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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/19/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 12
Table of Contents
Trailers for Upcoming Films Presented at Torcon 3 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This article is a report on my impressions of upcoming films based on attending the show of trailers at Torcon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention. Each year I like to get a feel for what is to be released soon, even if it can be a downbeat experience. There were a few films this year that did look promising and a lot that I am not sure why they even bothered to screen. Disclaimer: I had to take my notes in the dark from trailers I could see only once and form impressions of films based on that. In a past year I thought GATTACA did not look very good. You cannot judge a film by its trailer. Also I may have gotten some mis-impressions from ambiguities or incomplete notes. (I will gladly refund your purchase price for this report.)
I will not report on films already released like AMERICAN SPLENDOR and (can you believe it, they ran some very old trailers) THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME. In most cases I will not talk about trailers I have previously seen in theaters. These are the new films coming out.
When I think of Michael Crichton I think of an old article by Budd Schulberg, I think, called "Why Write It If You Can't Sell It to the Movies?" A new Michael Crichton adventure, even though it is in book form, is always a film in the making. Realizing this I think that Crichton always takes special care to write very cinematically. His novels are visual and not internal. His specialty is to take an old SF idea and to make it sound technically plausible. With JURASSIC PARK he was really not far from what is possible. TIMELINE is a little more fanciful. This one mixes a medieval adventure with 21st century technology. Modern archeologists sent back in time to the 14th century become stranded and involved in a race against time (literally) to bring them home. It is hard enough for modern people to just survive in the 14th century. The film looks entertaining and might be a good bet.
Kate Beckinsale who looked good in a very feminine role in PEARL HARBOR takes a turn as a macho action hero who also happens to be a vampire. Too bad for the Wachowskis who made THE MATRIX you cannot copyright a film's look since this film effectively uses much the same look and feel. Vampire Beckinsale finds a werewolf to love in spite of their differences. (One difference they don't have: they are both night people.)
This seems to be inspired in part by the film DOGS AND CATS. The concept is that alien dogs come to earth and are surprised to find that on Earth humans are the masters and dogs are merely pets. It was written by someone who does not own a dog, apparently. The dogs get a brain boost. The increased dog intelligence brings some comic/cosmic reversals. Dogs walking people, that sort of thing. If this is not written to be intelligent it will be a dog.
For this one I could actually re-publish my review since I saw the film at the last Toronto International Film Festival. The BUBBA is a crowd pleaser for the right crowd, maybe fans of cult films like REPO MAN. It did little for me. Brought up on mummy movies I was hoping for more. (Well in fairness to my parents I brought myself up on mummy movies.) Both my wife and a friend who works in a nursing home liked the film more than I did. The emphasis is on comedy and too much silliness and not horror. The story is by noted writer Joe Lonsdale. The audacious premise is that neither Elvis Presley nor John Kennedy died when the world thought they did. Both are in Texas nursing home. Bruce Campbell plays Elvis and Ossie Davis plays Kennedy. (Don't ask.) The film is very low-budget, mostly taking place in the nursing home. Stalking this nursing home is a Kharis-like mummy. Can the two famous people stop a mummy in a cowboy hat? I find myself strangely uninterested in finding out.
MY BOSS'S DAUGHTER
The new guy at the office ends up being asked to housesit at his boss's house. He wants to impress the boss, but it does not work out that way. Reminiscent of MEET THE PARENTS. Terence Stamp and Tara Reid have the two title roles. Which is which I will leave as an exercise for the reader. Word on the street is the film is even worse than it sounds.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACE (2003)
Now this sounds to me like a completely unnecessary remake. I am not a great fan of the original, but at least it was original and used its style cleverly. What can a remake offer other than retread gore? Maybe the new filmmakers are just sentimentalists.
JEEPERS CREEPERS 2
Most critics seemed to agree that the first forty-five minutes of JEEPERS CREEPERS was really creepy. Then it lost most of its freshness once the viewer knows what is going on. The whole film builds up to a pun. This is apparently a whole film in which the viewer knows what is going on and the pun has already been spoiled. Ray Wise stars. Most people know him from TWIN PEAKS, but I think of THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN. This film combines monsters and basketball. Oh, boy.
Pixar, whose FINDING NEMO just became the highest grossing animated film ever, is working on this film. The trailer is a teaser that tells little about the film but shows a super hero who has put on weight and is having trouble fitting into his hero- costume. Apparently it is about a whole family of superheroes. Pixar can probably do something good with the premise. This is one worth looking for. Then again, I am sure it will not be hard to find.
I will continue my comments on the film trailers from Torcon next week. They (and I) saved a few of the best prospects for last. [-mrl]
HYBRIDS by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2003, TOR, $24.95 HC, ISBN 0-312-87690-4, 394pp) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Rob Sawyer has put a cap on his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, and what a cap it is. HYBRIDS is the third volume in the series, and it is the best of a great lot. I sang the praises of the first two volumes in the series, HOMINIDS and HUMANS, and apparently the SF community was in agreement with me on HOMINIDS, as it won the Hugo Labor Day weekend for best novel of 2002.
HYBRIDS is better than HOMINIDS.
That could be trouble for its competition next year, which actually includes HUMANS, which came out in 2003 as well.
The first two Neanderthal books, while full of ideas, as is typical for a Sawyer novel, were, I thought (there, are there enough commas for you? :-)), more character-driven than most of his novels that came before. HYBRIDS indeed has the same strong characters we've come to know, plus at least one or two more that we've only heard about (Mary's estranged husband) or met briefly (Cornelius Ruskin, the man who raped her), but now we get six tons of ideas as well. We already have the reversal of the earth's magnetic field to think about (from HUMANS), but now we have the idea that Homo Sapiens are wired to believe in God (*there's* one that will make you sit back and think awhile), and a device that will allow one to set up the genetic makeup of a baby before conception. Put the last two ideas together and come back to me when you get up off the floor after having thought of the implications. Oh - you can use the device, as you might guess, to genetically engineer viruses. Throw that in there too.
Mary, our Homo Sapiens (Gliksin) hero, and Ponter, our Neanderthal (Barast) hero, are lovers, and are going to make a go of it. Much of the novel is spent exploring how they will "make it work". After all, they live in two separate worlds, with two separate sets of customs, two separate sets of, well, everything. The one thing they have in common for sure is their love for one another. And that love enables Sawyer to tie off the estranged husband storyline. The story of Cornelius Ruskin is neatly tied off here as well. As a matter of fact, it seems that everything is tied off pretty neatly here, although there is room for some additional storytelling based on how the reversal of the earth's magnetic field entered into it.
Along the way, Sawyer manages to skewer everybody who deserves it: the entire Gliksin race, Gliksin men in particular, the United States, and the Catholic Church top the list. Interestingly, being a Catholic, I was more "offended" by the slamming of the US than I was the slamming of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has indeed had its share of problems most recently, and certainly hasn't come forward with the times. However, also as a Catholic, I was a bit disappointed in Mary's lack of religious reaction to what ended up being called the "God organ". The inside back flap calls it one of the most controversial books of the year. I'm not sure about that, but if after you're done reading it you don't feel like you have anything to really think about - well, you're brain dead. :-)
All in all, however, it was a very satisfying, well-written novel, and a darned good one. Run out and get it now, if you haven't already. Oh - go buy and read the first two novels in the trilogy too, if you haven't already. I think you'll love them. [-jak]
CASA DE LOS BABYS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)
John Sayles as writer, director, and editor gives us a comprehensive view of the business in some South American countries of allowing couples from the United States adopt local babies. Considering that the director is John Sayles, the film is surprisingly anger-free and blame-free as we see who gains and who loses, and the conclusion is that the women who have come seeking adoptions are indeed exploited. But what they gain is of greater value than what they lose and the babies who are adopted will have a much better life in the United States than they would in their native country.
The film centers on six women who have come to this unnnamed South American country to fulfill the adoption requirements. This is a process that takes months and in the meantime the women relax on the beaches and spread around money that helps the local economy on many levels. (The film is shot, but not set, in Acupulco.)
CASA DE LOS BABYS focuses on six women (Mary Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Susan Lynch). The script is composed of vignettes of the six women and several other characters from the town, including a street boy, an office worker forced to act as a guide, a hotel owner, and others. The narrative seems to lose steam for a while in the second half, but it gets back on track. The only really false move is a long speech by one of the women to a chambermaid who does not speak or understand English. This is the one place where it really feels the proceedings are scripted rather than naturally happening.
Some of the credibility is lost in two scenes. There is a shot of the night sky, obviously a special effect. There is a crescent moon and within the circle we see stars shining. And slightly less likely, there is a scene of a large number of babies and all are on their best and cute behavior. None are crying or even drooling. Who do you think you're fooling, Mr. Sayles?
For Sayles this is an unusually sanguine film with no villains and not a lot of pain. Sooner or later everyone we see will have a happy ending. [-mrl]
AMERICAN SPLENDOR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
Harvey Pekar is a man who achieved fame by being ordinary. He was a file clerk at a Cleveland, Ohio, Veterans Administration hospital going nowhere. He met and befriended the cartoonist R. Crumb and collaborated the cartoonist on a comic book that told Pekar's dull daily life. The comic book was "American Splendor" and this film adapts that adventure (or lack thereof) to the screen. In the film there are several different images of the same man. Paul Giamatti and/or some cartoon images in the Crumb style play Pekar. At the same time we see the real Pekar in interviews. Finally, there is an actor who plays Pekar as a boy and an actor playing a stage actor playing Pekar.
After a prolog showing Pekar as a child, we see him losing just about everything he values when his second wife walks out on him on the same day he is diagnosed with a medical problem that will take away his voice. He makes downbeat comments like "now there's a reliable disappointment" on seeing his reflection in a mirror. We follow him through his meeting and friendship with Crumb (who seems much more dapper here than in his own film). We also see him meeting his third wife (Hope Davis) who seems to match his neuroses in magnitude if not in character. And we follow him through some fairly trying times.
In the final analysis the film works or does not work on just whether we are drawn into the Pekar character and how deeply we are drawn. Pekar never gives us a lot of reason to be engaged with his character. The film's success at interesting me in Pekar was only limited because he just seems to dour and dull. We never get very deeply into his character. We see him in situations, but we don't know his feelings. That is the character Crumb chose to write about and it limits the interest value of the film. [-mrl]
MATCHSTICK MEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
Ridley Scott is known best for big action films like ALIEN and GLADIATOR. This time around he does a much less intricate film, a crime film set in the present. Roy (played by Nicholas Cage) and his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) are extremely good telephone con men. They use human nature to bilk the old and the poor. They make a very good living at it. Roy's biggest problems are not work-related. Roy is an obsessive compulsive. He has a phobia about dirt, about being outside, about contacting his ex-wife. But he is desperate to know if his ex-wife, pregnant when they split up, ever had the child. He convinces his psychiatrist to call his ex-wife to find out. Sure enough, he has a daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) anxious to meet him. Almost before he knows it his daughter is living with him and not long after is involved in his scams. She seems a natural for this kind of work.
The script by brothers Nicholas and Ted Griffin is good but could be better if it were a little less familiar. It does have a twist, but one we have seen frequently before. Cage's performance is a little exaggerated with its facial ticks and compulsive cleaning. A particular obsessive compulsive detective, Monk, is currently popular on television and Scott's timing of portraying one for the first time at this moment makes the film seem more derivative. This is a minor effort from Scott that may work if the twists are unexpected. [-mrl]
MAMBO ITALIANO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
This is primarily the story of gay lovers separated by their families. The film is made to appear more appealing by naming it after a popular Italian song. The Italian families are given a lot of what would appear to be cute and authentic Italian personality traits, but if the characters were replaced by Greeks or Jews almost all the cute vignettes would have seemed just as authentic. Perhaps different ethnic groups are more similar than they seem.
The film takes place in Montreal's Little Italy. Angelo and Nino have been friends since school days. When they meet as adults, they decide their relationship is more than simple friendship. The families who behaved as if their first leaving home was a disaster now must (or must not) be told that the two are gay. After the relationship becomes known to the families (a story in itself), the families do what they can to break up the relationship.
The film is flavored with a lot of Italian seasoning including many popular Italian songs (though curiously, not the title melody).Emile Gaudreault directed the film based on a play by Steve Galluccio which was produced in Montreal. The director and the playwright adapted the play to the screen. It was written so the Italian elements don't get in the way of the gay elements and the gay elements don't get in the way of the Italian ones. The cast seems generally to be unknowns but for Paul Sorvino as Angelo's father. The story is not highly original, but the writing is amusing. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Because of the Toronto International Film Festival, about the only thing I've had time to read during the last week or so was Joy Fielding's LOST. And the only reason I read that was because it was set at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Fielding gets a lot of the festival stuff right--after all, she's been attending for many years--but she gets a few things wrong as well. For example, the idea of "code words" in the descriptions is spot-on; for example, "lyrical" really means "boring" and "uncompromising" means "hand-held camera". But she also has the protagonist mention seeing three films a day for ten days on a thirty-coupon book. I wish--the first day of the ten-day festival, the films don't start until evening, and one is hard-pressed to manage two films, and day two is not much better.
The story itself concerns the main character's daughter, who vanishes after an audition with a famous director in town for the festival. By three-quarters of the way through, I was sure Fielding had painted herself into a corner, but she does manage to come up with a satisfactory, if peculiar, ending. That's the good news. The bad news is that this book was published only in Canada, so unless you live there or order from there, you'll never see this anyway. But since its main appeal seems to be the festival setting, it's not a major loss. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It's the truth in humor that makes it funny, which is why there are no science fiction jokes. -- Baxter Black
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