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