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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/28/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 31 (Whole Number 1267)
Table of Contents
Timing (comment by Mark R. Leeper):
It is a good thing that the Internet did not come along until after the Sexual Revolution. Imagine what would have happened if there had been an Internet a century earlier. What would Victorian society have made of all the spam about penis extenders?
Mark Leeper's Top Ten Films of 2004:
As an amateur film buff I see nowhere near as many of the major artistic films as I would like. And frequently when I do, my take is somewhat individualistic. For example, while many of the critics are very impressed with SIDEWAYS, I am just mildly positive on it. These were the ten films of 2004 that impressed me the most. (Okay, it is twelve films. After I made this list I realized that I had inadvertently left off two films that I had seen in 2003, but which had official release in 2004. I have at the end two films that were pushed off the list.)
Don Cheadle stars in a film that shows humanity at its best and at its worst. This is the moving dramatization of the true story of how one man saved the lives of 1200 people marked for genocide. It is a film of epic proportions that puts a human face on the disaster. One possible complaint is that it is a little too much like THE KILLING FIELDS. But that film, released twenty years ago, was the best film I saw in the 1980s. Saying HOTEL RWANDA is a lot like is at worst faint criticism. The film is a good introduction to the Rwanda Genocide for people who like me knew less than we should. It raises important questions at a time when many Americans want to see our country intervening less on the world stage. The film suggests the price that policy can cost. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
This is quite probably the best new science fiction film since MINORITY REPORT and well before. A medical device allows for the removal of painful memories by erasing them. The hitch is that the memories must be opened and partially relived as they are being erased. Charlie Kaufman's script is demanding, but it is delightfully engaging, intelligent, and even profound. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman formerly came to public attention with the creative BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. He followed it up with the nearly as good ADAPTATION. Now he is showing that he has not yet reached his peak. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is his best script by a surprising margin. The director is Michel Gondry, but for once it is the screenwriter who is getting the deserved attention. Hopefully this is a movie that will show the film industry that good writing can do more for a film than good special effects. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Much in the style of EL NORTE and with a story similar to a subplot of TRAFFIC, this is a story of a Colombian woman who because she is pregnant falls prey to drug smugglers who use her as a "mule." A mule is a drug transporter who swallows (many) sealed packets of drugs to get them though customs. The film is engaging, and though it is downbeat it is not relentlessly bleak. In her first film, Catalina Sandino Moreno gives a sensitive performance deserving of an Oscar. The low budget US-Colombian film if finely crafted and will be long remembered. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
In spite of the title, this film is not about Osama bin Laden, though parts of the film definitely reflect on him. Instead, it is a moving drama about the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The Taliban was a regime so paranoid that some immorality would take place between men and women that they made women virtual prisoners. This is the story of a young woman who simply was not allowed to survive in the society under the Taliban. She disguises herself as a boy and then finds herself dragged off to indoctrination. There is no happy ending coming. The young woman who called herself Osama has a sad and horrifying fate. Siddiq Barmak wrote and directed the film based on true stories. He shows us a society in which there is little but pain because the resources are put into fear and paranoia rather than making life better. It is a difficult vision to forget. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
This film dramatizes for the first time a little known incident from Germany during the Holocaust. In the cold of the winter of 1943 German Jews who had married Aryan women were arrested and put in a detention center, formerly a Jewish community center, preparatory to being transported east to concentration camps and death. Just outside on the street many brave wives gathered to wait for some sign of their husbands. Pleading for release and expecting no more than one last look at their husbands, they assembled in the street. Director and co-writer Margarethe von Trotta has acted in films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlondorff. Her ROSENSTRASSE is a powerful drama. However, its greatest power is in the flashback sequences. More time is spent on the present than is really warranted by the value given by that part of the film. Still it is a forgotten chapter of history that deserves to be seen. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
J. M. Barrie, the author of PETER PAN, was a man in love with childhood and with the child within himself. He breaks free from the stilted confines of Victorian England to frolic with the four children of a widow. Because he refuses to be ordinary in the way that was expected of him he is rejected by his wife and by society, but finds that his imagination is his escape. The role of Barrie is not a flamboyant role for Johnny Depp, but he is just about perfect as a man revolting against stilted society to break through to his childhood. The film is surprisingly affecting in its romanticism. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
One of the earliest pay cable stations was also one of the best. This is story of that station and of Jerry Harvey who made station a film fan's dream while running his own life into the ground. Harvey would get films from all over the world, films that most ardent cinema fans had been dying to see. This documentary shows a rich selection of the films that played on Z Channel in Los Angeles in the late-1970s. It all came to an end very suddenly and very tragically. This is a documentary that does a lot in a lot of different areas. It is well worth looking for. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Alfred Kinsey was a liberator according to some and a great corrupter to others. He certainly changed American sexual mores and KINSEY is the story of what he did and how he did it. Bill Condon, who directed the effective GODS AND MONSTERS takes a sympathetic look at the life of the father of modern sexual freedom. This is the surprisingly engaging story of how an expert on wasps changed the world. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In Restoration England (and since before the time of Shakespeare) women were not legally allowed to be actors on the stage. Clare Danes plays Maria, a young stage hand who desperately wants to act. Billy Crudup plays the most renowned actor in women's roles in England. Then Charles II overturns the prohibition and the two actors vie to be the better actor of women's roles. The film is to a great extent about acting style, and about rage. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
As a biopic RAY follows a time-honored formula. Jamie Foxx is magnetic as Ray Charles but does not show us enough inner conflict. The film is at its best showing the roots of the character. But the music is fine and is what will please audiences. It is hard to go wrong with a film that shows Southern discrimination, sex, and drugs, and glues it together with the soulful music of Ray Charles. This is not the most ambitious film around, but it is entertaining. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
And the two more films:
This is a documentary about a mountain climbing expedition that went very wrong and of the horrifying one man went though to save his life. This true story combines most of the greatest horrors of mountain-climbing in one film. There is the horror of dangling helplessly over high drops, holding a friend's full weight with a rope slipping through your hands, and horribly broken bones. Before seeing the film I thought that mountain- climbing was a foolish risk and that I would have no empathy for the climbers. I surprised myself by finding the suspense breathless and I now think climbing is an insane risk. But this is the best suspense film of the year (with more than one meaning for suspense). Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
China tries to make its own CROUCHING TIGER with a story of an enigmatic stranger who has killed a triad of assassins for the benefit of China's first Emperor. The stranger tells the emperor multiple versions of how he killed the emperor's enemies. Visually HERO is stunning. The telling is operatic in style but becomes muddled. Some of the story may seem obscure to American audiences, but in this film the visual style is much more important than the actual plot. This is a case where it might have been better to dub carefully than to subtitle. I had to let several subtitles go unread to appreciate the images above them on the screen. This film is not the entertainment that THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN was, but it certainly is a film that can be appreciated by wide audiences. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Response on THE SWEET AND SOUR TONGUE (by Leslie What):
[In Evelyn's review of Leslie What's THE SWEET AND SOUR TONGUE in the 12/17/04 issue, Evelyn said, "My only objection is that the charming cover art is uncredited."]
Leslie What replies:
I can only tell you that I bought this stunning lithograph at a yard sale at the home of someone who had no interest in keeping family mementos. It was a lithograph from the turn of the century (last one) and was designed to be a record kept by the family to record deaths. There were names filled in the blanks that we blocked out and inserted the title. There is no artist signature.
THE SWEET AND SOUR TONGUE was one of Wildside's first books and a few things didn't make it into the book. [-lw]
Response on MALE FANTASY:
In Mark's review of MALE FANTASY in the 01/21/05 issue, he wrote that in the course of the film the main character tries several strategies to get women with varying success rates. Looking forlorn and asking strangers on the street, for example, gets him rejected every time. One member writes, "I was told that people in my fraternity had tried this and has about a 20% success rate."
Mark responded, "NOW YOU TELL ME????? Is that 20% of outings or 20% of women?"
The response was,"20% of requests. Of course, this was in [a big city], the people asking were college students, it was the late '60s - early '70s, there must have been some selection in who was asked, etc. Still, a surprising result, eh? [And if] you had mentioned the idea earlier, I'd have told you earlier."
Mark laments, "I guess by the time I knew you it was too late for me. :-) Still, perhaps you could be more proactive. When you have useful information you should volunteer it. :-)"
BREAKING NEWS (DAI SI GEIN) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This surprisingly inventive action film from Hong Kong looks at how modern media and electronic communications changes everything in the old game of cops and robbers. Some enjoyable comedy is a bonus. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
BREAKING NEWS is a fast-paced Hong Kong action film with a little humor. It is a police procedural set in the new electronic world of cell phones and the Internet.
An arrest goes very wrong, leading to an epic gun battle in the streets of Hong Kong between five robbers and police. (This is a single take, apparently seven minutes long with a near constant staccato of gunfire.) This would have looked bad enough for the police if a summary had been on the 11 PM news, but that is not the world we live in any more. As it is happening the news media cover the gun battle and broadcast it to tens of thousands of televisions. This does not show the police in a favorable light. Now hard-nosed police commissioner Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen) takes charge of the investigation and at the same time manages the media image of the police are getting. The criminals also catch on and find ways to use the Internet and the media against the police. The media attention from that point on affects everything the criminals do and everything the police do. Electronic communications and scrutiny invades and changes every aspect of the game of cops and robbers.
The police track the gangsters to a single apartment building where four of them take hold a father and two children hostage. Here director Johnnie To allows some time to develop the relationship of a father and two children with the gangsters who hold them. To gives the film a few of the long and drawn out fireworks display gun battles we are used to from Hong Kong gangster films. The story holding them together is not the John Woo sort of melodrama but an interesting account of people adapting to technology. It has more intelligence than most films of its genre.
This is a film packed with action at a super pace but at the same time it is sharp and smart. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
WRITER OF O (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This documentary is about the history and mystery of the sadomasochistic novel THE STORY OF O. The information is now stale news and the style of the documentary seems intentionally dry. It is hard to imagine a film this bland about a sexual bondage classic like THE STORY OF O. Even the dramatization of scenes from the novel fail to engage the viewer. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Pola Rapaport, who wrote and directed WRITER OF O, was fascinated by the book THE STORY OF O as a young girl. Like many other people she found the book to be a hypnotic and erotic guilty pleasure. As an adult she knew of the mystery of who was the writer of this book who hid behind the penname Pauline Reage. In later years the author was revealed to be Dominique Aury, a small and quiet woman who did not want to reveal her identity until her parents had died. Aury had a secret love affair with publisher Jean Paulhan and had written the novel to cater to his sexual tastes. Paulhan recognized the novel as one of highly seductive sexuality and one that should not be kept to himself so published it under a penname. The novel became an international publishing sensation.
There was speculation as to who could have written this book and frequently assumed to have been penned by a male author. Finally, at the age of 89, Aury allowed her identity as the author be revealed.
This documentary looks at the publishing history of the book and of the mystery of who the author was. There are interviews with Aury, who proved to be still very eloquent in spite of her advanced years. The documentary also features dramatizations of scenes from the novel.
The style of the documentary is curiously dry considering the subject matter, but the publishing history is interesting if the information is new. I rate WRITER OF O a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This month's book for our library discussion group was Oscar Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (ISBN 0-486-27807-7). (I'll add that this is the general group, not the science fiction one, since it could be either.) One observation I (and others) had was this seemed to be over-stuffed with aphorisms and epigraphs (even to the extent of duplicating some from other Wilde works).
Someone also asked how Alan Campbell got rid of Hallward's body. The "smell of nitric acid" gave the answer, which led us to a discussion of disposing of bodies. One of the earliest stories along these lines was Melville D, Post's "The Corpus Delecti", written in 1896. In that, the murderer uses sulphuric acid to destroy the evidence of his crime, and the judge is compelled to acquit him because at the time, the law required either a body or an eye-witness. This is the most famous of Post's "Randolph Mason" stories--Mason is an unscrupulous lawyer who uses such technicalities to get his guilty clients acquitted. According to the jacket copy on the 1973 Oswald Train edition of the collection THE STRANGE SCHEMES OF RANDOLPH MASON, it made such an impression that the laws in many states were changed to prevent just such a miscarriage of justice. (The Train edition has no ISBN; a later one has ISBN 0-899-68200-6.)
Tony Albarella is editing a series of books of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" scripts. The first is titled AS TIMELESS AS INFINITY: THE COMPLETE TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS OF ROD SERLING, VOLUME ONE (Gauntlet Press, ISBN 1-887368-71-X); the next volume is due this February. At $66, this is even more expensive than the Christopher Lee bibliography I reviewed last week. The commentaries here adds some to each episode, but not appreciably more than Marc Scott Zicree's TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION of several years ago (still in print, ISBN 0-553-01416-1). So the main reason for buying this would be for the scripts themselves. Included are the scripts for "The Time Element", "Where Is Everybody?", "Third from the Sun", "The Purple Testament", "The Big, Tall Wish", "Eye of the Beholder", "A Most Unusual Camera" (two versions), "The Mind and the Matter", and "The Dummy". By my count, Serling wrote 78 scripts, so we're talking about at least eight volumes. What I don't understand is why Albarella is not doing the stories sequentially--the first volume selects from the first two seasons, but seemingly at random. This is the same objection that people had to the initial release of the shows on DVD--they were assembled in sets at random, rather than "Season 1", "Season 2", and so on. (They have since been re-issued by season.) [-ecl]
[When a series varied significantly in quality from one season to another, and "The Twilight Zone" really did, frequently collections will stagger the choices across seasons so that the first book/DVD/whatever does not have all winners and later releases have a lot of losers. At least in my opinion the first season of "The Twilight Zone" was uniformly excellent. The last season was mostly quite bad. The other seasons were spotty. The version most people saw of "A Most Unusual Camera" would not sell a lot of books. But this book does have some very fine episodes like the heartrending "The Big, Tall Wish." I have fond memories of "The Time Element," which was not an episode of "The Twilight Zone" but of the "Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse" in November 1958. Its popularity convinced CBS that there should be a "Twilight Zone" series. -mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo. --H.G. Wells
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