Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Movie Review: Early Man

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: Excellent film, that may be predictable story wise, but is more than fun enough to make up for that.

This film creates a very likable and world. The atmosphere is quite engaging and beautifully detailed. The amount of work used on the look of this film is more than worth it. The sets are incredible to look at and the character animation is very expressive. The characters themselves are quite likable. You truly relate to them and root for the protagonists as if they were real people. However the best thing about this movie is the humor. There are many moments here that are laugh out loud hilarious. The jokes may not come as fast as they do in many other animated comedies, but this does not make them any less funny. The slower pace may even be part of the movies charm, as it gives the movie a very relaxed feel. This laid backed relaxed feeling is too rare in many modern comedies, making this film a delightful departure. Most of all this movie is just full of charm.

This movie does have a problem though and that is that the story is overly predictable at times. It is true everything that happens story wise is something movie lovers have seen quite a few times before. There is little story wise, you will not see coming here. However the movie's simply charm manages to easily overcome this fault and leave us with an excellent movie that will delight my fellow fans of Aardman animation.

-Michael J. Ruhland.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pluto in "Plutopia" (1951)

Plutopia stands as a very oddball Disney cartoon. This is not only because of the bizarre visual gags and surreal atmosphere, but also because of the director. Charles Nichols was one of the three main directors of Disney cartoon shorts at this time. While the other two major directors (Jack Hanna and Jack Kinney) made very fast paced cartoons filled with wild slapstick humor, Nichols' cartoons were often quite slow paced, very cute and almost never went for wild slapstick humor. This makes the idea of Nichols directing a cartoon like Plutopia very odd. This cartoon is filled with fast paced action and brings us wild gag after wild gag. The surreal atmosphere (rare for any Disney short at this time), is shockingly different from the softness and cuteness that many associate with Nichols' Disney cartoons. However it is just this that makes Plutopia stand out as a favorite among many cartoon fans (myself included).

AnimationJack Boyd (Truck back from camp Utopia sign and pan left of cabins. Mickey and Pluto stop of cabin in car; Pan down "rules" sign - mess of don'ts)
Fred Moore (Mickey tells Pluto "What a dream place..."; Mickey raving about their vacation- inhales- tells Pluto to smell the air; Mickey opens car door and tells Pluto "Utopia is yours." Pluto bounds out barking; Mickey carrying suitcases to cabin. Pluto races around him. Pluto takes- sips out to right; Pluto playfully romps in and upsets Mickey. Bounds out to right; Mickey laughs at Pluto . Hears o.s. bell; Mickey perturbed reads "no dogs allowed in cabins- dogs must be muzzled, etc..."; Mickey calls Pluto- holds up muzzle and leash; Mickey steps outside the house - enveloped in dog and cat fight; Fight moves on- comes back in- upsets Mickey- asks "what happened?")
Norm Ferguson (Pluto sniffs air. Takes as Mickey mentions trees; Pluto bounding thru trees. Stops to sniff bounds out; Pluto wakes up cat chases him to right; Pluto trees cat. Barks up tree; Cat zooms up to top of tree; Pluto romping on bed, attacks pillow; Pluto wrestling with pillow; Pluto sees Mickey says "Mmm-umm" and turns over. Wipeover to sc. 21; Pluto muzzled and leashed. Mickey bids him goodnight. Pluto tries to reach dish; Pluto straining on leash - tries to get food thru muzzle sees out; Cat walking towards camera big smile; Cat enters- starts eating Pluto's food; Cat tastes Pluto's food licks fingers; Cat licking pans and cleaning face- take to off stage right; Cat trots in pushes bone just out of Pluto's reach - Pluto struggles to reach bone - gives up in disgust; Pluto settles down in disgust for the night. Cat in - rubs back and forth on Pluto. Settles down with Pluto for the night; Pluto sails into dream sky on mat - the gates of Plutopia - circles dream house; Cat opens door - ala butler says "Good morning sir."- Pluto takes; Pluto stops cat from shooting himself - cat begs to be punished - Pluto embarrassed pushes cat out of scene; Cat broken hearted, crying on fireplug; Pluto feels sorry - moves over and takes a little nip on cat's tail; Cat screeches for joy - flies out of scene. Back in and throws Pluto a roast duck; Pluto nips cats tail - cat explodes - Pluto waits for food - cat in claws flailing big fight.)
Les Clark (Cat bowing low invites Pluto in; Pluto in big take... Cat says "Your honor..."; Cat bowing and scrapping in doorway; Pluto in angry antic; Pluto roars into house. House Bounces. O.S. growls and cat yells; Pluto slamming cat around - tosses him out of scene; Cat ruffled - thanks Pluto; Pluto in bug eyed take; Cat tells Pluto he'll get him a bowl of cream; Pluto - can't believe his eyes; Cat runs through door rambles up stairs; Pluto into crafty expression moves out to right; Pluto hides by door - trips cat as he rushes through with cream - o.s. crash; Pluto into satisfied chuckle; Cat apologizes for spilling cream asks Pluto to punch him; Pluto into "what the hey" expression; Cat starts to beat himself up; Pluto into amused smile; Cat beating himself up; Pluto laughing at o.s. cat - takes)
George Nicholas (Pluto swallows duck, licks lips for more; Cat holds up sausage - Waves tail at Pluto; Pluto eager prepares teeth to bite cat; Pluto clamps down on cat's tail - Cat takes off in glee; Ca congratulates Pluto - tosses sausage to Pluto; Pluto starts eating string of sausage - a mile long - pans; Pluto eating comes to cat on end of line - bites cat's arm - cat yells and starts throwing steaks at Pluto. Pluto fills up - bone in; Pluto tries to swallow bone looks around for a place to bury it; Pluto starts digging - cat in with shovel strikes bone-well - congratulates Pluto; Cat riding shovel like pogo stick - Bone well strikes up - bones fill screen)  

Marvin Woodward (Pluto lying on bed - Cat on stand with chocolate bone-bones. Pluto nips at cat's tail - cat yells; Cat happy reaches for candy "bone-bone"; Cat tosses chocolate "bone-bone" to Pluto - Pluto eats it - starts to nip cat - o.s. Mickey's voice; Pluto starts waking as Mickey calls him; Mickey amused at Pluto sleeping with cat - takes off muzzle - leaves to get Pluto's breakfast - Pluto turns to eat)

Story: Mickey and Pluto go on a vacation. However when they get to their cabin, they learn all dogs must be on a leash and muzzled. Mickey follows these instructions. Unfortunately Pluto's food is just out of reach. A cat eats it all and then sleeps by Pluto. Pluto also falls asleep and has a dream where the cat is a butler servant to Pluto and gives the dog food whenever Pluto bites him. All of this takes place in a strange minimalist looking environment. Soon the cat digs up bone wells and Pluto is rich. At this time Mickey wakes Pluto up. Mickey thinks it is cute to see Pluto and the cat sleeping next to each other, and then Mickey takes the muzzle off and goes in to get food. Pluto bites the cat's tail excepting the results he had and the dream. This leads to a huge fight and a confused Mickey.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Friday, February 23, 2018

After Seeing Marx Brothers and Looney Tunes on a Big Screen

I have never been shy about my love for a place called The Old Town Music Hall. This is an old time movie theater in Southern California that allows audiences to see movies from the silent era through the 1950's the way they were meant to be seen. If any of my fellow old movie buffs are in Southern California this is a must go to place.

Tonight going here I saw one of the all time great comedy feature films, and one of my favorite Looney Tunes cartoon. The feature was Duck Soup starring the four Marx Brothers. The cartoon was The Daffy Doc. While these are both films I have seen so many times I have them practically memorized, I must confess I have never seen either in a theater with an audience, and what a difference that makes. The films felt brand new, and it was almost as if I had never seen them before. I may have known every joke by heart but laughing at them along with a decent sized audience, I couldn't help but enjoy these jokes even more than when I saw both films for the first time (okay I can't remember the first time I saw The Daffy Doc but the point still stands). Throughout these films the laughter only let up in time to hear the next joke and then it would start all over again. The only other times I have heard this much laughter from an audience was the many times I have seen Laurel and Hardy films, but no modern movie or any other old film comes close to the laughter here. All this laughter in an audience is not the same as a TV laugh track. Instead this is a contagious laughter that I simply could not resist joining. In fact during the big production number of The Country's Going to War (from Duck Soup), I was laughing so much, I had to stop and take a breath of air.

Really seeing these films on the big screen with an audience is such a different experience from watching them on DVD, or TCM (as fantastic as those options are). If you ever get a chance to see The Marx Brothers and/or Looney Tunes cartoons this way, do not pass it up. I can guarantee you, as much as I like some modern movies, they will not have the audience laughing anywhere near this much.

For more information about The Old Town Music Hall:

-Michael J. Ruhland


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B

Review: Very good and sometimes thought provoking superhero movie may not be perfect but what works, really works.

The best thing about this movie is the nation of Wakanda, itself. This is a beautifully thought out and extremely well crafted environment. From when you first see this place, the film does exactly what a fantasy movie should do. It transports you to another world. There is so much attention to detail here that you could swear it was real. This movie also deals with serious real world theme like isolationism. Unlike many other action movies, this theme is not forced in so the filmmaker can preach to us. Instead it is perfectly woven into the story to the point where it becomes an important part of it and something you can not separate from the story. This theme is also is discussed very intelligently and realistically. There are no easy answers given and any choice the characters will make will have some negative consequences. One thing that really impressed me about this movie was the villain. I have come to the point when I see a Marvel movie I automatically assume the villain is going to be a weak point in the movie and I am almost always proven right. This movie however had a great villain. The character feels real and human at all times. He is a complex and well thought out character and one that is always fun to watch. Also with super hero movies lately trying to shove in as many superheroes as possible, it is great to see a superhero movie that is all about one superhero.

However this is not a perfect movie. The Jabari Tribe feel like they are forced into this movie for plot convenience. There is simply nothing interesting about these characters. The biggest problem with this film though is the action scenes. These scene not only offer nothing new, but they also go on much too long. This is especially true of the climatic action scene near the end. This scene felt like it was never going to end. Though I was highly enjoying the movie before this scene, I found myself getting extremely bored as the fight just went on and on. I simply was losing interest in a movie I was highly enjoying earlier. Still with the fact that I highly enjoyed the rest of the movie, this does not stop me in the slightest from giving my recommendation for this movie.

-Michael J. Ruhland  


Friday, February 16, 2018

Lillian Gish Mourns the Loss of Silent Film

Many of my fellow silent film fans may be familiar with a famous quote from Mary Pickford, "It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkie instead of the other way around." America's sweetheart was not the only silent film actress to echo such sentiments. Lillian Gish shared very similar statements when interviewed by Martian Chisholm for Film and TV Technician magazine (issue dated October, 1957). Below is the article that came as a result of this interview.

"'With the introduction of speech into motion pictures, we lost the key to people's understanding of each other'

"That though-provoking statement is the considered view of Lillian Gish, veteran stage screen and television actress, who has just completed work at Shepperton on Anthony Asquith's Orders to Kill.

"This does not mean that she is not happy in a speaking role. Fra from it 'I have never had ten happier days anywhere in the world' She told me. 'than working with Anthony Asquith on this picture. The whole time there was a sense of working with a group of artists and technicians who each and all , were dedicated to just one thing, getting it right.

"There was one sequence in which I was troubled with doubts. I felt I had not been able to convey what was in the director's mind, and, for the first time in my life I felt that I could not face seeing my rushes.'

"There is nothing intense in Lillian Gish's manner when she says a thing like that. She is quiet, relaxed and speaks thoughtfully and very modestly about a medium to which she is utterly devoted. There is not even the slightest doubt about that. Take this question of speech on the screen for instance.

"'What we see' she said 'is so much more important than what we hear. It makes so much a greater impact on us. We who work in motion pictures should never for one moment forget that the quickest way to the brain is through the eye.'

"Does this mean that even today with all the available richness of new sound techniques, there is a scope for  revival of silent films?

"I put that question to Miss Gish. 'I think' she replied 'that we what should aim at is not, perhaps silent films, but films in which instead of dialogue we marry music to vision. And we I say 'music' I certainty do not exude the music of words. The words for Shakespeare, for instance are music in themselves, and has a finer film ever been made than Henry the Fifth?

"'You may smile at what I am going to say, but I'd like to tell you this. In the old silent days we felt we were working on a medium that the Bible had predicted, a medium which had the possibility of growing into a universal language which could make all men brothers. Yes we really felt that this medium was so much greater, so much more important, than any of us. We worked with that idea constantly in our minds. The medium had the power and we felt our responsibility in its use deeply.'
"Lillian Gish thought for a minute then she added: 'I think that too many men have lost that sense of responsibility to the medium. We had better get back to it if we don't like the state of the world today'"

-Michael J. Ruhland



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Exhibitors Comments on Looney Tunes Cartoons. #1

Looney Tunes aren't just some of the greatest cartoons ever made but some of the greatest films ever made. These cartoons stand today as be just as great as they were when first released. They are not only extremely funny, but are put together using expert filmmaking. With this in mind toady we are going to look at some exhibitor comments on classic Looney Tunes cartoons. Again what makes these so fascinating is that they show not only what one person though of the film, but what a whole audience thought of the film. This is the first of hopefully many posts sharing these.

"Joe Glow The Firefly: Looney Tunes Cartoons- Very poor. Doesn't come up to previous Looney Tunes cartoons. Running Time: 8 min. - Fred C. Allen, Princess Theater, Piedmont, Ala. Small town patronage."

"Joe Glow The Firefly: Looney Tunes Cartoons- A firefly has adventures that are cute and clever with a very surprise ending. Black and White it is different and worthwhile. Running Time: 7 minutes. - W. Varick Nevins III. Alfred Co-op theater, Alfred, N.Y. Small college town patronage."

"Porky's Preview: Looney Tunes cartoons- Fair. Novel cartoon. Just something different. Running Time: 8 min. - Fred C. Allen, Princess Theater, Piedmont, Ala. Small town patronage."   

"The Hep Cat: Looney Tunes Cartoons- A dandy. Play it. - Charles A. Brooks, Ritz Theater, Marshfield, Mo."

"The Wise Quacking Duck: Looney Tunes Cartoons- Loads of laughs from the audience.- L.H. Ledbetter, Osage Theater, Kansas Theater, Kansas"

"Porky's Hired Hand: Looney Tunes- Excellent. "Porky" at his best. Running time, nine minutes. - Fred C. Allen, Princess Theater, Piedmont, Ala. Small town patronage."

"Porky's Bear Facts: Looney Tunes- Fine Vitaphone is our best bet for cartoon fare. Running time, nine minutes. - Fred C. Allen, Princess Theater, Piedmont, Ala. Small town patronage."

"Porky's Pooch: Looney Tunes cartoons- A fair cartoon that pleased the kids.- Miss Cleo Manry, Buena Vista Theater, Buena Vista, Ga. Small town patronage"

"Calling Dr. Porky: Looney Tunes- Here is a killer diller. Very Funny. Our patrons just love these Vitaphone cartoons. The background music adds greatly to these shorts.   Running time, nine minutes. - Fred C. Allen, Princess Theater, Piedmont, Ala. Small town patronage."

"Patient Porky: Looney Tunes- Another cartoon that got some laughs. Porky is quite a favorite with my kids, the few that come to the show. - Mayme P. Musselman, Princess Theater, Lincoln, Kan. Small town patronage."

"My Favorite Duck: Looney Tunes- This one is tops. Everyone well pleased. Very best one to date with me. - Claude R. Gray, Gilmont Theater, Mt. Gilead, N. C."

" Wise Quacking Duck, The: Looney Tunes Cartoons- Best Daffy cartoon in a long time. This is a sure hit and will have them rolling in the aisles. - Frank Raspa State Theater, Rivesville, Va."

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, February 12, 2018

Movie Review: La Boda de Valentina

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B-

Review: A sweet and charming romantic comedy, even if there is nothing that we haven't seen many times before.

What makes this movie work is that the characters are just so likable. They feel often to be fully developed and we actually do feel sorry for them at times. With the exception of two characters (more on that later), all the major characters avoid being the easy romantic comedy movie stereotypes that we have seen a million times. This is not because they do fit into these stereotypes (which they often do), but because there is more to their characters than just that. No character is without faults, but there is also no character in which there is nothing likable about. In other words they feel like real people. While the story here has been done a million times before and anyone who has seen even a few romantic comedies will recognize the film as nothing original, it is handled quite well. The movie never tries to present itself as anything new. It is as aware of the fact that we all know this story as Hallmark Christmas films are and like the best of those movie, if we except this unoriginality we can still have plenty of fun here. And this movie is fun. We know what is going to happen, but we also enjoy watching unfold. The story simply tells this story as simply as possible and there is a charm to that.

However on the bad side, the scenes with the newscasters are just too annoying. I can see that there is meant to be in element of satire in this, but it falls flat. As such I was glad when each of these brief scenes ended. Similarly the character of Bernardo is rather annoying. I understand what they were trying to do with this character, but it still falls flat. Similarly there is the character of the in-jail Grandma, who is nothing but the romantic comedy stereotype, the other characters could have so easily been.

On a whole, if you do not except this movie to bring anything new there is a lot to enjoy about it.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Movie Review: Peter Rabbit

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

Review: While this film is faulted and I will never consider it a classic, I still found  lot to enjoy here. If you want to see a great movie, then this may not be for you, but if you just want to have a fun time at the movies then I recommend it.

The humor in this movie is hit and miss, but when it hits it is quite good. There are some clever self aware jokes, as well as some well timed slapstick. In fact with the slapstick that works, the laughs coming from the timing rather than the jokes. However on the other hand there is some humor like with a very noisy rooster. This is not funny but instead pretty funny. More of the miss jokes though left almost no impression good or bad on me.

The characters are also a bit of a mixed bag. Peter himself ranges from likable to kind of annoying. However even when he is likable, I never became as emotionally attached to him as the movie wanted me to. This made some of the story's emotional scenes fall a little flat for me. His cousin is rather bland and there is not much to talk about with him. Bea is likable but there is little that is very memorable about her. Tom McGregor is actually quite a good character. He is threating but somewhat sympathetic. There are times when I almost feel we are supposed to root for him instead of Peter. Domhnall Gleeson's performance of this character is also quite good. He is giving his all to this comedic role. Two of Peter's sisters are quite bland and there is nothing really memorable about them. However Peter's other sister, Cotton-Tail is the best thing about this movie. She is very likable and very funny. Pretty much joke that comes from her mouth made me laugh. Honestly I can see myself recommending someone see this movie just for her. While I enjoyed this movie, she is still a character who was actually better than the movie she was in.

One annoyance with this movie was the use of various pop songs. Some of them feel completely out of place with the action on the screen. It feels like the only reason these songs are here is because they are popular. In fact there where even times where a pop song was at a point in the movie that made no sense, when there were other moments they would fit in better.

This is by no means a classic or something that anyone must see (except for Cotton-tail), but for a fun time at the movies it is a nice watch.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Highly Recomended Romantic Movies.

So with Valentines Day being close, I felt it was only natural that I share what I feel are some great romantic movies. This is not a list of the best romantic films ever made or my absolute favorites (I may have left one or two of my favorites out without even thinking about it). However what I am sharing is a list of some I highly recommend to my readers.

City Lights (1931) This is considered by many film buffs to be Chaplin's best film. I am not here to either confirm or argue with that, instead I am just going to say what a great movie this is. This film is the prefect blend of comedy and romance. The humor is absolutely hilarious and no matter how many times you see this movie it never gets old. The boxing match scene is about as great as a comedy set-piece can get. However none of this takes away from simply how touching the romance is. This romance is fully realized and perfectly developed. You believe the relationship between these two characters perfectly, and all this is done so subtly you don't even notice yourself become more attached to them. Also what can I say about the ending that hasn't already been said, it is powerful and unbelievable moving.

The Big Sick (2017) If this movie feels more real than most current romantic comedies that is because it is a true story, written by those who lived this story. Kumail Nanjiani (who is also the star of the movie) and Emily V. Gordon wrote this script based on their own lives and their own romances. It took them three years to write this script and the effort clearly shows on screen. Every second of this film is filled with a powerful sense of honesty. Even with all the great emotional moments of this film, the comedy is often times laugh out loud funny and the whole movie is a delight to watch.

Priceless (2006) This French romantic-comedy is completely and utterly delightful. One reason for this is that the main characters feel so real. Neither are simple and phoned in as too many characters in bad romantic comedies seem to be. They have various facets to their personalities. They don't always do the excepted, but everything they do feels completely natural and believable. This is because their personalities are much more than the one note characters we see too often in these type of movies. Adding to this is the fantastic performances by Audrey Tautou and Gad Emaleh, who bring so much conviction and likeability to their characters. Director, Pierre Salvadori and writer, Benoit Graffin also know how to balance the humor and sweetness needed for this picture. Nothing feels forced here and every element comes together to create a truly sweet and charming movie.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) F.W. Murnau's first American film is one of the finest romances ever put on film and one of the greatest dramatic films of the silent era. This movie is perfectly executed. Each shot looks absolutely incredible. Not only does it look great but as in many of the best silent movies, the look of the movie perfectly enhances the story, as it brings us further and further into the minds of these characters. There is not a wasted moment in this film as each moment brings us a touch of real raw humanity that even many of today's greatest filmmakers would envy. The scene where the main couple wanders into a church and sees a young couple stating their vows is one of the most powerful scenes in movie history. Adding to this is that George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor give some of the best performances of their careers.

Casablanca (1942) What can I simply say about this movie that hasn't all ready been said a thousand times. This is a movie that offers everything for everybody. There is action, drama, suspense, comedy and of course romance. Humphry Bogart and Ingrid Bergman light up the film, each time they appear together. Their chemistry is so powerful, that all they have to do is look at each other and we are already moved by their romance. One of the greatest movies of all time and a film that will never be overrated.

Flesh and the Devil (1926) There is no doubt about it this silent film is sexiness personified. The looks Greta Garbo and John Gilbert share are the sexiest moments ever put on film. Much more is accomplished with a look than can ever be seen in any nudity or graphic sex scenes seen in movies today. There has never nor will their ever be another screen couple like them. The chemistry is some of the finest ever seen in the movies. The story may be a little corny, but it too has a real charm to it. One of the must watch silent films.

Jules and Jim (1962) This is one of the finest films of the French New Wave movement and one of director François Truffaut's best. The power and beauty of this movie is unbelievable. Truffaut brings us one of the most lyrical films ever made. The intimacy felt between the characters is also fully felt by the audience watching. I don't want to go much more into this film because it is definitely that has to be watched to be experienced and any description will fail to do it justice. I will say though this movie is one you will do much more than watch you will experience it instead. The images and characters will live on in your mind long after watching.      

Lady and the Tramp (1955) This movie amounts to one of the finest animated features to come from the Disney studio after the 1940's. Everything just works in this classic film. The music is great. The characters are great. The animation is amazing and the whole film just has such a lovely perfect feeling to it. This is just such a great film to look at. The animation and backgrounds are just lovely all the way throughout. The romance is one of Disney's best, it is fully believable and perfectly handled. Of course the songs are also great, and they enhance every scene they are in.

The Awful Truth (1937) This is one of the most laugh out loud funny romantic comedies ever made. The humor is perfectly written and executed and there is never a moment in this film that does not entertain fully and completely. Leo McCarey is one of the finest American directors and this movie perfectly shows why. He not only makes an unbelievably funny screwball comedy here, but the romance is actually quite fun and engaging. Having Cary Grant and Irene Dunne does hurt the film at all and Ralph Bellamy is perfect in his supporting role. To say they don't make them like this any more is an understatement and how any one could resist this film's charm is beyond me.
Waking the Dead (2000) This is a real rarity. It is a film that is both extremely touching and intelligent. You never know where this movie's story is heading. Yet the film perfectly pulls you into the power and beauty of what you are seeing. This movie is told in a rather interesting way. Though it was shot in chorological order, the movie itself jumps back and forth from the past and the present. It was shot to make the relationship between the couple all the more real and natural. From looking at the movie this worked like a charm. What really makes this movie so powerful is that every scene these characters share is so real and believable. You feel the compassion between the two characters in a way you do in too few movie romances.This film also has an incredible look to it. On a fairly low budget the filmmakers created something that looks more powerful than many of the big budget CGI-heavy movies out there.  All in all this is a fantastic movie and simply a must watch. 

-Michael J. Ruhland



Friday, February 9, 2018

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy in "Mickey's Service Station" (1935)

To this day some of the most popular cartoon shorts among Disney fans are the ones that used Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy as a comedy team in the same vein as Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges. The first of these was Mickey's Service Station. This was also the only one that was in black and white instead of color. In fact there would be only one more Mickey Mouse cartoon in black and white, which would be Mickey's Kangaroo (released later the same year).

A quick bit of writing from an issue of The Film Daily (dated March 14, 1935), lets us know where this cartoon premiered, as well as the feature it played with. Below is what that quick bit of writing says.

"Walt Disney's newest Mickey Mouse cartoon, 'Mickey's Service Station' is to have its premiere at the Rivoli Theater tomorrow on the bill with Samuel Goldwyn's 'The Wedding Night' in which Gary Cooper and Anna Sten are co-starred"

Below is what some theater owners had to say about this cartoon in The Motion Picture Herald.

"Mickey's Service Station: Mickey Mouse- Good filler lots of laughs and excitement. Running time, 1 reel - Rudolph Duba. Royal Theater, Kimball S. D. Small town patronage"

"Mickey's Service Station: Mickey Mouse- A dandy cartoon. Mickey Mouse means something at our box office.- J.W. Noah, New Liberty and Ideal Theaters, Ft. Worth, Texas. General patronage."

AnimationMilt Kahl (Close view of old heap - Mickey-Duck-Goof. Truck back x-Dis to:[General view of repair yard (animated by Eddie Strickland)]; Car collapses- off stage honking- characters rush out to right; Mickey and knee action)
Eddie Strickland (General view of repair yard)
Art Babbitt ( (cut) to Pete. He spits; Pete gets out of car - grabs Mickey- squeaks car- says "get rid of it" turns to Duck and Goof says "I'll give you just 10 minutes"; C.U. clock- off stage voice continues; Pete - throat cutting gesture, turns to Mickey - talks - walks out and steps on auto horn, whirls around "who done that?"; Mickey - Goof and Duck petrified; Pete - steps on horn again- shoots; Pete exits; Goof and motor; C. U. clock- Pete dissolve in- pendulum pantos)
Dick Lundy (Three rush up to car "at your service sir."; Pete- cannon squirts him- hit by piston- pistons pull- pedals pound)
Fred Spencer (Mickey-Goof-Duck sildly start work on car; Duck at junk at rear of car; Goof smashes windshield; Duck smashes articles; Duck puts on radiator; Duck sees Goof coming - plants board - Duck run over and out of scene on dollie; Duck knocks over oil; Mickey hits Goof and Duck - pile up)
Don Towsley (Goof at head lamps; Goof pulls Duck through wiring; Goof shovels junk into rear axel)
Jack Kinney (Mickey with tire and rim; Mickey smashes own head in hood - look toward clock)
Archie Robin (Mickey finds squeak; C.U. Cricket on nose, jumps to floor)
Bill Tytla (Mickey and Goof and Ducks pantos- look towards car; All pick up parts- confusion- Duck hit; General assembly of car; Mickey- Duck and Goof sneak- break into run)
Paul Allen (Mickey and inter tube; Mickey above in car - hold everything)
Eric Larson (Mickey runs with steering post- trips; Mickey into car)
Leonard Sebring (Goof pulls away tube, falls on lever; Longer view cart shoots up on hoist- Goof catches it; Closer view- car shoots up on hoist- Leon Errol action; Goof gets into trouble; Goof back into hoist hole- fenders off)
Nick George (Pete returning; Mickey opens door. Pete in, talks, pushes Mickey away;
Pete laughs starts car)
Ferdinand Horvath (Car back-fires)
Woolie Reitherman (car explodes; Pete does turn in air; Pete lands amidst wreckage; Motor out of wreckage- starts fir Pete; Pete sees it coming- chase - pan; Mickey- Goof and Duck see them coming- beat it. Pete through; Oil barrel- Mickey, Goof and Duck jump in Pete through. Three pop up in grin; Pete chased by motor- exit over hills)

Story: Mickey, Donald and Goofy are car mechanics working on a car when Pete drives up. Pete tells the boys that he has a squeak in his car and they need to get rid of it or else. As they try to find the squeak the boys tear the car apart during several slapstick mishaps. Mickey finds the squeak which ends up being a cricket. After getting rid of it the boys see the mess they made of Pete's car and try to put it back together. Surprisingly when they finish the car seems well put together. However it soon falls apart, when Pete gets in. The engine starts going an chases Pete off screen saving our friends.


   -Michael J. Ruhland.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Movie Review: Bilal: A New Breed of Hero

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B

Review: Delightful and involving movie.

What really makes this movie work so well is that the main character (yes I know he is based off a real person) is so involving. He is always very likable and relatable. More than this though he is inspiring. When he rises up and brakes the chains of his oppression, we cheer him on and feel inspired to take the chains off our hearts (even if they chains are minor compared to what this man had to go through, which honestly makes the film all the more inspiring. As well as this the technical filmmaking is very well handled. This film features perfect cinematography in a way too few animated features do. These angles throw us even more into this movie as it brings us more into the mind of our protagonist. The movie also knows when to show us something instead of say it. The story is told very visually in a way that makes what we see even more powerful.

This is not a perfect movie though and it has some big faults. Chief among these is that the villains are just stock movie villains instead of fully developed characters. Even their designs just scream movie villain, and being the bad guys are their only personality traits. While it is a much smaller fault, the humor here is awful. Every time the movie tries to be funny it instead comes off as forced and largely unfunny. There are also a few times this movie skips to a later period of the story with no real transition, which can feel more than a little distracting. Still the good of this movie outshines the bad and it is definitely worth a watch.

-Michael J. Ruhland


Monday, February 5, 2018

The Popularity of Billy West

I have shared before what various exhibitors had to say about old films. These are always to me very fascinating. Unlike many movie reviews you don't just see one critic's opinion of a film, but what entire audiences felt about the pictures.
Today we look at what exhibitors wrote about Billy West comedies. This Billy West is not the famous voice artist on such cartoons as Ren and Stimpy and Futurama. This is instead a silent film comedy star. What West was best known for is imitating Charlie Chaplin. West looked almost identical to Chaplin and could copy the famous comedian's act almost perfectly. Due to a lack of new innovation many film histories mention Billy West films as a footnote, most often just stating that Oliver Hardy had appeared in supporting roles. One would think that the appeal of such a comic would be limited. However Billy West was extremely popular with audiences in his time, and some even felt he was better than Chaplin. Below are what some theater owners wrote to the magazine Motography.

"The Hero, with Billy West (King Bee Comedies) Raised my price from five to ten cents for this production. In my opinion these are the best comedies made. This is great and Billy West is a winner. Very good comedy with some clever twists- A.E. Elliott, Sapphire Theater, Kanas City, Mo."

"The Hero with Billy West (King-Bee). Great. Went over like a whirlwind. We cleaned them up. Made them roar and that's what counts. - W.H. Nelson, American Theatre, Kanas City, Mo."

"Cupid's Rival with Billy West. (King-Bee) Very fine. S.R.O. Billy is backing Chaplin off the map. -W.H. Nelson, American Theatre, Kanas City, Mo."

"Cupid's Rival with Billy West (King-Bee). Roars of crowds, big laughs, great business. A very lavish production. West is better than Chaplin, in my opinion. He is a bigger favorite every week.- A.E. Elliot, Sapphire Theater, Kanas City, Mo."

"Doughnuts with Billy West (King-Bee). The best of them yet. They started extra fine and are steadily getting funnier. Can't say too much for them. Big houses.- W.H. Nelson, American Theatre, Kanas City, Mo"

"Doughnuts with Billy West. (King-Bee) - This is the funniest Billy West comedy yet. A laugh or a yell every second- A.E. Elliott, Sapphire Theater, Kanas City, Mo."

"The Candy Kid with Billy West (King-Bee) - This was a knockout! I haven't collided so good with a comedy in a long, long time. Some of my patrons (the women anyway) laughed so hard they had tears in their eyes. Billy West is just now commencing to draw noticeably with me, as for a while when I put him on people, while they seemed to thoroughly enjoy the comedies seemed a little distrustful of West, but I account for this with the fact he is, or was, a new figure to them and they simply wanted to give him the o.o. I do quite a little advertising on West now because I believe it gets results. You need not to be afraid with this one, as I think anyone can play it to big laughs and big business. - W.H. Nelson, American Theatre, Kanas City, Mo."

"The Hero with Billy West. (King-Bee)- We will not miss Chaplin much while Billy West continues to make pictures like this.- Charles H. Ryan. Garfield Theater, Chicago in middle class neighborhood"

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Original Reviews of Horse Feathers (1932)

Everybody seems to be talking about football today, for some reason. Personally myself I don't care for the sport (or any sports) and instead find it just plain boring to watch. On the other hand I love movies and some movies I love actually do have to do with football. Of course as we all know one of the finest movies involving football is Horse Feathers with the Marx Brothers. For this reason today we are going to look at some of the original reviews of this great movie and see what the reception it got at the time.

New York Times
"The Four Marx Brothers score again in "Horse Feathers," a picture which came to the Rialto last night. Groucho's characteristic corkscrew humor, Chico's distortions of English and Harpo's pantomime aroused riotous laughter from those who packed the theatre for this first performance. Some of the fun is even more reprehensible than the doings of these clowns in previous films, but there is no denying that their antics and their patter are helped along by originality and ready wit.

"Harpo does his usual turn with the harp, looking like an angel in disguise. Chico plays the piano in his facile fashion and Groucho essays a little in the way of singing. It falls to Groucho's lot to be chosen as president of Huxley College at the outset of this bundle of mirth. Chico is a bootlegger masquerading as a more or less peaceful ice man and Harpo is a dog catcher. As for Zeppo, the sedate member of the family, he is a Huxley student, who is infatuated with the College Widow, Connie Bailey, played by the handsome Thelma Todd.

"After being introduced by the retiring college president, Groucho, who is scarcely neat in his attire, begins his litttle talk by saying that he thought his razor was dull, until he heard the speech of his predecessor. Soon after that Groucho renders a song, each verse of which ends with I'm against it. This gradually turns into another ballad, a stanza of which runs:

'I soon dispose of all those, Who put me on the pan. Like Shakespeare said to Nathan Hale, I always get my man.'

"The retiring president and the faculty join in with 'He always gets his man.'

When Groucho is surprised flirting with Connie Bailey, he is told by her guardian, Mr. Jennings, that he (Jennings) will teach Groucho to pay attention to the girl and Groucho replies that he does not need, any teaching as he is getting along splendidly.

There are glimpses of this college president searching for two football players in a speakeasy and Groucho and Chico furnish much hilarity by their entrances and exits and the password, which happens to be 'swordwish.' Harpo, being mute, makes sure that he will gain entrance to the place, so he carries with him a fish with a sword in its mouth.

"Harpo as the dog catcher is busy during several of the scenes, but he has some of his most trying moments when he and Chico are locked up in a room by the two football players, whom they hoped to kidnap to prevent their playing for a rival college. Their only way to escape is to saw a circle in the floor and when this is done they drop into the room below. They escape from that room by the same idea and drop on four women playing bridge, Chico boasting of having at least made a grand slam.

"The football game receives most attention in this offering. Poor old Huxley might have been defeated had not Chico, Groucho and Harpo used their wits. Harpo may be silent but during this hectic gridiron performance he apparently does a great deal of thinking. Nothing escapes him whereby he can help Huxley to down the other college. And Groucho is not idle, not by any means. He dives into the game with football headgear and morning coat, ready to cheat and foul for his alma mater. At one time the ball is on a lusty elastic rope so that the Huxley opponents never know where it is. They dash madly at one player and in one instance discover the apparently gentle Harpo sitting on the ball enjoying a sandwich.

The futility of struggling to get a ball down the field evidently strikes Harpo, who thinks that the best way to make goals in time is to get enough footballs, and he succeeds in bringing four or five to make the necessary touchdowns.

"Although this game is the highlight of the picture, there are several other sequences which provide their full share of laughter, notably when Groucho goes boating on a lake with the fair Connie, who, at the behest of Jennings is eager to ascertain the signals of the Huxley team. Groucho becomes slightly exasperated when Connie tries to wheedle the signals out of him by baby talk and it is not long before the lovely college widow is forced to swim for her life. Behind the boat is a duck who quacks at Groucho, or, as he put it, 'smart quacks.'

Then there is the time when Chico tells Groucho that the college owes him $2,000 for ice. He asks Chico what he charges for a cake and the ice-man answers that Scotch ice is $7 a cake, rye ice is $9 and champagne ice, $13.20. When Groucho wants to know what the 20 cents is for, Chico replies: For the ice.'

"There is also the amusement provided during a lecture on anatomy, which is interrupted by both Groucho and Harpo, the former desiring to know whether the lecturer's stuff is on the level or whether he is just making it up as he goes along.

Although no little laughter is stirred up by Harpo and Chico, the life of this little party is Groucho. Miss Todd is effective as the College Widow. David Landau is gruff enough as Jennings and Nat Pendleton, a former Olympic wrestler, is impressive as a football player."

The following are not reviews by critics but rather theater owners. In the 1920's and 30's, these distributors would often write to movie magazines saying what they and the audiences thought of the films that played there. The following reviews are from the Motion Picture Herald.

"Horsefeathers: Four Marx Brothers- Audience equally divided. Some pleased others thought it just an over-dose of nonsense. That's all it is- eight reels of nonsense. Played December 18-19. - J.G. Estee. S.T. theater, Parker, S.D. Small town patronage"

"Horsefeathers: Four Marx Brothers- Disappointing business. Sameness about these Marx Brothers. Not all audience pleased. - Herman J. Brown, Majestic and Adelaide Theaters, Nampa, Idaho."

"Horsefeathers: Four Marx Brothers- As good as any of the Marx Brothers pictures. Drew business and seemed to please everyone. My patrons did not seem to think it was any better the previous ones however, but it pleased and that is what we want in pictures today. Running Time: 68 min. - Harold Smith, Dreamland Theatre, Carson, Iowa. Rural patronage.

"Horse Feathers: The Four Marx Brothers- These boys are a scream and everybody goes crazy about them. Excellent attendance. Played Oct. 16-17. Running Time: 68min. - J. E. Courter, Courter Theater, Gallatin, Mo. General patronage."

-Michael J. Ruhland


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Mickey Mouse in "The Simple Things" (1953)

The Simple Things was the last cartoon of the original Mickey Mouse series of theatrically released shorts. Part of the reason for this was the fact that by the 1950's short subjects were no longer making much money. This was especially a problem for a cartoon producer like Walt Disney. Walt Disney spent a lot of money on short subjects and would not cut down costs to the level that many other cartoon producers had. He refused to put out what he considered an inferior product for finical reasons. As such the amount of animated short subjects the studio was making began to heavily decrease in the 1950's.

Another factor into this was Mickey himself. Mickey Mouse was often looked on as a bit of a role model for kids. However this did not fit his early screen image in which he would often do mischievous things that parents would not want heir kids doing. With this the Disney studio was made to calm Mickey down and take out this part of his personality. However with this he became a harder character to make funny. As such characters that weren't as restricted such as Donald Duck and Goofy would become more popular than the once biggest star in cartoons, Mickey Mouse.

 Still Mickey's career remained extremely successful after these short subjects ended. He would go on to be the master of ceremonies at Walt's new venture, a little thing called Disneyland, and he would have a hit TV show with The Mickey Mouse Club.

A working title for The Simple Things was Gull Crazy. This was a reference to the 1943 Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland MGM feature, Girl Crazy.

The film was directed by Charles Nichols. Nichols was one of the studio's three major directors of animated short subjects at this time. The other two were Jack Hannah and Jack Kinney. Nichols mostly handled the Pluto cartoons and Mickey Mouse cartoons.  

AnimationMarvin Woodward (Seashore- Pan- Seagulls flying off rock. Mickey in followed by Pluto; Mickey skips through scene whistling; Mickey sets up equipment on rock; Clam snoozing over seagull - into water - gull wakes up and gives chase; Gull lands on Pluto's head- catches wiener; Seagull in happy take; Mickey's hand holding fish; Gull catches fish- is yanked out of scene; Gull streaking through space; Gull ricochets across water- hits rock- flips over it; Bump rises on gull's head- get's mad; Mickey fishing- seagull circles overhead; Mickey sees gull- puts on hat- gull in- lands on Mickey's hat; Seagull steals bait from Mickey (split with Fred Moore); Mickey flails at gull with hat- hat flies away (split with Fred Moore); Pluto lifts hat off bucket, reveling seagull eating fish bait; Gull combs hair with fishbone; Gull puts tail feather back in his tail; Gull flies out squawking; Gull up in dive pose- shoots down out of scene; Gull dives into bucket- up with fish; Gull hands Mickey bones; Gull up out of bucket, whistles at o.s. gulls; Gulls on rock look up; Gull signals for help; Seagulls fly off rocks; Gull in bucket floating out to sea) 
Norm Ferguson (Pluto sniffs through water - comes up with starfish on face; Pluto with starfish over eyes- sniffing- hits rock; Starfish jumps off Pluto's nose- goes back into water; Pluto stops by water spout- gets squirted- pushes spout down- spout squirts him in his fanny- digs up clam; Clam looks around- takes- closes lid; Pluto cautiously sniffs clam- clam squirts Pluto in eye; Pluto's eye full of water- eyeball floats; Pluto into mad barking; Clam clacks back at Pluto; Pluto gets mad anticipates leap out; Pluto lands on clam- shuts it up; Clam lifts Pluto- peaks out; Clam tosses Pluto out of scene; Pluto jammed in rocks; Clam jumps off rock- pan to Pluto- Clam bites Pluto's tail; Pluto up in air- big take; Pluto opens mouth- clam looks out- starts to clacking; Pluto befuddled - clam spits; Pluto with tooth clacking- runs for help)
George Kreisl (Pluto tries to snap clam off tail- into yo-yo action. Clam flies into Pluto's mouth; Pluto tries to push clam out of his mouth)
Fred Moore (Mickey eating interrupted by whimpering Pluto; Mickey shushes Pluto; Pluto points to clacking clam; Mickey reaches into lunchbox- pulls out wiener; Pluto befuddled as clam eats wiener; Clam squirts Mickey- grabs sandwich; Mickey reprimands Pluto; Mickey continues reprimand; Mickey's hand in picks up sandwich and pepper; Mickey puts pepper on sandwich- Pluto snaps at pepper; Clam squeezes into Pluto's mouth- bounces around; Mickey laughs at o.s. Pluto; Pluto sneezes clam out; Clam lands in Mickey's hand; clam sneezes- blows Mickey's hat off; Mickey gets another wiener for Pluto; Mickey shows Pluto empty lunch pail, says "too bad pal"; Mickey starts to bait hook; Mickey baits hook- starts casting; Seagull steals bait from Mickey (split with Marvin Woodward); Mickey flails at gull with hat- hat flies away (split with Marvin Woodward); Mickey reaches for bait; Mickey takes at bones; Mickey tries to catch gull- throws rock; Pluto hits Mickey- knocks him flat; Mickey and Pluto take at oncoming gulls)
Charles Nichols (Pluto takes; Hat sails in and lands over bucket- Pluto takes; Pluto reacts to o.s. gull; Pluto snaps at gull- gets his tail feather; Pluto goes mad- gull scrams; Gull and bucket hit Pluto- Pluto tumbles down rocks)
George Nicholas (Pluto picks up bait bucket- chuckles; Gull in tippie-wing sneak; Gull threads Pluto's tail through collar; Gull ties up Pluto with tail and ears)
Dan MacManus (all effects animation)

Story: Taking along his dog Pluto, Mickey Mouse decides to go fishing. However the relaxing day runs into a little trouble when Pluto finds a clam. Pluto and the clam soon begin fighting. Pluto runs to Mickey for help, but at first Mickey doesn't understand. The clam is in Pluto's mouth and Mickey thinks Pluto is eating all his food. Mickey decides to play a practical joke by giving the dog a sandwich with lots of pepper. Pluto sneezes the clam out. However the clam wakes up a seagull. Mickey seeing he was wrong tries to give Pluto some food, but the seagull eats it. Next the seagull has his eyes on Mickey's bait (small fish). He starts eating Mickey's bait, which the mouse doesn't appreciate. Pluto tries to protect his master's bait but is no help. The seagull gets some friends and they chase Mickey and Pluto away.

-Michael J. Ruhland      

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Silent Film of the Month: The Love Bug (1925)

Run Time: 20 minutes. Studio: Hal Roach Studios. Director: Robert McGowan. Writers: Hal Roach, H.M. Walker. Main Cast: Mickey Daniels, Joe Cobb, Allen "Farina" Hopkins, Jackie Condon, Mary Korman, Eugene Jackson. Producer: Hal Roach.

So it's February and that means it is the month of romance. And as such what film could be more romantic than a Our Gang comedy short. For this reason we are going to discuss a delightful silent Our Gang short called The Love Bug.

Farina is meeting with his girlfriend (Dorothy Morrison). However she thinks his hair is too much of a mess. Joe is similarly seeing a girl (Peggy Ahern) he likes. However the girl thinks he is to fat. Mickey is ready to propose to Mary, but his Mary hates his freckles. They all go to the friendly neighborhood grandma (Florence Lee) for advice. Meanwhile Pineapple (the odd name given to Eugene Jackson in this film) is working at a local beauty salon. Pineapple suggests the gang use the beauty salon to improve their appearance and impress their girlfriends. Finding no one around the gang decides to use the facilities themselves with disastrous results.

This is a very funny short. While there is some good humor with the boys and their girlfriends, the real fun is takes place when the gang is in the beauty salon. At this point the film becomes very fast paced and energetic slapstick humor at its finest. The laughs keep coming and don't stop until the picture is over. While one could argue that there may be better Our Gang silent shorts, that does not stop this film from being a pure delight. Also the romance plot may have no conclusion, but that is not the point. This film only aims to make the audience laugh and it successeds perfectly at this.

The Love Bug introduced the idea of the Our Gang kids having a friendly neighborhood grandma. This idea would reappear in such talkie shorts as Helping Grandma and Fly My Kite. The grandmother in The Love Bug was played by Florence Lee. She would reprise this role in the next Our Gang short Ask Grandma, where she would play a bigger part. Lee's most famous movie role would also be as a grandma in a silent comedy, as she would play the blind girl's grandma in Charlie Chaplin's City Lights.

Back in the 1920's theater owners often times would write to movie magazines about what they and their audiences thought about various films. The following is what some theater owners wrote about The Love Bug for the Exhibitors Herald.

"Love Bug, The, Our Gang, 2. - These Pathe Gang comedies please the crowd, but do not bring in an extra nickel if there is a big feature at another theatre they like better than yours. Have counted hundreds who go out at the end of the feature who came in at the middle or the end of the comedy and do not wait to see it over. (Temple, Bellaire, O.) The entire gang gets bit by the bug, which inoculates most of us and there are plenty of laughs for everyone. (Trags, Neillsville, Wis.) As usual with Our Gang comedies, good and pleased audience. (Mission, Wichita Falls, Tex.)"

A review of this in Motion Picture World stated

"The thoughts of Farina , Mickey, Joe and Jack lightly turn to love as spring comes. The Gang overhear certain petite ladies discussing their physical shortcomings and borrowing five dollars, hie [I know that is not a real word, but it is what was written in the review so I kept it in] them to them to a beauty parlor to overcome these same defects. But the proprietor has had a run-in with his staff and fired them, so during his absence the gang takes over the beauty parlor and begins experimenting with the various bits of apparatus and the cosmetics. The results are disastrous to both the experimenters and their surroundings. The proprietor and a policemen intervene and the last seen of the gang is a rapid departure. This "Our Gang" comedy is fully up to the high standards of those which have proceeded it and possibly above the average. We don't see how anybody could fail to
enjoy it"

Below is a really strange article in the Exhibitor's Trade Review that talks about this film.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann