Tuesday, April 30, 2019

media update: April

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Tomorrow There Will Be Sun by Dana Reinhardt:  Jenna has organized a stay at a luxury Mexican villa for her husband Peter's 50th birthday, but their perfect vacation starts to slowly go to shit.

2. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing:   The unnamed narrator and his wife Millicent (oof, I really wish the author had used a different name, or at least called her Millie; no offense to anyone named Millicent, but it connotes a certain type of woman, which this character was most definitely not) spice up their marriage with murder.  It's not bad, but I really wanted to like this more than I did.

3. The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor:  Joe returns to the small English village where he grew up in hopes of getting the truth behind some weird shit that happened there when he was younger.  Big warning: if you plan on reading this, don't read the blurbs first; one of them includes a massive spoiler that greatly lessened my enjoyment of the book because then I knew where it was going.  Lesson learned.

Side note: I didn't notice this until G pointed it out, but I sure do read a lot of books about someone returning to their hometown to investigate something!

4. A Book of Bones by John Connolly:  This is a really hard one to summarize, but in a nutshell, Charlie Parker investigates a series of murders that involve enemies from his past.

Side note: if you're in North America and want to read this, it won't be released here until October.  (I was able to get my hands on the UK version.)

5. Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf:  In a small Iowa town, a sleepover turns tragic when three young friends' midnight visit to the rail yard ends with one of them stabbed and brutally beaten.  The town is thrown into a tailspin, especially when the girls blame the crime on an urban legend named Joseph Wither.

6. Lights All Night Long* by Lydia Fitzpatrick:  A Russian exchange student copes with the unfamiliarity of America and tries to find out the truth behind his brother's incarceration back home.  An unusual, beautifully written take on the classic "fish out of water" trope.


2019 total so far: 24


NONFICTION

1. The Last Stone* by Mark Bowden:  In 1975, two young sisters disappeared from a suburban shopping mall.  After police were unable to find them or any credible leads, the case was closed.  Almost 30 years later, a cold case detective found something in the files that everyone else had overlooked, and a new investigation was opened. 

2. The Light Years* by Chris Rush:  After getting his first taste of LSD at the age of 12, the author started selling drugs at school and, after getting expelled, took a road trip to Tucson to get more drugs from his sister's friend.  An excellent coming-of-age memoir that, like the best nonfiction, reads more like a novel.


2019 total so far: 4


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Citrus vol. 9 by Saburouta

2. Food Wars!* vol. 29 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! vol. 13 by Nico Tanigawa

4. My Solo Exchange Diary* vol. 2 by Nagata Kabi

5. The Promised Neverland* vol. 9 by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu


2019 total so far:  19 volumes of manga and 10 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. MFKZ*:  Angelino lives an unremarkable existence until he starts seeing weird shadows and finds out that he's part alien...and they're coming to take over Earth.  A visually dazzling treat that I really enjoyed; if you like adult animation such as Liquid Television and Love Death + Robots, I bet you'll get a kick out of it too.

2. Ralph Breaks the Internet:  After a wi-fi router is installed in their arcade, Ralph and Vanellope discover a whole new world online.  Too similar to the original, and I thought it had kind of a weird message for [adopts "old man yelling at cloud" voice] impressionable young'uns.

3. The Possession of Hannah Grace:  Megan (Shay Mitchell) is an ex-cop who gets a new job at a hospital morgue and discovers that one of the corpses is, shall we say, unusual.  Goofy but mildly entertaining, and I was impressed that it didn't end as predictably as I thought it would.

4. Halloween:  In this sequel to the 70s horror classic (yes, they have the same title; yes, that's confusing), Michael Myers escapes while being transported to a new mental health facility and immediately starts racking up a body count.  But unbeknownst to him, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has spent the last forty years preparing for just this possibility.

5. Glass:  This movie ties together Unbreakable and Split, but overall it was weird and unsatisfying.  Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson phone in their parts, leaving James McAvoy to do all the heavy lifting.  Watch it if you've already seen the other two movies for closure's sake; otherwise, give it a pass.

6. The Happy Prince:  A look at the final days of Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett, who's terrific) as he spends them in exile after being released from prison. 

7. Mirai:  4-year-old Kun gets a new baby sister, Mirai, and discovers a portal in the backyard that lets him meet people from the past and future...including a teenaged Mirai.  Beautiful to look at, but the story was meh and I never felt moved by it.

8. Avengers: Endgame**:  Because this just came out, I don't want to spoil it for anyone, so I'll just say it was excellent.

9. Vice*:  A biographical drama about Dick Cheney's rise to political power.  I'm not usually very interested by politics, but it was done in a very entertaining style, and the performances were excellent, especially Christian Bale as Cheney.  I think he should have won Best Actor this year.

2019 total so far: 31

Monday, April 01, 2019

media update: March

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Wrecked by Joe Ide:  Isaiah "IQ" Quintabe, the urban answer to Sherlock Holmes, agrees to help a young woman track down her missing mother.  It started off great, but my interest started to flag near the end.

2. A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis:  FBI agent Elsa Myers looks for a missing teenage girl, but the search starts to open up some of Elsa's psychological wounds.

3. The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton:  This is the sequel to The Belles, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  It seemed awfully rushed to me, but the acknowledgements at the end mentioned that the author was going through a health crisis while writing it, so that may be why.

4. The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald:  After falling off a bridge, teenage Olivia Knight is declared brain dead, but she's kept on life support because she's pregnant...news which comes as a huge shock.  Her mother Abi is determined to find out if Olivia's fall was an accident, a suicide attempt, or murder.

5. The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz:  Ten years after her best friend Edie died by suicide after a drunken night of partying, Lindsay starts to wonder if Edie was actually murdered.  But Lindsay was blackout drunk that night, so she turns to case files, videos, and her old friends to see what she can piece together.

6. Save Me From Dangerous Men by S.A. Lelchuk:  Nikki Griffin owns a bookstore, but she has a sideline as a private investigator, and one of her favorite things to do is hurt men who hurt women.  When a woman she's tailing is murdered, she discovers that the woman had damaging information on a big company, and now Nikki is in danger too.

7. The Spite Game by Anna Snoekstra:  Ava was bullied in high school, and when she graduates, she thinks she can finally find some peace.  But she can't put the past behind her, and she decides to get revenge on the people who wronged her.

2019 total so far:  18


NONFICTION

1. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls** by T Kira Madden:  Growing up in Florida, the author seemed to have it all as the daughter of the man who, along with his brother Steve, cofounded a massively popular shoe empire.  But she was also constantly ridiculed for being biracial, she struggled with her sexuality, and her parents were both addicts.  It sounds like yet another "poor little rich girl" memoir, but I assure you it's not; it's funny and incredibly moving.  I know it's only March, but I have a hard time imagining anything will top this as my favorite nonfiction book this year.

2019 total so far: 2


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Oh Joy Sex Toy* vol. 4 by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan

2. Bloom into You by Nakatani Nio

3. That Blue Sky Feeling vols. 1-2 by Okura and Coma Hashii

4. Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley

5. Sweetness & Lightning vol. 11 by Gido Amagakure

6. Rx by Rachel Lindsay

7. Avatar: The Last Airbender - Imbalance by Faith Erin Hicks

8. The Walking Dead* vol. 31 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

9. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 9 (final volume) by Izumi Miyazono:  I HAAAAAAAAAAATED the way this series ended.  Hated, hated, HATED it.  The series itself was fine overall, but the ending made me so goddamn mad.

10. Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

11. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

12. Rin-Ne vol. 29 by Rumiko Takahashi

2019 total so far:  14 volumes of manga and 10 graphic novels+


MOVIES

1. The Girl in the Spider's Web:  Genius hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) tries to retrieve a computer program capable of accessing nuclear codes.  Better than expected, with a couple of great action scenes.

2. The Favourite*:  In 18th century England, a physically and psychologically unwell Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, who won the Best Actress Oscar) lets her close friend Sarah (Rachel Weisz) run the country.  When Sarah's cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at court, she's determined to become the queen's favorite, no matter the cost.  Occasionally funny but with a seriously nasty sting, it's the only Yorgos Lanthimos movie I've ever been able to finish.  I wavered between giving it a star or not, but I decided to based on the performances and the fact that the ending haunted me for days afterwards.

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse*:  After becoming the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales meets his counterparts from other dimensions, and they try to stop a threat that could destroy all of them.  Funny, touching, and visually dazzling; I'm really sorry we didn't get a chance to see this in 3D.

4. Captain Marvel*:  After crashing a plane, Air Force pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) winds up on another planet, where she's trained as a supersoldier.  Six years later, she winds up on Earth, and her long-dormant memories come rushing back as she gets caught in a war between two alien races.  Lots of fun, and I enjoyed the predominantly 90s soundtrack and the lovely orange cat named Goose.

5. Aquaman:  Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the rightful heir to the throne of Atlantis, but only if he can defeat his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) first.  A bit goofy, and Amber Heard's Party City wig was incredibly distracting, but it was visually dazzling and had some fun moments.

2019 total so far: 22

Thursday, February 28, 2019

media update: February

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Freefall* by Jessica Barry:  After surviving a private plane crash in the Colorado Rockies, Allison has to fight her way through the wilderness.  Meanwhile, her estranged mother Maggie, believing Allison is dead, is determined to find out what her daughter had been up to during the two years they hadn't spoken.  An exciting read that I tore through in one day.

2. You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian:  A collection of short stories (including the 2017 viral sensation "Cat Person") that, to quote the jacket, "explores the ways in which women are horrifying as much as it captures the horrors that are done to them".

3. Adele by Leila Slimani:  The titular character appears to have it all---a prestigious job, a gorgeous Paris apartment, and a loving husband and son---but she's deeply dissatisfied, and tries to fill the void with affairs.

4. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker:  A mysterious sleeping sickness takes over a small California college town.

5. The Lost Man* by Jane Harper:  After their brother Cameron is found dead in the Australian outback, Nathan and Bub start to think that it wasn't an accident.  Unlike Jane Harper's previous two books, it took a bit of time to grab me, but once it did, I really enjoyed it.

6. The Wedding Guest by Jonathan Kellerman:  Dr. Alex Delaware and his police detective friend Milo Sturgis investigate when a dead body is discovered at a wedding reception.

7. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley:  A group of friends go to an isolated Scottish estate for New Year's Eve, and when long-simmering resentments and secrets come to a boil, one of them winds up dead.

2019 total so far:  11


NONFICTION

Nothing this month.

2019 total so far:  1


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Food Wars!* vols. 27-28 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

2. My Boyfriend is a Bear* by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris

3. The Promised Neverland* vols. 7-8 by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu

4. Chlorine Gardens by Keiler Roberts

5. Off Season by James Sturm

2019 total so far:  8 volumes of manga and 3 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Hell Fest:  A serial killer stalks a horror-themed amusement park, but his crimes are assumed to be part of the show.  Fun, although I had to look away during an eyeball gouging scene.

2. Widows*:  After their husbands are killed when a heist goes wrong, four widows band together to finish the job and clear a debt.  An intriguing crime thriller with complicated, strong female characters.

3. Patient Zero:  An advanced form of rabies turns people into bloodthirsty "Infected", and a man (Matt Smith) who survived getting bitten has the ability to talk to them.   Meh, although a slumming Stanley Tucci greatly enhances every scene he's in.

4. Bohemian Rhapsody:  A biopic about Freddie Mercury and his meteoric rise to fame with Queen.  I had the same reaction as everyone I know who's seen it: Rami Malek is great as Freddie, the musical numbers are electrifying...and nothing else is very good. 

5. Bad Times at the El Royale*:  At a hotel that straddles the California-Nevada border, several strangers meet and share a very odd night.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie, but it was an odd little Tarantino-esque treat that I really enjoyed.

6. Can You Ever Forgive Me?*:  Lee Israel, a biographer struggling both personally and financially, discovers that she has a lucrative talent for forging letters from famous people.  Excellent performances from Melissa McCarthy as Lee and Richard E. Grant as her charming friend, both of whom were nominated for Oscars.

7. Overlord*:  American soldiers are tasked with taking down a Nazi radio tower, but it turns out the Nazis have a special weapon in store for them.  I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say this isn't your average WWII movie.


2019 total so far:  17

Thursday, January 31, 2019

media update: January

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Looker* by Laura Sims:  The unnamed narrator is a recently separated professor who becomes obsessed with an actress (also unnamed) who lives a few doors down.  A sharp little novel that cuts deep.

2. An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:  Desperate for cash, Jessica signs up for a psychology study about morality that slowly starts to test her own.

3. Scrublands by Chris Hammer:  A priest guns down several people after being accused of child molestation.  One year later, a reporter arrives to do a story on the anniversary of the tragedy and how it devastated the small town where it occurred.  I was pretty disappointed in this book, but that might be because I saw it compared to Jane Harper, and the only thing it had in common with her work was an Australian setting.  Also, there's a female character named Mandalay Blonde and I was really irritated every time I saw her full name on the page.

4. The Woman Inside by E.G. Scott:  Rebecca and Paul's twenty-year marriage is thrown into a tailspin when she discovers that he's planning a new life without her in this psychological thriller.

NONFICTION

1. The Woo-Woo* by Lindsay Wong:  The author grew up in a Chinese-Canadian family plagued by mental illness (aka the "Woo-Woo"), which they blamed on ghosts.  The kind of memoir that makes you laugh one second and then cover your mouth in horror the next.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Ajin: Demi-Human vol. 12 by Gamon Sakurai

2. Idol Dreams vol. 5 by Arina Tanemura

3. Yotsuba* vol. 14 by Kiyohiko Azuma:  I was shocked to see this at the library; it had been so long since the last volume I thought they'd stopped publishing it!

4. Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu:  If you're most familiar with Junji Ito's often squirm-inducing horror manga and are afraid to read this because of what might happen to the titular cats, fear not; it's an autobiographical manga about learning to love cats when his fiancee and her two felines move in with him.  (Though it does have some grotesque art done for humorous effect.)

MOVIES

1. White Boy Rick:  In 1980s Detroit, 14-year-old drug dealer Rick is roped into becoming an undercover police informant.  Based on a true story. 

2. The Miseducation of Cameron Post:  After getting caught having sex with her best friend, Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) is sent to a gay conversion camp.

3. The Equalizer 2:  Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a retired CIA operative who now works as a Lyft driver and dispenses occasional vigilante justice on the side.  When a friend is murdered, he'll stop at nothing to find the perpetrators.

4. The First Purge:  In this prequel, the New Founding Fathers of America decide to conduct a social experiment in which the residents of Staten Island are exempt from all laws for 12 hours to see if getting bad behavior out of their system will cause them to obey for the rest of the year. 

5. Peppermint:  After her husband and daughter are murdered, Riley (Jennifer Garner) reinvents herself as a badass vigilante and hunts down the people responsible.  The script is so filled with cliches that it's like it was written by software, but it has some decent action scenes.  G thought it should be called Jane Wick; I suggested The Poonisher because I am vulgar.

6. Hotel Artemis:  The titular hotel is actually a place where criminals can get fixed up and recuperate in privacy, and when a citywide riot breaks out, it's much busier than usual.  Weird and disjointed.

7. Reptilicus (MST3K version):  Scientists accidentally bring an enormous monster back to life in this 1960s groaner from Denmark. 

8. Three Identical Strangers: Three identical triplets, adopted by three different families shortly after their birth, unexpectedly meet as adults and learn the truth behind their separation in this "stranger than fiction" documentary.

9. Cry Wilderness (MST3K version):  A young boy befriends Bigfoot, although you hardly ever see Bigfoot, and when you do, the costume is so terrible you wish he'd stayed offscreen.

10. Boy Erased:  After confessing his homosexuality to his religious parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman), Jared (Lucas Hedges) is sent to conversion therapy.  Similar to #2 on this list, and was theatrically released at around the same time, but this one is better.  Based on a true story.


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

Quantic Dream created Heavy Rain, one of my five favorite video games of all time, and I also really enjoyed Indigo Prophecy and Beyond: Two Souls, so I was looking forward to playing Detroit: Become Human when it was released last year.  But then I read that it was only about 15 hours from start to finish, so I decided to wait until it was much cheaper to buy it.  Well, fast forward several months and it had only gone down to $40, so I rented it from Redbox.

DBH is set in the not-so-distant future in, you guessed it, Detroit.  Androids have become affordable for just about everyone, so they've taken over a wide array of functions and cost many people their jobs, creating a great deal of resentment and distrust.  You alternate between three android characters:  Kara, who takes care of the young daughter of an abusive drug addict; Markus, who helps a disabled artist; and Connor, a police investigator who looks into cases involving androids.  All of them start to become "deviants", meaning that they're beginning to gain consciousness, leading to a revolution.

THE GOOD

  • This game is absolutely gorgeous, from the faces to the backgrounds, and like Red Dead Redemption 2, there were many times I'd stop just to admire the visuals.  (It was certainly an interesting segue going from RDR2, set in the late 1800s, to the futuristic glitter of DBH.)
  • For the most part, the voice acting is excellent.  There are a couple of secondary characters who aren't great, but the main characters are all terrific.
  • The QTE gameplay was actually challenging, but fair about it; one missed move didn't mean an instant fail.
  • Not a single glitch or crash.

THE BAD

  • Oooof, there are some really cringeworthy allegories in this game.  David Cage, the lead writer/director, insists that he wasn't trying to draw a parallel between android rights and civil rights, but come the fuck on.  To wit: at one point, the androids are marching through the streets, demanding equality, and one of their chants is "We have a dream".  
  • This is really on us due to a choice we made in the game, but something that happened pissed us off so badly that I have to put it in this column.  (I won't get specific due to spoilers.)
  • I'll be honest and say that one of the reasons I wanted to play this game so badly is that I saw so much delectable "HankCon" (i.e. grizzled detective Hank and his work partner, Connor) art and fic online that I was expecting to spend half the game fangirling out over them.  But aside from a friendly hug near the end, I saw nothing to stoke the fires in my slashy heart.  (Though to be fair, something might have happened in a scene we didn't get.)
  • Just as a warning, there is a domestic violence scene that can apparently get really graphic and disturbing depending on your choices.

YMMV

Yeah, that 15-hour playtime I mentioned?  Well, turns out that's only really true if you don't want to see all the different branches of the story.  We're actually going to re-rent it because, thanks to #2 on the bad list, we got a really shitty ending for one of the characters, and we can't let it slide.  So if you plan on being a completionist about it, go ahead and buy it.

All in all, Detroit: Become Human is an engrossing slice of sci-fi that will dazzle your eyes and make you think.  I give it 8 mechanical birds out of 10.








Wednesday, January 02, 2019

media update: December

Considering that I've been unemployed all month, I didn't get a lot of reading done!  Turns out that it's harder than it seems, thanks to governmental red tape (despite filing for unemployment after being laid off, I haven't seen a penny yet.  No matter what conservative politicians would have you believe, the government ain't just handing money out willy-nilly; they make you jump through so many fucking hoops it ought to count as cardio), mountains of paperwork, job hunting, and trying to get as much productive shit as possible done while I still can.  But two long holiday weekends in a row for G meant that we watched a lot of movies and, of course, played lots of Red Dead Redemption 2.  (Which, by the way, I review at the end of this entry.)

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1.  Fury by Rachel Vincent:  This is the final book in a trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

2. River Bodies by Karen Katchur:  When Becca returns to her hometown to spend time with her dying father, the discovery of a body unearths old secrets.

3. My Sister, the Serial Killer* by Oyinkan Braithwaite:  Korede's sister Ayoola is gorgeous, popular, the favorite daughter...and she's just killed her third boyfriend in a row.  Korede reluctantly helps Ayoola cover up her crimes, but now Ayoola has set her sights on the man Korede secretly loves.  A sly little treat.

4. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey:  The murders of a homeless man and a movie star seem unconnected at first, but police detective Gemma Woodstock discovers some eerie similarities. Good, but I really wish the author hadn't named a supporting character Elizabeth Short.  It was jarring whenever I saw that character's name in print, because it always took me a second to remember it wasn't referring to the Black Dahlia.

2018 TOTAL:  108


NONFICTION

1. Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction* by Gabrielle Moss:  If you, like me, lived for monthly mall visits so you could hit up B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks and spend your allowance on Sweet Valley High, Wildfire, and Sweet Dreams novels, you will LOVE this book.  It was the nostalgia equivalent of black tar heroin shot directly into my veins.

2. I Might Regret This* by Abbi Jacobson:  After having her heart broken, the author decided to drive across the country by herself in hopes of discovering herself and what she really wants in life.  It sounds like typical navel-gazing bullshit, but it was really funny (as you'd expect from the co-creator and co-star of Broad City) and surprisingly touching.

3. How to Be Alone* by Lane Moore:  A heartbreaking yet hopeful book of essays about learning to be alone, whether you want to be or not.

2018 TOTAL:  30 


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. A Bride's Story vol. 10 by Kaoru Mori

2. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 12 by Nico Tanigawa

2018 TOTAL:  45 volumes of manga and 15 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. The Incredibles 2*:  Superheroes have been made illegal, so Helen and Bob Parr, aka Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, are living in a motel with their three children.  But when an entrepreneur asks Elastigirl to help him restore the public's trust, she leaves Bob to take care of their kids while she fights a dangerous new threat.  Not as good as the original---a tall order considering that's my favorite Pixar movie and one of my favorite movies of all time---but it's still really enjoyable.

Viewer advisory: before watching the opening short, Bao, make sure you have tissues nearby; my eyes nearly slid out of my head.

2. The Meg:  A rescue diver teams up with a group of scientists to help take down a massive shark that was believed to be extinct.  It's pretty stupid, and it takes way too long to get interesting, but it has some good action and Jason Statham in a towel.

3. BlacKkKLansman:  Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer, infiltrates the KKK by phone.  However, he obviously can't attend their meetings, so he sends a colleague to their meetings to pose as him.  Improbably enough, it's based on a true story!

4. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies:  Robin is desperate to be the star of his own superhero movie, but he needs a proper archvillain; enter Slade.  Cute, loaded with Easter eggs, and occasionally quite funny; my favorite touch was Nicolas Cage voicing Superman.  (For you young'uns who might not get the joke: Nicolas Cage very famously wanted to play Superman in a movie.)

5. Mission : Impossible - Fallout*:  Ethan Hunt and his team try to track down stolen plutonium before it's too late.  Lots of really fun action, especially in the last half-hour.

Side note: this series has been a blast from the very beginning.  Could the writers maybe work on the next Bond movie, please?

6. Lizzie: In this somewhat fictionalized take on the Lizzie Borden story, Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) and her family's housemaid Bridget (Kristen Stewart) fall in love and, well, we all know what happened next.  

Side note: I still find it rather amusing, if one can use that term when talking about two gruesome murders, that Lizzie was acquitted mostly because the all-male jury couldn't believe a woman could possibly commit such a crime. 

7. Mile 22*:  An elite CIA unit tries to smuggle an Indonesian cop with important information out of the country.  This got shitty reviews and made about two bucks, but we really enjoyed it!  It's only 94 minutes long, but about an hour of that is pure action, including a fantastic fight scene featuring Iko Uwais of The Raid fame.

8. The Happytime Murders:  A puppet private investigator and his former partner (Melissa McCarthy) team up again to solve a series of puppet murders.  The idea of puppets being dirty is funny, albeit not unique (cf. Meet the Feebles and Avenue Q), but this movie took a good idea and completely screwed it up.  There are a few good laughs, but it's like sifting through a dog turd to find them.

9. Bird Box*:  When a mysterious force causes people who look at it to kill themselves, Mallory (Sandra Bullock) blindfolds herself and her two children and heads out in a boat to find sanctuary in this extremely tense flick.

10. Venom:  Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative reporter who's recently been fired due to seriously overstepping ethical journalism requirements, gets the scoop of a lifetime when he discovers that a gazillionaire tech magnate has found alien life forms in space.  Unfortunately, one of those creatures, aka symbiotes, takes over Eddie's body.  One of Marvel's rare missteps; it's loud and stupid but rarely entertaining.

11. Never Goin' Back:  Angela and Jessie are best friends who dropped out of high school and now work at a diner.  They're looking forward to a week at the beach, but complications ensue and they need to get their hands on a whole lot of money quickly.  It reminded me of Spring Breakers lite, but I enjoyed it much more.

12. The Predator:  The bloodthirsty aliens return to Earth to track down a traitor who's trying to save the human race.

13. A Simple Favor**:  Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is an excitable young widow who idolizes Emily (Blake Lively), the ultracool mom of one of Stephanie's son's classmates.  One day, Emily asks Stephanie if she can pick up her son after school; Stephanie eagerly agrees, but then Emily never shows up, and Stephanie becomes obsessed with solving the mystery.  A deliciously dark comedy that's much better than the book, thanks to the excellent performances.

2018 TOTAL:  110 (20 more than 2017!  I wonder why so many?)


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in 1899, in a fictionalized version of the United States.  After an attempted ferry robbery goes horribly wrong, the van der Linde gang, led by the charismatic Dutch, goes on the run.  You play Arthur Morgan, who was adopted into the gang at a young age and sees Dutch as a father figure.  Arthur is torn between loyalty towards his makeshift family and a longing for something more.

Quick note before I get to the pros and cons: although you can't play Arthur as an entirely good guy---he is an outlaw, after all!---you can choose to play him with high honor or low honor, which will greatly affect your playing experience and, in some cases, plot elements.  We chose to play with high honor, so some aspects of this review may not be applicable if you go the other way.

YEE-HAW
  • This is one of the most gorgeous games I've ever seen.  It would be beautiful regardless, but for an open world game to have graphics like this is truly astounding.  The water, the foliage, the mountains, the night sky, the landscapes...just incredible.  More than once I'd stop riding just to admire the scenery.
  • The voice acting is top notch, and I'd go so far as to say that Roger Clark, as Arthur Morgan, gives the best voice performance I've ever heard in a video game. 
  • I don't want to get too much into the plot lest I spoil something, but it's engrossing.  It's like an excellent 70+ hour long movie!
  • In addition to story missions, there are optional side missions you can do, and some of them are really interesting, funny, and/or touching.  My favorites involved rescuing a bumbling wildlife photographer and helping a new widow learn how to survive on her own.
  • I have certainly cried over video games before, and RDR2 was no exception, but this is the only game that has ever literally made me sob.
  • Oh god, Arthur.  ARTHUR.  Arthur is one of the most fascinating fictional characters I've "met" in any medium for a long time; in fact, he's now my favorite male video game character of all time, which is no small feat considering Leon Kennedy held the throne for 20+ years.  Arthur is conflicted, sweet, funny, as talented with a pencil as he is with a gun, and he absolutely broke my heart.  I JUST WANTED MY POOR HOT COWBOY TO BE HAPPY.
  • Speaking of which...well, this isn't really a "yee-haw" per se, but an observation.  I have never, EVER seen such massive, universal thirst for a video game character as I have for Arthur, spanning across the entire sexual spectrum.  Twitter, AO3, and Tumblr are basically just Arthur Morgan appreciation sites at this point, and I ain't angry because I am one of the thirsty flock.

YEE-NAW 
  •  Considering the complexity of this game, it wasn't very buggy, but we did hit a few really irritating glitches.  To name a few: people weren't showing up in a cutscene, ammo kept mysteriously disappearing from one of our weapons even after we'd restocked it, the graphics didn't fill in during one scene so it was all blocky, and a character got caught in a dialogue loop, repeating the same line over and over again, so I had to pick a fight and get killed so it would reset.
  • There are a few scenarios that could be seen as skewing a bit "white savior".
  • The weapon wheel is an obnoxious unintuitive nightmare.  And for god's sakes, Rockstar, WHY can't you just let us choose favorite weapons to stay in the top slots instead of just shoving them in the back somewhere so we have to keep clicking for what seems like forfuckingever to find them?  
  • Sometimes the controls would get a little touchy.  More than once I tried to get on my horse which was RIGHT FUCKING THERE and wound up tackling a bystander instead, which of course led to me being wanted for assault, which of course meant I had to reload my last save and sit there for several minutes while it did.  (The loading times were pretty long, but I'm not listing that as a negative; given the scope of the game, I'm astonished it wasn't even longer!)  I also once accidentally punched my horse instead of getting something out of my saddlebag, and I reloaded again because no fucking way was I going to keep a save where I punched my beautiful sweet baby girl Uber.  (I bought another horse later because it was an Arabian, and as much as I loved Uber, the speed difference was like going from a Honda Civic to a Maserati.  I named that horse Kuro.)
  • There was an encounter which could be seen as making light of sexual assault.  (Note: no sexual assault is ever depicted onscreen.)
  • There's a pretty steep learning curve; it took me at least 10 hours to get comfortable with the interface.  (Not that the goddamn weapon wheel helped with that.)
  • The game autosaves frequently, which is mostly a good thing, but occasionally it will just randomly start to do it at inopportune times.  There were a few scenes whose impact was lessened thanks to the screen going black and a huge "ALERT" popping up.  
  • If you cause trouble, you will very often go into "wanted" status, causing a bounty on your head.  Which is fine and understandable if you're running around beating up innocent people or something...but why in the holy name of fuck did I get bounties on me for shooting back at someone WHO STARTED SHOOTING AT ME FIRST?!?  Even in today's day and age, we don't get in trouble for self-defense, much less back in the Wild West! 
  • Arthur can pay to take a nice hot bath at assorted saloons and hotels, which is great because the dude deserves a relaxing soak!  But WHY CAN'T WE SEE ANYTHING?!?  When he gets out of the tub, the camera stays strictly above his waist.  Come on, Rockstar, you've showed us dongs before; surely you can give us thirsty bitches a nice shot of Arthur's sweet cakes at least.
I enjoyed the first Red Dead Redemption, so I was expecting to enjoy the sequel as well; what I wasn't expecting was to be so addicted to it and so profoundly moved by it.  It now holds a well-earned place in my ten favorite video games of all time.  I'm proud to give Red Dead Redemption 2 nine bottles of miracle tonic out of 10.


Friday, December 21, 2018

UPDATED best of 2018: miscellaneous

UPDATE 12/31:  I guess I should have waited to post this after all, because I finished Red Dead Redemption 2 earlier today!  I've updated my list accordingly.

And now it's time for my final "Best of 2018" list!  A few notes before I begin:

  • These are in completely random order.
  • Not all of these were first released in 2018, but that's when I first watched/played them.
  • If you've seen me fangirling over Red Dead Redemption 2 elsewhere, you'll probably be stunned that it's not on this list.  Well, there's a good reason for that:  I'm not done with it, and probably won't be by the end of this year, so I don't feel right putting it on this list.  But trust me, unless it takes a monstrous shit by the end, it will wind up on 2019's list.  I do feel comfortable telling you that unless we are forced to make Arthur Morgan do something truly horrific by the end of the game (we're playing him with high honor, but some bad deeds are unavoidable), he will wind up kicking Leon Kennedy out of his place of honor as my favorite male video game protagonist of all time. 
  • Along those lines, if I watch/play something between now and December 31st that belongs here, I'll update accordingly.
  • Some of the video games I list here are available on multiple platforms; the parenthetical tells you which console I played it on.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.


1. The Punisher:  Frank Castle, aka the vigilante known as The Punisher, stole season 2 of Daredevil from right under Matt Murdock's nose, so I was glad to see him get his own series.  It's superviolent, nasty, and a whole lot of fun, and Jon Bernthal is a perfect Punisher.  (Netflix streaming)

2. The Evil Within 2:  I was pretty disappointed in the first game, but I was able to snag this sequel very cheaply, and it was worth twice the price.  Ex-cop Sebastian Castellanos, still devastated by the death of his daughter and the breakup of his marriage, is contacted by his former partner, who tells him his daughter is still alive...but he'll have to enter a nightmarish world to find her.  The sequel improved upon the original in every single way (including, crucially, making Sebastian a much more compelling character), and as a bonus, it's terrifying as FUCK.  Essential for all survival horror fans, and unless I finish RDR2 by the end of the year, my favorite video game of 2018 by a long shot.  (PS4)

3. The Dragon Prince:  This animated fantasy series follows two brothers, Ezran and Callum, as they set out to return a dragon's egg and restore peace to their kingdom.  We were interested in it because the show's creators worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender, and although it wasn't as good as that (a tall order!), it was funny and sweet and exciting.  We were glad to hear it got renewed for a second season.  (Netflix streaming)

4. Uncharted 4:  Because this game builds upon the previous ones, I don't feel comfortable giving a synopsis since it might spoil the others; I'll just say that it's as close as you can get to being Indiana Jones in a video game, and it's an awful lot of fun.  Bonus points for snappy dialogue, strong female characters who aren't just eye candy, and the most beautiful graphics I've ever seen.  (PS4 only; The Lost Legacy DLC is included in this endorsement)

5. Life Is Strange: Before the Storm:  If you played Life Is Strange (and if not, why?  It's great!), then you'll remember Max's friend Chloe.  In this prequel, you get to learn more about Chloe and her relationship with Rachel, and it will most definitely break your heart.  Unfortunately, due to a voice actor's strike, Chloe's original voice actress, who was exceptional, did not return, but her replacement was good and it didn't impact our enjoyment of this well-written game.  (Uh...I can't remember which console we played it on!  I rented it from Gamefly but cancelled my membership so I can't check.  It's available on both the PS4 and Xbox One.)

6. Aggretsuko:  Sanrio is best known for its sweet mascot characters like Hello Kitty and My Melody, but they've added a few edgier characters to the mix recently, like clinicially depressed egg Gudetama and Aggretsuko, an adorable red panda office worker who hates her job and blows off steam by...singing death metal karaoke at the top of her lungs.  If you've ever worked in a cube farm, you'll laugh your ass off, and one episode actually made me tear up too.  (Netflix streaming)

7. Twin Peaks:  I was a MASSIVE Twin Peaks fan back in the day, so I was pretty excited when I heard that Showtime had commissioned a third season.  I don't have Showtime, so I had to wait for DVD, and when it finally came out, I binged it over the course of a few days.  I'll be honest with you; it's often boring and confusing and weird for the sake of being weird, but it's got so much fucking brilliance sprinkled in between the crappy parts that it's absolutely worth watching if you're a David Lynch fan.  (If not, my god, stay far away!  This will not change your mind.)

8. Violet Evergarden:  The title character used to be a lethal soldier, but after the war ends, she finds herself working as an "auto memory doll", writing letters for people who aren't able to express themselves the way they should.  The art is absolutely gorgeous, but be warned; there are thorns in those roses, and almost every episode made me choke up at least once.  (Netflix streaming)

9. Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy:  I love superheroes, but found myself in the tiniest minority when I was just about the only person who was underwhelmed by the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.  But Telltale Games (RIP) had a pretty strong track record with making me care about properties I ordinarily didn't give a shit about, so I wanted to give this a go, and it was a lot of fun!  (PS4)

10. Red Dead Redemption 2:  I'll be posting a lengthy review of this in my December media update, so I won't do so here; suffice it to say it wound up taking a spot in my top ten video games of all time, and Arthur Morgan did indeed take the crown for my favorite male video game protagonist ever.  This game is an absolutely breathtaking achievement.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  I am way too OCD to make a list that's not a multiple of 5, but if I wasn't, I'd put the anime series No. 6 here.  It's about Shion, a privileged boy who meets street rat Nezumi (literally "rat" in Japanese) and learns that his life of comfort has come at a terribly high price.  I wanted to watch it because I'd heard that Shion and Nezumi were a canon couple, and as you know I'm all about that shiz, but the anime only offered us a couple of kisses.  The manga is much more accommodating on that front; it's never graphic, but whereas you could make an argument that the kisses in the anime were just friendly or impulsive, the manga gives you no such outs.  Anyway, it's a fun series that probably needed another season to wrap up its complex story, hence its exclusion from the main list.  I still love Shion and Nezumi together, though; they're my current wallpaper.

I also need to mention Over the Garden Wall. In this animated miniseries, two brothers, Wirt and Greg, get lost in a forest and have strange adventures while trying to get home.  Beautiful art that's reminiscent of super old-school cartoons, great voice acting, catchy tunes, and some tears among the laughter.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

best of 2018: movies

UPDATED 12/31:  I replaced Deadpool 2 with A Simple Favor.


The usual notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2018, but that's when I saw them.
  • Keep reading (or not; I'll never know!) after the list for a "stinger".
  • Aside from the first three, which were definitely my first, second, and third favorite movies of the year, these are in random order.
  • I know the year isn't over just yet, so if I see something between now and the end of the year that deserves to be on here, I'll update accordingly.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Avengers: Infinity War:  The Avengers team up against their most insidious foe yet in this REALLY FUCKING GOOD flick.  I had high hopes for it because the Russo Brothers did such a great job with the Captain America movies, and they did not disappoint.  It's dark, albeit leavened with some terrific humor, and Thanos is a much more compelling villain than you usually find in superhero movies.  When it was over, G and I just leaned back in our seats and said "Uh, holy shit."

2. Coco:  Young Miguel's family hates music, but he wants to become a musician like his late hero, the legendary Ernesto de la Cruz.  Miguel accidentally finds himself in the land of the dead during Dia de los Muertos, so he decides to find his idol and see if he can make his dream come true.  Beautifully animated, funny, and touching, and I cried my ASS off.

3. Won't You Be My Neighbor?:  A documentary about Mister Rogers and the impact he had on TV and generations of children.  Like a warm hug from the man himself, and take my word on this: have a box of tissues handy.  I cried harder at this movie than any other this year (yes, even Coco) because Mister Rogers was exactly as kind and gentle as he seemed and we need him more than ever and he isn't here.

4. A Quiet Place:  A family struggles to survive in a world where monsters with super sensitive hearing mean that the slightest noise could lead to their deaths.  Tense as HELL.

5. Eighth Grade:  Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is trying to survive the eighth grade and just get to high school in one emotional piece, but it's not easy.  Occasionally so realistic as to be excruciating, but filled with warmth and compassion; it's like a more humane version of Welcome to the Dollhouse.

6. Happy Death Day:  Tree is a college student who is murdered on her birthday by someone wearing a creepy baby mask...and then she wakes up alive.  It turns out she's caught in a time loop and will keep getting murdered until she finds out who's doing it and why.  It's like the love child of Groundhog Day and Scream, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
 
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:  After her daughter's brutal murder goes unsolved, Mildred (Frances McDormand) takes out three billboards accusing the local police force of shuffling their feet.  Excellent performances, and I appreciated that the script didn't go quite where I was expecting.

8.  A Simple Favor:  Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is an excitable young widow who idolizes Emily (Blake Lively), the ultracool mom of one of Stephanie's son's classmates.  One day, Emily asks Stephanie if she can pick up her son after school; Stephanie eagerly agrees, but then Emily never shows up, and Stephanie becomes obsessed with solving the mystery.  A deliciously dark comedy that's much better than the book, thanks to the excellent performances.

9. The Incredibles 2:  Superheroes have been made illegal, so Helen and Bob Parr, aka Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, are living in a motel with their three children.  But when an entrepreneur asks Elastigirl to help him restore the public's trust, she leaves Bob to take care of their kids while she fights a dangerous new threat.  Not as good as the original---a tall order considering that's my favorite Pixar movie and one of my favorite movies of all time---but it's still really enjoyable.

10. Annihilation:  A biologist (Natalie Portman) agrees to lead a group of scientists into the Shimmer, a strange area from which her husband barely returned with his life, in hopes of discovering the truth behind its environmental mutations.  Beautifully filmed, with intense sound design and a scene that's honestly one of the most frightening fucking things I've seen in a long time.   The woman in front of me was getting hysterical, and I don't mean laughing; I mean I was seriously worried she was going to have a nervous breakdown.  (I saw her in the bathroom afterwards putting on lipstick, and she seemed fine.)


Bonus content!

SEEN IN THE THEATER:  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Annihilation; Black Panther; Avengers: Infinity War; Searching; A Star Is Born

SEEN AT A RED CROSS WILDFIRE EVACUATION CENTER:  Instant Family

MADE ME CRY (OR AT LEAST TEAR UP):  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Train to Busan; The Florida Project; African Cats; Lion; Avengers: Infinity War; A Quiet Place; Tully; Hereditary; Searching; It Comes at Night; Eighth Grade; A Star Is Born; Instant Family; Crazy Rich Asians; The Incredibles 2; BlacKkKLansman; Bird Box

MADE ME NOT JUST CRY, BUT SOB:  Coco; Won't You Be My Neighbor?; Bao (the short that played before The Incredibles 2)

WTF DID I JUST WATCH:  The Untamed, Annihilation, Batman Ninja, Hereditary

MOST TERRIFYING SCENE:  The bear sequence in Annihilation.  Second place: a scene in Hereditary that I don't want to spoil.

BEST SOUND DESIGN:  Annihilation and Hereditary.

BEST MOVIE RUINED BY ITS LAST 20 MINUTES:  Hereditary 

BEST MOVIE THAT I NEVER WANT TO SEE AGAIN BECAUSE THERE ISN'T ENOUGH FUCKING XANAX IN THE WORLD:  Hereditary