Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I did an hour of radio today filling in for my friend Bill Dwight on his talk show heard over the tower of power WHMP and was hoping to post a link to the audio, but it appears that the station doesn't archive the shows featuring subs like me!

This is a major bummer as, frankly, I rocked! Pardon the rare public display of self-confidence as occasionally I lose my head.

There is a short list of things I can do fairly well in life – none of them so far has led to great riches – and one of them is talk radio. I get a more immediate gratification from this kind of journalism/punditry/entertainment than from writing, but writing has a permanence that is very nice. Radio tends to be more ephemeral, ESPECIALLY IF YOU A SUBSTITUTE HOST.


And I had the mayor of Springfield as a guest, which impressed the station's program director and good guy Chris Collins, who was great to work with.

Note: If you're at all concerned about the issue of whether or not bars in Springfield should be allowed to have events from the 18-plus crowd, you should turn up at a meeting at 7 p.m. at Room 220 of City Hall. After the recent shooting incident at the Club 1800, Mayor Domenic Sarno wants to put an end to these special promotions that have often been the cause of trouble.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The following is the piece on the Toy Fair that I wrote for the newspapers I edit, so it's more business-oriented. Going on the last day of the show had its advantages – there were few people there so company reps were at ease to speak with a lowly reporter – I wasn't buying anything – but I missed the chance of going through the Hasbro showroom, which is separate from the Toy Fair. I didn't know they closed a day early.

NEW YORK, N.Y. – While the aisles at the Jacob Javits Center weren’t clogged
with people on the final day of Toy Fair 2009 – the international trade show
for the toy industry – area companies were generally upbeat with the
reception they had from buyers from around the world.

Cathie Dyjak, national sales manager of Janlynn Corp., the
Chicopee-based craft company, told Reminder Publications, “It’s been a great
three days.”

Acknowledging that the number of vendors at the trade show may have been
down, Dyjak said her company had seen “very good orders” from buyers and
attributed this in part, ironically, to the economic troubles.

Rather than going out to recreational events, she believes that people
are looking for affordable activities at home, such as the company’s craft

According to the statistics compiled by the Toy Industry Association
trade group, from October 2007 to September 2008 there was an overall
decrease of three percent in toy sales. Action figures, building sets, plush
toys and games and puzzles all saw increases over the previous 12 months,
while dolls, youth electronics and vehicles took the biggest drops.

Janlynn came to the Toy Fair with a number of licensed new craft kits
featured “Camp Rock” and “High School Musical.” Dyjak said the “Hannah
Montana” products the company carried are still strong sellers. Many of
these kits feature a screen-printed product such as a purse, apron or tote
bag that can be colored with the enclosed crayons and then heat-set with an
iron, she said.

The company also introduced a kit to make friendship bracelets and
revamped the packaging on some of its best-selling items, she added.

Joel Nulman of Fantazia Marketing of Chicopee noted that traffic at the
fair was decreased, but added, “We’re holding our own.”

Nulman’s company makes oversized plastic representations of items such
as a nine-inch tall plastic popcorn box or a 32” tall triple scoop ice cream
cone. He said buyers at the show were interested in his line of floor lamps
that double as banks. The shafts of the tall lamps are made from a clear
plastic rod and provide a place for a child to literally see his or her
savings grow.

Ira Leeman of Omniglow LLC, now in Indian Orchard, said, “[This year]
Toy Fair is quiet.” It was difficult for him to tell if the reason for a
slowdown was just the economy or because the show took place during the
school vacation week.

“The economy is definitely part of it,” he said.

The company sells novelty items with its trademarked chemical
luminescence as well as a line of party goods. Leeman said the party goods
line, which the company acquired three years ago, is “growing nicely,” while
the glow products are “stable.”

New to the Toy Fair this year was a glow straw, which Leeman
demonstrated. He took a standard plastic drinking straw that has a small,
enclosed container of the glowing chemicals. Slightly crushing the chemical
container the straw has a glowing sphere in it that would rise up and down
as someone drank through it.

Leeman believes the straws will be a hit with not only consumers, but
with bars and restaurants as well.

LEGO, with its American headquarters just over the border in Enfield,
Conn., has had phenomenal growth in 2008 with a sales increase of 38
percent, according to Karen Lynch, a senior account executive for Flashpoint
Public Relations. Lynch showed me through the LEGO display area.

LEGO, which had at one time invested heavily into licensed properties
such as Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter, has made an effort over the past
four years to go back to “the basic brand,” Lynch said.

Understanding that LEGO sets need to be priced appropriately in a shaky
economy, Lynch noted, “LEGO is sensitive to price point. Everyone is talking
about value this year.”

With that in mind, many of the LEGO sets are priced as low as $9.99 and
feature more than one building plan to increase play value. The company’s
new “Builders of Tomorrow” set, aimed at ages four and up, features a
collection of 650 LEGO bricks. Buyers can then log onto to get step-by-step building instructions for
different models all year round. The set comes with a price tag of $29.99.

Lynch said “Power Miners” is a new line for the company this year. The
building sets feature a storyline involving miners and rock creatures and
naturally some fantastic machinery to build.

More play value is also the rule applied to the company’s “racers” toy
car line. Lynch said there are models with pullback motors for better play
as well as remote control models.

“Star Wars” kits have been a big success for the company and Lynch said
the success of the “Clone Wars” animated series has helped keep sales up.
The company is celebrating holding the “Star Wars” license for 10 years.

Also successful for the company has been “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which
has two new models this year and “Indiana Jones,” which has seven new
models, all based on chase sequences from the films series.

LEGO will be re-entering the home video field with a new “Bionicle”
direct-to-DVD movie later this year, Lynch said.

Movies are looming large in the plans for Hasbro. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of
Cobra,” a live-action film based on the classic toy line, will be released
in August, while the sequel to the highly successful “Transformers” movie,
“Revenge of the Fallen,” opens in June.

“Hasbro enters 2009 with an incredible array of entertainment and
products for consumers of all ages. In challenging economic times, people
often turn to brands and experiences that they know and trust. We are
confident that many of our new and re-imagined brand offerings this year
will resonate well with consumers around the world as we continue to inject
creativity and innovation into some of the world’s most classic and popular
brands,” John Frascotti, Hasbro’s Chief Marketing Officer, said in a press

The company will have a tie-in toy to the upcoming “Wolverine” movie
starring Hugh Jackman as well as a new “Star Wars” toy based on the cartoon
series “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”

The games division of the company, located in East Longmeadow, will be
producing new versions of “Clue” featuring spies and a 60th anniversary
edition of “Candy Land.”

There will also be a new version of “Monopoly”: “Say goodbye to green
houses and choose from over 80 3D structures, including industrial blocks,
stadiums, skyscrapers and even parks built in the middle of the board to
create a unique game experience. The introduction of ‘Monopoly City’
represents one of the most radical game developments in ‘Monopoly’ history.
Set the length of game play and start buying and building right away. Rents
can be boosted through investment, but beware of other players sabotaging
the game by building hazards such as polluting power plants to send
opponents’ rents plummeting.”

Although licensed toys were still in evidence, manufacturers seemed to
be exercising caution about making an investment in a movie or television
property. For instance, even a hit film such as “Wall E” had few toys at the

The licensing hit was a property in which no manufacturer had to invest
a dollar: President Barack Obama. There were action figures, banks and even
a blow up punching bag with a confident looking Obama printed on it. One
company used a quote from the president to help sell its line of educational
toys for kindergarten students.

One of the most unusual toys at the show was a small cube aquarium that
was home to a complete ecosystem – two African dwarf frogs, a plant, a snail
and specially treated gravel. Peter Gasca of Wild Creations said the
aquariums and frogs need little maintenance. He noted a complete package
starts as low as $30.

The Toy Fair is a gamble for many smaller manufacturers who must make a
significant investment to exhibit their products. Fabio Elias said that he
thought the gamble was one worth taking. He traveled from Brazil with Voxal,
which is part art project and part puzzle. He said he has made some good
contacts and hoped these would results in orders.

A long-time Toy fair attendee, Joy Leavitt, the co-owner of Kiddly Winks
in Longmeadow, spent four days at the fair.

“When you’re a buyer, you have to look at every single booth,” she said.

She was pleased with the quality of new products from manufacturer such
as Alex Toys, International Playthings and Blue Orange.

She said this year’s edition was “a good show.”

Despite the economic downturn, as a toy retailer she is “very excited
about the new year.”

©2009 G. Michael Dobbs

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nation of Bettys – Funco displayed their impressive line-up of Betty Boop bobble heads at this year's Toy Fair

Toy Fair 2009 Part One

I've been going to Toy Fair, the international trade show in New York City, for at least five or six years now as the toy industry is a significant one in Western Massachusetts. The daily paper used to make quite a big deal about it, then abandoned the story and resumed covering it after a fashion after they saw what I was doing.

Unlike my competition, I actually go there and talk with as many local companies as I can find as well as attempt to "take the temperature" of the trends in the industry.

This year, I visited Janlynn of Chicopee, a crafting company; Fantazia of Chicopee, makers of over-sized plastic items, banks and lamps; Omniglow of Springfield, which produces glow products and party goods; and LEGO, whose American headquarters are just across the border in Connecticut. I subsequently tried to reach Hasbro, which has its games unit in East Longmeadow, as the company had already shut down its showroom on the last day of the show.

It's always an interesting day, but grueling as I hike up and down the aisles of the Javits Center, not only looking for local companies, but this year also shooting video. I was also looking at the show with this blog in mind as well.

In a nutshell – I'll post my newspaper piece tomorrow – people were happy with the response they received at the fair from buyers and seemed cautiously optimistic.

The Toy Fair always fascinates me with its selection of tiems I can't really imagine anyone buying. For instance, a Canadian company manufactures a some pop culture sculptures such as this one:

but they also produce this damn near life-sized – what would you call it ?

Toy companies in many instances have ceased being just about toys. They are entertainment companies. Hasbro is certainly positioning itself in that way with two movies coming out this summer – a G.I. Joe live action film and the Transformer sequel. Here is Ban Dai's area, much of its shrouded by walls to insure privacy in making deals.

Licensing still seems on the wane among manufacturers. I expected to see "Wall E" or "Bolt" toys at the show, but I spotted only one "Wall E." It's clear that companies have been burnt in the past and are unwilling to invest the money unless they see it as a sure thing.

The biggest licensing trend at the show was the one property no one had to pay for – toys based on our new president.

This is a bank.

This something for people who don't like him.

Naturally there was more licensing among the specialty collectibles folks. Dark Horse Toys has some great stuff and Diamond was offering what I would say is an ultimate "Star Trek" item: a reproduction of Capt. Kirk's chair you would have in your viewing room or bridge.

There were no toys I could find that tie-in into the new "Star Trek" film or the new "Wolverine" film, despite both properties' status as having established audiences.

Being a Springfield partisan I always look for Dr. Seuss stuff and found this wonderful "Horton" sculpture.

More tomorrow.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Behind the scenes with the Western Massachusetts press: I was part of a posse this week – chasing after an elusive hombre, Deval Patrick.

The governor was in Holyoke, first to check in at Peck Middle School and then to address the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce before swearing in a new judge in Springfield. Then I'll bet, he as heading to his house in the Berkshires.

Now I like the governor. he's a smart, witty, very personable guy who will admit his ignorance on a subject and do his homework. He has made some pretty boneheaded moves – his most spectacular was including casino income at a time there wasn't even approval for casinos.

He's been very attentive to this part of the state unlike any other governor of recent memory, including Acting Governor Jane "Where's my Helicopter?" Swift who hails from North Adams.

The point of a politician such as Patrick making these rounds is to be able to get his message to the masses in the way he would like and to deal with the press in a fairly controlled manner. The preceding statement is NOT a criticism. It's standard operating procedure. The press tries to subvert these plans as much as they can to fulfill their own agenda.

We all know this in the press and the pols all know it and at times it becomes a bit of a game. Nobody really talks about it, though.

I missed the Peck School appearance because I had another story to cover. I was told the governor would be at The Log Cabin banquet facility about 12:15 p.m. to speak.

The Chamber folks thought it would be closer to 12:30 p.m.

Now the day before a number of reporters had decided they would "force" an availability on the governor at the Peck School so they didn't have to go to the Chamber luncheon, where the gov's staff had decided he would meet with the press after his speech.

This is part of the game. The electronic reporters – being spread thin themselves – would rather grab Patrick, ask the couple of questions they have on the gas tax and budget and then clear out to the next assignment.

Being on salary and reporting for a weekly I have to do something different and something more complete. Going to the luncheon was fine with me.

But the rest of the lads were a bit cheesed as the governor's staff had prevented them access, forcing them to go to the luncheon and wait. Since Patrick is almost always late, this strained their deadlines and schedules. I listened to quite a bit of complaining.

Dobbs' first rule of journalism: learn how to wait.

Second rule: always bring a spare set of batteries.

Third rule: Unless you're paying for a meal, don't eat.

Other rules will follow in subsequent posts.

For me, the delay meant taking a gamble to fore go eating at the proper time and running the risk of my blood sugar dropping and being a shaky mess. I very narrowly averted a full shaky episode. Got to love being a diabetic!

The gov's speech did have some news value and there was time for about three questions at the end before he was whisked away for the next event. I didn't get a chance to ask my question as the TV and radio folks were facing the governor, while the print people were out of his line of vision at his sides. I did stick my MP3 recorder in his face to get his quotes as there is no way I can be close enough to him to hear him and to still have the room to take written notes.

The question I always ask myself is if I'm going to get something that will be of value to the readers. You see, I think my readers actually want to know this stuff. I go by comments that are made to be and the results of our circulation audits.

At least at this time I hope people are paying closer attention to what government is and is not doing.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs
My boss wants us to shoot more video for the paper's Web site, which is a great idea except it comes with a number of self-imposed conditions. I just don't want to post random crap on the Web. I want the video to supplement a text story, not repeat it. Since I have no external lights or mic I'm limited to what and how I can shoot. Since tripods are not allowed at many events – such as the Comicon – I've got to do the hand-held thing, which has its limitations as well.

At the Comicon I was loaded for bear with a still camera, a MP3 recorder, notebook, a video camera, extras pens, etc in a backpack. The load I was carrying didn't make for speedy switch-overs from one medium to another and the frickin' crowd was so dense that it was difficult to see things at times!

So I shot what I shot, assembled the footage and then one of the graphic artists at work took off my computer and played with it, adding the comic book graphics and music.

I don't think it's too much of an embarrassment.

And yes, Dogboy is in a shot!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fatman and Dogboy go to the Comicon Part Three

My work-related reason to go to the show was to do a story on Mirage Studios of Northampton and on the 25th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles. That story follows below.

I knew Peter Laird at UMass and bought his first comic book project "Barbarian Fantasy." Later when he and Kevin had started the Turtles I was re-acquainted through my friends Stan Wiater and Steve Bissette. I put together a show of original art at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke just before their highly popular first animated cartoon series hit in the late 1980s and hosted the guys at a signing at the theater in South Hadley I managed when the first movie came out.

I then wound up working for Kevin at his Tundra publishing experiment doing publicity for Rick Veitch's "Brat Pack," Mark Martin's "20 Nude Dancers," Bernie Mireault's "The Jam" and Steve's "Taboo" projects. There are some interesting stories there!

I don't pretend to call myself friends with either guy – never have actually – but their story is a fascinating and typically American tale of what happens to two everyday joes whose creation catches lightening in a bottle.

Peter Laird talking to fans at the Mirage table in Artist's Alley.

NEW YORK, NY – If there is one rule in pop culture it’s that relatively few books, movies, comic books or songs make the transition from phenomena to icon, but one group of characters born and raised in Western Massachusetts have made the leap.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created 25 years ago by artist and writers Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, have a multi-generational fan base as seen at the New York Comicon conducted this past weekend at the Jacob Javitts Center in New York City. Fans in their twenties and thirties lined up with their children at two different areas at the convention to meet Laird, Eastman and the other artist of Northampton-based Mirage Studios.

And although the two creators are not active collaborators on the Turtles comic books, cartoons series or movies any longer – Eastman is the owner and publisher of “Heavy Metal” magazine – they both expressed amazement – and gratitude – about the popularity of their characters.

“We never thought it would last beyond the first issue,” Eastman said after finishing a signing.

“It’s been a blast,” he added.

Laird said he never thought the success of the Turtles would be so long lasting.

“I was telling someone here that in the first issue of the Turtles, we killed off our main villain and people ask us about that and I say ‘We had no idea.’ We did that first issue thinking that would be it. There wasn’t going to be a second issue,” he said.

The long-term success of the Turtles has been “a complete surprise,” Laird said.

In 1984 when the Turtles made their debut, the distribution models of the comic book industry allowed for independents such as Eastman and Laird to get their publications into the market place, but 25 years later it is more difficult.

Part of the problem is there has been an increase in both black and white and color comic books and “the market is only so big,” Laird said.

Now, comics also compete with a number of other entertainment choices, such as free content on the Internet.

“I think that is one thing that has cut into the sale of comic books,” he said.

Laird also believes that people “have only so much time in each person’s life and they have allocate that time, a kind of triage thing.”

Laird and Eastman’s independent comic grew into one of the greatest success stories in licensing and merchandising history. The comic books series spawned several successful television series, three live-action films, an animated feature film and dozens and dozens of licensed product.

Laird said the highpoint of all of this creative output has been the comic books he did with Eastman.

“That was probably the most creatively fertile periods of my life,” Laird said. “If we had never had the big licensing success I would have beenhappy. Because with the comics, Kevin and I were finally doing something we loved doing, we had complete control over it and we were making decent money. The first couple of issues brought in more money than I had made in a
year as an illustrator and it was doing something we just loved to do.”

There is a new movie in the works, but because the deal hasn’t been set so Laird declined to speak abut it in depth. He did say that his hopes are to use revised computer animated Turtle characters created for the last film
and integrate them into live action.

The fact the Turtles have now two generations of fans is “really humbling” to Laird, who said that while the first cartoon series wasn’t among his favorite Turtle spins-offs it did expose the characters to a huge audience “that we could never have reached with the comics.”

“Kevin and I would often think about what happened with the Turtles and marvel at it. It was something we never planned. That’s the thing. If you sit down and try to plan something like this, it rarely works. Our thing was we did this thing completely out of fun. We put a lot of passion it in. It came directly from our souls if you will,” Laird said.

“I’ve never understood why it did [touch a nerve with fans], but maybe that’s part of it,” he added.

Eastman’s career, while not focused on the Turtles, is still very much rooted in comics as the publisher of “Heavy Metal.” Since buying the magazine in 1990, he secured the long-delayed home video release of the first “Heavy Metal’ film, developed one animated feature film based on the magazine and now is in pre-production of another feature film.

This new film involves some Hollywood A-list heavy weights, including director David Fincher, the director of the current hit “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Zack Snyder, director of “300,” and Gore Verbinski, the director of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. The animated film will have eight segments, Eastman said, with an over-arching storyline to connect

Although a largely computer animated film, Eastman said each segment will have its own distinctive style and look.

Eastman thanked the Turtle fans for “25 amazing years” which gave him and Laird “an amazing life.”

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Part Two: Fatman and Dogboy go to New York Comicon

"Zombie hugs! Get your free zombie hugs!" This guy was handing out a free zombie comic book tie-in to a video game. We accepted his manly zombie hug and the free comic and for Steve B. I decided to get a photo of his gaping head wound.

I have no idea why someone decided that making this poor model stand around in this outrageous costume would be an effective effort in order to sell statues of some British space heroine. I love the highly illogical spikes on this space suit.

The show was loaded naturally with collectible toys. One company produced this cool Commando Cody doll – you have to be old and a serial fan to even know who the hell Commando Cody was – and along aside of it was...

A doll representing Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon rendered in black and white because the serial was in black and white. Frankly I thought it made Buster look either like a zombie or frozen solid. My toy purchase of the trip was marked down set of "Mutts" figures.

There were a lot of bargains in the dealer's room, which certainly reflected the hard times we face in this recession.

Now I remember costume competitions from the old days, but I was a little shocked at the sheer number of fans who came dressed as their favorite character, but I was heartened by the obvious change of demographics in the audience.

Back in the day, the average convention was dominated by young white males. A woman on the convention floor could stop traffic. The idea you could find a female you could share your interest in comic book fandom was almost science fiction. Now as this photo attests, not only are there enthusiastic female fans, but there are Asian, Black and Latino fans as well. This is a welcomed change in my book.

I attribute part of this change to the tremendous popularity of anime and manga among young women, which probably has served as a portal to other kinds of graphic story-telling.

Part Three tomorrow!

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fatman and Dogboy go to the Con Part One

I haven't been to a comic book convention in years. The first convention I attended was a science fiction show back in high school, but I also traveled to New York City and Philadelphia to see the great Phil Seuling Comic Cons.

Having had a jones lately to attend a show, I jumped at the chance to see this year's New York Comicon, especially since I could do a legitimate story about the area's own comic superstars The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their 25th anniversary.

My buddy Big Mark aka Dog Boy himself a comics professional came along, also with a business errand in mind. Neither of us knew quite what to expect.

Now I've gone to the Javits Center many times for trade shows, but I had no idea of the veritable onslaught of humanity we were to face this past weekend. Thousands of people in a crowd punctuated by Jokers, Batmen, Wonder Women, Harly Quinns, Wolverines and Supermen.

I headed to the press room to get my pass, while Mark was directed into a snaking line designed to control the flow of people into the show. While I was allowed to got into the professionals' entrance, poor Mark had to tromp through the basement of the center belly to butt for almost an hour before he could get in.

What awaited us was sensory overload coupled with crowds that chocked the aisles. The result was a sort of haze – did I already go up this way? Did I see everything? Did I get all the freebies?

Artist Alley at about 10:45 a.m. In another hour this would be shoulder to shoulder. Going through this area made me realize just how old and disconnected I am with comics. I didn't recognize but a third of the names.

The card gaming area. This was a revelation as I though all interest in these low tech games were essentially over. Not true.

What I loved about Comicon. On one side of the aisle, classic "good girl" art. While on the other side:

Everything Archie! Do you realize that Betty and Veronica were as close as one could get to sexy comic book characters when I was a boy? And yes, Betty was always more appealing than Veronica.

Speaking of pretty women, I had no clue – none – just what product these two accomplished models were hawking. It turns out it was some sort of video game thing. First rule of marketing at a convention: hire really good looking women to hawk your product. Second rule: actually explain what the hell the product is.

More tomorrow!

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, February 06, 2009

I'm off to the New York Comicon tomorrow with my friend Big Mark and will have much to share later this weekend.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I haven't posted any DVD reviews in awhile, so here goes:

Studio One Anthology

I don't use the word "important" very often to describe a DVD release, but this collection of 17 hours of "Studio One" on six DVDs is indeed significant to anyone either interested in the presentation of live drama or the history of television.

It's sad to note that since "Studio One" ended its 10-year run in 1958, commercial television has clearly devolved. In the infancy of the medium, sponsors and networks strived to present a variety of programming including the production of plays performed live.

Granted, Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote for shows such as "Studio One," predicted television's decline with his films "network," but I doubt that when he was employed in the 1950s by shows such as this one that he couldn't ever envisioned a time when a show such as "Momma's Boys" would be a network hit.

"Studio One" was one of many live dramatic anthology programs from the 1950s, but it is remembered as one of the best. This collection includes a wide range of shows, from Shakespeare to originals such as "Twelve Angry Men" and "Dino," both of which were later adapted into feature films.

Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach

Back in the 1980s, I used to get various odd things sent to me by studios to help attract my attention to their current theatrical releases. For example, Columbia sent me a dipstick from a car to publicize its movie "Used Cars," with the promise I would receive a part of month to eventually I would be able to build my own used car.

It would be done about now, I bet.

Well, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment just didn't send me a DVD screener of "Balls Out," they also sent me a brand new athletic supporter as a gift -- I guess.

I suppose the gift ties into the scene in which star Seann William Scott coaches the tennis team at a small Nebraska high school in just his athletic supporter.

The director of two of my favorite junk moves, "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and "Dude! Where's My Car?" directed this film in a style I can best describe as a combination of "Napoleon Dynamite" with a low-rent frat comedy.

Williams plays the title character, a has-been tennis player who accidentally winds up the janitor of a high school and who gets to coach the tennis team when the former coach drops dead. His technique to inspire his students includes beer, lap dances, cursing and various scatological behaviors.

Somehow we're supposed to buy into this guy as a lovable eccentric. I'm afraid I didn't.

Although there are a few scattered laughs, largely this comedy is pretty barren of chuckles. Williams tries hard to impress, but he is let down by a really poor script.

Unless you're really desperate, watch something else – almost anything.

Jurassic Fight Club

Hey, you might think that paleontology is some sort of passive egghead discipline with scientists content to scratch stone and dirt away from bones that they then assemble like some sort of model, but think again! There's a lot of action there, although it's sort of like "CSI" action -- piecing together stories from dinosaur crime scenes.

That's the spirit of the television show "Jurassic Fight Club." The first season has been collected in a new four-disc set and it's a rock 'em, sock 'em show. The premise is that a real prehistoric "crime scene" is explained and re-created for the viewers. For instance, one show explains a fossil finds in which a juvenile T. Rex was killed. What other dinosaur would have dared attack and successfully killed the most feared predator of its age?

Another show examines a "gang" attack of smaller raptor dinos on a docile vegetarian beast. Four raptor remains were found along with the "victim." How did that happen?

Using computer animation, the show recreates the grisly action as described by a number of scientists. They don't pull too many punches so be aware that younger viewers will see dinos ripping each other up.

The show is informative and pretty fast moving and just might be something to interest younger people in history and science blood and guts do have charms for some.

Monster Quest: Season Two

If I ever hit the lottery, I will do many things and chief among them would be underwriting a cryptozoological expedition someplace to try to fund proof of an unconfirmed species of animal.

But since I don't have access to millions of dollars to chase a lake monster or Big Foot, the next best thing is watching people who are doing that in "Monster Quest."

The second season continues the satisfying formula of having actual scientists go out into the field to try to collect evidence of a wide variety of disputed creatures. They don't always come up completely empty-handed, as their investigations have indeed produced interesting photos, hair samples and footprints.

It's hard to dispute the mega-hogs that have been killed and photographed or the attacks on farm animals in which the predator leaves the body behind but drains the victim of blood.

Sometimes the shows are a bit silly, such as the one in which the investigators put a camera rig on a rat in New York City to try to catch a glimpse of a "super rat." What the heck, though -- this is the cutting edge of science!

This show is a lot of fun and seems a bit more plausible than the various ghost investigation shows that almost never are convincing.

Pineapple Express

OK, what if Cheech and Chong had made an action film/dope comedy? Well, I'm trying to wrap my head around Tommy Chong handling a gun -- Cheech Marin already has done such scenes in other films -- but I can't really see it.

So, it's a real accomplishment that the creative team behind "Pineapple Express" was able to make that delicate transition from a dope comedy about two slackers constantly high to an action film in which they find themselves waist deep in crooked cops and warring drug lords. It's not easy mixing genres like that, but director David Gordon Green and writers Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow and Evan Goldberg get it right.

Green was an odd choice, at least on paper, as this project's director, as he has specialized in indie dramas as opposed more high profile studio work. He handles both the comedy and the action very well, though.

The film is centered on the premise of what two stoners would do when they realize their lives are in danger -- would they give up smoking weed long enough to save themselves? And would they have any epiphanies about their lives?

A film that is, in appropriate turns, both satisfyingly funny and action packed answers that question.

I watched the theatrical cut of the film as opposed to the unrated extended version simply because the last time I watched an extended version of a film it dragged. Generally, scenes are cut from a film for a reason and I'm more inclined to watch them as an extra.

Although not a film for people who don't like drug humor, "Pineapple Express" is a fun way to kill 90 minutes.

Underworld & Underworld: Evolution

Sony Home Video has released this double feature of the first two film in its popular "Underworld" franchise in time for the theatrical release on Jan. 23 of the newest film in the series, "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans."

I've often wanted to see these films, but hadn't up until this set arrived on my desk and I can easily understand why they've been a success. The two movies weave their own complicated mythology that is part horror film convention, part soap opera and part political intrigue wrapped up in an action film package.

For a "horror" film, there are precious few shocks and that is clearly the intent. Other than some werewolf transformations and some nasty biting sound effects, the gore quotient is minimal.

And oh, yes, star Kate Beckinsale looks pretty amazing in that leather and latex outfit as the werewolf hunter Selene.

The films detail a centuries-old conflict between vampires and werewolves and we humans figure in very, very marginally. The vampires have largely won the conflict, but the tide might be turning as the long thought dead werewolf leader Lucian has devised a way to combine werewolf and vampire blood in order to become immortal.

A human, a doctor named Michael, figures prominently into Lucian's plans.

Complicating matters is the political intrigue among the vampires and Selene's desire to find out the truth.

The first film, presented here in an extended director's cut, is a little top heavy with plot and with scenes in which people wearing long leather coats are trying to kill one another.

The second film, which continues the story from the moment the narrative in the film ended, moves much quicker as all of the necessary back-story has been introduced in the first installment.

I liked both films, although sometimes the overly dark photography design affected my understanding of just what the heck was going on in the first film.

Like many epics -- horror films -- the villains have all of the best lines and scenes. Bill Nighy as the vampire leader and Michael Sheen as Lucian steal the move. Beckinsale has relative little to do in the first movie other than handle the gun-slinging action. In the second film, her role has more depth.

Interestingly enough, the new movie doesn't extend the story of Selene and Michael as one might have expected, but instead is a prequel that explains more on how the conflict between the two groups arose, which, by the way, was already covered in the first two films.


I'm 54 years old and the average life expectancy for an American male is 75. Since I have diabetes I'm sure I have less than that. Therefore I'm politely asking the makers of "Baghead" for my hour and a half back. I need that time.

Seldom have I squandered my time in a less satisfying way than watching what was billed as "the funniest spoof horror film of the year," much less a selection of both the 2008 Sundance and Tribeca films festivals.

Now, I've wasted plenty of time watching bad movies, sometimes in the line of duty of reviewing them and sometimes because I'm damn curious. Could I pass up watching a Filipino horror film like "Mad Doctor of Blood Island?" No, and I'm not ashamed.

There is no inherent pretension about such a film. Is it well done? Maybe. A little goofy? Definitely. Entertaining? Yes.

I can't say that about "Baghead," a new example of "mumblecore," a brand of filmmaking in which the goal to is to produce a feature film with a minimal script, maximum improvisation on a budget that is within even my price range.

The aesthetic seems to emphasize medium shots and close-ups of actors talking and talking and talking, trying to make something out of nothing and in this case failing pretty miserably.

The plot revolves around four sad sack would-be actors who decide to write their own movie so they could finally get a decent role. They go to a cabin in the woods to do so and wind up confronting a guy with a bag over his head with a knife.

There is a marginal effort to poke fun at slasher films and low budget films in general, but it is not enough to be of any great interest to me.

In the extras, the film's two writers, directors and producers, Jay and Mark Duplass, say they made the film for $1,000 and seemed pretty pleased with themselves. Congratulations, boys. You got your film into festivals and on DVD. How about actually making a new one with a plot and with characters who don't seem to be stumbling for something to say?


National Lampoon's Stoned Age Unrated

Remember when the "National Lampoon" banner meant a movie might actually be funny? Well once again, the designation is no assurance of laughs as "Stoned Age Unrated" is devoid of even a chuckle.

Director and writer Adam Rifkin stars in this tepid film that is constructed as a facsimile of Woody Allen's early comedies. Rifkin plays Isbo the tribal outcast who wonders about the meaning of life and invents things. He's in love with Fardart (Ali Larter) who is attracted to Isbo's virile but stupid brother.

Will Isbo ever be the hero? Will he win the girl? Who cares?

In his commentary, Rifkin admits he was inspired by the Woody Allen comedies. I wouldn't doubt that casting himself in the lead was part ego and part economy. Rifkin even wears glasses as part of his caveman portrayal, which further pushes the resemblance to Woody Allen.

Not since a pair of imitators tried to fool fans of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in the equally terrible film "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" has one entertainer so blatantly ripped off the shtick of another.

Rifkin's career as a director has been pretty spotty -- his "Dark Backward" left me cold, but is considered a cult hit -- and he has written two films I enjoyed a lot, director Joe Dante's "Small Soldiers" and the Nathan Lane vehicle "Mousehunt."

"Stoned Age Unrated," though, is a complete failure. The premise is tired and derivative, the performances are lackluster and Rifkin doesn't make much of a lead actor.

What makes this unrated are various gratuitous topless shots that were an apparent tie-in with "Penthouse" and "Maxim" magazines.

In his commentary he reveals that the film's theatrical title, "Homo Erectus" -- a legitimate anthropological term for a primitive man -- was rejected by several national retailers because they thought it sounded like a gay sex film. I think that was the most interesting aspect to this sad production.


Arch Oboler had made his mark in radio as a writer and producer of some groundbreaking horror shows when he started writing movie scripts in the 1940s. These assignments allowed him to enter directing and while his films are considered uneven -- they include the first 3-D feature "Bwana Devil" -- "Five" from 1951 is a solid film that should interest contemporary audiences.

Oboler wrote, produced and directed this drama about the aftermath of a nuclear war and five survivors -- a mountain climber, two bank employees, a pregnant woman and a young philosopher -- who find shelter in a house in the country. This was the first film to present a post-apocalyptic vision of the world and it works well.

The film has no stars in the cast, but rather mostly young actors at the beginning of their careers. What I like about the film particularly is the inclusion in the cast of Charles Limpkin, an African-American actor, in a dignified role rare for its time.

Although elements of the story are a little silly -- picked-clean skeletons in clothing represent the bodies of the bomb's victims -- what rings true is the interactions between these five characters.

Oboler likes moving his camera and using close-ups to punctuate the drama and the film is very visually interesting.

This is a film worth discovering.

Liberty's Kids

Too many kids roll their eyes in despair when confronted with history lessons, but this animated series produced in 2002 might be the ticket for some elementary age children to find out about the founding of this nation in a relatively painless manner.

The premise of the show is to follow three young teenagers who are reporters for Benjamin Franklin's newspaper as the events of the American Revolution unfolds around them. The 15-hour series is presented in a boxed set that comes with an illustrated episode guide and a map to show where key events of the Revolution took place.

The series deals with immigration issues as well as slavery and the differences between the colonists who viewed America as their nation and the loyalists who still considered themselves part of Great Britain. The show is pretty involving and humanizes a lot of events that frequently make young eyes glaze over.

The animation is acceptable as are the vocal performances with a lot of stunt casting that might impress more adults than kids. Walter Cronkite, though, cast in the key role of Franklin doesn't really cut it.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Now I'm sure you heard about this – that is my readers in the greater Springfield area – but if you haven't let me refresh your memory.

From Sgt. John Delaney of the Springfield Police Department: "At approximately 1:25 A.M. on 01/21 while inside the Mardi Gras Lounge located at 91 Taylor Street a Jose E. Colon age 22 was shot once in the head while sitting at the bar near a stage inside the strip club. Prior to the shooting the victim had been involved in a verbal and physical altercation with other subjects inside the bar. Investigators believe that this was the motive for the murder. The victim was pronounced dead one half hour later at Baystate Medical Center E.R.

"Detectives assigned to the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Homicide Unit under the direction of Capt. Robert McFarlin conducted the investigation and worked around the clock. During the course of the investigation the Homicide detectives talked with witnesses, looked at surveillance cameras and found the murder weapon in the area of the Mardi-Gras with fingerprints. With the combined evidence the Detectives requested and were issued an ARREST WARRANT for the following suspect;

"Rodney Dyron Briggs age 27, last known address , 107 Vadnais Street, Springfield. Described as a...... black male, 5'07 tall, 160 lbs, black hair, brown eyes, a small scar near his left eye, date of birth - 10/08/81.

"Rodney Briggs is considered armed and dangerous. Briggs was a member of the Sycamore Street Posse. On February 14, 2006 the Springfield Police Department and the ATF task Force arrested Briggs for Trafficking in Cocaine and at the time he was arrested with several guns including a Mac-10 which is a high capacity firearm and a .40 caliber handgun. Briggs has a long history with the SPD and has been arrested several times for drug and weapon violations. Investigators believe that Mr. Briggs could still possibly be in the Western Massachusetts Area.

"If anyone has any information on the location of Rodney Briggs please call the C.I.B. at 413-787-6355. If any sees Rodney Briggs please call 9-1-1, do not approach this individual."

So far he hasn't been caught, but the Springfield police have a very high arrest rate in such matters and I'm sure he will.

This incident re-ignited the debates over the safety of being downtown and whether or not strip bars are acceptable businesses to have in a city such as Springfield.

Every area seems to need a community other folks can point to, wag their fingers and go "tsk, tsk." For years it was Holyoke. It was the arson capitol of the region. There were gangs on the street and crime everywhere or at least that was the impression of people.

I'm not sure, having worked on Holyoke for years, that was ever truly the case. It certainly isn't now.

Springfield is now having its turn in the barrel and this murder seems to have either reinforced people's worst opinions or caused a new set of folks to be afraid of downtown.

The many calls to close the Mardi Gras I've seen on Web sites are interesting as historically that club has had relatively few problems. I cover the License Commission meetings and the city's strip clubs are rarely called before the body to defend charges brought against them. The clubs that have the worst problems are those who cater to the youngest legal demographic and yet there haven't been efforts by citizens to close those.

Here is my take on downtown:

The incident at the Mardi Gras was between two bad actors. The victim also had a long history with the police. There is no excuse for murder but this wasn't something random.

I see a lot of police in downtown. Clearly the area is a priority, but they can't be everywhere at all times. People have to be smart. If you don't want trouble, stay away if you're under-aged and don't have a "pre-game" party in your car so you're almost in the bag before you go to a club – not that the people who are doing this would listen to anyone.

You can get in trouble almost anywhere if you say the wrong thing at the wrong time, wave your money around and stay out too late.

Downtown needs more restaurants and night spots that cater to an older – 35-50 – crowd. I know that is easier said than done in this economy. Non-booze oriented entertainment businesses such as a traditional coffee house or a movie theater would help.

Perhaps we need a new marketing slogan for downtown, such as "Most Get Out Alive," or "We're Open Later than Northampton" or "Downtown Springfield: Not as Bad You Think."

Really, folks, downtown is indeed not as bad as you think.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs