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: Ocean’s 8

I feel like this movie doesn’t even merit a review. I should just kick open the door and shout HOLY SHIT THIS RULES, all fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, I’m out energy as I storm out into the night. But this is a dignified place, I tell myself, and so instead let’s try and put some energy into explaining why this movie.

Your vital statistics! Ocean’s 8 is the fifth movie in the Ocean’s franchise and its second cast shift, all operating around the ‘premise’ if that counts, of a group of incredibly cool celebrities doing a heist of some variety with the overall air that it’s really neat to see these cool actors having fun making a fun movie. There’s a drop of tension, sure, and there’s a puzzle about how the thing that got done got done, but at the heart of it, an Ocean’s movie is about watching actors you’re kind of fond of for some reason be really cool, usually to a soundtrack that rules.

In this case, the flip of the script is that we’re dealing with Debbie Ocean, Danny Ocean’s sister, played in this case by Sandra Bullock, and her gang of ne’er-do-wells is in fact crime ladies. Isn’t that a shocking twist?

It’s so wild, because the last time they did this, the gang was entirely men and nobody thought that was weird, but for some reason, this time around? People were? mad? for some reason?

Weird.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist The Live Action Movie

Once the media juggernaut that was the Fullmetal Alchemist story had smashed in place a bestselling manga then created not one, but two best-selling internationally successful anime, not to mention a bunch of tie-in videogames, merchandising out the wazoo, it resolved that it was time to release a live action movie. The movie was originally developed for 2013, but was held up, citing reasons of technology and budget, not made and released until 2017.

And the movie, my friends, is bad.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

And then like the krispy kreme, we’re back at it again.

It’s very hard to deal with contrary impulses and present a fair position without being coloured by the arguments you had on the way to get somewhere, or by the arguments you’re anticipating. For example, while I may say straight up that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is probably the best anime of its type that exists (mage-punk, long-running action-adventure character driven stories with themes of war and loss), there’s still the hanging asterisk that I was also pretty positive about Fullmetal Alchemist, and how much can someone trust my opinion on this one? And what’s more, how can I praise that anime and yet have qualified praise for this one, because that was a Bad Anime and this is a Good Anime?

Anime fandom is a mistake.

Anyway, the coda: I think that Brotherhood is one of the best anime of its type, and yet, I think that has flaws that merit critical attention; I think that it’s worse because of the 2003 anime, and I think that anime is treated worse for not being this.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Anime

In 2003, the then-ongoing Fullmetal Alchemist manga launched a new anime, which took the series’ adventure story and complicated scientific-based material magical power system reinforced through firm, rigidly defined character interaction, and made it into an affair of visual spectacle. This was a good decision because all the pieces were in place to make a great action adventure anime, with a dash of horror, with the promise of riding the popularity of the manga readers that were following eagerly along with the manga.

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Manga

There are a certain number of pieces of media that I don’t tend to want to talk about.

Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about a piece of media because I’ve never seen it, and in order to comment on it, I’d have to seek it out, and I don’t imagine I’ll be bringing anything new or interesting to the table. I’m a white cis guy, and lots of white cis guys who are straighter than me have worked very, very hard to make sure that if you get a ‘standard take’ on anything, you’re getting it from some variety of white cis guy. Watching The Room so I can say ‘yes, this sure is just as bad as I expected’ is not, to me, a valuable use of your time or mine. If I’m going to hatewatch something it’s because I know there’s something in there, some perspective I can bring to bear that’s interesting.

There’s also stuff I don’t talk about because I’ve been specifically asked not to talk about it. That is, stuff that I am known as being negative or critical about, and where sensitive people have asked, fairly nicely, for me to leave them alone as topics.

There are still works I don’t talk about, though, because they’re so good and them being good is so well known, I’m not going to tell you anything new by doing it. I don’t think, really, there’s a single thing I can tell you about Avatar: The Last Airbender that isn’t already done better by someone else, I don’t think that I’m going to provide a single extra angle on Inception, and even if I did have something to say (‘it’s fine,’ at best), I don’t find my opinion interesting.

The idea that my opinions are inherently interesting is the plague of privilege that I absolutely do not want to be comfortable.

Why then, would I talk about Fullmetal Alchemist?

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Story Pile: Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas

I really liked Nanette. I thought it was really good and I wanted to share it around with my friends, because at its best, the Story Pile is an opportunity to just grab all my friends and talk excitedly about something you haven’t seen, or, if you have seen it, to jump up and down with you and show you how clever we both are for liking this thing. I liked Nanette so much I did a very rare video examining it where I trotted out Steve Geyer of all people.

Not to go over my love of Nanette, though, because it was a prickly recommendation at the best of times. Basically a ninety minute long Content Warning with its own absolutely brutal conclusion that nonetheless brought with it some truly body-blowing comedy that oh no here I’m going and praising Nanette again, but the point is, fuck that, Nanette is great, and Douglas is great too, phew, got the subject back into the cradle oh wait now we’re talking about A Knight’s Tale oh well that was great.

Now, Douglas is a show that helpfully starts out with a table of contents. Seriously, Gadsby goes over the themes and subject matter in the show and just tells you what’s going to be going into it, which means my normal concern about spoiling in a show that’s so built on timing and surprise is a little diminished. Particularly, then if I tell you this show is about autism, well, that’s something that she mentions in the opening, and she does so without making the phrase itself shocking or startling.

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Story Pile: Smokin’ Aces

When I resolved to not spend this month complaining about queer media I didn’t like, nor to subject myself to queer media in a form I knew I wouldn’t like, I didn’t realise how challenging that was going to make things since I didn’t have another Wynona Earp land in my lap. That meant going back through either movies I meant to comment on or movies I had commented on but never on the blog, and to my amazement, I found this.

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Story Pile: Madoka

Man how much does it suck that this blog that is ostensibly about the critical engagement with pop culture media and niche genre spaces with an eye towards queer and marginalised people has to open conversations about extremely popular media with a disclaimer about how, hey, woah now, hold up, just so you know, I’m going to fail to fawn over this work for its excellence. Like, how poisoned is the entire idea of discourse that media must be treated with kid gloves, because the people to whom it matters are so starved of the kind of media they love that they fancy the idea of ‘their’ media being criticised as being an act of violence.

Point is, I’m not really interested in talking about Madoka itself.

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Story Pile: John Wick 3: Para Bellum

You know what, I’m not going to unpack for you the incredibly obvious idea that I, me, the person I am that writes this blog, loves the hell out of John Wick. Right? And okay, the series of movies are moody and atmospheric and they’re excellently made and full of deeply thoughtful imagery and they’re created primarily by the people who normally don’t get power to make movies like this, so you’re seeing the expertise of a niche group expressed in the medium they’re best at and so you get this fricking amazing movie of practical stunts put together by stunt crew who know their discipline down to the the bottom of the floor. Excellently made, brilliantly compelling, fantastically fun, and full of all these actors who are great doing a great job, nobody needs to hear this because as a mediocre millenial white guy of course I love John Wick movies you can just kind of assume and even if you were wrong it wouldn’t be offensive or anything.

There’s your basics.

No real spoiler warning, I’m going to talk about one character and they show up early.

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Story Pile: Mahou Tsukai Tai

“Hey, Talen,” I tell myself.

“Yeah?”

“We’re going to do Pride month, right?”

“Yep!”

“And that means you’re going to prioritise the queer articles you mean to write, but they’re kinda hard or need research, or you feel that the nature of the work means it’s best to put them all together, so while you’re doing a lot of related research, it can all kinda reference together, and you don’t wind up switching gears from a mindset of, say, magic tricks and knife crime to trying to talk thoughtfully about gender and our relationship to our bodies, resulting in some horrifying wording problem?”

“Yeah, that, that, and-”

Story Pile then, what are we going to do? Watch some Netflix queer movies that show up when you mash the LGBTQ button? Bust out some old classic texts? Revisit Dragon Prince and go in on the Claudia issue?”

“Well um, I figured I’d,”

“Yeees?”

“Why are you trying to spin the anticipation here, you are me,”

“Rhetorically, I’m not.”

“You know what, forget it. Point is, I’m going to start by talking about the first anime I remembered watching because there was a hot boy in it.”

“Whut.”

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Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part III

Content warning! I dig into the Cardassians a little bit later on in this, and that means there’s going to be a mention of Nazis and stuff Nazis like in media. Tap out at the end of Take Me Out To The Holosuite if you wanna skip it!

Like I said last time, I actually like Deep Space 9. It may be a bit of a surprise that someone can have four thousand words (good god) of non-stop complaining about a show they liked, but I was trying to avoid being toxic about it. It’s one thing to criticise a show’s direction and story structure and its narrative priorities, and another thing to talk about how people are idiots for liking something. And hell, since I like it, I get to be one of those idiots.

We’ve talked about the death of the author in the past, and we’ve talked about wrestling as live theatre, and I’ve talked about the idea of the Ghost of the Author, an occluded identity of someone who ‘made’ the story and ‘made’ the choices that went into it. In the case of Deep Space 9, though, there’s a clear, fracticious and well-documented explanation for why things were weird.

Rick Berman sucks.

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Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part II

I think if you ask me about my general impression of Deep Space 9, it’s going to come across as extremely negative. That’s pretty reasonable, I think because if you bring something up to me about the series, on pure statistics, it’s probably going to be one of the long, large threads that runs throughout the story that really fucking irritates me.

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Story Pile: Volcano

Volcano is from 1979, one year after Son of a Son, and while it still has that gulfy musical style Jimmy likes, and a real beachy theme and sound to it, it’s an album that’s showing perhaps some of the signs of touring. It has two of Jimmy’s ‘big 8’ songs – songs that get played at every concert – and one of them’s pretty good!

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Story Pile: De RigeurMortis

Hey, it’s my birthday.

What’s something I can do that’s really worth it for this day? What self-aggrandising thing can I put out there that you’ll feel obligated to check out? What have I held off on sharing up until this moment…?

Imagine the sound of knuckles popping as lips draw up near a mic and a voice says, low, and slightly menacing, as Paul McDemortt prepping to launch the punchline of a truly vile joke in the livest of Doug Anthony Allstars shows, I guess that it’s time.

A content warning for this article is I’m going to use the word ‘cunt’ a few times, which I don’t normally do? Sorry!

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Story Pile: Durarara!!

One thing I promised myself when I started this document is that I’d write about this series. After all, I love Baccano so much, it shouldn’t be that hard to just continue that same thread of language, right? Those words are the ones I put down in 2018, after I finished putting the first draft of my Baccano document together, thinking it would be swift and simple to follow up with words about Durarara!!

Silly me.

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Story Pile: NEXTWAVE!

April has been a difficult month to write for, not the least of which because, uh, global pandemic, but also because one of the details about April is it’s a time to write about things I want to write about, the subjects I’ve saved to talk about because they’re personal.

For the non-Pile articles, this has been decidedly easy, with lots of indulgent sniping at other people’s misinformed or inadequately excellent opinions, but for the media piles it has proven difficult because I feel I’ve already addressed some of my favourites and most culturally important experiences and at least right now, in this time of malaise, I find it hard to remember things I consider deep and personal favourites, favourites about which I can say fun or interesting things.

I’ve written about the Quest for Glory games, I’ve written about the Baldur’s Gate games, Doom and Baccano and other games that feel somewhat iconic to myself, and I find myself wondering what more I can even say, what has been worth holding up. John Wick? Tons of people have talked about how great that movie is, what more am I going to bring to bear on the conversation except as someone who has been in some creepily controlled situations with violence as the only out? Nothing useful. Nothing relatable.

Instead, then, I’m going to take an easy route. I’m going to talk about a comic book I love. I’m going to talk about Nextwave, a 2006-2007 limited run comic book that was written to live outside the main continuity of Marvel comics… and we’re going to start with a content warning.

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Story Pile: Son of a Son of a Sailor

The followup to Margaritaville And Some Other Songs was, to me, one half of a two-disc set that my dad got and taped so we could listen to it in the car. It’s a very literal album – some very clear, explicit stories told in song form, not a lot of subtle metaphor. This album, while definitely Another Jimmy Buffett Album and having a song or two on it I really like, is relatively brainless.

It’s got a song about liking cheeseburgers, a song about liking parties, another song about liking parties, and two songs about people he’s met, with a restful, relaxing pace to them. These are to me, the better songs on the album – Cowboy in the Jungle and African Friend are both songs that talk about other, interesting people, and their stories as Jimmy’s narrator only momentarily intersected with them.

It’s interesting, and infamously, Cheeseburger in Paradise is a weird classic of his, a song about… liking a cheeseburger.

Anywayyyy, uh

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Story Pile: Le Mans 1955

I was recommended to watch this short film on Youtube by my father, who is and has almost always been, an avid motorsports fan. Unlike many other Story Pile entries, this one, you can just press a button and watch it. You can watch the whole thing.

Le Mans 1955 is a 2018 short animated feature, made by a guy called Quentin Baillieux, along with no doubt, dozens of other people’s hard work. I’m not a French speaker, nor am I versed in the French animation scene so I can’t really get involved and say ‘oh, here’s the context for that,’ but I want you to be aware of the limits I have. I don’t know Baillieux, I don’t know the studio, this is very much just an area of my ignorance.

Hell, my ignorance runs deep on this one; I knew, vaguely, there were a bunch of crashes in motorsports history, but I didn’t know about this one. I can remember hearing of Ayrton Senna being killed in a crash when I was a young child, I can remember the horror of seeing my dad and uncle react to the news of Alex Zanardi being cut in half from a crash in 2000. Motorsports has been around me and never engaged me my entire life. What I mostly knew were these tragic, terrible incidents of someone just

being gone.

I was also growing up in the 90s, so the idea of the motorsports crash was heavily influenced by that – a period when safety standards had already been clamped down pretty hard and were going to clamp down further. I hadn’t looked into the grim history of the worst crashes, the worst audience fatalities, the worst this sport could be, and what could happen.

In 1955, one of the greatest motorsports disasters took place, where a track that wasn’t meant for cars to do this, where three bodies moving at high speed made reasonable but imperfect judgements and the result was a car moving at two hundred miles per hour flying through the air at such speed and with such force that it burst into flames and disintegrated, into a stadium full of spectators. Eighty people died. A hundred and eighty or so were injured.

This is a strange gem of culture. This is one of those periods of time when men were successfully carving out spaces for themselves. This is a point where a man retiring almost but not quite on top was a heavy weight, and it took eighty deaths and a hundred and eighty injuries for him to consider hey hang on maybe. This is a deeply relatable, painful moment, if you can connect with these men from a time when, in a space they had made for themselves and driven out all alternatives, they had to deal with the anguish that they normally relied on other people to handle.

It’s also about games.

The lead didn’t matter. Oh there were incentives, financial and reputation wise, there were some levels of stocks or investment or confidence or whatever that you could make out of winning the race, but winning the race versus placing second or fifth in the race was relatively meaningless. These were specialised subdivisions of companies that were showing they could push the idea of vehicle design to its absolute limit, but they were all systems of things. The nature of privilege for men, even in this period, was one where there were layers upon layers of protection and guarantee to keep you from being seriously hurt for failures. Nobody went to jail over Le Mans. Nobody got blamed.

The reason to care about your performance at Le Mans was because you cared about your performance at Le Mans.

In this movie, you see the emotions of men who cared about their performance at Le Mans so much that there was a struggle… a real tense struggle to be able to say no.

I have to stop the game.

People have died.


Thanks, Dad, this was a really good little movie, and I really appreciate being told about it!

Story Pile: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Now, look, odds are good listening to this music – if you have been – you may have found you like a few Jimmy songs. You might think that one or two of them are good, maybe the best songs on an album are worth sitting through. That’s fine. I don’t know why I respond to these songs the way I do. If you listen to this album and think ‘eh,’ that’s fine, but you should know that I play a game with this album with people where you take an album and ask how many songs you have to remove before the album’s not worth picking up.

On this ten song album, I think that you have to ditch nine of the songs for me to think it’s not worth getting, and the tenth song that remains is literally his most successful song.

This is the album that catapulted Jimmy briefly into the position of being an FM radio indie kinda guy that had fans but no presence to being what some people would later refer to as a one hit wonder in the country scene. And it’s kind of understandable – Margaritaville is an absolutely titanic hit compared to his normal songs. The song had cross-board appeal, getting to #8 on Billboard, and #13 on Country, which while not unheard of was certainly impressive. This song is not just a classic of the genre but it’s one that kind of became a cultural touchstone for people who went on to become country stars themselves – lots of people reference Margaritaville either by name or by using key phrases, and it’s a song that’s been covered a lot.

There are a few ‘canon’ versions of Margaritaville too, a radio play that’s slightly faster and structured differently, live versions that add different specific references, a kids version Jimmy recorded so his kid could sing along (she’s forty now, mind you). It’s also parodied a lot, with the most well known probably being ‘Marijuanaville,’ a song that is about as clever or subtle as you may think based on the name.

The song’s remarkable to the Jimmy Buffett fandom in that the song is actually a really sad, miserable reflection on how this guy is sad over a breakup and is just drinking himself unconscious repeatedly, whiling away empty days, and at the very end of the song, comes face to face with the fact his situation is his to own and he’s why it sucks. It is sung upbeat and happy and people sing along with it at concerts, and it gives the name to Jimmy’s restaurant chain, suggesting that he’s advertising a great place to go when you’ve destroyed your relationship and end the night being mopped into a bucket.

It also kinda sucks?

I don’t know if this is the Jimmy Buffett hipster equivalent of complaining about overplay, but Margaritaville is to my mind the worst song on this whole album!

This album definitely has more of your 1970s Gulf-And-Western style; songs about being in Mexico or coastal towns, songs about reflection in these spaces where nothing is making demands of you. Where Margaritaville is about a dude wasting his life, Biloxi is a haunting, sunsoaked meditation on a beautiful place, of innocent actions, of the swelling feeling of being in a place that does not hurt. Where Margaritaville is the gentle easygoing rhythm of getting hammered on endless sunsoaked afternoons that don’t matter, Lovely Cruise sings about that with an actual admission of joy, not sadness.

Then there’s In the Shelter, which is already excellent and I kinda covered already, and Landfall.

Now, look, Landfall is a stompy, piano-and-harmonica dance-hall country song that wants to be shouted as much as it wants to be song. It’s got some weird, time-lost joke references (Lucille Ball? Really? Okay, Jimmy), but what sticks with me, the phrase that I realise has been informing my mind for a long time, is where he talks about how being cooped up in a truck doesn’t bother him, being in confined spaces doesn’t bother him, but having to deal with people for prolonged periods bothers him. Running away to the ocean and ignoring people isn’t by any means a thing that scares him, it’s release.

And yeah, I like how singable it is.

I love this album. I’m not sure it’s ‘the best’ Jimmy Album – I put lots of value on West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown, and Landfall doesn’t have the same potency.

And Margaritaville isn’t that good.

 

Story Pile: Odds & Ends

Header image source: pixiv, by @maguro8989

Today, in Australia, as this article goes up, it is March 9. In Japanese, you can pronounce three ‘mi’ and you can pronounce nine ‘ku’ – meaning that the name ‘Miku’ can be seen as 3-9 – or the 9th of March. Inasmuch as Hatsune Miku, the cybernetic girl, the meme, the idea, the artistic influence and movement of artwork unto herself could be said to have a day, this is the one that people have chosen and so, it is the day we’re doing this.

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Story Pile: In the Shadow of the Moon

Okay, so we have to establish up front, and this is important, that talking about what’s going on in this movie is going to involve spoilers. And just by telling you there are spoilery topics at work in this movie, you’re immediately going to have reason to go ‘oh what about X or Y’ and you may fear, in some way, that your enjoyment of this movie is spoiled, because there’s something really thoughtful, and clever, and cool in this story that you’re going to have to now feel is somewhat tainted, somewhat weaker and I may have, as it were, spoiled that for you.

Good news: You don’t have to worry about it, because this movie suuuucks.

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Story Pile: Havana Daydreamin’

I haven’t tried to hammer these Jimmy Buffett albums around the themes of the months as they come up. They’re just going to happen as they happen and things can move and adjust around them, whatever.

Still, this is an album with a bit of a theme that fits the mangled, strange ways I wound up approaching romance, and thankfully, I like to think it did some good, following on the heels of Come Monday from earlier.

When I first found Havana Daydreamin’ it was a busted, tan coloured tape that had been living in dad’s car, a place I didn’t spend any time hanging around until later in my life when I wanted to hide from the evening of loneliness that was church. I was cleaning dad’s car for a dollar, and I found this, in his tape collection. For that reason it’s always felt older to me, like this is somehow primal Jimmy, that this is Jimmy Buffett from before all the other, ‘better’ songs I knew.

The elephant in the room of this album is The Captain and the Kid, a song Jimmy Buffett ostensibly wrote about his grandfather, a sea captain who talked to him and helped him grow up and taught him things and then, as people are want to do, died. Remember that at this point I’m a cultist, I think that people who die are going to hell if they’re not going to basically our church, and so the mourning sadness of this man missing his grandfather stabbed me.

The song is great. It’s sad and it’s serious and it’s that Jimmy Buffet nostalgia turned to a deeper kind of sadness than just ‘hey, things from when I was a kid are gone.’ It’s beautiful and it made me reflect on how my grandfathers both died before I was born. I remembered actually resenting my life for that – that maybe if there were other men in my life than my father maybe I could learn useful things, maybe I could feel less afraid all the time.

There’s some real tour music, too – Kick it in Second Wind is an absolute coke binge of a song, This Motel Room and Big Rig are all just life-on-the-road story songs, and they’re fine. I actually ran a motel for a while and I remember always hearing This Motel Room as I went about my job, that and Vacancy by Harry Chapin. Which, uh, that song is also great, in a different way.

There are a few more story songs here than I normally expect out of Jimmy Buffett albums. You have songs like Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street, Havana Daydreamin’, Cliches, and Something So Feminine About A Mandolin and they’re all pretty good, salted with varying degrees of the Jimmy Buffett template of lots of alcohol and or drugs. Of them, I do prefer Cliches, which tells the story of two people who are definitely a pair of kombi-van hippies and how they’re happy and having fun with their lives anyway. What I love about this song I think, these days, is how it’s so incredibly of its time. The couple in this song are now absolutely a pair of stoner grandparents who never officially got married and still live in that trailer.

That’s the thing that I think stuck with me the most about this. There are some people here who aren’t very original. They’re not very remarkable. But they’re together and they like one another and they didn’t need their love to be agonising or astounding. They’re just happy.

Is there anything on this album to compare to He Went to Paris or West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown? No. But it’s a fun album full of low-key crime and a lot more drugs and fun than A-1-A and it’s got a lot more energy when it bothers to wake up.

Story Pile: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a 2018 romantic comedy movie about an ordinary everygirl who finds that the boy she’s been dating has all along been one of the richest people in the world and part of a community of super rich people and what follows is a reasonably but not completely predictable story about finding acceptance and the struggles and demands of family pressure and all that stuff you expect to see in a rom-com about a fish out of water dealing with a class difference.

I guess one of the other details is to mention that this movie is about and involves almost entirely Asian people. I would have thought that was a detail that didn’t need mentioning, until this movie brought to my attention that, in fact, this might be the second prominent romantic comedy ever made primarily by, about, and starring Asians that came out of western movie studios. That is to say, in the history of cinema, this might be the second movie like this that western media’s made. That’s effed up!

That’s your lot, that’s your movie, and now you get to watch as I, magic-trick like, pull another eight hundred words out of my hat.

I guess as a first point, I should admit that there’s a reason I watched this movie that has nothing to do with Smooch Month or the like. You may remember in a previous Decemberween, I mentioned Calvin and Dee, and how they were people in the board game space I listened to and liked. Well, Calvin’s in this movie, as the extremely awkward PT. Calvin suggested I watch this movie, and I did. There’s your disclosure.

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Story Pile: The Knight Before Christmas

I know over this past year I have definitely become something of a fan of not the Hallmark media itself, but rather the serious critical space that surrounds Hallmark media in the form of Dave & Jeb Aren’t Mean and their various commentators looking at Hallmark as a brand. Now, I don’t have Hallmark movies of my own to watch, but what I do have access to is Netflix, and Netflix are happy to make and present their own knock-off derivatives of Hallmark’s design space, and maybe even afford it something that could be seen as a ‘bigger budget’ version of same. Thus, for our next Smooch Month movie, we’re going to look at The Knight Before Christmas.

Notionally, you might want to know what happens in this movie, so to give you the most basic rundown of the plot, a knight in the 14th century England meets a witch, who hucks him forward in time with a cryptic message to 2019 Ohio, where he meets Vanessa Hudgens. They hang out and do no-impact Christmas stuff, he finishes a quest, goes back in time, then asks the witch to send him back, so he can kiss her again and become a cop. I’m not joking.

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Story Pile: Tall Girl

Smooch Month brings with it the challenge of li’l ole me, the boy who does not watch romantic media, trying to find a handful of movies, series, or even albums, to talk about that fall into the category of smooch media. I like the exercise! I like forcing myself out of the zone of watching just pure adventure stuff, and it means I can have fun asking Netflix to just show me something with a keyword like ‘romantic comedy.’

And this time, it gave me Tall Girl.

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Story Pile: The Meg

There’s a game we play when we talk about movies. You watch a movie, then, you, trying to represent the movie reasonably, tell people the things that actually happen in that movie, and you see how long it takes for the audience to stop believing you. It’s great. We’ve all done it, surely.

Anyway, so in this movie, it opens by exploring the ocean that’s hiding under the ocean.

Now imagine me stopping and taking a drink.

Before we go on, some content warning points; this is a movie that does stuff with submarines and containment and holding your breath, so if you think you’re going to hate a movie about being sutck in submarines and small chambers, yeah, this is absolutely going to be upsetting as hell.

Onwards!

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Story Pile: A1A

Alright, so Jimmy Buffett’s supposedly discovered his Gulf-And-Western sound. We’ve had the mournful, serious songs that would have blown the doors off if someone ‘properly country’ had done them. Jimmy is now firmly established in something like four years as someone who’s clearly from Alabama, producing music in the south, and isn’t properly Rock to get on the radio that wants that in the 1970s. The lore is that he didn’t get much radio play at all at this point (and it was a point of contention he’d continue to bust on in his 70s albums). We already covered some of that last time, with Saxaphones basically being a whine about it, but it’ll continue here.

What came out next was an album which continues this same mix of different ideas. Rather than hammering on a single idea, or developing deep on this musical style, we get A-1-A, an album that feels like a greatest hits album for a guy who’d only been releasing albums for four years.

The album opens with such a riff. It’s funny to think this is what country used to be like, or at least, this is close enough to country to be throwing rocks. It’s funny because while I can definitely see some of that jangly, almost jug-band like musical feel to it, the opening song Makin’ Music For Money is sure a statement. This is one of the things about Jimmy Buffett as a singular creator that I really noticed growing up: he was definitely writing about what was on his mind at the time.

Some of his songs are kind of just generic love songs, using the june-moon-spoon formulas of music industry stuff. They’re not bad, but they’re so rarely a fave, often these meandering slow-swing songs that kind of want to hang out with You, Baby, Girl. But when he was writing about what he cared about you got these interesting statements of purpose like Makin’ Music For Money, the maudlin reflection of Stories We Could Tell and the too-too relatable A Pirate Looks At Forty. When this album came out, he was twenty eight, writing about a hypothetical future time when he would face down his own place in history, as he got older.

It’s a really lurching feeling, as this young man writes about how he’s going to get old, about how he doesn’t feel he belongs to his time (which, you know, lots of young people feel). It’s sad, and it’s a song that I remember hearing, the first time, around the time my dad turned forty. I was about five.

I remember there was something really mournful about it, and I had no idea what it was. I didn’t get it. I certainly didn’t get why my dad was so taken with this song about sleeping with younger women, committing piracy, and doing drugs (which I also didn’t understand).

Stories We Could Tell is one of those songs that really feels like it belongs to other, serious country singers too, guys who sing songs rhapsodically praising the work of men who died before he was born. It’s reverent, which maybe Jimmy was doing to try and get Nashville to like him. It’s not his song, and it’s been covered a few times (including by Kasey Chambers and holy shit I want to find that), but it feels so perfectly tuned to have been covered by – well, honestly, by Alan Jackson, fitting in alongside songs like Midnight In Montgomery. But then, if Jackson had covered it I’d have seen it as an entirely artificial attempt to borrow seriousness from better artists, because I don’t think much of Alan Jackson.

It also has Life Is Just A Tire Swing, which is a retrospective song about childhood and growing up and almost dying in a car crash. I remembered in that song that I ruminated on how my life, as a little kid, was probably just like this one, except I didn’t have any friends to hang out with and we didn’t go camping and we didn’t have fun and I knew I could hurt things. I assumed the narrator in the song got beaten up regularly. I realise in hindsight how weird it was but I assumed everyone relating stories about their childhood had stories they just didn’t mention about getting pinned down and stomped on.

The basic ideas of Jimmy Buffett albums are all here. Talking about the sea, startlingly specific references to what he was enjoying at the time, retrospective mourning a lost past, and convenient alcoholism. Migration is a song that’s basically impenetrable to me as an adult, but it had an upbeat rhyhthm to it and it talked about a swearing parrot so I listened to it a lot. When I was asked a few years ago about songs by Jimmy Buffett off this album that mattered to me, I did name Migration (and a song of another album, but anyway), because… I remembered liking how upbeat it was.

I do have a favourite song off this album, though, Nautical Wheelers, and it’s probably for the silliest reason. See, this song has a tempo change in it.

It has probably the first tempo change I ever noticed.

It’s a simple song, with a waltz of a chorus. It doesn’t carry a lot to it. It’s positively G-rated for a song about getting drunk, staying up late, and having a party where you dance with people underinspected.

I was raised to hold on to a Bible verse: I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. It was the idea that you could just be happy being, and we did all sorts of hoop jumping, all sorts of nonsense to justify the way we made ourselves so intensely miserable while we claimed we were all joyful in the LORD. In all my time at church I never saw anyone, anyone who was ever content.

And this song about nothing much was my first vision of the idea of some people who were happy being unremarkably okay.

So, the Album is fine, it’s not got any of my all-star favourites, but it’s still got a lot of Extremely Important moments from my formative little mush-brain growing up. I still realise there’s some of the creative coda in Making Music For Money in my mind, where I realise making is more important to me than success at making. There’s still shards of the fatalism of passing forty. There’s still images of an old guitar haunted by the person who played it last. Is it a best album? Nah. It has to, after all, measure up to its nearest neighbours, which doesn’t do the album any favours.