Friday, July 29, 2011

(early) media update: July

I'm posting this early because the next several days are going to be a little hectic, so I probably won't have time to post this otherwise, much less read, watch, or play anything else.

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


1. Fallen* by Karin Slaughter: When GBI agent Faith Mitchell arrives at her mother's house to pick up her daughter, she finds chaos: her mother is missing, the baby is locked in the toolshed, and there's an alarming amount of blood everywhere. Oh, and there's a dead man in the laundry room and two more armed men lying in wait. Faith takes down the two gunmen, but finding her mother won't be as easy. Karin Slaughter is one of my favorite authors, and this is another gripping mystery with a development about halfway through that ought to make longtime fans very happy.

2. Breaking Silence by Linda Castillo: At a rural Amish farm, three people are found dead in a manure pit. Initially it seems like an accident, but when the autopsy tells a different story, police chief Kate Burkholder begins to fear that the recent hate crimes against the Amish have taken a deadly turn. I loved the other two books in this series, but this installment seemed a bit off to me. Plus it drove me nuts how often people "snapped" (27 uses according to Amazon's search function, and twice on the same page by the same person). Mix it up a little! Say they "barked", or "said sharply", or something else instead.

3. The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen: In Boston's Chinatown, a tourist finds a severed hand. The police find the hand's owner on a rooftop with her head nearly cut off and two mysterious hairs clinging to her body. The investigation leads detective Jane Rizzoli to dig deeper into a mass murder-suicide 19 years earlier. Not one of Gerritsen's better books, but at least I finished this one, unlike its predecessor Ice Cold.


1. Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley: A chronicle of the author's lifelong struggle with severe food allergies encompassing everything from dairy to mustard. The title comes from when she was a child and her mother would have to warn well-meaning party guests not to kiss her lest their frosting-tainted lips cause her to have a reaction.


1. Library Wars vol. 5 by Kiiro Yumi

2. Grand Guignol Orchestra vol. 3 by Kaori Yuki

3. 20th Century Boys vols. 6-9 by Naoki Urasawa

4. The Spiral of Sand by Yuna Aoi

5. You Will Drown in Love by Hinako Takanaga

6. Black Bird vol. 9 by Kanoko Sakurakoji

7. Butterflies, Flowers* vol. 7 by Yuki Yoshihara

8. Caricature* by Daniel Clowes

9. The Walking Dead* vol. 14 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn

10. Flower in a Storm vol. 2 by Shigeyoshi Takagi

11. Kobato vol. 4 by CLAMP

12. Stepping on Roses vol. 6 by Rinko Ueda

13. Empire State by Jason Shiga

14. Sakura Hime by Arina Tanemura

15. Rin-Ne vol. 6 by Rumiko Takahashi


I did not see Zookeeper (nor will I ever), but I had to share Gawker's review of it: "Kevin James farts and falls down for two hours and you just paid $60 to take your family to see it. So just think about that on your minivan ride home."

1. I Am Number Four: More like I Am Number Two, amirite?

...okay, fine. This breathtakingly stupid flick about a hot teen alien boy struggling to fit in and avoid the not-hot alien bounty hunters after him had its moments. Not enough to warrant seeing it, mind you, but I ain't mad that I watched it.

2. Unknown: A tidy thriller in which Liam Neeson (unf) plays a doctor who gets in a car accident in Berlin. When he gets out of the hospital, another man has assumed his identity...and stolen his wife in the process.

3. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights: An animated anthology of Green Lantern stories, including one by Alan Moore (though he refused credit, as is his pissy genius wont). Not fabulous or anything, but it's diverting enough, and probably much better than the live action Ryan Reynolds movie.

4. Hobo with a Shotgun*: Rutger Hauer plays a homeless man who relocates to the ironically named Hope City, a place filled with senseless cruelty and corrupt cops. All he wants to do is buy a lawnmower and start his own business, but when he tangles with a crime lord and his ruthless sons, he takes up a shotgun and becomes a vigilante instead. I showered before watching this, and afterwards I felt like I needed another one, which I mean as a compliment.

I mean, look. Everything you need to know is right there in the title, so if the title doesn't grab you, you'll hate this movie. Personally, I loved it because it reminded me of sweltering summer nights as a teenager in NYC in the 1970's, when my friends and I would go catch a double feature at a Times Square grindhouse, and we'd be passing a joint and a bottle of cheap wine in a paper bag back and forth and nobody even gave a shit. Those were some amazing times.

...what do you mean that never happened? YOU never happened!

5. Cedar Rapids: A naive insurance salesman (Ed Helms) reluctantly leaves home to attend a convention in the "big city" of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It had a few good laughs (most notably an impression of Omar from The Wire), but I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

6. Just Go with It: Adam Sandler plays a plastic surgeon who pretends he's unhappily married in order to pick up chicks. When he needs to keep up the charade in order to convince his hot new girlfriend, he recruits his office manager (Jennifer Aniston) to play the part of his bitchy wife. Unbelievably predictable and stupid, but funnier than I was expecting it to be.

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2*: the saga has finally come to an end. On the plus side, though, they made up for Part 1's two hours of mopin' in the woods with nonstop action, some wry humor, and floods and floods of tears. I walked out of the theater with my face dry and tight from crying practically nonstop throughout the movie. A fitting end to one of the greatest stories ever told, and my favorite movie of the year so far.

Side note: The movie had been on for all of two minutes when a very small child began screaming and crying. Several people began shushing him, and a woman in back called out "Show some respect and take him out of here!" Poof...brattus disappearo! That freakin' ruled. There's something to be said for public shaming.

8. Life During Wartime: This sequel to Happiness once again follows three sisters, though it focuses primarily on Trish, whose lie about her convicted pedophile husband comes to light, and Joy, who is haunted by the specter of a man she rejected. Every part has been recast; for example, Joy is now played by, I shit you not, Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter films, and the obscene phone caller originally played by Philip Seymour Hoffman is now played by Omar from The Wire. Yes, really. I will always watch anything Todd Solondz does, because Welcome to the Dollhouse is one of my favorite movies and Happiness is probably in my top hundred as well, but this one was way too fucking bleak. Jesus, he's such a misanthrope he makes me look like Will "I never met a man I didn't like" Rogers! Even though all of his previous films were dark as shit, they still had some humor to them. This one, not so much.


Imagine that Devil May Cry and No More Heroes had hot dirty sex while Silent Hill music played in the background. Then a demonic tattooed baby was born whose first sentence was a dick joke, and they named it Shadows of the Damned.

Garcia Hotspur is a badass, heavily inked demon hunter with a filthy mouth, but he still loves his girlfriend Paula with all his heart. So you can imagine his horror when he comes home and finds her hanging from the rafters. Fleming, the lord of hell, claims her as his own, and Garcia will stop at nothing until Fleming and his minions are destroyed and Paula is back in his arms. He's accompanied by his sidekick, a wisecracking British skull named Johnson who can transform into weapons and even a motorcycle (though only in the opening cinema).

Picking up this game was an absolute no-brainer because of its sterling pedigree: it was created by No More Heroes mastermind Suda51 and Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil, God Hand, and Devil May Cry fame. Throw in a soundtrack by genius Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka and I was there.

So does SOTD make its papas proud?

THE GOOD: First and foremost, despite the fact that it starts with a woman's suicide and takes place primarily in hell, SOTD is hysterically funny, as you'd expect from the creator of vigorously masturbating otaku assassin Travis Touchdown and zombie slaying cheerleader Juliet Starlink (in the upcoming game Lollipop Chainsaw, which I will be purchasing as soon as humanly possible). If you have the slightest problem with salty language, adult content, and constant penis jokes, well, first of all, why are you reading my blog, and second of all, this ain't the game for you. To give you a few examples: at one point you have to let Johnson listen to a dirty phone call, which makes him turn into an enormous gun called the Big Boner. Garcia then uses this gun to mow down approaching enemies, all the while shouting "Taste my big boner!" In the same, uh, vein, one of the moves you can use with Johnson is called the Hot Boner Payload. You save your game by startling a creature named One-Eye Willy, who leaves a flaming pile of shit behind as he flees. In an area reminiscent of A.I.'s Rouge City, you have to climb over your girlfriend's enormous, topless, lingerie-clad body as she sucks on her fingers. Along the way, you find books that give you backstory on bosses, and one of them talks about a guy burying his face in a woman's beaver. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Not that I was expecting anything less, but Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack is flawless. If you'd played me the music a couple of months ago and told me that it was from the next Silent Hill game, I totally would have believed you. It even features a track by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who provided vocals for several SH installments. But not every song sounds straight out of Silent Hill; there's also a heavy metal track that plays during many enemy encounters and a weird upbeat chanting song when you're following the sushi lamp. (Don't ask.) The voice actors also do a great job, especially the obscenely prolific Steven Blum as Garcia Hotspur. His Mexican accent occasionally strays a bit too far into Taco Bell chihuahua territory, but overall I thought he brought Garcia to life admirably. I especially loved the parts where he'd read a boss storybook aloud and hesitate over the harder words, which Johnson would then helpfully pronounce for him.

THE BAD: None of the bosses have life meters, which sucks because some of those bosses are absolute bitches to kill. It would have been nice to know when they were almost dead.

This is a very short game; it took us about 10 hours on normal difficulty. And you don't get a "new game plus" option when you finish, so you don't get to keep all of your nifty upgrades if you decide to play again. For a game that costs $60 (though we rented it from Gamefly), taking away any real reason to replay it is weak sauce.

And I don't know about "bad" exactly, but the graphics aren't really up to par for the 360. Although the backgrounds are generally crisp, the facial animation is pretty uninspired for a next-gen console. Granted, anything I played after LA Noire was going to suffer in comparison, but I still think they could have done a better job with the faces.

While we're on the topic of graphics, hey, how about those cutscenes? Pretty cool, eh? Well, you better damn well think so. You can't skip cutscenes, which is unfortunate because you'll be seeing several of them more than once. Why? Because...

THE UGLY: ...This. Game. Is. Fucking. HARD. Like, wrist-crampingly, vein-poppingly difficult. When the game starts, you can choose between Lemon Hunter (easy), Demon Hunter (normal), and Legion Hunter (hard). We chose normal, and I gotta say, that was a mistake. And oh, hey, too bad because you can't change difficulty once you've started the game! By the time I realized "Hmm, this might be a bit too tough for my particular skill set," we were too far into the game to justify starting over, especially since it was a rental. I hate to admit it, because it plays into the worst stereotypes of girl gamers and I pride myself on generally being a pretty good one, but more than once I had to pass the controller off to G to beat a boss or a particularly thorny character. Since SOTD does provide an easy option when you start, it might not be fair to knock it down a couple of notches based on its difficulty level, but this is my blog so neener neener.

Anyway, is SOTD worth playing? Absolutely, if you're a fan of any of the creators' previous games and you have a high tolerance for penis jokes and naughty language. But do yourself and your blood pressure a favor, and if you're not sure you have the patience or wrist strength to handle the normal difficulty, play on easy. I promise not to tell anyone.


I'm going to describe something to you, and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind.

In an idyllic small town, flanked by forests and famous for its stunning waterfall, a beautiful young woman is found brutally murdered. The FBI sends an agent to investigate. He's quirky and overly fond of coffee and cherry pie, but he's got some amazing insights into the case...some of which come to him while he stands in a red room occupied by strange characters.

Twin Peaks is what sprang to mind, right? Wait, there's more. What if I told you that occasionally the agent is suddenly thrust into a dangerous otherworld that nobody else seems to notice? And every once in a while, he must hide from a seemingly immortal murderer?

"Well, Jesus," you must be muttering to yourself. "That sounds like Silent Hill with a bit of Clock Tower or Haunting Ground thrown into the mix. What the hell are you talking about?"

Friends, I'm talking about Deadly Premonition. It's one of the most seriously flawed games I've ever played, and I fucking loved it.

Deadly Premonition (hereafter referred to as DP despite the sexual connotations) was initially supposed to come out in 2007 under the title Rainy Woods, but was delayed after people pointed out how similar it was to Twin Peaks so the developers could rework it a bit. During the first couple of hours, I wondered how much MORE derivative it could have been. Was the murder victim named Laurel Palmer? Was the agent called Dale Hooper? But as the game progressed, it became much more original and even started to rival its inspiration for sheer batshit crazy.

After the body of Anna Graham is found strung up in a tree, FBI agent Francis York Morgan ("Call me York") comes to the small town of Greenvale to investigate. There are similarities to other murder cases he's been working on, especially the presence of strange red seeds in the victim's mouth and her bitten-off tongue. He's joined by sheriff George Woodman and deputy Emily Wyatt, not to mention his invisible friend/alternate personality Zach, who seems to share his love of 80's movies. York has to find the infamous Raincoat Killer (who likes to give chase at inopportune moments) and navigate the Otherworld filled with backwards-walking, Joker-faced ghosts, all while trying to catch lovely Emily's eye and making time to shave and send his suits to the cleaners. If you don't keep York groomed, he actually attracts flies and you receive a "Stinky Agent" penalty!

This game is terrible on so many levels. The graphics are about on a level with early PS2 or even Dreamcast games. Emily is generally done pretty well, but most of the characters are just plain butt-ugly. Anna was supposed to be a legendary beauty, but when you see flashbacks of her, she's about as attractive as those aforementioned ghosts. Greenvale is a large area, so you better enjoy driving all over hell's half acre with a borderline useless map. (Though to be fair, by completing a certain sidequest, you obtain a radio that allows you to warp to any area you've previously visited. Getting that radio cut down on a lot of my frustration with the game!) York controls like a tank and aims like a wino with the DTs. Enemies keep repeating the same stupid things ("Kiiiiiiillllll're going to diiiiiiiiiiie...") over and over again in a voice that sounds like a 45 rpm record played on 33 rpm speed.

But oh, dear reader, the things that are right with DP are glorious. York is a really fun character, prone to such inappropriateness as nattering on about a particularly gory case ("He urinated in their skulls!") while completely oblivious to his dining companions' nauseated expressions. The soundtrack is also a ripoff of Twin Peaks---a couple of songs in particular sound like somebody snuck into Angelo Badalamenti's house and stole his composition book---but that's not a bad thing at all.

And best of all, the story. I can't go into too much detail because ruining this game would be like spoiling an excellent movie. Suffice it to say that it stops being a Twin Peaks clone and transforms into something wholly original. It unfolds in classic mystery style, peeling back layer upon layer to expose the sinister heart of Greenvale, and at one point, it even had me in tears. The plot elevates DP from a 4 (and that's being generous) to a well-deserved 8.

As of this writing, DP only costs $15 on Amazon, so if it sounds remotely interesting to you, buy a copy before they get wise and raise the price. It's definitely not for everyone; some of the plot elements are disturbing in the extreme, and you'll have to be willing to tolerate some truly abysmal combat and graphics, but the unusual characters and incredible story will make it well worth your time.

So says Mr. Stewart!

And speaking of Deadly Premonition, creator/genial kook Swery65 recently posted this picture of himself on Twitter. I swear to God I did NOT edit this in any way; if you don't believe me, check out the source here.

I. Love. Him.