Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Alaska part 1: the beginning

Several months ago, I was talking to my dad on the phone and he said that he wanted to treat the family to an Alaskan cruise.  Then he added, "Oh, and please invite G too."

...well, you don't have to ask ME twice!

So after much planning, frantic emails back and forth (let's just say the travel agent earned her commission and then some), and trying to pack 9 days' worth of necessities into one suitcase and one backpack, it was finally time to embark on our great Alaskan adventure!

On August 9th, G and I got up at 4:30AM (ugh) and drove to the Van Nuys flyaway, where we hopped a bus to LAX.  We got there way too early, especially because Delta pushed our flight back by about an hour, but I passed the time mainlining season 4 of The Killing on my Kindle Fire while G fitfully dozed.  Our flight was uneventful, aside from a surprisingly funny safety announcement video, and we landed in Seattle in the late afternoon.  We took a shuttle to our hotel, where we met up with my brother R, and we walked to a nearby restaurant called 13 Coins for dinner.  My dad and stepmother A arrived shortly after we got back, and we kept them company while they ate in the hotel's restaurant.  Then it was off to our respective rooms for an early bedtime.

The next day, we took a shuttle to the pier and went through Holland America's surprisingly efficient screening and boarding process.  This isn't the greatest picture, but you can get a general idea of how frickin' enormous the Amsterdam is:



Our stateroom, though not exactly huge, was larger than I'd expected...certainly bigger than the NYC hotel room I stayed in many years ago!  I stood in the tiny hallway to take this picture; the bathroom is to the left.



After unpacking, G and I walked around the entire ship to get acquainted with our surroundings.  The ship featured a casino, a library, bars, two pools, a theater, an art gallery, a few shops, a cafe, and several restaurants:  the Lido (buffet), a burger/taco bar, La Fontaine (very nice), Canaletto (fancy Italian with a $10 upcharge per person), and the Pinnacle Grill ($29 upcharge).

When we got back to our room, G and I took a nap, and then we got dressed up and met everyone for dinner at the Pinnacle Grill.  I had lobster bisque, filet mignon, and a lemon brulee tart, which were all excellent.  Then we saw a breathtakingly cheesy song and dance revue in the Queen's Lounge.  At one point, they danced around with tiny hang gliders to "I Believe I Can Fly" and G and I were desperately trying (and failing) to hold back hysterical laughter.  Afterwards, we went to the casino and I won $27.50 on a $10 bet and promptly cashed out because hey, every little bit helps and it's always nice to leave ahead!  Then it was back to the room for sleepy time.

(to be continued)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

media update: July

Thanks to scorching temperatures, I got a lot of reading done this month (five books in as many days at one point!) because it was way too hot to walk during my breaks at work.  My pants got a little tighter since I wasn't walking 3 miles a day and spending that time reading and eating delicious snacks instead, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  I also watched a ton of movies thanks to two 3-day weekends (4th of July and my birthday).

Speaking of my birthday, it was awesome.  Originally G-Vo and I were going to do indoor skydiving at Universal Citywalk, but I hurt my back and even though it was better by my birthday, we figured it wasn't worth the risk.  It was still a really nice birthday, though.  G-Vo and I both took the day off, and we watched movies 8 and 9 on this list and went to a super swanky steakhouse for dinner.  I had filet mignon that was so tender it barely needed to be cut and a slab of warm butter cake for dessert.  Most delightful.

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

FICTION

1. The Fever* by Megan Abbott:  Deenie is a teenage girl who lives with her father and older brother in a quiet town.  But one day during class, Deenie's best friend Lise has a terrifying seizure in class.  As more girls begin exhibiting strange symptoms, the town is plunged into hysteria.  Really good; I tore through it in two days because I needed to find out what was happening.

2. Cop Town* by Karin Slaughter:  In 1974 Atlanta, Kate Murphy starts her first day on the job as a police officer.  She's woefully unsuited for the job, and everybody hates her: the women because she's beautiful, and the men because she's a woman.  But a serial killer is targeting cops, and Kate and her partner Maggie have to find him before he kills again.  It's definitely not one of Slaughter's better books, and I thought the ending was a little corny (which, trust me, is NOT usually an issue with anything she writes) but it's still pretty good.

3. Ruin and Rising* by Leigh Bardugo:  This is the final volume in the Grisha Trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Terrific last chapter, too.

4. That Night by Chevy Stevens:  Toni Murphy has just been released from prison after serving several years for the murder of her younger sister Nicole.  But life on the outside proves harder than she expected because nobody believes she's innocent, so along with her former boyfriend Ryan (who was also convicted of the murder), she tries to find out the truth about Nicole's death.

Chevy Stevens' debut novel pissed me off so badly that I threw it halfway across the room (don't worry, it was a paperback), so I'm not sure why I picked this up.  It was certainly better than Still Missing, but it wasn't very good either.

5. When the Sea Is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen:  Desperate to avoid an arranged marriage, Felicita fakes her own death and escapes to the slums.  She is befriended by a ragtag group of people and falls in love with their leader, but she finds out that he's planning to stage a rebellion against her family.  Not only that, but the suicide of her best friend has called forth a strange magic from the sea that might destroy the whole city.  Some interesting ideas, but not all of them are fully realized.  I did like it, though.

6. Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf:  Ellen is a social worker who races to the scene of a domestic incident one hot summer day.  She's assisting the children when she hears a crowd gathering behind her and breaking into her car because it turns out that she forget her infant daughter Avery in the backseat.  As Avery's life hangs in the balance and a CPS investigation is opened against her, Ellen finds redemption in the form of Jenny, a young girl her mother has befriended.  Some of the writing is clunky, and the way Ellen and Jenny meet is just way too convenient, but it's okay.

7. In the End* by Demitria Lunetta:  This is a direct sequel to In the After, so I can't review it properly; you know the drill by now.  I was surprised that this was the final volume, though; there seems to be an unwritten law that YA dystopian novels have to be a trilogy.  At any rate, it's really freakin' good.

8. The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe:  As a teenager, Mia was a fucked up girl who got pregnant at 15 and constantly fought with her alcoholic mother; her best friend Lorrie Ann was the sweet one from a good home.  But when they get older, Lorrie Ann falls prey to one tragedy after another, and Mia can only watch her friend's disintegration.  It's good, but so depressing it's just this side of emotional torture porn.  Don't let the cover fool you.

9. The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo:  The 1979 murder of an Amish man and his four children returns to the news when the perpetrators start getting picked off, and police chief Kate Burkholder has to track down the vigilante.  This is the fifth book in Castillo's Amish mystery series, and although it's not the best of the lot, it's still engrossing.

NONFICTION

Nothing this month.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Judge vol. 4 by Yoshiki Tonogai

2. Demon Love Spell vol. 6 (final volume) by Mayu Shinjo

3. Midnight Secretary vol. 6 by Tomu Ohmi

4. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

5. My Love Story!!* by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

6. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 4 by Nico Tanigawa


MOVIES

1. The Great Happiness Space*:  This documentary follows a group of Japanese nightclub hosts as they go about their business.  Hosts make huge amounts of money (Issei, one of the hosts interviewed, makes upwards of $50,000 a month) to flirt with women, light their cigarettes, drink with them, do karaoke, etc.  The hosts all basically look the same, which I do NOT mean as a racist comment; rather, they all have the same chemically lightened hair done in Final Fantasy styles, dress the same, wear lots of flashy jewelry, etc.  One aspect I found most intriguing was that their biggest clients tend to be hostesses, i.e. women who do the exact same thing, which is weird because you think they'd know better than anyone that the flattery is just an act to get money.  (Then again, it's probably nice for them to get doted on for a change!)  It's definitely worth watching if you're interested in Japanese culture.

2. Bad Grandpa 0.5:  A look behind the scenes of Bad Grandpa, including additional footage.  Obviously it's not as good as the actual movie, but if you enjoyed BG, you should enjoy this too.

3. Robocop:  In this remake, Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, who will always be Holder to me) is critically injured and transformed into the titular Robocop, a cyborg who's out for justice.  Has its moments.

4. Vampire Academy:  Think Hogwarts for vampires and their half-human, half-vampire guardians, except not good.  You'd think that a movie based on a bestselling YA book series with a script by Daniel Waters (who wrote Heathers, fer chrissakes) would be decent, but you'd be wrong.  It does have some fun lines, but the acting is almost uniformly awful and the CGI is dreadful.  Put a stake in it.

5. The Motel:  Ernest is a 13-year-old boy who lives with his mother and sister at the seedy motel they own.  A charming guest befriends Ernest, and Ernest starts to regard him as a father figure, which perhaps isn't the best idea.  The cover features a blurb from a Salon reviewer saying "I roared out loud with laughter!" and I think maybe they saw a different movie than I did.  It had a couple of laughs, but it is most certainly NOT a comedy and it ended on a strangely depressing note.

6.  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.

7. Matchstick Men:  A con artist with OCD (Nicolas Cage) discovers that he has a teenage daughter, but her presence both enriches and complicates his life.  Good performances, but the plot was a bit more predictable than I would have liked.

8. Defendor:  Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) believes he's a superhero called Defendor, and he teams up with a prostitute to take down a mob boss.  It's not bad, but (re)watch Kick-Ass instead if you're in the mood for this kind of movie.

9. Snowpiercer*:  After an attempt to fix global warming brings on a new ice age instead, the remainder of humanity is herded onto a train circling the globe.  The rich live in luxury at the front of the train; the poor live in the back and eat protein bars made out of insects.  But the poor are sick of it, and led by a man named Edgar (Chris Evans), they stage a coup.  It's got a lot of interesting ideas and some good action, so it's definitely worth a watch.

10. Under the Skin:  Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious unnamed woman who drives around Scotland picking up men.  Why?  Well, I won't spoil it for you in case you want to see this, but you really shouldn't.  I read the book by Michel Faber several years ago and loved it, but the movie not only doesn't do it justice, it completely leaves out some very important details that make it confusing as hell if you didn't read the source material.  Plus it's so slooooooooooooooooow.  I'll be lucky if G-Vo ever forgives me for making him watch it, but in my defense, I thought it would be good.  The score is excellent and there are a couple of decently creepy scenes, but overall, it's a dud.  Rent it only if you want to see ScarJo full frontal or if there's no paint around to watch dry.

11. Non-Stop*:  The ever delicious Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, an alcoholic air marshal on a flight to London.  When he receives a series of text messages threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes, he has to track down the culprit before it's too late.  The very definition of a fun popcorn movie.

12. 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 in hopes of getting the power working again, 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 wielding machine guns John Woo style.  If that doesn't make you want to run out and see it immediately, well, I'm sorry you hate fun.

13. Bad Words*: Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is in his forties, but he takes advantage of a loophole to join a children's spelling bee.  Extremely crude, but at times uproarious; as long as you're not easily offended, I guarantee at least a couple of belly laughs.

14. Blue Ruin:  After learning that his parents' murderer is being released from prison, Dwight lies in wait, follows the killer to a bar, and ambushes him in the bathroom, where he slashes the man's throat.  Dwight flees the scene, but the killer's family tracks him down.  It's a more "realistic" take on the revenge thriller, peppered with some darkly humorous moments, and Macon Blair is excellent as Dwight.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Piccadilly Palare" by Morrissey

Thursday, July 24, 2014

hips like Cinderella

(The title doesn't mean anything; I've just been listening to the Pixies a lot recently.)

Every month on the last page, Marie Claire runs a column in which they ask a celebrity 20 questions.  I think I've done this before, but they mix up the questions every month, so most of this should be new.  I'm bored, and I assume you are too if you're reading this, so I ask your indulgence.

What brings you the greatest joy?

First and foremost, spending time with G-Vo.  But as far as things I can do by myself that cost less than $10, I would have to say my summer Monday ritual.  When I get home from work, I crank up the air conditioning and then climb into bed, read a magazine with little to no intellectual content, and then nap for about an hour.  It's absolutely glorious, and is just the refresher I need after a dismal Monday at work.  (In the fall/winter, it's dark when I get home, so I only nap if I'm about to fall over because it's very disorienting to wake up from a nap and have it be completely dark out.)


What brings you the greatest satisfaction?

Being with G-Vo for ten years and being able to count our fights on two fingers.

What is the best gift you've ever received?

I don't know if it's THE best, but the first thing that sprang to mind was the Colecovision I got for my birthday in 1983.  It was the absolute shit, and I spent many, many hours playing Mousetrap, Donkey Kong, and my favorite, Ladybug.  

What charities do you support?

I'm just about broke enough to be a charity all on my own, but my dad prefers charitable donations over actual gifts, so I donate in his name when a special occasion rolls around.  He moved to Florida last year and is absolutely smitten with it, especially the wildlife, so now the charities usually involve saving manatees or Florida panthers or critters like that.

What is your greatest indulgence?

Perfume.  I have so much that I don't think I'll ever run out.  G-Vo got me a bottle of Angel Eau Sucree for my birthday, and it makes me smell like a macaron to the point that I want to eat my own arm.

What is on your perennial to-do list?

There is an area in my living room where everything seems to accumulate:  boxes, Target purchases, furoku from Little Tokyo runs, a new shower curtain that I still have to put up, a package from Zappos that I got two months ago and still haven't opened (thank god for their liberal return policies)...you name it.  I keep telling myself that I need to remove at least one item per day and then I'll have it cleaned up within a month, but then I don't because I am very lazy and when I get home from work all I want to do is flop on the couch and read or play Candy Crush until my lives run out.

What is on your bucket list?

I want to visit a Japanese hot spring, or if I can't do that, soak in the springs at Ten Thousand Waves in New Mexico.  I want to go on a road trip and do nothing but tourist trap stuff like the Weeki Wachee mermaid show and Pedro's South of the Border.  There are at least a dozen countries I'd love to visit, and I really want to go to Portland, Oregon.  I want Gordon Ramsay to call me a donkey and/or a muppet, but only in fun, because I think if he was genuinely pissed at me, it would be utterly terrifying.

What is on your bookshelf?

Books.

...sorry.  But yes, I do in fact have books, though not as many as you might think, considering my voracious reading habit.  I very rarely buy books, thanks to Los Angeles county's excellent library system.  I also have two Hello Kitty dolls, a phrenologist's head, a daruma whose second eye will never get filled in at this rate, a UFO catcher doll of Yomi from Azumanga Daioh, and one of my favorite pictures (me and G-Vo eating soft pretzels in Central Park).

Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?

Aside from real life loved ones, the cast of Game of Thrones, David Lynch, Kevin Smith, Ray Stevenson, Samantha Irby, Matt Bellamy, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul because they have a real life bromance that absolutely kills me, Rich Juzwiak and Caity Weaver, Guillermo del Toro, Kate Middleton so I can admire her shiny hair, Prince Harry, Michael K from Dlisted (I'll put him next to "Prince Hot Ginge", as MK calls him), George Clooney, Grumpy Cat, Maru, Suda51, Swery65, Akira Yamaoka, Shinji Mikami, Louis C.K., Amy Schumer, and President Obama.  Oh, and Katie Holmes, but only if she promises to spill the tea on her marriage to Tom Cruise.

What makes you laugh?

Too many to list, so I'll just mention one:  when G-Vo does his impression of Jackson Galaxy from My Cat from Hell.  It's done with fondness, because we both enjoy that show and think Jackson's a rock star, but it's still funny as shit.  We were visiting our friend M a couple of months ago, and she has two cats we both love, and when Girl Cat came up to G-Vo he said (in an eerily accurate voice) "Hi, girlfriend!" and I think I might have peed a little.

What makes you cry?

Again, too many to list, but anything involving animals (either something good, like an abandoned kitten being saved, or bad, like I don't even want to say) will have my tear ducts flooding.  Fucking Budweiser with their fucking Super Bowl ads.  Oh, and movies where someone is reunited with their loved one(s) in the afterlife, like Somewhere in Time, probably because I don't believe that happens after death but desperately want to.  Instant ugly sobbing mess.

What item in your closet do you wear the most?

Aside from my jeans and the stuff I wear to work, I'd have to say my Teddy (from Persona 4) shirt.  G-Vo made it for me, and some teenage boy at Red Robin was so excited to see it that he said "Oh my god, is everyday great at your Junes?" (a line from the game) and then gave me a fistbump.  I'm really glad G-Vo was there to see it, because he never would have believed me otherwise!

What is your beauty secret?

"Beauty" ROFL

...sorry, I'll stop being mean to myself.  I'd have to say sunscreen.  I use Aveeno Positively Radiant moisturizer, which has 30SPF in it, and it's the best thing ever.  (I only use this on days when I'm going to be out in the sun for an hour or less; otherwise, I use something stronger to be on the safe side, even though other SPF moisturizers tend to leave a chalky white film that makes me look like I'm trying out for a kabuki play.)  I've tried many other moisturizers with SPF, some of them costing literally five times as much, and I'm always disappointed and go running back to my Aveeno. I hope they never discontinue it because I'll be PISSED.

What splurge is well worth it?

Massages.  Every two weeks, I get a full body massage at a local massage school, and it only costs $30 from one of the interns.  They've been through all of the training, so although the atmosphere is a bit lacking, it's still a bargain.  And there's a massage therapist that comes in once a week here at work, and she charges $10 for a 10 minute chair massage, so I go to her when I don't have a "full monty" massage booked. 

What do you never leave home without?

My wallet, cell phone, Dr Pepper lip balm, and a little tin box, shaped like a suitcase, in which I store aspirin, Imodium, Band-Aids, Dayquil, and Allegra.  That box has saved my bacon, and the bacon of others, many times.

What is your favorite food?

My absolute favorite food in the whole wide world is old-fashioned sugar cream pie (aka hoosier pie), which is the official state pie of Indiana and can only be found in that and a handful of other midwestern states.  Since I don't find myself in Indiana very often, I get to have it maybe once a decade, if that.  I don't even know how to describe it; the closest I can come is creme brulee, but about a million times better, and I love creme brulee so you know I ain't playin'.

Now, as far as something I can get easily, you just cannot beat a good cheeseburger:  ketchup, mustard, pickles, and American cheese only, please.  My favorites are from Red Robin and Wendy's because I have very simple tastes.  (Obviously.)

What movie has the greatest ending?

Well, you can't beat The Sixth Sense and Seven, for obvious reasons, but my personal favorite ending is probably The Fall.

***SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING OF THE FALL***

Ordinarily, I think ambiguous endings are a cop out on the part of the director and/or screenwriter, but I think it worked for The Fall.  After I made G-Vo watch it, he told me he wanted to give it a 5 but couldn't because he hates ambiguous endings too.  Then we were looking on the IMDB message board, and someone said something along the lines that just as Roy could choose whether to give his story a happy or a sad ending, so could the viewer.  Which made perfect sense, so G-Vo upped his Netflix rating to a 5.

***END SPOILERS***

What song instantly puts you in a good mood?

"Weekender Girl" by Hatsune Miku.





How did you make your first dollar?

Data entry at a company that sold office supplies.  Very exciting.

What is the best advice you've ever been given?

Well, he didn't tell it to me directly, but the best advice I've ever heard comes from Dr. Seuss:  "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."  Along the same lines, I also like this quote from Oscar Wilde:  "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."  Seriously, at the risk of being a total cornball, I don't think it's a coincidence that my life improved by about 1000% when I said, "You know what?  Fuck it, I'm going to let my freak flag fly." 






Monday, June 30, 2014

media update: June

And how was your June?  Mine was quite nice, thank you.  Work was unusually slow, which led to some pretty long and boring days, but three wonderful things happened.  First of all, the Raccoon officially retired, and you have no idea how magnificent it is to come in every morning and see her empty desk. She did come in for a visit last week, which set my teeth on edge because seriously, bitch?  YOU JUST LEFT AND NOBODY MISSES YOU.   Yeah, it was still better than seeing her 5 days a week, but it really pissed me off.

Secondly, my boss got transferred to a different division, and since she tended to be unreasonable and not a particularly pleasant person, I can't say as I was too freakin' sorry to see her go.  (Neither was anyone else; when the official email went out, people were CHEERING.  No, she wasn't around at the time.)

Best of all, my work bestie/next door neighbor J, who was planning on transferring to Arizona, changed her mind!  She's the only person at work that I consider a friend, and our late afternoon bitchfests keep me sane, so I was ecstatic at this news.

Another nice thing that happened this month:  G-Vo, C, C's lovely lady, and I saw a live taping of Conan O'Brien, which was fun.  Jack White was the musical guest, and he SLAYED.  Afterwards, we ate at the original Bob's Big Boy, which filled me with nostalgia since we used to eat at Bob's when I was a kid.  I took a selfie with the Bob statue outside because I'm a dork.

Anyway, on to the media update!  Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.

FICTION

1. Mr. Mercedes* by Stephen King:  Early one morning, hundreds of people are waiting for a job fair to open when a stolen Mercedes plows through the crowd, killing eight people.  The driver escapes and ditches the car, leaving behind a clown mask that's been washed with bleach to destroy evidence.  The crime still haunts retired detective Bill Hodges, so when he receives a taunting letter from Mr. Mercedes, he's determined to stop him before he kills again...and time is of the essence, because Mr. Mercedes has plans to mount a terrorist attack that could wipe out thousands of people.  One of King's scariest novels, because the events in this book could actually happen.  I thought the ending was a bit of a letdown, but other than that, Mr. Mercedes is really good.

2. Young God* by Katherine Faw Morris:  Nikki is a 13-year-old girl who is determined to keep her family's drug trade profitable.  The prose is sparse (some pages only have one sentence on them) and it can be pretty disturbing, but it's an excellent debut that reads like Winter's Bone written by Dorothy Allison.

3. Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau:  This is the final volume in a trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil the previous books.  It was aight.

4. 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.")  

NONFICTION

1. Carsick by John Waters:  The notorious filmmaker decided to hitchhike from Baltimore to San Francisco.  The first two sections of this book are his fantasies about the best and worst possible scenarios, and the final section tells us what really happened on his journey.  For the most part, I thought the fantasy sections were a little too weird and/or gross for my tastes, but I did enjoy the real stuff.

2. Insatiable by Asa Akira:  The porn star tells all in this explicit memoir.  I had never heard of her (and no, I'm not playing coy; I would tell you if I had) but saw this at the library and was intrigued.  It's a pretty good look behind the scenes of the adult entertainment industry.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. Over Easy by Mimi Pond

2. Kamisama Kiss vol. 15 by Julietta Suzuki

3. This One Summer* by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

4. Sex Criminals* by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky:  This graphic novel about people who can stop time when they have an orgasm is pretty goddamn good and you should read it.  One of my favorite things about it is the little details in the background, like a poster in a porn store that shows a woman staring forlornly at the camera.  The title of the movie is Not the Life That I Anticipated, But Here I Am I Guess.

5. The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff


MOVIES

1. I, Frankenstein:  I, stupid for watching this pile of shit.

2. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones:  Jesse is intrigued by his downstairs neighbor, who is rumored to be a witch.  After her death, Jesse begins to investigate, but he unleashes something evil in the process.  Like all of the PA movies, it's not particularly scary (I don't count jump scares), but it's well done and I enjoyed it.

3. 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, and highly recommended.

4. Son of Batman:  In this animated flick, Batman learns that he's the father of a young son named Damian.  When the boy's mother, Talia Al'Ghul, asks Batman to train Damian, he reluctantly agrees.  Decent story and animation, but the voice acting is surprisingly flat.

5.  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit:  CIA analyst Jack Ryan discovers a Russian plot to destroy the US economy.  Takes a while to get going, but it has some fun action, and Chris Pine is quite pleasant to look at.

6. Three Days to Kill:  A CIA agent (Kevin Costner) wants to retire, but after he's diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, he's offered the chance to receive an experimental drug...if he's willing to take on one last case.  It's decent enough, though nothing special.

7. The Monuments Men:  A group of museum curators and architects are tasked with recovering priceless stolen artwork before the Nazis can destroy them.  It's an intriguing (and true!) story, and you can't beat the cast, but it had a really strange tone to it.  As G-Vo mentioned, it gets practically Hogan's Heroes-esque at times, and then you'll see a barrel full of gold fillings taken from dead Jews or a soldier dying.  I wish the tone had been a bit more consistent. 

8. Lone Survivor*:  When a mission to capture a Taliban leader goes horribly awry, a group of Navy SEALS struggles to survive.  The title is a spoiler, but considering that it's based on a true story, I'll give it a pass on that.  It's very intense, and I appreciated the fact that they honored the people who died that day by showing their photos at the end of the movie.

9. Knights of Badassdom:  A group of LARPers accidentally conjures a real succubus in this horror comedy.  It's packed with geek favorites like Peter Dinklage, Summer Glau, and Ryan Kwanten, and it has a few fun moments/lines, but mostly it's just really stupid.  Probably better with the addition of alcohol or your favorite, ahem, herbal remedies.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Lost Cause" by Beck

2. "Shy Guy" by Diana King

3. "Fell in Love with a Girl" by the White Stripes

4. "Soramimi Cake" by Oranges & Lemons

VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH





Massachusetts police detective Ronan O'Connor is not having a great day on the job.  He's in hot pursuit of the Bell Killer, the serial killer terrorizing Salem, and just as he has the killer cornered, the killer tosses him out a window.  Not content to leave things to chance, the Bell Killer saunters downstairs and finishes Ronan off with seven shots to the chest.  You'd think that would be the end of it, but thanks to the supernatural forces in Salem, Ronan becomes a ghost.  And the spirit of his dead wife Julia tells him that he can't join her on the other side unless he ties up a few loose ends first.  Determined to be with Julia forever, Ronan teams up with a psychic teenage girl named Joy to bring the Bell Killer to justice.

During the course of the game, you search for clues, possess people to read their minds or influence them to act a certain way, and take control of cats (yay!) to access tight areas.  Dementor-like demons roam around and will kill you all over again (this time permanently) if you don't sneak up on them and take them down first.  You can help other spirits find peace by solving their problems or collect artifacts to hear ghost stories revolving around them, though none of the stories were really worth the trouble.

M:SS got terrible reviews, but honestly, it's not bad.  The story takes some interesting turns, and Ronan and Joy have a fun (if occasionally prickly) camaraderie.  The graphics aren't particularly great, but the atmosphere is suitably creepy.  It's a pretty short game that should only take about 10 hours to complete (maybe 12 if you want to find all of the artifacts and notes), so if you like action adventure games, it's worth renting.

Friday, June 13, 2014

five stars

I have a pretty boring diet.  With rare exceptions, I have the same thing for breakfast (yogurt) and lunch (PBJ) every day.  Dinner varies, but not by much.  G-Vo and I eat out on weekends, but we still only choose from a small group of favorite restaurants.  And that's fine; I eat these things because I like them.

But every once in a while, I'll eat something so amazing that makes me realize how everything else I usually eat is just empty calories, quickly consumed and then forgotten.  One of the best meals I've ever had was filet mignon and basmati rice, with key lime cheesecake for dessert.  It was one of those meals where I sat back full and happy and knew that I'd remember it for a long time.  It didn't just nourish my body; it nourished my soul.

These are the movie and TV equivalents, culled from my five star ratings on Netflix.  I thought I'd share them in case anyone is looking for something worthwhile to watch over the summer.  Your mileage, of course, may vary.  I've added comments or clarifications where needed.  Also, there's a very real possibility that I forgot to rate something that I thought was worth five stars, so I may update it at some point in the future, but this is a good starting point.

In alphabetical order:

  1. Aladdin
  2. American Beauty
  3. Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV show, NOT the movie!)
  4. The Avengers
  5. Borat
  6. Breaking Bad:  We haven't actually finished this, so I reserve the right to go back and change this rating.  But the writing and acting so far deserve a five.
  7. Bridesmaids
  8. Clerks
  9. The Dark Knight
  10. E.T. 
  11. The Fall:  The movie, not the unrelated TV miniseries (which is also excellent).  I pulled this DVD off the shelf at the library, thought I'd watch about 15 minutes and toss it aside, and wound up watching it twice in 24 hours.  It is so beautiful and heartbreaking and has made me a Lee Pace fangirl for life. 
  12. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  13. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  14. Game of Thrones:  I want to say it's my favorite TV show of all time, but I hesitate to do so until it's actually over.  It's got a damn good shot, though, assuming it doesn't pull a Lost or a Dexter on us in the final season.
  15. The Green Mile:  Based on one of my ten favorite books of all time.
  16. Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 2:  Mainly for sentimental reasons.
  17. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  18. Her
  19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame:  The Disney version.  No exaggeration, I was howling in the theater.  And I don't mean laughter, I mean tears.  People were actually turning around to look at me.
  20. The Incredibles
  21. Kick-Ass
  22. Kill Bill:  The first one only; I was really disappointed in the second.
  23. King Kong:  Peter Jackson's version.
  24. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  25. Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers:  Probably my favorite movie of all time.
  26. Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King:  Yes, I went out of alphabetical order there because I felt weird going out of sequential order for a trilogy.  (nerd)
  27. Me and You and Everyone We Know
  28. Memento
  29. Mulholland Drive
  30. Mysterious Skin
  31. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  32. Paranoia Agent
  33. Perfect Blue
  34. Pinocchio
  35. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  36. The Protector:  Also known as Tom Yum Goong.
  37. Pulp Fiction
  38. Running Scared:  The 2006 movie, not the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines one.  One of the most exciting and audacious movies I've ever seen.  A scene of Paul Walker (RIP) going down on Vera Farmiga most certainly did not hurt its rating.
  39. Shortbus
  40. Sideways
  41. The Silence of the Lambs
  42. Sita Sings the Blues
  43. Sixteen Candles
  44. The Sopranos:  As of this writing, my favorite TV show of all time, though (as mentioned above) Game of Thrones is not just nipping at its heels; it has an actual foot in its mouth.
  45. Titanic
  46. Toy Story 3
  47. Up
  48. Welcome to the Dollhouse
  49. Zodiac
Aw man, I don't have a full 50?  Oh well.

UPDATE 6/15:  I couldn't easily add these without messing up my list above, so please mentally add Freaks and Geeks, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Shaun of the Dead, Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back to the above list.

Monday, June 02, 2014

media update: May

This month, I wrapped up an experiment in which I kept track of every penny I spent over the course of a year.  It was pretty interesting; for one thing, I learned that I spend WAY too much money in the vending machine here at work.  Once I noticed that trend, though, I managed to cut the amount down by 75%.

I was going to break everything down by category, but oh my god, no thanks, I'm not THAT bored.  But here are a few highlights:

Most common purchases that weren't strictly necessary:  Vending machine items, massages (though I could make a strong case for those being necessary because they improve my mood/back pain), Sprinkles cupcakes, contributions to the lottery pool at work, and assorted subscriptions (Gamefly, Netflix, about eight thousand magazines, and Booksfree, although I cancelled that in March because they kept removing so many items that my queue went down from 300 books to 12 in the course of three months).

Most unusual purchases:  Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Ned Stark Funko figurines (gifts for G); an original watercolor painting titled Skeletons Under the Mistletoe by Lissa Treiman; a "small sausage" (oddly enough, I don't remember this purchase at all and I only eat sausage on the rare occasions I go out for breakfast, and I wasn't being euphemistic, so it will remain a mystery).

Stores that get most of my money:  Target, Whole Foods, CVS, and Albertsons.

Anyway, it was interesting, but I'm glad it's over because it was a pain in the ass to keep track of every freakin' penny.  If I ever feel the need to do it again, I'll stick to one or two months.

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

FICTION

1. 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'.

2. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead:  In 1975, an American ballet dancer named Joan helps Arslan Rusakov, considered to be the best ballet dancer in the world, defect from Russia.  She falls deeply in love with him, which has unexpected consequences that reverberate throughout the rest of her life.  It's okay, but I probably wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been hard up for reading material at the time.  Also, it should have ended one chapter earlier.

3. Tease by Amanda Maciel:  Sara is in big trouble.  After her classmate Emma commits suicide, Sara, her best friend Brielle, and three classmates are charged with stalking and harassment.  While awaiting sentencing, Sara is forced to confront her part in Emma's death.  It's pretty good, although (much like Tampa by Alissa Nutting and The End of Alice by A.M. Homes) it feels kind of squicky to try to sympathize with a narrator who's a terrible person.  Also, the cover is shiny silver with the title written out in red lipstick, which makes it look like erotica.  Not that I have anything against erotica, of course; it's just not something I want people to think I'm reading in the break room at work.

4. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculi:  Minnie Graves is not happy when she's pressured into being a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding to a guy she hates.  Bored, she wanders off to explore the Bellweather Hotel, the sprawling resort where the wedding is taking place, and witnesses a murder-suicide.  Fifteen years later, when a group of teenagers comes to the Bellweather for a music conference, another tragedy makes everyone wonder if the past is repeating itself.  The book jacket describes it as "The Shining meets Glee", and although it's not as engrossing (and not remotely scary) as The Shining, it's still pretty good.  There are some stretches that drag, but it redeems itself with some great set pieces and lines like this one:  "When [Minnie's] parents wake her to talk to the police, again she will scream and kick and fight like an animal, afraid to be awake in a world of so many monsters."

NONFICTION

Nothing this month.

MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS

1. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! vol. 3 by Nico Tanigawa

2. Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

3. Midnight Secretary vol. 5 by Tomu Ohmi

4. Otomen vol. 18 (final volume) by Aya Kanno

5. Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda and Yu

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

MOVIES

1. 47 Ronin:  Loosely based on Japanese history, this movie tells the story of a group of ronin (guess how many!) who are determined to avenge the death of their master.  This was a massive commercial and critical flop, but I liked it quite a bit.  It's visually appealing (aside from some iffy CGI at times) and has some fun action.

2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug*:  This is a sequel to The Hobbit, so I won't go into great detail lest I spoil something from its predecessor/book.  I will say that it's considerably better than the first movie, thanks to a couple of terrific fight scenes, a badass dragon, and the return of LEGOLAS.  Not only is he pretty to look at, but he's a fucking boss.  Glad to have you back, my Elvish sweetheart.

3. Bettie Page Reveals All*:  A look at the iconic pinup girl whose playful poses and obvious delight in her sexuality continue to resonate decades later.  What I particularly enjoyed about this documentary is that it's not just a regurgitated slideshow of her photos (though there are plenty of those, of course); it includes a very rare interview with her done shortly before she died.  My main complaint is that at one point Bettie talks about a shoot where the photographers got her drunk and she wound up posing in a much more explicit fashion than usual, and how much that upset her once she'd sobered up and realized what happened, and then they showed one of those pictures onscreen.  I thought that was disrespectful.

4. Stranger by the Lake:  In this French flick, Franck spends most of his days at a lake known for gay cruising.  He's instantly attracted to Michel (who looks a lot like a young Timothy Dalton), and his attraction doesn't wane even when he sees Michel drown his lover in the lake.  An interesting little thriller, but be warned that it includes more nudity than a men's locker room and graphic, non-simulated sex.

5. Out of the Furnace:  After his brother disappears while engaging in an underground fighting match, Russell takes matters into his own hands.  Excellent performances, especially from Christian Bale as Russell and Woody Harrelson as a vicious redneck, but unrelentingly grim.

6. Pompeii:  This was a shameless Gladiator ripoff until Mount Vesuvius erupted.  It was another big budget flop that didn't quite deserve the critical and commercial failure, because the disaster porn is really cool and Kit "Jon Snow" Harington's abs are a force of nature too.  Don't get me wrong, it's not a great movie, but it's enjoyable.

7. Chinese Zodiac:  Jackie Chan plays a relic hunter tasked with retrieving several priceless statues and returning them to China.  There's an almost unbearable slapsticky part in the middle, but the beginning (in which Jackie speeds around hairpin turns in a rollerblade suit) and the fight scenes are great.

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 that Joss Whedon will have a very hard time topping in the next Avengers movie.  Oh, and you get to see Hugh Jackman's nalgas, which is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Side note: It's sad that this even warrants a mention, but the audience was extremely well-behaved throughout the entire movie.  I hardly ever go to the movies anymore (this was the first time in 7 months), both because of the cost and because people are so goddamn rude, so I was gratified when everyone was quiet and kept their phones in their pockets/purses.

ADDED TO MY IPOD

1. "Cherry-Coloured Funk" by Cocteau Twins

2. "Heaven or Las Vegas" by Cocteau Twins

3. "One Small Day" by Ultravox

4. "Love's Great Adventure" by Ultravox

5. "Original Don" by Major Lazer

6. "Be Aggressive" by Faith No More

4. "Love's Great Adventure" by Ultravox


Friday, May 16, 2014

Travis

I don't have that many female friends, and I never have.  It's not internalized misogyny; it's just that when I was growing up, I had interests that skewed far more closely to "guy stuff", like comic books and video games.  That wouldn't make me a special snowflake now, but it sure did back then, so I got much more comfortable hanging around guys than girls.  I wasn't interested in clothes or putting on makeup or playing with dolls; I wanted to hang out at Scotty's Liquor, where I'd consistently rack up the high score on Q*Bert or Eyes (a bizarre Pac-Man ripoff) while coolly sipping a soda and soaking up the compliments of the boys watching me.

But as a teenager, I didn't have very many friends of either gender.  My best friend R was two years older than me, so I had to brave the dangerous, awful, bully infested waters of junior high by myself, eating my lunch in the bathroom and trying to avoid insults and hard slaps in the head.  By the time I got to high school, R had a boyfriend whose side she rarely, if ever, left, and then she got into crystal meth, so I lost her too.  I felt so lonely, and back then, I wasn't comfortable being by myself because, when left alone too long, my thoughts went to dark places.  I just wanted someone to fucking understand me, to share inside jokes with, to see the cracked and damaged places inside me and love me anyway.

Travis (not his real name) was in my French and economics classes, and he obviously did not give a single solitary fuck what anyone else thought of him.  He always wore a neon green cardigan, usually over a Dead or Alive or Divine shirt, which back in those days was tantamount to taking out a billboard and advertising that you were gay. 

I was instantly smitten by Travis.  I tried to woo him with M&Ms and copies of Crackpot, and although he always thanked me, he didn't give me the validation I desperately desired by inviting me to have lunch with him, so I eventually gave up.  I still said hi to him when I slid into the desk next to him, and once I asked him to decipher an Erasure lyric that I couldn't figure out (this was before the internet, remember), but other than that, I left him alone.

One day, in economics, our teacher was talking about civil rights and said "The problem was that once the blacks had them, the f-----s wanted them too."  I happened to be looking right at Travis when Mr. H said that, and his forehead furrowed slightly, but he never stopped doodling on his folder.  I can't even begin to imagine how he felt, knowing that a TEACHER felt like he could use a vile homophobic slur in class and nobody would do a goddamn thing about it.

The whole reason I'm even writing this is because I dreamed about Travis last night.  For some reason, we were playing Rock Band and he turned to me and said "It's okay that you were alone, you know.  Nobody was cool enough for you anyway."  And this is so stupid, but I woke up crying.

Is it dumb to feel so validated by a dream?