Monday, November 01, 2010

media update: October

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


1. The Hunger Games* by Suzanne Collins: When Katniss Everdeen's sister is chosen by lottery for the Hunger Games (a televised fight to the death to gain food and favor from the oppressive government of Panem), Katniss volunteers to take her place. The other competitor for her district is a boy named Peeta, who has a crush on her...which would be sweet if they weren't supposed to kill each other.

I read this novel because I'd heard it was the new "crossover" hit, i.e. written for teenagers but appealing enough for adults, like Harry Potter and the Twilight books. Nowhere near as good as the former and nowhere near as bad as the latter, Hunger Games falls squarely in the middle of the spectrum. It's derivative of many other works, such as Battle Royale and The Running Man, and some of the writing is choppy, but I raced through it in two days and couldn't wait to get my hands on the next volume. It's as addictive as potato chips, as evidenced by the fact that I went out and bought the second book shortly after finishing this one.

2. Catching Fire* by Suzanne Collins: Thanks to her act of rebellion during the Hunger Games, Katniss has become a symbol of hope for the districts. But the government isn't about to let another uprising occur, and Katniss is once again thrust into the Games in hopes that she won't survive a second round.

3. Mockingjay* by Suzanne Collins: Trying to write a synopsis of this book without spoiling anything from the trilogy would be next to impossible. I'll just say that if you enjoyed the first two, you'll probably enjoy this one as well.


1. Have You No Shame?* by Rachel Shukert: A collection of essays about growing up Jewish in small town America, ranging from her childhood belief that Nazis were hiding in her family's drywall to furtive handjobs under the table at a convention for Jewish teens. There are a few somber chapters that deal with her anorexia, the death of her grandmother, and living in New York City during 9/11, but for the most part, it's uproariously funny. My favorite line: "[Gentiles] think a virgin gave birth? No wonder they can't do their own taxes."

2. Half a Life by Darin Strauss: When the author was in high school, he accidentally hit a classmate with his car and killed her. In this brutally honest memoir, he talks about trying to survive with the guilt, even though he was found not at fault by the police, and how the accident went on to shape every facet of his life.

3. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010*: Every year finds me wondering which category to put this anthology in, since it includes both fiction and nonfiction. But since there's slightly more of the latter than the former, I decided to put it here. As always, it includes plenty of food for thought. My favorites this year are Sophie Blackall's whimsical illustrations of Craigslist personal ads, Lilli Carre's bittersweet "The Carnival", and "Man of Steel", a heartbreaking short story by Bryan Furuness.

4. Carnal Knowledge by John Baxter: A fascinating and occasionally gross (you don't want to know why Russian prisoners fight for garden duty, trust) compendium of assorted sexual topics from AC/DC to zoophilia. I was occasionally irritated by some of the writing; for example, manga is described as "Japanese comic strips, mostly [emphasis mine] of an erotic and sadomasochistic nature." Um, no, asshat. Adjust yourself, 'cause your bias is showing.

5. Hello Kitty Sweet Happy Fun Book!* by Marie Moss: I would like one of every collectible in this book, please.

Side note: Demeter just released a second set of Sanrio-themed fragrances, and one of them has this description: "Sanrio fans are sure to recognize this familiar scent! The Sanrio signature fragrance is inspired by the scent of a Sanrio store, a combination of Japanese fruit-flavored gum and scented erasers." SOLD.


1. With the Light* vols. 1-6 by Keiko Tobe

2. Kaze Hikaru vol. 18 by Taeko Watanabe

3. Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo vol. 7 by Matsuri Akino

4. Seiho Boys' High School* vol. 2 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

5. Stepping on Roses vol. 2-3 by Rinko Ueda

6. In the Flesh by Koren Shadmi

7. Barefoot Waltz by Romuco Miike

8. Black Bird vol. 6 by Kanako Sakurakoji

9. Jinxed by Day Leclaire and Akemi Maki

10. Club 9 vol. 3 by Makoto Kobayashi

11. No Competition by Debbie Macomber and Yukino Hara

12. Grand Guignol Orchestra by Kaori Yuki

13. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service* vol. 11 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki


1. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Based on the video game series, this stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular prince who tries to stop a mystical "time rewinding" dagger from falling into the wrong hands. When it was done, I wanted to use the dagger to rewind time so I could get those two hours of my life back.

2. Babies: A documentary following four babies from Namibia, Japan, the US, and Mongolia during the first year of their life. There's no narration and very little dialogue, so you could pretty much watch this on fast forward if you wanted to. I wouldn't consider it essential viewing or anything, but it's interesting to compare the differences in child rearing around the world; for example, a shot of the Namibian baby happily gnawing on a bone she found on the ground is followed by a shot of the American baby's mother fussing over her clothes with a lint roller.

3. Batman: Under the Red Hood*: A mysterious man called Red Hood starts terrorizing the crime lords of Gotham City, demanding part of their profits. When Batman investigates, he begins to wonder why Red Hood seems so familiar. A surprisingly good story with decent animation; the action scenes are especially fluid.

4. How to Train Your Dragon*: Hiccup is a scrawny Viking boy whose lack of interest in slaying dragons is a huge disappointment to his father. But one night, Hiccup is toying around with a contraption he built and manages to knock a dragon from the sky. When he goes to investigate, he winds up being charmed by the dragon (which is more like an overgrown kitten or puppy than a fearsome beast) and eventually befriends it. Then...oh fuck, I'm seriously tearing up remembering this movie. Let's just say it's stunningly animated, often funny, and achingly sweet.

5. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths: In an alternate universe, Lex Luthor is one of the good guys, and he petitions the Justice League to help him take down a crime syndicate. A few good lines, but movie #3 on this list is far better.

6. Iron Man 2: The government wants Tony Stark's technology, but he refuses to hand it over. Additional trouble arrives in the form of a nasty Russian called Whiplash, who's recruited by Tony's rival to take him down. I enjoyed this one more than the original, and of course Robert Downey Jr. elevates everything he's in.

7. Jackass 3D*: More gleefully gross pranks and stunts from Johnny Knoxville and pals. If you have a low tolerance for vomit, penises, and/or feces---ESPECIALLY feces---I'd warn you to stay far, far away. Me? I was wheezing with laughter, but I'm immature like that.

8. Get Him to the Greek*: A record company intern must escort his idol Aldous Snow to his anniversary concert in Los Angeles, but Aldous is much more interested in sex and drugs than rock 'n' roll. Lots of fun, and Russell Brand and (surprisingly) P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean Combs/whatever the hell he goes by these days are especially good.


1. "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" by The Walker Brothers

2. "Not A Virgin" by Poe

3. "Mustache" by Sparks

4. "Don't You Want Me" by Human League

5. "Jump in the Line" by Harry Belafonte

6. "Switchback" by Celldweller


(Note: this review contains mild spoilers for psychopath/combo weapon descriptions.)

Last month, G and I played Case Zero, the downloadable prequel to Dead Rising 2. I was a bit nervous because Capcom passed development duties over to Blue Castle. But Case Zero was an absolute blast, and it was the perfect foreplay for what I hoped would be a major goregasm courtesy of Dead Rising 2.

So, you ask, was a goregasm achieved? Oh my sweet fancy Moses, we're talking multiples.

Chuck Greene is a motocross champion and reluctant star of Terror Is Reality, a TV show where the contestants must slaughter as many zombies as possible. Chuck is morally conflicted by taking place in the show, but because he has to buy outrageously expensive medicine to keep his infected daughter Katey from turning into a zombie, he feels like he has no choice. After filming an episode, Chuck is heading backstage when the arena is rocked by an explosion that frees the zombies. Chuck and Katey make it to Fortune City's emergency shelter just in time. But Chuck finds out that he's being framed for the zombie escape, and in the 72 hours before the military arrives, he has to clear his name, make sure Katey gets her Zombrex every 24 hours, and rescue as many survivors as he can.

Whereas Dead Rising took place almost entirely in one large shopping mall, Chuck has an entire city to explore. He can visit casinos, shopping malls, and even peep shows. (You don't get to see anything, though.) You can earn money by playing/smashing slot machines and ATMs or as a reward for escorting certain survivors, and you'll need it in case you can't find any free Zombrex, because looters have taken over the pawn shop and are happy to sell you a dose for an exorbitant price.

Can you pick it up? Then you can use it as a weapon! Bottles of ketchup and mustard, chainsaws, stuffed animals...they're all fair game. But in a new twist, you can also combine certain weapons to make a superpowered new one. Some of them are funny as hell (like a giant stuffed bear that turns into an automatic killing machine when combined with a machine gun, or a revamped electric guitar that dispenses head burstin' riffs), some of them are seriously nasty (a pitchfork/shotgun combo that stabs zombies and then systematically shoots off each limb), but they're all wildly effective and help you level up quickly.

Zombies aren't your only foes in DR2. You also have to contend with human psychopaths who have either been driven mad by the outbreak or are just taking advantage of the chaos. Some of the most memorable are a horrifying creep (voiced by Patton Oswalt!) in a pig-shaped bondage mask who's trying to force a young woman to marry him, a delusional diva who thinks the zombies are her fans, and a chef who's making nasty meat-based dishes that would never get a USDA stamp.

Other great things about this game: they improved the survivor AI, so they don't need constant babysitting. With the exception of an elderly woman who sounds all of 25, the voice acting is terrific, especially Bibi Love (the aforementioned diva) and TK, the charismatic emcee of Terror Is Reality. It can be very funny; for example, you can use a dildo as a weapon, some of the zombies refuse to budge from the slot machine they're playing (just like Vegas!), and Chuck can change into outfits including women's clothes (though he's not as enthusiastic about it as Frank West), toddler pajamas, and even a Borat swimsuit. The graphics are seriously awesome, and even with up to 7000 zombies onscreen at a time, you can still see a lot of detail in their faces. The soundtrack is quite good; background music fits its location perfectly (like thumping techno in a nightclub and oom-pah-pah music in a bratwurst restaurant), and the sound effects are appropriately creepy. One of the zombie noises actually made the hair stand up on the back of my neck! And DR2 has something that the original lacked: a heart. Finding Zombrex for Katey isn't just a mindless "fetch quest"; you care about Katey and want to keep her safe. The relationship between Chuck and his daughter is genuinely sweet.

Like Dead Rising, DR2 has a story mode. You can play the game without doing the story segments, but then you'll never know the truth behind the zombie outbreak. G and I started off doing story mode, but we got our asses handed to us by a couple of nasty sword-wielding bitches, and time ran out. Were we happy? No, we were not; assorted swear words were screamed at the TV. So we decided to just play through the game several times to level up, and that proved to be a wise decision indeed. Even the instruction manual advises players to level up a bit before tackling story mode. Take their advice, and mine, because some of the bosses are excruciatingly difficult even at a high level; they'd probably be borderline impossible if you weren't sufficiently leveled up. DR2 is so much fun that you won't mind playing it several times, believe me.

So I'm sorry for doubting Blue Castle, because DR2 not only exceeded my expectations, it replaced the original in my top 10 list. Video games don't get much more addictive than this.