Monday, August 31, 2009

media update: August

"I want to have a good body, but not as much as I want dessert." (Jason Love)

As you can see, I got a shitload of reading done this month, thanks to two doctor's appointments (and the inevitable cooling of my heels in the waiting room) and G's trip to Florida. I could have gotten even MORE reading done if I hadn't binged on seasons 4 and 5 of Hell's Kitchen. I loves me some Hulu!

A word of caution to anyone watching, or planning on watching, True Blood. I read all of the Sookie Stackhouse books this month and review them here. If you haven't read the books and don't want to be exposed to potential spoilers, you might want to skip those reviews, since I don't know what will be (or has been) covered in the TV show. I will say that I've really enjoyed them; they're the literary equivalent of potato chips. You can't read just one!

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


1. Dead Until Dark* by Charlaine Harris: After vampires come out of the closet (so to speak) and start integrating with regular society, a telepathic Louisiana waitress becomes fascinated with one named Bill, largely because she can't read his mind. But when women known for being "fang bangers" (vampire groupies) start turning up dead, suspicion falls on Bill and his fellow bloodsuckers. I've only seen one episode of True Blood and frankly wasn't all that impressed, but I like the books so much that I might give the show another chance. At the very least, I'll pass my copy of this book on to my friend J, who has recently become obsessed with the Twilight series (oy), in hopes that she switches camps.

2. Hollywood Is Like High School with Money by Zoey Dean: The protagonist, Taylor Henning, moves to LA and starts working as an assistant at a movie studio. She has trouble fitting in with her bitchy coworkers, and impulsively she asks her boss's teenage daughter for advice. Taylor becomes wildly successful both personally and professionally, but she begins wondering if she's lost herself in the process. A textbook example of predictable chick lit (supportive and witty gay male friend, lots of name dropping, almost pornographic descriptions of designer clothing), but it's fluffy fun.

3. Living Dead in Dallas* by Charlaine Harris: Sookie is attacked by a maenad, and after vampires save her life, she owes them a favor. The head vampire, Eric, asks her to go to Dallas and use her telepathy to search for a missing vampire. When she and Bill get there, she finds out that the vampire's disappearance may be linked to the Fellowship of the Sun, a church dedicated to the eradication of all vampires. Another fun book in the series, and whew, there are some really hot sex scenes in this one. Like, fan my face worthy.

4. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf: Calli is a 7-year-old girl who has been mute for years. One day, she and her best friend Petra disappear, and their families begin frantically searching for them. Too melodramatic and, to coin a phrase, Picoultian for my tastes.

5. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris: Bill disappears, and Sookie learns that he may have reignited a love affair with his ex. Sookie is mad as hell, but when she goes to Mississippi to investigate, she finds out that he's been kidnapped. This one wasn't as compelling to me as the previous two.

6. Dead to the World* by Charlaine Harris: Sookie is driving home from work when she notices a half-naked man running down the road. It turns out to be Eric, Bill's boss, and he's come down with a mysterious case of amnesia. Reluctantly, Sookie takes him in, and finds herself in big trouble when a group of witches (one of whom is obsessed with Eric) comes to town. Yeah, remember how I said #3 had a lot of really hot sex scenes in it? There's one in this book that damn near set my panties on fire.

7. Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris: Sookie is determined to find out who's been hunting the shape-shifters in her town, but when someone sets her house on fire, it's obvious that she's in way over her head.

8. Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris: When Sookie is named as the executor of her cousin Hadley's estate, she has to go to New Orleans to take care of things. But someone doesn't like her poking around, and as usual, she winds up in a heap of trouble. This one got a bit confusing because a lot of Hadley's backstory is omitted. (I did some research online and found out that a previous short story, which appeared in an anthology, talked about it in much more depth. I wish the author had included that short story at the beginning of this book, but maybe there was some sort of weird copyright issue.) Still, it was a good read, and there were a couple of juicy twists halfway through.

9. All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris: The vampire queen of Louisiana summons Sookie to a vampire summit. She doesn't want to go, but she needs the money and she can't afford to make such a powerful enemy. But trouble seems to follow Sookie everywhere, and she gets caught up in a tangle of alliances and backstabbing.

10. From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris: A power struggle erupts between the Weres, and meanwhile a group of vampires from Las Vegas try to take over Louisiana after the queen becomes incapacitated. I couldn't really get into this one.

11. Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris: Following the vampires' lead, the shapeshifters and Weres announce their presence to the world. Then a werepanther is found crucified in the parking lot of Merlotte's, and Sookie tries to track down the culprit. In the meantime, another supernatural race---one which doesn't want the general public to know about them---starts a bloody war, and Sookie gets caught in the crossfire.

12. The Wet Nurse's Tale* by Erica Eisdorfer: Set in Victorian England, this novel follows Susan Rose, a woman who follows in her mother's footsteps and becomes a wet nurse. Her alcoholic father sells her son to a wealthy family, and when Susan finds out that the woman of the house is mentally ill, she cooks up a daring scheme to rescue her baby. An excellent piece of historical fiction with an indelible heroine to root for.


1. Shelf Discovery* by Lizzie Skurnick: Based on the Fine Lines column that runs periodically on Jezebel, this is a series of essays about the books that many of us loved as teenagers. God, reading this brought back so many memories, both about books I reread until their covers fell off (anything by Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Flowers in the Attic) and ones I'd totally forgotten about (The Girl with the Silver Eyes, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit) until I picked this up. If you're a bookworm who grew up in the late 70's or early 80's, I guarantee that you will fucking LOVE this book. There are some glaring typos and a few punctuation/factual errors (for example, My Sweet Audrina didn't come out in 1988), but I didn't care all that much because this was such a fabulous trip down memory lane for me.

2. Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers & Other Useless Or Gross Information About Your Body by Francesca Gould: Title says it all. One of the most interesting (and disturbing) anecdotes in here is that the youngest known mother on record was only five years old, which is so fucking horrifying on so many levels that I can't even begin to process it.

3. Fierce Food by Christa Weil: A compendium of weird and/or nasty foods. Some of the grossest include armadillo (which can give you leprosy), casu marzu (a rotting Italian cheese infested with maggots; I'll wait here while you go vomit), and the infamous balut (duck embryo). But why the hell is coconut listed? I know a lot of people don't like it, but it's hardly strange.

4. Mortified: Love Is A Battlefield* by David Nadelberg: An excruciatingly funny collection of diary entries and letters written by teenagers in love. My absolute, hands down favorite entry is "The Art of Love" by Lorelei Hill Butters, which features drawings of her fantasy life with her crush object. I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Fabulous!


1. 32 Stories* by Adrian Tomine

2. Otomen vol. 3 by Aya Kanno

3. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service* vols. 1-6 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki

4. Allure by Yuri Ebihara


1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince*: Harry starts his sixth year at Hogwarts and begins acing his potions class, thanks to the notes scribbled in his textbook by someone calling himself the "Half-Blood Prince". Meanwhile, Dumbledore asks Harry to help him out with a quest, and Harry's friends are all completely lovesick, so it turns out to be a very eventful year. God, this was so good; it's my favorite Harry Potter movie to date. The sets are stunning, the young actors have really grown into their roles, and Alan Rickman, as usual, steals every scene he's in. (And yes, I cried. Hard.)

2. Mirrors: Kiefer Sutherland plays an ex-cop who takes a job as a night watchman in a burned-out department store. He starts noticing weird things in the mirrors, and soon the evil begins attacking his family. Kind of lame, but there are a few genuinely creepy scenes, and it has a very Silent Hill feel to it that I enjoyed.

3. 500 Days of Summer*: At the beginning of this bittersweet movie, the narrator tells us that it's not a love story, which is only half true. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (amazing as always) plays Tom, a greeting card writer who falls in love with the quirky Summer (Zooey Deschanel, redeeming herself in my eyes for her shitty performance in The Happening). But she doesn't believe in love, and despite the time she and Tom spend together, doing everything from having sex to strolling through Ikea and pretending they live there, she doesn't think of him as her boyfriend. My biggest qualm is with the disappointing ending, which rang really false to me, but it didn't bother me enough to ruin the whole thing. See it with someone you love and be prepared for an animated discussion afterwards.

Side note: if you're a chick, this movie will give you SERIOUS wardrobe lust. Ordinarily I couldn't possibly give less of a shit about clothes, but I coveted practically everything Summer wore, especially the dress she wears to a coworker's wedding.

4. The Cove*: In the small fishing town of Taiji, Japan, dolphins are herded into a cove where animal trainers pick the friendliest and prettiest ones for aquariums and water parks. The rest are slaughtered and sold for meat. Richard O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer who worked on the Flipper TV show, became an activist after one of his dolphins committed suicide. (Apparently this is not an uncommon thing among dolphins in captivity; they can choose not to breathe.) The people of Taiji don't want outsiders to know about the slaughter lest it cut into their lucrative profits, so O'Barry and a group of other activists went to drastic measures to get evidence. Industrial Light & Magic made realistic-looking rocks to hide cameras in, and two divers, under cover of night, placed them in the cove. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the footage made people in the theater, including me, burst into tears. It is fucking ROUGH to watch. On one hand, I feel like I don't have much of a right to be outraged because, after all, I'm not a vegetarian. But as the film points out, dolphin meat is almost always tainted with toxic amounts of mercury, so nobody should even be eating it in the first place. At any rate, it's a powerful and heartbreaking documentary, but fair warning: if you love animals, you WILL cry.

5. District 9*: A malfunctioning alien craft has been hovering over South Africa for decades, and the stranded aliens are forced into slums. But when they're about to be relocated outside of the city, they start fighting back...and a bureaucrat gets personally involved in a very strange way. It took some time to hook me, but once it did, I really enjoyed it. I can't remember the exact quote, but New York said something like "This is the best Kafkaesque allegory about apartheid involving shrimp from outer space that you'll ever see." Warning to those of you who get motion sickness: there are a few shaky cam shots. I didn't wind up getting sick, but I wish I'd known that going in.

6. Adventureland: The misleading trailers for this movie made it seem like a breezy romcom, and although it does have a few funny lines, it's actually a rather bittersweet coming-of-age story. It's about a recent college graduate who starts working at an amusement park to earn money for grad school. He falls in love with another worker, and they both learn a few painful lessons over the summer. The best parts of the movie were Martin Starr (aka Bill from Freaks and Geeks) as a pipe-smoking games operator and the awesome 80's soundtrack.


A couple of years ago, I read a hysterical book called Superstud: Or How I Became A 24-Year-Old Virgin by Paul Feig. It was so funny that I often had to press a hand over my mouth to keep from howling out loud and disturbing my neighbors. The author's biography mentioned that he had created a TV series called Freaks and Geeks, and when I looked it up, I saw that it had debuted in 1999 and only lasted a season. I made a mental note to check it out on DVD.

And, of course, promptly forgot.

Then last year I saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall and instantly fell in love with its star, Jason Segel, thanks to his sweet vulnerability, awesome sense of humor, and willingness to go full frontal. I checked his filmography on IMDB and saw that he'd been in Freaks and Geeks, and I said, "Oh yeah! I wanted to see that. I have to check it out on DVD."

And, of course, I promptly forgot again.

Then THIS year, I saw I Love You Man, which reignited my Jason Segel worship and reminded me that I really, REALLY needed to check out Freaks and Geeks. I asked G to put it in his Netflix queue, and we finished watching it this month.

Verdict? This is one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. I'd go so far as to say it's in my top 10 of all time.

Freaks and Geeks follows two siblings, Lindsay and Sam Weir, during the 1980-1981 school year. Lindsay is exceptionally smart, but she finds herself drawn to the "freaks" of the school, a group of stoners and slackers. Sam fits squarely into the "geek" category, hanging out with his best friends Bill (who's now my favorite fictional nerd after Dawn Weiner; maybe they should hook up?) and Neil (a wisecracking Jewish kid), pining over a cute cheerleader named Cindy, and trying to avoid bullies.

This show will make you laugh your ass off one second and break your heart the next. Some of the scenes are so realistic that you'll be cringing in horror, like the one where Sam takes a date to see The Jerk, and she sits there stone-faced while he's doubled over laughing. When he asks her if she wants some popcorn, she says, "I don't know, will it make this movie funny?" OUCH. (For the record, I believe that anyone who doesn't think The Jerk is hysterical should be automatically disqualified as a romantic prospect.) Or the scene where genial stoner Nick comes home to find that his dad has sold his beloved drum set. Or the scene where Neil finds out that his dad is cheating on his mom. The scripts are excellent, as well they should be, with writers like Paul Feig, Judd Apatow, and Mike White (who wrote and starred in one of my favorite movies ever, Chuck & Buck).

The one episode I think is worth skipping (or at least not expecting too much from) is number 13, "Chokin' and Tokin'", where Lindsay tries pot for the first time. I didn't know this until G told me, but apparently the government pays a stipend to TV shows that show drugs in a negative light, and this must have been the one for Freaks and Geeks. Lindsay staggers around wide-eyed and paranoid, and it's just a really bad episode.

But every other episode is golden. The acting is pitch perfect, and I think Sam and his friends are especially good. You fall in love with these characters, and when the credits rolled on the last episode, I was genuinely sad. And it's fun seeing Seth Rogen and James Franco before they became famous, as well as cameos by MST3K's Trace Beaulieu and Joel Hodgson, Jason Schwartzman, Ben Stiller, and an alarmingly young Shia LaBeouf, who we didn't even recognize until we saw his name in the ending credits.

I have such mad love for this show. Watch it and I think you will too.