MT VOID 08/31/01 (Vol. 20, Number 9)

MT VOID 08/31/01 (Vol. 20, Number 9)

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@

Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/31/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 9

Table of Contents

Big Cheese: Mark Leeper, Little Cheese: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

MT VOID Schedule:

Due to various commitments, this MT VOID is being sent out a day early. Next week's will be four days early (Monday), and the following week's will be three days late (another Monday). The regular schedule will resume the week after that. [-ecl]

Apology for Punning (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I have to apologize for the pun last week. I had an article about Atlantis that ended "Put them together and what do you get? Bimini bomb in a bull!!!" I have to apologize. That was really bad. In fact, it was abominable. [-mrl]

Animal Rights (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I am continuing a discussion of animal rights.

Most of us treat other people at least with cordiality, but as a whole do not treat animals very well. America has championed--or perhaps paid lip service at least to--Human Rights but have much lower standards of consideration for animals. Popular causes among animal advocates seem to be raising chickens and calves in barbaric and tortuous conditions for the more efficient production of meat. But I see almost every day examples that the activists just have not gotten to yet but probably should eventually. That is no negative reflection on the activists who have to start somewhere.

Most of us are justifiably irate when we hear of under slavery husbands and wives separated for their masters' profit. Most of us would think little of an incident where mated wolves were separated. This in spite of the fact that wolves mate for life and have on the whole a much better record of fidelity and as far as we can tell love in mating than humans do.

Only a cursory look at the way animals are treated in our society shows a routine indifference to their pain and suffering. Not all animals if this true of, but in far greater proportions than we want to admit. And the arguments used to defend this behavior are identical to ones that once were used to defend inhumane behavior against other humans.

Probably the most reviled philosopher in the world is Peter Singer. There are few writers who seem more outrageous when quoted out of context. People take lines out of his writings and perhaps conclusions to some of his arguments and use them to damn him. Yet from an admittedly small initial sample he seems constitutionally unable to write an argument that is not well reasoned or that when examined does not have a ring of truth to it. His detractors do not seem to find faults in his reasoning, only in the conclusions. As a mathematician I feel that is the wrong approach. If you cannot find a problem in the reasoning, you cannot decide the conclusion is false, just because you do not like it.

A lot of what Singer says sounds really bad to many people if taken out of context and yet if I read his actual arguments I can always at least sympathize with his point of view and almost always agree with them. On the other hand the arguments of his detractors seem less well reasoned, are frequently false, and almost always seem at base motivated by self-interest.

An example can be found at [Follow the links for all four parts.] Here he debates the issue with Richard Posner, a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

Posner is cordial and polite, but his arguments in the end come down to issues of self-interest rather than morality. He begins by saying that he agrees that human life is not infinitely more valuable than animal life, but when asked about numbers he still feels that a human life is more valuable than any number of animals.

Posner says we are accustomed to giving preference to humans and that is what our intuition tells us to do. He might have said "whites" instead of "humans" and the argument would be immediately obvious to be bred of bigotry. I think it still is bred of prejudice, albeit one acceptable in our times. [-mrl]

GHOSTS OF MARS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: In 2176 on the planet Mars police taking into custody an accused murderer face the title menace. There is a lot of fighting and not a whole lot of story otherwise. John Carpenter reprises so many ideas from his previous films, especially ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, that the new film comes off as his homage to himself. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4).

John Carpenter apparently believes that action scenes in which people fight something horrible are the same as horror scenes. For a writer and director of horror films, supposedly an expert on horror, it is a very bad mistake to make. GHOSTS OF MARS is called a horror movie, but it is more just a drawn out fight between humans and a surprisingly low-powered alien menace. In addition if anybody but John Carpenter had made GHOSTS OF MARS, Carpenter would have grounds to sue. This film is just chock full of pieces taken from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, THE THING, and PRINCE OF DARKNESS. It is, in fact, surprising that Carpenter managed to fit so many pieces of his previous work into this film in such an admittedly novel way. But that still does not make for a really good science fiction experience.

GHOSTS OF MARS takes place in the year 2176. Mars has been mostly terraformed so that humans can walk on the surface without breathing gear (which is good for the film's budget). It is never mentioned, but the gravity on Mars has been increased somehow to earth-normal, again making it easier to film. Society has changed a bit by that time, but it has advanced surprisingly little. Apparently the culture has changed so that women are much more in positions of control. And from Carpenter's view, women have really made a mess of things. Society has stagnated under female control so that beyond some minor technological advances society has changed less in 175 years than we might expect it to change in ten.

The basic plot of GHOSTS OF MARS has much in common with that of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 except that Precinct 9 (yes, Precinct 9) has been replaced by a somewhat tacky looking rundown Martian mining colony. Instead of having the criminal "Napolean" Wilson, this film has the criminal "Desolation" Williams. Instead of facing hoodlums with automatic weapons the police face, well, ghosts of Mars. Because the ghosts are somewhat alien in nature they should behave in some alien manner, but they essentially behave as human savages, in another lapse of imagination. The story is told in flashback, flashback within flashback, and flashback within flashback within flashback.

GHOSTS OF MARS takes place entirely at night and is filmed almost entirely in tones of red, yellow, and black. Carpenter manages to give us a powerful opening scene, showing a mining train rushing through the Martian night to the sound of music with a heavy beat. Sadly what follows is not really up to the buildup. The terror he creates looks a little too much like fugitive wannabes from the rock band Kiss. His idea of building suspense is having a bunch of sudden jump scenes that sucker the viewer into thinking something scary is happening and then prove to be just something boring. These are standard haunted house film shock effects that require no great talent to give the audience. Somewhat newer but also unimpressive are the CGI digital decapitations in some of the fights.

Within a short stretch of time we have seen the release of MISSION TO MARS, RED PLANET, and GHOSTS OF MARS. After MISSION TO MARS was panned by too many reviewers it looks better and better and better as time goes by. I rate GHOSTS OF MARS a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Following the movie I showed my wife, who liked GHOSTS OF MARS moderately more than I did, Carpenter's classic ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Her comment is that it was seeing the same film twice. [-mrl]

JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: The running gag pair of characters from all of Kevin Smith's films gets their own movie. The gags are sporadically funny. It is more than occasionally funny for teens who are fond of scatological humor and anti-gay jokes. The plot is weak and the leads are not a particularly funny comic team. The little inside jokes and digs at other entertainment and particularly at Kevin Smith films are the best features of the film. Sadly for me they were just not funny enough to make the film worth watching. This feels like the high school skit that that the principal would not let the kids do on talent night. (And it turns out he had very good reasons.) Rating: 4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4)

A film needs a plot. It needs characters for empathy value. It needs a story and an emotional center. If a film is just a chain of jokes it can only be so good and any entertainment value will succeed or fail based on how funny the jokes are. Kevin Smith has now made two satisfying films, CLERKS and CHASING AMY. With DOGMA he tried to make a philosophical religious comedy and mixed with a madcap romp. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did that very successfully with their BEDAZZLED. But getting the combination to work is very hard to do right and Kevin Smith's fecal monsters in DOGMA were not the way to do it. His remaining two films, MALLRATS and his new JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK are aimed squarely at a teenage audience. JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK is a compendium of gay jokes, penis jokes, flatulence jokes, film pastiches, and in-jokes. How funny the jokes are will be a subjective call. For me, the vast majority of the jokes were just not very funny. There was not enough cleverness or variety. It is funny at most once or twice to accuse someone of being gay. Penis jokes work only so many times.

Showing up as minor characters in every Kevin Smith film Jay and Silent Bob were a clever pair of human running gags. They were sort of the modern equivalents of Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford, the comic duo who showed up satirizing the English middle class in several good British post-war films including DEAD OF NIGHT, THE LADY VANISHES, and PASSPORT TO PIMLICO. Jay and Silent Bob were originally supposedly typical Generation X stoners. As the series wore on they had larger and larger parts. In JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK they are the leads.

Jay and Silent Bob (played by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) are chased away from the front of the convenience store where they were dealing drugs in CLERKS. This leaves them at loose ends. They are not sure what would be worthwhile to do with their lives when they hear that a comic book with characters visually modeled on them will be adapted into a movie. They decide to devote their lives to wrecking the movie or getting some of that big movie industry cash. So it is off to Hollywood to shake down the movie company and having adventures along the way. The film is mostly about their adventures on the road and when they get to Hollywood

The problem with this comedy team is that neither really pulls his weight to make the film funny. Silent Bob, being silent, can only contribute to the comedy by reacting with that very expressive face of his. This makes his piece of the comedy even less than a straight man like a Dean Martin or Bud Abbott would have. Jay has to be the comic. He could carry the load for both if he were extremely inventive. The problem is that he is not sufficiently funny. He is too bland to be the comic half and his lines just do not show any comic flair. So Jay and Silent Bob are a long way from being a successful comic team. Their starring roles and the low humor make this a comedy for those young at mind and for people who can laugh at gags they have seen before--sometimes just minutes before.

Like DOGMA before it, but definitely not like CHASING AMY, this film feels more like an amateurish skit than a real movie. Certainly neither the plot nor the characters are at all involving. They are excuses for gags, many of which still fall flat. It is DOGMA without any of the humorous theological content. The film does not offer much to an adult audience. I rate it 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This film is more interesting for its nostalgia value than for actual story values. That value is certainly better than any comic value it might have. Woody Allen writes, directs, and stars in a whimsical B film of a style that was popular in the year it is set, 1940. Allen's humor just is not as funny as it used to be. This is better than some of his recent efforts, but that is not saying much. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4).

As far as I am concerned Woody Allen, once one of our finest filmmakers, has not made a really satisfying film since his excellent CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION is his best effort in recent times. At least he is not obviously trying to write about his life, as he was in DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. There are not missing scenes, as there were in SWEET AND LOWDOWN. He does get the feel of the genre of film he is resurrecting, unlike EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU. Here he tells a whole story and it feels right (mostly). The one problem is that it is not a really good story. It has plot holes and the plot might very well have been used for a 1930s or 1940s B picture. It probably would not have had a lurid, pulpish title like CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. In filmdom those titles were pretty much confined to the serials at that time. And this film is in color, albeit sepia-tinged, and is a little more explicit about sex than one of those films would have been. But those exceptions aside this might well have been a film that might have starred Lee Tracy and nestled at the bottom of a double bill right under a big Warner Brothers studio film. If that was what Allen was trying to recreate, that does not make this a particularly ambitious film, but it probably achieves those ambitions. Even the comedy is up to the standards of that sort of film.

C.W. Briggs (Woody Allen) is a super-hot-shot investigator for the North Coast Insurance Company. (Does the U.S. have a north coast?) He gets all the big cases and breaks them with lightning speed with the aid of his network of skid row informants. He has just broken a tough case of a stolen Picasso. Everybody in the office is agog but for the insurance company's executive efficiency expert Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt). Fitz, as she is called, has absolutely no use for smug, self-obsessed, egotistical Briggs, and Briggs has no use for the officious Fitz who can match him insult for insult in battles of double entendres. One night the two go with a group to see a nightclub hypnotist, Voltan (David Ogden Stiers). When called up to the stage neither thinks that Voltan can put them under. He does and temporarily makes them love each other. He also leaves them with post-hypnotic suggestion that makes them his slave when he uses the right code word (a la THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE). He has plans of his own for them.

This is, of course, not Allen's first outing into nostalgia for the world of the popular culture of his youth. His most successful film along these lines would probably be RADIO DAYS. There he showed how the entertainment world and his own real world interacted and fed each other. There is no such attempt here. His script is pure pastiche. His humor is more than a little strained and for me at least was just not funny. At one point he tells police that he cannot talk to them because he has a chorus girl in his bedroom. An instant later he tells them he has to get back to his nurse. When they remind him that he just said she was a chorus girl, flustered he says it is a chorus girl who does a little nursing. The line is very Woody Allen, but it is not at all clever or funny. The film is just full of predictable twists and gags that do not quite amuse.

In this film Allen is looking a little tired and bedraggled. He continues to cast himself as the romantic lead in his films. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart no longer yearns to see him get a woman twenty-eight years his junior. It seemed only recently that Helen Hunt was in several films released at the same time. Now she is content to be in just Allen's film. Allen, like Robert Altman, is in the enviable position that he can put a familiar face in just about every major role. This film has Dan Aykroyd, Wallace Shawn, David Ogden Stiers and Charlize Theron. One can tell from the beginning that this is a Woody Allen film. Every Allen film these days starts with a jazz score and white on black credits.

CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION is whimsical, but it is empty and rarely elicits a laugh. I give it a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

	I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the

Go to my home page