Saturday, June 2, 2018

I've got stars in my eyes

Living so close to New York City gives me a chance to see a wide array of actors and musicians. Sometimes they take on both roles and sometimes they just provide a unique experience that I wouldn't be able to have otherwise.

Over the past month, I was able to take in a couple of such shows -- Letters Live with an array of glittering names at Town Hall and Kathleen Turner's cabaret Finding My Voice at Cafe Carlyle.

The former, which started as a stage show in London that featured the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Mark Hamill and Sir Ben Kingsley made its New York debut with an illustrious cast that included Cumberbatch, Edie Falco, Hugh Dancy and Tony nominee Tom Hollander (who rushed over from his play at the Roundabout to perform his letter). Rose McGowan got a standing ovation after reading her own #metoo missive that launched a revolution (see the text below). Cynthia Erivo, Uzo Aduba, Ben Shenkman, Amber Tamblyn, David Harbour, Phillipa Soo, DeWanda Wise, Clarke Peters and Louise Brealey also took the podium. But no matter who the talent was, the true star was the letters they read. They ranged from hilarious to insightful, from fawning to brutal honesty.

Dancy's first piece was a letter from a commanding officer in the Civil War to his wife. He expected to (and did) die in battle and tried to explain how honor was the most important attribute he possessed, more important to him than even love for his family. Harbour of Stranger Things delivered an uproarious missive sent off to Harvard after by an applicant who rejected the institution's rejection.

Cumberbatch brought down the house with a piece that just kept on giving. The tale told was of a Nova Scotia man seeking to have his lifetime ban removed in the "Dear Empress Hotel" letter. But first, the banned individual recounted the raucous chain of events that led to his injunction. Let's just say it involved a suitcase full of pepperoni, open windows and some aggressive seagulls.

A woman from Nova Scotia was sitting by me, she recalled how that incident had become something of an urban legend, but the man indeed was welcomed back by the hotel after promising that his next stay would be a lot less eventful.

Breale -- who starred with Cumberbatch in Sherlock -- provided a couple of high points in the show, first with her solo letter about the wife of a future nobleman requesting as many services and amenities as she could think of, each starting with "and also..." I can't imagine anyone imparting "and also" with as much meaning and in as many different ways as Brealey did.

Falco worked wonders in her second appearance, a letter penned by Dorothy Parker in the hospital and imparted with all the witticism and pointed observations as one might expect from the legendary writer. Soo's second performance on the night was probably far less daunting, she read a flattering fan letter to the cast of Hamilton -- she originated the role of Eliza on Broadway -- before getting to read the ultimate punch line, it was written by Meryl Streep.

It's difficult to pick a Letters highlight, but it probably was Cumberbatch and Brealey coming on stage together to read both halves of a romantic correspondence between an old maid and the man who would finally relieve the burden of her spinsterhood when they finally were reunited.

How could Kathleen Turner top such a star-laden night? Basically by being herself and telling her stories between and sometimes during well-chosen musical selections. It was almost an addendum to the other show, they were letters from Kathleen to us. And they were up close and personal. Mostly because Jenna and I were sitting at her knee, but because of the content as well.

In fact, Kathleen winked at me during one of her first numbers -- Jenna's my witness, since it would be kind of rude to snap pictures with my cell phone with Turner in such close proximity. I do believe she strived to make eye contact with each and every of the 50, 75 people (sorry, I was looking at her, not at them) in the room.

My other particularly special moment of eye contact was during her Romancing the Stone story. (I have a lot of favorite Turner movies -- I like to proclaim over and over that I saw even the littlest indie upon original release -- but that one is at the very top of the list.) Anyway, she asked whether I ... we ... remembered the mud slide scene. "Yes, yes," I probably said too exuberantly. "Now think about doing it five times," she responded to me. Actually, that still sounds like fun to me.

For every funny story about the business -- like Kathleen telling Francis Ford Coppola, sure, he could direct the next Peggy Sue Got Married scene from his trailer if she could act it from hers or her friends' derisive responses to hearing her film debut would be in the questionably titled Body Heat -- there were a lot of poignant moments. She told of singing "On the Street Where You Live" to her daughter when they lived on 12th Street, then blew Rachel the most heartfelt kiss I've seen after performing it for us.

She explained the debilitating horrors of rheumatoid arthritis. Turner wasn't diagnosed with it for a long time, and after she was, she was told she might have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She proved the doctors wrong, but seated so close, we could see her eyes filling with tears as she thought about those days while interspersing "Send in the Clowns" with the gory details. I could practically see her visualizing life on the road for months on end during "Sweet Virginia Ham."

Many of these tales were revealed in her fabulous read of autobiography, Send Yourself Roses, but they obviously take on a special luster when you hear Turner recounting them a couple of feet away from you. Like how a brash 20-year-old declared she would star as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and then making that come to fruition on Broadway by charming the dickens out of playwright Edward Albee.

Kathleen seemed to cruise with great ease through the night, with the help of musical director Mark Janas on piano, Sean Harkness on guitar -- within striking distance of Jenna -- and Ritt Henn on bass. She and Janas concentrated on finding pieces in her range and that she really loves to perform. When she first started in the business, she was totally pointedly she couldn't sing. Just the first time Turner defeated the odds and certainly not the last.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It takes two to make it outta sight

Thank you, sir, may I have another? Even though I had already met Nicholas Lea and Richard Dreyfuss somewhat recently, how could I resist when they came to my home turf for Chiller?

At X-Fest, Nick's line never seemed to get smaller, so I certainly enjoyed more time and space with him this time around. Sestra and I ran into a longtime friend of mine, Jane, so we all took pictures for and with each other at his table. I had to apologize to Nick for being so sweaty, because my temperature literally went up in his presence. But I didn't have to worry, he was sweltering as well. "I'm sorry I am, I ran down from my room," he chuckled.

We talked a bit about X-Fest and he said, "Everyone was so nice to me." I replied, "That's because you were so nice to everyone!" I asked whether he kept any memorabilia from his time on the show, and he said he had everything, from his prosthetic arm to the crew gifts they received at the end of each season.

Nick was hoping he would get called to be a part of Season 11 -- as was I -- but he never did hear from Chris Carter and company. He knew the internet had been resplendent with rumors about Krycek being alien, I always thought it would have worked better if he was a super soldier that Skinner couldn't have killed with a mere bullet.

This was my fourth time getting to meet him, because I have to count the original X-Files Expo way back in 1998. And the previous couple of times, I asked for a picture of him with "Jesus hair" from the Season 6 episode "S.R. 819." Of course, I wouldn't have asked more than once had he not said he had one when I saw him at Dragon Con. But then, lo and behold, I looked through my own binder of X-Files memorabilia and found one that I brought to have signed on this occasion. 

I retold him my story again of "S.R. 819" being the only original series run episode I clearly remember seeing live, because my friend and I were calling each other during the commercial breaks, yelling "It's Krycek! It's Krycek!" in the episode that found Skinner literally on the ropes. Nick called it the one in which he gets to torture Mitch.

I made sure to tell him that I make a point to see him in anything he's in that I can get a hold of. And I do mean anything. The Impossible Elephant, Vertical Limit, The Raffle, The Philadelphia Experiment, Category 7: The End of the World and Men in Trees. He couldn't believe Sestra and I had seen the latter, since it was never officially released. We didn't want to say I got a copy of the show on iOffer.

We talked for a bit about how cool it was for him to be Eliot Ness on Supernatural and he mentioned he had recently done a couple episodes of The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, a particularly intriguing prospect for me since I'm a fan of the original BBC Bletchley Circle series. He got to work with girlfriend Suleka Mathew, who also played his girlfriend in Men in Trees.

I didn't quite to spend as much quality time with Dreyfuss as I did at Spooky Empire, but what I got was choice (pronounced old-school cherce). It was about an hour wait before I got up to him, and he was signing an extreeeeme closeup from Jaws for the person in front of me. I said something about him covering up his face with the autograph. He chuckled, then said, "I have more than enough face."

Even though I was wearing my Amity Island hockey jersey, he seemed much more impressed by the vintage Jaws necklace I was wearing. (The rest of Chiller was much more interested in the jersey, I had many people ask me where I got it --, people!) Then I added, "But this is my favorite movie of all time," when I gave him my Close Encounters Special Edition lobby card to sign. 

When I sat down for my picture, he took my hand. It was literally very cool. It actually surprised me, because he had met and greeted so many people. I wondered aloud whether he had adopted a hands-off policy, but he quickly quipped, "I'm touching everyone I can."

One of the people both Sestras were excited to meet was Karen Allen. We really didn't expect her to be so sweet and lovely as Claire in Scrooged. I think I was expecting a little Marion spice from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sestra perfectly thanked her for entertaining us for so many years. I mentioned the glittering array of male co-stars she's had -- Bill Murray and Harrison Ford ... she quickly added Jeff Bridges ... and Sestra added Peter Riegert, who just happened to be sitting at an adjacent table.

We had to agree with that supposition as we'd both met Riegert and he was so self-effacing and charming. "Peter, they think you're nicer than Harrison," Allen yelled over to him before turning her attention back to us. "It's a nice career," she said. 

We also were happy to meet Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters. I wanted to convey that we also love Ghostbusters II, but I think I gave him the impression that we like that even more than the original. Certainly not the case, but we can spew some lines from that one with ease too. Well, usually we do anyway, because both of us came up with almost nothing on the spot except Murray's Statue of Liberty spiel -- "How many of you out there are a national monument? Raise your hand, please. Oh hello, miss." Hudson did deem the sequel more family-friendly.

I think we fared a little better with my premise that Winston Zeddemore always seemed to be offering up the audience's point of view, questioning things the way we would want to. "He's the everyman," he agreed. "That's how I always saw it and that's how I played it." 

Of course, the minute we left him behind, the quotes started to drop from our lips: "You're scaring the straights. ... I have all-new cheap moves. ... Everything you are doing is bad. ... There's always room for Jell-O. ... It's always the quiet ones. ... Carpathian kitten loss." We should have gone back to him with our list.

But Sestra and Hudson had a spirited discussion about Leviathan, and how his character made it to the surface at the end, only to die with a rescue chopper mere feet away from him. "Peter Weller wanted to be the sole survivor," Ernie bemoaned.

Going to and fro all the different rooms, we were able to do some celebrity spotting in the hallways. On Day 1, I saw Eddie Deezen at the elevator and Corbin Bernsen in the hallway. On Day 2, I saw Riegert by the elevator, even patted him on the back. When did I get so ballsy? Later I saw Edd Byrnes in the narrow corridor that led to the Grease reunion.

In meeting Ed Begley Jr., we were able to talk about a recent loss that hit us all hard, that of Harry Anderson. I had seen the silly but fun Spies, Lies & Naked Thighs not long after his passing. Begley told us the original name was Just UN Me. Gak. He recalled having a great time filming the TV movie and that they stayed friends for a long time, but lamented the fact they didn't spend any time together the past couple of years.

I lightened the conversation a little by mentioning that I kept expecting his eyebrow to fall off, a reference to his recurring Arrested Development character, who suffered from Alopecia.

Those in line for Tim Matheson seemed to be most interested in the Animal House reunion -- and one guy ahead of us with a cart full of memorabilia for him to sign kinda teed off everyone in line -- but I wanted to talk with him more about his experience on Night Gallery. He acted in a typically bizarre episode called "Logoda's Heads." But what he remembered most about that was getting to meet the unparalleled Rod Serling through episode co-star Patrick Macnee.

Sestra got into a great conversation with him about how much fun it was to play a movie villain by talking with him about Drop Dead Fred. I believe he called his character "a dick" ... twice. I really remember Tim best from a host of television movies from the '80s and early '90s, I particularly loved when he got to turn on his good-guy persona and be the baddie.

Deezen was also part of a reunion group at the event, the gang who got back together from Grease. As usual, all the Sestras wanted to talk with him about was Midnight Madness. That wasn't a rarity from attendees. Luckily, he likes it a lot more than he likes Grease 2. "It's so funny. It's a B-movie, but it's a great B-movie," he said.

It was great to meet him again. There are actors who "get it" when it comes to cons, and then there's Eddie, who has a hug and a kiss for everyone who is a Facebook friend of his. He reached clear across his table of photos to give me mine. 

Another of the celebs who I got to meet for the second time was Brian Thompson. He seemed pretty chilled out, possibly pharmaceutically chilled out, but it enabled him to be really affable with those on his line. He sort of drew people from the line into his other conversations and was particularly patient with one fan who wanted to detail all the attributes of his brand-new phone for an actor often charged with playing the heavy in his film and television work. Thompson also realllly wanted to show Sestra his tan.

I said something about how he didn't have to prepare much dialogue on The X-Files, but he reminded me of episodes like "End Game," in which he told Mulder that his sister was still alive. Maybe it just seemed like he didn't have much to say, mostly I just recall him menacing everyone in sight.

Sestra had some great stuff to share with him about how Luke, one of his two characters on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, sounded on the Spanish channel. That plays pretty well with someone who seemed a little baked.

We were planning to meet Steven Weber on the second day, but not quite as soon as we wound up doing it. With the early-bird access, we could do some shopping before the event officially started for the day and the celebrities showed up. So we're looking through some stacks of photos and ... there's Steven asking a price on a magazine at the same time. We shopped with Steven Weber.

Now I had run into Weber once before, in front of where I work at the Chelsea Market in New York City. And I got a bigger eye roll than ever was seen on Wings -- where eye rolls were at a premium -- when I mentioned wanting Cursed (later renamed The Weber Show) to come out on DVD. Let's just say I've since come across it the same way we saw Men in Trees and leave it at that.

But he was very engaging when we got on his line a little later. I didn't detect the least bit of an eye roll. I wasn't ... cursed this go-around. Maybe the second time really is the charm.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Celebrating my silver 'X-Files' anniversary

When you drive almost 1,000 miles to go to an X-Files convention, you have certain expectations -- or at least hopes -- for what it's going to be like to meet various actors. What you don't think about is the interaction with your fellow fans. That proved to be just as much fun in the end at the first X-Fest (subtitle "Celebrating 25 Years of The X-Files") in La Salle, Illinois, making fast friends in two days with people who not only share your passion for the show, but your sensibility as well.

The Friday night mixer lived up to its name. After some of the fans acted out scripts Mad Libs-style (the highlight of which was new favorite hashtag #moistmulder), the trivia contest was a lively -- if perhaps not entirely fair -- event run by the friendly folks who put together the Deep State video game haunting us on Facebook and mobile phones. My group of new friends named itself "Abduct This," although the contest powers-that-be kept calling us "Abductees" or "Abductors." Definitely a different vibe to those names.

The idea was to yell out your team name when you know the trivia answer. It doesn't take an FBI agent to realize the squad closest to the announcers might have an advantage. But despite that -- and the fact that even though one of their own personnel pointed me out as first on the Tarantino "Never Again" question -- we finished tied for second. We won the sudden-death round thanks to our superstar Winston for blurting out "Arthur Dales" after we both had "Darren McGavin." I blame the 22-hour ride to Illinois, obviously I know Arthur Dales.

I'll also give Winston all the credit in the world for adjusting my plan of "attack" in adding 13 autographs to my volume of The Complete X-Files in the so-called "yearbook project." I've been amassing a couple of them at a time at pop-culture conventions for several years. But this was one-stop shopping! Annabeth Gish was the person I wanted to meet most, she was one of the four celebrity tentpoles in the room, also one of the ones whose line got the longest the fastest. Even with the platinum pass, it would have taken some time I didn't think I had off the clock to go to her first. This ended up being an incredible decision.

So I went to Steven Williams first. He played the recurring role of Mr. X and I hadn't met him at The X-Files Expo way back in 1998. To tell the truth, I was a bit concerned about it, because my friend didn't have the best experience with him at the same event. Well, times have changed. He was an utter delight -- playing to the crowd and shouting out vibrant exclamations to just about everyone he met.

I asked him my go-to question -- about The X-Files' most tenured director and truly my favorite -- the late, great Kim Manners. "He was my first director on 21 Jump Street, he was my last episode of The X-Files and he was responsible for getting me on Supernatural. Kim was great, God rest his soul."

I can't really remember my very first episode of The X-Files, but if Season 1's "Eve" wasn't the first one, it certainly was one of my first favorites. So my next stop was for Erika Krievins-Patterson and Sabrina Krievins-Phillips, who played the conniving twin murderers. My big joke was that they didn't look like Harriet Sansom Harris, who played the adult version of the Eves. "She was a great lady," Erika told me. "David and Gillian too." "Everyone was so nice and protective," Sabrina added.

The twins were 9 years old at the time of the show, so they haven't been recognized much by X-Philes as the years have gone by. They both said in their 20s, fans started to point them out and the alternative band Eve 6 named for their characters brought some notoreity back, but since they're both married now, their surnames don't even garner the recognition.

Chris Carter wanted veteran actor Steve Railsback, who played Charles Manson and Ed Gein, to take the crucial role of Duane Barry during Season 2. Railsback's two episodes changed the face of the show and he was so intense in them that I didn't know what expect at X-Fest. I certainly didn't expect for him to call me "a great lady." The first of his two eps was named for his character and marked the first time Carter took the reins on the show. "He was really great," Railsback said, recalling that the crew made sweatshirts with "Virgin" on the back in honor of the executive producer's first directorial effort. Railsback still has his to this day.

And speaking of not knowing what to expect, that was true when it came to Nick Chinlund, who played fetishist Donnie Pfaster about as creepily as it was possible to do in Season 2's "Irresistible" and Season 7's "Orison." He still sounds the same, so when he jokingly asks you one of his most famous lines -- "Is your hair color-treated?" -- it really messes with your head in the best possible way. One fan came up with the great idea of having her picture taken as he held her hands in spookiest Pfaster fashion. I felt kind of bad because I heard some of the things that were said to him that weekend, things like "You're still really creepy."

In fact, I felt kind of bad for all the guest stars when they didn't have fans in their lines. The tentpoles -- Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, Nicholas Lea and Annabeth -- stayed pretty busy the whole time, but sometimes the other actors' lines were short or non-existent. I did my part, I met everyone except Jerry Hardin (who I'd previously gotten to converse with a few years ago at Dragon Con).

I also had met Tom Noonan before at Chiller, but that was before I started doing the yearbook project. Some of the fans found him to be standoffish, but I didn't. He was caustic, but had a great sense of humor.  So when the lanky 6-foot-5 actor walked by us on the waiting photo op line and said "Don't get up," I wasn't offended, I was amused. I asked him about the basketball shots taken in Season 4's "Paper Hearts." He wasn't surprised David Duchovny made two of three shots, since the star of the show was a former member of the Princeton basketball squad. "Not as good as me, though," Noonan quipped. "I made my first, but they didn't want me to. I don't know why, they wanted it to look like [my character John Lee Roche] couldn't play. I wanted to dunk."

Another one of the actors I was looking forward to meeting was Robert Wisden, who played Robert Patrick Modell in Season 3's "Pusher" and again in Season 8's "Kitsunegari." He's the one I wished I spent more time with, because I wound up talking more about another couple of his roles than his time on The X-Files. We were discussing his parts on the reboot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- one of which was with Martin Landau, who co-starred in the first X-Files film, Fight the Future. "He was a very nice man with a lot of great stories," Wisden said of one of my truly favorite actors who I have met since I started to go to conventions. In addition to the Hitchcock episode "The Final Twist," he also did "Career Move" with David Cassidy. "He was one of my idols when I was growing up. That show was really good for me," Wisden said, adding that the '80s fashions from those shows still make him shake his head.

Without a doubt, the most touching story I heard that day came from Michael Berryman. The veteran of such films as The Hills Have Eyes was in Season 3's "Revelations." He found it very cathartic to play Owen -- a character who seems like the villain at the beginning but ultimately is revealed to be only trying to protect a child. The last time Berryman ever had to screen test, the actor said he went to the audition and told the episode's director David Nutter nobody would be able to do the part like he would and he'd explain why that was when they were on the set. After the reading, Nutter told him he had the part but not to tell that to the other actors waiting to test for the role. So what was the reason he was perfect for the part? Berryman said he once lived in a building that also housed a mother and her two children. Social Services proved unable to protect them from harm at the hands of the father.

Doug Hutchison's story about being Victor Eugene Tooms twice in Season 1 was less dramatic but just as interesting. When he first played the stretching liver-eating mutant for the third episode of the series, it hadn't yet become a cult favorite. But by the time he was back for Episode 21 of the season, The X-Files had gained some traction. "I was thrilled," he said. "I had no idea the show had blown up, so I was thrilled when Chris Carter called and said they wanted to bring me back."

Megan Leitch, who played the recurring role of Mulder's sister Samantha, also didn't know the show had hit the mainstream the first time she returned to the fold. She laughed at never knowing whether or not she was the real Samantha -- according to Season 7's "Closure," she never actually was, but she sure played a lot of variations on that theme. I asked her about Kim Manners. She quickly said he was amazing director, but added she didn't really get the complete picture until she visited a friend on another set with Manners at the helm. "He was intense," Leitch said. "He was a little man with so much energy. You know when there is a gun shot in the scene, the gun doesn't really go off. He'd yell 'BANG!' really loud. When I visited my friend was when I really got to see his style, because you don't really know when you're in the middle of the scene and focused on it."

One of the event's biggest fan favorites was Karin Konoval, who had been known primarily as the mother in Season 4's incestuous "Home" and as the fortune teller in Season 3's "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" until she came back in Season 11 and blew everyone away by playing four parts in "Plus One." She gamely engaged with fans over Twitter and I praised her for that when we met, saying not all actors want to do that. "They should give their heads a little shake," Konoval said.

She told me about the box built specifically to her body for "Home." Konoval was covered with wires, there was blood shot into her eyes and she was kept under the bed up to four hours at a time. "They went away [for lunch] and it was just me and a sound guy. I had to keep from having a panic attack. So when they pulled me out [in the scene], that was me ... Karin ... shrieking for real."

With my guest yearbook needs almost covered, I went to the photo tent for professional photo ops. It wound up being some kind of psychedelic merry-go-round for over a couple hours with a small band of merry fans circling round and round as a different actor came by. But it wasn't overly taxing because they provided some energy boosts, be it Noonan's quip or Railsback pointing at me and saying, "I've seen her!" Hutchison blew me a kiss, and for a second, I double-taked about Tooms doing that to me. Another highlight was when I correctly told the Krievins sisters apart -- Erika on the left and Sabrina on the right.

The piece de resistance was provided by Nicholas Lea. The man who played my favorite character, Krycek, leaned his head on mine and the front of the line went "Awwwww." Then there was Williams, he wouldn't let go of me. The photographer was waiting for the next fan, and I said "It's not me, it's him." The photographer retorted with good humor, "I know."

So when did I get the person I was there to see most? Well, when no one was around actually. I looked over at her corner and there wasn't a line, I don't think my fellow fans noticed she had come back from a break. So I bounced on over and started gushing about how I loved her since I saw Mystic Pizza and Shag! at the movie theater, that my mother and sis are huge fans of Hiding Out -- with Mom still watching it on VHS -- and how thrilled I was when she joined the cast of The X-Files. Then I went on for a bit about how much I loved the character of Monica Reyes, and that no matter what happened in the revival, I would still believe in and be inspired by Monica.

Annabeth asked me where I came from for the convention, I told her New Jersey and specifically for her first one. She asked whether I wanted to do a selfie and I admitted that I had already done a pro-shot photo with her. I was so tickled when she said, 'Let's do one anyway,' and I love that shot even more than the official picture. When she signed the yearbook, Gish said it brought back so many memories, particularly of how Manners would say "Kick it in the ass, Gish" to pump her up.
I knew I'd be seeing Nick Lea in late April at Chiller, so I didn't want to take up too much of his time with a long line still waiting to meet him. I picked out a picture and asked him to write something befitting of the best-looking guy in The X-Files universe. After rolling his eyes about on that and declaring that to be too much pressure, he quipped, "When your competition's Bill Davis ... just kidding!" He eventually noted "This is too close to my face. Lots of love."

The one person I hadn't gotten yet was Brian Thompson, who recurred as the Alien Bounty Hunter. He spent much time talking with members of his line about going green. When he disappeared for a bit after a sneezing fit, he re-emerged with a local union wind energy sign he found on the premises and attached it to his banner. Since I called my autograph project the yearbook, he wanted to sign it with words that would be written in a traditional one. After he penned," "Don't change!' I said, "Have a nice summer!" and he added, "Oh, I should have done that."

Someone had given me an extra photo-op card, but I paid it forward since I had enough for myself. I did have an extra autograph card, though, so I got on Mitch Pileggi's line even though the man who plays Walter Skinner was one of the first people to sign the yearbook. I wanted to talk with him about his one great line in Darin Morgan's Season 11 episode "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat."

"I shamed Darin into putting him into an episode," Pileggi told me. "He said, 'You're in it, but it's only one line.' I said, 'OK.' He said, 'But it's big.'" Truer words were never spoken. I asked how many times he said, "Where the hell are they taking Reggie?" to get the reading that aired in the episode. "He said, 'Say the line the way I thought Skinner would and then I'll tell you the way I think it should be done.' So I did and he said, 'Do it really big' and I was like, 'Really?' But it worked."

Since I efficiently worked my way through the autographs and photos, I was able to take in the panel featuring Gish, Pileggi, Davis ... and my new friend Tasha after I saved Megan Leitch, who had been locked out of the side door of the venue.

Annabeth and Bill cracked up when Mitch was introduced as Mitch Pill-egg-ee. When Annabeth teased him, Mitch called her "Annabeth Geesh." She countered she's more often mistakenly called "Annabelle." The actors seemed to be as enthralled as the packed house, which hung on their every word. "Sculder and Mully aren't even here," Pileggi quipped.

They all found it easy to get back into character for Season 11, particularly when Davis' Cigarette-Smoking Man said to Skinner, "You mind if I smoke?" "I love that line and I love the way Bill delivered it," Mitch said. Davis, in turn, was asked why CSM once said the Bills can't ever win the Super Bowl. "Give me another 20 years, I might soften on that," he said. Davis played to the crowd a lot with great effect with lines like "The other side's not so bad."

During the alleged Season 11 Skinner episode "Kitten," Metamucil was found in Walter's apartment. "I've always described Skinner as being perpetually constipated," Mitch explained. "(Co-executive producer) Glen Morgan grabbed that and ran with it."

Gish didn't want to have any part of reenacting the whale song Monica sang to try and make Scully comfortable for William's birth -- or revisiting the shag, for that matter -- but she told the assembled that William's birth was done with a lot of cottage cheese and strawberry jelly.

As usually happens at panels, the actors were asked to name their favorite episodes. Annabeth's are two of my own from Season 9 -- "4D" and "Audrey Pauley." Davis named the Season 3 finale "Talitha Cumi," while Pileggi listed "Home," "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and Season 2's "Humbug." When later asked about his favorite comedy episode, Bill brought the house down by saying he did sooooo many funny light-hearted ones.

I might have gotten to ask a question at an X-Files panel for the first time. Of course, it was about Kim Manners. Annabeth said the Gish household still says "Kick it in the ass!" whenever they have to do something amazing. Davis explained how the actor-turned-director was actor-friendly. When Davis would be running lines with a scene partner, Manners would appear and be studying them. Then after a scene, even if Bill thought he nailed it, Kim would say, "I think you have another one in you." Pileggi couldn't pick just one. "I loved him to death and miss him," he said.

The final events were screenings of "Squeeze" and "Home" hosted by Hutchison and Konoval respectively. Hutchison admitted he was cheesed off by the contortionist body double stretching down a victim's chimney. "You see his butt and it's huge. I have a nice butt," he said, and when that particular scene came on the screen, the audience roared with new understanding.

"I look like I'm 12 years old," Hutchison afterward. The veteran of 24 and Lost admitted he nearly turned down the role that eventually brought him to the event. He explained a trick of the trade -- during the interrogation scene he stared at a stain on the wall, determined not to look away -- and some non-prophetic words from David Duchovny, who told him, "This show's going nowhere, it'll be around one season, maybe two."

Konoval admitted she hadn't watched "Home" since it aired, and at the time, she covered her face during the "yucky bits." She was determined to watch and enjoy it with the X-Philes. The audience constantly peeked over at her while it was on to see if she lived up to her word, and she did.

Afterward, she told us about the painstaking process of finding Mrs. Peacock through her voice and being shoved into the box she called a coffin by four people. "I could not remove myself. I could move the shoulders, the rest was done with puppetry." She went through four callbacks to get the part of the mother and penned a hilarious letter to Glen Morgan after discovering a repeat pattern in her work for him -- "The next project we do together, can I please not fuck my children?"

That led to an actors' dream role -- four parts in Morgan's Season 11 episode. "As tough as 'Home' was to do, 'Plus One' was just a joy from beginning to end," she said. "It's so freeing for a woman to play a man whose an asshole. I could play them forever." Do I hear a spinoff? I'd settle for a reality show that follows Konoval to conventions and watches her interact with fans.

Next year's X-Fest already has been announced for April 13, 2019. I've got my sights set on it already, there are so many great guest stars who can join the fold -- not to mention The Lone Gunmen, whom I've never met -- and the stars of our show, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. We'll see what This Con Life has in store of us next year. Just remember, go Platinum and Abduct This!

Monday, March 5, 2018

You can Bank on TTB

We've considered Tedeschi Trucks Band the best act to see live for quite some time now. It's not just because of the changing setlist or the supreme musicianship from each and every piece of the ensemble. Possibly it's for those aspects together, but even more likely, it's because each and every show comes off as truly special. They're on the top of their game every night and so every single concert is a thing of wonder.

This occasion marked the second of two nights at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J. Specifically it was Valentine's Day, but the band doesn't really cater to Hallmark holidays. As usual, I avoided looking online at the setlist the previous night for spoilers' sake. Although, again, it's pretty difficult to spoil a TTB show.

The opener was Amy Helm, daughter of one of our musical heroes -- the late, great Levon Helm of The Band. She and her band, including London Souls guitarist Tash Neal, got in the groove right away, impressive enough. A couple of songs later she informed us it was only the second time they had played together. One rehearsal and then our show. We were knocked out before she introduced herself as Amy Helm from Woodstock, N.Y.

"Atlantic City" seems to have become the cover of choice for artists passing through Jersey, but at least it was well done. The set capper was Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can," performed with great verve and garnering a wealth of applause not often reserved for opening acts. And now we're ready to see Amy during her own tour.

TTB setlist: Don't Let Me Slide, Laugh about It, Just as Strange, All the World, Right on Time; Don't Know What It Means; Shame; Leaving Trunk; The Sky Is Crying, Alabama, I Wish I Knew, All My Friends, I Want More. Encore: Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (with Amy Helm), Bound for Glory.
    Derek Trucks' licks were particularly tasty on this occasion. And that was never more apparent than when Tash Neal came back out for "Leaving Trunk," the treasured Billy Taylor cover that was performed with regularity during The Derek Trucks Band days. Neal came out and scorched his way through a crowd-pleasing solo, but Derek blew right by him in a way with the slowest of builds. We had to strain to listen to soft runs that grew into phrases that sliced and diced more than any ginsu knife.

    And speaking of that, there's Susan. I've mentioned before how incredible it is that she's so proficient and both the vocal and guitar front. On the Les Paul, she damn near drew tears on "The Sky Is Crying" -- as Mark pointed out, using some of Ronnie Earl's trademark picking in the process.

    It's always great to hear vintage Derek Trucks Band material reconfigured for TTB. I enjoy it greatly when Mike Mattison steps forward to share lead chores on "I Wish I Knew" with Susan since he fronted Derek's band at the microphone. I haven't been to many shows in which Susan's solo material made the setlist, but some of her songs have been making the cut recently as well. I don't have any complaints about our show, though, we got a solid mix of standards with newer tunes such as "Shame" and "Alabama."

    Derek was as unflappable and contemplative as ever. At one point, Mark spotted him having trouble tuning his E string. Instead of getting increasingly frustrated by it, he was just laughing about it with bassist Tim Lefebvre. We can all take a lesson from that.

    "All My Friends" was a tender tribute to Cowboy's Scott Boyer, who passed away the previous day. Boyer's song also called to mind all the losses Tedeschi Trucks Band and the musical universe has suffered in the past couple years -- Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Col. Bruce Hampton, to name but three more. "All My Friends" fit really nicely into the set between "I Wish I Knew" and "I Want More," although the original setlist had it following "Shame." That was a nice audible by Derek.

    And just as touchingly, Amy was brought back for the first number of the encore, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" Trust this band not to make an obvious Band choice, like say "The Weight," when they can choose a tune that originated as a hymn but came to mean so much spiritually to Levon Helm's band. Singing with, well, the term "backup" seems too derogatory for what Alecia Chakour, Mark Rivers and Mattison bring to the company, so I'll go with the TTB bio's "harmony singers" -- Amy was tucked away on the far right and her joy was palpable. As was ours, Amy. As was ours.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2017

    Happy 40th, Close Encounters, and thank you

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind is my favorite movie of all-time.

    That's not a distinction I make lightly. I love all kinds of films -- Oscar winners and independent movies that don't get nominations, big-budget movies and those made on a shoestring budget, black and white or color. I have a laundry list of favorite actors and directors and make it a point to see all their films. But this one ... this is the one that has always stayed closest to my heart.

    I don't remember the first time I saw it, I just recall repeated viewings on HBO and ABC. I've seen it in theaters a couple times over the past year and then again in otherwise complete darkness in front of Devils Tower a couple months ago. And even though I can recite all the lines with it, I never fail to be amazed and knocked out by it.

    Like Francois Truffaut's Claude Lacombe asks in the movie, "Why?" Well, as a 10-year-old, it was bright and flashy and had a beautiful message. There is other life in the universe, and although the visitors might be a little frightening when they appear, ultimately they come in peace. They even communicate with us through music.

    Some 40 years later, debates continue to rage on about Richard Dreyfuss' Roy Neary leaving his family behind to go on his ultimate adventure. How could he do it? Why would he do it? Even director Steven Spielberg has admitted the movie doesn't hold true to the person he became in the ensuing years. But even though he wrote it and helmed it, this is not Steven's story. It's Roy's. Ultimately, Spielberg is just servicing the tale of the character he created.

    It says a lot about the time period Neary existed in. Families were starting to fall apart, children were confused by that. They didn't understand why one day everything could look so great and Dad could be the center of the universe, and the next day, all that could change. It happened to me and my family a few years later. It was happening to many others in that era.

    Roy Neary is going on a journey. It's one that almost nobody around him understands. He meets Melinda Dillon's Jillian Guiler, she's on her own odyssey. Her son, Barry (Cary Guffey) forges a connection with these creatures. To him, they're playful and exciting. To her, they're something to be feared. But once they "borrow" her son, Jillian's as determined as Roy to buck the system to get to the place where she thinks she can find answers.

    Dreyfuss, Dillon and Truffaut are supported by an array of supporting characters and they may not have garnered as much screen time but they're so essential to the film. Bob Balaban as cartographer-turned-interpreter Laughlin can be considered the audience's view. Arriving in the wind-swept desert and seeing the results of an encounter in the opening minutes, Laughlin is wide-eyed and a bit befuddled. He's been at conferences, but he didn't really comprehend the magnitude until he saw Flight 19 planes in perfect condition in the middle of the desert.

    Lance Henriksen says almost nothing in the film, but as Robert, the bodyguard for Truffaut, I find myself seeking him out in the frame. When a cavalcade of UFOs of all shapes and sizes descend upon Devils Tower and the mothership later rises into view, I always think on his behalf, "How the hell am I supposed to protect him from this?"

    There aren't any typical bad guys in the film, aside from perhaps the Army (led by Warren Kemmerlings' Major Walsh) trying to keep people from seeing what's going on at Devils Tower. OK, they're baddies, they gassed poor Larry, a bunch of birds and some farm animals. But they're only going to sleep for a few hours and wake up with a helluva headache.

    You also can't hold anything against Teri Garr's Ronnie Neary. The protypical '70s housewife doesn't understand what's going on with her spouse. She's just trying to protect her children when her husband loses his job and obsesses about lights in the night skies.

    Even though I've seen this film in the triple digits. I still discover new things about it all the time. Just recently, I noticed that possibly the oldest character in the film -- the Spanish-speaking sun-burned onlooker in the desert -- and one of the youngest, Barry, describe the mothership the same way: "The sun came out tonight," the elder says in halting Spanish. "Mom, look, the sun's here," Barry echoes when the aliens pick him up for a sleepover.

    But the biggest eye-opener for me came on our own recent foray to Devils Tower. Mark and I set out to recreate as many shots as we could. What we found out is that director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond's work was even more impressive than we originally thought. Just the one shot of Roy driving a rental car in Moorcroft, Wyoming, proved to be a tricky matchup. No wonder he won the Oscar for cinematography. Every shot is so precise and distinctive, nothing is thrown away.

    One of the surprises on location was that Roy and Jillian's first sight of the Tower is not as far away as it appears to be in the movie. Actually, the hill they climb up is just right around the corner. And not too far away from that, a couple of other scenes from the film were shot. That makes a lot of sense, since at "magic hour" every night during filming, the cast and crew stopped what they were doing so they could get scenes filmed at the monument.

    And 40 years later, you know what else is amazing? How the groundbreaking, painstaking practical effects of UFOs whizzing by hold up better than anything on a big-budget, green-screen film. It doesn't look fake or false at all. So many people to commend on this front -- Douglas Trumbull advancing the industry with motion control photography, mothership designer Ralph McQuarrie, effects wizard Roy Arbogast, editor Michael Kahn (on his first Speilberg project) and all their teams.

    Don't want to forget production designer Joe Alves, who found Devils Tower (with Jaws co-writer/actor Carl Gottlieb's assistance) and the other locations as well as building the box canyon on the largest set anyone had ever seen at this point in motion picture industry. Credit Alves for the gorgeous brightly colored board visualizing the sounds shared between the humans and the aliens. But, of course, save some accolades for the legendary John Williams. Not only for the five-tone greeting that we know so well, but also for the score that heightens the action and consequences for over two hours.

    Most of all, to Steven Spielberg. He might not have made the same film today, but he made it the way it needed to be told at the time. It's Roy's story, and in some way, it's also my own. Not one of building Devils Tower in my living room and boarding a spaceship, not one of meeting aliens, but just taking a journey that has woven its way through the fabric of my life. One I'm immensely grateful for and still get so much joy out of encountering time and time again.

    Friday, November 10, 2017

    No need to cry on the horsey

    Going to pop-culture conventions with my Sestra is a blast. We get to speak with people whose work has really touched us. The risk you run, though, is that over the course of just a minute or two, impressions can be irrevocably changed ... and sometimes not for the better.

    Celebs at these functions usually fit into three categories -- ones who really get it, they might have been/still are fan girls and boys themselves. They make you feel like you're the only person they will meet that day. Then there are the ones who are very cordial -- as actors there's probably a reason they succeeded on that career path, right? And then there are those apparently there to rack up some fast cash. They couldn't care less and make you feel that way as well.

    With that in mind, we headed to Spooky Empire in Orlando. The big draw for me was Richard Dreyfuss. I love compiling lists -- and Dreyfuss starred in my first three favorite movies -- Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl. That made me a major fan, I've seen those movies in the triple-digits apiece and the bulk of his work since -- much of it in actual theaters upon release.

    But Richard wasn't scheduled to be there until the second day, and we had some great familiar faces to meet the first night. Starting with Daphne Zuniga. We've seen her so many things in movies and on TV over the years with The Sure Thing and Spaceballs at the top of the heap.

    Put her in the top celeb category, she was so engaging and attentive. Sestra showed her a Spaceballs magazine she hadn't seen before, and I explained to her that as a journalism major in college, an article on The Sure Thing was one of the first things I had published in the school paper. I tried to induce her to tell me the juicier details of The Sure Thing shoot. But after hypothesizing that I was still in journalism and might reveal tales not for publication, that fell by the wayside.

    Daphne did say that the movie was cast perfectly, when she was 19 and co-star John Cusack was 16, and that they both were those characters. "I was like, come on, kid," she said about him joking around on the set. Zuniga remembered director Rob Reiner compelling them to enjoy the experience, because they had no idea how the finished product would fare in the marketplace. "And to this day, after 30 years, I still love it," she added. We do too.

    She also talked about being pulled into a fun Twitter exchange with Mark Hamill and William Shatner, who have engaged in a light-hearted social media battle of Star Wars vs. Star Trek. "What would Princess Vespa say?" Bill tweeted at her. Daphne's perfect response? "She'd say whatever Mel Brooks told her to say."

    We also spent time with two-fifths of The Breakfast Club. I praised Molly Ringwald for her excellent piece in The New Yorker in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein accusations and said I was really looking forward to the movie's upcoming Criterion Collection release on Jan. 2. Molly said she was too, adding that I should look into Criteron's streaming service, which enables viewers to see all the incredible extras on Criterion releases.

    Sestra brought an excellent press booklet for The Breakfast Club she picked up in London to be autographed and Ringwald was so intrigued by it that she painstakingly took pictures of each page of her bio. Anthony Michael Hall -- who introduced himself to us as Michael -- wasn't quite as interested in his, but he was very polite and sweet.

    The next day I dressed up as UFO-burned Jillian Guiler from Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- I think I might have been more recognizable if a buddy from the CE3K group who has a Roy Neary flight suit was able to make the event -- and prepared to meet Dreyfuss. I had a spiel prepared for weeks, about how "the fish movie and the alien movie and the Oscar movie made him one of my favorite actors for life." And then that bit about seeing all his movies, many of them in the theaters. It's easy to forget your lines when you get in front of the person, though.

    Thanks to Sis, we had the fast pass, which put us behind the VIPs but ahead of general admission fans. That made it roughly a 90-minute wait -- he left for about 20 minutes for a pro photo op -- but I got a little jump-start when Richard animatedly waved at me while heading out for the shoot. I must have exclaimed, "He waved at me!" 10 times.

    Usually I'm a quivering mess when it comes to meeting someone who looms so large, but I was able to keep calm enough to take pictures for Sestra, who creatively wished him a happy birthday with a special meme. I got my spiel out largely as practiced for a couple weeks before the event. But I wasn't prepped for his jovial response. Without missing a beat, he said, "You have impeccable taste."

    Then I asked Dreyfuss if he knew who I was dressed up as. "I know who I think you are," Richard said. "Who am I?" I responded. "I'd be arrested if I told you what I was thinking," he continued. That might have had something to do with the cleavage and the luscious blonde locks. No wonder I got the animated wave! He penned that sentiment on the Jaws lobby card I brought for him to sign -- I'm pretty sure not many people can say they have something like that in their collection.

    When I got to the Close Encounters lobby card, I said it was my favorite film of all and congratulated him on the 40th anniversary. "This is the one I expect to outlive me," Dreyfuss said. With all the films he has to choose from, I was taken aback and sincerely touched by that. We have a whole group of people on Facebook who will eagerly back me up on that sentiment.

    I told him Mark and I had just gotten back from Devils Tower, where we spent some time recreating scenes shot by Oscar-winning director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond. Richard said Vilmos was very, very special and had enjoyed his visit to Steven Spielberg so much on the set of Jaws that he stayed in Martha's Vineyard (as his summer home) for the rest of his life. Dreyfuss also let me on a little secret, he had gotten to spend time with another CE3K alumnus earlier in the day -- Cary Guffey who played Barry Guiler in the film at the tender age of 4.

    And then on to the third lobby card for The Goodbye Girl, the movie for which Richard won the Academy Award as Best Actor. I told him about how special it was since I watched it many, many times with my mom. "There's something about this one, I've never had more fun," he said. "I've had a lot of fun filming different movies for different reasons, but not like this one. I don't know why..." That was left hanging in the air, so that anyone with half a brain -- like me at that moment -- would know he meant the Oscar, the first one given to a male lead in a comedy. "You sure love a love story," I said off the cuff, echoing Elliot Garfield's sentiment at the end of the film. I wound up having five minutes in his company, a pretty solid amount of time for a man with a healthy line of eager fans.

    It was a lot of fun posing for some pictures at the table and then again at the end of the day. Now I was back to my normal hair color (sorta), had washed off my sunburn and donned a Moon Over Parador shirt -- another of my favorite Dreyfuss movies. When it was my turn to take the posed picture by "Jaws," I told him my name again and he said, "I remember." See, he's a really good actor, because I ate that one up, even though I looked entirely different at this point.

    Richard rested his head against me and then pulled away, and I immediately said, "No, no, come back!" So he obliged and leaned on me again as the photographer took the shot. But sensing he wasn't looking into the camera -- which proved to be true -- Dreyfuss asked her to take another picture. I got both of them for the price of one.

    I added another signature to my ongoing X-Files project at Spooky Empire too. Stan Shaw -- who outside of his guest appearance in the Season 9 episode "Audrey Pauley" I probably know best from Fried Green Tomatoes -- didn't have a picture in The Complete X-Files book, but I wanted to talk with him about the late, great director Kim Manners and one of my favorite shows of the final season of the original run.

    In "Audrey Pauley," Shaw's character, Stephen Murdoch, gets trapped with Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) while hanging on between life and death at a hospital. Stan recalled getting a call about the role from Manners, whom he knew from around town. The next day he was on set. "Kim's great," Shaw said. "The scene when I was in (Monica's) arms and disappeared, they had three people pulling me out of the frame as the camera moved around. It was magic."

    So now I'll spare as much time for the guest who belongs in that lowest category as he did for me. It may be standard policy for celebs to do a table combo price, but not so John Cusack. It was full price for a photo and full price for a signature. This was after his sister, Joan, bowed out the day before the con opened, squashing our sibling pro photo op.

    Anyhow, since I had Zuniga sign my Sure Thing DVD cover, I felt compelled to complete the set with John. It was super quick and he wrote right over Nicollette Sheridan. Sestra wasn't allowed to take a picture of me getting the autograph. "Oh yeah, Daphne's here too," Cusack said to me from underneath his ballcap. That would be the signature next to yours, John, I thought. And that was about it. But if my opinion was irrevocably altered, I didn't even notice. I was somewhere up about as high as the CE3K spaceship climbs after picking up Dreyfuss at Devils Tower.

    Monday, November 6, 2017

    The Jedi strikes back

    It was a veritable Star Wars Celebration for us at New York Comic Con this year.

    We briefly met the Jedi, experienced Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens with a whole different mindset as a full orchestra fleshed out John Williams' scores and enjoyed Mark Hamill's self-deprecating one-man show. Too bad we missed out on The X-Files panel Sunday, but that really wouldn't have fit into the structure of said Celebration anyway. (And anyway the Con-goers who got in didn't see a preview of the first ep of the season like we did a couple years ago.)

    But back to the first day of the con. Getting off the train at Penn Station, we quickly spotted signs of NYCC in full swing, with all makes and models of princesses and superheroes making their way over to the Javitz Center. As we neared the venue, the cosplay increased in direct proportion with the decreased open-mouthed head-shrugging New Yorkers.

    For that opening day, Sestra and I donned our latest custom-made obscure outfits -- Team Slesar and Team Matheson shirts (with respective hashtags of #Hitchcock and #Zone). No one asked us about them, although one guy did want to take a picture with each of us. That was bizarre, but you come to embrace bizarre at conventions.

    This year, Sis and I tried to win special lotteries from exclusive panels to cast signings for the various shows. Sis was lucky enough to snare inclusion to the Supermansion session, which featured an All-Star cast topped by Bryan Cranston and Seth Green. My lone victory was the chance to go to the Lego store and purchase a Star Wars Con exclusive. But I wasn't willing to give up on the exclusive Lore signing. The Amazon series hadn't gone live yet, but with the pedigree of Gale Anne Hurd producing a show based on Aaron Mahnke's famed podcast and Robert Patrick starring in one of the episodes, I really wanted to be there.

    I renewed ties with my Krycek buddy, Kelli, from DragonCon, and we resolved to get into that signing come hell or high water. It helped a bit that the program was misleading, insinuating that we could get into the signing if we made our way to the book seller's booth. We did that and were promptly told to go back to the line. They wouldn't let us in, stating that we could try four free hotspots around the Javitz Center that might have tickets to the event as prizes. We tried all four and didn't win a thing, so back down to the line we went. At some point, they could tell we were really interested in the series -- plus the line wasn't all that long -- so we were queued up with the lucky ticket holders.

    It wasn't until about a half-hour later that we realized Patrick wasn't going to be there after all. This proved to be a recurring event for the exclusive NYCC events. (At Supermansion, OK, we weren't too surprised that Cranston wasn't in attendance. But Green -- who was at the con for the weekend -- probably should have been there for Sestra's exclusive signing and wasn't.) Don't register mine as a complaint, though, because it was cool to meet Mahnke and Hurd and tell them and the assembled cast how much I was looking forward to seeing the new show.

    Sestra and I spent the bulk of the first day in the vendor room, picking up an array of free, albeit heavy, books -- among other collectibles -- that we wound up toting more than 25 blocks to Lincoln Center to watch the New York Philharmonic brilliantly perform John Williams' iconic score for Return of the Jedi as the movie played behind them. That first show we had amazing seats in the first box, stage right. It gave us such an unusual perspective of the orchestra -- we could even tell which musicians watched the movie and which just sat in their seats to play again. It was a truly unique and dazzling way to watch a film. Plus -- as two of the first 500 attendees -- we both got light sabers as well!

    On Friday, we awaited one of the crown jewels of the weekend -- our photo op with Mark Hamill. We knew the drill -- you wait and wait and then get shuffled in for 10 seconds with the man. But it was kind of a delightful 10 seconds. He was doing an array of poses -- Sis was particularly glad we didn't get his trademark point in our sweet shot. Then he shook both our hands and told us to "Have a fun day!" It's gonna be hard to top that part of it, Jedi.

    One of the non-Star Wars-related things I wanted to do was meet Nolan North. He was the only non-General Hospital character on the GH spinoff Port Charles who I liked. Since then, he's made quite the career for himself -- largely in voice work in animation and movies (Guardians of the Galaxy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so much more), but also in Pretty Little Liars and the hilarious Con Man.

    When I got to the front of his line, I told him I was a fan from his very first iMDB acting credit -- at present, he has 362 to his name. Looking at it now, I see the video game Interstate '82 before Port Charles, maybe that's why he seemed a little surprised. He told me his son wasn't even born when he was on the soap, and they recently watched clips from the show on YouTube, howling about the frosted tips of Chris' hair. "I look soooo young," Nolan said. "You still look soooo young," I responded. Not surprisingly, he appreciated that.

    I mentioned that I had yet to see the two seasons of Con Man -- the crowd-funded show that sort of sends up the very event that we were meeting at -- spearheaded by Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion, which led to a discussion on how the streaming landscape has changed in the past couple years. And then we both waxed poetic on Fillion -- one of his favorite people in the world -- before I departed.

    Sestra pre-purchased a book to get the opportunity to meet cult favorite Bruce Campbell. Perhaps "meet" is too strong a word, basically books were being shoveled to him and he signed them and moved on before the fans got much of a chance to get a word in edgewise. I didn't have my X-Files yearbook with me, but since he had guested on the show, I wanted his autograph for that ongoing project. Den of Geek's Con magazine had a preview of The X-Files' 11th season on the cover, and although he wasn't in the article, we decided to have him sign that for me. As Sis recalled it, he looked at it strangely (perhaps bizarre since the official list of what he would sign included marriage licenses), then said, "Oh, I did an episode of X-Files."

    We went back to Lincoln Center for the New York Philharmonic's take on The Force Awakens. This time I spent more time watching the movie than the orchestra, probably a byproduct of the fact we were now sitting in the back of the venue and the fact that I don't know that film quite as well as Jedi. It wasn't any less appealing and I probably gained more appreciation for Episode 7 than I previously had. And we added two more light sabers to the tally. I did note that Mark Hamill's screen time was very close to the amount of time he spent with us in the photo op. As Sestra later quipped, he actually said more to us than he did in the film.

    Before our con weekend capped with "Hamillstein," Mark's one-man show at the Hammerstein Ballroom, I was looking forward to the panel for Sarah Shahi's new program, Reverie. We got to see the first episode and it seemed to have an intriguing premise -- her character, Mara Kint, is sent to retrieve people who prefer living in an advanced virtual reality program to the real world. Not sure how they're going to be able to sustain that for a season or beyond, but I'm definitely willing to give that one a chance.

    It was interesting when Shahi talked about people getting disconnected during the Q&A -- which also featured co-stars Dennis Haysbert, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Kathryn Morris and Jessica Lu."We need to look up from our phones," she said. "Technology is isolating by design." I looked around the room and just about everyone was looking down at their phones, taking pictures and posting on social media. Use it and enjoy it, but don't let it run your life, Sarah said in essence. But her message wasn't really hitting home at that moment.

    The cast exited as I was waiting to meet up with Sestra and they went over to take some pictures in front of a huge banner for the show. I wound up riding a neighboring escalator up and down about six times so I could get the perfect picture of them posed in front of it.

    Apparently we weren't the only ones unsure of what Mark Hamill's one-man show would be for our grand finale. After making a hilarious entrance that mirrored the scene at the end of The Force Awakens, he tossed off the hood of his robe and cackled. And then proceeded us to just tell us stories about his career for the next couple hours.

    Now one might suppose that attendees wanted to hear just about the Star Wars saga, but I'm here to tell you the response to mention of his work as The Joker and The Trickster garnered just as much applause from the assembled crowd. Although his show wasn't part of the Comic Con experience, most of the attendees did come from that direction.

    The Star Wars stories were pretty legendary, though. Like how he thought at the outset of casting that he was supposed to the annoying sidekick to Han Solo. But nothing topped his heartfelt tribute to friend and co-star Carrie Fisher, who he loved like a sister -- although she could also irritate him in the way only a sister could as well. "She made everything more fun for me," Mark said. "She was all about having the most fun she could have all the time." A final very special salute was in order and we all joined in.

    It was the perfect way to cap off our mini-Star Wars Celebration.