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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 08/23/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 8
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC (no meetings scheduled) Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Backissues available at http://www.mt.lucent.com/~ecl/MTVOID/backissues.html or http://sf.www.lysator.liu.se/sf_archive/sf-texts/MT_Void/. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
URL of the week: http://www.ansible.demon.co.uk/sfec.html. The list of all corrections to John Clute and Peter Nicholls's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION, including new data.
I was talking last month about seeing toy ads saying "The Puppets are In!" and "We have Hunchback Toys." at the Burger King around the corner from home. I just saw another sign that got me thinking. It said, "1996 Dream Books are in." Well, first of all, 1996 is already mostly over. And isn't that a scary thought! It is just four and a half more years to the Millennium. Or three and a half for those of you who still think that there was a year 0, which there wasn't. Well, maybe it is a blessing in disguise. If you have the sort of mind that believes that something weird and cosmic, man, is going to happen at the second millennium when nothing much happened at the first, you probably also have the sort of mind that will breathe a sigh of relief when that first digit turns over to be a two, one year before the actual coming of the third millennium. Boy, don't I sound like a snob because I am not expecting anything supernatural to happen at either the beginning or the end of the year 2000? No, I do know that the end of the world is coming and it will be at the end of 1999. But it won't have anything to do with supernatural forces. It will have to do with computers all over the world that have been programmed to assume that the last two digits of the year are just going to keep getting larger and larger. When those two digits drop to zero and a bunch of computers start getting negative results from subtractions where they are expecting positive ones, well something is sure going to hit the fan then, let me tell you.
But I am digressing. I am fascinated by this sign. If I know what a Dream Book is, isn't it some sort of mapping of the subject of dreams into what it really means? It is a way to interpret dreams. Now, what this is saying is that everybody all over the world has the same symbolism. We can tell you what your dreams mean and what the symbolism is. We don't have to know anything about you in particular. We don't have to know anything else about your dream. Forget this "sometime a cigar is just a cigar" junk. We know how your dreams work! No problem. But you have to have the most up- to-date book. Last year's symbolism is useless to you. You started dreaming differently on January 1, 1996, and your dreams have different symbols. I knew that American Mah Jong changed at the end of the year and that what was a winning hand (or whatever you call a winning set of tiles) last year is not a winning hand this year. But that is only a convention. These guys really seem to think that you think that the symbolism of your dreams has changed since last year. Some little dial in your subconscious mind turned over some little man inside you head said "Whoops, have to go to the new symbolism. Hey, Boss, let's have a dream about a cigar in a glass of milk. And this time we can just let it be a cigar. Yeah, next week it can be something else." I mean does anyone really believe that God in his heaven says to himself, "I want to announce what the Pick-Six Lottery results are going to be ahead of time. But just so as not to overwhelm the market I am going to encode the information in a dream about sparrows flying around in a bathroom and implant the dream in some poor slob's head. And his next door neighbor, same Pick-Six numbers, but for her the dream should be about her meeting the Beatles in the frozen food section of her grocery store." I mean, if that is reality, what kind of a universe does that imply? I tell you there are some pretty strange viewpoints running around these days. [-mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: It may be that the Jane Austen craze is nearing the end of its course, at least with me. The title character plays with people's emotions and even their lives. In the end her punishment is she is a little contrite for a few scenes before all her dreams come true. Ms. Austen's all-too-visible hand sets everything right in the end, as she always does. A well-acted and well-photographed film, but the story is not Austen's best. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4). WARNING: some minor spoilers.
EMMA is an exquisite recreation of early 19th century country life. Seeing one scene after another is like looking in on historical rooms recreated in a museum. It is not that every scene is ornate, but each has a feel of authenticity. One almost feels that a guide taking the viewer around the room and telling the viewer what each of the items is might have been nearly as interesting as having the actors play out the scene. And at the end of the film one almost feels that might have been a better use of time. I am afraid that it will take some effort to convince me that this is really a better story than even INDEPENDENCE DAY has, as boorish as that might sound.
As is frequently the case in a Jane Austen story, EMMA is concerned with the vitally important issue of which of Ms. Austen's generally shallow characters will marry which others. Especially of interest is how will Austen's main heroine get together, after some tribulation of course, with the man who it is so obvious from the beginning is the perfect choice for a husband. At least in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY the main character was in some ways admirable. The self-satisfied Emma Woodhouse (played by the elegant Gwyneth Paltrow) is merely attractive and rich. I rather hoped through the film that there might be some semblance of a morality tale here and Emma's meddling would lead to her not getting her Mr. Right. Of course, that is not Austen's style and in the end Austen arranges that there is no permanent damage done by Emma.
Mr. Right in this case is Mr. Knightly (played by Jeremy Northam), Emma's sister's brother-in-law. And Knightly really is knightly. He is the voice of conscience and the advocate of restraint ("Better to be without sense than misapply it as you do.") as Emma goes madly running about trying to run the lives of all her friends. Her best friend is Harriet Smith (Toni Collette), afflicted with just average looks. And worse, she is afflicted with a friend like Emma. The persuasive Emma has decided that a local farmer who is interested in Harriet is not good enough to marry Harriet. Emma decides to quash that match and to instead set up a marriage with Reverend Elton, the local rector. Soon two eligible unmarrieds come on the scene. One is the callow Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor of TRAINSPOTTING), stepson of Emma's governess and confidant. The other is Jane Fairfax (Polly Walker, who had far more engaging roles in ENCHANTED APRIL and RESTORATION), niece of the region's second ranking busybody. Soon all the wrong people are attracted to all the wrong people from Emma's point of view.
The novel was adapted to the screen and then directed by Douglas McGrath and some of the film has some undeniably witty moments. The acting is all sufficiently convincing. Gwyneth Paltrow looks extraordinarily long-necked and elegant. Jeremy Northam would look very good except for the fashions of the day that seemed to go in for extraordinarily large hats and other exaggerated clothing features. It is something of a surprise to see Greta Scacchi in a smaller role as the ex-governess. Also a familiar face is Juliet Stevenson of TRULY MADLY DEEPLY in a small role. More than once I found the sets upstaging the action with apple-filled harvest scenes, Christmas party scenes, crocheting rings, and views of odd decorations on yard furniture. In fact, there is little in this film that is not top-notch but the story itself. (I have to admit, I did like the film better than the recent CLUELESS, loosely based on the same novel. But at least there it was easier to like the main character in CLUELESS because the results of her actions would have been less permanent.) The only thing really wrong with EMMA is Emma herself. With a main character that there was some reason to care about, this could have been a much better film. I give it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: KANSAS CITY is strong on period atmosphere and is unusual for an Altman film in that there are relatively few plot strands to tie together. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives terrific performance as a very uncommon common woman. While there are a few too many jazz interludes for most viewers of the film, the story is rich in texture and in irony. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4). Warning: minor plot spoilers. It is tough to tell the premise of the film without telling a little that is mysterious in the first half hour of the film.
KANSAS CITY is something of a departure from Robert Altman's recent style of telling many different stories simultaneously, then letting them all come together at the end. In KANSAS CITY he is really back to telling a single story, though it takes a little while for one of the plot threads to be tied into the mainline of the story. In the screenplay which he co-authored with Frank Barhydt, Altman returns to the city of his youth to direct a story about crime, race, class, and politics.
The setting is Kansas City, Missouri, in 1934. Blondie O'Hara (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is in a real fix. Her husband Johnny (Dermot Mulroney) has robbed a taxicab, using burnt cork to make himself look black. Now the oddly-named Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), the local crime boss, has Johnny and is going to kill him. Blondie realizes that that she cannot get Seldom to let the man she loves go. Faced with an immovable object she decides to unleash the only irresistible force she knows. She has to convince the local Democratic political machine to go in with its hired muscle to do the job of freeing her husband. And how is she going to convince them to do that? She has a weird scheme to kidnap Carolyn Stilton (Miranda Richardson) the socialite wife of a Democrat high muckimuck (Michael Murphy) and force him to unleash the muscle of the political machine to save her husband. Much of the film is the interplay between Blondie O'Hara and Carolyn Stilton. Meanwhile Johnny O'Hara is a prisoner at the Hey-Hey Club as Seldom Seen plays a cat and mouse game with him.
All this happens to the background strains of the music at the Hey-Hey Club, except when the music is dragged to the foreground and the story-telling drags to a halt. Altman obviously expected that a big part of the show would be to hear the music of current jazz greats playing anachronistically in 1934. His heart was clearly in the right place, but even his telling of the mainline plot is a little slow and deliberate and people who are not fans of jazz may find his use of it in longish interludes excessive. As with many Altman films, the story cannot be fully assessed until the film is over and much of what the film is saying is encompassed in the last five minutes. This is a story of insular people who think they understand each other but who actually have gulfs of race and class separating them more than they realize.
It has taken me a long time to come around on Jennifer Jason Leigh. For a while I have noted that she has done a good job with this role and with that one and never thought much about it. But I really think now I think she is just about the best character actress of her generation. Although it is said more visually than verbally, it is clear that Blondie is a woman absolutely obsessed with films and in particular with Jean Harlow films, since it is suggested that with bleached blond hair she resembles Harlow. From the first moment we see her she is dressed and made up in the style of women of 1930s films. We learn a great deal about Blondie, but Carolyn remains a cipher through much of the film. We are never really sure what she is thinking or if she is thinking under the laudanum haze into which she sinks at every opportunity. It is, of course, good to see Harry Belafonte acting and for much of the film he seems in control of his character. At one point the character seems to run away with him and as he goes off into a babbling tirade about what he is doing, about racism, and about why he disagrees with Marcus Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement. One feels that the plot intended this speech to be more coherent and cogent than it actually came out.
Altman does not so much put period feel into the film as saturate the film in a bath of rich period atmosphere. Though the viewer has to look quick to place the film's exact year, every scene seems to have an exaggerated 1930s feel. Everything looks very 1930s. Whether or not people dressed in real life like Blondie does, she certainly looks like women in 1930s films. Altman slightly disorients his viewers with a non-chronological telling of the story in the early parts of the film. Perhaps he thinks that the early part of his films should be disorienting. In any case, the story-telling becomes much more straightforward once he gets into the meat of the story. While not a perfect film, 1930s Kansas City certainly does a lot more to keep the film interesting than 1990s Los Angeles did for SHORT CUTS. This is the most intriguing Altman film in quite a while. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [- mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Good dialogue can compensate for a multitude of other sins. Here the sins include a fairly predictable and banal plot and some rather obvious manipulation of the audience. Much of this has been done before, particularly in BULL DURHAM or ROCKY. The real surprise is a restrained performance that becomes one of the best ever for Cheech Marin. The words and the photography are what makes the film. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
Voltaire said "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien." Literally it means "the best is the enemy of the good." That is just what has kept Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy (Kevin Costner) from being a top ranking golfer. He has to try for the best shot, the dangerous one rather than looking not quite so good. He usually misses it, but at least he tried for the shot that everybody would remember. So instead of a well-known golf pro, he runs a second-rate driving range in Salome, Texas. It is not a great living but in a tiny West Texas town like Salome, where the armadillos outnumber the golfers by hundreds to one, it is amazing he can even survive. Even stranger is that the small town supports a psychiatrist, Dr. Molly Griswold (Rene Russo) and that each has never heard of the other until Griswold shows up a the driving range wanting lessons. McAvoy is attracted to Griswold but she is already attached to someone. The plot thickens when an old friend, now a rival and a top golf pro, David Simms (Don Johnson) turns up and wants McAvoy to caddie for him in a golf tourney. Needing the money McAvoy takes the job, but get himself fired in a grandstand play when Simms goes for a conservative shot at the tourney. McAvoy decides to go for another big one and make a play for Griswold, only to find out her boyfriend is Simms. From there you could plot out the rest of the film and with only a small surprise here and there you would probably be right. (Think of it as ROCKY with a different sport and cast with prettier-looking actors.)
What makes TIN CUP watchable are the characters and the dialog. These are bright people and their small talk as the plot plays itself out is more of interest than the plot itself. McAvoy and Griswold are likable people as are the circle of people who orbit around them. First and foremost of the friends is Romeo Posar, as the most interesting an amiable character that Cheech Marin has ever played. The role was likely written for someone of a milder character to have a little fun hamming it up. Instead Marin plays the role as restrained as anybody he has ever played, so that is not the comic bits that surprise us but the moments of warmth and sincerity. Another close friend is a stripper and ex-girlfriend to whom McAvoy owes money. Making her a stripper seems like it was a calculated move. At 42 Ms. Russo probably prefers to show considerably less flesh than say, Susan Sarandon did in a previous film by director Ron Shelton, BULL DURHAM. The story asks if this old, but still talented, failure McAvoy can make something of himself on the golfing advice of his caddie and the pop psychology of his girlfriend without alienating either too much.
Ron Shelton's films seem to be falling into a pattern of sports, a bit of sex, a large dollop of comedy, some well-drawn characters, and good dialog. His films are thin on plot and give the audience little to chew on after the film is over, but they are audience pleasers and at least the audience when I saw the film were applauding at times. Considering that golf is a gave that even its most ardent fans usually give only polite hand-clapping, getting a film audience so involved in a golf film is no small feat. With the exceptions of Costner's slight grunge edge, the characters are pretty and pretty bland. Johnson actually is the most believable as the blandest of all. I think that the film also sported some golf champions who would have been familiar to some of the audience, though I would not have recognized them if they were two feet away. Some familiar brand names also show up on things like golf caps and even a blimp and they too are playing themselves.
TIN CUP will not leave you with much to think about other than a person's reach should exceed his grasp. This is a pleasant enough throwaway film you will not remember in the fall. Rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
To believe is very dull. To doubt is intensely engrossing. To be on the alert is to live, to be lulled into security is to die. --Oscar Wilde