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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/24/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 35, Whole Number 1690
Table of Contents
A Sign of the Times (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am a little sorry to see vulgarity become mainstream. You hear people using vulgarities you never used to hear. We hear all sorts of words that used to be considered very bad taste. I cannot say which right here because the Void has to get through nanny filters for some readers, but they are words like "sh*t" and "f*ck." I listen to the news on National Public Radio and even they use words like "turd" and "undie". And they seem to be siding with the Assad regime in Syria. They were talking about fighting going on and they used this peculiar epithet. They said that after some fighting the rebels were, to use their childish expression, "undie- turd." That is just gross. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for March (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
March is one of the better months on Turner Classic Movies.
The only film that Charles Laughton ever directed, unfortunately because it is an atmospheric gem, was THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). He did a darn good job of directing it. The two children of a convicted robber (Peter Graves) are given the loot by their father. Robert Mitchum plays a fake preacher who will do what he has to to get his hands on that money. In 1930s West Virginia people love their preachers so much, nobody questions that Mitchum might not be exactly what he seems. And that gives Mitchum free reins do whatever he wants to stalk and terrorize the children. One famous bit: he has "LOVE" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and "HATE" on the knuckles of the other and nothing impresses the simple country people as the sermon where his LOVE-hand defeats his HATE-hand. This sequence has become iconic. The film is based on a novel by Davis Grubb who specialized in hill country gothic horror. Mitchum makes your skin crawl just a little. There is one other film where he does that, and TCM is running that film also. In CAPE FEAR (1962) Mitchum plays Max Cady a relentless ex-con who is determined to get revenge on the lawyer who helped put him in prison. Gregory Peck plays the lawyer, but Mitchum steals the show. The style of the film is really tense and it all comes from Mitchum. The great Martin Scorsese made a remake, but should have known better. He could not top the original CAPE FEAR. The film is based on the novel THE EXECUTIONERS by crime and suspense novelist John D. MacDonald. CAPE FEAR: [Tuesday, March 27, 8 PM] NIGHT OF THE HUNTER: [Wednesday, March 28, Midnight]
PRETTY POISON (1968) is another film that like THE STUNT MAN--also playing this month--is little known and deserves to be seen. Anthony Perkins is a disturbed boy who lives in a world between fantasy and reality. He is released from an institution to try to function in the outside world and gets a job in a chemical factory in a small town. There he gets the attention of a cheerleader who is fascinated by him and his strange stories. She is looking for excitement and she finds it with Perkins. But the strange attraction will lead in dangerous directions. I do not want to say too much, but it this is a nice little thriller. [Thursday, March 8, 10:15 PM]
THE WRONG BOX (1966) is a send=up of Victorian manners that is genuinely very funny. Two brothers are the last surviving members of a tontine--a lottery in which the last person alive takes the whole kitty. The last person alive takes all. One brother decides to do away with the other. A manic comedy of errors, farce, chicanery, train wrecks, races against time, and serial killers leads to comic chaos. Michael Caine, John Mills, Peter Sellers, and Ralph Richardson star. There are some funny bits by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (who next month will star in their classic comedy BEDAZZLED). Perhaps the funniest bit is carried off by Wilfred Lawson as the butler Peacock. Sadly this film has never made it to video in this country. The film was produced and directed by Bryan Forbes. [Wednesday, March 14, 2:30 PM]
Two years earlier Forbes had produced and directed the very different SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON. This is an engrossing and atmospheric crime thriller about a self-proclaimed medium who wants to prove her powers by having her husband kidnap a child so that she can lead the police to the victim with her claimed second sight. The film does not have any real supernatural elements, but when Kiyoshi Kurosawa remade it in 2000 as SÉANCE he added a ghost to the story to please Japanese audiences. Kim Stanley got an Academy Award nomination for her role as the fake psychic. [Tuesday, March 20, 2:30 AM]
My pick of the month would have to be THE WRONG BOX, a film that really is a comic masterpiece.
Other very notable films--March seems to have a lot of good films, more than I could cover--CHARLY, DAMN THE DEFIANT, GET CARTER, LA JETEE, KWAIDAN, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE PASSWORD IS COURAGE, PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, THE RIGHT STUFF, THE STUNT MAN, and TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN. [-mrl]
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: By being less bizarre than SPIRITED AWAY and having more of a human center to the film, THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is one of Studio Ghibli's best efforts to date. Adapting Mary Norton's frequently filmed novel THE BORROWERS, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi gives us a world in which tiny people live in the walls of houses, borrowing food and tools and hiding from the big people. The story deals with trust and loneliness as two people from very different backgrounds and worlds learn to be friends and help each other. The story seems deceptively simple, but there is a lot for the viewer to think about. This is a very good film for adults and for children. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler in the US version and Saoirse Ronan in the UK version) lives with her two parents in a large country house. They do not own the home, but the people who do own it do not know of their existence. Arrietty's family lives by stealing--oops, make that "borrowing"--food and supplies from the people who live in the house. And what is stolen is very rarely missed because their borrowings are small. It helps that they are each are about four inches high. The little people live in the walls of the house like mice, making their domain in dark corners, in the inside of walls, and in the empty spaces under floorboards. And in the house the only big people are an older woman and her housekeeper. The little people go on big adventures getting the little bits of food they need to sustain their lives. Things take a turn when the owner's grandnephew Shawn comes to stay with his great aunt. Almost immediately his sharp young eyes pick up the movement in the bushes around the house and soon he becomes very aware Arrietty's presence. To the little borrowers this is a disaster. As soon as humans have discovered the existence of little people in the past they have come into conflict and the Borrowers usually do not survive. Borrowers hate and distrust the full-sized people, whom they call "Beans" from "human beings". Arrietty's parents, Pod (Will Arnett/Mark Strong) and Homily (Amy Poehler/Olivia Colman), do not want Arrietty ever to come near to Shawn for fear of discovery. But Shawn is lonely and really needs a friend and Arrietty thinks she can befriend and trust this big person. The ending of the film pretty much has to be the way it is, but it is uncharacteristically melancholic for a family film.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is the most recent American release from Studio Ghibli (pronounced "ji-bu-ri," incidentally; it is the Italian name for a hot wind from the desert). The best-known name associated with Studio Ghibli is Hayao Miyazaki, director of NAUSICAA, LAPUTA, TOTORO, KIKI, PORCO, ON YOUR MARK, MONONOKE HIME, SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMIKAKUSHI (a.k.a. SPIRITED AWAY), and HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. (Your titles may vary.) This film was directed by first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The screenplay was written by Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa based on the oft-filmed novel THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton. In fact, I think that this is one of Ghibli's best efforts, in large part because the characters are more likable and better developed. The theme is of two lonely people who should distrust each other, but who want to let their friendship overcome their differences. That is a fairly powerful theme and is probably better than Studio Ghibli's best previous effort SPIRITED AWAY, whose message was just one of self-reliance. That theme is certainly part of THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY, but there is much more to this story. The visual imagery is less bizarre than that of SPIRITED AWAY, but the story is better founded in more believable characters and more human drama. And this script is actually far better than Miyazaki's most recent, PONYO.
As I said, the visual imagery is not as fantastical as was that of SPIRITED AWAY. A somewhat more realistic style was used (if showing the world of tiny people living in walls can be called "realistic"). The filmmakers have created some clever machinery used by the borrowers to move around the house to find food. I am skeptical that the borrowers could have built the comfortable world they have with the tools they had. But we viewers happily suspend our disbelief.
Some of what we see seems to be inspired by images from THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. The drawing style seems different and a bit more defined when showing interiors from a dollhouse that becomes important in the plot. The filmmakers have partially looked at the physics of being tiny and living in a tiny world. When pouring tea, it forms into large globules held together by surface tension before falling. On the other hand humans and borrowers talk to each other in normal sounding voices, something that would not be possible with very tiny larynxes. Climbing ropes for borrowers should be much easier than it appears due to the square-cube law. Also there are inaccuracies due to the dubbing. The story clearly takes place in Japan, but they have 1-800 numbers on the telephone.
I assume that the three major characters were voiced by familiar actors, but I recognized the name of only Carol Burnett. I do not know if I have ever seen Will Arnett act, though he has done voices in several animated films.
I just recently saw DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, another film with a house with tiny people. But that film is made from the point of view of big people. Rarely have we see this sort of story done in which we really can see such a world from the tiny people's point of view. The notable examples are THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and now this film, but it is a perspective that allows us to see our world in a new way. I rate THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1568921/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_secret_world_of_arrietty/
HIDDEN EMPIRE by Orson Scott Card (copyright 2009, Macmillan Audio copyright 2009, 10 hours and 13 minutes, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Orson Scott Card, and Rusty Humphries) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
HIDDEN EMPIRE is the second book in the Empire "Duet". If you remember, EMPIRE was based on a video game of the same name. I don't know that HIDDEN EMPIRE is based on a video game. In fact, I'm not quite sure what the motivation was for Card to write this book. While it's an enjoyable read/listen, it's not up to the same quality as the previous book in the duet. That book tells a terrific story; this one is more preachy than story.
The story starts out in Nigeria with the beginnings of a new epidemic, a "monkey sneezing virus". Chinma corrals a particular type of monkey for scientific research. One day he finds a family of these monkeys in a tree, but they are behaving oddly. Chinma's brother is bitten by one of them monkeys, while Chinma is sneezed upon. The brother dies a quick, horrible death. Thus, the outbreak of a new strain of epidemic disease has begun.
Back in the United States, President Averell Torrent has taken firm control of the country and both political parties. He is charismatic and a good leader. And yet, Bartholomew Coleman, or Cole, doesn't trust him. Torrent tries to contain the epidemic via a quarantine. He sends Cole, along with Reuben Malich's old jeesh with a cool set of souped-up armored suits, over to Nigeria to handle the situation. Cole slowly learns that the jeesh doesn't trust Torrent either, and that they have some very serious plans for dealing with the situation.
In some ways, this story probably isn't much different from any other story about epidemic outbreaks: initial outbreak and spread; world reaction; volunteer workers who go to the sight of the suffering to try and help out in any way they can, and eventual resolution to many of the issues that come up. All doesn't necessarily end up well, but that's the nature of these things.
However, this book really isn't about the epidemic. It's about one man's presidency and how he manipulates world situations to make himself and his country more powerful. It's a look at a man who has a vision for his country and the will and determination to make it happen. It's also about a man who compromises his morality in order to gain power and make the country a better place. It's about tradeoffs. And it's about the people that work for him trying to make decisions about how they see the country being run and how they think the country ought to be run.
However, it's also about Card being very, very preachy. Card uses HIDDEN EMPIRE as a vehicle for his political leanings. There is a lot of text that does nothing to advance the plot; instead, that text advances Cards beliefs and opinions about world politics in a way that *attempts* to move the story along. I understand that you should write about what you know, and indeed including a bit of politics and religion in a story is perfectly fine--in moderation. This felt like I was being beaten over the head with it.
The book really doesn't come to that satisfying of a conclusion. Yet another man must compromise his beliefs in order to serve his president and his country. Indeed, I'm sure it happens more than we'll ever know. And it's perfectly fine to use that in a novel. But they way it was used was unsatisfactory to me.
Stefan Rudnicki once again did a terrific job narrating an "Empire" book. I suspect that I would enjoy him reading other books as well. Rusty Humphries as, apparently, himself, throws off the actual narration a bit. I'd rather Rudnicki had read his parts. Card appears at the beginning of each chapter, reading the words of the president, but that's about it.
As the kids would say, "meh". [-jak]
Freshness Dates and Adapters (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to Mark's comments on ON THE BEACH in the 02/10/12 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
Suicide pills with a use-by date, eh? I'll bet the government would make them put labels all over them. "Caution! Read all labels and follow all directions for a timely demise. Failure to use these in the manner prescribed may result in failure to die!" [-kw]
And in response to Evelyn's comments on electrical adapters in the same issue, Kip writes:
We bought a laptop and a digital camera before going to China to get our daughter, and I bought some adapters for the plugs. I couldn't find an adapter for the voltage, though, and so we ended up leaving the laptop at home and buying additional memory cards, which ended up limiting the photos we could take, regrettably. Later on I found out that the computer's own adapter was perfectly able to handle the voltage change (and even said on it that it was good for 110 to 220 volts, had I but looked). When we went back to China, I brought the plug adapters I bought the last time, along with an extension cord so I could multiplex, and most everything worked fine. (Live; learn--both, if possible.) [-kw]
I had considered bringing an extension cord, but all the cords we had were rated for only 110 volts, not 220. You can buy higher rated cords, but I figured it would be cheaper to buy a cord there if we needed one. As it turned out, the only place we needed an extension cord was in Victoria Falls, where Mark needed to request one for his CPAP because there were no outlets by the bed. When we asked the bellhop for one he was not sure what we wanted, but when we said we needed to plug something in by the bed, he asked, "Breathing machine?" I guess a lot of people have these now.
And all the electrical stuff we take now is dual-voltage. [-ecl]
Michio Kaku, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, and South Africa (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Greg Frederick's review of Michio Kaku's book in the 02/10/12 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
Alas, though Michio Kaku is a good artificer, he's the one who led the self-financed demonstrations against Cassini (for the nuclear power source), to draw media attention and start his pop science career. [-gb]
I knew Kaku was something of a well-left-of-center political activist in addition to everything else he is. I think it comes with the territory for people on WBAI. [-mrl]
In response to Mark's comments on THE WOMAN IN BLACK in the same issue, Gregory writes:
Saw WOMAN IN BLACK but the play seemed more effective. Liked the ending, tho. [-gb]
Well, the film ends abruptly. The play has a different ending and you hear more of what happens after. The BBC TV version lies somewhere in between with more after-story but not as much as the play had. (Though admittedly my memories of the play could stand some refreshing.) [-mrl]
And in response to Evelyn's comments on South African books in the same issue (and earlier issues), Gregory writes:
Yes, liked your comments on South Africa, where I've not been. But J. M. Coetzee you can ignore; he's much overrated. [-gb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
CITY OF TINY LIGHTS by Patrick Neate (ISBN 978-1-59448-186-4) is described as "Chandleresque noir". And to prove it, here is a sample: "Problem is, the door of my shoebox flat opens right into the waiting room of my matchbox office and I wasn't going to sit in all day like some retired middle management with the complete works of Gilbert and Sullivan on leatherette boxed set. Problem is, I always leave the waiting room unlocked because mine's a shy kind of business and you got to cajole clients in like you would a forkful of Alphabetti Spaghetti into a reluctant Kid's mouth. Problem is, my bedroom stank like a pub ashtray at chucking-out time and the living room was just as bad so I needed to get out. It didn't occur to me that this stink was oozing out of my pores like butter through the holes in a cheese cracker."
Most of this is familiar to American readers, but add to it the Cockney rhyming slang that Neate throws in ("Would you Adam and Eve it?" for "Would you believe it?") and it becomes something that takes a little longer to parse. (Actually, not all the British slang is rhyming; for example, "a pony" is twenty-five pounds, and a "tom" is a prostitute.) And our first person narrator is Tommy Akhtar, a Ugandan-Indian-Muslim private eye, not quite the Philip Marlowe type. The mystery is also patterned after those in Chandler's novels, with twists and turns and interconnections.
Written for a British audience, this book had far more references to, and *long* discussions of, cricket for my taste. Neate also may have overdone the Chandleresque similes, and at times the lectures from Farzad to Tommy, and Tommy's own philosophizing, are a bit too much like hitting the reader over the head with Neate's message. On the other hand, the combination of a foreign (to American readers) setting with a genuine love of the English language is likely to appeal to those who pick up this book. I bought THE GENEALOGY OF MORALS by Friedrich Nietzsche (translated by Horace B. Samuel) (ISBN 978-0-486-42691-4) in a "Dover Thrift Edition" from amazon.com, because I was buying something for $23 and it was cheaper to buy this and get free shipping than to pay for shipping. The good news is that they have provided additional footnotes, probably those translating the Greek and Latin that had been left un-translated in 1913. After all, anyone reading Nietzsche then would be presumed to have an education that included Greek and Latin.
Nietzsche has a reputation for anti-Semitism, which is accurate in the sense that he blamed the Jews for the characteristics that he felt had diminished European culture from the high level of the Greeks and Romans. But almost all the characteristics are Christian rather than Jewish: meekness, poverty, turning the other cheek, forgiveness of one's enemies, etc. Nietzsche seems to see "the Church" as the continuation of the Jewish moral code, when in fact it was a major shift in direction. Another major difference that Nietzsche does not seem to recognize is that the emphasis on the afterlife is a Christian one--while Jews may speak of "the world to come" it is not a major part of their theology. There is no Jewish Dante writing up a detailed description of "the world to come".
Nietzsche does point up a major philosophical issue that the afterlife creates. No, not the idea that if one does good in this life in hopes of heaven in the next, one is not being altruistic, but rather is doing it for selfish reasons. Nietzsche's point is that all the things people say are evil in this work--riches, power, gloating over punishing one's enemies--are precisely those that one will be given in heaven. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: To Thales the primary question was not 'What do we know?' but 'How do we know it?'. --AristotleTweet
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