Monday, December 4, 2023

Movie Review: The Boy and the Heron (Kimitachi wa dô ikiru ka)


Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and this movie shows him at the top of his game. 

This is by far one of Miyazaki's most complex films and there is no doubt that film buffs will be discussing the various allegorical meanings behind much of this movie. Yet beneath this there is just as much of the pure humanity and emotion resonance as there is in the great filmmaker's more simply works (such as My Neighbor Totoro (1988) or Kiki's Delivery Service (1990)). What makes this work so well is that before delving into the fantasy and allegorical scenes, this film takes place in our world. Specifically, World War 2 Japan, where we a young boy affected by the horrors of war, loses his mother in a fire. The emotion of these early scenes is incredibly powerful. These scenes are not always easy to watch but that is exactly what makes it hard to look away. Because of this as we enter the fantasy world, we already have a strong emotional attachment. The fantasy world becomes a mixture of a dream and an old school fairytale. This means that through fantasy, we take a deep exploration of our fears, anxieties, joys and hopes. Fantasy may seem to heighten each one, but that only makes them feel more real. Also, because this is a mixture of a dream and a fairytale, little of the logic goes explained. Rather than being a flaw, this helps make the story all the more powerful. We don't need or want to fully understand how this world works because the story is propelled by the characters and the emotions rather than by logic. To have anything explained to us, would make this less true and therefore a less effective film. Yet even as this film does a great dive into these deeper themes and emotions, it still has moments of great entertainment. I actually can't think of another Miyazaki movie that is this funny. The humor throughout the film is truly laugh out loud hilarious and does a wonderful job of helping us smile through the darker themes. The Heron Man is a truly delightful and fun character and put a smile on my face throughout much the film. Yet even with the character's wonderful comic and fun moments, he still plays an important role in the plot and has a certain amount of depth to him. As is always true of a Miyazaki film, this movie is a pure visual delight. The artwork and animation are truly beautiful and breathtaking here. There is also little doubt that the visual wonder is also part of why the fantasy works so well here. 

This is simply another incredible movie in the filmography of one of the world's finest filmmakers. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Cowboy Church #253

 Hello my friends and welcome back to another service of Cowboy Church.

Today's musical selection starts off with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with Christmas is Always. In 1958 Dale had written a book entitled Christmas is Always, where she not only talked about her Christmas seasons but her childhood summers visiting with her family. About these summers she stated, "This was Christmas too in our hearts, for there was an abundance of peace and love for God and each other." This is the title track off of her and her husband Roy Rogers' 1967 Christmas album.

This is followed by Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Foy Willing and Riders of the Purple Sage with their 1949 recording of Christmas on the Plains

Then comes Eddy Arnold with I Love to Tell the Story. When recovering from a sickness, Arabella Katherine Hankey wrote a poem about the life of Christ. This poem was broken into two parts the first being called The Story Wanted (published in January 1866) and the second called The Story Told (published in November 1866). I Love to Tell the Story comes from this second part. In 1869 William G. Fisher put this text to music and that is the version we know today. Still, it is worth noting that Hankey wrote her own music for these words, but her music was seldom used and is now forgotten.

Next is Don Edwards with Every Day is Christmas in the West. This song was written by Jack Elliot and was first heard in the Roy Rogers movie, Trail of Robin Hood (1950). 

Now for George Jones with O Come All Ye Faithful.  It is unknown who wrote this hymn, but it first appeared in a 1751 collection of hymns by John Francis Wade. Some believe that the hymn was actually written by Wade but there is no definitive proof for this. 

Afterwards is The Maddox Brothers and Rose with their 1949 recording of Silent Night. This song was written in 1818 by Josef Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber. Raised in Salzburg, Mohr became an ordained priest on August 21, 1815. He was then sent to a town just north of Salzburg called Obendorf. That is where he met a schoolteacher named Franz Xaver Gruber, who would later become the organist at Old Saint Nicholas Church in 1816. They were in a need for a song on Christmas Eve, 1818. Mohr presented Gruber with a poem he had written a few years before and Gruber quickly put it to music on his guitar (the organ was broken) and that Christmas Eve the first ever audience heard Silent Night. The tempo of that earlier version was faster paced than the one we know today but it was still very popular with the audience and would soon become a song synonymous with Christmas.

Then comes Gene Autry with his 1949 recording of If it Doesn't Snow on Christmas. This was the B-side to Gene's hit making version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  

Today's musical selection ends with The Sons of the Pioneers with Wonders of God's Green Earth. This is a song about appreciating the things that we always take for granted. This whole world is filled with the incredible wonders of nature. The fact that we get to live on a planet that is filled with such amazing natural beauty is an incredible blessing and something we should thank God for every day. So make sure that this Christmas season, you take a little time to enjoy all the wonderful blessings that the Lord has given us.  

Next enjoy one of Johnny Cash's TV Christmas specials. 

Now for the C.S. Lewis Essay,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2:10

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:11

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16

Thanks for joining me. Come back next week for another service of Cowboy Church. Happy trails to you until we meet again. 

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Loki: Glorious Purpose (2023)


A truly wonderful ending. 

This episode closes exactly what this whole series has been setting up. As I stated before, my problem with the earlier Marvel streaming series, were that they had great build up only for the ending to not live up to the buildup. This is not the case here at all. This episode not only has a perfect ending for the story, but it also includes a perfect ending for Loki's character arc. This feels like everything that not only the series but all of Loki's MCU appearances since the first Thor film in 2011. This episode also does exactly what one would want from the closing of one of these MCU shows. It feel like a satisfying conclusion to the series, while still leaving one wondering just where the MCU is going to go next. 

Yet even if you just take this as a standalone episode, it is still excellent. There is a wonderful sense of atmosphere throughout. The use of lighting and cinematography is fantastic. The confrontation scene with Sylvie and He Who Remains is simply wonderful. The conversation between Loki and He Who Remains is incredibly well written. It is very intelligent and thought provoking. The way it weaves around and twists everything we know is masterful. The scene also perfectly shows us why He Who Remains (or Kang or any of his variants) is such an incredible threat to the whole Marvel universe. Again this season has shown this better than his appearances before had at all. This scene is followed by a conversation between Loki and Mobius that is equally well done and intelligent. 

This is truly top-notch MCU.  

Some Cartoons for Saturday Morning #254

 Hello my friends and happy Saturday morning. Once again it is time for some classic cartoons. 

Today's cartoon selection begins with a wonderful Christmas Merrie Melodies cartoon, The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives (1933). This movie is a favorite of mine and I always watch it multiple times every Christmas season. While corny and simplistic this short film has a real charm that makes me smile each time I watch it. Despite being a Christmas cartoon, this film was released to movie theaters on January 7, 1933, just barely missing Christmas. The animation of the dolls singing and dancing was reused from an earlier Merrie Melody, Red Headed Baby (1931).

Next we join Heckle and Jeckle in 'Sno Fun (1951). Paul Terry felt that the Heckle and Jeckle cartoons were the best ones that his studio produced, and I definitely agree. 

Now we join Betty Boop and Pudgy in Happy You and Merry Me (1936). The following is an exhibitor's review from the Motion Picture Herald. " HAPPY YOU AND MERRY ME: Betty Boop Cartoons— A very fine Betty Boop. These reels are improving. - C. L. Niles, Niles Theatre, Anamosa, Iowa. Genral Patronage." 

Next comes Bugs Bunny and the Tasmanian Devil in The Fright Before Christmas (1979). This short was originally created for the TV special Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales (1979). This was the final of three segments in that special and was directed Friz Freleng. This makes this the first time Taz was directed by someone other than Robert McKimson. The result like the whole special is a delightful Christmas treat and one of the best uses of Taz after the golden age of Looney Tunes. Also appearing here is Bugs' nephew Clyde. Clyde had only appeared in two theatrical shorts, His Hare Raising Tale (1951) and Yankee Doodle Bugs (1954). Both of those were directed by Friz Freleng. 

Now it is time for a commercial break. 

Next comes Pluto in The Sleepwalker (1942). This short film was directed by Clyde Geronimi, who was directing most of the Pluto cartoons at this time, before Charles Nicholas would take over as the series' main director in 1944. After directing Disney shorts, Geronimi would be promoted to working on the Disney feature films. He gets a co-director credit on the Disney features, Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961).

Now for a silent Aesop's Film Fables silent cartoon, Fearless Fido (1922). 

While it is easy to say that the DePatie-Freling cartoons of the mid and late 1970's were not on par with the studio's cartoons of the 1960's and early 70's without any sense of doubt, A Pink Christmas (1978) is a huge exception. This TV special is about as good a cartoon as the studio ever made. This dialogue-less special is somewhat based on O. Henry's The Cop and the Anthem. The Pink Panther has often been compared to Charlie Chaplin, mostly because he is a pantomime character. This though is probably the most Chaplin-esque film the cartoon cat ever stared in. It beautifully combines comedy and pathos, and the idea of a poor tramp like character looking for food of course has roots in Chaplin as well. In fact, this film borrows a gag from Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) (involving shoveling snow). It succussed very well. It is both very funny and very moving.

Thanks for joining me. Come back next week for another selection of animated treasures. Until then, may all your tunes be looney and your melodies merry.

Resources Used

 Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons by Leonard Maltin


Friday, December 1, 2023

Michael's Christmas Movie Guide: Scrooge (1935)


Note: In this review, I am assuming everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol. So there will be spoilers, but since nearly everyone knows this story that should be no problem.

With the sheer amount of film adaptations of Charles Dickens', A Christmas Carol there have been over the years, it should come as no surprise that this 1935 adaption should be so overlooked. However this is unfair as it is a delightful movie in its own right. 

So much of what makes this movie worth watching (even with the sheer amount of Christmas Carol films) is Seymour Hicks as Scrooge. He is simply perfect as the character and definitely one of the most underrated movie Scrooges. There is a real heart to his performance that shines from start to finish. From the very start, he makes this character feel real to us. Even at the very start we can tell that this is a man who has been torn down by life until he becomes a cynical person who believes in little but looking out for himself. Yet from his performance, we can see the very humanness that resides buried deep within him. This can even be seen in before the ghosts visit, in a dinner scene, where we can see the emotional pain within him. As the film goes on, we see more and more of his hidden humanity come out. Because of Hicks' layered performance, this always feels like the same character. The acting in the Ghost of Christmas future scenes is incredible and emotional. Seymour Hicks captures the sheer emotion of these scenes as well as any other Scrooge actor ever has. Yet this film does not just simply rest on a great performance. There is a lot more to enjoy here. This is especially true with the wonderfully atmospheric lighting and uses of shadow and fog. The visual filmmaking here is simply wonderful. The scene with Scrooge's possessions being sold after his death is incredibly well shot and features a wonderful dark sense of atmosphere. This makes it probably the best cinematic depiction of this famous scene. Director Henry Edwards gives this movie a real expressionist feeling to it that honestly works perfect with the story. He also keeps a lot of Dickens' social commentary. There is a truly incredible scene early on in which the Queen and Lord Mayor of London are having an elaborate Christmas dinner, while hungry poor children stand up against the window looking at all the food. A little food is thrown out at them the same way, someone might throw leftovers to a dog. This scene has never appeared in any other Christmas Carol adaption but is one of the most powerful and effective scenes in this film. 

This movie's largest flaw is that at only 1 hour and 17 minutes it can feel too short. The whole Ghost of Christmas Past sequence feel very rushed and leaves a lot out. Even the characters of Fezziwig and Fan are completely absent here. As this part of the story has always been one of the most important parts of the story and it is a shame that so much of it is left out here. This is really the only thing though that keeps this otherwise wonderful movie from being one of the absolute best Christmas Carol adaptions.  

Seymour Hicks, though little talked about today, was one of the most respected British stage actors of the time. He first acted professionally at only in the age of 16 when he performed in In the Ranks at the Grand Theatre in Islington. By the age of 18 he was touring America with Dame Madge Kendal and her husband W.H. Kendal's popular acting troupe. In 1898, he became a successful playwright as well with the play The Runaway Girl, which was followed by a series of light comedies he co-authored with Charles Frohman. However, the most famous role for this respected actor was Ebeneezer Scrooge. He had first played this character on stage in 1901 at only the age of 30. The great actor later recounted that he must have played this character in over 2,000 performances. As well as playing the character on stage, the actor also played him in a 1913 silent film version. By the time he made this 1935 movie, he was well seasoned when it came to playing this role and at the age of 64, he had grown into being the age of the character he is playing. With this it is no wonder that he gives such a magnificent performance here. 

Resources Used

Silent Film of the Month: Santa Claus (1898)


Run Time: 1 minute. Studio: George Albert Smith Films. Director: George Albert Smith. Producer: George Albert Smith. Main Cast: Laura Bayley. 

As a movie buff whose favorite holiday is easily Christmas, I absolutely love Christmas movies. Like many of you I watch such established classics as It's a Wonderful Life (1947), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), White Christmas (1954) and A Christmas Story (1983) every single year. However sometimes I love to dig into the lesser-known Christmas films. This includes digging into the earliest Christmas films. While when talking about movie history, it is never a good idea to use the word first (as it will almost always turn out there is something earlier), Santa Claus is definitely one of the earliest Christmas films.

With a runtime of a little over a minute, the storyline is of course very simplistic. The film begins with two children peeking by the fireplace waiting for Santa to come down. The maid then rushes the kids off to bed. We then see Santa Claus up on top of the house. He comes down the chimney and gives the kids their gifts while they are sleeping. The kids then wake up and happily find their toys. 

While this film may be very simple, it is by no means primitive. In fact, the filmmaking is incredibly sophisticated. In fact, this short still remains a real visual treat today. While again it is never a good idea to use the word first when talking about movie history, this is believed to be one of the earliest films to use parallel action on screen. This can be seen when the kids are asleep, and Santa is on the roof. With the use of double exposure and a pure black background for the kids' room, we see Santa going down the chimney on one side of the screen and the kids on the other. Not only is this done very well but the transition from Santa on top of the roof to Santa standing in the kids' bedroom is simply fantastic. The double exposed image of the house's roof instantly disappears when Santa's foot hits the ground and then we pretty much immediately see all of Santa in the room with the kids. The result is pure movie magic. If this short remains impressive today, it is hard to imagine what audiences back in 1898 felt. This film also, while brief, captures the magic of being a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to come. Watching this film not only brought back memories of this, but it made me feel like a kid a Christmas all over again. There is just some unexplainable warmth to the simplicity of the story and the magic of the images. Simply put this film feels like Christmas. 

British filmmaker, George Albert Smith may not get enough attention today, but he is a true cinema pioneer. During his career, he directed hundreds of short films. A former hypnotist, he used the film medium to create a real sense of magic. With filmmaking techniques that were well ahead of their time, you can only imagine the type of awe that audiences felt watching his films back when they were new. Many of his early films were either fairy tale style fantasy, comedies or short adaptations of popular stories. As well as some early special effects that still hold up, Smith was also a pioneer when it came to editing and closeups. However, one of his most interesting parts of his movie career is that he invented Kinemacolor, the first successful movie coloring process. This coloring process ran from 1908 to 1915. When this process ended due to a patent suit by William Friese-Greene, Smith's movie career came to an end. 

Laura Bayley who plays the maid was George Albert Smith's wife and appeared in quite a few of his films including A Kiss in the Tunnel (1899), Cinderella (1898) and Mary Jane's Mishap (1903). She directed the short film, Hey, Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle (1902) and some people believe she may even have directed some films credited to her husband). 

Santa Claus is not only a wonderful look at early movie history but is also still a delightful film today. 

Resources Used 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Silent Films on TCM for December 2023


Hello my friends. I know that like me many of you love both silent movies and TCM. Because of this, here is a list of the silent films on TCM this December. 

Sunday, December 3rd

I Was Born But... (1932) Director: Yasujirô Ozu. Starring Tatsuo Saito and Tokkan-Kozou. 9:45pm Pacific. 12:45am Eastern.

Tuesday, December 5th

The Blackbird (1926) Director: Tod Browning. Starring Lon Chaney and Renée Adorée. 3am Pacific. 6am Eastern.

Sunday, December 10th

Passing Fancy
(1933) Director: Yasujirō Ozu. Starring Takeshi Sakamoto and Nobuko Fushimi. 9pm Pacific. 12am Eastern.

Tuesday, December 12th

Flesh and the Devil
(1926). Director: Clerance Brown. Starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo. 8:15pm Pacific. 11:15pm Eastern.

Sunday, December 17th 

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
(1925) Director: Fred Niblo. Starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman. 10:15pm Pacific. 1:15am Eastern.

Thursday, December 21st

Christmas Past (1901-1925) A compilation of Christmas themed silent short films. 2am Pacific. 5am Eastern. 

Monday, December 25th

Big Business (1929) Director: Leo Mccarey. Starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. 2:45am Pacific. 5:45am Eastern.