Thursday, January 31, 2019

media update: January

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. Looker* by Laura Sims:  The unnamed narrator is a recently separated professor who becomes obsessed with an actress (also unnamed) who lives a few doors down.  A sharp little novel that cuts deep.

2. An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:  Desperate for cash, Jessica signs up for a psychology study about morality that slowly starts to test her own.

3. Scrublands by Chris Hammer:  A priest guns down several people after being accused of child molestation.  One year later, a reporter arrives to do a story on the anniversary of the tragedy and how it devastated the small town where it occurred.  I was pretty disappointed in this book, but that might be because I saw it compared to Jane Harper, and the only thing it had in common with her work was an Australian setting.  Also, there's a female character named Mandalay Blonde and I was really irritated every time I saw her full name on the page.

4. The Woman Inside by E.G. Scott:  Rebecca and Paul's twenty-year marriage is thrown into a tailspin when she discovers that he's planning a new life without her in this psychological thriller.


1. The Woo-Woo* by Lindsay Wong:  The author grew up in a Chinese-Canadian family plagued by mental illness (aka the "Woo-Woo"), which they blamed on ghosts.  The kind of memoir that makes you laugh one second and then cover your mouth in horror the next.


1. Ajin: Demi-Human vol. 12 by Gamon Sakurai

2. Idol Dreams vol. 5 by Arina Tanemura

3. Yotsuba* vol. 14 by Kiyohiko Azuma:  I was shocked to see this at the library; it had been so long since the last volume I thought they'd stopped publishing it!

4. Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu:  If you're most familiar with Junji Ito's often squirm-inducing horror manga and are afraid to read this because of what might happen to the titular cats, fear not; it's an autobiographical manga about learning to love cats when his fiancee and her two felines move in with him.  (Though it does have some grotesque art done for humorous effect.)


1. White Boy Rick:  In 1980s Detroit, 14-year-old drug dealer Rick is roped into becoming an undercover police informant.  Based on a true story. 

2. The Miseducation of Cameron Post:  After getting caught having sex with her best friend, Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) is sent to a gay conversion camp.

3. The Equalizer 2:  Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a retired CIA operative who now works as a Lyft driver and dispenses occasional vigilante justice on the side.  When a friend is murdered, he'll stop at nothing to find the perpetrators.

4. The First Purge:  In this prequel, the New Founding Fathers of America decide to conduct a social experiment in which the residents of Staten Island are exempt from all laws for 12 hours to see if getting bad behavior out of their system will cause them to obey for the rest of the year. 

5. Peppermint:  After her husband and daughter are murdered, Riley (Jennifer Garner) reinvents herself as a badass vigilante and hunts down the people responsible.  The script is so filled with cliches that it's like it was written by software, but it has some decent action scenes.  G thought it should be called Jane Wick; I suggested The Poonisher because I am vulgar.

6. Hotel Artemis:  The titular hotel is actually a place where criminals can get fixed up and recuperate in privacy, and when a citywide riot breaks out, it's much busier than usual.  Weird and disjointed.

7. Reptilicus (MST3K version):  Scientists accidentally bring an enormous monster back to life in this 1960s groaner from Denmark. 

8. Three Identical Strangers: Three identical triplets, adopted by three different families shortly after their birth, unexpectedly meet as adults and learn the truth behind their separation in this "stranger than fiction" documentary.

9. Cry Wilderness (MST3K version):  A young boy befriends Bigfoot, although you hardly ever see Bigfoot, and when you do, the costume is so terrible you wish he'd stayed offscreen.

10. Boy Erased:  After confessing his homosexuality to his religious parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman), Jared (Lucas Hedges) is sent to conversion therapy.  Similar to #2 on this list, and was theatrically released at around the same time, but this one is better.  Based on a true story.


Quantic Dream created Heavy Rain, one of my five favorite video games of all time, and I also really enjoyed Indigo Prophecy and Beyond: Two Souls, so I was looking forward to playing Detroit: Become Human when it was released last year.  But then I read that it was only about 15 hours from start to finish, so I decided to wait until it was much cheaper to buy it.  Well, fast forward several months and it had only gone down to $40, so I rented it from Redbox.

DBH is set in the not-so-distant future in, you guessed it, Detroit.  Androids have become affordable for just about everyone, so they've taken over a wide array of functions and cost many people their jobs, creating a great deal of resentment and distrust.  You alternate between three android characters:  Kara, who takes care of the young daughter of an abusive drug addict; Markus, who helps a disabled artist; and Connor, a police investigator who looks into cases involving androids.  All of them start to become "deviants", meaning that they're beginning to gain consciousness, leading to a revolution.


  • This game is absolutely gorgeous, from the faces to the backgrounds, and like Red Dead Redemption 2, there were many times I'd stop just to admire the visuals.  (It was certainly an interesting segue going from RDR2, set in the late 1800s, to the futuristic glitter of DBH.)
  • For the most part, the voice acting is excellent.  There are a couple of secondary characters who aren't great, but the main characters are all terrific.
  • The QTE gameplay was actually challenging, but fair about it; one missed move didn't mean an instant fail.
  • Not a single glitch or crash.


  • Oooof, there are some really cringeworthy allegories in this game.  David Cage, the lead writer/director, insists that he wasn't trying to draw a parallel between android rights and civil rights, but come the fuck on.  To wit: at one point, the androids are marching through the streets, demanding equality, and one of their chants is "We have a dream".  
  • This is really on us due to a choice we made in the game, but something that happened pissed us off so badly that I have to put it in this column.  (I won't get specific due to spoilers.)
  • I'll be honest and say that one of the reasons I wanted to play this game so badly is that I saw so much delectable "HankCon" (i.e. grizzled detective Hank and his work partner, Connor) art and fic online that I was expecting to spend half the game fangirling out over them.  But aside from a friendly hug near the end, I saw nothing to stoke the fires in my slashy heart.  (Though to be fair, something might have happened in a scene we didn't get.)
  • Just as a warning, there is a domestic violence scene that can apparently get really graphic and disturbing depending on your choices.


Yeah, that 15-hour playtime I mentioned?  Well, turns out that's only really true if you don't want to see all the different branches of the story.  We're actually going to re-rent it because, thanks to #2 on the bad list, we got a really shitty ending for one of the characters, and we can't let it slide.  So if you plan on being a completionist about it, go ahead and buy it.

All in all, Detroit: Become Human is an engrossing slice of sci-fi that will dazzle your eyes and make you think.  I give it 8 mechanical birds out of 10.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

media update: December

Considering that I've been unemployed all month, I didn't get a lot of reading done!  Turns out that it's harder than it seems, thanks to governmental red tape (despite filing for unemployment after being laid off, I haven't seen a penny yet.  No matter what conservative politicians would have you believe, the government ain't just handing money out willy-nilly; they make you jump through so many fucking hoops it ought to count as cardio), mountains of paperwork, job hunting, and trying to get as much productive shit as possible done while I still can.  But two long holiday weekends in a row for G meant that we watched a lot of movies and, of course, played lots of Red Dead Redemption 2.  (Which, by the way, I review at the end of this entry.)

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.  Fury by Rachel Vincent:  This is the final book in a trilogy, so I can't review it properly lest I spoil its predecessors.

2. River Bodies by Karen Katchur:  When Becca returns to her hometown to spend time with her dying father, the discovery of a body unearths old secrets.

3. My Sister, the Serial Killer* by Oyinkan Braithwaite:  Korede's sister Ayoola is gorgeous, popular, the favorite daughter...and she's just killed her third boyfriend in a row.  Korede reluctantly helps Ayoola cover up her crimes, but now Ayoola has set her sights on the man Korede secretly loves.  A sly little treat.

4. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey:  The murders of a homeless man and a movie star seem unconnected at first, but police detective Gemma Woodstock discovers some eerie similarities. Good, but I really wish the author hadn't named a supporting character Elizabeth Short.  It was jarring whenever I saw that character's name in print, because it always took me a second to remember it wasn't referring to the Black Dahlia.

2018 TOTAL:  108


1. Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction* by Gabrielle Moss:  If you, like me, lived for monthly mall visits so you could hit up B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks and spend your allowance on Sweet Valley High, Wildfire, and Sweet Dreams novels, you will LOVE this book.  It was the nostalgia equivalent of black tar heroin shot directly into my veins.

2. I Might Regret This* by Abbi Jacobson:  After having her heart broken, the author decided to drive across the country by herself in hopes of discovering herself and what she really wants in life.  It sounds like typical navel-gazing bullshit, but it was really funny (as you'd expect from the co-creator and co-star of Broad City) and surprisingly touching.

3. How to Be Alone* by Lane Moore:  A heartbreaking yet hopeful book of essays about learning to be alone, whether you want to be or not.

2018 TOTAL:  30 


1. A Bride's Story vol. 10 by Kaoru Mori

2. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!* vol. 12 by Nico Tanigawa

2018 TOTAL:  45 volumes of manga and 15 graphic novels


1. The Incredibles 2*:  Superheroes have been made illegal, so Helen and Bob Parr, aka Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, are living in a motel with their three children.  But when an entrepreneur asks Elastigirl to help him restore the public's trust, she leaves Bob to take care of their kids while she fights a dangerous new threat.  Not as good as the original---a tall order considering that's my favorite Pixar movie and one of my favorite movies of all time---but it's still really enjoyable.

Viewer advisory: before watching the opening short, Bao, make sure you have tissues nearby; my eyes nearly slid out of my head.

2. The Meg:  A rescue diver teams up with a group of scientists to help take down a massive shark that was believed to be extinct.  It's pretty stupid, and it takes way too long to get interesting, but it has some good action and Jason Statham in a towel.

3. BlacKkKLansman:  Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer, infiltrates the KKK by phone.  However, he obviously can't attend their meetings, so he sends a colleague to their meetings to pose as him.  Improbably enough, it's based on a true story!

4. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies:  Robin is desperate to be the star of his own superhero movie, but he needs a proper archvillain; enter Slade.  Cute, loaded with Easter eggs, and occasionally quite funny; my favorite touch was Nicolas Cage voicing Superman.  (For you young'uns who might not get the joke: Nicolas Cage very famously wanted to play Superman in a movie.)

5. Mission : Impossible - Fallout*:  Ethan Hunt and his team try to track down stolen plutonium before it's too late.  Lots of really fun action, especially in the last half-hour.

Side note: this series has been a blast from the very beginning.  Could the writers maybe work on the next Bond movie, please?

6. Lizzie: In this somewhat fictionalized take on the Lizzie Borden story, Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) and her family's housemaid Bridget (Kristen Stewart) fall in love and, well, we all know what happened next.  

Side note: I still find it rather amusing, if one can use that term when talking about two gruesome murders, that Lizzie was acquitted mostly because the all-male jury couldn't believe a woman could possibly commit such a crime. 

7. Mile 22*:  An elite CIA unit tries to smuggle an Indonesian cop with important information out of the country.  This got shitty reviews and made about two bucks, but we really enjoyed it!  It's only 94 minutes long, but about an hour of that is pure action, including a fantastic fight scene featuring Iko Uwais of The Raid fame.

8. The Happytime Murders:  A puppet private investigator and his former partner (Melissa McCarthy) team up again to solve a series of puppet murders.  The idea of puppets being dirty is funny, albeit not unique (cf. Meet the Feebles and Avenue Q), but this movie took a good idea and completely screwed it up.  There are a few good laughs, but it's like sifting through a dog turd to find them.

9. Bird Box*:  When a mysterious force causes people who look at it to kill themselves, Mallory (Sandra Bullock) blindfolds herself and her two children and heads out in a boat to find sanctuary in this extremely tense flick.

10. Venom:  Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative reporter who's recently been fired due to seriously overstepping ethical journalism requirements, gets the scoop of a lifetime when he discovers that a gazillionaire tech magnate has found alien life forms in space.  Unfortunately, one of those creatures, aka symbiotes, takes over Eddie's body.  One of Marvel's rare missteps; it's loud and stupid but rarely entertaining.

11. Never Goin' Back:  Angela and Jessie are best friends who dropped out of high school and now work at a diner.  They're looking forward to a week at the beach, but complications ensue and they need to get their hands on a whole lot of money quickly.  It reminded me of Spring Breakers lite, but I enjoyed it much more.

12. The Predator:  The bloodthirsty aliens return to Earth to track down a traitor who's trying to save the human race.

13. A Simple Favor**:  Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is an excitable young widow who idolizes Emily (Blake Lively), the ultracool mom of one of Stephanie's son's classmates.  One day, Emily asks Stephanie if she can pick up her son after school; Stephanie eagerly agrees, but then Emily never shows up, and Stephanie becomes obsessed with solving the mystery.  A deliciously dark comedy that's much better than the book, thanks to the excellent performances.

2018 TOTAL:  110 (20 more than 2017!  I wonder why so many?)


Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in 1899, in a fictionalized version of the United States.  After an attempted ferry robbery goes horribly wrong, the van der Linde gang, led by the charismatic Dutch, goes on the run.  You play Arthur Morgan, who was adopted into the gang at a young age and sees Dutch as a father figure.  Arthur is torn between loyalty towards his makeshift family and a longing for something more.

Quick note before I get to the pros and cons: although you can't play Arthur as an entirely good guy---he is an outlaw, after all!---you can choose to play him with high honor or low honor, which will greatly affect your playing experience and, in some cases, plot elements.  We chose to play with high honor, so some aspects of this review may not be applicable if you go the other way.

  • This is one of the most gorgeous games I've ever seen.  It would be beautiful regardless, but for an open world game to have graphics like this is truly astounding.  The water, the foliage, the mountains, the night sky, the landscapes...just incredible.  More than once I'd stop riding just to admire the scenery.
  • The voice acting is top notch, and I'd go so far as to say that Roger Clark, as Arthur Morgan, gives the best voice performance I've ever heard in a video game. 
  • I don't want to get too much into the plot lest I spoil something, but it's engrossing.  It's like an excellent 70+ hour long movie!
  • In addition to story missions, there are optional side missions you can do, and some of them are really interesting, funny, and/or touching.  My favorites involved rescuing a bumbling wildlife photographer and helping a new widow learn how to survive on her own.
  • I have certainly cried over video games before, and RDR2 was no exception, but this is the only game that has ever literally made me sob.
  • Oh god, Arthur.  ARTHUR.  Arthur is one of the most fascinating fictional characters I've "met" in any medium for a long time; in fact, he's now my favorite male video game character of all time, which is no small feat considering Leon Kennedy held the throne for 20+ years.  Arthur is conflicted, sweet, funny, as talented with a pencil as he is with a gun, and he absolutely broke my heart.  I JUST WANTED MY POOR HOT COWBOY TO BE HAPPY.
  • Speaking of which...well, this isn't really a "yee-haw" per se, but an observation.  I have never, EVER seen such massive, universal thirst for a video game character as I have for Arthur, spanning across the entire sexual spectrum.  Twitter, AO3, and Tumblr are basically just Arthur Morgan appreciation sites at this point, and I ain't angry because I am one of the thirsty flock.

  •  Considering the complexity of this game, it wasn't very buggy, but we did hit a few really irritating glitches.  To name a few: people weren't showing up in a cutscene, ammo kept mysteriously disappearing from one of our weapons even after we'd restocked it, the graphics didn't fill in during one scene so it was all blocky, and a character got caught in a dialogue loop, repeating the same line over and over again, so I had to pick a fight and get killed so it would reset.
  • There are a few scenarios that could be seen as skewing a bit "white savior".
  • The weapon wheel is an obnoxious unintuitive nightmare.  And for god's sakes, Rockstar, WHY can't you just let us choose favorite weapons to stay in the top slots instead of just shoving them in the back somewhere so we have to keep clicking for what seems like forfuckingever to find them?  
  • Sometimes the controls would get a little touchy.  More than once I tried to get on my horse which was RIGHT FUCKING THERE and wound up tackling a bystander instead, which of course led to me being wanted for assault, which of course meant I had to reload my last save and sit there for several minutes while it did.  (The loading times were pretty long, but I'm not listing that as a negative; given the scope of the game, I'm astonished it wasn't even longer!)  I also once accidentally punched my horse instead of getting something out of my saddlebag, and I reloaded again because no fucking way was I going to keep a save where I punched my beautiful sweet baby girl Uber.  (I bought another horse later because it was an Arabian, and as much as I loved Uber, the speed difference was like going from a Honda Civic to a Maserati.  I named that horse Kuro.)
  • There was an encounter which could be seen as making light of sexual assault.  (Note: no sexual assault is ever depicted onscreen.)
  • There's a pretty steep learning curve; it took me at least 10 hours to get comfortable with the interface.  (Not that the goddamn weapon wheel helped with that.)
  • The game autosaves frequently, which is mostly a good thing, but occasionally it will just randomly start to do it at inopportune times.  There were a few scenes whose impact was lessened thanks to the screen going black and a huge "ALERT" popping up.  
  • If you cause trouble, you will very often go into "wanted" status, causing a bounty on your head.  Which is fine and understandable if you're running around beating up innocent people or something...but why in the holy name of fuck did I get bounties on me for shooting back at someone WHO STARTED SHOOTING AT ME FIRST?!?  Even in today's day and age, we don't get in trouble for self-defense, much less back in the Wild West! 
  • Arthur can pay to take a nice hot bath at assorted saloons and hotels, which is great because the dude deserves a relaxing soak!  But WHY CAN'T WE SEE ANYTHING?!?  When he gets out of the tub, the camera stays strictly above his waist.  Come on, Rockstar, you've showed us dongs before; surely you can give us thirsty bitches a nice shot of Arthur's sweet cakes at least.
I enjoyed the first Red Dead Redemption, so I was expecting to enjoy the sequel as well; what I wasn't expecting was to be so addicted to it and so profoundly moved by it.  It now holds a well-earned place in my ten favorite video games of all time.  I'm proud to give Red Dead Redemption 2 nine bottles of miracle tonic out of 10.