MT VOID 05/14/99 (Vol. 17, Number 46)

MT VOID 05/14/99 (Vol. 17, Number 46)


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 05/14/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 46

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.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619, mleeper@lucent.com
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, eleeper@lucent.com
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, robmitchell@lucent.com
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, jetzt@lucent.com
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, njs@lucent.com
Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper.
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Correction

Correction: It is the native Tasmanians, not the native New Zealanders who were the subject of the only successful genocide.


The Great McGinty:

I like to watch the old comedies from the 1940s. You learn all sorts of interesting things. I like films by directors like Preston Sturges and Frank Capra. I was watching THE GREAT MCGINTY by Sturges. This is the story of the rise and fall of McGinty from a cheap crook to the corrupt Governor of his state and back to nothing. Brian Donlevy was in the title role but his sidekick was William Demarest. At one point Demarest is reading the newspaper and looks up and says, "They're always talking about graft, but they forget if it wasn't for graft you'd get a very low type of people in politics. Men without ambition. Jellyfish!"

Suddenly it occurred to me that I knew that argument. Where had I heard that before? Then it hit me. We own stock in a number of companies. That means when the time for the annual shareholders meetings come around we get a stack of annual reports with their proxy booklets. These are by and large fairly serious publications. But just like most newspapers have funny pages so that there is one fun section to read, so these annual reports also have one silly section. The fun part of an annual report is in the proxy booklet. I love to read the shareholder proposals. This is where the shareholders get a voice in how the company is run. What kind of a voice is it? As little a voice as the board of directors can arrange. Each shareholder proposal is followed by a section that says, "Your Board of Directors recommends you vote AGAINST this proposal." And then they give some sort of usually feeble argument as to why they do not want shareholders to vote yes.

The proposal is something like it should be company policy not to employ slave labor to produce their product. The board of directors recommends that shareholders vote against the proposal because, well, gosh, we never would consider using slave labor because we are all good people who rarely even whip our servants if they don't deserve it. But they never explain why if that is the case they do not want to make it official policy. But because of this they recommend that the shareholders vote AGAINST this proposal. What they do not add but leave implied is that they also recommend that the traitor who made this proposal be cut into small pieces and fed to weasels.

Now the law says that in any election the parties involved cannot put campaign ads too near the polling place because it is unfair. Boards of directors are bound by no rules of fairness whatsoever. Around every single shareholder proposal they put a flashing frame that effectively says "Dumb Idea."

But what about the graft quote? Well over the course of the 1990s directors and executive salaries and benefits went from bad to worse to obscene in the first half of the decade. They continued the trend in the second half of the decade, but I cannot describe it because my thesaurus ran out of nasty adjectives. So to every company comes someone who says in a shareholder proposal that executive salaries should be capped before they bankrupt the company. And the response is always the same. It is basically the graft argument from THE GREAT MCGINTY. In order to compete in the ever-changing market we need the best leadership for our company. That means having a competitive rewards system so we do not lose our best to other companies. (Nobody suggests that employee salaries be competitive, by the way.) Never mind the fact that these clods running the company can have lost billions in disastrous acquisitions and other stupid decisions. Never mind that if given a choice nobody familiar with their track record would trust them to organize the feeding times of a gerbil. We have to keep throwing bundles of money at them for fear they will become dissatisfied and (gasp) make their disastrous decisions for another company. [-mrl]


"eXistenZ" (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Reality comes in layers as a game world is the gateway to more game worlds within still more game worlds. David Cronenberg's new film is not for all tastes, but it is whimsical, witty, and weird. The Canadian director plays with themes of electronic games, mutation, religious fatwas, and some just plain weird stuff. This is a film that is kinky in many ways and some have nothing to do with sex. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

While there is much in "eXistenZ" that harkens back to VIDEODROME, the film is new and fresh. It is a big night for Antenna Research, a leading virtual-reality game company. They are ready to start the last round of tests for their new reality-bending game eXistenZ. They do not want to say what makes eXistenZ so different, but it is a distinct step beyond other virtual reality games that also tap directly into the nervous system through jacks in the base of the spine. eXistenZ is something of a breakthrough. It is so new that the demo of eXistenZ will be done by the inventor of eXistenZ, the queen of game designers Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh). But something is wrong. The competition has gotten an agent into the crowd and he nearly assassinates Geller with a strange handgun made of living matter. Ted Pikul (Jude Law), who is providing security, takes Allegra to safety at a local motel. But Allegra has to test her eXistenZ gamepod, containing the only complete version of the game. (It is worth in the tens of millions of dollars and she keeps the only copy in her pocket. Right.) That means she needs a playing partner. But Ted does not have the jack at the base of his spine and is less than anxious to get one. Luckily there is a local gas station attendant (deliciously played by Willem Defoe) who installs jacks as a sideline. And for Ted a strange new world is about to open.

David Cronenberg makes some of the most bizarre films of any popular filmmaker. What is remarkable is that the more his films get strange the more he crosses over to a mainstream audience. It was not enough that he had the weird alien medical instruments that he had in DEAD RINGERS, here he takes things a step further and makes all the machinery of the games, the game pods and the connecting cables, out of organic material. One does not so much flip a switch as massage and caress it. Connections are not made by cables but by umbilical cords. Cronenberg comes dangerously close to alienating his viewer by disgusting him. But ingeniously he keeps the tone just light and freakily witty enough that the viewer happily goes along for the ride. But the wit is never so over the top to turn the "eXistenZ" into a farce. When I saw the film the audience seemed to be enjoying the film immensely. Cronenberg's problems are not with his audience but with his financial backers. Reportedly the major studios that could have financed "eXistenZ" found the plot to be "too non-linear." They were absolutely right that as the plot goes skin-diving through layers of reality things do get a bit complex, but that is much of the fun of the film. The non-linearity works for the film, not against it.

Early in her career I found Jennifer Jason Leigh's roles to be an irritating combination of ingenue and counter-culture. She was sort of the Homecoming Queen with a gun from Julie Brown's song. But as her collection of offbeat characters increases I am beginning to appreciate what an accomplished character actress she has become. Here she gives a well-balanced performance that is generally perfect for the Cronenberg material. Jude Law of GATTACA and MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL plays the understandably bewildered protagonist pulled into the worlds of reality switching and being implanted with strange impulses. Along for the ride are Ian Holm with a thick accent. Also present is Don McKellar, the actor who seems to be as ubiquitous in Canadian film these days as Denholm Elliot was at one time in British film.

"eXistenZ" is nearly as complex as the current THE MATRIX, but it has real characters and a plot involving three-dimensional people with motivations rather than with martial arts skills. For the right audience the film is a kick. I rate the film an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]


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

Capsule: The 1932 horror classic THE MUMMY may have been the inspiration for this tongue-in- cheek adventure romp, but there is little horror here. This is really more a fantasy adventure with a supernatural super-villain than a horror film. As adventure-fantasy films go, this one is not too bad and Brendan Fraser is a dashing legionnaire turned mummy fighter. The dish tastes okay, but it was not what I ordered. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4). Some non-spoiler comments about the historical accuracy of THE MUMMY (1999) follow the main text.

I am not old enough to have seen the original release of the Boris Karloff THE MUMMY (1932). I caught it on television as I was growing up, and it is a cherished memory. This concept was that mysterious ancient magic was still powerful and you have to respect ancient strange gods and their mysterious curses. There was a real sense of wonder in the great old film and in the idea it was based upon, the idea that there was a degree of truth in the ages-old religion that inspired the great stone enigmas of Egypt. Karl Freund's film, often deemed slow by today's teens, was not actually slow but hypnotic. Its unspoken premise was that the universe was full of possibilities, including nasty ones that Isis and Osiris and Anubis were as powerful as any gods, and they only for now chose to slumber.

Today we live in the age of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and our teens have the answer to all that. They know that in those old movies the reason that people had all that trouble with mystical forces is that they did not know martial arts. If you run into particularly nasty magic from the age of the pyramids, all that is really necessary is that you kick a little harder. All that old awe stuff was stupid. So for this audience a mummy movie needs a lot of action and Indiana Jones style thrills and funny jokes and special effects. That really is what we have gotten.

The new version of THE MUMMY begins with an extended opening sequence showing the origin of the living Mummy told as we tell it in the 1990s. As much as the film in general does, this sequence mixes blessing and curse. There is a beautiful computer animation, if somewhat obviously animation, of an ancient Egyptian city. While somewhat idealized it looks fairly close to being done with a high degree of historical accuracy. This is followed by scenes of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), here a high priest of Osiris fooling around with Pharaoh's wife Ankhesenamun. The latter is dressed in a sort of fishnet outfit. Let us say that historical accuracy is not uniformly distributed. Of course, the lovers are discovered and Pharaoh is roughly as forgiving as one would expect of a living god. Imhotep is sentenced to be mummified alive, to be made immortal, and to suffer an eternity of living death in his tomb in Hamunaptra, a treasure city and sacred burial site.

Flash forward to 1921 and we find American adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) is fighting with French Foreign Legion when he runs across the ruins of what might be the legendary Hamunaptra. From there the general flow of the plot is obvious and not unlike a hyped-up version of THE MUMMY'S HAND. O'Connell gets involved with Evelyn Carnarvon (Rachel Weisz) the daughter of a famous explorer. Two groups of people end up trying to find the riches of Hamunaptra and a third group is trying to protect the city and its secrets. The secrets include an immortal mummy who when raised needs to collect living organs to adopt into his body and recreate himself whole.

Adrian Biddle's cinematography captures a big adventure feel and spectacle that is unusual for traditionally low-budget mummy films. Here, at least in the early parts of the film there is a good adventuresome look for the film. While Jerry Goldsmith's score is not one of his better works and does not make itself memorable, at least it underscores the action well. There are certain dramatic problems with the film. Some tension is created as the mummy becomes more and more complete by virtue of the organs he steals. But when he is complete, he just looks like Arnold Vosloo again. It is something of a letdown; Vosloo is no Boris Karloff.

This new THE MUMMY is a comedy that does well what current films do well, but it completely fails to do well what 1932 films did well. In short, in spite of the title, this just is not THE MUMMY. On leaving the theater I felt like chanting, "Show me THE MUMMY! Show me THE MUMMY!" This experience rates a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Relevant historical information:

1. The real Imhotep lived around 2980 B.C.E. Imhotep, very probably one of history's great geniuses, was a physician and an architect. He invented step pyramids for the Pharaoh Zoser, leading the way for true pyramids. However, he probably would not also have been a priest of Osiris as the film portrayed him. The real Ankhesenamun lived around 1375 B.C.E and was the wife of Tutankhamun. Naturally Imhotep and Ankhesenamun never met, much less had a great love. The time difference is roughly the same as if it was suggested that Attila the Hun had an illicit affair with Meryl Streep.

2. The descendents of the original Egyptians are portrayed in the film as Moslem; they would much more likely be Coptic Christians.

3. Though unstated, Evelyn's father is clearly intended to be Lord Carnarvon, who in 1923 would be pivotal in Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. Lady Elizabeth Carnarvon's death in 1929 was one of those linked to the supposed curse on Tutankhamun's tomb.

4. Books with pages were invented in China and did not make it to places like Egypt until something like the 4th Century C.E. [-mrl]


                                   Mark Leeper
                                   HO 1J-621 732-817-5619
                                   mleeper@lucent.com

Quote of the Week:

     To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked
     at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood.
                                   -- George Santayana