Tuesday, June 30, 2009

media update: June

Christ, I'm so glad June is almost over; it wasn't a good month for me at all. Work was a nightmare, I cut my leg and it got badly infected (necessitating two doctor visits and three prescriptions), I got a nail in my tire, AND I got a haircut that made me look like that starstruck kid Megan Fox snubbed. Tomorrow will kind of suck, thanks to my annual crotch doc appointment, but at least I have a massage afterwards. Plus there's a three-day weekend coming up, and G, C, and I have our birthdays in the same week, which means a colossal food orgy is on the way!

The advent of summer means even more reading and movies than usual because there's nothing good on TV.

...then again, just because there's nothing GOOD on TV, it doesn't mean I haven't been watching it at all. I will shamefacedly admit to getting sucked into I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! I started watching it because they were in Costa Rica, but to my horror, I kind of wound up enjoying it. And even though she was irritating and whiny and her melting candle wax face scared me, I felt terrible for Janice Dickinson when she was in agony from not being able to poop. I crapped ONCE during my ten days in Costa Rica, and then when I got back, I didn't crap for over a week. When I finally released the chocolate hostages, oh my god. My downstairs neighbors probably thought I was having a baby, what with all the groaning and crying, and that's not too far from the truth. I thought I was going to need an episiotomy to get that monster out.

On that charming note, on to the update. I've mentioned this before, but it's interesting how many of my media updates seem to have an theme. Occasionally this is on purpose, like if I become obsessed with a particular topic and read everything I can find about it, but usually it's not. This month's unofficial theme: race relations!

Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary. Lots of really good stuff this month, including three animated movies that rocked my world in completely different ways.


1. The Help* by Kathryn Stockett: A beautifully written novel about a young white woman in 1962 Mississippi who decides to write a book about the black maids in her hometown. Despite their fears of losing their jobs or worse, they agree to be interviewed in hopes of changing the way they live. Powerful and moving.

2. The Lovers by John Connolly: Private investigator Charlie Parker looks into the death of his father and the events that preceded it, but he's not remotely prepared for what he finds. You all know how much I love JC, but I have to admit that I was very disappointed with this one; it's probably my least favorite out of all his books. It got really confusing, and the supernatural figured much more heavily than it usually does. And, of course, my standard complaint: not nearly enough Angel and Louis, the gay hitmen who get the absolute best lines. Ah well, I have faith that he'll get his groove back.

3. Almost Single by Advaita Kala: I should have known what I was in for when I read the first line: "The phone punctures my deep dreamless REM slumber at the crack of dawn." Yeah, um...anyone else see the problem with that sentence? At any rate, the blurb on the front calls this book "Bridget Jones in a sari", which is accurate in that it tells you this is chick lit about a single Indian woman looking for love, but inaccurate in that it implies some entertainment value is contained within.

4. Ai no Kusabi: Darkness by Reiko Yoshihara: I have no idea why I keep reading these books, because they're terrible. But the movie based on them is one of my favorite anime movies ever, so I'll stick it out until the end.

5. Little Bee* by Chris Cleave: The book jacket asks readers not to spoil the plot for their friends. I think they were overstating it a bit, since it's not like there's a huge twisty reveal or anything, but I'll defer to their wishes because this book was so awesome. I'll just give you the bare bones and say that it's the story of two women, a Nigerian refugee named Little Bee and a British woman named Sarah, who meet under strange circumstances in Nigeria and are later reunited in London. Little Bee has a heartbreaking backstory; at one point, she says "In your country, if you are not scared enough already, you can go to watch a horror film. Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it." A powerful, unique, and even occasionally funny novel.


1. This Will Kill You* by HP Newquist and Rich Maloof: A blackly funny and informative book that describes in detail some of the many ways people can die, from alligators to tuberculosis.

2. No Regrets: The Best, Worst, and Most #$%* Ridiculous Tattoos Ever* by Aviva Yael: Hysterical; you can check out some examples here. I desperately want to know the story behind the tramp stamp that says "I'm Gonna Kill You, Ray Romano".

3. Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander: They forgot ABBA!

4. Dear Diary* by Lesley Arfin: A collection of the author's diary entries, starting when she was 12 and ending when she was 25. It's mostly a cautionary tale about drugs (though she doesn't shy away from glamorizing them at times; at one point she describes a heroin high by saying "Imagine being a melting candle, or a poured drink. Imagine being the sweater that the boy you love wears all day long"), but with snarky, funny updates on each entry. For example, she compares coming down from a crystal meth high to "a bad acid trip meets chemo meets watching your parents die in a car crash." I'd have to say, though, that my favorite line is when she describes the look on a man's face while getting a blowjob as "a cross between an infant taking a nap and Terry Schiavo". Warning to potential readers: the cover is kind of gross.

5. Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood: The author was adopted from Taiwan when she was a baby. Her biological parents gave her up because she was a girl, and they already had too many daughters. But when she was in her twenties, she was contacted by her birth family, and she decided to go meet them. A lovely and often melancholy memoir.

6. Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen: The memoir of a pastry chef who's worked for some of the biggest restaurants in New York City. Have a bottle of Jergens and some Kleenex handy, because this is food porn at its finest. Example: when she talks about a chocolate pyramid she made filled with dark chocolate and white chocolate mousse, and finished off at the base with dark chocolate ganache, crushed cocoa beans, and halvah. Pardon me while I paste 'em.

7. I'm Down* by Mishna Wolff: The author grew up with a father who believed he was black...which he wasn't. He was determined to make his daughters "black" too by living in a black neighborhood and making them hang out with only black kids. Eventually, at the behest of her mother, she started to go to a white school and became even more confused about her place in the world. Although there are some somber moments, for the most part this book is hysterical. (Sample line: Admiring a friend frying bologna, she writes "She was like Julia Child for the food stamp set.") A surprising number of typos, but it's so fresh and funny that I'm willing to overlook them.

8. I Love a Man in Uniform by Lily Burana: The author, a former stripper and teenage anarchist, never thought she would marry into the military. This memoir is about her attempts to fit in with the other army wives, as well as the story of her marriage and how it almost fell apart under the stress of their PTSD (his from war, hers from childhood abuse).

9. The Ramen King and I by Andy Raskin: A very strange memoir in which the author adopted Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen, as a sort of spiritual guru. It was such a weird premise that I don't even really know what to say about this book. Not starworthy, but points for originality at least.

10. Rattled by Christine Coppa: A highly irritating memoir about how her whirlwind, glamorous New York City life was interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy. Then the baby's father took a powder, so she had to figure out how to cope on her own. Seriously, I hated this woman. Not on moral grounds, and not because I think she should have had an abortion, because being pro-choice also includes letting women choose to have the baby. No, she lost my sympathy when she talks about ditching her quadriplegic boyfriend (I didn't realize until reading this that she wrote an article about that for Glamour, which I read a while back, and if I'd known she wrote this book I wouldn't have picked it up). She even says "I think if the accident hadn't happened I'd still be with him." Points for honesty and all, but fuck you, sister. After that, it was pretty hard to give a shit about her and her situation. So sorry you can't have Starbucks or sushi anymore, lady, but at least you aren't, you know, fucking PARALYZED. Maybe I took it so personally because my mom was paralyzed for six months after her spinal surgery, but even putting that chapter aside, I still wanted to throw this book in the street.


1. Mixed Vegetables vol. 4 by Ayumi Komura

2. V.B. Rose vols. 4-5 by Banri Hidaka

3. Swan vol. 14 by Kiyoko Ariyoshi

4. High School Debut vol. 9 by Kazune Kawahara

5. Zombie Tales: Oblivion* (anthology)


1. The Onion Movie: A collection of skits and satirical news stories. Like all "gag-a-second" flicks, nine out of 10 jokes flop, but the ones that succeed are hysterical. I particularly liked the trailer for Cockpuncher, starring Steven Seagal, and the interview with a Britney Spears clone who perkily claims all of her songs, like "Take Me From Behind" (which I would totally buy off iTunes if it was real; it's been stuck in my head since watching this movie) and "Down on My Knees", are actually about friendship. And although I was horrified by one particular skit (which starred Jin from Lost, oddly enough), I must grudgingly give props to anything that manages to offend G AND me. That's pretty damn hard to do!

2. Hellboy II: The Golden Army*: Hellboy and his friends must protect the earth from an underworld prince who wants to destroy it. To my surprise, I wound up enjoying this immensely. It's a visual masterpiece---the creature designs are really something to behold, as you'd expect from a Guillermo del Toro movie---and some of the action scenes are worthy of Hong Kong.

3. Sita Sings the Blues*: An absolutely stunning animated film that combines the Indian story of the Ramayana with the story of a modern marriage that has fallen apart. Factor in 1920's jazz and you have something wholly original. Unfortunately, copyright problems with the music have kept this movie from being commercially distributed, but you can watch it online for free (and legally!). Nina Paley, the creator, has links for watching it on her website. If you love animation, you need to see this. Shit, if you love MOVIES, you ought to check it out. Something this unique and wonderful deserves to be supported.

4. Taken*: Liam Neeson plays a former spy who reluctantly agrees to let his daughter go to Paris with her friend. When they're kidnapped by white slavers, he springs into action. Takes a while to get going, but once it does, it never lets up.

5. Rachel Getting Married*: Kym (Anne Hathaway, whose Oscar nomination was well deserved) is a young woman who's given a weekend pass from rehab so she can attend her sister Rachel's wedding. Because of the things she did when she was still using (including something major that's only hinted at until the middle of the movie), her sister holds a lot of resentment towards her, especially because she thinks that Kym is taking too much attention away from her. The dialogue and acting are so realistic that it doesn't even seem scripted; it's like you're actually there. In fact, it may be a bit too realistic, because parts of this movie are unbelievably grueling to sit through. There's a painful scene where Kym says, in regards to the aforementioned tragedy, "Yes, I was stoned out of my mind. Who do I have to be now? I mean, I could be Mother Teresa and it wouldn't make a difference, what I did. Did I sacrifice every bit of love I'm allowed for this life because [spoiler omitted]?" The look on her face and the pain in her voice were so intense that I almost told G to finish watching the movie without me, but I'm glad I stuck it out because there is some small measure of redemption at the end. It was worth watching, but I never want to see it again.

6. Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood (excellent as always) plays Walt Kowalski, a bigoted war vet who lives next door to a Hmong family. When their teenage son tries to steal his prized Gran Torino as a gang initiation rite, the family insists that he help Walt out with various chores as a way of paying him back. Walt reluctantly finds himself growing attached to the family, but then the gang begins making trouble, forcing Walt to intervene. This could have been so much better than it was. I found Walt's change of heart too convenient, and some of the religious imagery was unbelievably heavy-handed.

7. The International*: An Interpol agent sets out to expose an private bank's shady dealings. The story got a bit muddled at times, but I'm giving it a star because of the beautiful locations and buildings (it's like architecture porn), an amazing scene in the Guggenheim, and the presence of Clive Owen and my eternal girlcrush Naomi Watts.

8. Lakeview Terrace: Horrified when a biracial couple moves next door, a cop (Samuel L. Jackson) sets out to make their lives miserable. Good performances, especially by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington as the terrified newlyweds.

9. The Hangover*: A Vegas bachelor party goes awry when three of the guys wake up from the previous night's debauchery and can't remember anything about it...including where they put the groom. GodDAMN was this funny. I was seriously about to piss my pants a couple of times, especially during the tiger song and any scene involving Mr. Chow. I've got to catch this again on DVD; considering some of the scenes that made it in, I can only imagine what they had to cut in order to get an R.

Two things that bothered me, though: I could have done without the f-word being thrown about by one of the protagonists...and I don't mean "fuck". Come on, people; no necisado. Also, the scene where the baby accidentally gets hit with the car door disturbed me, because there was no reason for it. It wasn't supposed to be funny, and it didn't lead to anything (like, for example, a bystander getting upset and decking the guy who did it), so why put it in there at all?

10. Up*: After his wife dies, a cranky old man named Carl faces eviction from his home. Refusing to cave in, he ties thousands of balloons to the roof and sets out for Paradise Falls, the place he and his wife always dreamed of visiting. This may be a kid's movie, but it's probably one of the best meditations on love and loss that I've ever seen. There's a sequence at the beginning that shows Carl and his wife Ellie throughout their marriage, and by the end, I was scrubbing tears away from my face with a handful of scratchy napkins. But don't worry, it's not a downer flick; there are plenty of funny lines and exciting action sequences too, and the animation is breathtaking. Absolutely one of my favorite movies of the year.

11. Let the Right One In*: A Swedish movie about a bullied teenage boy who befriends the strange girl next door. Turns out she has quite a secret. A unique combination of horror film and love story, with strong performances by the leads and gorgeous cinematography.

12. Waltz with Bashir*: A truly devastating animated documentary about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980's. The director fought in the war on the Israeli side, and trying to fill in the gaps in his memory, he interviewed other people who were there. Warning: at the very end of the movie, the animation gives way to real footage of a massacre's aftermath, and it is EXTREMELY upsetting, especially the final picture. If you're sensitive, you may want to stop the movie as soon as that footage starts; you won't miss any dialogue.


1. "Tell Me" by Wonder Girls

2. "Moanin' Low" by Annette Hanshaw

3. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson

4. "Right Round" by Flo Rida

5. "This Is Not A Love Song" by Public Image Ltd


My Milk Toof is...well, I can't really describe it. Suffice it to say that it's utterly charming and whimsical and I can't get enough. I want to live in Ickle and Lardee's world.