MT VOID 04/18/97 (Vol. 15, Number 42)

MT VOID 04/18/97 (Vol. 15, Number 42)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/18/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 42

Table of Contents

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
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  908-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  908-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
              Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  908-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  908-957-2070
Backissues available at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: NightFlight's 1996 Darwin Award nominees. [-ecl]

Darwin Award:


You all know about the Darwin Awards - It's an annual honor given to the person who did the gene pool the biggest service by killing himself in the most extraordinarily stupid way. The 1995 winner was the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine which toppled over on top of him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it.

In 1996 the winner was an air force sergeant who attached a JATO unit to his car and crashed into a cliff several hundred feet above the roadbed.

And now, the 1997 winner: Larry Waters of Los Angeles-- one of the few Darwin winners to survive his award-winning accomplishment.

Larry's boyhood dream was to fly. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him. When he was finally discharged, he had to satisfy himself with watching jets fly over his backyard.

One day, Larry, had a bright idea. He decided to fly. He went to the local Army-Navy surplus store and purchased 45 weather balloons and several tanks of helium. The weather balloons, when fully inflated, would measure more than four feet across.

Back home, Larry securely strapped the balloons to his sturdy lawn chair. He anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep and inflated the balloons with the helium. He climbed on for a test while it was still only a few feet above the ground.

Satisfied it would work, Larry packed several sandwiches and a six-pack of Miller Lite, loaded his pellet gun-- figuring he could pop a few balloons when it was time to descend-- and went back to the floating lawn chair.

He tied himself in along with his pellet gun and provisions. Larry's plan was to lazily float up to a height of about 30 feet above his back yard after severing the anchor and in a few hours come back down.

Things didn't quite work out that way.

When he cut the cord anchoring the lawn chair to his jeep, he didn't float lazily up to 30 or so feet. Instead he streaked into the LA sky as if shot from a cannon.

He didn't level of at 30 feet, nor did he level off at 100 feet. After climbing and climbing, he leveled off at 11,000 feet. At that height he couldn't risk shooting any of the balloons, lest he unbalance the load and really find himself in trouble. So he stayed there, drifting, cold and frightened, for more than 14 hours.

Then he really got in trouble.

He found himself drifting into the the primary approach corridor of Los Angeles International Airport.

A United pilot first spotted Larry. He radioed the tower and described passing a guy in a lawn chair with a gun. Radar confirmed the existence of an object floating 11,000 feet above the airport.

LAX emergency procedures swung into full alert and a helicopter was dispatched to investigate.

LAX is right on the ocean. Night was falling and the offshore breeze began to flow. It carried Larry out to sea with the helicopter in hot pursuit. Several miles out, the helicopter caught up with Larry.

Once the crew determined that Larry was not dangerous, they attempted to close in for a rescue but the draft from the blades would push Larry away whenever they neared.

Finally, the helicopter ascended to a position several hundred feet above Larry and lowered a rescue line. Larry snagged the line and was hauled back to shore. The difficult maneuver was flawlessly executed by the helicopter crew.

As soon as Larry was hauled to earth, he was arrested by waiting members of the LAPD for violating LAX airspace.

As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring re cue asked why he had done it. Larry stopped,turned and replied nonchalantly, "A man can't just sit around."

Let's hear it for Larry Waters, the 1997 Darwin Award Winner.


(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A documentary expedition to the Amazon picks up a mystery man, little knowing that he intends to turn the proceedings into a hunting party for a huge man-eating snake. The plot is weak, with only one decent character, but it is tough to make too bad a film with so good a monster. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)

When I reviewed RUMBLE IN THE BRONX and said that I did not particularly like the movie, one person wrote me to say that not every film has to be so serious and that Americans make very few "fun" films. That came to me as something of a shocker since I had thought that the majority of feature films made in this country in the 90s were "fun" films, or at least intended that way. I grew up when the 50s science fiction films were hitting television and for me a fun film is something not unlike Jack Arnold's THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Arnold's Amazon opus is not a good film by any objective standard but is a sort of a dark pleasure. The new ANACONDA is not even enough unlike THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, borrowing a good deal of its plot. For me more pleasure than watching Jackie Chan kick somebody or gliding over them in a hovercraft is seeing a snake the size of a small traffic jam making mincemeat of an expedition to the Amazon. Not that ANACONDA is even a well-made rip-off of CREATURE and it would be more enjoyable with a better script, but it passes as a decent film. It is the sort of film that I peg in the back of my mind as a "drive-in" film, though in my part of the country the last drive-in died several years ago. The script of ANACONDA borrows much of its plot from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, with a nod or two to MOBY DICK and JAWS. But let us face it, it is fun to see a recreation of a primordial battle between humans and some giant force of nature.

The film opens with some young filmmakers on the Amazon planning to make a documentary about a legendary tribe of people, the People of the Mist. Immediately we know there is trouble brewing since these people would not be safe on the Amazon even if there were no giant snakes around. We have Terri Flores (played by Jennifer Lopez of BLOOD AND WINE and in the title role of SELENA). She is leading the expedition, believe it or not. Her cameraman is Danny (played by Ice Cube). Why do I have the feeling that Ice Cube would last on the Amazon just about as long as an ice cube would last in the Amazon? What passes for adult supervision is Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz) who seems to know a little of lore of the river, but mostly from books. There are several others, just as hopeless. And as someone who has actually been stranded on the Amazon in an outboard canoe ... without gasoline ... and with an Amazon storm blowing up, I could tell at the beginning that snake or no snake these people are not all coming back. In a nick of time they pick up somebody real who knows the Amazon. Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) is a Paraguayan snake hunter who has some idea about how to handle the river without getting killed. Unfortunately he has a plan of his own. He wants to capture alive a forty-foot anaconda he has reason to believe is living in a little traveled tributary. (Actually for those interested, a forty-foot anaconda is not that much of a stretch. These aquatic boas have been reported to actually reach to lengths of thirty feet and the largest may never have been seen and reported.)

Eric Stoltz is a good actor, but the script does not give him nearly enough to do. He is the logical descendent of the Whit Bissell character in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Actually is surprising that with three names credited to the screenplay and at least two more people who worded on the script, there should have been more to the story than a patchwork of other films. But the characters are flat and uninteresting, with one exception. Jon Voight is a terrific actor and his Sarone is what keeps the film watchable between snake attacks. The role is something of a departure for him and the hardened Amazon Paraguayan with the down-turned mouth and the understated manner of talking really is the best thing about ANACONDA. The snake isn't too bad either. The snake is done as a combination of animatronics and digital animation. Somehow the animatronics work better. The film was directed by Luis Llosa who must have been an obvious choice for the producers as his last four films were two action films (SNIPER and THE SPECIALIST) and two documentaries about the Amazon. But Voight was the most solid choice.

I cannot give the film a high rating, but it was watchable and between the snake and Voight's performance I did not feel cheated. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]


(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Jim Carrey stars in a morality comedy about the value of veracity and the price of prevarication. A lawyer finds his own son has cursed him to speak nothing but the truth for one whole day. A little bit of the Carrey personality goes a long way and too much of it steals what just a bit would have given the film. The script seems a bit inconsistent about just what are the terms of the curse. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 12 positive, 0 negative, 7 mixed

LIAR LIAR is basically a retread of a 1961 episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. In that story Jack Carson played a lying used car dealer Harvey Hunnicut who bought a car that came equipped with a curse. Whoever owned the car could speak only the truth. Carson made a few contorted faces as he tried to force himself to lie to customers but eventually had to give in to the acceptance that the curse really worked on him. Eventually he was able to become a double winner not just because he sold the car to someone else: the person he sold it to was Nikita Krushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union. A similar concept was used in THE WHOLE TRUTH, in which Bob Hope agrees to tell the truth for a whole day. LIAR LIAR is, however, much closer to the TWILIGHT ZONE story, with the lying profession changed from used car salesman to an unscrupulous lying lawyer. The sorrowful or bewildered facial gestures Carson gave his Hunnicut character. But the facial gestures are exaggerated by Jim Carrey into, well, what we would expect from Jim Carrey.

Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, not just a lawyer but the paragon of lying lawyers. Fletcher makes his living by subverting the truth. And what he does in his professional life he does in his private life. With cheating and lies he destroyed his marriage to his former wife Audrey (Maura Tierney) and is in the process of alienating their son Max (Justin Cooper). Fletcher has promised to be at Max's fifth birthday party and is instead in bed with his boss (Amanda Donohoe of LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM) trying to screw his way to the top. The disappointed Max makes a wish that his father cannot lie for a whole day. And the wish comes true, on a day when Fletcher needs to be a skillful professional liar Fletcher discovers that only the truth can issue from him mouth.

LIAR LIAR could have had a deeper resonance if its positive statements were not always undermined by what is just too much slapstick. The film was directed by Tom Shadyac of ACE VENTURA and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR where it really needed someone of the caliber of Billy Wilder. In addition, it builds to an action-packed finale that goes too far beyond what is really needed for this sort of material. Again the subtlety of Wilder could have worked wonders. But for me the real problem with LIAR LIAR is that the scriptwriters, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur, are never sure of the ground rules of the premise and so the audience is never sure either. What exactly is the wish all about? Supposedly it was that Fletcher cannot tell a lie for twenty-four hours, but what does that mean? Does it mean that he can or cannot evade the truth? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no. Can he remain silent or does he have to always be candid? Is a promise made in good faith and then later broken intentionally the same thing as a lie? For that matter is a promise made in good faith and broken due to uncontrollable circumstances the same thing as a lie? Do the same forces that compel truth from Fletcher bend fate so that what he has promised will come inevitably true? These are all questions that should have been answered before the first word of the script was typed. There were moments in this story when a truthful answer of "I really would not want to answer that question right at this moment" would have been the logical way out of Fletcher's current problem when he instead seems compelled to give an overly candid response.

In addition something not required by the premise are the over- the-top rubber-faced expressions from Carrey who breaks through to telling the truth like he is smashing through a physical barrier. It would not be a Jim Carrey film without some of this, but as he usually does he carries a good thing too far. Carrey is amusing, but his antics get in the way of the viewer getting any real feeling out of his part. Implied, but never fully developed, is that the most important effect of the curse on his character is that he can no longer lie to himself. By just being honest with himself he achieves a new level of self-understanding that allows him to put his life in order. The script makes another ironic point. While the film shows how much damage Fletcher has done with his lies, some of his lies have had positive effects. His uncontrollable candor hurts people who relied on some of his little fibs to bolster their egos. Telling the truth to everybody is almost as destructive as lying was.

With a little more concentration on the script and a little more subdued Carrey, this could have been a much better film. As it is, it gets a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]


(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: After a woman finds a love poem among her husbands things, she and her whole family spend a trying day in Manhattan looking for the husband and playing detective. The ultra-low budget comedy- drama has a few nice moments, some pointless-seeming sequences, and finally seems to run out of film just when the story starts. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) New York Critics: 13 positive, 0 negative, 5 mixed

THE DAYTRIPPERS has the feel of a story written in a PC. It starts as scenario that can be described in two or three sentences. But that is too short to make a film so sequences are added one at a time like Christmas decorations on a tree to pad the scenario until there is enough there to fill out a script. Some of the added sequences interconnect, most do not. Mostly you take the scenic route through the original three sentences, learning about the people traveling with you and some of the people you pass along the way. In the end the value of the whole comprises very little more than the sum of the value of the parts. It is apparently writer/director Greg Mottola's belief that if you see the characters in enough disconnected situations you will see sufficient facets of their personality to come to understand them. Perhaps there is some truth to that, but one wants more of a story than is provided here.

Eliza (played by Hope Davis) and Louis (Stanley Tucci) are a comfortable suburban couple living not far from Eliza's parents Rita (Anne Meara) and Jim (Pat McNamara). Eliza teaches fourth grade and Louis is an executive at a Manhattan-based book publisher. Then on the day after Thanksgiving, Eliza finds an Andrew Marvell love poem that has fallen out of Louis's pocket. Asking Rita for advice, her mother suggests going into Manhattan and confronting Louis directly. And the more people for support the better. So Eliza, her parents, her sister Jo (Parker Posey) and her sister's boyfriend Carl (Liev Schreiber) all go trooping off in the family station wagon to Manhattan to find Louis and hopefully the truth. It is a trying day in the city for each of them as well as some of the people in Manhattan that they involve. Along the way they have various small adventures, but the adventures are not very interesting in themselves, do not tell us a lot about the family members, and do not advance the plot. Much of this film is picking up on the texture of the characters, which is a bit threadbare, and waiting for something to happen. We get validation of our first impressions that Rita is a meddling busybody. There is confirmation that Jim is a long-suffering father who really is a font of wisdom if people would only notice and listen to him. We see that Jo is not as ready to commit to Carl as she thinks she is. And Carl, the writer, is really just a big fish in a small intellectual pond. We get something of how he thinks as he recounts in detail the plot of his novel, a rather simplistic symbolic work about a man with the head of a dog. (Curiously the release of this film seems to coincide with the publication of a real novel that would seem to have some similarities to his fictional novel: Kirsten Bakis's LIVES OF THE MONSTER DOGS.)

Anne Meara actually does a fairly good job as the overbearing Rita. In many ways she is more believable than Debbie Reynolds was in MOTHER. The film does not make adequate use of Pat McNamara who really makes the film come alive when he is given anything to do. Parker Posey who at one time seemed to overpower her roles intentionally gives a somewhat more subdued performance in this as she did in WAITING FOR GUFFMAN. Director Mottola seems to be keeping an eye on expenses as is producer Steven Soderbergh, whose films tend to be simple actors in front of a camera. The score is apparently done on a single guitar. Perhaps it was just the quality of the print I saw, but the colors were a little washed out.

By structuring his story so that the most interesting events fall in the very latest part of the film Mottola makes his film at once too long and one that the viewer is hoping will not end when it does. This is a film for the patient. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]


(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: GROSSE POINTE BLANK is not sure if it wants to be a deep allegory or a comedic action film. John Cusack plays a freelance assassin- for-hire who returns home to attend his ten- year high school reunion and rekindles the romance he walked out on a decade before. The dialogue is smooth but neither it nor the characters nor the plot seem to be believable for any place in this solar system. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 12 positive, 2 negative, 2 mixed

The last film I saw with such hip yet unrealistic dialog had Kenneth Branagh looking for revenge on his own uncle for the murder of his father. This is another smoothly written but violent tale of a man in his twenties dressed in black who is seeking something different in his life, but there the resemblance ends. John Cusack is Martin Blank, who has been out of high school for ten years, the last five of which he has been a professional assassin. Like Sam Spade he works out of a dingy office where he is tended by a mothering secretary. It might have been fun to see a steamy relationship between him and his secretary, but I think that the American public might not have been ready for that given that his secretary was played by sister Joan Cusack. Martin's profession throughout is treated almost as just another job. His chief competitor is Mr. Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) a cheerful killer who is trying to organize all the assassins and hit men into a sort of a union so they could do less work for more money, but would have to attend meetings.

At the near insistence of his secretary he decides to attend his ten-year class reunion in the posh Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe. Reticent at first, he decides he will combine questionable business with dubious pleasure by performing a contract hit in the same area. So off he goes to the reunion, but one of his first stops is to see his old girl friend Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver) who now is best known in Grosse Pointe as the host of a local radio program, making strange elliptical comments on the music. When the two of them get together, it is going to be a bizarre weekend.

Of course, bizarre is the word for Martin and just about everybody he knows. To anybody who asks what he does for a living, Martin very openly admits he kills people. The response is always a quip and at first it seems that nobody is taking him very seriously. However, when he kills somebody late in the film, a high school buddy very matter-of-factly helps him dispose of the body apparently without giving it a second thought, as if he was helping Martin change a tire. Often there seems to be logic missing in the plot, but then plot frequently seems to be only a vessel for the clever dialogue. Not that what people say makes sense all the time either. The dialogue, like that in PULP FICTION, is stylized, but somehow it never has the same spark and sometimes just seems to be forced filler. "What do you want in your omelet?" "Nothing." "Well, that technically is not an omelet." The line is neither accurate, realistic, nor funny. But what can we expect from a production company called "Caravan Pictures," and whose logo is a solitary man walking down a road? Unlike in PULP FICTION we feel we are listening in on people who are all style and no substance.

Some of the films better moments occur when the two Cusacks (John and Joan--actually there are at least two more in the credits) play off of each other. It perhaps gives us a feel for what it must have been like in the Cusack household. The screenplay credits John for some of the writing, though it might well be for ad libbed quips. Minnie Driver has a little less of the likable quality she generally exudes due to being just a bit too smooth, much like her father, played by Mitchell Ryan. (Ryan, incidentally, has the distinction of playing in three unrelated major films showing at the same time--THE DEVIL'S OWN and LIAR LIAR.) Alan Arkin has a small part as Martin's analyst, but comes off the most humane as the only person who seems really disturbed by the fact that Martin kills people.

Like most its characters GROSSE POINT BLANK is uneven, hard to believe, occasionally funny, but has too much style and not enough substance. These are people who are thinking more about their next clever comment than they are about killing. The film is entertaining, but its flippant attitude toward murder leaves a bad taste. The film gets a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 908-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     The secret of the demagogue is to make himself
     as stupid as his audience so that they believe
     they are as clever as he.
                                   -- Karl Kraus