Saturday, January 31, 2015

media update: January

NOTE TO G-VO:  Please skip movie review #5 as I'll probably make you watch it at some point.

Hello, my cats and kittens!  My dad is currently visiting me, so I've been quite busy playing hostess for the last couple of days.  He's not staying with me, but at a very Mulholland Drive-esque hotel about 4 miles away from my place.  He's gotten on my nerves a couple of times (thank CHRIST for G-Vo, who listened patiently to me on the phone and provided some invaluable advice), but overall it's been nice having him here.  I must say, I never knew he had so many opinions on celebrities!  Here are a couple of choice bits:

- At lunch, he asked me to identify a singer on the radio and when I told him it was Rihanna, he said "Oh, Rihanna!  Man, she is SULTRY."

- Upon flipping the TV to Modern Family:  "Whew, that Sofia Vergara is one hot babe."

- While we were waiting in line at CVS, he noticed George and Amal Clooney on the cover of a magazine and asked the guy behind us if he thought Amal was pretty.  The startled dude said, "Uh, sure," to which my dad said "She's very classy!  George Clooney is a great guy, so I hope it works out for them."  (My dad has a friend who met the Cloons; it's a very long story, but the Cliff's Notes version is that George Clooney was extremely nice to the friend when he didn't have to be, and in fact if he had been rude it would have been somewhat justified, and the story made a huge impression on my dad.)

- Flipping through a magazine on my couch:  "God, [redacted because this isn't a nice thing he said] sure turned out to be a slut."  I chided him, and he said, "I'd say the same thing if a guy acted the same way she does!  It's tacky!"

- "Kate Hudson is pretty, but she's no Emily Blunt."  ?????

- And best of all:  I have a poster of Dante from Devil May Cry (reboot version, not original recipe) on my fridge, and my dad said "Is this that Justin Bieber kid?"  Dear reader, I ROFL'd.

Anyway, on to the media update!

Starting this month, I'm trying something new.  As usual, asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time, but this month I'm adding double asterisks!  Double asterisks are for things that I couldn't stop thinking/raving about, and will be reserved for the absolute creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Party Girl by Rachel Hollis:  Landon Brinkley moves to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming an event planner.  When she lands an internship with celebrity party planner Selah Smith, she can't believe her luck, but her dream job quickly becomes a nightmare.  It's a pretty shameless ripoff of The Devil Wears Prada, but it was mindlessly enjoyable enough to keep me occupied on a 4 hour flight, and it had the occasional good line.  (My favorite, when Landon is about to get in a car with a hunky coworker she barely knows:  "This feels like the start of every Lifetime movie Tori Spelling ever died in.")

2. The Iris Fan by Laura Joh Rowland:  In the final installment of the Sano Ichiro samurai detective series, Sano has to investigate an assassination attempt against the shogun.  Not one of the more engrossing books in this series, but I'm still sad to see it end as I've been a fan (uh, no pun intended) since the beginning.

3. This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner:  This is the second book in the Starbound trilogy, and although it follows new characters for the most part, there's enough crossover that I won't go into details lest I spoil its predecessor.  I didn't like it nearly as much as These Broken Stars.

4. Her by Harriet Lane:  Nina is out running errands when she sees Emma, a woman she used to know.  Emma doesn't remember Nina, but Nina has a longstanding grudge against her, and she slowly insinuates herself into Emma's life.  As the novel progresses, you get hints as to what happened until it all unspools near the very end.  It was decent, but ends rather abruptly.


NONFICTION

1. Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation** by Adam Resnick:  A hysterical collection of essays about everything from traumatic porn discovered as a kid to bizarre phone conversations with his dad.  I was reading this in the break room at work and started laughing so hard that people wanted to know what was so funny.  Great stuff, and I love this quote on the back from Chris Elliott:  "He's basically our generation's Norman Rockwell, if Norman Rockwell had ever painted a woman sucking off a horse."  (Yes, this is a reference to the aforementioned porn.)

2. I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington:  The author followed the diets of several famous women to see if she'd lose weight.  Which she did, which wasn't hard when she was eating things like sour cream and cottage cheese mixed together (a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor's).  Amusing enough, but not essential reading, and you can find many of these essays online if you're curious.

Side note:  This paperback book is 164 pages long, with double spacing between each paragraph, and it costs $15.  Fifteen freakin' bucks!  (The Kindle version is a much more reasonable $8.)  And the publishing industry wonders why it's in trouble.  Hmmm, go fucking figure.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Say I Love You volume 5 by Kanae Hazuki

2. My Love Story!! vol. 3 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

3. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vols. 5-6 by Fumi Yoshinaga

MOVIES

1. The Imitation Game*:  This movie is based on the true story of Alan Turing, a math genius who helped crack the Nazis' Enigma Code, ending WWII approximately 2 years earlier than anticipated and paving the way for computers.  Excellent, and Tumblr's boyfriend Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic as Turing.

2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For*:  Because this is a sequel to Sin City, I can't review it properly lest I spoil the original movie/graphic novel.  I'll just say it's visually stunning and I liked it a hell of a lot more than I thought I would.  Helpful hint:  if it's been a while since you read/saw the first one, you may want to read the Wikipedia plot summary for the original beforehand.

3. Kite:  In this live action remake of the infamous anime, Sawa is a teenage assassin determined to avenge her parents' deaths.  It's not bad, but if you've seen the original, there's no real reason to bother with this version.

4. Snow Cake:  While on a road trip, Alex (Alan Rickman) reluctantly agrees to give a young woman a ride home, but when tragedy strikes, he pays a visit to her autistic mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver).  He decides to stay in town for a while to help Linda and come to grips with what happened.  The story, although touching, isn't exceptional, but the performances are.

5. The Skeleton Twins**:  Maggie is just about to take a huge handful of pills when she gets a call saying that her estranged twin brother Milo tried to kill himself.  When he gets out of the hospital, she asks him to move in with her and her husband for a while, and they begin to tentatively repair their relationship.

Jesus Christ, this fucking movie.  Holy shit.  There's one scene that rang so true and hit home so hard that I actually wept in recognition.  And Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, as you might expect, are terrific.  Not for everyone, but the people it IS for will most likely love it.

6. To Be Takei:  This documentary covers George Takei's life from his childhood in a WWII internment camp to his role as Sulu on Star Trek to his current status as a gay activist and icon.  Quite enjoyable.

7. Horns:  Ig Parrish (Daniel Radcliffe, affecting an American accent that makes him sound eerily like Aaron Paul) has been wrongly accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin.  He thinks the crime will never be solved, but when he inexplicably grows a set of horns that compels people to tell him their darkest secrets, he sees an opportunity to get to the truth.  Decent performances, but the Joe Hill novel was about a billion times better, largely because of some unnecessary changes to the script and poor direction.  (I love how the DVD cover says "From the director of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D" like that's a GOOD thing.)  If you've read the book, skip this; if you haven't read the book, read that instead.

8. Wetlands:  Helen is a young German woman who's obsessed with everything that comes out of and goes into her body.  When she cuts herself trying to shave around one of her hemorrhoids and winds up in the hospital, she uses her recuperation time to flirt with her hunky nurse and plot to get her divorced parents back together.

I read the book a few years ago, so I was somewhat prepared for how gross it was going to get, but there's a huge difference between reading about it and seeing it.  And trust me, there's stuff in this movie that would make John Waters barf.  Despite that, I rather...well, "enjoyed" isn't the right word, but I admired its anarchic spirit.  Please believe me, though:  not REMOTELY for the faint of heart.  If you'd like a more detailed review, you can read Jezebel's very NSFW post (with screenshots!) here.

9. Gone Girl**:  When his wife Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne finds himself under intense scrutiny by the media and the police alike.  The book by Gillian Flynn is in my top 10 of all time, and David Fincher is one of my favorite directors, so I had high hopes for this adaptation...and I wasn't disappointed, because it's fantastic.  My only real complaint, and it's fairly minor, is that the musical score sometimes drowns out the dialogue.

10. No Good Deed:  When a stranger shows up on her doorstep asking to use the phone, Terri (Taraji P. Henson) lets him in, because a) she's fucking stupid and b) he looks like Idris Elba.  But the dude has bad intentions, and she must fight to protect herself and her children from the intruder.  It's basically a Lifetime movie with a couple of F bombs, and oh my god, it INFURIATED us because she incapacitates him at least four times and just runs away, which is one of our least favorite tropes ever in video games/movies.  Pro tip:  if you ever manage to get the upper hand and knock out an assailant/serial killer/monster, use that advantage and kill him/her/it!  That used to drive me nuts when I'd play Clock Tower because in one scene, Jennifer blasts Scissorman in the face with a fire extinguisher, he falls down and STAYS down, and she runs off.  Bitch, his giant fucking scissors are RIGHT THERE!  Stab his ugly ass to death!  Jesus Christ.

11. Tusk:  After a story lead doesn't pan out, podcaster Wallace (Justin Long) despairs of finding new material, but he discovers a notice in a bar bathroom offering free room and board in exchange for listening to a few stories.  He goes to the man's house, but his genial host (Michael Parks, who's incredible) turns out to have a much different agenda in mind.

This is a Kevin Smith movie, but although it's got some funny lines, it's more along the lines of Red State than any of his other work.  It's really goddamn disturbing.

12. American Sniper*:  This biopic covers the true story of Chris Kyle (played by a super beefy Bradley Cooper), the Navy SEAL sniper with the most documented kills, and the toll that his work took on him and his family.  Very intense and well done.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Debonair" by Afghan Whigs

2. "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman

3. "Kids" by MGMT:  I still can't believe my dad saw MGMT in concert.  (They were playing at a music festival he was attending.  Let's just say he didn't become a fan.)

4. "Livin' Thing"  by ELO

5. "Turn to Stone" by ELO

6. "Secret" by OMD

7. "Tesla Girls" by OMD

8. "Me!Me!Me!" by TeddyLoid

9. "I My Me Mine" by Polysics

10. "It's A Mug's Game" by Soft Cell

11. "The Only One I Know" by the Charlatans

12. "I Wanna Be Adored" by Stone Roses

13. "Fools Gold" by Stone Roses


Thursday, January 08, 2015

2014: the year in review

JANUARY:  G-Vo and I went to Florida for his dad's 75th birthday party.  We stayed at his parents' rental condo and went to an art fair and a state park, played games, and ate lots of delicious food.  Since my dad and stepmother lived about 20 minutes away, I also spent time with them, and they came to the party since they've become good friends with G-Vo's parents.  Finished Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F.  Said goodbye to Open Diary, where I'd blogged for almost 14 years.  Read 5 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 3 graphic novels, and 7 volumes of manga; watched 7 movies.

FEBRUARY:  All sorts of changes at work led to some serious stress and lowered morale.  Took Valentine's Day off to spend it with my sweetheart.  We exchanged presents and cards, got all mushy, and had brunch at a nearby restaurant and found out later that we missed the Kardashians by about 30 minutes.  (Which is fine.)  Finished The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC.  Read 7 novels, one nonfiction book, one graphic novel, and 4 volumes of manga; watched 10 movies.   

MARCH:  Massive rain led to cabin fever.  Watched the Oscars.  My work bestie accepted a position in another state, which made me really sad.  In happier news, the Raccoon (one of my least favorite coworkers, so dubbed because I once caught her going through my trash can) announced her retirement effective June 1st.  G-Vo and I were awakened at 6AM by a 4.4 earthquake.  Got together with M for a belated birthday celebration; we visited an alpaca farm, had lunch at a favorite restaurant, and strolled around downtown Ventura before returning to her place to chat and love up her cats.  Read 6 novels, one nonfiction book, 2 graphic novels, and 6 volumes of manga; watched 10 movies.

APRIL:  Started off the month with a nasty cold.  The new season of Game of Thrones began, which is basically a holiday in our hizzy.  A rare opportunity for overtime came up, so I took it, but the difference in my paycheck was so meager that I doubt I'll ever do it again.  Madre and Padre came to California for a short visit.  Finally drank the Kool-Aid and got an iPhone; mere days later, I developed a serious addiction to Candy Crush Saga.   Read 5 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 2 graphic novels, and 4 volumes of manga; watched 8 movies.

MAY:  Went to the crotch doc for my annual checkup and everything was fine with my ladybits.  A scorching SoCal heat wave made me even more sluggish than usual.  G-Vo, M, and I went to a small local zoo (they had lemurs!).  My boss announced that she was accepting an opportunity in a different department, and when the email went out, people were actually screaming and cheering with joy.  (She wasn't around at the time!)  Enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend with G-Vo.  Cat sat for M, and although the commute sucked, it was nice spending time with her two sweet cats.  Boy Cat even followed me around like a dog!  Went to the movies for the first time in 7 months and saw X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Read 4 novels, zero nonfiction books, 4 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels;  watched 8 movies.

JUNE:  Much to my delight, the Raccoon retired.  Downloaded a bizarre Japanese game on my iPhone that involved romancing anthropomorphized pieces of sushi.  My work bestie J/next door neighbor decided not to transfer to Arizona after all, which made me very happy.  A small earthquake hit SoCal.  Work started to slow down drastically due to changes in the company, which was nice at first but led to some real paranoia in my department about potential layoffs.  Saw a live taping of Conan O'Brien with G-Vo, C, and C's fiancee, and then we ate at the original Bob's Big Boy in Burbank for dinner.  Finished Murdered: Soul Suspect.  Read 4 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 1 volume of manga, and 4 graphic novels; watched 9 movies.   

JULY:  Tweaked my back and had to cancel my indoor skydiving lesson.  Catsat for my friend M.  My iPhone started acting bizarre, which had me in tears while frantically googling the problem.  Celebrated my 15th anniversary at work, and they gave me a Kindle Fire.  Spent a lovely birthday weekend with G-Vo. Had a busy but fun weekend hanging out with assorted friends.  Southern California was hit by a major heat wave, which meant that I got a lot more reading done because I wasn't spending my work breaks walking. Read 9 novels, zero nonfiction books, 5 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 14 movies.

AUGUST:  Took a cruise to Alaska with my dad, brother, stepmother, and G-Vo, which was incredibly fun except for G-Vo and me getting colds and me sharting myself while walking around Sitka.  We got to see some gorgeous things and eat a ton of great food, so all in all, it was a terrific experience.  Got my mammogram done, and thankfully everything was normal.  G-Vo and I celebrated our 10th anniversary.  Read 3 novels, 4 nonfiction books, 4 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 10 movies.

SEPTEMBER:  Finished Breaking Bad.  G-Vo and I went to a local carnival.  Work angst due to draconian vacation scheduling and assorted fee-fees getting hurt led to hours of searching job listings online.  Catsat for my friend M.  Southern California continued to be hotter than fuck.  Read 8 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 3 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 9 movies.  

OCTOBER:  Finished Akiba's Trip: Undead and Undressed.  Had to cancel my credit card after the information was stolen in a data breach.  (Anonymous thief, I hope you choked on that fraudulent Five Guys burger.)  Took G-Vo for his first colonoscopy, and fortunately everything checked out okay.  The New York Giants' season basically came to an end with Victor Cruz's horrifying injury.  I was reading in bed and a giant spider scurried across my bedspread; I shrieked and leaped out of bed to look for it, but I couldn't find it and wound up spending a cold and sleepless night on the couch.  Went to the Tilted Kilt, a "breastaurant" where the waitresses wear tiny uniforms of plaid bras, kilts, and knee socks.  Finished The Walking Dead: Season 2 (XBOX360 game, not the TV show).  Put on cool fake nails painted with skulls and cobwebs for Halloween and had a bitch of a time removing them the next day; the process involved a bowl of hot water, dental floss, and picking away globs of glue.  Read 3 novels, 4 nonfiction books, 5 graphic novels, and 10 volumes of manga; watched 10 movies.

NOVEMBER:  Finished The Walking Dead: 400 Days DLC.  Went to Little Tokyo with G-Vo, C, and J for the Hello Kitty anniversary exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum.  Aside from traffic and a bitch of a time finding parking, we had a good time; the exhibit was awesome, and we had lunch at Curry House and shopped.  We even managed to find our beloved jyaga bata potato chips, which we hadn't seen in years, and promptly bought 10 bags!  Finished Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appetit.  At work, I found out that my new boss was being reassigned to a different department, which sucked as I really liked her.  Enjoyed a gloriously slothy Thanksgiving weekend with G-Vo doing nothing but eating, watching TV/movies, and playing video games.  Finished Dead Rising 3.  Read 7 novels, zero nonfiction books, 8 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 10 movies.

DECEMBER:  Finished Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments.  Went to Famous Dave's for dinner and had to switch tables because ours had ants all over it.  (Appetizing!)  Finished the Dead Rising DLC chapters.  Spent a lovely Christmas with G-Vo; he made orange cinnamon rolls for breakfast and we spent the day killing zombies and watching movies.  Went to Florida for vacation at the end of the month because his parents were renting a house there.  His sister and her family drove up for the week, and we went to Weeki Wachee Springs and the Edison Ford Estate, ate tons of good food, and rang in the New Year.  My dad and stepmother live in the same city as G-Vo's parents' rental house, so I spent time with them as well.  Read 8 novels, 2 nonfiction books, and one graphic novel; watched 5 movies.

Monday, January 05, 2015

media update: December

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a lovely holiday season.  G-Vo and I went to Florida for a week and stayed with his parents, who were renting a house in the same town where my dad and stepmother live, so that was convenient.  G-Vo's sister, brother-in-law, and nephews joined us as well, and we spent the week hanging out, playing games, eating tons of good food, and relaxing.  We also visited a few attractions as well.  My favorite: the magnificently kitschy Weeki Wachee mermaids.  I've wanted to go there forever, because I have a serious soft spot for things like that, and it did not disappoint in all its cheeseball glory.

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

FICTION

1. You* by Caroline Kepnes:  Joe is instantly smitten when a young woman named Beck walks into the bookstore where he works.  It's a classic "meet cute" story, but with a twist:  Joe is fucking nuts. I won't say any more lest I inadvertently spoil something (speaking of which, don't read the inside cover, which definitely ruins shit); I'll just add that it's twisted and darkly funny and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

2. Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown:  After 14-year-old Marley disappears, leaving a message in the kitchen, her mother Rachel is frantic.  She and her husband begin a social media campaign to find Marley, but a secret Rachel is hiding comes back to bite her in the ass.  There's no real suspense in this book, since we find out pretty quickly what happened to Marley, so it wasn't as engrossing as it could have been.

3. A Life in Men by Gina Frangello:  Mary and Nix have been friends for many years, but when they take a vacation to Greece, something happens that dooms their relationship, and they drift apart.  Three years later, Mary finds out that Nix is dead, and she returns to Europe to try to figure out what killed their friendship.  It's not bad, but it became a real slog near the end.

4. The Jewel* by Amy Ewing:  Since she was young, Violet has been trained to serve royalty, and when she comes of age, she's sold for a high price at auction.  Because she has the rare ability to affect the growth and appearance of things, her sole purpose in life is to be a surrogate for her mistress, "custom building" the fetus as it grows within her.  Needless to say, Violet isn't too happy with this idea, and she wants out of the arrangement.  It's like a YA version of The Handmaid's Tale, and although it's obviously not as well written as that book, I really enjoyed it.  Warning, though:  it ends on a MAJOR cliffhanger (I actually yelled "WHAT?!"), so if this sounds interesting to you, you may want to wait until the entire trilogy has been published.

5. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers:  This is the final book in the Fair Assassin trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  I'll just say that it was pretty good and leave it at that.

6. The Killer Next Door* by Alex Marwood:  Roy Preece runs a boardinghouse in London, accepting only cash and not doing any background checks, which draws a certain type of renter.  All six of the tenants have their reasons for living in such a shithole, and one of them is a murderer.  Vivid characters made this an especially enjoyable read.

7. Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam:  After her former best friend commits suicide, Aubrey reluctantly returns to her hometown for the funeral.  I probably would have liked it more if there had been a single sympathetic character in the entire book, if there hadn't been so many typos (one choice example: "his hairy arm squeezing around my waste"), and if the ending hadn't sucked so bad.

8. Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter:  Perry and Baby Girl are friends who enjoy stealing cars and flirting online with a man who isn't quite what he seems.  Unrelentingly bleak.

TOTAL READ IN 2014:  121

NONFICTION

1. The World of PostSecret* edited by Frank Warren:  A new collection of secrets from the popular website.

2. Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute* by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson:  A very enjoyable look at all things kawaii, ranging from elaborate bento boxes to the ever adorable Hello Kitty.  I particularly liked the interview with artist Macoto Takahashi, whose aesthetic really appeals to me.

TOTAL READ IN 2014:  20

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

TOTAL READ IN 2014: 55 volumes of manga and 27 graphic novels

MOVIES

1. The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears:  A man comes home from a business trip only to discover that his wife is missing, and in his quest to find her, he descends into a hellish fever dream.  A pitch perfect homage to giallo that could have been a great movie, but it's so fucking confusing that it's merely a good one.  I definitely wouldn't recommend it to someone who's never watched a giallo flick before.  (Try Suspiria instead.)

2. How to Train Your Dragon 2:  While exploring, Hiccup and his dragon Toothless discover a place inhabited by hundreds of dragons and a mysterious woman and have to protect them from a bad guy who wants to create a dragon army.  It was a bit overhyped, but very pretty, and I loved the scenes with Viking girl Ruffnut perving over a dude voiced by Kit "Jon Snow" Harington.

3. The Expendables 3:  I'm not even going to bother summarizing the plot, because there isn't much of one.  Dumb but enjoyable.

4. The Purge: Anarchy*:  In the near future, for 12 hours every year, America legalizes all crime, ostensibly to let people get it out of their system.  Several people who get stuck outside during the Purge band together to try to survive the night.  I liked the original fine, but this one was much better.

5. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead:  After surviving a Nazi zombie massacre, Martin wakes up in the hospital only to find that he's received an arm transplant...from one of the zombies.  This gives him certain powers, so he bands together with excited wannabe zombie slayers and undead Russian soldiers to take the Nazis down once and for all.  Tons of extra gooey gore and deliciously dark humor made this a fun watch, especially on Christmas!

TOTAL SEEN IN 2014: 57

SEEN IN THE THEATER: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy

SEEN ON A CRUISE SHIP:  The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Divergent

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Close Your Eyes" by Orange Caramel

2.  "Switchback" by Celldweller

3. "Firewater" by Blue Stahli

4. "Superblast!" by Lush

5. "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways

6. "My Sharona" by The Knack

7. "That Was Then But This Is Now" by ABC

8. "Adagio in G Minor" by Tomaso Albinoni

9. "Can We Postpone Love" by Orange Caramel

10. "Bangkok City" by Orange Caramel

11. "Redemption" by Norman Corbell

12. "Fly Routine" by Hostile Groove

13. "World's End Dancehall" by Hatsune Miku

14. "French Kiss" by Yakooza

15. "Something Good" by Utah Saints

16. "Jimmy Still Comes Around" by The Loud Family

17. "Self-Righteous Boy Reduced to Tears" by The Loud Family

Thursday, December 18, 2014

best of 2014: movies

Et finalement, my ten favorite movies of 2014!  The usual disclaimers before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2014, but that's when I saw them.
  • The first two were my favorites of the year, but the rest are in random order.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.


1. Her:  Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man in the process of divorcing his childhood sweetheart.  One day he purchases an operating system (think Siri, only much more advanced), which names itself Samantha, and he quickly falls in love with her.  It sounds like a comedy, but although it has some funny moments, it's most certainly not.  Rather, it's a strangely moving look at how our dependence on technology can prevent us from forming bonds with real people.  Very deserving of its Oscar for best original screenplay.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street:  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) started out as a stockbroker selling penny shares and became filthy rich.  He was living the good life until the FBI started taking notice of his schemes.  I'm about to pay this movie one of my highest compliments:  it's almost 3 hours long and I wasn't bored for a second.  Plus there's a scene involving a delayed reaction to quaaludes that was one of the funniest things I'd seen in a long time.

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. The Raid 2:  Indonesian cop Rama is sent undercover to expose corruption in the force; cue bone crunching, hardcore silat martial arts action that sent my T levels through the roof.  Jesus Christ, there are some awesome fucking fights in this movie.  It's brutal as hell, so caveat viewer, but if you like this kind of stuff, you'll be in heaven.

5. 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.  Funny and sweet in equal measure, and oh god will you need tissues.

6. Bad Grandpa:  After his wife dies, Irving (Johnny Knoxville in amazing old man prosthetics) just wants to enjoy himself.  But when his daughter is sent to prison, Irving finds himself in custody of his grandson Billy, and he reluctantly takes the "little cockblock" on a road trip to reunite Billy with his father.  In Borat fashion, the story is interspersed with scenes of Irving and Billy interacting with real people who aren't in on the joke.  It's pretty damn funny; the scene where Irving enters Billy in a child beauty pageant had G and me in tears.

7. Prisoners:  After his little girl and her friend disappear and the primary suspect is released by the police, Keller Dover takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the man, intending to get the truth out of him.  Very tense and well done, and Hugh Jackman is excellent as the anguished father.

8. X-Men: Days of Future Past:  Wolverine is sent back in time to prevent an assassination that would have dire consequences for mutants and humans alike.  It was a lot of fun, especially a terrific scene with Quicksilver.  Oh, and you get to see Hugh Jackman's nalgas, which is worth the price of admission all by itself.

9.  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 didn't deserve to.

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:  After the simian flu decimates most of the world's population, a small band of survivors gathers in San Francisco.  They need to access a hydroelectric dam, but there's just one problem: getting there means going through territory run by hundreds of hyperintelligent apes.

Look, there's only one thing you really need to know about this movie:  there's a scene with a chimp riding a horse while double fisting machine guns John Woo style.  If that doesn't make you want to see it immediately, well, I'm sorry you hate fun.

Monday, December 15, 2014

best of 2014: fiction

And now it's time for my favorite novels of 2014!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2014, but that's when I first read them.
  • Aside from the first three listed, these aren't in any particular order.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.


1. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes:  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.

2. You by Caroline Kepnes:  Joe is instantly smitten when a young woman named Beck walks into the bookstore where he works.  It's a classic "meet cute" story, but with a twist:  Joe is fucking nuts. I won't say any more lest I inadvertently spoil something; I'll just add that it's twisted and darkly funny and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  This came very close to being my favorite of the year, but just missed the mark because of something I can't mention due to spoilers.  (Speaking of which, don't read the inside cover as it ruins some major shit.)


3. Burn by Julianna Baggott:  The final book of the Pure trilogy wraps up perfectly, making it my favorite YA dystopian trilogy series ever.  Yes, even more than The Hunger Games.

4. 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 a very 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.

5. The Troop by Nick Cutter:  A troop of boys and their scoutmaster head to a remote Canadian island for a camping trip.  But an alarmingly emaciated man crashes the party, and he's brought some very nasty company along with him.

I knew I had to read this when I saw the cover blurbs from Scott Smith (The Ruins) and Stephen King (duh), and they didn't steer me wrong, because The Troop is excellent.  Fair warning, though:  it gets extremely gross.  REALLY gross.  As in, "don't read it right before bed or you will have seriously awful dreams" kind of gross.  Learn from my fail.

6. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh:  When the dismembered body of her childhood friend Cheri is found stuffed into the hollow of a tree, Lucy is determined to find the killer.  But in her quest for justice, she discovers that the disappearance of her mother many years before may have a shocking link to Cheri's murder.  It's like Gillian Flynn crossed with Winter's Bone, and it's really freakin' good.  I tore through it in two days.

7. 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.")

8. Wolf by Mo Hayder:  Detective Jack Caffery is approached by the Walking Man (a recurring character) with a strange request.  The Walking Man has found a dog wandering alone with a scrap of paper under its collar that says "HELP US".  He wants Jack to find the dog's owners, and in exchange, he'll give Jack an important clue about a case that's haunted Jack for years.  Jack takes on the request, but can he find the terrorized family in time?

Engrossing as hell, like all of Mo Hayder's books (I was late to work because I only had 15 pages left and had to finish it), but two caveats.  First, it bears some striking similarities to a particular movie.  Both the movie and the book are far too recent for it to be anything other than a coincidence, but thinking "Hey, I wonder if this is going to turn out like [movie]" meant I inadvertently spoiled the book for myself!  Second, I would strongly recommend that you not read this if you haven't read Birdman and The Treatment, as it spoils a few major things from those books.  You should read them anyway because they're awesome, and The Treatment has one of the best endings I've ever read in my life, so get crackin'.

9. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey:  Melanie is a young girl who lives on an army base.  She is only removed from her cell to attend class.  Why?  Well, the less you know about this book going in, the better.  I'll just say that it's excellent, and if you don't trust my judgment, trust Joss Whedon's blurb on the back.  ("As fresh as it is terrifying...It left me sighing with envious joy...a jewel.")  

10. 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.  I highly recommend the entire trilogy.
 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the 35 best movie/True Detective lines of 2014

These are the bits of dialogue that really stuck out to me this year.  They're not in any particular order, and I tried to avoid spoilery ones as much as possible.  There are a couple that might SEEM spoilery, but really aren't.  (And no, I'm not telling you which ones, since that's kind of a spoiler in itself!)  A lot of these are from memory, so they might not be verbatim.  And finally, not all of the movies listed originally came out in 2014, but that's when I saw them.

1. "My jim dog is stuck!"  (Bad Grandpa)

2. "Machete don't tweet."  (Machete Kills)

3. "How can I complain?  Women in Darfur, you know?  They walk 14 miles to get water, get raped on the way home, spill all the water, have to go back."  (Afternoon Delight)

4. [pointing at a gravestone] "There's Woody's little sister, Rose. She was only nineteen when she was killed in a car wreck near Wausa. What a whore!"  (Nebraska)

5. "There is nothing more reassuring than knowing that the world is crazier than you are."  (Thor: The Dark World)

6. "You hit like a vegetarian!"  (Escape Plan)

7. "Screw the FDA, I'm gonna be DOA!"  (Dallas Buyers Club)

8. "My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week."  (The Wolf of Wall Street)

9. "I'm never eating at Benihana again!  I don't care whose birthday it is!"  (The Wolf of Wall Street)

10. "Eat the fish, bitch."  (August: Osage County)

11. "What do you mean you're gay?  Like dicks in butts gay?  Or, like, retarded gay, like 'Man, Nicholas Cage movies are so gay'?"  (Date & Switch)

12. "You wanted to fuck a hobo when you were 7?  Is that what you're telling me?"  (Date & Switch)

13. "These guys are so hot my g-string is turning into a Slip 'n' Slide!"  (Best Night Ever)

14. "Why are there dwarves coming out of our toilet?"  (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

15. "I do some web design."  (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)

16. "If you were drowning, I'd throw you a barbell."  (True Detective)

17. "Guys, I'm kinda fucked up right now, but I think Omar from The Wire is sitting on our couch."  (That Awkward Moment)

18. "This place is like someone's memory of a town, and the memory is fading."  (True Detective)

19. "You gotta get together and tell stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day?  What's that say about your reality?"  (True Detective)

20. "The hubris it must take to yank a soul out of non-existence into this meat, and to force a life into this thresher."  (True Detective)

21. "I can't tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. You gave me forever within the numbered days."  (The Fault in Our Stars)

22. "Sometimes I think I have felt everything I'm ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I'm not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I've already felt."  (Her)

23. "If this is what happens when God is looking out for us, I'd hate to see Him pissed."  (Lone Survivor)

24. "Why don't you take your potty mouth, go locate your preteen cocksucking son and stuff him back up that old blown-out sweat sock of a vagina and scoot off back to whatever shit-kicking town you came from?  Like an elephant's trunk, I bet...gray and distended."  (Bad Words)

25. "Would it be all right if I showed our children the whoring bed?"  (Nymphomaniac)

26. "You didn't let me finish earlier because I died."  (The Lego Movie)

27. "Scotland brought the world television, the steam engine, golf, whiskey, penicillin, and of course, the deep-fried Mars bar.  It's great being Scottish.  We're such a uniquely successful race."  (Filth)

28. "When Henry Altmann fell from the bridge, time had slowed. And it occurred to Henry that life didn't have to be a burden, that life is short and fragile and unique. And each hour, each minute, each second could have something to offer. Something beautiful and astounding. The fact that this only occurred to him seconds before he would hit the water and die made him very, very angry."  (The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, made especially poignant by the fact that Robin Williams played Henry)

29. "I'm trying to distract you, you big turdblossom!"  (Guardians of the Galaxy)

30. "Well, now there will be no berries in the fruit salad, so we all lose."  (Year One)

31. [woman speaking on the phone]  "Yeah, he went down on me for hours and oh my god, I came SO HARD.  Oh wait, my boss just walked in, so I better go.  Talk to you later, Dad!"  (They Came Together)

32. "There is something about connecting over mutual hatred that is just so much deeper than connecting over mutual love."  (A Million Ways to Die in the West)

33. "I am in love with you. And I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed. And that one day all our labor will be returned to dust. And I know that the sun will swallow the only earth we will ever have. And I am in love with you."  (The Fault in Our Stars)

34. "Fuck you, doves!" (22 Jump Street)

35. "What the fuck you doin'?  Y'all rationing around here?  Come on, hook me up!  Two little fucking string beans?  Gimme the goddamn string beans!  I want some fucking deviled eggs.  I want fruit.  Don't you like fruit?  I like fruit!  [grabs roast chicken and begins tearing it apart]  I'll break your motherfucking legs!  Break yo' legs!"  (22 Jump Street)


Monday, December 08, 2014

best of 2014: nonfiction

And now it's time for my favorite nonfiction books of 2014!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were originally released in 2014, but that's when I read 'em.
  • The first book listed was my absolute favorite, but the rest are in random order.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Meaty by Samantha Irby:  A collection of brutally frank essays by the Bitches Gotta Eat blogger that had me howling out loud, with the exception of an utterly heartbreaking one in which she describes being the caretaker to her severely disabled mother and one in which her father has a violent reaction to the way she's washing a skillet.  Man, was this good.  Not only was it funny, as previously mentioned, but it actually managed to make me feel better about myself.  And Ms. Irby is a huge Muse fan and has a cat named Helen Keller, so I want her to be my BFF.

2. Autobiography by Morrissey:  I was a bullied and lonely teenage girl in the 80s, and The Smiths made me feel like someone out there understood me, even if it was an effeminate vegetarian singer from Manchester.  So of course I had to pick up Morrissey's autobiography, and it didn't disappoint.  I was particularly thrilled to see that he spent almost 2 full pages singing the praises of Sparks, the criminally underrated band that's one of my favorites of all time.  (Refer to my blog title as proof.)  I'm still not thrilled that Morrissey famously compared meat eaters to pedophiles, because seriously WTF dude, but I will always love the guy.  I was lucky enough to see him in concert in San Jose, Halloween 1991, and it remains one of my most treasured memories.

3. Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America by Kevin Cook:  In 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death as 38 neighbors watched from their windows and did nothing...except that wasn't entirely true, and what would have been a tragic but quickly forgotten story instead became a defining moment in American history.  The author does an excellent job of revealing the truth without diminishing the horror of what happened to Kitty.

4. My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr:  A highly entertaining guide to cleaning everything, ranging from the basic (best way of defrosting a freezer, how to fix an unusually stank bathroom) to the unusual (cleaning sex toys and bongs, getting jizz stains out of sheets).  This should be a mandatory housewarming gift.

5. The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson:  The author was in a relationship that started wonderfully and ended with him kidnapping her and holding her hostage.  This memoir is about her struggle to overcome the emotional 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.

6. Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell:  An engrossing (emphasis on "gross") 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!

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson:  A very enjoyable look at all things kawaii, ranging from elaborate bento boxes to the ever adorable Hello Kitty.  I particularly liked the interview with artist Macoto Takahashi, whose aesthetic really appeals to me.