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: Voltron Part II: Faces Of Evil

Last week I talked about how Voltron: Legendary Defender is a series of archetypes. It’s a story made up of scaffolding, and what holds it together is a consistant moral and thematic outlook. One of the ways the story holds its form is through its villains, and how they, consistently, are alone.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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Story Pile: Voltron Part I: A Series Half-Full

Voltron: Legendary Defender has ended. There is now as much of Voltron: Legendary Defender as there is ever likely to be. The story is done, its themes and story are all there; nothing can come in to change the text that is and we can consider what it means, or what it is about, or what it says to us.

If you’re wondering should I watch Voltron: Legendary Defenders, in the broadest possible way, with the minimum of spoilers, then to be up front: This series is great! It’s a cool adventure story with a bunch of interesting, diverse characters, and a regularly shifting status quo that keeps the story from becoming static. It’s very much an adventure story of big robots and fighting monsters in space, rather than your monster-of-the-week model you got in the original Voltron series, and there’s a lot of really cool different stories that make up the whole of the show.

I like Voltron: Legendary Defender.

And I want to talk about what it was about.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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Story Pile: 2018

It’s been a year, hasn’t it?

Game Pile work is by definition slower and more difficult to do than Story Pile. I can watch videos or listen to audio dramas or digest movies while I’m doing other things. Cleaning the house and playing a videogame at the same time isn’t going to be a problem. Unless a series is remarkably long (looking at you, Star Trek), even if I don’t get it, I can get it more on a rewatch. I don’t tend to be drawn to media that needs multiple viewings, too. Not to sound like a snob but the kind of academic reading I have to do right now really has me filled up on ‘oo but what does that meaaaaan’ kind of fictive experiences.

What this means is that rather than rethinking the Story Pile in my head with hindsight, what I’ve mostly been thinking about has been the general texture of the quality of what I’ve been watching, listening to, and reading this year for my pleasure.

Some stuff this year has been great but the Story Pile has also, in the latter half of the year, taken its time to kick around some utter tosh.

Okay, first of all, good stuff, reviews that I think are good commentary on good media. Stuff where I liked what I saw or read or listened to and I think you’d like it too. I tried not to do too many of these – I didn’t want the whole year of talking media to be about things I already knew I thought were great. This list includes Arrested Development (the first series), Monster, Hello Rockview and Cul De Sac. A TV series, a manga, an album and a newspaper cartoon – pretty odd grouping, really.

Then there’s the stuff that I experienced for the first time this year that I thought was super great: Pacific Rim, Black Panther and Drive. I feel like Pacific Rim got a treatment that’s the closest I get to just boring gushing. Black Panther is a little different, because I mostly wanted to whack at some common public opinions without involving myself in the discussions of how it should be seen.

Some of my media intake isn’t just rewatching things I half-remember, it’s informing myself on the ‘classics’ I completely missed. This year, I watched The Blues Brothers, a movie that’d been cut out of my childhood. I enjoyed Blues Brothers 2000, a movie that was not very good, and going back and watching The Blues Brothers was like taking a hit of something much more crude, more raw, and much more potent.

Of course, there’s been a bunch of crap, almost all masquerading as something that hypothetically I’d like. Arrested Development went on to a second series that is just plain out bad, for example. All flabby and meanspirited and unnecessarily awkward, even though it had a framing device I like.

The superhero space got its fair share of garbage, too, and so you could see me being a giant pissbaby about my superhero stories not being good enough – I went in on Daredevil Season 3, The Punisher, Justice League, and Iron Fist Season 2 (Danny sucks), and even gave Aquaman a stomping, even though it just came out yesterday.

Also, special mention goes to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. My review of that book received an enormous amount of attention, and I think that, in part, it’s because I wrote it in a clever way. Nonetheless, I am glad, because Trigger Warning is a silly book of mediocre garbage that wants to cloak itself in knives.

Then there were the surprises. Stuff I didn’t know I’d like, stuff I was actually willing to ignore at first. The surprises, like Nanette, a truly blistering comedy show that presented the mind and pride of Hannah Gasbdy. Or Sonic Boom, a tie in show for a Sonic the Hedgehog game that has both nothing to do with the game and is really excellent on its own merits.

And who could forget how much I enjoyed Kamen Rider W, a series I’d been stupidly sleeping on for almost two years! These were all pleasant new things I got to experience this year, and I’m really glad I did. Nanette was excoriating and intense and amazing and heartful and wholesome while also brutal, and Kamen Rider W was a whole new genre of energetic love in form.

I liked Nanette enough to make a video about it, and I liked Kamen Rider W enough to make a whole month of essays about the ways it’s a Good Show. Basically I liked Kamen Rider W as much as I disliked Iron Fist. Is that a good metric?

There’s stuff I wish I’d written about – The Dragon Prince, and Voltron: Legendary Defenders, or the manga-and-anime Geobreeders. I wish I’d found the time to read Windblade and make my video about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. But these things will come in time, and now they have time to percolate in my mind, to get better and better as I learn how to make better and better media. I know one thing I want to do is talk about why I dislike Hunk in Voltron so much, or talk about why media like Stephen Universe and She-Ra and the Princess Of Power lost me.

Oh, and go check out Dragon Prince, it’s really good. And Voltron. And watch Korra again!

Story Pile: Whatever Kuno’s Watching

Surprise!

I don’t watch a lot of anime. I don’t watch a lot of kid’s anime. I also only ever bring the perspective of an ex-cultist messed up angryboy who yells about cartoons. I’m also, if you’re not inclined to notice, not especially Horny On Main. My perspective is very much that of A Guy, for example. Some lines of dialogue are just not going to affect me the same way they might affect a more obviously queer person.

My brosis Kuno, available here on twitter, tweets at times about the anime they’re watching, in semiregular threads. Now, back when I started on Decemberween I was planning on making a post about some of Kuno’s best threads about anime, but … uh, they’re kind of a mess? Because twitter is a mess, itself. So instead I want to take this Story Pile entry to instead talk about the nature of the twitter thread, and its use as a commentary tool.

Throughout this year I wrote a series of threads reacting to Kamen Rider W, a series that Kuno gave me. In those threads, I made up and repeated a number of jokes – particularly, the model of Nothing Gay Was Happening, or The Sexaphones, or Has Gun, or The Guy Who Sucks.

This is a model of humour that’s very hard to create anywhere else, I feel, because it’s kind of like an MST3k presentation, but much longer form, and with a much more engaging media work. You kind of watch the material, read the thread, rewatch the media, or the thread inspires or reminds you of the media experience, or the thread is this out of context range of very slightly absurd things. At the same time, some of the jokes work best because they are sincere reactions to the show surprising the commentator, unlike the more formally written stuff of MST3k (usually).

And I wanted to say, this is a form of comedy that Kuno is really good at. I feel like trying to live up to their standards and make Kuno laugh made my threads better (and a bit less meanspirited). Because Kuno is incredibly funny and witty in this very emotionally raw and honest and soft way. It’s one thing when a guy like me with my range of privilege and damage can get up and make jokes about being hurt and kicked around, it’s like performatively throwing myself down the stairs. It’s another thing for them, with their context, to be able to make jokes that are both intensely dark but also uplifting and humanising.

If you follow Kuno and watch the kind of comedy they write about the shows they like to watch, you’re going to see stuff I’m never going to mention to you, enjoyed wholly and sincerely. And that’s great and I really think you should keep an eye out for the next time they do a thread on an animes.

Story Pile: Good Will Hunting

I don’t really like chess.

I mean I don’t play it. I never have. Not really. Played a few games, sat down to try and learn it, pushed pieces around, failed to identify a way to win, lost a lot, never really got into it. Chess isn’t very fun. Being good at chess is, from what I can tell, pretty great. As an actual game though it’s really basic and there’s this huge investment of research to be good at it and the people who play it tend to include some really tiresome people.

It’s not that chess is a bad game really, I just find it really boring.

Gotta know the basics of chess, though.

That’s what smart people do.

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Story Pile: Star Trek: The Next Generation

At the start of this year I was in a really weird space when it came to free time. I was at the time, technically unemployed, because I had work contract coming, with the next semester, but at the same time, I didn’t have a job (or my PhD project yet). This meant that I has an absolute void of free time, and I sought things to fill it up.

And let me tell you.

There’s a lot of Star Trek.

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Story Pile: Iron Fist, Season 2 – Danny

Joking aside, the fact is, I think Iron Fist Season 2 deserves some consideration as an object lesson for writers. It’s a series that has a structural problem – something is wrong in the way that the series is made, there’s a brokenness in it, and that break means that everything that connects to it is itself, in some way, sharing in that brokenness.

Spoilers, in a broad sense. I’ll tell you some of the plot points, but not in any kind of specific way.

The problem with Iron Fist, Season 2, is that Danny sucks.

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Story Pile: Iron Fist, Season 2 – Mary

Let’s get the bookkeeping out of the way. Here’s your spoiler warning, I discuss a character and their backstory and if you somehow wanted to go into Iron Fist for the surprise, then you want to skip out now. Mild content warning for mentioning traumagenic mental health issues.

Iron Fist has been cancelled, but I don’t really believe that. I think it’s much more likely that these shows have been shut down for a point of soft continuity with Netflix and Disney’s upcoming streaming service. There might not be any more of this Iron Fist but there almost certainly could be more if Disney decide it’s worth their return on investment.

The question that keeps coming up is why do this?

One might wonder why I feel the need, after consideration, to turn to the second Iron Fist season and engage with it critically. After all, the series has been cancelled; there will be no more of it. It’s gone, I’ve won. Right? That’s what critics do, they engage with media purely as part of a way of exerting their power on the object. Stop, stop, I won, it’s already dead! And what if someone out there really liked it? By criticising a thing they liked, am I not hurting them, am I not reflecting upon them and maybe making them feel bad, because my opinions and theirs disagree?

And here, I want to offer you comfort. Even if it was somehow meanspirited to kick this series while it was down, it is a multi-milion dollar project and everyone involved is doing fine. If you, personally, feel attacked by my talking about this series being bad, please, don’t read this article and go elsewhere. Live your life.

I want to talk about Iron Fist Season 2 because I like stories, I like this kind of story, and I want to talk about ways to do this kind of thing well. That means, when the time comes, recognising when something bad does something right. With that in mind, I want to talk about the best thing in Iron Fist, Season 2.

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Story Pile: Something YOU Make

Hey, there was meant to be an article here and there wasn’t, and so now you get this, which is me flying by the seat of my goddamn pants because reasons. Hey, no, you don’t get a big important Story Pile about Meaningful Themes because it’s NOVEMBER, which means people are doing NanoWriMo, and I wanted to take a moment to take you, and encourage you to make something.

I write Story Pile posts because I like looking at and thinking about the things stories tell us about ourselves and other people when we partake in them. I like stories, a lot, and I like it when a story does a good job of expressing itself, where the things that the story cares about are shown to matter to that story. It’s one of the most jarring things to watch a story that preaches nonviolence and truth to an ideal decide to chicken out and use a rules loophole, ala Avatar: The Last Airbender, or for a story to build itself around a central character who’s a Very Important Person that Everyone Cares About but the story presents that character as a thoughtless unlikable dick, like in Iron Fist.

What I want to encourage you to try instead is something that is thematically resonant, much smaller, and expresses something you want to exist. And I want you to make it despite the fact that there isn’t a big important genre legacy for it. I want you to make it despite the fact there aren’t millions of people taking part and getting mad at it and being insufferable to their friends. I don’t want you to spend November writing 50,000 words.

If you want a writing project this November, I want you to try out writing about 8,000 to 20,000 words, in the form of a Lite Novel, for Light Novelember 2018. But this isn’t the only thing you can make. You can offer to make illustrations for someone else’s story idea. You can make fake covers for books you want to see get made, but don’t know how to make. You can make the story for someone else’s cover! The point is not to get hung up on word counts and the novel as it is to express yourself in a way that means something to you. Something fun. Something indulgent.

Here are three basic reasons to do this instead of NanoWriMo.

1. NanoWriMo Encourages Volume

Hey, I may just be talking as someone who just marked 50,000 words of essays but do you know what’s really hard? Conveying good stories in small spaces. Know what’s comparatively easy? Waffling on and creating lots of excessive words while you watch a word counter go up because you can at least construct a coherent sentence while you’re following around this little buzzing bee in the back of your head.

The drive for word counts is the same thing as the drive for an aggressive update schedule, which is why Instagram hasn’t got any novels on it but it does have lots of boobs, and why Fifty Shades of Grey has so many pointless arguments between two people over nothing in spaces that are pretty much meaningless to the conversation. Once you get past the basics of how to commit to a story structure of beginning-middle-end, padding that word count gets easier and easier. Just introduce a new character. How about a twist and now it’s cyberpunk. Oh but now there are zombies!

This won’t get you a story. It’ll usually get you six or seven stories which individually, could be polished up into something pretty good, if you allowed yourself to leave them as small stories.

2. Small Stories Teach You

You may have a big epic trying to get out of you and that’s good. I don’t want to dissuade you. But big epic stories take a lot of time to make, and if you’ve never made anything else you’re going to make mistakes, mistakes that you won’t notice until you’re well along, and that may be too late to fix them, or it may make the whole project fall apart.

Small stories can change a lot. They can fix themselves. They can even be released, with their mistakes, because they didn’t take up months of your life. They can be learning experiences, and what’s more, when you make a small story, and share it, you’re sharing it with other people who may be scared to try stories too. They’ll see what you did, and recognise that it’s not so hard, and maybe they’ll make something as well.

If you think the first step to being a writer is writing a novel, you’re going to falter so many times before you can get there.

3. Nobody Will Make What You Make

There aren’t going to be people telling the stories that sing to you the same way as you do. Your stories may appeal to others in ways they weren’t expecting, but if you want to tell a story about nagas or tonberries or sentient talking strawberries or whatever, the easiest way to see that story come into existence is to make it yourself.

And I wouldn’t have thought of it.

It’s true!

You might find common ideas with other people, you might find inspiration in common, but in this space, there’s room for all sorts of oddball ideas, for your specific wants, to give voice to your specific desires for a story.

And it’s okay, because we’re here to tell stories and have fun. Make a story about smooching, or about rayguns, or about the bold trans dude biologist who saves the day by deducing the way to communicate with dragons through the bone structures of their jaws. This is a time to write something indulgent and not worry about if it’s serious enough or good enough or important enough to be treated ‘seriously.’

I have written about how to write a Lite Novel in the past. Here’s the guide to that. If you want to talk to me about this on Twitter, please do. This here is an unscheduled, off the cuff announcement, so I probably missed something.

Story Pile: Monster

I’ve talked about the challenge of talking about big work in the past. I sometimes use the term mile wide pie, where some experiences are so time consuming or have some single facet engaging enough that you can’t really judge the work as a whole. All I can do, really, is talk to you about my experience of the thing, but how can I do that without simply sitting by your side as I recount the whole thing? I don’t think there’s an interest in me doing a Manga Reread Podcast or something like that. Monster is a big series – eighteen volumes of manga, filled with short stories and diversions that reinforce the central theme of the story, things I could leave out of the retelling but which still matter to the story. Then there’s an anime, a rare example of an almost perfectly faithful adaptation that does as little as possible to change the original work, yet highlights just how tightly the manga is devised.

What I can offer instead then is a sort of snapshot. A handful of moments, things that stand out to me in a work that resonated with me powerfully. Before we go on, though, two warnings. One, I will talk about some of the events in this series.

Two, this series gets a lot of content warnings. It is not a light series, it is not a breezy read. Without comprehensive review, the book features child endangerment (and how), suicide, depression, repressed memories, child abuse, enfant terrible, actual literal real neo-Nazis, Hitler Stuff and good old fashioned violence, but really it’s quite sedate there. This is not gory, it is terrible. It is a horror story. It is an extremely horrifying horror story. It is also uplifting, and humanising, and helped me feel whole.

I want to talk to you about Monster.

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Story Pile: Jennifer’s Body

hoo boy.

If you don’t remember this movie, I don’t blame you. The marketing for it sort of oriented itself around the selling point that Megan Fox is hot, and She makes out with Amanda Seyfried in this movie. The trailer even seemed to dedicate quite a bit of time to showing off that sequence, which had about it the waft of a movie that was trying very hard to make its 15 racy seconds feel like 30. A transgressive, raunchy, highschool-aimed horror movie, Jennifer’s Body showed up just long enough to make everyone I know roll their eyes and go ugh about it as they went on to talk about how horribly exploitive it probably was.

The thing that nobody seemed to know at the time was that Jennifer’s Body wasn’t a Species-style exploitative horror film with nothing going on, it was a Frankenstein-style exploitative horror film with nothing going on. By that, I mean that this movie is basically the mediocre bits of three other movies that were killed, stitched together into something that resembles a whole. Continue reading

Story Pile: Pacific Rim

Just as Game Pile has developed away from its roots of being a pure videogame review section of the website and instead developed into a house for me to talk about stuff in videogames, using videogames as ways to talk about anything else that interests me as well, I realised that one thing that paralysed me was a movie that I enjoyed but didn’t have anything super-meaningful to say about.

I mean, what am I gunna say about Pacific Rim? Just eight paragraphs of enthusiastic wibbling about big robots and big monsters with three pictures interspersed? Is it enough for me to just talk about disjointed stuff I liked in a movie without some greater, central thesis?

Let’s find out!

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Story Pile: Aquaman, But Moreso

Alright, so if I’m not happy with the way Aquaman is being treated based on a trailer and the quite safe assumption that the DC Expanded universe is being made by a neverending stream of teapots that suffer from such fundamental failings as objectivism or being Joss Whedon, what would I do differently? Yes, it’s me jumping on a bandwagon of popular analysis form where because I’ve gotten your attention thanks to talking about media that exists, I think I can talk you into listening to my ideas about media that should exist.

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Story Pile: Aquaman Trailer

I at some point in my life shifted from the kind of person who made fun of Aquaman, because he was a character you kind of knew about but it was easy to imagine making fun of him, to someone who spends his time arguing about how much interesting potential Aquaman has as a storytelling agent, frustrated at the previous group of people.

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Story Pile: Luke Cage, Season 2

There are challenges describing series that are part of the zeitgeist. When I talk about videogames it’s always as the Cool Take school of study, where nobody else is talking about the game and therefore whatever I’m saying is presenting to you a game you might not already know about, and giving you a reason to consider what the game is like or about, or some reason to care about it, or connect it to your life. When it comes to popular main-stream movies and series, though, that task is more difficult both because almost certainly someone else is giving that take, and there are some takes I don’t feel equipped to deliver.

Before I go on, though: I liked Luke Cage, Season 2, but it wasn’t a lot of fun. Good, grungy drama, and the time I can consciously think I had the most fun were sequences with Bushmaster being righteously angry.

I can’t speak to the values of blackness in Luke Cage. I can’t speak to what it’s like to be torn between two worlds, to have your identities – potential or otherwise – dictated to you by people who reject your humanity, not in this way. I don’t know the music. I don’t know the culture. I don’t know the life.

But.

There’s this moment.

Spoilers for Luke Cage Season 2 follow.
CW: Discussion of gendered violence, sexual abuse, biphobia

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Story Pile: Hello Rockview

There’s this joke, about ska.

The joke is that not many people like ska, and people who do like ska, are funny, and to be laughed at.

It’s not a really good joke, but it seems to be the only way ska music gets brought up. Hey, remember ska? Some people like it! Hah! You do sometimes see the variant ‘I can’t believe there was a time where we thought ska was good,’ usually in reference to the late 90s when a handful of ska bands got a few songs on the radio, which represented, of course, an invasion.

Also it got to be in the Digimon soundtrack because it was cheap, which is probably where a lot of people heard it the first time.

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Kamen Rider W Week 4: Sincere

When regarding any production made for Japan by the Japanese without an explicit eye towards translation and distribution – so, you know, lots of stuff – there’s a temptation towards an orientalist lens. The typical weeb view that Anime and Manga and such things are so much deeper than the tawdry production of the west, that these shows aren’t for kids, when they very much are for actual kids.

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Kamen Rider W Week 3: Rubber

There’s a physicality to the Kamen Rider W universe that you don’t get even in big-budget superhero stories. That’s because a lot of the time when Robert Downey Jr is waving his hand at a table, he’s acting the heck out of interacting with an empty space. Thor talks to a head on a stick. Ian McKellan sits in an empty room made up of 100% greenscreen and cries to himself about the technical emptiness of a craft that started on a stage. These are the restraints on the implementation of computer effects as the foundation of a scene.

In Kamen Rider W, as with other Kamen Rider shows, the baddies are made outta rubber.

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Kamen Rider W Week 2: Hardboiled

In Kamen Rider W, they use the term hardboiled a lot, and they directly, by name, invoke the idea of hardboiled detective fiction. The books are shown in shots, around the home and office that Sokichi made, and Hidari later inherited. Sokichi names Phillip after after Phillip Marlowe, the character central to Raymond Chandler’s series of novels. It’s repeatedly invoked in the case of secret catboy Hidari Shotaro, where he explains why he does something as being the essence of hardboiled. The series’ theme –

which is awesome

is called WBX for DOUBLE-BOILED EXTREME.

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Kamen Rider W Week 1: Patterns

Kamen Rider W is my first Kamen Rider Series and it owns bones. It is a high-energy series about loving a place, about wanting to live up to your potential, about found family, about the stories we tell one another, about legacies and respect and love and fear and about kicking baddies in the face and refusing to give up and there’s a motorbike which changes parts and there’s a truck that drives the motorbike around and –

I really like this show.

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Story Pile: Cul De Sac

We’re going to do something a little bit different this time.

This Story Pile is going to be about the newspaper comic Cul De Sac, a comic I really like, but which is also, unlike other media I cover, actually kind of already represented online in its entirety as it is. Like, if you want to go read Cul De Sac, you can… just… do that. The other thing we’re going to talk about is Calvin and Hobbes, which Bill Watterson, the creator, has been similarly archived online, but also crucially, not by me.

Normally I break up these essays on media with pictures from the media in question, or youtube embeds or whatever, but GoComics lacks that functionality and while I could always take the strips, upload and offer them in the context of my own work and you know, review and educational purposes (which it is), I’d still feel just a bit of a dick about it. This is much as with the work of Gary Larson, who has asked that people not circulate Far Side strips online, and, well, they do anyway.

With that in mind, I’m making the conscious decision to not put any of the comic strips here in this blog post. Instead, I’m going to try and keep it short.

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Story Pile: The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a 2003 American history-drama movie where Tom Cruise The Space Pope reprises his basic conceptual role in Dances With Wolves* and goes to Japan to learn of these strange, exotic natives and their wildly different ways. It is a story regularly lambasted for a variety of reasons such as its grotesquely understated depiction of Tom Cruise’s alcoholic soldier going completely teetotal without any seeming ill effects (which is very fair) to its claiming that Tom Cruise becomes ‘the best Samurai’ in the narrative (which is not) to the marketing which literally puts TOM CRUISE THE LAST SAMURAI directly adjacent one another suggesting that no actually, yes, Tom Cruise does become The Last Samurai in this story (which is extremely fair).

BUT WE’RE NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE, HA HA

We’re going to talk about Samurai.

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Story Pile: Arrested Development, Part II

After the first series of Arrested Development, seasons 1-3, they revived it. Who’s they? The wizards, I dunno. The point is, thanks to the neverending zombie franchiseland that is Netflix and the endless well of relaunch fever for people who were noticing we were approaching or in middle age desperately tried to head back to the mid eighties, Arrested Development was brought back to life in 2013.

It’s not very good.

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