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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/03/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 14
Table of Contents
Frankenstein Exhibit: (announcement)
For those members in the area there is an exhibit of things related to Frankenstein are on display continuing through Friday, Oct. 31, at the John A. Prior Health Sciences Library's Medical Heritage Center, 376 W. 10th Ave., on the campus of Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. For more information as to the content and events related see http://tinyurl.com/p0qx. [-mrl]
Not in MY Name: (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
These days the news is enough just to turn your stomach. You should be ashamed. I should be ashamed. I think everyone reading this notice and everyone not reading it should be ashamed. It makes me just want to pack up and move someplace else. Let me tell you about what is being done in your name. And in my name. Not far from our galaxy is the plucky little Sagittarius galaxy. I mean we grew up looking at the sky and seeing this dwarf spheroidal little galaxy. I may not have known that was what I was seeing but there it was, up in the sky for all to see assuming they don't live in New Jersey. (You know I had to go to Toronto to see Mars because the skies near my house in New Jersey were either clouded over or hazy for the whole month that Mars was coming close to Earth. I'm talking about a whole month. I went out six or seven times and no Mars. It is amazing that any astronomers at all come from New Jersey. I would think we would just have a bunch of meteorologists. You know the word "meteorologist" was coined in New Jersey? It was so called because the people went out looking for meteor showers and all they saw up there to study was the clouds so they studied weather instead in the vain hope it would clear and they could see the meteors. The study of meteors became the logging of clouds instead waiting and hoping for them to move aside so we could see the meteor shower. Sorry, I just had to vent. And don't get me started on vents.)
Anyway we grew up with Sagittarius in the sky. It is about one-tenth the diameter of the Milky Way but weighs less than one-thousandth as much as the Milky Way. It is just a little shy thing up there. It had to feel intimidated being so close to a heavyweight galaxy like the Milky Way. A bunch of us from the Milky Way galaxy even wanted to show we were friendly and nothing to fear with a few "good neighbor" gestures. We would go out on clear nights with flashlights, point them in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation (pretty much the same direction) and tap out "-.-- --- -- .- -- .-" which is international Morse Code for "friend."
But nobody told the Powers That Be that we felt this way. Apparently someone in charge got concerned about how close the Sagittarius galaxy is to the Milky Way galaxy. In fact we are about as far from the center of the Milky Way as the Sagittarius galaxy. I just wanted to be friendly like I am to all galaxies. But I did not realize how much of a threat we really pose. Now I find out that Sagittarius had every reason to fear this monster galaxy so close. We now know that Milky Way galaxy has been eating pieces of our little friend. It probably has been going on for years. Thousands of stars have been ripped from our friend are coming to our part of the Milky Way galaxy. Milky Way is outright stealing this matter from its near neighbor to send our way. Why? Because it can. Because it is big and massive and has pull. Because it wants to throw its weight around. I feel just terrible. I mean at one point I was proud to say I was a citizen of the Milky Way galaxy. I mean in spite of the bucolic name, I felt I was a part of something bigger than myself. Well, it's big all right. Milky Way is really big. It is big enough to steal matter from other galaxies that it has no right to. It just is not big enough to know it is wrong, Wrong, WRONG!
Astronomers from the University of Virginia and the University of Massachusetts did the study. You can see the press release at http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=12630. "It's clear who's the bully in the interaction," said Steven Majewski, University of Virginia professor of astronomy and primary author of a paper revealing the discovery. (I am not at all surprised to see University of Massachusetts involved here as it is in many liberal causes.) "After slow, continuous gnawing by the Milky Way, Sagittarius has been whittled down to the point that it cannot hold itself together much longer. We are seeing Sagittarius at the very end of its life as an intact system," said Martin Weinberg of the University of Massachusetts." And who is doing it? Nobody in Sagittarius. It is us.
I want it clearly understood that I do not support the Milky Way's imperialist designs on the innocent Sagittarius galaxy. As a statement of conscience I say that I believe that as a people living within the Milky Way galaxy it is our responsibility to raise our voices against the imperialistic theft of the Sagittarius galaxy by the Milky Way. Not in my name will one little asteroid, one particle of cosmic dust belonging to any other galaxy be subsumed and consumed by the Milky Way. I pledge resistance. I pledge to make common cause with any alien races from the Sagittarius galaxy who choose to resist this callous and inexcusable theft of foreign real estate. A better universe is possible and I pledge myself to do what I can to reverse this heinous imperialist action. I look forward to a day when there is peace throughout the universe. And I think if enough sentient beings work for it, it is possible. And I ask that you join me. [-mrl]
UNDERWORLD (letter of comment by Guy Ferraiolo):
"It does not really matter a whole lot to the plot that they are vampires and werewolves. With a little rewriting they could easily be two rival street gangs, or Stalinists and Trotskyites." -- Mark Leeper from his recent review of UNDERWORLD
This is the greatest movie idea of all time. An action/violence movie done Matrix-style, set in the 30's, between Stalinists and Trotskyites. Imagine the scene when the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union breaks out in a full-on gun battle! Everything would be correct for the period: heavy machineguns on carriages with wheels, Mauser pistols, grey, dull uniforms and buildings, Socialist Realism posters on the walls, etc.
I really want to see the final showdown between Stalin and Trotsky. They shoot it out, Stalin with a Degtarov MG, Trotsky with a pair of Mausers and some German potato-masher grenades. It starts with them with masses of followers, each trying to control the other's with magic spells. The spells all sound something like this: "Comrades, to accomplish Socialist revolution we must take concrete steps against reactionaries ..." We'd have to shorten the spells, since the movie's dramatic thrust might be impaired if a realistic 5 hour spell were recited. I think cutting them down to 40 minutes or so, for each spell, would be about right. Eventually Trotsky is killed when Stalin materializes an ice-axe from nowhere and hurls it into Trotsky's skull. Trotsky goes into a slo-mo backflip with the weapon protruding from his head and an artistic trail of blood droplets spraying out.
Can you imagine the trailer?
I'm serious, this would be great. I can't wait til movie tech gets to the point where I can do it myself. [-gf]
ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Robert Rodriguez's second sequel to EL MARIACHI has a much bigger budget. As I said when I had seen just the trailer, while Hollywood is making expensive super-violence films with flat characters, nobody can match Rodriguez for his ability to make inexpensive super-violence films with flat characters. With a mid-range budget Rodriguez puts a lot of mindless violence on the screen. Moment to moment the films is unpredictable, but on the large scale the plot is old, predictable, and familiar. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
For those who care about such things, this is not a Rodriguez low-budget action film, but it is not a high-budget Hollywood action film either. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO cost a mid-range thirty million dollars. There are those who are fascinated with his films to see what he can do to stretch a peso. They will be disappointed with ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. He has big-budget extravagances on a mid-range budget. He has some scenes with lots of extras in the view of the camera. He has lots of explosions, though many look just a little too much like the explosions in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons are obviously not real. Frankly I don't care so much about how much money this film cost to make. Nobody seems to be offering to pass the savings on to me as a viewer, so the question is not one of budget but is what is on the screen worth the standard ticket price. The answer is a definite perhaps.
El Mariachi (or just "El") is back. Antonio Banderas plays the hero a second time. (Incidentally Carlos Gallardo, who was the first Mariachi, is one of the producers of this film.) CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) is down in Mexico to hire a killer for a job. He hears about the legendary El Mariachi, and that involves El in a very big game. The plot is a lot like ALIEN. It is not like the plot of ALIEN--it is like the creature in ALIEN. Every few scenes the plot has mutated and gotten bigger and has become more outlandish. Eventually it takes in the drug lords, the military, El Mariachi's past, the CIA, the FBI, and the entire government of Mexico. The cast sports some major talent. Salma Hayek returns as El's love Carolina, but only in flashbacks. Willem Dafoe is the ambitious drug lord Barillo. Mickey Rourke plays his henchman. Ruben Blades is an FBI agent. And what would a Mariachi film be without Cheech Marin playing a low-life? Veteran actor Pedro Armendáriz Jr. plays El Presidente. I will not go into the plot in any detail, but the wide range of characters suggests the scope.
Johnny Depp is good as Agent Sands. He is not turning in any bad performances this year. But he is involved with a running gag that does not really work. Sands does something to gain a tactical advantage in fights. And he does it many times. It probably would not succeed the first time, much less repeatedly. But this is a film in which you are supposed to just enjoy the cool scenes and not stop to think if they are possible or not. A lot of what we are seeing is ridiculous but fun. It is a film with more action scenes than plot and some of the scenes are actually quite imaginative. But the characters are flat and we just keep getting to the "big scene," one big scene after another. Some are action scenes, some are jokes. And many of the jokes are on the viewer.
There are several places where the film looks rushed or mistakes have been made to save budget. In the middle of a sequence in which Sands buys chewing gum from a street boy, the box of gum betrays the fact that the editor has flipped the scene rather than reshooting with the actors in the right positions. A little digital work might have helped. In another scene we see Depp's eyes though sunglasses that should have been opaque. I will not go into why that was important, but it was at that point of the plot. Apparently nobody proofread the credits so they left in a credit for "Assistant Cosutme Designer." Of course these flaws are small in relation to the tens of millions of dollars that Rodriguez saved in production costs, but they make the film seem unprofessional. I have to say that I did enjoy the bullfight scene, as those who know my personal philosophy would expect.
The title is, of course, an allusion to Sergio Leone's two films ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. But the title seems to imply that the story will be told in a mythic style. Curiously of the three Mariachi films, this one is the one that seems to be least done in a mythic style. If the events in this film actually happened they would not be a myth but Mexican history. This film is not very good as myth and is just passable as an action film. I rate it a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
OUT OF TIME (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
The power of a thriller is to grab the viewer and pull him through a series of dangers like a roller coaster ride. If the viewer starts to see a lot of implausibilities, the thriller may not recover. When thing start really happening OUT OF TIME compounds implausibilities on impossibilities. Almost everything that Whitlock seems impossible or contrived. The film never recovers its credibility. Police chief Whitlock (played by Denzel Washington) goes flying through a (safety) glass window without a scratch. He gets access to private information about a motel guest simply by calling the motel and claiming to be the guest and that he has forgotten his room number. He escapes from a police station by a restroom window. He photcopies a phone bill, scans it into a computer and in seconds deletes the lines interspersed throughout without it showing on the document. Each of these is at the very least unlikely and some are impossible. It destroys the credibility of the film.
Police chief Whitlock (Washington) is in the process of getting a divorce and is fooling around with a married woman, Ann (Sanaa Lathan). She is married to a man whom Whitlock detests. When Ann is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Whitlock wants to help her get a special treatment this leads him to be framed for an arson murder. He must find the real killer before an overwhelming noose of circumstantial evidence tightens around his neck.
Another problem with the scriptwriting is the number of sexual double entendres. It seems to represent the same level of immaturity that has invaded the James Bond films. This is true particularly in the prolog in which the Chief is called away to an emergency, a loose end that is never tied up. Graeme Revell has provided a score that is all or largely jazz. There definitely are tense moments, but the script really needed refining. [-mrl]
THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)
One of the first major international successes of the Canadian film industry was THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (1974), directed by Ted Kotcheff and based on the novel by Mordecai Richler, who also wrote the screenplay. (Kotcheff and Richler shared an apartment while Richler wrote the novel.) The film stars Richard Dreyfus with familiar character actors Jack Warden, Randy Quaid, Joseph Wiseman, Denholm Elliott, and Joe Silver. It is the story of the early 1950s rise to success of rapacious wheeler-dealer Duddy Kravitz.
Kravitz was raised in the Jewish community of Montreal, but between family favoritism for his elder brother and his father's admiration for local gangster Jerry Dingleman, Kravitz grew up with the wrong kind of role model. Working in his uncle's sweatshop, Kravitz develops an uncanny ability to plan clearly ant to manipulate people to get what he wants. He goes about his plots with a vigor and determinism that is unrestrained by any ethics. Richler makes us admire, envy, and hate Kravitz all at same time, no mean feat. Kravitz has a plan to purchase an entire lake and to develop the land around it. Dreyfus plays the character as the biggest shark swimming among other sharks. The ending is realistic without being totally satisfying.
Joseph Wiseman is memorable as Kravitz's uncle. His relationship with the new powerful force of his nephew is like the Emperor Tiberius's relationship with Caligula--he is a scoundrel who is shocked by the even more ruthless scoundrel in the next generation. The film presents a less than favorable portrait of one segment of the Jewish community. Realistically it is probably no more anti-Jewish than THE GODFATHER films are anti-Italian. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As I hinted last week, I was reading Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END. This was selected for our library's science fiction reading group and turned out to be almost exactly fifty years old when we discussed it. (It was published August 23, 1953; our discussion was September 25, 2003.) The first part had been published previously in a slightly different form, as "Guardian Angel" (which is how I best remember it). Interestingly, just about everyone agreed that they liked that part, but found the rest a bit of a letdown.
I want to comment particularly on the predictive aspects of it, and on the Overlords' advanced technology. Two predictions struck me as being well off the mark. In chapter 6, Clarke predicts that "the patterns of sexual mores [would] be virtually shattered by two inventions, which were, ironically enough, of purely human origin and owed nothing to the Overlords." These were "a completely reliable oral contraceptive" and "an equally infallible method of identifying the father of any child." Clarke describes the effect of these as "they had swept away the last remnants of the Puritan aberration." Clarke seemed to see the sole purposes of "Puritanism" as a method of preventing unwanted pregnancies and verifying paternity. But that view doesn't explain the opposition to homosexuality that is very much a part of this Puritanism, and indeed, though we have both these inventions now, Puritanism is still around, albeit somewhat diminished.
His other prediction that struck me was in chapter 15 someone complains that "*every day* something like five hundred hours of radio and TV pour out over the various channels." That's the equivalent of only twenty cable channels, which these days is considered even less than just basic cable. (And note that Clarke lists radio first.) As someone pointed out at the discussion, this may have been because Clarke didn't think about the technology that would make all our cable channels possible--like the synchronous communications satellite. :-)
The other point is about the Overlords' technology. Clarke seems to provide them with whatever they happen to need for his literary and philosophical purposes. They don't have faster-than-light travel, but they do have some viewer that lets one see any place and time in history. And Clarke claims that in the space of a few days the Overlords could show everyone "the true beginnings of all the world's great faiths." This supposedly would lead to the almost instantaneous abandonment of religion by mankind. As someone pointed out, this seems to imply proving a negative--one would, for example, have not just to show Paul (or whoever) laying down rules of Christianity, but also to *not* show the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But no matter what you show, people could claim that you just failed to show the scenes that happened that would support your belief. There are also a lot of other devices and inventions, many of which are fairly unbelievable. My theory is that Clarke might claim it was just an application of his Third Law ("any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") but that it's closer to the converse (of his Third Law ("any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology").
While I was standing in line at Toronto, I was reading SELECTED MODERN ENGLISH ESSAYS edited by Humphrey Milford for the Oxford University Press in 1925. This is not because I am necessarily especially enamored of modern English essays (which aren't so modern any more), but because the book is small and light enough to be easily carried around in a pocket, while having enough content to last a while. Not all the essays were good, or even readable, but two stood out. One was Gilbert Norwood's "Too Many Books" in which he writes, "Week in, week out, a roaring torrent of novels, essays, plays, poems, books of travel, devotion, and philosophy, flows through the land--all good, all 'provocative of thought' or else 'in the best tradition of British humour'; and that is the mischief of it. And they are so huge. Look at 'The Forsyte Saga,' confessedly in itself a small library of fiction; 'The Challenge of Sirius' is four short novels stitched together; consider 'The Golden Bough,' how it grows." If one replaces "The Forsyte Saga" with "The Wheel of Time", "The Challenge of Sirius" with "The Book of Ash", and "The Golden Bough" with "Discworld", nothing else need be done to make it as true today as then, or to note that it was as true then as today. Norwood's modest proposal includes prohibiting t he writing of all novels for ten years, and even after that time prohibiting "those treating the following topics: (a the Great War, (b) girls dressed in salad and living beside lagoons, (c) imaginary kingdoms with regents called Black Boris, (d) any type of 'lure.'" Other aspects of his proposal are equally amusing.
The other essay was J. C. Squire's "On Destroying Books" (available at http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Essays/Best/SquireDestroyBooks.htm [no carriage return in URL] or http://tinyurl.com/oy5e). Triggered by a report that a request for books to be sent to the troops during the Great War resulted in not only the usual novels and magazines, but also "magazines twenty years old, guides to the Lake District, Bradshaws, and back numbers of 'Whitaker's Almanack," Squire theorizes that these were because people didn't know how else to get rid of these old books, and describes his attempts to dispose of some "books of inferior minor verse." Certainly I can identify with the problem. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning. -- Aristotle Onassis
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