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2nd Avenue March 26th 2015 Gas Explosion Site

Last weekend, my wife and I walked around downtown quite a bit. Saturday afternoon we decided to have dinner at Veselka’s on 2nd Avenue and since we were right there next to it, we walked across the street to have a look at the site of the gas explosion from last March. It was all over the news for a few weeks, but not so much now. The day the explosion happened, I saw it on the news before leaving to go to a graduate history class at City College. I had a classmate that lived in the area so I sent him a message to ask him how he was doing. He told me he was ok and that his building was not affected, but that it was crazy downtown.

Oddly enough, my wife and I had already made plans to meet my dad in that neighborhood that evening. He was visiting from out of town. We’d thought about going to Veselka’s but he was in the mood for Thai food, so we decided to go to Thai Terminal. I think it’s over on 1st and 11th or 12th, one block up from Veneiro’s. Anyway, the moment I got off the train at Union Square I could smell smoke in the air. It made me wonder how the city must have smelled in the days and weeks after the Trade Towers collapsed. My wife, dad and I all walked down 2nd Ave to try to get a look at what was going on but we couldn’t get any closer than 12th street, I think it was. There was a barricade and emergency services personnel everywhere.

 

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So, Saturday, my wife and I went to satisfy our curiosity. It was a thoroughly depressing experience. There were signs attached to the fence and also to a blue plywood barricade set up inside the fence on the now empty lot. When I walked to one side, I could look around the blue barricade and see two graves outlined in stones. One had a cross made of rusted metal pipe stuck in the ground behind it, surrounded by deflated balloons. There were pictures of the two guys that died in the explosion on the fence surrounded by wilted flowers, links, political messages, and accusations of greed and stupidity needlessly resulting in death.

Maybe their deaths weren’t completely meaningless though. A week or so ago I saw a news report about a Dallas BBQ restaurant in the same neighborhood being closed temporarily after someone reported smelling gas. ConEd performed an inspection and found gas leaks and shut the restaurant down while repairs are made. Would that have happened without the tragedy at 2nd Ave. being so fresh in everyone’s minds? Maybe, maybe not.

Some photos from the site:

Jurassic World vs. the Legacy of Jurassic Park

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Yesterday, my wife and I went to the Regal Crown 14 cinemas at Union Square to watch Jurassic World. We showed up at 3 PM for a 3:30 PM showing of the movie. Jurassic World had been showing for a week already, so we didn’t really expect there to be as much of a crowd as there was. There also weren’t that many kids in the audience, which I found strange. Wasn’t Jurassic World supposed to be a family summer flick? When I went into this film I was pretty hyped. I was thinking about the way the original film made me feel. The sequels were decent, but there was something magic about that first movie and I hoped that this follow-up would bring back that magic. In short, it didn’t. It was a different sort of movie from what I was expecting. It wasn’t a bad movie by any means and it’s totally worth seeing because it’s very entertaining, but it didn’t live up to the legacy of the first movie.

In retrospect, these two trailers tell you pretty much the whole plot of the movie and include most of the good scenes. The earlier trailer had more of the feel of the original movie, but the second trailer better reflects the overall tone of the movie itself: light comedy with thrills and a bit of action.

Jurassic World follows the basic formula of the original film: two kids visiting the park when something goes tragically wrong and dinosaurs get loose. There was even a “steal the embryos” scene like there was in the original, presumably to set the story up for another sequel. Someone is always trying to steal the embryos in Jurassic Park movies, though. The overall feel of the movie is less about the magic of dinosaurs, fear and human survival, but is rather more about the dangers of genetically modified organisms. It made me think of the fight against GMOs in food: “Look, this indomitasaurus thing is like the GMO corn you’re producing, Monsanto. It sounds great, but it’s destroying the environment and it’s going to destroy us too if we don’t stop it now.”

The movie is post-modern enough to reference itself and reference the audience watching the movie, which provides opportunities for a few laughs. There are also a lot of casually placed stereotypical characters. The guy in charge of the park comes to mind, as does the guy that tries to do a military takeover. The main adult characters are pretty cliche too, really. There is more fast thrill than fear, more special-effect wow than story development and tension. It is edgy and funny, but it doesn’t have the same wow factor as the original film, which this film comments on itself. It used to be enough to just see dinosaurs, but now, one character explains, kids (the audience) see dinosaurs the same way they see llamas in a petting zoo. Nothing special, move along. So, for the visitors in the park (and the theater), they create something new to try to catch our attention, but it doesn’t feel like Jurassic Park.

I didn’t want cheap thrills and laughs, or something that felt like the Austin Powers version of Jurassic Park; I wanted the same edge-of-my-seat excitement I felt when I watched the original. It’s like there’s a new formula in town for movie makers. If you can’t write a real plot and make your audience empathize with your characters, throw in some bad jokes and stereotypes, make your audience laugh at itself, self-criticize the movie within the movie to deflect criticism, and then maybe you’ll win. San Andreas used the same tactics, most notably with that whole American flag magically appearing on the bridge like the flag in the national anthem being “still there” even though bombs were bursting in air, and by golly we’re going to rebuild America because that’s what Americans do! It’s to prevent people from taking the film too seriously and essentially lowers ones expectations. How do you criticize a film that doesn’t take itself seriously?

GMO dinosaurs aren’t the same as the magic of the “real thing”. Having one giant dinosaur roaming around, mostly in unpopulated areas, mostly doing things off-screen, doesn’t create that same sense of fear and tension that a pack of deadly, primordial velociraptors stalking kids in a kitchen does. It’s GMO Cornasaurus (comes with moon roof, hybrid engine, and reduced calorie usage) vs the fear and terror of a primordial threat that is born and bred to kill. The nature of velociraptors as deadly killing machines acting on instinct is watered down in this film to the point they’re no longer seen as threats and then, instead, are turned into heroes in the story, along with another classic dinosaur. The feeling one is left with is that these velociraptors could have been replaced in the film by a pack of lions bred in captivity without losing much, if anything, in terms of plot and storyline. What was the purpose of that? Just to have a way to incorporate a critique of the US military industrial complex? Couldn’t that have been done more subtly, or better yet, been left out?

Also, the relationship between the kids in this new film, two brothers, was somehow unconvincing, but I don’t think it was the acting. It was more the storyline itself. There wasn’t enough time devoted to character development to make me care about anyone in the film and anything serious was always laughed off as a joke (“all my friends’ parents are divorced”). The only time I felt sad was in a scene with a dying brontosaurus, not because I felt emotionally connecting to the dinosaur per se, but because of the use of the scene as a commentary on killing for sport rather than necessity. It reminded me of the evils that man is capable of perpetrating and played into the movie’s overall theme of respecting nature.

Jurassic World is essentially an old story repackaged in contemporary issues, but I don’t know that it was really all necessary. Do we need a commentary on God and nature and the evils of man wrapped up in a classic story like Jurassic Park? Sure, there is some of that in the original, but that movie focuses more on the people. It is about tension and fear and survival. This movie instead focuses on cheap thrills, a few laughs, and a moral message.

Bottom line:

Was it worth seeing? Sure. I loved the cheap thrills and laughs and its a great way to be entertained for two hours. Don’t expect to be tense, or feel any fear, or connect to deeply with the characters. It is truly popcorn entertainment that will leave you laughing and feeling good about your afternoon. I have absolutely no regrets about watching it, but it doesn’t live up to the legacy of the original.