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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/07/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 15, Whole Number 1670
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):
October 13 (Thu): "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at **5PM**, discussion after film October 20 (Thu): THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 edited by Elizabeth Kolbert (last third), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 10 (Thu): QUATERMASS AND THE PIT by Nigel Kneale, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion after film November 17 (Thu): HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE by Charles Yu, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 8: HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion after film
NPR's Top Hundred Science Fiction and Fantasy Books:
Here's a pointer to NPR's top one hundred science fiction and fantasy books (as chosen in an on-line poll): http://tinyurl.com/void-npr100
And here's a flowchart for navigating them (be sure to click on the link to give you a larger image): http://tinyurl.com/void-npr-flow-100
Tales of Tomorrow--Downloadable (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
One of the first science fiction television programs, one that contributed to the 1950s science fiction boom, was the ABC anthology series "Tales of Tomorrow." This was broadcast live and you can see occasional mistakes and misreadings of lines. A lot of these feature actors who were to become top stars including Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, and James Dean. Not surprisingly the IMDB has a complete list of the episodes, but for about forty of the episodes you can even click on them right there and play them from Hulu: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043238/episodes
Superthunderstinger (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
People brought up on the Supercar and Thunderbirds TV shows from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson might enjoy this satire from the British comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riMHp28_cqw
PONTYPOOL (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is an interesting sort of a zombie film with a really different sort of premise. The film comes from Canada and is called PONTYPOOL.
A shorter version of the same story was adapted as a radio play and was played on the BBC. Now the BBC is not known for broadcasting a lot of plays about zombies, but they apparently found the idea interesting enough that they included it their series of Worldplays about science. You cannot download the play, but you can hear it on your computer at: http://tinyurl.com/leeper-pontypool
I have seen (and reviewed) the film and it has the same cast as the radio play. I don't know when or if the film will get a general release. But it is probably best if you do not know where the story is going until you get into it. My review is at http://leepers.us/ponty.htm. [-mrl]
Pepper Mill (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The World Science Fiction Convention this year was in Reno, Nevada. One of the convention hotels was the Pepper Mill. It is a combination casino and hotel. Of course most public buildings in Reno can be described as "a combination casino and X" for some X. But Pepper Mill is an odd name for a hotel in a gambling town. To me the name seems to say "You come in thinking you are hot stuff and we grind you down to powder." [-mrl]
Trail Breaks for October and November (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A few weeks ago I commented on trailers for upcoming films. I continue that looking at tralers for films opening in October and November. These are the impressions I have gleaned. Opening dates are in parentheses.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN (October 14, 2011)
This Spanish-language film directed by Pedro Almodovar is listed as a drama, but it seems to have trappings of old horror films. Antonio Banderas plays a surgeon working on inventing a synthetic flesh. He seems to keep in his home a woman who wears nothing but a skintight flesh-tone suit. Martial arts and gunplay fit in someplace. Almodovar has a very good reputation in what appears to be a bunch of very different films. But the trailer is intriguing.
THE THING (October 14, 2011)
This is a prequel to John Carpenter's THE THING. When we joined that story the alien had already destroyed the Norwegian scientific base and had escaped in the form of a dog. This film tells that story. Somehow it seems that the story cannot be so different from the original film and from the 1951 film version. There is not enough to make this film a must see. When John Carpenter made his film, CGI was not advanced sufficiently to do justice to the mercurial shape changes that the John Campbell story implied the alien could do. Now the film could be done right, but at the same time that sort of image is now passe. It has shown up in television commercials and in action films. It cannot be easy to make this an interesting story, particularly with everyone knowing how it ends. My guess is that this will be a totally redundant film.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (October 14, 2011)
Just what we needed: yet another telling of Alexander Dumas's THE THREE MUSKETEERS--this time with martial arts (beyond swordplay) and steam punk dirigibles. If you have not seen the Richard Lester version (two films called THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS) then there is no point in seeing this version. And it you have seen the two films there is still no point.
IMMORTALS (November 11, 2011)
Many of the upcoming action films seem like more of the same. This year "more of the same" is a particularly dreary prospect. I am not really big on the film 300 and I am not keen on films with a lot of CGI and this is a CGI film from the producers of 300. However, the director is Tarsem Singh of THE CELL and THE FALL. He has a good eye for impressive and unusual imagery and is one of the better people to helm a film like THE IMMORTALS. This seems to be the story of Theseus and the Minotaur writ large. By writ large I mean you have gods and titans warring. This just might be another JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. It might if we are lucky. Some of the scenes in the trailer do look impressive.
A DANGEROUS METHOD (November 23, 2011)
I enjoy films done as period pieces. David Cronenberg plans to release at Thanksgiving time a thriller featuring psychologists Sigmund Freud (played by Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbinder). Kiera Knightly is a disturbed masochist whom the psychologists are trying to cure. The trailer makes it sound like there are a lot of repressed sexual urges that should attract a curious audience. Cronenberg has made good use of Mortensen, especially in EASTERN PROMISES.
HUGO (November 23, 2011)
Martin Scorsese will have for Thanksgiving a family film that looks good. It is an adaptation of THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick, a young adult book that reviewer Dan Kimmel strongly recommends. The story, set in Paris early this century involves a boy who comes into possession of a stage magician's wondrous mechanical doll controlled by a heart-shaped key. Asa Butterfield plays the boy, Hugo, but also appearing in the film are the better- known Jude Law and Ben Kingsley. How big their parts are remains to be seen. There are some nice scenes of Hugo in giant clockwork. The film will be in 3D.
THE ARTIST (November 23, 2011)
This looks like a very beautiful stylized comedy, shot in monochrome and as a silent film, set in Hollywood of 1927. The story seems to be a reprise of A STAR IS BORN. Silent screen idol George Vanentin is taken with a young female extra, Peppy Miller. In the upset in the film industry that came with the move to sound he will soon be a has-been and Miller will be the audience attraction. Michel Hazanavicius writes and directs with beautiful photography by Guillaume Schiffman. Jean Dujardin stars. Ludovic Bource wrote the music. If those names are unfamiliar run to your nearest site to get Netflix streaming and see what this team did to the spy film in OSS 117: CAIRO NEST OF SPIES and OSS 117: LOST IN RIO. [-mrl]
TROLLHUNTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: TROLLHUNTER is a serious Norwegian horror film that is also a satire of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. University students making a documentary about a supposed bear poacher find the man is instead a government agent controlling and helping to keep secret the population of deadly trolls. Andre Ovredal writes and directs his account straight-faced with a wicked sense of humor. TROLLHUNTER is an unexpected pleasure for viewers who can shudder at the horrific aspects while still appreciating the humor. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Success breeds imitators. The film THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT demonstrated an ironic principle. A skillful director can make a very low budget for a horror film work better more effectively than a higher budget and more polished effort might. The trick is to make the film seem like it was made by amateurs filming what they were actually seeing. Low-budget efforts like CARNIVAL OF SOULS, NIGHT TIDE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and more recently PARANORMAL ACTIVITY are examples. Particularly films shot with hand-held cameras allow the low budget to give them an air of authenticity and immediacy. A Wes Craven film shot in Technicolor with background music to tell the viewer when to be frightened does not have nearly the same genuineness.
The premise of TROLLHUNTER, much like that of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, suggests that the film is made up of footage found after actual events and that after investigation this film has been judged to be authentic. We are seeing the film that was shot in chronological order. Some college student filmmakers go into the forests of western Norway trying to find and make a film about a notorious bear poacher, Hans (played by Norwegian comic Otto Jespersen). He wants no part of their film. They continue to shadow him and come face-to-face with his secret. He is not hunting bears but twenty-foot tall trolls. One of these trolls attacks him and the students. Hans flashes a special light at the troll and the troll turns to stone. Only once the students have discovered what he is really doing does he begrudgingly allow them to travel with him. Together they try to track down the monstrous trolls.
Writer/director Andre Ovredal makes few concessions to make the trolls more believable. These are not troll-like aliens or something primeval that inspires folktales of trolls. These are trolls just like in the storybooks and not at all like Shrek. They have distorted human faces that look perhaps like Brian Froud illustrations. It is very important that there are no Christians in the hunting party, because trolls can smell Christian blood. In addition they all have to douse themselves in troll's nauseating scent so no human smell comes through. Trolls turn to stone in sunlight and Hans's most effective weapon is a light that flashes simulated sunlight and turns trolls to stone even at night.
Ovredal departs briefly from the "Blair Witch" style to have a doctor give us a scientific rationale for some of the limitations of trolls. But most of the film is just tracing the troll hunters and seeing them get into deeper danger than they are prepared for. The visual style filmed by Hallvard Braein copies the style of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with night vision filters that recreate the look. The film has small homages to other popular fantasy films including a chase at the end that reminds one of JURASSIC PARK. But he manages to do this without changing the serious demeanor of the proceedings.
TROLLHUNTER is a film that one can appreciate as a chilling horror film and at the same time enjoy the absurdity of the premise. I rate TROLLHUNTER a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. TROLLHUNTER is currently available from Netflix streaming. The IMDB lists a film planned for 2014 that will be a remake, though the character of the film seems very Norwegian and an American remake set in Norway or a remake with Bigfoot set in the United States just does not seem like a viable idea. I recommend seeing the original.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1740707/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/trollhunter/
SPACE PRECINCT (television review by Nick Sauer):
SPACE PRECINCT is probably Gerry Anderson's least known genre television series. It was an independent British production released in 1994 that aired in the UK on Sky One and in syndication in the US on the SyFy channel. The series follows the adventures of officers of the 88th precinct of Demeter City which is located on the planet Altor. The planet is a colony world that is inhabited by humanity and two other alien species, the Creons and the mildly psychic Tarns. SPACE PRECINCT stars Ted Shackelford as Lt. Patrick Brogan and Rob Youngblood as his partner Jack Haldane.
This series is a largely unknown one-season wonder that would have completely faded into obscurity had it not been created by one of the UK's most famous genre television series producers. SPACE PRECINCT definitely bears the mark of its creator (explosions abound) and while it has a number of interesting features, it is ultimately weighed down by some wildly uneven production values.
There are two major problems with the series. The first I wanted to say was the acting, but I how the characters are written may be an equally fair criticism. Many of the characters carry the standard sort of clichés we see fairly regularly in police dramas with Haldane pulling double duty in this department. Chief Podly is the tough "by the book" police chief with a heart of gold, Took is the young rookie cop operating with her heart more than her brain, etc. The two characters who seem to be most immune to this are Brogan and Castle both to the actors' credit. Unfortunately, Shackelford as the series lead is pretty seriously out of his depth in the beginning. To some extent, the show is good to watch as a lesson in the skills a lead actor needs to carry a television series as Shackelford develops these over the course of the one and only season.
The second issue is the writing which is mostly hampered by conflict over what the series is exactly trying to be. From what I have read, Anderson wanted the show to be accessible to both adults as well as a younger audience. For some types of dramas this is a fairly easy path to follow, but for a police show it's a tall order that ultimately failed to work. As a result you will find serious stories interspersed with borderline Saturday morning kids fair and, in one rather jarring case (the episode titled The Snake) both in the same show. This struck me as a little unusual. Having watched UFO a few months back and SPACE: 1999 when I was younger, I know Anderson is perfectly capable of purely adult targeted drama. So, I didn't really understand the need to make SPACE PRECINCT kid- friendly.
While I am covering the writing, I wanted to include a note on the pilot episode itself ("Protect and Survive"). As I watched it, knowing this was a mid-90s show, I couldn't shake the feeling that the writing was dated. Sure enough, I learned that my intuition was correct. This pilot was shot back in 1986 with a different suite of actors but, never picked up. When the series was green lit in 1994, the pilot was shot with the current cast using the original unaltered script. As a result the pilot is easily the weakest episode of SPACE PRECINCT and should, in my opinion, be skipped by anyone viewing the series.
There are also some positive aspects to the series, as well. The alien costuming is pretty incredible. The Creons and Tarns are masks that show the actors mouth but feature animatronics, in this case remote controlled, eyes and forehead musculature. So, you effectively have two people playing the part of the alien characters. While this sounds like a recipe for disaster it works amazingly well. One episode (The Protector) focused on an elderly Tarn gentleman as the main guest character and the degree of emotion that the actor(s) were able to project with this arrangement was truly awe inspiring.
The show also has a number of really interesting ideas. The cop show on a world colonized by three different species is pretty brilliant as it combines the police drama with a space based SF series. Although it's not explicitly stated the show definitely gives the vibe that the Creons colonized Altor first and that the Tarns and Humans were relative late-comers so, you have a scenario where Humans are in the minority for a change. There are also some standard SF concepts that you don't see done on television like asteroid mining, for example.
While SPACE PRECINCT's problems tend to overwhelm it at times, the episodes where the show does fire on all cylinders are certainly entertaining enough to watch. For anyone interested in the series, I would recommend skipping the following episodes: "Protect and Survive", "Body and Soul", "Double Duty", "The Snake", "Time to Kill", "Seek and Destroy", "The Power", "Hate Street", "Flash", and "Deathwatch". While I doubt I'll ever revisit this series, I did enjoy my viewing of it. [-ns]
DRIVE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn uses a European style to tell his story of a mechanic/stunt-driver/getaway driver, played by Ryan Gosling, who finds a woman he wants and agrees to be getaway driver for the wrong heist. Refn's style is to draw out scenes to make a slow film punctuated with strong violence. This is a very dark action thriller, but ironically Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman steal the film. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
"If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down; I don't carry a gun ...; I drive. " The speaker is the unnamed driver (Ryan Gosling) who has three jobs. He is a car mechanic, he is a film stunt driver, and he is a criminal getaway driver for hire. The film opens with a getaway and extended high-speed chase with police. The driver evades the police. Then the film goes to opening titles in pink pseudo-handwritten font as the camera lovingly lolls over Los Angeles high-rise buildings at dusk. It must be an image that director Nicolas Winding Refn liked because for some reason he returns to it again and again for reasons unclear. There are no scenes in the film set in one of these buildings. It is like Refn is repeating over and over, "I'm in Los Angeles. I'm in Los Angeles. Hey, look. I'm in Los Angeles."
The Driver lives in a dingy apartment building down the hall from the attractive Irene (Carey Mulligan of NEVER LET ME GO), who appears at first to be a single parent. As the Driver soon finds out she is married to a soon to be ex-convict. The husband owes a great deal of money to organized crime figures and is being told to pay it back by robbing a specific pawnshop at a specific time. Eventually the Driver agrees to help the husband gratis by driving in the robbery.
DRIVE, like Refn's previous film VALHALLA RISING, is built from long, slow, and frequently dialog-free scenes. The look is everything. We are left to guess what is in the Driver's mind. Sometimes we can guess, but Gosling has an impassive face and we are just guessing. His overall plan is not clear. Being willing to drive a getaway car without reward seems to go beyond the bounds of just being neighborly. Not only are his motivations unclear, his background is equally mysterious. He seems supernaturally lucky in chases and fights and always comes out on top in spite of the odds. Apparently without benefit of CIA or British Secret Service training he always seems to best his opponents. This is a film with some long slow stretches mixed in with spectacular car chases and some really graphic violence.
Ryan Gosling seems to have a face impassive enough that it could convey just about any emotion going on behind that face. It works in lieu of much screen chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan. Any chemistry there is mostly on Mulligan's part. Gosling seems to be very much the flavor of the month as an actor. Last year and this he has also been in BLUE VALENTINE; ALL GOOD THINGS; CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE; and THE IDES OF MARCH. The IMDB also lists him for two future projects from Refn, including a remake of LOGAN'S RUN. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman play a hood and his beefy henchman. I was used to seeing Brooks in comedic roles. Here he is almost ruthless but oddly principled. He is able to play off of his image to surprise the audience, not unlike Alan Arkin did in WAIT UNTIL DARK. His and Perlman's performances really are the most magnetic in the film.
The plotting of DRIVER is nothing new, but it does have some convolutions that perhaps will surprise audiences. I rate DRIVER a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780504/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/drive_2011/
Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos (letter of comment by Rob Mitchell):
In response to Mark's comments on faster-than-light travel in the 09/30/11 issue of the MT VOID, Rob Mitchell writes:
With respect to FTL neutrinos, thanks to my friend Jonathan I found this explanation, which I appreciated: http://tinyurl.com/void-ftl-loc
Patty Duke (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Kip Williams's comments about Patty Duke in the 09/30/11 issue of the MT VOID, Mark had written:
You mention Patty Duke. She was in a class sort of by herself. Her childhood must have been quite an experience. Were you aware she was a fraudulent "quiz kid" on "The $64,000 Question" and testified before Congress about how she had been coached to cheat? [-mrl]
Dang, if I knew that, I'd certainly forgotten it, and given that two or three of my interests are in that factoid, I'll wager that I never knew. This might be a good time for me to research some more. Thanks! [-kw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE HACKER AND THE ANTS by Rudy Rucker (ISBN 978-0-380-71844-3) was the September selection of our science fiction discussion group. This is an example of why I am not keen on more current hard science fiction. Science fiction from the Golden Age may do a lot of hand-waving with the science, but it is not a problem. For example, when in Isaac Asimov's robot stories, he says that the robot has a "positronic brain." He doesn't try to explain what a positronic brain is, or how one builds it, or why it makes the robots so powerful. It is just a given and the story goes on from there. But in THE HACKER AND THE ANTS Rucker feels obliged to provide more detail, presumably for verismilitude. Unfortunately, to me it just sounds like infodump and is something that trips me up rather than enhances the story. It is not just Rucker, of course--a lot of newer science fiction is like this.
I'm reading FROM HERE TO ECONOMY: A SHORTCUT TO ECONOMIC LITERACY by Todd G. Buchholz (ISBN 978-0-452-27482-6) in short pieces and as a historical artifact. (I apologize for the non-parallel construction in that last sentence.) Why in short pieces? Well, it is divided into sections, each preceded by a question and each only a page or two long. This makes it perfect bathroom reading. (Sorry, Todd.) But it is also because Buchholz feels obliged to pepper his writing with "clever" lines, such as "[If] one cosmetic surgeon in a medical partnership messes up a nose job, every other partner's nose will be out of joint, for their personal assets are in jeopardy if the rhinoplastered patient files a lawsuit."
And why as a historical artifact? Because it was written in 1995, before the Internet bubble, the housing bubble, the current recession/depression, and a whole lot of other things not hinted at in the book. And one finds a lot of statements such as, "'Blue chip' refers to firms with long track records for turning profits and paying dividends. Of course, the track could turn bumpy, but firms with household names like GM and K mart receive so much attention, investors can usually expect that there'll be plenty of notice before they skid into a crash." Right. Or, "Further, by spending so much on defense in the early 1980s, the U.S. spurred the collapse of the Soviet Union, which should reduce future outlays on defense."
Buchholz has a definite conservative tilt. But occasionally he will surprise the reader by saying things like, "A better approach would be to require *individuals* to get health insurance." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: As one grows older, one becomes wiser and more foolish. --François, Duc de La RochefoucauldTweet
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