Tuesday, May 31, 2011

media update: May + big news

I'm going to be a stepdaughter!

Daddy-O and his girlfriend A just got back from a romantic trip to Italy, and he proposed to her on the aptly named Via dell'Amore walking trail. Suave bastard! It will be weird having a stepmother, but she makes him insanely happy and I really like her.

I'll say this, though: as happy as I am for them, when the wedding rolls around, I ain't wearing no pink taffeta.

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


1. Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris: As usual, Sookie Stackhouse is in trouble up to her perky ponytail: Merlotte's gets firebombed, Debbie Pelt is after her again, and she's not sure she wants to continue the blood bond with Eric. Decent enough brain candy, but it ended rather abruptly.

2. Warm Bodies* by Isaac Marion: R is a zombie who's much more sentient than most. When he consumes a teenage boy's brain, he experiences the boy's memories, including ones involving the victim's girlfriend Julie. R falls in love with Julie, and together they may be able to cure the plague once and for all. A different, surprisingly poignant take on the zombie genre. Don't let the blurb from Stephenie Meyer on the front scare you off, because there's also one from Simon Pegg. As far as I'm concerned, the awesomeness of Simon Pegg cancels out the hackstink of Stephenie Meyer.

3. In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard: The unnamed narrator of this book is a 14-year-old girl who's having a messy adolescence (as, admittedly, they all are). Her family annoys her, and her relationship with her best friend Felicia is starting to get complicated. It has a great opening line ("We can't believe the house is on fire"), and I really enjoyed the first half of the book, but then it started to peter out.

4. Skinny by Diana Spechler: After her father's death, for which she blames herself, Gray begins eating uncontrollably. She decides to take a job at a fat camp not just to lose weight herself, but to connect with the half-sister she only recently discovered. I enjoyed it, but the writing was occasionally a bit too florid.


1. The Girl's Guide to Homelessness* by Brianna Karp: The author had a horrific childhood marked by sexual, physical, and mental abuse, followed by an adolescence in which she had to financially support her mother and sister. She eventually inherited a trailer from her father after he killed himself, and when she lost her job and subsequently her home, she set up the trailer in a Walmart parking lot. She started blogging about her experiences, which led to some surprising results. Engrossing from start to finish, though my bullshit alarm occasionally went off.

2. The Sorcerer's Apprentices by Lisa Abend: A peek behind the scenes of elBulli, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in history. Drags in spots, but it's worth it to read about some of the inventive dishes they served.

3. It Was Over When... edited by Bob K. Elder: Based on the popular website, this is a cringeworthy collection of relationship enders. My personal favorite: "Halfway through sex, my boyfriend looked at the clock and said 'Oh crap, it's 4:25---my crops are going to wither!' and proceeded to go to the computer to harvest his crops on Farmville."

4. The Wit and Blasphemy of Atheists* compiled by Jonathan C. Criswell: A collection of 500 quotes from assorted atheists and their sympathizers, ranging from the usual suspects (Mark Twain, Carl Sagan, Woody Allen) to people I had no idea were atheists (Julianne Moore, Daniel Radcliffe). If you're an atheist or agnostic, this is a must read. My favorite quote, courtesy of Samuel Butler: "Prayers are to men as dolls are to children. They are not without use and comfort, but it is not easy to take them seriously."

5. The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary* by Andrew Westoll: The sanctuary of the title was founded by a Canadian woman in order to give former lab chimpanzees a safe place to live out their "retirement". The author, a journalist who had always been interested in primates, volunteered there for several months in order to learn more about the chimps and their heartbreaking pasts. Did I say "heartbreaking"? I meant utterly fucking devastating. Powerful reading, but have some tissues handy. By the end, I was sobbing.


1. Supersized: Strange Tales from a Fast Food Culture (anthology)

2. Mid-Life by Joe Ollmann

3. Happy Mania by Moyoco Anno

4. Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes

5. Otomen vol. 10 by Aya Kanno

6. Rin-Ne vol. 5 by Rumiko Takahashi

7. VB Rose vol. 12 by Banri Hidaka

8. We Were There vol. 12 by Yuki Obata

9. The Boys vol. 8 by Garth Ennis and John McCrae

10. Train Train vols. 2-3 by Eiki Eiki

11. Black Bird vol. 8 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

12. Stepping on Roses vol. 5 by Rinko Ueda

13. Silent Hill: Past Life by Tom Waltz and Menton3: This graphic novel was written by the same guy who's writing the next Silent Hill game, so I was really looking forward to it. And, um, it wasn't that great. My expectations for SH: Downpour have been lowered accordingly....damn it.

14. Flower in a Storm by Shigeyoshi Takagi


1. The Tourist: Johnny Depp plays a bumbling American tourist who gets involved with a mysterious woman (Angelina Jolie, looking especially stunning). In many ways, such as the costumes, dialogue (occasional f-bombs aside), and music, it reminded me of a 50's era film. Considering its lukewarm reviews, I liked it better than I thought I would, but it's safely skipped.

2. Super: Rainn Wilson plays an average dude who's devastated when his beautiful wife leaves him for a drug dealer. Inspired by a cheesy Christian superhero show and a strange vision, he reinvents himself as the Crimson Bolt. Of course, he lacks superpowers, so he relies on a good ol' pipe wrench to get the job done.

I really wanted to see this because it was directed/written by James Gunn, who also did the vastly underrated horror comedy Slither, and it has a similar premise to Kick-Ass, one of my favorite movies. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I usually love black humor, but this one was too dark even for me.

3. Waste Land: An interesting documentary about the collaboration between artist Vik Muniz and a group of Brazilian trash pickers. This is one of those movies where it ends and you think, "Jesus, I have it so freakin' EASY."

4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Accompanied by their obnoxious cousin, Lucy and Edward Pevensie return to Narnia to help King Caspian rescue a group of seven exiled lords. I was going to give it a star on the basis of its cool battle sequences, but it got a bit too wink-nudgey near the end. "Hey, did you get that Aslan is supposed to be Jesus? 'Cause he is! The lion is Jesus!"

5. Blue Valentine*: Cindy and Dean are a young couple whose marriage is rapidly falling apart. Desperate to rekindle the spark they once had, Dean books a room at a cheesy theme hotel, but their night away from home only serves to underscore their problems. The movie often flashes back to the sweet beginnings of their relationship, which makes it all the more painful when it returns to the present.

Last year, I was waiting at a red light when a car took a U-turn at a high rate of speed. It was raining hard, and the car began to skid. I thought, "Jesus, he's going to crash", and sure enough, the car went off the road and head on into a tree. Watching this movie was sort of like watching that imminent collision. It's excruciatingly raw and fits into the category G calls "emotional torture porn", but if you can handle it, it's worth a watch for the stellar performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

6. Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?: In light of recent events, we thought it would be interesting to watch this 2008 documentary in which Morgan Spurlock travels around the world in hopes of finding Osama Bin Laden. Of course he doesn't succeed, but along the way he talks to people and finds out why they hate America so much.

7. Wild Target: In this quirky little British film, a hitman (Bill Nighy) receives an assignment to kill a young art thief (Emily Blunt), but he can't bring himself to do it. He also picks up a young sidekick (Ron Weasley), and he tries to protect both of them while avoiding the other hitmen sent to finish the job.

8. Case 39: A decently creepy thriller in which social worker Emily Jenkins (Renee Zellweger) rescues a young girl from her abusive parents and quickly learns that no good deed goes unpunished.

9. The Illusionist: In this bittersweet animated film, a struggling magician gains a new fan named Alice, a young girl who believes he really does have magical powers. But keeping up the illusion in order to make her happy begins to take its toll on him. It's absolutely gorgeous---practically every frame was like a storybook that I wanted to live inside---but not much happens. G's six word review: "As beautiful as it is dull."

10. The Mechanic*: After his mentor is murdered, hitman Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) takes the man's son under his wing and teaches him the tricks of the trade. It can get pretty brutal, but good action scenes and some clever moments made this a pleasant surprise.

11. Thor: Tales of Asgard: An animated feature about Thor (Marvel version) and his quest for a special sword. The animation is nothing special, but the story was surprisingly good.

12. Vanishing on 7th Street: Even though Entertainment Weekly gave this a D, I still wanted to see it because the trailer was creepy and reminded me of Alan Wake (i.e. freaky shadow figures that can only be held at bay by light). Well, I should have listened to EW because this movie blew. Awful acting, no explanation for the events, and not as scary as I would have liked. Avoid.

13. Unforgiven*: Set in the late 1800's, this gripping western is about a retired assassin (Clint Eastwood) who decides to take one last job when a group of prostitutes offers a huge sum of money to the person who kills the men responsible for slashing the face of their friend. He teams up with an old friend (Morgan Freeman) and a cocky young gunslinger to get the job done, but psychotic sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman, who won an Oscar) won't make it easy.


1. Born This Way by Lady Gaga: I picked this up on Amazon when they were selling it for 99 cents. I figured why not, right? I like her well enough, and a buck can't even buy a bottle of Coke anymore. Turns out that only a few tracks were worth keeping; the rest (like the appropriately named "Scheisse") were promptly deleted.

One weird thing: the chorus for "Judas" is reminding me of a particular anime theme or a para-para song or something, but I can't think of which one. Not the supremely irritating "JOOOODAS, Juda-ah-ah" part but the "I'm still in love with Judas, baby" part. Any fellow otaku know what song I'm talking about?


In Rockstar's newest offering, you play Cole Phelps, a proud member of the LAPD during the late 1940's. He's a troubled man with some things in his past that he's not particularly proud of, but he's a terrific cop who will stop at nothing to pursue justice and the truth, even at great cost to himself.

During the course of the game, you cover five different "desks": patrol, traffic, homicide, vice, and arson. My favorite section by far was homicide, in which you have to track down a serial killer who's taking his inspiration from the Black Dahlia murder, but they all have intriguing moments.

When you have a "person of interest" (POI), such as a witness or suspect, you perform an interrogation. Thanks to the unbelievable graphics (which I'll get to in a moment), you can watch the POI's body language and facial expressions for clues. Do they keep glancing away, or biting their lip? You can select "Doubt" if you think they're lying, or "Lie" if you have hard proof that they are. But this aspect of the game, which I was really looking forward to, turned out to be unbelievably frustrating. If the interrogation mechanic had been fine tuned, this could have easily made my top 20 games of all time, but as it stood, it made me want to rip my hair out. Also frustrating: the repetitive dialogue from the police dispatcher and assorted pedestrians and the driving mechanic (though this could be my failing, since I don't generally play GTA-style games).

On the plus side: the graphics are absolutely amazing; this will be the one to beat for a long time to come. At times, it's literally like playing a movie. I thought Heavy Rain had phenomenal graphics, but L.A. Noire makes it look like a Sega Saturn game! In addition to the incredible motion capture, the game also features stunning set design. They really nailed the look and feel of 1940's Los Angeles, from the songs playing in your squad car to the billboards and clothing. The voice acting is excellent, and a few moments aside, the writing is top-notch.

As you'd expect from a Rockstar game, L.A. Noire earns its M-rating and then some. In addition to blood, gore, and shootouts galore, it also features some seriously salty language (including the C-word, which I've never heard in a video game before) and full frontal female nudity, including pubes. Don't get too excited, though, because the naked women in question have been brutally slaughtered. (And if you DO get excited, I would respectfully suggest psychiatric help.) Definitely not one for the kiddies.

In conclusion, L.A. Noire is like a gorgeously wrapped birthday gift containing a present that you like just fine, but you're secretly disappointed that it wasn't something better.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

making a jackass of myself

So I was at Bristol Farms on my lunch break, and when a guy walked past me pushing a shopping cart, I did a double take. I gathered up my courage, nervously sidled up to him, and said, "Excuse me, are you Phil Margera?"

"Yes, I am," he said, smiling politely.

"Oh my god!" I burst out. "I love Jackass! It's a total honor to meet you!"

He seemed startled, but shook my hand and said, "Thank you very much. I have to say, you're not the type of person who ordinarily recognizes me!"

I shrugged and said, "Who, me? Beneath this boring old insurance lady exterior beats the heart of a woman who enjoys watching your son superglue a little person to your chest."

...okay, I didn't say that part, but I sure wish I had. Instead, I laughed and wished him a good day and went on my way.

The rest of my day is going to be totally anticlimactic.

Friday, May 20, 2011

no way to stay warm through the ice age

A Jar of Balloons Survey, Volume 5

1.) Which chemicals' smells do you like?

Chlorine, gasoline, and skunk, but only if the skunk is rather far off. I certainly wouldn't want to get a blast of it right in the face!

2.) During which phase of life did you acquire the bulk of your friends?

2004, because I "inherited" G's circle of friends.

3.) Gray or grey?

Gray, although when I was a pretentious teenager who listened exclusively to androgynous British musicians who hail from rainy industrial towns, I spelled it "grey". Then I wept into my pillowcase and wondered why nobody loved me.

4.) Who most often terminates your telephone conversations, you or the person to whom you've been speaking?

Me, because I hate talking on the phone even if it's somebody I like. I blame a soul crushing stint in a call center for this. G's the same way, though he has no call center in his past so I don't know from whence his hatred stems. I bet if you added up every phone conversation we've had in the last 7 years, it would be an hour or less.

5.) Is your signature legible? Would it stand up to a schoolteacher's scrutiny?

It's legible, but somewhat messy, as is my cursive writing in general. Even people who know me well sometimes need to have me "translate" the birthday cards I've given them.

6.) Have you ever ridden in a limousine?

One year, back when I still lived in Minnesota, my brother and I took a Christmas lights limo tour of the Twin Cities. We weren't allowed to have alcohol in the back with us, but they put cans of Coke in an ice bucket for us, which was nice. I eagerly anticipate the first time I get to ride in a limo with someone I'm not related to.

7.) Is your bed up against a wall, or does it sit in the center of a room, accessible from both sides?

In the center of the room.

8.) What's your favorite cuss word?

I say "fuck" so often you'd think I got paid for it, but I have a colorful array of swear words that I like to bust out when particularly angry. Much to my astonishment, I've managed not to swear in front of G's parents, with the exception of one blurted out "Shit!" when I dropped a 2-liter of Diet Dr Pepper. But only his dad heard me, and I'm sure he's recovered from the shock.

9.) What colors have you painted rooms?

I personally have never painted a room, but any room I've ever lived in has been plain old boring white or off-white. No, wait, I take that back; my childhood bedroom was a light mint green. We had bright orange carpet, too, so that was a psychedelic nightmare. What the hell were we thinking?

10.) When eating out, do you prefer, in general, to face the crowd or the wall?

If I'm with somebody, I don't really care, but if I'm eating by myself, I want to face a wall. I don't like eating in front of people I don't know.

11.) Are you a person who has certain items that are unequivocally yours (a coffee mug, a side of the bed, a chair, a place at the table)?

Everything in my bachelorette pad, baby! At G's, though, I do have a few things that are "mine". I always sleep on the left side of the bed and I sort of have my own bathroom.

12.) Can you describe to me your most frequent freak-out fantasy, or do the particulars of your situations vary so that it's always a new table you're overturning or bus window you're punching out?

I used to just have the standard fantasy of flipping tables Teresa Giudice style or knocking everything on my desk to the ground with one sweep of my arm, but after playing No More Heroes, I now fantasize about wielding dual beam katanas and slicing through rows and rows of cheap office furniture. (Not people; I don't hate my coworkers THAT much!) Strawberry on the shortcake!

13.) In which of these opposing clichés ("absence makes the heart grow fonder" or "out of sight, out of mind") do you find more truth?

Out of sight, out of mind.

14.) Where, in your calendar year, have the birthdays you celebrate tended to cluster?

Summer, or July to be more specific. G, C, and I have our birthdays within five days of each other, and my brother's birthday is on the 31st.

15.) How do you occupy your time when in a waiting room or on a train? Books, magazines, music, or just looking at people then looking away?

Doctor's offices tend to have the worst magazines (my gynecologist excepted, and yes, I did finally make that appointment, which I have next Tuesday...joy), so I always make sure that I bring a book or my Nintendo DS.

16.) What physical skills have you lost? Can you still touch your toes? As a child, were you able to turn a cartwheel?

The ability to hold my water.

...okay, ew. Also, not true. Nothing that I can think of; despite having a few more pounds on me than I'd like and the lack of a serious exercise regimen, I'm surprisingly flexible. Not only can I touch my toes, but I can put my palms on the ground. I cannot and never have been able to do a cartwheel.

17.) Are you a member anywhere, of anything, as of a group of people that meets at a certain time and at a certain place?

Nope. G's mom once expressed her surprise that I don't belong to a book club, but one of the things I love best about reading is that it's a solitary pursuit.

18.) Do you find it beautiful when sidewalks begin to freckle with rain?


19.) When dealing with a knot, are you more likely to pass the knot to another, sigh and say "Can you get this?" or to take the knot from another and say, "I can get this"?

I'd pass the knot. (That sounds like a sexual position, or a painful elimination.) I have stubby little fingers.

20.) How many people have you called your best friend?

Over the years, maybe 5.

21.) Does your alarm clock wake you with noise or radio?

Noise. Horrible, horrible noise. Effective, though!

22.) At what age did you reach your present height?

Uh...I can't remember. Maybe 14?

23.) What type of food have you eaten the most of, would you guess? Pizza? Chicken?

Well, definitely not pizza, since I didn't try it until I was 18. Probably chicken or bread in all of its glorious, glorious forms.

24.) Have you given much thought as to what you'd eat for your last meal?

Yes! Assuming I could even choke anything down, knowing that death was imminent, here's what I'd have: pizza, old-fashioned sugar cream pie, a hamburger (ketchup, mustard, and pickles only), french fries, a piece of almond biscotti cheesecake, a glazed donut with lemon filling, a piece of G's mom's famous cheesecake, filet mignon, chicken fettucini alfredo from Pizza Hut (I know, I know, but it's actually really good!), blue moon ice cream, a Coke, chicken katsu and curry from House of Curry, teriyaki steak, steamed rice, jyaga bata Calbee potato chips, blueberry pancakes, and a handful of Valium. Then I would promptly explode.

25.) What movies haven't you seen that most people have?

Several classics like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, It's A Wonderful Life, and Gone with the Wind, but I've heard so much about them that I feel like I HAVE seen them. I also haven't seen either of the Sex and the City movies, but I honestly think I'd rather sit through The Human Centipede. "Oooh, let's go shopping for shoes and then talk about babies and boys over cosmos, girls!" No fucking thanks.

Actually, according to a list of the 50 highest-grossing films of all time, I haven't seen 8 of them: Ice Age, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The DaVinci Code, The Matrix Reloaded, Transformers, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

And I ain't gonna see any of those, either. Talk about a steaming pile of shit!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I need a Brita filter for my brain

There's a shopping center next door to my workplace, and like everything else in this town, it's a bit snooty. But sometimes, when my pantry's looking a bit bare and I just need a few things to tide me over until my monthly megaspree, I'll walk over to their grocery store on my lunch break, buy a few nonperishable items, and toss them into my trunk on the way back to work. I've become a bit of a homebody in my old age, and when I get home from work, I just want to STAY there. So even though Snooty Grocery Store is incredibly overpriced, I'm willing to get gouged every now and then if it means I can lounge bralessly around my place with a full stomach hanging over the top of my yoga pants instead of reluctantly heading off to my local Vons or Ralph's. Because let's face it, once I'm sprawled out on Big Brown with the remote in my hand, I ain't going NOWHERE.

Today I walked over there and filled up a basket with rice, soup, and ramen. I had a massive craving for Spaghetti-O's, but I didn't see them anywhere. I must have had a quizzical look on my face, because an African-American employee restocking shelves said, "May I help you find something, miss?"


I was so happy by the use of "miss" instead of the dreaded "ma'am" that my brain stopped working temporarily. I said, "Well, actually, I was looking for Spaghetti-O's. Do you guys have them or are they too ghetto for this store?"


I said that.

And I stood there, completely unsure as to whether I should apologize or just pretend I hadn't said something awful, when he burst into laughter and said, "That's about right! Hell, if it costs less than three bucks a can, we probably don't carry it!"

Then he quickly looked around and said, "Uh, let's pretend I didn't just say that or I'll get in trouble."

I grinned. "Your secret's safe with me."

Thursday, May 05, 2011

hanging by a thread

I inherited many good things from my father: a raunchy sense of humor, an inquiring mind, an almost Puritan work ethic.

(...okay, I need to stop here and elaborate on that latter point for those of you who are keenly familiar with my work habits and are J.K. LOLing right now. True, I spend an inordinate amount of time at work slacking my ass off, but I ALWAYS get my shit done and done well. Plus---and I always play this card, but I freakin' earned it---I came in with bronchitis once because I knew we were going to be short staffed due to holiday vacations. As far as I'm concerned, that earns me a lifetime pass for the occasional---okay, daily---scroll through Cheezburger land.)

But I also inherited some bad things, too, like a ferocious temper (though mine is much slower to ignite than his, once it lights it's UGLY), poor impulse control, and Doberman eyebrows.

You know what I mean, right? Just thick little shapeless blotches of hair right above my eyes. Like this:

So regular eyebrow maintenance is a must for me. I don't do too many stereotypically girly things, because I'm too busy killing zombies and farting, but I refuse to have miniature Hitler mustaches taking up residence above my eyes.

Anyway, I was at a local mall the other day and noticed that a new "eyebrow shaping" salon had just opened up. I was slightly overdue, so I went inside and said "Hi, I'd like my eyebrows waxed, please."

The woman behind the counter barely glanced up from her magazine and said, all in one breath, "Wedontdowaxonlythreading."


A vague memory of something I'd read nudged a crease in my brain.

Ah yes, threading!

Let me school ya with a little help from my main man, Wikipedia: "Threading is an ancient method of hair removal...popular in many Arabic countries. Practitioners use a pure, thin, twisted cotton thread which is rolled over untidy hairlines, moustaches and so on, plucking the hair at the follicle level. Unlike tweezing where a single hair is pulled out each time, threading can remove an entire row of hair, resulting in a straighter line. However, due to a larger area of hair being removed at once, it can be quite painful for some."

That vague memory conveniently forgot to mention that last part.

I figured I was there anyway and it was cheaper than waxing, so why not give it a try? "Okay, that's fine!" I chirped.

Audibly sighing, the woman put her magazine down and led me to what looked like a dentist's chair. I took my glasses off and, with no small tredipation, sat down. She tilted me back, leaned over me, and wiped down my brow with aloe vera gel.

And then.


Put down your sammich, 'cause this shit nasty.

She leaned over me and I swear on all that is holy the bitch smelled like USED DENTAL FLOSS.

My brain, being evil, thought "Huh, is she using the same thread on my face as she used after her lunch?"

My almond crunch Wetzel's Pretzel teased the back of my throat as she got closer and closer. I read once, in an article about morgue technicians, that if you grin as wide as you can, it is physically impossible to gag. So I broke out my best Joker on mescaline grin as she began the procedure. She probably thought I was a total masochist.


As she worked over my eyebrows, it sounded exactly like somebody sawing a thin board in half. More than a little disconcerting. But although it didn't feel like orgasms and ice cream, it didn't hurt as much as waxing, and (fortunately for my nostrils) lasted all of two minutes.

"Kayyouredone," the threader said. I put on my glasses and checked out my eyebrows in the mirror: looking good! Gratefully, I hopped out of the chair and paid her, throwing in a 20% tip.

Tactfully, I did not suggest that she use the tip for A) enunciation lessons or B) mouthwash.

Monday, May 02, 2011

media update: April

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


1. Mystery by Jonathan Kellerman: Dr. Alex Delaware and LA police detective Milo Sturgis investigate the brutal murder of a young woman. An anonymous tip prompts them to dig deeper, and they find out that their victim has an interesting skeleton in her closet. Standard Kellerman fare, by which I mean it's a fun way to kill time but nothing that will really wow you.

2. Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson: Caterer/amateur sleuth Goldy Schulz is up to her ears in trouble again; her friend Yolanda's house burns down, a private investigator is murderered, and somebody tries to break into her house. I usually enjoy this author's work, but Crunch Time tries to fit in too many subplots and most of the supporting characters are unsympathetic. For example, Yolanda and her great-aunt move in with Goldy after the fire, but they're such total assholes that I would have kicked them out after one night. If it were me, I'd be all "Sorry about your house, ladies, but if you're gonna be a bitch to me and my family after I opened my home up to you, you can GTFO and take your sassmouths down to Motel 6."

3. The Zombie Autopsies by Steven C. Schlozman, MD: The diary of a medical researcher struggling to undertand the zombie epidemic. It's not bad, but considering the blurbs on the jacket from Max Brooks, George Romero, Chuck Palahniuk, AND Seth Grahame-Smith, I expected it to be much better.

4. Say Her Name* by Francisco Goldman: I feel weird putting this in the fiction section because it's a true story, but it's listed as a novel on Amazon and the author himself asked that it be classified as fiction, so...yeah.

Anyway, it's a love story about the author's young wife Aura Estrada, a beautiful, feisty, funny Mexican writer who was killed in a freak accident shortly before their second anniversary. One of the most heartbreaking, gutwrenchingly accurate depictions of loss and grief I've ever read. At one point, standing in front of the deli where Aura had her first pastrami sandwich, he writes "Descending into memory like Orpheus to bring Aura out alive for a moment, that's the desperate purpose of all these futile little rites and reenactments." And he does it so vividly that it's impossible not to fall in love with her yourself. Very highly recommended.

5. Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal: Ten years after graduation, Jessica Wakefield has committed a betrayal that even her famously long-suffering twin sister cannot forgive. Devastated, Elizabeth flees to New York City to work on her writing career and nurse her wounds in private.

I was addicted to the Sweet Valley High series as a kid. Every month, I would gather up my allowance and go to the tiny local bookstore to pick up the newest volume. Back at my house, I'd flop facedown on my bed, kicking my legs up behind me, reading it cover to cover. So of course I had to read this sequel, and...



Now, don't get me wrong; I know the originals weren't exactly quality literature, but they were trashy fun. This was just kind of sad. All of the characterizations seemed off to me. I know people change, but seriously, would notoriously prickish rich boy Bruce Patman and Elizabeth ever really become best friends? Why is the death of one character tossed out there and then basically forgotten? Why does Elizabeth cry after every orgasm? The "where are they now?" section at the end, covering minor characters I'd totally forgotten about, should be called "why do you care?" Someone loses their leg to a shark, for fuck's sake! Plus, come on, the original audience is older now and can handle some hawt sex scenes. There's one near the end, but it wouldn't even make your grandma blush.

I thought this would be a glorious bit of brain candy, but instead it was like eating a roll of raw chocolate chip cookie dough: fun for the first few bites, and then you get sick to your stomach and wonder why you thought it was a good idea in the first place. Hopefully the movie, scripted by Diablo Cody, will be better.


1. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure: The author, obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder since childhood, decided to immerse herself in Laura's world by visiting historical sites and doing things like churning her own butter and making vanity cakes. Enjoyable, and it made me want to reread the Little House books again. It's probably been at least 30 years since I picked one up, yet every time McClure mentioned something from the book (like drizzling molasses on snow to make candy, or the blackberry-shaped buttons that Laura wanted to bite), I'd instantly remember it.

2. Sucker Punch: The Art of the Film* by Zack Snyder: This gorgeous book is filled with beautiful pictures and concept art. I also appreciated the bits of trivia (for example, the kanji on front of the mech reads "Danger, Woman Driver") and a chance to get a better look at some of the details that flew by too fast in the movie, like the cell phone charms that hang from Babydoll's pistol grip.

3. The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke: A memoir about the author's mother's terminal illness and how the author struggled to cope after her mother died. Very well written, but hit far too close to home for me.


1. Scenes from an Impending Marriage* by Adrian Tomine

2. Grand Guignol Orchestra vol. 2 by Kaori Yuki

3. Ex Machina* vols. 8-10 by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris: I just...what...WOW with that ending. Holy fucking shit! It actually made me want to start over from the beginning just so I could see how everything came together. This series wasn't as good as Y: The Last Man, but it's definitely worth checking out. Vaughan's right up there with Alan Moore and Garth Ennis in my book. (No pun intended.)

4. Rasetsu vol. 8 by Chika Shiomi

5. The Magic Touch by Izumi Tsubaki

6. American Vampire by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King (yes, that one)

7. Seiho Boys' High School* vol. 5 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

8. I Saw You... edited by Julia Wertz

9. Library Wars vol. 4 by Kiiro Yumi

10. When the Heavens Smile by Aki Senoo

11. Butterflies, Flowers* vol. 6 by Yuki Yoshihara

12. iZombie by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred


1. Tangled*: Rapunzel is trapped in a tower by Mother Gothel, who craves the restorative powers of Rapunzel's extraordinarily long hair. Every year, Rapunzel watches from her window as beautiful lanterns rise up in the sky, and her biggest dream is to see them in person; little does she know that the lanterns are in her honor, released by the king and queen in memory of their kidnapped daughter. She gets the opportunity to escape when a bandit on the lam climbs into her window, and together they set out for the kingdom. A sweet, surprisingly funny, and beautifully animated take on the classic fairy tale.

2. Sucker Punch*: A young woman is sent to a mental institution, where she creates an elaborate fantasy world in order to escape.

Now, this got absolutely shitty reviews, but I still wanted to see it because Zack Snyder directed it, and I've loved every single one of his movies. You know what? I loved this one too. It drags in parts, and it can be awfully grim, but it more than makes up for it when the ass kickin' starts. I'm sorry, but katana-wielding chicks in Japanese schoolgirl uniforms are just fucking awesome. Here's a picture to help you decide whether YOU would like to see it:

That's right. There's a motherfuckin' BUNNY MECH in this movie. If those two words fill you with awe and excitement rather than confusion and/or irritation, check this totally wackadoodle flick out. Considering that it made about $200---$36 of it from G, C, and me---it ought to be on DVD any day now.

3. I Love You Phillip Morris*: Jim Carrey plays a cop named Steve who, after coming out, turns to crime in order to support his new lifestyle. After he's convicted and sent to jail, he falls head over heels for fellow inmate Phillip (Ewan McGregor). Once Phillip is released from prison, Steve begins concocting even more elaborate schemes in order to break out of prison and be reunited with his lover. Funny, touching, and---believe it or not---based on a true story.

4. All-Star Superman: When Lex Luthor causes Superman to be exposed to deadly amounts of solar radiation, Superman must come to terms with his own mortality. Could have been good, but awful animation and too many subplots crammed into one movie made it a miss. Shame, because it's based on Grant Morrison's work, and I love me some Grant Morrison.

5. Winter's Bone: Ree Dolly is a 17-year-old girl growing up in the Ozarks, serving as the primary caretaker for her sick mother and two younger siblings. One day she gets some very unwelcome news: her father, a meth cooker, has jumped bail, and since he put their property up as collateral, they could lose their home. Determined not to let that happen, Ree sets out on a dangerous mission to find him. I didn't like this as much as I thought I would, but it has some terrific performances. Afterwards, G turned to me and said, "Here's my review in ten words: a starkly vivid portrait of a life you don't want." Says it all, really.

6. American Grindhouse: An interesting look at the sleazy world of grindhouse cinema, ranging from the "nudie cuties" of the 50's to the blaxploitation and Nazi prison camp flicks of the 70's.

7. Rabbit Hole*: Becca and Howie (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) are a married couple grieving the death of their 4-year-old son. Becca is bitter and refuses to take comfort from anyone, whereas Howie wants to have another child. Often quite raw and difficult to watch, but worth it for the stellar performances and to support director John Cameron Mitchell, who brought us the awesomeness of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus.

(Not that they have any similarities whatsoever to this movie. For one, Mitchell wrote those himself, while RH is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play; for another, RH suffers from a distinct lack of Eastern European transgendered rock stars, self-fellatio, and cum shots.)

8. The King's Speech*: I didn't really care about seeing this until it won Best Picture, and then I figured I kind of had to. I thought it would be the movie equivalent of [insert your least favorite vegetable here]: nutritious and good for you, but not something you'd like. Well, color me wrong, because I really enjoyed it. It's based on the true story of King George VI, who finally sought help for his stuttering from a determined speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Terrific performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, combined with a sharp script, make this movie well worth your time.


1. "Jimmy Still Comes Around" by The Loud Family


When I saw this picture of fifth graders during a sex education lecture, I seriously laughed for about ten minutes straight. My god, that kid's FACE!


Junpei is an average college student who wakes up in a room that's rapidly filling with water. He manages to free himself, and after he leaves the room, he runs into eight other people who share the same experience: they were kidnapped by a masked man called Zero and brought to a sinking ship. Zero has given them 9 hours to find an escape, but to do so, they must complete a sadistic experiment called the Nonary Game. They are all wearing a bracelet with a number on it, which allows them to go through numbered doors scattered throughout the ship. But only 3 to 5 people can enter a door at any given time, and in order to do so, the numbers on their bracelets must create the same digital root as the number on the door. (For example, if three people decide to go into a room and their assigned numbers are 5, 7, and 9, they can only go through Door 3, because 5+7+9=21 and 2+1=3.) Once you and your group enter a door, you have a limited amount of time to scan your bracelet across a deactivation device or the bomb that Zero has kindly placed in your stomach will go off. Once everybody has scanned their bracelets, you're free to go off and explore.

Much to Junpei's shock, one of the other participants is Akane Kurashiki, a childhood friend he'd lost touch with. He decides that everybody should use a code name, and he chooses June as Akane's nickname because her number is 6. The other participants are Santa, a smirking teenage boy; Lotus, a busty woman in a belly dancer's costume; Seven, an enormous police detective; Ace, a mysterious older man; Clover, a pink-haired teenage girl, and her blind brother Snake; and the 9th Man, who...well...doesn't last long enough to get a new nickname.

If you don't like to read, this is absolutely NOT the game for you. This particular style of game is called a "visual novel" for good reasons; it's primarily text, with very little animation. Fortunately, after completing one playthrough, you have the option to scroll rapidly through sections of text you've already seen. And you'll want to use that option, because you'll play through more than once, guaranteed. There are six endings in total, and each time, you learn more information about the experiment and Zero's motivations, as well as some truly obscure shit. I can't say as I'd ever played a game before that talks about Theseus' paradox or Rupert Sheldrake's theory of morphic resonance. Fun AND educational!

Other good things about this game: what the soundtrack lacks in variety, it makes up for in quality. One track sounded so much like something from Silent Hill that I was sure the composer was Akira Yamaoka. The puzzles are clever, covering everything from playing a piano to sudoku. And for a game that plays like Professor Layton meets Saw on the Titanic, it can be really funny. One moment, involving a misunderstanding between June and Junpei, had G and me rolling on the floor, and there's also a startlingly graphic comment about anal sex. The DS ain't just for kiddies anymore.

So if you love brainbusting puzzles and a gripping story, check this little gem out. But if you hate to read or have a problem with dirty words, you might want to stay away. That Santa sure does have a filthy mouth...


In this "tower defense" game, zombies are terrorizing a small neighborhood. You must defend your property against the zombies by filling your garden with different kinds of plants, all of which have strange abilities. For example, the Kernel-Pult flings corn kernels and pats of butter at the encroaching zombies, rendering them temporarily immobile, and the Fume-Shroom will puff poisonous spores at them. Things get fast and furious as you try to pick the best plants for the situation and replace the ones that get eaten along the way.

G suggested that they rename this game "Zombies Ate My Weekend", which sums it up perfectly because we could NOT stop playing. Even after you beat adventure mode, there are tons of minigames to enjoy, like Beghouled (a twist on Bejeweled), Wall-Nut Bowling, and Dead Zeppelin.

Even if you're not a zombie fan, there's much to enjoy here. It's suitable for just about everyone, because it's more amusing than gory; the violence is limited to zombies' heads bloodlessly popping off once they've been vanquished, and if they get past your defenses and into your house, you don't actually see your demise. And some of the zombie types, like the disco dancer who summons backup zombies to groove with him and the angry newspaper-reading dude, are funny as hell. If you like a good challenge, check this game out and, like the tagline says, get ready to soil your plants!