Are you fed up with the relentless commercialization of the holiday season? Take heart: You’re not alone!
The late Jerry Stiller, in his iconic role as Seinfeld‘s Frank Costanza, explained the origin of his anti-consumerist celebration in a now-infamous 1997 episode titled “The Strike“:
“Many Christmases ago I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way … Out of that, a new holiday was born. A Festivus for the rest of us!”
On the surface Festivus — celebrated annually on Dec. 23 — looks like any other family gathering for the holidays, but the details make it special. They include a Festivus pole instead of a tree, the Feats of Strength — in which a younger relative attempts to pin the family patriarch — and the Airing of Grievances:
“At the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and you tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year,” Frank explains.
Festivus is completely absurd, which is what makes it fun, but it’s also a strong reaction against the all-encompassing commercialization of the holiday season. Every year it seems like the retail industry nudges the season a little further back. At first it was a few weeks, then the end of Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the holidays.
Now it’s not unusual to see lights, wreaths and images of Santa popping up in early November, setting the tone for more sales, more gifts, and more spending.
Of course if you’re reading this site, you’re a cat lover and you’re probably intimately familiar with the non-stop meowing of a dissatisfied cat. Not enough food, not enough snacks, not enough space on the bed, not enough scritches. To a cat, the Airing of Grievances can take place on any day of the year — and it often does. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a special edition of it on Festivus.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to sit down to the Festivus table and get berated by Bud. I’m told his list of grievances is quite long this year.
Amazon’s newest big-budget prestige drama, The Peripheral, imagines a near future when technology has become even more deeply embedded in every day life.
Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a young woman who lives in North Carolina’s rural Blue Ridge Mountains, works in a 3D print shop by day and plays virtual reality games by night.
The story is set a decade from now in 2032, and while Flynne’s brother, Burton (Jack Reynor), plays startlingly realistic VR games for fun, Flynne plays them for money. Although Burton is a former United States Marine Corps infantryman and war veteran, his sister is the superior player when it comes to video games, and she’s so good that well-heeled players across the world pay her to carry them through high-difficulty levels.
If that seems fanciful, consider that it already happens in real life: some people fork over big bucks to highly skilled players who can help them win in multiplayer video games like Fortnite, or run them through the most challenging missions in online role playing games to get coveted in-game gear.
Flynne’s side hustle allows her to afford expensive medication for her sickly mother. Apparently in 2032, Democrats and Republicans are still squabbling over how to pass meaningful prescription drug reforms while remaining in the good graces of the corporate behemoths who finance their campaigns. Some things never change.
When a Colombian company called Milagros Coldiron offers Flynne a hefty chunk of change to beta test their newest game — and the incredibly immersive new headset it comes with — Flynne thinks she’s just taking a lucrative but routine job, one that will help pay for her mom’s meds for at least a few weeks.
What she doesn’t know is that her life is going to change drastically the moment she steps into the newest form of virtual reality, revealing things about her world and herself that she never imagined.
There’s so much more to the story, and in fact we’ve barely scratched the surface, but The Peripheral is the kind of show best appreciated by knowing as little as possible going in.
The ambitious new series is based on a 2014 novel by technoprophet William Gibson of Neuromancer fame. Gibson envisioned the concept of cyberspace in 1981, more than a decade before the first mass market commercial dial-up services were available.
At the time, the idea of exploring almost photorealistic worlds in virtual reality was a radical new idea, and it took more than 35 years for technology to catch up by making it feasible. (We’re still not quite there yet. VR tech has improved by leaps and bounds, and we’re beginning to see the first deeply immersive VR games, but Mark Zuckerberg’s much-hyped version of the metaverse, for example, has fallen flat and been pilloried by press and players alike.)
By choosing to adapt Gibson’s work, Amazon has dipped into the largely untouched world of literary science fiction.
While the science fiction of movies and TV has been treading the same worn ground and returning to the same tired concepts for decades, SF novels are a rich source of astonishingly inventive big ideas, from the existential stories of Liu Cixin (The Three Body Problem) to the galaxy-spanning space opera of the late, great Iain M. Banks, to the gothic horror-tinged, wildly imaginative universe of Revelation Space by Welsh astrophysicist Alastair Reynolds.
Indeed, Netflix is developing a series based on The Three Body Problem, with Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss taking the helm. Amazon has acquired the rights to Banks’ first Culture novel, and Netflix’s highly-praised anthology series Love, Death + Robots adapted two of Reynolds’ short stories as episodes.
Finally we’ve moved beyond the Alien clones, Star Wars sequels, prequels, spinoffs and crossovers, as well as the unfulfilling JJ Abrams mystery box offerings that have made up the bulk of live action science fiction on the big and small screens.
There are no candy-colored light swords in The Peripheral, nor are there spandex-clad superheroes or franchise installments designed with merchandise sales in mind. Instead, we get a story for adults, one that gives the audience a lot to think about while also holding a mirror up to our own world, as the best science fiction always does.
After all, technology changes but people don’t. Human nature is a constant. What we do with our shiny new toys says a lot about us as a species and civilization.
Reynor’s Burton connects to a VR world from his Airstream camper in The Peripheral, which is set primarily in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and London, UK.
Gary Carr as Wilf Netherton and Chloe Grace Moretz as Flynne Fisher in The Peripheral.
Although The Peripheral begins with the comparatively low-stakes world of virtual reality, its scope rapidly expands until, by the end of the first episode, it becomes clear the show is asking its audience to grapple with existential questions about humanity and our future.
The Peripheral demands its audience’s full attention as it introduces concepts like the parallel universes of M-theory, nanotechnology and the idea that even if matter can’t be shifted between time and space, information in the form of photons can.
Gibson uses these heady concepts in his narrative sandbox, forcing his characters to consider wild concepts like the possibility that there may be infinite versions of themselves existing in infinite branching realities.
How would you react knowing there’s a version of yourself who chose to study classical literature and move to Athens, or a version who became a software programmer, authored a lucrative app and lives in a Manhattan penthouse? Can you imagine having a different wife or husband, or a different child? (Are there realities in which I am not the loyal and loving servant of Buddy? In that case, who is feeding him snacks, and are they doing it promptly?)
Of course, none of this stuff would matter without interesting characters and a compelling narrative. Moretz and Reynor have the chemistry of a real brother and sister in the way they regularly bicker but ultimately love each other. Eli Goree’s Connor is a man of wonderful paradoxes, and T’Nia Miller steals every scene she’s in as the delightfully malicious Cherise Nuland, an antagonist who loves making her enemies squirm while dispensing witticisms in cut glass RP.
For longtime SF fans, there’s another compelling reason to give the series a shot: Canadian writer-director Vincenzo Natali, best known for his mind-bending 1997 indie film Cube, is an executive producer and directs four of the season’s episodes. Natali is a pro at incorporating heady ideas in ways that enhance his narratives instead of weighing them down.
The first season just concluded, and you can stream all eight episodes on Amazon Prime. Bud and I are already looking forward to The Peripheral’s return.
Buddy the Cat was cruising through Sunday night’s Acatemy Awards ceremony and razzing the celebrity cats in attendance when things took a turn for the bizarre and violent.
After joking that Alejandro Baldwinito the Spanish cat would have to lose Best Actor after his wife, Ellaria, lost Best Actress, comedian Buddy turned to Garfield and his better half, Venus the two-faced kitty.
“Venus, I love you! Two-Face in the next Batman movie, can’t wait to see it!” Buddy said, drawing laughs from the crowd — including from Garfield, who appeared to find the joke hilarious.
But when Garfield noticed Venus staring daggers at him, he cleared his throat and stood up.
“Uh oh!” Buddy said as Garfield padded over to him. “Uh oh! It’s…”
Buddy was stopped mid-sentence as Garfield paw-slapped him hard across the face, drawing shocked gasps from the stars in attendance.
“Oh, wow! Wow!” Buddy said. “Garfield just slapped the s— out of me!”
“Keep Venus’ name out your —-ing mouth!” Garfield yelled, settling back into his seat.
“Wow, dude!” Buddy replied. “It was a Batman joke!”
“Keep my wife’s name out your —ing mouth!” Garfield repeated, casting a glance at Venus as Lupita Purrongo looked on behind them, open-mouthed and horrified.
“I’m going to, okay?” Buddy said, momentarily at a loss for words.
“That was, uh, the greatest night in the history of television!” Buddy said, recovering and cutting some of the tension in the room.
Just minutes later, Garfield accepted the Oscar for Best Actor and had a meltdown on stage.
“I do it for love!” the rotund orange tabby said. “I have to protect the people around me, and Richard, King Richard, he once said, you know… Who has lasagna? Does anyone have lasagna?”
NEW YORK — Anna Delvey said she was at a low point when she crossed paths with Buddy the Cat at a party one night.
“So many of my friends were so disappointing,” Delvey says. “When people show up to a party looking poor or fat, and they’re not wearing designer clothes, it’s a huge buzzkill.”
But Buddy, who was a guest of Princess Charlotte Marie Pomeline Casiraghi of Monaco, was clearly someone who understood style and luxury and moved in the exclusive circles Delvey frequented.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, you know [Monegasque designer] Pauline Ducruet?” Delvey recalls. “Buddy had just arrived with Felix [Finch, editor of the Trafalgar Review of Books]. He knew all the right people, was at the best parties and always knew when to leave before unattractive people showed up.”
On the night she met Buddy, Delvey says she was already shaken by a woman who showed up to a film festival afterparty wearing clothes from Target when her group faced another setback: The maître d’ at Dorsia had double booked their reservation, so they were forced to head to Espacé on the upper west side.
“I was on the verge of tears when we arrived at Espacé, since I was positive we wouldn’t get a decent table,” Delvey recalls. “But we did, and relief washed over me in an awesome wave.”
It turned out Buddy knew the maître d’ at Espacé and was able to secure a table by slipping him two crisp $100 bills.
“Friends like that,” Delvey says, “are worth keeping around.”
Delvey’s roster of friends was whittled down to just a handful when she was arrested in 2018 and charged with defrauding various luxury hotels, spas, boutique shops and bankers out of more than $300,000. She was also on the verge of securing a $22 million loan from Cavendish Holdings, ostensibly to open a VIP arts club, when authorities caught up with her and charged her with multiple counts of wire fraud, grand larceny and tampering with financial records.
Delvey’s story was immortalized in a 2019 New Yorker piece which went viral and, with the premiere of Netflix’s Inventing Anna miniseries just 10 days ago, millions of people are now privy to almost every sordid detail of Delvey’s long con, in which she presented herself as a fabulously wealthy German heiress sitting on a $60 million trust fund.
The now-convicted former socialite, whose real name is Anna Sorokina, moved in the highest echelons of New York society for more than two years. She quickly made a name for herself after arriving in New York from Paris, where she’d interned at fashion magazine Purple, and soon worked her way into the orbit of celebrities, famous designers and even royalty.
Like Delvey, the source of Buddy’s wealth was shrouded in mystery.
“I think he was some sort of poultry oligarch,” said stylist Ronaldo Chen. “Vast holdings in eastern Europe, turkey farms, wineries and hotels.”
Others said he was a Youtuber and vlogger who helped popularize the wildly popular genre of unboxing videos, while some people said he was a tech bro raising venture capital.
“He comes from old money just like Anna does,” said French socialite Marinus. “House Buddeaux is one of the oldest catnip families west of the Seine.”
Episode 11 of the Netflix hit details the now-infamous party 2017 in Budapest at which Delvey is alleged to have made off with more than $150,000 of the Duke of Sandringham’s diamonds and left Buddy with more than $30,000 in hotel charges.
Still, there are apparently no hard feelings between the two.
“Buddy is a genius, bitches,” Delvey told Vogue last summer in a jailhouse interview. “I was surrounded by genius and now I’m here, wearing a horrid jumpsuit, locked up with basic bitches. My cellmate says she’s serving a life sentence for stabbing her cheating boyfriend, and I was like ‘Why are you being so dramatic?'”
Just when it seems like the zombie genre has run its course, a handful of visionary Korean storytellers come along to remind us there’s still life left in the undead genre.
First there was 2016’s record-setting, multiple award-winning Train to Busan, a film about an overworked father taking his young daughter to her mother’s house in the titular city just as a zombie plague tears human civilization apart.
Together with a core cast of affable characters — including a pregnant woman and her overprotective husband, and members of a youth baseball team — dad and daughter try to survive in a uniquely claustrophobic setting where simply running from the undead isn’t an option. Train to Busan wasn’t just a hit for its horror and action elements — the film packs a surprising amount of social criticism into its one hour and 58 minute run time, turning its lens onto modern Korean society and, by extension, modern life around the globe.
The movie has a 94 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and sparked a bidding war for its US rights. A remake set in the US is currently in production by New Line.
Then there’s Kingdom, a Netflix series also called Kingdom of the Gods in Korean, that takes a zombie plague and drops it over a story about political intrigue and power struggles in the Joseun feudal era.
The series picks up at the beginning of the 17th century, when the kingdom of Joseon is three years removed from the second of two brutal Japanese invasions. Poverty is rampant, the common people are starving and the queen consort’s Haewon Cho clan has consolidated power, effectively insulating the king from his closest advisers, friends and family.
The country is desperate for leadership, but the king has disappeared after falling ill with smallpox.
His son, Crown Prince Lee Chang, tries to intervene and find out what’s happened to his father, but he’s repeatedly stopped by the pregnant Queen Consort Cho, who refuses to allow Chang into the royal palace.
Chang is in an extremely precarious situation: Although he’s the Crown Prince and the king’s beloved only son, his mother was a concubine. If Queen Consort Cho gives birth to a son, the boy will be considered the true heir and Chang will be hunted down and executed so there can be no competing claims to the throne.
With the king missing, Crown Prince Chang knows his time is limited and if he doesn’t act, he could be arrested and put to death by the queen’s orders at any moment.
So Chang and his bodyguard/friend Mu-yeong devise a plan to steal the king’s patient journal from the royal palace at great risk to themselves. When they find bizarre entries about doctors administering a “resurrection plant” — and no subsequent entries about the king’s health — they set off south in search of the king’s physician, the one man who can tell them what really happened to the king.
What follows is a spectacular adventure fueled by gorgeous cinematography, an energetic cast of actors who go all-in on the premise, and a historically accurate look at Korea as it existed under a dynasty that lasted for half a millennia.
The zombie plague itself may be the stuff of George A. Romero’s nightmares, but the attention to historical detail in Kingdom is second to none, from the costumes to the historic palaces and the strict adherence to tradition among Joseon’s bureaucrats.
It turns out the real leaders of Joseon did have many of the same dilemmas their counterparts on the show do: Kingdom’s author was inspired by historical accounts of an unprecedented deadly plague that swept through the Korean peninsula after the second Japanese invasion, piling fresh misery onto a population already reeling from Japanese invasions and hunger.
The social order compounded the misery for those at the bottom. The Joseon dynasty was marked by strict divisions between social classes, making traditionally aristocratic societies in the west look almost like pleasant meritocracies by comparison.
Everything a person wore — robes, hats, embroidered designs on their chests and backs — were indicators of class, rank and occupation. Government ministers, who were nobles, dressed in fine silks with intricately embroidered rank badges in animal motifs.
Peasants wore rags and straw hats, while the more fortunate among them wore modest clothes.
Nepotism and corruption were rampant, and the nobles, ministers and administrators who held power saw their positions as conferring privilege, not responsibility.
When a group of aristocrats and government ministers of one region take the last barge out of a doomed city, leaving thousands of vulnerable commoners behind to be eaten and turned by the tidal wave of undead, it seems unspeakably cruel and cowardly until you realize that this is a feature of the society, not a bug.
When the aristocrats abandon peasants to the zombies, Crown Prince Chang and Mu-yeong risk their lives gathering a small force to protect the people and usher them to the safety of a walled stronghold.
Later, when a group of villagers bury a group of undead, unaware that they’ll rise at sunset and trample the nearest towns, the Crown Prince and his followers head out just before dusk to stop them, knowing they’ll be outnumbered and may not return.
The Crown Prince’s many kindnesses to peasants and children, and his willingness to risk his own life to protect them, draw the notice of characters who become key allies — including a member of the legendary Chakho tiger hunters, and Lord Ahn, a military hero and governor credited with expelling the Japanese during the invasion three years prior.
Crown Prince Chang set off initially to solve the mystery of the king’s disappearance and to protect himself from the scheming Haweon Cho clan, but as he sees the poverty, desperation and vulnerability of his people first-hand, he dedicates himself to a more pressing and noble cause in protecting the people of Joseon from the seemingly unstoppable plague and starvation.
In that effort, he unites people of different classes and backgrounds who fight fiercely and loyally for him, seeing hope for a brighter future if he survives and becomes king.
The show never misses a chance to show social disparities: The upper classes do everything they can to protect themselves, everyone else be damned. They hide behind walls and ignore thousands of commoners — including women and crying children — who pound on the gates, begging to be let in. They abandon the peasants, and in many cases count on the lower classes serving as a human shield to allow the upper classes to escape danger.
“Are you sure this is okay?” one minister asks his sycophantic assistant as they take the last barge out of a doomed city, leaving throngs of peasants on the docks.
“You and the other nobles are the backbone of the city!” his assistant assures him. “You must survive so you can rebuild.”
As a result, the first waves of undead are the people on the lowest rungs of society. As the virus spreads to another city, a group of confused aristocrats can’t believe what they’re seeing.
“Those peasants are attacking nobles!” one incredulous man in ornate clothing says as undead in rags storm through Dongnae (modern day Busan).
Peasants attacking the upper class was unthinkable in Joseon, and by the time the aristocrats in that scene realize there’s something very wrong, it’s too late.
Before long, the legions of undead include just as many people in fine silks and ornate embroidery, finally uniting the classes of Korea in a state of undead purgatory, their reanimated corpses hungering for the flesh of the still-living.
Eventually, though, Chang must confront the Haewon Cho clan and its patriarch, the powerful minister Cho Hak-ju.
Of course the show wouldn’t be a hit if it didn’t provide something for action and horror fans, and it more than delivers on its promises.
The action sequences in Kingdom are spectacular, and the show gives viewers lots of them, from outnumbered warriors holding a narrow pass from the undead, to zombie hordes laying siege to citadels, to close-quarters sword fighting.
The beautifully-shot sequences put shows like The Walking Dead to shame. Whereas the latter show often gives the impression that the money men behind the franchise are counting pennies, Kingdom‘s lavish sets, epic set pieces and impeccable special effects are the kind of thing viewers would expect from a summer blockbuster, not a television show.
Kingdom isn’t all action, and it takes time to breathe with quiet character moments between the narrow escapes and thrilling battles. The series is a period drama just as much as it falls within the action and horror genres. We see the inner workings of a society markedly different than anything most Westerners are familiar with, but driven by the same human ambitions.
The story is also effective thanks to actors Hye-jun Kim and Seung-Ryong Ryu, who play the Queen and her father, high minister Cho Hak-ju. They’re villainous and power hungry without seeming one-dimensional, and both succeed in becoming focal points of the audience’s anger as they commit one despicable act after another.
Cho Hak-ju manipulates the court with the savvy of Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger and the brutality of Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus in Gladiator. The other government ministers are terrified of him, and as the man who ostensibly speaks for the king, his word is effectively law.
The Queen, meanwhile, puts in motions schemes that would make Thrones’ Cersei look amateurish in comparison.
Kingdom’s got two seasons under its belt and a stand-alone special episode, Kingdom: Ashin of the North. Fans are eagerly awaiting the third season. It stands out as one of the best historical epics in recent memory.
Buddy’s verdict: Five paws out of five!
Big Buddy’s verdict: Highly recommended
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.