Tuesday, July 31, 2012

media update: July

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


1. Tell the Wolves I'm Home* by Carol Rifka Brunt: Set in the mid-80's, this novel tells the story of June Elbus, a shy 14-year-old devastated by her beloved uncle's AIDS-related death. Shortly after Finn's funeral, his lover Toby contacts her, asking for a chance to meet. Initially she's reluctant, because her mother has convinced her that it's Toby's fault Finn died. But she finally agrees to see him, and they form a friendship that will change both of their lives forever. A lyrically beautiful, heartbreaking book.

2. Starters by Lissa Price: After biological warfare kills everyone in America but the young and the old, who received vaccinations against the deadly spores, Cassie and her brother Tyler are living on the streets. When Cassie finds out about a lucrative program that allows the elderly to "rent" the bodies of teenagers and experience being physically young again, she signs up. But there's a glitch in her microchip, and she wakes up in the life of her wealthy renter, who has a sinister plan for Cassie's body in mind. I'm a sucker for a good dystopian novel, and although this wasn't great or anything, it was entertaining enough.

3. The Other Woman's House by Sophie Hannah: One night, Connie Bowskill logs onto a real estate website to look at a virtual tour of a house she's obsessing over. To her horror, one of the shots shows a dead woman in a pool of blood. She gets her husband out of bed to come look, but now the body and the blood are gone. Connie is determined to find out the truth, even as she fears that she may be losing her mind. It's good, but it gets so confusing near the end that I decided not to give it a star.

4. The Age of Miracles* by Karen Thompson Walker: Julia is a teenage girl who, like everybody else, is shocked when the earth's rotation inexplicably begins to slow. The change is unnoticeable at first, but its effects soon become catastrophic. But in addition to everything else, Julia has to struggle with the trials and tribulations of adolescence, family problems, and first love. A really gripping and unusual book with some gorgeous turns of phrase, such as this one in which Julia talks about spending her lunch hour alone in the school library: "On dark days like that one, the library windows looked lit up like an aquarium, the inhabitants on display for all the other kids to see: here the most exotic fish, the lonely, the unloved, the weird."

5. Criminal* by Karin Slaughter: GBI agent Will Trent is puzzled when his supervisor, Amanda Wagner, forbids him to work on a case involving a missing college student. But Amanda has her reasons, and in flashbacks, we find out exactly why she doesn't want Will to go digging through the past. As usual, Slaughter knocks it out of the park with this riveting novel.

6. Where We Belong by Emily Giffin: When successful TV producer Marian Caldwell answers the door one night, she's greeted by Kirby, a teenage girl who says she's the daughter that Marian gave up for adoption as a baby. I usually enjoy Giffin's books, but this one was way too predictable.


Nothing this month.


1. Beast & Feast by Norikazu Akira

2. A Liar in Love by Kiyo Ueda

3. In These Words* by GuiltPleasure

4. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise* vol. 2 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

5. Silent Hill: Dying Inside by Scott Ciencin, Ben Templesmith, and Aadi Salman: Why the hell is it so hard to make a really good SH based graphic novel? I mean, this wasn't bad, but I've read 3 SH graphic novels and they've been okay at best and complete shit at worst. I would love to see what Brian K. Vaughan or Garth Ennis could do with the franchise. Or, holy fuck, Alan Moore, who did a Lovecraft inspired graphic novel that was so disturbing I couldn't finish it.

6. Batman: Night Cries by Archie Goodwin and Scott Hampton


1. 21 Jump Street*: Two cops (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) take an undercover assignment at a high school to find out who's distributing a new drug called H.F.S. and bring them down.

If they'd done this as a serious remake of the 80's TV show, it would have blown. But they went the comedy route, and what a great decision that turned out to be, because this movie was fucking HYSTERICAL. Way better than it had any right to be.

2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: The legendary sleuth returns, and this time, his wits are tested by his nemesis Professor Moriarty. A bit overlong and convoluted, but Robert Downey Jr. is always a treat to watch, and I love the bromance between him and Jude Law's Watson.

3. God Bless America*: Frank is a lonely man who's tired of the cruelty and stupidity that permeate American culture. When he's diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, he plans to kill himself, but then he changes his mind and decides to take out assholes instead. Along the way, he picks up a teenage girl who wholeheartedly approves of his mission, and together they set out to clean up America, one jerk at a time.

If Idiocracy and Natural Born Killers had a child together that was raised by Beverly Sutphin from Serial Mom, it would be God Bless America. Be warned, it takes dark comedies to a whole new level, but if you've ever suffered through a movie with jabbering dickholes behind you or wanted to rip your hair out over bigots like Fred Phelps, GBA will be a gloriously cathartic tonic for your soul.

Viewer advisory: This movie contains a scene of people being gunned down in a theater, which may be too unnerving for some in the wake of the Colorado tragedy. (We saw it a couple of weeks before the massacre occurred.)

4. The Last Lions: After being forced from their home by a rival pride, a lioness and her three cubs search for new territory. Beautifully filmed, but here's a MAJOR caveat: it doesn't pull any punches when showing how cruel nature can be. It's only rated PG, but some parts are extremely upsetting. One scene in particular is probably the most heart-wrenching thing I've ever seen in a nature documentary. I was weeping.

5. John Carter: The title character is a Civil War vet who, through a series of events too confusing to get into here, winds up on Mars. He's captured by a group of aliens and eventually escapes, but then he meets a princess who desperately needs his help.

This movie is one of the most notorious flops in history; it cost $250 million to make (not sure where all the money went, because the special effects aren't all that special) and only grossed $73 million in the US. The acting is bad and it's way too long, but it's mildly entertaining, if only to watch Dominic West (aka Jimmy McNulty from The Wire) strutting around barechested and chewing the scenery like it was filled with delicious nougat.

6. The Debt: In 1965, three Mossad agents go to Germany to capture a Nazi war criminal and bring him back to Israel for trial. But things don't go quite as planned, and the secrets they agree to keep come back to haunt them in a big way. Superlative acting, as you'd expect from a cast that includes Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson, but the movie itself is merely adequate.

7. The Amazing Spider-Man: In this reboot of Spider-Man's origin story, Peter Parker is a teenager troubled by the disappearance of his parents when he was very young. In his quest to find out the truth, he starts talking to his father's former colleague Dr. Connors, and while snooping around, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him extraordinary powers...which come in handy when Dr. Connors' experiments on himself cause some unfortunate side effects. Some really fun action sequences, and the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) is terrific, no doubt helped by the fact that they're a couple in real life.

8. Friends with Kids: Two longtime friends decide to have a kid together without the complications of love and marriage. But of course, things don't go quite as smoothly as they'd hoped. It has some really funny moments, but its predictability cost it a star.

9. The Dark Knight Rises*: Even though we had tickets reserved a month in advance, I considered backing out because of the horrific shootings at a showing in Colorado the previous night. And although it was hard to push the massacre to the backs of our minds---not least of all because of the security guards milling about---eventually TDKR became too absorbing to think of anything else, which of course is one of the best things about going to the movies.

In the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which takes place eight years after The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, his body and mind exhausted and damaged from years of fighting. But when a formidable foe (aptly named Bane) wreaks havoc on Gotham City, Bruce pulls his Batman costume out of storage and sets out to make things right again.

The Dark Knight is one of my ten favorite movies of all time, so my expectations for TDKR were pretty stratospheric. And although they weren't entirely met, it was a pretty damn good movie. I wasn't sold on her casting when I first heard about it, but Anne Hathaway was really good as Catwoman, and even though he sounds like Sean Connery gargling haggis, Tom Hardy is utterly terrifying as Bane. There are some fun surprises and virtuoso action sequences, and overall I had a boss-ass time.

Side note #1: We paid extra to sit in the "VIP lounge" of our local theater, which is 21+ only because you can buy booze at the concession stand. It was GLORIOUS. The seats were really comfortable loveseats, which meant I could cuddle up next to G, and we kicked off our shoes and split a small bottle of wine. And because we were in the balcony, we had a perfect view of the screen. If I could afford it, I would see every single movie there for the rest of my life.

Side note #2: When we left the theater, there was a gorgeous black Lamborghini parked at the curb. I was like "OMG Bruce Wayne is here!"

10. Little Big Soldier: In ancient China, as war rages through the country, a man (Jackie Chan) kidnaps an army general in hopes of collecting a huge reward. It's an interesting take on the classic road trip trope (say THAT five times fast), but I kept zoning out. I was pretty tired when we watched it, though, so it probably wasn't the movie's fault.

11. American Reunion: The American Pie gang gets back together for their high school reunion. A few good laughs (and full frontal Jason Biggs if that's what you're into), but not remotely essential to your quality of life.

12. Jiro Dreams of Sushi*: Jiro Ono is a master sushi chef who runs a tiny restaurant in Tokyo that has received three Michelin stars. This documentary covers Jiro's long career in the restaurant industry as well as his sons, who are also sushi chefs working in their father's considerable shadow. (As one patron puts it, his sons will have to be twice as good as their father to even be considered equal to him.) Much more interesting than I thought it would be, and even for someone like me who doesn't like sushi (or fish in general), this was food porn of the highest order.

...and yes, it made me want to go back to Japan. But what doesn't?

13. Wanderlust*: After losing their jobs, a couple (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) pack up their car and head to Atlanta to live with relatives. But along the way, they get into an accident and spend the night at a commune that makes them contemplate a new way of life. An underrated gem that was way funnier than I thought it would be, especially Rudd's filthy mirror monologue.

14. Project X: A group of high school friends decide to throw the most epic birthday party ever. It has its moments, but they might as well have called it The Hangover 3: The Teen Years. Also, for those of you similarly afflicted by motion sickness, this is a "found footage" movie with some shaky cam. I made it through the movie, but got a nasty headache afterwards. Might have been unrelated, of course, but caveat watcher.

15. The Reaping: Hilary Swank plays a professor and former missionary who lost her faith after her husband and daughter were murdered in the Sudan. She relishes any chance to debunk so-called miracles, so when she's asked to investigate a river of blood in rural Louisiana, she jumps at the opportunity. But even she can't explain what comes next. Goofy but entertaining.


Note: All of the following tracks are by The Smiths...

1. "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"

2. "Shakespeare's Sister"

3. "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"

4. "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side"

5. "Bigmouth Strikes Again"

6. "Ask"

7. "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"

...and the next few songs are by New Order...

8. "Ceremony"

9. "Blue Monday"

10. "Confusion"

11. "Perfect Kiss"

12. "Bizarre Love Triangle"

13. "True Faith"

14. "Kiss of Death"

...and this final batch is from The Cure. (Can you tell I was feeling nostalgic for the songs of my youth?)

15. "Boys Don't Cry"

16. "A Forest"

17. "Let's Go to Bed"

18. "The Walk"

19. "The Lovecats"

20. "In Between Days"

21. "Why Can't I Be You?"

22. "Just Like Heaven"

23. "Lovesong"