Monthly Archives: December 2023


It’s not often — maybe unprecedented — that you can confidently predict that the coming year will be a momentous one in American history — or even world history.

In January 1941, no one thought the coming year would see Japan bombing Pearl Harbor. In January 2001, no one envisioned terrorist planes crashing into the World Trade Center. (OK, conspiracy theorists, maybe some people saw these things coming.)

But 2024? It’s going to be momentous. The only question is about the details.





Maybe my expectations were too high, because the premise (and cast) of The Holdovers had me hoping the movie would be, as some reviewers claim, an “instant holiday classic.”

Don’t get me wrong. Alexander Payne’s comedy-drama is fine. It’s funny and touching and Paul Giamatti is, well, Paul Giamatti.

But “fine” is how I’d describe it.

I doubt that I’ll be planning to watch it every Christmas season.




Happy New Year.

If possible.


© 2010-2024 (text only)



I finally got around to watching Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. If you’d like to read a traditional review of the film, there are 484 of them on Rotten Tomatoes, and 442 on IMDB (probably some overlap between the two sites).

I’m not going to do a traditional review. Instead, here are some of my thoughts about the film:




Nolan’s biopic is ostensibly the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the enigmatic, scientific genius dubbed the “Father of the Atom Bomb.” But with apologies to Jordan Peele, I think Oppenheimer might have more accurately been titled Us. It’s about much more than a single man.

I was born long after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I’ve lived my entire life under the shadow of potential nuclear war, the specter of global annihilation. I presume that you have, too. It makes me wonder if the Japanese bombings fundamentally changed the psychology of the human race.

Did people born pre-1945 have a completely different outlook than those of us born later? If so, how does that manifest itself today? According to the movie, Oppenheimer himself was haunted by his creation. Shouldn’t we be, too?



I’m no scientist nor a historian, so I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of this movie. But as a dramatization, it is gripping and, for such a lengthy (three hours) production, moves at lightning speed.

It’s very talky. In that respect, it reminded me a bit of The West Wing. As in Aaron Sorkin’s TV series, I got lost trying to keep up with the incessant talk about subjects with which I was unfamiliar. In West Wing, that was often government policy; in Oppenheimer, it’s fission, fusion, isotopes — and the political climate of the 1940s- ‘50s. But there’s something mesmerizing about watching smart people discuss difficult subjects, whether we are well-versed in those subjects, or not.



There’s been a lot of praise for Robert Downey Jr., who as politician Lewis Strauss returns to “serious cinema.” From some Web-site articles, you might suspect that Downey had been kidnapped and held hostage in South America for the past ten years or so.

Uh, not really. He very happily grabbed lots of cash and turned his career into a series of comic-book movies.


Downey doing comic books




Oppenheimer makes me an even bigger fan of Cillian Murphy.

With his baby-face, I did not expect Murphy to completely own the role of a tough mobster in the TV show Peaky Blinders. But he excelled as Tommy Shelby. Ditto for Oppenheimer, in which Murphy nails the titular character. Baby face or not.


Baby-faced Tommy Shelby




I have never been a huge Nolan fan. I was underwhelmed by Inception and haven’t bothered to see his comic-book movies (about Batman). But this movie is clearly a triumph for him.

Nolan’s been criticized for making films that are “too much brain, too little heart.” I’m afraid that holds true in the final hour of this film, in which Oppenheimer comes under attack in the aftermath of the war and finds supporters in short supply. The last third of the movie should have been more powerful, like the two hours that precede it.


Release: 2023  Grade: A-


© 2010-2024 (text only)



It’s hard to imagine a bigger “threat to democracy” than a handful of liberal judges telling the electorate that it is not allowed to vote for the presidential frontrunner.

Once again, the left engages in classic projection, accusing its political foes of the very sin the left itself is guilty of perpetrating.





I live in Minnesota. Come over and have some hot chocolate, Kat. I feel bad for you.





Dee found love and a million dollars by winning Survivor. “Boyfriend” Austin found reality-TV infamy by epitomizing the word “simp,” or what we old-timers used to call a “sucker.”

Unless, of course, Austin is actually a modern gold-digger, hoping to siphon off as much of Dee’s million bucks as possible. That would be a fitting revenge, would it not?





Maybe they will turn out to be very different cinematic animals, but if The Holdovers is anything like 2000’s Wonder Boys, I can’t wait to see it. I love Wonder Boys (my review here), and Holdovers is projecting similar vibes.

A problematic college professor bonds with a male student? Check. Nice mixture of comedy and drama? Check. Top-notch actor playing the professor? Check.





Oh, boy. I am so looking forward to 2024.




Last but not least, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. At some point over the holidays, do yourself a favor and watch one of the two scariest movies ever made: Bob Clark’s Black Christmas

In 1974, a girl I was sweet on named Laurie Schaefer (forgive my spelling if you read this, Laurie) and I drove to Willmar, Minnesota to see a movie on a date. The movie we hoped to see, Earthquake, was sold out. The only other option was something called Black Christmas, playing on an adjacent screen. Neither of us had heard of it. I can’t speak for Laurie, but it scared the crap out of me.

Forty-nine years later, as far as I’m concerned, it remains one of the best, most frightening movies I’ve ever seen (the other would be The Exorcist).

I suggest you watch it. Happy holidays from me, Billy.




© 2010-2024 (text only)


by Emily Guendelsberger


Guendelsberger follows in the footsteps of journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who 22 years ago went undercover to document low-wage jobs for her book Nickel and Dimed. In 2019’s On the Clock, Guendelsberger becomes a (temporary) worker bee in an Amazon warehouse, at a call center, and in a San Francisco McDonald’s.

Most of her book depicts the misery and humiliation endured by people working such jobs — but then, we already knew about that (or should know about that).

The question is, why don’t corporations and governments do something to alleviate the pain of folks who can’t afford health insurance, can’t afford to move, and find themselves at the mercy of algorithms, invasive monitoring, and decision-makers so far removed from life at the bottom that, even if they wanted to improve conditions, might not know how?

If nothing else, those of us fortunate enough to be on the other side of the cash register (or the phone line), might think twice before blowing up at the human being stuck trying to help us.


© 2010-2024 (text only)



Final thoughts on The Crown


  • Caveat: I still have one episode to watch — but deadlines are deadlines.
  • Here’s the thing about this series: It’s true that there’s been a drop-off in quality, from the first few seasons to the last few. And yet, individual scenes and episodes from the later seasons at times equal anything we saw in the early years. Case in point: episode 8 this year, titled “Ritz,” which explores (again) the relationship between Elizabeth and Margaret. I got goosebumps watching it. Much as I rarely “laugh out loud,” I don’t typically get goosebumps.
  • The Crown has always tested my ability to hold two contradictory ideas in my head. I do believe that Britain’s monarchy is a ridiculous holdover from the past. I also believe that Britain’s monarchy is (probably) an invaluable asset to the country. It’s this tug-of-war about the institution that makes the show so compelling.








Who the hell knows what Christmas 2024 will be like? I’ve seen others make this prediction, and I’ve decided to join them: A year from now we won’t know who the president of the United States is. The election results will be tied up in the courts, with both sides refusing to budge.

Won’t that be fun?





Lex Fridman spent more than two hours chatting with Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos. There was much talk about space travel, much time devoted to Amazon’s customer satisfaction.

But unless I missed it (I did fast-forward a bit during the space conversation), there was no time devoted to employee (dis)satisfaction at Amazon workplaces.

This stuck out to me because I just finished reading On the Clock, in which the author exposes the nightmare of working in an Amazon warehouse. (Granted, the book is five years old; but have Amazon working conditions improved since then?)





Listen, I don’t want the draft reinstated for anyone.

However … in recent decades, women have enjoyed pretty much every benefit made possible to them by feminism.

Isn’t it about time they experienced some of the downsides of equality to men? 


© 2010-2024 (text only)


The Last Voyage of the Demeter


If we must have yet another Dracula movie, it’s probably a good idea to have a change of venue. Rather than revisit castles, and London, and every other setting we’ve seen ad nauseam in previous movies, why not put Dracula aboard a cargo ship enroute to England? After all, that is the setting of chapter 7 in Bram Stoker’s novel. As for the captain and crew stuck on the ship with the vampire: talk about a captive audience.

Alas, The Last Voyage of the Demeter was just … so-so. You might expect that with such an inherently dangerous, eerie setting, the atmospheric possibilities for a horror movie would be delicious. Instead, the ship was kind of cool, but not that cool; Dracula himself was kind of cool, but not that cool; and the ominous sea was mostly missing in action.

I suspect the mediocrity of the film is due to the triumph of computerized effects over practical effects. Had Voyage been filmed in 1975 in a giant water tank on a soundstage, I think it would have been a better movie. Release: 2023  Grade: C+


Would I watch it again?  Not likely.


© 2010-2024 (text only)


Leave the World Behind


Netflix Notes


Leave the World Behind 

Netflix’s new thriller takes a kitchen-sink approach to the apocalypse: Something is knocking out power and threatening everyday life for two families on Long Island, but what is it? Could the culprit be solar flares? Could it be the North Koreans, or the Chinese, or the Iranians? Our own government?

Leave the World Behind explores existential dread in 2023. If there is a fear it can tap into, it does. (It’s also just political enough to aggravate the left and the right, with a few pointed jabs at both sides.)

Mostly, it’s very good at tension building. I recommend it.



May December (pictured above)

This is a (mostly) well-acted, well-produced drama with one glaring flaw: The actor who plays “Joe Yoo,” Charles Melton, cannot act his way out of a paper bag. When the poor guy is called upon to display heavy emotion, well … he tries.








I’ve been watching Elon Musk interviews on the Lex Fridman podcast. The more I listen to Musk, the more I like him.

I like his acquisition of Twitter, but I suspect he has the same problem that Trump had as president: He has too many snakes working for him, all of them secretly trying to undermine him.







Gotta love the early stages of artificial intelligence on the Internet. I wanted to know who was going to star in Big Brother Reindeer Games:



I am guessing that Paul Giamatti was quite surprised to see that his agent got him cast on this CBS reality show.








One reason I stopped watching Fox News was the reaction by on-air talent to the firing of Tucker Carlson — there wasn’t any.

So, kudos to Greg Gutfeld for having the balls to take a none-too-subtle jab at his employer for firing its most popular host, allegedly because advertisers wanted it to happen.




There seems to be a bit of love for Japan’s new Godzilla movie. See critic blurbs above and below.



I’ll admit I am intrigued. Then again, should we really get excited about “the best Godzilla movie ever!” when the bar for Godzilla movies is, face it, so low?


© 2010-2024 (text only)




TV Updates


Squid Game: The Challenge (reality version)

So many things are wrong with this show, which is an offshoot of Netflix’s monster-hit fictional series:


  • The reality version panders to all of our baser instincts. It dangles a multi-million-dollar prize in front of contestants, then asks them to indulge their selfish sides to win the money.
  • The challenges and tests are random and frequently unfair.
  • The game design is often mean-spirited.


But oh, yes, the damn thing is also gripping and addictive.





Lady Ballers

From watching the trailer (not the film itself), this Daily Wire production looks like it might be quite the lame, stupid movie.

But I’m happy it exists.

Anything that triggers “snowflakes” on the left has to be a good thing.


© 2010-2024 (text only)