Thursday, August 30, 2007

A funny new comedy special and a real science fiction film are featured in this week's DVD column.


For many people the words "science fiction" all too often conjure up space operas with heroes, damsels, some kind of monster and futuristic technology.

There's nothing wrong with "Flash Gordon" at least the vintage Flash, not that re-worked series on the Sci-Fi Channel but science fiction has so much more to offer than just adventure stories. That's been the complaint of serious science fiction fans for years.

Here's a film that does take the potential of exploring what it would be like to create a robot way past an actor in a metal costume.

Ever since writer Karel Capek coined the word "robot" in his 1921 play "R.U.R," people have imagined the moral and ethical implications of creating something that appeared to be alive and whether or not it should be treated as living.

Writer, producer and director James Bai creates a story of conflict set in the future when technology is banned. Walter, a scientist, uses forbidden technology to create a robot in his own image and with his own memories and thoughts. The robot, which he dubs "Puzzlehead," is developing his own personality and with that comes problems when Walter becomes obsessed with a grocery store clerk, Julia.

Although some of the story is a bit predictable, Bai does have a couple good plot twists.

Essentially a two person drama, Stephen Galaida does well with the twin roles of Walter and his robot and Robbie Shapiro is good as the young woman who slowly grows to love one and loathe another or is it the other way around?

Bai shows what can be done on a limited budget. He obviously constructed his screenplay so he could produce a film that reaches its story-telling goals something many independent films fail to do.

There are no monsters, ray guns or stunt sequences in this science fiction film, but there are some intriguing ideas presented in a compelling way.

For more information, log onto www.puzzleheadthe

Demetri Martin: Person

Well known now for his "Trendspotting" series on "the Daily Show," Demetri Martin takes the presentation of a series of clever one-liners past how Stephen Wright performs.

Martin is a multitasker: his special, which ran earlier this year on Comedy Central, features a string of Martin's own skewed observations on life but in the form of charts, animation and musical performances.

Remaining almost always deadpan, Martin's persona is also not unlike Wright's or Buster Keaton's he is a stranger in a strange land trying to figure out what is going on.

The fact he involves family members in his act, though, gives him a grounding Wright never has had. In those segments, Martin comes across like a precocious kid who is being humored.

Despite his obvious and admitted influence from Wright's comedy, Martin is in a class by himself. I find his stuff very funny and if you like him on "The Daily Show" give this DVD a try.

For more information, log onto

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What comics do you read?

A former friend who works at the daily paper here once told me that when the Newhouse chain consolidated the two papers it owned here into one, the one thing that elicited the most comment from people was there two pages of comics the merger produced.

The other day one of the graphic artists stuck his head into my door and saw me reading the comics. He wondered that if this day and age if any young person would even want to produce a daily comic strip.

I replied there seems to be quite a number of folks who do indeed want to do a strip and he retreated.

I think his point was that most strips today suck pond water. Of course the fact they are reproduced at a size that does not service to the work of the creators is another issue.

Anyway, I thought I would list most, if not all of the strips and give them a rating and encourage my readers to do the same.

Do you read the comics in your paper? What are your favorites? Which are the worst?

Here’s my picks and pans of the strip I see almost everyday:

Strips that deserve a fond farewell and a long dirt nap: Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, Nancy, Hagar the Horrible, Andy Capp (celebrating 40 years of spouse abuse!), Family Circus, The Wizard of Id, and the Peanuts re-runs

Strips that were never much good: Spiderman, Cathy, Drabble (possibly the worst strip in syndication today)

Strips that just need to be put down: Sally Forth, Apartment 3-6, Buckets, Marvin

Strips that actually tell a compelling story: For Better or Worse, Funky Winkerbean

Strips that actually make me laugh: Mutts, Shoe, Dilbert, Non-Sequitor, Crankshaft, Curtis, Mother Goose and Grimm, Zits

Strips that are just too precious: Rhymes with Orange, Get Fuzzy (what in the name of God is that thing all about?) Baby Blues

Strips I honestly hate: Garfield

Do I use strips in my papers? We have the King features weekly service and I do run the Sunday Popeye strips every chance I get. A second strip if there’s room is Henry that I run out of sheer perversity.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, August 27, 2007

Horror film critic Jeff Allard had a great time talking shop with Fangoria Editor Tony Timpone, who played a newspaper editor.

Corbin Bernsen in costume consults with William Gove on a shot.

My sloppy office was deemed "funky" enough to serve as Bernsen's character' s office. I was proud!

Bernsen is seen here with director Bob Stock.

The dead dog prop that plays a key role in the film

Last Tuesday I received a call from my buddy Marty Langford. It seemed a fellow Western Massachusetts filmmaker, Bob Stock, was shooting a low-budget horror film and needed a newspaper office for a day's worth of scenes. Could he use our place?

I spoke with Bob and he met me the next morning. With the okay from his director of photography William Gove, the crew came in and the newspaper staff had a very interesting day.

The crew was fast, efficient and certainly knew what they were doing and the cast was great as well. Corbin Bernson was the absolute definiiton of grace. He signed autographs, talked to folks and was slightly molested by one staffer. He managed to endure the gawkers with a smile and genuinely seemed to enjoy the no-frills trappings.

One of the best parts of the day was sitting down to speak with the late Darren McGavin's daughter, Graemm, who is the line producer for the film. We talked about her dad's career a bit and she was pleasantly surprised to find a "leg lamp" on my desk as well as to meet someone who remembered "Riverboat," one of her dad's early television series.

For a film guy, it was a great day.

It’s mid-way through Wednesday afternoon and actor Corbin
Bernsen is walking up and down an aisle through the cubicles at Reminder
Publications’ office saying the same line over and over.

Bernsen strides down the aisle, looks into the camera in the cubicle and
delivers the simple line, “Thank you very much, Sarah” about nine
different times. Each one is a different reading of the line.

It’s slightly surreal to have a well known actor – a long stint on “L.A.
Law,” films such as “Major League,” and currently a co-star on the USA
Network show “Psych” – filming in your office, much less, hanging out and
munching on donuts.

Bernsen is the star of a new film “Angel’s Blade 2: the Ascension”
written, directed and produced by Robert Stock of Granby. A day of shooting
needed to be at a newspaper office since Bernsen’s character is an
investigative reporter caught up in a story of the paranormal.

Stock’s crew took over the East Longmeadow offices for a day, much to
the delight of the staff of Reminder Publications. Autographed photos of
Bernsen decorate many cubicles.

Stock is a computer animator and games designer who produced, wrote, and
directed “Angel’s Blade,” a horror film set in both the present day and the
19th Century over a year ago. He did a test screening of the film in a Long
Island theater and is revising and augmenting some of the film’s special

Stock is co-producing the second film with Angel Light Pictures and,
unlike the first film, has a name actor in a pivotal role. Bernsen’s role is
a loving homage to “Carl Kolchak” the character created by the late Darren
McGavin in the highly popular “Nightstalker” movies and television series
from the 1970s.

An interesting coincidence is that McGavin’s daughter, Graemm, is the
film’s line producer. She also has a small role in the film.

This writer was heartened that his messy, artifact-strewn office was
deemed “funky” by the crew and became the home for Bernsen’s character.

Tony Timpone, the editor of “Fangoria Magazine” – the bible for horror
film fans – was also here for the role of Bernsen’s boss at the newspaper.
It was a smart casting move, as that will insure Stock receiving coverage
for his film in the national magazine.

The film has a four-week shooting schedule and only had Bernsen for
three days, so all of his scenes had to be shot as efficiently as possible.

Those who think filmmaking must be glamorous might be surprised at the
Spartan world of the independent production. A crew of less than ten people
set up the cameras and sound. Digital films gives greater flexibility with
lighting and no lights were set up for the scenes.

Fueled by donuts and coffee in the morning, the crew’s lunch break was
to eat sandwiches from Romito’s Deli while standing up. The production
rented a RV for a dressing room.

The simplest of scenes requires multiple takes to make sure the sound,
image and the performance are all optimal.

For a performer who has been in a variety of productions, Bernsen seemed
right at home shooting a low-budget horror film in Western Massachusetts.

“I’m very much into the indie world,” he said during a break.

Despite his status, Bernsen never pulls rank or complains. Crew members
talk among themselves how he is bringing so much value to the production.

If he likes a script and he can do the role, he’ll consider it, he
explained. Bernsen said he was pleased he could do this film as he was on
the east coast dropping his son off at the University of Connecticut.

Bernsen likened his job to that of a carpenter. “Sometimes you work on
castles and some times on outhouses,” he said.

And, he added, sometimes it’s a crumby castle and a great outhouse.

“If you’re an actor, you act,” he said.

What he likes about independent films is they have “more soul.”

“They’re all heart, all passion,” he added.

Because he came to prominence on a hit television show, “L.A. Law,”
Bernsen admitted to having a problem years ago with his career not reaching
a higher level. He said that as his career grew, he loved it.

He has formed his own company and is producing his own independent
films. One is completed and is available on DVD, “Carpool Guy, “ while two
others, “Donna on Demand” and “Dead Air” are in various stages of

Bernsen directed “Carpool Guy,” which is a comedy starring ten soap
opera actors in roles very different than those they play on television.
He said he loves directing and producing, although “it’s a lot of work.”

Although he said that beginning a directing career in his fifties
requires a lot of energy, his experience in the industry has given him
knowledge that younger persons might not have.

He said with a smile that directing has given him the same kind of
thrill he received when he first discovered sex – just the kind of remark
his Arnie Becker character might make.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Over the years, I’ve had to defend the news business on a number of occasions in conversations with friends, readers and listeners – depending upon where I was working at the time.

It’s not easy, because the press is a human institution and as humans we all make mistakes and we all have different judgments.

For instance, I can’t agree with the minimizing of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Mike Gravel. His fellow candidates want to eliminate him from debates and forums and the press wants to treat him like he is the comic relief for this election cycle.

After having the chance of meeting the senator and speaking with him, all I can say is that it’s refreshing to meet a politician who cares so deeply about his country but doesn’t give a damn about censoring himself. Gravel is viewed as “goofy” by some because he is actually candid.

On the Republican side, Congressman Ron Paul is getting the sticky end of the lollipop because he is seen as that side’s loopy sidekick. He, like Gravel, speaks his mind and that works against him.

We don’t like candid, now do we? We really don’t want politicians to speak their minds? I think so considering who gets the buzz for trotting out tired old clich├ęs instead of solutions.

Here’s the irony: we respond to marketing and image-making more than honest opinion. We reject people with experience presenting new ideas for people whose images are carefully managed. Did anyone buy the warm story about Hillary following around a nurse all day so she could learn what nurses face? And if you did respond favorably to it, why?

Why did the press make a big deal over the Iowa Straw Poll? Twenty-six thousand people bought tickets to attend essentially a personality contest and to cast a vote for the candidate with the best band and barbecue. Twelve thousand people who attended didn’t cast a vote – or their votes weren’t counted. It’s a non-story about a vote that doesn’t mean anything.

It’s just another example of image and puffery triumphing over substance. By the way, to many in this business puffery is perceived by many as being “better” news because it’s more entertaining and easier to cover than that awful hard stuff.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Photo by yours truly

File under local politics...every year Hampden Country Sheriff Michael Ashe has a fund-raiser that has evolved into a must event for any political junkie. The good sheriff rents out the picnic grove at Six Flags New England and for $50 people can eat and drink to their heart's content while meetign elected officials and candidates who are doing the same. In a year with a governor's race, shmoozing at the clambake is a must. Last year was a lot of fun with all of the candidates working the crowd.

As usual I was the only reporter who completed more a cursory story on the event. As referenced in my last post, my dissatisfaction with corporately-owned local media is growing.

AGAWAM – Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe’s annual Clambake at the picnic grove at Six Flags Amusement Park remains a singular political event where there is non-stop schmoozing sandwiched between rounds of drinks, baskets of steamers, an occasional hot dog, steaks and barbecue chicken.

Ashe hosted the event on Wednesday and, as usual, the slightly surreal sight of opposing candidates performing intricate dances to meet and greet the same potential voters without having to confront one another provided a certain level of amusement to observers.

For Ed O’Reilly, the clambake was wide-open territory, though. His dance partner was nowhere to be found. The Gloucester resident and attorney is taking on Senator John Kerry in the Democratic primary for the Senate. Kerry seldom appears in Western Massachusetts and O’Reilly said that Kerry not only has a disconnect with Western Massachusetts but with all of the Bay State.

O’Reilly supports an immediate military withdrawal from Iraq. He said he believes there is “no military solution” to the situation and the Administration is “putting the troops in an impossible situation.”

O’Reilly chastised Kerry for not advocating for an end to the war and called his lack of action part of Kerry’s “calculated demeanor.”

He was scornful of Kerry missing a recent controversial vote that continued the potential wiretapping of American citizens and has written Kerry to explain where he was that day. So far, Kerry hasn’t replied.

The candidate, whose campaign manager is from Leverett, has made 10 trips to Western Massachusetts in the last three weeks meeting people and building a grassroots base not unlike what Governor Deval Patrick did as a candidate.

Patrick interrupted his vacation to make a visit to the clambake. He spoke to the press for about five minutes and then waded into the crowd led by Ashe who introduced dozens of people to him.

Patrick is going through various reports to come to a decision about casino gambling in the state. A report by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth issued Aug. 6 has called for three state-licensed casinos to be built, one of which would be at the intersection of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 291 in Chicopee.
Patrick had told Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette that he would make a decision after the Labor Day holiday and he did tell the media assembled at the clambake a decision would be made shortly.

Patrick repeated what he has said before: he doesn’t discount casino gambling on moral grounds, but the question is complicated with strong arguments on both sides.

The issue of a Western Massachusetts casino proved to be an interesting question to pose to people at the clambake. Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, a successful opponent of casinos in Springfield, said that he opposes any Western Massachusetts casino, not just a location in Springfield. He said the issue of economic development is outweighed by the social ills a casino could bring to the region.

His opponent, City Councilor Domenic Sarno, said, “If it’s going to come about we need to be at the table negotiating for part of the money.” Sarno said he would support a location that would replicate the Foxwoods casino or what he described as “a casino in the woods.”

Russell Denver, the president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, said the chamber has not made a formal decision to support a casino, but that “if someone wants to invest $100 million and create opportunities, we would treat them like any other business.”

Denver noted there are many details “still much up in the air” over the casino question.

Both State Representative Michael Kane, D-Holyoke, and State Senator Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, are in favor of an expansion of gambling in the state. Kane would only support a destination gambling resort that would be in the same league as the Connecticut casinos. Knapik said the Legislature and the public are “far from where we would vote on one.”

The casino issue was not the only one on which Ryan and Sarno disagreed. Ryan questioned when Sarno would release his plan to remove the trash fee from the budget and replace the $4.3 million it’s expected to generate with another revenue source.

Ryan said the $4.3 million represents the cost of 60 to 70 police officers or the budget for the city’s parks.

Sarno has made rescinding the trash fee a key part of his campaign and has said he is analyzing the city budget to find a way to do away with it.

When asked about the fee, Sarno did not offer any conclusive answers about how he would eliminate it. He said that in a budget of nearly half a billion dollars the $4.3 million, which is under one percent, should be something that could be managed.

He did say that he would like to see a greater emphasis on recycling in the city in order to raise more income and suggested that residents need larger recycling boxes.

The Westfield mayor’s race was also represented at the clambake. Brent Bean and Michael Boulanger both worked the crowd.
Boulanger is the former commander of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base. He serves as the city’s Emergency Management Director and as a part-time police officer.

His top priorities as mayor would be to work on the city’s infrastructure, public safety and education. He expressed concern not only about the condition of the city’s roads and bridges but also traffic patterns and signals that can create problems for motorists passing through the city.

He is very interested in resolving issues surrounding the proposed bike trail and downtown development and noted how Easthampton’s bike trail has been successfully integrated into that community’s downtown area.

He also said he is interested in seeing industrial development around Barnes Airport rather than the new shopping mall that has been proposed.

Among the other elected officials, candidates and former office holders spotted at the event were former State Senator Linda Melconian, State Representative Angelo Puppolo, D-Wilbraham, State Senator Gale Candaras, D-Springfield, Springfield City Council President Kateri Walsh, Springfield School Committee member Antonette Pepe, Springfield City Council candidate Mo Jones, Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen, and Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, August 20, 2007

photo by Katelyn Gendron-List
Presidential candidates don't bother much to come to Western Massachusetts. Our primary means very little to most of them – so little that only Dennis Kucinich was the only one to show up during the last election. John Kerry, who never comes here, couldn't have been bothered to make even a token appearance.

What makes the situation worse is that few members of the press decided to cover this story. Say what you might want to about Gravel's candidacy, he is a real candidate and he has some very interesting ideas. He, like Ron Paul, is being cast as the comic relief in this race. While the national press can play such nasty and counter-productive games I'd like to think on a local level we would be different, but apparently we're not.

I was the only print reporter to make use of the offer for time. No radio showed up and I know of only one TV station that did a story. This is disgraceful. This is real news and is not the slop I see taking up so much of the space in the local daily and so much of the time on the television stations.

Gravel is a gracious smart guy and I could have spoken with him much longer.

WEST SPRINGFIELD – Western Massachusetts isn’t a typical destination for candidates seeking their party’s nomination. In the last election only Congressman Dennis Kucinich campaigned here briefly.

For Senator Mike Gravel, though, visiting Western Massachusetts was more about coming home than winning over voters.

Gravel was in the area on Wednesday, hosted by his long-time friend former Hampden County Commissioner Richard Thomas. Thomas and Gravel are childhood friends, having known each other since age five when they grew up in the Brightwood section of Springfield.

Although his day was dedicated to visiting the city of his birth, a tour that was covered by an author who is working on a biography of Gravel, the former senator from Alaska took time to meet with Reminder Publications.

Another childhood friend, Morris Archambeault of Chicopee, joined Gravel and the senator recalled with obvious fondness that living near Moore Drop Force was like “watching the Fourth of July every night.”

At ease in Thomas’s backyard, Gravel was clearly passionate about his campaign and issues, but frequently broke into a smile.

His fellow candidates have tried keeping him out of debates and forums. The media wants to characterize him as the comic relief of the Democratic primary process. Gravel, though, is taking it all in stride and continuing to speak out on the issues.

He insists that he is “not tilting at windmills” and although he has not been treated fairly in many debates, those in which he has appeared he said, “There’s no question I can hold my own.”

Although Gravel is not a front-runner, according to a number of polls listed on he is within a percentage point or two of in a pack of fellow candidates that includes Kucinich, Senator Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, Senator Joseph Biden, D-Maryland and Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico.

He characterized Kucinich as “a good guy, but he doesn’t take names.” Gravel said he isn’t afraid to directly attack the policies of his fellow candidates.

In a race that has been characterized by how much money has been raised by candidates, Gravel said that his level of contributions has been “modest” because the funding comes from individuals who believe in what he says, rather than from larger contributors.

He referenced a recent article in the “New York Times” that reported that 69 percent of the contributions going to Senator Barack Obama, D-Illinois, have more than $500 and 89 percent of Hillary Clinton’s contributions have been over that amount as well.

He has had to fight to be treated like any other candidate. He noted he was cut out of several forums and debates and has only been reinstated when there was pressure placed on the sponsoring organizations such as CNN, the “Manchester (NH) Union-Leader,” and He said being barred from the recent AFL-CIO sponsored forum that “was an embarrassment to the AFL-CIO.”

“I enjoyed 100 percent labor backing when I was in office,” he added.

Like his fellow candidates, Gravel is running on his legislature record. He served as a senator from Alaska from 1969 to 1981. During that time, he led the legislative effort to force the Nixon Administration to end the draft. He read sections of the Pentagon papers on the floor of the senate touching off a court battle on the public’s right to know that ultimately was settled by the Supreme Court in his favor.

Gravel said that today “representative government is broken.” He wants to empower the American people to have a larger role in governing themselves and he added Congress must evolve to become more responsible to the people. He supports the National Initiative for Democracy that would, if enacted, allow for federal referendums. This provision would give citizens the ability to enact legislation without having to go through Congress.

The former senator doesn’t mince his words when discussing the current front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton, D-New York. He called her a “sell-out.”

He was highly critical of former President Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council.

“This [today’s Democratic party] is not the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt,” he said. The rich, he added, just get richer.
“We lionize Bill Clinton,” he said. “Those were the good old days, but only because we compare them to the worst president in American history [George W. Bush].”

“I’m not afraid to take them on,” he said of the rest of the candidates who haven‘t called for an immediate end to the war in Iraq like he has. He said they “want to continue the war under a different name.”

If elected Gravel would bring home American forces from Iraq within 120 days.

“Anyone [of the candidates] who voted for the war should be eliminated,” he said.

Although Gravel does not favor rescinding NAFTA, he does believe it needs to be radically changed and said this nation as well as Mexico and Canada have lost jobs because of it.

He believes America can see resurgence in manufacturing by concentrating on developing and making products for a greener society. As president he would work for a “carbon tax.” A tax on carbon at the source would spur the growth of wind energy, liquid hydrogen and the redevelopment of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

As far as tax reform goes, Gravel said he would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and the income tax. In its place he would substitute a national sales tax at 23 percent with no deductions or loopholes. Part of his plan would be a monthly “prebate” that would be sent to individuals to offset the cost of clothes, medicine, lodging and food.

With a national dropout rate of 30 percent, Gravel is calling for year-round public education.

“How can you be productive when you have a capital asset [such as a school] being unused?” he asked.

His views on education triggered an exclusion from an event sponsored by the National Education Association.

Despite the obstacles he’s facing that other candidates are not, Gravel said he is “speaking as loud as I can.”

For more information on Gravel’s positions, log onto

©2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, August 13, 2007

Please go to my animation blog for my comments on the new Popeye collection. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A must-watch documentary and compelling drama are featured in this week's DVD column.


In 1968, a serial killer who called himself Zodiac put California into a state of panic with a series of random unrelated acts of violence. Five people were murdered by the killer who taunted the police through a series of letters he sent to the "San Francisco Chronicle." Some people believe that he had more victims and a number of cases remain unresolved.

The Zodiac himself, despite a massive police investigation, never was apprehended.

The killer has inspired several movies and characters in film, perhaps most notably the Scorpio killer in "Dirty Harry." Now, director David Fincher has brought forth an adaptation of two non-fiction books on the killer and the people who tried to catch him that has the truthful ring of a documentary.

"Zodiac" doesn't tell the story of the killer, but his effect on the people who were trying to stop him. Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards are the two cops assigned to the case, while Jake Gyllenhaal is the "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the case.

Fincher became well know for "Se7en," his highly popular, but graphic, crime thriller, but here he keeps the gore off-screen. He is clearly more interested in presenting a film about obsession. The killer is clearly obsessed and the cops and reporters who are seeking him out almost allow their single-mindedness to destroy them.

The result is a film as much about the actions of a famous serial killer as it is about the need to stop him.

This is a great choice for anyone who appreciates a solid crime drama.

  • For more information, log onto

  • American Cannibal

    My poor wife has long accepted that I will watch almost anything there are notable exceptions but the one thing with which she cannot abide is reality shows. She'll walk out of the room if she catches me watching one of these guilty pleasures.

    This documentary on the creative process behind one failed reality show would only give her more ammunition that reality shows are corrosive and ruining television.

    The film centers on a writing team whose agent is trying to steer them away from developing television sitcoms or dramas. She wants them to pitch reality shows to networks execs and they do so reluctantly.

    One would-be producer, Kevin Blatt the man best known for a porn tape starring Paris Hilton decides he likes the concept one of the writers threw out as a joke: make people believe they are in danger of being eaten by their fellow contestants on a "Survivor"-like show.

    How this show is developed and what it does to the writing team makes up the bulk of the film. After watching this movie, one could easily say reality television represents the nadir of American popular culture. The film is funny in a very grim way and instructive in how the media works.

    Anyone interested in media should watch "American Cannibal."

  • For more information, log onto

  • © 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    I'm working on my application to Arcadia Publishing for a book featuring postcards from Springfield and it's an interesting process. They want biographical information and a reference (!) besides 20 images with captions and a chapter breakdown. I've got a good chunk of the postcards I need for the project and have found that I probably need a checklist to bring to flea markets with me as I've duplicates of some images.

    I recently did a story about a new Arcadia Publishing book on Springfield firefighters.

    For author Bert Johanson, his new book on Springfield firefighting "Images of America: Springfield Firefighting" was due to a happy accident.

    Johanson is active in the Connecticut Fire Museum, which is housed at the same location as the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor, Conn. He and his wife Nancy had finished a book on Hartford Conn. firefighters for Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series when he met William Pooler, whose family has had a long history of being firefighters in Springfield.

    Pooler's grandfather was Noah Pooler, a city firefighter from 1907 to 1942. The elder Pooler has assembled a collection of photos of his colleagues, the station houses and scenes of actual fires.

    Johanson told Reminder Publications once he saw that collection he knew he had "the nucleus for a new book."

    But the Johansons needed some additional help that came from Fred Rodriguez, a 29-year veteran of the Springfield Fire Department. Rodriguez was able to help the Johansons identify many of the people shown in the photos.

    Additional photos came from Geoffrey Neilson of Wethersfield, Conn., Raymond Pond of Agawam and the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.

    The book has a history of the Springfield fire fighting effort dating back to 1792 when the community purchased its first hand-pump engine, "The Lion." The photos take readers through the history of the department from its volunteer days to when horses drew steamed-power pumpers to when the city became one of the first all motorized departments in the nation.

    Johanson believes Springfield might have been the first motorized large city, although he said that Oklahoma City, OK. claims to have been the first.

    The bulk of the book's photos depict the department in the later days of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. Johanson said that being a firefighter was considered a great job in those years due to the steady income it afforded, even though prior to World War One, firefighters in the city only had one day off a month.

    Johanson, a retired transportation manager for a Hartford, Conn. business, said he was impressed that so many of Springfield's original fire stations are still standing with several still in operation. He said that most of Hartford's old stations have been demolished.

    This is Johanson's seventh book for Arcadia Publishing, and he said he would love to compile a book on Springfield's trolleys. He is very involved with the Connecticut Trolley Museum as well and has written several books on various trolley systems.

    For more information on the book, log onto
  • Arcadia Publishing

  • © 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Dream girls and fever dreams are in this week's DVD column.

    Dreamgirls: Two-disc Showstopper Edition

    Musicals are not my favorite genre, but I was drawn to "Dreamgirls" because of the music and of its notoriety. The Broadway show that inspired the film had drawn criticism because it was a depiction, although altered, of the life and career of The Supremes.

    "Dreamgirls" tells the story of a slightly fictional African-American girl group who suffers from the pressures of fame and success. The story is so close to the bone of Motown, its head Berry Gordy and The Supremes, that Dreamworks and Paramount, the stow studios that produced the film, actually apologized to Motown personnel if they were offended by it.

    The film starts out more as a conventional musical. There are dramatic scenes that advance the story and are supported by musical numbers. As the film progresses, though, it becomes much more operatic with the characters speaking through the music and the plot carried by the songs.

    This shift is accompanied by the change in the style of music. At the beginning the film begins in the early 1960s the music is more traditional R&B. As the story progresses the music changes to the more sterile pop that typified the Supremes and other Motown acts.

    My own musical tastes are such that I enjoyed the first part of the film much more than the latter section.

    Directed by Bill Condon, who wrote the screenplay for the movie "Chicago," the film suffers from too much music. The performers are capable of good dramatic performances and frankly I wanted to see more of that instead of hearing faux Supremes tunes.

    As the Dream who gets dumped, "American Idol" contestant Jennifer Hudson is the revelation here. Her voice and acting abilities are dead on. I thought it was interesting casting to see Beyonce Knowles in the Diana Ross role. One wonders if art was imitating life a little bit here.

    Eddie Murphy is excellent as James "Thunder" Early, the raucous soul singer who is forced to change his style.

    The second disc gives you everything you could possibly want in extras including audition footage, extended versions of many of the musical acts and documentaries. Pack a lunch if you're going to try to view it all in one sitting.

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    The Screwfly Solution

    Director Joe Dante is well known for his ability to produce horror and fantasy films that deftly blend humor with drama. In his new film, part of a Showtime horror series, Dante demonstrates he can play it very straight with the result being a serious and affecting horror film.

    Based on a short story by James Tiptree, Jr., the film is about an outbreak of violence against women that is spreading around the globe. At first it seems like a series of hideous coincidences, but then it's clearly an epidemic.

    Running just an hour, Dante shows what can be done with a taut effective script, good performances and effective direction. There are a lot of horror directors who could learn from him.

    If you're a horror fan, seek out "The Screwfly Solution."

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    The Film Crew: Killers From Space

    Imagine how Peter Graves must have felt. In 1953 he had a prominent role in director Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17." Just a year later he was working for Billy's brother, W. Lee Wilder, who spent his career churning out pretty terrible low-budget films such as "Killers From Space."

    Graves was able to get through it. He has had a long and respectable career and thanks to The Film Crew three of the former creators of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" we all can get through a viewing of "Killers from Space" without twitching and crying.

    "Incompetent" and "inane" are two words that come to mind about this story of a nuclear scientist who is abducted by aliens with ping-pong ball eyes (literally).

    The Film Crew's commentary is pretty darn funny and I'm looking forward to their next release. So far it's been two for two.

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    Kung Fu Hustle: Axe Kickin' Edition

    OK martial arts and Hong Kong movie fans, you want to know what are the differences between the 2005 DVD release of this Stephen Chow kung fu comedy and this latest release. Well, I'm not entirely sure.

    The back of the DVD box states this version contains footage not seen in the American release and has a bunch of cool documentary extras. I've been going around the Internet trying to nail down just how much good stuff we had previously missed and as near as I can tell there's no definitive answer!

    This version is "approximately 100 minutes" which is what the running time is noted for the previous edition. Yet one source lists the Hong Kong version as 99 minutes. Oh, what is a film geek to do?

    Well, enjoy this package that features Chow's biggest success to date. I have to admit I didn't care for the film very much when I saw it in the theaters largely because it was so different from the other Chow films I've seen. Chow is one of the most popular comic actors in Hong Kong films and this film was a big departure for a guy known for silliness.

    A second viewing of this tale of redemption, though, left me with much greater appreciation. It is both funny and moving.

    As a director, Chow loves to make references to other movies, both American and Chinese. I'll let you guess where in the film he tips his hat to the Roadrunner. This action comedy is probably unlike anything you've ever seen before.

    Be adventurous and try it one Saturday night.

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    © 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs