Thursday, November 13, 2014

the best of 2014: miscellaneous edition

As 2014 draws to a close (how the hell did THAT happen?), it's time for me to look back and reflect on the wonderful things I discovered.  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these things were first released in 2014, but that's when I first watched/played them.
  • In years past, I've included a photo of/from the thing in question, but for reasons too lengthy and boring to go into here, I'm not doing it this year.  I apologize, but I don't look good bald and I need to keep SOME hair on my fucking head.
  • For the video games, I mention what system we played it on in parentheses and what other systems it's available on if applicable.
  • Should something else tickle my fancy (say now!) between now and the end of the year, I'll update this list accordingly.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. The Chase:  In this game show, "The Beast" (Mark Labett), a supersmart British dude, faces off against three contestants to see who will try to beat him in the final round.  It's really fun, and the Beast is all bark and no bite.  He's very gracious and complimentary on the rare occasions he loses.  I actually root for him over the contestants!  (Currently airing on GSN)

2. Breaking Bad:  Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher who's diagnosed with lung cancer.  He gets the idea to make meth in order to leave a tidy sum behind for his family, and he recruits a former student named Jesse Pinkman to help him out.  Walter's got the purest meth in the business, and soon he's rolling in dough, but of course there are complications.  G-Vo and I were latecomers to this series, but it was worth it to be able to queue up another episode immediately after one ended!  The writing and acting are just as phenomenal as you've heard.  Bryan Cranston (Walter) deserves all the awards he received, but I thought Aaron Paul (Jesse) was equally as good.  (Available on DVD and Netflix Instant)

3. True Detective:  Louisiana homicide detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart try to track down a serial killer over the span of 17 years.  Like a lot of people, I was disappointed by the ending, but I still thought it was well worth watching, and cynical Rust gets a LOT of great lines.  Also, I never really had an opinion of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson one way or the other before seeing this, but holy crap, they can fucking ACT.  (Available on DVD and HBO Go)

4. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F:  Rhythm game + Japan's #1 virtual idol + a soundtrack that's catchier than the flu = my idea of hog heaven.  A new one comes out next week, and I can't wait!  (PS3)

5. The Last of Us: Left Behind:  I can't really discuss this DLC without spoiling a ton of stuff.  I'll just say that if you loved The Last of Us and haven't played this yet, what the hell are you waiting for?  The story's terrific, the voice acting is superlative, the action is tense, and Ellie and her friend Riley will break your goddamn heart.  (PS3; it's also available on the remastered PS4 edition)

6. Chozen:  After being released from prison, gay white gangsta rapper Chozen is determined to become a major success and get revenge on the former friend who put him there.  G-Vo and I weren't sure we'd like this show, but it turned out to be hysterically funny.  It only lasted one season, but I'll never forget that Willy Wonka music video.  It doesn't appear to be on DVD at this time, but maybe you can still find reruns on FX. 

7. The Returned:  In this eerie French drama, a group of people come back from the dead, looking exactly like they used to.  But of course, they're not quite normal, and neither is the town.  I would like season 2 now, please.  Not to be confused with the current American TV show Resurrection, which has a similar premise.  (Available on DVD and Netflix Instant)

8. Shark Tank:  On this reality show, aspiring entrepreneurs pitch business ideas and inventions to a panel of megarich investors, hoping to strike a deal.  It's really interesting, and I have a massive crush on Ukrainian fox Robert Herjavec.  (Currently airing on NBC)

9. Candy Crush:  I'd heard a lot about "match 3" phenomenon Candy Crush, so when I finally got an iPhone, I went ahead and downloaded it...and promptly forgot to do anything else for about six months.  It's basically black tar heroin.  I did eventually get tired of it and move on to an equally colorful and addictive competitor called Book of Life: Sugar Smash (based on the animated movie), but it's still fun to play while taking a dump at work.  (Candy Crush can be found on pretty much every phone/tablet ever, as well as online; BoL:SS is only available on the iPhone as far as I know) 

10. The Walking Dead: Season 2:  I wasn't able to give a proper review of this game last month because it would have spoiled the original game, but I'll say it again: if you like zombies in general, the Walking Dead universe in particular, and/or games with great storytelling, look no further.  (XBOX 360; also available on PS3, PS4, PS Vita, and XBOX One)


Friday, October 31, 2014

media update: October

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary. 

FICTION

1. The Infinite Sea* by Rick Yancey:  This is the second book in a series, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  It's really good, though.  

2. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran:  After embarrassing herself on local TV with a terrible Scooby Doo impression, British teenager Johanna Morrigan reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde and manages to score a job as a music reviewer.  She presents herself as a brash, cynical "swashfuckler", but she's still a virgin who has no idea how to navigate her new world.  It's often very funny, and there's the occasional line that really hit home.  This was one of my favorite passages:  "This is the terrible thing about learning everything from books---sometimes you don't know how to say the words.  You know the ideas, but you cannot discuss them with people with any confidence.  And so you stay silent."

Side note:  I went on a MASSIVE downloading spree while reading this, because it's set in the early 1990s and she talks about so many fantastic British bands that I kept going "Ooh, I could use some Ride/Pulp/Suede in my music library!"

3. The Walking Dead: Descent by Jay Bonansinga:  This is the latest installment in a series so I can't properly review it etc.  It was meh.

NONFICTION

1. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory* by Caitlin Doughty:  The author (best known for her "Ask a Mortician" webseries) discusses her work as a mortician and how we view death in our culture.  Morbidly fascinating, but if you're squeamish, stay away.

2. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham:  A collection of essays by the extremely polarizing creator and star of Girls.  If you're not already a fan, this won't win you over, but if you like her work (or, like me, you have a like/loathe relationship with it), it's a good read.

3. The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber:  A fascinating look at amateur sleuths who devote their spare time to solving cold cases by scouring the internet.

4. I Work at a Public Library* by Gina Sheridan:  A collection of weird stories from the author's job as a librarian, many of which are laugh out loud funny.  I was surprised by one anecdote about a kid trying to check out an M-rated video game, though; where are these magical libraries that rent video games?  Because the ones in Los Angeles county sure don't!  Not that I'm complaining all that much; as long as they keep me in books, I'm happy.  (Seriously, every single book/graphic novel/volume of manga and two of the DVDs listed here came from the library.  If I didn't have access to a decent library system, I would either go broke buying books or read probably 1/10 as much.)

Side note:  I've never worked in a library (and have no desire to, both because I wouldn't want to keep getting recertified and because I fucking hate people), but these are my two favorite personal library anecdotes.

#1:  I went to the library immediately after work, so I still had my work clothes (back when we still had to dress up) and work badge on.  An elderly woman came up to me and asked me where a particular book would be located.  If I'd known, I would have told her, but I didn't, so I pointed at my work badge and said, "I'm sorry, I don't actually work here."  She glared at me and barked, "Well, why the hell not?"

#2:  I was looking at the new book section when a young man with Downs came up to me and said hi.  I said hi back, and then he moved a little closer to me, took a deep breath, and said with a huge smile, "You smell like happy feels!"  Still one of the best compliments I've ever gotten in my life.  I just wish I could remember what perfume I was wearing at the time!

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Tomboy by Liz Prince

2. Say I Love You* vols. 1-4 by Kanae Hazuki

3. Food Wars!* vol. 2 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

4. My Love Story!!* vol. 2 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

5. Kamisama Kiss vol. 16 by Julietta Suzuki

6. The Walking Dead* vol. 21 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

7. What Did You Eat Yesterday?* by Fumi Yoshinaga

8. Fables vol. 20 by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham

9. Shoplifter by Michael Cho

10. Sugar Skull by Charles Burns

11. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 5 by Nico Tanigawa

12. Spell of Desire by Tomu Ohmi

MOVIES

1. Hellion*:  Jacob is an angry 13-year-old who constantly gets into trouble.  But when his antics force CPS to remove his little brother Wes from the home, Jacob and his father try to get Wes back.  The kid who played Jacob reminded me of a young River Phoenix in both looks and talent.  And you know how sometimes a person inhabits an iconic role so completely that you can't see them in anything else without thinking of that role?  Aaron Paul's so good as the father that I forgot he played Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.  Although the story wasn't anything groundbreaking, the performances are so good that I'm giving this a star.

2. They Came Together:  In this semi-spoof of romantic comedies, Molly (Amy Poehler) owns a small candy store that's about to be gobbled up by a huge company.  It's hate at first sight when she meets Joel (Paul Rudd), who works for the competition, but can they overcome their differences and fall in love?  The laughs are pretty scattershot, but there are a few that hit hard, and it's worth seeing if you like Poehler or Rudd.  (And if you don't, I'm sorry your taste is so floptacular.)

3. The Signal:  Nic and Jonah are buddies who are helping Nic's girlfriend move across the country to a new school.  When they finally pinpoint the location of a hacker that's been trolling them and discover that he's on their route, they decide to pay him a visit, and things don't go as planned.  I'm not giving it a star because I thought it started much stronger than it finished, but it's unique enough that it's worth a look.  A piece of advice, though: if you want to see this, go into it knowing as little as possible.

4. The Normal Heart*:  Based on the Larry Kramer play, this movie follows an activist (Mark Ruffalo) and his friends as they fight to raise awareness at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.  At times it's a bit too obvious that it started out as a play, leading to some stilted pacing, but the incredible performances and some truly heartrending moments made up for it.

5. A Million Ways to Die in the West*:  Albert (Seth MacFarlane) lives in a small western town, tending his sheep and hoping for a more exciting life.  He gets his wish when gorgeous Anna (Charlize Theron) moves to town, but then her gunslinger husband (Liam Neeson) shows up.  This was actually really funny, although if you're not already a fan of MacFarlane's brand of humor, I doubt this will change your mind.

Side note:  If you want to watch the unrated version instead of the theatrical version, you can choose it in the extras section, which unfortunately we didn't discover until after we'd already watched the movie.  Most DVDs let you pick a version BEFORE you watch the damn movie, so that was annoying.  Speaking of the extras, there's some great stuff in there, so if you like the movie, check those out too!

6. Edge of Tomorrow*:  Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a bit of a coward who's never actually engaged in combat.  But when an alien race attacks Earth, he's dropped into battle and caught in a time loop, forced to relive the same day over and over again.  By learning from his mistakes, he gets closer to ending the fight once and for all. Very clever and surprisingly funny, and Emily Blunt is terrific as the badass who helps Cage out. This movie tanked hard, but it really didn't deserve to.

7. Brick Mansions:  In the near future, a crime-ridden area of Detroit is walled off from the rest of the city.  Cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker in his last completed role) goes undercover to infiltrate the area and track down the drug lord who killed his father.  This is a remake of the French flick District B13, so if you've seen that you probably don't need to see this one too, but it was fun.

8. The Fault in Our Stars*:  Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a teenage girl in remission from cancer.  She meets Gus (Ansel Elgort) at a support group, and they fall in love.  Even if you're not familiar with the book this is based on, you can probably guess what happens.  A surprisingly funny and very sweet movie, and oh god will you need tissues.

9. Cold in July:  After killing an intruder in his home, Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) is visited by the intruder's father, and what initally seemed like a standard revenge thriller turns into something more complicated.  Tense and grim.

10. Neighbors:  A married couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are unhappy when a fraternity moves in next door, but they try to be welcoming.  Then the frat's loud parties keep them and their baby up at night, and they begin plotting ways to drive the frat out of their neighborhood for good.  It's pretty goddamn funny, and a welcome palate cleanser after the unrelenting darkness of the previous movie on this list.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Manmadeiya!" by Chubbiness:  This is the debut single of a Japanese idol group that's been getting some buzz, even here in the US, because their gimmick is that all of the members are "chubby".  Here's the video so you can see just how chubby they really are.


Yeah, that's chubby in Japan.  Jesus Christ, in the US they'd be used as thinspo!  Only one of them could be considered remotely overweight, and certainly not by much.

Anyway, there's a lot about idol culture that I find problematic, but this song is catchier than the flu and they're freakin' adorable.  I'd like them to branch out and do songs that deal with things other than their weight, but I love them and hope they do well.  Plus Kawai Akina (the one in purple) tweeted me, so I kind of feel like we're BFFs now.

2. "Candy Pop in Love" by Tommy February6

3. "Q-TEE" by Ai Ichikawa

4. "Frustration Music" by Hysteric Blue

5. "Blue Knife" (Japanese version):  This is Kitty-N's theme from the classic PS1 rhythm game Bust a Groove.  One New Year's Eve my friend Tara and I rented a hotel room and got drunk and played this game for probably six hours straight.  I kicked her ass (except when she was playing Gas-O and I couldn't get the timing right) and it was awesome.

6. "Mei Q" (ending song from Tantei Gakuen Q)

7. "Searching for New World" by Strawberry Jam

8. "Mouse" by Under 17

9. "Spicy Marmalade" (from the Gravitation OST)

10. "Blind Game Again" (from the Gravitation OST)

11. "Where Are You Baby" by Betty Boo

12. "Vapour Trail" by Ride

13. "Common People" by Pulp

14. "Something Sweet" by The Allies

15. "Canta Per Me" (from the Noir soundtrack)

16. "My Insatiable One" by Suede

17. "Bruise Violet" by Babes in Toyland

18. "Sweet '69" by Babes in Toyland

19. "Lollirot" by Jack Off Jill

20. "Water Boy" by Imperial Teen

21. "Pepper" by Butthole Surfers

22. "You're the Best" (South Park version) by Joe Esposito

23. "Lipstick" by Orange Caramel

24. "Credens Justitiam (Mami's Theme)" from Puella Magi Madoka Magica

25. "Tell Me" by Wonder Girls

26. "Goodbye" by Wonder Girls

27. "Milkshake" by Orange Caramel

28. "Aing" by Orange Caramel

29. "Bubble Bath" by Orange Caramel

21. "Temporary Ground" by Jack White


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH #1


 



In the busy shopping district of Akihabara (often shortened as "Akiba"), vampire-like creatures called synthisters are draining people of their energy.  The only way to stop the synthisters is by methodically stripping them of their clothes, thus exposing them to the sun.  The protagonist (whose name the player picks; I chose Yosuke in honor of my favorite Persona 4 character), who was turned into a synthister, bands together with his friends to defend the neighborhood they love.



LOVED


  • It's a delightfully bizarre ode to otaku culture.
  • Although the game is obviously chock full of fanservice (no nudity, though), at least it's pretty evenly divided between gender lines.
  • It's often very funny.  For example, in the English dialogue/subtitles, Yosuke's younger sister Nana calls him names like "Brotagonist" or "Brototype".  In the Japanese dialogue, she only calls him "nii-nii" (a very cutesy and childish nickname for an older brother), so the localization team did a great job with their creative license.  I also particularly enjoyed this dialogue tree choice:  "Kickass!  You'll be a hit, girl!"  If you don't get why that's awesome, then I'm sorry but we can no longer be friends.
  • I liked the smartphone interface for checking side missions, email, maps, and stats.
  • You can read "Pitter" feeds, which are a spot-on parody of Twitter and YouTube comments.
  • The game covers a wide area, so the fast travel option was very welcome!

LOATHED

  • The English voice acting was pretty dismal, so we switched to the Japanese option after about 10 minutes of playing.
  • The music and gameplay get rather repetitive.
  • There are lots of side missions you can do, but with rare exceptions, they're not really worth the trouble, especially since half the time we couldn't even find the person we were supposed to be helping.
  • Oddly enough, considering this is a Japanese game, for the most part the characters didn't look "authentic" to me.  They looked more like Deviant Art sketches of anime characters than the real deal.
  • I never really felt connected to any of the characters.  The layout of the screen when talking to someone was very reminiscent of Persona 4, but unlike P4, when I was done with the game, I didn't immediately miss the characters.  
Overall, this is a fun little fighting game that's worth a rental just for the sheer WTFery of it.  I give it 6 ripped maid uniforms out of 10.

VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH #2





I've said this many times for books, but I don't think I've ever said it before for a video game, so here goes:  This is a direct sequel to the first game, so I can't properly review it lest I spoil its predecessor.  I'll just say that it's terrific, and Clementine is one of my favorite video game characters, so it was wonderful spending time with her again.  If you have any love in your heart for the Walking Dead universe and/or zombies in general, do yourself a favor and check this series out.  It's tense, the story is great, and it's almost as much fun to watch as it is to play.  I give it 8 shuffling zombies out of 10.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

the Proust questionnaire

(Taken from the back page of Vanity Fair)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?  Being with G-Vo, just snuggled up on the couch watching a movie or playing video games, with pizza or popcorn and an ice cold Coke Zero.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?  The tendency to assume the worst about everyone.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?  Rudeness.

What is your greatest extravagance?  Magazines.

What is your favorite journey?  Any road that leads me to G-Vo.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?  Patience.

On what occasion do you lie?  To spare someone else's feelings. 

What do you dislike most about your appearance?  I can't decide between my eyes, my hair, or my belly.

Which living person do you most despise?  I don't know for sure if he IS still alive, but if he is, the doctor on call who was so horribly callous when my mom fell down and couldn't get up again.  Sorry we woke you up for what turned out to be a fucking SPINAL TUMOR, you disgusting piece of maggot-ridden pig shit.  I hope he dies/died in great agony.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?  "Fuck" and its many permutations.

What is your greatest regret?  That I wasted so many years giving a shit what others think about me.  I still want people to like me, of course, but if they don't, as long as they're not rude or mean to me, so fucking what?  There's a handful of people whose opinions of me I care about; there are billions whose opinions I don't.  It's very freeing.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?  G-Vo, of course. 

When and where were you happiest?  Whenever and wherever I'm with G-Vo.  If you want a non-boyfriend related answer, then I'd say sitting on a bench in Kyoto, watching geisha stroll by as cherry petals fluttered through the sky like fragrant snow.  I was actually in tears because I was so happy to be witnessing such beauty for myself.

Which talent would you most like to have?  I really wish I could draw.

What is your current state of mind?  Lazy.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?  Becoming completely independent.  I knew I was an actual grownup on the day I started paying all of my own bills and killing my own damn spiders.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?  A cat.

Where would you like to live?  I'm pretty happy here in Southern California, though that opinion is subject to change the second the Big One hits.

What is your favorite occupation?  I don't know whether they mean job or pastime here, so I'll go with the latter and say reading. 

What is your most marked characteristic?  I like to flatter myself by thinking I'm pretty funny.

What is the quality you most like in a man?  A sense of humor and intelligence.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?  A sense of humor and intelligence.

What do you most value in your friends?  Love, trust, humor, intelligence, loyalty. 

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?  Batman.

Who are your heroes in real life?  My brother, because even though he's been dealt a shitty hand in life, he never, EVER gives up striving for better.

What are your favorite names?  Obviously I will never have children, but if I had a daughter, I would name her Claire or Ellie in honor of my two favorite video game characters (from assorted Resident Evil games and The Last of Us respectively) in hopes that she would inherit some of their best qualities:  smart, tough, funny, and always protective of those who need it.  (Plus I like those names anyway.)

What is it that you most dislike?  Rudeness, disloyalty, intolerance, onions, people with no sense of humor, spiders.

How would you like to die?  In my sleep, just after midnight on July 18th, 2071.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

media update: September

And how was your September?  For the most part, mine was uneventful, but holy god was there some irritating shit at work.  (Feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs if you know me in real life/follow me on Twitter, 'cause you've heard all this before.)  They asked for vacation requests for October through December, and because so many people have retired or quit recently, they can only allow 1.5 people off on any given day.  Well, as you can imagine, with 15 people in our department, that made scheduling an effin' nightmare.  Nine people wanted the week of Christmas off alone!  Our new bosses, who are actually really cool but have limited power as far as that kind of shit goes (it was a corporate decision), said they'd round it up to 2 people a day and take the fallout should any come from up high.  So they put us all in a conference room for a Vacation Hunger Games to let us all duke it out.  I managed to score December 26th-January 2nd off, so I emailed G-Vo to let him know.

But wait!  A challenger appears!  My coworker Durr (so nicknamed because she is exceptionally stupid) got butthurt because Bossy (not to be confused with either of my bosses; this is a C-word with whom I have beef going back, I shit you not, 13 years) got the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas off, which granted wasn't fair.  This led to our bosses taking back the time that had already been granted and having yet ANOTHER meeting.  It was like when Katniss wins and the Capitol is all "LOL bitch back in the arena with you."  Thanks to this new meeting, I wound up losing the week of Christmas, which means I won't get to spend it with my dad and brother.  (G-Vo's parents are renting a house in the city where my dad and stepmother live, and obviously they don't celebrate Christmas, so I was going to spend that day and a couple of others with my blood family.)  Not only that, but my brother is leaving on the same day we arrive, so I probably won't get to see him at all!  If I hadn't gotten the time off to begin with, I wouldn't have been so upset, but since I had already told everyone that I'd gotten it, I had to go back and say "Uh, sorry, they fucked me after all."  And then fucking Durr, who felt the need to jump down my throat during the meeting and say "But you aren't even religious!" (which a) I don't even know how she knows that, since I don't go around telling people I'm an atheist and b) is fucking irrelevant, which to her credit Boss #1 immediately stepped in and said...well, without the "fucking"), sent me the most condescending email after the meeting saying "Tell your family you'll see them next year under the Christmas tree!", followed by clip art of a giant smiley face wearing a party hat.  Tell YOUR family they'll see YOU in a fucking body bag if you ever fuck me with no lube again and then try to make me feel better about it, you flaming whore.

Enough of that; my blood pressure is going up just thinking about it.

Anyway, it's technically fall but it sure doesn't feel like it here in SoCal, which is why I read so much this month.  I can't wait until it cools down so I can wear my cute new boots and go on long walks with G-Vo while crunching through leaves and drink chai lattes and wrap myself in the blanket Madre made for me while dozing on the couch.  Plus, as much as I love sitting in the break room (assuming no loud assholes are in there) and reading, the scorching weather meant that I wasn't walking 3 miles a day, which made my energy level plummet and the day seem twice as long.

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Never Fade* by Alexandra Bracken:  This is the second book in the Darkest Minds trilogy, so I can't review it properly for fear of spoiling its predecessor.  It didn't grab me quite as hard as the first book did, but it's still very good, and I'm looking forward to reading the finale when it's released next month.

2. The Secret Place* by Tana French:  At an elite girls' boarding school, someone pins a postcard onto a bulletin board that says "I know who killed him" and shows a teenage boy who had been murdered on the grounds the year before.  Detectives Moran and Conway investigate, and they open an ugly can of worms in the process.  I mainlined all of French's books a couple of years ago, and I was sad when there weren't any more to be read, so I was anxious to get my hands on this, and I wasn't disappointed.  Few people can end a book as well as French does.

3. Dear Daughter* by Elizabeth Little:  Janie Jenkins was a socialite whose world came crashing down when she was convicted of murdering her rich mother.  After spending 10 years in prison, she's released on a technicality, and she begins her search for the real killer.  A very clever mystery with some seriously funny lines.  (One of my favorite passages: "The denim of his jeans was rougher than I'd expected.  Probably a cowboy sort of thing...protection against tumbleweeds and accusations of metrosexuality.")

4. The Young World by Chris Weitz:  A mysterious disease kills everybody but teenagers, who are left behind to forge a new civilization.  Unfortunately, they aren't doing a particularly good job of it, so a group of friends sets out to find a research center that may hold the key to a cure.  It's chock full of cliches, and the author tried way too hard to make one of the POV characters sound like a "typical" teen.  I won't go out of my way to read the next one when it's published (because of course it's the first book in a trilogy), but might pick it up during a dry spell.

5. Amity by Micol Ostow:  Gwen and her family move into a house that was the site of a tragedy ten years earlier.  But it's not just any house; it's Amity, and it's not done causing trouble.  Not essential, but decently creepy.

6. Broken Monsters* by Lauren Beukes:  Now this is essential AND creepy.  When the corpse of a young boy is found with his upper half fused to the bottom half of a deer, Detective Gabriella Versado hopes that it's just a one time thing.  But then more bizarre creations are discovered, and it becomes apparent that a serial killer has made Detroit his hunting ground.  A beautifully written and surreal thriller; it's my favorite novel of the year so far.

7. Safe with Me by Amy Hatvany:  After her daughter is killed by a car, Hannah makes the difficult decision to donate Emily's organs.  By coincidence, one year later Hannah meets Maddie, the teenage girl who received Emily's liver, and Maddie's mother Olivia, who's stuck in an abusive marriage.  Very predictable, and a bit too Lifetime Movie of the Week for my tastes.

8. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce:  Marie is a young single mother who works in a succession of restaurants and tries to numb her pain with drugs, self-harm, and indiscriminate sexual encounters.  Well written, but depressing as hell, and the ending is pretty abrupt.

NONFICTION

1. Bad Feminist* by Roxane Gay:  Excellent essays from a feminist perspective that cover everything from the problematic lyrics of "Blurred Lines" to the women on Twitter who said they'd let Chris Brown beat them whenever he wanted.  Warning: in the essay titled "Not Here to Make Friends", she spoils the shit out of Gone Girl, so skip that one if you haven't read GG and/or plan to see the movie and have magically remained unspoiled up to this point.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Library Wars vol. 12 by Kiiro Yumi 

2. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 2 by Satoshi Shiki and Ryo Suzukaze

3. Midnight Secretary vol. 7 (final volume) by Tomu Ohmi

4. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier


MOVIES

1. Transcendence:  After Dr. Will Caster is killed by anti-tech terrorists, his desperate wife uploads his consciousness into a supercomputer; complications ensue.  It has some interesting ideas, but I found myself zoning out rather frequently.

2. Lego Batman: The Movie:  When the Joker teams up with Lex Luthor, Batman and the Justice League must find a way to stop them.  We weren't expecting much, but were pleasantly surprised.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier*:  When S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, Captain America and the Black Widow have to get to the bottom of it.  But things get even more complicated with the appearance of the mysterious Winter Soldier.  Thanks to lots of terrific action and some snappy lines, it's the very definition of a fun popcorn movie.  Plenty of eye candy, too.

4. Need for Speed:  A subpar Fast and Furious ripoff that features lots of gorgeous car porn, but not much else to recommend it.  Plus, and I know this is going to make me sound like a crotchety old fuck, but by the end I was rooting for the cops.  I don't give a shit if you endanger your own life and limbs; I DO give a shit if you endanger the lives and limbs of others.

5. Palo Alto:  Based on a book of short stories by James Franco (who also stars as a sleazy soccer coach), this movie follows a group of disenchanted teenagers growing up in the titular town.  It has a dreamlike feel, and Emma Roberts (who usually bugs the shit out of me) is pretty good in it, but it's very slow and has a "wait, that's it?" kind of ending.

6. DCU Batman: Assault on Arkham:  When the Riddler steals a flash drive filled with vital information, the government assembles the Suicide Squad to break into Arkham Asylum and get it back.  Needless to say, Batman ain't happy.  Much darker than these direct-to-video superhero flicks tend to be.  I enjoyed it, and G-Vo said he got a massive nerd boner because it tied in to his beloved Batman Arkham games.

7. Oculus*:  Ten years after the brutal deaths of their parents, Kaylie and Tim try to prove that an evil mirror was responsible.  Yes, it sounds goofy, but it was better than anticipated thanks to some clever touches, and the actors who play Kaylie and Tim as kids were surprisingly good. 

8. Godzilla:  How the hell did they manage to make a movie about Godzilla and barely even have him in it?!?  Not only that, but they kept setting up scenes that promised to be awesome, like Godzilla about to battle a Muto (another mutated creature) and then cut away to, like, soldiers trudging through the city...and then they'd never go back to the freakin' fight!  It has some nice disaster porn, but man, they made some weird decisions.

9. Enemy:  While watching a movie, a professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) notices an actor in the background who looks exactly like him, and he becomes obsessed with tracking him down.  Confusing as hell, and it has the biggest WTF ending I think I've ever seen.  I understood it a little better after reading theories online, but I still wouldn't recommend it unless you like movies that are destined to be shown in film studies classes and everyone sits around afterwards and pretends that they got it when they totally didn't.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

media update: August

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. House of Sand and Secrets by Cat Hellisen:  This is the second novel in the Books of Oreyn series, can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor, etc.  You know the drill by now!

Side note:  The library had this (and the previous book) shelved in the YA section, and I'm assuming they knew what they were doing, but the language and sexual content are much stronger than anything I've read in YA novels to date.  Just an FYI in case you were thinking of picking this up for a teenager.

2. The Darkest Minds* by Alexandra Bracken:  A mysterious disease called IAAN kills the vast majority of the children in the US, but the ones that survive are endowed with powers and sent to government internment camps.  Ruby thinks she's a Green, one of the most benign types, but it turns out that she's actually an Orange, one of the most dangerous types of all, capable of reading people's minds and making them do whatever she wants.  She manages to escape the camp before the authorities can kill her, but it turns out that the outside isn't much safer.  It's terrific, and I'm glad I discovered this series when I did, because I just checked out the second book and the third comes out in October.

3. One Kick by Chelsea Cain:  At the age of 6, Kick Lannigan was kidnapped by pedophiles and rescued five years later.  Now, as an adult, she practices ways to keep herself safe and investigates missing children.  A man named Bishop approaches her and asks her to help him investigate two recent kidnappings, and she agrees, but the case has ties to her past that she isn't prepared for.  It's good, but it didn't grab me as much as I hoped it would.

NONFICTION

1. Take This Man* by Brando Skyhorse:  The author's mother was Mexican, but she reinvented herself as a Native American and took up with numerous men.  As a child, Brandon never really knew who his father was, and struggled to accept his mother's occasional abuse and constant pathological lying.  (Discussing the tragic siblings he never met and who might not even have existed, Brandon says "My mother had so much pain to share that she had to invent people to hurt.")  A hell of a story, beautifully told.

2. The Other Side* by Lacy M. Johnson:  The author was in a relationship that started passionately and ended with him kidnapping her and holding her hostage for several hours until she was able to escape.  This memoir is about her struggle to overcome the toll the experience took on her.  It's really good, but because it includes many descriptions of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, I must include a trigger warning.

3. Last Chain on Billie by Carol Bradley:  This is the story of a circus elephant whose miserable life brightened considerably when she was transferred to a Tennessee sanctuary.  It's not an easy read; the anecdote about an elephant who was shot and killed in Maui when she killed a trainer made me tear up because I remembered seeing it happen on the news back in 1994 and crying so hard I almost puked, and there's a heartbreaking photo of a baby elephant being trained with bullhooks, and her little fuzzy mohawk and tiny flappy ears made me wonder who in the fresh fuck could ever be cruel to her.  But although it's not an easy read, it does have a much deserved happy ending.

Side note:  One of the things I found most interesting in this book was the description of the "good cop, bad cop" training method that's often used.  One trainer wears a brightly colored outfit and a face mask and beats the elephant for several days.  Then a different trainer, wearing a different colored outfit and no face mask, comes in while trainer #1 is beating the elephant, pretends to kick the shit out of trainer #1 and scare him off, and then trainer #2 soothes the elephant and gives it treats, thereby endearing themselves to the elephant and making it much more likely to obey trainer #2.  It's kind of genius in its sheer evil.

Augh, now I'm getting all teary again remembering this book, so here is a cute picture of a baby elephant playing with egret chicks as a palate cleanser.



4. Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner* by Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell:  A morbidly fascinating memoir about the author's two years of training as a forensic examiner.  One of the best anecdotes in here involves a police detective bringing her a bucket full of mysterious objects, some of which were obviously biological in nature, that was found in the hallway of an apartment building.  The bucket contained a porcelain figurine of kissing angels, dozens of maraschino cherries, and what turned out to be two enormous penises from a donkey or horse.  A coworker who had trained in Florida said he used to see that kind of thing all the time and it was probably a Santeria love potion. I'm dying to know if it actually worked!

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll:  The story in here titled "The Nesting Place" fucked me UP.  I need to choose my bedtime reading more carefully, methinks.

2. Kaze Hikaru vol. 22 by Taeko Watanabe

3. Daddy's Girl by Debbie Drechsler [trigger warning for graphically depicted incest and sexual assault]

4. Black Rose Alice by Setona Mizushiro

5. Food Wars!* by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. Rin-Ne vol. 15 by Rumiko Takahashi

7. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 2 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

MOVIES

1. The Final Member:  This documentary is about the Icelandic Phallological Museum, whose curator has collected the penises of many mammals, but he really wants a human specimen.  A feisty nonagenarian from Iceland and a guy named Tom Mitchell from the US agree to donate their organs, but Tom wants to be the first so badly that he's willing to donate his dong before he even dies.  He even gets a tattoo of the American flag on the tip!  It's pretty interesting, but man, Tom is frickin' creepy.

Side note #1:  One of the editors is named Andrew Dickler.  I am not making this up.

Side note #2:  When my brother and I visited Iceland in 2005, I REALLY wanted to go to this museum.  We tracked down the address, but there was an eye doctor there instead.  So we went inside and asked, and an employee very politely and patiently (I got the feeling we weren't the only people who had come by looking for the museum) told us it had been relocated about 30 miles away.  I was very disappointed, but at least now I feel like I've sort of seen it!  I wish I'd been able to go to the gift shop, though; imagine the post cards!

2. The Protector 2:  Kham's elephant has gone missing yet again, and this time, it's been kidnapped by people who want to plant a bomb in its tusks (yes, really) to kill a politician.  But apparently the kidnappers never saw the first movie, because you do NOT want to fuck with Kham's elephant.  (I'd like to sic Kham on some of the assholes in Last Chain on Billie.)

The Protector is one of my favorite movies of all time, so I was really looking forward to this, especially because it stars Tony Jaa AND Jeeja Yanin.  (If you haven't seen Chocolate and you love martial arts movies, you need to add that to your Netflix queue immediately.)  But unfortunately, the filmmakers had a bigger budget and they managed to screw things up with bad special effects.  Dude, Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin ARE special effects!  There are still plenty of fun action scenes, but the movie as a whole was kind of a letdown.

3. 300: Rise of an Empire:  "God king" Xerxes schemes to invade Greece, but Themistokles and his soldiers are determined to stop him.  It's got some fun action, a cool visual style, and lots of hot dudes in skimpy clothes, so I enjoyed it quite a bit.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2:  When a supervillain named Electro is created, Peter Parker (which would be a great gay porn star name) dons his Spider-Man suit to protect the city.  This movie was a massive flop, but I didn't think it was that bad.  Some of the pacing was off, and a couple of lines were cringeworthy, but Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry, there was some decent action, and there was a scene that choked me up HARD. 

5. Divergent:  In a dystopian world, people are divided into factions based on their chief virtue.  But when Tris is tested and her results show that she is a Divergent, meaning she fits into several different categories, her life is in danger.  I tried reading the book a few years ago and couldn't get into it, but the movie was decent enough that I might pick up the second book if I hit a dry spell.

6. The Sacrament:  A Vice reporter and two of his friends head to a religious commune in search of his sister and a good story, but what seems like a peaceful place is much more sinister than it initially appears.  It's not a must see or anything, but as far as found footage/faux documentary movies go, it's not bad.

7. The Lego Movie:  Emmett is a Lego construction worker who becomes embroiled in a quest to stop Lord Business from permanently gluing everyone and everything down.  The animation is great, and there are some really funny lines (mostly from Batman), but I think the hype machine set our expectations too high.

8. Filth: In this pitch black comedy, Bruce (James McAvoy) is a corrupt Scottish cop who will stop at nothing to get a promotion, no matter who gets hurt in the process.  It's twisted as hell (as you'd expect from the guy who wrote Trainspotting) and has its moments, but man, you will not like anybody in this movie.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy*:  Peter Quill was abducted from Earth as a kid and is now a cocky thief who finds himself in possession of a mysterious orb.  Trouble is, a supervillain named Ronan the Accuser wants the orb too, and he will stop at nothing to get it back...even if it destroys the universe in the process.  So Peter gathers a motley crew of two humans, an anthropomorphized raccoon named Rocket, and a gentle tree creature named Groot, to help him stop Ronan before it's too late.

To be honest, this is another movie where the hype machine went into overdrive and raised our expectations too high.  I really enjoyed it, but I didn't LOVE it like I thought I would.  Still, it's definitely a lot of fun and well worth a watch if you're into campy space antics.

10. Year One:  Two hunter-gatherers (Jack Black and Michael Cera) are ousted from their tribe and set out on an epic journey, encountering many biblical figures along the way.  It's pretty dumb, but it has some funny moments.

Side note: If you decide to watch this despite my lukewarm review, be sure to watch the alternate ending in the special features section, because it's much better than the one they chose.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Pompeii" by Bastille

2. "Problem" by Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea

Monday, August 25, 2014

Alaska/Canada part 5: the conclusion

Before I begin the final installment of my cruise adventures, here's a picture my dad just sent to me from our Tracy Arm excursion.



On the final full day of our trip, we docked in Victoria, British Columbia.  My dad and A had been there fairly recently, so they elected to stay on the ship while R, G, and I disembarked.  R absolutely LOVES Canada and has been there numerous times, so he was an excellent tour guide.  We didn't have a ton of time in the area, so unfortunately we didn't get to visit Buchart Gardens, but we still had a lovely walk.  I insisted on stopping in a 7-11, because I love visiting convenience stores and drugstores in other countries for cool candy, snacks, magazines, and beauty supplies you can't find stateside.  I only got a Kinder Egg (banned in the US because the toys inside are a choking hazard), though.

We had dinner at a hot dog place and then went to the Empress Hotel, Chinatown (where we walked down Canada's narrowest street, Fan Tan Alley), and the Parliament Building, which is lit up at night. 


We also did a lot of window shopping.  Here are some elaborate candy apples in a window display; my favorite is the beaver.  (Not a euphemism.)


Back on the ship, we had a quick snack in the buffet before returning to our room and packing as much as possible to prepare for an early disembarkation.

When I woke up on Sunday morning and realized we had docked in Seattle, I grabbed my cell phone and squealed, "I have service!  Oh, internet, I've missed you so!"  But I didn't have time to fully enjoy my return to the glorious world of cyberspace, because we had to shower, get dressed, finish last minute packing, and get off the ship.  We went through customs and then took a shuttle to the Sea-Tac airport, where we met up with my dad and A.  We hung out in Starbucks for a while and then said goodbye to them and my brother.  I was grateful to spend so much quality time with them, and to get to know A better, too.

The flight back to LAX was uneventful.  I snapped this picture of Mt. Rainier from the plane window.


And that concludes my Alaska cruise adventures!  Many thanks to my dad for making it all possible, G for coming along, R for his enthusiasm, A for being my brother's champion when my dad was being too hard on him, and the crew of the ms Amsterdam for their professionalism and courtesy.  A frowny face to Minke, the negligent steward, and a big fat boo and hiss to American Airlines for cancelling my dad and A's flights not once but TWICE, leaving them stranded in Philadelphia and not getting them home until a full 28 hours after they were supposed to be.  But other than that, G and me getting colds, and me sharting and having to wash out my underwear in the sink with bath gel, it was an awesome trip.  I felt like the queen of the world!


(And yes, I know that's not the prow.  It's like a metaphor or someshit.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Alaska part 4: Ketch me if you can

On the morning of August 15th, G was feeling considerably worse from his cold, and Dayquil was barely putting a dent in his symptoms.  Still, when the ship docked in Ketchikan, he gamely disembarked and we went on the Herring Cove bear excursion, which guaranteed that we'd see bears or we'd get an $80 credit per ticket.

...yeah, we got $160 back.

At one point, the guide said, "Over there!  Behind you!" and we all turned around, only to see a bunch of bushes rustling as the bear scurried away.  Don't get me wrong; it was still a pleasant walk through the forest, but I really would have loved to see bears in their natural environment.  Our guide felt terrible about it and said he didn't know why they weren't coming out when the salmon in the streams below were spawning.

After our fruitless bear watching hike, we visited the raptor center, where we saw this snowy owl (not named Hedwig, which was a wasted opportunity if you ask me) and his bald eagle friend:








Then we visited a pen of reindeer, where we were encouraged to feed them lettuce with our mouths!  I couldn't resist the opportunity, because hey, anything for a blog anecdote.


Back in Ketchikan, we walked around Creek Street, where we saw these funny signs:



And this sign as well, though it's not funny (and a bit blurry):



Once we got back on the ship, G and I took a nap.  He still wasn't feeling good when we got up, so I went to dinner at La Fontaine with my dad, A, and R.  I had apple vichyssoise with apple brandy which was INSANELY good (yes, I liked a fruit based dish, alert the media), steak, rice, and a lemon tart with blueberry compote for dessert.  We had a great table next to the window and saw a humpback whale breaching, which was pretty awesome.

After dinner, we went back to my dad and A's stateroom for champagne.  They had a nicer room with a verandah, and much more room to sprawl out, so I happily kicked off my high heels and curled up on the couch with my glass of champagne.  My dad plucked a foil-wrapped chocolate off his pillow and said, "Do you want this?"

"Sure," I said, unwrapping it and popping it in my mouth.  "Man, this is good!"

"Oh yeah, those are great," R said.  "I always get excited when I come back to the room and see those on my pillow."

I narrowed my eyes.  "Wait, what do you mean?  We haven't been getting chocolates!"

And that's how it came out that not only did G and I not get nightly chocolates on our bed, but we ALSO hadn't been getting towel animals!  I said, "Minke [our steward] has been screwing us over!  I shall have to talk to someone about Minke, the negligent steward!"  (Later on, when recounting this conversation to G, he said "That sounds like a children's book.")

(Disclaimer, just in case there's any doubt: no, I did not report Minke.  Yeah, I would have liked towel animals and chocolates on my bed, but it wasn't worth getting anyone in trouble for.  I was much more peeved that they kept giving us really cruddy linens.  One of our pillowcases had a bloodstain on it, fer chrissakes!  But it was a free cruise and overall we were really happy with the service, so I don't want this to come across as me being a diva.  I was mildly annoyed at worst.)

After champagne and scrolling through dozens of pictures on A's iPad, I went back to the room, where G was feeling a little better after spending a few hours in bed alternating between sleep and reading.  We saw Divergent and then headed back to our room for the night.

(to be continued)