Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I made out like a bandit this Christmas from my wife, my friends and family. Among my gifts were some cool DVDs. Here’s some notes on a few of them.

I received “Bettie Page: Dark Angel” from a friend and them used some Xmas gift money to buy “The Notorious Bettie Page.” Yes, I do like Page pin-ups and her story has long fascinated me as it’s one of those odd instances in which what was once underground popular culture becomes mainstream. Her story is also one of those relatively rare examples in which a very disposable kind of pop culture (pin-ups) actually finds new audiences despite changes in what people view as beautiful and/or erotic.

There’s a hand-full of women whose images seem to transcend fashion and Betty Page is one of those people.

The thing that struck me about both films is the obvious affection all of the filmmakers have for their subject. Betty is a likable, open person in each production.

“Bettie Page: Dark Angel” is a low-budget “Readers Digest” version of Page’s life and career produced and directed by Nico B, the guy whose Cult Epics company has been selling DVDs of Page’s Irving Klaw films. Taken on its own terms, it’s not bad once you realize the focus of the film is to re-create the Klaw bondage films. I’m not sure just why anyone would want to do that, but Nico B. did with obvious respect and affection.

Paige Richards makes a fine Page, but doesn’t have the material to work with that Gretchen Mol has in “The Notorious Betty Page.”

I had caught the second film up at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro, Vermont earlier this year and loved it. Director Mary Harron achieved a fantastic look with her approach of filming the New York scenes in black and white and the Miami scenes in deeply saturated color. The result is a film that visually transports the viewer back to the 1950s.

As a biography, Harron seemed to follow Page’s story fairly closely and chose to end it with Page’s religious re-awakening in the late 1950s. As detailed in her interview in Playboy several years back, Page confirmed her years following her heyday as ones filled with coping with mental illness, failed marriages and poverty.

Page has been able to capitalize off her 1950s work and apparently was pleased with this movie. Much of the success comes from the performance of Mol as Page. Mol is able to look like Page much of the time and brings out that innocent, fun-loving attitude that Page always seemed to convey in her pin-up work.

The extras on “The Notorious Betty Page” include a “making off” featurette and a clip of a Klaw film in color with Page disrobing. She is obviously receiving directions from someone off camera and clearly not taking any of it seriously.

In a completely different direction, I was given a great double feature of classic bad Mexican cinema: “The K. Gordon Murray Collection: Doctor of Doom and Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy.” Now how could you go wrong with these wrestling horror films?

I never saw a single K. Gordon Murray film as a kid, but I vividly remember seeing television commercials for his kiddie matinee films and thanked God my parents didn’t want me to see any of them. Imported from Germany and Mexico, these fairy tale-based films looked dreadfully cheap even to a nine-year-old kid.

These two films are truly a slice of a popular culture so foreign to American sensibilities that they seem a bit surreal. Yet for their time and place of origin they were acceptable pop culture that pleased many people.

And that for me is the bait. I love seeing something that other people view as entertaining.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A great film from Germany, a must-own set for any serious film fan, celebrity interviews and a double feature starring George Reeves are all in this week's DVD column.

The Kebab Connection

This charming romantic comedy from Germany is part "Romeo and Juliet," part kung fu action picture and part culture clash. Does it work? Absolutely!

Denis Moschitto plays Ibo, a Turkish immigrant who dreams of producing the first German kung fu movie. When the commercial for his uncle's fast food restaurant turns out to be a hit, Ibo thinks he's on his way, but then he discovers his German girlfriend Titzi (Nora Tschirner) is pregnant.

Suddenly he's on the outs with this father and when he hesitates about proposing to Titzi, he's minus a girlfriend.

Ibo must prove himself to her, to his father and to the producer who is considering his film. His path is made more difficult thanks to the local Turkish/German mafia, a rival Greek restaurateur and his sexy daughter, and an encounter with ouzo.

The film is in German with English subtitles and may not be at the local Blockbuster, but hunt it down. It's a great little movie.

For more information log onto

The Premiere Frank Capra Collection

This five movie set of some of director Frank Capra's best work needs to sit on any serious film buff's shelf. Capra, like John Ford, Orson Welles and Erich Von Stroheim, was a director whose films carry a distinctive tone and social context.

Unlike Welles and Von Stroheim, whose style and technique sometimes did not always endear themselves to either studio execs or the public, Capra was like Ford in understanding how he could use the system to tell stories that had meaning for both him and the audience.

The phrase "Capra-corn" was coined to describe Capra's sometimes sentimental, but also very human approach to his subject material, and that's unfortunate as it colors his films as being naive. Capra's films, while often ending on very high notes, present that faith has to be tested and many of his films convey some very dark moments.

This collection includes "American Madness," "It happened One night," "Mr. Deed Goes to Town," "You Can't take it With You," and "Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington," as well as a feature-length documentary made in 1997 and a book on Capra.

What treats are in this collection: the great romantic comedy of "It Happened One night," and the triumph of the average man in "Mr. Deeds and "Mr. Smith." What might surprise some viewers is "American Madness," an earlier more obscure Capra film that is both social commentary and crime drama.

Go out and buy this set for the movie lover on your list.

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Inside The Actor's Studio

I must admit certain envy for James Lipton and his show "Inside The Actor's Studio," as I would love to have a similar program myself. The difference between the two of us is I would like to present interviews with character actors and supporting players rather than the megastars that is standard for his show.

My own experience has been those performers bring a far more grounded view of show business. The folks featured in this set of four interviews (Clint Eastwood, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman and Robert Redford) are performers at the top of the Hollywood "A" list.

And perhaps that's part of the problem I have with Lipton. While he has his hundreds of blue cards (which he reveals during an introduction that he writes himself) and that he doesn't engage in the practice of "pre-interviewing" his guests, he always comes across as a star-struck guy.

While some of his questions are probing, he frequently doesn't go for the subject material that might make his guest a little uncomfortable. For instance with Clint Eastwood, he didn't ask about Eastwood's habit of establishing relationships with leading ladies and how this can affect his films. Nor did he talk to Eastwood about being a poster boy for the right wing and whether or not he was comfortable with such a description.

Granted, I guess, I wouldn't want to poison the well after all if you're hard on one of these folks, others might not want to come.

So if you're a fan of the show and don't share my reservations, this is something you might want for your collection.

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George Reeves Double feature: Thunder in the Pines, Jungle Goddess

This new collection the folks at VCI Entertainment is essentially designed to cash in on the renewed interest in George Reeves due to the movie "Hollywoodland" and also to be an unabashed valentine to the actor best known for playing Superman in the 1950s television series.

Reeves was indeed an actor with looks and talent whose promising career at major studios was derailed by his service during World War II. He was never able to regain his position at the big studios and wound up performing in low-budget affairs such as these two films.

Of the two, "Thunder in the Pines" is actually a lot of fun in the cheesy B-movie tradition. Reeves and co-star Ralph Byrd play "fighting pals," who are lumberman hankering to get rich. They are also in love with the same girl, which complicates the plot quite a bit. Both stars seem to be having a good time with the material and, in turn, so did I.

The second film, which also co-stars Byrd, is a different matter. "Jungle Goddess" is your standard "find the white girl marooned in the jungle that is now queen of a tribe" plot that about three million or so B- movies had. Reeves looks slightly uncomfortable at times and undoubtedly was revealing his feelings for this lackluster project.

The extras include a variety of fan produced little films and essays that illustrate just how many people still love the actor who died in 1957.

If you're a B-movie fan, the scorecard is 50 percent for this collection. I'd still buy it with that ranking!

For more information, log onto

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's nearly Christmas and these two items stir up some pleasant memories.

I was never one of the kids in love with Santa, not was I a scoffer. I suppose I was a Santa agnostic. I would sit on his lap and tell him what I wanted just in case, but I didn't buy the whole yarn.

I think it was the chimney aspect. We didn't have one and I was told he came through the window in our house. That sounded just a bit too common for the jolly old elf.

Well, the year a real telegram delivery person knocked on the door and gave us this telegram from Santa I was impressed. It didn't occur to me at the time that my parents had sent it. I saw it as some sort of proof that Santa was out there somewhere. If nothing else it caused me to question my agnostic position!

The other photo is from the Christmas season of 1983. I was in the middle of my five-year tenure as a talk show host on WREB in Holyoke, Mass. The Chamber of Commerce asked me if I would be the official city Santa at the tree lighting and I said yes. They supplied a great suit and brought me to the City Hall in a horse drawn sleigh (with wheels...good thinking as there was little snow at the time).

The acid test was that my wife Mary had brough our young nephew Andrew to the event to see Santa. I was sweating under the suit as the kid was a believer and I didn't want him to pull down my beard and see it was his uncle.

He didn't. He told Mary that he had seen the "real" Santa. He's now 29 and I don't know if he remembers this event, but I do.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Everyone wants to label you: liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. There are some issues that go beyond any party lines, though and the following is a small example of the kind of mindset that plagues The Bay State.The only things these new regulations will accomplish is to drive businesses out of the state and put a lot of dough into the hands of the elevator industry.

If you own a building with a freight elevator, are you aware of the state's movement to enforce up-grades that could cost businesses anywhere between $25,000 to $100,000?

Did you know the state is considering having everyone who operates a freight elevator obtain an annual license and be sent to a training session on the safe use of elevators?

Well, if you don't get the newsletter of Associated Businesses of Massachusetts, then you might not have heard of the changes the state's Board of Elevator Regulators have in mind.

Kathy Anderson, who is head of economic development for the city of Holyoke, did read about these proposed changes, and headed up a Holyoke contingent to testify at a recent hearing in Boston about them.

Anderson spoke about the impact at a meeting of Mayor Michael Sullivan's Industrial Development Advisory Committee last week.

For a city such as Holyoke, the proposed regulations would force the replacement of existing older elevators elevators, by the way, that have been certified as safe by the state in annual inspections.

Besides the cost of the actual replacement of these elevators, businesses would have to absorb the costs associated with the shutting down of an elevator for an estimated four to six weeks.

If a business relies on the elevator as part of its manufacturing process, the costs skyrocket.

Anderson said the state board is considering establishing a state license at $25 a person annually for every employee who pushes the up or down button, as well as attendance at a state elevator school slated to be on the of the former Fort Devens.

Elevator school? What kind of tax and spend boondoggle would that be? This is a prime example of governmental abuse, pure and simple.

Although nothing yet has been decided, unless there is a widespread outcry from the state's manufacturing sector, these changes could take place. The impact could easily be another reason for businesses to leave the state.

We don't need to give employers more reasons to leave Massachusetts. We give them enough reasons with healthcare issues, non-competitive unemployment insurance, expensive land costs and high taxes.

If Governor-elect Deval Patrick is sincere about business development and I'm sure he is he needs to call in the Board of Elevator Regulators and slap some sense into them.

Making sure industrial elevators are safe is important. Making businesses pay for unnecessary changes is stupid.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, December 08, 2006

Milton the Monster is coming to DVD

This series was produced by Hal Seeger, the former Fleischer office boy who grew up to be a prolific animation producer himself. My late friend and mentor Myron Waldman was associated with Seeger as an animator and director on several of Seeger's projects (including the pilot for a revived "Out of the Inkwell" with Max Fleischer's last on-screen role).

Shout Factory is releasing the series and here's what they sent me on it:

"In the fall of 1964, primetime television was invaded by two clans of monsters who were definitely more funny than scary, 'The Munsters' and 'The Addams Family.' The rabid success of these programs led to the popular animated favorite The Milton The Monster Show. Airing on ABC from 1965-1968, The Milton The Monster Show was full of offbeat characters such as Milton The Monster, Abercrombie The Zombie, Dr. Goo Fee, Stuffy Durma, Flukey Luke and of course Fearless Fly, the insect superhero who was the hit of the series. At long last, The Milton The Monster Show - The Complete Series is now available for the first time, thrilling nostalgia fans everywhere!

Special Features:
✹ Hal Seeger Home Movies: Milton & Fearless Fly At The N.Y.C. Toy Fair
✹ Sheriff For A Day - A Live-Action Short Starring Flukey Luke
✹ Test Footage For The Live-Action Short Sheriff For A Day
✹ Bonus Cartoon: Wilbur The Wanted

Preorder date: 2/23/2007
Street date: 3/20/2007
Feature running time: +/- 9 1/2 hours
SLP: $34.98

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A little blast from the past...these are the movie ads from the Springfield (Ma) Morning Union from Oct. 9, 1937.

Springfield is my home town...not that I was born here, but that it was the community where I spent my first three years of school. It has always felt like home even though after Springfield I lived in Montgomery, AL, Rantoul, IL, Hadley, MA, Greenville, CA, Oroville, CA, Kadena AFB, Okinawa, and then Granby, MA.

My wife and I have lived in Springfield for over 25 years and while it has plenty of problems, it is a great medium sized city.

Anyway, we have two multi-plex theaters in town after years of having not a single open theater. I'm old enought o have been around when there were still downtown movie theaters and neighborhood second-run theaters, but the multi-plexes today are in outlaying shopping centers.The idea of the movie theater as part of vibrant downtown entertainment scene has become more and more rare as the older downtown theaters are single-screens. Single screen theaters are a very risky economic model in the exhibition business today. Theater owners play a game of hoping to have a couple of good films that will make up for having some dogs on the week's bill.

One screen with a bad film means big trouble.

These ads show a little of what it was like to be a movie fan in the 1930s in a city of the size of Springfield (probably then about 160,000 people). There was a lot going on.

The exhibition business has changed so much. There's no flair, no showmanship, and little excitement outside of the film itself.

I think I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon watching old movies. It's too bad it couldn't be in a grand theater!

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, December 02, 2006

An import from Japan, some holiday gift suggestions and a new animated release are featured in this week’s DVD column.

Over the Hedge

From 1992 to 1998 I edited and co-published two nationally distributed magazines on animation. The medium is one which I’ve loved all of my life, but recent years I’ve had to forced myself to watch the new crop of animated

Why? So many of them are terribly formulaic: “funny” animals with the voices of television and movie stars in a story in which there are songs, sentiment and some lame underdog winning story.

I didn’t have high hopes for “Over the Hedge,” although my brother-in-law Rich extolled its virtues to me. When a copy found its way into my mailbox, I watched it and was pleasantly surprised.

The computer animated film concerns a group of woodland animals that awaken from their winter snooze only to find there is now a tall hedge that divides their territory. On the other side of the hedge is a new sub-division – a puzzling development to the animals until a fast-talking raccoon arrives. RJ the raccoon (Bruce Willis) explains to them the humans who have moved in can provide more food that the now-gone forest ever did.

Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling), the nominal leader of the group, is a skeptic, but successful excursions to the garbage cans of the new suburban homes soon convinces the other animals of RJ’s claims.

There is an ulterior motive to RJ’s tutelage, though: he must collect certain human food items he stole from Vincent, a bear who has developed an obsession with potato chips.

There is a lot of solid slapstick in the film, especially after Dwayne the exterminator is introduced, and a great conclusion featuring the hyperactive squirrel Hammy.

The film also scores points that it is not a musical.

My only beef is the use of celebrity voices, a persistent trend in the industry. Although this film is not as bad as most in which the television and movie stars are cast for their own voices, I know there are many talented voice actors working in the industry you would have done better than Wanda Sykes as the skunk, Shandling as Verne and Willis as RJ.

All in all, “Over the Hedge” is a fun film worth seeing again.

Beavis and Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection
Get Smart: The Complete Series

As I recently wrote, I received a preview disc for the “Get Smart: the Complete Series” and was quite excited about the approach the producers had taken in not only presenting the series itself, but in the extras.

When the final edition of the set came to me I was impressed. There are many extras including a “Get Smart” reunion, footage of the late Don Adams’ 75th birthday party and a feature on Barbara Feldon.

Although nostalgia might be speaking, I still find this spy spoof enjoyable.

I also still laugh out loud at the antics of Beavis and Butthead that are featured in “The Mike Judge Collection.” What Paramount Home Entertainment has done is to gather the three previously released volumes of Beavis and Butthead and the feature film “Beavis and Butthead Do America” in a nifty boxed set.

Still among the strongest aspects of the B&B shows were the sequences in which Judge (who supplied the voices of both characters) hilariously ripped apart pretentious music videos that were staples on MTV.

Although the trend started with the VCR, the technical abilities of DVDs allow people to program their own video entertainment in ways that weren’t possible until just a few years ago. Sets such as this two allow people to junk what is on broadcast and cable television to create their own evenings of entertainment.

The Great Yokai War

Anyone who is a fan of either the “Harry Potter” or “The Lord of the Rings” films should see this import from Japan. It is a great addition to the epic fantasy adventure genre – only it’s only 124 minutes!

Ten year-old Tadashi (Hiroyuki Miyasako) doesn’t have a very good life. His parents are divorced and he is living with his mother and grandfather in a small fishing village. A puny kid, Tadashi is bothered by bullies, but his life takes a strange turn when he is chosen to be the “Kirin Rider” during an annual village festival.

Tadashi might think being the Kirin Rider amounts to receiving a special towel and a box of beans. He doesn’t know the Kirin Rider is someone who will fight for good, and what he doesn’t realize is that he will be needed. There is an evil spirit, Yomotsumno, who is capturing the yokai – the eternal Japanese spirits of the natural world – and turning them into
mechanical monsters to destroy humanity.

Tadashi must find the courage within himself to fight Yomotsumno and his creations and save the world.

Director Takashi Miike keeps the story and the action moving at a fast clip. Mixing more traditional special effects and makeup with computer generated imagery; the film is a visual treat.

Don’t let the language barrier keep you away – there is both an English soundtrack and subtitles. This is a great film for any fantasy or adventure fans.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I enjoy speaking to comics who come through our area and recently interviewed two: Sommore and Ralphie May.

Ralphie will be appearing at the Comedy Connection at Chicopee's famous He Ke Lau on Dec. 9. He was a friendly, thoughtful and humble guy to talk with.

Ralphie rose to national prominence when he was a member of the first "Last Comic Standing" reality show on NBC. He's a big dude who also appeared on "Celebrity Fit Club" where he dropped some 27 pounds and weigned out at about 420 pounds.

One of the salesmen at work was talking with me about him and wanted to know why I didn't ask him about his weight, especially in light of seeing a photo of May's slender and attractive wife on the Web. Since May doesn't do a "fat" act I didn't see any need to bring up that subject.

I don't ask someone's age unless that fact is an important part of the story.

And as a fat guy myself, I congratulate him in making his weight a non-issue.

Here's Ralphie. Sommore is coming.

For Ralphie May, it didn’t matter that he didn’t win the first season of “Last Comic Standing.” He told Reminder Publications his loss only made his fans “more vehement.”

“They’ve stuck with me for 17 years,” he said.

May, who has become well know through his appearances on “Last Comic Standing,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, “Jimmy Kimmell Live” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” will be appearing at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee for the second time on Dec. 9.

“I’ll be on the set of ‘South Pacific,’” May say referring to the Polynesian themed show room.

May has recently released his second CD “Girth of the Nation,” which is also the subject of a special for Comedy Central.

May started his career in comedy at age 17 and recalled how he had to have his mother bring him to some of his appearances because he was too young to be in a bar by himself.

“It was an adventure,” he said.

He said that it has taken him 14 years to make a living as a comic and the relatives who told him he should have gone to college aren’t telling him that anymore.

At 17, he won a talent show that gave him a chance to open for the late Sam Kinison.

“He was a heck of a guy,” May recalled. “He was very nice to me and showed me there are no boundaries [in comedy].

May is concerned about boundaries and freedom of speech.

“I slam everybody,” he said. “I have a major problem with political correctness.”

May is concerned about the fallout from the highly publicized incident concerning the language used by actor Michael Richards in a stand-up performance.

“He’s our Janet Jackson, “ he said, referring to the controversy over Jackson’s Superbowl half-time performance that resulted in a Federal Communication Commissions crackdown on broadcasting standards.

Richards, he emphasized, is not a stand-up comedian, but rather “a crazy homeless man with money.”

He also was critical of the Rev. Jesse Jackson becoming involved in the Richards issue, but has been silent on the slow re-building of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the erosion of voting rights of African-Americans.

He said that some people might believe that comedy “can’t offend anyone, but comedy has always been about offending someone.”

May said that like other stand-ups comics he wouldn’t mind doing a situation comedy, but that it would have to “really good, like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ or ‘Seinfeld,’ or ‘The Honeymooners.’”

He said he and his wife, fellow comic Lahna Turner, had considered starring in a reality show about their lives on the road. Besides “Last Comic Standing,” May has appeared on another reality show, “Celebrity Fit Club.”

He said ultimately he and his wife rejected the ideas because every couple that has had such a show has broken up and that he doesn’t want to lose his wife “because she married me when I was fatter, broke and not famous at all.”

“I’m extremely lucky,” he added.

Sommore was also a pleasure to interview. She is nothing like her on-stage persona and instead is queit and thoughtful.

Sommore never thought she could do stand-up comedy despite her love for it. Twelve years after she read a book on the subject and tried out on stage, she has appeared as one of the "Queens of Comedy," been called "a force to be reckoned with in the new millennium" by Oprah Winfrey and won the Richard Pryor Comic of the Year Award.

She will be appearing at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee for one show at 7 p.m. on Nov. 25.

Speaking to Reminder Publications, Sommore said that after some initial efforts during open mic nights, she received her real training as comic as the emcee for a male strip revue. She recalled with a laugh that she had to appear before "300 women who weren't interested in anything I said."

Week after week though, she would try out material and include it in her 20-minute set until people started coming early just to see her.

She said her comedy is based on observation.

"I listen, I watch everything," she said.

And Joan Rivers and her aggressive say-anything style of comedy inspired her.

Unlike Rivers, whose stand-up included some severe self-deprecation, Sommore said that women comics who are attractive "have a fine line to walk."

The wrong choice of outfit could inspire remarks from male members of an audience that could make the female members a little upset, she said.

"I point out my flaws first," she said.

Women comics today still fight a battle about whether or not they are as funny as male comedians. Sommore recalled how she and other women would be introduced at open mic nights with an admonition that the audiences should go easy on them.

That's one reason she, Adele Givens, Laura Hayes and Mo'Nique toured as "the Queens of Comedy" in 2001 she wanted to show that women comics are the equals of men.

Sommore said she appreciates both working live on stage performing stand-up and acting in a sit-com or movie. She's appeared on "The Hughleys" and "The Parkers" and in the movies "Soul Plane" and "Friday After Next."

She'd like to have a television comedy of her own and shot a pilot that wasn't successful. She added that she draws inspiration from the fact that Dave Chappelle had 13 pilots before having success with his Comedy Central show.

She said the challenge is to find a format to present "my voice, my true voice."

"It's not easy to do," she added.

She said it's frustrating as a comedian who writes her own material to perform a script that is supposedly funny, but isn't.

She also noted that with success on television could come with a big paycheck that can be accompanied with a loss of creative freedom.

"Me, I'll take the money," she said with a hearty laugh.

Sommore is known for a hold-no-prisoners humor and said she "makes a distinct choice about the style I'm going to do.

"I curse to make a point, to enhance a joke," she said and added that she hosted an entire season of BET's "Comic View" show without using any questionable language.

What she likes to present is "the real raw truth."

"Sometimes we need a little severity," she said. "Life isn't all peaches and cream."