Travel Options Offer Affordable Alternative in Some States

Recently, my wife and I were in San Diego, California. The public transportation there is among the best in the country, so our plans for downtown included taking a trolley or a bus, rather than driving and trying to find parking. We had heard of Uber, but really had very little idea as to what it was, other than some sort of taxi service.

We stopped by an information station, which was set up just outside of Petco Park, to ask which trolley or bus would be the best to get us back to the house we were renting. The lady at the counter asked, “Have you tried Uber?”

We had previously used taxi services around our home region, but were dissatisfied with the outdated, overpriced and slow service. We weren’t too enthused to even hear about an alternative, but we were immediately interested when she told us our first ride would be free, thanks to a referral system that the company has.

We signed up for the app and hailed our first Uber ride. The car was not only clean, the driver was extremely friendly, offering us bottled water and arriving to pick us up within 2 minutes. Uber drivers usually don’t even accept tips, as everything is done via credit card on your mobile app. We were hooked!

We decided to forgo public transportation for the remainder of our trip, using Uber and the alternative company, Lyft (which works the exact same way) for every trip we needed during vacation. The average cost of a 20 minute trip was $11, but since we both had the app, we had 2 free trips with Uber and 2 free trips with Lyft, saving us nearly $50.

I thought, “Surely there are some drivers who are not as professional, or have dirty cars, or not as courteous.” After ten trips via the services of Uber and Lyft, we didn’t encounter a single issue. The longest we had to wait for a driver was seven minutes and that was because they encountered traffic on their way.

When we arrived back at the airport, we called a cab to take us to our car, which we parked in a garage about five minutes away. The cab took more than 15 minutes to arrive at the airport, the door didn’t work, the trunk was not clean when we put our baggage in, the car had an odd smell and there was no bottled water waiting for us. The worst part of it was, the cost for this quick trip – including tip – was $18.

Charleston and Huntington are two of the most populated cities in the state of West Virginia. Having an Uber or Lyft service could possibly offer a viable alternative for consumers who want a fast, affordable option for transportation, particularly with some KRT routes being removed and gas prices higher than surrounding states.

ABC Brings Back Familiar Fuzzy Faces

ABC Network has a strong history of creating family comedies. The TGIF era of shows are what many of us grew up watching. Friday nights with the Tanners, Steve Urkel and Balki and Cousin Larry made for some great memories. In recent years, they’ve had shows offering nostalgia from the ’60s (“The Wonder Years”) and the ’80s (“The Goldbergs”), as well as giving us families like The Dunphys of “Modern Family”, the Huangs of “Fresh off the Boat” and the Hecks of “The Middle”.

When I heard there was going to be a revival of “The Muppets”, but that it would be completely different from the original, I was optimistic, but suspicious. That is, until I got to San Diego Comic-Con, where the Jim Henson creations had pretty much taken over ABC’s booth.

The new Muppets series is set up more like “Modern Family” in that it breaks the fourth wall by having the characters interact with the camera via short asides, like a documentary. The comedy gives viewers a chance to revisit the characters they loved from the old series and films, but also has a modern take on where they are now and their relationships and spats.

The series will have some very familiar faces, including Topher Grace, Elizabeth Banks and others, but will focus on the stars we love, like Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzy and Piggy. You’ll also recognize The Big Bang Theory’s Bill Prady as one of the show’s writers and “Wilfred” director, Randall Einhorn behind the camera.

The Muppets premieres on ABC Tuesdays this fall, beginning September 22.

Charleston Street-Fest Brings the Eighties Back to Life

The streets of Charleston were filled with food, hula-hoops, chalk art and music Saturday evening as Street Fest took place on Capitol Street. Hundreds attended the event, filling the block with everything from an area for children and family activities to costumed attendees available for photos and restaurants filled with food and drink on their patios.

One of the highlights to this eighties themed evening was a band from Clarksburg called Eighties Enough. They played every genre of retro music from the decade that brought us shoulderpads and stonewashed jeans. They crossed the gamut of musicians from Michael Jackson to Devo to the ballads of Bon Jovi and REO Speedwagon. Best of all, they did it well! Too often, events such as these draw bands who lack the ability to hold the interest of a crowd, but Eighties Enough, with their vocalist Eric Lewis, truly made the evening memorable.

It was interesting to see a band’s setlist go from the rock and roll sounds of Poison to Run DMC so seamlessly, but they kept it fun and upbeat for the crowd, who were hoping to find shade from a nearly 90 degree afternoon in the sun. The band includes Lewis on keyboard, guitar and lead vocals, Jim Poling on lead guitar and vocals, Rick Martin on bass and Jason Lantz on drums and vocals. Lewis said that this was their first time playing in Charleston, WV, but they enjoyed their visit. With the impression they left on those in attendance, it certainly won’t be their last!

For more on the band, visit their website at http://eightiesenough.com or their facebook page at http://facebook.com/pages/Eighties-Enough/243379560555.

Another Charleston Street-Fest is planned in August with activities for all ages.

Ant-Man Overshadowed by Humor

Ant-Man promotion covered each city street lamp in San Diego this past weekend. Though Marvel had very little presence themselves at the San Diego Comic-Con, they did send symbols of their featured movie premiering this weekend across the globe. After seeing the movie, I understand why they were hesitant to show up.

Comic book movies are meant to be a heroic journey of discovery with a nemesis who the audience comes to hate. This was Marvel’s journey into comedic, over the top sarcasm and cute pleasantries. Mind you, it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t their best effort.

The movie follows an out of work ex-con, just released from prison, for a Robin Hood type of crime against a large corporation. He has a daughter with his ex-wife, played by the incredible Judy Greer. The step father, of course, has a vendetta against Paul Rudd’s character, which leads to a second incarceration.

Not to give anything away to those who are looking forward to seeing this film, Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) recruits Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) to stop his former company, now controlled by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from using a shrinking ray that minimizes the space between atoms from falling into the wrong hands (Hydra). The problem isn’t that the storyline is just weak compared to other Marvel properties, it’s that it tries too hard to be cute. The humor goes too far and becomes almost a parody of itself. Scott’s daughter becomes a pivotal character, which would be fine, except the language in this movie makes it unacceptable for children. So who is the target audience?

There is a pretty impressive performance given by Michael Douglas. He is a redeeming quality of an otherwise mediocre (for Marvel) movie. Evangeline Lilly plays his daughter, Hope. She has been distanced from her father because of the death of her mother, the former Wasp character from the Avengers comics. Lilly plays a tough, hard-nosed character who works to eventually attempt to double-cross the bad guys.

As with any Avengers movie, there are cross overs. Be sure to stay past the closing credits for a view, albeit a small one, of Captain America’s next project. You’ll also recognize ABC’s Agent Carter and Tony Stark’s father early on in the movie.

Overall, I’d guess that most people will like this film more than I did. Personally, I will give it a solid B-, but you be the judge for yourself. Ant-Man is rated PG-13 for strong language, action and violence.

How Conan O’Brien Won Comic-Con

San Diego was brimming with the core target audience of late night talk shows last week. 18 to 30 year olds who are looking for entertainment value and willing to spend money to get what they want. Comic-Con is a pharos for the men and women who venerate entertainment of all sorts. It was only a matter of time before one of our modern day late night hosts willingly gave the fans what they were asking for.

1601784_10101495765900363_2581442444030561082_o

PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – Conan O’Brien looks over notes between segments.

Conan O’Brien announced earlier this year that he would be taking his show on the road, as he did in Texas the previous year, to San Diego. This notion was brilliant, as the convention would be filled with casts, writers and directors promoting their films and television shows. The Hunger Games final entry, “The Mockingjay: Part II” and the latest installment in the X-Men franchise, along with the Batman vs. Superman release were highly visible productions all over town, adorning the cover of magazines and the side of trollies and cabs. Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead adorned the side of buildings and bus stops, as zombies were about the convention floor, scaring guests and giving fans photo opportunities.

11036955_10101495767317523_5352579930825069601_o

PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – Conan and the cast of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II pose for a photo during commercial break.

What Conan did made sense. He traveled a couple of hours away from his regular locale to one of the most pleasant cities on earth, to 1,600 fans per night the convenience of a smaller version of what those who had waited in line for 12 hours at Hall H – Comic-Con’s largest panel -had seen. He also brought his A game when it came to his comedy. His monologue perfectly paralleled the week, allowing the audience at home to ascertain and get an impression of what those lucky enough to get attendance badges were able to see. He covered the gauntlet with his banter, satirizing everyone from fans of anime to Star Wars, without ridicule.

11401135_10101495766758643_8047507066680925680_o

PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – An awkward hug between Liam Hemsworth and Andy Richter is one of the best things you’ll ever see.

11709928_10101495768560033_5170803650413734677_o

PHOTO BY ASHLEE MADDY – Conan O’Brien, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson take time for a few dance moves during the break.

As if attendees weren’t fortuitous enough to get into the historic Spreckles Theater, where Conan’s show was recorded, Conan and the toy company, Funko gave each individual in attendance a free, exclusive Conan toy. They varied each night, from a Batman Conan to a zombie Conan, along with others, but it was SWAG that people were happy to receive. Throughout the city, Conan would stop and talk to fans, taking photos and telling jokes. Politicians couldn’t have done it better. Conan won over the entire convention, from celebrities to each genre of fandom.

We were fortunate enough to meet Conan a couple of times on Thursday. Even after the show, he came into the audience and hugged my wife and me. It was genuine appreciation for the fans he certainly had gained from the week of shows. He had created, through his week of “Conan-Con” shows, a way to give back to the audience. That’s something that is unusual in any media market, or at least on this level.

Besides the cast members of the highlighted shows, guests dropped by each night, unannounced. The unofficial mayor of San Diego Comic-Con, Seth Green, had a light saber duel, Chris Parnell dropped by to sign his fictitious book, saying that it was the least expensive booth to rent at the convention and Wolverine auditions took place, with everyone from Nick Offerman to SDCC favorite, Patton Oswalt.

In all honesty, there was no one who could have done it better than Conan. His approach was palpable and natural and the fans at SDCC would be the first to know if it was anything but. The only way to improve on Conan’s 2015 visit to San Diego’s 46th year of Comic-Con would be if he made it a yearly event for his show.

A rare look at Hollywood history

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY Original X-Fighter from "Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope" from McCune Masterworks

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY
Original X-Wing Fighter from “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” from McCune Masterworks

Profiles in History, one of the world’s largest auctioneers of Hollywood memorabilia, gave fans a rare opportunity to see screen-used and production models from “Star Wars” and “Spaceballs” as well as other pieces from visual effects master Grant McCune and his Academy Award winning team.

Profiles in History President and CEO Joe Maddalena and his team have auctioned off some of the most iconic pieces of entertainment history. The Profiles staff was featured on two seasons of “Hollywood Treasure” which aired on the SyFy Network from 2010-2012.

Among the standouts of the display was the “Blockade Runner,” which was the first flying ship audiences around the world saw hurtling through space in the opening sequence of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” carrying Princess Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 among its crew.

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY Lone Starr's winnebago from "Spaceballs" courtesy of McCune Masterworks.

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY
Lone Starr’s winnebago from “Spaceballs” courtesy of McCune Masterworks.

Other items on display included Lone Starr’s winnebago filming miniature from “Spaceballs” and a selection of four incredible musical automata: “Survival of the Fittest” (Dodo Bird Evolving), “Confusion” (miniature Art Deco Theater plays movie), “Wired Exports” (Brass Armillary) and “Tender Credibility” (miniature Gold Mine Mountain) and a number of other original McCune Masterworks creations.

McCune was the chief model maker on “A New Hope” and won the Academy Award for his work on the film. The X-Wing, Millennium Falcon, TIE fighter, Sand Crawler, Blockade Runner and Death Star were built under his direction, and he also personally worked on many of the robots in the film, including R2-D2.

“We are thrilled to promote McCune Masterworks at our booth at Comic-Con this year. The public debut of Princess Leia’s Blockade Runner – the first spaceship seen in the original Star Wars film – will be great for all the fans to see. In addition, we want the world to know about Grant’s legacy and the fantastic creations of McCune Masterworks. Their creativity and craftsmanship is beyond reproach – they can literally build anything that you can imagine,” Maddalena said.

Kathy McCune, Grant’s wife and president/owner of McCune Masterworks, said the company is planning an auction and Kickstarter campaign to fund the Nova Docking Station. The station is a customizable modular display system for collectors of miniature scale spacecraft created by McCune Masterworks. The docking bays will include lighting and power jacks. The Profiles in History auction featuring “The Blockade Runner” will be from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. For more information, visit www.profilesinhistory.com or www.mccunemasterworks.com.

The Dark Swan takes flight on “Once Upon A Time”

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY "Dark Swan" billboard by Petco Park promoting season 5 of "Once Upon A Time" at San Diego Comic-Con

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY
“Dark Swan” billboard by Petco Park promoting season 5 of “Once Upon A Time” at San Diego Comic-Con

As soon as we passed Petco Park on our way to San Diego Comic-Con, we knew “Once Upon A Time” would have a huge presence. A larger-than-life building wrap featuring Jennifer Morrison as The Dark Swan greeted us as we made our way to the convention center.

The cast teased Dark Emma and what’s next for the residents of Storybrooke during the Comic-Con panel, which also included co-creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, Lana Parrilla (Regina/The Evil Queen), Josh Dallas (Prince Charming), Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White), Colin O’Donoghue (Captain Hook), Emilie de Ravin (Belle), Robert Carlyle (Rumplestiltskin), Sean Maguire (Robin Hood) and Rebecca Mader (Zelena/The Wicked Witch).

During the Season 4 finale, we saw Emma, the savior who once broke Regina’s curse, sacrifice herself after the evil that was drawn from Rumplestiltskin by the apprentice was accidentally set free. Regina, who has been on the path to redemption after a lifetime of evil deeds, had first stepped forward to allow the darkness to tether itself to her. But Emma, knowing how difficult turning from the darkness was for Regina, made a “split-second” decision to take on the darkness herself.

With Jennifer Morrison (Emma Swan) after the press event for "Once Upon A Time." Photobomb by Colin O'Donoghue (Captain Hook).

With Jennifer Morrison (Emma Swan) after the press event for “Once Upon A Time.” Photobomb by Colin O’Donoghue (Captain Hook).

“I think if Regina were the only person in danger, she [Emma] would have made the same choice,” Morrison said. “But it’s important that the darkness was threatening the whole town.”

“There is some fun to the villainy, I’ve spent the whole hiatus digging out my thoughts about it … Emma went through a lot in her life, she’s always tried to be a good person and now she’s tethered to the darkness she’s free of that. I feel like she’s going to face some of the darkness and figure out how to overcome it and not just suppress it,” she said.

One of the themes throughout “Once” is characters being able to get a second chance, another shot at getting their happy endings. Regina was told throughout her life that she would never be happy and she began to believe that, causing her to do horrible things. Over the years, Emma and Henry, Regina and Emma’s son, have shown her there’s a better way.

“I think deep down at one point she felt she could never truly be happy. And that’s why she was so bad and evil and committed all of these horrible acts. And it’s being surrounded by the heroes, I guess, and really Emma and Henry that have changed this sort of perception . . . she’s come full circle. But I think it’s having the familia support that’s really given her hope,” Parrilla said.

With Lana Parrilla (Regina/The Evil Queen) after a Comic-Con event for "Once Upon A Time"

With Lana Parrilla (Regina/The Evil Queen) after a Comic-Con event for “Once Upon A Time”

Last season was also a departure for Snow White and Prince Charming, the very epitome of goodness and kindness throughout the series. After learning Emma would be born with the potential for darkness, the couple had the apprentice cast the darkness out of Emma and into Maleficent’s unhatched dragon egg, which turns out to be a human child. When Emma learns of their betrayal, she questions everything she knows about good and evil, about what makes a hero and what makes a villain.

O’Donoghue said complete redemption for Captain Hook has been a challenge. “For Hook, he’s been battling darkness for hundreds of years. He found love with Emma, so he’s desperately been trying to hold onto that and be the better man to keep her heart sort of safe, much like Charming and Snow, he wants to protect her. But, he has been a villain and his girlfriend’s nasty now . . . in a good way … so who knows what’s going to happen. He’s really struggled to stay on the right path. It will be interesting to see where he goes now.”

Dark Emma disappears at the end of the finale and the others in Storybrooke are tasked with finding Merlin , the only person who can bring Emma back to the light. This journey will take the group to Camelot, which exists in a parallel universe and timeline. Elliot Knight will step play the legendary wizard and viewers can also expect to see King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and Guinevere (Joana Metrass). Viewers will also meet Merida from Disney’s “Brave” and the cast promises she will make an appearance in the first few episodes of the season.

We were fortunate to spend time with the “Once” cast following a press event and were truly charmed by their kindness and sense of humor. They were joking with each other the whole time and seemed to be a close-knit and appreciate of the “Once” fandom.

Season five of “Once Upon A Time” premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 on ABC.

Seeing the X-Men in a New Light

The Reading Theater in San Diego is steeped in history and beauty. When the sun hits the marquee just right, the colors change and its nearly like a transposition of seasons instead of a sunset. During San Diego Comic-Con, it’s hard to notice this as you are hustling by trying to get to your next panel destination, but while we stood in line for the “X-Men: Days of Future Past – Rogue Cut” for what will be its only cinematic airing, I noticed the marquee and realized I was in for something unique.

We were there with the initial intent of covering the release as press, so we were first in the door and quickly nestled on the back row of theater 8 with a popcorn and a Coke, waiting beside other photographers with valuable camera equipment they were using as pillows after a long day of convention walking. Other members of our media line were simply hoping to catch a glimpse of director, Bryan Singer and see what he had to say about the film’s purpose, since it was a simple 15 minutes of added story.

The director of the X-Men film discusses the changes he made to this new cut of his film.

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY The director of the X-Men film discusses the changes he made to this new cut of his film.

PHOTO BY DUANE MADDY Cosplayers filled the street during San Diego Comic-Con just a block down from where the Rogue Cut would be showing.

For me, this was a chance to see the movie in a different light, much like the marquee in front of the theater.

Singer came in to a standing ovation. Rightly so, he created a masterpiece with this film. 20th Century Fox has done something extraordinary with this classic Marvel Comics tale. Singer said, for him, it was a chance to show how just a few changes in perception, camera angles and added minutes could greatly alter a film. It gave editors a chance to replace some clips they loved and the audience to see Anna Paquin’s beloved character, Rogue in a very heroic, yet distressed, volatile and somewhat tired state.

For most of the movie, there aren’t any changes and shouldn’t be, but the changes you’ll notice come late in the film. Not giving anything away, Rogue is needed. Her powers of soaking in the power of other mutants is the only thing that can serve the X-Men on their quest to “fix” the past. This cut gives us a chance to see more of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X character and Ian McKellen’s Magneto in action sequences that are amazing. The dynamic of the movie is changed without hurting the original intent.

For true fans of the film, it is worth the X-tra purchase. There are tons of bonus features and the blu-ray makes your purchase a good one. We were fortunate to get it early from the Fox booth at Comic-Con, but you can pick it up anywhere today. If you’re a casual fan, you may not be impressed enough with the changes to spend the money on this, however, you’re probably not reading a review of the Rogue Cut if you’re a casual fan.

As we left the theater, it was dark and the street lights and night life had replaced the convention goers from earlier. The marquee was bright, but the light only blended with other bright lights, blue and red police lights, and headlights from traffic as they waited for mass crowds to cross the street. The theater’s ominous presence faded into the background of an evening of animated reality.

The Art of A Movement

When I was in the fifth grade, I drew a picture on a sheet of notebook paper during my free time after our lesson. A cranky substitute teacher, Mr. Ball, walked around the class and saw that I was using my time to draw. He crumpled the paper in his wrinkled hand and threw it in the waste basket by his desk. I don’t remember what his lesson was on, but to this day, I remember that moment. I remember it every time I start work on a painting that someone is paying me to do, or whenever I finish designing art for a musician’s album.

Art and music programs are often considered expendable when it comes to school budgets. For years, they’ve been cut, trimmed, downsized, or left for dead by bureaucracy and politics.

Flash forward to a beautiful 70 degree July morning in California, 2015.

San Diego Comic-Con 2015 held a large panel, teeming with a crowd of educators, children, cosplayers and people of all ages, with Congressman John Lewis. Lewis is a civil rights icon who actually cosplayed as himself to the convention, only himself 50 years ago as he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He wore a replica of his trench coat, a backpack with the same contents he had that day and the same style of khaki pants he had worn when he made his historic and march and was met with violence and hatred.

Congressman Lewis, along with artist Nate Powell and co-author Andrew Aydin, has written a series of graphic novels depicting his unbelievably powerful life story and a first hand telling of the civil rights movement. The books are being used in schools as a way to allow students to see more than just the few talking points that the civil rights era is generally given. The stories cross a broad range of emotions and time periods, from his childhood and beyond. Powell’s art delivers a first-person view in the second book, from a point of view of the ones who were throwing the punches. The art is driving, the stories are powerful, the history comes alive.

“You can’t sugarcoat history, or the way people were treated. White people were arrested right beside me and put in a separate jail. You have to tell that.” Lewis went on to say the actions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired him to get into trouble in a good way. “Good trouble” as he called it.

Co-author, Andrew Aydin, approached Lewis about a graphic novel of his life in passing in 2008. Other members of congress laughed at the idea, but Lewis saw it as a great way to reach young people, offering hope. Aydin said that this was actually not the first time the civil rights movement was addressed in the form of a comic book. In 1957, Martin Luther King was a part of editing a comic book of his own life.

The March books are already being used in 40 schools and colleges. The books are breaking barriers and opening doors of opportunity for teachers to address the decades of change that the movement has brought about in a way that is very unique. A teacher from San Diego mentioned during the panel that she is struggling to teach the second book because it is so powerful and emotional. She asked for advice on how to approach the book with her students. Powell said, “The second book is ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ It’s darker, but it’s necessary to the story.” That resonated with the crowd. There has to be a struggle for there to be an outcome.

Lewis was asked what the most pressing point of struggle is today and how can we address it. He said that there are several, but he saw student loans and education as something that demands our attention. “People are spending a fortune on education in this country, only to graduate and have to work just to cover the costs of that education. Martin Luther King’s dream has not been realized. We also need to raise the minimum wage.” The solution, from Lewis’s perspective, is that people must “continue to cause trouble in a good way.”

This took me back to the story of Mister Ball, the cantankerous old substitute who threw my artwork into his trash can, with no regard for the work I had put into it, or how I would grow up to work in the art field as a professional. Congressman Lewis had his own versions of mean ol’ Mister Ball. Lewis caused trouble, in a good way. Disturbing the status quo can break the chains of traditional hypocrisy, bigotry, or malevolence in any form. It occurred to me that Congressman Lewis prioritized education as one of the most important struggles today. The cost of furthering an education, the educators themselves and the approach to education all were key elements in the panel discussion and a dynamic allocation to the answer of causing trouble is through art.

Art will find a way to live on in schools, as will music and creativity, in spite of cutbacks and budget adjustments. The Mister Balls of the world will come and go, but there will always be a student causing trouble, in a good way.