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.