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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/03/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 32, Whole Number 1948
Table of Contents
Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails (comments by Mark R. Leeper and Gregory Benford):
In recent issues of the MT VOID we have discussed an astrophysical phenomenon in which small galaxies send out mysterious mega-bursts of energy. Gregory Benford sends us a paper suggesting that these bursts would be a way an extraterrestrial civilization could be powering light sails from extraterrestrial sources. The paper can be found at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1701.01109.pdf. [-mrl/gb]
Mini-Reviews of 2016 Films (Part 3) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
I am back to reporting on some of the lesser-known films of last year that I did not want to give the time to do a full formal film review. I just wanted to report on some films that I have seen and the reader may want to seek out (or to avoid). I start out with what may be the most bizarre bad taste film of the year (though SAUSAGE PARTY is a strong runner up).
Reminder: all films are rated on the -4 to +4 scale.
SWISS ARMY MAN
I will try not to be too offensive in describing this film, almost all of which would be too vulgar for some people. This comedy/fantasy involves a man marooned on an island when his boat sank. He is very lonely and ready to hang himself when a dead body washes up on the shore bloated with decomposition gasses. He is somehow able to build a relationship with this body that may or may not be dead but which perpetually is releasing malodorous gasses. They discuss life and especially sex. In a sense this is an X-rated version of CASTAWAY with a flatulent corpse instead of a soccer ball named Wilson. The film is funny, ugly, pitiful, and vulgar. It stars Paul Dano (THERE WILL BE BLOOD) and Daniel Radcliffe, the screen's Harry Potter. Rating: +2
LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
Werner Herzog directed and guided this provocative documentary about how the Internet-connected computing power is changing the world and altering humanity. The film is divided into chapters, each of which talks about some subject related to the Internet but not really connected to each other so it is like attending a conference and hearing a wide variety of papers. We are told about the first word that was ever sent over the Internet and how it accidentally became the appropriate "lo." This is told over the music of "Das Rheingold". One interesting account was the taking an insoluble biological research problem and reframing it as a networked computer game that quickly solved the previously impossible problem. There was also a section on videogame addiction and one on Internet sensitivity. Rating: +2
AMONG THE BELIEVERS
Here we have a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi about the Red Mosque madrasas in Pakistan. These are schools that take in any of the young who want to come to be taught and fed. That sounds good, but what they will be taught will be almost exclusively The Quran and the importance of militant Jihad. This is the breeding ground of the Taliban. They believe that not having their exact religious viewpoint is a sin against Allah and one that should be and frequently is a capital crime. It is a frightening wake-up call, though no solutions are, or perhaps can be, offered. The Red Mosque runs thousands of madrasas indoctrinating boys to be used as fighters and, as are their fervent hope, suicide fighters. The film extensively interviews Maulana Aziz, the soft-spoken head of the Red Mosque in Islamabad. AMONG THE BELIEVERS is a very chilling expose. Rating: Low +3.
In the years before WWI a Scottish girl comes of age in Scottish farm country where women are treated as chattels. We get repeated images of acres of wheat. The plot is a little hard to follow because of the thick Scots accent, but the view of farm life is the film's greatest virtue. Based on a novel by Louis Grassic Gibbon. Written and directed by Terence Davies who directed HOUSE OF MIRTH and THE DEEP BLUE SEA. The film is slow and deliberate but finely textured. Rating +2.
NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU
This is a look at the long career of Norman Lear who made a large contribution to US comedy, giving it a controversially liberal edge. The narrative is the most engaging when it is talking about familiar television shows like "All In The Family" and "The Jeffersons". Not to doubt Lear's contribution, but this film is of only moderate interest when it is looking at his later work. Rating: +1
Anti-Matter Food (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein and George Phillies):
In response to Mark's comments on anti-matter food in the 01/27/17 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Rubinstein writes:
Since you've already got the chicken, wouldn't it be easier to find some antimatter cheese? [-pr]
Mark responds with a wink:
Don't be silly. Where would you find anti-matter cheese? [-mrl]
George Phillies writes:
An antimatter chicken, being inverted in all respects, is milchig? (I think that's the right spelling; if not, I apologize.)
Mind you, I am seriously not fond of the modern custom of melting cheese onto everything. [-gp]
Arthur T asks:
Wouldn't it be okay as long as the cheese isn't made from chicken milk? [-at]
You'd think so, wouldn't you? Don't get me started. [-mrl]
Single-Letter Film Titles (letter of comment by Bill Higgins): In response to Mark's comments on Turner Classic Movies in the 01/27/17 issue of the MT VOID, Bill Higgins writes:
In MT VOID #1947, Mark managed to mention in quick succession Costa-Garvas's film *Z* and Fritz Lang's *M*.
I am wondering how much of the alphabet can be covered by such feature films. The title of *Z* is just Z, and the title of *M* is just M, but I would be willing to allow movies with subtitles, such as *X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES* and *Q*, which in some sources is entitled *Q: THE WINGED SERPENT*.(Before someone asks, *BEE MOVIE* does not qualify.)
Only films whose main title consists of just a single letter are allowed. How much of the alphabet can be filled? I do not know the answer.
Also, are there single-character-title feature films for other phonetic alphabets, such as Greek or Cyrillic?
Hot jets and clear ether. [-wh]
I would say no subtitles or it is too easy. And if you allowed short films then just about all letters would qualify. I would say you wanted only feature films and if it is an or titles it is disqualified.
Off the top of my head I come up with only M, Z and an old horror film called W. But with the benefit of the IMDB I get single character alphanumeric titles all but C, D, J, S, V, or X. And those letters have mini-series, shorts, or punctuation. Also, there are 0, 2, 3, or 6. Any other alphanumeric will have been used for a feature film title. So six letters and four digits still have not been the title of a feature film.
And the next time you go turning on hot jets and clearing ether, can you take your plane outside first? There's a good boy. [-mrl]
INHERIT THE WIND, OF MICE AND MEN (1939), THE DAUGHTER, and LA LA LAND (letter of comment by Kevin R):
In response to Mark's comments on various films in the 01/23/17 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:
[INHERIT THE WIND (1960)] was one of my favorites when I was a high school kid, and wanted to be a lawyer. I used a reading from the play, mostly lines of the character E. K. Hornbeck (a take on H. L. Mencken) to win a part in a school production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." (I played Jonathan Brewster.) [-kr]
And can you do a good impression of Boris Karloff? [-mrl]
Regarding OF MICE AND MEN (1939), Kevin writes:
This will help you appreciate certain Warner Brothers, and Tex Avery MGM cartoons:
Kevin also notes that it is Anna Torv in THE DAUGHTER, not Anna Tov. [Mark notes, "Sorry Anna. I was calling you "good."]
Regarding LA LA LAND, Kevin writes:
What's the old saw about movie musicals? I can't remember who said it and my search-fu fails me. It goes something like,
"In a musical, if a man and a woman sing together, they are falling in love. If they dance together, they are making love." [-kr] Mark replies: Right there? On the screen??? I am shocked. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
What should I read?
It sounds like a simple question, and forty years ago it would have been less problematic. But calculating (as Robert Silverberg once did) how many more books I can reasonably expect to read, it becomes clear that I need to become more selective.
This in part is why I "abandon" a lot more books than I used to. In 2016, I "dropped" 68 books (I read 178). However, I also try to be selective in what I start--why spend even a small amount of time reading books that are not promising?
Given that, I imagine (assuming you are still reading this) that you are wondering why I spend time reading some of the books I do read. All I can say is that not every book I read has to be a classic; it just has to hold my interest.
One such book this week is CIVIL WAR GHOSTS edited by Martin Harry Greenberg, Frank McSherry, and Charles G. Waugh (ISBN 978-0-87483- 172-3). There are three sorts of theme anthologies. One is the original anthology which has open submissions on a specific topic. Another is the original anthology where the editor has commissioned stories on a specific topic. The third is the reprint anthology which takes the best of previously published stories on a topic (subject to copyright permissions). Not surprisingly, the third is almost always the highest quality. After all, it has decades (in this case, over a century) to scour. And because Civil War ghost stories have been around since before 1922, there is no difficulty about rights to such classics as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and "The Drummer Ghost".
But the problem with the stories here is the problem with all ghost stories: because anything can happen, nothing is really startling. The author can work on atmosphere, but when it comes to actual plot, there is little that can be either obvious or surprising. If suddenly someone who seems to be human walks through a wall, well, okay, they're a spirit. If they vanish without a trace, well, okay, they're a spirit. If they vanish but leave their bouquet of fresh flowers behind, only now the flowers are dead, well, that's not surprising either.
GREEN TEA AND OTHER GHOST STORIES by J. Sheridan LeFanu (ISBN 978- 0-486-27795-0) has this same problem. The stories are just bland, and even the one twist in the last one was very predictable. (Maybe it wasn't as overused a hundred and fifty years ago.) Still, stories about specters and inheritances and devils just are not very convincing these days, especially since there are apparently no rules to follow. A vampire story tends to have some rules, e.g., vampires are killed by sunlight and cast no reflection. But ghosts seem to have no rules--truly playing tennis with the net down.
ATHEISM: A BRIEF INSIGHT by Julian Baggini (ISBN 978-1-4027-6882- 8) is a concise summary of what atheism is, its historical roots, the arguments for it, and responses to the arguments against it. For example, he makes the distinction between beliefs based on faith which are presented as evidence and beliefs based on faith which are recognized as not constituting evidence. Recommended as the best short introduction to atheism I have seen. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Dogs, the foremost snobs in creation, are quick to notice the difference between a well-clad and a disreputable stranger. -- Albert Payson TerhuneTweet
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