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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/29/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 22
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC (no meetings scheduled) Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 email@example.com Backissues available at http://www.mt.lucent.com/~ecl/MTVOID/backissues.html or http://sf.www.lysator.liu.se/sf_archive/sf-texts/MT_Void/. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
http://www.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/\ Literature/Genres/Science_Fiction__Fantasy__Horror/Reviews/. (The backslash indicates that there should *not* be a newline character there.) [-mrl]
Your grandchildren will sneer at your children for growing up back in the Hands-on-Keyboards era. [-mrl]
More comments from our trip to Japan. The Japanese seem very peculiar to Americans. I have to say that I do not find the Japanese peculiar at all. But I look at the Japanese from the point of view that nearly everything is explained by Bushido. The problem with trying to understand the Japanese without Bushido is that they make no sense at all. The problem with using Bushido is that that it is too powerful. Suddenly the Japanese become too straightforward. It has to be an over-simplification. When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. When all you have is Bushido to explain the Japanese character, everything looks like a straightforward manifestation of Bushido. How can the Japanese have committed such cruelty in World War II and still feel they have done no wrong? By Bushido they really have done no wrong. The soldiers were the Samurai of the 1940s. How can the Japanese make such a big thing of the Salaryman, this huge class of people who dress all alike? The Salaryman is the new Samurai. They dress all alike because there is a right way for the Salaryman to dress just like the Samurai had a right way to dress and everything else was wrong. The code of Bushido, as long as we are simplifying, is simply this. Loyalty is not just important to a Samurai, it is the ONLY thing that is important. It is the ONLY virtue. Besides someone of nobility, the highest rank you can achieve in society is to be a Samurai. A Samurai is the muscle of the master. And the master was put in place by Divine Will. If a commoner does not get out of the way of a Samurai, the Samurai can kill him with impunity. There is nothing disloyal to the master in killing a commoner. And certainly nothing bad you can do to an enemy that is in itself disloyalty to the master. If the master has told you to be kind to the enemy, for whatever reason, then it would be wrong. But lacking such orders from the master you can do what you want with the enemy.
How can the Japanese have been so cruel to their captives in the Pacific War? Their leaders wanted them to win and do everything they could to achieve that end. That was the only virtue. That was the right thing to do. And many Japanese still feel they did no wrong in World War II. Why? Because by Bushido they did exactly what they were supposed to do. Far more than the Germans, they still believe they were just following orders and that was the right thing to do. So of course some are indignant that for doing the right thing they had the atomic bomb dropped on them. But that is mostly civilians and the lower ranks. Ask the higher military if Japan had had the Bomb would they have used it and the response (and this is a quote, as well as I can remember it, from a New York Times article last year) "Of course, it was wartime and that is what you do in a war." The Japanese actually were working to create their own super-weapons including biological warfare experiments in Manchuria. (All this was from the same article.)
There is a tremendous nostalgia for the simplicity of following a Master. That is a neat and uncomplicated lifestyle and it is one of austere virtue. Yukio Mishima was one of the most famous advocates of this romantic and simple lifestyle.
And the real shocker is that Western Society has its own Bushido. We had it long before the Japanese and it still is powerful today. But instead of serving a human master we say we serve God. And the only virtue is obeying God. If God tells us to rise up and retake the Holyland, that is exactly where virtue lies. If we kill a lot of people along the way, well, it is still virtue. We are obeying God. The big difference is that in Bushido the master is a human and can clarify what his wishes are. In the West and in the Middle East Westerners and the Moslems need religious people to tell us what God really meant and the clerics wield incredible power in doing that. Anyone who fights for his religion is a Samurai. Suicide bombers in the Middle East are cut from the same cloth as the Kamikaze and the Samurai who dies for his master. We have our own Yukio Mishimas wanting to return to less complicated time when a master rules. In our society it is Christ or Mohammed or the Chief Rabbinate. And we have our Samurais willing to die for that ideal. [-mrl]
THE GHOST OF APRIL (SHI-GATSU KAIDAN)
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: This 1988 Japanese film seems to be an IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE aimed at teenagers. An average high school girl hovers between life and death, wanting to die, but discovers the value of life and of being herself. The film is a little light in approach, but is quite watchable. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
The ghost story is a staple of Japanese cinema. Such films as KWAIDAN and THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA are popular examples. But almost all of the ghost stories we see coming out of Japan are first period pieces and ghost stories only second. Whether there are many contemporary ghost stories made in Japan that we do not see in the United States I do not know. THE GHOST OF APRIL is a film I saw at the Japan Foundation Kyoto Office and it is radically different from the Japanese ghost stories that have come to my country. Many of these are morality tales of wronged people coming back for revenge. This 1988 film is about a contemporary teenager and seems to be aimed at teens in Japan. The plot is at once reminiscent of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
As the film opens Hatsuko (played by Nakajima Tomoko) seems to be in a mysterious state of half life and half death. She walks barefoot through misty landscapes and floats in clouds. She does not know how she has gotten in this state until a guardian comes along to explain to her. Gennojo (Yanagiba Toshiro) tells her he is like her. He is dead but is not yet ready to pass on to the next world where all memories of the past life are erased. Gennojo has been in this state since early this century when he was killed by a balloon of his own devising. Hatsuko is shown her last day when she rebuffed the school geek Natsuyama (Tsunoda Eisuke) who claims to be able to see ghosts. She also was spoken to by her heartthrob Tsudanuma. Then on her way home she followed the whimper of a puppy into an abandoned factory where she was killed by a falling girder. But there is a complication. She is in this half-state because she accepted death even as the girder was falling. The girder missed her and she was hit by only a bento lunchbox. That would not have been fatal, but for her acceptance of death. This means Hatsuko has the choice of life and death. But she prefers death with Gennojo to her unhappy life.
This is a film of uneven production quality. Konaka Kazuya who directs and co-wrote the screenplay with Seki Kenji has some nice images, but he let some sloppiness sneak into the production. In one scene the puppy who fits into the plot seems to be staring at the camera rather than at anything in the scene. The plot loses some credibility when one of the characters invents a ghost detector. The viewer suspends some disbelief just to accept that ghosts exist. Asking the acceptance of a second far-fetched premise is a mistake. The last few minutes of the film also seem to weaken the story with familiar cliche. On the other hand there is a very effective scene involving the souls of dead birds and the climax is nicely done.
It is not easy to judge acting in a language you do not understand. Mis-delivered lines may go completely unnoticed. Still the actors do a reasonable job. Yanagiba is most notable as the otherworldly balloonist. This is not a film about or engendering deep emotions, but it is a reasonable film for a young audience.
THE GHOST OF APRIL (April is the month, not a character) is a different sort of Japanese ghost story aimed at teen but watchable for adults. I give it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
RANSOM (1956) and RANSOM (1996)
(film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The father of a kidnapped boy has an unorthodox way of handling the situation. By modern standards, the original film seems a little reticent to show action. In part that is because it was adapted from a television play and today strikes one as being a little stagy and set-bound. It had a very simple plot, with only one little twist. The new film uses the twist as a springboard and goes to the other extreme with chases, gunfire, and several plot twists--some more welcome than others. The result is a very different approach to the same material. Though the two films would appeal to very different audiences, neither the original nor the remake really stands out. I would give both of them the same, just okay, rating. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
The coming attraction showed Mel Gibson getting on television and making a statement to the people who had kidnapped his son. "This is a remake of a Glenn Ford movie," I whispered to my wife. I had seen virtually the same scene a film on television in the mid- 1960s. I remember at the time I did not think that film was as exciting as I had hoped. But could I figure out what that earlier film was called? It was not difficult. My copy of Maltin listed RANSOM as a 1956 film starring Glenn Ford and Donna Reed. I just barely remembered the original. Luckily the 1956 version ran on a cable station and I got a chance to see it a second time. One thing I had no reason to notice in the 1960s but impressed me when I saw it recently was that RANSOM (1956) was written by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum; one source said it was a remake of a television play. I am actually a bit surprised the original was as low-key as it was with those two authors. Cyril Hume is most familiar to me for writing the films FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE INVISIBLE BOY. Richard Maibaum is second only to Ian Fleming for making James Bond a household name. Maibaum either wrote or co- wrote all but about three or four of the Bond films and the ones he did not write I generally consider some of the worst of the series. Most of the James Bond screen persona and its continuity from film to film is Maibaum's doing, interpreting from the novels. Yet the 1956 film is a low-key story built on personalities.
In RANSOM (1956) the CEO of vacuum cleaner company is faced with handling the situation when his son is kidnapped--off-camera--from the boy's school. The focus of this film is the suspense and a bit of social comment. He and the police try to decide what the best strategy is to deal with the kidnappers and complicated by his wife's mental breakdown under the stress. He finds that there is a moral way to deal with the kidnappers and to increase the chances that his son is returned alive. In the original film that solution to his problem is really the climax of the action. The remake uses that decision as only the springboard for its real story. It asks, if the abductee's father really took the same unorthodox approach, would it work and what would happen next? The new film examines the consequences of his action in much greater detail, but at the same time throws in a lot of often mindless action and violence. It would be difficult to find a better measuring stick of how tastes in film have changed over forty years than to compare the quiet black-and-white original with the explosive and bloody remake.
Neither lead character is average, but the Glenn Ford father is a lot more believable. He is a fairly ordinary businessman, well-off but a lot like thousands of rather plain leaders of rather modest companies without much of a public image. Mel Gibson's version of the same role is the dashing and sexy founder of a new airline who through his (somewhat narcissist) television ads is a familiar (and ruggedly handsome) face to millions of people. In the first film the police tell the father that he has hard decisions to make but that paying the ransom does not really improve on his son's chances. The emphasis here is that the man is a professional decision-maker and he has to make some hard and very complex decisions about what to do about the kidnapping. The police lay out the facts and make no recommendations, though it is clear that to discourage future kidnappings they would probably prefer the father not pay the ransom. In the remake the writers wanted to paint the Gibson character as an indomitable maverick so, somewhat out of character, Delroy Lindo tells Gibson very definitely that he should pay off the kidnappers and Gibson decides a very different strategy from what the police are recommending. The original film wanted to put the audience in the father's role, to show them what it must be like to have a loved one kidnapped and to get them thinking what they would do. Gibson's character definitely is not there for realistic identification value. He is a hero and a mechanism to allow a twisty plot, some exciting chases and gunfights, and some bright red stage blood to be pumped. As the wife in the original, Donna Reed has a bit of a mental breakdown under the fear of losing her son. This ups the ante on the Glenn Ford father and makes his decisions all the harder. As a 1990s woman, Rene Russo has her own ideas about how to get her son back. She is angered and fierce and a long way from breaking down like the weak Donna Reed mother did. In the original the kidnappers are not the focus of the film and remain unseen in the film.
Neither Mel Gibson nor Glenn Ford played their father rolls significantly differently from their previous roles. Except for his profession, Gibson is playing much the same character as he played in the LETHAL WEAPON films. Rene Russo has a little acting to do, but her role is definitely a secondary one and not particularly demanding. Of four parents in two films the only actor whose part was a stretch from previous work was Donna Reed. It is not easy to play a weak character, slowly disintegrating, without going into King Lear-ish histrionics. It also makes for a role that often does not get much respect. It took a remake to show how good her acting was in the original and how different it was from here standard roles in pieces like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and "The Donna Reed Show." If there are any real acting honors in the remake they go to Gary Sinese as a policeman who is involved in the kidnapping case. I could not help thinking throughout the film how much more intriguing the film would have been if he and Gibson would have traded roles and Sinese could have worked more drama into the father's role. It would be a real gamble with the gross, but it would be a film that people would want to see again.
The new scriptwriters Richard Price and Alexander Ignon have taken a very personal look at a very realistic situation and turned it into a slick 1990s action fantasy. The first film had a lot to say about relationships and about how a fairly average person handles the most stressful situations he will ever know. The film is also a very simple and straightforward story. The remake with its car- fire and gun-chases also has a lot more unexpected twists and a much cleverer plot that takes a clear-eyed hero though a thrilling adventure with his own son as a prize. The one really common thread in the approach is that each has negative things to say about how the media turns private crises into public media events. Each film has virtues that the other lacks, but on balance they make films about equally good, just in very different ways and for very different audiences. Intentionally the remake is a film that can be appreciated by a twelve-year-old. The original, not being violent or bloody, with no car chases or gunfire, and stressing only human drama can probably be recommended only to an adult audience. I rate each about a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: In the late days of World War II in Italy a badly burned patient is the center of two love stories, one that led up to his plane crash, one that is going on while he is cared for. This is a long and a lushly produced romance with a few surprises along the way. The photography and the period feel are a definite advantage. This is a film that is at once thoughtful and sensuous, though it may not pack the emotional impact it wants to with all audiences. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
A biplane flies over the North African desert, the pilot alert, the passenger, a beautiful woman draped sensuously over the side of the cockpit. The plane flies too close to a German position below and they fire at invader overhead. The plane bursts into flames. The pilot tries to pull out the woman in front of him but ends up being badly burned himself as the plane crashes. Some passing Arabs rescue the badly-burned man and take him to a hospital. The man cannot tell the medics what his name is or how he came to be flying over the desert. The story advances in two lines, one of the disfigured patient (played by Ralph Fiennes) and his relationship with Hana (Juliette Binoche), a Canadian nurse who more or less adopts the dying man. Hana is a little shell-shocked herself as anybody that she grows to care about dies or is killed soon after. Feeling almost cursed she forms a close attachment to the scarred patient who is apparently dying anyway. Hana transports the patient to an abandoned farmhouse near Leghorn/Livorno and begins tending him full- time. Soon they are joined a the farmhouse by Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) who takes a strange interest in the scarred man and at times seems to know something of the patient's past. They are joined by two more residents, bomb disposal experts.
The flashback story starts in 1938 before the war and leads up to the plane crash. The man who will be the patient is Count Laszlo Almasy, a handsome young man in the employ of the British government. Based in Cairo, Almasy is taking part in a project to map the uncharted regions of the North African desert. He makes friends with Geoffrey and Katherine Clifton (Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas). Together they discover in the desert a cave with paintings of great archeological significance. This throws Laszlo and Katherine together frequently and though they try hard to ignore each other, but there is a sexual tension between them and they will inevitably be drawn together. The film is based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje, who was born in Sri Lanka and educated in England, but lives in Canada. Anthony Minghella wrote and directed this adaptation.
Ralph Fiennes gives a cool and controlled performance as he always seems to do. As in his other films he cuts a dashing figure but underplays rather than overplaying. Even in scenes that should call for deep emotion, his performances are muted and controlled. He lets the viewer read emotion into his actions and but for the exception of a few scenes, that is true for most of the cast of THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Kristen Scott Thomas is radiant in the desert but uninvolving, more an icon and an image than a fully developed character. She seems more willing to bare her body than her emotions. Though she has more screen time than Binoche, I suspect, she never exhibits a personality that goes much beyond bland. Binoche is sort of the ideal nurse, but we see little of what makes her fixate on this one patient. Still we are able to react with her in ways we cannot with the other three leads.
John Seale photographs the story, using pleasant aerial photography and sprawling views of the desert. There is an effective scene of a sandstorm. Minghella takes the image of the Swimming Man, from the cave found in the desert, and uses it as an image repeatedly as if it has for him specific meaning. In fact he opens the film with the image of the Swimming Man. He must be seeing Almasy as being in some way the Swimming Man. It is a mysterious visual image to make as important as it is in the visuals. Its meaning remains a matter of conjecture for the audience. For the most part Minghella places emotional barriers between the characters and the audience, all but Binoche. For the most part these figures remain as untouchable and unemotional as the swimming figures on the cave wall. Then surprisingly toward the end of the film Minghella does give us one very tense, almost melodramatic, scene. It seem almost a throwaway and out of place.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a truly adult love story, generally well- crafted if a little uninvolving. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the Week:
Culture is an instrument wielded by professors to manufacture professors, who when their turn comes, will manufacture professors. -- Simone Weil