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 naïve, 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!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dean Jones - a special plea by Robert Steven Mack

Dean Jones is one of my favorite Disney stars. His charm and one of a kind charisma is something you expect in Disney movies. Mr. Jones’ warm grin, heroic deeds, and easy going attitude has given us delight and pleasure that we will cherish for years to come. And somehow it surprises me that with all his credited work and statue, he does not have a box set of movies or a Dean Jones Collection of his own. It may be for legal reasons or reasons of personal interest, but why not give Dean Jones his own collection? And if it is so negotiated, then why not bring forth to the public films of Dean Jones that are not widely heard of or talked about? So many know “The Love Bug” and “That Darn Cat,” but how many people are familiar with films like “The Million Dollar Duck,” “Snowball Express,” or “The Ugly Dushwald” or perhaps “Monkey Go Home?” While less people are likely to have these films, it is probable that it would be attractive to have these films plus the five episodes of “Herbie the Match Maker” TV series. And some of the names and characters will likely strike a familiar bell as Suzanne Pleshette frequently paired with Dean Jones and Charlie Ruggles in The Ugly Dashwald. Disney's well known villain Keenan Wayne goes against Dean Jones, Nancy Olsen, and Harry Morgan in the wintery romp “Snowball Express.” I'm sure audiences would love to see Dean Jones as Jim Douglas in five rare Herbie episodes and I know I would, too. If you appreciate classic Disney magic and those lovable Dean Jones’ romps, then I suggest these films to you. If you can find them -although I think the magic would only grow if there was Dean Jones collection. Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Herbie, The Love Bug - or "Car, Boy, Girl" - a film review and analysis of the original films (1969-1980) by Robert Steven Mack

Dean Jones was born on Janurary 25, 1931 in Alabama. After receiving small parts in films such as “Jailhouse Rock” with Elvis Presley and “Never So Few” with Frank Sinatra as well as on Walt Disney's show “The Wonderful World of Colour,” his first advancement to fame came with “Under the Yum Yum Tree.” Disney carefully studied his performance in this film and before long signed him up as feline allergic FBI agent Zeke Kelso in the comedy/mystery classic “That Darn Cat” with Haley Mills, Dorothy Provane, Ed Wynn, and Roddy McDowall. Between the years of 1965 to 1977, Mr. Jones played leads in some of Disney's most beloved films. These, of course, includes “The Ugly Dushwald,” “Monkey Go Home,” “Blackbeard's Ghost,” “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit,” “The Million Dollar Duck,” “Snowball Express,” and “The Shaggy D.A.” – among others.

Despite his many fabulous roles, Dean Jones name is perhaps most intimately associated with his role as Jim Doulas in “The Love Bug.” Mr. Jones had come to Walt Disney with an idea for “The Love Bug” as a serious, darker film. Instead, Disney presented him with a lighter comedy and the usual “Disney-Dean Jones” touch. In my opinion, however, neither idea was discarded completely. Another interesting fact about the “Love Bug” is that before the film's producers finalized the name “The Love Bug,” they came up with some odd and not-so-odd titles including “Car, Boy, Girl; The Magic Volksy,” “Beetlebomb,” and “Tenderbug” - to name just a few. Of course, the first film would be titled no other than “The Love Bug.”

THE LOVE BUG: The film’s plot is simplistic nonsense, yet thoughtfully crafted, provocatively written, and ingenuously put together. A down-on-his-luck racer whos past glories and present press created stories weigh him down like a bird whose wings have been clipped, buys a car with a mind of its own. Douglas stood up for the little car when a snooty rich car dealer abuses the odd machine, the little car only thought that he was worth belonging to. Jim's car philosophical friend Tennessee Steinmetz -who theorizes that machines have an inner life and believes it! - names his new friend Herbie after his uncle Herb. Before long Jim discovers that Herbie, as Tennessee calls him, has great racing potential and decides to race him. Indeed, he wins! However, what he doesn't know is that Herbie is doing all the driving.

The film's cast did not only add to the film, they practically made it: With Dean Jones as the Boy, Michelle Lee as the Girl, Buddy Hackett as Tennessee Steinmetz, Herbie as the Car, and David Thomson as the typical Disney villain. Excellently cast and their performances brilliantly executed, they put on quite a show! While at times quaintly hillarious and at time heartfelt if not dramatic, this movie about a car that has always been underestimated. Hence, it is the ultimate Disney classic.

An interesting bit of “Love Bug” trivia is that Dean Jones aside from his lead role also played a hippie in a van.

LOVE BUG 2:“Herbie Rides, Again” was released in 1974 and starred Helen Hayes, Ken Berry, Stephanie Powers, and Keenan Wayne reprising his role of Alonzo Hawk (The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963).) While bearing little connection to its predecessor, the film is a lively addition to the Herbie franchise. The plot goes as follows: Alonzo Hawk plans to knock down Jim's former house -now in possession of Tennessee's great aunt; as is Herbie-, an old firehouse, so he can build his gigantic Hawk shopping center on the property. A nice connection with previous Disney films aids this family classic to success. Although you can't help but feel sorry for poor Mr. Hawk! This lively comedy is well put together and well thought up. It carries itself well throughout the entire movie, although the cast and story are only replacements to what might have been if the original cast had showed up. This movie is a joyful sequel that fans cannot miss!

LOVE BUG 3: Dean Jones returned in 1977 for his final lead Disney role in “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.” Here, Jim Douglas travels to France and comes out of retirement when entering themselves in the France to Monte Carlo Derby with and attempt for a comeback after a twelve year absence in the field of racing. It’s good to have Dean Jones back as Jim Douglas. He's like an old friend visiting you on Mars. Accompanying Mr.Douglas is Don Knotts as Wheelie Applegate; although obviously a replacement and you don't no quite where he's from. Yet, he is a nice addition to this film. Continuing the tradition of romance in the “Love Bug” movies is Julie Somers as a competitive racer who owns the car Herbie has fallen in love with. Apparently Michelle Lee's character who had married Jim Douglas was no more which leaves a blank spot in the continuity in the Herbie series. Also returning is that gag where Herbie spills oil on those who insult him. Joining the fun are two bumbling jewel thieves (Bernard Fox and Roy Kinaer) who have planted a precious diamond in Herbie's gas tank. Although this seems slightly forced and the film could do without them, it’s a nice touch and pleasurable to see Herbie and his gang save the day. Another thing standing out is the age and maturity of Jim Douglas compared to the last movie. Overall, the cast, music, and story are a dream come true for those who have waited to see Jim Douglas ride again.

LOVE BUG 4: Three years later in the out-of-control year of 1980 Disney released yet another Herbie film and like its magnificent predecessor helmed by director Vincent McEverety (Love Bug and Rides again were directed by Robert Stevenson). Once again, the only returning cast member is Herbie but not Dean Jones! Seeing someone else drive Herbie in this movie is like seeing some other punk command the starship Enterprise. In this film Jim, after deciding to retire from racing has given his nephew Pete his beloved car Herbie. They must travel to South America to retrieve it. Despite this plot which could be decent enough to carry the story, Disney brought in reputable Mel Brooks’ collaborators Clois Leachgman and Harvey Corman. While their performances, which should be more along the line of supporting roles, are about the most real thing about this movie. It soon gets to unquestionable mark where you wonder whether Pete and his sidekick DJ are actually in any way significant to the plot. Also joining Herbie is Paco, an orphan pick-pocket who befriends Herbie. You feel no sympathy for this character, only disgust as Herbie helps this juvenile delinquent who at times seems hardly worth the fight.
One more notable thing in this stunt-oriented film is the heartfelt moment when Herbie is tossed into the sea; one of the few original moments in this entire film. The action, stunts, characters, and story are all contrived. For one thing Pete and DJ are too young to carry the film. More specific, the fabric of this largely contrived and forced picture is the lousy attempt at a sidekick: The smuggling ring coming out of nowhere is confusing and ridiculous. And although in the beginning, while it is so famously announced that Herbie will participate in a race Herbie, this part of the plot is stashed away until the end. It’s basically a experiment to squeeze Herbie in with the emerging '80's culture which is obviously not what Herbie is all about! Instead, they got a film with a glued together plot and flat characters who you feel no sympathy for. I would only recommend this film to you if you are a die-hard Herbie fan.

LOVE BUG 5: So basically, the stories went flat and there would not be another Herbie release in theaters until 2005 (although the mention of racing at the end of "Bananas" may have hinted the original intention to do a fourth sequel. While it’s apparent that Herbie and Dean Jones will not reprise their roles together on the big screen, it’s not as they only appeared together twice and be done with it. In fact, two years after the release of “Herbie Goes Bananas,” “Herbie, the Match Maker” appeared on TV. Herbie had its own television series! Unfortunately, it was canceled after five episodes and that would be the last the public would see of Herbie or Jim Douglas for 15 years. In 1997, “The Love Bug” a TV movie remake/ sequel appeared on TV with Bruce Campbell and a cameo from Dean Jones one last time reprising his famous role of Jim Douglas from 28 years before. In 2005 Lindsey Lohan would lead the Love Bug in his final feature film to date “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” I must admit that I have not seen any of these last movies/TV shows but as soon as I get around to it you'll be hearing from me!

Noone knows what the future of Herbie will be but I can tell you this: Sometimes we forget what Disney has brought us! Disney is not just some kiddie studio that's all about Mickey Mouse and nonsense. It’s about friends and family being together having fun and enjoying themselves. And there will be Herbie as long as there is a little love and imagination in the world.

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bogie and Bacall - the films and legacy: a review by Robert Steven Mack

"Anybody got a match?" - Lauren Bacall was just 19 years old when she spoke those immortal words in “To Have and to Have Not” and entranced movie-goers of 1944 as well as her 45-year old co-star Humphrey Bogart.

The iconic Humphrey Bogart - listed as number one best leading man of all time by the American Film Institute - was born in December of 1899 to a straight-forward upper- middle class family where affection was rare and duty was fair. A lonely boy who was teased for his neatness and his “Little Lord Fauntleroy cloths” his mother wished for him to wear, young Bogie was expelled from a reputable private school and thus demolishing the family plans for Humphrey including the possibility to enter Yale. With nowhere else to go, 18 year old Bogie followed his life-long love for the sea and joined the Navy. After a series of jobs - none of which got poor Bogie very far- he joined a stage group and accepted roles he loathed with dissatisfaction. After the Crash in'29 Bogie went to Hollywood when his first big break came in Warner Bros with “The Petrified Forest” (1936). With no intentions of ever making a big star out of him, Jack Warner placed Mr. Bogart in a series of B ganster films with Bogie repetitively cast as the gangster. Finally, Bogie got a role he liked in “The Maltese Falcon” under the direction of friend and drinking partner John Huston. Afterwards, “Casablanca” firmly established him as a leading man who is kind of a rough-edged loner who ultimately makes good in a paranoid society. Then came his next big project.

Lauren Bacall was 19 when she had a reputation of 3 tiers as a model and played small parts in a short-lived unsuccessful career on Broadway when Howard Hawk’s wife Slim discovered her in a magazine. Before long she was cast opposite pro Humphrey Bogart in a big-budget picture called “To Have and to Have Not.” Bacall was nervous and unfamiliar with the life on set when Bogie stepped forward and acted as her mentor…privately coaching, always making sure she was comfortable on set, as well as making sure she knew what to do. Before long it was the start of one of Hollywood’s most legendary romances.

To Have and To Have Not” is a 1944 romantic war adventure film starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Walter Brennen. Sharing little in common with Ernest Hemingway's novel, Bogie plays Harry Morgan, a guy who sticks his head out for no one but himself. Yet, eventually he agrees to help a group French résistance activists. With numerous similarities which are neither repetitive nor unimaginative, the real screen magic jumps out of the box when Slim shows her face on screen and coolly asks: "Any body got a match?" While “Casablanca” was all about firmly establishing Bogie’s screen persona, “To Have and To Have Not” is all about toying with it. As something we clearly did not get in “Casablanca” while cheering him on as he outwits one annoying bum after another, is that the invincible Humphrey Bogart meets his match in Bagall. Even his character Harry Morgan is stunned by his new found wit, charm, and distinctive personality. That my friends is what makes a good screen pair! After seeing this film, I can say that at the moment I don't recall where we get a better example of this trait. With Walter Brennen as Morgan’s side-kick and a cast of strong characters to make this a movie an affair to remember. The rapid fire dialogue, the captivating story, and vivid characters make this movie not only the quintessential Bogie/Bacall film but also a film any movie buff is sure to enjoy!

Privately, Humphrey Bogart was in a pickle: While attracted to one woman, he was still married to another and this brain-racking dilemma would severely affect his work in his next picture with Bacall, “The Big Sleep,” who was not doing so well herself. The future looked so bright for Lauren Bacall when she stole the show with her critically acclaimed performance in “To Have and To Have Not.” However when Jack Warner put Lauren Bacall in the role of a spoiled heiress opposite Charles Boyer in “Confidential Agent,” her career dimmed. Some critics even wondered whether or not she could act all.

The Big Sleep” is a 1946 detective film based on the first of Raymond Candler's novels on the adventures of detective Philip Marlowe. The script was completed in only eight days with a notably confusing and rather unfinished plot. With Howard Hawks once again in the director’s chair and Bogie and Bacall once again paired up based on the audiences desire for their unusual chemistry. But the great Bogart, who was usually very professional, came to work late and had trouble remembering his lines - much to the credit of his rocky marriage to Mayo Methot.
“The Big Sleep” was completed for the first time in the year 1945 when it was formally decided that the film would not be released right away. This was due to Warner Bros.'s rush to release its war films as the war had ended. Since the film’s subject matter was not significantly relevant to the war-time period, release of “The Big Sleep” was suspended 'till a later date. In the meantime, Bacall's reputable agent Charles K. Feldman wrote Jack Warner a letter to persuade him to re-shoot and add some scenes in order to capitalize on the image that had been created when Bacall stunned the screen in “To Have and To Have Not.” His reasonable demands were met and the cast members and crew were back on the set for retakes. The 1945 pre-release version, however, has been released on DVD
“The Big Sleep” is a good Bogie/Bacall classic mystery with lots of suspense. With a decent amount of B&B, the film is more about a detective as he tries to uncover a baffling case as it unfolds thereby meeting some odd characters on the way. (His famous partner sticking out as the only ripe banana in a pile of apples and oranges). Humphrey Bogart gives a top-notch performance in this follow up to the chemistry that became so talked of during duo's previous film together. Although it lacks the one-of-a-kind freshness and originality of "To Have and To Have Not," it is definitely a good Bogie and Bacall film.

The next film B&B appeared in together is the styilish film-noire thriller “Dark Passage” (1947) starring a strong cast of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennet, Agnes Moorehead (“Bewitched”, “Citizen Kane”), Tom D'Andrea and directed by Delmer Daves. The film follows the San Quentin escapee Vincent Parry, who was framed for murdering his wife. He has set out to clear his name and find the real murderer, undergoing plastic surgery to keep his identity a secret. Although any leading lady would have done, they were just fortunate enough to get Lauren Bacall to play his lone companion. Bagall is the only one who'll believe Bogart’s innocence. Their chemistry lights up the screen although we do not exactly have the rapid fire dialogue we were blessed with in the previous two films. In fact, I'd say the director tried to bring a more stylish modern approach to the film. We do not see Bogie for the first 1/3 of the movie. Instead, Delmar Daves ingeniously has the camera on Bogie's angle so that we never actually see him before the plastic surgery. It is only until the bandages are removed that Bogie emerges to take action. We get to see how the world is closing in on him, to be careful who he can talk to - or they may turn against you. Bacall's performance is utter perfection! And Agnes Moorehead's performance is perhaps the greatest in the film. She vividly brings out her character and multiplies it by ten to create a psychopathic sardonic cynic. Moorehead’s performance stands out in this film. Bruce Bennet, Tom D' Andrea and Houseley Stevenson also give strong performances. Although it is not Bogart’s performance that stands out in the film but rather how the plot grimly unravels that makes this film a masterpiece, it is the quintessential Bogart film.

B&B’s last theatrical release together would be “Key Largo” (1948) where they would host stars Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, and Claire Trevor - the latter would win an Oscar for her performance - under the thrilling direction of John Huston. An atmospheric gangster film, Ex-GI Frank McCloud (Bogart) passes through Hotel Largo on his way to Key West and meets hotel owner Nora Temple (Bacall) as well as her handicapped father (Barrymore). He decides to stay a night when everyone gets trapped in the small hotel by a roaring hurricane and infamous disgraced gangster Johnny Rocco and his band of deadly merry-no-good-low-lives. Claire Trevor plays Rocco's down in out goodhearted alcoholic girlfriend, Gaye. Although Bacall's role is not as big and glamorous as it was in the first two films, she gives a good strong performance as the quite down-to-earth daughter of a man younger than his years and lover of a man who doesn't want to be himself. It is as always good to see the B&B together on screen. While award winner Claire Trevor plays her mixed up character to captivating perfection, strong performances are also given by co-stars Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, Marc Lawrence, and Dan Seymour. Not to forget the irreplaceable screen persona of Mr. Robinson who, as always, makes his role of a gangster complex with a sneer and some fear. The fact that Bogart is in it just makes it all the more intriguing to watch. With strong performances, a good script, a captivating plot, as well as superb direction this film is one that belongs in any old movie collection!

In my opinion, “To Have and To Have Not” is the best of the Bogie and Bacall films in terms of getting the full bill of Bogie and Bacall. The chemistry had been founded on those fundamentals: clever dialogue and Bacall in one way or another outdoes Bogie and Bogie in one way or another outdoes Bacall. “The Big Sleep” takes advantage of this as best it can: the explosion between a down-to-earth detective and the ideal rich eventually joining forces. Unfortunately the plot does not always call for this and there fore they could not take full advantage of what they had as a team. The next two films differ greatly from the other half of the series. We do not get to see the screen couple -as they were married by this time- trading those precious one-liners. While still good films, they do not highlight the chemistry between Bogie and Bacall.

It may come to your attention as to why they never did another film together and why perhaps they ever did anything else together. In fact, aside from radio adaptations of “The Big Sleep” and “To Have and to Have Not,” the latter of which is on DVD, B&B starred from1951 to 1952 in the “Bold Venture Radio” crime adventure series. So far, 56 lost episodes have been uncovered. In 1955 Humphrey Bogart reprised his role from the “Petrified Forest” This time with top billing and Lauren Bacall in a live TV adaptation. And last but not least after his production company Santana Productions had failed to produce well received films in 1956, Humphrey Bogart started a new production company and a new film called Melvin Goodwin, U. S. A.. It was to star him and his wife Lauren for the first time in eight years. The project was dropped however due to Bogart’s poor health. Unfortunate for fans as it may be, but here's some good news: from what I read, the TV version of “The Petrified Forest” is available for viewing at the Paley Center for Media both in New York and in Los Angeles!

In conclusion the Bogart and Bacall films are all master pieces in their own way. After you watched them, you'll be clapping your hands and whistling away…”You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow" –(Lauren Bacall, To Have and to Have Not.)

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

I, Q by Roland Smith - book review by Robert Steven Mack

The world is a complicated and busy place to call home, and people go through their everyday lives with the very human want to succeed and have everything go the best they can possibly be; their hopes, dreams and wants all corresponding with precise precision. Each man, woman and child on this earth has the rightfully compelling human nature to fight for what they believe in. But with 5 billion people in the world and each person fighting for what they want, things can get ugly and sometimes lead to wars and decades-long spats over nothing. This is why we have politicians, judges, police officers, and leaders to help guide the people and keep peace. Sometimes however, leaders put their own interests ahead of the interests of the societies, often known as dictatorships; sometimes different groups of people don’t trust each other and fight. Lawmakers are an example of different groups fighting each other for what they believe is for the good of the community, or they are just using there wits to survive. At times societies grow so incredibly suspicious of one another that they choose people to spy on their neighbors in order to collect data to use against their “enemy”. Although this operating system goes back to the dawn of mankind, today we call it espionage.

“I,Q” by Roland Smith is a juvenile international espionage book that deals with such organizations as the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Israel Mossad, and the US Secret Service. 13 year old Quest’s ( nicknamed Q for short) newly-wed mom, Blaze, and her music-making husband, Roger, have made a hit with their new group, “Match” and are going on tour for the rest of the year and have taken Q and Roger’s 15 year old daughter Angela along for the ride. When the trailer they are traveling in suddenly brakes down, they meet up with a mysterious old roadie (those who travel with bands who are there for tech support) by the name of Tyrone Boone who used to travel with Blaze’s old band. Quest and Angela soon discover, however, that Tyrone Boone is not only an ancient roadie but a spy who recruits Quest and Angela for a mission revolving mostly around Angela’s long-presumed dead mother Malak, in possible connection to a ghostly terrorist organization. Malak was a dedicated secret agent who was thought to have died in the line of duty. Their mission eventually leads them to the White House where Book 1 ends and book two begins.

The main characters begin with Quest, a bright, responsible teenager who can be sarcastic and clever and is a talented amateur magician. He also happens to love meat. Angela has fond but painful memories of her mother, is trained in takewondo and as a spy. She is meek and a little timid, and wears sunglasses wherever she goes and carries around a heavy sack with her. She is also a vegetarian. An interesting character dynamic between Quest and Angela is that Quest, bright and intelligent as he is, is quite sloppy and disorganized, while Angela is quite neat, tidy and realistic. Angela also must often push Quest to get his homework done ahead of time. Other characters include Tyrone Boone, who is an ancient roadie and former CIA agent who heads a private organization called SOS and loves James Bond novels. Blaze is Q’s caring mother who gave up her career for Quest. Malak is Angela’s mother who has been presumed dead for many years; Eben is an agent working for the Israel Mossad; X-Ray is a technology geek of the SOS; and Buddy T., Match’s fussy but rude manager, can wheel and deal his way around anything.

One of the most important conflicts in the book is Angela dealing with the thought that her mother Malak, a former CIA agent, is either dead or a terrorist. Throughout the book the characters are focused on understanding the potential mystery surrounding Malak whose ghost seems to be doing her work for her. This may lead SOS to a possible link to a mysterious “ghost” terrorist ring that SOS has been trying to track for some time now, without luck. The overall conflict is layered by Angela’s own personal conflict in discovering that there is a 50/50 chance that her mother is still alive. This causes Angela to put a personal matter above her duty and her safety. In the climax of the book, Angela, Q, and Malak meet face to face in a heart wrenching reunion that can only remind the young spies that the call of duty won’t wait long.

The main theme of the story would be the overall dynamic complexity of a modern day society divided by matters of trust, jealousy, loyalty, religion and all the other forces that tend to divide an otherwise decent society into diplomatic chaos. In the age of the computer revolution, new technical advances that stir the mind can either be helpful or deadly, especially if both sides have about an equal amount of ammunition. Sometimes it is hard to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, who do I trust? Who can I depend on? Who are my friends? These are the kinds of questions that the main characters of the book wrestle with.

Many themes of the book touch base with my own personal interests and life, and the main character Quest and I seem to share some similar personality characteristics and habits! When I was in third grade my mother put her career aside for the time being in order to home school me, as did Q’s mother Blaze. I, too, enjoyed going places and doing new things. Though not quite as extravagant as this story, I also love the films of James Bond, even though I have not yet had the pleasure of enjoying one of the Ian Fleming novels. Espionage fascinates me and I love a good spy thriller!

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

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Carry on, Mr. Bowditch" - book review by Robert Steven Mack

Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is the story of the life and times of Nathanial Bowditch, and how he discovered a whole new way of marine navigation. Growing up during the post revolutionary war period, young Nathaniel Bowditch seems to be plagued by hard luck; while his poverty keeps his family on their toes, his own smallness in height keeps him on his. Nevertheless, Nat is an exceptionally bright youngster and has an astounding knack for mathematics that not even his stern by-the-stick teacher or his closest siblings Hab and Lizza can believe. His family’s bad luck continues as his mother and grandmother die from illness too expensive for the Bowditch family to cure. Despite his setbacks his little work-a-holic mind continues to work even faster in hopes of someday going to Harvard. All hopes are shattered when he is forced to quit school and is indentured for nine years at the age of twelve.

In his nine years of book-keeping he continues to study hard and teaches himself Latin and French in order to read Newton's Principia. Being the son of a sea captain, he finds himself aboard the "Henry: under the command of the understanding Captain Prince. It was aboard the Henry that he discovered a whole new way of navigation using what he called "sky marks." While Nat uses Moore's navigational book as a reference, others don't believe in book sailing and he can understand why when he finds errors in the tables of Moore's book. The worst of that is that those miscalculations can cost sailors lives and do. After finding eight thousand mistakes in Moore's book, he gets fed up and devotes his time to writing a book of his own known as The American Practical Navigator.

Nat Bowditch as a character is a young mathematical genius, whose prodigy gives him a tendency to get angry when people don't understand him. He is a workaholic and never stops once he has an idea. He was devastated when he had learned that his closest sister, Lizza, had fallen down the stairs during a party and had died. He married Elizabeth Boardman whom he spent happy times with but suffered through her death when she died while he was on one of his voyages. He was shocked to hear that his brothers Hab and William were lost at sea due to book sailing. Mary Bowditch, his high spirited sister often enjoyed hearing of his journeys, the only time he did not enjoy talking to her was when he was faced with the painful duty of comforting her on the death of her sea-faring husband, David. His father Captain Bowditch had been in command of a ship that had been wrecked by the rocks at sea ruining his career. Nat later married Polly Indergall, Elisabeth’s most trusted friend.

Despite his success, he is always held back by those who do not believe in what is know as book sailing. His brothers Hab and Willaim were both victims of incorrect graphs and charts, so was his gruff friend Lem Harvey(at least that's what they thought). The world’s most renowned marine navigation book at the time was also the worst as Nat found over eight thousand mistakes in the tables, graphs and charts, which he blamed on those who did the problems and did not check and recheck the problems. This prompted Nat to write his own book. Still, many people doubted that book sailing was the answer to their problems at sea. Nat Bowditch was so good at figures that he could solve any problem faster than he could write his own signature, and it was his amazing intellect and way with figures that enabled him to prove to the world what they could do.

Nat suffered many set backs and heart breaks during his career but he knew that the important thing was to keep on going no matter what. Indeed, it was Nat’s propensity to overcome adversity that comes out as one of the strongest themes in the book. Nat also realized that men depended on his figures and he knew that, and so another strong theme in the story is Nat’s commitment and duty to those men not to let them down. Nat felt that it was for the greater good of sailing. A lot of people did not believe in him, but did let them down. Fortunately he did not give up maintaining a positive attitude and all his hard work paid of.

I enjoyed reading this book top to bottom. I can definitely identify with Nat's need to get things done (in other words I'm a work-a-holic). And I can certainly say that this book held on to me and would let go. This is an insightful, joyful, heartwarming adventure epic about a guy named Nathaniel Bowditch. Enjoy the little screenplay I wrote, produced, and filmed:

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

Thursday, July 7, 2011

John Grisham's "Theodore Boone: The Abduction" - a book review by Robert Steven Mack

Was it not but last year that I reviewed John Grisham's “Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer?” And unless I am horribly mistaken, I stated at the end of my review - as a result of previous research - that Mr. Grisham would be working on a second book following the adventures of the young legal mind Theodore. I am happy to report that Mr. Grisham has completed his commitment to a sequel and it has been published. It's called “Theodore Boone: The Abduction.”

A former lawyer himself, John Grisham has authored numerous legal dramas several of which have been turned into movies. “Kid Lawyer: Theodore Boone” was his first book for children and enough to please any young fan of legal fiction and non-fiction. As to “Theodore Boone: The Abduction,” it is nice to see that Mr. Grisham has not cast aside the previously developed characters of so much potential and rising possibility for a series. As a matter of fact, he has allowed us to get a better glimpse of the characters we became familiar with during our first visit to Theo’s world. And it’s a good thing, too because now do we not only know the characters but we get to see them in hot action!

Theodore Boone: The Abduction – In this book, Theo tries to solve the sudden mysterious disappearance of his best friend April. Just as a good sequel should, this book goes places where the first could not as the book dives straight into the story without wasting twenty pages to introduction. Instead, the author cleverly fills you in if you are a newcomer. Verily, I would argue that the novel is so extremely well written, it’s as if you know these characters from the start - newcomer or bloody expert. As to the plot, once again we see poor Theodore Boone trying to restrain himself from getting too involved in the mystery. Of course, this fails from the start as Theo feels a moral obligation to help his friend despite discouragement from cops, kids at school and even his parents.
A highlight of following this junior non-profit attorney’s adventures in this novel – as you recall, Theodore has his own little office at his parents law firm Boone & Boone - we witness Theo handling an actual case at "Kiddie Court" and receiving praise from the judge. This will satisfy both Theo and the reader! Another element of this book that most certainly deserves recognition is Theo's admirable leadership and detective skills which the author lets surface for the first time. Commendably demonstrated is this skill when he, with the help of his friends, organizes a search party eventually having to cope with harrassment from tough-guy cops, and when Theo with the help of his techie friend’s knowledge of internet researching tools try to solve the case...which inevitably they do. Last but not least, Theo's greasy uncle Ike is back and playing a more important, more interesting, and memorable role that you never thought possible. Without revealing too much, he is definitely a character that stands out in this book.

I would be curious to know who portrays Ike on film should a screen adaptation ever arise. Also, although the idea of a sequel most certainly is up to the author as this book wraps up Theo’s story quite nicely, it would not be impossible to conjure up more adventures for Theo. No pressure - but I know I would read it them! It is ultimately up to Mr. Grisham what he wants to do with the characters.

In conclusion, this at times humorous and at times thought-provoking and touching legal thriller is a worthy addition to Theodore Boone's adventures. Whereas I am sure that the Boone readers will be wishing for more, at the end of this page-turning caper readers everywhere will be able to close the book with a smile of satisfaction on their face and be released of the spell. Bravo again, Mr. Grisham!

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cars 2 Movie Review

When Toy Story came out in 1997, the movie was an instant worldwide sensation that would span spin-offs and sequels to come. Ever since, Pixar Movie Studios have spit out incredible stories, hair-raising adventures, unforgettable characters, and boundless humor that has yet to fail!

I think it was in 2009 that I first read that Pixar Studios were going to do a sequel of the 2005 computer animated film Cars. You must know about me that at least once a day I'd go on the web and check for developments such as production, cast, release date, plot etc. I learned it was going to be released in June of 2011. This intrigued me. I also learned it was going to be a spy film, this intrigued me even more. The release date was approaching, gradually creeping closer. I simply couldn’t wait, especially since I have not seen a film in the theaters since the last Harry Potter film last November.

In any event, the film was out and I could not wait to see it. However, I was alarmed and confused when I saw that the film had received quite a bit of negative feedback. At first I didn't believe it but after a while I began to have doubts of my own. Had Pixar finally delivered a movie not worth the theater ticket price of $30? After my father suggested that we wait for it to come out on DVD, he added with a shrug "You can't win them all". But Pixar is a good reputable studio that has brought us some great movies in the past, I could only surmise that they would not have let us down. "Besides," I said to my father, " its the movie theater experience that counts!”

After much debate, we arrived in time to see the already half-way over Toy Story short which was funny and had the right kick for a short film. The movie started when I was in the restroom and I arrived just in time to see a spy chase spreading its magic across the large screen. After that I just sat back and enjoyed!

Cars 2 deserves better reviews than it’s been getting. It’s a fast-paced hilarious character driven spy comedy. Good writing combined with a story that adds more to what the first film gave us. Although I largely disagree with the bad reviews one thing that one of the reviewers mentioned was correct: Mater the tow-truck (Larry the Cable Guy) is the main focus in this film. This may disappoint a number of fans from the first film as Lightning Macqueen (Owen Wilson) was the star in the film's predecessor. The reason the filmmakers did this I believe, is first because of Mater's popularity and second because from the first film Mater was introduced as a loud-mouthed unassuming clumsy old tow truck who no one takes quite seriously. In this film, his character is taken to a new level where he actually has to deal with his reputation as a supposedly dim-witted old tow truck who eventually proves his worth. We also get to see how this affects his close friendship with Lightning McQueen.

It’s character-driven element makes the film a little more thought-provoking. Once again Pixar picks a hero of no particular stature and lets him find his way through the film. This is one of the things that makes Pixar special. Also I must compliment the Pixar team on choosing the many famed exotic locations. It adds an intriguing touch to the film.
A note of caution: In one fan-written review, an anonymous movie-goer said she had taken her two and four year old to see the movie which did apparently not appeal to them. Now this is a point I must make. This is a film recommendable for ages 8 and up as there are scenes of action and intellectual content - one casualty of the film- that younger children may be startled by and may miscomprehend. Although I'm sure younger children will respond positively to Matter's comedic antics, it all depends on your child’s experience as a movie-goer. I also must point out that this film is sure to please fans of James Bond. Well done Pixar! Who says you can't win them all?!

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

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Three Little Words - a movie review by Robert Steven Mack

I think we can say without the smallest morsel of doubt, that by the time Fred Astaire was fifty-one years old in the world of 1950, he was already an iconic living legend in his own right. Fred Astaire (1899-1987) was a renowned actor, dancer, and entertainer -for more information see my blog on the late Mr. Astaire's memoire "Steps in Time" - who has dazzled generations of moviescreengoers with his debonair elegance, nimble charm, and playful enthusiastic attitude.

In the year 1950, he and born comedian Red Skelton (1913-1997) would meet in the musical-comedy-romance-biography "Three Little Words." The film stars Fred, Red, dancer Vera Ellen, and red-head Arlene Daul. The film documents the chronicles of the "Tin Can Alley Song" writing-team Kalmar & Ruby with Fred Astaire playing Bert Kalmar and Red Skelton playing Harry Ruby. Vera Ellen plays Jessica Brown Kalmar's former dancing partner and eventually wife and Arlene Daul as Ruby's wife. In his autobiography "Steps in Time" Fred Astaire talked about how much he enjoyed working on this film and with his co-stars Red Skelton and Vera-Ellen. Believe it or not, it shows! When watching the film you can see how much fun Fred Astaire had. I got this film in the Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory Warner Home Video box set. It was not a film that immediately popped out at me. In fact, I often find show-biz biographies enjoyable but they are usually not feel-good films.

This film has a refreshing and ingenuitive quality of both a bouncy romantic musical comedy and a potent story of a journey through success. Fred Astaire does not have as many dance numbers in the film but those that he does have are immensely graceful and energetic and done with complete expertise (Mr. Astaire choreographed this film along with his partner Hermes Pan). Both Fred Astaire and Red Skelton do a decent amount of clowning and dancing but have more of a chance to display their suprisingly good acting skills when the film calls for it. This is perhaps one of the reasons Mr. Astaire thought so infinitely highly of this film as he had a rare chance to exhibit his acting qualities which can be quite meaningful in some places.

Continuing in the same realm of discussion, Mr. Skelton, known for his rare comedic abilities and impressions, gives us a thought-provoking portrayal of Harry Ruby. Shifting further gears, Mr. Astaire's lovely partner Vera Ellen and he put on quite a show. Indeed,in his autobiography "Steps in Time," Mr. Astaire stated that it was always a joy to work with her - in stark contrast to his memories of Ginger. Although Mr. Astaire did not realize it during his lifetime - and perhaps it would be quite shocking to him today to hear that - he and his most well known partner, Ginger Rogers, definitely have a good beat on screen despite all the feathers that were flying backstage - and on stage...pun intended. One could argue, indeed my mother Diana does, that the reason for their famous chemistry was due to the fact that they did not always get along. On the other hand, a counterargument could be made that this strive was not the reason for their on-screen success: Fred and Miss Rita Hayworth -whom he appeared twice with- look tremenduously moving on screen and reportedly got along fine and with the utmost ease.

The bottom line for "Three Little Words," which is really what I do now think and hopefully yet presumably always will: IT IS TERRIFIC!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack