Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Happy Trails Film Festival

Earlier this year I reported of a recent decline in cowboy film festivals. An aging fanbase was the primary cause of two conventions closing doors, scaling back on the number of fan gatherings catering a generation who grew up with heroes to aspire to such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Johnny Mack Brown. Well, it seems Dr. Fred Eichelman decided to carry the torch with the newly-formed Happy Trails Virginia Style film festival. "It was created for the purpose of celebrating the great Western films and TV shows that we loved in the past and to encourage a new crop of film makers to bring back those great days of yesteryear," Fred told me in an e-mail. "There is a hunger for the values expressed in those films and we see too seldom today."

As retired teachers, Fred and Carolyn Eichelman used many of those productions in their classrooms and found that children today are not too different from those of the past. There is an interest in quality Westerns held by all ages and Fred, along with a staff of volunteers, plan to pick up where two prior events succeeded. 

"We were approached last October by friends in the Roanoke Valley who had worked with us when they were much younger and remembered that we once helped run media events here that were very popular, not Western but more of a general media nature," said Fred. "It has been said the day of the Westerns are long gone and cannot be brought back. We disagree. Our title was inspired by our friend Dodie Rogers, the youngest daughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and she has been an enthusiastic supporter of this idea. This is true of all our guests."

Attending this year's event is Morgan Brittany of Dallas and Rawhide, Don Collier of High Chaparral, Geoffrey Duel of Chisum, Kathy Garver from Family Affair, Barbara Luna from The Big Valley, Jon Provost (best known as Timmy from Lassie), Rudy Ramos from The High Chaparral, and many others.

Advanced ticket sales (for those who want to purchase admission at a discount price) indicates a strong attendance and Fred already scheduled a three-day event for October 2018. 

The one-day event will be held at the Holiday Inn in Roanoke, Virginia, on October 7, 2017. For more information you can call Fred personally at 540-819-2032.

A copy of their promotional flyer can be found below. 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Treasures at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention

Next weekend marks the 12th annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, held at the Hunt Valley Delta Hotel on Shawan Road. Thousands of people show up every year from all over the country, and a number from Canada, Finland, France, Belgium, England and Australia. For three days film buffs can sit in a dark room and watch vintage movies and television programs -- many never seen in decades. (This year's offering includes the unaired 1949 television pilot for You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx.) Throughout the day there are slide show seminars conducted by magazine editors, museum curators, authors, historians and other experts. This year's highlight is a presentation on the history of Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 1960s by the curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum. 

The two highlights of the event, however, are Hollywood celebrities signing autographs for fans, who take time to pose for photos as well. This year's celebrities include Patrick Duffy, Shirley Jones, Dawn Wells, Paul Petersen, Cindy Williams, Gary Conway, Larry Storch, Erik Estrada, Larry Wilcox, Olivia d'abo, and Bond girls, among others. Fans line up to get their autograph. Photos appear on Facebook doubling as bragging rights to their Facebook friends. Last year Robert Conrad (of Wild, Wild West fame) was so popular the autograph line was four hours long outside the hotel all day. 

The other highlight are the vendor rooms where more than 100 vendors set up to sell vintage merchandise and collectibles. Every year I tell myself I will not spend more than $100 in the vendor room but I always exceed that number. Too many good bargains. The variety is so diverse that attendees have been quoted of saying, "I spent too much money here. There is so much good stuff." And the prices are beyond reasonable.

In past years I was able to find a movie poster from 1954 promoting Creature from the Black Lagoon in almost mint condition. The poster was linen backed to ensure all of the creases would no longer show (standard at the time as all movie posters were mailed out to movie theaters and folded and placed into envelopes). Linen backed posters add value as it makes sure the poster will stay in superb condition and not worsen over time. The vendor was asking $600, I bought it for $400. 

As a fan of The Lone Ranger, I found myself collecting all of the hardcover novels and comic books. Not counting the comic books produced today by Dynamite, there were almost 200 Lone Ranger comics published. I am missing four of them to complete my collection. Crossing fingers, I will be able to find them this coming weekend. Of the 18 hardcover novels, the last three are the most difficult to find. The early novels in the series were reprinted many times but towards the end, the final three received only one printing. Thus the average price for a Lone Ranger hardcover book is $5. Those last three sell for anywhere from $40 to $80. I stuck gold when I came across one of them, The Lone Ranger and the Code of the West, for $40. 

Books without dust jackets are cheap in price. Find any Lone Ranger hardcover novel with the original dust jacket and the price goes up -- based on the condition of the dust jacket. I have never seen any Lone Ranger hardcover novel sell for less than $20 and that was with a dust jacket in poor condition. The dust jacket for Code of the West was in great condition. $40 was a bargain. (And yes, I have since read the novel.)

As a collector of Amos and Andy merchandise from the 1930s, I was shocked to discover a vintage advertisement for the two RKO cartoons based on the popular radio program of the same. Not colorful, I give you that, but it was something I did not have. The vendor had a ton of these vintage type advertisements, all originals, for $5 each. All in plastic sleeves.

I know for a fact that vendors this year will be offering old-time radio shows on CD for $1 a piece, bookshelf albums of OTR for half the retail price printed on the insert sleeve, discounted pricing for newly-published books, glossy photographs of old movies for $3 each, and comic books for as cheap as .50 cents. Keep mind there is a reason why some items will be offered at $3 and similar items for $10, based on condition and the specifics of the item itself. But enough about the treasures I have purchased over the years. If you live within driving distance of Baltimore, Maryland, and want to spend an afternoon with thousands of people who share a common interest, consider attending the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention on September 14, 15 or 16. A website link is enclosed below for your convenience, along with a dozen photos of some cool merchandise available at past shows.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Guardians (2017) Movie Review

It was bound to happen. With all these superhero movies someone in another country was going to create one of their own. In this case: Russia. 

Friends of mine and I were privy to a screening of The Guardians, a Russian science-fiction film that is clearly a rip-off of Marvel's The Avengers. Released theatrically in February, the action flick with a $5 million budget turned out to be more impressive than some of the $100 million Hollywood blockbusters produced today. During the cold war, an organization called "Patriot" created a super-hero squad, which included members of multiple soviet republics. For years these heroes had to hide their identities but when a powerful super-human threatened world domination, they joined forces to combat the threat. The Guardians met with strongly negative critical reception in Russian media but I suspect the movie may receive better reviews here in the United States. Fan boys of superhero movies will delight in the creativity of the battle sequences and top-notch special effects. Regardless of what the critics say, a sequel has been commissioned by Turbo Films, as a co-production company for the next picture.

When I watch a movie I usually ask for one of two things. Entertain me or impress me. The Guardians was entertaining and many times I was impressed. This is saying a lot compared to the junk Hollywood routinely puts out every year.

Sure, there were plot holes. How does the wolf man regain his pants after he transforms back into human form? Really, where did the pants come from? Suspension of disbelief was applied multiple times and one couldn't wonder if Yogi Bear went on a rampage when the wolf man started using a gatling gun... give that bear a picnic basket, for pete's sake!

Apparently there are two versions of this movie floating about in collector hands. One with English subtitles but the syntax with computer translation calls for a few unintentionally funny moments. The other is English dubbed. My review copy contained subtitles simply because I prefer subtitles with any foreign film. Each to their own.

You can watch the movie trailer here:

The movie gets released officially on DVD in September. You can probably watch it on Amazon Prime or rent the disc from Netflix or Redbox. Everyone I know who watched the film is split: half love it and the other half shake their heads. You may not have heard of this movie until today but mark my words: I predict The Guardians to become a franchise that will steadily grow in the coming years with multiple sequels. Give this one a try and let me know what you think.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Porky Pig Makes a Comeback

Contradicting Porky Pig, “That's NOT all, folks!” The first cartoon superstar to come from Warner Brothers (unless you count Bosko), was everyone's favorite pantless porcine, Porky Pig. It seems the pig is making a comeback, according to Jerry Beck, who announced the other day that a five-disc set is going to be released on September 19, containing all 101 Porky Pig cartoons. This means we get the opportunity to visit 99 black-and-white Looney Tunes (and two Technicolor Merrie Melodies) with bonus extras. The cartoons will be presented in chronological order, with key commentaries by noted animation scholars (including Beck).

This box set is a dream come true for fans of Looney Tunes. By account 61 of these 101 cartoons have never been released on VHS, DVD or BluRay. “Porky’s Aunt” and “Africa Squeaks” will be uncut and uncensored. Many of these cartoons have never aired on television in decades. The picture quality will be superb. And in anticipation of high consumer demand, initial pre-purchase orders placed this week and next will be shipped via traditionally manufactured (pressed) discs and not the DVD-R format Warner Archive has been offering for years.

One could be picky and say that three are missing of the 104, but those three are more Duffy Duck cartoons than Porky Pig cartoons. But here’s the plus side to the news: this opens the door for another cartoon set from Warners, a complete Daffy Duck collection. But quoting Jerry Beck, “Support of this collection will signal to the company that fans of classic animated films still wish to buy collections on physical home media. Its success will fuel further, more ambitious projects.” So do yourself a favor and click the link below and buy your set today. Right now. This will send a message to the studios that we want more.

I bought four. Three for gifts this Christmas.