Wednesday, August 31, 2011

media update: August

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


1. The Devil All the Time* by Donald Ray Pollock: This deeply unsettling novel revolves around several characters you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, or anywhere else for that matter: a man who sacrifices animals to his "prayer log" in hopes of curing his terminally ill wife; married serial killers who slaughter male hitchhikers and photograph the results; a slimy preacher with a taste for underage girls; and cousins who go on the run when their attempt at bringing someone back from the dead goes horribly wrong. Uniting their stories is Arvin, a mostly decent teenage boy searching for redemption in the only way he knows how. Fair warning: this is not a book for everybody, and it goes to some really disturbing places; I had a pretty vivid nightmare about it. But if you think you can handle its intensity, I can't recommend it highly enough.

2. Knockemstiff* by Donald Ray Pollock: About two minutes after finishing The Devil All the Time, I requested this book from the library. I'm not generally a big fan of short stories, but this was terrific. The first story, "Real Life", about a young boy whose father goads him into a fight at a drive-in, was my favorite, but they're all excellent. However, like the above novel, it includes some very unsettling elements, so reader beware.

3. Bed* by David Whitehouse: At the age of 25, Malcolm Ede climbs into his bed and never gets out again. Over time, he balloons into the fattest man in the world, as his brother (the narrator) tries to figure out why: "I brush clean the dinosaur bones of the times it wasn't like this. I piece together the broken pottery of the long days our family would spend together and wonder just how it had been smashed into so many tiny fragments as to have become unrecognizable. This was, perhaps, a job for a better archaeologist than me." Beautifully written and equal parts funny and sad, but be advised that some of the descriptions of Mal's condition are pretty gross, like when his brother refers to his skin as a "meat duvet".


1. Unlikely Friendships* by Jennifer S. Holland: This book about interspecies friendships wasn't exactly heavy reading, but I defy you to resist picking up a book with a photograph of a tiny monkey hugging a dove on the front cover. And inside there are fabulous pictures of a "seeing eye" cat who leads her blind dog friend to the food bowl, and Koko the gorilla with her pet kitten, and a Rhodesian ridgeback with the eensiest piglet you've ever seen. And OMGJC:

Be right back, squeeing forever.

(And fear not: according to the book, they were eventually separated for their own safety, but were able to enjoy most of their childhood together as BFFs.)

2. Absolute Mayhem by Monica Mayhem: To be honest, I only bought this porn star's autobiography because it was 99 cents on Kindle, but it wasn't bad. Oddly enough, the chapter I found most interesting had nothing to do with her livelihood, but her practice of Wicca.

And yes, I caved and bought a Kindle because I thought it would be handy for trips; I usually wind up with more books than clothes in my suitcase! I took it to New Mexico earlier this month and was quite happy to have it. I doubt I will ever like it as much as a "real" book, but I think it was a sound investment.

3. Kosher Chinese* by Michael Levy: An entertaining and funny (well, mostly; there are a couple of horrifying anecdotes about animal cruelty he witnessed and, to his credit, tried to stop) memoir about the author's stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guiyang, China, where he earned the nickname "Friendship Jew".


1. 20th Century Boys* vols. 10-12 by Naoki Urasawa

2. Kamisama Kiss vols. 1-2 by Julietta Suzuki

3. Arisa vol. 2 by Natsumi Ando

4. The Devil's Secret by Hinako Takanaga


1. Source Code*: A hunky soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) participates in a strange experiment to discover the identity of the person who blew up a commuter train: he must relive the eight minutes before the bombing over and over again. An interesting premise done very well.

2. Rango*: In this parody of spaghetti westerns, a chameleon is appointed the sheriff of an arid desert town. His first task? Finding out where all the water went. Absolutely gorgeous animation, great voice work, and some very funny lines.

3. Hall Pass: Fed up with her husband's wandering eye, a woman gives him a "hall pass": a full week off from marriage when he can do anything or anyone he wants so he can get it out of his system for good. Predictable, but it has some hysterical lines and, as you'd expect from the Farrelly Brothers, a scene that was so breathtakingly foul I didn't know whether to laugh or gag.

4. Limitless*: Out of desperation, a broke writer takes an experimental drug that allows him to use 100% of his brain, as opposed to the 20% that most people can access. This brings him major wealth, acclaim...and, of course, lots of unforeseen complications. An intriguing idea and a cool hyperkinetic style, combined with a sharp script and Bradley Cooper's high degree of pretty, made this a fun surprise.

5. Insidious: When a young boy falls into a coma, his mother is convinced that their house is haunted, but it turns out to be something much worse. This movie had some genuinely creepy scenes, but I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would and G flat out hated it.

6. Blitz: When a serial killer begins targeting police officers, Detective Brant (Jason Statham) will stop at nothing to bring him to justice. It's pretty light on action for a J-Sta movie, and the characters seemed to have lots of back story that wasn't really explained, but it turns out there was a reason for that; it was based on an existing book series by Ken Bruen.

7. The Lincoln Lawyer: Matthew McConaughey plays a slick defense attorney who works out of his car. He thinks he has it made when he lands a very rich client accused of assault and attempted murder, but the case is more complicated than it seems. An entertaining legal thriller.

8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes*: A scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's finds himself caring for a baby chimp named Caesar, whose exposure to the drug has made him extremely smart. But an incident leads to Caesar's forced removal to a miserable primate sanctuary, where (to quote the movie's tagline) evolution becomes revolution.

Okay, so the CGI isn't always the greatest; when Caesar is young, some of his facial expressions and movements seem a bit off, and there's a bit of scenery near the end that looks really fake. But as he gets older, it's almost creepy how realistic he is. (Major props to Andy Serkis, who is THE go-to guy for awesome mocap; see also his work as Gollum, King Kong, and Monkey from the video game Enslaved.) And yes, the story is a bit goofy. But you know what? It was also much more touching than I expected---I teared up several times---and once the action gets going, it's freakin' awesome. Apes, dude! Apes skittering down the sides of buildings like enormous spiders! Apes scaling the Golden Gate Bridge! A motherfuckin' orangutan tossing a manhole cover into a cop car's windshield like a Frisbee! How could I NOT love it?

Side note: While G and I were waiting for the movie to start, a large family was seated behind us, a group of rowdy and obviously drunk twentysomethings was in front of us, and an elderly married (well, I'm assuming here) couple was to my left and actually said hi to me when they took their seats. So who do you think was talking throughout the whole goddamn movie? The female half of the married couple. Fortunately, the movie was loud enough that I could just barely hear her comments most of the time, and sometimes they were really funny, so I didn't mind as much as I usually would have. (My favorite, when Caesar was rallying his troops: "Oh! He sure did get smart, huh? That's why the gorilla is listening to him even though he's so much bigger than Caesar. My goodness!")


My five word review: Fuck this game so hard.

Oh, you want something more detailed? If you'd like, I can add an extra word in the above review and some additional punctuation and it fits just as well: Fuck, this game is so hard!

...what, you still want more information? Fine.

Vincent Brooks is a shaggy-haired slacker who spends his evenings drinking with his friends at the Stray Sheep bar. Vincent has a girlfriend named Katherine, who's a bit of a shrew and keeps pressuring him to get married. He loves her, but it's getting a bit old.

Which is why, when a gorgeous blonde walks into the bar, he gives in to temptation and sleeps with her. Turns out her name is also Catherine, only with a C, and she becomes awfully fond of Vincent. But Vincent is wracked with guilt, which spills over into nightmares where he's forced into a world filled with talking bipedal sheep who have committed indiscretions of their own. To survive, Vincent must climb a tower made of blocks that he has to rearrange in order to get to the top. It might sound simple but trust me, it's not, especially when you have to get to the top before a boss kills you. It's kind of hard to explain, so here's a video showing some of the gameplay. (It's a Japanese promo, so the dialogue is in Japanese, but you'll get the idea.)

If he fails in the dream, he'll die in real life. But if he makes it, he lives to see another day and hopefully make things right with Katherine (or Catherine, if you want to play it that way) once and for all.

THE GOOD: First of all, I'll give this game props for originality; I've never played anything quite like it before. As you'd expect from Atlus, who also created the underrated gothic lesbian horror game Rule of Rose and Persona 4 (one of my ten favorite games of all time), the production values are outstanding. The voice acting is excellent and features several Persona 4 veterans, the soundtrack is good, and the cinemas were handled by Studio 4C, a veteran anime production company. I also really liked the storyline, which was mature in the best possible sense of the word. And one of the endings is really funny.

THE BAD/UGLY: It pains me to say a game is too difficult two months in a row, but this one is an absolute BITCH. And it ain't just me; Atlus wound up releasing a "Super Easy" patch (which we didn't download) because people were having so much trouble. I'm the first to admit that I'm not the greatest with spatial relations, so I had a hard time looking at a level and saying, "Okay, so if I pull block X out here, then those blocks will fall and I can pull out block Y and connect it to block X and then climb up." It was truly an exercise in frustration. One level in particular took at least a dozen tries to get through.

If you reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally enjoy a challenge, then by all means pick Catherine up. I don't regret playing it, but man was it aggravating.


Seriously, just take my money now, Suda51. I'll pay double if you throw in a logo t-shirt.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue

Last night, an elaborate chain of Rube Goldbergian events conspired that would have been funny in a movie; in real life, not so much.

My evening started innocuously enough with a trip to Target. When I got home, I popped open my trunk and surveyed my bounty. I didn't want to make more trips than necessary, since it was late and I just wanted to shower and watch the season finale of Masterchef, so I decided to carry everything upstairs in one go. One of my neighbors was tossing trash bags into the dumpster, and he called out, "Hey, do you need help with those?"

"Oh, I'm fine!" I chirped. "I've got a lot of stuff here, but none of it's heavy. Thank you, though!"

Famous last words.

By the time I got upstairs, my arms were killing me. Instead of putting the bags on the ground like a normal person, I hugged them (and a 12-pack of Coke Zero) to my chest as I fumbled with the keys. The bags began to slip, and in the process of hefting them upwards, the edge of the Coke Zero carton ripped a huge fucking gash across my chin.

"MotherFUCKER!" I cried out, kicking the door open and dropping the bags onto the ground. Grabbing my stinging, bleeding face, I staggered to the bathroom mirror and surveyed the damage. I didn't have any bandages big enough to cover it, so I MacGyver'd one out of two small ones and a wad of toilet paper.

Very fetching.

Thus patched up, I returned to the living room and began putting things away. As I was sticking something in the freezer, a bottle of chocolate coconut water rolled out of the bag...

...and the lid, which I assume had been knocked loose when I dropped the bags, popped off and splattered liquid all over my counter and floor. It looked for all the world like someone or something had decorated my kitchen with diarrhea; a Jackson Poo-llock, if you will.

More swear words filled the air as I cleaned up the mess.

Finally, everything was put away except for that goddamn 12-pack of Coke Zero. I slid it into the fridge and ripped away the little cardboard "door" to allow easy access...

...and then I heard a faint hissing noise.

Yes, one of the cans had somehow sprung a leak, and I pawed through the carton to find the culprit. Of course it was near the very back, and in the few seconds it took me to find it, the can managed to spray most of its contents all over the bottom shelf of my fridge. Cue more swearing and more cleaning up, although a lot of it managed to get caught underneath the seal of the crisper and I could not, for the life of me, get it out. So now I have a big ugly puddle of Coke Zero stuck there and it will probably erode the seal of my crisper so yay!

Finally, my assorted messes were cleaned up and my purchases were put away and I was ready for a shower. But as I headed towards the bathroom, I noticed, no exaggeration, THE biggest spider I've ever seen in my apartment crawling up the wall.

I chuckled, but there was no humor in it. It was the kind of laugh you'd hear from a serial killer or a particularly sadistic clown.

"Oh, you little bastard, you picked the wrong night to mess with me," I whispered.

Friday, August 12, 2011

let's all go to the lobby

And how's your August going so far? The first week of mine was spent in New Mexico with G and his family. In addition to hiking, visiting art galleries, getting obscene amounts of sleep, and gorging myself on Madre's delicious cooking, I also saw three operas: Faust, which was excellent and had gorgeous staging; La Boheme, which was good but totally ripped off Rent; and Griselda, which blew. Vivaldi's music was lovely, but the story was about a woman whose husband, the king, torments her in progressively cruel ways to test her loyalty. And she's all "Oh, but I still love you!" instead of saying "Hey, asshole, fuck you and the horse you rode in on. My fine ass is out of here."

Oh, and on the flight back, G and I were watching The Wire, which we were initially meh on but are now really enjoying, and something major happened just as they announced that all electronics had to be put away. And we were all "Wait, there's like two minutes left in this episode, we can't stop now!" and the flight attendant was all "Fools, put your shit away IMMEDIATELY, y'heard?" And then she started advancing towards us while whistling "Farmer in the Dell", so we quickly complied.

Anyway, it's survey time! This one's all about movies.

1) Name a movie you have seen more than ten times.

I don't think I've seen ANY movie that many times! Favorite bits and pieces here and there, sure; for example, I must have watched Hit Girl's initial appearance in Kick-Ass and the staircase fight in The Protector dozens of times, but not the whole movie all over again. The movie that probably comes closest is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles because we had a tradition of renting it for Thanksgiving when I was younger. Even so, that probably only clocks in at 6 or 7 times.

2) Name a movie you have seen multiple times in the cinema.

::settles into rocking chair, resting hands on top of cane::

Now, when I was a young'un, if you wanted to see a movie more than once, you HAD to see it in the theater. Wasn't no goddamned Betamax or VHS or any o' that newfangled flimflammery. So as a kid, I saw a few movies twice in the theater: Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Clash of the Titans, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and E.T. The only fairly recent movies I've seen in the theater are Titanic (twice) and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (3 1/2 times, the half accounted for by a broken filmstrip at a seedy dollar cinema in Lancaster, CA).

And if you're wondering why I didn't see Empire Strikes Back more than once in the theater, it's because I was too upset about Han Solo. And you can just stop laughing right now, thank you. I was 9, for fuck's sake!

3) Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a film.

Mostly action stars that I know will deliver the goods, like Jason Statham (his sheer UNFiness certainly doesn't hurt) and Tony Jaa. But I also really like Clive Owen and Jesse Eisenberg.

4) Name a director whose movies you always have to see.

David Fincher, Zach Snyder, Christopher Nolan, Todd Solondz, David Lynch, Satoshi Kon (RIP), John Cameron Mitchell, Quentin Tarantino, Hayao Miyazaki, and Miranda July. I was going to put M. Night Shyamalan here, even though his movies have been disappointing for a long time, but then I remembered The Last Airbender, which I will never see under any circumstances, and had to take him off the list. I mean, Jesus, how do you take such unbelievably rich source material and turn it into a festering pile of maggot-ridden pigshit?

5) Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a film.

It used to be Colin Farrell, but after In Bruges, I let go of that grudge. I really, really dislike Katherine Heigl, so I'll say her.

6) Name a film that you can and do quote from.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch. "It's a car wash, ladies and gentlemen!"

7) Name a musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch. God, now I really want to watch that again.

8) Name a film you would recommend everyone see.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kick-Ass, Up.

9) Ever walked out on a film?

Haunted Honeymoon (1986) and A Day without A Mexican. I'm extraordinarily cheap, so the only reason I walked out of the first one was because it was the second movie in a double feature, and I noticed one of my nastier bullies walk into the theater, so I figured I'd better just leave. As for the second one, some point you have to cut your losses. My brother and I saw it because the poster made us laugh for about ten minutes straight. The movie itself was garbage. I think we heroically made it through 45 minutes before deciding to bail.

10) Name a film that made you cry in the cinema.

You're asking MY sappy ass this question? I'll just name the last movie that made me cry in the theater: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

11) Popcorn?

No, I don't usually get snacks. I know this may surprise you, considering how much I love my tasties, but they never really have anything worth the money/calories.

12) How often do you go to the cinema (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?

I've adopted G's policy of "theater movies", i.e. something that's so visually stunning (Avatar, your average Pixar flick) or so highly anticipated (Harry Potter, any non-Cars Pixar flick) that I just don't want to wait for it to come out on DVD. These days, movies are just too damn expensive and people are just too damn rude. That's one of the things I love about our local indie theater; the tickets are relatively cheap ($6 for a matinee) and, at the risk of sounding like a total snob, the audiences are generally more polite. Your average teenager isn't exactly chomping at the bit to see the latest Belgian import about impoverished farmers. So I'd say that I go to an actual movie theater...oh...let's say five times a year. Most of those times are, of course, with G, but once or twice a year I take a mental health day, which usually includes a matinee.

13) What's the last film you saw in the cinema?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

14) What's your favorite/preferred genre of film?


15) What's the first film you remember seeing in the cinema?

The Aristocats. (I almost typed The Aristocrats, which would have been a much different moviegoing experience, and probably would have killed my poor grandmother.)

16) What film do you wish you had never seen?

Too many junky "I wasted 2 hours of my life on this?" crapfests to count.

17) What is the scariest film you've seen?

The Shining fucked my shit UP, but as for the scariest scene in any movie, it's the nurse scene in The Exorcist III.

I don't know if this will be scary out of context, but when I saw it, I had no idea it was coming and I almost pissed my pants.

(Huh...rewatching it now, I wonder if the makers of Silent Hill were inspired by this scene at all as far as Lisa Garland's uniform?)

18) If you could be any character portrayed in a movie, who would it be?

Hit Girl

19) Total number of films you own on DVD and video?


20) Last film you bought.

See above.

21) Last film you watched at home.


22) Five films that mean a lot to you.

Kick-Ass, Somewhere in Time, E.T., Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Me and You and Everyone We Know

23) What movies do you have lined up to watch soon?

Hall Pass and Insidious. Next theater movie will probably be Rise of the Planet of the Apes, because...I mean, come on. Andy Serkis doing mocap AND fucking apes scurrying down the sides of a building? Yes please!