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)