Friday, October 07, 2016

The Neon Demon: part 2

Y'all really gonna make me continue this?  Ugh, fine.  Here's the second (and thankfully final) part of my review of The Neon Demon.  This will make no sense unless you've read the previous entry, and probably not even then. 


When last we left our lovely heroine Jesse, she had just passed out after receiving flowers.  Dean decides to go pay Keanu Reeves a visit and pay for the damages done by the mountain lion that inexplicably found its way into Jesse's room.  Keanu continues to be a skeeze and tells Dean that there's a 13-year-old runaway in the room next to Jesse if he's interested.  "Real Lolita shit," Keanu says charmingly.  Dean is repulsed and peaces out.

Later on, Jesse and Gigi are getting ready for a runway show.  Oddly enough, although Gigi  is wearing some real dramatic clown-ass makeup in her reflection, her actual face is bare.  Whoa dudes!  Is it a clumsy art school metaphor for things not being what they seem?  Of course it is because that's how this movie DO, yo.  Gigi tells Jesse about all the work she's had done and then adds "Anything worth having hurts a little", which: groan.  During the show, we see that inverted Triforce logo again and Jesse kisses her reflection (BETA KITTEN PROGRAMMING) and yawn.

After the show, Jesse gets dressed up in a gold halter top and black "Olivia Newton-John at the end of Grease" pants and she looks really fucking hot.  (I checked IMDB to make sure Elle Fanning was at least 18 before writing that.)  She and Dean go to a bar and run into the designer, Gigi, and Sarah.  Dean introduces himself and the designer snipes, "Your name's BEAN?"  Oh, the comedy!!!  The designer starts blathering on about how Jesse is so gorgeous because she hasn't had anything done and adds "Beauty isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing", which: Groan 2, Electric Boogaloo.  Jesse starts acting like a bitch and Dean doesn't like it, which of course is completely fair.

Back at the motel, Jesse is asleep and Keanu lets himself into her room and starts sliding a knife into her mouth and down her throat.  She wakes up, of course, and he says "Wider".  This scene is really fucking gross and uncomfortable and reminded me of the chicken scene in Killer Joe.  (Side note: I saw Killer Joe in the theater because the movie I wanted to see was cancelled and there was a guy behind me that absolutely CHORTLED during that scene, and I wanted to fucking haul off and smack him.)  It turns out to be a dream, which is good and makes it less icky but honestly, I was squirming.  Things continue to be cringeworthy when Jesse hears someone next door (presumably the 13-year-old runaway) being sexually assaulted.  She calls Ruby instead of, you know, the POLICE, and Ruby tells her to come over, which she does.

Ruby is housesitting, and after Jesse takes a shower, Ruby starts brushing out Jesse's hair in my grandmother's room circa 1983.  Ruby starts getting really excited and tries to have sex with Jesse despite Jesse's protestations, saying "I want to be your first" and instantly losing her place as the most sympathetic character in the movie.  Jesse rebuffs her and Ruby isn't happy about it.  She draws a big face with X'ed out eyes on the mirror.  FORESHADOWING ALERT.  Also, she is a terrible housesitter and, as it turns out, morgue assistant because...

...oh god...

...she goes to her second job at the morgue and is putting makeup on a female corpse when she begins thinking about Jesse.  She closes the door and strips off her gloves and now we see why the rating advisory at the beginning mentioned a "scene of aberrant sexuality".  Yes, Ruby begins fondling the corpse's breasts and Y-incision (vomit) and then reaches between her/its legs and rubbing vigorously.  I couldn't tell if she was rubbing herself or the corpse and frankly that is the one small kindness this movie did for me.

Tangent time!  I once had a very long and heated argument with a dorm mate over whether necrophilia was truly a victimless crime.  (This argument was precipitated by a viewing of Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Animation Festival, which had a really horrifying cartoon about necrophilia that upset me so much I was in tears and had to go to the lobby until it was over.)  His argument was that necrophilia is a victimless crime, and I said although the corpse couldn't really be called a victim, the deceased's friends/family could be considered victims because who the hell would want to learn that their loved one had been used like that?  This was what college life consisted of pre-internet.

Okay, so Ruby gets back from a hard night of corpse friggin' and Jesse has put bright pink makeup and glitter all around her eyes.  All I could think about was how much that glitter would hurt if it got in her eyes and I wanted to offer her a bottle of Visine.  She's standing on the diving board of the empty pool talking about how hot she is and how "women would kill to look like this".  First of all, arrogant much, and second, FORESHADOWING.  "[Women] are praying they'll look like a second-rate version of me" and I was like stay grounded, sis.

Well, Jesse never gets a chance to redeem herself in the viewer's eyes, because when she goes back inside, she's attacked by Sarah and Gigi.  They chase her around and when they corner her back outside, they push her into the pool where she appears to bleed out.  Then we see a blood-covered Ruby in a tub, watching Sarah and Gigi shower for what seems like twenty minutes.  It's like an Andrew Blake porno but with WAY more blood.

Now Ruby is outside wearing nothing but really ugly pants.  She's watering the plants and takes a moment to wash Jesse's blood off the concrete.  Then she's lying in a grave she's dug in the garden.  I will not be giving her a good review on Angie's List.  Then she's back inside and blood is gushing out from between her legs because I don't know why.

But what of Sarah and Gigi?  Well, they're at a seaside mansion, where Gigi is getting prepped for a photo shoot next to another model who asks Sarah about her competition.  Sarah says "I ate her" and the other model laughs and says "Ew".  Oh, if you only knew, unnamed model!  Quinn from Dexter decides he wants Gigi to be in the shoot instead and sends Anonymodel away.  Sarah and Gigi are standing outside and Gigi starts looking all sweaty and uncomfortable.  She runs away and goes inside, where the wallpaper has swastikas on it (?!?!?), and she tries desperately to puke.  Sarah comes inside and watches dispassionately as Gigi cries and then, ugh, barfs up one of Jesse's (just assuming here) eyeballs.  Gigi screams "I need to get her out of me!" and stabs herself in the stomach as Sarah just stands there doing everything but examining her fingernails and yawning.  Sarah grabs the eyeball out of the puke pile and eats it, because of course she does, and then she goes back outside to become America's Next Top Really Fucked Up Model. 

At this point, the screen changed to a shot of dry cracked ground and I thought "goddammit, I thought this fucking movie was over" but thank Christ, it was!  The credits started rolling and Sia started singing and FINALLY, my 2-hour nightmare was over.

What did I like about TND?  Well, it was visually striking and the score was quite good, but other than that, it fucking blew.  As my friend Ruth said, it was Showgirls without the laughs.  The acting was dreadful, the writing was clunky, and what was the point, anyway?  That the modeling industry eats up young women and spits them out?  Because if THAT was the point, then goddamn, it was about as subtle as, well, neon.  (Speaking of which, why the hell was it called The Neon Demon anyway?)

Look, if you want a movie with a similar feel/aesthetic, here are some much better ones you could watch:  Suspiria.  Mulholland Drive.  Starry Eyes.  Entrance.  Black Swan.  The Hunger.  But take my advice and give TND a hard pass, as everyone involved in this flick should have.

And Sarah?  Next time, try the steak sandwich instead. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Neon Demon: part 1

So I started watching The Neon Demon (hereafter referred to as TND) a couple of nights ago, and about 30 minutes in, I realized just how hypnotically awful it really was.  I decided to grab a notepad and a pen and start again from the beginning so I could write this entry, because I need to talk about just HOW fucking weird and terrible TND really is.  I'm going to discuss it in detail, so if you have any interest in watching it---which, honestly, you really shouldn't---then you should back out now.  This will be your last warning.


The Neon Demon is a 2016 film by Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive and Only God Forgives.  As you can tell from those two titles, he's created some really polarizing work, and TND is no exception; in fact, it was booed at the Cannes Film Festival AND it received a standing ovation.

The movie opens with a shot of a young woman (Elle Fanning) sprawled out on a couch with her throat slit and her face bejeweled like a dollar store Mardi Gras mask.  Oh no!  What happened to her?  Fear not; the camera pulls back and we see that she's actually doing a photoshoot.  Why would any fashion spread feature a murdered young woman?  Because ~FASHION~, darling.  This is not as outlandish as it may seem, by the way; one only needs to look at the Symbolic Pictures of the Month column on Vigilant Citizen to see that photoshoots featuring death and/or violence aren't exactly rare in fashion magazines.  I mean, seriously, this was an ACTUAL FUCKING AD:

Granted, it certainly catches your eye, but how does a dog biting a woman's wrist make you want to buy fucking jewelry, exactly?  Also I hope that model got paid REALLY well and that dog was REALLY well trained, because holy shit.

Back to TND, if we must.  Our bloody model is named Jesse, who's 16 years old and has just moved to Los Angeles to make it big as a model.  (Seems like New York City would be a better bet, but if you're looking for logic, you came to the wrong movie.)  After the shoot, she's standing in a dressing room, listlessly wiping at her arms with a moist towelette.  There's a woman watching her in a mirror, and oh boy did they pull the "predatory lesbian" character straight out of the ol' cliche playbook.  This is Ruby (Jena Malone), and she's a makeup artist.  She invites Jesse to a party at a club, and in the bathroom, Jesse gets to meet Gigi and Sarah, two other models who alternate between fawning over Jesse and being intensely bitchy to her.  "I hear your parents are dead."  Gee, thanks for ripping off that emotional scab, Gigi/Sarah/whoever the fuck it was.  When they leave the bathroom, which by the way is pretty deserted for a club, the music goes straight up Silent Hill 2 and they watch a performance which...well...I can't really tell you what happened because the strobe lights went into overdrive, which is a surefire migraine trigger for me.  So I looked away for that part, but I doubt I missed much.

The next day, Jesse goes to a modeling agency where she talks with an agent played by the effortlessly gorgeous Christina Hendricks.  "I would never say you're fat," Christina tells Jesse.  Why, thank you!  Christina also says something about how girls come to LA thinking they can be models because some dude named Chad in a mall food court told them they were pretty, and I'll be honest, I got a genuine laugh out of that one.  Christina is pretty impressed by Jesse, and she signs her under the condition that Jesse tells everyone she's 19, because sure why not.

That night, Jesse goes on a date with Dean, the guy who was taking her picture at the beginning of the movie.  She twirls around with the lights of Los Angeles all fuzzy in the background and it's very prettily shot and dreamy.  She says something about the moon being a big eye in the sky and ILLUMINATI REFERENCE and also cliche.  Dean takes her back to her crappy motel (I'd ask how she managed to rent a room when she's only 16, but it's the kind of place that doesn't care) and doesn't walk her up to her room, which: seriously?  The place is totally sketchy and probably has at least one or two meth addicts and pimps roaming around, so maybe escort a young lady to her front door.  Jesse opens the door, tries to turn on the lights, and they don't work.  She sees the sliding glass door is open and something is looming in the shadows, so she understandably freaks and jets right on out of there.

So Jesse runs downstairs and bangs on the manager's door.  Oh look, it's Keanu Reeves!  Keanu ain't happy about being bothered and proceeds to bust out some really terrible acting.  Oy, Keanu.  He's very good looking and by all accounts is a genuinely nice guy IRL (I read basically every celebrity gossip site/rag and have never seen a bad word about him, which is really saying something; I've even seen shit about Tom Hanks, for chrissakes), but the man cannot act.  (I refer you to the "Whaaaaaat did you SAY to him?" line from The Devil's Advocate if you want to argue with me.)   He and his baseball bat wielding friend, who I'll call Negan because I can't remember his actual name and who gives a fuck, go upstairs to check it out.  Guess what's in the room?  Why, it's a mountain lion!  Why is everyone so blase about it instead of fleeing and calling 911?  How did it get into a room on the second floor?  How did it fuck with the lights?  Why is it roaring like a REAL lion when they don't actually do that?  Shhhh, logic has no place here.

Keanu is pissed!  He wants Jesse to pay for the damages!  What a dick! 

The next day (where did she sleep while the mountain lion was in her room?  IDK IDK), Jesse goes to a test shoot and Ruby's there.  Ruby decides to decorate Jesse's face with gold leaf, which makes her look like a Final Fantasy character.  Unfortunately, Jesse is wearing a sundress, and the effect is really fucking incongruous.  She needs to be in Alexander McQueen with makeup like that, not Forever 21!  Seriously, look at this shit:

"Use the Amulet of Lethe for +10 damage against the neon demon"

The test shoot is with a photographer named Jack, who is played by Desmond Harrington.  I've got a soft spot for Desmond because he played Joey Quinn in Dexter and had one of the hottest sex scenes I've ever seen on TV, wherein he went down on Brandon Routh's wife (trivia!) and yeah, it was high noon on my sundial.  Unfortunately, he went through a spell where he was looking borderline cadaverous, but he's looking a bit better now.  Still not at his Quinn peak, but at least he doesn't look like a strong wind would knock him over.

Jack tells everyone to leave the room, and I was like "Um, get the fuck out of there, girl."  Ruby doesn't like this either, because she's smart, and she offers to stay, but Jack tells her to piss off, which she does.  Fortunately, and much to my pleasant surprise, Jack does not have bad intentions despite telling Jesse to take off all her clothes.  He smears her with gold paint and I was like "Uh, you better leave a bare patch or she'll suffocate like the Goldfinger chick" but he leaves her face clean aside from the shit Ruby applied earlier.  (Between the gold paint and the fake blood, I sure hope Elle Fanning has a good dermatologist because this movie probably wrecked her skin.)  She probably would have been better off suffocating under gold paint than going through later events and oh yeah, did I mention I'm going to spoil the shit out of this movie?  'Cause I am!

After the shoot, Ruby tells Jesse to be careful around Jack and also to call her any time if she needs anything.  She does everything but wink at her and say "I mean scissoring" here.  Ruby goes to lunch with Gigi and Sarah who continue to be nasty bitches.  The waitress starts to recite the specials, one of them (they are basically interchangeable) says "We don't need to hear that" and the other one says "Oh, but they work so hard to memorize them!"  One of the specials is a steak sandwich with fries, which sounds fucking delicious and I will have that, please.  But they get three coffees and a fruit cup, which is boring and also sounds like a surefire way to get diarrhea.  They talk about Jesse and Ruby says "She has that...thing."  Very specific.  Thanks for that.

At a casting call, all of the models are wearing only bras and panties.  They do a quick walk for a designer who is more interested in folding his pocket square over and over again.  But Jesse catches his eye!  He even puts down his pocket square!  He wants her to close the show.  Sarah is not pleased and punches out the mirror in the bathroom, fracturing her reflection.  (Yet another Illuminati reference.)  Jesse comes in and Sarah does a whole "woe is me" routine and says "In the middle of winter, you're the sun."  Well, Sarah, if modeling doesn't work out for you, you could always write Hallmark cards.  Jesse accidentally cuts her hand on broken glass and Sarah lunges for her and licks the blood off her hand.  Jesse doesn't like this, because duh, and she flees.  She does a lot of fleeing in this flick.  It's a flee flicker!  (LOL FOOTBALL REFERENCE LOL)

Jesse goes back to Motel Shit and the mountain lion has bounced.  She starts hallucinating triangles that look like an upside down Triforce from the Legend of Zelda series.  Yep, another Illuminati reference.  (Disclaimer: I don't actually believe in the Illuminati, but I love a good conspiracy theory and I know what the symbols are.)  Then some hands come pushing out of the wallpaper like a scene from American Horror Story: Hotel.  Dean shows up with flowers and Jesse takes them and faints very prettily on the carpet.  Her blonde hair streams out around her face, the flowers land just so, and she looks like a beautiful corpse.  FORESHADOWING AHOY!

At this point, I had to stop the movie and write up this entry while it was still fresh in my mind.  Lucky you.  Stay tuned for the next installment!

Friday, September 30, 2016

media update: September

Ugh, what a weird month.  My job continues its merry spiral down the shitter as they've taken all of the physical work away from us and basically turned us into a call center.  As you may recall, I started with this company in the ACTUAL call center and fucking hated it, and that hasn't changed.  The only good thing about this "call center" as opposed to the initial one is that they aren't randomly scoring our calls.  Everything else, though, remains sucktacular:  rude and/or stupid people, constant emails from management nitpicking over your average call time/why you took 2 extra minutes of lunch (not kidding), etc.  I was actually sort of enjoying the work they had us doing, which of course is why they had to take it away.

And if THAT bit of asscrackery wasn't enough, they added to the fecal fiesta by changing the way we request time off (mixed bag) and update our timecard.  The new system is about as user-friendly as a barbed wire dildo, so it's been a lot of fun figuring THAT out!

One final peanut in the turd sundae is that they're closing our lobby down.  It sounds counterintuitive, but the receptionist doesn't have to answer phone calls; she only has to sign for packages and direct visitors to the right place and so on.  Needless to say, she is STEAMED at having to come back here and answer calls with the rest of us peons, and I don't blame her.  I'm personally irritated by this because every once in a while, I have to cover lobby and it is fucking awesome.  It's basically like an additional, really long break because I can read or putz around online while waiting to help people.  Shit, sometimes I'm up there for 90 minutes and don't have to do a single fucking thing!  So yeah, the closure of the lobby is not a good thing.

In less obnoxious news, my work bestie J, who transferred to Arizona 6 months ago, came out for a visit so I got to spend a lot of time with her, and G's sister, brother-in-law, and youngest nephew were also here for a few days.  We went to see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit at LACMA, and it was really cool.  If you're a GdT fan and live in/are planning to visit Los Angeles anytime soon, it's definitely worth seeing.

Anyway, on to the media update, which is a big 'un again since SoCal hasn't gotten the memo that it's actually fall now.  Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.


1. Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn:  Mercedes is a girl with an interesting secret: she specializes in deflowering teenage boys in hopes that they'll then go on to provide the perfect first time for their girlfriends.  But obviously she can't keep her hobby a secret forever, and when her best friend's boyfriend doesn't take kindly to Mercedes' refusal to help him, shit gets complicated.  Not badly written, but completely unrealistic; I didn't believe a word of it for a second.

2. Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry:  When Nora arrives at her sister's house for a visit, she discovers that Rachel has been stabbed to death.  Nora becomes obsessed with finding the killer, so instead of going home after the funeral, she stays in town to investigate.  It's a good mystery, but where it really shines is in its exploration of grief.  (The title refers to a C.S. Lewis quote comparing grief to being trapped "under the harrow"; a harrow is a sharp agricultural tool.  The quote is at the beginning of the book, but I had to google harrow!)

3. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena:  Bogged down by postpartum depression, Anne doesn't want to go to a party next door, and when her babysitter cancels, she looks at it as a golden opportunity to stay home.  Her husband Marco convinces her that their daughter will be fine alone, so Anne reluctantly drags the baby monitor with her and she checks on Cora at regular intervals.  But when Anne and Marco get home, they discover that Cora is missing.  The writing seemed really off at times, to the point that I wondered if it had been translated from a different language, which it hadn't. Not only that, but this book made me SO FUCKING ANGRY because it was all so cliched and stupid and obvious and argh.  Some major authors provided blurbs on the back cover, but do not be fooled. I hereby proclaim this novel an overrated turd.

4. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow:  After being discharged from a mental health facility, Charlie heads to Tucson to start her life over, but the strain of being on her own is making her want to cut again.  It's pretty good, but because it contains several graphic descriptions of self-injury, I've got to slap a big trigger warning here. 

5. The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood:  When she was a teenager, Mila's 3-year-old half-sister Coco disappeared during their father's debauched 50th birthday party.  12 years later, their father has died, and Mila reluctantly agrees to take Ruby, Coco's twin sister, to the funeral.  But many of the people who were present on the night of Coco's disappearance are also at the funeral, and some long buried skeletons begin bobbing up to the surface.  I didn't like it as much as Marwood's previous novels, but damned if the epilogue didn't give me goosebumps.

6. The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel:  This is the sequel to The Moon in the Palace, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.

7. Loner by Teddy Wayne:  David is extremely smart but very socially awkward.  When he arrives at Harvard for his freshman year, he meets a beautiful young woman named Veronica, but his infatuation spirals into obsession.  Unnerving and creepy.

Side note: if you're interested in reading this novel, do NOT read the blurbs on the back first as one of them contains a massive spoiler. 

8. Losing It* by Emma Rathbone:  Julia is a 26-year-old virgin who isn't particularly happy about that fact.  She quits her job and moves in with her aunt Viv for the summer, only to discover that Viv is also a virgin.  Julia becomes even more determined to lose her virginity so she doesn't end up like Viv, but is being like her aunt really such a bad thing?  Funny and strangely touching.

9. Empire of Storms* by Sarah J. Maas:  Sequel etc.

10. Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Hartinger:  Rob is excited to go on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods with his boyfriend Liam, Liam's best friend Mia, and Mia's boyfriend Galen, but it soon becomes obvious that someone else doesn't want them there.  I appreciated the fact that it had a gay protagonist, but the rest of it was just meh, and the ending was pretty much exactly like [movie title withheld to avoid spoilers].

11. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis:  When her older sister Anna was murdered, Alex tracked down the culprit and killed him.  You'd think that would be the end of it, but Alex's desire to mete out justice has only gotten stronger.  Not as Dexter-esque as that synopsis makes it sound.

12. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake:  Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of female triplets is born.  One has the power to control the elements, one can control animals and plants, and one is immune to poison (which is a pretty shitty power in comparison!).  They're all equal heirs to the throne, but when they turn 16, they have to kill their sisters in order to become queen.  The premise was much better than the execution, though I'll admit that the ending was so good that I'll probably pick up the next one when it comes out.

13. All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker:  After a teenage girl is brutally raped, she undergoes a controversial treatment that removes the memory of the trauma...but is it really gone?  Some provocative ideas and an interesting conclusion.

14. The Kept Woman* by Karin Slaughter:  When a dead body is found at a construction site, it turns out to have startling links to detective Will Trent.  As you'd expect from Karin Slaughter, it's engrossing as hell and filled with plenty of surprises.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  98


1. Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan* by Michael Booth:  Curious about Japanese food, the author took his wife and two young sons on a culinary adventure through Japan (lucky).  A really fun book that (as you can imagine!) made me ravenously hungry.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 17


1. Citrus vol. 5 by Saburouta

2. Dragon's Breath by MariNaomi

3. The Walking Dead** vol. 26 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard:  This series has gotten SO GODDAMN GOOD that I read this volume twice.

4. Your Lie in April by Naoshi Arakawa

5. Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 15 graphic novels and 52 volumes of manga


1. Keanu:  Rell (Jordan Peele) has been depressed since breaking up with his girlfriend, but when an adorable kitten shows up on his doorstep, it's just the thing to make him feel better again.   But when Keanu is stolen, Rell and his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) pose as drug dealers in order to get the kitten back.  It's about as dumb as it sounds, and I wish the kitten had been in it more because goddamn that is a cute fuckin' kitten, but it had some good laughs.

2. The Intern:  70-year-old Ben (Robert DeNiro) has been in a rut since retiring, so he jumps at the opportunity to serve as an intern for an online fashion company.  His new boss Jules (Anne Hathaway) is high-strung and not too thrilled about having to mentor Ben, but he soon makes himself indispensable.  Gentle and endearing, and DeNiro and Hathaway have great (platonic!) chemistry together.

3. Batman: The Killing Joke:  Based on the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore (who, in his usual grumpy way, refused to have his name on this movie) in which the Joker proceeds to do some very horrible things to Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon.  The animation is pretty blah, but the story is good aside from one absolutely perplexing and decidedly gross scene that wasn't in the original source material.

4. Midnight Special:  A man (Michael Shannon) goes on the run with his young son, who has some very strange powers.  Do not believe the rave reviews; it's not a bad movie, but it wasn't all that great either.

5. Take Me to the River:  A family reunion turns ugly when a teenage boy named Ryder is accused of sexually assaulting his young cousin and his mother has a strange reaction to her brother's claim.  Beautifully acted, but really unnerving.

6. Hush:  Maddie is a deaf writer who lives deep in the woods.  When a masked murderer shows up and tries to kill her, she has to use all of her wits to survive.  Surprisingly good for a low budget horror movie, probably due to the fact that it was co-written by the same guy who wrote Oculus, and I appreciated the fact that it avoided some of the more tiresome horror cliches.

7. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping:  A raunchy mockumentary about a singer named Connor4Real and his rise to the top.  The concert scenes are so funny that everything else completely pales in comparison.

8. Now You See Me 2:  The Four Horsemen are recruited to steal a priceless piece of tech that will allow its user to hack into any computer on the planet.  This was an odd movie in that a really fun or exciting scene would be followed (or preceded) by something almost unbearably embarrassing to watch.  Mark Ruffalo remains the tastiest of dishes, though.

9. Me Before You*:  Perpetually cheerful Lou (Emilia Clarke, who's absolutely charming) is hired to look after Will Traynor, a bitter quadriplegic.  Lou wants to show him that life's worth living, but it might be too big a task for her.  The book made me cry; the movie made me wail.

Side note: Charles Dance is also in this movie, so it was kind of weird seeing Tywin Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen interacting and not trying to kill each other!

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 82

Thursday, September 08, 2016

rubbed the wrong way

During my lunch break, I got to experience the kind of embarrassment that makes you feel like your entire body has been engulfed in flames.

A bit of backstory first: 

There's a massage school in my city where you can get super cheap massages from the students because they need hands-on (pun intended) hours to get their certification.  By "super cheap", I mean $30 for an hour of full body massage.  They also have a few graduates who either haven't gotten jobs elsewhere or want to make some cash on the side, and they get $45 an hour.  Still cheap, but generally not worth the extra money.  Obviously, some of the massage therapists are better than others, but I've been going there at least once a month for the last 11 years, and I've only had a few really bad experiences.

Anyway, like Bill Clinton, I always prefer a female intern.  It's not like I think the male therapists are going to do something awful to me; the doors don't have locks, and it's such a small office that a scream would bring someone running.  But like every woman in the history of the world, I have body image issues, so I really don't want any strange dudes checking out my goods.

But last month, they didn't have any female interns OR graduates available, and my shoulders felt like granite and I was stressed out as hell, so I went ahead and booked a massage with a male graduate named Tony.

What can I say about Tony?  Well, Tony turned out to be pretty fuckin' awesome.  He has the warmest hands ever and his playlist (ambient, Hotel-era Moby, stuff like that) is a very welcome change from the usual Enya/whale songs/Gregorian chants.  Plus he's just really, really talented.  Sometimes he can be a bit too rough---I swear we need to set up a safe word---but he's always very quick to ease up when I say something.  I've seen him three times now, and he's definitely worth the extra money, especially because the effects of the massage actually last for a few days.  Usually I go to bed the night of a massage and wake up the next day with my shoulders and neck just as tense as they were before, but not when Tony works on me.

As far as how Tony looks, he's basically a human version of the city of Portland, Oregon.  He's got a man bun and a beard and his arms and legs are covered in tribal tattoos.  He looks like he knows every vegan restaurant in the area and he probably attends a drum circle at least once or twice a year.  I don't mean any of this in a pejorative way; I'm just trying to give you a general idea of what he's like.

Okay, back to today.  (You:  "JFC, about time!")  I had to go to the bank on my lunch break, and the ATM is located inside a grocery store, so after I got my money, I decided to grab a few things.  I walked into the beverage aisle and lo and behold, there was Tony!  He was with a woman in a batik skirt and a "Free Tibet" shirt, i.e. exactly the type of woman I'd expect Tony to be with.  I don't know if they were actually together or not, but the vibe between them sure read as romantic to me.

As they approached, I said, "Hey, Tony!"

He squinted at me and said "...hi?" in a voice that sounded like he was trying to place where he knew me from.

I said, "Oh, sorry, I'm [name].  You probably didn't recognize me when I'm not lying down!"

And that's how I know embarrassment will not actually kill you; it will just make you wish you were dead.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

media update: August

Another blisteringly hot month, another meaty media update!

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


1. And I Darken by Kiersten White:  Lada and her brother Radu are given by their father to the sultan of the Ottoman empire as political collateral.  Lada dreams of revenge, but things get complicated when she falls in love with the sultan's son.  I'm not ordinarily big on political fiction, but I enjoyed this book because it was unusual for a YA novel in that the heroine is both ugly and mean.  (There was another unusual facet, but it's a spoiler, so I can't share it here.)

2. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware:  Still traumatized by a recent break-in at her home, journalist Lo Blacklock jumps at the chance to take a gig reporting on a luxury cruise.  But one night in her cabin, she hears a scream next door, and rushes out onto the veranda just in time to see a body fall into the water.  She immediately reports the incident, but all of the passengers and crew are accounted for, and there's no sign that anyone was ever in cabin 10.  Is Lo losing her mind, or did something really happen?  Not nearly as compelling as the author's previous book (In a Dark, Dark Wood, which received one of my rare double star ratings), but still a nifty little mystery.

3. A Time of Torment* by John Connolly:  When Jerome Burnel intervened to stop a homicide, he inadvertently made himself the target of some very bad people, who proceeded to ruin his life.  He goes to private investigator Charlie Parker with his story, and Charlie agrees to look into it, which puts Charlie in the crosshairs of a reclusive community that really, REALLY hates outsiders.  Connolly's books have been hit or miss the last couple of years, but this one (despite a couple of florid passages) is a definite hit.

4. The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson:  This is the final book in the Remnant Chronicles trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

5. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott:  Devon is a gymnastics prodigy whose parents, Kate and Eric, have high hopes that she'll make it to the Olympics someday.  But when an unexpected death rocks the community, Kate is forced to take a closer look at her life and what she's willing to do to ensure her daughter's success.  I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, but I will say this: Megan Abbott sure knows how to write about teenage girls in a realistic way.  (See also The Fever and Dare Me.)

6. I'm Thinking of Ending Things* by Iain Reid:  I really don't want to spoil this book, because I think the less you know about it going in, the better.  It didn't end as well as I would have hoped, but I still decided to give it a star because parts of it made me so tense I was actually nauseated.  It would make a fantastic movie.

7. The Telling by Alexandra Sirowy:  Lana is devastated when her stepbrother Ben is murdered.  But then the body of Ben's girlfriend is found, and more bodies start popping up, some with bizarre links to stories Ben had told her.  I loved the author's previous book The Creeping, but this one was a bit disappointing, largely because I figured out where it was going pretty early on.

8. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris:  Grace seems to have it all: she's beautiful, she has a gorgeous house, and she's married to a handsome and rich attorney who adores her.  But why does Grace keep backing out on hanging out with her friends, and why is her purse completely empty?  The writing can be a bit choppy and the ending seemed very rushed, but it's still a diverting read.

Side rant: I am so freakin' tired of every single psychological thriller in the last few years being compared to Gone Girl and/or The Girl on the Train.  It's almost never accurate (seriously, I can think of ONE book in the last three years where that comparison even came close to fitting) and it's fucking lazy to boot.

9. Harmony* by Carolyn Parkhurst:  Tilly is a 13-year-old girl with emotional problems that nobody seems to be able to diagnose; she's smart as hell, but prone to things like repeatedly touching her head to the floor of a restaurant and making inappropriate comments.  (On page 6, she's telling her father that she's going to suck his cock.)  Desperate for help, her parents take her and her younger sister Iris to Camp Harmony, a place run by a child behavior expert named Scott Bean, but will it be a place of healing or make things even worse?

Carolyn Parkhurst's novel The Dogs of Babel was one of my ten favorites of all time until relatively recently, so I was anxious to get my hands on this, and it did NOT disappoint.

10. Watching Edie by Camilla Way:  Edie and Heather were friends in high school until one terrible night wrenched them apart.  Now Edie is living alone with her baby daughter, and just when it seems she'll collapse under the strain, Heather reappears in her life.  At first Heather is a huge help with the baby, but Edie begins to wonder if Heather's intentions are completely benevolent.  A compelling psychological thriller, and bonus, not a SINGLE blurb (out of 11!) on the back cover mentions Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, which (as you can tell from my mini-rant above) is a huge pet peeve of mine.  (The Amazon page for this book, however, makes the dreaded comparison.  Sigh.)

11.  Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard:  Married couple Mark and Maggie are taking a road trip to visit his parents, but things are strained from the get-go.  Maggie is still traumatized by a recent mugging, and Mark's patience is wearing thin.  When Mark and Maggie are forced to stop at a remote hotel due to a major storm, things manage to take an even sharper turn for the worse.  It's good, but it was REALLY mismarketed.  The inside cover and several reviews made it sound like a thriller, but it's not.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 84


1. Playing Dead : A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud* by Elizabeth Greenwood:  The author made an offhand remark to a friend about faking her own death to get out of her student loans.  The comment spurred her interest in the world of "pseudocide", and this fascinating book covers everything from people who believe Michael Jackson is still alive to the author's trip to the Philippines, where she successfully faked her own death just to prove she could. 

2. I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland* by Michelle Leon:  The subtitle says it all!  I was lucky enough to see Babes in Toyland live in the mid-90s, and this brought back some good memories and spurred a downloading spree.

3. True Crime Addict by James Renner:  The author became obsessed with the case of Maura Murray, a college student who wrecked her car and disappeared immediately afterwards.  Don't read this if you want closure, since she's never been found, but it's a pretty solid read.

Side note:  I plucked this at random off the library shelf because it sounded interesting, so I was pretty surprised to see that I'd chosen a book in which a potential pseudocide factored so heavily since I'd just read #1 on this list the week before!

4. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo* by Amy Schumer:  An entertaining collection of essays ranging from the hysterically funny to the decidedly not, like the heartbreaking chapter about the two women who were shot and killed during a showing of Trainwreck.  (Actually, although there are certainly funny parts, I'd say it veers more towards the serious; there are also chapters about the nonconsensual loss of her virginity, an abusive ex, her father's battle with MS, and her mother's affair.)

5. Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette:  The magician talks about how his mounting health problems (including a systolic blood pressure over 200, which: JFC!) forced him to finally make drastic lifestyle changes.  There's one breathtakingly delightful line in which he says that Donald Trump's hair looks like cotton candy made of piss that I will think of every time I see Trump.  (Hopefully not much after the election.  Please, God I don't believe in.)

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 16


1. Say I Love You vol. 15 by Kanae Hazuki

2. A Silent Voice vols. 5-7 (final volume) by Yoshitoki Oima

3. Saga* vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

4. Kaze Hikaru vol. 24 by Taeko Watanabe

5. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 8 by Ryo Suzukaze and Satoshi Shiki

6. Dark Night* by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso

7. Food Wars!* vol. 13 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

8. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 8 by Go Ikeyama

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 12 graphic novels and 50 volumes of manga


1. The Bronze:  Despite being injured, Hope (Melissa Rauch, best known as Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory) won the bronze medal in gymnastics at the "Olympics" (it's not actually called that, no doubt due to trademark issues, but it's very obviously supposed to be the Olympics) and has been coasting on her fame ever since.  She wears her team jacket everywhere so nobody can miss her, cons people out of free meals and pot, and treats her sweet (if enabling) father like crap.  In short, she's an asshole. When she gets a lucrative offer to train a new contender, Hope takes it, but finds it hard to share the spotlight.  Occasionally quite funny, especially a particularly, uh, creative sex scene.

2. Eye in the Sky*:  A planned drone strike to take out terrorists in Kenya goes awry when a little girl chooses the worst place possible to sell bread.  Very tense, and as you'd expect from a cast that includes Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul, the performances are excellent.

3. Kung Fu Panda 3:  Meh.

4. Short Term 12:  Grace (Brie Larson) works at a residential facility for at-risk teenagers.  She's good at her job, but not so great at maintaining an emotional distance from her charges.  The story isn't anything you haven't heard before, but the cast is great.

5. Demolition:  After his wife is killed in a car accident, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes a bit unglued, taking solace in destroying things and writing deeply personal letters to a vending machine company.  An interesting character study.

6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:  We had pretty low expectations for this movie, and they were certainly met.  Wonder Woman was cool, though.

Side note: How many fucking times do we need to see Batman's origin story?  WE ALL KNOW.  Jesus, when the dude pulled out the gun to kill Bruce's parents (I am not even bothering with a spoiler alert, because like I said, we all know this story already), G-Vo said "Wait...wait for it...yep, there goes the pearl necklace!  Aw, shit, Martha!"

Side note #2: Thomas and Martha Wayne were played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan, aka Negan and Maggie from The Walking Dead, which was just REALLY odd.

7. The Boss:  After spending time in prison for insider trading, entrepreneur Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) tracks down her former assistant (Kristen Bell) and convinces her to start a new company with her.  Started out pretty good, but turned into a mess by the end.

8. Kubo and the Two Strings**:  Accompanied by a sarcastic snow monkey and a beetle samurai, Kubo embarks on an epic quest to find a magical suit of armor.  Absolutely stunning stop-motion animation from the geniuses at Laika, combined with terrific voice acting and an alternately exciting and touching story, made this a perfect afternoon at the movies.

Side note: if you're interested in this movie, I would highly recommend catching it as soon as you can, because it's not doing so hot at the box office and will probably leave theaters soon.  If you miss out, it's still worth watching on DVD, obviously, but it really is worth experiencing on the big screen.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 73


1. Glory (full album) by Britney Spears:  I am not ashamed for my love of Britney and I never will be as long as she keeps putting out quality bops like this one.  (We do not speak of Britney Jean in this household.) My favorite track is "Man on the Moon", possibly because the melody reminds me so much of "Way Back into Love" from Music and Lyrics.  (I'm no music expert, though, so I'm going to run it by trained musician G-Vo and see if he agrees.) 

Monday, August 01, 2016

media update: July

How do you do, fellow kids?  I've got an extra-meaty media update for you this time around, thanks to blazingly hot temperatures and two long weekends.

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


1. American Girls* by Alison Umminger:  15-year-old Anna is sick of her home life, so she steals her stepmother's credit card and runs away to Los Angeles to live with her actress sister Delia.  Anna winds up researching the Manson girls for Delia's boyfriend's movie project and crushing on the teen star of a shitty TV series.  Sharp and funny, and unlike a lot of (non-dystopian) YA novels, the author seems to have actually spent some time around teenagers.

2. Security** by Gina Wohlsdorf:  Manderley Resort is a luxury hotel that's getting ready to open for business, but somebody doesn't want it to ever open its doors, and the staff is getting murdered one by one.  Tense and exciting; it would make one hell of a movie, and thanks to several "split screen" passages, Brian De Palma would be the ideal director.

Side note:  according to some of the reviews on Amazon, the aforementioned split screen passages are unreadable in ebook format, so you might want to pick up the hard copy instead.

3. The Girls* by Emma Cline:  Near the end of the 1960s, lonely teenager Evie Boyd sees a group of girls in the park and is struck by how free and happy they seem.  She befriends one of them and finds herself caught in a Mansonesque cult.  Along with Sweetbitter, this was one of the most hyped novels of the year; unlike Sweetbitter, this one actually deserved it.

Side note:  the fact that I read two books in one month inspired by the women in Charles Manson's cult is strictly a coincidence.

4. Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton:  This is a sequel to Tiny Pretty Things, so I can't review it lest I spoil its predecessor.

5. Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo:  Chief of Police Kate Burkholder grew up Amish but left the order.  She gets a call from a sheriff's department in New York asking her to go undercover and infiltrate an Amish settlement that might have been involved in the death of a teenage girl.  She agrees, but the can of worms she opens up might be a fatal one.  All of the books in this series have been good, and this one is no exception.

6. We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley:  Catherine West is super rich, but her life feels empty.  Then one day she meets a handsome older man named William, and they begin a whirlwind romance.  It turns out that his parents and her parents were friends many years ago, but when she tells her mother, who has Alzheimer's, that she's dating William, it doesn't go well.  As time goes on, Catherine begins to wonder whether William is the man of her dreams or something more sinister.  I enjoyed it, although the fact that Catherine isn't a very likable narrator prevented me from giving it a star.  Also, it should have ended two chapters earlier than it did.

7. Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe:  After 17-year-old Vera suffers a psychotic break, her father takes her on a trip to Lithuania, where his grandmother grew up, and learns a few things about his family in the process. 

8. The Hatching* by Ezekiel Boone:  The world is understandably horrified when a new breed of spiders starts snacking on people.  A delightfully creepy thriller that is best read with a can of bug spray nearby.  I swear to God, I got up while reading this to get a drink and there were two (small) spiders in my sink and I freaked the fuck out.  Those bitches got washed down the drain right quick!

Side note: this ends on a cliffhanger, so if you're a completionist, you might want to wait until the next book is out before starting this one.  (I don't know if there will be more than two books.)

9. Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon:  Alex Dale is a journalist working on an article about coma patients.  While doing an interview at the hospital, she discovers that one of the vegetative patients is Amy Stevenson, who was attacked 15 years ago in a notorious case, and Alex is determined to figure out the truth of what happened to Amy.

10. The Last One** by Alexandra Oliva:  While competing in a reality show set in the woods, Zoo (as the producers call her) gets separated from her teammates.  Because they're cut off from the outside world, none of them realize that the outside world has been ravaged by a pandemic, and when Zoo finds evidence of the devastation, she assumes it's a trick being played by the producers.  All she wants is to get home to her husband, and her ignorance of the truth will either save her or kill her.  A clever premise, expertly executed; it's my favorite novel of the year so far.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 73


1. You'll Grow Out of It* by Jessi Klein:  A collection of hilarious essays ranging from the author's loathing of the term "ma'am" (1000% agreed; Southerners exempt) to discovering the joys of porn and Anthropologie (not at the same time, though that would make an interesting RedTube clip that I would definitely watch).

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 11


1. A Silent Voice vols. 2-4 by Yoshitoki Oima

2. Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, and Dave Stewart

3. Idol Dreams by Arina Tanemura

4. Rin-Ne vol. 21 by Rumiko Takahashi

5. The Ancient Magus' Bride vols. 4-5 by Kore Yamazaki

6. Sex Criminals* vol. 3 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

7. My Love Story!!* vol. 9 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

8. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 5 by Aya Shouoto

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 10 graphic novels and 42 volumes of manga


1. The Night Before:  Three friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie) have spent the last several Christmases together getting stoned and being goofy, but now that they're older and have adult responsibilities, they decide this Christmas will be their last.  Of course, things go awry.  An excellent cast (which also includes Michael Shannon and Ilana Glazer) is completely wasted on a terrible, mostly unfunny script.

2. The Boy:  Greta (Lauren Cohan) is a young American who takes a nanny job at a secluded estate in the English countryside, only to find out that her charge is actually a doll.  Of course, she's like LOL WTF, but she figures it's easy money, so she decides to stick around, and shit goes sideways.  A decently creepy little flick, and bonus points for not ending on a super lame jump scare like basically every other horror movie in the last 15 years.

3. Green Room*:  Desperate for cash, a young punk band agrees to play a gig for a bunch of neo-Nazis.  But when they stumble upon a dead woman, they find themselves in a standoff with a group of thugs and their leader (a supremely creepy Patrick Stewart).  It's extremely tense and well done, but MAJOR WARNING: this has some of the most viscerally disturbing gore I've seen in a movie in a LONG time.  Like, "peek through your fingers while moaning in horror" disturbing.

4. Only Yesterday:  Taeko decides to take a vacation from her life in Tokyo and spend some time on her grandmother's farm in the country.  While she's there, she thinks back on her childhood and wonders whether she's made the right choices in her life.  As you'd expect from a Studio Ghibli film, the animation is beautiful (if a bit dated; it's from 1991) and it's charming, but it's extremely slow and I imagine most kids would be bored to tears.  (Though, to be fair, I don't think it was made FOR kids, but I could see someone picking this up on the strength of Studio Ghibli's name and being disappointed.)

5. Zootopia*:  Despite her size, plucky bunny Judy Hopps manages to become a cop.  She's assigned traffic duty during her first day in the force, but a string of missing animals might wind up being the case that will make everyone take her seriously.  The trailers for this were absolutely awful, so our expectations were very low, but it turned out to be really charming and funny.

6. The Adderall Diaries:   Steven Elliott (James Franco) is working on a memoir about life with his abusive, supposedly deceased father.  But when his father pops up at a reading, thus screwing over Steven's book deal, Steven becomes obsessed with the trial of a software engineer accused of killing his wife.  Oddly compelling, even though there isn't much to it.

7. London Has Fallen:  Terrorists assassinate the British prime minister in hopes of taking out all of the world leaders that will attend the funeral, and Secret Service agent---uh, Gerard Butler, I don't remember the character's name---will stop at nothing to protect the president.  Jingoistic, loud, and stupid, but it had some decent action.

8. Lights Out:   Rebecca has been estranged from her mother Sophie for a long time, but when her little brother Martin calls to tell her that a malevolent entity is in their house, she's determined to stop it.  A perfectly adequate little chiller. 

Side note: we saw this in a theater we don't usually frequent, but boy is THAT gonna change, because they put in reclining armchair-style seats, and oh my god, the COMFORT.  I'm amazed that none of us fell asleep!

9. Kill Zone 2:  A Hong Kong cop and a Thai police guard team up to take down a human organs trafficking ring.  I wish they'd let Tony Jaa kick more ass in this---seriously, would you keep a racehorse in a veal pen?  Let the man rage!---but it still had some great action scenes.

10. Gods of Egypt:  There have been times when G-Vo and I watched a notorious critical flop and then been pleasantly surprised; this was not one of those times.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 65


Despite positive buzz, I never played Borderlands, because first person games tend to make me puke and/or get a migraine.  But when I heard that Telltale Games had put out a Borderlands game, I knew it would be safe because none of their games are first person.  I also knew it was a must-play, because every Telltale game we've played has been top notch, and Tales from the Borderlands (PS4) was no exception.

In Tales from the Borderlands, you alternate between two characters.  Rhys is a corporate shill who's trying to get promoted, and Fiona is a con artist who's always on the lookout for her next big score.  When Rhys hears rumors about a Vault Key (used to open vaults containing priceless treasure), he and his friend Vaughn set out to find it, which brings them into contact with Fiona and her sister Sasha; complications (and hijinks) ensue.


- The script is terrific: funny and dramatic by turns.  And Telltale Games always does an amazing job at making their games accessible to people, even if they're not familiar with the source material, like me.  Of course, if you ARE familiar with the source material, like G-Vo, you'll probably enjoy it even more.

- The voice acting is perfection.  There's a reason Troy Baker (Rhys) is in pretty much every video game these days: he's the best in the biz.  He's reunited here with Laura Bailey (Fiona; they were also in Persona 4 together) and Ashley Johnson (Gortys; she was the Ellie to his Joel in The Last of Us).  I can't think of a single voice performance in this game that was bad or even unremarkable.

- The soundtrack is really good, featuring both an original score and licensed tracks.

- I liked the inclusion of a lesbian couple.

- It made me tear up twice.


- It froze up a couple of times, including (oddly enough) during the ending credits.

- Uh, that's it, really.

 If you're a fan of Telltale Games' style, you'll no doubt like this too.  I give it 8 Vault Keys out of 10.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

media update: June

'Sup, yo?  It's been a very stressful month for me because work has been sucking Satan's hairy balls.  This is not a new development, of course, but they keep piling straws onto this camel's back and it's about to break.  On the plus side, my dreadful boss got a promotion, so we're getting a new one next week.  She seems a little goofy (when she said she'd only be in the office once or twice a month, she threw her hands up in the air and said "Party in the office, whooooo!", which oh my god, lady, stop), but nice enough, and without doing something that would get her canned, there's no way she can be worse than the old regime.  For those of you keeping track at home, this will be my SEVENTH boss in 2 years.

On the video game front, I played the first Uncharted game and am well into the second one, which is considerably better (not that the first one was bad).  I hadn't planned on playing any of the Uncharted games, but the fourth one was written by Neil Druckmann, who wrote The Last of Us, so I figured Uncharted 4 was a must-play and I didn't want to go into it without playing its predecessors. 

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


1. Map of Bones by Francesca Haig:  This is the sequel to The Fire Sermon, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it nearly as much as its predecessor; to be honest, it was kind of boring, so hopefully the final book is better.  Also, I don't know why it was called Map of Bones, because there was no such thing.  Someone kept referring to a MAZE of bones, but no map.  Weird.

2. Girls on Fire* by Robin Wasserman:  In 1991, lonely teenager Hannah Dexter is befriended by Nirvana-worshipping, brash Lacey Champlain.  Hannah reinvents herself as "Dex" and they form a tight bond, but Lacey has some secrets that could destroy them both.  A dark and disturbing look at all-consuming female friendship that I loved.  One line that really stood out to me:  when Hannah says that before Lacey entered her life, she was "on the fast track to an uneventful life and just smart enough to care."

Warning: the inside of the book jacket spoils something rather major, so don't read it if you're interested in this book!  Amazon's synopsis is spoiler-free, so that's safe if you want to know more.

3. The Last Star by Rick Yancey:  This is the final book in the 5th Wave trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  To be honest, I wasn't a fan of how it wrapped up.

4. End of Watch by Stephen King:  This is the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, so...well, you know the drill by now!  Not as good as Mr. Mercedes, but WAY better than Finders Keepers.

5. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo:  After a troubling incident, Amanda transfers to another school and moves in with her father.  She doesn't want to get too close to anybody lest they discover that she's trans, but she finds herself falling in love with a handsome boy named Grant, and she's afraid he won't accept her if he finds out the truth.  Well written and mostly believable, probably because the author is trans herself.

6. Fellside* by M.R. Carey:  Jess is a heroin addict who is blamed for setting a fire that killed a young boy named Alex.  She's sent to a women's prison called Fellside, where she is visited by Alex's ghost, who absolves her of guilt and wants her to find the real killer.  It's sort of like a non-humorous Orange Is the New Black with a supernatural twist.

7. Sweetbitter* by Stephanie Danler:  Desperate for a new life, Tess moves to New York City and gets a job as a backwaiter for an elite restaurant.  She receives a culinary education, but also an education in drugs, sex, and love.

This got some of the biggest rave reviews I've seen in forever, so I tried to temper my expectations because I was pretty sure there was no way it was as good as the hype machine claimed, and I was right.  (I mean, for god's sake, the jacket blurb says "You will never again read a debut coming-of-age novel as stunning as this one."  Quite a claim!)  But even though it's not "OMG the best book ever!!eleventy!!", it's still very good and provides a warts-and-all look at the restaurant industry.  I also really liked this line:  "As I contemplated the skyline this double feeling came to me as one thought, pressing in from either side of the bridge, impossible for me to reconcile:  It is ludicrous for anyone to live here, and I can never leave."

8. Daughters Unto Devils* by Amy Lukavics:  Amanda's family moves from their small mountain home to the prairie to begin a new life.  But the walls of their new home are covered in blood, which turns out to be exactly the bad omen you'd expect.  I had to pick this up because one of the review blurbs said it was like Stephen King's version of Little House on the Prairie, which was pretty spot on.  A good creepy thriller to give you chills on a hot summer night.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 63


1. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War* by Mary Roach:  The science writer looks at the science behind keeping soldiers alive, ranging from uniform design to shark repellent.  It wasn't one of my favorites of her books, but it's still well worth reading.  How could anyone resist a book with a chapter called "Leaky SEALs: Diarrhea As a Threat to National Security"?  Also, it includes the line "a tasting flight of sodden tampons" (referring to an experiment to see if bears really are attracted to menstruating women; most bears are not, but polar bears get REALLY excited by it, so stay the fuck away from polar bears if you're raggin', or ever, really), which is truly one of the weirdest sentences I've ever read in a book.

2. The Vegas Diaries by Holly Madison:  In her second memoir, the author talks about starring in a now-defunct Vegas revue called Peepshow and trying to shed her image as Hugh Hefner's former girlfriend.  Not as good as Down the Rabbit Hole, largely because it doesn't spill any new tea, but enjoyable enough.  She didn't really talk about her husband and daughter, so I'm guessing she'll be writing another book!

3. Sex Object* by Jessica Valenti:  A candid, often funny, and even more often depressing memoir about sexism and the toll it has taken on both the author specifically and women in general.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 10


1. Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow* vols. 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

2. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 10 by Fumi Yoshinaga

3. Yotsuba! vol. 13 by Kiyohiko Azuma

4. A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

5. Food Wars!* vol. 12 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. Say I Love You vol. 14 by Kanae Hazuki

7. Kamisama Kiss vol. 21 by Julietta Suzuki

8. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 7 by Go Ikeyamada

9. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 14 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki

10. Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt

11. Something New* by Lucy Knisley

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  8 graphic novels and 33 volumes of manga


1. The Revenant*:  After being mauled by a bear and left for dead by the other members of his fur trapping team, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) has to fight to survive at least long enough to get his revenge.  Brutal but good, with absolutely stunning cinematography.

2. Batman: Bad Blood:  The Bat Family investigates Batman's disappearance.  The animation is a cut above the usual straight-to-video DC fare, and kudos for not straightwashing Batwoman.  Also, my thirst for Nightwing is so great that not even 100 gallons of Gatorade could possibly quench it.

3. Anomalisa**:  Michael Stone is alienated from other people to the point that they all look and sound alike to him, even his wife and son.  But when he's on a business trip, he hears a woman talking in the hallway of his hotel, and her voice is different, so he runs after her.  Her name is Lisa, and they form a strange and tender bond.

Oh man, you guys, this movie is something else.  It's weird, as you'd expect from a Charlie Kaufman movie, and wonderful and heartbreaking and funny.  The stop-motion animation is incredible (be sure to watch the "making of" featurettes on the DVD to see how much work went into it) and the voice acting is terrific and it's the best movie I've seen so far this year.

4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:  It's all right there in the title: the classic novel, but with zombies thrown in!  We weren't expecting much out of it, but it was surprisingly decent.

5. Darling:  A young woman moves into an old house in Manhattan to serve as its caretaker, but she slowly begins losing her mind.  It's a bit of a ripoff (or homage, if you're feeling generous) of Repulsion, but the black and white cinematography is gorgeous and the sound design is superb.

6. 10 Cloverfield Lane*:  After a car accident, Michelle wakes up handcuffed to a cot.  A man named Howard walks in and tells her that he rescued her and brought her to his bomb shelter because the world has been decimated by a chemical attack.  Is he really her savior, or something worse?  The ending was a little goofy, but it's incredibly tense and well done, and John Goodman is great as Howard.

7. The Brothers Grimsby:  Nobby and Sebastian (Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong) were separated as children.  28 years later, Nobby is a soccer hooligan with 9 kids and Sebastian is an elite spy.  When they're reunited, Nobby fucks up an important mission, and he and Sebastian have to try to make it right.  We weren't expecting much from this, but it was pretty funny and features what is quite possibly one of the grossest scenes in film history.  Also, some of the action scenes were actually quite good, probably owing to the fact that Louis Leterrier also directed The Transporter and Unleashed.

8. The Drop Box*:  This documentary follows a South Korean pastor who built a drop box where people could safely leave unwanted infants, most of them with special needs.  Pastor Lee has so much compassion it's practically a superpower, and I cried throughout pretty much the whole thing.   

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 55