Friday, July 31, 2015

media update: July

Oh, my dudes, this year has not been kind.  As you know from previous posts, 2015 has "gifted" me with the following: my brother's health issues, a friend's freak accident, work tsuris, computer tsuris, and now my dad is sick.  He went in for a general checkup, and his doctor was so alarmed by his blood work (elevated calcium levels) that she had him admitted to the hospital immediately.  He was there for several days, and although not all of the lab results are back yet, chances are that he has lymphoma.  Needless to say, this was a real sucker punch.  But he is optimistic and remaining positive, and I shall try to do the same.  I hope you'll understand if I don't really feel like talking about it much; it's just too painful right now.

On that fun note, let's get to the media update.  This is probably the first time it's featured more movies than books!  We also went to the movies twice, which is pretty rare for us these days.  Asterisks denote something that I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme. Your mileage, as ever, may vary.
 

FICTION

1. Throne of Glass* by Sarah J. Maas:  Celaena is an assassin who's offered a deal: if she can defeat 23 very nasty people in a competition, she'll be released from prison and work for the king.  But something starts picking off her fellow competitors, and it ain't her, so she has to figure out what's going on before it gets her too.  It's pretty good, so I picked up the sequels and novella collection too.  I won't bother reviewing those since I can't do so without spoiling the series; I'll just list that I read them for the record.

2. Dietland** by Sarai Walker:  Plum Kettle is an overweight woman who spends her days answering mail for a teen girls' magazine and dreaming of the day she can finally afford weight loss surgery.  Then she receives an unusual proposal: the heiress to a weight loss empire, who feels guilty about how she got her fortune, offers her $20,000 to undergo a series of challenges.  Meanwhile, a secret group is taking out people they consider dangerous to women, and Plum starts to wonder if the two things are connected.  Sharp, subversive satire that's so assured it's hard to believe it's a debut novel.  I thought the diet drug called Dabsitaf (read it backwards) was a bit too forced, and I still don't know why the porn star had to get murdered when the reasons she was IN porn to begin with were pretty well explained (this is not a spoiler; the first time you ever hear about her in the book is when she gets killed), but if you've ever wanted to read a feminist version of Chuck Palahniuk, look no further.  It's really fucking great.

3. Crown of Midnight* by Sarah J. Maas

4. Heir of Fire* by Sarah J. Maas

5. The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas:  Although it was enjoyable enough, I didn't like this collection of novellas as much as I liked the actual novels in the series.

6. After the Storm by Linda Castillo:  After a tornado rips through town and uncovers human remains, police chief Kate Burkholder's investigation is stymied by members of the Amish community who don't want to dig up the past.  Further complicating Kate's life, a good deed she did during the tornado comes back to bite her in the ass and she discovers something shocking about herself.  I thought the prologue gave away far too much of the mystery, but it's still another good installment in the series.  

7. Second Life by S.J. Watson:  Julia is devastated when her younger sister Kate is murdered.  She learns that Kate had been active on a personals site, and she sets up a fake profile to see if she can find any clues.  She begins an affair with a man who might have more information on Kate, but he isn't what he seems.  Most of the "aha!" moments were pretty heavily telegraphed, but there were a few moments that took me by surprise.

8. Day Four* by Sarah Lotz:  People are enjoying their cruise aboard the Beautiful Dreamer until things go completely to hell on (yup) the fourth day.  A woman's body is discovered in her room, norovirus rages through the passengers, the communications system goes down and the engine dies, and the medium who was hired as the feature entertainment might not be the sham everybody thought.  It's like The Shining on a cruise ship, and it's absolutely gripping.  I'm just glad I didn't read it before my cruise last year, or I probably would have canceled!

Side note:  I didn't find out that this was a sequel of sorts to The Three until I had already started reading, and by then I was too hooked to stop.  There are references to the previous book's events, but honestly I don't think you HAVE to have read The Three to enjoy this one.  I'll be grabbing it at the library, though!

2015 tally so far: 51


NONFICTION

Nothing this month.

2015 tally so far: 11


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. My Love Story!! vol. 5 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

2. The Demon Prince of Momochi House by Aya Shouoto

3. Citrus* vols. 1-2 by Saburota

4. Rin-Ne vol. 18 by Rumiko Takahashi

5. Ajin: Demi-Human* by Gamon Sakurai and Tsuina Miura



2015 tally so far: 51 volumes of manga and 12 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. The Good Lie:  A group of Sudanese refugees win a resettlement lottery at their camp and are sent to live in the US, where they experience severe culture shock and try to come to grips with their past.  It's not a must see or anything, but it features good performances (including Reese Witherspoon as a prickly job counselor) and it's very touching.   

2. Jupiter Ascending:  Jupiter discovers that she's actually an intergalactic heiress, and she tries to protect Earth from evil forces.  Beautiful eye candy, but the story is convoluted, Eddie Redmayne (yes, the winner of the 2015 Best Actor Oscar!) is cringeworthy, and Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum have zero chemistry together.  And I really like both of them, so this isn't haterade.

3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion*:  This movie picks up where the anime series ended, so I can't really review it properly without spoilers.  I'll just say that the animation is absolutely gorgeous (more than once, G-Vo and I made appreciative noises; it really is some of the most unusual animation I've seen, Japanese or otherwise), and if you liked the series, you need to see this.  As of this writing, it's available on Netflix streaming, along with the full series and the other two movies (which are just the series in condensed form, so if you've seen the series, you don't need to see Beginnings and Eternal and vice versa). 

4. Focus*:  Nicky (Will Smith) is an accomplished con man who reluctantly takes on a gorgeous protegee (Margot Robbie), but their mutual attraction starts to complicate their mission.  Very fun and clever.

5. St. Vincent:  Vincent (Bill Murray) is a grouchy old asshole who's none too thrilled when single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son Oliver move in next door.  When Maggie becomes desperate for a babysitter, Vincent agrees to take on the job.  It's predictable as hell; of course Vincent and Oliver become BFFs and Important Life Lessons are learned.  But it's decent enough.

6. While We're Young:  Cornelia and Josh (Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller) feel like they can't relate to their friends anymore.  Then they meet a younger couple named Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who shake up their lives in both good and bad ways.  There's a great scene where shots of Cornelia and Josh using their Kindles and watching TV on their iPhones are interspersed with shots of Jamie and Darby watching a VHS movie and reading books, which was an interesting contrast, but overall this is a mildly entertaining indie with not much to really recommend it.

7. Kingsman: The Secret Service*:  Eggsy's father was killed in action while serving in an elite spy organization, and when Eggsy gets into trouble as a teenager, debonair Harry Hart (Colin Firth, obviously enjoying himself immensely) steps in and recruits him.  I had high hopes for this movie because, like Kick-Ass, it was based on a Mark Millar graphic novel and directed by Matthew Vaughn.  While it's nowhere near as good as Kick-Ass, it's funny and has some deliriously over the top action, so I still really liked it.

8. Maggie:  The title teenager (Abigail Breslin) is slowly succumbing to the "necroambulatory virus" after being bitten.  Despite everyone telling her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger, surprisingly low-key) that he should turn her in for quarantine, he insists on caring for her at home.  It's more of a terminal illness story than a straight up zombie movie; think The Fault in Our Stars meets The Walking Dead.  But despite good performances, it falls flat because it never makes us really care about the characters and the ending blew.

9. The Town That Dreaded Sundown:  65 years ago, a masked murderer terrorized the small town of Texarkana and then mysteriously disappeared.  But as a local drive-in commemorates the event with a showing of (meta alert!) The Town That Dreaded Sundown, 70s version, he reappears and stabs a teenage boy to death while his horrified girlfriend watches.  The killer's attacks continue as the community scrambles to figure out his identity.  Most notable for featuring the ugliest dress I have ever seen in my entire life (an orange monstrosity with GOLD FRINGED SLEEVES) and death by trombone stabbing, which was as stupid as it sounds.  Skip it.

10. Cake*:  After a car accident which killed her young son and left her in severe chronic pain, Claire becomes obsessed with a woman in her support group who killed herself.  Jennifer Aniston was excellent as Claire, and deserved the acclaim she received, but I thought Adriana Barraza as her overwhelmed housekeeper was just as good. 

11. Inside Out*:  Riley's life is turned upside down when her family moves to San Francisco, and her anthropomorphized emotions battle for control.  A surprisingly honest look at the feelings of an adolescent girl, with plenty of humor as well (including a very sly joke about bears), and since this is a Pixar movie, you better have tissues handy. 

Side note:  G-Vo and I saw a 9:30PM showing of this, and when a group of teenage boys sat down behind us, we braced ourselves for 90 minutes of "this is stupid" and popcorn throwing.  To our surprise, they not only kept quiet throughout, but there was audible sniffling behind us during a key scene.  It was incredibly refreshing.

12. The Wedding Ringer:  Doug is about to marry the woman of his dreams, but there's just one catch: he doesn't have any friends.  He hires a guy who specializes in being a professional best man, along with a motley crew of dudes to serve as groomsmen, and complications ensue.  Much funnier than I was anticipating.

13. Trainwreck*:  Thanks to her philandering father, Amy (Amy Schumer) never thought monogamy was a good idea.  But when she meets a genuinely nice guy, she wonders if she can change her ways.  Like all Judd Apatow movies, it's at least 20 minutes too long, but it's also very funny and surprisingly touching in parts.

14. The Lazarus Effect:  A group of medical researchers discovers a serum that can bring the dead back to life.  Are there side effects?  Duh.  Was this movie lame?  Duh 2: Electric Boogaloo.

15. Ex Machina*:  Caleb works as a programmer for Bluenote, a wildly successful search engine.  He's chosen to visit the secluded estate of his boss and evaluate the A.I. capabilities of Ava, a beautiful robot, and see if she can pass the Turing test.  At no point was I able to predict what was going to happen, which was a rare treat.  Clever and thought-provoking.

2015 tally so far:  63


ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Assassin" (Grand Omega Bosses edit) by Muse

2. "Gimme Chocolate!" by Babymetal

3. "Megitsune" by Babymetal

4. "Real Existence" by Band-Maid

5. "Prince Johnny" by St. Vincent

6. "I Prefer Your Love" by St. Vincent

7. "Nippon Manju" by Ladybaby:  This is an odd song performed by two Japanese girls (literally; one of them is 14) and a crossdressing Australian wrestler.  Really!  Check out the YouTube video if you haven't had enough weirdness in your life recently.

8. "Madness" by Muse

9. "Birth in Reverse" by St. Vincent


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

media update: June

Bleh.  Remember how April was really crappy?  And then May lured me into a false sense of security by being decent?  June wasn't as bad as April, but it still sucked.  In chronological order:  my laptop began acting the fool after a Windows update, which led to lots and lots of hair pulling (it's better than it was, but still has bouts of being a prick); my new supervisor fucked me out of an amazing opportunity and was just useless in general; and an old friend of mine (J) got seriously hurt.  She fell down the stairs and hit her back against the handrail in such a way that it broke a vertebrae and ruptured several discs.  J didn't realize just how bad it was until a couple of weeks after the incident, when she began experiencing excruciating pain and had to be rushed into emergency surgery.  The last I heard, she was out of the hospital but not doing very well physically or (understandably) emotionally.  J is one of the kindest people I've ever met (top 5 easy) and gave me some incredibly invaluable advice during the early days of my relationship with G-Vo, so this fucking blows.  I'm an atheist, but I've been praying (in the general, "good energy out into the universe" kind of way) every night for her recovery.

Not too many movies on the list this month, as G-Vo and I binge watched My Mental Choices Are Completely Interfering with My School Romantic Comedy! (a very funny anime that is usually referred to as NouCome, a shortened version of its Japanese title, for obvious reasons) and finished up season 3 of Homeland.  On my own, I finally got through season 2 of Orange Is the New Black and went through a long losing streak of Netflix discs that didn't pass the 20-minute test, but at least I got a lot of reading done!

Asterisks denote something that I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme. Your mileage, as ever, may vary.


FICTION

1. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir:  After Laia's grandparents are murdered and her brother is arrested for treason, she vows to do everything she can to save him.  She agrees to be sold into slavery in order to spy on the Commandant, but she's not prepared to fall in love with the Commandant's son.  I think my expectations for this book were way too high, because I thought I was going to love it.  It's much better written than 95% of YA fiction, but I never felt emotionally involved.  I think it would make a great movie, though, and I hope they get Tilda Swinton to play the Commandant.

2. Finders Keepers by Stephen King:  Reclusive author John Rothstein is murdered, and the assailants steal his money and a stack of notebooks containing his unpublished work.  Morris Bellamy kills his co-conspirators and buries the money and notebooks in a trunk, but then he's arrested and sent to prison for a different crime.  When Bellamy is finally released, he goes to dig up the trunk...and discovers that someone else has gotten to it first.  He is, to put it mildly, very unhappy, and he sets out to find and punish the perpetrator.   

Stephen King is my favorite author, and has been for the vast majority of my life, but to be honest, this book was pretty disappointing.  If it had been written by anyone else, I doubt I would have finished it.

3. Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant:  TV host Gaby Mortimer is taking an early morning jog when she discovers the dead body of a young woman.  She reports it to the police, but an impulsive action she takes before doing so comes back to bite her in the ass in a big way.  I liked it fine, but the ending was a colossal cheat.

4. I Take You* by Eliza Kennedy:  Lily's fiance Will is a handsome archeologist who's also great in bed, but Lily just can't stop cheating on him.  When they go to Key West for the wedding, her unusual family and his scheming mother make things even more complicated.  Much smarter and snarkier than your average chick lit novel, and there are several lines that made me laugh out loud.  It would make a GREAT movie.

5. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer:  Matthew has never been the same after the death of his brother Simon.  Deep in the throes of schizophrenia, he thinks Simon has come back.  Another one of those novels that got hyped up so much that I was sure I would love it, but I merely liked it.  You'd think I would have learned by now!

6. Faces of the Dead by Suzanne Weyn:  Marie-Therese is the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  She lives a pampered life at Versailles, but she wants to know more about the real world, so she disguises herself as her friend Ernestine and sneaks out to explore Paris.  When the revolution breaks out, she goes into hiding.  This was marketed as YA, but the reading level is lower than that.  I only finished it because I was very hard up for reading material at the time.

7. A Court of Thorns and Roses* by Sarah J. Maas:  While out hunting, Feyre kills a wolf, but it turns out to be a faerie in disguise.  A beast comes to her house and demands that she accompany him to the faerie kingdom of Prythian as payment for killing his friend.  When she gets to Prythian, her captor reveals himself as a very hot faerie named Tamlin.  Feyre initially chafes against her captivity, but begins to fall in love with Tamlin, which is not such a great idea when Prythian is about to go to war.  A delightful diversion, and surprisingly spicy for a YA novel.  One quibble, though:  if faeries are so dangerous and feared by everyone, why did Feyre's parents give her a name that sounds so much like "faerie"?

8. The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremaine:  Sarah is still reeling after the accidental death of her daughter Lydia.  She and her husband, along with Lydia's identical twin sister Kirstie, decide to move to a tiny Scottish island he inherited in hopes that a change of scenery will help them heal.  But Kirstie begins to claim that she's actually Lydia, and that Kirstie is the one who died in the accident, and Sarah begins to wonder if it's true.  It was okay; the premise was much better than the execution.

9. A Good Killing by Allison Leotta:  After her sister Jody is accused of murdering a beloved high school coach, federal prosecutor Anna returns to their hometown to prove Jody's innocence.  But as Anna investigates, she uncovers ugly secrets that throw everything she thought she knew into question.  Occasionally a bit melodramatic, but I liked it.

10. Freedom's Child* by Jax Miller:  After spending two years in jail for the murder of her husband, Freedom Oliver is living in the witness protection program to hide from her husband's insane family.  When she learns that the daughter she gave up for adoption is missing, Freedom steals a gun and a motorcycle and heads out to find Rebekah.  It reads like early Lehane, and it's damn good.  

2015 tally so far: 43

NONFICTION

1. Visiting Hours by Amy Butcher: When the author was in college, her friend Kevin stabbed his girlfriend Emily to death.  In this memoir, she tries to make sense of the tragedy and deal with how it affected every aspect of her life.  Decent, but it kind of bothered me how she made everything about her and not, you know, the actual victim.   

2. The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron:  This batch of humorous essays is nowhere near as good as Barron's previous book, People Are Unappealing: Even Me, which is similar in theme but much funnier.  Try that one instead.

2015 tally so far: 11


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. The Walking Dead vol. 23 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

2. Say I Love You vols. 7-8 by Kanae Hazuki

3. Southern Bastards vols. 1-2 by Jason Aaron and Jason LaTour

4. Food Wars!* vol. 6 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

5. Kamisama Kiss vol. 18 by Julietta Suzuki


2015 tally so far: 45 volumes of manga and 12 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. Batman vs. Robin:  Batman finds himself at odds with the Court of Owls and his son Damien (aka Robin).  Terrible character designs, and why they had Kevin Conroy voice Thomas Wayne and not Batman is beyond me, but there were some great action sequences.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey:  A young nun (Dakota Johnson) begins to question her commitment to the church.  When she's sent on a mission to Rwanda to help war orphans, she rediscovers her faith and finds a new purpose in life.

...JK LOLing y'all know exactly what this movie is about.  The books were garbage, and the movie is also garbage.  G-Vo and I had to stop halfway through for shots of Jagermeister and whipped cream vodka in order to make it through the rest.  There were a couple of hot moments, but overall this was dreadful.  And Jamie Dornan was terrible, which I wasn't expecting because he was so good in The Fall (the British miniseries, not my beloved Lee Pace movie).  Even though Charlie Hunnam didn't really match up with the physical description of Christian, I think he would have been a much better choice.

3. Chappie:  A scrapped police robot is rescued from the junk pile and given sentience by his creator.  Chappie winds up falling into the hands of a gang who want to use him in their heists.  It's not great, but it isn't bad either, and Chappie himself is very endearing.  (I particularly loved how his "ears" would flatten against his head when he was sad or scared, just like a dog.)

4. About Time*:  When Tim turns 21, his father lets him in on a little secret:  all of the men in their family can travel back in time, but only to their own past.  Of course, Tim doesn't believe him, but he tries anyway and is astonished to find out that it's true.  When he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams, starring in her second time travel romance after The Time Traveler's Wife), the woman of his dreams, he uses this ability to "fine tune" their relationship.  You have to ignore the loopholes/logistics of any movie involving time travel, and this is no exception, but that's fine because it's such a lovely, charming, sweet movie.  Tissues are mandatory. 

2015 tally so far:  48

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. Crazy for You (full album) by Best Coast

2. "Embrace That Sky" (Kimagure Orange Road OST)

3. "Thrill" by Band-Maid:  This is an awesome song by an all-female Japanese heavy metal band.  They dress in adorable maid costumes, but they really don't need the gimmickry because they're actually really good.  Give this a whirl on YouTube and see if you don't agree.

4. Drones (full album) by Muse



VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH





In this PS4 exclusive, London is being terrorized by werewolves and anti-government rebels.  Fortunately, the Order isn't taking this shit lightly.  The men and women who belong to the Order are sworn to protect the city, and armed with a magical healing potion called Blackwater and weapons crafted by Nikola Tesla himself, they take up arms and try to clean up the streets and unravel a conspiracy.


ALL SORTED

  • First and foremost, this game is GORGEOUS.  It's one of the most visually stunning games I've ever played. The facial animations are terrific, and the backdrops are beautiful.
  • Excellent voice acting.
  • I really liked the characters, especially protagonist Galahad and his fellow knights, Lady Igraine and Sir Lafayette.  Oh my god did I have a crush on Lafayette.  At one point, when he was acting particularly sexy and French, I squealed "Laffy-kun, daisuki!", which G-Vo really enjoyed.  (no he didn't)
  • The gunfights were challenging without being rip-your-hair-out obnoxious.
  • This is the first video game I've ever played with full frontal male nudity, which I appreciated because I want dong equality in my video games.  True, none of the dongs belonged to people I particularly WANTED to see naked, but I certainly appreciated the effort.  I can only hope that the sequel, if there is one, features a scene with Lafayette unlacing his trousers and purring, "Mademoiselle, voici mon dong."  I will buy it immediately.

OUT OF ORDER

  • This game is SHORT.  I think it took us a little under 10 hours to finish, and there's no replay value, so once you're done, you're done.  One of the biggest criticisms of this game was its length, and I can see why; who wants to pay $60 for such a short game?
  • Because the characters alternate between their real names and their Order names, I sometimes got confused who the hell people were talking about.
  • The werewolves actually don't factor all that heavily into the story, which was disappointing because they were one of the things I was most looking forward to.
  • It's like playing a movie, which is great as far as visuals go, but not so much as far as the gameplay is concerned.  I like a bit more gaming in, y'know, my video games.  I know this sounds a bit rich coming from someone whose second favorite video game of all time is Heavy Rain, but Heavy Rain had a LOT more actual gameplay in it, and much more replay value thanks to its multiple endings.
Overall, I think much of the criticism of this game was warranted, but I disagree with the people who said The Order: 1886 wasn't worth playing at all.  I wouldn't recommend buying it unless you can get it REALLY cheap, but if you have a Redbox in your area or a Gamefly account, it's definitely worth playing.  I give it 7 lycan menaces out of 10.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

media update: May

I got a metric fuckton of reading done this month due to bouts of crappy weather, 2 doctor's visits, 2 trips to the mechanic (one for basic maintenance and then another because they forgot to reset my TPMS; yeah, wasn't too happy about that), Memorial Day weekend, a week without G-Vo (he went to Florida for his nephew's graduation, but unfortunately I didn't have enough vacation time to join him), AND a couple of books (6, 7, and 10 on the fiction list) that were so damn good I didn't bother to do anything else but read during my leisure time.

No video game review this month, although G-Vo and I did play P.T., the teaser game for the now aborted (GODDAMN IT) Silent Hill game.  Sony pulled it from the Playstation store, but fortunately I had advance notice thanks to Kotaku and we were able to get it before it was gone.  Usually first person games make me nauseated, but I wanted to at least try, since P.T. would be the closest thing I'd get to a new Silent Hill game for a long, long time...if ever.  (EVERYTHING IS AWFUL)  Astoundingly enough, it didn't make me sick, probably because there wasn't that much action.  But what it lacked in action, it more than made up for in sheer, nerve-wrenching creepiness.  It was the first game I've played since Dead Space 2 that made me pause at one point and say "I don't know if I can finish this because I am sincerely freaking the fuck out right now."  If P.T. was any indication of what the new Silent Hill was (FUCK YOU, "WAS") going to be like, then we missed out on something truly special, my friends. 

Asterisks denote something that I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme. Your mileage, as ever, may vary.


FICTION

1. The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury:  Twylla is engaged to a prince and lives in a castle, but her life is far from idyllic: as the embodiment of a goddess, she instantly kills anyone she touches, save for the royal family, and serves as their executioner.  But when a new guard befriends her, Twylla dares to hope for a different life.  It's similar to the His Fair Assassin series by Robyn LaFevre, although it's nowhere near as good as that series.  I liked it fine and will read the inevitable sequel, but won't rush to get it or anything.

2. Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway:  Hanna's daughter Dawn has always been very awkward, so when Dawn brings a handsome new boyfriend to her sister's wedding, Hanna is thrilled.  But Rud seems to have a dark side, and when Hanna and her husband Joe are brutally attacked in their home, Rud is tried and convicted of the crime.  Hanna can't remember what exactly happened that night due to the severe head injury she'd suffered, so when Rud files an appeal, she tries to figure it out in hopes of keeping him in jail.  The title is absolutely dreadful (though it's explained in the book), but it's a decent little mystery.

3. Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler:  Miranda Miller is a stage mother who's obsessed with child beauty pageants; her daughter Bailey is sick of being her mother's personal doll, and she secretly binge eats in hopes of getting too fat to compete.  But Miranda's pregnant, and if Bailey won't perform to her expectations, she's going to pin all of her hopes on the new baby.  The world of child beauty pageants is ripe for a good satire, but this ain't it.  There are some funny lines and moments, but the writing is very stilted and there's not a sympathetic character in the bunch, which always makes it much harder for me to enjoy something.

4. Dirty Rush by Taylor Bell:  The protagonist of this novel, also named Taylor Bell, comes from a long line of sorority sisters, so she reluctantly pledges Beta Zeta and is surprised to find herself enjoying the experience.  Her decision comes back to bite her in the ass when all sorts of nasty drama unfolds.  It was very similar to Pretty Ugly in that it looks at a world that's ripe for satire, but just about everybody in it is such a bitch/asshole that I kept hoping for a fatal frat party fire.

5. The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons:  In this dystopian YA novel (yup, another one), women are treated as chattel to be bought and sold.  Aya has managed to hide out in the wilderness with her family, but she's captured and taken to a facility to be sold at auction.  But she keeps acting out so nobody will buy her, and when she's chained up in the solitary yard, she meets a young man who might be her ticket out.  It was okay.

6. Luckiest Girl Alive** by Jessica Knoll:  When she was a teenager at an elite prep school, something very bad happened to TifAni FaNelli (yes, that's how it's spelled).  She reinvents herself as Ani and lands herself a terrific job and a gorgeous fiance, but the past keeps threatening to destroy everything.  It's so good (there's one chapter where I basically forgot to breathe, and I'm not exaggerating; I don't remember the last time a book made me that tense) that I'm giving it one of my rare double star ratings, even though the ending was confusing and a bit unsatisfying.  Still, if you're looking for a compelling read that you'll probably tear through in record time, look no further.  It's the best book I've read so far this year.

Side note:  if you read this, I'd very much welcome your thoughts on the ending.

7. Oh! You Pretty Things* by Shanna Mahin:  Bored barista Jess jumps at the chance to work for an Oscar winning composer.  She thinks she's got it made, but the job isn't as cushy as it initially seems, so she quits to work for an actress instead.  Things are looking pretty good until her estranged mother decides to pay an extended visit.  Sharply drawn and very funny.

8. Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight:  The discovery of a dead baby girl in the woods shocks a small college town to its core.  Still grieving the loss of her own baby, journalist Molly Sanderson is assigned to cover the story, but she uncovers a bigger one in the process.  If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because last month I reviewed another book with similar themes.  But The Unraveling of Mercy Louis was excellent; this one was merely good.

9. Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel:  After the death of her best friend Joyce, Rebecca becomes the legal guardian of Joyce's daughter Callie.  When Callie gets in trouble at school for bullying, Rebecca refuses to believe Callie could be capable of such a thing, but there's more to the story than she realizes.  Drags a bit in spots, but the descriptions of bullying are so vivid they practically gave me PTSD.  God, I'm glad the internet didn't exist when I was a kid.

10. All the Rage* by Courtney Summers:  Romy was sexually assaulted by the son of the town sheriff, and nobody believed her.  She drags herself through life in a daze, but when a classmate goes missing, she thinks it may be connected to her assailant, and she has to decide whether she can continue to keep silent.  A really powerful, beautifully written, searing indictment of rape culture.

11. Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton:  At an elite ballet school, three dancers will do absolutely anything to get to the top and stay there.  It's like a cross between Black Swan and a well written soap opera, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but it ends on such a weird note that I'm wondering if it's the first in a series.

12. The Blondes* by Emily Schultz:  When Hazel Hayes learns she's pregnant with the child of her married professor, she thinks things can't possibly get worse.  Then a rabies-like disease starts affecting blonde women and turning them into violent killers, and the world is plunged into panic.  A nice creepy read with a wide streak of black humor.  My only real complaint is that the disease affects not just natural blondes, but women who have dyed their hair, which didn't make sense to me.  I thought it would have been more interesting to have blonde women dyeing their hair in order to "pass", so you never really knew who to trust, thereby amping up the paranoia.

2015 tally so far: 33

NONFICTION

1. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip* by Kevin Brockmeier:  In third person, the author remembers his experiences in seventh grade, from friends who inexplicably turn against him to booby trapping his lunch to catch a sandwich thief.  I think pretty much anyone could relate to this book, but especially if you came of age in the 80s.

2. Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren:  After a tumultuous life that included drug addiction and a stint as a member of the Prince of Brunei's harem, the author finally got sober and settled down.  She and her husband adopted a little boy from Ethiopia, but they weren't prepared for the challenges parenthood had in store for them.  It's much less saccharine (as in not at all) as other parenting memoirs and fairly interesting.

3. The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield:  The title pretty much sums this memoir up.  It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be.  Read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel or Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway instead.

2015 tally so far: 9


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

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

2. Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver

3. Secret by Yoshiki Tonogai

4. Spell of Desire vol. 4 by Tomu Ohmi

5. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!** vol. 7 by Nico Tanigawa

6. Black Rose Alice vol. 4 by Setona Mizushiro

7. Fables vol. 21 by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham

8. Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol. 4 by Naoki Serizawa

9. Attack on Titan: Junior High* vol. 3 by Saki Nakagawa

2015 tally so far: 41 volumes of manga and 9 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. The Equalizer:  Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is an unassuming man who works at a home improvement store.  He has trouble sleeping, so he often spends his nights reading in a nearby diner.  He befriends a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) who hangs out there, and when she's brutally beaten by her pimp, he takes revenge...which doesn't go over so well with the Russian mob.  It's a pretty standard vigilante thriller, but enjoyable enough.

2. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis:  The queen of Atlantis is searching for her firstborn son Arthur (aka Aquaman), who's currently living on Earth.  But when the queen is killed, Aquaman teams up with the Justice League to find the murderer and prevent a war.   It's decent, and Nathan Fillion steals the show as Green Lantern.

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron*:  Tony Stark tries to create a new peacekeeping computer program, but when it gains sentience and decides to wipe out humanity, the Avengers team up to take it down.  I wasn't thrilled with the rape joke and a conversation about Black Widow's past that really needed to be phrased differently so as not to be hideously offensive, but it was still a very fun popcorn movie with exciting action and tons of delectable man candy.

4. Taken 3:  When Bryan Mills is framed for murder, he goes on the lam while trying to prove his innocence.  The first two movies were fun, and you know I love me some Liam Neeson, but this was really bad.  The dialogue sounded like it had been poorly translated from another language, and the action wasn't even all that good.

5. Wild Card*:  After a friend of his is raped and beaten, Nick (Jason Statham) helps her get revenge, but doing so puts him in the crosshairs of the mob.  We didn't have high hopes for this movie because it was straight to DVD, but it was actually really good!  William Goldman wrote the script, so it was much smarter than your average action movie, and the fighting scenes, though few and far between, were great.

6. Wild*:  Completely unmoored after her mother's death, Cheryl Strayed (an excellent Reese Witherspoon) decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself.  I loved the memoir, and the film adaptation did it justice.

2015 tally so far:  44

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Cat Burglar" by Flesh for Lulu

2. "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison

3. "(Don't Put Another Dime in the) Jukebox" by The Flirts

4. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" by The Platters

5. "Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones

6. "Sweet Talkin' Woman" by ELO

7. "Motto HOT!" by Chubbiness

8. "Opening Theme from Nurse Angel Ririka"

9. "Plowed" by Sponge

10. "Reapers" by Muse

11. "Girl You Don't Need Makeup" (One Direction parody from Inside Amy Schumer)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

media upate: April

Hoo boy, folks, April was a real sticky turd of a month.  My brother spent four days in the hospital, and although I don't want to share the details because they're not mine TO share, I will say that he's better now. Shortly after that crisis passed, the Baltimore riots broke out, and we spent a tense couple of hours trying to find out if my stepsister and her family were safe; they basically live in the center of all the action. Fortunately, they're all okay.  I'm not close to my stepsiblings---I've only met them once, at my dad's wedding---but obviously I don't want anything bad to happen to them, especially my stepnephew (is that a word?) because my dad is so head over heels in love with that kid that I don't think he would ever recover.  I'm grateful that he gets to experience being a grandparent; god knows he ain't getting no babies from me!

And on a much less important, but still sad, note: the next Silent Hill game has been cancelled. Obviously, it's not a tragedy of epic proportions or anything, but that series has been an important part of my life for 16 years (!!!) and I was really looking forward to that game, especially after Guillermo del Toro and Norman Reedus got involved.  Sigh.

Asterisks denote something that I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme. Your mileage, as ever, may vary.

FICTION

1. Delicious Foods* by James Hannaham:  After her husband is murdered, Darlene falls into a deep depression that she alleviates with crack.  One night, she is lured into a bus with promises of a better life working on a farm called Delicious Foods.  But it's not remotely what it seems, and when she fails to come home, her young son Eddie goes looking for her.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel, because I thought (and still do) the title sucked and the fact that crack cocaine narrates some of the chapters was goofy, but I gave it a try because of the reviews, and I'm glad I did.  It's brutal but beautifully written, my heart never stopped breaking for Darlene and Eddie, and the chapters narrated by crack are actually some of the best in the book. 

2.  Dark Rooms* by Lili Anolik:  When her 16-year-old sister Nica is murdered, Grace's entire family falls apart.  A fellow classmate commits suicide, and his note seems to confess to the crime, but Grace isn't convinced, and she tries to solve the murder herself.  There are a couple of things that happen in this book that really, and I mean REALLY, pissed me off, but overall it was a very gripping read, so I'm still giving it a star.

3. Half Wild by Sally Green:  This is a direct sequel to Half Bad, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  I liked it more than the first book, largely because of [assorted spoilers].

4. The Unraveling of Mercy Louis* by Keija Parssinen:  The small Texas town of Port Sabine has never been the same since a refinery explosion killed dozens of people and wounded many others, and things get even worse when a dead baby is discovered in a dumpster, throwing all of the girls in town under suspicion.  Mercy Louis, the high school basketball star, falls mysteriously ill, and soon many of her classmates start getting sick too...just as Mercy's strict evangelical grandmother prophesied.  It's haunting, and I can't sum it up any better than this blurb on the back cover:  "[It's] a pitch perfect look at where we so often go wrong in raising our girls: using religion as a weapon against female desire."

5. The Fire Sermon* by Francesca Haig:  Four hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, children are only born in pairs.  One twin, the Alpha, is always perfect; the "Omega" twin always has a deformity.  Omegas are branded when young and sent away to refuges or orphanages.  The Alphas want to get rid of the Omegas, but there's a catch: when one twin dies, the other immediately follows.  It's the first in a trilogy (but it's not YA, believe it or not), which is good because I want more.

6. Burning Kingdoms by Lauren DeStefano:  This is the second book in the Internment Chronicles trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  I didn't much care for the first book, but decided to stick with the trilogy since I loved the Chemical Gardens series so much.  Yeah, um, regretting that decision a bit.  I doubt I'll read the final volume, or at most, I'll skim it to see what happens.


2015 tally so far: 21


NONFICTION

1. Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America* by Linda Tirado:  The author discusses living in poverty and rails against a system that seems to keep people there.  Blisteringly funny and all too true.  My family was seriously broke when I was little---I remember my mom trying to split a box of macaroni and cheese (and not a big box, either) and a can of tuna among four people---so this hit pretty close to home for me.


2015 tally so far: 6


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Kamisama Kiss vol. 17 by Julietta Suzuki

2. Honey Blood vol. 2 (final volume) by Miko Mitsuki

3. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 7 by Fumi Yoshinaga

4. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 4 by Satoshi Shiki and Ryo Suzuki

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

6. Outcast by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta

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

8. Black Rose Alice vol. 3 by Setona Mizushiro

9. Rin-Ne vol. 17 by Rumiko Takahashi

10. Library Wars vol. 13 by Kiiro Yumi

11. Judge vol. 6 (final volume) by Yoshiki Tonogai

12. Love at Fourteen by Fuka Mizutani


2015 tally so far: 34 volumes of manga and 7 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. It Follows*:  After a sexual encounter turns seriously weird, Jay finds out that she's being stalked by murderous apparitions that nobody else can see.  It's incredibly creepy, and some moments had me white knuckling the armrest in the theater.  It's also more clever than the typical horror movie, and led to some spirited discussions between us about how we would try to outsmart It.

2. Interstellar:  Earth is falling apart thanks to drought and famine, so a group of explorers heads off to space in search of a new planet that can sustain human life.  I can see why a lot of people thought the ending was an eyeroller, but it was still pretty good.

3. Starlet:  Twentysomething Jane buys a thermos from a cranky old lady at a garage sale.  When she takes the thermos home, she discovers several thick rolls of money at the bottom.  While deciding what to do with the cash, she eventually strikes up a friendship with the old woman.  Like someone on IMDB said, it's basically Harold and Maude with the genders reversed, and although it's not as good as that classic, it's better than I expected.  Warning: it includes an uncensored porno scene, with full penetration, in the middle.  I don't have a problem with porn, but there was absolutely no reason for it to be included; it was completely gratuitous. 

4. Horrible Bosses 2:  Buddies Nick, Dale, and Kurt come up with an ingenious new product, but when an investor rips them off, they decide to kidnap the investor's son and hold him for ransom.  The first movie was better, but this was still pretty funny.

5. Maps to the Stars:  Havana Segrand is a fading star who wants to remake the movie that made her mother a legend.  While she tries to land the role, she hires a "chore whore" named Agatha to help her out with assorted tasks, but Agatha has some dark secrets.  Depressing as hell, but Julianne Moore is excellent as Havana.

6. The Babadook*:  Amelia is a single mother stretched to her limit, worn down by grief over her dead husband.  One night she reads her son Sam a book called Mister Babadook, and Sam claims that the monster in the book is now in their house.  Amelia doesn't believe Sam; big mistake.  It's an almost painfully intense movie, and I liked it much better after reading the IMDB boards, because it helped clarify a few things that weren't obvious upon first viewing.

7. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies*:  This is the final movie in the trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  To be honest, the Hobbit movies have been a bit of a letdown after the magnificent Lord of the Rings series, but I'm still giving this a star on account of some fun action scenes, Legolas, and fuckin' Thranduil riding a goddamn MOOSE y'all.

8. Big Eyes:  This biopic tells the story of Margaret Keane, whose enormous eyed waifs (think anime on drugs) took the 1960s art scene by storm.  Just one problem: her husband Walter took all the credit for her work.  It's not bad, but someone on Netflix put it perfectly when they said it was basically a Lifetime movie with better production values.  And much to my shock, Christoph Waltz was really bad as Walter!  I usually think he can do no wrong, but he was so hammy that it was painful to watch.


2015 tally so far: 38

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Dick of Death" by Pansy Division

2. "Beercan Boy" by Pansy Division

3. "Bill and Ted's Excellent Homosexual Adventure" by Pansy Division

4. "Jack You Off" by Pansy Division

5. "Dead Inside" by Muse

6. "Psycho" by Muse

7. "Soul Love" by David Bowie


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH



(NOTE: this review does not cover the bonus chapters "The Struggle" and "Little Miss".)

Unless you just now discovered my blog, you know that I've been a fan of Resident Evil from the very first game, so a new installment in the series is always a treat.  I was even more excited when I found out that Claire Redfield, the star of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica, was one of the protagonists.  She was my favorite female video game character of all time until Ellie from The Last of Us came along, so I was looking forward to seeing her again.

In Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Claire has followed in the footsteps of her hunky big brother Chris and dedicated her life to preventing bioterrorism around the world.  She's at a company event with Moira Burton, the estranged daughter of Barry (from the first RE game), when the party is crashed by terrorists.  Claire and Moira are kidnapped and taken to an island watched over by a mysterious woman.  Of course, this wouldn't be a Resident Evil game without lots of monsters and zombies complicating matters further.  Moira manages to send an SOS to her father, but due to technological snafus, he doesn't get the message until 6 months later.  But Barry refuses to give up hope, so he heads to the island to rescue her and Claire.  When he arrives, he finds a little girl named Natalia, and she joins him on his quest.

THE GOOD

  • Excellent couch co-op.  It's rare to find a game that G-Vo and I can actually play together, as opposed to taking turns, so it was a lot of fun being able to fight alongside each other.
  • As I mentioned, it was great seeing Claire again.  She's grown up a lot, but she's still a complete badass.
  • Moira's a new addition to the series, and she is AWESOME!  She gets most of the best lines.  Speaking of which...
  • ...there are several sly winks and nods to some of the series' goofiest moments.  Even the most ardent Resident Evil fan has to admit the dialogue hasn't always been the best (like the infamous "master of unlocking" conversation from the first game), so it's nice to see that they're able to poke fun at themselves.
  • The graphics were pretty good for a port of a downloadable game.
  • There is a REALLY creepy area that made me nervous as hell.
  • So much action oh my god.  I was completely out of ammo at one point and managed to take down two particularly nasty enemies using only a crowbar.  Did I feel like a fucking boss?  Spoiler alert: yes.  Yes, I did.
  • Good voice acting has never been a hallmark of Resident Evil games, but it's surprisingly decent in this one, and Moira is just flat out good. 
  • If you ship a particular Resident Evil couple, you will be overjoyed by one of the unlockable emails and a little bit of dialogue near the end.
  • The relationships in this game are great.  Claire and Moira are a terrific team, and Barry and Natalia have a very sweet "father/daughter" dynamic.

THE EVIL

  • A couple of unfair fights.
  • The split screen aspect was tiny and cut out a lot of detail.
  • Those enemies that spit gunk in your face and make it impossible to see can fuck right the hell off.
  • The puzzles could have used a lot more variety.
  • In order to get the good ending, you have to do something that's not immediately obvious, especially if you're playing couch co-op.  I inadvertently got spoiled for that moment before I even got the game, which turned out to be a good thing since I was able to alert G-Vo to what he needed to do at that point.  If you want to make sure you get the good ending, and don't mind being spoiled, you'll want to look the conditions up before you play!

All in all, RE:R2 is a very fun game that fans of the series will enjoy a great deal, especially if they're already Claire fangirls/boys.  I give it 7 sparkly objects out of 10.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

cockblocked!

Something very unusual happened at work today, but the story requires a bit of setup, so please indulge me for a moment.

I work for a big company, although I don't want to say who; let's just say you've heard of them if you live in the US or Canada.  Our current office, which we share with two other companies, is located in a very large building that was originally intended to be a mall.  It's situated on several acres of land overlooking one of the busiest freeways in California.  Because it's very close to the high school, we get a lot of teenagers cutting through our parking lot to get to a nearby shopping center, which features many things of great interest to teenagers (and to me):  Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, a movie theater, and several restaurants of both the fast food and sit down variety. 

Now, our parking lot is huge, as you can imagine; one time, out of curiosity, I drove around the perimeter and it wound up being slightly over a mile long.  Weather permitting, I walk the entire parking lot three times a day.  It's nice to get outside and away from the constantly ringing phones and fluorescent lights, and of course, the exercise does me good.  I always take my afternoon break at 3:30, about a half hour after the high school lets out, so sometimes I'll see students cutting through our parking lot to get to the aforementioned shopping center.  To be honest, because I'm old and misanthropic, I always tense up a little when I see them, but they've never given me any problems.

And now to the story at hand.

This afternoon, I was walking around one of the more deserted stretches of the parking lot, where there's a recessed area containing an electrical box.  As I approached, I heard rustling noises, but didn't think much of it because we get a lot of squirrels, birds, and even coyotes roaming our grounds. 

Then...oh god, THEN...

...as I passed by the recessed area, I saw four legs and one pimply teenage boy ass enthusiastically pumping up and down.

Yes, dear reader.  THERE WERE TEENAGERS FUCKING IN THE PARKING LOT WHERE I WORK.

Okay, listen.  You all know/"know" me well enough to know that I'm not some antisex prude, clutching her pearls into a fine dust at the mere thought of teenagers doin' it.  My personal philosophy is this:  whatever two or more consenting adults (or teenagers who are close enough in age to their partner[s] that it's not illegal/creepy) want to do, as long as they're not hurting an animal or having sex with a corpse (not that I'm upset on behalf of the corpse, but on behalf of their loved ones), then you know what?  Knock yourself out.  But I'm sorry, I did NOT consent to viewing a couple of teenagers going at it.  That's just fucking rude...or rude fucking, if you will.

So I went back inside and walked up to the security guard, who was probably about my father's age, and said, "Um, you're not going to believe me, but there are, uh, some teenagers having sex in our parking lot."

"Pardon?"

Oh god.

Blushing furiously, I repeated myself, and he said "Are you sure?"

Dude, I'm [ahem] YEARS OLD and I have Redtube in my browsing history.  Yeah, pretty sure I know what fucking looks like.

"Did you call the police?"

"I didn't have my phone with me," I said, which was true, but also: that's your job, homes!

Sighing heavily, he picked up his phone, and I returned to my desk, where I told my work bestie J what had just happened.

"You should have recorded it on your phone!" she said.

I raised an eyebrow.  "Uh, I've seen SVU, J.  I'm not in the mood for jail, thanks."

Teenagers of [city where I work], I swear I support your right to consensual, safer sex.  Just, you know, maybe find a better place to do it?


Thursday, April 16, 2015

25 things you don't know (or forgot) about me

(Inspired by the Us Weekly feature)

1. My mother played drums.

2. I get my love of reading and cats from her, but I didn't inherit her love of children.  I do have a serious maternal instinct when it comes to animals and people I care about, though.

3. The first movie I can remember seeing was a revival of The Jungle Book.

4. My first pet was a hamster named Pixie, who was a raving bitch.  It might have been hormones, though, because it turned out that she was pregnant when we got her.  We kept one hamster, named Honey Bunny, and returned the rest to the pet shop.

5. My idea of the perfect meal, expensive version:  a kobe beef filet, an enormous mound of mashed potatoes absolutely drenched in butter, a decadent dessert, and Cristal champagne.

6. My idea of the perfect meal, cheap edition:  cheeseburger (ketchup, mustard, and pickles only), a Coke, french fries, and old-fashioned sugar cream pie, which...

7. ...is my absolute all-time favorite food.  Unfortunately, I've only ever seen it in Indiana.  (It's also known as hoosier pie, and is their state pie.)  If it's warmed up just slightly, I swear to god it will make your tastebuds simultaneously orgasm.

8. I have a great fondness for the state of Indiana, and not just because of the pie; my maternal grandparents lived there and I spent a lot of time at their lake house.  The anti-gay legislation going on there right now really pisses me off, though.

9. The three worst things to ever happen to me all happened within three years of each other:  1996, 1997, and 1998.

10. Because I'm such an introvert and spent a LOT of time by myself growing up, I almost never get lonely, but when I do, it's REALLY bad.

11. I recently discovered Broad City and tore through the first season in a matter of days.  The housecleaning scene in the first episode made me laugh so hard I choked.

12. My favorite movie is Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which I saw 3 1/2 times in the theater.  (The half was due to the film breaking at around the 90 minute mark.  We got a refund.)  My second favorite is The Fall, which probably made me cry harder than any movie ever has.

13. My favorite author is Stephen King, and has been for over 30 years.  The Green Mile is one of my ten favorite books of all time.

14. I'm a "late adopter".  It took me forever to get a CD player, a DVD player, a flatscreen TV, and a smart phone.

15. I tend to get along better with men, not out of internalized misogyny, but because my interests were so stereotypically "male" when I was growing up (comic books and video games) that I couldn't really relate to other girls.

16. According to my iTunes, my most played track is "Assassin" by Muse (308 plays).  Speaking of which...

17. ...I would probably consider Muse my favorite band, followed closely by Sparks.

18. I hate Facebook with a passion, and the only FB account I have is used strictly to send and receive Candy Crush lives.  I do not plan to ever have a personal FB account.

19. I love Twitter, though.

20. I record most TV shows and watch them later so I can skip commercials, but the one show I watch live is Hell's Kitchen because I love it so goddamn much.  The next time I go to Vegas, I want to eat at one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants.

21. My most cherished possession is my mom's engagement ring.

22. My favorite website is Jezebel.

23. If I could choose one vacation destination that I haven't been to before, I'd pick Italy.

24. My absolute favorite slash pairing is Nivanfield (Piers Nivans/Chris Redfield from Resident Evil 6).  Just thinking of them makes my toes curl.

25. And speaking of people who make my toes curl, G-Vo is the best thing that's ever happened to me.  Nothing else even comes close.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

media update: March

Asterisks denote something that I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme.  Your mileage, as ever, may vary.

FICTION

1. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh:  In 1989, popular 15-year-old Lindy Simpson is attacked, peeling back the veneer of her idyllic neighborhood to reveal something ugly.  The unnamed narrator, who's in love with Lindy, is briefly a suspect, causing him to grow up quicker than he ever wanted.  It's beautifully written, but something about it bothered me, and I can't put my finger on it.

2. Making Nice by Matt Sumell:  Alby is completely unmoored after his mother's death.  He tries to drown his pain by fighting with his siblings and drinking, but every once in a while, he lets down his guard a little and tries to make a real connection.  Darkly funny and almost unbearably real at times, but I would have liked it more if it had ended a chapter sooner and if Alby wasn't such a prick.

3. The Daughter by Jane Shemilt:  Jenny appears to have it all: a great career, a loving husband, and three accomplished teenagers.  But when her 15-year-old daughter Naomi disappears, Jenny discovers the cracks in the facade of her life.  It was okay.

4. The Winner's Crime* by Marie Rutkoski:  This is the second in a trilogy so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor, but it was really good.


2015 tally so far: 15

NONFICTION

1. Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin:  To keep the author and her brother out of the foster care system, her mother sent them to live with friends who constantly moved them around.  After a tragedy shook her to the core, she turned to food and cooking as a way of comfort and belonging.  It's good, but gets considerably less interesting once her life turns around.  (Though of course I'm glad she's happy now!)

2. It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell:  The author began overeating when she was a kid in order to soothe the pain of a tumultuous family life.  But her habits persisted into adulthood until she decided to lose weight.  Decent enough, and I'm glad to hear that my megacrush Mark Ruffalo is just as nice in real life as he seems.  (She worked as a PA on Shutter Island, and also had good things to say about Leonardo DiCaprio.)


2015 tally so far: 5

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Happy Marriage!? vols. 3-10 (final volume) by Maki Enjoji

2. Say I Love You vol. 6 by Kanae Hazuki

3. Displacement* by Lucy Knisley

4. Honey Blood by Miko Mitsuki

5. Saga** vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

6. Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol. 3 by Naoki Serizawa

7. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 3 by Satoshi Shiki and Ryo Suzuki

8. Sex Criminals* vol. 2 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky


2015 tally so far: 23 volumes of manga and 6 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. A Walk Among the Tombstones:  In this very dark and gritty thriller, private investigator Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) tries to find the psychopaths who are kidnapping, torturing, and killing the wives of local drug dealers.

2. Foxcatcher:  When Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is invited to train at the estate of John du Pont (Steve Carell), he jumps at the opportunity, but it turns out that du Pont's eccentricity hides something darker.  Terrific performances, glacial pace.

3. The Book of Life*:  Manolo and Joaquin are long time friends who are both in love with Maria.  But something happens that I won't spoil, and Manolo has to travel to the land of the dead to make things right again.  This beautifully animated movie was much better than expected.

4. Big Driver:  Mystery writer Tess Thorne (Maria Bello) is driving home on a lonely stretch of road when she runs over debris in the road and gets a flat tire.  She's grateful when a man pulls over to help, but he brutally assaults her and leaves her for dead.  She's much more resilient than he anticipated, though, and she wants revenge.  Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, it's not great, but it has its moments.  Warning: even though this originally aired on basic cable, the rape scene is pretty graphic, so view with caution.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1*:  I can't review this properly lest I spoil its predecessors, so I'll just say that I really enjoyed it.  There was absolutely no reason to split the final book up into two movies, though.  (Well, maybe several hundred million rea$on$.)

6. Nightcrawler**:  Lou Bloom (a magnetically creepy Jake Gyllenhaal) is desperate for work, so when he learns about the lucrative industry of selling footage to the local news, he buys a cheap camcorder and a police scanner and heads out on the streets.  Dark, disturbing, and really goddamn good.

7. Birdman:  Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) is trying to put his most iconic role, a superhero named Birdman, behind him while he works on Broadway, but it's not easy.  Great performances, and it's technically impressive, but it's also pretentious arty bullshit that shouldn't have won best picture, especially when the far superior Nightcrawler didn't even get nominated.

8. Big Hero 6**:  After his microbots are stolen and used for nefarious purposes by a mysterious masked man, teenage prodigy Hiro teams up with an inflatable robot named Baymax and a team of geniuses to save the day.  Beautifully animated, very funny, and full of feels.

9. Dead Rising: Watchtower:  After a bad batch of Zombrex causes formerly infected people to relapse, web reporter Chase Carter tries to escape the city before it's firebombed.  I wasn't expecting much from this movie, but it was surprisingly decent!  It was obviously written by someone familiar with the video games, Rob Riggle is great as Frank West (though I wish he'd gotten a chance to kick some ass), and it has a deliriously sick sight gag that made G-Vo and I gasp and then burst into hysterical laughter.   Obviously it's not a masterpiece, but if you love the video games, you ought to check this out.  It's currently streaming for free on Crackle, but fair warning: you'll have to sit through a shitload of ads.

2015 tally so far: 30

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Dream All Day" by the Posies

2. "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet

3. "I've Been Waiting" by Matthew Sweet

4. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen

5. "Tears" by Health

6. "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" by Sophie B. Hawkins

7. "Jump Around" by House of Pain

8. "Maybe I Know" by Lesley Gore


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH #1



When I heard that Shinji Mikami was working on a new survival horror game, I was overcome with joy.  He's the father of the Resident Evil franchise, and was directly involved with several installments, including what I consider to be the three best RE games (2, Code Veronica, and 4).  In addition, he also worked on Devil May Cry, Shadows of the Damned, and God Hand, so I was expecting pants pissing terror combined with hardcore action.

What I got was, well, a bit of a mess.

Police detective Sebastian Castellanos is called to the scene of a grisly mass murder at the Beacon Mental Hospital.  He's knocked unconscious by a hooded man, and when he wakes up, everything has gone batshit.  The buildings are moving and folding in on themselves like something out of Inception, and worst of all, there are hideous creatures and possessed people wandering around who want nothing more than to grind Sebastian into a pulp.  He has to find his fellow officers, figure out who the hell that man was and what he wants, and stay alive...no easy task, to put it mildly.

WICKEDLY GOOD

  • As you'd expect from a Shinji Mikami game, there are some genuinely frightening moments and monsters in this game.  One creature, a Pyramid Head-like dude called the Keeper, has a safe for a head, which isn't as comical as you might think.  If you damage his body beyond repair, he'll simply rip his own head off and respawn from another safe.  When I entered one area with a lot of safes lying around, I let out a stream of oaths that would make a sailor blush.  And Ruvik (the mysterious hooded man) can kill you just by touching you, so that led to some panicked running down hallways searching for a closet to hide in or a bed to crawl under.  As much as those areas made my heart pound, I enjoyed them because they reminded me of Clock Tower and Haunting Ground.
  • Atmosphere to spare, including some innovative areas.  One section was a maze with a carousel in the middle, and when the carousel started moving, I noticed that there was a giant blade attached to the middle that was now swinging around.  Of course, I didn't notice it until Sebastian's head was on the ground!  And there was one chapter that reminded G-Vo and me of Resident Evil 4, which is about as high a compliment as we can pay a game.
  • Some of the loading screens are really creepy.  A few of them are cliched "lightning flashed and now there are bloody handprints on the window OMG OMG" types of things, but some of them are freaky as fuck, like a room full of mannequins serving up some Maniac realness and a Purge-style mask hanging from a nail.
  • Along the same lines, you'll occasionally find posters that parody existing horror movies, such as The Ring, The Mist, Saw, and even A Serbian Film.  (Pro tip: do not google that if you're not already familiar with it; just the Wikipedia synopsis gave me nightmares, and I'm not kidding.)  And I'm convinced that the nurse in the safe house is an homage to Lisa Garland from the first Silent Hill game.
DEVILISHLY BAD

  • The facial animations aren't great, and for such a high profile game, the voices aren't particularly good either.  Which is surprising, considering they got talent like Jennifer "Deb Morgan" Carpenter. (Jackie Earle Haley as Ruvik and Yuri Lowenthal as Joseph are pretty good, though.)  And one guy sounded EXACTLY like Chris Griffin from Family Guy.
  • I didn't give much of a shit about anyone, which is a fatal flaw for any character driven game but especially a survival horror one.  Obviously not every game can be The Last of Us in this regard, but Sebastian has such a bland personality you'd think Stephenie Meyer created him.  If they'd worked a little harder to make him likeable and given him a voice actor who wasn't phoning it in, I would have cared a lot more.
  • Worst of all, for me at least, THIS GAME IS SO MOTHERFUCKING HARD.  I apologize for internet shouting, but it cannot be stressed enough.  G-Vo played it before me, and when it was my turn to play, I asked him what difficulty level I should choose.  Without even a single second of hesitation, he said "Casual", and believe me, he was not trying to insult me or make a joke.  Casual difficulty doesn't change the combat or enemy AI at all; it merely provides you with more ammo and gel (used to upgrade stats).  It was still plenty goddamn hard; I think my final death tally was somewhere in the neighborhood of 150!  I'm ashamed to admit this, but I wound up passing the controller to G-Vo a few times so he could get me past a boss.  Once it was because the fight was taking place in such a tight area that it was making me nauseated, but the other times, it was because I was about to have an aneurysm and I didn't want to rage quit.  (Oddly enough, the final boss wasn't all that hard!)  G-Vo's finished some notoriously difficult games like Dark Souls, and even he admits that TEW is a bitch and a half.  So caveat player.
What made this game so frustrating was that every once in a while you'd get a glimpse of what it COULD have been, but those areas were few and far between and lasted for such a short time that it was almost like they were trolling you.  It's worth picking up if you like the genre and can rent, borrow, or buy it cheap.  If you go into it knowing full well that you'll want to break it in half at least a dozen times, and you don't get your hopes up too high, maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.  I give it 7 jars of green goo out of 10.


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH #2



I've been reading the Fables graphic novels for a long time now, but to be honest, I've kind of soured on the series.  But I still wanted to check this game out because it was done by Telltale Games, who did such an amazing job with their Walking Dead games, and it did not disappoint.

Explaining the whole Fables mythos would take a long ass time, but here's a Cliffs Notes version:  people and creatures from fairy tales have been forced out of their own world into ours.  The ones who look or can pass as human (or who can afford expensive glamours that disguise their true appearance) live in New York City in a community called Fabletown; the others are exiled to the Farm, where they can live as themselves but can never leave lest they expose everyone to the "mundys", or regular people.  Fables are basically immortal as long as their stories are remembered and told.

Bigby Wolf (aka the Big Bad Wolf) is sheriff of Fabletown, and in this game, he's called to the apartment of his long time enemy, the Woodsman, who's busy beating up a hooker named Faith.  Bigby separates the two and walks Faith outside, where she bums a cigarette and tells him he's not as bad as everyone thinks he is.  Later, when her severed head is left on Bigby's doorstep, he's determined to find out who killed her, and his investigation uncovers some very ugly things going on in Fabletown.

HOWLS

  • The writing is superb...certainly better than the comics have been for the last several issues.  The plot is intriguing, and it's often very funny.
  • Great voice acting.
  • The cel shaded animation is a perfect fit considering the source material.
  • Like the Walking Dead games, The Wolf Among Us is a point and click game that also involves making dialogue choices and engaging in quick time events (QTEs), which were often very exciting.  There's a terrific warehouse fight that used this mechanic to perfection.
  • As you progress, you unlock information on different Fables and aspects of life in Fabletown.  This was a good refresher for me and very helpful for G-Vo, who has only a passing knowledge of the Fables universe.  (He read the crossover they did with The Unwritten, but hasn't read any of the actual comics.) 
  • The music is very good.  Some tracks are straight out of Silent Hill, and there's a song playing in a strip club that's very obviously supposed to be "How Soon Is Now" by The Smiths, but much better than those "This is supposed to be [title] but we don't want to pay for the rights so here's something that sounds almost exactly like it" songs tend to be.

WHIMPERS

  • The only real complaint I have is that the ending was a bit of a head scratcher.  Perhaps they were trying to leave things open ended for a potential sequel (which I hope they get), but it still could have wrapped up in a more satisfying way.

This fairytale is definitely not for children or the easily offended; it's got super salty language, violence, and a bare breasted Little Mermaid swinging around a stripper pole.  But if you're ready for a twisted, beautifully told fairytale, give this one a try immediately.  I give it 8 Huff 'n' Puff cigarettes out of 10.