quick.

I've been kind of holding out on principle, that if they want to sell me one, I should be able to go into a store and buy one. But the more I see them around, the more I'm not so sure I can hold out. Especially seeing the iPad in the very thin case which Peter purchased for his, squeezing into his shoulder bag, taking up about as much space as some very big square-bound issue of a magazine, my iPad envy was definitely ratcheting up.

I spoke with a B&N bookseller recently who wasn't radiating enthusiasm for the Nook. Told me they've got to spend a lot of time trouble-shooting them instead of selling books. They're on a daily sales quota that adds up to around a couple dozen that should be sold over the course of the week, which quota they have made only rarely.