Friday, July 31, 2015

media update: July

Oh, my dudes, this year has not been kind.  As you know from previous posts, 2015 has "gifted" me with the following: my brother's health issues, a friend's freak accident, work tsuris, computer tsuris, and now my dad is sick.  He went in for a general checkup, and his doctor was so alarmed by his blood work (elevated calcium levels) that she had him admitted to the hospital immediately.  He was there for several days, and although not all of the lab results are back yet, chances are that he has lymphoma.  Needless to say, this was a real sucker punch.  But he is optimistic and remaining positive, and I shall try to do the same.  I hope you'll understand if I don't really feel like talking about it much; it's just too painful right now.

On that fun note, let's get to the media update.  This is probably the first time it's featured more movies than books!  We also went to the movies twice, which is pretty rare for us these days.  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. Throne of Glass* by Sarah J. Maas:  Celaena is an assassin who's offered a deal: if she can defeat 23 very nasty people in a competition, she'll be released from prison and work for the king.  But something starts picking off her fellow competitors, and it ain't her, so she has to figure out what's going on before it gets her too.  It's pretty good, so I picked up the sequels and novella collection too.  I won't bother reviewing those since I can't do so without spoiling the series; I'll just list that I read them for the record.

2. Dietland** by Sarai Walker:  Plum Kettle is an overweight woman who spends her days answering mail for a teen girls' magazine and dreaming of the day she can finally afford weight loss surgery.  Then she receives an unusual proposal: the heiress to a weight loss empire, who feels guilty about how she got her fortune, offers her $20,000 to undergo a series of challenges.  Meanwhile, a secret group is taking out people they consider dangerous to women, and Plum starts to wonder if the two things are connected.  Sharp, subversive satire that's so assured it's hard to believe it's a debut novel.  I thought the diet drug called Dabsitaf (read it backwards) was a bit too forced, and I still don't know why the porn star had to get murdered when the reasons she was IN porn to begin with were pretty well explained (this is not a spoiler; the first time you ever hear about her in the book is when she gets killed), but if you've ever wanted to read a feminist version of Chuck Palahniuk, look no further.  It's really fucking great.

3. Crown of Midnight* by Sarah J. Maas

4. Heir of Fire* by Sarah J. Maas

5. The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas:  Although it was enjoyable enough, I didn't like this collection of novellas as much as I liked the actual novels in the series.

6. After the Storm by Linda Castillo:  After a tornado rips through town and uncovers human remains, police chief Kate Burkholder's investigation is stymied by members of the Amish community who don't want to dig up the past.  Further complicating Kate's life, a good deed she did during the tornado comes back to bite her in the ass and she discovers something shocking about herself.  I thought the prologue gave away far too much of the mystery, but it's still another good installment in the series.  

7. Second Life by S.J. Watson:  Julia is devastated when her younger sister Kate is murdered.  She learns that Kate had been active on a personals site, and she sets up a fake profile to see if she can find any clues.  She begins an affair with a man who might have more information on Kate, but he isn't what he seems.  Most of the "aha!" moments were pretty heavily telegraphed, but there were a few moments that took me by surprise.

8. Day Four* by Sarah Lotz:  People are enjoying their cruise aboard the Beautiful Dreamer until things go completely to hell on (yup) the fourth day.  A woman's body is discovered in her room, norovirus rages through the passengers, the communications system goes down and the engine dies, and the medium who was hired as the feature entertainment might not be the sham everybody thought.  It's like The Shining on a cruise ship, and it's absolutely gripping.  I'm just glad I didn't read it before my cruise last year, or I probably would have canceled!

Side note:  I didn't find out that this was a sequel of sorts to The Three until I had already started reading, and by then I was too hooked to stop.  There are references to the previous book's events, but honestly I don't think you HAVE to have read The Three to enjoy this one.  I'll be grabbing it at the library, though!

2015 tally so far: 51


Nothing this month.

2015 tally so far: 11


1. My Love Story!! vol. 5 by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko

2. The Demon Prince of Momochi House by Aya Shouoto

3. Citrus* vols. 1-2 by Saburota

4. Rin-Ne vol. 18 by Rumiko Takahashi

5. Ajin: Demi-Human* by Gamon Sakurai and Tsuina Miura

2015 tally so far: 51 volumes of manga and 12 graphic novels


1. The Good Lie:  A group of Sudanese refugees win a resettlement lottery at their camp and are sent to live in the US, where they experience severe culture shock and try to come to grips with their past.  It's not a must see or anything, but it features good performances (including Reese Witherspoon as a prickly job counselor) and it's very touching.   

2. Jupiter Ascending:  Jupiter discovers that she's actually an intergalactic heiress, and she tries to protect Earth from evil forces.  Beautiful eye candy, but the story is convoluted, Eddie Redmayne (yes, the winner of the 2015 Best Actor Oscar!) is cringeworthy, and Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum have zero chemistry together.  And I really like both of them, so this isn't haterade.

3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion*:  This movie picks up where the anime series ended, so I can't really review it properly without spoilers.  I'll just say that the animation is absolutely gorgeous (more than once, G-Vo and I made appreciative noises; it really is some of the most unusual animation I've seen, Japanese or otherwise), and if you liked the series, you need to see this.  As of this writing, it's available on Netflix streaming, along with the full series and the other two movies (which are just the series in condensed form, so if you've seen the series, you don't need to see Beginnings and Eternal and vice versa). 

4. Focus*:  Nicky (Will Smith) is an accomplished con man who reluctantly takes on a gorgeous protegee (Margot Robbie), but their mutual attraction starts to complicate their mission.  Very fun and clever.

5. St. Vincent:  Vincent (Bill Murray) is a grouchy old asshole who's none too thrilled when single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son Oliver move in next door.  When Maggie becomes desperate for a babysitter, Vincent agrees to take on the job.  It's predictable as hell; of course Vincent and Oliver become BFFs and Important Life Lessons are learned.  But it's decent enough.

6. While We're Young:  Cornelia and Josh (Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller) feel like they can't relate to their friends anymore.  Then they meet a younger couple named Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who shake up their lives in both good and bad ways.  There's a great scene where shots of Cornelia and Josh using their Kindles and watching TV on their iPhones are interspersed with shots of Jamie and Darby watching a VHS movie and reading books, which was an interesting contrast, but overall this is a mildly entertaining indie with not much to really recommend it.

7. Kingsman: The Secret Service*:  Eggsy's father was killed in action while serving in an elite spy organization, and when Eggsy gets into trouble as a teenager, debonair Harry Hart (Colin Firth, obviously enjoying himself immensely) steps in and recruits him.  I had high hopes for this movie because, like Kick-Ass, it was based on a Mark Millar graphic novel and directed by Matthew Vaughn.  While it's nowhere near as good as Kick-Ass, it's funny and has some deliriously over the top action, so I still really liked it.

8. Maggie:  The title teenager (Abigail Breslin) is slowly succumbing to the "necroambulatory virus" after being bitten.  Despite everyone telling her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger, surprisingly low-key) that he should turn her in for quarantine, he insists on caring for her at home.  It's more of a terminal illness story than a straight up zombie movie; think The Fault in Our Stars meets The Walking Dead.  But despite good performances, it falls flat because it never makes us really care about the characters and the ending blew.

9. The Town That Dreaded Sundown:  65 years ago, a masked murderer terrorized the small town of Texarkana and then mysteriously disappeared.  But as a local drive-in commemorates the event with a showing of (meta alert!) The Town That Dreaded Sundown, 70s version, he reappears and stabs a teenage boy to death while his horrified girlfriend watches.  The killer's attacks continue as the community scrambles to figure out his identity.  Most notable for featuring the ugliest dress I have ever seen in my entire life (an orange monstrosity with GOLD FRINGED SLEEVES) and death by trombone stabbing, which was as stupid as it sounds.  Skip it.

10. Cake*:  After a car accident which killed her young son and left her in severe chronic pain, Claire becomes obsessed with a woman in her support group who killed herself.  Jennifer Aniston was excellent as Claire, and deserved the acclaim she received, but I thought Adriana Barraza as her overwhelmed housekeeper was just as good. 

11. Inside Out*:  Riley's life is turned upside down when her family moves to San Francisco, and her anthropomorphized emotions battle for control.  A surprisingly honest look at the feelings of an adolescent girl, with plenty of humor as well (including a very sly joke about bears), and since this is a Pixar movie, you better have tissues handy. 

Side note:  G-Vo and I saw a 9:30PM showing of this, and when a group of teenage boys sat down behind us, we braced ourselves for 90 minutes of "this is stupid" and popcorn throwing.  To our surprise, they not only kept quiet throughout, but there was audible sniffling behind us during a key scene.  It was incredibly refreshing.

12. The Wedding Ringer:  Doug is about to marry the woman of his dreams, but there's just one catch: he doesn't have any friends.  He hires a guy who specializes in being a professional best man, along with a motley crew of dudes to serve as groomsmen, and complications ensue.  Much funnier than I was anticipating.

13. Trainwreck*:  Thanks to her philandering father, Amy (Amy Schumer) never thought monogamy was a good idea.  But when she meets a genuinely nice guy, she wonders if she can change her ways.  Like all Judd Apatow movies, it's at least 20 minutes too long, but it's also very funny and surprisingly touching in parts.

14. The Lazarus Effect:  A group of medical researchers discovers a serum that can bring the dead back to life.  Are there side effects?  Duh.  Was this movie lame?  Duh 2: Electric Boogaloo.

15. Ex Machina*:  Caleb works as a programmer for Bluenote, a wildly successful search engine.  He's chosen to visit the secluded estate of his boss and evaluate the A.I. capabilities of Ava, a beautiful robot, and see if she can pass the Turing test.  At no point was I able to predict what was going to happen, which was a rare treat.  Clever and thought-provoking.

2015 tally so far:  63


1. "Assassin" (Grand Omega Bosses edit) by Muse

2. "Gimme Chocolate!" by Babymetal

3. "Megitsune" by Babymetal

4. "Real Existence" by Band-Maid

5. "Prince Johnny" by St. Vincent

6. "I Prefer Your Love" by St. Vincent

7. "Nippon Manju" by Ladybaby:  This is an odd song performed by two Japanese girls (literally; one of them is 14) and a crossdressing Australian wrestler.  Really!  Check out the YouTube video if you haven't had enough weirdness in your life recently.

8. "Madness" by Muse

9. "Birth in Reverse" by St. Vincent