Monday, March 01, 2010

media update: February

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


1. Little Face* by Sophie Hannah: A young mother leaves her baby daughter Florence in the care of her husband while she runs a quick errand. When she gets back, she looks in the crib and sees a different baby than the one she left behind. Her husband and domineering, wealthy mother-in-law insist that she's suffering from postpartum psychosis and that the baby is Florence. Undeterred, she goes to the police, who don't believe her either. The tension gets ratcheted up to almost excruciating levels, and I stayed up an hour past my bedtime to finish it. I was tired as hell the next morning at work, but it was worth it because this book is a corker. I really enjoyed The Wrong Mother when I read it last month, and this one is even better. Great stuff; Sophie Hannah has gone onto my short list of authors whose work I will always seek out.

2. Breaking Out of Bedlam* by Leslie Larson: Cora Sledge is an obese, feisty 82-year-old woman who's addicted to junk food, cigarettes, and pain meds. (So basically me in 44 years.) Against her will, her children put her in an assisted living facility. Her granddaughter gives her a journal as a gift, and although she initially scoffs at it, soon she can't stop writing in it. She talks about the tragedies that befell her when she was younger, her daily life at the home, and the new resident who catches her eye. Funny and freshly original; I loved this book, and I loved Cora.

3. The Apple* by Michel Faber: The author wrote The Crimson Petal and the White, one of my ten favorite books of all time, so when I heard about this short story collection featuring several of its characters, I had to get my hands on it. At the risk of sounding hokey as shit, I was very happy to spend some more time in Sugar's world.


1. The Aqua Net Diaries by Jennifer Niven: A memoir about adolescence in 1980's Indiana. Since I was a teenager in the 80's (yes, I know, I'm old, shut up or I'll glue your buttcheeks together with my Polident) and lived in Indiana for a couple of years, this brought back a lot of memories for me. Pixie boots! Multiple Swatches worn on one wrist! (My Christmas list one year consisted solely of different types of Swatches.) Hook's drug stores, where I used to go for Archie comics and Toffiay! And oh my god, she even mentions WICK'S PIES, purveyors of old-fashioned sugar cream pie, my absolute favorite food of all time. If you get a slice heated just so, it's like getting primo southmouth from [insert your most lusted-after celebrity here] while angels sing and unicorns gently nuzzle your cheek. It's a good thing I go to Indiana maybe once every 20 years, or that shit would be my black tar heroin.

Where was I? Oh yeah, back to the book. It wasn't particularly good, but it was a fun, somewhat melancholy trip down Memory Lane. But---although some things are universal, like first love and not feeling like you fit in---I don't think people who were born after 1975 or thereabouts would enjoy it nearly as much.

2. Sinner Takes All by Tera Patrick: This memoir follows the porn actress from her start as a Valium-addicted teen model working in Japan through her career in the adult industry. Although I thought this book was fascinating, one section bothered me. She lost her virginity at the age of 14, while she was drunk off her ass, to a much older man. She talks about the rape (although she doesn't call it that, but come on) in a detached manner, and then says (I'm paraphrasing since I already returned the book to the library) "But if it hadn't happened, I wouldn't have millions of dollars." That is a dangerous as hell idea to put across to some of the vulnerable women/teenage girls who may be reading her book. I have absolutely nothing against porn (well, the kind involving consenting adult humans), but for every millionaire like Tera Patrick or Jenna Jameson, there are at least a hundred who don't succeed. Don't make it sound like porn is a good way to profit from being sexually abused, for Christ's sake.


1. MPD Psycho vol. 6 by Eiji Otsuka and Shou Tajima

2. Rin-Ne vol. 2 by Rumiko Takahashi

3. Kaze Hikaru vol. 15-16 by Taeko Watanabe

4. Wild Ones vols. 7-8 by Kiyo Fujiwara

5. Baby & Me vol. 9 by Marimo Ragawa

6. Otomen vol. 5 by Aya Kanno

7. Lulu & Mitzy: Best Laid Plans* by S. Eddy Bell

8. Black Bird vol. 3 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

9. Radiator Days* by Lucy Knisley

10. Burnout by Rebecca Donner

11. High School Debut vol. 13 by Kazune Kawahara


1. Zombieland*: After the zombie apocalypse hits, a teenage boy sets out to find a safe haven. Along the way, he joins up with an especially enthusiastic zombie killer (a hysterical Woody Harrelson) and two scheming sisters. As far as zomcoms go, this is just about perfect, thanks to a wildly funny script and generous splashes of gore.

2. Gamer: Hyperviolent, grim, deafeningly loud action flick about a futuristic world where people can control other people in massive online environments. One of the worlds is called Slayers, where death row inmates fight for their freedom. I was expecting this to be dumb fun, like Crank 2, but it was just dumb. Marginally redeemed by Gerard Butler's biceps and some inventive visual touches.

3. Inglourious Basterds*: In this alternate history version of WWII, a group of Jewish-American soldiers, recruited by good ol' boy Aldo Raine, hunts down Nazis. Some scenes ran a little long, but it's an enjoyable movie, packed full of Tarantino touches. And Christophe Waltz, as the particularly nasty Col. Landa, is aptly named because he dances away with every scene he's in.

4. Ong Bak 2: As a slavering Tony Jaa fangirl, I really wanted to love this movie, but aside from a boffo sequence near the end, there just wasn't enough hardcore asskicking to suit my needs.

Side note: One of my coworkers asked me what I was doing for Valentine's Day, and I said, "Well, G and I are going to get takeout, watch a martial arts movie, and play video games." She sniffed and said, "Make him do something YOU want to do!" and I said, "Um, that IS what I want to do, whore."

...okay, I didn't add the "whore".

5. A Perfect Getaway*: Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich play newlyweds whose Hawaiian vacation is spoiled by reports of honeymooners being butchered. As they hike along a grueling trail, they pair up with a gregarious guy and his sweet girlfriend, but things take a turn for the worse. A wildly fun thriller that was considerably better than I expected.

6. The House of the Devil: In this loving homage to 80's horror, a broke college student takes a babysitting job at a house deep in the woods. But when she gets there, the man of the house tells her there isn't actually a child; rather, while he and his wife are at a lunar eclipse viewing party, she'll be taking care of his mother-in-law...who, he warns, likes her privacy. The tension creeps up to almost unbearable levels, and there are a couple of genuinely shocking moments, one of which almost made me shit a kitten. I wasn't too jazzed about the ending, so I'm not giving it a star, but if you were weaned on 80's horror like I was, you'll eat it up.

7. Law Abiding Citizen: Clyde Shelton is a man whose wife and child are murdered during a home invasion. When one of the killers receives a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against the other one, Clyde takes matters into his own hands. Standard fare aside from a few clever moments.

8. The Invention of Lying*: Ricky Gervais plays a man who lives in a world where nobody can lie; for example, when he picks his dream girl (Jennifer Garner) up for a date, she cheerfully tells him that she had just been masturbating, and he responds, "That makes me think of your vagina." But one day he realizes that he has the ability to lie, and he proceeds to milk it for all it's worth. It's incredibly funny, and about halfway through the plot takes a breathtakingly audacious turn that I refuse to spoil. Kudos to Warner Brothers for having the stones to release this movie, and to Ricky Gervais for writing it.

9. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: Oh, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Considering that I sat through this movie solely because you were in it, never doubt the depths of my love.

...well, to be fair, it was actually better than I expected, although in order to be worse than I thought it would be, someone would have had to crawl out of the TV screen, a la Samara in The Ring, and punch me in the face.

10. MirrorMask: In this Neil Gaiman fable, a teenage girl finds herself in a strange world, where she must find the MirrorMask and help save a kingdom from the evil Queen of Shadows. Visually stunning, but sloooooooooooooooow. I saw this with G and C, and we were all fidgeting by the halfway mark.

11. The Hurt Locker*: A searing movie about a cocky bomb disposal expert working in Iraq. Almost painfully intense at times, and Jeremy Renner is perfect in the leading role. My money's on this one to take home the Best Picture Oscar.


As longtime readers know, I'm a rabid Silent Hill fangirl and have been for over a decade, so I was anxious to play the latest installment despite some tepid reviews. G, who knows better than anyone in the world what flips my skirt, bought me a Wii console and a copy of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for Valentine's Day, and he set everything up as I danced happily around the room.

SH:SM is an alternate version of the first game, and starts in the same fashion. Harry Mason crashes his car, and after he comes to, he realizes that his young daughter Cheryl is missing. He sets out to find her, but Silent Hill isn't going to make that easy. Occasionally, his journey is interrupted when Silent Hill switches to its nightmarish version (here represented by ice, as opposed to the rust of the previous games), and he must flee from creatures that chase him down. He doesn't get any weapons---not even the marginally useful lead pipe from the original game---and all he can do is run for safety.

Now THIS is where the game ticked me off. The nightmare world is EXTREMELY difficult to get around, and because the excellent mapping system of the previous games has been replaced by a fairly ineffective GPS on Harry's phone, I died numerous times. Oh, did I mention that there are absolutely no healing items? All you can do is shake off the monsters when they grab you (and thank god for the safety strap on the Wiimote, or else that thing probably would have gone flying into G's TV screen) and try to get to safety before you're completely fucked up. G was absolutely furious during these scenes and railed against the poor game design; interestingly enough, my friend's boyfriend had a similar reaction. My theory is that when it comes to the "fight or flight" response, men are more likely to fight and women are more likely to run, so that might be why guys hate that aspect of the game and women just kind of shrug and try again. It wasn't enough to ruin SH:SM for me, but frankly, I thought it was a piss poor choice.

Another downside to this game: I was never really scared. There were plenty of disturbing moments, like the way the creatures would kneel down and stroke you when you died, but nothing actually made my stomach seize up. After SH4, this is only the second SH game that didn't have at least one moment that made me want to curl up in the fetal position and rock back and forth. (I'm not counting jump scares, by the way.) In my opinion, a Silent Hill game that doesn't induce terror in the player instantly gets a few points knocked off its final score.

But enough of the negatives and on to the positives.

One thing that I absolutely loved about this game was the psychological profiling. Occasionally the game will cut to a psychiatric session in first person mode. The doctor administers a series of tests, including inkblots, coloring, a parable where you must rank the characters in order of guilt, and a true/false questionnaire that asks you about everything from sexual roleplay to alcohol. The answers you give affect certain aspects of the game, which adds lots of replay value. And there's the famous Silent Hill UFO joke ending, which was particularly funny this time. (James shoutout for the mothereffin' win!)

Another thing that rocked my face off was the use of the Wiimote. You control your flashlight using the Wiimote, and it's so immersive that at one point I picked up the instruction manual...and tried to train the "flashlight" on the page! And when you make or receive calls on Harry's phone, you hold the Wiimote to your ear, just like you would do with a real phone. I've read that shaking off monsters is MUCH easier on the PSP/PS2, but other than that, I think the Wii version is the way to go because the controls are so cool.

Akira Yamaoka, the composer who's been with this series from the beginning, has unfortunately left Konami, so SH:SM is his swan song. As always, his soundtrack is perfect, including everything from a melancholy version of "Always on My Mind" to an instrumental that would make Angelo Badalamenti jealous. And I won't say anything else about the story, but I can't be the only one who teared up at the end.

So to recap, SH:SM has some deep flaws, but any Silent Hill fan worth his or her salt still needs to check it out.