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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/05/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 23, Whole Number 1835
Table of Contents
A Second Opinion (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I read in the Berkeley Wellness letter about the recent medical finding that you will probably have a longer lifespan if you are overweight than if you are underweight. It was shown a while back that you can extend your lifespan if you live on a starvation diet. So, I guess, modern medicine recommends that you starve yourself but do not lose weight. [-mrl]
From My In-Box: Internet Reviewing (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A reader of my reviews on the Internet wanted to know a little about being an on-line reviewer. I thought it would be a reasonable idea to share my answers with the VOID readers.
"As an online movie reviewer do studios provide you with an early release of most films so that you can review them or are you relegated to seeing films in the theater during its premiere week?"
Under normal circumstances I do not get to big-screen showings of films, though I am invited. They are offered to me, but the showings are usually in Manhattan. Tolls and parking would make "free" screenings prohibitively expensive. The last time I tried going into Manhattan for a screening there was no parking to be had at any price. I had to turn around and just go home. (Actually, to a Hoboken restaurant on the way.)
I do get offered screener DVDs and streaming links so I can see films that distributors would like me to review. I much prefer discs to links since it is nice to have a souvenir of the film. One particular distribution company makes lots of offers of screeners and sometimes they even send me discs that I have said I was not interested in. I do admit that frequently they prove me wrong. The film can be more interesting than I expected and they get a review.
As a side note, I have never dealt with a publicist who acted any differently if I really liked or really hated the film. I guess for them even a negative review is publicity. They may tell me they like a film when they are offering it, but that is as far as they ever go in influencing my opinion. As with book reviewers, getting copies of possible reviewable material is a major perk, but I do pay for it in effort writing the review. And I am not a fast writer.
One disadvantage to getting films this way is that they are often monogrammed, so the movie says across the screen something like "Property of XYZ Distribution. Do not duplicate." It's a minor distraction usually. Other times they will send you the DVD in a case that is exactly what they will be selling on the shelf. That may be a much more polished version of the film and may have features like interviews and subtitles or closed captioning.
If any film you get this way gets pirated, they supposedly have ways to track down who betrayed the trust of the distributor. I have no experience with this, and I have no sympathy for video pirates.
As I said above this is how things are done under normal circumstances. I am a member of the On-line Film Critics Society (OFCS), which makes its own set of awards. Filmmakers want to be able to say their films are award=winning so are anxious to get reviewers to look at their product. That means in November and December I will be sent on the order of fifty screener discs for award consideration. These may come from minor releasing companies and they might come from major studios. Last year I got some big ones like FROZEN and 12 YEARS A SLAVE and little ones you will never hear of. Sadly there is a trend to make these films available by streaming rather then sending discs. That makes the films less convenient to watch and sometimes are really difficult to watch. Streaming is still not a reliable way to watch a film.
There is no pleasure like desperately looking for where I can see a film like EUROPA REPORT, failing to find it, and then to find it showing up in my mailbox.
I am not paid for my reviews by anyone. I review films because I love cinema and I don't expect to be rewarded. Like the prostitute said, if you get paid for it then it isn't love. But getting screeners to first-class films is as near as I get to any sort of reward.
"Do you have any advice for someone who wants to review films online?"
Sure. But it will mostly seem like platitudes. Just because a piece of advice is a platitude does not mean that it is not true.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed this film, setting the film in the quiet town in Iran aptly named Bad City. This could be American suburbia--in fact it was shot in Bakersfield, California--but for the vampire stalking the streets at night. The film is atmospheric, but the dialog is in Farsi, the story is hard to follow, and scenes proceed slowly punctuated with sparse dialog. It is an unusual film, but it comes to an end without the viewer recognizing a story in what we have seen. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Arash (played by Arash Varandi) leads a hard life in Bad City, Iran. He takes care of his father and tries unsuccessfully to keep his father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) off of heroin. Arash has one prize possession, his Ford Thunderbird Coup. But the drug pusher who sells Arash heroin has not been paid and on one visit grabs Arash's car keys and takes Arash's car. Arash takes out his unhappiness by going to a party dressed as Dracula. In this condition he meets on the street The Girl (Sheila Vand). The Girl has a striking appearance herself. Over a striped T-shirt she wears a chador like a hood and a cape. It is an interesting transition of image turning a chador into a melodramatic cape, playing off of the fears of many Americans for things Islamic. While Arash pretends to be a vampire under his cape, The Girl under her own cape hides the fact that she really is a vampire. But as luck would have it, she is only pretending not to be a supernatural bloodsucker of the night. She is pretending not to have the supernatural, superhuman powers of the undead. The viewer sees her mostly in the half-light of night, and it creates an image that sticks in the viewer's memory.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT was written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. It is an expanded version of an 8-minute short of the same title that Amirpour made three years ago. She set her film in Bad City in Iran (is that really the name of a town?) but shot it in the United States in Bakersfield, California. The film is directed deadly seriously, but there are comic touches. At one point the story advances to the music of a spaghetti Western in Ennio Morricone's distinctive style. Vampire fangs seem to be spring-loaded. The pace is slow so it feels like there is very little story there. The film lacks any sort of a conclusion and there is very little finality at the end of the film. But story is not really the point of this film. It is more an exercise in style in black and white. I admit I had problems recognizing characters when they showed up dressed differently against a different background. But I felt compelled to go with the film.
The production style is straightforward and simple. Though filmed in the United States, we see not how Iran is different from the United States, but how it is similar. Perhaps this is a different world that mixes American and Iranian background. Much of the film is about the drug culture. The film has one scene of breast nudity that we would probably not see in an Iranian film.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is a nice atmospheric exercise in horror filmmaking, light-years away from the sort of gory horror film popular in the US, but it will lose points for having so little story. It is not that any of the ideas are startlingly new, but it is very original to set a traditional vampire story in someplace as unexpected as Iran. I would rate A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2326554/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_girl_walks_home_alone_at_night/
FIELD OF FANTASIES edited by Rick Wilber (copyright 2014, Nightshade Books, $15.99, 309pp, ISBN-13 978-1-59780-548-3) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
All right, I have a confession to make: I love baseball. I grew up playing it, although not very well. I watched it daily on television, bought baseball cards, read baseball books (I know, weird, something other than SF), and went to Wrigley Field several times a year with my parents to see the Chicago Cubs play (longtime readers may remember that I reviewed Joe Dimaggio's biography back in 2005--yeah, I had to go look it up--so they may not be surprised by any of these revelations).
And even back then I had a love of science fiction, starting with things like STAR TREK, LOST IN SPACE, and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. What could be better than a book of stories that combined my love of baseball with my love of science fiction? And lo and behold, there came a book, edited by Rick Wilber, called FIELD OF FANTASIES, a collection of baseball short stories that have just a bit of a twist to them, just a bit of an off-kilter angle, just a bit of supernatural. You can imagine I jumped on this one.
FIELD OF FANTASIES collects baseball stories as old as 1944 and as recent as 2012, from authors that are known to fans of speculative fiction such as Stephen King, Harry Turtledove, Rod Serling, Gardner Dozois, Ray Bradbury, John Kessel, Kim Stanely Robinson, and Rick Wilber himself to more mainstream folks like Jack Kerouac, Louise Marley, Robert Coover, and others. While not all the stories here deal with the "Strange and Supernatural" (part of the subtitle to the book), every last one of these is a gem.
With that being the case, where do I begin? For pure amusement, Gardner Dozois' "The Hanging Curve" tops the list, about a curveball that literally hung there, in front of the plate--for years. Following on the heels of that tale is "McDuff on the Mound", by Robert Coover, wherein we see the story of Casey at the Bat from the viewpoint of the pitcher in that poem. For pure baseball entertainment, "Pitchers and Catchers", by Cecilia Tan, gives us the story a catcher trying to make the Red Sox in Spring Training and how, just for one spring, a catcher brings both pitchers and catchers together in a competition for the ages, only to fall victim to reality at the end of it all. Kim Stanley Robinson's "Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars" brings hope to every kid who wants to be good at the game and finally finds a way to do just that.
There are a slew of thought-provoking stories in here too. Louise Marley's "Diamond Girls" tells the story about a genetically engineered woman in the major leagues that tells us quite a bit about how players who are not like the others can be treated by fellow players, fans, and the press. "A Face in the Crowd", by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan, tells the poignant tale of a man who is devoting his life to watching baseball after his wife passes away, and what he ends up learning by giving in to his passion for the game. Valerie Sayers' "How to Read a Man" tells us about a lifelong baseball fan who can tell what a player will do on a particular at bat just by watching him, but can't quite figure out how to deal with the men in her life. "My Kingdom for Jones", while on the surface a comedy about a horse that can play third base, actually gives us insight as to how we treat outsiders in our lives. David Sandner and Jacob Weisman give us "Lost October", about an old man and his young friend who have baseball in common, and how, in the face of what we presume is the earthquake that interrupted the Bay Series in 1989 (San Francisco vs. Oakland), they come together in true love for the past of the game in an ethereal ballpark that seems to be host to a game from the distant past. Rick Wilber gives us "Stephen to Cora to Joe", a take on Tinkers to Evers to Chance, about a player trying to make it in the game and the realities of it all, with the help of some literary figures from the past.
Oh, there are other stories here that are worth mentioning as well. Every last one of them is terrific. Even if you're not a baseball fan, I think you'll find these stories engaging and delightful. After all, you need something to do between now and Spring Training, less than three months away. [-jak]
Pluto, THE GREAT RUPERT, Robert A. Heinlein, ANTARCTICA (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
In response to Mark's comments on science in the popular media in the 11/28/14 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph Major writes:
"Pluto may be again a planet."
I believe this was a hoax article. [-jtm]
Apparently there has been some reconsideration on Pluto since it was discovered it had moons and an atmosphere. It was not a hoax or at least SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN did not think it was a hoax when they covered it: http://tinyurl.com/mtv-pluto
I believe there is also the argument that there is no way to find out if exo-planets clean up their orbit and astronomers don't want to give up on calling exo-planets planets. [-mrl]
"THE GREAT RUPERT (1950)"
According to Bill Patterson's biography of Heinlein, the financial deal ended up partnering the film with DESTINATION MOON. They were, Patterson says, concerned that DESTINATION MOON would not do well in release, and therefore partnering it with a movie that looked like it would do well (a Christmas movie about a cute squirrel) that would cover any losses.
Then, DESTINATION MOON did well and THE GREAT RUPERT tanked. (Incidentally, the latter movie has been retitled A CHRISTMAS WISH: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042524/.)
Heinlein got next to no money for all his effort in making the movie.
THE PUPPET MASTERS (NHOL G.091). Heinlein had a "thing" for nudism, and like too many writers, assumed that the whole would adopt his own values. If FOR US, THE LIVING (NHOL G.004) had been available then, people would have seen that this attitude dated back to his earliest days. And have entirely given up on reading him.
The book was "cut" twice, once by Walter Bradbury, the editor at Doubleday, and again by Horace Gold for serialization in GALAXY. Some of the cut material explained plot points, but on the whole, the cut volume was more readable. [-jtm]
I never heard THE GREAT RUPERT was associated with DESTINATION MOON beyond being just another George Pal film, but I can believe it. [-mrl]
"ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE"
Did Powell (interesting coincidence, since people encountering the name "Anthony Powell" are more likely to think of the author of A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME) mention the 300 Club? I would also recommend reading BIG DEAD PLACE: INSIDE THE STRANGE AND MENACING WORLD OF ANTARCTICA (2005) by Nick Johnson (who, sorry to say, committed suicide in 2012).
ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2361700/
I don't remember a mention of the 300 Club in ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE. I doubt it got a mention. [-mrl]
Dogs (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's comments on dogs in the 11/28/14 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
In response to Mark's response to my e-moc (email of comment), I understood completely what he was getting at a couple weeks ago. We, too, know people who own dogs who are kind and loving, but shouldn't own a dog. They leave their pets either kenneled or outside all day while they're at work, and board the dogs when they go out of town. To address this problem, myself, wife, and daughter started up a home business where they would dog-sit for people. For about five years they did pretty well, but once our daughter moved out into her own home a few years back, that business fizzled out. There's a big need for this kind of thing in College Station, being a university town, and it pains us to recognize unwilling abandonment or neglect by people who really should know better. Yes, it is a problem rarely discussed.
It's good to get that cleared up. Now, about that movie you alluded to as your December pick-of-the-month: it's too bad that later retread expeditions couldn't have left their versions on that island instead. That would have saved the rest of us a lot of anguish. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A couple of weekends ago was a sort of mini-book-sale period, with a stop at the Cranbury Book Worm and the Cherry Hill Library Friends of the Library book sale on the way to Philcon.
For anyone looking for Loeb Classical Library (Greek) books, run, do not walk, to the Cranbury Book Worm. They just got about ten shelf-feet of them. We did not buy any of those, but we did get a science fiction art book, a book on Egypt, a coffee table philosophy book, and the Criterion edition of TIME BANDITS.
At the Friends of the Library sale, we got a couple of VHS tapes (LES MISERABLES and LAND OF THE PHARAOHS) and a few books, including a reference book on film noir and some essays of Edward Sapir. VHS tapes were 25 cents each, even for Disney films. They have expanded the sale to the lower lobby as well, but there were still a lot of boxes under tables, and one woman was complaining that all the fiction tables were hardbacks or trade paperbacks, and all the mass market fiction was on the floor where it was hard to get to for older people.
At Philcon, we found nothing of interest in the Dealers Room. A lot of it is not books, and almost all the book tables are new books and small press books. The Golden Age of used paperbacks is gone. However, the freebie table was doing a land office business. Someone dropped off about a dozen feet of comic books, and many people seem to have brought stacks of books (we brought four bags' worth).
Of MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA by Agatha Christie (ISBN 978-0-062-07390-7), I have only two new observations [SPOILER ALERT]:
Christie jumps from Nurse Leatheran's point of view to someone else's point of view for two paragraphs, mostly to insert something more meaningful the second time through.
The question of how anyone could have been tracking Louise all her life well enough to contact her whenever she started to have a serious romance is never explained. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Life is one long process of getting tired. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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