Monday, January 01, 2018

media update: December

Happy New Year!  May everyone get exactly what they deserve in 2018.

Just out of curiosity, I compared the total read/watched in 2016 to 2017, and the results are in parentheses.  I was going to say that I don't know why the numbers are so much lower this year, but I think I have a guess:  Hidden City.  Now that my obsession with that game has drastically waned (I still play it every day, but not for hours at a time like I used to), it will be interesting to see if 2018's totals go up.

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. The Empress by S.J. Kincaid:  Because this is a sequel to The Diabolic, I can't review it properly without spoiling its predecessor.  It was really disappointing, though, which sucks because I loved The Diabolic so much.  Hopefully the next one is better.

2. The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli:  Asha is a dragon slaying princess with a fearsome power that will either save her world or completely destroy it.  It wasn't bad, but if this winds up being a series, I doubt I'll read any future installments.

3. A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo:  Jess is a teenage girl whose best friend, Angie, is gorgeous and popular.  When Angie starts dating Margot, a snobby girl from a prestigious boarding school, Jess begins to feel left out.  I appreciated the LGBTQ+ characters, but other than that, there wasn't much to recommend this.

4. Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra:  In order to get out of being arrested, a young woman impulsively claims that she's really Bec Winter, who had disappeared several years ago.  Bec's family is overjoyed to see her, and welcomes her with open arms, but whoever took Bec is still at large, and the impostor is in danger.  Interesting ideas, but it was hard to enjoy because I kept getting taken out of the story to marvel at how fucking stupid 99% of the people were.  Example: after "Bec" is taken to the hospital, they try to take her blood and she says no because, obviously, the blood tests will show that she's not who she claims to be.  And they're just dandy with that!  Yes, that's what would happen.

5. Poison's Kiss by Breeana Shields:  Marinda is an assassin who can kill just by kissing someone, but her world is upended when her newest target turns out to be the boy she loves. 

6. Boy, 9, Missing by Nic Joseph:  When Francis was a kid, his brother drowned in the bathtub.  The only witness, Sam, was the son of his parents' friends.  23 years later, Sam's son disappears, and he thinks Francis' father had something to do with it.  

7. Ultraluminous* by Katherine Faw:  The narrator is a girlfriend-experience prostitute who's just returned from Dubai to continue plying her trade in New York City.  Her days consist of drugs and visits with her clients, including one whose demands keep escalating.  Depressing, but very well written.

Side note: if you plan on reading this, don't read the inside cover as it spoils a huge plot point that doesn't occur until the book is nearly over.  Thanks for that, anonymous blurbist!

8. The Kizuna Coast by Sujata Massey:  After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Rei Shimura leaves her home in Hawaii to search for her mentor and finds herself caught up in a mystery.

9. The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories by Charlaine Harris:  What it says on the tin.

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  100  (2016 total 119)


NONFICTION

1. Hit So Hard by Patty Schemel:  A memoir by the drummer of Hole that talks about her time with the band and her struggles with addiction.  Best read with the iconic album Live Through This playing in the background.

2. Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy* by Hallie Lieberman:   As the subtitle states, this is a look at sex toys throughout history, and boy is it entertaining!  I had to overcome some significant embarrassment to check this out at the library, but I'm glad I did.

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  35  (2016 total 24)


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. The Cape by Joe Hill, Zach Howard, and Nelson Daniel

2. Food Wars!* vol. 21 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. Sweetness and Lightning vol. 9 by Gido Amagakure

4. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 7 by Izumi Miyazono

5. Idol Dreams vols. 2-3 by Arina Tanemura

6. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 11 by Nico Tanigawa

7. School-Live!* vols. 4-8 by Sadoru Chiba and Norimitsu Kaihou

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  54 volumes of manga and 16 graphic novels (2016 total 67 volumes of manga and 18 graphic novels)


MOVIES

1. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:  Valerian and his partner Laureline are sort of intergalactic FBI agents who are trying to retrieve a special creature that's the last of its kind.  This movie was a critical and commercial flop, so our expectations were very low, but we actually enjoyed it!  The humor is flat and the action isn't anything special, but it's absolutely gorgeous to look at.

2. Logan Lucky:  Two brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) team up with a group of ne'er-do-wells to rob a racetrack.  I didn't like it quite as much as I thought I would, considering how terrific the reviews were, but it had some funny scenes.

3. The Villainess*:  In this Korean movie, a woman trained as an elite assassin decides to take revenge on the people responsible for her father's death.  A few scenes drag on a bit, but they're more than redeemed by some really exciting action.  There's a scene near the end that had me nearly delirious with joy.  Definitely worth checking out if you love kick-ass heroines.

Side note #1: The opening scene was done in first person, which made me nervous since that tends to make me nauseated and/or give me a migraine.  But fear not if you're similarly afflicted; that's the only scene shot like that.  (If you happen to enjoy first person action and aren't made sick by it, I'd recommend Hardcore Henry, which G-Vo loved.  I, of course, was unable to partake.)

Side note #2: If you're not a fan of reading subtitles, the dubbing is actually tolerable.  (Well, with the exception of a little girl who was obviously dubbed by an adult, which made her sound like a possessed doll.  Fortunately, she doesn't talk much.)

4. Lady Bird*:  The title character is actually named Christine, but she's renamed herself Lady Bird in an effort to stand out.  She lives in Sacramento with her family, but she wants nothing more than to break away and move to New York City.  A wonderfully true look at the love/hate relationship between mothers and daughters, with exceptional performances by Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as her harried mother.

5. Ingrid Goes West:  Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is a disturbed young woman who becomes obsessed with an Instagram star named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen).  Ingrid uses her inheritance to move to California and "accidentally" bump into her idol.  This was billed as a dark comedy, but it wasn't very funny. Good performances, but it mostly just made me cringe.

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi:  No recap since I don't want to spoil anything for anybody, plus if you have any interest in seeing this, you probably already have.  I have to be honest and say I thought it was disappointing; it felt really flat to me.  And lest you think the opinion of a casual SW fan doesn't count for much: I saw it with two lifelong SW fanboys and they didn't much care for it either.  Hopefully the next one is better.

7. Kingsman: The Golden Circle*:  The title organization teams up with a spy agency in the US to take down a perky drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore).  Lots of really fun action; I liked it more than the first one.

Side note:  This movie and Logan Lucky both feature Channing Tatum and the John Denver song "Country Roads", which is kind of weird.

8. Better Watch Out*:  A normal babysitting gig turns into a nightmare for Ashley when she becomes the victim of a home invasion and must defend the boy she's watching.  Absolutely not for everyone, but if you like your humor pitch black and don't mind some extremely twisted shit, you'll enjoy it.

9. Atomic Blonde:  In the middle of the Cold War, an MI6 agent (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of double agents.  A 3 star movie with a 4 star soundtrack and a 5 star fight scene.

10. Mother!*:  A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her much older husband (Javier Bardem) find their lives upended by unexpected guests.  After #6 above, this was probably the most polarizing movie of the year.  I thought the allegory was a bit heavy-handed, and parts of it are extremely disturbing, but I wound up giving it a star because it did affect me and Jennifer Lawrence is really good.

11. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children:  After his grandfather dies, Jake discovers the titular home and tries to help the residents escape from a sinister threat.  Visually creative and better than expected.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2017:  90 (2016 total 103)

Monday, December 18, 2017

best of 2017: movies

Finally, it's time for my favorite movies of 2017!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2017, but that's when I saw 'em.
  • Aside from the first movie listed, which was definitely my favorite of the year, these aren't in any particular order.
  • If I see anything else before the end of the year which belongs on here, I'll update accordingly. 
  • There are a few miscellaneous tidbits at the end of this entry too.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.

1. Logan:  In the near future, Logan (aka Wolverine) is slowly losing his regenerative powers.  (He even has to wear reading glasses, which I thought was a nice touch.)  All he wants to do is save enough money to buy a boat where he and Professor X can safely live out the rest of their days, but he reluctantly finds himself charged with getting a young mutant (newcomer Dafne Keen, who's really good) to safety.  It's violent, dark, exciting, often quite funny, and the performances are terrific.  (Patrick Stewart deserves a supporting actor Oscar nomination.)  And ooof, the feels.  So many feels.

2. Wonder Woman:  After learning of a massive war from a pilot who crashes on her island, Diana leaves home to help out.  I was going to give this a double star until the last third, where it stumbled a bit, but it was still extremely enjoyable.  

3.  Lady Bird:  The title character is actually named Christine, but she's renamed herself Lady Bird in an effort to stand out.  She lives in Sacramento with her family, but she wants nothing more than to break away and move to New York City.  A wonderfully true look at the love/hate relationship between mothers and daughters, with exceptional performances by Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as her harried mother.

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, and a wonderful cast.

5. The Edge of Seventeen:  Surly Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always lived in the shadow of her super popular older brother Darian.  She finds comfort spending time with her best friend Krista, but her world falls apart when Krista and Darian start dating.  Excellent performances and a great script; it was like an updated John Hughes movie.

6. A Monster Calls:  Trying desperately to cope with his mother's impending death, young Conor (Lewis MacDougall, who's terrific) is visited by an enormous tree creature who promises to tell him three stories in exchange for the truth that Conor can't bring himself to admit.

Ooof...JFC.  I can't imagine anyone not being touched by this movie, but if you've ever loved someone with a terminal illness, it's going to fucking WRECK you.  It's one of the most honest depictions of grief I've ever seen.  It bombed hard at the box office, probably because it was sold as a fantasy film for kids, but honestly, I think most kids would be traumatized by it.  For adults, though, it's beautiful and cathartic.

7. Baby Driver:  Baby (Ansel Elgort) works as a getaway driver for a group of bank robbers, but when he falls in love with a pretty waitress, he wants out.  Stylish as all hell (check out that uninterrupted shot near the beginning) and a whole lot of fun.

8. The Handmaiden:  A Korean woman is hired to serve as a rich Japanese woman's handmaiden, but she's secretly conspiring with a con man to steal all of her money instead.  Gorgeously shot, clever, and erotic.  I was also really impressed by how they adapted Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith; they kept the meat of the story but added a very unique spin.

9. 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.

10. Moana:  After demigod Maui's antics put her island in jeopardy, young Moana sets off across the sea to right his wrongs and save her people.  Beautifully animated and quite charming.

Bonus stuff!


SEEN IN THE THEATER:  Rogue One, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok, Lady Bird, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

SEEN ON AN AIRPLANE:  Morgan

MADE ME CRY (OR AT LEAST TEAR UP):  Rogue One, Finding Dory, Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Logan, Moana, A Monster Calls, My Life as a Zucchini, The Zookeeper's Wife, Colossal, Wonder Woman, Born in China, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wind River, Your Name, Kedi, Lady Bird, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

PLEASANT SURPRISES:  Life, The Great Wall, T2 Trainspotting, Passengers, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, My Life as a Zucchini, The Handmaiden, Finding Dory, The Villainess

STARE AT A WALL FOR 2 HOURS INSTEAD, IT WILL BE MORE ENTERTAINING:  Independence Day: Resurgence, Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, Rings, Jason Bourne 







Wednesday, December 06, 2017

best of 2017: miscellaneous

Now it's time for my favorite miscellaneous things from 2017!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these things first came out in 2017, but that's when I first played/read/watched them.
  • In years past, both video games and manga/graphic novels got their own posts at the end of the year, but I didn't have enough contenders in either category this year to warrant separate posts.  (My OCD won't let me make one of these lists unless there are at least 5 entrants.)
  • These aren't in any particular order.
  • As ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Dead Rising 4:  The latest installment of the survival horror franchise is set during Christmas, and although it's certainly not one of the best DR games, it's still worth playing for the sheer thrill of plowing through thousands and thousands of zombies.  Bonus points for a combo weapon called the Gandelf, a magical staff that shoots exploding lawn gnomes.  (Xbox One)

2.  Telltale's The Walking Dead: Michonne:  The backstory of TWD's beloved katana wielding badass.  (PS4)

3. The Santa Clarita Diet:  Drew Barrymore plays a real estate agent who's got a big secret: she died and was mysteriously revived, but now she has to eat humans to survive.  Her husband (Timothy Olyphant) reluctantly helps her track down deserving victims.  Extremely funny, and the leads have great chemistry together.  (Netflix streaming)

4. Erased by Kei Sanbe:  Satoru is an aspiring manga artist who has a special ability he calls Revival, which allows him to go back in time and prevent tragedies from occurring.  After his mother is murdered, his powers kick in and he goes 18 years in the past, when he was 10 and three of his friends were murdered.  With his previous knowledge of the situation still in place, he's determined to stop the killer and save his friends and his mother.  The art isn't the greatest, but the story is fantastic.

5. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda:  This series is difficult to sum up, so I'm going to copy Wikipedia's synopsis here:  "The series is set in a matriarchal 'alternate Asia' riven by war between the Arcanics, magical creatures that can sometimes pass as human, and the Cumaea, an order of sorceresses who consume Arcanics to fuel their power."  The art is absolutely stunning, the world building is terrific, and it not only features talking cats called Nekomancers (in case you don't get the pun, neko means cat in Japanese), but a fox girl named Kippa who's one of my favorite comics characters ever.

6. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris:  A stunningly illustrated graphic novel in which a 10-year-old girl named Karen tries to solve the murder of her upstairs neighbor.

7. Telltale's The Walking Dead: A New Frontier:  Another beautifully written and highly emotional installment from Telltale.

8. Persona 5:  I reviewed this in my November media update, so I won't repeat myself here; I'll just say that it's not only my favorite video game of the year, but one of my top ten of all time.  (PS4)

9. Mindhunter:  In this series, FBI special agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench interview serial killers in hopes of learning information that will help solve other cases in the future.  The first two episodes are by far the best, thanks to David Fincher's direction and an award-worthy performance by Cameron Britton as notorious killer Edmund Kemper.  (Netflix streaming)

10. Westworld:  A Western theme park for the rich and (occasionally) depraved, filled with sentient androids, starts to fall apart when the "hosts" begin to turn on the guests.  I apologize for mentioning that there's a twist, because I consider that a bit of a spoiler, but I have to mention it because it literally left my jaw hanging open.  (HBO)




Monday, December 04, 2017

best of 2017: nonfiction

And now it's time for my favorite nonfiction books of 2017!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2017, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first two, which were definitely my favorites for a year (and #1 beat out #2 by the tiniest of margins), these are in random order.
  • If I read something by the end of December that belongs here, I'll update accordingly.
  • And as always, your mileage may vary.


1.  After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry:  When the author was 12, her mother was brutally murdered as Sarah hid in the next room.  Sarah spent the next several years being shuffled between family members and trying to cope with her immense loss.  Alternating between "before" and "after", this memoir is beautiful and heartbreaking; to quote a blurb on the back, the author wrote her mother back into the world. 

2. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich:  The author had always been against the death penalty, so when she started an internship working to help people accused of murder, she was shocked when she learned about a case and instantly wanted the defendant to die.  She decided to dig deeper into the case of Ricky Langley, convicted of murdering a young boy, and in the process started to come to terms with her own complicated past.  Absolutely gripping.

3. How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell:  The author is a trainwreck, and before you chastise me for saying that, she'd be the first to agree.  This memoir covers her life of magazine jobs, pill popping, alcoholism, bulimia, and stays in both rehabs and psych wards.  I'd say it needed tighter editing, but the stream of consciousness style works really well because it's like she's telling you all about it in person.  Exhausting and occasionally frustrating (so many enablers!), but---please pardon the pun---addictive.

4. My Fair Junkie by Amy Dresner:  A memoir about the author's struggles with drugs, alcohol, and sex addiction.  She doesn't come across as particularly likeable or sympathetic, but I still found this book worth reading.

5. American Fire by Monica Hesse:  A riveting account of a string of arson incidents in rural Virginia.  I knew I was going to like it as soon as I read this paragraph on the opening page:  "I spent the next two years trying to understand why he did it.  The answer...involved hope, poverty, pride, Walmart, erectile dysfunction, Steak-umms, intrigue, and America."

6. Oh Joy Sex Toy by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan:  A delightfully illustrated series about sex, covering everything from sex toy reviews to interviews with sex workers.  Inclusive, charming, and often quite funny.

7. 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."

8. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood:   After a medical crisis wiped out their finances, the author and her husband Jason moved back in with her eccentric family, including her guitar playing, frequently semi-naked father, a Catholic priest.  (Despite being married with children, he got ordained through a loophole.)  Extremely funny, and practically every page has a quotable line.  (One of my favorites: Jason sees an extremely gory crucifix on her parents' dining room wall and says "It looks like someone screamed into a ribeye.")

9. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby:  Another outrageously funny (and occasionally heartbreaking) collection of essays by the Bitches Gotta Eat blogger.  I was reading this in bed while suffering from a massive allergy attack, waiting for the Benadryl to kick in, and there was one scene where her cat was hugging and kicking her dildo and she was screaming "Give me back my dick!" and I started laughing so hard I was weeping.  As I began passing out,  I was still chuckling intermittently, which is honestly a pretty terrific way to fall asleep.

10. Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America's Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell:  A new look at the 1947 murder that scandalized America, with a closer look at a suspect the author thinks committed the crime for sure.   She provides plenty of compelling evidence to support that theory, too.  I know it's too late for justice for Elizabeth Short, as the murderer(s) is/are long dead, but it would be nice closure if the case could be solved once and for all.  It will probably never happen, though, thanks to the cover-up mentioned in the subtitle and the fact that so much evidence was "lost".

Friday, December 01, 2017

best of 2017: fiction

I can't believe it's December already, which means that it's time to start posting my "best of 2017" lists!  First up is fiction, but a few notes first:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2017, but that's when I read them, so they belong on this list.
  • Aside from the first two books listed, which were definitely my favorites, these aren't in any particular order.
  • These were all written by women, which is pretty cool!
  • If I read something between now and the end of December which belongs here, I'll update accordingly.
  • And as always, your mileage may vary.


1. 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.

2. 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 killed 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, which I was still massively addicted to at the time, and I READ THIS BOOK INSTEAD.  That ought to tell you something right there!

3. Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love:  Lola's boyfriend Garcia is in a gang called the Crenshaw Six, which has recently partnered with a Mexican drug cartel.  Everybody outside of the gang thinks Garcia is the leader, but the Crenshaw Six knows the truth: Lola is the boss, and when a drug drop goes horribly awry, Lola has to use her street smarts and the cartel's ignorance of her true status to survive.  The author is a screenwriter, which probably explains the super sharp dialogue.  An addictive page-turner that practically begs to be made into a movie.

4. The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones:  A lethal tick-borne virus leads to an extreme new form of tourism where the rich pay to tour what's left of nature, knowing full well it could lead to their deaths.  A group of tourists is kidnapped and taken to a camp outside the safe zone (aka the salt line), where the residents have special plans for them.  Really engrossing; if the movie rights haven't already been snapped up, then someone's sleeping on the job.

5. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt:  A fictionalized version of the Lizzie Borden murder case that reads like an exceptionally creepy fever dream.

6. 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 could tell where it was going is either the author or a complete liar.

7. What You Don't Know by JoAnn Chaney:  Jacky Seever was beloved by his community until the discovery of 33 bodies in his crawl space.  He's now on death row, but the effects of his crimes still continue to reverberate with the cops who arrested him, the reporter who wrote about him, and his unsuspecting wife.  Then new victims with ties to Seever start showing up, and everyone's lives are thrown into turmoil again.  It reminded me a lot of early Lehane; it's terrific.

8. Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach:  Ava fled her dysfunctional family and moved to France, but she's forced to come back home when she finds out that her twin sister Zelda has died in a fire.  She hadn't spoken to Zelda for two years, and she's convinced Zelda is really alive and just playing an elaborate game on her, so she starts following the clues she thinks Zelda left behind.  It took a while to hook me, but MAN does it get good at about the halfway mark.  One of the best last lines I've read in a while, too.

9. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel:  When her mother commits suicide, 15-year-old Lane Roanoke is sent to live with her grandparents and cousin Allegra on their huge estate in rural Kansas.  Lane enjoys her new life until something happens that forces her to flee.  She never plans on going back, but eleven years later, her grandfather calls to say that Allegra is missing, and Lane reluctantly returns to see if she can find the cousin she left behind.  The big secret won't come as any surprise, and to her credit, the author doesn't draw out the suspense, but it's still good; imagine a beautifully written V.C. Andrews novel.

10. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips:  Joan and her 4-year-old son Lincoln are getting ready to leave the zoo when Joan sees a man with a rifle.  She grabs her son and runs back into the zoo to hide, hoping they can survive until the police get there.  A tense thriller that explores some tough moral questions as well.  My only real gripe is that Lincoln seemed too articulate for a 4-year-old, but I'll admit that I don't have much experience with kids of that age, so I could be way off base on that.  Anyway, it's fantastic, and I think it would make a great movie.  I can see Naomi Watts as Joan, although good luck finding a child actor that young who could pull it off.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

media update: November

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

FICTION

1. Strange Weather* by Joe Hill:  A collection of 4 novellas.  My favorite was "Snapshot", in which a teenage boy meets an ominous dude with a very special Polaroid camera.

2. Righteous by Joe Ide:  Isaiah Quintabe, a sort of urban Sherlock Holmes, agrees to look into a case for his dead brother's girlfriend and finds himself in the crosshairs of more than one gang.  I liked the first book in this series much better than this one.

3. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed:  The titular girls band together to fight rape culture at their school.

4. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine:  Amber is a wretched bitch who insinuates herself into the life of wealthy Daphne Parrish, hoping to steal Daphne's hot husband Jackson.  Just about every character in this book is an asshole or a moron, and the writing style is a bit sloppy, so I didn't enjoy it very much.

5. Bonfire by Krysten Ritter:  Abby Williams never wanted to return to her small Indiana hometown, but her job as an environmental lawyer brings her back when the town's biggest employer is accused of poisoning the water supply.  It's not bad (well, with the exception of a few lines, the "best" of which I'll quote below), but I never felt emotionally connected.

Side note:  there's a scene where Abby is reminiscing about hunting with her father, after which we get this gem:  "Deer, coyote, and bear heads adorn the walls of our house like trophies."  I did a literal facepalm at that one.  That's like saying "Framed pictures adorn the walls of our house like art"!

6. Lovemurder by Saul Black:  Detective Valerie Hart reluctantly reaches out to gorgeous serial killer Katherine Glass when Katherine's partner in crime, who was never caught, begins killing again.  It reminded me of Chelsea Cain's Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell novels, though nowhere near as good, so give those a try instead if you haven't already.

7. Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne:  Zivah is a healer who becomes infected with the rose plague, which will eventually kill her.  She teams up with a soldier who is "umbertouched", meaning he survived the plague and is now immune, to spy on the capital.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 91


NONFICTION

1. Paperbacks from Hell* by Grady Hendrix:  A lavishly illustrated celebration of horror paperbacks from the 70s and 80s.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  33


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. The Walking Dead: Here's Negan!* by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard:  The backstory of the series' most infamous villain.

2. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 15 (final volume) by Go Ikeyamada

3. Rin-Ne vol. 25 by Rumiko Takahashi

4. Avatar: The Last Airbender - North and South vols. 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

5. Queen's Quality by Kyousuke Motomi

6. Erased vol. 3 by Kei Sanbe

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  43 volumes of manga and 15 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. War for the Planet of the Apes*:  After suffering tragedy, Caesar and his simian cohorts set out to find a new place to live, but they run afoul of an evil soldier (Woody Harrelson in full Colonel Kurtz mode).  Easily the weakest of the trilogy, but it's still good, and if Andy Serkis doesn't get an Oscar at some point in his life, there's no justice.  He's the Meryl Streep of mocap.

2. Annabelle: Creation:  The creepy-ass doll's origin story.  It's not, you know, GREAT or anything, but it has some decently creepy moments and it was far superior to its predecessor...which wouldn't have been hard.  Shit, the only way this could have been worse than Annabelle would be if she'd popped out of the screen like Samara in The Ring and given me a purple nurple.

3. The Mummy:  Tom Cruise inadvertently awakens an ancient evil in this mildly entertaining flick.

4. Batman and Harley Quinn:  When Poison Ivy hatches a plan to take over the world, Batman reluctantly teams up with Harley Quinn to take her down.  The online reviews led us to believe this would suck all the balls, but it was fun!  It was only an hour and change, and probably a bit overlong at that; there was a karaoke sequence in the middle that REALLY needed to be shortened.  Still, if you have fond memories of the animated series, you'll enjoy this.

Side note to parents:  It's animated, but take that PG-13 rating seriously.  Just to give you an idea: at one point Harley makes a vibrator joke.

5. Wind River*:  When an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) is called to investigate the death of a young woman on a Native American reservation in Wyoming, she enlists the aid of a tracker (Jeremy Renner).  Extremely grim but very well done, and the cinematography is beautiful.  

6. Merantau:  A dude from the countryside goes to Jakarta and almost immediately runs into trouble when he saves a young woman from a nasty pimp.  The hardcore martial arts action more than makes up for the mediocre plot.

7. Thor: Ragnarok*:  With the help of his brother Loki, the Incredible Hulk, and a hard-drinking Valkyrie, Thor tries to save Asgard from Hela, the goddess of death.  It was a little overhyped by the time we saw it, but still loads of fun.

8. Your Name*:  Mitsuha, a teenage girl from a rural mountain town in Japan, mysteriously begins swapping bodies with Taki, a teenage boy from Tokyo.  Gorgeously animated, and it's funny and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Side note:  This is being remade into a live action version, which in my opinion is completely unnecessary.  J.J. Abrams is involved, so it probably won't be a total shit show, but this movie stands perfectly well on its own.  Also, and I'll try to be as vague as possible in order to avoid spoilers, I don't think certain aspects will work nearly as well in live action form as they do in the original.

9. Kedi*:  A documentary about street cats living in Istanbul, where they are (mostly) regarded with affection by the human residents.  Mandatory viewing if you love cats; needless to say, I was enthralled.

Somewhat spoilery but mandatory side note: there is an upsetting, albeit non-gory, sequence involving a badly injured kitten whose fate is not revealed in the film.  I actually went back and turned on the director's commentary to see if they said what happened to her!  Fortunately, she was taken to the vet by a kind man and she was okay.  (They think a bigger cat hurt her.)

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  79

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

media update: October

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

FICTION

1. A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess:  Sequel etc.

2. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King:  A strange phenomenon causes women to fall asleep and become encased in cocoons that, if removed, will cause the woman to become extremely violent.  (This is also my reaction if I'm sound asleep and someone or something wakes me up.)  A mysterious prisoner, seemingly immune, could hold the key.  Interesting idea, but the execution left something to be desired.

3. Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray:  Sequel etc.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 84


NONFICTION

1. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty:  An exploration of how different cultures handle death and funeral rituals.

2. After the Eclipse** by Sarah Perry:  When the author was 12, her mother was brutally murdered as Sarah hid in the next room.  Sarah spent the next several years being shuffled between family members and trying to cope with her immense loss.  Alternating between "before" and "after", this memoir is beautiful and heartbreaking; to quote a blurb on the back, the author wrote her mother back into the world.  It's my favorite nonfiction book of the year so far.

3. Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello:  A memoir about the author's life with his husband Kit, who died of a rare form of cancer.  As you can imagine, tissues are mandatory.

4. Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America*:  An anthology of essays by female writers about life after Trump's election.  My favorite was, unsurprisingly, "Country Crock" by Samantha Irby, but there are many other great ones in here too.  

5. Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America's Greatest Unsolved Murder* by Piu Eatwell:  A new look at the 1947 murder that scandalized America, with a closer look at a suspect the author thinks committed the crime for sure.  She provides plenty of compelling evidence to support that theory, too.  I know it's too late for justice for Elizabeth Short, as the murderer(s) is/are long dead, but it would be nice closure if the case could be solved once and for all.  It will probably never happen, though, thanks to the cover-up mentioned in the subtitle and the fact that so much evidence was "lost".

6. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris:  What it says on the tin.

Side note that absolutely nobody gives a shit about but me:  I finished this book in October, but I actually started it a couple of months ago.  It wasn't really something I could read for hours at a time, but it came in handy when I was between books and just needed something to tide me over until I could get to the library.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 32


MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. A Bride's Story vol. 9 by Kaoru Mori

2. Food Wars!* vol. 20 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. The Water Dragon's Bride vol. 3 by Rei Toma

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 39 volumes of manga and 11 graphic novels


MOVIES

1. The Big Sick*:  Kumail is in love with his girlfriend Emily, but his parents insist on an arranged marriage for him, so he reluctantly breaks up with her.  But when Emily becomes deathly ill, he has to decide what's more important: his feelings for her or his family's wishes.  Based on a true story, and really good.

2. Born in China*:  A Disney documentary following three animal families in the wild:  pandas, snow leopards, and golden monkeys.  The narration can be a bit goofy and there's some creative editing that was annoying, but it's beautifully shot and, of course, the baby animals are excruciatingly cute.

Note:  Although this is G-rated, there's a scene that might upset young children.  Hell, WE were upset! 

3. The Fate of the Furious:  When Dom goes rogue, his team tries to stop him.  Like all of these movies, it's pretty stupid, but it has some nice eye candy (goddamn, Jason Statham, Y U so hot) and good action scenes, the best of which involves "zombie" cars.

4. Baby Driver*:  Baby (Ansel Elgort) works as a getaway driver for a group of bank robbers, but when he falls in love with a pretty waitress, he wants out.  Stylish as all hell (check out that uninterrupted shot near the beginning) and a whole lot of fun.

5.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales:  A largely unenjoyable turd with some really embarrassing attempts at humor.  The special effects and a monkey in an outfit are the only reason I gave this a 3 on Netflix instead of a 2.

6. Landline:  In 1995, two sisters discover that their father is having an affair.  Very good performances, especially from Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn (who I don't think I'd ever seen in anything before, but she really stood out) as the sisters.

7. Spider-Man: Homecoming*:  Peter Parker dons a spiffy new Spidey suit, courtesy of Tony Stark, and tries to take down a new foe called The Vulture...well, in between crushing on a girl and trying to study, that is.  It's quite funny, and Tom Holland is very charming.  Also, I really appreciated the fact that they spared us his backstory; now if only the Batman movies would do the same.  Yes, D.C., we all know that his parents were gunned down in an alley, so we don't really need the dramatic slo-mo shot of Martha's necklace breaking and pearls scattering all over the place.  WE FUCKING KNOW.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 70


VIDEO GAME OF THE  MONTH

Persona 4 is one of my favorite video games of all time, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on Persona 5 when it came out, and G-Vo (being awesome) got me a copy for my birthday.  Did I like it?  Spoiler alert: oh hell yes.

In P5, you play an unnamed teenage boy (hereafter referred to as "you"; we named him Kubo and gave him my real last name) who tries to save a woman from being assaulted by a politician, who promptly uses his connections to get you in trouble.  You're sent to live with Sojiro Sakura, a gruff cafe owner who immediately tells you that you better keep your nose clean...which will be easier said than done.  It would take forever to explain, but in a nutshell:  you receive access to a supernatural app that allows you to access the Metaverse, where you explore "palaces" in order to change the hearts of bad people.  Along with beautiful and perky Ann, foulmouthed but lovable bro Ryuji, and a sassy talking cat named Morgana, you form the Phantom Thieves in hopes of changing the world one evildoer at a time.  (You'll get several more team members along the way, but because they don't show up until later, I figured they might count as spoilers.)

LOVED

  • This game is unbelievably stylish, from the loading screens to the menu to the creature and palace designs. 
  • A wonderfully intuitive interface.
  • Like P4, P5 has fantastic characters that you will absolutely fall in love with.  When the game ended, I felt like I was saying goodbye to real friends.
  • Aside from a few very minor characters, the voice acting is terrific.  One big flaw with Persona 4 was that the voice acting for one of the main characters was really bad, so I was a bit worried, but all of the main characters in P5 are great.  (Bonus: one of them is played by Matthew Mercer, who also voices Leon Kennedy, my forever #1 video game bae.) 
  • The vibrant Tokyo setting made me want to hop the next plane to Japan.
  • A fun, jazzy soundtrack from series stalwart Shoji Meguro.
  • Addictive gameplay, from dungeon crawling to daily life things like part-time jobs and school.
  • Some really nice animated sequences.
  • There's a fast forward feature, which rapidly scrolls through dialogue.  Not that you'll want to use that all the time, of course, but it will come in very handy for new game plus or if you wind up having to replay an area for whatever reason.  
  • Along the same lines, you can press the square button for the log if you missed any bits of dialogue.  You can even replay the voices if applicable.
  • Did I mention the sassy talking cat?

LOATHED

  • Some screens have a weird border around them that was very distracting until we got used to it.
  • Like all RPGs, some of the background dialogue/music/battle comments get very repetitive.
  • It took longer than expected to really grab us (though once it did, it REALLY did).
  • I wouldn't say I loathed it per se, but there's an additional area called Mementos that I wasn't a huge fan of.
  • If you aren't a fan of grinding and/or fusing new personas, you are going to have a tough time of it.  Fortunately, G-Vo IS a fan of grinding and fusing new personas, so he took care of those aspects, but if you don't have a G-Vo in your life, you'll want to find a good fusion FAQ online and have it handy.  Grinding is probably not completely necessary, but it's certainly recommended, since you don't want to go into nasty boss battles with an underpowered team.  [nerd voice]  I mean, come on, you don't want to go into a boss battle with a level 6 Hua Po, DUH.
  • I have great respect for people who do localization for video games, since I know that can't be easy, but that being said...some of the localization is pretty bad.  For example, the title of one of the DVDs you can rent, about a dude who improvises to get out of tough situations, is "Guy McVer".  Oy.
  • One of the palaces is REALLY FUCKING IRRITATING.
  • There's a gay couple that hangs out in Shinjuku, and they're cringeworthy stereotypes, complete with flapping wrists, who make predatory comments towards some of the underaged characters.  I'd love to see a same sex romance option in future Persona games, but failing that, could they at least avoid negative portrayals? 
  • Some of the romance options are, uh, morally problematic.
  • A pretty major plot point is left unresolved.
  • There's absolutely no way you can see and do everything in one playthrough.  (Though this could be a good thing too, since it means you get to play it again!) 
  • The pronunciation of character names is sometimes inconsistent, and I don't know why they insisted on pronouncing Ann's name like "Ahn".   
  • There's an enemy that looks like a syphilitic green dick riding a chariot (google "Mara Persona monster" if you're really curious and absolutely must have that image in your head), and every time it showed up, it really grossed me out.  I wound up using overpowered attacks to take it down as quickly as possible just so I wouldn't have to look at it any longer than necessary!

Overall, Persona 5 was a wonderful addition to the series that basically ate our lives until the final frame.  It kicked Odin Sphere out of my top ten video games of all time, taking its rightful place next to, and even surpassing, its predecessor.  I'm honored to give this game 9 cups of Leblanc coffee out of 10.