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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/19/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 34, Whole Number 1585
Table of Contents
Beautiful Pulp Art (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The IO9 site has a display of really nice pulp art magazine covers. Artists include Frank R. Paul and a personal favorite of mine, Virgil Finley. To tour the collection click on the icon at the upper right that says "next >>." This site is recommended.
News of the Week (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I guess one of the big news stories of the week was about a Super Bowl advertisement about someone who could have been aborted but instead grew up to be in a profession where he runs into people trying to stop them and if possible injure them, all to get a piece of the skin of a dead animal between two wooden poles. Because he lived he is an inspiration to our nation's youth to work and train to run into people trying to stop them and possibly injure them and to get a piece of the skin of a dead animal between two wooden poles. Thank goodness he lived. [-mrl]
The Subversive Activities Registration Act (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
South Carolina has gotten a reputation of late for being one of the more humorous and controversial states in the Union. This was the state that Joe Wilson was from. He was the Representative from California who shouted at the President while the President was making a speech to Congress. If you remember, his exact words were, "You lie!" This is not so terribly bad. Hostilities have gotten pretty bad in the House of Representatives and there are a lot of Republicans who are saying that the President lies. But it is something of a breach of decorum to interrupt a Presidential address. Congress is not supposed to be that entertaining. It is British Parliament and "The Daily Show" that are supposed to be the places for humorous politics. So far the two major United States political parties are at least according the others that much respect if no more than that. Wilson did get a formal reproach from the House and he apologized.
The Wilson incident did not look good. Still, it looked considerably better than the Governor of South Carolina claiming that he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail and could not be reached. In fact he could be reached, but not on the Appalachian Trail. A reporter spotted him as he was getting off a plane from Argentina. He had been way south of the trail in Argentina with one María Belén Chapur and they had not been hiking.
Well, once again things are strange in South Carolina. It is all over something called the "Subversive Activities Registration Act." The idea is that if you live in South Carolina and intend to control or overthrow the government, you have to declare your intentions. You have to pay a five-dollar filing fee and answer the question, "Do you or your organization directly or indirectly advocate, advise, teach or practice the duty or necessity of controlling, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States, the state of South Carolina or any political division thereof?" and "If yes, please outline the fundamental beliefs. If applicable, attach a copy of the bylaws or minutes of meetings from the last year." The form goes on to ask the filer to name all members of their organization located in South Carolina. Oh, and the filing fee is nice and affordable. It is only $5. That is good because the salary for being a terrorist is not very much. Sometimes terrorist organizations provide big financial rewards for members of the terrorist's family who survive the terrorist, but they clearly wanted to keep the cost of registering down to about the price of a good hamburger.
Now the whole country is laughing at the absurdity of this law. What seditionist or terrorists would be so stupid to register their entire South Carolina organization? Who, after all, will pay five dollars to announce he/she is a terrorist? Well, I personally like to try to look at issues from a different perspective. I want to defend the South Carolina approach.
It seems like seditious organizations are a bad thing and they should be eliminated and not just registered. Actually not all of the Founding Fathers felt that way. Thomas Jefferson said, "As revolutionary instruments (when nothing but revolution will cure the evils of the State) [secret societies] are necessary and indispensable, and the right to use them is inalienable by the people." This may be a minority opinion and may have even been one in 1803 when Jefferson said it. But Jefferson had an open mind.
Now, do I expect Al Qaeda representatives to be filling out these forms to announce their intentions and give away their whole organization? No, of course not. But I think that the beauty of this plan is that it works whether the miscreants use it or not. How is that again? Well, you may remember that at one time Al Capone built an empire on bootlegging, prostitution, murder, and inspiring certain episodes of "The Untouchables". You know how much of that he was convicted of? Not very much. Not enough to for him to be seriously inconvenienced. How was he put behind bars? He obviously had a huge income and he was not paying income taxes on it. Income tax evasion was not a big piece of his way of doing business, but it was enough to put him in Federal prison.
Now suppose that the great state of South Carolina says that the penalty for failing to file that you advocate overthrowing the government is life imprisonment. Registered seditionists are at least easier to watch, because they are registered. Any you find that are unregistered, you only have to show that they advocated the overthrowing of the government but committed the awful crime of failing to register that intention.
I wonder if that will stand up in the Supreme Court. Probably not. At least not with the current wording. I mean, lots of people belong to an organization directly or indirectly advocating advising the teaching or practice the duty or necessity of controlling the government of the United States. They are called Republicans. Still, what the heck, let's give it a try. [-mrl]
THE WOLFMAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Joe Johnston directs an expansion and sophistication of the 1941 THE WOLF MAN. In story and in style this is a cold, dark film. The script has some very nice touches but goes over the top in the final act. In many ways it is much more a work of art than the original film, but the original will be remembered when this film is forgotten. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Lawrence Talbot (played by Benicio Del Toro) left palatial Talbot Manor when his mother died and he was only six. He went to the United States and eventually became a famous actor. Playing in London in 1891, he gets a letter from his brother's fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt) that his brother has disappeared. He returns to the brooding now-cobweb-laden manor house of his early youth, ruled over by his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins). It is not clear if the manor or Sir John is deteriorating faster. He finds his brother is dead, apparently by either a very powerful animal or--don't laugh, the locals certainly don't--a werewolf. He soon discovers that there is something very powerful, very fast, and very mean in the forest; it is indeed a werewolf, and it bites Lawrence. Anyone who knows the original film knows somewhat where this story is going. The screenplay is by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self re-telling a story suggested by the 1941 script by prolific Curt Siodmak. [I am not kidding about prolific. Horror fans should look at Siodmak's filmography.]
But knowing the original film does not prepare the viewer for the dark, morbid atmosphere of director Joe Johnston's sumptuous production. Nothing in the film is ever in brighter than half- light. Where the low B-film budget of the first film did not allow for very much visual style, Johnston goes overboard on the production design. Scenes showing a normal-speed foreground against a time-lapse sky border on the pretentious. The same moon is gibbous and full in the same night. Gore and organs aplenty fall from people slashed open by werewolves and only the dark photography restrains their impact. Johnson was well aware that the usual man in hairy makeup would not cut it. Rick Baker does the werewolf effects including transformation so it is not surprising that transformation scenes would stress stretchiness of limbs, much like Baker's effects in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. This is a werewolf who can run on two legs but for speed drops on all fours, an interesting concept. And these werewolves are fast and powerful, thus providing a credible threat. Even if they were not supernatural they would be hard to kill.
The original THE WOLF MAN had a weak third act. This version of the story bends over in the other direction having a really melodramatic ending featuring two super-werewolves fighting in a burning house. That is just the sort of film this is. It is peculiar coming from Johnston who directed excellent films like THE ROCKETEER and OCTOBER SKY. He may be excessive here, but he is a good enough director to keep his tongue out of his cheek. This is material that would be easily destroyed by turning it into a joke.
Speaking of the supernatural and werewolf lore, there runs through the film a believable confusion as to how to kill a werewolf. Some try silver bullets, and they by themselves are not enough. For one werewolf the film borrows folklore from HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The other werewolf in killed in a way not generally endorsed in werewolf films, and that seems to be cheating just a bit.
Casting for this film sounded odd from the beginning. Having Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot is a little strange for people used to seeing Lon Chaney, Jr., in the role. But then to cast Anthony Hopkins as his father is bizarre. They neither look nor sound alike. Geraldine Chaplin as Maleva the Gypsy woman is a peculiar choice. Hugo Weaving as a police inspector is a familiar face from the "Matrix" movies and the rest of him is familiar from the title role of V FOR VENDETTA.
Universal Studios never showed the proper respect for their tradition of monster films. To give so many tie-in films to Stephen Sommers demonstrates that. Sommers has never shown any real appreciation for the original material. Joe Johnston was a better choice for THE WOLFMAN. He is much closer to the mark. I rate THE WOLFMAN a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0780653/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1194949-wolfman/
Thrillers (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Mark's comments on thrillers in the 02/12/10 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Mark says:] "Alfred Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER. This is based on the play by Frederick Knott. If I had to hold up a murder story as being the paragon of the genre, this has to be the film I would choose. Why do I hold this one film is so much esteem? I guess first it is not a mystery at all. It is really an exercise in logic." [-mrl]
I was going to carp that a mystery is an exercise in logic, but then realised that a mystery is one type of exercise in logic. However, I did have one thought before that on the 'not a mystery at all' comment, which is that this would be why Hitchcock filmed this play. Hitch never made a whodunnit; the one whodunnit he adapted he amended the plot so that we learn the truth about Judy halfway through the film (VERTIGO). He did not want people wasting their time while watching one of his films trying to work out which character committed a crime; he wanted the audience to care about the characters. I suspect that Hitchcock's main interest in DIAL M FOR MURDER was convincing the audience that they wanted Wendice to get away with his crime while simultaneously wanting his wife to be cleared and the detective to work out what had happened. [-tb]
I do not remember consciously wanting Tony Wendice to get away with his plan. But you can still admire the intricacy of his plan how robust it remains in spite of setbacks. You can admire an enemy that you hope will still lose. I am reminded of the following exchange from the film OUTBREAK. It is between two scientists looking at a very deadly virus.
Casey Schuler: I hate this bug.
Colonel Sam Daniels: Oh, come on, Casey. You have to admire its simplicity. It's one billionth our size and it's beating us.
Casey Schuler: So, what do you want to do, take it to dinner?
Colonel Sam Daniels: No.
Casey Schuler: What, then?
Colonel Sam Daniels: Kill it.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
TRUE NAMES by Vernor Vinge (ISBN-13 978-0-312-862077) seemed like a great novella when it came out in 1981 (although it did not win the Hugo, losing to Poul Anderson's "The Saturn Game"), but it has not aged well. That is to say, it is clearly a seminal work, but it is not a work that today's readers can read and go, "Wow! What a great story! What great ideas!" Today, almost thirty years later, the ideas either are commonplace or have been proved misguided. Of course, this is probably true of most ground-breaking works.
DUST BOWL DIARY by Anne Marie Low (ISBN-10 0-8032-2854-3) is the diary of the author from being a sophomore in high school in 1928 to becoming a teacher and then up through 1937, all during the Depression and Dust Bowl in North Dakota. Low has filled in some of the gaps and made some general comments as well, so its half diary and half autobiography.
Low is fairly critical of the Roosevelt administration and most of its programs (such as the CCC). Yet ironically, she writes of a handyman on the farm, "Poor old Joe, still trying but increasingly useless, helped with the barnyard chores. He was not worth what he cost us in board, clothing, and tobacco money. Now a man like him would have social security [sic] or some pension system. Joe had nothing." She does not mention that Social Security was one of Roosevelt's programs. (Then again, many of those people protesting "socialism" in government are still perfectly happy to cash their Social Security checks and have Medicare pay their medical bills.)
HIDING THE ELEPHANT: HOW MAGICIANS INVENTED THE IMPOSSIBLE AND LEARNED TO DISAPPEAR by Jim Steinmeyer (ISBN-13 978-0-7967-1226-7) is the story of the development of magic as a form of entertainment, from the middle of the 19th century to the present (Steinmeyer designs illusions for magicians such as David Copperfield). He explains how many of the most famous tricks were done, in particular the ones involving vanishings. (Most, not surprisingly, used mirrors.) He does *not* explain how Robert Thurston did the Marvelous Orange Tree; this was one of the tricks shown in the film THE ILLUSIONIST, and one of the ones that many thought could not have been done in the time of the film. But apparently Thurston managed one almost identical. Steinmeyer's history is not rigorous, or at any rate not what is expected. He follows the history of the tricks and techniques rather than the biographies of the magicians. I would have liked a few more diagrams, and a few more explanations, but what is there is welcome.
I assume that everyone knows the "gimmick" in AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS by Jules Verne (ISBN-13 978-0-670-86793-6) is. If not, you may want to skip this comment. Okay, here goes. The whole trick of how Phileas Fogg wins his wager turns on the fact that he gains a day crossing the International Date Line, but does not realize it until it is almost too late. The problem with this is that it assumes that at no point during the trip *after* crossing the International Date Line did Fogg ever have occasion to see a newspaper or hear the date (or day of the week). Well, maybe it is possible that with all the rapid changing of trains, which seemed to run daily, it is conceivable that they all might be oblivious to the day, but they were rushing to get to New York, where the "China" was sailing for Liverpool on November 11. And they got there on what they also thought was 11:15PM November 11, only to discover the "China" had sailed forty-five minutes earlier. Except of course, it is really November 10, and there is no way the ship would have sailed a day early!
There are other inconsistencies. For example, asked what time it is, Passepartout says it is twenty-two minutes past eleven. Fogg says, "You are four minutes too slow. No matter; it's enough to mention the error. Now from this moment, twenty-nine minutes after eleven, a.m., this Wednesday, October 2nd, ..." There is no way that it can take three minutes to say, No matter; it's enough to mention the error. Now from this moment...."
It is also not clear why, if the "Carnatic" sails on November 14, and "would cross the ocean in twenty-one days," Fogg was "justified in hoping that he would reach San Francisco by the 2nd December." It would seem that the earliest he could expect would be December 5. (In fact, he does make it by December 2, somehow.)
[Many other inconsistencies and errors are footnoted in http://www.ibiblio.org/julesverne/books/awed%20revd%20edn.pdf.]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: There was more imagination in the head of Archimedes than in that of Homer. -- Voltaire
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