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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/23/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 26, Whole Number 1681
Table of Contents
Identity Crisis (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In FORBIDDEN PLANET, how did Morbius know that the ancient race was called the "Krell"? [-mrl]
Holiday Music (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
We went to a mall the other day and were inundated with holiday music. But this isn't a complaint--I liked it. Of course, the mall was in Los Angeles and was named El Mercado, the music was being played by a ten-piece brass band, and it was in honor of the saint's day for La Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12).
I have to conclude that my aversion to the Christmas music in most stores and malls this time of year is due to its relentlessness and ubiquity, not to the Christian nature of the holiday. And it's not even all Christmas music I object to. I like "The Holly and the Ivy", for example, and I have a soft spot for "Feliz Navidad". But I am sick of the over-exposed songs that showed up in the list on http://xkcd.com/988/ recently (and some that didn't--does anyone really want to hear "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" yet another time?). And the first thought I get when I see or hear Burl Ives is "Big Daddy" from CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, which makes "Holly, Jolly Christmas" an exercise in surrealism rather than a Christmas carol. [-ecl]
Seedpod Intelligence? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was at a science fiction convention listening to a discussion of the science in science fiction films. Someone on the panel made a comment about the classic film INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), remade in 1978, again in 1994 (as BODY SNATCHERS) and again in 2006 (as THE INVASION). The panelist said that the film pitted humans against a superior alien intellect.
That bothered me a bit. I had to think about it. The question is just how much intelligence the seed pods do have in Jack Finney's original novel THE BODY SNATCHERS. Are they intelligent? Are they the instruments of some alien intelligence? I guess I always assumed they were not intelligent at all. Perhaps they can display a kind of intelligence without actually being intelligent.
Does the AIDS virus have intelligence? That is actually not an easy question to answer. It certainly has mutated and evolved to have very effective survival and reproduction strategies. It may have intelligence in the way a computer can have a sort of intelligence. But the AIDS virus does not have anything a non- Creationist would say has thinking intelligence behind it. What it has is mutation and evolution behind its reproduction strategy. In my interpretation the seedpod has the ability to mimic the form of organisms and it has the ability to destroy the structure of the organism it is mimicking. It can even mimic brain function well enough to have its victim's memories and to almost be able to mimic speech patterns. It does not do this by studying how its original thought and spoke. There is no time for such a study. It must be duplicating the brain with intelligence intact.
Could the alien mimic well without what we would call intelligence? Well, there is some fairly impressive mimicry that occurs in nature without what we consider a high level of intelligence. If you have never heard it you should listen to the sounds made by the lyrebird. Listen to all of but particularly the second half of David Attenborough's piece on the lyrebird on YouTube:
It is possible that the seedpods are inheriting enough of the brain so they can use it as a reference to retrieve behavior patterns and memories. The alien may retain its own mind but also use its victim's memories. That is conceivable but unlikely. It is just too complex a solution to be probable.
The other possibility is my interpretation that there is little alien intelligence at all. The aliens might have perfect copies of their originals' brains, minds, and personalities. From dialog in the film they seem to believe they are much better off having been taken over. What if they are right? Maybe the only difference between the human brain and the seedpod brain is experience? If they have so many human memories they probably also remember what it was like to be human. They have also had the experience of being a seedpod-human. Perhaps they are right and know from experience that it really is much better to be a seedpod-human. There is no direct evidence in the film that the aliens are sinister or malevolent. They may be only committed to what is now obvious to them--it is better to be a seedpod. They may be only convinced and dedicated.
One interesting aspect of the most recent version of the Jack Finney story, THE INVASION (2007), is that while the main characters are fighting the takeover, news stories keep reporting that the hot spots in the world are cooling down and becoming peaceful. In other words there are some positive effects of the takeover. Since there have now been four film versions, I have been hoping that there might one day be a version that included the point of view of those who had made the transition and who sincerely believed what they were doing was the best thing for humanity. I guess there would be the question of whether their judgment can still be trusted. They may or may not be objective observers. In fact there are a lot of precedents for that in real life. People who join religions or political movements generally believe that their membership is a good thing. Frequently they feel sincerely that their newfound membership should be spread to other people.
And then there still is the Star Trek transporter question: whether when someone is duplicated is his/her consciousness merely moved to a new body or is the original killed and duplicated. They may be to the outside world indistinguishable possibilities, but they make a lot of difference to the person being duplicated.
We still have our initial question. None of this requires that an intelligence be behind the invasion. Of course nothing contradicts it either. I do not know what Finney intended in his novel. And he is no longer around to ask. Very likely Finney did not even think about the question. And I guess it might be like Kolinahr. A friend of mine became very curious about the discipline of Kolinahr on the planet Vulcan, after seeing references to it in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. What were its principles? She wanted to know more about it. But another friend told her "What you saw on the screen... That's all there was." Perhaps what we saw on the screen of Finney's seedpods was all there was. [-mrl]
THE ARTIST (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: For fear of spoilers I will not say what the other current movie is that is a tribute to the silent film days. Still the two films would be interesting to compare. But rather than just giving clips, THE ARTIST is an entire feature film, virtually all created in the style of the monochrome silent motion pictures. And just that novelty sustains the film for most of its length. THE ARTIST is a charming French-Belgian production set in good old Hollywood in that late 1920s and early 1930s. Somewhere along the line it becomes obvious that THE ARTIST does not attain the heights a Chaplin or a Fairbanks film might. The novelty fades and one might be watching a somewhat run of the mill silent. Still the experience brings back memories of some great silent movies. The plot may be a bit similar to A STAR IS BORN, but as a reminder of the greatness of silent films, this is one of the must-sees of the season. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
I was discussing European spy films with a friend, and he brought up OSS 117, a spy who had been in spy novels since 1949. I found there was an OSS 117 film on Netflix Streaming, namely OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES. I had to admit it was a very good comedy. A few months later they has a second comedy thriller, OSS 117: LOST IN RIO also for streaming. These were not straight stories and seemed more interested in parodying James Bond films. And both were hilarious. The writer and director was Michel Hazanavicius and the title agent was played by Jean Dujardin, a comedic actor who could do a great parody performance, almost an impression of Sean Connery. I recommend both OSS 117 films for a good time. I was also intrigued when a trailer told me that virtually the same team was making a sort of parody of silent movies called THE ARTIST.
Mel Brooks tried his hand at making his humorous SILENT MOVIE, but did not stick very closely to the conventions of the 1920s. Now Hazanavicius was attempting the same feat. And starring in the film is Jean Dujardin, who in the trailer and later the film does a great semi-smarmy impression of a silent film matinee idol. This meant that in addition to whatever statement THE ARTIST itself might have been making, the film itself would probably be a reaction against movies going to 3D and audiences who think that monochrome films give viewers headaches (and 3D glasses do not). Just making that statement and fighting the popular trends is more than a little quixotic. But THE ARTIST is already showing up on critics' top ten lists for 2011. Seeing this recreation of the silent film conventions has the same nostalgic feel as seeing 42ND STREET on Broadway.
THE ARTIST is a reminder of some of the negative aspects of silent film. The silent conventions meant less plot could be conveyed in the same length of time just because it is hard to convey plot complexity when all conversations require title cards. Imagine trying to do ALL ABOUT EVE as a silent film. Seeing some of what went into pre-Motion Picture Production Code films, it is ironic to call them innocent, but even the ones with nudity told somewhat simplistic and innocent stories. This is a film is which the scenario is very much high-concept. The plot is a variation on A STAR IS BORN. A popular silent film matinee idol, George Valentin (Dujardin), basks in the adulation of his fans. One of the throng is a young newcomer to Hollywood, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, also of OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES). After a quick run-in with Valentin Miller she is smitten and Valentin is much the same, but neither really approaches the other as anything but friends.
But hard times are coming to Hollywood. The 1-2-3 punch of the stock market crash, sound coming to films, and the Depression leaves Valentin decreasingly popular and unable to find work, while Peppy Miller is a flavor the public cannot get enough of. But in the film business the ticket-buying public is always right and that makes Valentin all wrong. (It makes one to wonder if there is much point in railing against high-tech films in 3D and shaky seats. The public will decide that issue also.) THE ARTIST is the story of one new star headed for success and another whose star is falling.
Part of the problem here is the film itself argues against its own point. The pacing is slowed by the medium of silent film. There just is not a lot of story here. Once one gets over the novelty of a different medium and a few cleverly shot scenes this film is no more or less intriguing than one of many silent films shown on Turner Classic Movies. The stylistic anachronism does not do a lot for the power of the story telling.
Dujardin gives a nearly pitch-perfect performance and has a face that naturally seems to combine features of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Fredric March. Bejo is fetching but conveys no strong personality. As a studio executive John Goodman is believable. James Cromwell is his usual likeable persona as Clifton the loyal chauffeur. Underused is Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin's wife. Uggie (who played Queenie in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS) turns in a sentimental and likable performance while simultaneously stealing his every scene. (Come to think of it, if he did play Queenie it passed as an unnoted gender-bending role.)
Though a silent film THE ARTIST has some scenes with clever uses of sound, particularly in one dream sequence. But Hazanavicius soon returns to standard silent-film styles of storytelling, which admittedly can be moving. Some of the score is original but there is a thick, juicy slice of Bernard Herrmann music late in the film. Watch for multiple references to films like THE MARK OF ZORRO. There is even a reference to French super-villain Fantomas. The film is shot in the old 1.37:1 aspect ratio. After a summer of 3D films this fall at least two filmmakers have decided that it is time to remember the glories of black and white silent films. They are wrong, of course. It is well past time. I rate THE ARTIST a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1655442/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_artist/
BURKE AND HARE (2011) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The story of the Burke and Hare body snatchings and murders returns to the screen for another go, with John Landis directing from the Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft script. The IMDB gets it right to say this is first a comedy and second a thriller. There is certainly more giggle here than shiver, thanks to a director used to mixing the two, John Landis. But a really good cast and good art design carry this film like a Hammer horror film but with more levity. It might not be released to theaters, but it is recommended as a nice film to sit down with on a cold winter evening. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
BURKE AND HARE opens with the statement that this, the film, is a true story ... except for the parts that are not. As far as it goes that is director John Landis telling the truth. William Burke and William Hare were real people who lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. They had a small income from the biological supply business. It seems that anatomist and lecturer Dr. Robert Knox taught at the Edinburgh Medical College where he was hassled by the shortage in real cadavers that he could use in his teaching. Knox was not above paying for cadavers supplied by locals, no questions asked. Thieves would rob the graves of the recently departed and sell the corpses for a tidy sum that would probably end up squandered at the pub. The thugs Burke and Hare saw others around them who made their living robbing graves and selling bodies. And then the demand outstripped the supply. There were just not enough people dying to meet the medical school's needs. It was then that Burke and Hare came up with a special process for making new medical cadavers from materials they found around the streets of the city. This business worked for almost a year, November 1827 to Halloween 1828, when they were finally found out. BURKE AND HARE, directed by John Landis, tells this much and the rest of the story, and on a visit to Edinburgh any good tour guide can tell you more of the story. The tale is grisly enough that the people of Edinburgh have nursed it like a sore tooth.
The story has been told several times in films. The 1956 TV production THE ANATOMIST had Alastair Sim as Knox and Michael Ripper as Hare. The 1960 film THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS told the story with Peter Cushing as Dr. Knox and Donald Plesance as William Hare. THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985) changes the names but tells the tale with a screenplay by Dylan Thomas. The 1972 film BURKE & HARE (a.k.a. THE HORRORS OF BURKE AND HARE) repeated the story. Several other films either use the characters of Burke and Hare or were strongly influenced by the case. Robert Wise's film THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) (produced by Val Lewton) refers strongly to the case. The Hammer film DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE worked the Burke and Hare murders into the plot. Now John Landis has turned the story into a comic farce with a major British cast. Tom Wilkinson plays Dr. Knox. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis are Burke and Hare respectively. Tim Curry is a rival anatomist to Knox, and comedian Ronnie Corbett a captain of the constabulary. In small roles or cameos are such notables as Christopher Lee, Ray Harryhausen, Jenny Agutter (of LOGAN"S RUN), John Woodvine (of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and the long stage adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby), Costa- Gavras (director of Z), and William Burke himself (a first!).
Landis probably realized that the story was somewhat played out as a pure horror or true crime story so he returns to the kind of film he built his early career on but has done less of lately. He turns the story into a comedy. Does that work for him? Well, the film will not win any major awards, though John Mathieson's photography and Simon Elliot's production design are nicely atmospheric.
Not a first-ranked film, but for fans of horror or even just comedy, BURKE AND HARE is will worth seeing. As a horror fan (and someone who has seen *all* the other Burke and Hare films listed above) I rate the new BURKE AND HARE a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
BURKE AND HARE (2011) is playing on the Independent Film Channel. Just a side note here: IFC seems to be able to find better and more unusual horror than any other source I know of. It was through IFC that I saw PONTYPOOL and if you like intelligent horror, you should too.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1320239/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/burke_and_hare/
MISS MINOES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A cat is accidentally turned into a beautiful woman by a toxic waste accident. Minoes, now Miss Minoes, befriends a failing newspaper reporter and uses her network of cat friends to help get the reporter the news stories he needs. Dutch author Annie M. G. Schmidt's 1970 children's book MINOES is adapted for the screen by director Vincent Bal who also co-authored the screenplay. The result is a rather slight but pleasant family fantasy film. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
When a barrel of toxic waste is accidentally dropped off a truck and nearly hits a cat, the cat, Minoes, is somehow transformed into a beautiful woman (Carice van Houten). Minoes now looks like a woman and can most of the time behave as a woman, but her instincts are all feline. When frightened by a dog, she bounds up to the top branches of a tree without knowing how she will get down. To her rescue comes Tibbe (Theo Maassen), a reporter too timid to get his newspaper hard-hitting news stories. When they run into each other a second time they form a sort of partnership with Minoes finding news stories in return for food and a place to sleep. Minoes is not alone in the search. The neighborhood cats, at first wary of this human, form a bond with this fellow feline, and they bring all the news of the neighborhood to Tibbe--cat news and human news.
The 2001 Dutch film is dubbed acceptably if imperfectly into English for the current release. So while the character, human and feline, are speaking English, print is in Dutch. Tibbe may say what he is typing in English, but when we see his writing on a typewriter or in a newspaper it is in Dutch. Enough context is given so youngsters will know what is going on, even if they will be unable to read the writing. Unlike some children's films, this one does not attempt to appear to children to be taking place in the United States. It gives children some of the feel of ever day life in a mid-sized Dutch town.
The screenplay co-authored by director Vincent Bal with Tamara Bos and Burny Bos takes no unexpected turns much of the humor comes from Minoes's catlike behavior at inappropriate times. If in the middle of a public event someone is dangling their car keys, Minoes will be unable to resist the temptation to paw the keys. But Minoes with her cadre of cat reporters is able to save Tibbe's job and further is able to tell Tibbe some unexpected facts about a prominent local businessman--facts that maybe some of the people in town do not want to see revealed. It is of interest that the marvelous transformation of Minoes is never explained beyond saying the cat licked up some spilled chemicals.
MISS MINOES had a troubled journey to American screens since it was released in the Netherlands in December 2001 where it won the Dutch equivalent of the Academy Award. It won numerous awards at children's film festivals in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Egypt, and India. It had a small DVD release under the inferior title UNDERCOVER KITTY, a title that suggests exploitation of another talking cat film made the same year, CATS AND DOGS.
Though there is a little violence, it results in little more than a hurt paw and not enough to frighten even the youngest children. MISS MINOES is a simple, innocent story seated in Dutch village life, a charming holiday choice for family viewing. I rate the film a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
MISS MINOES opens December 23, 2011, at the Cinema Village in New York and the Music Box in Chicago. Hopefully, it will get a home video release not long after.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0279231/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/miss_minoes/
THE DREAMING VOID by Peter F. Hamilton (copyright 2007 Peter F. Hamilton, 2008 Tantor; 22 hours, 38 Minutes; narrated by John Lee) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
Peter F. Hamilton returns to the Commonwealth Universe, previously seen in PANDORA'S STAR and JUDAS UNCHAINED (the events of which are collectively known as the Starflyer War in this new series), for his new star-spanning space opera THE DREAMING VOID, the first in the Void Trilogy. Like the "Starflyer War" books, Hamilton tells a story that spans the galaxy, involves dozens of characters, includes intriguing storylines, has tremendous scope, and is, well, just a great book.
The story is set about 1200 years after the events of the Starflyer War. Death has been effectively defeated. The Commonwealth has split into various factions, which are separated, in part, by their desire for various levels of bodily technological modification, the most advanced of which have technological modifications called bionomics. Bionomics have advanced the body to extremes unheard of before, and which a large faction of people within the Commonwealth find unnatural. Those who use them--the Highers--eventually download their consciousness into a machine entity known as ANA (the expansion of the acronym escapes me at the moment, and it's not easy to look it up in an audiobook) to effectively live eternally.
There are other factions, but then there are the Dreamers.
At the center of the galaxy is a sort of artificial universe within our universe called the Void, which was created millions of years ago by an alien race. The Void is gradually eating up the galaxy, and occasionally undergoes what is known as an Expansion Event, which threatens to engulf the entire galaxy. Our old friends from the Starflyer War, the Raiel, find the Void evil and have sworn to protect the galaxy by attempting to keep its expansion in check by any means necessary.
A fellow named Inigo is the First Dreamer. He dreams of life within the Void, and shares those dreams with the members of the Commonwealth. Inigo develops a following of believers called the Dreamers. Inigo disappears, however, leaving all his followers without more dreams. They decide to embark upon a Pilgrimage to enter the Void, and live the life that Inigo showed them. The Raiel are dead-set against this, and believe that it will trigger an Expansion Event that will destroy the galaxy.
But the story doesn't only take place within the Commonwealth. It also takes place within the Void, and follows a young telepath by the name of Edeard. Life within the Void is idyllic, for the post part. Edeard is a member of the Egg Shapers Guild. Egg Shapers can genetically modify embryonic creatures in order to sculpt them into a useful entity. Edeard is very good at it--the best in his rural town. Unfortunately, that town is destroyed by raiders, and Edeard leaves for the city of Makkathran, to join the Guild and make a life for himself there. That doesn't work out as intended, of course, and he becomes a constable in the police force. It is of Edeard that Inigo dreams.
This is truly a tremendous example of space opera--large in scope and concept, with all the trappings that we're used to in space opera - and typical of a Hamilton novel. Those of you who have read all three Void novels can answer this, but I'm guessing there's more connection to the "Starflyer War" novels than we see on the surface. Hamilton brings back many of the larger than life characters from the prior novels, and this provides a sense of comfort and familiarity, but he uses them in different ways. After all, 1200 years does change people. And, as you'd expect, the story is complex and intertwined, and it is already evident that the storylines of these characters will converge in a climactic finish.
I also can't say enough about narrator John Lee, who did such a tremendous job with the "Starflyer War" books. His voice commands you to listen. No, he doesn't do a tremendous job of changing voices for various characters, although he does try, but still, I love his narrating style. [-jak]
"Secret Histories" Series by Simon R. Green (book reviews by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TORC
DAEMONS ARE FOREVER
THE SPY WHO HAUNTED ME
FROM HELL WITH LOVE
FOR HEAVEN'S EYES ONLY
Lately I've started reading a new series by Simon R. Green, a writer of dark fantasy. I have enjoyed Green's "Nightside Series" and "The Adventures of Hawk & Fisher", so I finally decided to take up his "Secret Histories" series, starring one Eddie Drood, better known by his alias, Shaman Bond. In case this isn't crashingly obvious, these books are pastiches of James Bond novels, with generous helpings of Modesty Blaise, Sherlock Holmes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Green Lantern. If you don't like lots of references to other books, you won't like this series.
I've seen some reviews that compare the "Drood" series unfavorably to Jim Butcher's supernatural detective noir tales, of which I am an avid fan. Be warned that, much like Bond movies and novels, the "Drood" books are not to be taken overly seriously. With this attitude in mind, they can be great fun. A knowledge of the "Nightside" series is somewhat helpful but not in any way essential, although one of the books, THE SPY WHO HAUNTED ME has a major character from the Nightside, Walker. The general idea is that a long time ago some ancients druids came across an other- dimensional entity and became friendly with it. The entity gifted them with strange matter suits that provide the wearer with extraordinary powers, protecting the user against most insults of both magic and science, as well as being a tool that can be manipulated by the mind and the will of the person inside. In time druids become a family, the Droods, the secret rulers of the world according to their enemies, but the secret protectors according to them.
Eddie Drood is a field agent, somewhat on the outs with his bosses as the series begins. In a dazzling series of adventures, Eddie is betrayed, become the chief Drood, defeats a vast array of powerful enemies, and hooks up with his worst enemy turned lover, Mad Molly Metcalf, the Wild Witch of the Woods. It's not really my intent to recapitulate the contents of the five books to date, but I found them quite fun, and a bit less creepy than the "Nightside" series, in part because unlike the ambiguous John Taylor of "Nightside" fame, who is Lilith's son [yes, that Lilith!], Eddie is a square shooter on the side of good.
A general theme is that Eddie revisits various mysterious events, and discovers the true history behind them. THE SPY WHO HAUNTED ME is especially good at plumping this theme, with events as varied as the Loch Ness Monster, the Tunguska meteor crash, and Area 51 providing the basis for some of the action.
In any case, Eddie Drood is not for everyone, but if you want to be diverted by some fast paced fantasy action a bit more interesting than "three otters in search of a ring" (thanks to Mark Leeper for this excellent encapsulation of high fantasy) I suggest spending some time with Shaman Bond and Mad Molly Metcalf. This series is targeted towards adults, and is too violent and disturbing for kids, but most teens who enjoy SyFy channel monster movies will swim along fine. [-dls]
[I wonder if the character's name is a tip of the hat to Charles Dickens's Edwin Drood. -ecl]
MT WEEK WITH MARILYN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a film, sometimes touching and often entertaining, telling the story of one horrendous 1956 film shoot, made so by the constant crises and insecurity of the actress who was the film's main draw, one Marilyn Monroe. Along the way we get the six-pence peek at the chaos and the battling egos of the British film industry in the 1950s, which was nearly as bad as the America's Hollywood. The cast is amazing and the situations often funny and often touching, but the film could have used some sort of revelation about its title character. I came away with an unaltered impression of the pneumatic actress whose presence was more distraction than addition to a film. Simon Curtis directs. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
There seems to be a cult that has been built around Marilyn Monroe, not entirely after her death. The claim is that in addition to her beauty, which many people found startling, she was really very intelligent and a very fine actress. Full disclosure: I always thought that she was as bright as she was beautiful and neither was she much of. But she did seem to spellbind people other than me. This film is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark who was a third assistant director on the film THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, which brought together two actors who could not have been more different and more mismatched. One was Marilyn Monroe and the other was Laurence Olivier, who did double duty also directing the film while Monroe did half duty requiring dozens of takes after repeatedly flubbing her lines. During the production Monroe flirted with and befriended third assistant director Colin Clark, who later became a writer and documentarian and wrote about his experiences during the film shoot.
Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) had an unhappy family life at home. His parents treated his interest in the film industry as a passing immature fancy. Nonetheless Clark leaves home to join what was to prove to be a very crazy industry fraught with battling egos. Through persistence he gets the job of third assistant director on THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, directed by and starring Laurence Olivier (played by Kenneth Branagh) and also starring the enormously popular and unprepared Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Monroe was just a short time into her marriage to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). It is a difficult decision to who makes a worse match with Monroe, Miller or Olivier. Also mismatched to Monroe are her adoring fans even in England. Monroe has only to walk down a public street to attract a crowd that soon gets unruly. The major problem is that Monroe seems constitutionally unable to remember her lines or even to act. It seems by mutual consent the world has decided to ignore her shortcomings and praise her to her face. Monroe looks for a sincere friend and finds the flunky Colin Clark. She decides that this will be her friend and confidant. What happens the real Clark revealed in his diaries, which later were the bases of the book THE PRINCE, THE SHOWGIRL AND ME and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN. Those books adapted into the screenplay of this film by Adrian Hodges.
Kenneth Branagh does not resemble Laurence Olivier, but he has obviously studied the Olivier's autocratic mannerisms. Whenever Branagh speaks it is easy to picture Olivier giving the same speech in the same way. On the other hand, Michelle Williams looks a lot like Monroe from the neck down, but she has a different sort of face. She looks more intelligent than Monroe did. I rarely could envision Monroe speaking the same lines in the same way.
This is the kind of British film that seems to have every British character actor who comes to mind in one supporting role or another. Included in the cast are Emma Watson (surprisingly mousy when not in a Harry Potter film), Michael Kitchen (of "Foyle's War"), Toby Jones (always an asset), Jim Carter, Dougray Scott, Dame Judi Dench (much like a reprise of her Mrs. Henderson persona), Derek Jacobi, David Rintoul, and several more character actors that I know by sight if not by name.
Somehow this film kept reminding me of Richard Benjamin's MY FAVORITE YEAR (1982). You again have the newcomer to show business, not yet sure what it is all about, finding out what it is really like and then given the flunky job of looking after a great star who proves to be heavily into intoxicants and totally unmanageable, but at heart calling for help. That was the better of the two films, but still this one gets a respectable low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1655420/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/my_week_with_marilyn/
Manoel de Oliveira and Eliot Carter (letters of comment by Paul Dormer and Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's comments about Manoel de Oliveira in the 12/09/11 issue of the MT VOID (born on December 11, 1908, and still working), Paul Dormer writes:
Curiously therefore born on the same day as the composer Eliot Carter, and he is still writing, or at least had a new work performed this year. (And he was born the day after Olivier Messiaen but he died about 20 years ago.) [-pd]
Keith F. Lynch adds:
That's almost on-topic, since he composed the "Turangalila", after which the one-eyed "Futurama" character Turanga Leela is named. [-kfl]
And Paul Dormer says:
He wrote music for the Ondes Martenot [an early electronicmusical instrument], which is futuristic enough. [-pd]
Polymaths (letter of comment by Daniel M. Kimmel):
In response to Mark's comments on automata in his review of HUGO in the 12/16/11 issue of the MT VOID (in which he said, "It is like claiming Albert Einstein was coincidentally also the world's greatest impressionist painter"), Daniel M. Kimmel writes:
So was Leonardo da Vinci a brilliant artist or a scientist? As Mark argues, he couldn't have been both. :-) [-dmk]
There are indeed extreme polymaths who are good at whatever they do, and they do a wide range of things. Im-ho-tep was one such; da Vinci was one. Goethe was another. (In our time there is the fictional character Derek Flint.) And these people come to wide acclaim as polymaths in their own time. George Melies would have been known to be a polymath if he really was one. Generally the probability is low that one person who was known to be great in one field would be great in another. That is why it was funny when Franz Liebkin claimed that Hitler was also such a great house painter.
This reminds me of one of my early claims to fame in SF fandom. When STAR WARS first came out in 1977 and the novel came out with that was supposedly by George Lucas. I wrote an article for the fanzine "Lan's Lantern" in which I said that I doubted that Lucas had the time and talent to write the novel. That was pushing chance a bit too much to suggest he had that talent. I reasoned that he probably got a ghost writer who was used to writing about a similar polyglot universe. I had just read the book TAR-AIYM KRANG by Alan Dean Foster and it was set in such a universe so I suggested that someone like Alan Dean Foster had written the novel. Apparently, someone saw the article and told Foster that I was claiming someone like him probably wrote the novel STAR WARS. He just gave a funny look. Years later Dale Pollock revealed in his book SKYWALKING that Lucas had not really written the novel STAR WARS, it was written by Alan Dean Foster. Lucky guess on my part. [-mrl]
HUGO (letter of comment by Bill Higgins):
In response to Mark's review of HUGO in the 12/16/11 issue of the MT VOID, Bill Higgins writes:
I avoided reading your spoilers, but there is one thing you might tell me.
Does this film have any fantasy or science fiction content, or is it set entirely within mundane reality?
Even if it's not SF, fandom will find it hard to resist the temptation to nominate it for a Hugo Award, especially if it is as good as you say. And the Hugo rules wisely avoid the trap of defining SF and fantasy. If enough fans nominate a work, it's on the ballot. [-wh]
Wow! Let me answer you with a question. Being that there were submarines used during and before the Civil War, does 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA have any fantasy or science fiction content? I am not super-sure in either case. When I posted my review I did not post it to any SF or fantasy newsgroups. But IMDB labels the film a fantasy among its categories. I suspect it will get some Hugo nominations. Evelyn points out it is on a related topic. I guess it might be nominated like THE RIGHT STUFF was. There are references to things science fictional. [-mrl]
That's an easy one. The *Nautilus* was way more capable than existing vessels, which could operate submerged for a few hours or a day at most. It could travel for leagues and leagues, and support its occupants in relative luxury. In addition, a number of other high-tech gadgets, either wholly novel or vastly ahead of existing devices (diving suits come to mind), appear in the story. All serve to expand the possibilities for adventure, such as Captain Nemo's wholly-underwater lifestyle. These elements are Verne's extrapolations, in a style we now recognize as science- fictional, of contemporary inventions and contemporary scientific knowledge. The book is SF; indeed, it is one of the great paradigmatic examples of SF.
[That makes HUGO science fiction also. -mrl]
Even though people have already traveled to the moon by rocket, if you write a story today about people traveling to Saturn by rocket, it would probably be SF, or maybe SF's weaker brother, a techno- thriller.
So your judgment was that it was not primarily a work of SF or fantasy. Which is a pretty good answer to the question I asked.
When I saw trailers for the film (I have not read the book, though reviews are quite intriguing, and the book itself has a trailer) I saw lots of cast-iron architecture and lots of giant gears (which might signify "steampunk" these days). I concluded that the film was set in Paris of the 1880s or 1890s.
I was quite surprised to see a TV interview with the director and learn that the setting was really in the 1930s.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to the film. Always enjoy reading your reviews! [-wh]
TINTIN and HUGO (letter of comment by Morris Keesan):
In response to Mark's comments on trailers in the 12/16/11 issue of the MT VOID, Morris Keesan writes:
You say about the new Tintin movie that "the story seems unexciting: Tintin is looking for the treasure of a sunken ship. The animation is great but nobody will come because they are intrigued by the story," but what I've seen of the trailers looks like it's a reasonably faithful film adaptation (as film adaptations go) of the book of the same name (THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN--I don't know why publicists, theatres, and everyone else insist on referring to the first movie in what looks like a series by what's obviously the series title). Many of us (at least my family) will go because we're fans of the books, and expect as good a story as Herge gave us. We're planning to see it on Sunday morning, reverting to our old December 25 tradition since it doesn't look like there's going to be any snow.
We saw HUGO a few days ago. The theatre we went to was showing it in 2D rather than 3D (and in sparsely-populated northern New Hampshire, it was the only place to see it for many miles), and Scorsese is a good enough director that it didn't seem to suffer. We recognized shots where the stereoscopic effect would clearly have been fun, but the film works quite well without it. The whole family had recently read THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, and I was pleased to note that where the film deviated from the book, it mostly made it a better film (the character of Isabelle's friend Etienne, a film student who worked as an usher at the cinema and let the kids in through the back door, and who took them to the film school to meet Professor Tabard, was omitted. Several of the people in the train station were either added or turned from one- dimensional characters into real people, notably the station inspector. I thought Sacha Baron Cohen did a wonderful job channeling Peter Sellers. I never knew Cohen could do subtle, and didn't recognize him at all until his name appeared in the end credits. And Hugo's dream of the train crashing out of the station was enhanced, and the idea of waking up into another dream was pure Scorsese.)
I hope you've seen the Maillardet automaton at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Brian Selznick, in the endnotes of his book, references , http://www.fi.edu/pieces/knox/automaton/, which has some videos showing the automaton in action, drawing and writing. It's quite impressive.
Also, I'm sure there are lots of more subtle references and homages that Scorsese put into HUGO, that I would have seen if I were more of a film buff. Aside from the station inspector's blend of Clouseau and Strangelove, my favorite almost-invisible bit was noticing, as the camera panned past the band playing in the station cafe, that the guitarist was only using two fingers of his left hand. I suspect that even of those people who saw this, very few would recognize this as a reference to Django Reinhardt. [-mk]
If you think of it, let us know what you think of TINTIN.
Spoiler: I had the impression that the film said that the pictures that flew around the room were created by the automaton. At the moment I can neither confirm nor deny that plot point. But my complaint with that is the pictures had shading, while pictures drawn by an automaton are at best just complex line drawings. What we see in the trailer are more complex and have features like shading. In addition both trailers I have seen show the content of the pictures that fly around the room and for a cinema fan the pictures are easily recognizable. I believe I have seen the Maillardet automaton at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, though not recently. [-mrl]
HENRY IV, PART 2 (letter of comment by John Hertz):
In response to Evelyn's comments on HENRY IV, PART 2, in the 11/11/11 issue of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:
No doubt Shakespeare had I Corinthians 13:11 in mind for 2 HENRY IV. But so much turns on King Henry's old and new ways, and his change that sixteen lines to the Lord Chief Justice whom he must win, and the same to Falstaff, whom he must turn away without losing the kingdom's faith, are surely no mere (in 21st century sense) elaborations. [-jh]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This month's choice for the "science discussion group" was THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (ISBN 978-0-395- 66958-8). (I put "science discussion group" in quotation marks because the group was originally just the "book discussion group" and after other, more focused, groups formed, was referred to as the "original discussion group." Now it seems to have mutated into a "science discussion group.")
Thomas appears to have no professional credentials as a scientist. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that many of the questions she says are unanswered may well have been answered. In addition, because she wants to remain just an observer, she does not perform any experiments that might answer these questions. For example, she says that to determine how the husky Misha navigated, she would need to blindfold him and take him somewhere, then see if he could find his way home--but she will not do that.
(It does seem, by the way, that some of her suggestions about how Misha navigates--using the stars, for example, or hearing the ocean and so knowing which way was east--have some problems based on what I remember of Boston-area roads. In specific, the use of directional signals cannot work if there are roads with center dividers, center barriers, or noise-reduction walls, especially if there are very long distances between gaps in the barriers. However, the book was published in 1993, and it is possible that many of the barriers are more recent than that.)
Thomas's point of view is anthropomorphic, at times possibly overly so. She realizes this, and defends it by saying, "Using the experience of one's species to evaluate the experience of another species has been a useful tool to many of the great wildlife biologists." I am not sure this is a reasonable defense--surely it is a useful tool for farmers and hunters to assume animals have no feelings, but that does not make it a valid position to take. In any case, Thomas's anthropomorphism extends to referring to talking about humane societies "executing" dogs, about how Misha had "married" another husky, and about how dogs and elephants can be "slaves",
Thomas also talks briefly about what I believe is a major issue in the dog breeding community today--health and behavioral problems caused by over-emphasis of what are deemed desirable traits. In particular, Thomas talks about brachycephalic (short-faced) dogs such as pugs and bulldogs, which have so much trouble breathing that they are prone to blacking out under exertion, stress, or even just normal existence. (Many airlines refuse to carry them, because they cannot survive the lower air pressure in airplane cabins.) As Thomas describes the problem, "Born with the same number of sinuses and teeth, the same amount of tongue, soft palate, and nasal passages as normal dogs, they lack the proper space to house these organs.; all are squashed together inside the deformed skull." There is currently much debate about changing the official description of these breeds to allow for less compressed skulls. In Britain, they have already done so for the bulldog (or at any rate, accepted an additional breed of bulldog that is less compressed), while in the United States they have resisted change. (I believe that in some places there is a question of whether continuing to breed brachycephalic dogs might not be considered actionable under law as animal cruelty.)
Thomas also says, "Primates feel pure, flat immobility as boredom, but dogs feel it as peace." Perhaps this is true to some extent, but it implies that there is no problem with keeping a dog in small apartment all day and only taking it outside twice a day for short walks.
One of the books listed in Thomas's bibliography for THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS was Frederick E. Zeuner's A HISTORY OF DOMESTICATED ANIMALS (no ISBN). This must be the classic work, because it was thirty years old when Thomas cited it, and one would think she would have chosen a newer work were it available. However, much of what Zeuner says has been superseded by recent discoveries and DNA analysis. (For example, while no one has ever disputed that dogs were the first domesticated species, I find the claim that reindeer were the second a bit hard to believe.) And Zeuner's book is primarily a dry academic work dealing with archaeological findings, rather than a discussion of *how* domestication happened, though he does cover that topic in regard to dogs.
(Interestingly, although Zeuner writes with a lot of detail and precision, he does have at least one sloppy sentence: "Since at that time (6700 B.C.E.) only the goat was certainly domesticated, this single [cat] tooth may have belonged to a wild visitor." Actually, everyone agrees that the dog was certainly domesticated by then as well.
He makes the same point that Jared Diamond makes in GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL--namely, that it is much easier to domesticate "herd" animals, or animals that have a defined social structure in the wild. Zeuner says that this characteristic is true of all domesticated animals with one exception: the cat.
By "domesticated", Zeuner means (among other things) getting the animals to breed in captivity, with evidence of selection, and permanently (rather than for just a few generations). So he lists only four species of fish (the Roman eel, the goldfish, the carp, and the paradise fish), and explicitly excludes modern aquarium fish. [-ecl]
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