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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/11/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 37, Whole Number 1640
Table of Contents
Longstanding Names (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is always strange to hear a modern name that comes from a Biblical or historical source. You look at the names of the apostles and see Thomas. There were people named Thomas back then. It just seems strange. It is like reading about this council where the Emperor Octavian met with Floyd. [-mrl]
The Non-Repeatability of Scientific Studies (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
"The Truth Wears Off" by Jonah Lehrer is subtitled, "Many results that are rigorously proved and accepted start shrinking in later studies." It goes on to say, for example, that there were rigorous studies showing that drug A was effective in treating a disease. But similar studies five years later show a third less efficiency than was originally thought, and studies ten years later show another one-third drop-off.
My question is, what if the results of this study also show a drop- off in time? Shouldn't we expect that if five years in the future we look at studies that are showing results now, a third fewer will show a drop-off than the study shows now?
The article is available at http://tinyurl.com/void-studies). [-ecl]
The Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, Arizona (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
On our trip to Italy recently we were in an art museum and saw an exhibit of renaissance musical instruments. I do not remember exactly what instruments there were there. There were probably spinets and string instruments. As I remember we got about halfway into the small exhibit and then left for lack of real instruments.
Our next trip was to Scottsdale, Arizona, to visit family. My mother suggested that there was a new museum in the area, the MIM. It was the "Musical Instrument Museum". Perhaps we would like to see that. Remembering the bland little room in the Italian museum I had misgivings. And this title seemed rather bland itself. But it was something to do. So that was how I ended up going Phoenix's Musical Instrument Museum. And it would be easy to spend a whole day at this marvelous museum.
To start with was the name. Somehow the Museum of the Musical Instrument might have been more dignified, but there are already two museums called The Museum of the Moving Image. Both should probably not be called MMI. It could more properly be called The Museum of International Music.
[There is also a virtual museum called the Museum of Musical Instruments. -ecl]
The idea for a museum of music from all over the world could be several decades old, but the question would be how to implement it. One would have to have people listening to one country's music in one location and seven feet away people would have to be listening to music from another country. It sounds like the overall effect would be pandemonium. There were twenty different samples of music mixing together on the floor.
Obviously what is needed is for each person to have earphones. When you are near the Poland section you hear Polish music. There is a transmitter in the Poland section transmitting Polish music. There is a transmitter in the Hungary section transmitting Hungarian music. When you are near the Hungary section you hear Hungarian music. Each person has a processor that decides which transmitter is nearest. As the visitor moves from one section to the next the Polish music does a fade-out. There is a moment of silence then the Hungarian music fades in. It sounds as if it is being done by a sound editor. Each visitor hears a perfectly edited succession of music. The processors small enough for a visitor to wear around his neck has not been available twenty years ago.
So the visitor sees/hears exhibits of the music of perhaps 175 countries and meanwhile hears a music program perfectly edited for just that visitor--synchronized to just what countries he is looking at.
So much of the time spent at the MIM is in listening to music. After a while one concentrates on hearing the music more than on seeing the instrument on display and reading the labeling and the signs. There are, however musical instruments collected from every country represented which is near to every country that there is. The museum has over 10,000 musical instruments. Most are on display. This whole project is the brainchild of Robert Urlich, a one time CEO of Target Corporation. The museum is privately funded which a big chunk of the funds coming from the Target Corporation. You do see some red and white bull's-eyes around, the trademark of Target Stores. Ulrich collected African art including musical instruments. [-mrl]
Comments on Liberals, Conservatives, and the Constitution (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recently read an opinion piece on Liberals, Conservatives, and the Constitution, and I have a few comments:
"... those on the Left are far more likely than Conservatives to invest their faith in a person, rather than in a set of principles."
[So I might ask why is such a high proportion of the high-profile demagogues on the Right? Where are the Left's Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks? The correspondent is comparing the cream of his side with the dregs of the other side. One could easily make the reverse claim with every bit as much justification. -mrl]
Of course there is a group on the Left that believes in investing their faith in a set of principles rather than a person and indeed carries this principle to its logical conclusion. For this, they are excoriated by the Right, including being told that because they put their faith in a set of principles they cannot be good Americans.
They are atheists.
If the Right is so keen on using a set of principles instead of individuals, they should be pleased with a group that attempts to construct a set of principles by which to live--but they're not.
(These principles might include, for example, Immanuel Kant's "categorical imperative", John Stuart Mill's and Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism ["greatest good for the greatest number"], etc.)
"Conservatives tend to think of the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers as the foundation of their core ideas about the role government should play in human interactions."
My experience is that Conservatives are very fond of quoting the Second Amendment to the Constitution (overlooking the part about "a well regulated Militia"), and the Tenth Amendment ("The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."). But they seem to want to ignore or minimize certain other sections:
Article IV, Sections 1 and 2: "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." Where were these sections when the Conservatives in Congress were so busy pushing the "Defense of Marriage Act", which says that states are free to ignore other states' marriages? (And for that matter, it would appear that the 10th Amendment would prohibit the Federal government from deciding what constitutes a marriage, since that is not delegated to it in the Constitution.)
Also the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments, which seem to have taken a particular beating in the "War on Terror".
And what about all those Conservatives in Western states who are trying to ignore the 14th Amendment--but not by the method prescribed in the Constitution for amending it, because that's too complicated. No, they're just going to pass a law refusing to give a birth certificate to anyone born in that state whom they deem unworthy of one.
The Conservatives' response to these observations (particularly the last) seems to be to invoke the "original intent" of the Founding Fathers or authors of the amendments. But isn't this just placing the individuals above the principles expressed in the documents?
[The full piece can be found at http://www.westernfreepress.com/metablog_single.php?p=627.)
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The agents of Fate battle the force of Chance in this odd romantic fantasy loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story. Angels or aliens have agents on Earth to make sure that what Fate says will happen really does. Two people who are fated not to meet do meet by chance and fall in love. If they want to stay together they must defeat the little men in suits and fedoras who are the agents of fate. This is a film that nicely balances romance and philosophy. Spoiler warning: I tell a little more of the premise of the film and the agents than the viewer would see in the first ten minutes. If anything it should make the film more interesting for the viewer to know what is going on. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
"In the mists before THE BEGINNING, Fate and Chance cast lots to decide whose the Game should be; and he that won strode through the mists to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI and said: 'Now make gods for Me, for I have won the cast and the Game is to be Mine.' Who it was that won the cast, and whether it was Fate or whether Chance that went through the mists before THE BEGINNING to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI--none knoweth."
-- Lord Dunsany (from "The Gods of Pagana")
Dunsany wrote here about the conflict of Fate and Chance. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is really about that conflict in a modern-day setting. Free-will, chance, and fate are fairly abstract philosophical concepts and it is hard to imagine how a film could be built around these concepts. However, Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team" inspired George Nolfi to write a screenplay that he then produced and directed. Note I said that the Dick story "inspired" the film THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, not that the film was based on it. The story was quite different, though it did have some of the same ideas. For example, Nolfi's characters are supposed to be people who are real world-beaters. One may become the President of the United States and another, one of the great artists of our time. Dick had a little more trust that his reader would find the story of sufficient import even if his characters were just commonplace middle-class types.
David Norris (played by Matt Damon) is a rising meteor in politics running for the U.S. Senate seat for New York when his opponents find a compromising photograph of him from his college days. The picture is released just hours before the election just in time to shock the voters into voting for his opponent. Half-heartedly he drops into a men's room to practice his concession speech only to find one Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) hiding there from the building's security guards after crashing a wedding. The two like each other immediately and the meeting inspires him to change his entire brand of politics. The two go for each other, but that was not how it was "supposed to be". There was a way it was "supposed to be"? Apparently, yes. Somehow time will fall out of joint if these two people get together. They are fated to each be successful but separate. Who decided what their fate would be? Well, there appears to be a sort of Secret Service for Fate. Men in suits and pre-Kennedy-era fedoras go around warping reality in order to work the will of Fate. While much of the film is not in Philip K. Dick's style, there definitely gimmicks here that his fans will approve of. Dick would probably approve of the scenes in which a room full of bureau men like set dressers are constructing a scene that will in minutes be someone's reality.
Just what are these men who are working to defend Fate? Do the lovers have the free will to get together or are they just puppets of Fate? The film has fascinating images of these non-descript men running around the city and making changes so that the world runs according to plan. The plan seems to be parceled out in books that Fate's agents carry that include maps that change in real time as if they were paper GPSs. They have secret passages through doorways that work differently for us normal people. The ideas are all very much like Dick would write about, but the people are entirely different. While Fate seems to be pulling the couple apart, Chance is apparently on their side. Coincidence works in their favor.
Nolfi sets the story to the streets of Manhattan instead of Dick's non-descript setting so that the non-Dickian chases would have a more interesting background. The casting is of interest. For once I could to see what the two lovers saw in each other. There was a nice chemistry between Emily Blunt and Matt Damon that they may be able to use in future films. Blunt is also an impressively good dancer, if that was not just CGI. It is interesting to see John Slattery of AMC's MAD MEN dressing in 1960s styles again. There is even a pivotal role for Terrence Stamp. Nolfi has made this a nice polished film.
This is not the Philip K. Dick story it was supposedly based on, but it does look at engaging philosophical questions that a film like IRON MAN would never even think of. Dick's paranoid ironies are all nicely in place. The film still has something to offer both genders. That makes it a good date film, I suppose. There are few films that cover both romance and ideas as adeptly as this freshman director. I rate THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. This film sort of begs comparison to INCEPTION. In that film you followed a team of people who subliminally manipulate others. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is about people who are subliminally manipulated. In a sense they are two sides of the same plot.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1385826
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/adjustment_bureau/
The original story can be found on-line at http://tinyurl.com/leeper-adjustment-team
RANGO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A pet chameleon falls from a truck in the middle of the Nevada desert. He soon finds his way to the dying Western town of Dirt where his bragging and his lucky defeat of a predatory hawk make him the town's new sheriff. Sadly, the town is drying up for shortage of water. In the best Western tradition Sheriff Rango sets out to save the town. Sight gags, film references, jokes, action, and just plain funny storytelling follow as thick as a hail of bullets. Director Gore Verbinski shows his animation direction of John Logan's script is as good as his live-action direction on films like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. This is a smart, hip comedy that works for adults and youngsters alike. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
RANGO is a "funny animals" sort of animated film, but the writing and situations are funny enough that it might turn out to be one of the best animated films of the year.
In a world like ours (but where intelligent talking animals live side-by-side with humans) the chameleon who comes to be called Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) would like to be an actor. He dreams of a life in front of a camera. Then his habitat terrarium rolls off the back of a truck and he finds himself stranded in the dry Mojave Desert. He wanders into the animal-run frontier town of Dirt. Swaggering into the saloon he tries to play the part of a Western tough guy. He brags that he killed a gang of seven outlaws with a single bullet. In a fight with predatory hawk Rango lucks out and kills the hawk. The townspeople now believe his bragging and want Rango as their new sheriff--failing to tell Rango that his predecessors named to that job may have lived to regret it ... or not.
But Rango probably won't have his job long. Dirt has some real problems. Rango comes to the town just as Dirt is parceling out to its citizenry the last few days of water. When the water source dies the town will soon follow it, and that day is less than a week away. Meanwhile the mayor (Ned Beatty) of the town seems to still have big plans. He tells Rango that who controls the water controls everything.
Okay, let me digress here. This is what THE INCREDIBLES called "monologing." It is a major weakness in the writing. This statement is the key to everything that is happening in the town. In his anxiousness to make sure the viewer knows what is going on writer John Logan has the mayor saying exactly the wrong thing to the new sheriff. It is not hard for the viewer to figure out who the villain has to be just by his appearance. This is virtually a confession before Rango even knows there is chicanery going on. And part of the chicanery is the stealing of the plot of CHINATOWN. Another part is the counterfeiting of a cameo appearance that had me fooled. Timothy Olyphant does a spot-on impression of another famous actor. I found completely convincing, and I am generally good with voices.
There were several familiar actors voicing major roles. Besides Depp, Beatty, and Olyphant, there was Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Steven Root, Harry Dean Stanton, and Ray Winstone. Animation directors seem to feel the public needs familiar voices to appreciate the characters. I frankly doubt that most viewers pick up on all these voices. Admittedly some of these are very good actors. But the film industry is full of good and deserving actors who are out of work. I personally think that it is bad for a successful actor to accept a voice-only role that could go to an actor less successful.
It is good that animated films are starting to be considered acceptable for adults with or without children to see. Some of the best writing is going into animated films. I often find myself in theaters seeing animated films where my wife and I are the only party without children present. Good writing should be savored and appreciated and there was really even too much good writing for anyone--adult or child--to take in on one viewing.
Smart, crafty, hip, and full of wit, RANGO may be one of the best films of the year, animated or live action. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1192628/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rango-2011/
BARNEY'S VERSION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is the story of Barney Panofsky, directed by Richard J. Lewis based on a Michael Konyves's screen play based on the novel by Mordecai Richler. Barney is a self-indulgent, inconsiderate, alcoholic cad who somehow wins a wife who should have known better. Paul Giamatti gives a strong, multilayered performance of a selfish, but not uncommon man. Rosamunde Pike plays his long-suffering wife. There is an undeniable fascination with this man whose life we see from early twenties to his late 60s. The dialog is really good without being unrealistic. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In movies and in real life some people seem to be able to get by on a charm that does not seem visible. How often do we ask ourselves in a movie, "What does he see in her?" "What does she see in him?" Of course we also see people like that in the real world. Barney Panofsky (played with real authenticity by Paul Giamatti) seems like the last person a woman would want to be in the same room with much less be in a lasting relationship with. Yet three women wanted to marry Barney. Each marriage ended being a disaster, and it was mostly because of Barney's self-obsession. The viewer too seems to get an inexplicable fascination with this train-wreck of a person.
The story, told in flashback, is mostly about Barney's third marriage, though we see enough pieces of the first two marriages to make us detest Barney. This alone should make us loathe him, but it is not enough to break our fascination. Barney's first wife commits suicide in large part because of his treatment of her. His second wife (Minnie Driver) is wealthy and spoiled, but at the wedding Barney sees a lovely woman across the room and immediately begins courting her before the wedding reception is over. This is Miriam (played by the stunning Rosamunde Pike) who will be the love of his life, not that relationship does her much good. She sees something in Harvey impossible for the viewer to understand. She is there for the Barney who unfailingly lets her down.
BARNEY'S VERSION is a story about class as much as anything else. Barney cannot escape his roots. Dustin Hoffman plays his best role in a while as Barney's corrupted father Izzy Panofsky, a policeman. It is easy to see that Barney gets his boorish ways from Izzy who is a ball of vulgarity and lust for alcohol even at his son's wedding. His wedding gift for his son is the first gun he used in the police force and he hands it unwrapped to his son at the posh wedding to Barney's second wife. Barney is sort of a halfway point between the patrician people at the wedding and his out-of-control father. Perhaps the most touching acting comes later in a scene between Barney and his father with Barney in a state of both laughing and crying. Both are strong actors and each is sort of the counterpart of the other in a different generation. It might be interesting to see what Giamatti might do with a Ratso Rizzo sort of role.
Roger Ebert very correctly points out the makeup in BARNEY'S VERSION is terrific. Paul Giamatti has to be aged from a young man to his death. The makeup not only has to be believable, it has to tell us where we are in time because the film does jump around somewhat. We see Barney physically corrupting as his appearance catches up with his personality.
There is a flaw in the story, and it is about the only place where the writing feels like it could have been improved upon. There is a mystery that runs through the film. It is a puzzle both for the viewer and for Barney himself. Barney never sees the solution, but the audience does, and it feels unlikely and greatly contrived. With that exception, this is very well written and keenly observed material. BARNEY'S VERSION is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler who also wrote the in some ways similar THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ. I would rate BARNEY'S VERSION a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1423894/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/barneys-version/
THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In Uzbekistan, where one would never expect to find it, is a world-class art museum. The art is mostly all art that was condemned and forbidden by the Soviets. THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART tells the story of how an impoverished painter Igor Savitsky saved these artworks, hidden by the artists, and how he managed under a Stalinist regime to create his museum as a refuge for banned art. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Dictators can only be dictators by prohibiting free expression. Dictatorial regimes all decree what art is allowed by the State and not outlawed. Hitler certainly did it. The dictatorships of the Middle East do it. And Stalin did it. Stalin demanded under pain of severe punishments and death that artist work in the style of Soviet Realism. Great artists had to destroy or hide their own best work under the rule of the Stalin. Much of the great suppressed work of those years is only visible now at the Nukus Museum of Art, or more formally The State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan. Right in the middle of villages of poverty, camels, and sand is this collection of some of the great art works of the world. The Ukrainian Igor Savitsky created this museum with chutzpah and great personal risk.
Savitsky was born to wealth in 1915 in Kiev, but with the coming of the Revolution his family lost all. Trained in art and archeology he was sent in 1950 to document in painting an archeological expedition to Khwarezm. In nearby Uzbekistan he started collecting works of art from a local artist. These works were hidden away as they did not follow the art rules of the Soviet State. Savitsky was a long way from the NKVD/KGB, 1700 miles from Moscow, and felt that allowed him a little safety. With guts and nerve he managed to get from the Soviet State the money to build an art museum and to collect art that the policy makers would rarely come so far to see. In his career he collected 40,000 pieces of art, mostly forbidden. He would travel and meet with artists and smuggle back to Uzbekistan illegal painting representing schools like impressionism and Russian avant-garde as well as an entirely new school of modernism combining with Eastern traditions. Some of the art is forbidden not for its content but because the artist was gay, a crime under the Soviets. Savitsky would ask for the art and be given it with no more assurance that a verbal promise to pay the artist or the artist's family in the future. Artists were so anxious to have their works seen that they would trust Savitsky with some of their best work.
Tchavdar Georgiev and Amanda Pope co-wrote and co-directed the film about the man who collected so much forgotten, ignored, and politically incorrect art. Filming in remote and inhospitable Uzbekistan the film was a seven-year project. Savitsky's museum was all but forgotten until the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times brought the work of Gerogiev and Pope to its readership and told the story of this obscure museum. Ben Kingsley reads from the writings of Savitsky. Edward Asner and Sally Field read other people writing on the subject. The story is compelling, though as presented it is not always easy to follow. Frequently someone will be talking about someone else, but whether it is Savitsky or an artist that Savitsky helped is hard to keep clear.
This film won the Cine Golden Eagle Award, the Best Documentary Award at Palm Beach International Film Festival, and the Audience Award at Beijing International Film Festival. It is a remarkable story of heroism and of defiance of tyranny. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or /10. The film is in English and in Russian with English subtitles. This film opens in New York City at Cinema Village March 11, 2011.
A March 7, 2011, news article about the Museum can be found at http://tinyurl.com/void-forbidden-art.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1536458
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the-desert-of-forbidden-art/
INCEPTION (letter of comment by Art Stadlin):
In response to Mark's comments on INCEPTION in the 03/04/11 issue of the MT VOID, Art Stadlin writes:
I liked your comments about INCEPTION, on second viewing. Your insights helped me understand why I wasn't crazy about that movie after seeing it. Yes, the special effects were awesome. Yes, the nested dream story line made me work to follow it. And yes, until you reminded me I had completely forgotten that Leonardo DiCaprio was in it! I suspect that big-budget Hollywood movies tend to make lots of "artistic" compromises in order to garner funding. I have nothing against DiCaprio (loved him in Titanic), but INCEPTION could have had better casting for some of the roles, including leading man.
P.S. By the way, how do you find time to watch movies *twice*? There are so many movies. I really don't have enough time to see just the good ones. :-) [-as]
I think we are in agreement on INCEPTION. It is a very mixed bag, but there is enough that is positive to justify my initial rating. It just could have been made a better film with better characterization.
When I find time to watch movies more than once? I write about film. Cinema and mathematics are a passion with me. A passion finds the time to be exercised. However, I will say that I am comfortably retired. I have considered telling the IRS that my occupation is "wastrel." That means that my time is mostly my own. Most of my time is given over to my hobbies. Some films I have seen many times. The record is probably KING KONG (1933) which I suspect I have seen several dozen times. And I still find new things to see in it. INCEPTION I have seen only twice, but I intend to see it more. [-mrl]
THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER and TRUE GRIT (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's review of THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER in the 03/04/11 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
Given the kinds of films you often review: When I read the bit about a Jerusalem bakery worker going missing, in Mark's review of THE HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGER, I immediately jumped to Sweeney-Toddish conclusions! [-tw]
In response to Mark's review of TRUE GRIT in the 12/31/10 issue of the MT VOID, Taras writes:
A few belated comments about the remake of TRUE GRIT: I'm not certain--I would have to watch both films again to be sure--but my impression is that the remake, while good and worthwhile, does not quite equal the original.
For one thing, the original screenplay made a lot of good decisions about how to handle the story. The remake, trying to be different, inevitably made some inferior ones.
For another, the original was blessed with a superior cast of supporting players.
Consider the deliciously sleazy Strother Martin as the used-horse salesman Mattie Ross takes advantage of. There's a great scene-- missing from the remake--in which he tells Mattie he heard a little girl fell into a well and wondered if it was she. "No, it was not I," she answers placidly, oblivious to his malice.
Or Robert Duvall's austere take on Lucky Ned Pepper the outlaw. The remake makes a bad call here: You suddenly wonder why the outlaws don't take the opportunity for some horizontal refreshment--something that never crossed your mind when Duvall was their leader.
Matt Damon ("La Boeuf") is a better actor than Glenn Campbell--but Campbell is perfectly cast as a genial, moon-faced oaf. When he petulantly tells Mattie he has decided not to steal a kiss from her after all, Campbell is more believable than Damon. (The line should have been cut for Damon.)
Jeff Bridges is a better actor than John Wayne--but John Wayne can play John Wayne better than Jeff Bridges can. The decision to mumble-up Rooster Cogburn's dialog in the remake doesn't help. When Cogburn makes his climactic speech, facing four outlaws by himself ("I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned. Or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker's convenience.") the remake cuts away from him and back again, so it's hard to make out exactly what he said, unless you remember the 1969 movie.
One thing I liked about the remake was that, for a modern Western, it had only a touch of political correctness. Indeed, both heroes are Confederate veterans; though what percentage of the audience understood the reference to La Boeuf serving in the Army of Northern Virginia and Rooster Cogburn riding with Quantrill is debatable.
Just how ignorant are modern audiences? As I was leaving the theater, a gaggle of twenty-somethings--perhaps three or four couples--who had gone to see the movie together puzzled over why the middle-aged Mattie Ross gives the sharp side of her tongue to that old outlaw who didn't get up out of his chair, near the end of the film. Raised in an age of handicap privilege, one of the young women speculated it must be because Mattie is missing an arm! [-tw]
I can appreciate your problems with the new TRUE GRIT. I don't happen to agree. Where the two films are different, and there is much, the new version is closer to the book. There is too much of John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn in the original and Jeff Bridges does not seem to me to be remotely trying to be like the John Wayne character. The ending of the John Wayne version is intended to showcase Wayne and is very different from the ending in the book and the second film. I am not sure that the differences in the two film versions are enough to justify a new film, but I liked the Coen Brothers version a lot. And where the two films differed I personally preferred the newer version.
You talk about people not well-grounded in history. I am reminded that several years ago a fiction book came out about the Civil War (I think it was TRAVELLER by Richard Adams, a story told from the point of view of Robert E. Lee's horse). One reviewer in a fanzine (I think) complained that the book introduces a character but then never expands or tells you who the character is. The reviewer complained you never find out who this guy is or much about him. His name in the book is Grant. [-mrl]
The Oscars, Puzzles, INCEPTION, and THE TURN OF THE SCREW (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Evelyn's comment on the Oscars in the 03/04/11 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes, "I am totally pleased to see that Shaun Tan won an Oscar for his work. Now I am going to have to see "The Lost Thing". Congratulations, Shaun!" [-jp]
In response to the puzzle solution in the same issue, John writes, "While I find the solutions to last week's puzzle interesting, I must admit to shaking my head at how some of your readers solved the puzzle. Programming computers takes all the fun out something like this for me. Using an Anagram Dictionary is permissable, I think, and I really am astonished at all the solutions. And [Susan's] closing comment that they are all "Scrabble-legal" takes the cake. Oh! BAKE-CAKE-DAKE-EAKE-FAKE-GAKE-HAKE... Never mind." [-jp]
In response to Mark's comments on INCEPTION in the same issue, John writes, "Valerie and I loved INCEPTION, too. We didn't find it very hard to follow at all--must be because we have jiant branez-- and really liked how well it was put together. Leonardo DeCaprio definitely turned in a fine performance, and visually, a very interesting movie. Overall, a good one, which I think stands a very good chance at winning the Best Dramatic Presentation, long- form Hogu--er, I mean, Hugo." [-jp]
And John concludes, "FYI: this week's reading for me is Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW. I haven't read it in something like 35 years, so why not?" [-jp]
Puzzles (letter of comment by Tom Russell):
In response to all the comments on the puzzles, Tom Russell writes:
Thanks for putting my little word puzzles in MT VOID. Good to see some more answers. Especially to the four-letter-word puzzles.
And yes, perhaps thin king readers will disc over the scar city (or not) of words like these. [-tlr]
Dinosaurs and Birds (letter of comment by Charles Harris):
In response to Evelyn's comments on WANDERING LANDS AND ANIMALS in the 03/04/11 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:
[You said, "Why] did all of the dinosaurs die out at the end of Cretaceous history? Why did not some of them survive, as did their close cousins the crocodilians?" All? What about the birds? [-csh]
I don't think of birds as dinosaurs, but as the descendents of dinosaurs. One major difference (admittedly disputed) is that dinosaurs were ectothermic and birds are endothermic. I will also cite Wikipedia: "From the point of view of cladistics, birds are dinosaurs, but in ordinary speech the word "dinosaur" does not include birds." [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have always been a fan of Connie Willis, and I have always liked time travel novels, which is why my reaction to her latest work is not just disappointment, but annoyance and aggravation.
BLACKOUT by Connie Willis (ISBN 978-0-553-80319-8) and ALL CLEAR by Connie Willis (ISBN 978-0-553-80767-7) are two halves of a single book. It totals over a thousand pages, so I suppose I should not be surprised that Spectra decided to split it in two, but that does not mean I am not annoyed about it. It is perfectly possible to publish a book that long, or even longer (LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas come to mind). But I will grant it is unusual. What really annoys me is that neither volume has any indication on it that it is not a whole novel. Nothing on the jacket of BLACKOUT indicates that for $26, you are getting half a novel. The cover of ALL CLEAR merely says that Connie Willis is the "Nebula and Hugo Award-Winning Author of BLACKOUT," but since BLACKOUT describes her as "Nebula and Hugo Award-Winning Author of DOOMSDAY BOOK" that does not indicate much. It is true that the front jacket flap copy of ALL CLEAR implies the possibility, but even that could be read as indicating this is a sequel, not the second half of the novel.
But what about the novel itself? It is set in Willis's "time- traveling historians" universe, only this time there are three time travelers, each going to observe a different aspect of World War II in England. Having three main characters is part of why it is so long, but it also seems very padded out. I know Willis loves everything about England, and London, and the Blitz, but do we really need a six-page tour of St. Paul's including a long analysis of the paintings there? Do we need a subplot about amateur dramatics that, if excerpted, would be almost novel-length in itself? And there are also a lot of plot contrivances that seem designed to stretch the plot out (e.g. the Hodbins, whom Willis tries to justify, but far too much time is spent on them).
But even more than that padding, structurally it reminded me of the film IMPOSTER. IMPOSTER was originally a short film (forty-five minutes). To make it a feature-length film, the filmmakers just cut it in the middle and inserted a half-hour chase sequence. Similarly, after setting up the premise, Willis inserts a lot of sequences each consisting of:
(Other reviewers have commented that Willis seems to have forgotten the rule that you put only 10% of your research explicitly into your novel. After she has figured out what Underground route to take somewhere, she includes all the lines and changes. If she knows which buildings were hit on a given night, she mentions them all. When she finds out how people cleaned wool coats, she includes that in detail as well.)
In addition, I think that Willis loses track of what she's written. One character is wondering why the retrieval team cannot find her by checking all the boarding house and help wanted ads; she has apparently forgotten that she found both her room and her job through word of mouth before they ever got listed. And the characters keep waiting for the retrieval teams without really wondering why they have to wait. It's true that at one point one character seems to realize briefly that even if the team takes a long time to realize there is a problem, they should still be able to show up at the right time--after all, it's time travel. But most of the time all of them keep thinking that the teams have been delayed. And there are also other instances where aspects of time travel do not seem well thought out.
And the ending is, well, disappointing. It seems designed to emphasize the "lesson" Willis wants to convey, but I think it actually does the reverse. (I will try to be vague here, but let me give a SPOILER warning.) Willis seems to want to promote the "Tide of History" theory by saying that everyone is a "Great Man", but to do so, she postulates a Stapledonian universe controlled by something beyond all the individuals. Far from making the individuals great, she makes them pawns. (END SPOILER)
The basic plot of BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR has interest, and any small section is written reasonably well. But the whole is too big and too diffuse. It seems to have gotten away from Willis, and she is apparently too successful a novelist for an editor to tell her that the book needed to be shortened because it was too long. In fact, I suspect the editor may have encouraged her to write more to make it long enough for two volumes--hence the feeling of padding. I like the details of life in Britain during World War II, but I would rather have it in a real-life diary than padded out with a time-travel story.
(The ISBNs given are for the hardback editions, since ALL CLEAR is not available in paperback as I write this.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts. --attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan
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