Tuesday, June 01, 2010

media update: May

They're filming part of a movie out in front of work today, which meant I had to park about ten miles away because the lot where I usually park is full of trailers and equipment. James Marsden is outside, but I haven't seen him myself. I did, however, see a craft services table groaning with all sorts of goodies when I walked by this morning. The owners of this building get a ton of money for film shoots, but the people who actually work here are the ones who get inconvenienced, which is bullshit. They should give us a meet 'n' greet with James Marsden, or at the very least let us have a crack at that craft services table!

WARNING: To anyone reading (or intending to read) As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann, I review her latest book in this entry, and I start off by talking about AMLS. I don't think I spoil anything (certainly nothing major), but if you want to play it safe, you might want to skip to the next item on the list.

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


1. The Wilding* by Maria McCann: This is the book that I was chomping at the bit to read because the author wrote As Meat Loves Salt, my favorite novel of all time. And before I tell you about her new one, I'd like to explain why I love AMLS so much. (Hey, I'm always looking for converts.)

Back in 2002, I was obsessed with Lord of the Rings, and one night I was reading Aragorn/Legolas slash on LiveJournal. (Yes, yes, I know, but it could be worse. It could be Beavis/Butthead slash, and trust me, it exists. And is horrifying and hysterical at the same time, like a clown falling into a combine.) A lot of it was tripe, but one author really stood out because her stories were both scorchingly hot and beautifully written. I went to her user information page, and she listed AMLS as one of her favorite books. So I requested it from my library, and when it arrived, I immediately tucked in...

...and became hooked.

Seriously, if I hadn't had to work and sleep, I probably would have read it in one sitting. Set in 17th century England, it's narrated by Jacob Cullen (no, smartasses, no relation to Edward), a servant whose quick temper gets him into serious trouble. Immediately after his wedding, he's forced to flee the estate where he works, and things just keep getting worse from there. Eventually, he joins Cromwell's army, where he becomes obsessed with a fellow soldier named Christopher Ferris. There's much more to the story, of course, but I refuse to spoil it.

I remember sitting in the break room at work during lunch, and I had maybe 10 or 15 pages left when my time was up and I had to return to my desk. I had to stop during a particularly important scene, and when I got back to my cube, I couldn't concentrate on my work because I absolutely HAD to finish my book. So, under the pretext of going upstairs to the mail room, I hid AMLS in the middle of a stack of envelopes and went to the bathroom, where I locked myself in the last stall and finished. I sat there for a few minutes, absolutely stunned, and thought, "This is the best goddamn book I've ever read."

After returning the library's copy, I went to Borders and bought one of my own. Over the last several years, I've read it all the way through at least three times, and reread my favorite scenes countless times. (And no, not just "those" scenes; one of my favorites is where Jacob and Ferris are taking a walk, and Ferris is singing off key and Jacob is just so HAPPY.) I truly believe that Jacob Cullen is one of the most compelling literary characters of all time, because even as he did horrible things, I wanted him to be happy. He wanted nothing more than to be loved, but he didn't know how to go about it, and in the process of trying to attain it, he destroyed it.

Needless to say, I've foisted AMLS upon many people over the years, and they've either loved it or were like "um, that wasn't my kind of book", but they all agreed the attention to detail was exceptional. My girl Maria's got skillz.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I about sprayed 'em when I saw that she had a new book out, and not willing to wait an eternity for it to arrive stateside, I placed an order with Amazon.uk. It took less than two weeks to show up, and I shoved a teetering pile of library books to the side so I could dive into it immediately. I tried not to get my hopes up too high, since that was just asking for disappointment.

So was The Wilding as good as, or even better than, AMLS?
No, not even close. But it's a damn good book in its own right. It's set around the same time as AMLS and also features a male narrator, but that's where the similarities end.

Jonathan Dymond, a man in his late twenties, lives a peaceful life with his parents until the day a letter arrives from his dying uncle. His father reads the letter and destroys it, but Jonathan later finds a scrap that hints at some dark secrets. He decides to go visit his Aunt Harriet, a truly nasty piece of work, to see if he can find out more. While there, he finds himself growing attracted to her servant Tamar, and it turns out she's hiding a few things herself. Engrossing and beautifully written, it stands on its own, but I must confess that I hold out hope that her next book will be a sequel to AMLS. I doubt it would ever happen, but a girl can dream.

2. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris: Sookie Stackhouse is none too pleased when she finds out that a dead body is buried on her land...and it's not the one she expected. Her life becomes even more complicated when her haughty fae cousin Claude moves in and when Eric's maker comes to town, accompanied by the undead Alexei Romanov. Like all of the books in the series, it's fun, but it's not exactly cerebral reading. (Which is not always a bad thing, of course.)

3. Heart of the Matter* by Emily Giffin: Valerie is a single mother whose world is rocked when she gets a call telling her that her 6-year-old son has been burned in an accident at a friend's house. Eventually, she begins an affair of the heart with his plastic surgeon, Nick Russo...which, as you can imagine, his wife Tessa doesn't appreciate. I'm not generally a big fan of chick lit, but Emily Giffin's novels are a credit to the genre.

4. The Blonde Samurai by Jina Bacarr: Back in January, I read The Blonde Geisha by the same author, and it was TERRIBLE. The dialogue was lame, the sexual descriptions were more hootworthy than hot, and it was just really poorly written. But I gotta say, I enjoyed the hell out of it just because it was so bad, so I decided to pick this one up too. To my surprise, her writing has improved greatly---not that it's worth a Pulitzer or anything, mind you.

Anyway, this one is set in 1873 and follows blushing bride Katie O'Roarke, who goes to Japan on business with her nasty husband. She winds up falling in love with supersexy Shintaro, the head of a samurai clan. Cue lots and lots (and LOTS) of sex, including man on man action and threesomes. You could certainly do worse (like, um, The Blonde Geisha) if you're looking for a particularly spicy read, but don't expect high literary quality.

Side note: A blurb in the front of the book claims "The Blonde Geisha far surpasses Memoirs of a Geisha in bringing to life the scents, sights, and sensations that are uniquely 'geisha'." Um, how much did you pay that broad, Jina Bacarr? 'Cause I'll totes write you a fake rave review if you pony up the dough!


1. Rapture Ready!* by Daniel Radosh: A wildly entertaining book in which the (Jewish) author explores the lucrative world of Christian pop culture. He visited a Christian retail show and looked at everything from golf balls imprinted with Bible verses to Salvation Challenge, a board game so awful that "the only people I could imagine enjoying [it] were Rod and Todd Flanders". He also went to the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, explored the abstinence movement, and talked to Rob Adonis, the founder of Ultimate Christian Wrestling. Many of these anecdotes are hysterically funny, and often in a snarky way (oh, does he ever rip on Stephen Baldwin), but I thought he was generally fair. (Though ultraconservative Christians would no doubt disagree with me.)

Side note #1: Jay Bakker (yes, Jim and Tammy Faye's son; he's now a heavily tattooed and pierced pastor in New York City) is seriously frickin' awesome. The author took him to a "hell house" (a religious version of a haunted house with graphic depictions of various "sins" and their consequences) and he was PISSED. "If someone was even considering looking into Christianity, would you still feel that way after seeing that? You'd be like, fuck that...Maybe they forget that their stereotypical characters represent real people, and they're telling them, basically, 'you guys are worthless'. When they put down gay marriage, they're devaluing people's love for one another and their relationships...Doesn't gospel mean 'good news'? That wasn't good news." To which this agnostic says, "Amen, brother."

Side note #2: Somebody wrote various comments in the margins in red pen, such as "Doesn't make any sense!" and "Evolution is Satan's lie". What would Jesus do? Um, for starters I'm pretty sure He wouldn't deface a library book, asshole.

2. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren: When the author was 18 years old, she went on an audition that wound up being an offer to entertain rich businessmen in Singapore. Desperate for adventure, she accepted, and it turned out that she was actually going to be part of the Sultan of Brunei's harem. Although she received lots of money and gifts, she spent most of her time being bored out of her mind while waiting to be chosen and trying to avoid the cattiness and jealousy that inevitably erupted among her rivals. Not quite as interesting as I had hoped it would be, but a decent diversion.

An interesting factoid, though not particularly relevant: Jillian Lauren is now married to the bassist from Weezer.


1. Gakuen Prince vols. 1-3 by Jun Yuzuki

2. Walkin' Butterfly by Chihiro Tamaki

3. David Boring* by Daniel Clowes

4. Mixed Vegetables vol. 7 by Ayumi Komura

5. Otomen vol. 6 by Aya Kanno

6. We Were There* vols. 3-10 by Yuki Obata

7. Romantic Illusions by Reiichi Hiiro

8. Butterflies, Flowers* vol. 2 by Yuki Yoshihara

9. Wilson* by Daniel Clowes


1. Doubt: In 1964, a stern nun accuses a priest of sexually abusing one of the students at their school. He vehemently denies it, and there's no proof, but she refuses to drop the matter. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play, this is a fine drama (aside from some hamfisted symbolism) with excellent performances, as you'd expect from a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis.

2. The Reader: In post-World War II Germany, a young man starts a passionate affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet, who won an Oscar) who loves being read to. She disappears unexpectedly one day, and years later, she comes back into his life in a startling fashion. It's good, but I was expecting more considering the critical acclaim and awards it received.

3. District 13: Ultimatum: In this sequel, a framed cop and his friend try to stop District 13 (a poor area of Paris controlled by different gangs) from destruction by corrupt officials. Lots of fun action scenes; my favorite was the one where someone used a priceless Van Gogh painting as both shield and weapon.

4. The Edge: Anthony Hopkins plays Charles, a gazillionaire who goes to Alaska with his supermodel wife and her entourage, including Bob (Alec Baldwin), a shifty fashion photographer. Bob gets it in his head that he needs to recruit the lodge owner's Native American friend for his fashion shoot, so he, Charles, and some other dude played by Harold Perrineau (aka Michael from Lost) take Charles' private plane to find him. But the plane crashes, the pilot dies, and Charles, Bob, and Michael (not the character's name, but I can't remember it so whatever) are stuck in the wilderness with few supplies...and an enormous bear who wants to nom on their flesh. It doesn't really get going until the bear enters the picture, but then it turns into the thinking man's action flick.

5. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Michael Caine plays a con man who's none too happy when another con man (Steve Martin) starts intruding on his territory. They decide to settle things with a bet: the first one who cons "soap queen" Janet Colgate out of fifty grand wins, and the other one has to leave town. A cute caper with a couple of very funny scenes.

6. Daybreakers: In 2019, a disease has turned almost everyone into a vampire, and most of the few remaining humans are kept in labs and "milked" for their blood. One sympathetic vampire researcher disapproves of this practice, and he teams up with a group of people on the lam in order to find a better solution. Not a great flick or anything, but it has some fun moments and gorgeous visuals.

7. Wonder Woman: When an Air Force pilot crashes onto the island of the Amazons, Wonder Woman is charged with returning him home. But Ares, who's been held prisoner on the island for centuries, escapes and Wonder Woman must recapture him in order to prevent a major catastrophe. The animation isn't anything to write home about, but the dialogue is surprisingly snappy and features good voice acting from Keri Russell as Wonder Woman and Nathan Fillion as the pilot.

8. Sex: The Annabel Chong Story: This documentary is about the porn star most famous for setting the world gangbang record (251 men in 10 hours, which has since been broken several times) in 1995. Although it features numerous (real, but no penetration shown) sex scenes, it's about as arousing as footage of open heart surgery. You never really find out what motivated her: the fleeting fame? The whopping ten grand she was promised (and claims she never received)? A way of reclaiming the power that was taken from her when she was gang raped as a teenager? Lots of food for thought, but you'd probably rather go hungry, because this is about as depressing as documentaries get.

Warning: a scene where she begins cutting her arm to "feel something" may be triggering for people who have issues with self-injury.

9. The Men Who Stare at Goats: An incredibly weird movie about a reporter who goes to Iraq and meets a man who claims to belong to a paranormal Army unit. Even though Entertainment Weekly gave this an F, I wanted to see it because it has a terrific cast (George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges), so I figured it couldn't be THAT bad...and it wasn't. Maybe the director ran over the reviewer's dog or something.

10. Red Cliff*: In this spectacular John Woo epic, three Chinese kingdoms go to war in the battle of Red Cliff. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the battle scenes are absolutely gripping. Even if you don't generally like war movies, I'd consider this a must-see.