Editorial Notices Books Received
Publisher's Note: The personal views of the publisher, expressed here, do not necessarily mirror those of other contributors to this magazine. This is strictly my personal rant.
First, A Note To Explain... Why am I publishing last September's editorial in January? Two success meteorites struck the staff of Far Sector SFFH all at once. Our webmaster, critic at large, and all-around genius and factotum, A. L. Sirois, has shifted his primary venue of operations to SciFi.com, where he now holds the prestigious position of music critic. I have known Al Sirois for a third of a century, and few people are as aware as I am of his Renaissance man capabilities. He is not only a successful novelist, webmaster, professional critic, and acclaimed artist, but also an accomplished musician of and jazz and pop. Al Sirois is simply a meteoric talent at everything he touches. Small example: some years back, when Brian and I were launching Clocktower Books, Al helped me write a press release--his P.R. capabilities are as prodigious as the rest of his curriculum vitae. Anyway, Al has moved on to greener pastures, while remaining my lifelong friend and an advisor here at Far Sector SFFH. John Kenneth Muir, our talented media critic, remains on board and will continue producing his lively and insightful takes on all things digital and celluloidal as we move forward; his current opus is also from the Fall of 2004. Finally, yours truly was captured and pressed into a high-pressure jar by NY publisher Byron Preiss (iBooks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster). I spent much of 2004 hunched over my keyboard, researching and writing the ancient history/nonfiction book A Walk in Ancient Rome. That book is now being readied for its hardcover first edition in March 2005, to coincide with the HBO/BBC coproduction Rome that will start airing the U.S. markets in June 2005reputedly the highest budget television production in history. In October, also, my political thriller The Generals of October appeared on bookshelves across the U.S.A. (think Seven Days in May, Three Days of the Condor, and similar conspiracy/takeover classics). All of which is to say, the production schedule at Far Sector SFFH was seriously impacted in the Fall of 2004, for which I apologize to our readers, and I promise that we'll have it all back together in 2005. Now follows the piece I wrote around September 2004. Apparently at that time I had a little window of time to see a bunch of movies.
Collateral Movie Review I don't often comment on movies I've seen. I think my last review was of the unforgettable suspense thriller, and sleeper, Joy Ride during the old Deep Outside SFFH days in May 2002. I want to tell you about a great movie experience I had in August 2004. Despite a local (San Diego) critical drubbing, Collateral surprisingly turned out to be a joy to watch. I was walking by a theater on a hot summer noon, and on impulse decided to check in for some air conditioning, plus a $7.50 cola and hot dog. I was probably more after the atmosphere (cool, smell of popcorn, darkish carpeted corridors, memory of past good movie experiences) than anything else. A few days before, I'd glanced through the city newspaper reviewmeister's usual poopcorn (if it's foreign, automatically four stars; if it's American, we wrinkle our Cinema 101 nose and smudge one star with our thumb while looking away). I vaguely recalled reading the review, without remembering details, in which the local spite-tuba trumpeted disparagingly (I later reread his review to check myself; did we see the same movie?). I had some misgivings; but what a surprise.
I like a candybar. My liking the candybar has nothing to do with whether it's 'great' or 'eternal' or 'just plain fun.' My tastebuds didn't attend Cinema 101. My tastebuds just know what they like. So. I liked this movie very much. It did for me all the things I want a movie to do. It kept me guessing (though some amount of telegraphing seems obvious, but hey, fulfilling the expected form can be part of the fun). I like a riveting, action-filled suspense movie with plenty of atmosphere. The darker, smokier, full of rain and night lighting, beautiful people doing weird and intriguing things, the more I like it.
Director Mann paints a disjointed, engulfing Los Angeles, a human multicultural jungle of swirling neon and hard fluorescent lighting. In this dystopia, we meet Max the taxi driver, an endearingly human man whose inner Los Angeles is a vapor movie of dreams without substance. We are treated to a ten minute verbal candy mating scene between Max (Jamie Foxx) and the intriguing Justice Department lawyer Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith). It's a beautifully acted, luxurious feast of shy and sly nuances, promising something more to come (and we can't wait). Okay, I'm being a little hard on our man in San Diego, who occasionally calls some good balls and often some doodoo. He's not alone. My favorite SF movie, Blade Runner, was almost universally panned by this species of Cinema 101 pomp-o-trope.
I'm getting to the L.A. part now, with a kind of thematic surprise or Easter egg embedded (for those who see it as I do). When I saw B.R. for the first of many times back in 1982, I knew that my life as a writer, SF lover, dreamer, what have you, changed in those 119 minutes. That didn't happen in August 2004 with Collateral-nothing that dramatic (pardon the pun). It started becoming sort of viscerally apparent to me (while I sat on the edge of my seat, gripped the handrails, and occasionally popped out in a cold sweat while Max and Vince (Tom Cruise) went on a wild taxi ride).
From the start, the camera sort of lovingly carresses a mysteriously luminously pickled, nighttime Los Angeles. Being a SoCal resident of many years, I noticed raindrops on the taxi windows (though not the wonderfully sliding, swirling wet neon in the opening credits of Mel Gibson's Conspiracy Theory), but wet enough to wrap me in another layer of oh-yeah. It's by far not the L.A. of burning oil wells and forbidding ziggurats, but Collateral does early on start steadily emitting semaphore about the other movie . We glide through the slow, self-assured opening knowing that all this prep time must blossom into some pyrotechnics, and we (I, at least) get to cash in all those chips put on the table. I began to think of B.R. early in the flick, as we cruise (again, poor pun) through sheets of glass poured full of liquors of colored lighting. Then: oddly, I thought I was hearing echoes of that wonderful Vangelis score in B.R.. I stayed to the end of the credits after the movie, and sure enough-one of the contributors to the movie's music was Vangelis.
There it is, L.A., not in 2019, but in 2004 (presumably). Wild thought: George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, reversing the last two digits to create a forward span of 36 years. Subtract 36 from 2019 and you get 1983, which was almost the release year of B.R. (actually, given as 1982; is it possible Ridley Scott had this in mind when he was putting his epic together, not knowing the exact release year? had he been more clairvoyant, could the fictional time of B.R. have been 2018 instead?). So how far along are we to Ridley Scott's 2019? From 1982 to 2004 is 22 years, and from here to 2019 is just another 15 years, so in an imprecise, metaphoric sort of nod, we're about two thirds of the way to the glittering nightmare so fetchingly microsketched in B.R.. Collateral doesn't seem to be an imitation nor an effort to match or exceed B.R.. It's not a slavish imitation, but rather merely seems to hint at the other movie in a kind of polite, cool, but fervent homage. Well done, I say! There's another parallel. In B.R., the story involves the hunting and killing of four replicants; in Collateral there is a nudgingly reminiscent series of killings. Also, quite strikingly, the final scene with Tom Cruise inescapably reminded me of the excellent swan song (or dove song?) of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) in B.R..
You're asking, is there really any SFnal connection between that 1982 SF movie and this 2004 suspense flick? One is of course conscious of Tom Cruise's involvement in SF movies, so why would anyone be surprised to find strong SF undertones? Here's what occurred to me as I saw Collateral. I'm old enough (barely managed to qualify for a senior discount to get into the theater) to remember when 2001 seemed like impossibly remote SF. Now it's grim history entwined with a preposterous yet all too real genocidal attack on New York City. Likewise, this L.A. of 2004 is the science fictional future of the 1980s noir, minus some amount of gadgetry. Most disparately, as a result of craven politics and lousy leadership with zero vision, the U.S. has backslid generations in the field of manned spaceflight. (Tush's fanciful mumbling about a deficit-fueled rocket ride to Mars is just a bunch of bovine exhaust from a mentally exhausted lightweight, a Potatoe Part 2, hopefully to be dismissed from office in November 2004, so we can spend 50 years mopping up the damage this Caligula did-if he doesn't get the elections postponed in some Orwellian coup that would outdo his illegal power seizure in 2000). I doubt the offworld colonies of B.R.'s dystopia will be here anytime soon.
Collateral's L.A. is portrayed with writhing, luscious bodies in various bars and watering holes like pagan temples in various cultural flavors, with hot and cold running ethnic musics. The scary thing, it occurred to me more than once, is that none of the violence portrayed in the movie is beyond the pale of possibility. In that sense, the movie is more of a noir newsclip than a futuristic fright fest. Bottom line: the SF future is here today. In a very strong sense, Collateral is yesterday's Sigh-Fie Flick. Remember William Gibson's rumination about whatever happened to the SF future of the 1950s with its flying cars and skyscrapers with ramps between them ("The Gernsback Contiuum," 1981)? In our current dystopia, there's still old stuff (gasoline powered automosaurs coughing along the streets, guns that go bang or rat-a-tat instead of zzzz-t! like bug lights) but there's new stuff (spectacular data transfer technology for hot laptops; cell phone megabytes; extreme wirelessness). The plastic, pastel Jetsons future of early SF was overwritten by the gritty Outworld and Alien and B.R. noir of the late 20th Century. Now, maybe, SF films will take thematic clues from movies like Collateral. It will be good.
I can't resist adding one more observation, totally disconnected from the above. There is a shot (no pun intended) of Max running out of a bar after Vincent has executed the bar's owner, a jazz musician. Max has run out in horror, and Vincent runs after him. There was a moment there where the short-statured Tom Cruise resembled one of many other endemically short-statured male leads, Dustin Hoffman. It was a stray mistake by the cinematographers, who are always careful in films like this to shoot from below to make the lead seem taller. The only reason I mention this is that (while trying not to give away much about the ending, which in one way or another I had guessed early in the movie without losing any of the viewing pleasure) you may find echoes of Rizzo or Ratso in Midnight Cowboy. Overall, I really liked the action, the character development (Max getting stronger, Vincent becoming vincible, and the love interest, Pinckett, is lovely and vulnerable and very reachable. I'll say no more. Good flick. This movie has both the candy and the wrapper.
Forgotten Here's another pretty decent flick I've seen recently. Good performances by Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodard, Anthony Edwards; directed by Joseph Ruben. There were a few moments when I thought I must cringe (e.g., shot of roiling cloud left over from July 4th Independence Day, sort of a clicheacute; calling card) but otherwise it's one of those movies that works just perfectly at the level of a classic SF novelette. Just enough originality, understated style, and unique twist to be the one fresh donut in a pretty stale bag. Worth seeing if you're up for a quiet, slow paced, intriguing drama with occasional moments that make your hair stand straight out. You expect it to go on, but then the credits say it's over, so you debate within yourself for a minute and then agree, yeah, it could end there. Or we could have learned a bit more about the cretin causing all the trouble, but apparently his own kind took care of him. Not enough wind for a sequel, I'd say. And now, a few quick takes:
The Bourne Supremacy Very enjoyable movie, starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, Karl Urban; directed by Paul Greengrass. Good sequel, with nonstop pace, good atmosphere, excellent cast.
The Village Stellar cast, including Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, and others; dir. M. Night Shyamalan. My guess is that the director, who had a stunning run with The Sixth Sense (1999) said "Gee, I did so well with horror, so what if I try my hand at SF?" Maybe Sigourney, so became an SF icon as Ridley (nod to Scott of BR fame?) in the Alien series, said something like "gee, I've done so well as an SF actress, what if I try my hand at horror?" The result, for my humble subjective taste, is a well-crafted and tightly acted film whose originality curve passed us by long ago. We're much farther out in the galaxy now, cruising toward the next great thing, which this movie is not. At odd moments my mind quickened, trying to place the genre (like being in a restaurant, and being mildly hungry, but being blindfolded so you don't know what kind of food they serve, so your palate doesn't quite manage to water for either Mexican or Chinese but sort of drip, drip, drips with generic Tcheeze in mind). At various moment, scary stuff from Stephen King came to mind, and even a flash of Edgar Pangborn's Davy, maybe for the antique feel as much as the remotely congruent theme (post, er, well, I won't give it away). Certain on-the-nose flat spots competed with some genuinely scary moments. Overall, however, I think this movie, right from the start with the premise, cracked its forehead on the vanity while pulling on its jockey shorts, and they remain around its ankles as you wander from the theater and leave the movie in its can. Where it belongs. The most incongruous moment for me was that of Sigourney Weaver, dolled down as a Puritan drab, dutifully darning gray or dark-green or charcoal wool socks while almost overdoing the Goody Weaver role (cringe). I liked Hurt a lot better in Network and in Vanished.
I, Robot Yes, to begin with because Will Smith is in it, plus Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride; Dir. Alex Proyas. Yes, because it seems like a pretty decent update on a rather simple, clean, clever story by the young Isaac Asimov of many years ago. Reasonably entertaining.
The First Debate This will probably be my last word in this column on the need to get rid of America's first bad Caesar. [NOTE: As I publish this in January 2005, we have been overcome by events. The illegitimate ruler of the U.S.A. managed to lie to enough people, and bribe or intimidate others, to gain a slim majority of the popular vote; to which all I can say is: remember that Hitler got elected the same way in 1933; God help us all.] George 'Caligula' Bush has spent most of his term hiding from reporters and letting his cutthroats do his dirty work of sliming honorable men like McCain, Kerry, Cleland, and anyone else who gets in his way. In the current one-party system of government, in which a radical fringe of the right wing owns all segments of our government; in which corporate corruption so palpable in our time has successfully mated with the unscrupulous zealotry of a large doomsday cult trying to hasten Armageddon to elect an addled megalomaniac like the current denizen of the White House; if this is the future of our Republic, then, as with Rome, the Republic has no future. The empire they are creating will have more creatures in the mold of Bush: look for a Nero, an Elagabalus, a Domitian sometime soon. In a historical sense, if it goes in that direction, historians someday in the future will look back and consider Nixon and Bush-2 the Marius and the Sulla of our civilization. Can our own Julius Caesar be far off? Beware the Idiots of Marzipan, for the face of GW Bush is grinning at you from every little pink pig at the candy store, with a gold coin between its buttocks. Sorry, you had to be brought up in Europe to appreciate that. Luckily though, the first polls after the debate showed 90% of those watching thought Kerry had looked Presidential while Bush finally came out from under his rock. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Kerry looked senatorial, presidential, cool, calm, collected, while Bush kept cringing and making faces and writhing about in pain. Half the time Bush, who is frankly an intellectual cretin, did not even know what Kerry was talking about. Still, the pundits (who, it turns out, did not see all the juvenile and bully-caught-short body signals of GWB) kept insisting Bush held his own. In reality, Kerry worked Bush over unmercifully. At times, Bush actually shook his head to clear it, as if he had received a physical blow in the boxing ring. I did a little sparring in my youth, and I've seen that look before. It's the look of a guy who is on the ropes and fighting to stay conscious. In Bush's case, that's been a long fight without much success. In America's case, time for the media to start really laying out the truth instead of dishing out equal portions of partisan slop from the neo-Republicans, as if it were on a par with the desperate bipartisan message of both Republicans (Hagel, Lugar, Lindsay Graham) and so many Democrats (Kennedy, Biden, et al) that we must get rid of this utterly incompetent fool. Where is Cato when we need him? Arbusto Delenda Est! Call it Strategery. Call it Potatoe, Part 2. Call it as you see it. Call Crawford and ask if they are missing their village idiot. Oh, and by the way, at this time of writing, John Kerry has received more formerly Republican endorsements, like that of Dwight Eisenhower's son, and in fact Bush's own hometown newspaper in Crawford, which endorsed him in 2000 (the fools) has come out with a major editorial rejecting Bush and endorsing John Kerry. Maybe there is hope yet. [Alas, no. We must endure the coming military, financial, and economic catastrophes caused by Tush and his extremist fringe, because too many people have forgotten the lessons of historyor never learned them.]
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None this quarter.