Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Looney History of Witch Hazel

Happy Halloween fellow cartoon lovers. On a day like this there is only one cartoon character to discuss and of course that is Witch Hazel from the classic Looney Tunes films (she was not used in a Merrie Melodie oddly enough). Today I will provide you with a brief and basic history of cartoondom's favorite witch.

Even with how well remembered and beloved this character is today she was only actually in 4 of the classic cartoons. The first of these was a 1954 Chuck Jones cartoon called Bewitched Bunny. Despite the fact that today we remember her being voiced by June Foray. Instead here she was voiced by Bea Benaderet. This cartoon was a parody of Hansel and Gretel. Bugs Bunny sees that the witch is planning to eat the children. Bugs saves Hansel (Hansel?) and Gretel but Witch Hazel decides instead to eat Bugs. Her next appearance would be a 1956 cartoon Broomstick Bunny also directed by Chuck Jones. This was the first time she was voiced by June Foray however it was not the first time June Foray voiced a cartoon witch named Witch Hazel. She had previously voiced a character with the same name in the 1952 Donald Duck short Trick or Treat in that film Donald gives his nephews a trick instead of a treat. With this a much more kind Witch Hazel get her revenge on Donald using magic. This was also not the only time June Foray would replace Bea Benaderet as the voice of a Looney Tunes character. She had also done the same with Granny, who Foray had just voiced for the first time the year before in This is a Life?. In Broomstick Bunny Bugs Bunny goes trick or treating dressed as a witch. Witch Hazel takes great pride in her ugliness and asks her mirror who is the ugliest of all is happy whenever it answers she is. However when Bugs knocks on the door, the mirror tells her "that creep" is uglier than she. Witch Hazel decides something must be done about this. Her next film was her first time not being directed by Chuck Jones with 1959's A Witch's Tangled Hare. This cartoon was instead directed by Abe Levitow. Abe Levitow had been one of Chuck's main animators and even co-directed some of Chuck's later films for Warner Brothers. After Chuck left the studio, Levitow would take over the director's chair for a few cartoons. These cartoons would feature Chuck's usual team of animators and writers,, as this one does. In this short Bugs and Witch Hazel fight using many references to Shakespeare's plays and with a Shakespeare wannabe watching. The last of her classic cartoons was released in 1966 and called A-Haunting We Will Go. This short was her first film not to feature Bugs Bunny. Instead her she works with Speedy Gonzales and Daffy Duck. Daffy Duck and Speedy were strangely paired together in a series of films at this time. This was just one of quite a few with this duo. Witch Hazel wants a vacation and so she casts a spell to make Speedy look just like her. Daffy on the other hand is trying to prove to his nephew that the woman in that house is not a witch. This film was directed by Robert McKimson.

-Michael J. Ruhland       

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hubley Family Films

Today we are going to look at some films, involving the Hubley family. John Hubley had been a Disney background artist working on films like Snow WhitePinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. He would leave during the Disney strike of 1941, and became one of the founders of UPA. There he would direct the first Mr. Magoo cartoon. However he would be blacklisted during the Cold War era for his communist beliefs. He would then create his own studio called Storyboard. His partner would be his wife Faith Hubley. Faith had not had a career before this, but this would be the beginning of a great career for her. Animator Shamus Culhane wrote in his autobiography, Talking Animals and Other People, that he felt Faith brought a lyrical quality to these films. This is true, the films they made together are beautiful and remain unique in the world of animation, and even film today. The 3 films we are looking at today, have the voices of their own children. They would record a conversation of their kids and than build an animated cartoon around that.

Our first film for today is an Oscar nominated cartoon and a great work of art in it's own right, 1968's Windy Day. This was built around a audio recording of John and Faith Hubley's daughters, Georgia and Emily Hubley at play. Those familiar with the indie rock band Yo La Tengo, might know Georgia Hubley as the drummer for that band. Emily would later be the associate producer and one of the animators on her mom's only solo directorial feature film, The Cosmic Eye. She would also have her own career in animation, directing such films as the feature length, The Toe Tactic, and the shorts The Pigeon Within, Rainbows of Hawai'i, and The Girl with Her Head Coming Off. She would also be the animation designer and an animator on the animated segment in Hedwig and the Angry Itch. Windy Day is a lovely film. The dialog between the two girls is very charming. Towards the end of the film the conversation turns quite profound and beautiful. This is a great reminder of how much more intelligent kids can be than we we give them credit for. The whole film is lovely though and the whimsical animation fits the kids conversation perfectly.

  Next is another film that was based around a recording of Georgia and Emily at play this film is called Cockaboody. The whole film was animated by a woman named Tissia Davis. Who would also work with the Hubley's on the feature length animated documentry Everyone Rides the Carousel, and with Faith and Emily on The Cosmic Eye. She had previously been an animator in France working for directors like Jean Image. The animation ranges from Whimsical to more realistic depending a the mood of the dialog (a great device).  The kid's conversation captures perfectly the feeling of childhood. Overall this 1973 film is another lovely film from these four Hubley's and another work of great art.

Last is the earliest of these films, Moonbird from 1959. This film centered around an audio recording of John and Faith Hubley's sons, Mark and Ray Hubley, at play. Mark Hubley would later become an animator, working on two of his parent's films, Dig and Voyage to the Next, and would be a layout artist on two Hanna-Barbera TV shows, The Smurfs, and Monchhichis. Ray Hubley would become an editor on live action films such as Scarface and Dead Man Walking. The animators on this film will included one of John's fellow UPA directors, Robert Cannon, who had before joining UPA than the Hubley's studio had worked at Warner Brothers as an animator (as part of Chuck Jones' unit), and on Disney's feature length Melody Time (also as an animator). The other animator was an animator who began and spent much of his career with the Hubleys, Ed Smith. This is quite an imaginative and fun film and it won the Oscar for best animated short film.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"How to Play Baseball" With Goofy

So it seems like baseball has been all people have been talking about lately. This is great for people who like baseball, but these conversations can be intimidating for someone like me who heavily prefers cartoons to sports. How am I supposed to know what the heck these people are talking about? Luckily for me and my fellow cartoon lovers who are bored by sports, there was a very instructional film made to explain all the subtle nuances of the game perfectly for us. And to make this film all the more accessible to us it was done by the Disney studio and features Goofy himself.

Released in 1942, How to Play Baseball was the first "How to..." short staring Goofy that the Disney studio released as a stand alone short. Technically audiences saw How to Ride a Horse first. How to Ride a Horse was a segment in the Disney feature film The Reluctant Dragon. That feature was released in 1941, however How to Ride a Horse would not be released as a standalone film until 1950. However this short did introduce something new to the idea of these "How to..." films with every player being Goofy. How to Play Baseball came about in a rather interesting way. Samuel Goldwyn was producing The Pride of the Yankees and was very proud of how that movie was coming along. He contacted Walt Disney about making a cartoon specifically to accompany that picture. According to some studio documents Walt said he saw Goofy as the animated counterpart to the live action Gary Cooper. So production on the cartoon began. Jack Kinney was chosen as the film's director as he had also directed How to Ride a Horse. Jack Kinney was the perfect choice for a cartoon like this. He was easily at this time the director of the zaniest Disney cartoon shorts. His films were fast paced, funny and featured a wise guy sense of humor that the other Disney directors didn't seem to have. Probably Kinney's biggest competitor as the zaniest Disney cartoon director would be Jack Hannah who would make some similarly very funny and zany cartoons. However Hannah wouldn't began directing for the studio until two years after How to Play Baseball was released. Assigned to animate on this film were some of the studio's best animators. Les Clark, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnston, Marc Davis and Bill Tytla all animated here. Tytla animated much of Goofy pitching in this film, Ward Kimball animated the batter being hit with the ball and Marc Davis animated Goofy biting the baseball instead of the chewing tobacco.

This is a fantastic short film and just a lot of fun to watch. It is often said that Warner Brothers and MGM made the funny cartoons while Disney made the cute cartoons. However this short shows that this wasn't always the case. There is nothing cute here but lot that is really funny. Also the humor is just as slapstick and satiric as what Warner Brothers or MGM were doing with their cartoons at this time. There are plenty of laughs here and I am certain any fans of slapstick comedy cartoons will enjoy this cartoon a lot.

So sit back enjoy and for those of you who (like me) don't like to watch sports learn about what everybody around you is talking about.


(I have been alerted that the video I linked to has been taken down, so I redirect you to this link: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3uq6ed. Sorry for any trouble. -Michael J. Ruhland)

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Movie Review: Geostorm

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: F

Review: Horribly clichéd and very uninteresting movie.

This film feels like the filmmakers simply went down a checklist of every movie cliché and made sure to use every single one of them. When these clichés are used there is nothing inspired or interesting about how they are done. They are instead either forced in or done with no attempt to make them interesting. The characters here are really bland. They feel like weaker versions of characters we have seen in plenty of other movies. There is nothing here to make them stand out or make you ever believe they really exist. There is also a horribly forced environmental message. This is so forced that if you took out the horribly written opening and closing narration there would be no message. It is like this is done to make the film important and if this is true it doesn't work. There is plenty of humor in this movie but not one of these jokes is actually funny. The only moment I laughed was at a scene that was supposed to be taken seriously (it involved a boy and his dog), and this scene was so forced in I couldn't help but laugh.

Overall this movie feels like it is just going through the motions, and there is nothing interesting behind all the clichés.    

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Spooky Cartoons #1

So with Halloween coming up today we are going to look at some Halloween and Spooky themed cartoons.

Our first cartoon today is a silent film. This short stars Jerry the Troublesome Tyke. Jerry was the first animated character to be created in Wales. He was created by animator Sid Griffiths and stared in at least 41 films from 1925 to 1927. The character never made it into talkies. However this does not effect that his films are still highly enjoyable today. This short is a "spooky" one about Jerry's encounters with spook. So enjoy Spoofing a Spook.


Next up comes a pure Disney classic and one of the most famous spooky cartoons of all time. This is The Skelton Dance. This 1929 short was the first cartoon in a new series. This was the Silly Symphonies. While almost anyone else would be happy to just make Mickey Mouse cartoons, Walt Disney wanted to expand his horizons. The idea itself came from the musical director for Walt at the time, Carl Stalling. Stalling not only had the idea to make a series of cartoons based around music, but also came up with the idea for The Skelton Dance himself. Walt loved the idea and work on the film began soon. Walt's main animator at this time was Ub Iwerks, who handled most of the animation. Also animating on this film was Les Clark and Wilfred Jackson. Les Clark would state that he animated the scene where a skeleton plays another skeleton's ribs, however he is also sometimes credited with animating the opening scene instead. On the other hand it is known that Wilfred Jackson animated the rooster crowing, because it would be reused in the 1931 Silly Symphony The Cat's Nightmare where documents let us know he animated it. After he parted with the Disney studio, Ub Iwerks would direct a remake of this film for Columbia called Skelton Frolics (1937). My fellow silent film enthusiasts may also be interested to know at this movies premiere at the Carhty Circle (June 10, 1929) it played with one of the all time lost gems in Cinema history, F.W. Murnau's 4 Devils. Unlike the Mickey mouse cartoons this film is a mood piece. There is not much in the way of comedy or story here, but there is a lot of atmosphere. This however is done so great that you hardly miss the comedy or story. The film pulls you into its brilliant atmosphere and never let's go.

Next up comes a cartoon that actually takes place on Halloween. This is a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon called Betty Boop's Halloween Party. Betty Boop's cartoon career started just two years earlier in a cartoon called Dizzy Dishes. That film starred the Fleischer Studio's main star of the time Bimbo. Since Bimbo was a dog in that cartoon Betty was a dog also, but a very human looking one. It wasn't long until she would become human, however Bimbo would remain her boyfriend. Her design was created by animator Grim Natwick and much of her personality was based on a singer named Helen Kane. Betty Boop's Halloween is a highly entertaining short with a lot to recommend it. This film shows what the Fleischer studio was best at during this time period. That means the film was full of brilliant imagination. The gags are surreal and fun, and there is no mistaking this for a cartoon from any other Hollywood studio. This cartoon is also a pre-code film (if you don't know what that means I direct you here), so there are a some risqué jokes that would not fly if this cartoon was made later.


Last is our only made for TV cartoon on this post, Spook A Nanny. This cartoon first aired in 1964 on The Woody Woodpecker Show. For the most part this show was made up of classic theatrical cartoon shorts with new bridging sequences. Spook A Nanny was the only cartoon made for this show. While it may not be as good as the Woody Woodpecker shorts of the 1940's there is still quite a bit to recommend here. The short is rather entertaining in its own weird way, and the song is really really catchy.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used
Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series
by J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

Review: Dark, complex and uncompromising film is also extremely involving and powerful.

One thing that is so incredible about this movie is simply the atmosphere. Unlike many sci-fi movies this film feels so real. This is because the world it takes place in is so intricately thought out. Everything about this world even the smallest things was so well thought out and this is unbelievably effective. While this does help make the movie extremely beautiful looking, that is not the only purpose these settings play. They help pull us into the world and feel like we have been transported there and helps us believe everything that happens on screen as a result. The characters are also very well thought out. Each has their own individual personality. These personalities are not just little character traits, but fully fledged personalities. Again all this feels completely real to us and we believe each and everything they do. This is because none of this feels like it was done for the sake of the story but because it flowed naturally out of the characters. This is not only true of the main characters but of each individual one no matter how small their part is. The story itself is quite complex and compelling. While it is hard to fully discuss this story without providing spoilers, the twist and turns again seem perfectly natural. Often times you have no idea where this story is going and when you think you do it is proven wrong. Despite all this when at the end you see how it all works out it makes perfect and complete sense and not forced in to keep the audience guessing.

This is a fantastic movie and proves that a much belated sequel can actually be a great movie, even if that isn't usually the case.

-Michael J. Ruhland      

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Movie Review: Til Death Do Us Part

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

Review: An effective suspense thriller, but not a great one.

What works about this movie is the main protagonist and antagonist as well as the suspense scenes. Our protagonist is a very likable character and one that we can fully relate to and care about. On the other hand our antagonist is quite scary and effective. With these two pluses fully set in place it is no wonder the suspense scenes work as well as they do. These suspense scenes are easily the highlight of the film. They are well shot and excellently paced. Most of all though these scenes do keep you on the edge of your seat. All this is helped out hugely by great performances from Stephan Bishop and Anne Ilonzeh, who make these characters feel so real to us.

Unfortunately though a major fault with this movie is that these two characters are the only ones who seem real. None of the other characters are ever fully fleshed out and just feel like characters we have seen in previous movies. This is especially problematic as our protagonist finds a new lover. This character is very awkwardly written and is given much corny and forced dialogue. You can see Taye Diggs is trying his hardest to make the character work, but unfortunately he is not able to pull it off. This sadly makes a major plot point come off as unbelievable which really hurts the movie. He is not the only character given forced dialogue, but he is given more than any other character. Even the best characters though occasionally have this kind of dialogue and sometimes it is sad with how well written our two main characters can be at times.

Despite these faults this movie does what it is supposed to, and does that pretty well. The suspense and two main characters are fantastic, and the movie has an important message about domestic abuse. However this will not go down as a great suspense movie, even if it is still a quite enjoyable movie.

-Michael J. Ruhland      

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Animatied World of Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay is easily one of the most important, and most talented pioneers of animation. Contrary to some stories you might hear though he is not the first filmmaker to use animation (Emil Cohl, J. Stuart Blackton, Charles-Émile Reynaud, and Segundo de Chomón beat him to it).  However his importance to the history of animation can not be underestimated.

 Winsor McCay had already enjoyed much success before entering the field of animation, as creator and writer of the newspaper comic strips, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. These comic strips were the highlight of the comics page back then. They transcended what comic strips had been know for through their abundance of imagination, and expert drawing style. It is only natural for a man who created this to be attracted to the art form of animation.

His first film was Little Nemo (Also called Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics) based off his own comic strip. Released in 1911, animation was still a novelty, and McCay took full advantage of that. This film in fact starts out in live action with McCay betting he can make drawings move (although he incorrectly credits himself as the first to do this), and his friends respond with laughter and disbelief. The live action segment of this film is very clever, and humorous. The highlight of the live action portion though is seeing McCay draw his characters before the animation starts. This is when you know you are watching a great talent at work. The animation segment itself is very well done and entertaining, but it is a little dated. It is obvious he had not yet figured out what to do with animation, and that leads to a lack of understanding our characters, and therefore a lack of personal involvement. However this animation is expertly done. It is very appealing and still looks very good by today's standards. This entire segment was hand-drawn by one man, Winsor McCay himself. He drew four-thousand drawings all by himself for this one short segment of the film. The early color was achieved by hand painting the 35mm film itself after it was complete. this was also done only by McCay.

The most famous film Winsor McCay made is easily Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).  This film was actually a vaudeville act before it was in theaters. The act consisted of Winsor McCay talking to his animated dinosaur Gertie. He would tell her what to do and Gertie would do it (most of the time). This was translated to theaters by having an off screen narrator, who speaks through intertitles (since this was a silent film). This film has often times wrongly been called the first cartoon ever made. While this is not true (It isn't even McCay's first cartoon, it is his third), its place in animation history is still extremely important. The reason for this is Gertie, herself. She is one of the first animated characters that the audience was allowed to see think. Unlike the characters in Little Nemo, Gertie does not seem like she is just moving drawings projected on a screen, but instead like a real character that we know and relate to over the course of the film. This was the beginning of character animation, and probably the first successful attempt at it. Like Little Nemo this film begins in live action. Winsor McCay bets his fellow cartoonists that he can make a dinosaur come to life and boy does he.

  Despite the great success of Gertie, McCay decided to do something complete different with his next adventure into the world of animation. His next film was The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). This was not only the first completely serious cartoon that Winsor McCay made, but also the first animated documentary. For a cartoon to approach such a serious event as the sinking of the Lusitania was unheard of at this time. For the animation McCay knew he needed to achieve much more realism in his animation. The amount of detail in the animation still remains an unbelievable feet. Due to this different style it took much more work and time than anything that had been before. Yet still the entire film was animated solely by Winsor McCay. This film remains a masterful and moving piece of patriotism and probably one of the greatest propaganda films ever made.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Gigantic is Cancelled

For years the Disney has been working on an animated feature film based off of the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. This movie was going to be called Gigantic. It would have differentiated from the classic tale quite a bit as it would feature Jack befriending a female giant at the top of the beanstalk. It was set to be released in 2020. After all the work put into this film, it was just decided that something wasn't working. The film did not come together and no one was happy with how it was turning out. Ed Catmull one of the heads of Walt Disney animation has stated that the film has been cancelled simply due to the fact they can no longer move any further with this project. However he also stated that that a different animated feature will be released at the time this film was going to be released. It is unknown what that film will be at this time, but Catmull has stated it will be an original movie and not a sequel to anything.   

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Movie Review: My Little Pony the Movie

Review By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B

Review: A highly enjoyable adventure movie, but those who have seen enough of the TV show it is based off of will know that show does outshine this film by quite a bit.

The highlights of this movie are the returning characters and animation. The characters are just as well developed and likable as they are in the TV show. Twilight is given the biggest role and is handled very well. While it is unfortunate that her geekiness is toned down here, she is extremely likable and relatable. At all times you fully understand what she is going through. She may be a hero but she is far from perfect and does things that she soon regrets. The other members of the mane six are also very well written but are not given as much development as they have received in episodes of the TV show as this film is mostly Twilight's story and there is nothing wrong with that. The animation is the one thing that really is an improvement over the show. This animation is absolutely incredible. It stays true to the TV show's roots but does something quite different with the look here. The film beautifully combines 2-d animation with 3-d animation. This never feels forced and the two look perfect together giving the film a bit of scope not seen in the show. The character animation is equally effective and just by looking at the animation you can tell just what the characters are thinking. They tell you everything with just a look. The story itself is quite charming and fun. It is not anything that rises above anything the show itself has done (and in fact repeats what episodes of the show have already done), but is still a lot of fun. It has a great sense of adventure, and scope.

However this film does have problems the main one is many of the new characters. The Storm King himself is a very disappointing villain. Despite his great power and how much he intimidates other characters he does not feel the least bit threatening when appearing on screen. This is strange considering how intimidating the villains in the show were (Discord, Quenn Chrysalis, Tirek). The fact you know they have done so much better on this front makes him all the more disappointing. His character is also given some humor but this falls flat. Speaking of unfunny villains Grubber a "comic" sidekick to the villains is extremely unfunny. Every one of his jokes feels forced and annoying. This character also talks in a very modern "hip" style that will soon date each scene the character is in. Tempest however is a fairly strong villain even if she treads ground already done in episodes of the series. Despite this she is quite enjoyable and a nice addition. Capper is another strong new character. On another downside Songbird Serenade feels like just what she is a forced celebrity cameo.

There is nothing (besides the animation) here that makes it stand out among all the episodes of the TV show. In fact some of the show's best episodes are better. However for what it is this is a very enjoyable movie. It is a lot of fun to watch and fans of the TV show (myself included) will have a lot of fun watching it. Newcomers should enjoy the movie, but will not understand the huge obsession the show's fanbase has as well as if the had watched A Canterlot Wedding (for a quick example). So just understand that the show is better and sit down and enjoy a fun movie, because there is still a lot to recommend here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A

Note: I am reviewing this movie because I just watched it at The Old Town Music Hall, for more information I direct you to this previous post.

Review: What is by many considered to be the first American horror movie, still stands as a fantastic film today.

There is so much that is great about this movie. The characters are very interesting especially Dr. Jekyll himself. The idea that he knows only good, but secretly longs for evil is something quite fascinating. Though he has lived a squeaky clean life at his first temptation he starts to become obsessed with doing evil. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, even the knowledge of evil is extremely difficult to resist. He even tries to think of a way to cheat God and sin all he likes without it having any effect on his soul. Naturally the only one he ends up cheating is himself. This is all fascinating and very relatable. The idea of living a sinless life is something many strive for, but sadly even the thought of sin seems very enticing. This makes even Mr. Hyde seem very real and understandable to us, and makes the story seem all the more like a tragedy. The character is even more fascinating due to a fantastic performance by John Barrymore. There is still even much more to recommend here though. The atmosphere is extremely absorbing. The lighting and cinematography is perfect. The movie is just incredible to look at. However this look is perfectly in service to the story being told. It never distracts you from the story but instead pulls you further in.

I must say if you ever get a chance, see this movie in a theater with live musical accompaniment. This is a completely different experience from seeing the movie on TCM or DVD. To feel the horror along with those around you and realize you are sharing this experience with them is amazing. Adding to this is the live music. This pulls you into the movie perfectly. To feel the vibrations beneath your feet and to actually see the musician playing. This all just goes to make this more than watching a movie but a great experience all over. Every movie buff should sometime in their life see a silent movie this way, it is something you will never forget.

-Michael J. Ruhland     

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Movie Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade:D

Review: Sadly an extremely disappointing film after the last two Lego movies, and just not a very good movie period.

The major problem with this movie is that is simply extremely clichéd and predictable. The only thing that is really surprising in the story comes quite early on and everything that happens after that can easily be seen coming. This is equally true of almost all of the film's jokes, most having a punchline we see coming from a mile away. There are some good jokes here, but sadly they are not as common as the weak jokes are. However these weak jokes are rarely that bad they just don't invoke much laughter. The characters are similarly very familiar. They aren't bad characters but they feel like characters from so many different films, and have little to make them stand out on their own (yes I do know this is based off a TV show). However the weakest part of the movie is the live action opening a closing sequences. These really feel out of place in this movie and like they were tacked on at the last minute. They add nothing to the movie and the film wouldn't lose anything if they were cut. The inclusion of these scenes feel more puzzling than anything.

The movie has its good points though. The animation is excellent, as should be expected from these Lego movies, the voice acting is quite good, there are a few good jokes (even if they are in the minority), and the characters are pretty likable if not exactly memorable.

This movie doesn't leave much of a bad taste in your mouth, but instead just leaves one with little if any impact. This unfortunately though does make this a huge disappointment after the last two Lego movies.

-Michael J. Ruhland   

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Happy 122nd Birthday to Buster Keaton

If he were alive today, Buster Keaton would have turned 122 years old. Even 100 years after his first film, his movies still stick with us today and stand as some of the great comic masterpieces in film history. There is little to no doubt that films like Sherlock Jr., The General and The Cameraman will always be considered classics and delight future generations of film enthusiasts for the rest of time.

Buster was born on October 4th, 1895 as Joseph Frank Keaton. From an extremely early age (three) he was performing on vaudeville with his parents (Joe Keaton, Myra Keaton). This act was called The Three Keatons and it was full of rough and tumble slapstick. In fact the act involved his father throwing him across the stage. Story goes he received his nickname "Buster" because of famous magician Harry Houdini, who worked on the same bill as the Keatons. In that time a "buster" meant to take a fall or spill. One day the young performer fell down the stairs without getting hurt, and Houdini gave him that name. While being a part of this vaudeville act he learned that he got less laughs if he smiled. Not smiling would become a major part of his screen character later.

Buster would start his film career in 1917, after he met famous comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Arbuckle offered him a job in film. To convince him, Arbuckle gave Keaton a movie camera to play with and Buster soon became very fascinated with this new device. He would appear in 14 shorts with Arbuckle and would soon be co-directing the films with the famous movie comedian. It wasn't long until Buster would be able to make films on his own as an independent filmmaker. However first he appeared in a less comic role in his first feature 1920's The Saphead. After this Buster went on to direct and star in some of the greatest comedy shorts of the silent era such as One Week, Cops and The Playhouse. 1923's The Three Ages marked the first feature he directed. This parody of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance was a big hit and lead to some of the greatest silent feature films ever made, including Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., The Navigator, Seven Chances, The General, College and Steamboat Bill Jr.. Despite how popular they are today and what great films they are the last few of these features did not do as well at the box office as expected and Buster needed help funding these movies. To make up for this he signed up with MGM. He would later call this the worst business decision of his life. Though the first two movies he made for this studio (The Cameraman, Spite Marriage) were great movies, soon MGM would take too much control over his films. He was no longer a director or a gag writer, but instead just an actor. Free and Easy (his first talkie) was just awful and proved that MGM now had no idea what to do with Buster. He was often put into farce comedies, which he hated. Though some of these movies were good, none of them could be held up to his silent masterpieces. After 1933's What No Beer Keaton was fired. Keaton's next Hollywood gig would be to make short comedies for Educational pictures then later Columbia. With the Educational films Buster was once again allowed to write gags for these shorts, and as a result, some of them are completely delightful, especially the excellent Grand Slam Opera. The Columbia films did not give Buster the same freedom and he was often put under the direction of Jules White, who is most famous for his work with The Three Stooges. Buster hated these films and left two-reelers after 1941's She's Oil Mine. Despite this such shorts as Pest From the West are actually pretty good. Buster would spend most of the rest of his movie career playing small roles. He would appear in some big name films such as In the Good Old Summertime, Sunset Boulevard and Limelight. On TV however he would have his own show called The Buster Keaton Show which first aired in 1950. This show was delightful and is definitely a must watch for fans of Buster.

So celebrate his birthday by watching some of his best films, because they will always be some of the greatest comedies ever made. Happy birthday Buster.

-Michael J. Ruhland                 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Happy 67th Birthday to Peanuts

Okay today's post may not be about film, but this is my blog and I can write about whatever I want. So today I am going to write about a comic strip that happens to mean a lot to me. This is Peanuts. As many of you know this strip was created and written by Charles M. Schultz and introduced such amazing characters as Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Sally Brown, Linus and Lucy Van Pelt, Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, Schroder, Pigpen and so many more. It also spawned off many animated TV specials, two TV series and a few theatrical feature films. The appeal of these characters is actually very easy to understand. They are us. We relate to them highly. We understand the insecurities of Charlie Brown and Linus, the daydreaming side of Snoopy and Peppermint Patty's boredom when it comes to school. However there is actually more to their appeal than this, we don't just relate to these characters we kind of admire them. Charlie Brown may never successfully fly a kite, kick a football, or win a baseball game. Similarly we know that Linus will never see the great pumpkin, and Peppermint Patty will remain D- student for her entire time in school. However these characters preserve through all of this. They never give up and when they fall off the horse they get right back on. If after all these characters go through they still hang in there so can we. At the end of the day this gives us hope that we can make it through any hardships or failures in our lives.

The reason I am talking about this comic strip today is simple. On this day in 1950, this strip first graced the newspaper funny pages. Below is the very first comic. Though a lot has changed and the strip would later have a much larger cast than the three characters featured here (Charlie Brown, Sherman, Patty (not Peppermint Patty mind you)), this strip gave birth to all that followed.
-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Silent Film of the Month: The Monster (1925)

Run Time: 86 minutes. Studio: MGM. Director: Roland West. Writer: Roland West. Based on a play by Crane Wilbur. Main Cast: Lon Chaney, Gerutrde Olmstead, Hallum Cooley, Johnny Arthur. Cinematographer: Hal Mohr.

It is October again and of course with Halloween, this is the perfect month to watch a scary movie. To me (and I am sure many other film enthusiasts) that means it is the perfect time to watch a Lon Chaney movie. While I like many of you love Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Unknown and many more of the most popular films he starred in, this month we are going to look at an often very overlooked movie starring The Man of a Thousand Faces. This is a horror-comedy called The Monster.

This movie was directed by Roland West. If some of you are not familiar with this name it may be because during his brief movie career (1916-1931). He only directed 12 films and over half of them are unfortunately currently lost films. Two of his movies however may be known by comic book buffs. These are The Bat and its sequel The Bat Whispers. Both of which played a part in inspiring the character of Batman. The Monster is the oldest of West's currently surviving films.

This movie was based off a stage play by Crane Wilbur. Crane Wilbur is quite a name himself in film history. My fellow short subject fans might know him for directing some 1930's Technicolor short subjects for Warner Brothers about the history of the USA. On the other hand horror movie buffs might know him for writing 1953's The House of Wax. My fellow country music fans on the other hand might be interested to know Crane Wilbur directed a 1951 film called Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, which inspired Johnny Cash to write his song Folsom Prison Blues.

As mentioned before this film stars Lon Chaney himself. One of the things that Chaney is best remembered for now is his understated and often subtle way of acting. This is often attributed to his parents being both deaf and mute and because of this he needed to learn to communicate through pantomime. However in this film he is anything but subtle. He is over the top and very exaggerated in his movements. Since the character he plays is anything but subtle it works very well here. Still this holds an interest to film enthusiasts to see such a beloved actor use such a different acting style.

As this film starts Johnny Goodlittle (played Johnny Arthur) fights over a beautiful girl named Betty (played by Gertrude Olmstead) with his rival Amos (played by Hallam Cooley). Johnny being an amateur detective decides to investigate a disappearance at an asylum. When he gets there however he learns that the evil Dr. Ziska (played by Lon Chaney) has taken over the place. Dr. Ziska kidnaps Amos and Betty. Johnny, Amos and Betty struggle to find a way out of the asylum alive as they learn just how sinister Dr. Ziska really is.

Though I would be lying if I said this movie ranks among one of Chaney's best films, this movie is still a sheer delight, especially for my fellow film buffs. The comedy while not consistently laugh out loud hilarious is often pretty funny. Scenes like the dance hall scene or Johnny being drunk certainty make me laugh. The characters are very likable and always fun to watch, and the acting is fantastic. However the best thing about this movie in my mind is its sense of atmosphere. As soon as you enter the asylum, there is a feeling of dread. You just know things are going to get worse. The lighting and cinematography are perfect here and really accentuate the idea of something not being quite right.

At time critics were not very fond of the movie's combination of comedy and horror. However this is what this movie's current fans loves about the film.

-Michael J. Ruhland

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