MT VOID 01/23/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 30, Whole Number 1842

MT VOID 01/23/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 30, Whole Number 1842


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/23/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 30, Whole Number 1842

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net Back issues at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/ 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 mtvoid-subscribe@yahoogroups.com To unsubscribe, send mail to mtvoid-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

The Gump Message (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I am not sure that the theme of FORREST GUMP still is meaningful in an age when chocolate boxes come with maps. [-mrl]


Mini-Reviews of 2014 Films, Part 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I am back with more mini-reviews of films in the process of being released.

One of my readers brought up a good point. He asked why I have a rating scale that goes from -4 to +4 and then do not use the whole scale. It is very rare that I will give a rating greater than high +2 or less than low +1. Some of these reviews may fall outside that short interval, but this is the time of year the most remarkable films come out. The answer is that there are some films that really are a lot better than my high +2 films. I give SCHINDLER'S LIST a full +4. (Actually, I think I rate it higher than a +4.) I rate the recent LES MISERABLES a +4. I really do not think that it would be fair to a film as powerful an experience as LES MISERABLES was for me any less than a +4.

There really are films so incompetently made that they deserve a -4. I rarely rate a film that is so bad that it deserves a -4, but there are some.

THE CASE AGAINST 8

This is a surprisingly stirring documentary about California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as being a pairing of a man and a woman, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which on a Federal level denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. The court struck down Proposition 8 and on the same day said that major portions of the Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional. A major part of the case made against each of these bills was crafted and presented by Ted Olson. The film opens with a very impressive sample of Olson's very clear reasoning. But the end of the film I found myself getting excited for the decision that I (and probably every viewer) knew was coming. HBO makes some very fine dramas and documentaries. This may be the best documentary I have seen this year. Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

BIG BAD WOLVES

Laurel and Hardy films used to have slapstick scenes of their heroes getting hurt and the film makes the mixing of comedy and pain work since the pain is somewhat cartoonish. It would not have worked at all if the scenes of Ollie getting smashed in the nose were done realistically. Comedy and graphic violence make an uneasy pairing. BIG BAD WOLVES is a very dark comedy. Two men who are basically vigilantes go after a suspected killer of little girls. We get graphic description of what the degenerate killer did to the girls, then later a suspect of the crime is tortured on camera, but we do not see the parts of him being abused. Some of the humor of this Israeli film is funny, but the film is frequently a distinctly uncomfortable experience. Outside of the entertainment value, this film gives a very ugly and negative picture of Israeli police procedures. Rating: high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY

In DEAD POETS SOCIETY Robin Williams criticizes plotting the rating of a poem on a grid with artistic style on one axis and importance of theme on the other axis. It might not be a bad way to look at a documentary. This is a biography of Aaron Swartz who was a genius and freedom of information activist. This documentary looks at how he was arrested for excessive downloading of scientific papers, an apparently legal act. The film tells the story of Swartz's life and of the government's efforts to suppress information. The subject matter is greatly important. The style is not very creative. Robin Williams would have shooed it away. Rating: +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD

Kat Connors, played by Shailene Woodley, is seeing her family come apart. Her mother (Eva Green of CASINO ROYALE) is poisoning the whole family with her hatred of Kat's father. Kat is sexually loose, but her mother is even more so. Then the mother disappears without a trace. The police can find no clues to the disappearance. The film is frustrating since when we find out what happened the police would have had to be totally incompetent not to have solved the case within hours. Rating: +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

WILD

This film opens with Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) atop a large rock hill, her footwear destroyed. The film follows her on what seems a terribly misguided 1000-mile hike alone along the Pacific Coast Trail. As she goes she considers her life--mismanaged to this point. She and the viewer piece together her checkered back-story through flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks). It is the story of how she finds redemption in walking and reflection. The same idea was better handled in THE WAY (2010). Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

[-mrl]


UNBROKEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, who was an Olympic champion runner before WWII and whose plane crashed in the Pacific during the war. After an incredible 47 days surviving on the water he was picked up by Japanese troops and taken to a detention camp. UNBROKEN tells the story how he was tested in multiple hellish circumstances. Angelina Jolie directs with a screenplay from, among others, the Coen Brothers, but she fails to make Zamperini three-dimensional. Where the film needs oomph it just does not grasp the viewer. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

The title UNBROKEN refers to Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O'Connell), who seemed to be unbreakable. Bullied as a little boy who could not follow rules he gets his life in order by putting everything into his running, breaking a speed record at the 1938 Olympics. From there he went into the World War II military, and had his plane crash under him into the ocean. And spent the rest of the war in Japanese prison camps.

This film of Zamperini's life is oddly structured. It begins on a bombing run over water from which Zamperini got back to base unharmed. During this run he thinks about his life to that point. He remembers his past and how he went from being an "at risk" kid to being an Olympic runner who wins the gold at the 1938 Summer Olympics in Berlin. It is a later run in a bomber in which the plane crashes and Zamperini organizes the other two survivors who share a double inflatable raft. Zamperini seems to have read the manual and knows what to do to catch food and to keep his fellows alive. He was on the water a grueling 47 days. From there he was "rescued," if that is the word, and was sent to multiple Japanese prisoner of war camps.

We are about at the midpoint of the 137-minute film and just getting to the primary story of the film, how Zamperini survives in the camps. Life would be bad enough if he were a typical POW. Perhaps because of his Olympic status, he is chosen for especially sadistic abuse by a malignant Japanese corporal who gives all the worst treatment to Zamperini.

The only place where this film generates any real excitement for its characters are the earlier scenes of aerial combat. In a season of too many superhero films, it should have been a welcome relief to have a film that was a true story from history. Sadly UNBROKEN's main character is just a bit too much of a human super-hero. He knows what to do in just about any emergency. And whatever trial is put before him, it may cause him a lot of pain to do it, but he will always survive and prevail. He may be seriously hurt by what is done to him, but he is a very fast healer.

One punishment strangely involves every prisoner in the camp punching Zamperini in the face. One rather suspects that this would be and was intended to be tantamount to a death sentence. In the film it may have rearranged his face a bit, but when next we see him he is ready for action again. Any feeling sorry for the character is pointless since the script will bail Zamperini out of whatever fate brings him. And it does not hurt that he has an inspirational aphorism or two from his brother to set his mind at ease. He just has to remember "if you can take it, you can make it" or "a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory." There just does not seem to be enough of a person there and too much of a demigod for the viewer to build much empathy for or to be inspired by. The best scenes in the film have the characters figuring how they can save themselves. But the whole second half of the film has powerless characters simply being acted upon.

Director Angelina Jolie needs to work a little more on making her characters human and believable. I rate UNBROKEN a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1809398/combined

What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/unbroken_2014/

[-mrl]


Google Cardboard (comments by Lee R. Beaumont):

Lee Beaumont writes:

I am having fun exploring virtual reality with the newly available Google cardboard device.

Google cardboard is a fold-out cardboard mount that positions a smartphone in front of your face. Lenses focus your left eye on the left half of the smartphone screen, and the right eye on the right half of the smartphone screen. Virtual reality applications, or 3D-movies in this split screen format can be viewed in 3D. The smartphone accelerometer senses head position, allowing the user to look around virtual environments.

Instructions for building your own from cardboard, a pair of lenses, and some simple craft suppliers are freely available. I purchased the "Cardboard Classic" from KnoxLabs for $18.95, shipping included. Downloading the "Cardboard" app from Google Play onto your Android will provide several demos.

I own an iPhone, so the experience is different. My iPhone 5S fits well in the viewer, and a few apps are available. Perhaps the most impressive is the "Dive City Rollercoaster" which takes you on a virtual roller-coaster ride in a futuristic city. It's fun to look around, up, and down throughout the ride.

Perhaps the low cost of this device will jumpstart the availability of 3D content for individual viewing. The split screen format is ideal for 3D, it solves the problems of combining and then separating the right and left eye images. Perhaps 3D theatrical releases, such as Avatar, will soon become available in this 3D format. I notice that several 3D trailers are available on YouTube, but they are not in this split-screen format. Perhaps this will change soon. In any event, this simple device allows exploration of personal virtual reality technologies even before the oculus rift becomes available. [-lrb]


GONE GIRL [SPOILERS] and Edited Films (letter of comment by Tom Russell):

In response to Mark's "Top Ten Films of 2014" in the 01/09/15 issue of the MT VOID, Tom Russell writes:

We (my wife and I) don't subscribe to cable TV. We get the "basic" channels over-the-air. For several years now, "digital." Which means our wireless router blocks PBS, channel 13. (We have switched back to a wired configuration.) And FOX, channel 5, reception is poor.

For TV viewing we go to our local library, check out what DVDs are available. Anything on the "recent acquisitions" shelf? If nothing there we select perhaps four or five random DVDs from the regular shelves, trying to recall whether we had seen those movies before.

Recently we brought home THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and before that, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. Neither did we watch for even a half hour before giving up in disgust.

[SPOILERS]

We watched GONE GIRL through to the end. It was simply awful (I couldn't watch some parts) but the good reviews and the plot twists had us hooked. We wound up paying close attention so we wouldn't loose track of what "day" it was. I kept hoping for explanations: She bought a car for cash (to conceal her identity) but doesn't Missouri require license plates? Wouldn't the coroner wonder about water in her lungs if she was supposedly bludgeoned to death? The whole ending was a disappointment. The gratuitous sex was especially offensive. No awards from me.

[END SPOILERS]

Two movies we did enjoy recently: THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY and the silly but fun movie CHEF. Not offensive. No gruesome murders. (But JOURNEY had a distressing start.) Not R-rated.

We also watched AMADEUS recently on PBS. Great movie. PBS sadly goes overboard toward the other direction: Even though it is an adult-oriented network, they showed an "edited for television" version of AMADEUS (no boobs, not even the one hilarious use of a four-letter word.)

So my thought is: Here's a business opportunity: sell "edited for television" versions of movies. I might have given an edited-for-TV version of GONE GIRL a passing grade. [-tlr]

Mark responds:

I did like GONE GIRL. But I can see why some people did not. Overall I think the film was well-liked. It is a portrait of a very extreme relationship and a lot unexpected happens. I like several of your other selections. I am surprised you were not at least mildly bothered by the pig at the beginning of CHEF. I think the filmmakers wanted the audience to know that cuisine can be, well ... unsavory. A lot of it is about eating real animals.

There have been some experiments with reediting and bowdlerizing film. But I doubt if it would work today for legal reasons. [-mrl]

Evelyn adds:

There have been three variants on the "sell edited movies" idea.

The first, which was an edited version of the movie copied to another VHS tape (or later burned to DVD), was ruled as copyright infringement because of the fact that the edited version was "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" (e.g., a VHS tape). This had been the business model of CleanFlicks, CleanFilms, and Play It Clean Video.

The second is to provide programming that edits a streaming presentation (or a DVD, one presumes) in real-time. This is explicitly allowed by the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, but requires special playback equipment. This is used by ClearPlay, which allows only subscriptions, not purchases of films.

And there is the third model, which is to re-sell tapes and DVDs that had been edited by the studios themselves for prisons, airlines, etc. This is used by Swank, who says, "These edited films reduce excessive language, nudity, violence and sexual situations while still providing the same great movie entertainment. Because the studio completes the editing at the time of production, the film's spirit and fundamental nature are not affected."

And of course the fourth model (or perhaps the zeroeth) is to rent only G-, PG-, and PG-13-rated films, or perhaps to see why the R-rated films got their R rating. For example, I tend to stay away from graphic violence, but "language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use" in BOYHOOD is not going to make me avoid it. (Don't forget, these days even showing people smoking tobacco in a film can get you an R rating!) [-ecl]


Actors (letter of comment by Kevin R):

In response to Mark's question about voice impressions in the 01/16/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

The way this question was asked, I wasn't going to get the answer. I know it is fashionable to call thespians "actor" nowadays, but Kate Hepburn was an ACTRESS. [-kr]

Mark replies:

Hi Kevin,

I appreciate your comment, but I am going to have to stand tough on this one.

That Kate Hepburn was an actress is not in question. We both agree she was an actress. I interpret your argument to say it is wrong to call her an "actor." And I would claim that by the definition of "actor" she was one. The dictionary does not bring gender into the definition of actor. The Oxford English Dictionary, by the way, says, "'Actor' was used at first for both sexes." It is calling them actresses that is the more recent revision. [-mrl]


Predictions (letter of comment by Philip Chee):

In response to Dale Skran's links to predictions in the 01/16/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

[Re: "The U.S. Navy deployed a functional laser weapon."]

I hear that they are also deploying electromagnetic rail-guns.

[Re: "A double amputee received two mind-controlled arms."]

http://tinyurl.com/void-power-glove: "Next time someone tells you that Nintendo's Power Glove accessory was a flop, point them to Dillon Markey, an animator who works on projects like Cartoon Network's 'Robot Chicken'. Markey has been using a modified Power Glove for more than a year now, using it to help him control the devices and software he needs to get the right shot."

See? The Power Glove wasn't a failure, it was just ahead of its time! Yeah, that's it--26 years ahead of its time. [-pc]


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

KINDRED by Octavia Butler (ISBN 978-0-807-08369-7) has a premise similar to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Mars" series and Richard Matheson's BID TIME RETURN: a protagonist from the present gets pulled to somewhere or somewhen else by the sheer power of mind. In the Matheson and the Burroughs, it is entirely the protagonist's will; in KINDRED, Dana's transportation is sometimes due to her will, but sometimes due to that of Rufus.

What Mark noted, though, is that although KINDRED is almost invariably called science fiction (when it is not an African-American proto-slave narrative), it is really fantasy. The Matheson is generally called fantasy, and the Burroughs may get a pass because it does take place on Mars.

(Wikipedia says "While most of Butler's work is classified as science-fiction", making one think it may categorize this as fantasy, they go on with "KINDRED crosses disciplinary boundaries and so is often shelved under literature or African-American literature." It does note, however, that Butler herself called it "a kind of grim fantasy.")

What is also notable is that in an era when African-American science fiction authors were fairly scarce (and female African-American authors comprised pretty much entirely of Octavia Butler), this novel became one of the few novels of the fantastic that gained widespread popularity as the subject of book discussion groups and school reading lists.

The book itself is considered to fall into the "realistic" (or at least "non-romantic") category of slave narratives, although Butler admits that she realized that she needed to sanitize slavery at least somewhat, or no one would read the book. Still, it is a much stronger picture of the evils of slavery than many of the books preceding it had been (it was published in 1979). For a long time, books about the South and slavery tended either to romanticize it (think GONE WITH THE WIND), or avoided being too graphic in their descriptions. While KINDRED is probably not as graphic as a novel today might be, it was still much more explicit than most popular novels had been.

One noticeable flaw is the opening/ending, which is a classic teleportation issue, yet given no rational cause. Why that time and no others? It seems to be there merely to provide a physical manifestation of Dana's emotional state. [-ecl]



                                          Mark Leeper
                                          mleeper@optonline.net


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