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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/03/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 14
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 732-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
http://www.kinexis.com/movies.html. The Self-Referential Movies mailing list archive site.
Note: The Poets' Corner site from a few weeks ago seems to have died. [-ecl]
"Children's books can have many purposes, but the most basic one must be to persuade children of something not immediately self- evident, which is that there is a world of stimulation and sensation available through print--that books can carry you out of yourself. Suspense, horror, and science fiction are among the simplest ways to demonstrate this, and if some of the preteen Goosebumps and Animorphs addicts go on to get similarly absorbed in "The Lord of the Rings" or "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" those books will have performed their mission in the world as effectively as the most enlightened picture book." (Louis Menand, "How to Frighten Small Children", THE NEW YORKER, Oct 6, 1997)
At a recent party I got into a discussion about film. The discussion was started out about why Hollywood does so badly by science fiction. This is a perennial panel question at science fiction conventions. I mean everybody KNOWS that science fiction books are good and the films are these putrid things in which monsters cut people up in post-Holocaust worlds that have devolved into anarchy. And everybody has a favorite science fiction book like A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ that is just exquisite. Clearly the films just do not match up to the books.
Now, I would ask if it is really true. To a large extent we are comparing apples and oranges. There are reasons why novels are better than films. You have a long, long time in a novel to develop ideas in a story. You have a lot of words. In a film you have to a story in brief enough form that most of the audience will not need a bathroom break between the start and the finish. Bathroom breaks are not a problem with novels. Most films really have the same amount of action as you would have in a forty-page story, a novelette in the Hugo award definitions. So to be fair, let's compare movies and novelettes.
But that still is not fair. How many new novelettes are there each month? There are probably four or five monthly magazines that publish three or four new novelettes each month. Then there are original story anthologies. You know, books like ALTERNATE LAWYERS and ALTERNATE WEATHER CONDITIONS. It is hardly surprising that with so many novelettes being written and relatively few films being released to theaters. Of course, there are science fiction films that just go to cable or directly to cassette. But then there are a bunch of novelettes that don't get published either. With so many novelettes being published, you would expect a few of them to be better than the relatively few films we see. One would expect the best of the prose stories to be better by sheer numbers alone. So if you want to level the playing field, you must compare films to novelettes, and then just count the last five or so of each you have seen. I would say compare the last five new science fiction films you have seen in a theater and the last five new novelettes.
Okay, now things are a little more even. Which is better, the stories or the films. In my case, I have to say I am not really sure. The last five science fiction films I have seen in a theater include EVENT HORIZON which was just awful and MIMIC which was stylish and atmospheric. It had some ideas. Still at this point I admit probably the written are a little better, perhaps by only a narrow margin. But then writing a story you have one person at a word processor. If he thinks he has a way to improve a scene he just has to type it in. Making a film is a much bigger production. That is why they call it a "production." Changes to the story are very expensive. Instead of ten minutes of composition time a new scene may cost as much as tens of thousands of dollars to insert. This is a HUGE handicap for the filmmaker. Why isn't there a huge margin in quality? Why aren't the novelettes A LOT better than the films? Hollywood is doing better than you would expect by comparison.
Actually, at this writing the last novelettes I read were Hugo nominees. I would expect them to be really good. To be absolutely frank, in my opinion they weren't. This year the Hugo nominees which are supposed to be the best of the best were a pretty sad lot. I believe the winner was "Bicycle Repairman" by Bruce Stirling. I thought it to be a particularly weak Hugo nominee. There were more ideas of interest in MIMIC. So let me ask how come written science fiction is not a lot better? [-mrl]
I guess this is about all we can expect for film presentations at the World Science Fiction Convention. Basically what we got to see was just the same trailers that get shown in theaters. Judging by the trailer is dangerous, even EVENT HORIZON looked good. Okay, judging by the trailers alone here are two dozen or so looks at films coming up. The person giving the presentation was Jeff Walker, a studio publicist. He would make positive comments about some films, negative ones about others, but not say a whole lot in either case. I am not sure how strongly to take his recommendation or what his loyalties were. He was presenting the output from multiple studios. SPOILER WARNING: Hey, I only saw trailers so there cannot be a whole lot I am spoiling here, but I have known trailers to give away important plot elements.
KULL THE CONQUEROR: Kevin Sorbo who plays Hercules on TV here plays the title role. He has never looked convincing as Hercules (What is the bit with him wearing pants?) Somehow I am not expecting it here either. I never watched more than a few minutes of Hercules. Here he is playing Robert E. Howard's second most popular hero. Don't expect CONAN THE BARBARIAN. It looks a bit- tongue-in cheek for my tastes.
VIRUS: This has got to be one of the most cheating titles of the year. Americans discover a derelict Russian ship has and alien life form on board. They have to kill it. According to the trailer, "the virus is us." Just how they intend to justify that ridiculous statement I have no idea. Humans do not reproduce like viruses.
JACKAL: Apparently this is a loose remake of DAY OF THE JACKAL, Bruce Willis as the Jackal, Richard Gere as some sort of stalker released from prison to go after the Jackal. I think I would prefer seeing THE DAY OF THE JACKAL again.
WISHMASTER: This is a horror story based around a genie who tricks people into dangerous wishes and then grants them. Now my idea for a horror film is this tooth fairy who leaves venomous snakes and insects instead of money under the pillow.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES: Pierce Brosnan is just too suave and empty to be a decent James Bond. I wish they would get Timothy Dalton back. The trailer shows action scenes and explosions. I hope they convince John Barry to do the score.
FAIRY TALE: Two children on vacation run into real fairies. Somehow Arthur Conan Doyle (played by Peter OToole) and Harry Houdini (Harvey Keitel) become involved investigation. The trailer just barely showed the two famous people, but I know this is based on a true incident, though I think most people think that the original incident was a fraud. Walker recommended this one.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS: This looks to have the special effects of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, it just is a similar story moved to Paris. A teenager saves the life of a woman jumping off of the Eiffel Tower only to find out she is a werewolf. At some point he is bitten and himself becomes a werewolf. The trailer does not make clear why so similar a story had to be done again, but we shall see.
WASHINGTON SQUARE: It is odd to see Henry James's novel being adapted by Disney. If the film is accurate to the book it does not have a Disney ending. Jennifer Jason Leigh stars and is a good choice for the lead. This is a good story and I hope Disney does right by it.
ROCKETMAN: Wasn't this idea done with Don Knotts as THE RELUCTANT ASTRONAUT? What if an astronaut chosen for space flight were really a klutz? Probably he would be just assigned to the Mir.
PLAYING GOD: David Duchovney plays a doctor who has lost his license and a criminal, Tim Hutton, who forces him to use his skill. Hard to say, but this certainly does not look like a standout film.
THE LITTLE MERMAID: Disney obviously intends to keep releasing it in spite of the fact it is available on cassette.
FLUBBER: Yet a third version of THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR from Disney. This time the title substance dances around on its own. What nitwit thought that made the story better?
ANASTASIA: Don Bluth these days is doing animation for Fox. This appears be the same story that was made in a film starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brenner into a musical comedy. That is a fairly serious and heavy story. Next someone will turn THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME into an animated musical. Incidentally, the mystery has recently been solved with the only answer it could have ever had. Anastasia died with her family. DNA tests prove which bones were hers.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: This is a version of the Dickens story updated and moved to the present. Ethan Hawke, Gwynneth Paltrow, Ann Bancroft, and Robert DeNiro star. Hard to bring that down to the level most modern audiences would like.
ALIENS: THE RESURRECTION: The only positive sign about this film is that it is directed by the director of CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. Ripley has been dead for two hundred years, but people want to recreate aliens and so clone her to bring her back to life. But will she be on the side of the humans or the aliens. If they know anything about science she will be on the side of the humans. I mean presumably the aliens did not change her DNA, they just inhabited her. Cloning her DNA will make something like an identical twin to Ripley, it will not bring her herself back to life. Bu this does seem to be the year for clones, and misunderstanding cloning.
BLADE: Wesley Snipes is a half vampire fighting full vampires. This is apparently an adaptation of an old comic book "Blade, Vampire Slayer." I am not staking the family plot on this one.
LOST IN SPACE: The old TV series whole new look. There is a more impressive looking robot, Gary Oldman plays Dr. Smith. At one time I was impressed with him as an actor, but he is taking such lousy roles. Actually the original premise TV series may make more sense today than it did in the 60s. At the time you could not lose control of your ship for a few moments and really be lost in space. There was just not far you could go compared to the distances of space. Today just say they fell through a wormhole. Whether or not that is possible is unknown, but it sounds really scientific.
L. A. CONFIDENTIAL: This looks like it could be a good film noir mystery. It is hard to tell. Kevin Spacey is usually a good actor to have. Of course once the story is released to movie theaters, it will no longer be confidential. Walker suggests that people he knows have seen this film and like it.
SUB-ZERO: This is a feature-length piece of Batman animation by the people who do the TV animated series, direct to video. Batman battles Mr. Zero. The claim is this time they do Mr. Zero right. This audience clearly did not like BATMAN AND ROBIN.
THE QUEST FOR CAMELOT: Warner Brothers has a musical animated film that appears to be set in the time of Arthur and involves young people looking for, well the title tells it. The music did not sound too bad, what little we heard of it. A decent story and this could be pretty good.
SPHERE: I am kind of surprised another Crichton novel is being made so soon after the problems with CONGO. I realize I am blowing my whole credibility here, but I avoided CONGO until it came to cable, and then I thought it was not nearly so bad as I had been led to believe. It fell down in the final third, but I guess I like African adventures. CONGO was no JURASSIC PARK, but it was not a bad adventure. True, I am digressing. SPHERE is not even as good a novel as CONGO. I am surprised to see it becoming a film. They have given it a powerhouse cast: Dustin Hoffman, Samuel Jackson, Sharon Stone, and Peter Coyote. But it still is going to have to be "improved" to make a good film.
THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE: High Concept: THE FIRM crossed with ANGEL HEART. Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino star in the story of a bright vibrant young lawyer (Reeves) Who gets a terrific offer from a law firm too good to be true. It turns out the crafty old chief partner (Pacino) is really the Devil. It is a little strange having a lawyer be Lucifer. I mean I thought you could have sympathy for the Devil. DeNiro has played a suave, sinister Satan, now it's Pacino's turn.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER: Four teens like to tell spooky stories around campfires. Then they become part of one. They accidentally kill someone with their car. Some months later they are stalked and terrorized by a relentless pursuer. The plot sounds a lot like two hundred other stalker films.
GATTACA: This one is almost impossible to gauge. Almost none of the plot is evident from the trailer. What we do know is that the setting is a future is which the DNA in any of your cells can instantly identify you. One man tries to fake a test using someone else's blood. He is caught and is a fugitive. But whether this is a road chase film with a slight science fiction premise or heavy piece of science fiction is not obvious from the trailer.
THE MASK OF ZORRO: This is a sequel to THE MARK OF ZORRO. It apparently tracks a new Zorro through his guerrilla campaign against an unjust government. Sequels to THE MARK OF ZORRO go back to DON Q, SON OF ZORROR, a silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks. This looks like it could be fun, however, and Walker recommends it. The new Zorro is played by Antonio Banderas and the villain is Anthony Hopkins. You can't have too many well-made historical adventure films.
GODZILLA: This is a joke trailer that is intended to tell little about the film beyond that it is coming. As a schoolteacher is giving a boring lecture about dinosaurs in a museum Godzilla steps through a skylight. The animation is decent and believable. Godzilla's movements are more fluid than in previous films. Walker claims it will be an accurate version of the story with some changes, This is not a really useful piece of information.
STARSHIP TROOPERS: This is still not released. It probably is the most controversial film in production and I am guessing the results will work more on a visual level than an intellectual one. The claim is that characters will be fleshed out from the novel. But I think the ones that will be fleshed out will be the ones who have six feet rather than the ones who are six feet. Heinlein did not show us much of the bugs.
There was a publicity piece for STARSHIP TROOPERS but it just indicated that the actors think You should see the film and the director Paul Verhoeven does not like Heinlein's politics.
That was about the size of it. The best bets are probably L. A. CONFIDENTIAL and FAIRY TALE. [-mrl]
L. A. CONFIDENTIAL
Capsule: This is a dense, complex, multi- layered crime story that may just be one of the best films of its kind ever made. Great dialogue, very good plot, great characters, good musical score, great photography. This is one of the most engaging film script we have seen in a while. This is a film to rank with THE MALTESE FALCON and CHINATOWN among the best of the crime. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4), 9 (0 to 10). New York Critics: 27 positive, 0 negative, 0 mixed
They are almost a genre by themselves, Los Angeles and San Francisco crime dramas. Set in the short space of time around the World War II are the Philip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, Sam Spade and a host of others. Ranking with the best of them and inviting comparison to CHINATOWN (which it may even beat) is L. A. CONFIDENTIAL. Curtis Hanson who also directed THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE and THE RIVER WILD has given us a rich adaptation of the James Ellroy novel, directing and co- authoring the screenplay with Helgeland. He has retained a complex interconnected plot, but rarely a bewildering one--not an easy thing to do. In it Los Angeles is a completely interconnected ecosystem of police, organized crime, small-time crime, race, politics, TV, movies, law, and journalism. There is a second system interconnecting idealism, bigotry, lies, half-lies, blackmail, posturing, cover-ups, frame-ups, delusions, and publicity. It is impossible to give a decent description of the plot in one or two paragraphs as the film has enough plot for two or three films. At 136 minutes, L. A. CONFIDENTIAL can pack in this much plot only because nothing is wasted.
Against the backdrop of a 1953 Los Angeles rotting from within we have the story of three cops. Each an idealist in certain ways but willing to get his hands dirty for his principles. Bud White (played by Russell Crowe) has a personal crusade against men who beat women. He also believes in the code of silence protecting other cops who break the law. His captain, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) figures that make White not very smart and uses him for muscle and for semi-legal activities of keeping mobsters out of Los Angeles. Almost precisely the opposite is Ed Exley (Guy Pearce). Exley loves the letter of the law and sees no reason to be loyal to other cops, but he also wants to climb the ladder and to get all the glory he can gather. The third cop is Sgt. Jack Vincennes. He gets his kicks being the police expert for TV's "Badge of Honor" (a thinly disguised "Dragnet"). He like hobnobbing with celebrities and with people like Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito) the editor for the oxymoronically-named "Hush-Hush" true crime magazine. The three cops get involved with a movie-star look-alike prostitution ring run by suave Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn) and particularly his Veronica Lake look-alike Lynn Bracken (Kim Bassinger). A friend of hers gets herself murdered in a six-victim massacre at the Nite Owl Coffee shop.
One nearly wants to call the execution of this film flawless. The dialogue is crisp and ironic. The script is tightly written with not a single scene wasted or unimportant. This is not a film that leaves you a safe moment to go out for popcorn. The characters are finely defined. No two are interchangeable. Eventually we understand each and why he does what he does. If the film does anything superficially it is in its explanation of why Exley is such a straight-arrow and why White so hates men who beat women. But the visuals really capture the period. (One minor error in period: the film shows the premiere of the film WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. That would have been in 1951, George Pal's follow-up WAR OF THE WORLDS was released in 1953.) Jerry Goldsmith has written a jazzy score with the feel of a 1950s film.
It is amazing how much is packed even into a film of 136 minutes and into what a neat package the pieces fit. Be prepared to sit through the entire film, there is not a single scene wasted and few scenes the film can function without. I give the film a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. Objectively this film probably ranks with CHINATOWN and THE MALTESE FALCON. [-mrl]
THE FULL MONTY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Six out-of-work Sheffield steelworkers try Chippendales style stripping to make money in spite of lacking strippers' physiques. Combining elements of THE COMMITMENTS and BRASSED OFF! this film treads what is now overly familiar territory, but there is always room for a film with good human drama and a few laughs. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4), 7 (0 to 10) New York Critics: 14 positive, 1 negative, 3 mixed
Sheffield, England, in the early 1970s had an economy a strong as the steel it produced, as a public relations documentary under the credits tells us. But this is twenty-five years later and the mills have closed. The people who planned to work in the mills the rest of their lives are on the dole and scratching to find subsistence jobs. Gaz (played by Robert Carlyle--the weird Begbie of TRAINSPOTTING) has lost his wife and son to another man, mostly because he cannot provide for them. He has only tenuous visiting rights with his son, Nathan (William Snape) but pushes the law and has his son as a nearly constant companion. Gaz does have an idea how to make a little money. When the Chippendales male strippers play in town they pack a local rented hall. If they can make money so easily, perhaps Gaz and his friend Dave (Mark Addy) can put on the same sort of a show.
The problem is that the people he can get on the stage to strip are incredibly ordinary-looking people, not the Chippendales sort of hunks. And they dance worse than they look. With more reluctant pluck than looks and talent put together a group of six men including their old foreman Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) and Horse, an aging black drifter with a bad hip but who can teach them the moves. (How they assemble this troop while still keeping their plans secret is not really clear.) But the question is why would women who have seen Chippendales be willing to pay to see such losers strip? Gaz thinks that if they go the "full monty," baring all, that that will give them the edge. The idea seems doomed from the start. If they cannot make a living at what they were good at, how can they expect to be cocky enough to entertain an audience stripping, particularly looking so ordinary, this one skinny, that one out of shape, another one over the hill.
THE FULL MONTY manages to be about a lot of things and work on several levels. In part it is about the sad state of much of the British economy and the effects, obvious and subtle, of unemployment, broken dreams, and failure on the community. Sheffield is city where the balance of power between the men and the women has been destroyed by so many of the men's inability to earn a living. Gerald, the former boss of Gaz and Dave has spent six months maintaining a ruse for his wife that he still has his job. When he can no longer provide luxuries his wife wants the marriage breaks apart. We are led to assume something similar has happened to Gaz's marriage well before the action of the story. The film is also about how closely tied is Dave's self-image to his ability to earn a living. In fact the most touching personal relationship in the film is Dave's with his wife.
This is a cast that will seem to most American audiences to be unknowns. Robert Carlyle of course is from TRAINSPOTTING. Curiously he is the lead, but his performance is not one of the better ones of the film. For me the performances I will remember will be Mark Addy's Dave and Tom Wilkinson's Gerald. It is these people pushed to the point of desperation and for whom the audience generates the most sympathy. Tom Wilkinson of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS would seem to be the most secure of the three and yet he has the fewest options and clearly feels it. Sadly we do not see very much of Horse, played by Paul Barber. In some ways his is the most enigmatic character and the film could have used more story about him.
The only serious problem with THE FULL MONTY is that it is our third or fourth film about the sad state of the economy in the English hinterlands. This film reminds one a bit too much of BRASSED OFF! And having a brass band making the best of a bad situation in an early scene may be an unfortunate coincidence. But a comedy-drama with good characters is always worth seeing. Listen sharply to pierce the thick accents. I give this a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
MRS. BROWN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Queen Victoria is pulled from the depths of her mourning for his husband by her personal attendant. This gives him some power real and more perceived and causes a minor crisis. Someone more versed in the nuances may find more here than meets this Yank's eye. The film is at no point actually emotionally involving. Muted in style and photography. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4), 6 (0 to 10)
In 1861 Prince Albert, husband to Queen Victoria, died and the Queen went into mourning where she stayed for the rest of her life. For three years she did little but grieve. Clothes each day were set out for Albert, who fortunately never appeared to put them on. She had few responsibilities as Queen, but she ignored even them. And the public missed their view of royalty. The Times labeled her "The Great Absentee." Finally she did appear for the opening of parliament but apparently in such a depressed state that it was said that she should not have bothered.
Then a servant from Scotland, John Brown, came to Windsor to serve her there in the position of gillie, a sort of attendant. In spite of--or perhaps because of--his candor he was able to pull her out of her doldrums. He became a confidante and a friend, though at least according to the account in the film MRS. BROWN he never had much power over her other than the power of common sense. Nevertheless Victoria's unwillingness to return to the full level of her responsibilities combine with her friendship with him gave the public the opinion that he had a good deal more power than he actually had, suggesting that he was her master and she was his mistress. The crisis ended when the wisdom of Disraeli prevailed and the Queen began showing up more frequently in public and the people got their taste of royalty.
This is the story of that relationship written by Jeremy Brock and directed by John Madden for broadcast on the BBC and on PBS's MASTERPIECE THEATER. Queen Victoria is played by Judi Dench who has a long history of Shakespearean acting, but perhaps is most easily recognized as James Bond's new M from GOLDENEYE. Billy Connolly plays the beefy John Brown with full mustache and beard (the original had only the beard). As the film opens Victoria is behaving not so much like a queen as like a spoiled child who refuses to cooperate with anyone because of the monumental loss of Prince Albert. She is also angered that Albert died with the title Queen's Consort rather than King. The early part of the story is very reminiscent of the film PASSION FISH. Brown insists that the Queen needs fresh air and manipulates her into riding. In his company she regains some of her will to return to life. Brown is less than an idealist, however. He uses his friendship with the Queen for power in the Royal household. He drinks heavily and while he is willing be candid with the Queen, in any disagreement with others, he will back up the Queen's side like a yes man. This earns him enemies in high places.
Victoria has returned to the stream of life but she is willing to go only so far. She will go to Balmoral in Scotland to take in the Scottish scenery, but she does not want to return to England and her social responsibilities. Antony Sher plays young and sharp- witted Benjamin Disraeli, not yet a friend of Victoria, nor is he deserving to be. He dubs Victoria Mrs. Brown. But his wisdom prevails.
Richard Greatrex's camera keeps the style of the film physically subdued. The production is painted in large part in blacks, browns and deep reds. Much of the film takes place in half-dark rooms and often Greatrex will film a character in shadow. The film's most interesting sequence is just showing Victoria and her two daughters going swimming and seeing what modesty was common in those days for royalty as her enclosed cart backs up to the lake on a rope arrangement so that she may step down the steps into the water. Then she steps out covered from neck to foot. MRS. BROWN offers very credible look at the powerful people in England in the mid to late 1800s, but it lacks any real dramatic punch. There are no great secrets and much of the relationship between Brown and Victoria remains unknown and presumably lost with Brown's diary. The film lacks dramatic punch and when it is all over the viewer is left to wonder what was the point. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important. -- Eugene McCarthy