Sunday, February 26, 2006

Our local daily, The Republican, ran a story in its national briefs section in its Sunday edition about a woman in Texas who was on trial for murdering her 10-month-old daughter by cutting off both her arms. A mistrial had been declared.

Now there is no local connection to this case. The three other briefs in the section were stories on how a roll of quarters in Texas tested positive for ricin, a deadly poison; a study on prostrate cancer treatments; and how Google’s latest legal volley in its fight to keep certain Internet record private.

The publishing of the other three items does make news sense. We all use quarters, prostrate cancer is a serious problem and many of us do not want the Bush Administration to peek into our private on-line lives.
But why publish the hideous child murder piece?

It’s a great example of how a “respectable” broadsheet uses classic tabloid techniques.

Big city tabs were well known throughout most of their history to compete with one another for crime stories that would grab the public’s attention. In this country sex might sell, but one has to be careful just what kinds of sex story will be acceptable.

With sex, context is everything.

Newspapers that call themselves “family” publications know that a sexual story might enrage some readers and perhaps even some advertisers. Crime stories do not generate that kind of reaction.

The folks that might be shocked at the inclusion of a “Page Three Girl” to draw readers probably are not the ones who shy away from such crime stories as the one from Texas.

There is no moral in the Texas story. We learn nothing other than a woman who was undoubtedly unhinged took her child’s life in an incredibly hideous way.

If there is no local angle and if the story doesn’t provide some information that could prevent a similar crime from taking place, then why did the editor charged with making up that section run it?

I’m not a mind reader, but I’m sure that editor thought it would create a little water cooler buzz for readers. It’s something so horrendous, it will be memorable and provide the fodder for idle conversation.

Another thing to consider is that this newspaper has little daily local competition. It didn’t need to run the piece because it needed to beat some competing newspaper.

No, this little gem ran because someone thought it provided entertainment value.

Now I will readily admit being entertained by material some would say is in bad taste. The difference is that material is not real. It’s made-up.

I find nothing but profound sadness in such a story – a futile sadness because there is nothing I as a reader can go about the situation.

Except stop reading the Sunday Republican.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

My friend Marty Langford has made that great leap that all film nuts hope to take one day – from being a fan to being a film maker. He and his creative partner Warren Amerman just signed a deal with Heretic Films to distribute their science fiction thriller Magdalena's Brain.

I'm jealous!

I've had the pleasure and privilege to write three stories about this accomplished low-budget production and I thought I'd post them in chronological order.

Other folks here in western Massachusetts are making movie as well, and I'll post their stories as well.

July 8, 2004

It’s in the mid-afternoon of the fourth day of shooting and the director of photography is carefully lining up and rehearsing what appears to be a simple shot. The camera is to glide through a set of computer equipment with the lead character walking in the background. One person carefully guided the dolly on which the camera is mounted while two others keep the wires attached to the camera out of the path of the dolly’s track.

After trying several variations of the camera movement, the director positions the actress, gives her instructions and quietly said, “Action!” Peering into a video monitor enclosed in black shroud, the director said that the movement is too fast, while another take it is too slow. After a few more moments, though, the desired shot – lasting only a few seconds – is achieved.

Marty Langford, producer and co-writer of Magdalena’s Brain, whispers to me, “Look at the light pouring through the window. This is going to look great.”

The crew quickly breaks down the camera and goes to an adjacent part of the set for the next shot. The continuity person makes notes to be used to match this shot with others, and the make-up artist is finishing shaving the side of actor Sanjiban Sellew’s head.

This isn’t Hollywood, but if Langford gets his wish, the Pioneer Valley will become a center for independent film production.

The set is on the third floor of Mill #2 of the Open Square complex in Holyoke and will be the hub of activity for Glowing Screen Inc. for most of the month. The fledging production company is shooting a script written by Langford and Warren Amerman. Amerman is directing and Langford is producing.

And while this is the company’s first feature film, the crew is all film production veterans. Langford, an Agawam resident, is a hardcore movie fan who went into the business. He is a producer at Veritech in East Longmeadow working on commercial and business films and he also teaches a screen-writing course at Westfield State College.

Amerman, a musician who runs the Rotary Records recording studio in East Longmeadow, has directed short films in the past. The rest of the crew has professional experience behind the camera and hails from western Massachusetts communities such as Chicopee, Springfield, Monson and Tolland.

Langford said that he and Amerman wanted to write a script that was feasible to shoot on a low budget, so they devised this dramatic story with science fiction undertones about a once promising brain surgeon who has retreated from society after an accident that nearly killed her husband.

The husband had been working on a device that transfers memories from one person to another, but something horribly gone wrong and is now bound to a wheelchair unable to communicate, except for an electronic device that he wears around his throat. She is continuing his work, though, in an abandoned factory building.

“This is a real moody piece, a dark moody piece,” said Langford.

Langford and his crew have set up shop on the un-restored third floor of the mill building. Along one wall is a make-up area and the sets are built on the opposite end. There is a lounge for the cast and crew on the next floor.

Langford said that about half of the $25,000 budget goes to rent the camera and to pay for the lead of the film, Los Angeles-based actress Amy Shelton-White. The rest of the cast and crew are donating their services or deferring their payments because they want to work on the feature. Open Square owner John Aubin has donated the use of the space.

If he had to pay for everything, Langford estimated the budget would be between $125,000 to $150,000.

“Everyone has been so cool and helpful,” said Langford.

Shelton-White came to Langford and Amerman’s attention thanks to Springfield native Mark Sikes, who has been a casting director in Los Angeles for a number of years. Langford and Amerman went through many audition tapes of actresses on both coasts before settling on Shelton-White. The actress has had numerous roles in independent films and on television productions and said that she is attracted to productions where there are “people of quality.”

Later in the week, there will be location shooting at a robotics lab at UMass, a local hospital and outdoor locations. Too much traveling can tax the resources of a low budget production, Langford noted.

Langford said the shooting schedule allows the crew to be flexible and to take their time, unlike many independent productions, which by financial necessity must rush from one camera set-up to another. Technical quality is very important to the company and the rented camera is the same model used by George Lucas to film the last two Stars Wars films.

Langford and Amerman’s immediate goal is to have the film ready in September to enter it in festival such as Sundance. They want to get the film in a number of festivals later this year and next year in order to increase its exposure and to find a suitable distributor.

“I’m confident we can get this film on the shelves,” he said as two different camera operators buzzed around the set with their own cameras shooting footage that undoubtedly could become a “making-of” feature for a DVD release.

The long-term goal, though, is to make one or two features a year and build a film making community in Western Massachusetts, explained Langford. Although mainstream films ranging from Cider House Rules to Malice to Stanley and Iris have been shot in the Valley, Langford envisions a group of local filmmakers who could provide a talent pool for each other and utilize the area’s scenic resources.

Looking at the crew work, Langford, beamed “This is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life.”

Oct. 6, 2004

Local film makers Marty Langford and Warren Amerman are now hard to work putting the finishing touches on their first feature-length film Magdelena’s Brain.

As previously reported in this newspaper, principal photography took place this summer in locations in Holyoke and Chicopee. Langford, the producer, and Amerman, the director, are now working on the final version of the film, including the musical score and final sound effects. The two men co-wrote the screenplay.

They are preparing a final version for an invitation-only premiere at the Basketball Hall of Fame theatre later this month. They are also submitting their film to several film festivals, including Sundance and Slamdance, which is their first step in marketing their production.

The team invited this reporter for an advance look at the film and for a discussion on how their first feature turned out.

The film is an under-stated but involving character study of a young woman whose husband has suffered a debilitating accident while during a medical experiment. With several significant twists and turns, this film bridges the gap between a drama and a thriller and has a science fiction undertone that plays very realistically.

Amerman’s style as a director is to eschew the kind of camera tricks and editing stunts that characterize many films today. The stylishly composed photography and the crisp editing keep the emphasis on the film’s story and performances.

Shot with the same kind of high definition digital camera used by director George Lucas for his last two Star Wars films, Magdelena’s Brain has a sharper image that many low-budget film are able to achieve.

The photography and production design doesn’t betray the tight budget – under $30,000 – and the 14-day shooting schedule. The biggest expense, Langford said with a smile was feeding the cast and crew.

“The shoot went well,” said Amerman. “Many disasters could have happened, but there were no knock-out blows.”

“We all had to wear many other hats,” said Langford. He added that his biggest job on the film was making sure that Ameran could focus on the actual shoot. In turn, Amerman said his biggest challenge was to know when to “move on” from one scene to the next.

Both men heaped praise on the film’s lead Amy Shelton-White whom they hired from Los Angeles, CA. While they said the supporting cast of local actors were fine, that Shelton-White “brought everyone else up,” said Langford.

Amerman said that she would stay in character “until she heard the word ‘cut’” even if the action in the scene was over. “She was wonderful,” he added.

In order to build a reputation for the film, Langford and Ameran are researching film festivals in order to decide which would help advance their marketing campaign. They said there are literally hundreds of festivals and the issue is to find out what significant movies have appeared in the past at which festivals.
“We both like the idea of a successful festival run,” said Langford.

Feb. 22, 2006

In a digital-editing suite at Veritech Corporation, Marty Langford is editing footage from his science fiction thriller Magdalena’s Brain. Langford isn’t working on the feature itself – he’s preparing deleted footage for the extras section of the film’s national DVD release.

Langford and his partner, Warren Amerman, recently signed an agreement with Heretic Films, a San Francisco-based distributor. Their locally produced feature should be at retail outlets such as Best Buy,, Sun Coast and Virgin for sale and for rent at Hollywood Video in July.

With a North American distribution deal set, the team has set their sights at exploring foreign distribution deals and domestic and foreign television sales.

Magdelena’s Brain was shot in the summer of 2004 in several locations in Hampden County, but primarily at Open Square in Holyoke. Langford produced the film and Amerman directed it. They collaborated on the script.

Starring Amy Shelton-White, the film is a story about an experiment in artificial intelligence gone terribly wrong and the toil that it takes on one woman.

Prior to the interview, Langford was working on amending the credits of the film and preparing a group of deleted scenes. The distributor had requested that Langford and Amerman produce a group of extras and Langford noted that there weren’t many scenes not used in the low-budget film.

He showed one scene in which Amerman shot two different versions with different actors. At first, the team thought the first actor was the problem in the scene; however, with the second version, they realized that the scene as written was the problem, not the performers. Langford noted that deleted scenes were not included in the final cut of a movie for a reason.

Langford and Amerman recently recorded a commentary for the film and he said it was a fast-moving experience. Neither man had seen the movie for several months and they sat in Amerman’s recording studio with a bottle of wine.

Langford said, “no one cares about me or Warren on a personal level,” so they didn’t focus their commentary on stories that would come across as self-indulgent. Instead they used the commentary track as an opportunity to share some of the lessons they learned during the shoot.

“We talked about how to work around restrictions,” Langford said. He added that the recording period sped by and they were tempted to do another track to include more information for fledgling filmmakers.

The two men found their distributor by soliciting companies that had a catalog that included films similar to theirs. They sent out a number of copies of the film and two companies expressed interest. Eventually, they signed on with Heretic.

Langford and Amerman are now considering their second feature. Langford noted that many directors break into the business with a horror film because horror fans are the “least discriminating.” As long as a director includes the story elements that please the fans, its audience can deem his or her film a success. Langford said this with a smile, as he is a fan of horror films, himself.

Their next feature will be a heist movie, a genre both men enjoy. Langford described it as “a group of everymen with no specialties who must work together.”

Monday, February 20, 2006

I've gone to the Toy Fair in New York City for five or six years now and like all trade show, it's a great peek at what 's coming up in a particular field.

The following story was written for the newspapers I edit so there is a western Mass. angle to it. I hope it will still be of interest to a wider audience.

NEW YORK, NY – Western Massachusetts toy companies came to the American International Toy Fair last week with a positive message about the state of their business.

Representatives from Hasbro Games of East Longmeadow, Omniglow of West Springfield and LEGO Group from bordering Enfield, Conn., all had good things to say not only about their new lines of products, but about the financial state of the industry at the American International Toy Fair that took place from Feb. 12 through 15.

According to the Toy Industry Association’s most recent annual report on toy sales, there was a five percent decline in overall sales from November 2003 to October 2004. The decline, according to the report could be attributed to a variety of factors including “age compression” – in which children are being interested in more sophisticated toys at increasingly younger ages – to the lack of trendy licensed products.

In two categories important to the region, building sets went from $706.5 million in sales during November 2002 to Oct. 2004 to $614.8 million from November 2003 to October 2004. During the same two periods games and puzzles went from $2.5 billion to $2.3 billion.

More recent statements show that in 2005, local companies were on the rebound. According to a press release issued in October 2005, Hasbro reported, “Revenues in the games segment were $252.9 million for the [third] quarter compared to $236.5 million a year ago,” the release reported. The increase was seen due to strength in both board and electronic games.

A press release dated Feb. 15 from the LEGO Group corporate office in Denmark cited, “The LEGO Group’s results before tax have improved considerably from a loss of DKK 1,688 million in 2004 to a profit of DKK 702 million in 2005.

“Also the Group’s financial resources (cash at bank and in hand less short-term debt) have improved considerably from a negative DKK 82 million to a positive DKK 2,604 million at Dec, 31, 2005.”

All representatives of the three companies reported a good response from the attendees of the annual trade show, despite the fact that the record-setting snowfall on the first day of the show cancelled flights and tied up traffic for several days. The Fair draws distributors and retail buyers from around the world.

The Fair is conducted in two locations in the city – the “Toy District” and the Jacob Javits Convention Center. There was far less security at the toy showroom buildings at the intersection of 25th and Broadway than in previous years and there less ballyhoo efforts as well. In past years, costumed characters handing out promotional items were common in front of the showroom buildings. This year there were none and many of the showroom themselves were not occupied.

At the Javits Center there were much fewer samples and give-aways than this reporter noticed in the past five years of covering the Fair.

LEGO Group

Julie Stern, who works in brand marketing for the construction toy company, said that 2005 was an “amazing year” for the company and said the company has new additions to its line that should build on its recent successes.

The Creator series is one of the new additions. Designed for children aged six and up, the series features kits in which from three to eight models can be built. The X-Pod line, which is now in the third year, carries on the theme of multiple choices in a smaller package designed to for children on the go. Each X-Pod has the material for three different models per kit – robots, dinosaurs, helicopters and cars are among the subjects.

Stern pointed out additions to the Technics lines for skilled builders aged eight and up that included a tow truck featuring 1,831 pieces and a motor box to power the model.

Another older line with new additions is the City line and among them is a 401-piece airplane model complete with pilot and ground crew.

Licensing plays an important role at LEGO, and the company introduced a new Batman line of construction toys at the show. Stern said the license includes characters and images from the comic books, the recent animated television series and the movies. Kits include several different Batmobiles, the Batwing plane and a Batcave playscape.

Nickelodeon also plays a major role in the new LEGO line. The company secured the rights to the entire catalog of Nickelodeon properties and has come out with a SpongeBob Squarepants group of toys among its initial effort. Children can build the Krusty Krab, as well as SpongeBob himself.

The other brand in the Nickelodeon line several kits based on the series Avatar the Last Airbender.

Stern said that 2005 was “huge” for the company’s Star War toys and that LEGO has extended its license until 2011. Among the new kits are Jabba the Hutt’s Sail Barge, complete with eight Star Wars mini-figures.

Bionicle is returning for a sixth year, Stern said, with the characters coming in new packaging featuring a different story line and swords that light up.

Imagine building a computerized toy that can be programmed for tasks as complex as sorting M&M candies by color? Mindstorms NXT is an updated version of a LEGO kit that has been sold since 1998. Stern explained that the kit has been completed updated so that a child can use his or her PC or Mac computer to download through a USB cable a program into one of thousands of model possibilities. The robots have ultrasonic, light, touch and sound sensors. The kit also is Bluetooth enabled. The kit is designed for children aged 10 and up.

A new initiative for the company is through its LEGO Builders of Tomorrow program. Children are encouraged to donate one or more of their LEGO bricks and send drawings, photos or notes describing something they think would help New Orleans become a strong city again. Each child who donates one or more of their bricks will receive a LEGO-studded rubber bracelet to recognize their contribution to the cause.

In a recent press release, Michael McNally, senior brand relations manager, LEGO Systems, said, “We are thrilled to launch a program that supports one of the largest and most important rebuilding efforts in contemporary American history. Of the 117 public schools in New Orleans, only 15 of them are currently open. We want to inspire children and families everywhere to stay mindful of this massive undertaking, but also to contribute in a playful way to a program that provides opportunities for children in New Orleans to imagine, learn and have fun, all the while knowing their peers across the country care about their well being.”

For additional details on how to participate in the program, log onto

Toy-making giant Hasbro’s 2005 line-up features old favorites in new incarnations, plus a blend of both high and low technology.

For instance, Mr. Potato Head is coming in an Easter edition. The light bulb has been replaced with a heating element in the E-Z Bake Oven, and SpongeBob Squarepants has a Monopoly set to call his own.

The company is celebrating two birthdays as well. Play-doh is 50 years old and the venerable card game Rooke has reached the century mark.

Plus the company has answered the prayers of every girl who wanted a pony but couldn’t with Butterscotch.

Butterscotch” is a new member of the company’s Furreal Friends line, explained Patricia Riso, the vice president of public relations for Hasbro Games. Unlike the other electronic plush toys in the brand, Butterscotch is big – about one third the size of a real pony. It features moving eyes, ears and head, soft fur coat and a swishing tail as well as the ability for her to “feel” when she is being groomed. She will whinny or snort her approval. Children can even “feed” her and she will support up to 200 pounds.

Butterscotch runs on batteries and will be available this fall at a suggested price of $299.99.

The best part of Butterscotch is there is nothing to clean up.

Riso noted the company believes that “tween” girls – those ages between 10 and 13 – has been under-served in the game world and the company developed several new products for them.

That’s So Raven is a licensed board game from the popular Disney Channel television series in Raven herself gives advice.

Designer’s World is a video game that allows the players to create their own fashions, select their models and present a fashion show. They also have to face the critics!

Although not just aimed at tweens, the new “Twister Dance DVD” is designed to replicate video arcade dancing games. Players try to re-create the dance steps they see on the DVD on a mat. The game gets kids up and active, Riso said.

The new Twister game requires good memory skills, as does the new version of the electronic favorite Simon. Simon Trickster just doesn’t require players to repeat a musical sequence. It will change the rules of the game as play goes along.

Cosmic Catch is an electronic catching game in which the ball tells you to whom it should be thrown.

The long-time board and dice game Yahtzee has also seen a big change with a new edition, Yahtzee Turbo.

The goal of these changes is to create games with “faster, more robust game play,” Riso explained. Another example of a high-tech overhaul is that Clue now has a DVD edition that provides visual clues.

Hasbro Games is the largest producers of puzzles in the world, Riso said, and the company is introducing a new division that will place puzzle-making kiosks in amusement parks and malls across the country. An adult or child can select one of several backgrounds, sit for a digital photograph and then two minutes later have a personalized puzzle. The company expects to roll out 50 of the kiosks in the first year of the program.

There is now both a junior and adult line of Quizzles, puzzles that combine a quiz with a puzzle challenge and additions to the company’s three-dimensional puzzles of great buildings.

For the generation lost in the 1980s, there will be a new edition of Trivial Pursuit with four collectable‘80s tokens – The Trapper Keeper, Compact Disc, Care Bear, and Rubik Cub – as well as 2,400 questions about the decade.


The West Springfield-based world leader in glow stick technology has come to the Toy Fair in past years with novelties that center around several times of the year – Halloween and Fourth of July – as well as some items designed for parties.

This year, though, the company’s line has changed dramatically, Randy Weinstein, executive director of Omniparty, explained that the acquisition of a party goods company.

Weinstein was brought in to develop a new product line that would combine the assets of both companies. The result is a line of party goods and novelties that are “now more everyday,” he said.

Now along with the company’s glow cups, leis, jewelry, necklaces, and sticks are balloons, candles and novelty packs.

The glow technology has been added to such new products as congratulation ribbons. Weinstein said the new items feature “spot glow” – the liquid glow technology in a non-glass casing. The spot glow technology is also used in a line of light-up lollipops as well.

Weinstein said the company also coordinated its packaging for a more uniform look.

The company was demonstrating two items that are not yet on sale at the Fair as well. Weinstein pointed a plastic gun in the air and with a pull of a trigger there was an explosion of confetti that flat through the air. He said the gun uses cartridges of confetti that consumers will be able to buy.

The other product, which will be on say in 2007, is glow in the dark bubbles. Children will be able to blow bubbles that they can see in a darkened room. Weinstein said that the bubble liquid is non-toxic and non-staining.

Sweet Cred

Ira Leemon, the chairman of Omniglow, is also heading up a separate new business from Omniglow’s West Springfield location. Leemon is now the American distributor for a line of candy and toys from Great Britain called Sweet Cred.

Stephanie Lepsch, the operations officer of the new business, explained that Sweet Cred – a play on the phrase “street credibility” – packages toys and candy together at an affordable price point. She said the thrust of the distribution would be convenience stores.

The Sweet Cred brand features a variety of toy and candy combinations. Lepsch demonstrated one in which a tube of candy is topped by a small remote car complete with batteries. It will retail for $2.99.

Jackpot Bags are the company’s more expensive item. These contain toys and candy centered on a play theme and there is a line for girls and another for boys. They will sell for $4.99.

Another item is Wristlickers, a snap-on bracelet with a lollipop-style hard candy under a plastic dome. The dome protects the candy in between licks and once the candy is eaten there is a light than can be turned on for additional play value.

Western Massachusetts inspirations

Eric Carle, the children’s book artist whose museum is in Amherst, was fairly prominent at the Toy Fair with seven different companies carrying his books, games and toys.

Dr. Seuss was also represented with a number of products including a line of hats from Elope. The new hats include a Oh The Places You Will Go inspired graduation mortarboard and several hats featuring Horton the elephant.

Springfield’s own GeeBee racing planes from the 1930s are the subject of detailed wooden models from Toys Models Corporation. The mahogany planes are hand-carved in the Philippines and the company was offering two different GeeBees in its current catalog.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A major pleasure, an interesting import and something very, very bad are featured in this week’s DVD column.

The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends

This themed collection from the 1970s Dick Cavett Show is my favorite so far because it features Cavett interviewing some of the most significant comics of the last century. They include Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Jack Benny.

The strength of Cavett’s interviewing style comes out with these shows. Cavett is clearly a fan, a colleague – he wrote and performed comedy before his talk show – and generally noisy. He switches gears quite often with his guests. At one point they may be doing schtick which he encourages, but then he will lead them someplace more serious and more interesting.

And Cavett had the daring to devote his 90 minutes to a single guest, something his peers at the time didn’t want to do. The result was these programs transcended the normal talk show and became more of a special event.

His program with Bob Hope is a great example. Hope was the smoothest most professional figure in show business. He was a veteran interview subject who knew what to say to sell whatever project he was promoting. With Cavett, though, he actually relaxed a bit and viewers saw more of the “real” Bob Hope.

As a Marx Brothers fan, the shows with Groucho are particularly fun. These are the programs in which Cavett gives up the reins a bit and allows Groucho to dominate and drive the conversation. Since Groucho was still mentally sharp, these shows are a treat. Groucho’s rendition of the song “Father’s Day” is worth the price of the set alone.

This is great stuff with interesting introductions that Cavett recently taped.

For more information, log onto

The Jolly Boys Last Stand

Fantasy film fans know of actor Andy Serkis because of his performance as Gollem in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and his CGI modeling for the title character in King Kong.

Now they will actually get the chance to see him without make-up in this low budget British comedy that was made in 2000 and just now coming to this shore.
Director and writer Christopher Payne’s comedy looks at a soccer club named the Jolly Boys and how the members’ way of life is being threatened by its leader’s decision (Serkis) to get married and settle down.

Part improvised, part scripted and filmed apparently in locations without permission, this film cost about $11,000. Although it received good reviews, it didn’t get widespread release in Great Britain and is now finding an audience through its DVD release.

I liked the film. It mines a pretty familiar vein – man-children being forced to come of age – but unlike Hollywood movies of the same genre, this movie’s mock documentary approach lends a realism that adds to the humor, as well as the pathetic quality of grown men hitting strangers with large fish for laughs.

For more information, log onto

Terror in the Tropics

Now, this is a difficult review to write. It’s tough to knock amateurs who think they’ve turned out a technically competent, clever little movie. Terror in the Tropics, despite its best intentions is a difficult film to watch.

Writer and director A. Susan Svehla took the format of the Carl Reiner/Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid of mixing old footage with new footage. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid succeeded because of a witty script and a seamless technical blending of the new and old material.

Terror in the Tropics, on the other hand, has an unnecessarily convoluted script that ultimately makes little sense and the technical aspects are lacking. Svehla takes movies featuring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. and weaves that footage around a story involving a reading of a will – sort of.

Because the stock footage comes from different films of varying conditions, the older footage sticks out like a sore thumb. Svehla uses Lugosi footage the most and we get to see Lugosi at different times of his life, although that doesn’t match the context of the film.

Svehla also uses a significant chunk of footage from The Most Dangerous Game but did little to match the hair and costumes of her actors to those in the older footage.

The performances of her cast vary widely. Some seem to know what they’re doing, while others blow their lines on camera.

In the extras, we learn that the film was only supposed to be shot in one day, but shooting extended to four, and that Svehla’s intent was to replicate the cheesiness of the low-budget horror shows of the 1930s and ’40s. That’s a tricky thing to do and she doesn’t succeed.

Now if you want to see a truly funny homage to bad film making, check out The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

I understand that a sequel has been planned. I hope they reconsider or actually try to do something good.

For more information, log onto

Monday, February 13, 2006

Perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to a writer is for someone to have beaten him or her to the punch.

You have an idea, you do research and then you find out that someone else has published material on the same subject.

It’s happened twice to me and both times it left a mark.

I write the following in the spirit of full disclosure before I critique the new book The Tom Tyler Story.

I became seriously interested in film in junior high school when I was drawn to the very films from which my well-meaning mother had shielded me ¬– horror movies. Through late night horror movie shows on local television, I discovered, the great gods of classic horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. My interest in film snowballed when I would watch Karloff in a non-horror film and find other actors I liked. I read every movie magazine I could find, but especially Famous Monsters of Filmland and the obscure Larry Ivie’s Monsters and Heroes. I bought edited and excerpted 8mm versions of classic Hollywood to watch over and over at home.

My favorite in the collection was an edited version of the first chapter of The Adventures of Captain Marvel. I had seen serials on television and had even seen a chapter or two of the 1943 Batman serial as part of my own Saturday matinees.

But these viewing experiences hadn’t prepared me for what the sepia image on my home screen gave me. The version I had may have been missing a soundtrack and eight or so minute of footage, but little of the sense of wonder of the 1941 Republic Studios production was gone.

Who was this guy who played Captain Marvel? Oh, my God, he’s the one who played Kharis in one of the mummy movies! And Monsters and Heroes said he was also a cowboy star.

As my interest in film grew, so did my interest in this cowboy actor named Tom Tyler who wasn’t just a cowboy actor. As I learned more I found a story that was truly American – ¬the son of immigrants who left behind the automobile plants of Detroit to follow a dream of stardom in the movies; a man who bucked the odds and succeeded where so many failed.
Tyler, like so many other cowboy heroes could have drifted into obscurity once his moment in the spotlight had ended, but he continued acting. Despite a crippling disease that changed his appearance, Tyler held onto the dream.

The story hooked me way back in 1972.

I rented as many of his films I could afford from non-theatrical firms. I tracked down a boyhood friend and corresponded with his sister. I asked a number of people about him from “Big” Jim Pierce to Buster Crabbe to Col. Tim McCoy.
Over the years, I collected his films on video, bought stills and lobby cards and chipped away at the idea of writing something in depth on the man and his unique career.

No other B-western star did what Tyler did, other than Bob Steele. Tyler was able to break out of the sagebrush ghetto to appear in supporting roles in major “A” productions.

With the revolution of e publishing, books on demand and specialty publishing I had contacted one publisher with the idea of a Tyler book in 2005. Just my luck, though, that someone else had contacted Tyler’s relatives before I did and had secured their cooperation for a book.

The Tom Tyler Story by Mike Chapman with Bobby Copeland is a well-intentioned look at Tyler’s life and career. It succeeds in bringing to light the fact that Tyler suffered from sclerodema a crippling disease that tightens and hardens the skin. This serious ailment accounts for the dramatic change in Tyler’s looks about 1949.

The book also covers his weight-lifting career in a fair amount of depth and carries a number of family photos including several with his wife Jeanne Martel.

Where the book does not succeed is placing Tyler’s film career into its proper context. For example, there is little effort to explain the significant career fall Tyler suffered when he was dropped from F.B.O. when it was transformed into RKO.

The authors were unaware that Tyler actually wanted to change his stage name in order to start out fresh in non-Western roles.

Tyler was actually actively considered by the company bankrolling F.W. Murnau’s Tabu as the lead for that picture.

The book never explains just how lousy so many of Tyler’s B-westerns were and why and how this didn’t do his career any good. Nor does it address the better ones adequately.

I got the sense that the authors hadn’t seen many of his films. Fore instance, they wrote that the serial Phantom of the Air is a “lost” film. It isn’t. Clancy of the Mounted and Jungle Mystery apparently are missing.

Tyler’s voice is described at one point as being “high and a bit squeaky at times.” There was nothing high or squeaky about Tyler’s voice. A number of writers have noted his effectiveness in playing villains because in part due to his piercing eyes and a shadow, ominous voice.

The book relies far too heavily on Don Miler’s Hollywood’s Corral, Alan Barbour’s The Thrill of it All and Days of Thrills and Adventures and other books on westerns and serials and too little original research. For western or serial fans these frequent references to books that are probably in their libraries are a little annoying.

There are still too many unanswered questions about Tyler. I wonder what he did to support himself when he just doing a handful or roles each year in the mid-late 1940s. What was the bond between John Ford and Tyler? In the early 1950s when Tyler made appearances on TV westerns was he cast because people were trying to help him out?

I caught a Hedda Hopper Hollywood short one night on TCM. In it, the gossip columnist was taking the viewer around to Hollywood nightspots. At one club, Tyler was at the same table as Desi Arnez! The two were laughing it up. Was it for the camera or were they friends?

The best part of doing research is finding answers to questions. The worst thing is the list of questions one still has at the end of the day.

Perhaps there’s still room for another book on Tyler.
I received a letter at work from Edward J. Spellacy Jr., of East Longmeadow and wanted to share it with you..

“I'm writing to say that, as a member of the media in a free society, you have a RESPONSIBILITY to publish the controversial cartoons on Islamofascism.

“I can understand the indignation of having your religion, and your religious leaders, portrayed in unflattering, even blasphemous, ways by secularists in the mainstream media. It happens to Christians ALL THE TIME in America and Europe.

“But indignation is NEVER an excuse for violence. And threats of violence need to be resisted in free nations. And the best form of resistance to Islamofascist threats here? PUBLISH THE CARTOONS.

“As freedom-loving people, we need to resist the Islamofascists on ALL fronts. In solidarity with the people of free Europe and in support of the concept of freedom of the press, you need to PUBLISH the Danish cartoons.

“Thank you.”

While I appreciate Mr. Spellacy’s concerns, I’m not going to reproduce the cartoons here and these are my reasons:

• I don’t believe that sacred religious figures such as the Prophet Muhammad should be the subjects of such type of criticism. That includes Jesus, Buddha, the Hindu gods, etc.

Now, contemporary human beings acting in the name of faith are completely fair game for cartoons. Ministers, priests, and rabbis who are in the news are fodder for the opinion mill.

• I believe the Danish newspapers were irresponsible in publishing something any decent newspaper person would have understood had a good chance of inciting violence. If news reports are correct there has been one death associated with the violence the cartoons caused. That is a tragedy. The message of the cartoons could have been portrayed in a different but less offensive way.

• The audience for our four weeklies includes American Muslims who are not in support of the terrorists who kill in the name of religion. There is no reason to publish the cartoons locally. They provide no relevant commentary. They would only insult good and loyal citizens and there is no reason to do that.

I support freedom of speech, but I also support common sense.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I received this the other day and have I got some questions.

The author is David E. Johnson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Strategic Vision, LLC, an Atlanta-based public relations and public affairs agency. He may be reached at He wanted me to publish this screed. I have. I hope he's happy.

Democrats in Congress should be thanking God for the Capitol Police (but of course they can’t acknowledge Him for fear of alienating their liberal base) for removing Cindy Sheehan from the State of the Union speech. Why do some conservatives want to spread the lie that people who call themselves "liberal" are not religious people? What kind of a Christian makes a statement such as that?

More then anything that any President Bush could say or do, the sight of Cindy Sheehan disrupting the State of the Union would have convinced voters that they can not trust Democrats with the war on terror and national security. Really, what poll did you take to back this up?

A disruption of the State of the Union would have overshadowed the Democratic response which was meant to show a Democratic Party that can appeal to red states. There was no disruption...what are you talking about?

Indeed, Cindy Sheehan at the State of the Union would been a public relations disaster of the first degree for Democrats. Of course, Ms. Sheehan says she had no intent to disrupt the State of the Union address (one believes that as much as one believes that the President of Iran may recognize Israel and acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred). What evidence do you have that Cindy Sheehan is a liar?

The episode over Cindy Sheehan is not an issue of free speech despite what she and a few others want to argue. It is rather an issue of how the far left has come to dominate the Party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and the image that they present to Americans. Really?! I thought it was a legitimate questioning of what the majority of Americans beleive is a unjustified war.

Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, and Tip O’Neil were as partisan as Democrats as one could find but they had a respect for the presidency regardless of which Party held it. One could never imagine, Tip O’Neil allowing a Cindy Sheehan admittance to the State of the Union to embarrass Ronald Reagan. Did the Speaker of this House approve Sheehan's admittance?

Yet, that is what today’s Democrats did by giving Sheehan a ticket to the State of the Union. Despite the denials of the Democratic Congresswomen involved in inviting Sheehan, it is reasonable to believe that they expected her to be a distraction at the least and a disturbance at most. It is as if an isolationist Congressman had invited a pro-Nazi sympathizer to Franklin Roosevelt’s 1940 State of the Union. Did you skip some of your high school history class? In 1940, we were not at war with Germany and there was a vocal anti-war pro-isolationist group in this nation practicing their right of free speech.

Yet a disturbance by Sheehan would have been the worse thing that could have occurred for Democrats. The Democratic response that aired Virginia Governor Kaine and was designed to paint a less liberal party would have been overshadowed by constant replaying of the Sheehan outburst. Democratic leaders from Harry Reid on, would have been called on to say if they supported Sheehan’s outburst. If they said no, they would have alienated the extreme liberals from Howard Dean on, who have captured their party. If they said yes, they agreed with Sheehan, they would have alienated millions of Americans who would have been appalled at such conduct. So luckily for Democrats, they were able to duck the issue due to the Capitol Police. Do you think that wild speculation such as this is as valid as reporting what actually happened?

They ducked the issue but they fail to realize at some point they must address it. Democrats will have to decide if the far left who would actually consider a truce with Osama bin Laden, truly does speak for their party or not. If they are the new face of the Democratic Party, no amount of public relations or spin will be able to help them. Where in hell are you getting this crap from?

It's a shame that real dialogue on issues is obscured by the worse kind of hate propaganda. But hey, he has the right to say such tripe and I have a right to disagree.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

One really wonderful film and one really bad one are featured in this week's DVD column.

Generally, many filmmakers know how to make romances. They know how to make comedies. They know how to make road movies. They know how to craft dramas.

Fables, though, are touchier propositions. With a fable, a writer is given a little leeway in the realism department in order to fulfill the point of the fable, which is to present a broad life lesson.

Successful fable moves include Frank Capra's it's a Wonderful Life and Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan.

Elizabethtown is not a good fable film and it fails as a romance, drama, comedy and road picture as well, although writer and director Cameron Crowe crams elements of those genres into the 123-minute running time.

Crowe's problem is that his script has so many self-consciously precious moments of cuteness or wisdom that the story and the characters never ring true. They remain caricatures from beginning to end.

Orlando Bloom is Drew Baylor, a shoe designer, whose new sneaker becomes a $1 billion disaster. He's fired and made to take the blame by his boss (who okayed the project) and is about to commit suicide when he learns his father has died unexpectedly of a heart attack. His wacky mom (Susan Sarandon) and sister (Judy Geer) ask him to go to the small Kentucky town (his dad's hometown) where he was visiting to escort the body back to Oregon.

On the flight to Kentucky he meets a beautiful, nosy flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst) who is not cute enough to overcome a torrent of bad dialogue that is supposed to paint her character as wise beyond her years.

We know that she and Drew are destined to be together and we quickly learn that every Drew meets is going to help him realize something significant about his life.

The film's two conclusions - yes, this thing could have ended earlier than it did - are among the most embarrassing things I've seen from a major talented filmmaker.

If I didn't have diabetes already, I would have developed it by the flood of sugar syrup this film represents.

If you must learn more about this movie, log onto www.paramount.cpm/homeentertainment.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Now here is a great movie that will entertain kids and adults alike. If you're a fan of the great series of short films starring Wallace, the absent-minded British inventor, and Gromit, his loyal dog, then you need to see this feature-length movie.

British animator Nick Park and his staff scored a hit with Chicken Run a few years back and now they are two for two. Their success comes from being able to build a successful feature-length narrative around characters that had previous only been seen in 30-minute presentations.

This is more difficult than it looks and film history is chock full of comedians in the 1920s ands '30s who could not make the transition from a two-reeler to a feature.

The feature follows the tried and true formula of our heroes coming up with an innovative invention that has won them acclaim. In this case, they operate an alarm service to prevent wildlife from eating the prize vegetables the town folks are growing for an annual contest.

While the team can handle the usual rabbits and squirrels, there is a bigger foe afoot and he or it is a....were-rabbit!
As a horror film fan, I loved the fact that this is a clear and affectionate send-up of the British-made Hammer horror films that starred actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. While there is a horror theme to the film, this should not be a deterrent to people sharing the movie with their younger children.

Funny, fast moving and clever, this film is a joy from start to finish.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My dear friend Steve Bissette asked what Myron Waldman cartoons I'd recommend people watch if they want to get a sense of his career.

Well, the unfortunate thing is that it's difficult to assess any of the folks who worked at Fleischers unless you have access to a decent VHS library. Precious little is on DVD.

That is of course a major problem as younger fans don't have access to VHS libraries because rental outlets are liquidating their VHS stock.

If you're a geezer like me who bought as much animation on VHS back in the day, then the task is relatively easy. The Betty Boop boxed VHS set has got all of Myron's Betty Boops. A LANGUAGE ALL MY OWN was a favorite of Myron's. That cartoon has not fallen to the public domain as yet so you're not apt to find it on one of the dollar DVDs that float through Wal-Mart and other retailers.

Myron did a little work on GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, which is readily available on public domain DVD, but he was much busier as a director on MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN. That film, one of the my favorites, is not available on DVD and is not a public domain title.

Jerry Beck did a fine job several years ago with VCI in collecting the Fleischer Color Classics, Max's answer to Disney's Silly Symphonies. That DVD set is pretty essential viewing and has EDUCATED FISH and HUNKY AND SPUNKY, two of Myron's best and Academy Award nominees.

The Fleischer Superman cartoons are all over the place on DVD. Myron's two shorts are easy to see. But you're rolling the dice about pictorial quality. BILLION DOLLAR LIMITED and MAGNETIC TELESCOPE are two good ones. (Myron always said that the Supermans were pain-staking to animate because of the weight the characters had to portray on screen.)

Some of Myron's work can be found in the Cartoon Crazies line of DVDs, although you might have to suffer listening to an added, and unnecessary, soundtrack. Some of Myron's Casper work can be found there.

Myron's television work on MILTON THE MONSTER and BATFINK are not available at this time. If they made to VHS, I'm not aware of it.

While there has been some very interesting films released on DVD, there is very little classic animation available aside from Disney and Warner Brothers.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I received word last night that animator and director Myron Waldman died Saturday morning Feb. 4, at the age of 97 at a Long Island hospital. A major figure at the Fleischer and Famous studios, Myron remained active as an artist until shortly before his illness and death.

He leaves his wife Rosalie, two sons and grandchildren.

Of the 120 Betty Boop cartoons, several animators stand out. Willard Bowsky worked on 11, Roland Crandall on 12 and Tom Johnson on 17. No one at the studio matched Myron's association with the series. He worked on 29 of them, more than any other animator at the Fleischer Studios.

The Fleischer Studio did not assign animators and their units to particular characters or series. So, unlike directors such as Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and the team of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, few people at Fleischer's ever became identified with a single character. Waldman's track record with Betty Boop stands out, though.

Waldman, who created Betty's pet dog Pudgy for the series, was very self -effacing about his career in animation, despite the fact that he was the director of two of the four Fleischer shorts to be nominated for an Academy Award (Hunky and Spunky and Educated Fish). He did outstanding work on the Fleischer Superman (Billion Dollar Limited, Magnetic Telescope) series and directed the two-reel Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy short.

He was a director on the second Fleischer feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, and worked and the Popeye series as well.

Born in 1908, Myron joined the Fleischer Studio in 1930 after he graduated from the Fine and Applied Arts program at the Pratt Institute. At the studio, he started as an opaquer and then moved into the inking department. After winning a studio competition, Waldman was promoted to the in-betweening department and was given his own animation unit in 1933.

He once told me it was a thrill to have the chance to animate Ko-Ko the Clown in early Betty Boop cartoons as Ko-Ko had been a favorite of his while growing up.

One Boop of which Waldman was particularly proud is A Language All My Own (1935). Betty Boop was very popular in Japan, and this short was designed to appeal to the Japanese market. In the short, Betty travels to Japan and performs there. Myron wanted to make sure that none of her gestures and movements would offend the Japanese, so he asked a number of Japanese exchange students to check his work.

Waldman was in a unique position at the Fleischer Studio. On one hand he was a talented and loyal team player, but on the other, he was an iconoclast who wasn't afraid to speak his mind. Waldman championed the cause of Lillian Friedman, the studio's first woman animator, when others gave her a rough time. He attempted to persuade Max Fleischer to talk with striking artists in the lengthy 1937 strike.

He once carried in a script for one of the studio’s Stone Age short into Dave Fleischer’s office at the end of a stick. When Dave asked why he was doing that, Myron replied. “Because it stinks!”

Waldman could put a roughhouse gag across, but he frequently was put on what he described as “oh and ah” shorts, those with sentiment.
Waldman returned to animation after serving in the Army during World War II. He worked at Famous Studios on Screen Songs, Popeye, Little Lulu, and Casper shorts.

He wasn't content just with a career in animation, though. He branched out to create a "novel without words," Eve that was a critical and financial success when it was published in 1943. He was the artist on the post -war Sunday comic strip Happy the Humbug. He appeared on television during the 1950s with his "Try A Line" drawing act.

In the 1960s and '70s, he worked on a number of Saturday morning series, and was the director on the pilot for the Out of the Inkwell series produced by Hal Seeger. Seeger, a former Fleischer Studio employee, had convinced Max Fleischer not only to sell him the rights to do the series, but to appear in the pilot episode as well. For his final appearance with his silent screen co-star, Waldman recalled that Fleischer had his hair dyed for the occasion. Waldman quit from the series when the budgets would not permit him to do Ko-Ko justice.

I first met Myron in 1977 when I was beginning my research on a book about the Fleischer Studios. Myron was still employed in animation and we spoke in the mid-town Manhattan studio where he was working.

I recall wondering at the time just how old he was. So many of his contemporaries were retired at that time and he was clearly still going strong.

He later invited me to his home for dinner where I had the pleasure of meeting his lovely wife Rosalie and his two sons, Stephen and Robbie.

From that time on, Myron took an interest in me and what I was doing. His interest grew into a friendship that I treasured. Whether or not he ever realized it, he was a mentor to me and I will never forget his kindness and the support he gave me for almost 30 years.

As a kid growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s I loved the cartoons on which Myron worked. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get to meet any of the people who made them, much less become friends with them.

Because of how they were credited on their shorts, the Fleischer Studios directors didn’t get the attention they deserved. Dave Fleischer was always given the director’s credit, but it was really the head animators who directed the cartoons. Myron lived long enough to see the recognition that he deserved.

He as honored by ASIFA-Hollywood and had a special night of recognition and film retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts. He was also part of the retrospective at the Museum for Famous Studios as well.

Although Myron did eventually retire from animation, he never stopped drawing. He was part of the limited edition cel boom and produced work featuring Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman. He was very particular about this work, as he would only draw those characters on which he worked.

His greatest professional joy, though, was to simply draw original sketches for the animation art market. The cels had to go through an approval process with the character’s copyright holder and then sometimes the production process would obscure the details and feel of Myron’s original drawing.

The original sketches allowed Myron to be himself and they were highly prized among collectors.

The success of his limited edition cels meant a fair amount of travel for Myron as he made appearances at galleries in this country as well as others. He was a trooper who enjoyed meeting and entertaining people.

Myron was one of the last links to a studio that continues to influence animation. He was a great man and a great friend and I will miss him.

Friday, February 03, 2006

My goal has been to do three to four updates a week on this blog, but the forces of darkness have prevented me this week. My apologies to the readers of this blog. Well, I've got a bunch of material so let's go.

Dear Mr. President,
I didn’t get the chance to listen to your State of the Union address because I was tired and, frankly, I wanted to be entertained for a few minutes. Sorry.

But I did read your address. I did this the day after my gas bill arrived in the mail.

You might not be aware that for those of us in the Northeast, natural gas rates have increased substantially over the last year.

The increase not only affects home and business heating, but also electrical generation since many plants use natural gas to create electricity.

Thank God, this has been a mild winter. If we had a normal winter, the impact of these heating bills would be even more devastating for many people.

And I’m sure you’re aware that for many people there has been a real issue here of how to pay for the increased costs of heating one’s home and business as well as the gas tank of one's vehicle.

How we develop energy and how we use it are overwhelmingly important topics.

I write about this subject because you mentioned energy issues in your address and have spoken about it more in appearances later in the week.

Energy is not a new theme for you, but it is one that has clearly drawn more of your attention in your address over the last three speeches.

In the State of the Union address you delivered in 2004, you said, “Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to make our economy run – so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize our electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy.”

That was it.
Last year, you said, "To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. Nearly four years ago, I submitted a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid, and more production here at home, including safe, clean nuclear energy. My Clear Skies legislation will cut power plant pollution and improve the health of our citizens. And my budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology – from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol. Four years of debate is enough – I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy.”

A little more and this statement had more specifics.

This year, you said, “Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

“The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources, and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.

“We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.”

I know that in the coming weeks, you will probably speak more on how you will achieve these goals, but are you aware that we import far less oil from the Middle East than from other parts of the world?

I hope that you are sincere in your statements of changing our nation’s energy policy. The questions that I have include:

• How much are you willing to fight for in terms of funding your initiatives? Considering our deep deficits and needs such as the re-building of the Gulf Coast, how much can we do as a nation?

• Who will lead these initiatives? Scientists? Engineers? Political appointments of such caliber as Michael Brown?

• What has been done since 2001? You mention spending $10 billion, but how has that affected what consumers see? Has anything trickled down to the average working person?

• Would you support tax breaks for businesses and consumers who invest in alternative energy products such as hybrid cars, for instance?

It would be great to get answers to these questions. I’ll include my e-mail.