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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/20/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 30, Whole Number 1946
Table of Contents
Monster Drive-In Posters:
Makes my mouth water:
No, Thank You (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A local hospital advertises that it uses GPS-guided surgery. I know a GPS can find where it is within a few feet. No thanks on the GPS-guided surgery. [-mrl]
Mini-Reviews of 2016 Films (Part 2) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
Last issue I published short reviews of some films from 2016 that I thought might have had interest to readers. Today I will publish a few more of those reviews. I have to say one film is turning out to be a blockbuster but did very little for me is LA LA LAND. I have yet to hear from anybody I actually know who has liked this film. Still it seems to be getting very positive reviews and it just won the top annual Golden Globe award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. I have to admit it is pleasing somebody. Herewith I review LA LA LAND and three documentaries. Again the films are rated on the -4 to +4 scale.
LA LA LAND
The musical film seems to be sputtering out since the change of the millennium. We have had a handful of notable examples like CHICAGO, MOULIN ROUGE, SWEENEY TODD, and particularly LES MISERABLES. But how often is there a musical in your local theater? It is not very often I would guess. And though it is getting good reviews elsewhere, LA LA LAND--the tribute to Los Angeles musical--does not do much for me. The story is overly familiar. You have a jazz pianist meeting a hopeful actress during ... well, during a traffic jam in which everybody is jumping out of their cars and dancing on the freeway. I guess that is the sort of surreal thing that happens in musicals. But the familiar wisp of a story has boy Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meets girl Mia (Emma Stone). It turns into a "you and me against the world" and then segues into a love versus careers conflict. But have no fear. We have not been dragged through all of this to lead to a sad ending. An opera might have a poignant finish, but LA LA LAND is a light musical. There was not a single song whose melody I could remember after the end credits have departed. Part of the problem is that too often the lyrics of the songs cannot be heard and understood. Neither star projects and they occasionally dance well enough to be remembered. Rating: +1
OFF THE RAILS
This is a documentary about Darius McCollum, who from the time he was fifteen was fascinated with public transit and especially the workings of busses and trains. He has gotten the authentic uniforms and stolen buses and trains several dozen times. Eighteen years of his life has been spent in prisons as punishment for his obsessive theft of mass transit vehicles. He has never had an accident or harmed anyone. But stealing vehicles is his compulsion. Much of the film is about problems he has that any lawbreaker might have. That part of the film is less interesting. But just the idea of what he is, and obsessive personality, where OFF THE RAILS derives its interest. Rating: High +1
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
In this documentary we hear the eloquent words of James Baldwin on top of archival film. This is an illustrated autobiography. That more globally makes the viewer of race relations in Baldwin's times. Samuel Jackson does the voiceovers. Particularly enjoyable (if that can be the right word) are the movie clips taking us to the heart of the black American experience. Baldwin's manner of putting prose together, his presentation, his posture, and his rhetoric are magnetic and help to bring the film to eloquence. This was one of my top ten films of the year. Rating: Low +3
THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT
Kim Jong-Il, when he was the dictator of North Korea, got it into his head that he wanted his country to be the film capitol of East Asia. The drawback to his plan was North Korea had nobody so talented they could make great films and bring about his plan and nobody in their right mind would come to North Korea of his own free will. So not to be stymied, Kim had his agents kidnap a popular South Korean actress. Then he also kidnapped her ex- husband, a once very popular film director from South Korean. With interviews and documentary and narrative footage the film tells the story of suspense and intrigue of how the kidnapping took place and what happened as a result. The story makes for a compelling tale. I have one complaint. Most of what Director Shin made for Kim was not available outside North Korea. The film PULGASARI, with a Godzilla-sized mythical beast, on the other hand was made by the two and is readily available. The title character is a giant monster of Godzilla stature. It is even complete on YouTube. PULGASARI almost certainly is Shin's best-known film in the West. And it has been available on VHS and DVD for decades. But the documentary shows only two quick shots from PULGASARI, which would have been a real attention getter. Rating: High +2
Next time I will say a little about how to find hard-to-find films like some of the ones I mention here. [-mrl]
Visible Light Telescope Upgrade (comments by Gregory Frederick):
The Breakthrough Starshot team (who want to send a super small space probe on a solar sail to Proxima Centauri) will be upgrading the best visible light telescope in the world to directly image the planet that orbits Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is about four light years from the Earth. The team hopes to learn more about this planet which maybe an earth type planet.
The VLT consists of one primary 8.2-meter telescope and four auxiliary 1.2-meter telescopes, making it "the most advanced visible light telescope in the world," according to ESO's website. An instrument called the VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) instrument--which, as the name suggests, collects light in the mid-infrared range--will get an upgrade under the new partnership. The upgraded VISIR will be equipped with a coronagraph, which is used to block out starlight. The instrument will also receive an adaptive optics system, to correct for atmospheric distortions.
From space.com: http://tinyurl.com/void-vlt
MINIATURES: THE VERY SHORT FICTION OF JOHN SCALZI (copyright 2016, Subterranean Press, 139pp, Signed Special Limited Edition Hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-1-59606-812-4) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
One of the more difficult forms of written science fiction to execute is comedy. I specify written here because there are any number of funny science fiction films; GALAXYQUEST comes to mind immediately. But it is difficult to pull off in the written word. Connie Willis injects quite a bit of humor into some of her novels, but her latest effort, CROSSTALK, fell flat in that regard. Many people have told me that they found the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett collaboration GOOD OMENS funny; I didn't (one might argue that growing up a Catholic would cause my opinion of the book to be a bit skewed, but I assure you that I didn't think it was a terrible book--I just didn't find it funny). I found some of Spider Robinson's work to be amusing as well as good, but again, not laugh out loud funny.
Which brings me to John Scalzi. Many of his books are full of quick, witty banter. Characters snap off lines during conversations which I can see some people may find funny, but his dialogue doesn't do it for me either. Which then brings me to Miniatures, Scalzi's collection of really short works. All the pieces in this attractive volume are less than 2300 words--hence the title "Miniatures". All but one are intended to amuse (and all but one can be said to fall within genre, but the one that doesn't is not the serious piece), maybe even cause the reader to laugh out loud. I remember letting out a barking laugh at one line in one story, but that was the totality of it.
I will admit, however, that the subjects for each of the stories tends to be amusing: AI claiming they're not out to destroy humanity after the singularity; Pluto complaining about its demotion in status; household appliances talking behind the backs of their owners; a technology which can provide alternate history search results--in this case, different ways and times that Hitler died and how that death affected its particular timeline; an instruction manual on how to interact with a particular alien species; unions and lawyers for super-heroes and super-villians; and other amusing ideas.
And I think that's the gist of it for me. It's the ideas that are amusing and interesting, but I just didn't find them all that funny to read. Maybe they weren't supposed to be funny to read, just amusing to think about. Then again, maybe not. At MidAmericon 2 last year, Scalzi read one of the stories from MINIATURES, a piece entitled "Important Holidays on Gronghu". It was absolutely hysterical--I could not stop laughing (when you read the story, you'll find it even more amusing to know that there was an ASL interpreter trying to sign the story). But the written version? Nothing.
So maybe that's it for me. Maybe pieces like these need to be read out loud to be funny. I think it's clear to anyone who listens to audiobooks that the narrator can make or break an audiobook. I suspect it's the same for written comedy. It probably needs to be read aloud for full impact.
I'm not saying this is a bad book. None of these pieces are meant to be great literature; rather, they are meant to be amusing, to give the reader a break from all the trials of life, if even for a very short while. It does do that, and on that level it succeeds. And that's probably enough. [-jak]
A PATCH OF FOG (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a compact little blackmail thriller set in Northern Ireland. Like J.D. Salinger, Sandy Duffy's reputation is based on one single novel that he wrote decades ago. That novel's reputation has supported him since. A celebrity author, he has a comfortable life with one little self-indulgence. Every few months he likes to steal some little item from a local shop. Robert, the security manager at one shop, catches Sandy in the act on closed-circuit television. But Robert does not want to get the police involved. It turns out he is lonely and desperately looking for a friend. And he decides that he can just force Sandy to be that friend. Director Michael Lennox's feature film debut is this script written by Michael McCartney and John Cairns. The story is tense even if not particularly new and fresh. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Years ago, Sandy Duffy (played by Conleth Hill) wrote one book that became a modern classic and was popular enough to make him a celebrity. He has not written another book since but he is a familiar face on literary programs on television.
Sandy also has a quirk. Every once in a while when he wants a thrill he shoplifts some small item for the thrill of the danger. This time he really has found danger. The security manager of a shop caught Sandy in the act. That manager is the insular Robert (Stephen Graham) has caught Sandy on the closed circuit television. Sandy can see his pleasant lifestyle falling apart and begs Robert to let him go. It would be "a favor from one man to another." The pleading should not save Sandy, but Robert gives in. For a while Sandy and Robert are good friends or Sandy pretends they are. But Robert does not want to end their companionship. Sandy's willingness to be pal-sy with Robert starts to wear thin. But Robert can at any time he wants ruin Sandy's life. What follows is a neat little cat and mouse game.
The plotline is not unfamiliar. With some minor variations it is quite similar to FATAL ATTRACTION and perhaps other films involving blackmail.
One funny touch: it sounds like characters in the film are saying "acrophobic" when what they really mean is "agoraphobic." Sandy is not afraid of heights, he just does not want to be around strangers.
A PATCH OF FOG is set and (I assume) filmed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, giving United States viewers a feel that is slightly exotic and occasionally makes the dialog a little hard to understand.
While some of the plotting may be familiar to some viewers, the story is a tight efficient little thriller. I rate A PATCH OF FOG A low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. A PATCH OF FOG will be released in the United States on January 27th.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2181282/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_patch_of_fog
CLAIRE IN MOTION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Spoiler alert: The plot cannot be told without a fundamental spoiler.
CAPSULE: CLAIRE IN MOTION is a story not really in motion. It might more accurately be labeled CLAIRE IN LIMBO. It is a study of a woman living with uncertainty after her husband disappears. One approach after another is tried to find Claire's husband and Claire slowly changes when met by repeated failures. If the viewer is expecting a mystery he will be disappointed. This is a story of a woman who has lost her husband and what her uncertainty does to her. Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson co-wrote and co-directed the film. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
This film is getting some negative comment. That may be understandable because it is two different films tied together, one much better than the other. It is a mystery about a man's disappearance, and it is a character study of a wife who is in limbo after the husband mysteriously disappears. It describes what living with uncertainty in uncertainty does to her and her son. If the viewer thinks of this film as the mystery it will only be a frustrating experience.
Paul and Claire Hunger (Chris Beetem and Betsey Brandt) teach at a local college. One day, which is at first like any other day, Paul goes off and just never comes back. Claire does all the expected things when there is a disappearance. After a few hours she calls in the police. But days go by and the police are having no luck in tracking down Paul. Many possibilities are considered. Most are not resolved and all swell the list of uncertainties. Claire discovers details of her husband's life. Some may have been secrets or might have been purely innocent, and even some which cannot be established. Paul had been doing an art project with Allison (Anna Margaret Hollyman) an attractive co-ed that he never mentioned to Claire. Allison joins a large set of possible clues to Paul's vanishing. Claire gets more and more frustrated. She dreams about Paul and looks at old video recordings of him. As Claire says, "There is so much uncertainty and we are immersed in it." The viewer is also immersed and is not shown the way out.
The camera seems to also be mysterious about Paul. We never see his face. In the first scene in which we see him he is walking around his bedroom, but his head is always framed out of the picture. We see a shot of Paul hiking in the woods, but again we do not see his face, and instead the camera focuses on leaves. The camera is more anxious to capture where he is not than to show the viewer where he is. As another strange touch, we see pieces of art made by Allison and perhaps Paul, but they are either totally abstract or just do not look like anything recognizable.
If the viewer is lulled into expecting this will be a conventional mystery it might disappoint some. And seeing the film as a character study it is more repetitive disappointment than reward. Perhaps CLAIRE IN MOTION needed less Claire and more motion. I rate the film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
ABOUT THE SPOILER: There may be an unwritten rule that if a film is built around a mystery it should solve that mystery. Films in the past have alienated viewers by leaving mysteries unsolved. Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) takes up famous mystery in Australian history reenacts it adding some of its own mysterious happenings, but then never explains them as if to say, "But we told you it was an unsolved mystery." That film was generally well-accepted but some viewers complained that they were left hanging. John Sayles' LIMBO (1999) leaves open the fate of its characters at the end and that angered some audiences also.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5432114/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/claire_in_motion
JACKIE, Fast Radio Bursts, N. K. Jemisin, and BEYOND EARTH (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's comments on JACKIE in the 01/13/17 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Many thanks once again for another entry in this very long series of interesting VOIDS. They are certainly not MT--see what I did there?--as this brief letter of comment will attest.
My wife and I are interested in seeing JACKIE mainly because it seems as if Natalie Portman nails the title character. She appears to have the look, posture, and demeanor down, although I don't like the lack of attempt at imitating Jackie Kennedy's voice. For that matter, Mark's capsule review makes note of this about every actors' portrayals. One would think that a biopic would try to at least make some semblance of their original characters' voices. Even so, we still have this movie on the docket. [-jp]
In response to Mark's comments on fast radio bursts, John writes:
I really got a kick out of Mark's comment about those FRB's--Fast Radio Bursts--coming from a dwarf galaxy. I really don't think that galaxy will ever grow up and mature, Mark. Dwarfism is usually genetic in cause, so you are going to have a long wait time. [-jp]
And in response to Joe Karpierz's and Greg Frederick's reviews, John writes:
Okay. That does it. I really need to start reading some N. K. Jemisin. I have heard so many good things about her writings from friends who rave about her work that I need to check our local library and see if THE FIFTH SEASON and THE OBELISK GATE are on the shelves, or anything else by her. Thank you for the recommendation, Joe Karpierz. The same goes for BEYOND EARTH: OUR PATH TO A NEW HOME IN THE PLANETS. Good thing I just renewed my library card. [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
TIME TRAVEL: A HISTORY by James Gleick (ISBN 978-0-307-90879-7) is catalogued as a science book, but it is as much a study of time travel in literature and popular culture as a book about the science of time travel. H. G. Wells has more entries in the index than Albert Einstein, and more about Jorge Luis Borges than Stephen Hawking and Hermann Minkowski combined.
Each chapter covers a different aspect of time travel. There's the notion of needing a machine, the idea of a time loop, the idea of the "arrow of time," the concept of eternity, the strange custom of burying time capsules, trying to figure out what it means to travel backward in time, the various paradoxes, and of course, the basic question of what time actually *is*. Along with the science, Gleick discusses the major (and also the lesser-known) works that go with each topic.
This is a must-read for the fan of time travel stories.
THE DIM SUM FIELD GUIDE by Carolyn Phillips (ISBN 978-1-60774-956- 1) presents itself as a guide to authentic dim sum, including etiquette, customs, etc. However, for some reason the dim sum listed seem like a small subset of what I see at dim sum, while including a lot of items that we never see.
For example, there are no listings for any fried dishes. There are no "Mexican Buns" (unless that is what Phillips calls "Snow-Topped Char Siu Buns"). There are no Leek Dumplings. And so on. It is possible that all those things are "inauthentic", but I am not convinced of that. It is possible that Phillips is looking at a very small subset of dim sum, limited by geography (either in China, or in the United States (The publisher is based in Berkeley; the author gives no indication of her source of knowledge.)
And deciding to use pencil sketches of the various dim sum instead of photographs is completely inexplicable. For one thing, the sketches give the reader no clue as to the colors. (And it is not just me--more than half the reviewers on Amazon complained about the lack of photographs.) I guess it is supposed to seem more "natural" or traditional. Or maybe the cost of printing full-color photographs would have boosted the price above the point of profitability for the publisher.
What is covered is interesting enough, but do not be fooled into thinking this is a comprehensive guide. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult. -- Rita RudnerTweet
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