Movie review: The Holdovers

Directed by Alexander Payne

It’s almost winter break at a prestigious boys’ prep school in 1970. Most of the kids are going home, but five are the holdovers, unable to get away for the break. Thus, the name of the film.

A faculty member has to tend to them. One is assigned but gets out of the gig. The task then devolves to the demanding teacher of ancient civilizations, Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), who almost no one likes.

Then, the five teens are offered a way out, but only four can take advantage, leaving the bright but troubled Angus Tully (Dominick Sessa) stuck with Paul and the cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), deep in her own issues.

I liked this movie a lot: the characters, all broken in some manner, often change unexpectedly. One of the telling aspects is that I had seen the trailer for the movie a half dozen times. Those scenes, as shown in the movie, are actually funnier. Yet, there is serious character development.

The dialogue by David Heminson is delightful, especially Paul’s:  “I find the world a bitter and complicated place – and it seems to feel the same way about me.”

Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the breakout star here. Vanity Fair, in noting the 25 best performances of 2023, says, “In Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, Randolph proves her ability to settle in for a character-driven story that’s stripped of distraction and focused solely on her skills as an actor. As Mary, a school cafeteria administrator…  Randolph captures maternal pain while never allowing the grief to feel clichéd. Whenever she’s onscreen, you can’t take your eyes off her layered, nuanced performance in this moving dramedy. “


Several reviews use the sentence, “Paul Giamatti gives his best performance since Sideways,” the 2004 film that Payne also directed. The new movie received 96% positive reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, while 91% of the audience concurred.

I suppose The Holdovers might become, in its weird way, a holiday classic, especially for anyone, in the words of one critic, “who has known the oppressive weight of Christmas loneliness.”

One critic complained, “It’s impossible not to notice how many scenes limp along, how many have nothing to do with the previous one, and how many fizzle out.” I didn’t think that was happening. I sensed that the story gave the viewer the idea that the relationship, especially between Paul and Angus, had gone as far as possible, but then, another layer would be revealed.

My wife and I saw The Holdovers at our Landmark Theatre, Spectrum 8, on December 2 in one of the larger theaters that was about half full.

Hot 100 Christmas Songs, 1955-2004

Ross Bagdasarian

These are the top 10 Hot 100 Christmas Songs in the rock and roll era, starting in 1955. While there was a particular Christmas chart from 1963 to 1972 and again from 1983 to 1985, the songs here charted on the pop charts.

Many of these will be quite familiar to you, though I’ll admit to being totally unaware of the NKOTB track, the only one I don’t own in a physical form.

The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) – The Chipmunks, #1 for four weeks in 1958. My family owned the single. I particularly liked it because I thought l did a passable imitation of the rodents. Ross Bagdasarian also had a #1 hit in 1958 with Witch Doctor as David Seville.

Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms, #6 in 1957. Background vocalists were the Anita Kerr Singers. The electric guitar was by Hank Garland.

Nuttin’ for Christmas – Barry Gordon with the Art Mooney orchestra, #6 in 1955. I never heard this until I heard it on a compilation CD. Fingernails on a blackboard.

This One’s For The Children – New Kids On The Block, #7 in 1989

White Christmas – Bing Crosby, #7 in 1955. This is the 1947 version, which supplanted the 1942 version.

Mary’s Boy Child – Harry Belafonte, #12 in 1956. The remarkable Jester Hairston, who had a fascinating life as a composer and actor, wrote the song.

The Little Drummer Boy – the Harry Simeone Chorale, #13 in 1958. We owned this single growing up, too. There was a 1965 remake of this song, which takes the ending much slower; I prefer the original.

Also Paul Young

Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid, #13 in 1984. It features members of Kool & the Gang, U2, The Boomtown Rats, Genesis, Ultravox, Bananarama, Culture Club, Heaven 17, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Wham!, Status Quo, The Police, The Style Council and others

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee, #14 in 1960, and #1 in 2023!

Pretty Paper – Roy Orbison, #15 in 1963. I never heard this until I bought Orbison’s Greatest Hits CD collection.

People born in December 1953

The fourth of My Three Sons

Here are some people born in December 1953. this is the final installment of people born in 1953. I won’t do this for 1954 because I was born in 1953. One person I’ll skip because I will mention them separately.

Tom Hulce (5th): he played Pinto Kroger in Animal House (1978). He was also the wayward son, Larry, of Gil (Steve Martin) and Karen (Mary Steenburgen) Buckman in Parenthood (1989). But he is best known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus (1984), for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar as Best Actor, losing out to his co-star F. Murray Abraham, who played Mozart’s rival Antonio Salieri. These are the only three films I’ve seen featuring Hulce, all at the cinema.

I never really related to the humor of Sam Kinison (8th). But I understood it better after I read about his growing up. His father was a Pentecostal preacher. “At the age of three years, Kinison was hit by a truck, which left him with brain damage… His parents divorced when Kinison was 11, after which his brother Bill went to live with his father while Kinison stayed with the rest of the family, against his protestations.” For a brief time, Sam was also a fire and brimstone preacher. He was killed in an automobile accident with an intoxicated driver on April 10, 1992.


I’ve seen John Malkovich (9th) in a few movies (Places in the Heart (1984), Dangerous Liaisons (1988)), his Emmy-winning performance in Death of a Salesman (1985), and a couple of hosting gigs on Saturday Night Live. My favorite has to be the bizarre movie Being John Malkovich (1999).

Bess Armstrong (11th) was in the movies The Four Seasons (1981) and Nothing in Common (1986); the TV shows On Our Own (1977) and My So-Called Life (1995). I’ve seen her in all these plus three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and other television appearances.

Bill Pullman (17th) is an upstate New York kid born in Hornell and attending SUNY Oneonta. While I’ve seen him in several movies, including A League of Their Own (1992) and Sleepless in Seattle (1997), I’ve never watched either Liebestraum (1991, filmed in Binghamton, NY) or Independence Day (1996).

Barry Livingston (17th): I am so seeped in the history of the TV show My Three Sons, I remember this. “In 1963, he joined the cast of the ABC [then CBS] sitcom My Three Sons as next-door neighbor Ernie Thompson. His older brother, Stanley Livingston, was already a series regular as Chip Douglas. After Tim Considine left the series two years later, Livingston joined the cast permanently (his character was adopted into the family, keeping the show’s title intact) and remained with the series until its end in 1972.” He’s still a working actor, and I’ve even seen him in films such as The Social Network (2010) and Argo (2012).

Echoes of Joy

Betty Wright (21st): I mostly know her for one song, Clean Up Woman, but she had more hits and a complicated personal life. She grew up singing with the Echoes of Joy, a gospel group, from age two(!) to 11. Betty “died from cancer, on May 10, 2020, at her home in Miami, aged 66.”

Meredith Vieira (30th): I first noticed her on CBS News. “Vieira joined 60 Minutes in 1989, following the birth of her first child. Don Hewitt, executive producer of 60 Minutes, allowed her to work part-time for two seasons so she could care for her child. After that, it was arranged that she would work full-time. But after two years, she became pregnant again and asked to continue the part-time arrangement. Hewitt declined her request, firing her, and deciding instead to hire someone who would work full-time.” I didn’t often watch The View (1997-2006), the syndicated Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (2002-2013), or Today (2006-2011), but I’d see her occasionally, covering the Olympics, appearing on 30 Rock, et al.

The College of Saint Rose is closing

The administration failed miserably

To my tremendous sadness, the College of Saint Rose is closing. The 103-year-old institution will shut down at the end of the academic year after the May 11, 2024 graduation.

What has been its great strength, a campus amid the city of Albany, NY, will be the greatest challenge for the neighborhood: nearly 90″properties — almost all of them clustered in the Pine Hills neighborhood — will be left vacant.”

As the Times Union reported: “The college’s properties in the one square block of Madison Avenue, Western Avenue, and Partridge Street will become empty. Most of them are zoned ‘multi-use — campus/institutions,’ which allows a wide variety of options, from residential to retail.”

I’ve always liked college campuses intrinsic to its city, such as Syracuse University, Brown University in Providence, and the downtown University at Albany campus. Meanwhile, Binghamton University, near where I grew up in upstate New York, seemed at arm’s length to me growing up.

The CSR campus is only three to four blocks from my house. A student enrichment program occurred there when my daughter was in elementary school; in 3rd through 5th grade, it was in science, and in 6th grade, science. My daughter was so positively affected that she briefly considered CSR as a college choice.

I’ve attended musical recitals by students, some of whom had been in our church choir for a time, at the lovely Massry Center. Our church choir director taught there until the school gutted more than two dozen majors, including several in their excellent art and music programs designed to save money a few years ago.  But the decision, along with  COVID, meant that the enrollment plummeted.


“College officials have in recent days attempted to secure emergency funding from the state, county, and city to stay open. While the responses were encouraging…  none of those entities said they could immediately offer help.”

A CSR spokesperson recently said, “The women’s soccer team is undefeated, and it’s business as usual over here. There is no plan to announce that the college is closing.” Still, the closure was a shock but, oddly, not entirely a surprise.

The Saint Rose Exposed page is written by Bruce Roter, a professor at Saint Rose, for 24 years before the 2022 retrenchment. He is the Founder and President of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Museum of Political Corruption and its Center for Ethical Governance.

Roter writes: “I am angriest at the administration and the board of trustees who let this community down. It was their primary responsibility to maintain the financial well-being of the college — they failed miserably. They failed the students who were promised an education that would change their lives. They failed the faculty who dedicated themselves to those students. They failed the staff who worked diligently behind the scenes to support the College. They failed the College’s founders, who envisioned an institution that would lift people up and educate the whole individual. They failed the alumni. They failed the Capital District Community.”

Now what?
As state Sen. Neil Breslin and Assemblymembers Patricia Fahy and John T. McDonald, III noted: “There is no way to quantify the impact of Saint Rose’s physical absence in the City of Albany. It is imperative we accelerate discussions surrounding the College’s 87 properties, their

future use, and how we can minimize the immediate and long-term effects on our surrounding community, businesses, and the Pine Hills neighborhood more specifically.


“The College of Saint Rose is part of the very fabric of Albany. We will work diligently to ensure there is a clear path forward for students and faculty, the College’s physical presence in the City of Albany, and a smooth transition and integration of existing academic programs through partnerships between Saint Rose and other institutions of higher education both in the Capital Region and New York State.”


I must believe that College of Saint Rose graduates, several of whom I know, must be mourning. And, of course, “the closing could be devastating to some students, who will struggle to find another college where they can finish their degree.” Not to mention faculty and staff who will have to seek other jobs.


From my house, the College of Saint Rose is just beyond the recently shuttered CVS. Talk about “There goes the neighborhood…”

Sunday Stealing – Identity

hot under the collar

mytrueidentityThe Sunday Stealing this week is about identity, an intriguing topic.

1. if someone wanted to really understand you, what would they read, watch, and listen to?
Read: see #8 below
Watch TV- JEOPARDY, 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mission: Impossible until Landau and Bain left. See movies: Young Frankenstein, Annie Hall, Casablanca, West Side Story, 13th.
Listen to: see #4 below

2. have you ever found a writer who thinks just like you? if so, who?
He is not exactly like me – he is far more technologically knowledgeable, e.g. But Arthur is a political science guy, sometimes activist, and is open to stealing ideas from me. In fact, he’s doing his Ask Arthur Anything event, which he admittedly purloined from me.

3. do you care about your ethnicity?
Yes, and yes. Yes, it still seems to matter to others; we aren’t in that post-racial society yet. And yes, because it’s interesting to me. Ancestry occasionally recalibrates my DNA percentages. Presently:
Mister Music
4. what musical artists have you most felt connected to over your lifetime?
In response to blog posts J. Eric Smith shared, I wrote a series of pieces that featured Prince, the Temptations, Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, Johnny Cash, Steely Dan, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Harry Belafonte, plus a bunch of people also mentioned in the previous links. If I HAD to pick three, it’d be The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Simon.

5. are you an artist?
Suppose art is drawing, painting, or sculpting; then absolutely not. If art includes singing, then arguably yes.

6. dog person or cat person?
I had cats from when I grew up until 40 years ago. Then, a decade ago, there were two cats, one of whom was certified demented by his vet. The one dog we had when I was a kid bit me; we got rid of that dog when he also bit the minister’s daughters. There are a handful of dogs I’ve liked, especially Random.

7. inside or outdoors?
I like the outdoors when it’s temperate. I like April, May, and September. But I hate heat and fear burning. My tolerance for the cold has diminished with age.
8. five most influential books over your lifetime
I dunno. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi regarding how I see inequity. Life Itself by Roger Ebert is about how I see movies. The Sweeter The Juice by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip is about how we’re the same. The Good Book by Peter J. Gomes is a philosophical treatise. One of those Joel Whitburn books about music – Top Pop Singles – is about how music rules.

9. would you rather be in Middle Earth, Narnia, Hogwarts, or somewhere else?
By default, Hogwarts. I’ve never read any of the books, but I’ve seen all the movies.

10. list the top five things you spend the most time doing, in order.
Sleeping, reading, sorting through stuff, blogging, eating (including food prep or purchase)

11. have you ever felt like you had a “mind-meld” with someone?
Yes, at random times. A few times on the Amtrak.

12. could you live as a hermit?
That’s what COVID felt like. If I had a phone, Internet, a source of food delivery, maybe for a year before I started going bonkers.

13. do you feel like your outside appearance is a fair representation of the “real you”?
Most people who know me well recognize that my outside appearance is not particularly a high priority for me. So I haven’t a clue.

14. three songs that you connect with right now.
Here are songs by artists who have birthdays in December: Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinéad O’Connor, who died in July 2023;  Something So Right– Annie Lennox from her all-covers album, where she reorders the Paul Simon lyrics;  Love and Affection– Joan Armatrading, which has one of my favorite first lines:  “I am not in love. But I’m open to persuasion.”
made into a PBS series
15. pick one of your favorite quotes.
When I get this question, I pull a book off the shelf and randomly pick something. From The Story of English by McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil: “Phrases like hot under the collar and bite the dust are an everyday reminder of the powerful influence the cowboy has had on the English language. Perhaps this is because, of all of the frontier heroes, the cowboy was the beneficiary of nineteenth-century technology. The camera and the railroad exported the cowboy lifestyle and language back to the east so vividly that a New York dentist, Zane Gray, who was virtually ignorant of the real West, could create a believable picture of cowboy society from the information available to him in New York, thousands of miles from the range.”
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