SEATTLE – Dalton Trumbo was one of the biggest names in screenwriting who for the longest time wasn’t allowed to show his name on the screen. He won two Oscars, but wasn’t allowed to step onto the stage.
At the peak of his career in 1947, he was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about communists in Hollywood films. Like other screenwriters before the HUAC, he refused to answer the questions. Their decision to not name names got them blacklisted in the industry and sent to prison. After nearly a year behind bars, Dalton secretly returned to screenwriting. He used fake names and front writers on various project. It wasn’t till 1960 when his name accompanied Exodus and Spartacus that the blacklist was broken.
Trumbo is a documentary about the writer that was originally a play written by his son Christopher Trumbo. The play had actors reading the letters written by Dalton over the course of his plight. The documentary was also written by Christopher as it mixed the letters with vintage with Dalton. Actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, Donald Sutherland and Michael Douglas read the letters of Dalton. It is a testimony to a man who survived and allowed his talent to shine in the darkest of hours.
I had a chance to swap questions via email with Christopher Trumbo about his father, the film (which is just out on DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment) and Christopher’s own career as a screenwriter that included Ironside and Quincy.
Party Favors: How were royalty payments worked out when your father was writing under pen names? Or did they not have them at that time?
Christopher Trumbo: Writers didn’t receive residuals until 1960 or 1961; after the WGA went on strike in 1960.
PF: How did you feel about the experience of showing Trumbo at Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival?
Trumbo: I was enormously pleased with the film’s reception at the Full Frame Festival, all the more so because of Elizabeth Edwards’ introduction. The festival itself was a delight, I was treated better than I deserve, and Durham seemed a charming town.
PF: What was the most unusual thing you learned about your father while working on the documentary?
Trumbo: I don’t think I learned anything new about my father from working on the documentary. But I always learn from the actors who read the letters. Each of them, and there have been many by this time if you include those who associated themselves with the play, brings a unique sensibility that continually adds to my knowledge.
PF: Did you feel closer to your father during the process of making the film than when he was around?
Trumbo: No. But the film and the play focused my attention on trying to give as accurate a picture of him as I could to everyone associated with the production. Not only who he was or why he did one thing rather than another, but how the events of his life were tied together and the evolution of his ideas.
PF: Do you think you’ve figured out all the films he worked on under fake names?
Trumbo: No, and I don’t think anyone will. In the end, it’s not that important. Remember, he worked on many films he wouldn’t have been associated with had he not been blacklisted and sometimes desperate for a job.
PF: What did you think of Ann Coulter attempting to buff up the image of Joe McCarthy?
Trumbo: I suppose it keeps her busy, and that’s not a bad thing. The world is filled with opportunities for mischief.
PF: Do you find it ironic that your father won for The Brave One and Roman Holiday, but didn’t get to collect his Oscars, but Ring Lardner Jr. got to pick up the Oscar for MASH when he admitted that not a single line he wrote in the script made it to the screen?
Trumbo: Ring received the Oscar for “MASH” after he had become “un-blacklisted,” so there is really no comparison with “The Brave One” and “Roman Holiday.” Mike Wilson and Carl Foreman also received Oscars posthumously, in their case for “Bridge Over the River Kwai.”
For reasons that I am sure are clear to the Academy those Oscars were never alluded to or presented on television at Academy’s annual award ceremonies where sleek golden statuettes are bestowed upon the chosen, or in some cases to a surviving relative of the intended recipient if there has been a death.
The Academy did sponsor public ceremonies for blacklisted writers where Oscars changed hands, but the occasions were of a quiet nature, the kind of ceremony that appears to be reserved for screenwriters who wrote clandestinely. The fact that Academy changed its rules at one point in the 1950s to make sure that a blacklisted writer would not receive one of its awards may have something to do with its later reluctance to acknowledge the achievements of blacklisted writers in the same way they would recognize any other writer. Second class ceremonies for Trumbo, Wilson and Foreman.
PF: Do you think it was fair for the Academy to remove Ian McLellan Hunter’s name from the Oscar for Roman Holiday?
Trumbo: The Academy has its own rules. I don’t believe that fairness has anything to do with its considerations.
PF: What was it like establishing yourself as a screenwriter? Did your father’s name help or hurt during meetings? Did it give you a good sense of what sort of people you were dealing with?
Trumbo: To tell the truth, I’m not sure that my father’s name helped or harmed me. Maybe some of each, but if so my guess is they balanced each other out.
PF: When you wrote on Ironside, did you keep having to worry how you’d get the wheelchair into the locations since it was before they made buildings handicap accessible?
Trumbo: Ironside was much too clever to let lack of wheelchair access stop him from seeing justice done. His assistants, by the way, were quite nimble.
PF: What was it like working on the script for Quincy? Did they provide the scientific research? Did you get to write, “That’s tantamount to murder?”
Trumbo: Neither the network, the studio, or the people working on “Quincy” provided me or my co-writer, Jeff Freilich, any scientific research. We did it all ourselves.
I can’t imagine writing tantamount in dialog except as a possible rhyme for catamount, and then only if the character is reciting a limerick.
PF: Have you seen people change their opinion of your father after seeing the film?
Trumbo: I don’t know if anyone has changed their mind about my father as a result of seeing the film, and if they have, I haven’t been told. I’m certain there are people who had never heard of Trumbo who now have an opinion of him, and what that opinion is remains a mystery to me.
CHILD LABOR LAWS
In an attempt to cash in on using my offspring as a stepping stone to a Ryan Seacrest produced reality show; here’s the start of a series called, “Things I Can Tell My Daughter While She Hasn’t A Clue What I’m Saying.” Today’s topic is Disney films.
I’m ready to party with Michael Lohan and Jon Gosselin.
This geezer tells me that he no longer watch the NFL games on TV because they cut away at halftime to the studio for game updates instead of showing 12 minutes of cheerleaders entertaining the crowd. I didn’t have a heart to tell the oldtimer that halftime at NFL games isn’t that exciting and doesn’t involve cheerleaders doing high school level routines. Got to let the man die with a fantasy intact.
The goal of any sports franchise at halftime is to get your ass in line for another two overpriced cups of beer. Entertainment detracts from that circle of cash. Although at Bengals-Browns games, halftime is when they have suicide prevention counselors next to the urinals.
BEAM ME UP 1080P
Star Trek - The Original Series: Season 2 Blu-ray gives us high definition transfers of the show with both the original effects and new CGI enhanced effects as options. You can choice if you want old school Trek or cyber school images. The second season (of three seasons) is memorable for one major reason: Tribbles! Those cute fuzzy balls of joy appear in “The Trouble with Tribbles.” The disc also contains the Tribble episodes from the animated cartoon series and Deep Space Nine. “Amok Time” has Spock returning to Vulcan to mate. Except it’s more complicated there than a bottle of Jack Daniels and a copy of Roxy Music’s Avalon. “Mirror, Mirror” puts Kirk into an alternate universe where the Enterprise crew are out of control. “Patterns of Force” takes the crew to a Nazi planet. “Bread and Circuses” switches it up to a Roman planet. Not to be confused with “Who Mourns for Adonais?” with an alien thinking he’s a Greek god. It’s a fine 26 episodes on the second season. The best bonus feature is “Billy Blackburn’s Home Movies.” He was the silent crewman who filled in for Sulu on the bridge. Turns out he had plenty of duties on the show playing monsters and aliens, but still had time to break out his movie camera to gets glimpses of the show. The remastered high-def image is space age superiority when compared to the old DVDs. This is the ultimate version of Star Trek: Season 2 that should sit on your TV next to your Klingon to Vulcan Dictionary. The Season 3 Blu-ray is scheduled for Dec. 15.
The Hannibal Lecter Collection Blu-ray gives us the first three films featuring everyone’s favorite cannibalistic shrink in 1080p glory. Manhunter was Michael Mann’s attempt to bring the Miami Vice style to the world of Cinemascope. The camera angles are sleek and the soundtrack dominates the action. William Petersen (C.S.I.) is the FBI profiler brought back into action to hunt down a serial killer who kills families. Petersen’s technique is to get into the head of the killer. This takes him into dark places. He gets a little assistance from Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) in hunting down a serial killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan ofMonster Squad). The big finale is all timed to Iron Butterfly’s “Inna Gadda Da Vida”. Silence of the Lambs is the Oscar standard for serial killer films. Nearly 2 decades later, the interaction between Jodie Foster’s FBI agent and Anthony Hopkins’ version of Lector is thrilling. Ted Levine (Monk) is peerless as the Jame Gumb torturing Brooke Smith (Weeds). Keep an eye out for the legendary Tracey Walter (Repo Man) and Charles Napier (Squidbillies). Hannibal lets Anthony Hopkins take Hannibal on a tasting tour of Italy. Julianne Moore takes over Jodie Foster’s role. This is a semi-love story where Ray Liotta gets served like monkey brains. The transfers on all three films look great. There are no bonus features so don’t dump your DVDs if you upgrade.
Child’s Play Blu-ray reminds us why it’s not good for cops to shoot down killers inside toy stores. In this case, the killer transfers his evil soul into the body of a Chucky doll. And this little creeping plastic boy is ready to continue life-taking. He wants to put his soul into his new owner. This is what spurred the long running series. There’s loads of bonus features and a DVD copy for you to let the kids watch in the back of the mini-van. It’s a great way to get them to shut up about going to Toys-R-Us.
Wrong Turn -Blu-ray reminds America why under all circumstance, there is no good short cut that involves cutting through West Virginia. Two cars make the wrong turn and end up wrecking in the middle of nowhere in the backwoods mountains. You’d figure this could be a cute romance with Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under) working his magic on Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse) and Emmanuelle Chriqui (Sloan on Entourage). But before this can turn into a Cinema After Dark masterpiece, a pack of mutant cannibalistic hillbillies attack them. Why do these toothless wonders have to interrupt the love? This film reminds us why it’s best to take the long way to Raleigh, North Carolina. Amongst the bonus features is a commentary track with Dushku contributing.
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End - Blu-ray takes us back into the West Virginia hills. This time Henry Rollins is the host of a survivalist reality competition show. He drags six kids into the wilderness with the quest of seeing which one can thrive. However mutant cannibal hillbillies aren’t part of the pre-production schedule. Did the PAs remember to get model release forms signed by the hillbillies? Shame there aren’t more reality shows that mix their cast with inbred cannibal hillbillies. This would be great upgrade for Hell’s Kitchen. The bonus features allow us to study the thespian techniques of Henry Rollins.
Misery - Bluray is also another warning tale involving evil people you can encounter in the mountains. However instead of an inbred cannibal, writer James Caan encounters uber-fan Kathy Bates when she saves him from a snowy wreck. While he recovers at her house, she gets a sneak peak at his upcoming novel. She’s doesn’t like his latest plot twist and decides to give him attitude adjustment involving a lighter fluid and sledgehammers. Bates won the Oscar for being the ultimate psycho fan and she’s extra creepy in Hi-Def. They include the DVD version as a bonus. It contains all the special features including several pieces on stalking fans. There’s a commentary track from Rob Reiner.
The Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection contains 13 of the icon’s finer screen moments. The set includes The Long, Hot Summer, Rally ’round the Flag, Boys!, From the Terrace, Exodus, The Hustler, Adventures of a Young Man, What a Way to Go!, Hombre, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Towering Inferno, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, Quintet and The Verdict. Has it really been a year since Newman passed away? He was one of finest actors, a fun race car driver and a great salad dressing chef. His best three films in this box set are The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Verdict. Although for pure dumb fun, put on The Towering Inferno. He’s the architect of a skyscraper that catches fire because of cheap wiring. It’s up to Newman, Steve McQueen and O.J. Simpson to save the party in the penthouse. One thing you’ll realize after a few of these films is that Paul Newman knew how to act with a drink in his hand. This collection goes perfect with a bag of Newman’s Own popcorn.
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto allows Rob Zombie to bring motion to his outrageous comic creations. The main hero is a Mexican wrestler who has branched out to making adult films and fighting Dr. Satan (voiced by Paul Giamatti). Turns out the ultimate in evil is going to marry Rosario Dawson. Superbeasto doesn’t care too much, but superheroine Suzi X (Sheri Moon Zombie) makes it her business while she’s fighting nazi zombies. It’s kind of like an Adult Swim project except with tons of female nudity. They have plenty of great actors contributing voices including Clint Howard, Sid Haig, Geoffrey Lewis, Laraine Newman, Danny Trejo and Elvira. Unfortunately there’s no bonus feature of them in the vocal booth. They do have moments that didn’t make the cut.
Taxi: The Fourth Season finally arrives after four years since the release of Season 3. Talk about a slow cab ride. This is the series that launched the career of Jeff Conaway into Celebrity Rehab stardom. This season he pops up until he’s completely written out. Who needs him when you’ve got Tony Danza? “Jim the Psychic” has Christopher Llyod (Back to the Future) swear he sees the death of Judd Hirsch. Part of the vision come true enough to spook Danny Devito that his favorite cabbie is going to bite it. “Vienna Waits” has Judd and Marilou Henner take a B-roll tour of Europe. Will their vacation lead to a romantic getaway? Or will Judd be a big tool? A slight warning that there are a few musical moments clipped. A guitarist song to Henner on the airplane is grounded. The 24 episodes have plenty of laugh worthy moments especially with the antics of Andy Kaufman as Latka. The fifth (and final) season is scheduled for Dec. 22
Mitch Fatel Is Magic: Live, Extended & Uncensored brings us the dirty Rain Man of comedy. Mitch has nailed the man-child voice without it being irritating. His observations about sex, oral sex, breasts and sex with animals are disturbing and on target. The Oral sex with closed eyes routine has been proven true by medical science. “The handjob is the ugly stepsister of all the jobs,” he declares. He’s like a third grader explaining sex on the playground if the kid figured out how to get past his parents’ web-block program on the computer. He mentions how finding out his date had sex with a horse would be a bit of a bump in establishing a relationship. Unlike the short Comedy Central special, the DVD performance is 65 minutes without any bloopers. And what’s the point of missing out on Mitch discussing golden showers? For those fearful of comedy magic - it’s just one trick at the start. The bonuses on the DVD include cut jokes including his Christian Bale moment, animated version of his matching bra and panties joke and fans testifying to Mitch being a pervert. This is the perfect gift to send the Duggar family.
The Ghost Whisperer: The Fourth Season brings us more Jennifer Love Hewitt talking to dead people. This is a big season since Jennifer’s Melinda ends up marrying Jim Clancy (David Conrad). Even on their honeymoon, she can’t stop seeing ghosts. Which is strange since most honeymooners don’t see what’s on the other side of their hotel room door. She also gets knocked up. The scary season finale has her discover the date of her death is her due date. Is it a spoiler if CBS is advertising a fifth season is going on the air with Jennifer? Bonus features include the webisodes, interactive games a tribute to Jamie Kennedy joining the show as Eli James. In case you don’t read People Magazine, Kennedy is Jennifer’s boyfriend. Guess he’s getting career advice from Tom Arnold.
Friday 13th The Series: The Final Season gives us the last 19 episodes of the syndicated series that ended in 1990. Not to give away any secrets, but Jason Voorhees doesn’t make a cameo in the final episode. The show has Louise Robey and Steve Monarque running around the country retrieving evil items sold from an evil antiques store. The series was shot in Canada so the guest stars are probably more famous for readers in Toronto. “Crippled Inside” is an early break for Dean McDermott before he made a career out of shagging Tori Spelling. “Year of the Monkey” has Tia Carrera (Wayne’s World). Colm Feore (Slings and Arrows) proves he’s “Mightier Than the Sword.” The final episode “The Charnel Pit” has Robey fall through a painting and meet the Marquis de Sade. She gets laced up and ready for a flogging.
Director Brett Ratner The Shooter Series: Volume 1 is the backstory to the man who took the helm of the Rush Hour films. This is a collection of his music videos and commercials. Among the videos are Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph” and LL Cool J’s “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed By Buildings.” Now that’s a title of a song that always needs to get referenced in reviews of NCIS: Los Angeles. Ratner provide commentary to all the projects. A 33 minute documentary is a celebrity testimonial to his talent. Best moment is him showing Jessica Simpson how to strut around the General Lee in her “Boots Were Made For Walking” video.
Triangle brings together a threesome of legendary Hong Kong directors on one project. Johnny To (The Heroic Trio), Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China) and Ringo Lam (City On Fire) each wrote and directed a 30 minute segment of the film. Three men desperately in need of cash get involved in a robbery scheme that turns into a treasure map. It gets good and twisted when a shady cop banging one of their wives muscles his way into the action. There’s plenty of action on the screen from this trio.
Fame: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 tones down the movie about the high school for the performing arts. It’s still a drama about talented high school students that want to perform, but they’re not merely as messed up as real art school kids. Debbie Allen is the dance instructor that stirs the pot. Benjamin Hague is the music teacher who wants to get these kids to reach deep down for their art although he doesn’t like synths. Gene Anthony Ray is the dancer who must overcome his educational deficiencies to keep learning how to move. It’s a nice primer for anyone thinking they should apply to an art school. The first 38 episodes on 8 single-sided DVDs.
Brotherhood: The Final Season wraps up the Showtime series about two powerful brothers in Rhode Island. Tommy is a moving up fast in state government. Mike is also making a power grab in the local crime world. The show has a gritty real feel like The Wire. Unfortunately it never quite grabbed the cult love which explains why it only got 8 episodes in its farewell lap. Luckily all three seasons are now on DVD so you can rediscover it on your own time.
Life On Mars: The Complete Series adapts the Manchester sci-fi cop drama to the gritty streets of New York City in 1973. They did a good job in the casting of the US version with Jason O’Mara as Detective Sam Tyler, Harvey Keitel as Lt. Gene Hunt, Michael Imperioli as Det. Ray Carling and Gretchen Mol as Annie Norris. In case you haven’t seen the original, while on a case in 2008, Sam Tyler gets knocked out. He wakes up and it’s 1973. He can’t figure out if this is a coma dream or if he really went through a slip in time. He has to keep up his job as a cop, but he no longer has modern crime fighting tools like cellphones and the internet. He’s at the mercy of Keitel, a cop who likes to beat out confessions. There’s constant hints that something is weird as Sam sees little robots and hears voices from the future. The show was just a little bit too weird for American audiences and lasted only 17 episodes. A bonus feature here has Lee Majors visiting the cast. How will Michael Imperioli’s mustache react to meeting the Six Million Dollar Man?
CSI NY: The Fifth Season brings us more criminal tales from the rotten core of the Big Apple. “Veritas” has Gary Sinise being found after being kidnapped at the end of last season. However he can’t be much help since a concussion has made him forget what happened. Elias Koteas (Crash and Exotica) guest stars so you know trouble is around the corner. “Page Turner” has a woman turn up dead at a Maroon Five concert. Coincidentally, the only reason I’d be at a Maroon Five concert is because someone killed me and dumped my body in the cheap seats. You wouldn’t sniff a corpse in the crowd with their crap coming out of the speakers. “My Name is Mac Taylor” has a serial killer taking victims who have the same name as Gary Sinise’s character. “Forbidden Fruit” has a woman die after eating the latest miracle fruit. Did Oprah and Dr. Oz promote this episode? There’s 25 episodes this season.
Ugly Betty: The Complete Third Season wraps up what might be the end of the Ugly era. Rumor has it that the next season America Ferrera is getting a makeover on scale with The Devil Wears Prada. For this season, we get a little taste of crazy with Lindsay Lohan as a guest star. Seems like she was supposed to last a little longer in the role, but she drove the producers nuts. I’m shocked. Supposedly she was more out of control than her back biting character who uses and abuses Betty. As a bit of a rest, they also cast the always charming Bernadette Peters (The Jerk). She still looks great after all these years.
Castle: The Complete First Season has all 10 episodes of the mid-season replacement series. The premise has Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) being a famous crime writer who gets called by the NYPD when a serial killer is copy-cat killing based on his novels. He hooks up with Det. Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) to follow the case. He starts to work on his next book with a fictionalized version of her as his new lead character. The show harkens back to Remington Steele in tone and chemistry between the two leads. There’s also a Rockford Files vibe since Stephen J. Cannell cameos. A bonus feature lets Cannell take center stage.
The Hills Run Red claims that in 1982 the original version of The Hills Run Red was released and quickly pulled from theaters because it was just too disgusting. The prints were destroyed and the cast vanished. This movie is about the mystery of that movie. Did it really exist? Young filmmaker Tad Hilgenbrinck can’t stop investigating it. His main lead is Sophie Monk. She’s dancing in a stripclub. Unlike Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body, Sophie drops her top while shaking it in the champagne room. She guides Tad and his friends out to the rural location of the film. Turns out her co-star is still on the scene. The bloodbath continues since someone wants to make a sequel. There’s a 28 minute behind the scene documentary to remind us this was all just a film, although it’s still a very gory film.
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