Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/13/19 -- Vol. 38, No. 24, Whole Number 2097

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Mini Reviews, Part 1 (IN MY ROOM, DEPRAVED, ANYA)
                (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)
        JOJO RABBIT (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE AMERICANS: Six Seasons of the Best Spy Show Ever
                (television review by Dale Skran)
        Cooking (letter of comment by Jim Susky)
        Spicy Food (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein
                and Peter Trei)
        Christmas Stories (letters of comment by Sam Long
                and Peter Trei)
        This Week's Reading (HUNGRY HEARTS) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 1 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

It is that time of year again when I vote on awards for films.
This is one very nice perq of my hobby of writing film reviews and
being a member of the Online Film Critic Society.  Filmmakers and
publicists *want* me to see their films in the hopes that they (the
films, not the people) will be considered for awards.  I get to see
new films either on-line or I get discs.  I have not yet worked out
if the makers of films like ABOMINABLE really expect the critics to
fall in love with their films.  They offer me a chance to see their
output and there always will be a few really good films.

I cannot write my usual format for every film I see, but I can
write brief reviews.  I do not know where these films will play.
These films may play in local theaters or in Manhattan art houses.
But I can let people know what to look for on Amazon Prime and/or

I will start with three science fiction films.

In the film IN MY ROOM Hans is a self-obsessed man who suddenly
finds everyone else in the world has literally disappeared.  He
searches in vain to find someone else and to understand what
happened to the world.  The idea has been used before in THE WORLD,
English subtitles.
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).

DEPRAVED is a low-budget reframing of FRANKENSTEIN.  The setting is
the 21st century for a violent envisioning with a color palette of
reds and yellows.  The audience sees the story unfolding and then
maps the pieces into the original story.  For example, in this
version the character of Henry is Adam's friend and Polidori is
financing the project.  The creature is the product of drugs and
medicine.  Once the viewer gets into the story he can get into
seeing this as an oddly faithful retelling of the Shelley novel.
It is a downer but still fairly enjoyable on another level.
Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4).

I suppose that ANYA qualifies as science fiction, though usually
this is not the kind of science that science fiction is about.
ANYA is about a couple who seem to be unable to have a baby without
miscarrying.  I suppose there is a science of fertility within
biology and medicine.  Marco wants to have a baby with Libby, but
there seems to be something strange about Marco's ethic community.
They seem to be infertile with anyone outside their community and
any such mixed marriage is against the rules of the ethnic
community.  Such relationships are considered taboo, but nobody
wants to help Marco find out why.  Marco finds that the answers to
his questions are far different than what he had expected.  Rating:
high +1 (-4 to +4).



TOPIC: JOJO RABBIT (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Near the end of WWII a ten-year-old German boy who
idolizes the German military finds he has to make some hard
choices.  While the film usually has high spirits, there are times
when the viewer will not find the story a happy one.  Directed and
written by Taika Waititi.  Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10.

The time is very late World War II.  The setting is a small town in
Germany that luckily escaped any of the fighting.  Jojo (played by
Roman Griffin Davis) is ten years old and loves the war and the
German warriors trying to celebrate the military.  He has German
propaganda posters all over his room.  He has escaped the reality
of his country's position.  Jojo has an imaginary friend he talks
to.  The friend is Adolf Hitler.  When Jojo has a problem he asks
his friend Adolf.

Just now Jojo is particularly excited.  He is joining the Deutsches
Jungvolk.  That is the branch of the Hitler Youth for younger boys,
and something somewhere between the Boy Scouts and army war games.
In the wood where they practice they look like a sea of brown
shirts.  They even get to use live weapons, which is a mistake for
Jojo.  He is too close to a hand grenade when it goes off.  He
breaks a leg and his face is disfigured for life.  It is while he
is on the mend that he starts hearing noises he cannot explain.
His mother blames the noise on rats in the attic.  Jojo happily
goes around town defending German militarism and nationalism.  And
not surprisingly the topic comes to German anti-Semitism.

As strong as Jojo's relationship is with his mother (played by
Scarlett Johansson), they disagree on the war.  There is more to
the story, but for that see the film.  I rate it a +3 on the -4 to
+4 scale, or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: THE AMERICANS: Six Seasons of the Best Spy Show Ever
(television review by Dale Skran)

My wife and I just finished binging all six seasons of THE
AMERICANS on Netflix.  I'm a fan of spy shows, include ALIAS and
the various NIKITAs, but THE AMERICANS stands head and shoulders
above all the rest. In fact, a list on rotten tomatoes of the top
50 spy TV shows of all time places THE AMERICANS as #1, and I
agree. This show is so good that the superlatives seem endless.
Some of them include:

- Really excellent casting of virtually every character. There are
a couple of minor mis-steps, like one handler who is supposed to be
Russian but isn't and doesn't speak Russian well, even
mispronouncing Elizabeth's Russian name.  Also, Paige's first
boyfriend just doesn't seem attractive enough to be plausible,
given that Paige is mega-cute.  THE AMERICANS should receive a
special award for using Russian actors for almost all of the
Russian roles.

- Fantastic interleaving of real historical events and actual KGB
missions into the plotline. This series would be a great way to
help students understand the 80s.

- One of the best 80s music scores ever.

- Some of the smartest, deepest scripting you will ever see on TV.

- A story told from the viewpoint of deep-cover KGB illegals in the
US that both manages to convey their motives and rationalizations
without sanitizing Communism or glamorizing the spy life.

- With Phillip and Elizabeth, two of the most compelling spy
characters of all time, each a magician at changing their
appearance.  In one scene, an FBI agent is looking at dozens of
witness sketches, all of Phillip and Elizabeth, and says "Either
they are all the same people, or they are all different people."
In truth, you will never know. However, their true disappearing act
is hiding from themselves. Phillip may have gotten a taste for
murder when at a young age he killed two older bullies with a handy
rock.  Elizabeth is more ideological and calculating, willing to
commit any atrocity or kill any friend in the name of the mission.
Both, however, are functional psychopaths, able to turn off empathy
like a switch, while at the same time utilizing superior emotional
intelligence to manipulate and destroy.  Their training in sexual
manipulation focused on disassociating displayed from real
feelings, and both have mastered the art of bedroom deception.
Phillip is having doubts from the first episode, but over time even
Elizabeth starts to question whether the results are worth the
physical and emotional carnage she spreads everywhere she goes.

- The most realistic spy TV show ever, with the best portrayal of
tradecraft ever done. Series creator Joe Weisberg is a former CIA
officer, and it shows in every frame.

- Absolutely wonderful--and accurate--usage of 80s vintage spy

- Pretty much the best and most realistic fight choreography ever.
The actors were trained in Krav Maga to simulate Systema, the
eclectic fighting art of the KGB, and the results on screen are
impressive.  There are lots of varied fights, and great sequences
where Elizabeth trains Paige, her daughter, in how to fight.
Another high point is a scene where Phillip tests Paige's skills
following an unsanctioned bar fight where Paige takes out two horny
college students. Paige fights like a strong junior blackbelt, but
Phillip is a fully realized master of the combat version of many
martial arts.  Systema is deeply Jiu-Jitsu and Aikido influenced,
with a fluid look that can seem magical in action.  Elizabeth and
Phillip are both brutal, ruthless combatants, but each with their
own styles.  Phillip is an extraordinary practitioner of Systema
mixed with the raw determination of a street fighter.  Elizabeth
likes to close with opponents and kill them with a knife or choke
them out.  They also learn new skills over time; Elizabeth at one
point learns Tai Chi from one of her seduction targets.  Phillip is
"the better shot" and does any needed rifle work, while Elizabeth
is a John Wickian killing machine with a handgun. Neither Phillip
nor Elizabeth are especially tall or heavy, so they rely on their
skills, tactical inventiveness, use of improvised weapons, and

- A set of plot lines that are both totally engaging and completely
realistic to the times, at most mild extensions of actual events.
There is a refreshing lack of contrived world-threatening menaces.

- Great location shooting, mostly in NYC pretending to be DC, and
in Moscow.

- Direction Hitchcock would be proud of, with some hard to watch
murder scenes.

- A really well thought out and honest account of how the methods
of both the KGB and the CIA/FBI can be destructive and cruel. There
is no moral equivalence here, but instead a meditation on "when you
stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back."

- Since the Soviet Union/Russia does in reality use deep-cover
illegals who live pretty much as portrayed in THE AMERICANS,
although the situation shown seems fantastical, it is also very
real.  In one actual case, a family of deep-cover illegals living
in Canada were caught and traded back to Russia. Neither of their
sons were aware that their parents where KGB illegals, a situation
exemplified in THE AMERICANs by Elizabeth and Phillip's son Henry,
who is only told his parents are spies by the FBI after they have
left the country. The writers of THE AMERICANS took many of the
details of the Soviet illegals that were arrested in 2010, but
moved them back in time to the Reagan era so they would be taken
more seriously.  Some specific "real world" details that appear in

   - Couples raising their children to be spies
   - A "spy kid" attending Georgetown University [like Paige]
   - A couple escaping while others are caught [like Phillip and
   - A couple that left their unknowing kids behind when they
     escaped [like Henry]
   - The use of real estate businesses as a cover
   - The illegals work for "the Centre"
   - The illegals are part of "Directorate S"

By now you may have figured out that I really liked THE AMERICANS.
So, what might be wrong with the series?

- One criticism is that Phillip and Elizabeth are just too busy.
They go on too many missions and there are too many killings.
Their exhaustion from the pace of "the work" is a major plot
thread, but the critics have a point here. Some of this is just the
over-dramatization of TV, although by "action standards" the amount
of action is limited. This is a very dialog heavy series.

- Another criticism is that deep cover agents are supposed to be
used in a very limited way to avoid giving them away.  This
suggests that Phillip and Elizabeth would not be given
assassination missions as shown in THE AMERICANS.  Yet the KGB does
do a lot of assassinations, especially of traitors and defectors,
and illegals would be an effective way to carry them out in the
U.S.  In the AMERICANS there is a fairly extensive network of
illegals.  It is reasonable to suppose that some of the other
illegals perform much less visible work, while Phillip and
Elizabeth get a lot of the wet work.  Certainly, they have very
high-level fighting skills and tactical training.  In one scene
Elizabeth puts two large, burly, military trained FBI agents in the
hospital, in part by using moving traffic as a weapon, although, as
in all real fights between skilled combatants, she suffers serious
injuries, in this case broken teeth.  The only reason the FBI
agents survive is that Elizabeth recognizes one of them as an agent
whose office they have bugged, and knows that killing him would
most likely lead to the discovery of the bug.

- The dialog between Elizbeth and Paige doesn't always ring true.
Elizabeth lies to Paige about what she does more than I think she
really would, especially once Paige is deeply involved in working
for the KGB.

- Given the skill levels of both Elizabeth and Phillip, I would
expect them to train more in secret. Phillip goes for long runs,
but Elizabeth is too busy for much training.  Aside from her Tai
Chi and teaching Paige, she is never shown training.

- Elizabeth and Phillip are a bit too capable.  In addition to
being highly skilled martial artists and assassins, masters of
spycraft, full-on con artists, actors, disguise experts,
pickpockets, team leaders, burglars, lock-pickers, spy trainers,
and excellent gunfighters, they run a travel agency successfully
for years while seducing a wide variety of sources.   Both are
expert EMTs, and treat each other's injuries routinely.  Phillip
appears to be more technical, and often gets to install bugs while
Elizabeth eliminates witnesses. Their only weakness is that as
parents they are clueless, especially when it comes to teenagers.
And of course, eventually "the work" wears them down. They do too
much and see too much.

This is not a very long list.


THE AMERICANS, somewhat like THE SOPRANOS, does not wrap everything
up in a nice bow.  Here are some lose ends:

- What happens to poor Oleg? Does he spend the rest of his life in
an American jail?  Oleg is the closest thing to a real hero in THE
AMERICANS, and his fate is a terrible punishment for good deeds and
good intentions.

- Do Elizabeth and Phillip leave the spy business, or are they
drawn into a secret civil war in the Soviet Union?  Since they are
already firmly established on one side, it is hard to image how
they could retire and survive. But I think at this point they
REALLY want to retire. And if anyone could disappear, it would be

- Is Jenna a deep-cover KGB agent?  FBI agent Stan Beeman ends the
series looking at his live-in girlfriend sleeping, thinking about
Phillip's final words of warning to him--that she might be a deep-
cover agent as well.

- And finally, and most importantly, just what does Paige do after
her final scene?  She decides to not follow her parents to the
Soviet Union, and we last see her in the abandoned apartment of
Claudia, Phillip and Elizabeth's KGB handler, in her "Canadian girl"
disguise, drinking vodka shots. Unlike her brother, she was deeply
involved in KGB operations, to the extent that living as Paige
Jennings is not an option.  She may want to look after her brother,
but she is in effect now an illegal herself, and surely will be on
an FBI wanted list.  She certainly can't pursue her planned life as
a second-generation illegal working at the State Department or go
back to college as Paige Jennings.  She also feels betrayed by her
mother's lies about using sex to get information.  Elizabeth has
made it clear to Paige that "the work" requires severing all ties
to friends and family.  A visual parallel is drawn between scenes
of Elizabeth sitting alone in her apartment in Moscow just prior to
being sent to America as an illegal, and Paige sitting alone in an
apartment in DC drinking Vodka shots.  Paige is also a person who
seeks to "make a difference" by sacrificing herself.  She has been
drawn to the KGB precisely because it does require sacrifice. So,
what does this all mean?  Paige could simply walk out the door and
seek to live in America under her Canadian name. She would have to
avoid drawing attention to herself, but her junior spy training
seems sufficient to the task.  Probably the FBI would never find
her, in part because she would not be doing anything they might
notice.  But if this is her plan, why is she in Claudia's apartment
at all?  I can think of only one reason--she is waiting for
Claudia's replacement to arrive, and killing time with the vodka
shots. The vodka suggests her connection with Russia. Of course,
she might also be waiting for the FBI to find the safe house.
Perhaps she has decided that her future will be determined by who
walks through the door first.

As mentioned above, Oleg is probably the most heroic character.
However, after decades of following orders and committing gruesome
tasks for the KGB, both Phillip and even the always loyal Elizabeth
turn on the KGB faction that is seeking to overthrow Gorbachev,
with Elizabeth even killing another KGB agent.  In this final
unsanctioned act by Elizabeth, she may have balanced the lives she
destroyed during her many operations as an illegal, since that
final bullet may have prevented a new Stalin from rising to power,
and all the subsequent evil that would inevitably follow, even,
potentially to global war and destruction.  Does Paige knowingly
decide wait in Claudia's apartment simply to be, like her mother,
one day the decisive fulcrum that makes a real difference? Or is
she just confused Paige seeking an ideal to follow? Or confused
Paige who just has no clue at all? As is often the case, THE
AMERICANS provides no final answers.

It should be noted that THE AMERICANS has a lot of realistic family
drama. Few real couples are tested in the way Phillip and Elizabeth
are, with their life of endless secrets, violent death around every
corner, and simultaneous affairs with other people.  Yet THE
AMERICANS also works as a romance, as Phillip and Elizabeth, who
were initially assigned to each other by the KGB, become first
partners, then lovers and parents, and finally actually get
married. In the end, they have shared so much that living apart is
inconceivable; literally no one in the world has a clue about them
except each other.

My nomination for the saddest tale in THE AMERICANS is that of Stan
Beeman. Among other things:

- Stan's affair with a Russian double-agent leads to the breakup of
his marriage and the agent's execution by the Soviets.

- Stan's friendship with Oleg leads to Oleg being blackmailed by the
CIA and being put in great danger, which Stan rescues him from with
a brave career-destroying act of blackmail.

- Phillip kills Stan's first partner, leading Stan to kill an
innocent KGB agent in retaliation.

- Phillip seduces and marries the secretary of Stan's boss, and
eventually gets a bug into Stan's boss's office.

- Phillip and Elizabeth plant a bug on the FBI mail robot at Stan's

- Phillip kills Stan's computer guy and frames him as a traitor to
protect Martha, the secretary.

- Stan thinks he has won a big battle when his team captures an
illegal trying to get Lassa fever to the Soviets, but Phillip and
Elizabeth dig up the spy's body and get Lassa fever to the Soviets

- Stan tries to escape the spy game by going back to major crimes,
but it pulls him back and he ends up worse off than when he
started, trusting no one at all.

- A major operation in Chicago to capture an illegal goes awry,
with two FBI agents dead, thanks to the efforts of Phillip and

- Stan actually shoots and seriously injures Elizabeth at one
point, but never realizes who he shot.

- Stan lives next door to Phillip and Elizabeth for years, and
Phillip becomes his best friend, but he never realizes until the
very end that Phillip and Elizabeth are illegals.  Phillip
persuades Stan to let them go so that they can warn Gorbachev of
the coming coup, so any closure will be elusive. Did Phillip trick
him in the end, or did his action save the world? Stan will never

- Stan ends the series looking at a sleeping Renee, his new lover,
wondering if she is also a KGB illegal.

I highly recommend THE AMERICANS.  I am going with a +4 rating on
the -4 to +4 sale.  THE AMERICANS is the very best spy TV ever
made. This is an R-rated show, with strong violent scenes, and a
good deal of sex, and a certain amount of back nudity.  There are a
lot of morally ambiguous merging to evil actions by the main
characters.  For example, Elizabeth kills a couple in an apartment
with a knife while their unknowing son watches TV in a nearby room.
Although certainly not for kids in the slightest, I think mature
teenagers would benefit from watching THE AMERICANS.



TOPIC: Cooking (letter of comment by Jim Susky)

In response to Evelyn's comments on "easy-to-make" veggie burgers
in the 11/29/19 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

Your comment on homemade veggie burgers reminded me of a bachelor
kitchen adventure.

Some time ago I watched as the wife made vanilla pudding.  The
"proof" thereby made me realize that in the 70s Bill Cosby was a
liar regards the Jello "instant" product (or that his closed lip
smile concealed a grimace).

Later I thought I'd try my own hand in a solo effort. Out came
Julia's ART OF FRENCH COOKING.  Flip back to the index--Bavarian
Cream!  Forward to the recipe. Three pages later, I abandoned Julia
and turned to "Betty" (Crocker).  Much better--entire recipe on one
column.  One half hour later pudding was at hand (and in a bowl).


TOPIC: Spicy Food (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein and Peter

In response to Mark's comments on wasabi in the 12/06/19 issue of
the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

In most of the U. S. restaurants in which I have eaten, the wasabi
is actually colored horseradish. Real wasabi is a completely
different (better) experience.  [-pr]

Peter Trei writes:

I think the critical insight is that birds can't taste
capsaicinoids, but mammals can.  You can protect your bird feeder
from squirrels by adding ground chili pepper to the feed.

The pepper wants to be eaten by a bird--the seeds pass through
intact, and are distributed far in wide.  Mammals do this thing
called chewing, which destroys the seeds.  The spice is thus a
targeted defense against mammals.  [-pt]


TOPIC: Christmas Stories (letters of comment by Sam Long and Peter

In response to Mark's comments on Christmas films in the 11/29/19
issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:

Ref the latest MT VOID, I direct your attention to this Wikipedia
article:  You'll get a
chuckle out of it, I think.  By the way, did you celebrate the
feast of St Bibiana, patron of (sc. invoked against) hangovers,
last Monday 2 December?  [-sl]

Peter Trei writes:

Last night I watched both the Mr Magoo version, and the George C
Scott 1984 rendition (*excellent*).  Enjoyed both.

Did a little second-screen reading. Some interesting points:

* The Magoo version is quite literally the first TV holiday special
ever broadcast.

* Barbara Streisand's signature song 'People' was apparently first
written for this show (for the scene where Belle breaks up with
Scrooge), but didn't make it in.

Also, apparently ACC is the most-adapted piece of literature in the
Western Canon. Jim Hill did an analysis on no less than 40
adaptions back in 2006:
(a.k.a. 'Scrooge U').  Oddly, he misses the 1984 George C Scott

.... and that's not including the innumerable TV shows which adapted
it into a Xmas special episode.  [-pt]

Evelyn responds:

adaptations; Wikipedia says there have been 123 film adaptations
(  [-ecl]


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

HUNGRY HEARTS by Anzia Yezierska (Penguin, ISBN 978-0-14-118005-6)
is about the immigrant experience.  For example, the first-person
narrator in "The Free Vacation House" hears about a program that
will give her and her children two weeks in the country.  When she
expresses interest, a social worked shows up and starts asking her
questions: How old is she?  Where is she from?  How long has she
been in this country?  What is her husband's name?  How old is he?
How long has he been in this country?  What is his job?  How much
does he make?  How much is the rent?  How many children do they
have?  How old are they?  Does anyone else live with them?  She
asks why all the questions, and is told that the charities want to
make sure she deserves it.  She doesn't want charity, but it seems
there is no choice.

Two weeks later she gets told they can go to the country the next
day, and to go down to the office at 9AM.  There she waits for over
an hour, and then is asked the same questions: How old is she?
Where is she from?  How long has she been in this country?  And so
on.  Then they are led through the street like children, and taken
by train to the country, where a third person asks all the same
questions, and then they are given a long set of rules about where
they can go, what they can do, and so on; the people running the
vacation house want to keep it looking nice in case the people
paying for it come to inspect.

Oh, and all this takes place in the 1910s, although it sounds very
much like the way social programs are still implemented today.

Many of the stories do seem more anchored in that earlier period,
although when one thinks about them, there are many connections to
the present.  One of the biggest differences may be that the
emphasis on marriage for girls back then is no longer as strong.
While it is true that within many immigrant communities there is
still this emphasis, the wider society has a much stronger effect
on the opinions of the younger members.

The ultimate effect is both to understand the period in which
Yezierska wrote, and to understand our own a little bit better.

There was also one story that reminded me oddly of an Agatha
Christie story.  "'The Fat of the Land'" is about Hannah, a woman
who starts out in poverty, but her children manage to do well and
eventually she is living in luxury instead of a slum apartment.
But her children are ashamed of her because she still sounds and
acts as though she is still in the slums, and she feels useless.
So she goes to visit an old friend who is still in the slums, and
finds that she [Hannah] has been spoiled by her comforts: she can't
sleep on the rickety bed, the mice running across the floor keep
her awake, and the place smells bad.  She concludes that there is
no place for her.  "She had fled from the marble sepulcher of the
Riverside apartment to her old home in the ghetto, but now she knew
that she could not live there again.  She had outgrown her past by
the habits of physical comforts, and those material comforts that
she could no longer do without choked and crushed the life within

In Agatha Christie's "The Case of the Rich Woman". on the other
hand, a rich woman goes to Parker Pyne, discontented with her
wealthy life.  Through a series of events, she finds herself living
as a housemaid on a poor farm in a very distant part of Britain.
The accommodations are basic, the food is simple, and the work is
hard.  Yet ultimately she chooses the farm because she is happy
there.  Admittedly, she is not in the desperate poverty of Hannah,
but one gets the impression that Christie was never as poor as
Yezierska, or even in contact with people as poor as those in
Yezierska.  (In fact, Christie was born into a wealthy upper-
middle-class family.)  It is easier to write about the nobility of
poverty and hard work when one has had little or no experience of
it.  [-ecl]


                      Mark Leeper

           He that lieth down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas.
                                           --Benjamin Franklin