media update: July
How do you do, fellow kids? I've got an extra-meaty media update for you this time around, thanks to blazingly hot temperatures and two long weekends.
Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme. As ever, your mileage may vary.
1. American Girls* by Alison Umminger: 15-year-old Anna is sick of her home life, so she steals her stepmother's credit card and runs away to Los Angeles to live with her actress sister Delia. Anna winds up researching the Manson girls for Delia's boyfriend's movie project and crushing on the teen star of a shitty TV series. Sharp and funny, and unlike a lot of (non-dystopian) YA novels, the author seems to have actually spent some time around teenagers.
2. Security** by Gina Wohlsdorf: Manderley Resort is a luxury hotel that's getting ready to open for business, but somebody doesn't want it to ever open its doors, and the staff is getting murdered one by one. Tense and exciting; it would make one hell of a movie, and thanks to several "split screen" passages, Brian De Palma would be the ideal director.
Side note: according to some of the reviews on Amazon, the aforementioned split screen passages are unreadable in ebook format, so you might want to pick up the hard copy instead.
3. The Girls* by Emma Cline: Near the end of the 1960s, lonely teenager Evie Boyd sees a group of girls in the park and is struck by how free and happy they seem. She befriends one of them and finds herself caught in a Mansonesque cult. Along with Sweetbitter, this was one of the most hyped novels of the year; unlike Sweetbitter, this one actually deserved it.
Side note: the fact that I read two books in one month inspired by the women in Charles Manson's cult is strictly a coincidence.
4. Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton: This is a sequel to Tiny Pretty Things, so I can't review it lest I spoil its predecessor.
5. Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo: Chief of Police Kate Burkholder grew up Amish but left the order. She gets a call from a sheriff's department in New York asking her to go undercover and infiltrate an Amish settlement that might have been involved in the death of a teenage girl. She agrees, but the can of worms she opens up might be a fatal one. All of the books in this series have been good, and this one is no exception.
6. We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley: Catherine West is super rich, but her life feels empty. Then one day she meets a handsome older man named William, and they begin a whirlwind romance. It turns out that his parents and her parents were friends many years ago, but when she tells her mother, who has Alzheimer's, that she's dating William, it doesn't go well. As time goes on, Catherine begins to wonder whether William is the man of her dreams or something more sinister. I enjoyed it, although the fact that Catherine isn't a very likable narrator prevented me from giving it a star. Also, it should have ended two chapters earlier than it did.
7. Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe: After 17-year-old Vera suffers a psychotic break, her father takes her on a trip to Lithuania, where his grandmother grew up, and learns a few things about his family in the process.
8. The Hatching* by Ezekiel Boone: The world is understandably horrified when a new breed of spiders starts snacking on people. A delightfully creepy thriller that is best read with a can of bug spray nearby. I swear to God, I got up while reading this to get a drink and there were two (small) spiders in my sink and I freaked the fuck out. Those bitches got washed down the drain right quick!
Side note: this ends on a cliffhanger, so if you're a completionist, you might want to wait until the next book is out before starting this one. (I don't know if there will be more than two books.)
9. Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon: Alex Dale is a journalist working on an article about coma patients. While doing an interview at the hospital, she discovers that one of the vegetative patients is Amy Stevenson, who was attacked 15 years ago in a notorious case, and Alex is determined to figure out the truth of what happened to Amy.
10. The Last One** by Alexandra Oliva: While competing in a reality show set in the woods, Zoo (as the producers call her) gets separated from her teammates. Because they're cut off from the outside world, none of them realize that the outside world has been ravaged by a pandemic, and when Zoo finds evidence of the devastation, she assumes it's a trick being played by the producers. All she wants is to get home to her husband, and her ignorance of the truth will either save her or kill her. A clever premise, expertly executed; it's my favorite novel of the year so far.
2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 73
1. You'll Grow Out of It* by Jessi Klein: A collection of hilarious essays ranging from the author's loathing of the term "ma'am" (1000% agreed; Southerners exempt) to discovering the joys of porn and Anthropologie (not at the same time, though that would make an interesting RedTube clip that I would definitely watch).
2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 11
1. A Silent Voice vols. 2-4 by Yoshitoki Oima
2. Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, and Dave Stewart
3. Idol Dreams by Arina Tanemura
4. Rin-Ne vol. 21 by Rumiko Takahashi
5. The Ancient Magus' Bride vols. 4-5 by Kore Yamazaki
6. Sex Criminals* vol. 3 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
7. My Love Story!!* vol. 9 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko
8. The Demon Prince of Momochi House vol. 5 by Aya Shouoto
2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 10 graphic novels and 42 volumes of manga
1. The Night Before: Three friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie) have spent the last several Christmases together getting stoned and being goofy, but now that they're older and have adult responsibilities, they decide this Christmas will be their last. Of course, things go awry. An excellent cast (which also includes Michael Shannon and Ilana Glazer) is completely wasted on a terrible, mostly unfunny script.
2. The Boy: Greta (Lauren Cohan) is a young American who takes a nanny job at a secluded estate in the English countryside, only to find out that her charge is actually a doll. Of course, she's like LOL WTF, but she figures it's easy money, so she decides to stick around, and shit goes sideways. A decently creepy little flick, and bonus points for not ending on a super lame jump scare like basically every other horror movie in the last 15 years.
3. Green Room*: Desperate for cash, a young punk band agrees to play a gig for a bunch of neo-Nazis. But when they stumble upon a dead woman, they find themselves in a standoff with a group of thugs and their leader (a supremely creepy Patrick Stewart). It's extremely tense and well done, but MAJOR WARNING: this has some of the most viscerally disturbing gore I've seen in a movie in a LONG time. Like, "peek through your fingers while moaning in horror" disturbing.
4. Only Yesterday: Taeko decides to take a vacation from her life in Tokyo and spend some time on her grandmother's farm in the country. While she's there, she thinks back on her childhood and wonders whether she's made the right choices in her life. As you'd expect from a Studio Ghibli film, the animation is beautiful (if a bit dated; it's from 1991) and it's charming, but it's extremely slow and I imagine most kids would be bored to tears. (Though, to be fair, I don't think it was made FOR kids, but I could see someone picking this up on the strength of Studio Ghibli's name and being disappointed.)
5. Zootopia*: Despite her size, plucky bunny Judy Hopps manages to become a cop. She's assigned traffic duty during her first day in the force, but a string of missing animals might wind up being the case that will make everyone take her seriously. The trailers for this were absolutely awful, so our expectations were very low, but it turned out to be really charming and funny.
6. The Adderall Diaries: Steven Elliott (James Franco) is working on a memoir about life with his abusive, supposedly deceased father. But when his father pops up at a reading, thus screwing over Steven's book deal, Steven becomes obsessed with the trial of a software engineer accused of killing his wife. Oddly compelling, even though there isn't much to it.
7. London Has Fallen: Terrorists assassinate the British prime minister in hopes of taking out all of the world leaders that will attend the funeral, and Secret Service agent---uh, Gerard Butler, I don't remember the character's name---will stop at nothing to protect the president. Jingoistic, loud, and stupid, but it had some decent action.
8. Lights Out: Rebecca has been estranged from her mother Sophie for a long time, but when her little brother Martin calls to tell her that a malevolent entity is in their house, she's determined to stop it. A perfectly adequate little chiller.
Side note: we saw this in a theater we don't usually frequent, but boy is THAT gonna change, because they put in reclining armchair-style seats, and oh my god, the COMFORT. I'm amazed that none of us fell asleep!
9. Kill Zone 2: A Hong Kong cop and a Thai police guard team up to take down a human organs trafficking ring. I wish they'd let Tony Jaa kick more ass in this---seriously, would you keep a racehorse in a veal pen? Let the man rage!---but it still had some great action scenes.
10. Gods of Egypt: There have been times when G-Vo and I watched a notorious critical flop and then been pleasantly surprised; this was not one of those times.
2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 65
VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH
Despite positive buzz, I never played Borderlands, because first person games tend to make me puke and/or get a migraine. But when I heard that Telltale Games had put out a Borderlands game, I knew it would be safe because none of their games are first person. I also knew it was a must-play, because every Telltale game we've played has been top notch, and Tales from the Borderlands (PS4) was no exception.
In Tales from the Borderlands, you alternate between two characters. Rhys is a corporate shill who's trying to get promoted, and Fiona is a con artist who's always on the lookout for her next big score. When Rhys hears rumors about a Vault Key (used to open vaults containing priceless treasure), he and his friend Vaughn set out to find it, which brings them into contact with Fiona and her sister Sasha; complications (and hijinks) ensue.
- The script is terrific: funny and dramatic by turns. And Telltale Games always does an amazing job at making their games accessible to people, even if they're not familiar with the source material, like me. Of course, if you ARE familiar with the source material, like G-Vo, you'll probably enjoy it even more.
- The voice acting is perfection. There's a reason Troy Baker (Rhys) is in pretty much every video game these days: he's the best in the biz. He's reunited here with Laura Bailey (Fiona; they were also in Persona 4 together) and Ashley Johnson (Gortys; she was the Ellie to his Joel in The Last of Us). I can't think of a single voice performance in this game that was bad or even unremarkable.
- The soundtrack is really good, featuring both an original score and licensed tracks.
- I liked the inclusion of a lesbian couple.
- It made me tear up twice.
- It froze up a couple of times, including (oddly enough) during the ending credits.
- Uh, that's it, really.
If you're a fan of Telltale Games' style, you'll no doubt like this too. I give it 8 Vault Keys out of 10.