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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/23/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 30, Whole Number 1529
Table of Contents
Last week's issue was mistakenly labeled "01/16/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 28, Whole Number 1527".
It should have been "01/16/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 29, Whole Number 1528".
Thanks to Jack Weaver for catching this. [-ecl]
Science Fiction Becomes Reality (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE MAN (1972) THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) DEEP IMAPCT (1998) 24 (2001-present) (TV) HEAD OF STATE (2003) IDIOCRACY (2006) Inauguration (2009)
See http://www.slate.com/id/2202810/ for details. [-ecl]
Mixed Recommendation (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
If you are interested in viewing science fiction art online, as well as a lot of other categories, ImageNETion.com has a fabulous collection. That is the good news. The bad news is that the interface is absolutely horrible. I have been able to find reasonable ways to browse their collection, but only by using features specific to my browser. I think somebody just needs to write them a much better user interface. But there is a wide variety of beautiful collections of high-definition reproductions.
Another Set of Top Westerns (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
For those of you now sick of hearing about Western movies-I figure there are about four of you-It just happens that the historynet, a site connected with several history magazines, has just recently done their own selection of the best 100 Westerns selected by a panel of experts. Go to: http://www.historynet.com/100-greatest-western-movies.htm/print
Of course with 100 Westerns in no particular order, there is a lot of overlap with films already mentioned in this discussion. [-mrl]
The Bush Legacy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
President Bush has said of his legacy, "Let history be my judge." Can it be that he just wants a judge he can be sure will never bring in a final verdict? [-mrl]
Where's the Mouse? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I promised to continue with my story about my house invader last week. I will interrupt that narrative to announce my Top Ten Film List for 2008. The mouse will continue that discussion next week. [-mrl]
My Top Ten Films of 2008 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
2007 had been a good year for films, mostly in the latter months. I was hoping that 2008 would be equally good. Sadly there were not as many memorable films. There were some very good films, but not enough to match the best of 2007.
Honorable Mention goes to these films:
One film that should have been mentioned last year, but I saw too late:
The 100-Thing Challenge (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
There have been a lot of "simplicity movements" lately. And I'm all for simplicity as a guideline. I think it makes more sense to use basic ingredients to prepare a variety of foods (or cleaning products) rather than buying a huge variety of specialized products. But I don't think carrying it to extremes is necessary-- I buy some canned soup rather than making it from scratch because you can't really make a small amount of soup from scratch and two people don't eat that much soup.
And I must admit that my first reaction when I got a new shirt and did not have a hanger for it was not to say, "I need to buy more hangers," but "I need to get rid of one of my old shirts."
But these simplicity plans are getting a little too gimmicky. The latest is the "100-Thing Challenge", which is David Michael Bruno trying to reduce his possessions to only 100 items. This sounds marginally possible if you are homeless or backpacking through Europe with all your possessions in a rucksack, but can someone living in the United States--and well enough off to get his idea publicized--do so?
Well, maybe, if you take advantage of all his loopholes:
Some of his breakdowns are just peculiar. For example, he lists his printer and external hard drive as separate items from his iMac. So I assume his iMac is a laptop, or he'd have to list the monitor, keyboard, and mouse as well. He also lists a file cabinet and a desk. Are they empty, or for some reason do the items in them not count?
Half his items are clothes, another twenty are camping gear. And most of what he listed as getting rid of were also clothes, camping gear, or sports equipment. So apparently most of what counts towards this "challenge" were in these categories. I guess if you don't do camping or sports, this challenge is basically reducing your clothing to 100 items. He did say he got rid of a pewter Gollum, Beorn, and hobbit, and also woodworking tools ("very sad about this") and side table drawer [sic] ("My wife insisted on keeping this as 'her' item, but I'm not going to use it").
And there is what is wrong with this plan: having decided that lots of stuff doesn't even count, and that his library is one item, he then gets rid of something that he apparently really wants to keep, just to make his hundred items. And even if his wife says that she will keep something as hers, he won't use it, so doesn't have to count it.
Details of the "100-Thing Challenge" can be found at http://www.guynameddave.com/100-thing-challenge.html. [-ecl]
MILK (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Gus Van Sant directs a powerful docudrama of the life and times of Harvey Milk, from coming to San Francisco to being elected city supervisor to being murdered along with the mayor of San Francisco. The style is realistic and not overly polished. This is a highly affecting film, and Sean Penn gives the most moving performance of the year of a very ordinary man whom history moved to greatness. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to a major office in this country. At age forty he moved from New York City to the Castro section of San Francisco, lobbied for gay rights, and ran for public office. In fact, several times he ran for office eventually being elected City Supervisor. He had conflicts with a mentally unbalanced City Supervisor named Dan White. Eventually Dan White settled his multiple conflicts by bringing a gun to City Hall and murdering Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Gus Van Sant directs the story of Milk in a style is very much like documentary footage. Films like the current VALKYRIE and DEFIANCE use a more dramatic style. Van Sant does not understate his scenes but he does not overstate them either. One feels that this is an authentic view into these lives.
The structure of the film is confused but not confusing. Mostly is seems to be Milk's reminiscences spoken into a tape recorder and dramatized in flashback. However, the narrative includes Milk's death. His reminiscences flash between his political and personal lives. His political life repeated pits him against self-righteous opponents who identify their will with that of God. Opponents include State Senator John Briggs (Denis O'Hare), Anita Bryant (played by herself in newsreel footage), and Dan White (Josh Brolin). Dustin Lance Black's script even does a reasonable job of representing Dan White's position and even some truth to his feelings of betrayal by Milk. This film even has some sympathy for its most negative character. On the other hand, Milk's personal life is more of a mess with multiple troubled relationships. Milk has a soft spot in his heart for the weak and the wounded. At times this brings him to the edge of scandal, but he seems to come out untarnished.
I have never considered Sean Penn a particularly appealing actor. He can be powerful, but until MILK he never played a character I had much feeling for. His Harvey Milk is powerful but also vulnerable and funny. He can be a political wheeler-dealer, and he can sabotage himself for principle. Penn gives a letter-perfect performance of a complex figure. He pulled me into the character and made me feel for him. When he died at the end there was a feeling of loss. In one scene Milk is rushing around doing something political when he gets a phone call from a young gay man in Minnesota. Milk tries to brush him off. As soon as the young man mentions he is considering suicide Milk turns on a dime. Saving this man in trouble is his first priority and there is no second. Milk as Penn plays him is tremendously likable and sympathetic in ways that transcend his politics. This is charm I have never seen in Penn and this may well be the role Penn will be remembered for.
There are several familiar faces peppered throughout including James Franco of the Spider-Man films and FLYBOYS showing a more vulnerable side. Victor Garber, who played the builder of Titanic in the film of the same name, exudes confidence as San Francisco mayor Moscone. The film's Dan White, Josh Brolin, brings some unexpected sympathy to his role. He may be familiar from MIMIC, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and perhaps AMERICAN GANGSTER.
MILK is a film about a man of courage and compassion. I rate MILK a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. And it does not hurt a bit to have liberal use of Puccini's spectacular music from his opera Tosca.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1013753/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/milk/
LIFELINES (a.k.a. WHEREVER YOU ARE) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is not the only film this season that features a family being split to the tune of bitter argument. In LIFELINES a hugely dysfunctional family spends a day with a family counselor. It is a day of cutting comments, raw nerves, telling observations, and eventually some understanding. While the day does not prove to be a panacea, it does let the family understand each other better and finds a hidden vein of concern. The story produces a gamut of emotions from comic to tragic. This is a moving human drama. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The Bernstein family, highly dysfunctional, is composed of five people, each of whom cannot get along with the other four. We see them on what seems to be a typical morning with each of the children a different problem for the mother Nancy (played by Jane Adams). Each of the children has his own reason for bitterness and that hostility dominates his reactions. Michael (Robbie Sublett) is the eldest and withdrawn into his shell, stuttering with self- doubt. He may be the most able member of the family. Young Spencer (Jacob Kogen) is twelve, hyperactive, and but for the foul mouth behaves like a spoiled five-year-old. The biggest pain is the sixteen-year-old daughter Meghan (Dreama Walker) who has several names for her mother, all of which end in the word "bitch" and seem to fit Meghan better than Nancy. Father Ira (Josh Pais), is as ineffective as Nancy at controlling the savages. Central to all is Nancy, the mother who is shells-shocked and crumbling under the strain.
We discover that today is not typical at all. Ira (Josh Pais), the father, is going to announce he is leaving the family and going to live with his boyfriend. To prepare the family for the announcement and for the giant changes that are coming, the Bernsteins are seeing a family counselor, Dr. Livingston (Joe Morton). This healing step is years late for this family. In the beginning Ira plays the game of being over-cooperative, trying to say exactly what the counselor wants to hear. Nancy simpers along, and children do what they can to derail the process. Soon truths are being told and we see beyond the annoying shells these people have chosen to inhabit all the way to the hurt and vulnerability inside.
Late in the film there is a highly unlikely coincidence that gives Dr. Livingston a personal connection to this family. But it is a real contrivance. Morton as Livingston, with his shelves full of toys and puzzles and his hair braided in cornrows, always seems a little too good and a little too much in control of himself to be true, at least true to his real self. He smoothly plays games to get his clients to reveal the source of their pain. Later in the film we learn something unexpected about him but it only serves to make him seem more noble. The film raises unreasonable expectations of family counselors much in the way CSI raises expectations for crime scene investigation.
Newcomer writer/director/producer Rob Margolies kept to a minimum of settings so LIFELINES is essentially a stage play, opening out only in the last third of the film. A restaurant dinner for the family is the most enjoyable and witty section of the film, if at the same time no less dark than the rest of the story. This film is touching and occasionally powerful. If one can get by the early negative characterizations, it eventually rewards the viewer. I rate LIFELINES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Any filmmaker who starts his film showing a naked man sitting on a toilet needs to have a really good reason. LIFELINES is a good film, but that pointless touch shows more license than taste. On the other hand, I have lived in central New Jersey for thirty-two years and David Sperling's photography makes it look more beautiful than I realized that it is.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1127227/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10010084-wherever_you_are/
Mice (letter of comment by Tim McDaniel):
In response to Mark's comments on mice in the 01/16/09 issue of the MT VOID, Tim McDaniel writes:
[Mark writes,] "A very cheap but unconscionable way to kill mice is to leave dry instant whipped potato flakes around. The mouse eats the flakes. When he tries to digest the flakes the moisture in his system goes into the flakes. They then expand to many times their original volume. ... I do not want to think about it."
I strongly suspect that it's false.
http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/birdrice.asp says "Seagulls don't explode when they eat Alka-Seltzer; pigeons don't explode when they eat rice." It notes that lots of migratory birds use flooded rice fields to rest and feed up. (Churches dislike rice because it's hard to clean up and it's like walking on small ball bearings.)
The Straight Dope (Cecil Adams) also thinks it's false: http://tinyurl.com/8yhhpk
I think that, at the very worst, over-full mice would do exactly what *you* would do (fellow mammal) if *your* stomach were too full. I can see why you "do not want to think about" mice who are projectile vomiting potato flakes all over your pantry.
Mark replies, "I cannot say I have tried it myself, as I said in the article. But I have heard it said that this is a way to kill mice. Whatever we do, let us *not* send it to Mythbusters."
Evelyn adds, "I don't think Mythbusters would actually test this on real mice, because everyone would be all over them about it."
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I just read a novel set in the world of real estate speculation, of lobbyists and pork barrel projects and Congressional corruption, and of honest people who invest their life savings in businesses that seem safe but are built on sand and so they lose everything. Some might ask why I would want to read a novel about all this when the newspaper are full of the same thing. But a novel lets one step back from reality and see a situation more clearly. In this case, what one sees is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, because the novel is THE GILDED AGE: A TALE OF TODAY by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner (ISBN-13 978-1-605-89752-3, ISBN-10 1-605-89752-3), set a hundred and thirty-five years ago.
And if one wants to select one chapter from THE GILDED AGE to discuss, Chapter 50 seems to be the most packed with ideas.
Twain and Warner start by saying words that will appeal to any fan of alternate history:
"It is impossible for the historian, with even the best intentions, to control events or compel the persons of his narrative to act wisely or to be successful. It is easy to see how things might have been better managed; a very little change here and there would have made a very different history of this one now in hand.
If Philip had adopted some regular profession, even some trade, he might now be a prosperous editor or a conscientious plumber, or an honest lawyer, and have borrowed money at the saving's bank and built a cottage, and be now furnishing it for the occupancy of Ruth and himself. Instead of this, with only a smattering of civil engineering, he is at his mother's house, fretting and fuming over his ill-luck, and the hardness and, dishonesty of men, and thinking of nothing but how to get the coal out of the Ilium hills.
If Senator Dilworthy had not made that visit to Hawkeye, the Hawkins family and Col. Sellers would not now be dancing attendance upon Congress, and endeavoring to tempt that immaculate body into one of those appropriations, for the benefit of its members, which the members find it so difficult to explain to their constituents; and Laura would not be lying in the Tombs, awaiting her trial for murder, and doing her best, by the help of able counsel, to corrupt the pure fountain of criminal procedure in New York.
If Henry Brierly had been blown up on the first Mississippi steamboat he set foot on, as the chances were that he would be, he and Col. Sellers never would have gone into the Columbus Navigation scheme, and probably never into the East Tennessee Land scheme, and he would not now be detained in New York from very important business operations on the Pacific coast, for the sole purpose of giving evidence to convict of murder the only woman he ever loved half as much as he loves himself. If Mr. Bolton had said the little word 'no' to Mr. Bigler, Alice Montague might now be spending the winter in Philadelphia, and Philip also (waiting to resume his mining operations in the spring); and Ruth would not be an assistant in a Philadelphia hospital, taxing her strength with arduous routine duties, day by day, in order to lighten a little the burdens that weigh upon her unfortunate family."
Then they proceed to suggest that "a little money" can solve almost all problems:
"And the most annoying thought is that a little money, judiciously applied, would relieve the burdens and anxieties of most of these people; but affairs seem to be so arranged that money is most difficult to get when people need it most.
A little of what Mr. Bolton has weakly given to unworthy people would now establish his family in a sort of comfort, and relieve Ruth of the excessive toil for which she inherited no adequate physical vigor. A little money would make a prince of Col. Sellers; and a little more would calm the anxiety of Washington Hawkins about Laura, for however the trial ended, he could feel sure of extricating her in the end. And if Philip had a little money he could unlock the stone door in the mountain whence would issue a stream of shining riches. It needs a golden wand to strike that rock. If the Knobs University bill could only go through, what a change would be wrought in the condition of most of the persons in this history. Even Philip himself would feel the good effects of it; for Harry would have something and Col. Sellers would have something; and have not both these cautious people expressed a determination to take an interest in the Ilium mine when they catch their larks?"
Meanwhile, Philip has decided that he needs to earn some money, but is not sure how. As Twain and Warner observe:
"It was not altogether Philip's fault, let us own, that he was in this position. There are many young men like him in American society, of his age, opportunities, education and abilities, who have really been educated for nothing and have let themselves drift, in the hope that they will find somehow, and by some sudden turn of good luck, the golden road to fortune. He was not idle or lazy, he had energy and a disposition to carve his own way. But he was born into a time when all young men of his age caught the fever of speculation, and expected to get on in the world by the omission of some of the regular processes which have been appointed from of old. And examples were not wanting to encourage him. He saw people, all around him, poor yesterday, rich to-day, who had come into sudden opulence by some means which they could not have classified among any of the regular occupations of life. A war would give such a fellow a career and very likely fame. He might have been a 'railroad man,' or a politician, or a land speculator, or one of those mysterious people who travel free on all rail-roads and steamboats, and are continually crossing and recrossing the Atlantic, driven day and night about nobody knows what, and make a great deal of money by so doing. Probably, at last, he sometimes thought with a whimsical smile, he should end by being an insurance agent, and asking people to insure their lives for his benefit."
I don't know about you, but there seem to be a lot of people these days who want to get rich, but do not want to apply themselves to learn anything useful or train themselves for any profession. Even if all they want is to live in the lifestyle which their parents have allowed them to become accustomed to, they don't seem to think they have to do anything to prepare themselves.
And the small investor getting into something he is unfamiliar with is not new: "It is not unusual for a quiet country gentleman to be more taken with such a venture than a speculator who, has had more experience in its uncertainty. It was astonishing how many New England clergymen, in the time of the petroleum excitement, took chances in oil. The Wall street brokers are said to do a good deal of small business for country clergymen, who are moved no doubt with the laudable desire of purifying the New York stock board." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It has been said that the love of money is the root of all evil. The want of money is so quite as truly. -- Samuel Butler
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