Tuesday, January 03, 2012

media update: December

Sweet fancy Moses, I am so fucking jetlagged right now. It's going to be a while until I get my pictures uploaded and entries written, but please look forward to them, especially the one titled "Why I Will Never Fly Virgin Airlines Again Unless I Have No Other Fucking Choice".

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


1. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton: When private detective Kinsey Millhone notices a woman shoplifting, she alerts a salesperson. It turns out that the woman is part of a major theft ring working for the mob, and Kinsey's in over her head again. One of the more disappointing Grafton books, unfortunately.

2. Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell: Still trying to piece together the truth about her colleague's death, Kay Scarpetta visits a prisoner who claims she has some inside information. But then more bodies start piling up, and Kay has to unravel a conspiracy.

There's some really clunky writing in here, like this mystifying conversational lead-in: "As my FBI forensic psychologist husband put it last night while cooking dinner in our historic Cambridge home that was built by a well-known transcendentalist..." Um, what? (The sad part is that Cornwell probably got paid more to write just those 25 words than I got paid last year. FML.) Still, this is the best Cornwell book in a long time. It's nowhere near as good as she used to be at her absolute best, but I ain't mad I read it.

3. Wither* by Lauren DeStefano: In the near future, the world as we know it has been almost completely destroyed; only North America remains, and thanks to genetic tinkering gone disastrously wrong, women only live until age 20 and men to age 25. Many young women are kidnapped and sold to wealthy men who take several brides at a time in hopes of keeping the population from dying out.

Rhine is a 16-year-old girl who's kidnapped and forced to marry a man named Linden, who's genuinely in love with his first wife, Rose. But when Rose dies, his affections shift to Rhine, complicating her plans for escape. And what is Linden's creepy father up to in the basement?

Wither carefully follows the YA dystopian novel blueprint. Love triangle? Check! Part of a trilogy? Check! But that doesn't mean it isn't good; after The Hunger Games series, it's the best book of this type that I've read, and I plowed through it in two days. Sequel now plz.

TOTAL READ IN 2011: 45


1. Never Suck A Dead Man's Hand by Dana Kollmann: This memoir is by a woman who worked as a CSI, and although there are a few interesting (if disgusting) anecdotes about her job, it's so poorly written and condescending that it's not worth the trouble.

2. Sybil Exposed* by Debbie Nathan: The fascinating true story behind the 1970's blockbuster Sybil, about a woman's struggle with multiple personality disorder and the brilliant psychologist who cured her. The only problem? It was all bullshit. "Sybil" was actually a mentally ill young woman named Shirley Mason who was exploited by Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, whose hunger for fame led her to drug Shirley and implant false memories of horrific child abuse in hopes of making a name for herself.

TOTAL READ IN 2011: 26


1. Love Circumstances by Aco Oumi

2. Grand Guignol Orchestra vol. 5 by Kaori Yuki

3. Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

4. Arisa vol. 5 by Natsumi Ando

5. Deadman Wonderland* vols. 1-3 by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou

6. Sweet Tooth vol. 2 by Jeff Lemire

TOTAL READ IN 2011: 103 volumes of manga and 66 graphic novels


1. Our Idiot Brother: Ned (Paul Rudd) is an affable stoner who's so clueless he sells pot to a uniformed police officer. When he gets out of prison, he's dumped by his girlfriend and must rely on his sisters for a place to stay, causing them lots of problems in the process. Not as funny as I was hoping, but still enjoyable. Question, though: why on earth did they try to make gorgeous Rashida Jones look as awful as possible?

2. 30 Minutes or Less*: Two men who need money to open up a combination tanning salon and brothel kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, and force him to rob a bank. There's something to be said for lowered expectations, because I didn't have high hopes for this movie at all, but I thought it was fucking HYSTERICAL. If you love dark comedies, pop this onto your Netflix queue immediately.

3. Crazy Stupid Love*: Cal Weaver is blindsided when his wife of 25 years tells him that she had an affair and wants a divorce. As he's sitting in a bar, sadly nursing a drink, he's taken under the wing of smooth talking ladies' man Jacob. Very funny but with a poignant edge, and the performances are superb.

4. Attack the Block*: When aliens attack London, a teen gang bands together to protect their turf. A fun little movie, and the bonus feature about how they created the aliens is well worth watching too.

5. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil*: A group of college students are camping in the backwoods of West Virginia, and one moonlit night, they decide to go skinny dipping. But to their horror, they see two creepy rednecks pulling their unconscious friend into a fishing boat, and shit goes down. This is a VERY hard movie to discuss without spoiling anything, and believe me, the concept is so clever that you don't want it spoiled. So if you like horror comedies, give this one a try, but be sure not to read too much about it beforehand.

6. Water for Elephants: After his parents die in a car accident, vet student Jacob (Robert Pattinson) joins a circus as their caretaker. He's entrusted with training the circus' newest attraction, an elephant named Rosie, and in the process he falls in love with Rosie's rider, the ringmaster's beautiful wife Marlena. But the ringmaster is a sadistic piece of shit, and his anger threatens to destroy not only the entire circus, but Jacob and Marlena's lives. It's pretty melodramatic, but I still liked it.

Warning: there are some incredibly upsetting scenes of animal abuse in this movie. I have a real hard time watching animal cruelty, even when I know it's fake, plus I have a major soft spot for elephants, so I was in tears and had to look away during those scenes.

7. Fright Night: In this remake of the 1980's cult classic, a teenager suspects that his next door neighbor Jerry is a vampire. When his fears are confirmed, he teams up with a Vegas magician/occult expert to take Jerry down. Fun but not essential.

8. Kung Fu Panda 2: When evil peacock Shen (expertly voiced by Gary Oldman) threatens to destroy peace in China with a new weapon, Po the panda and his friends band together to stop him. It was basically the cinematic equivalent of a Snickers bar: you eat it, you like it fine, and later on, when you see the wrapper in the trash, you're like "I had a Snickers? Oh yeah, I vaguely remember eating that."

9. American Swing: A fascinating documentary about the heyday of Plato's Retreat, the notorious NYC swinger's club. It contains pretty graphic sex scenes filmed at the club, so take that as either an endorsement or a warning depending on your personal views.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2011: 112
SEEN IN A MOVIE THEATER: 3 (Sucker Punch, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes)


1. "Threw It on the Ground" by Lonely Island

2. "Motherlover" by Lonely Island


I had no interest in playing Red Dead Redemption until it won practically every Game of the Year award in 2010, and then we decided to give it a whirl once the GOTY edition came out in September 2011. I didn't expect to enjoy it all that much, but RDR basically ate my life until the very last frame.

You play as John Marston, a former Old West outlaw in 1911 who's put his criminal past behind him and settled down on a farm with his wife Abigail and son Jack. But the federal government wants John's help in tracking down his former gang members, and they kidnap his family, promising to release them unharmed once his gang has been brought to justice.

RDR is a sandbox/open world game that's been cheekily referred to as "Grand Theft Horse". In addition to the main storyline (which gets so complex that I won't go into detail here, lest I go over Blogger's character limit), you can also participate in sidequests such as rescuing kidnapped prostitutes, tracking down fugitives, or breaking horses. You can hunt animals for their meat and fur, which I found surprisingly enjoyable even though I would never harm an animal in real life.

You can choose to play John as either a predominantly good (our choice) or bad guy. If you do good things, such as capturing a fugitive without killing him or preventing a lynching, you earn fame and honor points; if you do bad things, such as shooting someone without cause or stealing a horse, then you lose fame and honor points, law enforcement will be less likely to cut you a break, and citizens feel unsafe around you and sometimes even swear at you.

On the negative side, RDR suffers from repetitive gameplay (how many hooker kidnappers were there in the Old West?), a few frustrating gameplay elements, and some subpar facial animations. But these things pale in comparison to the positive things, to wit:

  • I'd be hard pressed to name a video game with better voice acting than RDR. With a few minor exceptions, it is absolutely superlative. Rob Wiethoff is perfection as John Marston.
  • An engrossing storyline that keeps you guessing.
  • A terrific script. Some of the dialogue is so brilliant that it could easily have come from an Oscar-winning screenplay.
  • Some of the most gorgeous backgrounds I've ever seen.
  • It's just plain fun.

Even if westerns aren't your genre of choice, I highly recommend giving RDR a whirl. Just be sure to limber up your trigger finger, watch out for cougars, and pack some tissues, because even the most crag-faced, hard-hearted son of a bitch is gonna shed a tear over this one.