Monday, April 01, 2013

media update: March

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


1. Fuse* by Julianna Baggott:  Because this is the second installment of the Pure Trilogy, I can't give it a proper review without spoiling things from the first book.  I'll just say it's really fucking great and leave it at that.

2. Vampires in the Lemon Grove* by Karen Russell:  I'm not generally a big fan of short stories, but I made a rare exception for this because it's by the author of Swamplandia!, one of my 10 favorite novels of all time.  It's a collection of 8 stories heavily steeped in magical realism.  My favorite by far was "The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis", a heartbreaking and eerie story which reminded me of "The Body" (which later became Stand by Me, but the original story is a bit darker) by Stephen King.

3. Requiem by Lauren Oliver:  This is the final book in the Delirium trilogy, which means---you guessed it!---that I can't give it a proper review without spoiling the other two books.  I wasn't super thrilled with the way it wrapped up, but overall it was okay.

4. The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd:  Juliet is a teenage girl trying to fend for herself in London.  But when she's forced to flee, she heads to a tropical island where her estranged father is living.  Of course, there's a catch: her father is Dr. Moreau, and the island is populated by his dangerous creations.  Not starworthy, but a fun read.

5. Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus:  After the death of his son, Thomas locks himself in his bedroom for three years, only emerging late at night to buy groceries.  His desperate wife hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman with some personal experience in dealing with hikikomori (hard to describe; you can read more about the phenomenon here), to try to coax Thomas out of his room once and for all.  The writing is a bit choppy, but I liked it fine.

6. Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany:  Shortly after Grace gets engaged to her boyfriend Victor, his ex-wife dies.  Grace, who never wanted kids, has to learn how to deal with Victor's two traumatized children.  Melodramatic and too pseudo-Picoult for my tastes.

Speaking of Jodi Picoult, I started reading The Storyteller and instantly stopped when somebody discovered the face of Jesus in a loaf of bread.  That, coupled with a character who only spoke in haiku, tipped my NOPE-ometer into the red zone.


1. With or Without You* by Domenica Ruta:  In this memoir, the author writes about growing up with her mother Kathi, a charismatic alcoholic and drug addict who veered between doting on her daughter and treating her like garbage.  Searingly honest and beautifully written; I give it my highest recommendation.

2. Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang:  The author talks about growing up Chinese-American, his troubled adolescence, and his eventual rise to fame as the proprietor of hot NYC restaurant Baohaus.  There were a lot of long passages about sports/rap/sneakers that I skimmed, but the rest of it was decent.

3. Her* by Christa Parravani:  In this memoir, the author tries to unpack the life of her twin sister Cara, who died of an overdose at the age of 28, and describes how she had to reinvent herself because she didn't know who she was without Cara.  She writes, "To see the world apart from her was to be there only by half."  Wonderfully written, but almost unbearably sad.


1. Fables vol. 18 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Gene Ha

2. Batgirl: Knightfall Descends by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, and Ed Benes

3. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 13 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki

4. Otodama: Voice from the Dead by Youka Nitta

5. 21st Century Boys vol. 2 (final volume; it also wraps up 20th Century Boys) by Naoki Urasawa


1. Samsara:  A documentary of daily life around the world, ranging from a Buddhist monk creating a gorgeous sand mandala to Thai bar dancers.  There's no dialogue at all, so you can easily fast forward through the stuff that doesn't interest you.  But it's visually stunning, and I think it's destined to become a stoner classic.  Warning:  some disturbing sequences involving animals and a nightmare fuel performance artist.  (Cue the aforementioned fast forward button.)

2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Pt. 2:  Based on the classic Frank Miller graphic novel, this follows an older Bruce Wayne as he reassumes the Batman mantle.  Suffers from lackluster animation (aside from some nice fight choreography) and voice acting, but the story is good.

3. Silent Hill: Revelation*:  Heather Mason has always been told by her father that she must never go to Silent Hill, no matter what.  But when he disappears, she descends into a nightmarish world to save him. 

Unless you're already a Silent Hill fan, don't bother with this movie.  But because they stayed so true to the visuals and had the good sense to use Akira Yamaoka's incredible music, and they included so many nods to the games (G caught a SH: Downpour reference that I didn't; I was so ashamed!) I had to give it a star.  Gotta say, though, that it was weird seeing Kit "Jon Snow" Harington and Sean "Ned Stark" Bean in the same movie together. 

4. For a Good Time, Call...:  Two women nursing a mutual grudge are forced by financial circumstances to move in together.  But when they begin a successful phone sex line out of their apartment, their animosity starts to thaw.  There's a surprisingly sweet core under all the raunchy humor, and I liked it quite a bit.

5. Hide and Seek:  Oh look, another horror movie in which a cat gets killed!  How EDGY.  Christ, can a fucking cat show up in a horror movie without a) being the cause of a cheap jump scare and/or b) getting killed?  Seriously, have you ever seen a cat in a horror movie that didn't fulfill at least one of those criteria?

(And yes, I already ranted about this last month.  But it KEEPS HAPPENING.)   

Anyway, a psychologist (Robert De Niro) moves his traumatized daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) to the countryside after his wife commits suicide.  Almost immediately, Emily makes an imaginary friend named Charlie.  But Charlie doesn't much care for her father, and he might not be so imaginary after all.  About halfway through, I thought "wait a second, I think I had this movie spoiled for me when it first came out" and I was right.  But it was okay, aside from the aforementioned cat killing. 

6. Wreck-It Ralph*:  Ralph is a video game villain who wants to be a good guy, so he ventures out of his own game into other ones in hopes of fulfilling that quest.  But in the process, he unintentionally endangers the entire arcade.  A funny valentine to retro gaming.

7. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2:  Oh, Lee Pace, my darling.  I don't want to begrudge you a paycheck, but why are you in this thing?

Anyway, the schmaltzy love story of a sparkly vampire and the most boring woman in the world finally draws to a close.  It's got corny dialogue, terrible acting, and an awful CGI baby (G: "She and the E-trade kid should hook up"), but it was a bit of a guilty pleasure.

8. This Must Be the Place:  In this slow and deeply odd movie, Sean Penn plays Cheyenne, a retired rock star (think Robert Smith with a voice like Salad Fingers) who tracks down the man who humiliated his father at Auschwitz.  I can't say as I enjoyed it all that much, but it certainly was different.

9. The Sessions*:  Confined to an iron lung since childhood, poet Mark O'Brien longs to lose his virginity, and a sex surrogate steps in to help.  It kind of sounds like a romcom, but it's based on a true story.  I have no idea how John Hawkes didn't get nominated for an Oscar, though; not only is it the kind of role that the Academy loves, but he's really freakin' good.  Helen Hunt, who did get a nomination for her role as the surrogate, is excellent as well.

10. Argo*:  When Iranian militants storm the American embassy and take hostages, six people manage to escape and take refuge at the Canadian ambassador's home.  Back in the US, a CIA agent (Ben Affleck, who also directed) concocts an outrageous plan:  get them out of the country by pretending they're Canadians working on a film shoot.  Astoundingly enough, this is based on a true story that was declassified by President Clinton in 1997. 

Argo won the Best Picture Oscar this year, and although I liked Life of Pi more, I'm not angry this won.  It's tense and exciting (although I think they took some creative liberties near the end), and definitely worth a watch.  Plus Alan Arkin and John Goodman, as the film producer and makeup artist who agree to help, are hysterical. 

11. Rise of the Guardians:  Jack Frost (who looks like a Final Fantasy bishonen) is pretty cheesed that kids don't believe in him.  But when boogeyman Pitch starts causing trouble, Jack bands together with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy to stop him.  Beautiful animation, but the story was just okay. 

12. Zero Dark Thirty*:  A retelling of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden that's almost painfully suspenseful at times, even though we obviously know how it turned out.  I had to keep reminding myself to breathe during the last ten or so minutes.

13. Bachelorette:  Reagan (Kirsten Dunst) is bitter when her friend Becky (Rebel Wilson, playing the only sympathetic character in the bunch) becomes the first of their high school clique to get engaged.  She agrees to serve as maid of honor, but the position comes with some unexpected headaches.  It's sort of a darker Bridesmaids, though nowhere near as funny or endearing.

14. The Man with the Iron Fists:  A blacksmith working in China gets entangled in a clan battle, and with the help of a raunchy Brit (Russell Crowe) and a cool madam (Lucy Liu), he decides to take them down.  Waaaaaaaaaay too much wire work for my liking, but there's some gorgeous set design and a few good lines.

15. End of Watch*:  Two LAPD officers working in South Central put themselves in grave danger when they piss off a drug cartel.  Excellent performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena and some gruelingly intense scenes elevate this a notch above most cop thrillers.

Side note:  There's a lot of shaky cam in this movie, which usually makes me throw up, but it was usually followed by a calmer scene, which helped settle my system.  So if you're similarly afflicted, you can probably watch this movie safely aside from one fight and some running scenes.  (I closed my eyes during those.)

16. Killing Them Softly:  After two inept criminals hold up a card game run by mobsters, a hitman (Brad Pitt) is dispatched to wipe them out.  Good performances, but the allegories are forced and it wasn't as good as I'd been led to believe.


(Note: we also played the DLC chapter called "Awakened", but I can't get into specifics about it because it spoils the shit out of DS3.  I'll just say that it's worth the extra $10.)

Dead Space 2 is one of my 10 favorite video games of all time, and the first one was damn good too.  Needless to say, I bought Dead Space 3 as soon as it came out because I was itchin' to plow through some necromorphs.

In DS3, which takes place 3 years after the events of DS2, you once again assume the role of space engineer Isaac Clarke.  He and Ellie became romantically involved after DS2, but they split up and now she's canoodling with a total douche.  But as much as Isaac would like to nurse his broken heart in peace, the Unitologists are up to their old tricks again, activating Markers and causing another necromorph outbreak.  Isaac reluctantly takes up arms again in hopes of ending things once and for all.


  • Uniformly good voice acting aside from one notable problem that I'll address in due time.

  • Gorgeous graphics and brilliant music/sound design.

  • Isaac's locator, which is used by clicking the right joystick, is still the best mapping system of all time. 

  • There are some really tense moments, and those horrifying bird monsters (who make the MOST HIDEOUS NOISE I'VE EVER HEARD) make a repeat appearance.  I swear to Christ, those fuckers are neck and neck with the stabby children from the first Silent Hill as my most traumatizing video game enemy.

  • You now have "scavenger bots" at your disposal, which are cute lobster-looking machines that search for scrap metal to use for new weapons.

  • It's just plain fun, and it will make you feel like a total badass.  If I may boast for a moment:  at one point I had swarms of monsters coming at me from both sides.  Turn to the left:  BOOM, take out the legs of a necromorph and stasis the dudes behind him to slow them down.  Turn to the right:  BAM, do the same on that side.  Return to the first guy and finish him off, swivel back to the right seamlessly and blow the other guy away, then clean up the stragglers, all in the course of maybe 20 seconds.  Even G was impressed, and G is a total OG (original gamer).  That's right, I serve up pipin' hot beatdowns like IHOP, no syrup, 'cause ain't nothing sweet 'round here when I'm popping caps in monster ass, you feel me?


  • The other female character (whose name I forgot) sounds way too much like Ellie, which made it confusing as to who was speaking if we weren't in the same room with them or they weren't facing the camera at the time.

  • This might not be a negative for you---it certainly wasn't for G---but the new weapon crafting system is complicated as fuck.  Whenever I reached a bench, I just passed the controller off to G so he could make us a bitchin' new weapon.  (For the record, you can't go wrong with the shotgun, especially if you use fire coating on your bullets.)

  • It's not as scary as DS2, and there are no indelible "set pieces" like DS2's nursery or auditorium.  The DLC has some pretty freaky scenes, but again, not as memorable as DS2.

  • I can't believe I'm going to complain about this, but they were TOO generous with the health and ammo drops.  Lots of people were angry when it was announced that DS3 would use microtransactions (i.e. pay real money to download ammo packs and weapon parts), but trust me, you ain't gonna need to spend any real money, especially since all weapons now use the same type of ammo.  My safe was full to bursting by the end with excess ammo and healing.  This unfortunately took a bit of the tension out of the game. 

  • And finally, my biggest complaint of all:  no offline co-op.  G and I were seriously salted when we found this out, because we were looking forward to playing DS3 together.  Boo to you for this obnoxious omission, EA.  Booooooooooooooooooooooo.

  • Although Dead Space 3 pales in comparison to its lofty predecessor, it's still a worthy addition to the series.  I don't know why it got such shitty reviews, but in my opinion, you can ignore them.  Load up your line gun and get to dismembering!


    1. Dial-A-Song (full album) by They Might Be Giants

    2. "Sugar Rush" by AKB48