Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Autographs are in themselves fairly worthless I've always thought. The folks who hound people for their signature don't seem to be interested in some sort of exchange with the celeb. They seem to just want to have bragging rights.

Over the years I've interviewed quite a number of famous or accomplished people and have met many others. Sometimes an autographed photo has been offered and sometimes I've bought an autograph at a fan show of someone whose work I've really liked.

The horror star from Brazil, Jose Mojica Marins, made the round of the horror conventions in the 1990s. At one Chiller Con, I had the good fortune of being invited to a dinner with Marins, known to his American audiences as "Coffin Joe." Yes, that his his real thumbnail. In fact, nearly all of his nails were at absurd lengths. That was his trademark. I really couldn't watch him eat as I didn't want to stare at how he was able to hold a fork! Despite a language barrier, he was a nice guy and my buddy Steve Bissette later gave me this great photo.

This is one of the handful of autographs I've purchased. I couldn't resist speaking for a few moments with something I've had a crush on since I was capable of crushes...Stella Stevens. I told her that and she laughed and seemed pleased.

Film historian Scott MacQueen surprised me with this photo signed by the female lead of Lon Chaney's "The Phantom of the Opera." Scott was assembling a book – some of which saw print in several articles in "American Cinematographer" – on the various film versions of the French horror novel and he managed to track down in the 1980s the long retired Philbin.

I've been a fan of The Ventures – who were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – since I was a kid and I interviewed drummer Mel Taylor on my radio show in the 1980s. I also eventually saw them perform live and it was great....a very fond memory.

Growing up I always thought Tony Curtis was one of the coolest guys on the planet and today I think he was a truly under-appreciated actor who could perform both dramatic and comic roles with equal ease. In 1994, I covered the Video Software Distributors Association show – the trade show for the home video industry – in Las Vegas. The show was designed to sell the mom and pop video stores – remember neighborhood video stores?– the new releases by giving them an amazing amount of souvenirs and freebies as well as having literally dozens of stars there to schmooze them. Curtis was one of them and he was about five minutes late for a signing at the booth of a distributor hawking a cheesy Hollywood scandal video. Curtis went up to the first few people in line and apologized for being late (!) When it was my turn to say hello, he looked at my name badge and then in my eyes and said, "Michael. I'm Tony Curtis. What can I do for you?"

I wanted to say, "A hug!" I settled for a photo.

Later that day I was in an upscale gentlemen's club and I heard a lot of laughter from the VIP area. As I was leaving the club, I looked in. There was Curtis surrounded by dancers, obviously having a good time. Somehow that just seemed right!

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, April 28, 2008

Here's a few more examples of how animated films have been sold over the years and I really don't see a hell of a lot of difference today despite the fact audiences are supposed to be more sophisticated.

Now ain't that a laugh?!

If you produce a horror movie, an action films or a romance you sell it by its content. Animated films are generally sold with a lot of explanations because are they all supposed to be funny animal cartoon films?

By the way, anyone who thought that a rat in a kitchen would sink "Ratatouille's" chances for an Oscar over the infinitely more interesting "Persepolis" doesn't understand the power of the elevator pitch to sell a picture. "It's a funny look at a rat who likes to cook helping a human who can't. And it's by Pixar. And Brad Bird."

Now consider framing a pitch for Persepolis: "It's from a graphic novel..." "What's that?" "It's like a comic book." "So, it's a superhero movie?" "No, it's an autobiographical piece about an Iranian woman." "Iranian? Like in from Iran? In this day and age? What's funny about that?" "Well, it's not supposed to be a comedy." "It's animated, isn't it?"

By the way, Marjane Satrapi was robbed, in my opinion. "Ratatouille" was funny and well done, but her film actually advanced the medium. But it had a tough pitch.

Anyway, I love the fact Roger Corman's New World Picture really art-housed "Fantastic Planet" up in this ad:

Look at how the guys over at AIP tried mightily to come up with a way to sell "Heavy Traffic." They seemed to be struggling a bit:

Now this ad was designated for "underground papers." I love it this ad because they took a typically messed-up Bakshi moment from the film and simply reminded people about "Fritz the Cat." Brilliant!

I'll post more as I come across them in the files here.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Isn't interesting how often animation has been sold to the public as either a novelty or an event? Despite there having been animated features for 70 years the motion picture industry still often follows this approach.

Granted the movie ad lives in the world of hyperbole where every film is compelling viewing, but over the years its seems to me that animation is always treated differently. More to follow!

Friday, April 25, 2008

I wrote about a new Arcadia Publishing book on Mountain Park this week. Jay Ducharme, the author, made an interesting point about the shifting of "common spaces" in society where people can gather. The park, thouhg privatley owned, didn't charge admission and didn't charge for parking. People – a large percentagle of them families – went there to simply hang out.

That is something you don't see very much in today's amusement park industry.

The last time I went to the park was in the mid-1980s when I was a talk show host on WREB. Killer Kowalski was at the park with a wrestling show and I went up to interview him.

Kowalski, who was retired from competing, was a re-occurring feature at the park, bringing wrestlers from his school to perform for an audience.

The man who was known as a soulless villain in the ring was friendly, articulate and a great interview. I conducted it right in the midway area near the stage used for the matches. My father-in-law came with me and he had his camera. When he asked for a photo, Kowalski cheerily obliged. He grabbed me by the neck and hoisted me up. I was smiling out of sheer terror as I was on tiptoes for the snapshot.

Perhaps it was riding the rides, seeing Hal Holbrook introduce "Mark Twain Tonight" or dancing the polka to Larry Chesky's band. For almost a century, Mountain Park in Holyoke inspired memories.
And those memories are reflected in the new book "Mountain Park" ( by Holyoke Community College Professor Jay Ducharme.

Ducharme worked at the park for 13 years and wrote his book because "one of the things that always amazed me is there are more good memories about Mountain Park than another park in New England."

With the knowledge of an insider and hundreds of photos, Ducharme tells the story of the park in his book.
Ducharme explained the park came about as an ulterior reason in the business plan of William Loomis, one of the directors of the Holyoke Street Railway Company. Loomis figured if he built an attraction at the end of his rail line he could get more people riding the trolley on their day off. So he bought over 300 acres of property that included the summit at Mount Tom and constructed a open-air pavilion and park.

For the thousands of people living in apartments near the paper and cloth mills where they worked, a trip to the relative cool of natural forests was only a trolley ride away. In 1897, Loomis received a state grant to build a resort and Ducharme noted that Mountain Park was formally born.

Loomis was the father of the park, but the succeeding owners put their own stamp on the place. The summit house built at the top of Mount Tom was rebuilt after two fires but was eventually abandoned as an attraction. The next owner, Louis Pellissier, brought in the park's first roller coaster.

The natural park element was maintained by Pellissier, and then by subsequent owner Jay Collins. Ducharme said that unlike some parks, Mountain Park was "geared towards families."

"What was different was there was stuff every member of the family could do," Ducharme explained. Grandparents could relax in the picnic grove while other family members played miniature golf or rode the rides. The park didn't charge for parking or admission, so people saw it as an affordable local get-away.

For Ducharme, working at the park was a family affair. His aunt started working there in the 1970s after she had retired and his father joined her after he retired. His father operated the rides and loved the place and encouraged his son to apply for work when he was in college.

Needing money for college, Ducharme applied and was hired. He was assigned to a ride other operators shunned: the merry-go-round.

While other people hated the loud band organ, Ducharme enjoyed it. He also liked how the job called for him to keep moving. Eventually he learned how to operate all of the rides and served as the "break man" the person who filled in for others while they took their lunch or breaks.

In the fall of 1987, owner Jay Collins closed the park. Ducharme said he was "just as shocked as anyone." He was working as a watchman for the park when he heard Collins made the decision to close the attraction.

"You don't think of something like that leaving," Ducharme said.

The park had been doing fine with attendance and finances, but insurance costs were eating up more of the profits and Collins, who surrounded himself with friends to help run the park, had found himself increasingly alone many of his closest friends had died.

Collins started selling off the rides one by one after not being able to find a buyer for the entire park. Of the attractions that thrilled thousands of people, the only one that remained was the merry-go-round. Ducharme was part of the group of people who successfully brought the historic ride to its present location at Holyoke Heritage State Park. Collins had offers up to $2 million, but worked with the local group and sold to them for $875,000. Calling it "a jewel," Ducharme said it is the only self-sustaining freestanding ride in the country.

Today, Ducharme said it's amazing to see the area transformed as nature has taken over much of what was once developed. Northampton businessman Eric Suhr has bought much of the property and has cleaned up the picnic grove and baseball diamond as well as preserved the miniature golf course. Ducharme said there is an intriguing sign erected reading "Mountain Park See you in summer of 2007."

Could Mountain Park survive in an era in which amusement parks are multi-million dollar extravaganzas that can take several days to go through? Ducharme said he believes the park's low-key qualities could have allowed it to reach the 21st century. He noted there are other picnic groves with amusement rides that have prospered such as Kanoble's Grove in Elysburgh, Penn., Waldameer Park in Erie, Penn., and Lake Compounce in Bristol, Conn.

Mountain Park was a "common space," Ducharme explained, and has been replaced by shopping malls as someplace where people spend their free time. The change in state "blue laws" affected attractions such as the park, he said.

"I think there is a need for Mountain Park," he said.
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's flea market season here in the Pioneer Valley with the opening of what I think is the best outdoor flea market around, the Hadley market on Route 47 under the shadow of Mount Holyoke and the historic Summit House.

These were two of my finds last Sunday. It's too bad I didn't obtain these cards for the Springfield postcard book (to be published Aug. 25!)

In 1936 there was a "perfect storm" of melting snow, ice dams and rain that accounted for the worst flood in our area in recent memory. Northampton, Hadley and downtown Springfield were greatly affected. WGBY did an excellent documentary on the flood which is available here and is a bargain at $20.

If you have an elderly relative from here ask them about the flood. I bet they'll have some vivid memories.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I get some interesting mail as an editor – see below – but first a shameless plug: The Valley Press Club's annual roast is slated for May 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Keg Room, 87 State St., Springfield.

This is where elected officials make fun of us and we make fun of them openly, instead of behind our backs as usual.

If you're a Western Massachusetts news junkie, this is a must-see event.

The emcee is my friend Jim Polito, the former reporter and anchor for abc40 and radio bad boy John O'Brien of the "Bax and O'Brien Show" on Rock 102 will also participate.

I will be on stage at one point reprising my characterization as Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe. But don't let that stop you from coming!

Tickets to the roast are available in advance by sending a check made out to "Valley Press Club" for $10 per person, mailed to Valley Press Club, P.O. Box 5475, Springfield, MA 01102. To reserve a ticket, or for information, call 335-8551. Tickets at the door are $15.

For Immediate Release

International Day of Prayer & Fasting against the MARK OF THE BEAST

MAY 21st—Join us!

The Real ID will ultimately be the mechanism used to implement the Mark of the Beast, if not repealed.


186 of the 192 nations on earth will have a national ID system in place by 2010. This is all happening at the request of the UN’s ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization). It is a plan to number, enter into a database and monitor every person on earth!

The Bible prophesied 2,000 years ago a time when every person will be required to have a mark or number in order to “BUY OR SELL.”

Homeland Security is proposing to force every person to have a national ID card in order to hold a job. Without a job, how much BUYING OR SELLING will you be able to do?

CONGRESS: Repeal the Real ID Act now!

Endtime Ministries will send a special edition of its Endtime magazine to every U.S. Senator and Representative and to every State Governor, Senator and Representative. This special edition proves that the Real ID is unconstitutional and explains how it will be used to CONTROL every American. CONTROL and FREEDOM are opposites!

The Real ID Act is in trouble! Eight states have passed laws opting out of Real ID. Another 10 states have passed bills expressing opposition against it. Eleven more states have passed bills against Real ID through one house of their legislatures.

Americans don’t want a national ID. Americans don’t want to be numbered, tracked and controlled.

CONTACT CONGRESS: This is the message each person should send to every congressman, senator and governor—both state and federal.


The Real ID Act establishing a national ID is the worst single piece of legislation ever passed in America.

It will allow the numbering, registering and tracking of every American. This legislation, if enacted, will spell the END OF FREEDOM for Americans.

Homeland Security says it needs the national ID for control. Control and freedom are opposites.

Prophecy teacher Irvin Baxter predicted in his first book: "A Message for the President" that the Berlin Wall would fall and that the nation of Germany would be reunited. The book was published in 1986. The Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989. East and West Germany were reunited one year later. This inspired Irvin to launch Endtime Magazine . He is the president of Endtime Ministries .

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'm doing something I've not done before really...puting a piece I wrote for the paper up here before it gets published next week. I've been tempted before to do something like this but have not done so out of some sort of sense of propriety – that I'm violating some sort of loyaty to the 'paper. But since these are now my words, then what the heck.

SPRINGFIELD – Mayor Domenic Sarno did something last week that few area mayors have done in recent memory: released a progress report of what his administration has done within its first 100 days.

The 100-day mark is something usually applied to presidents and governors and was popularized as a device to show progress by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the first three months of his administration at the depths of the Great Depression in 1932.

Sarno promised an open, inclusive and transparent administration and the report is undoubtedly part of his approach to governing. While Sarno did not inherit the financial turmoil that his predecessor Charles Ryan did, he did walk into unresolved situations such as the Merrill Lynch investment loss and the searches for a new police commissioner and a new school superintendent that demanded his immediate attention.

Sarno has kept on some key appointments from the Ryan Administration, including Chief Development Officer David Panagore, which has provided a needed continuity in government.

And, despite the demands of his new position, he hasn’t changed his personal style. Sarno seems to know many of the city’s 152,000 residents personally and always makes time to greet people with a handshake and frequently a nickname.

The long-time city councilor won the mayoral race in part for his promises to remove the trash collection fee and to put more police officers on the streets. These have yet to be fulfilled, but Sarno has made his mark already on the city.
Sarno’s success with the Finance Control Board – a group he openly criticized during his campaign – must remain for evaluation in the future, however so far at public meetings there appears to be a good working relationship.

Among his key accomplishments listed in the report were the appointment of a new police commissioner; the creation of a quality of life flex squad of the Springfield Police Department and a director of constituent services in his office; the start of a business retention program involving visits to Springfield businesses; a conference for developers to show the city’s potential; and the start of a search for a new school superintendent.

Sarno wrote, “For this Administration, there were no honeymoon days. Since day one, we have been working to advance the Springfield renaissance by employing resources to achieve public safety; revolutionize the school system and stimulate economic renewal to redefine Springfield as not only a city of potential but of greatness.

“While 100 days is a short span of time, this Administration has established a track record of success during this period and, I believe, laid the foundation for Springfield’s long term success.”

Job creation and new businesses are also listed in the report although some of these were started before Sarno took office. They include:
“• Opening of U.S. headquarters for European Green-industry Company Socaplast USA in the Solutia Business Park in Indian Orchard; 15 jobs and over $3 million in investments
• Grand opening of Onyx Fusion Bar & Restaurant at River’s Landing
• Grand opening of a second Samuel’s Sports Bar & Tavern on the Riverfront
• Grand opening of Abuduanza Restaurant at Springfield “X”
• Announcement by Liberty Mutual to open a customer service call center at the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park; more than 300 jobs”

The reports also lists Sarno’s present projects:
“Mayor Sarno continues conversations aimed at a much greater utilization of arts and culture as a revenue generating mechanism for the City. The Mayor has initiated conversation toward enhancing the Springfield ‘Sister City’ program as such a tool. Under the program, Springfield would operate an International Cultural Trades and Tourism hub to generate cross promotion and product sales between Springfield and our European and Asian sister cities. The Mayor has identified Old First Church as a possible location to house the program, which would involve promotion of ethnic and neighborhood festivals in the downtown area.

“The Mayor is pursuing a regional TIF concept with neighboring East Longmeadow. The aim is to keep and expand jobs for Springfield residents at companies such as Hasbro and Lenox.

“Mayor Sarno is vigorously involved in an effort to create a Springfield Court of Dreams, which is similar to Cooperstown’s Field of Dreams. The Springfield Court of Dreams involves attracting major, new private investment to the riverfront to fully exploit Springfield’s unique distinction as the Birthplace of Basketball.

“The Mayor continues urging the Legislature to provide some relief through a proposed extended payback of a $52 million state loan and is thankful to members of the local and state delegation for their dedicated work on this issue, with particular thanks Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti and Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas M. Petrolati.

“The search for a new Chief Financial Officer is currently in the interview stage.

“Mayor Sarno continues to negotiate with members of the Finance Control Board, Department of Public Works, Department of Environmental Protection and others to eliminate or reduce the $90 annual trash fee implemented in July. The Mayor is focused on concepts that promote recycling and generate revenue.

“Considerations of the Mason Square Library continue under the Sarno Administration, with a decision from the Mayor expected in the very near future.

“Review and discussions regarding appointments to boards and commissions and heads of departments are in motion.
“The Mayor is in the initial stages of considering a drug prescription program within the GIC, which carries a potential cost savings of $2.5 to $4 million.

“Mayor Sarno continues to push the City’s 10-year plan to end homelessness and recently participated in a tri-county conference with Mayors Sullivan and Higgins.”

The full report can be read on-line at
©2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I met Ed O'Reilly last summer at the annual political gathering sponsored by Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and I wondered just how determined this guy was in his effort to unseat John Kerry. Well, months later O'Reilly hasn't seemed to slow up in his quest to become the Democratic candidate for Senate from Massachusetts.

I have to admit a certain prejudice: John Kerry has stuck me for years as an absentee senator. I voted for him for president because i couldn't vote for Bush, but I didn't support him. Out here in the hinterlands we don't see him very much. As a journalist I receive press releases from Kennedy and our congressman on a regular basis but nothing from Kerry. I hope to bring this issue of access to the public up if I get the chance to see him. Perhaps I will since it will be an election year.

Ed O'Reilly readily acknowledged incumbent Sen. John Kerry has an advantage over him in his effort to unseat Kerry in a primary battle and become the Democratic candidate and that is Kerry's considerable war chest.

"That's the only hurdle," O'Reilly said in an interview last week at Reminder Publications.

He said he has been receiving "outrageous" support as he has been visiting Democratic Party functions around the state.

For O'Reilly to appear on a primary ballot he must have the support of 15 percent of the delegates who attend the party's convention in Lowell on June 7 and he must gather 10,000 signatures by May 6. He feels confident that he will have the delegates he needs and his campaign has hired a signature-gathering firm to assist his volunteers to meeting the May 6 deadline.

The primary, if O'Reilly is successful, would be conducted on Sept. 16.

O'Reilly is a long-time criminal defense trial attorney who is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the New England School of Law. He has also worked as a firefighter, a corrections officer and counselor and as a commercial lobsterman. In politics, O'Reilly has served on the Gloucester City Council and School Committee.

Kerry is out of touch with people in Massachusetts, O'Reilly charged, and has an inability to lead. O'Reilly contended that Kerry has not accomplished much in over two decades in the Senate and has often been on both sides of an issue in the name of political expediency.

"He doesn't have a core set of principles, " he said of Kerry.

He noted a recent campaign kick-off for Kerry's re-election required a $2,300 contribution for a private meeting with Kerry.

"Access equals influence," O'Reilly said. "John Kerry really lives in that world. He visits the world where real people live, visits it every six years."

O'Reilly said that what motivated him to challenge Kerry was the senator's vote to support the initial entry into Iraq. O'Reilly accused Kerry of casting the vote as part of the senator's political ambitions.

"He's a great windsurfer, going downwind," O'Reilly said. "Anyone can go downwind."

If elected, O'Reilly would work toward the immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. He believes there should be an international focus on Afghanistan.

He supports Congressman John Conyer's bill, the National Health Insurance Act, which would expand Medicare and create a national non-profit health insurance program.

Energy independence is also a large part of O'Reilly's platform. He would work to create a program that would use the model of municipally-owned electric companies to develop local control over renewable energy production.

He is also looking to close tax loopholes used by hedge funds managers. The money that could be recovered is in the billions, he said, and could fund necessary programs. O'Reilly said that a vote to close the loopholes was never brought to floor of the Senate and added lobbyists for hedge fund managers spend $6 million lobbying Congress to maintain the current status. The reason for a lack of a vote from Senate Majority leader Harry Reid was a lack of time.

"That's a smokescreen," O'Reilly said.

He would like to see the legislative branch of government be proactive rather than reactive and said his campaign is not only against Kerry but also against "all political institutions."

Noting another difference, O'Reilly said, "I'm a worker. He's not a worker."

O'Reilly will be meeting with voters at Romito & Sons at 21 North Main St. in East Longmeadow at 6:30 p.m. on April 21.

For additional information, log onto
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Okay, over at my book-in-progress blog "Made of Pen and Ink" is a newly added chapter on Betty Boop. Seen above is Helen Kane, the singer on whom Betty Boop was based.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I haven't posted films reviews in quite a while, so let me start off with some animation.

Sony Pictures has released "Blood +," an anime series which has been seen on the "Adult Swim" programming block of Cartoon Network.

Japanese animation or anime is much more adventurous than American animation in its willingness to use the medium to tell a variety of stories. The problem with anime is that like any other type of popular culture there is a large percentage that relies on clich s or on the conventions set by truly innovative productions.

Anime is filled with school girl heroines, hideous monsters and overly intricate plotlines that are like soap operas, as well as visual and animation devices that are used over and over.

I'm happy to say that while "Blood +" has a school girl heroine, hideous monsters and an intricate plot, its writing is compelling, the animation strives for a kind of realism other productions never achieve, and I was definitely hooked.

"Blood +" is about Saya, who at first resembles any other teenage Japanese school girl. The difference is that Saya is suffering from amnesia and her adoptive father has kept the story of her past from her. What she doesn't know but is to find out is that she is the one person capable of destroying vampire-like creatures known as "chiroptera."

Although there is plenty of blood-letting, "Blood +" seems to avoid many of the primary pitfalls of anime: the reliance on conventions in order to avoid having to do something different.

Sony has released the first five half-hour episodes onto one disc, "Blood + Volume One," and the entire 26 episode first season in a six-disc boxed set that comes complete with a T-shirt and a mini-comic adopting the story into manga Japanese comic book style.

There are no extras on the stand-alone volume, but in the boxed set , one of the six discs is all interviews with the series' creators.

Be aware that if you buy the stand-alone disc, those five shows are all repeated in the boxed set.

Animation fans who would like to try something different, should seek out "Blood +."

For more information, log onto

Bee Movie: A Very Jerry 2-Disc Edition

Entertainment writers have been spewing stories about the "Seinfeld" curse now for several years, and the box office success of Jerry Seinfeld's follow-up vehicle, "Bee Movie," certainly showed he was under the same dark cloud as some of his co-stars.

The film will be out on DVD shortly and if you're a fan of the film, the two-disc edition will give you all the "Bee" stuff you could possibly want.

The film is about Barry Benson, a bee who is challenging the status quo of the hive. While other bees know what they want to do, Barry doesn't and this eventually leads him to a friendship with a human (played by Renee Zellweger). This friendship and the realization humans exploit bees for honey leads to a class action suit against the human race brought on behalf of bees.

I have to admit that in an animated kids' movie I never thought the concept of a lawsuit for exploitation would be a plot point, but then there's a lot in this film that is more for adults than for children.

I took my nephew Douglas to the film when it was in theaters and although he liked it, he didn't laugh once. I did laugh several times, but we had far different reactions to "The Simpsons Movie:" a stream of belly laughs.

Seinfeld co-wrote the film and stars as Barry. I think it's fascinating to see him develop a property that is as about as far away from his hit television series as he could get.

I liked the film. It's pleasant and despite the class action lawsuit and genocide sub-plots, it's generally enjoyable. I just didn't find it as funny as many other recent animated offerings.

The extras in this two-disc set reveal a little of how the film was made. Seinfeld did not want to leave his New York City home so Dreamworks set up an office with a two-way television/computer system so Seinfeld could meet and collaborate with the production crew on the west coast.

There is one obnoxious featurette that is merely a commercial for HP computers, which were used in the making of the film.

The extras also have two deleted scenes and five alternative endings. It's interesting to see that Seinfeld and his directors were obviously unsure on how to end the picture and kept re-working the scene.

If you liked the movie or are a Seinfeld fan, this two-disc set is a honey. I'm very sorry, but I resisted the bee puns until the very end.

Okay, now some non-animated features.

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun

This Danish documentary tells less than what I would liked to have learned about an eccentric Dane and his wish to turn a castle into a monastery, but the film is still interesting viewing.

Filmmaker Pernille Rose Gr nkj r followed around Mr. Vig, a man in his eighties, for five years, recording his efforts to establish a Russian Orthodox monastery in the small castle he owned.

Although we learn much about Vig, he is still quite a puzzle. Although he looks frail, he seems to take pleasure in physical labor. He has an obsession with noses, has never been in love, and can recount there has only been one person he has truly admired his father.

He doesn't seem very religious at this point in his life, but clearly the study of religion has been important to him and he has decided that if he could establish a monastery at his run-down estate he will have created a lasting monument to himself.

The Moscow patriarchate agrees to send Sister Amvrosija to evaluate the castle and to work out the details with Vig. A positive but no-nonsense woman, she and Vig almost instantly begin clashing.

One realizes that when confronted with the possibility of seeing his dreams realized, Vig begins having cold feet. The Russian nun will have none of that and pushes forward to put an agreement in place and to repair the castle.

I really would have wanted to know more about Vig how he obtained the castle, what was his profession, how did he support himself at the time of the filming but we aren't given that information. It would have made the story much richer.

Even with these flaws, the film is well worth watching for folks who want to see a very unusual story.

For more information, visit

The Kite Runner

Based on the book of the same name, "The Kite Runner" is a movie that while not depicting a true story rings very true.

The movie tells the story of Amir, a boy whose growing up is marked by a horrible act of abuse on his best friend, his inability to face that act and his departure from his native Afghanistan to the United States.

While this part of the story is compelling enough, it is what happens to Amir as young man that elevates the story to something above most dramas. Amir receives a phone call from a family friend telling him to come home, as "there is a way to be good again."

Amir discovers Hassan, his childhood friend, has been killed by the Taliban and sets out on a quest to rescue Hassan's son who still is in Kabul.

I can't give you more details, as there are several surprises.

This film is part immigrant story, part current affairs and part self-discovery for the central character of Amir. The performances by an international cast of relative unknowns are superb with Homayoun Ershadi standing out as Amir's father.

This is a great movie and one that is worth seeking out. Be warned, though, much of the film is sub-titled, but I hope that won't put you off watching this film.

For more information, go to

The Tudors, First Season

This Showtime series, now on DVD, has a lot going for it. A loosey-goosey depiction of the life and loves of King Henry VIII, the show probably will give historians hives as it does play fast and loose with many of the details of the monarch's life.

Where it does probably succeed English history professors are encouraged to write in and tell me if I'm right is the capriciousness and the bloody politics of Henry's reign.

Oh yes, that and the fact that he was, in today's parlance, a dog.

My problem is that while the shows can boast of great settings, costumes and performances as well as well-written scripts, it cheapens itself when the story turns to Henry's bedroom antic. What was once a historical drama now is soft-core porn.

These sequences are so gratuitous that one could clip them from the film and no one would know the difference.

So while I can give a recommendation to the show in general, I have to add a big warning for scenes you really don't want your kids to see.

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Southland Tales

I've never seen "Donnie Darko," the cult film by writer and director Richard Kelly, but I've received many recommendations about it. That's why I decided to waste two hours of my life and watch his second film.

That was a big mistake, but I watch these things so you don't have to!

A darkly comic, satiric science fiction film with bold political themes, "Southland Tales" is one of those films that has so much potentially going for it that its failure is even more spectacular.

Kelly had come up with a plan: the film would be preceded by a series of graphic novels and the narrative would be concluded with the film itself. Perhaps the film makes more sense if you read the comics, but as a rule it should stand on its own.

The trouble is the story simply makes little sense and the film veers from something serious to something stupid. It opens with a nuclear attack on the United States, begins a story about the aftermath, World War III and the suspension of many civil liberties and then descends into a low comedy look at a group of far leftists trying to upset an election.

Kelly assembled quite a cast headed by Dwayne Johnson and includes Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake and a whole bunch of comic performers in straight roles (Jon Lovitz, Seann William Scott, Will Sasso, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler).

There's a lot of talent wasted in this film that just can't tell a story.

Yes, there are extras, but I was so disgusted by this self-important farce, I couldn't make myself watch them. The film was punishment enough.

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Mulberry Street

My fellow horror movie fan Mark Masztal and I discovered this film when it played as part of the After Dark Horror Film Festival. After sitting though a really terrible film "Lake Dead" we had little hope for this film that depicts New York City in the midst of a hideous epidemic.

Boy, were we wrong. "Mulberry Street" is an expertly made film that packs in the jolts at the same time it establishes realistic characters. Director Jim Mickle, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Damici, clearly understands what is lacking in so many so-called horror films today and gives us a scary story with a very humanistic core.

The premise, like many good fright films, sounds ridiculous humans bit by rats are turning into rat-like creatures themselves. The execution is another thing. This film works on every level.

Want a good scare and a good film? Check out "Mulberry Street."

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© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, April 06, 2008

An update on the house on the street that was set ablaze recently: The city came and secured the home and cleaned up the property. Despite my efforts so far I haven't been able to contact the owner. Thanks to the folks in the mayor's office for responding so well.

Mark Not the Race Car Driver has brought up several points which deserve to be addressed. He asked why the neighbors couldn't have boarded up the house themselves. Well, it's illegal for us to do so.

Until the city takes the house for unpaid taxes – which is a fairly long process – it is private property. We just can't go over and seal it up. The city has to go to Housing Court and get an emergency order after a waiting period in which an attempt is made to contact the owner of the property.

What the city did was to properly board up the house and then clean away all of the fire-debris. Since there was a lot of leaves and trash all over the place, they also cleaned that stuff up.

All of that clean-up and securing would have been time consuming, expensive and again illegal if the neighbors had been able to do it.

Mark has also brought up the question of how or why a burnt house "hurts" a neighborhood. A shell that sit there for years – and these things can sit for years – sends a clear message that the owners of the property care little of their homes, that they walk away from their obligations and responsibilities. As a homeowner I must abide by the health and safety ordinances of the city. The owner of a fire-damaged home who does nothing is saying "Screw you."

Most people want to live in an urban neighborhood in which people are making the attempt to keep their property up to code and looking reasonably well. I've had to replace a roof (almost $10,000) repoint chimneys ($1,500) paint the house ($2.500) and am preparing to have it painted again, besides doing other things (plumbing and electrical work) as part of meeting city standards and up-grading my home.

If your property is next to one that is literally a wreck, your home's re-sell potential is greatly affected. Who wants to live next to a fire-damaged abandoned property?

Mark has also expressed questions on why I'm blaming the owner of the home rather than the people who started the fire. His analogy was what if my home was broken into when Mary and I were visiting Scotland; would it be fair to print my name in newspapers saying it was my fault I didn't secure my house well enough?

Well, I suppose I took for granted that everyone reading this blog would understand that I want the bastards who torched this place to suffer the proper consequences. I guess I was wrong. This isn't a liberal or conservative thing – although Mark's argument seems to leaning in the direction that I'm some sort of blame the victim guy. This is a getting-along-in-the-big-city kind of thing.

An absentee owner of property in a city knows that to protect their investment they need security and a local property manager. For a neighborhood to succeed, everyone needs to live up to their responsibilities.

One final thing, the question was asked about what was so bad about a landlord leaving a home open so a homeless person could get out of the rain. The problem is it's not just the homeless who might find the home, it's the drug dealers, it's the gang members. I don't want a place near me that is tailor-made for illegal activity.

If I knew there was a homeless person on the street I would make some calls to organizations that help the homeless so that person can get real help in getting off the streets. I've covered the homeless issue in Springfield perhaps more than any single reporter and we have some programs that are working here. Allowing someone to squat isn't going to get them into a real home, get real medical care, link them up to a real job.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This just in: my book from Arcadia Press on Springfield history has a publication date of Aug. 25. That's two book projects published within 12 months.

Now if people would just buy them! I want to retire!

I've sent another chapter for the Fleischer book to the publisher who has expressed interest. I'll be posting it to the Fleischer blog in the next several days.

And I have two more projects on which I'll start serious work. I've got a little momentum and I'd like to keep it up.
An update on the house that was set afire down my street:

I called the appropriate person in the mayor's office and he has taken the action needed for the city to secure the house. I haven't checked about the tax status of the property, but I will. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find there are back taxes due.

In my newspaper column this week I questioned if it was possible for the city to have a mechanism to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening. It's undoubtedly pie in the sky, but if abandoned, unsecured properties were reported, perhaps the fires that diminish the neighborhood could be prevented.

Mark M wrote," What are the reasons an owner would just abandon a house? More expensive to pay the taxes and upkeep than to just lose the house? I'm sure this is all 'common knowledge' to you guys who pay attention, the reasons someone would do that. What I'm wondering is, who can blame him? If it's a lose-lose situation for the guy, is he supposed to personally drive up here and make sure the house is secured? And how much would it cost to truly secure an empty house in Springfield?

"I'm not defending the guy. Just wondering what he coulda / shoulda done. I guess if he doesn't want the responsibility of being a good steward to the neighborhood, he should sell - but can he? Maybe he can't get back what he owes on the thing so he throws up his hands and says the hell with it?

"Or maybe he's a slumlord buying on the cheap to run the neighborhood down so he can sell it off and then get a big lucrative bulldozer contract with the city?

"It's baffling as hell. I'm inclined to say the culprits are the pricks who spray graffiti all over the house and catch it on fire, but maybe the Florida owner is at fault."

Okay, let me try to address this issue. In a city such as Springfield, out of town investors have bought a lot of rental property over the past 20 years. The up side is money can be made and the worse thing is that if you can't sell the property to someone else, you can simply walk away.

Walking away means avoiding having to fix up the place if there are code violations and not having to pay property tax. The city will eventually take your property in lieu of paid taxes. They can't sue you. They can't file criminal charges.

People who live here do this as well. The owner of Western Mass. Theaters walked away from the Calvin in Northampton, the Rivoli in Chicopee and the Bing in Springfield. And he's a local guy. He created problems for three communities.

I suppose the worst thing for the absentee owner would be the financial situation such an abandonment would cause with a lender.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs