Wednesday, February 29, 2012

media update: February

It's weird how often my media updates seem to have a theme. Sometimes it's intentional, like if I get interested in a particular subject and then gorge myself on books/movies covering that topic, but more often it's not. February's unintentional theme: drug addiction!

I read and watched some really good stuff this month, including a movie that's now one of my favorites of all time.

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


1. Hanging Hill* by Mo Hayder: When the brutalized body of a popular teenage girl is discovered, police detective Zoe Benedict's investigation leads her to suspect the creepy pornographer who lives on Hanging Hill. But unknown to her, her estranged sister Sally is working as the man's housekeeper, and their paths collide in shocking ways.

This book kept me so absorbed that I read it cover to cover in one day. It is a fucking CORKER, and the last couple of chapters had me racing slackjawed through the pages going "Oh my god, oh my god". I think it's Mo Hayder's best book since The Devil of Nanking. I also enjoyed the fact that it was set in Bath, since I was just there and could picture the setting more clearly.

2. Bond Girl by Erin Duffy: Alex Garrett is thrilled when she lands her dream job on Wall Street, but she quickly realizes that it's not quite what she'd hoped for, thanks to sexist colleagues who call her "Girlie" and relegate her to a folding chair instead of a real desk. A fun, harmless bit of fluff, though a scene with an Italian man speaking with a stereotypical accent ("How much-a you need?...Mamma mia!") made me roll my eyes.

3. Friends Like Us* by Lauren Fox: When Willa runs into Ben, her former best friend, at their high school reunion, they rekindle their friendship. But when Willa introduces Ben to her new best friend Jane and they fall in love, she starts to feel left behind. I really enjoyed this bittersweet book; it reminded me of Emily Giffin.


1. Crazy Enough* by Storm Large: Convinced that she'd turn out like her severely mentally ill mother, the author gorged herself on sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, figuring she might as well live it up while she still could. Fascinating and often searingly funny.

2. Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries by Tim Anderson: Wanting to break out of a rut, the author got a job as an English teacher and moved to Japan. Some funny anecdotes, but the writing is a bit disjointed and there are a couple of really irritating fantasy sequences.

3. Breaking Night* by Liz Murray: The author grew up in poverty with her sister and their drug addicted parents. She eventually wound up homeless, but despite her rough start in life, she managed to win a scholarship and get into Harvard. It sounds like a total treaclefest, but it most assuredly isn't.

4. Behind the Beautiful Forevers* by Katherine Boo: How's this for an opening sentence: "Midnight was closing in, the one-legged woman was grievously burned, and the Mumbai police were coming for Abdul and his father." I was hooked immediately. This book follows several residents of a Mumbai slum, ranging from a teenage trash picker to a young woman who wants to be the slum's first female college graduate. It reads like a great novel, and although at times it's distressing, it's almost impossible to put down. Highly recommended.

Side note: According to the author blurb in the back, she writes for The New Yorker and has won a Pulitzer AND a MacArthur genius grant. Man, what a dumbass!

5. The Book of Drugs* by Mike Doughty: The former lead singer of Soul Coughing (one of my favorite bands) talks about drug addiction and fame. A fascinating, brutally honest memoir.


1. Arisa vol. 6 by Natsumi Ando

2. Batman: Long Shadows* by Judd Winick, Mark Bagley, Ed Benes, and Rob Hunter: I REALLY like the way they drew Nightwing in the first part of this book. Meee-yow!

...and yes, that's one of the geekiest things I've ever written.

3. Library Wars vol. 7 by Kiiro Yumi

4. Otomen vol. 12 by Aya Kanno

5. Kamisama Kiss vol. 7 by Julietta Suzuki

6. 20th Century Boys vol. 19 by Naoki Urasawa

7. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise* by Gene Leun Yang and Gurihiru

8. Highschool of the Dead* vol. 5 by Daisuke Sato and Shouji Sato

9. Sweet Tooth* vol. 4 by Jeff Lemire


1. Dahmer: Before he got famous, Jeremy Renner starred in this movie about the infamous serial killer who preyed on young men and tried to turn them into sexually submissive zombies. Disturbing but fascinating, and Renner is electrifying as Dahmer. I usually find Jeremy Renner really hot (which utterly baffles G, along with my crushes on John Marston and Jason Segel), but he disappears so completely into the character, both physically and psychologically, that I forgot I was watching him.

2. Bag of Bones: After his wife dies in a traffic accident, author Mike Noonan moves into their summer house to grieve and work on his new book. But when dark secrets come to light, Mike has to deal with an angry ghost who wants revenge.

This movie was SO bad. I only finished it because I was fascinated by how terrible it was. Plus it had been so long since I'd read the Stephen King book that I didn't remember what happened, and I was curious. (One thing I do remember from the book is this excellent line, which doesn't show up in the movie on account of the fact that it's an excellent line: "Grief is like a drunken houseguest, always coming back for one more goodbye hug.") Recommended only if you want to see Pierce Brosnan fight a tree. Yes, I'm serious.

3. Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star: After finding out that his parents were porn stars in the 1970's, naive Bucky Larson heads to California to follow in their footsteps. Somehow, despite his bowl cut, enormous front teeth, and tiny penis, he manages to succeed.

You have no idea how embarrassing it is to admit this, but I actually didn't hate this movie. It was unbelievably stupid, yes, but it had a few surprisingly funny moments. I laughed more during the first ten minutes than I did during all of The Hangover 2.

4. Project Nim*: This documentary is about Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee who was taken from his mother as an infant, taught sign language, and raised like a human. (One of his caretakers even breastfed him, When he became far too wild and aggressive to keep around humans anymore, he was sold to a research lab. I remember reading a book about Nim a couple of years ago, and in it somebody said that he was "too wild for a house, too human for a cage". He was betrayed by just about everybody who was entrusted with his care. It's engrossing, but it's also heartbreaking and utterly infuriating.

5. The Sound and Fury: A compelling documentary about an extended family that includes both hearing and deaf members. When the hearing couple finds out that one of their twins is deaf, they look into cochlear implants for him. This enrages the deaf members of the family, who fear that implants will eventually obliterate deaf culture and sign language. Things get even tenser when their 5-year-old daughter wants a cochlear implant too. When I first read the synopsis on Netflix, I thought "Jesus, why the hell wouldn't you want your kid to hear?" But after watching it, I could see both sides of the story, though personally it didn't change my mind. One thing that irritated me, though: instead of subtitling the sign language conversations, they used really bad narrators instead.

6. Drive: Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed Hollywood stuntman who works on the side as a getaway car driver. He befriends a neighbor and her young son, but when her husband is released from prison, things get messy. A strange movie that wasn't quite what I was expecting, but it had its moments.

7. Real Steel: Basically Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots in movie form. A lot of people creamed their pants over this movie---Entertainment Weekly even gave it an A minus---but I just didn't see the appeal. Sure, the robots were cool, but it was very predictable and corny.

8. Breaking Dawn Pt. 1: In a scene that had Twihards everywhere drenching their dainties, Bella and Edward finally get married. And after a honeymoon that leaves Bella bruised and their headboard broken, she gets pregnant with a half-human, half-vampire fetus that grows at an accelerated rate and threatens her life. But persevere our boring heroine must! And gag I did.

9. The Fall*: In 1920's Los Angeles, a young hospital patient named Alexandria befriends Roy, a stuntman who became paralyzed during a movie shoot. In order to win Alexandria's trust, Roy begins weaving a fantastical tale of five heroes who are determined to overthrow an evil governor.

This is one of the most gorgeous movies I've ever seen; it was shot in 18 different countries and has spectacular costumes by Eiko Ishioka, who recently passed away. The little girl who plays Alexandria is amazing (though occasionally hard to understand; English is not her first language in either real life or the movie), and as Roy, Lee Pace is excellent as well. I knew The Fall would be visually stunning, since Tarsem (The Cell, Immortals, REM's "Losing My Religion" video) directed it, but I really wasn't expecting to be so engrossed and moved by the story. I get the feeling that people who'd hate it would REALLY hate it, but major thumbs up from me. I loved it so much that I watched it twice in 24 hours, once by myself and once with G. About 30 minutes in, he said, "Am I going to have to hold this movie against you?" But like me, he wound up giving it 5 stars on Netflix. This has made its way into my top ten of all time; almost two weeks after my first viewing, I can't stop thinking about it.

Side note: If you decide to see this, please try not to read too much about it beforehand; even the description on Netflix gives away a couple of rather important plot points.

10. Contagion*: In this chilling "what if?" scenario, a virus decimates the world population while doctors and the CDC race against time to contain it.

11. Killer Elite*: A former special ops agent (Jason Statham) is reluctantly pulled back into the business when his mentor is kidnapped by a sheik with an axe to grind. An intriguing (and allegedly true) story and some terrific action sequences made this a fun watch.

12. Dirty Girl: In 1987, a promiscuous teenage girl named Danielle befriends Clarke, a chubby gay classmate. After her mom gets engaged to a Mormon and Clarke's dad threatens to send him to military school, they run away to California in search of Danielle's father. This movie didn't exactly reinvent the wheel; it's a patchwork of themes done a thousand times before, and usually better. But it's got some snappy dialogue and an awesome soundtrack.

13. Moon: Astronaut Sam Bell has been alone on the moon for almost three years. But as the time for him to return to Earth gets closer, he begins to suspect that his employer doesn't want him to go home. And why is he seeing someone who looks exactly like him on the ship? I'm not generally much of a sci-fi fan, but I thought this was an interesting little thriller.

14. The Tree of Life: This movie is almost impossible to summarize, so I won't even try. Basically, it's a really engrossing character study sandwiched between two slabs of pretentious bullshit. It was worth watching because the acting was so good (especially the kids; I forgot I was watching actors) and it's an absolutely gorgeous movie, but man, the beginning and ending just tried too damn hard to be deep and meaningful.


1. "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)" by The Shangri-Las

2. "He's Got the Power" by The Exciters

3. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles

(Note: the following songs are all by Flight of the Conchords.)

4. "Hurt Feelings"

5. "Sugalumps"

6. "Demon Woman"

7. "Fashion Is Danger"

8. "Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor"

9. "You Don't Have to Be A Prostitute"

10. "Friends"

11. "Carol Brown"

12. "Foux de Fafa"

13. "Inner City Pressure"

14. "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros"

15. "Think About It"

16. "Mutha'uckas"

17. "The Prince of Parties"

18. "A Kiss Is Not A Contract"