Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Movie Review: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone


Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade:A-

Review: Fantastic film that manages to both teach a good lesson and be very entertaining.

As a Christian myself, I am probably more open to this film than non-believers, but I have a feeling that even the strongest atheist could find something to like in this film. That is because at no point does the film directly preach to the audience, but rather the message comes fully from the story and characters. Despite this though the message is clear as can be. There is no doubt that many films with a message could learn something from this movie. If the point of Christian movies is to spread the gospel in a comfortable way, which I believe is the truth for the great majority of them, than this movie successeds brilliantly at that.

Besides the message, what really makes this film work so well is the main character. This is a redemption story, but why it works is that we like the character before he is redeemed and want him to turn his life around. The redemption remains completely believable and makes us happy to see him redeemed. Also helping is a lot of funny humor and a well thought out story.

The downsides to this movie are relatively minor. One is that the opening exposition seems forced, but that is so brief that it can't hurt the movie much. The other is that the film is quite predictable at times. However there is more than enough good stuff to make up for that.

This movie should not only be a joy for my fellow Christians, but for most audiences period.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Friday, January 6, 2017

Movie Review: Assassin's Creed


Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: F

Review: Horrible and annoying movie that gives you nothing to care about.

This film has horribly thought out characters. These characters either have bland movie stereotypes for a personality or no personality at all. Somehow even weaker than this is the story. The story is a rambling piece of nonsense that is no where near as smart as this movie seems to think it is. The story tries to be philosophical, but doesn't seem to even understand what it is trying say.

Even worse still is the technical filmmaking behind this. This has what may be the worst music score I have ever heard. It is so loud and distracting that even if this movie gave me something to enjoy I couldn't enjoy it. The music seemed to never fit with the action on screen, and was just so noisy as to be distracting. I had to cover my ears during parts of this movie it was so bad. The pacing is also very bad (though it can't even compare to the horrible score), the whole film is just going by much too fast. It never gives us time to breath or think. It seems to think that if it stands still for a second that the audience would be bored, while this pacing gives an even greater sense of boredom. To make this even worse the camera never stands still. This just makes the movie even more frustrating and obnoxious.

Some people talking after I saw the movie, said that they tried to fit too much of the video game story into an under two hour movie. Having never played the game I don't know if they are right, but maybe they should have adapted less of the story and gave it more time, or even better yet never made this horrible excuse for a movie in the first place.

Also this movie has the strangest McGuffin I've ever seen.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Overlooked Classics: Ladrones (1930)


During the 1930's, before dubbing became popular, many American films were shot in multiple versions each in a different language, so they could be shown world wide. Most of the time these films while using the same script and sets used different actors. However this naturally couldn't be done with Laurel and Hardy films, which needed... well Laurel and Hardy. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy would read the foreign words off of a blackboard just off screen. Often times these films would feature different actors as the supporting cast. However this film featured Edgar Kennedy and James Finlayson as part their supporting cast, the same used in the English original (though Anders Randolf, (the police chief in the original) was replaced here by Enrique Acosta) . What is fascinating however is that these foreign language versions would often times be longer than the original films. Night Owls was a 21 minute film, but this Spanish language version run 36 minutes.

The film begins with an officer (played by Edgar Kennedy) being told he must stop at least one burglary to save his job. After hearing this he convinces Stan and Ollie (played by Laurel and Hardy of course) to rob the Chief's (played by Enrique Acosta) house. However the officer gets knocked out and the chief and his butler Juan (played by Jimmy Finlayson) are wide awake.

Now the ending here is actually very different from the ending in the original (skip this paragraph if you don't want spoilers). In the original the boys escape and the officer gets arrested. Here many other cops come in and the boys thinking it will be their friend, are arrested by those cops. The officer comes in late and turns on Stan and Ollie. So all three are arrested. The boys riding in a convertible to jail grab onto a tree branch and think they have escape wind up in the chief's car. That car however winds up in a lake, Fin.

Also changed in this version is character names. In the original the officer was called officer Kennedy (after the actors name of course), here he receives no name, but is just called the policeman for the whole film. Also the butler in the original was called Meadows (now my mind is quoting a Chuck Jones cartoon), but in this film is called Jaun. Also this film features more jokes involving the boys getting inside the house.

This is an excellent film. It is very funny. The humor works just as well here as in the original and the new ending is better as well. Stan and Ollie's comedic skills are at the top of their game as is director James Parrott's (brother to Charlie Chase) and writer Leo McCarey (later to direct such classics as Duck SoupLove AffairThe Awful TruthMake Way For Tomorrow and The Bells of Saint Mary) and H.M. Walker. As may be excepted some of the line reading from Laurel and Hardy is a bit awkward, but never distractingly so and this is a film full of visual comedy, which features the boys at their best here. A must check out for all Laurel and Hardy fans.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Movie Review: Why Him?


Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade:D

Review: Unfunny vulgar comedy tries too hard to be funny, and misses the mark.

The real problem with this movie is that it just isn't funny. Maybe one or two jokes hit but most miss the mark completely. The film seems convinced that the more vulgar it is the funnier it is. The jokes are quite vulgar but rarely funny. Vulgar humor isn't funny just because it's vulgar, but rather for the reasons any type of humor is. In essence vulgar humor can be funny because of great timing, delivery, a good set up, by being clever, or any other why comedy is funny. This movie doesn't seem to understand that and thinks that this comedy is just funny because it is vulgar. When the comedy in a comedy doesn't work it is near impossible to make up for this.

What did though pleasantly surprise me is that the characters are quite likable. The boyfriend could have easily been an unlikable jerk, but he isn't. The guy always has his heart in the right place. This is a nice touch that I wish could've been in a better movie. The rest of the characters while maybe underdeveloped are quite likable as well. Unfortunately these characters are tied to a very unfunny movie, with a predictable been done a million times before story.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, January 2, 2017

Movie Review: Passengers


Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade:C

Review: Good characters, great acting, some fantastic ideas and a absorbing atmosphere, but unfortunately a mostly bland predictable story.

What really works in this film is the characters and setting. Both the main characters are really well thought out. On top of this the chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence is really great, and I want to see these two in more films together. This makes what is a rather predictable romance quite charming. The setting has a great look to it. It is obvious a lot of work went into making it. There is something fascinating to look at during every moment of the film. Besides this it is just fun to watch the characters react to this environment.

The story begins well as it is just the main character reacting to the well thought environment. This leads to a fascinating moral dilemma, which is actually quite thought provoking. Then it becomes much more predictable and less original, however it is still pretty well handled. However after that the story kind of goes through the motions. The story evolves into both a bland, predictable and forgettable disaster movie. During this section there is even a character who seems to simply exist to state exposition. The characters I like are no longer given the ability to be themselves, and kind of lose what was so great about them before, and go through the motions with the story. These scenes are really really boring. It is sad to see a film that was so good just fall apart, but during these scenes it kind of does. It becomes a movie we have seen too many times and are kind of bored with. Despite this though the movie ends on a high note that is actually kind of touching.

If you can't guess the film is very uneven. Watching this I both thought "This is a really good movie", and "This is pretty bad". There are things that are really good about this movie, but the bad stuff is equally as bad. For me though I enjoyed the good stuff enough that I am glad I saw it. So if you like me can enjoy a movie for it's virtues, despite it's faults see it. If big faults ruin a movie for you however, you probably won't enjoy it the way I did.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Silent Film of the Month: Three's A Crowd (1927)

Runtime: 60 minutes. Studio: Harry Langdon Corporation. Director: Harry Langdon. Writers: Arthur Ripley, Robert Eddy, Harry Langdon, James Langdon, Harry McCoy. Producer: Harry Langdon. Main Cast: Harry Langdon, Gladys McConnell, Cornelius Reef, Arthur Thalasso. Cinematographers: Frank Evans, Elign Lessley.

Perhaps no other silent film comes with such a bad reputation as Harry Langdon's Three's a Crowd. So is it strange to say I not only like this movie, but in fact love it.

A rumor that haunted Harry Langdon for a long time that exists even today is that Frank Capra created Harry's character and that Harry didn't understand his own character. This piece of fiction came from Capra's autobiography, The Name Above the Title. Oh boy there is so little truth in that claim. By the short film All Night Long the character was completely formed, and there were more than a few moments showing who the character would be in earlier films. However this was before Frank Capra ever worked on a Harry Langdon film. However since this is believed it is also believed the films that Harry directed himself after firing Frank Capra are completely awful. Frank Capra was definitely a brilliant film maker (How could the director of It's A Wonderful Life be any less?) and I am by no means saying he did not help make the films he directed and wrote for that stared Harry Langdon great, but he definitely gave himself too much credit when it comes to those movies. These films were not only unavailable for viewing, but what could be found were awful reviews, and the fact that they didn't do well at the box office. It should be remembered though that Buster Keaton's The General also did poorly both with critics and at the box office. Since the films were near impossible to find this understandably made them be written down as awful movies. Though now they are much easier to find, people still do not want to try them out because it has been believed for so long that these films are as bad as they are made out to be. Three's A Crowd marked Harry's debut as a director. He had fired Frank Capra, just before making this movie.

The story begins as Harry (played Harry Langdon) is dreaming of having a child of his very own. His boss (played by Arthur Thalasso) tries to get Harry to work, but Harry is letting his daydreams interfere with his work. When the boss's wife gets a love letter the boss assumes Harry wrote it. This leads Harry to escape. After escaping Harry meets a pregnant woman named Gladys (played by Gladys McConnell), freezing to death. Harry takes her in and decides to take care of the poor woman and her coming child. However the woman has a husband (played by Cornelius Keefe) who may return one day.

Much more footage was shot for Three's A Crowd than ended up in the film. The film was edited during a series of premieres, with the movie coming out shorter each time. These included scenes about Gladys before she meet Harry. There were also scenes added to the film. One of these scenes was a gag for the movie to end on. The ending was originally more serious and audiences didn't like this much, so a joke for an ending was made as a bit of a compromise.

The film received very poor reviews and did very poorly at the box office. Many critics were not fans of the dramatic moments especially. It has been said that Harry Langdon was not one to take negative criticism well. This might be why his next film The Chaser was much more pure comedy. However that film would be attacked for having too dark a sense of humor, and also perform poorly at the box office. After Three's a Crowd, Harry was no longer considered an equal to Chaplin as he had been before. His previous film Long Pants was also a flop and after just two critical and box office failures, he was now considered just another second rate, movie comedian.

However despite all this the film is downright fantastic and actually ranks as one of Harry's best films. There is more drama here than usual for Harry, but it all is very well done. However this does not get in the way of the film's comedy. The movie is very funny and scenes like Harry getting a face full of soot, hanging down from a rug and the great joke ending are pure tradition slapstick at it's best.
Additional the comedy and the drama never get in the way of each other. This is because since both the drama and the comedy are so closely tied into the story and characters, they both feel natural and welcome here. While this film is often criticized for being too slow (though Harry was the slowest paced of the silent film comics), I don't quite understand where this comes from. Very little is much slower than scenes that appeared in Harry's more popular films. The only scene I kind of understand is the start, but there is almost something captivatingly lovely about this slow beginning. This whole film as I stated earlier just fits together perfectly and that is why it is such a delight to watch.

I hope one day this movie gets completely revaluated and is viewed as the great film it is.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used
The Silent Films of Harry Langdon (1923-1928) by James L. Neibaur