Monday, November 30, 2009

media update: November

Why hello there; I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving too. I made Bailey's french toast for breakfast, and for dinner, G and I had rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, a bottle of Bridlewood syrah, and red velvet cake. We spent the long weekend cocooning, with the exception of an excursion to C and M's on Friday night for a Flight of the Conchords marathon, and a trip yesterday to the Self-Realization Garden in Malibu and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. All in all, a most relaxing and enjoyable weekend, which makes today that much more painful.

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


1. The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall: In this mildly diverting sequel to The Russian Concubine, Lydia Ivanova sets out on a perilous journey to find her imprisoned father. Things get complicated with the appearance of her Chinese lover and the disappearance of her half-brother.

2. The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell: When Kay Scarpetta starts appearing on CNN, she begins to attract some serious creeps...including one who sends her an early Christmas present that's anything but merry. I don't think Cornwell will ever get her mojo back, but this is decent enough, although I'll admit to skimming some of the more technical details.

3. The Cloud Pavilion* by Laura Joh Rowland: In 17th century Japan, samurai detective Sano Ichiro investigates the kidnapping and sexual assault of his cousin. To his horror, he discovers that it's not an isolated incident at all, and there are people who will stop at nothing to keep the truth from being revealed. I've enjoyed all of the Sano Ichiro mysteries, and this is probably the best of them to date.

4. Under the Dome* by Stephen King: The small town of Chester's Mill, Maine, is suddenly enclosed in an invisible dome of unknown origin. The chaos starts immediately: a woman reaching for a vegetable in her garden has her hand cut off when the dome slams down; a small plane and numerous cars crash into it; a man's pacemaker explodes when he gets too close. (Yes, aside from the bloodshed, this sounds like The Simpsons Movie, but King swears he first came up with the idea in the 70's.) Things get worse as supplies start to dwindle and people begin to lose hope, and since this is a Stephen King book, of course there are some Very Bad People trapped inside as well...including a town official who takes advantage of the situation in order to turn Chester's Mill into a police state. This monster clocks in at just under 1100 pages (seriously, when I picked it up at the library, I almost asked them for a dolly so I could take it out to my car), but it's very fast reading. Not many people can match King at his best, and he's in fine form here. Filled with black humor, heartache, and nastiness, Under the Dome is a stunner.

Side note #1: I thought it was funny that the book jacket has absolutely no information on or inside of it aside from the title and author's name. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

Side note #2: There's a cast of characters at the very beginning of the book. Mark it with a paper clip or a Post-It, because for the first few hundred pages, you'll be referring back to it a LOT.

Side note #3: Apparently, this has already been optioned for a miniseries. When it comes to onscreen translations, King's work is awfully dicey; with the exceptions of Carrie and The Mist, it seems like the ones that work best are the ones with few to no supernatural elements (The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, The Green Mile, Misery). But Steven Spielberg is executive producing, so it might actually be good. I really hope they cast John Goodman as Big Jim Rennie.


1. News, Nudity, and Nonsense*: A selection of articles from the miscreants at Vice magazine. I didn't care about all of the drug entries, since my illegal drug experience is limited to pot and they talk about drugs I've never even HEARD of, but there's still much to be enjoyed here. Examples: a coroner comments on the realism (or not) of various horror movie death scenes; a guide to being a girl; an interview with an elderly Japanese man who stars in pornos with titles like "Tit-Lover Old Man Kameichi and His Horny Pranks". If you're not easily offended, dig in!

2. Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates: The best of the wrecks from the popular blog.

3. PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God by Frank Warren: A selection of cards from the PostSecret blog.

4. Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me by Lisa Fineberg Cook: Shortly after getting married, the author and her new husband moved to Japan for his job. After a lifetime of being spoiled, she had some adjusting to do. I found her incredibly irritating at times, but I still enjoyed this memoir of culture shock, and---yup---it made me want to go back. I was reading the chapter where she's talking about Kyoto, and I had to stop and go look through my photo album! Ah, memories.

5. Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide* by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt: A really fun, beautifully illustrated collection of assorted Japanese monsters. If you enjoy Japanese pop culture, you'll love this book, because there are a whole lot of creatures in here that show up in manga, anime, and video games. My personal favorites are the kara-kasa, a one-eyed, one-legged umbrella with a long tongue, and the giant skeleton called o-dokuro.


1. Otomen* vol. 4 by Aya Kanno

2. High School Debut vol. 12 by Kazune Kawahara

3. Love Com vol. 15 by Aya Nakahara

4. Kaze Hikaru vol. 13 by Taeko Watanabe

5. Baby & Me vols. 6-7 by Marimo Ragawa

6. V.B. Rose vol. 6 by Banri Hidaka

7. Stitches* by David Small

7. Black Bird* by Kanoko Sakurakoji

8. Castle of Dreams by Masami Tsuda


1. Drag Me to Hell: Sam Raimi returns to his roots (er, no Evil Dead tree pun intended) with this gross thriller. Christine is a young woman who's gunning for a promotion at the bank where she works, so she denies a loan extension to an elderly woman. Bad move, because the woman curses her. Christine learns that she has three days to appease the evil spirit tormenting her or, you guessed it, she'll be dragged to hell. There was a pivotal scene where I stopped feeling sorry for Christine and started thinking she deserved whatever she got; no spoilers, of course, but it will be pretty obvious if you see it. Anyway, I think it was a bit overrated, but still gooey fun, and it contains my favorite line (so far) of the year: "I don't want your cat, you dirty pork queen!"

2. The Unborn: A young woman begins experiencing bizarre phenomena, and it turns out she's being haunted by her unborn twin brother. Standard horror fare, although there are a few good creepy moments and a truly bizarre scene at the beginning that freaked my shit out hardcore.

3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine: It's all there in the title; this is the story of Wolverine's origins. Not the most cerebral flick in the world, but it has some fun action, lots of half-naked Hugh Jackman, and a few good lines.

4. Trick R Treat: A collection of creepy Halloween stories that include a loner being punished for not giving out candy, a serial killer passing on the tradition, a group of kids searching for a haunted school bus, and Anna Paquin as a woman out looking for her first time. Has its moments, but I thought it would be better.

5. The Ugly Truth: Katherine Heigl plays a shrill TV producer who's none too happy when her station hires a cheerfully misogynist commentator. He bets her that, with his advice, she can hook the man of her dreams. If you can't guess how it ends, congratulations on watching your first movie ever! I'm just sorry it had to be this one.

6. The Taking of Pelham 123: A group of gunmen hijack a New York City subway car, and the ringleader (John Travolta, who's scary intense) demands 10 million dollars or he'll start killing hostages. He takes a liking to Walter Garber, the dispatcher who answers his initial call, and Walter gets far more involved than he wants to. A stylish film with good performances.

7. Precious*: The title character is an obese, illiterate black teenager living in Harlem. She has one child, conceived when her father raped her, and she's expecting another by him. Precious lives with her mother Mary, who blames her for "stealing" her man and viciously abuses her both physically and verbally. Things look awfully grim for Precious, but when she starts going to an alternative school, she begins to think that she may survive after all. This may sound like tragedy porn, but it's often very funny (though darkly so) and, strangely enough, hopeful. Expect this one to be a big winner when the Oscars roll around; I guarantee Gabourey Sidibe (as Precious) and Mo'Nique (as Mary) will both be nominated, and I'd be stunned if Mo'Nique doesn't win. She's utterly terrifying, but there's a confrontation near the end where she shows a vulnerable side, and although it doesn't excuse her actions---what could?---it helps you understand her a little better. I do wonder this, though: what scene of hers could they possibly show on the Oscars? She's constantly swearing, and her major scene is both spoilery and disturbing. Ah well, I'm sure they'll think of something.

8. Bruno*: The brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen disappears into the character of Bruno, an uber-gay Austrian fashionista. Like Borat, he goes around annoying the shit out of everyone, and the results are outrageous. I spent a lot of time gasping during this movie...sometimes for breath because I was laughing so hard, and sometimes because I was so genuinely shocked. It stretches the boundaries of the R rating and then some.

9. I Love You, Beth Cooper: A high school valedictorian professes his love for the titular cheerleader during his speech, leading to a strange night of surprises. It has a few funny lines, but overall it left me cold, probably because I didn't like the main characters.


1. "River Deep, Mountain High" by Erasure: So I was watching Kelly Osbourne's bizarre doll dance on Dancing with the Stars, and despite the utterly shitty singer, I was reminded how much I love Erasure's version of this song. I used to have it on a cassingle (and don't even front that you don't know what a cassingle is; I can't be the only Oldie Oldster up in this bitch) and blast that shit on my Walkman.

By the way, Kelly Osbourne is one of those celebrities, like Tori Spelling, Victoria Beckham, and Kristen Bell, that I have an inexplicable fondness for despite being unfamiliar with most or all of their oeuvre.