MT VOID 11/13/98 (Vol. 17, Number 20)

MT VOID 11/13/98 (Vol. 17, Number 20)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/13/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 20

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
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All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the Week: Information about the upcoming Leonid meteor shower. [-ecl]

Macarena: Is it true that the Macarena was invented by someone who was not sure in which pocket he put his car keys? [-mrl]

Clinton: I think it is time for the President to stand up and confess to the American people. I think it has become very clear that Bill Clinton looked the American people in the face and intentionally lied to them. It is darn clear the President NEVER had sex with that woman.

This whole thing was a frightfully devious scheme to entrap the Republican Party and have precisely the effect on elections that it had. Clinton knew darn well that the scandal-hungry Republicans could not resist clamping onto this putative affair with a White House intern. They had worked so hard on the Paula Jones fiasco and Whitewater. Clinton just dangled a juicy White House affair on a hook in front of them and they bit. I have never seen so clear a case of entrapment in my life. Slick Willie waited until the Global Economy was ill and then released the bait. So Clinton ends up dealing with the real business of the President while the Republicans are spending all their time sniffing out planted clues. Just as soon as the Republicans leaked to the press a few alluring tidbits they no longer had a choice. If they backed off, the salacious public would demand to know more. And Starr would have to provide more "findings" or look soft on Clinton. Clinton could look Presidential ignoring Kenneth Starr and looking at world issues. And nothing drives the Republicans madder than being ignored. Clinton gets to tie up his opponents. Meanwhile Starr was looking for the next planted piece of muck to rake. Starr never knows he's working for the Democrats. The public looked to him to provide more and more juicy details to read in bed, but do not really respect Starr or his party in the morning. Meanwhile, the plain-Jane Monica becomes the National Sex Symbol without ever having to pose in the altogether.

It was a perfect ploy, and it worked like a well-oiled machine. It even toppled Newt Gingrich, as if he really had a choice in emphasizing the Lewinsky Affair or not. Now even if the Republicans figure out what Clinton did to them, who are they going to tell? [-mrl]

THE SIEGE: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: This film starts out like a police action film and just keeps getting better. Islamic fundamentalists of varying factions, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and the Army all struggle with each other for power when terrorists target New York City. This is a complex political thriller from Edward Zwick, perhaps one of the best we have seen since the 1960s. Taut and well-directed. Zwick gets a surprisingly good performance from Bruce Willis as an enigmatic army general. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), +3 (-4 to +4)

Earlier this year when John Frankenheimer's RONIN was released I was reflecting that it was a pity that nobody was making good political thrillers like his THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. Now just a few weeks later I think I actually have the thriller I would have hoped for from Frankenheimer, but it has come instead from Edward Zwick who has directed such films as GLORY and LEGENDS OF THE FALL. But he has not done a political thriller since his excellent 1983 TV movie SPECIAL BULLETIN, also on the subject of terrorism.

The nightmare that everyone has feared has finally come about. Islamic fundamentalist terrorists want to force the hand of the United States government when a militant religious leader is kidnapped. The siege starts with a harmless paint bomb on a cross-town bus and mysterious anonymous demands to "release him." Anthony "Hub" Hubbard (played by Denzel Washington) is an FBI agent working with an anti-terrorism unit of the New York City Police. But the investigation leads him to the mysterious Elise Kraft (Annette Bening). Kraft is working for the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, also fighting terrorists. Somehow she is not willing to be totally cooperative with the FBI. Kraft, however, has contacts in the Islamic community from her days spent in the Middle East. Hub needs her contacts and is able to obtain her cooperation without her confidence. While the CIA's goals may be the same as the FBI's, their policies conflict and Hub is surprised how they are more competitors than they are peers. Both of their approaches are called into question when the terrorist acts turn violent and there is more and more public pressure on the President to counter the terrorists. The President declares a State of Emergency and calls in the military.

Army General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis), a quiet intellectual with a strong belief in civil liberty, cautions what a mistake giving control to the Army would be. As he puts it, "The Army is a broadsword, not a scalpel." But there is growing sentiment to do something about the rising toll from the terrorist attacks and martial law may be declared. Now there are three different government factions superficially cooperating but each struggling for power and pulling in its own direction. The issue becomes whether to defend the people at the expense of their constitutional rights, or to protect the rights at the expense of public safety. Middle East foreign policy also comes into question in interesting and morally ambiguous ways. While this is an action film, it never sacrifices the intelligence of the background story. While some of the moral issues do get resolved into a right and a wrong, most are not resolved. The gray areas of the questions pose make THE SIEGE more interesting than Zwick's last film. The much-lauded COURAGE UNDER FIRE leaves little doubt at the end who is right and who is wrong.

Denzel Washington plays a certain kind of role with real integrity. But Hub Hubbard is essentially Nathaniel Serling from COURAGE UNDER FILE or Hunter from CRIMSON TIDE. Washington's character of Hubbard is not much of a stretch for him, and is as familiar and pleasant as a McDonalds hamburger. I think of him as a better actor than Bruce Willis, but that certainly is not true in THE SIEGE. Bruce Willis's General William Devereaux is written as a complex character and a man with conflicting attitudes and agendas. Some will look at his as being a little stiff in this film but underneath there are a lot of factions warring within this man. There are a lot of surprises in Devereaux in this film and Willis makes them believable without telegraphing them. Of the roles in which I have seen Willis this performance is second only to the one in IN COUNTRY. Annette Bening is also an enigmatic figure here. Her alliances and past in the Middle East has obviously left her very disturbed and both she and Willis outshine Washington.

There has been some discussion as to whether this film is unfair to the Arabic community in this country. The filmmakers took something of a chance placing the terrorists in a particular ethnic community. It may not be for me to say, but the film has a balance of positive and negative people from that community. It will be interesting to see what protests result. This is a film that takes some chances, but I think that the result is worthwhile. I give it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Robin Williams plays a man who dies and goes to an art gallery curator's idea of heaven. He yearns to be reunited with his wife, unfortunately still alive. Visually this film is real jaw-dropper, one of the most amazing visual films ever made, but the content of the story is syrupy sweet and cloying. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 3 positive, 10 negative, 5 mixed

One of my favorite writers is Richard Matheson who represents to me the Twilight Zone sort of fiction that I enjoyed so much when I was growing up. His writing spans science fiction and horror; it spans books, magazines, TV, and film work. Stephen King cites Matheson as a very strong influence on his writing, and justifiably so. Matheson is probably the major American writer to take horror and move it from Transylvanian castles to places like American suburbs. The only Matheson novel I have ever not liked was a horrible sugary view of heaven called WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. At the time I read it I had speculated that Matheson had recently lost a loved one and had to get that death out of his system somehow. I assumed that his way to do it was to write a novel that would give him comfort. It did not do much for me. The novel has been published alone and bound with a Matheson companion novel BID TIME RETURN, basis of the film SOMEWHERE IN TIME. The two novels together form his sentimental works.

One is pulled in two very different directions by WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. The story is still the treacle that Matheson wrote. But the visual imagery is spectacular to use a word that gets used too often and should be reserved for a film like this. I have not seen very many films done this beautifully in my life. Matheson's novel has been transformed into a new Divine Comedy for our times. And like the original "Divine Comedy" of Dante, the story is wretched and the imagery is totally enchanting. (Okay, that is a personal opinion on Dante).

Chris Nielsen (played by Robin Williams) and Annie Nielsen (Annabella Sciorra) have more love in their lives than is really safe to have. They love each other so much that it is almost perverse. They also love 19th century painting. They love their two children. They love their pet dog. But their marriage is marked by tragedy. Death has claimed first their dog and then their two children. Four years after an automobile accident has claimed the two children physician Chris stops to be a Good Samaritan in a traffic tunnel accident. In a flash he is the last in a line deaths that Annie has had to face. But the point of view is not Annie's but Chris's. He finds himself first in a middle world where his ghost haunts Annie, then it moves on to heaven. Chris is guided through the lands of death by a Virgil- like angel figure named Albert (Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

And what a place heaven is! For Chris, heaven is in three dimensions what a beautiful 19th century painting is in only two. Everywhere he looks from every angle what he sees is a beautiful painting. And who comes bounding up but his dog, no longer old and feeble but young and vibrant. Chris loves heaven. The dog loves heaven. Chris will be angelically happy here... at least for the first two weeks. We get to see Chris's heaven, we get to see the heaven of some other people. And Chris gets to work out his problems. But then something happens. This something will lead Chris on an adventure seeing more of this metaphysical world including a visit to hell.

Vincent Ward, director of THE NAVIGATOR and MAP OF THE HUMAN HEART, gets from both Robin Williams and from Annabella Sciorra performances that are unselfconsciously unctuous. Cuba Gooding, Jr. comes off as benevolent and dull. But then even the plot twists are dull and have a "so-what?" feel about them. Max Von Sydow adds a Bergman-esque touch appropriate to this world. (There is one minor problem I can help the viewer through right now. When there are references to the Nielsen's daughter, they are referring to the younger child. Marie Nielsen, played by Jessica Brooks Grant, is deceptively boyish looking but proves to be a girl.)

But then there are the visuals. And if you just turn off your mind and look at the screen, all plot problems can easily be forgiven. Most artistic visualizations of heaven are saccharine. People have a natural interest in hell most visualizations of heaven are not all that interesting. This film manages to make heaven almost as interesting as hell... but in a different way.

It is really difficult to rate a film with such extremes of quality. The story is nothing impressive, but some of the images are breathtaking. On balance I have to rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

LIVING OUT LOUD (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Two emotionally wounded people have an off-kilter flirtation in a bittersweet comedy. Holly Hunter plays a very confused divorcee unable to cope with her changing world, and Danny DeVito is a lonely elevator operator from her building. The script meanders aimlessly over the short distance it travels but the characters are worth knowing. The story was inspired by two stories by Anton Chekhov. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

Judith Nelson (played by Holly Hunter) is a very married woman at the beginning of LIVING OUT LOUD. Having quit medical school and become a nurse while her husband became a cardiologist, she has wound her whole life around her husband like thread wound on a spool. When he leaves her for another woman it is like removing the spool. What remains is a confused and knotted jumble without purpose or organization. She fantasizes a variety of crazy thoughts including a suicide that will take her ex-husband and his wife with her.

Meanwhile we also follow the story of Pat Francato (Danny DeVito), a widower with a daughter who is very sick. He plays poker and has gotten into trouble with loan sharks. He is the elevator operator in Judith's apartment building and has taken an interest in her, though he is painfully slow in getting around to talk to her. Pat realizes that an attractive blond like Judith--uh, Holly Hunter is a blond in this film--would not want a short bald man who is also in trouble. He starts pulling his life together. Judith, on the other hand, is a much weaker person and will have a much harder time getting on with her life. It is not a romance that has much of a chance. Judith needs some good advice and finds it in a blues singer at Jasper's, her favorite nightclub. Liz Bailey, played majestically by Queen Latifah, is a mother figure that Judith desperately needs at this crisis in her life.

Richard LaGravenese wrote and directed LIVING OUT LOUD taking his inspiration from two stories by Anton Chekhov, "The Kiss" and "Misery." (The latter is available at I did not realize that as I was watching the film but it explains a lot about the style and pace of the film. Not much can be said to happen in the LIVING OUT LOUD, which creates its characters, and then lets us look at them almost affixed in one episode of their lives. When one thinks of Hunter one first thinks of the supremely organized women she played in films like BROADCAST NEWS or even RAISING ARIZONA. Here she is almost the antithesis of that role. She is capricious, flighty, and internally crumbling. Above all she is self-destructive. It is really Hunter's film. We see a lot less depth in DeVito who is can almost be summed up with the phrase "nice guy." There is a great deal in this film that stretches the viewer's credulity. Liz Bailey very quickly becomes a friend and confidant of Judith. This seems particularly odd since Judith seems frequently to be more a pest than an honored customer at Jasper's. It even seems a little strange that Pat is interested in Judith, who is obviously trouble.

LIVING OUT LOUD is long on character and short on plot. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [- mrl]

1998 Toronto International Film Festival: (film reviews and commentary by Mark R. Leeper) (part 6 of 10)


CAPSULE: In a post-holocaust world, a guy who dresses like Buddy Holly and fights like Sanjuro struggles his way to "Lost Vegas" where he will be "the King." No new ideas, no plot, just a string of fights and music. Rating: 1 (0 to 10), -2 (-4 to +4)


The pace is starting to get to me. I got maybe five hours of sleep and we are off again. Breakfast at McDonald's so that I could get some protein and get moving. Maybe I will have something exotic for dinner to make up for it.

I made a real fool of myself in line. I was trying to remember what DOG PARK was about. That's right, I remember reading about the documentary about dogs and dog owners. So when we were lining up I mentioned that it was a lot of people to see a documentary about dog owners in New York. Well, when you register for the festival you see a lot of film descriptions in a short space of time. And that documentary may have been on Public Television. In any case...

DOG PARK (Canadian)

CAPSULE: Yet another comedy about the singles scene, dating, who is going to have sex with whom, and what relationships are going to last. This one is also about dog owners and a dog psychologist and obedience trainer. Nothing in this film is heavier than a cocker spaniel. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4)


CAPSULE: In an isolated part of the Australian outback a mysterious creature is preying on farm animals. An older farmer leads four local people into a journey of their inner fears as they try to find the source of the animal mutilations. Dark is indeed this story of natural and unnatural evils. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), 2 (-4 to +4)

I joined Kate for AT SACHEM FARM.

AT SACHEM FARM (United States)

CAPSULE: Well-produced, well-directed, but a fairly weak theme. This is a film that tells you that you can be everything you want to be if you just decide to be true to yourself and if you happen to have a lot of money. Rufus Sewell, Minnie Driver, and Nigel Hawthorne star. The film is competently made but the story is muddled. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

Following that we went to dinner. The place we chose was Ginger for Vietnamese cuisine, mostly noodle dishes.

The Air Canada strike is over. Now people can stop hissing the Air Canada ads. (P.S. They didn't stop.)

At this point we had put is a pretty hard day. We could have continued at the pace, but you need to take a breather sometime. We decided to say "forget it" and just to go out to a movie.

[to be continued] [-mrl]

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