Barbie is confused. Ken is insecure. But the really weird thing is that Barbie is self-aware. I’ll get back to that.

If this film had to be made (and over a billion dollars in box office receipts indicates, yes it did) Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling were great casting decisions. They were both injection-molded in real life as Hollywood stars that seem flawless, from Ryan’s abs to Margot’s, well, everything. I dare you to find a blemish on either face.

They’re both perfect as the original incarnations of the Mattel toys. Then came…the other ones. You know, Beach Barbie, Doctor Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, President Barbie, Mermaid Barbie…and Ken. The first point made in the film is that Ken is nothing without Barbie. He’s more or less an accessory, off to one side and at the bottom of the toy box.


I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to reveal that Barbie, after suddenly dreaming of death (to the great horror of other Barbies) enters the real world in an apparent coming-of-age quest for purpose.


There’s even a Weird Barbie, well-played by Kate McKinnon. In an appropriately weird exchange, human Barbie proclaims, “I’m not pretty anymore. I’m not ‘stereotypical Barbie pretty.” Then, narrator Helen Mirren says to the audience, “Note to the filmmakers: Margot Robbie is the wrong person to cast if you want to make this point.” There’s an uncomfortable pause as Robbie turns toward the camera and lets this sink in.


Fans are apparently in an uproar over this line that was voted the worst in the movie.


But they get over it, and Barbie continues her self-assessment, confronting Will Ferrell, CEO of Mattel. He tries to “put Barbie back in her box”—a transparent metaphor for her literal repackaging as the unaware doll. Ken then goes rogue and takes over Barbieland, and the two confess to gawking strangers that they lack genitals. Hardy har.


Barbie’s conundrum is a less-than-nuanced layered onion of conflicting wants, needs, and perceptions. By the end of the film, the audience should be feeling confused, but Barbie confidently struts into the office of her…I’m not going to spoil that one.


So what’s the message of this movie? Is there more than one? Perhaps therein lies its power. Like Barbie, it can be whatever you want it to be.


Barbie is too good to be real, but she wants to be real until she’s real.

Barbie can do anything. Women can do anything.

Ken is nothing without Barbie. Tear down the patriarchy!

Barbie is stressed by her own perfection, don’t expect her to do it all.

She wants to be Everywoman, just don’t demand it of her.

She wants to be pretty, but don’t objectify her.

Why can’t everything just be the way it used to be? Make Barbie great again.


Around and around we go, with little girls everywhere as beneficiaries or collateral damage. At some point, the Mattel greed machine determined that a superhuman role model was the way to empower and motivate generations of toy-loving impressionable children. Of course, they just wanted to make money. Did they really care about empowerment, feminism, diversity, and inclusion?

So, best not to overthink this one. People are having tons of fun with it, and that's what going to the movies should be all about.


I never played with a Barbie, Ken, or GI Joe, so I’m fairly mystified by the phenomenon this movie became. I played with Silly Putty. Silly me. Go see Oppenheimer. There won't be a Silly Putty movie.


Barbie (2023) runs 1 hour 54 minutes and is rated PG-13.


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The film Oppenheimer is a black hole into which three hours of your life will disappear, so make sure you go to a theater with comfortable seats.

I have a passing interest in physics, having taken a pass on physics in college. I cut so many classes it would take Schrodinger to determine if I was in the class or out – or both. (that’s a physics joke for certain friends.)


If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you’re about to meet all of the names that were routinely dropped by the science nerds on the show. Of course, everyone knows Einstein, but here we get to meet Oppenheimer, Bohr, Heisenberg, Fermi, Teller, Feynman, and others.


A little terminology you’ll encounter during the film, and a side note that Alfred Nobel, of the Nobel PEACE prize fame, invented TNT. A kiloton of TNT is one thousand tons (two million pounds) of dynamite. One stick weighs less than half of a pound, so try to visualize four million sticks of dynamite! A megaton is one MILLION tons (two billion pounds.) It’s hard to even imagine what that would look like.


Christopher Nolan directs this fascinating look at the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, commonly called the father of the atomic bomb, the scientist who directed the Manhattan Project. The famous endeavor was headquartered in Los Alamos, New Mexico but divided into four compartmented, super-secret locations, one of which could have killed my mother, but I’ll get to that.


Oppenheimer is one of those dark, complicated individuals, so brilliant and sure of his expertise that he becomes something of a rock star in a very competitive scientific community. He likes to blow things up, like relationships, and that’s where the focus of the movie dwells for a long time, since we all know how it ends. BOOM.


Nolan, who loves dark personalities like the one he created for Batman in The Dark Night, clearly enjoyed peeling away the layers of “Oppy,” as the main character came to be known.


Oppenheimer realizes the potential for a nuclear chain reaction early in the film and says to a fellow scientist, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking? A bomb!”


That one was for the audience, along with other out-loud thoughts to help us understand. In a lecture to physics students he states that light can be both a wave and a particle, new thinking at the time. He was on the forefront of quantum theory.


Cillian Murphy, familiar from other villainous roles, is perfectly cast as the fedora-wearing leading man. Emily Blunt is solid as always, as his wife. But Matt Daman as Temporary Brigadier General Leslie Groves, was a casting mistake. He’s too likeable and has done far too much comic work to be taken seriously, though a slight hint of humor is appropriate in a few scenes when he’s trying to understand the true nature of the project he’s leading, and the possibility that it could destroy the world.


Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Lewis Strauss, a Cabinet member wannabe who will stop at nothing to be appointed. We’ve certainly become familiar with bullying lawyers and Congressional committees, but it’s interesting to see it play out in the 1940s. Antisemitism, communism, McCarthyism – there were a lot of “isms” back in the good old days.


But back to my personal interest in what Oppenheimer accomplished.


My mother seemed almost Forrest Gump-like in her encounters with historical figures. I’m grateful that she told me these stories. For a young woman to leave a sheltered suburban life in 1940 to work in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago speaks volumes about her intellect and courage. She became a secretary in the Music Department on the south end of the campus.


A scene in Oppenheimer takes place in an unused football stadium at the University. Mom was working about a half mile away while the first controlled nuclear fission reaction in history took place. It was one compartment of the Manhattan Project, named for the New York location of the Army component of the eventual 130,000-person endeavor.


Have you heard of Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois? Well, Enrico Fermi was down the street from Mom, directing the insertion and removal of shielding lead rods from a self-sustaining prototype reactor, being careful not to set off a nuclear explosion or meltdown that would have predated Chernobyl by 46 years. They worked under cover of the name The Metallurgical Laboratory, now an historical landmark. They succeeded with their test on December 2, 1942, avoiding a blast that would have vaporized my mother and much of the south side of Chicago. A meltdown might have created an unlivable mess for thousands of years, encompassing most of the city and suburbs. If you consider the “exclusion zone” around Chernobyl with a radius of 19 miles, the Willis Tower is only eight miles away. And by the time of Chernobyl they supposedly knew what they were doing. In 1942 this was entirely new and barely understood.


When the resulting nuclear bomb was eventually detonated in New Mexico, scientists expressed a very real concern that the chain reaction they were about to unleash might ignite Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, a terrifying new weapon entered Mankind’s arsenal, causing Oppenheimer to regret his work and state, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Still, it was that or allow the Germans to develop the bomb first, use it against our allies and change history in a very detrimental way. 


Or was it? The Germans had already been defeated, yet work on the bomb continued. We then dropped a bomb on Hiroshima, and a second on Nagasaki, populated and industrial areas respectively, to see what would happen. Japan was not given time to surrender after the first bomb before Hell was revisited upon the Earth three days later.


President Truman is cast in a new light here, portrayed by Gary Oldman, and the lust for power on the world stage we see on the evening news is proven not to be a modern tendency. It’s as old as mankind.


You can go to the concession stand or the bathroom at just about any point during this film and not feel the need to catch up, but it’s definitely worth seeing.


Oppenheimer (2023) runs 3 hours and is rated R.


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            We’re always up for a Blumhouse movie. Jason Blum created Blumhouse Productions in 2000 and quickly established a reputation for a particular flavor of horror films. If you’re not sure if you’ve seen any, they include The Purge, Split, Get Out, Us, The Invisible Man and The Black Phone.

            Get Out was a sleeper that debuted as a streaming offering, then went on to win an Academy Award for best screenplay and gross $255 million worldwide. Shot in 23 days, it was Jordan Peele’s breakout success as writer and director with an edgy social commentary in a horror wrapper.

            So, that’s a tough act to follow. We’d credit beginner’s luck, but at the end of the day, it was just good entertainment with a creative concept and great scripting. According to Jason Blum, it is the quintessential Blumhouse film: low budget, high on entertainment and social commentary, all in the hands of a director no one believed in.

            And I’d say they’ve done it again.

            Blumhouse pictures tend to be steeped in gore, but not as gratuitously as, let’s say, Saw. So you’ll find yourself squirming a bit and on the edge of your seat, but remember, you’re there by choice. Each Blumhouse film feels unique. They haven’t resorted to the formulaic feel of teen slasher films. You get something new with each offering.

            As with many trends in filmmaking, our fear of new or unfamiliar technological breakthroughs often give birth to new genres in the SciFi category. If you watch the news at all, you’ve been hearing a lot about Artificial Intelligence or AI. Recently, ChatGPT has dominated headlines with stories of cloned voices, computers that write sermons and college papers, and WHO KNOWS WHAT’S NEXT. Clearly the robots are about to take over. This is nothing new if you’re a fan of the Battlestar Galactica reboot. The scariest robot of all is the one you can’t tell is a robot, right?

            Well, we can certainly tell that the newly created children’s toy named M3gan is a robot. She retains enough jerky movements and dilating camera eyes to ensure us that nothing could possibly go wrong. But of course, M3gan is a learning AI, and that’s when her role as protector of her paired child owner, Cady, becomes problematic.

            Longtime fans of robot science fiction recall Issac Asimov’s brilliant laws of robotics. They are: 1) a robot shall not harm a human, or by inaction allow a human to come to harm. 2) a robot shall obey any instruction given to it by a human, and 3) a robot shall avoid actions or situations that could cause it to come to harm itself.

            Well, scrap that. M3gan didn’t go to that school. With knowledge comes power, and M3gan has plenty of both. (Note: some reshooting was required to reduce this film’s rating to PG-13.)

            M3gan has a creepy resemblance to actress Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the famous Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley. Her movements often appear human, thanks to her costume wearing human actress, twelve-year old Amie Donald.

            Eventually, M3gan goes on a rampage. How do you stop something that can outsmart and out muscle you? I guess you’ll have to see M3gan before someone tells you!


M3gan (2022) runs one hour 42 minutes and is rated PG-13.


If you like fiction and you're in the mood for over 50 short stories, please consider buying "Natural Selections," at

Or if you'd prefer seventy non-fiction stories inspired by a town in Illinois, please consider buying Park Ridge Memories also on Amazon. Click on the image below.







Barbie is confused. Ken is insecure. But the really weird thing is that Barbie is self-aware. I’ll get back to that. If this film had to be ...