Taglines Not To Emulate

Cruising around book descriptions, you see a lot of taglines supposedly designed to make you want to read books. Here are some that well… didn’t. 

Can one man save an immortal race on the brink of extinction?

Um, you know what ‘immortal’ means, right?

Humans are unwelcome but tolerated as none of the galaxy’s other intelligent species has the power to stop them.

Yeah, I tend to “tolerate” people who can kill me with impunity, too. And a run-on sentence isn’t a great way to convince me to buy what you’re selling.

He wouldn’t have stolen the latest cybernetic implant if he knew it was infected with a virus.

Well, I’d really hope not. I wouldn’t want to read the story of an idiot. Actually, I think I’ll pass on reading the story of someone who thinks “not being an idiot” is compelling.

Ahem!! Who says the star messiah can’t be a chick?

No one I suppose, but if you’re trying for some sort of gender-equality, here, I think your tone’s, um, off.

It’s not too late to click now!!

Oh, thank heavens, I thought you might not allow me to give you money for your writing if I waited another minute.

He never thought of arming himself to defend the ones he loves…

Um, really? Never thought of it? Is that because he’s a complete coward, or simply lacks any vestige of imagination?

Stranded on an alien planet, luckily, Major XXX XXX is the most powerful human in the universe!

Thing is, powerful people don’t usually end up stranded on alien planets. That’s one of the indications they’re powerful.

Turns out there’s a whole lotta’ strange going on that most of the world knows nothing about.

Turns out there’s a whole lotta’ bad writin’ going on that most of the world knows nothing about, and for good reason.

Submarine Explorer’s sentient. Dr. Smith knows. Admiral Donovan doesn’t believe. Giant sharks, octopus, a cyberswarm, and enemy submarines. It’s fun.

Tagline consists of fragments. Sounds bad. Reads bad. Stuff happens. Do not want.

Abandoned as a child, Kelly is later forced into a situation where her parents’ betrayal will only be pardoned after her execution. 

That seems needlessly complicated: can’t we just execute Mom and Dad?

PEACE TALKS Theories: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!

Okay, so I know Jim Butcher’s latest installment of The Dresden Files came out only yesterday, but I devoured the whole thing by this morning, and I really want to talk about it, so in case the HUGE CAPITAL LETTERS weren’t enough, I want to make it really clear to everyone choosing to read further that there will be HUGE AMOUNTS of spoilers below.

Okay, if you’ve got this far and haven’t chosen to turn back…

Too late, here they come.

All right, so what I suspected about this “book:” since seeing that we were getting two of them this year was correct: PEACE TALKS is not a book. It’s the first half of a book. At best, we get the second half in BATTLE GROUND later this year. At worst, of course, we get part two of three or more. But Butcher is a good guy and hasn’t left us with that kind of cliffhanger since the end of CHANGES.

So, there are a LOT of questions unanswered here, and the biggest one is this: Why did Thomas Raith decide to attack King Etri of the Svartalves, causing a lot of trouble for Harry and Mab? This question is unanswered in the book, a lingering mystery.

First of all, what are the possible reasons?

It is heavily implied, and Harry acts on the assumption, that Thomas was being blackmailed into the attack on Etri by someone who could credibly threaten the love of his life, Justine. This is made more serious by the fact that Justine is revealed in the opening chapter to be — very improbably — pregnant.

But there’s a few serious problems with that. Firstly, who would want Etri dead and have the ability to threaten Thomas to the point of making him carry out a near-suicidal attack? White Court vampires aren’t supposed to operate that way even if they are good at it. Furthermore, Justine is guarded by several formidable security teams. Harry’s hiring of Goodman Grey is very nearly redundant. Thomas had to know Justine was guarded by the full force of the White Court. But she’s also being watched by hired Monoc Securities guys, the cops, Feds, Goodman Grey and Paranoid Gary. And Thomas, whose brother is Harry Dresden and the Winter Knight, didn’t go to him or his sister, the White Court ruler, for help? Especially if Harry is right about his supposition that Justine is being threatened by one of her “guards?” The only credible threats of those mentioned (against Thomas) are the White Court and Monoc. Neither have an interest in killing Etri OR destabilizing the Accords.
That’s dumb.
Secondly, what was the effect of the attack? Who benefited from it?
Well, you could argue that no one did, because the attack failed. Okay, sometimes the bad guys fail. But Etri’s death has no obvious consequences besides making the svartalves even more angry with the White Court.
Very well, was that the goal? If so, the Fomor and the Outsiders — who are obviously working together — are the obvious suspects. There’s only one problem with that: it didn’t work. By betraying the peace talks, the Fomor and their patron Titan simply forced the svartalves and the White Court to work together in spite of their issues. That’s also dumb.
So, if that makes no sense, why else would Thomas attack the svartalf king? Were the svartalves threatening Justine? Why? It would be utterly out of character for them to attack or threaten a guest.

No, there’s a much more sinister plot that’s possible here. The person who was influencing Thomas to attack the svartalves was… Justine herself. Or, more accurately, something pretending to be Justine.

Consider these hints:

  1. Justine should not be pregnant. Thomas and Justine can barely touch, they’re using contraceptives, and White Court vampires are almost infertile.
  2. Justine surprises Harry by her reaction to the news of Thomas’s attack and capture. Rather than falling apart, she asks if Lara knows. Her first reaction is to seek intelligence on Harry’s actions and Lara’s knowledge.
  3. Thomas is conveniently unable to talk to Harry after the attack. He manages two words: Harry’s name, and then, three attempts at a word starting with ‘J.’ Harry assumes he is trying to say “Justine” and means, “Protect Justine, Harry.” Each time Harry promises to, though, Thomas breaks down crying. Harry thinks he’s desperate to protect Justine. But what if Thomas is trying to protect Harry by warning him about Justine? Thomas says “Junghg. S’Jnngh.” Suppose what he was trying to say was “Justine. It’s Justine?” He cries because not only is the real Justine in danger, but now so are Harry, Lara, and everyone else who believes they are guarding the real Justine.
  4. The one player we haven’t seen in PEACE TALKS is The Black Council, whose man Cristos they elevated to the Senior Council back in TURN COAT. The Black Council is known to be able to exercise mind control powers, and the Outsiders are known to be able to infect humans and fae with a seemingly unbeatable mind-control effect.
  5. Finally, Harry orders up and uses an ability to cast a doppelganger that fools even Blackstaff McCoy.

So, taking all these things together, I hypothesize the following:

The Black Council has taken the real Justine and done something to her. Possibly they are simply holding her under threat, and possibly she is taken by the Outsiders’ mind control. In either case, they simulated her pregnancy and are continuing to simulate her. Sometime after Thomas revealed Justine’s “pregnancy” to Harry, she revealed her true nature and demanded that Thomas attack Etri and the svartalves. The goal of the attack was to get Thomas out of the way and distract Harry Dresden. Which means that something happened while Harry was away from the Peace Talks or on his way to the island, and that Justine is an entirely new front of the Black Council/Fomor/Outsider alliance, ready to strike at either the White Court, Monoc, the svartalves as a false flag, or Harry himself or any combination as opportunity presents itself. The worst thing would be if it could similarly infect others.

Okay, once you’ve read the book and this, explain to me why I’m wrong.

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: Phantasm

Holy shit. When I wrote the review for House, I thought I’d seen the worst the 80s had to offer in the horror genre. Then I saw Phantasm.

I legitimately cannot say which of these two movies is worse. I was interested in Phantasm because it certainly had one of the more unique ways of offing its victims. The little silvery flying murderball. I was hoping to find out more about that.

And yet, I did not, because the murderballs are disappointingly secondary.

Okay, here’s the plot: There’s a mysterious mortician who is apparently killing humans in a small town. Once he has their bodies, he shrinks them to half-size and reanimates them to serve as slaves in some wasteworld where the gravity is higher. He has a portal to it in a spare room.

Yet apparently he’s really operating on a shoestring because the only way he gets caught is that the younger of this orphaned pair of brothers sees the guy lifting 500-lb. caskets by himself and some of the dwarfzombies sneaking around.

Eventually he and his brother kill the guy. Sort of.

And then the younger kid wakes up to find his live brother dead, his brother’s dead friend alive, and he gets kidnapped through a mirror. Roll credits.

That’s it. The mysterious murderball is used exactly twice, once successfully when Big Bad decides to off a henchman, and then again when he tries to off Big Brother. Despite apparently being an alien, undead, or both, he cannot make murderballs immune to buckshot. So that was anticlimactic.

Is it better than House, or worse? Well, let’s put them head to head:

Do the characters act reasonably? Well, the protagonists in Phantasm eventually come up with something resembling a plan. It’s basic: go to the bad guy’s mortuary and perforate him with bullets. Essentially, this works. This beats the protagonist of House who forgets he has military training until the last 15 minutes. On the other hand, the Big Bad in House at least has a plan to get revenge. The Big Bad in Phantasm could have saved himself a lot of trouble by simply calling the cops and having the protags arrested for B&E.
House: 0, Phantasm: 0

Are the plots coherent? Phantasm‘s plot is simple, but makes sense: the bad guy is doing bad things. The good guys stop him. Contrasting this with House, where the bad guy is apparently haunting the house where the protagonist doesn’t live for several years, it’s a win for Phantasm.
House: 0. Phantasm: 1

Which movie is less boring? In House, strange things keep happening. They’re all red herrings, but things occur. In Phantasm, approximately half the film is taken up with Older Bro refusing to believe Younger Bro.
House: 1. Phantasm: 1

Do the endings make sense? In House the protagonist rescues his kid. So, yeah. In Phantasm, dead people are alive and alive people are dead, no fucks given.

Conclusion: Don’t watch either of these movies: do something more entertaining, like filing off your eyelids.

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.

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: The Bye Bye Man and the Illusion of Horror

So, I watched the movie The Bye Bye Man on Netflix last week. For those who aren’t used to the Movie Reviews Far Too Late format, There Be Spoilers Here.

The Bye Bye Man is now the movie that finally helped me understand two features that really undermine a horror story for me. The movie starts out strong: there is a creepy supernatural entity called the Bye Bye Man. If you hear or see his name, you’re screwed. He will enter your thoughts and cause you to obsessively think, and finally say, his name. During this time, you will also experience hallucinations that may lead you to attack, or believe you are being attacked, by friends. Eventually, the Bye Bye Man will GET you. The only way to stop him is to give yourself up to death and take the secret of his name with you. Although the protagonists get the idea that disbelieving in the Bye Bye Man’s power may lessen his control over your mind, it’s too little too late, and they all die.

The attraction of the Bye Bye Man as a boogaboo is obvious. It is horrifying. Once you know about it, it’s too late to get away. You can’t recruit friends to help you, lest you damn them, too. You can’t fight it alone because its power of illusion may turn your own power against you. Or worse, your friends.

And that, really, is the problem: the power of illusion is so great that in a sense, it transforms the entire story from a horror story into the illusion of a horror story. To understand this, we have to understand two fundamentals of the horror genre:

The Puzzle Box: The solution to a puzzle is at the heart of the horror story. It has to be. For horror to be horror, the protagonists must be up against an opponent that is so overwhelming that normal means of combat are completely inadequate. Normal weapons, intelligence and limitations on action are completely inadequate to stop the boogaboo. So generally there is a vulnerability or a ritual or a sacrifice that must be completed to defeat the horror.
Now the nature of a puzzle is that a solution exists. If no solution exists, then there is not a puzzle, anymore than a bunch of confetti is a jigsaw puzzle. Before you object, please note that “a solution” does not necessarily entail “protagonists survive.” In horror, this is optional. Solution means, “the horror is defeated/deferred.” Sometimes the solution is obvious but horrifying, as in Saw, when Cary Elwes has to cut himself out of handcuffs. Sometimes its dangerous and difficult, as in Alien, when Ripley blasts the alien out of the airlock. And sometimes even solving the puzzle doesn’t really defeat the horror, as in The Ring.

The Horror Exists For A Reason: I think this is where a lot of horror movies fall down: because it’s not necessarily obvious this is true, but I believe it is true. In the best horror movies, the horror always has a reason to exist: in The Cabin in the Woods, the horror has a double reason for existing: the victims cal up their specific horror, but the overarching reason is that the ancient gods must be kept asleep. But after all, I can imagine someone saying, what about movies like The Ring and Alien? There’s no reason for these things to exist.
But there is. The horror can be its own reason for existing, so long as its drive is fundamental. The alien needs to reproduce and feed. The evil spirit from The Ring seems to have been born from an overwhelming desire on the part of its “mother” to have a child, and its evil “revenge” drive tied to the video springs from that.

When a horror movie fails atone or both of these fundamentals, it is at best weakened. The Bye Bye Man fails at both: there is really no solution to the problem. It hints that disbelieving in the Bye Bye Man can weaken his power. But it isn’t put into practice more than once, and halfheartedly at best. The only thing the protagonist can do is commit suicide. That’s a valid solution to horror, but that “solution” was already presented as part of the problem at the beginning of the film. So it doesn’t really count. Once you know the Bye Bye Man’s name, you’re dead at best.
In addition, no reason for the Bye Bye Man is ever shown to exist. What does he want? There seems to be some idea that he wants world apocalypse. But why? Is he an agent of Satan? We don’t know, and the movie doesn’t seem to care.

Another movie weakened by these problems is the critically-acclaimed It Follows, which is an incredible well-executed movie. But again, there seems to be no solution to the problem: even though the protagonists defeat It, the end of the movie hints that It is still out there following them. And even more than the Bye Bye Man, there is never a clue provided as to what this thing wants. Revenge? For what? Food? Then why is it limited to this bizarre venereal chain of feeding targets?

As I’m writing this, I notice that a common flaw here seems to be that when you think about it, it’s almost impossible to imagine how these bizarre chains ever got started. I mean, how did It ever start Following people? Remember, It can look like people the victim trusts. So, the first person to be the victim of It should have had no idea they were being followed, and been killed. End of chain. The only reason that The Bye Bye Man’s chain ever starts at the beginning of the movie is that one of the victims finds the name carved somewhere. So who learned it first? How? And how did it not get passed along infinitely then as the victim got more and more scared?

Now, for a movie that fails at only one of these aims, we can consider Oculus, in which a young brother and sister try to destroy the cursed mirror that claimed the lives of their parents and blamed it on the brother. Again, it’s a great set up: the mirror can project illusions into the minds of its victims in order to manipulate them into killing each other. The reason for the horror is clear: the mirror takes joy in murder. It’s effectively a serial killer. And it comes very close to providing a solution to the puzzle: the mirror cracked itself in the initial round of killings when a victim was propelled into it.

But in the end, the illusions of the mirror are just too powerful. It again kills the sister and leaves the brother blamed for her death. I think this movie would honestly have been perfect if the sister’s sacrifice of herself had worked: if the mirror had been tricked into destroying itself as the price of killing her. It was powerfully hinted that this would be the solution, and the fact that the protagonists lose anyway, leaving the mirror intct was a letdown.

In the end, such movies as The Bye Bye Man and Oculus provide not a horror story, but the illusion of a horror story by presenting us with an inevitable situation. And it may be terrifying: I’m pretty sure that falling out of a plane with no parachute is indeed terrifying. But it isn’t a story.

Top Gun: Maverick SCRIPT RELEASED!!

Spoiler Warning! What you are about to see is the complete and unedited script of the soon-to-be-released movie TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Rather than rely on dubious methods such as paying insiders to smuggle out the script, we have deduced its contents by consulting our memory of the first movie, watching the trailer for this one, and thinking for five minutes.

SCENE 1: CO’S OFFICE

CO: “Maverick, get in here. You’re a terrible officer and a burnout and I don’t like you.”

MAVERICK: “That’s because you’re bald and haven’t got two hot girls a day begging for your children.”

CO: “Obviously, but I can’t fire you because despite your dead-end career and discipline problems, they’ve decided to make you a Top Gun instructor.”

MAVERICK: “Who’s ‘they?'”

CO: “The producers, fueled by all the cash of Generation X’s male mid-life crises, desperately trying to remember the 80s when they were cool.”

MAVERICK: “Yes, sir.”

SCENE 2: A LUDICROUSLY BIG HANGAR

TOP GUN COMMANDANT: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to introduce you to a legendary pilot who somehow is on the verge of career suicide, Maverick.”

MAVERICK: “It’s an honor to be here in your company, and I’d like to particularly thank Goose’s son, who is harboring deep-seated hatred of me for destroying his family when he was a little boy. I’d also like to express how grateful I am for the progressive and diversity-oriented military policies that have made it possible for me to chase hot female pilots twenty years my junior all through the film.”

SCENE 3: MIRAMAR

MONTAGE OF TOP GUN STUDENTS SUITING UP AND TAKING OFF

STUDENTS: “We’re going to kick this old guy’s ass!”

MAVERICK’S PLANE: ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

STUDENTS: “I can’t believe he kicked our ass!”

SCENE 4: CLASSROOM

GOOSE’S KID (GOSLING): “So, is that extremely unsafe flying that you kicked our asses with how you got my dad killed?”

MAVERICK: “As the only person in the film who didn’t see this coming: um.”

<after class>

HOT GIRL PILOT: “That wasn’t fair for him to say that.”

MAVERICK: “It wasn’t fair that I killed his dad, either.”

HOT GIRL PILOT: “Sure it was: you’re Tom Cruise, and his dad…”

MAVERICK: “Was Anthony Daniels, yeah: that doesn’t make it right.”

HOT GIRL PILOT: “Anthony Edwards.”

MAVERICK: “Yeah, whatever. Want a motorcycle ride?”

HOT GIRL PILOT: “I thought you’d never ask.”

SCENE 5: THE SKY

GOSLING: “I’ll show this guy that my dad — I mean I — am the better man!”

MAVERICK’S PLANE: ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

GOSLING’S PLANE: ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

GOSLING: “Oh, noes! My plan horribly failed and my plane is crashing!”

MAVERICK: “Kid! Follow all my instructions to the letter! Don’t you dare die on me! Are you listening?”

GOSLING: “I’m listening!”

MAVERICK: “Don’t hit the ground!”

SCENE 6: THE GROUND

GOSLING: “You saved my life and now I can’t be mad at you anymore. Will you be my daddy, now?”

MAVERICK: “Sure, son.”

HOT GIRL PILOT: “Does this mean I win Top Gun, now?

AUDIENCE: “Who cares?”

SCENE 7: BRIEFING ROOM

ADMIRAL: “Some foreign power who is definitely not…

…Russia because that’s too outdated
…China because we REALLY want to sell this film there
…Arab because we don’t want to draw boycotts and outrage
…Iranian because we all hate Donald Trump…

…and conveniently flies American-looking planes that we’re going to call MiG .357s because we assume the American moviegoing audience is at least as dumb as we are about foreign arsenals has launched a sneak attack that can only be solved by exactly the kind of dogfighting you’ve all just finished training for.”

SCENE 8: THE SKY

MAVERICK’S PLANE: ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

GOSLING’S PLANE: ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

MAVERICK’S PLANE: ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

HOT GIRL PILOT’S PLANE: ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

NAMELESS ENEMY PLANES: <EXPLODE>

ROCK MUSIC SOUNDTRACK: <GOES TO 11>

CREDITS

 

 

Daybroken. Sigh.

See the source imageWell, I was looking forward to writing a blog about a really amazing new series to share with my readers. DAYBREAK is the saga of high-schoolers struggling to survive a bio-bomb triggered zombie apocalypse that converted all the adults into Ghoulies, leaving the teens to build up warring tribes based on their high-school cliques.

Or at least it was. It was cancelled today.

Maybe the problem is that it sounds so much like overdone YA-bait. The reality is that it’s sharp and clever, with some of the best dialogue I’ve seen in ages. It’s completely aware of how overdone the zombie apocalypse has become and skewers itself without mercy. It’s a bit like Deadpool, only with an ability to cut from slapstick ridiculousness to heartfelt pathos with astonishing speed. The characters are brash and irreverent and silly. And they are also fully-realized and heartbreaking as they try to show the world adult faces while at the same time being desperately frightened children.

On top of this, the flashbacks to the world before the bombs are brilliant. We get the pleasure of seeing Matthew Broderick — that’s right, FERRIS BUELLER — playing the high-school principal, coming full-circle as the disrespected authority figure.

But there’s more. There’s intriguing hints that while all the adults were affected by the bombs, they may not all have been reduced to mindless husks. Something better — or worse — may have survived within them.

I am very sad that this excellent show will join Firefly as a might-have-been. It’s worth a watch on Netflix if you can.