Sunday, November 30, 2008

media update: November

My Thanksgiving vacation has had some major snags, but it certainly hasn't been all bad either. For one, I've been able to spend lots of time with G and his family, and for another...


Lots and lots of monkeys.

I'll write a separate, monktacular entry, chock full o' pictures, at a later date. I figured I might as well post this while I had a shot at the computer.

A word of caution to the two people I know are going to play Silent Hill Homecoming: I review it in this media update, and I've tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible. However, if you don't want to know ANYTHING about the game, you may want to stop reading as soon as you see the box art.

Also, if anyone has their heart set on reading Candy Everybody Wants by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, skip my review because I spoil the hell out of it. I only did so because it was the worst book I've read this year, and I must share my vitriol.

I read a ton of manga and graphic novels this month because the library got a big shipment of them. Ah, happiness.

As usual, asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Candy Everybody Wants by Josh Kilmer-Purcell: Oh my god, this was so fucking BAD! It's about Jayson, a teenage boy in the early 80's who wants nothing more than to be famous. Through a series of improbable events, he gets his wish...with some snags along the way, of course. The writing is so clunky and obvious, like the part where someone sniffs, "With a name like Madonna, she'll never go anywhere." Ha ha, it's funny because we know it's not true! And of course the teen idol that Jayson has worshipped forever will not only turn out to be gay, but wind up being his boyfriend! Of course that "just a cough" will turn out to be AIDS! Of course the suspiciously large pregnant teenager will---shock!---wind up unexpectedly having twins! Factor in some painfully forced quirkiness in the form of his friends and family, and we're talking epic fail. What makes it even worse is that the author's memoir, I Am Not Myself These Days, was one of my favorite books of 2007. If this novel is any indication, the author should stick to nonfiction.

Also, the blurb on the back from Dr. Drew Pinsky calling the protagonist "Holden Caulfield for a new generation": really, Dr. Drew? REALLY? Have you been stealing meds from your patients on Celebrity Rehab?

2. Ai no Kusabi: Suggestion by Reiko Yoshihara: The continuing adventures of our unambiguously gay (well, I guess Riki is bi) duo. These books are so very bad, but they're a guilty pleasure.

3. Just After Sunset* by Stephen King: A collection of short stories ranging from the excellent ("The Gingerbread Girl") to the boring ("Stationary Bike"). My favorite was "A Very Tight Place", in which a man is trapped in a portable toilet by his insane neighbor. I found this one especially scary because I hate portable toilets with a passion. (Not that I think anyone loves them, except for that guy who was apprehended at the bottom of one, literally happy as a pig in shit. I'm pretty liberal and all, but fucking nasty. I mean, who willingly crawls into a portable toilet and thinks "Turds! Glorious, soul-sustaining TURDS! I've got such a boner right now!") I'm about as low maintenance as it gets, but I prefer that my toilet be in an actual building with actual plumbing. We went to a concert in the park on Labor Day, and I had to use one, and the smell was indescribable. Ever tried to pull up your pants with one hand and pinch your nose shut with the other? It ain't easy!

Where was I? Oh yeah, the story. It's gleefully gross and I loved it, even though it almost made me gag a couple of times.

4. The Fire Kimono by Laura Joh Rowland: In 1700's Japan, a skeleton is found under a tree, and the shogun orders an investigation. To Sano Ichiro's horror, the evidence implicates his mother. This is the 13th book in the Sano Ichiro series, and although it isn't the best, it's diverting enough.

5. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb: This behemoth clocks in at 700+ pages, which made it a perfect choice for vacation reading material. Protagonist Caelum Quirk's wife survives the Columbine shootings by hiding in a cabinet. Suffering from PTSD, she does something that gets her sent to the pokey, and with nothing else to do, Caelum begins slogging through his family's history. And I do mean SLOG, because those parts generally bored me senseless. Well written, but a serious disappointment after his previous novels.


1. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008*: These always have some really good stuff in them, and this is a particularly meaty volume. I especially enjoyed Jake Swearingen's "Are You There, God? It's Me. Also, A Bunch of Zombies" (an especially appropriate title considering that this volume is introduced by my perennial idol Judy Blume) and a heartbreaking short story titled "Y" by Marjorie Celona. There's also a fascinating article about Bill Clinton and a good selection from Stephen King (which also appears in #3 above). Well worth checking out.

2. The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam: When she was 12 years old, the author was sold into sexual slavery. She spent the next several years as a prostitute in Cambodia, and when she married a Frenchman, she was finally able to break free. Since then, she's made it her mission to help girls (and I do mean GIRLS; some of them are only five or six years old) in the same situation. Obviously not the feel good book of the year, but at least she's doing something about it.

3. In the Devil's Garden* by Stewart Lee Allen: A terrifically entertaining book about forbidden foods throughout the ages, sorted by deadly sin, ranging from rabbits (because they would supposedly make the eater crave sodomy) to "long pig" (people). There are also a few recipes included, such as Nipples of the Virgin (a breast-shaped pastry with cream filling) and Mashed "Couch" Potatoes. The latter, incorporating as it does a full cup each of butter and milk, almost made me have an orgasm just thinking about it.


1. The Walking Dead* vols. 4-8 by Robert Kirkman

2. Black Orchid* by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

3. In Odd We Trust* by Dean Koontz and Queenie Chan: I wasn't expecting much out of this, but I actually enjoyed it. It's an original Odd Thomas story with manga style art.

4. Love Com vol. 4 by Aya Nakahara

5. Mixed Vegetables by Ayumi Komura

6. Sugar Princess* by Hisaya Nakajo

7. The Dreaming vols. 1-3 by Queenie Chan

8. Backstage Prince vol. 2 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

9. B.O.D.Y. by Ao Mimori


1. The Happening: Panic erupts when people suddenly start killing themselves for no apparent reason. Nobody's sure what's causing it, but since the phenomenon only seems to be happening in large cities, a group of people heads for the sticks. There are some very disturbing moments in this movie, and one scene that shocked the hell out of me, but overall you can give this a pass. The acting is unbelievably bad, and the reason for the mass suicides is ridiculous. Plus there was no big twist, which you kind of expect from an M. Night Shyamalan movie. (Unless that WAS the twist...ooh, clever!)

2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Oh dear god. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, what the fuck is wrong with you?!? I was rolling my eyes so much during the last 30 minutes of this movie that I'm surprised they didn't just stay there. There are some fun action sequences, and I enjoyed seeing Indy and Marian reunited, but my god. THAT FUCKING ENDING.

Side note: Immediately after watching this, G, C, and I watched the South Park episode about it, and I don't even remember the last time I laughed so hard. It made sitting through the movie worth it!

3. Quantum of Solace: It wasn't nearly as good as Casino Royale, but it had some excellent action scenes, and Daniel Craig continues to rock. I might have enjoyed this movie more if I hadn't gotten a migraine halfway through, and if we hadn't been sitting in the rudest audience in the history of the movies. How I wished for a flamethrower.


1. "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" by N-Trance

2. "O Fortuna" by Apotheosis

3. "Temptation" by New Order



I've been a rabid fan of the Silent Hill series since the very first game. I spent many hours playing it in the basement, almost too frightened to continue but unable to quit. I was absolutely hooked, and I knew that Silent Hill, along with Resident Evil, would always get my money...loyalty that was amply rewarded when Silent Hill 2 was released and became my favorite video game of all time.

But when it was announced that Silent Hill Homecoming (hereafter referred to as SHH) had been handed over to an American company, I got a little nervous. Not that I think only Japanese companies can make good video games---just look at Rockstar, Double Fine, and Quantic Dream---but I was worried they would drastically change the dynamic that makes Silent Hill so amazing.

In SHH, you play Alex Shepherd, a soldier returning from an unnamed war. To his shock, he finds out that his hometown of Shepherd's Glen is in ruins, his father and his younger brother Joshua are missing, and his mother is borderline catatonic. Alex is determined to uncover the mystery, and his search eventually leads him to Silent Hill.

Here's where my frustration set in. In previous Silent Hill games, you played "regular" characters, like a teenage girl and a writer. But Alex is a trained soldier, so the developers changed the combat accordingly. I wouldn't have minded if they'd upped the difficulty a bit, since it's never exactly been hard before, but at times it's like playing Devil May Cry! I got better as I went along, of course, but there were two nasty boss fights where I had to pass the controller to G lest I fling it through the window. A serious lack of ammo and health items during the first half of the game didn't help, either.

I had a few minor quibbles as well. The character models are very inconsistent; sometimes Alex looked like a real person, but at other times, he looked more like he belonged in a PS2 game. There were a couple of glitches; sometimes Alex would get caught in a running animation against a wall, forcing a restart, and on my second playthrough I tried to skip a cinema and the whole thing crashed. Oddly enough, there was a very long cinema before that one that couldn't be skipped, so when the game crashed, I had to watch it all over again. (Don't get me wrong, it was a really cool cinema, but I'd already seen it three times by that point!)

Now for the good stuff. The music and creature noises are perfect, thanks to Akira Yamaoka, who's been with this series since the very beginning. The storyline, while nowhere near as good as SH2, is intriguing and has some great twists and turns. The backgrounds are photorealistic at times, and the transition to the Otherworld is especially impressive. One of the levels is a visual masterpiece. It has the goriest death scene I've ever witnessed in a video game; in fact, the scene in question (plus a few others) actually got the game banned in Australia! A couple of the puzzles were really clever. There's good replay value, thanks to five different endings, new costumes, and new weapons. If you earn a certain achievement, you get an extra, wonderfully creepy cinema after the credits. The series continues to have the best mapping system of any game I've ever played. And the monster design is top notch. For example, Schisms (or, as I called them, "Oh God Those Fuckers Again, Shit! SHIT! Great I'm Cut In Half") look like a cross between a naked person and a hammerhead shark, and the bosses are straight out of HR Giger's worst nightmares.

So in conclusion, SHH posed no threat to SH2's supremacy in my heart, but it's a solid addition to the family. It freaked me out, it made me think, and it even made me mist up a little. And really, that's all I ask out of my beloved Silent Hill.