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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/26/99 -- Vol. 18, No. 22
Table of Contents
Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619, firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, email@example.com HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
Frankly like most of the American public I have a dislike of Health Maintenance Organizations. Just about everybody else who deals with them has the same distrust and loathing. I think they are taking health care out of the hands of the people who need it, making it effectively unavailable. The way they do this is largely by creating so many procedures, so many automated telephone answering systems, so many forms, that many people give up in disgust rather than get the health care they need. This is on top of the questionable health decisions they have made and that have received so much media attention.
I do have to play Devil's Advocate on this issue. however. HMOs have courageously (or perhaps stupidly, but I doubt it) put themselves in a very vulnerable position legally. As a result HMOs are asking for immunity from being sued for making questionable medical decisions and while I don't agree, I grudgingly have to say there is some merit to the argument. Health care costs are very strongly affected by advances in medical technology. Consider a hypothetical case in which Procedure A may be 90% effective in diagnosing an ailment. Another and very much more expensive Procedure B may be 92% effective based on clinical experience. If they go for Procedure B all the time it could become a great sink of funds. The HMO sees its first responsibility to its stockholders and that 2% difference may not seem like it is worth a lot of extra investment. This is particularly true since spending the money here means either not spending it elsewhere or raising fees.
But we are talking about a life and death decision. And when somebody gets Procedure A and it falls, as it will do 10% of the time, there will immediately be the question of whether the more expensive Procedure B would have been more successful. Of course nobody will never know and that is what makes lawsuits. And lawsuits are decided by people. And ever more frequently they are made by people who will have had to deal with the HMO bureaucracy. And even if that were not the case all the best emotional arguments run against the HMOs and unfortunately when it comes to dealing with juries, emotional arguments are much more powerful than logical ones. If I have to have a case decided by a jury I would rather have two good emotional arguments than four good logical arguments.
No HMO will ever be trusted unquestioningly with such a life and death decision. It is hard enough for a personal doctor to make such a decision and few doctors are thought of as having to please stockholders. This dilemma of choosing procedures and gambling on high cost for a little more certainty is part of what sent the price of medical care skyrocketing in the first place. The simple fact is that technology is improving potential healthcare. The cost of medical research and certification is high. Even if it were not you have Adam's Smith's Invisible Hand. The market will pay top dollar for a better chance of cheating death. That means the prices would be high even if they wouldn't otherwise have to be. If the HMOs do not pay these higher prices they are withholding the best care to save money. If they do they have to pass the price along.
It is a serious and costly dilemma. The HMOs have a conflict of interest that is inextricably entwined into their business. A conflict of interest really is their business. And the conflict will probably will not be resolved strictly on the basis of ethics. That will put them out of business.
Next week I will have a related article on what I expect the affects of this conflict of interest will be on the future of health care. [-mrl]
SLEEPY HOLLOW (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is much more a tribute to than an adaptation of the Washington Irving story that has become a children's Halloween classic. SLEEPY HOLLOW is an exquisitely sepulchral horror adventure involving witchcraft and a head-hunting Hessian headless horseman from hell. This poetic and beautifully realized film surpasses all of director Tim Burton's earlier work but THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4) Spoiler warning: the review is followed by some comments on the film intended for people who have already seen the film, one of which could be a serious spoiler.
One of the greatest horror films ever made is Edgar Ulmer's 1934 THE BLACK CAT. It is a delightful black comedy, an exercise in mordant horror starring both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in their first film together. It claims to be based on the classic story by Edgar Allan Poe, but one can search for hours through the film and not find anything that Poe would recognize. One could hardly call it a retelling of the Poe. It is a little easier to find elements of Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in Tim Burton's new SLEEPY HOLLOW, but it is amazing to see how many people are calling this a retelling of the Irving. It most certainly is not. Instead the story has been disassembled and many of the pieces have been used in telling the story of what might be a supernatural killer bringing sleepless nights to the little New York State village of Sleepy Hollow in 1799.
Ichabod Crane (played by Johnny Depp) is an enlightened police detective and reformer from New York City. He is excited about the coming of the new century. (He calls it a new "millennium," indicating that there must have been a bunch of people working on this film who did not realize that new centuries and new millennia do not always come at the same time. So not everything scary about this film is intentional.) Though Crane himself is afraid of the sight of blood--and seemingly even his own shadow--he believes that new scientific methods will revolutionize police detective work. He even has invented for examining evidence a set of instruments that would do David Cronenberg proud. However, his methods are not welcomed by the local constable and burgomaster (cameos by Alun Armstrong and Christopher Lee). Crane is sent by carriage upstate to investigate some recent mysterious killings in Sleepy Hollow. Three decapitation murders have taken place in the little village and Crane is to report to prominent citizen Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon) and begin his investigation. And if scientific methods can be employed, so much the better.
Physically, Depp is all wrong to play the gangly Ichabod Crane. However the queasy detective shows great internal dissonance when the strength of his enlightened ideas push against his physical and psychological weaknesses. And he tries to hide his distress, not very successfully, with his cold-fish demeanor. The strain of this police case eventually is really too much for him and he finds he is cracking under the strain. It is a delightful change to have a vulnerable hero who has self-doubts and weaknesses. Perfectly matching the spirit of the film is a terrific Michael Gambon. He must have spent hours in front of a mirror achieving just the perfect facial expression for each of his scenes, frequently conveying at the same time disdain, disgust, and fear. His daughter, Katrina Van Tassel, is Christina Ricci who in spite of her buxom appearance still looks a lot like Little Wednesday from THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Perhaps that is a mold she will take a long time breaking. Miranda Richardson quietly plays Van Tassel's wife, but is clearly the source of most of Van Tassel's strength. When the Hessian is given his head he is played by Christopher Walken who appears to be having a grand time of it. Rumor has it that Tim Burton is so introverted that he wants to deal with as few new actors per film as possible. As a result many of his actors get used over and over. Familiar faces include Depp, of course, but also Jeffrey Jones and Lisa Marie, all from Ed Woods's entourage. There are more familiar faces including Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid, and Casper Van Dien.
Tim Burton is as much a visual stylist as a director. His particular visual style is recognizable and goes back to his amateur film FRANKENWEENIE. In this film he uses that style a little less, but it is still recognizable. The visual aspects of this film are, in fact, its greatest attraction. This is a nice film to look at. Frequently large mattes are used to create scenes, but in a departure, they are not intended to be realistic. Instead they are either obvious paintings of idealized nature or of smoke-filled scenes of villages setting a tone for the film. Sleepy Hollow is an area of mists and darkness. The few sunny scenes are memories of the past and again at the end of the film when normality returns. Burton intentionally lifts images from classic horror films. The film opens with an image of dripping blood spattering borrowed from the Hammer film (THE HORROR OF) DRACULA. Later an image is borrowed from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM.
Washington Irving might not have thought much of SLEEPY HOLLOW. But for a horror film, it is poetic and surprisingly pleasurable. As it rarely does when I am watching a film it occurred to me at about the halfway point that I was really enjoying the film. Even with all its faults, this film is fun. I give it 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.
SPOILER WARNING... SPOILER WARNING... SPOILER WARNING...
There are several points I would fine-tune with this film including: 1) The birdcage on the disk is always filmed as if it is right side up including at the end when it is filmed from both front and back. Seen from the front the cage and bird should be upside-down if the user sees it right side up. 2) The ending of the film is completely given away much too soon by the voice of the witch in the woods. Anyone who saw the very good TV-movie MERLIN will have heard the same false voice used extensively. 3) Toward the end of the film a clue is presented and interpreted. Crane says that a dead body will not bleed. And starting a short time after the death of the body that is true. But if the filmmakers were aware of that fact, why did they have the earlier pregnant victim's body bleed when it was dug up? They should have known it could not do that. [-mrl]
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Pierce Brosnan's third outing as James Bond, while less flamboyant than his previous two, is the best spy story of the three. Brosnan is almost to the point where one can think of him as Bond. This is a low-key outing, but a story with some ambiguity and intelligence of a higher level than one usually finds in a Bond film. Michael Apted is an odd choice for director, but he does fine. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
There is a spectrum of styles for the plots of Bond films. On one hand you can Style I in which you have comic book super-villains who are trying literally to destroy the whole world; you can have women with dirty-joke names (e.g., Pussy Galore); you can have clues that fall into Bond's lap by coincidences or by villain over-confidence, so it looks like Bond always knows what he is doing; Bond always has just the right gizmo to get out of a nasty situation; Bond never gets injured or always heals in seconds; and the villain destroyed when Bond pulls one conveniently located switch. DR. NO started this trend and it is not surprising that it seems childish. Ian Fleming actually wrote the plot of DR. NO first for Captain Jamaica his planned childrens television show. When Captain Jamaica did not sell he rewrote the story as a supposedly adult spy novel in his then fledgling James Bond series.
On the other hand you can have Style II spy story. That puts Bond into the shadowy half-world of international espionage where he wants to get a microfilm that tells with whom Iraq is making secret treaties; Bond does not know who his friends are and who his enemies are; when a bullet hits his arm it is out of action for the rest of the story; Bond has to think very fast frequently; and occasionally Bond makes very wrong decisions. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was an effort to move in that direction, though John LeCarre or Len Deighton writes more in that style. There are people who just love the Style I Bond films and they are an easy formula to write. I prefer the latter and subjectively placing a Bond film on this spectrum is how I judge if it is a good film or not. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH has been released with much less hype than most Bond films, and while it is still closer to the unrealistic style of story, it still is more realistic than most Bond films.
In Spain James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is picking up a stash of money recovered from a mission that killed an MI6 agent. He is betrayed and nearly killed, though his life is saved by the intervention of a mysterious sniper. Bond returns the money to its industrialist owner only to find out the money was booby-trapped to explode and kill its rightful owner. Explode it does rather spectacularly giving rise to an impressive boat chase. The money had been ransom for the industrialist's daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau). Bond realizes that the means to kill the industrialist required not only the money and an assassin a short distance away to trigger it, it also required that the industrialist be wearing a special doctored lapel pin. This implies that the victim must have been betrayed from within his own organization. Bond immediately realizes that anyone who would use such an arcane, inconvenient, and telltale mechanism to try to kill someone and still get it to work must be impressive indeed. That implies that his next victim might be Elektra who slipped through the assassins fingers once already. Elektra is continuing her father's project to build an oil pipeline across Western Asia. Bond discovers the terrorist who kidnapped her is an ex-KGB agent whom a bullet in the brain has left unable to feel pain This makes the assassin, Renard stronger every day. Bond dons a cover as a businessman and goes in to protect Electra only to have her see through his cover in seconds. She is a strong-willed woman and highly capable woman with no intention of cooperating with Bond. But he still determines to protect her.
This film makes several concessions to realism previous Brosnan Bond films would not. Bond gets hurt several times in this film and at least for a short time it slows him down. He also makes mistakes trusting the wrong people. Bond deduces that the briefcase of money is a trap, but it is not soon enough to prevent the murder plan from going through. Hence Bond is more fallible than in previous films. The villain's plan is more flamboyant than simply embarrassing the British Secret Service and killing Bond as it was in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, but the plotter and the plot are far less exaggerated than Hugo Drax and his plan in MOONRAKER. This also is an improvement. And more than in recent films it takes Bond a while to sort out good guys from bad guys. The ending is more tense than spectacular. These criteria do not guarantee a good Bond film, but certainly it is more intelligent than Bond films have been of late.
Traditionally Michael Apted's documentaries have been much better than his fiction films. But here his touch does nothing but good for the Bond series. Either Pierce Brosnan is starting to get the hang of being Bond or I am just starting to think of him that way, but he seems more natural than he has in the past. Robert Carlyle as the assassin Renard is acceptable in a role very different from his in THE FULL MONTY or TRAINSPOTTING. He did not need the bullet in the head gimmick to be a good villain. Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards are acceptable in their roles. Some critics have found it unrealistic to have Denise Richards with shorts and bare midriff as a nuclear scientist disarming warheads. To me that just means the critics are more out of touch with the world than are the filmmakers. That job would probably be taken by someone just out of graduate school and Richards is reasonable in the part. Less reasonable is John Cleese as R, the buffoon successor to Q. Casting Cleese is a step in the wrong direction. The series already has plenty of chuckles and needs more credibility.
Usually the best part of a Bond film is the artistic opening credit sequence which used to be done by Maurice Binder. The visuals in this one are on the theme of oil and seeing women in the crude in the nude has all the taste of women mud-wrestling. Most Bond films take place in exotic settings which serve as product placement for tourist destinations. Even Istanbul seems unromantic in this film and Azerbaijan is not vying very hard for tourist dollars.
Overall this may not be the most memorable entry in the series, but it is the best in recent years. I give it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Just so the reader can know what my values are in Bond films I would rate the Bond film best to worst as:
1. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE 2. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE 3. THUNDERBALL 4. DR. NO 5. LICENSE TO KILL 6. GOLDFINGER 7. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY 8. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH 9. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE 10. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS 11. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME 12. OCTOPUSSY 13. TOMORROW NEVER DIES 14. GOLDENEYE 15. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER 16. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN 17. A VIEW TO A KILL 18. MOONRAKER 19. LIVE AND LET DIE
MINOR SPOILERS... MINOR SPOILERS... MINOR SPOILERS...
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH uses a lot of the trademark Bond touches. Somehow the gun-sight opening at the beginning of a new Bond film still always packs a bit of a thrill. In this film Bond is once again a womanizer, which probably was some of the fun of the earliest Bonds. Traditions I could do without include the extended skiing sequences and the tiresome running gag that Bond is so often caught having sex in the final scene. Ideas in this one that seem foolish include a pair of special glasses whose power seems ridiculous. I am not an expert but it would take some convincing for me to believe the loss of one source of oil would so badly affect Britain. They do have sources in a lot of other places, including the North Sea. It would take even more convincing that anyone would want to hold a half-grapefruit-sized hemisphere of weapons-grade plutonium in their bare hand. [-mrl]
Quote of the Week:
Cat's motto: No matter what you've done wrong, always try to make it look like the dog did it. -- Unknown