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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/01/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 27
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/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the Week: URL of the week: In a move that was something of a surprise, Roger Ebert has chosen the very dark fantasy DARK CITY as his best film of 1998. The film is a big stylish comic book with ideas like liquid memory, aliens from ancient worlds. You can go to http://www.darkcity.com/ to get a feel for the film. [-mrl]
French: We were driving in the car and Evelyn made a comment that this was National Alzheimer's Month. She said she had known that at one point but had forgotten it. Then she corrected herself. It is not very nice to make a joke about a disability. "Or anything else" she added. I guess that is why I make puns. Pretty much all humor is at the expense of someone or something, and the pun is the lowest form of humor because it makes fun of language. And language has no feelings. Except maybe for French. French is certainly protected as if it has feelings.
The French government and most speakers of French are very protective of their language. I guess that includes the people of Quebec. They are proud to be French speakers. Of course, the French themselves think of the Canadians as being speakers of a sort of degenerate French. Quebecois are proud to think of themselves as French speakers even if they have not gotten full acceptance from the official France French. No reflection on the Quebecois, but to the French I have talked to (especially an old co-worker from Paris named Roger Dumont) it is sort of like chimpanzees looking at civilization and thinking, "Boy, we primates are the real kings of the earth." The French Canadians may feel they are real French-speakers, but to the French people they are merely quaint and funny, if the sampling of French I have talked to are any indication.
But the French think their language must be defended so that it will win in competition with other languages. We Americans don't think much of competition between languages, but that is because our most popular language here is English. It just happens that in most of the world just about the best language to know is English. (Okay, maybe just now the most profitable language to know is COBOL, but will that last?)
The problem is that French is so inefficient a language. If you go to a European airport and see signs they will probably be in French, German, and English. The French will mostly be in small words of one syllable, but it will still be about 30 to 50% longer than the English. The German will probably probably have the message in three words, but depending on how complex the idea is, they could be very long words that sound to us like "Gesprungdunkvindeswaffe." I am not sure how the Germans ever put together dictionaries. Frequently these long words are newly- assembled. They are too long to be built indoors and are put together by teams of sweaty men working in the hot sun to assemble them. These words generally never have been used before. So how can a dictionary be anything like complete?
The thing is that the French do not want to let go of their past glory. Just like the civilized language of the world was once Greek and later Latin, there was a period lasting several months when the most useful language of the world was French. It was the language of diplomacy, of business, and of tourism. I think the hope may be among the French that those times will return someday. And just in case those same people return to power, their language must be preserved for them and protected so they will recognize and know the language.
But this makes the modern world a particular threat to French who want to keep their culture inviolate. It is different here. There are certainly some Americans who are open to exotic foreign words and phrases the way they are open to exotic foreign cuisines. The French government has officially taken a stand against that happening in France, but technology is making it harder and harder to prevent miscegenation of the languages. For a long time it has been French national policy that computer languages used in France had to be French. French FORTRAN did not have DO-loops it had FAIRE-loops. But things have gotten only worse and worse. We have the Internet such an indispensable part of modern life. It brings all sorts of information to the French at a price to the language. The Internet primarily uses the same damned language as those rascals who did so much damage with their longbows at Agincourt. And Internet is coming in to finish the job that Henry V left undone--making good French people use English. But the French just cannot hope to stay up with technology and keep out the Internet at the same time. That was the dilemma the USSR faced. The Internet basically destroyed the veil of secrecy that the Soviets used so effectively for so many years. There is good reason to view the Internet as the force that destroyed the Soviet Union. They could not live with it and they could not live without it. And now the French cannot shut their doors to the Internet. The Academe Francais may win the battle to keep French pure but the day may well come when it is not the most useful language to know, even in France. [-mrl]
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: A kind-hearted, eighteen-foot-tall gorilla from Africa is brought to Los Angeles and wreaks the expected havoc. The film starts much more interestingly than the 1949 version, but neither has much idea what to do with the plot once it moves to the city. The good special effects add a lot. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
The original MIGHTY JOE YOUNG was something of a disappointment for me. I think that was because from about age six on one of my favorite films was KING KONG (1933). (Incidentally, that is one of the rare opinions I shared with Adolph Hitler.) MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) was a reprise of the same talent. Its effects were created by the same master, Willis O'Brien, assisted by a new apprentice, a special effects technician named Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen would become the king of Hollywood special effects from 1951 to 1977. But the talent was used to make a sort of junior King Kong for children. Stop-motion animation went the way of flat animation and of comic books to be associated with children's entertainment. Serious adults (people like my parents) did not go to see films that featured stop-motion animation. As with the SON OF KONG the special effects became associated with "cute." In spite of my diffidence toward the original MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, I was fairly ambivalent to hear that the classic was being remade. My reaction is that the remake is a big improvement in realistic special effects and the story begins much better. But neither film has a whole lot of interest to say about what happens when an eighteen- foot-tall ape is brought to America.
As a great nostalgic touch the film opens with the RKO Pictures logo, just as the original did. It is an updated logo, but basically the same radio antenna. Apparently one of the most creative studios is still around and in the film business sufficiently to get their name on this remake of their film. The new plot introduces poachers to the story. While their original had no reference at all to poaching, it would have been virtually impossible to tell the same story today without explaining why a baby gorilla would be motherless without mentioning poaching. The first third of this film, the part about the discovery of the ape, is done on an almost adult level. Linda Purl plays Dr. Ruth Young--obviously patterned on Dian Fossey--who, accompanied by her young daughter, Jill, studies gorillas in their natural habitat. Ruth and a female gorilla she is studying are both killed by poachers the same night and young Jill adopts Joe, the quickly growing baby of the killed gorilla.
Flash forward twelve years and the giant gorilla is now a local legend. Nearly as much a legend is the white woman (played by Charlize Theron who is actually South African), a grown-up Jill who is the gorilla's friend. Gregg O'Hara (Bill Paxton) is in Africa collecting wild animal blood for a Los Angeles nature conservancy (why is never explained). He is temporarily detaining wild animals to collect the blood when out of the bush comes a huge gorilla and sets one of his captured cats free. O'Hara wants to add some giant gorilla blood to his collection and has his unsavory team of trackers go after the ape. Not surprisingly, he finds the ape he was trying to catch has caught him instead. He is saved only at the last minute by the intervention of a mysterious woman, Jill. Now Gregg knows he must track down the mysterious woman and her gorilla. Eventually Gregg will find Jill and convince her that for Joe's own safety against poachers he has to be taken to a nature conservancy. He suggests the one he is associated with in Los Angeles.
The plot here is not tremendously adult, but it is better fleshed out and more intelligent than the plot in the original film. Willis O'Brien might well have approved of the more complex story line. Whether he would have approved of the effect would be a different matter. O'Brien was bitterly disappointed when a project he started to do a second KING KONG sequel got out of his hands and eventually mutated into KING KONG VS. GODZILLA with its man-in-a- gorilla-suit Kong. Here again at least in some scenes Joe is played by a man in a suit. At least it is a Rick Baker-designed suit that is fairly convincing where it is used. Deep down it is John Alexander in a much more realistic suit. We do not have to ask if effects technician Ray Harryhausen would have approved. In the party scene late in the film the older gentleman reminiscing with his wife are really Harryhausen and Terry Moore, the star of 1949 version. While I am on the subject of self-references the film poster at Graumann's Chinese Theater is from WAGON MASTER directed by John Ford and starring Ben Johnson. John Ford was the executive producer of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) and Ben Johnson was Terry Moor's co-star. Ford and Johnson are no longer with us so I suppose this was a way of giving them some sort of an appearance.
Where the new version may fall short a little of the original is in the introduction of two nefarious villains with thick foreign accents. Their plan to steal the giant ape, dissect him, and sell the pieces does not seem to make financial sense. Somehow Charlize Theron seems to wear a little too much makeup for her character.
It was a little surprising that Has Zimmer who did African-flavored score for THE LION KING, and has since been specializing in scores for films with African themes, was not chosen to do another African score for them. It might have something to do with his scoring the animated THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, a film made in direct competition with Disney. Whatever the reason James Horner provided the score and did an okay job, but people will not be rushing out for the soundtrack. Also I notice that the film walks something of a narrow path trying not to put in a bad light the animal conservancy which is, after all, not all that different from Disney's new Animal Kingdom Park.
In 1949 the original film was unusual for its day. Its remake from almost a half century later in some ways improves on the original. It special effects have been improved upon to the point of perfection. But the story is unexceptional, perhaps even overly cliched, for a modern audience. On balance I give it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Included with the film is a Mouseworks Cartoon. I did not catch the title but the subject was "extreme sports" as demonstrated by Goofy. It was extremely short for a Disney cartoon, being maybe two or three minutes long. [-mrl]
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: William Shakespeare writes "Romeo and Juliet" and at the same time discovers the woman who would be the love of his life. This is a whimsical recreation of how things might have been. The story is charming and the setting is as interesting as the characters, though the credibility of what we see is compromised by obvious anachronisms and inaccuracies. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 21 positive, 2 negative, 2 mixed
It is 1593 and London has two competing theaters, each with a favorite playwright. The Curtain features the plays of Christopher Marlowe, acknowledged to be the greatest playwright of the day. The Rose had a once promising young man who after about ten plays was coming to the end of his creativity. This is William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes). As we join the film Shakespeare's love life is in a shambles as he is totally blocked from writing. Not that it matters because the theaters have been closed due to the plague. That may be for the best as Shakespeare has promised his new play to both theaters. That play, barely begun, being "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter."
Shakespeare cannot write, having had only the minimal experience at love he got from a loveless marriage. But a woman is about to come into his life. Shakespeare sees Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) and falls in love with her beauty. Meanwhile it turns out that Viola is a great fan of Shakespeare and the theater in general. When the theaters are reopened, due to only the most venal of reasons, Viola gives in to temptation, defies the conventions of her time, disguises herself as a man, and becomes an actor. Shakespeare finds the woman he loves and begins an affair with her, ignoring the fact that she is betrothed. When Viola auditions disguised as a man she is promptly cast not as Juliet, but as Romeo in the play that seems to be written scene by scene only one day, or often only hours, before it is rehearsed. Shakespeare finds can write again now that he has something to write about, his love of Viola, and his wild lovemaking during off moments of the rehearsals. The play Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter begins to take shape and is transformed from the comedy everybody has been expecting into the Romeo and Juliet we know. Of course the creative process is not without some help from Shakespeare's friends. We see Shakespeare's talent for pumping Christopher Marlowe and others for ideas and character names.
It should be noted that many of the fine details of this story are carefully researched and there are references to real people and events. In fact, it is mainly the plot as a whole that is completely absurd. The story of Romeo and Juliet was popular long before Shakespeare's time. And it did not involve Ethel, the Pirate's daughter. Shakespeare's plays are almost exclusively adaptations of pre-existing tales. Scholars tell us that "The Tempest" was Shakespeare's only original story. (I am not sure how much consideration they have given to "The Merry Wives of Windsor," essentially a sitcom written solely to reuse the popular character Falstaff.) This story of how Shakespeare's version of Romeo and Juliet came to be written is obviously a complete fiction. Unfortunately, this means that any facts that one does glean about the period or about Shakespeare from this film should be regarded as being highly suspect. John Webster, seen here as a boy with rather gruesome tastes in drama, is probably the playwright who went on to write plays like "The Duchess of Malfi." I do not know if there is any evidence that he knew Shakespeare. There clearly are Flintstone-esque anachronisms in the play like the odd proto- psychiatrist that Shakespeare sees.
The screenplay for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. Much of the screenplay shows Stoppard's sense of humor as shown in other Stoppard plays like "Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead." The writers even have the audacity to write a little of its own Shakespearean prose and wordplay.
Fiennes and Paltrow are supported by a prestige cast including Geoffrey Rush of SHINE, Ben Affleck of GOOD WILL HUNTING, Judi Dench of MRS. BROWN (who is also the new M in the James Bond series), Colin Firth of THE ENGLISH PATIENT, Simon Callow of FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, Jim Carter of RICHARD III, and Tom Wilkinson of THE FULL MONTY. Director John Madden is the veteran of MRS. BROWN and episodes of the BBC adaptations of SHERLOCK HOLMES (with Jeremy Brett as Holmes).
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is a frothy and fun look at the bard and his times, but is not to be taken too seriously. One does not have to be a fan of Shakespeare to enjoy it, but bardophiles will get more out of it. It gets 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
WAKING NED DEVINE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: An entire village conspires to fool the lottery and convince them that a dead lottery winner is still alive. In the tradition of LOCAL HERO, this is a likable comedy from Ireland with a great set of Irish character actors and some beautiful views of Irish countryside. David Kelly is just great. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
In the little coastal village of Tullymore, Ireland there is a local preoccupation with the National lottery and nobody is more involved is the old rascal Jackie O'Shea (played by veteran actor Ian Bannen). Then one day the newspaper says there is one lottery winner and he is from the local county. Tullymore is the only village in the county so someone local must have won. Jackie waits for the scream of excitement, but it does not come. Somebody has won the lottery but is not telling or perhaps does not even know it yet. Jackie forms a team with his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) and old pal Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) to search the village for the winner. But nobody seems to have won the lottery. Then Jackie realizes just one man is left who could be the winner, Ned Devine.
In his bed they find the old man, Ned Devine. Ned had the good luck to win the lottery and the bad luck to die of the excitement. But now there is no Ned Devine to collect the winnings. But with no Ned Devine there will be no winnings. This has Jackie in a dither. Well, why not have Michael be Ned Devine just long enough to collect the money. Michael is not sure it is going to be so easy. Michael is dead right. The man from the lottery wants reasonable proof that he is not giving the prize money to the wrong man. But reasonable proof is just what is not possible to give. Eventually the whole village will have to be pulled into the fraudulent scheme if it going to work. One subplot that could have used a little polishing is that of the village "witch," a most disagreeable woman who threatens to blackmail the entire town for a larger share of the proceeds. The subplot is crudely resolved without the sort of finesse that is characteristic of most of the rest of the script. Similarly the entire plot is only partially tied off at the end. One wonders in what the state of the village will be in another year. The way is wide open for a sequel.
Top billing goes to veteran actor Ian Bannen as an infectious schemer, and yet totally likable. But at least as much credit should go to David Kelly as Michael O'Sullivan. Kelly, with the huge duckbill nose and the scrawny body of a plucked duck hanging in the shop is a positive treasure. In spite of Bannen's grace in front of the camera and his infectious smile, most of the heavy laughs are earned by Kelly. Still, together the massive Bannen and the wiry Kelly make a great team, each being the foil for the other. The story, by director Kirk Jones, is a simple and pure situation comedy. This is Kelly's first feature film, having previously made commercials.
Henry Braham's photography certainly demonstrates that the scenery of Tullymore is beautiful, though he avoids showing it in its full glory. A lot of his photography catches the scenery when it is gray and raining or at night or when the sun washes out the shot.
WAKING NED DEVINE is the kind of comedy we do not see frequently enough any more coming from the United Kingdom and Ireland. This film is reminiscent of WHISKEY GALORE and LOCAL HERO. Similar American films are usually done with too heavy a hand. WAKING NED DEVINE is a pleasure. I give it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
A SIMPLE PLAN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Three working-class men find a plane wreck with four million dollars and start making plans for how to keep money for themselves. But the bounty is too great for three men to split amicably. Sam Raimi makes a film in the style of the Coen Brothers with a lot of locality atmosphere and understanding of his characters. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 20 positive, 1 negative, 4 mixed
Sam Raimi grew up a close friend of the Coen Brothers. All three want into filmmaking. The Coen Brothers specialized in crime films. Raimi, focusing on a younger audience, made a variety of films, but he was best known for his horror film trilogy, the EVIL DEAD films. Now Sam Raimi is moving into Coen brothers territory with a serious and dark crime thriller set somewhere in the frozen North Central states in the cold of winter. The plot is a familiar one. Three people have come into a lot of money they must keep secret. But three is a big crowd when it comes to four and a half million dollars. The setting is like FARGO, and the basic situation is like THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. The plotting is like a serious version of the too-recent VERY BAD THINGS, but serious makes all the difference.
Scott B. Smith wrote the screenplay based on his own novel. The opening image of the film is a fox making a quick raid on a hen house, snatching what it can get and running with it. While that really is the event that sets the plot in motion, the "grab what you can and run" scene also sets the tone for what is to come. In A SIMPLE PLAN Hank (played by Bill Paxton) works in the feed and grain, but hopes his college education will bring him something better for his wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) and the daughter he will have in a few days. Sarah has learned to accept Jacob, Hank's grungy brother (Billy Bob Thornton), but not Jacob's redneck friend Lou (Brent Bisscoe). Jacob and Lou similarly are a bit contemptuous of Lou's comparatively manicured existence. Ordinarily these tensions would never be spoken, but events are about to stress all the relationships.
One frosty winter day Hank, Jacob, and Lou come upon a plane crashed in the woods. On board they find a dead pilot and a satchel with 44,000 one hundred-dollar bills. If all three people can cooperate perfectly it should be no problem hanging onto the money. Right? But of course the presence of the money will test each of the men's relationships with the others and Hank's relationship with Sarah. Sarah, Jacob, and Lou each has a different idea of what to do with the money and they do not all mesh. Hank wants to wait until things die down and then leave town. Jacob sees the money as his opportunity to buy back his father's farm and make it work again. Lou is in unhealthy debt and wants to pay off some loans and live high. Hank will discover entirely different people inside the skins of the people closest to him. And one of them is himself. As Sarah observes to Hank late in the film, "Nobody would ever believe that you would be capable of doing what you've done." The plot is composed like a chain with each event leading to the next and all lead to chaos.
YOU'VE GOT MAIL (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Two rivals in the book business do not realize that each's secret Internet pen pal is the other. This remake of the 1940 Lubitsch comedy THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER has been modified to be more timely with the addition to the script of the issue of super-store bookstores squeezing out small independent book stores. This is probably the best version of this story. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are as always a good romantic team. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 7 positive, 7 negative, 7 mixed
I suppose if a filmmaker is going to remake a classic film, this is the right way to do it. Ernst Lubitsch's SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is a decent film, but I have never heard of anyone loving it so much that they could not stand to see other actors in similar roles. And it was, in fact, remade as a musical in 1949, IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME. Neither film really developed the idea much beyond being a simple ironic situation. Two shop clerks in the same store hate each other and each loves a pen pal that he/she has never met. Of course it turns out they are writing to each other, and somehow it is assumed that the inner person is represented by the writing and not the actual person. YOU'VE GOT MAIL takes the same situation and expands on it, using the anonymity of electronic communications on the Internet. The film also looks at the issue of big superstore bookstores chasing out smaller independent bookstores. In particular the plot may have inspired by the incident when a new Barnes and Noble superstore in Manhattan drove a much-loved children's bookstore, Eeyore Books, out of business.
Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan) is the second-generation owner of The Shop Around the Corner, a children's bookstore in Manhattan that has become something of a neighborhood institution. Parents who used to come to the bookstore as children now bring their children to discover the world of reading. But the bookshop is in trouble. Fox, a chain of bookstores, is putting a superstore just around the corner from The Shop Around the Corner. The competition may well drive the little bookstore out of business. But even while her professional life is in trouble Kathleen is developing an e-mail-based relationship with a pen pal over the Internet. The man she knows only as "NY152" is a decent and witty person. Little does Kathleen realize that NY152 is really Tom Fox (Tom Hanks) the third generation owner of the Fox bookstore chain. In the flesh Tom Fox represents to Kathleen everything that is going wrong with the book industry. Small caring bookstores are being replaced by Goliaths with know-nothing clerks, big comfy chairs, and cappuccino bars. Though Kathleen is living with writer Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear) and Tom is living with editor Patricia Eden (Parker Posey), they carry on a secret electronic relationship. The artificial excitement of the AOL voice saying, "You've got mail!" becomes almost a metaphor for the loveless by-the-numbers relationships into which each has fallen. It is counterpoint to what they feel writing to each other, flirting with the idea of meeting, but afraid to dispel the magic. In fact, much of the best writing of the film is in the little essays that each sends the other. At times the discussions are reminiscent of those in 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD.
This is the third screen teaming of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The first time they were together was in JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, a film so offbeat that it never found an audience. (By the way, if you get a chance, rent this film. The writing is occasionally lame but more frequently wonderful.) Their second romantic teaming was, of course, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, a film not up to its reputation, but still a gem. There certainly is chemistry between Hanks and Ryan as strong as Gable's and Lombard's. YOU'VE GOT MAIL is a light and tasty little romantic recipe for the holidays. Still, it is the most thoughtful of the three film versions of this particular story. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com