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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/12/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 15
Table of Contents
Bad Sportsmanship (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the movie BRAZIL there has been a terrorist bombing. They show some crusty expert being interviewed on television and being asked what is behind the bombings. He sagely responds "bad sportsmanship." It sounded funny at the time. What is behind our terrorism? What is behind Muslim rage? To try to explain it in a few paragraphs is a fool's errand. This is assuming even I understand it, which I do not claim to do fully. But let me take a crack at my belief as to what it is all about.
Today Islam is the world's fastest growing religion. But in a broader sense it has declined a great deal. There was a time when Islam was by any objective standards the leading civilization on the planet. For about a millennium it had constantly grown and outgrew all other civilization. European civilization was small by comparison and it was making inroads even there. In southwestern Europe their territory went as far north as parts of France. With a good deal of justification they saw themselves as the center of truth and enlightenment. And they still saw themselves as surrounded by infidels and barbarians and it was their duty to bring to the non-Islamic world the enlightenment that they had and that Allah wanted for all.
Even then they saw as their chief challenging power Christian Europe who also had a creed that wanted to conquer the world and convert everybody. It was inevitable that these two civilizations would clash and when it happened it would be violent. And of course it was and that conflict continues.
Flash forward to the present. European civilization, now also including the United States, has greater power. Islam still holds many countries, but not a whole lot of power. And even in the countries it holds European ideas are taking hold. Throughout the Middle East people wear Levis, drink Coca-Cola, and watch American movies and TV. Islam has lost a huge piece of the territory it once held. Even in the countries that it holds Islam has lost political control of its destiny. More and more its decisions have to be tempered with consideration of what the West thinks. And even in their own homes Western ideas are creeping in. The Koran tells them that women should have very little control of their destinies and must remain dominated by males. This is very important in the Koran. Islam sanctions polygamy and the use of concubines. But American television which is so popular tells their children that women are the equal and frequently even smarter than men. When America fought in the Middle East they showed on the world television positive images of independent women in military clothing doing the fighting. This was a powerful and to them threatening contrast to the Islamic message.
The great corrupting force, in the eyes of their clerics and as a result their people, is the US. The US is the Great Satan. It is not because they have such different values. Europe has nudity on commercial television and a much freer view of acceptable morals. The United States is by comparison staid and morally conservative. The proportions of atheists and agnostics are much lower in the US than in Europe. But the United States has economic power. If the message is more conservative than Europe's would be, the medium is a lot more powerful. The United States has the power to complain about human rights in Islamic countries and even to interfere in their politics. America supports Israel, a country of infidels, right here in the midst of Moslem countries. Their goal is to re- conquer all the lands they have lost and here in the center of their territory is a country of infidels. It is hole in the Moslem world like the hole in the ozone layer. Israel embraces Western values and Western culture including Women's Liberation and the country is economically successful much beyond the levels of its Islamic neighbors. The more the neighbors see people prospering in spite of not following the Koran's teachings, the more they struggle to remove it from their sight. They want to see Israel fail and if the natural forces of Allah are not doing the job they will give them a push. But so far even with their help the great Allah seems powerless. This enrages them.
All of this makes Moslems feel ineffective. They are in a competition and losing the game. Americans by in large do not buy their products, watch their programs, and Americans have much more leverage about what happens in Moslem countries than Moslem countries have in the US. So what do they want to do? They want to slap America in the face. The face of America is the Manhattan skyline. It has little to do with the real conflict. They are playing the game and are losing the game. That frustrates them. So what do they do? They go beyond the usually accepted rules and hit their opponent. It is venting a rage like when one hockey player hits another with his stick. So the crusty expert in BRAZIL had some truth. Though it is a lot more serious there really is something in the terrorism that is akin to what the crusty old gent would call "bad sportsmanship." [-mrl]
Crime Films at the Toronto International Film Festival (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This week we take a look at crime and gangster films that are soon to be released. I cannot help but notice that the name of David Mamet shows up several times in these reviews. His is probably the most respected name in crime film these days and certainly his films are the standard by with others are measured. This is both for their gritty realism and his style of dialog. Appropriately enough we begin with a film written and directed by Mamet.
HEIST (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is one of David Mamet's best. It is a razor-sharp crime film. Gene Hackman stars as a very smart robber pulled into one final heist for a crime lord played by Danny DeVito. Clever robbery plans and double crosses stud the plot. And the Mamet dialog is great even if the Mamet stagy acting is not always so hot. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
One never quite knows what one is going to get with a Mamet film. His AMERICAN BUFFALO is a set-bound piece that has very little plot. Sometimes he will tell a story that really moves. HEIST is Mamet doing his most entertaining work. Unlike his THE SPANISH PRISONER, there are no lapses in credibility. HEIST is probably the best Mamet thriller since HOUSE OF GAMES. It is the kind of plot with which you are never sure who will double-cross whom, and frequently it is Mamet double-crossing the viewer. Watching the film's team getting around security the viewer is frequently asking himself either "what the heck are they doing?" or "why didn't anybody think of that before?"
Appropriately enough HEIST opens with a very clever jewelry store job. It is so clever that one wonders if Mamet really thinks up all these ideas himself or if he has help from professional magician and con expert Ricky Jay, now a regular actor in Mamet films. This is a robbery that works like a well-oiled machine. There is just one problem and it is enough to get Joe Moore (played by Gene Hackman) filmed on a security camera. Now Joe has to get out of the business. It was coming time anyway. Joe's team including Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo), Fran Moor (Rebecca Pidgeon), and Pinky Pincus (Ricky Jay) is going to split up and go separate ways. But crime boss Bergman (Danny DeVito) is pulling the strings and he says that Joe and his people have to manage one more robbery. And he has to take along a young kid, the short- fused Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell). Immediately it is obvious that there is more going on than meets the eye.
Much of what distinguishes HEIST is Mamet's dialog. Remarkably it serves a double purpose. The robbery team sounds at once very professional and at the same time it has Mamet's special feel for dialog. Hackman has lines like "Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money." Mamet's timing is perfect in the direction but terrible in the production. The plot is coincidentally a lot like the plot of the recent THE SCORE, which is, in fact, a very similar story. Both are good films, perhaps for some of the same reasons. But at least on a high level they are much the same story. The other problem with the timing of HEIST is that it involves airport security and clever ways to get around them. I saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2001. That made the subject matter just a little too timely. My understanding is that the release will be delayed.
My biggest problem with the film is that Rebecca Pidgeon's acting at times seems very poor. It is some kind of Mamet trademark I do not understand to have women talk without inflection, as if they are just reading the words for the first time. It is an irritation and distracts us from what is otherwise a very good thriller. It is one I rate an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: David Lynch writes and directs a different sort of movie for him. This is a mystery with a very tricky set of plot twists. I interpret this film as an attempt to taunt and play with the genre and its fans. This is a film that has people getting together to discuss what it all means when it is over. Still overall I cannot recommend the film. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4) Heavy Spoiler: This review will not reveal any plot twists but will be followed by a spoiler section that will discuss the subtle point of the film and the idea of the film is not obvious until the end.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE did very well at the Cannes Film Festival. As you can see from the rating it did not do very well from me at the Toronto International Film Festival. It may not be clear to the viewer why I am so negative on this film for most of the running time. In fact it is an interesting mystery story told on the backdrop of the Hollywood film industry. Toward the end of the film I think everything that has been built falls apart. The film was to be a pilot for a TV series but writer and director David Lynch did not sell his TV pilot and I think he decided that he wanted to do something else with it. Something else is what he did.
The film opens with a woman (played by Laura Harring) about to be killed in a car when a car crash saves her life. She crawls away from the accident with a concussion and finds herself a bungalow with an unlocked door to sleep. Meanwhile young vivacious Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood from Canada. She wants to build a career as an actress. Betty is a little surprised to find a woman sleeping in the borrowed bungalow. She does not know who the woman is. She is even more surprised when the woman awakes and does not herself know who she is. They fix on a name Rita for her, but are not sure if this right or not.
Meanwhile local director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) has problems of his own. He is trying to cast one actress for his new film and is getting pressure from the producers and from crime figures to cast someone else, Cammie Rhodes (Melissa George). These two threads are joined by a third one in which there is a strange and comic murder that goes terribly wrong. There is also a strange character called The Cowboy (Monty Montgomery) adding to the confusion.
In what was probably intended for the television pilot the film opens with a great vibrancy showing dancing 60s style under the credits. A lot of MULHOLLAND DRIVE starts out fun. Lynch wants you to know he could make an enjoyable stylish film. He just chooses not to. As with any David Lynch film there is strange material added for little reason. There are no earthworms, but there are some decidedly strange David Lynch touches. The film is a little long for the subject matter. Toward the end it gets into some heavier violence and sex scenes, clearly not intended for the TV pilot.
Unfortunately some of the most important comments to make about this film would be spoilers. I will not mention them in the main body of the review but I give MULHOLLAND DRIVE a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE Spoiler Warning. I have rated this film fairly low. You should read this only after seeing the film or deciding that you will not see the film.
David Lynch is in large part a dark satirist. Most of his work is done in familiar genres but in some way shows their underside. In MULHOLLAND DRIVE I think he is having a laugh at the expense of the crime film genre. What he does with this film is (Are you sure you want to read this?) playing off the audience expectations that there will be a simple explanation for what is going on. The first 80% of the film he tells a simple multi-thread crime story with clues sprinkled throughout. Then suddenly at the end he turns the story on its ear with a large number of clues that appear that they should add up to something. The audience expectation is that they will add up. But he has given clues that are self-contradictory. Lynch wants the audience to argue about what they have seen afterward and come up with theories. In fact, the pointers are noticeably contradictory and until I hear a better explanation, I think Lynch is merely playing a joke.
There is a visual curiosity that was popular in the sixties. Mad Magazine called it a Poiuyt. Other sources called it a Tri- pronged U-bar. Look at small portions of it and makes sense. Look at the whole figure and it does not. This film is, in my estimation, the cinematic equivalent of a Tri-pronged U-bar. [-mrl]
NINE QUEENS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: An Argentinean film very much in the mold of HOUSE OF GAMES. An experienced con man takes a younger one under his wing and involves him in a plot involving a valuable block of stamps and a complex game of double-crosses. A little clever plotting and a lot that is familiar, particularly from David Mamet. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
Perhaps this film should be called an homage. It certainly is a film very much in the spirit of David Mamet's HOUSE OF GAMES. Two con men meet when the younger, Juan (played by Gaston Pauls) gets himself into trouble and the more experienced Marcos (Ricardo Darin) bails him out. Marcos offers friendship and a one-day course in the short con. He shows a restaurant con to give the illusion of having paid for his meal with a large bill. But then he suggests that Juan help him on a bigger con. The two will get their hands on a near perfect forgery of a plate of valuable rare postage stamps. Soon the viewer is not sure who is doing what to whom. Complicating matters is Valeria, Marco's successful sister who is less than pleased with her brother's occupation.
NINE QUEENS was written and directed by Fabian Bielinsky of Argentina. This is his first time as director. He has created a sufficiently twisty plot, though the plot and situation is far from original. It is a diverting enough puzzle when watching it and thinking of possibilities. This is not a film that leaves one with a lot to think about but it is diverting. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
SILENT PARTNER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a film from Australia with overtones of David Mamet and of OF MICE AND MEN. Two lowlifes get a chance to groom a greyhound for racing for a gangster. They want to parlay this into a stab at the good life. SILENT PARTNER is basically a two- character play adapted to the screen. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
SILENT PARTNER is a two-person play adapted to the screen with virtually no dialog from anyone but John and Bill (played David Field and Syd Brisbane). They are two lowlifes with dreams who live mostly on borrowed money and spend it on beer and the occasional bet at the dog track. Through thick accents and drunken talk we follow them as they have a shot at the big time. A shady kingpin, Alex Silver, sees them at the racetrack and decides to use them in a scheme involving dog racing. Silver wants John and Bill to buy a greyhound, care for her, and race her locally. He will give them the money to tend the dog in return for 70% of the dog's winnings. The drunken pair name the dog "Silent Partner" after Silver's role in the deal. Bill develops a genuine affection for the dog. Bill's outings training the dog are some of the few scenes where we see him sober and we see John sober in even fewer, yet Bill lets John run the show and allows himself to become almost a silent partner. John never doubts he has what it takes to swim with the sharks. Through the alcohol haze John thinks he is smart and worldly, though frequently his skill seems limited to knowing whom he can hit up for one of the ever decreasing loans. The two have little social life without each other and it rarely is at anyplace but bars, the track, the squalid filthy house, and the occasional peep show. People like John and Bill are unusual subjects for film, thank goodness.
The timing of the dialog is a little too perfect to be believed as the two talk with nearly perfect timing. The Daniel Keene's dialog, based on his own play, is unnaturally perfect, much as David Mamet might craft it. Mamet might also approve of the underbelly society and grimy settings. Director Alkinos Tsilimidos filmed SILENT PARTNER almost linearly to create more natural emotions from his actors, but he kept crew ignorant of the script to aid in spontaneity. The film was shot for an amazing $7000 US.
Technically, the film is probably a comedy but it is not the kind of comedy that generates laughter. More frequently it is just an exercise in bitter irony. The songs by Paul Kelly are, like the dialog, a little too perfect. In some cases the songs give away plot that is coming. Americans will likely have some problems picking up the entire dialog. That can be a problem since Silver's plan is never clearly explained.
SILENT PARTNER is a bitter black comedy delivered in a thick inebriated Australian accent. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
MR. IN-BETWEEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Beautifully filmed, this is perhaps the best English gangster film since THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. It is sharp as a stiletto, entirely etched in tones of blue and black. A hit man gets involved in the lives of an old friend and his wife. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)
This is the best British gangster film since THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. Jon Bennet (played by Andrew Howard) is an extremely good assassin. As such he is probably an evil man but it does not worry him. He has become an unquestioning weapon. He is in the employ of a kingpin (David Calder) far more evil than he is. But even assassins have innocent pasts. He runs into an old from school days and he is married to a mutual girl friend from school. Complicating matters is that they live near where he had a recent job and their young daughter may have seen him at the crime.
A big piece of what makes this film work is the depiction of the kingpin. Calder is a familiar actor in Britain, though not frequently seen in the US. He was seen in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. Here he creates one of the best screen villains in recent years. He is at once seductive and repellent like a beautiful venomous snake. His lair is underground, apparently in a sewer, where he lives like the king of sewer rats. It is the kingpin who pulls the strings that will control Bennet's life.
Paul Sarossy who directs spent most of his career as a cinematographer and like the kingpin's lair, he has molded images of class and style out of the darkness. By using semi-darkness and letting the colors of deep blue and black dominate every scene he makes the film visually as ominous as anything in this nether world. This is a world that is cold and unfriendly.
Sorossy creates a world of violence much more by what we hear than what we see. This is a film with a great deal of physical violence occurring just out of reach. We see very little but we hear a great deal more and we imagine more than that.
The screenplay is by Peter Waddington based on the novel by Neil Cross, but it is Sarossy's film all the way. It creates indelible images of evil. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. (I do hope they do not use the tagline "Don't mess with Mr. In-between.") [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. -- Friedrich Nietzsche
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