September 13, 2014

Dead Inside

September 13, 2014  

Before Shaun of the Dead employed brilliant wit and endearing characters to mock the relentlessness of death in a surprisingly warm homage that my brothers and I will forever quote back and forth to each other, before The Walking Dead created a substantial drama with unforgettably wrenching, tension-filled moments that take all of your strength just to keep watching, I never gave much of a thought to the zombie genre. It could be slightly entertaining if October didn't feel creepy enough, but I never cared about zombies or their fictional survivors at all beyond that. It was just an unnecessarily bloody and pointless joke to me. There was never any substance behind them that I could care for, never any heart...unless one was ripped out. And then a few people with talent decided to take a crack at it and I noticed. Now I look forward to these stories, because any one could have an interesting new idea. I hope they don't wear out their welcome with me the way that many vampire tales have done that are not from the imagination of Justin Cronin, who weaves together pre- and post-apocalyptic lives spanning decades and makes their losses feel significant, or Joss Whedon, who has always shown incredible depth and humor and infuses a sense of reality and humanity in the craziest of situations.

I have a feeling that Miranda Doerfler will make her own mark before too long and it starts with a novella called Dead Inside, the culmination of a first step that includes a number of short stories preceding it. I don't want to give it all away, so I can't say too much. What I can say is I read most of it in one night, went to sleep, woke up, and devoured it before breakfast. That's not just because of the brevity, but due to the author's flowing prose, a style that graces all her work. The natural dialogue and detail developed the scenes like a Polaroid in my mind. In fact, days after reading it I remembered a moment and mistook it for a movie sequence. There is an instant feel for the characters, but I would have liked more time with them. Also better would have been for the concerns of the more level-headed scientist to his casually sociopathic co-worker's "for science" justification for murder to be more forceful, an "I can't believe I never realized you were this evil" objection rather than a "this seems wrong but you're my buddy so I'll go along with it" non-objection. Those are small concerns, though, that soon took a backseat when the pace swept me up into a world being swiftly torn down, overrun before its inhabitants can understand what's happening.

Dead Inside is an interesting take on the zombie genre, treading familiar ground but adding new twists, and I would like to see it explored further. With a small group of people who can bring the dead back to life, there is a supernatural component to this Michael Crichton-esque science-born terror. I like the mix. And these aren't your typical shambling bags of bones, who mindlessly impale themselves or are thwarted by an elevator. A zombie making a conscious choice is a scary beast, indeed. Where normally presented purely as unrelenting eating machines, motivated by hunger even after disintegrating, there is a surprising look into the mind of the undead, memories of who they were competing with what they've become. It reminds me of Warm Bodies in that way, but don't for a second think this is a sweet rom-zom-com. With a rage brought on by a virus that works it's effects in moments, these are monsters in the vein of 28 Days Later. The living are in big trouble, turned in the blink of a eye. This is the kind of book where I'd advise against eating while reading, and if you're plagued by dreams that don't feature kittens snuggling with puppies then it might be a good idea to curl up with Dead Inside in the daylight.

This is an admirable first novel from a promising young author. Give her a shot and you will find yourself anticipating what's next. Then follow the author on Twitter and spend a few more dollars on her other work.

*As of this writing, the Kindle version (the one without a price) is $4.99.

September 6, 2014

Our Lady of Protection vs. The Gentlemen

September 6, 2014  

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I haven't posted anything in a little while. There's just been too much to get done around here. But I thought I'd take a little break for a few moments to talk about these tees. For anyone who doesn't know, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a great series. Actually, "great" is not a big enough word to describe it, but nothing else I can think of does it justice either. Just like all the best, it's one of those things that becomes a part of you. I skipped the first couple years, because while I loved the movie for some reason, I had no desire to watch multiple episodes and thought it wouldn't last. I probably just assumed the campiness and bad acting would follow and be a disappointment. Turned out that I was very, very wrong. The characters were endearing and could find humor in the face of the oddest and worst of situations. The emotions often drilled deeper than any standard, non-supernatural drama. Just see the episode "The Body" for proof of that: the most elegantly constructed 44 minutes of what it's like to lose someone close to you. Then Buffy spawned a spin-off, Angel, which matched its wits and heart, and it was the first time I ever took notice of a TV writer/creator, the incredibly talented Joss Whedon; you know, that Avengers guy. It was all brilliantly done. I think it's time for a rewatch of both series.

If you do know what I'm talking about, then you may be happy to see today's shirts. First up is Our Lady of Protection (by heymonster), depicting the star of the show. I like it, but what really prompted me to write this was The Gentlemen (by cs3ink), the creepy as hell, smiling, voice-stealing, heart-carving enemy from the silent episode "Hush." These are available at TeeFury until the end of the day starting at $11 each.

Our Lady of Protection is now in Spencer Salberg's RedBubble store.
The Gentlemen is now available in cs3ink's RedBubble store.

August 26, 2014

Avengetron...Voltengers...No, 'Assembled' is Better

August 26, 2014  

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Oh, damn it! An Avengers/Voltron t-shirt? I never would have thought of that, even though I've said before if I were as rich as Tony Stark I would build myself some awesome lions that form together to fight evil. I mean, look how adorable the Hulk lion is, and the Blazing Sword is Thor's hammer! Voltron was my childhood dream and favorite cartoon. Yes, they used the same sequence every single time when Keith, Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and Allura realized they couldn't take on whatever was threatening the universe separately. But "form feet and legs, form arms and torso...and I'll form the head" was always the best bit. I was simple. ;)

Unfortunately, I suffer from T-shirt Instabuy Syndrome. If it's too good to pass up, it's a struggle not to get it. That puts a strain on the wallet, especially when my first job has been so light for so long that it's like I'm not employed there anymore, and I've been working for two months at my second job and won't get paid until the middle of September. And I already bought two shirts recently - Groovin Through the Galaxy with baby Groot and Better Call Hutz - so I have to agonizingly pass on Assembled. Hopefully it will be put on RedBubble later and kept there for a while.

Assembled is available starting at $10 today, and it's also available on hoodies, coasters, posters, and more if you have too many tees. If you miss it today, you'll have a second chance to buy it tomorrow for $15, e.g., RiptApparel had three great Doctor Who t-shirts yesterday that I was too busy to blog about. I'll have to put Who Loves Rose, The Crack in the Wall, and The Monolith on my ever-growing wish list, T-Shirt Obsession.

August 24, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

August 24, 2014  

If you don't have a Twitter or Facebook account, then maybe you haven't noticed the deluge of videos for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. ALS takes lives, but not enough people have it to be a profitable area of research for drug companies, and the only time you ever hear about it is on medical dramas. No one in my family has ever had it, but that doesn't mean they couldn't. That's a scary thought. We have enough diseases in our history already, with increased risk of diabetes, Parkinson's, MS, and more I'm sure.

Some of my favorite people did the challenge: Chris Pratt, Misha Collins, and Clark Gregg, among others. There are many more and the number keeps growing. Lots of celebrities are participating, which has ensured that people notice. To those people who think a challenge is stupid and everyone should just donate of their own accord, why don't you think about it for a second? There are so many difficulties in this world and ALS is a very small one compared to things like cancer or poverty. It's not possible for anyone to care about all of it at the same time and that's why fundraisers need to get creative to get attention. It's not that people are so stupid and disrespectful that they only see the fun in it or are only selfish and won't donate to worthy causes unless called out by others. You have a problem with your view of the world if you think that and you need to get over yourself and learn that we're all individuals with families and obligations and limited time. If you can't understand that then you need to go the fuck away. Yes, it is fun seeing people get soaked because their reactions are genuine. No, people who aren't directly affected won't even think to donate because ALS is not in their lives and it's impossible to give money to every charity. That's why so many celebrities are involved and challenging their friends to do the same; it grabs people's attention and makes them curious to find out more and help in some small way. It's not so celebrities can increase their status and followers. Don't be so cynical about the good ones out there. They are trying to help and this "stunt" has raised awareness far more than any other, making over $50 million so far. That's incredible.

I won't be making a video, because my family, who has no idea I even have a blog, would be wondering why the hell I would be trying to film myself with my point-and-shoot camera in one hand and a bucket of ice water in the other. But doing the challenge is not necessary to donate, and I did that at The ALS Association.

The first video you should watch is from someone who actually has ALS. I started watching this the other day because Chris Pratt retweeted it, but I got interrupted and never finished. Now I know what I missed. It made me wish I could help more.

Ooh, I hated picking an order for these. I put Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista at the top because Guardians of the Galaxy was the last movie I saw and it was tremendous. But I didn't rank anyone. That would be impossible. All the wonderful Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actors are only at the bottom because of the format of their videos.

August 23, 2014

Bender, Bender, Bender

August 23, 2014  

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If there was just one Futurama shirt today then I might have not talked about it. I have a lot to do. Need to at least do site maintenance, study for work, go to Guardians of the Galaxy again, and clean my room; well, the entire house, really. I've skipped all the Zoidberg, Fry, and Planet Express shirts before because of time constraints, but I have to make time, because today at Ript Apparel there are three shirts that feature Bender. Benderama by A_Man_Oxfordand and Bendercon Express and Benderbot Prime Express by Ninjae will be available until the end of the day on t-shirts, hoodies, onesies, laptop sleeves, headphones, coasters and posters. The shirts start at just $10.

If you don't know it, Futurama was a terrifically hilarious show that was treated badly by Fox (familiar story) and resurrected years later by Comedy Central in even funnier form (also a familiar story). Fox constantly preempted it for sports, changed its time slot, and didn't promote it well, like they do with all their great shows that aren't instant hits (*cough*Almost Human*cough*), and then blamed the show for their own continuously outrageous stupidity, ways in which Comedy Central is exactly the opposite. Unfortunately, I guess it didn't do as well as they had hoped and it only lasted a few more years, but it has 140 wonderful episodes. Take a look and try not to laugh.

August 20, 2014

Groot Loops, Awesome Tour Shirt and Retro Guardians

August 20, 2014  

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Guardians of the Galaxy, I love you to death. You were an incredible movie filled with so much humor that my throat was sore by the end and so much heart that there were moments I had tears in my eyes. You made me fall in love with a walking tree and a talking spitfire of a raccoon. You introduced me to Dave Bautista, since I don't watch wrestling, and he did an amazing job. I haven't seen Parks and Rec in months, so you reminded me that Chris Pratt is a seriously good actor with terrific comedic delivery, and interviews reveal that he's real a sweetheart and a down to earth guy that gets excited over people loving his movie and can French braid hair. Nothing new about Zoe Saldana, though, because she was always awesome. But the shirts have to stop! I already bought the one I wanted. They just keep coming, tempting me to buy more. I can't afford all this. I'm not Gill Bates, a cousin of mine who made a fortune fish farming. I just woke up, but since I can't have these, at least not right now, I'm going to go sob myself back to sleep. No, wait, I can't do that; there's too much work to do. There's always too much work, starting with keeping a certain blog updated.

If you'd like one of these, or three of these, they are at RiptApparel today starting at $10 for t-shirts. You also have a choice between coasters, hoodies, posters, headphones, and laptop sleeves. Tomorrow there's a second chance to buy them for a while, but the price goes up to $15. After that you have to hope the artist makes it available on another site. Groot Loops by bamboota is adorable and hilarious, like like the movie itself. It's filled with Honey Bunches of A-Holes. My favorite kind. Awesome Tour Shirt by CatchABrick with Star Lord is a nice character portrait that feels lonely even though his face is hidden by his mask. That seemd just perfect, because Peter Quill has no one at the beginning. And Retro Guardians by KindaCreative works because there were a few scenes where I thought I would love to play that part in a game as Groot, with his ability to grow super fast and smash people into walls, or the angry little Rocket with a big gun.

August 17, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is a Riot

August 17, 2014  

I'm hooked on a feeling that Guardians of the Galaxy was amazing and has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe weirder and more wonderful. It had great big laughs and a great big heart. I saw it on opening weekend in a jam-packed theater. Hundreds of strangers laughing their fool heads off together is always a fun experience. It was such a surprise and unpredictable, too. I had kept my expectations to a minimum, not being familiar with the material and this being an unproven franchise. But I had nothing to worry about. They hoped to get us to fall in love with multiple protagonists. They managed that with ease. It's filled with wit and wisecracks to the very end. Guardians had everything I adore in a sci-fi action hero buddy comedy. Let's start with the most important.

The emotional core of the movie was established before a word was uttered, opening in a quiet hospital hallway, where a boy sits alone at a nurse's station. He's listening to music on his favorite tape, Awesome Mix Vol. 1, not knowing what to do other than drown out the world and pretend everything is normal. His grandfather comes up to him, gently removes his headphones and tells him it's time. Together they go into the room across the hall where his mother lay dying. She wants to give him a gift and hold his hand, but he turns away, unable to muster the courage. Before he can change his mind, it is too late. Distraught, he runs out into the night, his extended family too wrapped up in their own grief to take notice. He falls to his knees on the grass, crying, and with hardly a delay is abducted by an alien ship. As swiftly as he disappears from his family's lives, only minutes after his mother, the story skips the next 26 years to get to the present. That now grown boy, Peter Quill (a perfectly cast Chris Pratt), the first Guardian we meet, is somewhere across the galaxy on an abandoned planet, salvaging ancient artifacts (the world-ending kind) and gleefully giving the boot to bad-tempered rodents, using them as microphones and dancing while listening to a handful of songs that haven't yet worn out their welcome.

When I saw that old Walkman, more than just music but a treasured connection to home and family, I was sure there would be a lot more emotion than in the average action movie or superhero adaptation of the now seemingly distant past, which I like to refer to as BNB (Before Nolan's Batman). After knowing what a comic book hero could be on the screen, there was no excuse anymore for story, dialogue, acting, and direction to not work seamlessly. When Marvel took control of their own film destiny, they seemed to ensure a future of heroes who feel like real people. Guardians proves that Marvel still is cinematic magic. They have made choices like Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (The Avengers), and Anthony and Joe Russo (Winter Soldier), people who understand that stories are nothing without humanity, an element often missing in tent-poles. Now James Gunn and Nicole Perlman can be added to their stable of writers and directors who add substance to style, deftly handling action, drama, and humor.

No raccoons or tree beings were harmed in the making of this movie."

Humor and tenderness really go hand-in-hand and Guardians gave equal time to both. I wasn't expecting nearly so much of either. I hoped there would be a few big laughs to break tension or punctuate moments. (Hulk punching Thor out of the shot in The Avengerscomes to mind.) I wasn't expecting such a riot, like when the walking tree listens to only the last step of an escape plan and innocently takes it upon himself to help out before anyone is ready and forcing some improvisation. Just a few humorous moments like that can lift spirits and make characters more relatable, but this group of "losers" had me howling with laughter. That's an important element. I feel more, and far more quickly, for people who make me laugh, who cover their insecurities, their fear, or their pain with a sense of humor or who are inadvertently funny. I get attached and let my guard down. Then when poignant backstory is told or something tragic happens, it cuts deeper (think Phil Coulson). Comedy makes me vulnerable to the unexpectedly serious moments without feeling emotionally manipulated, where three simple words, "We are Groot," bring tears to my eyes. It makes it that much better, because actually caring about what happens is the reason for a movie to become one of my favorites. And I sure did care about these characters who had a great deal of personality.

As my brother mentioned, Guardians seemed a bit fast in the beginning for those that aren't familiar with the comic, throwing a whole new set of characters (Quill, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Drax) and places at us one after another, sometimes all at once, rather than easing us in. But as he also mentioned, that left more time to get to know the characters, and boy did we ever. This seems to be an area where Marvel doesn't know how to fail. I guess that's why they're still around after decades. The movie never felt overstuffed because of the facility of storytelling and character development, each member with a distinct personality, story, and reason for being who they were, and they compelemented each other so well. They felt like real, emotionally damaged people. I relate more to those flawed but essentially good people rather than the unerringly altruistic and humble hero. The jerk who becomes a hero out of necessity, not because that's their life goal, who remembers who they used to be or finds out what they can be is usually more interesting. This is an origin story about "a thief, two thugs, an assassin, and a maniac," so there are lot of flaws. The following could be considered slight spoilers, but most of it is backstory and set up. And you already know that these five are the Guardians just by watching the trailer, so it's really no surprise that they become friends, is it?

"I am Groot."

That's really all this ambulatory plant says, the only one who understands Groot (Vin Diesel) being Rocket, so I didn't have a lot of choice in quotes. I apparently have a fondness for the strong, silent type. I found myself attached to the "personal houseplant slash muscle" immediately. He conveyed so much with gestures and facial expressions: sneaking sips from a water fountain when Rocket told him to stop, being sad about losing his arms to Gamora after their first encounter, though he knew they would soon grow back. Groot is loyal and caring. He was concerned for Drax when he didn't deserve it, when they were all nothing but strangers to each other. He's so sweet and innocent, a gentle giant...except to those to attack his friends; then he can get scary, yet also be hilarious and cute at the same time. I've never seen that before. The animators made the most adorable tree being. Not only that, they had a big job making Groot's best friend a believable anthropomorphic raccoon.

I didn't ask to be torn apart and put back together over and over and turned into some little monster.

There were plenty of other quotes, but this is the one that got to me. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) was as beautiful a character as Groot. He was so sarcastic and hot-tempered. He remind me of me. And don't call him names unless you want him to unload his problems and his weapon on you. I just wanted to give him a big hug after I heard his story. It's not just a strange alternate reality where animals walk upright and swear like sailors; Rocket was experimented on and, thanks to Cooper's performance, he made the tears well up in my eyes. All he knows is pain, always the object of ridicule, and the only thing he had in the world was Groot. He's an angry little guy with every reason to be, and he has the scars to prove it. Peter had a sympathetic look on his face when he saw them, reminding me of the sweet boy who cried over a frog.

I found something inside of myself, something incredibly heroic.  I don’t mean to brag.

Peter certainly did find himself being heroic, but not at all humble about it, which was quite funny. He grew up in the company of rough-and-tumble outlaws who call themselves Ravagers and adapted well to the life he was forced into, but it's obvious that he's not really one of them. He's a joker who goes with the flow and loves life, not one that you imagine itching to take it from anyone. He held onto his past and a part of himself after all those years. He still cares about people, though Ravager leader Yondu (the always welcome Michael Rooker) probably did his best to break him of that. Yondu tries to make a point that Peter has a weakness "in here" while pounding on his chest. But Peter is tougher than any of them, because his sentimental heart is what gives him strength to do what's right.

I have lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I will be grateful to die among by my friends.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) felt that strength when Peter did the selfless thing or she wouldn't have stayed with them. Her family met their fate at the hands of Thanos. The orphan was then taken and raised by him to be an assassin, though, unlike her "sister" Nebula (Karen Gillan), another child orphaned by Thanos, she never fully succumbed to whatever brainwashing she may have been subjected to. She cannot stand by while billions of lives are at stake and she rebels, planning on getting the artifact herself and selling it to The Collector. Things didn't go well and she allies herself with this ragtag group, finding value in her first true family since childhood.

Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.

That little gem was spoken by Drax (Dave Bautista), who was quite the literal-minded treat. But in between warnings to never call him a thesaurus and other misunderstandings that would have made me spit out my drink if I'd had one, he was a dangerous man wrapped up in his own sorrow and thirst for revenge, his family having suffered a similar fate to Gamora's. They were killed by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a Kree working on the promise that he would have free reign to destroy Xandar if he delivered the artifact to Thanos. He is unburdened by conscience, murdering so many without discretion that he doesn't remember their faces. Drax follows Quill to get to Ronan, and finds something new to live for.

There are also two secondary characters I got attached to, Yondu, whom I've already mentioned, and Corpsman Dey. Yondu is almost like the sixth member of the team, though he would be far harder to domesticate than Drax. He's been looking out for himself for decades, believing that feelings aren't worth the trouble. But that soft spot he saw in Peter is also one he has for Peter and would never admit. I hope that gets further explored in the sequel. He's also quite a badass with his whistle-controlled arrow and idiosyncratically has an unexplained menagerie of small toys. (I want to know who he misses.) And though his character was kind of despicable, he played an important role...on the promise of a big pay day. Baby steps.

Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) didn't have a huge part, but he was very likeable. I hope he makes subsequent appearances. He kind of fills the Phil Coulson role as an officer of Nova, the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the galaxy it seems. I don't know if he can kick ass, but he's definitely funny the way he reacts to situations, like when he's stunned that he has to tell Drax that murder is illegal.

All these distinct personalities add to the fun. By the time the credits rolled, I was exhausted with all of the belly laughs, and I wanted to go right back and see it again. There were more memorable and quotable moments than I know what to do with, hilarious squabbling between friends and enemies, big explosions, a chase sequence, and formidable enemies. There was a creative sequence involving a ship slipping inside another ship and taking the controls. Just one of the hundred comical things. And you can't have have a comic book movie without an epic battle: Ronan's juggernaut, the Dark Aster, going against hundreds if not thousands of tiny single-seat fighters and their brave pilots. Also, unintentionally entertaining were the kids in the theater who gasped and giggled when they heard swears. I really love when a superhero movie has cursing, because even when they're PG-13 I always assume they are sanitized for children. People swear in serious situations, they swear when they're not, so it's more realistic and adds to the humor. 

Guardians of the Galaxy was far better than I hoped for and whoever cast Chris Pratt was a genius. He first caught my eye long ago as Bright on the lovely family drama Everwood. He's adorable in Parks and Recreation as not so bright, scene stealing goofball Andy. He gives his heart generously to his work, so it's fitting that now he one of the stars of an incredibly loveable, lovely, and lively showcase of storytelling and imagination that also happens to be a blockbuster. This is one of those movies that I don't want to end, but my words must. I leave you now with today's perfectly-timed shirts. They're just as nice as the last batch I wrote about, which I still can't find for sale anywhere else. Hopefully the artists will make them available on other sites after today. But for now you can get Groovin' Through the Galaxy and The Great Root Galaxy at TeeFury starting at just $11 each. Awwww, yeeeeah.

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August 14, 2014

Better Call Hutz and Other Simpsons Tees

August 14, 2014  

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With a second job and no less blogging to do, I've had to skip a lot of great shirts lately. But I have been a fan of the brilliantly hilarious The Simpsons for so very long that when three shirts are for sale in one day, I have to tell you about them. Especially since I've never posted any before. Why does it have to be today? I have so much work. Better keep it short and sweet then. I would be happy to wear every single one of these; not at the same time, though. That would be strange. I have one Simpsons shirt and it's a clever mash-up with Despicable Me. Saves space to have a two-in-one, but there's always room for another. Bartman Begins and D'Oh! Zombies! are hilarious. But the one I really love is Better Call Hutz. How did I never think of Lionel Hutz and Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad and the upcoming Better Call Saul) in the same thought together? This one is also timed perfectly to hurt a bit. Phil Hartman, the voice of Hutz, was taken too soon, and all I can think about the past few days is Robin Williams; he would have made a amazing guest star.

Ooh, enough of the downer right now. Okay, these shirts are available until the end of the day starting at $10. You can also get the design on hoodies, laptop sleeves, coasters, headphones, and posters.