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Saturday, July 25

See You In Valhalla: A Movie Review

I stumbled across this little independent film in my journeys this past week and gave it a watch.  Here are some thoughts and details.

There were no big-screen names in this one, but plenty of small-screen actors from popular television shows.  That's usually the way with indie movies.  The up and coming Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings had a few featured songs of note. 

In a nutshell, the film features a dysfunctional family who had scattered after the death of their mother.  They all return home after their brother's bizarre death is all over the news.  And along the way, Vikings.

The film is rated R and I agree with that designation.  There are some mature themes, like meth addiction, suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, and condemning of gays.  It is a short film, running a smidgen less than 80 total minutes.  

The following synopsis and review contains SPOILERS.  So, if you'd like to watch this film before continuing, I understand.  You can stream this on Amazon right now for about $5.  The below video is a theatrical trailer for "See You in Valhalla".  Anything beyond will reveal character information and storyline details.

The Family: 

This film features a "quirky" family the way many function in the real world.  The Burwoods are intolerant of each other and non-supportive.  Almost twenty years ago, their mother died and their father crumpled.  The children were left to raise themselves and it didn't go well for most of them.    They've since gone their separate ways and have plenty of emotional baggage. 

Don, the eldest, had enjoyed jock/varsity popularity before getting his girlfriend pregnant at 17.  He left home to get married and raise his child, claiming to have taken the high-road.  In the present, he has become a financial analyst with a conservative political stance, a distant wife, and a "perfect" daughter who's ready for college at 15, but spouts a bunch of anti-gay rhetoric and judges her aunt and uncles sternly. 

Barry, the second child, is homosexual and a doctor of psychiatry.  He seems the most comfortable and successful, but gets zero respect from his siblings.  He brings Makewi, his earthy, ex-addict body-builder boyfriend who wears sarongs, spouts Hawaiian mythos, and eats mushrooms. 

Johana, their sister and the central figure of the story, dropped out of school when she found herself pregnant at 16.  She left home to pursue a life of art and allowed rumors of her abortion and cowardice to spread.  Currently, she is in a new relationship with a cheerful man who doesn't comprehend how a family can hurt each other so much.   

Max, the youngest, had lost himself to meth addiction.  He got clean and moved to a Viking commune, embracing a life of Norse reconstructionism, and changing his name to Magnus.  There, he met the love of his life, another recovering meth addict, and brought her home with him.  When she falls back into addiction and dies from an overdose, Magnus tries to seek vengeance against the kingpin who sold her the drugs.  Unfortunately, Magnus is killed and declared a lunatic by the media.

Woody, the patriarch of the family, fell apart when his wife died.  He became distant with his children and hardly noticed their comings and goings.  He "woke up" when Magnus asked to move home after spending time at the Viking commune.  Life returned to Woody as he tried to be there for his son and his girlfriend, appreciating their new Norse lifestyle.  After the tragic loss of Magnus, the other children come home to find their father in ill health.  He has recently hired a new-age nursemaid who fills the home with meditation and sage smoke.

The Story:

All of the Burwood's issues and emotional pain converge into an all-out family war that almost causes them to combust in the days before Magnus's funeral can even be planned.  As each member of the family breaks, we learn things.  

Don is miserable.  His wife is cheating on him and they are getting divorced.  He reveals that he mocks his brother Barry's sexual identity because he thinks his brother turned out to be the best of them and he can't find anything else to throw at him.  Don's judgmental daughter awakens to the fact that she's had no childhood due to her father's regrets.  She drinks mojitos with Woody's nurse and likes it.

Barry tries to deal with Makewi as he goes off the rails, breaking into a construction site to steal lumber after having a vision of needing to "build an ark".

Johana reconnects with her highschool lover only to find that he is a loser who actively cheats on women.  She has a heart-to-heart with her current boyfriend just as he's about to walk away.  She finally opens up to him about her mother's death, her art, and the real reason she left home (not to abort her baby, but to have it and give it up in a closed adoption).

Woody reveals that he hid Magnus's private journal from the police and several of them read through it.  It is full of longing for the "family pack" to become strong again.  They learn about his love and his recovery from addiction and read about his vows to reunite the family.  He leaves a farewell message to his siblings, vowing to one day see them all around Odin's table in Valhalla.

During yet another fight, Woody has a heart attack, bringing clarity to the lost family.  During this time, Makewi "reads the signs" and decides to steal Magnus's body from the morgue.  He convinces the family to give their brother a proper Viking funeral.  Although some are hesitant, it becomes a beautiful purifying ceremony for the siblings.

The film ends with a visibly more loving and vibrant family, once torn apart by their mother's death, now reunited by their brother's passing.

The Review:

This film is a little slow, but if you're into indie films you'll understand why.  The comedy almost exclusively comes from the two new-age characters.  The drama is plentiful and feels real.  There are no fabricated, fill-in-the-blank sob stories.  The tales told by this family feel like it could be the family next door.

Unfortunately, by the time this film finds its groove, it becomes rushed.  After an hour and 10 slow-paced minutes (out of a total film time of 1hr 21mins), the story starts to gallop.  From the moment the children come to an understanding with their father the film becomes rushed, cramming golden moments like the stealing of Magnus's body and the Norse-style funeral into about 6 minutes.

Personally, I think I watched this movie for the scenes with Makewi as his one-liners and zen moments lightened this heavy drama for me.  It felt to me that his character carried the film not only with comedy, but also having a major role in every plot turn.   

The Viking-ness many were hoping for comes only in a few highlights and references.  Most of those moments are in short flashbacks to Magnus's recovery.  The film certainly isn't about a Norse family or even a new age family, however modern Pagan families will recognize a few things like an altar here or there, a glimpse of a sage bundle, etc.  I mention this purely because ITHOMS is a Pagan blog.  The film never pretends to be focused in such a manner.  

I adored the music in this movie.  Currently, it is not available on iTunes nor Amazon.  Notable songs include "Trouble Comes in Threes" and "Little Sister", both come from Bridget Davis & The Viking Kings (currently their album is a KickStarter project).  The entire soundtrack is enticing.

In the end, I doubt this will ever be a favorite in our home, but it was worth a watch.  I hope you'll give it a try some evening when you crave a moment of Paganism or reenactment in your movies.

"See You in Valhalla" is available for $14 on Amazon (even less if you pick up a used copy). 

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Tuesday, July 14

Adventure Girl

Our youngest has been known on this blog as 'Baby E' for over two years.  It was a nice place holder, but it is time for something new.

She was a ridiculously chubby and cuddly infant.  Those blue eyes and happy hugs have warmed hearts and endeared strangers.  The infant stage is a favorite of mine.  That rolly-polly, drooly giggle stage.  That cling-to-mommy stage.  That Elmo-makes-her-go-wild stage.  Adorable.

In her second year, Baby E's personality began to emerge.  She is a walking, shrieking beauty queen  with a solid stubborn streak.  She is fearless and determined.  She tackles things I am NOT ready for her to be doing, like climbing ladders, running free at the playground, or mixing cake batter with abandon.

Doodle Bug, her 12yo brother, was a skirt-clinger.  He didn't stray.  He didn't chase dogs and conquer the playground.  He didn't walk up the biggest slide just because it was the biggest.  He didn't grab the hands of other children and lead them on adventures.

Our little girl does all of these things and more.

She is an explorer and dabbler.  She is wild in the best of ways.  She is that girl wearing a ballet tutu and skull shoes.  She is that girl collecting worms with glitter pink polish on her fingers nails.   She wrestles her brother and dances with her mother.  She is the perfect blend of herself.

No longer a "baby" in the pediatric sense, I feel it is time to remove that from her title.  Especially with our son, 'Baby O', due in November, our daughter needs her own mark.

We debated quite a few names, like "Godzilla" (a family joke), or "Khaleesi" (our ode to Game of Thrones).  However, I wanted something she could grow with.

So, she will from this moment forward be known to you, our internet family, as...


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Wednesday, July 8

The Sea Goddess at Lammas

I can't tell you how it started, but our family has a growing tradition of honoring the sea and ocean spirits at Lammas, right alongside the usual sun and grain spirits.  Our First Harvest altar has always been bedecked in sun imagery, sheaves of wheat, ears of corn, and the like, however as the years go by, it is becoming crowded with sea glass, shells, turtles, mermaids, and sea creature crafts made by the kids, as well.

We seem to honor male deities through the harvest but our Goddess energy comes from the seas, rivers, and oceans at Lammas time.  Almost any book you'd read recommends honoring Goddesses of the Harvest and Earth Mother archetypes, such as Corn Mother and Demeter.  Personally, I find that I associate these ladies more with Mabon, when the harvest time is deeper and stronger.

This has been an informal incorporation in the past.  Our ceramic corn plaques and wooden sun shapes still dominate the altar, with our sea-green Goddess elements keeping to the fringe.  However, this year I'd like to fully accept water spirits as part of our celebration.  I'd like our water dish to be filled with water from our favorite beach.  I'd like our bowl of soil to be replaced with beach sand.  I foresee a bundle of shimmery blue-green cloth splaying across our altar like a river running through a field.

Lammas can be a blazing hot time, and perhaps this is a magical way of bringing balance to the day.  Last year we also adopted the growing tradition of Tailteann Games on Lammas but spent a lot of time in the pool as well (before we had to duck and cover from the rain!)

Anyone wishing to honor an aquatic goddesses has many to choose from.  Aphrodite was born of the sea by her Greek ocean mother Thalassa, after an unfortunate incident with those gruff boys Cronos and Uranus.  Asherah, often referred to as the 'Queen of Heaven', is an ancient Middle Eastern/Semetic goddess of motherhood and the sea.  Mazu is a Chinese sea goddess dressed in red who tames storms for sailors.   Mami Wata is a powerful Vodou and Santerian water goddess who takes the form of a mermaid, at times.  Tiamat is a creator goddess and ocean mother in Sumerian culture who birthed all of the gods and created dragons.  Namaka is the Hawaiian goddess of the sea and all powerful sister of Pele.  Salacia, Roman goddess of the Ocean, is the wife of Neptune and patroness of salt water.  In Hinduism, Ganga is the sacred yet stubborn patroness of the Ganges river.

Along with goddesses, water spirits and mythological creatures abound across the globe.  Oceanids, water nymphs, mer-people, sea dragons, and sirens fill mythology.  SJ Tucker (one of our household favorites when it comes to modern Pagan music) offers up the song 'La Sirene' to these creatures.

I am most touched by the Greek goddess, Tethys.  She is featured only in archaic Greek mythology, never having more than a passing mention as Oceanus' wife in classic Greek myths.  She was a Titaness who become mother to all of the Oceanids (water spirits) and gave birth to the rivers of the world.  While this cements her as a mother figure, she is also revered as a grandmother spirit.  There are very few depictions of her in Grecian art, but her face is always full and her hair thick, as if woven with sea grasses.

Tethys and her husband Oceanus. 
The power of sea goddesses is strong for me at Lammas time.  Again, I cannot explain where this influence came from.  Perhaps it comes from a July spent in the water.  An entire month spent swimming and gathering nature's trinkets from beaches and creeks.  We spend days in my mother's pool, cooling ourselves from the blazing sun.  Doodle Bug's skin takes on a warm tan that cuts off just at his tailbone, where his swimming trunks are usually placed.  Baby E's hair has gone summer-blonde, bleached by sun and chlorine.  Inevitably, we visit the aquarium in Pittsburgh and spend hours watching jellyfish, eels, piranhas, and sharks living it up in the water.  It is my witchlings' favorite part of the zoo. 

We spend rainy days painting watercolor turtles and wire-wrapping river rocks.    All of this tapers and blends in nicely with the August activities of corn-dolly making and berry picking.  It flows for us and so has become our unintentional tradition.

If the idea of embracing water spirits at Lammas time, or any other sabbat as I imagine this would also fit Litha/Midsummer very well for some folks, appeals to you... here are some groovy ideas I have come across.

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We have made mermaid-style strings of dime-sized mirrors (glue them back to back with twine or fishing line in the center), shells, and glass beads to drape around our altar this year.  I image one could even dangle green and blue crepe streamers if the weather cooperated.  A quick trip to Goodwill produced the blue cloth I will use to create our river.  This children have also used shimmery acrylic paint to spruce up a few clam shells.

I have eyeballed these Water Bottle Spirals from Happy Hooligans this year and feel that they will blend perfectly.

Crystalized sea shells bring that glitz we all love to see on the altar.  It's also a quick science lesson for your witchlets. These take a few hours to set.  Little Bins For Little Hands has the scoop.

Think Crafts has these rockin' jellyfish, although we may do something in more oceanic colors than neon.

And how adorable is the Puffer Fish???  He's made from paper plates and straws, along with a bunch of glue.  Visit Danielle's Place for instructions. 

And that bucket of stones, driftwood, and shells can be made into a mobile with very little effort.  Thrifty Fun instructs you hand bore holes in your items with a screwdriver... however we've had much less cussing simply using a power drill LOL.

Making mock coral and sand dollars will allow you to be more ocean-critter friendly by leaving these valuable habitat finds behind for the animals living there to use.  My Pinterventures has the recipe and some great tips.

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