Mladen and Del review ‘Barbie’

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Barbie” Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, and others. Directed by Greta Gerwig. 1 hour, 54 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theatrical release.

Mladen’s take

I imagine Del will gush pink and salmon and, maybe, sky blue about “Barbie.” So, let me give y’all the straight dope. “Barbie” gets an F. How bad is the film? Margot Robbie, portraying the principal Barbie, will be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. Ryan Gosling as the main Ken will get the nom for Best Actor. The movie itself will be included as a contender for the Best Film Oscar. I suspect “Barbie” will also make Academy Award runs at best supporting actress, script writing, costumes, and production. The music is standard modern hip. It neither repulsed me nor had me singing along. 

Del always demands a lengthy, pedantic movie plot summary in our reviews that none of you internet-addled users will be interested reading. So, let me do you a favor. Here’s the plot in a handful of short sentences. This may prevent Del from going all philosophical on our asses. Barbie endures an existential crisis as Ken wonders about his manliness. All of this angst exists amid the movie’s quixotic landscape and the Real World. The two realms are opposites. In one, women dominate and man are objectified and, in the other, males rule and females are disenfranchised. There’s a happy ending, of course.

“Barbie” is a contrast to the toy films we’ve all watched. It’s the opposite of the absurd, overly kinetic, and CGI-drunk Transformer movies. And, it’s unlike the pure delight of the Lego films. “Barbie” targets grown ups. Even grown-ups like manly me. Pay attention to the film’s cultural and political satire. Its jab at the Supreme Court’s appalling Citizens United decision is precious. Would “Barbie” appeal to Fahrenheit 451 Ron, Florida’s governor; Jerkoff Jordan, the dick Congressman from Ohio; or Baby Gaetz, the U.S. House fascist automaton representing my district? Yes, but only because they could use it to condemn woke y ness. Yeah, equal rights and opportunities for women would be bad for society.

“Barbie” should have been rated R, but, as usual, the damned studio chickened out. If you’re using toys to convey adult emotions and urges, be smart. Take the next step. Go R. Go “Team America: World Police.” To illustrate Barbie’s and Ken’s “feelings,” solid cussing by our protagonists would have added to the movie’s inexplicable charm. Also, the film would have benefitted from a deft touch of well-timed, realistic violence, ideally gunfire and blood splatter, though I’d settle for hand-to-hand with knives instead of arrows tipped with suction cups. The Kens beach invasion dance scene would have been the perfect place to mimic the opening sequence of “Saving Private Ryan.” I mention that because “Barbie” riffs other well known movies such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Matrix.”

“Barbie” might not be the first non science fiction and non-war movie I buy on 4K disc. It’s that bad.

Del’s take

My exposure to Barbie is limited. My sister had a doll or two when she was a child, and from their presence I learned the following:

1. Under proper (boy) supervision a Barbie could undergo what SpaceX calls a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” with remarkable ease.

2. With repeated use Barbie’s hair developed split ends, which was instantly corrected by fire.

There was something unsettling about looking at a body-less Barbie head, its hair scorched into a butch cut, as if it had suddenly morphed into Sid Vicious Barbie, yet that vapid smile never wavered, as though it were staring into the plastic gullet of whatever god Mattel had created for it.

When I suggested to Mladen we review the most talked-about movie of the day, “Barbie,” I expected to hear the ululating cry of damned souls arising from all the way across town. Payback, Mladen, for inflicting “The Jane Austin Book Club” on me all those years ago.

Alas, that didn’t happen. He was surprisingly on board, which confirms my suspicions that as he ages, Mladen is becoming a mellow old coot. Soon he’ll be eating fish sticks and watching “Wheel of Fortune” with the rest of us.

Going into this movie I predicted a two-hour, candy-coated, diabetes-inducing advertisement for Mattel’s most famous product. Boy, was I wrong. “Barbie” is many things, but it most definitely is NOT what I expected.

For example, “Barbie” is the best-written movie I’ve seen since “Don’t Look Up” with spectacular dialogue that flies at you rapid-fire, as if SEAL Team 6 Barbie had just emptied the clip of her M4 right in your face.

“Barbie” is also hilarious, with jokes delivered not just at the expense of Barbie and her genitally impaired kinda boyfriend Ken, or the perfectly coiffed universe they inhabit, but the Mattel “mothership” itself, which surprises me. It’s not often you see a major corporation willing to laugh at itself.

And “Barbie” is super meta, with nonstop winks and nods to both events that take place in the world you and I inhabit, and events unique to the Barbie universe too.

But wait, there’s more. “Barbie” is surprisingly layered and complex. It not only acknowledges those aspects of the doll that have been criticized over the years, such as the impossible physical and beauty standards embodied in Barbie, but issues of women’s equality, glass ceilings and a claustrophobic male patriarchy that seeks to keep women in their place.

I felt sorry for the parents who brought their young daughters to see “Barbie” because to my mind it is not a movie children will appreciate. Part musical, part comedy, and part stinging commentary about current events and the role of women in our culture, with nods to “The Truman Show” and “The Matrix,” “Barbie” is a movie phenomenon. Everything about it is terrific – the writing, acting, and story.

I came into “Barbie” expecting a silly kiddie movie. I walked out impressed. It’s an exceptional achievement, and I predict it’ll be rewarded come Oscar season.

I give it an unqualified A.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Wallpaper Flare.

This is a scene from my novel “Black Tide,” which I hope to begin shopping to an agent later this year or next.

In this scene, Fred, Heather and Scotty are trapped on a spoil island in Santa Rosa Sound after a killer phytoplankton moved through the area the day before, releasing a toxic cloud that transformed animals and people into maniacal killers that are extremely light-sensitive – they burst into flames when their skin is touched by sunlight or even the light of a flashlight.

A man by the name of DeVries tried to rescue them the night before but was attacked by one of these changed people and is now undergoing the change himself. They have placed him in one of their tents to protect him from the light.

We slept until late in the morning, almost 11. We’d been awake all night, none of us daring to nod off, none of us able to relax to the point that sleep could overtake us. The island was surrounded by stealthy noises – surreptitious splashing, the plod of wet feet on sand, the occasional animal cry of pain. And from the mainland there were strange goings-on too, occasional flickers of light, weird hooting sounds, and other occurrences that set our nerves on edge. Once I thought I saw movement over there, something big. But my mind rejected it because it was impossible. Nothing that big could move. Scotty had kept a frantic vigil with the flashlight until about 5:30 or so, when the sun had warmed the eastern horizon with a suffocating pinkish hue. The sounds of disturbance had faded, then, as the things moved to deeper water. Scotty and Heather took the opportunity to drag DeVries, who had begun to moan and squirm, into one of the tents. If the flashlight was capable of causing his flesh to combust, the full light of the sun would produce a more … energetic reaction. The tent would afford at least some protection.

All of us, then, had collapsed into what for me was fugue-like sleep.

I awakened to find Scotty and Heather standing on the beach, taking in a very different and unfriendly world in the light of day.

Across the water, fires still burned out of control. From the bridge to the east to as far as I could see west, individual plumes of oily black smoke merged into a single pall that drifted northward. I uttered a silent prayer of thanks for that – all we needed was a stinking smoke cloud to add another layer of misery to our already miserable situation. In some areas, forestland had been ignited and was burning in a solid wall of flames producing sheets of whitish smoke. I couldn’t imagine what the damage from this catastrophe would be.

Closer, Santa Rosa Sound presented an equally unsettling sight. The surface was layered with dead fish, dead birds, dead animals … and in some cases the bodies of people floating amidst the carnage. Why these animals and people had not been transformed into the things that had attacked us at night, I couldn’t be sure. Their exposure to the toxin had been sufficient to cause death, but they had not undergone the strange metamorphosis that had changed people into nocturnal lurkers. In a former life I would have been intrigued by the challenge of researching what had happened here. But given our circumstances, all I wanted was to get off this island.

DeVries had said the authorities were sending people to find out what had taken place and look for survivors. If we could signal them – enough debris had washed ashore that we could lay out an SOS on the sand using boards and other flotsam. Or we could start a fire – not that one more fire would work as a signal. To be honest, I had no other ideas.

As we stood there, pondering the awfulness of the world around us, DeVries’ voice carried through the nylon weave of the tent at a near-shriek: ‘I’m thirsty!’

Heather sighed and turned to go up the beach. “I don’t know why he keeps saying that,” she mumbled, more to herself than anyone else. “I give him water but he won’t drink it.”

“That’s ’cause it’s not blood,” Scotty murmured and cast a furtive glance my way. He had turned his hat around so that the bib faced forward, the MAGA staring me directly in my face. Ironic, I thought. America, or at least this cranny of America, didn’t seem so great at the moment. Looking at no one, he whispered it again, “Blood,” and I didn’t respond, partly because I knew if I did it would only encourage him to further provocations, and partly because there was the chance he was right … in a way. If it were not fresh water the creatures craved, then some other component of human metabolism must be involved. At the moment I was too tired and frightened to think about it.

Heather had crawled halfway into the tent to check on DeVries when she called, “Guys. I think you’d better come look at this.” I didn’t want to look at anything, to be honest, and I could tell Scotty felt the same way because for a moment, neither one of us moved. Then Heather shouted again, “Guys!” and we both rotated and began tramping through the sand toward the pair of tents. Heather’s ass jutted from the flap and I tried not to appear too interested. I didn’t glance Scotty’s way to see if he were appraising my level of interest. Instead, I let my gaze drop to the sand.

Heather backed out of the tent, her face pinched into an expression of worry. She looked at me and said, “Fred, something’s … happening.”

I dropped to my knees and crawled forward, into the tent, which reeked of unnameable odors, some human and others unidentifiable. It was stifling inside, yet DeVries’ body vibrated as if a high-voltage current were arcing through his nerves. I recalled old black-and-white film reels on YouTube about the Pacific campaign during World War II, and the men who’d been stricken with malaria. This looked just like that. I laid the palm of my hand across DeVries’ forehead, expecting it to be clammy, but instead felt an uncharacteristic chill. His head whipped back and forth and he whispered, “Thirsty – thirsty – ” as saliva flecked with blood leaked from the corner of his mouth. I peeled away the sticky mat of T-shirt that covered his wound and reared back, revolted by what I saw. The bite was blackened as if cauterised. Tendrils the color of road tar had begun spidering through the flesh, following the paths of blood vessels. It looked for all the world as if an alien infection were consuming his body. Osmotic pressure within the veins caused them to bulge to obscene proportions.

“I’m thirsty!” DeVries moaned, this time with greater vigor. In fact, the tone of his voice carried the hint of a demand.

“Heather, can you get me a bottle of water? Let’s see if I can get him to drink.”

She scrambled away as Scotty said something in a low voice about DeVries and how we should have gotten rid of him the night before. I felt a hot breath surge through me but I bit back on commenting. Then Heather was back, handing me the water through the tent flap. Though it had been sitting out in the sun, the bottle felt worlds cooler than the sweat lodge of a tent. I unscrewed the cap and placed the lip of the bottle at DeVries mouth. “Try to drink some of this,” I told him, and reached around to hold up his head.

“I’m thirsty!” he shouted. Spit flew. I felt squeamish disgust as a fleck landed on my cheek.

“I’m thirsty!” he whispered as I tilted the bottle and poured the water between his lips. I began to feel a crawling sensation of tension, knowing that something was about to happen.

“Thirsty thirsty thirsty – ” he chanted, shaking his head and spraying the inside of the tent with blood-tainted water. I rocked back on my heels and the bottle slipped from my fingers, the water gurgling out in languid gulps to pool in the tent bottom.

“Thirsty!” DeVries whispered again and sat up, bending at the waist, a ventriloquist’s doll brought to sudden and horrible life. His eyes snapped open and they were as blank and blanched as boiled eggs. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

His head rotated as he seemed to sense me, and some horrid recognition of appetite crept into his features, and at this moment I could swear a smile formed on those chapped and scorched lips so that I scrabbled away toward the opening in the tent. His hand flew out lightning fast, faster than I would have believed anybody in his condition could have moved, and he whispered “I am thirsty” and opened his mouth to reveal teeth that were coated with a kind of dark, clinging mucus that hung in snotty, glutinous strands as he grabbed my hair and began dragging me toward him.

I shoved my palm into his chest and blurted, “Shit – shit – shit, he’s got me! Pull me out!” and heard Scotty swear and rip open the flap to grab my arm. DeVries snarled and leaned in close, his teeth snapping as they sought hold of my flesh. I pushed with all my strength, made stronger by the electric current of terror burning through me, and held him away as he gibbered and writhed and struggled to bring me into his embrace. Scotty was hauling me back and now Heather had grabbed me around the waist, and I began to slide toward the tent opening. DeVries uttered puppy-like whining noises and redoubled his efforts, and I felt my body going back inside, toward what I knew would be a certain and grotesque death. I used my free hand to punch him in the testicles – one, two, three times in rapid succession – and his reaction was to let loose with an animal cry of rage and yank on my head with superhuman strength.

“Jesus Christ! Get him!” Scotty yelled and Heather grunted, “I’m trying!” I could smell the swampy, fetid stench of DeVries’ breath, and his skin rippled beneath my touch as though I were grasping a plastic bag filled with live eels. I shifted my grip from his chest to his throat and I could feel him trying to bend at the neck to get his teeth into my wrist.

Scotty wrapped his arms around my chest and heaved a mighty heave and I heard a tearing sound, like a Velcro fastener being undone, and a swath of my hair ripped loose as the three of us tumbled out the opening. We stared at each other – I’m not sure we understood what had happened – when DeVries growled and launched himself from the tent.

I threw myself out of his path and jumped to my feet as he came at me. His arms were outstretched and his fingers hooked into claws, and as he sprinted toward me his flesh began to wrinkle and burn.

I ran.

He began screaming as he chased me down the beach, his voice gone beyond anything that sounded human. I snatched a quick glance over my shoulder and saw that he was consumed by fire, a trail of greasy smoke unfurling behind him. His eyes had begun to smoulder and as I watched, they popped into blowtorches of flame.

Still, he came after me.

I felt my chest heaving and my lungs burning, my lack of conditioning now a fatal flaw. I moved out of the soft sand and into the hardpack area between the island proper and the water to improve my footing, and when I looked back he not only was still there but was gaining on me, now an obscene caricature of a human being, blackened and trailing smoke and flames. My thighs began to ache. A knot was forming in my side. I did not know what was worse – the physical pain I was feeling or the horror of seeing this … this thing pursuing me.

Finally, I could run no more. The pain was too great. I could not take another step.

The shoreline was littered with debris. I snatched up a board and whirled around, holding it before me like a knight prepared for a joust. DeVries slammed into the end of the board, nearly knocking it from my grasp, and reached out with flaming arms to grab me.

His reach was short. Thank God.

And I held him that way, as the fire cooked his flesh into sizzling black chunks and his screams of hunger and rage diminished to an inhuman croaking. I held him at board-point and felt myself crying as his tendons snapped and his muscles gave way to the flames and he dropped to his knees.

I was still standing there as he burned to a crisp in front of me.


Dear Sen. Rubio (and staff),

Thank you for taking a moment to respond to my recent letter expressing my concerns about a congressional ban on the social media app TikTok. In response to your observations, let me say the following:

You pointed out there were indications China had attempted to use TikTok to influence the outcome of the mid-term elections. We know for a fact the Russians interfered with the 2016 election using Facebook and Twitter. Why aren’t there efforts underway to ban Facebook and Twitter?

You claimed TikTok poses a threat to American users by exploiting their personal information. We know Facebook is guilty of this practice by way of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Why isn’t Facebook being threatened with closure?

Additionally, the owners of TikTok have bent over backwards to accommodate American security concerns, even allowing an American company to sequester all data harvested from TikTok’s American users. Why do these concerns persist?

The perception among your constituents is that efforts to ban TikTok have little to do with security concerns. Instead, they seem rooted in an effort to silence opposition to the Republican Party.

It is a fact young people use TikTok to express their dissatisfaction with the increasingly vile morals and values of the GOP. Instead of trying to win the hearts and minds of voters by allowing their ideas to compete in the intellectual marketplace, Republicans seem hellbent on stifling criticism, a page from the playbooks of thugs like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

Banning TikTok won’t silence the GOP’s critics. Young people will move to another platform. At the same time, Republicans will find themselves increasingly isolated and irrelevant in a world that is passing them by.

Again, I urge you to rethink your opposition to TikTok, and I ask that you withdraw your bill, ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act (S. 347). It serves no purpose other than to add another nail to the Republican political coffin.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at .