Atomic Roundtable: Harlan Ellison 1934-2018

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.

We Were Warned: What the Movie Villains Should Have Taught Us

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.

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ – Spoiler-Free Review

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.

‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ – The ‘Citizen Kane’ of Schlock Sci-fi

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.’

Masculinity in the Movies

This year has seen a lot of long-overdue discussion of (and action against) sexual harassment, and with it a focus on the “toxic masculinity” that underlies it and other societal ills. In some ways, the world has almost always skewed toward the patriarchy, but there are some elements of the culture that are actually fairly recent developments, which a look back through recent history will serve to illustrate. We’ll start with my central thesis: the modern American model of masculine and feminine roles is a post-World War II invention.