Tuesday, March 31, 2015

media update: March

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

FICTION

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

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

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

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


2015 tally so far: 15

NONFICTION

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

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


2015 tally so far: 5

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

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

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

3. Displacement* by Lucy Knisley

4. Honey Blood by Miko Mitsuki

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

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

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

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


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


MOVIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 tally so far: 30

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Dream All Day" by the Posies

2. "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet

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

4. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen

5. "Tears" by Health

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

7. "Jump Around" by House of Pain

8. "Maybe I Know" by Lesley Gore


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH #1



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

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

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

WICKEDLY GOOD

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

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


VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH #2



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

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

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

HOWLS

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

WHIMPERS

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

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

Monday, March 02, 2015

media update: February

Starting this month, I'm going to keep a running tally of how many books I've read/movies I've watched since the beginning of the year.  I'm doing this not to be all "OMG look how much I read LOL"; I'm doing it because it appeals to my OCD.

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

FICTION

1. The Deep* by Nick Cutter:  Humanity is being destroyed by a plague called the 'Gets, which causes people to forget things and eventually shut down completely.  When an unusual substance with miraculous healing properties is discovered at the bottom of the sea, a research lab is built eight miles below the surface to study it.  But when the scientists stop communicating, a ship is sent to find out what is going on, and it turns out the miracle cure may be far worse than the disease.  Gooey, disturbing Lovecraftian horror that actually managed to make me cry at one point.  Warning: like Cutter's previous book The Troop, it contains some very nasty scenes of animal cruelty/death.

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins:  Rachel has lost her marriage and her job due to her drinking, but every day she takes a commuter train into London so her roommate doesn't find out she's unemployed.  At one of the stops, she likes looking out the window at a particular house, making up stories about the attractive couple she sees there.  But one day Rachel glimpses something she shouldn't, and when the woman disappears, she decides to piece together the truth.  From the rave reviews, I was expecting something great, but it's merely good.  

3. The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard:  In the world of this novel, people are divided by the color of their blood:  Reds, who are normal, and Silvers, who possess unique abilities and have all of the money and power.  Mare Barrow, a teenage Red, chafes under the Silvers' rule, but when a shocking secret comes to light, she finds herself at the heart of a rebellion.  It's okay, but awfully derivative of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and even Avatar: The Last Airbender.  (Seriously, there are benders in it.)

4. A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd:  This is the final volume in the Madman's Daughter trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors, but I really liked it.

5. Motive by Jonathan Kellerman:  Dr. Alex Delaware and his friend Milo Sturgis, an LAPD homicide detective, team up to solve a rash of murders with an unusual twist:  the killer leaves behind a feast.  It's annoying how Kellerman occasionally spells out heavy accents (verbatim example:  "Vut ken I do for you, surzz?"  Christ, just say the person has a heavy accent and leave it at that!), but otherwise, this was a solid read.

6. See How Small* by Scott Blackwood:  Three teenage girls are working at an ice cream shop when two men come in just before closing, tie them up, and set the place on fire.  (Horrifyingly enough, this novel was inspired by a similar crime in the 90s.)  As the community reels from the tragedy, the girls watch from the afterlife.  It doesn't wrap up neatly, which I appreciated because such things rarely do.  Haunting and lyrical.

7. One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis:  Emily Coleman has a great job, a loving husband, and an adorable son, but one day she walks right out of her life and starts a new one in London.  She reinvents herself, but even as she begins to thrive in her new environment, she can't entirely put the past behind her.  It's pretty good, but not as shocking as the reviews claimed.

2015 tally so far: 11

NONFICTION

1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace* by Jeff Hobbs:  Robert Peace was born in poverty, but thanks to brains, a bit of luck, and a lot of willpower, he managed to get into Yale, where he majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.  But after he graduated, he returned to his hometown, where he got tangled up in the drug trade that would eventually lead to his death.  The author was one of Robert's roommates, and this book is both a tribute to his friend and an incisive look at whether we can ever truly overcome the circumstances into which we were born.

2015 tally so far: 3

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Spell of Desire vols. 2-3 by Tomu Ohmi

2. The Walking Dead* vol. 22 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

3. Happy Marriage!? vols. 1-2 by Maki Enjoji

4. Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vols. 1-2 by Naoki Serizawa

5. Food Wars!* vols. 3-4 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. The Wicked + the Divine* by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

7. The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez

2015 tally so far: 12 volumes of manga and 3 graphic novels

MOVIES

1. The Maze Runner:  A terrified teenage boy wakes up in a glade surrounded by an enormous maze.  He's told by another boy that they have to try to find their way out of the maze, but considering that it changes shape every night and is inhabited by steampunk scorpions, it won't be too easy.  It was okay, by which I mean I'll watch any future installments but won't make it a priority or nothin'.

2. Annabelle:  An expectant couple is attacked in their home by satanic cultists, but although they survive, their terror is just beginning.  See, the husband bought his wife the creepiest fucking doll ever, and one of the cultists bleeds out all over the doll, and it gets possessed.  You may remember Annabelle from The Conjuring, but that movie was actually scary; this one is just stupid.

Side note:  Someone on the IMDB message boards said that Annabelle was the scariest movie they'd ever seen, and I laughed out loud.  I can only imagine that something legitimately frightening like The Descent or Jacob's Ladder would traumatize them to the point they'd need to be institutionalized.

3. Starry Eyes:  Sarah desperately wants to be an actress, but nothing ever comes of her constant auditioning.  She finally gets what she thinks might be her big break, but it's not quite what it seems.  Much like House of the Devil and Entrance, it takes a while to get going, but once it does, things go absolutely batshit.  Features the most gruesome kill I've seen in a horror flick since High Tension.

4. John Wick:  After Russian mobsters do something very nasty to him, hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) comes out of retirement to get revenge.  I came really close to giving this a star, but the ending desperately needed to be tightened up.  It's still quite good, though, and features some awesome action sequences.

5. Lucy:  Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to work as a drug mule, but when a bag of an experimental drug breaks open in her stomach, she basically becomes a superhero.  Some fun action and a great car chase, but the last 15 minutes or so are too stupid to warrant a star.

6. The Wind Rises:  This biographical animated film is about Jiro Horikoshi, who designed fighter planes in WWII.  I wanted to love this movie, especially because it's reported to be Hayao Miyazaki's last, but oh my god it is so boring.  It's like watching gorgeous paint dry. 

7. The Interview*:  After scoring an interview with Kim Jong-un, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron (Seth Rogen) are approached by the CIA with an unusual request:  to assassinate the dictator.  It's no Team America: World Police, but it was still pretty goddamn funny.

8. The Boxtrolls*:  Eggs was orphaned as a baby and raised by an underground tribe of trolls.  When an evil exterminator decides to rid the world of every last Boxtroll, Eggs teams up with a spoiled rich girl to stop him.  I'm a sucker for stop motion animation, and the work that went into this was truly amazing.

9. Whiplash*:  Andrew (Miles Teller) is a student at a prestigious music academy.  He dreams of being a jazz drummer and thinks he's gotten a big step up when a professor decides to mentor him, but it turns out that the professor (J.K. Simmons, earning his supporting actor Oscar and then some) is a sadistic tyrant.  Really good.  

2015 tally so far: 21

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Sex Dwarf" by Soft Cell

2. "Surrender to a Stranger" by Soft Cell

3. "Drunken Butterfly" by Sonic Youth

4. "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails

5. "Head Like a Hole" by Nine Inch Nails

6. "March of the Pigs" by Nine Inch Nails

7. "Runaway" by Del Shannon

8. Gone Girl soundtrack:  Here's a fun fact for you, courtesy of IMDB:  when telling composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross what kind of score he wanted for the movie, David Fincher told them about a time he went to a spa and they were playing music that was supposed to be soothing but creeped him out instead.  Mission accomplished.  I'm about to give this one of the highest compliments I could give a CD like this:  Akira Yamaoka (the composer for almost every Silent Hill game) would be proud.  In particular, the track "Appearances" sounds almost exactly like the music that plays when James is looking in the mirror at the beginning of Silent Hill 2.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

media update: January

NOTE TO G-VO:  Please skip movie review #5 as I'll probably make you watch it at some point.

Hello, my cats and kittens!  My dad is currently visiting me, so I've been quite busy playing hostess for the last couple of days.  He's not staying with me, but at a very Mulholland Drive-esque hotel about 4 miles away from my place.  He's gotten on my nerves a couple of times (thank CHRIST for G-Vo, who listened patiently to me on the phone and provided some invaluable advice), but overall it's been nice having him here.  I must say, I never knew he had so many opinions on celebrities!  Here are a couple of choice bits:

- At lunch, he asked me to identify a singer on the radio and when I told him it was Rihanna, he said "Oh, Rihanna!  Man, she is SULTRY."

- Upon flipping the TV to Modern Family:  "Whew, that Sofia Vergara is one hot babe."

- While we were waiting in line at CVS, he noticed George and Amal Clooney on the cover of a magazine and asked the guy behind us if he thought Amal was pretty.  The startled dude said, "Uh, sure," to which my dad said "She's very classy!  George Clooney is a great guy, so I hope it works out for them."  (My dad has a friend who met the Cloons; it's a very long story, but the Cliff's Notes version is that George Clooney was extremely nice to the friend when he didn't have to be, and in fact if he had been rude it would have been somewhat justified, and the story made a huge impression on my dad.)

- Flipping through a magazine on my couch:  "God, [redacted because this isn't a nice thing he said] sure turned out to be a slut."  I chided him, and he said, "I'd say the same thing if a guy acted the same way she does!  It's tacky!"

- "Kate Hudson is pretty, but she's no Emily Blunt."  ?????

- And best of all:  I have a poster of Dante from Devil May Cry (reboot version, not original recipe) on my fridge, and my dad said "Is this that Justin Bieber kid?"  Dear reader, I ROFL'd.

Anyway, on to the media update!

Starting this month, I'm trying something new.  As usual, asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time, but this month I'm adding double asterisks!  Double asterisks are for things that I couldn't stop thinking/raving about, and will be reserved for the absolute creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Party Girl by Rachel Hollis:  Landon Brinkley moves to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming an event planner.  When she lands an internship with celebrity party planner Selah Smith, she can't believe her luck, but her dream job quickly becomes a nightmare.  It's a pretty shameless ripoff of The Devil Wears Prada, but it was mindlessly enjoyable enough to keep me occupied on a 4 hour flight, and it had the occasional good line.  (My favorite, when Landon is about to get in a car with a hunky coworker she barely knows:  "This feels like the start of every Lifetime movie Tori Spelling ever died in.")

2. The Iris Fan by Laura Joh Rowland:  In the final installment of the Sano Ichiro samurai detective series, Sano has to investigate an assassination attempt against the shogun.  Not one of the more engrossing books in this series, but I'm still sad to see it end as I've been a fan (uh, no pun intended) since the beginning.

3. This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner:  This is the second book in the Starbound trilogy, and although it follows new characters for the most part, there's enough crossover that I won't go into details lest I spoil its predecessor.  I didn't like it nearly as much as These Broken Stars.

4. Her by Harriet Lane:  Nina is out running errands when she sees Emma, a woman she used to know.  Emma doesn't remember Nina, but Nina has a longstanding grudge against her, and she slowly insinuates herself into Emma's life.  As the novel progresses, you get hints as to what happened until it all unspools near the very end.  It was decent, but ends rather abruptly.


NONFICTION

1. Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation** by Adam Resnick:  A hysterical collection of essays about everything from traumatic porn discovered as a kid to bizarre phone conversations with his dad.  I was reading this in the break room at work and started laughing so hard that people wanted to know what was so funny.  Great stuff, and I love this quote on the back from Chris Elliott:  "He's basically our generation's Norman Rockwell, if Norman Rockwell had ever painted a woman sucking off a horse."  (Yes, this is a reference to the aforementioned porn.)

2. I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington:  The author followed the diets of several famous women to see if she'd lose weight.  Which she did, which wasn't hard when she was eating things like sour cream and cottage cheese mixed together (a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor's).  Amusing enough, but not essential reading, and you can find many of these essays online if you're curious.

Side note:  This paperback book is 164 pages long, with double spacing between each paragraph, and it costs $15.  Fifteen freakin' bucks!  (The Kindle version is a much more reasonable $8.)  And the publishing industry wonders why it's in trouble.  Hmmm, go fucking figure.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Say I Love You volume 5 by Kanae Hazuki

2. My Love Story!! vol. 3 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

3. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vols. 5-6 by Fumi Yoshinaga

MOVIES

1. The Imitation Game*:  This movie is based on the true story of Alan Turing, a math genius who helped crack the Nazis' Enigma Code, ending WWII approximately 2 years earlier than anticipated and paving the way for computers.  Excellent, and Tumblr's boyfriend Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic as Turing.

2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For*:  Because this is a sequel to Sin City, I can't review it properly lest I spoil the original movie/graphic novel.  I'll just say it's visually stunning and I liked it a hell of a lot more than I thought I would.  Helpful hint:  if it's been a while since you read/saw the first one, you may want to read the Wikipedia plot summary for the original beforehand.

3. Kite:  In this live action remake of the infamous anime, Sawa is a teenage assassin determined to avenge her parents' deaths.  It's not bad, but if you've seen the original, there's no real reason to bother with this version.

4. Snow Cake:  While on a road trip, Alex (Alan Rickman) reluctantly agrees to give a young woman a ride home, but when tragedy strikes, he pays a visit to her autistic mother Linda (Sigourney Weaver).  He decides to stay in town for a while to help Linda and come to grips with what happened.  The story, although touching, isn't exceptional, but the performances are.

5. The Skeleton Twins**:  Maggie is just about to take a huge handful of pills when she gets a call saying that her estranged twin brother Milo tried to kill himself.  When he gets out of the hospital, she asks him to move in with her and her husband for a while, and they begin to tentatively repair their relationship.

Jesus Christ, this fucking movie.  Holy shit.  There's one scene that rang so true and hit home so hard that I actually wept in recognition.  And Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, as you might expect, are terrific.  Not for everyone, but the people it IS for will most likely love it.

6. To Be Takei:  This documentary covers George Takei's life from his childhood in a WWII internment camp to his role as Sulu on Star Trek to his current status as a gay activist and icon.  Quite enjoyable.

7. Horns:  Ig Parrish (Daniel Radcliffe, affecting an American accent that makes him sound eerily like Aaron Paul) has been wrongly accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin.  He thinks the crime will never be solved, but when he inexplicably grows a set of horns that compels people to tell him their darkest secrets, he sees an opportunity to get to the truth.  Decent performances, but the Joe Hill novel was about a billion times better, largely because of some unnecessary changes to the script and poor direction.  (I love how the DVD cover says "From the director of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D" like that's a GOOD thing.)  If you've read the book, skip this; if you haven't read the book, read that instead.

8. Wetlands:  Helen is a young German woman who's obsessed with everything that comes out of and goes into her body.  When she cuts herself trying to shave around one of her hemorrhoids and winds up in the hospital, she uses her recuperation time to flirt with her hunky nurse and plot to get her divorced parents back together.

I read the book a few years ago, so I was somewhat prepared for how gross it was going to get, but there's a huge difference between reading about it and seeing it.  And trust me, there's stuff in this movie that would make John Waters barf.  Despite that, I rather...well, "enjoyed" isn't the right word, but I admired its anarchic spirit.  Please believe me, though:  not REMOTELY for the faint of heart.  If you'd like a more detailed review, you can read Jezebel's very NSFW post (with screenshots!) here.

9. Gone Girl**:  When his wife Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne finds himself under intense scrutiny by the media and the police alike.  The book by Gillian Flynn is in my top 10 of all time, and David Fincher is one of my favorite directors, so I had high hopes for this adaptation...and I wasn't disappointed, because it's fantastic.  My only real complaint, and it's fairly minor, is that the musical score sometimes drowns out the dialogue.

10. No Good Deed:  When a stranger shows up on her doorstep asking to use the phone, Terri (Taraji P. Henson) lets him in, because a) she's fucking stupid and b) he looks like Idris Elba.  But the dude has bad intentions, and she must fight to protect herself and her children from the intruder.  It's basically a Lifetime movie with a couple of F bombs, and oh my god, it INFURIATED us because she incapacitates him at least four times and just runs away, which is one of our least favorite tropes ever in video games/movies.  Pro tip:  if you ever manage to get the upper hand and knock out an assailant/serial killer/monster, use that advantage and kill him/her/it!  That used to drive me nuts when I'd play Clock Tower because in one scene, Jennifer blasts Scissorman in the face with a fire extinguisher, he falls down and STAYS down, and she runs off.  Bitch, his giant fucking scissors are RIGHT THERE!  Stab his ugly ass to death!  Jesus Christ.

11. Tusk:  After a story lead doesn't pan out, podcaster Wallace (Justin Long) despairs of finding new material, but he discovers a notice in a bar bathroom offering free room and board in exchange for listening to a few stories.  He goes to the man's house, but his genial host (Michael Parks, who's incredible) turns out to have a much different agenda in mind.

This is a Kevin Smith movie, but although it's got some funny lines, it's more along the lines of Red State than any of his other work.  It's really goddamn disturbing.

12. American Sniper*:  This biopic covers the true story of Chris Kyle (played by a super beefy Bradley Cooper), the Navy SEAL sniper with the most documented kills, and the toll that his work took on him and his family.  Very intense and well done.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Debonair" by Afghan Whigs

2. "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman

3. "Kids" by MGMT:  I still can't believe my dad saw MGMT in concert.  (They were playing at a music festival he was attending.  Let's just say he didn't become a fan.)

4. "Livin' Thing"  by ELO

5. "Turn to Stone" by ELO

6. "Secret" by OMD

7. "Tesla Girls" by OMD

8. "Me!Me!Me!" by TeddyLoid

9. "I My Me Mine" by Polysics

10. "It's A Mug's Game" by Soft Cell

11. "The Only One I Know" by the Charlatans

12. "I Wanna Be Adored" by Stone Roses

13. "Fools Gold" by Stone Roses


Thursday, January 08, 2015

2014: the year in review

JANUARY:  G-Vo and I went to Florida for his dad's 75th birthday party.  We stayed at his parents' rental condo and went to an art fair and a state park, played games, and ate lots of delicious food.  Since my dad and stepmother lived about 20 minutes away, I also spent time with them, and they came to the party since they've become good friends with G-Vo's parents.  Finished Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F.  Said goodbye to Open Diary, where I'd blogged for almost 14 years.  Read 5 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 3 graphic novels, and 7 volumes of manga; watched 7 movies.

FEBRUARY:  All sorts of changes at work led to some serious stress and lowered morale.  Took Valentine's Day off to spend it with my sweetheart.  We exchanged presents and cards, got all mushy, and had brunch at a nearby restaurant and found out later that we missed the Kardashians by about 30 minutes.  (Which is fine.)  Finished The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC.  Read 7 novels, one nonfiction book, one graphic novel, and 4 volumes of manga; watched 10 movies.   

MARCH:  Massive rain led to cabin fever.  Watched the Oscars.  My work bestie accepted a position in another state, which made me really sad.  In happier news, the Raccoon (one of my least favorite coworkers, so dubbed because I once caught her going through my trash can) announced her retirement effective June 1st.  G-Vo and I were awakened at 6AM by a 4.4 earthquake.  Got together with M for a belated birthday celebration; we visited an alpaca farm, had lunch at a favorite restaurant, and strolled around downtown Ventura before returning to her place to chat and love up her cats.  Read 6 novels, one nonfiction book, 2 graphic novels, and 6 volumes of manga; watched 10 movies.

APRIL:  Started off the month with a nasty cold.  The new season of Game of Thrones began, which is basically a holiday in our hizzy.  A rare opportunity for overtime came up, so I took it, but the difference in my paycheck was so meager that I doubt I'll ever do it again.  Madre and Padre came to California for a short visit.  Finally drank the Kool-Aid and got an iPhone; mere days later, I developed a serious addiction to Candy Crush Saga.   Read 5 novels, 3 nonfiction books, 2 graphic novels, and 4 volumes of manga; watched 8 movies.

MAY:  Went to the crotch doc for my annual checkup and everything was fine with my ladybits.  A scorching SoCal heat wave made me even more sluggish than usual.  G-Vo, M, and I went to a small local zoo (they had lemurs!).  My boss announced that she was accepting an opportunity in a different department, and when the email went out, people were actually screaming and cheering with joy.  (She wasn't around at the time!)  Enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend with G-Vo.  Cat sat for M, and although the commute sucked, it was nice spending time with her two sweet cats.  Boy Cat even followed me around like a dog!  Went to the movies for the first time in 7 months and saw X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Read 4 novels, zero nonfiction books, 4 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels;  watched 8 movies.

JUNE:  Much to my delight, the Raccoon retired.  Downloaded a bizarre Japanese game on my iPhone that involved romancing anthropomorphized pieces of sushi.  My work bestie J/next door neighbor decided not to transfer to Arizona after all, which made me very happy.  A small earthquake hit SoCal.  Work started to slow down drastically due to changes in the company, which was nice at first but led to some real paranoia in my department about potential layoffs.  Saw a live taping of Conan O'Brien with G-Vo, C, and C's fiancee, and then we ate at the original Bob's Big Boy in Burbank for dinner.  Finished Murdered: Soul Suspect.  Read 4 novels, 2 nonfiction books, 1 volume of manga, and 4 graphic novels; watched 9 movies.   

JULY:  Tweaked my back and had to cancel my indoor skydiving lesson.  Catsat for my friend M.  My iPhone started acting bizarre, which had me in tears while frantically googling the problem.  Celebrated my 15th anniversary at work, and they gave me a Kindle Fire.  Spent a lovely birthday weekend with G-Vo. Had a busy but fun weekend hanging out with assorted friends.  Southern California was hit by a major heat wave, which meant that I got a lot more reading done because I wasn't spending my work breaks walking. Read 9 novels, zero nonfiction books, 5 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 14 movies.

AUGUST:  Took a cruise to Alaska with my dad, brother, stepmother, and G-Vo, which was incredibly fun except for G-Vo and me getting colds and me sharting myself while walking around Sitka.  We got to see some gorgeous things and eat a ton of great food, so all in all, it was a terrific experience.  Got my mammogram done, and thankfully everything was normal.  G-Vo and I celebrated our 10th anniversary.  Read 3 novels, 4 nonfiction books, 4 volumes of manga, and 3 graphic novels; watched 10 movies.

SEPTEMBER:  Finished Breaking Bad.  G-Vo and I went to a local carnival.  Work angst due to draconian vacation scheduling and assorted fee-fees getting hurt led to hours of searching job listings online.  Catsat for my friend M.  Southern California continued to be hotter than fuck.  Read 8 novels, 1 nonfiction book, 3 volumes of manga, and 1 graphic novel; watched 9 movies.  

OCTOBER:  Finished Akiba's Trip: Undead and Undressed.  Had to cancel my credit card after the information was stolen in a data breach.  (Anonymous thief, I hope you choked on that fraudulent Five Guys burger.)  Took G-Vo for his first colonoscopy, and fortunately everything checked out okay.  The New York Giants' season basically came to an end with Victor Cruz's horrifying injury.  I was reading in bed and a giant spider scurried across my bedspread; I shrieked and leaped out of bed to look for it, but I couldn't find it and wound up spending a cold and sleepless night on the couch.  Went to the Tilted Kilt, a "breastaurant" where the waitresses wear tiny uniforms of plaid bras, kilts, and knee socks.  Finished The Walking Dead: Season 2 (XBOX360 game, not the TV show).  Put on cool fake nails painted with skulls and cobwebs for Halloween and had a bitch of a time removing them the next day; the process involved a bowl of hot water, dental floss, and picking away globs of glue.  Read 3 novels, 4 nonfiction books, 5 graphic novels, and 10 volumes of manga; watched 10 movies.

NOVEMBER:  Finished The Walking Dead: 400 Days DLC.  Went to Little Tokyo with G-Vo, C, and J for the Hello Kitty anniversary exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum.  Aside from traffic and a bitch of a time finding parking, we had a good time; the exhibit was awesome, and we had lunch at Curry House and shopped.  We even managed to find our beloved jyaga bata potato chips, which we hadn't seen in years, and promptly bought 10 bags!  Finished Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appetit.  At work, I found out that my new boss was being reassigned to a different department, which sucked as I really liked her.  Enjoyed a gloriously slothy Thanksgiving weekend with G-Vo doing nothing but eating, watching TV/movies, and playing video games.  Finished Dead Rising 3.  Read 7 novels, zero nonfiction books, 8 volumes of manga, and 2 graphic novels; watched 10 movies.

DECEMBER:  Finished Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments.  Went to Famous Dave's for dinner and had to switch tables because ours had ants all over it.  (Appetizing!)  Finished the Dead Rising DLC chapters.  Spent a lovely Christmas with G-Vo; he made orange cinnamon rolls for breakfast and we spent the day killing zombies and watching movies.  Went to Florida for vacation at the end of the month because his parents were renting a house there.  His sister and her family drove up for the week, and we went to Weeki Wachee Springs and the Edison Ford Estate, ate tons of good food, and rang in the New Year.  My dad and stepmother live in the same city as G-Vo's parents' rental house, so I spent time with them as well.  Read 8 novels, 2 nonfiction books, and one graphic novel; watched 5 movies.

Monday, January 05, 2015

media update: December

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a lovely holiday season.  G-Vo and I went to Florida for a week and stayed with his parents, who were renting a house in the same town where my dad and stepmother live, so that was convenient.  G-Vo's sister, brother-in-law, and nephews joined us as well, and we spent the week hanging out, playing games, eating tons of good food, and relaxing.  We also visited a few attractions as well.  My favorite: the magnificently kitschy Weeki Wachee mermaids.  I've wanted to go there forever, because I have a serious soft spot for things like that, and it did not disappoint in all its cheeseball glory.

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

FICTION

1. You* by Caroline Kepnes:  Joe is instantly smitten when a young woman named Beck walks into the bookstore where he works.  It's a classic "meet cute" story, but with a twist:  Joe is fucking nuts. I won't say any more lest I inadvertently spoil something (speaking of which, don't read the inside cover, which definitely ruins shit); I'll just add that it's twisted and darkly funny and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

2. Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown:  After 14-year-old Marley disappears, leaving a message in the kitchen, her mother Rachel is frantic.  She and her husband begin a social media campaign to find Marley, but a secret Rachel is hiding comes back to bite her in the ass.  There's no real suspense in this book, since we find out pretty quickly what happened to Marley, so it wasn't as engrossing as it could have been.

3. A Life in Men by Gina Frangello:  Mary and Nix have been friends for many years, but when they take a vacation to Greece, something happens that dooms their relationship, and they drift apart.  Three years later, Mary finds out that Nix is dead, and she returns to Europe to try to figure out what killed their friendship.  It's not bad, but it became a real slog near the end.

4. The Jewel* by Amy Ewing:  Since she was young, Violet has been trained to serve royalty, and when she comes of age, she's sold for a high price at auction.  Because she has the rare ability to affect the growth and appearance of things, her sole purpose in life is to be a surrogate for her mistress, "custom building" the fetus as it grows within her.  Needless to say, Violet isn't too happy with this idea, and she wants out of the arrangement.  It's like a YA version of The Handmaid's Tale, and although it's obviously not as well written as that book, I really enjoyed it.  Warning, though:  it ends on a MAJOR cliffhanger (I actually yelled "WHAT?!"), so if this sounds interesting to you, you may want to wait until the entire trilogy has been published.

5. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers:  This is the final book in the Fair Assassin trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  I'll just say that it was pretty good and leave it at that.

6. The Killer Next Door* by Alex Marwood:  Roy Preece runs a boardinghouse in London, accepting only cash and not doing any background checks, which draws a certain type of renter.  All six of the tenants have their reasons for living in such a shithole, and one of them is a murderer.  Vivid characters made this an especially enjoyable read.

7. Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam:  After her former best friend commits suicide, Aubrey reluctantly returns to her hometown for the funeral.  I probably would have liked it more if there had been a single sympathetic character in the entire book, if there hadn't been so many typos (one choice example: "his hairy arm squeezing around my waste"), and if the ending hadn't sucked so bad.

8. Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter:  Perry and Baby Girl are friends who enjoy stealing cars and flirting online with a man who isn't quite what he seems.  Unrelentingly bleak.

TOTAL READ IN 2014:  121

NONFICTION

1. The World of PostSecret* edited by Frank Warren:  A new collection of secrets from the popular website.

2. Kawaii! Japan's Culture of Cute* by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson:  A very enjoyable look at all things kawaii, ranging from elaborate bento boxes to the ever adorable Hello Kitty.  I particularly liked the interview with artist Macoto Takahashi, whose aesthetic really appeals to me.

TOTAL READ IN 2014:  20

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

TOTAL READ IN 2014: 55 volumes of manga and 27 graphic novels

MOVIES

1. The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears:  A man comes home from a business trip only to discover that his wife is missing, and in his quest to find her, he descends into a hellish fever dream.  A pitch perfect homage to giallo that could have been a great movie, but it's so fucking confusing that it's merely a good one.  I definitely wouldn't recommend it to someone who's never watched a giallo flick before.  (Try Suspiria instead.)

2. How to Train Your Dragon 2:  While exploring, Hiccup and his dragon Toothless discover a place inhabited by hundreds of dragons and a mysterious woman and have to protect them from a bad guy who wants to create a dragon army.  It was a bit overhyped, but very pretty, and I loved the scenes with Viking girl Ruffnut perving over a dude voiced by Kit "Jon Snow" Harington.

3. The Expendables 3:  I'm not even going to bother summarizing the plot, because there isn't much of one.  Dumb but enjoyable.

4. The Purge: Anarchy*:  In the near future, for 12 hours every year, America legalizes all crime, ostensibly to let people get it out of their system.  Several people who get stuck outside during the Purge band together to try to survive the night.  I liked the original fine, but this one was much better.

5. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead:  After surviving a Nazi zombie massacre, Martin wakes up in the hospital only to find that he's received an arm transplant...from one of the zombies.  This gives him certain powers, so he bands together with excited wannabe zombie slayers and undead Russian soldiers to take the Nazis down once and for all.  Tons of extra gooey gore and deliciously dark humor made this a fun watch, especially on Christmas!

TOTAL SEEN IN 2014: 57

SEEN IN THE THEATER: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy

SEEN ON A CRUISE SHIP:  The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Divergent

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Close Your Eyes" by Orange Caramel

2.  "Switchback" by Celldweller

3. "Firewater" by Blue Stahli

4. "Superblast!" by Lush

5. "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways

6. "My Sharona" by The Knack

7. "That Was Then But This Is Now" by ABC

8. "Adagio in G Minor" by Tomaso Albinoni

9. "Can We Postpone Love" by Orange Caramel

10. "Bangkok City" by Orange Caramel

11. "Redemption" by Norman Corbell

12. "Fly Routine" by Hostile Groove

13. "World's End Dancehall" by Hatsune Miku

14. "French Kiss" by Yakooza

15. "Something Good" by Utah Saints

16. "Jimmy Still Comes Around" by The Loud Family

17. "Self-Righteous Boy Reduced to Tears" by The Loud Family

Thursday, December 18, 2014

best of 2014: movies

Et finalement, my ten favorite movies of 2014!  The usual disclaimers before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2014, but that's when I saw them.
  • The first two were my favorites of the year, but the rest are in random order.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.


1. Her:  Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man in the process of divorcing his childhood sweetheart.  One day he purchases an operating system (think Siri, only much more advanced), which names itself Samantha, and he quickly falls in love with her.  It sounds like a comedy, but although it has some funny moments, it's most certainly not.  Rather, it's a strangely moving look at how our dependence on technology can prevent us from forming bonds with real people.  Very deserving of its Oscar for best original screenplay.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street:  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) started out as a stockbroker selling penny shares and became filthy rich.  He was living the good life until the FBI started taking notice of his schemes.  I'm about to pay this movie one of my highest compliments:  it's almost 3 hours long and I wasn't bored for a second.  Plus there's a scene involving a delayed reaction to quaaludes that was one of the funniest things I'd seen in a long time.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier:  When S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, Captain America and the Black Widow have to get to the bottom of it.  But things get even more complicated with the appearance of the mysterious Winter Soldier.  Thanks to lots of terrific action and some snappy lines, it's the very definition of a fun popcorn movie.  Plenty of eye candy, too.

4. The Raid 2:  Indonesian cop Rama is sent undercover to expose corruption in the force; cue bone crunching, hardcore silat martial arts action that sent my T levels through the roof.  Jesus Christ, there are some awesome fucking fights in this movie.  It's brutal as hell, so caveat viewer, but if you like this kind of stuff, you'll be in heaven.

5. The Fault in Our Stars:  Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a teenage girl in remission from cancer.  She meets Gus (Ansel Elgort) at a support group, and they fall in love.  Even if you're not familiar with the book this is based on, you can probably guess what happens.  Funny and sweet in equal measure, and oh god will you need tissues.

6. Bad Grandpa:  After his wife dies, Irving (Johnny Knoxville in amazing old man prosthetics) just wants to enjoy himself.  But when his daughter is sent to prison, Irving finds himself in custody of his grandson Billy, and he reluctantly takes the "little cockblock" on a road trip to reunite Billy with his father.  In Borat fashion, the story is interspersed with scenes of Irving and Billy interacting with real people who aren't in on the joke.  It's pretty damn funny; the scene where Irving enters Billy in a child beauty pageant had G and me in tears.

7. Prisoners:  After his little girl and her friend disappear and the primary suspect is released by the police, Keller Dover takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the man, intending to get the truth out of him.  Very tense and well done, and Hugh Jackman is excellent as the anguished father.

8. X-Men: Days of Future Past:  Wolverine is sent back in time to prevent an assassination that would have dire consequences for mutants and humans alike.  It was a lot of fun, especially a terrific scene with Quicksilver.  Oh, and you get to see Hugh Jackman's nalgas, which is worth the price of admission all by itself.

9.  Edge of Tomorrow:  Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a bit of a coward who's never actually engaged in combat.  But when an alien race attacks Earth, he's dropped into battle and caught in a time loop, forced to relive the same day over and over again.  By learning from his mistakes, he gets closer to ending the fight once and for all. Very clever and surprisingly funny, and Emily Blunt is terrific as the badass who helps Cage out. This movie tanked hard, but it didn't deserve to.

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:  After the simian flu decimates most of the world's population, a small band of survivors gathers in San Francisco.  They need to access a hydroelectric dam, but there's just one problem: getting there means going through territory run by hundreds of hyperintelligent apes.

Look, there's only one thing you really need to know about this movie:  there's a scene with a chimp riding a horse while double fisting machine guns John Woo style.  If that doesn't make you want to see it immediately, well, I'm sorry you hate fun.

Monday, December 15, 2014

best of 2014: fiction

And now it's time for my favorite novels of 2014!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2014, but that's when I first read them.
  • Aside from the first three listed, these aren't in any particular order.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.


1. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes:  When the corpse of a young boy is found with his upper half fused to the bottom half of a deer, Detective Gabriella Versado hopes that it's just a one time thing.  But then more bizarre creations are discovered, and it becomes apparent that a serial killer has made Detroit his hunting ground.  A beautifully written and surreal thriller.

2. You by Caroline Kepnes:  Joe is instantly smitten when a young woman named Beck walks into the bookstore where he works.  It's a classic "meet cute" story, but with a twist:  Joe is fucking nuts. I won't say any more lest I inadvertently spoil something; I'll just add that it's twisted and darkly funny and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  This came very close to being my favorite of the year, but just missed the mark because of something I can't mention due to spoilers.  (Speaking of which, don't read the inside cover as it ruins some major shit.)


3. Burn by Julianna Baggott:  The final book of the Pure trilogy wraps up perfectly, making it my favorite YA dystopian trilogy series ever.  Yes, even more than The Hunger Games.

4. The Secret Place by Tana French:  At an elite girls' boarding school, someone pins a postcard onto a bulletin board that says "I know who killed him" and shows a teenage boy who had been murdered on the grounds the year before.  Detectives Moran and Conway investigate, and they open a very ugly can of worms in the process.  I mainlined all of French's books a couple of years ago, and I was sad when there weren't any more to be read, so I was anxious to get my hands on this, and I wasn't disappointed.  Few people can end a book as well as French does.

5. The Troop by Nick Cutter:  A troop of boys and their scoutmaster head to a remote Canadian island for a camping trip.  But an alarmingly emaciated man crashes the party, and he's brought some very nasty company along with him.

I knew I had to read this when I saw the cover blurbs from Scott Smith (The Ruins) and Stephen King (duh), and they didn't steer me wrong, because The Troop is excellent.  Fair warning, though:  it gets extremely gross.  REALLY gross.  As in, "don't read it right before bed or you will have seriously awful dreams" kind of gross.  Learn from my fail.

6. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh:  When the dismembered body of her childhood friend Cheri is found stuffed into the hollow of a tree, Lucy is determined to find the killer.  But in her quest for justice, she discovers that the disappearance of her mother many years before may have a shocking link to Cheri's murder.  It's like Gillian Flynn crossed with Winter's Bone, and it's really freakin' good.  I tore through it in two days.

7. Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little:  Janie Jenkins was a socialite whose world came crashing down when she was convicted of murdering her rich mother.  After spending 10 years in prison, she's released on a technicality, and she begins her search for the real killer.  A very clever mystery with some seriously funny lines.  (One of my favorite passages: "The denim of his jeans was rougher than I'd expected.  Probably a cowboy sort of thing...protection against tumbleweeds and accusations of metrosexuality.")

8. Wolf by Mo Hayder:  Detective Jack Caffery is approached by the Walking Man (a recurring character) with a strange request.  The Walking Man has found a dog wandering alone with a scrap of paper under its collar that says "HELP US".  He wants Jack to find the dog's owners, and in exchange, he'll give Jack an important clue about a case that's haunted Jack for years.  Jack takes on the request, but can he find the terrorized family in time?

Engrossing as hell, like all of Mo Hayder's books (I was late to work because I only had 15 pages left and had to finish it), but two caveats.  First, it bears some striking similarities to a particular movie.  Both the movie and the book are far too recent for it to be anything other than a coincidence, but thinking "Hey, I wonder if this is going to turn out like [movie]" meant I inadvertently spoiled the book for myself!  Second, I would strongly recommend that you not read this if you haven't read Birdman and The Treatment, as it spoils a few major things from those books.  You should read them anyway because they're awesome, and The Treatment has one of the best endings I've ever read in my life, so get crackin'.

9. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey:  Melanie is a young girl who lives on an army base.  She is only removed from her cell to attend class.  Why?  Well, the less you know about this book going in, the better.  I'll just say that it's excellent, and if you don't trust my judgment, trust Joss Whedon's blurb on the back.  ("As fresh as it is terrifying...It left me sighing with envious joy...a jewel.")  

10. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken:  A mysterious disease called IAAN kills the vast majority of the children in the US, but the ones that survive are endowed with powers and sent to government internment camps.  Ruby thinks she's a Green, one of the most benign types, but it turns out that she's actually an Orange, one of the most dangerous types of all, capable of reading people's minds and making them do whatever she wants.  She manages to escape the camp before the authorities can kill her, but it turns out that the outside isn't much safer.  I highly recommend the entire trilogy.