Category Archives: Uncategorized

EMMA (2020)


My Emma binging continues with this new movie version directed by Autumn de Wilde. Yes, the screen radiates color and spectacle, ritzy Regency-era outfits and bonnets abound. England of 1815 never looked so good as de Wilde’s cameras capture the glamorized mansions with their luxurious furniture, paintings, and sculptures. Anya Taylor-Joy may be the most beautiful of all the Emmas in these film presentations of Jane Austen’s novel. Taylor-Joy plays Emma as petulant and occasionally arrogant–which makes her fall at the end of the movie much steeper than in most of the Emma films I’ve seen. The script is by Eleanor Catton who slowly builds the action throughout the movie. I’m a big Bill Nighy fan, but he is mostly wasted as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. Johnny Flynn plays Knightley without Jonny Lee Miller’s apparent aloofness. De Wilde makes it clear that her Knightley is hot for Emma early in the film. Mia Goth captures the fragility of Harriet Smith convincingly. Miranda Hart manages the difficult role of Miss Bates by making her character both a chatter-box and a woman with heart-rending vulnerabilities. Although she wasn’t given much to do, Amber Anderson as Jane Fairfax steals every scene she’s in.

Diane and I saw Emma at our local AMC theater with six other people in the audience. If this becomes typical of movie audiences in the time of the coronavirus, then a lot of movies are going to fail at the Box Office. GRADE: B

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #583: THE GREAT SF STORIES #20 (1958) Edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg


This volume of THE GREAT SF STORIES series features two iconic stories. The first, Clifford D. Simak’s wonderful “The Big Front Yard,” brings back memories of reading the story in ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION in the late 1950s. That issue had a brilliant Kelly Freas cover illustrating “The Big Front Yard” that remains etched in my memory.

The second story, C. M. Kornbluth’s dark “Two Dooms,” rocked my world when I first read it in the 1960s. Later, I learned Kornbluth died shortly after “Two Dooms” was published at the age of 34. Kornbluth shoveled snow from his driveway, which delayed him. Then, running to meet his train, Kornbluth suffered a fatal heart attack on the platform of the train station. What a tragic loss of a great talent!

Avram Davidson’s “All the Seas with Oysters, Silverberg’s “The Iron Chancellor,” and Sheckley’s “The Prize of Peril” still entertain after all the decades. But my favorite surprise in this anthology is Rog Phillips’s “The Yellow Pill” which cleverly explores the nature of Reality. Volume #20 of THE GREAT SF STORIES series is a winner! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction 9
The Last of the Deliverers by Poul Anderson (MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, February 1958) 13
The Feeling of Power by Isaac Asimov (MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, February 1958) 29
Poor Little Warrior! by Brian W. Aldiss (MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, April 1958) 41
The Iron Chancellor by Robert Silverberg (GALAXY, May 1958) 49
The Prize of Peril by Robert Sheckley (MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, May 1958) 77
Or All the Seas with Oysters by Avram Davidson (GALAXY, May 1958) 99
Two Dooms by C. M. Kornbluth (Venture Science Fiction, July 1958) 111
The Big Front Yard by Clifford D. Simak (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, October 1958) 167
The Burning of the Brain by Cordwainer Smith (IF, October 1958) 229
The Yellow Pill by Rog Phillips (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, October 1958) 243
Unhuman Sacrifice by Katherine MacLean (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICITON, November 1958) 259
The Immortals by James E. Gunn (STAR SCIENCE FICTION #4) 297

TURBOTAX DELUXE for Tax Year 2019


I just finished doing our taxes with TURBOTAX DELUXE (including New York State taxes). You would think that doing taxes with just four sources of income–Diane’s pension and Social Security, my pension and Social Security–whipping through the Income and Deductions (we don’t have any that count with Trump’s new tax structure) would be a breeze. Nope. There’s still the Audit Risk Meter to contend with. Fortunately, we’re at Low Risk of an Audit based on our tax return.

The last few years we’ve had to pay both New York State and the Feds because we were estimating withholding from my pension and Social Security (I just started collecting it in the Summer of 2019) while phasing out Spousal Benefits. And our estimated withholding needed to be tweaked. Now, we’re getting pretty close to breaking even. We owe New York State ZERO! We owe the Feds a small amount. That’s about as good as it gets. With Trump’s tax strategy of forcing most people to take the Standard Deduction, our years of getting refunds are a thing of the Past. Have you done your taxes? Are you happy or sad?

DRAFT NO. 4: ON THE WRITING PROCESS By John McPhee


Kent Morgan recommended John McPhee’s Draft No. 4 a little over a month ago. I managed to acquire a copy and finally got around to read it. I’ve always been a fan of John McPhee’s writing. Here’s McPhee on interviewing Richard Burton: “Burton was even easier to interview than Woody Allen because he interviewed himself. You just listened, and wrote down what he said.” (p. 111). McPhee writes about his work with Time magazine. I loved his stories about interviewing the mercurial Jackie Gleason for a Time cover story. Hilarious! McPhee also writes about dealing with the prissy William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker. Very funny! Will you learn to be a better writer by reading Draft No. 4? I hope so. But, if you don’t you’ll at least be entertained by McPhee’s tales of writing for great magazines. Thanks, Kent! I enjoyed every page! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Progression — 3
Structure — 17
Elicitation — 91
Frame of Reference — 115
Checkpoints — 129
Draft No. 4 — 157
Omission –177

THE BIG GOODBYE: CHINATOWN AND THE LAST YEARS OF HOLLYWOOD By Sam Wasson and CHINATOWN [Blu-ray]



Chinatown (1974) ended a era of great film-making as the Old Hollywood morphed into the Corporate Hollywood of today. Sam Wasson explores the changes in Hollywood and the making of one of the great movies of all time in The Big Goodbye. All the elements aligned: Jack Nicholson was at the top of his game. Robert Towne wrote one of the greatest scripts of all time. Robert “The Kid” Evans produced the film. And enigmatic Roman Polanski, reeling from the incredible death of his wife, Sharon Tate, returns to Los Angeles to direct a classic. I watched the Blu-ray version of Chinatown before I read Sam Wasson’s The Big Goodbye. Wasson’s account of the making of the movie adds much information that I didn’t know about the film. If you’re a fan of Chinatown, don’t miss The Big Goodbye! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction: First Goodbyes — 1
Part One: JUSTICE — 3
Part Two: EUCALYPTUS — 47
Part Three: THE MOUNTAIN — 143
Part Four: GITTES VS. GITTES — 291
Acknowledgements — 333
Notes — 335
Index — 383

NAPKIN FINANCE: BUILD YOUR WEALTH IN 30 SECONDS OR LESS By Tina Hay


Tina Hay has an MBA from Havard and a knack of making complex and complicated financial concepts easily understood. Tina Hay uses doodles on napkins to illustrate financial topics like compound interest and how credit cards work. The doodles look like flow charts (check out the one on Bitcoin below). Napkin Finance covers all the basic financial topics and offers plenty of examples how you can improve your monetary position with a little tweaking. I especially enjoyed the “Chapter Quizzes” that help to make sure readers understand what they’ve been reading.

Most of the commentators on this blog would find much to ponder in Chapter 5: INTO THE SUNSET. Paying for retirement, dealing with Social Security, and the fundamentals of estate planning are all topics that concern us. Tina Hay lays it all out in an understandable fashion. And, for those of you who are about to do your taxes, Chapter 7: EZ Does It, provides some insights that might put more money in your pocket. Napkin Finance is one of the best personal finance books I’ve encountered. Highly recommended! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. Money 101 — 1
Compound interest 2
Savings 4
Budget 7
Debt 10
Interest 14
Banks 17
Emergency Fund 20
Insurance 23
Chapter Quiz 26
2. Credit where it’s due — 30
Credit 31
Credit Cards 34
Improving Credit 37
FICO Credit Score 41
Chapter Quiz 44
3. Buy low, sell high — 48
Investing 49
Asset Classes 53
Diversification 56
Risk vs. Reward 59
Asset Allocation 63
Robo-Advisor 67
Chapter Quiz 70
4. Paying your dues — 74
Paying for College 75
Student Loans 78
FAFSA 82
529 Plan 85
Paying Off Student Loans 88
Chapter Quiz 92
5. Into the sunset — 96
Paying for Retirement 97
IRA vs. 401(k) 101
Social Security 104
Estate Planning 107
Chapter Quiz 110
6. A wild ride — 114
Stocks 115
Stock Market 118
Bull or Bear Market 122
Mutual Funds 126
ETFs 130
Bonds 134
What is an IPO? 137
Chapter Quiz 140
7. EZ does it — 144
Taxes 145
Tax Returns 148
1099 vs. W-2 Employee 152
Tax Deductions 156
Chapter Quiz 160
8. Go big — 164
Entrepreneurship 165
How to Start a Start-Up 168
Business Plan 172
Financing a Start-Up 175
Chapter Quiz 179
9. Voodoo economics — 182
GDP 183
Inflation 186
Recession 190
The Fed 193
Chapter Quiz 197
10. The bottom line — 200
Financial Statements 201
Profit & Loss 204
Balance Sheet 207
Liability 210
Chapter Quiz 213
11. The future of money — 216
Cryptocurrency 217
Bitcoin 221
Initial Coin Offering 224
Blockchain 227
Chapter Quiz 231
12. Wow your friends — 234
Rule of 72 235
Crowdfunding 238
Philanthropy 242
Hedge Funds 246
Invisible Hand 250
Game Theory 254
Chapter Quiz 257
Conclusion — 261
Acknowledgements — 263
Bibliography — 265

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: NOTES OF A CHRONIC RE-READER By Vivian Gornick


I confess: I’m not a big re-reader. In fact, I might reread only a couple of books per year. I do know a couple of prodigious re-readers: Art Scott and Steve Stilwell have reread the entire Nero Wolfe series over 50 times!

Vivian Gornick calls herself a chronic re-reader in this slim volume (161 pages) that mimics a memoir. I’m surprised at the books Gornick feels compelled to reread. Here’s a sample of what Gornick rereads:
Chapter One: D. H. Lawrence especially Sons and Lovers
Chapter Two: Collette especially The Vagabond and The Shackle
Chapter Three: Marguerite Duras especially The Lover
Chapter Four: Elizabeth Bowen especially The Death of the Heart, The Home in Paris and The Heat of the Day
Chapter Five: Delmore Schwartz especially The World is a Wedding and the short stories of A. B. Yehoshua
Chapter Six: Natalia Ginzburg especially Voices in the Evening and Family Sayings
Chapter Seven: J. I. Carr’s A Month in the Country and Pat Barker’s Regeneration
Chapter Eight: Doris Lessing’s Particularly Cats
Chapter Nine: Thomas Hardy especially Jude the Obscure

Interspersed with Gornick’s feelings about these books are details of Gornick’s life: her marriages, her divorces, her jobs, her travels, her cats. Gornick makes her case for re-reading, but it fell on deaf ears in this house. Are you a re-reader? What do you re-read? GRADE: B

THE GREAT CONCERT OF THE NIGHT By Jonathan Buckley


The Great Concert of the Night blends memory and obsession into an odd novel. The narrator, after watching Le Grand Concert de la Nuit, a film in which his former lover – Imogen – plays a major role, begins to write about Imogen. For the next year, the narrator writes something every day about his lost love. The narrator’s journal becomes both a remembrence and an investigation of the character of the mysterious Imogen and her other relationships: with the narrator, with her family, with friends, and with her other lovers. Imogen emerges as a difficult and cryptic subject.

The Great Concert of the Night blends incidents from the writer’s memory and the present day, mixes scenes from Imogen’s films with aspects of Life. Sadly, Jonathan Buckley lost me when he introduced the visions of female saints, the history of medicine, and the festivals of ancient Rome into the already muddled narrative. The obsession with Imogen leads to a meditation on Life, but confusion and doubt prevail. I had to struggle to finish this book. How often do you think about the Past? GRADE: C

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #582: ARE SNAKES NECESSARY? By Brian De Palma & Susan Lehman


Academy Award winning director Brian De Palma, with the assistance of Susan Lehman, delivers a high-octane political thriller just in time for Super Tuesday. Philandering Senator Lee Rogers opens the door to seduction and political peril when he accepts the offer of a beautiful young videographer to join his campaign. The Senator’s wife suffers from Parkinson’s disease and her medical problems allow Rogers to roam from one sexual experience to another. But Fate has the Senator in its cross-hairs as a shocking incident occurs atop the Eiffel Tower. Fans of De Palma’s movies know what to expect: suspense, thrills, and a surprising conclusion! Don’t miss this Hard Case Crime original! Do you have a favorite Brian De Palma movie? GRADE: B+

FORGOTTEN MUSIC #96: LIVING IN OBLIVION: THE 80s GREATEST HITS (5-CD SET)


This 5-CD set dates from 1994. For starters, I found many of the songs on these collections obscure. For every “She Blinded Me With Science” there’s a “Shiny Shiny.” Plenty of oddities! And even for “name” artists like Debbie Harry, the songs chosen are…strange. I found these CDs at a Salvation Army Thrift store priced at 49 cents each. Given the blend of hits vs. “obscure” songs (aka, misses) I’d say these CDs were priced about right. Do you remember some of these songs? Any favorites here? GRADE: B
Track Listing Volume 1
1. Too Shy – Kajagoogoo
2. Always Something There to Remind Me – Naked Eyes
3. Talk Talk – Talk Talk (Remix, remix)
4. Kids in America – Kim Wilde
5. Turning Japanese – The Vapors
6. Politics of Dancing, The – Re-Flex
7. 19 – Paul Hardcastle
8. Homicide – 999
9. Romanticide – Combo Audio
10. Guilty – Classix Nouveaux
11. (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) – The Stranglers
12. 2-4-6-8 Motorway – Tom Robinson Band
13. C30, C60, C90, Go! – Bow Wow Wow
14. (She’s) Sexy + 17 – Stray Cats
15. She Blinded Me with Science – Thomas Dolby
16. Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) – Spandau Ballet
17. I Eat Cannibals, Pt. 1 – Toto Coelo
18. Shiny Shiny – Haysi Fantayzee
Track Listing Volume 2
1. Mickey – Toni Basil
2. Get It on (Bang a Gong) – The Power Station
3. Lay Your Hands on Me – Thompson Twins
4. Let Me Go – Heaven 17
5. Love Plus One – Haircut 100
6. Heart and Soul – T’Pau
7. Just Got Lucky – JoBoxers
8. It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It) – Fun Boy Three & Bananarama
9. Jam Was Moving, The – Debbie Harry
10. Love Missile F1-11 – Sigue Sigue Sputnik
11. 88 Lines About 44 Women – The Nails
12. Only the Lonely – The Motels
13. Living in a Box – Living in a Box
14. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina & the Waves
15. Running up That Hill – Kate Bush
16. Church of the Poison Mind – Culture Club
17. Destination Unknown – Missing Persons
18. Never Ending Story – Limahl
19. Mickey – Toni Basil (Spanish version)
Track Listing Volume 3
1. (Keep Feeling) Fascination – Human League
2. Perfect Way – Scritti Politti
3. Cruel Summer – Bananarama
4. Life in a Northern Town – The Dream Academy
5. Election Day – Arcadia
6. Shattered Dreams – Johnny Hates Jazz
7. Sunglasses at Night – Corey Hart
8. Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades, The – Timbuk 3
9. Make a Circuit With Me – The Polecats
10. Rock This Town – Stray Cats
11. Sidewalk Talk – Jellybean
12. It’s My Life – Talk Talk
13. (I Just) Died in Your Arms – Cutting Crew
14. Hanging on a Heart Attack – Device
15. Poison Arrow – ABC
16. Aeiou Sometimes Y – Ebn Ozn
17. Are You Sure – So
18. Way You Are, The – Tears for Fears (previously unreleased)
19. What Do All the People Know – The Monroes
Track Listing Volume 4
1. Dance Hall Days – Wang Chung
2. One Thing Leads to Another – The Fixx
3. True – Spandau Ballet
4. Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners
5. Digging Your Scene – The Blow Monkeys
6. Sister of Mercy – Thompson Twins
7. Under the Milky Way – The Church
8. Lean on Me – Red Box
9. Since Yesterday – Strawberry Switchblade
10. You Don’t Know – Scarlett & Black
11. Some People – Belouis Some
12. Shock – The Motels (Single Remix)
13. Belly of the Whale – Burning Sensations
14. Tenderness – General Public
15. Get Out of London – Intaferon
16. Go! – Tones on Tail
17. Slang Teacher – Wide Boy Awake
18. Lawnchairs – Our Daughters Wedding
19. Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo
Track Listing Volume 5
1. Major Tom (Coming Home) – Peter Schilling
2. Hyperactive – Thomas Dolby
3. Promises, Promises – Naked Eyes
4. Promise, The – When in Rome
5. Vienna – Ultravox
6. Enola Gay – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
7. King in a Catholic Style (Wake up) – China Crisis
8. Steady – Jules Shear
9. Our Lips Are Sealed – Fun Boy Three
10. Pleasure and Pain – The Divinyls
11. Birds Fly, (Whisper to Scream) – Icicle Works
12. Honeythief, The – Hipsway
13. Souvenir – Rubber Rodeo
14. I Wanna Be a Cowboy – Boys Don’t Cry
15. Captain of Her Heart, The – Double
16. When Your Heart Is Weak – Cock Robin
17. Love Changes (Everything) – Climie Fisher
18. More Than Physical – Bananarama (single remix)
19. Vanity Kills – ABC (USA single remix)
20. We Close Our Eyes – Go West .