prometheus astro deck
Film Criticism

Sex, Science, and Horror in Prometheus

Look, it’s as simple as this: Prometheus has other things on its mind besides airtight logic. Like sex. No, not the missionary reproductive sex of our two protagonists or the semi-prude nudge-nudge, wink-wink suggestion of Charlize Theron’s and Idris Elba’s off-screen encounter (admittedly, a pretty appealing suggestion). The sexual apex of Prometheus is in the impregnation of the Engineer by the squid being birthed by Shaw. This is the primal scene made alien, the climax which the film so desperately tried to resist but ultimately couldn’t culminate without.

Mind you, this isn’t even me being metaphorical — this is literally how aliens reproduce, which, by the way:


The whole endeavor of the Alien franchise hinges on this scene. That’s not just AN alien, that’s THE alien; that’s the Queen Mother (note the belly sac) that bursts from the Engineer, the same Queen Mother that is the final boss in Aliens (as opposed to the non-reproducing male of Alien, one of the Queen Mother’s offspring). She’s the one who leaves eggs (instead of the vases of black goo) in the original two films, eggs that continue the blood line of the creature newly fabricated by the boots knocking of the squid and the Engineer.

Science is boring. Scientists aren’t necessarily boring, but it helps, because the endeavor of carefully and slowly parsing data is just not that exciting. It’s certainly not for fidgety people who need excitement or whom frustrate easily. God forbid films sex up this profession but Prometheus goes us one too far with a key protagonist.

Enter Shaw’s boyfriend, Holloway. Look, hardly anyone is oozing major insights, exhibiting career-appropriate intelligence, or even really needs to be a scientist beyond the demands of the film’s central conceit. But Holloway really should not have been a scientist. Not only is he never called upon to be one, but if he weren’t a scientist, it would perfectly contextualize his dumb suggestion to remove the helmets. Holloway should have been Shaw’s arm candy, her young, dumb, handsome dick in a jar whom she insists come along with her on the trip. He could bumble and pretend to be useful but it would become quickly apparent that he has no real utility on this trip aside from his shipmates hired for their various specialties. That way when he gets all drunk and truculent about basically nothing once the storm waylays their first exploration of the Engineer cave (didn’t they come away with an Engineer skull?), it makes sense that he’s just this bored pessimistic guy whose only purpose there is to plant his tainted seed into his partner.

(An aside: whom amongst you hasn’t met a guy like Holloway while traveling? Snotty, entitled, way too easily given to black moods when things don’t go precisely his way. Anyway…)

In as far as Prometheus is genuinely concerned with science, it shows in the tenacious and unsentimental temperament of Shaw. She’s no heartless monster at the loss of her crew but she remains preternaturally focused on the most compelling aspects of her mission and, realizing what a shame it would be to let this opportunity go to waste, keeps her eye on the prize. She pilots a ship full of black goo bombs/vases (and, presumably, more hibernating Engineers) to the fucking Engineer planet for…answers. OK. It’s the most badass thing anyone does in this movie by a country mile, especially considering how scared literally anyone would be at that point. Which brings me to the last tentpole of this film…

The original Alien was a horror movie. Prometheus is a horror movie. That’s where it shines. The second those two red shirt guys fall prey to the HammerpedeMohawk and Bargain Basement Paul Giamatti, I believe they were called? — shit is on, and it’s really just a matter of time until chest-burster-o’clock. In the meantime, we see freaky hybrid mutants incinerated, grisly battles settled with flame throwers, and Charlize Theron crushed by a rolling starship.

It’s an eminently classy horror movie, though, like Event Horizon in a tux. There’s more friction than your average horror flick. In fact, it’s an almost stupidly optimistic movie. Check out the main theme. Even after everything Shaw’s been through, this cue sounds, reminding us she’s still turning coal into diamonds. It’s pretty damn overwhelming when you try to wrap your head around it and it touches on a theme shared with Interstellar: it’s going to take a lot of heartache and horror to even proceed an inch into the unknown. And there will be zero guarantee that it’s worth it. Kind of a phenomenal takeaway for two flawed SF epics: neither a dystopia or a utopia but an…untopia. Almost more horrifying…

Welp, sleep tight and don’t let the hammerpedes bite.

Music Praise

Peptalk is the future of exotica

Michael Carter, Angelica Negron, and Shayna Dunkelman are Peptalk

This is Peptalk and their press release says they’re part Blade Runner and part Twin Peaks and I’m like you had me at “press release.”

But seriously this is some of the most transporting stuff I’ve heard in years, literally years. Sonically it’s complete and evocative to the point that it feels three (four?) dimensional. There’s a reason for this filmic references. This is cinematic music with lush production that actually uses the staggering capabilities of 21st century recording technology to make a kind of futurist vision of Les Baxter and Martin Denny. There’s so much more to it than that but do check out it for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Really feeling “Podesta” myself:

Light Will Remain cover

Evolution of an Idea: “We Speak to the Revelator”

I have no idea why, but some time around…2007(?) someone left me a voicemail with the first minute of this song:

No explanation. One of those flipphone-era voicemails with no missed call attached to it. The maddening (and kinda exciting) part was that I couldn’t really suss out what the song was. I think finally my friend Jesse pointed out that it was Cocteau Twins and an hour’s worth of blind searching later, I found “I Wear Your Ring.”

Before that though, I transcribed the main melody and most of the chord changes. I stayed obsessed enough with the idea to begin fashioning a whole song around it. The song would have numerous shifts and time signatures but still retain a kind of poppy feel. As well, I wanted the listener to feel like they were actually “moving” through multiple aural environments during the song, using instruments almost as cinematic foley to create scenarios in the mind’s eye. I had a really vivid idea in my head but it was hard to translate.

So I started sharing the bits and pieces I had with my cohort in The Atomic Bomb Audition. It was too abstract not to get a bit warped in translation but the piece inevitably went from soundscapes to atmospheric rock. And it gave a home to a nice little riff that I had that was very easy to build up to a satisfying peak but..didn’t really go anywhere interesting after that. That became the intro. The only thing left missing was the ending.

So I stole something else. Something I knew. It was “Betty’s Theme” by Angelo Badalamenti from David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (start at 1:05 to hear the part I’m referencing):

One of my favorite pieces of music just…ever. So? I did something supremely obnoxious: I pilfered the melody and put words to it.

The resulting amalgam of all the above is:

Hey, we tried…


How are we doing?

My cat Easy (named after the late Eazy-E) is in poor health. He’s got the stereotypical nine lives and he’s a survivor. So despite several brushes with death, he’s with us today. He’s also a motherfucking haggler. If you don’t give him something he wants, he finds a way to get it. He persists with louder meows, pacing the house (loudly, with unclipped nails), and occasionally knocking shit over until you give him what he wants.

He’s also one of the smarter animals I’ve encountered. He knows how to get your sympathy. He knows when you want to give him medicine that tastes like shit and avoids you like the plague. And he can twist fucking doorknobs with his paws.

But he does a strange thing that I’ve noticed that’s not not smart but it’s one of those revealing “ah, you don’t have the universe in the palm of your hand quite like you thought” behaviors. Here it is, step by step:

1. Looks in his food area for food.
2. Demands to be let outside.
[maybe two minutes elapse]
3. Immediately demands to be let back in.
4. Checks for food again in his food area.

Because he goes outside sometimes with no desire but to hunt rats and leap fences (which sometimes results in him being gone until dinner), I think he thinks the action of going outside at all leads to a refresh of his food bowl. Thus he observes a correlation (going outside/inside=food o’clock) that is not entirely accurate.

So, lede-burier that I am, I finally wonder: what do even the smartest humans do that’s based on a false correlation? And who is watching us with enough intellectual remove to recognize that? Because the former can’t exist without the latter and vice versa. Wondering who the who in this question might be is the closest I get to believing in aliens are in our midst. Or at least capable of observing us intimately yet from a distance.

Point being: my cat makes me confident that aliens exist. Check out the title to this record by the inestimable Jack O’ The Clock for the sliver of inspiration that led us here tonight.

New Music Masters

Aerial Ruin is Magic

Erik Moggridge is Aerial Ruin. I’ve been a fan of his music for almost ten years and was lucky enough to tour with and befriend the man in 2008 (maybe 2009?) while in the Pacific Northwest with my old band, The Atomic Bomb Audition. Just an acoustic guitar and a gentle tenor carrying the wisdom of millennia and he out-heavied our 1000 watts handily. The man is special and his music is magic so go drown in his gorgeous new album, Ash of Your Cares, below:

Great, right? And he’s on a really long tour right now. See if he’s coming near you soon:

Aerial Ruin Spring Tour


What’s truly damaged about this Joker…

OK. Let’s start with the forehead tattoo…

Tattooing “Damaged” on the forehead of one of the most iconic villains of all time is so hilariously clueless, I have to believe that a lot of talented people involved in the movie, including the director and Leto himself, had to be against it. Look, I can live with the Graffix bong collage on his torso—pick your battles—but writing “Damaged” on the Joker’s forehead is like scribing “Sexy” and “Dangerous” on each of James Bond’s pecs (in old English). WE GET IT; WE KNOW THE GUY. My mom knows who the Joker is. Y’all are gonna throw out your back with all this lily gilding, DC. It’s nearly condescending, cynical, and insecure as offering movie goers an instructional manual as they walk into the theatre.

That said, I still think it’s great that they’re making Suicide Squad and I still think Leto can be a fantastic Joker. But when you can’t wash the veneer of the creative committee process from the work you’re trying to pass off as art, people will smell that shit. They’ll know. I think if nothing else, what people respond to most strongly in art, whether exceedingly commercial or avant-garde, is coherence of vision. Which is not the same as a coherent story. It’s that phenomenon when an idea comes from one brain. And that idea is so strong it resonates to everyone involved. That idea influences the actors and crew to add all the right details to enhance the message, not reiterate or rephrase it. That’s what leads to collaboration, not committee. Committee is what’s above, a half-dozen ideas in nearly the same zip code, all pelted against the subject without a great regard for the whole. I’ll give it this, though. Something in Jared Leto’s eyes is still genuinely unnerving. This film might be a case of some clarion calls of talent inspiration cutting through the white noise of second guessing and studio notes.

Ah, I’m talking out my ass at this point. Heh…”damaged”…


My thinking had become very uptight…

I may go so far as to say if you don’t like The Big Lebowski, stop reading this blog.

(I’m just kidding. Come back. P-please?)

One of the amazing things about the Coen Bros’ story is the way The Dude experiences epiphanies that ultimately enlighten no one but him. He’s like this sub-Philip Marlowe upon whom nothing depends and the only useful realization he forms is that he is the mark. Before expressing his final epiphany, he begins, “My thinking about this case had become very uptight,” a line that’s become a kind of mantra for me. How often, for example, do you express an opinion about something then immediately catch yourself with the thought, “I’m positive I don’t have all the facts.” I skew gullible so for me the answer is, quite often.

Take the Apple Watch, for example. I was ready to join the chorus that this was a luxury item, a status symbol, and a sign that Apple was moving into a high-end product niche for only its richest clients. It’s also clear that it’s impractical to use for typing messages and/or browsing and utterly dependent on the iPhone. None of these things is untrue but none of these observations can be reverse-engineered into a proper motivation for the Apple Watch’s existence. In courting these criticisms, I had no perspective on the motivation for creating such a thing. Which given the amount of money and effort it had to involve, was unlikely to be slight.

I’m sort of appreciating this after reading this incredible Wired piece on the behind-the-scenes thinking and tinkering that went into designing the Apple Watch.

Look, I’m as disappointed as you are that this post turned into me saying, “Actually the Apple Watch is kinda cool?!?!” but hear me out…

The TL;DR of the thing is that Apple is trying to revolutionize and tier our interactions with push notifications. The watch notifies you of different events in different ways while offering a dynamic array of interactions with those notices by sensing your movements. And apparently you’re not meant to actually text with the thing (it’s interesting—read the piece). What these guys tinkered into oblivion was a new way to keep you from looking at your phone. That’s what the fucking Apple Watch does. And that’s…kinda great?

Yes, spending $400 on a thing that keeps you from being enslaved to the thing you bought for $700 (and pay $100 for monthly) is next-level first-world problem solving. But that’s not the point nor what I find interesting about this whole thing. What’s interesting is the idea of intention and how mangled it gets. I don’t want an Apple Watch (not now, anyway) but the amount of love and care these guys put into an electronic watch (well, actually a supercomputer on your arm) made me think of recording sessions where a short space of, say, four seconds and perhaps 50-odd tracks gets belabored with stupid levels of intensity. In that moment, that four seconds becomes your world. And when it’s finally right, it becomes this massively powerful detail in your experience of the music, as a creator.

That detail is almost never meaningful to an outside listener. That’s why when I’m listening to something that isn’t really clicking for me, I try to give it that generous ear, try to isolate and expand one of those expansive four-second cross-sections the band and engineer just labored and argued into being. Sometimes I still hate what I’m hearing. But sometimes, I get it.

That detailed moment is literally everywhere. It’s in the design of a doll’s tiny felt cape or even in the location of the zip ties that braced it to the cardboard. It’s in the load-bearing strength of the guard rail hugging a canyon road and in the plotting of the grade of said road. I’m constantly surprised by what happens haphazardly, just the result of throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks with users/consumers/etc. and what is the result of painstaking consideration. It’s not always obvious.

What’s obvious is almost never worth the trouble, not in the long-term certainly. The surface experience of reality is not only boring, it’ll probably lead you to being exploited at some point. Like The Dude.

“My thinking about this case had become very uptight.”


Scarier than Skynet

Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence

Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, essentially an academic paper on the concerns around AI, the possible ways by (and speeds at) which it may lap human intelligence, and the multiple potential outcomes of those scenarios is smart, more comprehensive than you can imagine, and really fucking scary. Scary because it’s often as dry as an instruction manual. Imagine reading detailed instructions on a new device and coming across something to this effect: “Do not cross these two wires. Crossing these two wires together yields planetary-level damage. Do not cross these two wires under any circumstances.” Imagine glossing over that detail buried on page 10. Of course, a robot would never do that…

This is no pop science book. It’s a struggle to read sometimes and often slow going. Bostrom has degrees in robotics, philosophy, math, and physics. He occasionally uses a down-to-earth metaphor but as I mentioned, this is an exhaustively researched book that reads like an extremely technical and academic thesis. And, as he demonstrates, it serves no one if he dumbs this down. Here’s why: after enumerating what he believes to be an exhaustive list of edge cases related to a particular scenario in which, say, an AI might pretend to exhibit rational operations while planning a large-scale domination or species-wide genocide, he’ll often suggest that perhaps the AI may take a route that we may not have considered and cannot consider. Always, he insists, this possibility exists.

At it’s best, Superintelligence blends clinical thoroughness with jaw-droppingly evocative as in this fantastic passage:

Consider a superintelligent agent with actuators connected to a nanotech assembler. Such an agent is already powerful enough to overcome any natural obstacles to its indefinite survival. Faced with no intelligent opposition, such an agent could plot a safe course of development that would lead to its acquiring the complete inventory of technologies that would be useful to the attainment of its goals. For example, it could develop the technology to build and launch von Neumann probes, machines capable of interstellar travel that can use resources such as asteroids, planets, and stars to make copies of themselves.[emphasis mine]

Ya don’t say! Throughout the book, Bostrom remains keen to the idea that AI can reach for the resources of the known universe. This is considerably more ambitious and, well, scary than the concept of Skynet. Skynet essentially had one trump move: pit two human superpowers (the US and the USSR) against one another to facilitate mutually assured destruction. Then, after crippling the human race that tried to deactivate it, Skynet continues to defend itself…through a ground war. I admit, I’d never considered this unsophisticated second stage to be an unlikely move for a machine intelligence. If we’re giving credit to The Terminator mythos (and I’m inclined to do so) we could imagine that Skynet operates through what Bostrom calls a “stunted” AI, one that has deliberately been given limited information or a restricted flow of data from which to generate judgments. But as he explains, a proper AI likely can fill in an incomplete picture:

It might be that a superintelligence could correctly surmise a great deal from what seem, to dull-witted human minds, meager scraps of evidence. Even without any designated knowledge base at all, a sufficiently superior mind might be able to learn much by simply introspecting on the workings of its own psyche—the design choices reflected in its source code, the physical characteristics of its circuitry.

Don’t try to get the jump on a machine. As bummer as this book can be at times, it’s actually weirdly fun and a breath of fresh air on the non-fiction tip. With the sustainability of our planet’s resources and the psychotic teetering of our global economy, it’s bonkers to consider adding concerns over machine intelligence superseding our own. If it’s any conciliation, the conditions could accrete so fast, we may never even have the chance to see it coming…

Good night!



Hi, there.

Today I’m in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley to be exact, visiting family with my daughter. I have the kind of daughter (3-years-old) who doesn’t let me leave her side for more than a few minutes so I made a stealth move while napped and went on a bit of an adventure…

I cut through mid-day traffic, past a few school dismissals and at least one really savage car wreck on the way to Stoney Point, this majestic rock formation/hill/mini-mountain that looms over the Valley and basically constitutes its northern border. Why? Well, I’m doing final edits on a book called The Anglekeeper that I’m going to finally present to you all this year, set in locations throughout the West Valley. People ask me what it’s about and my short pitch is that it’s about a boy who discovers his dad is a transdimensional wizard. And then his realization that he is his dad’s enemy. It’s like an Oedipal Harry Potter, but not for (young) kids. There’s some heavy homages to things like The Terminator and A Wrinkle in Time in there as well (I wouldn’t fault anyone for not catching it, though). But what the book is really about is my obsession with the West Valley as a place. I love(d) it. It’s weird, magical, sedate, and, yes, soul-crushing and boring to some extent as well. It’s a place of contradictions that will always be charged and special to me, and yes, some of that is nostalgia but today, I realized that some of it is just natural beauty hiding in plain sight.

2015-03-24 14.29.25

The traffic forced me to cut a route to Stoney Point that passed almost every key location of the novel: Woodlake Avenue Elementary, Shadow Ranch Park, the corner of Fallbrook and Vanowen (site of aforementioned car wreck), and the corner of Plummer and Topanga. This was likely a case of subconscious steering but it was enough to make me frankly giddy (and, fuck, if I’d TRIED to hit all those spots, something would’ve surely stood in my way). By the time I reached Stoney Point, my breath was nearly taken away. The woods adjacent to the 118 were…lush. And deep enough, seemingly, to get lost in. There’s a seriously epic and confusing altercation that goes in those woods in my book and what I’d imagined wasn’t even doing this justice. I couldn’t believe in the midst of this drought how green everything was. I was so happy.

I drove back through Box Canyon, amazed at how long it takes to get back to the main intersecting roads through that route. Yeah, it’s at an angle to the thoroughfares but, my god, how much land is back there? I passed at least two homes that certainly belonged to creators in the porn community. And after all these years, the old (but renovated) sign indicating the dedicated road that leads to a Boeing facility clearly indicated that there’s something untoward happening at that particular Boeing facility. Something beyond what we know of as nature. After all these years of knowing that that sign was there, I for once felt certain of that fact.

Which brings me to my current read: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. This is the scariest book I’ve read in a long time. Like, check the locks and don’t read it alone at night scary. I’m almost positive that he watched LOST and decided to create something tighter, less sprawling, and more focused on that fear of the unknown that drives those earliest episodes. I struggle to even express what it’s about. Most synopses will tell you it’s about a mysterious Area X and an organization called the Southern Reach manipulating our protagonists struggles from on high. But the truth is, you’re never really thinking about Area X or Southern Reach. The book is about the borders of our perception and how the things that are just outside of it, the things that don’t allow us to face them head-on, become the things that drive us. It’s about how hard it is to trust our brains when we don’t trust everything that they’re receiving, and how what we see and what we feel rarely jibe. I think that’s all I can say about it right now (I’m not quite done) but suffice to say, highly recommended.

Annihilation, of course, isn’t just an abstract concept for some people. Some very good friends of mine and other allies of the Bay Area creative community suffered the loss of their homes, businesses, and—in two cases—life through a terribly destructive fire in Oakland on March 21st. Without further ado, I wanted to strongly suggest that you donate to their cause:

It adds up and whatever you can spare is appreciated. I’m donating $40. Losing one’s home is a profound and severe violation of a basic human right and, as you probably understand, without a substantial safety net (which, in the Bay Area in 2015, means you’re a millionaire) it’s very difficult to bounce back from a set back like this one. Do the right thing. It’s quite easy sometimes.