Friday, July 30, 2010

media update: July

July was a combination of sweet and sucky for me, kind of like a snot-filled bonbon.

The good:

  • I had a really awesome birthday. We went to the Santa Barbara Zoo, where I freaked out over a baby golden lion tamarin. I'm still not convinced that it was real; it might have been a Japanese-created CuteBot. Afterwards, we had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, where I chowed down on a key lime pie martini, margherita pizza, and bread pudding drizzled with caramel and creme anglaise and studded with a birthday sparkler. (Yay for festive third-degree burn hazards!) G practically had to roll me back to the car. I also scored lots of great gifts, so all in all, the sting of turning 39 was lessened a bit.

Oh, speaking of my birthday, wait'll you hear THIS little anecdote.

Instead of celebrating individual birthdays as they come along, my department has one big shindig in the middle of every month. Remember how I was telling you about N, the new supervisor fresh from Texas who's fond of horrifying puns (cf. the "Donut Friday" incident) and hovering around our cubes like an enormous and particularly annoying hummingbird? Well, the day before the July celebration, she sent out an e-mail that said, "I'm taking the rest of today off to get a few things done, but I'll be in tomorrow and bringing a FANTASTIC surprise for all our July birthday girls!!! Of course, everyone else is welcome to enjoy the surprise too." This was followed by several smiley faced emoticons.

What do you think the surprise was? Well, if you thought it was some sort of delicious treat, you're wrong...but that's an excellent guess. It's certainly what I thought it was going to be.

Ready for this?


I shit you not. And when she came down my aisle with her "fantastic surprise", the little girl began screaming and clambered up on my desk and began pulling things off my shelf, and the little boy began telling me about something called Beyblade that sounded only slightly less confusing than foreign policy. I kept waiting for N to say, "I actually did want everyone to meet my kids, but the REAL surprise is a paid day off/box of red velvet cupcakes/British shorthair kitten." But nope, that was seriously her surprise.

Not worthy of inclusion on the following list, but still irritating.

As for the bad:

  • After a long struggle with Alzheimer's, my grandmother died on July 5th. Some of you already know what a complicated relationship I've had with my grandmother for years; she's always been very emotionally distant. I don't even remember the last birthday or Christmas card my brother or I got from her, and if one of us picked up when she'd call my dad, she'd instantly say "Is your father there?" She NEVER wanted to talk to us, and she never asked my dad how we were doing, which pissed him off something fierce. She had an excuse after she got sick, but what the fuck was her excuse for the decades BEFORE that? So I hope you won't judge me too harshly when I say that her death didn't affect me all that much. I didn't wish her any harm, of course, but hearing that she died had the same effect on me as hearing that a stranger had died: a general moment of sadness at a life lost, and then I went on with my day. The worst part for me was hearing my dad choke up when he called to tell me she'd died. Despite her shortcomings, she raised my father to be a good man, so I'm grateful to her for that, and I'm glad that she's no longer suffering.

On that cheerful note, on to the media update. Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Pray for Silence* by Linda Castillo: The small town of Painters Mill is rocked by the brutal murders of a local Amish family. Police chief Kate Burkholder, who was raised Amish but left that life behind, finds a diary hidden by one of the teenage daughters talking about her secret affair with an unnamed "English" (non-Amish) man. The entries are sweet at first, but quickly turn ugly with lurid descriptions of being drugged and forced into pornography. With very little to go on, Kate has to find the murderer and bring him to justice. Utterly gripping and almost impossible to put down.

Side note: If you're interested in this series, I would recommend reading Sworn to Silence (also excellent) first. It helps to know the main characters, and this book spoils a few things from the previous one.

2. Broken* by Karin Slaughter: In the latest Grant County thriller, a college student is found dead in the lake and a mentally challenged boy is arrested for her murder. But some serious mistakes by local law enforcement lead to the arrival of special agent Will Trent, and he discovers that things are much more complicated than they initially seemed. The last few chapters seem uncharacteristically rushed for Slaughter, but it's still a good read. It also contains FAR less gore than usual (though it's still pretty violent), so if you've got a delicate constitution and don't mind being majorly spoiled for her previous books, this might be a good starting point if you'd like to check this author out.

3. The Whisperers by John Connolly: A group of smugglers brings back dozens of antiquities from Iraq, including a strangely sinister box. Soon, the smugglers begin killing themselves, but Charlie Parker isn't convinced that the deaths were suicides at all. You all know how much I love JC, but I'm beginning to fear that he's lost his touch, because I kind of had to force myself to keep slogging through this one. But I'll read anything with Angel and Louis, the gay hitmen who are as fast with their quips as they are with their weapons. Favorite Louis line from The Whisperers: "Dodo eggs got laid more recently than you."


1. I Don't Care About Your Band* by Julie Klausner: An uproariously funny book about the author's many disastrous relationships. My favorite parts: when she talks about having a sexual awakening over a Night Court episode she watched during a slumber party ("I had a case of 12-year-old blue clit that an army of Coreys couldn't slake") and the inherent unfairness of girl/girl/guy threesomes. "With the exception of maybe Oskar Schindler, I don't believe there's a man who's ever lived who deserved sex with more than one woman at a time...Isn't it enough that they run society? A guy claiming he's entitled to a three-way with two women is like a chubby kid demanding frosting on his Snickers bar."

2. Squeamish About Sushi by Betty Reynolds: An informative and lavishly illustrated guide to dining in Japan. One tidbit I didn't know: after using a public bathroom, you're supposed to fold the corners of the toilet paper as a sign of respect to the next person.

3. Role Models* by John Waters: The famously filthy filmmaker (seriously, I was absolutely SCARRED after watching Desperate Living when I was all of 15) talks about some of his favorite people, ranging from a lesbian stripper named Zorro to "Manson girl" Leslie Van Houten. That chapter is particularly good; he's been friends with her for over two decades, and he explains why he thinks she should be paroled. ("Leslie Van Houten has served more time than any Nazi war criminal who was not sentenced to death at Nuremberg.") Although I don't agree with him, the mere fact that he actually made me reconsider my feelings on her prison sentence ought to tell you something. I still ain't happy about that chicken scene in Pink Flamingos, John, but I'll always buy you a drink.


1. Happy Hustle High by Rie Takada

2. Mixed Vegetables vol. 8 by Ayumi Komura

3. Black Bird vol. 4 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

4. Rasetsu* vols. 2-4 by Chika Shiomi

5. White Brand by Youka Nitta

6. The Boys Volume 1: The Name of the Game* by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson


1. The Warlords: Jet Li plays a wounded army general who teams up with two bandits in hopes of starting a revolution. It was quite good, but I think I would have liked it more if I hadn't recently seen the far superior Red Cliff (which is not about the same subject, but also a historical Chinese war epic).

2. The Crazies: In this remake of an early George Romero film, water contamination turns the residents of a small Iowa town into homicidal maniacs. Some fun surprises and scares.

3. Inception*: I'm not going to tell you anything about this movie, because I think the less you know about it, the better. I will say that it wasn't quite as good as I thought it would be, but considering how hard the hype machine's been running, that would have been a tall order. Still, it's got some amazing visuals and it will twist your brain into knots, so thumbs up from me.

4. The Wolfman: Benicio Del Toro plays a man who returns to England after learning of his brother's grisly death at the hands of an unknown creature. (Well, unknown to HIM; I think the perpetrator is pretty obvious from the title.) He gets bitten too, but he survives and becomes a werewolf...which poses a bit of a problem, seeing as he's trying to get jiggy with his brother's fiancee. I know they were trying to stay true to the original's visuals, but the wolfman looks kind of goofy, which is jarring when contrasted with the buckets of blood and guts liberally splashed everywhere. Only recommended for diehard monster movie fanatics.


In this gloriously nutty game, you play Travis Touchdown, a hardcore fanboy who's broke as hell thanks to his insatiable appetite for anime, porn, and wrestling memorabilia. He lives in the city of Santa Destroy, sharing a motel room with his figurine collections and his beloved cat Jeane. After winning a "beam katana" in an online auction, Travis decides to become a hitman in order to pay his bills. He attracts the attention of Sylvia Christel (and if that name sounds instantly familiar to you, then you watched a LOT of Skinemax in the 80's), the sultry representative for the United Assassins Association, and she tells him that he has the potential to become the number one assassin in the UAA...but, of course, he has to take out the top ten first.

The UAA demands a hefty entrance fee before each fight, though, so Travis has to earn the money by doing side jobs around Santa Destroy. These jobs can be dangerous (killing scorpions, assassinating CEOs, clearing mines from the beach), goofy (collecting coconuts), or tooth-meltingly cute (rounding up stray kittens). Travis can also work out at the gym, visit the pissy Dr. Naomi to upgrade his beam katana, watch wrestling videos to learn new moves, and expand his wardrobe. The sandbox mode can't even begin to compete with the Grand Theft Auto games, but it's fun...well, for the most part. I had a hard time controlling Travis' motorcycle, so once I learned the dash move from the drunk Russian (don't ask), I just ran pretty much everywhere.

Where No More Heroes really shines is the combat, which---barring a couple of particularly frustrating segments---I really enjoyed. Once Travis has paid the UAA's entrance fee, he gets to hack his way through dozens of lackeys before reaching the boss. The beam katana runs out of juice after a while, so you have to vigorously shake the Wiimote to recharge it. (Travis looks and sounds like he's jerking off while he's doing this, which made me cackle like Beavis.) Just before you reach the boss, you'll get a phone call from Sylvia, who will either cheer you on or tell you that you probably won't survive, depending on her mood. She also suggests a bathroom break, because... save your game by taking a crap.

No, I'm not kidding. Whenever you see a bathroom, Travis will walk inside, drop his drawers, and sit down with a satisfied sigh. Once the data has been saved, the screen fills up with rolls of (unused, thank Christ) toilet paper, and you return to the game. Goichi Suda, the creator of NMH, has said that he was inspired by Johnny Knoxville of Jackass, and it definitely shows, because this is a really funny game. More examples: Travis keeps getting phone calls from his local video store, demanding he return movies like Coffee and MILF. One of the t-shirts you can buy has a photograph of a bikini babe and the tasteful slogan "Love Tits". One of the bosses says that they can't explain their motivations because "It would only jack up the age rating of this game even further", and then proceeds to tell their lurid story in fast forward. Another boss, Bad Girl, is a foulmouthed Lolita in a frilly dress. Her weapon of choice is a Louisville Slugger, and she alternates between beating you with it and using it to bat gimps at you. Yes, GIMPS, like in Pulp Fiction.

Since the Wii's processing power isn't as strong as the PS3 or XBOX360, the graphics won't blow you away, but they're stylized and fun. Aside from a few minor characters who sound like they're speaking through a mouthful of marbles, the dialogue is competently handled by veteran anime/video game voice actors. I do wish the enemy's dying comments had more variety; while it's fun at first to hear a bad guy yell "My spleen!" as you slice him in two, it gets old after the fiftieth time. Other annoyances include a couple of long stretches without a checkpoint or save spot and a ton of backtracking during side missions.

If you have a low tolerance for crude humor, filthy language, and fountains of gore, you should stay far away from No More Heroes. But if you love quirky games or you've ever wanted to wield a lightsaber beam katana against the greatest assassins in the world, pick up a copy today. How can you go wrong with a badass protagonist who dotes on his kitten?

See you in NMH2, dude. I already bought my copy!


1. Heavy Rain soundtrack
2. "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" by Sparks
3. "Heavenly Star" by Genki Rockets
4. "Hustlin' and Tusslin'" by Masafumi Takada