"What if these families, most of whom are from Mexico or Central America, earned a living wage? How much would our broccoli and eggplants cost us...undocumented farm workers and their families are subsidizing our produce sections"
Whatever fans want to call Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth entry in the raptor-loaded film series, at least they won't mistake it for a carbon copy of its predecessors.
Fallen Kingdom bucks every series convention to emerge as something quite different from Spielberg's established family-thriller take on the Michael Crichton novels. But the film's makers seem to have no idea how to pull it off. The resulting film is a sixth-grade sketchbook mash of dino-murder, cartoonish villains, and plot holes big enough for an apatosaurus to fit through. It may very well be the biggest-budget Syfy B-movie of all time.
That pivot could have worked with the right crew leading this snarling trainwreck, but the sequel's WTF factor and full-throttle action sequences, in spite of their polish and the actors' best efforts, land like a big triceratops turd.
Fallen Kingdom wastes no time establishing the film's crux: idiots want to make money off the wrecked remains of the prior film's park. An opening sequence sets the film's terror-thriller tone by sending witless corporate goons to retrieve a fossil. This scene's dark, rainy treatment immediately recalls the original Jurassic Park's famous T. rex attack sequence—though it leans way too heavily on that nostalgia as opposed to building tension. You already know about the biggest, baddest dinos, this intro asserts. Let's get to the blood-curdling screams and the human-devouring stuff already.
After this sequence, a political showdown pits endangered-species advocates against... uh, everybody who thinks the genetic resurrection of dinosaurs was a bad idea. Isla Nubar is falling apart thanks to intense volcanic action, and the Dinosaur Protection Group (yes, that's its name), led by the previous film's Claire Deering (Bryce Dallas Howard), fails to convince Congress to save the surviving species. This is apparently thanks to testimony from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who tells Congress that "we altered the course of natural history. This [the dinos' dying] is a correction."
As soon as Congress says "no," Deering gets a convenient phone call from representatives of a private organization who will—cross their hearts, hope to die—evacuate these dinosaurs to a sanctuary island. They just need her help! With her biometric signature, they can unlock crucial access to rescuing these species. Creepy overseer Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) has the financial backing of one of Jurassic Park's original backers, Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), and that's all the convincing Deering needs to sign on—and to enlist her dino-training ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to tame the last surviving velociraptor, which has otherwise eluded the "sanctuary" workers.
It's no spoiler to point out so much dramatic irony, which loudly teases Mills' bait-and-switch, but Fallen Kingdom is at least decent enough to quickly fast-forward through it. Deering and Grady learn the truth about Mills in record time, but they barely have time to get angry about it—because HOLY CRAP THE ISLAND IS RIPPING IN HALF AND TURNING INTO LAVA. You know, just like every seismologist had warned the world in the film's opening segment. Funny, that.
Fifteen minutes of melting-island insanity follows, and it cements the film's CGI modus operandi: combine as many giant, screen-filling ideas as possible, with more emphasis on visual noise than compelling framing. You've seen this dinosaur combination of puppetry and CGI (mostly CGI) before—but have you ever seen all of Jurassic World's species running toward the camera simultaneously? While trees fall, lava flows, and fires blaze?
That probably sounds fine to someone looking for a stupid summer dinosaur movie, but one really effective Fallen Kingdom scene illustrates how boring the rest of the film is. Deering and Grady, with two of their DPG allies, eventually sneak off the island via Mills' escape frigate, and while hiding in one crate, they attempt to save a dying dinosaur. It needs a blood transfusion, and the only blood donor on board is a tranquilized T-Rex in a neighboring crate.
The resulting scene is everything missing in the rest of Fallen Kingdom: organic camaraderie between two characters; sublimely framed camera shots that emphasize danger; sound and visual cues that bounce back and forth between fear and comedy; and delightful "how's this going to end?" surprises.
Try a different warehouse
The rest of the film is predictable bedlam, with every scene feeling like a rehash of prior films' special effects—only with more familiar stuff on screen at once. The worst example is Fallen Kingdom's "scariest" dinosaur, a new genetic abomination called the Indoraptor. What do you get when you cross a T-Rex with a raptor? The answer is a raptor with a bigger head. That's it. At this point, they might as well make crazy combinations like a raptordactyl, or an trice-rex, or, heck, all of the silly creatures from Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Worse, every major calamity begins with a moronic McGuffin or an equally obnoxious lapse in logic. If you can't stand films that constantly elicit reactions such as "of course those are bad guys," "why did you leave that door unlocked," or "how many times are you idiots going to assume that the sale and distribution of live dinosaurs is a good idea," abandon all hope for Fallen Kingdom. One major plot point hinges on the film's evil corporation operating a dinosaur-harvesting operation in the good guy's basement, with its sole door protected by a single PIN code.
This is an operation that has dozens of massive trucks and staffers coming in and out on a regular basis, running like clockwork for years, but we're in stupid-movie territory here. We have to wait for Lockwood's granddaughter to stumble upon a suspicious conversation to uncover the whole scheme. No room in the dino-black-market budget for a different warehouse address, dudes?
And if you're looking for a Crichton-caliber rumination on the consequences of man playing god—meaning, shades of gray with good guys and bad guys sharing a walk along the responsibility spectrum—look elsewhere. The best you'll get is one speech in which Mills is cornered about his evil plot and tries to implicate Deering and Grady. The result isn't a shades-of-gray spread of evildoers' responsibility. It's a textbook example of abusive gaslighting.
Don't even get me started on the scene in which the world's last remaining dinosaurs are auctioned off to a gallery's row of cartoonish criminal bosses, including stoic members of the Yakuza, mega-mustached Vegas tycoons, and steely-eyed Eastern European mobsters. The scene drips with stereotypical evil, particularly its use of the creepiest fluorescent lighting imaginable, and it's made doubly hilarious by the average selling price of each dinosaur: roughly $15 million. You could get all of Jurassic World's remaining dinos for a fraction of what Oculus cost.
(Worse, this scene does not end with every single villain being eaten in hilarious fashion. How could the most B-movie Jurassic film ever made waste this particular dark-comedy opportunity?)
Jeff Goldblum's speech about mankind's responsibilities in a genetic-engineering era is perhaps most telling about this film's "serious" elements, because it's a two-part speech. The first half plays near the film's opening to quickly explain its political debate, and the second half plays at the end to loudly hint at a sequel. It looks like Goldblum showed up for a single hour of filming, read his speech aloud, and booked a flight the heck out of there.
As a result, he's easily the smartest guy in the whole production: he recalls the best bits of Dr. Ian Malcolm, delivers a solid speech, and gets out of Dodge to cash his check while everyone else drowns in dino-splosions. Otherwise, there's barely a script to speak of, which means Pratt and Howard spend most of the film pretending to look terrified by the white noise of explosions and terror all around them—and Pratt does flash his incredible charisma while training a baby raptor in a brief flashback, at least.
The actors get out relatively unscathed (though be ready for abominable lines such as, "It was all a lie! Bastards!"). The same can't be said for director J.A. Bayona and writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. It's not just that they took this series all the way into the Sharknado toilet. It's that they didn't even cash in on the B-movie cheese and exploitative goodness that might redeem such a pivot. The result is one of the most forgettable action films in recent memory. You're better off seeing Dwayne Johnson's Rampage at a dollar theater.
Born in 1922 in Camden, South Carolina, Kirkland entered the Merchant Marine Academy in 1942 and served as a deck officer on merchant ships during the war. Upon its conclusion, he wanted to become an intelligence officer and got a BS in the foreign service school at Georgetown. But he got a job with the American Federation of Labor’s research department and that became his career. He started out working on pensions and Social Security and became a speech writer on loan for Alben Barkley in the 1948 presidential campaign and then Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. He became research director for the International Union of Operating Engineers in 1958 and then AFL-CIO director George Meany’s executive assistant in 1960. He became Secretary-Treasurer of the federation in 1969, the #2 position in the AFL-CIO and the heir apparent to the throne. He loved killing the Vietnamese and hated George McGovern for opposing the Vietnam War, thus playing a key role in the AFL-CIO refusing to endorse the Democrat in 1972.
Kirkland was a weird choice for a high-ranking union official. For one, he didn’t come from a working class background. He had never been on strike. He had high-falutin’ tastes such as modern art and hieroglyphics. He didn’t fit the stereotype. He was a corporate guy. And for where the labor movement wanted to be in the 1970s, that made sense. Unfortunately, it was very much not where the labor movement needed to be. Kirkland became AFL-CIO executive director in 1979 after George Meany retired. He held that position for 16 years. Those years saw the collapse of the labor movement. One way to think about this is that his term nearly started with the air traffic controllers being fired by Reagan and nearly ended with NAFTA. And that was the Kirkland years, one disaster after another. He wasn’t a bad guy. But he had no answers to the new challenges labor faced. He had nothing to offer against globalization, nothing to offer against outsourcing, nothing to offer against the harsh new union-busting of the government and private employers. Maybe no one could have fixed these problems, but Kirkland was certainly the wrong man at the wrong time. When he took office, 24 percent of American workers were in unions. When he left, it was 15.5 percent. It’s continued to fall since then, but whereas today, it’s probably too late to stem the tide, that wasn’t necessarily the case in 1979.
Kirkland had specific issues that were also a problem. Like Meany, Kirkland was extremely concerned with anti-communism. So he put a ton of resources into supporting Polish solidarity. That’s fine and all, but he was really more concerned about it than developing a good response to American unionbusting. He earned Henry Kissinger’s respect at least, which every good union leader needs…. This wasn’t just a passing fancy. He spoke out for instance against Jimmy Carter’s detente policies. Kirkland was also terrible with the media, with relations with other union leaders, and terrible at lobbying. When Congress was debating a bill to ban permanent replacement workers, Kirkland was gallivanting around Europe. He had the federation spend more money on foreign policy than organizing. And as a southerner through and through, he routinely referred to the Civil War as “the war of northern aggression,” which surely really helped unions organize African-Americans. Basically, Lane Kirkland was terrible at his job.
In 1995, Kirkland finally saw the writing on the wall and chose not to run for reelection rather than be forced out. This had never happened in the American labor movement before. Somewhat ironically, the movement to replace him was initially led by Thomas Donahue, but when he himself became the defender of old-time staid values, John Sweeney’s New Voice platform defeated him. Sweeney pledged to invest far more in organizing, and he and the rest of the unions did, but it was really too little, too late.
Lane Kirkland died in 1999 of cancer. He never forgave the rest of labor for turning their back on him.
Lane Kirland is buried with his second wife on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
Galaxy in a Crystal Ball
A small crystal ball seems to hold a whole galaxy in this
the galaxy is
our own Milky Way.
Its luminous central bulge marked by rifts of interstellar
dust spans thousands of light-years.
On this long southern hemisphere night it filled
dark Chilean skies
over Paranal Observatory.
The single exposure image did not require a Very Large
a digital camera on a tripod and crystal
ball perched on a handrail outside the Paranal Residencia
produced the evocative, cosmic marble portrait of our home galaxy.
Last week, the Wisconsin-based business Penzey’s Spices sent out emails emblazoned with a frown emoji. The occasion was a several dollars per ounce hike in the price of vanilla. Founder Bill Penzey wrote a brief explanation: Madagascar, where 80 percent of the world’s vanilla comes from, has been going through a rough patch. A perfect storm of drought and a pair of cyclones hit vanilla farmers hard. The rippling effects have disrupted everything from the supply chains of massive multinational companies to the flavoring in fudge.
But how did one island come to dominate the vanilla industry? And why is one kilogram of “plain vanilla” now more valuable than one kilogram of silver?
After all, vanilla isn’t even native to Madagascar. The main source of vanilla is the Vanilla planiflolia orchid. Long cultivated in Mexico, the flavoring from its long pods was used in rituals and in the traditional Aztec drink of ground, spiced chocolate. As Spain’s conquistadors dismantled the Aztec empire in the 16th century, they sent Mexican silver, chocolate, and vanilla back to Europe. Vanilla, with its floral, subtle taste, quickly became a favorite, especially as an accompaniment to chocolate and cream. But when Europeans tried to grow it in their botanical gardens and their colonies, the long pods didn’t develop. Vanilla’s main pollinator was back in Mexico: the Melipona bee.
Without pollination, vanilla production was mostly limited to Mexico. But other regions were desperate to grow valuable vanilla, and plants were shipped to likely climates around the world. In 1841, one young innovator figured out an unlikely solution. Edmond Albius was a 12-year-old slave on the French-controlled island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. Using a stick and his thumb, Albius pushed together the male anthers and female stigma of the vanilla flower, pollinating it efficiently. Mass vanilla production suddenly became possible, especially in hot, humid climates. Tiny Réunion fits the bill, but so does another, much larger island a few hundred miles to the east: Madagascar.
The reason that Madagascar is still on top of the vanilla game is grim: According to The Financial Times, it’s one of the few regions with the right climate that is also poor enough to make laborious hand-pollination affordable. While other countries, such as India, have dabbled in heavy vanilla production, huge swings in the international price make it a dangerous crop to grow widely. Many farmers choose to stick to other crops. This concentration of vanilla production makes the industry and prices even more precarious—currently, events in Madagascar have led to some ice cream parlors losing money on each scoop of vanilla.
Vanilla has long been one of the world’s priciest seasonings. Artificial vanillas have abounded for centuries, made with everything from beaver pelvis glands to petroleum products. But with demand for natural flavors booming, high prices are inspiring vanilla heists everywhere from farms in Madagascar to spice companies in Michigan. Though a little vanilla goes a long way, there’s no sign that our craving for vanilla is going anywhere soon.