Thursday, October 10, 2013

New Blog on my New Website

After several years of writing The (Local) Rockstar Devotional, this blog will be taking an indefinite hiatus. I'm holding on to the domain name, but for the foreseeable future, my blog and podcast are moving to my new website -

I hope all of you will follow me to my new page and subscribe to the new blog. Your support over the past few years means the world to me. 

God bless,

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Vampire Rules

I'm on an unexpected vampire kick at the moment, the result of my most recent True Blood podcast as well as a conversation I just had with another author about the flexible rules of vampire fiction.

The conversation made me realize that the characteristics of a vampire are perhaps the most interchangeable set of rules in all fiction. What it is to be a vampire differs from story to story, but perhaps what is more interesting is that audiences seem to accept the author's privilege to alter the traits of vampires as best fits the narrative. 

Consequently, it's difficult to pin down what should be considered the definitive description of a vampire, as the most widely accepted depictions do not agree with each other. A stake through the heart is fatal to Bram Stoker's Dracula, but only injures one of Anne Rice's immortal bloodsuckers. Sunlight destroys Nosferatu, but makes Robert Pattinson sparkle like Johnny Drama after a massage at the Hard Rock.

Not pictured: Vampire

With the understanding that arriving at a universal list of required vampire traits is as impossible as getting Blade to blush, I instead attempted to come up with tiers of vampire characteristics based on popularity and frequency of use.

This daywalker does not sparkle.

Level 1: The Absolutes

Thirst for blood - The only total absolute, and therefore defining characteristic of a vampire that seems to span all depictions. Even this next one is a little shaky.

Enhanced strength/healing/senses - The levels of strength, senses, and ability to heal vary between the different works. I'm going to leave this here, though it doesn't seem quite as absolute as the thirst for blood.

Obviously, it feels like there's a lot missing from Level 1.

The only instance where I do not see immortality listed as a vampire trait is European folklore. However, as this should probably be considered the source material, the omission is significant enough to bump immortality to level 2.

Also, I was astonished to learn that the presence of fangs is not a part of the Twilight franchise (I'll admit I've seen the movies and didn't realize this until now). For better or bloody worse, the popularity of the series illustrates that people are okay with fangless vampires.

No way was I gonna post another Pattinson picture.

Level 2: Important but apparently not mandatory

Immortality, fangs, averse to sunlight, sleeps during the day - Again, I can't believe these aren't definitive traits, but those are the breaks. The Twi-hards have spoken.

Vulnerability to stakes - Twilight aside, the only major works I found that did not include a stake to the heart as a fatal weakness are Anne Rice's books and Count Duckula, which I totally watched as a kid and forgot about until this very moment. There's a bit of discrepancy over the required material of the stake, but let's not split hairs about timber when we've already sacrificed the necessity of fangs.

Reproduction - I'm putting this here because although all vampire fiction includes a way to create new vampires, they're all over the place on the method. Some reproduce by bite, others by transfusion. Some require the ingestion of vampire blood. A few even involve demon possession and witches' curses. Reproduction is a constant, but there's too many ways to do it for Level 1.

Decapitation equals death - Again, you have Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer to thank for this not being an absolute, though it merits mentioning that decapitation in their works does result in the vampire being paralyzed. I would be frustrated at this, but Anne Rice's work is awesome. Plus, I'm still too stoked about my Count Duckula reference to get mad. 
Kids today don't know what they're missing.

Level 3a: Super Powers

Shapeshifting - A little more common than I originally guessed, though still sporadic enough to be Level 3. A few stories list Dracula as the only shapeshifting vampire, and in True Blood the vampires can shift only if they had that power before they were turned.

Psychic powers, telekinesis, pyrokinesis - This category includes glamouring, and like many of the weaknesses, is too sporadic to be any higher on the list. Pyrokinesis is used the least, which is too bad because how awesome is the idea of a flame-throwing vampire? As a matter of fact, forget I mentioned it. Vampire Bill, would you mind wiping that from the reader's mind?

"Sook-eh ... you will forget all about flame-throwing vampires. However, you will remember to tell all your friends to read this blog and buy all of Clint's books."

Level 3b: Weaknesses

Must be invited into your home - This appears to have originated in North American folklore. I'm disappointed that it isn't more widely used, but most vampire fiction does not require an invitation for a vampire to enter your home. I've always liked this because it added a cautionary-tale level of personal responsibility to the human. 

Weakness to fire, garlic, holy symbols, silver - Outside of sunlight, we can lump all of the other "severe allergies" in this category. These tend to be all over the place in terms of which will destroy a vampire. Fire appears to be the most consistent; it will even kill Twilight's otherwise indestructible Edward Cullen.

Reflection in mirrors - It turns out that most of the time, you can see the vampire chasing you in your rear-view mirror. The most notable vampire depiction in which the species does not have a reflection is Bram Stoker's Dracula, though I'll also give props to Buffy the Vampire Slayer for preserving this characteristic in the modern era.

Obligatory Joss Whedon shout-out

What else am I missing? How do you feel about the way vampires are portrayed in books, television, and movies? Are there other qualities you feel like belong in Level 1?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Podcast: True Blood

Despite the bombshell that Warner Bros. dropped on us last night (which I'm optimistic about, by the way), today we're focusing on the small screen with our first Late to the Party podcast. 

My buddy Jack DeBussey joins me to discuss HBO's True Blood, which just finished its sixth season. We start by introducing the premise of the series and a giving a short overview of the characters for those who haven't yet watched the show. Spoilers start at about 18:40.

Stream the podcast here, or right-click to download the mp3 file.  

Be sure to listen to Jack on the Two Tech Dads podcast, airing new episodes every Monday and Wednesday.

 Have you watched True Blood? What do you think about the show?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Two Tech Dads Podcast

The first and only time I'm excited to have Georgia Tech-style font on my blog.

Big news! My good friends Mike and Jack have launched a new podcast, titled Two Tech Dads

You may remember both Mike and Jack as previous guests on The (Local) Rockstar Devotional podcast. Their new endeavor features two episodes a week - one covering sports, and another on more general topics such as gaming, pop culture, entertainment, and technology. 

In episode 1, the guys provide a short introduction of the podcast, along with a review of Brothers, the innovative new puzzle adventure from 505 Games. They also preview PayDay 2, and tell you which games you can download for free right now on Xbox Live. 

Visit their website to check out the first episode. 

Also, be sure follow Two Tech Dads on Twitter.

Thanks, and God bless.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Late to the Party: Marvel Super Heroes: What The--?!

I'm taking a slight deviation from the standard format for this Late to the Party entry, but bear with me. I promise it will be worth it.

The past few weeks, I've been sharing some of my favorite binge-worthy shows currently available on Netflix streaming to bridge the gap to fall television. 

This week, we step away from Netflix and turn our eyes to YouTube, where once again, I've managed to miss something amazing that has been happening for years.

Marvel Super Heroes: What The --?! is an ongoing web series that further proves Marvel has mastered the art of reaching their audience.

Produced by Marvel Entertainment in the stop-motion style of Robot Chicken, the web series features Marvel superheroes and villains (both mainstream and obscure) in a collection of hilarious episodes mostly designed as a way for Marvel to make fun of itself for the delight of their fans. 

So far, I've seen:

  • A prank war between the X-Men and the Avengers
  • Thor slinging Slurpees at 7-Eleven
  • Hulk pitching ideas for the Thanksgiving day parade
  • Zombie Gambit doing the Thriller dance
  • Nightcrawler asking MODOK if he's "the fat kid from Superbad"

You get the idea.

The brilliance of the series is that Marvel doesn't pull any punches, even when the blows are directed at themselves. They're comfortable enough with their content and fan base to point out even the most ridiculous aspects of their universe, weaving in inside jokes that even casual fans will appreciate. 

The series is also unafraid of venturing into somewhat risky territory. Marvel respects their web audience by presenting these characters in perhaps "less than family friendly" scenarios, but never crosses the line into being offensive for the sake of offensive. Instead, suggestive innuendos and bleeped-out curse words are utilized effectively rather than obnoxiously.

Watch a handful of the videos and you'll see what I mean. There are a few "Wow, I'm surprised they did that" moments as you get used to the flow of the series. Just the same, you'll appreciate Marvel's willingness to dig at themselves for our benefit. 

Of course, this clever employment of self-deprecation ultimately raises the status of their brand in the eyes of the audience, which was likely the intention all along.

Each webisode is about 3-5 minutes long, perfect for filling small gaps of free time. While they're not all hysterical, I've laughed out loud at least once during each video. One audible laugh for every five minutes of content is a better average than most sitcoms could hope to achieve.

Final verdict: Totally worth your time, even if you're not a huge Marvel comics fan. If you are, consider this required viewing.

While there's nothing here overly objectionable, parents may want to use discretion when viewing around young children.

Thanks for reading the blog. As a token of my gratitude, here's another great episode:

I haven't watched even half of these yet, so check out a few and let me know your favorites in the comments below. 

God bless.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Late to the Party: Firefly

No disrespect to the esteemed crew of Galactica, but this week's post epitomizes the spirit of my "late to the party" blog series.

With fall television just around the corner, you've still got enough time to squeeze in the entire run of perhaps the best one-season show ever to grace the small screen. 

Firefly is a space western, a distinction that makes little sense until you actually watch the show, at which time you realize you couldn't adequately describe it any other way. It's the story of a renegade crew from all walks of intergalactic life, including a smuggler, a holy man, a child prodigy, and a "companion." 

With all due respect to the multitude of quality shows who were cancelled long before their time, Firefly is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Think I'm exaggerating? Just check out this murderers' row of talent.

Reason #23 I don't feel bad about losing my hair: Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon created, wrote, and directed this tragically short-lived series. If his names strikes you as familiar, it's because he recently wrote and directed The Avengers, arguably the greatest superhero movie of all-time and the grand finale of Marvel's spectacular Phase 1

Hiring Whedon to execute The Avengers showed the rest of the entertainment industry that Marvel understands their content and their audience. To those who were less familiar with Whedon's work, the move appeared risky, a $220 million gamble on the guy who was perhaps best known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Those of us who had seen his previous work, especially Firefly, were confident that Marvel made a great decision. If you saw the movie, you know we were right.

The brilliance of The Avengers came from Joss Whedon's ability to capture what's best about interesting characters and how they interact with each other. If he can do that well with characters he didn't design, imagine how great he must be with characters of his own creation. 

That's Firefly

It's not the first time I've expressed my adoration of Whedon's work on this blog, so in the interest of time, let's move on.

To you, this is probably Richard Castle, or maybe even Captain Hammer, but to me he will always be Mal, the owner and captain of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity. It's an interesting character played by an interesting actor, Nathan Fillion. 

Though the series lasted only 14 episodes, if you watch Firefly you will quickly understand why the sci-fi community will forever insist that Mal is Fillion's signature role. He's a tough, fearless leader who can spin a joke as fast as he can a revolver. He's both comical and serious, honorable and sly, an honest man who prefers the freedom of a scoundrel's life.

Fillion brings a unique balance to all of his roles that's difficult to describe but impossible to ignore. After watching him as Mal, you'll never be able see him as a murder-solving novelist again. Still, you'll watch him just the same, appreciating the fact that such a great actor is still on our TV screens.

Then there's Inara ...

It would seem that even in the far distant future (the year 2517, to be exact), the world's oldest profession has not only endured, but flourished into a revered distinction within society. 

Inara Serra is played with an astounding level of maturity by a 23-year-old Morena Baccarin. Inara is a companion, part of a highly-respected guild of escorts, who leases one of Serenity's shuttles. That means she's normally around just long enough to catch Mal's eye before blasting off to visit one of her clients.  

The romantic tension between the two plays beautifully, mostly because each attempts to keep the other at bay in a harsh battle of wit, unleashing verbal onslaughts often cutting so deep that even a Reaver might cringe.

"Ouch! That went a bit too far. Words can hurt too, ya know."

What are Reavers? 

Glad you asked. They're a group of savage, self-mutilating cannibals that roam the outer fringes of space, apparently driven by nothing more than mad bloodlust. Most of the inner worlds in this universe believe them to be a myth, but for a crew trying to avoid the powers-that-be by staying on outer reaches of space, these monsters are a very real and constant threat.

According to Zoe, Mal's second-in-command: "If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order."

I could keep going about this show, but I'll stop there. Many die-hards will likely curse me for not posting a picture of Summer Glau, who plays the child prodigy River Tam. My reasoning is simple. The majority of the nerd community has sworn an oath to fall to their knees at the site of her, and I would rather you all finish reading this blog first.

Final verdict: Firefly is the best reason to have a subscription to Netflix. Once you're done, be sure to watch Serenity, the follow-up movie to the series, which is also on Netflix.

By the end of it, you'll understand why so many fans of the genre have spent years calling for the series to return. 

Instead of focusing on the negative, let's appreciate the positive. We never had to watch Firefly burn out like so many other great programs. The brevity of the run does not diminish the greatness of the story.

14 episodes and 1 movie may not be much, but it's enough.

Okay, nerds. Here's your queen.

Now it's your turn. Have you seen Firefly? Who is your favorite character that I didn't mention?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Podcast: Superman and Batman Movie News from Comic-Con

It's my first emergency mega-podcast!

Huge news out of Comic-Con this week as Zach Snyder announced the next Man of Steel movie will not only feature Batman, but will also be "inspired" by the classic Frank Miller graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns

I put out the bat-signal to my buddies Jack and Skip, who responded like true heroes and great friends. In this podcast, we examine the announcement from all possible angles, and throw around a few more Batman casting ideas. 

Stream the podcast here, or right-click to download the mp3 file. 

I'm still getting the hang of this podcasting thing, so I would recommend turning the volume down a little bit before you hit play, and wait until I start speaking to turn it back up.

What do you think about this huge announcement? 

Who would you like to see play Batman in this next movie?

And maybe most importantly, are you Team Superman or Team Batman?