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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/02/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 10, Whole Number 1298
Table of Contents
Your Horoscope (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
(Due to economy concerns we cannot provide complete horoscopes. Your cooperation is appreciated.)
Capricorn: Follow your curiosity wherever it leads you. The rewards will be surprising.
Everyone else: Don't play with matches. [-mrl]
How My Back Yard Became the Entertainment Center of the Neighborhood (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Don't expect a strong incisive editorial this week. It is summer and I am just putting down some lazy thoughts as I watch the squirrels on my back patio eating sunflower seeds.
Well, the word has gotten around the neighborhood: I am what is known as a "soft touch." All the wild animals seem to know that I tend to give handouts. Every three days or so I throw out some sunflower seeds on our back patio. You get them in big sacks in grocery stores. Most people buy them for bird feeders. They need the feeders to protect the seeds from squirrels, but you and I know they are doomed to failure. But those squirrels are smart as little Ph.D.s and are acrobats to boot. It is almost impossible to keep squirrels out of bird feeders. They will crack your security system and chatter at you as they are eating the seeds that you intended for birds. I think they do this to criticize you for having so little loyalty to your fellow mammals. I don't want my squirrels to put on airs or feel superior, so they can eat right off the patio as far as I'm concerned. No feeders for them. If they don't like it they can go eat in someone else's yard.
Anyway, I like to vary the bill of fare a bit. I supplement the seeds with the occasional slice of stale bread. The pistachio nuts that Evelyn found difficult to get open I let the squirrels have. I don't keep the close track I should, but I don't think it is the squirrels who eat the rotten apples I put out. I know someone is eating them, because when I am not looking the apples go away. Core and all, the apples just disappear.
I even tried the assembled multitude on some old brown rice. I didn't see who ate it, but it disappeared. When I left the backyard menagerie the fine honeydew slice, aged to perfection, whatever ate it left us the thin rind to throw away. I had to clean up, because I think the neighbors think I should not leave fruit remains around. But they ate as much as anyone could.
All this went well for months. But now I think someone is leaving the animal equivalent of hobo signs on our lawn so strange animals will know I leave free meals. Anyway I put out seeds and we get sometimes as many as six squirrels free-loading. I am sure we don't have that many in residence. They probe for the seed with their noses and then they pick it up and hold it between their hands. (You may call them forepaws.) They cannot actually see the seed they are about to eat. Like some birds their field of vision does not let them see near things straight ahead. Their muzzle and snout get in the way. Their heads see better to the left and the right for close-up items.
Of course eating is exhausting and I seem them resting from the hard work. If they want to relax they lie prone, legs to the back, arms to the front. When they pick up seeds they support themselves on their elbows. They look like kids watching television. Sometimes they chase each other around the yard. It makes for sort of the squirrel equivalent of a picnic with sports, I suspect. I like to think I am giving the squirrels what they will remember as some of the best days of their lives. These are the good days I want them to remember in the cold of winter.
I guess I was sort of hoping that the squirrels would appreciate all I was doing for them. I don't know what I was expecting. I just wanted them to be a little friendlier. I wave at them through the patio window and they just ignore me. They should understand waving since part of their language is to wave their tails at each other. Still they just turn around as if I am annoying them. It would be nice if they would show appreciation somehow. Maybe they could bring the kids around to show me or something. You would think a little gratitude would not be too much for a squirrel to show. Well, forget it. I think they know who it is that is feeding them. They should know I am not trying to harm them by now. They keep treating me like their own personal Godzilla. They never thank me. They run away when they see me. Ungrateful wretches. Well, it is probably good they are wary of people. Not everybody will be as nice as I am.
Probably what is eating the fruit is a woodchuck. I think there is one of those that come around. You occasionally see him or her running across the back yard. If we are outside he makes himself scarce. But the other day he was actually looking in the patio window to see how the other half lives. That is very unusual because they are usually very shy of people. Maybe he was trying to figure where we are getting the apples.
I haven't mentioned all the birds we get to pick up the seeds the squirrels missed. We get cardinals, robins, morning doves, and even crows. A lot of people try to feed the birds and keep the squirrels away. Frankly I prefer the squirrels. I think we mammals have to stick together. I think there is one squirrel who seems to rule the roost, so to speak. She may be the alpha squirrel. If she (if it is a she) thinks that there is not enough food she will charge the bigger male and chase him away. She has a nasty temperament. The problem is that if I am going to befriend any of the squirrels it will have to be her. She is the one that stays in the yard and watches me put out sunflower seeds. She is the one who shows some curiosity. She probably realizes that I have never threatened her. When we eat on the patio I have seen her climb a chair just to eye human food.
Well, those are my observations, I guess. Make of them what you will. [-mrl]
Talking to Onesself (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):
In response to Mark's article in the 08/05/05 issue of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniarek writes, "My theory is that we do this self- talking more as we get older. I think that might be why younger people tend to make more, possibly intuitive, breakthroughs in the sciences and other areas (Bob Dylan recently admitted he could no longer write as creatively as he did when he was younger). If your thoughts are confined by language, they probably become more limited. These days I go through entire conversations in my head sometimes, anticipating what co-workers or my wife my say to something I want to say to them, then I end up saying nothing or revising the thought. Perhaps self-talking this way allows us to become wiser, or at least more discreet, as we age. I simply don't remember self-talking so much when I was a kid or in my 20s, except for amusement. Just a theory though, would have to be tested, perhaps easily enough by talking to some younger folks about it. Or maybe it's a side-effect of proofreading email for the last 15 years! [-ak]
Oz, Twin Towers, and Historical Confusion (letter of comment by Bill Higgins):
In response to Mark's comments about the movie THE WIZARD OF OZ in the 08/19/05 issue of the MT VOID, Bill Higgins writes, "I recently read a biography of Yip Harburg, the lyricist for THE WIZARD OF OZ, and I seem to recall that he hated the ending, mostly because "it was all a dream" is cheating, and Baum hadn't done that."
In response to Evelyn's comments on Barry Malzberg's THE SODOM AND GOMORRAH BUSINESS and the Twin Towers in the 08/19/05 issue, Bill writes, "This line made me think, not of the WTC in NYC, but of the twin corncobs of Marina City. They are not among the very tallest Chicago buildings, but they are distinctive." Regarding historical confusion, he adds, "Marcus Rowland's role-playing game 'Diana, Warrior Princess', exploits this sort of historical confusion, and it may amuse you to learn more about it." [-bh]
ETERNAL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The notorious Countess Erzsebet Bathory has returned and is repeating her crimes in modern day Montreal. ETERNAL is a sexy and stylish horror thriller from Canada that unfortunately seems to be re-treading all-too-familiar territory. It gets points for its lavish production design, but very little for originality or real horror. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Most people who would see a film like ETERNAL probably already know something about who the historic Countess Erzsebet Bathory was. The 16th and 17th Century Hungarian noblewoman (to use the term loosely) really existed and had the delusion that she could keep her youth by bathing in the blood of young women. In this pursuit it is claimed she murdered and estimated 650 young women before she was recognized as a serious criminal and was imprisoned. The countess was portrayed in several European horror films, particularly during the 1970s. Ingrid Pitt played the title role in the best-known film version of her story, COUNTESS DRACULA, made by Hammer Films.
What may be a reincarnation or the still-living spirit of Bathory stalks Montreal Island in this new thriller written and directed by Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez. Elizabeth Kane (played by Caroline Néron) possesses a very ornate mansion in Montreal and uses computer chat rooms to attract lesbian lovers and invite them to her lair. There she makes love to them, graciously thanking them for their beauty, before slashing their throats. As the film opens, she is enjoying an assignation with a woman who signs her chat-room name, "Wildcat". Kane understands Wildcat instantly and sees immediately through Wildcat's little white lies about not being married and not having had lesbian encounters before. But Kane misses one important detail before harvesting Wildcat. She was not only married, she was married to a homicide detective. Ray Pope (Conrad Pla) is as kinky as his wife was, choosing the wife of a partner for some S&M. When his wife, the former Wildcat, is found dead he has a vendetta and quickly collects enough information to suspect Kane. From there the plot is a fairly familiar game of cat and mouse with Pope happily breaking the law and risking dismissal to get his revenge on Kane while Kane kills as many of the women in Pope's life that she can manage. Néron's exotic lesbian vampire is reminiscent of DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, though her assistant and victim-procurer Irina (Victoria Sanchez) is much less powerful than Sandor was in the earlier film.
The art direction by Massimo Antonello Geleng and Valma Pfaff is probably the best feature of the film. It adds mood to the earlier parts of the film, though it really comes into its own in the scenes later in the film set in Venice. Some of these scenes look like they might have been inspired by EYES WIDE SHUT. It does more for the film than some of the direction which has its share of cliches like dark and stormy nights, false jumps, an angry Rottweiler, and over-use of camera filters to bathe scenes in yellow or blue. One can pretty much pick out who will be Kane's next victim without too many surprises.
Caroline Néron is satisfyingly attractive, but just does not have the exotic style that the film would call for. It is never clear what her connection to the Transylvanian countess was, but she seems entirely too Canadian. Conrad Pla does very little for me as her chief nemesis. He looks like Billy Zane but with a constant three-day growth of stubble from the top of his head to the bottom of his chin. I suppose that is what a postmodern hero looks like, but I still can lament that that is the case.
ETERNAL is polished, sexy, and entertaining, and the art direction is its best aspect. But it is not a film that will stick with the viewer. It is too similar to films like JACK'S BACK (about Jack the Ripper returning) and several others. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
RED EYE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Wes Craven's RED EYE delivers a good tense 85 minutes. The film mostly works and the thriller plot is reasonably believable. The problem is that this film has nothing particularly new and original to make it stand out from the thrillers like, for example, Larry Cohen writes. The film needs a little more flair to stand out as a memorable experience. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
As a thriller RED EYE is a lot like the mailman. On one hand it really delivers the goods. But on the other someone delivers the goods nearly every day of the week. This is a nice taut little thriller. Director Wes Craven keeps it brief enough so that the non-stop suspense does not let up. The whole story takes place in no more than seven or eight hours. The film is not like a James Bond film with one action sequence illogically following after another and robbing from the effect of the next sequence. The plan of RED EYE's baddies is not some complex chess gambit that you have to put together in the lobby after the film. This is a good compelling thriller. That is the upside. The downside is that we get a lot of nice taut suspense films. RED EYE is a nice thriller, but no better or worse than, for example, CELLULAR. Maybe it was a little better than PHONE BOOTH.
Rachel McAdams plays Lisa Reisert, a young attractive hotel clerk (or perhaps the manager of clerks), who has taken the day off to fly to Texas to attend the funeral of her grandmother. Of course in the age of the cell phone she cannot really take the day entirely off. Her nervous replacement is in frequent touch with her for help and advice. Reisert is also on the phone to her retired father (played by Brian Cox in a lamentably small role).
Now Reisert is taking the red-eye flight back to Miami. Seeing customers verbally abuse the airline clerks touches a nerve with her. Stepping in to defend them she finds an ally in the attractive guy behind her in line. This turns out to be Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy of BATMAN BEGINS). The two make friends and happen to sit next to each other on the plane. Reisert soon discovers that their meeting and their sitting together is no coincidence and the two are soon engaged in a life-and-death struggle involving an assassination attempt.
This film taps into the real-world discomfort of flying known only to well to us coach fliers. Films like AIRPORT and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY frequently show planes as roomy and comfortable. Our characters have trouble getting seats in the first place. Then when they have the seats the narrow aisles, the cramped seats, and the high unreachable luggage racks help to make the tension seems even more painful. The characters are isolated in the sky with very little freedom to move around. Carl Ellsworth's screenplay takes (nearly) full advantage of the annoyances of flying. The screenplay loses a few points because of cliches like the little girl flying alone who is treated by the staff like a princess. The main characters seem to find it too easy to steal objects from other passengers in a crowded plane. One more problem is that the final chapter turns too much into a standard damsel in distress from a stalker plot. In a film that is not sufficiently original, the final reel is the most cliched.
I like my thrillers with a little more verve than this one has. Wes Craven is no Alfred Hitchcock. On the other hand I think this film works considerably better than many of the films he makes in his home genre, namely horror. The film does succeed in maintaining tension. I rate RED EYE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. (Are there really red-eye flights between two states so close? Maybe it was West Texas. I don't think we are told.) [-mrl]
WALKING ON THE SKY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: When one of their number commits suicide, the remaining six of a group of close-knit friends get together in their dead comrade's New York apartment to talk things out and to try to understand why their friend killed himself. In the next few hours they will learn about each other and their lives. Meanwhile their relationships will change. This is really a film not about plot but about connections between people and about characters. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Yesterday there were seven close friends who thought they knew each other fairly well. Today there are only six. Josh Salinger (Michael Knowles, in flashbacks) committed suicide, jumping off the roof of his apartment building. Now the other six have come together to try to make sense of what has happened. Their one clue is the discovery of Josh's diary. Even Sara (Susan Misner) had not known about the diary. Until recently she had been engaged to Josh. She was still trying to put the pieces together of why Josh broke the engagement. Now has killed himself and she realizes she really never knew him at all.
Liz (Nicole Fonarow) at one point deeply loved Jim (Chris Henry Coffey). The two have become successful yuppies, but over time Liz has lost her spontaneity. Now she needs to be in control. She is frequently rude and unpleasant to Jim and sometimes to others while he recedes into being a non-entity. She is of late considering dissolving their relationship.
Joann (Kristen Marie Holly) has empathy as the strongest fiber of her personality. She is a veterinarian for a non-profit animal shelter and gets too involved with the animals she is treating. Nick (Randal Batinkoff) is a child-man who wants to be a professional ballplayer. He is brash and unpolished and is gambling his life on a dream he probably cannot make to work.
Centrally there is Dylan (Carl T. Evans who also wrote, produced, and directed WALKING ON THE SKY). Life is just not working for Dylan. He is unsettled on what to do with his life. His relationships with women do not last. He has poor relations with his family and fragile relationships even with his friends. He bears the emotional scars of a life of self-hatred.
This is a talk film. It is a film of the same breed as RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7 and THE BIG CHILL. Evans defines his characters fairly well in each one's first scene or two, then spends the rest of the film really giving us much more of the character to support our first conclusions. Some of the revelations are a bit par for the course. There are infidelities. There are Freudian slips. There are some deep hidden secrets. Some of the action seems like filler. In one scene out of the apartment the group does Karaoke. I am not sure that we get much from the males doing Karaoke together. We do see when the women get up that Liz is just as stiff and formal at the microphone as she is otherwise until she finds that it is out of place. The scene however does give the film the combination of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
The score is a little jarring early in the film and a little sweet at the end. Michael Tremante does the honors. This is Evans's first outing as writer or director, but he has acted before, usually in daytime drama. WALKING ON THE SKY is not so much a mystery as a study of relationships among people who are more different than they realize. I rate WALKING ON THE SKY a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Too many alternate histories spend all their time on how things got to be different without telling you how things would be different. One gets a five-hundred-page book that details all of the battlefield and political maneuvers of Lincoln, Davis, Grant, Lee, and everyone else, then ends with, "And so President Lincoln signed his name to the treaty that once and forever recognized the Confederate States of America as a separate country." That's not the end of an alternate history; that's the beginning. So it is wonderful to get an alternate history that looks at just what life would be like in a changed world, and such a book is Ian R. MacLeod's THE SUMMER ISLES (ISBN 1-933-08300-X). The premise (hinted at from the beginning, but spelled out about a third of the way through) is that Britain and her allies lost the War of 1914-18, and was taken over by a "Modernist" (fascist) party. The time frame is 1940, but there is, of course, no hint of a second World War. Our main character is, as is often the case in alternate histories, an outsider, someone who does not quite fit in with the new way of things. But MacLeod does not make him Jewish (too cliche) or Irish (too obvious) or even Communist. No, MacLeod makes the main character a homosexual and by doing so makes it more difficult for readers to see the Modernists just as people who are evil, but of course we would never do anything like that . . . . As an American, it is difficult for me to be sure, but I get the feeling that MacLeod captures very well the feel of Britain and the feel of what a defeated and demoralized Britain might have been like in the 1930s. There is one major plot contrivance that seems forced, but not impossible as described, so I can suspend my disbelief, particularly since in everything else MacLeod takes a very realistic approach. A novella-length version appeared in the October/November 1998 issue of ASIMOV'S, was nominated for a Hugo for that year, and won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Short Form). In spite of this, the novel-length version was turned down by every major publisher, and as a result, is available only as a limited edition from Aio.
David Mura is a third-generation Japanese-American and his TURNING JAPANESE: MEMOIRS OF A SANSEI (ISBN 0-385-42344-6) is the story of his one-year sabbatical in Japan where he discovers that he is more Japanese than he thought he was. (He was born and raised in Minnesota, where his parents lived after they left their internment camp.) This book is very similar to Victoria Abbott Riccardi's UNTANGLING MY CHOPSTICKS (which I reviewed in the 12/03/04 issue of the MT VOID) in its story of an American trying to live in Japanese culture rather than make a brief visit. In both cases, though, the author has gone to Japan with a specific educational/artistic agenda and in both cases, the books spend a lot of time discussing classes, teachers, and meetings with others in that field. TURNING JAPANESE also spends time discussing the strain that Japan put on Mura's relationship with his Euro-American spouse. (Shifra Horn's SHALOM, JAPAN, reviewed in the 12/31/04 issue of the MT VOID, is a much "purer" look at Japan.) Choose Mura's book if you're interested in someone discovering his "roots" (or some of them), Mura or Riccardi for a discussion of Japanese art and the philosophy thereof, or Horn's book for more about Japan itself. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Imitation is the sincerest form of television. -- Fred Allen
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