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Channeling My Inner Nerd

spider700When I was six years old I became a HUGE comic book and Spiderman fan. In fact, I’ve still got the huge collection of comics I amassed as a youth stored securely away in boxes that I hope will one day fund my retirement (or at least supply me with a few months worth of Polident). Back then, if a comic had a Spider, a Hulk or a guy on a flaming motorcycle on it, I bought it.

In the early eighties, my friend and I would make weekly pilgrimages to the downtown district to purchase the latest tales of Spiderman, Incredible Hulk and Ghost Rider (among others). This place was one of those cigarette shops that sold lottery tickets and magazines but also had a few swiveling metal racks with comic books on them. It was in front of those racks where he and I would have deep discussions about the important issues of the day: like why we thought Spiderman could beat the Incredible Hulk if the two of them ever got into a fight.

Even into the early 90′s (when I was still a major geek), I’d drive to comic book shops every Friday where new issues had been reserved for me. What was cool about it was comic books at the time cost $1 each. So for a ten-spot, you’d have plenty of superhero whoop ass to last you for quite a while.

I’m not exactly sure when it ended, but I gradually began to lose interest in buying comic books. Looking back, I think the signs may have started when I began noticing that there were no hot chicks in the comic book stores. I mean let’s face it, regardless of what other’s might say; comic books (for the most part) are chick repellant.

Recently though, the current rage of hit movies bringing these heroes to life on the big screen began to pique my interest in comic books again. I had even heard a rumor that the latest issue of Spiderman (#700) was going to be a milestone issue. It didn’t take long for me to decide to channel my inner nerd and go roam the halls of a comic book store again and so yesterday, I made the trip.

Brick and mortar comic stores are quickly going the way of the dinosaur, but thankfully there are still a few in my area. As I walked inside, there was an immediate feeling of deja vu. Walls and walls of old comics, graphic novels and action figures greeted me and a feeling of giddiness washed over this now forty-something year old kid.

I noticed that a group of young individuals (all male – go figure) were blocking the middle of the room and making conversation with each other. Under their arms, each held their weekly fix of comic and I kindly asked them to move out-of-the-way so I could make my way over to where the latest issues were. I have to admit, I loved the feeling that this was going to be the first time I purchased an actual comic book in at least twenty years. A rush of euphoria came over me and I felt kind of, well… nerdy about it!

Sitting there on the rack was the object of my quest: Amazing Spiderman #700. I quickly picked it up and held it in my hands. The number of pages appeared to be less than I remember for a comic book and the artwork had changed quite a bit from the style I was used to from the late 80′s.

And then it happened.

I peered down and noticed that the price of the comic was no longer the dollar I had once enjoyed. In fact, it was far from it. The latest issue of Spiderman was now almost eight dollars!

And that was the moment when “Fiscal Jim” put “Nerdy Jim” in a headlock and made him put the comic back down in the rack. When a comic book costs as much as a Playboy, something is wrong (not that I would know how much a Playboy costs mind you). But you can keep your comics, I’ll just stick with watching the movies.

On my way out of the store, I passed by the gaggle of guys standing around with their comic book bounty again. They were in deep discussion with each other about the conditions required for Bruce Banner to turn into the Incredible Hulk. I laughed to myself because thirty years ago, that was me pondering that same question.

At least some things never change.

The Wait Is Almost Over!

It’s almost like Christmas eve! The day before my home boy, Spiderman returns to the big screen.

To help honor this milestone event, it gives me great pleasure to present to you my post from last year on Spidey along with all four of my 1980′s Spiderman home movies!

If this doesn’t get you excited to see the wall crawler beat the crap out of Lizard tomorrow, NOTHING will!

Oh, and if you happen to be looking for me in the darkened theater tomorrow – I’ll be the one who snuck in a box of Count Chocula to go along with the popcorn.

Me and Spidey

Spider Man 4

This is the final full length installment of the Spiderman Home Movies. I know what you’re thinking: you’re sad to see them go and I can understand your pain. After all, these movies were a labor of love for two amateur film makers back in 1985. But alas, all good things must eventually come to an end.

This final short features our hero Spidey (played by my friend Mike) as he does battle against an evil bank robber (played by none other than yours truly, the author of this blog).

It also features a rather ominous omen in one of the final scenes which regular readers of this blog will immediately pick up on. For others, I’ll explain after you watch it.

Basically the plot is simple: A crook in a ski mask has just robbed a bank and is attempting a get-away when Spidey shows up.

And now, for the final time I present to you: Spiderman…

Some neat and interesting tidbits:

1. This short features a cameo by my Siberian Husky “Sheba” who passed away in 1986.

2. You see the shell of what would become my Dad’s 1965 Ford Mustang on the right side of the hill.

3. The 1977 Malibu Classic car is the one I most remember being driven around in when my parents would take me to see the Trains.

Unfortunately though, watching this short again also brought back one eerie memory for me:

The scene where Mike (as Spidey) attempts to stop the Crook from escaping in the Vega by holding the car back. Spidey winds up getting run over in the movie. In the movie this was fiction but it almost became reality for me shortly after filming.

If you haven’t read that story – here it is.

Was this an omen to what was going to happen? I’m not sure. But by watching it now you can get a visual representation of what it was like for me on that fateful day.

All courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spiderman!

Ghost Rider 2: Movie Review

Back in the early 1980′s the only comic book that ever appealed to me, outside of Spiderman of course, was Ghost Rider. I mean, what’s to love about a dude with a skull head riding a flaming motorcycle?

Over the years I managed to acquire nearly every issue of the series but was so disappointed when the first installment of this movie franchise came out in 2007 that I wound up selling my prized collection on Ebay before the price of them tanked like Worldcom stock.

Suffice to say, Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance has made me reconsider my hasty sell off. Well, maybe just a little bit.

Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance once again stars Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze, the man who made a deal with the devil. Johnny’s curse for signing on the dotted line with the big guy downstairs is that he gets possessed by the demon Zarathos, a spirit whose sole mission is punishing the guilty.

This time around a young boy, Danny and his mother Nadya (Fergus Riordan and Violante Placido respectively) are the targets of a new devil, Roarke (Ciaran Hinds).

Apparently, the human vessel Roarke has been using on Earth is not powerful enough to hold his demonic energy and he needs the boy to unleash total hell.

To help him acquire the boy for his evil intentions he enlists the help of a group of ruffians led by Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth).

An exiled Blaze (Cage) is enlisted to help retrieve the child by a gun-toting priest named Moreau (Idris Elba). In return for his help, Moreau offers to free Johnny from his curse as the Ghost Rider.

Things I enjoyed the most:

1. The action: I found myself more caught up in the fight scenes in this film as opposed to the original. Some cartoonish death scenes but nothing anyone with an X-Box 360 and Call of Duty hasn’t seen before.

2. Idris Elba: For me, this guy steals the movie. Even with all the campiness in some of the scenes he still comes across as genuine.

3. I liked the fact that they decided to use a new female character with no affection for Johnny instead of  bringing back Eva Mendes from the original film as his love interest. In fact, there’s no mention at all of Johnny’s old flame (“flame”…get it?).

It was quite obvious that one of the intentions of using Eva in the first movie was to showcase her character’s cleavage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that mind you. But did they have to make it so damn obvious? Violante’s shirt never comes unbuttoned in GR2.

4. The Devil’s Red-Eye: The body that Roarke possesses is a dude with one regular eye and one red one. It actually works to showcase demonic intent.

5. The Sponge Cake reference: Proof positive that some things will even survive the apocalypse.

What I Didn’t Like:

1. Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze: Sorry, but I really believe the Ghost Rider franchise could have been a blockbuster success if they had used an up and coming young actor to play Johnny Blaze. No offense, but its hard to believe that a 48-year old Cage can be a stunt motorcycle rider and the Spirit of Vengeance.

2. The Cheese: A bit over the top at times. But if you’re expecting to see a “serious” comic book adaptation (ex. The Dark Knight) then you should probably be warned.  Although the scene where Johnny and Danny are talking about urinating is pretty damn funny.

3. The “F” Bomb: Yep, there’s one here and its very near the end. Why they had to use it at all makes absolutely no sense.

Overall, Ghost Rider 2 is a fun ride. If you’re a fan of the Marvel franchise this is one you should check out. If for no better reason than to see the Amazing Spiderman Trailer they show before the movie.

And you all know about me and Spidey.

Making Movies: Spiderman 3 – The Black Costume

Back in May of 1984 Marvel Comics released issue #252 of The Amazing Spiderman. As an avid Spidey fan it was no coincidence that Amazing Spiderman was the first comic book I ever subscribed to. But what was ironic was that this particular issue just happened to be the very first one I received in the mail.

You see, this was also the first issue where Marvel surprised readers by giving Spiderman a brand new costume. Something I did not particularly care for. You can check that story out here (A fun read).

The change away from the classic red and blue tights Spidey wore to a plain black design posed a dilemma for two young film makers (my friend Mike and me). If Spidey was going to change costumes then we also had to change as well in order to keep our films relevant.

A call went out to the hard-working people in our design department (Me and Mike). Under a tough deadline and with no money for anything but film and developing it was going to be a real challenge. It was a challenge we gladly accepted. After all, if there was a “new” Spiderman in town then it was our duty to showcase him.

In the end, it all worked out.

Spidey vs The Mime Part 3 introduces the new black costume. It was the only film we made that doesn’t have the wall crawler in his classic red and blue jammies (or in our case, the jeans or red shorts with tube socks).

Our story opens with the Mime returning to town to wreak havoc (what exactly that “havoc” is isn’t revealed). Meanwhile a short ways away our friend Peter Parker is busily sewing his new black costume. Suddenly his Spider-Sense starts tingling. He realizes that once again, The Mime is near so he gets the chance to try on his new duds.

Appearing as Spidey he jumps on to the nearest roof and spots his adversary. Let the fun begin.

Watch the video and see if you can spot the classic 1980′s reference and the flub. They should be quite obvious:

For Spidey’s costume what could possibly be better than a 1980′s black Members Only jacket? It perfectly matched the maroon-colored one I wore as the Mime.

As far as the flub is concerned: did you notice the shadow when Mime was rolling down the hill after being punched over the fence? Yup, that’s Mike filming.

I remember when we first got this one back from the developers and loaded it on the projector up in my bedroom. We must have watched it two dozen times. It was so good.

Now a days, kids can make films a thousand times better with the equipment that’s available. Had this technology and the Internet been around in 1985 I think Mike and I would have accepted at least a pair of Academy Awards by now.

Sure, you see the clothes hanging out on the line. And some shots are out of frame. And sure, Mike’s shadow is visible. But as far as the black costume is concerned, I think we hit a home run.

What do you think?

Making Movies: The Return of Spidey

Friday…FRIDAY…FRIDAY!!!! Did I mention that today is Friday? And what could possibly be better than Friday? Just one thing – a Friday with your friendly neighborhood Spider man. Or in this case, another home movie from 1985 with me and my friend Mike bringing the wall crawler to the silver screen.

I have to tell you, these movies were so much fun to make. Way better than playing Dungeons and Dragons or taking a walk downtown to the comic book store.

I think the cost to film just one of these shorts and have it developed was somewhere in the range of $20. Roughly equivalent to a billion dollars as far as a kid from 1985 is concerned. So for us to forego seeing a rock concert or buy a video game and instead try to make a movie was a huge investment and something that we did not take lightly.

Once again, let me set the scene for you:

In our last episode Mime (the bad guy in this story played by yours truly) narrowly escaped the clutches of Spidey (played by my friend Mike). Mime is now sitting on some steps next to a hill contemplating his next move when suddenly he hears someone approaching. He looks and sees that it’s Peter Parker, a young punk kid from school.

At this point Mime (who does not know the kid is actually Spidey) decides to have a little fun. He hides behind a fence and trips Peter as he walks by.

The “clumsy” child falls and then rolls down to the bottom of the hill. Distraught about his predicament and knowing that the evil Mime has just attacked him, Peter starts crying and immediately runs behind the fence to become Spidey. (Hey, no one said our Spidey didn’t get emotional).

That’s when the fun really begins.

This film would be the first to introduce the special effect of teleportation. It was a technique that we would also use in subsequent Spidey shorts as well and was rather simple to produce. Here’s how it worked:

In my role as the Mime I would touch my fingers to my temples to indicate I was about to do some amazing mind trick. Mike would then stop filming and stand perfectly still. Once I was out the scene Mike would begin filming again and PRESTO! I had “magically” disappeared. We did the reverse of this effect to make me reappear somewhere else. Pretty cool huh?

In addition to teleporting, this short also features a comedic showdown on the stairs and a daring escape by the heinous villain.

One word of caution: much of this footage is out of focus so do not adjust your settings. This error was actually the case when we originally got the film back from the developers. But the story idea is still there.

Enjoy!

Some notable 1980′s references:

1. You’ve just got to love Spidey’s summertime costume. A red shirt/shorts combination with red mittens for gloves. Believe it or not, Mike’s “Coke is It” red t-shirt was all the rage back then. This was the logo used most by Coca-Cola back in the mid 1980′s.

2. The classic tube socks worn up to our knee caps.

3. The laundry hanging out on the clothes line. It may seem trivial these days but back then washer and dryer combos were quite expensive. Most families only had just the washer and would hang clothes out on the line to dry in the summer or take the wet clothes to the laundromat to dry in winter.

As was always the case when filming, the challenge in making these shorts was that everything had to be done in one take. Any kind of screw up couldn’t be erased. This episode shows two examples of mistakes. One of which we were able to “fix”.

The first mistake you’ll notice is one scene where Mike was filming and you see part of his mitten filling the shot. Obviously, there was nothing we could have done about that. But the next flub we knew about immediately and were able to quickly bounce back from.

Originally, Spidey was supposed to capture the Mime on his first attempt at spinning the web. I was the cameraman at the time and was pulling on the “web” as Spidey shot it but accidentally let go of it and it bounced back onto Mike’s arm.

We spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out what we were going to until at last it dawned on us. We both looked at each other, smiled and said: “Spidey’s Web Shooter Jammed!”. It was the perfect opportunity to film it again and this time get it right.

Having rediscovered and sharing these movies has been a great experience. I’m even considering sending in my resume to George Lucas. I think I’m a shoe-in for a position in the special effects department. What do ya think?

Have a great weekend!

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I remember a song we used to sing in kindergarten at Porter Elementary School. It was in my afternoon class and every so often Mrs. Rapp would gather a gaggle of us five-year olds together around this lime green, out of tune upright piano.

We had just finished eating our vanilla wafer cookies and half pint cartons of milk and were settling in to a nice sugar coma when she would begin to play a little diddy that went something like this:

“♫ What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to beeeeeeeee?”♫…

Then she’d go around the class and ask us to yell out what we wanted to be. I was confused. To a five-year old being a grown up felt like a million years away and even then I knew that I’d probably change my mind about it at least a million times before it actually arrived.

But as my turn approached my confusion turned into stress. I always wanted to say something cool that wasn’t the typical fireman, doctor or astronaut that everyone else in the gaggle was saying. And it certainly wouldn’t look right to be a copy-cat of someone else. But in the end I chose the fireman and to this day still don’t really know why (maybe it was the cool red truck).

What do I want to be?

One of the earliest things I remember was wanting to be Spiderman when I grew up. I wasn’t too keen on getting bit by a radioactive spider mind you, but a kid’s gotta do what a kid’s gotta do.

You can even ask my brother if you don’t believe me. He caught me many a time climbing the walls in my sleep yelling out that I was indeed the wall crawler. And on warm summer mornings after a rain storm I remember walking past spider webs shimmering  in the sunlight off of my front porch and saying to myself: “someday…..someday”.

I think the superhero theme was something I always aspired to be. I was very introverted growing up and some how could relate with those guys having a “secret”. Maybe it was the feeling of being able to put a mask on and suddenly become someone larger than life. Someone people admired.

That’s who I wanted to be…then.

Over the years I’ve gone through phases of who I want to be. A fireman, a doctor, a rock star, an electrician, an actor. Strangely, I wound up being a Clinical Systems Analyst (something that looking back would have floored Mrs. Rapp if I had told her) but in many ways I’ve been all of the other occupations at one point or another:

- I was a fireman who put out the ultimate pierogie fire that you can read about in a previous blog.

- I’m a physician whenever my daughter trips and falls on the sidewalk.

- I’ve been a rock star (albeit not professional, yet) for perish the thought, 25 years now.

- I can change a light bulb and swap out a light fixture with the best of them.

- I’m a great actor. Just ask me when a user calls me at work because they keep locking themselves out of their computer.  I play the role of “Happy, Helpful Jim” to a tee.

I may not have become Spiderman but I think it’s safe to say that in some ways I’ve even achieved being a superhero too. I can see it in my daughter’s eyes with simple things like when I’m helping her with her homework or when she watches me teach the dog how to sit and shake hands.

But I don’t think I’m finished. I’ve been wanting to be a writer for quite a while too. Oh sure, I’ve gotten a letter written to a fictional vampire published in Dynamite magazine at age eleven. And I’ve also been featured in the Letters to the Editor in a Conan the Barbarian comic book. But I want more. And I think everyone feels that way because there’s just an endless amount of things to experience. There’s nothing we can’t do. The sky is the limit as they say and there’s always some thing else to “be”.

So if Mrs. Rapp gathered me around that lime green out of tune piano right now and asked me the question again, I’d probably still be confused. But this time I think I’d have to tell her the truth –  that I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Making Movies

The other day, while doing some “pre-spring” spring cleaning I stumbled upon a bunch of old 8mm film equipment and movies down in my basement. You know how you have some things in your possession that are, for all intents and purposes, useless but yet you still can’t bear to part with? Well, this equipment is one of those things for me. Something I should have thrown away long ago but still managed to find a place for every time we moved into a new apartment or house over the years.

I don’t really know why it never made it to the landfill but I would soon be glad it didn’t reach its final destination.

Even though the high tech gadgetry that’s available in today’s video equipment has sent my 8mm camera and film projector the way of the dinosaur, I was intrigued to see what kind of treasure was still being held on those old reels. So one night, I decided to go old school and set it all up.

There’s a certain odor that comes from things that have sat idle in a basement or attic for two dozen years. The smell of which seems to get stronger as you start un-boxing them from the places where they’ve sat in silence. Most especially when they’ve sat in an old attic with the extreme hot and cold seasonal temperature changes like these things did. It tattoos an odor on every piece that can best be described in one word: Old.

I suppose it was sometime in the fall of 1984 when my friend Mike and I made our first 8mm movie. I’m sure we would have liked to have made hundreds of them but we weren’t able to due to the high cost of film and processing. I’m sure a lot of it also had to do with the frustration that went along with making them. Unlike today, where you can take anything you can film and edit the video to death, with our 8mm camera you had only one chance to get it right. Every scene had to be done in one take. There was absolutely no going back.

The movies we made were nothing like the caliber of the Steven Spielberg/JJ Abrams blockbuster from last summer. Ours didn’t have zombies, train wrecks or even aliens. Heck, our movies didn’t even have sound at all. And where as the kids in that movie chose to go the romantic route and even include <GASP!> girls in theirs, we chose to go the manly route and make our movies about the greatest superhero of all… Spiderman.

I like to think that in some way the Spiderman movies we made gave inspiration to the three Tobey Mcguire films and the new Amazing Spiderman movie that’s coming out this summer. As you’ll see, considering the technology available to 15-year old boys, our budget and time constraints, I’d say we did a pretty good job. Especially for only getting one take to shoot each scene.

So let me set the scene for you: The setting for this clip is at my house. Spiderman (my friend Mike) has just returned from searching the city for Mime, the evil villain (played by yours truly). Mime is a Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type character that transforms from good to bad. He has issues (much like the guy who portrays him).

As Spidey is taking off his costume he gets blind-sided by Mime. Spidey quickly recovers and tries to capture Mime by spinning a web around him but Mime is able to escape and bull rush him.

Spidey uses his super jumping ability to leap onto the roof of a nearby house.

As Spidey makes his way across the roof top and back down to the ground Mime has transformed back to his normal self and makes his escape.

Academy Award of Golden Globe nominee? I think so. And now, without further adieu, I give you, Spiderman:

Some classic 1980′s references: My Quiet Riot t-shirt (told ya I was a metal head). Also, if you look at Mike’s sneakers after he jumps off the roof you’ll notice they are different colors. Remember when changing your shoe-laces was all the rage back in the 80′s?

I found myself laughing over and over watching this and remembering just how much fun it was to make. Mostly, I enjoyed the stunt of having Spiderman jump from the ground to the roof. This was actually a dummy that I had spent two hours making before filming. I tied jeans and the costume together with twine and stuffed the entire thing with crumbled up newspaper to fill it out. For only getting one take to film it turned out ok. It reminds me of something you’d see in an old Three Stooges short when they’d fall off a building.

In an age when anyone can post a You Tube video we sometimes take for granted all the technology that’s available to us. I  can, and have, video taped the world around me with HD cameras. I’ve recorded my daughter’s school and sporting events without batting an eye. The technology is even available on the cell phone I carry every day (just in case the moment strikes me). Back then, it was a whole process.

Our children can have a video of their entire lives if we so choose. A living, breathing memoir if you will. And yet, these half-dozen or so 8mm movies Mike and I made almost thirty years ago are the absolute only recorded things I have from my childhood that are not a still picture.

But thanks to that same modern technology, I’m able to extract these precious moments from the film and put them on to a digital DVD before the oxidation process completely destroys them.

It’s amazing to see just how I looked, moved and thought back in a time when the only responsibility I had was getting up for school every morning.

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