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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/09/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 36, Whole Number 1431
Table of Contents
Be Real! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am watching GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. One character is suggesting that they *not* activate Mecha-Godzilla because Mothra has taken a pledge she would fight Godzilla and defend Tokyo. He thinks that all by herself a dying Mothra can stop Godzilla. Right! What is he living in? Some kind of fantasy world? [-mrl]
Through History with Jack Lemmon (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn and I were discussing the task of casting actors for roles in films. A case where the casting really did not work for either of us was Jack Lemmon in the role of Marcellus in Kenneth Branagh's 1996 version of HAMLET. It might be interesting to give a little thought to what actually went wrong with this casting.
The problem is that Jack Lemmon seems to just not have the "look- and-feel" of an Elizabethan. His manner seems too much the manner of a 20th century American. He looks too modern. This does not mean that he cannot play at all in historical films. He did not look tremendously miscast the western COWBOY. In that he played a sort of eastern dude who on the trail becomes a successful cattleman. He perhaps seems just a little out of place riding a horse, but the viewer probably ascribes that to his background. So we might conclude that Lemmon fits into some historical settings but not others.
Some actors are not as good in some historical locations. One actor who seems to fit well into historical settings is (was?) Charlton Heston. He has played El Cid, Cardinal Cardinal Richelieu, Michelangelo, and Ben Hur among many other roles. Heston claimed that in the 1960s and 1970s filmmakers just decided he had a medieval face. He has also been in several Westerns.
Fitting into a Western, however, is not quite the same as fitting into other historical periods. Nobody has ever fit into Westerns better than John Wayne has. He has a commanding presence and a peace about himself that works well in Westerns. He was everything we deep down want a cowboy to be. It is probably those qualities that led director Dick Powell to think he could do reasonably well as Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR. Though he was usually an actor, Powell was actually not a bad director. He made five films in the 1950s and the other four are actually decent. THE CONQUEROR was certainly the biggest exception. With its bad casting, THE CONQUEROR was a severe miscalculation and the result was a howler so mismatched that it has become the stuff of legend.
Even within a period there are places an actor can fit in and others where he cannot. Getting back to Jack Lemmon, he probably would have been out of place in THE PATRIOT, but he might have fit a little better into the musical 1776. For that matter William Daniels did just fine as John Adams in 1776, but it is a little hard to picture him in THE PATRIOT without first picturing him as a John Adams type.
James Cagney seems quintessentially a 20th century American, but he manages reasonably well to fit into William Dieterle's and Max Reinhardt's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935). I am not sure he would have been a good choice in a production of HAMLET, but he does all right in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. For that matter I am not sure Lemmon might not have done reasonably well in a production of a light Shakespearean comedy. It is just the sepulchral scenes in HAMLET that do not fit his personality.
It may be an oversimplification to say that Jack Lemmon was just the wrong type to play in HAMLET. When you see a character who seems really wrong for a historical role there is some fault with the casting and some with the actor and some with the director, but I think that person who is most responsible usually gets away without much blame. Any bad performance is in the last analysis the fault of . . . the producer. It is the director's responsibility to oversee the performances and make sure that quality performances end up in the final print. If the director is not doing that, it is the producer's responsibility to get a new director. The producer arranges for the funding and unless he abdicates the responsibility to the director the responsibility for the final product is his.
If a director has been lumbered with a bad actor he should get an actor who can handle the role. But the responsibility is on the shoulders of the producer. If the producer insists on a particular bad actor, that is the producer's fault.
In the case of HAMLET, the director was Kenneth Branagh and the producer was David Barron. So whose fault was it that Jack Lemmon struck everybody as wrong in Hamlet? I would say it was Branagh's or Barron's fault. Ultimately it was Barron's fault. [-mrl]
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Jess has a terrible life at home and at school. But situations get much more bearable and better when the new girl in town moves in next door and is enrolled in his class. She opens for him a whole new world of intellect and art and fantasy. The two are outcasts, but form a rich (platonic) relationship together that strengthens Jess for some of the emotional wrenches to come. This is a film that is by turns wonderful and heart-breaking. Do not expect a big special-effects fantasy. Fantasy and its power is just one theme among several well- presented themes. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Gabor Csupo's film BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is based on a classic children's book by Katherine Paterson, from a screenplay by Jeff Stockwell and David Patterson. I had never encountered the book but now wish that I had. This is a film about and for young adults, but curiously it is more adult and moving than most mass- market films. It stands with THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN and NEVER CRY WOLF as one of the best dramatic films to come from Disney.
Jess Aarons (played by Josh Hutcherson) is the one boy in a family with five children. His sisters gang up on him and the household is filled with tensions. His father (Robert Patrick) is stern and undemonstrative. At school he is prey to bullies. Life is unfriendly and unforgiving. But that all starts to change. A new girl moves into his class and into the house next door. Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) is a weird kid whose family does not even own a television. She has, however, a wonderful mind and a powerful imagination. She chooses Jess to be her friend, almost forcing her friendship on him. It takes Jess a little while to warm up to her friendship, but when he does he realizes how wonderful Leslie really is. She opens his mind to a world of imagination and creativity. Together they create a fantasy kingdom called Terabithia out in the woods. Their relationship, which is incidentally kept meticulously asexual, is one of the richest and most complex that either could experience in a lifetime. The gusto with which they create fantasy worlds together is reminiscent of the relationship in Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES minus the dark side. It also has in store for Jess one of the most tragic moments of his life.
Josh Hutcherson of ZATHURA: A SPACE ADVENTURE plays Jess and manages to convey a gamut of emotions that even adult actors rarely need. AnnaSophia Robb is perhaps not quite right for Leslie. Leslie is as bullied as Jess in school. It strikes me that a girl as attractive as Leslie is would draw the attention of the boys in the class and that would lead to an entirely different dynamic. However, director Gabor Csupo probably needed to make the audience partially fall in love with Leslie, so it an understandable casting choice. It is a little odd to see Robert Patrick playing Jess's father. He is familiar from action films like DIE HARD II. This is a very different sort of role for him.
The film takes the viewer through a gamut of emotions, including some that the younger children might find intense. It is not so much a fantasy as a film about the healing power of fantasy. With one foot in the real world and one in a fantasy world, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is reminiscent of the recent PAN'S LABYRINTH, though stylistically the films are quite different. I rate BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0398808/
LADY SLINGS THE BOOZE by Spider Robinson (copyright 1992, Ace Science Fiction, $18.95, 257pp, ISBN 0-441-46928-0) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, a theme begins to emerge. Last time I reviewed CHASM CITY, three years after I read the previous novel from its author. Remember when I was on that Spider Robinson kick? Yeah, three years ago this month--March of 2004. Like I said, a theme begins to emerge.
So, I finally picked up the next book in the Callahan universe of novels by Spider Robinson, entitled LADY SLINGS THE BOOZE. So, we're back in Lady Sally's place, and she *still* isn't the main character in the novel, although she plays a much bigger role this time around. Our main character is a private detective named Joe Quigley, who gets sent to Lady Sally's on a job by a rather public figure who wishes to remain completely out of the picture.
Remember, Lady Sally's is a brothel, but as you might also remember it is a completely different type of brothel than is the stereotypical house of ill repute. Nevertheless, the reader can understand why Quigley's client wants nothing to do with the case other than to make sure that it gets properly handled.
So, anyway, this novel is really two stories. The first is the story of the case that Quigley is sent to handle, and along the way he ends up becoming an artist in the house (artist is the term for the people who ply their wares at Lady Sally's), falling in love and marrying a telepathic knockout blonde with two bodies, and well, finding out that "a place like that" isn't all that bad. Anyway, the first story deals with a fellow who has a special watch that allows him to pull some nasty tricks with the employees at Lady Sally's. As our hero, Quigley figures out what is going on and almost gets himself killed in the process of capturing the crook. And by getting the case solved, Quigley, who takes the house name of Ken (see my review of Callahan's Lady for what that's all about), gains the respect and admiration of all the major players in the book, including Mike Callahan himself, who makes a cameo of sorts (probably to ward off the angry hoards of folks who said the last one really wasn't a Callahan book).
The second story deals with why Lady Sally is in the here and now to begin with. Remembering her secret from CALLAHAN'S SECRET, we know she's not from around the here and now. However, we find out that she's here to stop World War III from happening, and that Ken (Quigley, Joe, whatever) leads the team that helps her solve this little problem (with a little help from Nikola Tesla, but that's for you guys to go read).
I finished reading this three days ago, and I'm still trying to figure out what the point of all this is. LADY SLINGS THE BOOZE is a typical Robinson novel--light and entertaining. But, as I intimated, it seems to be cobbled together from two separate stories (I'm sure someone reading this review either will know for a fact that Robinson slammed these two stories together, or will go and research the issue to determine the correct answer). What it also seems to be is a free-love sort of story that we all might have read back in the 60s and/or 70s, but I guess this makes sense given that Robinson is a free loving hippie of sorts. This book is also full of atrocious puns--but for the most part they failed to amuse me. Either they're no longer funny, or I'm just turning into a sourpuss.
Like its predecessor, it falls flat. CALLAHAN'S PLACE is sorely missed. [-jak]
VENUS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A septuagenarian London gentleman brings a young woman into his house to take care of him and he and his friend are shocked at how much difference there can be in a multi-generation gap. Through the barrier of age, Maurice finds himself attracted to the woman half a century his junior and he makes an effort to understand her. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Old age does not come all at once. The approach of decline and death comes on little cats' feet, almost imperceptibly over a long period of aging. Watching day by day one does not notice the change as it happens, one can only compare over long intervals of time and then be surprised at the accumulated change. Roger Michell's VENUS is a study of May-December relationship, not really sexual, but not entirely not either. It is a study of a man scrutinizing and trying to understand the last bits of his life.
Maurice (played by Peter O'Toole) is elderly though he has not fully accepted it. To a previous generation he was a familiar actor and among his friends he is still has celebrity. But he finds that younger people are not so aware of him. He knows he is much closer to the end than the beginning, and still fights to maintain some verve. It is not an easy struggle. Roger Michell's VENUS is a comedy/drama studying the character of an elderly man and of a woman about twenty who have to deal with each other.
Maurice struggles to adapt to life inside a body that is slowly running down. He still keeps up his friendships and remains as active has he can. But a reminder of his age is coming. He spends a lot of time with his friend Ian (veteran actor Leslie Phillips). Ian brings his niece's daughter in to take care of him. Some part of Maurice is still young and some part of him is attracted to the twenty-ish Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). Maurice tries to take in his stride that she thinks of him as almost a different species. She had never heard of him as an actor. Nor does she listen to his kind music, and he does not know her music. It is as if they are from different countries.
Maurice has what he likes to think of as refinement and wisdom. Jessie clearly values neither very much. She is frequently vulgar and coarse, qualities which take Maurice somewhat aback and even chase Ian out of the house. Maurice wants to help Jessie and at the same time to refine her. Then, not unlike the plot of Shaw's "Pygmalion", he finds he is somewhat attracted to the semi-refined person he has made of her.
The performances are top-notch, but the idea of the story is not original and the twists that come are not entirely unexpected. As Kenneth Turan points out, when Peter O'Toole was given an honorary Academy Award three years ago he chided the judges by saying he was still in the acting game and apparently he is. He was nominated for another Academy Award for the role as Maurice, so indeed we are still hearing from him. Maurice is not a role to compare with some of his great ones, but he handles it in fine style. The O'Toole who had such strength in LAWRWENCE OF ARABIA now has a natural frailty that runs through his performance as a man denying his weakening state. He has to do things like slapping himself just to force himself out of bed. Jodie Whittaker is a newcomer, but she gives a strong performance. Also around is a small role for Vanessa Redgrave as Maurice's one-time wife.
Some of the budget constraints on this film can be seen in the dull film stock on which it was released, but the film is engaging. There is a good deal of humanity and a bit of nostalgia. I rate VENUS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0489327/
ADAM'S APPLES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: ADAM'S APPLES is an enigmatic and absurdist comedy from Denmark. Apparently it is some sort of re-working of the story of Job. A neo-Nazi skinhead goes to a church to work out part of his prison sentence by being rehabilitated by a priest. The priest turns out to be blissfully crazy. It is not clear if this is all some sort of strange parable or just a black comedy with several very strange and eccentric people. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Adam (played by Ulrich Thomsen) is a neo-Nazi released from prison. He is filled with hate for just about everybody he meets. To set him on the right path he is to spend a community service and rehabilitation period living at a church supervised by Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen) a priest who has two or three other such wards. Ivan also seems to have his own problems. His reaction to a background more painful than Adam's is to turn off his own ability to sense physical and emotional pain.
Ivan first asks Adam to choose a goal--any goal he wants to work toward. Adam chooses to make an apple cake using the beautiful apples from the tree that is the pride of the church. There is an obvious way this story could go, but it is never really clear where the story is going.
Adam immediately clashes with two other ex-convicts being rehabilitated. Gunnar (Nicolas Bro) is a kleptomaniac and a rapist. Khalid is a militant Afghani who expresses his passion with armed robbery. Adam finds that he does not understand these men and at first reacts violently. But his most violent reaction is to the priest. Ivan seems to go through life assuming that all the trouble and pain is visited on us by the Devil and therefore we need pay no attention to it. He simply rejects all bad things in life as if they have not happened.
As obstacles mount up between Adam and his pie a sort of theological debate grows between Adam and Ivan. Is adversity from the Devil as Ivan believes or, as Adam reads in the Book of Job does it come from God. And in odd ways God seems to enter the debate on the side of Adam.
While this goes on each of the priest's wards seems to live in a world of his own, denying the real world in different ways. The eccentricities only work to feed Adam's rage and make him more violent. Ivan fails to notice even the beatings that Adam subjects him to and just keeps encouraging Adam to bake his cake in spite of the various garden pests and problems that seem to keep getting in his way. Ivan is not the hero he at first appears and is frequently tyrannical with his own parishioners.
Each character seems to be on a different wavelength and each person's bizarre behavior seems to echo in the others. Meanwhile God or the Devil is somehow sending messages to Adam through the Bible in his room.
None of this gives a feel for how strange this film is and how bizarre the characters and the turns of fate are. This is a film that is difficult to pigeonhole. ADAM'S APPLES jumps from comic to tragic to surreal to dramatic without missing a beat. The film was written and directed by the Danish Anders Thomas Jensen, who has a penchant for peculiar stories of weird people.
With the most bizarre characters we have seen in film for quite some time, this strange comedy leaves the viewer constantly off- balance. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. In the print I saw the absurdist atmosphere is only enhanced by the peculiar subtitles, as if they were written by someone who did not quite have the hang of the English language. For example when an exasperated character apparently gives out with "for f**k's sake" it is translated "for the sake of f**k."
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0418455/
Truth (letter of comment by Mark R. Leeper):
In Evelyn's comments on WHY TRUTH MATTERS, in the 03/02/07 issue of the MT VOID, she quoted the theme of a book she read. It is "Truth matters because we are the only species we know of that has the ability to find it out." I have to say that it was I who pointed her to this book and it was specifically to point out that quote. I showed her that particular quote because I dislike it so much. If think it is wrong at least two ways. In fact, I have found out that curiosity, which is the will to find the truth, is not only a human trait. In spite of the old adage that "curiosity killed the cat," there are many living cats that show curiosity. A dog will also investigate and experiment. Many years ago my mother put a sweater outside to dry on a sweater dryer. This device is like a little trampoline with netting to allow the sweater to dry on top and bottom. She came back out to find our dachshund had gone to the effort to step up on the dryer, walk across the sweater, and step down on the other side, leaving footprints across the sweater. Why would he bother to do that if he was not curious to find out what it was like to walk on this different sort of surface? Dogs frequently show curiosity, particularly if they think there is a possibility that there will be something to eat as part of the experience. I seriously disagree that we are the only species that is interested in finding truth.
Also, I am not sure that something necessarily matters just because we are the only species that can do it. We are probably the only species that can designate stones to be Pet Rocks. Sure we can do it. Probably no other species can. But does that mean that making stones into Pet Rocks matters? I think not. [-mrl]
THE ASTRONAUT FARMER, AMAZING GRACE, and BREACH (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's reviews of THE ASTRONAUT FARMER, AMAZING GRACE, and BREACH in the 03/02/07 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
One thing about THE ASTRONAUT FARMER stuck in my craw: the government being so intent on preserving its space monopoly that it will even threaten to shoot you down with a missile. When American films are seen in foreign countries, people take stuff like that at face value; indeed, even some naive people here do. (Recall the people who thought Oliver Stone's JFK was a realistic account!) Obviously, there are at least half a dozen serious private space projects going on right now, and nobody's shooting at them.
AMAZING GRACE was indeed a bit of a disappointment, though it deserves an Oscar for make-up. One can keep track of time by watching William Pitt's complexion deteriorate. Also, it would have been valuable to note somewhere that all the African slaves traded across the Atlantic were enslaved by other Africans. Olaudah Equiano is a major character in the movie; in his autobiography he tells how he was enslaved, sold and bought a half dozen times--"and then I first laid eyes on a white man."
Dang! Now I'm going to have to see BREACH after all!
It's not that you made the film seem so great, it's that Caroline Dhavernas is in it. Her short-lived fantasy series, "Wonderfalls", is a favorite. (The DVD has all thirteen episodes, of which only four were aired.) I'm glad to see she's finding work.
Another reviewer of BREACH noted that the filmmakers missed the point of Robert Hansen's acting like a "fanatic Catholic". He was a very highly skilled spy: this was part of his "legend", the false character a spy creates to throw off suspicion. Similarly, when Soviet diplomat Arkady Shevchenko defected in the late 1970s, I remember it was often remarked that he was known as a "hard-liner". In reality, he'd been spying for the U.S. for years. [-tw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our science fiction group read BLOOD MUSIC by Greg Bear (ISBN-10 1-596-87106-7, ISBN-13 978-1-596-87106-9) this month. This was expanded from a shorter piece, and both won Hugos. Yet I found that the basic premise required too much of a suspension of disbelief on my part, even while enjoying parts of the book quite a bit. I suppose it is a sort of alternate history now, since a good-sized chunk of it takes place in the World Trade Center towers.
AN OXFORD TRAGEDY by J. C. Masterman (ISBN-10 0-486-24165-3,
ISBN-13 978-0-486-24165-4) is another classic Dover mystery,
notable for its academic setting. There is an entire sub-genre
of "bibliomysteries" which take place in bookstores, libraries,
and academic settings, and this falls in that category. (See
HEADS TO THE STORM edited by David Drake and Sandra Miesel (ISBN-10 0-671-69847-8, ISBN-13 978-0-671-69847-8) is a "tribute to Rudyard Kipling," but I suspect you have to be more of a Kipling fan than I am to see the influences in some of the pieces. Some of the introductions explain the connections, but a lot are more about how the author discovered Kipling. Unfortunately, there is a certain sameness to these--the "Just So" stories, then the "Jungle Book" stories, and so on. Kipling fans will undoubtedly like this better than I did, though.
My complaint about THE BIG BOOK OF JEWISH CONSPIRACIES by David Deutsch and Joshua Newman (ISBN-10 0-312-33439-7, ISBN-13 978-0-312-33439-0) is not that it presents all the classic "Jewish conspiracies" as true. It is that the authors seemed reticent to give the writing even a smidgen of believability. (Goliath, they say, was bribed to throw the fight and used the money to open "a small bistro specializing in Meso-Mediterranean fusion." Maybe they were worried that if they had anything at all plausible, someone would use it to bolster their own claims of conspiracies. The result is something even less convincing than the parody newspaper "The Onion". Come to think of it, though, "The Onion" *has* managed to be taken seriously by the media in other countries, so maybe Deutsch and Neuman would be right to be concerned. Deutsch and Neuman are the editors and publisher of "Heeb: The New Review", which the "New York Post" described as "a cross between 'The Onion' and 'Vanity Fair'." Perhaps when they do not have to sustain a premise through an entire book, it works better. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: An orphan's curse would drag to Hell A spirit from on high; But oh! More horrible than that Is the curse in a dead man's eye. -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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