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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/13/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 33, Whole Number 1845
Table of Contents
Save Energy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Will the last person to fall into the black hole please remember to shut off the Hawking radiation? [-mrl]
Mini-Reviews of 2014 Films, Part 4 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am, as you can see, still working my way through films that I was asked to consider for the annual awards of the On-Line Film Critic Society. Somehow when these films are all unknown entities, or even when I am voting, every year feels like it is a below average year. One I get some distance from the films I start to feel that some of the films had some charm. When it comes time to vote for the next year's films, it seems like this was a better year than I realized at the time. Arnold Toynbee, take note.
Every Wednesday some of America's great humorists, writers for TV and movies, get together for lunch. It is a tradition 42 years old. Many were writing in the 1950s. They get together, tell jokes, reminisce, and argue. LUNCH is a documentary about the lunchtime tradition. Some of the humor is still funny, but most is not really. It has to be a problem in the humor since these are people who really know how to tell a joke. Writer/director Donna Kantor mostly just shows affection these elderly gentlemen have for each other. The film is really an education in the major comic writers of the past. People present include Monty Hall, Hal Kanter, Gary Owens, Carl Reiner, and one of the great names in American comedy, Sid Caesar. Rating: 1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
This is a deliberately paced story of a very remote town in the Southeast. Gary, 15 years old and drifting with his worthless and abusive father, comes under the protection of the title character, played by Nicholas Cage. This brings Joe in conflict with Gary's father and a local with a grudge against Joe, two men who are happy to kill. David Gordon Green directs a screenplay by Gary Hawkins based o a novel by Larry Brown. The story has a Davis Grubb sort of feel. Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
THE SKELETON TWINS
Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are two fraternal twins who come to terms with their relationship, their relationships with others, and with their sexuality. The talk between the two reunited after years is bitter and cute if not actually funny. Wiig seems to be borrowing Amy Adams's act. I am not sure the film really goes anywhere, but somehow it is likable enough. Rating: +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
GET ON UP
Just about every show business celebrity who has ever had a biopic made about him has had almost the same biopic made about him. People do not believe he has talent, but he overcomes all obstacles. He has vision and an unmistakable talent. With sequences liberally punctuated with his art, he makes it to success. But success spoils him and he is not the great guy he was before. Usually by the end of the story he will come to appreciate all the little people who have contributed to his success. That is every biopic from THE JOLSON STORY to DE-LOVELY to WALK THE LINE.
This is the story of James Brown, called "the Godfather of Soul." Chadwick Boseman quite handily plays him. Indeed he overcomes child abuse, racism, artistic philistines, and selfish Big Business. Some of the sequences seem a little overripe. Brown is being delivered to entertain the troops in Vietnam when his plane is attacked. Brown is the only one calm on the plane and is doing what he can to help the others. The film is full of heavy-handed adulation for the greatness that is James Brown. Directing is Tate Taylor. Dan Aykroyd plays Brown's manager. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
The title is THE DOG, as in DOG DAY AFTERNOON. The documentary is about John Wojtowicz as was Martin Scorsese's DOG DAY AFTERNOON about a man who robs a bank to get money to pay for his male lover's sex-change operation. This is a full-length documentary about Wojtowicz from his childhood to the near present. WOJTOWICZ, a self-proclaimed "pervert" is very frank about his sex life especially his relationship with Ernest Aron for whose sake Wojtowicz robbed the bank. Directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren cover Wojtowicz's bizarre and gender-bending life. At 100 minutes the film somewhat overstays its welcome, but I am not sure what would have been best to cut. Rating: low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
In some unidentified Middle European village the normal citizens are terrified of the boxtrolls--gnomish little people who wear cardboard boxes and can pull into them turtle-like for defense or just to make themselves easy to pack. They pull all the boxes together to form a big block to sleep at night. (Presumably the ones toward the center of the block have super-sized bladders.) The town fathers, all useless gits who wear white hats and love cheese, hire nasties to exterminate the boxtrolls, but we know the boxtrolls are nearly innocent and harmless. Their reputation is mostly the product of the nasties. Boxtrolls are dangerous in that they may scare people enough that people hurt themselves. Parallels to Jews living in ghettos are obvious. This is all done with a very nice three-dimensional animation. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
DIGGING UP THE MARROW (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Written, directed, and co-produced by the main actor playing himself is Adam Green. Green is making a documentary about a man who has discovered that just a few yards under our feet there is a parallel world inhabited by what we consider monsters. If there are monsters there Green wants to film them and if there are not he wants to document the strange personality of the man who claims to have discovered an underground world. Heavily employing money-saving techniques like raw found footage, he tells the story of his long tedious waits watching for monsters at a portal into the underworld of strange creatures. The viewer sees very little in the nature of special effects or special monster make-up. Green is adept in finding ways to stretch a buck letting the words create tension while delivering little visual. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
It is hard to pigeonhole DIGGING UP THE MARROW as a single or even two or three kinds of film. It is a "found footage" pseudo-documentary mystery horror film that is part comedy. Adam Green starred, wrote, directed, was executive producer, and even lent a hand to editing. The only major actor who does not play himself is Ray Wise of TWIN PEAKS and THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN.
This film is not "found footage" technically because the footage was never really lost. But it is footage shot as the fictional Adam Green--very similar to the real Adam Green--is interviewing monster lovers at a monster lovers' convention. He is contacted by a man who claims to have actually seen not one but many monsters. Ray Wise plays the mysterious William Dekker, a retired police detective who has devoted his life to finding and studying and revealing to humanity that there is a world beneath our feet where monsters live and have their own society. This place, literally an underworld, he has dubbed "the Marrow." Green and Dekker set up cameras to stand vigil over a portal to the underworld, hoping to see and perhaps film real monsters.
Green (the filmmaker) very intelligently creates tension while never promising to deliver a monster for the viewer to see. The film need not move very fast because the characters are so very patiently waiting and filming the portal into the Marrow. If Green let on that this is a fictional story he would have to deliver monsters in makeup. The viewer is kept in suspense as to what direction the film is taking. Since most of the cast are playing themselves their acting is nearly automatically authentic. Everybody is a near-perfect representation of himself talking just like the real person does. The dialog is frequently funny, but credible as it comes from witty, artistic people. Since Green is showing where he works, he can freely use product placements of posters for his previous film FROZEN (2010). The early part of the film is filled with talking head interviews and creative pictures of monsters--fan art--to stoke the viewer's imagination. The only actor who really has to act like something other than himself is Ray Wise. Wise's performance is a little exaggerated, but generally strong.
The film has several cameo performances by people really in the film and entertainment business, probably far more than most viewers would recognize. Frankly, the biggest disappointment of the film is that Green, like so many young filmmakers, cannot think of a clever and original way to close out the final minutes of the film. In this case the film ends with a yawn of familiarity. Green needs to work on that problem for his next film. But there is enough different here that DIGGING UP THE MARROW is a worthwhile film to see or rent. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1991031/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/digging_up_the_marrow/
QUEEN AND COUNTRY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The year is 1952 and Bill Rowan, the main character from 1987's HOPE AND GLORY, is now an adult drafted into the army to fight in the Korean War. The impudent ten-year-old is now an impudent soldier teaching other soldiers to type. He is a friend of Percy, a real rebel and together they do their best to make trouble and incidentally to find love. John Boorman, who wrote and directed HOPE AND GLORY writes and directs the further adventures of Rowan. QUEEN AND COUNTRY is entertaining enough, but military hi-jinx and romance are just not nearly as fresh a premise as was his sense-of-wonder-view of World War II through the eyes of a boy. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The credit "Directed by John Boorman" is rarely seen these days on the American screen. As often as not, his films seem to go off the rails into his own esoteric territory. While he was well-regarded for DELIVERANCE, fewer film fans had much use for ZARDOZ. And while EXORCIST II placed THE EXORCIST in a larger and more interesting context, it was not where fans of the original film wanted to go. EXCALIBUR started well and then made a left turn into the surreal. His 2001 THE TAILOR OF PANAMA used a screen James Bond actor but rather punctured the Bond mythos with a more realistic secret agent.
In 1987 Boorman had made HOPE AND GLORY, which looked with a child's sense of amazement at England's home front in World War II. Particularly memorable was a sequence with an errant barrage balloon that may well have been the high point of the war for the boy's family and friends. Boorman has now written and directed a sequel to HOPE AND GLORY.
Bill Rowan, once that boy who looked with such wonder on a barrage balloon and all his other artifacts of the war, is now grown up and serving the title entities as a soldier preparing to be sent to Korea. Bill, now played by Callum Turner, has an opportunity to see a war from the inside. He was hoping to have avoided conscription, and his new masters intend to send him to the not at all desirable battlefront in Korea. Right now they want him to teach recruits typing. The problem is that he has no respect for the army and likes to lapse into anti-military diatribe for his typing students. But his chaos is more than matched by that of the like-minded Percy Hapgood (Caleb Landry Jones). David Thewlis, always a good actor, plays Bradley, their commanding officer who bullies the men in the name of army discipline and is in turn bullied by his C.O., Major Cross (Richard E. Grant).
Callum Turner is agreeable as the lead but there seems to be little emotional connectivity between this film's Bill Rowan and that of the earlier film. We see a little more of the dynamics of his family (all but one played by different actors) but none of them seem to really be recognizably the same characters we had seen in the first film. Turner and Jones seem to compete to be the main character of the film and in the end it is Jones who seems the most memorable. Tamsin Egerton plays Ophelia who makes an elegant love interest for Rowan.
What is disappointing about the film is that it does not do what HOPE AND GLORY did. The 1987 film showed us the home front and let us see how the war could be full of exhilaration and wonderment to a ten year old. But films about insubordinate military men with unreasonable officers are nothing new. This film is really a British equivalent to M.A.S.H. or MISTER ROBERTS or any of several others. In fact, the captain and his palm in MISTER ROBERTS is mirrored by the regimental sergeant major and his clock.
While Boorman's HOPE AND GLORY will be remembered when QUEEN AND COUNTRY is forgotten, the new film is never less than entertaining and makes a few scattered serious points. I rate QUEEN AND COUNTRY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2392810/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/queen_and_country/
THE NORMANS FROM RAIDERS TO KINGS by Lars Brownworth (book review by Gregory Frederick):
This is a book that covers a little known era of European history. This age of change created by the Normans occurred for only two centuries between the tenth and the twelfth centuries. The Normans were actually direct descendants of the Vikings. After raiding Ireland, England, and the coast of France for decades a group of Vikings were granted lands along the Northern coast of France. This territory was eventually called Normandy (land of the Northmen) and the Vikings who lived there became known as Normans.
In an effort to retain their land, the Normans adopted French names and the language of that area of France. The Normans became differentiated from their Viking ancestors in other ways too. Vikings fought on foot and the Normans usually had chainmail equipped heavy cavalry. One of these Normans was William the Conqueror who conquered England in 1066. Normans created an inflection point in time that changed the course of European history affecting England and France.
But there were also other Normans who left Normandy for greater opportunities and who changed the history of Southern Italy, Sicily, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. One Norman family, known as the Hautevilles, produced many of the Normans who traveled south to the Mediterranean Sea. Roger I and his son Roger II were of this family and they created the Norman Kingdom of Sicily consisting of Southern Italy, Sicily and for a time part of North Africa. Roger II created a more centralized and tolerant government compared to Northern Europe. For example, his kingdom allowed Muslims, and all Christians, to practice their faiths. The feudal lands of Europe did not have this and this gave the Kingdom of Sicily an advantage. Roger's people were less likely to rebel and his army was more willing to stay together for longer periods of warfare. Most medieval armies were less likely to stay together for long periods of time; because power was not as centralized. The Normans during the reigns of Roger I and Roger II seldom lost a battle. Normans were usually outnumbered in battle but in many clashes they still won the day. In one amazing battle in Sicily, a Saracen Muslim army of 35,000 lost to a Norman army on a hilltop commanded by Roger I who only had 130 knights and 300 foot soldiers.
Normans lead the first crusade to the Holy Land; this crusade was successful and actually captured the Holy Land most of the other crusades did not accomplish this goal. Norse or Normans formed the most trusted Varangian guard of the Byzantine Emperor. The Varangian guard played a critical role in the actions of the Emperor. Normans played an important role in European history but except for William the Conqueror most people probably have not heard of them. This is a very well written and engaging book covering a hidden and important period of history. Lars Brownworth also wrote another good history book titled LOST TO THE WEST which details the little known history of the Byzantine Empire. [-gf]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In 1985, Hyspámerica began publishing a collection of a hundred "indispensible" literary works chosen by Borges. He wrote only seventy-four prologues before he died in 1986; these form the volume PERSONAL LIBRARY, PROLOGUES (ISBN 978-8-4206-3209-4) which I read in the omnibus MISCELANEA.
As with earlier reviews of compendiums (compendia?) of Borges's works, I will comment only on items of particular interest. (I will give the titles of the articles in English, even though they are in Spanish in the book.)
Prologue to Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt, Hedda Gabler": Borges actually begins by discussing "A Doll's House", saying that now (1987, when he wrote this), the idea of a woman having her own life is commonplace, but in 1879 it was "a scandal." Indeed, for its London performances, Ibsen was forced to add another scene at the end where Nora returns to her husband and children, and in Paris he had to ad a lover so that Parisians could have a reason they understood for why she was leaving.
Prologue to Edward Kasner & James Newman's "Mathematics and Imagination": It is only fitting that Borges write a prologue to this, given how mathematical his work is; just consider the number of books and papers written on the mathematical aspects of it. He starts be observing that an immortal locked in a prison with a lifetime sentence, could discover all of algebra, all of geometry, and indeed pretty much all of mathematics. It is not an experimental science.
He then goes on to describe how points form lines, lines form planes, planes form solids, and solids form hypersolids. Of hyperspheres and hypercubes, he says, "It is not known if they exist, but their laws are known to us." (It sounds less repetitive on Spanish, since he uses two different verbs, saber and conocer, but I cannot come up with a better translation.)
Borges particularly recommends the "strange/alien illustrations," for example, of the Moebius strip, which can be constructed from a strip of paper and is "an incredible surface of only one side."
Prologue to Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno"; "Billy Budd"; "Bartleby, the Scrivener": Borges's prologue is mostly about Melville's life and "Moby Dick", with only a brief paragraph on each of these works. He sees "Bartleby" as a precursor of the works of Franz Kafka, and "Billy Budd" as the story of the conflict between justice and the law. (Why in English is it always the full title "Bartleby, the Scrivener", but rarely the full title "Billy Budd, Foretopman"?)
Of "Benito Cereno", he writes: "'Benito Cereno' continues to generate argument. There are those who judge it the masterpiece of Melville and one of the masterpieces of literature. There are those who consider it a mistake or a series of mistakes. There are those who suggest that Herman Melville set himself to write a text deliberately inexplicable that would be a cabalistic symbol of this world, also inexplicable."
Prologue to Arthur Machen's "The Three Imposters": Borges makes what seemed an astounding claim: that during World War I, Arthur Machen invented the legend of the Angels of Mons. Well, it seems to be true. Machen wrote "The Bowmen" as a propaganda story for the "Evening News" (29 Sept 1914). When occult magazines and even supposed eye-witnesses spread the story, Machen tried to explain it was fiction, but was not believed. Many have said that thought the "One Step Beyond" episode "The Vision" was inspired by this legend, especially since no one has ever found any documentation for the incident in "The Vision", which was pinned to a specific date and time, (John Kenneth Muir, author of "An Analytical Guide to Television's 'One Step Beyond'", states, "Though [this episode] must be based on an account that writer Larry Marcus unearthed in his research, that account has not been located, and the author was unable to secure an interview with Mr. Marcus for further information." Why he is so sure that there was an account and not that Marcus made it up either from Machen's story or out of whole cloth is not clear.)
And Machen's "The Three Imposters" seems to have been named after a famous book titled "De tribus impostoribus" which was supposedly written in the twelfth century. The "three impostors" were allegedly Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, but as you might have guessed by my adverbs, the book was entirely fictional. However, it generated a lot of fuss for hundreds of years as rulers and clerics tried to locate it and destroy it.
Prologue to "Song of Songs", "Exposition of the Book of Job": Of "Job", Borges writes, "We hope to find rationality, but rationality, characteristic of the Greeks, is foreign to the Semitic soul and the work limits itself to offering splendid metaphors. ... Max Brod, in "Paganism, Judaism, and Christianity", has analyzed [God's speech from the whirlwind]. The world is ruled by an enigma."
Prologue to Thorsten Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class": Borges writes that when he first read "Theory of the Idle Class", he thought it was a satire. One reason may have been Veblen's tendency to go overboard: while living in certain neighborhoods and owning certain artworks may be valid examples of conspicuous consumption, he also "erroneously affirms that the reason for the study of Latin and Greek is because of the fact that both are useless." And if an executive doesn't have time to conspicuously consume, his wife and children must do it for him. (If this doesn't sound like the source for Frederik Pohl's "The Midas Plague", I don't know what does.)
Then Borges claims that in Argentina, this notion of the leisure class is taken very seriously. Except for monks, everyone in Argentina pretends to be of this class. "Since my youth," Borges writes, "I have known families that spent the hot months hidden in their homes while everyone else believed they had gone to spend the summer on a hypothetical ranch or in the city of Montevideo."
Prologue to Marcel Schwob's "Imaginary Lives": This is apparently a collection of biographies in which the protagonists are real, but the events are unreal, at times even fantastic (in the sense of fantasy, rather than in the sense of spectacular). Borges says this was one of the inspirations for his book "A Universal History of Infamy", but this was not noticed, even by the critics. (Wikipedia mentions it, but also cites this book as a reference, so no one gets credit for discovering it on their own.)
Prologue to Eden Phillpotts's "The Red Redmaynes": Of Phillpotts, Borges writes, "Eden Phillpotts, 'the most English of the English writers", was of evidently Hebrew origin and was born in India. Without denying his ancestry, he was never a professional Jew the way Israel Zangwill was." Clearly what Borges means is that Phillpotts did not write about Jews or Jewish culture, or Jewish settings, but what an odd way to express it.
Prologue to Gustave Meyrink's "The Golem": Alas, Borges does not really say anything new about the Golem here, but I felt I should mention that he included it in his selections.
Prologue to Henry James's "The Lesson of the Master", "The Private Life", and "The Figure in the Carpet": Borges describes Henry James as "the son of the theologian of the same name," which I found confusing (wasn't his brother William James the theologian, or at least the philosopher in the family?), until further comments indicated that William James "was" his brother, and his father must have been a theologian also named Henry, just one that I had never heard of. Borges describes Henry James (the author) as "not ... a creator character; he created deliberately ambiguous and complex situations, capable of indefinite and almost infinite readings."
Prologue to Herodotus's "Histories": Borges writes, "He curiously imagined that the Danube was as the 'antistrofa' of the Nile, corresponding to its inverse." This sent me digging through dictionaries until I found "antistrofa" in the 1572-page "Diccionario manual e ilustrado de la Lengua Española" by the Real Academia Espanola, where it was defined as "in Greek poetry, the second part of a lyric poem composed of a strofa and an antistrofa, or of these two parts and an epode." Well, that was not very helpful. The best I can figure is that Herodotus felt that the Danube somehow "balanced out" or "completed" the Nile, but that is mere guesswork on my part. ("Antistrofos" is Greek for "inverse", if that helps.)
Prologue to Antoine Gallan's translation of "The Thousand and One Nights": Why is it "a thousand and one nights" instead of just a thousand? Borges suggests, "It has been conjectured that the addition was due to a superstitious fear of even numbers; I would rather believe that it was a discovery of an esthetic nature." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong. --Bertrand RussellTweet
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