MT VOID 01/08/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 28, Whole Number 1892

MT VOID 01/08/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 28, Whole Number 1892

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/08/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 28, Whole Number 1892

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Produce Questions (by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Why are grapefruits sold by the piece, but apples are sold by the pound? Even stranger, why are regular cucumbers sold by the piece, but Kirby cucumbers are sold by the pound? [-ecl]

Ballet Is Scary (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I have always been a little creeped out by ballet. It is not just abstract dance movements. It tells a story. So when eight swans cross the floor with identical movements the swans in the story must all be thinking the same way. This means their minds must all be interlinked like the children in THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS or they must all be mind controlled by a single entity we never see. I am not sure which is more scary. [-mrl]

My Top Ten Films of 2015 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Once again an inordinate percentage of the best films showed up in the last few weeks of the year. As with most years, I see two or three films that seem just okay that seem to have a contingent of people who think they are really something special. I cannot say I am too impressed with ANOMALISA in spite of the high response. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a fairly good action film with some really impressive stunts, but certainly nothing to be nominated for best picture. My own film society voted it the best film of the year. At this point I have not seen STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS or ROOM. I cannot judge how they might rank, but I will consider them for next year. This list is the top ten films I saw from January 1 to December 31, 2015.


Dalton Trumbo has been for many years a person of singular interest in Hollywood. He went from being one of the most respected film writers to being blacklisted for his political beliefs and unable to sell his work. After refusing to testify before the House Un- American Activities Committee in 1947, Trumbo was added to the blacklist. For years he could sell his film writing only under a false or borrowed name. His story is very much the story of the Hollywood blacklist. In 2007 that story was told in Peter Askin's film TRUMBO. The current TRUMBO is a narrative film telling the story of how Trumbo came to be blacklisted and how his case eventually broke the blacklist. The story is told well and with wit, and it tells how the First Amendment was seriously threatened by the government sworn to uphold it. And it tells how a small set of filmmakers fought and defeated the Hollywood blacklist. Jay Roach directs a screenplay by John McNamara from the book by Bruce Cook. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


BRIDGE OF SPIES is a Cold War thriller based on fact. Tom Hanks plays a New York insurance lawyer who defends a Soviet spy and then negotiates the exchange of that spy for U-2 pilot Gary Powers. Steven Spielberg directs a script provided by the Coen Brothers (and Matt Charman). This is a truly adult thriller. Its thrills come not from the barrel of a gun or master martial artists jumping from building to building. Instead it is about a plain lawyer doing his job and somewhat more than his job. In the process he changes history. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


EX MACHINA is written and directed by Alex Garland. From the world's most powerful Internet company, Caleb, a software engineer, has been chosen to spend a week as a guest of Nathan, the company's reclusive founder. Nathan is a technical and entrepreneurial genius who lives and works at a highly secluded house and lab. There Caleb finds that during his visit he will be asked to talk with a robot to determine if it is truly conscious or just a machine. Bits and ideas in the story are borrowed from FRANKENSTEIN, BLADE RUNNER, HER, and even from film noir. When the story is all over there has been surprisingly little story told, but the viewer will have been privy to some very sophisticated philosophical ideas. This is a film that respects the thinking ability of the viewer, and if the intelligence is there it will be rewarded. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


Denis Villeneuve directs a suspenseful story of an inter- surveillance-agency team chosen for a mission to illegally cross the border into Mexico and to attack and if possible assassinate a powerful drug lord living in Juarez. FBI agent Kate Macer needs to figure out why she is on this team and mission and is highly troubled by the answers she is or is not getting. The theme is about how the violent drug war in Mexico warps the US law enforcement. But the film makes for a tense thriller. Rating: +3 (- 4 to +4) or 8/10


Andy Weir's popular science blog turned best-selling novel comes to the screen with Matt Damon in the lead. Ridley Scott (ALIEN, GLADIATOR) directs the tense but at times humorous story of an astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars whose incredible science knowledge keeps him alive. The screenplay is by Drew Goddard (WORLD WAR Z, CLOVERFIELD). The science was vetted by experts and Weir proves you do not have to bend the laws of science to tell a good science fiction story. This is a highly gripping film. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


There is a podcast about economics called "Planet Money". This film could almost be PLANET MONEY: THE MOTION PICTURE. The film, like "Planet Money", tries to explain the finance all simply and understandably and in that noble purpose fails. But it is told with wit or even an acid cynicism that is apparently more than justified. This is a film about naked greed. We follow three story lines (true stories) with three people through the 2008 financial crisis, People who saw the financial bubble bursting and who exploited it in each's own way. Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) saw the crash coming and committed his company to seriously exploiting it; Mark Baum (Steve Carell) discovers it is happening and slowly comes to realize how serious the situation really is; Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) discovers his company is criminally courting serious financial damage. This is a film that names names and signals a warning that the world seems to be ignoring. While being fun to watch it tells you what you need to know about the financial crisis and almost certainly do not. It is best to see this film multiple times until it starts to stick. It is hard to believe how serious and at the same time how funny the film is. I guess it also should be considered a horror film since virtually the same meltdown could happen again. Adam McKay directs a screenplay he wrote with Charles Randolph, based on a book by Michael Lewis. Rating low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

7.  99 HOMES

This is the other film this year that looks at the ailing US economy and explains what is going wrong, who is manipulating finances, and who is undeservingly reaping the very, very large rewards of the recession. We see the steps of home evictions and how a predator, chillingly played by Michael Shannon, can get very rich on the misery of others. Unlike THE BIG SHORT this is not the story of one real predator but a narrative films with a predator who is a composite of many real people. MARGIN CALL, THE BIG SHORT, and 99 HOMES together are an education on just what is going wrong with 21st century capitalism. Rating low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.


This is the true story of the Boston Globe's crack investigative reporter team uncovering corruption rife in the Catholic Church. The team starts by examining one case of a Catholic priest's sexual molestation of a young parishioner and finds a story that just keeps growing with many cases of abuse and systematic covering up all over the Catholic Church. The double standard applied to the Church by the legal system will have many people leaving the film indignant and angry. The account has much of the feel and appeal of ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. Tom McCarthy directs a cast led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams. Rating low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

9.  24 DAYS

This is a docudrama about the kidnapping of Parisian Jew Ilan Halimi, who in January, 2006 was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered largely because he was Jewish. The film follows the Halimi family, the police, and the criminals, all the time sticking fairly accurately to what is known about the case. The Halimi family and the police race to find and save the hostage. The film looks at many connected issues including immigration policies, anti- Semitism, class, and police competency and prejudice. Not all the issues are fully discussed, nor would we expect them to be in a single film, but the viewer is aware of them. 24 DAYS is directed and co-written by Alexandre Arcady, perhaps in the United States best known for the horror thriller HIGH TENSION. Also writing the script were Emilie Freche and Antoine Lacomblez. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10


Pashtun Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai was 15 years old in October of 2012 when she stood up for and spoke out for female education. She knew she was endangered by the Taliban who want to ban all girls from being educated. A gunman boarded her school bus, specifically asked for her, and then shot her, twice missing her and once hitting her in the head. Critically injured she fought for her life and rehabilitated herself. She has recovered enough to return to her cause of female education. This is her story. She is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Prize. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10


Rules of Movie Car Chases (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

No matter what kind of car the hero is driving, even if he has commandeered it at random, it will always be able to out-run the bad guys (or police).

No matter what kind of car the hero has commandeered at random, he will never have the slightest difficulty in driving it, finding any of the controls, etc.

No matter whether the hero's car hits another car or vice versa, the other car will be incapacitated, but the hero's car will drive away.

No matter what sort of collision the hero's car gets into, the fenders will never be bent in such a way as to press against (or puncture) the tires.

No matter what kind of car the hero has commandeered at random, or what city or village he is in, the hero always knows which alleys will be just wide enough for it and not for the car chasing him, and that they won't end in a dead end or a barricade.

And if there *is* a barricade of some sort, the hero's car will always break through it. If there are steps, the hero's car will drive down them without a problem. If there is a drop-off, the hero's car will fly off, land nose down, settle its rear end down, and drive off none the worse for wear. [-ecl]

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: After about a decade we have a new "Star Wars" episode. The story is really about the search for Skywalker, a goal that does not seem particularly inspiring. As always in a "Star Wars" film the visuals are impressive, but the narrative is not as compelling as was the story of Darth Vader. The only new character of some interest is a woman named Rey, the new film's equivalent of Luke Skywalker. There seems to be more material borrowed from the first six films than there is that is new. But as long as the viewer does not need to contend with Jar-Jar Binks or a pod race, any Star Wars film delivers more than a ticket's worth of entertainment. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.

Warning: minor spoilers

The release of the new "Star Wars" film has become one of the major cinematic events of the year. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is not the most artistic film it could have been and it does not have the most moving story. It is neither good science nor good science fiction. But it is highly watchable and it will make a lot of money as an international film with avid (not to say rabid) fans around the world.

It has been about thirty (Earth?) years since the action in RETURN OF THE JEDI and Luke Skywalker, who disappeared years ago, is slipping from war hero into legend. Meanwhile the Galactic Empire is falling into the hands of a Fascist military/political party called the First Order. To maintain their power they have to capture Skywalker, but nobody seems to know where he is. There is a map to his whereabouts, but as so often happens in fiction the map is in pieces and whoever collects the pieces will have a full map. Great pilot Poe (played by the same Oscar Isaac who was in EX MACHINA) has instructions to find a missing piece. This piece is hidden in a droid, of all places. (Now why does that sound so familiar?) Poe is captured by the First Order storm troops where he meets a trooper whom the dubs Finn (played by John Boyega). Finn wants to change sides to be on the side of the good guys. Poe and Finn are separated and Finn joins up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) a very highly talented scavenger.

J. J. Abrams directs a screenplay by himself, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt, who are obviously fans of the series. They borrow ideas freely from the original. For example, the super weapon the villains have is a Deathstar just as in chapters 4 and 6. But it is not an old fashioned Deathstar. This Deathstar is much bigger. So now three of the seven chapters have new Deathstars needing to be disarmed seconds from disaster. Despite the writers' efforts to tie this film to the previous six "Star Wars" chapters that were made earlier, this does not really feel like the Star Wars Universe, but one somehow it is reduced in scale.

We have the five main characters from chapters four through six written into the script. But they do little to advance the plot. One is a father who gets no opportunity to be fatherly and another is a MacGuffin. Princess Leia looks like her face was replaced by that same doctor who replaced Luke's hand.

The villain of the piece is a sort of self-styled Darth Vader down to wearing a similar suit. What makes that strange is that Darth Vader put on the suit as a sort of portable, wearable iron lung. There is no reason to have such a suit if our villain has healthy lungs. But perhaps he thinks a suit is imposing. As far as acting Daisy Ridley, playing Rey, is a more dynamic female lead than Carrie Fisher was in 1977, perhaps because Rey is a better-written character.

If you go to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS looking for something to criticize, you will find more than enough in this "Star Wars" chapter. If you want to find stuff to enjoy, there is plenty of that here too. Overall, I would rate the new Star Wars film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Since this movie has done so spectacularly well in box-office business and since STAR WARS is a story told in trilogies, I think we can be assured that more to this story is coming from Disney.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


ANOMALISA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This film employs stop-motion animation for what is a very adult story. Two strangers meet going to a conference and one, a celebrated author on the subject of customer service, ironically is just not a people person. He does however meet Lisa who is a bit intimidated by his fame. Michael is anxious to manipulate Lisa to go to bed with him. Michael is voiced by the talented David Thewlis, but the story just goes nowhere. That is surprising for s screenplay by Charlie Kaufman who also co-directed with Duke Johnson. Rating 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

ANOMALISA started out as a stage play by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), ADAPTATION (2002), and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004). He co-directs the film with Duke Johnson. The play went through a number of changes until it came to its present form. The animation really is the logical descendent of the old Puppetoons. Puppetoons were shot in a kind of stop motion animation in which three-dimensional carved figures are photographed for each frame. Except for repeated use, each figure had to be carved from wood for each frame. The same technique is used here but the carver has been replaced by a 3D printer. It creates a unique feel for the images in ANOMALISA, but it does not do much more than add some quaintness to the photographed image. It is an effect similar to clay animation, but more photorealistic. In fact, these images of people may be more realistic than Pixar is doing at this point. It amuses a little which helps when the film gets off to a very slow start. Other than the novelty, the technique really does not do much for the storytelling than plain actors in front of a camera would do.

Michael and Lisa, complete strangers, are coming to the same conference in Cincinnati. They meet and Michael seduces Lisa for a one-night stand. The plot crawls at a snail's pace and it is quite a while before we see a plot developing. Michael is something of a star and famous expert on customer service. But for the course of this film Lisa is the only customer he is trying to service. There is some human pain in the characters. Still, it would take a Steven Spielberg to make me feel sorry for the plight of a puppet.

A holdover from the stage play is that we get only three voices on the soundtrack. We have David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh doing the voices for characters Michael and Lisa and everybody else including dozens of characters are all voiced by Tom Noonan. Noonan does not even try to imitate female voice when the character calls for it. It causes some confusion and for a while the uninitiated would assume that the film just has a lot of transsexuals.

Somehow the animation really does nothing for this story that live actors could not. The characters may be made out of plastic, but they remain wooden. I rate ANOMALISA a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Answers to Last Week's Puzzle (letters of comment by Kip Williams, Fred Lerner, and Susan de Guardiola):

In response to Mark's puzzle ("What do Catholics do to sinners, fathers do to sons, and Jews do to bread?") in the 01/01/16 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I was going to say "raise up." [-kw]

Fred Lerner writes:

Jews don't bless bread. The prayer over bread translates to "Blessed are you O Lord, our god, who brings forth bread from the earth". We bless the Lord. Then we eat the bread. [-fl]

And Susan de Guardiola writes:

I was thinking "love", and I think it's a more universally applicable solution.

I'm not sure Catholics in general bless sinners, but I think they're supposed to love them.

I don't know what religion(s) it is/are in which fathers bless sons, but it's certainly not something areligious fathers do.

And while I haven't asked the opinion of my Jewish friends about bread in general, challah is very worth loving! [-sdg]

Mark replies:

I think I can count "love." I do not believe it must be a universal behavior to still be a true statement. Some Catholics bless sinners. As in, "Bless me Father for I have sinned."

Fred, Jews do say they bless bread, though this might be loose usage. See where we see the line "We commemorate this miracle by blessing two loaves of challah at the Shabbat meals."

I was not a big fan of challah as a child. I like it much more now. (Hint: We now buy the double loaves at Costco. It is not perfect challah, but it is very good when it is fresh.) [-mrl]

SICARIO and SPECTRE (letter of comment by Philip Chee):

In response to Mark's review of SICARIO in the 01/01/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

[Mark writes,] "SICARIO is playing in theaters opposite SPECTRE and generally is the same genre of film..."

I believe that SPECTRE falls into the genre called "James Bond". Not too sure about SICARIO though.

Q: Who was it who described MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION as the second best Bond film of the year? [-pc]

Mark responds:

That would be Rob Slack at Aisle Seat:


SIDDHARTHA and LORD OF LIGHT (letter of comment by Philip Chee):

In response to Evelyn's review of SIDDHARTHA in the 01/01/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

Back when I was in boarding school and we were all heading out for the holidays a friend gave me a copy SIDDHARTHA. In return I gave him a copy of LORD OF LIGHT by Roger Zelazny. [-pc]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In the 07/25/03 issue of the MT VOID, I wrote about how Arthur C. Clarke's "I Remember Babylon" predicted the televising of such outrageous things as images of the sexually explicit carvings on Indian temples and scenes of execution and torture--all supposedly as educational documentaries. At that time, the History Channel was running "The XY Factor", a series about sex throughout history (and mythology and legend). Since then, we have had videos of beheadings posted on-line (and possibly televised as well). As I noted, all that Clarke got wrong was that it was not the Chinese.

Well, now it's time to re-read Clarke's "Hate", about a diver supposed to be rescuing a cosmonaut whose capsule has crashed into the ocean, but instead causes delays until the cosmonaut dies, all the while talking to the cosmonaut about how he hates the Russians because he is Hungarian, etc. At the end it turns out that 1) the cosmonaut is a young woman, and 2) she has recorded everything the diver said and he will be shown to be a murderer. This too has proven quite prescient, with the many police (and private) videocameras recording shootings by police that show the actual events to be somewhat more damning than the accounts given by the police regarding them.

THE MAN WHO COUNTED by Malba Tahan (translated by Leslie Clark and Alastair Reid) (ISBN 978-0-393-30934-8) is a combination math puzzle book and "Arabian Nights" sort of adventure story (although it is a geographic error to call a story that takes place in Mesopotamia "Arabian").

A more serious problem is that two of the puzzles are wrong. In one case (page 182), the puzzle is expressed ambiguously, and as most people would interpret it, the solution given is wrong and it has no solution. Tahan writes, "Mas este filho ... apenas tinha atingido a metade da idade do pai, morreu" (translated as "No sooner had this child reached half the age of its father than it died"). This could theoretically be read as either the child died at half the age its father was when the child died, or half the age its father was when the father died. They could have said, "No sooner had this child reached half the age its father did than it died." But instead what they said can get interpreted as "No sooner had this child reached half the age its father had than it died."

In the other (page 238ff), there is no solution because the logic used is faulty. The problem involves liars and truth-tellers, and the solution depends on whether a liar can say "A and B" when A is true and B is false. Beremiz assumes that if A is true the speaker must be a truth-teller. The problem is that "A and B" as a statement is true only if A is true *and* B is true. So if someone who may be a truth-teller or may be a liar says "A and B" and you know A is true, that does not tell you anything about B, or which sort of person the speaker is. (If on the other hand you know A is false, you do not care about B--you know the person is a liar.)

(If the person said "A. B." and "A" is true, *then* the questioner might reasonably conclude that the person is a truth-teller and that B is also true.)

It's a pity, because there is a certain charm and poetry to how the puzzles are told, embedded in a story of travelers in exotic settings. (These days, of course, one might question the "orientalism" embodied in this book--the author's name as given implies he is someone from that part of the world, but in fact the name is a pseudonym and he is really Julio Cesar de Mello e Souza, a Brazilian. For more information on Mello e Souza, see [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly 
          terms with the victims he intends to eat.
                                          --Samuel Butler

Go to our home page