MT VOID 11/12/99 (Vol. 18, Number 20)

MT VOID 11/12/99 (Vol. 18, Number 20)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/12/99 -- Vol. 18, 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.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
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All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


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Last week I was saying that white males are frequently the villains in films these days. When there are conflicts in films, the white or the male seems most frequently to be in the wrong. Let us get some hard data and compare. Let's take the top 15 grossing films and list the conflicts that cross gender or race barriers. There may be other conflicts in the film, but we will ignore them. That is white male against white male we will ignore. Asian female against Asian female we will also ignore. I will express them as an ordered pair, (bad guy(s); good guy(s)). For example TITANIC has Billy Zane and David Warner as the bad guys and Kate Winslet as a good guy. We ignore conflicts that do not cross race or gender barriers. Remember we are counting only the conflicts between people of different genders or races.) Let us see how many cases we have a white person correct against someone of another race. How often is a man correct in the right in a conflict with a woman? (My memory could be faulty on some plot points.

1. TITANIC: (2 men bad; 1 woman good)

2. STAR WARS: (2 men bad; 1 woman good) (the bad men are mostly Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, they conflict with Princess Leia.)

3. ET: (multiple men bad, one little girl good.)

4. JURASSIC PARK: (1 man bad; 1 young woman good) sort of questionable


6. LION KING: none

7. RETURN OF THE JEDI: (multiple men bad; 1 woman good)


9. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: (multiple white men bad; 1 woman good, 1 black man mostly good)

10. HOME ALONE: none

11. JAWS: none

12. BATMAN: none

13. MEN IN BLACK none

14. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: (multiple men bad; one woman good)

15. TWISTER: (multiple men bad; one woman good)

I am not sure that fifteen films, even the highest grossing films, are statistically significant, but it does argue for what I am saying that in most popular films when a male and female are in conflict, the female has been scripted to be right. We have one case here where there is almost an exception. In FORREST GUMP there is a woman who is self-destructive and a man who tries to save her. However her victim is only herself, unlike the other cases above. This data is insufficient but the majority of films where there are conflicts between races; the Caucasian is scripted to be wrong. Among what I think of as art house films that I saw at Toronto the same holds pretty much true though there were more counter-examples, for example DANCING AT LUGHNASA, where there is conflict the script generally has you siding with the men.

But it is better if people just look for themselves at films they have seen, think about whom the script favors and whom it doesn't. The conclusion I have drawn for myself is what I said in my PLEASANTVILLE comments above. [-mrl]

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

Capsule: A surprisingly uninteresting psychotic killer film with a very predictable yet absurd solution. Philip Noyce knows how to give the film a lot of style, but the story is an utter waste of time. People who enjoy seeing blood and pain on the screen will have a good time. For the rest is it a festival of cliches. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

Thomas Harris did a lot that was original with the novel RED DRAGON, later made into the film MANHUNTER. He established or at least revitalized the entire sub-genre of stories of police and psychotic serial killers. This sort of story had been made before but he upped the ante by making the killers more interesting and dangerous. Today the novel would not be as good because so much has been plundered for use elsewhere. Had THE BONE COLLECTOR come out at that time, it would have been a much more intriguing film. But by now most of what it offers is familiar. Phillip Noyce is not new to psychotic killer films. His DEAD CALM is one of the best because it is as much a sea adventure as a murder plot. Now he demonstrates just how important it is to do something creative with the genre by giving us a thriller does just about everything else right and still makes for a very mundane film. THE BONE COLLECTOR gives the ready-made audience who want to see another violent psychotic thriller film a film to see, but does no interesting playing with the genre. The attraction of dealing with a killer who thinks differently than a sane person should be that he is unpredictable. But just about everything about THE BONE COLLECTOR is mechanical and done by the numbers. The killer always leaves a clue to his next crime and the heroes always figure out what the clue means and exactly where the crime will occur down to a street address.

The team of investigators seems to have been pulled from a checklist of ethnic types. We have a beautiful white patrol officer unsure she wants to do forensics. Then there is a black forensic genius confined to a bed and suffering from seizures that he hopes will soon kill him rather than become a vegetable. And finally there is a Latino forensic science researcher. Of course the team of investigators have to contend with a police department dominated by the stupid and incompetent white males. This gutsy team races the clock and bucks the power structure finding clues that nobody else in the police department can see. This could almost be a TV pilot it is so formulaic.

Lincoln Rhyme (played by Denzel Washington) is the forensic expert who literally wrote the book that defines police detective work. Now he is bed-ridden and subject to seizures that any time may leave him a human vegetable. Before that happens he wants to arrange his own death. Emily Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) is a plucky young patrol officer. When she answers a report about a dead body found she has to stop a train in order to prevent it from rolling over a clue. This brings her censure from her superiors, but earns her the respect of Lincoln Rhyme. Over her own objections she is drafted to help do the detective work to track the killer. The two quickly discover that they are dealing with a psychotic killer who in the best traditions of Batman villains always leaves a puzzle clue to what his next crime will be. The team is rounded out by Eddie Ortez (Luis Guzman), a genius at materials analysis. There is something wrong with the script when with no additional clues the audience gets way ahead of the experts in guessing the killer. About a third of the way through I had a very short list of suspects. But then there were no clues whatsoever until it is revealed who the killer is. When at the end one does know the killer and the motivation it too seems more out of Batman than reality.

Cinematographer Dean Semler does a lot of obvious things to create the feel of the film. Scenes are kept dark and oppressive. When the plot shifts a setting into the sunlight the lens is heavily filtered to give an unwholesome look to the street and sky. Outdoor distance shots try repeatedly and without subtlety to establish that this is Manhattan while close-ups, those that do not take place in the basements and bowels of the city, do not look a lot like New York and in fact are filmed in Montreal.

Denzel Washington plays his role with entirely too much vitality for the man on the brink of death. I am told in the book Rhyme is middle-aged, which would have seemed more believable. Here he happily pokes fun at his own seizures, which seems entirely a wrong gesture for a man in his supposedly depressed state. Angelina Jolie, daughter of Jon Voigt, does little to make the character of Emily Donaghy her own and dozens of young actresses could have been snapped into the same role like interchangeable parts. Luis Guzman, recently of THE LIMEY, is certainly watchable. And Queen Latifah as Rhyme's caregiver matches Washington's amiability.

THE BONE COLLECTOR is an extremely forgettable TV-pilot level serial killer film. Only real fans of the sub-genre will enjoy it. I give it a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]