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.