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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/28/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 35, Whole Number 1795
Table of Contents
March 6: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (film), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM March 13: CHILDREN OF MEN (film) and THE CHILDREN OF MEN by P. D. James (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM 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: 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:
Ghosts and Logic (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I heard a story in which someone at a seance was in contact with a ghost. The spirit could only knock on the table to communicate. "Are you knocking once for yes and twice for no?" the living person asked. The ghost rapped once. That confirmed that it was once for yes and twice for no. Or so the author thought. But they don't look at the logic of the situation. That sort of thing bothers me. Suppose the ghost was using once for no and twice for yes. The guessed code was wrong so the ghost would have answered with one knock. Which is what the ghost did. Really asking that question established nothing. But if you are getting messages from ghosts you have left the realms of logic in any case. [-mrl]
Well, here we are rounding the bend to spring. And it is not a moment too soon. The films I have chosen for March are a little better known than those I like to pick, but they still should be new to some readers. Looking at the TCM schedule for March, these look like my best bet for films people may never have seen. All times listed is Eastern Time Zone.
After Paddy Chayefsky's play "Marty" went a long way to put Rod Steiger on the map as an actor when it appeared on the Goodyear Television Playhouse, the same play was adapted to a motion picture, MARTY (1955). Ernest Borgnine who to that point had played mostly thugs and bad guys broke out of that mold to play a shy, lonely butcher, Marty Piletti, self-described as a fat, ugly man. Everyone asks him when is he going to get married, but the tragic fact is that his time and chances to find love with a girl have passed him by. But his mother none-to-gently pushes him into going to the Stardust Ballroom to look for a girl, and when he finds a girl in much the same position as he is he decides he wants to spend time with her not expecting how the relationship would affect his friends and family. The quiet little film won Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture Oscars for its portrayal of the lives of the less-than-beautiful people. [Saturday, March 8, 8 PM]
In the 1960s there was a flourish of Italian films set in the American West--the so-called "Spaghetti Westerns." These were mostly low budget, but they would generally have evocative scores. The master of the Spaghetti Western film score was Ennio Morricone. Today there are only a few Spaghetti Westerns that most people specifically recall by name. Most people who lived through the Sixties will remember A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. That is the trilogy that made Clint Eastwood a star. Many will also remember ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. These films, all directed by Sergio Leone with music scores by Ennio Morricone, became the inspiration for the storm of Italian Westerns that followed. Those were the giants and it would be hard to pick a fifth film that ranks near those four. Thursday, March 6 into Friday morning Turner is featuring three Spaghetti Westerns with atmospheric scores by Ennio Morricone.
The first of the triad is FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965). It stars Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as two bounty hunters hunting the same man, Indio. Each wants to be the first to bring him in. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is the middle film of the "Man with No Name" trilogy, though he is called "Monco" in the Italian version and "Manco" in the American release. It is not clear if the film about him are sequels or not, which is appropriate since the hero is based on Akira Kurosawa's ronin Sanjuro, and nobody is sure if the Sanjuro film are sequels or not. In general FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE was an attempt to make a bigger and brasher film in the style of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. It is frequently considered a step down. But it still is a lot of fun, as all the films are. [Thursday, March 6, 8:00 PM]
The truth is that most Italian Westerns were fairly roughly made. And once they were dubbed, frequently poorly, into English they carried a feeling of cheapness. Individually most are not well-made movies but the sub-genre is better than the sum of its parts. One of the better Spaghetti Westerns is DEATH RIDES A HORSE (1969). As young boy Bill Meceita saw his mother raped and both his parents murdered. He grows up dedicated to avenging his parents. When he is old enough to ride out in vengeance he (John Phillip Law) meets a gunfighter Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), also on a mission of vengeance. They strike up an uneasy partnership. Also in the cast is Anthony Dawson (CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and DIAL M FOR MURDER). Giulio Petroni directs it, and the score is by Ennio Morricone. [Thursday, March 6, 10:30 PM]
Most early Spaghetti Westerns featured Americans in the main role and perhaps more. The thought was that the United States was their major market and Americans wanted to see Americans on the screen. THE MERCENARY (1968) for a change does not have an American in the lead role but the Italian Franco Nero. But so as not to break too much with the formula Jack Palance is along as an enforcer for the boss. The approach is a little more light and humorous. Mexican workers rebel against their boss inspired by a Polish mercenary (Nero). The boss has Jack Palance to help him keep his miners in line. The plot involves a shipment of silver and a Revolution. The film is directed by Sergio Corbucci who two years previously had directed one of the most popular Spaghetti Westerns, DJANGO. (The title was the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's title "Django Unchained".) [Friday, March 7, 10:30 PM].
Travelers, Tourists, Tours, and Food (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
One of biggest drawbacks of traveling on a tour is coping with everyone's dietary quirks. Now, you may ask why I need to worry about the other people's dietary quirks, but on a tour, everything affects everyone. And when many of the meals are served family-style, it becomes annoying.
I should start out by saying that I have no problem with vegetarians, and they are not the problem. They have undoubtedly investigated ahead of time on the availability of vegetarian food, and at the start of the tour, they tell the tour director they want a vegetarian menu for the whole trip. And so there is usually a vegetarian table for each family-style meal. Very simple, very straightforward.
No, the problem is the people who have more complicated requirements, and almost never have investigated anything ahead of time. If you don't eat pork or squid, but do eat beef or shrimp, then you have two choices. You make do with what is on the table that you can eat, but without eating other people's share. When everyone gets one of each item, just because you do not want your spring roll with pork in it does not mean you can take an extra skewer of chicken. Or you can become a vegetarian for the trip.
What you should *not* do is sit down to this set meal and then ask the waitress for additional special food for you. The tour has paid for a spring roll per person; asking for another plate of vegetable spring rolls just for you (unless you are paying for them) is not fair. And if you do not eat pork and need to know what has pork in it, or are allergic to eggs and need to know about them, learn how to ask this in the vernacular. Most of the wait staff in other countries may not speak English. (The same goes for asking for a fork where chopsticks are standard, or any other question or request you need to ask regularly.) [-ecl]
ODD THOMAS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Stephen Sommers writes, produces, and directs his adaptation of Dean Koontz's novel of the same name. Odd Thomas sees dead people. He also sees invisible demons. And he acts as detective for the dead. Only the really susceptible need fear ODD THOMAS. Sommers's film is nominally horror, though not very frightening. It turns into a detective mystery and then inevitably into an action film, all the while decorated with frequent comic touches. Perhaps that is spreading itself thin. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Stephen Sommers was primarily a screenwriter, though in 1994 he did direct his own screenplay for THE JUNGLE BOOK. Then he wrote and directed THE MUMMY, which not only was a big hit for Universal, but also tied into the series of Mummy films that Universal made in the 1930s and 1940s. Universal had him come back doing multiple tie-ins to Universal's old and new horror series. He got additional oomph by marrying action and CGI to the old staples of the Gothic horror film. Here that gives the viewer creatures that are only slightly novel and nowhere near the essence of horror. Sommers may have been looking for the security of another franchise, since he has now adapted the first of a series of books by popular horror/adventure writer Dean R. Koontz.
Odd Thomas--that is his given name--is more than a little odd. He not only sees dead people (but does not hear them, as the dead cannot speak) he helps them get justice for evil that was done to them. Odd or "Oddy" has a hard time appeasing the throngs of dead who come to his door seeking retribution and the help of an undercover detective specializing in helping the dead. He also has to deal with little creatures unknown to others among the living. They are the bodacks--translucent, tentacled, supernatural beasties attracted to where bad things are about to happen--though since the living are unaware of the bodacks and since the dead cannot talk, it us unclear how Oddy ever found the name "bodack." Sommers keeps the dialog brisk even when the young protagonists should be frightened.
Oddy is played by Anton Yelchin, whom some viewers may remember as Chekov from the recent "Star Trek" movies. His equivalent of Inspector Lestrade is police chief Wyatt Porter, played by the reliable Willem Dafoe. The comparison may be apt as Odd and Sherlock Holmes each has incomprehensible but reliable resources that the police can trust even if they cannot duplicate.
ODD THOMAS has the feeling of a series pilot, which is exactly what the book was for Koontz. Whether Sommers considers this to be the first of a series is hard to tell. Even with what must be for Sommers a rather smallish budget, it could make a series of minor films or perhaps a TV series could be spun off. The film itself is probably as good as Sommers's other films, though that is not setting the bar very high, particularly in the case of his VAN HELSING. ODD THOMAS rates a decent but not overly impressive high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1767354/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/odd_thomas/
WAR OF THE WORLDS Special Effects (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):
In response to Mark's comments on special effect in the 1953 WAR OF THE WORLDS in the 02/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniarek writes:
[Mark writes,] "I really do not know if the wires were there on the original print or not. The only way to be sure would be to see a theatrical print of the film."
That is the crux of the issue. My understanding is that effects designers relied on the loss of detail when films were copied from masters to theatrical prints. Theatrical prints are some number of generations from the original negative, even if *not* involving mattes or other compositing (which would be the case here).
So by the time the film is projected in the theater, the wires are mostly invisible, and even more hidden by the limited capabilities of projection itself.
Good DVDs and Blu-ray discs are digitized from sources as close to the original negatives as can be found. I'm in the camp that believes the wires should be digitally removed, because it was not the intent of the film makers that we see them. I pray that decision is made if a Blu-ray is ever released of this film (and other Pal classics).
A similar issue occurred with the laserdisc releases of the first two "Star Wars" films--one could plainly see the matte boxes around the spacecraft, which were shot against limited size green screens and had to be "cut" into the larger frame of the space scenes. These edges were invisible in theaters (like you and perhaps many reading this newsletter, I was in the theater on release day). It was part of the reason Lucas invested so much in digitally correcting those scenes (among others he did not have to). [-ak]
We will probably never see what STAR WARS was like the first time we saw. You saw it on Wednesday. I had my best friend coming to Detroit from Western Massachusetts and he did not arrive in time for us to make it the first day. So we could not go until Thursday evening. I didn't mind not seeing it the first night since everyone who was really in the know knew the *big* film of the weekend was going to be Ray Harryhausen's new Sinbad film, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER. I guess it did not work out that way.
A minor mystery has spring up in my mind about the timing of the above. We saw both films, one Thursday night and one Friday morning. The IMDB says SINBAD was not released until August. I think that there must have been a special preview showing of SINBAD in Detroit because we did see both films for the first time within 24 hours of each other. There was also a convention that weekend and Harryhausen was the special guest. They must have arranged a preview showing. [-mrl]
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (letter of comment by Mike Glyer):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE in the 02/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, Mike Glyer writes:
There's a problem with the starting point of your critique THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, which is that it's not a history. It's a civil rights thought experiment--like HIGH NOON.
Within the frame of the movie, a person has rights only to the extent he is willing to fight for them to the death.
Pompey carries a rifle in some scenes, so we know he has what the movie deems to be civil rights.
You're right to criticize Tom Doniphan's treatment of Pompey in the bar scene, but within the movie's morality Pompey can wield his gun to get better treatment if he chooses.
That's political correctness within the alternate universe THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE... [-mg]
YEAR'S BEST SF and Luddites (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):
In response to Joe Karpierz's review of YEAR'S BEST SF 18 in the 02/21/14 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:
Alas, Hartwell's YEAR'S BEST SF 18 is the last of that series. He can't fit it into his already tight work schedule. I always found it better than the others, and all truly SF, too. [-gb]
And in response to Paul Dormer's comments on Luddites in the same issue, Gregory writes:
Yep, the Luddites were addicted to violence, and knew no economics. [-gb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
TELL BORGES IF YOU SEE HIM: TALES OF CONTEMPORARY SOMNAMBULISM by Peter LaSalle (ISBN 978-0-8203-2998-7) is a collection of stories that won the "Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction." That sounds impressive, but of the list of over four dozen winners, I have heard of none of them. (I have heard of Flannery O'Connor, though.)
Two of these eleven stories could be termed "Borgesian". The title story is set in Buenos Aires, and Borges is part of the atmosphere, a constant presence even in the form of the New Directions edition of LABYRINTHS. And "The End of Narrative (1-29; or 29-1)", LaSalle examines whether Borges's work was truly "the end of narrative", or whether that was brought about by other causes. Not surprisingly, much of this "story" is non- narrative in nature, and there is even an unreliable narrator in the non-narrative. How Borgesian, indeed.
In keeping with my observation that mainstream authors often write SF (speculative fiction) without it being noticed as such, several of the stories fall into this category. "Where We Last Saw Time" plays either with time or with multiple timelines (it is not clear which). "Brilliant Billy Dubbs on the Ocean Floor" is a story of the after-life. "Nocturne" has multiple world lines, fractured time lines, and enough convenient coincidences to make it fantasy on that basis alone.
"The Spaces Inside Sleep" combines rare book collecting and sleazy underworld figures in a strange mix somewhat reminiscent of the "Thursday Next" novels of Jasper Fforde. "Preseason: The Texas Football Dead" takes a familiar story--that of the football player dying after practice in hundred-degree heat--and pairs it with a less familiar story of another sort of football death. And as I was reading "The Christmas Bus" I knew exactly how it would end--and I was right.
Rounding out the volume are "The Actor's Face", "The Cities He Would Never Be Sure Of", and "French Sleeping Pills".
(And I have no idea what the book's subtitle means.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The girl was beheaded, chopped into pieces and placed in a trunk but was not interfered with. --Newspaper ReportTweet
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