Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I've been painting a room in my house, which I thought would be a quick and easy task. Like anything in a house built in 1864, this room presented a few challenges and I'm happy to say that after tonight I will be able to return to life as normal.

Or something like that.

While painting, though I had plenty of time for my mind to wander and it did:

• I had no idea that Brooke Shields, the professionally beautiful woman that she is, suffers from inadequate eyelashes and that is now a drug treatment to encourage the growth of eyelashes. I'm amazed. How did they develop this drug? Were there testing it on patients with, let's say, some of cancer and discovered their tumors were unaffected but their eyelashes were gorgeous?

And now the drug company is spending millions, I'd wager, on a national media campaign. And you wonder why prescription drugs are so expensive? The cost of such ads must be carried by something.

• My neighbors seem to have the squatters mentality when it comes to garbage. If I've not filled up my bin by Wednesday, they will do it for me. That's because the landlord has only one bin for a two family home. naturally, because neither family recycles anything – despite the big yellow warning sticker the garbage guys attached to the bin – they always have an over-flowing horn of plenty.

So, now I'm hiding my bin. I'm thinking of a good place. Perhaps I'll lock it away in the garage. I've done this before when another neighbor stole my bin to assist in a home remodeling job

• I love how many people have indistinctly attacked Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno over his effort to get a hot dog trailer to move from its parking spot on Worthington Street. Because Sarno's cousin in part-owner in a newly opened restaurant too many of the public believe the attempt to evict the hot dog guy is politically motivated – not so from my observations.

The subject of the vendor and his near permanent position has come up in Board of License Commission meetings well before Sarno even became mayor. Tarring him about this issue isn't right.

• When I receives a release that Gov. Deval Patrick was going to announce a new first time home buyers lending plan at 145 Florence St. on Tuesday, I sat and stared on my computer screen. "145 Florence St., " I wondered to myself. "Where's that?"

Duh! It's about a block away from my house! I just didn't expect Patrick to come to my neighborhood.

It was a tad surreal to have him there and I would have invited him over for a iced tea, but my house was very messy because of the paint job. Just as well as he had to get up to Tanglewood.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My buddy Dogboy has been finding chunks of my past on eBay of late – a fairly odd sensation, that.

First it was a "Fiend Without a Face" glow in the dark t-shirt that Steve Bissette drew and my former business partner and I published back in the Animato! days. Yes indeed the brain monster glowed. We only did a few of them. I'm not sure how that glow-in-the-dark pain survived the washing cycle.

And now he's found someone the Fiend model kit on which I was the licensing agent. On it the bottom of the base it reads "Licensed by Inkwell Productions." That was/is me!

What? You don't know about "Fiend?" In short, this 1958 movies involved the creation of ambulatory radioactive brains that would literally suck the life out of people.

Check it out here

I had a conversation with my friend Richard Gordon – who produced the film and did many more horror and science fiction films – one day and asked why he hadn't tried licensing products based on his movies. He asked me if I wanted to try it, so I did.

It was a fascinating experience. The folks from Geo-Metrics had made an inquiry about a Fiend Without Face model kit – perhaps Richard's best known movie – and I made the deal. This was back in the early 1990s when there had been an explosion of interest in high end, intricate model kits.

Here is the model kit

The kit was featured in a story in Fangoria about the whole "garage kit" movement – something that has sadly died. Fifteen years ago every pop culture convention had a ton of these kits. The most grim one was one of O.J. Simpson holding a bloody knife!

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Time for some DVD reviews as I haven't posted any in quite some time:

The Strange One

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Gazzara several years ago when he appeared at CityStage in a one-man play on the life of Yogi Berra.

Even with a diminished vocal capacity Gazzara turned in a masterful performance that was compelling to this non-baseball fan.

That's why I was eager to see "The Strange One," released on DVD for the first time. It was Gazzara's first film role - in fact, he was the star of the film - and it's a fascinating look at a near pathological bully.

The title gives little indication of the film's story. Gazzara is Cadet Jocko DeParis, an upperclassman at a military college located somewhere in the deep South.

DeParis is a smooth talking, highly intelligent guy who has mastered how the college works. His latest exercise is to punish a faculty member who disciplined him by engineering the discharge of his son from the college. He does so in a way that implicates four other cadets who all realize that if any of them come forward they will all be discharged.

Shot in 1957, the film has a strong contemporary feel to it by implying visually the segregation of the time as well as noting in the dialogue the strong prejudice against anyone deemed "foreign" or "un-American."

The 100-minute film moves very quickly and the drama is compelling, as the young cadets must grapple with doing the right thing or saving themselves.

Some reviewers have noted a gay character in the film that provides another layer of social criticism. Paul E. Richards played a cadet nicknamed "Cockroach" by DeParis. Despite the abuse, Cockroach is drawn to DeParis and has based a novel on his exploits.

The film features other early performances by Pat Hingle, James Olson and George Peppard. Arthur Storch almost steals the show, though, as a freshman cadet who appears like Peter Lorre and is a pathological liar and coward.

Even when scene-stealers are on camera, "The Strange One" is always Gazzara's show. It's a fascinating film.

The extra for the disc is a new interview with Gazzara about the making of the film.

Tell No One

I'm not a big French film fan, so this title was positioned toward the bottom of the review pile, but I'm very glad I watched it. This murder mystery is a top-notch thriller that understands how to keep an audience on the edge of its seat.

Francois Cluzet plays Dr. Alexandre Beck, a successful pediatrician who has loved his wife since they were kids. She is brutally murdered and he is the prime suspect until the evidence pointed to a serial killer who is caught and convicted.

Eight years later he is still mourning her death and there is now new interest in the case when two bodies are discovered at the site of her killing. The police are now interested again in Beck, who is acting a tad suspiciously because he received an e-mail with a video from his long-dead wife.

Director Guillaume Canet wrote the screenplay based on the book of the same name by Harlan Coben and clearly Canet understands how a suspense film is supposed to work.

I think a reference to the work of Alfred Hitchcock is an appropriate compliment for this film. Canet doesn't try to copy Hitchcock's style, but the story of the unjustly accused hero is right out of the Hitchcock canon.

The film has an English soundtrack for those of you who are subtitled impaired, but as always I like hearing the inflections of actors even if I can't understand their language.

With solid performances, an involving plot and plenty of surprises, "Tell No One" should be at the top of your pile.


Low budget horror and suspense films are a dime a dozen, but "Elsewhere" stands above the crowd. This independent production stays away from the standard elements of the genre - there is no nudity and very little on-screen violence.

In other words, writer and director Nathan Hope wants to present something more mature, something a little deeper than the typical horny-soon-to-be-dead teenager movie.

"Elsewhere" is set in small town in Indiana. Sarah (Anna Kendrick) has a pretty standard teen life of high school, a part-time job and coping with life as a child of divorce.

Her best friend Jillian (Tania Raymonde) has a greatly different life. Sexually active and dying to get of the town, she cruises for guys through her Web page. She plays the dangerous game of even meeting some of them and one day she disappears.

Her mother doesn't care. The police won't investigate. Only Sarah is concerned, along with another high school friend.

She discovers that Jillian isn't the only girl from the wrong side of town to have vanished in the past several years.

Part "Nancy Drew," part 21st century cautionary tale, "Elsewhere" develops into a pretty solid little thriller. Hope is also a cinematographer and although he wasn't behind the camera for this movie, the film has a great look that few low budget features have.

The performances are surprisingly good with Kendrick delivering an effective but low-keyed characterization and Raymonde - who has been a regular on "Lost" and "Cold Case" is bitter but vulnerable as Jillian.

"Elsewhere" is well worth checking out.

The Hunger Season One

It's difficult to produce a horror anthology series these days that breaks new ground. The two shows associated with the late writer Rod Serling - "The Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery" - still pack a punch decades after their original run on television.

I fondly remember "Tales from the Darkside," back in the 1980s, that was partly the brainchild of famed horror director George Romero. I never cared much for "Tales from the Crypt" or "Freddy's Nightmares," although those shows did have their fans.

The "Masters of Horror" series on Showtime, featuring hour-long productions directed by people such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento and Joe Dante, was pretty impressive.

Not having Showtime in the 1990s, I missed "The Hunger," another anthology show, which is now out on DVD in a four-disc set.

All of these shows have to have a point of view or specialty to make them stand out and "The Hunger" is no exception. Its gimmick isn't a crypt keeper; it's sex and nudity.

Although I'm no prude, I have to say that in the episodes I watched from this set - sorry, I didn't sit through all 616 minutes of it - the sexual scenes seem a little forced into the narrative.

The other problem is the writing as a whole is a bit weak with predictable endings or endings that make you scratch your head in wonder.

Perhaps there are some good episodes in this set, but I couldn't find them.

The Three Stooges Collection Vol. 6, 1949 to 1951

Let us now sing a song of Shemp -- Shemp Howard that is - and the center of attention in this new volume of Sony Home Video's on-going collection of the Three Stooges.

When I attended UMass back in the 1970s, Three Stooges film nights were highly popular and many were presented on campus with a sign outside the door of the hall assuring "No Shemp." Curly Howard was the preferred third stooge, but frankly this collection shows that Shemp -- who took over for Curly in 1946 - was pretty damn funny.

Shemp had been part of the act before his younger brother Curly joined it and struck out on a solo career in 1932. He was a successful and busy comic character actor in a long list of films and came back to the act only when Curly had suffered a stroke.

While Curly was frequently an almost surreal comic creation, Shemp's humor was more grounded in a sort of reality - if you can call the world of the Three Stooges "real."

Shemp's character struck a balance from the odd non sequitur humor of Curly and that of an actual human being.

This collection has some nicely polished short subject gems. The Columbia short subjects had the advantage of using the studio's standing sets from its feature films, which gave them a more expensive look than other shorts.

If you're an ardent Curly fan, I probably can't convince you this collection of 24 short is worth the money, but I know I would never hang a "No Shemp" sign at my door.


This film came and went in theaters rather quickly and that is a shame, as director Edward Zwick's latest historic drama is a very moving film about a relatively unknown chapter of World War II.

In 1942, the Bielski brothers were forced to escape into the forest by the effort of the Nazis to hunt down and kill all the Jews they could in Poland and nearby Belarus. Eventually, as other people joined them, they formed both a resistance group that would engage the Nazi troops as well as a community that grew to 1,200 by the end of the war.

Tuvia and Zus Bielski, who settled in the United States after the war, didn't seek publicity for their actions, but historians of the resistance movement in Europe know their story.

Under Zwick's hand, this is not merely a war movie, but a film that examines how people behave under the duress of a situation such as war. The Bielskis were not saints, nor soldiers, but people who reacted in the best possible way to the horrible events they endured.

Zwick, who also directed "Glory" - another movie that shows a little known side of a well-documented war - is very capable to staging the battle scenes, but even more so in addressing the relationships between the brothers and their growing community.

Daniel Craig gets top billing as Tuvia Bielski while Liev Schreiber portrays Zus Bielski. Although Craig has had a long list of credits to his name before he donned the mantle of James Bond - a potentially restrictive career move - he shows here once again that he is a solid actor who is more than an action movie star. Schreiber confirms he is one of the most intense actors working on the scene today.

The extras include the obligatory "making of" featurette as well as a fascinating look at the Bielski brothers from the perspective of their children and grandchildren.

This film is well worth seeking out.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Warning: The following post is about two movies in which genitalia talk! You've been warned.

The late Candice Rialson (far left) was a fixture of many drive-in films in the 1970s and probably should have been a big mainstream star. This is one of her best films. Check it out!

There are many films I have seen – or what to see – just on the basis of sheer curiosity. Why were they made? Who thought that particular premise would appeal to audiences?

And two films were at the top of my List: Chatterbox, a musical comedy about a young woman whose vagina begins talking and singing and Me and Him, about a would-be yuppie who suddenly can hear his penis talk to him and decides to follow his advice.

Any guy could tell you that move is quite foolish.

Chatterbox is a clearly low budget film aimed at the drive-in crowd from 1977. Me and Him was a studio release from Columbia. Chatterbox has no mainstream stars. Besides Rialson, the film boats of having Rip Taylor and Professor Irwin Corey in the cats.

Me and Him from 1988 features two almost A-list performers – Griffin Dunne and Ellen Greene – who either didn't read the script or just needed a paycheck. Badly.

Chatterbox was written and directed by Tom Desimone, whose other credits include the Linda Blair film Hell Night, a raft of other low budget films and television episodes. Hell Night isn't a bad little horror film of the dead teenager variety

Me and Him was shot and co-wrote by German director Doris Dorrie, who seems to have had a pretty active career. Maybe German dig the idea of a man following his penis' advice about women.

Now Chatterbox hasn't been legally released on DVD, but I did obtain a copy. I found Me and Him in a bargain bin on VHS years ago. I thought then a double feature of two films with similar premises would make for an intriguing afternoon.

It did. Along with two other cinematic adventurers we endured the better part of four hours exploring the dramatic potential of genitalia that could communicate.

The verdict: Chatterbox is actually a chaste little romantic comedy of sorts. While Rialson was topless aplenty, the film is really fairly innocent. While my fellow movie travelers couldn't help but see potentially smuttier jokes in certain scenes ourselves, the film makers didn't. Rialson does a great job as an ordinary young woman who doesn't want to be a media star because her vagina can sing.

Now I am prejudiced as I'm a big fan of Rialson. She left the business in 1979 and died in 2006. I doubt that she realized just how fondly people remembered her.

Chatterbox actually sets up a premise and attitude and sticks with it. Me and Him is an odd social comedy in which Dunne's penis first tries to lead him astray and then tries to get him back with his wife. There is not a laugh in the picture which quickly becomes very tedious.

If I had the chance to interview Dunne I would ask him about this film. It would probably be the deal breaker for the conversation, but that is my fascination with this kind of film – why did anyone think this was entertaining?

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Illustration by Leo Pilares

The things I do: from the papers I edit

Natasha Clark, the Assistant Managing Editor at Reminder Publications, is a person who believes in public service, a personality trait I find most admirable until now.

She has been raising money for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in memory of her late father Walt for a while now and recently she asked me if I could help.

No, it wasn't a request to join Team Walt for the Step Out Walk to Fight Diabetes scheduled for Sept. 27 at Look Park in Northampton. And no, she wasn't looking for a donation from me.

Instead she wanted me to volunteer to raise money for her team through potential public humiliation.

Since I am one of the almost 24 million Americans who have diabetes my staff has frequently yelled at me about my blood sugar I couldn't resist her offer.

Now there are many ways I could be humiliated in public as part of a fundraiser sitting in a dunk tank, having people take aim at me with pies or forcing me to shave my head or beard but Natasha had another plan in mind.

Would I kiss an animal at the Zoo in Forest Park if the public donated $250? That's it? Kiss an animal? I'm being let off easy.

Hey, I'm a farm boy. I've been around cows, goats, pigs, chickens, a mule, a pony, a donkey, ducks and sheep.

I'm also a dedicated dog and cat guy. I'm sure I've ingested plenty of animal spit and hair over the years through accident.

So, I go to the zoo and kiss a goat? No problem. However, as the late Billy Mays would say, "But wait! There's more."

I don't get to pick the animal and the powers to be decided it wouldn't be a domesticated farm animal.

I get to go wild.

So the readers of these newspapers can vote with their donations whether I pucker up with a llama or a camel. I'm just thankful I wasn't told to choose between one of the mountain lions and one of the bears.

So, this promotion can appeal to those who appreciate my work and would like to help out and those who don't care for me and would like to see me at least slightly embarrassed.

Send a check made out to the American Diabetes Association (put Team Walt in the memo line) and send it to Natasha Clark, Reminder Publications, 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 10128.

Enclose a note with your check on whether you prefer me to kiss the llama or the camel.

As they say in Chicago, "Vote early and vote often." Donations will be accepted until Aug. 1. There is no minimum donation and any amount is appreciated in helping the ADA continue services to diabetics as well as finding a cure.

The animal you choose will be announced after Aug. 1 and a date and time for the exchange of pleasantries will also be announced so interested readers can plan to attend.

Like most working people, I've had to kiss a lot of unpleasant things in my life as part of my job. At least smooching a llama or camel will do some good!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Odds and ends

Like the new header? It's by my buddy Dogboy Mark Masztal. I love it! Check him out at Barkings

Here comes a parade: Myself (in my summer hat at left) Amanda Lemon (one of our summer interns) and big bad Bill Dusty of The Springfield Intruder heading towards the governor's press conference in the South End's Emerson Wright Park recently.

Setting up at the press conference. I like the woman who is checking out Amanda's iced tea. Out of the Inkwell photos by Mary Cassidy

Look at what's wrong here? This program was from the big ceremony that transferred power from the Finance Control Board back to the city government and someone made quite an error in history.

Samuel Chapin is indeed the guy depicted in the statue but William Pynchon was the founder of Springfield. Should have called me or someone at the Quadrangle.

From the Hadley Flea Market: This building was on Worthington Street and was the home of Good Housekeeping Magazine and other publications.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I love independent creative projects. Few things give me greater pleasure than discovering a book, a comic, music or a film that is not part of the great big corporate sausage factory. I recently wrote the following piece for the weeklies I edit. Check these comics and film out for yourself.

You might read "Entertainment Weekly" to see who and what is hot right now, but you have to do a little digging to see the up-and-comers.

The next great pop culture star probably may be found in an unlikely place: an alternative comic book show or a horror film convention. They might also come from your backyard.

At the recent annual show presented by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MOCCA) in New York City, cartoonists from western New England were represented at several of the many tables.

The MOCCA show is not about superheroes. You won't find tables of "Batman" or "Spiderman" back issues and merchandise. Instead, the cartoonists exhibiting there have more in common with the underground stars of the 1970s such as Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton.

The comics are more personal in story and design and can be funny, tragic, whimsical or profound.

"First Harvest," Trees & Hills' first paperback collection of work, made its premiere at the MOCCA show. Trees & Hills is a group of cartoonist from Western Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire that has published several collections of themed comic stories.

Co-editors Dan Barlow and Colin Tedford have put together a collection that is a sort of "best of" or introduction to the group's work. It's a wildly diverse collection and quite entertaining. For instance, Megan Baehr's work is done strictly in pictures with no dialogue, such as a great strip about hiking up a mountain. Anne Thalheimer takes the opposite tact with her story on Florence that is heavy on words and lighter on graphics.

Both approaches are completely valid and the rule seems to be for these creators to do what they want in order to tell their story.

Old comic book pros Stephen R. Bissette and Mark Martin are both contributors, but for the most part the talent presented here is fresh and new.

For ordering information on all of the Trees & Hills books, log onto its Web site. Modern Myths on Bridge Street in Northampton carries the new collection.

Among those newcomers in the Trees & Hills group is Colleen Frakes, who is a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in White River Junction, Vt., and the recipient of a Xeric Foundation grant to publish her work.

Frakes' "Space Ninja Versus Zombies" in the Trees & Hills book demonstrates her deceptively simple cartoony style. She uses her lines sparingly, but exactly.

This is much more in evidence in her book that also made its debut at MOCCA, "Woman King." Again, her simple style seems right at home telling what appears to be a fairy tale-type story about a girl who is adopted by bears.

There are many more dimensions to the story as well as a surreally disturbing theme that shows Frakes' accomplished grasp on the medium.

If you're someone interested in discovering the potential the medium has beyond conventional comic books, you need to discover Frakes' work.

Another graduate of CCS is Denis St. James (, whose second volume of "Amelia" was also at MOCCA. "Amelia" is a horror comic that has moments of humor, but essentially is a pretty compelling fever dream of a narrative. Centered on a young woman who is trying to make sense of an artifact left to her by her mother, the book is genuinely disturbing in a way that horror fans should appreciate.

The Monster Mania show conducted in Cromwell, Conn., June 12 through 14 was another place where new talent was vying for attention.

While Low Budget Pictures was selling self-produced films such as "Teen Ape Camp," "Deathbone" and "Wet Heat" that flaunted their micro-budgets, there was another independent film at the show that clearly had greater intentions and succeeded in reaching them.

"Ninjas Versus Zombies" has one of the most commercial titles I could think of for a horror film and according to the film's press materials, the title and subject matter came from examining what kinds of films and titles seem to pop out from the walls of video rental stories.

The film is a horror action comedy in which a group of slacker friends are magically endowed with ninja powers so they can defeat an army of zombies created by a recently resurrected neighbor.

Writer and director Justin Timpane told Reminder Publications his intent was to make the best film he could and he took the extras step of shooting the entire film in his backyard and basement first as a rehearsal. He then shot the actual feature, screened a first cut for friends and then re-cut and re-shot the film to improve the story and pacing.

He said he wasn't afraid to re-write a character or find a better location in order to produce a better movie.

Timpane's efforts paid off with a fast-moving film that wisely presents a story that doesn't overwhelm its small budget. While there are some missteps the final scene is a bit confusing until one remembers a throwaway line from the climax of the story this is a fun film well worth discovering by horror fans.

The entire process from buying his equipment to receiving the batch of DVDs took from April 2008 to this May. His total cost including setting up his mini-studio was just under $18,000.

His greatest expense was paying for the use of some of the locations and feeding his zombie army.

Timpane said the films of directors and writers Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi inspired him, which was pretty clear to this viewer.

Timpane said he is now seeking professional distribution of the film as a direct-to-DVD. His hope is to be the "impulse buy," the second movie people might try when they are renting a big budget Hollywood production.

I think he has a chance.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs