Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/08/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 28, Whole Number 1892

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Produce Questions (by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Ballet is Scary (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        My Top Ten Films of 2015 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Rules of Movie Car Chases (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        ANOMALISA (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        Answers to Last Week's Puzzle (letters of comment
                by Kip Williams, Fred Lerner, and Susan de Guardiola)
        SICARIO and SPECTRE (letter of comment by Philip Chee)
        SIDDHARTHA and LORD OF LIGHT (letter of comment
                by Philip Chee)
        This Week's Reading ("Hate" and THE MAN WHO COUNTED)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Produce Questions (by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Why are grapefruits sold by the piece, but apples are sold by the
pound?  Even stranger, why are regular cucumbers sold by the piece,
but Kirby cucumbers are sold by the pound?  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Ballet is Scary (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I have always been a little creeped out by ballet.  It is not just
abstract dance movements.  It tells a story.  So when eight swans
cross the floor with identical movements the swans in the story
must all be thinking the same way.  This means their minds must all
be interlinked like the children in THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS or they
must all be mind controlled by a single entity we never see.  I am
not sure which is more scary.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: My Top Ten Films of 2015 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Once again an inordinate percentage of the best films showed up in
the last few weeks of the year.  As with most years, I see two or
three films that seem just okay that seem to have a contingent of
people who think they are really something special.  I cannot say I
am too impressed with ANOMALISA in spite of the high response.  MAD
MAX: FURY ROAD is a fairly good action film with some really
impressive stunts, but certainly nothing to be nominated for best
picture.  My own film society voted it the best film of the year.
At this point I have not seen STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS or ROOM.
I cannot judge how they might rank, but I will consider them for
next year.  This list is the top ten films I saw from January 1 to
December 31, 2015.


Dalton Trumbo has been for many years a person of singular interest
in Hollywood. He went from being one of the most respected film
writers to being blacklisted for his political beliefs and unable
to sell his work. After refusing to testify before the House Un-
American Activities Committee in 1947, Trumbo was added to the
blacklist. For years he could sell his film writing only under a
false or borrowed name.  His story is very much the story of the
Hollywood blacklist. In 2007 that story was told in Peter Askin's
film TRUMBO. The current TRUMBO is a narrative film telling the
story of how Trumbo came to be blacklisted and how his case
eventually broke the blacklist. The story is told well and with
wit, and it tells how the First Amendment was seriously threatened
by the government sworn to uphold it. And it tells how a small set
of filmmakers fought and defeated the Hollywood blacklist. Jay
Roach directs a screenplay by John McNamara from the book by Bruce
Cook. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


BRIDGE OF SPIES is a Cold War thriller based on fact. Tom Hanks
plays a New York insurance lawyer who defends a Soviet spy and then
negotiates the exchange of that spy for U-2 pilot Gary Powers.
Steven Spielberg directs a script provided by the Coen Brothers
(and Matt Charman). This is a truly adult thriller. Its thrills
come not from the barrel of a gun or master martial artists jumping
from building to building. Instead it is about a plain lawyer doing
his job and somewhat more than his job. In the process he changes
history. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10


EX MACHINA is written and directed by Alex Garland. From the
world's most powerful Internet company, Caleb, a software engineer,
has been chosen to spend a week as a guest of Nathan, the company's
reclusive founder. Nathan is a technical and entrepreneurial genius
who lives and works at a highly secluded house and lab. There Caleb
finds that during his visit he will be asked to talk with a robot
to determine if it is truly conscious or just a machine. Bits and
ideas in the story are borrowed from FRANKENSTEIN, BLADE RUNNER,
HER, and even from film noir. When the story is all over there has
been surprisingly little story told, but the viewer will have been
privy to some very sophisticated philosophical ideas. This is a
film that respects the thinking ability of the viewer, and if the
intelligence is there it will be rewarded. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or


Denis Villeneuve directs a suspenseful story of an inter-
surveillance-agency team chosen for a mission to illegally cross
the border into Mexico and to attack and if possible assassinate a
powerful drug lord living in Juarez. FBI agent Kate Macer needs to
figure out why she is on this team and mission and is highly
troubled by the answers she is or is not getting. The theme is
about how the violent drug war in Mexico warps the US law
enforcement. But the film makes for a tense thriller. Rating: +3 (-
4 to +4) or 8/10


Andy Weir's popular science blog turned best-selling novel comes to
the screen with Matt Damon in the lead. Ridley Scott (ALIEN,
GLADIATOR) directs the tense but at times humorous story of an
astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars whose incredible science
knowledge keeps him alive. The screenplay is by Drew Goddard (WORLD
WAR Z, CLOVERFIELD). The science was vetted by experts and Weir
proves you do not have to bend the laws of science to tell a good
science fiction story.  This is a highly gripping film.  Rating: +3
(-4 to +4) or 9/10


There is a podcast about economics called "Planet Money".  This
film could almost be PLANET MONEY: THE MOTION PICTURE.  The film,
like "Planet Money", tries to explain the finance all simply and
understandably and in that noble purpose fails.  But it is told
with wit or even an acid cynicism that is apparently more than
justified.  This is a film about naked greed.  We follow three
story lines (true stories) with three people through the 2008
financial crisis, People who saw the financial bubble bursting and
who exploited it in each's own way.  Michael Burry (played by
Christian Bale) saw the crash coming and committed his company to
seriously exploiting it; Mark Baum (Steve Carell) discovers it is
happening and slowly comes to realize how serious the situation
really is; Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) discovers his company is
criminally courting serious financial damage.  This is a film that
names names and signals a warning that the world seems to be
ignoring.  While being fun to watch it tells you what you need to
know about the financial crisis and almost certainly do not.  It is
best to see this film multiple times until it starts to stick.  It
is hard to believe how serious and at the same time how funny the
film is.  I guess it also should be considered a horror film since
virtually the same meltdown could happen again.  Adam McKay directs
a screenplay he wrote with Charles Randolph, based on a book by
Michael Lewis.  Rating low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

7.  99 HOMES

This is the other film this year that looks at the ailing US
economy and explains what is going wrong, who is manipulating
finances, and who is undeservingly reaping the very, very large
rewards of the recession.  We see the steps of home evictions and
how a predator, chillingly played by Michael Shannon, can get very
rich on the misery of others.  Unlike THE BIG SHORT this is not the
story of one real predator but a narrative films with a predator
who is a composite of many real people.  MARGIN CALL, THE BIG
SHORT, and 99 HOMES together are an education on just what is going
wrong with 21st century capitalism.  Rating low +3 on the -4 to +4
scale or 8/10.


This is the true story of the Boston Globe's crack investigative
reporter team uncovering corruption rife in the Catholic Church.
The team starts by examining one case of a Catholic priest's sexual
molestation of a young parishioner and finds a story that just
keeps growing with many cases of abuse and systematic covering up
all over the Catholic Church.  The double standard applied to the
Church by the legal system will have many people leaving the film
indignant and angry.  The account has much of the feel and appeal
of ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.  Tom McCarthy directs a cast led by
Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams.  Rating low +3 on
the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

9.  24 DAYS

This is a docudrama about the kidnapping of Parisian Jew Ilan
Halimi, who in January, 2006 was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered
largely because he was Jewish. The film follows the Halimi family,
the police, and the criminals, all the time sticking fairly
accurately to what is known about the case. The Halimi family and
the police race to find and save the hostage. The film looks at
many connected issues including immigration policies, anti-
Semitism, class, and police competency and prejudice. Not all the
issues are fully discussed, nor would we expect them to be in a
single film, but the viewer is aware of them. 24 DAYS is directed
and co-written by Alexandre Arcady, perhaps in the United States
best known for the horror thriller HIGH TENSION. Also writing the
script were Emilie Freche and Antoine Lacomblez. Rating: low +3 (-4
to +4) or 8/10


Pashtun Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai was 15 years old in
October of 2012 when she stood up for and spoke out for female
education.  She knew she was endangered by the Taliban who want to
ban all girls from being educated.  A gunman boarded her school
bus, specifically asked for her, and then shot her, twice missing
her and once hitting her in the head.  Critically injured she
fought for her life and rehabilitated herself.  She has recovered
enough to return to her cause of female education.  This is her
story.  She is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Prize.
Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10



TOPIC: Rules of Movie Car Chases (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

No matter what kind of car the hero is driving, even if he has
commandeered it at random, it will always be able to out-run the
bad guys (or police).

No matter what kind of car the hero has commandeered at random,
he will never have the slightest difficulty in driving it, finding
any of the controls, etc.

No matter whether the hero's car hits another car or vice versa,
the other car will be incapacitated, but the hero's car will drive

No matter what sort of collision the hero's car gets into, the
fenders will never be bent in such a way as to press against (or
puncture) the tires.

No matter what kind of car the hero has commandeered at random, or
what city or village he is in, the hero always knows which alleys
will be just wide enough for it and not for the car chasing him,
and that they won't end in a dead end or a barricade.

And if there *is* a barricade of some sort, the hero's car will
always break through it.  If there are steps, the hero's car will
drive down them without a problem.  If there is a drop-off, the
hero's car will fly off, land nose down, settle its rear end down,
and drive off none the worse for wear.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: After about a decade we have a new "Star Wars" episode.
The story is really about the search for Skywalker, a goal that
does not seem particularly inspiring.  As always in a "Star Wars"
film the visuals are impressive, but the narrative is not as
compelling as was the story of Darth Vader.  The only new character
of some interest is a woman named Rey, the new film's equivalent of
Luke Skywalker.  There seems to be more material borrowed from the
first six films than there is that is new.  But as long as the
viewer does not need to contend with Jar-Jar Binks or a pod race,
any Star Wars film delivers more than a ticket's worth of
entertainment. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.

Warning: minor spoilers

The release of the new "Star Wars" film has become one of the major
cinematic events of the year.  STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is not
the most artistic film it could have been and it does not have the
most moving story.  It is neither good science nor good science
fiction.  But it is highly watchable and it will make a lot of
money as an international film with avid (not to say rabid) fans
around the world.

It has been about thirty (Earth?) years since the action in RETURN
OF THE JEDI and Luke Skywalker, who disappeared years ago, is
slipping from war hero into legend.  Meanwhile the Galactic Empire
is falling into the hands of a Fascist military/political party
called the First Order.  To maintain their power they have to
capture Skywalker, but nobody seems to know where he is.  There is
a map to his whereabouts, but as so often happens in fiction the
map is in pieces and whoever collects the pieces will have a full
map.  Great pilot Poe (played by the same Oscar Isaac who was in EX
MACHINA) has instructions to find a missing piece.  This piece is
hidden in a droid, of all places.  (Now why does that sound so
familiar?)  Poe is captured by the First Order storm troops where
he meets a trooper whom the dubs Finn (played by John Boyega).
Finn wants to change sides to be on the side of the good guys.  Poe
and Finn are separated and Finn joins up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) a
very highly talented scavenger.

J. J. Abrams directs a screenplay by himself, Lawrence Kasdan, and
Michael Arndt, who are obviously fans of the series.  They borrow
ideas freely from the original.  For example, the super weapon the
villains have is a Deathstar just as in chapters 4 and 6.  But it
is not an old fashioned Deathstar.  This Deathstar is much bigger.
So now three of the seven chapters have new Deathstars needing to
be disarmed seconds from disaster.  Despite the writers' efforts to
tie this film to the previous six "Star Wars" chapters that were
made earlier, this does not really feel like the Star Wars
Universe, but one somehow it is reduced in scale.

We have the five main characters from chapters four through six
written into the script.  But they do little to advance the plot.
One is a father who gets no opportunity to be fatherly and another
is a MacGuffin.  Princess Leia looks like her face was replaced by
that same doctor who replaced Luke's hand.

The villain of the piece is a sort of self-styled Darth Vader down
to wearing a similar suit.  What makes that strange is that Darth
Vader put on the suit as a sort of portable, wearable iron lung.
There is no reason to have such a suit if our villain has healthy
lungs.  But perhaps he thinks a suit is imposing.  As far as acting
Daisy Ridley, playing Rey, is a more dynamic female lead than
Carrie Fisher was in 1977, perhaps because Rey is a better-written

If you go to STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS looking for something to
criticize, you will find more than enough in this "Star Wars"
chapter.  If you want to find stuff to enjoy, there is plenty of
that here too.  Overall, I would rate the new Star Wars film a +2
on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.  Since this movie has done so
spectacularly well in box-office business and since STAR WARS is a
story told in trilogies, I think we can be assured that more to
this story is coming from Disney.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



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

CAPSULE:  This film employs stop-motion animation for what is a
very adult story.  Two strangers meet going to a conference and
one, a celebrated author on the subject of customer service,
ironically is just not a people person.  He does however meet Lisa
who is a bit intimidated by his fame.  Michael is anxious to
manipulate Lisa to go to bed with him.  Michael is voiced by the
talented David Thewlis, but the story just goes nowhere.  That is
surprising for s screenplay by Charlie Kaufman who also co-directed
with Duke Johnson.  Rating 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

ANOMALISA started out as a stage play by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote
SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004).  He co-directs the film with
Duke Johnson.  The play went through a number of changes until it
came to its present form.  The animation really is the logical
descendent of the old Puppetoons.  Puppetoons were shot in a kind
of stop motion animation in which three-dimensional carved figures
are photographed for each frame.  Except for repeated use, each
figure had to be carved from wood for each frame.  The same
technique is used here but the carver has been replaced by a 3D
printer.  It creates a unique feel for the images in ANOMALISA, but
it does not do much more than add some quaintness to the
photographed image.  It is an effect similar to clay animation, but
more photorealistic.  In fact, these images of people may be more
realistic than Pixar is doing at this point.  It amuses a little
which helps when the film gets off to a very slow start.  Other
than the novelty, the technique really does not do much for the
storytelling than plain actors in front of a camera would do.

Michael and Lisa, complete strangers, are coming to the same
conference in Cincinnati.  They meet and Michael seduces Lisa for a
one-night stand.  The plot crawls at a snail's pace and it is quite
a while before we see a plot developing.  Michael is something of a
star and famous expert on customer service.  But for the course of
this film Lisa is the only customer he is trying to service.  There
is some human pain in the characters.  Still, it would take a
Steven Spielberg to make me feel sorry for the plight of a puppet.

A holdover from the stage play is that we get only three voices on
the soundtrack.  We have David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh
doing the voices for characters Michael and Lisa and everybody else
including dozens of characters are all voiced by Tom Noonan.
Noonan does not even try to imitate female voice when the character
calls for it.  It causes some confusion and for a while the
uninitiated would assume that the film just has a lot of

Somehow the animation really does nothing for this story that live
actors could not.  The characters may be made out of plastic, but
they remain wooden.  I rate ANOMALISA a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: Answers to Last Week's Puzzle (letters of comment by Kip
Williams, Fred Lerner, and Susan de Guardiola)

In response to Mark's puzzle ("What do Catholics do to sinners,
fathers do to sons, and Jews do to bread?") in the 01/01/16 issue
of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I was going to say "raise up."  [-kw]

Fred Lerner writes:

Jews don't bless bread. The prayer over bread translates to
"Blessed are you O Lord, our god, who brings forth bread from the
earth". We bless the Lord. Then we eat the bread.  [-fl]

And Susan de Guardiola writes:

I was thinking "love", and I think it's a more universally
applicable solution.

I'm not sure Catholics in general bless sinners, but I think
they're supposed to love them.

I don't know what religion(s) it is/are in which fathers bless
sons, but it's certainly not something areligious fathers do.

And while I haven't asked the opinion of my Jewish friends about
bread in general, challah is very worth loving!  [-sdg]

Mark replies:

I think I can count "love."  I do not believe it must be a
universal behavior to still be a true statement.  Some Catholics
bless sinners.  As in, "Bless me Father for I have sinned."

Fred, Jews do say they bless bread, though this might be loose
usage.  See where we
see the line "We commemorate this miracle by blessing two loaves of
challah at the Shabbat meals."

I was not a big fan of challah as a child.  I like it much more
now.  (Hint: We now buy the double loaves at Costco.  It is not
perfect challah, but it is very good when it is fresh.)  [-mrl]


TOPIC: SICARIO and SPECTRE (letter of comment by Philip Chee)

In response to Mark's review of SICARIO in the 01/01/16 issue of
the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

[Mark writes,] "SICARIO is playing in theaters opposite SPECTRE and
generally is the same genre of film..."

I believe that SPECTRE falls into the genre called "James Bond".
Not too sure about SICARIO though.

Q: Who was it who described MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION as the
second best Bond film of the year?  [-pc]

Mark responds:

That would be Rob Slack at Aisle Seat:



TOPIC: SIDDHARTHA and LORD OF LIGHT (letter of comment by Philip

In response to Evelyn's review of SIDDHARTHA in the 01/01/16 issue
of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

Back when I was in boarding school and we were all heading out for
the holidays a friend gave me a copy SIDDHARTHA.  In return I gave
him a copy of LORD OF LIGHT by Roger Zelazny.  [-pc]


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

In the 07/25/03 issue of the MT VOID, I wrote about how Arthur
C. Clarke's "I Remember Babylon" predicted the televising of such
outrageous things as images of the sexually explicit carvings on
Indian temples and scenes of execution and torture--all supposedly
as educational documentaries.  At that time, the History Channel
was running "The XY Factor", a series about sex throughout history
(and mythology and legend).  Since then, we have had videos of
beheadings posted on-line (and possibly televised as well).  As I
noted, all that Clarke got wrong was that it was not the Chinese.

Well, now it's time to re-read Clarke's "Hate",  about a
diver supposed to be rescuing a cosmonaut whose capsule has crashed
into the ocean, but instead causes delays until the cosmonaut dies,
all the while talking to the cosmonaut about how he hates the
Russians because he is Hungarian, etc.  At the end it turns out
that 1) the cosmonaut is a young woman, and 2) she has recorded
everything the diver said and he will be shown to be a murderer.
This too has proven quite prescient, with the many police (and
private) videocameras recording shootings by police that show the
actual events to be somewhat more damning than the accounts given
by the police regarding them.  

THE MAN WHO COUNTED by Malba Tahan (translated by Leslie Clark and
Alastair Reid) (ISBN 978-0-393-30934-8) is a combination math
puzzle book and "Arabian Nights" sort of adventure story (although
it is a geographic error to call a story that takes place in
Mesopotamia "Arabian").

A more serious problem is that two of the puzzles are wrong.  In
one case (page 182), the puzzle is expressed ambiguously, and as
most people would interpret it, the solution given is wrong and it
has no solution.  Tahan writes, "Mas este filho ... apenas tinha
atingido a metade da idade do pai, morreu" (translated as "No
sooner had this child reached half the age of its father than it
died").  This could theoretically be read as either the child died
at half the age its father was when the child died, or half the age
its father was when the father died.  They could have said, "No
sooner had this child reached half the age its father did than it
died."  But instead what they said can get interpreted as "No
sooner had this child reached half the age its father had than it

In the other (page 238ff), there is no solution because the logic
used is faulty.  The problem involves liars and truth-tellers, and
the solution depends on whether a liar can say "A and B" when A is
true and B is false.  Beremiz assumes that if A is true the speaker
must be a truth-teller.  The problem is that "A and B" as a
statement is true only if A is true *and* B is true.  So if someone
who may be a truth-teller or may be a liar says "A and B" and you
know A is true, that does not tell you anything about B, or which
sort of person the speaker is.  (If on the other hand you know A is
false, you do not care about B--you know the person is a liar.)

(If the person said "A. B." and "A" is true, *then* the questioner
might reasonably conclude that the person is a truth-teller and
that B is also true.)

It's a pity, because there is a certain charm and poetry to how the
puzzles are told, embedded in a story of travelers in exotic
settings.  (These days, of course, one might question the
"orientalism" embodied in this book--the author's name as given
implies he is someone from that part of the world, but in fact the
name is a pseudonym and he is really Julio Cesar de Mello e Souza,
a Brazilian.  For more information on Mello e Souza, see  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly
           terms with the victims he intends to eat.
                                           --Samuel Butler