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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/20/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 30, Whole Number 1318
Table of Contents
On-Line Film Critics Society Awards:
The winners of the 9th Annual On-Line Film Critics Society Awards are as follows:
The Rise of the Gladiator (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I saw EMPIRE, which takes a piece of (almost) real history and makes a gladiator important in a way he would not have been. GLADIATOR did the same. It occured to me gladiators are being used as a device to turn films about real ancient history into sports films to increase their appeal. It is like making a football player the main character in a film about Watergate. [-mrl]
Don Juan and the Selfish Gene (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Two weeks ago I talked a little about Richard Dawkins's ideas from THE SELFISH GENE. The suggestion is that we behave in ways that only superficially appear to be in our best interests as individuals. Our actions may not be in fact in our own best interest, but in the best interest of our genes and making sure that our genes are preserved. We can best see the distinction if we see examples where people are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their genes. A parent will, if circumstances come to that, sacrifice his or her own life in order to protect an offspring. Sadly, history provides us with only too many examples that this behavior is very real. A child is a vessel containing one's genes and a means of preserving them. Many human behaviors that otherwise do not make a lot of sense seem explainable.
When I think about this I see the story of Don Juan as a drama of people unknowingly struggling to preserve their genes by the best strategy. An incident might be familiar from Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" or from George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell." Dona Ana's father comes upon Juan making love to his daughter. He attacks Don Juan with a sword. Juan defends himself and slays the older man. Shaw plays with this incident in "Don Juan in Hell." I see this whole scene from the point of view of Richard Dawkins's ideas from THE SELFISH GENE. Each person is unknowingly following a strategy that is best for his or her own genes.
Don Juan's life-long strategy is to put his genes into as many different offspring as he can in the hopes that many copies of the genes will be produced. And if the woman seems to have physical characteristics that correlate to being particularly good for creating children, so much the better. They make the survival of his genes more likely. Dona Ana wants to combine her genes with genes that will have a high probability of success. Don Juan is virile and vigorous and that means he probably has good genes and will pass virility and vigorousness to the next generation. These will in turn create children who are good at passing on genes. The genes that Dona Ana passes to a child will have a better survival potential if they are combined with Don Juan's genes. Both are anxious to combine their genes to create an offspring. They just don't realize that is the reason.
Dona Ana's father, on the other hand, is less convinced that his genes that are in his daughter would have the best chance survive with so uncommitted a mate as Don Juan would be for her. This is particularly true since Don Juan does not seem to have a lot of genes in common with him. He would like his daughter with someone who appears to already have genes like he does. He probably wants his daughter to wed someone like him. He might, however, more prefer to have Don Juan mixing genes with his daughter than to have her mix with someone who looks very different from him, say someone from another race. On the other hand, he would not want her mixing genes with someone too closely related. That male might have very similar genes, but too similar a set of genes is likely to lead to sickness and fewer copies of the genes being reproduced. He has a large stake in what genes mix with Dona Ana's genes. Each's attitudes can be seen as an implicit strategy for preservation of their own genes.
I guess this sort of analysis is like looking at mechanics but looking at it close up, on the atomic level. The atoms in the lever are bound together by forces so when outside forces push downward at one end.... [-mrl]
New Orleans and Truth in Movies (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's comments on New Orleans in the 01/13/06 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky wrote, "I think the phrase you were looking for is, "If we don't rebuild New Orleans as it was, the hurricanes will have won!" [-tw]
Mark responded, "I am sure that could not be the phrase I was looking for. Any phrase that is not there when I need it, cannot be relied upon and hence is not the phrase I was looking for. Mine may not have been as pretty a phrase, but it was right there when the chips were down." [-mrl]
Taras then agreed, saying, "Strictly speaking, the phrase you're looking for can't be the phrase that's there when you need it. If the phrase is there when you need it, obviously you can't be looking for it." [-tw]
And Mark added, "The phrases one looks for are the shy, hard-to- get phrases. I am frequently looking for my glasses, but they are there when I need them. :-)" [-mrl]
Taras also wrote, "Be extremely cautious about granting evidentiary value to a movie, no matter how convincing it seems. If a movie tells you something you didn't already know, always assume it's false. And if it tells you something you did already know, go back and double-check your information! I'm thinking of GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK in particular, though this applies to THE CONSTANT and SYRIANA as well. Many reviewers have pointed out that Murrow is built up at the expense of many other critics of McCarthy, including some who had spoken out years earlier; that Murrow's "warts and more warts" profile of McCarthy was dishonest; that (as Clooney himself has admitted) some or most of the people McCarthy went after really were what he said they were." [-tw]
Mark responds, "Actually I would not assume the information is false. I just assume that the assertion has been made but is unproved." [-mrl]
IMMORTAL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In 2095 New York the Egyptian God Horus possesses a male human in order to procreate with a female alien. A "Métal Hurlant" sort of story is wedded to "Métal Hurlant" sort of visual images. The visuals may be temporarily very impressive, but the film really offers very little in story value. When it is all over I think we are supposed to feel we have seen something momentous, but I don't think we know exactly what. It is rare that a film offers so much to see and so little to think about. We look at a CGI world made of ones and zeros watching a story made mostly of zeroes. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
I have to get this down quick. If I wait an hour, I think I will have forgotten most of this movie I saw. It is slipping away even as I write. I know I am not going to remember the film for long. I guess that is ironic for a film called IMMORTAL. But take my word for it there is nothing very immortal about IMMORTAL. These days the lines between animated and live action film are falling away. IMMORTAL is mostly animated, though some of the main characters are live-action. Everything but these characters is generated in a computer, much like SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW and SIN CITY. And visually this film may even be in their league. Though the visual images may be a little on the pretentious side the imagination of New York City in 2095 is frequently very beautiful and surreal. Images are plucked from many different time periods. But that is about all that is nice. Certainly the plot is not going to sell the film, if I can remember it.
The film is a French-Italian-British co-production based on a graphic novel by Serbian cartoonist Enki Bilal. Bilal wrote and directed this film. It seems like an elaborate chapter of HEAVY METAL. It has a sort of comic book plot with paper-thin characters.
A pyramid appears over New York City and materializing out of the side comes the Egyptian god Horus. Horus has the head of a hawk and the body of a Greek god (if that is not mixing my metaphors). He can make himself all hawk, but he cannot make himself all human. Unfortunately he needs to be all human for his mission, so he possesses Alcide Nikopol. Now I believe Nikopol is a continuing Bilal character. Here Nikopol is played by Thomas Kretschmann, who went on to play Captain Englehorn in the recent KING KONG. Why does Horus need to be all human? He needs to procreate with a beautiful alien woman who has blue scales for hair and who has turned up mysteriously in New York City. This woman does not know her origins as is being treated by a psychiatrist or psychologist or something played by Charlotte Rampling.
The background world is where most of IMMORTAL'S interest comes from. Images and animation are the point of the film. There is, in this world, a popular movement protesting eugenics. I am not sure even that makes sense. People might protest actions done in the name of eugenics but are unlikely to protest eugenics itself. It is similar to the fact people might protest actions done in the name of security but are unlikely to protest security itself. Other ideas thrown into the mix almost as throwaways seem to come from a Philip K. Dick sort of paranoia. This is a world where bathroom fixtures talk, but seem to do so in their own language so it does you no good, even if you could image a good that talking bathroom fixtures could render. Details are clever and funny at times, but it does not make up for the fact that the story is slow and tedious and there is no reason to care about the characters. This is all working toward some cosmic event that is taking place, but what that event is really is a MacGuffin.
This mostly animated film wants to be a unique and surreal experience, but Bilal needed to worry more about the story. I rate IMMORTAL a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
(Available on DVD.)
THE MATADOR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A strange pair, a bland salesman (Greg Kinnear) and a hired assassin (Pierce Brosnan) form a sort of bond (no pun intended). After meeting the assassin in a Mexican bar, the salesman feels fascination and repulsion for the stranger who has come into his life. This film is not so much a thriller as a comedy of bad manners. Action is kept to a minimum, but the conversation is what is interesting. The film written and directed by Richard Shepard is a pleasant minor film that seems to be getting some major attention. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Clint Eastwood's recent films have been trying to put a bullet in his Man with No Name. His more recent film like UNFORGIVEN and MILLION DOLLAR BABY have had strong anti-violence themes, negative on his the sort of character he had played time and again. Pierce Brosnan may have been doing something similar, creating secret agents who are less appealing than his James Bond. In THE TAILOR OF PANAMA he played Andy Osnard, a sleazy agent. Now he is playing Julian Noble, a formerly successful assassin who has lost his edge.
Greg Kinnear plays mild salesman Danny Wright who had recently had some hard knocks. On a business visit to Mexico City things are not going well and he decides to retreat to a bar to lick his wounds. There he has a conversation with an irritating customer, Julian Noble (Brosnan). Wright opens up to Noble about some downturns in his life and Noble can respond only with an off- color joke. It is not a very good start to a relationship. Things get worse later when the man admits to being a professional assassin, albeit one who has been faltering of late. Is this guy playing mind games or is he serious? Wright is at first fascinated, but this is not a man who he wants to let into his life. That may not be a choice Wright will allow him. Does he have more games planned or is he being really telling about his profession? Why would an assassin tell a stranger about his work?
Noble is not at all the James Bond type. Where Bond is suave, Noble is oblivious and uncouth. He is a child in a man's body and he really likes his deadly work. Wright is bemused, astounded, and mesmerized by this man both bigger and smaller than life.
In the second act Noble shows up at Wright's home several months later and Wright's wife (Hope Davis) finds she has exactly the same ambivalence to the killer that her husband had.
This is not really a thriller at all but a comedy of dialog and personality. The whole story could almost have been done as a stage play on a limited number of sets. The two men are really opposites. Kinnear is the reserved straight man and Brosnan is overflowing with too much personality. Shepard examines the appeal of the amoral life and some of the philosophy of matadors and other professional killers. One is never quite sure what point all this is making and ending is a bit of a letdown.
I cannot be as enthusiastic as many of the critics are, but this is certainly at least an original film. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This was my week for Latin American mysteries with a literary subject.
BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS by Luis Fernando Verissimo (translated by Margaret Jull Costa, ISBN 0-8112-1592-X) is both a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges and a murder mystery. Vogelstein (the narrator) goes to a conference about Edgar Allan Poe, held in Buenos Aires. Also attending are Joachim Rotkopf (who has a theory about Poe as an inspiration of European literature), Xavier Urquiza (who thinks the theory is garbage), Oliver Johnson (who has another theory about Poe, Lovecraft, and the Necronomicon), a mysterious Japanese scholar, and Jorge Luis Borges himself. The solution of the murder mystery uses a lot of Borgesian techniques, and is so well-constructed that as soon as I finished the novel I went back and read it a second time. And everything still holds together. The clues are there, some muted, some so obvious that I was kicking myself that I did not get them. And even things that might seem like errors turn out not to be. I got this through inter-library loan, but I am definitely going to buy a copy.
ADIOS, HEMINGWAY by Leonardo Padura Fuentes (translated by John King, ISBN 1-84195-642-2) is a murder mystery set in present-day Cuba, though the murder took place over forty years ago. The police have unearthed a body on the former estate (and now museum) of Ernest Hemingway, and Padura Fuentes interweaves two threads to tell the story. The main character in the present is Mario Conde, an ex-cop asked to investigate the murder; the main character in the past is, not surprisingly, Hemingway. (Padura Fuentes has written a series of books featuring Conde.) These is a lot more emphasis on the Cubans around Hemingway than one has seen before, but there is still enough about Hemingway to make the reader completely dislike him. I doubt that was Padura Fuentes's goal; his characters agree that Hemingway was not a good person. but they seem readier to forgive him than most readers may be. This is a good choice for those who like "bibliomysteries", though nowhere near as good as BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS.
I always write about the books I finish, so it is probably only fair that once in a while I mention a book I have started but could not finish. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner (ISBN 0- 679-73225-X) is one of those. I know it is a classic. I know it is on high school summer reading lists. But I found it uninvolving and, to some extent, unreadable. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The bigger the information media, the less courage and freedom they allow. Bigness means weakness. -- Eric Sevareid
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