Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it's hard to think about anything else. My heart goes out to the victims of this devastating disaster. For people who who want to help with Hurricane Relief efforts, here's information about two organizations to contact:

If you wish to donate cash, go to the Red Cross disaster relief fund at , call 1-800-HELPNOW or send a contribution to your local Red Cross chapter. Potential volunteers should also contact their local Red Cross chapters. The Salvation Army is another group that's helping out. For cash donations or volunteering, call 800-725-2769.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Gilliam's Grimm Brothers

I have a love/hate relationship with filmmaker Terry Gilliam. His acclaimed “Brazil” left me cold, earning a spot on my worst-movies-ever-made list. On the other hand, his “12 Monkeys” held me spellbound, and I think the quirky art work he created for the Monty Python television shows is pure genius. I also admire Gilliam for allowing a documentary to be made concerning the disasters he faced while trying to complete his film version of Don Quixote. The title of that wonderful documentary is “Lost in La Mancha.” If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check out the DVD.

“The Brothers Grimm,” Gilliam’s latest movie, falls somewhere in between “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys” on my personal rating scale. It boasts originality in terms of depicting the famous fairy tale writers as “ghostbuster”-like con men back in the mid-18th century, but falters in presentation of a cohesive plot and people we care about. Although Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, who play the Grimm siblings, are among my favorite actors, they spend most of their time here running around in a frenzy of overacting. They remind me of Abbott and Costello, only with two Costellos.

Despite a clever attempt to include characters from the Grimms' fairy tales (i.e. Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel), “The Brothers Grimm” lacks two essential elements of good storytelling -- focus and heart.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Long Story Short School of Writing

Taking advantage of online technology, a new writing school will open its cyberspace doors and begin classes on October 5. The Long Story Short School of Writing is dedicated to helping students fine tune their skills and start building their professional careers. Students will have the opportunity to post, read and critique one another’s assignments on an interactive board while working closely with instructors who are seasoned professionals. The registration deadline is September 28.

For more details, go to

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Good Bye, Gonzo

Johnny Depp, who portrayed Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” funded a final big party for the famous, or infamous, gonzo journalist. And it was a blast. On Saturday, August 20, Thompson’s ashes were packed into a 150-foot cannon in Woody Creek, Colorado, and shot off into space, just as he requested before his suicide earlier this year.

No one wrote more colorfully and personally about the counterculture and politics than Hunter S. Thompson. Thanks to “Breakfast with Hunter,” an impressive documentary directed by Wayne Ewing, we have a unique visual record of this sometimes outlandishly childish but always provocative man who remains one of the most memorable writers of the 20th century.

To me, the most impressive scene in “Breakfast with Hunter” takes place when Hunter stands up for his artistic integrity against two people who are assigned to make his classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” into a major motion picture. They want to use animation in one part of the film; Hunter objects strongly. He can’t bear the thought of anyone turning his work into a cartoon and practically throws the two out of his house. I don’t remember when I’ve seen a more engrossing verbal confrontation on film.

For more information or to order Wayne Ewing’s documentary, go to

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

EXPO Extraordinaire

Films can take us to times and places we would otherwise never have the opportunity to see and experience. “EXPO – Magic of the White City” is that kind of enlightening journey -- and it’s also great fun.

Leave it to Mark Bussler to create a documentary that makes us feel we’ve actually attended the incredible 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. This talented filmmaker presents a “sensory explosion of sight and sound” here as he explores the world of the late 19th century through a cinematic visit to Chicago’s famous exposition. Caringly narrated by Gene Wilder, it’s a memorable visit indeed.

“EXPO” helps us understand the immensity and significance of this historic extravaganza. It was the biggest World’s Fair ever held, and many of the world’s greatest achievements in art, architecture, science, technology and culture were unveiled there. The temporary buildings boasted white marble columns like those seen in Rome, hence the name “White City.” Among the Fair’s 28 million visitors were Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, and L. Frank Baum -- all four of whom gained inspiration for future projects by attending this amazing exposition.

Although countries from around the world seemed happy to send exhibitions to an Expo devoted to “peace and progress,” it wasn’t long before some of these same nations were fighting each other in a great war. Nevertheless, this 1893 World’s Fair demonstrated U.S. optimism, even during a time rife with internal labor struggles, economic panic, racism and immigration problems.

“EXPO – Magic of the White City” is scheduled for DVD release on September 13, 2005. For more information, go to

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Wizard of Oz

I’m shocked! Premiere Magazine lists my beloved “The Wizard of Oz” among its 20 Most Overrated Movies of All Time in its latest issue. No way is this classic overrated.

To me, Judy Garland’s unforgettable interpretation of Dorothy Gale makes MGM’s 1939 version of L. Frank Baum’s popular fairy tale even more than just a great movie. In one of the most heartwarming film performances ever, Garland tenderly embodies the universal longing for a happy home and good friends. Her haunting "Over the Rainbow" lingers in my memory like no other Hollywood musical number. Thank heavens filmmakers changed their minds about cutting that song from the finished production. What a treat to see and hear the great Garland in her peak performance!

MGM re-released “The Wizard of Oz” in 1949 and again in 1955. In 1956, the movie received its initial television broadcast and, since 1959, has become a yearly television event -- which probably makes it one of the most-viewed motion pictures of all time. It’s almost impossible to believe this splendid movie was created over 60 years ago. Despite so many advances in special effects since then, nothing today on film quite matches its glory and wonder for me -- from its glittering Emerald City, menacing tornado, and giant talking Wizard-head to those sparkling Ruby Slippers.

Truly, “The Wizard of Oz” is an enduring masterpiece.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

There's Something About Penguins

“In some ways this is a story of survival, of life over death,” says Morgan Freeman about “March of the Penguins,” a riveting documentary from Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic. “But it’s more than that. It’s a story of love.”

Listening to Freeman’s soothing voice as he narrates this stunning film provides a bit of warmth to its icy cold Antarctic setting where Emperor penguins struggle to live and love under unimaginable conditions. For thousands of years, these beautiful creatures have carried on a breeding ritual that involves hiking 70 miles to a nesting ground. Once there, each penguin finds a mate and engages in a touching courtship. When the egg is ready, the mother and father both share in its care. And they take turns hiking back and forth to the sea for food until the penguin chicks are ready to strike out on their own. All this takes place against a backdrop of ice, snow and frequent blizzards

ReelTalk critic Donald Levit writes, “Against this vast whiteness that strangely appears all horizontal with scant verticality, the elemental drama plays out annually. Amazing, but true. The story is quiet, but the process and mere fact of species survival is majestic.”

I think “majestic” is a good way to describe “March of the Penguins.” But I would also add “spellbinding” and “enlightening.” This is a terrific film for the entire family.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Much Ado About Books

Mark your calendar for Monday, September 12. That’s the beginning date for a new book talk radio show hosted by The Romance Club (TRC) founder and author Laura Mills-Alcott, who promises that “Much Ado About Books” will be a fast-paced, fun and entertaining listening experience. Broadcast on the Voice America Network every Monday at 4 p.m. EST, Laura’s show will feature guest authors, book recommendations, new releases, book club selections, advice about romance, on-air contests and movie recommendations (by yours truly).

For more information, go to