MT VOID 03/27/98 (Vol. 16, Number 39)

MT VOID 03/27/98 (Vol. 16, Number 39)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 03/27/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 39

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.

URL of the week: URL of the week: Take an abandoned missile base VR tour. [-ecl]

Sweet: Many years ago I used to see ads from the sugar industry that said that of the four basic flavors--sweet, sour, bitter, and salty--we are born liking sweet the best. I have given those ads a lot of thought. At first brush that predilection seems like a very good thing. Back over the long millennia that humans were evolving we needed fast energy to escape predators. And we got fast energy from sugars that tasted sweet. The flavor that gave us the most pleasure happened to have a survival value. Now is that a chance coincidence? Or have we bred a species that likes sweet because most of the ancestors who did not like the flavor sweet had less of a chance to survive their predators?

The question becomes whether other animals taste things the same as we do. Does what tastes bitter to us taste bitter to a sheep? Sheep like to eat grass. To you and me grass tastes bitter. And bitter is an unpleasant flavor for us. Sheep like the flavor of grass. Now, does that mean that they really get some pleasure from things that taste bitter to them or that perhaps grass tastes sweet to sheep? It could well be that whatever flavor is most beneficial to a species over millions of years will eventually come through the process of natural selection to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and to taste sweet. And for that species that flavor of grass will be sweet while it tastes bitter to us. Sweet will be for each species the flavor that stimulates the pleasure centers. So to a sheep, grass may actually taste sweet, but maple syrup may taste bland or even bitter. For humans, I have heard, the molecules that taste sweet are those that have a C-shape. When looking for new artificial sweeteners one looks for the ones with C-shaped molecules. These fool the human tongue into thinking they are high-energy sugars.

Where in nature can we find some evidence? I noticed long ago at company picnics that non-diet sodas tend to attract bees. Our company picnics tended to be at a local bee-infested park. People would drink from cans only to discover that a bee has flown into the can and now has decided to fight for its life rather than getting sucked down. The result was the occasional swollen lips. On the other hand the diet sodas were a lot safer. Bees were not attracted to them. The bee could tell that was not the same as sugar in the drink. So while a diet soda may seem to be sweet to us, it apparently does not taste the same to a bee.

If you want to keep squirrels out of a bird feeder there is a commercial product you can add to the bird seed that repels squirrels but is not repellent to birds. It turns out it is spicy red pepper seed. Squirrels are used to bland foods and do not like spicy Szechwan bird seed. Birds don't seem to care. Perhaps they do not have the pain receptors. It is also possible that a bird is so stupid that it does not realize the pain it is feeling is a result of what it is eating. So this is inconclusive.

In the wild, baboons will eat cakes of salt like candy. In fact, that is how you find water. Baboons will try to keep secret their supply of water. If you need to find water you leave salt cakes out where the baboons will find them. They eat the salt like candy and then get very thirsty. They will forget all about keeping their water source secret and will head straight for it to get a drink. You just have to follow one and you will find water. The person who told me said that the salt tastes to the baboon like candy. I wonder if he was more correct than he thought. The salt may taste sweet to the baboon or the baboon may just like a salty taste.

This is one of those philosophical questions we may never know. I cannot know if things taste the same to you as they do to me. In an Orwellian sense, even our language sabotages our investigating that question. If I like a food and you do not, does it really taste different or is it all just a matter of taste? We maybe will never know. [-mrl]

LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A prominent British author becomes infatuated with young American heartthrob actor. He travels to Long Island to find the actor. John Hurt gives a good performance, but the film is too leaden to work as a comedy and but is not serious enough to work as good drama. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 14 positive, 1 negative, 2 mixed

Thomas Mann's short intense psychological novel DEATH IN VENICE is unlikely material for a contemporary comedy-drama. And while nothing in the credits or publicity acknowledges the connection, that would seem that that is the basis for this updated story taking place in London and Long Island.

Giles De'Ath (played by John Hurt) is one of the great living English authors, his ivory tower insulating him from anything modern, just the way he likes it. An unlikely series of events puts him in a movie theater showing a cinematic trifle called HOT PANTS COLLEGE II. Giles is about to turn away from the film in disgust when he notices Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley). Bostock is an attractive young actor who simply put infatuates Giles.

Now Giles has a reason to get interested in the technology of the 20th Century. He wants to see all of Bostock's films. Like a fish out of water he wades in to try to understand the intricacies of renting films and of understanding the home video revolution. He wants to see every film ever made by Bostock. And an unpromising assortment it is. But Giles is unsatisfied by worshipping from afar. Instead De'Ath takes a holiday and hops a plane for the United States to find the actor and then to insinuate himself into Bostock's life. First he has to find where Bostock lives. Then he approaches first Bostock's live-in girlfriend, Audrey (Fiona Loewi). And finally he will move in on Bostock himself. None of this is easy for the man in both an unfamiliar place and time. Audrey is impressed by the stature of this famous writer so fascinated by her boyfriend, but she little guesses the trouble it can cause.

The major attraction of the film is John Hurt's performance, which manages to combine sinister and pitiable aspects. He is a stalker bedeviled by his ignorance of the modern world. The film is an uneasy mix of the resulting comic situations with the tragedy of the Thomas Mann novel. It is not clear how much comic potential this story could have had, but Richard Kwietniowski's screenplay and direction seem leaden. The humor is just a bit off somehow. Jason Priestley plays a callow but empty actor whose questionable career echoes his Priestley's own. Fiona Loewi has a little more depth to her part, but it clearly is Hurt's film for whatever he can salvage from it.

The film is shot by Oliver Curtis who manages to give three distinct visual styles to the film, one for London, one for Long Island, and a third one for the excerpts we see of Bostock's crude filmography.

What we have is a bleak and downbeat comedy that never really gets off the ground. I rate it a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

MR. NICE GUY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: As usual there is more stunt than story to Chan's latest adventure. That approach plays to Jackie Chan's strength: having the greatest attention lavished on the stunts while the plot is more an afterthought. The characters are thin, the story is stale and familiar, but the audience is entertained. However, once again Chan injured himself in the making of the film and he uses machinery rather than his own skill in the final battle. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)

It is difficult to evaluate a Jackie Chan film like one evaluates other films. Was the plot any good? Well no, it was pretty lame actually. Was the acting any good? Well, no, that was not so hot either. Chan has a lot of personality--more so than just about any of the martial artists who regularly star in films--but that is not the same thing as acting. Acting has to do with giving the viewer insights deep into a type of personality or it can be just playing a certain type of person very authentically. However, there is nothing very deep about the personalities Chan plays. And since I doubt there is anyone really like a Chan character, the whole question of whether he is doing a good job of acting is moot. Does a Chan film have good cinematography? Well, it probably is no easy task to keep in the frame of the camera a moving target like Chan. And there is some okay location scenery of (in this case) Melbourne, Australia. But it hardly is what anyone would consider good camerawork. All of what one thinks of as the usual virtues of a movie do not apply to a Jackie Chan film besides the general fact that it is entertaining.

The virtues of a Jackie Chan film are not those of a film, they are the virtues of a circus performance. Are there fabulous stunts in the film? Is it impressive that a human being can do what his character does? Are the movements smooth and graceful and well staged? There are the virtues one expects of more from Ringling Brothers than from Warner Brothers. I am sure when a new Chan film is being considered choosing the stunts is the first order of business. Then a minimal story is written to tie the stunts together.

In this outing Chan plays a chef on Melbourne television. The irony of having a martial artist in such a delicate profession as cooking is already familiar from the UNDER SIEGE films. In any case Jackie seem equally adept at delivering a well-done karate chop and a well-done lamb chop. After a cooking show broadcast one day Jackie is returning to his car when he sees a damsel in distress being chased by thugs. He jumps in and saves the woman and quicker than a three-minute egg he finds himself in the middle of a three-way war between two rival gangs and the police. There is a plot with a missing incriminating videotape and some unexplained detective work by the baddies who have an uncanny ability to find Chan and the people under his protection wherever they hide. After several confrontations Chan gets angry enough and brings his enemies to a crushing defeat.

The story is pretty basic stuff, but does anyone REALLY care about the plot? Chan fans probably want to know what kinds of action scenes there are and what kinds of props does Chan use. The centerpiece is probably a sequence with a horse carriage. There are some sequences with power tools including that old standard of villainous menace, the buzz saw. And at one point Jackie takes on a giant earth-moving machine. There is a comic bit in a building under construction that has only walls and doors.

Some people were disappointed with the conclusion of Chan's RUMBLE IN THE BRONX. Instead of having a climactic martial arts battle, Chan let a hovercraft do the fighting for him. That history repeats itself for MR. NICE GUY. Reportedly Chan suffered a neck injury in the shooting. Again the audience does not get the final fight between Chan and villain and a convenient vehicle does the real fighting for Chan. Perhaps Jackie Chan is nearing the end of his run and is discovering he can no longer take the risks he has in the past. Time is catching up with him.

A film like this deserves multiple ratings. The stunts are enjoyable to watch and little else really matters to someone who would come to see a Jackie Chan film. The film is pretty much interchangeable with any other Jackie Chan film. For those who like this sort of thing, go for it. I give MR. NICE GUY a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     Love is only a dirty trick played on us
     to achieve the continuation of the species.
                                   -- W. Somerset Maugham