Tuesday, February 28, 2017

media update: February

Wow, I actually managed to get quite a bit of reading done this month!  We had some crappy weather that kept me inside during my work breaks, I took a mental health day, and my Hidden City obsession has waned a bit (though it's by no means gone; I'm just able to put it aside when I run out of energy as opposed to buying shit to reup it so I can keep playing), so I was able to get some quality time in with a nice big pile o' books.  There's a lot of really quality stuff this time around, too. 

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.

FICTION

1. Little Heaven by Nick Cutter:  A trio of mercenaries is hired by a woman looking for her young nephew, who's been taken by his father to the titular religious colony, and let's just say its name is extremely ironic.  Like all of Nick Cutter's books, it's incredibly gory and disturbing; I learned pretty quickly to stop reading it right before bed.

Side note:  this is the third novel by Nick Cutter I've read, and every single one has included at least one truly horrific scene of animal cruelty (not that humans fare so well either), so caveat reader if that's something you find especially problematic.

2. The River at Night by Erica Ferencik:  Wini and her three best friends go on a trip together every year, and this time around, Pia (the de facto leader of the group) has chosen a rafting excursion deep in the Maine woods.  Wini isn't jazzed about the choice, but she figures their guide will keep them safe...which he does until a freak accident leaves the women alone, stranded, and without any supplies, at which point shit gets real bad REAL fast.  It takes a very improbable turn about halfway through, but it's still fun, and I bet it would make a great movie.

3. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth* by Lindsey Lee Johnson:  In a wealthy Northern California town, privileged teenagers bound together by a shared tragedy try to navigate the real world.  Almost painfully real; it made me glad I grew up before social media.  (Well, that and the fact that if I'd had access to online games/Tumblr/Twitter/AO3 as a teenager, I never would have graduated.)

4. The Red Car* by Marcy Dermansky:  Leah feels mired down in a loveless marriage and her unfulfilled dreams.  When she gets a call saying her former boss Judy has died and left her a car, Leah goes to San Francisco to pick it up and finds herself reconsidering her life choices.  Bittersweet and mordantly funny.

5. The Dry** by Jane Harper:  When he was a teenager, Aaron Falk and his father were run out of their small Australian town by people who thought Aaron was responsible for the death of a local girl. Now a federal agent in the "big city", Aaron has reluctantly returned for the funeral of his old friend Luke, who shot his wife and young son and then himself...or did he?  Aaron's determined to find out, but the locals are still convinced that Aaron's a killer, and they're not very happy to see him again.

I'm about to give The Dry two major compliments:  it reminded me of Tana French, and at one point I had full energy in Hidden City and I READ THIS BOOK INSTEAD.  That ought to tell you something right there!

6. The Animators** by Kayla Rae Whitaker:  Mel(ody) and Sharon are two friends and animators who create a movie based on Mel's childhood that becomes a critical hit.  After Sharon suffers from a traumatic incident, she returns to her own childhood home to confront something in her past.  It's a beautiful exploration of female friendship, both incredibly funny and devastating, and it made me think about interesting things like whether confessional (in the non-religious sense) is always a good idea.  Very highly recommended; it's fantastic.

Side note #1:  I'm really impressed at how the inside of the book cover managed to get the story across without spoiling some really important shit.  Give that person a raise and have them write ALL jacket copy from now on!  Shit, there's a book ad I saw recently that includes an incredibly spoilery hashtag and I saw that and was like "Are you even serious right now, fuckers?"

Side note #2:   While I was reading this, I could only picture two people in the movie, should it ever be made:  Broad City's Ilana Glazer as Mel and Abbi Jacobson as Sharon.

7. King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard:  This is the latest installment of the Red Queen series, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

8. Behind Her Eyes* by Sarah Pinborough:  Lonely single mother Louise meets a super hot dude in a bar one night, and they share a passionate kiss.  Unfortunately, when she goes to her new job a couple of days later, it turns out that the dude is her boss David, and he's married to a beautiful woman named Adele.  It would be a crime to ruin this book, so let's just say some REAL mindfuckery goes down.  Without getting too specific, I'll just say that one particular thing, though absolutely vital to the plot, was so goofy that I didn't wind up giving this two stars.  But man oh man!  If you have any interest in this book, read it before it gets spoiled for you.  Anyone who says they knew where it was going is either the author or a complete liar.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  13

NONFICTION

1. Oh Joy Sex Toy* vols. 1-3 by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan:  Delightfully illustrated books about sex, covering everything from sex toy reviews to interviews with sex workers.  Inclusive, charming, and often quite funny.

Side note:  I had a minor crisis trying to decide whether these should go in the nonfiction section or the manga/graphic novels section of this media update.  They're completely illustrated, but they're definitely not manga and they're not really graphic novels either.  I finally decided to go with nonfiction because the Dewey decimal number places them in the sexuality category.  (Fun fact that I know by heart: graphic novels, comic books, and manga are 741.5!)

2. All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers* by Alana Massey:  A collection of sharp and thoughtful essays combining personal anecdotes with examinations of how we view female celebrities, ranging from Sylvia Plath to my true boo Britney Spears.  There's also an essay that perfectly encapsulated why I had a problem with The Virgin Suicides, an impassioned and deeply sympathetic defense of Anna Nicole Smith, and a great line where the author is talking about her time as a stripper and how she'd hear sob stories from the guys there, and she addresses their significant others thusly:  "I took their money, but I took your side." 

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  5

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Everyone's Getting Married vols. 1-3 by Izumi Miyazono

2. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 7 by Aya Shouoto

3. Food Wars!* vol. 16 by Yuko Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

4. My Love Story!!* vol. 11 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

5. Say I Love You vol. 17 by Kanae Hazuki

6. The Ancient Magus' Bride vol. 6 by Kore Yamazaki

7. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 11 by Go Ikeyamada

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  9 volumes of manga

MOVIES

1. The Nice Guys*:  In this noir comedy, a pair of private eyes (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) investigate a missing woman in 1970s Los Angeles.  G-Vo pointed out that it seemed like it was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, which it wasn't, but that's obviously high praise indeed.  Very funny (a scene in an elevator just about killed us) and highly entertaining.

2. American Honey:  Star flees her shitty home life and winds up with a ragtag gang of traveling magazine sellers.  It's decent, but there's absolutely no reason it had to be almost 3 hours!  (I watched it in chunks over a period of several days because any movie that long better have some goddamn epic battle scenes or orcs or shit if I'm gonna watch it in one sitting.)

3. Finding Dory*:  Forgetful blue tang Dory misses her family, so she sets out on an epic adventure to find them.  Neither G-Vo nor I were huge fans of Finding Nemo (I know, blasphemy), but we really enjoyed this one.  The octopus stole the show!

Side note: Pixar's shorts tend to be pretty hit or miss, but the one featured here ("Piper") was a definite winner.

4. Arrival**:  When aliens arrive on Earth, a linguist (Amy Adams) is hired by the government to figure out their language and what they want.  Intelligent, heartbreaking, a great script, and a wonderful cast.

5. The Girl on the Train*:  Unmoored by her divorce, Rachel (Emily Blunt) fixates on a seemingly perfect couple she sees every day during her morning commute on the train.  One day she witnesses something that freaks her out, and she gets ensnarled in a missing persons case.  I'd read the book so there were no surprises to be had for me, but I still really enjoyed it, and the performances are excellent.

6. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back:  The titular drifter (Tom Cruise) finds himself on the run with a major accused of espionage and a young woman who might be his daughter.  It had its moments, but overall wasn't anything special.

7. Manchester by the Sea:  After his brother dies, Lee (Casey Affleck, who won the best actor Oscar) returns to his hometown and discovers that he's been appointed as his nephew's legal guardian.  Extremely well done and realistic, but JFC was it depressing!

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 12

VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH

Dead Rising is one of our favorite video game franchises, and the arrival of each new game is like Christmas for us, so it's especially appropriate that Dead Rising 4 came out just before the holidays!

DR4 (an Xbox One/Windows exclusive) brings back fan favorite Frank West, the intrepid photojournalist who covered the first zombie outbreak in Willamette, Colorado.  He's currently working as a photography professor, but he returns to Willamette with his student Vicky "Vick" Chu, who's convinced the government is up to some shady activity.  Vick's instincts are correct, but some shit goes down, and Frank has to go into hiding.  Several months later, he's found by a federal agent who wants Frank to help investigate a new zombie outbreak in Willamette.  Frank's reluctant to do so, but when he's promised that his name will be cleared and he'll get exclusive rights to the scoop, he grabs his camera and heads to Willamette.

LOVED:
  • Like every single game in the series, Dead Rising 4 is fun as hell.  If plowing through thousands of zombies is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.
  • Frank is just a cool-ass character: funny, tough, and secure enough in his masculinity to rock a sundress if he happens to find one in the mall.
  • Speaking of Frank, he's got a new voice actor this time around.  I did miss the original VA, but the new guy does such a good job that I stopped noticing after a while.
  • NO MORE TIME LIMITS!  Oh my god, what a fucking blessing to be able to thoroughly enjoy the environment without having to race to complete a mission.
  • DR4 has some of the best combo weapons in the series, including the lightning fast ice sword (my personal weapon of choice) and the magnificent Gandelf.  Nope, that's not a typo; you can create a staff that, when pounded on the ground, sends a horde of explosive garden gnomes into a crowd of zombies.  It's even more awesome than it sounds.  
  • The newly rebuilt mall has some really cool areas, including a gorgeous section that reminded me of Tokyo's Akihabara district.
LOATHED:
  • A couple of glitchy bits here and there, including one that crashed the game and caused me to lose a lot of progress.
  • The facial animations aren't as good as they could be.
  • The final boss fight was frustrating as hell.
  • Some repetitive dialogue.
  • I wish they hadn't made Frank look so much like The Walking Dead's Negan.  At one point, he even gets a bat covered in barbed wire!  It's probably a deliberate homage, but it was distracting.  (And that bat wasn't a particularly good weapon, either.)
MADE ME WANT TO PUNCH A GODDAMN WALL:

My absolute biggest problem with Dead Rising 4 is the fact that it ended in a particular, non-negotiable way, and there's going to be DLC that you have to buy in order to get the "true ending".  THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT.  It's like punishing the fans for being devoted enough to buy your game as soon as it comes out.  I mean, sure, we COULD wait for the "complete" or game of the year editions and pay one price for the whole thing, but then we risk getting spoiled.

People complain a lot about video games being expensive, and it's true; a new console game typically runs about $60.  But look at it this way, taking DR4 as an example:  G-Vo played through it on his own, and then I played it.  I don't know offhand how many hours total we poured into DR4, but a conservative estimate would be about 25 hours each, so that's 50 hours.   That's $1.20 per hour. 

Now let's take a first-run Hollywood movie and say that it's 2 hours long.  Non-matinee/non-3D movies in California are about $14 a ticket, so you're paying $7 an hour to see that movie.  Video games are a bargain in comparison, right?  But when you see a movie in the theater, THE PRICE OF YOUR TICKET INCLUDES THE FUCKING ENDING.  If the movie ended and the credits included a bit that said "For the TRUE ending, please buy this movie when it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray", there'd be a riot!

Another way of looking at it:  let's say you go to Wendy's and buy combo #1: a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke, which costs $7.18 here in California.  (Yes, I know that amount by heart, both because I go to Wendy's a lot and because 7/18 is my birthday, so it's easy to remember.)  It's cheaper to buy the combo meal than each item separately, but DLC is like paying more for a combo meal AND having to wait weeks or months for your goddamn fries to arrive.

Look, obviously I don't begrudge video game companies making money.  And if they want to release DLC that's "optional", like, say, some new weapons or a new area or whatever, then great!  But releasing THE TRUE ENDING for an additional cost is a bullshit move that punishes the loyal.  How about REWARDING the loyal by making the "true ending" a preorder bonus instead?  That way, you ensure a new sale, you give the fans a nice lagniappe, and if someone waits to buy it later, then they can pay for the goddamn DLC if they want.  (Though let me be clear, I don't think any "true ending"/canon story content DLC is a good idea; just put it all in the game to begin with.)

Overall, despite that rant, I would definitely recommend Dead Rising 4 if you're already a fan of the series; it's a lot of fun.  But for god's sake, don't buy it until the game of the year/complete edition comes out.  If we'd known they were going to do this, we would have waited.

Despite all that, Dead Rising 4 gets 4 explosive garden gnomes out of 5.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

media update: January

This is a scrawny media update because I didn't get much reading done when I was in Hawaii; I was much more interested in exploring and soaking up the gorgeous scenery than burying my face in a book!

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.

FICTION

1. Pull Me Under* by Kelly Luce:  When she was 12 years old, Chizuru Akitani snapped and killed a classmate who had been bullying her for a long time.  After her release from a juvenile detention facility, she moved to the United States, renamed herself Rio, and created a new life for herself.  But when her estranged father dies, Rio has to return to Japan, where she can no longer escape her past.  Poignant and beautifully written.

2. The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen:  This is the final book in the Tearling trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

3. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund:  Linda is a teenage girl living in the Minnesota woods with her parents when a family moves in across the lake.  Linda winds up befriending the mother, Patra, who hires her as a babysitter for her little boy Paul, but something's not quite right.  This synopsis kind of makes it sound like a horror story, and it is, but not in the way you might be thinking.

4. Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia:  Here's another book about a teenage girl from Minnesota!  This time, it's about Hattie, who longs to leave her small town and become an actress, but when she's stabbed to death, the investigation shows that she was an even better actress than everyone thought.  I was pretty sure I knew "whodunnit" about halfway through, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

5. Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst:  A princess hiding magical powers is betrothed to the prince of a neighboring kingdom, but things get complicated when she falls in love with his sister.  For the most part, it's standard YA fantasy fare, but I did appreciate the fact that it had lesbian/bisexual protagonists.


NONFICTION

1. Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis:  On her second night of college, the author was raped and the school did nothing about it.  She dropped out and decided to hike the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail in order to find herself.  Comparisons to Cheryl Strayed's similarly themed Wild were inevitable, and Wild is the superior memoir by far, but this was still very good.

Side note:  there were a lot of weird phrases and repetitive scenes in this book, but I had an advance reader's copy (which I found at the library's used book sale), so they might not show up in "official" copies.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

Nothing this month, surprisingly.

MOVIES

1. Independence Day: Resurgence:  This movie sucked baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalls.

2. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates:  The titular brothers (Adam Devine and Zac Efron) have a reputation for wrecking family events, so their parents insist they find "nice girls" to bring to their little sister's wedding in Hawaii.  Unfortunately, the women (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) who answer their online ad are wolves in sheep's clothing.  Occasionally quite funny, although one particular scene goes on WAY too long (for those of you who have seen it, it's the one with the massage therapist) and Anna Kendrick's dreadful wig is distracting as hell.

3. Morgan:  The titular character is a human created in a lab who's, shall we say, a bit unstable.  It was okay; the best thing about it was that it helped us kill 2 hours on a plane.

4. Jason Bourne:  More like Jason BORED, because my god this movie sucked.  An action movie should not be dull! 

5. Rogue One*:  In this very dark Star Wars prequel, the Rebel Alliance learns of a flaw in the Death Star and sets out to steal the plans.  Great casting and exciting action sequences made this a very fun afternoon at the movies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

what I did on my winter vacation

Several months ago, my dad told me that he was planning a vacation to Hawaii for the family, both as a celebration of his lymphoma being in remission and as a mini-reunion of sorts, since it's extremely rare for all of us to be in the same place at one time, scattered across the country as we are.  Not only that, but he said G was welcome too!  Were we interested?  Uh, duh.

Fast forward to January 13th, when we took off on our big Hawaiian adventure.  We spent 4 days in Kona on the big island, and then 5 days in Maui, though most of that final day was spent in the airport.  It would be a bit cumbersome, and probably quite frankly very boring for most of you, if I went over every single thing we did, so instead I'll list the highlights and lowlights of the trip.

THE GOOD

  • Our hotels were fuckin' DOPE.  In Kona, we stayed at the Mauna Lani Bay, which had a beautiful (if somewhat rocky) beach, big rooms, and a terrific breakfast buffet.  In Maui, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency, which also had a gorgeous beach, huge rooms, delightfully fast wi-fi, easy walking access to lots of stores and restaurants, and---check this---penguins in the lobby!  There were two big downsides to the Hyatt, though, which I'll cover later. 
  • Speaking of the birds at the Hyatt, they also had flamingos, cranes, swans both white and black, and parrots and cockatoos.  One of the cockatoos was named Samson, and I got the bright idea of playing assorted iPhone ringtones to see if he'd imitate any of them.  He listened to most of them with either a cocked head or disinterest, but two of them made him fluff up his head feathers, spread out his wings, and bob his head back and forth.  (I checked online to see what this behavior connotes; if it had been fear or aggression, I would have stopped immediately, of course.  Fortunately, it means he was excited and/or happy.)  So if you ever have the chance to play an iPhone ringtone for a cockatoo, try "Choo-Choo" and "Sherwood".
  • We got to see cool animals out in the wild, too, including sea turtles, eels fighting in a tidepool, and---from the safety of a submarine---stingrays, white tip sharks, and assorted fish.  We also saw several feral cats but they wouldn't let me love them.  :(
  • Took a really good bus tour, which stopped at a coffee plantation with a gorgeous view, a caldera which glowed bright orange in the dark, and a lava tube, and it also included a brief night hike through the rainforest.  At one point, the guide asked us to turn our flashlights off, and it was completely black except for the incredible night sky.
  • Took a bus tour on the famous road to Hana, which was very zigzaggy but included stops at beautiful beaches, waterfalls, and lookout points.
  • Took ANOTHER bus tour, this one to Haleakala State Park to see the sunset.  The sunset wasn't as spectacular as I would've hoped, but being high above the clouds and seeing them spread out before us like a massive white carpet was pretty damn cool.
  • Some great food:  prime rib, iberico pork belly with blueberry pancakes (an odd but delicious combo), macadamia crusted chicken, ube ice cream, a piece of hula pie that was the size of my head (and I have a huge fuckin' head).
  • Getting to spend quality time with my family and G.
  • Everybody knows Hawaii is gorgeous, but my god is it STUNNING.  We even saw double rainbows on the way back to the Maui airport, like one last parting gift.

THE BAD

  • Everybody ALSO knows Hawaii is expensive, but I wasn't really prepared for just how spendy it really is.  ($42 for half a rotisserie chicken with no sides?!?  $3 for a Coke Zero?!?  Almost ten bucks for a GALLON of MILK?!?!?!?!?) On our way to the submarine excursion, G was chatting with our shuttle driver, who told us that he and his wife work 5 jobs between them, their property taxes are $14,000 a year, their electric bill was $400 last month, and he was happy about driving the shuttle that day because it meant he only had to work a 10 hour day instead of his usual 12- to 16-hour shift.  He said, "I can't wait to retire and move to Massachusetts!"  (Sounds random, but his daughters are there, and he likes snow.)  Personally, I'd rather live large in a boring state and not have to work 60+ hour weeks, because what good is living in paradise if you're always too busy to enjoy it?
  • Remember when I said the Hyatt had two big downsides?  The first was the unbelievably cramped bathroom, and the second was the massive influx of people who were there as a reward for exceeding their sales goals last year.  (Nice perk!)  They were EVERYWHERE, clogging the restaurants and pools and beaches, and we always knew exactly who they were because, to a person, they carried tote bags emblazoned with their company's name.  Now, obviously they had a right to be there too, but they had lots of pool parties with a loud and annoying DJ who could be heard pretty much anywhere in the hotel, often quite late at night, and it was irritating.
  • This isn't Hawaii's fault, but a water pipe broke at LAX when we were flying out and made the bathrooms in our terminal unusable.  If you wanted to use a bathroom, you had to go to another terminal and then go back through security!  No thanks.  So we sat there for 3 hours, parched as hell but afraid to drink anything lest we have to pee.
  • This also isn't Hawaii's fault, but on the redeye back to Los Angeles, we had a screaming toddler (after landing, I heard his mother say "And now we're part of someone's nightmare travel story!") and the guy sitting next to me (the travel agent couldn't get seats together for G and me, although we were across the aisle from each other) was a shameless manspreader.  We also hit the kind of turbulence that makes you start praying.  On the plus side, at least once we got to LAX, G and I were home within a couple of hours!  My brother had a 3 hour layover, and my dad and stepmother had a SIX hour layover, then a delay, and then they landed in Tampa to discover there was a tornado warning.  The bridges were out, so they had to take a detour while driving home.  They got home about 30 hours after leaving Maui, but at least they got there safely!
Overall, it was an excellent trip, full of quality time with my loved ones, fun excursions, and beautiful scenery.  I'd love to go back some day, but I'll need to take out a loan first!

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2016: the year in review

JANUARY:  Finished leveling up all Vocaloids to max affection in Project Mirai.  (That may be the geekiest sentence I've ever typed.)  Had to slam on my brakes in heavy traffic, which caused minor whiplash that plagued me for a few days.  Alan Rickman and David Bowie died.  Finished season 1 of D4.  Read 8 novels, 1 nonfiction book, and 3 volumes of manga; watched 13 movies.

FEBRUARY:  Southern California was hit by an unseasonal heat wave.  Went to Little Tokyo with G, C, and J.  My Aunt Sue (technically my great-aunt, but she and my mom were only 12 years apart so they were more like sisters) died, which really broke my heart because she was a wonderful woman.  Finished Game of Thrones (the Telltale video game, not the series).  Took a long Valentine's Day weekend.  Finished Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask story mode.  G's parents were in town for a few days, and we watched the Oscars together.  Read 13 novels, 1 nonfiction book, and 2 volumes of manga; watched 11 movies.

MARCH:  My work bestie transferred to Arizona, which really fucking sucked because she was the one person at work that I considered a friend.  Took a desperately needed mental health day, and I ordered Red Robin delivery from Door Dash, mainlined the Captive Prince trilogy, and read a fat stack of magazines.  Read 14 novels, 2 graphic novels, and 11 volumes of manga; watched 8 movies.

APRIL:  Went to Santa Monica with our friend M for her belated birthday celebration.  Got my hair cut. Prince died.  Met up with my brother in Las Vegas, and we spent 5 days eating delicious foods, walking about eight thousand miles, and seeing shows (Cirque du Soleil's Ka and a comedian/hypnotist named Anthony Cools).  I also got together with my good friend J, and we had dinner, went to the Erotic Heritage Museum, and hung out talking about everything and nothing.  At one point I was laughing so hard I was literally sobbing!  Read 12 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 4 volumes of manga, and one graphic novel; watched 7 movies.

MAY:  Came back from my Vegas trip to a massive shitstorm thanks to new draconian policies and bitchy emails from my [c-word] boss N.   Spent a weekend by myself because G was out of town for his nephew's graduation and I couldn't get the time off work.  Although I missed G, I kept myself busy with a trip to the mall, naps, Netflix, and reading.  I was jealous as hell when G came back and told me that he got to stay at the super swank penthouse of a cult director.  Finished Life Is Strange.  Read 8 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 5 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 8 movies.

JUNE:  My boss N got promoted and decided to throw a few more shit nuggets at me before leaving by changing my coveted shift and assigning afternoon lobby duty (an incredibly cushy job) to someone else.  The new boss, K, turned out to be a bit goofy and annoying, but at least she's stationed in an office 2 hours away and only came to our office once or twice a month.  G's sister, brother-in-law, and nephew came for a short visit.  Finished Uncharted.  Read 8 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 8 volumes of manga, and 5 graphic novels; watched 8 movies.

JULY:  Spent the 4th of July weekend in Portland with G and his family; we stayed in a rental house that was nice except for a bad ant problem, and we visited Voodoo Doughnuts, Powell's Books, museums, botanical gardens, and Multnomah Falls.  G and I also had the best macaroni and cheese of our life at a restaurant called Branch; we were literally moaning, and G doesn't get excited about food, so you KNOW it was good!  Took an extra long weekend to celebrate G's and my birthdays, which are two days apart.  Hung out with our friend M.  The wildfires set off my allergies something fierce, not that that's the big tragedy.  Finished Tales from the Borderlands.  Read 10 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 9 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 10 movies.

AUGUST:  Had to go to the eye doctor because I had what looked for all the world like a zit on my eyeball, which freaked my shit out.  Fortunately it was just something called a retention cyst (probably from rubbing my eyes too hard, so don't do that) and went away on its own.  An El Pollo Loco employee was so rude to G (without provocation, mind you) that I had to restrain myself from flinging a cup of mashed potatoes at her.  Finished Uncharted 3.  G and I celebrated our 12th (!!!) anniversary together with dinner at Cheesecake Factory (the site of our first date) and a showing of Kubo and the Two Strings.  My absolute least favorite coworker retired, which made me do the happiest of dances!  Read 11 novels, 5 nonfiction books, 8 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 8 movies.

SEPTEMBER:  Got a nail in my tire.  Finished Stranger Things.  Glenn's sister A, brother-in-law J, and nephew D came out for a visit, and we went to LACMA to see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit.  My work bestie J came to California for a visit, and it was so awesome to see her!   Work continued to suck my ass out when the powers that be decided to put us on phones 100% of the time.  Not only that, but they closed our lobby, which robbed me of 2 gloriously slacky hours in the late afternoon.  Finished Gal*Gun Double Peace, a pervy but not particularly good PS4 game.  Went out to dinner with our friend M.  Had a massive allergy attack.  Read 14 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 2 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 9 movies.

OCTOBER:  Finished Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X.  Got a glorious reprieve from phone duty when my boss asked me to work on a project.  Because nothing can ever be easy, the project had a pretty steep learning curve and the software I needed was plagued with problems, but I eventually got everything smoothed out and rejoiced in my phone-free life.  Became addicted to Hidden City, a mobile game that is about as addictive as black tar heroin.  Took 4 days off as staycation.  Spent Halloween with G eating candy and watching The Purge: Election Year.  Read 8 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 6 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 8 movies.

NOVEMBER:  Published two articles.  G-Vo came down with either a very bad cold or a relatively minor case of the flu, and I followed suit the next week.  Donald Trump won the election.  Went clothes shopping with G-Vo.  Played the "Lost in Nightmares" DLC for Resident Evil 5.  G-Vo's parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew D, and D's girlfriend T came out for Thanksgiving weekend.  We had dinner at a local restaurant, went to several museums, and visited Little Tokyo, where I scored 12 bags of my favorite (and extremely rare) potato chips.  Read 9 novels, 3 nonfiction books, and 2 volumes of manga; watched 5 movies.

DECEMBER:  Saw Doctor Strange in the theater.  Was EXCEPTIONALLY unhappy at the news that I'd have to be on phones for the last two hours of my shift, but at least it wasn't all day like it used to be!  A bird crapped on me.  Our friend R came to California to visit her family, and we got to spend an evening together laughing ourselves sick.  Finished Sherlock Holmes and the Devil's Daughter.  Got yet ANOTHER new boss, this one located in Virginia, because sure why not.  Spent a lovely long Christmas weekend with G-Vo playing video games, watching movies, and eating...in short, perfection.  George Michael, Carrie Fisher, AND Debbie Reynolds died.  Rang in the New Year with a bottle of prosecco and my favorite person in the world.  Read 4 novels, 3 nonfiction books, and 7 volumes of manga; watched 8 movies.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

media update: December

Happy 2017, and good fuckin' riddance to 2016!  I want to believe that 2017 will be much better, but...uh...considering what's going to happen near the end of January, probably not.  (And a friendly aside to the Grim Reaper:  if you're still hungry after gorging yourself so often last year, feel free to take out Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, OJ Simpson, Jared Fogle, or any of their ilk as opposed to, you know, MY CHILDHOOD ICONS.)

You may notice this media update is pretty sparse by my usual standards, as I didn't get much reading done this month.  Southern California finally got the memo that it's winter, so I was able to walk on my breaks at work instead of staying inside to avoid heatstroke, and Hidden fucking City continued to eat away at my free time, so I wasn't getting much reading done at home either!


The movie list is also smaller than usual because G-Vo and I spent most of our time gaming: Sugar Smash, Hidden goddamn City, Sherlock Holmes and the Devil's Daughter (not as good as the previous games, and the ending was weird, but it was still enjoyable), and Dead Rising 4.  Ohhhhhh yeah.


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


FICTION


1. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen:  After the death of her mother Queen Elyssa, Kelsea was raised in hiding to protect her from those who would kill her.  When she comes of age, she returns to the kingdom to claim her throne and finds herself squarely in the crosshairs of those who aren't happy to see her again. 


Side note: Emma Watson bought the movie rights to this series, and from what I understand, she's going to play Kelsea.  This amuses me because Kelsea is repeatedly described as plain, and I doubt there's much you could do to ugg out Emma Watson!  They'll need Charlize Theron's Monster makeup artist to even have a chance.


2. Scythe by Neal Shusterman:  In the future, humanity has managed to conquer aging and death, but of course this means there are way too many people on Earth, so an elite group of people known as scythes randomly pick people to kill.  Two teenagers named Citra (this is YA, so of course most of the names are goofy; there are also characters named Tyger, Jacory, and Kohl) and Rowan are chosen to apprentice under a scythe, but neither one of them wants the job.  A very interesting premise, but it could have used some tighter editing and a good proofreader.  My personal favorite oopsie was when Citra is described as being incapable of doing things "half-fast".  I had no idea what he meant, but then I said it out loud and realized he meant "half-assed".  HALF-FAST.


3. The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen:  Sequel etc.


4. The Mothers* by Brit Bennett:  Unmoored by the suicide of her mother, 17-year-old Nadia Turner begins having sex with her pastor's son.  When she gets pregnant, she has an abortion, the effects of which will resonate through the rest of their lives.  Beautifully written and heartbreaking.


Side note: although the synopsis makes this sound anti-choice, I didn't take it that way, although other people may think otherwise.


2016 TOTAL:  119


NONFICTION


1. Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran:  A collection of columns covering everything from the silly (the addictive qualities of the Daft Punk song "Get Lucky", her crush on Benedict Cumberbatch) to the deadly serious (female genital mutilation, sexism).


2. Kathy Griffin's Celebrity Run-Ins by Kathy Griffin:  The comedian spills the super salty tea on the many celebrities she's met.


3. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton:  After several years of bulimia and alcoholism, the author found love, got married, had children, and published an instant bestseller.  As you might imagine, things were looking pretty good, but then she found out that her husband was cheating on her.  I'd give the first half of this book a star, but the second half gets awfully New Age woo-woo mushy.


2016 TOTAL:  24


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS


1. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 11 by Fumi Yoshinaga


2. Rin-Ne vol. 22 by Rumiko Takahashi


3. Sweetness and Lightning vols. 1-3 by Gido Amagakure


4. Food Wars! vol. 15 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki


6. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 10 by Go Ikeyamada


2016 TOTAL:  67 volumes of manga and 18 graphic novels


MOVIES


1. Doctor Strange**:  After a car accident robs him of the use of his hands, arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, terrific as always) goes to Nepal in search of healing, and a whole new world of superpowers opens up to him.  Just a really fun movie, with some surprisingly good dialogue and trippy visuals that more than justified the extra cost for the 3D experience.  If you want to see it and haven't yet, I'd definitely recommend seeing it in the theater, assuming it's even still playing by the time I post this.


Side note: why do people like messing with Mads Mikkelsen's eyes so much?  In this movie, his eyes are charred around the edges; in Casino Royale, his eyes leak blood; in the trailer for the upcoming video game Death Stranding, his eyes leak black goo.  Considering how nasty Hannibal got, I'm amazed he made it to the end of the series with his eyes intact!


2. Don't Breathe:  A trio of teenage burglars hears about a rich blind man living in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood, and they think he'll be an easy score.  Big mistake.  A painfully tense thriller that gets almost grindhouse by the end.


3. Mechanic: Resurrection:  Retired hitman Arthur Bishop is forced out of hiding when an old enemy kidnaps his girlfriend and refuses to release her unless Arthur completes three more jobs.  The absolute best scene was spoiled in the trailer, but it still has a lot of fun action and Jason Statham in a wetsuit, which:  HNNNNNFFFFFFF.


4. The Darkness:  A family unwittingly brings a really crappy souvenir back from vacation in the form of a malevolent spirit.  This movie was HYPNOTICALLY bad, to the point that I didn't even want to stop watching because I was kind of impressed by just how terrible it was.  The best part was the 5 second clip of ParaNorman they showed near the beginning.  (ParaNorman is a wonderful movie.  Watch that instead of this.)


5. Suicide Squad:  A group of supervillains is recruited to fight a supernatural being.  It's just as incoherent and messy as you've heard, and the soundtrack is unbelievably distracting (the cost for music rights must have been stratospheric), but Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot are terrific.


6. Krampus:  A family comes under attack by Krampus, a creature from folklore who's basically the evil twin of Santa Claus.  WAY better than expected, and really fun.


7. Goat:  After suffering a horrifying attack, Brad decides to pledge the same fraternity as his brother in hopes of finding friendship and healing, but instead he finds the exact opposite.  This raw and disturbing flick is based on the memoir by Brad Land, which I read many years ago, but I'd forgotten most of the details.


8. Nerve*:  Desperate for money, Vee (Emma Roberts) becomes entangled in an online game with ever-increasing stakes.  We weren't expecting much from it, but it was actually quite entertaining!


2016 TOTAL:  103

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

best of 2016: miscellaneous edition

And finally, here's my list of random favorite things from 2016.  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these things first made their debut in 2016, but that's when I first experienced them.
  • In years past, I used to include a picture of/from each item, but that became a colossal hassle due to continued issues with Blogger/Photobucket.  My apologies.
  • These aren't in any particular order.
  • Those of you familiar with my intense love of the Dead Rising series might be surprised to see Dead Rising 4 missing from this list, but that's because I haven't played it yet!  That will definitely change this weekend, though.  (Watch for it here at the end of 2017.)
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. School-Live!:   This anime is about a group of girls who belong to the School Living Club, and honestly, that's all I want to say about it because the less you know about this show going in, the better.  You might be tempted to give up about halfway through the first episode, but I promise your patience will be rewarded.  (Available for streaming on Crunchyroll)

2. Tales from the Borderlands:  Telltale Games does it again with this incredibly funny take on the Borderlands series.  Although I imagine some familiarity with the original games would enhance your enjoyment, they do such a great job that it's not even necessary.  (Available on most major consoles)

3. The Uncharted series:  I watched a clip from Uncharted 4 and was so enchanted that I decided I wanted to play it, even though I hadn't played the first three games.  G-Vo would have none of that, so I went ahead and plowed through the first three games over the course of two months.  I still haven't played Uncharted 4, as we're waiting for the game of the year edition, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with cheeky treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his crew.  (Playstation exclusive)

4. Stranger Things:  In this pitch perfect homage to the 80s, a group of friends become embroiled in a sinister government plot after meeting a strange girl named Eleven.  It's really fun, and I for one welcome the return of Winona Ryder to pop culture.  (Netflix streaming)

5. Daredevil:  Blind lawyer Matt Murdock has a secret: he's also Daredevil, crime fighter extraordinaire.  Lots of really fun action and JFC, Daredevil's ass gives me a thirst not even a gallon of Gatorade could quench.  (Netflix streaming)

6. Ash vs. Evil Dead:  If you enjoyed the original Evil Dead movies and you love Bruce Campbell (I didn't say "or" there because who the hell doesn't love Bruce Campbell?!?) AND you haven't seen this yet, what are you waiting for?  It's gooey, gory, hysterical fun.  (Season 1 available on DVD; season 2 just wrapped up.  It's on Starz, so if you get that channel, you might be able to catch reruns or stream it.  I'm living the basic cable life, so my broke ass doesn't know for sure.)

7. Life Is Strange:  Max is a teenage girl who's just discovered she has the ability to rewind time, which of course is both a good and a bad thing.  Realistic characters, fun gameplay, agonizing moral choices, excellent voice acting, and super sharp writing made this, by far, my favorite video game of 2016.  (Available on most major consoles)

8. Hidden City:  THIS GODDAMN GAME.  I love it because it's so much fun, but I hate it because it's so fucking addictive that it's taken over most of my free time.  It's a hidden object game that starts off easy and steadily gets harder and harder.  The artwork is absolutely stunning, and the dopamine rush I get when I manage to find something in the last couple of seconds cannot be denied.  I'm actually grateful when my energy runs out because it forces me to put the game away and do something else for a while.  Recommended only if you have a lot of free time and/or the willpower to put it aside when real life demands your attention.  (Free download, though I'm not sure of everything you can get it on; G-Vo plays it on the iPad and I play it on the Kindle Fire.  Of course, like most mobile games, you can pay for boosters and whatnot, so be careful!)

9. Compartes Cereal Bowl candy bar:  White chocolate studded with Lucky Charms pieces?  Oh yes please.  I'm actually grateful this is so expensive ($12/bar, not even kidding) or else I'd be plowing through one or two of these a week.  They have lots of other flavors too if white chocolate isn't your jam.  Gorgeous packaging.  I get it from a gourmet candy store at my local mall, but you can also buy it online.

10. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X:  Everybody's favorite virtual idol returns in another addictive rhythm game!  (Playstation exclusive)

11. Game of Thrones (video game):  Telltale Games knocks yet another one out of the park with their take on the GoT universe.  It's seriously like playing a side story from the books, and has all the hallmarks of a Telltale game: great writing, great voice acting (speaking of which, I tweeted something pervy about a character in this game and the voice actor favorited it; awkward!), great everything.  I would really like the second season now, please.  (Available on most major consoles)

12. Glory by Britney Spears:  What, you think my iTunes is all 80s songs and obscure Japanese noise bands?  Nope; I have a soft spot for Britney Spears, and albums like this one are the reason why.  Her previous album, Britney Jean, was terrible, but she more than makes up for it with Glory.  It's got everything: slow sexjams ("Just Luv Me", "Slumber Party", "Make Me..."), songs that will make you (okay, me) jump around your living room like a maniac ("If I'm Dancing", "Do You Wanna Come Over?"), and an achingly pretty ballad called "Man on the Moon".  There's one turd tossed into the mix ("Private Show", which is so terrible it makes me want to trepan myself in the few seconds I hear before my finger can reach the skip button on my iTunes), but carping about it is petty when everything else is so damn good. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

best of 2016: movies

And now it's time for my favorite movies of 2016!  The usual disclaimers before I begin:


  • Not all of these were first released in 2016, but that's when I saw 'em.
  • The first two movies listed were definitely my favorites, but the rest of the list is in random order.  (It's pretty weird that my two favorite movies were both stop motion animation, considering that it's somewhat of a dying art.) 
  • Despite my most fervent wishes, 2016 isn't over yet, so it's possible I'll watch something between now and the end of the year that belongs on here.  If so, I'll update accordingly.
  • I don't know why #3 and #4 on this list look tiny and squinchy; Blogger is being a butthole again.  I've tried to fix it but it's not working, and I lack the time/patience to type this all over again, so my apologies.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Anomalisa:  Michael Stone is alienated from other people to the point that they all look and sound alike to him.  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 like nothing else I've ever seen.

2. 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.

3. The Martian:  A group of astronauts is working on Mars when a storm forces them to leave the planet early.  They think their crewmate Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is dead and they leave him behind, but he's actually alive, and he has to figure out how to signal Earth for help.  Intense and incredibly enjoyable.

4.  The Visit:  Siblings Becca and Tyler are excited to meet their grandparents for the first time, but their vacation turns into a nightmare when Nana and Pop Pop begin acting very, very strange.


I know M. Night Shyamalan's name has become tarnished over the years due to flops like The Happening and the utter cinematic abortion that was The Last Airbender, but I swear to you, this movie was really fucking GOOD.  The acting is great, there are some really funny scenes, and the stuff that's supposed to be scary is tense as hell.  G-Vo and I weren't expecting much from this flick, but we were very pleasantly surprised.


5. Captain America: Civil War:  The United Nations wants to limit what superheroes are allowed to do, and although some of the Avengers are okay with restrictions, others don't like the idea at all, causing a serious rift and some truly badass action scenes.  Immensely entertaining (far more so than The Avengers: Age of Ultron) and am I a Stucky (Steve/Bucky) shipper now?  Goddamn right I am. 


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. Room:  Joy (Brie Larson, very deserving of her Oscar) has been confined to a small shed for over seven years by a man she calls Old Nick, along with her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay, not nominated but should have been).  Despite their situation, Joy has given Jack the best life she could, but she's reaching her breaking point.  Very powerful, with terrific performances, and I cried throughout most of it.

8. 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.


9. Doctor Strange:  After a car accident robs him of the use of his hands, arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange goes to Nepal in search of healing, and a whole new world of superpowers opens up to him.  Just a really fun movie, with some surprisingly good dialogue and trippy visuals that more than justified the extra cost for the 3D experience.

10.  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.


SEEN IN THE THEATER:  Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Lights Out, Kubo and the Two Strings, Doctor Strange

MOST HORRIFYING SCENE:  I can't decide between the arm injury or the boxcutter scene from Green Room, but they both made me gasp.

MADE ME CRY (OR AT LEAST TEAR UP):
 No Escape, The Martian, Sherrybaby, Freeheld, 99 Homes, The Good Dinosaur, Ratter (which I know sounds lame as hell, but I can't explain what got to me without massive spoilers, so please just trust me that it's not as lame as it sounds), Anomalisa, The Drop Box, Zootopia, Me Before You, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book


MADE ME NOT JUST CRY BUT SOB FOR ROUGHLY HALF OF ITS RUNNING TIME: Room

WORST MOVIE I WATCHED THIS YEAR:  I was going to say Gods of Egypt or The Darkness, but although they were absolute trash, at least they were mildly entertaining and I wasn't compelled to write two blog entries ripping them apart.  Ergo, my least favorite movie this year was The Neon Demon, which was visually impressive but so stupid and so goddamn pleased with itself that it made me angry.