media update: February
Wow, I actually managed to get quite a bit of reading done this month! We had some crappy weather that kept me inside during my work breaks, I took a mental health day, and my Hidden City obsession has waned a bit (though it's by no means gone; I'm just able to put it aside when I run out of energy as opposed to buying shit to reup it so I can keep playing), so I was able to get some quality time in with a nice big pile o' books. There's a lot of really quality stuff this time around, too.
Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme. As always, your mileage may vary.
1. Little Heaven by Nick Cutter: A trio of mercenaries is hired by a woman looking for her young nephew, who's been taken by his father to the titular religious colony, and let's just say its name is extremely ironic. Like all of Nick Cutter's books, it's incredibly gory and disturbing; I learned pretty quickly to stop reading it right before bed.
Side note: this is the third novel by Nick Cutter I've read, and every single one has included at least one truly horrific scene of animal cruelty (not that humans fare so well either), so caveat reader if that's something you find especially problematic.
2. The River at Night by Erica Ferencik: Wini and her three best friends go on a trip together every year, and this time around, Pia (the de facto leader of the group) has chosen a rafting excursion deep in the Maine woods. Wini isn't jazzed about the choice, but she figures their guide will keep them safe...which he does until a freak accident leaves the women alone, stranded, and without any supplies, at which point shit gets real bad REAL fast. It takes a very improbable turn about halfway through, but it's still fun, and I bet it would make a great movie.
3. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth* by Lindsey Lee Johnson: In a wealthy Northern California town, privileged teenagers bound together by a shared tragedy try to navigate the real world. Almost painfully real; it made me glad I grew up before social media. (Well, that and the fact that if I'd had access to online games/Tumblr/Twitter/AO3 as a teenager, I never would have graduated.)
4. The Red Car* by Marcy Dermansky: Leah feels mired down in a loveless marriage and her unfulfilled dreams. When she gets a call saying her former boss Judy has died and left her a car, Leah goes to San Francisco to pick it up and finds herself reconsidering her life choices. Bittersweet and mordantly funny.
5. The Dry** by Jane Harper: When he was a teenager, Aaron Falk and his father were run out of their small Australian town by people who thought Aaron was responsible for the death of a local girl. Now a federal agent in the "big city", Aaron has reluctantly returned for the funeral of his old friend Luke, who shot his wife and young son and then himself...or did he? Aaron's determined to find out, but the locals are still convinced that Aaron's a killer, and they're not very happy to see him again.
I'm about to give The Dry two major compliments: it reminded me of Tana French, and at one point I had full energy in Hidden City and I READ THIS BOOK INSTEAD. That ought to tell you something right there!
6. The Animators** by Kayla Rae Whitaker: Mel(ody) and Sharon are two friends and animators who create a movie based on Mel's childhood that becomes a critical hit. After Sharon suffers from a traumatic incident, she returns to her own childhood home to confront something in her past. It's a beautiful exploration of female friendship, both incredibly funny and devastating, and it made me think about interesting things like whether confessional (in the non-religious sense) is always a good idea. Very highly recommended; it's fantastic.
Side note #1: I'm really impressed at how the inside of the book cover managed to get the story across without spoiling some really important shit. Give that person a raise and have them write ALL jacket copy from now on! Shit, there's a book ad I saw recently that includes an incredibly spoilery hashtag and I saw that and was like "Are you even serious right now, fuckers?"
Side note #2: While I was reading this, I could only picture two people in the movie, should it ever be made: Broad City's Ilana Glazer as Mel and Abbi Jacobson as Sharon.
7. King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard: This is the latest installment of the Red Queen series, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.
8. Behind Her Eyes* by Sarah Pinborough: Lonely single mother Louise meets a super hot dude in a bar one night, and they share a passionate kiss. Unfortunately, when she goes to her new job a couple of days later, it turns out that the dude is her boss David, and he's married to a beautiful woman named Adele. It would be a crime to ruin this book, so let's just say some REAL mindfuckery goes down. Without getting too specific, I'll just say that one particular thing, though absolutely vital to the plot, was so goofy that I didn't wind up giving this two stars. But man oh man! If you have any interest in this book, read it before it gets spoiled for you. Anyone who says they knew where it was going is either the author or a complete liar.
2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 13
1. Oh Joy Sex Toy* vols. 1-3 by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan: Delightfully illustrated books about sex, covering everything from sex toy reviews to interviews with sex workers. Inclusive, charming, and often quite funny.
Side note: I had a minor crisis trying to decide whether these should go in the nonfiction section or the manga/graphic novels section of this media update. They're completely illustrated, but they're definitely not manga and they're not really graphic novels either. I finally decided to go with nonfiction because the Dewey decimal number places them in the sexuality category. (Fun fact that I know by heart: graphic novels, comic books, and manga are 741.5!)
2. All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers* by Alana Massey: A collection of sharp and thoughtful essays combining personal anecdotes with examinations of how we view female celebrities, ranging from Sylvia Plath to my true boo Britney Spears. There's also an essay that perfectly encapsulated why I had a problem with The Virgin Suicides, an impassioned and deeply sympathetic defense of Anna Nicole Smith, and a great line where the author is talking about her time as a stripper and how she'd hear sob stories from the guys there, and she addresses their significant others thusly: "I took their money, but I took your side."
2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 5
1. Everyone's Getting Married vols. 1-3 by Izumi Miyazono
2. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 7 by Aya Shouoto
3. Food Wars!* vol. 16 by Yuko Tsukuda and Shun Saeki
4. My Love Story!!* vol. 11 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko
5. Say I Love You vol. 17 by Kanae Hazuki
6. The Ancient Magus' Bride vol. 6 by Kore Yamazaki
7. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 11 by Go Ikeyamada
2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 9 volumes of manga
1. The Nice Guys*: In this noir comedy, a pair of private eyes (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) investigate a missing woman in 1970s Los Angeles. G-Vo pointed out that it seemed like it was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, which it wasn't, but that's obviously high praise indeed. Very funny (a scene in an elevator just about killed us) and highly entertaining.
2. American Honey: Star flees her shitty home life and winds up with a ragtag gang of traveling magazine sellers. It's decent, but there's absolutely no reason it had to be almost 3 hours! (I watched it in chunks over a period of several days because any movie that long better have some goddamn epic battle scenes or orcs or shit if I'm gonna watch it in one sitting.)
3. Finding Dory*: Forgetful blue tang Dory misses her family, so she sets out on an epic adventure to find them. Neither G-Vo nor I were huge fans of Finding Nemo (I know, blasphemy), but we really enjoyed this one. The octopus stole the show!
Side note: Pixar's shorts tend to be pretty hit or miss, but the one featured here ("Piper") was a definite winner.
4. Arrival**: When aliens arrive on Earth, a linguist (Amy Adams) is hired by the government to figure out their language and what they want. Intelligent, heartbreaking, a great script, and a wonderful cast.
5. The Girl on the Train*: Unmoored by her divorce, Rachel (Emily Blunt) fixates on a seemingly perfect couple she sees every day during her morning commute on the train. One day she witnesses something that freaks her out, and she gets ensnarled in a missing persons case. I'd read the book so there were no surprises to be had for me, but I still really enjoyed it, and the performances are excellent.
6. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back: The titular drifter (Tom Cruise) finds himself on the run with a major accused of espionage and a young woman who might be his daughter. It had its moments, but overall wasn't anything special.
7. Manchester by the Sea: After his brother dies, Lee (Casey Affleck, who won the best actor Oscar) returns to his hometown and discovers that he's been appointed as his nephew's legal guardian. Extremely well done and realistic, but JFC was it depressing!
2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 12
VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH
Dead Rising is one of our favorite video game franchises, and the arrival of each new game is like Christmas for us, so it's especially appropriate that Dead Rising 4 came out just before the holidays!
DR4 (an Xbox One/Windows exclusive) brings back fan favorite Frank West, the intrepid photojournalist who covered the first zombie outbreak in Willamette, Colorado. He's currently working as a photography professor, but he returns to Willamette with his student Vicky "Vick" Chu, who's convinced the government is up to some shady activity. Vick's instincts are correct, but some shit goes down, and Frank has to go into hiding. Several months later, he's found by a federal agent who wants Frank to help investigate a new zombie outbreak in Willamette. Frank's reluctant to do so, but when he's promised that his name will be cleared and he'll get exclusive rights to the scoop, he grabs his camera and heads to Willamette.
- Like every single game in the series, Dead Rising 4 is fun as hell. If plowing through thousands of zombies is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.
- Frank is just a cool-ass character: funny, tough, and secure enough in his masculinity to rock a sundress if he happens to find one in the mall.
- Speaking of Frank, he's got a new voice actor this time around. I did miss the original VA, but the new guy does such a good job that I stopped noticing after a while.
- NO MORE TIME LIMITS! Oh my god, what a fucking blessing to be able to thoroughly enjoy the environment without having to race to complete a mission.
- DR4 has some of the best combo weapons in the series, including the lightning fast ice sword (my personal weapon of choice) and the magnificent Gandelf. Nope, that's not a typo; you can create a staff that, when pounded on the ground, sends a horde of explosive garden gnomes into a crowd of zombies. It's even more awesome than it sounds.
- The newly rebuilt mall has some really cool areas, including a gorgeous section that reminded me of Tokyo's Akihabara district.
- A couple of glitchy bits here and there, including one that crashed the game and caused me to lose a lot of progress.
- The facial animations aren't as good as they could be.
- The final boss fight was frustrating as hell.
- Some repetitive dialogue.
- I wish they hadn't made Frank look so much like The Walking Dead's Negan. At one point, he even gets a bat covered in barbed wire! It's probably a deliberate homage, but it was distracting. (And that bat wasn't a particularly good weapon, either.)
My absolute biggest problem with Dead Rising 4 is the fact that it ended in a particular, non-negotiable way, and there's going to be DLC that you have to buy in order to get the "true ending". THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. It's like punishing the fans for being devoted enough to buy your game as soon as it comes out. I mean, sure, we COULD wait for the "complete" or game of the year editions and pay one price for the whole thing, but then we risk getting spoiled.
People complain a lot about video games being expensive, and it's true; a new console game typically runs about $60. But look at it this way, taking DR4 as an example: G-Vo played through it on his own, and then I played it. I don't know offhand how many hours total we poured into DR4, but a conservative estimate would be about 25 hours each, so that's 50 hours. That's $1.20 per hour.
Now let's take a first-run Hollywood movie and say that it's 2 hours long. Non-matinee/non-3D movies in California are about $14 a ticket, so you're paying $7 an hour to see that movie. Video games are a bargain in comparison, right? But when you see a movie in the theater, THE PRICE OF YOUR TICKET INCLUDES THE FUCKING ENDING. If the movie ended and the credits included a bit that said "For the TRUE ending, please buy this movie when it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray", there'd be a riot!
Another way of looking at it: let's say you go to Wendy's and buy combo #1: a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke, which costs $7.18 here in California. (Yes, I know that amount by heart, both because I go to Wendy's a lot and because 7/18 is my birthday, so it's easy to remember.) It's cheaper to buy the combo meal than each item separately, but DLC is like paying more for a combo meal AND having to wait weeks or months for your goddamn fries to arrive.
Look, obviously I don't begrudge video game companies making money. And if they want to release DLC that's "optional", like, say, some new weapons or a new area or whatever, then great! But releasing THE TRUE ENDING for an additional cost is a bullshit move that punishes the loyal. How about REWARDING the loyal by making the "true ending" a preorder bonus instead? That way, you ensure a new sale, you give the fans a nice lagniappe, and if someone waits to buy it later, then they can pay for the goddamn DLC if they want. (Though let me be clear, I don't think any "true ending"/canon story content DLC is a good idea; just put it all in the game to begin with.)
Overall, despite that rant, I would definitely recommend Dead Rising 4 if you're already a fan of the series; it's a lot of fun. But for god's sake, don't buy it until the game of the year/complete edition comes out. If we'd known they were going to do this, we would have waited.
Despite all that, Dead Rising 4 gets 4 explosive garden gnomes out of 5.