MT VOID 12/11/98 (Vol. 17, Number 24)

MT VOID 12/11/98 (Vol. 17, Number 24)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/11/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 24

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 of the Week: Lewis Carroll home page. (No, he isn't personally maintaining it!) In celebration of the centenary of his death. [-ecl]

CNN News: Did you know that CNN Headline News's reporter at the Kennedy Space Center (and space editor) is named Miles O'Brien? Really! [-ecl]

Dreams: I had a very interesting dream last night. I think it told me something about the nature of how the senses work in dreams. Normally anything that happens in a dream is bizarre and cannot be relied upon for telling you anything about reality. But that is because people are looking at the content of the dream. That is not exactly what happened to me. What happened was frustrating enough that it woke me up. Now let me tell you about it. It is sort of the brain's equivalent of a minor operating system error.

I don't remember what I was doing in the dream, but I was charging something over a telephone. And of course what I had to do was read off my credit card number over the telephone. But I had a problem. I would read these groups of digits and then go back and double check them. Well the problem was that I really could not double check them. I could remember what was said and I could look at the card, and they were not the same. And why not? Well, because I suspect the numbers I was reading off did stay in my aural memory, I cannot be sure even that was correct, though I think that it was. But as my eye drifted over the credit card, my visual center was creating what it needed to create as I saw it. But it was not the numbers it had put in that position the first time. The frustration that I could not read the numbers off consistently woke me up. In computer terms I essentially had a dream that terminated due to an operating system error. I was getting a mismatching between a visual memory that was not better than it had to be and an aural memory that was somewhat better. I just happened to have a dream that would compare the two.

Now, what does this really tell us about dreams? Well... even a dream is a complex production. You have a lot of random sparking of neurons and your mind working to create order from them. At least that is one model for dreams. And it seems likely that your aural memory functions much like it would in a wake state. And while this is happening the visual centers put up wallpaper so you don't end up looking at the backs of your eyelids. They arrange it so that in whatever direction you look, they have a freshly created visual image. And it is always freshly created. That is what my dream seems to indicate. In my dream I could read the numbers off the card, look away, and look back. But when I looked back the numbers were not pulled from memory, they were freshly painted. But not with the numbers that were originally in those positions. Ordinarily as long as I had visual continuity around the edges of the mental picture, that is enough so that my mind does not catch an inconsistency. There is nothing particularly jarring if there are subtle changes in the scene the second time the dreamer sees it in most dreams. But in this dream the soundtrack recorded what numbers I was seeing and it was different values from subsequent viewings. I just had a particular dream that allowed me to match one form of memory against the other.

At least that is my interpretation.

The problem with dreams is you never really are sure of your conclusions. I mean perhaps I really did have an operating system error that terminated a dream. But perhaps I just dreamed I had problems reading some numbers off my credit card. [-mrl]

GODS AND MONSTERS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A gardener comes to have a deep relationship with James Whale, the gay director of the first two Karloff Frankenstein films and THE INVISIBLE MAN. Through Whale's memory flashbacks we come to understand him, and the internal storms that came to inspire his best films. The film has a great performance by Ian McKellan and a decent one by Brendan Fraser. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 18 positive, 0 negative, 1 mixed

One of the finest directors of the early sound era was James Whale whose best-remembered credits include FRANKENSTEIN, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and SHOWBOAT. At the same time he was one of the few Hollywood directors who were openly gay. In GODS AND MONSTERS we get a glimpse of the latter days of James Whale in this adaptation of Christopher Bram's novel FATHER OF FRANKENSTEIN.

Some time around 1955 Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) is the gardener at a modest home near Hollywood. In the house an elderly man (Ian McKellan) lives nearly alone with only his devoted housekeeper for company. The reclusive owner, an artist, wants to meet Boone, and when he does he wants to sketch Boone. Boone soon finds out this is James Whale, a famous director. He also finds out the man is gay. We see the relationship that develops alternatively from both Boone and Whale's points of view. McKellan gives a great performance as a man whose happy moments and whose terrible experiences are intertwined. He struggles desperately to recreate the joyful moments, but for the most part he is successful only at recreating for himself the terrible ones. With a deft hand writer and director William Condon theorizes on the connection between Whale's World War I experiences and the themes in his horror films, especially those of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In some ways the film is quite insightful. We see that just as the trench soldier had to augment his body with non-human equipment like gas masks in order to escape death, the Frankenstein Monster is brought back from the dead only by becoming a mixture of human and non-human electrical parts. Just as the film's Dr. Pretorius entraps Frankenstein into diabolical experiments, Whale tries to entrap the straight Boone into a sexual relationship playing little cat and mouse games.

Whale is surprisingly unhappy with the adulation that his horror films receive. We see him interviewed by a rather gauche fan who has no interest in any but Whale's horror films. Whale impishly invents a game that could be called "strip interview" to punish his unwelcome guest. Whale laments that even among his horror films he prefers his INVISIBLE MAN, but people are drawn to FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the films that really made a star of Karloff, whom Whale deems the "dullest man imaginable." We see a major part of Whale's whole career in flashes of his memory. Included are the details of a love affair with another soldier in World War I, "The Great War." Condon does less to flesh out Boone who drifts through life, recovering from his relationship with alcoholic parents.

Ian McKellan gives one of the most enjoyable performances of the year as James Whale. So seamlessly does McKellan integrate the complex aspects of Whale's life--his homosexuality, his macabre sense of humor, his horror films, his graphic arts--that McKellan can almost be accused of over-simplifying the man and making him too comprehensible. Meanwhile the character of Boone is left a little neglected in this study of Whale. Also somewhat neglected is the enigmatically protective housekeeper Hanna, played by Lynn Redgrave.

Condon does a great job of making his vision of a waning career in 1950s Hollywood seem authentic. Condon begins the film playing on audience expectations. We see what appear to be the thick heavy shoes of the Frankenstein monster as the owner puts them on, only to discover that they are simply the work shoes of the gardener Boone. And in some ways the film draws parallels between the guileless Boone and the innocent artificial human. Also, whether or not they are intentional there are strong plot parallels to SUNSET BLVD.

GODS AND MONSTERS is a most enjoyable portrait of a film pioneer and of Hollywood in the 1950s. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.

While GODS AND MONSTERS is better in this regard than was ED WOOD JR., not all the historic details presented are necessarily accurate. This fictionalized Whale takes credit for the design of the characteristic look of the Universal Frankenstein monster. Most film historians have said the person who gets the credit really should be Jack Pierce, the makeup artist who created most of the classic monsters of the 1930s. Whale consulted and contributed ideas, but Pierce is thought to have done most of the creation and proved his abilities many times in Universal films. [-mrl]

BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

[Last week's review of BABE: PIG IN THE CITY had truncation problems at the ends of paragraphs, so here it is in its entirety. I don't want to point any fingers at whose fault it was, and I certainly don't want to get her mad at me.]

Capsule: The second BABE film is more creative than the first, but it is also darker in tone. We are back in the world where animals talk to each other, but never to humans. Babe is taken to the big city in an attempt to save Hoggett farm. But Babe gets separated and has adventures with a whole menagerie of animals. The art direction of this film is almost as big a feature as the animal animatronics, but it may be confusing for younger children. Still, parents will find that they will have to go a long way to find a film so enjoyable both adults and for children. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4). A minor spoiler follows the review.

The second Babe film, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, had plenty of room to repeat what was good about the 1995 BABE. Co-writer and director George Miller really did not need to change the film's approach. But Miller was not content to rest on his laurels. The sequel is quite a different film and gives the audience much that is new and quite different to enjoy. Is it as good as the first film? To my mind it is not quite as good. The story is a little less a coherent story and the big climax of the film is more slapstick and less subtle excitement. Like BABE this is family entertainment, but I think it offers a little less for the children and perhaps a little less for the adults also. The tone is definitely darker and more disturbing. But like BABE, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY is probably the best family film of its year. And it is one of the rare family films that may well be better appreciated by adults than by children.

The Hoggett Farm is certainly having its ups and it downs. After a series of adventures related in the first film Babe has won international fame as the pig who is a sheep dog. Things are going well until Farmer Hoggett is disabled in a freak accident. (Note: the scenario of this accident was a joke told as early as the Fred Allen radio program in the 1940s and has appeared other places since. It may even be older than that. But to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time anybody filmed this strange sequence of events.) With Mr. Hoggett unable to care for his farm it falls on hard times and the bank is ready and anxious to make the times even harder. Mrs. Hoggett takes the famous pig to display him at a fair. But events conspire to maroon Mrs. Hoggett in the city with her pig and then to leave her pig all alone. Babe finds himself the new animal in a house full of animals with dubious human supervision. Among the animals Babe meets is a Damon-Runyan-esque pit bull, a family of chimpanzees, and a taciturn orangutan.

The film is told in the same style as the first Babe film but differently. Again the story is divided in chapters whose titles are read to us by the trio of singing mice. The Classical and popular music is back including the theme from Saint-Saens's Third Symphony. Miller has managed to get the same cast back, though James Cromwell has a much more limited role as Farmer Hoggett and Magda Szubanski has a much larger role this time continuing as Mrs. Hoggett. Again the comedy is genuinely funny and sometimes very funny. The acting and voicing seems to have all the same people in the same roles. The major characters are all present, even if their roles are much foreshortened. And as with the first film, the animals are frequently three-dimensional characters with interesting personalities. But the city Babe visits is not so much a city as a Disneyland-modified city-concentrate. It seems like a Frankensteinian grafting together of many of the great cities of the world. Looking out a window, Babe sees landmarks of cities all over the world. The interior of the city is an expressionist wonderworld looking like something out of Disneyland. While the first film had some physical comedy, this new film has a long slapstick sequence that seems out of character for the person involved.

This is more expensive and a cut below its predecessor, but it still is a good outing for the whole family. I give this film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler...

Like ANIMAL FARM, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY may have many allegorical meanings and perhaps even religious overtones. Babe wins over his enemies with kindness and feeds his flock, but then allows an enforcer to stand over feeding and no animal is allowed to partake of the food without thanking Babe, under apparent threat of violence. What begins looking like an allegorical Christ turns into more a Huey Long allegory. [-mrl]

A BUG'S LIFE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Our second animated ant film of the season edges out the first for humor and actual animation style. A BUG'S LIFE has a mediocre story-line, seemingly derived from Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI, but its animation will dazzle the eye. This film offers adults a little less plot and characterization than did ANTZ, but the visuals are better and jokes are funnier. Don't miss the closing credit sequence. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

Let's get the expository lump out of the way at the beginning. All bugs are insects but not all insects are bugs. Bugs have tube-like mouthparts and wings that are joined to the body in a sort of thickened area. Scientists call them "Hemiptera." Ants, walking sticks, and certainly spiders are not bugs. And to further correct, ants have six legs as we saw in ANTZ (well, sort of), not four as portrayed in A BUG'S LIFE. And speaking of inaccuracies, in my review of ANTZ I said that Pixar and Disney might have to look to their laurels to match the animation quality of ANTZ. Well I was wrong; Pixar and Disney are doing just fine, thank you. A BUG'S LIFE actually is the more visually sophisticated of the two animated films, but each has far surpassed TOY STORY. There may be more animated figures in some scenes in ANTZ, but Pixar has the edge on life-like animation and in giving a three-dimensional look. They have also made some perceptive improvements in digital representation light and surface texture. Facial animation is also better. In fact looking at the faces of the grasshoppers as they talk, they really have more texture than a camera would pick up looking at a real grasshopper. They have gone into a kind of hyper-reality, much like the saturated Technicolor of musicals of the 50s created a sort of hyper-reality. But since people get a little squeamish looking too closely at real insects, Pixar seems to reserve this over-texturing for the villainous grasshoppers and there to make them a somewhat more repulsive foe.

Where A BUG'S LIFE has a problem is that it has a less sophisticated or interesting plot than either TOY STORY or ANTZ. The plot is directly or indirectly a rehash of the late Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI. The ants of Ant Island could live very well if they were not obliged to pay a heavy tribute of food each year to a ferocious band of grasshoppers. In the colony ant Flik has many ideas how to do things differently-he even has ideas for how to deal with the grasshoppers. The catch is that none of his ideas seems to work very well. Flik's idea for how to deal with the grasshoppers is to get bigger bugs to fight for the ant colony. So the colony decides to send someone to find defenders. And who do they choose? The ant they can most spare, Flik. Our intrepid ant finds defenders, but does not realize that they are not fighters but flea circus performers. With Flik's ideas and with the aid of what they think of as fighter insects, the colony prepares to defend itself against the cruel grasshoppers. The grasshopper leader is the nasty Hopper, voiced with real menace by Kevin Spacey.

It is tempting to compare this film's weaker plot but impressive visuals with the current trend of sci-fi films being taken over by special effects. But many respected classic films did much the same. Busby Berkley musicals had real visual style but had relatively bland and cliched plots. Then as so frequently now the entertainment was in what the audience saw, not what the film said.

It is worthwhile to see A BUG'S LIFE just to see how the animation technology is progressing. If the story-line is weak at least there are moments of really good humor, though many are in the closing credits. It would be interesting to know if ANTZ eats into the profits of A BUG'S LIFE. ANTZ seems to have been timed to do just that, but if so it may have been a miscalculation. The two films dealing with the one non-conformist ant in the colony could co- exist at the box-office much like DEEP IMPACT and ARMAGEDDON have.

I would rate A BUG'S LIFE a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. There are a few scenes that could be frightening to younger children.

This film has been released with the short film "Geri's Game" which won Pixar an Oscar. It is a funny little short of an old man playing chess with himself in the park. It humorously makes the point that playing chess with yourself as an opponent is not really like playing a different person. Actually it could almost be a study of schizophrenia, though I think that is reading more into the short than Pixar intends. One of the more interesting aspects of "Geri's Game" is to see how far Pixar has progressed in representing computer animation of human figures. It is one thing to represent in animation toys and insects with their rigid surfaces, but it is harder to represent humans realistically. Human characters were kept to a minimum in TOY STORY and are not present at all in A BUG'S LIFE.

I have one question about the closing credits. (Hopefully this will be meaningless to anyone who has not seen the film.) How genuine is what we are hearing? The joke is obviously that the visuals are false, but the audio track may be genuine. [-mrl]

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

ANTZ (United States)

CAPSULE: The story is okay in a Disney sort of way, but the star is the state-of-the-art computer animation in this film that shows life in an insect colony from the Dreamworks. The mass scenes are impressive and the individual ants are expressive. Voices include Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, and Gene Hackman. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

We did not have tickets for anything until the midnight show. We decided to try the rush line for the two theaters showing THIS IS MY FATHER. We could not get a pair of tickets, but there was a single ticket offered. Everybody in the line was couples. Evelyn suggested I take the single ticket and she would see me at the midnight film. I did.

THIS IS MY FATHER (Canadian/Irish)

CAPSULE: An American schoolteacher (James Caan) travels to Ireland to trace a father he never knew. In uncovering the story he finds the story of a good simple man and a tragic story of lovers kept apart by prejudice and intolerance. Aiden Quinn stars, his brother Paul directs, and brother Declan photographs. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

Coming out, there was Evelyn standing there. They had come through offering a single ticket for the other theater. Again everybody in line was couples but Evelyn so she took the ticket and saw THIS IS MY FATHER on the other screen. People forward of us in line were unhappy that they had not taken single tickets when they were available. We both saw the same film, but on different screens. Also we both had to sit to the side in the front row, which was a minor inconvenience. But we ended up both seeing the same film at the same time, so we could discuss it. Then off to our final film of the festival. This one everybody knew was going to be bad, but it was sort of a last night joke.


CAPSULE: A wild jungle woman and an 11-story gorilla are discovered in Tibet and taken to Hong Kong where the gorilla escapes and causes havoc. This is a laughable 1977 rip off of KING KONG (1976), itself a rip-off. Production values are low and audiences seem to like the film mostly for derisive laughter. Rating: 2 (0 to 10), high -2 (-4 to +4)

From there it was a walk back to the room. We put on channel 10, which was covering the film festival for our last remnants. And so ended our Toronto International Film Festival. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     What science can there be more noble, more excellent,
     more useful for men, more admirably high and
     demonstrative, than this of the mathematics?
                                   -- Benjamin Franklin