Outpost: San Antonio, TX

Remember The Alamo!

My family and I took a quick trip to San Antonio, TX a few weeks ago and, as always, the place didn’t disappoint us at all.  We arrived late in the afternoon but had enough time to venture to the Alamo, where Texian and Tejano soldiers and numerous volunteers from the United States of America (of which Texas was not a part of at the time) bravely died defending their belief in a Texas free of Mexican control.  Estimates of the actual number of those that died vary between 150 and 250 brave souls.  If you’ve never been to the Alamo, I highly recommend visiting it at least once in your lifetime.  It is a truly moving experience to visit this place.

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Outside of the front doors of the Alamo is a great monument to the defenders of Texas.  It is a massive monument and does well to honor those that fought at the mission.  Across the street are a number of stores, restaurants and tourist venues.

After a brief visit in downtown San Antonio, we headed to our hotel, the Hilton San Antonio Hill Country.  I highly recommend staying in this hotel as it is located near SeaWorld San Antonio.  It offers a shuttle to and from the park and also has nightly attractions for the entire family.  You can roast marshmallows and make s’mores in the campfires located in the courtyard at night.  You can also watch a family movie, play basketball, eat hamburgers and hot dogs, or swim in one of the three pools or relax in the jacuzzi.  There’s also a restaurant on site and a gym with ellipticals, weight machines, and other exercise equipment.  This is our favorite hotel in the area and have stayed here on multiple occasions.

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On our second day in San Antonio, we visited SeaWorld San Antonio.  We rode all of the big coasters including the Steel Eel, the Great White, the Wave Breaker, and the Shamu Express.  We watched a few shows as well.  My personal favorite was the Beluga Whale/White-Sided Dolphin, and Macaw show, Ocean Discovery.  I also enjoyed the Animal Conservation Center.  There we got up close and personal with an owl and learned about animals that are cared for at the park that aren’t necessarily of the aquatic persuasion.

Since it was July, it was very hot at the park.  Luckily we found the Chill Out Bar located next to the Great White roller coaster.  The bar offered liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream and a number of cool adult beverages including frozen Jack & Coke.  The best part of the bar is that you get to keep the cup that your drink is served in when you’re done!  Oh, and it’s one of the few places in the park that serves drinks with straws.  The straws are paper, though, and completely biodegradable.

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We also went to Discovery Point, located just outside of the entrances to SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica, the SeaWorld water park.  There, visitors are given the opportunity to have experiences with dolphins, beluga whales, and sea lions.  There’s also Explorer’s Reef, home to a number of sharks and exotic fish.

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SeaWorld San Antonio offers both education and fun.  My entire family enjoyed the day at the park and plan on returning again in the future.  There’s still plenty of things left for us to explore at the park, and I recommend allowing at least two days to really take in many of the attractions.

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We left early on Sunday morning after attending Mass at Prince of Peace Catholic Church near our hotel.  We then made an unexpected trip back to Austin (but no sightseeing this time) and then headed home later that evening.  Our trip naturally included a few stops at Buc-ee’s Travel Centers across Texas and when we got home, we immediately wanted to return to San Antonio.

As always, thanks for reading.  I’ll have a post about the latest Hurricane Pro Wrestling event that I attended in Beaumont, TX in the very near future.  I’m still hoping to check out Ant-Man and the Wasp and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom before they leave theaters, and I also want to see Teen Titans Go! To The Movies.  If by some miracle of fate I get to see any of these films, I’ll post a review.

Throwback Thursday: Godzilla (1998)

Twenty Years Ago

Today’s edition of Throwback Thursday may not necessarily be a good memory for some of my readers.  It features an infamous version of a beloved kaiju that was meant to be a tentpole franchise for TriStar Pictures.  Sadly, the film was ripped to shreds by critics and fans had mixed reactions to the movie.

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Godzilla has been a major part of Japanese culture since 1954.  There have been multiple films about the giant lizard with atomic breath.  In fact, there have been almost thirty films created featuring the King of the Monsters.  In 1998, Hollywood took a shot at making their own version of the big lizard and bombed despite pulling in a profit on the film.

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The film definitely had a few things going for it before its release.  There was a massive marketing push prior to the film that gave potential audiences only a glimpse at Godzilla’s foot.  Specific instructions were given to all of the marketing partners to not reveal the monster in its entirety.  I remember being harassed by customers at Kay-Bee Toys (I was working there during the film’s release) who wanted a sneak peek at the beast.  We had a bunch of merchandise on the shelves featuring the classic look of Godzilla as well as Mecha Godzilla, Mothra, and other popular kaiju.  This only made customers want to see the monster even more.  I had customers come into the store daily for a couple of weeks prior to the film’s release begging to see the new toys for the film.  They were wasting their breath, as we didn’t get the toys in until the week of the film’s release and we weren’t allowed to open the boxes until after the movie’s release.

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Along with the excellent marketing strategy, the film was under the guidance of Dean Devlin (writer/producer) and Roland Emmerich (director/writer).  They were fresh off of the successful popcorn flick Independence Day and had two other popular films, Universal Soldier and Stargate, under their belts.  The duo appeared to be unstoppable when it came to making blockbusters at the time.

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The film also had a solid core cast that included Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer.  It was also expected to be the film that launched Maria Pitillo into mega stardom but she instead received a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress.  I’ve never seen why she was even nominated for the award.  Her character was thin from the get-go and that wasn’t her fault.

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The film’s supporting cast was also excellent.  It included Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Arabella Field, Doug Savant, and Nancy Cartwright.  My personal favorite supporting actress in the film was Vicki Lewis.  I fell in love with her in 1995 when I first saw her on the sitcom NewsRadio.  I’ve actively sought out her work ever since.  Eagle-eyed Degrassi High fans might even catch a glimpse of Pat Mastroianni, who is best known for his role of Joey Jeremiah from the Canadian teen drama.

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The creature effects looked pretty good.  They were primarily CGI with a few practical effects thrown in for good measure.  The baby Godzillas in the film reminded me of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.  The destruction of the city was also a combination of computer and practical effects.

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Despite having all of this going for it, the film was still panned by critics.  They complained about everything from the absurdity of the story to the terrible casting choices (at least in their opinion).  Moviegoers made the film a success, but it wasn’t enough for the studios to move forward with a second and third film as was originally planned.

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For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the film.  I tossed out everything that I knew and loved about the original Godzilla films and watched it for what it was:  A Devlin-Emmerich Popcorn Flick.  These guys were Michael Bay before Michael Bay was cool.  All of their films have sleek productions and moments of awesomeness, but ultimately they are forgettable flicks that wow the eyes but do nothing for the brain.

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I own the film on DVD.  I watch it from time to time.  I’m especially fond of watching it when it is raining outside and the temperature is slightly cool.  I don’t know why, but it just feels right to watch the film in this fashion.

How about you? Did you enjoy this film or wish it would be banned from the planet?  Let me know in the comments section.  Oh, and if you happen to run into Vicki Lewis, tell her that I still have a major crush on her.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll have an Outpost entry on my page in a few days and hopefully a review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Ant-Man and the Wasp soon!

Calcasieu Serialfest Chapter 5!

Sulphur, LA

If you’ve ever enjoyed watching films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rocketeer, Star Wars, or almost any of the current crop of superhero films, you owe a little debt of gratitude to the classic serials of the early twentieth century.  Almost every aspect of modern action and adventure films has been influenced by these cliffhangers.  From special effects to storylines, these films set the foundation for the popcorn flick of today.

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A celebration of these serials took place in Sulphur, LA over the weekend at the Brimstone Museum.  Calcasieu Serialfest celebrated its fifth year (or chapter) by highlighting the career of Kirk Alyn, the first man to ever don the cape of Superman in a live action film.  Episodes from some of his most popular serials including Blackhawk, Radar Patrol Vs. Spy King, and Federal Agents Vs. Underworld, Inc. were shown and cosplayer Bill Necessary offered up some interesting facts about Alyn between episodes.

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Other serials featured included The Adventures of Captain Marvel, The Perils of Pauline, and The Fighting Marines, among others.  Necessary would give historical information on many of these as well, often in the costume of the hero that was being featured.  He changed into multiple costumes during the event, including Superman, Captain Marvel, and the Lone Ranger.  He happily posed for photos with attendees of the event as well.

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The event was entirely free, which is rare in today’s world.  Free popcorn and drinks were offered throughout the showing of the serial chapters, and lunch was provided as well.  Numerous door prizes were also handed out.  These included comic books featuring heroes that found success in cliffhangers such as Flash Gordon and The Green Hornet, and serial posters.  I was lucky enough to win quite a few of the comic books, and there were also some free prints available to everyone at the welcome table.  My favorite print was of Alyn and Noel Neill as Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

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At the end of the event, a few of us hung around in order to play Fortune & Glory, an RPG that takes place in the same universe where classic serials occur.  In other words, there were tons of Nazis, mobsters, robots, monsters, and cliffhanging moments to deal with during the game.  It was really fun to play, and I look forward to playing it again.

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Photo by Patrick Bennett

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This year’s event drew the largest crowd that I’ve ever seen.  From what I was told, people traveled from all over southwest Louisiana and even parts of east Texas to attend the celebration.  That’s great news to hear, as this wonderful event deserves more attention than it has been getting in the local area.  It offers up something that doesn’t get much attention from most mainstream pop culture and comic con events as they focus on what’s popular at the moment and not so much on what actually set the foundation for it all.

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Next year’s event will focus on the work of Howard and Theodore Lydecker, masters of miniature work and special effects.  Considering that most of these productions were done on a shoestring budget, the Lydeckers did a brilliant job with what little money and technology they were given at the time.  I can’t wait to see and learn more about these men.

I want to personally thank Patrick Bennett, Bill Necessary, Thom Trahan, and the Brimstone Historical Society for putting on such an excellent event.  Each year gets better and it’s great to see these often forgotten films get some attention from a group that appreciates them and the artists that brought them to life.  I also want to thank all of my readers for taking a little time out of their day to read about this event.  I’ll have more posts coming later this week!

 

 

DC Impresses At SDCC

Positive

Positive is a word that hasn’t been used very much when talking about the DCEU.  With Justice League failing to attract large audiences last year (despite actually being a decent film) and BvS and Suicide Squad underwhelming critics, DC’s lone shining star in recent years at the movies was Wonder Woman.  But news out of San Diego Comic Con from sources like Hollywood Reporter and the Wall Street Journal and buzz on social media is showing that both Aquaman and Shazam! are getting a lot of positive vibes from fans and “professionals” alike.  Here are both trailers for you to check out.  My own thoughts will follow.

As expected, Aquaman drew the biggest attention on social media.  Ever the punching bag of comic “fans” that never picked up an issue of Aquaman and only know him from Saturday morning cartoons or Robot Chicken, Jason Momoa’s turn as Arthur Curry is looking to be a pretty solid one.  It looks like the film will focus on Curry’s battle with his half brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), also known as Ocean Master, as the two battle for Atlantis.  The movie looks like it might take a few pages from the Throne of Atlantis storyline featured in DC’s New 52 run of the character.  If that’s the case, unknowing moviegoers are going to get a big fat fist of flounder planted on their jaw when they see what Aquaman is really capable of when his powers are fully realized.

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Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is also featured in the trailer, and hopefully the film will do him and the rest of the characters justice.  I’m also excited to see how Amber Heard’s Mera comes across in the film.  Fans of the comics know just how powerful Mera is, and I hope that DC and Warner Bros. let Heard flesh out the character’s full potential.

There’s a serious overall tone to the film’s trailer (with minor humor injected here and there) and that’s a positive in my book.  Instead of going full buddy comedy and (at least in my opinion) ruining what could have been a great story as Marvel did with Thor: Ragnarok (yes, I know that I’m in the minority with that opinion), it appears that director/writer James Wan, writer Geoff Johns, and writer Will Beall are attempting to tell an interesting story that relies as much on plot as it does on action.

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Shazam! got plenty of positive feedback as well.  Again, it looks like Warner Bros. is going with the New 52 version of the character and if that is the case, then this film really does need to be a buddy comedy.  A friend of mine said that it reminded him of the Tom Hanks vehicle, Big, and I have to agree with him.  Zachary Levi is basically going to be a kid trapped in a superhero’s body, and the trailer reflected the humor in that extremely well.  We also got a brief glimpse of Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who will no doubt bring a bit of seriousness to the film.  I’m also hoping for a cameo or more from Ray Fisher as Cyborg.  I’d love to hear Zachary Levi chant, “Vic-Toe-Ree,” and see Cyborg roll his eyes in disgust.

I really hope that both of these films do well.  In my opinion, DC has more iconic heroes than Marvel and they really need to be given better representation on film.  I honestly believe that the bulk of movie fans that watch the Marvel films rarely or never actually read a comic book and that’s sad because Marvel does have some great stories on the page.  Nobody outside of the comic book shop ever heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther prior to their introduction in the MCU, but here they are, some of Marvel’s biggest heroes within the last few years.

I also believe that this is one of the main reasons (but not the only one) that DC hasn’t done as well with recent films.  In my opinion, DC and Warner Bros. rely too much on the assumption that moviegoers are already familiar with the storylines and/or characters culled from the comics, and they leave the theater feeling confused, angry, or bored.  Honestly, if you didn’t know that it was Parademons attacking Batman in his nightmare or the Flash contacting him in another dream sequence, you just aren’t that familiar with the comics.  Marvel figured this out many films ago, and DC needs to come to the same realization.

In any case, moviegoers are about to get a dose of two (three if you count Mera) of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe.  Sure, “fans” are already making  Finding Nemo jokes about the movie’s poster and I’ve even seen a few people say that they didn’t know that Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid was in the film (an obvious slight at the very powerful Mera), but in the end, I’m confident that both Aquaman and Shazam (who’ll always be the real Captain Marvel in my book) will get a little more respect once these films hit the theaters.

Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know what you think about both film trailers and the DCU as a whole in the comments section.

 

Throwback Thursday: Blade

The Daywalker

Before Black Panther‘s rise as a significant film in Marvel and cinematic history for its success and cultural impact and before Deadpool was erroneously declared the first R-rated superhero film, 1998’s Blade gave us an African American lead based on a superhero and a strong R-rating (But even Blade wasn’t the first R-rated comic film.  There were quite a few before it, including Fritz The Cat and The Punisher).

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Celebrating its twentieth anniversary next month, Blade was an excellent Wesley Snipes vehicle that told the tale of the title character portrayed by Snipes as he takes on vampires with his friend and mentor, Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson).  In the film, Blade’s primary adversary is Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a “made” vampire who is intent on overthrowing the pure-blood vampires in order to take control of vampire society.  In order to do this, Frost needs the blood of Blade in order to awaken the the blood god known as La Magra.

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The film, at least in my opinion, was an even bigger risk than Marvel’s Iron Man film.  While Iron Man was definitely a B grade hero when his film was released, most general audiences were at least mildly familiar with the character.  Blade was pretty much unknown outside of comic circles, and the internet was still in its infancy, so that meant that “hardcore” and so-called “lifelong” fans didn’t amazingly appear thanks to Wikipedia and other web sources as they do these days for so many different comic book films featuring lesser known characters like Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and, yep, even ol’ Black Panther.

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The film featured an excellent cast with established (although not necessarily well known) performers such as Kristofferson and Udo Kier and up-and-comers such as Donal Logue and Sanaa Lathan.  Adult film star and techno musician Traci Lords used her small role in the film as a stepping stone into a more mainstream acting career.  Many saw the film as an attempt for Dorff to revive his career as well.  Arly Jover was also in the film and has achieved moderate success overseas since being in Blade.

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The film was surprisingly successful and went on to have two sequels and a television series.  The first sequel, Blade II, is considered an excellent film and possibly the best Blade film to date.  The second sequel, the abysmal Blade: Trinity, featured what should have been a great cast trapped inside a poorly directed and written film.  Oh, and Ryan Reynolds wouldn’t shut up long enough for Blade or anybody else to get a word in edgewise.  I personally never saw the TV series, so I’m not sure how that played out.

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The film was loaded with action and atmosphere.  From the opening sequence featuring Blade eliminating tons of the undead at a vampire rave to the great face-off with Frost, Snipes’ Blade was constantly hero posing.  He made every move that he made so much more cool than it actually was on the screen.  The techno beats throughout the film gave it a much needed injection of urgency and the music was the perfect co-pilot during the multiple fight sequences featuring varied martial arts and swordplay.

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The CGI was decent for its time, and the climactic ending against Frost was re-edited because, gasp, the CGI squad didn’t like what they created.  There were plenty of stunts and practical effects in the film as well.

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With the success of Black Panther, talk has begun about there possibly being a revival of the Blade film franchise.  I truly hope that Blade returns to the big screen.  I don’t believe that Wesley Snipes will reprise the role unless they go with an “old Blade” story similar to the Logan movie that signed off on Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine.  If this were to happen, there are plenty of young black actors waiting in the wings to take over the role of the Daywalker.

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Blade seems to have been lost in the shuffle of comic book films over the last decade or so.  With the success of Disney’s Marvel films, Blade, older incarnations of the Punisher, and the campy Captain America film from 1990 have all fallen to the wayside.  I can understand why Cap’s old movie has vanished, as well as the Dolph Lundgren Punisher flick, but Blade doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.

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If you haven’t watched any of the Blade films, I highly recommend that you do so.  You will not regret it.  Be warned that the Technicolor, Happy Times versions of today’s Marvel heroes are nothing like the grittier, angry Blade of the 1990’s.  It’s definitely a fun film, though, and I’m happy to say that I saw it in the theater way back in ’98.

Thanks for taking a trip down memory lane with me today and thanks for reading my post.  I’m headed to Calcasieu Serialfest this weekend and will have a full report as soon as possible.  I’ve also got an Outpost feature just itching to be posted and I need to write up another Focus On feature soon.

Stay batty, folks!

Adventure! Danger! Romance!

The Edge Of Your Seat!

This Saturday, July 21st, at the Brimstone Museum in Sulphur, LA, the epic cliffhangers of the 1930’s and 40’s will make a grand return at Calcasieu Serialfest!  I’ve personally attended this event all but one year and have enjoyed it every time.  I’ve blogged about this event before, and all of my regular readers know how much I love classic cliffhangers, so it should be no surprise that I will be in attendance this year.

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Each year this event highlights one specific actor and showcases them in some of their most beloved roles.  This year the festival focuses on Kirk Alyn, who was the first actor to portray a live action version of Superman.  He is also known for portraying another comic book hero, Blackhawk, leader of the Blackhawk Squadron.  That character is currently tied to a project being headed up by Steven Spielberg.

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While Alyn will get the lion’s share of attention at the event, other actors and actresses will also get a chance to shine.  Based on the event’s Facebook page some of the other stars attendees will get to see on the screen include Grant Withers, Lee Powell, and Evalyn Knapp.

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One of the best things about this event is that it is free to attend.  There’s free popcorn and drinks to enjoy while watching the serials and there’s even a free lunch!  Door prizes will be given out as well.  You can also expect to see a cosplayer or two in attendance if the last couple of years are any indication.

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If you are in the area, please make plans to attend this very cool and very unique festival.  It’s a celebration of an era that spawned modern day superhero films and blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I know of no other event similar to this one in southwest Louisiana or east Texas, so attend if you are able!

The Brimstone Museum is located at 900 South Huntington Street in Sulphur, LA.  The festival will open at 10 A.M. and serials will play until 5 P.M.  Admission is free to this event.  I will be in attendance (possibly incognito as a surprise villain) and I hope to see all of you there.  For more information, please refer to the festival’s Facebook page and be sure to share the event and the page with your friends.

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I’ll have a full report after the event.  Look for my post early next week.  It will include photos of the event, cosplayers, door prizes, and anything else that I deem fit to blog about in my post.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope that I see you this weekend in Sulphur at Calcasieu Serialfest!

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All photos appearing in this post have been taken from the Calcasieu Serialfest Facebook page.  I have received no compensation for this post or any other post that I have ever created.  If and when something like that should happen, I’ll let everyone know.

 

Throwback Thursday: Lon Chaney, Jr.

“When The Wolfbane Blooms…”

Today’s throwback is special.  Why? Because today we celebrate one of my favorite actors of all time: Lon Chaney, Jr.  Yes, I could have blogged about him in one of my Focus On features, but I decided that he needed to be highlighted today because on this day, July 12th, in 1973, Chaney passed away at the age of sixty-seven.

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Pretty much everyone knows or at least recognizes Chaney from his iconic role as Larry Talbot/the Wolf Man in the 1941 Universal horror classic The Wolf Man.  Some of his more hardcore fans know that outside of the Wolf Man flicks that he starred in, he also portrayed other legendary Universal monsters in later films.  He portrayed Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy in addition to his work as the Wolf Man.  He’s also the only actor in Universal’s horror films to portray his signature monster in all of the sequels that followed the original film during the 1940’s.

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Lon Chaney, Jr. spent the bulk of his career in horror films ranging from movies in the Inner Sanctum series to later films such as The Devil’s Messengers.  In between these films, in which he usually had a starring role, he took on numerous supporting roles in films from different genres, especially Westerns.

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Chaney steadily worked in film and television until his health began to severely deteriorate in 1971.  His final film roles were in a Western, The Female Bunch (1971), and the ill-received horror film entitled Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (filmed in 1969 with additional footage added in 1970, released in 1971).

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Lon Chaney, Jr. is one of those rare Hollywood talents that had a career that equals or surpasses their parent’s popularity.  Lon Chaney, Sr. was definitely no slouch in the business, as he was known for his starring roles in The Phantom of the Opera ((1925), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), and Oliver Twist (1922).  More importantly, he became known for his work as a makeup artist.  At the time that he worked in film, studios didn’t have a makeup department and relied on the actors to do much of their own makeup.  For his roles and his skill with makeup, Chaney, Sr. was dubbed The Man of a Thousand Faces.  Sadly, many of the films that Lon Chaney, Sr. performed in have been lost to time.  Some incomplete footage exists of a few of his films and only a few have been saved in their entirety.

I’ve always loved classic horror films and I fully blame Lon Chaney, Jr. for this love.  His portrayal of the Wolf Man and Larry Talbot made me sympathetic for the “villain” in a film for the first time.  Chaney’s performance convinced me to spend more time seeking out and watching classic movies not only in the horror genre, but other genres as well.  Because of this, I’ve become a fan of classic serial cliffhangers and films such as It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and The Quiet Man (1952).  He showed me that just because a film is shot in black and white or older than I am, it can still be a great film.

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My love of film and television expanded beyond what was produced and released during my lifetime thanks to Lon Chaney, Jr.  I’ve shared my love of his work and of other classic actors with my family and I’m slowly convincing them to watch films and shows released decades (and even a century) before they were born.  My hope is that by exposing my kids to these classic works, they will continue to live on long after I am gone.

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Evelyn Ankers hams it up with Lon Chaney, Jr.  The duo appeared in numerous films together.

Thanks for reading my post.  Thanks to Lon Chaney, Jr. for inspiring me to seek out the classics and legendary films of the past.  I hope that you have a certain actor or actress that inspired you to seek out different types of films as well.  If so, let me know about them in the comments section.

I’ll be having another Outpost article in the very near future and hopefully a review or two in the next few days.  Also, I’ll be attending the Calcasieu Serialfest on July 21st, so look for my follow up post on that in a couple of weeks!

 

 

Tunes: Vixen Is Back!

The late 1980’s

Vixen first rose to fame in the late 80’s with their self-titled debut album that featured the hits Edge of a Broken Heart and Cryin.  They followed up that album with Rev It Up.  Despite a solid track list that included How Much Love and Love is a Killer, the album failed to meet expectations for the band’s label at the time and Vixen was soon dropped.

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As was the case with most glam and hair bands of the time, Vixen attempted to change their sound with their third album, Tangerine.  With a sound leaning towards grunge, the album failed to make a mark.  Also, neither bassist Share Pedersen nor guitarist Jan Kuehnemund played on the album.  More ups and downs would follow, including a legal battle for the band’s name and another ill-received album, Live & Learn, which had no participation from drummer Roxy Petrucci, vocalist Janet Gardner, or Pedersen.

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In 2012, things started to look promising as Kuehnemund, Pedersen, Petrucci, and Gardner started gearing up for a reunion tour.  Sadly, Kuehnemund would fight and lose a battle with cancer, ending any chance for a reunion of the classic lineup.  Gine Stile, who played guitar on Tangerine, was brought in to fill the void left by Jan and the band started regularly touring once again.  As a fan of the band, it was great to see them back together and on tour again, but I wanted more.  I wanted a new album.

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In March of 2017, it was announced that Stile was no longer a part of the band.  She was replaced by Jaded guitarist, Britt Lightning and the band continued successfully touring.  It was during this time that the group made a live recording of their performance at the Arcada Theater opening for Slaughter.  That recording became their most recent album, Live Fire.

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Released on July 6, fans of the band were given the opportunity to pre-order the album on CD, as a digital download, on vinyl, or even cassette.  There were multiple options to purchase the album including an autographed CD pack (the one that I purchased) featuring an autographed CD sleeve, stickers, a pick, and a limited release print.  Other options included t-shirts, larger prints, and even a thank you call from Janet Gardner.

The album features songs primarily culled from the group’s two most successful albums, but it also includes the previously unreleased Big Brother, and a cover of I Don’t Need No Doctor with Share Ross (formerly Pedersen) taking on the vocals for the song.  It was originally recorded by Nick Ashford in 1966, but has been covered by numerous artists including Ray Charles, Humble Pie, and Joan Osborne.

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The album also features a new studio recording of You Ought To Know By Now and a slow acoustic version of Edge of a Broken HeartYou Ought To Know By Now, if memory serves me correctly, was never released on a studio album but was a track that the band would play at live shows.  The acoustic take on Edge sounds wonderful.  It’s stripped down and played at a slower pace and despite the slower groove, the song is still just as singable as the original.

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The album’s sound quality is a little sketchy at the beginning in my opinion, but before the opening track, Rev It Up, really gets rolling, the sound greatly improves and is excellent for the rest of the disc.  Since this is essentially a greatest hits album recorded live, you already know just how great these tunes are and there’s really no need to go into a deep discussion about them.  Still, there are a couple of things that I can talk about before ending this post.

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For starters, the band sounds great.  The harmonies are tight and Janet’s voice sounds as strong as ever despite recently having surgery.  Roxy and Share provide excellent rhythm and a heavy bottom end that punches along with each song.  Britt Lightning tackles the lead guitar with a gritty touch that fits in perfectly with Vixen’s sound.  Also, be sure to listen for a little Purple Haze thrown into one of the band’s tunes by Britt.

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The autographed slipcover, pick, stickers, and print were a nice touch.  The band is also having a drawing to give out classic goodies from the band’s history (autographed photos, vinyl, posters, CDs from the band’s solo efforts, etc.) for all of those that pre-ordered Live Fire.

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The band is currently on tour and there are rumors floating around that they might head back to the studio to record a new album.  I truly hope that they release some new music and tour in support of it.  I also hope that they come to Louisiana or southeast Texas.  I’ve never seen Vixen live, but would love to see them in concert.  I would definitely take advantage of any Meet and Greet package that they offer, as I’ve always wanted to meet the band.

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I’m excited to see that Vixen is back and stronger than ever.  Live Fire does a great job of catching their spirit on stage, and it feels like 1990 again in my forty-plus year old mind.  If you love Vixen (and ya know you do), pick up Live Fire.  Relive a few old memories that you made while listening to the songs that Janet, Roxy, Share, and Britt are belting out for you on the disc and make plans to attend a live show if they come to your town.  Support your favorite acts no matter how long it has been since they released any content.  Show them some love on social media as well.

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Finally, I want to say that the loss of Jan was pretty big to me.  I was so excited when the group announced that they were getting back together and immediately crushed when I heard that she was diagnosed with cancer.  She is missed by myself and other Vixen fans across the world.

Thanks for reading this post.  Technically it’s a review of Vixen’s new album, but it’s really just a love letter to a band that I’ve enjoyed listening to for many years. I plan on doing a few more album reviews in the near future, including a look at The Amorettes’ latest effort, Born To Break.

Keep rockin’, ya big nerds!

Outpost: Austin, TX

Weird City

Keep Austin Weird.  It’s a sentiment shared by plenty of people across the city of Austin and pretty much all over the state of Texas.  Austin is definitely something of a strange bird when compared to the rest of the state that it calls home, but it somehow manages to be something to just about anyone that passes through it.

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I recently visited the capitol city of Texas with my family for the first time.  I have relatives that live there now and decided that it was time for a visit.  I also wanted to see what was so wonderfully bizarre about ATX.  I wasn’t disappointed at all.  This post will feature a brief glimpse at our time in Austin.  I hope that you enjoy it.

Our journey began where every journey across Texas should begin: Buc-ee’s Travel Center.  Buc-ee’s is as Texas as Whataburger and cowboys.  It’s a staple of the Lone Star State and if you ever get the chance to visit one of these extraordinary travel centers, I highly recommend it.  The larger centers are found along most major highway systems throughout the state and smaller, more standard convenience store versions of the chain can be found in many neighborhoods in Texas.  The travel centers offer everything from Texas and Buc-ee’s souvenirs to brisket, sausage, and other great tasting goodies.  They also have their own line of sweets which can be found in both the large and small versions of the stores.  My wife’s favorite treat are the Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets, which are sweet puffed corn treats.  I love the t-shirts and the restrooms.  The shirts change on a regular basis and have become collectors’ items for fans of the chain.  The restrooms are insanely clean and the stalls are walled around so that no one can see in or out while you’re taking care of business.  Learn more about Buc-ee’s here.

After meeting up with our relatives in Austin, they took us on a whirlwind tour of the city and then stopped on Congress Avenue to let us check out a wonderful stretch of shops that included Big Top Candy Shop and Lucy In Disguise With Diamonds.  Big Top featured all sorts of wonderful candies and sweets including many old fashioned candies that are harder to find in brick and mortar stores.  They had an enormous selection of more modern candy as well and all of it was under the guise of a traditional tent circus.  Oddities were hanging on the wall as were classic circus posters.

Lucy In Disguise With Diamonds is every cosplayer’s dream.  It featured all sorts of accessories and pieces for creating your own costume as well as costumes that were ready to rent or own.  Photography was restricted in the shop since it’s pretty obvious that with all of the cool items that they stock, people will naturally want to try things on and post selfies without actually buying things.  The store had everything from high end creations to simple costumes that can be purchased in stores like Party City for Halloween.  If you’re a cosplayer, definitely check out this place.

Our second day in Austin featured a visit to the State Capitol, the Texas Capitol Visitor’s Center, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Zilker Botanical GardenAmy’s Ice Creams, and the Congress Bridge Bats.  We journeyed to the gorgeous state capitol grounds first and checked out the many statues and monuments that highlighted both local and state events, individuals, and the multiple cultures that have impacted the city and state.  One of my favorite monuments was the one for African American history in Texas.  The large monument was simply beautiful.

We then took a guided tour (absolutely free) of the capitol and also visited the Texas Capitol Vistor’s Center that featured exhibits highlighting everything Austin and Texas.  There were exhibits for the capitol and the history of Texas, as well as exhibits highlighting truly unique aspects of the state such as Blue Bell Ice Cream and Whataburger.  My favorite part of this visit was getting to see the painting Dawn At The Alamo by Irish painter Henry Arthur McArdle.  It is located in the Senate Chamber.

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After our trip to the capitol, we had lunch at In-N-Out Burger because we wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about.  As far as hamburgers go, it was pretty good.  We then journeyed to the Barton Creek Greenbelt for a quick hike smack in the middle of Austin.  We were surrounded by rocks, trees, and even a few rock climbers.  After our brief hike (which was a wonder to find in the middle of a bustling city), we went to Amy’s Ice Creams, a trippy little ice cream joint that featured all sorts of wonderful flavors.  Be sure to check out their link above to see the wild and delicious flavors that they offer.  On our trip, Amy’s had a dinosaur theme going in honor of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Flavors included Godzilla, Rex, and Blue (for the beloved velociraptor) and others. I took on the Dino, which featured Mexican vanilla ice cream, rainbow sprinkles, and Fruity Pebbles.  It was tasty!

After visiting the Greenbelt and filling up on ice cream, we headed to Zilker Botanical Garden to look at some beautifully unique gardens.  The Hartman Prehistoric Garden and the Isamu Taniguchi Oriental Garden were two of our favorites, as were the Pioneer Settlement and the Woodland Fairie Exhibit (a limited time exhibit).  The Prehistoric garden included a replica of the Zilker Turtle fossil found at the site (the real fossil is at the Texas Memorial Museum).  It also features a statue of an Ornithomimus, a dinosaur whose tracks were found in the garden.

That evening we staked out a spot under the Congress Avenue Bridge to see the Congress Bridge Bats take flight.  Be sure to check their website above if you plan on making a trek to Austin to see the bats, as they only make their trek throughout certain months of the year.  It really is an awesome sight to see whenever they take to the night sky.  I also recommend visiting the Nightwing monument located just down from the bridge near Barton Springs Road.  It was created by Dale Whistler and quietly spins in the night as the wind blows.

Our last day in the city included a visit to the Texas Memorial Museum located on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.  We spent a few hours learning about the geological and biological history (and prehistory) of the state of Texas.  Exhibits were found in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, the Hall of Texas Wildlife, the Hall of Biodiversity, and the Great Hall, which features the suspended reconstruction of a skeleton of Quetzalcoatlus northropi, a massive pterosaur found in Big Bend National Park.  There was also an exhibit dedicated to the ancient Buzz Saw Sharks (Whorl Tooth Sharks) found in Texas, Idaho, and other U.S. states, as well as Mexico and even Australia!  This is a moving exhibit that will only be at the museum until September of this year.  Visiting this museum was a blast!  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.  Be sure to check it out if you can!

After leaving the museum, we had one last visit with our relatives that included a walk along the Colorado River on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.  We paid our respects to Stevie Ray Vaughan along the trail by visiting his statue.  We then headed back to Louisiana.  Our journey home included more stops at Buc-ee’s and a couple of detours at shops in Bastrop, TX.

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I highly recommend visiting the city of Austin, TX.  It is beautiful, the people are friendly, and there’s so much more to the city that I need to explore.  I haven’t even visited any of the live music locations yet, and there are plenty of other places in and around the city that I want to experience.  Check out the Travel Texas and Austin Travel websites for more information and maybe we’ll run into each other next time I visit!

As always, thanks for reading my posts.  I really appreciate each and every one of you for reading, liking, and sharing my content.

Throwback Thursday: 3-2-1 Contact!

The Early 1980’s

I’m old.  I’m getting older.  But one of the things that keeps me young is revisiting things that I loved as a child.  PBS provided me with a lot of excellent programs that I fondly remember and I often look for episodes of these shows not only to reminisce, but to share with my children as well.  PBS gave me Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Square One TV.  It also introduced me to 3-2-1 Contact, a show that ignited my interest in science and made me confident enough to not only ask why something happened, but to attempt to make it happen with experiments.

3-2-1 Contact made me feel older and more intelligent than I really was at the time.  It made talking to adults (especially teachers) easier because I would often learn things on the show that I had not yet learned in class.  I loved watching as characters like Lisa (Liz Moses), Kathy (Kelly Pino), Marc (Leon Grant), Miguel (Frank Gomez), and Trini (Ginny Ortiz) would go on adventures to learn about everything from animals to space and architecture to sound waves.  They were all just a few years older than me, but they were doing cool and wonderful things that I could only dream of doing.

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I also enjoyed watching the adventures of The Bloodhound Gang, a group of teens working for Mr. Bloodhound’s detective agency who used science to solve mysteries.  Vikki (Nan-Lynn Nelson) and Ricardo (Marcelino Sanchez) were the mainstays of the show with three junior detectives that assisted them named Zach (Kelly Pease), Cuff (Glenn Scarpelli), and Skip (Seth Greenspan).  Their adventures would often last more than an episode, so you had to regularly watch 3-2-1 Contact to keep up with their stories.  I always hated whenever my local PBS station would play episodes out of order and the Bloodhound mystery would be spoiled too soon.

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There’s an interesting and fun four part interview with the surviving cast members of The Bloodhound Gang from a few years ago that I highly recommend reading.  Check it out on Noblemania’s website.  Part one can be found here and simply follow the links to the other parts of the interview.  I especially love the part of the interview where the cast talks about Sanchez, who passed away in 1986 due to AIDS-related cancer.

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The series ran for the length of my childhood.  I was born in the mid 70’s, and 3-2-1 Contact began airing in 1980 and lasted until 1988.  The first season ran during 1980 and featured Lisa, Marc, and Trini.  It was rerun until the second season began airing in late 1983. Lisa, Marc, and Trini were replaced by Kathy, Miguel, Paco (Benjamin Carlo), and Robin (Judy Leak).  More cast members came (and others left) in the next few seasons.

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Even though I was still a young kid at the time.  I developed three notable but purely innocent crushes on Kathy, Trini, and Lisa.  They were lovely, loved science, and were entirely too cool for a squirt like me.

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I know that I’m not the only person who was impacted by this series as a youth.  Just after a brief internet search, I’ve uncovered fan groups on social media and a ton of episodes and snippets from episodes on YouTube.  If you grew up in the 80’s like I did, I’m sure you watched this show as well.  If you did, let me know what you thought about it in the comments.  If you know any of the cast members or know a way to get in touch with them, I’d love the opportunity to speak with them and possibly get a quick interview.

As always, thank you for taking time to read my post.  If there’s anything that you’d like to see covered in Throwback Thursday, let me know.