@@@@@ @ @ @@@@@ @ @ @@@@@@@ @ @ @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @@@@@ @@@@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @@@@@ @ @ @ @ @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/29/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 13, Whole Number 1354
Table of Contents
Food Market (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn ordered BBQ ribs on a $6.95 lunch special in Massachusetts and then was trying to figure out the best way to transport the half she did not eat to New Jersey. She was going to put them in an insulated container with ice, but she had to put them in an inner container and could not find one. It was a whole magilla. I told her it was not worth it for three dollars' worth of ribs. But what clinched it was that it was not really three dollars worth of ribs. As I explained statistics show that restaurant food really depreciates extremely rapidly once delivered. I mean if you think cars depreciate fast, you should look at restaurant food. The market resale value of un-consumed restaurant food-- even from a fancy restaurant--is really next to nothing. [-mrl]
Japanese Society: Improving on the American Prototype (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
At the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles, Evelyn was on a panel preparing science fiction fans who are going to Japan to attend the following World Convention in Yokohama. This got me thinking about my observations about Japanese society from my trip to Japan just under a decade ago.
When I was young Japan was probably the first society I recognized as being very different from American society. Japan was THE other culture. I was introduced to their society by that great cultural ambassador Godzilla. It amazed a six-year-old Mark that there were other societies with their own monster movies. And in the movies they looked very different (both the societies and the monsters). Ironically when I finally went to Japan I saw a lot that was clearly patterned not just after the West in general, but specifically patterned on America. It was as if for the Japanese, America was *the* other culture.
Japanese society strikes me as making many attempts to mimic how Americans operate and behave. It is patterned on how Americans do things. Yet when they are trying to be like America they are being extremely different. It is a lot like the fact that on a PC a version of Microsoft Word has a user interface is very much the same as the Microsoft Word interface on a Macintosh. On the surface they seem to behave exactly the same, but what is going on underneath the surface to achieve that interface is entirely different. In a sense American society has been ported to operate on a Japan. Well, sort of. As an example you see people wearing T-shirts with messages in English. But if you read the tee shirts that phrases are complete nonsense. It is not that you disagree with the meaning. There is no meaning. It only looks like English. It is verbal fruit cocktail.
This intentional mimicry of America should not be confused with any sort of awe or special love for Americans. We learn algebra without holding in special esteem the Arabic culture that invented it. They just got there first. So too from the Japanese point of view when the time comes to have giant buildings like Wall Street has, you too have those buildings.
Most Japanese are polite enough to Americans, but they hold then neither with special awe or affection in spite of the mimicry of our culture. Japanese are very aware of the faults of Americans. If anything they are overly critical of most individual Americans. They are outwardly very friendly and helpful to visitors, but it is because that is just the sort of thing you are supposed to do. When they write about Americans for Japanese consumption they are less polite.
They appear being envious of our society and determined to build one that in many ways looks from the outside like our society. They looked at our executive workforce and invented the concept of the Salaryman. Observations of executive culture have given rise to inflexible rules as to how an executive dresses and what sort of briefcase he carries. When I worked at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance you could tell how many actuarial exams someone has passed by the style of his or her furniture. It seemed an artificial and almost humorous standard. But it was there. I have been told the idea has been taken to extremes in Japan. One is allowed to carry a specific sort of briefcase if he is at a certain level in his company. It is a great faux pas to dress and have accessories beyond ones station.
The post-War years were very difficult in rebuilding Japanese society. The Japanese were working very hard while an American counter culture was slicking back its hair and dancing rock and roll style and listening to Elvis Presley. When I visited Japan there was a subculture that on Sunday afternoons takes off its finer clothing and dresses in 1950s American rock and roll style, slicks back its hair with grease and goes to dance to rock and roll in the park. They are catching up on lost time. And they dance rock and roll better than we ever did. Apparently you do not do this sort of rebellion unless you are well-practiced. Outwardly it looks like they have rebellious teens just like we had in the 1950s. But underneath what is happening is nothing alike.
Space in very expensive in the tiny country. The French in the 1700s showed off their wealth by gold plating things like their room decorations. The Japanese do much the same with space. In Shinjuku, the wealthy business area, you see a world that looks like a comic book exaggeration of our financial centers. You see really big skyscrapers with a lot of space inside. If you can afford an atrium as big a baseball diamond, you have made it. You have made it, at least in Japan.
The giant skyscrapers of Shinjuku, the Elvis dancers in the park, the T-shirts with mock-English slogans we see there are all attempts to look like how they see American society. One has they feeling they assume that American society is a good thing and they want to build their own American culture better than the original. [-mrl]
Derwin Mak Reports from the Toronto International Film Festival (film comment by Derwin Mak):
[My favorite film festival is the Toronto. This year I was not able to make it, but we saw Derwin Mak at the World Science Fiction Convention and he did attend the festival. We wanted to get a few comments from him on what the good films were and he gave us a very good write-up, more complete than I was expecting. So by permission I am sharing his report with you. -mrl]
I had a lot of fun at TIFF this year. Luckily, I liked all the films I chose, although some are better than others, of course.
[I had mentioned to him that I had heard the films were more downbeat this year than most years. -mrl]
Were the films generally downbeat? Yes, but the TIFF always has plenty of downbeat films. The depression seemed to revolve around specific themes, though. I noticed a lot of films about children and teenagers in trouble (e.g., PAN'S LABYRINTH, VANAJA, PRINCESS, DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, plus documentaries about street kids or Roman Catholic priests abusing kids). The teen slasher genre made a comeback at Midnight Madness (SHEITAN, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE).
There were also some notorious political (i.e., left-leaning) movies about American politics: e.g., DIXIE CHICKS: SHUT UP AND SING, DEATH OF A PRESIDENT). The oddest sight of the Festival was a person who came to pick up his tickets with a "Democrats Abroad" sign strapped to his back. He paraded down the line-up to recruit Democrats, presumably American citizens living here. I think it is a sign of a cultural inferiority complex that Toronto movie-goers and intellectuals are obsessed with U.S. politics but totally ignorant of Canadian politics (I am always amazed by how Canadian intellectuals and SF writers can name Congressmen who are either "liberal" or "conservative" but don't remember the name of their own Members of Parliament).
Alas, I might have to skip TIFF next year because my sister, the original Trekker of the family, wants to stay in Asia after Nippon 2007 so we can visit the relatives in HK. But I will be back at TIFF in 2008, for sure.
My recommendations of films to watch for are:
PAN'S LABYRINTH (EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO), by Guillermo del Toro
This is the best SF/F/H genre film I saw. It's about a girl who meets fantastic, fairy-tale creatures after her mother marries a brutal army officer in Fascist Spain, 1944. If she completes three dangerous missions for a faun, she'll become a princess in another world. The special effects are great, the performance by 12-year-old Ivana Baquero is wonderful (At the Q&A, del Toro said he chose her because she is a child who can act, not a child actor; he says there is a difference. Child actors are mutant species that bring their parents to the set and need lots of attention...). Del Toro is a fan boy himself and talked about how he learned English by reading "Mad Magazine" and "Famous Monsters of Filmland".
FIDO, by Andrew Currie (Canada, 2006)
Black comedy about the 1950's, when space radiation turns dead people into zombies (alternate history?). After the Zombie War, the company ZomCom invents a collar that pacifies and controls the zombies. Soon, every suburban family in America has its own pet zombie. This one is fun because the cast plays their over- the-top characters completely straight-faced. The movie re-makes the 1950s suburban atmosphere (the cars, the clothes, the well- trimmed lawns) but with weird changes that the characters take as normal (e.g., housewives casually carrying guns to protect themselves from rogue zombies, separate burials for the heads of the dead). Watch for Carrie-Anne Moss as a gun-toting suburban housewife, Dylan Baker as her funeral-obsessed husband, Billy Connolly as their family zombie, and K'Sun Ray as Tommy, the boy who wants a pet zombie.
SHEITAN, by Kim Chapiron (France, 2006)
Midnight Madness movie. A multi-cultural group of young, attractive French people leave an urban disco and head for the French countryside, where they drink, make love (not very successfully), and find mayhem with the groundskeeper, Joseph, who might be preparing for a Satanic ritual ("Sheitan" is Persian for "Satan"). This sounds like standard teen-slasher fare (and it is), but it's got a fast pace and a good performance by Vincent Cassel as Joseph.
PRINCESS, by Anders Morgenthaler (Denmark, 2006)
Midnight Madness movie. An animated film about August, a priest who seeks revenge on pornographers who turned his sister into the porno star Princess and who have abused her daughter, Mia. This is like Taxi Driver and The Professional with animated characters. Plenty of moral ambiguity among the characters. The action is non-stop. So is the bloodletting.
VANAJA, by Rajnesh Domalpalli (India-USA, 2006)
This is not a Bollywood epic, but rather, a small independent film made by the director as his thesis for an MFA at Columbia University. It's about Vanaja, a low-caste 15-year-old girl who becomes the protege of her landlady, a famous dancer who teaches kuchipudi, a narrative dance form usually reserved for Brahmins (high-caste). The dance training goes well until the landlady's womanizing son returns home and impregnates Vanaja by force. She's not docile or submissive, though, and she plans social maneuvers to regain, if not enhance, her social respectability. This one is well-written (every event is part of the plot -- a relief in most independent films), and the amateur cast gives great performances.
DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, by Julia Loktev (USA, 2006)
Independent, low-key thriller about a young woman (played wonderfully by Luisa Williams) preparing for a suicide bomb mission in New York. There's no music, which adds to the sense of dread as the plot moves along. Politics is not important here: there are no political speeches, the terrorists' identities are not revealed (they all wear masks), they speak in plain American accents, and the woman's ethnicity is ambiguous (White? Black? Arab? Asian? Or a mix of all of the above? She has one of those ambiguous looks). What is important is the suspense and plot twists as the woman prepares for her mission. The second half is filmed with a hand-held camera so the audience gets the feeling of actually walking through Times Square with the woman and seeing the street from her point of view.
HULA GIRLS, by Lee Sang-il (Japan, 2006)
Comedy about a women at a coal-mining town who train to be Hawaiian hula dancers at a new Hawaii-theme vacation resort after the coal mine starts shutting down. This is based on a true story about how a one-industry town (coal mining) had to evolve into a vacation resort after the coal mine closed. Funny, upbeat, plenty of dance scenes.
INDIGENES (DAYS OF GLORY), by Rachid Bouchareb (France-Morocco-
The English title is dreadfully generic for a war movie, but the French title Indigenes tells what the movie is about: a derogatory term for soldiers from France's colonial empire in North Africa. They enlist in the French army to liberate their "homeland" France from the Nazis and fight from Italy to France. This is the so-called French version of the U.S. Civil War movie Glory. This one is fascinating for the complicated sense of patriotism and nationalism that leads Arabs and blacks to fight for a "homeland" that they have never seen and to liberate the people who conquered them decades earlier. This is a historical movie, so look for the re-created battle scenes, costumes, sets, vehicles, etc. The usual war movie tropes are out, including an ending that seems copied from Saving Private Ryan, but it's very enjoyable.
[If you are interested in who Derwin is, he adds identifies himself as "I'm a SF writer with a website at http://www.derwinmaksf.com, and my story 'Transubstantiation' won the 2006 Aurora Award for Best Short-Form Work in English (Canadian national science fiction award)." For more on the Auroras see http://www.sentex.net/~dmullin/aurora/ -mrl]
FLYBOYS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This story of the men in the Lafayette Escadrille does a lot that is historically accurate and should be interesting. But the script seems little more than a rehash of films that have been done before. The filmmakers did just about everything right, but there is too much in the film that is overly familiar. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
It has been quite a while since we have seen a film about World War I flying. With all the fragile biplanes and triplanes in dogfights and the style and chivalry of the fliers, this can be pretty heady stuff. In the period between the world wars Hollywood made several great films about flying in the Great War. The very first Academy Award for Best Motion Picture went to the thrilling film WINGS. THE DAWN PATROL was another good one people might watch for. But if you want to see how exciting a film can be made about World War I flying without any special effects, see HELL'S ANGELS. That is the monstrosity that Howard Hughes was making at the beginning of THE AVIATOR. The scenes on the ground are dated and admittedly fairly dull. But Howard Hughes's love was flying and the air scenes in that film have probably never been matched, particularly when you realize they were done virtually without any special effects. Once there was the Second World War, to make films about World War I flying films became sort of thin on the ground. Perhaps the only remembered film on the subject is the 1966 THE BLUE MAX. So the subject of early air fighting has been neglected for a while except perhaps in venues like Turner Classic Movies. I cannot remember a more recent film on the subject until now.
The current FLYBOYS tells the story of a group of American boys from diverse parts of the country who went to fly with the French before the United States entered World War I. They come to France untrained, make often-fatal mistakes, and learn to be ace pilots in aerial dogfights against the crack German fliers as part of the Lafayette Escadrille. With that romantic history behind it the script should practically have written itself. Unfortunately, the writers of the film allowed it to do just that. What we have is a film that would have been a knockout in the 1930s but now is too frequently lukewarm stuff. Part of the problem is that there were a lot of exciting things that happened to the Lafayette Escadrille, but the incidents chosen for this film have mostly shown up in previous films, albeit old ones. Close-ups of pilots' faces through the windscreen of the plane are perhaps unintentionally near-perfect recreations of scenes of actors like Buddy Rogers piloting his plane through the skies over France.
The film centers on Blaine Rawlings (played by James Franco, familiar as Spider-Man's best friend and worst enemy). He is a tall, handsome Texan who goes to France to escape a charge of assault on the banker who forecloses on his parents' ranch. (Note the tying-in of an American hero to the cowboy. The cowboy is the quintessential American hero, so even if the context is different it is useful to establish your hero as a cowboy. Notice a similar approach in the film THE RIGHT STUFF.) Rawlings is one of several Americans who cross the Atlantic in 1916 to answer the call to adventure. One American is there already. He is Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), an African-American boxer fighting in the ring in France who decides to instead fight in the skies. With the exception of Rawlings, the pilots in the film seem to all be based on real pilots, and they are given the characteristics of the pilots. But they all seem similar and it becomes hard to tell them apart. The reviewer is reminded that this one is the religious guy because he sings "Onward Christian Soldiers" in the heat of battle, and that one is the rich guy because he will not room with a black man since in the United States the latter could be a servant. They are all trained and ruled over by the outwardly gruff but loving Captain Thenault (Jean Reno, who plays the only character who retained his real name for the film). Thenault may have really been tough on the outside and a cream puff on the inside, but who wants to see yet another commander portrayed that way?
Parts of the dialog are of questionable accuracy. The pilots are comparing notes on their fathers' professions. The above- mentioned Skinner says that his father was a slave. Skinner is based on the real-life Eugene Bullard, the son of a former slave, but it is unlikely he would have thought of "slave" as his father's profession more than half a century after the end of the Civil War.
Some of the scenes should be exciting, but the CGI robs them of impact. For example, the planes fight off a Zeppelin raid. They attack it full force with pixels, digits, and bits flying everywhere, but the fact it is a computer image is all too evident and steals the impact. (Say, did I recommend a film called HELL'S ANGELS?)
MGM has published an interesting--perhaps not too biased-- comparison of the film to the actual history it was based on, at http://www.mgm.com/flyboys/pdf/real_vs_reel.pdf. The PDF-file also contains historic photographs of the Lafayette Escadrille. I would say that it adds significantly to the experience of seeing the film.
The problem with this film, and it may not be for the general viewer, is that the best stories about the Lafayette Escadrille are already familiar from old movies. When this film should be exciting, it is just a memory jogger about those old 1920s and 1930s films that showed the same scenes and managed the same excitement without ever using a computer. Older viewers may have seen a lot of this before and younger viewers may not be looking for a film about something called "the Lafayette Escadrille" for a fun time on Saturday night, but the history is worth learning about. On balance I rate FLYBOYS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
Question Regarding Series (letter of comment by Vincent J. Guinto):
In response to Joe Karpierz's review of EXULTANT in the 09/01/06 issue of the MT VOID, Vince Guinto writes, "Hi! I have a question that I hope you can pass along to Joe Karpierz, if one of you can't answer it yourself. I have never followed Stephen Baxter's writing, but Joe's review of Exultant has piqued my interest. However, I always struggle going into the library trying to figure out which book is the first one in a series. Could Joe list the books in the series and the order in which they're supposed to be read, please?"
My response was to point Vince to the very useful ISFDB [Internet SF Database] (http://www.isfdb.org) which in this case indicates the following order:
Pluto and Movies (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the MT VOID issue of 09/15/06, John Purcell writes:
You're really getting up there in the number of issues there, friend. I'm impressed.
Not much of a LoC in order today, but I found a couple things to comment on in #1352. First off, I really like that slogan, "Back in my day, Pluto was a planet." Very funny. I really must get that on a T-shirt to wear at Corflu [a convention devoted to fanzine]. Have you seen the latest "Pixel" (number 6, now posted on efanzines) with the cartoon by Brad Foster on page 4? It is absolutely perfect along these lines. It's a picture of Mother Sun gathering her eight favored planetary children, and kicking poor little Pluto out of the house. Totally choice Foster artwork. My description cannot do it justice.
The other thing of note was your vast listing of movie reviews. My wife and I are very much interested in seeing The Illusionist, HOLLYWOODLAND, and FLYBOYS. These three have some interesting things going on: a period piece, murder mystery (or conspiracy theory, or whatever), and a bit of historical war/adventure. They certainly sound interesting, and your reviews rate them as worth checking out. You may not have given them anything like a "Two Thumbs Up!" deal, but at least you make them sound interesting enough to see. Which we were going to do, anyway. My wife is a big murder mystery buff, so she is jazzed to see THE BLACK DAHLIA. I have to admit, that sounds good, too. Looks like Penny or Josie have to do some babysitting of their little brother over the course of the next few weekends.
Thanks for the zine, and now that I've subscribed--great price! what an offer!--I am looking forward to seeing the next installment. All the best. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
SHADOW DIVERS by Robert Kurson (ISBN 0-375-50858-9) is the story of the discovery and exploration of a previously unsuspected U-boat off the shores of New Jersey. It is understandably popular here in New Jersey, but is also popular across the country. The "Nova" episode about this discovery was reportedly the highest-rated ever in that series. Kurson covers all aspects of the discovery--not just how it was discovered and explored, but also the biology, physics, and chemistry of the ocean and of diving, the history of U-boats in general and this one in particular, and the psychology and sociology of divers. Kurson loves a catchy phrase ("Shipwrecks are where the food chain poses for a snapshot"), but also makes the science of diving understandable to everyone. And of course a lot of the exploration parts will appeal to science fiction fans, because it is just like exploring an alien planet.
Another book about exploration and discovery is DRAGON HUNTER: ROY CHAPMAN ANDREWS AND THE CENTRAL ASIATIC EXPEDITIONS by Charles Gallenkamp (ISBN 0-14-200076-0). Andrews carried out several expeditions to Asia to find fossils and other paleontological artifacts, and this book describes those in detail, as well as his background and his career after the expeditions. Ironically, the expeditions came to an end as much due to one mistake on Andrews's part as to the unstable political situation in Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. That mistake was in auctioning off one of the first dinosaur eggs his expedition had found. It was intended as a publicity stunt to raise money for future expeditions, but the governments and people in Asia interpreted it as meaning that 1) Andrews was undertaking a commercial rather than scientific venture, and 2) all the finds Andrews was removing were valuable and should remain in their country of origin. But most of the book is dedicated to Andrews's adventures in the field, which Gallenkamp admits that Andrews was not adverse to embroidering upon. This is a good introduction to Andrews, and may make you want to read some of Andrews's own books. Andrews himself wrote eleven books, none of which had unwieldy subtitles on the covers. (In his time, such subtitles were relegated to the title page only.) In any case, although most of Andrews's books are out of print, many of available for under $10 through bookfinder.com. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A scholar knows no boredom. -- Jean Paul Richter
Go to my home page