Thursday, September 27, 2012

Smoke Signals 3: Movies, Wine, and Death

Hello and welcome to another installment of Smoke Signals my micro Blogging in my blog. Huh? Just little thoughts I have had that do not warrant full blogs. Not too many today but some good stuff.

-The Avengers came out on Blu-ray and DVD this past Tuesday. And as a huge comic geek I will state here and now this is the best comicbook movie I have ever seen. It is a real life comic come to life. Funny, dracmatic, action packed, hits all the comic book beats. It's a winner and a movie I will probably watch multiple times a year.

-Speaking of movies I was thinking of these two movies the other day and came to the realization it would be an amazing mind blowing double feature. LA Story and Joe Vs. The Volcano. Both are bizarre magical films that use LA as a magical place, but the artistic vision of the directors is what makes them a great pair. Two films that are unlike any films you have ever seen. With actors Steve Martin and a host of cameo apperances in LA Story and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (playing 3 roles!) in their first film together. Both are romantic comedies, but instead of your typical Rom-Com's they are more like Fairy Tales. Though both are funny. 2 original movies in an era when original movies are no longer around too much. Case in point:

-Looper and Dredd. Everyone complains about the fact that their are no original movies, or strong R-Rated action and or horror films for older people. PG-13 is the cashcow with the teenagers going to these action and horror films that are mostly retreads of things you have seen before but can't go to the next level due to the rating. If some PG-13 movies were rated R, and were able to get away with more maybe things wouldn't be so bad. But here we are with Dredd which is a great grown up movie. A hard R-rated action film much like Die Hard or Robocop or Total Recall (the original with Arnold) with lots of violence but strong visuals and story. It maybe comic book burnout or the fact that not a lot of people in America know who the hell Judge Dredd is since he is a hugely popular character in Great Britain but the film is tanking here. Looper comes out on Friday and I have heard from people who have seen it and I know that it is an amazingly original film one that needs to make a lot of money so Hollywood will not be content with cookie cutter films. People always scream about how there are no original movies in Hollywood anymore. This one is so you better go see it. If not Hollywood will see the box office and say no one wants to see orignal films and we go back to getting films about boardgames.

-Browsing through Wal-Mart the other day I discovered from Hallmark their Halloween treat of the year. My Pet Ghost. A plastic bottle with a oval window in it and a button you press at the top. When you do a ghost appears in the bottle in a painted background and makes noises at you. There are three different phrases/noises. There are 3 different kinds and they are awesomely fun. Bought one for myself and have it on my desk at work. Worth a look see for under 10 dollars.

-Heard the sad news of crooner Andy Williams passing. He will always be remembered by me for his Christmas songs including the most wonderful time of the year. But his claim to fame is Moon River which is a great song. RIP Andy. My dad really liked you and so did I.

-Finally I just wanted to let everyone know one of my all time favorite wines is the Coppola wines. Francis Ford Coppola director of the Godfather Movies, Apocalypse Now and more is a fantastic winery manager and has turned his small winery into an award winning behemouth taking over other vineyards and releasing them under his imprint as well. But I like it not only because it's Coppola, but he really knows what he is doing with the wine. Available at all wine and liquor stores, I reccommend you pick some up.  Cheers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Autumn/Fall is the best season EVER!!!

I was taking my son into Daycare the other day and we ride through horse country out here in Baltimore County. Gorgeous farms, nice sceneary. Noah was talking about seeing a tractor and I was pointing out horses to him when I noticed a flock of Canadian Geese flying overhead. I immediately pointed it out to him and he was excited to see them. As was I, because that is the first real sign of Fall coming. During the Fall we get flocks of them flying overhead and it made me think this morning that despite the hot humid air now, FALL IS COMING. And I could not be more excited. Autumn/Fall is my favorite season of all time and I cannot believe that we are finally on the cusp of this gorgeous season. Why do i love thee Fall? That's what this blog is about.


It's no secret that I hate warm weather. I can't focus, I can't sleep when I am to hot. I feel draggy, worn out, grumpy. I don't like to sweat to much, I just can't stand the heat. Summer in Baltimore is notorious for having at least a few 100+ degree days, sometimes more sometimes less. And yes we have air conditioning but in my house the air barely reaches the upstairs. Plus I work in a hot environment in a warehouse so that makes things uncomfortable. Fall though, when it starts we get 70 degree days which are perfect for me. Then the cooler air rolls in and you start feeling renewed and refreshed. I don't mind wearing jackets, or hats. And for the first half of Fall you really do not need jackets and hats. Everything just feels crisper. And it is perfect sleeping weather. You get to cold you wrap up in a blanket which will not suffocate you with heat like the summer does. That is a good warmth.


I love seeing the trees shift from green to bright vibrant Oranges and Reds and Yellows. It makes the whole area come to life in vibrant color. Riding on highways become more interesting as the trees are no longer the dull green and grey colors of summer, they are gorgeous bright colors that, as Julie Delpy states in Before Sunrise, To feel happier look at bright colors. Bright colors make you feel good and happy.


Baltimore has always been a Football town. I hate to say it but it's true. When we lost the Colts in the 80s we made sure that our Baseball team would not leave us and we became a Baseball town. Then in 1996 we got the Ravens and at the same time the Orioles were playing good ball. The Ravens not so much going 4-12 in their first season. The peak of the Orioles was in 1997 and then for 15 long years the Orioles started to decline while the Ravens started to rise including a Super Bowl victory in 2000. (On a sidenote the Orioles are doing awesome this year and though I still believe Baltimore is a Football town, our town still rallies around the Orioles when they are playing great ball.) Football is fall. The season goes throughout the fall and winter. It's played in cold weather, it's 16 weeks of pure adrenaline in a league that has parity where any team could be a Playoff caliber team. So all NFL cities look forward to Football because this year may be their year.


Anyone who knows me knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I really don't know why that is, but it is. The build up to Halloween with all the creepy decorations, the rows and rows of pumpkins, the candy, the creepy shows on tv, like Walking Dead, The Simpsons Halloween special, or any of the Ghost Hunter/Ghost Adventures shows, the crisp air getting crisper, the sky getting darker. The colors of the leaves are starting to descend as more appear on the ground but the colors are still there. Everyone who wears costumes and what they wear. And there is also a very personal reason why I like Halloween that I will not share here, but all of that together creates a great holiday for me. I used to watch a scary movie a day the month of October, I used to take Halloween off from work and decorate the house and even make my wife dinner. I don't do that now because my work as an awesome Halloween BBQ and costume contest on Halloween, which adds to the excitement of the holiday for me.

To me also Thanksgiving is an underrated holiday, granted nothing really crazy happens, but it's a day off and I am lucky enough to have a four day weekend that weekend so that is a great time when we spend time with family and eat very well and watch cool stuff on TV like the Macy's Thanksgiving day Parade, marathons of movies and shows, (I saw Godfather 1 and 2, and Willy Wonka on these Thanksgiving marathons), Football is on (see above) and it was always the official for me anyway beginning of the Christmas season. Just a nice time all together. I will be getting into Halloween and Thanksgiving a bit more down the line when I do some special Smoke Signal blogs about them.

Fall brings us Apples, Pumpkin (which is actually good in soup or ravioli), Turkey, Chili, Candy or Caramel Apples, Apple Cider,Candy Corn, Frankenberry and Boo berry cereal,  Pumpkin spice lattes, Pies of all kinds, and more. Good heavy foods to bulk up for the coming winter are amazing. Bigger meals pop up and it is delightful. The Renaissance Fair also is in the fall and it usually has all kinds of amazing food and beer as well.


Fall has always been the traditional time to release your Oscar Bait movies, the film industry believes that more adult films should be in the fall because more adults go to the movies then, whereas in the Summer it is kids who are off for Summer who make up the majority of film viewing audience, So you get more of the big bang brainless films. The fall is also a time where many of the franchises get to shine such as Harry Potter, and Twilight, you also get great family cartoons from Disney, and of course the deeper oscar bait films. You get Christmas movies, horror movies around Halloween, it's a great time. But you also get the best of the Summer films because they finally start to make their way out onto DVD/Blu-Ray just in time for Christmas, so the Summer movies you loved earlier in the year you can watch over and over now. So you get the best of both worlds.


This has been watered down a little as of late with networks spreading the new seasons of shows throughout the year now instead of jamming them all in September. But there are still many shows that do this. New seasons of your favorite shows appear, so you no longer have to watch the reruns of the previous season that you have all ready seen. You get new never before seen episodes of your favorite shows.  You also get a chance to find new shows that you may like or may be the next big thing.


I first started dating my wife in the fall, we got married in the fall, went on our honeymoon in the fall, and had our first child in the fall. My sister got married in the fall and had her first child in the fall. So personally that was some good stuff.

FALL OR AUTUMN is a wonderful time for me, my absolute perfect season for the reasons stated above. I am so happy that Fall is almost here. Every person has their personal favorite season and I know there are probably people who hate the Fall, but not me, the Fall is perfect for me and a few other people I know as well.  Now it's time for me to stop writing and get to enjoying the upcoming fall season before the cold vicious snowy winter rolls in. Cheers.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It was just another gorgeous Tuesday Morning...

I know everyone has done one of these rememberances, but I just was thinking about it this year especially since for the first time in a while September 11th this year falls on the same day as September 11th 2001. It got me thinking about it and I decided just to write down what was going on with me during that terrible day.

I was working at Rainforest Cafe at this time. Tuesday was when we got our weekly delivery of inventory. I was for all intents and purposes the assistant manager of the Rainforest Cafe Retail Village. My good friend Ellyn was the manager,who had just gotten the official title, though E and I did our prespective jobs for awhile before they even decided to give Ellyn the Manager job. Since she had just gotten the promotion she had to spend a week in Houston where the Headquarters was to train on how to be a manager. So I was for the most part the manager. Though she was getting ready to come back on Wednesday. I was in charge of setting the schedule, and doing the managerial work we she had trained me on all ready. So I was opening that morning. I was also in charge of our stock room so my day was going to be doubly busy. I was living with my at the time girlfriend Dawn (now wife) in our apartment out in Cockeysville, MD with our two cats Bonnie and Clyde. She was ping-ponging back in forth between University of Maryland and her job at McCormick during this time. That morning she was down at the University of Maryland and would make her way back before noon to go to work full time. My sister was (and still is) married to an FBI analyst who was working at FBI HQ in Washington DC. My aunt (and Godmother) was an FBI agent out of the DC office as well.

It was an absolutly beautiful morning. Cool temps, blue sky, sun, when I rolled into work about 830 I guess. Now I had a CD player in my Honda and was playing a CD so I had no knowledge of what was going on. I strolled into the Cafe and one of the cleaners was on a ladder cleaning the fish tank talking to someone on the phone frantically about such and so being down there and not knowing what happened to them. I didn't even think about that since it was a personal call and none of my business. I get into the back office to pick up the till for the day and there on the news was the story about the plane hitting the WTC. I don't remember if both had been hit at that time, or only one. Everyone in the office was watching the tv and let me in on what was going on. After a while I had to go out and get things prepped for the day. Rainforest was in the Towson Town Center Mall so down the hall was a Radio Shack where a number of Rainforest employees were watching the news. I would occassionally saunter down to see what was going on and saw some of the other craziness going on. But we were still open and i was the only one working the Retail village. So i was getting updates from various people about what was happening.

I learned about the Pentagon, and that there was one other one that was heading for DC as well. I started to panic a little. Now remember this was before Cell Phones were everywhere, I did not have one nor did my wife who was driving home away from DC but I was a little panicked not knowing if the traffic would be bad or if planes would fall out of the sky on her. I called her work phone and left a message telling her to call me at rainforest to let me know if she was ok. Then we got the word. We were shutting down the mall because we did not know where else an attack would take place. However i needed to stay a little longer to make sure we get the delivery on time. Luckily they came soon after the announcement of the closing of the mall and it was a small delivery. So I got it into the stock room and left it. Then called the others scheduled to work that day and tell them the mall was closed. Then I had to take the till back to the back.  Then I left.

When I got home there was a message from Dawn saying she was fine and at McCormick. I don't think they closed it so she was going to stay and work. I also had a message from my mom so i called her and she was freaking out because she had heard there was a car bomb that exploded by the FBI Building. Turned out that was a false statement. But still the panic was there. I turned on the news and just watched as I learned about the plane crashing in PA, the twin towers falling down, and more. Dawn got home earlier then usual which was fine with me and we just watched the news and the horror.

Later on we learned that her aunt was supposed to be on one of the planes that crashed into the WTC I think but the meeting she was going to go to was cancelled and she stayed at her home in Jersey. Ellyn was stuck in Texas for three extra days since they shut down the airlines. Her fiancee (now Husband) Kevin drove to Texas non stop to get her and bring her home. My Aunt was one of the agents put in charge of the Pentagon investigation.

Not very interesting but still something that I will never forget though may not remember all the facts. So here we are 11 years later hopefully a little safer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The New 52 one year later

On August 31, 2011 DC Comics unvealed the beginning of their new universe which they called the New 52. They cancelled all their previous comics, some of which had been in the 600s and 700s to have 52 new series starting over with #1 and changing the status quo of the DC Universe forever. It reeked of despair from a comic company who was getting thrashed by rivals Marvel. And it worked (for the most part). Their sales numbers went up and eventually levelled off. They are still better than they were, but despite that there have been a number of situations come up in the last year which puts them at a disadvantage.

To celebrate the one year anniversary DC is releasing all #0 issues this month that will delve into the past of the characters. It will also introduce a few new comics as well. The reason, the original 52 do not exist as they did a year ago. A number of titles have been cancelled due to low sales. New comics have been introduced to keep the comics titles at 52, some of those are on the verge of getting cancelled and some comics that survived the first cut are not making it through this time. And more titles are being introduced to keep the 52 number alive.

The strife has been more on the creative side this time around. Creative teams leaving books after only doing 4-5 issues? Unheard of. Their biggest complaint was that the Editors were too hands on and were having the creative teams make changes that they deemed neccassary to fit the comics into the new continuity.  Another complaint was Superman. He had two series one was Action Comics which focused on Superman in his early years, the second was Superman which focused on his contemporary adventures. However there appeared to be no correlation between the two series. Big things that happened in the past in Action were not referenced in the present day. The two different writers appeared to be working in their own worlds where never the twain shall meet.

Not to pick on Rob Liefeld, though he deserves it, but he was the artist on Hawk and Dove one of the first titles to get cancelled. DC then decided to have him take over 3 books. Knocking a great writer in Kyle Higgins off of Deathstroke so Liefeld could write and draw it. had him co write Grifter, and write Hawkman and draw covers. Not 3 issues in Liefeld started calling out DC on their editorial control and left the company burning bridges with him in a twitter war with not only DC but a few other well respected writers still on the DC books. So now DC has to scramble to find replacements. It just seems a little out of control.

DC is still fighting with women about their lack of female characters, or the way the characters are hyper-sexualized. Also the fact that they do not have a lot of Female creators working on the books. But attendence figures are showing that more Women are going to Comic Cons and not just to dress up, but to buy things, to talk to creators about their favorite books, and more.

There are still some good books out there. Batman by Scott Snyder is still outstanding. The Green Lantern corps of books are doing well. The DC Dark books are doing well. Such as Justice League Dark, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing. There has been praise on Aquaman, All Star Western, and GI Combat, Earth 2,  50/50 on the new Wonder Woman, but disappointment on the flagship title Justice League. Some of it could be equated to just great writers working on the books, while mediocre writers are toiling on other books. Or it's just that the new versions of the characters are just not doing it for the regular reader. Whatever it is the New 52 seems to be in a state of disarray though there are some solid foundations in place and maybe in the second year they can start to stabalize a little and see what comes. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My (very) Brief career as a Television Extra

The late 90s was a good time for the film industry of Baltimore. Homicide Life on the Streets was a critically acclaimed show that lasted I think 6 seasons on NBC. Filmed entirely in Baltimore it brought mucho dinero to the area and employed thousands. Also movies were being filmed not only in Baltimore but in the surrounding area. During this time I was working at a Bagel shop. My hours were abyssmal, 330-1030 or up to 1200 depending how busy we were. But it was a job and I was making money. I was still living at home and had no car. My interest in comics had waned, but I was obsessed with movies. When I got to leave at 1030, usually on Fridays I would head up to Towson Commons and watch the new movies that came out. At night before bed I would watch movies in my bed. I was writing screenplays, had visions and dreams of being in the film industry. Then one day I saw it, an ad in the employment section of the Baltimore Sun. Extras wanted for local filmmaking please send resume and screen shot. So I did. And one day I got a call.

Homicide was filming an episode that was supposed to take place at the Naval Academy. They were not allowed to film there but were able to film at St. John's also in Annapolis. They need men about my size and age to portray students on the Naval Academy campus. So I said yes and my dad drove me to Annapolis Mall where a bus would pick up the extras and ship us to the shooting location. For those who may not know an extra is one of the people in the background moving around or doing things that do not affect the main shooting scene. It's to make it look like the scene is taking place in a real location and not some set.
So we got bussed to the shooting location. We were told that actors Andre Braugher and Kyle Secor would be the only members of the show shooting a scene there. It was our job to dress as Naval Academy midshipmen and walk in formation or in straight lines around the scene. They would also be shooting some exterior stuff of us walking around in our uniforms to set the scene. So we did the scene a bunch of times. And we broke for lunch. Andre Braugher who was the breakout star of the show went back to his trailer, while Kyle Secor hung out with us at the craft services area where we were eating lunch. Then we filmed a few more scenes of us marching around and that was it. They let us know when the show would be tenatively airing and to just keep an eye out for it. We were also paid 50 bucks for it. So I waited. Finally I saw the episode was coming on and told everyone to watch it. And the scene we filmed with the actors was literally about 10 seconds long. No exterior shots were used and I don't even think any of the extras showed up in the scene. So ok that's fine. It was an experience I can talk about.

About a year later they actually called me and requested me to join them for another episode of Homicide. Why not I thought.  So I got off the day from work and this time it was filming at Coppin State University. I was a college student. And the episode was set during Valentines Day. (We were filming it in January). It was also directed by Clark Johnson who also had a roll on the show. He played Detecticve Meldrich Lewis, and he was one of the stars of the ensemble who also happened to direct. So thatr was a bonus one of the actors directing us. Then the cherry on top was that the special guest star of the episode was none other than Neil Patrick Harris! (Before he had his renaissance, he was playing the bad guy) I ended up filming three scenes in the episode. So right off the bat I thought Great now I will actually get on!

The first one had me being a student walking down a hallway around Neil Patrick Harris who was being questioned by Brody the semi regular character played by Max Perlich who appeared to be the star of the episode. He was a cameraman who would film crime scenes and this episode a friend of his was killed. So I was supposed to walk around the actors as they were doing their lines then stop at a bullentin board and pretend to be reading something on it.  The second scene had me being a cast member of the theater troupe who was rehearsing the play Eqqus while Brody was questioning another student. I was told to wear a sheet and a horses head. (Since if you read Eqqus would know why). What was cool about this scene was that when we were waiting on the lighting to get fixed or the camera to get reloaded Max Perlich would talk to us about anything. I had never had an actor before talk to me like a regular guy, and go out of their way to talk to you as well.

The third scene was the best. As mentioned before the episode took place on Valentines day. We were filming in the cafeteria. Here Clark Johnson was front and center in his directing shouting our orders for us on how to act as he filmed. He set me across from a woman. We had to pretend we were madly in love with each other. Holding hands looking into each others eyes. ETC.  Apparently I didn't do a great job because the actor turned director Clark Johnson started calling me out on things, in a playful manner mind you. Any other director would not have been a big deal but this was one of the leads on the showing telling me what to do and making fun of me. So he panned across all the tables and passed ours and did it two or three times then we were wrapped. The shoot was over and I got to collect another 50 bucks. But it was cool because of the interactions with the actors and the fact that Neil Patrick Harris was there as well.

So right around Valentines day the episode aired and the storyline they were filming with us was relegated to a B story, so not a lot happened. They cut the EQQUS scene to shreads, they cut the scene in the cafeteria RIGHT BEFORE IT WOULD HAVE PANNED ON ME!!!! Finally the NPH scene, you can see me, barely. I was the big guy in shadow looking at a bulletin board. You would not know it was me unless I told you.

So a few months later I get another call. Species 2 is filming in the area and they were wondering if I was available for an overnight shoot. Now at this time I was working at the bagel shop and really could not take off. So I turned them down. I never heard from them again. Sigh. Well there was my touch with Hollywood. All in all a neat experience, but a little disappointing since I was never seen. Oh well. Them's the breaks.