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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/11/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 28, Whole Number 1736
Table of Contents
The New World (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I think I am the victim of wage discrimination. The NRA wants the United States to put armed guards in guards in all the schools. Haven't they been reading the news? What about the Aurora shootings? I think we need armed guards in every movie theater. Actually in multiplexes we need them in every movie auditorium. It is the only way we can feel safe watching a movie. And in addition it will assure the people making PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5 that someone is going to be watching the darn thing. [-mrl]
Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards:
The Online Film Critics Society gave one of its three special awards to Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi to their work on THIS IS NOT A FILM for their act of protest against the Iranian government. The second award was given to legendary composer Ennio Morricone for his amazing and celebrated career in films. The final special award was given to the "For the Love of Film" program and Fandor in conjunction with the National Preservation Foundation for their work this year to raise money for an exhibition of the restoration of one of Alfred Hitchcock's oldest works, THE WHITE SHADOW.
[Mark is a member of the OFCS.]
Academy Award Nominations:
The nominees for the Oscar for Best Picture are:
The entire slate of Academy Award Nominations ("the Oscars") can be found at . http://www.imdb.com/oscars/nominations/.
My Top Ten Films of 2012 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Somewhere about mid-October, this seemed like it was going to be a below-par year for films. Again, most of the best films had releases timed to be remembered at awards time. Some ratings have been altered from those in my original reviews to reflect my current feelings about the films.
1. LES MISÉRABLES
Tom Hooper takes the now classic stage musical and makes of it a film even more spectacular, sweeping, and poignant. It covers nearly the entire emotional spectrum possible. LES MISÉRABLES is a moving film experience to be treasured. With a story about among other things class conflict this production of the play by Boublil and Schonberg is if anything timelier today than when the play was first produced. That makes this an important film as well as a very well made one. Any small failings of LES MISÉRABLES are overwhelmed by the accomplishment of what was done here that is directly on the mark. Rating: +4 (-4 to +4) or 10/10
With very interesting release timing and with considerable historical accuracy, Stephen Spielberg tells the history of the two great conflicting goals Abraham Lincoln had toward the end of the Civil War. He wanted both to free the slaves and to end the fighting. Spielberg does not simplify the issues. Much of the film is talk. He respects his audience's intelligence enough to tell the complex story and maintain a great deal of historical accuracy. The film even looks very authentic to the period. The viewer may have to work hard to catch all that is happening, but the task is worth the effort. This is a film for an intelligent audience. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Set during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, ARGO tells a strange but true footnote to that history. Six United States citizens whom the Iranian revolutionary government wants arrested have escaped from the United States embassy to the protection of the house of the Canadian ambassador. Now the CIA is charged with extracting them from Iran against very high odds. One operative devises a cockeyed plan to remove them by passing them off as filmmakers scouting locations for a science fiction movie. Ben Affleck directs and stars. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
4. THE IMPOSSIBLE
THE IMPOSSIBLE is a true account of a family celebrating the holiday in coastal Thailand that is literally torn apart by the 2004 Christmas tsunami. It is a realistic, on-the-ground look at
the experience of being caught in a Tsunami and the effort afterward of just finding loved ones. As the wave crashes the film has a guaranteed six minutes of white-knuckle fear. Juan Antonio Bayona who directed THE ORPHANAGE an exploration of supernatural horror now gives us a horror that is only too natural. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
5. THE MASTER
In the years after WWII Freddie Quell, an unbalanced and misfit Navy veteran, finds and comes under the sway of an American cult led by charismatic demagogue Lancaster Dodd. Quell becomes a fanatic believer in the cult, but can never get the full approval from Dodd that he desperately seeks. Selective in its appeal, the film has a lot to say about the nature of religious belief, the
personalities of radical followers and generally the functioning of cults. Paul Thomas Anderson writes and directs a film that is cryptic and compelling. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
6. A ROYAL AFFAIR
This is a true story that, I am told, every schoolchild has been taught in Denmark. A half-witted king with a barely consummated marriage gives over much of his power to his charismatic doctor. The doctor has liberal ideas on how the country should be run and affects sweeping and much-needed political reforms. He also has an affair with the queen. But his reforms worry the politically powerful and his efforts become a test of wills. Mads Mikkelsen, who played the villain of CASINO ROYALE, is the doctor who oversteps his role in the best of causes. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
7. THE DEEP BLUE SEA
Terrence Rattigan's play comes to the screen adapted and directed by Terence Davies. Rachel Weisz plays a woman in a tepid marriage who has an affair with a WWII pilot in the RAF and it transforms her life, but at the risk of her marriage and her social position. The plot is very parallel to ANNA KARENINA, also remade this year. But this film is deeply affecting in just the way that ANNA KARENINA fails, mostly due to Ms. Weisz's acting in one of the best performances of the year. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
8. THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
Seven English retirees come to a retirement hotel in Jaipur, India, most unprepared for the culture differences good and bad that await them. Their five or six different intertwined storylines tell stories of past love, present love, humor, and pathos. Perhaps only one of the stories rises above cliché, but they are all told well with the total being more than the sum of the parts making for a satisfying and even touching experience. And these seven British actors would make a powerhouse cast for any film. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
9. IN THE FAMILY
A gay man fights to regain the custody of his son who is the biological child of his deceased life partner. IN THE FAMILY is a moving film that will remind viewers of the emotional tugs of a KRAMER VS. KRAMER. This is a very good 165-minute film, but it could have made a better 105-minute film. The newcomer producer, director, and star Patrick Wang starts out making one of the best films of the year. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
James Bond is after a stolen list of MI6 agents who have been placed in terrorist cells. At the same time all of MI6 is under attack from someone who has access to the inside of the organization. Bond is fighting an enemy that has his knowledge and skills. This is a strong, fast, and sexy action story that gives us something different from the Bond films than we have seen before. SKYFALL has a darker tone than we have seen in the past from the series. Sam Mendes directs a script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
DJANGO UNCHAINED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Say what you like about DJANGO UNCHAINED, there is a lot that works and a lot that does not. Quentin Tarantino writes and directs his homage to the Spaghetti Western. Jamie Foxx plays the title role as an antebellum slave freed by a bounty hunter, played by Christoph Waltz, to help find three wanted men. While a little overblown and overly long, a wide range of people will find at least something to like here. The pace slows down in the third quarter, but overall this is an inventive, entertaining, and even exciting film. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The year is 1858 and Django (played by Jamie Foxx) is a slave first seen in shackles being taken to be sold. Their party is met by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a German dentist now making a career of bounty hunting. The doctor is a man who despite his pleasant voluble nature should not be trusted. Schultz is looking specifically for Django as the only man who has seen the notorious Brittle brothers and whom the bounty hunter can get to go with him to identify his quarry. In spite of having several hints that Schultz is not a man to be trusted, Django overcomes his suspicion and willingly partners with Schultz. Soon the two form a bond. Django wants to find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from whom he was separated by a bill of sale, and the bounty hunter agrees to help in the search.
The film has more rounded characters than those of Tarantino's 2009 INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. The dialog does not really do its part to make the characters an attraction. There are comic pieces such as when a racist, proto-Klan mob discovers one of the disadvantages of wearing hoods. But while at times the Tarantino dialog is amusing, too frequently it just pads the story out so that this can be a long film. But a lengthy movie is not necessarily a film of substance. At 165 minutes, DJANGO UNCHAINED drags at times, particularly in the third quarter. In that quarter the two bounty hunters pose as slave buyers. We know it is a pose and entirely too much time is spent on a ruse that we know is not their real intent.
Whether or not Django should be trusting Dr. Schultz, it is clear that Jamie Foxx should not trust Christoph Waltz. Waltz is a natural scene thief with his precise manner and diction, and in their scenes together Foxx seems to almost disappear into the background. Waltz could easily become this generation's James Mason. Foxx is acceptable as an action hero, but he does not bring much exceptional to the role. The real villain of the piece is played by Leonardo DiCaprio as the oily Candie. Samuel L. Jackson plays a slave looking surprisingly elderly.
For too many films no score is written and instead a soundtrack is assembled of pre-existing popular songs. Tarantino also compiles, but he borrows largely from classic Italian Westerns. His soundtrack is a retrospective of familiar Spaghetti Western themes. The song DJANGO under the opening titles and elsewhere is the title song from the 1966 classic DJANGO. That film starred Franco Nero in the title role, and Nero appears in a cameo as Tarantino pays his respects to that film. Even flashback scenes of memory are shot with a grainy saturated film stock evocative of films from the Spaghetti Western genre.
DJANGO UNCHAINED has been the source of some political controversy. There have been relatively few films that have taken a realistic look at the horrors of slavery. Some films, like Richard Fleischer's 1975 MANDINGO have exploited slavery with sensationalism and sexual suggestion. Spike Lee suggests that it is not proper to portray the excesses of American slavery in a film with so much that is comic and so much that is fantastic exaggeration. I guess my feeling is that I did not see any way the slavery was treated that was inauthentic. It was portrayed as sadistic and inhumane and the crimes of this system should be made common knowledge.
While we are on the subject of historical accuracy it is odd to see a title that says "1858--two years before the Civil War." That scene is shown as cold with men wearing heavy jackets so presumably was labeled takes place early in early 1858. That would have made it three years before the war.
While it could have made at better film at a two-hour length, It still rates a respectable +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1853728/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/django_unchained_2012
Eastern Roman Empire (letter of comment by Sam Long):
In response to Greg Frederick's review of LOST TO THE WEST in the 01/04/13 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:
On the subject of the Eastern Roman Empire:
Mary Reed and her husband Eric Mayer have written a series of
mystery novels set in 6th century Constantinople during the reign
of Justinian I. The hero is John the Eunuch, Chamberlain to the
Emperor, who has to solve crimes and unravel strange events amid
the ruthless intrigues of the imperial court and the factions of
the City and the Empire. For further information, check out Mary &
Eric's website at
Romilly Jenkins's BYZANTIUM: THE IMPERIAL CENTURIES A.D. 610-1071 is a good history of the first half of the 800-year history of the Byzantine Empire. Also recommended is also Robert Graves's COUNT BELISARIUS, a novelization of the life of one of Justinian's great generals. [-sl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I decided to check out some of the books recommended by THE NEW YORK TIMES for 2012. Of HOPE: A TRAGEDY by Shalom Auslander (ISBN 978-1-594-48646-3) they said, "Hilarity alternates with pain in this novel about a Jewish man seeking peace in upstate New York who discovers Anne Frank in his attic." They also recommended WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK by Nathan Englander (ISBN 978-0-307-95870-9). The latter is a collection of stories, of which only the first is "about" Anne Frank, but there does seem to be either a trend in writing, or a theme in the NYT's choices. I cannot say that I was bowled over by either.
BORGES' TRAVEL, HEMINGWAY'S GARAGE: SECRET HISTORIES by Mark Axelrod (ISBN 978-1-57366-114-7) is best summarized by the blurb on the back: "Mark Axelrod has scoured Europe and the Americas, photographing products and businesses that bear the great names of Western civilization and then has recounted the little-known turns of fate by which our immortals ended in these mundane straits." (He seems to have scoured some places better than others: out of 45 names, he has six each from Brussels and Paris, and four from Helsinki.)
The places and products fall into two categories: the accidental and the intentional. For example, Borges' Travel in Tustin, California, is probably *not* named after Jorge Luis Borges, but after a different Borges who happened to open a travel agency. And I doubt that Fig Newtons were named after Isaac Newton. On the other hand, one can reasonably suppose that the James Joyce Irish Pub in Brussels or Virginia Woolf's Restaurant in London were named after the real authors.
In either case, Axelrod has decided that since the premise is fantastic, he does not have to accept any rules of time or place. So he claims that Marx sold the film rights of "The Communist Manifesto" to Warner Brothers in 1878, which is not only decades before Warner Brothers, but well before motion pictures. He also has E. M. Forster selling film rights to Merchant-Ivory in 1931, and a cafe in that same year serving "macrobiotic sandwiches."
Axelrod has Casanova in Carmel, California, in 1789. He also says that Casanova lived in "a charming cottage owned by Chenille Eastwode (a great-great descendent of a former Carmel mayor)." Descendents are in someone's future; what is meant is a great-great *ancestor*. (I have seen this mistake other places as well.)
You cannot read this straight through; it has to be read a bit at a time. And you have to be willing to accept both Axelrod's premise and also all the impossibilities of his histories. On the other hand, what may happen to you after reading this is that you will start noticing famous names everywhere and start composing your own stories. (It is harder here in suburban New Jersey, where the cafes, restaurants, an shops are all chains rather than being named for someone. I'm stuck with purely imaginary names: Romeo's Pizza, Wendy's Hamburgers, and the Athena Grill.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The chief product of an automated society is a widespread and deepening sense of boredom. --C. Northcote ParkinsonTweet
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