MT VOID 10/24/97 (Vol. 16, Number 17)

MT VOID 10/24/97 (Vol. 16, Number 17)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/24/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 17

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  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


We will have a club gettogether to see STARSHIP TROOPERS at the Hazlett Multiplex on Saturday November 8 and a dinner afterward at the local diner to discuss the film. Details in next week's notice. [-mrl]

URL of the week: Some of the funniest lists I've seen in ages; the "Evil Henchman's Guide" is especially recommended.. [-ecl]

Stephen Hawking:

Stephen Hawking started out the PBS show "Stephen Hawking's Universe" by saying that he has sold more books on physics than Madonna has sold on sex. I think that is because his books are more believable. [-mrl]


There are a whole bunch of conspiracy theories out there and there seem to be more each year. You know what I mean--theories that the Mafia and Fidel Castro did not act alone together when they hired Lee Harvey Oswald to kill Kennedy and Jack Ruby to clean up; Marilyn Monroe must have had a hand in it somewhere. But conspiracy theories are addictive because the mind likes to dwell on possibilities that cannot be disproved. It gives a sort of authenticity to them that there cannot be any proof to the contrary. I mean, we could start one right now that it was really John Wayne, in secret conspiracy with the generals at the Pentagon, who was determining America's strategy in the Vietnam war. Prove it isn't true.

One conspiracy theory is that an evil mastermind, someone as wiry and dastardly and devious as Moriarity and Fu Manchu in one man, has taken control of our government and is now--curses!--the American President. For years now, Bill Clinton's severest critics, under the influence of a certain radio personality whom we shall call RL, have been trying to find a smoking gun to prove at last the evil in man who is--as much as anyone is--running this country. It has been one dang charge after another in the hopes of making Clinton the central figure in a new set of Watergate-like hearings. And you want to talk about a Teflon President? Clinton has either got to be relatively innocent or the greatest criminal and legal mind this country has ever seen.

However, while it has been repeatedly denied by the White House, the latest batch of recordings proves what we all have feared. Not that there was any criminal wrong-doing on Clinton's part, but that the man is incredibly humdrum. Clinton won the last election in large part as a personality issue. It appeared that Gentleman Bob Dole was not so much the Man of Steel we wanted in the Presidency, but more the Man of Cream of Wheat. It seemed that Clinton could tell a joke, and maybe play a saxophone. That was about all it took to beat Mr. Bland. But now we have hundreds of hours of tape that seem to prove that watching Clinton is less like watching paint dry than it is like watching dry paint.

There is probably a conspiracy, all right, but it seems to be one to hide the fact that Bill Clinton is really pretty much Joe Average, perhaps not perfect but no worse than most of us. But it's not clear if it is Clinton's allies or his enemies who are conspiring to hide that scary fact. [-mrl]

THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A never-losing Florida lawyer (played by Keanu Reeves) is brought to New York to be the hired gun for the most prestigious law firm in New York. There his mentor (Al Pacino) turns out to be the quintessence of evil. As the new job takes its toll on his marriage and his very soul, the young lawyer begins to suspect that there is more to the job than meets the eye. This is glossy, beautifully staged horror film with an intricate plot that pays homage to several classic horror films. This one will not stretch your mind, but there is a lot to see. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), 7 (0 to 10). (Anyone who has seen a trailer for this film or seen another review probably knows what this film is really about. However, the film itself does not confirm it until late in the story, so I will carefully not spoil the premise in this review.)
New York Critics: 6 positive, 7 negative, 3 mixed

Kevin Lomax is one terrific lawyer. He has an uncanny way of sizing up prospective jury members and knowing who will be sympathetic. Sixty-four cases in Florida and he has not lost a case. It does not matter if the defendant is guilty or innocent, good guy or scumbag--if Kevin prosecutes the defendant is found guilty; if he defends, the verdict is innocent. People start to notice. Someone who has noticed is John Milton, the head of a prestigious and extremely powerful New York law firm. Milton is a slick and charismatic lawyer. He is in bed figuratively with the rich and powerful. He is in bed literally with sleek and the sexy. And his gifts to those he likes are nearly everything that are really worth having. Impressed with Lomax and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), Milton is anxious to bring Kevin into the firm, to use his genius, to pay him in money, with a palatial apartment, to see Kevin's every sexual fantasy fulfilled. Mary Ann is at first overjoyed at the success her husband is having and is willing to give up some of his time and his intimacy for the success that is everything she could not get back in Gainesville. But a bit at a time she discovers that her husband is making too many sacrifices of what she shared with him and giving it to the firm. Kevin never worried about being a scrupulous lawyer in the past, but this job is taking too much of a toll on his soul. As he gets pulled deeper and deeper into defending the guilty, Mary Ann is slowly disintegrating and Kevin is powerless to stop it. THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE is a good old- fashioned, well-plotted horror film in the style of the horror films of the 60s and 70s. No geysers of blood or crazed stalkers. The first half hour could be from a John Grisham novel. Then weird things start happening. The law firm seems to have its hands in evil, not just figuratively, but also literally.

In the past I have not been fond of Keanu Reeves's acting which I generally find wooden. Here perhaps that quality works to his advantage, both to contrast to Al Pacino and to present the feeling that there is something mysterious going on in his mind that we cannot quite fathom. And if there is not quite enough going on the screen with Reeves's performance, there is more than enough supplied by Pacino. Pacino is far more expressive in part because his character can afford to be. He gives a high-energy performance that would steal a scene from a puppy. There are, however, two scenes in the film when he turns the performance up too high and he goes into overload mode. One is a pivotal scene involving the character played by Jeffrey Jones; the other time is an extended scene very near the end of the film. Both times his performance gets to be just a bit overripe. Charlize Theron is rather nice as the incredible dissolving wife. Also nice to see is an uncredited part by the always watchable Delroy Lindo. The acting is all brought together by Taylor Hackford, who previously did the under- rated THE IDOLMAKER, as well as AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN and DOLORES CLAIBORNE. The set design by Roberta J. Holinko is very nice with some really memorable artwork. Other effects by Rick Baker are perhaps not up to some of his finest, but are still very worth seeing.

This may not be the most intelligent film of the autumn season, but it stands among the best horror films we have seen on the screen in the last few years. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

SHALL WE DANCE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

Capsule: A Japanese Salaryman leads a double life, first learning ballroom dancing then in competition dancing. The story is simple with few unexpected plot twists and while it has some bittersweet moments there is insufficient material here to sustain a feature film. For a Japanese audience there may be more here than meets an American eye. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4), 5 (0 to 10)
New York Critics: 17 positive, 2 negative, 1 mixed

In the strict rules of Japanese society, public signs of affection are considered to be in bad taste. Things that Americans would find innocuous, like a husband putting his arm around his wife, are considered to be breaches of decency. And while there are Japanese who get involved with ballroom dancing, we learn in this film that it is considered as tawdry in Japan, as going to strip clubs would be in the United States. Paradoxically, the society that shuns the touching of a partner on the ballroom floor is the same society that jams so many people into a subway car that literally nobody else can be shoved through the doorway. But that touching is considered non-voluntary. Ballroom dancing has connotations of rebellion in Japan that we just do not see in our country.

Shohei Sugiyama (played by Koji Yakusho) is a successful 40- something business executive with a staff of people working for him. He has a wife and daughter and has recently bought a house in suburbia. In Japanese society, this is not just success, it is affluence. Yet Shohei is dissatisfied with his pat little accounting job and his simple, programmed life-style. One night, returning home, he gazes up from his subway car and sees a beautiful woman, Mai Kishikawa (Tamiyo Kusakari) gazing out the window of a ballroom dance studio. After seeing her there multiple times he decides to go up and look in on the dance studio. He enrolls as a student in secret. As anxious as he is to meet and even dance with Mai, he is unwilling to pay 6000 yen per lesson from her. So, unable to afford private lessons from Mai he enrolls in a public class with two other men to be taught by an older woman. There at least he can see Mai and perhaps occasionally dance with her. Shohei becomes friends with the two other men in his class as well as with a Japanese dancer with his own fiery Latin style. Shohei's wife Masako (Hideko Hara) recognizes that her husband is doing something without telling her and it is taking a lot of his time. She suspects the worst and determines to find out what mischief her husband is up to.

Masayuki Suo wrote and directed the film that tells its story and gives us a few chuckles and a few bittersweet moments along the way. The real problem is that what happens is rarely unexpected and never surprising. Indeed the dramatic last sequence of the film is not just cliched, it seems almost inevitable. Mai's secret that she contemplates so wistfully at the window each night seems far too trivial to warrant so much attention, and as the core of the film seems too meager. This almost might have made a decent hour- long story, but there really is not enough here to make a satisfying feature film. Perhaps some of the reason is that there are very likely cultural differences that make this story resonate better in Japan than it does in the United States. Certainly there is humor in this film that requires some knowledge of Japanese culture to appreciate. In one scene one of the characters takes a strip of dried squid and dances it on the top of a restaurant table. Some of the humor was lost on most of our audience who probably did not recognize what it was that was dancing. Certainly the Japanese would see the touching while dancing as being daring. While Tokyo may have rock and roll dancers in the park--dressed like 1950s bikers from THE WILD ONE- -even they do not touch each other when they dance. It is difficult to see this film as a Japanese would and that might make all the difference between the simple story we see and one that is considerably richer. Similarly it is difficult to judge the quality of the acting. While we might recognize the difference between really bad acting and decent acting, it is unlikely we would recognize really great acting if we saw it.

What does come across is an innocuous and enjoyable comedy with a touch of human drama and a bit of melodrama. The story of the dancer with the secret past will remind some of STRICTLY BALLROOM, but this film is nowhere near as amusing as that film was. I rate this one a low 1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

TOWARD THE END OF TIME by John Updike (Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0- 375-40006-0, 1997, 334pp, US$25) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

If the appeal of science fiction to you is to examine how societal changes will affect people, then this book is not for you. It is set in the year 2020, after the Sino-American War, after things fell apart--although not enough to cause any problems with food, water, electricity, gasoline, etc. The level of change seems to be, as the first person narrator says, "Once my species had been strong enough to put [a space station] up there, and now it is out of our reach."

But instead of any sort of examination of how this might affect society, we get, "One advantage of the collapse of civilization is that the quality of young women who are becoming whores has gone way up," and we get pages and pages of descriptions of sexual activities in the sort of detail that used to be reserved for adult magazines. So one doesn't get much of a coherent view of the post-apocalyptic future except to learn that some middle-aged men prefer positions other than the missionary one. Whoopee.

Someone is sure to tell me I am reading this the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons. Perhaps, but at least I can serve as a bad example to others who might hear that John Updike has written a science fiction novel. Unlike another well-known "mainstream science fiction novel," Margaret Atwood's HANDMAID'S TALE, this novel doesn't examine the consequences of its premise in any meaningful way, so if that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere. [-ecl]


                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     Politics is not the art of the possible.
     It consists in choosing between the disastrous
     and the unpalatable.
                                   -- John Kenneth Galbraith