Thursday, August 31, 2017

media update: August

I've got a particularly big media update for you this month, as a couple of personal days and blistering heat led to lots of hours inside reading in air conditioned comfort.  There aren't a lot of movies listed, though, because G-Vo and I are addicted to Persona 5, so we're spending the bulk of our time together playing that instead of watching movies.  Obviously I can watch movies on my own too, but I've gone through a massive string of flops.  (Oh, Dwayne Johnson, I love you and your charms are ample, but I couldn't make it through Baywatch even for you, my darling.)

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


1. Sugar by Kimberly Stuart:  Pastry chef Charlie Garrett is sick and tired of being unappreciated at her job (join the club, sis), so when she gets a juicy offer to work for her ex-boyfriend, she agrees.  But then it turns out he's developing a reality show about his new restaurant, and the drama that ensues isn't just on the screen.  A fluffy bit of fun; have something sweet handy, as you will want it after reading the borderline pornographic descriptions of desserts.

2. The Lying Game by Ruth Ware:  Four women who have been friends since boarding school share a dark secret that's come back to bite them in the ass.  I loved Ruth Ware's previous two novels, but this one was really disappointing.  I swear to god, half the book was devoted to scenes with one character's baby breastfeeding (nothing against breastfeeding, of course, but there was a breastfeeding scene on practically every other page) or throwing a fit.

3. Domina* by L.S. Hilton:  This is a direct sequel to Maestra, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessor.  It wasn't as good as Maestra, but it was still really frickin' good.  I'm curious to see how this trilogy wraps up.

4. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong:  Reeling from a breakup, Ruth moves home to help take care of her father, who's losing his memory.

5. The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham:  Agatha is a lonely supermarket worker who's pregnant, but her boyfriend is away at sea and not returning her calls.  She starts to fixate on a customer named Meg, who's also pregnant but seems to have a much better life than Agatha.  This is a book that rewards patience; I was close to giving up on it, but was glad I didn't.

6. Fierce Kingdom* by Gin Phillips:  Joan and her 4-year-old son Lincoln are getting ready to leave the zoo when Joan sees a man with a rifle.  She grabs her son and runs back into the zoo to hide, hoping they can survive until the police get there.  A tense thriller that explores some tough moral questions as well.  My only real gripes are that it didn't wrap up as well as I would have hoped (it was a double star until the last 15 pages) and that Lincoln seemed too articulate for a 4-year-old, but I'll admit that I don't have much experience with kids of that age, so I could be way off base on that.  Anyway, it's fantastic, and I think it would make a great movie.  I can see Naomi Watts as Joan, although good luck finding a child actor that young who could pull it off.

7. See What I Have Done* by Sarah Schmidt:  A fictionalized version of the Lizzie Borden murder case that reads like an exceptionally creepy fever dream.

8. Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber:  After her father's murder becomes the subject of a wildly popular podcast and her mother commits suicide, Josie reluctantly returns to her hometown, where she's reunited with her estranged twin sister.

9. The Good Daughter* by Karin Slaughter:  When sisters Charlie and Sam were teenagers, their lives were ripped apart by a horrifying tragedy.  Twenty-eight years later, they're estranged from each other, with Charlie still living in their small hometown and Sam working in patent law in New York City.  Then Charlie is witness to a new tragedy, which uncovers some shocking truths about the previous one.  It's much different than her usual novels, and I didn't like it as much as the ones featuring Will Trent, but it was still riveting.  Usual warning, though: Karin Slaughter is very aptly named, and her books aren't for the faint of heart.  This one isn't nearly as bad as most of them (seriously, Pretty Girls was legitimate nightmare fuel), but it still has some really disturbing moments.

10. The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka:  Private investigator Roxane Weary is contacted by a woman whose brother Brad is on death row for the murders of his girlfriend Sarah's parents fifteen years ago.  Sarah disappeared on the night of the murders, and Brad's sister insists that she just saw Sarah at a gas station.  Roxane thinks the sister is grasping at straws and that the case will be easy money, which couldn't be further from the truth.  An enjoyable debut novel.

11. Mrs. Fletcher* by Tom Perrotta:  After her son Brendan leaves for college, lonely divorcee Eve Fletcher becomes obsessed with MILF porn.  Meanwhile, Brendan finds out that the somewhat caddish charm on which he's coasted his entire life won't fly in today's world.  Funny and incisive.

12. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott:  Alice was abducted when she was 10 by a sadistic pedophile.  Now 15, she's become too old for his tastes, and he wants her to help find her replacement.  Alice knows this will mean her death, but she's looking forward to it.  It's not even 200 pages long, but it still manages to be one of the most disturbing books I've ever read.  It's categorized as a young adult book, which in my opinion is a grave error.

13. Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang:  A collection of loosely connected stories about Chinese American girls coming of age in New York City.  The ending of one of them ("The Empty the Empty the Empty") was fucking horrifying, making this the second book in a row I read that made me feel really gross inside.  I mean, it's well written, but it's no chucklefest.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR: 69 (nice)


1.  American Fire* by Monica Hesse:  A riveting account of a string of arson incidents in rural Virginia.  I knew I was going to like it as soon as I read this paragraph on the opening page:  "I spent the next two years trying to understand why he did it.  The answer...involved hope, poverty, pride, Walmart, erectile dysfunction, Steak-umms, intrigue, and America."

2. The Hot One: A Memoir of Friendship, Sex, and Murder by Carolyn Murnick:  As kids, the author and her friend Ashley were very close, but drifted apart.  When the author found out that Ashley had been murdered (a case that gained some notoriety due to Ashley's association with Ashton Kutcher, who went to pick her up, looked through the window when she didn't answer the door, saw blood on the carpet, thought it was red wine, and left, which: WTF?  Considering that she was stabbed 47 times, that would've been a LOT of fucking wine), she decided to investigate Ashley's troubled life to see what had happened.  I liked it, but it seemed like the author managed to make the whole thing about herself instead of Ashley.

3. Beautiful Bodies by Kimberly Rae Miller:  A memoir of the author's lifelong struggles with her weight, interspersed with historical anecdotes about how the idea of the perfect body has changed over the centuries and what people have done to try to attain it.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  24


1. Sweetness & Lightning* vol. 7 by Gido Amagakure:  I don't think I've ever given this series a star before, but this volume made me cry twice, so I figured it deserved one!

2. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 10 by Nico Tanigawa

3. Rin-Ne vol. 24 by Rumiko Takahashi

4. Monstress** vol. 2 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

5. The Water Dragon's Bride vol. 2 by Rei Toma

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  27 volumes of manga and 9 graphic novels


1. The Belko Experiment*:  Eighty employees in an office building are locked in and told they must start killing each other or they'll all die courtesy of the microchips implanted in their heads.  I was expecting this to be a bit funnier due to a review that called it "Office Space meets Battle Royale" and the fact that James Gunn (Slither, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies) had written it, but it was still a really good, tense, viscerally upsetting movie.

2. Ghost in the Shell:  A visually stunning but incredibly dull live action version of the classic anime.

3. Colossal*:  After her boyfriend kicks her out, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her hometown, where she discovers that she has an unusual connection to a monster terrorizing South Korea.  Quirky and entertaining, though quite a bit darker than I was expecting.

4. T2 Trainspotting:  This sequel to the 90s cult smash was way better than we expected it to be.  Fair warning, though: unless you're Scottish or exceptionally good at decoding accents, you WILL need your subtitles on.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  57

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

media update: July

Oooof, this was not a particularly good month for entertainment; only 2 books and one movie got asterisks, and there were a few things I legitimately hated!  Asterisks denote something I particularly enjoyed or found especially worthy of my time; double asterisks are reserved for the creme de la creme.  As always, your mileage may vary.


1. Sycamore* by Bryn Chancellor:  In this beautifully written novel, the disappearance of a teenage girl continues to haunt her small Arizona town long after she vanishes.

2. It's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell:  When Aubrey, Jenny, and Kate are assigned to the same dorm room in college, they become fast friends, even though they couldn't be much different.  But after a tragic accident, their relationship sours, and several years later, one of them is found dead.  I probably wouldn't have finished this book if I hadn't been hard up for reading material at the time.  Some of my reasons for disliking it are spoilery, so I'll skip them, but I will tell you that none of the main characters are sympathetic and some of the writing is unbelievably clunky.  Example: a police detective is looking through the victim's house, and in a parenthetical, the author says "(He wore latex gloves to avoid contaminating any evidence.)"  Gee, no shit?  Could you maybe assume your reader isn't a total moron and already knows that?  If it's so important for you to point it out, maybe say something like "Owen snapped on a pair of latex gloves and began going through [the victim]'s house" instead.

3. Final Girls by Riley Sager:  When she was in college, Quincy was the lone survivor of a massacre at a remote cabin.  Dubbed a "final girl" by the press and lumped in with two other spree killer survivors, she hides out in her apartment as much as she can, taking comfort in her baking blog.  Then fellow final girl Lisa commits suicide, and Sam, the other one, unexpectedly shows up on Quincy's doorstep.

Oh man, I REALLY wanted to like this; I'd go so far as to say it was my most anticipated book of the summer.  Perhaps my hopes were too high, but I was pretty disappointed.  It's not bad, but it felt like it was written with the inevitable movie in mind (although there are already two other movies with similar titles), and it was pretty predictable.

4. Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo:  Police chief Kate Burkholder is called to a hostage situation, and things escalate when she realizes the man responsible is someone she grew up with.  He was convicted of murdering his wife, but he claims he's innocent and begs her to find out the truth.

5. A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly:  When a private investigator vanishes, Charlie Parker is tasked with finding him by an enigmatic FBI agent whose reasons might not be to Charlie's benefit.  I found it awfully confusing at times, but to be fair, I read it during a period of great stress (training for my new job duties, which involved getting up 2 hours earlier than usual, and since I'm a lifelong night owl and unable to fall asleep before midnight unless I'm really sick, I was completely exhausted), so that might be my fault and not John Connolly's.

6. The Party by Robyn Harding:  When their daughter's 16th birthday party goes tragically wrong, Jeff and Kim's perfect lives begin unraveling very quickly.  Much like #2 above, I hated pretty much everyone in it, and I was glad when it was over.

7. Now I Rise by Kiersten White:  Sequel etc.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  56


1. Hunger by Roxane Gay:  A memoir about the author's struggles with body acceptance.

2. Love and Trouble by Claire Dederer:  When the author turned 44, she started having a bit of a midlife crisis, and this memoir contrasts her youth with her current life.  She can be awfully annoying, but this has some worthy moments in it, most notably an open letter to Roman Polanski.

3. The Grim Sleeper* by Christine Pelisek:  A riveting account of the titular serial killer who preyed on African-American women in Los Angeles over many years. 

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  21


1. Mockingbird vols. 1-2 by Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, and Ibrahim Moustafa

2. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 5 by Izumi Miyazono

3. So Cute It Hurts!! vol. 13 by Go Ikeyamada

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  23 volumes of manga and 8 graphic novels


1. Okja:  The title character is a genetically created "superpig" who lives in the rural Korean countryside with young Mija.  When the company that created Okja wants her back for slaughter, Mija will stop at nothing to save her friend.  It's sort of a very modern take on Charlotte's Web, with one big exception: it is absolutely NOT for children.  In addition to lots of profanity, there are gruesome scenes of factory farming, including a scene of forced breeding that had me sinking into the couch wishing the movie would end.  (And why is Jake Gyllenhaal so TERRIBLE in this?  I know he can act---hell, in my opinion he should have won an Oscar for Nightcrawler---but he's just dreadful here.)  Okja is cute, and the friendship between her and Mija is very sweet, but it's just a dark fucking movie.

Side note: the day after we watched this, G and I were watching TV when an Arby's commercial with a long, lingering shot of frying bacon came on, and G yelled "OKJAAAAAAAAAAA!"  Goddamn, my dude is funny.

2. Miss Sloane:  The title character (Jessica Chastain, excellent as always) is a powerful lobbyist who decides to take on a controversial gun bill.  The script was pretty sharp, but as G pointed out, it really wanted to be Aaron Sorkin-esque and fell a little short.

3. Beauty and the Beast:  This live action remake of the classic Disney animated movie wasn't bad, but it sure as hell didn't need to be remade.  To give you an idea of how unnecessary it really was, I didn't tear up ONCE, and the original made me cry so hard my eyes practically swelled shut.

4. Fifty Shades Darker:  Well, this was better than the first movie, which is like saying the last bout of diarrhea I had (three days ago, thanks for asking!) was better than my most recent migraine.  Seriously, these movies are CRAP.  The acting sucks, the dialogue is unbelievably cliched, and there was a (SPOILER ALERT) helicopter crash in this one that did absolutely nothing to advance the plot.  Why even bother showing it at all?  Take it out and use that CGI money towards acting lessons for Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.  (I really don't get why Jamie Dornan is so bad in these movies, because he was excellent in the British TV series The Fall.)  The sex scenes are reasonably hot, but cue something up on Redtube to get your jollies instead.

5. King Cobra:  Sean is a hot young dude who changes his name to Brent Corrigan and starts making gay porn for a smitten producer (Christian Slater).  Once his career takes off, Brent becomes dissatisfied with his contract, and a rival producer (James Franco) swoops in for the kill.  It's good, but it's pretty graphic, so let that be a warning or an endorsement depending on your personal preference.  (Also be sure to have the remote control handy; I was scrambling to find it between the couch cushions when James Franco started yelling "Fuck my asshole!" and I realized that my downstairs neighbor might not appreciate such crudity at 10PM.  Sorry, Dalisay.)  Loosely based on a true story, though the real life Brent has publicly disavowed this movie.

6. Resident Evil: Vendetta*:  Fan favorites Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy team up to fight an evil dude who created a new type of zombie that can distinguish friend from foe.  To quote G, it was as awesome as it was terrible.  The storyline is nothing special at all, and they did something weird with Chris and Leon's character designs so they look a little off (but don't get me wrong, I'd still climb both of them like a tree), but the action is FANTASTIC, particularly a hallway gun fu fight that had us cheering.  Recommended only for fans of the series who are willing and able to overlook the wooden script and often cringeworthy dialogue.

7. A Cure for Wellness:  A young executive is sent to Switzerland to retrieve his company's CEO from a wellness spa, but finds himself stuck in a nightmare.  One of the weirdest wide release movies I've ever seen; it's what I imagine Shutter Island would have been like if codirected by Tarsem and Dario Argento.  I would have given it a star except it goes batshit crazy near the end, and not in a good way, but if you like bizarre movies, give it a whirl.  If nothing else, it's got some gorgeous cinematography.

8. The Zookeeper's Wife:  After the Nazis invade Poland, Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jan use their zoo as a cover for hiding Jews.  It's pretty good, but I have a beef with the title (though, to be fair, it's based on the book of the same name so it's not the filmmakers' fault).  Antonina is more than just a frickin' WIFE; she's a zookeeper in her own right, and the main character of the movie, so it's not really fair to define her by her marital status.  (Sorry for getting all Tumblr feminist on you.)

9. Kong: Skull Island:  A group of scientists and soldiers heads to an uncharted island, not knowing that it's inhabited by a giant ape.  For a movie that has "Kong" in the title, you sure don't see as much of him as you might expect, and the whole movie just had a weird tone to it.  (Re)watch Peter Jackson's infinitely superior King Kong instead.

2017 TOTAL SO FAR:  53


Telltale is one of my favorite video game developers for a good reason: they have great writing and voice acting, and for the most part the properties they license, such as Fables and Game of Thrones, are extremely relevant to my interests.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is no exception.

In the third installment of the series, you play Javier, a former baseball star who left the sport in disgrace.  He's living with his parents, brother David, David's second wife Kate, and David's kids Mariana and Gabe.  When the zombie outbreak begins, Javier, Kate, and the kids get separated from David, and he, Kate, and the kids wind up on the road together, looking for a safe place they can call home.

  • As mentioned above, Telltale consistently knocks it out of the park with the writers and voice talent they hire.
  • The cel-shaded style works perfectly for a game inspired by a graphic novel.
  • Some fan favorites show up along the way.
  • There are a couple of scenes in this game that made us gasp.
  • I'm not sure it's fair to say I "loathed" this, since it was pretty funny, but it WAS a glitch and I don't really have much else to complain about here, so I'll mention it.  At one point, a character who had died and was absolutely NOT a zombie at the time showed up in the background, strolling along like nothing happened.  Considering how many different branches the story can take depending on your choices, I guess it's understandable that dead characters might accidentally pop up along the way.
  • It's a pretty short game.  It consists of 5 chapters and I'd estimate each one only takes about 2 hours to complete.
Overall, TWD:ANF was an enjoyable addition to the series.  If you haven't already played seasons 1 and 2, don't start with this one, but otherwise, give it a go!  I give it 8 cans of purloined pudding out of 10.