Monday, June 30, 2014

media update: June

And how was your June?  Mine was quite nice, thank you.  Work was unusually slow, which led to some pretty long and boring days, but three wonderful things happened.  First of all, the Raccoon officially retired, and you have no idea how magnificent it is to come in every morning and see her empty desk. She did come in for a visit last week, which set my teeth on edge because seriously, bitch?  YOU JUST LEFT AND NOBODY MISSES YOU.   Yeah, it was still better than seeing her 5 days a week, but it really pissed me off.

Secondly, my boss got transferred to a different division, and since she tended to be unreasonable and not a particularly pleasant person, I can't say as I was too freakin' sorry to see her go.  (Neither was anyone else; when the official email went out, people were CHEERING.  No, she wasn't around at the time.)

Best of all, my work bestie/next door neighbor J, who was planning on transferring to Arizona, changed her mind!  She's the only person at work that I consider a friend, and our late afternoon bitchfests keep me sane, so I was ecstatic at this news.

Another nice thing that happened this month:  G-Vo, C, C's lovely lady, and I saw a live taping of Conan O'Brien, which was fun.  Jack White was the musical guest, and he SLAYED.  Afterwards, we ate at the original Bob's Big Boy, which filled me with nostalgia since we used to eat at Bob's when I was a kid.  I took a selfie with the Bob statue outside because I'm a dork.

Anyway, on to the media update!  Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; your mileage may vary.


1. Mr. Mercedes* by Stephen King:  Early one morning, hundreds of people are waiting for a job fair to open when a stolen Mercedes plows through the crowd, killing eight people.  The driver escapes and ditches the car, leaving behind a clown mask that's been washed with bleach to destroy evidence.  The crime still haunts retired detective Bill Hodges, so when he receives a taunting letter from Mr. Mercedes, he's determined to stop him before he kills again...and time is of the essence, because Mr. Mercedes has plans to mount a terrorist attack that could wipe out thousands of people.  One of King's scariest novels, because the events in this book could actually happen.  I thought the ending was a bit of a letdown, but other than that, Mr. Mercedes is really good.

2. Young God* by Katherine Faw Morris:  Nikki is a 13-year-old girl who is determined to keep her family's drug trade profitable.  The prose is sparse (some pages only have one sentence on them) and it can be pretty disturbing, but it's an excellent debut that reads like Winter's Bone written by Dorothy Allison.

3. Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau:  This is the final volume in a trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil the previous books.  It was aight.

4. The Girl with All the Gifts* by M.R. Carey:  Melanie is a young girl who lives on an army base.  She is only removed from her cell to attend class.  Why?  Well, the less you know about this book going in, the better.  I'll just say that it's excellent, and if you don't trust my judgment, trust Joss Whedon's blurb on the back.  ("As fresh as it is terrifying...It left me sighing with envious joy...a jewel.")  


1. Carsick by John Waters:  The notorious filmmaker decided to hitchhike from Baltimore to San Francisco.  The first two sections of this book are his fantasies about the best and worst possible scenarios, and the final section tells us what really happened on his journey.  For the most part, I thought the fantasy sections were a little too weird and/or gross for my tastes, but I did enjoy the real stuff.

2. Insatiable by Asa Akira:  The porn star tells all in this explicit memoir.  I had never heard of her (and no, I'm not playing coy; I would tell you if I had) but saw this at the library and was intrigued.  It's a pretty good look behind the scenes of the adult entertainment industry.


1. Over Easy by Mimi Pond

2. Kamisama Kiss vol. 15 by Julietta Suzuki

3. This One Summer* by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

4. Sex Criminals* by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky:  This graphic novel about people who can stop time when they have an orgasm is pretty goddamn good and you should read it.  One of my favorite things about it is the little details in the background, like a poster in a porn store that shows a woman staring forlornly at the camera.  The title of the movie is Not the Life That I Anticipated, But Here I Am I Guess.

5. The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff


1. I, Frankenstein:  I, stupid for watching this pile of shit.

2. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones:  Jesse is intrigued by his downstairs neighbor, who is rumored to be a witch.  After her death, Jesse begins to investigate, but he unleashes something evil in the process.  Like all of the PA movies, it's not particularly scary (I don't count jump scares), but it's well done and I enjoyed it.

3. Her*:  Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man in the process of divorcing his childhood sweetheart.  One day he purchases an operating system (think Siri, only much more advanced), which names itself Samantha, and he quickly falls in love with her.  It sounds like a comedy, but although it has some funny moments, it's most certainly not.  Rather, it's a strangely moving look at how our dependence on technology can prevent us from forming bonds with real people.  Very deserving of its Oscar for best original screenplay, and highly recommended.

4. Son of Batman:  In this animated flick, Batman learns that he's the father of a young son named Damian.  When the boy's mother, Talia Al'Ghul, asks Batman to train Damian, he reluctantly agrees.  Decent story and animation, but the voice acting is surprisingly flat.

5.  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit:  CIA analyst Jack Ryan discovers a Russian plot to destroy the US economy.  Takes a while to get going, but it has some fun action, and Chris Pine is quite pleasant to look at.

6. Three Days to Kill:  A CIA agent (Kevin Costner) wants to retire, but after he's diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, he's offered the chance to receive an experimental drug...if he's willing to take on one last case.  It's decent enough, though nothing special.

7. The Monuments Men:  A group of museum curators and architects are tasked with recovering priceless stolen artwork before the Nazis can destroy them.  It's an intriguing (and true!) story, and you can't beat the cast, but it had a really strange tone to it.  As G-Vo mentioned, it gets practically Hogan's Heroes-esque at times, and then you'll see a barrel full of gold fillings taken from dead Jews or a soldier dying.  I wish the tone had been a bit more consistent. 

8. Lone Survivor*:  When a mission to capture a Taliban leader goes horribly awry, a group of Navy SEALS struggles to survive.  The title is a spoiler, but considering that it's based on a true story, I'll give it a pass on that.  It's very intense, and I appreciated the fact that they honored the people who died that day by showing their photos at the end of the movie.

9. Knights of Badassdom:  A group of LARPers accidentally conjures a real succubus in this horror comedy.  It's packed with geek favorites like Peter Dinklage, Summer Glau, and Ryan Kwanten, and it has a few fun moments/lines, but mostly it's just really stupid.  Probably better with the addition of alcohol or your favorite, ahem, herbal remedies.


1. "Lost Cause" by Beck

2. "Shy Guy" by Diana King

3. "Fell in Love with a Girl" by the White Stripes

4. "Soramimi Cake" by Oranges & Lemons


Massachusetts police detective Ronan O'Connor is not having a great day on the job.  He's in hot pursuit of the Bell Killer, the serial killer terrorizing Salem, and just as he has the killer cornered, the killer tosses him out a window.  Not content to leave things to chance, the Bell Killer saunters downstairs and finishes Ronan off with seven shots to the chest.  You'd think that would be the end of it, but thanks to the supernatural forces in Salem, Ronan becomes a ghost.  And the spirit of his dead wife Julia tells him that he can't join her on the other side unless he ties up a few loose ends first.  Determined to be with Julia forever, Ronan teams up with a psychic teenage girl named Joy to bring the Bell Killer to justice.

During the course of the game, you search for clues, possess people to read their minds or influence them to act a certain way, and take control of cats (yay!) to access tight areas.  Dementor-like demons roam around and will kill you all over again (this time permanently) if you don't sneak up on them and take them down first.  You can help other spirits find peace by solving their problems or collect artifacts to hear ghost stories revolving around them, though none of the stories were really worth the trouble.

M:SS got terrible reviews, but honestly, it's not bad.  The story takes some interesting turns, and Ronan and Joy have a fun (if occasionally prickly) camaraderie.  The graphics aren't particularly great, but the atmosphere is suitably creepy.  It's a pretty short game that should only take about 10 hours to complete (maybe 12 if you want to find all of the artifacts and notes), so if you like action adventure games, it's worth renting.

Friday, June 13, 2014

five stars

I have a pretty boring diet.  With rare exceptions, I have the same thing for breakfast (yogurt) and lunch (PBJ) every day.  Dinner varies, but not by much.  G-Vo and I eat out on weekends, but we still only choose from a small group of favorite restaurants.  And that's fine; I eat these things because I like them.

But every once in a while, I'll eat something so amazing that makes me realize how everything else I usually eat is just empty calories, quickly consumed and then forgotten.  One of the best meals I've ever had was filet mignon and basmati rice, with key lime cheesecake for dessert.  It was one of those meals where I sat back full and happy and knew that I'd remember it for a long time.  It didn't just nourish my body; it nourished my soul.

These are the movie and TV equivalents, culled from my five star ratings on Netflix.  I thought I'd share them in case anyone is looking for something worthwhile to watch over the summer.  Your mileage, of course, may vary.  I've added comments or clarifications where needed.  Also, there's a very real possibility that I forgot to rate something that I thought was worth five stars, so I may update it at some point in the future, but this is a good starting point.

In alphabetical order:

  1. Aladdin
  2. American Beauty
  3. Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV show, NOT the movie!)
  4. The Avengers
  5. Borat
  6. Breaking Bad:  We haven't actually finished this, so I reserve the right to go back and change this rating.  But the writing and acting so far deserve a five.
  7. Bridesmaids
  8. Clerks
  9. The Dark Knight
  10. E.T. 
  11. The Fall:  The movie, not the unrelated TV miniseries (which is also excellent).  I pulled this DVD off the shelf at the library, thought I'd watch about 15 minutes and toss it aside, and wound up watching it twice in 24 hours.  It is so beautiful and heartbreaking and has made me a Lee Pace fangirl for life. 
  12. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  13. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  14. Game of Thrones:  I want to say it's my favorite TV show of all time, but I hesitate to do so until it's actually over.  It's got a damn good shot, though, assuming it doesn't pull a Lost or a Dexter on us in the final season.
  15. The Green Mile:  Based on one of my ten favorite books of all time.
  16. Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 2:  Mainly for sentimental reasons.
  17. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  18. Her
  19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame:  The Disney version.  No exaggeration, I was howling in the theater.  And I don't mean laughter, I mean tears.  People were actually turning around to look at me.
  20. The Incredibles
  21. Kick-Ass
  22. Kill Bill:  The first one only; I was really disappointed in the second.
  23. King Kong:  Peter Jackson's version.
  24. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  25. Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers:  Probably my favorite movie of all time.
  26. Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King:  Yes, I went out of alphabetical order there because I felt weird going out of sequential order for a trilogy.  (nerd)
  27. Me and You and Everyone We Know
  28. Memento
  29. Mulholland Drive
  30. Mysterious Skin
  31. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  32. Paranoia Agent
  33. Perfect Blue
  34. Pinocchio
  35. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  36. The Protector:  Also known as Tom Yum Goong.
  37. Pulp Fiction
  38. Running Scared:  The 2006 movie, not the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines one.  One of the most exciting and audacious movies I've ever seen.  A scene of Paul Walker (RIP) going down on Vera Farmiga most certainly did not hurt its rating.
  39. Shortbus
  40. Sideways
  41. The Silence of the Lambs
  42. Sita Sings the Blues
  43. Sixteen Candles
  44. The Sopranos:  As of this writing, my favorite TV show of all time, though (as mentioned above) Game of Thrones is not just nipping at its heels; it has an actual foot in its mouth.
  45. Titanic
  46. Toy Story 3
  47. Up
  48. Welcome to the Dollhouse
  49. Zodiac
Aw man, I don't have a full 50?  Oh well.

UPDATE 6/15:  I couldn't easily add these without messing up my list above, so please mentally add Freaks and Geeks, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Shaun of the Dead, Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back to the above list.

Monday, June 02, 2014

media update: May

This month, I wrapped up an experiment in which I kept track of every penny I spent over the course of a year.  It was pretty interesting; for one thing, I learned that I spend WAY too much money in the vending machine here at work.  Once I noticed that trend, though, I managed to cut the amount down by 75%.

I was going to break everything down by category, but oh my god, no thanks, I'm not THAT bored.  But here are a few highlights:

Most common purchases that weren't strictly necessary:  Vending machine items, massages (though I could make a strong case for those being necessary because they improve my mood/back pain), Sprinkles cupcakes, contributions to the lottery pool at work, and assorted subscriptions (Gamefly, Netflix, about eight thousand magazines, and Booksfree, although I cancelled that in March because they kept removing so many items that my queue went down from 300 books to 12 in the course of three months).

Most unusual purchases:  Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Ned Stark Funko figurines (gifts for G); an original watercolor painting titled Skeletons Under the Mistletoe by Lissa Treiman; a "small sausage" (oddly enough, I don't remember this purchase at all and I only eat sausage on the rare occasions I go out for breakfast, and I wasn't being euphemistic, so it will remain a mystery).

Stores that get most of my money:  Target, Whole Foods, CVS, and Albertsons.

Anyway, it was interesting, but I'm glad it's over because it was a pain in the ass to keep track of every freakin' penny.  If I ever feel the need to do it again, I'll stick to one or two months.

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


1. Wolf* by Mo Hayder:  Detective Jack Caffery is approached by the Walking Man (a recurring character) with a strange request.  The Walking Man has found a dog wandering alone with a scrap of paper under its collar that says "HELP US".  He wants Jack to find the dog's owners, and in exchange, he'll give Jack an important clue about a case that's haunted Jack for years.  Jack takes on the request, but can he find the terrorized family in time?

Engrossing as hell, like all of Mo Hayder's books (I was late to work because I only had 15 pages left and had to finish it), but two caveats.  First, it bears some striking similarities to a particular movie.  Both the movie and the book are far too recent for it to be anything other than a coincidence, but thinking "Hey, I wonder if this is going to turn out like [movie]" meant I inadvertently spoiled the book for myself!  Second, I would strongly recommend that you not read this if you haven't read Birdman and The Treatment, as it spoils a few major things from those books.  You should read them anyway because they're awesome, and The Treatment has one of the best endings I've ever read in my life, so get crackin'.

2. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead:  In 1975, an American ballet dancer named Joan helps Arslan Rusakov, considered to be the best ballet dancer in the world, defect from Russia.  She falls deeply in love with him, which has unexpected consequences that reverberate throughout the rest of her life.  It's okay, but I probably wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been hard up for reading material at the time.  Also, it should have ended one chapter earlier.

3. Tease by Amanda Maciel:  Sara is in big trouble.  After her classmate Emma commits suicide, Sara, her best friend Brielle, and three classmates are charged with stalking and harassment.  While awaiting sentencing, Sara is forced to confront her part in Emma's death.  It's pretty good, although (much like Tampa by Alissa Nutting and The End of Alice by A.M. Homes) it feels kind of squicky to try to sympathize with a narrator who's a terrible person.  Also, the cover is shiny silver with the title written out in red lipstick, which makes it look like erotica.  Not that I have anything against erotica, of course; it's just not something I want people to think I'm reading in the break room at work.

4. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculi:  Minnie Graves is not happy when she's pressured into being a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding to a guy she hates.  Bored, she wanders off to explore the Bellweather Hotel, the sprawling resort where the wedding is taking place, and witnesses a murder-suicide.  Fifteen years later, when a group of teenagers comes to the Bellweather for a music conference, another tragedy makes everyone wonder if the past is repeating itself.  The book jacket describes it as "The Shining meets Glee", and although it's not as engrossing (and not remotely scary) as The Shining, it's still pretty good.  There are some stretches that drag, but it redeems itself with some great set pieces and lines like this one:  "When [Minnie's] parents wake her to talk to the police, again she will scream and kick and fight like an animal, afraid to be awake in a world of so many monsters."


Nothing this month.


1. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! vol. 3 by Nico Tanigawa

2. Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

3. Midnight Secretary vol. 5 by Tomu Ohmi

4. Otomen vol. 18 (final volume) by Aya Kanno

5. Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda and Yu

6. Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru


1. 47 Ronin:  Loosely based on Japanese history, this movie tells the story of a group of ronin (guess how many!) who are determined to avenge the death of their master.  This was a massive commercial and critical flop, but I liked it quite a bit.  It's visually appealing (aside from some iffy CGI at times) and has some fun action.

2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug*:  This is a sequel to The Hobbit, so I won't go into great detail lest I spoil something from its predecessor/book.  I will say that it's considerably better than the first movie, thanks to a couple of terrific fight scenes, a badass dragon, and the return of LEGOLAS.  Not only is he pretty to look at, but he's a fucking boss.  Glad to have you back, my Elvish sweetheart.

3. Bettie Page Reveals All*:  A look at the iconic pinup girl whose playful poses and obvious delight in her sexuality continue to resonate decades later.  What I particularly enjoyed about this documentary is that it's not just a regurgitated slideshow of her photos (though there are plenty of those, of course); it includes a very rare interview with her done shortly before she died.  My main complaint is that at one point Bettie talks about a shoot where the photographers got her drunk and she wound up posing in a much more explicit fashion than usual, and how much that upset her once she'd sobered up and realized what happened, and then they showed one of those pictures onscreen.  I thought that was disrespectful.

4. Stranger by the Lake:  In this French flick, Franck spends most of his days at a lake known for gay cruising.  He's instantly attracted to Michel (who looks a lot like a young Timothy Dalton), and his attraction doesn't wane even when he sees Michel drown his lover in the lake.  An interesting little thriller, but be warned that it includes more nudity than a men's locker room and graphic, non-simulated sex.

5. Out of the Furnace:  After his brother disappears while engaging in an underground fighting match, Russell takes matters into his own hands.  Excellent performances, especially from Christian Bale as Russell and Woody Harrelson as a vicious redneck, but unrelentingly grim.

6. Pompeii:  This was a shameless Gladiator ripoff until Mount Vesuvius erupted.  It was another big budget flop that didn't quite deserve the critical and commercial failure, because the disaster porn is really cool and Kit "Jon Snow" Harington's abs are a force of nature too.  Don't get me wrong, it's not a great movie, but it's enjoyable.

7. Chinese Zodiac:  Jackie Chan plays a relic hunter tasked with retrieving several priceless statues and returning them to China.  There's an almost unbearable slapsticky part in the middle, but the beginning (in which Jackie speeds around hairpin turns in a rollerblade suit) and the fight scenes are great.

8. X-Men: Days of Future Past*:  Wolverine is sent back in time to prevent an assassination that would have dire consequences for mutants and humans alike.  It was a lot of fun, especially a terrific scene with Quicksilver that Joss Whedon will have a very hard time topping in the next Avengers movie.  Oh, and you get to see Hugh Jackman's nalgas, which is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Side note: It's sad that this even warrants a mention, but the audience was extremely well-behaved throughout the entire movie.  I hardly ever go to the movies anymore (this was the first time in 7 months), both because of the cost and because people are so goddamn rude, so I was gratified when everyone was quiet and kept their phones in their pockets/purses.


1. "Cherry-Coloured Funk" by Cocteau Twins

2. "Heaven or Las Vegas" by Cocteau Twins

3. "One Small Day" by Ultravox

4. "Love's Great Adventure" by Ultravox

5. "Original Don" by Major Lazer

6. "Be Aggressive" by Faith No More

4. "Love's Great Adventure" by Ultravox