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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/17/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 16
Table of Contents
Calories (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The nice thing about calories in food is that they are dependable. If you store food to long you can destroy the vitamins. You can kill the nutrition. You can kill crispiness and the appeal. The green leafies can wilt. It can sog up. But the calories will not go away. Those stick around forever and never lose their potency. [-mrl]
The Best Radio Drama Web Sites (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I gave a list of web PC-based radio stations that play all or almost all old time radio. That is pretty much "catch as catch can." If they are playing something good when you are listening, you get it. You rarely know in advance what they will play and you cannot go back and play something a second time, much as if it were broadcast on the radio. The next category of sites is the ones that put out a radio drama to be downloaded and it will stay in place for a week. You can download at any time in that week.
WEEKLY SOURCES FOR RADIO DRAMA DOWNLOADS
1. BBC Saturday Play: 60-minute weekly plays. The BBC Saturday play tends to be light entertainment. It typically may be a comedy, a crime story, or a thriller. There are a few romance stories (which I tend to skip). BBC radio plays generally have high production values.
2. BBC Friday Play: 60-minute weekly plays. I find that these are much like the Saturday plays, but they tend to be on more serious subjects.
3. BBC Afternoon Plays (45-minute plays, five a week). This is more a mixed bag. There are love stories, comedies (some quite funny), fantasies, detective stories, you name it.
4. The Listening Booth: Two weekly classic SF/horror/fantasy radio programs. Generally nothing but good stuff.
5. Transmedia: Imagination Theater is a weekly radio program of newly produced original drama. Each is a program of about 50-minutes with two stories. They have series characters. They do stories with detectives like Sherlock Holmes and their own Harry Niles. They also have stories with an occult detective. Then a lot of their stories are not in series. This is the most accurate pastiche of Old Time Radio currently available. If you have heard all the old shows, this station will have some material you have not heard before. I get the impression that the same people syndicate to local radio stations, but the material is also available at their web site.
6. The Halls of Ivy: This is a weekly program about a college president. It stars the distinguished Ronald Colman and usually stresses intellectual values.
7. The Shadow: This was the most popular superhero of old time radio and he still is popular today. He makes himself invisible using occult secrets that he learned in the Orient. "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows." The self-satisfied attitude is a minus, but the stories are decent. The ads for Blue Coal are unintentionally hilarious. "Order a sample ton today!"
8. The Goon Show: The BBC's classic comedy series with Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, and Peter Sellers. One is funnier than the next. If you don't know what Goon Shows are, find out. This is one of the funniest radio series of all time and is definitely a precursor to Monty Python.
9. "When Radio Was" Past Shows: Radio Spirits seems to have cut back from several of their radio weekly programs. These days they have just Stan Freeberg's program in which he plays one or more old time radio programs. They put a new one up each weekday and they stay up seven days.
10. RTA Radio One Drama: This is from the Irish equivalent of the BBC. They do a play each Sunday, generally one that they are replaying from some other country's nation radio station. The plays are usually on a serious (frequently downbeat) theme.
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A cagey divorce lawyer and a cagier divorcee match wits in a battle over who gets the proceeds of multiple divorces. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is very much a mainstream film with a prosaic style and plot. That is uncharacteristic of the inventive Coen Brothers. Adequate for a fun night but disappointing as a Coen Brothers film. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
Think of a Coen Brothers film and you usually think of flashy camera moves. Frequently it will have a weird point of view that can be accented with bizarre humor. Almost always the Brothers write their own stories from scratch. All but HUDSUCKER PROXY have been crime films. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is a crime film, but really just nominally. Even watching this film one never gets the flavor of a Coen Brothers film. It is more like a screwball comedy than it is like a MILLER'S CROSSING.
George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a motor-mouthed divorce lawyer of national renown. He is a master of the prenuptial agreement that protects the financial assets of a marrying client from the spouse when it comes time to dissolve the marriage. (Usually that is from six months to six years.) Massey designed the classic cast-iron pre-nuptial agreement that protects each partner's prenuptial assets and which cannot be broken. Some schools spend an entire semester studying it. Divorce is really a game. A beautiful woman marries a rich man, stays with him a short time, and then they let the lawyers fight it out to decide how much of the man's assets the woman can take. A group of such women are repeatedly shown luxuriating in a pool at a country club as they discuss the game. One of these rich divorcees is Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Massey defended client Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) against her and finds he is attracted to her himself. When Massey meets her Marylin is sucking dry her former husband and is ready to leave the husk and move on. Massey is smitten with Marylin and figures he is the one man with legal dexterity to best her at her own divorce game. Massey is like a praying mantis male, trying to mate and still not be eaten.
The Coen Brother use Welsh actress Zeta-Jones to seduce the audience the way Hitchcock used Grace Kelly. She does not show much range but she is undeniably desirable. George Clooney has resurrected much the same overripe oiliness of his character in O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU and transplanted it to the opposite end of the social spectrum. He is supposed to be an unflappable cast-iron divorce lawyer, but in the presence of Marylin he loses his control and just stares enraptured at her, saying things like "You fascinate me." His slightly gawky exaggerated performance is the one thing that stands in the way of there being screen chemistry between him and the elegant Zeta-Jones. Of course, part of the premise is that the rich are all a little wacky.
Familiar faces punctuate the rest of the cast. Billy Bob Thornton plays a Texas oil millionaire with some very strange tastes in marriage ceremonies. Geoffrey Rush is a television producer who ends up a victim in the divorce game. Cedric the Entertainer who played Eddie the Barber in BARBERSHOP is along as the guy who loves his job of getting videotape evidence of infidelities.
If this does not seem like the usual Coen Brothers fare, it is not really their story. Joel and Ethan Coen were invited in to rewrite the script for one of its many revisions and considerably later they were asked to direct. The result is a script that is not a Coen Brothers sort of story, but one that has some Coen Brothers touches. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is not a bad film, but it certainly isn't the uncommon material one usually expects from the Coens. I would rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Minor spoiler---It is absurd to assume that either partner can terminate a contract at any time just by destroying the original. Who would sign an agreement so easy for one side to unilaterally cancel? [-mrl]
THE SINGING DETECTIVE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)
The British TV playwright Dennis Potter first came to the attention of United States audiences with the broadcast on Public Television of his seven-hour play "The Singing Detective." Director Keith Gordon says that a project near the end of Potter's life was to adapt the play to the screen in such a way that American audiences could appreciate it. Keith Gordon claims that this film version is very near to Potter's vision.
The story, if that is what it can be called, is very hard to describe. Much of what we see is going on in novelist Dan Dark's mind. The thoroughly unpleasant Dark has been admitted to a hospital with a painful skin disease. It is difficult to decide which is uglier, Dark's disease or his personality. Dark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) cynically attacks anyone around him within range. Meanwhile his mind keeps flitting to scenes from his novel or to dancing production numbers lip-synched to the tune of 1950's rock-and-roll or to scenes of his wife being unfaithful to him while he is out of the way. He casts his fantasies with people from his unpleasant childhood. His wife's lover and his detective's partner are all cast in his mind as the man he saw his mother having sex with (Jeremy Northam). A femme fatale in his novel is his wife (Robin Wright Penn). His detective is himself, minus the scaly scabby skin and given the mannerisms of Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. The psychiatrist trying to cure Dark is played by Mel Gibson, well-disguised in makeup.
Part of the problem is that Dark is so ugly in both look and action that we really do not care what happens to him. Rather than wanting to see him cured we just want the film to end. Watching the original play required patience, but it had the excellent Michael Gambon in the lead rather than Robert Downey, Jr. [-mrl]
THE YES MEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
This is a documentary about a team of political practical jokers and some hoaxes they have perpetrated in the name of satire. The Yes Men claims to be an association of some three hundred imposters worldwide but the film concentrates on only two who must be the stars. They run the web site www.gatt.org, which satirizes the World Trade Organization's web site. That seems not too uncommon a joke, frequently you see someone who has managed to get a domain name that sounds like it should be someone else's site. They then put up something satirical in the web site. But in this case the joke was carried further. People who did not realize the site was a joke started inviting the page's authors to conferences to represent the WTO's policies, and the Yes Men started sending their own counterfeits. News programs would have Yes Men to defend the WTO's stance and policies, not realizing they were imposters. The primary hoaxer (Andy Bichlbaum, according to a Google search) uses the false name Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer.
The film tells the history of this small group, from their first satire web site, gwbush.com (still active). Their www.gatt.org, somewhat more subtle than the www.gwbush.com site, does fool people and they authors. The style of the documentary is less than polished. At one point we watch Bichlbauer having breakfast for no apparent reason than to stretch the running time. We do however get to see some of Bichlbauer's fraudulent presentations and they are quite funny. They include presenting to textile manufacturers a strange and obscene-looking cyber-suit for monitoring employees. Another presentation suggests the recycling of food to get more nutritional value.
It is not clear what the market will be for this documentary. It is too slight to get a theatrical release by itself. The style is frequently dull, but it is also quite entertaining and comical. [-mrl]
THE BREAD MAKER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: -1 (-4 to +4)
This is a Canadian film on videotape about the on-again, off-again romance between a romance writer and a TV weather man, Edmund Gooby. Honey writes romances and works in a bakery. The romance she is currently writing is about an 18th century baker. She keeps dropping into the fantasy world of her story giving a second meaning to the film title. Honey has a problem with alcohol about which she is in denial. A third meaning comes from her buying a bread-making appliance, sharing the cost with Edmund and there is a custody question when they split up. Good aspects of the film include scenes showing how the machinery works in a big high-production bakery. And there is a dog in the film. I did find myself chuckling at two or three of the jokes. The scenes in which Honey escapes into the fantasy of her book should work and a similar gimmick did work in ROMANCING THE STONE, but it was more intricately and cleverly handled there. This amateur effort is really amateur. The fact this film is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival indicates just how hard Canadians are trying to promote their own films. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I've been catching up on my alternate history reading with a couple of books.
Jai Sen's THE GOLDEN VINE is a graphic novel that assumes that Alexander the Great didn't die in trying to conquer India, but spent some time consolidating and securing his empire before heading that way. This isn't a premise that has been over-used, but there isn't enough development here for my tastes. Many people have remarked on how beautiful the gold ink is that was used, but I found it more of a distraction--between that and the shiny black, I had to keep shifting the book to avoid glare.
Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen's GETTYSBURG, on the other hand, has a lot of detail. Alas, it's all military maneuvers rather than interesting political or social developments. This is the first book of a projected trilogy, so maybe this will come, but I'm not holding my breath. (For that matter, "1945" was the first of a projected series, but it did so poorly that the series was canceled.) Other quibbles include: Lee's horse was "Traveller", not "Traveler". Chamberlain was called "Lawrence", not "Joshua". And *why* do the authors refer to characters sometimes by their first names and sometimes by their last (and in the case of Chamberlain, both those *and* by his middle name as well!), often on the same page? And I'm not talking about in dialogue. Henry Hunt should be either "Henry" or "Hunt", preferably the latter, but not both alternating. (Lee and Lincoln seem to be among the few characters who escape this fate.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy. -- Franz Kafka
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