One of the most incisive and compelling observers of the human condition, Harlan Ellison passed away in his sleep last week at age 84. Everyone who ever met him has a Harlan story, to the point that being in his presence was usually referred to as “witnessing the ‘Harlan Live’ show,” and we here at the Junk Shop are no exceptions. Here are a few.
At the Mount San Antonio College Writer’s Day in Walnut, California in 1974, Harlan Ellison read aloud his new story “Knox” to a packed auditorium. He saw today coming. He’d been late, as always; to entertain us while we waited, the literature department chairman had, with great relish, himself begun reading Harlan’s earlier story, “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman.”Before the chairman finished, word came that our guests had arrived: Harlan, and Ray Bradbury — who never learned to drive, even after half a lifetime writing about Tomorrow; Harlan chauffeured Ray from Cheviot Hills, so both were late. They were put onstage together as chastisement. Harlan went first. And hit all of us right between the eyes.
This thought occurred to me as I was driving home the other night. I was listening to the soundtrack to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, it was at the part where the mob sings: “We don’t like what we don’t understand, in fact it scares us…” I thought “huh, Trump voters.” And then it hit me… Donald Trump is a Disney Villain.
It was June 16, 2008 when The Middleman premiered on what was then ABC Family. Ten years later, it’s time to celebrate this brilliant program and try once more to help nudge it further into Cult Classic status.
A lot of movies that I love are widely regarded as bad; they are often labeled flops, failures, train wrecks, disasters… and once in a while, I feel like defending one of them. Today it’s Steven Spielberg’s biggest flop, the big-budget comedy spectacular called 1941.
Marvel decided to throw themselves a birthday party, and they invited everybody! Avengers: Infinity War puts the cap on 10 years of Marvel movies and sets the stage for many more to come. Bringing together the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and the people of Wakanda to fight the greatest menace the universe has ever faced, the film does an amazing job of juggling multiple intersecting storylines and enough characters to fill a Greyhound bus.
When Star Wars exploded on movie screens in 1977, it elevated sci-fi out of the low-budget B-movie ghetto in a way that 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes had tried to do and didn’t quite achieve. While those two films had the spectacular visuals, humanist allegories, and deep thoughts about the meaning of man, they lacked the slam-bang action of a great 1940s Flash Gordon movie. Star Wars showed that people would go for big dumb fun, and the race was on for the next one. In the years that followed, many studios attempted to join the “Me Too” Chorus, with Star Trek grabbing the high-end market and the original Battlestar Galactica locking up the TV audience. The low end was filled with cheesy movies featuring clumsy alien make-up and iffy blue-screen effects. 30-odd years later, one movie stands above them all as the greatest film in the crowded “cheap Star Wars knockoff” genre: ‘Battle Beyond the Stars.’