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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/04/02 -- Vol. 21, No. 14
Table of Contents
Reviews This Issue:
This issue contains three film reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival, each for a film currently in release or soon to be. I am repeating my review of QUITTING which was seen at the 2001 TIFF. The others were seen at the current TIFF and the films are already being released to the public. [-mrl]
Frank R. Paul:
For fans of Frank R. Paul's artwork, there is now a Frank R. Paul Gallery web site at http://www.frankwu.com/paul1.html.
Fermented Bean Curd Redux:
Thanks to the placement of the issue of the MT VOID containing the article on fermented bean curd on my web page, I am now receiving spam from people trying to sell me fermented bean curd. [-ecl]
Sputnik (comments by Charles S. Harris):
Shortly after the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, the editors of the "Swarthmore College Phoenix" asked Charlie Harris to write the lead editorial, putting this event into historical perspective. In honor of Sputnik's 45th anniversary, we are reprinting that editorial in full, with the author's permission.
Last Saturday at Swarthmore seemed like any other Saturday. Students rechecked their mailboxes, grumbled about the food, discussed the new space satellite, rushed to get to the Library before 5 pm and then rushed to a square dance or Danny Kaye movie.
It is not surprising that in the midst of all this bustle few of us stopped to think about what day it was: Oct. 12--Columbus Day.
After all, compared to the first step in the exploration of the universe, how trivial seems some Italian's blundering into an unknown continent (without even knowing it was unknown!). If he hadn't done it, someone else would have--and maybe Lief Eriksen beat him to it anyway. Such is our blase' attitude.
But let us consider for a moment. Columbus' voyage was no massive billion-ruble government project, with a claim on an entire nation's resources; it was the work of one man, with only his faith and persuasive talents to use in wheedling 1,140,000 maravedis (a fabulous sum, for that epoch) from an absolute monarch. This was no case of shooting 184 pounds of metal and plastic into the air; Columbus was risking the lives of 110 men-- and his own as well--on the risky assumption that they would not sail off the edge of the world.
We may not think much of his actual achievement, but we cannot help being moved by Cristoforo Colombo's example of personal courage and conviction, an example all too lacking in our highly-touted "Age of the Atom." [-csh]
Studies in Horror (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
At this year's World Science Fiction Convention I was on a panel to discuss whether TV producers tend to shy away from putting real horror on TV. Is it that they are afraid to frighten away their audiences? In specific, they asked if the television program BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is just an old adventure series with "new tailfins."
Well, I have my own opinions about BUFFY. First, there is one that is not particularly controversial. BUFFY is not frightening. At least it is not scary in the usual sense. There is little horror in any medium that I find approaches being frightening, but certainly BUFFY does not scare. Nor do I think it is intended to scare. I don't think most of what we call horror is intended to frighten, but I will return to this point.
I never watched the BUFFY series when it was first broadcast and at the suggestion of friends I started seeing the series on re- broadcast. I have seen most of the first three seasons. I was willing to watch that much, though I have to admit I never really been able to force myself to become very interested in the series. That is ironic since it would seem to be a natural for me to like it. I have liked horror from an early age. I like vampires and demons in films. I love horror films. So why am I so unsatisfied with what I see in BUFFY?
Well, what I like about vampires and werewolves in films is just what BUFFY is trying to get away from. At least in part in the films I like, that they are a credible as threat, even if their existence seems less possible. They are mystical and powerful. The prototype of the vampire slayer was Van Helsing in the Bram Stoker novel DRACULA. Van Helsing fought vampires at great personal peril because he was only a vulnerable human. And he did not know all the rules himself. Any special powers he had were purely academic. Literally academic. He had studied the folklore of vampires as a scholar and he knew only what he had studied. He used the remedies of folklore. Buffy occasionally studies the folklore or talks to her "watcher." But Buffy's first and most frequent weapon against vampires is not folklore but martial arts. If she faces a more potent evil, she uses a better karate kick. Why is she any more able to karate kick vampires than anyone else (say someone is in shape)? Well, she is a vampire slayer and this apparently makes her karate kicks more effective against vampires. In DRACULA Van Helsing was weak and Dracula had the strength of ten men. In BUFFY it is the slayer who is super-powered and the vampires and demons are weak. It is hard to imagine who is the target audience who is excited by the frequently one-sided fights in BUFFY. There are frequent scenes of Buffy exterminating vampires one right after another without mussing her hairdo or her makeup. She certainly never works up an unglamorous sweat. One might as well watch someone swatting flies. And the horror and fear element that Hammer films put into a Peter Cushing Van Helsing trying to destroy a Christopher Lee Dracula is just totally missing.
In the series Buffy is rarely threatened. In fact, she makes fun of the creatures she must defeat. When faced with a potent foe she says things is her most nasty and testy voice "All right. I get it. You're EVIL!!!" Then she kickboxes it to death with the outcome rarely in doubt. I think there is a deliberate attempt to play to a teenage audience telling them vampires and werewolves and demons frightened their parents. But we are made of sterner stuff and for us creatures of the night actually knock down real good. If Van Helsing had only known. This is not horror. If anything it is a sort of anti- horror. BUFFY just knocks down vampires and demons like a stevedore in a bar brawl. That may not be so inappropriate in a series that seems to have reduced demons to bikers with funny makeup jobs.
This is sort of a counterfeit of horror. Next week I will talk a bit about what I consider to be the real horror. I will say what really has frightened me. [-mrl]
8 WOMEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Several different genres of film get kidded in this French country house murder-thriller. One man has been murdered and eight women review their relationship to him in this drama- comedy-musical-mystery. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
Most of the fun of 8 WOMEN is that it is cliche. We have a country home, lavish but snowbound. In it are eight woman and one dead man, a knife in his back. One of the women has to be the killer. But can the women figure out which one is the killer? Is it the victim's mother, his wife, his sister, one of his daughters, or one of the servants?
The snow has isolated them in the house, and the phone cord has been cut so there are no police to do the detective work. Maybe if the eight women can talk out the murder and the events leading up to it they can figure out who the killer is. This one house, a huge Gothic mansion, seems to have a lot of secrets, private hatreds, and skeletons in every closet. But every few minutes the investigation is interrupted as someone sings a song. It seems this film does not just laugh at the conventions of murder mysteries. It also pokes fun at that most surreal of film genres, the musical. Also its use of bright, super-saturated colors is a reminder of the MGM musicals of the 1950s. Satirizing the musical and doing a good job is not an easy task. One rather suspects that the jabs at the musical were writer and director Ozon's own idea and he knows how to do it. Even when Woody Allen tried to lampoon the musical in his EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU it came out crudely done and leaden. Ozon's gives us about eight different songs, each in a different style, and manages to keep his satire subtle and light.
The screenplay was adapted by the director, Francois Ozon, based on a play by Robert Thomas. It toys with the audience, pulling the rug out from under the viewer and changing the plot every few minutes so that nearly everybody comes under suspicion. And what an "everybody" it is. The film is packed with popular French actresses including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Danielle Darrieux, and Virginie Ledoyan. I give 8 WOMEN a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A group of very small-time hoods (make that micro-second hoods) get their hands on the opportunity of a heist of a lifetime. But the heist is not foolproof and these are just the fools to prove it is not. In fact these hoods are a combination of wickedly clever and painfully stupid. The result is amusing, though it has all been done before, at least twice literally. Slight but pleasant. Rating 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
We have all seen heist films like OCEANS ELEVEN where a crack team of expert criminals get together for a crime that goes off like clockwork. In this film a group of general incompetents get together to pull a jewelry heist. Clockwork is just how it does not go. In fact, just about nothing goes in the way you expect from professionals. Still, somehow the crime gets pulled together. WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD is a remake of BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET (1958), a film that has already been remade at least once as CRACKERS in 1984 by Louis Malle.
The whole sad story begins when petty criminal Cosimo (Luis Guzman) is jailed with a lifer who knows where a really good job is. This isn't just a good job, it's a Bellini! (What's a Bellini? It's the kind of crime every petty criminal comes his way just once.) The lifer is willing to tell Cosimo about his Bellini because he is stuck in prison. Cosimo thinks he can put together the crime, but does not want to tell anyone but his girlfriend. Strictly not to tell anyone else. Right. The crime is put together a bit at a time, but not quite like it was done in RIFIFI.
The characters in this film are for Cleveland what Damon Runyan characters were for New York. (In fact, one clever bit seems borrowed from Runyan's "Butch Minds the Baby") The gangster patter is humorous and the viewer will know the difference between a Mollinsky and a Bellini.
Anthony and Joe Russo shot the film on location in the run-down section of Cleveland, Ohio. The adaptation is fairly funny and got more than its share of audience laughs. Overall it is a decent comic crime film with neither any great virtues nor any bad faults. Featured are William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, Sam Rockwell. George Clooney has a small role.
Nobody is going to get extremely excited about WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD as a feature film debut of co-directors and co-writers Anthony and Joe Russo. Still, it has moments. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
QUITTING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: From China, a country noted for downbeat films, comes a true story of one mentally disturbed boy, a former movie star, who ruined and terrorized his family until he was institutionalized and reeducated. All of the major characters play themselves. We see both the point of view of the main character and other members of his family. The film is a real indictment of a system in which eldest sons are spoiled and indulged to ridiculous lengths. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
Communist governments are usually dedicated to the principle that utilitarianism is more important than their people's traditions. The West generally puts this tendency in an unfavorable light. There are, however, some customs that the Chinese people themselves carry to extremes. One seems to be the spoiling of the eldest son who will be expected to carry on the family line. In QUITTING we see what power this custom gives an eldest son whether he deserves it or not. However, we also see the heady and corrupting influence that the infusion of Western culture has had on China.
QUITTING is the true story of Jia Hongsheng. In the early 90s he was a noted film and TV actor, but he destroyed his career with drugs. Early in the film he is living with his younger sister and his parents come to live in the same apartment. From the moment his parents arrive Jia treats them in the nastiest manner. He seems to have no interest in their opinion of him at all. He orders them around and insists that they spend their little money on luxuries for him and repays them with nastiness. Rather than work, he spends his time in his room listening over and over to cassettes of the Beatles. He is drunk with Western culture. And any Western culture is new to him. We see him and his friends dancing to "Oh My Darling Clementine" as if it is the latest Top 100 song.
The film jumps around in time telling of relationships with temporary friends whom he grows to dislike. Without apology he spends his parents' money on drugs. He announces that he is really the son of John Lennon. The final straw is when he crosses the last taboo and hits his father. His parents report him to the police and the first step is taken toward his recovery. It is unusual for Chinese movies to talk about current-day problems in China, though this film is really more a warning about foreign influences. The first hour is a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Eventually when the government puts him on the road to recovery there seems to be hope creeping in.
Any film from so different a culture will have unintended messages for Western viewers. The "nice apartment" where Hongsheng lives looks a bit like a concrete monstrosity to us. Zhang Yang directs a screenplay he co-wrote. Nearly all the important characters play themselves. Frequently they play in painful scenes they lived just a few years earlier. Yang laments that while his film is full of references to Western music, including Beatles songs, none could actually be heard in his film. The price of using Beatles songs is far beyond the budget of Chinese filmmakers. Film excerpts are apparently easier and we see Hongsheng watching TAXI DRIVER with posters in his room.
Deep down this film is pro-government and anti-Western culture. While watchable, it is not one of the best films to come from China. I give it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth. -- Albert Einstein
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