Oppenheimer (2023) – A Movie Review

I finally got around to watching this movie.  This won’t be a full review because I don’t think I can be completely fair to the movie.  Christopher Nolan has been a big-time director for a good long while.  His Batman trilogy earned gazillions of dollars and was actually very good.  Now this movie is a very different animal.  I don’t think it is supposed to be entertainment in the same way.  It’s a biopic and a historical recreation of a very important event, the Manhattan Project; the invention of the atomic bomb.

As the story of the Manhattan Project, it is fascinating and compelling.  The biopic is a combination of experiences.  Oppenheimer himself is very odd duck.  From his own admission he was not a great physicist like Fermi, Einstein or Bohr.  He was a dilettante who found himself surrounded by the generation that invented quantum mechanics and became their interpreter and project manager in shepherding all the pieces needed to allow the US military to get the a-bomb in 1945.

And we hear his history as a retrospective because the movie is really the story of how Oppenheimer; this critical individual in the ushering in of the nuclear era, loses his US government security clearance due to his former association with communists and other less reputable individuals in his circle of friends.  We are also led through the less than honorable path of his love life.  And we see how his concerns about the dangers of nuclear weapons seem somewhat inconsistent depending upon where his role in producing the bomb stands.  While ensconced in the project he seems not at all conflicted.  But once he and his colleagues have handed over the bombs to the Army and the spotlight is no longer on him, his qualms grow exponentially.  As a viewer of the story, this seems clear.

The movie is populated with famous names and faces, some of them very hard to recognize.  Robert Downey Jr. is Lewis Strauss, Oppenheimer’s implacable foe who hounds him out of the government circle of influence.  Emily Blunt is Kitty Oppenheimer, his wife.  Matt Damon is Gen. Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project.  Josh Hartnett is Ernest Lawrence, a Nobel-winning nuclear physicist.  Kenneth Branagh is the brilliant physicist Niels Bohr.  Tom Conti is Albert Einstein and weirdest of all Gary Oldman is Harry S. Truman.

And there’s all kinds of good acting.  I especially enjoyed the “physicists seemingly engrossed in the endless details of making a weapon out of their incomprehensible mathematical equations.  There is a critical scene where Edward Teller, the father of the H-Bomb stops the project when his calculations seem to indicate that there is a very high probability that setting off a fission bomb could ignite the whole atmosphere of Earth and end all life on the planet.  That is a pivotal scene where eventually even Einstein is consulted.

And the climactic Trinity test scene in the desert is very effective.

But it’s a three-hour movie and that means we see quite a bit of J. Robert Oppenheimer and I have to admit I didn’t find him the most sympathetic character to follow for that three-hours.  It’s a good movie.  But I ended it wishing it had been more about Matt Damon’s character and that’s an odd feeling for me.

People’s Republic – A Book Review

Kurt Schlichter’s novel, “People’s Republic – A Novel” is an action-adventure story set in a near future where the United States has fractured into two separate countries.  The People’s Republic of North America encompasses the west coast and the Great Lakes and east coast down to about half of Virginia.  The remaining states are still called the United States of America.  There was at least some combat between the two groups of states but at the time of the story it has settled into a bickering of guerillas at the borders.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Now the story is not about the civil war or the current relations between the two countries.  Rather it is an adventure story about an undercover operation by a family to rescue a woman who foolishly defected to the People’s Republic.  The main protagonist is a former special forces soldier who earns his living by smuggling people across the closed border from the People’s Republic to the United States.

Together with the woman’s brother who is also a veteran they go on an odyssey to reach Los Angeles and rescue the girl and also carry back a data base full of the names of spies currently working in the United States.  Along the way we see the results of the radical progressive agenda in the People’s Republic and the growing discontent with the extreme economic hardships that exist there.

The book is liberally seasoned with fights, gun fights and escapes.  This is solidly in the action/adventure genre and provides a fast paced and well-written story.  There is a fair bit of progressive bashing built into the plot but being a progressive-basher myself I enjoyed it pretty consistently.  I would happily recommend this book to anyone on the right side of the political divide who enjoys action-adventure.  Progressives will definitely not enjoy how the Left is characterized.  Oh well.

Talk the Talk

Regular readers of this site know I tend to make fun of H P Lovecraft’s prose style.  In his better written stories, it has a quasi-nineteenth century sound to it.  But in some of his less ably written material it instead just sounds kind of overblown.  But recently I’ve been listening to a YouTube channel called Horror Babble by some guy called Ian Gordon who sounds a little like the actor who played Jay Peterman on Seinfeld.  He provides an accent that, I guess, is supposed to sound like something between 1920’s Oxbridge English and possibly early twentieth century Boston Brahmin.

After listening to a few of these recordings I’ve realized that this presentation makes these stories incalculably more entertaining.  Let me qualify this statement.  It doesn’t make the stories better horror stories.  But the presentation is just more fun.  I think the accent makes the ridiculousness of the stories seem intentional.  It’s camp.

And maybe it works because that’s more or less the “voice” that Lovecraft was hearing in his own head.  It’s always seemed to me that Lovecraft’s work was sort of an homage to Edgar Allan Poe.  And because Lovecraft lived far removed from the era when Poe’s prose was contemporary and because Poe was a consummately better writer Lovecraft’s language always seems stilted.   But with a spoken word interpreter somewhat bridging the gap with his theatrical reading it somehow works pretty well.

Now most of you probably already listen to audio-books.  The only ones I’ve ever listened to were Larry Correia’s Adventures of Tom Stranger with Adam Baldwin providing the voice talent.  And come to think of it the specific voice really does make a big difference in the enjoyment of that story too.

Well, anyway, this little epiphany has got me thinking about the voice that you hear when you write something.  I mean, unless you’re writing a character that’s more or less you, how do you hear that character or characters speaking.  What do they sound like?  Is it a regional accent?  And that’s kind of a big deal.  If all my characters sound exactly like me that might make it hard for my readers to see these characters as real people.  Going back and reading some of my dialog I would say that there are definitely differences in speech for the different characters.  And this is most noticeable for characters that differ in sex, age and generation.  So, I’m not worried that I have to reinvent all of my dialog.

But it does occur to me that maybe I’d like to add some characters that have very flamboyant speech patterns just to give the story some extra zing.  After all, even Shakespeare added dialect characters to make some of the scenes comical or memorable.  His dialect characters were usually Irish or Welsh or Scottish.  I guess I could throw in a Southie from Boston or a South Asian character for good measure.  But if I really want to get exotic, I’ll throw in a Millennial Social Justice Warrior.  Now that’s a foreign language that’ll take some practice.

An Entertaining Movie Review of “Independence Day”

There is a YouTube channel for a guy that calls himself “The Critical Drinker.”  He has some kind of Gaelic brogue whether it’s Irish or Scottish or fake.  And he pretends to be drunk in every review.  And he swears a blue streak so be warned in advance that his videos are not safe for work or home or anywhere that genteel ears are present.  But he is extremely funny and his criticism is often very accurate.  This review of Independence Day is well done and identifies why this ridiculous film is still so enjoyable despite being a ridiculous film.

Heinlein’s Short Stories – Gentlemen Be Seated

Today I was rooting around on YouTube and found this audio version of one of Heinlein’s short stories from “The Green Hills of Earth” collection; “Gentlemen, Be Seated.”

I haven’t read that story in fifty years.  Unsurprisingly it’s still a good story.  Nimoy’s voice sounds very un-Spock-like.  I think he does a very decent job.

Once in a Billion Years

In the 4-billion-odd-year history of life on Earth, primary endosymbiosis is thought to have only happened twice that we know of, and each time was a massive breakthrough for evolution. The first occurred about 2.2 billion years ago, when an archaea swallowed a bacterium that became the mitochondria.

The second time happened about 1.6 billion years ago, when some of these more advanced cells absorbed cyanobacteria that could harvest energy from sunlight. These became organelles called chloroplasts.  

And now, scientists have discovered that it’s happening again. A species of algae called Braarudosphaera bigelowii was found to have engulfed a cyanobacterium that lets them do something that algae, and plants in general, can’t normally do – “fixing” nitrogen straight from the air, and combining it with other elements to create more useful compounds.”

Endosymbiosis.  That’s a good name for it.  The article says this process has been going on for a 100 million years and is still probably a work in progress.  These nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria haven’t reached the advanced state of dependence that mitochondria and chloroplasts now display.

Well, the biologists will be playing around with this experiment in progress for the next hundred years and I expect they’ll learn plenty.  One day we’ll probably have chloroplasts of our own and spend a few hours in the sun every day to improve our green complexions.

H/T to TomD for the Link to This Review of Civil War

Finally some reviews of this movie from the non-Leftist perspective.  As I suspected the general tenor is the usual Hollywood narrative.  Intrepid reporters risk life and limb to reveal the dastardly outrages of the troglodytic dirt people as they murder the good people.

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