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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/30/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 18
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 2E-537 732-957-6330 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.fortunecookie.net/reading_list/johnglenn/johnglenn.htm. John Glenn reading list. [-ecl]
Toronto Film Festival International Note: Mark Leeper's Toronto International Film Festival coverage, which was originally scheduled to run as six parts, will now run at least eight. [-ecl]
Beer: A certain beer company (who I have no intention of plugging) has registered themselves as the official sponsor of the Millennium. Does this mean that without their sponsorship the Millennium won't come? Maybe that is the way to avoid the Year 2000 Bug? I want to know whom they are giving the sponsorship money to. [-mrl]
War of the Worlds: This notice would not be complete without some discussion of this event that occurred sixty years ago this very night. Sunday night, October 30, 1938, the country was already jittery at the events going on in Europe. It looked like Adolf Hitler was going to pull Europe into a huge war. Orson Welles decided that his Mercury Theater on the radio would do a somewhat sensational radio play. The Mercury Theater did radio adaptations of classic works of literature. They had done A TALE OF TWO CITIES and TREASURE ISLAND--that sort of thing. They had already received good critical response to their production of DRACULA, done some months earlier. They decided to return to the horror for Halloween. More specifically they would to do a major work of science fiction horror, an adaptation of H. G. Wells's WAR OF THE WORLDS.
Howard Koch wrote a script for the radio play. Koch would later go into writing screenplays for films including CASABLANCA. The play was written with a major stylistic change from the other Mercury Theater plays. All but the last third of the story was done in what we now call "real time" as if it was happening live. The story was given all the realism the studio production could muster.
The play was made to sound like standard radio broadcasting of Raymond Raquello and his orchestra from the Meridian Room of the Hotel Park Plaza. The dance music was repeatedly interrupted by fake new broadcasts of explosions on the planet Mars and a great flaming object falling in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. The object unscrewed as a reporter told the audience. He went closer for a look inside. "Good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face. It ... it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V- shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.... The thing is raising up. The crowd falls back. They've seen enough. This is the most extraordinary experience. I can't find words. I'm pulling this microphone with me as I talk. I'll have to stop the description until I've taken a new position. Hold on, will you please, I'll be back in a minute." Soon the fictional Martians were attacking people with heat rays that burned the flesh from their bodies.
People already nervous about the possibility of war panicked. People armed themselves to fight the Martians; they jammed roads; one woman was found ready to take sleeping pills rather than go by the heat ray. An inoffensive water tower thought to be a Martian war machine was riddled with bullets. People hid in attics and cellars.
In the years that followed Welles would always put an innocent look on his face and claim that he never intended for the play to be taken seriously. Others would claim that there were frequent reminders that it was only a play. The original broadcast is easily available and I have heard it several times. I think Welles was not being honest. The real-time segment is about forty minutes and runs uninterrupted. There are no reminders that the story is not real. Welles made every effort to make the earlier segment as believable as he could manage. My suspicion was that he expected the audience to believe what they were hearing and stay in their seats until the ride was over. Even in the broadcast he said that he could not soap everybody's windows so did the next best thing. Most people agree what he did was even more effective than soaping windows. He probably was more successful than he really intended at making the story believable.
That was six decades ago tonight. Happy Halloween. [-mrl]
THE MIGHTY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Two outcast boys, one learning- impaired but physically imposing, the other intelligent but physically handicapped, form a close friendship in this moving family film. Max and Kevin help each other through their personal problems and together make one whole and formidable person. While the plot is predictable, the film is substantial and as entertaining for an adult as it would be for a teen. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
Nobody expects very much of Max Cane (Eldon Henson) the son of a man in prison for murder. Max himself is learning impaired and is spending his third year in the seventh grade. Nature has not been kind to Max who is big, mean-looking, and rather ugly. Kids in school call him Killer Cane, (perhaps an allusion to the Buck Rogers character; there are other science fiction allusions). A local hoodlum gang, The Dog House Boys, are not sure if they want to pick on him or if they want him to join their ranks. Max's life is somewhat less than satisfying, living with his dour grandparents (Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands) and getting the knocks he does at school. Then a new boy moves in next door. This is Kevin Dillon (Kieron Culkin) with a sadly twisted body and a genuine intellect. Kevin lives with his mother Gwen (Sharon Stone) and does "kid-intellectual things" like reading and playing with scientific toys. A birth defect has left Kevin with a bent spine and an inability to walk without his crutches. Neither boy is much good at making friends, but Kevin immediately sees that Max is almost a perfect complement to himself. Where he is strongest, Max is weakest; where he is weakest, Max is strongest. But Max has no interest in being friends with his bookish neighbor and Kevin has to bribe him with money to act as his legs.
Max is a poor reader and is given Kevin for a reading tutor. Kevin has Max read Sir James Knowles's LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS and uses it to inspire Max to read like no professional teacher has been able to. Max carries Kevin on his shoulders and together they become one person whom, after the style of King Arthur, they dub Freak the Mighty. Then time and again their frame their friendship in Arthurian terms, as if they are a knight in quest of adventure. Together each is able to face up to his personal problems and either overcome them or accept them. While the film travels a predictable course, it is a credible one.
This is director Peter Chelsom's third film and he seems to do something entirely different each time. His HEAR MY SONG was likable nostalgic comedy set in London and Ireland. His second film FUNNY BONES was a very dark and strange look into the world of the stand-up comic mostly taking place in bleak Liverpool. Now he tells the story about friendship set in South Cincinnati. Eldon Henson is a good choice for Max and is certainly not the appealing sort of young actor one generally sees in film. On the other hand Kieron Culkin is obviously a Culkin but one who is not so saccharine as his brother Macaulay. Sharon Stone is making the transition from glamorous actress to character player skillfully. One sees little of her previous sensationalist roles in her Gwen. Here she does a forty-ish mother with real strength. Max's grandparents are supposed to be as humorless as the people in "American Gothic," but they are played by Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands. The one problem in that casting is that Harry Dean Stanton has a hard time looking humorless. Even when he is trying to be serious there is always a twinkle in his eye.
THE MIGHTY is a Canadian production with a screenplay by Charles Leavitt, based on the novel FREAK THE MIGHTY by Rodman Philbrick. It is broken into chapters, like a book, and narrated by Max. The score is melodic with a strong Irish influence that seems a little out of place with non-Irish characters and the Ohio setting. John De Borman's camera seems to see Cincinnati as a city of hard steel bridges and concrete, just over the hill from the boys' homes.
This is really not simply a children's film but a family film and one that adults can enjoy. It had very good word of mouth at the Toronto International Film Festival (though it was not one of the films I saw there) and deservedly so. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE CELEBRATION (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: It is Helge's 60th birthday and his whole family has turned out to celebrate. But as people get drunker things are things are going to be said and things will be done. This will be the pivotal day in the life of this family. THE CELEBRATION has a slow start and takes a long time to get going, but there are some powerful moments. Like BREAKING THE WAVES this film uses the conventions of Dogma 95. THE CELEBRATION is a very mixed bag. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4)
The audience tittered when before the film a certificate was shown saying the film followed Dogma 95. Indeed, even the filmmakers who subscribe to Dogma 95 do not know if it is serious. Dogma 95 is a Danish movement in filmmaking that is a reaction to over-polished, unrealistic Hollywood films. Films made with Dogma 95 conventions are shot generally with a hand-held camera with natural sound. Shooting is done on location rather than at a studio. The effect of the unsteadied hand-held camera give THE CELEBRATION the feel of a sound home movie, but the lack of music gives it also some of the immediacy of a stage play. My wife claimed that BREAKING THE WAVES made her seasick and this film did much the same. It clearly has a very positive effect by fighting burgeoning film budgets. The crudeness of the production adds a certain credibility to the story. Like monochrome it contributes to the mood. And oddly an unfinished photographic style gives a film more credibility in the same way that saturated Technicolor makes it less credible.
THE CELEBRATION is made with Dogma 95 conventions and like Dogma 95 it is a mixed bag of positive and negative touches. The film is 105 minutes, but seems longer because it takes almost an hour to get to the serious content. By the time one gets to the serious content, one has almost forgotten the blur of people in the first hour. Lost is characterization that would be interesting once one could place the characters in the main story line. In the spirit of Dogma 95 parsimony the film has a minimum of music--the first music in THE CELEBRATION is a music box heard over the end-titles.
It is Helge's 60th birthday and the entire extended family is gathering to attend a gala party at a hotel Helge (Henning Moritzen) manages. Arriving are older son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), younger son Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), and middle daughter Helene (Paprika Steen). The fourth child, Christian's twin sister had committed suicide some time earlier. We see some family tensions, but at first they do not amount to much. Finally the banquet begins and the children start toasting their father. Christian's toast starts fulsome and typical of what one would expect, but in the middle he throws in an accusation that Helge had sexually molested him and Linda. People do not know what to make of this little piece of unpleasantness. If Christian will only apologize the party can continue, but each time Christian makes a speech he broadens on the accusation. What is there to do so that the party can go on?
Once the story gets going the drama is powerful and has overtones of American scandal politics making it much more topical than director and co-writer Thomas Vinterberg could have expected. Though the story loses some of its potential impact by resolving whether the accusations are true, there is a very good play in the second half of this film. If Vinterberg had started with the banquet and elaborated on people's reactions this could have been a very powerful piece of social commentary. As it is it wastes too much of the viewer's time getting where it needed to go and then never sufficiently develops characters like Helge's wife.
This is an okay film that missed its opportunities to be a really powerful experience. While Dogma 95 will turn off some users, the film's taking too long to get to its real story is its biggest flaw. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
MAMALOSHEN (a theater review by Mark R. Leeper):
"Mamaloshen" is Yiddish for "the mother language." It is Yiddish's affectionate name for itself. And when you are in a country with an unfamiliar and bewildering language one does feel an affection for the familiar and comforting strains of one's native language. So at its best Mandy Patinkin's short but sweet stage performance MAMALOSHEN is much more than the singing of a cycle of Yiddish songs. It is a textured view of the Jewish immigrant experience in the early 20th century. The songs, mostly in Yiddish with a little English sprinkled in, are a look--or rather a listen--into several facets of life. One song will be a mother's humorous lament caring for her bickering children. Another looks at the story of a sweatshop worker who gets fed up and goes on strike. And what besides sing do they do for entertainment? Well there is a Yiddish song to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." And with so much Yiddish music how could we possibly miss having a wedding scene complete with the breaking of the glass.
One might well ask how does one know what songs in a totally foreign language are about. So what's so totally foreign about Yiddish? In the first place Jewish immigrants peppered their language with English phrases. What is not English is in large part from the German with a high number of cognates--recognizable sound-alike words. And each song gets a five or six-word description flashed on the stage. And finally there is Mr. Patinkin's expressive performance containing no small component of acting talent. So rather than sitting there and thinking "nice music, I wonder what it means" the audience is swept up into the world of the Jewish immigrant. One is immersed in the world of New York's Lower East Side without ever hearing the phrase "Lower East Side." What one does not recognize in the music adds some air of mystery, but nothing confusing or unpleasant.
What is confusing however is the mixing in of more recent music from Simon and Garfinkle to MARY POPPINS's "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Some of this is quite melodic, but it pulls us roughly from the nostalgic trance Patinkin has created and does it for no apparent reason. When the music mixes in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or "God Bless America" it emphasizes the dual-allegiance of immigrants, hanging onto the old loyalties and developing new loyalties for the new. But the experience loses its authenticity with obvious anachronisms. And with a total performance-length less than 70 minutes one hates to give up the time to anything inauthentic.
The story is that Joseph Papp asked Patinkin to perform one authentic Yiddish song for the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. When he heard the expression and emotion Patinkin put into his Yiddish singing he told Patinkin "This is what you should be doing. This is your job." And indeed if Yiddish had maintained more of a following over this century this indeed might well be what Patinkin would be doing. But Yiddish has been a dying language in 1900s. That is because the Holocaust in large part murdered it and because the founding of Israel reintroduced Hebrew as a competing language for the Jewish people. Not just a language, but a literature and a culture were in danger of being lost to the ages. It has taken a few stubborn people to hang on to Yiddish and revive it. But if Jews were not a stubborn people, they would probably not still be Jews. And a song cycle of Yiddish songs--well mostly Yiddish songs--still packs an auditorium. [-mrl]
1998 Toronto International Film Festival: (film reviews and commentary by Mark R. Leeper) (part 4 of 10)
Up and out. Breakfast from McDonalds (to get some protein). This is the first film we will see with Kate.
CAPSULE: The first hour is beautifully realized. In the second hour the writing gets a little muddled and the style becomes less original. Still, this story of the coming to power of Queen Elizabeth is enthralling. She is a bit too much a 1990s woman, but the photography is very good. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
- Directed by Shekhar Kapur. Unusual to see an Indian directing a film about a British monarch.
- Very powerful telling of the rise to power of Elizabeth I. The first hour was spellbinding. The director filmed with real power. By the second hour the writing had gotten a little muddled.
- David Hirschfelder (SHINE) provides a very melodic score.
- Many overhead shots to show the size of the buildings and smallness of people. Photography kept dark. Many scenes done in rich blacks and reds.
- Somehow reminiscent of a Hieronymous Bosch painting with some of its weird and powerful images.
- False move in showing Elizabeth practice an argument using a technique like would be used to show outtakes. It seems like too modern an editing technique.
- Elizabeth begins as a pawn and learns to fend for herself. Deciding best way to be rid of Elizabeth, Queen Mary instructs a bishop, "Your Grace will find some proof of her treachery."
- Very harrowing and haunting scene of an execution by burning. Do not bring young children.
- Wolsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is Elizabeth's Secret Service and is ruthless in protecting her.
- I like films of this period and few are done as well as ELIZABETH.
- She may be written a little too much like a modern woman.
JERRY AND TOM (United States)
CAPSULE: Two used car salesmen are also contract killers for the organized crime syndicate. We see them over the course of years as the Mentor loses his edge and the younger learns the skills of the older man but does not inherit his scruples. Humor and drama intermingle. Joe Montegna leads a cast of familiar actors. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), 2 (-4 to +4)
- Directed by Saul Rubinek. Screenplay by Rick Cleveland based on his own one-act play.
- Older killer Tom (Joe Mantegna) teaches Jerry (Sam Rockwell) the nuts and bolts of the killing profession. Including how to make things like a chainsaw work. Jerry is a dim bulb.
- Paternal Tom eventually becomes bothered by the ruthlessness of his partner Jerry.
- Many familiar actors in small roles. Peter Riegert, Ted Danson, William Macy, Saul Rubinek (who also directed), Charles Durning, Maury Chaykin.
- Initially a comedy, but the serious elements take over. They could not remain flippant about murder for long.
- Amazing scene transitions that look like one continuous cut; yet there are no special effects in the film. All transitions done by building a recreation of the previous set next to the following set.
- Humorous allusions to real events. (E.g. Kennedys, Jimmy Hoffa).
A Thai noodle house for lunch.
I WOKE UP EARLY THE DAY I DIED (United States)
CAPSULE: An escaped mental patient loses the loot from a robbery and goes on a search for it. This is basically a silent film. It often borrows its style from Chaplin and other comics, plus adding some manic style of its own. Do not expect to see much Ed Wood here. Rating: 3 (0 to 10), high -1 (-4 to +4)
- Hollywood really is the place where dreams come true. Clearly with the renewed popularity of Ed Wood somebody wanted to have a new Ed Wood film to cash in with. Supposedly this is a lost script from Ed Wood. There is little about I WOKE UP EARLY THE DAY I DIED to remind one of Ed Wood's style (or lack thereof). If this unfilmed Wood script really exists not much of it seems to have made it to the screen.
- A lot of familiar people in small roles. Billy Zane is the star, going from a huge-budget film called TITANIC to a very low-budget film. He is actually better as a comic actor than a serious one.
- Some scenes could be out of an Ed Wood film so either parts really are by Wood or are made to be in his style. But there are not enough of those.
- No dialog except on pieces of stock footage. The claim was that this was the first time that was done. Actually it wasn't.
- Tippi Hedren, John Ritter, and Bud Cort in small roles.
- A lot of slapstick. (Anyone remember Wood even putting intentional humor in a film? His films usually took themselves very seriously.)
- Hip and occasionally funny but unlikely to be authentic. Not funny enough to deserve a good rating.
THE SLEEPWALKER (Argentina with subtitles)
CAPSULE: In a distopic future in which a disaster has wiped out memories of 300,000 people, one of the amnesiacs has memories from another time. They may be the key to finding a fugitive revolutionary leader. Toward the end there are a lot of interesting ideas introduced. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
- Directed by Fernando Spiner who co-authored.
- Fairly prosaic totalitarian society. Plot of secret rebel person or place is fairly familiar.
- Photography in monochrome with some objects in color to call attention to them as in SCHINDLER'S LIST and ZENTROPA (a.k.a. EUROPA).
- Main character Eva awakes in a cathedral and is arrested by security forces. No memory but an accident with amnesia gas has left 300,000 people without memories. Nobody knows who was married or related to whom. (Did none of these people carry identification in this totalitarian state?)
- New state draws the letter "K" backwards wherever it appears. How did this come about?
- Government can look at tapes of main character's visions, memories, and dreams. Not well done since main character sees herself in the third person in her own dreams.
- The State is looking for Gauna, a poet and resistance leader. Agent Kluge chasing main character decides to join her. Cross country chase.
- Matte work not good by some countries' standards. But artwork is good. Some interesting ideas about the future.
- Toward the end there are a lot of ideas.
We had a dinner at Flo's Diner. The food was supposed to be genuine diner fare. But I come from New Jersey, which is really diner country and Flo's is sort of an idealized version. The food was very good. I had a hot turkey sandwich and fries. The chocolate milkshake was very good and served the old fashioned way in a stainless steal pourer. For desert I had strawberry-rhubarb pie.
[to be continued] [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Whoever despises the high wisdom of mathematics nourishes himself on delusion and will never still the sophistic sciences whose only product is an eternal uproar. -- Leonardo da Vinci