Friday, March 30, 2018

Ready Player One Movie Review

Ready Player One is a feast consisting of meat and potatoes for fans of media pop culture. Godzilla, Batman, Back to the Future, Tron, Freddy Krueger, Lara Kroft, Han Solo, Chucky, King Kong and many other classics of the past fill the screen in the latest film from director Steven Spielberg, whose excellent Oscar-nominated movie, The Post, hit theaters just a couple months back. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, the story is set in the dystopian future of 2045, where an energy crisis from the depletion of fossil fuels, overpopulation and economic stagnation forces people to retreat into the OASIS -- a virtual reality simulator where people jump online and interact in a Willy Wonka world of video games and interactive romance. Wade Watts, the protagonist, is one of the millions who escape into the dream world daily, discovering the creator of the OASIS hid an Easter Egg. The first person to find the egg would not only receive financial wealth, but ownership of the OASIS. The creator may be long dead, but his legacy -- and true agenda -- mimics that of Willy Wonka. Along the way, Nolan Sorrento, head of operations at Innovative Online Industries (IOI), recruits debt-indentured players to find the Easter Egg and gain control of the OASIS. World domination was never so simple, and never so challenging.

Visually, this movie is a feast for the eyes. Spielberg himself said he never devoted more time overseeing the special effects for a movie since Saving Private Ryan, and had this movie been released in late 2017, it would certainly have won a few Oscars for special effects. Choosing to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, both Spielberg and Warner Bros. decided to move the release date to March for profit over awards. The visuals are dazzling at times while some scenes (more than likely deliberate) replicate the feel of a modern-day video game. One makes me wonder, though, if video games and virtual reality will be far superior in 2045 than depicted in this movie.

The story is perfect for a modern-day blockbuster, the kind of movie one expects to get from the price of admission and a bucket of popcorn. And while most of the elements were adapted faithfully from the novel, what changes were made are necessary improvements for visual storytelling. The two flaws in this movie -- which are essential for great story-telling -- are more than likely the result of getting as much use out of the licensing that took years to iron out. The overall lesson learned by the end of the movie -- spending time outside the OASIS (a.k.a. the Internet) to develop real-world relationships -- is obvious but not emphasized through example except for slum-like cities with barely any explanation of overpopulation, pollution, corruption and climate change. 

The love interest between the two leads (Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke) lack chemistry. Yes, they kiss at the end of the movie and he professes his love early in the story, but with the exception of those three scenes, one has to wonder where was the sparkle in her eyes? Have motion-pictures ventured into such cookie-cutter formula that we now expect the leads to fall in love but the necessity of how they meet, discover an attraction and motif for running into danger for the sake of the other no longer necessary for the story?

Do not get me wrong. This is a fun film. Had the script writers, editors and Spielberg included scenes explaining the horrific "real-world" issues that led to where mankind retreats into a virtual utopia, and had the two leads built a growing admiration for the other, this movie would have been the first film of the year to whole-heartedly recommend. That being said, if you can forgive those two flaws going in, you will enjoy the film.

Loaded with Easter Eggs throughout, my wife caught The Joker, Harley Quinn, a nod to Knight Rider and another to The Breakfast Club, which I overlooked. So many pop culture references you have to watch the film multiple times to catch them all. It was amusing to see nostalgic pop-culture references such as a verbal nod to the angel Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life, two references to Rosebud from Citizen Kane, and a pleasant surprise to hear Max Steiner's music score from the 1933 classic, King Kong, when the giant ape rampages through New York in the opening street scene. 

All of which is ironic when you consider the fact that Spielberg has spent the last decade or two investing money in video games and one wonders if this movie was not just a blatant commercial for the products he profits. 

Researching Old-Time Radio

Nothing bothers me more than reading a book or magazine article that, one or two paragraphs in, I notice half a dozen errors. This usually turns me off reading the rest of the scholarly attempt, defeating the author's purpose. With respect to many of those who research old-time radio, or think they know how to research old-time radio, the following is a free 14-page PDF providing "A Primer For Researching Old-Time Radio."

A little more than seven years ago I wrote a five-part article focusing on where to find archival materials, tools of the trade, resources to use, and pitfalls to avoid. As computer and communications technology evolved, so have the methods of research, and a revision to those articles are in order. What I did was condense the information into one length article and update some of the bullet points.

Among the more important was clarification of sponsor vs. product. People look at me funny when I tell them Jell-O was never a sponsor of The Jack Benny Program. General Foods was the sponsor. Jell-O was the product. A product, an article or substance manufactured or refined for resale, cannot physically sponsor a program. Kudos to the advertising agencies that wanted radio listeners to associate the product with the program, but historian have to avoid that “trap.”

Today, a weekly check on eBay can provide -- on occasion -- obscure historical items such as contracts, inter-office memos and product tie-ins that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Of recent, a new tool for tracking down someone is Facebook. While not everyone is on Facebook, I found the daughter of a radio scribe in less than 60 seconds. We communicated and two months later I was in her barn looking over her father’s papers and photographs that gathered dust in a filing cabinet. 

Your local library probably offers ProQuest for free. This service grants you access to newspaper archives across the country. Many libraries will allow you access to ProQuest from your home computer with a library card and password/pin number. 

The iPhone/smart phone has become a researcher's best friend. Rather than pay or copy fees at the library (which can add up to hefty dollars), many libraries will allow researchers the use of the camera on their phone provided the sound and flash is turned off.

In short, this free PDF provides anyone researching old-time radio with an added benefit: what to ask a librarian before traveling out of state to an archive, clarifies the difference between a collector title and a script title, why half of the death dates listed on websites for celebrities are incorrect, and why you never want to consider anything found in a newspaper and magazine article as the gospel. 

Today, there are less than one dozen historians of old-time radio who research and publish their findings. For three of them, researching old-time radio is a full-time job. These numbers are expected to dwindle over the coming years. It is expected that, on occasion, there will be revived interest and possibly additional discoveries to be published. It is my hope that this essay will provide a primer for those newcomers. 

To view the free PDF file, click here:

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cinevent Film Festival Turns 50

This is big news. So big it will be the only blog post I make this month.

In May of 2018, thousands of classic film fans will gather in Columbus, Ohio, for the 50th consecutive year to attend the Cinevent Classic Film Convention. The convention, first held in 1969, celebrated the history of movies with screenings of dozens of movies, including silent films with live piano accompaniment, and an enormous dealers room for the buying, selling, and trading of films, movie posters, and a wide variety of other film-related merchandise.

The mid-1960s saw the beginning of classic film conventions starting with Cinecon and then followed by regional Cinecons. In 1967 and 1968, Bob Cooper, who owned Cooper’s Film Rental, held regional conventions just an hour’s drive down I-70 from Columbus in Dayton, Ohio. When he decided to not hold another convention in 1969, two of the founders of Cinevent -- John Stingley and Steve Haynes -- asked Bob if he would mind if they took over the show. With help from other members of the Columbus Cinelodeon Club, they held their first convention (not yet named Cinevent) in May of 1969 at the Neil House in downtown Columbus.

Steve Haynes, co-founder of Cinevent.

Little did they know that this first convention was the beginning of what would become an annual tradition that would span decades. It started out with just a few dozen attendees. The films were not prearranged -- people brought along films they wanted to propose showing -- and the only dealer/vendor was Bob Cooper who sold items from the back of the screening room during breaks between films. Nevertheless, the show was a hit and later in the year the crew started talking about holding another show the following year.

For the second convention, the club decided to rent a print of Harry Langdon’s The Strong Man and advertised that it would be screened at the show. Today, if you search for “Harry Langdon Strong Man” on YouTube, you will find the film in its entirety. In 1970, however, this was a hard-to-find film and Langdon was a major draw for attendees to come see it. For the second year the convention moved to Hotel Fort Hayes, another downtown Columbus venue.

It was not until the third convention, held in 1971, that the name Cinevent was used. Due to a disagreement about what qualified as a “Regional Cinecon,” the Columbus group was asked not to use that name any more. A local attorney and jazz film collector John Baker, generally considered one of the three founders of Cinevent with Stingley and Haynes, came up with several suggestions and he and Stingley and Haynes proposed Cinevent as the name for the 1971 show. Forty-seven years later, the name remains.

Throughout the 1970s, the convention quickly grew, from thirty or so people at that first show in 1969 to hundreds at the shows in the late-1970s. At some point during this time, the first official dealer’s room was set up as well. With this growth came the need to move from hotel to hotel to accommodate the larger gathering. Among the hotels Cinevent called home was a Howard Johnson’s on 161 and a Marriott on the southeast side of Columbus.

Example of movie posters and lobby cards you can find in the vendor room.

The film schedule formulated by request of the attendees, selecting specific actors and film series at certain times of the day. While a minimalistic “program book” printed for 1974’s event does list ten specific screenings, there were also nine spots for features “To Be Announced.” By 1980, only a reference to “informal screenings” before the 7pm Friday program start remained as a vestige of those early schedule-free shows. Also beginning at this time was the scheduling of Cinevent over Memorial Day weekend – a weekend that attendees could almost always count on to remember the dates of next year’s show.

Another noteworthy development from the 1970s was the addition of Art Graves, an associate of John Baker’s, as one of the convention co-chairs. Baker was older than both Stingley and Haynes and, knowing he would be retiring sooner than the other chairs, he brought Graves in to the management of the convention to help fill his eventual departure.

Leonard Maltin, guest of honor at this year's show.
Every year there are at least a dozen movies screened that have never aired on television in decades, or been released commercially on VHS or DVD. This provides attendees an opportunity to enjoy something rare. As with the 1970 screening of The Strong Man, the staff of Cinevent are proud to continue that tradition of screening hard-to-find movies. In 1981, a screening of The Black Pirates with Douglas Fairbanks was planned, but the deal to rent the print fell through and it was not until 1989 that it was screened at Cinevent. There were other notable titles shown such as the 1935 version of She, which had been thought to be lost for many years until a print turned up several years before it was shown at the 1984 convention.

The 1990s were a boom era for Cinevent with an article in Ohio state magazine, contributing to a major attendance boost, as well as a recurring nostalgic boom in the trade industry. In the middle of that decade, Morris Everett’s annual Hollywood Poster Auction started running alongside Cinevent every year and in 1999 the convention began offering Sunday morning 35mm screenings at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts – with buses hired to transport hundreds of filmgoers. The first such screening was of 1924’s PETER PAN with Betty Bronson where longtime Cinevent accompanist Dr. Philip Carli and the Flower City Society Orchestra performed Carli’s newly written score for the film. While the Sunday Wexner Center screening program only lasted for several years, the Wexner Center continues to schedule a Wednesday evening classic film double-bill to help kick off the convention.

The turn of the millennium saw more change come to Cinevent. In 2002, Art Graves stepped down as co-chairman and as he was not officially replaced, Haynes and Stingley were responsible for running the show from there. Only several years later, in early 2007, John Stingley passed away, leaving Steve Haynes as the sole surviving founder of Cinevent (Baker had died as well, in 1998.) Throughout all this, the convention kept rolling along, year after year with dozens of film screenings and its traditional enormous dealers room, packed with goodies.

The Internet helped promote the event, along with articles in the monthly Classic Images publication. It seemed like nothing to top the momentum of Cinevent until 2015, which brought a seismic shift to the convention as preparations for its 47th occurrence were under way. In late January of that year, Steve Haynes fell outside his home and went in for surgery to repair his broken leg. It was there that he discovered he had advanced-stage cancer. His son, Michael, began working on the activities needed to prepare for the convention, as did others, but there were more obstacles to come. In mid-February, the convention’s longtime hotel suddenly closed. With just over three months until the show was to be held, Cinevent had no home. Dozens of calls were placed to area hotels, trying to find a fit for the show, but between hotels that were already booked or were too small or were too expensive, finding one began to look unlikely. The convention was too large to fit into any hotel. Finally, a deal was struck with the Renaissance Downtown hotel, bringing Cinevent back to downtown Columbus for the first time in almost 40 years.

Sadly, Steve Haynes did not live to see the ultimate success of Cinevent 47, despite its many obstacles, as he died in April of 2015. The convention that year saw many tributes to the last of its founders and the attendees were delighted when new chair Michael Haynes announced that Cinevent would continue.

Cinevent signed a multi-year deal to stay at the Renaissance in 2016 and 2017. In 2017 a special screening of the recently-rediscovered print of Laurel and Hardy’s The Battle of the Century occurred and Cinevent announced that the convention would return to the same location in May 2018 for its Golden Celebration.

Already announced as part of this year’s show are screenings of Dreamboat with Ginger Rogers, Sea Spoilers with John Wayne, The King of Wild Horses featuring Charley Chase in an atypical role, and Don’t Change Your Husband with Gloria Swanson. The John Wayne film, as a perfect example, is one of five or six action films he did for Universal Studios in the early-to-mid 1930s, before he became known as a cowboy star. If you thought you saw every John Wayne film ever made, guess again. In addition to the film program and the massive dealer’s room, New York Times best-selling author Scott Eyman will be attending, as well as film critic Leonard Maltin. There will also be a reception to celebrate the milestone year, a commemorative program guide, and other special events.

Information about attending this year’s show can be found on the Cinevent website ( and you can follow their Facebook page ( for updates.

STRONG PERSONAL NOTE: If you cannot afford the expensive luxury of flying to California and attending the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival this April, consider attending Cinevent. Fifty years is a milestone and worthy of attending. You will not regret it.