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)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Alaska pt. 3: my shart will go on

On the morning of August 14th, G and I were sitting in the breakfast buffet when we heard a shrill voice say "Madison, your brother is eatin' nicer than you are and he's three years younger!"  The woman in question stood up and we were treated to "ALASKA" emblazoned in neon letters across the seat of her sweatpants as she walked up to the omelet station and told the chef "I need another omelet 'cause my DAUGHTER doesn't know how to eat PROPER."  Then she called to her husband/partner "Babe [pronounced "beb"], tell Brooks what a good boy he is compared to his sister who is OLDER and should KNOW BETTER."  Turning back to the omelet chef, who was smiling painfully:  "Is that all the ham you're gonna put in there?"

G whispered, "Jesus Christ, no wonder they effing hate us."

(This was, of course, an exaggeration; although we occasionally saw the "hospitality mask" slip a little when they were especially busy or someone was being rude, nobody we ever dealt with in a professional capacity was ever anything but polite to us.  Though there was a bit of negligence on our steward's part, which I'll get to in a later entry.)

On this day, the ship dropped anchor offshore because the dock in Sitka was too small to accommodate it.  We took small boats called "tenders" (I don't know why either) from the ship to the shore for a guided hike in the Tongass rainforest.  True to its name, it was very rainy, but it sure was green.





To be honest, although the guide was very knowledgeable and the area was pretty, I don't think this excursion was worth the money.  And oh my god, the bathrooms on the trail!  G went into one and came out immediately, saying "I couldn't do it.  I actually dry heaved twice before I managed to get back outside.  Dudes were pissing behind the bathrooms instead!"  So I had to pee pretty badly once we got back into town.

After the hike, G was pretty wiped out...not so much from the walking, which was only a couple of miles, but from his cold.  So he went back on the ship while R and I went to a small pub for lunch.  We ran into my dad and A (who had gone on a different excursion) there, so we stuck together for the remainder of the afternoon.  We visited a small Russian orthodox church, and then we were walking back to the pier when I felt a really nasty rumble in my stomach.

Dear reader, I sharted myself.

I grabbed my oblivious dad's arm and said "I need a bathroom NOW."

"Oh, just a second...A wants to take a picture of---"

"I NEED IT NOW," I gritted out between my teeth, and hurried across the street to a hotel, where I ran into the lobby's bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and frantically pulled down my pants.

(Grossness/TMI alert; proceed at your own risk)

The damage wasn't as bad as it could have been because I was wearing a pantyliner.  Now, the odd thing is that I don't wear pantyliners on a regular basis, but for some reason, I had slapped one into my chonies that morning.  It's like I had some weird ESP that said "Hey, maybe you should wear one in case you shart".  (I mean, it's not the best type of ESP, but it's useful, I guess.)  Fortunately, my jeans were completely spared, though there was a little bit of, uh, splatter (sorry) on the side of my underwear because I hadn't picked the liners with wings, which is a mistake I shall never make again.  I scrubbed at the splatter (sorry again) with some toilet paper, proceeded to evacuate a massive load of devil's oatmeal into the bowl, waited a few minutes to be safe, popped three Imodium from the stash in my purse, waited a few more minutes, and then flushed, washed my hands, and rejoined my worried party outside.

I must add here that I don't think it was food poisoning, because I only had the one pooptacular incident.  I think the culprit was eating way richer food than I usually do.  I do enjoy my snacks and sweets, but my actual meals (weekends excepted) are generally pretty bland:  yogurt for breakfast, PBJ for lunch, and organic pasta with tomato sauce for dinner.  I sure don't eat bacon, eggs, red meat, and/or desserts on a daily basis, so I think my system was like "Holy crap, bitch, enough of this already" and let loose.

Once I got back on the ship, I went to our stateroom, where G was lying in bed reading the latest volume of The Unwritten.  I locked myself in the bathroom and handwashed my underwear and the crotch of my jeans (just in case I missed something) with hand soap, hung them over the clothesline in the tub, and then I emerged and said, "Hey, I did something I haven't done in decades!  Wanna guess what it was?"

"Didja poop yourself?" he asked.  (This is the kind of Vulcan mind meld that develops when you've been together for ten years.)

After a long nap, we had dinner at the buffet and saw a comedic juggler who was excellent.  All in all, it was a good day.

...I mean, besides the sharting.  Obviously.

[to be continued]





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Alaska part 2: go with the floe

You know those people who say "Oh, the good thing about cruise ships is that the boat is so big you can't really feel any movement, so you don't get seasick"?

LIES, LIES, DAMNABLE LIES.

Don't get me wrong; I didn't get as sick as I did on the Canadian ferry ride I took as a teenager, nor did I ever throw up, but I definitely started feeling it on the second day of our cruise.  I took some Dramamine at brunch, and it kicked in so fast and so hard that I had to return to our room for a nap!

Oh, speaking of brunch: we saw a group of workers in hazmat suits and face masks wiping down a table with bleach while another worker stood to the side and filled out forms on a clipboard.  My dad said that a woman had thrown up, and the barf had barely hit the table before she was ushered out and the workers hurried in to clean!  Thanks to the fallout from Carnival's infamous "poop cruise", they take things like that very seriously.  It still wasn't appetizing or comforting, of course; I whispered to G, "This is how the zombie apocalypse will start."

After sleeping for a while, G and I went to an art history lecture that was surprisingly good, and then we grabbed lunch before seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  The screen/sound system wasn't as big or as good as you'd get in a "real" movie theater, but definitely better than most people have in their homes!  Then we watched a lecture on Alaskan animals and hung out on the deck for about an hour. We had dinner at La Fontaine (steak, rice, and baked Alaska for me) and then hung out with my brother for a little while before bed.

Speaking of my brother: as some of you may already know, he has Asperger's.  And although I'm very ashamed to admit it, sometimes I have a really hard time dealing with him.  G very astutely pointed out that my dad and I spent decades just assuming that R was being rude or stubborn or dense, so by the time he was officially diagnosed about 7 years ago, we had already formed patterns that were very hard to break even after we knew it wasn't his fault.  But I have to give enormous credit to R, because although he did have his moments (mostly repetition based) that drove me up the wall, he did really good on the cruise.  He was very sociable with other people and made an extra effort to mind his manners.  I am so fucking proud of him!

On Tuesday, the ship cruised around Tracy Arm, so we spent the vast majority of the day on the deck or sprawled out in chairs in the enclosed (read: warm!) pool area, watching the scenery go by.  This is a "hanging" glacier; it's the Florida-shaped thing in the middle:







And a photo of a passing ice floe.  Speaking of which, didja get my awesome pun in the title?  DIDJA?!?!?


While we were up on deck, we saw several whales.  We never got much of a glimpse other than a bit of back or their tails, but it was still awesome.  At the risk of sounding like a sap, there's nothing quite like seeing animals in their native habitat.

We had dinner at La Fontaine (prime rib, baked potato, and Yukon sourdough bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce for me) and then caught a comedy show in the Queen's Lounge.  Unfortunately, that's how we learned that Robin Williams had committed suicide that day, because we didn't have internet access (wifi was $55 for 100 minutes; no thanks), so we were kind of isolated from the news for the vast majority of the trip.  So that cast a bit of a pall on the evening.  Godspeed, Mr. Williams; you were one of the greats.

Another bit of unpleasantness, though nowhere near as awful as the news about Robin Williams, was that G came down with a cold that lasted through the rest of the trip.  There were Purell dispensers all over the place, but my constant slathering of it over my extremities unfortunately did nothing but give me super dry hands, and I wound up getting the cold too.  Bleh.

Now, there are a lot of people who go on cruises and either never leave the ship or go into port and look around on their own.  But for those of us who like a little more adventure, they offered optional excursions that ran the gamut from simple nature hikes to kayaking or ziplining.  On the 13th, all five of us opted for an excursion that took us back to Tracy Arm for a closer look.  It was pretty goddamn spectacular.  Yes, the glacier was really that blue!





Here I am serving up some Nanook of the North realness in front of a waterfall, as you do.  Disclaimer:  that's fake fur (doy) and it's a puffy jacket.  It's not exactly flattering, but it's warm so whatever.


We were fortunate enough to witness "calving", which is when a big chunk of ice falls off a glacier.  There's a sound like a gunshot, so you get some warning beforehand.  One piece was enormous; the guide said it was about the size of a house!  We were maybe a quarter of a mile away, but the waves came fast and hard.  There were some seals hanging out on ice floes and they just looked up like "yeah, whatever, you folks freak out if you want" and flopped back down.

Once we got off the boat, my dad, stepmother, and G went back on the cruise ship and R and I explored Juneau for a little bit.  We didn't have much time and it was miserably rainy, so I bought an outrageously expensive combo box of Dayquil/Nyquil ($20!) in a drugstore and then we popped into the library, which was very nice.  I joyfully logged into their free wifi to quickly check my email and get my free booster spin on Candy Crush, and then R and I got back on the ship.  I took a nap and then we all had dinner at Canaletto.  I had veal picatta with lemon pasta, which didn't really do much for me, but everyone else loved their food, so I think I just got the wrong thing.  I also had pistachio gelato, which was fantastic because gelato.

After dinner, R, G, and I went to a show put on by the Indonesian crew members.  According to the emcee, the Amsterdam's crew was about 80% Indonesian, and they shared songs and traditional dances with us.  There was one section where they began chanting and I was like "Um, didn't they do that exact chant in the map scene in The Fall?"  (Confirmed; thanks, YouTube!)  When it was over, we retired to our cabin for a dose of Nyquil and a much needed night's sleep.

[To be continued]


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Alaska part 1: the beginning

Several months ago, I was talking to my dad on the phone and he said that he wanted to treat the family to an Alaskan cruise.  Then he added, "Oh, and please invite G too."

...well, you don't have to ask ME twice!

So after much planning, frantic emails back and forth (let's just say the travel agent earned her commission and then some), and trying to pack 9 days' worth of necessities into one suitcase and one backpack, it was finally time to embark on our great Alaskan adventure!

On August 9th, G and I got up at 4:30AM (ugh) and drove to the Van Nuys flyaway, where we hopped a bus to LAX.  We got there way too early, especially because Delta pushed our flight back by about an hour, but I passed the time mainlining season 4 of The Killing on my Kindle Fire while G fitfully dozed.  Our flight was uneventful, aside from a surprisingly funny safety announcement video, and we landed in Seattle in the late afternoon.  We took a shuttle to our hotel, where we met up with my brother R, and we walked to a nearby restaurant called 13 Coins for dinner.  My dad and stepmother A arrived shortly after we got back, and we kept them company while they ate in the hotel's restaurant.  Then it was off to our respective rooms for an early bedtime.

The next day, we took a shuttle to the pier and went through Holland America's surprisingly efficient screening and boarding process.  This isn't the greatest picture, but you can get a general idea of how frickin' enormous the Amsterdam is:



Our stateroom, though not exactly huge, was larger than I'd expected...certainly bigger than the NYC hotel room I stayed in many years ago!  I stood in the tiny hallway to take this picture; the bathroom is to the left.



After unpacking, G and I walked around the entire ship to get acquainted with our surroundings.  The ship featured a casino, a library, bars, two pools, a theater, an art gallery, a few shops, a cafe, and several restaurants:  the Lido (buffet), a burger/taco bar, La Fontaine (very nice), Canaletto (fancy Italian with a $10 upcharge per person), and the Pinnacle Grill ($29 upcharge).

When we got back to our room, G and I took a nap, and then we got dressed up and met everyone for dinner at the Pinnacle Grill.  I had lobster bisque, filet mignon, and a lemon brulee tart, which were all excellent.  Then we saw a breathtakingly cheesy song and dance revue in the Queen's Lounge.  At one point, they danced around with tiny hang gliders to "I Believe I Can Fly" and G and I were desperately trying (and failing) to hold back hysterical laughter.  Afterwards, we went to the casino and I won $27.50 on a $10 bet and promptly cashed out because hey, every little bit helps and it's always nice to leave ahead!  Then it was back to the room for sleepy time.

(to be continued)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

media update: July

Thanks to scorching temperatures, I got a lot of reading done this month (five books in as many days at one point!) because it was way too hot to walk during my breaks at work.  My pants got a little tighter since I wasn't walking 3 miles a day and spending that time reading and eating delicious snacks instead, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  I also watched a ton of movies thanks to two 3-day weekends (4th of July and my birthday).

Speaking of my birthday, it was awesome.  Originally G-Vo and I were going to do indoor skydiving at Universal Citywalk, but I hurt my back and even though it was better by my birthday, we figured it wasn't worth the risk.  It was still a really nice birthday, though.  G-Vo and I both took the day off, and we watched movies 8 and 9 on this list and went to a super swanky steakhouse for dinner.  I had filet mignon that was so tender it barely needed to be cut and a slab of warm butter cake for dessert.  Most delightful.

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

FICTION

1. The Fever* by Megan Abbott:  Deenie is a teenage girl who lives with her father and older brother in a quiet town.  But one day during class, Deenie's best friend Lise has a terrifying seizure in class.  As more girls begin exhibiting strange symptoms, the town is plunged into hysteria.  Really good; I tore through it in two days because I needed to find out what was happening.

2. Cop Town* by Karin Slaughter:  In 1974 Atlanta, Kate Murphy starts her first day on the job as a police officer.  She's woefully unsuited for the job, and everybody hates her: the women because she's beautiful, and the men because she's a woman.  But a serial killer is targeting cops, and Kate and her partner Maggie have to find him before he kills again.  It's definitely not one of Slaughter's better books, and I thought the ending was a little corny (which, trust me, is NOT usually an issue with anything she writes) but it's still pretty good.

3. Ruin and Rising* by Leigh Bardugo:  This is the final volume in the Grisha Trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Terrific last chapter, too.

4. That Night by Chevy Stevens:  Toni Murphy has just been released from prison after serving several years for the murder of her younger sister Nicole.  But life on the outside proves harder than she expected because nobody believes she's innocent, so along with her former boyfriend Ryan (who was also convicted of the murder), she tries to find out the truth about Nicole's death.

Chevy Stevens' debut novel pissed me off so badly that I threw it halfway across the room (don't worry, it was a paperback), so I'm not sure why I picked this up.  It was certainly better than Still Missing, but it wasn't very good either.

5. When the Sea Is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen:  Desperate to avoid an arranged marriage, Felicita fakes her own death and escapes to the slums.  She is befriended by a ragtag group of people and falls in love with their leader, but she finds out that he's planning to stage a rebellion against her family.  Not only that, but the suicide of her best friend has called forth a strange magic from the sea that might destroy the whole city.  Some interesting ideas, but not all of them are fully realized.  I did like it, though.

6. Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf:  Ellen is a social worker who races to the scene of a domestic incident one hot summer day.  She's assisting the children when she hears a crowd gathering behind her and breaking into her car because it turns out that she forget her infant daughter Avery in the backseat.  As Avery's life hangs in the balance and a CPS investigation is opened against her, Ellen finds redemption in the form of Jenny, a young girl her mother has befriended.  Some of the writing is clunky, and the way Ellen and Jenny meet is just way too convenient, but it's okay.

7. In the End* by Demitria Lunetta:  This is a direct sequel to In the After, so I can't review it properly; you know the drill by now.  I was surprised that this was the final volume, though; there seems to be an unwritten law that YA dystopian novels have to be a trilogy.  At any rate, it's really freakin' good.

8. The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe:  As a teenager, Mia was a fucked up girl who got pregnant at 15 and constantly fought with her alcoholic mother; her best friend Lorrie Ann was the sweet one from a good home.  But when they get older, Lorrie Ann falls prey to one tragedy after another, and Mia can only watch her friend's disintegration.  It's good, but so depressing it's just this side of emotional torture porn.  Don't let the cover fool you.

9. The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo:  The 1979 murder of an Amish man and his four children returns to the news when the perpetrators start getting picked off, and police chief Kate Burkholder has to track down the vigilante.  This is the fifth book in Castillo's Amish mystery series, and although it's not the best of the lot, it's still engrossing.

NONFICTION

Nothing this month.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Judge vol. 4 by Yoshiki Tonogai

2. Demon Love Spell vol. 6 (final volume) by Mayu Shinjo

3. Midnight Secretary vol. 6 by Tomu Ohmi

4. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

5. My Love Story!!* by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

6. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 4 by Nico Tanigawa


MOVIES

1. The Great Happiness Space*:  This documentary follows a group of Japanese nightclub hosts as they go about their business.  Hosts make huge amounts of money (Issei, one of the hosts interviewed, makes upwards of $50,000 a month) to flirt with women, light their cigarettes, drink with them, do karaoke, etc.  The hosts all basically look the same, which I do NOT mean as a racist comment; rather, they all have the same chemically lightened hair done in Final Fantasy styles, dress the same, wear lots of flashy jewelry, etc.  One aspect I found most intriguing was that their biggest clients tend to be hostesses, i.e. women who do the exact same thing, which is weird because you think they'd know better than anyone that the flattery is just an act to get money.  (Then again, it's probably nice for them to get doted on for a change!)  It's definitely worth watching if you're interested in Japanese culture.

2. Bad Grandpa 0.5:  A look behind the scenes of Bad Grandpa, including additional footage.  Obviously it's not as good as the actual movie, but if you enjoyed BG, you should enjoy this too.

3. Robocop:  In this remake, Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, who will always be Holder to me) is critically injured and transformed into the titular Robocop, a cyborg who's out for justice.  Has its moments.

4. Vampire Academy:  Think Hogwarts for vampires and their half-human, half-vampire guardians, except not good.  You'd think that a movie based on a bestselling YA book series with a script by Daniel Waters (who wrote Heathers, fer chrissakes) would be decent, but you'd be wrong.  It does have some fun lines, but the acting is almost uniformly awful and the CGI is dreadful.  Put a stake in it.

5. The Motel:  Ernest is a 13-year-old boy who lives with his mother and sister at the seedy motel they own.  A charming guest befriends Ernest, and Ernest starts to regard him as a father figure, which perhaps isn't the best idea.  The cover features a blurb from a Salon reviewer saying "I roared out loud with laughter!" and I think maybe they saw a different movie than I did.  It had a couple of laughs, but it is most certainly NOT a comedy and it ended on a strangely depressing note.

6.  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.

7. Matchstick Men:  A con artist with OCD (Nicolas Cage) discovers that he has a teenage daughter, but her presence both enriches and complicates his life.  Good performances, but the plot was a bit more predictable than I would have liked.

8. Defendor:  Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) believes he's a superhero called Defendor, and he teams up with a prostitute to take down a mob boss.  It's not bad, but (re)watch Kick-Ass instead if you're in the mood for this kind of movie.

9. Snowpiercer*:  After an attempt to fix global warming brings on a new ice age instead, the remainder of humanity is herded onto a train circling the globe.  The rich live in luxury at the front of the train; the poor live in the back and eat protein bars made out of insects.  But the poor are sick of it, and led by a man named Edgar (Chris Evans), they stage a coup.  It's got a lot of interesting ideas and some good action, so it's definitely worth a watch.

10. Under the Skin:  Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious unnamed woman who drives around Scotland picking up men.  Why?  Well, I won't spoil it for you in case you want to see this, but you really shouldn't.  I read the book by Michel Faber several years ago and loved it, but the movie not only doesn't do it justice, it completely leaves out some very important details that make it confusing as hell if you didn't read the source material.  Plus it's so slooooooooooooooooow.  I'll be lucky if G-Vo ever forgives me for making him watch it, but in my defense, I thought it would be good.  The score is excellent and there are a couple of decently creepy scenes, but overall, it's a dud.  Rent it only if you want to see ScarJo full frontal or if there's no paint around to watch dry.

11. Non-Stop*:  The ever delicious Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, an alcoholic air marshal on a flight to London.  When he receives a series of text messages threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes, he has to track down the culprit before it's too late.  The very definition of a fun popcorn movie.

12. 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 in hopes of getting the power working again, 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 wielding machine guns John Woo style.  If that doesn't make you want to run out and see it immediately, well, I'm sorry you hate fun.

13. Bad Words*: Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is in his forties, but he takes advantage of a loophole to join a children's spelling bee.  Extremely crude, but at times uproarious; as long as you're not easily offended, I guarantee at least a couple of belly laughs.

14. Blue Ruin:  After learning that his parents' murderer is being released from prison, Dwight lies in wait, follows the killer to a bar, and ambushes him in the bathroom, where he slashes the man's throat.  Dwight flees the scene, but the killer's family tracks him down.  It's a more "realistic" take on the revenge thriller, peppered with some darkly humorous moments, and Macon Blair is excellent as Dwight.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Piccadilly Palare" by Morrissey