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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/31/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 31, Whole Number 1791
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
February 13: CHILDREN OF MEN (film) and THE CHILDREN OF MEN by P. D. James (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM February 27: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM March 6: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM March 27: DIMENSION OF MIRACLES by Robert Sheckley, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM April 3: OSCAR (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM April 24: LIFE AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT by J. Craig Venter, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM May 22: BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM June 26: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM July 24: THE DEMOLISHED MAN by Alfred Bester, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM August 28: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM September 25: IN THE OCEAN OF NIGHT by Gregory Benford, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 23: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 18: ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 18: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures: February 1: Teel James Glenn, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N March 1: Ian Randal Strock, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N April 5: Neil Clarke, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
Northern New Jersey events are listed at:
My Moment (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I found myself worrying about how well I will fare in the workplace after I graduate at the end of this year, but then I realized I was having a senior moment. [-mrl]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for February(comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is my monthly pick of unusual films for the upcoming month on Turner Classic Movies. As time goes by there are fewer films left that I have not discussed at some point in the past in these columns, but then there are new people reading my recommendations so perhaps it would not be so bad if I repeat recommendations from the past. And even for people who have seen these films, a heads up that they are scheduled to be shown may be of some value. All times listed are for Eastern Time Zone. Readers in Guam, remember to subtract 15 hours from all times I quote. (Assuming you can get TCM in Guam.)
When most people think of films about life in Nazi POW camps in WWII, the film that probably comes to mind is THE GREAT ESCAPE. That is fine. It is a good film, but too few people know STALAG 17 (1953). It certainly should. This is a film co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, famous for great films like DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT, and ACE IN THE HOLE. That is a shame because STALAG 17 has a lot going for it. It is a comedy, a drama, a mystery, and even a thriller.
Stalag 17 is a POW camp set up for American airmen, all sergeants, put in one camp. In one barracks they have been singularly unsuccessful at escaping. When someone tries an escape the Germans are always at just the right place and time to shoot down the escaping prisoners. The obvious conclusion is that there is an informer in the barracks. Suspicion falls on Sefton (William Holden), the barracks scrounge who is able to make himself quite comfortable trading with the Germans. But is he trading cigarettes or is he trading escape secrets? This is a very human comedy with the men trying to survive and facing frustration and depravation. They do it with what humor they can muster and try to be brave in the face of a sadistic Kamp Kommandant (Otto Preminger). This is a film with a lot of clowning and a lot of seriousness. [Friday, February 7, 10:15 PM]
LOST HORIZON (1937) is one of Frank Capra's rare forays into fantasy. It is based on a James Hilton's novel. Four Americans, including a famous diplomat, in civil-war-torn China escape only to find they have been kidnapped. Expecting death at any moment they are taken by airplane high into the majestic mountains of Tibet to Shangri-La a mystical place where peace and consideration rule and removed from the stresses of the "civilized" world, people naturally live for hundreds of years. When first shown the film was hated by the audience. Capra made an instant decision to cut the credits from the first reel and splice them onto the second reel, and to throw out the first reel. It has never been found but instead of a slow start the viewer is immediately dropped onto a Chinese airfield in chaos. This was a radical change in style from a dignified slow start to a sudden drop into the middle of the plot. The story grabbed the audience and never let go. The film stars Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, and Sam Jaffe. Personal note: my father-in-law fell in love with this movie long before I knew him. He always tried to emulate the philosophy and he named his son Ronald after Ronald Colman. [Thursday, February 20, 2:00 AM]
I will not say a lot about LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945). I had a friend who was partially sighted. He was given permission to bring his guide dog to work. The situation worked well until the dog started seeing everybody who came to the office as a threat to the dog's close relationship with her master. The dog had to be prematurely retired because she loved her master too much. The situation comes to mind when I see LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. Gene Tierney plays an unbalanced woman who so loves her husband so much that she starts eliminating people who she thinks of as rivals for her husband's love--not just other women but any family members. The film is a nice grim efficient little thriller. It is unusual for a color film to be classified as film noir, but this film probably qualifies. [Thursday, February 20, 1:30 PM]
Films I have recommended previously that will be re-run include:
Best film of the month? Tough call. I would probably choose THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER. [-mrl]
Eight Reasons to Be a Luddite (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
When something new comes out and you do not buy it immediately (or even after five years), people call you a Luddite. But sometimes there are good reasons for your decision:
Useful Space Colonization (comments by Lee Beaumont):
I thought you might enjoy this list of non-fiction books on the topic of Useful Space Colonization [from librarything].
VAASTU SHASTRA (2004) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is an (Asian) Indian ghost story made very much in the style of American horror films. It ignores Bollywood conventions like forced comedy and periodic musical interludes. Instead it is brief and to the point. A young successful couple moves into a new home and soon finds strange happenings and their son creating imaginary friends. There are lots of odd, unexplainable events. Little in this film will feel new to American horror film fans, but at least it is a nice recombination of older ideas. Saurab Narang directs a script by Charu Du Acharya. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Vaastu Shastra is like the Indian equivalent of Feng Shui. It is a set of rules for constructing and placing buildings to be in harmony with the laws of nature. In the 2004 film VAASTU SHASTRA we ironically have a woman who checked to be sure her new home was Vaastu Shastra and she still ended up with an incredible array of supernatural and natural hazards. The film is Indian but it is not done even remotely in the Bollywood style. Instead it is very much in the style of an American horror film. There are no periodic songs. They would undermine the horror effects. So would formula comedy. Really the film is a pile of what would be cliches in American horror films, but they may be less familiar to South Asian viewers.
A smart successful couple--Jhilmil (played by Sushmita Sen) a doctor and Viraag Rao (J. D. Chakravarthi) her writer husband--buy a beautiful house near Pune. They verify that the house is built according to the laws of Vaastu Shastra, but that is apparently not enough. Instead, it turns out the house is haunted anyway and the new owners are in for a hard time. They maintain a view that everything they are seeing happen that is out of the ordinary can still be explained rationally, but that confidence does not last as darker things start happening. The late director Saurab Narang (he died of cancer in 2010) despised the graphic gore that has come to be associated with horror films. He went so far as to ask the press to not use the word "horror" in conjunction with his film but instead to refer to it as a "scary" film. And he does have a good feel for making the film creepy by staging many of the sequences in dim light or the dark. Ghostly figures appear cloaked in darkness.
The plot of the couple moving into a house that has a supernatural evil is an old one. Much of the plot is like POLTERGEIST, but there is a sequence that has the viewer in a low angle tracking shot following the young son Rohan around the house as he peddles on a tricycle that is a direct reference to THE SHINING. There are repeated jump shots like having a character move to the left to reveal that there was a hidden ghostly figure standing directly behind him. Sometimes the spirits are invisible to the audience and sometimes not. The house is located near a sinister woods and the soundtrack has very naturalistic sounds of the woods.
Without more that is original this film cannot play as well outside India as it did at home, but it is a well-made ghost story that generally has a feel of quality. I am led to believe by Internet articles about the film that VAASTU SHASTRA was very successful in South Asia and that the female lead, the attractive Sushmita Sen is very popular in her home country and is a veteran of numerous films.
This film suffers from some very predictable twists of the plot, but it still does have some punch here as a stylish and mildly creepy ghost story. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416282/combined
FORWARD 13 (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: FORWARD 13 is really a scattershot documentary going for breadth rather than depth in economic issues. It is stronger it pointing out issues than it is in recommending solutions. There are enough serious issues for several documentaries. Nominally the film is about the 2008 financial crash, but it pulls in wealth disparity, global warming, Super PACs, government corruption, and the list goes on. Patrick Lovell directs himself as he goes on a journey to find out where the United States is going economically and it does not look good. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Patrick Lovell once believed that he was living "the American Dream." He had a wife, a son, a good job, his own home, and financial security. Then came the 2008 financial crisis and he was left with just the wife and the son. At age 43 his job, his house, and his security were taken away. Particularly painfully, like ten million other people he had lost his house. What was he going to do? He had some experience making films and decided to go and document the vanishing of "the American Dream."
Lovell wants the viewer to know who he is and how unjust it is that people like him had the financial meltdown fall on him. He gives us a detailed look at who he is, information only tangentially relevant to the important issues of his film. He delays the getting to the point a bit too much talking about himself and giving us more than we really need to know. Lovell's plan was to travel across a large swath of the country and ask people how they were doing and what has happened to the American Dream. Certainly considering the number of people who were given a hard financial blow by the 2008 financial debacle, there would be more than enough material to put in his film.
The vagueness of the question has a good deal to do with many of the problems of this documentary. Asking that question is tantamount to simply asking, "What caused your money problems?" If he asks that question to a lot of different people it will bring up a lot of different issues. If an issue has any financial dimension it could be something Lovell would call "a betrayal of the American Dream." Lovell travels and documents what certainly appear to be injustices, but he gives very little solution to the problem beyond saying that people who were bad up to now have got to start behaving better. We are told at the end that he is starting a PAC to bring his grievances to legislators.
As we follow Lovell we are taken to an "Occupy Wall Street" rally. There he talks to people and particularly shows us those hand-made signs people carry. That is worth showing, but it does not lead to any single coherent message. It is just a lot of people individually yelling, "I'm mad as hell." Unfortunately, they cannot complete the thought with "And I'm not going to take it any more." The sad fact is that they are probably going to have to "take it." They do not have the political clout to be allowed to stop taking it. Lovell's answer seems in part to be to form his super-PAC to fight for restoring "the American Dream." Incidentally "the American Dream" is a vague term he assumes everybody understands and he never defines beyond what it meant in his case. The super-PAC may be the answer, but Lovell seems to have only vague ideas as to what it would do.
Lovell gives a rather superficial coverage of the various issues that people are angry about. We hear short explanations about the mortgage crisis, the bailout of the banks that the Government deemed to big to fail, the huge number of house foreclosures, and the Citizen's United Decision by the Supreme Court that gave corporations the rights of citizens and the right to compete with citizens in influencing legislators. The list of problems goes on and on to include that we are in the beginning of a new planetary mass extinction event.
Lovell's solution seems to start with the first step of just getting angry. No doubt he is right about that, but I would like to see a lot more of a plan than that and his super-PAC. The history of the 20th century shows that joining a political movement just because you are angry, not knowing the next step, can have some very negative and dangerous repercussions.
FORWARD 13 is a film that is no doubt heart-felt, but is very weak on solutions to the problems it presents to the viewer. If Lovell had only set forth a declaration of principles, we would at least have a better of idea of what his plans were. Unfocussed as the message of this film is, I cannot really endorse it beyond rating the film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. FORWARD 13 went to DVD and VOD on January 21, 2014. By the way, if Lovell ever explained the title of his film, I must have missed it.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2366342/combined
Lovell's web-site: http://everymansuperpac.com/
Rules for Film Critics (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Mark's rules for reviewers in the 01/24/14 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:
A couple of points. First, on "guilty pleasures," Mark and I disagree. There are movies that are terribly made that I still enjoy. I can't defend the 1967 CASINO ROYALE, a classic train wreck of a movie, but I still have fun with it. However I have a related rule of thumb: if I wasn't bored watching the movie--if it held my interest at some level--I will note that as a positive attribute. "2012" is a very silly movie but it was a fun amusement park ride, and my review reflected that.
On spoilers, I do not lie to my readers but I also try not to give away major plot twists. If something surprised me in the film I try to preserve that surprise for the potential viewer. However if the supposed "twist" appears in all the advertising for the film, I don't consider it a secret any longer. There are people who want everyone around them to walk on eggshells because they haven't seen a movie yet--even if it's CITIZEN KANE. My answer is, "Too bad. Don't read the reviews then and don't go on the internet and don't talk to anyone...." The burden of avoiding spoilers for those hyper-sensitive about such things is on the person who doesn't want to be spoiled, not on the rest of us. That said, I do have a rule when it comes to comedies: don't give away the best jokes. I may give an example of the film's humor but I wouldn't have described the "I'll have what she's having" scene in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY when I was reviewing it.
And for those who think I just spoiled it for them, too bad. The movie came out almost twenty-five years ago. It may be new to you, but that doesn't mean the rest of us are forbidden to discuss it. [-dk]
Thanks for the response, Dan.
I don't think we are very far apart on the "guilty pleasure" issue. I would say if I enjoy a movie it is not terribly made. 2012 is a fun ride, if I remember. The premise might be weak, but not really so much more weak than the premise that atomic testing will make ants grow to eight feet in length. It is not much more than a film that suggests that militant pacifists from a few million miles from Earth are going to come to Earth to warn us to be good or they will destroy the world. All of these are fun films and ones I am happy I have seen. 2012 is just a fun film with a goofy premise. If I enjoy a film it can be a good film and be silly at the same time.
As for lying in a review, I would do it only to confirm what the filmmaker wants you to be thinking. The sort of thing would be "the aliens turn out to be a great boon to Mankind and for their own reasons really have, as they say, come here to serve man." But I will not reveal a twist even if it is revealed in all the advertising. I don't see much of the advertising for a film and do not want a film spoiled for me even if seeing an ad would have spoiled the twist for me anyway. I might reveal that in LONE SURVIVOR everybody on the mission dies except the main character. I expect the viewer will see the film knowing its title.
And yes, I feel that if I am going to discuss a classic film I may refer to the surprise twist. You have to be able to discuss classic films in articles that are not reviews. I need to be able to explain to people why almost everybody coming out of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE comes away wrong about who the title actually refers to.
And as for comedies, there is a vast gulf between not revealing even little pieces of humor and revealing the big joke of the film, so you have left yourself a great deal of latitude so I am not sure what you would be willing to spoil. [-mrl]
Separated at Birth (letter of comment by Rob Mitchell):
In response to Mark's comments on SERENITY in the 01/24/14 issue of the MT VOID, Rob Mitchell writes:
Technically, the government in SERENITY isn't an Empire; it's called the Alliance, and there's not much else to go on about the ruling structure (either in the film or in FIREFLY). That said, the point is well-taken, and could be improved by tweaking the text; replacing "Empire" with "villainous government" or some such... [-rlm]
1809, Worldcons, SF TV, and ROGUE MOON (letter of comment by : John Purcell)
In response to the comments on Edgar Allan Poe in the 01/24/14 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
You know, 1809 was a good year for births. Besides Edgar Alan Poe, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born that year. Also born that year were Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Kit Carson and Felix Mendelssohn. Deeper Googling--there's a phrase for the ages --reveals many other authors, poets and scientists (oh, my!) born in 1809, but this top tier group is a good one. [-jp]
In response to Dale's review of SF on television in the same issue, John writes:
Dale Skran gives a good over-view of the nineteen science fiction- and fantasy-related television programs currently inundating the American airwaves. The ones Valerie and I watch and enjoy are ALMOST HUMAN, LOST GIRL, GRIMM, DRACULA, SLEEPY HOLLOW, ARROW, and SUPERNATURAL. She also likes BEING HUMAN, but I don't care much for that show. We are also looking forward to the return of the final season of WAREHOUSE 13 (in a few weeks, I think) and DEFIANCE (this summer). I wonder what Dale thinks about FACE-OFF, which is definitely SF & F related since the makeup contestants are given challenges openly stefnal or supernatural in content. We like that show, too, although this current season feels like it's not up to the level of previous seasons. Still, it is fun to watch the creative process at work. [-jp]
In response to Evelyn's comments on ROGUE MOON in the same issue, John writes:
I haven't read ROGUE MOON in, well, many a moon. (Am I sorry for that pun? Oh, hell no!) Evelyn's review makes me want to re-read it, but that's going to have to wait: many other books and a couple major writing projects are in the queue ahead of it. [-jp]
John also adds:
Say, I never did see you two in San Antonio during the WorldCon, which supremely bums me out. I really wish we had had the chance to meet and chat, but now we'll have to wait for a future convention for this to happen. The most likely one will be the second KC world convention--"Big MAC: Make it a Double" or "Super- Size that Big MAC" should be in the running as that WorldCon's catch-phrase. I am assuming it will win since no other bid is running against them. MidAmeriCon in 1976 was my first world convention, and since my sister-in-law and her family live in a Kansas City, MO suburb, our plan is to be there. So unless a miracle happens between now and then and you two come to Texas for a convention, I will see you folks there.
A good issue again with lots of comment hooks I thank you for that, and look forward to next week's edition. [-jp]
A "China in 2016" bid has been announced, though not yet filed, and they have said they do not expect to win this time around. Whether we will go to KC remains up in the air; see my earlier comments on Worldcons in the 12/06/13 issue of the MT VOID. [-ecl]
Race (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Dale Skran's comments on race in the 01/24/14 issue of the MT VOID, Greg Benford writes:
Dale L. Skran is right about race and genetics. Most laymen really mean culture when they say "racism" though, further confusing things.
Palestinians and Jews aren't different races; they're all Semites. Yet I've heard academics say "racism" is justified as a synonym for "bad"--though we already have "bad" and it's shorter. [-gb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
MISCELANEA by Jorge Luis Borges (ISBN 978-8-499-89204-7) is 1189 pages long (and in Spanish), so I cannot possibly comment on every item in it. I cannot even read all of it, or rather, a fair amount of it would be meaningless, such as prologues to works I am unfamiliar with (although even that has its exceptions). But I will comment on items of particular interest. (I will give some of the titles of the articles in English, even though they are in Spanish in the book, especially when they refer to English-language works.)
In addition, the book is actually an omnibus of six volumes of literary criticism, so I will comment on them separately here in this column, rather than in one big chunk.
First is PROLOGUE, WITH A PROLOGUE OF PROLOGUES (1975).
Prologue to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles: Borges talks a little about the predecessors to Bradbury in terms of interplanetary voyages, including those of Lucian of Samosata, Ludovico Ariosto, and Johannes Kepler., and notes that while the first two are just pure invention, while Kepler's has an air of verisimilitude. Why? Because for Lucian and Ariosto such a voyage was impossible, while for Kepler it was indeed a possibility. Borges also says that in reading The Martian Chronicles he is given the chance to re-live the "delectable terrors" he felt when he read H. G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon almost fifty years earlier.
Borges also writes, "Bradbury is heir to the vast imagination of the master [Edgar Allan Poe], but not of his 'interjective' and at times dreadful style. Deplorably, we cannot say the same of Lovecraft." This is odd when one considers the many parallels of some of Borges's stories with some of Lovecraft's.
Prologue to Edward Gibbon's Pages of History and of Autobiography: Borges gives a brief literary biography of Gibbon and how he came to write his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but also drifts into subsidiary topics. For example, many people talk about how Christianity makes doing good problematic--people who believe in Heaven and Hell seem to be doing good because of the threat of punishment or the promise of reward, rather than because it is the right thing to do. Borges cites William Warburton's 1737 work, The Divine Legation of Moses, in which Warburton says that (according to Borges) "the omission of any reference to immortality is an argument in favor of the divine authority of Moses, in that he was known to be sent by God and so he did not need to appeal to supernatural rewards or punishments."
Prologue to Carlos M. Grünberg's Mester de juería: It turns out that Grünberg's title ("The art of Jews") is a pun on the famous medieval tract "Mester de juglaria" ("The art of minstrels"). In his prologue, Borges cites Macaulay's "fantastical history" of the persecution of red-haired people, which Macaulay used as a way of showing how the treatment of any minority in such a manner would lead to resentment (and worse) by that group. This appeared in a book of Macaulay's essays, but not in his famous speech to Parliament on "Jewish [Civic] Disabilities", and has a definite alternate history feel to it, albeit one with a clear agenda. Mester de juería was published in 1940 and as Borges notes, "The poems that I have the pleasure to write this prologue to declare the honor and the sadness of being a Jew in the unbelievable perverse world of 1940." Having said this, and discoursed briefly upon anti-Semitism in Germany and in Argentina, Borges then turns to a detailed analysis of Grünberg's poetic form, most of which is hard to follow for a non-native speaker. But he concludes with a thought he has expressed elsewhere, though not as vividly: "Perhaps the most obvious mistake of this volume is the ostentatious use of words that live only in the columns of the Dictionary of the Academy [El diccionario de la lengua español of the Real Academía Española]."
Bret Harte's California Sketches: Of Harte, Borges says, "After 1870, he could not do more than plagiarize himself, before the indifference or indulgence of his readers. The observation confirms this melancholy law: in order to render justice to a writer there has to be injustice to others. ... Bernard De Voto, in order to exalt Mark Twain, has written that Bret Harte was 'a literary impostor.'" Of Twain himself, Borges says, "[Harte] was a patron to Mark Twain, who quickly forgot his kindness."
Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis: Borges says, "The critic deplores that in Kafka's three novels there are many intermediate chapters missing, but recognizes that these chapters are not indispensible." By this he does not mean that there are lost chapters somewhere, but that Kafka felt no need to spell everything out, and indeed, Borges compares such an attempt to Zeno's paradox, where before one can get from point A to point B, one must get to point C halfway between them. But before one can get to C, one must get to D, again halfway between A and C. And so on. One can see that Borges is fascinated by infinity, even in places where it is not obviously present.
William Shakespeare's Macbeth: Borges refers to "la selva que avanza contra el castillo." "Selva" is actually closer to "jungle" than to "forest" or "wood", which would be "bosque". Borges thereby gives it an additional layer of mystery--or maybe not; does the jungle appear as mysterious and exotic to his Argentinian readers as it does to us? [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me. --Sir Winston ChurchillTweet
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