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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/18/02 -- Vol. 20, No. 29
Table of Contents
Film Festival Returns: FERMAT'S LAST TANGO (announcement by Mark R. Leeper):
Nova episode: "Proof" FERMAT'S LAST TANGO
Those long-time members of the science fiction club will remember that at one time we ran an active film festival out of our home as part of the club's activities, through the magic of video. We would like now to try to revive that tradition as long as people are interested. And here anyone is invited who is interested. You do not have to be a member, though it would help if you let us know how many people to expect.
We are beginning the festival with a most unusual entry. Usually we show feature films. Neither of the items we are showing is a feature film. There is very little popular entertainment with a basis in mathematics. There was, however, an actual play produced off-Broadway on the subject of the solving of Fermat's Last Theorem. In 1637 the mathematician Pierre de Fermat claimed to have proven that A^n + B^n = C^n has no integer solutions for n larger than 2. ("^" denotes exponent.) It was however inconvenient to show the proof in the space he had available. Invariably when he claimed to have a proof, he did. But he never wrote this one down before he died. For most of the 356 years since Fermat claimed to have a proof, mathematicians had been trying to find such a proof. The task proved maddeningly difficult. It was the mathematical equivalent of a buried treasure. There was always the feeling it was just out of reach. In 1993 Princeton mathematician Andrew Wiles made world-wide headlines by apparently proving the conjecture. Well, not actually.
On Wednesday, January 23, the Leeperhouse Film Festival will show two very different accounts of this story. On will be the British account of the story shown on the BBC and re-broadcast as part of the PBS Nova science series. This will be presented at approximately at 7:30 PM and run for an hour. Following that we will be showing (through the magic of DVD) FERMAT'S LAST TANGO, a musical fantasy about the solving of Fermat. Reviews can be found at
Please believe these reviewers do know theater even if they are, as they seem to be, unable to copy accurately a simple mathematical equation off the wall. (Do you BELIEVE they BOTH got it wrong??? Jeez!)
Anyway, if you need directions, let me know. In fact if you are planning to come, let me know so we know how many to expect. [-mrl]
THE SHIPPING NEWS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: An American newspaper worker whose life is in disarray finds a chance to belong to a community and to heal himself in a Newfoundland fishing village. This is the familiar plot based on the novel by E. Annie Proulx. Actor Kevin Spacey and director Lasse Hallstrom have each made similar but more enjoyable films before. Engaging, but nothing special. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
I would like to call attention to what I think is an unrecognized subgenre of film. It is not wide enough to be a genre by itself, but it is a story that is fairly commonly done. Let's call it a "Salt of the Earth Redemption" film. The main character of the story is somebody who is leading a life that is somehow lacking. The person may or may not realize his (it is almost invariably a male for some reason) life is out of joint, but it is. The person is forced by circumstance to go to some place he would not normally go and where he does not fit in. At first the misfit is a little boggled by the strange people of this place. They have their own ways and they are not his ways. But the longer he is there the more he finds that he understands and really likes these people. And in this remote place he finds what has been lacking in his life. I suppose it is sort of an obvious plot. You want to paint a portrait of an exotic people and want to show them in a favorable life, so what better way then showing the contact transforming some visitor's life? Films in this subgenre include GRAND HIGHWAY, LOCAL HERO, A GREAT WALL, and perhaps WITNESS and A STRANGER AMONG US. The story may even be traced back to the story of Joseph in the Bible who did not fit in in his own land but rose to prominence and power in Egypt. Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom built his international reputation on one such film, MY LIFE AS A DOG. Kevin Spacey played the likable eccentric native in MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL.
Quoyle (played by Kevin Spacey) is living a life that is a string of wrong decisions and failures. He is a minor functionary on the Poughkeepsie News when he marries Petal (Cate Blanchett), the sort of woman euphemistically called a "free spirit." Bunny's ties of marriage and motherhood come and go as she finds convenient. They have a daughter, Bunny, though Petal is a constant threat to both Quoyle's custody of her and Bunny's health and safety. Then multiple tragedies remove Petal from the picture and force Quoyle and Bunny to go with Quoyle's aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) to travel to Newfoundland as a family responsibility. Being there brings a set of new failures and leaves Quoyle and Bunny living in a leaky old house in Newfoundland. He gets an unexpected job reporting for the local newspaper. Eventually Quoyle finds that he likes the locals, though no attempt is made by the writers to romanticize the Newfoundlanders and even less so their forebears. The chilling Newfoundland climate has fostered a people who are cold and hard as the ice. Quoyle finds the history of this place, and not least of Quoyle's family, painful and one that some viewers will find it disturbing.
Some humor is generated by the newspaper's grim determination to make the most lackluster news in the world sound at least moderately dramatic. To do this they publish expedient exaggerations and the occasional intentional lie all in the name of making the news engaging. Once Quoyle learns to dramatically headline the bland, he uses the technique to describe the events in his own improving life. There even are the beginnings of a romance as Quoyle discovers an attractive widow played by Julianne Moore.
THE SHIPPING NEWS is well acted. Spacey plays a character much like the one he played in AMERICAN BEAUTY. Perhaps his is even a little less spirited here. Hallstrom and Proulx are anxious to explain the eccentricities of the people but makes them only a little more respectable and not a whole lot more likable. It is about grim people living in a grim part of the world. The viewer understands them but is never really comfortable in the setting the way one is in Bill Forsyth's LOCAL HERO or in Hallstrom's MY LIFE AS A DOG. I rate this film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The public is a fool. - Alexander Pope
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