Not everything I watch becomes part of the Story Pile. Sometimes, I’ll watch something and ask myself if I have anything interesting to say, and determine the answer to that is nah. I start things, decide I’m bored, and stop. While everything is interesting, and you can always connect things that don’t interest you into complicated, interesting, intersecting things, that doesn’t mean it’s always worth the effort, certainly for someone like me.
I’m still bitter that people seemed to think Schitt’s Creek was worth all that fuss after all.
Here then is a list of different stuff I watched that I didn’t think was worth a proper Story Pile article for some reason or another.Continue Reading →
I’m not a movie reviewer, I don’t need a top ten, and I’m not doing anything in a timely fashion. When I write about something it’s almost always because I enjoyed it, or I enjoy talking about some idea in it, or I found something awful and I want to show it to you because it annoyed or disgusted me and I got to wave it around like a gross thing I found in the fridge and I want you to share in my pain or be deeply amused by my performatively flailing it around.
That’s what happens when I watch a movie like Now You See Me 2, which isn’t exactly an article I’d hold up afterwards as a great article. I mean you’re not going to get some sort of thoughtful engagement with the story and its themes, you’re going to get me mad about the way people fail to respect pretendy wizards. Which is fun, but it isn’t something I necessarily can read back, myself, now, without seeing the ways I just fall into a weaker writing style.
This isn’t just a review of what media I enjoyed the most this year. That list is a lot longer and a lot harder to manage, because, well, I like a lot of things. Instead what I want to highlight here is the ten Story Pile articles that I think make for the best reading this year, and why you might enjoy them. Presented then, in no particular order, and with minimal additional work, The Story Pile 2021 Top 10!Continue Reading →
This Decemberween, Fox and I watched another movie, Tokyo Godfathers.
Let’s talk about the best Narnia book.
Content Warning: Racism!Continue Reading →
Before there were Pevensies, there was Digory and Polly.
Before there was Narnia, there was the endless forest.
Before there was a White Queen, there was Jadis.
I give prequels a bit of a beating, on principle, which I think is incredibly fair because largely, a prequel is about making the world smaller and more boring. It’s about stepping to a point in a story where we know the conclusion and trying to find stuff in that experience that needs explaining, and is interesting to explain. It’s also often a cynical effort to keep using characters you like in a way that doesn’t require you to confront how they’ve changed by the story that people liked (Man, Obi-Wan Kenobi was such a dickhead and then the prequel series he was in made him so much worse). I am, simply put, not a fan of prequels.
But this prequel rules.Continue Reading →
With the core books that detail what we will gently refer to as the plot of the Narnia universe already laid out, a steady ramp upwards from dull to decent, it seems only fitting now to discuss the way that the series became actively traumatising.
For those not familiar, The Last Battle, the seventh book and last chronologically, is the next book in a series of honestly fairly inoffensive storybook fantasy stories. These stories have followed the lives of a handful of children, so far; The Pevensies, Lucy, Peter, Backup Peter, and that whore, and Eustace Scrubb and his unassumingly decent friend Jill Pole. There’s also another pair, Digory and Polly, and you’ll be left going ‘wait who?’ because they don’t show up until you read the last (first) book, but I’ve said too much.
Point is, if you were like me, you were reading these adventure stories that teased at the ideas of spaces of Narnia, of cultures and nations and magical powers and interesting questions, and each time you got a new book, you learned something new and had more of this beautiful country spread out before you. So often these stories would reward you not with some great accomplishment or demonstration of physical power, some great or heroic badass fight, but instead a bucolic, Hobbit-style scenario of going home and putting things in a tidy position. This was a world where great travails and missing heirs happened, but where the grand battles were often narrated over rather than experienced, and a late book narrative could divert into a conversation about how much centaurs liked porridge (a lot).
The narrative payout of Narnia was always dialled in to ‘oh, well, that’s alright then.’
This book, which you may as a child have picked up and read with the unassuming idea of oh, I like these, this is another one, I wonder which new human friend will learn about Narnia, kills literally everyone you know and destroys Narnia down to the very base foundations of the whole world, leaving behind nothing but a vast expanse of soulless, empty ice.
Then it tries to act like it’s a happy ending.Continue Reading →
Last week I wrote about the fantastically dull, chorishly written, monarchist crap that was the genesis of the Narnia series, where a twee fairy tale about how great it was to be a divinely ordained king and disposing of foreigners who weren’t adequately Christian. I lumped these stories together as ‘the Pevensiad’ because they were the stories primarily focused on the character of the Pevensies, four ‘characters’ deviating primarily from a mean of dishwater by dint of how they didn’t live up to the moral and ethical standards of that dishwater.
The start of Narnia was very much about Lewis talking it seemed to his vision of a specific kind of child who he wanted to give a good example of christian childhood behaviour, while offering them what we can modestly call ‘adventure,’ but it was in these books that the conventional isekai narrative of Narnia actually hit its stride and seemingly had some ideas. This is expressed in how the story introduced a character who actually had the room to develop and do something interesting, in the form of the best earth-native Son Of Man character in the entire series, the one, the only, Eustace Clarence Scrubb.
That is literally his name.
And he almost deserved it.
I’m not joking.Continue Reading →
There are seven books in the Narnia series of books, created by one C S Lewis. The books have a narrative order and a publication order, and they have a clear distinct arc from the beginning and creation of the world of Narnia and the eventual end of that world. They are profoundly Anglican stories, focusing on an alternate world, one of many, alongside our own, which is meant to have many of the same constants as ours.
Like our God and his incarnation, Jesus.
In this, he’s a lion, named Aslan, who is also sometimes God. Like I said, it’s very Anglican.
Odds are good that you haven’t thought much about Narnia much at all, as an adult. They’re works that have a lot of cultural presence and their metaphors and references work as sort of background radiation for my generation, especially thanks to them being widely distributed public library style books which even got TV Adaptations and big-name Disney movies (remember those).
They’re fantastically twee books, children’s books from a particular era of storytelling that kind of … don’t… like… children?
When you view the books series as a whole, I see five basic groupings in the story, starting with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the book that follows directly upon the end of that one, we have the first predominant chunk, The Pevensiad.Continue Reading →
I don’t like when my writing on a subject resembles someone else’s too much. I feel a little bit like I’m really just better off providing a link to the other person’s writing. In this case, it’s Geoff Thew, of Mother’s Basement, who made an entire video with a comedic tone framed around You Have To Read Chainsaw Man. I watched that, I saw his description of Power as a mix between Walter Sobchak and Eric Cartman and went ‘well, I need to know what the hell he’s talking about, there’s no way this character actually delivers on that.’ And then I read it, and I shared pages with my friends and they went and read it and I was left with the frustrating impression that Thew pretty much hit on the perfect gimmick for this kind of article.
Holy crap, Chainsaw Man is really good.
I want to talk more about Chainsaw Man, but I don’t intend to ‘spoil’ it much. There’s not a lot of reason to talk about it in the context of specific incident or ideas, but rather about its tone and style, and why I think I like it so much. That said, this is definitely ‘content warning-y.’
Just a list off the top of my head, then. Content warning for extensive graphic violence, eye trauma, a lot of talk about guns and their importance, alcohol consumption, throwing up, puppeteering, implied child endangerment (sexual), actual child endangerment, blood all over the place, zombies, torture, cannibalism (both sudden and shocking, and slow and considered), existential horror, workplace anxiety, and it’s got a bunch of great characters in it, many of whom die abruptly.Continue Reading →
I’m guna talk about stuff to do with cultural lenses and background material, and I’m going to talk about a Polish movie and a Polish book series, as a non-Polish person who has almost no grounding in that space. That means that by necessity, the ways I discuss this are going to be from an outsider’s perspective, making comparisons to media I do know, and that’s how it’s gunna be. It’s also going to be about a serial-killer based crime drama with some medical trauma and poverty themes, so like, before we go on, let’s start with a big ole Content Warning.
Content Warning: This is a serial killer horror story, this is a crime story, this is a story with some graphic visual effects, and it’s a Polish movie being talked about by a dude who cannot reliably say he’d find Poland on a map.Continue Reading →
1943. The Atlantic Ocean. The single greatest U-Boat operation of the entire war thus far has just finished. The USS Tiger Shark cuts beneath the waves, an absolute behemoth of metal and sweat, a machine made for this new, unique field of battle. The sea struggles around, the bellows pump, and the sonar pings, as this great, heaving, terrifying machine, a mystery to even those who drive it answer a call.
There’s a British hospital ship, it’s sunk, and there are survivors. As the only ship nearby, the Tiger Shark breaches and rescues three people; two patients of the hospital ship, and a woman nurse.
But it’s not well on the Tiger Shark. A woman is bad luck, they say, and the morale is seemingly down in the dumps. A malaise hovers over everything. The patients aren’t looking hopeful, the captain seems haggard and haunted, and there’s a something wrong that nobody can name.
Is it a ghost story?
A horror story?
A spy thriller, where a saboteur somehow infiltrates the Submarine?
Content Warning: This movie is about a horror scenario with death on a submarine, so there’s drowning, there’s guns, there’s Nazis, there’s creepy ghosty stuff. You know, kinda what you’d expect.Continue Reading →
Have you read the work of Sutter Caine?
this is real.
This is a real thing that happens.
Content Warning: Lovecraftian horror, Kingian horror, medical imprisonment, a dog is injured in this movie, suicide and axe murder, destruction of consensus reality, and body horror (both in movie and out).
I’ll also spoil the whole thing within two paragraphs. Like, I’m not going to mess around here.Continue Reading →
I knew, ahead of time, when I started on the Nicolas Cage-em-up theme for a month that this was going to be the movie I did last. I knew, because I knew that I thought really well of this movie, that there was a definite here here. That there was a story I remembered seeing – like, in 2007 – and that I had the sort of lurched, sunk-in feeling in my gut that the movie I’d seen had been something. That it was impressive and dark and also weirdly funny, but I somehow couldn’t remember the finale, couldn’t remember the end clearly.
Coming back to it, I realised the reason I couldn’t remember the end clearly, because the ending isn’t clear. It just goes on.
And that’s the point.
If you’re looking for a recommendation and want to see if you should bother with movies, going in blind, you should absolutely check out Lord Of War if you can handle a violent, drug-addled movie about guns and death and the idea of industrialised human harm and atrocities. This movie is cynical in a way few stories manage, and dark in a way that few actors can pull off.
And Nicolas Cage is pretty much perfect in this movie.Continue Reading →
Talking about Drive Angry runs the risk of becoming just a list of what you might have heard described as Holy Shit Moments. Honestly it’s a problem that plagues a lot of the Nicolas Cage ouvre, where this actor who’s particularly good at throwing himself into roles and who seemingly has a neverending appetite for work keeps getting handed movies which continually push the limits of a sensible creative’s idea of hey, should I maybe say no to this? It’s only due to licensing and availability that meant I didn’t look at all these Nicolas Cage movies well into October, with titles like Wicker Man (the beees), Colour Out of Space (and trust me, I thought about it), Mandy and Willy’s Wonderland all making up easily an entire October of Dread-themed Nicolas Cage movies, all of which would probably be easier to talk about than Drive Angry.
But here we are.
Drive Angry is a movie about Nicolas Cage as a man who escaped from hell with Satan’s own gun to save his infant granddaughter. In the simplest possible way to describe it, this movie does nothing special and nothing new. It is a structurally coherent movie where you can basically summarise it as ‘dude chases after thing, almost gets it, gets it, story end. It is a pop song of a movie, three minutes or ninety minutes of exactly what you expect based on the opening few bars and then you have to decide if that’s for you or for not.
It is important to talk about Drive Angry in this anodyne way because if you don’t, you kind of have to talk about it as an experience and then all the coherent words go out the fucking window.Continue Reading →
All my friends know the low rider.
Nicolas Cage movies never feel like they’re doing anything exciting or novel as much as they are the kind of pipework and standard model that all other movies are riffing off. If you’ve never seen the type of movie in the genre before, any given Nic Cage movie is going to blow your mind, but by default, he’s not doing challenging work as much as he is doing fun work. The kinds of movies he chooses to do — well, I guess it seems like it’s more about who bothers to call him, the man will star in anything it seems — do not seem very avant garde or surprising. It means the man serves as a sort of grading label on any given movie, something that gets to be enjoyable to watch and maybe crests into very funny, but by default if they put Nicolas Cage on the poster, the movie you’re getting won’t be that complicated.
Before Fast And The Furious was an extremely muscular meme, that meme lived and breathed in Gone In 60 Seconds.
This movie is sort of high water mark for this sort of floor-and-ceiling of Nicolas Cage Quality principle: Gone In 60 Seconds is a dumb movie with poop jokes and weirdly PG-rated criminals, and it’s a pretty good time.
Your narrative: Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage, the best car thief who ever car thiefed, but he left that life behind. His kid brother, however, didn’t, and now he’s in trouble, so he needs his brother to save him, through Car Thiefing. He proceeds to do so, with some complication.
That’s it, that’s the tweet.Continue Reading →
Con Air is a 1997 action movie that gets to be beloved. I don’t know why. I don’t know what could justify it. I mean, every part of this movie is stupid from the base of its soles to the top of its head and the whole wretched exercise uses that deliberate stupidity as a sort of performative figleaf for the things this movie very clearly thinks about how reality should be.
This movie is a beautiful example of verisimillitude, a long word we use to describe the impression of being real. Lots of times people will ask for ‘reality’ in their media, but they don’t want that – they want things to seem real. People don’t want realistic violence or sex scenes or relationships, especially since those things are both much faster and much slower than they think. It is a movie that somehow constructs a reality that’s meant to be ‘you know, like real things’ yet somehow every single thing this movie tries to show you tends to be just wrong.Continue Reading →
Anime is a crapshoot.
This slot has been tied for The Great Pretender for the better part of a year. The plan was, after seeing it, being so intrigued with the opening, that I’d watch the whole thing in the first few months, once Crunchyroll had it on their ads-paid area.
When I felt it was time, I watched the first two episodes.
Thought about it…
And stopped.Continue Reading →
This movie is shockingly bad.
That’s not hyperbole; when I watched the first Now You See Me I was shocked at how bad it was, with the structure of the movie and its general incompetence creating this sort of impossibly tangled mess of failure. To describe the plot of that movie is to rush past constant cul-de-sacs of narrative failure, an act of will that requires you to treat the movie as if it’s better than it actually is, because of its bottomless well of failures. Now You See Me 2 takes that bottomless well of failure and installs a sub-basement, in all the ways that unnecessary sequels do.
This original movie was terrible, and this movie is aggressively worse.Continue Reading →
Do you remember the song Wind Of Change?
Or, knowing my audience’s typical age, do you know that song your older sibling or parent or wine aunt or board game uncle liked, Wind Of Change, by 80s metal band Scorpions?
What if I told you that that song was not by Scorpions, but was, in fact, a CIA op designed to undermine the Soviet Union?
Okay, there are four broad responses to that idea and it depends on how you see media and how you see the CIA. If, for example, you think media is a completely powerless element of our reality, just a reflection that people partake of with no effect, and CIA as a sensible wing of the US government that largely spends its time listening to ambassadors and definitely not doing anything weird or unreliable with an enormous black budget, this probably sounds completely silly.
But if you see media as powerful, or you see the CIA as a pack of unaccountable weirdoes who occasionally destabilise governments ‘just in case we need that coup later’, then suddenly every part of it gets a little more believable.
And if you think that the media helps us shape our reality, especially as it pertains to political movements and popular uprising and that the CIA are the kind of organisation that spent thousands of dollars on developing cats that explode and dog poop radios, and then the whole thing sounds very believable.
This idea doesn’t come out of nowhere, mind you.
It comes from the CIA.
The TV broadcast is rolling.
The silhouette of the rocket on the launching pad, the black shape created by the cresting sun.
The sound, from somewhere, to somewhere, about the countdowns, about the tanks being flooded, about the expectations of the mission. About the vast things humans have done, to make this happen, about how this is a first step on a months long path.
About this, the first crewed flight to Mars.
And then, someone taps on the side of the module where you’re sitting, and says: You need to get out. We need to talk.
Capricorn One (1978) is a conspiracy thriller movie about NASA trying to fake an extraterrestrial landing in order to avoid embarrassment and funding failures, and the escalation required to maintain a conspiracy that does not hold.Continue Reading →
Even if you win, you can’t win.
I had no idea that I was going to like this movie so much.
Poolhall Junkies is a 2002 movie with the extremely worrying phrase in its byline: Written, directed by, and starring Mars Callahan. And he’s not in this movie as a minor character, this isn’t a Quentin Tarantino thing – this is Mars Callahan writing a script, then directing a movie, about a character that he plays, and relies heavily on the skills that Mars Callahan absolutely actually has.
Before we go on, some content warnings, and like, one of them is a big one. There’s a reason I invoked Quentin Tarantino.
CONTENT WARNING: In the opening five minutes of this movie, there is a white character using the n-word. It is used repeatedly, it is used in a conversation with a black man, and is used with a hard r. It is a conversation about n-word privileges, and at the end of the conversation, because the white man uses the hard r, the subject is dropped, only to come up shortly after when it’s shown that the black man knows the protagonist wouldn’t talk like that unless something was wrong. It definitely comes across as edgy comedy about Who Can Say That at first. Later, the n-word without the hard r is used to refer to a black man, by the villain, and that black man doesn’t show up to respond or retaliate about that until the end of the movie.
Since the character is played by the author of the script and the director, it feels very uncomfortable to me, and it happens so early in the movie that I can understand if it turns you off entirely.
CONTENT WARNING: In a very generally 2002 way, this movie uses the r-word twice that I saw. It also has some conversations in it between characters who the movie does see as kind of stupid goofballs, where they talk about boobs and vaginas in an extremely ‘oh god, I was twenty’ way to me. Doesn’t make it better, doesn’t redeem it, but yeah, this movie has that stuff in it. And that sucks!
These warnings make it awkward, though, because if you cut these bits from the film you get a film that may well be one of my favourite movies.Continue Reading →
If you’re not familiar with the term Rooster Teeth, well, congratulations on not being as tragically online as I have been for the past twenty years. First rising to prominence through the machinima web series Red Vs Blue, a 2003 comedy series told through the medium of the limited waggly animations of Halo characters in a multiplayer map, Rooster Teeth followed up on that success with a lot of minor projects, including animation work for a bunch of other people. They then went on to create the fanfic oroborous that is RWBY, a show I tried and wasn’t fantastically impressed with, but also seemed largely harmless. At the time I watched it, I said:
here is a show where you, girl born in 1995, get to be a main character superhero with a sick ass scythe gun.
Knowing this, I had no strong positive opinion on Rooster Teeth as a company. They were a sliver of 2003 humour that, yes, is undeniably part of my personal lexicon — which tastes like red bull. Which is disgusting — but I didn’t imagine that they were particularly important creators.
A friend mentioned hey, you should check out Gen:Lock. I think you’d like it.
And, because I was a little dubious about that, I didn’t check it out for two years. And it turns out that that friend knows me way, way better than I’m used to being known, ‘cos this year, on a lark, I watched Gen: Lock and then I became mildly insufferable as I tried to find an awake friend who had also watched it so I could talk to them about it.
This is gunna feature some broad ‘spoilers’ but nothing I feel is a big deal. This isn’t really a series about The Mystery, this is a series about the moment.
Well, you see, danger and evil are everywhere. Nature thought that we didn’t care. Who can help the world survive? Who can keep a dream alive?
There are two parts to this article.
The first part, the easy part, the nice part, is going to come before the fold. No spoilers, just a little summary of this fun little movie that I had a good time with, because it’s a fun movie.
The Mitchells Vs. The Machines is a 2021 animated movie about a family road trip. It was going to come out in theatres, but 2020 kept happening, so instead it came to Netflix, where you can watch it right now, if you want. It’s about a teenage girl about to leave her home for college to study animation, and the ensuing feelings of family distance that come with it. It’s about one last road trip to bond together, to build memories before the onset of college life.
And then the machine apocalypse hits.
Look, you know the kind of colour-by-numbers kids’ movie we’re dealing with here. A family against the world, in their so-called car, coming up with schemes and chicanery to try and survive, then save the world. The main characters are a kind of likable, the jokes are very funny, and the sense of humour relies on actually knowing a few things about the kind of things they’re teasing.
It’s one of your heartwarming everything-works-out-okay kind of movie, with some fun unexpected laughs, a great sense of timing, and an interesting instagram-filter-and-stickers kind of aesthetic to express its character.
Solid movie. I liked watching it with my friend. It was a good time.
We’re done, right?
And the rest is below the fold.
Why now? Because it’s not Pride Month material, but it’s really close.
Sk8 The Infinity, stylised as SK∞ THE INFINITY, is a high water mark in the long-established genre of The Not Gays. Incarnated in this case as a classic ‘sports’ anime of ‘two hot boys and their mutual special interest,’ a genre deftly feigned by this year’s Misplaced Smooch Month Anime Haikyuu!!, Sk8 The Infinity is a Studio BONES production, with the talent of Hiroko Utsumi, formerly of the other most recent triumphant entry in the Not Gays genre, Free! which was about a heroic group of anime swimboys banding together to fund an animation studio, and also the anime adaptation of Banana Fish, an anime in the comparatively small Actually Gays genre.
And Sk8 The Infinity is, as much as this genre goes, real good.
Look, ‘good’ is a weightless word, all it tells you is I liked it, and I liked this. I liked this anime a lot and I think the story as much as it can signals that a bunch of these hot boys are kissing and it’s cool and the music is great and the sense of kinetic motion is excellent and the villain is ridiculous and the cultural insights are perfect and the boys are really hot and it’s great. I enjoyed it a lot. If you’re just looking for some extremely lightweight, predictable anime about hot boys who probably kiss, then you should check out Sk8 and then get an AO3 account for what I am sure must be an absolute torrent of fanfiction.
For those who want more, gunna give you a plot rundown and some light spoilers after the fold.Continue Reading →
Something had to be this month’s anime (so as to just not overload the Story Pile with being about anime this year), so your choice was deniably gay boys or definitely trans girls, so spin the wheel and here we are.
This is an article about Zombieland Saga, an idol anime. To get into it we’re going to talk about some spoilers, we’re going to talk about the genre, and we’re going to talk about genders, but to get there, we’re going to have to talk about dead girls. Like, actually, literally, really dead girls. They died, and the series makes comedy out of it but undeniably, this is a series about a bunch of teenaged girls who died. If you’re not here for an anime which literally hits a child with a car in the opening minutes, as in ‘pair of minutes’ – then you can totally afford to skip this anime. Okay?
Content Warning: Child Death, abusive business practices, and some body horror! For comedy!
I’m also going to talk about this series without any concern for spoilers. If you just want the general ‘hey, Talen, do you think I’d like Zombieland Saga?’ the response is ‘I mean kinda?’ It’s about as good as it looks. It’s completely unremarkable as an idol show, from what I can tell, the songs peak at ‘eh’ and there’s pretty much no compelling reason to watch it except as it relates to the inclusion of some fun Pride-related stuff. It’s available for free to watch on Crunchyroll.
I can’t just say ‘watch one episode and ditch on it’ because the cast largely doesn’t show up until episode three, and that’s when you’ll know if you care about the characters at all.
This fucking show.
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.
Disney did something queer.
Or, well, kind of.