Mad Max: Fury Road Review

So this is the first of my draft purgatory articles, I’ve decided to to write a brief introduction to each and give you some insight as to why I didn’t post it. I originally wrote this three months ago when I saw Mad Max in theaters, but then made the mistake of reading other people’s reviews of it and decided I wasn’t saying anything new, so what was the point? The point is, of course, that you can never have too many points of view on something. In honor of Mad Max: Fury Road’s Blu-ray release I decided to make this the first draft purgatory article to be released into the wild. 

Mad Max: Fury Road is another movie I judged by its cover, a mistake I keep making. I never saw the original Mad Max, and what I saw of the previews made it look like another mindless action movie that would emphasize big, mind-numbing CGI battles and over-the-top characters over story and character development. All of that on top of the fact it was a remake of an old movie, something that typically never ends well, and I was totally uninterested in seeing it. But again, just like Spec Ops: The Line, I heard nothing but good things about it.

So high an uncharacteristic bout of courage and confidence, I asked a girl out on a date and we went to see Mad Max. This probably wasn’t a good movie for a second date, because I never heard from her again, but who cares? This movie is awesome.

Mad Max: Fury Road

A Storytelling Review


Mad Max is a remarkable movie, and it’s not just because it’s a feature-length car chase with some of the greatest physical effects in movie history. It also has some of the tightest writing I’ve ever seen; every single sentence serves the story, there’s not a single piece of superfluous dialogue in the entire thing. Where most modern movies feature long-winded exposition and constant smart-ass quips between characters, Mad Max manages to leave all of that behind and focus entirely on its story and characters. Max himself has so few lines that he could have been played by a plank of wood, but of course that would have robbed us of Tom Hardy’s incredible performance. He manages to convey so much emotion in so few words that if he doesn’t get an Oscar nod from this, then those awards will become even more worthless than I already think they are.

The story starts after the end of the world, after thermonuclear war has destroyed most of the planet. It takes the movie about five seconds to explain this and while I’m usually not a fan of narration in film, in this case it works. Tom Hardy’s growling, guttural voice gives you the impression of a man who so rarely uses his voice that it’s become rusted from neglect. It really immerses you in the world of Mad Max because Tom Hardy’s voice, more so than the words he’s saying, let the audience know that not only is the world decaying but so are the people in it.

The only thing rustier than the cars are the characters' souls.
The only thing rustier than the cars are the characters’ souls.

After a look at the horrifically brutal life of deprivation that plagues the people of The Citadel we’re introduced to Immortan Joe, the deified warlord and ruler of the Citadel. Immortan Joe’s speech to his people is a great example of how concise this script is and t reveals all the crucial information the audience needs to know in the span of maybe thirty seconds:

We learn that Immortan Joe controls the water supply, but that his society values gasoline (guzzoline) more highly than the most basic need humans need to survive, revealing that his society is self-destructive to the extreme. Finally it introduces Furiosa as the most trusted of Immortan Joe’s most trusted lieutenants. This is all further reinforced by the great visuals.

Whereas another, lesser movie might waste time showing her slowly gaining Immortan Joe’s trust and then pulling off a convoluted heist to save her sisters, Fury Road wisely skips all that noise and jumps right into the story. Furiosa hangs a left and drives out into the desert carrying with her Immortan Joe’s enslaved wives, and the chase scene to end all chase scenes begins.

This is basically a good overview of the whole movie.
This is basically a good overview of the whole movie.

So you might be wondering where Mad Max is and why I haven’t mentioned him yet. Well the reason is he’s been hanging around as a human blood-transfusion bag attached to one of the disease-ridden War Boys, Immortan’s fanatical soldiers. After getting chased through a hellish combination dust and electrical storm, Mad Max attempts to free himself from the shackles and tubes tying him to the knocked-out War Boy. This is one of the most important scenes in the film because it sets the tone for everything that follows. Max begins desperately trying to cut the shackles off of him, and it’s that desperation that sets the stakes of the story.

Max is afraid to die.

It’s such a basic fear, but think about how rarely you see this in stories. It reminds me of the scene from the horribly disappointing The Dark Knight Rises where the old prisoner explains to Batman that not fearing death is a weakness because a person will perform amazing feats to escape death. This applies to storytelling even more so, if you’re characters don’t possess the most basic fear that governs all life on Earth, then you’re going to lose a lot of the tension in the story. I think Marvel’s movies are the best example of this, where not only are most of the characters invincible god-creatures, but they also go out of their way to make sarcastic quips while in the middle of apocalyptic battles. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Marvel movies, I do, but they just don’t carry the same emotional weight.

The stakes are further reinforced by Furiosa’s fear of getting caught and her desire to protect her sisters at any cost. Max attempts to hijack the tanker from Furiosa and she kicks his ass pretty hard, which you might expect from a woman with a mechanical claw-hand. Max only manages to win by holding Furiosa’s sisters hostage, again emphasizing the fact that all Max wants to do is escape to live another day. Unfortunately he can’t drive the tanker without Furiosa and so for the sake of mutual survival, they team up and form the best buddy-duo since Turner and Hooch.

Given how monosyllabic Max is, that's actually a brilliant analogy.
Though I think Hooch actually had more lines in his movie.

The evolving relationship between Max and Furiosa was the best part of the movie for me. I’m a sucker for good movies about friendships and that’s essentially what this movie was, a look at how two people came to trust and protect each other in the worst of circumstances. It was especially refreshing since it was a friendship between a man and a woman that didn’t try to shoehorn in a romantic relationship. There’s no sexual tension between the characters or playful banter, which keeps the story focused on the story and characters. The monosyllabic Max has only a handful of lines in the entire movie, but the power of Tom Hardy’s performance manages to convey all of Max’s emotions without him needing to say a word. Furiosa’s sisters get very little screen time as well, but the tightly written script ensures they all feel like real, breathing human beings.

Not a single one of them falls into a stereotypically “princess in the tower” trope, they all have their own distinct personalities and all of them have been traumatized by years of sexual slavery under Immortan Joe. Angharad, heavily pregnant with Joe’s child, manages to save Max by using herself as a human shield before falling off the truck. Immortan Joe crashes his truck in a failed effort to avoid her, which is what gives Max and the others a chance to escape. Yet despite having lost one of her sisters, when Capable finds Nux on the truck, she shows him mercy.

Nux was the crazed War Boy that Max had been attached to earlier in the film, he manages to sneak aboard the tanker with plans to assassinate Furiosa. Fortunately he’s a bit of an idiot and immediately gets knocked unconscious. Nux manages to steal quite a few scenes thanks to Nicholas Hoult playing the character with such humanity. This is a movie that could easily have written off the War Boys as mindless cannibal rapists like so many post-apocalyptic stories, but Mad Max: Fury Road took the braver path and actually characterized them.

Kind of like this.
He’s not crazy, he’s just got a zest for life!

In Nux’s conversations with Capable, the girl who rescues him, he reveals that he’s just a kid terrified of the cancer eating away at his body. He joined the War Boys for the same reason a lot of kids join gangs, he wanted a sense of belonging and safety. And he followed Immortan Joe’s cult because Joe promised him a place in Valhalla, where Nux could see his friends again when he died. He was scared and alone, and he wanted some semblance of safety and belonging in a fucked up world. Not surprisingly, when confronted by compassion and understanding, Nux leaves behind his twisted beliefs and helps Max and Furiosa in their escape.

Their escape takes them through a swampland, a desolate and rotting landscape, emerging on the other side having finally put some distance between them and Immortan Joe’s army. It’s here that Furiosa reunites with her old tribe, the awesomely named Vuvalini, and a half-dozen of the most badass women in the world. When Furiosa learns that the dead swampland they’d just passed through is actually the fabled Green Land that they’d been searching for, and that most of the friends and family she’d hoped to reunite with are dead, Charlize Theron gives us one of the most heart wrenching scenes in the movie. It’s like the polar opposite of Darth Vader’s “NOOOOOO!” scene from Episode 3, a primal shriek that conveys the pain and frustration that can only come from having suffered so much to find out the paradise you hoped to find had died long ago.


Furiosa plans to take what fuel they can and drive off into the salt flats, a sun baked hellscape, hoping to find a new home on the other side. Max, however, has a bolder strategy: go back the way they came and take The Citadel from Immortan Joe. What follows is some of the best action I’ve ever seen in a movie, men throw themselves from speeding cars and use giant see-sawing poles to board the tanker. Many of the Vulvalini don’t survive the battle, unfortunately, but they all go down fighting the good fight.

At one point Furiosa takes a knife in the back and thanks to the stakes set by the movie, it’s clear that this is a life-threatening injury. Unlike tons of other action movies, Furiosa can’t just shrug off her injury, but that doesn’t mean she stops either. Bleeding out only encourages her to use her last vestiges of strength to do what she should have done years ago.

Remember me!? – Furiosa to Immortan Joe

Those are Furiosa’s words to Joe as she rips most of his face off. This is another brilliant example of both the script and the movie’s director George Miller showing instead of telling. We could have had a scene earlier in the movie where Furiosa confides in Max the horrors of her life and what Immortan might have done to her, but such a scene would have been unnecessary because all the information we need to know is already there.

Furiosa starts out terrified of Joe, she’s incredibly courageous in her bid to escape from Immortan, but actually fighting him was never part of her plan. By the end of the film Furiosa has had a chance to mourn for the home she lost so long ago and remember the proud people she came from, she’s remembered the little girl she used to be before Immortan Joe took her. So when Furiosa tells him to remember her, she’s telling him to remember the little girl he abducted from her family, the defiant girl who he tried to break and brainwash into becoming the leader of his armies. She wants him to know that nothing he ever did was enough to break her, and now nothing will save him from her.

Remember that you're not nearly as badass as you think you are.
Remember that you’re not nearly as badass as you think you are.

Furiosa returns to The Citadel and presents Immortan Joe’s body to the surviving War Boys, the people rise up and celebrate her victory, and Max disappears into the crowd.

It’s not a complicated story, but the greatest stories never are. Mad Max: Fury Road is elegant. That might seem like a strange word to use in an action movie featuring monster trucks, exploding spears and crazed killers but it absolutely fits. The script is astoundingly concise, the characters are incredible, the acting is sublime and the practical effects are simply amazing. It’s an action movie that subverts all the typical themes and tropes we associate with action movies; it’s filled with powerful female characters, it doesn’t promote hyper masculine ideals, and most importantly it’s not just a mindless vehicle for explosions. It’s about home, redemption, and humanity.

It’s a story everyone can relate to, and it’s a story you all owe it to yourselves to see.

Tortured By a Dentist: My Last Two Weeks

So I’ve been AWOL for the past two weeks, and it wasn’t by choice. First my landlady’s internet went down, a niggling little annoyance that should have been resolved quickly. Unfortunately her internet service provider is… well an ISP in the United States, which operate under the assumption that their customers should pay them while providing as little service as legally possible. Still, not a big deal, I could go the library.

About a week after the internet went down another of my teeth decided to execute order 66, attempting to assassinate me from the inside. As my long time readers might remember, my mouth is basically Europe circa 1945, a series of craters and smoking ruins at this point. I buried myself in a few thousand dollars of debt in order to repair my front teeth, but the back teeth, arguably the more important ones that allow me to actually eat are basically gone at this point. Still a starving writer, I wait until these teeth are ready to implode before actually paying to get them ripped out. So finally another of my molars collapsed in on its self like a dying star and a sucking blackhole of agony took its place.

And then screaming in terror when we find massive stars being devoured by huge black holes.

I make so little money that the poverty line looks like the summit of Mount Everest, which means I get free healthcare thanks to Obamacare. Fortunately that includes some basic dental care, unfortunately that basic care includes getting your teeth pulled and cleanings, none of the major repair work required. Still, I was able to get in to see a dentist who would extract the tooth without charging me (or rather charge the state rather than me).

The dentist brought me in to the room and began to explain that the state only gives him $50 bucks to extract a tooth, a procedure that usually costs between $300 and $400. He quickly gave me a few shots of that numbing agent dentists use, and left to talk to another patient while the dental assistant continued to talk to me about that $50 dollars that the state pays them.

“If you could afford to donate anything it would be a great help, because if we only saw patients like you, we’d go bankrupt.” She said.

Alarm bells should have started going off at this point, but at this point it had been four days since the pain began. It started late on a Saturday night, when I took a drink of water. I drank and the motion of swallowing set off the strangest sensation I’d ever felt, a kind of suction in my tooth as if the air had been sucked out of it. A crushing, sucking, sinking pain went shooting down the length of the tooth and burrowed deep into my jaw, tunneling outward until it felt like a carnivorous worm was eating my face from the inside out. But it was Saturday night, and no one would be open until Monday. The only reason I didn’t go screaming into the emergency room was because I was terrified of being stuck with a $10,000 medical bill over a single fucking tooth. Plus I had a bunch of hydrocodone left over from my having my wisdom teeth out, so I was able to put myself in a tiny medically-induced coma.

I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.
I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.

I came to on Monday and scheduled the appointment, but there wasn’t an opening until Tuesday. So finally, mercifully, after four of the worse days in my entire life, I finally had a dentist willing to remove my tooth. The dentist’s office could have been named Joseph Mengele Memorial and had walls splattered with blood, and I probably still wouldn’t have clued in that maybe I was in trouble. The dentist talking about “patients like me” and complaining how the state underpays them just didn’t register as possible concern, especially since I agreed with them. The state should definitely pay these people more, maybe then it wouldn’t have taken me hours of phone calls to find a dentist that would take me.

No, I was grateful to this dentist. I was sitting in a room across from the children’s waiting room, listening to Elsa from Frozen sing Let It Go and looking up at a beautiful mural of some butterflies. I was fully prepared to give this man the donation he was asking for, I would get paid in a few weeks after all and the only reason I was rushing was because I was in soul-crushing amounts of pain. Or so I thought. In actuality, I had no real understanding of what pain was. But I was about to learn.

Shut up, I'm in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.
Shut up, I’m in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.

As the dentist came in, I told him I could still feel my tooth throbbing.

“It’s okay, let me just check your tooth out.” He said, reaching into my mouth with those big ass pliers they use. The cold metal latched onto the remains of my tooth, and the sucking, gnawing pain in my tooth was suddenly accompanied by a shivering cold pressure. I grunted in that international language of pain, a grunt that meant “holy shit it hurts, stop, stop, STOP!”

I don’t know what sound I made next because I couldn’t hear anything past the crunching, snapping, and grinding of my tooth as he clamped down on it and began yanking on it. Yet the sound was nothing. It was the pain. It was beyond description, but I’ll give it my best shot.

It was electric, a shooting, twisting, burning agony that shot through my entire mouth. Every muscle in my body seized up at once, and my eyes became strangely fixated on the black butterfly in the mural above me. I could see it, but I wasn’t really seeing, it was just something my eyes became focused on while I was struggling to comprehend what was happening. My left hand shot up in the air, the universal sign to stop and I was doing my best to gurgle-drool that same sentiment with his hand in my mouth.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.

“Put your hand down. Put your hand down.” He said, his once kind voice now had a harsh edge to it as he actually got angry at my resistance. “It’s a hot tooth, very difficult to numb.”

Bullshit. I’ve had infected teeth, my wisdom teeth had become so infected that the infection actually ate away part of my jaw bone. But when I had them removed, that dentist had taken the time and effort to make sure I was totally numb before proceeding. This bastard just didn’t want to take the time to humanely remove my tooth, because in his eyes this simply wasn’t worth his time. I wasn’t a patient of his, I was “one of those patients”, the kind that couldn’t pay and he was going to remove this tooth as quickly as possible regardless of my pain. Short of becoming violent, and wrapping my hands around the dentist’s throat until he let me go, I had no options. I simply had to let it happen.

With a final, sickening snap the top half of the tooth came out. A strange cold began seeping into my hands and feet, and it felt like the cold was filling me up like water in glass, slowly rising up into my arms and legs stopping just short of my chest. I felt utterly drained.

I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.
I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.

I remember reaching into my mouth to remove a huge chunk of tooth that was just sitting on my tongue, because there wasn’t anyone suctioning away the debris like I’d had in every other tooth extraction. Then he was back in my mouth with a sharp…something, and he jammed it deep into my gum, and began twisting and rotating it back and forth. I understand now that he was loosening the roots of my tooth, but at that time I really didn’t understand what was happening.

He finally ripped out the tooth after a few minutes of this. All in all, the entire procedure might have taken five minutes at the most, the shortest I’ve ever spent in a dentist’s chair. They handed me a wad of tissues to wipe away the stream of tears that had been streaming down my face, jammed a piece of gauze in my agony-hole and sent me on my way. I barely remember the drive home, I just remember rushing up the stairs into my room and downing half a bottle of Hydrocodone, and then curling up in a ball desperately waiting for sweet relief. Unfortunately since it was pill form, it took another twenty or thirty minutes for that relief to arrive.

And thus ended the single most painful experience of my life. When my tooth began hurting at the start of the week, I’d have classified the pain as a 7 on the pain scale. When I broke my ankle as a kid, that was probably a 9. This though, this wasn’t a 10. It was a 40 or a 50. My entire perception of pain has now shifted. That broken ankle would barely register as 4 at this point. I had nightmares for days afterward.

But I survived, and soon I’ll be back to posting our regularly scheduled content. I just had to let someone, anyone, know about the strange account of being introduced to 19th century dental practices.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
On the bright side, if I ever write a story featuring dental torture, I’ll know exactly how to describe it…

Later this week I’ll finally start posting some of those poor articles condemned to Draft Purgatory, I nearly talked myself out of it. But after having a tooth ripped out without anesthetic, posting a bad article is no longer a fear worth having.

The 3 Most Pointless Scenes from True Detective

So I’ve done my main review, but I wanted to mention a few weird things that really stuck out during this season of True Detective. And in the interest of publishing smaller, more bite-sized posts, this is going to short and sweet.

3. The Bar Singer

Empty Room and Singer
Who exactly are you playing for?

Okay technically she has multiple scenes, but they’re all pretty much pointless. Now I enjoyed the music in this season, it was one of the few bright points of this season, but I just could not figure out the reason the singer was actually present in the show. Overlaying music onto film has been around since before film had voices in them, and except for ones specifically about bands and the like, most of them don’t feel the need for their soundtracks to have a physical presence in their shows. At first I was willing to let it slide because she was playing when Frank was in the bar, and I figured maybe Frank was just the kind of egomaniac who has musicians play for him.

But then there’s this scene in the finale (the screenshot above), where she’s totally alone in the bar and she’s still playing. Given the show is overflowing with symbolism in an attempt to be “deep” I’m sure this singer must represent something, but hell if I know what it is.

2. The Orphan Brother

The Blade and The Bullet

Though you wouldn’t know it from his roughly two minutes of screen time, this one of the critical players of the show’s plot. He’s Caspere’s killer. He’s the catalyst for the inciting incident that sparks this whole chain of events, and we barely even get to meet him. Detective Mustache finds him in the transit station, pokes a knife in his back and implores the kid not to do something stupid. When the brother says he’s “The Blade and the Bullet” (which by the way doesn’t make sense since the kid doesn’t have a gun), Colin Mustachell says “okay then listen closely.”

This is usually the part where a cunning and elaborate plot is devised, but is kept from the audience so we can appreciate the plan’s brilliance when we see it all come together. Unfortunately we don’t get that here. Apparently what happened in the moments between this scene and the cop’s arrival, was Detective ‘Stache McCowboy told a mentally and emotionally unstable man to keep his big ass hunting knife and listen to his parent’s killer brag about killing them.

And then act surprised when the deranged killer acts deranged.

Totally unexpected
It’s okay, no way you could have seen this coming…

1. The Vinci Shootout

Vinci Shootout

After three episodes of near incomprehensible bullshit, the Vinci Shootout scene got me excited. As one of my twitter followers put it, it was a scene right of Call of Duty.

It’s true, if this scene had occurred in real life it would be the single deadliest shootout in U.S History. Yet this scene excited me because of something Stephen King once wrote in his book On Writing (which is an excellent read by the way, even if you don’t like his work). When he was writing The Stand he came to a point where there were just too many characters and the plot had become too unwieldy. He was blocked, he couldn’t figure out a way to move forward.

So he planted a bomb and blew up half his characters, culling the cast and giving the story the impetus it needed to reach its conclusion. The Stand became one of his most well regarded works, right alongside Carrie.

I was excited because I thought the Vinci Shootout was True Detective’s bomb.

Quite literally...
Quite literally.

It didn’t serve the same function as Stephen King’s bomb, in that it didn’t kill any important characters, but I still thought that such a climactic scene would propel the show out the quagmire that it’s plot had become. Surely this would flush out the perpetrators of the conspiracy. I don’t care how rich or politically connected you are, there were at least a half-dozen police officers killed, at least that many drug dealers killed and dozens of civilian casualties. That’s not something that would just go away.The conspirators might control the local police and government, but I’m pretty sure the F.B.I and Homeland Security are gonna want some answers too.

Do you know what 24-hour news conglomerates would do with a story like that? Let’s put it this way, they ran a story about that missing Malaysian Airlines flight for a solid month. The Vinci Shootout would give them enough material for a year.

Yet instead of this scene giving our heroes the leverage they need to solve the case and kicking the season into high gear… nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. In fact the story skips ahead two months instead and the deadliest shooting in US history is forgotten. You could remove this entire scene from the show and not a single thing would change because of it.

It was the most pointless scene in a show made up entirely of pointless scenes. And worst of all, Detective Mustache McStacheface shaved his glorious mustache after this shootout…

I hope it was at least buried with full military honors...
I hope it was at least buried with full military honors…

True Detective Season 2: What The Hell Went Wrong

True Detective’s second season finally came to an end on Sunday, brutally killing not only several characters but also any hope we had that the show would somehow redeem itself in the finale. While I didn’t quite get the transcendental experience others seemed to get watching the original season of True Detective, I still thought it was a great show with some amazing performances by McConaughey and Harrelson. So what the hell went wrong with this season?

Well let me lay out for you the mistakes that made this season of True Detective one of the most bizarre experiences in recent memory.

[Obviously spoilers are to follow, but quite frankly if you haven’t seen it, you might save yourself 8.5 hours of your time and just read this review instead.]

4. The Dialogue Was Awful


That up there is the closed captioning for the finale of Season 2, I turned it on specifically to make sure I was hearing what I thought I heard. Those words are spoken by Generic Russian Mob Boss #3209, A.K.A. Ossip, as Frank and Velcoro sneak up on cash exchange between Catalast [that’s not a typo by the way, that’s how it was actually spelled in the show] and the Russians, and it serves as a perfect example of how messed up the dialogue is.

What does that sentence even mean? Everything you start is unfinished, that’s why you’re starting it. The strange dialogue of season two was both a blatant attempt to recapture the magic of Rust’s poetic philosophizing and a great demonstration of how the show misunderstood its own popularity. There were several reasons why Rust’s dialogue worked in the first season, reasons that are completely absent from this season.

First of all, the dialogue was appropriate to Rust’s character, he was the perpetual outsider. The pariah who had trouble connecting with people on even the most basic level. That’s why he spoke the way he did, why he waxed philosophical at every opportunity, because it was representative of his inability to communicate with other people. To put it simply, Rust earned the right to speak like he did because it was core part of his character.

The second reason Rust’s dialogue worked was that it was counterbalanced by Hart’s dialogue. Whenever Rust would get particularly insufferable in his nihilistic preaching, Hart would jump in with a well-timed “shut the fuck up.” Hart grounded the dialogue by not taking what Rust was saying seriously. Rust was using big words and complicated philosophies to cover the fact that he has utterly miserable and pretending that misery made him special.

Rust from True Detective
Shockingly, this is not a mentally stable person.

And the most important reason that Rust’s dialogue worked was this:

Rust was the only one who spoke like that. 

Everyone else in the first season of True Detective spoke like a normal human being, with the exception of The Yellow King, who was the foil of Rust’s character. The Yellow King was basically the Anti-Rust, an insufferable philosopher driven by faith rather than nihilism. So again, both their respective dialogues made sense in context.

In this season of True Detective, everyone is now talking like Rust and the people listening to it are taking it dead seriously, despite the fact this season features some of the goofiest lines ever spoken in a crime drama. I do not know how Vince Vaughn said “blue-balls of the heart” with a straight fucking face, but he deserves some kind of award for that. It’s sad that Vince Vaughn got saddled with a disproportionate amount of strange dialogue, because his character is the last person who should be speaking like that. Frank is a gangster who runs a bunch of casinos and whose primary duties are interacting with other people, and getting them to give him their money. He’s a people person, a negotiator. He’s not a loner or a reader of philosophy, there’s not a single thing about this character that justifies him talking like this:

You can see more of these gems right here.

Look at that fucking sentence up there. Herman Melville would look at that sentence and say, “Dude, no. Just no.” Even the Borg speak more organically than that. Was McConaughey adlibbing all his lines last season or did True Detective simply fire the editor in charge of proofreading this crap?

Whatever the case, the only time anyone spoke like a normal human being was when the characters sat down to spew out expository dialogue in a futile attempt to help the audience make heads or tails of the plot…

3. The Plot Was Buried in Subplots

Blue Diamonds True Detective

The main plot revolved around the blue diamonds stolen by corrupt cops in 1992, in which the jewelers were brutally executed during the heist. The orphans of those jewelers then kidnapped Caspere some twenty-odd years later, originally planning to interrogate him and find out who else was responsible, before the crazy brother ended up killing him in a fit of rage.

This is not a complicated plot. Any other police procedural would have been able to tell this story in a 42 minute episode. So why the hell did we all spend two months in a near constant state of confusion over what the fuck was happening in this show?

Stan Dead...who is he again?
I still don’t know who the fuck Stan was…

Well because the plot so was simple that an episode of Castle could have covered it, True Detective season 2 needed something else to make it interesting. There were several ways to do this:

A) They could have setup some character-driven subplots, a la the first season’s subplot about Hart’s constant infidelity and the tense relationship between Hart and Rust. 

B) Solve the main mystery quickly, but that in turn leads to the uncovering of the larger criminal conspiracy at work in Vinci, and the detectives have to protect the former orphans while collecting evidence about the conspiracy. 

C) Create a few carefully crafted subplots and use them to spice up the main storyline. :

D) Take the plot of every noir crime story ever made, make them their own dedicated subplots, and throw them all into a big bowl. Mix until plot is totally incomprehensible. 

Unfortunately for us all, they chose D.

The largest and most pointless subplot was the Railway Corridor, which ended up taking approximately all of the show’s running time. Seriously, more time and effort was spent trying to uncover the mysteries of this stupid land deal than was spent on telling the actual story of the show. The worst part is that the Railway Corridor was only ever tangentially connected with the main story, the corrupt cops were hoping to use their share of the diamond heist to buy their way into the land deal. If Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh stuck with actually investigating the diamond heist, instead of wasting their time looking into the land deal, they probably would have all lived happily ever after.

Seriously guys, you had ONE job.
Seriously guys, you had ONE job.

If the story had stuck to telling us about the diamond heist and then led us into the deeper conspiracy surrounding the rail corridor, then yes, this could have worked. But instead of doing that, True Detective apparently got bored and wandered off to tell us a dozen other different stories all happening at the same time.

We had a bunch of pointless scenes with Frank attempting to retain control of his clubs, even though roughly 100% of the audience didn’t have a single fuck to give about the intricacies of Frank’s operations. We even got a pointless fist fight between Frank and a fat dude with gold teeth, for reasons I still don’t understand.

We had even more scenes with Frank trying to have a baby with his wife and complaining about how hard his life as an orphan was.

Bezzerides took more than one trip to see her father, who knew some of the older conspirators in passing but the connection is ultimately meaningless.

Essentially 99% of the subplots in this season were pointless. Not only did they not advance the story, they actively held it back. The Russian mobster taking over the underworld? Pointless. He shows up three or four times, vaguely threatens Frank and then promptly dies at the end.

Wait, I'm too vital to the plot to die! *Dies* Oh, I guess not.
Wait, I’m too inconsequential to the plot to die!

The strange Mexican duo that looked like they stepped out of the 80’s? Nothing more than ethnic Deus Ex Machinas to make sure Frank died tragically. They literally only show up to advance the story (helping Frank find the Mexican prostitute), throw up obstacles (then killing the Mexican prostitute), and then putting the main character in arbitrary danger. Their presence was never explained.

Then there was the Black Mountain security company, which was alluded to throughout the season but ultimately contributed nothing but a couple of goons for the main characters to shoot at.

There was also a really strange, creepy fixation on the character’s sex lives. I understand the main theme of this season was sex (it wasn’t exactly subtle about it), but the show also doesn’t go anywhere with this. The first time we meet Bezzerides she’s having an argument with her boyfriend over her BDSM fetish, but the scene is ultimately irrelevant to the story. In fact the BDSM thing is never mentioned again.

Okay we get it, True Detective, she's kinky. Is there any point to knowing that though?
This scene is also another example of bad dialogue. “Are you into that?” Her boyfriend asks as she stands in front of her wall of BDSM sex-toys…

So instead of using this scene to give us a glimpse at her character, the whole scene just comes across as weirdly voyeuristic. The only point of this glimpse at her collection of paddles and straps is to titillate the audience. It did nothing to characterize her to the audience.

In fact there was very little characterization at all because…

2. The Characters Were Ignored

You know, I don't think all four of these actors ever ended up on the screen together at the same time.
The main characters spend so much time apart, there’s not even a photo of them in the same room together.

The main appeal of True Detective was that it was essentially an extended buddy-cop movie where the buddies actually kind of hate each other, but not really, it’s just complicated. The incredible performances of Harrelson and McConaughey combined with the unique narrative design of the flashback sequences and taped interviews with unreliable narrators made for a compelling show. The two main characters spent the entire season together, playing off each other and revealing more about their characters with every interaction.

Now compare that to season 2 where all of the main characters spend most of their time completely isolated from one another. In the start of the second episode, the state sets up a special investigative team and throws Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh together. They meet in some crappy warehouse for a couple of minutes, and then split up, never to be in the same room again until pretty much the tail-end of the show. We get some shots of Velcoro and Bezzerides driving around together, and these scenes are good. The two definitely had some chemistry together, but then the show inexplicably separates them again.

So instead of watching these characters interact and learning who they are from those interactions, we instead get to watch each character deal with their own personal issues separately. Frank dealt with his crumbling empire and his impotent balls, Velcoro was in a custody battle for his son, and Paul was desperately trying to catch a case of the Not-Gays. Bezzerides spent the first four episodes dealing with a pair of scorned lovers at work and then the last four episodes dealing with her childhood rape.

Gee, another strong female character defined by her rape story. Yeah, that never gets old.
Gee, another strong female character defined by her rape story. Yeah, that never gets old.

Even when the characters are together, they spend so much time delivering clumsy exposition that we never get any of the incredible character interactions that made the first season so memorable. When Woodrugh dies, in a goofy assassination scene straight out of a Victorian play, Velcoro and Bezzerides spend about two minutes mourning his loss before delving right back into expository dialogue about how to find the orphaned brother.

No one’s character ever experienced any kind of dramatic arc, or changed in any way, and without strongly written characters, the performances of the actors were severely ham-stringed. If they’d had a script that allowed them to act out their characters more often, rather than idly standing around explaining the plot of their show to the audience, they might have given us performances on par with Harrelson and McConaughey.

Ultimately though, they wasted most of their time explaining the show because…

1. Nothing About Anything Made Sense

Wait, why is this guy mayor? Did he like inherit it from his father?
Wait, why is this guy mayor? Did he inherit it from his father?

When you look at most of the events that occurred in this season of True Detective, you’ll come to one inescapable conclusion.

Nothing about anything ever made sense. 

The events of this show didn’t follow any kind of logic, except maybe some kind of internal logic of the writer that is incomprehensible to mere human minds. Instead, things happened because the plot demanded they happen. It was cheap and succeeded only in wasting everybody’s time.

One the most glaring examples of this plot contrivance is the raid on the sex party about midway through the season. Bezzerides has used her sister’s porn connections to get her into one of the sex parties that Caspere was such a fan of. Masquerading as a prostitute, Bezzerides gets drugged and stumbles her way through the party, eventually finding a missing girl who knew Caspere. Meanwhile Velcoro and Woodrugh are going full Splinter Cell, sneaking around the house and taking out guards. Eventually they stumble upon the architects of the rail corridor going over some documents. They steal the documents, save the girl and flee into the night.

Stunning Police Powers
Showcasing Woodrugh’s powers of deduction…

Now let’s rewind and ask ourselves one very important question:

What was the plan here? 

Seriously, I’m asking, what was the group’s plan?

What was the reason? What were they looking for? Finding the missing girl and retrieving the documents were all purely happenstance, so what was the original objective? What was Bezzerides there to find out? Was she going to ask the other prostitutes who Caspere hung out with? Gather evidence of who was attending these parties?

Why was Woodrugh choking out guards and stealing documents? Shouldn’t he have been waiting as backup in the woods? Why risk discovery?

The answer to all the above is simple: the plot demanded that the characters be in a certain place at a certain time, and so they were. Now tons of stories rely on coincidences to drive their story forward, but most stories give their characters some reason for being at the right place at the right time. John McClane is in that building because he was attending a Christmas party at his wife’s work. Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer intercepts the Blockade Runner at Tatooine because that’s where Princess Leia was heading there to contact Obi-wan. Point is, most stories make an attempt to create a plausible reason for things to happen, even if that reason is paper thin it gives the audience a foundation for their suspended disbelief.

This season’s True Detective didn’t even bother giving us that foundation. I want you to look at something.

Dry Street

This is Velcoro getting out his car to say goodbye to his son after his successful heist of the Russian/Catalast money exchange. Notice that the street is as dry as only a never-ending California drought can make it.

This is what Velcoro finds when he comes back to the car.

“Later today there will be a highly concentrated rain storm under one man’s car.” – Plot Contrivance News, Weather Report

There’s a pool of water under Velcoro’s car. At first I thought the gas tank had been punctured and that’s what I was supposed to be seeing, but he drives away just fine. No, it’s just ordinary water and it appears spontaneously so that Velcoro can see a reflection of the red light on a tracking device in the water. This is just so lazy that I can’t even believe I’m seeing it in what must have been a multi-million dollar HBO production.

They could have put an extra out on the street watering his lawn. Boom, a reason for the water pooling under his car, see how easy and painless that was. That’s all it would have taken, it still would have been incredibly lazy but it would have been something at least.

And on that I rest my case, because if you can’t even move your plot along without a car peeing itself, then you have officially failed to tell a good story.

Confidence (Or the lack thereof) and Writing

So while I was struggling with my latest article on The Witcher 3, I got a helpful tip from a roaming robot about my blog.

Robot Taunt

First of all, it’s “too” lazy you god damn machine, if you’re going to insult me at least be grammatically correct. Second of all, how dare you impugn my honor!? Being lazy is only like 5% to %10 of my problem.

Okay, 50% at the most...
50% at the most…

To this spam bot’s favor, its comment did get me wondering… why don’t I update more? What the hell is wrong with me? That’s an excellent question. The answer is, as usual, I’m a terrible human being. 

No, not really. But that’s what my mind is always telling me, and that’s the problem.  I have no sense of self-worth I guess, all of my self-esteem is tied up in the opinions of everyone else. Last year I was staying with some friends in Portland when I got to interview for a job with Microsoft to do writing for the Halo series. When I got the initial call from the recruiter, my friend Emma described me as “glowing,” which I’m pretty sure is the only time I’ve ever been described as that. Then I didn’t get it, and I fell into a pretty black depression and didn’t write another blog post for three months.

That post about Microsoft was mostly trying to bluff myself out of falling into a depression, but obviously that didn’t work.

This is Pixar, they're better than you're annoying facebook friends.
I don’t need to say hello, we’re on a first-name basis.

So I lost a similar job opportunity with AT&T a few weeks ago. Of course my brain doesn’t focus on:

The fact that my resume managed to impress a recruiter enough to contact me.

That I got through four rounds of phone interviews with first the recruiter and then various members of AT&T team.

And then actually got an in-person interview.

No what my brain focuses on is the fact that, at the end I didn’t get the job. Sure, being sad you didn’t get a job is a probably a normal reaction, but it probably shouldn’t take my entire sense of self-worth with it. For weeks at a time. 

But then there’s not really much self-worth for these failures to take with them. Let me show you something else:

70 Drafts
Zoom and Enhance!
Yes, that says 70 drafts.
Yes, that says 70 drafts.

That’s a screenshot of my WordPress control panel, telling me I have 70 drafts. Now I’ve always assumed this was just a bunch of half-baked ideas I’d written down and just never followed up on. Spring cleaning that I’d never bothered to do, like the drafts folder of my email. I started hunting through my drafts after I thought I’d lost part of a Witcher 3 article I was working on (turns out the paragraphs that were missing were on my phone, I just hadn’t uploaded them), and about half of it was half-written ideas.

The other half though? Fully written articles that I never published. Just sitting there.

Draft Examples 2

The 5 tropes that need to die article, was just 5 sentences, a bare bones idea for an article (which I’d actually forgotten about but now I’m gonna finish it because these tropes are terrible). The other two pictured though? Total articles, both around two to three thousand words long. Pictures included.

Why did I decide to not post those?

I haven’t the slightest fucking idea. 

I didn’t take an exact count but, out of the 70 drafts I have, there are probably 20-30 fully and partially written articles. I could release one a day and have enough content for nearly a month. I could release one a week and have enough content for half a year.

Well maybe I’m just a really good editor right? I’m like J. K. Simmons in Spider-Man, I know when something is crap and I simply don’t bother my readers with it. Yeah, that’s it, I’m just a really great editor. The best.

Yeah, okay, maybe not.

Because this is another one of my drafts:

Draft Examples

These are two articles (the bottom one is only partially written) about Planescape Torment, and somehow my brain convinced me that no one wanted to read those. Even though one of my amazingly generous patrons (from my Patreon page. which you should still contribute to despite my just admitting how terrible I am) actually requested articles on this very subject, my brain still figured that no one wanted to read any of that.

My brain cannot be trusted. 

So in the interests of posting more frequently, and to stop wasting my time writing articles and then not posting it, I’m going to just post everything. I’m almost going to post everything. I’ll also start going backwards through my collected drafts and actually start posting them.  So look forward to that I guess, unless all these articles really are terrible, then… apologies in advance I guess.

The Nutter Butter Follow Up

Nutter Butter crop (1 of 1)Just wanted to give everyone who contributed to the Nutter Butter fund a HUGE thank you. The limp she had turned out to be a symptom of bone cancer, but it hadn’t metastasized beyond the the leg, so an amputation seems to have gotten most of it. Even if it does return, with your help, my parents have another year with her at least. So thanks everyone!

Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn't seem to notice her missing leg.
Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn’t seem to notice her missing leg.

The Nutso Nutter Fund

Hi everyone, I’ll be back with a post next week about some of my favorite moments from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and some writing lessons I learned from that astounding game, but right now I need your help.

My parent’s dog is seriously injured and needs medical care. Unfortunately they don’t currently have the money for the diagnostic tests, let alone the cost of whatever treatment she might need.

Nutter Butter crop (1 of 1)You can read all about Nutter on the GoFundMe campaign I’ve created. My parents are who have supported my writing habit and without them I wouldn’t have been able to bring you posts on why you should have hope for humanity, Mass Effect’s terrible ending, or any of the other articles you’ve enjoyed reading over the years. If you’re currently contributing to my Patreon Page, I’d humbly ask you to stop and instead donate that money towards helping Nutter. The truth is I’ll keep writing even if I never get paid a single cent again for the rest of my life, but that money could help buy Nutter some pain medication and keep her comfortable until we raise enough to do the diagnostic tests.

Any little bit helps, so please donate what you can and I’ll be back next week.

Thank you.

Thank You CDProjekt Red

I already wrote about how The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a miracle thanks to having an amazing story and characters in a world filled with Dragon Age: Inquisitions, but the Witcher 3 is a miracle for a different reason.

I want you to read something:

Since it’s been all hands on deck working to finish and release this patch on time, we won’t be publishing a free DLC this week (don’t worry – free content comes back next week). We hope you understand our decision. We’ve gathered so much feedback from you over the past couple of weeks and we want to implement as much of it as possible. The full change list for the patch 1.07 will be coming later this week. Stay tuned for info about the release of the update itself. – Latest Witcher 3 Update

Did you understand that? Go ahead and read it again, because it took me three, four times to figure out what was happening.

They’re apologizing. 

And they’re not apologizing because their game literally doesn’t work. It’s also a not a “sorry, not sorry” for wanting their customers to pay twice for the same game or an attempt to justify predatory DLC practices. Or trying to explain how they can’t add female characters because they’re too hard.  Or any of the other billions of other awful, despicable things that game companies usually stumble over themselves trying to explain, justify and apologize for.

CD Projekt Red is apologizing for spending so much time on patching their game (again, a rare occurrence in the current market)  that they didn’t release another free piece of DLC this week. Of all the strange things that I’ve seen from CDProjekt Red, this is by far the strangest.

And that includes this
And that includes this

Why, you ask? Well because the game industry has largely become as greedy and corrupt as pretty much every other major industry in the world: they provide the least amount of content possible for the maximum amount of cash. In recent years even having the game working on its release date seems like it’s asking too much with both Arkham Knight’s PC version and Assassin’s Creed Unity both being barely functional upon release. That’s just in the last year too, go back five years and you’ll find a slew of games that were all released in a broken state.

And in this environment, where they could have charged for all of this DLC and none of us would have blinked an eye, they not only release it all for free but apologize when they’re late in releasing it.

You know how much any other game company would charge for the Temerian Armor Set alone? Of course you know how much, you see it all the time:

Oblivion: Horse Armor – $1.99

Fable 3: Industrial Knight Outfit – $2.99

DLC Quests:

Skyrim: Hearthfire – 4.99

Fable 3: Understone Quest Pack – $4.99 Alternate Hairstyles and Skins for characters?

Alternate character skins:

Borderlands 2: Commando Pack – $0.99

Shadow of Mordor: Dark Ranger – $1.35

So if we use every other game company’s DLC chicanery to price the value of Witcher 3’s DLC so far?

Temerian Armor Set – $3.00

Nilfgaardian Armor Set – $3.00

Skellige Armor Set – $3.00

Three Crossbow Set – $1.00

Beard and Hairstyle Set – $1.00

Alternate Look for Triss  – $1.00

Alternate Look for Yennefer  – $1.00

Quest: Where The Cat and Wolf Play – $5.00

Quest: Missing Miners – $5.00

Quest: Fool’s Gold – $5.00

Ballad’s Heroes: Neutral Gwent Card Set – $1.00 

Total Value: $29.00 

That’s before tax as well. And while I’m not naming names, if this was a certain game company, those numbers would be easily be double or triple.

Picture Unrelated.
Picture Unrelated.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is… Thank you CDProjekt for being a great company that values its customers, rather than viewing us as giant humanoid wallets to be picked clean. Thank you for not only providing me an amazing story to experience, but also setting an example that other game companies should aspire to.

Now, back to playing Witcher 3.

Finally, a corporate logo that doesn’t fill me with rage.

Inside Out: There Will Be Tears

Pixar has once again shown the world why it’s the single greatest storytelling company in the world. After watching Brave I was afraid that Disney’s corrupting influence might have undermined Pixar’s ability to tell amazing stories. As I wrote in my review of Brave, while it was still a great movie that made me cry, the story lacked the cohesion I’ve come to expect from Pixar. I speculated that perhaps the corporate bigwigs at Disney were exerting too much control over Pixar in an attempt to sell  merchandise. I’m glad to say that, though I’m sure Disney is still as evil as ever, the crew at Pixar are still amazing storytellers.

This has all the hallmarks of an amazing Pixar movie; great characters, a captivating story, and laughs and tears in equal measure. Yet it was also more than that, because Inside Out is truly special; it’s one of the best and most accessible explanations of the human psyche I’ve ever seen. I think they should show this movie in elementary schools every year, because I can’t tell you how helpful it would have been to see this movie when I was that age.

If you want to understand how the human mind works forget reading the works of Freud, Jung, Skinner, or Pavlov. Just watch Inside Out. It shows just how amazingly complex the human mind is, and does it in a way that makes us all just a little more aware of the struggle all of our fellow humans are going through. And it did all of that while still creating an amazing story.

A story about being human.

Inside Out made me cry, and not just a single manly tear either. So be warned,  if you go to this new Pixar movie…

There. Will. Be. Tears. 

Pixar’s Inside Out

A Storytelling Review

The story follows an eleven year old girl named Riley who is forced to move from her home in Minnesota to the hellish dystopian nightmare of California. Thankfully its only San Francisco and not Los Angeles or this would have been a far darker movie…

San Francisco isn’t the setting though, and Riley isn’t the main character. Instead Joy, Sadness, and the other emotions that govern human behavior are our cast. And the setting is the inside of Riley’s mind, featuring islands of personality and glowing orbs that represent memories each colored by the emotion that defined them. Thanks to main character Joy, most of these memories glow a brilliant gold like tiny little stars.

Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler and I just want to point out what an amazing casting choice this was because holy shit, if anyone could personify joy it’s Amy Poehler.

Someone remind me to do a review of Parks and Recreation, because that's an amazing show.
Someone remind me to do a review of Parks and Recreation, because that was an amazing show.

The other character is Sadness who immediately starts screwing up Joy’s plans to keep Riley happy.  At first she seems utterly useless, even destructive, as she begins tainting Riley’s memories and turning them from brilliant gold into somber blue as they joy is washed out of the memory. Watching Sadness was like watching my younger self, a sad bumbling oaf that can’t do anything right. Which kind of ticked me off.

Great, I thought, another movie about how we need to ignore our negative feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should all endeavor to be happy when we can but there’s just something… wrong about our society’s current trend of doing nothing but trying to ignore sadness and pain. If you have Facebook (and if you don’t, welcome to the internet new person, I’m touched I was the first web page you chose to visit) then you probably have someone or several someones posting nothing but a constant stream of image macros about being happy. You know what, sometimes sadness is the appropriate response to a situation.

And fortunately Pixar understands that.

This is Pixar, they're better than you're annoying facebook friends.
This is Pixar, they’re better than you’re annoying Facebook friends.

Joy ends up becoming a microcosm of that sickly, fake positivity that drives me crazy. When Riley is forced to move, Joy is determined to keep everyone happy at any cost. Joy spends the first act of the movie trying to contain and diminish Sadness.  Sadness, however, is compelled to try and touch all of Riley’s memories which irritates Joy to no end. Joy, like a lot of people out there, never really question why sadness exists. Joy sees her as a threat to Riley’s happiness, especially after Riley’s mother makes the worst request a parent can make of a child.

“We need our happy girl.” Riley’s mother said, and Joy is just all too happy to try and fulfill that request. Even at the expense of Riley.

After an embarrassing incident at school, Riley starts shutting down emotionally. The islands of personality, once bright and humming with life, turn dark and crumble away. To Joy’s horror a new Core Memory, a memory that helps define Riley’s identity, appears. Unlike the other five core memories though, this one is blue. A sad memory, and Joy goes insane trying to keep it from becoming integrated with Riley’s personality.

And ends up breaking the whole thing, getting sucked away from Headquarters (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t actually get this pun until I wrote it out)  and into the sprawling vastness of the human mind.

There goes the neighborhood.

Now it’s just Anger, Disgust and Fear running Riley’s brain. This is the best allegory for the depressed brain I’ve ever seen, because that’s exactly what it feels like to be depressed. Those who haven’t been depressed assume that it must be like Sadness taking over and Joy being missing, but its not. It’s both Joy and Sadness gone, and you’re left feeling numb. Anger, Disgust and Fear are all you have left and they only draw out a reaction in extreme situations. As you can probably guess, this doesn’t turn out well for Riley.

And while the others are screwing up, Joy and Sadness try to return to Headquarters with Riley’s core memories. It’s while wandering the halls of Long Term Memory that Joy and Sadness run into Bing Bong, Riley’s old imaginary friend.

Bing Bong - Riley's Imaginary FriendBing Bong has been nearly forgotten and now he wanders around the halls of Long Term Memory collecting memories of when Riley and he used to play together. That alone almost made me cry, especially when he begins recalling their magic flying rocket that was powered by music, they’re dream was to fly to the moon. But now all he can do is remember, and hope that one day he’ll be remembered too.

Joy’s first instinct is to try and cheer Bing Bong up, promising him that she’ll make Riley remember him when they get back to Headquarters. However she’s not the one that makes him feel better, it’s Sadness. Giving the audience the first glimpse at Sadness’s importance to the story, she doesn’t tell Bing Bong to be happy. She listens.

Because Sadness is Empathy, our ability to relate to another person’s suffering.

Empathy is why this scene was so hard to watch. (And why it was so damn familiar.)
Empathy is why this scene was so hard to watch. (And why it was so damn familiar.)

Sadness gets Bing Bong back on his feet and he leads them into the depths of Riley’s mind where they can catch the Train of Thought back to the Headquarters.

Unfortunately before they can arrive, our trio of bumbling emotions have managed to make the worst decision they can: They’ve decided to make Riley run away. The plan is to return to Minnesota to create new Core Memories for Riley, which is a charmingly 11-year-old idea. Pixar’s ability to realistically step into the shoes of their younger selves never ceases to amaze me. The emotional turmoil of this decision derails the Train of Thought and sends Joy and Bing Bong plummeting into the Memory Dump where old memories disintegrate into nothing (like the memory of where you put your car keys).

It’s here that Joy finally makes an important discovery while examining one of Riley’s Core Memories, a memory that both Joy and Sadness remember fondly: Riley’s championship hockey game. Joy remembers it as a joyous occasion when all of Riley’s friends came to celebrate with her and Sadness remembered it as the time Riley missed the final shot that could have won the game.

As Joy rewinds the memory she realizes that the only reason she remembered that hockey game as a time of joy, is because Sadness brought others to help Riley. Her friends came because she was sad, they came to help.

Life isn't happy or sad, it's happy, sad and everything in between.
Life isn’t happy or sad. It’s happy, sad and everything in between.

Sadness is a critical part of Riley’s personality, as it does in all of us. Sadness is what allows us to appreciate Joy, because without the contrast between the two than neither one would mean anything. It’s why Riley became depressed when they were lost, because Anger nor Disgust nor Fear can define our lives like Joy and Sadness can together.

With new found understanding of Sadness’s importance, Joy tries escaping the Memory Dump with Bing Bong using his old magic rocket powered by singing. This is the part where I cried so many tears, because they just can’t escape…

Until Bing Bong stays behind.

I was crying not only because of how emotional this scene was, but because I couldn’t remember any of my imaginary friends either. I started actively trying to think of them, I must have had some, but I couldn’t remember a single one.  I was crying because it was a great thought to think that this is how they were forgotten, because that was what was needed to help me grow as a person.


“Take her to the Moon for me.”

After a tearful goodbye to Bing Bong, Joy rescues Sadness and returns to Headquarters. Joy tells Sadness to take over, and it’s the sadness that makes Riley realize what a bad idea running away is. It’s also Sadness that guides Riley to confessing to her parents just how unhappy she’s been. My eyes were sore from the tears at this point, but that didn’t prevent me from understanding the great message Pixar was sending me.

It’s okay to be sad. 

Sadness is an important part of our personalities, not just because it contrasts with Joy, but because sadness is how we let people know we need help. It’s not just some useless hanger-on that drags everyone down at a party, it’s a critical survival mechanism because it’s our distress signal to the world.

And more often than not, the world comes to help us.

Riley Family Hug

The other great thing about this ending is that Riley’s parents don’t tell her that she should be happy. They don’t offer useless platitudes on how her life is great compared to some poor child in Africa or some similar bullshit. Instead they do what everyone should do when trying to cheer someone up, they listen.

Because in the end expressing sadness is expressing our desire to be understood. 

Watch this movie people, just make sure you have plenty of tissues with you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye again…


Game of Thrones: An Ending Too Far

So once again, I loved this season’s Game of Thrones, even though this was undoubtedly the worst season we’ve had so far, it’s a great show. Still I’m nothing if not a picker of nits, so let me highlight why this season’s finale was lacking and should have run with the much better finale they already had.

The Battle of Winterfell Was Too Short (And Was Utterly Meaningless)

Battle of Winterfell Now I understand that battle scenes are a huge drain on the budget, but the “battle” at Winterfell was utterly pointless. I understand that Stannis was never going to win and I’m not saying they needed to spend an entire episode showing him fighting a losing battle. Still, the entire battle took literally three minutes, and that’s being generous by including every scene until Ramsey’s return to Winterfell. If we just include the scenes with actual fighting it’s only about sixty seconds long. Worse than that though, it skips the actually interesting parts of the battle. Yes seeing the battle from Sansa’s point of view is visually interesting, but we also get no frame of reference as to why we should care. So far the battles in Game of Thrones have been exhilarating because they always had a tight focus on one of our beloved characters: Tyrion at the Black Water and Jon Snow at Castle Black. Showing us the characters we love dealing with the chaos of battle is what gives the battle meaning and emotional weight. Here have no real reference as to why anyone should care: remember Stannis just burned his daughter alive, asking us to care without actually seeing him fighting is a big fucking ask.

The battle begins with Stannis is the middle of a snow covered field, and ends with him in a forest. There was at least a quarter-mile between him and that forest. I want to know how Stannis fought his way there, or how that final desperate defense in the woods must have played out to leave Stannis wounded and alone. There were a lot of interesting ways to play out this battle is my point, cutting the entire thing down to sixty seconds of CGI toy soldiers and two minutes of follow up wasn’t one of them. And speaking of follow up, who here thinks Stannis is really dead? Because I sure as hell don’t.

Just hurry up and kill him or get out of my way so I can kill him.
Just hurry up and kill him or get out of my way so I can kill him.

Again, like the rape of Sansa earlier this season, this is an example of lazy storytelling that we don’t expect from Game of Thrones. Cutting away just as she swings the sword is just boring and lazy, it doesn’t build suspense at all because we all know that if he didn’t die on camera, he’s still alive. So what’s the point of leaving this as any kind of cliff hanger? The better cliff hanger would have been to see Brienne falter in her duty and then march Stannis off into the woods, because that actually has some interesting ramifications for next season. And if it turns out that Stannis really is dead next season then that makes this scene even worse because there were people out there (namely me) who were looking forward to finally seeing him die.

Personally, after this scene, I was looking forward to Ramsey flaying Stannis alive.
Personally, after this scene, I was looking forward to Ramsey giving Stannis the full Reek treatment.

Myrcella’s Murder

thronesThis was undoubtedly the dumbest scene this season and that’s quite an achievement considering that the earlier rape scene with Sansa destroyed the character arcs of four characters in twenty seconds. It was stupid for a variety of reasons, first because it makes King Julian Bashir look like a fucking idiot. He’s already foiled an assassination attempt by his sister-in-law, he knows his brother loved using poison, and the three daughters all used poison weapons. And yet this happens only feet away from him:

Look at that death grip on her face? No one finds that suspicious?
Look at that death grip on her face! No one finds that suspicious?

Which brings me to my second point: it makes everyone look like an idiot, including the show’s creators. Let’s assume for the moment that everyone on that dock is suffering heat stroke and ignore the fact that each and every one of them should have found that final kiss alarming. It’s the middle ages, people were stupid, fine. But we’re not. 

Who staged this scene? I want to know and I want his resignation on my desk by end of business tomorrow because I really don’t know why this scene played out the way it did.

If they were hoping to surprise the audience with another shocking death, the possibility of surprise died when Ellaria latched onto Myrcella’s face like a fucking lamprey. If they had left it as Ellaria giving her a gentle peck on the lips and not played it up like Snow White getting that poisoned apple, there would have been some element of surprise.

Was it played out that way so the poisoning was obvious to the audience? If so, why? What possible purpose did that serve? It certainly didn’t make the melodramatic conversation between Jaime and Myrcella any more tolerable. Seriously, who came up with that scene?

I'm watching you, but not so closely that I'm going to notice you poison the girl in front me.
I’m watching you, but not so closely that I’m going to notice you poison the girl you’ve been trying to kill all season  in front me.

This was just a lazy, terrible scene in every respect. The only thing that could have saved it was if we’d seen Jaime’s reaction and end the scene with him sailing right back to Dorne to avenge his daughter. As it is, apparently Jaime is going to wait until he gets back to King’s Landing to file a formal complaint with the Dornish king who is apparently as blind as he paraplegic.

Queen of the Andals and the Idiots

Mother of Dragons Now I loved Daenerys escape last week and watching Drogon burn a bunch of people alive was well worth the wait. But this follow up scene was awful, mainly because it made Daenerys, one of the strongest female characters in the story seem like a whiny little brat.

“We have to go home.” – Daenerys says, suddenly developing a British accent.

That’s the first thing we hear her say to Drogon, not thank you for saving me from an otherwise fatal ambush or how are you feeling after taking two dozen javelin wounds. She spends the whole time sulking like a child and even tries to climb onto Drogon backwards for some reason I still don’t understand.

Drogon's mother: literally riding his ass.
Drogon’s mother: literally riding his ass.

Then she complains that Drogon is just sitting around instead of getting them supper. Oh, I’m sorry you’re hungry princess but were you not paying attention last week when Drogon took a dozen spear wounds to save your ass? Do you not see the holes torn through his wings?

You know what Drogon, just leave her.
You know what Drogon, just leave her.

Then she wanders off into the hills alone for some stupid reason and immediately gets captured. Seriously, is this the same team that gave us the past four seasons of greatness? I’m starting to suspect they’ve all been replaced by pod-people sent from NBC, ABC and FOX. If not for the amazing scene of Jon Snow’s reenactment of the Ides of March, I’d have called this finale a total disaster. Which is just infuriating considering they already had a much better finale.

The Finale That Already Was

Because THIS was finale material.
Because THIS was finale material.

Yes, the best episode this season is the one they should have ended on and not just because it was so well done, but because it would have given HBO and the writers more time to tell the stories. That was my main complaint this season, everything seemed to be moving too fast. Here’s everything that happened this season:

Tyrion goes from living in a box to being Ser Jorah’s captive to being a slaver’s captive to becoming the Queen’s adviser.

Jon Snow meets Stannis, becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and tries to save the Wildlings before pulling a Caesar and “dying”.  (In quotations because you know damn well that he’s going to be coming back in some form or another.)

Daenerys struggles to maintain control over the old slaver kingdoms and fails miserably.

Jaime is sent to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella.

And worst of all, Little Finger goes from a meticulous plotter to some kind of insane gibbering idiot in the span of two episodes. He delivers Sansa, the only person who can give him a legitimate claim to the North to the crazy ass Bolton’s and then immediately returns to King’s Landing, plotting to attack the Bolton’s after literally giving them the most valuable hostage in the seven kingdoms.

How about I give you a ride in my Benz and we call it even?
You know, I’m starting to think this was a bad idea…

You’ll notice that while some of the characters have a ton of things happen, others are left in a lurch of nothing happening at all. What this season needed was more time to tell the stories in a way that didn’t undercut the storylines of several important characters and allowed the events of the show to play out more naturally. By using Hardhome as the season finale Game of Thrones would have had more time to properly tell us the stories it needed to tell, to dedicate more time to the characters.

Jaime was perhaps the most underused character, almost criminally so because his was the one storyline from a Feast for Crows I wanted to see play out since it was the book where Jaime finally realizes what a bitch his sister is and burns the letter he receives from her.Of course instead of that happening this season, what we got instead was Jaime wandering around Dorne not really doing anything. Nothing happens in Dorne at all, it’s just a giant time sink. They could have used the time in Dorne to characterize Jaime and maybe lead up to his final abandoning of Cersei, but aside from him staring wistfully at Brienne’s homeland of Tarth, we get nothing.

And speaking of Tarth, the other problem with this season’s sprinting pace is the fact that it completely screws with our perception of time and space in Westeros. I already pointed this out in my earlier post on Sansa’s Wedding,  but it goes beyond Little Finger’s teleporting himself to King’s Landing. Journeys that took other characters entire seasons to complete now have bullet trains apparently. The opening scene of Game of Thrones always gives you that little pop-up map thing, and the world seems pretty big, but everyone seems to get where they’re going a little too fast this season. Take Tyrion for example: despite being abducted by both Jorah and slavers, attacked by Stone Men, and becoming a gladiator he still makes it to Queen Daenerys’ side in time for the Harpies to ambush them. Or Jaime for that matter, whose journey to Dorne took less time than the average ferry ride here in Seattle.

Maybe all these boats just have propellers we're not seeing...
Maybe all these boats just have propellers we’re not seeing…

Ending the season at Hardhome would have given the writers much more room to extend the storylines of various other characters and actually have them make sense. First of all Sansa’s storyline could have been given a lot more time and by extension maybe Little Finger’s plan wouldn’t look completely insane. The storyline in Dorne could have been given more time, allowing more time for Jaime to actually experience change in his character. And Tyrion and Daenerys’s storylines could have met without seeming like the laws of time and space were becoming warped. And perhaps most importantly, ending at Hardhome would have given the writers a more plausible reason for the Night’s Watch to kill Jon Snow.

Because THIS was finale material.
Oh wait, you can’t… you’re dead.

Don’t get me wrong, the scene with Jon Snow was amazing, but there was a niggling little voice in the back of my mind the entire time saying “this doesn’t really make sense.” This scene worked in the book because Hardhome doesn’t actually happen in the book, so the White Walkers are kind of like the climate change of our world. Yes, everyone sort of admits it’s there and it’s a threat, but everyone is also more obsessed about their own personal ambitions to really do anything about it. So when they kill Jon Snow, it make a certain amount of sense because to the other members of the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings are the real threat.

After Hardhome though? This whole “traitor” business is a bit harder to swallow. Eyewitness testimony to the rising of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of corpses isn’t enough to vindicate Jon Snow’s decision? The other members of the Night’s Watch didn’t point out that maybe he was right? I mean I know the hundreds of crew members on Stannis’s fleet didn’t say anything, because they keep landing on the north side of The Wall for some strange reason, but there were a ton of people with Jon Snow. No one spoke up in his defense among all those Crows who stabbed him?

The kid's motivation is really the only that stands up.
The kid’s motivation is really the only one that stands up.

I mean stabbing Jon Snow at this junction would be like people denying climate change after thousands of deaths from heat waves, huge unprecedented storms, and unending droughts…

Huh… Touché, Game of Thrones, well played…

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a thing that exists and that alone is a miracle. After everyone rushed to pile awards at the feet of Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that was mediocre in every sense of the word, I was beginning to feel like no one gave a damn about stories anymore. After spending nearly a hundred hours in the world of the Witcher 3 though, I can say that this is one of the best RPG’s I’ve ever played. This game is everything Dragon Age Inquisition should have been, everything it promised and failed to deliver, was delivered in spectacular fashion by The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

The open world is mind blowingly huge, and unlike Dragon Age Inquisition, there are no artificial boundaries that turn the maps into a series of corridors. You can cut through the middle of a forest or swim across a lake, just beware what lurks within. You never know when Nekkers will crawl up out of the ground around you, or you’ll be sailing along minding you’re own business or riding along on your faithful steed when a Griffon will swoop down and rip off the top half your torso.

Your choices have real consequences, some that are immediately apparent and others that won’t reveal themselves until you’ve nearly forgotten about the choice you made…only to have the stark consequences slap you in the face. Every single choice yo make has a consequence. At the beginning of the game I met a scholar who wanted to write about the war between Redania and Nilfgaard. I told him to go for it, tell the real story of the war. The next zone I entered, I found that scholar’s corpse dangling from a tree; hanged on suspicion of being a spy.


But most importantly, the story is one worth experiencing. It’s not about some evil sorcerer trying to conquer the world or finding a plot McGuffin, it’s about characters. There are no pointless side quests in this game and no collecting ram meat for nameless refugees. Everything matters and everything tells you a story, and they’re all worth the telling.

That concludes the spoiler-free portion of my review. If you don’t want the story spoiled for you turn back now, just trust me when I say this is a story you won’t regret having experienced. What Game of Thrones did for television (completely redefining what’s possible for the medium) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does for video games.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the game I’ve been waiting to play all my life.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

A Storytelling Review


The world of the The Witcher is George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones meets high fantasy. There are elves and dragons and magic, but this is no Tamriel or Middle-Earth. It’s a world of political intrigue and brutal warfare inhabited by monsters drawn from mythology of every culture. Yet of all the monsters you’ll fight in this game, none will be so monstrous as man himself.

The story follows Geralt, the titular Witcher, as he tries to find his old ward Ciri. The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings made reference to Ciri, as well as Geralt’s former lover Yennefer, but they were so vague that none of it seemed all that important. The Witcher 3, however, does an absolutely astounding job with the characterization. Every single character feels alive and you’ll come to love each and every one of them, or love to hate them as the case may be. As you experience Ciri’s life through a series of flashbacks, you’ll become just as eager to find her as Geralt, if only because she’s so incredibly badass.

At first I was afraid this was going to turn into a “princess in the tower” scenario where you have to rescue Ciri from danger. But basically most of the story is spent chasing her because Ciri keeps rescuing herself  before Geralt can even get there.

This is no princess you have to save.
In Polish stories, the Princess rescues you.

Ciri is being pursued by the Wild Hunt, considered a legend by most  and a wraith by those who’ve seen him, but who Geralt and Yennefer know is very real. The Wild Hunt is a huge monstrosity of an elf from a parallel world, who is able to cross between worlds and is desperately seeking a way to save his world from destruction. Of all the characters, the Wild Hunt is the only cipher among them, he’s not really characterized at all and so he comes across as a bit of a stereotypical villain. He’s basically The Witcher 3’s Corypheus, only his boss fight is actually climactic and difficult, so even the weakest link in this game’s story is infinitely stronger than Dragon Age Inquisition’s entire chain. His part in the story is extremely small though, as it should be, and the focus is on the amazing characters you’ll meet.

Most of the game is spent trying to pick up Ciri’s trail and piece together her story from the peoples she’s met along the way. First all this is a brilliant way to do a story in an open world environment, because it lends itself to the exploratory nature of the game’s world. There’s an urgency to finding Ciri, but at the same time it’s not the same urgency as trying to stop an apocalypse. It makes sense that Geralt would choose to take on a monster contract while scouring a village for clues to Ciri’s disappearance. It starts making less sense once you find Ciri, but by that time I’d finished most of the side quests, and the main quest had become so intriguing that I rushed through to the end of the story. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the Witcher universe, that phrase usually means the Emperor has literally taken your head.
In the Witcher universe, that phrase usually means the Emperor has literally taken your head.

The game has an impeccable sense of pacing, for instance after a long arduous journey finding Ciri’s trail and finally deducing that Uma is the key to finding her, you have a chance to get some real work done: Drinking. Along with your fellow Witchers, Lambert and Eskel, you get the opportunity to relax. I can’t tell you how fun this scene was, but after what must have been 20 or 30 hours spent hunting Ciri and witnessing terrible atrocities in that time, this was exactly what I needed. Most importantly you remain in control and in character the entire time. So if you’re playing Geralt as a straight up professional, you have the choice to go to bed early. The game doesn’t just jump to a cutscene, and by doing that you feel completely immersed in the experience.

Now I’ve never developed a taste for alcohol, it just tastes so awful I can’t drink enough to get drunk, so I have no idea what it’s like to get drunk. Thanks to the Witcher 3 though, I feel like I really did get blind drunk and dress up in a frilly frock, because the scene was just that expertly written and presented. I felt like I lived it myself, it was that good. I also nearly broke a rib laughing.

The writers know how to craft a story, because after every major event and heart rending moment, there was moment to balance it out. The Battle of Kaer Morhen was quite possibly one of the most intense battles I’ve ever played in a video game. It’s just a handful of defenders against dozens of the Wild Hunt’s warriors, and yet the small number of combatants did nothing to detract from the pure epicness of the siege. In fact the small number of defenders made me feel like everything I was doing was absolutely vital.

More importantly, I knew the who each of the defenders was. There were no faceless, nameless defenders being killed in a failed attempt to raise the stakes like most video games. No, I knew the face and name of everyone fighting by my side, they we’re people to me, and that made every moment of the siege feel real. My heart was in my throat the entire time. And when Vesemir gave his life to save Ciri, I felt the same rage Ciri felt.

Burn them all, Ciri.
Burn them all, Ciri.

But back onto the point of pacing, directly after this incredible scene, the writer’s wisely decided to give us an opportunity to laugh. This is absolutely vital to any good story, because if it’s all horror and death the audience will grow numb to it and eventually bored of it, that’s something the Witcher 3’s writers understood. After a somber funeral scene and a few days to recuperate, we’re treated to a snowball fight between Ciri and Geralt. Again the incredible people at CDProjekt knew the best way to tell this moment was to leave the player in charge, so it’s you charging around exchanging snowballs with Ciri.

And when you’ve slain the Crones of Crookback Bog and avenged Vesemir by killing the Wild Hunt’s general Imrelith, you share a tender moment of peace while watching the sunrise. That’s the other great thing they did with Ciri’s character, they didn’t fall into the trap of making Ciri a badass by draining her of emotion. She laughs, cries and rages like every other person in the story. She’s human.

And it’s in these interactions with Ciri that Geralt is best revealed. Once again you remain in complete control, you can choose to not have a snowball fight with Ciri and play it cool and distant. But though you may not know it now, even these small moments have huge consequences on the story.

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My friend also played through the game and played almost the exact opposite Geralt, a pure professional who did only what was necessary. He didn’t have a snowball fight with Ciri, he didn’t gleefully smash up Avallac’h’s lab, and he didn’t let Ciri lay to rest Skjall (the man who led Ciri to safety in Skellige). In his ending, Ciri had disappeared and was presumed dead.

In my ending, as my Ciri stared into that strange energy field from which the White Frost was coming, in her mind’s eye flashed all the great moment’s we’d shared throughout the game’s story. The snowball fight, the lab, and the visit to Skjall’s grave where she told the villagers of his heroism. The moments that reminded her that there were things worth living for.

And she came back.

Together again.
Together again.

Again the brilliance of the conclusion is that I still retained control, I was the one who had “Sparrow” inscribed on Ciri’s new silver sword, and rode to meet her at the Inn in White Orchard where this whole story first started. When I talked about emotional closure and the importance of resolution in the Story Arc in my Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition reviews, this is exactly what I was referring to. A few brief moments when we can relax and allow the story to come to an end, like the last trailing notes of a grand symphony.

“Well then, let’s try it out…” – Ciri to Geralt 

Then of course we’re also given the slideshow ending that answered any unanswered questions and gave us resolution to the interesting, yet ultimately unimportant subplots such as the Nilfgaardian invasion. Much like Game of Thrones, The Witcher 3 dangles fascinating political stories for you to focus on that ultimately have nothing to do with the actual plot. This is a story about characters, and the slideshow tells you what became of the people you came to love.

Geralt spent a few months with Ciri teaching her all he knew of the ways of the Witcher, and then they parted ways, with Ciri going on to become a Witcher even more famous than Geralt. And as for Geralt himself?

He retired to Kovir with Triss, taking on occasional monster contracts, but for the most part living out the rest of his life in the peace that had eluded him for so long.

That was my story. My choices in the game led me to an ending that left a warm glow in my heart, and was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. And if you haven’t already, get out there and start your Geralt’s story because no matter how it ends up, you’ll never forget the experience. 

Hard to believe it all started years ago with a game so rough I can barely believe it got a sequel.

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