Thursday, March 31, 2011

media update: March

On Tuesday night, shortly before 10PM, I stepped out of the shower and was drying off when my phone rang. The display said the name of my apartment complex.

Uh. Oh.

So I answered and my landlady told me that there had been a massive pipe break in the courtyard, and they had to turn off the water while they worked on it. She added that the water would be off for at least 16 hours, so "better shower now!"

Best timing ever, right? Since college, I've showered at night during the week because that's the only time I could GET a shower in my dorm, and the habit stuck. My hair is a contrary bitch and does whatever it wants, so sleeping on it doesn't make any difference whatsoever, and it's not like I'm going to get dirty while I sleep.

Anyway, yesterday morning I had to warm up a bowl of bottled water in the microwave so I could wash my face and perform my morning ablutions. It was like some Little House in the Prairie shit. (Well, not the microwave part, but you know what I mean.)

Of course, this was small fucking potatoes compared to what Japan is going through right now. When the earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11th, my heart absolutely broke. My 2005 trip to Kyoto (the most beautiful city I've ever been to), Osaka, and Tokyo was not only the best trip I've ever taken, but one of the best memories of my entire life.

I love you, Japan. Get well soon.

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


1. The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers: In 1971, sisters Lulu and Merry are forever changed when their father stabs their mother to death and then tries to kill Merry and himself. They wind up living in a group home, and although Merry occasionally visits their father in prison, Lulu wants nothing to do with him. This novel follows them up to 2003, but I thought the book got considerably less interesting once they left the group home.

2. Dreaming in English by Laura Fitzgerald: In this sequel to Veil of Roses, Tamila starts her new life in America after marrying Ike, the man of her dreams. But her mother-in-law thinks Tamila only married Ike to get American citizenship, and then Ike's ex-girlfriend comes back into the picture. Veil of Roses was cheesy and predictable, but I still enjoyed it. This, however, was a dud. Plus it got "America" by Neil Diamond stuck in my head for a full day, which is inexcusable.

Side note: when I was a kid, my mom had a Neil Diamond album that used to make me feel funny whenever I looked at the cover. Also, I remember singing along to "Porcupine Pie", which is the dumbest song ever aside from "Born to Be Alive", but it brings back fond memories.

3. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux: After the zombie apocalypse hits, the title character is trapped in a bookstore with her coworkers. She manages to tap into a wireless network and blog about her experiences. Not great literature, but compulsively readable.

4. Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult: After divorcing her husband Max, Zoe falls in love with a woman named Vanessa. Because Zoe had never been able to carry a pregnancy to term, they decide to implant Zoe's frozen embryos into Vanessa. But Max, who underwent a religious conversion after a near-fatal car accident, finds out and decides to take them to court in order to protect the embryos from OMG THE GAYZ. Standard Lifetime "movie of the week" fare, and everything wraps up far too neatly, but I'll give props to Picoult for covering a topic that might alienate many of her readers. (And how; the majority of the negative reviews on Amazon are from people who are upset at the "normalization" of a same-sex couple and/or the "demonization" of the Christians in the book.)

5. The Night Season by Chelsea Cain: When somebody starts killing people using a particularly unusual method, Detective Archie Sheridan investigates. This is the first Chelsea Cain thriller that doesn't revolve around the Beauty Killer, and I think it suffered for it, but it was enjoyable enough.


1. History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky: After her sister Kim committed suicide at the age of 21, the author tried to figure out why. Beautifully written, but almost unbearably painful to read at times.

2. Blood, Bones & Butter* by Gabrielle Hamilton: When I picked this up at the library and saw the blurb on the cover from Anthony Bourdain claiming it was the "best memoir by a chef EVER", checking it out was a no-brainer. Happily, my fantasy BFF didn't steer me wrong, because it was terrific. The passages on cooking, food, and summers in Italy are gorgeous and vibrant, but she also doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the grimier aspects of owning her own restaurant, like cleaning up shit and a dead rat bursting with maggots from the back steps, casual sexism (she writes that any business letter addressed to "Sir" automatically gets dropped on top of her bloody tampon), and trying to juggle her career, troubled marriage, and two small children. Pardon the horrible pun, but if you love cooking memoirs, you'll devour this one.

3. Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut* by Jill Kargman: A hilarious collection of essays covering everything from the author's first period ("Cracky Chan enlisted in the red army"), getting criticized at a Mommy & Me meeting for saying "Indian style" instead of "crisscross applesauce" ("It's not like my apartment is full of cigar-store headdress wearers and I'm sitting there in a Redskins jersey greeting people by holding up a palm and saying How"), and her post-pregnancy "Holland Tunnel" vagina.

4. Tiger, Tiger* by Margaux Fragoso: When the author was 7 years old, she met a man named Peter at the public pool. He instantly befriended her and her mother, and after a period of careful "grooming", he began to molest her. Margaux's mother was mentally ill and her father prone to violent rages, so Margaux desperately clung to Peter as the only constant in her life. Their relationship lasted until she was 22; the inside flap spoils the reason why it ended, but I won't do so here. It's a powerful, gutwrenching book, but because it's extremely graphic, I must include a trigger warning if you are a sexual abuse survivor.


1. Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo vol. 8 by Matsuri Akino

2. Arisa by Natsumi Ando

3. Ex Machina* vols. 2-7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris

4. Otomen vol. 9 by Aya Kanno

5. God's Child by Nishioka Brosis

6. Kiss & Tell* by MariNaomi

7. Highschool of the Dead by Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato

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

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


1. Cat Dancers*: A fascinating documentary about Ron and Joy Holiday, a married couple who were the toast of the dancing world. Actor William Holden gave them a black leopard cub as a gift, and they became obsessed with big cats, eventually creating a Las Vegas show around them. Then they added a hot young trainer to the mix, and...well, I don't want to spoil it. It's often startlingly funny, as in the scene where Ron talks about tiger penis soup to a stunned classroom, but also heartbreaking. It's rare for me to sit down and watch a movie straight through these days, but I only paused this once for a bathroom break.

2. Megamind: After the title villain accidentally vanquishes Metroman, his superhero archenemy, he becomes bored and needs a new challenge. So he uses Metroman's DNA to create a new superhero, but the plan goes awry. Not particularly funny, but the animation is great and the story is pretty good. Plus Glenn and I both dislike Will Ferrell, but if we hadn't already known he did the voice of Megamind, I don't think we would have figured it out.

3. The American: George Clooney plays an assassin working in a small Italian town, and...well...that's about it. I thought it was going to be a nonstop action thriller, like The Bourne Identity, but for the most part it was excruciatingly slow, and the ending utterly sucked. So, despite the beautiful scenery and a rather hot sex scene, it's not worth watching.

4. Due Date*: After a kerfuffle on a plane, uptight architect Peter (Robert Downey Jr) is forced to ride cross country with the stoned aspiring actor (Zach Galifianakis) who got him kicked off the plane in the first place. It's basically a raunchier ripoff of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but I thought it was really funny.

5. The Next Three Days: Russell Crowe plays a man who decides to break his wife out of jail after she's convicted of murdering her boss. It takes its time getting the action started, but unlike The American, the wait pays off.

6. Monsters: Six years after an alien invasion, a photographer is given the task of escorting a young woman through the infected zone between the US and Mexico. I thought the allegory was awfully heavy-handed, and there wasn't as much action as I would have liked, but it was still a fun movie. And considering that they made this movie for less than a million dollars, the special effects are pretty good.

7. The Fighter*: A boxer (Mark Wahlberg) tries to make it big with help from his crack-addicted older brother (Christian Bale), a former boxer who knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard during a fight. In general I'm not a big fan of sports movies, but I thought the excellent performances merited a star.

8. Unstoppable*: Based on a true story, this movie is about an unmanned train loaded with toxic cargo barreling through Pennsylvania. A conductor and an engineer (played by Chris Fine Pine and Denzel Washington) embark on a risky plan to keep the runaway train from derailing and potentially killing thousands of people. Very suspenseful and exciting.

9. Dead Space: Aftermath: This animated movie bridges the gap between the Dead Space video games, and not particularly well. It had some good gore and action, but the 2D animation was tolerable at best and the 3D animation was a freakin' joke. Seriously, it was like PS1 or Sega Saturn caliber.

10. Never Let Me Go*: Wow, is this a hard one to recap without giving too much away, but I'll try. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are children growing up at a posh boarding school in the British countryside, but their lives aren't as idyllic as it initially appears. The movie reveals a major plot point way too early, so if you decide to watch this and aren't familiar with the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, I'd recommend fast forwarding through the first couple of minutes. Anyway, it's a subtly acted film with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography, and it will certainly make you think.

11. 127 Hours*: A free-spirited hiker (James Franco) gets trapped, literally, between a rock and a hard place, and he resorts to incredible measures in order to escape. Is "that" scene, which allegedly made people vomit and/or faint during preview screenings, as bad as you've heard? I couldn't tell you, because I spazzed out and fast forwarded through it. I mean, I love gory video games and I've seen most of Dario Argento's oeuvre, but this actually happened to somebody and I just couldn't take it.

But that nastiness aside, it's a beautifully shot, expertly acted, and gripping study of one man's desperate struggle to survive.