Monday, January 31, 2011

media update: January

JESUS EFFIN' CHRIST is Dead Space 2 scary! G and I started playing it on Friday night, and it's one of the freakiest gaming experiences I've had in a donkey's age. One of the levels is the second most nerve-jangling area I've ever seen in a video game. (Midwich Elementary, from the first Silent Hill, is and will always be #1.) We aren't done with it yet, but unless the story or gameplay take a massive shit by the end, it will easily find its way into my top 20.

Anyway, I didn't read many "real" books this month, but I read a shit ton of manga and graphic novels and I saw 15 movies. I think that might be a personal record!

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


1. What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz: A detective fears that a serial killer has started butchering families again...even though he shot the man to death years ago. This is the first Koontz novel I've finished in years, and it skews a little darker than usual; Koontz usually stays safely in PG-13 territory. But it's not particularly good, largely due to the protagonist's children, who talk like upper class Victorian kids. Yeah, a modern 11-year-old would really say "pig fat" and "chestnuts" as swear words.

2. These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf: A young woman named Allison is released from prison after serving 5 years for a terrible crime. She tries to reconnect with her sister Brynn, who was there on the night of the crime, but Brynn wants nothing to do with her, and despite her desire for a fresh start, Allison finds the past coming back to haunt her in ways she never imagined. A decent novel in the Jodi Picoult vein, only without the standard irritating plot twist that Picoult likes to shoehorn into her books.


1. Half Baked* by Alexa Stevenson: A heartbreaking but often grimly funny memoir about the author's infertility struggle, the loss of one of her twins, and then the health problems of the surviving twin, who was born prematurely.

2. Dirty Secret* by Jessie Sholl: A fascinating memoir about the author's relationship with her mother, a compulsive hoarder, and how her mother's disorder affected just about everything else in her life.

3. Skinema by Chris Nieratko: Ostensibly this is a collection of porno reviews, but the author barely even talks about them. Instead, he uses their titles or themes to go off on assorted tangents ranging from the death of his first child ("Candy Striper Stories 5") to buying a house ("Party at Butts Place").


1. A Gentleman's Kiss vol. 2 by Shinri Fuwa

2. Fables vols. 4-11 by Bill Willingham

3. Y: The Last Man* vols. 7-10 by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan Jr.

4. Seiho Boys' High School* vol. 3 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

5. Future Lovers by Saika Kunieda

6. A God Somewhere by John Arcudi, Peter Snejbjerg, and Bjarne Hansen

7. V.B. Rose vol. 11 by Banri Hidaka

8. Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

9. Hey, Wait... by Jason

10. Yotsuba vol. 9 by Kiyohiko Azuma

11. The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

12. The Stellar Six of Gingacho by Yuuki Fujimoto

13. Chew* vols. 1-2 by John Layman and Rob Guillory

14. Special Exits* by Joyce Farmer

15. Beast Master by Kyousuke Motoni

16. Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

17. Baseball Heaven by Ellie Mamahara

18. Sand Chronicles* vol. 10 by Hinako Ashihara

19. Heart Transplant by Andrew Vachss and Frank Caruso


1. Knight and Day: A woman (Cameron Diaz) accidentally gets tangled up with a special agent (Tom Cruise) who's trying to protect the teenage inventor of a battery that never runs out of power. A few decent action sequences, but ultimately forgettable.

2. Going the Distance*: After a summer fling, two lovers try to keep their relationship alive despite the fact that they live on different coasts. Justin Long and Drew Barrymore have excellent chemistry together, no doubt because they've been involved in real life, and although it's awfully predictable, it's also sweet and hysterically funny at times.

3. Dinner for Schmucks: Hoping to get a promotion, Tim (Paul Rudd) agrees to bring the biggest loser he can find to a cruel business dinner. The perfect candidate (Steve Carell) literally steps in front of his car one day, but as the dinner draws closer and his guest gets more irritating, Tim begins to wonder if the promotion will be worth it. A weird little movie with a few big laughs and some awesome dioramas featuring taxidermied mice. (Though I should point out that they are NOT real mice; they were sculpted for the movie.)

4. The Town*: Tensions mount between a group of bank robbers after one of them falls in love with their hostage. Some terrific action scenes and great acting elevate this gripping movie above the average thriller.

5. Mother and Child: Karen (Annette Bening) is a bitter woman who got pregnant at 14 and gave the baby up for adoption, a decision that's haunted her ever since. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a total bitch who gets pregnant by her boss (Samuel L. Jackson). Lucy (Kerry Washington) is infertile and hoping to adopt the baby of a young woman. The lives of these three women wind up intersecting, and although there's some really powerhouse acting in this movie, it's a bit too depressing. There are a few redemptive moments, but they seemed forced to me.

6. Resident Evil: Afterlife: Alice makes her way to a supposed sanctuary called Arcadia, but finds out that it might be another one of Umbrella's traps. She teams up with total badass siblings Chris and Claire Redfield in hopes of taking down Umbrella once and for all. If you haven't seen the previous movies or played the games, don't bother; otherwise, this is a fun little treat. I'm not sure why there are so many references to RE5, like the mouth-sprouters and the Executioner (who, come to think of it, is very Pyramid Head, except nowhere near as cool), but I'm down with it.

Side note: Considering what a popular character he is, I'm amazed Leon hasn't shown up in any of these movies yet. Then again, who in Hollywood could POSSIBLY do justice to Leon S. Kennedy? That's gotta be why Leon only appears in the CGI movies; they need a team of expert Japanese programmers, fueled on delivery ramen and cans of Boss coffee, to carefully craft each delicious polygon and each sleek strand of hair.

7. The A-Team: This is one of those movies where you enjoy its loud stupidity and then, two minutes after you've turned off the TV, you've forgotten everything about it.

8. Despicable Me*: A supervillain named Gru decides to steal the moon, and he adopts three orphaned girls to help him with his scheme. Beautifully animated, and I loved the interactions between Gru and the girls.

9. Shrek Forever After: In the throes of a midlife crisis, Shrek makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin that he soon regrets. To be honest, I've always thought the Shrek movies were overrated, but this was decent enough...and much to my surprise, I misted up at the end.

10. Devil: A group of people is stuck in an elevator, which sucks bad enough...but then it turns out the devil is among them. A few good jump scares, but otherwise, not all that great.

11. Salt: Angelina Jolie plays a CIA agent who goes on the run after she's accused of being a Russian spy. Some exciting action scenes and fun surprises.

12. Buried: A grueling thriller about an American contractor (Ryan Reynolds) who's kidnapped while working in Iraq and buried alive with nothing but a lighter, cell phone, and flask of alcohol. If you are even the slightest bit claustrophobic, do not watch this movie.

13. Red: Bruce Willis plays a retired CIA agent who reluctantly gets dragged back into the game. Along the way, he's joined by former coworkers Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich. Lots of fun, but it petered out near the end, so no star. Still, you can't beat Helen Mirren with a machine gun for pure WTF enjoyment.

14. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole*: I didn't give two shits about seeing this movie until I found out that Zack Snyder directed it, and I'm glad I did, because it's probably the most beautiful animated movie I've ever seen. Oh, sure, it's basically Lord of the Rings with owls, but the gorgeous animation combined with characters I cared about made for a terrific surprise. Plus, come on, owls are freakin' awesome.

Side note: Even though this is only rated PG, it might be too frightening and/or confusing for very young children.

15. Piranha: Right as spring break begins, a lakeside town is terrorized by mutant bloodthirsty piranhas. I enjoyed this schlockfest much more than I thought I would, but if you have a problem with copious nudity and gallons of gore, don't even bother.


Nothing graphic, but still not something you should watch at work, I really need to spell it out?


1) Would anybody seriously jerk off to this? I mean, yes, I know they would, but...why...?

2) Oh, maybe Hot Moe is why. Also, Moe should not be hot. I thought that was James Franco for a second.

3) That is a damn good Homer voice. If that dude gets tired of being in porn, he should take up voice acting.


Friday, January 28, 2011

open letters

Dear Temp Who Sits Behind Me:

I don't mind that you wear headphones while you work; hell, if I didn't have to listen for the phone, I'd wear them too. But please, for the love of sweet fancy Moses, could you NOT sing along?

I mean, really,
The Woman Who Sits in Front of You

Dear Security Guard:

You just saw me swipe my ID badge through the scanner outside, so why the fuck do I need to show it to you as well? I realize that you have to be extra careful with security here, thanks to the other company's need for mad secrecy, but I can't even get in the building without scanning my ID badge! Plus you see me every. Single. Weekday. I promise I'm not trying to be a corporate spy like Julia Roberts in Duplicity.

And you're no Clive Owen,

Dear Newish Supervisor:

Why the EVER LOVIN' FRESH FUCK are you holding your daughter's birthday party HERE next week and not, oh, at Chuck E Cheese or---novel idea alert!---in your own home? Some of my coworkers may thrill to the presence of your two young children and boyfriend. Me? No. I love cake, but not enough to listen to the ear piercing screams of your 5-year-old as she flings wrapping paper and ribbons around the room.

Gonna take an early lunch that day,

Dear Cashier At Bristol Farms:

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for calling me "miss" and not "ma'am".

Big kisses,

Dear Me:

You only have 20 minutes left until you can leave and have a real dinner. For Christ's sake, stay away from that desiccated piece of cake on the treat table! You ain't THAT hungry.

And it's carrot cake anyway,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

down with the sickness

Right now, in my fridge, I have a Vosges candy bar with only one square taken from it, and it's been there for almost a week.

How, you ask, could such a thing be? How could a candy bar last more than an hour in my apartment, much less a week? It must be terrible!


No, it is far from terrible. It's butter toffee, walnuts, and pecans enrobed in rich milk chocolate. When you bite into it, the saltiness sets off the sweetness and it's a symphony of happiness playing across your tastebuds.

The fact of the matter is that I'm fucking sick, and not even chocolate tastes good to me right now.

I started feeling crappy on Thursday morning. I woke up with a sore throat and it got progressively worse as the day went on. By the time I got home from work, I was hacking and couldn't get warm for anything. At one point, I was wearing pajamas, a hoodie, and socks while curled up under a blanket and I was shivering so hard my teeth were clacking together. I went to bed at 10 and spent a restless night tossing and turning.

Needless to say, I didn't go to work on Friday. I only left my apartment once, to hit up CVS for soup, Gatorade, and meds and Jamba Juice for an Orange Dream Machine with an immunity boost. (A $5 cup of snake oil, you say? Probably, but that snake oil tasted so GOOD.) Then I came home, crawled under my blanket, and watched Wildboyz, which set off another massive hacking fit because I couldn't stop laughing at Steve-O and the assorted animals he was letting bite him on the ass. By the time he lowered his buttocks onto a porcupine, I could barely breathe, so I turned it off and sank into a fitful sleep.

I shouldn't even have come in yesterday, but I knew nobody would have worked my stuff when I was out on Friday, and surprise! They didn't! Now everybody else is out with the same shit and I'm sitting here hopped up on Dayquil, feeling like somebody stuffed my head full of dirty cotton, a taste in my mouth like I rinsed it with a NYC hot dog vendor's dirty water, and oh so very tired.

Oh Vosges chocolate bar, when will you be mine?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Little Tokyo

Whenever we go to Little Tokyo, it's almost always one of the highlights of my month. G, C, and I went last Saturday, and I decided to take a few pictures.

Our first stop was Curry House for lunch.

...okay, so I didn't actually take this one; the picture I took of my lunch didn't come out, so I found this one online. (Though, judging from the color of the meat, I'm thinking this is actually a picture of the pork katsu and not the chicken katsu I had. But they look the same on the outside, so whatever.) I opted for spice level "hot", because Japanese curry is pretty mild and "hot" is just enough to make your tongue tingle. Add a big mound of white rice (which I mixed up with the curry sauce) and a Coke and I was in heaven. So. Effin'. GOOD.

Posters in Weller Court.

Also in Weller Court, this is a tribute to Ellison S. Onizuka, the Japanese-American astronaut who was killed in the 1986 Challenger explosion. The street is also named after him.

I have no idea who this is supposed to be, because some asshat stole the plaque from the base.

Mmmm...plastic food...


Unfortunately, you aren't allowed to take photographs in Anime Jungle, or I would have taken one of the figurine of a very scantily clad, underaged, lollipop-licking girl inside a box with a big "USED" sticker slapped on the side. I don't even want to think about how that figurine was used, but I imagine it was awfully sticky when it was traded in. Chris Hansen would like a word with the original owner.

I usually buy several of the "phonebook" (so called because of their size) manga magazines, but none of them had any decent freebies this month. My credit card did not escape unscathed, though! Here's what I bought, not including the plum rice balls or pistachio macaron that quickly made their way into mah belleh.

Daruma calendar and cute keychain.

The Japanese equivalent of Cat Fancy. Not that I can read any of the articles, but who cares? Look at the kittyhead! I mainly bought this to share with my work wife J, who loves cats so much she makes me look like a bitchass hater. Seriously.

My glorious haul of delicious junk food. In the back of the picture, we have eight bags of Calbee jyaga bata potato chips. Jyaga bata is a popular Japanese street food: a peeled baked potato on a stick, drenched in butter and sprinkled with paprika. The chips are basically the greatest fucking thing in the history of ever, but unfortunately they're a seasonal item and only sold in winter, so we buy out the store whenever we see them.

In the front of the picture, we have a bag of watermelon candy, a bag of Kirby gumballs, and a can of Cola Up, which I bought thinking it was just a can of soda. Well, see that spoon on the label? Neither did I. It turns out this is actually "cola jelly", and it was like drinking half-melted gummy cola bottles. I took one sip and the rest went straight into the sink.

Anyway, that's my Little Tokyo travelogue. Hope to see you there someday!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

media update: December

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


1. Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay: Julia, an American journalist living in Paris, becomes obsessed with the Velodrome d'Hiver incident during WWII, in which French Jews were rounded up by French police and then shipped off to Auschwitz. For most of the book, the book alternates between Julia's investigation and the story of Sarah, a young girl who was taken with her family. It has some profoundly moving moments, but the writing is off and there was a moment near the end that actually made me groan out loud because it was so corny and blatantly telegraphed.

2. Love in Translation* by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga: After her aunt Michiko dies, Celeste moves to Japan to find Michiko's long-lost sister Hiromi. She also hopes that Hiromi will have information on her father, who Celeste has never known. Predictable but still lots of fun, thanks to plenty of wonderful details about life in Japan, some of which will surprise even the most hardcore Japan aficionado.

3. Up from the Blue* by Susan Henderson: The story begins with a woman named Tillie Harris going into labor and reluctantly calling her estranged father for help. Then it switches to Tillie's childhood, when her mother became mentally ill and then suddenly disappeared. A stunning, heartbreaking book.

4. A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah: A woman named Fliss Benson is working on a crib death documentary when she receives a strange numbered postcard in the mail. Then one of the women featured in her documentary is murdered, and when Fliss finds out the victim also received a postcard, she wonders if she's next. It gets a little confusing near the end, but I still enjoyed it.

Note: This book isn't available in the US yet, and when it finally is released here, it might have a different title. Her books typically take at least a year to arrive stateside, and sometimes they change the title.

5. Cat in the Coffin* by Mariko Koike: In order to get free art lessons, Masayo moves in with a widowed art teacher and his reserved eight-year-old daughter Momoko, whose only friend is her cat Lala. Masayo eventually gets Momoko to warm up to her, but the arrival of a gorgeous rival changes everyone's lives in ways they couldn't have anticipated. I didn't know what to expect from this slender novel, but it was really good, and the translation by Deborah Boliver Boehm is excellent.

6. Matched* by Ally Condie: Cassia is a teenage girl who lives in a society where everything is decided for you: what you eat and wear, who you marry, where you work and live, and even when you die. On the evening of the Match Banquet, when she is paired up with her longtime friend Xander, she's relieved...but then another boy's face briefly flickers on the screen, and she wonders whether her perfect society really knows what it's doing after all. This reminded me of The Hunger Games, not just because it's a YA novel set in a dystopian future, but because I absolutely couldn't put it down. Don't get me wrong, it's not great writing, but it's addictive.

TOTAL READ IN 2010: 35


1. You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know* by Heather Sellers: The author grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic mother and an alcoholic father, so when she got older, she wondered if she might have mental issues of her own. This fear was only compounded when she developed a rare condition called prosopagnosia, which means that she can't recognize faces, even when they belong to someone she knows, like her boyfriend or a coworker. A terrific book, refreshingly devoid of self-pity, and well worth a read. I loved it so much that I went back and added it to my "Best Nonfiction of 2010" list.

TOTAL READ IN 2010: 31


1. Picture This* by Lynda Barry

2. The Walking Dead* vol. 13 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn

3. Y: The Last Man* vols. 1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan Jr.: I've been a Stephen King fan for the last three decades of my life, so when he praises something, you can damn well bet I'm gonna give it a look; he's like my Oprah. So when I saw the blurb on the front from King calling Y: The Last Man the "best graphic novel [he's] ever read", picking it up was a no brainer.

A plague has wiped out every single male organism on Earth aside from a slacker named Yorick and his monkey, Ampersand. Yorick immediately becomes the target of just about every woman in the world. Some want to study him for clues to the plague, others want to have his baby, and a radical feminist group wants to kill him. All Yorick wants to do is get to Australia in hopes of finding his girlfriend Beth, but it won't be an easy journey.

I was just kind of meh after finishing the first volume, but by the time I'd closed the second one, I was hooked. This is absolutely essential reading if you like graphic novels, dystopian themes, know...things that rule.

Oh, and a hearty cup o' FUCK YOU to the asshole who checked out volume 6 from the LA County library and ripped out several pages. I hope you get a goddamn paper cut on your taint, jerk.

4. V.B. Rose vol. 10 by Banri Hidaka

5. Otomen vol. 8 by Aya Kanno

6. A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina and Antonio Fuso

7. A Drunken Dream by Moto Hagio

8. Batman and Son by Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang

9. Papillon vols. 5-6 by Miwa Ueda

10. Freefall Romance by Hyouta Fujiyama

11. A Gentleman's Kiss by Shinri Fuwa

12. The Courtyard by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

13. Fables vols. 1-3 by Bill Willingham

14. Butterflies, Flowers* vol. 5 by Yuki Yoshihara

15. Library Wars vols. 2-3 by Kiiro Yumi

16. Scream Queen by Ho Che Anderson

17. Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga

TOTAL READ IN 2010: 136 volumes of manga and 50 graphic novels


1. The Expendables: A group of mercenaries heads to a fictional South American country to overthrow a dictator. Dumb and loud, but if you like big 'splosions and huge guns, then this is for you. But be warned, gentle ladies: the cast features Sylvester Stallone, gorgeous badass GQ motherfucker Jason Statham, my BFF Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren (who I used to have such a crush on that I saw He-Man IN THE THEATER), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, AND a couple of professional fighters. I actually grew a penis while watching it.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1*: Harry and his friends set out to find and destroy the last few Horcruxes, which will get rid of Voldemort for good. (If that previous sentence made no sense to you, you're not this movie's target audience.) I'm a bit annoyed that they made the final book into two movies, because if they'd cut out some of the moping-about-the-woods scenes, they probably could have fit everything into one very long movie instead. But I still enjoyed this, especially the gorgeous animated sequence halfway through. I have no doubt that Part 2 will more than make up for this one's occasional slowness.

3. Splice: In this squirm-inducing flick, two married scientists create a new life form using the woman's DNA. They name the creature Dren (the screenwriter must not be a Farscape fan; "dren" means shit in that universe) and become quite attached to her, but as she gets older, Dren becomes a serious threat. Deeply disturbing, and it contains two of my biggest cinematic taboos (which I guess is a spoiler of sorts if you know me really well), so I can't recommend it. Props for the special effects, though.

4. Joshua: An unsettling psychological thriller about a precocious boy who comes down with a very bad case of sibling rivalry shortly after his sister Lily is born. There's an excruciatingly tense game of hide and seek that made me chew off just about every one of my fingernails. Not particularly violent, but extraordinarily creepy all the same. I'm going to give a copy of this DVD to the next person who asks me why I don't want kids.

5. Killers: A woman named Jen (Katherine Heigl at her most strident) meets hunky Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) in France, and after a quickie romance, they get married. Fast forward three years, and Jen finds out that Spencer is a retired assassin whose past has come back to haunt him. This is what I'd call a perfect "plane movie", i.e. if you watched it on an airplane, you'd say "Huh, that wasn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours." But when you have more entertainment choices at your disposal? Pick something else.

6. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work*: A fascinating documentary that follows Joan Rivers over the course of a year, from tribal casino gigs to Celebrity Apprentice. It begins with a startling shot of Joan without makeup, which is a pretty apt metaphor for the whole endeavor because she censors absolutely nothing about her life.

7. The Kids Are All Right*: When the teenage children of a lesbian couple track down their sperm donor, it has unforeseen consequences for everyone involved. It hits the perfect balance between funny and touching, and Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are superb as Nic and Jules. They truly inhabit their characters, and during their interactions I had no trouble believing that they had been together for over 20 years. One thing that bothered me, though: I didn't like the way the character Paul was treated.

8. Eclipse: I know, I know, the books are basically tree genocide and it drives me nuts how Kristen Stewart never closes her mouth and FUCK that ring is ugly, but...I kind of like the movies. I'm so sorry.

9. Mary & Max*: In this bittersweet and quirky claymation film, Mary (voiced by Toni Collette) is a socially awkward Australian girl who, in a fit of boredom and loneliness, picks a name at random from a New York City phone book to become her pen pal. Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an obese man with Asperger's. They form a fast friendship, and their correspondence lasts for more than two decades. Heartbreaking and funny in equal measures.

10. Easy A*: A teenage girl's lie about losing her virginity gets her labeled as the school slut, and she decides to use the rumors to her advantage. An unusually sharp script and a terrific performance by Emma Stone elevate this movie far above the average comedy.

11. Black Swan*: Natalie Portman turns in a stunning and fearless performance as Nina Sayers, a ballerina who begins to completely lose her shit after winning the role of the Swan Queen. Even though it was a bit campier than I'd expected, I almost had a nervous breakdown watching it. That might not sound like a glowing endorsement, but its claustrophobic atmosphere, stellar acting, and nerve-jangling suspense make this one of the best psychological thrillers I've seen in years.

One criticism, though, and I'll keep this as vague as possible: it has way too many similarities to one of my all-time favorite movies, and because director Darren Aronofsky bought the remake rights for that particular film, there's absolutely no way it's a coincidence.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2010: 96 (7 of them in the theater)