Author Archive for

01
Oct
17

MOJO’S TOUR DE BBQ: THE PROPER PIG

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Every once in a great while you have a meal that transcends existence; a plate of food that becomes a religious experience and suddenly life has meaning.

Today, at lunch in Ohio, I found god in some beef brisket.

Just outside Cleveland resides a modest, mid-sized vegetarian restaurant called “Cleveland Vegan.”  I’ve never eaten there and certainly never met the owner, yet I can imagine (with great accuracy, I presume) his thoughts and feelings when, a few doors down, opened a new, modest, mid-sized restaurant.

But this wasn’t just close-quarters competition for local dining dollars – this was practically a declaration of war on their very souls; a restaurant that would fly in the face of vegan values and not just serve meat, but only meat.

It was a BBQ restaurant called “The Proper Pig” and it lead me to wonder – if vegansim is considered to be a pure diet for the enlightened, where does that leave meat?  Is it devil food for the unholy?  If that’s the case then forgive me father, for I have sinned and visited the pit of hell!

And it’s a delicious BBQ pit.

My usual, go-to satanic meal is ribs and pulled pork, but I noticed the menu steered heavily towards smoked meats like brisket, sausage and even turkey.  I generally ignore beef BBQ, but then I watched the chef pull a new hunk of brisket out of the smoker and perform a miracle:  he reached in and removed the center bone with two fingers.  And I don’t mean his thumb and forefinger (which gives you plenty of grabbing power) no, it was between his index and middle finger and was removed more easily than panties from a prom queen.

So I got the brisket and figured I’d try the smoked turkey for something new.

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Can I say “holy smokes!” without being too ironic?  This wasn’t beef, it was candy.  Protein should not taste so decadent. The brisket was easily cut with a plastic fork and tasted like… there really is nothing in my realm of culinary experience to compare it to. It was simply unbelievable. It was like sweet, salty, spicy beef from a magic cow. A magic baby cow. The owner revealed it’s slow cooked for sixteen hours and has a special, secret dry rub.  My guess is it’s rubbed up against Scarlett Johansson.

Now let’s talk turkey.

I’ve never had smoked turkey before and it’s a pretty rare item in the BBQ underworld.  However, after the revelation of Proper Pig brisket, my faith was unshakable.  As soon as the fork made contact with the bird, the meat simply broke apart; it was so supple and moist the fork simply couldn’t grab hold!  With little choice,  I was forced to eat like a heathen and use my hands.  But was it good?

I may never make it to heaven, but now I know what Thanksgiving with God must taste like.  It was as if the turkey had grown up in New Orleans, playing smooth jazz and reciting poetry before volunteering itself for cooking because it knew it would taste so damn good.

Rounding out the perfect meal was their home made banana pudding with crushed vanilla wafers.  Sin in a cup, basically.  I took a pound of brisket back to the hotel to save for later, only to discover that evening that there was no microwave on site!  But it didn’t matter.  Slice by slice, I devoured my decadent treat, savoring each bite like it was the last piece of chocolate on earth.

I can’t recall the last time I went to church but, after a visit to the Proper Pig, I felt as if not just my stomach, but my soul had been nourished.  It is indeed holy ground.

If you’re within a tank of gas of Lakewood, Ohio, just go.

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19
Aug
17

MOJO’s BBQ TOUR: GREENBRIER BBQ (Alabama)

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I was down south recently to view the total solar eclipse (or not view it, depending on how semantic you want to get) .  Tennessee was along the path of totality, and a good friend of mine in Atlanta invited me to come down for the festivities (he was planning to drive to his friend’s place in Tennessee).

Of course, when you’re a BBQ nut, just thinking about the deep south makes your mouth water.  The Bible Belt is the birthplace of pulled pork and ribs and I’m pretty sure they refer to it as a “belt” since it has to regularly be loosened to accommodate all that delicious BBQ!

Basically, I let my stomach do the decision making when I have an offer to visit the south.  In this case, the eclipse provided an excellent excuse (although, if it means good BBQ, an invitation to view an empty parking lot would have been just as tempting).

We decided to take the long way during our drive from Atlanta to Tennessee, specifically so we could pass through Alabama and visit Unclaimed Baggage, the most unique and amazing second-hand store in the country (but that’s a story for another post).

Three hours and a car full of bargains later, it was time for lunch!  And when you’re hungry in Madison, Alabama, you visit Greengier BBQ.

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Not that there’s a lot of other choices.  The location borders on the surreal and for miles in every direction, there is nothing but dirt roads, farmland and abandoned gas stations. There’s so little competition that the restaurant itself doesn’t seem to care that you can’t even read their sign anymore – everyone “just knows” where it is (thankfully it’s named after the street it’s on.  Or is that the other way around?).

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Also, as if this place wasn’t hard enough to find, it’s been painted with a rolling, green landscape – essentially camouflage, given its surroundings:

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However, upon walking inside, I was reminded of the 14th Commandment: thou shall not judge a book by its cover.  When new BBQ restaurants aim for authenticity and the right atmosphere, they pretty much borrow the DNA from this place.  The staff doesn’t try to project Southern Hospitality because they embody it.  The family that runs the place is as sweet as the tea, from (literally) Grandma behind the register to the third grade bus boy.

The food came out on a plate larger than the place mat and consisted of carbs, meat, carbs, meat and carbs (I can’t remember the last time a baked potato was included as a standard side dish).  As we enjoyed another round of the free hush puppy refils, I could hear the faint sound of my left ventricle slamming shut.

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The food wasn’t the best I’ve had but, in this part of the country, I think quantity sometimes wins out over quality.  We all laughed when the waitress asked us if we wanted dessert but when she told us soft serve ice cream cones were just 25 cents, it was GAME ON.  I don’t care if you’re full and/or disgusted by your own weight – you just don’t walk away from a 25 cent ice cream cone.

Sweet home Alabama!

So, stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey, we waddled towards the parking lot and squeezed back into the car.  From here, it’s a two hour drive to Nashville and our friend’s house.

Where, I’ve just been told, there will be fresh BBQ waiting for us!

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28
Jul
16

AU REVOIR, old friend

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This week brought us the sad news that Babylon 5 co-star and noted political commentator Jerry Doyle passed away.

As most of you probably know, I worked on the series for four years yet only had a handful of encounters with Jerry (our visual effects studio was on the other side of town from where the show was shot). We spent more time hanging out at conventions than on set, but something I can say with certainty is that anyone who knew Jerry for even a few hours probably had the same impression – he was a smart, kind, charismatic guy, quick with a joke and always the life of the party.

Here are a few of the personal moments I remember about the erstwhile Mr. Doyle:

– He was thrilled to be the only human character to survive all five years of the series!
– After hours at conventions, he could always be found at a booth in the bar, nursing a stogie and holding court with as many women that could cram into the seats around him.
– We sat together once at a bar and discussed the fairer sex, clinking glasses every time we agreed.
– Jerry, myself and a small entourage ventured into downtown after the con (which city I don’t remember) to hit up a popular club. It was filled to capacity and the surly looking bouncer wasn’t letting anyone else in. Not one to be refused entrance to a good party, he got us all in by shaking hands with the gatekeeper in a suspicious manner and asking “how about making an exception for Mr. Franklin and his pals?”
– He once ran for local office in Los Angeles and listed one of his qualifications as being “the only candidate with his own action figure.”

If you’re laughing & smiling now, good – that’s the way he would have wanted it.  Jerry had a rare energy that uplifted everyone he met and the world will be a lesser place without him.

Whomever he’s with now, they sure are lucky.

 

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

Here’s a great interview with Jerry from 2002: https://www.ign.com/articles/2002/11/25/an-interview-with-jerry-doyle?page=1

 

12
Jul
16

movie review: batman vs superman vs captain america vs the avengers

Ok, so clearly the movie events of the decade were the bringing together of our favorite comic book heroes in two mega-hyped films. The majority of the critics panned Batman VS Superman and liked Captain America: Civil War.

The problem is, they got it backwards.

Let’s start off at the drawing board of both movies: Marvel needed to have some sort of battle between Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Antman, Spiderman, the black guy, the red guy and the guy with the bow and arrow.

DC had to focus on a conflict between two legendary characters, Batman and Superman.

Now, class, what’s the number one lesson they teach you in art school?

Less is more.

 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS ONE

WHAT WAS BAD ABOUT THIS ONE

The thing that made Captain America: Winter Soldier one of the best comic book movies of all time was that it was actually about Captain America. Captain America: Civil War is maybe 51% about Cap and 49% Avengers (its focus on Cap is loose at best – why they didn’t make this a straight up Avengers movie i’ll never know).

Another popular aphorism is too many chefs spoil the soup (or in this case, the super heroes). All those characters feel crammed into the movie just to lead up to a fight I never wanted to see in the first place. Maybe diehard Marvel fans thought this would be cool, but ultimately the story felt like it was trying too hard to get these guys on opposite sides of the fence. The focus on Captain America just wasn’t there – a big disappointment considering the first two films.

On the other hand, Batman VS Superman has been a mainstay of the DC universe since the dawn of comics, and something even the general public can easily identify with. Every human on Earth is pretty much born with the knowledge of who Batman and Superman are, and just the thought of these guys duking it out evokes memories of Ali VS Frazier, Holmes VS Moriarty, Kirk VS the Klingon, tastes great VS less filling.

But the Marvel version is like Donald Trump: Civil War featuring Donald Trump VS Ted Cruz VS Jeb Bush VS Ben Carson VS Chris Christie VS Jim Gilmore VS Lindsay Graham VS Mike Huckabee VS Bobby Jindal VS John Kasich VS George Pataki VS Rand Paul VS Rick Perry VS Marco Rubio VS Mark Santorum VS Scott Walker. Not exactly a classic confrontation we’re dying to see again.

You can argue that Batman VS Superman also brought along another character with Wonder Woman, but she was woven into the plot in an intelligent and mysterious way and wasn’t forced to fight the good guys (and at least the gratuitous scene where other DC characters have a forced cameo is mercifully short).

Furthermore, much of Supes VS Bats is based on what many consider to still be the best comic book of all time, Frank Miller’s genre-changing epic The Dark Knight Returns. Here’s a page so you can see how close the film came to it:

And here’s what it seems like Civil War is based on:

In addition, it can’t be ignored that both films have largely the same plot: the government and much of the general public are wondering if these “heroes,” who operate outside the law, are more of a menace than a benefit (featured is the collateral damage we’ve seen in their previous films).

In the various Avengers movies, yes, we’ve seen cities get pretty wrecked, but it was mostly by the bad guys.  However, in Man of Steel, half of Metropolis seems to have been devastated, much of it caused by Superman haphazardly flying through buildings and indiscriminately zapping things with his heat vision (in Superman II, at least Superman spent just as much time saving civilians as he did fighting Zod and his cronies). Why didn’t Superman just take the fight to the middle of nowhere?  Fans universally criticized this aspect of the movie.

And, much to our delight, this is exactly what is addressed at the start of the film!  We see a replay of the end of the battle in Man of Steel from a whole new perspective – by the people who suffered and died as a result of it.  The focus is on what Bruce Wayne witnesses, and his failure to get everyone out of the Wayne offices. This turns the most negative aspect of Man of Steel into a positive one and forms a largely single-minded perspective for the entire film: Superman may ultimately be too dangerous for this world and Batman is the only one who can stop him.

If I had to consolidate the plot of Civil War into a paragraph, I’d say the government wants to control the Avengers, which causes a rift between them. This leads to a ham fisted super-confrontation between people who are essentially friends and the whole thing just feels forced.

Neither film is perfect in execution – they both have faults and their fair share of dumb scenes – but I always excuse poor execution for a story that, at its core, is worth telling (Star Trek VI wasn’t perfect, but the basic story of a military establishment wanting to prevent peace at all costs was admirable).

Now while I felt pretty much all of Civil War was a disjointed mess of conflicting tone, Batman VS Superman was consistent until the very end, when it fell into the groan-inducing cliche of good guys get together to fight a really BIG bad guy (in this case, Doomsday was randomly pulled out of nowhere).

WTF WAS HE EVEN DOING IN THIS MOVIE??

Likewise, Civil War ended with another Big Man On Campus, this time with AntMan turning into ridiculous Giant AntMan (I don’t care if it’s been done in the comics, in the movie it was just plain ridiculous).  Unfortunately, in a major contradiction to the plot, this final battle also results in millions of dollars of collateral damage and essentially destroys an airport (and some 747s). At least much of the battle at the end of Superguy VS Batdude, most of the damage is held to a pier, some very angry fish and one disappointed nuke.

Again, the nuke scene is directly quoted from the classic Dark Knight:

Whereas giant AntMan:

Ultimately, both films are imperfect and have their own fans, but after viewing each, I walked out of Civil War underwhelmed, bored and confused, and after Batman VS Superman I was pretty much along for the ride until the last ten minutes.

Why did the critics – and many of the fans – see it differently?  Maybe you can help me understand this in the comments below!

 

 

12
Jul
16

reposting a classic: STMP “Pon Far” Edition

This was taken off of it’s original link on YouTube, but here it is on a new link (I had some requests for it):

The story behind it:

While we were working on STMP: The Director’s Cut, we were fast forwarding through a cut of the original film and examining the visual FX shots.  Well, while you are zipping through it, you really get a sense of just how much time was devoted to people staring at the viewscreen with incredulous looks on their faces. “It looks like they’re watching a porno movie,” I observed.

And the idea was born.

It may seem like a simple edit, but it was more complex than it looks.  First and foremost, I had to choose a scene from a movie that had no obscene dialog – I wanted the short to be suggestive but not outright perverse; good luck finding THAT in an X-rated movie (I had to do a lot of, um, research).

Next, I needed a scene with enough random audio cues (like moans and other, shall we say “interesting” sounds). Also, it also couldn’t have any music in the background, since I knew I would be editing the scene down from 15 minutes to about 4, and interruptions in music are far more noticeable than in dialog (or whatever you want to call it).

Once I had the right audio track, the rest was easy – I just cut in great reaction shots of the crew to match the audio (my favorite is Ilia’s look during an especially loud female moan). The final touch was a bit of cheesy boom-chicka-boom-boom porn music in the background and voila!  After about two days of work in my free time, a classic was born.

And it was convention safe!

 

08
Nov
15

THE ORIGINAL

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(Without the beam that someone added in the new “best of” book).

Interesting fact: this is based on a scene that was cut from the one and only Ron Moore “Voyager” script, a moment where Borg cubes were supposed to be hovering over a forest, searching for renegades.

The image of trees is an actual photo of a forest that had been decimated by acid rain. Although the credit for the image was given to Steve Burg (an extremely talented man), it was actually conceived and rendered by MOJO.

Steve’s primary involvement was helping me with the near-impossible task of compositing the cubes behind the trees… without his Photoshop help I never would have finished the shot! I remember the late night as his place… We played around with various Photoshop tools until it finally worked :-)

Why was the shot cut? I have no idea. They routinely cut VFX shots from Voyager as being “too expensive” before ever even asking the crew that would be doing the work. It just took a long time for them to finally shake the “motion control & miniatures” mind set – but they finally got on board with what CGI could do for them with the amazing two-part epic “Scorpion.”

I have plenty of stories about the FX for that episode…

30
Mar
15

ROOT BEER FLOAT REVISITED

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Not too long ago it was Pie Day here in the states. That means it was March 14, otherwise known as 3.14. People all over get together, bake pies and share the sugary goodness. I was lucky enough to be invited to such a gathering by my long-time good buddy Chairman, yet I didn’t feel my pie making ability was up to snuff (read: I have never made a pie). So what do you bring to a party of delicious desserts when you don’t bake pie?

Root beer floats!

That’s right, friends: I dug up the old ingredients for the Mojo Float (Bulldog root beer and Haagen Daz Dulce de Leche) and brought them to the party. My secret plan: to steal the pie show with root beer floats!

As I began making the floats and started passing them to the crowd, I was greeted by the same reaction from everyone: WTF? Why are you giving me a root beer float? Who cares? “Just take a sip…” I would suggest. A few seconds later, I pretty much got the same reaction from everyone:

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People liked them. I won. Case closed. TRY IT.




May 2019
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