MT VOID 10/02/98 (Vol. 17, Number 14)

MT VOID 10/02/98 (Vol. 17, Number 14)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/02/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 14

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 201-447-3652 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 2E-537  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL Note: We did not have a URL last week. This week we have two. Go figure. [-mrl]

URL of the Week #1: URL of the week: A web page commemorating Banned Books Week. [-ecl]

URL of the Week #2: The information is slowly trickling out about the new Star Wars film. It will be called (and you probably heard it here first) STAR WARS: EPISODE I -- THE PHANTOM MENACE. If you want to know more is the place. [-mrl]

Testimony: One more comment on the current government scandal only because I keep hearing a lot of people making the say false assumpution. It has been assumed by commentators on the radio and by people I know that Clinton asked people to lie for him. It is said that he had coached his aids as to what answers they should give if called upon to testify about what had been going on so of course he was asking them to lie. It ain't so, and I know because I have been in the same position not too long ago.

It is time you knew that there is a lot of coaching before testimony that goes on in our society. Lawyers tell their clients how to testify in court frequently in real life and in film. And it is time for me to come clean. Over this past year I was one of the people called upon to be interviewed about ISO 9001. I was asked about how I did my job and what I knew about my company's goals. And before the interview I was coached--yes, that is the word, coached--as to how I should answer questions. I must say that it put my mind at ease. I was told what sort of questions I might be asked, and I was told how I should probably answer the questions. And let me tell you, because I know, there is a WHOLE LOT OF DIFFERENCE between responding to question as you have been coached to respond and lying. The simple truth is that I was never asked to lie and I certainly would never have lied. Everything I said in that interview was true and Lucent could not have convinced me to lie even if they had wanted to. So this assumption that equates coached testimony to perjury hits close to home with me. [-mrl]

Bates Motel:

        Cable TV
        Ice Machine
        also Body Piercing

Viruses: The phrase come to mind is Cedric Hardwicke saying "Slain by the littlest things that God in his mercy had put upon this earth." That is a quote from the film THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. The implication is that our common bacteria killed the Martians. Ask most science fiction fans what killed the Martians in the Wells novel and most science fiction fans will say germs or common bacteria. The novel does not commit to what really killed the invaders and only suggests that it was common Earth bacteria that might have destroyed the Martians. But I still credit Wells with the idea.

In the novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS the Martians attacked not just humans but all the animals and the plants. That is a part that did not make it into the movies, that the Martians somehow brought with them a red weed which killed the plant life, choking it out. As a sort of foreshadowing, the red weed dies off all on its own, finding something very inhospitable, probably much like the large Martians did. Some local disease killed the weed off. Presumably then there were plants and animals that fought back. But who defeated the Martians? The littlest and humblest creatures. A virus or a bacterium to which we has some resistance proved to be the most dangerous to the Martians. Well, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS-- by the way, the book was published one hundred years ago this year--is very timely for the end of this century also.

In our evolution we have had to face all kinds of big animals. We faced mastodons, mammoths, bears, large felines, and dogs. And as far as animals larger than walnuts are concerned, we are the tip- top of the food chain. That is to say there is no non-human animal larger than a walnut that does not have more to fear from us than we have from it. Intelligence and technology act together as one heck of a defense mechanism. We think of the big animals as dangerous, but any form of life larger than a walnut is generally better off staying out of our way.

But before you start feeling complacent we are in a serious war with other life forms on this planet and we may well be losing. The question is not what is big enough to endanger us; it is what is small enough. So what are the scariest life forms? It is the virus and the bacterium. The insects will outlive us and will bide their time waiting, but the virus really has the power to kill us. These are things that are so tiny that we never notice when they first attack us. Often we blame our own bodies, thinking that it was the bodies that malfunctioned, rather than realizing we are under micro-attack. Heart disease now seems to be closely associated with appears to be a side effect of attacks by Chlamydia pneumoniae, a sexually transmitted disease, and cytomegalovirus, a common virus that causes respiratory infections. Chlamydia infections measurably thicken artery walls and anti-Chlamydia antibiotics seem to counter the thickening. 79% of people who die of heart disease have either the bacteria or its anti-bodies, 4% of people who die of other causes have signs of Chlamydia. We have assumed that heart disease was just the result of bad eating habits and never thought of bacteria as being the cause. Spicy food and stress are what leads to ulcers, or so we used to be told. Now it would seem to be Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium, that causes 80% of stomach ulcers. (And that spicy food, it actually helps to fight the bacteria.) The latest is that kidney stones are a side effect of a bacterial infection. Certain very tiny bacteria form calcium shells for protection. When in the right tract these shells work like seeds for calcium to form around. They become the seeds of kidney stones. If that were not enough recently bacteria have been linked to some cancers like colon. What bacteria? Helicobacter pylori, the same little monster that causes stomach ulcers. It is enough to make you want to go and put hot sauce on something. Maybe a chocolate chip cookie.

Then there are some of the newer viral diseases: AIDS, Ebola, Marburg, Hanta. With the exception of AIDS, these things just rip a body to shreds. Meanwhile our antibiotics become more and more useless as we breed stronger strains of virus and bacterium. No, the human race is in for a fight with disease. It may be the most formidable life form we have fought, with the possible exception of ourselves. The littlest thing that God in his mercy put on this Earth may not have been such a mercy after all. [-mrl]

BLADE: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Wesley Snipes is a half-human, half- vampire fighting both of two sets of warring vampires in a great looking-film based on a Marvel comic book. The story is weak and familiar without much logic behind it. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4) A spoiler section following the main review lists some open questions and loose ends.
New York Critics: 2 positive, 8 negative, 3 mixed

As Blade, the title character, observes just after the climactic moment of the film, "Some motherfucker's always trying to ice skate uphill." That pretty much sums up the film. It sounds sharp and polished. But do not think about it too long. How many places can you name where the ice is smooth enough to skate on and goes uphill? BLADE is polished, visually very appealing, and enjoyable as an action film. But do not stop to think about it too hard. BLADE is at once a good action film and a bad piece of fantasy.

This is a dark world in which vampires are something very different from what used to be in the old Universal horror films. The world is basically engaged in a secret three-sided war. There are humans, there is the old aristocracy of vampires, and there are the young rebellious vampires struggling to wrest control from the old guard. The older vampires are in a cold war with humans. Some humans know of their existence but try to cover it up in an uneasy truce. The young vampires know they can take control in a new order that will rule humans and older vampires. Tipping the balance in the wars is Blade (Wesley Snipes), half human, half vampire. Actually a vampire took his mother just hours before he would have been born. This was sufficient to change his DNA--I told you not to think about it too hard--so that he has all the best parts of humans and all the best parts of vampires. Actually, saying he has the best powers of both humans and vampires does not explain him. It is not clear if it is his human or his vampire heritage that allow him to get a silver stake in the base of his neck and seconds later again be a perfect fighting machine. He also seems to have the powers of an action hero.

Visually this is a very striking and polished film. While it starts with some overly familiar time lapse effects, it has some well-filmed fight sequences early on. I am not an expert on martial arts, but friends who know considerably more tell me that Snipes does his stuff very well. There was some suspicion that the fighting was speeded up and there is no doubt that special effects were added to the fight sequences. But the fighting would not have looked this good without Snipes knowing his stuff. Digital effects are integrated flawlessly with the live action. Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost is an acceptable villain without generating a lot of excitement. Kris Kristofferson plays the modern equivalent of Van Helsing. He provides the brains, Blade is the muscle. As far as his acting he does not push any new buttons or pull any new levers. With the possible exception of Snipes, nobody does. I would say that it is nice to see Udo Kier still making horror films, but it would not be sincere. Kier has always had non-demanding roles and has always been just adequate. His presence in a film has always seemed to be a kind of inside joke.

In many ways this is a good action film. The fights are exciting. But the plot is a retread of ideas, several borrowed from Richard Matheson's novel I AM LEGEND. There are too many loose ends and open questions for this to be a really good script. I give it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.


Open questions, loose ends, and bad touches from BLADE:

(Note that this film assumes that there are good scientific reasons for vampires and they are preternatural not supernatural. This means that they have to obey laws of science and logic.)

Do you have any idea what a horrible, wretched, stinking mess it would create to pump fresh blood through a sprinkler system? Where would someone even get blood in those quantities?

There is an implication that what gives Blade his powers derives from his DNA. Yet he was a vampire just shortly after his mother was first bitten. What mechanism could alter the DNA in his body cell-by-cell in that short time?

We are told that an autopsied vampire has "odd muscle structure around the canines." First of all, wouldn't any muscle structure around the canines be odd? If vampires can extend and retract fangs, where do they go when retracted? How does the human anatomy accommodate them without any differences being obvious externally? How do newly bitten vampires undergo this extreme dental change?

Many people learn about the existence of vampires in the course of the film--the autopsy doctors mentioned above, for example. In one street chase we get a quick flash of a vampire who just happens to be out biting a victim. Anyone who happened to be on the street at that time would see it happening. Also, the victim would presumably disappear. With so many people learning of the existence of vampires so frequently, how could the secret that they exist ever be kept under wraps?

Multiple times in the film people in streets wield guns and fire them but no police come.

Both Frost's minions and Blade seem awfully cavalier in fighting around priceless vampire archives going back many thousands of years. They contain information that both Frost and Blade need. Wouldn't one expect they would be handled with a little more care?

Though we never see Blade have an opportunity to pick it up, he seems to have gotten out of the archive with just the right scrap of document. How did he manage that?

Blade's contact with his mother was very short. How does Blade recognize his mother when he sees her?

How is it that a 10,000-year-old temple of vampires ended up in the middle of an American metropolitan city? [-mrl]

RONIN: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A good director, a great lineup of stars, lots of action, explosions, car chases, crashing cars, and flames. But RONIN also has almost no story beyond double crosses and murders. This is a film with minimal characterization. John Frankenheimer gives us a film that is all sizzle and no steak. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

It would be hard to choose the best American political thriller. Some people would probably pick THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and others (myself included) would pick SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. Both those films were tense exercises in chills. The two films came out within two years of each other and both were directed by the same man, John Frankenheimer. But that was 1962 and 1964 respectively. For most of the rest of his career Frankenheimer has turned out some decent films, but has shown little of the promise that those two thrillers showed. Each of those films had memorable characters and a tense plot. They had almost nothing in the way of chases or gunplay. The thrills all came from the plot. RONIN is like a film made by another man. Somewhere behind all the shooting and explosions and car chases there are the rudiments of a plot, but we see only tiny pieces of it. We get a clue here and one there as to what is going on but J. D. Zeik's screenplay is a bit obscure.

The film begins explaining that a ronin is a masterless samurai. When a samurai has failed in the job of protecting his master from death, he becomes a ronin, much like a gunfighter in the American West. If you miss the opening, do not worry. This film will explain again what a ronin is. Sam (played by Robert De Niro) is the modern equivalent of a ronin. He is a free agent who seems to have really good instincts about how to stay alive the world of a professional killer. He clearly was in a dangerous business at one time and now he seems to be drifting around on his own somewhere in France. Sam is recruited from a Montmartre bar by Dierdre (Natascha McElhone of THE TRUMAN SHOW), an Irish woman, to be part of an action to steal a mysterious metal case. Dierdre is very tight-lipped about what is in the case. Sam joins a team of four others: Vincent (Jean Reno of THE PROFESSIONAL/LEON and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE), Spence (Sean Bean, TV's Richard Sharpe, and also PATRIOT GAMES and GOLDENEYE), and Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard of BREAKING THE WAVES and GOOD WILL HUNTING). Also along is Larry (Skipp Suddeth). The group seems to know their business, particularly Sam, but each is in his own way cold and professional with his own field of expertise. Their only human side seems to be in tensions among the members of the team. The story is not very easy to follow. It is never clear who is double-crossing whom and who is working for whom. Somehow Russians (who may or may not be the Russian Mafia) and Irish radicals are involved trying to get their hands on a certain metal case.

Some very good actors are involved in this film. One wonders what they saw in the script. The characters are mostly one-dimensional professional killers. They know their work, and seeing their thought patterns adds some interest to the film, but for this group deep feeling between two people is teaming up with another killer so that neither is killed. By the end of the film we never really got to know anybody. Maybe that is the secret of why such good actors took parts, since these are not very demanding characters to create. In addition to the above characters the film also features Jonathan Pryce and Michael Lonsdale (the latter of MOONRAKER and of the superior thriller THE DAY OF THE JACKAL).

As a revival of a sort of action film that was popular in the 1960s, I was hoping that there would be something here to grab onto and enjoy. Unfortunately there are no deep characters, and little to make us care who eventually ends up with the metal case or why they want it. I rate RONIN a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. NON-SPOILER: Incidentally, the tale of THE 47 RONIN has been filmed multiple times, usually under the title CHUSHINGURA or as THE 47 RONIN. Also one frequently sees in Japanese art the image of a man breaking down a door with a huge mallet. This is the first blow of the 47 Ronin. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     An idea which can be used once is a trick. If it can
     be used more than once it becomes a method.
                                   -- George Polya and Gabor Szego