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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/13/00 -- Vol. 19, No. 15
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.
There was a time when the studios would send presentations of their upcoming films to the World Science Fiction Convention and enthusiastic audiences would greet them. I think that films seemed more creative at that time. There was no presentation on upcoming films but there were several film preview trailers. Some went a little further than trailers, but I have just the most preliminary information about these films. For some the audience was openly hostile. These are the trailers seen at this year's presentation.
BLAIR WITCH 2: This is really a teaser. I liked THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and Massachusetts film critic Dan Kimmel whom I was sitting with did not. We both agreed, however, that there is absolutely no need for a second film. For me the original worked because of its very crudity. The same trick will not work a second time. The audience actually booed the teaser.
THE WAY OF THE GUN: This has nothing to do with science fiction. It is a crime film with fast edits and some jokes and did not seem to have a lot to recommend it.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM: The second film based on parts of the complex novel LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN this looks like a story of aimless teens and drugs. Dan Kimmel has seen it and thinks much what I thought from the trailer, that the audience appeal will be narrow.
URBAN LEGENDS FINAL CUT: Looks like it is a horror story about college students who are making films about urban legends, for whatever education purpose that might serve. I suppose it says something about the makers of URBAN LEGEND. I have no serious objection to having the student makers of their own dead teenager films sliced, diced or whatever. Being as I am a terrific, sensitive, human sort of guy I have no intention to watch the ceremony.
EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE: This is a new animated film from Disney. I do not recognize it as any pre-existing story, which is just as well since Disney is rarely faithful to source material. It appears to take place in Pre-Columbian Peru and involves a member of royalty who is turned into a llama. The scenes of the trailer were actually funny.
UNBREAKABLE: M. Night Shyamalan who last year gave us THE SIXTH SENSE brings us another weird tale starring Bruce Willis, this time he co-stars with Samuel L. Jackson. Two or three trains are involved in a huge collision and the mayhem kills everyone on board violently except for Willis. Willis (with shaved head) somehow is totally unharmed by the incident. People look at Willis as if there is something supernatural going on.
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?: In Preston Sturges's SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, a film director is interrupted making a film of this title. He is convinced instead of the noble purpose of making comedies with "a little bit of sex." It looks like the Coen Brothers have decided to go back and make their vision of that fictional abandoned film. George Clooney and Holly Hunter star with John Turturro and Goodman in smaller roles in a tale of riding the rails and getting into mischief in the Depression Era. A Coen Brothers film is usually good and always interesting. Their first film, BLOOD SIMPLE, is currently getting some sort of re-release. That film is GREAT and hopefully the new film will be good.
HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES: There was sort of an information-free documentary about this horror film written and directed by Rob Zombie. (They behaved as if that name should be familiar. It wasn't.) It looks like a revival of the style of horror films of the 1970s, like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and MOTEL HELL. This also did not play well on the audience, but out of nostalgia, I may be interested in this one.
THE SPECIALS: This is a comedy about a team of klutz super heroes much like the team in the X-MEN. It sounds a lot like last year's MYSTERY MEN. In the film industry it is not the great minds that think alike.
There was a short piece that appeared to be an ad for THE SPECIALS action figures. (Don't you love that terminology? "Action figures." It sells so much better than "dolls.") It was hard to tell if it was a put-on to advertise the film. It probably led to confusion about the next entry.
American McGee's Alice: This looked at the beginning to be some sort of Saturday Night Live sketch, but apparently it is for real. (Please someone, write me and tell me it is a joke.) This was not so much a trailer as an ad for a PC game. The scenes are stylishly wrought images of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of the game is that Alice is given a mission in Wonderland and an arsenal of weapons and she must go through Wonderland killing all the dark images from Lewis Carroll's imagination. Is nothing sacred?
CYBERWORLD: This looks to be a show of computer graphics in IMAX 3-D. They figured that would not sell so they added an animation of Bart Simpson to take you through. Just what the world needs. The Simpsons 12 feet high in cyberspace.
THE EXORCIST: Hey, if that guy Lucas can re-release his blockbusters in doctored form, why not release the 1973 head turner of a horror film with 11 minutes of added footage. Pea soup *and* Cream of Mushroom??? Who cares?
CHARLEY'S ANGELS: Cecil B. DeMille started making Biblical films so that if people complained about the sex he could wrap himself in indignity and say it was in the Bible. This film has Babes in skintights because that's being faithful to the source material. CHARLEY'S ANGELS has three (extremely shapely) female heroes. Comedy and Kung Fu fighting. Bill Murray plays Bosley. I will wait to see it on the telepathic Internet some time after we colonize the moons of Jupiter.
VERTICAL LIMIT: A rich heiress went mountain-climbing and ended up trapped near the summit of a very high mountain. There is a half a million dollar reward for anyone willing to climb the mountain and rescue her. So a bunch of people who need the money take incredible risks to try to save her. More reason to resent the wealthy. I think that if you are going for the glamour of mountain climbing you should have to take the risks as well. This is a message film and I don't like the message.
THE SIXTH DAY: Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger. One day Arnold is told that he is really a clone of the person who looks identical to himself and who has stepped into his life. Arnold has doubt as to which one is the real person. Filmmakers are still thinking of cloning as a way to instantly duplicate someone. Rules to remember: 1. Cloning is a way to create a newborn baby with your genetic pattern. That's all it is. Unless you are cloning a just fertilized egg there will be a severe age difference. 2. Even if there was no age difference a clone is less like you than an identical twin would be. Most people who live with identical twins have no trouble telling them apart. 3. It is really, really tough to step into even an identical twin's life and fool close friends that you are that person. This looks like an action film for the ignorant.
THE GRINCH: This is a little more than just a film trailer. The leader, which we were probably not supposed to see, said it was for a generic convention. Then director Ron Howard gets on and says he could have sent a trailer but wanted to send something "just for you." Right. I am generally not into Christmas movies, but I have to admit that Jim Carey really looks like the character and in the scene I saw the writing was really funny. The writing went way beyond Dr. Seuss. I admit that my estimation of this film increased.
FREAKYLINKS: This is a TV show from the from the makers of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The trailer is pretty much information free. Again what worked with the film will not work again. There are going to be a lot of unhappy people if the makers of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT turn out to be one-trick ponies.
DARK ANGEL: James Cameron's new TV series looks like it is sort of a comic book for TV having something to do with recombinant DNA. It has a woman hero and the ads are made to look like THE MATRIX.
RED PLANET: This is the second Mars film of the year. The trailer did not give too much away, but that Val Kilmer is an astronaut who crash lands on Mars. In this case better to give away too little than too much.
I am not sure if it is a positive sign or a negative one, but the audience definitely seemed hostile where they used to seem adoring. But the bottom line is probably they will still pay to see many of these films. [-mrl]
DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (ISBN 0-553-11061-6, 1999, Hardcover, $27.50, 604pp) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
When will it end?
The question applies equally to two things:
1) The extension of classic sf universes long after the original story has been published, and usually long after the series has lost its appeal, and,
2) The "Dune" series.
Frank Herbert's DUNE is nearly universally recognized as one the greatest sf novels of all time. It multilayered story of the desert planet of Arrakis, a messianic hero who's birth is the result of thousands of years of genetic manipulation, and a universe-spanning empire rife with intrigue, treachery, mystery, and romance is held up for all to see as one of the greatest examples of world building in the sf field. It has been regarded as one of the top 5 sf novels in many polls, online and otherwise.
And therein lies the downfall of the published "Dune" universe.
For the uninitiated, Frank Herbert took DUNE to a host of publishers, all of whom turned down the manuscript, back in the mid 1960s. A car repair book publisher, Chilton, decided to publish it back in 1965. After its success, Herbert wrote five more "Dune" novels, generally recognized as progressively worse, culminating with the publication of CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE in 1985 (for the record, I actually found the fifth and sixth books quite good--but as usual, I was in the minority). Herbert ended CHAPTERHOUSE on a cliff hanger, and he clearly had something in mind for a seventh book.
He died in 1986.
And so the series was destined to be incomplete, although rumors and speculation abounded for years that his son Brian would pick up the story and finish it.
I won't go into the details that led Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson to go back into the "Dune" universe. But, needless to say, the aforementioned downfall is that sometimes a great idea/story can't be let go. Herbert and Anderson decided that they would indeed someday write the final "Dune" novel. I spoke with Anderson very briefly at the meet the pros party at Worldcon in Chicago this year, and he told me that the completion of the story, the seventh "Dune" novel, if you will, would only be written after he and Herbert had written this prequel trilogy, and quite possibly some books that tell the story of one of the defining events of the empire as we know it, the Butlerian Jihad.
I fear that one or both of them will die before they finally get through it all.
You see, they have found Frank Herbert's notes as to what was supposed to happen in DUNE 7. So, I think the story will end up on a satisfying note.
But you know, I digress--this is more like an editorial than a book review.
The "Dune" prequel trilogy, starting with HOUSE ATREIDES, continuing with HOUSE HARKONNEN (just released), and concluding with what I've heard will be called HOUSE CORRINO, is supposed to set up the "Dune" story and universe as we know it to be in the classic original novel.
But why should anyone care?
I think it does a decent enough job of it, I guess. It introduces the prior generation or two of the characters we meet in DUNE, and some of the characters themselves from DUNE. Baron Harkonnen and Rabban, Shaddam and Fenring, Paul Atreides' grandfather Paulus, and Paulus' son Leto, Thufir Hawat, Pardot Kynes (the father of Liet Kynes), Elrood (Shaddam's father), and, of course, a youthful Duncan Idaho, all play important parts in this story.
As the story opens, the Harkonnens have control of Arrakis, the only world where the spice melange is produced and found. The Atreides are on Caladan, their homeworld, Elrood is the emperor, and well, you get the picture. Herbert and Anderson spend nearly 600 pages taking the status quo and slowly turning it into what the universe will look like in Dune. There is the usual abundance of treachery, from the death of Elrood and the framing of House Atreides for an act it didn't commit, to the mysterious genetic breeding program of the Bene Gesserit that will eventually produce the all-powerful superbeing, the Kwisatz Haderach. If you were looking for all that, well, it's there.
But for me, the story had no life, no excitement, nothing to cause me to keep turning the pages. To me, it didn't *feel* like DUNE. And that was its failing. In the second "Foundation Trilogy," Benford, Bear, and Brin made me feel like I was back in the "Foundation" universe. Here, Herbert and Anderson did nothing to make me feel like I was immersed in the "Dune" universe.
In short, I didn't care. I don't see why you should, either.
Having said all that, I'm going to keep reading these things, much like I read the original "Dune" series, hoping for it to get better. And it did. I hope this will too. [-jak]
SOLOMON AND GAENOR (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: 1911 South Wales is the setting for this tragic love story, a sort of Romeo and Juliet told in the bleak style of Thomas Hardy. A Jewish boy and a coal miner's daughter fall in love and grab some small happiness from a dreary environment only to be torn apart by their families. Well-acted and frequently moving. English, Welsh, and Yiddish language. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
The poignant setting is a misty, cold mining town in Wales, 1911. Not unlike the setting of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF the town has two nearby communities, one Christian, one Jewish. In the Jewish community the Lewinsky family is composed of pawnbrokers and cloth merchants. Solomon (played by Ioan) is about twenty years old, good-looking, and enjoys his work as a "pacman"--going into the Christian section leaving samples of cloth and taking orders for larger pieces. When asked, Solomon denies being Jewish, just to escape trouble.
Solomon finds himself particularly attracted to one customer, a woman about his own age Gaenor (Nia Roberts). As he continues to see her, professionally and otherwise, hiding his religion. He takes the name Sam Livingstone. Gaenor is from a family of poor miners. Her very large brother Crad (Mark Lewis Jones) immediately takes a dislike to the stranger who he thinks is less than a man since he does not have callused hands. But Solomon and Gaenor are attracted to each other and are willing to risk the consequences.
The story is very much the star-crossed lover story, but if that was all there was to this film it would be mundane indeed. However, writer and director Paul Morrison does not make this the film expected. First and foremost, the two main characters are not totally blameless in their fates. There is enough fault in the plot so just about everybody gets a piece. It would be very easy to present the Jewish community as blameless and purely the victims of intolerance as well-meaning literature has done since IVANHOE. The Jews do appear more sinned against than sinning, but they are also at fault and have their own intolerance. Gaenor is too fast to accelerate her relationship with Solomon, whom she hardly knows, and then refuses to tell him when she needs his help. Even the countryside comes in for its share of the fault. Instead of the lovely pastoral scenes that usually grace this sort of film, cinematographer Nina Kellgren's camera accents the unpleasant in the climate and locale: the stony landscapes, the cold, the gray mist, the fog, and the snow. People's lives are as bleak as the countryside. Everything in the country seems muted blue and gray. The only bright color is a dress that Solomon sews for Gaenor, red the color of sin and rebellion. Early in the film we see the Welsh taking turns having kitchen baths, using the same dirty water. They sleep two in a narrow bed. The Jewish and Christian community each has its restrictions an intolerance of the other. The Christian religion appears to be as bleak and unforgiving as the landscape, the seem a little more positive. The Jews are given a slight edge here as we see a meeting where they are discussing the importance of understanding the writings of Dickens.
Ioan Gruffudd as Solomon seems a little old to be acting in the irresponsible way that his character does. Gruffudd is best known, to me at least, as a young Horatio Hornblower from a series of TV movies. Of the two, Nia Roberts as Gaenor seems the better actor. She exhibits an odd characteristic of brightening up and being more attractive when Solomon is around. As tales of star-crossed lovers frequently are, this is a story of pain and tragedy. There is more pain in one of Morrison's fist fights than in all of the fighting and shooting and killing in THE MATRIX. Ilona Sekacz's score combines Jewish and Celtic themes, an unusual combination.
SOLOMON AND GAENOR is a textured moody love story and quite worth looking for. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
MEET THE PARENTS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Ben Stiller plays a man brought home to meet his girlfriend's family. With the religious and class differences, things would be bad enough, but the judgmental and unfriendly father, played by Robert DeNiro, may just destroy the entire relationship. This is an uneasy blend of drama, comedy, and contrived slapstick that only occasionally works. This is a big budget remake of the 1992 film where perhaps things may worked a little better in a more modest production. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
In China in 1982 I turned the tables on our National Guide and asked him if he had any questions about America. I guess I was expecting some sort of political question. Instead, I was dumfounded by what was most on his mind. "In America, do wives and their mothers-in-law get along well?" He assured me in China that they did, but I am certain if that were true he would not have asked. Even in China people seem to have problems relating to in- laws. Perhaps some of life's most difficult relationships arise when families are suddenly artificially joined by marriage. A man trying to relate to his new prospective in-laws and vice-versa could be the basis of a very strong comedy. MEET THE PARENTS does not demonstrate that fact, however.
Greg Focker (played by Ben Stiller) has been dating and in love with Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) for ten months and is now ready to propose to her. He will do it during a weekend visit to meet Debbie's family and to attend her sister's wedding. From the beginning the relationship is awkward between Greg and Jack and Dina Byrnes (Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner). Through no fault of his own, the airline has lost Greg's luggage. And he has to ask to borrow clothing. It is the beginning of a game of one-upmanship in which Greg is nearly always one-down. As the games go on Greg is more and more uncomfortable and uneasy which only contributes to the mistakes he makes. Greg is playing a game he does not understand, in a league he is new to. But perhaps along the way he will discover some unexpected secrets about his father-in-law.
This film had potential in its tale of one-upmanship. It has hit on a situation that many in the audience may find familiar--one that has not been done overly frequently in films. But the script by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg is a little too contrived. Too many coincidences in the story work against Greg. The script could not decide if the main character was incompetent or simply unlucky. Certainly he does not help his situation by doing everything wrong he possibly could, but even when he is trying to do the right things nature conspires against him. There is an uneven mix of slapstick sequences and human comedy. Certainly the last part of the film feels awkwardly written.
The main reason to see MEET THE PARENTS is to see Robert DeNiro's performance. DeNiro plays the suspicious and not a little fascistic father as tightly wound and threatening as he can. The little judgmental expressions on his face are a show in themselves as Greg digs himself deeper and deeper into his insecurities. But we do not really see much of that digging. Ben Stiller is an affable presence in the film but is not really stretching himself by playing the role as the nebbish to whom so many bad things happen. It is nice to see Blythe Danner again on the screen. But her character has a basic conflict between a basic decency and her love for her husband and the script should have given her more to do with that.
Randy Newman has written a playful score. In the first few seconds of the film it does something creative I have never heard a film score do before. There is a lot of source music that is popular music of the 1960s. Presumably that is what the upper class listens to at least in somebody's imagination.
Humor is subjective and some this film has been getting some favorable comment. But this is a comedy that works only occasionally for me. I would have to rate it 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
SHADOW MAGIC (a film review in bullet list form by Mark R. Leeper from the Toronto International Film Festival):
Capsule: Delightful (an unusual word to apply to a Chinese film). The coming of Western technology to China in the early 1900s is chronicled in this tale of a young Chinese man fascinated with an Englishman and his motion pictures. With his ingenuity the young man turns the entertainment into the marvel of the province. Rating: +3
Chinese and English language
Quote of the Week:
Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact. -- Honore de Balzac