dr.-trent

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 Dino Thunder was one series I remember enjoying a lot in high school So far in the re-watch I can see why. The characters are fun, the villains are pretty interesting (Mesagog is so scary in the right lighting!). There was a few things that didn’t quite work but over all it’s a pretty fun series and a nice send up of what came before.

Melancholia (2011)

LIFE IS ONLY ON EARTH AND NOT FOR LONG.

by Letitia Trent

Melancholia opens with eerie, dream-like, slow-motion scenes: A woman clutches her child as she trudges through wet ground on an immaculate golf course, another woman watches as wisps of energy leak form her fingertips, and a horse falls down slowly as the sky turns dark. Wagner’s overture from “Tristan and Isolde” plays and we gradually see an enormous, blue planet crash into earth. And that’s all before the movie begins.  

It’s often difficult to separate Lars Von Trier films from Lars Von Trier the person. While some auteurs seem divorced personally from their work (think perhaps of Stanley Kubrick, whose films bear a kind of clinical and distanced precision that don’t allow for much analysis of Kubrick as a person - beyond the observation that his films are clinical, distanced, and precise), Von Trier likes to explicitly link himself to his characters. Von Trier has claimed that the character of “She” in Antichrist (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, with a kind of bravery I can only guess came from some very good therapy) represented his struggles during a particularly dark depression, while “Justine” in Melancholia (Kirsten Dunst) represents him, too: both “She” and “Justine” are depressives, Gainsbourg’s character consumed by guilt and Dunst’s so unable to connect to her own wedding party that she bobs from moment to moment, looking for something to pull her out of the grey mass of her own depression.

When Von Trier associates himself so closely with a film, it’s hard to take it seriously. Much like the fifty-something Robert Smith claiming that life is “really awful”, Von Trier’s claims of profound melancholy are so dramatic and adolescent, relics of some clinging to his bad boy status, that it’s hard to meet anything he says with much more than an eye roll. He also makes it hard to remember that, no matter what you think of him and his tendency for shrieking melodrama and misanthropy (misogyny, too, some claim), his movies can be astoundingly original and push actors (primarily women) to dizzying heights of emotional nakedness. By being willing to risk absurdity, Von Trier goes places that directors afraid of looking ridiculous do not. Of course, this means that his movies are often ridiculous when they are supposed to be profound.  

It would be a mistake to dismiss Melancholia based on the antics of the director or even the expectations set by Antichrist, a psychological horror movie that plays out like an opera, full of blood, body horror, and leaps of action that defy logic at every level. Melancholia is, by Von Trier standards, subtle. The first half, titled “Justine”, chronicles Justine’s post-wedding party, in which Kirsten Dunst wanders around her sister Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) opulent guest house, complete with an 18-hole golf course and stables (facts that her brother-in-law can’t help but mention—twice), ending with the ultimate loss of everything she has gained during the night.  

Even with the use of a shaky handheld camera, the opening “Justine” scenes are gorgeous. Dunst, an actress who I last loved in The Virgin Suicides and haven’t paid much attention to since, has a round, expressive, sensual face, much like Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, and she plays the depressed Justine with flickers of life that quickly burn out, over and over again; you can see her face fall and pull downward after every moment during the wedding party that is supposed to be significant: the cutting of the cake, the dance with her husband, the dinner party and toasts. Even this momentous occasion, the one that is supposed to be her happiest, can’t elevate her out of the dullness of her internal life.  

The second half of the film, “Claire”, chronicles Justine’s subsequent breakdown (she moves in with Claire and her family) and Claire, the “stable” sister, growing increasingly frantic at the thought of losing what she loves as a planet threatens to collide with earth. Her husband says that the planet, called Melancholia (the one real cringe-worthy choice here, reminiscent of the truly awful quest for unobtainium in Avatar) will pass earth by, leaving only some fabulous pictures and memories for their young son. Claire suspects the worst, and Justine knows the worst is coming, a fact that draws her out of her depression and gives her a kind of dead-eyed serenity.

As Claire falls apart, desperately trying to hold onto her child, her life, and eventually tries to plan how to meet the end in the right way, Justine opens up to the experience, waiting calmly for it. Claire is ultimately the most sympathetic character here; she has something to lose, and watching Gainsbourg realize this and scramble to do something, though nothing really can be done, provides some of the most compelling moments in the film.  

Despite the ending, despite the film’s central thesis about the evil of the world and the relief of annihilation, I found myself hopeful at the end, not depressed or shattered or bitter, as Von Trier’s films usually leave me. Something sweet and loving has crept into the movie. In the end, Melancholia proves that Justine’s calm acceptance of the world’s end because the world is evil is far from the truth; there is enough beauty in the first eight minutes of Melancholia to disprove Justine a hundred times over, enough beauty in the orange light on an enormous sundial or the vision of two moons in one sky, enough beauty in the scene in which Claire holds Justine up over a warm bath, urging her to just try,and enough beauty in the last few minutes of the film to make us mourn the loss of the world despite the evil that Von Trier seems so obsessed with.

Letitia Trent received her MFA in poetry from Ohio State University. Her work has appeared in journals such as The Denver Quarterly, Fence, The Black Warrior Review, The Adirondack Review, and H_ngm_n and her poetry collections include One Perfect Bird (2012) and You aren’t in this movie (2012). Letitia’s first novel, Echo Lake, will be published in July.

Take it Back: Nas Performs Classics at Beats Music Launch

Last weekend, the Beats by Dr. Dre brand celebrated the launch of their new music streaming product, Beats Music, with a star studded guest list and iconic performances of a lifetime from Nas, Dr. Dre and Eminem, and more. 

Friday Night marked the launch and celebration of Beats Music, a new innovation in music streaming from the creators of Beats by Dre. The private celebration was held at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles featuring celebrity guests and performances. DJ Jazzy Jeff provided the music for the guests which included guests, Paul McCartney, Drake, Paris Hilton, Macklemore, Selena Gomez, Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Scherzinger, Queen Latifah, and more. Music executives and partners of the brand, Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre, Trent Reznor, and Ian Rogers presented a specially curated 90’s playlist with live performances from the decades most notable artists. One of the legendary and most talked about performances of the evening came when Nas took the stage. Performing in front of his peers and fans, Nas rocked the evening with classic performances of hits including Nas Is Like and If I Ruled The World. The evening also featured performances from Diddy and Ma$e, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Redman and Method Man, Cypress Hill, Geto Boys, Busta Rhymes, Blackstreet, Souls of Mischief and The Pharcyde.

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Its A Girl! Como Zoo Welcomes Baby Orangutan

Como Zoo announces the birth, via Caesarean section, of a female orangutan. Markisa, a 27 year-old Sumatran Orangutan, gave birth to a female infant weighing a healthy, 3.45 pounds on January 7, 2015. The newborn was delivered at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center by Dr. Micky Trent, DVM, Veterinary Medical Center Surgeon and lead veterinarian for Como Zoo, with the consultation of an extensive pre-appointed medical team comprised of human obstetricians, neonatologists, and veterinary anesthesiologists.

Study provides comprehensive look at brain cancer treatments

Led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and UC San Francisco (UCSF), a comprehensive genetic review of treatment strategies for glioblastoma brain tumors was published today in the Oxford University Press journal Neuro-Oncology.

The study, Towards Precision Medicine in Glioblastoma: The Promise and The Challenges, covers how these highly invasive and almost-always-deadly brain cancers may be treated, reviews the continuing challenges faced by researchers and clinicians, and presents the hope for better treatments by harnessing the power of the human genome.

The study also describes a pioneering clinical trial underway for 15 patients at UCSF, guided by TGen research, in which an individual patient’s genomic profile is used to offer treatment recommendations to an expert, multidisciplinary panel.

“This study thoroughly explores how we arrived at the current standard-of-care, and how – through cutting-edge genomic technologies – we might find better answers for these patients who need our help today,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director and the study’s senior author.

Funded by The Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation, the study is one of several simultaneous and coordinated efforts seeking to uncover the molecular source of this deadly brain cancer with the goal of prolonging survival of glioblastoma patients.

“Despite pivotal advances in the characterization of genomic mutation in glioblastoma, targeted drug agents have so far shown minimal effect in clinical trials, and patient survival remains poor,” said Dr. Michael D. Prados, the Charles B. Wilson, MD, Endowed Chair in Neurological Surgery at UCSF, and one of the study’s co-lead authors.

One of the major difficulties in treating brain tumors is finding drugs that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, which buffers the brain from the rest of the body’s blood-circulatory system. Located along capillaries, the blood-brain barrier protects the brain from rapid changes in the body’s metabolic conditions and minimizes exposure to molecules that are toxic to neurons in the brain.

“This study outlines strategies for overcoming past failures, primarily by applying targeted combination therapies that match the tumors’ genetic changes with drug compounds that can reach the central nervous system,” said Dr. Sara Byron, Research Assistant Professor in TGen’s Center for Translational Innovation, and the study’s other co-lead author.

Another major challenge in treating glioblastoma is its intrusive penetration into adjoining tissues, which prevents the complete surgical removal of the tumors from the brain, even with follow-up radiation and chemotherapy: “It is this invasive, infiltrative disease component that is the ultimate cause of recurrence, resistance and death,” the study says.

“All patients will continue to show tumor growth and progression because of rapidly proliferating infiltrative disease remaining after surgery,” according to the study. “Effective treatment for glioblastoma remains an unmet need.”

The only FDA-approved drugs to treat glioblastoma are temozolomide, nitrosoureas, and bevacizumab.

In the clinical trial begun at UCSF, multiple biopsies are performed on each patient at the time of surgery in different regions of the brain tumor. That is followed by extensive genome-wide profiling, leading to a selection of drugs that would target the brain cancer and diffuse regions of the lesion that cannot be removed by surgery.

Drug selection is individualized, and multiple FDA-approved agents (up to four) allowed. “Rules” for drug selection are implemented, using the specialized drug pharmacopeia designed for this trial. The drugs are chosen carefully, considered with knowledge about the ability of the drug to reach the brain and the patient’s past treatment history and concomitant therapies, with the assistance of multi-specialty, multi-institutional molecular tumor board that drafts a report to the treating physician.

In addition, “Small, informative, tissue-based clinical trials that take into account the individual molecular features of patients and provide early ‘go’ or 'no go’ decisions are needed and should be prioritized over unselected, large, population-based strategies,” the study recommends.

A separate clinical trial that follows this path, also guided by TGen genomic research, is underway at Barrow Neurological Institute. This clinical trial also is funded by The Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation. For more about this clinical trial, go to: http://www.tgen.org/home/news and click on March 10, 2015.

“These studies, and their associated clinical trials, have the potential to lift our knowledge of glioblastoma to an unprecedented new level,” said Catherine Ivy, President of The Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation. “Developing drug compounds that breach the blood-brain barrier and are effective against tumors would fulfill one of the medical community’s most critical unmet needs, and boost the hopes of brain tumor patients everywhere.”