Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A

Review: Incredibly moving and human portrait of one of the most important names in the history of World War 2.

What really makes this movie work is the respect and complexity this film treats its subject with. Much of this is due to Gary Oldman's incredible performance. While this is an actor many of us are quite familiar with, watching this movie I completely forgot that I was watching him on screen. I believed that I was watching Winston Churchill. When he gives one of his most famous speeches towards the end of the movie in particular, you could have almost convinced me I was watching real documented footage of Churchill giving this speech, that is how real this felt. This is not to say by any means though that the success of this movie was completely because of Oldman as there was much more to love about this movie. Anthony McCarten's script delivers a beautifully complex look into the turmoil Churchill was going through. Though with hindsight we know what the best thing for him to do is, during this movie you can almost forget that for a second as you get so caught up in the doubt the man is going through. This script is so finely written that we can picture ourselves in that situation having not the slightest idea what to do. Seeing this doubt and fear only makes us respect the man this film is about all the more.

This film is a must see for all history buffs and for many movie buffs as well.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Movie Review: The Shape of Water

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: A beautiful work of cinematic art and a perfect love letter to cinema itself.

Guillermo del Toro  is a true lover of film. More than just a story about a mute woman's relationship with a sea creature, this movie is del Toro's  intense passion of cinema put right up there on screen. Probably the most obvious tribute is the showing of clips of various movies from Hollywood's golden age. One particularly delightful scene involves our main character mimicking Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. There is even a dream sequence in which she imagines herself in an old musical. This love of films is made even more clear by her living in an apartment above a classic movie house. The love of cinema does not end at references to old movies though. Every shot in this film was so beautifully and masterfully thought out. The amount of detail that went into the visual filmmaking in this movie is absolutely incredible. Such an incredible feats as the cinematography, sets, lighting and so much more shown in this movie can only be accomplished by a crew who was passionate about what they were making. Praising the visuals so strongly is by no means saying the story is extremely strong as well. While this may be an "R" rated fairy tale, the movie is never an excuse for vulgarity and gore. This story came from just as much passion as the visuals. Del Torro has said that his idea for making this film came around the age of six from seeing Julie Adams swimming as the Creature of the Black Lagoon watched. In his own dark and twisted way this movie is paying a passionate tribute to that 1954 classic. Still the film never copies that earlier movie but is its own unique piece of cinema.

It is rare in modern times to find such a beautiful and passionate film playing outside an art-house theater and I believe when something like this comes along we must truly cherish it. I don't know how the average audience member would react to this movie, but if you are (like me) a lover of cinema you should not miss this incredible movie.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hanna-Barbera Advertisements

I love Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 1950's and 60's. While in the 1970's and 80's the studio would bring out some cartoons that were of low quality, during the first two decades of the studio's television output they put out some extremely high quality cartoons. I'm lucky enough to have found a few original advertisements for these TV shows and I am happy to share them with you. Hopefully they will give you a greater insight to the early years of this studios. I have posted the years of the advertisements as well to give you more context for them.





-Michael J. Ruhland                                


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars the Last Jedi

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: F

Review: This film wasn't as bad as Rogue One. However that is the best thing I can say about this movie and in my mind that is not even a compliment.

This movie simply gave me no reason to care about anything that happened on screen. The new characters were devoid of anything resembling personality, and the old characters seemed to have lost any personality they once had. There were moments that I knew were supposed to be suspenseful but being left with no one to root for I kept waiting for them to end. There was not a side of this battle I wanted to see win or lose, because I felt no connection with any of them. This movie also seemed to lose the atmosphere that is so visible in the best Star Wars movies. What made the best Star Wars movies work is that the planets the characters stayed on felt so real and vivid, that you completely believe these places and picture yourself there. Every place that is seen in this movie is horribly undeveloped and simply uninteresting. I could never image any of these places as real, they simply felt like locations in a third rate science fiction movie. The one thing this does have over Rogue One was that there were some plot twists I didn't see coming. However I was so uninterested in anything I was seeing that they left no impact at all on me. This film also had some attempts at humor that would have been nice, if they were at all funny. Sadly they are just as bland and boring as the rest of this movie.

After this and Rogue One I have lost all hope in the Star Wars franchise. I know it is possible for the series to turn itself around, but I just don't see it happening. Simply put this movie is pure boredom and I simply just don't care about this franchise any more.

-Michael J. Ruhland     

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: Fantastic movie is incredibly moving and powerful.

This film could have so easily been a preachy one sided film about a woman standing against authority. However it was anything but this. The movie did not take sides or try to convince us of anything. Instead it showed us the problem in all its political and social complexity and  made us come to our own conclusions. Writer and director Martin McDonagh isn't afraid to show our main character doing things that aren't quite admirable. It is never fully clear what kind of feelings we are supposed to have towards her. This again lets the audience come to its own conclusion, which is much more effective than the one-sided film this so easily could have been. Frances McDormand's performance makes this lack of clarity much more powerful. Her performance here is one of the finest acting performances of this year. She plays the part with such a feeling of conviction, that you believe her completely, no matter what over the top thing she does. This is needed for this movie since it is so much a character study of her.

However despite the serious and dark subject matter this film was very funny. There were many times I was laughing out loud watching it. The humor also perfectly complemented the story. Not only did it keep the movie from being to bleak and depressing, but since it was always tied so perfectly into the story and characters, it actually helps the story move along and feel more real.

This is by all means a must see film and one that I hope will go down in history as the great great movie it is.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Movie Reviews: "Coco" and "Olaf's Frozen Adventure"

Reviews Written By Michael J. Ruhland
CoCoMichael's Movie Grade: A+
Review: Incredible pure Pixar magic at its best and a must see for all movie lovers.
When I was watching Cars 3 for the first time (and yes I enjoyed that movie) I could tell you each little thing that was going to happen next. This is far from the case with CoCo. Just when I thought I knew where the story was heading it did something completely different. However not only was it completely different, but it was so much more powerful than what I saw coming. This is an extremely moving movie. This is hugely because the characters and environments felt so real. I believed from the bottom of my heart every little thing I saw on screen and accepted it as real. The characters could have easily been simple movie stereotypes, but they are so much more. Each facet of their personality is extremely well thought out and come together to make a completely believable character. The environments are likewise filled with an extreme amount of detail. I can't even imagine how much work probably went into something I probably saw on screen for no less than a second. The story itself is fantastic. As I stated before, you never know what is going to happen next. Despite this though each plot twist seems to naturally flow out of the story and characters and there is nothing in this film that feels forced.
It is hard to praise this movie enough, but every movie fan out there needs to see it.
Olaf's Frozen Adventure

       Michael's Movie Grade: B+
Review: This short was a delightfully enjoyable little film, and I was happy to get both this and a feature film for my money.
The best parts of this film were the humor and characters. While I know many people seem to be tired of Olaf, I find him a great character, whose ability to detach body parts reminds me of silent era cartoon characters like Felix the cat or Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He is extremely delightful here, as he is funny and good hearted and brings a classic cartoon energy to this film. This film is quite funny throughout much of it. While it is hard to describe why a film is funny, I found myself laughing at quite a few of these jokes. The short also gives us a greater insight to what happened when Elsa had to hide from Anna, and these scenes are very touching and flow naturally out of the characters, we already loved from Frozen.
On the downside this does feel like a story we have seen before, and Anna and Elsa's part in the story seems too brief.
I have to be honest, I don't know why people hate this short so much. I find it delightful. I know many people complained about having to sit through a 21 minute short before the feature. However to me the short felt like it went by extremely quickly. Also to me to get a longer short and a feature just made it feel like I was getting a very special movie going experience that is too rare today. Personally I would love if Disney made more 21 minute shorts before their feature films, but sadly that doesn't look like it is going to happen.
-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

Review: Fantastic heartwarming family film, of the type there are too few of today.

What makes this movie so fantastic is that every character is so fully fleshed out and given a prefect amount of time to shine, without the movie feeling too long or cluttered. This is all worked together perfectly to show you that each of the character has their own side to the story that is just as valid as anyone-else's. This is something that is very hard to capture in a movie as usually when it is tried the movie just feels like it is forcing too much in the film, but this filming is never felt in this movie. Instead we connect to every character in a personal way. This movie is also filled with great humor. The jokes with Chewbacca are especially very funny. The story is not only told well but is very charming. All the emotion in this film feels real and genuine. You care about everything that happens and the movie may even produce a few tears. While this movie has its sad moment the film comes together to be very uplifting. These type of family-friendly feel good movies are sadly becoming too rare, and most of the time when they come about they feel too forced and phony. There is nothing phony about this movie it is a genuinely charming movie and a delight for the whole family.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Friday, December 1, 2017

Silent Film of the Month: A Christmas Accident (1912)

Run Time: 15 minutes. Studio: Edison. Director: Harold M. Shaw. Writers: Bannister Merwin, Annie Eliot Trumbull. Main Cast: Williams Wadsworth, Mrs. William Bechtel, Augustus Philips, Ida Williams, Enda Hammel.

Today if you mention the Edison studio to most film buffs, they will associate it with very early pre-D.W. Griffith cinema, with films such as The Kiss, Fred Ott's Sneeze, The Great Train Robbery. However the Edison studio was still making films at the same time D.W. Griffith was making his mark at Biograph studios. Under the influence of what Biograph and Griffith were doing, the Edison films were becoming increasingly more sophisticated. The studio adopted many of the film making innovations Griffith was pioneering and made some of their best films during this period. With this being December I feel it is a good time to look at a Christmas-themed short from Edison at this time.

In this short a kindly family lives next door to a seemingly grumpy old man named Mr. Gliton (William Wadsworth) and his wife (Mrs. William Blechtel). The family is poor but happy and looking forward to Christmas. Mr. Gliton doesn't seem too happy about the upcoming holiday and remains his grumpy self, even getting into arguments with the family. Mr. Gliton orders roast beef but it is accidently given to the family next door. Mr. Gliton yells at the family for taking his roast beef. Soon things get worse for the old man as his dog dies. Again this causes an argument between him and the family. With their lack of money the parents of the family are sad they can't get the children much for Christmas. All this ends up leading to a heartwarming finale that never fails to make me smile.

What may immediately strike those only familiar with Edison's pre-Griffith films is the pure narrative sophistication here. This film incorporates a lot of different plot elements and works them all towards a perfectly constructed ending. Despite this film being over 100 years old there is nothing here to date it. It remains just as charming as it was when it was first released. The story is so beautifully put together and completely timeless that the short feels as if it could have been made yesterday. There is nothing primitive in the filmmaking here. Every second of film is used to its full and best advantage. The heartwarming ending is just as effective and moving now as it was then and I am sure it will bring a smile or perhaps even a tear to your eye.

This film was directed by Harold M. Shaw, who had just begun his film career earlier in 1912 with an Edison short called The Governor. Though he got his start at Edison, he would spend very little of his career there as by late 1913, he was directing shorts for London Film Co. Christmas Accident wasn't the only Christmas film Shaw made as in 1914 he directed one of the many film versions of A Christmas Carol for London Film Co. Around 1915, African Film Productions was looking for American talent for better distribution to American and British audiences. AFP found two directors to bring over with Harold M. Shaw and Lorrimer Johnston. This lead to Shaw directing what some consider to be South Africa's first feature film Der Voortrekkers released in 1916. He followed this with two more South American features with The Rose of Rhosida (in 1917) and Thoroughbreds All (released in 1919). His film career would end in 1924 and he would pass away in 1926. Because of this he never made a talkie. Though his work is little remarked upon today, he was a consistently good director and his films are still delightful to anyone willing to watch them. William Wadsworth, who played Mr. Gliton was an extremely prolific actor, who spent most of his career making shorts for Edison. Mrs. William Bechtel (born as Jennie Cecilia Ahlstrom), who played Mrs. Gliton was also very prolific (though not as prolific as Wadsworth), and also spent most of her career making short films for Edison.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used

Monday, November 27, 2017

Movie Review: Lady Bird

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: Lady Bird is a profoundly moving and funny film, and one of the one of the finest American movies in recent years.

What really makes this film so incredible is its honesty and straightforwardness. Everything in this film feels so real in natural. This does not feel like you are watching a movie, but rather that you are seeing these characters' lives unfold on screen. These characters could have so easily become one dimensional stereotypes, but they are so much more. Like us they have fully rounded personalities that are sometimes admirable and sometimes much less than that. When we see a character make a bad choice, we don't just shake our head and think they are stupid as we do in so many other movies. We really feel sorry and even regret for them. This is because as we watch the movie they become almost like friends and family to us and we feel legitimate concern for them. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is extremely real and powerful. All this is so important because this is a film that is much more propelled by the characters than the story. The story itself is really simple, and resembles stories we have seen in other films. Still the characters make it feel so unique and new. Besides just being profound and moving, this movie is consistently quite funny. There were many times I and other audience members laughed out loud. The jokes were not only funny but very clever. Fitting into the spirit of the narrative, each joke perfectly comes out of the characters. This means the jokes are not only funny, but help us get more and more involved in the characters and story we see on screen. Though this movie does bring up politics and religion and uses them as the basis for jokes, there is nothing mean spirited here, and the movie never preaches to us on what we should think.

All in all this is just an incredible movie and a must see for all movie lovers.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Happy 89th Birthday to Mickey Mouse

Today is the 89th birthday of cartoondom's most famous mouse. No not Speedy Gonzales, I am speaking of curse of Mickey. To celebrate we are going to look at four classic Mickey Mouse shorts.

Up first is probably the most famous Mickey Mouse short ever created, Steamboat Willie. This was not the first Mickey cartoon made but the first one to get a wide release. The first Mickey cartoon made was a silent short called Plane Crazy. However distributors did not want the cartoon (as well as the second Mickey made, The Galloping Gaucho, also silent) and he was turned down flat. With sound film catching on it became clear in the film industry that soon silent film would be a thing of the past. Walt as an artist who was always looking forward decided to make Steamboat Willie as a sound film. Though sound cartoons had been made before hand, none of them were very successful. Walt knew that for the audience to accept sound in an animated cartoon it had to be perfect. Wilfred Jackson one of the studio's animators prepared a bar sheet of music, while Walt prepared his usual exposure sheet. They did this simultaneously and with close work together to make sure the sound would be synchronized just right. Even with this they weren't sure the illusion of sound accompanying moving drawings would be accepted by the audience. Because of this after enough animation was made, the crew had a test run, with Wilfred Jackson on Harmonica and the rest of the crew making sound effects. The result worked and work on the film as a sound picture moved forward. When this film made its premiere at New York's Colony Theater, it was a huge hit and ushered in the era of sound cartoons. So without further ado here is the one and only Steamboat Willie. After the success of this film soundtracks were added to the two previous Mickey cartoons and they got the wide theater release they deserved.

Next up is one of my favorite black and white Mickeys 1929's The Karnival Kid. The reason I love this cartoon so much is that it is a pure cartoon in its purest sense. In later Disney animated films, it was decided that characters' bodies always had to stay intact and that characters couldn't take off parts of their bodies for their own uses as that would break the reality of the films. With all due respect, I disagree with this. It is a cartoon and if I believe the characters then I will also believe their bodies are detectable and retractable. Some of my favorite gags in this short involve how the cats avoid the things being thrown at them and how Mickey takes off the top of his head like tipping a hat to greet Minnie. This film also has the immortal first words of Mickey Mouse, "Hot Dogs". Though his voice sounds quite different here than later films, it is still Walt providing it.

Last up is two perfect cartoons for the occasion, a 1931 cartoon called The Birthday Party and a 1942 cartoon called Mickey's Birthday Party. The reason I am putting both of these cartoons together is that one is a remake of the other. The differences are clear. The latter one has Donald Duck, Goofy and Clara Cluck in it. These characters were not yet created in 1931, so they couldn't be included here. There is also the obvious fact that the later one is also in color. Still these cartoons are extremely similar and both delightful. So sit back and enjoy them.

Now let's close this post by all singing Mickey's favorite song together.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe 50 Greatest Cartoons edited by Jerry Beck
Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age by Michael Barrier.