Saturday, March 31, 2012

Podcasts I Love

It didn't come into focus until I decided to write this post but podcasts make up a significant portion of my entertainment menagerie. I listen or watch at least one podcast every day and in the time I dedicate to some of my favorite shows, I could easily watch a movie or read 100-150 pages of a book.

Shows have gotten me through countless hours of my day job. If I know I'm going to be stuck at the computer for the next 2 hours, out comes the ipod and it's like I'm not even working—I'm just hanging out with a few of my faceless friends yapping in my earbuds.

I want to highlight some of my favorite podcasts. The podcasts are informative, geeky, hilarious, or just plain stupid. If you are new to podcasts, I hope I can open you up to a whole new world of entertainment. If you are an old pro, maybe there are a few new gems in here for you. If you like all the same ones I like,  I will validate that your taste is as finely tuned and correct as mine.

On media (movies, comic books, video games)

The Totally Rad Show iTunes
TRS covers all the main fields of geek entertainment. It's a video show that comes out five times a week. Each episode runs about fifteen minutes. The three hosts: Jeff, Alex, and Dan highlight a movie, video game, or other rad thing each day and give their honest impressions. The production values are pretty stellar with cool graphics and interstitials. They just had their five year anniversary and I've been with them every step of the way. Jeff and Alex have improv backgrounds so the laughs come frequently while Dan is an emerging movie director and his insights into film are top notch. I respect their reviews and point-of-views. Their show is one of the highlights of my day.

Giant Bombcast iTunes
I used to follow many video game podcasts. I spent countless hours listening to different people on different shows say pretty much the same thing about the same games. It got kind of ridiculous how much of my time was spent listening about games I'd probably never play. I still listen to talk about games I'll probably never play but now it's just one group of people. It's the best group, though. Anchored by video game journalist superstar, Jeff Gerstmann, the Giant Bombcast is the one podcast I listen to above all others. Jeff, Ryan, Brad, Vinny, and Patrick make up the best video game commentators in the business. All my video game knowledge comes from them. All my energy drink and dubstep information comes from them too. Their conversations can get hilariously derailed at any time but they always come back to the games. This is the best video game podcast from the guys behind Giant Bomb, one of Time magazine's top 50 websites of 2011.

iFanboy iTunes
The guys at iFanboy put out two shows. Their video show used to come out once a week but it now doesn't come out very often. Still, there is a big backload of videos with lots of cool information about the world of comics—very much worth checking out. The pick of the week podcast is my mainstay. Each week one of the three guys behind the site picks their favorite book that came out that week. They spend about ten minutes talking about the book and then do quick hits on another ten or so books before answering questions from their listeners. I've tried many books on their recommendation and since I don't have the budget to follow every comic out there, this is a great way for me to know what's happening in books that I can't pick up.

More on media (books and music)

iTunes Weekly Rewind and Celebrity Playlist Podcast iTunes for Celebrity Playlist
Sadly, both of these podcasts are now done. However, there are literally years of backlog to go through and if you have any interest in music, I highly recommend you at least check out the iTunes Weekly Rewind. The Rewind came out for years and they used the highlights of that week in music as a springboard into bigger conversations about artists. These guys know their stuff. There is such a grand world of music out there and I learned so much about artists from the 50s all the way up to the most recent obscure indie acts.

The Celebrity Playlist is just what it sounds like. You can cherry pick which shows interest you. You may not care what Snooki has to recommend but when someone like Neil Diamond recommends music, you listen.

Update—It seems that iTunes has pulled the archive of the Weekly Rewind. I can't discover why the show was cancelled in the first place and now with the archive being gone, the mystery deepens. The show descriptions are still up and worth going through and they list the great music featured in each episode. Show List

The Bookrageous Podcast iTunes
The guys and girls on this podcast are all booksellers and bloggers. Each show starts with them talking about what they are currently reading. They read tons. Most of them are juggling 2-4 books at a time so you get a lot of content. They tend to focus on mainstream new release literature but they branch out plenty. Each show has a theme that prompts them to talk about more than just what they are reading. They are passionate about books and my personal 'to read' list has grown exponentially since I started listening.

I'm going to break this into two posts since this is the end of my media podcasts. My next post will cover podcasts about Disney, screenwriting, snacks, and more. I'll have it up soon so please come back.

Part 2

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Old cartoons make zzzzzzzz

I have such fond memories of all the cartoons I grew up watching. There, of course, were the 80s staples of He-Man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Air Raiders. Air Raiders? I also watched countless hours of Disney and Looney Toons cartoons.

When DVD brought most of these shows (still waiting on Air Raiders) back into my life I was on cloud nine. I wanted to buy every season and every collection. And, in many cases, I did just that. I have the first seasons of He-Man, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. I also have a healthy library of the Disney and Warner shorts.

My DVD shelves look amazing. It's just too bad I can't really watch the cartoons because they are like my own personal Lunesta, Ambien, Nyquil, and Thanksgiving Day turkey combined into one all powerful knockout drug.

Seriously, five minutes into He-Man my eyes start giving up. I last a little longer with Transformers and G. I. Joe because, let's be honest, He-Man is terrible. Watching He-Man makes me embarrassed for my 8-year-old self.

Even shows I loved, and still love, like Transformers and G.I. Joe. I'm only good for one episode. I feel like I completed a P90X workout after. I really don't get it. In my head, I think that the old Disney and Warner cartoons don't effect me as badly but I only ever make it through two to three of them which is about the equivalent of one of the half-hour 80s shows.

I can only offer theories as to why my body wants me to impersonate Rip Van Winkle. I suppose since I'm older now the shows don't grab me like they did when I was younger. This could be true but when the "The VWiper" (misspelling intentional) freaks out the entire G. I. Joe base it still cracks me up.

I also think I know the shows too well. I've seen some of these episodes, especially the early seasons, multiple times over. Maybe by the 20th viewing of the Autobot, Jet-fire, being melted out of the ice your body just starts to shut down.

It's really disappointing. I want to re-watch these cartoons with my children one day and I honestly don't think I'll make it through. Perhaps I'll watch their expressions as Goofy falls, He-Man pontificates, and Optimus does his awesomeness. That might just get me through it. Might.

Friday, March 9, 2012

In Defense of Comic Book Men (TV)

Comic Book Men is a new reality show that airs on AMC, Sundays at 10:00 p.m. The cameras follow the employees and customers at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash. The store is located in New Jersey, the home state of film director and sometime comic book writer, Kevin Smith, who owns the store.

The show has been generally reviled and derided in the comic book community. Comments range from — not worth your time to it's trash. I've watched the show for a month now and I very much disagree with the negativity. The main hook of the show is showing people coming into the store to try to sell their geek memorabilia. This is one of major points of emphasis for people who dislike Comic Book Men. I must say, when I started reading reviews and heard the show described as a nerdy Pawn Stars knockoff, I was very disappointed.

But, let's look at this from the point of view of a producer. What are they going to show to fill an hour of TV that will catch an audience's attention? I have frequented my share of comic book stores and by far the coolest thing about them is their unique merchandise and the general atmosphere of geek; whether it be in the form of conversations about super villains or arguments about which Star Wars prequel is the worst (it's Episode I by the way).

There really is nothing exciting about turning the cameras on every Wednesday (comic book day in the U.S.) and watching regular customers come in and buy a stack of weekly comics. The cameras may catch a quick exchange or two that is vaguely interesting but for the most part, regular customers are either going to be too intimated to talk or overly enthusiastic.

I have no problem with the format of the show. There has been some really cool and amazing stuff come through the door to be sold and the guys behind the counter have been genuine in their excitement or disdain. Perhaps there's something going on behind the scenes where the producers put it out there that if you have unique or pricey items that you are willing to part with, you could get your fifteen minutes of TV fame. I'm cool with that. All reality TV is manufactured in some way and it has put some incredible geekness on the screen.

The other part, as I mentioned above, that makes the comic book store experience pretty fun is the conversation. With an amazing storyteller and public speaker such as Kevin Smith as one of your producers, why not use him to drive the conversation? The show films Smith and his four store workers as they record a podcast about the latest happenings at the store. Not only does this allow some narration and set-up to scenes we are witnessing but it gives a venue for the nerdy conversations.

Yes, they've discussed the hottest female super-hero, what super power they would want, and which batmobile is the coolest. However, they also sprinkle in the history of comic books and discuss creators and books that people should know more about.

I believe that people that hate the show do so because it shows off, in bright shiny colors, all the things that people see as stereotypical of comic readers and of comic book stores. Yes, it is a shame that they aren't focusing more on the great graphic novels and high-end, literary quality art and stories that are being produced today. Of course, I wish they would give equal time to books and creators that have nothing to do with people wearing capes or spandex.

Reality check time here, pun intended. I have seen nothing on this show that I haven't seen fifty times on my own in a store. You want reality TV? This is the reality of a comic book store. There are introverts and socially awkward people. There are people who are not politically correct and don't care. Comic Book Men doesn't shy away from the facts. They discuss this openly. They are saddened that they can't get women into the store and they know that their market is mainly an aging market of overweight and balding men. I applaud them for giving it to us straight.

I will keep watching as long as AMC keeps it on the air. The podcast talks are just the mixture of intellect and nerd that I love. I could do without some of the manufactured for TV events like dressing up like zombies to boost sales. It's funny though, that zombie stunt actually lost the store money and in the world of the ever struggling comic book store, that is indeed a harsh reality.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Last Werewolf (Novel)

Do you like extremely well written novels? Do you like compelling characters that have a supernatural, fantastical element to them? How about well paced plots, clever dialogue, and intriguing action sequences? You like all that stuff, right? Who wouldn't?

OK, how about steamy, raunchy, and very dirty werewolf on werewolf sex? No? Well, that's fine because if you prefer your raunch to be between homosapians, there's also a good amount of that too.

Now, before you run off, let me quickly say that describing The Last Werewolf as I just did is doing a major disservice to a very fine literary novel. Glen Duncan has crafted together a very fine piece of fiction that doesn't come around very often.

Fantasy and erotica aside, this is indeed a piece of literary fiction. I used the Kindle dictionary assiduously. Assiduously: adverb; actively, intently... thanks Mr. Duncan. So, he's got the writing chops but he also knows his genre fiction. This is the untold story of the last werewolf on earth and the group of people out to kill him. Oh, and there are vampires too.

There are horror elements to the book. This mainly comes from the gory violence that the werewolf takes part in but I would not put this next to a Stephen King novel. I liken it more to Ellison's Invisible Man. You know, if the disenchanted black man from that novel was a two-hundred-year-old British werewolf that fed on humans and had the libido of a jackrabbit on Viagra.

If you have the stomach for the violence and aren't turned off by the sex, The Last Werewolf is quite an amazing read. Never has a man-eating monster been more sympathetic and human.