Brutal Watch: The Northman @TheNorthmanFilm @bjork @neilhimself #GoodWatch #mythology #folklore #DnD #ADnD #RPG #TTRPG

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A few of weeks ago, I saw The Northman. I loved it but understand that it isn’t for everyone. It’s a Norse tale, which means it doesn’t fit the formula for what sells in Peoria.

This character was loosely based on me.

The cast was great, but this post isn’t a review. The movie, like several others before it, got me thinking.

I didn’t study mythology because of my interest in 1st Edition D&D (“1e”); it was the other way around. Mythology (and dinosaurs) got me into 1e in the 1970s. I thought, “Wow! I can tell my own stories within these settings and characters?!” However, whether it’s D&D, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, or Bulfinch’s Mythology, western literature tends to sanitize the characters and their stories. The “good-aligned” deities are often presented as noble, loving, and helpful. There are certainly some exceptions — Zeus was an asshole — but the sense of right and wrong have been aligned at least to some extent to what the modern audience thinks as “good.” We really do make the gods in our own image. The Northman reminds us that the “good guy” is not someone you’d want to marry your daughter. Life was brutal and uncaring back then, and being that way yourself was an effective survival strategy.

That said, there’s a reasonableness to garnering lessons from these myths. In a very narrow, personal way, I relate rather strongly to the protagonist’s backstory (appropriately discussed today). I would never handle our similar predicament in the same way, but the character’s backstory loosely parallels my own. If you dig through the primitive details of the specific culture at hand, you can find some universal truths, or at least something to which you can relate (no more than vaguely, I hope). After all, people take from stories whatever message they want to hear. We tend to cut out the brutality from these stories, and thus also ignore how those that wrote them applied them to real life.

So no, you wouldn’t want to invite any of these ancient people to dinner.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

“What’s Old Is New” Watch: Strange New Worlds Series Premiere! @ansonmount @StarTrek @paramountplus @StarTrekOnPPlus #StarTrek #StrangeNewWorlds #Picard #Borg #GoodWatch

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I got up at 5:30 am this morning to see the second season finale of Picard and the series premiere of Strange New Worlds. As to the latter, I haven’t been this excited for a Star Trek series since Next Generation was announced. First, it’s purported to be a return to the episodic format that I prefer (though I hear there will be an larger, overlayed story, which is fine). Second — I never thought I’d say this — Anson Mount’s Captain Pike has overtaken William Shatner’s Captain Kirk as my favorite Captain.

No cheese zone.

This still looks like a large, ensemble cast, so it won’t likely take over as my favorite series, but you never know. It certainly started off great. TOS is back, but without all the cheesy, 60s-era TV technology that the young-uns can’t seem to get past. Also, season2 of Picard ended today, and I was pretty happy with that as well. Here’s a spoiler for the last episode.

Called it!

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Mythic Watch: Moon Knight @moonknight @MarvelStudios #MoonKnight #MCU #GoodWatch

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So, Moon Knight. Today’s the season finale.

As always, I got up early to watch it.

This isn’t a traditional review that implicitly claims that a show is good or bad based on some make-believe objective standard. I hate that pretentious nonsense. Whether or not you like a movie, song, TV show, or food is purely subjective. Instead, my approach to reviews is to explain why I like what I like and hate what I hate. If what makes me like/hate it applies to you, then maybe you’ll like/hate it too. I say, “maybe,” because there are other factors beyond what I can possibly express, but at least you have a better chance of predicting your reaction.

So, here is the context to understand the place from which my feelings arise:

  1. I grew up reading about dinosaurs and mythology, so anything involving either one of them has an advantage in gaining me as an audience, but are still not all winners.
  2. I’m not a fan of the comic book genre. However, when I was in elementary school, I’d sometimes hang out with my cousin. When it was too hot or cold to play outside, we’d read his comics. I remember them oddly well, but there were very few that grabbed me.
  3. I’m an apologist for comic book movies.

So, what do I think of Moon Knight? I love it. Considering the context given above, I don’t think I need to say much beyond that, as the explanation has already been given. However, I don’t want any of you asking for your money back, so here’s a little more. As with Shang-Chi before it, Moon Knight is opening the door to folklore, legends, and myths of a culture rarely addressed in western media. I’m sure most (non-bot) readers of this blog get that, but for our society as a whole, these other cultures are untapped resources. Disney is just scratching the surface with Egyptian and Chinese cultures. Give me Quetzalcoatl! Give me Shango! Give me Raijin! But please keep Chris Hemsworth as Thor. 😊

I suspect the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder is going to have me lose my shit for the same reason.

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Good Watch: Four Masterpieces @JamesGunn @VancityReynolds #movie #cinema

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James Gunn was (as of the writing of this post) the latest in a long line of people tweeting the following meme (image at the bottom in case the tweet is deleted).

Well, it’s been a pathetic week (or so) of posts from me, so I’m doubling down on stupid with an obnoxious response.

I really do like Green Lantern.

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In case the tweet is deleted, here’s a screen shot of it.

Malpractice Watch: Boston Legal @WilliamShatner @itsJulieBowen @monicapotter @lakebell @ConstanceZimmer @MerEaton @SaffronBurrows_ #GoodWatch #BostonLegal #TV #media #movie #law #science

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Over a week ago — I’m waaaaay ahead of schedule on writing my posts — I finished a massive and tedious binging of Boston Legal. I had never seen the show before, but considering my love of so many of those actors, and the occasional scene hitting my social media streams, that’s surprising, but I’ve remedied it.

To start, I’ll say that I’m most certainly not one of those people that complains how badly movies and TV shows get things wrong. I have a physics degree. I’ve worked in software engineering for almost a decade. I have a law degree, and have worked as an attorney for more than twice that time. Some of you have medical degrees. Many of us have practical, professional experience that makes us experts in our respective fields. Every single expertise seems downright ridiculed by entertainment media, and sometimes experts get uptight about that. I don’t. I get it. Most people are not experts in any given area, so most people don’t notice the ridiculousness in any given show. That means that, even if what’s presented is utterly ridiculous, most viewers won’t know or won’t care. Moreover, experts in one area will be annoyed by only those shows getting their expertise wrong, meaning that they’ll usually wind up in the category of not knowing or caring. It’s about playing the odds, and the odds are stacked in favor of drama over reality. That makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with it.

But c’mon! Sneaking firearms into court and firing them off, and not getting disbarred and thrown in jail!? Are non-attorneys not annoyed by that?! Really?! There were just so many insane things that happened that would land these “lawyers” in jail long before the state bars could disbar them, though that would happen eventually.

But okay, okay! It’s fine. It was a fun show. The political pontificating was annoying at times, but it helped me relive the emotion of those days which are over a decade behind us. It genuinely triggered my nostalgia. Having my favorite actor, William Shatner, as one of the main characters certainly helped.

William Shatner!

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Classic Movies: Movies That Scar(r)ed Me as a Kid @bernieh #movie #ClassicMovie #GoodWatch

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A couple of days ago, I pointed out two, unassuming songs that filled me with dread for some unknown reason. Today, I’m going to try to remember the movies for which the trauma they caused to me endured the longest.

The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

This is the earliest movie I remember generating a long-lived fear. We saw it in the theater upon its release. For the life of me, I don’t remember a single frame from this movie. I could watch it in its entirety on YouTube, but I doubt it’s worth two hours of my time. I still haven’t watched Archive 81 or the final season of Ozark. I have higher priorities. Here’s the entire movie.

I feel like I just challenged myself to watch it.

The Fly (1958)

This was the one movie that traumatized me the most and for the longest period of time. I was fine throughout the entire movie, but this final scene is what wreaked havoc on my elementary school psyche.

I became a huge fan of Jeff Goldblum because of the 1986 remake.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

This movie is perhaps not as bad, but it road on the coattails of The Fly. This scene was the kicker.

I’ve had an irrational hatred for bugs ever since. All of them. Not just spiders.

Alligator (1980)

Do you know how you handle a monster like this? Shoot it in the head. Problem solved. But nope, “once it escaped, there was no way to stop it.” This has to be the dumbest one on this list, but I was 13. I sincerely thought that there was no way to stop it. I remember trying to calm my nerves and fall asleep after watching it, but I heard breathing from under my bed. (There was nothing under there but dirty laundry.) Here’s the trailer. Try not to laugh at it or me.

On second thought, laughter seems appropriate for both.

Exorcist III (1990)

At this point, I was too old to be afraid of movies, but I’ll be damned if this scene didn’t freak me out. Go to 0:40.

Seriously, the only scene that made me uncomfortable was an elderly lady crawling atop the roof unnoticed. I guess that it’s because I’ll never feel safe knowing that elderly ladies are capable of kicking my ass.

I also remember seeing a TV documentary on astronauts and suddenly being afraid that gravity would stop working. I didn’t want to float off into space. And while the Alien franchise didn’t particularly scare me even as a 9 year old watching it for the first time at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC, one of my few recurring dreams are nightmares of the Xenomorphs chasing me. Some things just stick with you.

Alien Loves Predator #14: Speed Dating
C/O Bernie Hou

I wish I know what made each of these movies scary for me. At some point before I was 9 years old — I remember I was still living in Silver Spring, MD — being the rational intellectual I always was, I realized my fear was irrational. I said to myself, “Even if such a creature exists, how would it know to come to my house to kill me only after I saw a movie about it? Why didn’t it show up last week? In the case of a phenomenon, why would it not manifest until I was made aware of its existence? That makes no sense. So, be afraid. Eventually you’ll fall asleep, and when morning arrives, you’ll wake up alive and well, showing you how stupid it is to be afraid of such things.” I was between 5 and 9 years old when I thought about this, and it kept me from being afraid of the dark for most of my childhood. But these movies still rattled me. There’s got to be a pattern, and it’s clearly not as simple as bugs (or even animals generally). It probably involves immediate circumstances of the time lost to my memory.

But it’s okay. Unlike the songs, these movies no longer have any effect on me. In fact, I find them (and all horror movies) silly considering the relatively primitive movie-making technology they use (not to mention the premise and execution of horror movies generally), but there you go. That’s what made me uncomfortable.

Again, I should see a shrink. if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity.

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Sociological Watch: Don’t Look Up @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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Netflix released a film called Don’t Look Up. The story employs tons of exaggeration in addressing how people resist bad news that affects their way of life, though it’s clearly referencing once issue specifically too heavy for this goofy blog. Instead, I want to focus on an aspect to the script that seems to be lost on many people.

As you may know, I have an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), as well as a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law (Go . . . Scarlet Hawks?). Both fields suffer from the same disease: We don’t know how to communicate well with non-experts. As issues become more complex, they become not only harder to grasp for the uninformed, but also, to be blunt, more boring. This renders the task of communication herculean.

Take for example my first and second RPG copyright posts, which addressed a specific topic. As I’ve explained, my analytics tell me that the first post received 18,952 hits to date (as of 12/30/2021). The second post? Only 1,158. The second post is 2/3 of the argument. That means that people read the first post and then 94% of them gave up (note: this is bad math), missing out on most of what I was trying to say. This was so even though the first post included a caveat that I was nowhere near finished with my argument.

Would it have been better for me to have made a shorter, easier-to-digest, and more direct argument? I don’t think so Despite my disclaimer at the end of the first post, I had a non-negligible number people viciously (i.e., with personal insults) criticizing my first post for making incomplete arguments. These were apologists of WotC (and perhaps RPGs in general) that just didn’t like the consequences of what I was saying, so they were going to criticize me anyway. Knowing that I wouldn’t be publishing the second post for a week, that gave them one week to discredit me. I’m not sure if it worked. Did people not read the second post because of a successful campaign to stop it, or did people just get bored? I suspect it’s far more the latter, but both are important phenomena for this discussion, and in other situations, the balance may be different. By the way, I reread the second post while writing this one, and even my eyes were glazing over.

This leads us to science. Scientists run into the same problem, but probably even worse because of the math inherent in their work. As a physics student, I studied areas of math that many people haven’t even heard of, and many of the issues scientists face today can only be understood in terms of math. Scientists try to simplify using analogies, but analogies by their nature will always be incomplete, giving each critic an opening to cast doubt on the science. (“How can a cat be simultaneously dead and alive? This guy’s a quack!”)

Politically connected scientists face additional pressure. Again, I don’t want to get caught up in politics here, so I’ll just say that many scientists depend on financing from politicians, and politicians need to keep their bases happy. When the truth is ugly, very few people want to hear it, and this cascades down to the scientists who must control the tone and content of their statements.

Scientists also face their own social inadequacies. I can’t speak to the modern generation, but going through the physics program, I can assure you that there wasn’t a lot of social skill on display. The stereotypes are valid. Nerds are generally not social butterflies. That makes it difficult for us to communicate even if we’re discussing the price of apples.

Don’t Look Up did a great job of showcasing this difficulty. Going back to attorneys, in legal writing we’re taught to start each paragraph or section with the conclusion, and then back it up with supporting arguments. The scientists in Don’t Look Up should have used that technique. Notice in the talk show scenes how long it took the scientists to make their point. They presented their supporting arguments first. Why? Because they knew some asshole was waiting in the wings to say, “That’s an assertion without an argument! He’s not backing it up!” Well, yeah, not yet. Let them finish. But by failing to start with the statement (spoiler alert!), “A planet-killing asteroid is coming to Earth in six months,” it gave the talk-show hosts the opportunity to interrupt and turn the interview into a farce. By the time the conclusion was stated, it made the scientists look like lunatics to the few people that were still paying attention.

Sometimes you need to lead with the conclusion, and sometimes you need to lead with the supporting material. It’s often difficult to tell those two situations apart, but when your audience is the entire world, maybe you should just get to the point.

Even this post was probably too long.

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Pretentious Watch: Matrix Resurrections @TheMatrixMovie @hbomax #GoodWatch #Matrix

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Reviews for the latest Matrix movie have been all over the place as far as my social media streams go. I’m adding my voice to the choir: It annoyed me. Note, however, that there’s something I find interesting in my reaction to it. I really hate the pretentiousness of the wardrobe and dialogue. The latter is made even more grating by the fact that everyone is either whispering (presumably to sound cool) or yelling (presumably to force dramatic tension without necessarily earning it). There’s rarely any in between, or at least so little of it that I took it for granted. That kind of movie makes me want to punch everyone involved, both in-character and out-of-character. And who wears sunglasses indoors and at night? Someone I want to punch, that’s who.

Except Corey Hart. We cool.

What I find interesting about this reaction is that I had the same reaction to the other Matrix movies, but with the exception of a few notable quotables, over time the pretentiousness slowly disappears from my memory of them, leaving me only with the parts I liked. That’s a lot, which meant that my honest emotional reaction to those movies was overall positive. (Yes, all three of them.) Resurrections may not be so lucky, though. Part of what I liked about the original were the groundbreaking special effects and visuals, as well as a relatively new story. Resurrections doesn’t have that luxury. There was nothing I noted in there that could be deemed “groundbreaking” by today’s standards.

I’ll mention something that I did like about it quite a bit. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll simply say I liked how meta it was. I also liked a callback to a past character who’s all grown up. So, while the story was good enough, it was marred by a tone that always makes me sick to my stomach. I’m glad I watched it on HBO.

I’ll probably like it more someday. As always, YMMV.

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Good Watch: The Mind Explained on @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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A while back, I talked about Brain Games on Disney+. It’s a great show, but there’s so much science behind how our brains work that close to 10 seasons can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Netflix’s The Mind Explained is a much more focused show — only two seasons so far — that’s a more manageable discussion of anxiety, focus, memory, and other aspects of neuroscience. The human brain is weird (some more than others), and this show does a good job of explaining that. It also targeted a specific issue that hits home for me. You may have a similar experience.

If you watch the episode on focus, maybe you can handle Brain Games. 🙂

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