MT VOID 01/19/01 (Vol. 19, Number 29)

MT VOID 01/19/01 (Vol. 19, Number 29)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/19/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 29

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,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Work Out World:

Well, we have finally made it to the new millennium. I always pictured that this would be a great futuristic world when the 21st Century came. You know, you would be seeing see ads for people to work in the out-world colonies, that sort of thing. Well, we do have some of that future. We have the Internet. That is pretty impressive. But I was hoping for more. We cannot even go to the moon again much less have out-world colonies and ads for people to work in the out-world colonies. At least, so I thought. Then I was driving near my house and there was an ad for a health club in the neighborhood. And honest-to-mushroom at the top of the billboard it says in large letters:

                          Work Out World


James Bond's Age:

I was watching the most recent James Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. This series seems to have an embarrassingly long life. Why embarrassing? Bond has been around for a long time and I started wondering just how old James Bond was supposed to be. The real James Bond, the one that Ian Fleming wrote about, was in his mid-thirties. When I read the books that seemed considerably older than me if not what I would have called old. That character honed his survival and spying skills in The Second World War. Somehow through some strange continuity we are supposedly still seeing him on the screen. Yet we are supposed to believe he was young enough to be leaping out of death traps and delivering karate kicks, never mind his sexual gymnastics (and I don't). This leads us to the ironic conclusion that James Bond is too young to have been around to see the initial release of the film DR. NO. But that guy on the screen in DR. NO was supposed to be the same guy who was in the more recent film. Even someone who had all the adventures that Fleming wrote for Bond is problematical. A non-super physical hero like Bond can have an active career maybe from age 24 to 40. After that he ought to think about retiring to a desk job. Sean Connery left the role early but Roger Moore stayed in the role until you could almost hear his spine crack. And even in the books Bond keeps hanging on. After Fleming died Kingsley Amis wrote a Bond novel, John Gardner wrote a bunch, now it is Raymond Benson who is continuing to write adventures that occurred in the sixteen years that Bond was a spry spy. And his first book took place when the lease was running out on Hong Kong, so he is writing about a contemporary man. In the films we saw Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny go from being a prospective lover for Bond to being a sort of mother figure. The late Desmond Llewelyn has been Q in every Bond film since FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. In that time Bond went from being about the same age to being young enough to be his son and then almost young enough to be a grandson of Q.

Another hero that does age is Sherlock Holmes. His active career was from about 1873 to 1914, at least as Doyle wrote him. But a lot of what people read a Holmes story for is the setting and in particular the time. Rarely does someone write about Sherlock Holmes in the present. This means that as more people write Holmes stories his career becomes not longer but denser. That at least is possible in theory.

Much the same was true about Horatio Hornblower. Here it was just C. S. Forester writing the stories and as he kept writing new stories they were supposed to take place between the old ones. Even more than with Sherlock Holmes, you are aware that Hornblower is aging and in a given year is just about the age he should be. And Forester is to be commended in that when Hornblower is no longer an action figure he is still no less exciting. In fact, he was always more a hero of brains rather than of brawn. Unfortunately, we live in an age when most of the popular heroes are better at kicking than at thinking. The most intellectual hero is on the level of Rambo pulled into Eastern mysticism.

Most popular heroes somehow manage to avoid the aging the rest of us go through. But other heroes you are willing to cut a little more slack. With some heroes the whole aging question matters less. Burroughs had Tarzan find an immortality potion. Superman is from another planet so all bets are off. Batman, on the other hand, is quite human and mortal and has all the same aging problems that James Bond would have. With him it is even worse since he has new adventures every month. Living like he does it is amazing he can still move around at all. There are other perennial heroes mostly of past times that seemed not to age. Names that come to mind are Nick Carter, Simon Templar (The Saint), Lamont Cranston (The Shadow), and Bulldog Drummond. These are, however, mostly heroes of the past who nonetheless did have active careers longer than any human could be expected to have.

But expecting logic looking at the age of the popular heroes in films and books is probably just an exercise in futility. Generally like the demigods in the times of the Romans we allow our heroes to somehow be exempt from aging whether it makes logical sense or not. There is just no point in asking how old James Bond is in a given story. If the writers did not give it any thought, there is no point in interpreting more than is in their writings. As a friend used to say, what's in the script is all there is. [-mrl]

Evelyn Leeper adds:

An interesting side-note to the above would be the ages of the actors playing James Bond. Sean Connery played Bond from age 32 through 41 (1962-1971), and again at age 53 (1983). Roger Moore was 46 through 58 (1973-1985). Timothy Dalton was 41 through 43 (1987-1989). Pierce Brosnan was 42 through 46 (1995-1999).

By the way, this makes Bond the true son of the British Isles, with one actor from each of Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland. [-ecl]

THIRTEEN DAYS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Essentially a remake of THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER, THIRTEEN DAYS tells the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a political thriller. The film is polished and engaging but not all of the stylistic decisions make sense. The tagline "You'll never believe how close we came" is a good indicator of the style and message of the film. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)

My view of THIRTEEN DAYS is heavily colored by my view of the Kennedy administration and its Cuban policy in general and in this incident in particular. The crisis is just about the only major Cold War incident when I feel the Soviets were in the right. It is not easy to get me to agree with Soviets I might add. At this point in history the US had already put nuclear missiles just off the borders of the Soviet. They also had complained loudly but really only complained about a branch of the US government sponsoring an invasion of Cuba. Had the tables been reversed we would have labeled the Bay of Pigs invasion "an act of war," but I suspect the Soviets were a little fearful of the implications of so doing so and quite rightly. Acts of war really require retaliation. They could not, however, ignore a second such invasion, so they needed a deterrent to prevent it from ever happening if for no other reason than to preserve the peace. It is the Americans who say, "If you want peace, prepare for war." The Soviets looked at the missiles just over the border in Turkey and saw them as setting a precedent, they would fortify Cuba. That would seem a just act. But instead of regarding it as such it led to a head to head confrontation. If you see the film you will see all the tangible steps to diffuse the situation are taken by the Soviets. This we label "Going eyeball to eyeball with the enemy and the other guy blinked." Thank goodness he did blink when we might not have. I cannot help but feel the unsung hero of THIRTEEN DAYS is Nikita Khrushchev. This is just my interpretation, I am no expert, but it colors my reaction to the film.

THIRTEEN DAYS is the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis from the point of view of Presidential advisor Kenneth O'Donnell (played by Kevin Costner). The film is pretty much just a blow-by-blow recounting of the incidents of the crisis beginning with a spy plane flying over Cuba and seeing the nuclear missiles the Soviets had provided the Cubans. The John F. Kennedy ( played here by Bruce Greenwood) is told almost immediately. He calls in his brother Robert (Steven Culp), his closest confidant. For the remainder of the crisis the President seems to have two heads, the Jack head and the Bobby head.

Anyone with a knowledge of history knows what happened next, including the strong policy split between the military and civilians in government. The Chiefs of Staff were anxious to take on the Soviets in a war they assumed they could limit. Toward the end of the crisis we realize that the Soviets also have their own divisions in policy with hawks and doves in the Politburo. The film is a constant battle between those who want military solutions and those who want diplomatic ones with John Kennedy being indecisive between them, and rightly so. Kennedy is haunted by his reading of Barbara Tuchman's THE GUNS OF AUGUST, an account of how both sides behaving in what at the time appeared logical ways inexorably descended into the First World War. That could happen again, this time with nuclear missiles.

THIRTEEN DAYS makes some bad stylistic mistakes. The film opens with a missile firing and a nuclear explosion. Then more missile firing and more big explosions. Then more of the same. The point is, of course, that this sort of exchange is what they will be trying to avoid. Frankly I started to find this frequent visual reminder of the high stakes involved rather annoying. We all agree that this is what we are trying to avoid. We all agree that nuclear weapons are very, very bad. But to think clearly we have to avoid what Kissinger called "scaring ourselves to death." Showing the bomb so often in hellish hues of red is a patronizing emotional argument thrown in among the logical arguments of the film. A number of scenes toward the beginning seem for no reason to start out in black and white and steel blue and fade into the full color spectrum. It was not all scenes and the implication may have been we are taking this from cold-hard records and breathing life into it. But I was not sure. Whatever it was trying to do it was failing. The Boston accents were a distraction particularly because actors were not consistent in the degree of their own accents. SPARTACUS was not made in Latin with English subtitles. Director Roger Donaldson could have toned them down a little and we could have lived with the inaccuracy.

On the other hand the film does produce a great feeling of immediacy without snowing the viewer in detail he does not understand. The build of tension is very good in spite of the fact we all know how it will turn out. Part of the problem with this documentary is that it has been done before and is overly familiar. There was an excellent TV docu-drama in the mid-1970s, THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER. There was also at least one good documentary made for television. Each was better than THIRTEEN DAYS.

I think films like this that show us an important event in history in minute detail are very good, but that THIRTEEN DAYS is a highly flawed example that makes it fall short of being a really great film. I rate it 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. And I still think it picks out the wrong people to be heroes. [-mrl]

STATE AND MAIN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: David Mamet has written a very funny and very telling film about the making and unmaking of a film. Like a madcap DAY FOR NIGHT, the story has many of the film crew and actors work out their lives while the director will go to any lengths, legal or illegal, to get some film made, whether it is the original story or not. This is probably David Mamet's most enjoyable film to date. Alternately wacky and endearing. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

David Mamet originally came to the public's attention by writing stories of hucksters and con men and corporate crime. He wrote stories like his mysterious play "The Water Engine," HOUSE OF GAMES, and the Runyonesque THINGS CHANGE. The man is a writer and a director, and he wrote about crime as a personal interest. Now he has written a film about con men he really knows. His STATE AND MAIN in a large part about a con man a director and a nearly honest and innocent writer coming to conflict over an adaptation of the writer's play. Mamet has sprinkled in a number of other characters from film-making but he has written about things close to his own experience. The result is a sort of madcap comedy in which Mamet the director gets to argue with Mamet the writer in the middle of the chaos of making a film.

Mamet gives us a view of the film-making process as being one large, crazy circus. The film the film company has come to town to shoot is THE OLD MILL. They had already been ready to film it in New Hampshire and had a great mill set they actually built, but something happened and, well, now they are filming in Waterford, Vermont, instead. Waterford was chosen because of its classic old mill. Unfortunately, they are not going to be able to use the mill because, well, something else happened. Now they are madly trying to make things fit.

At the center of the chaos, and few films make the film-making process such a storm of chaos, is Walt Price (played by William H. Macy) the Machiavellian director who will do absolutely whatever is necessary to have a film all shot when the storm dies down. Part con man, part genius he jumps from one crisis to the next in seconds, frequently changing his personality to fit the circumstance. The writer, Joseph Turner White (at last a starring role for Philip Seymour Hoffman), would like to have Price's film be at least reminiscent of the script he had written for it and the play it was based on. Meanwhile White finds himself attracted to Ann Black (Mamet regular Rebecca Pidgeon), a townie who had read his play and actually seems to understand it better than he does himself.

Meanwhile in the background the other cast and crew members are adding to the confusion. Adding to the confusion is a lead actress (Sarah Jessica Parker) who has found religion and refuses to shoot her nude scene and a heartthrob lead actor (Alec Baldwin) with a predilection for strong drink and under-age girls. Add to the mix a totally unscrupulous producer (David Paymer) with a goal to save money wherever he can and nearly as clever at getting what he wants as Price is. But the film has a large cast and several stories are working themselves out at the same time.

As is frequently the case, Mamet has carefully crafted a script with a plethora of clever touches. The film being made is based on a play of pretentious claptrap, yet most of the themes of that play are exemplified, and probably better, in the film STATE AND MAIN itself. The issues that the play is about are also the issues that the filmmakers have to face. Several of the decisions about the film being made seem to be mirrored in the outer film. Mamet demonstrates a flair for one-liners that few of his previous films have demonstrated. The film is a treasure chest of running gags and self-referential jokes. Mamet's dialog is well-delivered if not entirely realistic and believable.

STATE AND MAIN covers territory previously covered by films about shooting films like DAY FOR NIGHT and LIVING IN OBLIVION and to a lessor extent films about the industry like THE BIG PICTURE and THE PLAYER. Still the script is one of the better ones of the pack. I rate it 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. And trust me on this one: you want to stay through the end credits.

Now I have done it. I am going to get a bunch of people writing me saying they walked out on the credits and asking what they missed. Do not read the following until you have seen the film. Here are jokes in the credits rotated 13 letters (rot13):

1. Gur pybfvat perqvgf fbat vf "Gur Byq Zvyy." Jura vg vf bire lbh urne n ibvpr pbzr ba vasbezvat gur fvatre gurl ryvzvangrq gur zvyy sebz gur svyz naq unir gb guebj bhg gur fbat.

2. N zrffntr fnlf "N yvfg bs gur Nffbpvngr Cebqhpref sbe guvf svyz vf ninvynoyr ba erdhrfg."

3. Na bssvpvny ybbxvat pregvsvpngr sebz gur uhznar fbpvrgl nffherf hf gung bayl *2* navznyf jrer unezrq va gur znxvat bs guvf cvpgher. (N yngre fgngrzrag fnlf gung npghnyyl abar jrer unezrq.)