Thursday, September 30, 2010

media update: September

Not content to merely infect everybody in America with the scuzz of "Jersey Shore", MTV decided to show it in Japan as well. Ordinarily I'd take this chance to apologize to Japan, but it's all worth it just for the gasping, wheezing, hysterical laughing fit I had when I read what they're going to call it.

Ready for this?

According to CNN, it will be shown in Japan as "The New Jersey Life of Macaroni Rascals".

Seriously! Best. Title. EVER.

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


1. If You Follow Me* by Malena Watrous: Still reeling from her father's suicide, Marina decides to take a job teaching English in the small Japanese town of Shika. She and her girlfriend Carolyn live in a cramped apartment across from a family that takes offense at their constant, though unintentional, disregard for the neighborhood's confusing rules for trash disposal. As Marina struggles with culture shock and the strain it puts on her relationship, she realizes that the grief she tried to leave behind in the US has only gotten stronger. Beautifully written and bittersweet; many scenes are quite funny, but the last few pages made me cry. (Not necessarily due to something bad happening, mind you; I shall neither confirm nor deny.)

Side note: This book also taught me an awesome Japanese idiom: hiru andon, which means "daytime lamp" and refers to people who take up space in a room with no vitality or purpose.


1. Packing for Mars* by Mary Roach: It's a testament to this author that I read a book on outer space just because she wrote it. In her usual informative but funny style, Roach covers topics ranging from the hassles of crapping in space (let's just say the term "fecal popcorn" is used) to the unfair reputation of "astrochimp" Enos as an unrepentant masturbator.

2. Shit My Dad Says* by Justin Halpern: Based on the popular Twitter feed, this is a collection of quotes from and anecdotes about the author's cranky father, and practically every page made me snort with laughter at least once. My favorite line: "Sometimes life leaves a hundred dollar bill on your dresser, and you don't realize until later it's because it fucked you."

3. Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential by Brian Ashcraft and Shoko Ueda: An informative look at Japanese schoolgirls and their influence on global pop culture.

4. Everything Is Going to Be Great* by Rachel Shukert: After graduating from NYU, the author had an opportunity to visit Europe and perform in a play directed by a famous theater director. She knew up front that she wouldn't get paid and that she'd have to play a man AND wear a "poop hat", but she didn't want to miss the opportunity. When she told her mom she wanted to go to Europe to find herself, her mother's tart reply was "We've already sent you to Europe twice. If you didn't find yourself then, you're probably not there." But she blithely went anyway, and found herself dealing with everything from the shock of seeing her first uncircumcised penis (she describes the end of a foreskin as looking like "a wrinkly Cheerio, or a hemorrhoid cushion for a dollhouse") to buying a stolen bicycle from a junkie in Amsterdam and suffering karmic consequences almost immediately. I couldn't read this in public because it made me laugh out loud constantly, but there are also a few heartbreaking moments, like dealing with casual anti-Semitism. My favorite nonfiction book of the year so far.


1. The Boys* vols. 4-6 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson

2. The Walking Dead* vol. 12 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn: I can't wait for the Halloween premiere of this series on AMC. Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) + zombies = my ass on the couch and my eyes on the screen.

3. Butterflies, Flowers* vols. 3-4 by Yuki Yoshihara

4. Blind Date by Emma Darcy and Mihoko Hirose

5. Rasetsu* vols. 5-6 by Chika Shiomi

6. V.B. Rose vol. 9 by Banri Hidaka

7. Stepping on Roses by Rinko Ueda

8. Response by Penny Jordan and Takako Hashimoto

9. Sand Chronicles* vol. 9 by Hinako Ashihara

10. Kobato vol. 3 by CLAMP

11. The Bachelor Prince by Debbie Macomber and Misao Hoshiai

12. Rin-Ne vol. 4 by Rumiko Takahashi

13. Lover's Pledge by Kae Maruya

14. Seiho Boys' High School* by Kaneyoshi Izumi

15. Henry & Glenn Forever* by Igloo Tornado: The touching (fictional!) love story of...Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig. As a bonus, they live next door to Hall and Oates, who are Satanists. Man, the creators have some serious stones, because Rollins and Danzig are fucking BUILT and I sure as hell wouldn't want to piss either one of them off. Starred for its sheer brilliant WTFness.

Here's one of my favorite panels, which will elicit one of two reactions from you: you'll either bust a gut, or you will have no idea why it's funny. As someone who literally wore out a cassette tape of the Repo Man (no relation to movie #3 below) soundtrack back in the '80s, I just about pissed my pants.


1. Survival of the Dead: On a small island off the coast of Delaware, two rival families argue over whether the undead can be rehabilitated, or if they should just be put out of their misery for good. This movie has a few surprisingly funny lines and some good gore, but the Hatfield/McCoy angle was really weird and didn't work well at all.

2. Clash of the Titans: Perseus is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, but he was raised by a humble fisherman. When his entire family is wiped out during one of Hades' shit fits, Perseus leads the fight to take down Hades and a slew of beasties. A moderately enjoyable remake of the 1981 cheesefest, which I saw twice in the theater. (Hey, back in the old days, if you wanted to see a movie, you HAD to see it in the theater. You DVD watchin' whippersnappers don't know how good you got it!)

3. Repo Men*: In this gory dystopian thriller, the Union is a company that supplies artificial organs to anyone willing to make the exorbitant payments. If they fall behind, though, their organs are repossessed in a rather unpleasant fashion. Jude Law is an organ repo man, but after he requires a heart transplant of his own and can't pay for it, the Union sends his ex-partner after him. I wasn't going to give it a star, but upon further reflection I felt like the audacious script deserved one.

4. Grace: After surviving a car accident that killed her husband, Madeline finds out that the child she's carrying is dead. She refuses to let the doctors remove the baby, insisting that she wants to carry the pregnancy to term. The baby is stillborn but miraculously revives in Madeline's arms. Madeline names her daughter Grace and takes her home, where she soon discovers that Grace has, shall we say, some exceptionally special needs.

Holy fucking shit, this movie was disturbing. It's like Cronenberg and Lynch dropped acid and wrote a screenplay together. I think it will be a very long time before I'm able to shake the memory of this one.

5. Raging Phoenix: Deu (JeeJa Yanin) is a young woman who is almost kidnapped by a notorious human trafficking gang, but she is rescued at the last minute. After rigorous training, she teams up with her savior and two goofy breakdancing brothers to take down the gang once and for all. I was hoping for more, since Yanin's debut Chocolate was so phenomenal, but it was kind of disappointing. Still, it has some terrific action sequences, including a nailbiting fight on a suspended bridge, so it's worth a look if you love this kind of thing.


1. "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways

2. "Haunted" by Poe


(Note: This review also covers "The Signal", which is an additional downloadable episode that continues where the main game left off. It does not, however, include "The Writer", another DLC episode that comes out in October. That one is supposed to definitively wrap up the storyline.)

Alan Wake is a bestselling novelist who's come down with a very bad case of writer's block. His wife Alice takes him to Bright Falls, a beautiful small town in the Pacific Northwest, in hopes that a change of scenery will inspire him. But Bright Falls isn't quite as idyllic as it seems, and Alice disappears. Alan tries desperately to find her, but his progress is hampered by the Taken, townspeople who have been overcome by darkness. The only way to kill them is to burn away the darkness surrounding them with a flashlight, and then they can be dispatched through conventional means. As the game progresses, Alan learns more about the strange occurrences in Bright Falls and his connection to them.

For some reason I seem to be having a hard time formatting this review in a conventional sense, so I'll just list what I loved and what I loathed.


  • The backgrounds are the most beautiful I've seen in any video game to date. At one point, as Alan ran through a forest, I could practically smell the pine trees.
  • I liked how each "episode" (aside from the first one, of course) began with a recap of the previous one. This came in especially handy when I'd been away from the game for a week.
  • The sound effects and music are excellent. In addition to instrumentals, the soundtrack also features songs by David Bowie and Poe, among others.
  • Alan's agent and friend Barry Wheeler is a freakin' riot. At first I thought he was really annoying---think Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2---but he grew on me.
  • The most innovative mechanics and scenes are too spoilery to describe in detail, but if you play this game, you'll know them when you see them.
  • Lots of great jump scares and some really tense moments. For example, in one level, Alan has to run from light to light as several Taken follow in hot pursuit. But just when you think Alan's safe standing in a pool of flickers out. Time to start running again!


  • Considering how stunning the backgrounds are, the character modeling is surprisingly subpar. For some reason, the male characters aren't too bad, but the female characters, especially Alice, look like they overdosed on Botox.
  • Alan can't run very far before getting winded, which was seriously annoying. Dude, hit the gym!
  • The script borrows liberally from Twin Peaks, Silent Hill, and Stephen King. Alan Wake straddles a pretty fine line between an homage and a ripoff.
  • Speaking of the plot...holy crap, is it hard to follow sometimes. Perhaps my powers of logic were compromised by the fact that I usually played Alan Wake late at night, but I got awfully confused.
  • The product placement is irritating. It's fine by me that Alan finds Energizer batteries for his flashlight; that makes sense. And yes, sure, he could have a Verizon phone. But do we also have to see their billboards and commercials? During a phone call, one character even says "Can you hear me now?" (Okay, fine, that was actually funny.) It's not as whorish as, say, the constant glowing references to Subway in the TV show Chuck, but at least Chuck is free. If I'm going to pay 40 to 60 bucks for a video game, I really don't want to be subjected to a ton of fucking ads.

When it comes to survival horror, Alan Wake is a birthday candle compared to Silent Hill's kleig light, but for the most part it's still a lot of fun. Turn the lights down low and enjoy.


Back in 2008, G and I played a zombie slice 'n' dicer called Dead Rising. After dying numerous times and fucking up timed missions, thus stalling the story, we decided that the frustration wasn't worth it. I put the disc back in the Gamefly mailer, but something kept me from sealing it up.

And I'm sure as shit glad I didn't, because once we got the hang of it, Dead Rising became one of my ten favorite games of all time. There were times where I literally felt DRUGGED while playing it, thanks to the adrenaline and bloodlust coursing through my veins as I plowed my way through the ravenous zombie hordes.

Obviously, Dead Rising 2 was going to be an instant purchase, so once Amazon had it available for preorder, I bought it for G's anniversary present. (Bet you didn't know that the traditional 6-year anniversary present was a zombie game, eh? But it's true. Oh, and iron or wood objects if you're boring.)

Anyway, Capcom was kind enough to throw us a downloadable episode called Dead Rising 2: Case Zero to tide us over until the real deal came out on September 28th.


Best five bucks we ever spent.

In DR2:CZ, you play Chuck Green, a motocross superstar who gets stranded in a small desert town after some asshole steals his truck. Chuck's 4-year-old daughter Katey has been infected by a zombie bite, and she needs a dose of the new drug Zombrex every 12 hours or she'll "turn".

Guess what was on the dashboard of Chuck's truck?

So after stashing Katey in a safe location, Chuck sets out to explore the town and find an alternate means of transportation and another dose of Zombrex. But he only has 12 hours because the military has been deployed, and they have orders to kill any infected humans they find...even adorable little pigtailed girls.

The town of Still Creek is swarming with zombies, but as in Dead Rising, anything you pick up can be used as a weapon. In a new addition to the DR universe, you can now combine certain items to create an especially nasty weapon. For example, you can combine an oar with a chainsaw to create the paddlesaw, or a box of nails with a propane tank to create an IED. Not only are these items effective at clearing your way through a crowd, but they also earn more "prestige points" per kill, which helps you level up.

While exploring, Chuck comes across other survivors, ranging from drunk sorority girls to a miserly pawn shop owner who has the gall to charge you five grand for a motorcycle wheel even after you saved his sorry ass. (Appropriately enough, his first name is Dick.) Escorting these survivors back to the safe house earns you money and more prestige points. In the original Dead Rising, the survivor AI blew; they'd often run straight into a crowd of zombies and then just stand there getting chewed on, forcing you to either run back and rescue them or abandon them and miss out on the money and points. Fortunately, the AI has been tweaked, and the survivors are much better at protecting themselves and avoiding sticky situations.

There are so many awesome touches in this game: Katey's mismatched clothes (as though they had to leave home in a hurry), the Psycho screech of violins as you plunge a knife into a zombie's chest, and, as seen above, the fact that you can change into a waitress uniform if you want. And the replay value is incredible, because there's no way you can do everything in just one playthrough. Shit, even if you could, I can pretty much guarantee you'd want to play again anyway. It's crack in game form, and if Dead Rising 2 is even half as addictive as this prequel, I don't think G and I will be stepping outside at all this weekend.

...assuming we get it from Amazon by then, of course; it's currently in transit. Fingers crossed!