Monday, February 28, 2011

media update: February

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


1. Swamplandia!* by Karen Russell: Ava Bigtree is having a really rough adolescence: her mother dies, her family's tacky alligator tourist attraction begins to go under, and her father and brother defect to the Florida mainland in search of other employment. Ava is left home alone with dozens of alligators and her dreamy older sister Ossie, who believes she can communicate with ghosts. When Ossie disappears, leaving behind a note in which she claims to have eloped with one of the ghosts, Ava sets out on a perilous journey to rescue her.

Wow. Just wow. This book is phenomenal. Practically every page has a gorgeous description or thought-provoking line. To test this theory, I just opened my copy at random and found this paragraph, where Ava is angry at the elderly tourists who want refunds upon learning that her mother, once the star attraction of Swamplandia!, is gone: "I came to hate the complainers, with their dry and crumbly lipsticks and their wrinkled rage and their stupid, flaccid, old-people sun hats with brims the breadth of Saturn's rings. I whispered to Ossie that I wanted to see the register for Death's aeroplane. Who was boarding the plane in such a stupid order?"

I'll need to think on it a bit more, but this might just wind up in my top ten novels of all time. One thing I'm sure of, though: I've never read anything quite like it, and I doubt I ever will again.

Two caveats if you decide to read this, though: first off, try to avoid reading the Amazon reviews until after you've finished, because one of them has a HUGE spoiler. Fortunately I didn't see it until I was done with the book, or I might have had to cut a bitch. (Then again, I'm irritated on behalf of anyone who might get spoiled by that review, so maybe I'll nick a bitch.) Second, have a dictionary (or handy, because you'll probably need it. I have a decent vocabulary and I had to look up at least a dozen words.

2. The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard: Told in first person plural, this is the story of a 16-year-old girl's disappearance and how it affected every aspect of the lives of the boys she grew up with. Cribs heavily from The Virgin Suicides, but nowhere near as good.

3. Delirium* by Lauren Oliver: In the future, love has been classified as a dangerous disease called "deliria", and the cure involves scrambling people's brains and turning them into emotional zombies. Lena, the teenage protagonist whose cure is mere months away, sees nothing wrong with eradicating deliria...until, of course, she falls in love. Apparently YA dystopia novels are the new vampire novels, because this is the fifth one I've read in 4 months.


1. The Memory Palace* by Mira Bartok: After her father abandoned them, the author and her sister lived with their severely schizophrenic mother Norma, their grandmother, and their vicious grandfather. Eventually, after a fight with Norma turned violent, the author and her sister moved away and changed their identities so their mother couldn't find them. But after many years, Bartok learned that her mother was dying, and they were reunited. Ordinarily I think books that begin each chapter with a quote are pretentious, but this compelling memoir is an exception. There are moments of devastating lyrical beauty; for example, when her sister is preparing to leave for college, stranding Bartok with their mother, she writes "How heavy is a dresser when you're the only one pushing it against the door?" Highly recommended.

2. The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley: When her husband received a job transfer to Beijing, the author and their two young sons moved there as well. This "fish out of water" memoir talks about her struggles to adapt to her new home, especially after she's diagnosed with breast cancer.

3. A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan: Considering what a fussy eater I am, it's ironic that I love cooking memoirs as much as I do. Anyway, this is the story of the author's attempts to learn the traditional Singaporean dishes of her childhood.


1. Fables vols. 13-14 by Bill Willingham

2. My Girlfriend's A Geek* by Pentabu and Rize Shinba

3. Rasetsu vol. 7 by Chika Shiomi

4. Castle Waiting* vol. 2 by Linda Medley

5. Black Bird vol. 7 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

6. Beast Master vol. 2 by Kyousuke Motoni

7. Ex Machina* by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris

8. Little Crybaby by Keiko Kinoshita

9. Make Me A Woman* by Vanessa Davis

10. Jack of Fables vols. 1-2 by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, and Tony Akins

11. Unlovable* vol. 2 by Esther Pearl Watson

12. Stepping on Roses vol. 4 by Rinko Ueda


1. Catfish*: After G and I watched this riveting documentary, he turned to me and said, "When you tell people about this movie, do me a favor and tell them as little as possible." (He knew nothing about it going in, and I knew more than I would have liked to.) So if you think you might see Catfish, then I recommend that you stop reading and go straight to movie #2 on the list. I mean, I'm not going to spoil anything major, but as G said, the less you know about it, the better.

...okay, here's a bare bones description. Nev is a New York City photographer who shares an office with two filmmakers, one of whom is his brother. After one of his pictures appears in the paper, he receives a painting based on the photo in the mail. It's from an 8-year-old girl named Abby, who lives in Michigan. Nev strikes up an online friendship with Abby, and eventually with her family, including a 19-year-old sister that he begins to fall in love with. I'm stopping there.

(And yes, I know there's been some discussion online about the veracity of many of the events portrayed, but you know what? I don't actually care, because it was good either way.)

2. Greenberg: Ben Stiller plays a self-absorbed dick who decides to stay at his vacationing brother's house. He meets his brother's sweet personal assistant Florence, and despite the fact that he's a complete asshole, she takes a shine to him. On their site, Netflix calls this a "relationship comedy", but G hit the nail on the head when he referred to it as emotional torture porn. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie, and both Ben Stiller and mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig turn in excellent performances. But Greenberg is such a toxic individual that he's almost completely unsympathetic. At one point, Florence tells Greenberg, "Hurt people hurt people". Obviously something awful happened to Greenberg to make him the way he is---a few things are mentioned, but others are only hinted at---but come on! At some point, take responsibility for yourself and for the effects that your actions have on people, you selfish fucking cock. Jesus. See a shrink, go on meds, whatever, but don't infect others with your shitty fucking attitude.

/fictional character rant

3. Machete: The title character is an ex-Federale living in Texas who's hired to assassinate a racist politician. When the job goes awry, Machete holsters up his trademark weapon and sets out for revenge. Based on the fake trailer from Grindhouse, this is an entertaining action flick with some great lines and innovative gore.

4. The Social Network*: I'll just say right up front that I don't give two shits about Facebook; I had a profile for two days before I got sick of it. But this movie about the transformation of Mark Zuckerberg (played to perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) from Harvard misfit to the world's youngest billionaire is absolutely mesmerizing.

5. Ong Bak 3: Incomprehensible muddle, but I'll watch anything Tony Jaa is in because there's always at least one action scene that makes me pump my fist and go "Fuck yeah!" But if you want to see a REALLY good Tony Jaa flick, stick with The Protector (probably my favorite action film of all time) or the first Ong Bak, which has no relation whatsoever to Ong Bak 2 or this one.

6. The Losers: In this A-Team-styled action movie, a group of ex-CIA operatives become fugitives when a mission goes horribly awry. Some good lines and action, but like the A-Team movie, I forgot about it approximately two minutes after the DVD stopped.

7. Paranormal Activity 2*: A family is targeted by evil supernatural forces, and it's all caught on their home movies and security camera footage. Truthfully, I didn't think the original was all that scary, but this one got to me. My frayed nerves weren't helped by the fact that G's heater came on with a loud FOOM at a particularly suspenseful moment.

8. Let Me In*: Owen is a lonely, bullied teenager who makes friends with a mysterious girl named Abby who moves into his apartment complex, and it turns out that Abby has a rather big secret. This is a remake of the Swedish movie Let the Right One In, which we saw a couple of years ago, and they changed very little. If you've seen the original, you probably don't need to see this, but I think it's still worth watching. They certainly couldn't have picked two better child actors for the main roles: Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Grace Moretz (aka the truly awesome Hit Girl from Kick-Ass).

9. Cop Out: Bruce Willis plays a cop who has a valuable baseball card stolen from him, and since he was planning to sell that card to finance his daughter's wedding, he's really, really pissed off. He decides to forego an official investigation and track down the thieves himself, aided by his partner, the supremely irritating Tracy Morgan. It started off so badly that G and I almost turned it off, but we stuck it out. It did get better, but it was still 107 minutes of my life that I'd like back.

10. The Descent 2: A search party goes looking for five women that went missing on a caving expedition, and they find a horde of nasty creatures instead. The original is one of my favorite horror movies, and although this sequel wasn't bad and had some great scares, it didn't live up to its predecessor's promise. Not only that, but the ending made no sense and seemed unnecessarily cruel.


Back in 2008, G and I played Dead Space, a survival horror game set on a monster-infested spaceship. By the time we'd finished, I knew that I'd be checking out any future installments, though I doubted they could be anywhere near as frightening.

Yeah. Color me wrong, because Dead Space 2 surpassed its predecessor on that front and then some.

When DS2 begins, Isaac Clarke, the protagonist from the first game, is suffering from amnesia in a mental hospital. He manages to escape, but of course he's not free and clear; not only does he have to deal with monsters, but the few uninfected humans on the ship are all members of Unitology, a religious cult that worships a Marker of alien origin and wants to capture Isaac for nefarious purposes. And why does Isaac's dead (and very angry) girlfriend keep talking to him?

In handy list format, here are the things that rock about this game:

  • The original game had an awesome feature that they were smart to carry over: instead of constantly pulling up and consulting a map, you press the right joystick, and a glowing blue line shows you where you need to go. This is a terrific idea, especially for people like me who have trouble reading maps, and they improved upon it by adding different colored lines to lead you to the nearest store (where you can buy ammo, healing, and weapons) or bench (where you can upgrade your rig and weapons). They also kept two other innovations from the first game, though they didn't change them: stasis, which allows you to slow things down, and kinesis, which lets you pick up them from a distance.
  • Isaac didn't talk at all in the first game, but he does in this one, and they picked a great voice actor. Actually, most of the voice acting in DS2 is good.
  • The graphics and sound design are absolutely stunning. I wanted to stop and admire the backgrounds many times, but I was usually too busy trying not to get slaughtered.
  • Most of all, THIS GAME IS FUCKING TERRIFYING. There were times when I almost didn't want to go on because my nerves were so frayed. And DS2 doesn't rely strictly on jump scares, though there are plenty of those. The atmosphere will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. From blood-spattered walls to whispering from people you can't see, DS2 will have you tense from the second it starts. And oh god, the monsters! There's a new addition to the series that looks sort of like a large plucked bird, only not as funny as that might sound. They tend to lurk in open areas, and you'll be walking around and suddenly see one of their heads pop out from behind a crate or wall. It's like a sadistic game of peek-a-boo, because when you aim your gun at them, they hide. Then, just as you think you can start moving again, they charge at you making THE MOST HIDEOUS NOISE I'VE EVER HEARD. I don't know if that noise triggered some long-buried traumatic memory in me or what, but if it was my turn to play and I heard them running around, I had to pause and pass the controller over to G. I absolutely could not deal with them; they're like the satanic pets of Silent Hill's skinless demon children. During one area that was particularly rife with those fuckers, I was practically rocking back and forth on G's couch.

Bad things about this game: uh, it ended? (Though considering what a toll it took on my nerves, that might not be such a bad thing!) The story can be a bit confusing even if you've played the original Dead Space. It's REALLY difficult at times, which can lead to frustration. And there were a few zero gravity sections that made me nauseated, so if you get simulator sickness and don't have someone awesome like G to take over during those areas, you might have a tough time of it.

Anyway, if you have the intestinal fortitude and you love survival horror games, it doesn't get much scarier than Dead Space 2. I think its tagline should be "In space, no one can hear you shit your pants."


(Viewer advisory: lots of flashing lights, if you're sensitive to those, and techno)

I started watching Enter the Void and couldn't bring myself to finish it, but I had to share the opening credits because they're seriously like whoa.


(Viewer advisory: contains graphic and disturbing zombie violence, much of it involving a child)

After watching this trailer, I didn't know whether to cry or paste 'em, so I did both. Which felt weird. Unfortunately, this game is going to be first person, which means I can't play it unless I want to puke like a sorority girl during rush week. But if Dead Island is even a fraction as good as this trailer, I might just have to play through the pain. Any game that looks like the love child of Heavy Rain and Dead Rising is a must-play for me, even if I have to mainline Dramamine to get through it.