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.