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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/09/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 45
Table of Contents
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:
http://cu-online.com/~avonruff/sfdbase.html. The Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase.
There is a whole controversy about the casting of the new British film JINNAH about Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. They had to cast an actor to play the man and, of course, the Pakistanis were very interested in who would be cast in the title role. Well, I guess it is understandable. We would not like it if Iran made a film about the founding of the United States and cast someone like Jerry Lewis as George Washington. The actor chosen was Christopher Lee. Now Lee is best known for playing Dracula in several film from Hammer Studios of Britain. He also has played the roles of Fu Manchu and Rasputin. The feeling of some Pakistanis is that since he has been typecast as a villains before, some even supernatural bloodsuckers, he should be ineligible to play a Pakistani national hero. Richard Attenborough had real problems casting the title role for GANDHI. Before Ben Kingsley was offered the role it was offered to Dirk Bogart, Peter Finch, Anthony Hopkins, Albert Finney, Sir Alec Guinness, and Tom Courtney. Each turned the role down and it seems for good reason. It is hard to imagine any of them doing a good job as Gandhi. I sometimes wonder how these films ever get cast. Ben Kingsley seems like so obvious a choice, but that is because we have seen him in the role. At one point in the casting process Attenborough asked some of the Indian people themselves whom they would like to see in the role. One woman told him "I cannot see Gandhi being played by anything but a globe of light." Rather ashamedly, Attenborough relates that he told her he was not making a film about "bloody Tinkerbell." But that would have sidestepped the whole issue of casting.
But the same impulse is in American films. They talk about mystery religions. I guess everybody's religion is a mystery if you really look at it. One of the mysteries a religion likes to keep is what its founder looked like. Take the film BEN HUR. The film has been made twice, once as a silent with Francis X. Bushman, and once as a sound film with Charleton Heston in the title role. The first one has Jesus standing there in the picture, but there is always someone or something between you and him so you cannot get a look at him. There is something very symbolic that something always stands between you and him, I suppose. But they thought it was a sacrilege to show his face. Then they had the fancy remake of BEN HUR on TV and throughout the whole film they have these scenes of Jesus. And they film it from angles so you never see his face. What is that? You can have an actor's knees playing his knees, but his face remains forever off camera. His ears are unique and I think we see them. So what is the big deal about showing his face? They don't want to show you his face because it is not really what he looked like? They show you other historical figures of the time and I can tell you that wasn't what they looked like. What is the big deal about showing Jesus's face? I guess we don't have a problem like that in Judaism. If you have a film about Moses, you can show his face. I think that cable TV just had a film about Moses and there was no big deal that you saw who played the role. But of course everybody knows what Moses looked like. Everybody has pretty much the same image after seeing THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. He looks a lot like Ben Hur. [-mrl]
CORRUPTING DR. NICE by John Kessel (Tor, ISBN 0-312-86116-8, 1997, 317pp, US$24.95) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
If this doesn't make my Hugo nomination ballot for 1997, there must be some really amazing books showing up later. Kessel manages to write a humorous, witty (no, they're not the same thing), thoughtful, time travel, alternate history, religious dinosaur story, which I think is the first. (Gore Vidal's LIVE FROM GOLGOTHA came close, but lacked the dinosaur.) Having said this much, I now have to try to review this book without telling you too much more, because part of the enjoyment is watching it all unfold. (Or perhaps a better analogy is watching it all come together, like those puzzles with pieces of all different shapes than fit together into a neat cube.)
How does he do this? Well, the underlying premise seems to be one of branching universes, at least in the sense that you can go from *now* to *then*, make all sorts of changes, and come back to *this* now rather than *that* now. So the entrepreneurs of Dr. Owen Vannice's "now" can go back to the Jerusalem of two thousand years ago, build a Holiday Inn, bring several major religious figures back to his present, and still not change one iota of the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Salem witch trials.
Vannice (Dr. Nice) is returning from the Cretaceous with an apatosaurus when he finds himself in that Jerusalem, and soon becomes embroiled in a plot by zealots to purge their world of the "invaders." (I guess I forgot to say this was also about cultural imperialism.)
Kessel also fills his bizarre story with references to other science fiction stories, current journalistic tendencies, and a wide range of prehistoric, historic and quasi-historic figures. Yet within all this madcap whirl are insights and truths about us and our world. In this regard Kessel is part of a long literary tradition in speculative fiction, including Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, James Morrow, and Connie Willis.
This is a wonderful book, both entertaining and thought-provoking. So in the words of Kim Stanley Robinson on the back cover, "Go buy this book yesterday." [-ecl]
ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Don't be fooled by this film's light and breezy exterior. This is not just a pile of blond jokes, this is a film with an intelligent script with some real insight into human relationships and behavior. Romy and Michele find out that their high school is having its 10-year reunion, but do not want to admit to their class that they are really doing nothing with their lives but having fun and marking time. The reunion will be a chance to reassess the people they knew in high school and to get closure on some unfinished business. But yes, the film is still fun. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
It would be easy to be deceived by the trailers for ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION. The film looks like a not very sympathetic look at two ditzy blondes who make fools of themselves at their high school reunion. It could have been a very superficial and even hurtful movie. In fact, it is the screen adaptation of a late 1980s play "The Ladies' Room," a characterization of two very shallow women that writer Robin Schiff overheard in the ladies room of a singles club. Romy and Michele have been friends since childhood and have lived together-- fraternally as the script makes clear--in Los Angeles since their painful last days of high school. Romy is a cashier at a parking garage and Michele is unemployed. The film, partially based on the play takes Romy and Michele (played by Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) through some trying moments. They realize that they are going to be facing the people who made up the texture of their lives in high school.
Their invitation to their reunion starts them thinking about how little they have accomplished that would impress their classmates. Together they decide that since nobody from their hometown of Tucson knows what they have been doing they can pass themselves off as successful business women. It is not a good idea, but worse ideas are coming. When Romy jokes about what she had to do to borrow a nice car and Michele is not quick enough to recognize it is a joke, a wedge starts to grow between the two women. The reunion could have been played purely for humor. It is funny but there is a lot more to it than that. Virtually everybody coming to the reunion has some unfinished business from ten years earlier. Seemingly each had his or her place in the high school pecking order and now each is hoping to show up somebody. The reunion is used far more intelligently than the similar occasion in the current GROSSE POINTE BLANK. Rather than just being a backdrop, it is really an incisive look into high school behaviors. There are a few predictable and one or two unpredictable surprises building to a climax that is a little too much a deus ex machina to match the quality of the rest of the writing.
The two main characters could easily have been irritating, but instead they have a definite charm. Mira Sorvino's Romy is the brighter of the two, but not so bright that she does not get the two of them into trouble. Lisa Kudrow, veteran of the stage version of "The Ladies' Room," is the more sensitive and easily hurt. But the two actresses play with a real chemistry between them. They care for each other and for each other in a way not often shown on the screen. Janeane Garofalo, who has been playing amiable people in other films plays very much against type as a cynical and perennially bitter schoolmate who still has a chip on her shoulder when she thinks of Romy and Michele. Alan Cumming plays the high school's leading nerd and will no doubt leave audiences wondering why he looks so familiar. In fact, he played a similar computer nerd in the last James Bond film, GOLDENEYE. As a trivia point he also did the voice of the title horse in 1994's BLACK BEAUTY--an excellent film, by the way. Here his role is off-beat even for him and includes a strange ballet-like dance with the two leads. The film is directed by first-timer David Mirkin.
ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION is a film that works on a superficial comedy level but also resonates from characters and plot situation that are more substantial than they at first appear. That makes this film a treat all around and one I rate a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE SAINT (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Leslie Charteris's famed hero fails to come to the screen in this film inspired as much by the old MISSION IMPOSSIBLE program as THE SAINT or Charteris's stories. Val Kilmer gets a real field day playing in many disguises, and his character certainly had possibilities. But the script fell well short of being a cracking good story of international intrigue. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 1 positive, 10 negative, 6 mixed
I am told that back in the 1970s a young filmmaker came to the owners of the rights to the character Flash Gordon and said he wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie. They turned the filmmaker down so he created a brand new hero of his own, calling him Luke Skywalker. Fortunes are made and lost on such decisions. But the question is why would even some of the most talented filmmakers choose to use pre-existing characters when they can create new ones of their own who are just as interesting. One might be that they think they can explore some new approach to an existing character; the other is to exploit audience recognition value. A test to see which is true would be whether the character would be recognizable with the names changed. Frequently there are good films made that re-examine Sherlock Holmes. Almost always these films would be recognizable as being about Sherlock Holmes even if he were given another name. One film that definitely does not pass the test is the new THE SAINT. Without being told that this character sometimes uses the name Simon Templar (but usually not) and without the use of the Saint stick- figure logo toward the end of the film, there is nothing in Val Kilmer's nameless character that at all evoke Leslie Charteris's roguish troubleshooter. And that is almost surprising since the original Simon Templar is sort of an all-purpose adventure character. He might in one adventure be battling diamond smugglers, in another dangerous spies, and in still another his opponent would be a mad scientist who has bred an ant the size of a train car. Frequently he was suspected to be on the fuzzy edge of the law, but he never actually was. He usually used his own name, rarely used disguises, and probably never used Bondian gadgets though he did use his own suave personality. In short, there is just about nothing in the new Val Kilmer version of The Saint evocative of the character as written or portrayed before. Not that this is not an interesting character. In fact, this film would have been much better had it not played on the audience's expectations to see Simon Templar.
The story opens in what can only be termed "the Catholic School from Hell." Because one boy does not take to the Saint's name he has been assigned, all the girls are locked in their dorms and the boys will get no food. This seems like a particularly virulent piece of gratuitous anti-Catholicism. Perhaps because the character will later take the names of saints the filmmakers wanted to make clear this was not a religious film. That becomes really clear when the set loose dogs on some of the children in their charge and one is killed. This incident has scarred for life a man of mystery with no name, but who likes to occasionally use the name Simon Templar. Flash forward a few years and the man is a hi-tech cross between Batman and a James Bond without a British Secret Service to serve. It is never explained where his money comes from, but he obviously has a lot to spend on the latest gadgets. He gets caught up in a really confused plot by the Russian Mafia to steal a formula for practical cold fusion from an attractive American scientist, played by Elizabeth Shue. The whole convoluted story builds to an outlandish climax in Red Square.
Shue is appealing with her slightly geeky touches. Though somehow there just does not seem to be much chemistry between her character and Kilmer's and their romance only seems to bog down the plot. Kilmer is just a little over the top in a fun way with his many and varied disguises. They are each just a bit exaggerated much like Rod Steiger's tour-de-force performance in NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY. The problem is the story which is so totally artificial and which so often depends on far-fetched coincidence to get Kilmer's character out of trouble. I think I would like to see more of this character, but in a plot that is much better thought out. And frankly it still irks me that they hung this brand new character on The Saint.
The score of this film by Graeme Revell is not inspiring (which is probably why the trailers borrowed music from THE SHADOW and CRIMSON TIDE). The film is full of scenes that are not well considered. During one chase the character apparently changes clothes (off camera) in the middle of a crowded public square with nobody noticing.
It would have been nice to have a new film about Leslie Charteris's character. It may even be good to have more stories about this Simon Templar, but they are not the same and this story has too many rough edges. I give this THE SAINT a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly. -- Anatole France