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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/31/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 18
Table of Contents
Toronto International Film Festival Reports:
Mark's Toronto International Film Festival report is available at http://www.geocities.com/markleeper/tiff.html
Evelyn's Toronto International Film Festival report is available at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/tiff2003.htm
The Ghost at Leeperhouse (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is going to be a strange story coming from me, but it is a true story and it seems particularly good to tell on Halloween. As you might guess I do not believe in ghosts. But I would be willing to be convinced by evidence. And there was a time when we were getting some strange behavior in our house.
We were recently watching the grand old ghost story film THE UNINVITED. We were giving it a watch before we lent it to a friend, and I was dragged into it again. This is the one that was made in 1944 and has Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey buying an old house in Cornwall. They find that there is a voice crying at night. They realize, quite against their skeptical natures, that they house has a ghost. It is one of the best ghost stories on film that I know of, probably because it functions both as a mystery and as a ghost story. It is not there to make the viewer jump, but instead to tell a mystery story with cold ghostly chills.
But what it reminds me of is that much the same thing happened to me. As I say, I don't believe in ghosts, I never did, but we did have some ghostly phenomena associated with our house. We bought the house from someone else and they, of course, never mentioned that anything strange had ever happened there. But the odd thing was that two of the doorframes had stains of bloody fingerprints. The doorframes on the back door to the patio and one on the doorframe leading from the garage to the laundry room had red stains with fingerprints. I am sure the substance was blood. It was that brownish red. I had concluded that the man we bought the house from was particularly unhandy in the yard and in the garage. It was just a detail they had forgotten when they cleaned up the house. But it was fun to leave there to point out to friends to claim that there had been some dirty doings afoot in the house.
Then things took a turn for the more bizarre. It started one winter night. Evelyn and I were reading to tire our eyes before we went to sleep. Then I noticed a flowery fragrance wafting by. Was it my imagination? I thought I smelled perfume in the air. Now Evelyn uses no perfume. Neither of us likes it. But I certainly know the smell and I smelled perfume. It was a sickly sweet smell. And got stronger. It smelled like one of the mail ladies at work, who do like perfume just a little too much, had walked into our bedroom.
"Are you wearing perfume," I asked Evelyn.
"Do you smell it too?"
"Yes, I assumed it was something you were wearing."
"I don't wear perfume."
"I know that. Did you just put on deodorant?"
"No, did you?"
Well, we established that neither of us thought we had contributed the smell. But clearly someone had. We each suspect the other, but we went to bed a little uneasy. Even then I was already thinking about the eerie parallels to THE UNINVITED. Was it the smell of mimosa? But the fragrance of perfume did not return. There was only the one incident--for about two months. And just when we decided it had been our imagination it happened yet again. The fragrance of perfume was noticeable on the air. Again we established that neither of us knew what was causing it. Again and again the incident would reoccur. It was not frequent. There may have been something like fifteen incidents over maybe two years. (What do you call an incident? It isn't a "sighting." It is an unexplained smelling.) This combined with the fingerprints on the doors and left us with an eerie feeling every time. It just didn't make any sense. I never lost the belief that there was a logical explanation, but I never could figure out what it was. It is an inexpressible feeling to sit in bed on a cold winter night and wonder if a phantom sweet smell was going to make its presence known. I don't think we even investigated since I was not sure what to look for.
Then it was Evelyn who found the answer. But she had an advantage. The answer came from the bathroom off the master bedroom, which Evelyn uses and I generally do not use. At that time when we had overnight visits we would let the visitor have the master bedroom, since it is the most comfortable bed. One guest had used Evelyn's bathroom and accidentally left behind a piece of perfumed soap. It was small enough that Evelyn never noticed it. But the two women who were guests do not share Evelyn's and my distaste for perfume. The piece of soap went unnoticed for all these months, except when random air currents wafted its fragrance into the bedroom. That was a chance occurrence, hence the sporadic nature of the incidents. And as for the bloody fingerprints, gee, I don't know. I wonder if there was something funny that happened at Leeperhouse. [-mrl]
BRIGHT FUTURE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4)
For quite a while I have been claiming that the two best horror film directors currently working are Guillermo del Toro and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. While other horror film directors seem to feed off of older ideas and styles, these two are inventive. And of the two Kurosawa is probably the more inventive. Truly his films are weird enough that they frequently leave the viewer behind. I have seen his SEANCE, CURE, and PULSE, and would definitely recommend CURE and PULSE. His new film is certainly a weird story, though not strictly speaking in the horror genre.
With A BRIGHT FUTURE Kurosawa says that he is making a non-horror film. However if this is not a horror film it is something very much akin. It certainly is bizarre.
Yuji and Mamoru are two workers in a laundry who are friends. As a hobby Mamoru has a project to take poisonous jellyfish and adapt them so that they can live in fresh water. Their supervisor at the laundry picks these two out to be friends in spite of their disinterest in them. He starts insinuating himself on them more and more. He visits Mamoru's apartment and watches sports on Mamoru's television. When he sees the jellyfish he wants to poke fingers into its water. Yuji is ready to warn him that the jellyfish is very dangerous, but Mamoru gestures to Yuji not to interfere. But nothing happens. The boss discovers that the boys almost let him be killed and realizes they hate him. He fires them both. Yuji is so angered that he goes to the boss's hose to kill him, but when he gets there he discovers that Mamoru has been there already and has murdered the boss.
Mamoru is convicted of the murder and sentenced to be executed. In prison Yuji and Mamoru's long-lost father visit Mamoru. Yuji determines to finish Mamoru's project to adapt the jellyfish to fresh water. Mamoru commits suicide in prison, but Yuji is still dominated by Mamoru's vision. The dead man's spirit still seems to dominate Yuji and Mamoru's father.
In spite of Kurosawa's claims and the title, this is a very bleak film. The jellyfish is filmed hypnotically and the film carries us to the conclusion that seems inevitable. This film may not have the appeal of Kurosawa's CURE or PULSE, but it nonetheless is like no other film I have ever seen. Kurosawa's greatest gift is his originality and uniqueness. [-mrl]
HAUTE TENSION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: -1 (-4 to +4)
This is a French slasher film directed and co-written by Alexandre Aja. In spite of a slight continental feel and a little lesbian relationship, this film is solid cliche from the early days of slasher films. It is one cliché after another, and then at the end the writer plasters on an ending that is logically inconsistent with the rest of the film.
HAUTE TENSION opens in a very standard way. Two young women visit a farmhouse where one's parents and brother work. The audience has seen that a killer is operating in the same area, driving an old truck. On our first view of the killer he tosses a woman's head out the truck window and it falls in a cornfield. This is just to announce the killer's proximity to the characters. We have a few scenes intended to make the audience jump, but which do not seem to advance the plot. Then the action starts.
There is a knock at the door. The owner of the house opens the door and is sliced and diced. The killer continues his way through the house like a rolling Vegematic killing everyone he finds. These sequences are very violent but not much new. There are three people in the house than the two young women, but somehow you know the others will be dispatched quickly so the killer can concentrate on terrorizing the two main characters.
Eventually there are some twists in the plot, but just enough to make what we have seen inconsistent. The ending raises a lot of questions that cannot really be answered by the story. This is not a film for fans of the subtle or the original. [-mrl]
SHATTERED GLASS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: +3 (-4 to +4)
(Spoiler Warning: I saw this film knowing only the title. It was a much better film for that. For those who insist on knowing what a film is about before paying admission, I recommend you read as little as possible in advance.)
The timing of the film SHATTERED GLASS could not be much better. After the recent journalism integrity scandal at the New York Times when two top editors resigned, it would be hard to find a more timely feature dramatic film about a current issue. This is the story of Stephen Glass, the young influential hotshot feature writer for the New Republic, who was the center of a firestorm when it was discovered that he had taken certain dishonest shortcuts on a story he had written.
The film follows the scandal step by step and describes The New Republic's fact-checking process and a good deal more of the nuts and bolts of the journalism business. (Actually fact checking really is a good deal more rigorous than portrayed in the film a reliable source informs me. Actually it was this dude who was behind me in line for the next film. He actually knows someone who does fact checking and I am sure he wasn't lying.) The writing is crisp and intelligent. The story is compelling.
Stephen Glass is played by Hayden Christiansen who is best known for playing Anakin Skywalker in the "Star Wars" series. Here he plays a successful and highly influential man seduced and doomed by his own promise. He is committed to producing more brilliant material that he can actually provide. Rather than admit the shortfall and disappoint others and himself, he chooses instead to mislead. He fills gaps with invented facts. Yet he was cool under pressure and was well-liked by all his colleagues. The same cannot be said for Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), the new editor at New Republic, who is not popular with the writers and who must guide his magazine through this crisis. We see what has happened to Glass as a flashback from a visit to his high school English class to be honored by his teacher.
Journalistic integrity is a concept that is a little abstract and the story involves no guns, chases, or explosions. Billy Ray has written and directed a surprisingly exciting film very different from just about anything else out there. He gives us a very nuts- and-bolts explanation of what is not really a nuts-and-bolts sort of business, the writing of opinion. It also looks at the question of how do we know what we know is true. The question of just when this is happening actually hangs over the entire film. This is a surprisingly intriguing film. [-mrl]
SHARA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)
This is a film that plays by its own rules. In spite of initial appearances there is no plot. Instead it is a series of long vignettes of local life in a suburb of Nara, Japan.
Two brothers Shun and Kei are running through the streets of their town. In the process Kei disappears. We are told that years later that Shun is found but the matter is not pursued in the film. We see other long scenes of the family. In one Shun and his father take part in the planning of a dancing ceremony that is part of a local ritual. Later in a long sequence we actually see the ceremony. The film shows it for a repetitive ten minutes or more. Another sequence shows a woman giving birth.
This is an award-winning film but at the performance I saw, many walked out on it. At 99 minutes SHARA is not a long film, but it does not offer very much to the casual viewer. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I'm in two book groups at our public library, the "original" group (which does all sorts of books), and the science fiction group. So almost every month I have a couple of books chosen for me by other people.
But this month I think I chose both of them. I know I chose Nikolai Gogol's DEAD SOULS, because who else would have suggested it? And why had I read it? Because Robert Silverberg recommended it in a column in ASIMOV'S a few months ago. (Some of this I discussed in an earlier column that ran on 01/24/03.) Given that, you're probably thinking that it must have something to do with horror (since you know that while Gogol didn't write science fiction, he did write horror stories). But you'd be wrong. The title refers to serfs who were dead. In particular, a landowner in 19th century Russia was responsible for taxes on all the serfs he owned as of the last census until the next census, even if they died in the interim. Into town rides Chichikov, who offers to buy these "dead souls" from landowners at very reasonable prices. I won't tell you why, but the reason is not the main point of the novel. Rather, it is what some call a "picaresque" novel, full of episodes and characters to entertain you without necessarily having a strong plot, similar to some of Charles Dickens's works. Most people found it surprisingly amusing, except for one woman who said she sat down all set for a heavy Russian novel and never got out of that mindset. (When I was reading some of what I thought were the funnier descriptions, she asked if I could come over to her house and read the book to her!)
And I think I may have chosen Robert J. Sawyer's CALCULATING GOD, based on the group's request to do something recent, not too long, and that the library network had enough copies of. We all thought the book had a lot of ideas--maybe even more than a single book should hold. There was first contact with aliens who have proof that God exists, and immortality, and gun-wielding religious fanatics, and .... Actually, in my opinion, Sawyer should have left out the gun-wielding religious fanatics. I got the impression that he put them in because he felt the book needed some action instead of all the people and aliens just talking, but I didn't feel that way. I also thought that the details seemed somewhat artificially constructed so that the story could progress exactly as Sawyer wanted. For example, the aliens have enough technology so that Sawyer can justify why the government has to let the main character be the only contact with them, but not enough to solve his main problem. I liked all the philosophical discussions among the characters; I just wish there had been more of that. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Certainly it is a world of scarcity. But the scarcity is not confined to iron ore and arable land. The most constricting scarcities are those of character and personality. -- William R. Allen
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