Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Midsommar, Part II (of the review. There is no Midsommar II) Now With Fresh Spoilers!

So, I figure the first part of this review didn’t really do justice to MIDSOMMAR. I watched it while I was doing laundry (and if dirty laundry isn’t a metaphor for this film, I don’t know what is) and wasn’t thinking about it too deeply. But now that I’ve thought about it, I actually have to hand it to them: it’s a film that is full of meaning. Whether that meaning is worth anything or not is up to you, but it’s quite obviously there.

So, Dani, our film’s protagonist, is in a bad place. Her parents and sister have all committed suicide, leaving her as the only member of the family to survive. It’s never quite clear whether Mom and Dad were partakers in the suicide or whether suicidal little sis just decided to take them along.

Dani has a boyfriend, whose name is Christian. Yes, that’s important. He’s about to dump her when the suicide hits, and now he can’t. Christian is about to leave on a trip to Sweden with his buds Mark and Josh to visit their friend Pelle’s home. Christian decides that, in fact, he’s going to bring Dani with them, which doesn’t exactly thrill his friends as they find Dani clingy and annoying. Because she is clingy and annoying.

Upon arriving at Pelle’s village, it becomes quickly apparent that we have arrived in Scandinavian Deliverance land, where dwell Pelle’s people, the Hargans. There are two more outsiders, a couple named Simon and Connie. These folks are all about the old gods, and we all know what the old gods were like: they enjoyed sacrifice. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for the newcomers to start disappearing.

Now, over at ScreenRant, you can find an article explaining what happens to the characters in terms of the “sins” they commit during the film: they want to leave, and they defile something, etc. However, I believe this interpretation is completely off base. Midsommar is, from the outset, a pagan sermon about the virtues of the old gods, and the corruption of Christianity.

The first indication we have that all is not well in Hargaland is when two of the community’s elders commit suicide by jumping off a cliff and dashing themselves to death on rocks. Just to drive it home (sorry), the man doesn’t quite die, and he is “assisted” to his doom by means of a large mallet. The outsiders are horrified, but are asked to understand that this is only the Hargans’ way of seeking balance with the natural world and embracing death in its proper role. Josh, Mark and Christian murmur weak protests. Dani is horrified, but Christian is too weak and spineless to stand up for anything or really comfort her.

The true zealots here are the aptly-named Simon and Connie, who have had enough and make plans to leave. Simon (Peter) was always the fiercest of Jesus’ followers, and Connie is, well, constant, not to be shaken from her conviction that what the Hargans are doing is simply wrong. They are “taken to the train station”

Meanwhile, trouble is erupting among the former friends. Pelle is clearly cozying up to Dani and pointing out Christian’s shortcomings. Josh is completely indifferent to any moral failings on the part of the Hargans and is only interested in getting as much material for his anthro thesis out of it as he can. Meanwhile, Christian and Mark play the ugly-American oafs, with Mark as an incel who is clearly desperate to get laid, and careless enough to piss on a sacred tree, while Christian alternately shrugs off Dani’s pain, flirts with Pelle’s sister who is casting love spells at him, and then tries to horn in on Josh’s thesis topic by insisting on doing his anthro thesis on the village as well.

I think the names here remain key to understanding the roles of the major players. First, we have Josh. He’s fascinated intellectually, but morally repelled by this practice of paganism and wants access to their scriptures, eventually violating their proscription on photographing it. Joshua is also the English version of Jesus’ Hebrew name, Y’shua. Josh represents the Judaeo-Christian morality that wrote down the laws of God, stealing the pagans’ mysticism and then condemning the pagans. He is the most dangerous of the anti-pagans, and must be killed.

Then we have Mark, named for the writer of the first gospel. He has no real interest in anything except sex, drugs and food. He’s a tool, nothing more, and has no idea what he’s stumbled into. Only a fool would rely on anything he said. The gospel is therefore discredited.

And finally, we have Christian, named for the entire religion. He is completely and utterly unlikable, having no virtues that can stand up to the smallest vices, but always wanting to appear virtuous, no matter what the cost. He doesn’t want to look heartless so he stays with Dani. And yet he always puts himself first, never giving her any real time or energy. It’s made clear he’s at fault in this (despite the fact that Dani is obviously extremely needy and not really ready to be in a relationship at all). At the Hargan village, Christian can neither condemn the Hargans with the fierceness of Simon and Connie, nor question them with the intelligence of Josh, nor stand up for them in the face of Dani’s disapproval. When Maja, Pelle’s sister, casts a love spell on him and he finds out, he is faithless, unable to even say that such a thing is inappropriate. He is quick to steal Josh’s thesis idea when it looks easy, (imperializing over both a black man’s idea and a native culture simultaneously!) and when Josh disappears (supposedly with the Hargans’ scripture) he is just as quick to repudiate Josh and deny that they have ever been friends. Finally, he is completely willing to go to Maja’s bed and be unfaithful to Dani. In short, the “Christian” is in reality exactly what pagans imagine him to be: a weak-willed sheep, led about by his lusts, but without the courage and fortitude that would make fulfilling them admirable. As such, he is their sacrificial animal, to be used, condemned, and well-rid of.

But what of Dani? Well, she becomes the May Queen, elevated there by that most pagan of forces, fate. She was fated to be invited to the Hargans’ village, and fated to become the May Queen. As such, she is the one who ultimately chooses whether Christian or a member from the Hargans will be chosen. Screen Rant’s “explanation” of “why she kills Christian” is almost comical in its overexplanation:

“The answer to that is complex, but a good place to start is the fact that Dani isn’t exactly in her right mind at the end of the movie.

She wasn’t exactly in her right mind at the start of the movie. At best she’s traumatized. At worst, she’s codependent.

She’s been given drugged tea that’s causing her to have strange visions, danced to the point of exhaustion, and experienced the emotional trauma of seeing Christian have sex with another woman,

Her boyfriend cheated on her in public. That isn’t “complex;” that’s one of the oldest explanations for murder we’ve got.

followed by a release of emotion with her newfound sisters. By the time she’s on stage in her enormous flowery gown, Dani looks pretty out of it, but the one thing she does seem to be aware of is that Christian has hurt her.

Yes. Christian has “hurt her.” That really seems to be the sum total of Dani’s awareness, and the idea that Dani’s pain is Christian’s fault is the one thing that is hammered home time and again in this film. He didn’t kill her sister, or her parents, and he tried to include her when she needed to be included. Being drugged and exhausted is an excuse for her behavior, seemingly, but not for Christian’s. Funny how that works out.

Moreover, she also seems to recognize that Christian is the best choice for the sacrifice that represents the exorcism of evil from the community, because he – not the Hårgans – is the source of her pain.

Yes, and it’s also not the Hargans’ fault that they seduced a guy who was in a relationship, apparently. They are innocent, while Christian is guilty.

In the pagan world (note the small p, I am referring to classic pagans, not any followers of modern Wiccanism or related faiths, here) holiness is more positional than consequential. It derives more from what people are than what they do. Dani is good and Christian is bad because Dani is a woman in pain. Therefore, she must be in the right. To say otherwise would be to blame her on some level for her pain. We endure endless sobs throughout this film, most of them from Dani. And while it is true that Christian’s choices are mostly selfish, so are everyone else’s, including Dani’s. No one ever seems to think that Dani should do anything for him, but it is made very clear that Christian must stay with Dani, be there for Dani, adjust his life for Dani, invite Dani along with him, remember Dani’s birthday. He is responsible for her pain, but she is never responsible for his. He doesn’t even (conveniently) have real pain in his life, just selfish ambitions.
Dani kills Christian for the simplest of all reasons: she is angry at him and wants revenge. And her killing of him is held up as right. She is the May Queen, a holy figure. It is right that she kills him because she has decreed it to be right. It is right because it represents the triumph of the strong pagan goddess reclaiming her true superiority over the false, weak, Christian god who lied and failed to fulfill her.

Of course, what’s truly astonishing is exactly how successfully this message overrides the demonstrable horror that this pagan community has achieved: a monocultural, racist theocracy which by its own admission deliberately practices incest in order to induce mental disabilities, enforces the euthanasia of the elderly, and lures outsiders in to be sacrificed along with their own people annually. But what are such little defects compared to freeing our minds from the evils of Christian hypocrisy?

It’s a breathtakingly simple message. Who is listening?

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: The Descent

Fair warning, and never has this phrasing seemed more apt, SPOILERS BELOW.

Like any human uncontrolled descent, this movie was quite passable until it reached the end.

I mean, it was predictable as hell. This is one of those movies where there is going to be a Final Girl. Literally everything in the movie was telegraphed? Was Sarah’s dead husband having an affair with the hotter Juno? Of course he was. According to Movie karma rules, will there be a reckoning for this? Of course there will! When someone says that this cave doesn’t look like the one they studied, does that have ominous meaning..?

Dur.

But really, all that was almost forgivable, if not excusable, because this film is essentially, an all-girl production of ALIEN in a cave. That’s about enough to sell the movie on its own. But the ending…

Q: Which one?

A: Dude, what the hell? You’re the voice from the LAST MRFTL.

Q: Yeah, I got bored. Which ending?

EITHER ending! Okay, so in the American ending you get on Amazon Prime, Sarah escapes the cave, having wounded the evil Juno because she a) was the last person to sleep with Sarah’s husband, and probably caused the car wreck that killed him and Sarah’s daughter at the beginning of the film because he was thinking about it, and b) Juno accidentally killed another of their friends and then left her to die and lied about it. Oh, and c) Juno was the one who took them to the undiscovered and therefore — even without the C.H.U.D. infestation — HIGHLY DANGEROUS cave without telling anyone.

So, just to be clear, if ANYONE in this film deserves to die, it’s Juno. Although I think it sucks that what really appears to get Juno killed is her MOST excusable act: she puts a pickaxe through another girl’s throat when the girl suddenly appears behind her right after they’ve fought off a whole bunch of C.H.U.D.s. Literally ANYONE could have made that mistake, especially someone who has never fought for her life before. They might even panic and run away and leave their victim dying. Not laudable, but understandable for someone who’s suddenly thrust into a situation where choosing wrong means death.

Then WHY, for the love of crap, after Sarah escapes the cave and flees for her life is she confronted, two seconds before roll credits, with the vision of Juno’s vengeful spirit sitting in the car with her? Juno was, in fact, killed for vengeance. People who get justly killed for revenge don’t get to come back and haunt their killers. Otherwise the concept of vengeance just gets silly.

BUT, as the disembodied voice reminds us, there was another ending. The UK ending, as this film was a UK film. And in THAT ending, we discover that Sarah, after her escape…

…finds out she hallucinated the whole escape, and she’s still back in the cave, and the C.H.U.D.s are closing in.

Oh, gods. The first lesson you learn in storytelling school, usually with eyerolls from your bored elementary-school peers, is that any story ending with “And then I woke up and it was all a dream” is tedious and anticlimactic as shit. IT DOESN’T MAKE IT BETTER WHEN YOU MAKE THE WAKING UP PART BAD. Seriously, I just wish I could make a rule: you are not allowed to have your characters hallucinate shit in the middle of your horror movie.* Because it’s like bringing dead people back to life: once you’ve done it, how do you know anything is real? Maybe she was hallucinating killing ANY of the creatures. Maybe she was the first one killed! Maybe she died when she thwacked her head on the cave wall and all of this were coma hallucinations before she succumbed to a fatal head injury! I mean, either way she’s dead and nothing she thought she did mattered, right?

This trope needs to die in a fire.

*Unless the horror is that they are actually insane or otherwise being influenced to hallucinate. That’s legitimately something to fear.

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Battle: Los Angeles

Hi, Loyal Readers. Sorry it’s been so long. It’s a boring story: COVID = teaching from home + homeschooling x kitchen remodel, and all of it adds up to almost no writing, and definitely no blogging. Here’s hoping for a rebound.

Oh, Battle: Los Angeles. I was in the mood for a really cheesy, bad Alien Invasion movie, and boy did you deliver. But why did you deliver such awful, awful cliches?

The sad part was that this movie was surprisingly good: I mean, disclaimer, first: I’m a civilian, but the filmmakers consulted Marines when they made the film, and it reminded me of some of the better war movies out there, the ones that have drawn high praise from veterans I know. As a war movie, it wasn’t half bad, except for one thing (later).

But as a science-fiction movie, it commits one of the tiredest, awful cliches out there.

The aliens are invading the Earth for its water. No, really, you read that right. For its WATER. And not that they are using to DRINK. No, they are using the water for FUEL. AND they are using it in such quantities that they are, within one DAY, causing a detectable alteration in the Earth’s coastlines.

Folks, that may have been a pardonable casus belli back when H.G. Wells was invading the Earth. No one knew what any of the planets were made of. But today? Saturn’s rings are dirty snowballs. The Oort cloud is full of MORE snowballs. No one will shoot back at you for mining them. What the hell?

I suspect the film KNEW it was being stupid, because the Scientist On The News tried to cover it by saying, “Nowhere else in the universe do we know of LIQUID water.”

Oh, I see. LIQUID water. Let’s break this down for a moment while I wake up my inner math-and-science nerd and interview him:

Q: Hey, there. How much water is in the Earth’s oceans?

A: 352 quintillion gallons.

Q: Cool. Could you use that water for fuel?

A: There are actually three ways you could theoretically do that, but two are stupid.

Q: Really? What are they?

A: Well, you could break the water down into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis and then burn them again in hydrogen fuel cells. But that’s stupid.

Q: Why? Sounds cool to me.

A: Well, for one thing, it takes more energy to electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen than you get from burning them. That’s because of the Law Of Conservation Of Energy, pretty much THE fundamental law of physics, almost. And for another, when you do? The ash is water. So, the aliens would be a) losing energy, and b) putting the water right back where they got it.

Q: What’s the other stupid way?

A: Well, you can eleectrolyze the water, toss out the oxygen, and then fuse the hydrogen into helium for a SHIT-ton more energy than it took to electrolyze it.

Q: And why is that stupid?

A: Because to do that you ALREADY need the kind of energy found in the heart of a star. If you’ve got that kind of energy, you really don’t need more. And you’ve got badass enough technology that you can probably wipe out present-day humanity with plasma torches from miles away. No need to engage them with slightly-superior technology unless you’re doing it for sport.

Q: And there’s a third way? That’s smart?

A: Well, kind of: that way involves filtering the seawater for heavy water: water made from oxygen and deuterium. Deuterium is hydrogen with an extra neutron. You can electrolyze THAT and fuse it into helium for a SHIT-ton of energy. And you can do it with technology that’s slightly superior to our own. 

Q: So, technology like the aliens demonstrably have?

A: Yep.

Q: So then, the movie makes sense?

A: Not by a long shot. Heavy water makes up only about 0.0156% of all water. Therefore, of that 352 quintillion gallons mentioned earlier, you have to sort through it to find the mere 54.912 quadrillion gallons you want. Not to mention, of course, all the salt, nickel and horrible organic goop floating around in there. Now, to lower the oceans a mere INCH would necessitate the removal of some 2.4291 quadrillion gallons of water.

Q: Which means that if they took literally all the heavy water on the planet, the oceans would be lowered by approximately less than..?

A: Two feet.

Q: That’s dumb.

A: Oh, it’s dumber than that.

Q: How does it GET dumber than that?

A: The World Nuclear Association has estimated that that’s enough to fuel the entire world, at ten times its current population, and at 100 times the AMERICAN rate of energy consumption, for 1 million years. 

Q: So, waitaminute, you’re saying the aliens can suck the oceans of the planet dry of the amazing energy-water in about a day or two, and they’ve come to invade Earth for water because…?

A: They don’t want to be bothered melting ice.

Q: But they’re okay with lifting it out of Earth’s gravity well?

A: Apparently?

Q: How much energy does it take to melt ice?

A: I dunno, but I and anyone I know can melt a pound of it in a standard oven in far less than an hour for negligible cost.

Q: And to put that pound of water in orbit costs…?

A: $10,000.

Sigh. You know, it would have made more sense for the aliens to have invaded us because they wanted to take all our refined metals, or samples of Earth life, or JUST ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE THAN WATER! Seriously, it was dumb when Star Trek: Voyager pretended water was rare twenty years ago. It was dumb when V: The Final Battle did it in the 1980s. And you have to work at it to get dumber science-fiction than THAT!

Stop it. No one else is allowed to invade the Earth for water. Ever.

Oh, I almost forgot, there’s one other thing you’re not allowed to do, and I promised to come back to this later: you’re not allowed to pretend that there’s just this ONE vulnerable spot on your slightly-larger-than-man-sized aliens and that you’re going to snipe that regularly now. Because pretty much, from everyone I’ve EVER heard talk about real combat, you aim for the center of mass and shoot.

Seriously, stop that.

Mr. Huggins’s Storytime: The Wizard Of Oz, Chapter 1

Hey, all. It occurred to me that there are probably a lot of worried and sick parents out there who, because of scheduling and other factors, might not have the time, energy, or ability to read bedtime stories to their children. So I’m going to be reading THE WIZARD OF OZ most nights on my YouTube channel, in case that helps out. Please subscribe and spread the word. Thanks!

Fear Itself: And FREE History Lessons

So, I was thinking if what I could do to help people out in this difficult time, and it occurs to me that there are a lot of people out there who have kids at home, who are being turned into homeschoolers against their will (NOOOOOO!!!), or who ARE kids at home and who suddenly have all this history homework, probably being presented in thick wads of text with no context.

So I’m putting on my history teacher hat, now. I’ve been teaching history for about 13 years. Right now, my school is closed indefinitely, and I’m about to start teaching courses online. I can do that. Many can’t.

The problem with history is that it’s all about context, and a lot of times, the people who write it will say things that are RIGHT, but don’t explain WHY it matters, or they leave the most important things unexplained. I remember I taught from a textbook that would laboriously explain things like “rebellion” or “king,” which almost ALL of my students understood, but would present words like “diplomat” and “tax base,” which NONE of them had ever heard before, like it was nothing.

So, I’d like to offer my services to any teacher, any parent, any student who feels overwhelmed by all of this and needs help understanding anything that a book or assignment or a teacher is throwing at you. Bring me your questions. You can comment on this post, or use the contact form up above. You don’t have to subscribe to the mailing list (but if you do, that would be cool, too). Just ask your questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Hell, ask a good enough one, I may even do a whole blog post dedicated to it.

Finally, while I in no way wish to minimize the severity of the situation we find ourselves in, I’d like to remind everyone of the words of FDR: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A healthy respect for what this virus can do and sensible precautions are a good thing. Panicking and doomsaying isn’t. Too much fear can push us away from sensible measures, and that never helps. As much as you can, be good people, and stay strong and calm for those who need you. And let’s all help each other out as best we can.

Is The Book Mightier Than The Sword…?

Okay, you know how this Christmas, I got the coolest fan gift ever when someone anonymously sent me a sword?

Well, I just got a gift that rivals that for awesomeness:

Behold, All Things Huge And Hideous… THE PILLOW!!

This piece of brilliance is courtesy of incredible superfan Kat Adams and the folks at Brassington Hollow. Apparently, this is their thing. I didn’t even know this was A thing. But I LOVE it!!

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Yes, that’s the original Paul Maitland artwork, there, converted into truly nap-worthy pillow size and thickness (see below).

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And as if that weren’t cool enough, you can open up the cover and get a super-sized dragon caduceus, and the first page of the novel!!

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Just enough for a great teaser!

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Happy author relaxing with awesome fan merch! Thank you, Kat!!

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