Santa Clarita Diet Serves Up Gruesome Laughs

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Confession time: I was pretty reluctant to watch Santa Clarita Diet. I may be a diehard zombie fan, but even I’m starting to feel the effects of 10+ years of zombie properties saturating the market. I’m glad I gave in to curiosity after seeing that so many of the people I follow on Twitter had nothing but great things to say about it.

I cannot overstate what a delight this show is. It has a unique brand of humor that reminds me of the first time I saw Arrested Development: it takes an episode or two to “get” the rhythm of the humor, but once you do it’s almost addictive.

Santa Clarita Diet is about a suburban realtor, Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore), who turns into a flesh eating zombie. Her husband, Joel Hammond (Timothy Olyphant), chooses to support her and assist with hunting down prey. It’s oddly romantic how willing Joel is to follow his wife down this crazy rabbit hole, but it becomes clear that these high school sweethearts share the kind of love that wouldn’t allow either of them to abandon the other to fights such a horrific fate alone.

Complicating the matter is the fact that their house is located right between two police officers, Rick (Richard T. Jones) and Dan (Ricardo Chavira) who often show up unannounced. They also have a teenage daughter named Abby (Liv Hewson) who begins acting out in response to the new family secret.

Barrymore and Olyphant have amazing chemistry, and it’s this facet that really sells the show in an age when zombie stories are so common that there’s arguably a whole a subgenre consisting of “cute blonde women who become zombies and try to hang on to their human lives.” Olyphant in particular delivers a truly showstopping performance. Joel is the moral and functional center of the family, trying to keep everyone else from flying out of orbit as life (and undeath) starts to pull them apart.

The only potential downside to this show, depending on the viewer’s constitution, is an almost awe-inspiring amount of gore. Many episodes could give The Walking Dead and various zombie feature films a run for their money. It’s always played humorously, but more squeamish viewers should be prepared to cover their eyes now and then.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Turns 20

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Today is the 20th anniversary of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, arguably one of the most influential television shows in history. On March 10th, 1997, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ lit up television screens across America and changed the creative landscape forever. Buffy the Vampire Slayer gave us a petite heroine who defied preconceived culture norms about what ‘type’ of woman could be an ass-kicking action adventure lead.

In a culture where virtually anything and everything about teenage girls is routinely mocked, Buffy Summers was a wannabe cheerleader who saved the world a hundred times over while embracing youthful femininity. Cute boys and stylish shoes were as much a part of her life as being the Chosen One. It was a subtle yet powerful message that young girls who are so often taught to think in terms of “shallow girly-girls” vs “cool not-like-other-girls” needed.

As an actor, you wish for that one role where you can leave your mark and forever be remembered, with Buffy I got so much more. She’s a feminist challenge to gender hierarchy. Buffy may have been the Chosen One, but I was the lucky one.

Though the characters and snappy dialogue were the hallmarks Buffy the Vampire Slayer was so well known for, its impact on the structure of dramatic tv cannot be understated. It’s hard to imagine so many years into the golden age of TV that began in the late aughts, but networks originally fought tooth and nail against season-long story arcs and character evolution. They wanted self-contained episodes and a slate that was essentially wiped clean after every one, to make shows easier to get into mid-season by new viewers.

Joss Whedon was one of a handful of pioneers who fought to tell a complex story that grew and matured. Though monster-of-the-week episodes were a staple of the show’s early period, even then there was a “big bad” introduced in the very first episode and plot threads that would run through the entire season. Subsequent seasons relied ever more heavily on weaving together story arcs that would intersect and boil up to a dramatic climax in each season finale.

The result was a rich, complex story and dynamic characters who changed in response to the events they experienced. No character stayed static and unchanging. Trauma, grief, and even joy were things that effected every recurring character. In 2017 that seems like an odd thing to be held up as unique and unusual, but in the 90s it was exceedingly common for characters to be written as if they hadn’t experienced any of the traumatic events in previous episodes. Things that should have been life-altering were often never referenced again. Buffy broke from this tradition and was an infinitely better show for doing so.

Nobody could have known in 1997 that a small blonde Valley girl with a penchant for slaying demonic monsters would become such a cult hit, or that the creator would amass a legion of loyal fans who would go on to call themselves Whedonites. People rarely know they’re taking part in a cultural phenomenon until it’s well underway. They just enjoy the journey as it happens. Twenty years later, we are all so thankful for being given the chance to take part in that journey.

Pokémon GO Gets People Moving

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Pokemon GOIt’s been more than a little amusing to see the public bewildered by the sudden appearance of roaming packs of people ranging in age from 7 to 70+, all staring intently at their phones, at all hours of the day.

Pokémon GO, the new free-to-play mobile game which has smashed records since it’s release on July 6th, is based on the perennially popular Pokémon games from Nintendo. It was developed by Niantic and is very similar in format to their previous ARG, Ingress. Many of the Pokéstops in Pokémon GO were manually submitted by millions of users for Ingress capture nodes, re-purposed for the new game.

In this iteration of the game, the Pokémon appear superimposed in the real world via your smartphone’s camera. Players aim the Pokéball with a flick of their finger at a targeting circle around each Pokémon.

Pokéstops are found at small landmarks such as statues and fountains, dropping various goodies such as extra Pokéballs, potions, and eggs that can be hatched. Gyms are sites where public battles are waged between the three factions available to players.

Though it’s impossible to tell what kind of longevity the game will have so early into it’s release, people all over the country have been talking excitedly about being motivated to exercise for the first time in a long will. Particularly inspiring are the people sharing how it has helped them cope with depression or anxiety, getting out of the house and into the fresh air with other players.

While the game is fun and has fostered many positive interactions between people from a variety of ages and backgrounds, I do have to point out that a small percentage of people have been less than stellar ambassadors of this game. With that in mind:

  • DO NOT PLAY WHILE DRIVING A CAR. NO IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW SLOWLY YOU DRIVE.
  • Be respectful of private property, religious sites, and anywhere common sense tells you is an abysmally stupid place to play. Both the Arlington Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum have had to release public statements asking people to stop playing Pokémon GO at their sites.
  • Do not ask children to lead you somewhere they caught a Pokémon; that’s a really good way to end up on the local news and possibly a government list. It’s best not to interact with children at all unless their parents are there.
  • Pay attention to where you’re walking/stepping and be mindful of your surroundings.

 

Patrick Stewart Performs Country Classics For Charity

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With all the stressful goings-on in the world today, it’s nice to take a moment now and then to appreciate the good and the kind. Patrick Stewart, in support of the International Rescue Committee, has released a charity album of five country classics.

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The gag, if not apparent from the website, is that it’s not really a full length album but a small sampler, available for $10 as a digital download from indie music store CDbaby. The five track listing is as follows:

  1. Buttons and Bows
  2. Don’t Fence Me In
  3. Ringo
  4. I’m An Old Cowhand
  5. Here Comes Santa Clause

All proceeds will go to the aforementioned International Rescue Committee. You can read more about them here:

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.

Thanks to the generosity of IRC supporters, more than 23 million people benefited from IRC programs and those of our partner organizations in 2015—nearly 5.5 millionmore individuals than we were able to reach in 2014.

If you’re inclined to open your wallet for a good cause, you’ll be rewarded with a small but delightful collection of songs from one of nerd culture’s most beloved public figures. Patrick Stewart has been longtime advocate of humanitarian causes, and his latest contribution is inspired.

Spoiler-Free Warcraft Movie Review

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In light of some of the incredibly negative reviews Warcraft has garnered, I’m going to share my thoughts on both the good and the bad. While there were certainly plenty of things the film could have done better (like any film, really), it was still an extremely enjoyable movie that managed to rise well above the expectations and assumptions about video game adaptations.

I think the biggest mistake was how rushed the opening of the film was. While I can absolutely understand the potential motivation they might have had to use the rapid-fire introductions as a way to convey the sense of urgency and danger, it wasn’t a gambit that payed off. Warcraft fans are familiar enough with the characters and setting to nullify this issue, but newcomers to the franchise might find the first 25 or so minutes confusing. After that, however, the pacing finds its footing.

As I mentioned in my crash course on the Warcraft universe, the hallmark of the franchise is the mostly even treatment of the two factions. That said, I think Warcraft would have been stronger for new viewers if they’re started with the humans and used them to ground the audience in the setting and hook them into the world before introducing them to the more fantastic and mythical Orcs. The film did manage to convey that the Orcs were beings of honor who had the same strengths and weaknesses in terms of personality that humans do.

Khadgar movieKhadgar and the portrayal of magic was one of the highlights of the film. I can say without a hint of reservation that Warcraft delivered my absolute favorite use of on-screen magic in film history. If you’re a fantasy fan who leans towards the sorcery aspect of swords-and-sorcery, I implore you to see this film. Khadgar was a scene-stealer who quickly became the highlight of the film. Due partly to the aforementioned magic and partly to his everyman-with-hints-of-greatness-to-come nature, Khadgar was an indisputable success. (And if you end up playing the game, you’ll see why he gets nicknamed “the silver fox” by fans. Hubba hubba.)

Oh, Garona. Why did they make poor Paula Patton wear those weird plastic nubs? A character design should always err on the side of caution; being subtle is preferable to distracting the audience. Similarly, the male Orcs had an opposite but equal issue; at times it looked like their massive lower tusks weren’t actually anchored in their mouths.

The humans fared much better. It was a gamble to replicate the flamboyant blue and gold armor of Stormwind, but this time it was a gamble that payed off.

I think the final issue with Warcraft was that the Orcs seemed to have eaten the majority of the budget. Stormwind, Dalaran, and Ironforge got some gorgeous wide shots that really gave an impression of massive size and scale, but many scenes suffered from an almost claustrophobic atmosphere due to very small sets. I went in expecting to see lots of grand sweeping vistas like in Lord of the Rings and it was disappointing when that didn’t happen nearly as often as I’d hoped.

All nitpicking aside, I genuinely enjoyed Warcraft and found most of the reviews to be overly harsh and bordering on the ridiculous. It’s not going to garner any Best Picture nominations, but it was a very solid film for what it aspired to be; a fun summer blockbuster.

A Spoiler-Free Crash Course On The Warcraft Universe

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Warcraft movie

Note: There’s a lot than can (and has) been written on this subject, but I noticed that virtually all the articles I was seeing tended to shrug off the concern of spoilers on the basis that the franchise is over 20 years old by now. While this is certainly understandable, I decided there was a niche for a more general overview for people who want to go in with a blank slate. I have also seen more than a few comments on social media along the lines of, “The Warcraft trailer is so confusing, I can’t even tell who they’re supposed to be fighting!” 

A few things set the Warcraft universe apart from many other popular fantasy settings. One of the most important aspects of Warcraft is that the “sides” (known in-game as the two major factions) are not as cut-and-dried as in traditional good vs evil fantasies.

The Alliance is generally what you’d think of as the “good guys” in more traditional fantasy stories like the Lord of the Rings. Gallant knights in shining armor, gruff but honorable dwarves, etc.

The Horde is mostly made up of races you’d normally think of as the “bad guys,” and in the time period the movie is set in, these are the Orcs, aka the giant green people you’ve seen in the trailers.

The Horde and the Alliance are almost constantly at war in the Warcraft universe, and the upcoming movie will be showing the birth of this decades-long conflict. While “faction pride” is a big thing among fans who like to root for one side or the other, the narrative usually tries to make the point that both sides are at fault; even the “monsters” can be the good guys and even the “good guys” can behave like monsters.

I think this is the part that’s leaving a lot of people who have seen the trailer scratching their heads in confusion. It’s not clear from the trailer who the good guys are or who you’re supposed to be rooting for.

That very thing is the hallmark of the Warcraft franchise. It’s not like the Jedi vs the Sith, the Order of the Phoenix vs the Death Eaters, the fellowship of the ring vs the forces of Sauron, etc. The viewer will be presented with both sides of the conflict, and the narrative will not tell you that either the Orcs or the Humans are the heroes you should root for. That’s what you’re supposed to argue with your friends about when the movie is over.

There is also something akin to a third “faction,” though it’s never really referred to as such. Both the Horde and the Alliance, on occasion, must put aside their differences to fight a common enemy who is forever scheming to wipe out everyone.

This is another hallmark of the franchise. There is an ongoing tug-of-war between those among each faction who cannot forgive the atrocities the other side has committed, and more neutral characters who strive to convince their brethren to work together for the greater good.

And finally, the movie is based off of the original real-time strategy game Warcraft, approximately 30 years before the setting of the extremely popular and more well-known MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) World of Warcraft.

If you enjoy the movie and wish to dive deeper into the Warcraft universe, subscribe to the blog and stay tuned for my upcoming posts on getting started in the World of Warcraft game. In the meantime, check out my Top 10 Favorite Places In World of Warcraft. If you’re a former Warcraft player looking to get back into the game, I wrote a post on the upcoming World of Warcraft: Legion expansion due to release this August.

Lore Podcast

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Lore Podcast

Love scary stories? History? Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast is for you. Each episode details horrific historical incidents, ranging far and wide across numerous countries and time periods. These biweekly episodes clock in at around 25 minutes each, making them perfect for those days you don’t have large blocks of time to set aside to listen to longer shows.

From some of the earliest recorded accounts of serial killers to a man stranded for months in a tiny room with a corpse, the stories are as varied as they are macabre. There are stories the average listener has never heard of as well as quite a few deconstructions of the likely origins for popular myths and urban legends.

While Mahnke doesn’t get too gory with the details, be advised that the subject matter is inherently gruesome and may not be suitable for younger listeners. And please beware: listening to this podcast could have grave and disastrous effects on your wallet as you get more and more overwhelming urges to buy out you local bookstore’s history section. You have been warned.

The audio production aspects are professional quality and the narration is smooth and pleasant.

If you find you just can’t get enough of Lore, rejoice! The podcast is currently in development to become a television show. Mahnke also writes supernatural thrillers.

My Top 10 Favorite Places In World of Warcraft

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In preparation for the upcoming release of Warcraft on June 10th, I though I’d take a moment to share my favorite locations in the World of Warcraft. Feel free to chime in with your own favorite places in the comment section!

The Plaguewood

10. The Plaguewood

Located deep in the Eastern Plaguelands, the Plaguewood is one of the spookier places in the game. Massive, sickly, pock-marked mushrooms tower over dead ground patrolled by various Scourge monstrosities. The rain that beats down seems like it would add to the oppressive atmosphere rather than bring life to the bleak landscape.

Hellfire Peninsula

9. Hellfire Peninsula 

Granted, the actual terrain of Hellfire Peninsula is about as ugly as it gets. But the sky is second to none. Three moons hang in the perpetual black of space with streamers of light. The shattered remnants of the land that broke apart still hover bizarrely in air, and the edges of the zone plummet off into the nothingness of space in a vertigo-inducing tableau that makes for one of World of Warcraft’s most haunting landscapes.

Frostfire Ridge

8. Frostfire Ridge

While I enjoy all of the various snow zones in WoW, Frostfire Ridge stands apart for the winning combination of lava pools and billowy snow drifts. It’s one of those zones where I always readily imagine exactly what it would be like in real life. Walking along, bundled tightly against the uncompromising cold, and coming upon the heat of of those pools like an oasis in a desert.

Ramkahen

7. Ramkahen

Set against the backdrop of endless dunes and wind-driven sands, Ramakhen is a haven to travelers attempting to traverse the Sahara-inspired zone of Uldum. Towering statues rise up from a lush tropical paradise. Broad sandstone buildings sit around courtyards where the locals host open-air markets, offering up their wares in colorful stalls. Did I mention that those locals are cat-like centaur people?

Kezan

6. Kezan

Kezan is the starting zone for the Goblin race. Sadly, it can’t be re-visited after the player finishes up all the Kezan quests. It’s fun and obscenely tacky and I just can’t get enough. It’s a big departure from the more serious and traditional fantasy-inspired starting zones, making it a quirky little palate-cleanser. Wooden pink flamingos and lawns of Astroturf abound. Multicolored string lights are draped around metal buildings, and empty cola cans are sprinkled liberally throughout. Flamboyant animal print decor abounds, and the Goblins love their poolside parties, complete with inflatable pool toys.

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Nimona Review

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Nimona

Noelle Stevenson manages to juggle “adorable” and “bloodthirsty” like a pro acrobat with Nimona, dazzling readers with a story that’s alternately funny and heartbreaking.

Nimona 2In this webcomic turned graphic novel, the titular Nimona is a young shape-shifter seeking work as a sidekick to Ballister Blackheart, aka “the biggest name in supervillainy.” She begs him to let her help with his plans against his archnemesis Goldenloin, usually acting more as a loose cannon that he must scramble to control than a helpful assistant. Whether she’s in her normal human appearance, a fearsome dragon, or a shark with a respectably large set of breasts, she’s generally the more aggressive character, and much of the story revolves around the supervillain having to be the voice of reason and mercy.

The setting is a fun mash up of old-timey fantasy, steampunkish fare, and even a few modern touches. It’s a world with dashing knights in shining armor jousting on noble steeds, spooky Victorian science labs, and television news broadcasts. I loved how Stevenson mixed and matched from multiple time periods freely to create her own unique world instead of just plonking down her characters in a cookie-cutter setting.

The pacing and length were both solid. Nothing felt rushed or dragged out, and I felt like I got my money’s worth for the $12.99 price tag.

While Nimona does at times turn darker than its whimsical beginnings would lead you to believe, it’s not a story that revels in misery. It’s balanced and mature, neither being too dark nor so light as to lack real substance.

 

 

Lattes With Leia: A New Star Wars Podcast

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Lattes With Leia Lattes With Leia is a brand new podcast from Amy Ratcliffe and Dr. Andrea Letamendi. Amy is best known for her work on Star Wars.com, Star Wars Insider, IGN, and The Nerdist. Dr. Letamendi is the psychologist behind The Arkham Sessions, a podcast that offers psychological analysis of Batman: The Animated Series . Both are popular panelists at conventions like San Diego Comic Con and Wondercon, and Dr. Letamendi did a TedX Talk on the psychology of superheroes.

To paraphrase a bit from their introduction at the beginning of the episode, Lattes With Leia aims to be an inclusive show free of the “true fan” mentality that can be so repressive in some fandom circles. It will focus on the female point of view. Rather than chasing down all the latest news, it will be more of a conversation about the fandom and the deeper meaning of the stories and characters.

As someone who tries to balance staying spoiler-free with finding places online to discuss Star Wars, I’m glad to have a podcast that will offer an emphasis on discussing existing elements rather than focusing on obsessing over every scrap of news regarding the upcoming films. And having followed Amy on Twitter for several years, I feel confident in assuring people that if and when they do discuss any of the upcoming films, she’s the type to fact-check and squash rumors when people on social media start getting carried away with repeating un-sourced speculation as fact.

The first episode, A Rey Of Hope, focused–as you might have guessed–on Rey. I enjoyed in particular the psychological underpinnings of the character rounding out the discussion and providing extra layers.

At an hour long, it was a good length for the show: enough time to really sink their teeth into the topic at hand and short enough not to drag on. The only negative I can report is that the premiere episode of Lattes With Leia will make you want to open your wallet and head back to the theater for another viewing of The Force Awakens.