Friday, December 30, 2011

"The Pirate" - A film review of a Christmas present by Robert Steven Mack

I just want to say a few things about The Pirate...

During the 1940's and 50's Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was known as the most glamorous studio in Hollywood. This was mostly because of their track-record in showmanship of musical comedy romances, in addition to the stars, directors, writers, and producers such as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mario Lanza, Kathryn Grayson, Cyd Charrise, Vincent Minnelli, Arthur Freed, et cetera... The original idea of a film based on a 1942 play by S. N. Behrman went back to when MGM bought the rights to The Pirate in the early 40's.

The studio had high hopes for the prospect of doing a film version of The Pirate. Despite this, the film had a difficult production and went through several drafts from different writers before Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett came aboard. Like the play, the film would be about a travelling entertainer pretending to be a pirate. In one of the early drafts, however, the writer changed the concept completely and had a pirate pretending to be a travelling entertainer. It’s an interesting concept when you think about it, but not quite what they had it mind.

Arthur Freed, a renowned producer of Hollywood's biggest musicals of the time, (Singing in the Rain, On the Town, etc.) was set to produce with Vincent Minnelli as director. Minnelli's wife at the time, Judy Garland, was envisioned to be star in it along with Gene Kelly. This was not the first time the two were to be together on screen as they were the leads in Kelly's first movie, For Me and My Gal in 1942. Minnelli wanted the film to be as stylized as possible; something the movie would be criticized for later. In addition to Freed, Kelly, Minnelli, and Judy, we have a good supporting cast that includes Walter Slezack, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, and George Zucco and songs by Cole Porter including the legendary "Be a Clown." As I said, production did have quite a bit of trouble. Both Kelly and Judy were taking drugs, but it was Judy who would really suffer from it. In addition to the other turmoil, Judy Garland's marriage to director Vincent Minnelli was falling apart leave a cold atmosphere to enter the set from time to time. As I have already related to you, The Pirate is about a travelling entertainer pretending to be Judy Garland's childhood hero, the legendary pirate "Macoco".I received this film in the "Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory" collection (along with Words and Music, The Belle of New York and so on) as a Christmas present and watched this movie in early morning hours, awaiting a film I had long heard about in documentaries and such. And frankly, I was stunned!

The Pirate is a story of cunning, romance, adventure, and screwball comedy. Each number, though they weren't as many as in many other musicals, were special and memorable: Numbers like the exciting "Mac the Black," the haunting "Love of My Life," a mesmerizing "You Can Do No Wrong," as well "Nina", and the classic and stunning "Be a Clown". Cole Porter's score and songs are memorable, exiting, and a treat for any film goer who loves a and appritaites dancing, music, and so on. For those who really appreciate dancing, Kelly (and Garland, too) is amazing in several numbers of such magnificent proportions, yet each with a different feel, telling parts of the story. Kelly and Garland really shine in this one! Garland's singing is wonderful and Kelly's dance is terrific. They are great together and their acting is also very good a joy to watch in this stylish, big musical extravaganza of romance, wit, and adventure.

Unfortunately, the film was not a success upon release, being too "stylish" or "ahead of its time" - which is a shame because it really is a wonderful musical and is perhaps not appreciated enough. Along with a fine supporting cast, the superb Nicholas Brothers, terrific tunes by Cole Porter, stylish dance routines and direction by Vincent Minnelli, and of course Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, this one is a real winner!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Home Alone 2 - The Perfect Sequel: A Holiday film review by Robert Steven Mack

I hope you won't think me too corny when I talk about time. Time is a very interesting and fickle rascal that you have got to deal with, whether you like it or not. When I was about five I looked upon the nineties as a next door neighbor. But time moved on, and at this point it is no longer that next door neighbor I looked upon with such fondness.

The nineties was, in a sense, a time of reinvention for film studios in Hollywood. After an unhappy slump in the eighties Disney pulled out and in to what is today known as the Disney Renaissance in which they produced such successful and wildly recognised films as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, and others.

The eighties having been such a dramatic outcome of decades that lead up to that change, the nineties was a modern reincarnation of the 50's. Part 3 of the Back to the Future trilogy was far less the eighties movie than the first in 1985 five years earlier. And perhaps not even of the fifties but at least an attempt to get back on the right track (especially after a long string of ultra violent movies coming out in the summer of 1990). Home Alone when I first saw it, was kind of a recent movie from about a little over ten years ago. By now it is a classic.

In the most recent of years films and technology have progressed that Home Alone (1990) could not possibly have been produced in these years. From the camera work and direction, to the comedy and actors, and the credit sequences and music this film is indeed a product of its time and an excellent film at that. Chris Columbus's direction is done with care and precision, the performances go from brash to innocent and the music truly makes it memorable.

Unfortunately I find that its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) is largely overlooked having received negative reviews upon its theatrical release. It still remains within Home Alone's shadow of enduring success. It takes place about one or two years after the events of the previous film and doesn't rely too much on its predecessor. And I suppose those who saw the first Home Alone film will get a bigger kick out of the whole story. Basically, Kevin gets lost in an unholy rush to their flight in the airport. Well, at least he made it to the van this time around! Instead of going to the ever so blissful and "sunny" Miami with the rest of his enormous family (including good old uncle Frank's clan of tacktless monsters) he accidentally hops on a flight to New York. Using his father's credit card he decides he might as well enjoy himself and checks into the grandest hotel he can get to. The Wet Bandits (Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci) join the fun, having recently escaped from jail with plans to rob a charitable toy store.

Macaulay Culkin returns as Kevin in this hilarious and innovative sequel to the original Holiday favorite. It's almost a remake but not quite. They put together a similar story but with an added basaise, even more fun. Everything's bumped up a level and done with such care. Chris Columbus' direction is a again pure, crisp, and every moment in the film counts. The transition into a second round of turmoil and violent craze was powerful and heartfelt enough for them to get away with it. In further evaluation, the sequence in which Kevin once again battles his two nemeses takes us away from the content reality and cleverness of the last film. At times it is now pure cartoon violence. At times so crazy, it becomes almost unwatchable and you know that our poor villains could not have survived it. Some friends and family members, I watched it with this Christmas said that it was perhaps better than the first sequel except for that one sequence of cartoon violence and that it looked like they had just thrown a bunch of gags together to beat the last sequence. I don't know if all that is true or not. I think that Home Alone 2 is fresh and original and deserves recognition. I don't know if it gets with this new generation -born 2005 plus. But the sequel is a great addition to the series as well and should also be looked upon as the great film it is. The sequence is very violent, but there are moments of cleverness and funny moments in it and the sequence wraps itself up very nicely.

The film should be seen by ages 8 and up, but I think that with the predecessor you can go a little earlier. It is a great film!

With a terrific cast of Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O' Hara, John Heard, Tim Curry, and the returning cast of "McAlisters".

If you are a fan of the original, I suggest you take a chance with this film; I don't think you'll regret it.


Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Littlest Angel - A Tele-film review by Robert Steven Mack

Fred Gwynne became known, even to this day, as the actor who originally played Herman Munster, a lovable, childish "monster" on the television series, The Munsters (1964-1966). When the series failed to renew itself in a crowd-pleasing way however, it was cancelled and Fred Gwynne ended up looking for a job. As any actor getting out of a highly successful television series, Fred Gwynne was to suffer cruel, indignant type-casting. But to get to the point, Gwynne was cast in a role that though probably largely unknown today, shows that he was more than a Munster.

Part of the reason Gwynne's portrayal of Herman Munster in the television series was so incredibly successful and memorable was because his character, along with many other characters in the series, was so tempting and "easy" to imitate. Yet, it takes a good actor to play a character as silly, innocent, and childish as the great Herman Munster; and as the case with most great character actors, they don't get one darn bit of credit. If you have seen Fred Gwynne in The Munsters by the time you see him in The Littlest Angel, his performance is so pleasing you will be utterly shocked.

The Littlest Angel is a 1969 TV film produced as a part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology series. It follows the giddy adventures of a playful, outgoing, and mischievous eight-year old shepherd named Michael. Michael is living in the country side with his parents near Bethlehem but dies when he accidently falls off a cliff when chasing a dove. Michael then journeys to Heaven were he learns from a host of other both welcoming and all-business-like angels that he too is to be an angel. A typical boy who knows what he wants, Michael insists he is a shepherd and only wants to go back to his life on earth. Convinced he's not wanted, he seeks a way to fit in to life in Heaven. With a little help from Patience, his guardian angel, Michael truly does find himself when Jesus is to be born one night and all of Heaven are to prepare gifts for the holy child; Michael must decide what to give. A truly classic story!

Johnny Whitaker (TV’s Family Affair, Tom Sawyer) plays Michael and Fred Gwynne plays Patience. Please note that this is not about a little boy dying but rather a charming coming of age story about a little boy ultimately finding himself.
This 90-minute musical television film is more like a play aka musical than anything; or perhaps you could say a television play which is what it really is. The special effects are often flawed and the sets are often simple but blend in perfectly allowing you to focus more on the actors. This only adds to the charm of this wondrous family delight and would not do any other way.
You can almost imagine the curtain coming up to the opening number, the set change. The end of act one and the beginning of act two –which, I suppose, could vary as our imaginations do, but probably right after Michaels first flying lesson. Right from the start I couldn't help thinking "this is very well done".

The songs are uplifting but vary from humorous to heartfelt and emotionally satisfying. The numbers are big and done with care. Furthermore, this film has one of the best casts ensemble I have ever seen. This includes, of course, Johnny Whitaker, Fred Gwynne, John McGiver, E. G. Marshall, Tony Randall, Connie Stevens, James Coco, George Rose, Cab Calloway, George Blackwell, and Evelyn Russell. The cast ensemble together creates such a performance and such entertainment that would please perhaps even the darkest and coldest of souls, warming you up to such a pleasurable content.

John McGiver played the Patience’s "boss" with such great skill, James Coco is memorable as the father as Evelyn Russel is the mother, George Blackwell will be fondly remembered as the driver, and Cab Calloway brings a divine charismatic air to his own supporting role as Gabriel as George Rose does with his rather brief but steady appearance. E. G. Marshall was perfect for the role of god and Tony Randall gave one of the funniest, cleverest cameos I have ever seen. He played Democratis, also a new comer to Heaven who crosses paths with Michael. His character is definitely one of the most memorable and his song is a comic delight. Connie Stevens also gave a great performance as the flying instructor aka wing maker and her number was just dandy. I couldn't go about not mentioning Johnny Whitaker because his performance really drove the whole thing while everyone else made up the rest of the truly delicious cake. His performance as Michael is really the kind that you can take with you. His acting was excellent and his singing really superb.

Fred Gwynne was never really given a chance to show off his charisma when doing the Munsters. But after seeing this I can only conclude that he was a truly superb actor. In the Littlest Angel he brings both a touching and comic appeal to his role as Patience, the Guardian Angel. He sings and/or joins a number of songs quiet well - all with Michael. In one he tries to account for Heaven's loss of blue and green, in another he tries to cheer a saddened Michael up and in perhaps the most memorable he sings of what life was like when he was on Earth. He certainly had a lot of charisma.
While each one of the actors must have had some stage experience or other, the camera and editing were that of a live production but photographed the actors well.

If I were to make out a list of ten or twenty greatest musicals then this would definitely be on it. The Littlest Angel is my Number One Holiday Film Of the Year. With vivid friendly characters, a clever story, a good steady script, a marvelous cast, uplifting songs and numbers this is a holiday winner!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011: A Holiday Book and Movie Review Special by Robert Steven Mack (intitially published in students newspaper)

I was filled with a pleased satisfaction upon getting this article assignment; not only was I to write about holiday films and books, but it gave me an opportunity to revisit my old favorites. Starting Saturday, I pulled out a stack full of movies relating to my article and got to work. What a marvelous day! And I have to say, before getting down to business that I fail to understand why some people have branded Christmas a “bad” holiday just because of the over-commercialization it gets every year. How can it be a bad holiday when it brings happiness and joy to so many people? And while I admit that most of the books and films I selected will deal strictly with Christmas, many also represent the underlying common goal between mankind; peace, love, happiness, and the belief in the universal goodness of mankind and discretely show that it doesn’t matter what holiday you celebrate-whether Jewish or Christian or Muslim-what matters is the thought behind it.

While appreciating the newer films can be a good thing, we mustn’t forget the classics from which we can learn most from; I shall start with them. The Answer, a part of an old 1950’s anthology TV series, starred David Niven as an intelligent but down-on-his-luck playwright who meets a successful Hollywood writer returning home for the holidays to puzzle his life through. This mesmerizing story finishes with a thought-provoking exit of the two new-found friends having just discovered the true meaning of peace on earth; so simple and yet so powerful a story when watched. Another, Beyond Tomorrow is a soft epic telling of three successful but isolated business partners looking for company to share a Christmas dinner. So they throw their wallets out the window hoping someone honest will return the wallets giving them an excuse to invite someone in for dinner. The “honest” is made up of a modest young man from the west with a voice of sparkling gold and a young woman working at the nearby children’s hospital. Soon after uniting their two young friends, the three men, now full of life, suffer a fatal accident only to return as spirits when the handsome young cowboy is snatched by showbiz for his voice leaving him in a snobbish world while the three men try to restore him to the world and people he belongs with. This is a witty but heartfelt Christmas classic to be cherished and loved for all its timeless wisdom.

The classic musical-comedies White Christmas (1954) and Holiday Inn (1942) bring fun and music to the holiday season with witty plotlines, twists, and romance. Other holiday comedy classics are The Lemon Drop Kid (with Bob Hope) and Christmas in Connecticut (with Barbara Stanwyck) both of with I have yet to see, but have heard great things about. Another light-hearted comedy about the true meaning of Christmas, called Miracle on 34th Street, to this day remains one of the most cherished and witty classics of them all! It deals with the conquering commercialism of Christmas and how one white- bearded man, claiming to be Santa, is hired by a department store to play “himself.” Mr. Kringle’s unusual sales approach causes legal battles and business rivalry throughout the city.
In Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart plays a good-natured small town dreamer and civic-minded friend whose oppression from a greedy Scrooge-like banker causes him to think that the whole town would be better of if he had never been born. That is until an angel shows up in Stewart’s time of need to show him what the town would really be like if he were never born. This classic story is a haunting heartfelt blissful tale of Christmas and the power of friends and giving.

The next films are a way to celebrate the holiday season regardless to what holiday you celebrate. Santa Claus Captures the Martians (1964), a low budget sci-fiction family comedy from the ‘60’s will be equally enjoyable and fun to watch for Jews and Muslims as it will be to Christians-as it can be slightly made fun of. It contains somewhat cheesy effects as well as sets that look like they are made from painted card-board, but still have a fun plot.

Books, on the other hand, have been harder for me to select, so again I stuck with the classics. For those who like to read, Charles Dickens’s classic novella, A Christmas Carol is about a cold, greedy type called Ebenezer Scrooge who one night, on Christmas Eve is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come to change his view of Christmas and life. Dicken’s writing is crisp and whimsical and if you liked that, it was followed by the lesser known books: The Chimes, The Holy Tree, The Cricket on the Hearth, Household Words, and All Year Round. Each is available in a bookstore near you-though probably in a collection of Charles Dickens Christmas stories. The book had been adapted into countless films including the 1984 film with George C. Scott, a much older 1939 film and a ’35 film called Scrooge. A musical and surprisingly not bad presentation starring the Muppets (Muppet Christmas Carol), and the recent 2009 CGI animated 3-D film that added a much darker tone to the classic story than ever before. If you would like an idealistic approach to religion you may find Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Number the Stars to your liking. And of course, the book The Polar Express has long remained a favorite and perhaps even more so with the 2004 film based on the book which, like Miracle on 34th Street, deals with overcoming narrow-mindedness and prejudice. I suppose the best way to turn for a fun family comedy just right for the season would be Home Alone and its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Both movies are hilarious but at times quite painful.

Specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Year Without Santa Clause, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are cheerful and yet often quite meaningful celebrations of the true meaning of Christmas: the celebration of diversity, joy, peace, love, and happiness and no holiday season should be without them!.

In theaters now is a rather silly looking film called Arthur Christmas. But in fact, it provides a fresh up-to-date approach to an old legend. It’s a fun Christmas comedy about Santa that will pep you up for the holiday spirit.

These films along with many others will bring holiday cheers into your heart.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Monday, December 19, 2011

"The Munsters" - a film franchise review by Robert Steven Mack

When you think of The Munsters, perhaps you envision a black-and-white still of the old show with flat-headed Herman from the top up dressed in his odd usual attire, situated somewhere in the big spooky cob-webbed covered homestead: a nightmare for the health inspector and perhaps surrounded by ghoulish creatures. But, otherwise this is a rather on the ordinary side looking family talking regular talk, solving everyday munster problems.

The iconic TV show certainly left an impression in TV history. It is a show that would certainly come up in any old television festival, talk show, or otherwise; Halloween or not. It is also certain this review would most certainly not bring much without ever mentioning the show or going through the history of the whole Munster franchise and how it came about. I shall do both.

To begin, public interest in the classic horror films of the 30's had been renewed once Universal had bought all the rights and started to show the wildly popular films on TV. Films dealing with Dracula and Frankenstein were among audiences’ favorites. As a result, and to capitalize on the films’ bustling popularity, a number of television sitcoms came out satirizing and spoofing the films that captured the attention of the young and old. Among these shows were Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, and The Addams Family all premiering at around the same time. ABC had Bewitched and The Addams Family. Although distinctly different, they were definitely based around similar concepts, CBS had My Favorite Martian, and NBC knew that unless they wanted to be left behind in this gruesome rat race, they had better come up with something to soothe the public’s need in this supernatural sitcom craze. This would definitely be the beginning of an era. In reaction to ABC's The Addams Family, Leave it to Beaver creators Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher came up with new series to do just the trick. This series was The Munsters(1964-1966).

The Munsters would combine the ideals from monster movies and concepts of Frankenstein and Dracula while adding the hilarious mix of the typical 60's family show. Basically, The Munsters is about a strange family of good-natured weirdoes thinking themselves as the average, all-American family. There's Herman, a 150 year old devoted husband and father, but whose vain childish innocence causes a surplus of problems all the while trying to keep his calm role as head of the family. Lily is a charming and caring vampire and the mother of one. Grandpa is a retired vampire and an unlucky mad scientist who often reminiscences of his past glory in the old country. Well, everyone has to have a hobby! Eddie is their son, a werewolf in grade school, who mustn’t forget to keep the lid closed at night. And last, but hopefully not least we have Cousin Marylyn, the unfortunate black sheep of the family.
In truth, the concept of a family of wacky monsters goes back to the 1940's when an idea was pitched to Universal for a series of cartoons that would feature the comical monsters. It never went through. Car 54 co-stars Al Lewis and 6ft 5 Fred Gwynne, were brought in for a 16 minute test film along with Beverly Owen, Joan Marshall, and Happy Derman. They would portray respectively Herman, Grandpa, Marylyn, Phoebe (the latter to be called Lily), and little Eddie. It would be shot in color with theme music from an old Doris Day movie, The Thrill of it All. It was intended to show the network what a family of comical Munsters would look like on the tiny screen. Changes were eventually made.
Derman and Marshall as Eddie and Phoebe were replaced by a friendlier Butch Patrick and glamorous movie star Yvonne De Carlo as the loving woman of the house, now titled Lily. The producers, seeing the show’s potential recognized that color was not yet the thing for the Munsters and changed it to a more gothic looking black and white. Perhaps though, the biggest change of all is the dead-pale, somber expression of many of the characters compared to the fun comical silliness that would later emerge. While Gwynne, Lewis, and Owen would stay for the series, Beverly Owen would leave after just 13 episodes due to personal problems and would be successfully replaced in the following episode by Pat Priest.

Once the changes were made a series was commissioned. It immediately became popular with television audiences and quickly went on to become one of the most highly rated shows of the season. The fact that the show was successful was already a big enough surprise to those who had originally thought the show ill-fated and a joke, had another surprise coming. Munster Mania! This included merchandise of all kinds: clocks, board games, action figures, comic books. And when the actors weren’t busy in front of the camera or spending countless hours putting heavy make-up on, they were busy touring the country making public appearances just to satisfy the Munster-crazed America they had created.

It's no fib either that behind the superb crisp comic timing of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, was probably the result of a close life-long friendship that had started when they co-starred on their previous program Car 54, Where Are You?. Together, they socialized off camera and came-up with ideas for the show. And as they were all very close backstage, they would each have mixed feelings for what was about to come. For hot things, don't take long to cool down.

By the end of the first season, the still popular show's writers had trouble coming up with fresh new material to film. With public appearances still as frequent as ever the first season ended with 39 episodes filmed. With a new season ready to cook, the writers, determined to keep the show fresh, enhanced the episodes and series itself with crazier plots, wackier comedy, and even more public appearances than ever. The show's head men were determined to keep the public’s interest. Unfortunately, The Munsters now in its second season was slated directly against Batman, the next "big thing." Not even public appearances or wacky plots seemed to regain the public’s interest it had lost.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Batman was today and The Munsters, a thing of past, was no longer welcome in the rapidly changing society. But they would make one last gamble. Prompted in 1966 by the success of the Batman feature, the producers decided to shoot and release a low budget Munster comedy in order to renew interest in the Munsters, a plan that didn't seem likely to miss.
The film would be shot in six weeks in a Technicolor presentation as that would have been a sure boost for attraction. It would be called Munster, Go Home! And would feature most of the original television cast except for 30 year old Pat Priest; instead of television's Tammy, Debbie Watson, would be brought in for the film as Pat Priest was not invited. Co-starring would be Hermione Gringold and gap-toothed Terry Thomas. The cast is said to have relished every minute of the one-and-a-half month shooting schedule as the series was canceled before the film was released.
From past experiences, I can recall revival films and attempts at series reboots that were either good but not up to the fresh quality of the original series or something on a completely different line an attempt to try something new. It rarely works. Such examples of reunions and reboots are Get Smart and Gilligan’s Island. The faults of these are that in dealing with an already established series from a different time point in an effort to recreate that series or in some cases to create something totally new that bears little resemblance to the series people have grown fond of. When undertaking such a task, you must take the concept and all its ideals to a new level while adjusting it to the time or media it plays in. Munster Go Home did just that.

Munsters, Go HOme!It starts in much of the way a film would do; more subdued than the actual television series, probably too tense the audience is up to in order to grab hold of the viewers and not let them go. Basically the storyline is that Herman inherits a mansion and a title, that of an Earl, from his late rich uncle from England. Subsequently, he moves his entire family over to the English manor to claim their fortune.
Besides Herman's hopeless seasickness, the Munster clan has bigger problems at large, such as homicidal relatives, Terry Thomas and Hermione Gringold, living with them in Munster Hall, out to get Herman and his earldom. While his relatives cook up kooky scams to do away with Herman and the members of his family, Herman is persuaded to take part in the upcoming derby to supposedly protect the family name.
The storyline was fresh and witty, the comedy was clever with a dash of the usual Munster silliness, and the characters well-developed and most certainly in the right direction. In fact, in a certain sense, I'd say Munsters, Go Home was wittier than the TV series itself. The Munsters seems just right for film, and this one does seem to be the ideal companion. From the beginning, Munster, Go Home seems to be about an otherwise average all-American family-from where Herman comes home in the beginning of the film: scaring the driver away, walking through the front door announcing he has come home from work and joins the family; reads the letter of inheritance and with his family, sets off for England by boat. That there-the beginning scene alone, is an example of the quiet brilliance of this movie. It’s basically a breezy family comedy with the added ingredient of the "spooky" part along with some light romance and mystery intrigue that is right up there with films like Doris Day's The Thrill of it All, James Stewart's Mr. Hobbs takes a vacation, and Disney's That Darn Cat and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. If at all those types of light comedies appeal to you, then I can guarantee success with this film.
The romance factor in the film is Marylyn, now played (in case you've forgotten) by Debbie Watson, as she falls in love with a car enthusiastic son of a wealthy English upper whose past history with the Munster family from England have not been too good.

In a sense, this film has all that a good movie needs: good comedy, a good flair or amount of romance, and a dash of adventure and intrigue along with a wacky, all sense gone array-at least for the Munster family scrapbook. A climatic finish and a tag scene that wraps the film up decently.
You may ask why replace Pat Priest with another, especially when she had been playing the role for almost two TV seasons? While Pat Priest did a good job of filling in the role for the TV series, the film would have to have a cast member who would portray the character better developed. Pat Priest was perfect, in terms of playing Marylyn, for television. Yet, arguably, she could not have done it on film. Her character’s comedy was written out for her and so there was no need to develop the character further. The film needed someone who could freshly develop the character with still the same feel. Debbie Watson had more the charisma for the job, and her character is subtly more developed. While you don't notice a huge change or difference, it just feels more natural to see her in the role. She was perfectly cast!

All in all, the movie weighed down perfectly. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis's crisp comic timing, a little romance, Butch Patrick as the perfect Eddie, Yvonne De Carlo working so well in the movie with all her co-stars. Although there is considerably less chemistry then there was in the series between Marylyn and the actors from the TV show, probably because Watson hadn't worked as close with the others as Pat Priest had-a little mystery to layer the film. She was a perfect pick.
Unfortunately, somehow their gamble did not pay off. The film was a failure and the Munster reign had truly come to an end. And because of the known failure of the film, television shows also inspired by the success of the Batman film cancelled their own films that they were planning for release. (Nonetheless, The Flintstones did release their own film, A Man Called Flintstone (1966), but that hardly counts since it was done after its television run.) One of these was Get Smart.

The actors had gone their separate ways each struggling with their own amount of typecasting, some more than others. Fred Gwynne would try out a television series, would sing for the TV film The Littlest Angel, play various roles in films and move his talents to the stage. Butch Patrick would continue to act in films including the lead role in The Phantom Tollbooth (1970). And the others would try to get their careers on the move again...with mixed success. But as all people know, it won't take long before the Munsters return.
In 1973, the Munsters were back on television. The first reincarnation was an animated telefilm titled the MiniMunsters that aired on October 27, 1973 as a part of the ABC Saturday Morning Superstar Movie. Al Lewis would voice Grandpa, but the rest of the cast would be different. The Munsters disappeared again as the original cast would continue on with their lives trying to keep up with the rapidly changing world.
Then, in 1981, Fred Gwynne (56), Al Lewis (58), and Yvonne De Carlo (59) would be brought together for the last time in an attempt to launch a new series about the Munsters with another telefilm, The Munster's Revenge. The roles of Eddie and Marylyn were played by K. C. Marshal and Jo McDonald, respectively.
The actors are older now, and after getting used to the original Eddie and Marylyn players, it doesn't feel quite right to have other actors fill their shoes. In addition to the following factors I just listed, you have trouble, in the beginning, getting relaxed in the reincarnated humor in this different time period. However, with a decent moving plot, a fast and funny storyline, and some terrific supporting players including Sid Caesar in one of the most hilarious displays of comedic timing and genius I have ever seen, you soon get used to the actors, old or new. As the story progresses, you get so soaked into the move of the film that you don't really notice or mind the new players, which eventually you get used to, or the setting. In the end, it all becomes quite enjoyable as you'll indeed be rooting for the Munsters.
The Plot: While visiting a wax museum in town, the Munsters come across wax likenesses of their own selves. After they leave, it is revealed that the wax Munster recreations of Herman and Grandpa, along with a long line of other creatures, are actually robots of a crime ring (headed by Sid Caesar) and are using the likeness to steal and terrorize -eventually rob a museum of priceless Egyptian jewels. The real Herman and Grandpa are framed for terrorizing and theft and such, and are put in jail only to escape and have Marylyn, the police chief, and his reluctant but willing son on the case. Herman and Grandpa set out to clear their names and stop the theft leading them into all sorts of trouble.

Sid Caesar’s portrayal of a crazed German scientist is in short, hilarious and will most certainly amuse and have you laughing endlessly out loud. Lily and Eddie are given more supporting roles, as it might have been in the series and are basically there for the back and forth scenes. Marylyn, on the other hand, is given a much bigger role than ever before as she, too, is on the case. Perhaps the producers wanted to make her of more importance in the TV series they planned. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, unlike Munster, Go Home! When Gwynne and De Carlo were billed atop the credits, are indeed billed first followed by the rest under the "co-starring" category. There is also a new character, a cousin of some sort – please forgive me for forgetting the name-who dreams of his fabled opera career, a new character for the Munster clan perhaps whose overdone Halloween appearance doesn't make him as likeable as the other characters. Yet, you will inevitably get well used to him and eventually accept him into the story. Also, the focus on the Munster house wasn't as great, which may also have deprived the film from the original series' glory. Indeed, the film is an interesting look at how the proposed television series would have been.

We may never know how that would have turned out as the telefilm version of The Wizard of Oz aired directly opposite The Munster's Revenge garnering a much greater audience. I cannot say for sure if the public would have accepted this as a TV program. I think they might have and it would have definitely been a treat for Munster fans as a great addition to the TV selection that the new generation could choose from. I imagine it would last for a good few seasons and maybe even more if it became that popular. Overall, the film, while lacking the old Munster flame, is a good enjoyable addition to the Munsters series.

A good idea can be used over and over again. A new Munsters television program, The Munster's Today, aired in syndication from 1988 to 1991 with an entirely new cast centering on the Munsters who have recently been awoken from a deep long sleep to find themselves in the late 1980's. Edward Herman played Herman in the made for the TV film Here Comes the Munsters (1995), in which Yvonne De Carlo, Al Lewis, Pat Priest, and Butch Patrick appeared together in a scene one last time as a bickering family being waited on by the new Herman in a restaurant scene. Sadly, Fred Gwynne died in '93 of cancer while having just regained his status as a first rate actor and author of children's picture books. His last film was My Cousin Vinny (1992).
The last showdown of the wacky Munster clan to date was The Munster's Scary Little Christmas (1996) - made-for-television film in which Grandpa (accidentally) captures Santa together with a few of his elves. Lily sets out to win the neighborhood Christmas decoration contest, and Marylyn invites a few friends over for a nice, old-fashioned Christmas. I cannot tell you anything about these films as I have not yet seen them, though intend to within the near future.
I remember watching the show as re-runs when I was younger. Somehow it stuck with me eventually leading me to buy the DVD sets. Incidentally, I found a good collection featuring the two films-Munster, Go Home! & The Munster's Revenge-on Amazon (Barnes & Noble might have it too). If you're going for the simple stuff, I recommend getting the individual seasons (which by the way has some great documentaries as well as the original test film) in addition to the two film franchise collection I just mentioned. If you don't want to waste time, a Complete Series Collection has the documentaries on Lewis, Gwynne, De Carlo, and on the show as well as the test film along with MGH and MR! It just costs a little more.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Call of the Wild - book reflections by Robert Steven Mack

Classics can be and are often underestimated. If we do know them it is because they are classics and for no other reasons can we usually say there is a place for that book in our minds. It is even rarer still, that we choose to actually devote our precious free time to sit down and defer all else to read such a book. The more common choice however, is to get some mind nagging project completed, or in others case a video game or (myself included) relax our exhausted minds with a motion picture. And of course, when we do read, as with most things in life, we are always looking for the latest and greatest in stock while sacrificing a new line of enjoyment not to be missed. I know this, for my love for classic movies has confused and baffled many and even turned some against me. Recently, I practically forced "Lassie Come Home" (1943) on a friend of mine two years younger whose advancement had not dismissed a mental "stay away" sign in his head from such forms of entertainment. Though at first confused by its wisdom and intelligence, he loved every minute of it. It was this that led me (an avid reader) to a long unnoticed shelf in the hallway with a forgotten dusty unread unabridged version of Jack London's 1903 classic, “The Call of the Wild” that was perched sadly on the top shelf. Recalling the time my mother had bought it for me, I took it down and turned to the first page.

"The Call of the Wild" takes a time in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush where dogs and humans alike face the cruel reality of a harsh environment ruled by raging blizzards, ruthless wolves, angry natives and greedy seekers of a substance that can only build or destroy a man's wealth and mental faculties. Meanwhile, a well-built but undeniably spoiled dog named Buck is chilling it out with a lazy sun-kissed California life as the pampered jewel of a rich man's household in the heart of civilization, respected by all who know him. That is, until a certain knuckle-brained servant sells Buck into the Klondike heap-pool. Thrust out of civilization and his lazy sun kissed life of spoiled tardiness, Buck is at first confused and angered to the point of colossal madness. Being brutally threatened and beaten when not delivering what is wanted of him, Buck learns the ever-so-vicious law of club and fang. He too is then forced to join the rat pack, and among his antagonizing fellow sled dogs he learns the inescapable law most important of all: eat or be eaten, a battle of all and which all lives depend on it but in the end only the strongest will survive. He also learns to obey man, a god whose club and whip can inflict pain of enormous degree and therefore must be obeyed. Buck will ultimately be transferred to several different masters, some brutal and of bad character to be obeyed when threatened, and some kind and true to be loved as companions. But in the end, stories of his strength and courage will spread before tragedy befalls the one he loves - and he hears a calling, a calling so ancient and divine: the call of the wild.

The book’s dark and narrative tone kept a moving pace and plenty of musing content to contemplate over. As the book evolves over time, the message begins to blossom from the beginning of Buck’s harsh adventures through to the end. It undergoes many changes and subtle alterations and yet at the end the message is clear, and indeed relevant for our own time. To my view, kids these days have become engulfed in the standardization of video games, and other such expensive devices used to entertain while their schedule is empty. However, there was a time when these devices did not exist, when children experimented and built for their own amusement, when they would wonder through the woods, through ruins and caves ever learning, ever exploring and having a time too good to even think of anything else except maybe the Sunday picture matinee. Now-a-days however, with the emergence of devices so addicting and fancifully looking, inventing and exploring is now replaced by the machines that do it for them. For example, in the by now highly developed motion picture industry, there was a time when technology was not yet developed to the point it is today. Instead, brilliant scripts and crafted actors were required to carry the story. When this was not enough to fulfill the requirement of the script, good old American ingenuity was applied using primitive sets and props decorated with actors clothed in lavish costumes and a willingness to do good. My heart warmed to see my friend at last exposed to the roots of filmmaking without the use of CGI effects or iMovie essentials and nonessentials. This is indeed what Buck experienced. Throughout his lone adventures in the harsh wild, he became further and further away from the grasp of mankind. He began hearing the wild calling to him as he begins his journey back to the wild, back where his darkest, deepest roots lay.

"The Call of the Wild" is a remarkable story of trial, triumph and fury. It is a deeply character-driven story of one dog’s unexpected trip back to the wild where his roots truly lay. When I was finished, I laid the book down gently in peace and satisfaction, happy I had finally read it. Beautifully written, despite the violence and gore in detailed description, this book is not one to be missed.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Elvis Presley Remembered - An account by Robert Steven Mack of a recent visit to Graceland and how I learned about Elvis' life, career, and taste

Elvis Presley was unique: He led a unique life, had a unique career, and a unique taste for food and a way of life. Quite unique, particularly for a man of his impressive superstar status and wealth. Just have a look at Graceland, his "oddly" decorated and beloved estate; his Delta airliner converted to a home on wings with all the niceties; most importantly, I urge you to taste his favorite dishes. Simple but delicious! Try his mouth-watering banana pudding recipe, the appetizing morning dish of bacon and eggs, the simple but plentiful dish consisting of meat loaf and fried potatoes for TV dinners and such. Then there is, of course, my now absolute favorite that I tried while at Graceland: the grilled banana-and-peanut butter sandwich - to be eaten in total delight and relaxed satisfaction. Grilled peanut-and-banana sandwich is a must-eat when visiting Graceland!

Yes, Elvis was a unique guy. There have been thousands of fan clubs around the world, and yet he maintained a simple albeit plentiful life. He was celebrated as the all-American guy and starred in more than thirty movies made during the 1950's and '60's. Most of them were phenomenal box office successes. Yet, this all-American boy was keeping to his southern roots. Born in 1935, Elvis' grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by poverty and blues, disdained and rejected from a society not yet ready to accept them as a part of their culture. Elvis learned to appreciate the simple things in life. This is what he liked, what he wanted, and what he got. Sitting on the porch of some coloured neighbor on a frosty morning, listening to the sad on-goings of rhythm and blues coming from some poor tattered old banjo telling his story of despair over and over again and to the world. Yet, no one in the world was listening. Only this neighborhood was listening. Young Elvis loved going to the movies for ten cents and and a bag of popcorn, adding relentless longing to the experience. Just like anybody, Elvis had his silver screen heroes. And just like almost everybody, Elvis' heroes were Marlon Brando and James Dean.

Elvis was no more than 18 years old when the boy who became superstar Elvis Presley walked into a recording joint, "Sun Records" to record a record for his mother, Gladys. At first he failed. People told him he could not sing and would be a truck driver forever. Elvis did not give up and was finally signed with RCA Records and came to the curious attention of the public in incomprehensible fashion. His first hit was "Heartbreak Hotel." The year was 1956 - The year was Elvis'. After being propelled by "controversial" performances on The Steve Allen Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis put his name into to a different medium, Hollywood movies.
Whether on film, radio, or television Elvis ignited energy and fires,as well the imagination in powerful waves of inspiration.

Recently on a trip my parents and I made, while stopping at Memphis, Tennessee, my mother's omniscient knowledge, love, and devotion to the factors of his life and career made us give a few hours to visit Graceland, an estate of beauty and imagination. Graceland was once the favorite home of Elvis A. Presley. My visit to Graceland made it clear that all Elvis ever wanted to get out of life was happiness and to full fill his American Dream. Through all his countless live performances and movies, all the same nature, Elvis was a first-rate entertainer and always inventing a new way to entertain his audiences in a way pleasing and worth while for them.

Hard to believe, but there was a time before that stop at Graceland two weeks ago when I did not know as much about the Elvis phenomenon. As a knowledgeable historian of film, television, and its artists, I of course knew and read about Elvis. His dramatic endeavour in "Love Me Tender," his first film and the routine musical-comedies he did such as "Viva Las Vegas," "Fun in Acapulco," and nameless others. But did I know Elvis? No. Do you know Elvis? Probably not, unless you've been to Graceland at Memphis Tennessee. You do not go immediately to Graceland. After buying the pricey tickets -and wondering if this really worth all that money- my mother and I proceeded to the shuttle and pressed #1 on our audio tour guide. But not before getting my picture taken with "Elvis." I must say though, Elvis very nice about the ordeal. He was. He didn't one bit seem to mind me taking a picture with him to be magnetized on our refrigerator door for all our visitors to admire. In fact, I don't even think he knew:) It was a short shuttle drive to Graceland - where, I dare say, the spirit of Elvis dwells, though the background music on the audio tour guide helped me to get into the mood.

From the outside, Graceland doesn't look too extraordinary even to the point where you might secretly ask yourself: "So what's the big deal?" Still, after gazing at the mansion for a few seconds you begin to feel its strange presence; you have no idea what to expect. You go through the doors and press play. In the entrance hall you think to yourself and say "So this is how Elvis spent his days"...all the while listening to Elvis' music, fun facts, and trivia on your audio tour guide. The dining room is elegantly decorated with fine dishes and glasses of fine quality, the living room across the hall has a relaxed, "no sweat" sort of feel to it. It can only be the perfect place to kick off your shoes and read a good book. The kitchen is slick and modern-looking in 70's style, complete with a TV-set placed on the counter and an old oven situated heavenly in the other corner. You can only wonder if it was this clean when Elvis was still alive?

Descending into the basement, you'll see the billiards room and the pool room with the walls furnished entirely in cloth. After you tour the rest of the mansion, you'll enter the grounds and eventually come to an exhibit going through the history of Elvis' success story. When you have completed the tour, you will likely come upon Elvis' grave site where the remains of Elvis lie in harmony and peace - yet not complete privacy. Your next stop will be either to one of the shops or the automobile museum, a showcasing of Elvis' unique collection of automobiles...including his famous pink Cadillac. Feel free to stop by one of the restaurants there and get a promising lunch in '50s fast food style. You can also tour the two planes that once belonged to Elvis.

Elvis is unique. But for me, it took that trip to Graceland to bring me into the Elvis mode.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)


Friday, August 12, 2011

Robert Steven Mack talks about Muppet history - by Robert Steven Mack

I have long been an avid Muppet fan. A collector of the original tv show "The Muppet Show," a viewer familiar with all six Muppet theatrical films and eagerly awaiting the release of the new film in November, I was rather casually introduced to "The Muppet Show" at the Paley Center for Media some time ago. Therefore, upon reading of follow-up shows such as "Muppets Tonight" and "The Jim Henson Hour," it seems only fitting that I be introduted to "The Jim Henson Hour" at the place where I have seen so many other rarities; The Paley Center for Media!

The show is divided into two parts, each intorduced by Jim Henson Walt Disney did it with his show. The first show featured Kermit, still in television and now a producer of MuppetTelevision and having to deal with soggy attemps at announcing soap operas, cop shows, sci-fiction...and more. He has to deal with issues such as unsteady ratings and an abundance of new weirdos. These weirdos -including a small cameo from Gonzo at the start of the program - working for Kermit have a more modern flair to them as the show was produced in the late 80's, including computer generated imagery. Kermit has a new life now and seems annoyed when one of his personal fans of the original Muppet Show continuously raves about the glory days. He finally stops when mentioning Miss Piggy who allegelly broke up with Kermit to pursue a Hollywood career. Though missing the orginal characters, a laugh track, and the old Muppet flair, it was suitable and at times quite enjoyable.

The second half of the show featured Miss Piggy along with Fozzie and Gonzo tagging along and giving a befuddled tour of Hollywood. With a cameo by Bob Hope, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others, it is pure please and delight to see so many of the characters from the old show doing their thing in original Muppet comedy fashion and a bubbling new plot to go along with it. I thoroughly enjoyed the one-hour follow-up to Henson's previous projects. Unfortunately they are not on Dvd.

I must say that my visit to the Paley was really worth it!


Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (All rights reserved!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Shaggy D.A. - A Disney film review by Robert Steven Mack

Dean Jones would make his penultimate Disney film in 1976; his last would be "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo." For 18 years, the Disney "gimmick" comedies had kept audiences entertained with light humour and brilliantly wacky situations that could only happen in a Disney movie! Alas, the world was changing, and Disney would have to change with it. "The Shaggy D. A." would signify that change. Throughout this fabulously funny film you can catch subtly distinct tributes and homages by recycling material from the former glory of Disney and its Hollywood vicinity. It would start with "The Shaggy Dog," produced in the prime of Disney innocence and storytelling; a time when the late Mr. Disney himself was still alive. It is therefore only fitting that it would end the same way.

Seventeen years after "The Shaggy Dog" hit the theaters out grossing even William Wyler's "Ben Hur," the story of the shaggy dog was expanded with "The Shaggy D. A." Continuing Disney's tradition of all-star casting, we have such glittery comedic talents as Dean Jones, Tim Conway, Suzanne Pleshette, Keenan Wynn, Jo Ann Worley, Dick Van Patten and John Fielder, as well as Shane Sinutko, Vic Tayback, and Pat McCormick. It was written by Don Tait. Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) is all grown up and has taken on such responsibilities as family and law. However, then the mythical Borgia ring, that's responsible for turning Wilby into a dog in the past, has been stolen. And with the notorious inscription being read aloud, Wilby gets a strong case of deja-vous as he once again begins to turn into a dog. A riotous comic funfest with the contagious antics of Tim Conway and Jo Ann Worley, and not to forget Suzanne Pleshette and Mr. Van Patten alone make this film worth the ninety minutes. This is topped off by Disney's classic villain and leading man (Wynn and Jones) up against each other for the second and final time.

The film itself is the last big dive for "gimmick comedies" and a farewell to the days when Disney Studios, now an established money-maker, was young. The film includes the recycled idea of a group of death-row dogs digging their way out of their uncomfortable confinement. That particular scene has a darker more heavy mood than the rest of the film. Comic relief is offered only by dogs voices resembling that of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, James Cagney and other stars of a gone era. It is ultimately a homage and tribute to the good old times; a quick last glimpse into the time of Hollywood's youth. Also, the ending resembles that of "That Darn Cat" (1965-also with Dean Jones, as we see the Wilby family wave good-bye to the ice-cream man and his new bride (Tim Conway and Jo Ann Worley)...walking into the sun-set with a trail of dogs behind them to leave a new legacy behind.

Aided by his henchman (Mr. Van Patten) Keenen Wynn plays John Slade (a role similar to that of his famed Alonzo Hawk), a corrupt District Attorney Wilby runs against in the reelection. By the way, it all plays out in the familiar town of Medfield, the land of Professor Brainard, the land of Kurt Russel's college films of the sixties and seventies. (see my preceding blogs) Robert Stevenson, who had helmed some of Disney's most popular and enduring classics - "Mary Poppins," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," "The Love Bug," "That Darn Cat," "Old Yeller," "The Absent-minded Professor etc. - since 1957's "Johnny Tremain," would make his farewell with this film further signifying the end of an era.

Still, this would not be the last "gimmick comedy" Disney would release. Films such as "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977), "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again"(1979), "The Cat from Outer Space" (1978), "Gus" (1976), "Herbie Goes Bananas"(1980), and perhaps a few others (mostly sequels) were produced, yet usually without much success. "Herbie Goes Bananas" tries in vain to be like the films of its reputable past; alas without paying attention to what time had produced nor heeding to time itself...

Anyways, Tim Conway is hilarious, Shane Sinutlki is multifarious, while Dean Jones is multigarious! Whereas it is hard to believe that Wilby Daniels was once that mixed-up teenager from the fifties, this film is a must-see for anyone who appreciates good old Disney comedy!

"Gus" will be next!

Cheers, "R"

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ian Fleming's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," The Magical Car - a book review by Robert Steven Mack

It seems to me that Ian Fleming had a knack for writing books that would eventually be turned into movies. And it seems that all the films adapted from his books, whether they are the James Bond series or other, have not been quite close to the premise of the actual novel.

Does it not appear rather odd that a notorious writer of spy thrillers would write a children's book like "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?" On the contrary, it simply proves that Ian Fleming was a talented and versatile writer of a wide range of genres. "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" would be published in 1964, shortly after Fleming's death. I acquired a copy of the book at a library sale a few weeks ago and was very pleased with my find. I read the majority of the book by the pool on a hot summer day in Palm Springs last week - sizzling like a sausage in a frying pan. It surprised me that a man who had authored the great harrowing adventures of the world's most glamorous super-spy could write a such wonderfully entertaining novel for children.

The plot of the novel differs immensely from the 1968 musical film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howles, Lionel Jefferies, and Gert Froebe - who ironically also battled Sean Connery alias James Bond in Ian Fleming's "Goldfinger" in 1964 as the title character. The book is about an eccentric inventor who acquires a beat up old car and fixes it up to be a magical car that floats, flies and can drive by itself. He and his adventurous family, consisting of Mimsie, Jeremy and Jemima, travel to France where they encounter crooks and gangsters who kidnap the two children in order to use them to rob a famous candy store. In the film, by contrast, instead of battling crooks and gangsters, they are set up against pirates in far-off fairy tale lands. Also, in the musical there is no Mimsie (the mother) and the father is widowed. Along with a number of other significant differences, this book is sheer and original delight. Whether you watched the film first and read the book later or visa versa, the experience is the same. With the fun playfulness of a Ronald Dahl and like the witty wackiness of Lewis Carrol, this book is vivid, smart, yet humorously adventurous. In short, it is sure to be a great playmate for the young as well as the old.

In conclusion, I must mention that near the end of this delightful tale you will find Ian Fleming's top secret recipe, "Monsieur Bon-Bon Fooj" for a simply delicious fudge that's easy to bake and heaven to eat. This book -and the recipe inside- is a scrumptious delight, and I truly do recommend it to be enjoyed over and over again.

Bon appetit, "R"

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Monkeys, Go Home! - A Disney film review by Robert Steven Mack

Many of us know Dean Jones to be Jim Douglas in the "Love Bug" movies, or the highly allergic F.B.I agent from "That Darn Cat." When I find an actor like Dean Jones who is known for one thing but did so much more, I often wonder what else that actor did; which is why I was very excited to see "Monkeys, Go Home!"

"Monkeys Go, Home!" takes places in a small, somewhat quaint little French town where gossip and politics rule, and the "No Visitors allowed" unwelcoming committee -figuratively speaking - ensures peace and tranquility. American Hank Dussard (Dean Jones) is unhappingstancily the target of the latter when he moves to the town after he inherits an olive farm. Hank, after learning the specified requirements for the olive pickers he needs, brings to that town four female chimpanzees whose fingers are ideal for the task Hank has assigned for them: to pick olives. This angers the citizens and also causes numerous scandals, uproars, and misadventures while Hank tries to gain the confidence of the town's people with the aid of the wise Father Sylvain and the attractive neighbor down the street, Maria.

Both, the plot and the title sound arguably rather cliche-like like your typical Disney animal movie. However, I am sure that many of you are openly familiar with the saying " Don't judge a book by its cover," or its title or the plot summary given on the back in this case. The film itself turned out to be one of the wittiest, smartest, most politically and socially challenging and provocatively intriguing examples of cinema I have ever encountered! Starring Maurice Chevalier in his final film role, Dean Jones, and Yvette Mimieux and directed by Andrew McLagen -who by the way is not a Disney/family movie regular - this film lax producing content that takes itself a little too seriously which in turn makes up much of the films realistic and surrealistic humour, is a must see. This movie brings up such subjects like: labor laws, communism vs. capitalism, the Cold War, and a newcomer trying to make his way into an ignorant and unwelcoming closed-up society. For the younger children who watch this film, I do not doubt that the main focus will be the monkeys whose mischievous antics are cute as well as befuzzeling and just enough to keep the movie wrapped in good clean spirits for the inner layer of a black comedy filled with social criticism. The film represents weird and refreshing while strangely intriguing mix of Disney animal cuteness, light romantic humour, and the aforementioned social commentary of the Sixties.

Though perhaps not a real classic due to the plot material being a product much of that time, this film is funny, cute, smart, and witty. It is a true Disney classic!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"The Shaggy Dog" - a Disney film review by Robert Steven Mack

In the prime of the colourful twentieth century, Disney entertained us with films of adventure, romance, and laughter. Movies so famous and talked about such as "Bambi" or "Pinocchio;" dramatic tales of adventure and peril in films such as "Treasure Island,"The Swiss Family Robinson," and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." Then there were the moving tales of love and loyalty in heartfelt films including "Old Yeller" and many other films that do nothing to tarnish the Disney reputation. The late fifties, however, brought about a new type of movie magic for Disney that fellow merry men could play with. Something that they had not exactly toyed with before. A little something that included riotus and off-beat situations, as well as wacky outcomes that only - and I repeat only - Disney could come up with!

An era dawned. An era that we all grew up with or that our fathers grew up with and that our father's father had gratifyingly been able to see. It was the era of happy families and friends going to their local theater to see the 2 o'clock double-bill martinee. Perhaps to catch a Merlin Jones movie with Tommy Kirk or a Herbie comedy starring Dean Jones. It was an era that would sadly end approximately twenty years after it had come. And this great era of fun-filled Disney comedies dawned on the very day that the film "The Shaggy Dog" was released.

"The Shaggy Dog," loosely based on the classic tale of love and sorcery "The Hound of Florence" by Felix Salton is a Disney comedy film starring an abundance of Disney regulars, including: Fred MacMurray ("Double Indemnity," "The Apartment," "The Absent-Minded Professor"), Dean Hagen ("Singing in the Rain," "Adam's Rib"), Tommy Kirk ("Old Yeller," "Swiss Family Robinson," "Son of Flubber," Merlin Jones movies), Roberta Shore, and Cecil Halloway. The film is about teenaged Wilby Daniels who by accidental possession of a mystified old ring is turned into a dog by means of ancient sorcery and only be returned to his rightful place as a human by an act of true bravery. Bravery is which he attempts to do when he discovers a spy ring headquartered across the street. Brisk and superb performances are given by Fred MacMurray, Annette Funicello, Roberta Shore, Cecil Halloway, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, and Tim Considine. While all these actors deliver performances that make the movie strong and extremely enjoyable to watch, I believe it is the latter three that drive the show. As an avid fan of Tommy Kirk, I can safely assert that his performance as the terribly misplaced Wilby Daniels is clean and full of depth as well as understanding of the character portrayed. This is also the very reason why he is underestimated by many viewers. Figuratively speaking, Kevin Corcoran sits at the steering wheel with Fred MacMurray hanging on from the back of the car, while Tommy Kirk is locked up in the trunk and Jean Hagen is making the boys salami sandwiches... And Tim Considine's performance as the conniving and conceited best friend of Wilby - is a riot to watch and almost steals the show. Of course, the shaggy dog's many tricks and abilities used in the film was quite impressive and sure to amuse the viewer. In sum, the film is brimming with one wacky situation after another and is clearly a genuine Disney-style movie.

As Kevin Corcoran stated on the commentary to the DVD, the film's jarring complexity is submerged in a film filled with wacky humor and the pace and tone of a wacky 50's comedy. It is a distinct mixture of Disney comedy, spy thriller, fantasy, teen love stories and suburban comedy humor by the film's adult that leads to a far more complex farce, mixed with 50's cultural change and a Cold War signature. In this way, it is a film of its time. Still, one thing will always remain the same: the timeless Disney movie magic that has something for everyone.

"The Shaggy Dog" set the stardard for the comedies yet to come. Many would go unnoticed to the modern day public eye. Others, like "The Absent-Minded Professor," "That Darn Cat," "The Love Bug" to name a few would go on to become true classics. "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977) is perhaps the last of these great films to successfully carry on the standard of these comedies while staying in the now out-dated innocence and craftsmanship of the orginal classics. Naturally, with the growing effects of time and cultural norms, this special genre is now "extinct." Luckily, we have the films safe and sound in homes across the world and vaults across the Disney empire. I would encourage Disney to release rarities not yet released on home video to be seen and enjoyed by the public eye - although they can keep some things secret.

"The Shaggy Dog" (1959) was followed years later by "The Shaggy D.A." (1976) starring Dean Jones, Suzanne Plecette, Tim comway, and Keenan Wynn and will be the next Disney film - after "Monkeys Go Home! - that I shall review.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

"Son of Flubber - A Disney movie review by Robert Steven Mack

People are usually skeptical about seeing sequels. A sequel is a continuation or an add-on to a product of media. A sequel furthermore can and often does determine the fate of the lives and well-being of the characters and settings. If the sequel is bad then the future of the entire series maybe no more. Moreover, fans of the first film or book have their own ideas of what the sequel should be like and therefore tend to be overly critical, myself included. In 1963, two years after the hit comedy film "The Absent-Minded Professor" was released, Disney came out with its first sequel. It is one to be seen!

It is not just because the film came out on January 16 (my birthday!) that I like this film, but it adds and it subtracts, and it explores and it continues! The first film ended well, yet was open-ended with respect to the following: What happens as the professor and his new wife Betsy as they adjust to married life; can she take it? What happens to our jealous conniving friend Shelby; will he return? And: What happens to Alonzo Hawk and his son? In fact, much of the first 3/4 of the film deals with Professor Ned Brainard's personal life that is wounded up with jealous wives, ex-girlfriends, and dear old Shelby, the conniving lunatic that's still out to get Betsy. The rest of the film focuses on Ned once again trying to save the financially insecure Medfield College from the greedy clutches of Alonzo Hawk by using a substance he calls "Flubber Gas." While the latter named quarter is a real sequel and the first three quarters I talked about are a continuation, it fits in quite nicely and is definitely a worthy sequel!

The film has a good star-studded cast which I believe owes itself to the success and attention given to its predecessor. And I also might note that one of my all-time favorites, Tommy Kirk, who plays Alonzo Hawk's son Biff, is a good guy in this film and turns out to be a big help to Professor Brainard and his cause. The cast itself includes those returning to the nutty world of Professor Brainard's "Flubber." Those who were invited in to this fun-filled bounce party includes Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olsoen, Keenen Wynn,, Bob Sweeny, Paul Lynde, Ed Wynn, Tommy Kirk, Charlie Ruggles, Elliot Reid, and Edward Andrews. It is interesting to note that Medfiled College is also the setting of the Disney film "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (1969), "Now You See Him Now You Don't" (1972), and "The Strongest Man in the World" (1975) - all starring Kurt Russell in a series of college films. And that Keenen Wynn's character Alonzo Hawk that also appears in the films "The Absent-Minded Professor" and "Herbie Rides Again."

A stormy worthwhile sequel with plenty of bounce to celebrate for generations to come - and it's not just because the 50th anniversary of this comedy film will also be my 14th birthday...

Cheers, "R"

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Puenktchen und Anton" (Erich Kaestner) - a German movie review by Robert Steven Mack

I have always enjoyed going to the Goethe Institute in Los Angeles, and the German movie selections they offer. Recently I had picked up the film “Puenktchen und Anton.” It isn't that I had never borrowed that particular movie before. In truth, I had. And it isn't that I had seen the film before, because I hadn’t. So, as you can imagine, after checking the darn thing out at least a dozen times, I was determined that I watch it this time around; I was feeling determined to seize the opportunity.

“Puenktchen und Anton” is a 1954 black-and-white German film based on the esteemed novel by Erich Kaestner. (A little trivia: Kaestner wrote the famous novel “Das doppelte Lottchen” – on which “The Parent Trap” movies are based.) Days went by and time rushed out the window at undetectably vicious speed. Again, it looked like I would never see the film that had been on my mind for so long… It was Thursday evening and I still had not watched that movie. After a day of sailing, I was ready to write my review on “The Son of Flubber” which I had long put of. Sitting down, I suddenly noticed something: not a cursed word would come out of my head. My brain was fried! I told my mother, Diana, about my state of despair: I felt this exasperating desire to write about “Flubber” but my brain feels like rubber. She soothingly suggested that I watch the German movie I had been waiting so long to see - “Puenktchen und Anton.” In soothe, I didn't feel like a German movie tonight – thinking that it would be too much mental gymnastics and concentration; German movies can be hard to understand. Yet, the dilemma was that the next day I would have to return the movie. Besides what harm could it do? So I watched it – without regret! I was immediately captured by the lively fresh attitude the film had to offer as well as the scandalous antics of its two main characters, “Puenktchen und Anton.” The humor was so exuberantly displayed and presented.

I am told that my father came home from work while I was watching the movie. I didn't notice, I was too busy watching “Puenktchen and Anton” and understanding almost every word!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

"The White Stag" - a book review by Robert Steven Mack

Last week I purchased a book of arguably rare stature at Borders. It’s an old book written by Kate Seredy in 1937 and not easily found in book stores of today. Only 94 pages long, the tale tinkers with ancient mythology and folklore, as well as history and legend. Told in epic proportions spanning a period of many centuries, it is yet easily readable and comfortably digestible. The White Stag won the 1937 Newberry Award.

The book follows the tribes Hun and Magyars, eventually led by Attila The Hun as they travel after the White Stag to the promised land. Beautifully written and movingly told, the book promises an extraordinary reading experience that shall not sever until the book is at its last page.

Books like “The White Stag” are rare, but I hope that those who truly do care about reading and the preservation of books like the White Stag shall make sure that they never entirely perish; as in turn these magical story will lead them to the promised land…

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Fox and The Hound - A Disney Film Review by Robert Steven Mack

It came to my attention when I sat down to write this article that I promised in my last post that I would be reviewing old Disney live action movies - mostly under the 1980’s. I would now like to add to that solely for the purpose of this article and others that might very well follow. It was in fact only a short time ago, that I was rummaging through my extensive film collection looking at such films that I had not seen for a time when I came across “The Fox and the Hound.” After watching it for the first time in at least two years, I realized I had never written a single word about this film. Therefore, deciding that my review on the “Son of Flubber” could wait, I ended up writing about this one.

“The Fox and the Hound,” a Disney movie, was released in 1983 and features the voice talents of Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Paul Winchell, Sandy Duncan, Jack Albertson, Pearl Bailey, John Fielder, and John McIntire. The film (based on a novel by Daniel Mannix) began production in 1977 and eventually led to welcoming a whole new team of animators, story tellers and so on at Disney. Echoing the past dramatic glories of “Bambi” and “Pinocchio,” this film is arguably darker and richer with dramatic bravado compared to the more recent animated classics such as “The Jungle Book” and “The Aristocrats.”

It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between a hound, the hunter and a fox, the hunted. The film begins stylishly: the starting credits role without a sound, then the music builds up to a dramatic chase scene where we see a mother running for her dear life and the life of her cub. After the mother hides her cup she runs off screen and we hear shots. Perhaps similar to the formula of “Bambi,” “The Fox and the Hound” is yet unique. The orphaned fox cup is adopted by a kindly widow and with that we meet a menagerie of funny and caring characters. The friendship between the fox and the hound starts when they are pups. The Fox, Tod is mischievous, tricky, and the more impetuous of the two with a mind for taking risks and getting into trouble. In contrast, Copper, the hound, is na├»ve, somewhat timid and accident prone. While the two chums have plans to stay friends forever, Copper’s master, a brutal hunter, has different ideas and aims to make a hunting dog out of him and put an end to an unlikely friendship. A vivid colorful epic, we watch the two grow distant and apart until the two are changed animals. Eventually, they must stand a trial of true friendship, so great, it will take only true courage and loyalty to overcome them. Powerful and thoughtful, this is a story of social burdens and heartaches.

With adventure, dazzling songs, a delightful love story and of course topped up by the usual humorous side-plots, this triumphant classic is a must-have Disney film about love, honor, and friendship denied by society.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

The Absent-Minded Professor (Disney) - a movie review by Robert Steven Mack

Dear Readers: A few weeks ago, when I was browsing the special features on the “Love Bug Special DVD Edition,” I came across a two-minute feature that showed clips and production stills of 1965 live action Disney movies. And I was surprised to see how many live action Disney films I had not even heard or. Some aren’t even on DVD. It was then that I got the idea to see as many classic live action Disney movies I could find. I am deeply aware of the countless films that people haven’t heard of which is why for the next couple weeks -with a helping hand from Netflix, Amazon, B&B, as well as my local library- I will be reviewing mainly Disney classics from yesteryear.

The first of these is “The Absent-Minded Professor,” a black-and-white 1961 special effects romp based on the short story "A Situation of Gravity" by Samuel W. Taylor. A lively star-studded cast including Fred Mac Murray, Nancy Olsen, Keenan Wynn and his father Ed Wynn, Tommy Kirk, Leon Ames, Elliot Reid, and Edward Andrews. Fred Mac Murray portrays a work-a-holic professor who invented a rubbery anti-gravity substance he names Flubber.

One thing I would like to get straight is the common misconception that this film and others like it are "kiddie" films and therefore many grown-ups and older children are careful to stay away from such films. To set the record straight, these films have everything that good "non-kiddie" film has: wit, spark, good acting, clever plots, and so on. They are just cleaner. “Flubber” is a film anybody can see: family, friends, toddlers, adults, and it isn't a film that everyone can see better than a film that is restricted to a limited audience.

With clever puns and marvelous directing, this comedy sparkles with wit and ingenuity and side-splitting hilarity. A film that includes sneaky government officials, flying Model-Ts, and, more so, is a timeless and original, it is a real classic!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Borders Bookstores - A eulogy by Robert Steven Mack

For the last five minutes I have been pacing up and down to find a suitable way to begin this article. Just a few moments ago, it was then, I realized that it would be best to be as basic and frank as I can possibly be. So I'll try: Borders after a long period of suffering is closing. Did that get the message across? I suppose it’s been coming for a long time; the recession this country is still suffering has hit a number of companies bad. Still, the fact that a major chain of bookstores is liquidating can still be a shock. What is the underlying cause. Is it a sign of a growing illiteracy rate in this country and indifference towards books? No doubt, and it’s just gotten worse. Still it is my belief - and perhaps yours too - that this reason is not the only factor that caused the downfall of Borders.

I can remember the golden Borders when I go many years back: I recall the stage in the children’s section that so comfortably resided and reigned so majestically. It was removed and replaced by desolate and unwelcoming walls in the company store. I now refer to my favorite local Borders that resides in a mall reasonably close to where I live now as an example to further my point. I recall the magical feeling when coming up those stairs to the children's section on the second floor of that Borders which beauty can now only live on in the memories of those such as myself who loved the store a great deal. In the olden days, the staircase walls were blue with a picture of a sailing ship comfortably swinging from the wall. I also remember when Borders had a better selection in both movies and books in a nice comfortable area. Oh, the hours spent admiring its many great titles and collections! Now the stage is gone, the picture of the sailing ship vanished, and frankly I have seen better selections at Ralphs! The walls are re-painted a cold unwelcoming orange and white reminding the customer of a Subway station. In truth, some of the booksellers themselves have sadly lost their touch.

Another thing Borders neglected is keeping up with technology and their failed attempt to compete with sites like Amazon and EBay. Now we take a look at its biggest competitor Barnes and Noble: good service, the Nook is well established, a children’s stage so tempting to the eye of even a grown-up… Plus, a film selection full and gratifying just to look at. But I think the topper for the recent failure of Borders owes itself to the fact that so few people these days are reading. If kids everywhere would some day give up TV and video games just for an hour and curl up with a book without experiencing the overbearing pressure from mentors and teachers, and comprehension questions they might just find it’s the best thing they ever did!

Borders founded by Tom and Luise Borders in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1971enjoyed forty years of the selling of books until the management went stale, the stores became unfriendly and unwelcoming, and are forced to close.

A silverlining? Interestingly, a few days ago before I knew of Borders was closing, my mother and I went there and acquired surprisingly "rare" books we had not been able to spot elsewhere. If only the economy had given it a little more time! I have read, however, that Books-a-Million is seeking to save thirty-five Borders stores. With proper management and the restoration of the stage, good selections, sailing ships, etc. perhaps these stores will be able to look forward to a promising future. And if this fails, I hope they will at least keep the original store in Ann Arbor where I once lived and went and rebuild from there.

During the next few days, I will be mournfully attending Border's funeral, buying my last Borders’ products, and giving my respects to a once great store.


Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Deception Trail by Fred Grove - a book review by Robert Steven Mack

Fred Grove was a writer whose numerous works have been mostly placed in the rough old days of the Grand Old West. A former newspaper journalist and author of a number of novels and short stories, I recently came across one of his books; a Western as you might have guessed. It is called “Deception Trail.” I found it in the local library bookstore. It is a “first edition” from 1988 and carelessly marked as "Discarded." It had obviously not been read for quite a while. What a cruel thing to do to a book: labeling it with such a dishonorable title; a book of quality and imagination. Merely tossed onto a shelf with a lot of other unwanted books! Feeling sorry for it, I took it home. Perhaps I was being a little hasty about the whole matter? But after all, it was a Western.

Its tempting plot goes as follows: A racehorse of enormous value is abruptly stolen and held for ransom. Dude McQuinn, his tough but gullible owner, Billy his miracle-working trainer and vet, and Coyote Walking his jockey go from town to town in search of the famous Judge Blaire. Abstractly written, this gritty adventure will not only glue your eyes to its epic golden pages, but give you more than your money’s worth with shoot-outs, fist fights , con-artists, and the enticing edge-of-your seat writing by the late Fred Grove. A real western tale!

This book -if you can find it - filled with humor and excitement of the epic tale and little adventures they have along the way - is for anyone who's plum into a good western book. You can hardly wait to turn the page, leaving you stumped 'till the very end with an abundance of suspense, false leads and con-artists along the way. I shouldn’t have said that! To think that this book once went for $12.95, and I bought it only for 50 cents. This book deserves better.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I,Q Book Two: The White House: A book review on the children's spy novel by Roland Smit as reported by Robert Steven Mack

Writing a sequel to a successful book is both difficult and risky. Writing a good one is not only tremendously hard and brain-frying but courageous and commendable as one was able to take the story and events of the author’s first book to a new level and successfully convert it into a new book. It's not as easy as it sounds. You need to think of what did work and what didn't work. You need to know what to add, enhance, and give more of but also what to subtract, eliminate, and give less of. And not to mention the labor that goes into plot and story-line. Indeed, the author needs to come up with an entirely new story - featuring familiar characters - that does neither repeat nor ignore its predecessor. All in all, the end product will turn out to be either better or worst than what came before it.

When you recall my review of “I, Q: Independence Hall” it is quite obvious that the story will be continued. The reader’s hopes are high with curiosity. What’s next? “I, Q : The White House” lives up the expectations the first book so tauntingly set. With plenty of lively and vivid characters, a more interesting story, and plenty of good humor with espionage puns that, while at times abstract, are not to be missed. The second book surely keeps the tradition of complex plots and plenty of espionage to keep the reader interested as the serial chapters bounce around while eventually leading to a climactic finish - which once again turns out to be the beginning...

A note of caution: “I,Q: The White House” may be at times incomprehensible to those youngsters who have had limited exposure to the field of espionage and may require subtle guidance. There is no better place to start your child’s training -although I might recommend that you read the first book – well, first. I think that it is only fair that I give a brief summary of the book's plot, so here it goes: Ex-CIA agent Boone arranges for Quest, Angela , and their parents to visit the White House while uncovering bombs, moles, and even a kidnapping-plot jeopardizing the lives of the President’s children, including his mischievous 10-year old son PK. I firmly believe that everyone who reads this book - boy or girl, young or old - will be intrigued by the book's intellectual stimulation, adventurous turning points, and its delectable humor that's to die for. And I add it’s nice to see Malak Tucker in action after all the fuss that took place in the first book about her persona. Another thing that those who will be returning to the series will find pleasing is the fact that the book's author, Roland Smith, doesn't take the first chapter repeating the events and facts we learned in the first book. And even if this is your first “I, Q” book you will not be lost as the author’s sleek writing is sure to fill you in as you go on - though I'd still recommend that you read the first book first.

In sum, this book is for anyone who likes adventure, good humor, and Roland Smith; not to mention the seducing element of spies and counter spies, agents and double agents in the underground world of espionage that, believe it or not, is right under your very nose. If you up for such a reading adventure, then this is a must-have to your book collection.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part Two" by J.K. Rowling - a contemporary movie review by Robert Steven Mack

In the ripe old year of 1997, a phenomenon was born; his name simple but direct was Harry Potter.

J.K. Rowling began writing the first in a series of record-breaking books about a young wizard in 1995. Seven years before it was published: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, aka Sorcerers Stone, in America. It was soon to be adapted into a film released on November 4, starring the relatively unknown British child actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson… whose wealth and fame exceeds that of the wildest imagination. With a multi-mega-popular series came the books and with the books came the movies. How faintly I can remember when the sixth and pen-ultimate book was about to come out.

While still quite young, I don't think I've ever seen such a fuss over a book. Somehow I don't think we ever will again! I also remember reading the first and second book in a day. They were so superbly written, with such class, elegance, humor, yet whimsy. It is not so difficult to see why Harry Potter has made the permanent mark it has in literature. I read the third book and loved it! While the other books I believe have a slightly different feel to them as the countdown begins, I am very fond of all the books. I was furthermore enchanted by the first film, and Imust praise Chris Columbus’ slick filmmaking and the performances of both, the lead and supporting cast. Chris Columbus got the film series off to a fine start. He got it going again with “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Both are quite lighthearted and innocent compared to the later films. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” directed by Alfonso Curtan, is a stylish yet somewhat darker film than its predecessors. It is noteworthy that the first two movies are in a matter of tone and style different from the films to come. The fourth film based on the book “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was directed by Mike Newell and featured the return of Voldemort. I do recall reading about the planned release of the final three films in '08.

Yesterday, on July 15, 2011 the saga ended as the last of the Potter films were released. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” begins subtly and quietly. You sense no triumph nor glory - only defeat and loss. We are reminded of the events of “The Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” the long journey, the unbearable tragedy, and only to be reminded that it will continue. Still, the lonely subdued tone from Part 1 gradually transforms into a triumphant preparation for “the show-down of a smile” which will form on your face as you settle into your seat, ready for the ride of your lifetime. As the movie plot builds, we get to see old friends with new faces. Mathew Lewis as Neville Longbottom returns for this film as a heroic supporter of Harry and somewhat of a leader of the Hogwarts clan. So does Evvana Lynch as Luna Lovegood. As the film carries on, the tension builds. It moves with dignity and class. The epic final battle is one to remember, and by this time the film has build up an incredible amount of steam and let it go…

In summary, the film, loaded with magic and bravado, is sure to meet your highest expectations on a boundless journey to defeat Voldemort once and for all! The story-line is well-crafted and well-executed, exploding on the screen with imagination and heart. It is almost hard to imagine the time and effort put into the film by its players and makers. The special effects will surely dazzle the eyes and the performances are too good to describe. The plot plays out in front of you like an opera of epic proportions, while seemingly effortless the effects, direction, and acting of the films by many creditable players is incredibly moving and openly touching.

My honored father asked me in the car while driving home Sunday after we viewed the film a second time (the first was on Friday July 15, 2011) that with all the fuss, and big headlines lines urging us to see the film and all and asked me if I thought it was worth it. I truthfully replied that it was worth it and more. In truth, I believe this to be the biggest understatement to have ever come out of my mouth! I also told my father that although seeing films in 3-D is usually not my first option, that I was more willing to see the movie as such at a 3rd screening...

As a side note, Matthew Lewis's performance does stand out as one of the most rewarding to see, as we witness that bumbling fool we knew turn into a hero of extraordinary proportions. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grunt give performances that I believe will be regarded in Hollywood cinema history years from now as some of the finest. Maggie Smith, Evanna Lynch, Tom Felton, Michael Gabon, Helena Boham Carter, Ralf Finnes, Julie Walters, Alan Rickman among the other players who contributed so much to this film. Although I was not entirely impressed with the afterlude that introduces us to Harry’s off-spring – who simply did not seem to be quite the Harry-type and I suppose that beside bad casting they should have focused more on the children…but this is but the only small detail that I found wrong in this film and I can barley tell you how much I enjoyed it.

The action just right, the humor while realistically accurate and clever when sometimes devious is more than you can ask for of a "Grande Finale." The experience pampers the viewer with effects beyond reality, acting beyond technicalities and a story based on the final book in a series of majestic realms. The film delivers a stunning breathtaking edge-of-your-seat adventure of both beauty and style. In short, “Harry and The Deathly Hallows, Part 2” is a ravishing conclusion to a truly epic series that will put a satisfied smile on your face. Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)