Tuesday, March 31, 2015

media update: March

Asterisks denote something that I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme.  Your mileage, as ever, may vary.


1. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh:  In 1989, popular 15-year-old Lindy Simpson is attacked, peeling back the veneer of her idyllic neighborhood to reveal something ugly.  The unnamed narrator, who's in love with Lindy, is briefly a suspect, causing him to grow up quicker than he ever wanted.  It's beautifully written, but something about it bothered me, and I can't put my finger on it.

2. Making Nice by Matt Sumell:  Alby is completely unmoored after his mother's death.  He tries to drown his pain by fighting with his siblings and drinking, but every once in a while, he lets down his guard a little and tries to make a real connection.  Darkly funny and almost unbearably real at times, but I would have liked it more if it had ended a chapter sooner and if Alby wasn't such a prick.

3. The Daughter by Jane Shemilt:  Jenny appears to have it all: a great career, a loving husband, and three accomplished teenagers.  But when her 15-year-old daughter Naomi disappears, Jenny discovers the cracks in the facade of her life.  It was okay.

4. The Winner's Crime* by Marie Rutkoski:  This is the second in a trilogy so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor, but it was really good.

2015 tally so far: 15


1. Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin:  To keep the author and her brother out of the foster care system, her mother sent them to live with friends who constantly moved them around.  After a tragedy shook her to the core, she turned to food and cooking as a way of comfort and belonging.  It's good, but gets considerably less interesting once her life turns around.  (Though of course I'm glad she's happy now!)

2. It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell:  The author began overeating when she was a kid in order to soothe the pain of a tumultuous family life.  But her habits persisted into adulthood until she decided to lose weight.  Decent enough, and I'm glad to hear that my megacrush Mark Ruffalo is just as nice in real life as he seems.  (She worked as a PA on Shutter Island, and also had good things to say about Leonardo DiCaprio.)

2015 tally so far: 5


1. Happy Marriage!? vols. 3-10 (final volume) by Maki Enjoji

2. Say I Love You vol. 6 by Kanae Hazuki

3. Displacement* by Lucy Knisley

4. Honey Blood by Miko Mitsuki

5. Saga** vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

6. Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol. 3 by Naoki Serizawa

7. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall vol. 3 by Satoshi Shiki and Ryo Suzuki

8. Sex Criminals* vol. 2 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

2015 tally so far: 23 volumes of manga and 6 graphic novels


1. A Walk Among the Tombstones:  In this very dark and gritty thriller, private investigator Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) tries to find the psychopaths who are kidnapping, torturing, and killing the wives of local drug dealers.

2. Foxcatcher:  When Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is invited to train at the estate of John du Pont (Steve Carell), he jumps at the opportunity, but it turns out that du Pont's eccentricity hides something darker.  Terrific performances, glacial pace.

3. The Book of Life*:  Manolo and Joaquin are long time friends who are both in love with Maria.  But something happens that I won't spoil, and Manolo has to travel to the land of the dead to make things right again.  This beautifully animated movie was much better than expected.

4. Big Driver:  Mystery writer Tess Thorne (Maria Bello) is driving home on a lonely stretch of road when she runs over debris in the road and gets a flat tire.  She's grateful when a man pulls over to help, but he brutally assaults her and leaves her for dead.  She's much more resilient than he anticipated, though, and she wants revenge.  Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, it's not great, but it has its moments.  Warning: even though this originally aired on basic cable, the rape scene is pretty graphic, so view with caution.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1*:  I can't review this properly lest I spoil its predecessors, so I'll just say that I really enjoyed it.  There was absolutely no reason to split the final book up into two movies, though.  (Well, maybe several hundred million rea$on$.)

6. Nightcrawler**:  Lou Bloom (a magnetically creepy Jake Gyllenhaal) is desperate for work, so when he learns about the lucrative industry of selling footage to the local news, he buys a cheap camcorder and a police scanner and heads out on the streets.  Dark, disturbing, and really goddamn good.

7. Birdman:  Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) is trying to put his most iconic role, a superhero named Birdman, behind him while he works on Broadway, but it's not easy.  Great performances, and it's technically impressive, but it's also pretentious arty bullshit that shouldn't have won best picture, especially when the far superior Nightcrawler didn't even get nominated.

8. Big Hero 6**:  After his microbots are stolen and used for nefarious purposes by a mysterious masked man, teenage prodigy Hiro teams up with an inflatable robot named Baymax and a team of geniuses to save the day.  Beautifully animated, very funny, and full of feels.

9. Dead Rising: Watchtower:  After a bad batch of Zombrex causes formerly infected people to relapse, web reporter Chase Carter tries to escape the city before it's firebombed.  I wasn't expecting much from this movie, but it was surprisingly decent!  It was obviously written by someone familiar with the video games, Rob Riggle is great as Frank West (though I wish he'd gotten a chance to kick some ass), and it has a deliriously sick sight gag that made G-Vo and I gasp and then burst into hysterical laughter.   Obviously it's not a masterpiece, but if you love the video games, you ought to check this out.  It's currently streaming for free on Crackle, but fair warning: you'll have to sit through a shitload of ads.

2015 tally so far: 30


1. "Dream All Day" by the Posies

2. "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet

3. "I've Been Waiting" by Matthew Sweet

4. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen

5. "Tears" by Health

6. "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" by Sophie B. Hawkins

7. "Jump Around" by House of Pain

8. "Maybe I Know" by Lesley Gore


When I heard that Shinji Mikami was working on a new survival horror game, I was overcome with joy.  He's the father of the Resident Evil franchise, and was directly involved with several installments, including what I consider to be the three best RE games (2, Code Veronica, and 4).  In addition, he also worked on Devil May Cry, Shadows of the Damned, and God Hand, so I was expecting pants pissing terror combined with hardcore action.

What I got was, well, a bit of a mess.

Police detective Sebastian Castellanos is called to the scene of a grisly mass murder at the Beacon Mental Hospital.  He's knocked unconscious by a hooded man, and when he wakes up, everything has gone batshit.  The buildings are moving and folding in on themselves like something out of Inception, and worst of all, there are hideous creatures and possessed people wandering around who want nothing more than to grind Sebastian into a pulp.  He has to find his fellow officers, figure out who the hell that man was and what he wants, and stay alive...no easy task, to put it mildly.


  • As you'd expect from a Shinji Mikami game, there are some genuinely frightening moments and monsters in this game.  One creature, a Pyramid Head-like dude called the Keeper, has a safe for a head, which isn't as comical as you might think.  If you damage his body beyond repair, he'll simply rip his own head off and respawn from another safe.  When I entered one area with a lot of safes lying around, I let out a stream of oaths that would make a sailor blush.  And Ruvik (the mysterious hooded man) can kill you just by touching you, so that led to some panicked running down hallways searching for a closet to hide in or a bed to crawl under.  As much as those areas made my heart pound, I enjoyed them because they reminded me of Clock Tower and Haunting Ground.
  • Atmosphere to spare, including some innovative areas.  One section was a maze with a carousel in the middle, and when the carousel started moving, I noticed that there was a giant blade attached to the middle that was now swinging around.  Of course, I didn't notice it until Sebastian's head was on the ground!  And there was one chapter that reminded G-Vo and me of Resident Evil 4, which is about as high a compliment as we can pay a game.
  • Some of the loading screens are really creepy.  A few of them are cliched "lightning flashed and now there are bloody handprints on the window OMG OMG" types of things, but some of them are freaky as fuck, like a room full of mannequins serving up some Maniac realness and a Purge-style mask hanging from a nail.
  • Along the same lines, you'll occasionally find posters that parody existing horror movies, such as The Ring, The Mist, Saw, and even A Serbian Film.  (Pro tip: do not google that if you're not already familiar with it; just the Wikipedia synopsis gave me nightmares, and I'm not kidding.)  And I'm convinced that the nurse in the safe house is an homage to Lisa Garland from the first Silent Hill game.

  • The facial animations aren't great, and for such a high profile game, the voices aren't particularly good either.  Which is surprising, considering they got talent like Jennifer "Deb Morgan" Carpenter. (Jackie Earle Haley as Ruvik and Yuri Lowenthal as Joseph are pretty good, though.)  And one guy sounded EXACTLY like Chris Griffin from Family Guy.
  • I didn't give much of a shit about anyone, which is a fatal flaw for any character driven game but especially a survival horror one.  Obviously not every game can be The Last of Us in this regard, but Sebastian has such a bland personality you'd think Stephenie Meyer created him.  If they'd worked a little harder to make him likeable and given him a voice actor who wasn't phoning it in, I would have cared a lot more.
  • Worst of all, for me at least, THIS GAME IS SO MOTHERFUCKING HARD.  I apologize for internet shouting, but it cannot be stressed enough.  G-Vo played it before me, and when it was my turn to play, I asked him what difficulty level I should choose.  Without even a single second of hesitation, he said "Casual", and believe me, he was not trying to insult me or make a joke.  Casual difficulty doesn't change the combat or enemy AI at all; it merely provides you with more ammo and gel (used to upgrade stats).  It was still plenty goddamn hard; I think my final death tally was somewhere in the neighborhood of 150!  I'm ashamed to admit this, but I wound up passing the controller to G-Vo a few times so he could get me past a boss.  Once it was because the fight was taking place in such a tight area that it was making me nauseated, but the other times, it was because I was about to have an aneurysm and I didn't want to rage quit.  (Oddly enough, the final boss wasn't all that hard!)  G-Vo's finished some notoriously difficult games like Dark Souls, and even he admits that TEW is a bitch and a half.  So caveat player.
What made this game so frustrating was that every once in a while you'd get a glimpse of what it COULD have been, but those areas were few and far between and lasted for such a short time that it was almost like they were trolling you.  It's worth picking up if you like the genre and can rent, borrow, or buy it cheap.  If you go into it knowing full well that you'll want to break it in half at least a dozen times, and you don't get your hopes up too high, maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.  I give it 7 jars of green goo out of 10.


I've been reading the Fables graphic novels for a long time now, but to be honest, I've kind of soured on the series.  But I still wanted to check this game out because it was done by Telltale Games, who did such an amazing job with their Walking Dead games, and it did not disappoint.

Explaining the whole Fables mythos would take a long ass time, but here's a Cliffs Notes version:  people and creatures from fairy tales have been forced out of their own world into ours.  The ones who look or can pass as human (or who can afford expensive glamours that disguise their true appearance) live in New York City in a community called Fabletown; the others are exiled to the Farm, where they can live as themselves but can never leave lest they expose everyone to the "mundys", or regular people.  Fables are basically immortal as long as their stories are remembered and told.

Bigby Wolf (aka the Big Bad Wolf) is sheriff of Fabletown, and in this game, he's called to the apartment of his long time enemy, the Woodsman, who's busy beating up a hooker named Faith.  Bigby separates the two and walks Faith outside, where she bums a cigarette and tells him he's not as bad as everyone thinks he is.  Later, when her severed head is left on Bigby's doorstep, he's determined to find out who killed her, and his investigation uncovers some very ugly things going on in Fabletown.


  • The writing is superb...certainly better than the comics have been for the last several issues.  The plot is intriguing, and it's often very funny.
  • Great voice acting.
  • The cel shaded animation is a perfect fit considering the source material.
  • Like the Walking Dead games, The Wolf Among Us is a point and click game that also involves making dialogue choices and engaging in quick time events (QTEs), which were often very exciting.  There's a terrific warehouse fight that used this mechanic to perfection.
  • As you progress, you unlock information on different Fables and aspects of life in Fabletown.  This was a good refresher for me and very helpful for G-Vo, who has only a passing knowledge of the Fables universe.  (He read the crossover they did with The Unwritten, but hasn't read any of the actual comics.) 
  • The music is very good.  Some tracks are straight out of Silent Hill, and there's a song playing in a strip club that's very obviously supposed to be "How Soon Is Now" by The Smiths, but much better than those "This is supposed to be [title] but we don't want to pay for the rights so here's something that sounds almost exactly like it" songs tend to be.


  • The only real complaint I have is that the ending was a bit of a head scratcher.  Perhaps they were trying to leave things open ended for a potential sequel (which I hope they get), but it still could have wrapped up in a more satisfying way.

This fairytale is definitely not for children or the easily offended; it's got super salty language, violence, and a bare breasted Little Mermaid swinging around a stripper pole.  But if you're ready for a twisted, beautifully told fairytale, give this one a try immediately.  I give it 8 Huff 'n' Puff cigarettes out of 10.

Monday, March 02, 2015

media update: February

Starting this month, I'm going to keep a running tally of how many books I've read/movies I've watched since the beginning of the year.  I'm doing this not to be all "OMG look how much I read LOL"; I'm doing it because it appeals to my OCD.

Asterisks denote something that I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the absolute creme de la creme.  Your mileage, as ever, may vary.


1. The Deep* by Nick Cutter:  Humanity is being destroyed by a plague called the 'Gets, which causes people to forget things and eventually shut down completely.  When an unusual substance with miraculous healing properties is discovered at the bottom of the sea, a research lab is built eight miles below the surface to study it.  But when the scientists stop communicating, a ship is sent to find out what is going on, and it turns out the miracle cure may be far worse than the disease.  Gooey, disturbing Lovecraftian horror that actually managed to make me cry at one point.  Warning: like Cutter's previous book The Troop, it contains some very nasty scenes of animal cruelty/death.

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins:  Rachel has lost her marriage and her job due to her drinking, but every day she takes a commuter train into London so her roommate doesn't find out she's unemployed.  At one of the stops, she likes looking out the window at a particular house, making up stories about the attractive couple she sees there.  But one day Rachel glimpses something she shouldn't, and when the woman disappears, she decides to piece together the truth.  From the rave reviews, I was expecting something great, but it's merely good.  

3. The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard:  In the world of this novel, people are divided by the color of their blood:  Reds, who are normal, and Silvers, who possess unique abilities and have all of the money and power.  Mare Barrow, a teenage Red, chafes under the Silvers' rule, but when a shocking secret comes to light, she finds herself at the heart of a rebellion.  It's okay, but awfully derivative of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and even Avatar: The Last Airbender.  (Seriously, there are benders in it.)

4. A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd:  This is the final volume in the Madman's Daughter trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors, but I really liked it.

5. Motive by Jonathan Kellerman:  Dr. Alex Delaware and his friend Milo Sturgis, an LAPD homicide detective, team up to solve a rash of murders with an unusual twist:  the killer leaves behind a feast.  It's annoying how Kellerman occasionally spells out heavy accents (verbatim example:  "Vut ken I do for you, surzz?"  Christ, just say the person has a heavy accent and leave it at that!), but otherwise, this was a solid read.

6. See How Small* by Scott Blackwood:  Three teenage girls are working at an ice cream shop when two men come in just before closing, tie them up, and set the place on fire.  (Horrifyingly enough, this novel was inspired by a similar crime in the 90s.)  As the community reels from the tragedy, the girls watch from the afterlife.  It doesn't wrap up neatly, which I appreciated because such things rarely do.  Haunting and lyrical.

7. One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis:  Emily Coleman has a great job, a loving husband, and an adorable son, but one day she walks right out of her life and starts a new one in London.  She reinvents herself, but even as she begins to thrive in her new environment, she can't entirely put the past behind her.  It's pretty good, but not as shocking as the reviews claimed.

2015 tally so far: 11


1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace* by Jeff Hobbs:  Robert Peace was born in poverty, but thanks to brains, a bit of luck, and a lot of willpower, he managed to get into Yale, where he majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.  But after he graduated, he returned to his hometown, where he got tangled up in the drug trade that would eventually lead to his death.  The author was one of Robert's roommates, and this book is both a tribute to his friend and an incisive look at whether we can ever truly overcome the circumstances into which we were born.

2015 tally so far: 3


1. Spell of Desire vols. 2-3 by Tomu Ohmi

2. The Walking Dead* vol. 22 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

3. Happy Marriage!? vols. 1-2 by Maki Enjoji

4. Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vols. 1-2 by Naoki Serizawa

5. Food Wars!* vols. 3-4 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. The Wicked + the Divine* by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

7. The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez

2015 tally so far: 12 volumes of manga and 3 graphic novels


1. The Maze Runner:  A terrified teenage boy wakes up in a glade surrounded by an enormous maze.  He's told by another boy that they have to try to find their way out of the maze, but considering that it changes shape every night and is inhabited by steampunk scorpions, it won't be too easy.  It was okay, by which I mean I'll watch any future installments but won't make it a priority or nothin'.

2. Annabelle:  An expectant couple is attacked in their home by satanic cultists, but although they survive, their terror is just beginning.  See, the husband bought his wife the creepiest fucking doll ever, and one of the cultists bleeds out all over the doll, and it gets possessed.  You may remember Annabelle from The Conjuring, but that movie was actually scary; this one is just stupid.

Side note:  Someone on the IMDB message boards said that Annabelle was the scariest movie they'd ever seen, and I laughed out loud.  I can only imagine that something legitimately frightening like The Descent or Jacob's Ladder would traumatize them to the point they'd need to be institutionalized.

3. Starry Eyes:  Sarah desperately wants to be an actress, but nothing ever comes of her constant auditioning.  She finally gets what she thinks might be her big break, but it's not quite what it seems.  Much like House of the Devil and Entrance, it takes a while to get going, but once it does, things go absolutely batshit.  Features the most gruesome kill I've seen in a horror flick since High Tension.

4. John Wick:  After Russian mobsters do something very nasty to him, hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) comes out of retirement to get revenge.  I came really close to giving this a star, but the ending desperately needed to be tightened up.  It's still quite good, though, and features some awesome action sequences.

5. Lucy:  Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to work as a drug mule, but when a bag of an experimental drug breaks open in her stomach, she basically becomes a superhero.  Some fun action and a great car chase, but the last 15 minutes or so are too stupid to warrant a star.

6. The Wind Rises:  This biographical animated film is about Jiro Horikoshi, who designed fighter planes in WWII.  I wanted to love this movie, especially because it's reported to be Hayao Miyazaki's last, but oh my god it is so boring.  It's like watching gorgeous paint dry. 

7. The Interview*:  After scoring an interview with Kim Jong-un, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron (Seth Rogen) are approached by the CIA with an unusual request:  to assassinate the dictator.  It's no Team America: World Police, but it was still pretty goddamn funny.

8. The Boxtrolls*:  Eggs was orphaned as a baby and raised by an underground tribe of trolls.  When an evil exterminator decides to rid the world of every last Boxtroll, Eggs teams up with a spoiled rich girl to stop him.  I'm a sucker for stop motion animation, and the work that went into this was truly amazing.

9. Whiplash*:  Andrew (Miles Teller) is a student at a prestigious music academy.  He dreams of being a jazz drummer and thinks he's gotten a big step up when a professor decides to mentor him, but it turns out that the professor (J.K. Simmons, earning his supporting actor Oscar and then some) is a sadistic tyrant.  Really good.  

2015 tally so far: 21


1. "Sex Dwarf" by Soft Cell

2. "Surrender to a Stranger" by Soft Cell

3. "Drunken Butterfly" by Sonic Youth

4. "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails

5. "Head Like a Hole" by Nine Inch Nails

6. "March of the Pigs" by Nine Inch Nails

7. "Runaway" by Del Shannon

8. Gone Girl soundtrack:  Here's a fun fact for you, courtesy of IMDB:  when telling composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross what kind of score he wanted for the movie, David Fincher told them about a time he went to a spa and they were playing music that was supposed to be soothing but creeped him out instead.  Mission accomplished.  I'm about to give this one of the highest compliments I could give a CD like this:  Akira Yamaoka (the composer for almost every Silent Hill game) would be proud.  In particular, the track "Appearances" sounds almost exactly like the music that plays when James is looking in the mirror at the beginning of Silent Hill 2.