Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/06/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 28, Whole Number 1944

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards
        The Answer (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        My Top Ten Films of 2016 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        ROGUE ONE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        HACKSAW RIDGE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE STOLEN LYRIC (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        Fake News and Hacking (letters of comment by Jerry Ryan
                and John Purcell)
        THE INVISIBLE BOY, Sherlock Holmes, TAFF 2017
                (letter of comment by John Purcell)
        This Week's Reading (POSTCARDS FROM STANLAND and
                PUTIN COUNTRY) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards

Best Picture: MOONLIGHT
Best Animated Feature: KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Best Film Not in the English Language: THE HANDMAIDEN (South Korea)
Best Documentary: O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
Best Director: Barry Jenkins (MOONLIGHT)
Best Actor: Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (JACKIE)
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT)
Best Supporting Actress: Naomie Harris (MOONLIGHT)
Best Original Screenplay: HELL OR HIGH WATER (Taylor Sheridan)
Best Adapted Screenplay: ARRIVAL (Eric Heisserer, Ted Chiang)
Best Editing: LA LA LAND (Tom Cross)
Best Cinematography: LA LA LAND (Linus Sandgren)

Founded in 1997, the Online Film Critics Society
( is the largest and oldest Internet-based
film journalism organization.  Over 250 members from 22 countries
voted in this year's awards.

[Mark is a member of the OFCS.]


TOPIC: The Answer (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Seen on a bumper sticker:

JESUS is the ANSWER.  The question was: What is SUSEJ spelled


TOPIC: My Top Ten Films of 2016 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Let me start out by saying that this year I have not been in a
position to see several of the major films.  Some of the best of
the year I am happy to say are still in my future and not my past.
But this list represents the best of what I have seen.  You can
take these as recommendations, and probably not a list of the best
films of the year.  Major films missing include MOONLIGHT and
SILENCE, both of which have been recommended to me.  In any case,
this list is the best ten films I saw from January 1 to December
31, 2016.  The films about Black-White race relations were many,
just at a time when those relations seem to be breaking down.  It
was a continuing theme that obviously was on the minds of many
filmmakers.  I list two of them that make this list.

The subject is spying in the very high-tech electronics age.
American intelligence with advanced spying devices, (particularly
drones), is following a situation involving terrorism in Nairobi.
But serious moral decisions as to what action to take do crop up,
and the ability to bring several people in different parts of the
world into the decision making process only makes ethical decisions
more difficult.  There are legal, ethical, and political
considerations in making decisions and having advanced technology
only makes decisions harder.  We get to see what the tech can and
cannot do in a suspenseful situation.  Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4)
or 9/10

Twelve alien craft land at apparently random locations on the
Earth's surface. This creates a dangerous situation that could lead
to a third world war. A linguist and a physicist are more or less
drafted to head up a team trying to find why these apparently alien
craft are here. Amy Adams gives a compelling performance as a woman
trying to break the most important and also one of the most
difficult puzzles in human history. Denis Villeneuve directs a
screenplay by Eroc Heisserer based on a story by respected science
fiction author Ted Chiang. This is probably the best science
fiction film of 2016.  Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

Desmond Doss was brutally mis-treated in the WWII army because as a
religious conscientious objector he refused to even touch a gun. He
became a medic and then was the hero of a battle for a small piece
of Okinawa. The film is full of pieces familiar from other films,
but the realism and carnage possibly even go beyond that of SAVING
PRIVATE RYAN. HACKSAW RIDGE is based on a true story and directed
by Mel Gibson. The film is of epic length, 140 minutes, and
certainly parts are a harrowing experience to watch, not to say
they are terrifying. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

This is the epic biopic of the career of Dutch naval hero Michiel
Ruyter who fought against the English and the French in the second
and third Anglo-Dutch wars, 1665 to 1673. It features several
exciting cannon battles between ships. The filmmakers frequently
create spectacular visual effects using CGI like it was meant to be
used.   The historical accuracy is somewhat questionable since it
covers his successes and skips his mistakes and failures.  Still we
have gone a long time since we had a good sword, sail, and cannon
sea adventure.  And when have we ever had one from the Dutch point
of view?  Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

This is an epic-length five-part documentary 467 minutes long.  In
that length it covers race relations in the 1960s, O.J. Simpson's
sports career, his television and film career, his relationship
with Nicole Brown, the capture of Simpson, the murder trial.  Most
of these it covers in detail.  Even if you are not interested in
his sports career (as I wasn't) you can skip over the sports
section (as I did).  The documentary was made for ESPN, but only a
small proportion of the film is about sports.  The best word to
describe the film is "comprehensive."  Peabody and Emmy winning
director Ezra Edelman will cover tangential topics like the Rodney
King riots that he then shows are germane to the Simpson story.
Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

This film is done in old-fashioned stopCmotion animation.  It is an
American fantasy adventure though it is set in a Japanese magical
spirit world.  Kubo, a street entertainer, is on a quest with a
talking monkey to find the three pieces of an enchanted invincible
suit of armor.  Very detailed and beautiful images fill the screen.
This fantasy is produced by the Laika Company, the stop-motion
studio who previously made CORALINE, PARANORMAN, and THE BOXTROLLS.
The film was directed by Travis Knight and was written by Chris
Butler and Marc Haimes.  It should appeal to all ages.  Rating: low
+3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

We have recently had three films about people fighting the awesome
force of the sea.  We have seen IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, THE FINEST
HOURS, and DEEPWATER HORIZON, all released in the space of about
ten months.  This one nailed my attention to the screen.  If the
most important details were not true this would have been
melodrama.  But since most of what we see was authentic, there are
scenes and situations that are real jaw-droppers.  This is a story
of a boat that was ripped in half during a storm that made it
deadly just to be on the water, the men on that boat, and the coast
guard rescue.  The special effects did an excellent job of hiding
in plain sight.  Australian Craig Gillespie directs a script by
Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy sticking fairly close to the truth.
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

There are plenty of films about uneasy father-daughter
relationships.  What adds novelty to this one is that the father is
God and the daughter is just as normal as her father's profession
allows her to be.  She is supposed to have a brother somewhere but
the less said about that the better.  He has been reduced to a
statue.  God's daughter decides as a prank to let everybody in the
world know the day they will die.  Those who enjoyed the
theological discussion in BEDAZZLED have a similar vein of humor.
This is a film chock-full of fun ideas.  The film, in French, was
directed by Belgian Jaco Van Dormael from a screenplay by him and
Thomas Gunzig.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

In this documentary are the words of James Baldwin on top of
archival film.  It is an illustrated autobiography, which more
involves the audience as seeing race relations in Baldwin's times.
Samuel Jackson does the voiceovers.  Particularly enjoyable (if
that can be the right word) are the movie clips.  Baldwin's manner
of putting prose together, his presentation, his posture, and his
rhetoric are magnetic and help to bring the film to eloquence.
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Shane Black, the director and co-writer of THE NICE GUYS, has
slipped in under my radar.   As far back as 1987 he was scripting
action films like the "Lethal Weapons" series.  He can write a
crime thriller with some very funny comedy in it and it still
remains a thriller.  Somehow he never made much of an impression on
me until he wrote and directed KISS KISS BANG BANG.  That is one of
the rare films that get me laughing out loud.  THE NICE GUYS is
just as funny as well as being a crackerjack murder mystery.
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10



TOPIC: ROGUE ONE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This is the story of the early days of the Rebel Alliance
that first appeared in the original 1977 Star Wars film.  A new
young hero is introduced, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones).  The
story is grim and gritty with a fairly complex plot that ties up
loose ends from the original series that you most likely did not
know were loose ends.  It is probably the best writing of any Star
Wars film to date.  It also has some of the most impressive sky
battles to date.  The film is directed by Gareth Edwards (GODZILLA
(2014) and MONSTERS (2010)) and written by Chris Weitz and Tony
Gilroy.  It answers some of the questions about the original plot
that you never thought to ask.  Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

George Lucas foresaw the STAR WARS story as two trilogies (or
sometimes three).  For several years it remained two trilogies.
Now not part of the earlier series comes (for now) two individual
films set in the same universe and having some minor crossover
close enough to the series that it got its own Roman numeral.  On
the other hand the eighth film is more original and has a more
complex storyline making it probably second only to the 1977 STAR
WARS as the most startling and original film of the series.

Galen Erso was a major engineer for the Death Star until he escaped
the empire's grip.  Orson Krennic, the leader of the Death Star
project finds Erso and drags him back to the project. In the
process Galen's wife is killed in the struggle but his daughter Jyn
escapes.  How much trouble can a little girl possibly be to the
Empire?  Right!  Since the days of Jason and the Argonauts, leaving
children who have grudges against you has never been the smart

Flash forward fifteen years.  Jyn is bent on revenge and that
revenge might as well be getting the plans for the Death Star to
the somewhat chaotic Rebel Alliance.  ROGUE ONE runs parallel to
the story we already know and tells us some of the history of the
Rebel Alliance.

The film stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen
Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) one of the engineers who designed the
Deathstar.  Felicity Jones is probably best known as the demure
Mrs. Stephan Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.  Mikkelsen may be
remembered (among other roles) as Le Chiffre, the villain of CASINO
ROYALE (2006).  We also have Alan Tudyk (who was hilarious in DEATH
AT A FUNERAL) completely engulfed in the robot K-2SO, where his
talent for physical comedy goes unseen. (Why is it that when
somebody does some interesting acting in a serious film, the next
thing you know they are acting opposite digital effects in an SF or
fantasy film?  I guess being in a special effects film is the new
form of dramatic success.)

The new film comes only about a year after we got our last Star
Wars film, a sign of how the franchise will be paced under the
ownership of Disney.  This film is full of amazing digital effects,
particularly in mammoth space battles.  But the most startling
visual effect is quietly having Peter Cushing play about five
minutes in this film, recreating his role as Grand Moff Tarkin.  It
was impressive for us but effortless for Peter Cushing (we assume)
since he has been dead for something like 22 years.  Somehow it
always seemed that Christopher Lee would be the first of the pair
of friends to return from the dead.  While it is startling to see
Cushing alive on the screen again, using a voice that sounded very
unlike Cushing's compromises the effect.  There probably are
impressionists who could have made Cushing's lines sound like
Cushing really was speaking.  Cushing is beloved of many film fans
and to see him apparently appearing and speaking in a new film is a
jaw-dropping moment.  The Star Wars films are always trying show
off new technology to show the viewer what he has not seen before.

This is a solid adventure film with very effective land and space
battles. Have no fear.  What humor there is is nowhere near as
broad as bringing in Jar-Jar Binks or pod races was in previous
films.  By the end of the film we see this story is an attachment
to the original series that clicks smartly into place.  Fans of the
Star Wars films--and don't be ashamed to admit it if you are one--
will see a more complete expansion of the mainline story and a lot
of visual excitement.  I rate ROGUE ONE a low +3 on the -4 to +4
scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: HACKSAW RIDGE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Desmond Doss was brutally mis-treated in the WWII army
because as a religious concientious objector he refused to even
touch a gun.  He became a medic and then was the hero of a battle
for a small piece of Okinawa.  The film is full of pieces familiar
from other films, but the realism and carnage possibly even go
beyond that of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  HACKSAW RIDGE is based on a
true story and directed by Mel Gibson.  The film is of epic length,
140 minutes and certainly parts are a harrowing experience to
watch, not to say terrifying.  Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Mel Gibson delivers a strong film about real life hero Desmond Doss
(played as an adult by Andrew Garfield, as a teen by Darcy Bryce).
 From an early age he refused to kill.  The film covers his youth
and relationship with an abusive father (Hugo Weaving).  He finds
love with Nurse Dorothy Schutte (blue-water-eyed Teresa Palmer).
Then he goes into the army only to face persecution for beliefs and
his refusal to touch guns.  Then the script follows the anticipated
trajectory.  The latter part of the film is mostly about taking and
holding the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge, a cliff--not as high as
portrayed in the film but still a formidable target.  The only way
up the cliff is by climbing a cargo net used as a rope ladder.
(Though the film does not show it, Doss was one of three men who
heroically volunteered to climb the cliff and hang the cargo net.)
See the "History Vs. Hollywood" link below for a comparison of the
action and the historical facts.

The script by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight generally sticks
extraordinarily closely to the historical facts.  The problem with
the script, based on a previous documentary, is that so many of the
sequences and situations of the film were previously dramatized in
films long before the script was written.  Even if they are true,
which apparently they are, the film has sequences familiar from THE
several more.  It may just be that there is not that many different
ways to tell a similar story.  This one has a religious overlay,
firmly establishing and reminding us of Doss's strong relationship
with God and his religion.

What is unique about this film is the great lengths the film goes
to recreating realistically and accurately the confusion and
carnage and horrors of warfare. Some of this requires a strong
stomach.  At least director Mel Gibson spares us extreme close-ups.

One odd touch is that Doss, who would later awarded the
Congressional Medal, is shown giving aid and comfort to an un-
captured enemy soldier, which is quite literally the definition of
committing "treason."  Another touch that may be of interest: the
film, directed by Gibson, has a character named Irv Schecter
presented in a positive light.  Some of my readers will know why
that is interesting.

Andrew Garfield does not look at first take like someone who would
be a war hero, but then neither did the real Desmond Doss.  He does
make this role his own.  I rate HACKSAW RIDGE a +3 on the -4 to +4
scale or 9/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:

A comparison of film and fact:



TOPIC: THE STOLEN LYRIC (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: To all appearances this is not so much a film as it is a
stunt to set a legal precedent.  An entire animated film has only
fragments of rock songs comprising its audio track.  The audio
track is 555 song fragments legally copied from 129 rock singers.
Chase Peter Garrettson writes and directs.  Rating: -3 (-4 to +4)
or 0/10

In its publicity THE STOLEN LYRIC promised to be unique and I
cannot disagree.  The film is an animated rock narrative set in
modern times but loosely based on the story of Robin Hood, pitting
a small rock band against the selfish record companies.

That idea has possibilities, but what was done with it can hardly
be called a possibility.  The film's intention is to make a legal
point about copyright law.  As the providers say, "This
transformative remix work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted
material as provided for in section 107 of the US copyright laws."
So there.

The whole enterprise is reminiscent of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN.
The narrative is cobbled together from pieces of those songs that
have come before.  The resulting being is one of surpassing
ugliness.  When it is played cats hide and dogs howl.

It is a story set to music but every time the speaker changes the
music behind him changes so you get a nerve-jarring collection of
song lyrics.  There are 555 song fragments, many of which would be
hard to understand so the filmmakers have mercifully subtitled to
give the listener a fair chance.  There are 129 artists whose music
is quoted in this film.  Just listening to the film sets nerves on

The entire film has been put on YouTube to play without charge.
The story itself seems to have visual references to the Robin Hood
stories.  The band members are Rob, Will Scarlet, LJ and Tucker.
The last is an obvious reference to Friar Tuck, but though the
original Tuck was an ally and friend to Robin Hood, he was not in
Robin Hood's band of outlaws.  These characters are in the modern
Rob's band, but it is hard keep track of their characters'
personalities since their voice is very different every time they

If this film was made to set a legal precedent or to make a legal
piece of humor, it probably was successful.  If it was really
intended to be an entertainment, at that it failed.  Rating this as
a narrative film I would give it a -3 on the -4 to +4 scale or
0/10.  But my guess is that that was not the point or the purpose.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:




TOPIC: Fake News and Hacking (letters of comment by Jerry Ryan and
John Purcell)

In response to Mark's comments on fake news in the 12/30/16 issue
of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:

It's clearly "hacking" if someone is breaking into computer systems
and altering results.

Is it hacking if one injects fake news into a system and influences
people to vote differently?  How is *that* something that can be
accurately measured, much less legislated against?  [-gwr]

Mark responds:

I would not call injecting fake news "hacking" unless you think in
a larger sense it is hacking our political mechanism.  Not every
Internet-based evil need be called "hacking."  [-mrl]

John Purcell writes:

As for fake news reports on the internet and elsewhere, I like to
use real and fake news articles in my rhetoric classes as
illustrations of presenting arguments and readers using critical
thinking skills to discern the facts; I call this my "sifting the
wheat from the chaff" lesson sequence.  It's an eye-opener, and I
take no prisoners: all points of view get the same treatment.
After all, it's only fair.  Another term for it is "Angle of
Vision" because readers and writers always include their
perspective in one way, shape, or form despite their best efforts
to be objective.  Now, this gets away from your points about fraud
and free speech, but I just thought I'd share this with you and
your readers to show that freedom of interpretation is just as
valid, if not more dangerous, as freedom of speech.  MT VOID
readers, discuss.  [-jp]


TOPIC: THE INVISIBLE BOY, Sherlock Holmes, TAFF 2017 (letter of
comment by John Purcell)

In response to Mark's comments on THE INVISIBLE BOY in the 12/30/16
issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

I would not call the year 1943 a very good one, but the 1943rd
issue of MT VOID definitely falls into that category. To whit, a
few comments are demanded.

It has been many, many years since I have seen THE INVISIBLE BOY
(1957), and that record shall continue since our cable provider
does not, well, provide TCM, which never ceases to annoy me. That
movie lineup for January 11th is a good one: naturally, I have seen
all of these movies, but it would fun to see SATELLITE IN THE SKY
(1956) again because I don't have that one on DVD or VHS (yes, we
still have working VCR on our living room television). Grand stuff.
You are right, Mark, in that THE INVISIBLE BOY is notable for how
we already do many of the technological features with computers in
our daily lives, right down to the hackers and counter-intelligence
usages. Well done!

In response to Evelyn's comments on Sherlock Holmes pastiches in
the 12/23/16 issue of the MT VOID, John writes:

Sherlock Holmes stories are classic, and I love a good pastiche as
anybody else. One of the best books that I have read in the last
ten years or so was SHERLOCK HOLMES; THE AMERICAN YEARS (2010)
edited by Michael Kurland, the third anthology he edited based on
other aspects of the Holmes canon and mystique.  It's a wonderful
book with ten stories by Ruchard Lupoff, Daryl Brock, Michael
Mallory, and seven others.  If anybody has not read this yet, I
recommend it.  A very fun book. It has one of my favorite non-Doyle
Holmes stories, "My Silk Umbrella" (the B rock story), in which a
twenty-year old Sherlock Holmes meets Mark Twain at a baseball game
in Hartford, Connecticut.  Grand fun!

And John concludes:

Oh, before I forget, the 2017 TAFF race is on to send a worthy
North American fan to the Helsinki World SF Convention, and I'm one
of the three candidates. Vote me for TAFF! I'm gonna.  [-jp]


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

(ISBN 978-0-8214-2177-2) starts by addressing the fact that while
(most) Americans have no difficulty distinguishing among Iceland,
Ireland, Finland, Holland, and Poland, they are totally confused by
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan,
not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Part of this may be the contradictions inherent in these countries.
Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world (by land
area), but with a population equal to that of Burkina Faso or
Malawi.  The Tajik language, unlike the other four, is in the
Persian family of languages rather than Turkic, though it is
further from present-day Iran than either Turkmenistan or
Uzbekistan.  The Kazakh language has gone from the Arabic alphabet
to the Latin to the Cyrillic and will supposedly return to the
Latin.  Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan use the Latin alphabet, but
Kyrgyzstan uses the Cyrillic.  Tajikistan uses Cyrillic, but there
are factions for both the Latin and Arabic alphabets as well.
Because of all this, names and places are often transliterated, and
not always consistently.

In addition, the ethnic make-ups of the five "Stans" had been
completely jumbled up by the Russians, with their forced
emigrations, forced immigrations, and famines (planned and
unplanned), not to mention strategically placed borders.
(Samarkand and Bukhara, for example, were ethnically Tajik cities
which the Soviets located in Uzbekistan.)

However, it is a bit disingenuous of Mould to complain about most
Americans lack of knowledge of the five Central Asian republics
CENTRAL ASIA, but spends hardly any time on three of them
(Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), mentioning them really
only in passing.  On the one hand, he is writing about the places
that he has experience with, but on the other, implying his book
covers all the republics is a bit deceptive.

0) is a look at Putin's Russia--or more specifically, Putin's
Chelyabinsk.  Rather than try to cover all of Russia, Garrels
decided to focus on one city.  She started this project *before*
Chelyabinsk became famous for having the biggest meteorite to hit
the earth since 1908.  (That the 1908 meteorite also hit Russia
says something about Russia's size, or luck, or something.)

In each chapter, Garrels covers a different aspect of today's
Chelyabinsk: families, doctors, education, religion, pollution,
free speech, and so on.  Almost all of these end up very depressing
to Western readers, and also to the Russians Garrels talked to.
However, most of the Russians she talked to also feel that while
the authoritarianism, bribery, and corruption are bad, there are
better than the apparent anarchy that ruled the country in the
1990s.  As for the Russian nationalism that Putin and his
government are promoting, it translates into anti-minority, anti-
Muslim, anti-immigrant feeling.  (Sound familiar?)  Although the
Russian Constitution declares separation of church and state, in
fact the Orthodox Church (or at least that part controlled by pro-
government priests) is given all sorts of preferential treatment,
and many (most) Russian Orthodox believe it should go even further.
(Sound familiar?)  Throughout all this runs a thread of the the
rehabilitation of Stalin, downplaying or ignoring Stalin's crimes
and genocidal actions and concentrating on all the good aspects of
his rule: law and order, winning the Great Patriotic War, and so

PUTIN COUNTRY is a good overview of the situation and attitudes in
Russia today (or at least in Chelyabinsk), but also a discouraging
one.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Our dogs will love and admire the meanest of us,
           and feed our colossal vanity with their uncritical
                                           -- Agnes Repplier