Category: Story Pile

Here’s where you’ll find the blog entries that are about examining – specifically – TV, movies, and other forms of participatory media that interest me. This is the space you’re going to find talk of characters in TV shows, or specific moments in greater narratives, or why you might want to watch a particular show or why I love – or hate! – a particular movie.

Story Pile: The Old Guard

A long time ago, and by that I mean ‘before 2020’ I spoke to a friend about the Rangers from Babylon 5, where I described the telescoping bo staff for use in combat in space ships where people had space lasers and psychic powers as being both extremely sick and extremely dumb. They then thoughtfully considered that the specific intersection of those two ideas was in fact, the entirety of their jam and I kind of agree with them.

I also have spoken about how ‘queer media’ is in some cases kind of isolated to these spaces where it invokes specific varieties of heavily introspective and personal narratives. It’s your artsy queer films or single moments expanded out into whole narratives, like a repeated argument over a dinner table, that kind of thing. These narratives are not in any way bad, but I don’t like talking much about them. Partly because they are just generally not resonant with me, and partly because they aren’t fun.

I like talking about fun media.

I like talking about the media we engage with because we enjoy it. I like talking about things that excite and inspire, because I don’t think those are separate things. The idea that ‘good’ movies and ‘popular movies’ are opposite elements frustrates me, as a devotee of the subconscious matter of pulp media.

And also, like, good fun media is really hard to make? It’s treated as if it’s a lesser form because big, expensive movies do it and do it a lot, but as with TISM’s expression: pop songs aren’t just more fun, but the constraints of popular media create tension that you can’t necessarily replicate with media that explicitly resists that form.

Anyway, The Old Guard.

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Story Pile: The Detectorists

This is one of those British series that I think people like saying they like more than they like.

The Detectorists is a 2014 British sitcom, one of your six-episodes-a-season shows made by Mackenzie Crook, who you’ll recognise as The Office Dullard from the British The Office Series that existed, remember? Anyway, The Detectorists is a well-researched sitcom based in some part of the lovely English countryside with twinkly folk music background following a pair of what you can only call nerds whose hobby is going out into the fields and parks of their area to look for interesting stuff you can find with a metal detector.

Discovered, it seems reasonably recently thanks to the attention of, I dunno, Netflix or the Internet or The Algorithm or Lockdown or something, people talked about it, said it was better than the Office, and Netflix recommended it. With that in mind, I watched it, and, like,

Yeah I guess it’s better than the Office.

That doesn’t make it good though.

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Story Pile: Toy Story

Toy Story is a 1995 animated feature film by Pixar Studios, distributed by Disney, that serves as one of those iconic examples of early 3d Animation that ‘holds up’ over time by people who haven’t gone back and looked at any of the humans in it. With the voice talents of Tom Hanks and Tim Toolman, it follows the narrative of a pull-string cowboy doll competing with a kung-fu action grip spaceman toy for the attention of their gigantically towering owner, whom they must never allow to know that they live, breath, and know his name.

For kids!

Look, classic yada yada, groundbreaking yada yada, wholesome yada yada. I actually got to see this one while inside a controlled christian media bubble, and if tomorrow I found out all copies of it had been deleted I would react like that ‘oh no, anyway,’ meme. It is not a movie for which I have an enormous amount of affection. I don’t want to talk to you about the narrative, though, not of Wilson’s Best Friend negotiating with the Last Man Standing about which of them will be more validated by an actual literal child and the ontological questions of why aren’t the parts of Mr Potato Head independently alive?

I want to talk to you about the humans of Toy Story. Specifically, about Andy, and Sid, and the weird world they live in, and the weird world they’ve created.

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Story Pile: BNA

BNA or BNA: Brand New Animal or Oh No I Guess I’m Hot For A Tanuki Girl Now Does This Make Me a Furry is a 2020 anime from Studio Trigger, the people you recognise the second you see their animation work, formerly of Kill La Kill, Little Witch Academia, DARLING in the FRANXX, SSSS.GRIDMAN, Promare, and a ton of other work including Indivisible, Flip Flappers, KILLER SHERLOCK, Akame ga Kill!, Steven Universe, Sword Art Online, and Space Dandy, and only one of them I made up.

BNA starts out with a tanuki girl crossing the boundary from conventional society to make her way to Anima City, the one city on earth, we’re informed, where human-animal hybrid shapeshifters can live, outside of the oppression of people who don’t transform, and therefore, view those who do with a sort of fundamental dehumanising horror. It’s, you know, furry racism, except handled a little bit less embarrassingly than normal.

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Story Pile: Moneyball

Lots of movies are about games. Most of them are kind of bad – sports movies famously depicting weird strategies or rules loopholes or just bad versions of how their games are played to create the most dramatic moments. And if your sport is one of the heavily merchandised sports in the United States, your sport has absolutely got a set of movies, filling the niches of What If Sports, What If Sports But Girl, What If Sports But Animal, and eventually, What If Sports But Your Dad Cries. Moneyball is firmly in that last category, a rhapsodic story about how important a game Baseball is to culture, which is why it’s mostly only played by three countries, and I know someone’s coming along to go hey, you forgot Poland and I do not care.

Ostensibly, Moneyball, a 2010 film about a 2002 season of ‘Baseball,’ the 1845 game, follows Billy Beane, a lone, hard man, a bitter and tormented man, a baseball man, where he took the conventional wisdom to the table, rejected the model of running a baseball team and defeated the system with facts, and logic, showing that once and for all, baseball doesn’t care about your feelings.

I promise, promise, promise, this tone is necessary.

Because Moneyball as a movie owns bones.

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Story Pile: Tenchi Muyo (Kinda)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, or one like it.

The story starts in a remote, boring little bucolic space where nothing is happening but there’s talk about an old mystery that connects to a family line. Our hero, Tenchi Masaki, wants to go explore the interesting thing, but his grandfather tells him he has to do his chores, instead. When he slips from his grandfather’s attention, he winds up exploring an old cave he’s been told not to, whereupon he gets a sweet laser sword that’s a relic from a more civilised age, and also wakes up an ancient demon, which kicks off a series of events resulting in his whole house being teleported next to the same bucolic shrine, meaning it’s easy to hide spaceships coming and going, and you don’t have to draw as many backgrounds in a city or non-major characters.

Along the way, he discovers the demon is actually a cool space pirate who wants to jump him, she’s being hunted by a haughty princess, who wants to jump him, and then a steadily coagulating core of Other Girls arrive to join in the queue of Wants To Jump Him.

It’s not a hentai.

There’s space-faring adventurers, battles with spacefaring criminal types, a vast empire, and deep powerful forces that well up from inside Tenchi (who is secretly a prince).

Now I may have described The Most Generic Anime Plot ever, but the good news is that’s because I also described The Most Generic Anime ever, an anime that has been part of the background of anime for a while now.

Content Warning: Mentions of incest.

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Story Pile: The Hork-Bajir Chronicles

Hey, remember how I gave that list, ‘five reasons you shouldn’t read Animorphs?’ The ways that the books aren’t necessarily fully transitive to your experiences now, and that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily take my love of the series to heart and follow through on it? Maybe then I should follow that up with a good way to ease yourself into the story, or some sort of reading list that skips awkward bits?

Or, and hear me out, I could talk about one book in the franchise, that occurs near the tail end of it, and is both the earliest point in the narrative and a standalone science fiction story and a deep lore dive that features no human characters at all.

Let’s do that one.

Let’s do the incomprehensible one.

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Story Pile: Robotech

It is challenging to know one of your favourite things is so aggressively mediocre.

This music, this opening, set the standard in my child mind for what epic truly represented. This opening that starts with a clearly damaged, recovered piece of footage, then switches constantly between different arcs of the story, showing characters who, at the start of the series aren’t even born. Three generations of a narrative collected in the opening, and in an 85-episode show, screened weekly if I got to catch all the episodes, some of these story beats were a literal year away.

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Story Pile: Only You Can Save Mankind

Johnny Maxwell is an extremely ordinary 12 year old child in 1995. He goes to school, he struggles with homework, he pirates videogames cracked by his nerdier friend Wobbler, and he avoids his parents shouting at each other by submerging himself in the glow of his screen. And it’s all going perfectly well for him as he plays his way through Wing Commander 2 Only You Can Save Mankind until one afternoon, the Kilrathi Screewee reach out to talk to him.

And they want to surrender.

This isn’t part of the game, at least, as far as anyone else has said. It’s not anything that Wobbler’s seen. It’s not in the manual. And back in the day, videogames sometimes did things you didn’t expect, for really specific, interesting reasons and there wasn’t some sort of online compendium you could pop open to check out all the details of how these games work.

And that means that Johnny is confronted by a mystery that may just be a really interesting thing a game does.

Or maybe something else.

 

I’m going to spoil chunks of the rest of the book, though not exactly how it concludes. If you want to go read the book, it’s on Audible, it’s on Amazon, it’s on Google Books, and I like it a lot. It is however, a book extraordinarily of its time. It’s a book from 1995 about a twelve year old, playing videogames back when Amiga and Amstrad and Macintosh were all names to mention in the same breath. It’s also a book from when Terry Pratchett himself just didn’t understand women so well, and that means there are moments when a major character who’s a girl says some stuff that’s…

Well.

It’s very ‘precocious 12 year old’s vision of sexism,’ and that can make her feel pretty embarrassing to look back on now, especially because there are ways in which the story goes out of its way to prove her wrong. Like, it’s not like it makes the story markedly worseBut at the same time there’s a tragic kind of missed opportunity: That the story could have still kept what was important to Johnny while also showing more nuance and depth for the girl character.

Who I’m not naming, because it’s? It’s complicated?

Anyway. I like this book a lot and I’d like to recommend it, but with the caveats that it’s a white guy from 1995 writing about videogames and is a bit of a thicko about some of the topics he handles. Just stuff that hasn’t aged great.

Nonetheless, after this, there be spoilers.

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Story Pile: Black Books

Black Books is a short British TV series, available on Netflix and other less reputable streaming services, that was made in 2000 through to 2004. It means that this series is twenty years old and oh goodness me I am old now.

The series Black Books follows the … let’s be very generous and say ‘life’ of Bernard Black, a second hand bookstore owner in London who hates his job and hates his customers and hates having to do his taxes and hates restocking. It is, on a very deep level, an entire sitcom oriented around the story of a misanthropic shopfront owner, which may read as very true to life if you’ve ever encountered this kind of shopowner. Now, he’d be content to just boil away in his horribleness on his own, occasionally prodded into activity by his ‘friend’ next door, Fran, but then one day, circumstances bring Manny Bianco, a bohemian accountant into his life shortly before an incident of violent assault by some skinheads.

It’s a show that does a lot of weird stuff without spending a lot of money on doing weird stuff. You’re more likely to get weird people saying weird things than special effects, but it does a good job of showing off those weird things.

Black Books is one of those small-cast, small-season British comedy shows that leaves the more sitcom-oriented viewers wondering where the rest of the show went – you can watch all eighteen episodes and think ‘oh that was a short season,’ only to find that was the whole show.

It’s really good, it’s funny, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and you’ll see, if you watch it, a small who’s who of British comedy people from twenty years ago, people who have since moved on to do solo shows or more prominent roles on their own. Particularly there’s the excellent Bill Bailey’s Guide To The Orchestra, which should be available for free on Youtube at the moment. Dylan Moran’s done solo shows and Tamsyn Grieg went on to lead Green Wing. Great stuff all.

 

Sooooo…

We’re done, right?

Right?

Weeeeellll…

Content Warning: Transphobes

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Story Pile: The Muddle-Headed Wombat

There are fifteen books that could be called Muddle-headed Wombat books. They have such titles as The Muddle-Headed Wombat And The Invention and The Muddle-Headed Wombat Is Very Bad. They are all pretty simple and formulaic narratives following the central character of Wombat, who is muddle-headed, his best friend Tabby, who is convinced that nobody in the world has suffered like him, and his other best friend, Mouse, who is a Mouse.

The stories follow a pretty consistent pattern: Wombat gets an idea inspired by some passing fancy or local event, and tries to get involved, gets it all a bit wrong because he’s a bit stupid, the friends have a bit of a tiff because someone is being a jerk, and then they sort it out by communicating and forgiving one another for their very understandable limitations. They all go home and have lemonade, or a tea cake, or something.

It’s all very low-stakes high-emotion narrative, because it’s aimed at five year olds, but it has a sort of easygoing charm that makes it easy to enjoy as an older reader. Oh, the plots aren’t interesting, not in a truly complex way, but there’s a lot to be said about the way that the stories put weight on finding fault and blame – there’s a lot of effort put in the way the stories flow that the story seldom treats accidents or happenstance as a get out clause for a character being a dickhead to someone else.

Iiiii love this character. I love the illustrations, I love the language, I love the charming simplicity of it all, and I love the way the stories breeze on by. I love the people who respond to this character by laughing and remembering his silly phrases or the way he fell about and kicked his fat little legs in the air. It’s so wombatty with Wombat’s stubbornness and his near indestructibility meaning that he’s not in danger of harm as much as he is in danger of upsetting someone or being upset. It’s a story full of feelings!

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Story Pile: Ascendance of a Bookworm

It’s something of a meme that ‘light novel series’ is a subgenre of anime that throws up some warning signs. It shouldn’t – after all, two of my favourite anime of all time are both from light novels, but traditionally the field of light novels are known as being primarily harem or isekai anime, often being quickly produced to cash in on recognisable or marketable characters. Often these characters have some particular visual motif that makes them very recognisable and makes for good merch opportunities. Well, Ascendance of a Bookworm is an anime that started its life as a series of light novels, and it is an isekai, and it features a recognisable main character who has a lot of good merch opportunities.

It’s just that she’s also five.

The premise! Urano Mototsu, college nerd and bibliophile dies in a hilarious bookshelf-collapsing incident during an earthquake. Upon her death, she wakes up in a new body, in a fantasy kingdom, which should be considered rather rad, except Urano was not someone who lusted after adventure in fantasy kingdoms, she lusted after books which are pointedly absent in this fantasy kingdom, and her new body, Myne, is also five years old.

What you then follow is a sequence of narratives about a five year old girl personally trying to catapult herself up the tech tree in order to have access to books, even if she has to prompt industrial revolutions to do it.

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Story Pile: Until This Shakes Apart

Five Iron Frenzy are one of the few remnants of my Christian upbringing I am in any way fond of. Even the hymns I respond to I don’t like, but Five Iron Frenzy are the rare example of a Christian band that are primarily a good band.

They also were in the habit of getting into trouble with the conventional Christian media landscape that presented the hegemony. You might wonder, hey, how does a Christian ska band do something to annoy the people printing their CDs and distributing them?

Well, there’s this thing with Five Iron Frenzy: They practice what they preach. They formed, they got repeatedly rebuked by Christians for their anti-corporate, pro-Native American, anti-revisonist Christianity stance. Basically, they made the right kind of enemies. Eventually, after having done what they wanted to do, and, rather than make demands of a band member who was facing a religious crisis, the group resolved to break up the band.

Then they gathered back together, for The Engine of a Thousand Plots through Kickstarter. And that was kinda a nice denoument on the band. That album had some reflections on what it’s like being a 1990s none-hit-wonders, about being in your forties doing a musical style that’s renowned for being immature, for being ultimately a bunch of gen-X nerds who love Millenial fans. It was a bit more mellow, a bit reflective, a bit sad. After Cheese of Nazareth, and Engine, I thought maybe that was going to be the farewell to music that the band had. They’d made their points, they’d shouted their rage, they’d changed what they could, and they were done.

Right?

In 2020, right at the tail of the year during lockdown, the band kickstarted and released another album, and…

No, turns out that they’re still mad and they’re still right.

This latest album, Until This Shakes Apart is, well, it’s more Five Iron Frenzy. It’s the best produced album they have, and turning forty-five has done a lot for the voices and talents involved. The vocals are clearer when they want to be and the writing of the lyrics is still that mix of thoughtful and angry I like.

The weird thing about recommending an album rather than a movie or a series is that it feels like it’s something I can just like, link to you, and share with you directly so you can decide what you think of it yourself.

Still, some of the songs and my thoughts on them:

  • In Through The Out Door, a piece about the cruelty and violence of conservative christianity in America, with its anti-immigrant, pro-corporate position.
  • So We Sing. Oh my god, they said ass. I kid you not, this is a big deal! The song is also a very real feeling of mortality in a space and style that tends towards being brief. As someone who feels 17 when he listens to their songs, hearing the song evoke Peter Pan rings true for me.
  • Tyrannis and Renegades both capture that same intense rage that they’ve always had against corporate entities.
  • Wildcat is a classic Christian story of looking at the life of someone who considers themselves outside their faith and yet what it gives them. Not wild about the message but undeniable that the character they outline is vivid.
  • Huerfano seems to be a song sung for a friend who was abused and bullied for being queer. Five Iron Frenzy have considered their role of enforcing queerphobia in their childhoods, and in older songs like Farenheit they reflect on what they know now.

Me, I recommend this album, I liked it a lot.

Story Pile: Chess

Chess is a 1984-to-pretty-much-still-going-on-now musical made in part by the brains behind the band ABBA and Tim Rice. It is institutional in the world of musicals, one of those theatre productions that give a lot of people ‘favourite’ songs to do. It includes a well-known pop song, One Night in Bangkok, and the enormously popular look-I-can-belt song Nobody’s Side. It follows the narrative of basically three people across a set of chess games done for the sake of International Relations during the Reagan era of anticommunist nonsense.

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Story Pile: The Quintessential Quintuplets, Season 1

It wasn’t intentional by any measure but it turns out, to my surprise, that I became a fan of anime through the introductory template of the Harem Anime. For me, it was, in my early anime watching days, just a natural part of how anime worked where you’d have a character, then four or five people who really wanted to jump them. It was literally something that I think of as foundational to anime, because I mean, I watched Ranma 1/2 and then Tenchi Muyo and at that point that was my lens for how I thought the whole genre worked, and therefore I assumed that say, Sailor Moon must have harem stuff over there where I wasn’t watching in the episodes I missed. As a result, I watched a lot of harem anime, and it took me a long time to realise that the dynamics of a harem anime weren’t universal. Like, I didn’t realise that you weren’t ‘supposed’ to ship every Slayers character with Lina Inverse and I was equally surprised when there was a definite end to the relationship tangle in Ranma 1/2.

This genre tends to boil down to one [TARGET AUDIENCE GENDER] with a set of [THREE OR MORE] [TARGET AUDIENCE INTEREST GENDER WITH SPECIFIC DETAIL]s that want to [COMICAL INNUENDO INVOLVING RIDICULOUS WORD]. The template is that simple, but harem anime in particular have a few complications that come from what’s not common to them. Specifically, if you have three characters who can’t choose between one another, then all you’re looking at is a love triangle and those are kinda easier to resolve and much more about a small number of characters who relate to one another. A harem anime is instead about watching one character as they interact with a group of other characters, and ideally, it has something else going on like a sci fi story or an adventure or a fight tournament or just goddamn anything that isn’t just ‘which characters will get it in the end’ or it tends to get boring. They also tend to mix in some gimmick with the girls, either to add interest to the narrative or to sound the sirens about the author’s personal fetish.

With that said, welcome to Quintessential Quintuplets, an anime about one dude with a set of five hot girls with giant racks that want to ride his baloney pony. And you know the twist of this one?

They’re all related!

Wait, no, hold on, this is good, please, put down the broom!

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Story Pile: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

You know it kinda amuses me how much I rubbish on webcomics when I keep doing story pile articles on webcomics that are either just good on their own, or that gave rise to other products I think are really good.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun is a 12 episode (and some OAVs) anime based on a gag-a-day 4koma webcomic of the same name. The premise is a high school girl named Chiyo Sakura confesses to her crush, and thanks to a reasonable (?) misunderstanding, he thinks she means she’s a fan of his work.

Because he has work.

Because he’s a successful and renowned manga-ka who makes a girly shojo manga, and what ensues is Chiyo falling down into the gravity well that is Nozaki’s social space and the near constant commentary on how weird he is as a person, how weird his assistants are, and importantly, how weird Chiyo is by how all of these elements of the behaviour and personality of actual manga-ka are in some way, natural to her.

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Story Pile: Always Be My Maybe

Okay, let’s give you the absolute basics before the fold here on Always Be My Maybe, a 2019 Netflix romantic comedy movie. This movie is part of The Discourse about representation, as one of a small number of movies that present Asian-American characters and their lives as normal and desireable. That is an interesting conversation and it is a conversation I’m woefully ill equipped to engage with. I’m not Asian (kinda), I’m not American (kinda), I’m not Asian-American (kinda), and unpacking each of those kindas is an essay in and of itself and still wouldn’t position me as relating to this movie and its discourse meaningfully, because conversations about what even is culture are not related to why is media so racist about Asians.

And trust me, it is.

I found Always Be My Maybe funny, and charming, and it’s a romantic comedy so that I didn’t find it very challenging wasn’t a big deal, but also that’s not what it wants to be, so you’re fine, trust me, you’re fine. The romantic comedy is one of those genres that’s so well structured at this point that you fill in boxes and do the things the audience is expecting in what way you’re going to. It’s all competent, there’s some awkward humour, some more standard punchline stuff, some fun dynamic stuff, all that. You know how it goes. There are fat jokes, and that sucks, and I would see that as a good enough reason to not bother with it, but if you’re braced for those things and find it interesting to look at, I’d say give it a shot.

Oh, and there is a cameo from a big name actor that I found really funny.

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Story Pile: The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle is a 2012 miniseries and subsequent pair of spinoff pairs about a group of women who worked in an official capacity for the codebreaking wing of the intelligence service during World War 2, and the subsequent and overwhelming bore their lives turned into once the Crown had a reason to stop treating them like bloody smart experts.

After World War 2 there was this thing called the Official Secrets act, which was ostensibly exactly that; it was legislation that made every person involved in secret work obligated to maintain that secret, and in order to maintain that, anyone who was involved in sharing that secret if it was ever discovered was also liable for punishment. The punishments were pretty severe, which meant there were people who worked in codebreaking whose partners never learned what they did at all, a thing that seems kinda badass until you remember just how much of the labour of the time during the war was being done by marginalised people, and this subsequent official secrets act was an actual and material hindrance on people using that independence they learned during the war to shape their life after it. Kind of hard to show you ran an ammunition factory for two years if you can’t mention the ammunition factory.

Anyway, the women know a thing about each other that only they know, including their intellects and experiences with difficult problems and noticing patterns in human behaviour, and so, they start a book club.

And hunt down serial killers.

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Story Pile: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

I guess up front there’s a sort of standard outlay of nerd stuff that I need to lay out here, because it’s never enough to just talk about a movie. On the one hand I find the task a little tiresome like there are some movies that get special disclaimers and clauses because heaven forfend I don’t show appropriate deference to a movie and be deemed as having, I don’t know, ‘wrong’ opinions? Because how can I say ‘I don’t want to watch Joker’ if I haven’t seen it?

Anyway, I suppose out of the box, some token criticism for this movie; there’s a line I think that didn’t quite land.

And

 

I mean I think that’s it?

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Story Pile: Flushing 2020

The end of year is a time when media production gets busy, and that means it’s a time when media makers get busy making backlogs of media to try and spend some time relaxing. I mean unless you don’t do Christmas, but even if you don’t do Christmas, you’ll probably still have some reduced attention and time. What steps up to fill that void in easy content lands is the listicle, and that’s why you’ll often get year-ender list gluts. If you work in media, that’ll often be things like a top ten of the year, or the month-long top hundred, or, often, a top ten and bottom ten.

I dedicate my Decembers to Da Ween, Yo, and that means that I try to make sure my December has a really positive, sweet, easy tone. No big heavy analysese, no takedowns, no ‘wow, this sucks!’ and that also means if I vent some fun spite, nobody misses it because of I dunno, turkey comas or whatever we blame our suddenly not being Extremely Online.

I watched, or started watching, a lot of stuff in 2020 that could have been a Story Pile. In a lot of cases, I did not write about them, This is because for a number of them, they were boring or annoying and I did not enjoy them.

Let’s look then, at the worst things I spent my time watching in 2020.

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Story Pile: 2020 In Review

For this year’s Story Pile articles, there’s a lot of rich reading to do. Turns out that this was the year of I Had A Lot of Free Time To Watch Long Things And A Reason To Keep Myself Distracted, so instead of wasting a month on Hannibal or Longmire or American Horror Story I watched things that were interesting and then wrote about it.

Here then is a reader’s guide to some of 2020’s best Story Pile article, whether they be because the work is good and interesting and I want you to check it out, or because the work is absolutely buttcloaks and I want you to join in with me in feeling pain about these things existing.

First of all I did an in depth watch of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (parts one, two, three and bonus memes), which seems to be heralded as one of the best Trek series ever. The more time that passes, the more I look back on what held in my memory, the more convinced I am that it isn’t very good at all; it was novel, it was doing a kind of storytelling Trek couldn’t do much of at the time, and there were great ideas in it, but the show’s ambitions were failed by its executions. I do think it has probably one of my favourite episodes of any Star Trek ever – In the Pale Moonlight is great, and then immediately I think of four or five other really great episodes, which makes me doubt.

It was really enjoyable and it had some great ideas and great episodes. It’s just hard to get over the ways it was bad, because they were pervasive and permeating.

I also finally tackled the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, something I’d been on-and-off promising myself I’d do for a few years now. The series is big and it’s sprawling and it’s made up of four ‘equal’ components (though that’s not counting the games): the manga, the first anime, the second anime and the live action movie. This one was a little harder to really nail down – fact is, the worst of them is the movie and it’s still going to fill two hours… fine.

I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, and my article on it is as much about that excellent sequence of Mahjong playing in the last act. I thought Douglas was an unexpected and excellent gem of a comedy show by a wonderful comedian, Hannah Gadsby. I also went over the ‘horror’ series Black Spot, which was about the intense and beautiful horror that came from an environment that feels to me completely alien.

There were some Story Piles that were just things I loved and wanted to talk about. Sort of raw enthusiasm, boiling away in me for sharing these stories or movies or series or characters or just good stuff so you could enjoy it during this time of Things Not Being Great. In that space, there’s John Wick 3: Para Bellum, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Lower Decks, Logan Lucky, andOcean’s 8. Just stuff I liked, with simple, no-nonsense articles explaining what I liked about them or why they were interesting. Sadly, my Durarara!! article has lost its fight with copyright robots that mean the music no longer shows up between the paragraphs. Tragic.

I also finally wrote a long form piece on Bleach, a series I still love and kind of feel I want to return to to explain interesting ideas in it, perhaps in the same way I did with the Fullmetal franchise. I also wrote about the Hatsune Miku phenomenon with Odds And Ends.

I watched The Thing for the first time this year and would you believe it, that movie? It’s really good. So was The Big Short, which mostly was me wondering: How many of the same actors are about to go unpunished?

Then there are the articles that are focused on things that I thought were real bad but where the articles were satisfying or fun to write. I didn’t do a lot of that this year, though! It may surprise you to realise it, but I’ve tried to keep pretty positive, even if there are a few Story Piles about throwing something bad into the sea.

Of this, there’s of course my article on Tall Girl, which was terrible. There was my article about Tomb Raider, a movie sneering at the idea of it ever being good.  But the absolute crowning jewel of my ‘holy shit, oh no’ kind of articles this year had to be my piece on The Sonic The Hedgehog Movie (But Not Really), which is of course, about the 1990s kung-fu anti-drugs ad, Sidekicks, and the awful millionaires involved in its production.

Story Pile: Back To The Future 1

I’d never seen Back To The Future.

This year, I watched it, which, you know, I kind of imagine this year I’d have watched more stuff? Seen more series? But I’ve been working non-stop at home, focusing and being exhausted and that means that I have a surprisingly small amount of time and energy to dedicate to watching movies.

Still, Nixie told me she liked it, so I thought: Hey. Let’s have a look.

I watched it, and then I had to decide what I was going to say about it.

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Story Pile: Enola Holmes

Enola Holmes is a one-off, self-contained movie about Sherlock Holmes’ perfectly rad little sister, when she discovers her mother disappeared, decides to try and find her. This starts by recruiting her two supposedly impressive brothers, and when they aren’t useful, she instead decides to go to London, follow her mother’s trail, maybe thwart an anti-democratic plot of the nobles, possibly discover her own connections to domestic terror groups, and kill a man with kung fu.

It’s a fun little movie, where Enola delivers direct narration explaining her position in the story, which I understand may be seen as a bit twee or a bit untidy for a movie aimed at adults, but you know what, this is Da Ween and this movie absolutely feels like it’s trying to hold the attention of an audience who sees Enola as a peer.

The movie features Henry Cavill, aka Zack Snyder’s Superman, aka the worst Superman in two of the worst Superman movies ever made, and in this movie, he is charming and he laughs and he smiles and it’s like, oh yeah, this dude is made out of Iconically Handsome Movie Man Pieces, why is he so bad at Supermanning? This one casts him as a less-asshole counterpart to Mycroft, but then underscores that both of them are privileged assholes. That’s neat.

This is largely fine.

There’s this weird standard that Sherlock Holmes media gets held to, where they get compared to one another, or to the books, or to whatever most recent best version of it that exists is going around. Given just how much permutation there is of Holmes Media, or Sherlockians or Bakerstreetskin or whatever they want to call themselves, it seems to me to be pretty difficult to even make a quality statement about that.

What I can tell you is that Enola Holmes is a fun adventure story that seems to be complicated enough that any given kid watching is not going to be able to guess the way the story ends, but also not so complex that a kid is going to struggle with following what happens. There’s not a lot of adult humour, and it holds out the idea that hey, maybe young people doing their best and trying hard to make things better is good.

If you have Netflix, and you’re looking for something to add to the queue, and you have kids to entertain because school is over for the month, check this one out. It’s certainly better overall than a Potter movie, and it’s apparently a good introduction to an interesting series of kids’ books.

 

Story Pile: Blacklist, Again, Again

Alright, so the Blacklist. I’ve talked about it before. It’s a bad show. It’s a clueless show, a show that establishes itself with an interesting hook, then spends subsequent episodes constantly and effortlessly making sure it is less and less interesting. The first episode introduced us to the tension between a woman finding that the most wanted criminal in America was turning himself over to the authorities in order to personally explain to her some immense truth that started with the discovery that her husband of a number of years was hiding a secret from her that included hidden cash, weapons, and passports, in her house.

There’s no great secret or brilliant plot at the heart of The Blacklist, it’s just a fantastically dumb series that follows inthe pattern of CSI of each researcher finding one random thing they can build a whole episode around, and that’s what you’ll find if you bother to watch it. Any given episode has about one idea, and the rest is shaky-cam and mediocre stable characters orbiting around James Spader and making it look like they know what they’re doing as they build towards this season’s mysteries and revelations, to see the cool twist they’re building.

(There is never a cool twist.)

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Story Pile: The Big Short

This is one of those movies that serves as a kind of Fight Club test for me.

The movie doesn’t set off red flags, not in the same way as Fight Club. That movie is one where if someone espouses how much they love it, you have to hold your breath and find out whether they’re one of the fans who recognise how cool the movie makes Tyler Durden (who ultimately wins), or if they’re one of the fans who recognise how that’s a really bad thing.

With The Big Short, the movie is interesting, about a topic I find interesting, and presents it in interesting ways, as it restructures a complicated narrative of many moving parts into a simple, understandable, easily followed movie. What I wonder about, when someone says they love this movie, is what about it they love.

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