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PCR #318. (Vol. 7, No. 17) This edition is for the week of April 24--30, 2006.
Mike's RantMike's Bust
Hello gang! A short one this week. Raise your hand if you want to hear about my trip to Minnesota. Higher! That's better. Shall we begin?

"United 93"  by Mike Smith
Clash of the Titans  by Mark Terry
Neil Young's Chrome Dreams  by Terence Nuzum
Fantastic Voyage....There's No Need To Fear....When You're Hot You're Hot....Uh, Guys, It's Only A Movie....My Favorite Films -- Part 17: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"  by Mike Smith
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"Are you nervous?"

In the days heading up to what would be the most important gathering of my life, that was the question I heard most. "Not at all," I'd reply. The truth was that I wouldn't allow myself to be nervous. If I really took the time to contemplate my journey, a journey 45 years in the making, I was afraid that I'd be overwhelmed.

Some brief history: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in September 1960 and given up for adoption by my birth mother. I was adopted in January 1963. My parents never hid from me the fact that I was adopted. Because of my adoption, I never had my original birth certificate. My adoption papers did note that my name at birth was Jeffrey Gammello, but that was all. Because the copy I had was lost in a house fire, in 1982 I requested and received from the state of Ohio another copy of my adoption papers. However, attached to the document was a copy of my original birth certificate, complete with mother (Rose Abrosi) and father's (Fred DeFranco) name, number of previous children (5) and the name and address of the hospital. I was curious why the father's last name and mine were different and if I really had five brothers or sisters somewhere. Over the years I would check the Cleveland phone book and, later, the internet, for a familiar name but with no success. Fast forward to a dark movie theatre in Kansas City. I'm watching the film, "Antwone Fisher," the true story of a young man I had much in common with. He, too, was born in Cleveland and given up for adoption. He too joined the service after high school. And he, too, would often look in the phone book. In the film, a chance call leads Fisher to be reunited with his family. I remember the final scene, with Fisher surrounded by his long lost family members while a large family dinner is being served. And even though I admit I was crying, I was also thinking, "yeah, right, like that really happens." Shortly after I saw the film I took another look at my birth certificate and noticed that what I thought had been the address of the hospital was actually noted as "mother's address." I sat down and composed a letter, stating who I was and why I was writing and mailed it off. It was returned a few days later by the post office. Apparently the way I had addressed it (To the Family At 4912 Tillman Avenue) made it look like a solicitation. I called the Post Office in Cleveland that serves the address and spoke to the carrier. I explained to him why I had written the letter and told him that the person I was writing would be in her late 60's. He told me that the person at the address was a younger woman who had recently purchased the house. I stuck the letter in my desk drawer. I then looked at the Cleveland phone book on line and found an address and phone number for a Debbie Gammello. I wrote the information down and stuck that, too, in my desk.

Tony and Rose GammelloFast forward almost three years to March 19, 2006. While cleaning out my desk drawer I came across the piece of paper with Debbie Gammello's information on it and stuck it on my computer monitor. A few hours later I decided to give the number a call. An answering machine picked up and I began to leave a message: "My name is Michael and I'm calling from Kansas. I was born in Cleveland in September 1960 and given up for adoption. My birth name was Jeffrey Gammello. If you...." At that point the phone picked up. A young girl's voice told me, "I think you should talk to my mom." A few moments later I met my sister, Debbie. We spoke for quite a while and I learned from her that the Gammello children (all ten of them) had at one time or another heard the story of their brother, Jeff, who had been adopted. I was the family "urban legend" come true! Later that day I spoke to brothers Dino and Joe and another sister, Kimberley. Joe, who was born in 1959, told me that one of the stories he'd heard was that he had a twin who was given up for adoption. Later I spoke with another brother, Anthony, who told me he was sure that I had lived with the family for some time and then one day I just disappeared. Soon phone numbers, email addresses and photographs were exchanged. Later that week Debbie shocked me when she told me that she had tracked down the man listed as the birth father. What I hadn't done in more then two decades she accomplished in less then a week!

More history: The marriage of Tony and Rose Gammello was one that was full of separations. In fact, they were divorced (they later remarried) at the time of my conception. Fred DeFranco was in the military and home on Christmas leave when he met my mother. He was unaware that she was divorced or that she had five kids. He returned to duty after the holidays and never saw my mother again. Tony and Rose reconciled in early 1960. My understanding is that Rose was worried that Tony would treat my differently if he wasn't my father. Because of this she placed me for adoption.

On Good Friday I traveled north to Minnesota, where my sister, Kelly and brothers Joe, Jim and Nick live. I had been invited to meet them over the Easter holiday and Debbie and Dino were flying in from Cleveland to join the gathering. Prior to my trip I had spoken to all of the children (for the record sisters Terri, Debbie, Kimberley and Kelly; brothers Anthony, Jim, Joe, Dino, Nick and Rocco) but this would be the first time we had met face to face. As I pulled into Kelly's driveway, I was suddenly hit with the realization that these people walking toward my car were MY FAMILY! Debbie and Dino were there with Kelly and her family and we exchanged hugs that seemed to last just a little bit longer then normal. We sat in the backyard and talked about the events of the past few weeks. Ironically, Kelly's mother-in-law is active in helping reunite adopted children and their birth parents. We then traveled a few more hours north to meet the rest of the family who had gathered at my brother Jim's home. Before dinner that night my brother Nick offered up a prayer. He found great meaning in the fact that this reunion occurred during the Easter holiday and commented that "today truly is a Good Friday." It certainly was.

Jason Lee has signed to provide the voice of Shoeshine Boy and his alter ego in the upcoming live action film, "Underdog." Peter Dinklage ("The Station Agent," "ELF") is already on board as Simon Barsinister.

With his first feature film, "Mission: Impossible: 3" opening next week, J.J. Abrams is one hot director. Last week rumors surfaced that he had been hired to write and direct the next "Star Trek" film, supposedly focusing on the young Kirk and Spock. In response, Abrams told Empire online that he was signed to produce the film and has an option to direct. He also said the currently storyline did not involve Kirk and Spock.

When the film "United 93" premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, one of the stars wasn't in attendance. Actor Lewis Alsamari, who plays one of the main hijackers in the film, was denied a visitor's VISA by the State Department. No reason was given for the decision.

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Cary Guffey and Francois Truffaut.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg

FIRST SEEN: Hillsborough Theatre, Tampa, Florida
FAVORITE LINE: "Mr. Neary. I envy you."
FAVORITE SCENE: Communicating with the mother ship.

  • Academy Award to Vilmos Zsigmond for Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Dillon), Best Art Direction/Set Direction,
  • Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Musical Score (John Williams), Best Sound.
  • Awarded a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing.
  • BAFTA Award to Joe Alves for Best Production Design
  • BAFTA Nominations for Music (John Williams), Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond), Direction, Picture,
  • Editing, Screenplay, Sound and Supporting Actor (Francois Truffaut)
  • Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Original Score.
  • Director's Guild of America nomination for Best Director
  • Writer's Guild of American nomination for Best Drama Written for the Screen (Steven Spielberg)
  • Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score for Motion Pictures or Television (John Williams)

    As far as I can remember, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was the first movie I stood in line for almost three hours to see. Being a fan of Spielberg's film, "Jaws," I couldn't wait to see this. When our high school drama club held a fundraiser (showings of "To Kill A Mockingbird), I talked the local film rental company into letting us run a short featurette on the making of "CE3K" prior to the shows.

    I think my fondness memory of the film came at the end. As the mothership took off, rising slowly into the stars, the words "A Steven Spielberg Film" hit the screen. All at once the sold out audience, which was sitting in stunned awe at the end of the film, broke into spontaneous applause. I remember taking my father to see it only having to explain to him that Richard Dreyfuss and Bob Balaban were two different people! A few years later, Columbia gave Spielberg money so that he could film the "special edition." To me it wasn't that special. Basically, Dreyfuss goes into the ship, the door closes and he's covered with sparkly confetti. At least that's what I got out of it. I'm happy to welcome another fan of the film, Dave Picton:

    “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”
    Review by Dave Picton (“Dave P in CT.”)

    So…how do you follow up “Jaws?”

    In Steven Spielberg’s case, the answer would be 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” a film which would reunite him with many of the cast and crew he had worked with on “Jaws”: production designer Joe Alves, casting director Shari Rhodes, composer John Williams and – most notably – actor Richard Dreyfuss, who would play the film’s central character, Roy Neary.

    “Close Encounters” (or “CE3K”) would wind up using one of the foundational elements that had provided “Jaws” with much of its magic. Like he had done with the Brody family in “Jaws,” Roy Neary and his family would be established as non-glamorous and real and from frame one. Once this ultra-believable onscreen family had been fully accepted as such by the audience, the fantastic events that would unfold throughout the rest of the film would be that much more believable, too – be it a larger-than-life killer shark or extraterrestrials that arrive in a massive mothership.

    “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” while being a science fiction film, would push the envelope of that genre just as “Jaws” had done with the horror film genre. “CE3K” would have moments of intense drama, suspense, horror, and – perhaps most importantly – humor that would give the film a constant sense of true depth and genuine warmth. Touting “We Are Not Alone” as its slogan, “CE3K” would markedly break from the typical “flying saucers” movies that had preceded it in that the aliens piloting them would not be hell-bent on annihilating earth and/or its inhabitants. While their overall objective would ultimately remain a mystery, Spielberg’s kinder-and-gentler aliens would favor benevolent curiosity over hostility and mass destruction. (Spielberg would revisit the “aliens on earth” theme again, mind you. The first would be 1982’s “E.T.” in which extraterrestrials would be ultra-friendly – and vastly more marketable – than “CE3K’s.” The second would be 2005’s remake of “War of the Worlds,” in which they would revert back to their old “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” ways.)

    “CE3K” would also wind up being one of the first films to have a “director’s cut” version – a practice now annoyingly common in the world of DVD releases. After the film’s release in 1977 (and subsequent success), Spielberg approached Columbia Pictures about filming new sequences that he had been unable to film due to time and budget constraints. The studio, in turn, insisted that they would need some sort of “hook” to lure moviegoers into actually paying to see the film a second time around. As such, one of the new scenes to be added would be one that would allow the audience to see the inside of the mothership at film’s end. Spielberg agreed and, on August 1, 1980, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition” was released.

    While viewers likely did notice the mothership “hook” shot and several other new sequences, many may not have noticed that some of the scenes from the 1977 cut had been trimmed or removed entirely from this new version. The proof was in the numbers: what had originally had a running time of 135 minutes, now only ran 132 minutes, even with the new footage added in. And while many fans of the film preferred the original 1977 cut, “The Special Edition” would wind up being the only version of the film that could be rented or purchased on videocassette for well over a decade. The only way to see the deleted scenes would either be on television (which would often show a long version of the 1977 cut with all of the “Special Edition” scenes added in) or on laserdisc. The currently available DVD marks the arrival of yet another version of “CE3K” – “The Collector’s Edition.” This cut runs 137 minutes and restores many of the scenes from the 1977 cut to the “Special Edition” – but allows the interior of the mothership to exist only within the imagination of the viewer.

    Regardless of which version one watches, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is one of Spielberg’s best films and stands alongside 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and 1977’s “Star Wars” as one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time.

    Next week I'll stay in Spielberg mode when I talk about "E T: the Extra-Terrestrial".

    Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. See ya!

    "Mike's Rant" is ©2006 by Michael A. Smith.  Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.