Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/16/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 46

Big Cheese: Mark Leeper,
Little Cheese: Evelyn Leeper,
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	Trick Question (and Solution) (by Mark R. Leeper)
	The Man who Didn't Shoot Liberty Valance (comments by
		Mark R. Leeper)
	THE MATRIX RELOADED (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
	CONFIDENCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
	THE DANCER UPSTAIRS (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
	This Week's Reading (Rene Descartes's "Meditations" and
		Victor Hugo's "Essays on Humanity") (book comments
		by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Trick Question (by Mark R. Leeper)

Find a common word in English that would be in any good English
dictionary.  It has three syllables and it pronunciation starts
with a 'd' sound, yet it is not spelled with a letter 'd'
anywhere.  The answer will be an item later in the notice.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: The Man who Didn't Shoot Liberty Valance (comments by
Mark R. Leeper)

One of the nice things about writing a weekly editorial for a
publication that nobody pays for is that I can write just about
anything I want.  You don't want to read it, you can have your
$0.00 back.  This week I want to talk about something that some of
you really should not read about.  I am going to talk about a film
and give away some of the plot of the film.  If you haven't seen
this movie, you probably should not be reading this article.  I
don't want to spoil a good film for you.  I am talking about John
Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.  Will all those who can
still have the film ruined for you please leave the room.  Thank

Okay, are we all people who don't mind reading spoilers about THE
MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE?  Good.  Sometimes a film changes a
lot from the concept of the scriptwriters to what the director
puts on film.  Different people have different visions.  Sometimes
when a script is still just ideas in air, it plays one way and
when it comes to hanging meat on those ideas, somehow it just does
not work out physically the same way.  Well, little things happen.
When Rod Serling wrote the script for SEVEN DAYS IN MAY--and he
did write a brilliant script--he made one little mistake.  He
accounted for only six days.  What is more, the seventh day had to
be the day of the running of the Preakness.  That always falls on
a Saturday.  So the first day has to fall on a Sunday.  Well the
sort of action that the film starts with has to happen on a
weekday.  It certainly cannot start on a Sunday.  This really
bothered director John Frankenheimer until a friend suggested that
since this was in the future, in this film the Preakness would
have its first Sunday running.  So there are little posters up in
the film saying "First Sunday running of the Preakness."

I think something like that happened to John Ford when he made THE
MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.  I think he realized in filming that
the title person was a different character altogether from who is
was supposed to be in the script.  [You're sure you want to read
this?]  The two men in question are Rance Stoddard, played by
Jimmy Stewart, and Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne.  The whole
world knows Stoddard as "the man who shot Liberty Valance."  In
the film Stoddard goes out in the street and faces the bullying
Valance (Lee Marvin).  An instant before he is to be shot between
the eyes, Stoddard apparently gets in a lucky shot and kills
Valance with a handgun.  This makes Stoddard a hero and earns him
his nickname.  Stoddard is going to be elected to political office
by acclaim when he realizes people just love him for having killed
a man, an action directly against his principles.  He is about to
give up and go back to his home in the East when Doniphon stops
him.  Doniphon tells Stoddard that it was he, Doniphon, who killed
Valance.  He used a rifle from a side alley.  Stoddard realizes
that no matter what people think, he (Stoddard) did not kill
Valance so his conscience is clear.  That is fine.  That is the
way James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck wrote the script.

But John Ford must have realized as soon as he started filming the
scene, in flashback, that it could not have happened at all the
way that Doniphon describes.  The man who killed Valance had to be
just who everybody but Stoddard thought it was, namely Stoddard.
First, Doniphon would have had to synchronize his shot closely
enough with Stoddard's shot so that the two would sound like a
single shot.  This is virtually impossible.  The odds against it
happening even by coincidence are just absurd.  Doniphon would
have had to do it intentionally.  Second, when he is shot, Valance
staggers a moment in no particular direction and then falls
backward and away from Stoddard.  What happened to all the
momentum that the rifle bullet would have carried?  Valance should
have been kicked to his right.  There is no momentum from bullets
unless it is away from Stoddard.  Third, the drunken town doctor
is no candidate for the CSI team, but if you look at a body you
just can't miss being able to see whether he has been hit from the
front or the side.  It should be obvious from roughly what angle
Valance was hit.

I think that Ford must have realized all this and also realized
that the script was still perfectly consistent.  Doniphon still
had saved Stoddard's career, but he hadn't done it by telling the
truth about the killing of Valance.  He did it by lying and
claiming it was his own bullet that did the deed.  And at the
right moment Stoddard was willing to believe him.  That puts the
ending of the film in a very different light.  I think Ford must
have known this and quietly let people draw their own conclusions.
But it is surprising how many people don't seem to pick up on the
absurdity in one of the most popular Westerns ever made.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: THE MATRIX RELOADED (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: The war to release humanity from computer-generated non-
reality continues in a pretentious and violent film that
nonetheless has a lot of style.  The viewer is never really sure
what level of reality is on the screen and the plot is difficult
to follow, but the film does have some wit.  The fight and chase
scenes are plentiful and go on forever, but also show some new
flourishes that will probably be imitated by others.  Rating: 6 (0
to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)

In THE MATRIX we learned that nothing is what it seems and but for
a small handful of us everybody is lying unconscious in a plastic
box.  Life, free will, and time are all illusions.  I hope you
remember all that from the first film because this film is not for
the squeamish and not for people who missed THE MATRIX.  Here we
continue the story without benefit of recap.  If you did not see
the first film you may be lost in the first ten minutes.  If you
did see THE MATRIX it may take as much as twenty minutes.  As the
film opens Neo (Keanu Reeves) is having digital dreams about
Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) falling from a tall building and
continuing a gun battle all the way down to her apparent death
from hitting a computer-induced image of the ground.

Of course this is not the real world.  The real world is where
there is a war going on between humans and machines.  Most of the
world's humans are being milked for their heat for energy to run
the machines.  Many of the small groups of humans who have
awakened have dug out a cavern near the earth's core to act as a
refuge.  Here the refugees, all but a few in their twenties,
apparently, stage huge rave-like dance parties and maintain huge
machines that keep them alive.  (How did the machines get down
there in the first place?)  But these are good machines.  The evil
machines are digging down to Zion to defeat them and return them
to being their energy source.  We are left to wonder why the evil
machines don't dig someplace else and go all the way to the core
to get limitless energy they don't have to feed or entertain.  (Of
course, when I similarly asked about implausibilities of X2 I got
put in my place with the response, "It's a comic book, stupid."  I
think that in recent years the bar has been somewhat lowered on
science fiction film logic.)

Visually this film comes off somewhat better than the story,
though much of the film has dark backgrounds that match the dark
tone of the story.  The images are cold and hard.  Some of the
actors have implants that look almost like nipples at odd places
on their bodies.  Backgrounds are stone or steel. Neo dresses with
some style in a floor-length coat that occasionally makes him
resemble a Vatican priest.

This is an action film with a capital A.  Fights are staged with a
great deal of style and martial arts and CGI and wirework and
predictable outcomes.  On the other hand, chase scenes are staged
with a great deal of style, martial arts, CGI, wirework, and
predictable outcomes.  The computer-created world that Neo is
running around in is one that seems to be set in our present day,
but it is one in which the current craze is talking philosophy
which has caught on in much the same way the Twist caught on in
the 1960s.  That is everybody's doing it, nobody quite has the
hang of it, and it just comes out silly.  Morpheus (Laurence
Fishburne) adds a tad more gravitas to the philosophy by talking
in a deep voice.  The deeper the voice, the more respect that a
philosopher gets.  I am not sure if he is presenting pseudo-
science as mysticism or mysticism as science.

The real problem with Andy and Larry Wachowski's script, which
they also directed, is that what is happening through much of the
story is in a virtual reality world in which anything can happen.
If Neo believes he has the ability to fly, he can fly.  It is
difficult to invest much interest in a world where anything can
happen.  It is only the continuity and the rules of the world that
make us interested in the people who work under the constraints of
that continuity and those rules.  It is probably not a spoiler to
say that this film has a cliffhanger ending.  We are supposed to
be worried for the endangered characters until November when THE
MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS is released.  Yet not ten minutes earlier a
character died but with a little simple script hand-waving they
brought that character back to life and good as new.  Gee, maybe
the Wachowskis will forget how to rationalize their way out of
problems between now and November.  Quel suspens!

This is a highly stylized exercise in filmmaking.  Some of the
chase sequences are among the best ever staged.  They are not what
I look for in a film, but I will give them that as traffic chases
go, this one is a doozy.  The filmmakers are very proud that these
are real Hong-Kong-style fight sequences.  That is even less my
cup of tea.  But there are a lot of images we are seeing on the
screen for the first time, some quite impressive.  I rate THE
MATRIX RELOADED a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4
scale.  For those willing to sit through the exceptionally long
credit sequence there is a trailer with scenes from THE MATRIX:


TOPIC: CONFIDENCE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This is another one of those tricky con-game films for
which the audience has to try to figure out who is really doing
what to whom.  Edward Burns is weak in the lead, but there is an
interesting and pivotal role for Dustin Hoffman, albeit a small
one.  The puzzle is complex enough but the film seems to lack
life.  The writing seems artificial.  Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4
to +4).  [Minor spoilers.]

Film fans frequently talk about the good and bad things that the
computer has done for special effects.  It has made them more
complex and more technically perfect but also more artificial and
less believable.  We are drawn into them a lot less.  They seem
less organic.  What fewer people notice is that the computer seems
to have done much the same thing for script-writing.  What do I
mean by that?  When scripts were typed on paper with a typewriter
it was a lot of work to go back to an earlier scene and add three
lines to tie up a loose end.  Before the scriptwriter started
typing he had to have thought out the story in detail and fully
understand it.  These days it is a lot easier.  Not easy, perhaps,
but easier.  A scriptwriter can jump all over the screenplay and
revise scenes here and there once other scenes are written.
Entire subplots can be added and dropped into place.  It took real
genius for Frederick Knott to create a character like Tony Wendice
in DIAL M FOR MURDER who seems so ready for any eventuality.
Today, creating that sort of character just takes some attention
to detail.  And because the writer need not be so involved with
the characters, neither is the audience.

CONFIDENCE is a film that pulls the rug out from under the viewer,
not once but multiple times.  But it still has the feel of a
sterile writing exercise assembled in a computer.  It stars Edward
Burns as Jake Vig.  Burns is an actor who follows the old Spencer
Tracy advice: he knows his lines and does not bump into the
furniture.  But you feel roughly the same vibes coming from him
while he is waiting for someone to shoot him in the head or
waiting to make love to Lily (Rachel Weisz).

The story is told in flashback, improbably to that man who has
that gun at the back of Jake's head.  In flashback Jake tells the
story of how he came to this sad turning.  Jake heads a team of
four grifters including the downbeat Gordo (played by the
watchable Paul Giamatti).  They pull a con to rob the wrong man, a
collector for kingpin Mr. King (Dustin Hoffman).  King wants his
money back.  King generally gets what he wants.  But Jake no
longer has the money.  King suggests that Jake run a big con on a
high profile corporate banker (Robert Forster in maybe one or two
quick shots).  Jake adds a couple of new members to his team
including Lily, a beautiful pickpocket inexperienced at con games.

Something should be said about Mr. King.  This film is being
promoted as if Dustin Hoffman's King is a major character in the
film.  He isn't.  At least he isn't if you count screen time.  But
of course Dustin Hoffman is a more interesting actor than Edward
Burns and CONFIDENCE could be People's Exhibit A.  Also though
Hoffman has a small part he hangs over the whole film and is the
reason people do what they do in the film.  He's scary and sharp
as a knife.  The talkative hood covers his criminal activity by
running a strip club.  He seems at first like Ratso Rizzo with
thirty extra IQ points, but deep down he has inviolable
principles.  For example, lesbian acts are okay for his club but
not with sisters.  King laughs at Jake's neat appearance.  "Style
can get you killed."  Hoffman does not have a big part but he has
the best dialog and his scenes are the ones that will be

CONFIDENCE has a good cast with some familiar actors in minor
roles.  Andy Garcia plays Gunther Butan, a mysterious federal
agent who knows there is something illegal going on and clearly
has something he wants.  Rachel Wiesz as Lily is probably best
known from the Mummy movies, though she was also in SUNSHINE.
Also Jake uses some crooked cops occasionally, one played by Luis
Guzman.  But the actor people will remember is Hoffman.

Even the title has multiple meanings in this tricky film.  The
plot is interesting, but the characters are not really flesh and
blood. It is almost as if the film was merely a logic puzzle.  I
rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.


TOPIC: THE DANCER UPSTAIRS (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: A police officer tries to track down a terrorist
revolutionary leader.  At the same time he finds himself attracted
to his daughter's ballet teacher.  Too much of the story is
familiar elements recombined and creating surprisingly little
suspense.  The story had potential as a tense political thriller,
but it never clicks into place.  Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

In an unnamed Latin American country not too different from Peru
(though the film was shot in Equator) a revolutionary leader, the
self-named "Presidente Ezequiel," carries on an unpredictable
campaign of terrorism and killing.  The police are unable to stop
or even identify him.  He does not even seem to have a manifesto.
All the police have is his trade mark, a slogan on a sign and a
dead dog hung by the neck at the site of each attack.  He seems to
have an army of followers with children ready to die for his
cause.  One wonders how he can have as many in his army as the
film implies he has without any public statement about what he
stands for.  That is a major implausibility in the film.

Augustin Rejas (played by Javier Bardem) is a former lawyer turned
policeman.  He idealistically went from a highly paid career in
one part of the law to became a police functionary rather than to
let himself be corrupted or have to deal with other people who are
corrupt.  Now he faces the fact that after rearranging his life
the police are usually no more honest than lawyers were.

Five years earlier Rejas photographed the man who is now thought
to be Ezequiel.  Now he has been put in charge of the operation to
find him again.  The moral Rejas is a family man with a wife and
daughter to whom he is devoted.  In spite of this he finds himself
fascinated by his daughter's ballet teacher Yolanda (Laura
Morante).  His life becomes torn between his detective work
tracing down Ezequiel and maintaining his family relationship
while toying with his realization that he is attracted to Yolanda.

THE DANCER UPSTAIRS is low key as a political thriller and a
little languorous as a love story.  Where Costa Gavras would tell
us the politics of each side, the script by Nicholas Shakespeare
from his own novel tells us very little more than that the
government is corrupt and Ezequiel opposes the government.  The
audience is as much in the dark as the country's government as to
what Ezequiel stands for.  Still neither Ezequiel nor the
government seems like much of a bargain.  The ending of the film
is badly telegraphed.

Actor John Malkovich directs for the first time and, unpopular as
this opinion may be, I blame Malkovich for the film being what I
consider a misfire.  This material needed an experienced director.
In the right hands this tale could have been a Graham Greene level
study of human personality told against the backdrop of turbulent
times.  In the hands of Malkovich it becomes a little too obvious
and is more STATE OF SEIGE crossed with CARMEN.  Malkovich uses
some unsubtle and manipulative effects.  This is no more obvious
anywhere in the film than in the self-indulgent final scene that
goes on for minutes after its point has been made.  THE DANCER
UPSTAIRS is shot in murky, dark photography so that in some night
scenes is takes some effort to make out what we are seeing.  Be
warned that Malkovich does not pull back from showing explicit

There is little surprise or novelty in the plot of THE DANCER
UPSTAIRS.  A political thriller needs to evoke the emotions of the
audience.  In a film that pits the corrupt against the totally
ruthless it is hard to feel much empathy for either side.  I rate
it a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Solution to Trick Question (by Mark R. Leeper)

The word is "w".  I warned you it was a trick question.  [-mrl]


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

Last week I said, "This week we have a little bit of this and a
little bit of that."  Carl Aveyard wrote to say, "I once went in
to a pub in England where they brewed their own beers.  To keep
confusion to a minimum they called the beers, This, That and The
Other.  'I'd like a pint of That please.'  True!"

I guess this is "philosophy week."

In his "Synopsis" to his "Meditations", Descartes writes, "For
although all the accidents of the mind be changed--Although, for
example, it think certain things, will others, and perceive
others, the mind itself does not vary with these changes; while,
on the contrary, the human body is no longer the same if a change
takes place in the form of any of its parts: from which it follows
that the body may, indeed, without difficulty perish, but that the
mind is in its own nature immortal."  One wonders if he could
still say that in these days of genetic engineering, plastic
surgery, artificial hearts, and general surgical advances.

He also says, "[W]e cannot conceive body unless as divisible;
while, on the other hand, mind cannot be conceived unless as
indivisible.  For we are not able to conceive the half of a mind,
as we can of any body, however small, so that the natures of these
two substances are to be held, not only as diverse, but even in
some measure as contraries."  Again, modern discoveries of
"multiple personalities" (disassociative identity disorder) would
put this into question in a way that Descartes never dreamed of.

But perhaps even more basic is Descartes's famous, "Cogito ergo
sum" ("I think, therefore I am").  In his first Meditation, he
suggests, "For perhaps it would even happen, if I should wholly
cease to think, that I should at the same time altogether cease to
be."  So how does he account for sleep, and his apparent
continuity through it?

Also, at one point he says, "In all fraud and deceit there is a
certain imperfection," while he why he claims, "It is impossible
that [God] should will to deceive me."  But later he says, "I am
not always capable of comprehending the reasons why God acts as he
does" and "God is immense, incomprehensble, and infinite, I have
no longer any difficulty in discerning that there is an infinity
of things in his power whose causes transcent the grasp of my
mind."  Therefore, it would seem that there might be some reason
why God would will to deceive him that he can't comprehend.

(Coincidentally, I have been running across a lot of articles
recently discussing the differences between Descartes's view of
the mind-body dichotomy and Spinoza's.  Among them are from the New York Times and from the Guardian, as well as an earlier
article from the New York Times that is no longer on-line.)

Victor Hugo is best known for LES MISERABLES and NOTRE-DAME DE
PARIS.  I reviewed his TOILERS OF THE SEA here a few months ago
(02/14/03), and now I've just read his "Essays on Humanity" (at
least those printed in the Walter J. Black 1928 Hugo omnibus
edition).  His first, "Capital Punishment", is actually a
companion piece to his fiction work "Last Days of a Condemned Man"
from "Stories of Crime".  Hugo presents a fairly strong case
against capital punishment.  (It is important to remember that
capital punishment in France in Hugo's time was applied to more
than just murderers, but Hugo is clear that he opposes all capital

Of course, many of his arguments now seem a bit familiar.  (For
example, he disputes the notion that capital punishment serves as
a warning to others.)  Another familiar argument of Hugo's is that
the condemned had been deprived of any chance by society to do
other than become criminals.

Some of the arguments are no longer applicable.  For example, he
describes many botched executions on the guillotine, and gives
them as reasons to abolish capital punishment.  The only result
was that eventually countries adopted different modes of
execution, which in turn were also decried as barbaric.

Some of his arguments are a bit shaky.  Against the argument that
a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment might escape, he says,
"Keep watch more strictly!  If you do not believe in the solidity
of iron bars, how do you venture to have menageries?  Let there be
no executioner when the jailer can suffice."  I guess Hugo hadn't
read Dumas's THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, or didn't realize that
prisoners can bribe guards in a way that animals in a zoo can't.

Hugo preaches a return to the "gentle laws of Christ" and end with
the declaration, "The Cross shall displace the Gibbet."  While I
know what he meant, I can't help but feel it is a poor phrasing,
as if he wishes to replace hanging with crucifixion.

In another essay, "The Minds and the Masses", he talks at length
about the necessity for education and culture for all, but the
most striking quote is in regard to the opposition and hatred
towards those who propose this, by quoting the early Christian
philosopher Tertullian: "O Romans! we are just, kind, thinking,
lettered, honest men.  We meet to pray, and we love you because
you are our brethren.  We are gentle and peaceable like little
children, and we wish for concord among men.  Nevertheless, O
Romans! if the Tiber overflows, or if the Nile does not, you cry,
'to the lions with the Christians!'"  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

            [After hearing Freeman Dyson speak:] A sufficiently
            advanced scientist is indistinguishable from a
                                           --Mark R. Leeper

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