Saturday, November 29, 2008

I haven't posted DVD reviews for a while, so allow me to do so:

M Squad

I vaguely remember seeing "M Squad" when I was little -- the half-hour crime drama ran from 1957 through 1960 -- a time I was more concerned with cartoons and "Howdy Doody."

Now Timeless Media Group has brought out the entire 117 episodes in a 15 DVD set -- a pretty daring movie for a relatively obscure television show.

"M Squad" is a procedural police drama that spends more time showing the cops pounding the pavement and in the crime lab in order to solve a crime than firing their guns. The show is clearly a reaction to "Dragnet," Jack Webb's highly successful police show.

There are key differences here. One is that " M Squad" is centered in Chicago and exteriors were filmed there. Another is use of jazz for the score's show -- Count Basie wrote the theme music for the second season. The tone of the show is more film noir-ish and gritty than other police shows at the time.

And then there was the star, Lee Marvin. Marvin was coming into his own as actor and his portrayal of Lt. Frank Ballinger was far more interesting than Webb's straight-laced and straight faced Joe Friday.

Marvin plays his cop as both a committed public servant and someone who has seen it all. In the first episode, he is seen checking out a pretty girl while investigating a murder -- something most cop characters wouldn't have done at the time.

The half-hour shows move fast and I was surprised in this time of multiple "CSI" franchises to see just how much footage was devoted to forensic investigations.

Marvin's characterization probably will seem more modern and naturalistic to today's audience than those from other cop dramas of the same era. He walks an interesting line between appearing not to care and obviously caring very much.

For serious crime drama fans who don't mind dropping a chunk of change, this set from 51 years ago will provide some fresh material.

Harry Langdon: Three's a Crowd and The Chaser

Of all of the great silent comedians -- Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon -- it is Langdon who has had the hardest time establishing a new audience in the home video age.

Landon was a vaudeville star whose film persona was that of the "man-boy" a physically mature male who nonetheless has the emotional maturity of a seven-year-old. This type of character has certainly been a popular one in American film. Lou Costello, Huntz Hall, Jerry Lewis and Adam Sandler have all had their take on this shtick.

Langdon's character was often described as having the maturity of an infant. He seems almost incapable of dealing with the world. Made by the right hands, Langdon's films were highly popular, but Langdon himself directed the two films in this double feature and that was clearly a mistake.

Langdon's waif in "Three's a Crowd" is a mover's helper who finds a pregnant woman staggering about during the winter in the slum where he lives. He takes her in and cares for her only to see his heart broken when she reconciles with her husband.

In "The Chase," audiences are asked to accept Langdon as an errant husband chasing women and partying to his wife's disapproval. A judge makes Langdon stay at home for 30 days and take care of the house while wearing a dress. Many of the gags revolve around suicide.

I love silent films and am a huge fan of silent comedy, so I wanted to give Langdon another try, but I just couldn't understand why his character was so popular. I just want to shake him!

These two films from KINO on Video can boast of great scores by Lee Irwin and good-looking restored prints.

Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection

Okay, if you're a "Mr. Bean" fan this is your dream collection. The seven-disc collection has all of the television episodes originally aired on HBO, the animated series, and the two feature films.

That's a lot of beans.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Bean, you should know he is the first largely silent comic star developed since the advent of talking films. He can be an incredibly resourceful but also amazingly mischievous.

Rowan Atkinson was already a comedy star here and in his native Great Britain when he developed Mr. Bean with writers Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll. In an informative documentary in the set, "The Story of Bean," Atkinson and his fellow writers describe how the character was developed, which partly came from Atkinson's youth.

The star described Bean as a nine-year-old boy who operates under the rules as long as they suit him.

I love the "Mr. Bean" series and I think the shorter productions are those in which the character is best suited. The animated cartoons are not my cup of tea and the first feature film "Bean: The Movie" was a mixed bag, I thought.

The extras here are a lot of fun with several Bean skits seen in the United States for the first time: "Torvill & Bean," in which Mr. Bean takes to the ice with the British skating star, was a hoot!

Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder was one of those directors who hit home run after home run in his career. "The Lost Weekend," "Double Indemnity," "Stalag 17," "The Apartment" and "The Fortune Cookie" are just some of his great films. Now one of his best films, "Sunset Boulevard," is given the two-disc treatment in a new DVD edition.

I used to show the film regularly in my films classes at Western New England College, as it was not only a stunning example of film noir, but also a subtle but scalpel sharp commentary on the movie business in 1950.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) plays a down on his luck screenwriter who dodges repo men after his car by hiding it in the garage of a slightly run-down Hollywood mansion. Through a case of mistaken identity he is introduced to the house's resident, Norma Desmond, a silent screen star long retired from acting.

While Norma may be not be acting any longer, she longs for a return to the screen. Joe sees an opening when he learns she has a screenplay that needs some re-writing. Soon, Joe find himself playing a role that clearly he doesn't like Norma's reluctant boy toy but he is willing to do so to get some much needed money.

Gloria Swanson, a huge star in the silent days who had appeared successfully in sound pictures in the 1930s, played Norma. Swanson was nothing like her character, but the casting was so perfect that it influenced a generation of movie fans on how they viewed her.

This is a hard-edged cynical movie that seems as fresh to me today as the first time I saw it. It's sad, tender and very, very tough all at the same time.

The extras are well done and feature interviews with surviving cast member Nancy Olson.

Tropic Thunder

If the satire of "Sunset Boulevard" cuts like a scalpel, "Tropic Thunder's" approach to the movie industry is more like a sledgehammer it gets the job done, only things are a tad messier.

Director and co-star Ben Stiller's take on the film industry includes a bunch of ignorant self-absorbed actors and crude profit-driven execs who make bloated unrealistic pieces of cinematic trash.

The interesting thing is if the film had tanked at the box office, Stiller might be facing some ugly music from his peers. But you can spit in the face of folks as long as your film is on the black side of the account book.

"Tropic Thunder" tells the story of a group of spoiled stars (played by Robert Downey Jr., Stiller, Jack Black and Brandon T. Jackson) making a Vietnam War story in Vietnam. When the director can't control his cast (played by Steve Coogan), he takes the advice of the author of the book on which the film is based (Nick Nolte), a hard-as-nails vet, to bring the cast into the jungle and film them secretly as they try to really survive.

The problem is the cast isn't truly aware of what is waiting for them in the jungle and what isn't just part of a movie.

There are some funny bits on the film, although I didn't think it was as laugh-out-loud funny as I had expected it to be. I appreciated the satire, but didn't always laugh at it.

The film was controversial as it supposedly made fun of people with developmental problems. The reaction from various advocacy groups was unwarranted in my opinion as the film comments on how Hollywood shallowly uses metal retardation as fodder for stories.

The extras are pretty comprehensive in how they profile the making of the film, although I was surprised there was a blooper reel.

If you don't care for some rough and tumble satire, then stay away from "Tropic Thunder."

The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Edition

Like many people who discovered "Monty Python's Flying Circus" during its first American television run in the early 1970s, I was amazed. As a high school kid I couldn't believe what I was seeing and although I didn't understand all of the jokes, the ones I did get were hilarious.

When I saw the group's first feature film, "And Now for Something Completely Different," a re-filming of their best television bits, I laughed so hard my face ached.

And years later the skits I've seen a hundred times still make me laugh.

For me, there's a short list of the most influential comics of the 20th century: Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, the Firesign Theater and Monty Python. These are my comedy gods.

And owning this new 21-disc Monty Python set is like going to church.

Not only are all of the television episodes here, but one of the feature films, "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl," is here as well. Plus there are two amazing new documentaries about the Pythons, six "personal best" collections, the shows the boys did for German television and much more.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Terry Gilliam explain not only how he did his animated linking pieces, but also how he arrived at the imagery.

This 36-hour collection is something every Python fan should have.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, November 24, 2008

Well, out of the pan and into the fire! I've got three days – and the first has ended – to write stories for the next two editions as I'm taking some time off.

I'd like to share with you some of the stuff that clogs up my in-box:

Holiday Weekend is Busiest of the Year For Plumbers
Cincinnati, OH- Reporters are welcome to join our plumbers on the job. Please call to make arrangements.

The Thanksgiving weekend is anything but a holiday for plumbing and drain cleaning professionals who often sacrifice family time for a bigger paycheck.

Thanksgiving feasts are responsible for so many kitchen sink and sewer clogs that the day after Thanksgiving is the single busiest day of the year for Roto-Rooter, the nation's largest provider of plumbing and drain cleaning services.

Most Americans take part in Thanksgiving celebrations with eleven or more people. Big holiday meals require a busy kitchen, meaning lots of grease and food go down the kitchen drain into the garbage disposal. Holiday guests require extra showers, wash cycles and toilet flushes. "Often, a house already has partially clogged drainpipes that aren't noticeable until holiday guests arrive and overwhelm the system," said Paul Abrams, a spokesman for Roto-Rooter.

Incoming calls to Roto-Rooter should jump just under 50% over an average Friday. The four-day Thanksgiving weekend represents a 21% increase above any other Thursday through Sunday period of the year. Added revenue will likely approach a million dollars for Friday alone. It is unclear whether the economic slowdown will impact emergency calls this year.

By following these recommendations, Thanksgiving hosts can avoid a visit from their plumber over the holiday weekend:

Never pour fats or cooking oils down drains. They solidify in pipes. Instead, wipe grease from pots with paper towels and throw in trash.

No stringy, fibrous waste in the garbage disposal (poultry skins, celery, fruit potato peels). Disposals can't sufficiently grind these items.

Make sure disposal is running when you put food into it. Don't wait until it's full to turn on.

Wait ten minutes between showers so slow drains have time to do their job.

Never flush cotton balls, swabs, hair or facial scrub pads down a toilet. They don't dissolve and they cause clogs.

If you need a plumber, call before the holidays to avoid delays and holiday service charges.

Roto-Rooter was established in 1935 and operates businesses in 115 company-owned territories and 500 independent franchise territories serving approximately 91 percent of the U.S. population and 55% of the Canadian population.

That's front page stuff!

I recently received an e-mail from some publicity guru advising people that this approach – sending out ads disguised as stories – was the way companies were going to beat out hard economic times. Advertising, the e-mail advised, wasn't enough and it cost money. This technique was far less costly.

And far less effective. If Roto-Roooter had taken out an ad they would have been assured of someone seeing their message. This approach is a definite crap shoot.

But I did learn that having company can out a strain on my plumbing. I'll just rent a Sani-Kan and put in on the back porch for the holidays!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm in the middle of a really tough week thanks to the Thanksgiving printing schedule for the paper and while I should dash off some pithy local political comment, I just don't have it in me.

But I can be a fanboy. so go here watch the video,, and come back.

Don't worry I'll wait.

Okay, is it just me or does Frank Miller's concept of The Spirit have far less to do with Will Eisner than with "Sin City?" Hey I love the movie "Sin City," but I also love the beauty of Eisner's comic book creation – great art, great storylines.

So why screw with it? Because Eisner is dead and Miller has Hollywood buzz.

I don't know Frank Miller. I hear he is a nice guy and I think he's very talented. But it takes a healthy ego to take someone else's work and make it your own.

Frankly I wish someone had the balls to produce a 2-d cel animated version of the property preserving the look of the original art.
Ahhh, a fanboy can dream, can't he?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Advertising fascinates the folks who made Chesterfields thought this low key rumination on the choice of ciggies and train safety compelled a reader to change brands is beyond me. The date of the ad is 1934.

"I want to be just like the engineer...I wonder what kind of beer he drinks?"

But then those Axe commercial sin which wimpy nerds get sex appeal by spraying a manly fragrance is just as inexplicable.

Side note: I was at my favorite watering hole and a young woman said I smelled good. I stopped putting on after-shave once I grew the beard and told her so. She smiled said that I "smelled clean." There's a concept.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Okay. First go here and listen to this five-minute report on WFCR radio

While I certainly embrace the idea of employing musicians and enabling audiences to connect with an artist's work through a live performance, I really do object to taking a film with an established score and junking it.

It's clear they selected the Superman shorts because they are in the public domain and because their reputation can still draw an audience, but I think it is pretentious to assume that you can create something better than what the original creators of a film did.

Writing new scores for silent pictures is a great idea as many films never had a score written for them and I hope this group would consider doing something like that in the future.

Am I being too zealous a keeper of the Fleischer flame here? Perhaps some might think, but frankly I don't care.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I've just learned of the death of an American pop culture original: Rudy Ray Moore.

The comedian, actor and producer died Oct. 19 and Mark Martin tipped me off. Thanks Mark.

From the Los Angeles Times

By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
October 21, 2008

Rudy Ray Moore, the self-proclaimed "Godfather of Rap" who influenced generations of rappers and comedians with his rhyming style, braggadocio and profanity-laced routines, has died. He was 81.

Moore, whose low-budget films were panned by critics in the 1970s but became cult classics decades later, died Sunday night in Toledo, Ohio, of complications from diabetes, his brother Gerald told the Associated Press.

Though he was little known to mainstream audiences, Moore had a significant effect on comedians and hip-hop artists.

"People think of black comedy and think of Eddie Murphy," rap artist Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew told the Miami Herald in 1997. "They don't realize [Moore] was the first, the biggest underground comedian of them all. I listened to him and patterned myself after him."

And in the liner notes to the 2006 release of the soundtrack to Moore's 1975 motion picture "Dolemite," hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg said:

"Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that's for real."

When it came to his own sense of his accomplishments, Moore was never burdened by immodesty.

"These guys Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac claim they're the Kings of Comedy," Moore told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2003. "They may be funny, but they ain't no kings. That title is reserved for Rudy Ray Moore and Redd Foxx."

The heyday of his fame was in the 1970s, with the release of "Dolemite" followed by "The Human Tornado," "Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law" and "Money Hustler."

The way Moore told it, his introduction to Dolemite came from an old wino named Rico, who frequented a record shop Moore managed in Los Angeles. Rico told foul-mouthed stories about Dolemite, a tough-talking, super-bad brother, whose exploits had customers at the record shop falling down with laughter.

One day Moore recorded Rico telling his stories. Later Moore assumed the role of Dolemite, a character who became the cornerstone of his decades-long career as a raunchy comedian, filmmaker and blues singer.

"What you call dirty words," he often said, "I call ghetto expression."

But long before "Dolemite" debuted on theater screens, Moore had found fame -- and fans -- through stand-up routines and a series of sexually explicit comedy albums.

Not only were the album contents raunchy, the album covers featured women and Moore nude and were too racy for display. So store clerks kept the albums under the counter. Without airplay or big-studio promotion, the so-called party records were underground hits.

"I put records in my car and traveled and walked across the U.S. I walked to the ghetto communities and told people to take the record home and let their friends hear it. And before I left the city, my record would be a hit. This is how it started for me," he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 2001.

Although contemporaries such as Foxx and Richard Pryor found success with a broader audience, Moore's stardom was bounded by the geography of race and class: He was a hit largely in economically disadvantaged African American communities.

According to his website, Moore was born in Fort Smith, Ark., on March 17, 1927.

In his youth Moore worked as a dancer and fortune teller and he entertained while serving in the U.S. Army. But his big break came with the recording of his Dolemite routine.

By the time Dolemite appeared on film, he was the ultimate ghetto hero: a bad dude, profane, skilled at kung-fu, dressed to kill and hell-bent on protecting the community from evil menaces. He was a pimp with a kung-fu-fighting clique of prostitutes and he was known for his sexual prowess.

For all the stereotypical images, Moore bristled at the term blaxploitation.

"When I was a boy and went to the movies, I watched Roy Rogers and Tim Holt and those singing cowboys killing Indians, but they never called those movies 'Indian exploitation' – and I never heard 'The Godfather' called 'I-talian exploitation,' " he told a reporter for the Cleveland Scene in 2002.

Late in life, Moore saw his work win fans far beyond his African American audience. There is a "Dolemite" website and chat room that boasts a cross-cultural collection of young fans. Such interest won him mainstream work in an advertisement for Altoid Mints and a commercial for Levi's jeans.

Though Moore built a career on talking dirty, he was very religious. He took pride in taking his mother to the National Baptist Convention each year and often spoke in church at various functions. He rationalized his role as a performer.

"I wasn't saying dirty words just to say them," he told the Miami Herald in 1997. "It was a form of art, sketches in which I developed ghetto characters who cursed. I don't want to be referred to as a dirty old man, rather a ghetto expressionist."

The first time I became aware of Moore's work was seeing a trailer for "The Human Tornado" and wondering just who the hell is this guy and where can I see this movie. I wasn't disappointed when I saw his films. They were entertaining in a Mystery Science Theater way and yet seemed as genuine as a Grandma Moses painting.

Wal-Mart currently has new DVD releases on several of his titles. Go out and buy "Petey Wheatstraw" and "The Human Tornado."

I had the pleasure of meeting Moore several times and each time he struck me as gentleman. He called me a "bad M.F." on my autographed photo. I loved it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Betty Boop and Sarah Palin?! How did this tidbit escape me?

"CNN compares winking Sarah Palin to Betty Boop
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Tuesday October 7, 2008

Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's exaggerated winks during her debate with Democrat Joe Biden last week have received a great deal of attention and inspired a considerable amount of comedy.

CNN's Jeanne Moos surveyed some of the reactions to Palin's winks, from Alec Baldwin's imitation on Real Time with Bill Maher to Tina Fey's impersonation of Palin on Saturday Night Live.

The Huffington Post created a music video out of Palin's repeated winks, Jay Leno joked about it, and Bill Maher got laughs just by reading out conservative Rich Lowry's description of how he "sat up a little straighter" in response to the wink.

Conservatives, in turn, have been retaliating by accusing Biden of botox use, comparing his smooth forehead at the debate with a crinkled photo from a few years ago.

CNN asked people on the street about Palin's winks, getting reactions ranging from "a nice fresh face" to "totally fake."

However, CNN may now have found the ultimate Palin comparison -- a 1932 cartoon titled "Betty Boop for President," in which Betty winks broadly while singing, "Some of you have money, while some are poor, you know. If you send me to Washington, I'll just divide the dough, oh!"

No doubt Palin, who insisted at the debate that paying taxes is "not patriotic," would consider Boop's plans for income redistribution -- along with her promises that "we will get things for nothing, movies, cabarets and jazz!" -- to mark her as a wild-eyed radical and probable associate of the Weather Underground.

Watch for yourself.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Hey, remember the future?

People used to be fascinated about how technology could affect their lives and what kind of lives to expect in a not too distant future. Remember how World Fairs used to be the place to see prototype cars and dioramas of cities that looked like they were out of "Metropolis?"

Jet packs – We were all going to commute to work by jet pack. And moving sidewalks. And highways that controlled the speed and safety of driving

And yet, I don't remember – correct me if I'm wrong – people in the 1930s through '60s predicting home computers, debit cards or cell phones – the three things that have undoubtedly changed life and society the most in the past 25 years.

Oh and Oxyclean as well. In fact about any product hawked by Billy Mays.

The magazines such these often depicted inventions that made impacts to our infrastructure and yet that seems the part of American society that has seen the least technological improvements. Other countries have bullet trains, elaborate subway and trolley systems. We make headlines with collapsing bridges.

Today people talk about how television and the Internet are going to be combined and whether or not we'll have an electronic device on which to read magazines and books. Compared to monorails and jet packs, our future just isn't as interesting.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, November 07, 2008

I haven't posted any DVD reviews in a while, so here are some of my recent columns.

Each week the bulk of my movie-watching time is spent reviewing DVDs for this column. This past week I did something fairly rare for me I didn't watch a single thing that I was supposed to watch.

Instead I took the time to watch DVDs in the growing pile of films that I've purchased for my collection. So what does a reviewer watch when he doesn't have to slog through new releases? Read on.

The first DVD I grabbed was a two-disc set that contains the two films "The Tiger of Eschnapur" and "The Indian Tomb." I'm a big fan of the work of director Fritz Lang and have wanted to see these films for years. American audiences had only seen these 1959 productions in a highly edited drive-in movie version called "Journey to the Lost City." The small DVD company Fantoma ( has released them in their original form.

Lang was one of Germany's top directors, having made such films as "Metropolis" and "M," but didn't agree with the Nazi philosophy and came to the United States in the early 1930s where he became a citizen and made an impressive group of films for Hollywood studios including the film noir classics "The Woman in the Window" and "Scarlet Street." He also made one of my favorite journalism films, "While the City Sleeps."

In the late 1950s he returned to Germany to make a film of a script he had intended to film the 1920s an adventure film about an architect in India who falls in love with a temple dancer who is also sought after by the local maharajah.

The films are fabulous. Lang cleverly made sure there was no particularly modern technology shown, such as cars, which would set a firm date for the story. Instead you have a dream-like fantasy filmed on location in India with beautiful settings and in lush color. The films were Lang's last big productions. He would do only one more film also worth seeing, "The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse" before ill health forced him to retire.

Debra Paget played the temple dancer and was the lone American in the cast. Paget had appeared in many films in the 1950s, but didn't rise to the level of stardom that she deserved in my opinion. She is absolutely stunning in this role.

I recently purchased a group of films from Alpha Home Entertainment, which is sold on the company's Web site, Alpha specializes in older films that have fallen in the public domain. What that means is you do take a chance the print from which the DVD was mastered may not be of the highest quality. I have to say that I've been pleased for the Alpha releases I've purchased over the years.

Among the films I bought were "Tarzan and the Golden Lion," a 1927 silent Tarzan adventure starring actor and football player James Pierce. I interviewed Pierce back in 1970s about his career in film. He had costarred with the Marx Brothers in "Horse Feathers," was the King of Lion Men in the first "Flash Gordon" serial with Buster Crabbe and appeared in B-Westerns and other serials. He was also Edgar Rice Burroughs' son-in-law, having met his wife on the set of the Tarzan movie.

When I spoke to Pierce he said his Tarzan film was "lost," having been made by FBO, a studio that was dissolved at the beginning of the sound era. Few FBO films have survived. I don't know if Pierce lived to see his star turn recovered, but I'm glad I saw it.

Let's face it, all Tarzan films are just a little goofy and this one has plenty of incredulous moments, but I liked it.

I also bought an Alpha animation compilation called "Cartoon Rarities of the 1930s." Regular readers of this column might recall my interest in animation my book, "Escape! How Animation Went Mainstream in the 1990s" is available at all on-line booksellers and this 108-minute DVD is chock full of oddities from Warner Brothers, Ub Iwerks, the Van Beuren Studios and the Fleischer Brothers, among others. The prints vary in quality the black and white cartoons fare better but I relished the chance to see cartoons that I hadn't seen before.

Finally from Alpha, I bought a Tom Tyler double feature. Tyler was a B-Western star who had a fascinating career. Besides starring in low-budget Westerns, Tyler was among the very few of his peers who pursued an acting career out of his genre. He had prominent character roles in "Gone With the Wind," "Talk of the Town" and other "A" productions. He also starred in a number of serials, including the one that many fans believe is the single best serial ever made, "The Adventures of Captain Marvel."

It's difficult to explain my affection for B-Westerns as many of them feature repetitive plots with threadbare production values and hokey performances. Tyler, though, has proven always to be interesting to watch and "Trigger Tom" actually was fun with a plot and a setting that was a cut above the usual oater.

I still have a pretty big pile of unwatched DVDs including a group of Chinese productions I love Hong Kong cinema but next week my nose will be back at the cinematic grindstone.

I first discovered "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST3K) during a Thanksgiving marathon on Comedy Central in 1991. The movie the guys were taunting was the Roger Corman science fiction film "It Conquered the World," and all I could think was "This is the best print I've ever seen of this movie and these guys are ruining it."

How little I understood. It didn't take long for my wife and I to become big MST3K fans.

Created by stand-up comic Joel Hodgeson, MST3K had a great premise of poking fun of bad movies making some of the most unwatchable films actually enjoyable. Set on the "Satellite of Love," Hodgeson played a man marooned on the spacecraft by a pair of evil scientists who force him to watch bad movies as part of their experiments. Aided by two smart aleck robots he created from spare parts on the satellite, Hodgeson is able to wisecrack his way to mental health.

Shout Factory is now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the start of the show with a lavish boxed set that includes four MST3K programs, prints of the new cover art for the four films, a three part documentary on the history of the show, footage of the cast reunion at this year's San Diego Comic Con and a statue of Crow T. Robot.

What is amazing to me about MST3K is that even with cast changes for instance, Hodgeson left his own show and was replaced on camera by the program's head writer Michael J. Nelson the show remained consistently hilarious.

In the documentary, Nelson said the writers, who were all stand-up comics, had an affinity for the Monty Python style of humor of mixing both the silly and the cerebral. With hundreds of jokes in each show, the pop culture and literary references came so fast that repeat viewings were needed just to hear all of the gags. It's little wonder the program won a prestigious Peabody Award for its writing.

In many ways the MST3K shows were mini-film classes on what not to do. When I taught film classes at a local college I always showed a truly horrible film in order to provide a comparison for a good production. The MST3K cast frequently pointed out continuity mistakes, bad camera works, as well as bad performances and putrid plot points.

The four movies in this set are great examples of the kind of film dregs with which the cast and writers had to work. "Future War," which the cast points out is neither about the future or a war, involves dinosaurs trained to track escaped slaves. "Laser Blast" is about a troubled teen his mother is always leaving him to go to parties in Mexico who finds an alien ray gun and starts shooting everything. "The First Spaceship on Venus" is a deadly earnest science fiction film showing international cooperation. "Werewolf" may be the dumbest movie of its kind ever made and it is a very satisfying MST3K experience,

All of the films are making their DVD debut in this set.

The films are cheesy, the writing is sharp and this set made me wish the show was still on the air. MST3K is still in production, though, in a way. Hodgeson and a number of cast members are involved with Cinema Titanic ( and are producing MST3K-like DVDs ridiculing bad movies.

Nelson and two other cast members are the brains behind Riff Trax (, at which folks can download their commentaries onto their mp3 devices to play along and skewer the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

In Western Massachusetts, the presidential race clearly out-shone the local and state races, but there was some interesting events that took place.

The fact that we now have furthered out liberal status by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and have eliminated dog-racing on the basis it's cruel will certainly be additional material for the nations' conservative commentators.

I couldn't see how the advocates for eliminating the income tax thought such a measure would eliminate wasteful spending as the people in government who have the power would have made sure they would have been insulated from such change. If people want to see reform in this state, get a new Legislature and institute terms limits.

Republican Jeff Beatty ran a busy grassroots effort to unseat Sen. John Kerry.

Kerry prevailed in the election, although the attention his Democratic primary opponent Ed O’Reilly received indicated that Kerry is not criticism-proof.

An indication of Kerry’s standing was seen at a fundraiser he conducted at the Red Rose restaurant in Springfield earlier this year that didn’t draw the usual group of elected officials to pay their obligatory tribute. Normally every mayor in the area would attend such an event for Kerry –who seldom visits Western Massachusetts. That was not the case.

Beatty was perhaps the best Republican candidate the party has fielded for the Senate since the late multi-millionaire inventor Ray Shame back in the 1980s. His background in the military, CIA and business gave him a lot to talk about.

Ultimately though Kerry’s organization, campaign coffers and incumbency overwhelmed Beatty. One aspect of that race that may have made a difference was the lack of statewide debates between the two men. Beatty told me it was the jobs of the press and non-profit groups to arrange debates and not his responsibility, which might have been a mistake.

In local races, it wasn’t surprising that Brian Hoose, a man who despite his activity in Democratic Party politics for years, didn’t unseat incumbent Don Humason in Westfield as state rep. Westfield has long been a republican stronghold going back to the days of Steve Pierce and voters are loathe to replace state reps as long as they are personable and represent their districts.

Humason is one of the friendliest elected officials I’ve encountered and he literally wears a heart on his sleeve – his ever-present “I love Westfield” button.

I hope that Hoose stays active in politics though.

Nathan Bech, the West Springfield businessman and Army veteran, started his campaign for Congress against long-time incumbent John Olver in the summer and was aggressive in his near daily e-mails to the press pointing out the differences between his points of view and Olver’s.

Olver didn’t enter the fray until September, essentially ignoring Bech’s existence until he really had to acknowledge it.
Olver didn’t communicate too much with the press, especially after he suggested that Western Massachusetts would best be served by having one Congressional District – eliminating Congressman Richard Neal’s seat.

Olver’s campaign efforts were marked by television ads – one of which he recycled from the last election – and by radio ads that attacked John McCain rather than Bech.

The stream of e-mails from Bech dramatically diminished to this writer in October, just when conventional wisdom notes they should have increased.

It’s interesting to note that Sen. John McCain was widely criticized for being too old at age 72 for the presidency, while no one noted Olver is the same age nor were there questions of his competency.

It’s probably safe to say there will be no change in that seat until Olver decides to retire.

In the race to replace out-going State Rep. Mary Rogeness, there was a battle between Longmeadow Select Board members William Scibelli and Brian Ashe. The conventional wisdom was that Scibelli had the edge. He is Republican running for a position that has traditionally been Republican. He clearly out-spent Ashe and because he is a self-employed attorney, he had more time to campaign.

Ashe’s victory was truly an upset, especially considering he had failed to show up for a televised debate with Scibelli just days before the election. One might wonder if it was Scibelli’s record on the Select Board or if the Democratic wave felt in many elections across the country propelled Ashe over the finish line.

Other state legislative races locally were lackluster. State Rep. Ben Swan had dispatched his two opponents during the primary. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera once again handily put down George Vazquez, whose campaign this time was marred by a conviction for assault.

In many other races, state reps and senators didn’t face opposition making this observer wonder if people are satisfied with the performances of local officials or if the hurdles presented by incumbency are too overwhelming.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What Zogby is saying this morning:

"UTICA, New York - Democrat Barack Obama has increased his lead to 11.4 points over Republican John McCain in the latest Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby daily tracking poll -- up from a 7.1 point advantage in yesterday's report. The final tally now stands at 54.1% for Obama compared to 42.7% for McCain.

"Pollster John Zogby: 'Obviously anything can happen on Election Day, but Americans want change and it seems very clear that the historic candidacy of Sen. Obama defines that change.'"


"UTICA, New York - Reuters/Zogby telephone surveys of eight battleground states show Democrat Barack Obama enters Election Day in a very favorable position to be elected President, having made inroads on formerly Republican turf, while GOP candidate John McCain plays defense. Here is the final wrap-up of battleground states in the race for the White House 2008.

"The surveys were conducted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, 2008. Sample sizes in each state ranged from 600-605, with a margin of error of +/-4.1%."

It was busy but there were no lines at my polling place in Springfield but I went before 8 a.m. if McCain proves the pollsters wrong, then it will be interesting to see if that industry survives as it will have lost considerable credibility.

I voted for Obama – no surprise there – even though he wasn't my candidate in the primaries. We can't afford a guy like McCain who has shown so little judgement as to select his vice presidential candidate without proper vetting.

Boy, I wonder who got fired over this?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Because of my nagging adherence to ethics and loyalty, I won't post my story on the revelations surrounding the document that could pave the way to take the former Mason Square Library back through eminent domain until Monday when it is published in the 16 Acres edition of The Reminder.

What I do want to say here is on the bombshell nature of the deal struck between the Urban League and the Attorney General's office to allow the sale of the renovated library to the Urban League in 2003.

Seldom have I covered a government meeting when a document is produced that literally stops a conversation and starts a new one. That is what happened on Thursday when City Councilor Patrick Markey presented the documents from the Attorney General's office. There was an unreal movie quality about the moment.

It was clear that Mayor Domenic Sarno had come to the meeting to defend his decision to seek funding from the Library Foundation to purchase another building for the library and that plan was derailed when the document showed the path to reclaim the building through the courts was possible.

The city needs to move forward quickly and re-establish the library in the building for which it was intended. The people of the four neighborhoods who use that library have gone long enough without a proper branch.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs