Tuesday, September 02, 2008

media update: August

This media update is a bit image heavy, and a couple of the images contain naughty words, so view with care. And, as always, asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. I Want Candy by Kim Wong Keltner: In the early 80's, a Chinese-American teenager, sick of working at her family's restaurant, tries to find excitement any way she can. This was an impulse buy at Target, but as soon as I opened it, I realized that I'd read a previous book by the author and hated it. This one is considerably better (and raunchier), but still not very good. I'll be sure to check the "Also By..." page before buying books in the future.

2. Fractured* by Karin Slaughter: When a woman comes home, she finds a man with a knife standing over her teenage daughter's bloody body. Crazed by grief and adrenaline, she strangles him to death with her bare hands. There's more to the story, but I don't want to spoil it because it's a doozy and a half. Karin Slaughter is required reading for anyone who loves tightly crafted mysteries.

3. The Condition by Jennifer Haigh: In 1976, after their daughter is diagnosed with Turner's syndrome (a genetic condition that stunts growth and prevents the onset of puberty), a couple's marriage falls apart. Twenty years later, each member of the family is dealing with a "condition" of his or her own. This book definitely gets better as it goes along, and although I didn't like it enough to give it a star, I thought it wrapped up beautifully.

4. Whacked by Jules Asner: When the protagonist discovers that her boyfriend's been cheating on her, she goes nuttier than a squirrel turd. Not phenomenal or anything, but certainly much more enjoyable than most chick lit, and a fun way to kill a couple of hours.

5. A Good Indian Wife by Anne Cherian: An Indian man is tricked into an arranged marriage by his family, and when he returns to America with his new wife, they both have a lot of adjusting to do. An interesting look at culture shock.

6. Ritual* by Mo Hayder: The release of a new Mo Hayder book always sends me into paroxysms of glee, since she wrote The Devil of Nanking, which is one of my ten favorite novels of all time. This one is about a police diver who finds an amputated hand, and the ensuing investigation leads her into a horrifying underworld of black magic. Without exception, I can recommend all of Mo Hayder's books, but be warned that her stuff is REALLY unnerving and dark.

7. Don't You Forget About Me* by Jancee Dunn: Devastated when her husband unexpectedly asks for a divorce, Lillian moves back home to the suburbs of New Jersey. While there, she decides to attend her 20th high school reunion in hopes of hooking up with her old flame. If you were a teenage girl in the 80's, like I was, you'll eat this book up. Every two pages, the author would mention something like wearing 2 Swatches on one wrist (which I used to do) or "come gum" (which I used to chew), and I'd chortle in recognition. To use the parlance of the day, this book is totally tubular.


1. Pandering by Heidi Fleiss: What an odd book. It's part memoir, part scrapbook, wholly weird. I hadn't even gotten ten pages into it before I came across (er, no pun intended) a graphic photo of anal sex. There's also a horrifying anecdote about Madam Alex (a fellow madam who accused Heidi of stealing her best workers and clients) getting bitten on the labia by a spider as she slept. Hi, worst nightmare! I'm going to start wearing chain mail to bed.

2. Well Enough Alone* by Jennifer Traig: An alternately funny and gross look at the author's hypochondria, as well as some real diseases I really wish I hadn't done further research on, like Morgellon's disease. (Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the crawling sensations you will feel if you Google that.)

3. Life with My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone: Allegedly, Madonna freaked out when she found out this book was being written, but she had nothing to worry about; there's nothing new and scandalous in here. She does come across as one stellar bitch, though.


1. Promethea* vols. 1-5 by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray

2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

3. Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa and Sai Kawashima


1. The Dark Knight*: I'd been waiting for this movie for what seemed like forever, and once the rave reviews started pouring in, I was even more excited. I didn't want to get my hopes up too much, though, for fear that I'd be disappointed. Well, you know what? I was not only NOT disappointed, but I was fucking ENRAPTURED. It's probably the darkest popcorn flick of all time, and Heath Ledger is absolutely chilling as the Joker. I loved this movie so much I wanted to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant.

And I don't know who made these, but I had to include them here because they made me laugh for about ten minutes straight.

2. Monkey Shines*: Ordinarily I don't put things in my media update if I've read/seen them before, but I HAD to make an exception for this underappreciated gem in hopes that it might encourage some of my fellow cheese fans to seek it out. Made in the late 80's, it's a George Romero film about a paralyzed man who gets a helper monkey named Ella. What he doesn't know is that Ella was experimented on (injected with human brain cells, develops telepathy, blah blah blah) before she came to him, and she's capable of great love...and great anger. When people start pissing her master off, Ella literally goes apeshit. Don't get me wrong; this is a REALLY stupid movie. The acting is terrible; the nurse in particular chews the scenery with such enthusiasm you'd think it was made of nougat. To paraphrase Butthead, the special effects aren't very special, and there are tons of unintentionally funny scenes. But there's a cute (well, until she goes insane) capuchin monkey in it, you get to see Janine Turner, Stanley Tucci (who probably tried to bribe IMDB into erasing this credit off his page), and Stephen Root (aka Milton from Office Space) in early roles, and it has a jump scare that made me hit the ceiling even though I knew it was coming. Oh, and did I mention the cunnilingus scene? (And no, sickies, the monkey is NOT involved.) I loved this movie back when I saw it on HBO twentysome years ago; time has not dulled its gloriously trashy sheen. A must-see for people of a certain mindset, and you know exactly who you are.

3. 27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl plays a woman who, when she's not serving as a bridesmaid in yet another wedding, pines after her hunky boss. Then her sister and a cynical journalist start making her life really complicated. It's fairly predictable and cheesy, but it's elevated above standard chick flick fare by a few really good laughs, an awesome montage of eye-bleedingly bad bridesmaid dresses, and veteran scene stealer Judy Greer.

4. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantamano Bay: So very dumb, yet so very funny. I think some sort of chemical enhancement might have made this even funnier, but I have no ganja connections, and I couldn't drink when I saw it because I was taking a shitload of allergy meds at the time. I still thought it was pretty uproarious, especially the scenes with Neil Patrick Harris, who's a freakin' hoot.

NPH side note: He and his real-life boyfriend are quite possibly the cutest couple in the world, like kittens-in-a-basket cute. I mean, just LOOK at them:

Okay, so Harold and Kumar in the background are kind of distracting, especially since their expressions make them look like they're going "OMG GAYZ", but still! Squee!

5. Flashpoint: Man, I thought this Hong Kong action flick was going to be really exciting, but aside from a couple of good fights, it was actually pretty boring. Sulk.

6. The Bank Job*: When incriminating photos of Princess Margaret are hidden in a safe deposit box, a group of criminals is dispatched to steal them back. Based on the true story of London's most famous bank robbery, this is an exceptionally clever and well-written movie. Jason Statham turns in a good performance, too.


1. "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again" by Eric Carmen: Don't. Even. Start. With. Me.


I love cake; cake is my friend. But the monstrosities at Cake Wrecks are not my friends.

They are, however, gutbustingly funny.


As a general rule, I'm not big on RPGs. Sure, I admire their contribution to the gaming world, and most of them have stunning graphics, but all that spell casting and funky combat leaves me cold. I'll take a survival horror or puzzle game any day of the week. But there are always exceptions to every rule, and last year, Odin Sphere took my RPG cherry. It focused more on action, but I secretly liked mixing potions and healing items. I enjoyed Odin Sphere immensely, but I knew it would take a really unique RPG to grab my attention again.

I'd say that playing as Frederic Chopin counts.

Eternal Sonata opens with Chopin on his deathbed, dreaming of a world where people with terminal illnesses are able to do magic. In this world, he meets many unusual characters (all named after musical terms) who are traveling on a mission. Strict taxation is forcing many people into poverty, and the group plans to petition for help.

This is the most gorgeous video game I've ever played, bar none. See the cover art? The whole freakin' game looks like that. It's like playing a Miyazaki film! When we weren't in the middle of a fight, G and I would frequently stop just to look at the amazing backgrounds.

Oh, yeah, that's another plus for this game: two player co-op mode. There aren't many games that G and I can actually play together, because most co-op games (like Gears of War) give me motion sickness. Instead, with games like Resident Evil 4, one of us plays until death or a save point, and then we pass the controller to the other person. But Eternal Sonata allowed us to play alongside each other, which was a lot of fun and particularly advantageous for me, since he's an RPG expert and I'm the proverbial n00b. (Although at one point, I said, "Well, I like Allegretto but I'm switching to Jazz because his sword is just too powerful to pass up." G started laughing, and I thought it was because what I'd said sounded more than a little sexual, but then he said, "That is the nerdiest thing I've ever heard you say!" After four years together, I seriously doubt that.)

Other great things about Eternal Sonata: the soundtrack, as you would expect, is beautiful. Most of the character voices were very good, especially Chopin. The costumes are stunning. The inventory screens were very intuitive and easy to figure out, even though we rented the game and didn't have an instruction manual to help us. And, of course, you can't beat playing as Chopin (though you play as other characters, too) during a deathbed fever dream for originality.

On the negative side, the dialogue during fights can get REALLY repetitive, and in the more clogged areas, it gets boring having to fight the same creatures over and over. Strangely enough, there's no mapping system. Usually this wasn't a problem, but there were two very confusing levels that were a right pisser to get through without a freakin' map. And the ending was pretty disappointing.

So was Eternal Sonata good enough to make me leap upon G's stack of Final Fantasy games? As much as I enjoyed it, no. And if you're already an RPG expert, this may be a bit too easy and/or short (about 30 hours of gameplay) for you. But for RPG amateurs who want a challenging but not teeth-grindingly difficult introduction to the genre, this is a great starting point.