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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/06/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 28, Whole Number 1944
Table of Contents
Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards:
Best Picture: MOONLIGHT
Best Animated Feature: KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Best Film Not in the English Language: THE HANDMAIDEN (South Korea)
Best Documentary: O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
Best Director: Barry Jenkins (MOONLIGHT)
Best Actor: Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (JACKIE)
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT)
Best Supporting Actress: Naomie Harris (MOONLIGHT)
Best Original Screenplay: HELL OR HIGH WATER (Taylor Sheridan)
Best Adapted Screenplay: ARRIVAL (Eric Heisserer, Ted Chiang)
Best Editing: LA LA LAND (Tom Cross)
Best Cinematography: LA LA LAND (Linus Sandgren)
Founded in 1997, the Online Film Critics Society ( http://www.ofcs.org) is the largest and oldest Internet-based film journalism organization. Over 250 members from 22 countries voted in this year's awards.
[Mark is a member of the OFCS.]
The Answer (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Seen on a bumper sticker:
JESUS is the ANSWER. The question was: What is SUSEJ spelled backwards?
My Top Ten Films of 2016 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Let me start out by saying that this year I have not been in a position to see several of the major films. Some of the best of the year I am happy to say are still in my future and not my past. But this list represents the best of what I have seen. You can take these as recommendations, and probably not a list of the best films of the year. Major films missing include MOONLIGHT and SILENCE, both of which have been recommended to me. In any case, this list is the best ten films I saw from January 1 to December 31, 2016. The films about Black-White race relations were many, just at a time when those relations seem to be breaking down. It was a continuing theme that obviously was on the minds of many filmmakers. I list two of them that make this list.
1. EYE IN THE SKY
The subject is spying in the very high-tech electronics age. American intelligence with advanced spying devices, (particularly drones), is following a situation involving terrorism in Nairobi. But serious moral decisions as to what action to take do crop up, and the ability to bring several people in different parts of the world into the decision making process only makes ethical decisions more difficult. There are legal, ethical, and political considerations in making decisions and having advanced technology only makes decisions harder. We get to see what the tech can and cannot do in a suspenseful situation. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Twelve alien craft land at apparently random locations on the Earth's surface. This creates a dangerous situation that could lead to a third world war. A linguist and a physicist are more or less drafted to head up a team trying to find why these apparently alien craft are here. Amy Adams gives a compelling performance as a woman trying to break the most important and also one of the most difficult puzzles in human history. Denis Villeneuve directs a screenplay by Eroc Heisserer based on a story by respected science fiction author Ted Chiang. This is probably the best science fiction film of 2016. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
3. HACKSAW RIDGE
Desmond Doss was brutally mis-treated in the WWII army because as a religious conscientious objector he refused to even touch a gun. He became a medic and then was the hero of a battle for a small piece of Okinawa. The film is full of pieces familiar from other films, but the realism and carnage possibly even go beyond that of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. HACKSAW RIDGE is based on a true story and directed by Mel Gibson. The film is of epic length, 140 minutes, and certainly parts are a harrowing experience to watch, not to say they are terrifying. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
This is the epic biopic of the career of Dutch naval hero Michiel Ruyter who fought against the English and the French in the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars, 1665 to 1673. It features several exciting cannon battles between ships. The filmmakers frequently create spectacular visual effects using CGI like it was meant to be used. The historical accuracy is somewhat questionable since it covers his successes and skips his mistakes and failures. Still we have gone a long time since we had a good sword, sail, and cannon sea adventure. And when have we ever had one from the Dutch point of view? Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
5. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
This is an epic-length five-part documentary 467 minutes long. In that length it covers race relations in the 1960s, O.J. Simpson's sports career, his television and film career, his relationship with Nicole Brown, the capture of Simpson, the murder trial. Most of these it covers in detail. Even if you are not interested in his sports career (as I wasn't) you can skip over the sports section (as I did). The documentary was made for ESPN, but only a small proportion of the film is about sports. The best word to describe the film is "comprehensive." Peabody and Emmy winning director Ezra Edelman will cover tangential topics like the Rodney King riots that he then shows are germane to the Simpson story. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
6. KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
This film is done in old-fashioned stopCmotion animation. It is an American fantasy adventure though it is set in a Japanese magical spirit world. Kubo, a street entertainer, is on a quest with a talking monkey to find the three pieces of an enchanted invincible suit of armor. Very detailed and beautiful images fill the screen. This fantasy is produced by the Laika Company, the stop-motion studio who previously made CORALINE, PARANORMAN, and THE BOXTROLLS. The film was directed by Travis Knight and was written by Chris Butler and Marc Haimes. It should appeal to all ages. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
7. THE FINEST HOURS
We have recently had three films about people fighting the awesome force of the sea. We have seen IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, THE FINEST HOURS, and DEEPWATER HORIZON, all released in the space of about ten months. This one nailed my attention to the screen. If the most important details were not true this would have been melodrama. But since most of what we see was authentic, there are scenes and situations that are real jaw-droppers. This is a story of a boat that was ripped in half during a storm that made it deadly just to be on the water, the men on that boat, and the coast guard rescue. The special effects did an excellent job of hiding in plain sight. Australian Craig Gillespie directs a script by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy sticking fairly close to the truth. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
8. THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT
There are plenty of films about uneasy father-daughter relationships. What adds novelty to this one is that the father is God and the daughter is just as normal as her father's profession allows her to be. She is supposed to have a brother somewhere but the less said about that the better. He has been reduced to a statue. God's daughter decides as a prank to let everybody in the world know the day they will die. Those who enjoyed the theological discussion in BEDAZZLED have a similar vein of humor. This is a film chock-full of fun ideas. The film, in French, was directed by Belgian Jaco Van Dormael from a screenplay by him and Thomas Gunzig. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
9. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
In this documentary are the words of James Baldwin on top of archival film. It is an illustrated autobiography, which more involves the audience as seeing race relations in Baldwin's times. Samuel Jackson does the voiceovers. Particularly enjoyable (if that can be the right word) are the movie clips. Baldwin's manner of putting prose together, his presentation, his posture, and his rhetoric are magnetic and help to bring the film to eloquence. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
10. THE NICE GUYS
Shane Black, the director and co-writer of THE NICE GUYS, has slipped in under my radar. As far back as 1987 he was scripting action films like the "Lethal Weapons" series. He can write a crime thriller with some very funny comedy in it and it still remains a thriller. Somehow he never made much of an impression on me until he wrote and directed KISS KISS BANG BANG. That is one of the rare films that get me laughing out loud. THE NICE GUYS is just as funny as well as being a crackerjack murder mystery. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
ROGUE ONE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is the story of the early days of the Rebel Alliance that first appeared in the original 1977 Star Wars film. A new young hero is introduced, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones). The story is grim and gritty with a fairly complex plot that ties up loose ends from the original series that you most likely did not know were loose ends. It is probably the best writing of any Star Wars film to date. It also has some of the most impressive sky battles to date. The film is directed by Gareth Edwards (GODZILLA (2014) and MONSTERS (2010)) and written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. It answers some of the questions about the original plot that you never thought to ask. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
George Lucas foresaw the STAR WARS story as two trilogies (or sometimes three). For several years it remained two trilogies. Now not part of the earlier series comes (for now) two individual films set in the same universe and having some minor crossover characters. STAR WARS: EPISODE VII--THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) was close enough to the series that it got its own Roman numeral. On the other hand the eighth film is more original and has a more complex storyline making it probably second only to the 1977 STAR WARS as the most startling and original film of the series.
Galen Erso was a major engineer for the Death Star until he escaped the empire's grip. Orson Krennic, the leader of the Death Star project finds Erso and drags him back to the project. In the process Galen's wife is killed in the struggle but his daughter Jyn escapes. How much trouble can a little girl possibly be to the Empire? Right! Since the days of Jason and the Argonauts, leaving children who have grudges against you has never been the smart move.
Flash forward fifteen years. Jyn is bent on revenge and that revenge might as well be getting the plans for the Death Star to the somewhat chaotic Rebel Alliance. ROGUE ONE runs parallel to the story we already know and tells us some of the history of the Rebel Alliance.
The film stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) one of the engineers who designed the Deathstar. Felicity Jones is probably best known as the demure Mrs. Stephan Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Mikkelsen may be remembered (among other roles) as Le Chiffre, the villain of CASINO ROYALE (2006). We also have Alan Tudyk (who was hilarious in DEATH AT A FUNERAL) completely engulfed in the robot K-2SO, where his talent for physical comedy goes unseen. (Why is it that when somebody does some interesting acting in a serious film, the next thing you know they are acting opposite digital effects in an SF or fantasy film? I guess being in a special effects film is the new form of dramatic success.)
The new film comes only about a year after we got our last Star Wars film, a sign of how the franchise will be paced under the ownership of Disney. This film is full of amazing digital effects, particularly in mammoth space battles. But the most startling visual effect is quietly having Peter Cushing play about five minutes in this film, recreating his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. It was impressive for us but effortless for Peter Cushing (we assume) since he has been dead for something like 22 years. Somehow it always seemed that Christopher Lee would be the first of the pair of friends to return from the dead. While it is startling to see Cushing alive on the screen again, using a voice that sounded very unlike Cushing's compromises the effect. There probably are impressionists who could have made Cushing's lines sound like Cushing really was speaking. Cushing is beloved of many film fans and to see him apparently appearing and speaking in a new film is a jaw-dropping moment. The Star Wars films are always trying show off new technology to show the viewer what he has not seen before.
This is a solid adventure film with very effective land and space battles. Have no fear. What humor there is is nowhere near as broad as bringing in Jar-Jar Binks or pod races was in previous films. By the end of the film we see this story is an attachment to the original series that clicks smartly into place. Fans of the Star Wars films--and don't be ashamed to admit it if you are one-- will see a more complete expansion of the mainline story and a lot of visual excitement. I rate ROGUE ONE a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3748528/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rogue_one_a_star_wars_story
HACKSAW RIDGE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Desmond Doss was brutally mis-treated in the WWII army because as a religious contentious objector he refused to even touch a gun. He became a medic and then was the hero of a battle for a small piece of Okinawa. The film is full of pieces familiar from other films, but the realism and carnage possibly even go beyond that of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. HACKSAW RIDGE is based on a true story and directed by Mel Gibson. The film is of epic length, 140 minutes and certainly parts are a harrowing experience to watch, not to say terrifying. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Mel Gibson delivers a strong film about real life hero Desmond Doss (played as an adult by Andrew Garfield, as a teen by Darcy Bryce). From an early age he refused to kill. The film covers his youth and relationship with an abusive father (Hugo Weaving). He finds love with Nurse Dorothy Schutte (blue-water-eyed Teresa Palmer). Then he goes into the army only to face persecution for beliefs and his refusal to touch guns. Then the script follows the anticipated trajectory. The latter part of the film is mostly about taking and holding the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge, a cliff--not as high as portrayed in the film but still a formidable target. The only way up the cliff is by climbing a cargo net used as a rope ladder. (Though the film does not show it, Doss was one of three men who heroically volunteered to climb the cliff and hang the cargo net.) See the "History Vs. Hollywood" link below for a comparison of the action and the historical facts.
The script by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight generally sticks extraordinarily closely to the historical facts. The problem with the script, based on a previous documentary, is that so many of the sequences and situations of the film were previously dramatized in films long before the script was written. Even if they are true, which apparently they are, the film has sequences familiar from THE YOUNG LIONS, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and several more. It may just be that there is not that many different ways to tell a similar story. This one has a religious overlay, firmly establishing and reminding us of Doss's strong relationship with God and his religion.
What is unique about this film is the great lengths the film goes to recreating realistically and accurately the confusion and carnage and horrors of warfare. Some of this requires a strong stomach. At least director Mel Gibson spares us extreme close-ups.
One odd touch is that Doss, who would later awarded the Congressional Medal, is shown giving aid and comfort to an un- captured enemy soldier, which is quite literally the definition of committing "treason." Another touch that may be of interest: the film, directed by Gibson, has a character named Irv Schecter presented in a positive light. Some of my readers will know why that is interesting.
Andrew Garfield does not look at first take like someone who would be a war hero, but then neither did the real Desmond Doss. He does make this role his own. I rate HACKSAW RIDGE a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2119532/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/hacksaw_ridge
A comparison of film and fact: http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/hacksaw-ridge
THE STOLEN LYRIC (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: To all appearances this is not so much a film as it is a stunt to set a legal precedent. An entire animated film has only fragments of rock songs comprising its audio track. The audio track is 555 song fragments legally copied from 129 rock singers. Chase Peter Garrettson writes and directs. Rating: -3 (-4 to +4) or 0/10
In its publicity THE STOLEN LYRIC promised to be unique and I cannot disagree. The film is an animated rock narrative set in modern times but loosely based on the story of Robin Hood, pitting a small rock band against the selfish record companies.
That idea has possibilities, but what was done with it can hardly be called a possibility. The film's intention is to make a legal point about copyright law. As the providers say, "This transformative remix work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US copyright laws." So there.
The whole enterprise is reminiscent of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. The narrative is cobbled together from pieces of those songs that have come before. The resulting being is one of surpassing ugliness. When it is played cats hide and dogs howl.
It is a story set to music but every time the speaker changes the music behind him changes so you get a nerve-jarring collection of song lyrics. There are 555 song fragments, many of which would be hard to understand so the filmmakers have mercifully subtitled to give the listener a fair chance. There are 129 artists whose music is quoted in this film. Just listening to the film sets nerves on edge.
The entire film has been put on YouTube to play without charge. The story itself seems to have visual references to the Robin Hood stories. The band members are Rob, Will Scarlet, LJ and Tucker. The last is an obvious reference to Friar Tuck, but though the original Tuck was an ally and friend to Robin Hood, he was not in Robin Hood's band of outlaws. These characters are in the modern Rob's band, but it is hard keep track of their characters' personalities since their voice is very different every time they speak.
If this film was made to set a legal precedent or to make a legal piece of humor, it probably was successful. If it was really intended to be an entertainment, at that it failed. Rating this as a narrative film I would give it a -3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 0/10. But my guess is that that was not the point or the purpose.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6338648/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_stolen_lyric
THE STOLEN LYRIC on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CMrYnnFGM4
Fake News and Hacking (letters of comment by Jerry Ryan and John Purcell):
In response to Mark's comments on fake news in the 12/30/16 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:
It's clearly "hacking" if someone is breaking into computer systems and altering results.
Is it hacking if one injects fake news into a system and influences people to vote differently? How is *that* something that can be accurately measured, much less legislated against? [-gwr]
I would not call injecting fake news "hacking" unless you think in a larger sense it is hacking our political mechanism. Not every Internet-based evil need be called "hacking." [-mrl]
John Purcell writes:
As for fake news reports on the internet and elsewhere, I like to use real and fake news articles in my rhetoric classes as illustrations of presenting arguments and readers using critical thinking skills to discern the facts; I call this my "sifting the wheat from the chaff" lesson sequence. It's an eye-opener, and I take no prisoners: all points of view get the same treatment. After all, it's only fair. Another term for it is "Angle of Vision" because readers and writers always include their perspective in one way, shape, or form despite their best efforts to be objective. Now, this gets away from your points about fraud and free speech, but I just thought I'd share this with you and your readers to show that freedom of interpretation is just as valid, if not more dangerous, as freedom of speech. MT VOID readers, discuss. [-jp]
THE INVISIBLE BOY, Sherlock Holmes, TAFF 2017 (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's comments on THE INVISIBLE BOY in the 12/30/16 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
I would not call the year 1943 a very good one, but the 1943rd issue of MT VOID definitely falls into that category. To whit, a few comments are demanded.
It has been many, many years since I have seen THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957), and that record shall continue since our cable provider does not, well, provide TCM, which never ceases to annoy me. That movie lineup for January 11th is a good one: naturally, I have seen all of these movies, but it would fun to see SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956) again because I don't have that one on DVD or VHS (yes, we still have working VCR on our living room television). Grand stuff. You are right, Mark, in that THE INVISIBLE BOY is notable for how we already do many of the technological features with computers in our daily lives, right down to the hackers and counter-intelligence usages. Well done!
In response to Evelyn's comments on Sherlock Holmes pastiches in the 12/23/16 issue of the MT VOID, John writes:
Sherlock Holmes stories are classic, and I love a good pastiche as anybody else. One of the best books that I have read in the last ten years or so was SHERLOCK HOLMES; THE AMERICAN YEARS (2010) edited by Michael Kurland, the third anthology he edited based on other aspects of the Holmes canon and mystique. It's a wonderful book with ten stories by Ruchard Lupoff, Daryl Brock, Michael Mallory, and seven others. If anybody has not read this yet, I recommend it. A very fun book. It has one of my favorite non-Doyle Holmes stories, "My Silk Umbrella" (the B rock story), in which a twenty-year old Sherlock Holmes meets Mark Twain at a baseball game in Hartford, Connecticut. Grand fun!
And John concludes:
Oh, before I forget, the 2017 TAFF race is on to send a worthy North American fan to the Helsinki World SF Convention, and I'm one of the three candidates. Vote me for TAFF! I'm gonna. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
POSTCARDS FROM STANLAND: JOURNEYS IN CENTRAL ASIA by David H. Mould (ISBN 978-0-8214-2177-2) starts by addressing the fact that while (most) Americans have no difficulty distinguishing among Iceland, Ireland, Finland, Holland, and Poland, they are totally confused by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Part of this may be the contradictions inherent in these countries. Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world (by land area), but with a population equal to that of Burkina Faso or Malawi. The Tajik language, unlike the other four, is in the Persian family of languages rather than Turkic, though it is further from present-day Iran than either Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. The Kazakh language has gone from the Arabic alphabet to the Latin to the Cyrillic and will supposedly return to the Latin. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan use the Latin alphabet, but Kyrgyzstan uses the Cyrillic. Tajikistan uses Cyrillic, but there are factions for both the Latin and Arabic alphabets as well. Because of all this, names and places are often transliterated, and not always consistently.
In addition, the ethnic make-ups of the five "Stans" had been completely jumbled up by the Russians, with their forced emigrations, forced immigrations, and famines (planned and unplanned), not to mention strategically placed borders. (Samarkand and Bukhara, for example, were ethnically Tajik cities which the Soviets located in Uzbekistan.)
However, it is a bit disingenuous of Mould to complain about most Americans lack of knowledge of the five Central Asian republics when he titles his book POSTCARDS FROM STANLAND: JOURNEYS IN CENTRAL ASIA, but spends hardly any time on three of them (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), mentioning them really only in passing. On the one hand, he is writing about the places that he has experience with, but on the other, implying his book covers all the republics is a bit deceptive.
PUTIN COUNTRY: A JOURNEY IN THE REAL RUSSIA (ISBN 978-0-374-24772- 0) is a look at Putin's Russia--or more specifically, Putin's Chelyabinsk. Rather than try to cover all of Russia, Garrels decided to focus on one city. She started this project *before* Chelyabinsk became famous for having the biggest meteorite to hit the earth since 1908. (That the 1908 meteorite also hit Russia says something about Russia's size, or luck, or something.)
In each chapter, Garrels covers a different aspect of today's Chelyabinsk: families, doctors, education, religion, pollution, free speech, and so on. Almost all of these end up very depressing to Western readers, and also to the Russians Garrels talked to. However, most of the Russians she talked to also feel that while the authoritarianism, bribery, and corruption are bad, there are better than the apparent anarchy that ruled the country in the 1990s. As for the Russian nationalism that Putin and his government are promoting, it translates into anti-minority, anti- Muslim, anti-immigrant feeling. (Sound familiar?) Although the Russian Constitution declares separation of church and state, in fact the Orthodox Church (or at least that part controlled by pro- government priests) is given all sorts of preferential treatment, and many (most) Russian Orthodox believe it should go even further. (Sound familiar?) Throughout all this runs a thread of the the rehabilitation of Stalin, downplaying or ignoring Stalin's crimes and genocidal actions and concentrating on all the good aspects of his rule: law and order, winning the Great Patriotic War, and so on.
PUTIN COUNTRY is a good overview of the situation and attitudes in Russia today (or at least in Chelyabinsk), but also a discouraging one. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Our dogs will love and admire the meanest of us, and feed our colossal vanity with their uncritical homage. -- Agnes RepplierTweet
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