Thursday, June 30, 2016

media update: June

'Sup, yo?  It's been a very stressful month for me because work has been sucking Satan's hairy balls.  This is not a new development, of course, but they keep piling straws onto this camel's back and it's about to break.  On the plus side, my dreadful boss got a promotion, so we're getting a new one next week.  She seems a little goofy (when she said she'd only be in the office once or twice a month, she threw her hands up in the air and said "Party in the office, whooooo!", which oh my god, lady, stop), but nice enough, and without doing something that would get her canned, there's no way she can be worse than the old regime.  For those of you keeping track at home, this will be my SEVENTH boss in 2 years.

On the video game front, I played the first Uncharted game and am well into the second one, which is considerably better (not that the first one was bad).  I hadn't planned on playing any of the Uncharted games, but the fourth one was written by Neil Druckmann, who wrote The Last of Us, so I figured Uncharted 4 was a must-play and I didn't want to go into it without playing its predecessors. 

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


1. Map of Bones by Francesca Haig:  This is the sequel to The Fire Sermon, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it nearly as much as its predecessor; to be honest, it was kind of boring, so hopefully the final book is better.  Also, I don't know why it was called Map of Bones, because there was no such thing.  Someone kept referring to a MAZE of bones, but no map.  Weird.

2. Girls on Fire* by Robin Wasserman:  In 1991, lonely teenager Hannah Dexter is befriended by Nirvana-worshipping, brash Lacey Champlain.  Hannah reinvents herself as "Dex" and they form a tight bond, but Lacey has some secrets that could destroy them both.  A dark and disturbing look at all-consuming female friendship that I loved.  One line that really stood out to me:  when Hannah says that before Lacey entered her life, she was "on the fast track to an uneventful life and just smart enough to care."

Warning: the inside of the book jacket spoils something rather major, so don't read it if you're interested in this book!  Amazon's synopsis is spoiler-free, so that's safe if you want to know more.

3. The Last Star by Rick Yancey:  This is the final book in the 5th Wave trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.  To be honest, I wasn't a fan of how it wrapped up.

4. End of Watch by Stephen King:  This is the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, so...well, you know the drill by now!  Not as good as Mr. Mercedes, but WAY better than Finders Keepers.

5. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo:  After a troubling incident, Amanda transfers to another school and moves in with her father.  She doesn't want to get too close to anybody lest they discover that she's trans, but she finds herself falling in love with a handsome boy named Grant, and she's afraid he won't accept her if he finds out the truth.  Well written and mostly believable, probably because the author is trans herself.

6. Fellside* by M.R. Carey:  Jess is a heroin addict who is blamed for setting a fire that killed a young boy named Alex.  She's sent to a women's prison called Fellside, where she is visited by Alex's ghost, who absolves her of guilt and wants her to find the real killer.  It's sort of like a non-humorous Orange Is the New Black with a supernatural twist.

7. Sweetbitter* by Stephanie Danler:  Desperate for a new life, Tess moves to New York City and gets a job as a backwaiter for an elite restaurant.  She receives a culinary education, but also an education in drugs, sex, and love.

This got some of the biggest rave reviews I've seen in forever, so I tried to temper my expectations because I was pretty sure there was no way it was as good as the hype machine claimed, and I was right.  (I mean, for god's sake, the jacket blurb says "You will never again read a debut coming-of-age novel as stunning as this one."  Quite a claim!)  But even though it's not "OMG the best book ever!!eleventy!!", it's still very good and provides a warts-and-all look at the restaurant industry.  I also really liked this line:  "As I contemplated the skyline this double feeling came to me as one thought, pressing in from either side of the bridge, impossible for me to reconcile:  It is ludicrous for anyone to live here, and I can never leave."

8. Daughters Unto Devils* by Amy Lukavics:  Amanda's family moves from their small mountain home to the prairie to begin a new life.  But the walls of their new home are covered in blood, which turns out to be exactly the bad omen you'd expect.  I had to pick this up because one of the review blurbs said it was like Stephen King's version of Little House on the Prairie, which was pretty spot on.  A good creepy thriller to give you chills on a hot summer night.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 63


1. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War* by Mary Roach:  The science writer looks at the science behind keeping soldiers alive, ranging from uniform design to shark repellent.  It wasn't one of my favorites of her books, but it's still well worth reading.  How could anyone resist a book with a chapter called "Leaky SEALs: Diarrhea As a Threat to National Security"?  Also, it includes the line "a tasting flight of sodden tampons" (referring to an experiment to see if bears really are attracted to menstruating women; most bears are not, but polar bears get REALLY excited by it, so stay the fuck away from polar bears if you're raggin', or ever, really), which is truly one of the weirdest sentences I've ever read in a book.

2. The Vegas Diaries by Holly Madison:  In her second memoir, the author talks about starring in a now-defunct Vegas revue called Peepshow and trying to shed her image as Hugh Hefner's former girlfriend.  Not as good as Down the Rabbit Hole, largely because it doesn't spill any new tea, but enjoyable enough.  She didn't really talk about her husband and daughter, so I'm guessing she'll be writing another book!

3. Sex Object* by Jessica Valenti:  A candid, often funny, and even more often depressing memoir about sexism and the toll it has taken on both the author specifically and women in general.

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 10


1. Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow* vols. 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

2. What Did You Eat Yesterday? vol. 10 by Fumi Yoshinaga

3. Yotsuba! vol. 13 by Kiyohiko Azuma

4. A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

5. Food Wars!* vol. 12 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

6. Say I Love You vol. 14 by Kanae Hazuki

7. Kamisama Kiss vol. 21 by Julietta Suzuki

8. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 7 by Go Ikeyamada

9. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 14 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki

10. Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt

11. Something New* by Lucy Knisley

2016 TOTAL SO FAR:  8 graphic novels and 33 volumes of manga


1. The Revenant*:  After being mauled by a bear and left for dead by the other members of his fur trapping team, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) has to fight to survive at least long enough to get his revenge.  Brutal but good, with absolutely stunning cinematography.

2. Batman: Bad Blood:  The Bat Family investigates Batman's disappearance.  The animation is a cut above the usual straight-to-video DC fare, and kudos for not straightwashing Batwoman.  Also, my thirst for Nightwing is so great that not even 100 gallons of Gatorade could possibly quench it.

3. Anomalisa**:  Michael Stone is alienated from other people to the point that they all look and sound alike to him, even his wife and son.  But when he's on a business trip, he hears a woman talking in the hallway of his hotel, and her voice is different, so he runs after her.  Her name is Lisa, and they form a strange and tender bond.

Oh man, you guys, this movie is something else.  It's weird, as you'd expect from a Charlie Kaufman movie, and wonderful and heartbreaking and funny.  The stop-motion animation is incredible (be sure to watch the "making of" featurettes on the DVD to see how much work went into it) and the voice acting is terrific and it's the best movie I've seen so far this year.

4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:  It's all right there in the title: the classic novel, but with zombies thrown in!  We weren't expecting much out of it, but it was surprisingly decent.

5. Darling:  A young woman moves into an old house in Manhattan to serve as its caretaker, but she slowly begins losing her mind.  It's a bit of a ripoff (or homage, if you're feeling generous) of Repulsion, but the black and white cinematography is gorgeous and the sound design is superb.

6. 10 Cloverfield Lane*:  After a car accident, Michelle wakes up handcuffed to a cot.  A man named Howard walks in and tells her that he rescued her and brought her to his bomb shelter because the world has been decimated by a chemical attack.  Is he really her savior, or something worse?  The ending was a little goofy, but it's incredibly tense and well done, and John Goodman is great as Howard.

7. The Brothers Grimsby:  Nobby and Sebastian (Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong) were separated as children.  28 years later, Nobby is a soccer hooligan with 9 kids and Sebastian is an elite spy.  When they're reunited, Nobby fucks up an important mission, and he and Sebastian have to try to make it right.  We weren't expecting much from this, but it was pretty funny and features what is quite possibly one of the grossest scenes in film history.  Also, some of the action scenes were actually quite good, probably owing to the fact that Louis Leterrier also directed The Transporter and Unleashed.

8. The Drop Box*:  This documentary follows a South Korean pastor who built a drop box where people could safely leave unwanted infants, most of them with special needs.  Pastor Lee has so much compassion it's practically a superpower, and I cried throughout pretty much the whole thing.   

2016 TOTAL SO FAR: 55

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


As you may already know, I'm a gamer and have been for the vast majority of my life.  I don't remember the first video game I ever played, but whatever it was, it triggered an obsession that has never gone away.  It's not my favorite pastime---that is and will always be reading, of course---but I enjoy the ever lovin' shit out of it.

Anyway, as I was stuck in traffic during my morning commute, for some reason I began thinking about some of my favorite video game memories and decided to write a blog post about them.  I will do my absolute level best to avoid spoilers.

These are not in any kind of chronological or preferential order.

  • When I was a kid, we lived about a mile away from a shopping center that for many years was my favorite place on earth.  There was a laundromat with an old-fashioned Coke bottle machine (the kind with the built-in bottle opener) and an Eyes cabinet (total Pac-Man ripoff and creepy as hell, but fun), Scotty's Liquor (where I bought my Archie and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld comics in addition to assorted snacks; they had Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Q*Bert), and Casey's Arcade, which needs no further introduction.  During the summer, I would walk to that shopping center almost every day with a pocket full of quarters, and I would not return home until every last one had been spent.
  • I got caught in a MASSIVE lie and my punishment was no video games for a month, which was the second worst punishment my parents could have (legally/morally) given me.  The first would have been no reading, but who's going to tell a kid they can't READ?
  •  I got a Colecovision for my birthday and it was one of the best presents I ever got.  It came with Donkey Kong, but over the years I amassed a few more cartridges:  Mousetrap (Pac-Man ripoff), Berzerk, and Ladybug (yet another Pac-Man ripoff).  I'm sure there were more, but I cannot for the life of me remember them.
  • In the late 80s, arcades began dying out and it was rare to see anything other than the occasional faded Pac-Man cabinet in a bar or something.  But when the Playstation came out in 1994, it spawned a resurgence that is still going strong to this day.  I didn't get a Playstation until 1996, for reasons I will explain shortly.
  • When I was about to start college in California, my dad got transferred to Minnesota.  The timing was, to say the least, not ideal, because it meant my family would be 2000 miles away as opposed to the 100 they originally were.  He had to be there about 2 weeks before I had to be at school, and we were in a bit of a pickle because I had all of my stuff and nowhere to keep it, and it was too expensive for me to go to Minnesota with them and then come back 2 weeks later and try to get to school with all of my shit and no car.  Fortunately, my dad had a colleague who lived about a half-hour away from my college, and he agreed to let me live with him and his family and then take me to school when it was time.  (I still have no idea why on earth they were willing to do this, but I have always been grateful.)  The parents were at work all day and their 8-year-old son was in school, and oh my god, my days were BORING AS FUCK.  There was a shopping center about 2 miles away, but they were nowhere near as exciting as the one I mentioned earlier, so I watched a LOT of bad daytime TV, flipped aimlessly through the mother's terrible book selection, and napped on the patio with their cat curled up by my side.  But about halfway through my stay, we went to Best Buy to get a Game Boy for the son's birthday, and that kid made the mistake of leaving it in the living room at night and when he was at school.  I don't know how many hours of Tetris I played on that thing, but let's just say I spent a LOT of money at that shopping center buying batteries to make up for the ones I kept killing.
  • In 1996, I was working as an assistant manager at Blockbuster, and we had a demo Playstation for customers to abuse.  I don't remember what game we had in there, but one night when it was blissfully slow and all of the cleaning duties had been done an hour in advance, one of my coworkers asked if we could take out the demo game so he could play something else.  I was a cool manager and said yes.  I started putting tapes (yes tapes, goddamn it, I'm fucking old) away, and when I walked past him about ten minutes later, I said, "Oh man, what is that?"  He said, "It's called Resident Evil.  You're in a mansion with all these zombies and it's really awesome!  Do you want to try?"  Dear reader, I did, and my dormant video game obsession flared up again hardcore.  I bought a Playstation of my own (and, of course, a copy of Resident Evil) the very next day.
  • My friend T and I spent a very drunken New Year's Eve in a hotel room playing Bust a Groove.  My favorite character, to no one's surprise, was Kitty-N.
  • Playing Resident Evil 2 and falling in MAD love with Leon Kennedy, who is still my favorite male video game character of all time.  (His costar in RE2, Claire Redfield, was my favorite female VG character of all time until Ellie from The Last of Us came along.) 
  • When I heard that Resident Evil: Code Veronica was a Dreamcast exclusive, I bought a Dreamcast immediately.  That turned out to be false, but I never regretted buying a Dreamcast because it had some of the most weird and wonderful games I've ever played.  Seaman was a sim game in which you raised a strange fishman creature through his evolution into a strange frogman creature.  It came with a microphone peripheral, and you could talk to him and answer his questions.  Obviously, the voice recognition left something to be desired most of the time, but when it hit, it HIT.  Once Seaman asked me if I lived alone, and I said, "No, I live with my dad."  A couple of days later, Seaman asked me just as my dad came into the room, "Hey, how's your father?"  My dad said, "What the fuck is that?!?  How did it know?"  Other classic Dreamcast games included Illbleed (survive a horror-themed amusement park while dodging traps; included some of the sickest humor I've ever seen in a VG) and D2 (your plane crashes in the Canadian mountains and you have to survive by hunting food and killing aliens; includes a scene in which you shoot a vagina-shaped supercomputer while it moans, and that's not even the weirdest thing about it).
  • Playing Resident Evil: Code Veronica for over 8 hours straight, with only short breaks to refill my water bottle and use the bathroom.
  • Resident Evil kicked off my survival horror jones, but Silent Hill cemented it.  The original is still the scariest fucking game I've ever played, and Midwich Elementary is still the scariest fucking area in any VG of all time ever and I hope nothing else is ever as scary in a VG to me or it might literally kill me.
  • Calling in sick so I could play Silent Hill 2.
  • Turning down a date so I could play Devil May Cry.
  • One of the first things G and I bonded over was our mutual love of video games, so when Resident Evil 4 came out, you know we snapped that shit up pronto.  We played through the first insane fight, and when Leon said, "Where's everybody" and the title screen came up, we actually cheered.
  • When G and I first started playing Dead Rising, we got so frustrated that we almost sent it back to Gamefly.  But something kept me from sealing up that envelope, and when we tried it again and realized you were SUPPOSED to die and just keep trying until you were sufficiently leveled up, it became one of our favorites.
  • Hearing those horrible bird monster things in Dead Space 2 and saying to G "I can't, that is the most horrifying sound I've ever heard in my life, I am LOSING MY FUCKING SHIT."
  • G and I went out to lunch and were going to see Iron Man 2, but when we stopped by my place, I had Heavy Rain waiting in the mailbox.  We skipped the movie and played Heavy Rain in almost one sitting.  It's still my third favorite video game of all time.
  • I have to remain vague here, but giraffes.
Those are some of the highlights of my gaming life, and I'm looking forward to many more.  They'll have to pry the controller out of my dead, cramped up hand.