Friday, April 30, 2010

media update: April

Occasionally, I'll go on Amazon and type in the names of some of my favorite authors to see if they have anything new coming out. If so, I add the title and release date to an ultranerdy Word document I keep on my desktop so I know when to look for it at the library or Borders.

Anyway, as longtime readers of this humble blog know, my absolute favorite book of all time is As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann. But she hasn't written anything since, and after a while I gave up on checking Amazon, but something made me look again.

And her second book, The Wilding, is out!

...but only in Britain.

It's a fairly recent release, so there's no telling when it will make its way stateside, or even IF it will. As Meat Loves Salt was a critical darling, but it didn't exactly set the bestseller list on fire.

So that's why I just placed an order with, and while I was at it, I threw in a couple of Sophie Hannah books and the latest Mo Hayder, since those haven't come out here either. Would you believe that even with tax and shipping, it cost me LESS than they would have if I bought them over here in hardcover?

I'm sure the package will take forever to arrive, but when it does, I'm gonna have a hardcore reading orgy. Four books by three of my favorite authors? I might just call in sick for a couple of days!

(And fear not, I'm not expecting The Wilding to be anywhere near as good as AMLS, which would only set me up for disappointment. But she's such a phenomenal writer that I have to assume I'll still enjoy it!)

Not a whole lot of books this month, but a shitload of manga (thank you, LA County library system!) and plenty of movies, including the best one I've seen so far this year.

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


1. Deception by Jonathan Kellerman: When a woman's body is discovered in her apartment, the police also find a DVD in which she claims severe harassment at the prestigious prep school where she worked. Dr. Alex Delaware and Lieutenant Milo Sturgis decide to dig deeper and find out what really happened. Kellerman can be dicey, but I enjoyed this one.

2. A Murderous Procession* by Ariana Franklin: In the latest installment of the "Mistress of the Art of Death" novels, Adelia Aguilar accompanies Princess Joanna and her entourage to Sicily. But as bodies start piling up, Adelia realizes that a nasty figure from her past is back, and he wants revenge. One review called this series "CSI meets The Canterbury Tales", which sums it up perfectly. The first one is still the best, but this one is quite good too, aside from one minor irritation: too many sentences end like this...


1. Whip Smart by Melissa Febos: I used to joke about becoming a dominatrix, because I figured it would be easy money: kick some sniveling dude around, call him a few nasty names, and pocket a mad grip of cash. But after reading this blisteringly honest memoir about the author's stint as a domme, I can't think of too many jobs I'd want to do less. One of the passages about scat play actually made me gag a little.

Anyway, there are 7 blurbs on this book's jacket, and since every single one is from an author I've read and enjoyed, my expectations were pretty damn high. Unfortunately, they weren't met. It's riddled with typos; for example, someone "crains" their neck, and she carries a "vile" of cocaine in her purse. Also, one of her coworkers is Chinese-American, and her dialogue is irritatingly stereotypical (i.e. "rittle" for little). For all I know, that's how she actually talked, but for Christ's sake, don't spell it out like that! Just say she had a heavy accent. And the author comes across as extremely unlikeable and arrogant. Still, I have to give her credit, because this couldn't have been easy to write.

Side note: when people write really graphic memoirs like this, I always wonder about their kids (current or future). Like, maybe Melissa Febos will get in an argument with her kid one day, only to have him/her yell, "Yeah, well, at least I didn't shit in some dude's yarmulke, Mom!"

(And no, that's not the scat play anecdote to which I referred. Oh no...that one is much worse.)

2. Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made* by Michael Adams: Make sure to have several empty slots in your Netflix queue before reading this hysterical book, because I guarantee you'll find several howlers listed that you'll want to watch immediately.

By the way, my favorite line in this book is when he refers to Madonna's prefame softcore flick A Certain Sacrifice as "avant-giardia".

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks* by Rebecca Skloot: The powerful true story of the woman whose cells (called HeLa) survive to this day. She died of cervical cancer in the fifties, and doctors took cells from her body without her family's permission. The cells have been used for everything from developing the polio vaccine to testing the effects of outer space and atom bombs. Medical companies have made tons of money off her cells, but her family can't even afford health insurance. A troubling and brilliant book that raises some very important questions about ethics, race, and science.


1. Wild Ones vol. 9 by Kiyo Fujiwara

2. Baby & Me* vols. 10-18 by Marimo Ragawa

3. Crown* vols. 1-2 by Shinji Wada and You Higuri

4. Invisible Love by Rie Honjyo

5. We Were There vol. 2 by Yuki Obata

6. Love Com vol. 17 by Aya Nakahara

7. Total Surrender by Hiroko Ishimaru

8. Yotsuba* vol. 8 by Kiyohiko Azuma

9. You Make My Head Spin by Kazuhiko Mishima

10. Shy Intentions by Shoko Takaku


1. Rocket Science: Encouraged by his crush, a teenage boy with a bad stutter joins the debate team. Aside from a few scenes, it didn't do much for me, but props for not going remotely where I thought it would.

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox*: In this quirky stop-motion fable, Mr. Fox promises his wife that he won't raid chicken coops anymore, but soon the temptation becomes too much to resist. It may sound cheesy as hell, but since it's based on a Roald Dahl book and directed by Wes Anderson, it's anything but. Charming fun.

3. Black Dynamite*: A pitch-perfect parody of the blaxploitation genre.

4. Where the Wild Things Are: Man, I could not get into this at ALL. Considering how much talent was involved, I thought it was boring as hell. Somebody on the IMDB board said something like "If you didn't like this movie, you just didn't get it," and I was all, bish please. Yes, I figured out that the monsters represented different aspects of himself or people in his life. No, I didn't care.

5. Groundhog Day*: In this sweetly strange comedy, Bill Murray plays a pissy weatherman who's none too happy about having to cover the annual appearance of Punxsutawney Phil. Things get weird when he keeps repeating the same day over and over again, and after his initial freakout, he takes the opportunity to make a change for the better.

6. 2012: It's the end of the world as we know it, and nobody's feeling too damn hot about it in this cheesy slice of disaster porn. Stupid and loud, but the terrific special effects (with the exception of some surprisingly bad greenscreen work) make it worth a watch. Be sure to check out the alternate ending, which is so unbelievably bad it makes the one they used look like the ending of The Sixth Sense.

7. Ninja Assassin: A rogue ninja goes on...oh, who cares. You either like this kind of thing or you don't. Fun, but I wish they'd concentrated more on the martial arts and less on the gore. At times it looks like an explosion in a red paint factory.

8. Princess: In this intensely depressing Danish animated film, August is a man who takes custody of his 5-year-old niece Mia when his sister, a porn star who goes by the name of Princess, dies. He blames the porn industry for her death (the cause of which is never explained, but drugs are hinted at), and when the studio for which she worked refuses to pull her movies from the shelves, he goes on a violent rampage. The animation is absolutely terrible, but the story is engrossing. I'm not usually keen on remakes, but I could see this being really good if the animation was better. (A live action film would have to be severely toned down due to some of the scenes involving Mia.)

9. Big Fan*: Patton Oswalt (in a stellar performance) plays Paul, a sad sack parking attendant who's such a rabid New York Giants fan he makes G and Padre look like haters. His whole life is devoted to watching football games and calling in to a local radio show to defend his team. So when he sees his favorite player at a gas station, he follows him, first to a seedy neighborhood and then to a strip club. He approaches the player to get his autograph, but things go wrong and Paul's idol viciously attacks him. When he recovers, he has to choose between doing the right thing for himself or doing the right thing for his beloved team.

10. Kick-Ass*: Dave is a teenage boy who loves superheroes and dreams of becoming one, even though he's just an ordinary kid. So he makes himself a costume out of a wetsuit and heads out to fight crime. He sees a man being beaten by thugs, and he interferes...and promptly gets the shit kicked out of him. But bystanders tape the incident on their cell phones, and he becomes an Internet sensation. Of course, he soon gets in over his head, and he's rescued by Hit Girl, a foulmouthed 11-year-old with supremely mad skills. He also meets her father, Big Daddy, and a fellow teen superhero named Red Mist, but when they all run afoul of a crime syndicate boss, things get nasty indeed.

I fucking LOVED this movie. It is over-the-top, balls-to-the-wall awesome. It's funny, action-packed, bloody, and even poignant at times, AND it features a song by the criminally underrated Sparks, one of my favorite bands ever. And Hit Girl is one of the coolest characters I've seen in a long time. Whether she's dropping F-bombs or slicing up bad guys, she steals every scene she's in. I'm sorry Kick-Ass isn't doing better at the box office (which surprised me; it was literally standing room only when we saw it), because I would love to see a sequel or a Hit Girl spinoff. I can't remember the last time I left a theater feeling so exhilarated.

11. New Moon: Okay, I'm going to lose whatever shred of street cred I have left, but...I didn't hate this movie. Yes, it's stupid and melodramatic and the CGI wolves blow and every time the vampires sparkled I laughed my ass off and I still don't understand why everybody is so obsessed with Bella when she has the personality of a wet paper towel, but I kind of enjoyed it. I'm sorry.

12. The Lovely Bones: Susie Salmon is a teenage girl who attracts the attention of a psychotic neighbor, and he lures her into an underground shelter and murders her. When she arrives in heaven, she watches over her grieving family and the neighbor, who's starting to plan his next attack.

I was expecting much more from this, because I loved the book by Alice Sebold, and of course I totally fangirl over Peter Jackson. But there was something about it that just didn't sit right with me. Heaven is portrayed as a psychedelic wonderland, and although it looks cool, it's also kind of cheesy. I think the special effects wound up overpowering the story.

Side note: although they removed any mention of Susie's rape (which was fine by me; the scene in the book was gutwrenching, and is described in a line that has stuck with me all these years: "My body was a river he pissed and shit in") and toned down the murder, that scene is still incredibly disturbing, and is followed by one that was straight out of Silent Hill and gave me a really wretched nightmare. I'd advise anyone who's extremely sensitive to stay far away.

Friday, April 16, 2010


This is my long-delayed entry about my Passover trip to Mendocino with G and his family last month. They rented a house near the ocean, and although it had a few weird design choices (like the hideous floral border in our room), it was pretty cool. The garage had been converted into a game room with foosball, a pool table, a ping-pong table, and even an air hockey table (which sadly did not work). It felt strange staying in a house that didn't belong to someone I know!

A couple of random highlights:

* A group of us went hiking, only to return and find the people who had stayed behind standing outside. They'd been in the game room, and when they tried to get back inside, they discovered that the door had locked behind them. Padre got out his Swiss Army knife and MacGyver'd that shit open in about five minutes.

* At one of the inns where we stopped to look around, a gorgeous tabby cat came sauntering over and started to twine figure eights around our legs. The concierge came out and told us the cat's name was Mark Anthony and he was the official greeter for the inn. My request to bring him back to our house for the duration of our stay was promptly denied.

* In Fort Bragg, we stopped for lunch, and I had a really good French dip sandwich and a delicious slice of pecan pie. There was a photo booth in the corner, and G and I climbed inside and posed. My favorite picture is the one where he leaned in and kissed my cheek just as the flash went off. Afterwards, we stopped at the grocery store, and Padre and J went inside to buy matzo for the seder. They couldn't find it, so Padre asked an employee, only to have her start rattling something off in Spanish. She thought he'd said "masa", which is a type of dough. Finally, the miscommunication was cleared up and she managed to find one lonely (but gigantic) pack of matzo. Apparently there are no Jews in the Mendocino area.

* There are plenty of Jews in MY neck of the woods, however, and a couple of weeks before we left, I was at Ralph's and found a package of masks depicting the Ten Plagues. They were so glorious in their sheer hideousness that I had to buy them. I brought them along, of course, and they were a big hit. Unfortunately, they didn't fit anyone, even the lads, so we just held the appropriate mask up while reciting the plagues. My personal favorite was the one for darkness, which was shaped like a cloud blocking out the sun. It looks like something Lady Gaga would wear to a funeral.

* Speaking of the Ten Plagues, we were reciting them and had just said "hail" STARTED TO HAIL. J said, "The locusts are next! Keep the windows shut!"

* I tried mushroom ice cream, which was really bizarre. There's a mushroom in the area called the candy cap, which tastes sweet when dried. I don't like mushrooms, but that was too strange to resist, so I got a tester spoon. It wasn't bad, but certainly not something I'd want a whole bowl of, so I settled for cookies 'n' cream.

* The rental house had a guestbook on the coffee table where people could write about their trip: what they did, what they'd recommend to others, compliments/complaints for the owners, etc. Under "What would you recommend?" one mean but funny guest wrote "New York City".

And now on to the pictures! The quality isn't that great; it was overcast the whole time we were there, which doesn't make for good photos.

One of the vineyards we visited. The wine tasting in Mendocino is generally free, as opposed to Napa, where it can cost $30 or more. I enjoyed the wine, but I can't say as the tour was too exciting, except for...

OMG BEBEH LAMBS. Note the black one in the middle! God, these were so cute I could barely stop myself from squealing.

The next batch of pictures are all from Pt. Cabrillo.

And this batch is from Russian Gulch, where the tide was so high that the water looked more like snow.

G decided to get a little ink while we were in Fort Bragg, and now Jesse James won't stop calling him.

Unrelated to the rest of this entry:

For the past couple of months, a group of Canadian geese has been hanging out at my workplace. There's a lake with a secluded strip of land up against the building, and one of the geese chose that area to make a nest. I've been watching for the last several weeks, and today I finally saw four little yellow heads peeking out from underneath her.

It was the first time I've smiled in days.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

media update: March

I just got back from beautiful (and chilly as fuck) Mendocino last night and have tons of shit to do, but I wanted to post my media update at least. I'll upload my pictures and get them posted eventually.

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


1. Horns* by Joe Hill: Ignatius Perrish wakes up one morning, looks in the mirror, and sees horns growing from his temples. Initially, he thinks it's a hallucination brought on by heavy drinking, but it turns out the horns are real. He also has a new power to go along with them: people instantly blurt out their darkest secrets when they see him. He decides to use this power to his advantage and find out who raped and murdered the love of his life. Joe Hill is Stephen King's son (which, to his credit, he tried to keep secret for as long as he could in hopes of being judged on his own merits), and obviously he inherited some of his father's chops, because this book was fucking AWESOME.

2. House Rules by Jodi Picoult: Jacob Hunt, a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome, is accused of murdering his social skills tutor. The police suspect him both because of his interest in forensics and because many of the symptoms of Asperger's mimic the actions of a guilty person. I was eager to read this because my brother has Asperger's (albeit a much milder case than the one in this book), but although she obviously did her homework, I was disappointed. She's famous for her twist endings, but I saw this one coming about fifty pages in. Also, there are a few glaring errors, like when a stolen Super Mario Brothers game turns into a Naruto game a few chapters later, and when the quilt Jacob's grandmother made for him is later described as a quilt his mother made for him. Standard Picoult fare.

3. Prima Donna by Megan Chance: A celebrated opera singer goes on the run after an attempt to escape her overbearing manager goes horribly wrong. She winds up at a brothel in Seattle and decides to turn it into a real theater, but her past comes back to haunt her. Enjoyable historical fiction.


1. Amen, Amen, Amen* by Abby Sher: A haunting (and occasionally funny) memoir of the author's lifelong battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

2. Still Life by Melissa Milgrom: An interesting look at taxidermy, ranging from the bizarre Victorian dioramas of kitten weddings to Damien Hirst's freaky preserved animals.


1. Batman: Cacophony by Kevin Smith, Walter Flanagan, and Phil Hester: Somebody once asked me who my favorite superhero was, and I cut my eyes at them and was all "Bish plz", because how could it NOT be Batman? He's a tortured hot rich dude who fights for justice! Anyway, this has some great lines in it (as you'd expect, since that is in fact "the" Kevin Smith who wrote this), but the art is so unbelievably bad that it pretty much ruined the whole thing for me.

2. Swan vol. 15 by Kyoko Ariyoshi

3. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service* vol. 10 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki

4. Batman: The Cat and the Bat* by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire


1. Extract: A weird little comedy about a man who runs a flavor extract factory and his daily trials and tribulations, ranging from a gorgeous (and scheming) new temp to a lawsuit filed by a worker who lost his testicles on the assembly line.

2. Paranormal Activity: A young couple, plagued by a demon, sets up a camera in their bedroom in hopes of getting proof on tape. I fell prey to the hype machine and thought this would be utterly terrifying, but aside from a few scenes (and why ARE those shots of her just standing there so freaky?), it wasn't that scary. I liked it well enough, but it didn't rock my world.

3. Hannibal Rising: This was one of the worst books I've ever read, but I still wanted to see the movie just to see how it compared. Guess was actually decent, though of course it doesn't even come close to Silence of the Lambs. It's not a must-see or anything, but I was pleasantly surprised.

4. Shutter Island*: Leonardo DiCaprio plays a US marshal who is sent to Shutter Island, home to a mental hospital, to look into the disappearance of a patient. As the doctors and security at the hospital keep impeding his investigation, he begins to wonder if things are even more sinister than they initially appeared. It took a long time to get going, but once it did, it was wonderfully creepy. Without spoiling anything, it reminded me both visually and plotwise of a Silent Hill game (though not one in particular).

5. Ponyo: In Hayao Miyazaki's latest, a goldfish princess escapes her overprotective father and meets a little boy. She wants to turn into a human so she can be with him all the time, but doing so will throw nature off balance. As you'd expect, the animation is gorgeous and marvelously detailed (my favorite moment: an octopus slowly crawling into a house), and the all-star voice cast is good (with the odd exception of Cate Blanchett, who sounds like she took a handful of downers). I thought the story was lacking, though, so no star.

6. Up in the Air*: Ryan Bingham's job consists of flying around the country and firing people. He loves it because it keeps him from having to stay in one place and form emotional or physical attachments. (In the few scenes shot in his apartment, it looks like nobody even lives there.) But two things happen that startle him out of his complacency: a new hire wants to start firing people over the Internet instead, and he falls for a fellow traveler. George Clooney is at his charming best in this sweet and melancholy movie.

7. In the Loop*: A political satire about British and American politicians trying to decide whether to go to war. I'm not ordinarily big on political stuff, serious or satirical, but this was so frickin' FUNNY. It earned an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, but I think Peter Capaldi, as a hilariously foulmouthed and verbally abusive press secretary, deserved a nomination too.

8. Jennifer's Body: When a rock band's attempt to sacrifice her to the devil fails, Jennifer is turned into a succubus who feeds on teenage boys, and her best friend Needy tries to stop the carnage. Considering that it was written by Diablo Cody, I thought it would be WAY better than it was. It still had some good lines, but it was pretty disappointing overall.

9. Dead Snow: In this Norwegian splatterfest, a group of friends goes to an isolated mountain cabin for vacation and gets attacked by Nazi zombies. Gloriously gory fun.

10. The Brave One: Jodie Foster plays a woman who becomes a gun-toting vigilante after she and her fiance Sayeed Jarrah David are brutally attacked. It's basically Death Wish in a bra, and although it features good performances and some surprisingly funny lines (courtesy of a wisecracking cop), it's depressing as hell.

11. The Princess and the Frog*: In 1920's New Orleans, Tiana is a young woman who dreams of opening her own restaurant, but when she kisses a frog (who's actually a prince under a voodoo curse) in hopes of making her wish come true, SHE turns into a frog too! They set out together to undo the curse, and I bet you can guess what happens next. Still, it's a very charming, beautifully animated movie that just about anyone would enjoy.

Side note: it's rated G, but there are some freaky scenes involving a voodoo practitioner that might terrify very small children.


1. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (soundtrack)

2. "Telephone" by Lady Gaga

3. "Three-Way" by Magnetic Fields

4. "I'll Dream Alone" by Magnetic Fields

5. "Skinny Little Bitch" by Hole