By reviewing this bomb, I redeem the two hours I lost watching it: a dissection of “Jupiter Ascending”


After several weeks of watching either good or mediocre movies, I finally watched a movie so bad I must review it, in hopes of purging it from my consciousness. Jupiter Ascending was released in February 2015, seven months later than initially advertised. Ninety-five percent of the visual imagery is computer generated; I imagine the extra time was needed to give the CGI artists’ wrists a break.

This short theater run, rushed to DVD affair is a Wachowski brothers film, the same guys who wrote and directed the Matrix series. The Matrix movies were stunning, new, and fast; this sort of neutralized their bad dialogue and occasional flat acting. Jupiter Ascending is certainly loud and fast—its extended explosions and bumping Midi keyboard soundtrack gave me a headache—but with none of the interesting plot points and no decent dialogue. The lead actress, Mila Kunis (best known as the annoying Jackie of That Seventies Show) is a one-trick pony; she wears the same wide-eyed, vacant expression for the whole movie. Her sassy catch phrase, “Holy Crap!”, hurt me a little more every time. Jackie plays Jupiter Jones, a girl who somehow ends up in Chicago after her pregnant mother is kicked out of Russia; the two clean houses and live with boorish, ruddy-faced relatives—it’s shameless stereotyping of Russians, the fat patriarch uncle actually lectures Jupiter on the value of a dollar in America. But all that is backstory (painful, plodding backstory); suddenly, she’s on the universe’s hit list, and scores of aliens are chasing her through downtown Chicago (which is where the Wachowski brothers are from, and I guess explains the pointless, eight minute long exploding chase scene across the Chicago skyline). The jarring transition from dark family life to bombastic space war was the first of many plot spasms so violent they threatened to blow up my DVD player.

Luckily, Caine (Channing Tatum) gets to Jupiter before the other buff bounty hunters do; his orders are to abduct, not kill. Caine was hired by one of the three Abraxis siblings who rule the universe, or something. The plot of this bloated space opera is nonsensical, overly complicated, and I refuse to sacrifice any more neurons explaining it. Caine’s DNA is part human, part wolf (so he’s “moody”), and he wears a pair of reverse gravity boots all the time; these reminded me of those flashy kids’ sneakers with cheap roller skates hidden underneath. Honestly, I can’t describe more of the storyline without bringing on a migraine, so here’s an attempt at summary: Jupiter and her moonboots-wearing wolfman abductor fall in barfy love as petty, evil siblings fight over the resources of earth and nearby planets (read: slaves), employing dozens of side characters who glance off the plot, leaving visible skid marks behind.  Soft disclosures about alien life and upcoming plasma technology are scattered here and there, but anything more profound or coherent collapses under the weight of this $175 million hack job.

The über bad guy is the whiny older brother of the Abraxis siblings (abraxas is a medieval magic word, akin to abracadabra—the Wachowski brothers are big on lifting stuff from literary and historical sources willy-nilly), played by Eddie Redmayne. He’s utterly forgettable, alternating between a pained whisper and a pathetic screech in every forced exchange. To be fair, Eddie Redmayne—I can’t remember his character’s name, and I watched this mess last night—is mostly talking to himself in an empty sound stage, while wearing a cape. All his henchmen are CGI characters; perhaps the lack of human interaction doomed his performance. A little more on the CGI characters: there are unblinking transhumans, saurian lizard generals, elephant-faced pilots, “traditional” giant head and slanted black eye aliens, and humanesque people in a stunning array of sexy costumes. If only these interesting shadow characters had somehow risen up to take down the nauseating leads, the movie might have redeemed itself.

So, there’s a boring wedding scene, where Jupiter is dressed lawsuit-close to Queen Amidala of Star Wars, there’s a slow-mo massive explosion sequence at the bad guy’s slave planet mine (where, “surprise,” Jupiter is saved at the last possible second by her wolfman in roller-skates), and there is the sloppy conclusion, which brings Jupiter back to earth with her now slightly kinder family of Russian slobs (who she saved from abduction and anal probing—seriously).

I’ll leave you with one of the more glaring plot holes: after Caine rescues Jupiter during the final kabooming slo-mo smashup (the soundtrack here was an Anglican ladies choir singing “aaaaaaaaooooouuuuuuuuu”), they have to catch a ride on the only ship nearby, piloted by a British lady in uniform (so I suppose she was a cop—I was only half-watching by this point); they don’t actually get to the ship, but they make it through the same temporary space portal nonetheless. On the other side, an alien crewmember on the ship says, “Captain, there’s no logic for this, but I’m picking up signs of Caine,” to which I said, “Exactly.” There’s no logic for most of what happens in Jupiter Ascending, and if I had to give it a rating out of five stars, I’d give it one and a half. The CGI and costume artists (I saw at least three hundred artists in the credits) deserve any available acclaim; the Wachowski brothers and the lead actors deserve a prolonged shower of rotten tomatoes.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (yup, a review)

Warning: full plot disclosure + wandering prose ahead

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon we went to see the new Avengers movie; I brazenly smuggled in a beer.  My husband and I were the only people in the theater (and possibly the entire cinema complex).  After a long string of idiotic TV commercials (why were they allowed into movie theaters?!) and six smashtastic previews, The Age of Ultron began.

Joss Whedon wrote and directed this and the previous Avengers movies; apparently, before this franchise he was an unknown, which gives me and my half finished comic book movie some hope.  This was a two-hour-long, highly energetic movie; the slow dialogue scenes never lasted more than three or four minutes (I checked).  But, Danny Elfman did avoid the pit that many epic movie composers fall headfirst into; his score didn’t blast our ears off, even in fight scenes. The loudest sounds came from an army of robots smashing semi-trucks and superheroes careening through glass coffee tables.

A plot synopsis: the Avengers are tracking down Loki’s scepter, a weapon from Thor and Loki’s world, which contains a devastating power source inside.  They blast through SHIELD’s (the bad guys) fortress in Sovokia (an Eastern bloc country where everybody speaks English) and get the scepter back, but they also run into a pair of superhuman Sovokian twins who mess things up a bit. The girl twin is like a sexier Jean Gray and the boy twin is a thuggier Flash (in other words, she’s telekenetic/telepathic and he’s really fast).  They’ve got a personal vendetta against Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., in maybe the best role of his career—seriously), who tangentially killed their parents when he was a black market weapons manufacturer.  The girl twin manages to plant a horrible vision into Tony Stark’s brain as he crashes through SHIELD’s creepy lab.

Back at Avengers headquarters, Tony Stark convinces Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to help him merge the power source in Loki’s scepter with a free-floating high speed computer brain and a kickass robot: the result is Ultron, who goes bad within seconds of his birth.  As Ultron is coming into consciousness in Tony Stark’s office—artificial intelligence evolving into something we can’t ever see coming is a central theme in this movie—the Avengers are throwing a wild party upstairs.  Stan Lee, who executive produced this Marvel movie (his tenth? twentieth?), makes a cameo as a grizzly WWII vet (well, himself); I like Stan Lee and I’ve always loved Spiderman, but his two minute appearance was something like, “Oh right, there’s Stan Lee, again.”  After Stan is literally carried off screen (he gets “fake” drunk), Ultron appears before the Avengers and explains how he will destroy humanity, thus fulfilling his creator (Tony Stark)’s vision of peace. Only Tony and Dr. Banner knew of Ultron, which Stark created to protect the earth against alien invaders (this is the premonition the girl twin infected him with); so the other Avengers are pissed off at Tony but must regroup and go after Ultron, who has copied himself (itself?) all over the internet, breaking into secure government databases willy-nilly.

Leaving off the plot recap for a bit, I’d like to write about the pathos behind the Avengers.  The crew is led by Captain America (Chris Evans); there’s also Thor (a former Australian soap opera star, I’ve forgotten his name), Natalia (Scarlett Johansson, looking five years younger than in the last Avengers), and Green Arrow (another guy whose name I forgot).  The Hulk/Bruce Banner is like a shadowy distant cousin; he gets called in when everyone’s in real trouble (“code green”), but dutifully slinks off after the battle—he’s a self-made anomaly, he drank radiation as a young man.  At the end of the movie, the Hulk takes off in a stealth jet, intending to clock out of the Avengers completely.  Except for Thor, all of the Avengers have been molded into something other than what they once were.  Captain America willingly took some bizarro drug to become a superhuman soldier and fight the Nazis, then spent 75 years cryogenically frozen; Natalia was relentlessly trained into an assassin (unclear who dropped her into this program—was she an orphan?); Green Arrow was kidnapped from wealth and comfort and retrained as a killer; and Iron Man made and profited from weapons of mass destruction, until he made a suit that gave him immense strength paired with a godview of all the chaos his weapons had created, which painfully turned him into a protector of life.  Thor, the son of Odin, is more like Superman: a displaced god who ends up among humans.  How these awkward superpeople fit together is handled well; Dr. Banner and Natalia want to pair up, but their respective dark sides are too monstrous.

I mentioned earlier that Robert Downey Jr. gives a great performance here; playing an unlikeable, self-deprecating genius seems to come easily to him.  His part is crucial for keeping the crew together, personality-wise.  He’s the money and half the brains of the operation; thus, the rest of the Avengers must rally together to put up with Tony Stark, aging smartass.  But Iron Man’s not a bad guy; he’s even nursing a broken heart, over the absent Pepper Pot (played by Gweneth Paltrow in the Iron Man movies—I’m not sure if she declined a part in Avengers or was out of the executive producer’s price range).  Samuel L. Jackson also drops by the farm (literally; the Avengers take refuge at Green Arrow’s farm) for a handful of dialogue and to promise he’ll rally sketchy air support in the final battle—as always, he delivers.

Many scenes later, after Ultron has amassed a robot army in Sovokia and the Hulk has destroyed a major African city, the Avengers bring forth their second AI savior, which Tony Stark and Dr. Banner have created in secret, again. This second robot is an actual human-machine hybrid, and it was begun by Ultron, as the evolution of humans; the Avengers snatched away the roboman (humanoid? android?) before Ultron could upload his consciousness into it.  Instead, Tony Stark fills the hybrid body with his benevolent computer program, and with a “mind stone,” the coded power source at the center of Loki’s scepter.  The being that emerges is indeed good, and something like an angel; more than human, more than machine, but with compassion for both.  Named Vision, he’s even born red, which in the Buddhist tradition signifies compassion.

The final epic showdown takes place in the fictional capital of Sovokia, which Ultron has rigged to detach from earth and rise up into space, then hurtle back down as an annihilating asteroid.  Ultron has somehow corraled hundreds of robots to help with his cause, and the CGI is, well, terrifying.  The twins have seen into Ultron’s warped AI mind and join up with the Avengers, and much smashing, shooting, and slow-motion explosions ensue.  The more real these scenes of mass destruction and horror become, the more I fear for our collective unconscious.  Yes, yes, I willingly walked into the movie theater, but I rarely seek out violence; it stays with me too long, and some of the shots from this film will keep me up at night.  Unlike a lot of movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t even show people being maimed or shot point-blank (most of the casualties were robots); but the scale of devastation, whole cities being mowed down in an orgy of shredded glass and steel, was deeply disturbing.  The more images like these are amplified, the less horrible they become.  We get a little numb.

Joss Whedon didn’t leave it there though; the Avengers have one last chance to implode the evacuated city-cum-asteroid, and the final showdown happens in the nave of an old church.  Flying robots fight flying superheroes, framed by crumbling church walls; it’s an homage to a Renaissance painting, The Battle between Heaven and Hell.  The characters look very much like angels and demons clawing it out, and we see them from below, the thick white clouds not far above them.

Ultron is defeated, the world is saved; but only temporarily.  The plot sets up at least one more movie, so Avengers: Age of Ultron’s two hundred stuntmen (a conservative estimate of the credits) aren’t out of work yet.  Not to mention the dozen or so model makers, Mr. Downey Jr.’s head chef, and Ms. Johansson’s extensive hair-care team.  Should I rate this movie, after a three page long review? Okay: four and a half stars.  I enjoyed the whole thing, except the wanton destruction, and it was better than I expected (and not just because I got to drink a beer in an empty theater).

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Sunday evenings

have a ragged edge,  like torn paper.  The weekend page is mostly torn off and a long blank Monday is peeking through.  It’s a late spring this year for the northeast and this also sharpens the edge of Sunday night, nearly eleven o’clock now and the moon is covered, will have its day tomorrow,  lunedi.  As I’ve gotten older the dread of working burned away,  replaced by creaking exhaustion.  Pick this up,  put it down.  Driving a car on a crowded city street buckling with cracks and holes: also work.  Please  know I am not griping,
this is a plain statement of events.  On Sunday evenings the air is full of dashes and dollar signs; by Wednesday, Sunday  is  a forgotten ancestor. 

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new poem

not brand new, it’s a few months old—I wrote it for a contest, it did not place.  The contest was sponsored by an art museum, you had to write about one of five or six pieces in the museum’s collection.  I picked a Roman sarcophagus:ultimare

and wrote this poem, Ultimare (which means, the last scene)


Arrows made of hard wood

and iron jar my shield.

The archer grins with hate.

Five shadows off, she’s a head taller than I

and her hair is cropped short, like our soldiers, like mine.

She’s a different species from the ladies of our fine houses. And our low houses.


This morning I asked Venus if I’d survive the battle.

Answer: a red flame shot straight up from the woods.

Days are long here, no sea air or comfortable chairs.

The Amazonian campaign is sinister, black tidings before we left the fortress walls. What box will they make for me, where will it lie?


My rival fires a line of arrows.

Without our canis corso we could even lose to women, shameful. This soaking field is damper than a bathhouse. On both sides, sinking horses breathe hard.


Without speaking, my first lieutenant kills the thickest of them, lancing his sword through her waist.

Her two-headed ax reflects his helmet as it drops, smacking the field.

Female voices call out, wrathful trills.


Finally my enemy’s distracted, her queen has fallen.

I rush and strike through her armor, she falls on her single breast, clawing the soil twice.

Blood blooms from her mouth, not grinning anymore but still it hates.

I’ll look just like that in an hour or so, when an arrow catches my neck, draws a red flame.

Tonight, longer arrows hunt my ghost.


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First review of the new year

bg3 Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) was too good (or rather, bad), to pass up.  I’ve seen enough bad movies to know this one was going to be rough; even the opening music—low budget porno track diluted with operatic “ooos”—was distressing.  Invasion of the Bee Girls was very nearly an Alan Smithee production; its director, Denis Sanders, had to be convinced by his manager to keep his name on the film.  [Before you go any further: this is a long review, but still a fast read.]

The male lead is William Smith (who has three total facial expressions, but mostly sticks with two).  He plays Neil Agar, a burly government agent from the State Department’s Office of Security, brought in to investigate several suspicious corpses in Peckham, California (the name is the first of many lewd puns in this sexploitation affair).  I like movies from the seventies—even bombs like Invasion of the Bee Girls—because they document things you don’t see anymore: rows of parked VW bugs, dark wood paneling that powerfully reflects set lights, a young woman in a hideous beige turtleneck dress with giant white buttons.  She says, in response to Agent Agar’s question about her relationship to a dead scientist, “Well, we balled and we balled and we balled till he dropped dead.”  This woman is Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri), a research assistant soon to be balling Agent Agar.

The next scene is quintessential 1973: a naked lady riding a dirt bike peels to a stop in front of a field where a naked, side-burned beefsteak looks at her “lustfully”.  Okay, she’s not totally nude; she is wearing white go-go boots.  She prances over to the man and they proceed to roll awkwardly down a hill in coital embrace.  There’s a strange high-pitched buzzing sound, the man dies without changing expressions, and the lady stalks off into the weeds.  (The actors must have been badly scratched up; they rolled through southern California scrub brush).

Next up, some boxy research facility (the dead scientists were employed here), where many of the employees are into wife-swapping and other good times.  Then it’s on to the dark bar with giant round red chairs, thick smoke, and drunken gasbags.  Enter the “iceberg” female scientist, Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford), an entomologist, who orders a Valentine.

Boom, another dead body, further obscuring the plot.  Note: every guy who dies is naked, shown from the chest up, usually zooming in on their handlebar mustaches. Choppy cut to the town hall meeting, where the fat county sheriff (Cliff Osmond) is clueless.  Eight men dead so far, all killed by over-exhaustion from too much sex (gasp!), so the oldest scientist on hand (he wears a brown corduroy suit and yellow butterfly collar shirt, I’ll call him Dr. Corduroy), recommends total abstinence.  This is met with boos and hollering from the red faced ruddy public.  The dark haired, evil female scientist, Dr. Harris, is bemused. She wears giant round dark sunglasses in this scene, and most of the movie—but, why?

The next scene, comic relief (I guess), takes place in a bedroom, with a giant gilded black V on the headboard.  Husband, reading paper: “Well, abstinence ain’t going be anything new around here.”  Wife, applying cold cream vigorously: “If I were sure it would kill you, I’d do it.”  At first I was like, why is this scene even in the movie, but I realized later it actually establishes their “relationship,” which resurfaces once more, ten minutes before the movie’s over.

So, a page into the plot summary and still it’s a question of what the hell is going on.  This movie is mostly sex puns and pop top Budweisers—but is that out of the ordinary for 1973? Finally, Dr. Harris approaches a drunk outside a bar and we see something of a plot point: cue the headache inducing buzzing, and a crazy camera effect—she has bee vision! The illusion of compound eyes was probably an innovative effect in 1973, but it’s badly dated now.  Crappy cut, scene change, and the stage is set for the death of Dr. Corduroy: he’s run over repeatedly by a yellow Chevy Nova, driven by Dr. Harris.  This scene is lit (barely) by a nearby phone booth.

Agent Agar and Julie are making out in a parked car and witness the murder; she gets out for some reason, while he goes into the phone booth to call his boss and shoot the shit.  Quite predictably, Julie is assaulted and nearly raped by drunken stooges who have been lurking about in the shadows.  After a lengthy chat, Agent Agar steps out of the phone booth, does a double-take, then runs to rescue his girlfriend while she’s still being merely pawed at—good thing drunken rapists enjoy foreplay.  Why he couldn’t see all this from the booth is puzzling—it’s ten feet away.  Then again, this movie is called Invasion of the Bee Girls; I don’t think it was supposed to make sense.

The next scene introduces gay love; it’s shot in the interior of Dr. Corduroy’s apartment, which is full of Grecian statues and lava lamps.  Agent Agar lets himself in to snoop around (nobody locks their doors in Peckham, California), and is soon tackled by a guy in a jean jacket and tight Levis, the late doctor’s lover.  A two minute exchange between Agent Agar and this nameless guy—“Could he make it with a woman?” “No way”—is all the time allotted to homosexuality.  I wasn’t alive in 1973, but I sense it was confusing; it seems like there was all this sex without love or even meaning, and the clothes were awful.

Oh, and the town is now under military quarantine, with a curfew.  One jeep and two guys in helmets are apparently enough muscle to establish total military control.  The pudgiest, booziest male scientist invites Dr. Harris to dinner (read: casual sex) and, surprise, she accepts.  At dinner she wears a striped bathrobe and speaks in sultry or surprised single word answers.  Her paunchy colleague asks, “Mind if I smoke?”; “I’m allergic to cigarette smoke,” she replies coquettishly.  Her makeup includes sea green eyeshadow, geisha red lips, and four pounds of mascara—something like rodeo clown vogue.  [Note: by this point I was blindly shouldering on, trying to stay somehow engaged in this flaccid production—it was only 80 minutes long, but I still had to stop and get another beer halfway through.]  As Dr. Harris seduces dimwitted horn-dog #11 on a shag carpet, the director cuts to film strip reels of queen bees being fed by workers, black widow spiders creeping around, etc.  Dr. Harris gets on top of her co-worker and “loves the very life out of his body” (so says the movie poster), at which point her eyes glaze over to eerie black: aaa, or something.

A few boring scenes later and we’re in Dr. Harris’s secret laboratory.  There’s little oversight at this facility; Dr. Harris has a giant jungle gym in her lab, where she unleashes huge blasts of gamma radiation willy-nilly.  The experiment: a group of bee girls pin down a scientist’s wife, Nora—she’s one of the worst actors in a 1973 sexploitation film, which is saying a lot—preparing her for mutation.  To the sweet sound of a woman’s choir singing “ooooouuuuuuuuuuuoooooooohhhhhhhh,” Nora is led, totally naked, into the center of the jungle gym.  The bee girls, all wearing dark circle sunglasses and short white lab coats, slather her with sticky white goo as the operatic vowel sounds escalate (causing Nora to make her “o face”).  Then she’s brought into a glowing tube, where thousands of bees swarm her body.  The bees and goo fall away, Nora is brought out looking foxier than ever, and Dr. Harris bombards her with gamma radiation, which also induces orgasm, evidently.  Apparently getting bombed by gamma rays washes hair and reapplies makeup; Nora emerges completely made-over.  The other bee girls are likewise turned on, rubbing their breasts through their lab coats.  I suppose this was meant to be the hottest ten minutes of the movie, but it was so ridiculous I could barely watch.  This scene is probably why the director wanted Alan Smithee anonymity.
The next dead body to turn up is Nora’s flabby scientist husband, obviously.  When the bumbling sheriff comes round to give her the “bad” news, she attempts to seduce him, wearing only sunglasses and a striped muumuu.  A bad actor coming onto a bad actor; thankfully, the seduction is a failure.  The “action” shifts to a dark paneled room where pissed off scientists mouth off to Agent Agar, who’s wearing a black and white polka dot tie. (Here again the paneling reflects the bright stage lights, reminding the audience it’s all fake—did no one involved in the movie realize this? Was the budget too low to fix anything?) I stopped paying attention three seconds into this scene, but I think they form some kind of plan to catch the evil Dr. Harris.

At the funeral of Nora’s husband, Julie walks around the bee girls with a Geiger counter, confirming that they are indeed radioactive, as a priest reads scripture, monotone and “serious” (he actually has to speak up to be heard over the clicking Geiger counter). The bee girls and Julie (wearing a white net on her head, kind of like an onion bag) have a staring contest while the cameraman drifts off, shooting the sky and the LA hills at random.

Although this movie plays a lot with nudity, it never actually goes full-frontal.  When the last bee girl attempts to seduce her husband (these are the frigid people from much earlier, with the mod bedroom), it goes horribly wrong; he realizes she’s more bee than woman and strangles her with the nude-colored scarf tied around her bulbous up-do.

Slow-witted Agent Agar needs one more dead scientist to realize Dr. Harris and the bee girls are behind the deaths, and Julie is in danger.  She naively followed Dr. Harris into the jungle gym of horrors, after some nauseating dialogue.  This is one of those movies where the plot hinges on unilateral stupidity; once one character rises above it, the movie’s over.  And Agent Agar finally does; he steals the army’s only jeep (while the two guys in helmets shake their fists at him), drives to the research facility, and busts into Dr. Harris’s lab.  Dr. Harris yells, “Stop! Get out, or I’ll pull this lever and Julie will be dead!” Agent Agar nods his head sadly, fake shuffles away, then spins around (gotcha!) and shoots the lever off with his revolver, setting off a chain reaction of explosions.  He grabs his naked girlfriend and rushes out of the lab, leaving Dr. Harris and the bee-itches (sorry, I couldn’t resist) trapped in their own playground of gamma rays, while multiple smoke machines fill the set with poisonous gas (I actually saw one onscreen).  Agent Agar watches from outside the lab (presumably he’s still carrying his naked, unconscious girlfriend—only his head is visible through a window) as the machines light up and burst into flames.  Dr. Harris looks “confused,” the bee girls run around shrieking inside the jungle gym, and the “aaaahhhhhhooooooouuuuuuu” soundtrack resumes.  Finally, with skin peeling off her face, Dr. Harris screams and dies.  Agent Agar, admirable man that he is, smirks with amusement.

After one more boring scene where loose scraps of plot are woven together like a macrame wall hanging, Agent Agar and Julie are alone in their apartment.  She’s talking nonstop; to shut her up, Agar throws her onto the bed (which has an angled, mirrored headboard) for one last make-out session; the final shot of the movie is his lumpy ass in navy polyester pants.  The credits roll over footage of bees pollinating giant daffodils, with the theme music from “2001: space odyssey”, one last tedious sex pun.

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Fantastic Voyage to the Ordinary Planet

is my new poetry chapbook, just out from dancing girl press.  Thank you dgp. WordPress isn’t letting me link to it for some reason, here it is:


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science fashion

I came across this article recently, and it’s so cool I had to post it.  This is the farthest reaching example of bioengineering meets 3D printing (and fashion!) I’ve seen yet, and it  makes me think of a whole society wearing these …garments? machines? bio-machines? Please add your own take on them if you like.  Would you wear one, to create energy while you walk around your kitchen? Do they even look comfortable enough to put on?

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is the Old English root of “sickness”.  I’ve been seoc for a week, with a nasty head and chest cold, and to keep from blaming the little kids I work with for poisoning me (on my first day at the school!) I wrote a limerick:

Three year old children do not,

clean off  their faces of snot,

nor wash their hands much,

to this whisky I’ll clutch,

having caught all their germs in one shot.




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Happy Samhain

Before there was Halloween, there was Samhain, the Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest.  Like at Beltane (the midsummer fest), huge bonfires were lit and cattle were herded through the smoke, to purify them.  For the length of Samhain (sunset on 10/31-sunset on 11/1), spirits of the departed visited their families.  And people wore disguises and feasted, and went door to door.  Unlike today, when only children get to dress up and maraud, everybody dressed up for Samhain.  At the feasts, the spirits of the departed were given their own seats, and invited to eat offerings of food and wine.  How this morphed into Snickers and Kit-kats, I don’t know (though the little snack size bars would make good graveyard offerings).

Not much has happened on this particular Samhain, except I got my first full length gray hair and someone TPed the hell out of my parents’ neighborhood (but not their yard, as of this posting).  We did drive by an old cemetery (Revolutionary war old) where a murder of crows was sitting quietly.  No trick-or-treaters have arrived yet but I sure hope they do, or else I’ll be forced to eat two bags of mini Hershey bars while passing a tiny plastic cow through an imaginary bonfire.

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Godzilla, 2014: an in-depth review

Snapshot 2014-10-10 11-47-52We borrowed the most recent Godzilla movie from a friend; the only way I could get through it was taking nonstop notes, which I edited into this lengthy review.  The DVD case presents Godzilla as “a Gareth Edwards film,” the first of many production mistakes.  Godzilla is a movie, not a film.  No one ever says, “I just saw the new Godzilla film—riveting.”  On to the review of this two hour train wreck of a movie—sorry, film.

The opening sequence is a montage of prehistoric animal prints, Bikini island maps, clips from other Godzillas, and stock footage of scientists and military brass.  It’s an homage to earlier Godzillas, and director Gareth Edwards should have ended the movie right there, while he still had some street cred.  Gojira, the actual Japanese name for the monster, was too hard for Americans to pronounce, they mangled it into Godzilla.  Studio Toho, maker of all the old Gojira! movies, put their name on this mess too; I’m curious whether the screenplay was rewritten for Japanese audiences (and whether it was written at all, or just computer generated via monster plot algorithm).

This movie is set in ten or twenty locations, starting with the Philippines.  A mining disaster unearths a pocket of radiation and sets off repeated small earthquakes.  Enter a Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe, the only Japanese character who lives through the movie) and a plucky British scientist (Sally Hawkins), to investigate the abnormal seismic activity.  Really all they’re investigating is a giant blue screen; 95% of this movie, including this whole scene, is computer generated images.

Then it’s on to Janjira, Japan, where Mr. Brady (Bryan Cranston, best known as Hal of Breaking Bad) and his family are stressed out; there are unexplained tremors here too.  Mr. Brady, an engineer, gives the order to shut down the local nuclear power plant.  He somehow seals his wife (Juliet Binoche) inside the exploding reactor core; possibly the language barrier is to blame—although he’s chief engineer of a Japanese nuclear power plant, Mr. Brady doesn’t speak Japanese.  Cue the booming explosions, town evacuation, young son left motherless, et cetera.  Although Juliet Binoche had five minutes of screen time, the movie touts her name on its cover in a desperate grab at credibility.

Shamelessly playing up fears of Fukushima without offering any meaningful commentary on nuclear power, the action plows ahead fifteen years to modern day San Francisco (although the meltdown scene had seemed like the present—the first of many sloppy edits that left me needlessly confused).

The grownup kid is now a badass American soldier, played by a British actor, Aaron Taylor Johnson.  Lt. Brady has just returned home to his wife and son in San Francisco after blowing up some hostiles or other.  But poor Lt. Brady is summoned to Tokyo before he  gets to second base with his wife; his dad’s at it again.  Mr. Brady has been poking around “the Quarantine Zone” of Janjira and Brady Jr. must bail him out of jail.  The tense exchange between reunited father and son is like a soggy emotional meatloaf.  Also the actors look nothing alike, making their supposed relationship even harder to accept.  These kind of drawn out scenes made me miss the early Gojiras, where they didn’t waste time on crappy dialogue, it was just men in monster suits crashing through 1/20th scale Tokyo.

Back to the plot (which is taxing my ability to write concisely): the dad thinks whatever strange seismic activity happened fifteen years ago is happening again, so father and son return to their abandoned CGI city.  In their old house, mold and vegetation have destroyed everything except exactly what they’re looking for, floppy disks; these are preserved in mint condition right next to a rotted out computer.  They leave the house and immediately get arrested.  Lt. Brady is a military special forces guy but gets busted by the one patrol car that goes by all day (noticing any incongruities here?) as earthquakes rumble all around.

They’re taken to the old nuclear power plant, where they meet the Japanese and British scientists from the first scene, who offer paltry explanations of what the hell is going on.  Phrases like “electromagnetic pulse” and “backup generator” are tossed about, then it’s revealed that a giant monster is trapped at the power plant. Just when this scene got so boring my ears started to atrophy, the monster escaped (and I instantly rooted for him).  This new monster god looks like a robotic praying mantis. He’s of a prehistoric theme, with glowing red eyes and big goofy wings.  The plant explodes as he makes his exit, most of the Japanese extras are killed off, and father and son escape their blown-up holding cells.

Suddenly the US army arrives and choppers the Bradys off to a base, I guess (it’s left totally ambiguous).  Mr. Brady—mortally wounded in the previous melee—dies in the helicopter; his son, unfortunately, lives on.  A note on this actor: he has a total of three facial expressions—stoic, pissed off, and who let one (okay, “suspicious”).  In the next scene, forty-five minutes into the movie, the British scientist finally provides some kind of back story, explaining the discovery of the monster (which the military brass call “MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object”), then tactfully bows out of the movie.  Also, a Russian submarine is missing.  Don’t even ask me where this scene takes place–a naval ship? A base? It’s in a dark room with a bunch of low budget jarheads, that’s all I know.

Now the MUTO has flown to Oahu: but…why? The army tracks him there and finds the missing Russian sub in a Hawaiian jungle, hanging from a palm tree (which can easily support the weight of a submarine).  It’s revealed that Gojira is also on the move (and they do call him Gojira, once—he’s never actually referred to as Godzilla).  Gojira causes a tsunami as he makes land in Hawaii  to chase the MUTO, who’s busy destroying an elevated train.  Lt. Brady is riding this doomed train, trying to get to the airport and home to his family in San Francisco.  The MUTO tears the train in half but its sound system and lights keep working; as bodies careen out of the gutted train car, the loudspeaker says “Please stay clear of the closing doors.”  Plot holes you could pilot a Russian sub through.

Moving right along, we learn the MUTO is actually calling another MUTO, lost in the deserts of Nevada.  And so the CGI shifts to Las Vegas, where the second MUTO rises from a pile of nuclear waste and skips off to meet its mate.  Apparently the monsters have the ability to warp time; the male one gets from Hawaii to the mainland in five minutes.  The CGI work is the only reason to watch this movie.  Godzilla is dark and fierce, as are the robotic praying mantis monsters, and the dozens of explosions are convincing (in stark contrast to, say, the plot).

Back in the situation room, the military is devising an ingenious plan against the MUTOs: nuclear holocaust.  Blowhard army guy #1 offers this suggestion: “Kill them with the sheer force of the blast!” (and that’s one of the better lines).  This is the kind of movie where suspense only happens when computer animation silences the inane dialogue.  I could have written a better script with a crayon and a roll of toilet paper.

Next, the wise Japanese scientist warns everyone that Gojira is the answer, he’s here to help, but the army brass shuts him up quick (US-Sino commentary? Possibly).  They load a nuclear warhead on a train bound for San Francisco (the monsters are converging there; I’ll assume they want to see the statue of St. Francis), and, unbelievably, there’s still another hour to go in this chum bucket of a movie.  The military’s plan, if you can call it that, is to bomb San Francisco back to the stone age…frankly, I didn’t care if one character survived.

Then comes the requisite landmark destruction scene; a school bus is stranded on the Golden Gate bridge, right in the path of Gojira (who only wants to get underneath it and on to downtown San Francisco, but the dumb army guys keep shooting at him).  Lt. Brady’s son is on this bus, his frightened wife (Elizabeth Olson) is hiding in a BART station.  Instead of letting the kids run off the bus and bridge to safety, the military keeps them trapped directly in Gojira’s way.  Military incompetence is a possible theme in Godzilla, but the swiss cheese plot keeps this idea safely undeveloped. From here on out, the movie is mostly just people running around mid-spas attack.

After a few more scenes that any respectable film editor would leave on the cutting room floor, it’s time for the smashtastic final showdown.  (Around here is where I finished my 22 oz. dark beer, making the last twenty minutes that much longer).  Close-up of an army guy’s eyeball juice as a ladies’ choir sings ooooooouuuuuuu.  Gojira fights the male monster and the army stupidly sets off the warhead, as MUTO #2, now pregnant, lays her eggs in Chinatown.  Extras stare at the wrong part of the sound stage with their mouths agape; I assume Gareth Edwards told them, “Imagine you’re looking at a giant praying mantis pooping out glowing red eggs.”  Oh yes, and Lt. Brady is the only man who can stop the bomb from detonating, obviously.

Gojira takes a beating from the two MUTOS as the live warhead is kicked out of San Francisco like a rotten potato (how I wish I had a rotten potato, to hurl at Gareth Edwards).  Gojira defeats MUTO #1 with his powerfully bad radiation breath, then retreats into a cloud of smoke.  Lt. Brady torches the MUTO eggs; MUTO #2 sees this but cannot bite his head off, she must fight Gojira.  Again Gojira does what no human technology can, killing this monster too.  Lt. Brady can’t stop the bomb, so instead he jogs out into the San Francisco Bay where a boat is waiting to be highjacked; he carries the bomb out to sea with 002 seconds to go, then passes out as the the army airlifts him off, to the tender sound of ooooooouuuuuuuu.  The warhead explodes, destroying all life in the Pacific ocean but saving humanity, I guess.

Gojira, our radioactive saviour, lies collapsed by the triangle building in San Francisco.  Lt. Brady and his wife and son are reunited, to which I said, “That’s so not his kid.”  Gojira rises, gives a trademark roar, and returns to the sea.  As this movie ended, I felt a profound sense of loss; two hours and four minutes of my life were gone forever. I rate this movie half a star, for the tremendous CGI work that went into it and out of loyalty to Godzillas past.  What buried pile of radioactive waste will Hollywood dredge up next?

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