Wednesday, January 31, 2018

media update: January

(G-Vo, skip the next couple of paragraphs as you've heard this story a million times already.)

Happy New Year!  It started off on a weird note because I got a postcard in the mail telling me that I'd missed jury duty and HAD to come in.  Well, that was alarming, because I never got the original jury summons in the first place!  I wasn't sure where the courthouse was and I don't have a GPS system, so on the first day, I left super early and, despite heavy rain, got there 90 minutes early.  Oops!

Anyway, I wound up being chosen for a civil trial that was expected to last for SEVEN WEEKS.  On one hand, it was a good thing, because I hate my fucking job and it actually pays for jury duty no matter how long you're out, plus the judge and bailiff were hot and the cafeteria was surprisingly good; on the other hand, the drive to the courthouse was a 63 mile round trip as opposed to my usual 7 mile (no, that's not missing a digit!) round trip commute, which was awfully hard on my nerves and car, especially since the trip back home involved driving up a very steep hill in rush hour traffic.  I was dismissed during voir dire by the plaintiff attorney because a family member had been involved in a similar lawsuit, so I only had to do three days.  It was an interesting experience, and I actually wouldn't mind serving jury duty at some point, just not for, you know, SEVEN WEEKS.

Anyway, this is a particularly meaty media update thanks to a few mental health days and time spent cooling my heels during the aforementioned jury duty.

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


1. Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer:  Growing up with her young mother and abusive grandfather in extreme poverty, Carmel Fishkill always dreamed of something better.  When her grandfather dies and, shortly afterwards, her mother disappears, Carmel thinks she's found a safe haven living with her eccentric friend Duck-Duck (real name: Christine) and her single mother Molly, but unexpected news threatens to upend her newly happy life.

2. The Blinds* by Adam Sternbergh:  Caesura (more commonly known as "The Blinds") is a tiny Texas town filled with people who have had their memories wiped and their names changed.  They don't know whether they were the victims or perpetrators of violence, only that if they leave, they can never come back.  Things are fairly peaceful, but then a suicide followed rapidly by a murder threaten to destroy the whole thing.  Clever and engrossing.

3. The Grip of It by Jac Jemc:  When James and Julie find a new home in the suburbs, they move in despite their misgivings about the weird noises they hear.  (Not much of a) spoiler alert:  they should have trusted their instincts.  This book was creepy enough under the fluorescent lights of a jury duty break room; it was damn near unbearably so late at night during a rainstorm.

4. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn:  Anna Fox is an agoraphobic living alone in the home she used to share with her estranged husband and their daughter Olivia.  She busies herself with online chess, old movies, lots of drinking, and spying on her neighbors across the street...until she sees something she shouldn't have.  Practically every one of my favorite authors (Gillian Flynn, Joe Hill, Stephen King, Ruth Ware...) gave this a rave review on the cover, so I thought it would be fantastic, but nope.  The writing is weirdly stilted and 90% of it is very predictable.  Give it a hard pass.

5. Everless by Sara Holland:  In a world where time is literally money, the rich can live forever while the poor die young.  Jules Ember and her father lived at the royal estate of Everless until they were banished, but Jules returns in hopes of earning enough time to save her father's life.

6. The Forever Ship by Francesca Haig:  Sequel etc.

7. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:  When Vanessa finds out her ex-husband is newly engaged, she takes it rather badly.  I'll give this novel credit: unlike #4 on this list, I definitely didn't guess where it was going.

Side note: when the fuck is every psychological thriller going to stop being compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train?  Because, yep, this one mentions those two books on the cover, and I believe #4 did as well.  Obviously I know WHY publishers do it, because those were monster hits, but how long are they going to keep fucking that chicken?

8. Disappearance at Devil's Rock** by Paul Tremblay:  A group of three teenage boys makes a surreptitious late night trip to the titular rock, and one of them, Tommy, vanishes.  His mother Elizabeth is devastated, and then random pages from Tommy's journals begin showing up on the living room floor.  Scary and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Side note:  I'd advise not reading the chapter names as they're awfully spoilery.

9. The Perfect Nanny* by Leila Slimani:  After Myriam decides to return to work after having two children, she thinks she's hit the jackpot when she finds Louise, the (yup) perfect nanny.  But tensions mount as Louise becomes resentful of the family's ever increasing demands.  I read the first chapter at Target and knew I had to buy it; it's probably the most intense and horrifying start to any book I've ever read.

Side note #1:  Oh look, a Gone Girl reference on the back cover!  SHOCKING.  And this book has even less in common with GG than most.

Side note #2:  I know I have at least one faithful blog reader who has a problem with violence against children in media; please do not read this book.  Not as big a spoiler as you would think; the very first line is "The baby's dead", so...yeah.

10. The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor:  When he was a kid, Eddie and his friends had a special secret code consisting of stick figures.  One morning Eddie follows a message into the woods, where he finds a dead body.  Now that Eddie is a grown man, he gets an anonymous letter with a drawing of a stick figure, and he tries to figure out what really happened so many years ago.


1. Getting Off* by Erica Garza:  The author's account of her addiction to sex and porn.  Brutally honest but not judgmental.

Side note: the first paragraph of the introduction says "My favorite porn scene of all time involves two sweaty women, fifty horny men, a warehouse, a harness, a hair dryer, and a taxicab.  You can put it all together in a dozen different ways and I bet you still can't imagine just how revolting the scene actually is."  I consider myself pretty creative, but WHAT THE HELL WAS THE HAIR DRYER FOR?!?  With great trepidation, I did a Google search with those keywords, but all I got were hits for this book.  The author never mentioned being into, uh, dark web kind of shit, so I can't imagine it was...snuff-y, but I just can't figure it out.  Maybe I'm better off not knowing.


1. School-Live! vol. 9 by Sadoru Chiba and Norimitsu Kaihou

2. The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

3. You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis

4. Idol Dreams vol. 4 by Arina Tanemura

5. Queen's Quality vol. 2 by Kyousuke Motomi

6. The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks


1.The Accountant:  Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an autistic accountant who has a side gig working for criminal organizations.  When he's hired to look into a discrepancy at a robotics firm, what he discovers will put his life, and the life of his coworker (Anna Kendrick), in jeopardy.  Good, but a couple of things that were supposed to be big revelations were pretty obvious to anyone who's ever seen a movie or read a book before.

2. Beach Rats:  Frankie is a teenage boy with a hot girlfriend, but he secretly hooks up with older men.  Not bad, but there was no real character growth, and I was distracted by how much one of the characters looked like an ex-boyfriend of mine.

3. Brawl in Cell Block 99:  In order to save his pregnant wife, a man (Vince Vaughn) arranges to be sent to a notorious prison so he can kill a fellow inmate.  Extremely violent and grim, but it has some surprisingly sharp dialogue.

4. The Hitman's Bodyguard:  The titular bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) agrees to watch over the titular hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) until he can testify in court against a war criminal.  Better than expected.

5. Mayhem:  A "rage virus" spreads through a quarantined office complex, and a recently fired employee takes advantage of the chaos to try to get his job back.  Funnier than the somewhat similar The Belko Experiment, but not nearly as good.

6. The Untamed:  This is going to be a tough movie to describe, but I'll try.  Basically, there's a couple in the Mexican countryside with an extraterrestrial creature living in their barn. It can provide unbelievable pleasure, so they let people visit it for sexytimes, but it doesn't know its own strength.  It's like a combination marital drama, horror movie, and hentai.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this odd little movie, but I found myself drawn in almost immediately; it's like porn directed by David Cronenberg.  Only the abrupt ending kept me from giving it a star.

Side note:  although I used the word porn up there as convenient shorthand, this isn't as explicit as actual porn; however, it's about as graphic as it gets without BEING actual porn, so let that be a warning or an endorsement depending on your particular tastes.  Oddly enough, the violence is not graphic at all.

7. Happy Death Day*:  Tree is a college student who is murdered on her birthday by someone wearing a creepy baby mask...and then she wakes up alive on her birthday.  It turns out she's caught in a time loop and will keep getting murdered until she finds out who's doing it and why.  It's like the love child of Groundhog Day and Scream, and I enjoyed it WAY more than I thought I would.  What a pleasant surprise!

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri*:  After her daughter's brutal murder goes unsolved, Mildred (Frances McDormand) takes out three billboards accusing the local police force of shuffling their feet.  Excellent performances, and I appreciated that the script didn't go quite where I was expecting.

9. Blade Runner 2049:  This sequel to the iconic 80s sci-fi film is visually interesting but incredibly slow and dull.

10. Tokyo Idols*:  A fascinating documentary about Japanese idol culture and its obsessive fans.  This would make a brilliant double feature with the classic anime movie Perfect Blue.

Side note #1: one thing I found particularly interesting is that idol CDs usually have a raffle ticket in them for a "handshake event", where you can shake an idol's hand and talk to them for a minute.  (Literally; there's a guy standing there with a timer.)  So a lot of fans will buy numerous copies of a CD in hopes of getting some face time with their favorite idol, which of course helps push the album up the charts.  This is one of the reasons that Japan still has robust sales of physical CDs instead of digital downloads.

Side note #2:  It's one thing when an idol is in her (there are male idols, but this documentary focuses on females) late teens or older, but near the end, they showed an idol group made up of little girls, and it was really fucking disturbing watching a bunch of men in their 20s and older fawning over them and saying things like "I like them best when they're not fully developed."  Does Japan have a version of Chris Hansen? 


Back in 2015, I played The Evil Within, expecting terrific things because it was created by Shinji Mikami, who made Resident Evil and is therefore nothing short of a god to survival horror fanatics like me.  Unfortunately, although I enjoyed some aspects, overall it was a bit of a mess (see my original review here).  When the sequel was announced, I figured I'd rent it or buy it used someday, but GameStop had it on sale for $25, so I went ahead and picked up a copy.  Boy am I glad I did, because The Evil Within 2 outshines its predecessor and then some.

As the game begins, ex-detective Sebastian Castellanos is grieving the death of his daughter Lily and the disappearance of his wife Myra.  He's drinking heavily at a bar when his former partner Juli Kidman approaches him and tells him that Lily is still alive, but she's being used as "the core" (sorry, kind of hard to explain) by a secretive organization called Mobius.  Lily's disappeared inside an alternate reality called Union, and Mobius needs Sebastian's help finding her.  Reluctantly, Sebastian allows himself to be put under, which enables him to enter Union.  But far from being the utopia that Mobius intended, Union has gone to hell, and Sebastian must confront the monsters within, and perhaps even more terrifying, his own guilt.


  • First and foremost, I have to give credit to TEW2 for fixing what I considered to be the biggest flaw in the first game:  they finally made us care about Sebastian.  In the first game, he was such a cardboard character that I never really cared about him, which is not a good thing for any video game protagonist, but especially in a survival horror game.  This time around, you care about Sebastian, and you want him to find his daughter.
  • The monsters are scary as shit, both in appearance (like a giant monster made up entirely of trussed together corpses) and the noises they make.  Props to whoever worked on the sound design for this game, because it's first rate.
  • TEW2 includes one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever encountered in a video game, and considering that survival horror is my favorite genre, that's really saying a lot!  It actually made me a little nauseated.
  • New game plus is a blast, thanks to the addition of a magnum to your arsenal and the fact that you get to keep all of your weapon and health upgrades. 
  • Union is beautifully rendered, with streets that abruptly crumble away into an abyss (shades of Silent Hill) and other areas floating in the sky.
  • Good music, including a very appropriate use of Duran Duran's (well, a cover) "Ordinary World" over the end credits.
  • A sly wink at one of Resident Evil's most infamous lines.
  • It's surprisingly emotional at times; I teared up more than once. 
  • THIS GAME IS FUCKING TERRIFYING.  There were several areas/enemies that freaked me out so badly that I almost didn't want to continue.  It's the scariest game I've played since Dead Space 2.
  • There's a cat in Sebastian's office (which serves as a safe room), and as soon as I saw it, I thought "Oh, great, wonder how and when the cat will be brutally killed?" because god forbid a horror movie/game allow a cat to live. did!


  • Considering how good the background and monster designs are, the facial animations of the main characters are practically PS2 level, and what's with the super stringy hair?
  • The voice acting is improved from the first game, but still not as good as one might hope. 
  • The story can be a bit convoluted.  I'd recommend reading a synopsis of the first game, even if you played it, before tackling the sequel.
  • There are only a few puzzles, and they're embarrassingly easy. 
  • I'm not a colossal fan of stealth, and there was a ton of it in this game, so you (like me) might get frustrated a few times.  Sure, you can just blow enemies away (well, mostly; there are a few enemies that can't be beaten, so you must sneak around them), but trust me, you'll run into a serious ammo crisis if you get too trigger happy. 
  • Much to my surprise (and dismay), there was an area that switched to first person view, which makes me puke and/or triggers a migraine, so I had to pass it off to G-Vo for that section.
  • It crashed on us a couple of times.
  • The cat in Sebastian's office is a good and lovely kitty but you can't pet it why :(
Overall, The Evil Within 2 was a very pleasant surprise.  It's like Silent Hill and Resident Evil had a baby, and although it's not as good as either of those games, it's still very much worth your while if you love survival horror games.  It gets 8 1/2 locker keys out of 10. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

media update: December

Happy New Year!  May everyone get exactly what they deserve in 2018.

Just out of curiosity, I compared the total read/watched in 2016 to 2017, and the results are in parentheses.  I was going to say that I don't know why the numbers are so much lower this year, but I think I have a guess:  Hidden City.  Now that my obsession with that game has drastically waned (I still play it every day, but not for hours at a time like I used to), it will be interesting to see if 2018's totals go up.

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


1. The Empress by S.J. Kincaid:  Because this is a sequel to The Diabolic, I can't review it properly without spoiling its predecessor.  It was really disappointing, though, which sucks because I loved The Diabolic so much.  Hopefully the next one is better.

2. The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli:  Asha is a dragon slaying princess with a fearsome power that will either save her world or completely destroy it.  It wasn't bad, but if this winds up being a series, I doubt I'll read any future installments.

3. A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo:  Jess is a teenage girl whose best friend, Angie, is gorgeous and popular.  When Angie starts dating Margot, a snobby girl from a prestigious boarding school, Jess begins to feel left out.  I appreciated the LGBTQ+ characters, but other than that, there wasn't much to recommend this.

4. Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra:  In order to get out of being arrested, a young woman impulsively claims that she's really Bec Winter, who had disappeared several years ago.  Bec's family is overjoyed to see her, and welcomes her with open arms, but whoever took Bec is still at large, and the impostor is in danger.  Interesting ideas, but it was hard to enjoy because I kept getting taken out of the story to marvel at how fucking stupid 99% of the people were.  Example: after "Bec" is taken to the hospital, they try to take her blood and she says no because, obviously, the blood tests will show that she's not who she claims to be.  And they're just dandy with that!  Yes, that's what would happen.

5. Poison's Kiss by Breeana Shields:  Marinda is an assassin who can kill just by kissing someone, but her world is upended when her newest target turns out to be the boy she loves. 

6. Boy, 9, Missing by Nic Joseph:  When Francis was a kid, his brother drowned in the bathtub.  The only witness, Sam, was the son of his parents' friends.  23 years later, Sam's son disappears, and he thinks Francis' father had something to do with it.  

7. Ultraluminous* by Katherine Faw:  The narrator is a girlfriend-experience prostitute who's just returned from Dubai to continue plying her trade in New York City.  Her days consist of drugs and visits with her clients, including one whose demands keep escalating.  Depressing, but very well written.

Side note: if you plan on reading this, don't read the inside cover as it spoils a huge plot point that doesn't occur until the book is nearly over.  Thanks for that, anonymous blurbist!

8. The Kizuna Coast by Sujata Massey:  After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Rei Shimura leaves her home in Hawaii to search for her mentor and finds herself caught up in a mystery.

9. The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories by Charlaine Harris:  What it says on the tin.

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  100  (2016 total 119)


1. Hit So Hard by Patty Schemel:  A memoir by the drummer of Hole that talks about her time with the band and her struggles with addiction.  Best read with the iconic album Live Through This playing in the background.

2. Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy* by Hallie Lieberman:   As the subtitle states, this is a look at sex toys throughout history, and boy is it entertaining!  I had to overcome some significant embarrassment to check this out at the library, but I'm glad I did.

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  35  (2016 total 24)


1. The Cape by Joe Hill, Zach Howard, and Nelson Daniel

2. Food Wars!* vol. 21 by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki

3. Sweetness and Lightning vol. 9 by Gido Amagakure

4. Everyone's Getting Married vol. 7 by Izumi Miyazono

5. Idol Dreams vols. 2-3 by Arina Tanemura

6. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 11 by Nico Tanigawa

7. School-Live!* vols. 4-8 by Sadoru Chiba and Norimitsu Kaihou

TOTAL READ IN 2017:  54 volumes of manga and 16 graphic novels (2016 total 67 volumes of manga and 18 graphic novels)


1. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:  Valerian and his partner Laureline are sort of intergalactic FBI agents who are trying to retrieve a special creature that's the last of its kind.  This movie was a critical and commercial flop, so our expectations were very low, but we actually enjoyed it!  The humor is flat and the action isn't anything special, but it's absolutely gorgeous to look at.

2. Logan Lucky:  Two brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) team up with a group of ne'er-do-wells to rob a racetrack.  I didn't like it quite as much as I thought I would, considering how terrific the reviews were, but it had some funny scenes.

3. The Villainess*:  In this Korean movie, a woman trained as an elite assassin decides to take revenge on the people responsible for her father's death.  A few scenes drag on a bit, but they're more than redeemed by some really exciting action.  There's a scene near the end that had me nearly delirious with joy.  Definitely worth checking out if you love kick-ass heroines.

Side note #1: The opening scene was done in first person, which made me nervous since that tends to make me nauseated and/or give me a migraine.  But fear not if you're similarly afflicted; that's the only scene shot like that.  (If you happen to enjoy first person action and aren't made sick by it, I'd recommend Hardcore Henry, which G-Vo loved.  I, of course, was unable to partake.)

Side note #2: If you're not a fan of reading subtitles, the dubbing is actually tolerable.  (Well, with the exception of a little girl who was obviously dubbed by an adult, which made her sound like a possessed doll.  Fortunately, she doesn't talk much.)

4. Lady Bird*:  The title character is actually named Christine, but she's renamed herself Lady Bird in an effort to stand out.  She lives in Sacramento with her family, but she wants nothing more than to break away and move to New York City.  A wonderfully true look at the love/hate relationship between mothers and daughters, with exceptional performances by Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as her harried mother.

5. Ingrid Goes West:  Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is a disturbed young woman who becomes obsessed with an Instagram star named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen).  Ingrid uses her inheritance to move to California and "accidentally" bump into her idol.  This was billed as a dark comedy, but it wasn't very funny. Good performances, but it mostly just made me cringe.

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi:  No recap since I don't want to spoil anything for anybody, plus if you have any interest in seeing this, you probably already have.  I have to be honest and say I thought it was disappointing; it felt really flat to me.  And lest you think the opinion of a casual SW fan doesn't count for much: I saw it with two lifelong SW fanboys and they didn't much care for it either.  Hopefully the next one is better.

7. Kingsman: The Golden Circle*:  The title organization teams up with a spy agency in the US to take down a perky drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore).  Lots of really fun action; I liked it more than the first one.

Side note:  This movie and Logan Lucky both feature Channing Tatum and the John Denver song "Country Roads", which is kind of weird.

8. Better Watch Out*:  A normal babysitting gig turns into a nightmare for Ashley when she becomes the victim of a home invasion and must defend the boy she's watching.  Absolutely not for everyone, but if you like your humor pitch black and don't mind some extremely twisted shit, you'll enjoy it.

9. Atomic Blonde:  In the middle of the Cold War, an MI6 agent (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of double agents.  A 3 star movie with a 4 star soundtrack and a 5 star fight scene.

10. Mother!*:  A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her much older husband (Javier Bardem) find their lives upended by unexpected guests.  After #6 above, this was probably the most polarizing movie of the year.  I thought the allegory was a bit heavy-handed, and parts of it are extremely disturbing, but I wound up giving it a star because it did affect me and Jennifer Lawrence is really good.

11. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children:  After his grandfather dies, Jake discovers the titular home and tries to help the residents escape from a sinister threat.  Visually creative and better than expected.

TOTAL SEEN IN 2017:  90 (2016 total 103)