Limitless – A Science Fiction – Fantasy Movie Review

Limitless was a 2011 movie starring Bradley Cooper.  The movie is about Eddie Morra, a young man in New York City struggling to write a novel.  On the day we meet him, he is dumped by his girlfriend and is trying to fend off his literary agent.  Eddie has blown through the advance he was paid for the book but so far hasn’t written a single word of the book.

By coincidence Eddie meets his former brother in law who used to be a drug dealer but alleges that now he markets a legal pharmaceutical called NZT that alters brain chemistry in a way that turns the user into a super genius for a day.  Although reluctant to use it Eddie tries it and it is everything promised.  He writes half his novel in a few hours and finds himself able to navigate his real-world problems, like his angry landlady, effortlessly and successfully.

He goes back to his brother in law to get more of the drug but after going to perform some gopher errands for him Eddie finds his brother in law shot to death in his living room and the apartment ransacked.  Eddie calls the police but spends the ensuing arrival time finding and taking the large supply of NZT that the killer had missed.

Now Eddie harnesses his abilities by becoming a securities trader.  But he needs capital to get going so he borrows $100,000 from a frightening Russian mafioso.  Eddie quickly makes several million dollars and comes to the attention of a Wall Street giant, Carl Van Loon played by Robert De Niro, who gives him the opportunity to become a major financial player.  But now he starts running into the side effects of NZT.  Continued use encourages neglect of the body such as forgetting to eat for days and overuse of the pills leads to violent impulsive actions.  And as he finds out from his ex-wife withdrawal from the drug can be fatal or at least permanently debilitating.

The climax of the story combines crises combining the Russian gangster, Eddie’s work with Van Loon and the NYPD.

The science fiction element of the story is restricted to the unbelievable effects of NZT.  In fact, the story reminds me of a decidedly non-science fiction story that I saw long ago.  In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Tom Cruise’s first big hit “Risky Business.”  We have a man taking a dangerous chance to change his life and dealing with the consequences of that decision.  Of course, this story is much darker but the resemblance occurred to me.  While I think the story is a little over the top, especially with respect to the Russian gangster portion of the story, I thought it was pretty good.  If it sounds interesting to you, give it a try.

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – Joker – Todd Philips

The movie, Joker, could be easily dismissed as an attempt to extend on the successful formula established by Christopher Nolan in his turn at the Batman franchise, launched in 2005. But beyond the constant “dark” refrain, not enough was said about Nolan’s reformulation of the DC comic book character. When Tim Burton in 1989 first attempted to bring the character to film his movie temperament and the last shreds of maturity that remained in American popular culture required that he make it in its essence, comic. It’s true he leavened the film with instances of “adult” gravity, but no more than in his other comic book movies.

But Nolan did something that it took the success of the ‘80s and ‘90’s Batman movies to make possible, play Batman straight. By 2005 struck upon the formula for converting the comic book into a “serious” movie by making the films “dark”, thereby removing the tongue from Batman’s cheek. Nolan took the comic out of the comic book hero and the films became blockbusters. I suspect they did for the same reason space movies from 2001 to Star Wars were also so successful. The baby boomers and later Gen X-ers had a choice between the narcissistic atavism of their peers or withdrawal. The comic book fans were always outsiders so it was easy to choose withdrawal, and so they did, in droves. What has been truly remarkable was that most of the rest of America follow along, in even bigger droves.

But what does it mean to movies and America to make comic book movies without the comic? One might say that comic books, at least of the super hero variety, always played straight. They were more like the serial genre fiction that anticipated both the “soaps” and the novel. Fair enough, but the illustrations, primitive graphics and primary colors, were a comic proscenium, perhaps helping to suspend disbelief for the comic book reader, but not his sense of humor. Theatrical movies have no such proscenium, they have long been understood to be psychological, subconscious, in their effect. They do not afford the comic book distance, the healthy separation. We needed Burton’s fantasy gloss to create distance from the film. But Nolan’s success argues that this view was wrong, or at least obsolete, that audiences yearned for the Dark Knight’s subconscious payload, unmediated by winks at the camera.

Todd Phillips’ new contribution to the franchise, Joker, suggests that we might still need the winks. The movie attempts to use psychological clichés and bathos to establish a “natural” backstory to the one-dimensional villain. The attempt exposes the naiveté behind Nolan’s original reformulation. What is a joker, can one have a backstory? Lear’s fool never needed one. Jokers are allegorical place holders for dramatic elements like plot and action, even fate, but never character. They are anti-characters, devices, not anti-heroes. Ah, but Phillips would counter, I wrote Borat and most people thought he was real. Isn’t character fluid? Yes, it is fluid but not superficial. But what about the epics, they were full of the very same placeholders? Wasn’t Hephaestus allegorical? The answer is Hephaestus may be a myth and allegorical to us, indistinguishable from a joker, but to the Greeks he was a god.

Is Joker a god, is Batman or Thor, to us? The mind reels. So, Phillips may have wasted much of his runtime trying to pose Joachim Phoenix’s anorexic torso to evoke St. Sabastian and paint the decay of ‘70’s New York in renaissance yellows and gold. The adolescent retreat in the face of adulthood beaten by the American movie going public, however, is not a Christian martyrdom. Phillips’ attempt to tell Joker’s story as such is the latest landing in the vertiginous descent of American society into an arrested underworld. Must we now analyze the cardboard cutouts populating our comic book movies first as patients, to remove any moral question of their actions, then as victims, to instead apply a moral test to “society” and finally as martyrs, to establish our newly reconstructed deities? Foucault would be proud. This mental ritual has become so routinized by academic and political rehearsal the director seems unaware of its emptiness.

And that can be the only verdict reached for Nolan’s vision and Phillips’ realization. Empty. This explains the need to go to further lengths, to go darker, with each successive relaunch. The writers, producers and directors, even the actors, know they must work harder each cycle to pump up the crowd and distract from the inevitable descent. But by trying to make serious our comic book carnival posters, the Hollywood hucksters have drained the fun from their movies, and our laughs on the rollercoaster.

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 4 – Conclusion

After reviving ourselves again with refreshments we estimated that we had time for one last course before exhaustion would set in.  Almost at random we selected Mudd’s Women.  It was a mistake.  What we thought we were going to watch was the episode called I, Mudd.  This one is about Mudd selling women that he artificially beautifies with a drug.  It’s boring and meaningless. At the end the women are seen to be beautiful without the drug because they’re self-confident.  Yeah sure, and I’m Brad Pitt.

Anyway, this poor episode angered the delegates and disrupted the complacency that the massive junk food binge had produced.  We set to work repairing the situation with mass quantities of supplies.  Once we had re-established our equilibrium, we decided to quickly bring the ShatnerKhan to a rapid close.  But we did ramble on about what we had learned and vowed less poisonous food at ShatnerKhan 2.

So, what did we learn?

  • William Shatner is indeed a demigod of bad acting. Series television, made-for-tv movies, big studio major motion pictures, even minor awards ceremonies; none of them are proof against his patented lousy acting skills.  He is a ham for all seasons.
  • As lousy an actor as Shatner is, he is definitively the best part of the original Star Trek series. His character possesses almost the only heroic characteristics to be found on the show.  The rest of them are even bigger weirdos and losers than he is.
  • Shatner actually seems to be a decent comic actor. He is able to perform self-deprecating routines quite skillfully.  We decided not to hold this against him.
  • Much more study will be needed and a much higher grade of food supplies will be needed for future ShatnerKhan events. I personally advocated for deli, others spoke of Thai food and barbecue.  These questions will be sorted out in committee.

But all agreed that ShatnerKhan 1 was a roaring success both academically and gastronomically.

All hail William Shatner, long may you endure as a shining beacon of terrible acting.

 

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 1

 

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review – The Terminator and Terminator Dark Fate

It is interesting to me to consider the new movie as part of two bookends to James Cameron’s strange career, while providing some comment on the evolving image that Linda Hamilton has presented in media and the almost unchanging one of Arnold.

When he made The Terminator, James Cameron had not done any of the films that built the industry position he holds today. He was a special effects guy that wrote a typical sci-fi screenplay about a murderous robot. But “The Terminator” somehow had a strangely enduring effect on American culture. The screenplay had all the stock components, with a few slight twists that would become Cameron trademarks like transforming female characters into alternate heroes. Otherwise it included the typical murderous, apocalyptic future so common, perhaps even central, to all science fiction, the obligatory arrested love interest, and a commendable combination of live action and classic stop motion animation right out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But this movie resonated with all kinds of segments, many without much taste for either conventional action or science fiction. And Cameron made both Schwarzenegger and Hamilton actual cultural icons. It’s easy to argue that neither of them surpassed their roles in the film, with Arnold literally milking it for billions in ticket sales and a governorship and Hamilton clearly chewed up by hers. How do we account for this? Can we see something in the two stars’ comparative destinies and did Dark Fate provide any clues?

The character of Sarah and the actress Linda Hamilton were perfectly matched to project the most innocuous presence, never rising above cute, until the cyborg is blasting a shotgun at her. We meet Linda working an adolescent fast food job and then going to a movie. In parallel a housewife mistaken for her is executed in her home and her roommate and boyfriend, beaten to death in her apartment. This balancing of extremes continues as her protector, Reese, and the cyborg finally meet shooting at each other in a bar over Linda’ head. The scene in a new wave disco called New Noir is one of the few that warrants the otherwise overused slow motion. While the “new wave” music plays and the young yuppies sway, the cyberpunk uncoils again from behind the bar, laser and machine guns in hand. Thus, begins the carnage. We see Sarah innocently look blandly at the camera with a red laser site on her head, about to be terminated when Reese uncorks his own assault, ending the scene by blasting the cyborg through a plate glass window.

When he rises, Michael Myers-like, Reese and Sarah alternately flee and shoot at the bot in every possible venue until Sarah/Linda is told that she is the mother of the future resistance, a legendary warrior whose son will defeat the future. She cries out for us all, “What”? The chase scene ends when the terminator drives straight into a brick wall with the cops chasing both of them.  Suddenly, Linda finally becoming partially aware of her surroundings and knows to grab Reese as he reaches for his shotgun to confront the cops. She yells, “No Reese, No, they’ll kill you”, in a voice we don’t hear again until she is does some terminating of her own.

Arnold gets the opposite treatment. We meet him emerging in a spherical electric storm naked in a crouch and watch him straighten up into the Hulk. He then walks through the park to murder and kill some punk rockers for their clothes, thus, cyberpunk. He is a comic figure We see his ass; he reads visual algorithms to select pre-coded responses like, “Fuck You, Asshole” in what became America’s definition of a slightly fascistic cyber/Germanic voice. His hair gets cropped and he wears cool ray bands to hide the eyeball he plucks out. He looks like Brando on his bike. Best of all, because he is a robot, he is not morally responsible for any of this, so we can enjoy his antics. This is no trivial accomplishment; Cameron creates a character Arnold will play for the next three or four decades. Remorseless, brutally violent, but cool and funny.

So, by the movie’s end, when Sarah punches the steel press on his steel skull, and he takes a last look straight into the camera, as if winking, with his laser red eye shining as the press crushes it dark, Sarah has gone from cute to terminator, and Arnold, the reverse.  Society, however, won’t let Linda be a terminator, but Arnold can be anything. He’s a protector, then he’s Danny DeVito’s genetically perfect twin, JL Curtis’ lucky husband, Sharon Stone’s even luckier boyfriend, a predator’s predator, a Kennedy, a Governor, even an expendable, and finally a terminator husband/father in Dark Fate. In the subsequent films, she will become a Rambet, permanently.

But a Rambet is denied even the righteous orgies of violence Stallone formulated for John Rambo. Sarah must become the separatist feminist, gaunt, cut, unsmiling, long suffering, ideologically pure. Most importantly, she is always angry. She invented the Hollywood version of the resting bitch face. She’s pissed about the apocalypse and having to bear the messiah and she’s going to do something about it. This may make for good doctrine, but it’s a bad career choice. It’s a classic Hollywood scam, make a “feminist” sci-fi cyberpunk movie that destroys the female lead’s career. Message, stick to cute.

That’s why The Terminator was so memorable and the rest, I don’t remember. Because at the end of the film with Linda Hamilton driving off into the stormy Mexican desert with her revolver, dog and headband, Sarah is still cute. There was still a Soviet Union. The apocalypse was coming, as it really is for all of us, but she came through the realization, as we all can. Later all this is revised as her ideology requires. We can’t be left with our faith, only her ideology. And therein lies the rub for Linda and even Arnold when it comes to the rest of their lives till Dark Fate.

I read that James Cameron, after years without contact, reached out to Linda Hamilton, his former wife, to ask her to make a new sequel. She claims that it took her years away from the industry living in Louisiana to finally build a stable life in a community away from Hollywood with real connections. But, for some reason, could it be money, she agreed to play Sarah again. The results are exactly as you would expect; it’s a disaster. Arnold’s body is gone, and his face looks like a parkinsonian mask. Linda’s voice sounds like she speaking through a tracheotomy. Now, with the right screenplay and if there had been no other sequels, these physical transformations could have made for interesting material. But given their respective ideological “careers” there was no way out. They went through the joyless, soulless motions until time, thankfully, ran out and Arnold was dead and burned next to the latest, multicultural terminator.

We had to suffer it all in Dark Fate. A tanned wrinkled, aging second wave feminist Sarah croaking out lines like “they want your womb”. A dumpy, younger, millennial feminist protector constantly signaling her sacrificial virtue. A Mexican virgin 2.0 screaming about her right to choose. Finally, a constantly transitioning multicultural killer cyborg. An identity maelstrom. I came to the conclusion that both Arnold and Linda got screwed by their roles, although Arnold a little more lucratively. They are left having lived out the superficial script written for them by Cameron. His hollow successes after The Terminator, with the exception of Aliens, have condemned him to the same lucrative irrelevance. It’s fitting that the Avengers franchise, sourced from dime store children’s comic books, is eclipsing his pretentious achievements, Titanic and Avatar. Stan Lee must be rolling in his grave.

So, looking at two films separated by 35 years, and two actors with seemingly opposite careers that ended in the same place, and the director responsible for the whole mess, what can we say about any of this. Only that the tenuous string that used to barely connect what passes as popular culture to at least a modicum of genuine craft has, over the course of one director’s career, entirely disappeared, leaving in its wake a trail of cultural victim/collaborators in various states of wealth and debasement. And nothing whatsoever for us.

 

 

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 3

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 2

 

As stated at the end of the last post we settled on Star Trek episode “Space Seed” as our next course.  And there it all was!  Ricardo Montalban and William Shatner battling to settle the question of who could chew up the scenery faster.  Khan proves to be an even more persuasive lady’s man than Kirk.  He convinces a lady scientist to turn traitor to the Enterprise and assist Khan in taking over the ship.  Of course, the most absurd part of the story is that Kirk provides Khan with the ship’s technical manuals that allow him to figure out how to selectively flood most of the Enterprise with knock out gas.  Could there be any logical reason to provide a known megalomaniac with the details of these most sensitive technical secrets of the ship?  Of course not.  While he was at it, he might as well have given Khan his social security number and his bank account PIN.

There is a great scene near the end where Kirk and Khan are fighting mano a mano.  Khan starts out by snatching away Kirk’s phaser and twists it in half with his bare hands.  Kirk gets tossed around like a rag doll but at the critical juncture he grabs hold of a solid metal bar and clonks Khan over the head a few times with it and shows that even a super-strong super-genius should go for the quick kill instead of ending up having the tables turned on him like some kind of super villain in a James Bond movie.

Watching the final scene where Khan and his colony agree to be exiled on a world of their own is of course ironic.  We know that in the future the Wrath of Khan is awaiting Kirk and the rest of the crew.  This was discussed heatedly.  What should have been done.  Should Khan have been handed over to a re-education camp.  Should Kirk have checked to see if Ceti Alpha was a stable star that would permanently support a colony?  Should such dangerous genetically superior individuals have been liquidated, for the safety of all humanity?  What, precisely, was rich Corinthian leather?  The answers to all of these were debated endlessly and then abandoned because we got hungry again.

But certain things were agreed on.  Kirk and Khan are both hounds and neither Shatner nor Montalban believed in understated performances.  And these two things were linked with the fact that this is one of the most popular episodes of the series.  Shatner and Montalban are over the top ham actors.  The characters they are playing are out of a comic book.  But they are fun.  They are motivated by the things that men are interested in; women, adventure, honor.  This makes them about a trillion times more fun and interesting than Spock or Picard or any of the other “futuristic” characters.  Shatner taking shoulder rolls and bouncing around under pretend Khan pummeling is laughable and sophomoric but it’s still the best thing Star Trek had in this episode.

So this is the revelation.  Kirk is the best part of the show because he provides the only example of a normal man doing normal manly things.  He doesn’t do them well or convincingly but he’s all there is.  So we gave one cheer for James Tiberius Kirk and took some time out to eat some more food.

You may think that there was an inordinate amount of time taken away from the proceedings of ShatnerKhan to eat junk food.  You would be correct.  The plain truth is that all the delegates there were taking the opportunity to eat types and amounts of food that their wives would normally prevent.  In many ways it was almost as if ShatnerKhan was an excuse to pig out.  Once again, you would be correct.  But we justified this by pointing out that Shatner himself always looked like he could lose about thirty pounds and we perceived something heroic in men of a certain age throwing caution and wifely warnings to the wind and seizing the day and the Dorito (as it were).

In the final post we will look at the concluding viewing content and then our final thoughts on ShatnerKhan 1 and the prospects for later editions.

 

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 4 – Conclusion

 

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 2

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 1

Shaking off the lingering effects of Rocket Man wasn’t easy.  But after enough refreshments were absorbed, we were ready to go forward.  Believing they had sustained the worst shocks possible they were steeled to delve deeper into the less familiar works of William Shatner.  They knew that I possessed one of the few copies of the 1984 made-for-tv movie, “Secrets of a Married Man” (SOAMM).  A unanimous vote decided that it would be next.

For those who don’t know about this little known “treasure,” Shatner plays an engineer, Chris Jordan, working on an important project that will make or break his career.  He has a wife and kids but the wife (played by former Momas and Papas singer Michelle Philips) has been so busy with her own career that she has sort of neglected her conjugal responsibilities toward Chris.  So, what with the stress of the project and his neglected libido, Chris starts availing himself of the services of various prostitutes.  This provides moments of Shatneresque hilarity.  One scene shows Shatner in the shower when suddenly he looks down and must see some kind of rash or other skin problem on his genitals and almost has a stroke in his own special Shatner style.  In the next scene he has gone to some doctor other than his family general practitioner and is relieved to learn it’s just an allergic reaction to soap or laundry detergent or “something else.”  One particularly funny scene involves Shatner driving down the main drag with his wife in the car and all the hookers are calling out to him “Hi Chris” and Shatner is trying to explain to her how the name Chris is just hooker code for a new customer.

This goes on way too long until finally he meets the dream girl.  Cybil Shepard is a high-priced hooker who drains Shatner of cash and even has him second mortgage his house to keep up with his weekly visits.  But when the hooker’s pimp needs five thousand dollars Shatner’s whole life falls apart as his wife finds out what’s happening and leaves him and the police step in.  We watched about forty percent of the show fast forwarding to the scenes where Shatner brought his unique acting abilities to bear on this stunning plot.  But even that was too much.  We finally shut it off.

When it was over the delegates were restless.  They felt we had strayed too far from the core of the Shatner canon.  While it was agreed that SOAMM contained some powerful and unique Shatner moments nevertheless the unheroic nature of the role separated it from the true spirit of Shatner.  Even the hideousness of Rocket Man maintained the heroic nature of the Shatner persona.  We had a to regroup.  So, after reviling SOAMM and making fun of Cybil Shepard’s career that allowed her to play in this kind of movie we moved on.  We decided to go back to the classics.  And we picked for our next selection Space Seed.  ShatnerKhan needed a little Khaaaaan!

But first we decided to take a break and restore ourselves with our choice of refreshments.

 

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 3

 

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 1

On the 27th of October 2019 word spread that an opportunity existed for ShatnerKhan 1 to occur on November First.  I scrambled to confirm that the resources were in place.  I searched for any conflicts that could interfere with the operational excellence needed for such a critical mission.  ShatnerKhan 1 was a go!

So much had to be done in such a short window.

  • Venue reservations
  • audio-visual equipment rentals
  • purchase of archival quality motion picture and television recordings
  • intellectual property rights agreements
  • hotel accommodations
  • security staff and clearances
  • media announcements
  • insurance waivers
  • local permitting

The time it took to N/A each of these items on the public domain occasion planning list that I downloaded from a random website was time taken away from the planning of exactly which Shatner masterpieces would be included and which would have to be sadly excluded due to time constraints from ShatnerKhan 1.

When I arrived home that fateful night ShatnerKhan 1 had already kicked into high gear.  The delegates, some of whom had travelled from locales almost as far a way as the Andorian, Tellarite and Coridan systems, were attempting to regale Camera Girl with droll anecdotes of their exploits on their far-flung travels.  She on the other hand, being a woman and therefore of a practical nature, was more interested in when they intended to leave.

I bounded into the gathering full of enthusiasm and the bright good spirit of camaraderie and feasted on a sumptuous repast of not only wonderful chicken chop suey, marvelous won ton soup and priceless egg rolls but also a mysterious dessert that attempted to predict my future!  O Brave New World!

And now sated of our ravenous hunger and perfectly receptive to the cinematic delights we were about to experience we discussed the program.  What would be included in this inaugural edition of ShatnerKhan?  What would have to be postponed for a subsequent occasion?  And what order would we arrange the included courses?  I proposed to start off the evening with “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”  This seemed a safe and non-controversial strategy.  But surprisingly, the delegates were opposed.  The attitude of the room was that this was too tame, too familiar.  They demanded a more challenging, a more esoteric choice.  I knew that some of the delegates had not delved as deeply as I into the less well-known strata of Shatneriana.  I resolved to stagger them with something they were surely unprepared for.  I played Rocket Man.

For those who had not seen it before, the effect was devastating.  By the time the third Shatner appeared there were howls of pain emanating from the audience and shouts to stop the show.  I refused.  They had sown the wind now they must reap the whirlwind.  When the last “long, long time” died out into merciful silence I could see that those who had revolted against the safe choice of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” were now sadder and wiser.  They probably wished they could go back in time and undo that revolt.  But no one can unsee “Rocket Man.”  Their innocence was shattered.  Like the victims of a Lovecraftian eruption of eldritch horror, the image of the tuxedoed Shatners was seared permanently into their souls.  I contemplated describing here the experience of watching “Rocket Man.”  It can’t be done.  The experience is inexplicable.  You’ve either seen it or you haven’t.  It’s like trying to describe green to a blind man.  Suffice it say that it is Shatner at the height of his powers, confident, almost arrogant.  In complete control of the audience and his cigarette.

We stopped to revive ourselves with licorice and pretzel rods.

 

ShatnerKhan 1 – Part 2

 

 

Joker – A Science Fiction – Fantasy Movie Review

(Spoiler Alert- I do talk about a good amount of the plot.)

First of all, is this a fantasy movie?  Well, it takes place in a mythical place, Gotham City and I suppose it exists in the “DC Universe” which includes Superman and other superheroes so I guess that can’t be the real world so let’s say it’s fantasy.

And this is nominally the origin story for Batman’s nemesis the Joker.  But although Bruce Wayne makes a cameo appearance and his father is a somewhat important character it doesn’t feel like this is a comic book story.

I guess it’s a story about how you can be the wrong man, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The time and place are Gotham City (think New York City in everything but name) around, approximately, the mid-nineteen-eighties, a time when the bull market on Wall Street contrasted with the crime and poverty within much of the city.  The contrast was between the opulence of the elite and the graffiti and garbage laden streets of the poorer areas.  Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is trying to make people smile, he’s a self-professed clown.  But he’s also a mentally unstable man who struggles to make a living in the cruel time and place that surrounds him.

Arthur lives with his invalid mother in a tiny apartment in a ramshackle building somewhere in Gotham City.  He is on seven different medications for his mental problems which in addition to clinical depression includes an uncontrollable urge to laugh at the most inappropriate times.

We see him trying to earn a living as a clown.  He is sent out by an agency to perform whatever entertainment or advertising assignments a clown could be used for.  At a store that is going out of business, he dances around on the sidewalk with a twirling sign that announces that everything must go at their sale.  A gang of teenagers rip the sign out of his hands and run away into traffic.  Arthur chases them in his clown costume and after an exhausting chase is ambushed in an alley by the gang and brutally beaten down.

The movie is a downward spiral with Arthur experiencing cruelty and disappointment from every direction, strangers, his social worker, his neighbors, his employer and fellow employees and even his mother.  The only relief he ever finds in the movie are either delusions that his mind manufactures or the elation he feels when he finally exacts revenge with a gun.

Once Arthur is completely defeated in his hope for a normal life, he formulates the idea that all his pain is not a tragedy but actually a comedy and his mission is to spread the joke to everyone he meets.  He becomes the Joker and exults in his new found purpose in life, to extract revenge on everyone he comes in contact with.  After that the movie is a kinetic chase to see if Arthur can reach the maximum audience for his grim comedy before the police catch up to him.  Eventually the alienated masses in Gotham City embrace his chaotic violence and burn the city down in a spasm of violence.

This is an endlessly bleak film.  There is absolutely no positive message that can be taken from it.  The negative message that might have a cautionary aspect is not to push desperate people all the way to the wall, because they may still have teeth.

I was speaking to some folks in my circle of acquaintances about the Joker movie.  One of them is one of the Deplorables and he was very enthusiastic about the movie.  He felt that the movie reflected the way the world treats people today.  For instance, the neglected condition of Arthur Fleck and the rundown condition of the city he lived in was emblematic of how the elites treat the everyday folk.

He keyed into the scene where Arthur manages to meet up with Thomas Wayne.  Arthur’s mother had worked for Wayne and Arthur wants to talk to the great man.  He goes to the gate outside Wayne Manor and using some magic props amuses young Bruce Wayne who happens to be nearby.  Alfred the butler intervenes and Arthur runs away.  In the next scene Arthur sneaks into a private showing of a Charlie Chaplin movie at a palatial theater that Thomas Wayne and the rest of the elite of Gotham City are privately viewing.

Arthur enters as the show is in progress.  There they were, the elite, in their tuxedos and gowns without a care in the world while outside the riff raff were protesting the neglect and rot that had descended on the city.  Arthur is charmed and exhilarated by the opulence and happiness he sees and expects that Thomas Wayne will welcome him with open arms.  Instead he is rejected by Wayne and told that his connection to the Wayne family is a delusion.  And just for the sake of irony vis-à-vis the Batman back story Thomas Wayne punches Arthur in the face and says that he will kill Arthur if he ever comes near his son Bruce again.

Without a doubt one of the themes of the movie is that the rich have abandoned their poor neighbors.  And in fact, the three men that push Arthur over the edge into homicide are rich young stockbrokers who feel no compunction about attacking a seemingly harmless man on a subway train.  But it should be remembered that Arthur is also attacked by some street hoodlums who obviously aren’t any kind of an affluent group.  Their underprivileged status hasn’t given them any sympathy for Arthur when they beat him savagely when he attempts to retrieve his stolen property from them.

My friend feels that the Joker represents a recipe for what is ahead as the downtrodden rise up and eat the rich.  Maybe he’s right.  Maybe there’s no other way but somehow that doesn’t feel like victory to me.  If the best outcome possible is burning the world down to the ground then excuse me if I’m not particularly enthused.  I have to imagine we’re not so completely powerless that the only way we can have our way is to form a gigantic mob and sharpen up the guillotine.

The orgy of rioting that erupts in reaction to Arthur’s televised insanity is not a victory for anything.  Instead of representing some kind of independence movement it’s more like a scene from the French Revolution, from the Great Terror.

Joker is a tour de force by Phoenix.  He must have lost an awful lot of weight to appear as emaciated as he is in the film and he wrings an agonizing performance out of his soul and onto the screen.  It is painful to watch and leaves you somber at its conclusion.  And there is no catharsis because right up to the end there is no sense that anything has been resolved.  The Joker is just waiting for his next chance to kill and destroy whatever he can.  This is a movie for those who have a taste for darkness.  It’s well made.  But anyone looking for happily ever after, stay home.

Congratulations to the Dragon Award Winners

Special congratulations to Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen for their awards (list below).  Larry and Brad were charter members of the Sad Puppy movement and took an enormous amount of abuse from the sad pathetic people who game the Hugo Awards every year.  But based on the fate of Campbell Award this year I’m assuming it won’t be the Hugos for much longer but instead the Noras or the Samuels  or some other first name of an author who didn’t have the bad manners to be born a straight white man.

Larry championed the DragonCon’s fan popularity based Dragon Awards contest and it has since displaced the Hugos for all normal humans.  I’m a big fan of Larry’s Monster Hunter series because they’re great fun and because I’m hoping that Adam Baldwin will get the chance to play Agent Franks in the big screen version of the stories.  That would be awesome.

Destination Moon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The 1950 motion picture Destination Moon is in several aspects an odd duck.  It was an independent production under George Pal’s control.  He worked with Robert A Heinlein to adapt his novel Rocket Ship Galileo into a screen play.  In point of fact the plot changes involved make the movie and the book completely different stories.  For Pal who would go on to make such sci-fi classics as War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide this was a chance to make a realistic space flight movie with Heinlein providing the scientific accuracy.

After a government project to build an advanced rocket motor is sabotaged and abandoned a plan is hatched to overcome the loss of government funding in rocket design by recruiting patriotic business leaders to pool their resources to pay for and build a Moon rocket.  General Thayer and Dr. Charles Cargraves were the moving force behind the earlier government project and Jim Barnes is the principal industrialist who uses his aircraft design facilities to build the atomic powered rocket.  Along with Joe Sweeney who provides radio and communication expertise (along with Brooklyn-accented comic relief) these men will be the crew to travel back and forth to the Moon.

When local bureaucracy threatens to tie up the launch in the courts, the team decides to launch immediately.  Just as the sheriffs are arriving to serve the launch injunction the crew is riding the elevator up to the cockpit.  The ship takes off and the crew gets to experience the pain of eight gee take off acceleration and the nausea associated with zero gravity conditions.  Shortly after taking off they discover the need to do a space walk to repair equipment.  One of the astronauts carelessly allows his magnetic boots to become separated from the ship’s hull while not holding onto his tether and begins floating away from the ship.  One of his mates has to use an oxygen cylinder as a makeshift rocket to rendezvous with the lost man and bring him back.

As the rocket approaches the Moon, errors in the navigation (or should I say astrogation) force the crew to expend to much reaction mass from the rocket to land in their planned destination.  Mission control on Earth begins calculating how much weight must be removed from the ship to balance the reduced capacity of the ship’s fuel load.

Meanwhile the crew investigates the Moon.  The first thing they do is claim the Moon for the United States (for the good of all mankind).  Using a Geiger counter General Thayer discovers large deposits of uranium.  Later on, one of the astronauts takes a picture of Joe Sweeney holding his arm up in such away that it looks like he is holding up Earth in the sky behind him.

The calculations on the fuel are distressing.  The ship has to be lightened by over a ton.  The crew starts removing everything that isn’t required to get the ship back to Earth.  But even after sawing off any metal components of the ship that can be removed, they’re still short by one hundred ten pounds.

Barnes, Cargraves and Thayer realize that someone has to stay behind and each one of them tries to convince the other two that he is the one to stay based on authority, age or responsibility.  Meanwhile Sweeney takes it upon himself to take the last space suit and leave the ship.  He tells them to leave without him.  But Barnes figures out a trick to get them below the weight limit.  With a rat-tailed file Sweeney puts a notch in the outer door frame of the air lock.  A heavy oxygen cylinder is hung outside the ship from a line that runs through the notch in the door.  With the door closed the airlock is pressurized with only a slow leak from the notch.  Then Sweeney ties the space suit to the other end of the line.  Once Sweeney reenters the ship the outer door is opened and the weight of the cylinder drags the space suit out the door.  Then the ship launches back to Earth.

And the movie ends with the words THE END followed by “of the Beginning.”

Destination Moon is a landmark.  It is the first reasonably accurate portrayal of actual space flight.  Coming nineteen years before Apollo 11 it is remarkably realistic.  Now as cinema it definitely isn’t King Lear or even King Kong but it’s excellent propaganda for a space program.  And it does contain all the correct tropes of the time.  If you are a sci-fi fan this movie is a must see.