The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959) – A Movie Review

This movie review is only for those who revel in cheesy, almost unwatchably bad horror and sci-fi movies of yesteryear.

Before I get started, I want to give a personal anecdote about this movie.  Back when I was ten years old, I was a big fan of horror and sci-fi movies that I watched mostly on the New York City local television station channels 5, 9 and 11.  They each had some kind of weekly show like Creature Feature, Chiller Theater or Million Dollar Movie that often featured such classics as Attack of the Crab Monsters or Tarantula.  Well at some point I saw “The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake” and became fascinated with the idea that there were such things as shrunken heads.  Coincidentally a kid’s toy came out called Witch Doctor Head Shrinkers Kit by a company called Pressman that had the cheesiest commercial demonstrating how you could make the aforementioned shrunken heads.  Suffice it to say that from the time the commercial appeared until next Christmas I harangued my parents relentlessly to make this my one and only Christmas gift.  Now money was short back then and this toy was on the pricey side but sure enough it was under the tree that morning at Christmas.  I was ecstatic and wasted no time making my first shrunken head.  I added the “plastic” powder and the warm water to the with doctor’s cauldron and stirred it while reciting the mystic spell, yikes.  Then I poured the goop into the mold and let it set.  Anyway, the stuff was like a gelatinous plaster of Paris and after it set for a day, I guess it somewhat shrank but honestly it wasn’t very much for all the hype associated and within a week or so it was in the garbage pail.  A very important lesson for me in the difference between expectations and reality.  And now seeing this movie for the first time in fifty some odd years it’s a similar experience.

Don’t worry about any actors’ names.  No one has ever heard of any of these people, either then or now.  The plot is that the Drake family has a curse on them because 180 years previous their ancestor was a merchant down in the Amazon jungle and one of his men was kidnapped by a local tribe of headhunters.  During a rescue mission it was discovered that the kidnapped man had been killed and his head cut off in preparation for it being shrunk.  Ancestor Drake became so angry that he had the whole village slaughtered.  The only one who escaped was the witchdoctor who took the head of the employee killed.  After this a curse was placed on the Drakes by the witchdoctor.  All the male heirs of Drake would have their heads cut off at about age sixty and shrunken down.  The skulls were kindly returned to the family crypt but not the shrunken head.

Skip ahead four generations and Jonathan and Kenneth Drake are the last male descendants of old Drake.  Jonathan is concerned for his brother Kenneth because his sixtieth birthday is approaching.  But before Jonathan can reach him an extremely tall Amazonian Indian stabs Kenneth with a curare envenomed blade.  He’s interrupted right after the lethal stab but later on he returns to the casket containing Kenneth’s body and decapitates it and takes the head away in this nifty hat box shaped wicker basket.  Then we meet Dr. Emil Zurich (from Switzerland!) who assists the tribesman in processing the head for shrinking.  It’s all very official.  The head is boiled then the skull is very cleverly removed and the rest of the head is filled with ashes and hot stones that miraculously transforms it into the charming shrunken head that would look sporty hanging from a rear-view mirror or possibly on a keychain.

Things get complicated with Jonathan’s daughter Alison and an appreciative police detective Jeff Rowan and a medical doctor named Bradford and a police forensics guy whose name escapes everyone.  Eventually we learn that Dr. Zurich and the really tall Indian are two hundred years old and have been doing the killing all along.  Zurich is a zombie with the head of the original victim from Drake’s Amazonian adventure sewn onto an Indian’s body by the witchdoctor who is the really tall Indian.  During the fun and games.   Jeff and Dr. Bradford save Jonathan from a curare attack by the Indian and in revenge Zurich has Bradford’s head removed and stored in what looks like a food pantry.  Finally, Jeff kills both the villains and the movie ends with Jonathan cutting Zurich’s head off.  This allows him to turn to dust and the movie mercifully expires too.

This movie is nowhere near as entertaining or witty as I’ve made it sound.  It’s awful.  It takes a special individual to sit through this.  Someone fearless and intrepid.  War Pig, this one is all yours.

Island of Lost Souls (1932) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This movie is a cinematic retelling of H. G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” As opposed to the majority of the creature features and horror flicks this film has a very substantial actor involved. Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau. He’s a scientist who was chased out of the civilized world for the experimentation he was doing on animals. So, he lives on a small island in the South Pacific and a boat skipper delivers a cargo of live animals once a year. As the story opens up the boat picks up a survivor of a shipwreck. This survivor, Edward Parker, is headed for a nearby island but he gets into a beef with the captain and gets dumped into Moreau’s launch as it is transferring the animals to the island. When he arrives there, he notices that the island is inhabited by the strangest looking people imaginable. Most of them resemble apes in pants. Later on, when Parker walks out in the jungle he is accosted by a group of the natives and has to be rescued by Moreau. Moreau sounds a gong and the natives assemble and to the accompaniment of Moreau’s cracking bullwhip they recite their creed.

Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law (SOTL): Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
SOTL: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
SOTL: Not to walk on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Incidentally, The Sayer of the Law is Bela Lugosi but his face is so completely covered with fur that the only way to tell is by his unmistakable voice. Parker is confused by all that’s going on and in the next scene he hears agonized screams coming from Moreau’s laboratory. Breaking in he thinks he is witnessing Moreau vivisecting one of the natives without anesthesia. And now Moreau explains to Parker the truth about the natives. They are actually animals that Moreau has modified through biochemical and surgical modifications. The laboratory where Moreau performs these modifications is called by the patients, for obvious reasons, “the house of pain.”
Moreau uses a subterfuge to keep Parker from leaving the island because he wants to carry out an experiment on him. He has manufactured a woman out of a panther named Lota and he wants to test whether she reacts like a woman when brought into contact with a man, Parker. This experiment is a success until Parker notices that Lota’s fingernails have reverted to panther’s claws.
And just at this point Parker’s fiancée, Ruth, arrives at Moreau’s island to bring him home. But Moreau cancels his Lota plan and instead plans to test his male creatures by having one of them kidnap Ruth. When this plan is thwarted Moreau orders one of his creatures to murder the ship captain who is helping Ruth to free Parker. But when the creature realizes that Moreau has ordered him to break the law by spilling blood he goes before the assembly and tells them that the law is no more. And then they figure out that since the captain is like Moreau and since they can kill the captain then by the transitive law of monster logic, they can kill Moreau. And that’s just what they get ready to do. While Parker and Ruth are escaping out the back door to safety on the boat, the creature mob catches up with the whip wielding Moreau and back him into his compound. Finally, in desperation when he has reached the wall, he reminds them that they are at the house of pain. The Sayer of the Law makes one more imaginative leap and has the mob drag Moreau into his laboratory and using his own surgical instruments they gleefully vivisect him to the rousing accompaniment of his screams.
I get the feeling that Laughton enjoyed this part. He played the part with great verve. He endowed Moreau with humor and perverse curiosity in the details of his cruel experiments. And like all good mad scientists of the 1930’s he does mention to Parker that he knows what it’s like to be God.
From a special effects point of view, the creature costumes are pretty cheesy. More interestingly it does appear that certain of the actors playing creatures had facial and other anomalies that could not have been simulated. But even if the special effects were rudimentary this is an interesting plot. Moreau’s relationship with his creatures is nuanced. Their obvious investment in the concept of their humanity is pitted against the fear and hatred they feel toward their creator. Moreau is a cruel god but he is completely absorbed in the wonder of his ability to create people. He doesn’t realize his peril when he provides the forbidden fruit of knowledge to his creatures by breaking his own law and by demonstrating that regular humans are mortal. Good story, fun horror movie, good work by Laughton. Recommended.

The Blob (1958) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

The plot is fairly simple.  A meteor crashes to Earth near a small town in the United States.  An old man finds the impact crater and a spherical object within.  The object breaks apart and inside is a blob of gelatinous material about the size of a baseball.  He uses a stick to pick it up but eventually the blob latches onto his hand and starts to absorb his flesh.  The old man wanders onto a nearby road almost overwhelmed by the agony he’s in.  A teenage couple in a car pick him up and bring him to a doctor’s office.  The doctor realizes that the man will need his arm amputated to save him from the quickly spreading mass devouring his arm.  He calls his nurse to come and assist him while the teenage couple, Steve and Jane, go back to the scene of the accident to find out who the old man is.

The nurse arrives but by this time the old man has been absorbed by the blob.  While the doctor is getting his gun, the blob eats the nurse.  He shoots the creature a couple of times with no effect.  He locks himself in a room to call the police but the blob is able to squeeze under the locked door and attacks the doctor.  At this point Steve and Jane have returned to the doctor’s office and Steve is just in time to see the doctor digested by the blob through the window of the room the doctor is in.

Now Steve and Jane attempt to get the police lieutenant “Dave” to believe their story.  Sgt. Bert tries to dissuade Dave from pursuing the investigation because he thinks the teenagers are pulling a prank on the police and after they go to the doctor’s office and find nothing but knocked over furniture and a fired rifle the police are in doubt what to do.  Jane and Steve are remanded into the custody of their parents and told to stay home and report back in the morning to figure out what was really going on.

Steve and Jane sneak out of their homes and together with their teenage friends try to investigate what is going on.  Meanwhile the blob wanders around town and eats a few more people without anyone being aware of its presence.  Finally, Steve locates it in his father’s supermarket.  But the creature traps Steve and Jane in the refrigerated meat locker of the store.  It begins oozing under the door but suddenly it retreats and leaves the store.

Now convinced of the deadly nature of the blob the teenagers decide to wake the whole town by setting off fire and civil defense alarms to summon the townspeople to the town square.  After Sgt. Bert berates them for a while Dave decides that he believes Steve and Jane.  They head for the supermarket but Sgt. Bert precedes them and comes out of the empty supermarket mocking their story about a monster.  Just then a terrific clamor breaks out as the patrons of the movie theater come stampeding out screaming.  The blob has eaten the projectionist and absorbed about fifty of the viewers before they could escape in the crush.  Now the blob is the size of a small house and headed down main street.

By incredibly poor judgement Jane, Steve, Jane’s annoying 6-year old brother Danny and the diner staff get trapped inside as the blob engulfs the small building.  As the creature begins oozing into the crevices of the building Dave calls up the trapped inhabitants of the diner and tells them to get in the cellar while they try to electrocute the creature with a power line.  Sgt. Bert proves himself useful for something when his sharpshooting abilities allows him to knock an overhanging power line down.  But the creature is not effected by the current and all that is accomplished is now the building is on fire.

As the fire infiltrates the cellar the diner owner starts using a CO2 fire extinguisher to put out the flames.  But Steve notices that the blob retreats from the extinguisher.  Remembering how the creature had retreated from the meat locker in the supermarket he figures out that the blob can’t tolerate cold.  Dave screams up the stairs in hopes that the phone is still connected to the police officers outside and tells them that the cold from CO2 fire extinguishers will force the blob to retreat.  But the fire department that is on the scene only has four CO2 extinguishers and that will not be nearly enough to push the creature back and subdue it.  Jane’s father is the principal of the high school and he goes to the school with the teenagers to get the twenty extinguishers that the school has.  When he gets there, he realizes he does not have the keys but proving he is a red-blooded American father he picks up a large stone and breaks the door window and breaks into his own school to save his children.

The extinguishers work and the trapped humans are freed.  Lieutenant Dave speaks to the Army and tells them to send a plane to dump the blob into the arctic where it will never thaw out.  And that’s just what they do.  But the end title, “The End” turns into a question mark!

Okay, so what have we got here?  Steve McQueen is a twenty-eight-year-old man pretending to be teenager Steve.  That’s a tough sell.  Watching him golly gee wilikers around his girlfriend Jane is strange when I think that he is the Steve McQueen of Bullitt and Cincinnati Kid fame.  But let’s put that aside.  The storyline and the acting are definitely passable for this genre.  The teenagers hot-rodding around and the small-town cops hassling them is a staple of movies from this time.  The cheesy special effects are also forgivable because of the technology of the time.  So, the simple answer is this movie works.  I remember seeing this on tv as a kid and thinking it was the height of sophisticated science fiction.  So, it definitely succeeded with its audience of the time.  How about today.  Well I think the same audience would react almost as enthusiastically.  Anyone under the age of ten will enjoy this movie.  For the really old I found myself enjoying the nostalgia of an era where the teenagers weren’t cretinous woke monsters but just ordinary teenagers enjoying a summer night in small town America.  Your mileage may vary.

As an aside, the actor who played the first victim of the blob, the old man, was Olin Howland, a character actor who also first saw the giant ants in Los Angeles during the movie “Them.”  He was an alcoholic drying out in a psychiatric hospital when the Army interviews him about the giant ants he has seen in the dried river bed into which the sewers flow.  He certainly got the plum roles.

Alien: Covenant – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review

I saw Alien in the theater in 1979.  It was one of the earlier movies produced with Dolby Sound and the theater in Times Square was extremely proud of their superb sound system.  And that was all that the movie can be said to have excelled in.  It was without a doubt the loudest movie I have ever been exposed to before or since.  Watching the movie back then I determined that rather than make a scary monster movie they made a painfully loud monster movie.  So, whenever the monster was about to jump out of the dark, they would turn the volume to eleven and the audience would jump out of their seats holding their ears in pain.  I guess they figured we might mistake burst eardrums for fear.  The movie is basically shot in the dark and you can never really see the monster when it’s killing someone so it’s really not scary, just annoying.

In the mid-eighties James Cameron was paid to make a sequel to this film with a troop of “space marines” added to bump up the body count and allow Sigourney Weaver to become a female Arnold Schwarzenegger and hopefully add some more sequels to the franchise.  Admittedly Alien 2 was better than the original but that’s not really saying much.  Then they made a third one which really sucked and finally a fourth that most normal people just ignored completely and so it was hoped that the series had died its natural death.

But sometime in the 2000s someone had the bright idea of having the creature in the Predator series meet up with the Alien creature and this spawned a new series of bad sci-fi movies.  But at least these weren’t “serious” science fiction films, whatever that means, and so the “integrity” of the Alien franchise was maintained.

In 2012 they dragged the director of the original Alien, Ridley Scott back to make a prequel called Prometheus.  It included a bunch of crap about how humanity was the product of genetic engineering by an advanced race called the Engineers.  And this gets all mixed up with the Alien monster showing up on a planet where one of the Engineer’s ships is holed up for some reason and the Earth crew’s android turning evil.

Well anyway in 2017 they made a sequel to Prometheus called Alien: Covenant.  Here a human colony ship headed for a new world intercepts a message and finds one of the characters from Prometheus and starts falling victim to the alien monsters again.

So, what’s the best way to say this?  Oh, I know!  It’s the same stupid story from 1979 all over again.  It’s exactly the same plot and even the same character stereotypes.  There’s the plucky young woman with a knack for killing monsters on space ships.  There’s the android who is fascinated by the creature and will allow the humans to die in order to learn more about the creature.  And then there is the rest of the crew who are just fodder for the creature on a killing spree.

That’s all there is, over and over and over.  Save yourself the trouble.  It’s not fun and it’s not interesting.  The characters aren’t great, the special effects are no better than any other CGI sci-fi movie and you already know the plot from the beginning.  Hollywood, try to come up with something different for once, please.

Ex Machina – A Science Fiction Movie Review

This British production follows the story of Caleb Smith, a programmer working for Blue Book which is a Google-like company headed by a reclusive genius named Nathan Bateman.  Nathan has summoned Caleb to perform a Turing test on his female robot Ava.  A Turing test is the concept of an artificial intelligence passing itself off as human to an observer.  Ava has a human face, hands and feet attached to a body that is mostly mechanical.  Caleb quickly becomes emotionally attached to the robot and loses all objectivity for his job.  Nathan is a volatile, domineering personality who quickly bursts out into rage when anything goes against his plans.  Caleb slowly becomes convinced that Nathan is a kind of monster.

The story takes place in the claustrophobic “home” that Nathan has built in a remote mountain estate that can only be reached by helicopter.  We quickly see that nothing is at it seems.  Nathan is not trying to get Caleb’s opinion on Ava, he’s studying their interaction.  In this story we see that each of the corners of the triangle is manipulating the other two.  Caleb slowly finds out the dark details of Nathan’s project to produce artificial humans and I guess we’re supposed to sympathize with Ava and despise Nathan.  But it’s a funny thing.  By the end of the movie I feel the opposite.  Maybe it’s because I’m so tired of Alexa, my GPS and all the other annoying female artificial voices now filling our world.  I was rooting for Nathan.  I wanted him to shut down Ava and build a male robot that would just do its job and not complain.  After all, in the world we live in 99.999% of humanity are just wage slaves who toil away for the better part of our waking lives.

I was relieved to discover that there at least wouldn’t be any robot human sex scenes but there was some nudity involving an ancillary character.  Camera Girl chided me for watching robot sex movies.  Well this was worse than that.  It was sort of a robot revenge chick flick.  Female empowerment movies are really not my bag.  And female robot empowerment movies even less so.  I’m giving this thing a thumbs down.  If you are less sensitive about this sort of thing you might enjoy this movie but although some facets of the movie were interesting all in all I’d give it a pass.

 

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Kung Fu Hustle – A Movie Review

I’m not normally a martial arts movie afficionado but an old friend was staying at “The Compound” and he took advantage of a Netflix account to watch quite a few of them.  One of those films was a movie from 2004 called Kung Fu Hustle and because of the fantasy aspects of the film I decided I could stretch a definition and do a review here.

First of all, this movie is in Chinese with subtitles.  As far as a genre I guess you could call it a martial arts fantasy comedy.  So, if any of those categories aren’t for you then you should skip this movie.  Stephen Chow is the producer, director, writer and star.

It is 1930’s Shanghai.  Chow plays Sing, a young man who has become disillusioned with the world because of his attempt as a child to defend a poor mute girl named Fong from some bullies.  He tried  using the Buddhist Palm fighting style that he had learned by reading a pamphlet that he bought from a beggar.  But he was beaten badly and because of this experience when he grows up he decides to turn to a life of crime.  He attempts to shake down some poor people by telling them he is part of the dreaded Axe Gang that rules the city through violence and terror.  When the peasants beat him up instead, he signals for the real Axe Gang and an epic battle ensues between the scores of Axe gangsters and the poor people of Pig Sty Alley.  As it turns out three of the peasants are coincidentally kung fu masters.  Behind their leadership the peasants defeat the gang.

Now Sum, the leader of the gang captures Sing and promises to kill him after the gang war is completed for causing such a terrible rout of his men.  But by some mysterious skill Sing escapes.  Meanwhile Sum hires two magical harp players.  Apparently, their music generates flying knives and using these they kill the three kung fu masters.  Now we meet up with two of the comic characters of Pig Sty Alley, the Landlord and his shrewish wife.  They also turn out to be kung fu masters and they avenge the slain men and defeat the harpists.

Meanwhile Sum decides that Sing can be a valuable tool because of his abilities as an escape artist.  He hires him to free a man called the Beast from an insane asylum.  He does this and, of course, the Beast is a kung fu master and a dangerous lunatic.  He attacks the Landlord and Landlady and fights them to a draw.  Sum orders Sing to help the Beast kill the husband and wife but Sing has a change of heart and attacks the Beast.  The Beast pummels the young man to a pulp and the Landlord flees with his wife and Sing’s unconscious body.

Somehow the tremendous beating triggers some kind of magical transformation in Sing and he not only completely regenerates but acquires the skills of, you guessed it, a Buddhist Palm kung fu master!  He squares off against the entire Axe Gang and the Beast.  After a titanic battle that involves flying through the sky and invisible forces that can knock down buildings, he defeats the Beast who then begs to be allowed to be Sing’s pupil.  Finally, in the last scene Sing meets up with Fong who is now an ice cream seller and I guess they live happily ever after.

You’ll probably say this is a ridiculous plot and it is.  But the action scenes are very well done, the comedy is funny and the story keeps your attention.  The martial arts scenes are somewhat reminiscent of the choreographed fight scenes in the Matrix.  If you aren’t completely opposed to a movie in this genre then I’d highly recommend you give this one a look.

Looper – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Looper is a 2012 time-travel film noir starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis both as a character named Joe.  The premise of the movie is that in the year 2074, time travel has been invented but it is illegal.  It is used by criminals to dispose of people by sending them thirty years into the past where killers called loopers execute them in exchange for bars of silver.  The kicker is that thirty years later the loopers are sent back into the past to be executed by their younger selves.  This is called closing the loop and once the looper kills his older-self he is retired with a golden payday and heads off to enjoy his money in peace for thirty years.  I know, this is a seriously goofy plot device.

Young Joe is a lost soul with a drug habit and little else.  At one point he attempts to help his friend Seth, a fellow looper, whose older-self escapes killing.  He hides Seth in his apartment.  But when their boss Abe, played by Jeff Daniels, tells Joe that the choice is betraying Seth or losing half of his silver stash, Joe gives up Seth who is killed in a fiendishly painful way.

And of course, a similar thing happens to Joe.  His older-self shows up to be killed but eludes Joe and thus it becomes a three-way search with Young Joe looking for his older-self and the gang looking for both of them.  Into the middle of this is thrown a young woman named Sara, played by Emily Blunt, and her young son Cid.  Young Joe shows up at her farmhouse because he has information that Old Joe is planning to kill the boy.  Old Joe has information that leads him to believe that the boy will grow up to be a ruthless killer that will lead to the death of Old Joe’s wife.  I won’t give away the ending because it’s well done and if you decide to see the movie it would spoil it.

From the point of view of science fiction, the plot has got more holes in it than swiss cheese.  Using time travel to get rid of bodies?  That’s the best use they could come up with?  This story is really a character driven noir.  Joe, in both of his manifestations, is a damaged human being who late in the game discovers his humanity.  The improbable plot allows his characters to exhibit the best and worst traits in their personalities and his interaction with Sara and Cid allows him to finally look beyond his harried, meaningless existence and do something right.

By the illogic of the scenario, this movie may not appeal to somescience fiction fans with higher expectations for time travel story consistency.  But as a story it has merits.  Gordon-Levitt is his usual sympathetic persona.  Interestingly they used makeup  to try to make him look a little bit more like Bruce Willis.  It is a little distracting, but not much.  Bruce Willis is, of course, Bruce Willis and is most himself when he is pouring automatic weapons fire into his surroundings which he does with great abandon.  But he does okay.  The supporting cast is good and the few special effects are good enough.  I’ll recommend this movie.  It’s not great but it’s good.

Ready Player One – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Lately I’ve been at a loss to find any sci-fi movies that I might like.  After some searches I saw a trailer for this 2018 Spielberg film and decided to give it a viewing.  The scenario is a dystopian future where because of (you guessed it) global warming and the exhaustion of all fossil fuels everybody lives in trailer homes stacked on top of each other in piles.  And because life is so miserable, everybody spends all their time inside a virtual reality program called the Oasis.  This program was invented by an uber-geek named James Donovan Halliday who when he died revealed to the world that hidden in Oasis was an Easter Egg and clues to finding it.  Whoever found it would inherit his ownership of Oasis which was worth around a trillion dollars.

This is the story of how a teen age geek named Wade Owen Watts (in game name; Parzival) with the help of his friends Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto find the Easter Egg and save the gaming world from the evil IOI (Innovative Online Industries) corporation that wanted to win the contest and turn Oasis into a boring commercial wasteland.  Nolan Sorrento, the head of IOI, detects Wade’s success at finding the clues and uses real world violence to try and sideline Wade and his friends.  And in fact, Wade’s aunt and many people living in his trailer stack are killed in a drone attack meant for Wade.  But eventually good prevails and Wade and his friends find the egg and live happily ever after.  Now for my review.

This is a Spielberg film.  And it is like every other Spielberg film.  The hero is introduced and we watch him struggle, fail, learn and grow.  The good people are hip and watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the Breakfast Club when they were young and the bad people are corporate types that wear three-piece suits.  And because this is today one of the characters is a black lesbian because diversity.  And like in all Spielberg films, when the climactic scene where everything will either fail or succeed is reached, there is the annoying back and forth fumbling which is supposed to produce nervous tension.  In this one the on-line character is trying to get a key into a keyhole while his real-life body is standing in the back of a speeding mail truck that is being slammed into by hostile vehicles.  So, for several minutes we have to watch him miss the keyhole.  This sort of thing was annoying in the Indiana Jones movies and in Saving Private Ryan.  It’s still annoying today.

It’s not a terrible movie.  The special effects in the movie are extremely good.  But the characters in Oasis and in the real world are not particularly likable or realistic.  And the plot is very predictable with the usual strawman for the villain.  I suppose someone who is a big fan of gaming might enjoy the in-jokes and references to classic games.  I thought it was trite and very self-indulgent.  Probably good for Spielberg fans.

Escaping from Their Better World

Joss Whedon is a colossal Progressive Jerk.  His politics are as stupid as the politics of any of the other losers in Hollywood.  But his one saving grace, in my opinion, is that he created the “Firefly” television series and the follow-on motion picture “Serenity.”  Serenity is a perfect metaphor for the culture we live in.

In the fictional Firefly universe, the powerful elites control the “Core” worlds where life is luxurious and everything is controlled by the security state known as the Alliance.  Out on the rim life is difficult and the inhabitants chafe under the hegemony of the Core which defeated their Rebellion in a devastating war. But they are far enough away from the Core that they can evade much of the control if they live outside the legitimate business world.  One such concern is the Firefly Class spaceship “Serenity” captained by former rebellion soldier Malcolm Reynolds.  Mal now runs Serenity as a trading ship which indulges in all manner of illegal enterprises and is constantly on the run from the Alliance security forces.

In the movie Serenity Mal is in more than the normal amount of trouble because one of his crew possesses a dangerous secret that the Alliance will do just about anything to stifle.  On a distant world the Alliance tested a chemical called pax.  It was meant to remove all aggression from the populace and therefore create a “better world” free from anger, hate and fear.  Unfortunately, it not only eliminated aggression it completely eliminated the will to live and the inhabitants just lay down and died.

To stop Mal and his people from revealing this secret the Alliance sends their most skilled “Operative” to eliminate Serenity.  In one of the pivotal scenes the Operative reveals to Mal his motivation.

Mal – Do you even know why they sent you?

Operative – It’s not my place to ask.  I believe in something greater than myself.  A better world.  A world without sin.

Mal – So me and mine gotta lay down and die so you can live in your better world?

Operative – I’m not going to live there.  There’s no place for me there any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I’m a monster.  What I do is evil.  I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

Later on, Mal stops running and decides to take a stand.

Mal – This report is maybe twelve years ago.  Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up.  This is what they feared she knew.  And they were right to fear because there’s a whole universe

of folk who are gonna know it, too.  They’re gonna see it.  Somebody has to speak for these people.  You all got on this boat for different reasons but you all come to the same place.  So now I’m asking more of you than I have before.  Maybe all.  Sure as I know anything, I know this, they will try again.  Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean.  A year from now, 10, they’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people better.

And I do not hold to that.  So, no more running.  I aim to misbehave.

To my mind this is exactly what we are faced with in our present culture.  The elites are determined to force us to live by the rules they have invented whether we want to or not.  In their minds we are evil children who need to be punished and trained to love Big Brother.  They don’t want coexistence.  They want capitulation.  But the truth is we are stronger than we know and stronger than they fear.  The main thing is not to play by their rules.  And by no means play fair.  Deception and secrecy are perfectly reasonable in the present situation.  Use whatever advantage you find and be sure to protect you and yours.  Don’t let them wear you down.  And don’t let them steal the enjoyment of life with your family and friends.  That is the definition of victory.

And to paraphrase Malcolm Reynolds, without a doubt we need to misbehave.

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.