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: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

When A Wrinkle In Time’s trailer dropped it did so with the immense thud of someone on the other side of a backyard fence raising their voice and now suddenly, the whole neighbourhood gets to be part of this conversation that has been going on for years and is not going to end tonight no matter how much you wish it would. It was like a Discourse Bomb, a sudden and dramatic arrival of a conversation that was both in progress and extremely sophisticated, and it absolutely did not need me.

There was talk about the trailers, about the importance of Oprah as a goddess figure, about the race casting in the books and the movies, about the importance of the work as autistic art, about the intense significance with which people could dismantle scene by scene in the book and how a movie could never manage to express the quantum and fractal nature of the narrative, how Oprah didn’t deserve a role, comparisons to Black Panther for girls and hang on is that meant to say that girls can’t enjoy Black Panther and about how being mean to a billionaire never hurt them, and so on and so on and this was, again

when the trailer dropped.

Now imagine this trailer was literally the first time you ever heard anything at all about this book series or why it was important.

Unpacking what I thought about this movie has taken some time and part of the problem with that unpacking is that largely, I feel like I must have either a very surface reading of it, or I must not understand the contentious issues, because I thought it was really good and I hope other people get a chance to enjoy it without being slurped into that conversation like some kind of eldritch transport system.

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Story Pile: Hanna

Nothing quite kills your SEO like a movie getting a series, especially a series with a really similar name. Thanks, Amazon, thanks.

Anyway, Hanna is a 2011 action thriller movie with a deliberately European tone to its story of a runaway super-deadly badass hero who is trying to escape the threat of the  man who says they’re just coming to help but their form of help involves containment tanks and people with unhelpfully vague names like ‘Project Control.’ This one’s note of being interesting is that our badass one-person war machine isn’t just not a dude this time, but isn’t even an adult.

She’s a girl! She’s a little girl, or at least, a teenage girl! And you hit all those normal beats, all your action movie standby points. The first capture, the escape, the on the run, the escalation, the inevitable confrontation in something laced with imagery and all throughout lots and lots of murder, usually by or of assholes. It’s got an excellent couple of fight scenes where Saorise Ronan, who was at the time sixteen or seventeen sells the hell out of being a tiny little murder machine capable of fighting and leveraging her size against much larger opponents, and there’s one of those ‘look at what I can do’ action sequences in a shipping yard. If you like watching bad dudes getting just wrecked when they underestimate a little girl, then this movie is going to give you some good stuff.

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Story Pile: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean

After High Cumberland Jubilee, Jimmy Buffett went on to try something different. If Jubilee was an album full of attempts to be a cool late 60s protest singer – not proper protest, just protesty, he moved on to try something different, and that something different kinda became everything the man’s career would be about.

The narrative of the fans goes that this is where Jimmy found his own identity; where he became Jimmy Buffett, and explored the space that we now sometimes call Gulf and Western. It’s where Jimmy took on a very easygoing island nature, talking about beaches and boats and distance – not so much focusing on hard work and guns and roots the way that country tended to, but instead more about a sort of disconnected drifting.

The thing is, this narrative – that here’s where Jimmy found the ocean – is kinda weird when you listen to the opening of the album. It starts with a song that feels like a different kind of experiment in hindsight. The Great Filling Station Holdup is a pretty classic country loser story, some outlaw country, but the outlaws in question are idiots who suck and get caught immediately. It’s a funny song, singable, and it’s also pleasantly brief. It matches with a later song on the album, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, which talks about how Jimmy used to shoplift when he was poor. It’s kind of fun when Jimmy talks about ‘crime’ that centers himself because even his fictional crimes aren’t cool. They’re just dorky.

The followup, Railroad Lady is a really old, classic style song, made by Jimmy and Jerry Jeff Walker, the writer of the song Mr Bojangles. It’s again, experimental; this isn’t a song about the ocean and easygoing life. It’s talking about the death of the railroad and how it was possible to literally live on them, about how there was this whole wandering lifestyle that worked in such a strange way. This song is like a little serving on the A side for what closes the B side: there are some introspective, sad-sounding songs about winding down.

Jimmy writes about being old and tired and settling down, but it’s pretty worth noting that this album came out when he was twenty seven, so, you know, pump the brakes there Jimbleson Buffettersville.

Then there’s He Went To Paris, a song told in hindsight. It’s a pretty typical kind of country song – the old man sitting and crying and talking about what’s gone. But it’s a song that reaches its arms so wide, talks of travel so far, and uses (for example) the steel drums as a sort of long, soft weeping of the story. It’s beautiful and it’s sad, and it winds its way around to the beach, and paints a sort of future that Jimmy seemingly has decided to grow into. It’s not at all a unique song, there are so many like it, but none of the ones like it feel the same, to me. You can find dozens of country songs about old men reflecting on their lives. You can’t find many that feel as perfect as this.

Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit is the hit from this album, which I don’t get at all. I mean I’m glad there was a hit so he kept making them, but it’s a song I find infinitely forgettable. It almost feels like a song that’s more about the Coral Reefer band getting to play around with sounds. It’s boopidy doopidy and it’s not bad, I just don’t care.

Cuban Crime of Passage is – okay. So brace here. There’s a yikes. There’s a yikes where the woman central to the story is described as ‘half woman, half child, she drove him half wild.’ That’s pretty yikes. I assume this means she was a grown woman but it’s not the kind of framing I like. Still, I like it, it’s singable, and it does have that little underscore that no matter what goes on in Cuba, the whole life of people is reduced to just footnotes, discarded and forgotten to America. It’s a weird twist in the chorus, honestly, because it’s not like Jimmy seems to be positioning himself as above that.

Why Don’t We Get Drunk (And Screw) is a parody song. It’s meant to be a riff on the whole structure of ‘the love song’ on the radio, and it was part of Jimmy’s standard ongoing beef with the radio, which generally didn’t give him a lot of success. It’s also weird that people seem to now think of it unironically. It’s a song he’s revised a lot, including a kid’s version, Why Don’t We Drink Milk At School. I never heard this one growing up, seems dad was willing to hide this one specific song on a vinyl. It did come at the end of a side, making it easier to sneak away.

Still, it all ends up on the final song, a song that for the longest time I was absolutely convinced was some tragic, true story about Jimmy discovering his brother was a beautiful, amazing poet and wanting to honour him posthumously. It’s not a true story, but it’s a retelling of many true stories, all kind of cooked together. It’s one of my favourite Jimmy songs, and part of what I love about it is that it’s a very singable version of the kind of song it is. It’s sad and wistful, but that wist doesn’t mean the song breaks down as a song.

I love this album but I love it because it has He Went to Paris and Death of An Unpopular Poet. The janglier, louder, faster stuff I love from Jimmy isn’t on this, and I can honestly take or leave the majority of the remaining songs, but I have fun memories of sitting around with my cousin, uncle, and dad, and singing, together, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, so it’s always going to hit a soft spot for me.

Good album? Great album? It’s not like any song on it is bad, it’s just that this album has ‘merely’ two amazing songs on it, and those two songs kind of replicate one another, as reflective and mournful stories about unfulfilled goals.

Here’s the Spotify playlist if you’d like to listen to this album.

Story Pile: Jigsaw

Content Warning: Due to the nature of this movie, I’m not using pictures for this one. Not because it’s super horrifying, just because it’s not really very important. There’s some medical horror in this one, and a lot of gory fake dead bodies mangled up in messy ways. I’m also not really talking about spoilers beyond ‘there is a twist,’ which is sort of du jour for horror movies in the Saw franchise.

With that in mind, we now begin the presentation.

 

 

 

Just how good can this movie be?

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Story Pile: Expectable Dreads

I watched a bunch of different horror stuff this year, in part because I actually think I kind of like the genre, but also because it’s a place that does a bunch of interesting weird stuff. Horror Youtube is really bad, Horror Critical Youtube is pretty good (or maybe I just mean Nyxfears). Watching this media can be, at times, a guide, a sort of mental sabot, that encourages you to think and present your thoughts in a similar format, to make everything a five minute mention.

This impulse left me spending words on things I didn’t really care about enough to talk too long about. Particularly, though, what I found was a common thread of introducing the wrong horrors into these stories, a point at which I checked out, and knew that effectively, a content warning would just be the overwhelming character of whatever I had to say. It wasn’t that seeing worms implanted in someone’s body or the tearing of a man’s face off that bothered me, no, I was signed up for that.

Here then, four horror movies and series that I kind of wanted to talk about but which introduced something that made them suck.

Content warning for mentions of sexual assault, transphobia, incest, and pedophilia, and spoilers for American Horror Story, Don’t Breathe, Rings, and A Cure For Wellness.

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Story Pile: Goosebumps

The existence of this movie is in a lot of ways a pre-built punchline. I mean, Goosebumps is one of those book series that people in their adult life seem to go back to to complain about them being dumb or basic or whatever, and this movie, which is aimed as being Big Spookums for the I’m Old Enough For M Movies scene of twelve year olds, is a Jack Black movie. Jack Black has made a lot of movies that are bad, he has made a lot of songs that are bad, he has almost made a varnished kind of badness his business, and he even specialises in representing himself as someone you really hope leaves soon.

Everything about this movie is lined up to tell you that this movie is going to suck ass

and it doesn’t.

Some mild spoilers for the movie as follows.

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Story Pile: The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince is a netflix television show about an elf, a prince, a dragon, and all the complex challenges they have thanks to some mishandled jam tarts. If you just wonder about my general perspective, or if I’d recommend it, this show is great, bursting with personality, with good comic timing for its comic relief, wonderful action sequences, excellent voice acting (it really grew on me), and a number of characters who don’t overcorrect away from their archetypes while not sliding into being banal or overfamiliar. It’s great. Check it out. Easily worth paying for a month of Netflix and binging it all over a few weeks.

Now, if you want more, that’s after the fold. What is going to follow is pretty spoiler-free, but I want you I will say mean things about the Voltron fandom and criticise the ending of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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Story Pile: Highcumberland Jubilee

I love Jimmy Buffett.

I know, I’m not cool.

I’ve mentioned that I grew up in a media bubble. This space was one where I couldn’t really buy new albums, and my exposure to pop music was little snippets of music from – I kid you not – television ads for compilation albums of ‘the hottest songs of the’ etcetera. When I started engaging with pop music, it wasn’t the pop music aimed at me, it was the pop music that’d been aimed at my dad, because in our secret cupboard, we had hidden away, vinyl records of satanic, dangerous, wild music, like The Eagles and The Moody Blues.

Dad also owned every Jimmy Buffett album, in some form or another, from High Cumberland Jubilee through to Coconut Telegraph, mostly on old vinyl, and once, he tasked me to record all his vinyl onto tape so he could listen to it in the car. I took to this task, and while I was at it, I made recordings for myself, to listen to in my room. They anchored to my soul, singable music that I listened to over and over again, and became my bedrock for learning such ridiculous ideas as fictional narrative in music.

I’ll restate that: Jimmy Buffett is the place I realised that stories in songs can be fake.

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Story Pile: Haibane Renmei, Kinda

This is about Haibane Renmei. It’s also not really about Haibane Renmei, not really.

Let me explain.

Haibane Renmei is a generally highly-regarded, extremely pretty and artistically significant entry in that genre of media about sad looking girls suffering as a metaphor for some big ideas. It’s safe to say it’s not my cup of tea and I say that as someone who doesn’t even drink tea. Nonetheless, it is beautiful and atmospheric and thoughtful and poignant and everyone I know has a crush on someone in this story, even the people who aren’t massive lesbians.

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Story Pile: Dropped Stuff

I watch a bunch of stuff these days, thanks to Netflix, and as a media criticism junky, I find myself enjoying having a platform to write about almost everything I watch. There’s some reasons I don’t write about some things – for example, any media that tends towards including sexual assault, that tends to just get junked. Anytime a work is actively homophobic or where I’ve learned a central creator or person involved is particularly a known bad person, for example.

There’s a lot of reasons to do this! I kind of hate when I talk about something and people immediately want to change the subject to not what I talked about, or want to use a particular artist as an avenue to complain about something else. This has happened to me a few times, where what I will think of as very well intentioned people will interrupt me talking about thing A to instead try and make the conversation about thing B, believing it to be more important.

And sometimes I’ll consider a work too large to talk about, like Longmire, which is pretty bad, but it has some good stuff, but it does a bad job with it, and yeah okay, I kinda just summarised the whole series and we’re moving on. Sometimes, rarely, I’ll just ditch on a piece of media because it kind of bores me and there’s nothing in it I want to talk about. And sometimes I’ll ditch on a work for some other reason and I find myself yet wanting to say something.

And here’s a little round-up.

Pitch Perfect

I wanted to like this movie. I really thought that making a Sports Movie that was a Musical movie like Hercules that had some reason to do diegetic musical numbers could be really cool and it’s full of great actors. If nothing else, it has John Michael Higgins, Mathnet alumni and later Legend of Korra voice actor! I like the stuff that dude does!

Pitch Perfect then introduces Rebel Wilson, and what ensues is a set of jokes about how clueless she is about Jewish culture that I cringed myself inside out and closed the movie. Jokes about being from a backwoods in Tasmania who has no idea about how Jewish culture works just smashes my sense of disbelief because:

  1. There are Jewish people here, you know
  2. American media is full of Jewish people, and that’s what we watch on TV.

Anyway, realising that Rebel Wilson’s character would be hilariously quirky and not eventually punished for being an arsehole (because hey, can’t make the fat girl feel bad for being shitty), I didn’t feel any reason to go back and try more of this one. Basically she made such a great example of a first impression of a miserable arsehole I felt it best to not actually hang around and give her a second chance proving it.

Barely Lethal

This movie has Jessica Alba and Sophie Turner and Samuel L Jackson and Rachael Harris and Steve-O, wait, really? What the hell? And the premise is pretty robust; teen assassins made by a government organisation to kill people, but one breaks away to have an ordinary life as high schooler, and she approaches becoming a normal girl as an assumed identity through research and performance.

I was pretty on board with this movie being generally pretty funny and kinda okay, and I was honestly almost considering throwing a suggestion to my friends as an example of a spy movie about girls and their feelings and maybe the whole strain about performing as a girl could give my friends some comforting trans girl feels.

And then in the peak of the movie, the villain randomly calls another girl a tr*nny.

Just.

Y’know.

There, just randomly.

The thing with comedies in this way is that it’s pretty much always going to be the jokes that sell you on whether or not you engage with a story. They need to show you that you’re following along, that you understand the relationships and the characters, and the kind of world they live in.

And in this one, the only mention of trans people is a really hurtful slur and it’s wielded as an offhanded punchline.

And well, that sucks.

Ghost in the Shell

There’s a conversation around this movie, and it does directly connect to my work. There’s elements of representation, there’s questions of identity, there’s transmedia and transnational media, there’s cyberpunk and commercialisation and the real failure states of expensive movies and also the potential ramifications and moral relationship to these controversial works and the trajectory of Scarlett Johansson, as a bankable action star to generally a deeply embarrassing person.

That’d be great, that’s one of those things the Story Pile is great for. You dive in on a piece of media, then you use it as a tangent point to talk about those other things you want to.

And yet.

yet.

I can’t bring myself to watch this movie. It’s far too bloody dull.

Story Pile: Titans

You know, one thing I’m really glad of, in this current era of missing the point in the most catawumpus ways, is that nobody’s gone out of their way to try and make a standalone Teen Titans live action TV series. It’s just such a bad idea to approach the Titans in a way that isn’t already ensconced in a larger media space.

I mean, think about it.

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Story Pile: Shade

Fact is, poker wasn’t always legal.

It’s weird, really, when you talk about Poker as this modern sport with this enormous culture and giant piles of money associated with it, where there are books and histories and luminaries and a hall of fame. It’s weird because poker not only wasn’t legal for a long time but it’s kind of still not really ‘properly’ legal, not everywhere. There’s a lot of stuff in the history of the game that means that if you’re interested in the way cards can be manipulated, if you’re interested in card magic, there’s a very small group of people who are interested enough to pay you, and there’s a whole world of people interested in paying you if they don’t know you’re doing magic.

There is a rich intersection of the criminal, the gambler, the drifter, and the completely fake wizard, and it shows in the stories we have about these people. It shows because when you find out that guys like Dai Vernon and Ricky Jay were involved in the production of a movie.

The movie, which I didn’t know about until just this year, is a 2003 neo-noir con movie called Shade, which stars Jamie Foxx, Melanie Griffith, Sylvester Stallone (wait, really?), Gabriel Byrne and Stuart Townsend. If you are a fan of the 1990s crime comedy Shooting Fish, which also starred Townsend, and you’re reading this, I guess I’d say, hi, my sister, I’m not sorry I never returned your VHS copy, but I am sorry I lost it.

Anyway, Shade.

We are going to have a bit of a weirdness, though. See, this movie has both a very generic name and a very low profile. It’s not a ‘great’ movie, it’s not a beloved classic, it’s not one of those movies that someone has helpfully ripped into thousands of high quality images on the internet, that I can easily grab and put in my blog article as a way of breaking up the flow of the text and making it clear when I move on to a new point.

So…

Sorry!

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Story Pile: The Prestige

The Prestige was a 2006 thriller film that’s pretty much successful enough and attached to enough big names in the mainstream movie space that it kind of sits in that space of oh, I’ve heard of that. It’s also a movie built around a twist, and it’s a movie with – well, with prestige.

It’s got Michael Caine! It’s got Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale and Jacko Wolverine and Scarlett Johannsen, and David Bowie! This is a movie with some cred, and that means that it’s a little more seen than most of the ‘magic’ movies I thought about talking about.

It’s also kind of one of those movies that movie makers seem to like making and movie nerds tend to like talking about, so I feel a bit like I’m treading old ground here. You know, it’s got it all, it’s got a nonlinear framing device, it’s got mysteries, it’s got extremely difficult performances to pull off and some technical tricks and CG that makes it look like you weren’t using CG and it’s a period piece so you get to put everyone in funny outfits and top hats. The only thing it really lacks is singing, which Hugh Jackman would have gotten in there if it was up to him, you know it.

Anyway, I’m going to talk about the movie, which is kind of built around twists, and just mentioning that there are twists is going to be a twist so yeah sorry, I spoiled you that there’s a twist (and I don’t actually care) and there will be more, after the cut. Also I’m going to mention other things he did, like Inception and maybe make fun of people who claim those movies are super complex.

However, in deference to the fact that this movie does Go Places, I have selected my screengrabs for this article entirely at random from a website that has way too many of them. There is literally no way for me to be sure what exact context I’m giving these things, but trust me, it’s not intentional.

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Story Pile: Now You See Me

This month’s Story Pile is definitely picked with a positive bent. It’s pretty well known that magicians are kinda hokey and the idea of stage magic as a central theme to build a narrative around is going to have to struggle uphill against conventions that magic is a practice embraced by dorks who don’t mind practicing in front of a mirror. Sometimes this is done by involving crime in the story, or star power in the production of the movie.

And sometimes what you get out of that is dreadful.

I’ve struggled a bit trying to write about Now You See Me for a bit over a year now, because every attempt to talk about the movie runs into struggling to describe what happens in it, without getting bogged down in how rubbish it is at it. My typical structure fails me here, and so, I’m not going to do that this time. I’m just going to complain about this movie, which is badly put together doofus garbage.

Oh and spoilers for this movie you shouldn’t bother watch.

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Story Pile: Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants

Last year I learned that Ricky Jay had passed away. Someone retweeted someone else who retweeted someone else and they showed me a short video of Ricky Jay at his craft, and I realised… I know this guy. I know this guy because I’d seen him in movies, seen him on Mythbusters, and seen yes, a few of his tricks in old, VHS videos about how to do magic. I’d seen him on the cover of his book in an old second hand store, and read as much of it as I could, knowing that cards were powerful, in a strange, surreal way.

Then someone helpfully linked to Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants show, a VHS production available on Youtube, and otherwise relatively hard to get. This is a video recording of a show he performed off-Broadway back in the 1990s, where he basically got up in front of a room and was ridiculously good with cards for almost two hours. Like, it’s all held together by his patter and his narrative, but it isn’t like the show’s about something that Ricky doesn’t just outright state.

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Story Pile: The Saint (2017)

Aaaaah, they can’t all be hidden gems.

The Saint (2017) is certainly set up to be a hidden gem. I mean, hey, okay, c’mon, check out this breathless spiel. The Saint (2017) is a modern re-adaption of a long-running TV serial about a super cool super thief who flits around the world doing daring heists against extremely powerful evil people, and while he plays with lots of cool toys doing it, he still gives the money away to organisations like Doctors Without Borders and oh he has rad cute friends including a super-stylish lady on the wire who hacks things for him remotely and beats people up and she’s played by Eliza Dushku and there’s a gay black lady who’s on the trail of the villains and there’s a good conspiracy that our hero is the last member of and an evil conspiracy that he’s prepared to fight and it’s all slickly shot and it’s not like the 1990s movie that was bad, this one leans in hard to the stylish super-spy style, and Roger Moore has a guest spot in it,

and

it’s

almost good?

And then it’s very definitely not.

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Story Pile: Geobreeders

I’ve been talking about anime a lot this year. And because I’m an older anime fan, a fan boy, as it were,it’s easy to reach back into a history that’s older than some of you and point to these old classic works, things that are important and influential and you should feel ashamed you don’t know about them, I guess, if my expectation of generalised anxiety and imposter syndrome is usefully applicable.

Partly, this is because I’m a believer in the idea that remembering art is enough to make it meaningful, and there isn’t really a bottom threshold on ‘worth talking about.’ I watched a lot of garbage back then, some of which I found it fun to ridicule but some of which wasn’t good in a very boring, tedious way.

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Story Pile: Snow White and the Huntsman

Back in February, you may remember – because you read everything I write, right? – that I tried to make a bunch of articles about smooch media, and one of my choices was to try and focus on romantic movies that were doing something interesting and cool and not just another Two Extremely Hot Movie Stars Awkwardly Bump Into Each Other In A Predictable Way.

At first I found there was this seam of ‘romance’ movies that were clearly made for men – my iconic example is This Is War, a movie about two super-spies that compete for a hot girl and an action movie breaks out while they’re doing super creepy abuse of surveillance state technology in order to get emotional upskirts of this girl. Now, I felt in my heart that I’d really like an action movie romance if the romance was just between two people of comparative levels of attractiveness.

That’s another thing. Dudes in romance stories are either tremendous people with the emotional capacity of a grape, or they’re potatoes that get girls because they’re in a designated story slot. There are a lot of movies about ugly dudes getting beautiful women to fall in love with them – things in the mould of Knocked Up or, well, any where the central male actor is known primarily as a comedian and not as a ‘leading man.’

I was honestly really hopeful then, when I popped open Snow White And the Huntsman.

And what I got was an amazing sequence of failures.

Spoilers ahead.

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Story Pile: Solo

Disclosure: Someone I know worked for one of the companies that got Solo made. I don’t know the precise details and I don’t want to pry, but there you go. I don’t imagine they care that much if I think the movie is good or bad, and they haven’t spoken to me about the movie’s quality.


With that in mind, some bonafides up front: I am the Doesn’t Really Think That Much Of Star Wars guy. Not a ‘they were better when I was a kid’ guy or the ‘well this stuff lacks the depth of cinema veritate’ guy, but just someone who has for some reason or another never had that much of a high opinion of Star Wars as a franchise. I have had my fair share of Star Wars media – mostly in the form of videogames, books and my fill of watching the movies – so I am not ignorant of it, I just don’t really think it’s very interesting. It’s a bit like Monopoly – I understand that it has a deep cultural impact and lots of people are very familiar with it but I just don’t think it’s particularly good.

I guess the easiest way to explain what kind of Star Wars fan I am is that I think 90% of the movies are boring and the remaining 10% is all full of Ewoks.

Anyway, Solo is a movie seen as ‘controversial’ because Star Wars fans are just the worst kind of joke. There’s just the silliest kind of swirl of ridiculousness around this movie’s box office sales, conspiracy theories that are one step removed from saying ‘the Jews don’t want a movie about a strong white man to succeed!’ and there’s a lot of noise. Since it seemed Star Wars fans didn’t like it, I thought hey, maybe I should check it out. Maybe I’d like it, if it wasn’t something that appealed to the kind of people who thought Star Wars was good. Right? There’s a logic there, surely?

Anyway, I kind of love this awful movie, but I also kind of hate this great movie.

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Story Pile: Neon Genesis Evangelion

DISCOURSE CONTAINMENT

Neon Genesis Evangelion is twenty-five years old. It is not a new series. It is not a series lacking in exposition or consideration or study. It is an important text but it is also vitally an old text. There is a degree to which the conversations around Evangelion are not just uninteresting, but are now completely tedious.

You might have seen it the first time, ever, this week. You might be planning on watching it. You might be wavering on whether or not you do. After all, it’s a Big Deal, why not?

There will be no meaningful spoilers for Evangelion. I’m barely going to talk about anything that’s in the show at all. But I am going to talk about this series and some of the reasons it matters, and the most important fact, that this series means a lot less than it matters.

DISCOURSE CONTAINMENT

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Story Pile: Ranma ½

Ranma ½ is a Japanese manga series in the ‘whacky martial artists doing whacky stuff’ genre starting in 1987 and concluding in 1996. It’s a big work – over those ten years of weekly releases it made almost 38 volumes of stories, which range between classical kung-fu duels, adventure stories, harem anime hijinks, school test drama, pg-rated sex romp and magical-realism short stories. It’s probably one of the most important anime of its time, with an influence that stretched well over two decades, and one of the queerest really straight things in the world.

And if you know me, you had to know that me talking about this series is more of a when than an if.

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Story Pile: Atomic Blonde

At its core, Atomic Blonde is an excitingly familiar type of movie. It’s one of those Sunset Noir stories I like, with contrast-driven high-society low-life all outlined in the bright nimbus of neon colours. Where much of Sunset Noir works around the tension between the extreme wealth owned by powerful criminals, existing in spaces without what we think of as a normal safety net, a society that doesn’t have the protections of society, Atomic Blonde uses that contrast to show us a spy thriller, set in Berlin, 1989, a week before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

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Piles of Piles

I’m going to do a thing this month, where the Story Piles are going to also be themselves, small piles. Each Story Pile this month is going to be, rather than a deep dive on one thing, a handful of quick comments or impressions on some media I have opinions on but somehow didn’t find find so interesting I had a whole longer article about it.

This feels a bit like an expression of defeat for me, where I have long since held the opinion that anything is interesting, that anyone can write about anything in a way that makes it interesting, it’s just a matter of finding the ways to connect it to the audience. Making them into a sort of general potpourri is giving up on opportunities to maybe, one day, later, coming back to these story pile pieces with a good angle on a fresh take.

Yet I’ve had some of these ideas sitting in the wings for a while, and I’ve honestly forgotten about a bunch of them. To clear my plate like this is an act of catharsis, a form of release. If I can spend a whole month talking about Voltron, because I wanted that space for the many things in it, I can spend a whole month skipping clean over things that were Good But Not Great, or Meh But Not Grandly So, or maybe Good But You Don’t Need Me Saying It.

Thanks to services like Netflix and Stan, I can just compile lists of things I’ve watched, and then come back to see that list later. This is a fun exercise in recontextualisation, because it will sometimes show me things I watched very close to one another and how one led me to the other. It shows me what I started but didn’t finish. And most interestingly, it shows me the things I forgot I saw until I looked at the list.

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Story Pile: Nation

It’s kind of sad but as a young man I really had no idea what people did to make conversation. My earliest fumbling attempts to talk to people about things are these cringe-inducing things where as an adult I either waited for them to test me on subjects I understood from school, or, worse, tried to tell them about a thing from church that they had to know.

I was really obnoxious.

Anyway, one of the things I learned people talk about, is media they like. And that meant I had to try and share the things that resonated with me, and inevitably, the one thing in this vein that didn’t wind up bringing more shame on me was the work of Terry Pratchett. The problem with recommending Terry Pratchett is that Discworld, his largest body of work, is 47 books long, the ones at the start are kind of ‘wrong’ at representing the brilliance of the later books, but the later books make reference to a world that the earlier ones define, expanding on the complicated world that even Terry was kinda winging it through. No matter how excellent Discworld is, it’s not a book you can give someone, it’s a homework assignment. There isn’t a really simple, singular work to hand someone and say ‘this is a way to enjoy this author and learn if you like work they do,’ not in the Discworld books.

How wonderful then, is it to have the book Nation to share.

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Story Pile: Baccano

I so rarely get to enjoy having something I think of as great being one of my favourites.

I’ll often review work that I think of as being excellent, or important, or meaningful, and often with a lens that I try to position outside myself. I am after all, not a particularly useful or meaningful lens for other people to use, and that can often mean that work resonating with me is often a sign that it shouldn’t resonate with anyone else.

I don’t think anyone else was a screaming, terrified mess during The Little Mermaid, for example.

Imagine then my joy at finding a good anime – I know! – that means something to me – oh my goodness – and is actually good in general!

Baccano is a light novel series by Ryōgo Narita that was subsequently turned into an anime, and that anime is one of my three favourite anime series of all time. Set – mostly – in 1930s Prohibition-era America, Baccano! is told as a series of disconnected, out-of-order scenelets that keep three time periods going, and in each of those stories, sometimes two or three or even five stories going on all at once.

There’s a rollicking pace to Baccano! which splits its time lines across multiple light novel stories transpiring at the same time, almost all designed that knowing the end of one of the three stories will illuminate all of them, and therefore, rather than tell you in chronological order (which would probably still be plenty of fun) it instead ping-pongs you from moment to moment when characters are largely aware of things differently to you.

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