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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/25/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 30, Whole Number 1477
Table of Contents
Downloading Personalities (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There has been some discussion in science fiction circles of the future capabilities for uploading and downloading personalities from one person to another. I would resist this technology. Sooner or later everybody would have exactly the same personality. There would be only one personality left in the entire world. And it would be the personality of one particularly industrious hacker. [-mrl]
Dracula and the Bee (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is one very bizarre scene in the 1931 DRACULA that nobody seems to notice. I mean, I have mentioned it to fans of the film who know the film and they do not know what I am talking about. I asked Forrest J. Ackerman, who considers himself an expert on the film and has seen it dozens of times, and he had never noticed the scene.
In the scene when Dracula and his wives are awakening there is a shot of a bee coming out of a miniature coffin. It makes very little sense. Is this supposed a vampire bee? It isn't even a queen bee. It is a worker. How exactly does a bee become a vampire? When could it have been bitten since bees only come out of the hive in the daytime?
I have never found anyone who noticed this without me pointing it out to them. People with digital copies can find it at 5:55 on the timer. The Spanish-language version has another shot of the bee and the coffin.
Has anyone else noticed this? Anyone care to comment? [-mrl]
[P.S. I am told that it is not a bee but a Jerusalem cricket. -mrl]
Top Ten Films of 2007 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It took a while to prove itself, but 2007 eventually became a good year for film. December had some very good releases and circumstances allowed me to see several good films in one short spurt. These are the best films I saw over the course of the year.
1) AWAY FROM HER
A woman develops a new personality in her twilight years as Alzheimer's Disease robs her of her memories and her former nature, but has not yet robbed her of mechanical function. Her affectionate husband is bewildered by the initial loss, by the new personality, and by choices she is making. Based on the story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro, this very personal film is a deeply affecting work from Sarah Polley, a good actress becoming an even better writer and director. Julie Christie is excellent, but veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsett is even better.
2) THE KITE RUNNER
Marc Forster who directed MONSTER'S BALL and FINDING NEVERLAND directs a haunting adaptation of the Khaled Hosseini novel. Two boyhood friends in Afghanistan, Amin and Rahim, are separated by an incident and each's reaction to that incident. The incident hangs over both of their lives until years later when Amin, now living in California, has an opportunity to return to his homeland to amends. The story has a powerful theme of the necessity to confront evil and oppose it.
3) INTO THE WILD
Sean Penn writes and directs the true story of Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who cut his ties with his wealthy family and lived on the road seeing the real country. Knowing he is very self- sufficient, he gives himself the test of living off the land in the Alaskan wilderness only to find it is one challenge that may be beyond him. The story has drama, suspense, and memorable view of western America. It is nice to see a good role for Hal Holbrook and one for the current Bart the Bear.
Neil Gaiman's STARDUST, directed by Matthew Vaughn, comes to the screen as a first-class fantasy film--one of the best I have seen in a long time. The story is humorously convoluted but not really confusing. A young man from our world is on a quest to win his love ends up being the fulcrum in a battle for the rule of a kingdom in a magical parallel world. Gaiman is a fresh and a different voice in fantasy writing, so the film is full of surprises and some genuinely funny jokes.
5) GOLDA'S BALCONY
Valerie Harper plays Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, in a one-actor play by William Gibson (who also wrote the classic play THE MIRACLE WORKER). Golda Meir in retirement reminisces about her life, the history of Israel, and the most important and difficult decision she ever had to make. Jeremy Kagan directs. Some of the visual style is distracting, but Harper carries the film.
6) EASTERN PROMISES
A London midwife is threatened by the actions of the Russian Mafia in this new thriller from David Cronenberg. Cronenberg brings back Viggo Mortensen from his A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE into another intense action role. Double-crosses, violent fights, and secret plans make the film feel like a good episode of the Sopranovs. This could well be Cronenberg's best film of this decade, atmospheric and exciting.
7) THE NAMESAKE
Mira Nair covers about thirty years in the life of one Indian family. She gives us a film about the pull of one's native culture and the desire of the next generation to be free of it. This is a realistic story without a pre-packaged message. The film is intelligent and moving. Perhaps the telling is just a little rushed.
8) GONE BABY GONE
A young private investigator takes a job of looking for a little girl whose kidnapping has become a media event. This investigation will prove not just to be violent and shocking, it will also raise some complex moral questions. Ben Affleck's first feature film as director turns out to be a much better film than most of the movies that he has acted in. This is a strong, well-directed film and the debut of what could be a very promising director.
9) BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
Jess has a terrible life at home and at school. But the situation gets 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 social outcasts, but form a rich (platonic) relationship together that strengthens Jess for some of the emotional wrenches to come in his life. This is a film that is by turns wonderful and heart-breaking. Do not expect a big special-effects fantasy. Fantasy as a source of emotional strength is one theme among several well-presented themes. This fantasy-etched story is more intelligent than most films made for adults.
10) SWEENEY TODD
SWEENEY RAZORHANDS. One of Broadway's best and most controversial musicals comes to the screen as a vehicle for the Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team. This version glories in the gory more than the stage version did. Depp's singing limitations rob the character of Sweeney of his all-important contagious savage fury. Burton shows the audience a lot that could not be shown on stage, not all of which was a good idea to show. Still the music will haunt you.
The following films got a high enough rating to make my list, but there can be only ten films on a Top Ten list. So I would like to recognize that I was also impressed with RESCUE DAWN, BEOWULF, THE SINGING REVOLUTION, and THE SAVAGES.
More importantly I would like to recognize three films from previous years that I saw in 2007, too late to make my list for their years though they probably should have been on previous top ten lists.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS is about an officer and interrogator in the Stasi, the Communist East German Secret Police, spying on innocent citizens and becoming involved in their lives. Ulrich Mühe plays Captain Gerd Wiesler who is extremely good in a job he comes to wish did not exist. The actor Mühe was dying of stomach cancer as he made the film and his last performance is strong and moving.
PAN'S LABYRINTH is powerful as a fantasy film and as a story of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. This is Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's best film to date and is really a modern masterpiece of the fantasy film.
BLACK is very unusual in many ways. It is a high quality production coming from the Bollywood film industry, but it is one that avoids the traditional Bollywood style. The film breaks neatly in half at the intermission. Before the intermission it retells the story of the training of a deaf and blind child. This is very close to being a remake of Arthur Penn's film THE MIRACLE WORKER, the story of the monumental effort to teach the concept of what words are to a young Helen Keller. After the intermission writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali fictionally continues the story of the blind and deaf woman trying to reach her teacher who has fallen into the abyss of Alzheimer's Disease. The photography and art direction are things of beauty.
CLOVERFIELD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: There have been dozens of Japanese films depicting giant monsters attacking large cities. CLOVERFIELD tries to show what such an event would be like more realistically. The results are violent and frankly unpleasant to watch, but deliver on what they promise: a realistic depiction of what it would be like if a giant monster really did attack Manhattan. The photography is jarring, but not as jarring as the realism. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In 1954 the Japanese Toho Studios made the first Gojira/Godzilla film GOJIRA. This was effectively a terrifying monster in large part because we saw the monster not from his eye level but from ours. Our viewpoint was as a human, not as another monster. Toho continued to make kaiju (or "giant monster") films but made them more romps shot from the monsters' eye level. They might follow individual characters but they might typically be newspaper reporters with comic sidekicks. They stopped trying for realism. Godzilla might grab a building and it would collapse under his strength. But it did limited damage. On September 11, 2001, the world discovered that urban destruction could be very dangerous and scary for bystanders. Until now nobody has really associated that sort of urban hell with what we had been seeing for years in monster movies. Godzilla movies after 1954 never associated the kind of destruction we saw on 9/11 with monsters in cities. And, of course, there was no real reason it should be taken seriously and realistically. The Square-Cube Law in physics says that any animal that is several building stories high would really have to be fairly weak and docile if it existed at all. Kaiju are creatures of fantasy. CLOVERFIELD asks what it would be like if there really were something like a Godzilla that attacked Manhattan but everything else in the film was realistic. What kind of destruction would such a beast do? What would it be like being a human getting little information as to what was happening and seeing the destruction from a distance until it advanced to engulf you?
There is not much to say about the plot of the film. Rob Hawkins (played by Michael Stahl-David) is the guest of honor at a surprise party the night before he is flying to Japan to take a really nice job. Everybody at the party is waiting for the arrival of the lovely Beth who was Ron's girlfriend and one-night lover. The "one night lover" part is the big news at the party. Beth comes late to the party and leaves early. Then there is some sort of earthquake followed shortly by explosions in the distance. As people run into the street things really start to happen.
The movie is shot with very shaky photography from what is supposed to be an amateur hand-held camera. The entire film then is jerky and short. It had to be short enough to fit on one camera cassette. The film is supposed to all be what was on the one tape. The jerky style and apparent in-camera edits give the film more of a feeling of immediacy and realism, not unlike what was done with the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The film itself is only 73 minutes long, not counting twelve minutes of credits at the end. Going into the movie that seemed a little short for a feature film. But the action and violence are so intense and so immediate that one is really looking forward to it to end. The party footage at the beginning is really a little dull, like the ride up the first ramp on a roller coaster. When the film finally does let go it is one heck of a ride. Those who look to Kaiju film for fun and action may well find the action but not the fun. The film suggests that being near a giant monster attack is much like being near a terrorist attack. There is panic and confusion and people dying. There is a struggle to stay alive that has no guarantee of success. There is little idea of what is going on and less of what to do to survive. The monster itself is seen only in quick snatches.
The long credit sequence at the end credits a very large number of songs. But I remember no music from the point the camera leaves the party to when the end credits roll. The music under the end credits is original but seems to borrow some musical effects from the scores of Toho monster films, which was probably the inspiration for much of the end theme. With no familiar actors and the inexpensive shooting style the film came in for a reported 25 million dollars. It only proves that writing and ideas can do more for a film than special effects can. Matt Reeves directed the film from a screenplay by Drew Goddard. The producer is J.J. Abrams, the creator of TV shows "Felicity" and "Lost". My showing also featured a trailer for the eleventh "Star Trek" movie to be directed by the self-same J.J. Abrams.
The innocuous-sounding title of CLOVERFIELD seems an exercise in reverse psychology or at least irony. The pleasant sound suggests that the film will be anything but pleasant. And on that reverse promise the film does deliver. I would rate CLOVERFIELD a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1060277/
THE HIDDEN FAMILY by Charles Stross (copyright 2005, Tor, $7.99, 327pp, ISBN 0-765-35205-2) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
After beating my head against a wall for 600 or so pages via the reading of FATAL REVENANt, I needed something lighter and more fun. I reached into my ever-growing to-read stack and pulled out the second book of Charles Stross's "Merchant Princes" series, THE HIDDEN FAMILY. It fit the bill quite nicely.
THE HIDDEN FAMILY continues to follow the exploits of Miriam Beckstein, tech journalist from Boston, as she continues to explore the alternate worlds (I'll get to that) she discovered back in THE FAMILY TRADE. Last time, she was the victim of more than one assassination attempt, presumably by members of the Clan who wanted her dead because she was upsetting the balance of things. One of her would-be assassins had a locket just like hers, except that it enables travel to yet another world--so, if you're keeping score at home, we're up to three.
A little bit of background. There were six brothers in the Clan. One of them went west and disappeared, never to be seen again. Well, they're back--and hence the name of the book. But of course, nothing is that simple.
As I said in my review of THE FAMILY TRADE, Miriam wanted to change things in both her real homeworld and now the newly discovered third world. She decides to do this by setting up a business in the third world that deals in ideas, not raw items and materials, the idea being that those items are finite in quantity, but that real wealth is added by ideas and the humans that implement those ideas. She believes that by selling and patenting some ideas in the third world she can make a lot of money, and make that business a Clan subsidiary.
The problem is, of course, that not only do Clan people want her dead or at least out of the picture, people from the new world are attempting to assassinate folks from the Clan for abandoning them when they were out west. So, all sorts of murder attempts and mayhem take place, and of course there are plots within plots within plots, and we find a few surprises along the way which make life much more interesting.
Like THE FAMILY TRADE, this one is fun, light, and a fairly easy read. If you need a break from reading heavy stuff, I recommend you read the "Merchant Princes" series by Charles Stross. The third book is out in paperback, and I believe the fourth is out in hardcover. The series is not over, and for once, I think that's a good thing. [-jak]
THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN by Simon Winder (book review by Mark R. Leeper):
Simon Winder's 2006 book THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN: A PERSONAL JOURNEY INTO THE DISTURBING WORLD OF JAMES BOND (ISBN 978-0-312- 42666-8) is a meandering but nevertheless engrossing quadruple history. The cover of the American edition is an early piece of James Bond poster art. Sean Connery is looking suave with a long gun and a half-naked blond. The book itself is a little more serious than the cover makes it look.
Simon Winder informally goes back and forth among four threads of history:
Winder's main thrust (if there is one) is to explain why the James Bond series in books have meant so much to him, his friends and to the people of Britain in general. In a nutshell, the 20th century did not go well for Britain, as their empire dissolved and the wars seriously damaged their economy. Bond was a hero and object of admiration and envy in multiple ways. He was obviously used to the finer things in life. He had the finest cigarettes, the finest wines, and the finest women. He was the man many men in Britain (and the United States for that matter) wanted to be. And Bond was all these things in the 1950s when the British economy was still reeling from the war. Britain had large debts from the war and a stagnant economy. They lacked basics like sugar, meat, eggs, and fruit long after the war was over. James Bond had not just these things but a taste for the better things in life and was a sort of suave consumer. Winder sees Bond's eating of an avocado in the book CASINO ROYALE as an important event for Fleming's readers. Avocados were apparently little known and unobtainable in Britain to that point. People emulating Bond may have acted as a jumpstart to the economy.
And Bond had the privileges of a hero. Winder succinctly sums up much of the situation in one paragraph on page 190. "As the 1960s progressed, Bond's ability to maim and kill foreigners became a great consolation to millions of embittered and confused people whose traditional world picture had changed with alarming speed. Bond in fact became in the 1960s pretty much the only British national capable of damaging anybody at all." Fleming's James Bond books and the films made from them were a salve to British pride. They were a relief from the precious tweedy-ness and cable-knit sweater and coin boxes on heaters.
The film LIVE AND LET DIE was Winder's first exposure to Bond. And he loved it at the time and now rightfully sees the film as inferior. In my opinion he got interested in Bond films at just about the wrong time. The whole stretch from the previous film DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER through MOONRAKER are in varying degrees all dreadful. Ironically, Winder wrote his book between the releases of the films DIE ANOTHER DAY and CASINO ROYALE and he dreads seeing the possibility that CASINO ROYALE would have John Cleese's Q giving Bond more features on the invisible car. It did not and one rather suspects that Winder would have been rather pleased with CASINO ROYALE's new approach.
The author's observations seem to wander. The book is informal and conversational in tone. Winder discusses the books' love- hate relationship with the United States. He will discuss how Bond's Epicurean tastes work well for the readers, but seem out of place in such a hired killer who would need to maintain a low profile. Characters like Rosa Klebb and Oddjob seem less likely to be interested in the quality of pots of jam. Winder goes on at length about Bond villains and how nuclear weapons made global domination actually possible where it had not been before. Some of his fact-checking could be better. For example he does not think Joseph Wiseman had much of a career outside of playing the title character in DR. NO. Wiseman actually had a fairly busy career in both film and TV.
THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN by Simon Winder rambles quite a bit. It rambles more than it should, perhaps. But it is entertaining for those of us who enjoyed the whole James Bond mythos. A more serious and better book was quite possible, but Winder apparently wanted to keep the book engaging. Winder does commit one of transgressions that frequently bother me with non-fiction books. His book really needs an index. He very much limits its use as a source of information by making that information so hard to find. [-mrl]
Automatic Cars and Political Films (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's article on automatically driven cars in the 01/11/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes, "Some SF writers have predicted a time when manual driving is illegal. And some of us may live long enough to see this. After all, computers and software improve faster than we humans can breed better drivers. It doesn't have to be perfect, just better than us. An intermediate step, already under way, is computer-assisted driving; for example, anti-lock brakes. And a few luxury cars have automatic parking systems." [-tw]
And in response to Evelyn's comments on political films' box office receipts in the 01/18/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras writes, "Evelyn writes, "CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR had Tom Hanks; THE KINGDOM had Jamie Foxx ..." And LIONS FOR LAMBS had Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert Redford. It made $15 million, compared to KINGDOM's $44 [million] and WILSON'S $60.5 [million] and counting." [-tw]
Mark responds, "Of course, I don't know if that is good considering they cost $80,000,000 and $75,000,000 respectively. I think your case was that conservative-themed films do better at the box office than liberal ones. That goes against the common belief. That is really too small to be significant. If I read the IMDB correctly RESCUE DAWN, with a somewhat conservative theme, did not do very well. (That is a pity. I enjoyed the film, if 'enjoyed' is the right word.) They are all blown away by FAHRENEHIT 9/11, which cost $6,000,000 and grossed $119,000,000. Actually, one of the things people were looking to LIONS FOR LAMBS to do is show if Tom Cruise is now a box office liability after his weird off-screen shenanigans. He may be particularly a bad choice for a film with a political viewpoint. I am not sure that the public ever saw Tom Cruise as a voice of much authority." [-mrl]
Preston (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to the correction on Preston Foster and Preston Sturges in 01/18/08 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes, "Sure, there's another Preston. For an animation fan, the first one to come to mind is often Preston Blair, veteran animator and creator of some of the best how-to books (in the Walter Foster series) about animating. There's also press-on nails, but they only work in the past tense." [-kw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
David Goldfarb writes, "In the latest MT VOID you wrote: 'Tor's "Starlight" series was excellent while it lasted, but ceased after five volumes.' My first reaction was to wonder wildly how I had missed volumes four and five when they came out. My second was to speculate whether you were channeling King Arthur from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL." [-dg]
No, I was just confused. I either misremembered, or looked up the wrong series to check the numbers.
Our book discussion group chose THE INNOCENTS ABROAD by Mark Twain (ISBN-13 978-0-451-53049-3, ISBN-10 0-451-53049-7) for January. This was Twain's first book, but showed the beginnings of the sarcasm (and even vitriol) that Twain became known for. The trip, on the steamship Quaker City, was the first transatlantic pleasure cruise (according to Twain biographer Albert Bigelow Paine), and lasted five months. Twain visited Gibraltar, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, "the Holy Land", and Bermuda--and pretty much disliked all of them. (Well, except Bermuda.) Every place he went, he found (or claimed to find) the people dirty, lazy, and greedy; most of the sights over-rated; and the governments corrupt. Now of course sometimes he was right: it is impossible that all the pieces of the True Cross he saw were pieces of the True Cross. (In fact, at least one writer claims that after Twain's book came out, guides in Europe found they had to be a bit more restrained in their claims about relics, as tourists were much more skeptical.)
One complaint voiced at the discussion group meeting was that Twain was sometimes serious, sometimes satirical--and it was not always easy to tell which one a particular sentence was. There is some truth in this, and also to the fact that Twain is somewhat of a bigot. It's not racism per se, because he pretty much looks down on anyone who is not Anglo-Saxon. Of course, one can argue that he pretty much looked down on the Anglo-Saxons as well, at least those in the Quaker City party, what with his descriptions of them stealing fruit, defacing monuments, and running away from danger while boasting of their bravery.
[Of the Church of Holy Sepulchre] "When one stands where the Saviour was crucified, he finds it all he can do to keep it strictly before his mind that Christ was not crucified in a Catholic Church. He must remind himself every now and then that the great event transpired in the open air, and not in a gloomy, candle-lighted cell in a little corner of a vast church, up- stairs--a small cell all bejeweled and bespangled with flashy ornamentation, in execrable taste."
"And so I close my chapter on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre-- the most sacred locality on earth to millions and millions of men, and women, and children, the noble and the humble, bond and free. In its history from the first, and in its tremendous associations, it is the most illustrious edifice in Christendom. With all its clap-trap side-shows and unseemly impostures of every kind, it is still grand, reverend, venerable--for a god died there; for fifteen hundred years its shrines have been wet with the tears of pilgrims from the earth's remotest confines; for more than two hundred, the most gallant knights that ever wielded sword wasted their lives away in a struggle to seize it and hold it sacred from infidel pollution. Even in our own day a war, that cost millions of treasure and rivers of blood, was fought because two rival nations claimed the sole right to put a new dome upon it. History is full of this old Church of the Holy Sepulchre--full of blood that was shed because of the respect and the veneration in which men held the last resting-place of the meek and lowly, the mild and gentle, Prince of Peace!"
In addition to cementing Twain's literary reputation, the trip had another lasting effect. One of the other passengers was Charles Langdon, who had brought a miniature of his sister Olivia. Twain saw the miniature and was smitten. On his return he arranged to meet Olivia, and eventually convinced her to marry him.
I had heard good things about THE REMARKABLE MILLARD FILLMORE (ISBN-13 978-0-307-33962-1, ISBN-10 0-307-33962-9). It was supposedly very funny, but it just fell flat with me. It's possible that "For the first ten years of his life, Fillmore did not attend school, education not being encouraged by his parents, who, due to a misunderstanding, believed it to be a cause of goiter" might seem humorous to some, but I am not one of them. And while there is an index, it is largely fictitious. For example, one entry is "Hun: Attila the, 76-78; unless you've got buns, 4". Needless to say, pages 76-78 and 4 have no such references. The only real truth in the book is in the notes at the end, explaining how the bare facts of the narrative, stripped of their silliness, are true. The description on the back says "Humor", but the Library of Congress classification is American history. I suppose it is history, in some sense, but I doubt I would shelve it there--or anywhere else in my collection. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. -- Kenneth Clark
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