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!