Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Remember when magazines had illustrations?

I picked up this pulp magazine for $1 at a local flea market just for the cover. It's not the best pulp cover ever done but it's a small example of an era when the illustrator was king in the magazine world.

For that matter, the use of illustration was also dominant in the movie posters as well for generations.

When was the last time you saw a magazine (non-comic book related) with an illustration on the its cover?

These days, of course, photography is the way to go. Now there is a trend among art directors to save money by not commissioning original photography but buy collections of stock art.

It used to be the exercise of creativity was the way to acheive a market share. Now it's more important to cut expenses to make a profit than to make one through having a singular product.

Grumble. Grumble.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. These words are mine alone.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hey, look what my father-in-law gave me!

Eight mm and Super Eight mm movies ! Three minute cut-downs of feature-length movies!

In the DVD age, young people might scratch their heads and wonder why I'm so impressed. Back in the day....old school...hardcore, this was what movie collecting was all about.

Sweet, sweet nostalgia!

You'd go to the camera department of a department store and there would be a display of these things. Of course, if you were a real buff, you'd order entire silent films on Eight or Super Eight from Blackhawk Films or from Sears.

I always wanted to order these amazing looking films I had read about...Phantom of the Opera, Nosferatu...but that never happened.

By the 1980s when people were starting to make student movies with Super 8, you could even get Super 8 sound prints of films. The prints had a magnetic sound track so you had to be sure you did wave any magnets around them!

I know it hard to believe that anyone would make an evening's entertainment out of these edited films ( there were also cut-downs that ran about 10 minutes), but people did. In the home movie world having these little films gave you the feeling that you were a collector, and exhibitor.

The cost? These still have the price stickers on the back: $1.99 in 1970s dollars.

I still have my cut-downs of Captain Marvel and some W.C. Fields films. My father-in-law also gave me two projectors so I will be running all of them.

Anyone want to come over for a movie show?

© 2006 by G. Michael Dobbs. My words alone.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

You know, there's too much going on in our lives. I just don't mean getting our jobs done every week, petting the puppy, driving the kids to activities and making sure the lawn looks half-way neat.

There's all that and then there's more. If you read, watch or listen to more than three media outlets you know there are dozens of significant stories that get a little play but then they evaporate when Lindsey Lohan gets slapped by her boss for being a party girl or Christie Brinkley's husband cheats on her with a 19 year-old.

That's real news, folks, right? "Insider" stuff, indeed!

Well, did you know, for instance, the Bush administration is planning a new highway system that would link Mexico with the mid-western United States? Container vessels would unload goods in Mexico that would then be transported through to Kansas City where there would be a distribution hub.

If you go on the Internet you'll find this is one issue that actually links conservatives and liberals. There are concerns about how an additional influx of foreign-made goods will affect American manufacturing, as well as legitimate security worries.

By unloading goods in Mexico, shippers don't have to deal with American unions as well.

Now, according to one of the web sites that promotes the plan (www.kcsmartport.com), the new "inland port" of Kansas City would create thousands of new jobs. What is left unsaid is what kinds of jobs would be undermined by this plan.
Apparently the trucks from Mexico wouldn't be checked thoroughly by customs until they reach Kansas City.

Now, because Britney Spear's husband is apparently not involved in this plan, there has been little coverage of it in the press.

Now how about the issue of net neutrality? Have you heard much about that one? It seems the Federal Communications Commission has removed certain protections that prevent large telecommunications companies from altering the Internet to suit their commercial purposes.

Under the new rules it's possible for Internet service providers to begin charging web sites more money in order to assure high-speed downloading. If you don't pay, your site may be seen at a speed that will prevent people from going there twice.

The folks at Google, Amazon, eBay and other large Internet sites are fighting right now to have these protections put back in place.

Check out http://www.itsournet.org for more information on this under-reported subject. I'll warn you now: no new boy bands or rappers will be involved.

Now if we could only get Madonna interested in either topic, the national media just might give them a little more attention.
© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

New post here today and the introduction to my Fleischer book is on the Made of Pen and Ink blog.

Can Robin Williams find a good script? The answer is in this edition of the DVD review column.

I like Robin Williams as both a comic and actor. He's quite capable of turning in great performances with the right script and director. He is also capable of selecting projects that do his career no good.

"RV" is one of those selections. This tired family comedy succumbs to almost every cliché of the genre. Williams is the busy exec dad who had lost touch with his family. His psycho boss demands that he cancels a family vacation to Hawaii so that he can make a presentation in Colorado. Williams lies to his family, rents a RV and tells them a road trip will be more fun. Along the way, Williams and his brood find the true meaning of life.


I like the idea that the best way to unite your family is by deceiving them. Lies are a great basis for communication with children. And it's hilarious!

A note to Robin: I think you're great. Let me read the script before your agent and I'll steer you clear of such flops. And I'll charge less.

My Summer Story

My favorite Christmas movie is "A Christmas Story" and I think the late writer and broadcaster Jean Shepherd is one of this country's great under-appreciated personalities. Receiving a copy of the 1994 sequel of "A Christmas Story" created some conflicted feelings: I love Shepherd's work, but I was dreading watching a film that received little release or attention over a decade ago.

The news is that while it's not as successful a film as "A Christmas Story," it is certainly worth watching. The film was directed by Bob Clark (who directed the previous film) and co-written by Shepherd based on his stories.

Essentially the film picks up the Parker clan the summer that followed the time of the previous film. Ralphie (Kieran Culkin) is still negotiating the hazards of the playground, the Old Man (Charles Grodin) is engaged in a new fruitless endeavor and mom (Mary Steenburgen) is hold them all together.

This film's story structure is different and is more fragmented than the first in which all of the action culminates in the Christmas celebration. Mom has her own sub-plot, which is quite funny, while Ralphie has his over finding the perfect battling toy top. The Old Man wages an unfunny and stupid conflict with the hillbilly neighbors and he and Ralphie share a story about fishing for crappies.

This looser structure makes the film seem less a cohesive film and more of a series of short stories. The problem is that Grodin is mis-cast as the Old Man. The late Darren McGavin understood not to over-play the role. Grodin is constantly gritting his teeth and growling.

Although not as good as the first, this film is well-wroth discovering.

For more for information, go to www.mgm.com/dvd

Queer Duck: The Movie

I was unaware that a series of Internet cartoon featuring gay animals was a big hit. Sorry, I didn't get the memo.

Apparently these short have been such a hit that Paramount decided it needed to bankroll a full-length movie.

This is perfect example that everything animated is not for children. This low-budget film features simple and unappealing animation coupled with every gay stereotype one can imagine. Although the film's voice actors are its only saving grace even having such performers as Billy West ("Futurama" and "Ren & Stimpy") and Maurice LaMarche ("Pinky and the Brain") can't save it from being an embarrassment.

There's not a laugh in its 72 minutes and I'm not sure who would find the tired sex and scatological humor appealing.

I do know the folks at the Best Buy in Holyoke had this title in its children's section. Please, allow me to repeat: not all animation is for children.

For more information, go to www.paramount.com/homeentertainment.

The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman

Lew who? That's the point. In show business where image is everything, the late Lew Wasserman could have cared less. Unlike any other studio head who courted personal publicity, Wasserman was dedicated to the gathering and exercise of power behind the scenes.

This documentary shows the rise and decline of the man who built the MCA/Universal Studios empire in Hollywood. For any film buff, this is essential viewing.

Director and writer Barry Avrich accomplished the near impossible: he creates a satisfying picture of a man who never gave an interview and who didn't keep any notes or papers. Avrich does this by interviewing both the friends and critics of the businessman who is credited by creating the business plan for modern Hollywood.

Wasserman was an agent who understood that by controlling the talent needed to make movies, he would be the industry's power player. Later, he showed insight into television and film production.

This fascinating film fills a gap in contemporary film history.

For more information, log onto www.kino.com.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. Standard disclaimer apples. What is the standard disclaimer? This blog is my publication alone.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Western Mass. readers who are also film fans should make a date to attend this free show.

When the script calls for a film to be set in a busy airport terminal, the question confronting a western Massachusetts director is just where he can shoot it.

The answer to that question is the former Basketball Hall of Fame.

Longmeadow filmmaker Scott Kittredge will debut his new short film, "Terminal Conversation" with a public showing on Aug. 17 at 6:30 at the Basketball Hall of Fame Theater. Admission to the premiere is free.

Kittredge's new 17-minute film is his last short before taking on producing a feature film. He explained to Reminder Publications that he and his creative partner, Brian Jackson, had produced a horror film, a romantic comedy and a children's modern fable.

"Terminal Conversation" was going to stretch the team's abilities even more with a dramatic offering.

Jackson had to bow out of the production early in its development and Kittredge produced, directed and edited the film himself.

Kittredge shot the film in March over two days and was proud to say it was on time and on budget.

The film is about a young man who receives a troubling phone call from his wife while he's traveling and a subsequent conversation he has with an older man while waiting for his flight.

Western Massachusetts residents Clark Smith and Marty Langford wrote the script.

Longmeadow native Douglas Dickerman stars in the film as the younger man. Dickerman has received critical acclaim for his work in plays in New York. He has appeared in a number of short films, commercials and an episode of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." He currently is pursuing his acting career in Los Angeles.

The other cast member is John Depew, who has appeared in a number of plays in Massachusetts and 12 short films. In his non-acting life, he is CEO of Bradford Medical Associates in North Andover.

Kittredge said the biggest challenge was finding a space that could convincingly double as an airport terminal waiting area. He said he needed a long space with huge windows and the third floor of the former Basketball Hall of Fame had those two requirements.

It was also in "bad disarray," said Kittredge.

One hundred-fifty of the red carpet tiles were missing and Kittredge and his crew had to pull others up from other parts of the building to fill in the gaps.

Benches that were still in the building, large houseplants and realistic signs contributed to the terminal look. When Kittredge added extras walking in and out of the scene as well as the necessary sound effects, the illusion was created.

Although he hadn't inquired about shooting the films at Bradley International Airport, Kittredge said he appreciated the complete control he had over the set something that would have been difficult to have at a working airport.

Kittredge plans to do with this film what he and Jackson did with their last film, "Snacks." He will be submitting it to festivals around the country to gain exposure. Snacks, which was shot at the Wolf Swamp Elementary School and used a local cast of children, has been seen at the Nolita Film Festival in New York City, the Foursite Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Besides showing his film at the premiere, Kittredge will also screen previews of other films made in western Massachusetts and conduct a question and answer period.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I've started an experiment at a new blog titled Made of Pen and Ink. It's the first draft of my book on Max and Dave Fleischer, their cartoons and studio. It will be posted a chunk at a time without illustrations in the effort of pre-selling to an audience and attracting a publisher.

With the announcement that Warner Home Video will be presenting the Fleischer Popeyes on DVD, now is an opportune time for a book on the studio that made these and so many other classic cartoons.

If you're interested in animation, then I hope you'll bookmark Made of Pen and Ink.

This week it's time to catch up with the torrent of DVD releases that are coming to a store near you.

Magdelena's Brain

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say I'm friends with this homegrown thriller's co-writer and producer Marty Langford.

In all honesty, though, I have to say that Langford and his creative partner Warren Amerman have done something one doesn't see too often in the low-budget horror/ science fiction genre: they've substituted gore and nudity staples of the genres with a story and ideas.

What a concept!

The result is a film that might disappoint hardcore horror fans used to extremes, but reward other viewers who are looking for a thriller that will make them think.

Amy Shelton-White plays Magdelena Welling, an accomplished doctor whose husband Arthur (Sanjiban Sellew) is a researcher working on artificial intelligence. A terrible accident leaves Arthur confined to a wheelchair and able to communicate only through a device they built.

Living alone with Arthur in an old factory building, Magdelena continues Arthur's experiments hoping to perfect a means to restore her husband.

The path to a solution isn't an easy one and Langford and Amerman put plenty of twists in the story.

This is a film that harkens back to the school of horror filmmaking perfected by Val Lewton at RKO in the 1940s. Lewton made films that intrigued audiences for not only what was on the screen, but also what played off it. "Magdelena's Brain's" low-key approach suits the story well.

That's not to say this is problem-free production. Although Shelton's White's performance carries the picture, many of the supporting cast just can't reach her level of competency. Langford and Amerman were smart to spend part of their budget on a lead performer who is really good.

They were also smart to devise a script they could actually afford to shoot. Many low-budget productions falter because the script has aspirations the budget can not fulfill.

The look of the film is quite sharp with excellent photography something else that separates this film from the low-budget pack.

The film is now in video stores and retails outlets due to distribution from Heretic Films.

The Missing

This western from director Ron Howard was not one of his greatest box office success, but I liked it because Howard did something I didn't expect from watching the trailer: he made a western with a horror film sub-plot.

Cate Blanchett is Maggie, a hard-working and embittered rancher who struggles to raise her two daughters and oversee her New Mexican spread. The last thing she wants to do is to see her long-estranged father, played by Tommy Lee Jones. He abandoned his family years before to "go native," and has been living with Native Americans ever since. His reunion with his daughter was on the advice of a native shaman and his visit was well- timed.

One of her daughters is kidnapped by a band of both native and white renegades who sell young women into slavery in Mexico. Maggie unwilling enlists her father's help in tracking down the outlaw band.

Howard clearly has an eye for the requirements of the classic western and he adds his own touch by having the leader of the band a villainous native shaman as a supernatural figure.

The DVD features Howard's extended cut of the film, clocking in at 154 minutes, as well as the 8mm westerns he made as a teen and six featurettes on the making of the film.

The extended cut is unrated, and viewers should know there are moments of pretty brutal violence. John Ford, this isn't.

Having said that, I need to add that "The Missing" is a satisfying western.

Some Like It Hot: Special Edition

In an American Film Institute poll of the best comedy films ever made, this Billy Wilder comedy came in first and with good reason: it's a very funny film.

This new DVD has two discs one with the film and another for a load of features including both archival interviews with the late director and co-star Jack Lemmon as well as a new interview on the making of the film with co-star Tony Curtis.

"Some Like it Hot" tells the story of two hapless musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) in 1929 Chicago who witness a mob murder. Fleeing for their lives, they manage to pass as women and join an all-woman band enroute to an extended gig at a Florida resort hotel.

Their lives are complicated when Curtis falls for the band's singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) and a wealthy older playboy (Joe E. Brown) pursues Lemmon's female persona.

The script by Wilder and his long-time writing partner I.A.L. Diamond still sparkles after 47 years and the film still can boast of the best final gag ever filmed.

This is an essential addition to any comedy library.

The Benchwarmers

Okay, I'm a nerd. I've always have been and always will be and I suppose that this new "nerds rule" movie was made for guys like me.

Well, this movie simply recycles some of the themes from previous nerd movies and is only distinguished by giving Rob Schneider the opportunity to play the non-nerd in the cast. After the "Deuce Bigelow" films, he must have relished playing the straight guy who is actually married and has a stable life.

Jon Heder and David Spade are not so lucky. They make up the other two of these modern day stooges who are asked to fight for nerd rights everywhere by challenging Little League teams composed of "normal" kids. In this universe, if you're normal, you're a bully.

At some moments this film has all of the cloying sentiment of an after-school special, while at others it's crude and scatological. It's not one to watch with the kids.

I laughed four times I actually kept track and that's not a very good count for a feature-length comedy.