Tuesday, August 31, 2010

media update: August

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







FICTION


1. The Truth-Teller's Lie* by Sophie Hannah: When a woman's lover goes missing, she lies to the police and tells them that he raped her so they'll take the search more seriously. But it turns out that her story bears some striking similarities to several unsolved rape cases, and things get very complicated indeed. This novel has more twists and turns than a snake with a broken back, and although I thought I knew where it was going more than once, I was always proven wrong. Another winner from the supremely clever Sophie Hannah.

2. Hotel Iris* by Yoko Ogawa: One night at a small seaside hotel, a prostitute begins screaming from one of the rooms. The manager and her teenage daughter Mari kick the prostitute and her customer out, but Mari becomes obsessed with the man's voice. When she later spots him in town, they strike up a conversation. Eventually, Mari and the man become involved in a sadomasochistic relationship that has unforeseen consequences for both of them. Disturbing and beautifully written, with excellent translation work by Stephen Snyder.








NONFICTION


1. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield: A memoir about growing up in the 80's and the songs the author loved. The writing is awfully uneven, but I have to give credit to anyone willing to devote an entire chapter to Haysi Fantayzee, the ultimate guilty pleasure band. Shiny shiny bad times behind me, shiny shiny sha na na na...

2. Suck It, Wonder Woman! by Olivia Munn: For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Munn, she cohosts Attack of the Show on G4, which is a gaming-related cable channel. She seems to inspire either intense hatred or delirious adoration online. Personally, I find her quite funny, and I covet her supernaturally shiny hair. But even though I like Olivia, 270 pages of her ramblings was a bit much.

3. How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley: A selection of nine essays covering everything from an Alaskan adventure to unexpectedly running into an old foe in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant. Warning: anyone who's ultrasensitive about bad things happening to animals will probably want to skip "Light Pollution" and "An Abbreviated Catalog of Tongues".







MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVELS


1. FreshMen by Yuuya

2. How to Capture a Martini by Makoto Tateno

3. Otomen vol. 7 by Aya Kanno

4. Black Bird vol. 5 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

5. Kobato* vols. 1-2 by CLAMP

6. Voodoo: Dancing in the Dark by Alan Moore, Michael Lopez, and Al Rio

7. Spell by Hyouta Fujiyama

8. The Boys* vols. 2-3 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson







MOVIES


1. The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie!: When this show was on Comedy Central, it was the only thing that could consistently shock G AND me...no easy feat, believe me. (To give you an idea, one episode parodied The Accused.) The movie went straight to DVD, so they not only pushed the envelope, they set it on fire and put out the flames with every bodily fluid imaginable. There are a few funny scenes, but overall it's just 90 minutes of the creators trying to be as gross as possible; I actually craved the firm hand of a network censor. Two scenes were so disturbing I almost asked G to turn it off. Not recommended unless you want to see whether you still have the capacity to be offended. Spoiler alert: you do.

2. Surf's Up: G and I brought this DVD on our New Mexico trip, thinking his nephews would enjoy it, but I think we wound up liking it more than they did! It's a fun animated "documentary" about a penguin who wants to become the world's greatest surfer.

3. Alice in Wonderland: Tim Burton's take on the classic tale is visually stunning but emotionally uninvolving.

4. The Fountain: I don't even know how to describe this movie. It's got a bald naked Hugh Jackman floating in a bubble, and then he's a conquistador, but wait, now he's a medical researcher helplessly watching his ethereally beautiful wife die. I didn't particularly like it, but it was certainly different. Here's the IMDB page if you want to know more.

5. Chloe: When a gynecologist suspects her husband of infidelity, she hires a prostitute named Chloe to seduce him (yeah, didn't make sense to me either) and report back to her. Chloe turns out to be a bit obsessive; complications ensue. Despite an A-list cast that includes Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson and direction by indie film darling Atom Egoyan, this is basically just a trashy erotic thriller that's putting on airs. Not always a bad thing, of course, and the sex scenes are worth sitting through even if nothing else is. A hysterical review of Chloe can be found at fourfour. Warning: contains major spoilers and tons of GIFs, so don't go there if you plan on seeing Chloe and/or if you have a slow connection.

6. The Book of Eli: In post-apocalyptic America, Eli (Denzel Washington) makes his way across America. He has an important book with him that an evil man wants very badly, but Eli is determined to protect the book at all costs. Has its moments, but it needed more action and less proselytizing. Also, I could have done without the beginning scene where Eli kills a cat. True, he did it because he was desperate for food, but I don't think they needed to show the arrow actually hitting the cat. An offscreen sound effect would have sufficed.

7. The Runaways*: The true story of the all-girl 70's rock band who gained fame based on their gritty songs and jailbait singer Cherie Currie, who was chosen more for her "Bardot in a trailer park" image than for her voice. Dakota Fanning got a lot of well-deserved praise for her portrayal of Cherie, but I thought Kristen Stewart was even better as Joan Jett (who's the antithesis of simpering vampbait Bella Swan, come to think of it). I really liked this movie, and her performance was the main reason.

8. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World*: When the title character (Michael Cera) meets Ramona, the girl of his dreams, he has to defeat her "seven evil exes" to be with her. These battles play out in hyperkinetic video game style, and are frankly quite awesome. Although it's very funny and I enjoyed the ever-lovin' hell out of it, I think it would appeal primarily to gamers and/or comic book fans.

Side note: I probably shouldn't take a job predicting Hollywood hits anytime soon, because I totally thought this movie and Kick-Ass (which we watched again last weekend; FUUUUUUUCK that's a great movie) would make a shitload of money, and then...well...they didn't. That puts a sad in my rainbow, considering how exhilarating they were. But hey, at least we'll get a sequel to Piranha! Yay!

/ sarcasm







ADDED TO MY IPOD


1. "Take This Job and Shove It" by Dead Kennedys

2. "Uncertain Smile" by The The

3. "Hairdresser on Fire" by Morrissey

4. "Last of the Famous International Playboys" by Morrissey

5. "I Won't Say I'm in Love" from the Hercules soundtrack







TIMEWASTER OF THE MONTH


If you're not a gamer, don't even bother going here, but if you are, prepare for instant addiction. A video game screenshot pops up, and you have to identify it. If you get it right, you rack up points and extra time on the clock. There's a hint button, but the hints are a mixed bag; some of them basically give you the entire answer, but others are maddeningly vague. Completely stumped? Go ahead and hit "skip", but the clock will keep ticking! There's a wide variety of games ranging from current hits to old school favorites, and I got a nostalgic little frisson when something like Burger Time would show up. I wish they didn't include quite so many Mario/Zelda/Final Fantasy games---who can keep them all straight?---but overall, this game is really fun. My current high score is 104,675, but I'll admit to looking up a few titles later because they were driving me nuts.

Handy tip: if you recognize a screen from one of the Legends of Zelda games, just typing in "Zelda" works 99% of the time. Also, you can just type "FF[number]" instead of "Final Fantasy [number]". Those extra seconds can make all the difference!









VIDEO GAME OF THE MONTH


After finishing No More Heroes last month, I knew NMH2 was a must buy. More raunchy humor and beam katana beatdowns? Yes plz! But as it turns out, they changed a few things in the sequel, some of which were good, and some of which were very bad.

NMH2 takes place three years after the events of the first game. Travis Touchdown has returned to Santa Destroy to fight Skelter Helter, who wants revenge for his brother's death. Travis wins, but as Skelter Helter is dying, he tells Travis, "I said I'd avenge you killing my brother, didn't I? Well, who's been a brother to YOU? Now it's your turn to be burdened with another's death!"

And that night, Travis' best friend is rubbing one out while looking at computer porn, but he's interrupted (rude!) by a gang of gunmen who kill him and throw his severed head through Travis' window.

Helpful hint of the day: don't kill an assassin's best friend.

Travis is, to put it mildly, pissed off, and he asks Sylvia Christel, the UAA's representative, to put him back in the game. There are 50 people ahead of him now, and he's got a lot of killing to do if he wants to avenge his friend.

Here's a list of the major changes.


  • The developers did away with sandbox mode, which was fine by me because I had trouble with Travis' motorcycle and didn't much care for the constant driving back and forth.
  • The side jobs are now in classic 8-bit form! My personal favorite was "Man the Meat", in which you have to cook meat to the customer's specifications. Do it wrong, and the customer will stand up, say "This sucks!" or "Tastes like shit!", and fling a fork into your eye. As it turns out, you don't need all that much money in NMH2 because you don't have to pay entry fees to the UAA anymore. Not only that, but there aren't that many beam katanas to buy (and you get the best one, the double beam katana seen above, as a gift), so unless you want to pimp out Travis' wardrobe, the side jobs eventually become pointless.
  • Travis can now play a shooter game on his TV. It's not a particularly fun game, but it's worth beating once because it unlocks the opening for Travis' favorite anime, Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly. And I do mean favorite, because later on, you see Travis fapping to it. I have no idea what's with all the male masturbation in this game, but ME GUSTA.
  • Also in 8-bit form: the gym training sessions, which blow. They're almost impossible to do correctly, so all you get for your trouble are sore fingers. G got so pissed off that he threatened to take the game outside and run it over with his car.
  • In addition to Travis, you briefly get to play as two other characters, who I won't name due to spoilers. I will say that one of the characters can jump, which means there's some platforming involved. This sucked my left one, and then moved over and sucked the right one, and not in a good way. The camera was tetchy at best and deadly at worst. Aside from the platforming parts, Character X's stages were fun because X could give Travis a run for his money in the kick-ass department. Character Y only gets one stage, but the enemy Y fights is a little anime girl in a mech suit, so that's kind of cool.
  • This isn't really a change, but it's a major negative and warrants mention. The final boss is probably the most difficult level I've ever played in a video game. The first stage of this fight was just annoying, but the second one was an absolute ordeal. After dying several times in a row, I had to hand the Wiimote to G because I was about to rip my hair out. His luck wasn't any better, so then HE was grinding his teeth to powder. We kept passing the controller back and forth after each time Travis died, and after dozens of attempts, we finally managed to kick that fucker's ass. We almost screamed when it turned out that there was a THIRD stage to the fight, but to our immense relief, that one was cake in comparison.


Fortunately, many of the things I loved about the first game remain intact: the crass humor, the excellent voice acting, a great soundtrack including a couple of songs by genius Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, some cool bosses (with the obvious exception of the really hard one), the guilty pleasure of slicing your way through bad guys, Travis' quips (my favorite: "When you see your brother in hell, tell him he's still a douche!"), and Travis' kitty Jeane.

Speaking of Jeane: shortly after posting my July media update, I received a note from a reader who planned to play NMH, but wanted to make sure that nothing bad happens to her. Rest assured, Jeane makes it through both games safe and sound; franchise creator Suda51 is a cat lover in real life. (Actually, I think it would have been really funny if one stage involved an enemy stealing Jeane---but of course not hurting her---and Travis roaring "Don't you touch my pussy!" before making them pay for their insolence, and then there could be a supercute reunion scene with lots of hearts and sparkles. Call me, Suda51!) But Jeane does have an important part to play in NMH2! She's gotten really fat, and Travis has to help her get back to a healthy weight by playing with her. Once she's met her goal, he's inspired by her happy cavorting to learn a new move that comes in mighty handy during combat. I was sad that you couldn't interact with her after she lost weight, though; she just sits there. And I missed the detail the developers put into Jeane in the first game, like how she crouches down and wiggles her butt before jumping onto the bed or couch.

So did I like NMH2 as much as its predecessor? No, because the improved graphics weren't enough to make up for the irritating parts; seriously, at one point I thought I was going to stroke out. But for the most part, I still enjoyed the hell out of it, mostly thanks to its gleefully crude humor. But forewarned is forearmed: if you have a very low frustration threshold, you probably want to skip this one and watch the cutscenes on YouTube instead. No game is worth popping a blood vessel for.