Friday, August 31, 2018

Overlooked Classics: These Glamour Girls (1939)

A mixture of light comedy and serious social commentary, These Glamour Girls stands as a very unique film and a fascinating look at America in 1939. It is true that not all the elements come perfectly together here and sometimes the flow between serious and comic feels abrupt. Despite this though the comedy is legitimately funny, and for what starts as a very light comedy, the serious moments are actually very powerful. The parts may at times work better than the whole, but the parts are so good that I can't help but highly recommend this movie to all my fellow fans of old movies.

The basic plot of this movie is that a drunken socialite (Lew Ayres) invites a woman (Lana Turner) who dances with men for money to his college dance. She is excited to meet with the upper-crust and feels that this is a great opportunity for her. However she soon discovers that despite all their money and so called glamour, these upper-crust college students are in reality extremely shallow, petty, cruel and unhappy.

One of the most fascinating parts of this movie, especially for modern day viewers is the scenes involving Betty (Marsha Hunt), a 23 year old woman who is still attending these college dance parties for her 5th year. The follow dance attendees all consider her an old maid and a pathetic case. They all make fun of her behind her back for still acting like a college kid and not moving on with her life and getting married and having children. What none of them know is that she overhears this and is more deeply hurt than they can imagine. She puts on a happy playful face (which just makes their opinion of her lower), but deep inside she is unbearably hurt. This all leads to the darkest, most shocking, and uncomfortable scenes in the movie. It is also one of the most powerful and will stick in your mind long after the picture is finished. Of course this subplot is also one that gives us a not very happy peak into life in 1939. Today no woman at the age of 23 would be considered an old maid for not being married. After all today not getting married until your 30's is a common life choice for many young people, and at 23 many people are partying even harder than anything seen in this movie (or really anything the censors would have allowed in 1939). While many Hollywood films of this era leave people today yearning for the simpler time period in which they were created, this film and especially these scenes have the opposite effect. The show a dark side to life at this time that many of us would have never even thought about. However these scenes still hit us today powerfully because even though society has changed in many ways, the way people are has not changed that much, and even if it is not for the same exact reasons similar bullying goes on today with similarly tragic results.

When this film gets recognized today, it is mostly for the early starring role of Lana Turner. Her acting career had just begun two years earlier, and she was only 18 by the this movie was released. Earlier that year she had also acted alongside Lew Ayers in another movie entitled, Calling Dr. Kildare. This was the second film in the extremely popular series in which Ayers played the title character. In These Glamour Girls, Turner is already showing her full star power. She is incredible here, and her presence commands the screen each time she is on.

This film was directed by S. Sylvan Simon. He was not a major director by any means. However film buffs today might know him for directing Abbott and Costello in Rio Rita and Bud Abbott ad Lou Costello in Hollywood, as well as the second Lassie movie, Son of Lassie.

To read an original review in the Motion Picture Herald click here. To read another review for the same magazine click here.   To see an exhibitors review in Box office Magazine click here.

This film was not successful at the Boxoffice and lost $33,000.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Movie Review: The Meg

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

Review: Ok this is not a great movie and certainly not on par with Jaws. However for what it is I admit I had fun.

As this movie started I wasn't so sure I would enjoy myself. This is not because the story takes a bit to fully get going, but because the set up takes itself too seriously. As this is not the easiest movie to take seriously and it is filled with tons of clichés, this part of the movie was honestly pretty boring. However once the movie truly got going it took itself much less seriously and had more fun with its ridiculous story. When this happen I began to really enjoy what I was seeing.

The characters in this movie while clichéd and undeveloped, are quite likable. Because of this we actually care and don't want them to be eaten. This of course makes the suspense scenes all the more effective. In truth the action scenes are done very well. Not only do the effects look good, but everything is very well paced. The scenes never drag on too long, but they also never feel too short. We are given enough time to be fully drawn in by the suspense but the scenes end before we ever get bored or stop caring about them. These scenes are just the right amount of exciting, and as soon as we fully get that excitement the scenes end at the top of their power, leaving a great effect.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, August 27, 2018

Movie Review: A-X-L

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

Review: An enjoyable little family film, though not without its faults still manages to keep the viewer's interest for the entire length.

What makes this film work most of all is our two main human characters. They may not be especially well thought out or complex, but they are likable. When they get in danger we truly care that they will make it out alright, because we easily buy them as good hearted people. While the robot dog, himself doesn't fully work, the characters' fondness for him feels real and believable, making us want him ok for their sake. This in turn makes the action scenes much more exciting. The visual effects are certainly on a budget but that still do their job very well and even impress at times. The basic story is a simple one and one that we have seen before plenty of times (Some of those times certainly done better), but it is well told, and still engaging.

Where this movie falters heavily is the robot dog himself. We are supposed to accept the idea that he is fully capable of and feels emotions, but are given no reason to believe this beyond our hero's saying he is. There is much dialogue that states that he is programmed to be loyal, but somehow we are supposed to think this loyalty comes from his emotions, rather than his programing. When a villain states that the dog is just a piece of machinery, we have no reason to doubt what he is saying when our hero tries to argue with him. All we have seen him do is exactly what he was programmed to do. With how much the drama is supposed to depend on us believing this character is truly feeling emotions, makes the lack of evidence a huge fault. Also hurting this movie is that too much of the opening Motocross seems to have no relation to anything that happens later, making it feel pointless.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Donald Duck in "Mr. Duck Steps Out" (1940)

Mr. Duck Steps Out is maybe one of director Jack King's best Donald Duck cartoons, which is saying a lot. This film is full of energy, laughs and great animation.

As well as Donald, himself this cartoon also features his nephews (Huey, Dewey and Louie) and girlfriend (Daisy). These characters were fairly new at this time. Huey, Dewey and Louie had first appeared only two years earlier in Donald's Nephews. Daisy had appeared in the first cartoon of the Donald Duck series (Don Donald (1937)). In that film she was named Donna Duck. Three years later, she made her second appearance in this cartoon. Mr. Duck Steps Out also marked the first time, her name was Daisy. With this being an early appearance here Daisy's voice sounds more like a female Donald, than her later more human sounding voice.

This cartoon features a great extended sequence in which Don and Daisy perform a jitterbug dance. Interestingly used as a live action reference for these scenes was Virginia Davis, who had earlier played Alice in Walt Disney's silent Alice Comedies.

The following is a review in Showman's Trade Review.

"It's a vital certainty that if one Disney Technicolor cartoon has more laughs than another, this one has the most, for it doesn't let up in mirth-provoking situations until it's over. It deals with the attempt for Donald Duck to call on his girlfriend Daisy without his three nephews. They're already there of course, and the rivalry for jitterbug honor is responsible for many of the laughs. Walt Disney produced. This cartoon deserves your best playing time and should be well sold."

The following is an article from Photoplay magazine.

"The month being September and the second Friday falling on the thirteenth, we recall that this shunned day is Donald Duck's birthday. The quacker celebrates a birthday every Friday the thirteenth,  since he came into this world via a paint pot and brush six years ago on that date.

"This is the Donald Duck year we hear from the Disney studio. Ten out of the eighteen Walt Disney shorts will star Donald. Most stars would perk up about this preferential treatment, but Donald is by this time blasé.

"Dan Cupid has been busy with Donald this year. In his new short, 'Mr. Duck Steps Out' Donald rivaling Fred Astaire in a jitterbug sequence, falls for Daisy Duck. But romance or no, Donald is letting nothing come between him and cherished ambition to play Hamlet sometime. While not at the Disney studio, he practically lives in front of his Duck-sized mirror."

AnimationLes Clark (Photograph of Daisy; Don brushes hair to rhythm; 3/4ths view of Don who flips hat on head; Don picks Daisy's picture up and starts kissing it; Don puts Daisy's picture back on the dresser. Hits cane knocking candy box and cane into air; Don trucking down hall; Kids coming out of door; Don and kids following him on pan. Don opens door, kids start out; Arm with cane hooks kids and pulls them through door; Don pulls kids with cane into hallway)
Paul Allen (Don questions kids; "Where Do 'YA Think Your Going?"; Huey, Dewey and Louie say "Why with you Unc'a Donald"; Don says "well, well you don't say"; Don and kids fall into line. Don marches kids back into closet and locks door; Don "trucks" out front door and down steps; Don walking and whirling his cane to rhythm, going up to the front of the house; Pan with Don SuzyQing up the steps of Daisy's house; Don steps up to the front door to rhythm, rings doorbell with cane, nephews open door, take candy, Don chases kids; Nephews in door, wink at each other, take candy box from Don's hand and say, "Thank You Unca' Donald"; Don senses wrong voice, starts to turn on o.s. dialogue, "Unca' Donald"; Don bashful, turns, sees kids, goes into blubbery take, lunges at kids says "You little squirts I'll tear you apart" and starts to chase kids through the door; Don says: "That's the last straw!" Hits radio first Radio starts to play. Don says "P-S-S-T …. Daisy..."; Don beckons to Daisy, then starts to dance out of scene to left; Don and Daisy dance into scene. Huey hands Don ice cream cone; Don holding ice cream cone. Dances around in circle, looks o.s. to left; Daisy dancing with Huey; Don goes into take at seeing Daisy and nephew o.s. then goes into take at seeing ice cream cone in his hand; Don in pushes Huey out the scene. Starts dancing with Daisy; Don dancing with Daisy. Nephews enter scene in blue streak - upset Don - start to dance with Daisy; Daisy and Don dancing. Daisy yells "Oh Boy!" Grabs Don by hand they start to dance together; Don and Daisy dance thru and over archway)
Phil Duncan (Back (exterior) of the house, kids saw way out)
Ray Peterson (Nephews being chased thru hall by Don. Don corners nephews; Don about to strike kids goes into take, changes expression into embarrassed laugh; Don tips his hat says "Hello - I brought my nephews with me."; Kids in huddle, get into formation speed out of scene; Don lying on rug in burn tapping fingers; Don and Daisy dance over to rug. Rug is jerked thru door with nephews on it; Louie and Dewey on top of piano playing candelabra, pan over to left, Huey picks up frog; Huey playing frog; Huey at piano; Dewey playing on drums; Daisy jitterbugging. Don shoots thru scene & off in distance, returns, circles around Daisy, spins in axis, spins her out of scene; Daisy spins into scene yells: "Yipp-e-e-e!" Then unwinds and spins out of scene)  
Edward Strickland (Daisy opens curtains says, "Hello Donald"; Daisy coyly waves says "Oh
Donald how considerate of you")

Emery Hawkins (Don giggles, turns towards Dewey and frowns; Don's head, shifts eye to rear to Daisy and back to Dewey; Don says "Gimme that!" Looks over shoulder at Daisy & giggles. Turns to kids and says "Here boys, go get some ice cream"; Dewey, Louie and Huey say "Ice cream, oh boy!"; Dewey grabs coin from Don and zips out in blue streak followed by Louie and Huey; Don looking around surprised as nephew wizzes by; Don jitterbugging. Daisy enters scene. Don grabs her, they spin onto rug, then off and into screen; Daisy lying on tea-wagon, comes out of coma; Daisy yells "Whoopee" as she slides down tea-wagon onto Don's lap; Daisy with arms around Don's neck, kissing him)
Larry G. Clemmons (Kids run in blue streak thru door)
Don Towsley (Don laughs. adjusts tie. Jumps onto end of couch; Daisy on rear end of couch. Slides over to Daisy; Don says "Come on Toots how about a little kiss" as he walks his finger around edge of couch)
Judge Whitaker (Kids knock Don off couch. With puckered lips Don goes into take. Pan over to Daisy on rear end of couch. Huey hands her ice cream. Daisy says "Oh thanks boys. I'll fix the ice cream.")
Lee Morehouse (Don lands on fanny. Somersaults with feet up against radio. Settles into position Burns; Nephews & Daisy on couch eating ice cream cones)
Rex Cox (Nephews lying on the floor. truck down to Huey with bag of popcorn on his head. He grabs it, starts to throw it when he gets an idea; Huey pulls corn out of bag, surprised take, big smile; Louie and Dewey looking o.s. at Huey holding corn. They then turn and look o.s. to left, then look back in direction (Right) of Huey and wink)
Volus Jones (Corn popping on stove)
Dick Lundy (Don singing "yes yes" Corn goes into Don's mouth - gulps - corn starts popping; Don popping on heels; Don on floor bouncing on fanny, starts to pack thru rug, Daisy enters scene, Daisy turns and comes up to camera; Don plowing thru rug. Bangs against hearth. truck down to fanny popping; Don's fanny by fireplace, fanny starts popping, Don popping)
Ken Muse (Nephews run in with utensils and put them in piano; Nephews at piano, anticipate playing; Don anticipates hot dancing; Nephews playing on piano; Nephews playing piano; Louie on top of piano with plumber's friend)
Jim Armstrong (Louie riding bronco)

Story: Donald is preparing for a big date with Daisy. However as he heads out his nephews follow him. Don tries to get romantic but the boys keep interrupting. Don tries to do some jitterbug dancing, but the boys each want to dance with Daisy. This turns into a full on coemption. The boys give Donald some un-popped popcorn. Don starts dancing with Daisy and the popcorn begins popping. This causes Don to move like crazy, Daisy thinks that Don is pulling off amazing dancing moves. She says "What a jitterbug" and covers Donald with kisses.

-Michael J. Ruhland


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Movie Review: Pandas

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland
Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: An excellent documentary.

This documentary looks at people who help orphaned Pandas adapt to living in the wild. In a brief 40 minutes we feel like we know not only those people, but also the main panda very well. Unlike many documentaries now of days, we don't see any of these people talking directly to the camera. Rather we hear them talk while we see the documentary footage. This helps the movie flow better as it never feels like the action stops for them to talk. Even with this the majority of the talking is by Kristen Bell as a narrator. At times this narration is cutesy as one might expect, but it can also be very informative and interesting at times. In the brief 40 minute running time, nothing here feels unnecessary and the movie just flies by, never for a second becoming boring. The humor is also quite good. It never comes from forced narration as happens in too many of these films, but instead comes naturally out of the story and footage. Especially standing out is a scene involving the main panda and a snowman. Of course the main reason people go to see a film like this is for the excellent nature photography, and the movie really shines at this. This film is absolutely incredible to look at. The footage of the Panda in the will is absolutely beautiful, as is some great footage of some black bears in the woods. Even though these stand out the whole movie looks breathtaking and seeing it in IMAX makes you feel like you are transported directly there.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Movie Review: The Little Mermaid (2018)

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B-

Review: Don't let the movie poster fool you. This is a very sweet and nice little film. It is nothing that will blow many people away, but for a nice trip to the movies it is good film to see.

What makes this movie work is pure charm. The story is nice simple and sweet. There are no huge plot turns featured here and definitely nothing that would shock anybody. However sometimes this simplicity is enough and even creates a charm of its own and I believe that is the case here. The main characters are very likable. They are not anything complex or groundbreaking, but they are good hearted characters and that good heartedness translates well to us and as such we enjoy seeing them and want things to turn out well for them. Despite how extremely sweet this movie is, the villain is actually really threatening. We believe him as a serious threat to our friends. While he is not what I would call scary, he is definitely darker than anything else in this movie and that gives him a strong presence that makes him work very well as a villain. This film also has an excellent animated opening that relates Hans Christian Anderson's classic tale. This opening is worth the price of admission alone.

This movie is not without its faults though and chief among these is the extremely cliché an pointless framing story and quite a bit of awkward and forced dialogue.

This movie is in many ways like a Hallmark Channel film. When we put on those movies, we know what is on is not going to be anything that will blow our minds. However what we know we will get is a nice pleasant (and family friendly) way to spend some time. This movie has that same quality. It will never be put as one of the greatest family films, but for what it is it is a pleasant and worthwhile trip to the movies and it will put a smile on many faces.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, August 20, 2018

Elvis '68 Comeback Special

I am a huge Elvis Presley fan. I love his music, I love his movies and like every Elvis fan, I love the 1968 comeback special. Though this film was originally made for TV, thanks to Fathom Events, I and many others were able to see one of the all time great concert films on the big screen. While I love this special on TV, seeing it on the big screen with a very enthusiastic audience is a whole new experience.

Seeing this on the big screen it is incredible how cinematic this made for TV film actually is. This is especially true of the huge production number of Guitar Man (with other songs worked in as well). This part feels so big when watching it in a cinema atmosphere. It is mesmerizing to watch.

However even with this the highlight is still Elvis and his friends doing a simple jam session of his early hits. These parts feel so simple and down to earth. Cinematically they almost remind one of scenes from such fly-on-the-wall music documentaries as Don't Look Back or Give Me Shelter. While there is a live audience, due to the lack of such material in many concerts seen on TV or in cinemas, it feels like a nice look behind the scenes. In some ways it actually was. These jam sessions are what Elvis liked to do after performing for an audience and seeing this director Steve Binder wanted to incorporate this into the film. Rarely have you seen Elvis feel so relaxed and at home as you see him in these scenes.

As a fan of his gospel music (and a Christian myself) it is always nice to see that incorporated in anything Elvis. The use of it in this film is no exception. The songs are not only great but you can hear the passion in Elvis' voice and it is hard for this not to move anyone, especially my fellow believers.

Before the concert there was an introduction by Steve Binder and Lisa Marie Presley. This was fascinating and offered great insights into the film. For instance Elvis' leather jacket (designed by Bill Belew) was inspired by what Marlin Brando wore in one of Elvis' favorite movies The Wild One. Also Elvis' manger Coronel Tom Parker wanted this to be a simple special of Elvis singing Christmas songs and got angry that the special would have no Christmas songs. But Binder and Elvis stuck to what they knew would work and it does.

What makes this movie so amazing is that it is pure Elvis Presley. With the exception of maybe the Guitar Man sequences (where he was acting just like he did in his fictional movies), this film is just Elvis being Elvis. He acts like himself, and watching this I feel like I am actually seeing who the real man behind everything is. He feels so natural and real throughout the entire film and this gives the movie a directness that is missing from many concert films, where it feels like we are just watching the artists preform a few songs.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, August 19, 2018

John Wayne's Cabin

Recently I was on vacation and visited Monument Valley, Utah. Me and my family came across a place entitled John Wayne's Cabin. Going there what I found was the cabin for John Wayne's character in John Ford's 1949 classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Once you go inside this cabin you quickly see with how small it is that only the outside was used for that movie. It was however incredible to see this great piece of movie history. Next door at an extremely small theater I was able to see the movie. Noticing not only this cabin, but all the sights around the area I had already seen created an incredible experience. Here are two pictures I took of the outside.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, August 18, 2018

MLP:FIM The End in Friend S8 Ep17

This is the fifth episode written by Gillian M. Berrow (her previous episodes being The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows, Fluttershy Leans in, Daring Done and Grannies Gone Wild). The episode was storyboarded by Mincheul Park (who has been boarding for the show since the season premiere of season 5), Cory Toomley (who has been boarding for the show since season 2) and Megan Willis (Who has been boarding for the show since Season 6). In this episode Rarity and Rainbow Dash wonder why exactly they are friends.

This episode is strange as the relationship between Rarity and Rainbow Dash has been an extremely effective and touching part of the show. To see them doubt being friends because of one bad day seems to not fit into the already established relationship. However as a standalone episode this is excellent. The humor often hits very well. I especially love the jokes involving the glitter from Rarity's boots. Starlight is in great form here and I am reminded why I love her in the role of guidance consular. The message is a very good one and the story is quite charming.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Overlooked Classics: Rim of the Canyon (1949)

Anyone who reads this blog probably already knows that I am a major fan of movies from the 1920's, 30's and 40's. Once a month I cover an overlooked silent film for my silent film of the month posts. However I have decided to occasionally write about an overlooked talkie from these three decades. I don't know how regularly I will do these posts, but I definitely want to call more attention to these films. First off is a very offbeat Gene Autry western.

Anybody who has watched enough Gene Autry movies knows that his films almost all have very similar stories. That is what makes this movie stand out so much. This film is not about Gene Autry helping out a town that is in trouble, while a woman at first doubts him and then later falls in love with him. Instead Gene spends most of the picture in a ghost town and the girl is in love with him, before our story even starts. In fact Gene has to learn that she has been in love with him for a while. This is also a movie with a more serious tone. Gene does not have a comedic sidekick character (Smiley Burnette filled that role in more than a few of Gene's films) and in fact there is little comedy in this picture. This does not hurt the movie in anyway as the story being told here is actually really interesting. Having the lovely Nan Leslie as his romantic interest doesn't hurt either.

An important part of this picture is whether or not a ghost is living in this ghost town (I won't give that away here). This supernatural aspect is rare for an Autry film, but director John English (a regular director for Gene during this period), cinematographer Armand Schaefer and art director Harold MacArtur use this to its full advantage. Much of this film has an eerie look that separates it from other Autry vehicles. From the first sight of the ghost town, it is obvious that this is a different environment for Gene. It also perfectly pulls you further into the film. While it may not make you scared in the way a horror film does, it gives off a very strange and fascinating vibe, that pulls one further into the world of the film.

Even with this being a different style of Western for Gene Autry, there still are two songs. Gene Autry sings the title song (written by Hy Heath and Johnny Lange) and You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven (written by Gene himself). Almost as if to make up for not having as many songs as the other Autry pictures, these are two fantastic tunes. Rim of the Canyon (which Gene sings over the opening credits) is a lovely little song about the beauties of the west. While Gene has sung many songs about this, this song stands out with its beautiful melody and great lyrics. You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven is one of Autry's best love songs, with a great melody and lovely lyrics. The song was not written for this movie. In fact the Delmore Brothers and Roy Acuff recorded it back in 1936. This song has also been recorded by Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Jerry Lee Lewis and George Morgan. It is hard to complain about any lack of songs when the songs you have are this good.

This oddball movie also served as the first time Gene, produced his own film.

To see a 1949 review of this movie in Showman's Trade Review, click here (It is odd that this review mentions "several songs" when there only are two.)  

An article in Box Office Magazine (dated November 6, 1948) stated "Columbia purchased for Gene Autry Productions the film rights to 'Phantom 45's Talk Loud' by Joseph Chadwick which originally appeared in a western pulp magazine. It will be produced as 'Rim of the Canyon' with John Butler set to write screenplay. Autry now in Madision Square Garden with his rodeo will return in time to don greasepaint for a December start." To see the full article click here. 

-Michael J. Ruhland

MLP:FIM Friendship University S8 Ep17

Today's episode was written by the team of Chris "Doc'' Wyatt and Kevin Burke. This team has previously worked on the episodes The Times They Are A Changeling, Viva Las Pegasus and P.P.O.V. This episode was storyboarded by Krista Porter and Cat Tang (who has been working on the show since season 6). In this episode Flim and Flam open their own school of friendship and Star Swirl the Bearded is attending.

This is a fun and enjoyable episode, even if it is not one of the show's best. The best part of this episode is the humor. I love Rarity going undercover and quickly become the star pupil (slight spoiler: Flim and Flam not recognizing her when she takes off the disguise was my favorite joke). Her disguise for Twilight is also down right hilarious. The song is great and measures up to the song from Flim and Flam's first appearance. The story though doesn't completely work. It is much too predictable and feels like we have seen it before. This is an extremely safe episode and one feels if certain parts had a different outcome it would have been more interesting. Still this plot worked before and it works again now, but because of this safeness, this is not an especially memorable episode (except for a few really good jokes).

-Michael J. Ruhland

Friday, August 10, 2018

Movie Review: Blackkklansman

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: An excellent and clever film that is both very exciting and funny.

This shifts tones from comedic to suspenseful to political really well. As the film starts off it is very comedic. I wouldn't say this comedy is anything that made me consistently laugh out loud, and not every joke worked, but the majority of the comedy did put a smile on my face and there were a couple times I laughed out loud. As the movie goes on, the comedy doesn't fade away, but the tone becomes more serious and suspenseful. These suspense scenes are absolutely masterful. The Klansmen are set up perfectly as being absolutely terrifying. They are strongly driven and extremely dangerous. They are in many ways simple stupid stereotypes, but that is surprisingly what makes it work. The idea of men this dumb believing it is their duty to carry full out attacks against a group of people is terrifying. Also since they are not very smart, you never know what they are going to do next and how they will carry it out. This creates a shocking amount of suspense. We never know what measures they might take and there is no limit to how far they might go. The fact that our heroes are so likable only enhances this. We do not want to see anything happen to them. The political side of this movie gives the film both its strongest and weakest moments. The first Black Power Rally scene will stay in one's mind long after the movie is over. The words spoken here are extremely thought provoking and powerful. However what makes the scene more than just a speech is that the scene is focused on our main character (John David Washington). (Slight spoilers ahead, but this happens early in the film so no plot twist is being given away) At first he is here because it is his job, but as the scene moves along he becomes moved and motivated by what the speaker says. (spoilers over)  On the other hand there are a couple lines that are obviously referencing Donald Trump. With this being a movie set in the 1970's this feels unbelievably forced. Many have mentioned putting politics above stories when talking about certain movies and TV shows and one can't help but feel these lines are an example of that. On the other hand again is our hero discussing politics with his girlfriend (Laura Harrier). This again fully revolves around the characters and the story. They both mostly agree when it comes to politics, except for on one point. This one point drives a riff between them. This is not only true and relatable but what they are saying is very thought provoking. There are no easy right or wrong answers given and we are left to think about what both of them have said and make up our own minds.

The use of real life recent footage towards the end is maybe the most polarizing thing about this movie. It in many ways doesn't feel like it belongs with the rest of the movie. The change is sudden and quite jarring. However it is possible that this is the point. That these last scenes were what Spike Lee envisioned as a wake-up call to America, and this was meant to make the footage seem all the more uncomfortable. If that is the truth though, two arguments can easily be made about it. One of these arguments is that it is a powerful piece of filmmaking and after seeing the rest of the movie what we see can come off as more shocking making this a powerful call to arms. On the other hand it can be argued that this is a cheap device for the director to insert his own political beliefs into an otherwise good movie. Naturally some will come to one conclusion or another because of their own political beliefs. Other might simply feel from a cinematic standpoint that it successeds or fails. Whether this works or fails though it does leave something for one to discuss after the film, which is something rare to see in a movie playing at your average multiplex today.

-Michael J. Ruhland            

"Happy Birthday" Snoopy

Today is when we celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest dogs in the history of comic strips and animation, Snoopy himself. Truth be told this is not however the day he first appeared. Snoopy in fact first appeared in the third Peanuts comic, released to newspapers on October 4, 1950. This is instead considered his birthday because of a series of strips in 1968. In this series of this strips Linus leads Snoopy on a secret mission. In the last strip of this story Snoopy is lead to a surprise party for his birthday. This strip appeared on August 10th, making many fans consider this his birthday. This story only lasted three days, from August 8 to August 10. The first strip had Linus waking Snoopy up in the middle of the night asking if he would like to go on a secret mission. Snoopy feels honored since it is rare that Beagles are invited on such secret missions. In the second strip Linus tells Snoopy he doesn't have the right expression for a secret mission. Snoopy makes a serious face and Linus tells him "That's better." Snoopy blames this on "inexperience." The third strip can be seen above.

I love how in these strips Snoopy and Linus are pure white against a black night background. It is visually appealing and automatically draws one into the comic strip. If I were to open the newspaper to the comics section and this strip were to appear, my eyes would immediately be drawn to it. It also shows how talented of an artist, Charles Schultz really was.

Anyway happy birthday to our favorite Beagle.

-Michael J. Ruhland    

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Movie Review: The Darkest Minds

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland.

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

Review: This is by no means one of the best movies of its kind, but for what it is I enjoyed myself and I hope if you see it you will too.

As many people have already said in their reviews of this movie, there is nothing in this movie, that the average movie goer hasn't already seen. Everything that happens in the storyline feels very familiar, and you almost always know what will happen next (even if you don't know, you won't be surprised when it happens). The influences for this movie are way too obvious. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with X-Men or Stranger Things will easily see what this movie took from there. One doesn't even have to be familiar with Watership Down to tell that influence as one of the characters picks up the book and reads a line from it, only for it to be repeated later in the movie. With all this, why did I still give this movie a passing grade? That is very simple, I still cared for what was happening on the screen. The characters are quite likable. They may not be the most fleshed out, but there is enough there for us to relate to them and not want anything bad to happen to them. More than this they have great chemistry. I even cared about the obligatory romance, which somehow never felt forced. The relationship between Ruby (Amandla Stenburg) and Zu (Miya Cech) was also pretty touching.

It is easy to see why this movie is getting panned by critics as it is very unoriginal and much of the story feels rushed, but despite me agreeing on these points, there were still parts I liked and I still had a good time watching this. I would never call this a classic or tell anybody they have to see this, but I had fun and I hope if you see this movie you will too.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Gene Autry and His Fans

As someone who loves movies, horses and country music, it is beyond easy for me to see why Gene Autry was the idol of some many red blood American boys in the 1930's. There are some many times, I wish I could ride a horse like he rides Champion, or write a co-write a  song as beautiful and moving as That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine (which Gene sang in his very first feature film, Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935), as well as in his early movie serial The Phantom Empire (1935)) or as fun as Back in the Saddle Again (featured in the classic feature films, Rovin' Tumbleweeds (1935) and Back in the Saddle Again (1941)).

 Watching his films I forget all about any adult criticisms such as the stories being very similar, cliché and predictable. Rather I become a little kid again, as I daydream about riding a beautiful horse from town to town helping out anyone who is in trouble. Along the way I'll pick up my guitar and play and sing some beautiful good old fashioned country music. I want to be a rodeo star, I want to be a hero, I want to be a country singer, I want to be a cowboy, but most of all I want to be that man I see up there on the screen. It is no wonder that ever the most city-fied young boy would want to be a cowboy after watching these films. After all who wouldn't?

Luckily from all accounts Gene took very well to his role as the hero of kids of all ages. He always had time for his fans and this was especially true of children. This dedication is shown in an article for Boxoffice magazine dated August 6, 1938. Here is that article below.

"Gene Autry spent an hour and a half at the Republic exchange, Tuesday morning, greeting hundreds of children (of all ages and races) with exhibitors pushing their way into the establishment to shake the hand of their big box office star. Used to handling traffic, exhibitors acted as ushers to hurry in and out hundreds of Gene Autry fans. Jim Alexander, local Republic distributor had the front doors lifted from their hinges in anticipation of the crowd.

"Autry and his personal representative, George Goodale, were pleased to greet the bashful smiling kiddies and exhibitors who had brought their own children, nieces, nephews, aunts, cousins and even mother in laws.

"Public Cowboy No. 1 shook the hands of each person who greeted him and signed many autographs. There were a number of photographers whom he accommodated. He had 'Champion' his 'old Faithful' horse along and a mighty cheer went up when he mounted the beautiful steed and waved his hat to the crowd. Alexander, Fineburg and Collins, who have just announced a new five-year contract with Republic announced that autographed photos of the singing cowboy would be available to all who called at the exchange. They didn't forget a thing to cheer everyone present. Dozens of cases of ice cold '7 Up' beverage were served with the compliments of the local distributors. Traffic on the Blvd. of the Allies was stopped for blocks.

"Autry packed 'em in this week at the Stanley Theater, giving the de luxe house its best business in years. He had a very busy schedule, playing extra shows, appearing on special radio broadcasts, visiting at the hospitals, etc. - R.F.K."

It is always great when someone who is admired by so many children lives up to his image, and takes time out just to make these children happy. As a child at heart I would have loved to be there myself.

To see the article on the original page with a picture from the event, click here.

The picture used for this post is from The Man From Music Mountain (1938), one of my favorite Gene Autry movies and even includes Gene singing Good Bye Pinto, one of my favorite of his songs.

-Michael J. Ruhland


Monday, August 6, 2018

Movie Review: Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

Review: So here it is the highest grossing movie at the Korean Boxoffice. Let me say I see perfectly why this movie has so much appeal over there. This a fantastic movie that manages to be smart, imaginative and action packed.  

This movie is clearly inspired in some ways by Hollywood blockbusters. There is even a scene in which a character asks another if he has ever seen Jurassic Park before they are chased by CGI dinosaurs. Still despite this there are many strong differences between this and your average Hollywood blockbuster. For one the pace is much slower, and even with the special effects heavy action scenes, this movie is mainly as a character study. In this it succeeds amazingly. The characters are far from how two dimensional they seem at first. As the film unfolds we learn more and more about these characters. As we learn more about them it changes the way we look not only at them but the film as a whole. Each plot twist comes directly from what we learn about the characters and it seems to flow naturally out of who they are. You didn't see them coming, but they still made perfect sense. This kept me glued to the screen wondering what was going to happen next. All this is perfectly enhanced by the fantastic performances from the actors. Each one obviously puts their whole soul into these characters and that can easily be felt. Also because we care so much about the characters when the action scenes do happen, they are much more exciting.

I know this is a brief review, but I want to keep it that way. I went into this movie knowing little about it and fell in love. I am hoping some of you reading this will have the same reaction I did.

-Michael J. Ruhland    

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Elvis Presley: Highbrow Movie Star

Elvis Presley and highbrow are two things that would never come to my mind at the same time. However during 1957 Elvis was accused of becoming just this. His recordings of gospel standards such as Peace in the Valley, where shockingly different from the wild rock and roll he was known for. Many were telling him with these songs he would be alienating his (at that time) mostly teenage audience, who were going wild over Heartbreak Hotel, Don't Be Cruel, Shake Rattle and Roll, Ready Teddy or Hound Dog. However those teenage fans loved these new gospel recordings just as much. These gospel songs were near and dear to Elvis' heart and he sang them with such strong conviction that they became some of his finest work in the field of audio recordings. This was simply great music and his teenage audience felt that just as much as anybody.

Around this time another accusation was being placed upon Elvis. This was that Elvis was selling out. This a shocking accusation once you consider had brief of a time, Elvis had been in the music business (His first recordings were in 1953). What had changed at this time was that Elvis was no longer just a singer, but a movie star. With his 1960's movies in mind many today might agree that this was selling out. However what we must realize is that by this time Elvis had only made 3 movies. These were Love Me Tender (1956), Loving You (1957) and Jailhouse Rock (1957). These are definitely good films, and well above the quality of much of his 1960's cinematic output. I enjoy his 1960's films quite a bit myself, but will admit that they are guilty pleasures and despite how much I enjoy them, I will admit they aren't great. These 1950's films though, are quite good. In fact I'd say that the incredible performance of the title song in Jailhouse Rock ranks as one of the highpoints in Elvis' great career. The storylines are better in these films than in the 1960's output and quite enjoyable on their own. These movies also showed that Elvis' music career was still in good form. From just these three movies had come such amazing Elvis songs as Love Me Tender, Mean Woman Blues, Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear, Loving You, Got a Lot of Living to Do, Jailhouse Rock, Treat Me Nice, You're So Square Baby I Don't Care and Young and Beautiful. No other Elvis movies with the exceptions of King Carole and Viva Las Vegas (even if story wise that is one of his weakest, the songs are fantastic) would feature songs of this high caliber.

The magazine TV Radio Mirror wrote a fantastic article (in 1957) about this period in Elvis' career. To read it click here and if you don't want to flip through too many pages the article continues here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, August 4, 2018

MLP:FIM The Hearth's Warming Club S8 E16

So a Christmas episode in August. Well, why not? After all I am used to it from this show and the episode is delightful.

This episode is the second written by Brain Hohfeld (the first being Surf and/or Turf). It was storyboarded by Kat Dela Cruz and Ward Jenkins. Both have been boarding for the show since Season 6.

This is an excellent episode. It really shows how in such a short time, the School of Friendship's student have become as characters. They all feel completely real and devolved here. They also all play off each other perfectly. That is a real rarity is enjoying seeing the characters together just as much as on their own. Each tell about their own backstories and Holiday celebrations here, and they are all extreme well thought out and even quite touching at times. All in all this is just a pure delight of an episode.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

MlP:FIM A Matter of Principals S8 E15

This episode was the sixth written by Nicole Dubuc. Her previous episodes were Shadow Play Parts 1 & 2, School Daze Parts 1 & 2 and Marks for Effort. This episode was storyboarded by Kaylea Chard (who has been boarding for the show since the Season 3 premiere) and Nicole Wang (who has been boarding for the show since the seventh episode). In this episode Twilight puts Starlight in charge of the school, however Discord tries to sabotage her time in charge.

This is a very funny episode. The humor hits completely. Discord's choices for subsite teachers were especially hilarious. I especially love the scene with Iron Will. After not liking the episode he first appeared in I really like the uses of this character afterward. Also hilarious was Discord and Trixie's scene together. They are just as good together here as they were in To Where and Back Again. I am glad they are continuing this rivalry.

The only complaint I have is that Discord acting this mean here, kind of takes away from the lessons he learned in previous episodes. Still on its own this episode is a delight.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Friday, August 3, 2018

Movie Review: Christopher Robin

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: An excellent film that is full of a simple and very effective charm.

There is no better word to describe this movie than charming. There is little in the storyline that we have not seen before. However it is still a good story and it is told so simply and sincerely that I found myself quickly falling for its charms. There is something heartwarming about seeing all these characters together for another movie. They all are still the characters we fell in love with years ago. Each is given proper time to shine. Eeyore in particular made me laugh out loud various times during this movie. Pooh also hasn't changed a bit. Walt Disney once described the appeal of Mickey Mouse, by stating that he was so simple, you couldn't help but like him. The same is true of Pooh. Despite him referring to himself as a "Bear with little brains" there is a profoundness to much of what he says. Lines like "Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something", drive home a very important point we too often forget. In many ways the lesson of this story is a very important one. It is not just a simplified, "Always pick your family over work" type of lesson. Rather it is about the importance of doing nothing. Once I think about all the best moments in my life, my favorite memories are always doing "nothing" with the people I love. Simple things like having a conversation, sitting watching TV, or going for a ride in the country are my fondest memories with people, and this movie sends the important message to always remember and cherish these seemingly unimportant times.

The use of CGI here is surprisingly great. I excepted to go into this movie thinking it would have been better with a mixture of live action and traditional animation. However that was not the case. The CGI was extremely expressive and conveyed every emotion for these characters in a very subtle way. They also blended in perfectly with the live action and while watching the film I never doubted they were really there. For those of us traditional animation fans though, the opening credits feature some great traditional storybook animation. This is not only a great delight to see, but it gets you immediately in the mood for what is to come before the story even starts.

This is a very familiar movie, but it is full of so much simple-ness and charm that I found it hard to resist and hopefully you will too.

-Michael J. Ruhland

How Porky Pig Became a Star

Are you ever curious how our favorite ham, Porky Pig became a movie star? Well luckily for you in 1936,Hollywood Magazine covered this history for you. Below is that article. If you want to see where I found these are look more closely click here and here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Movie Review: Mission Impossible: Fallout

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: F

Review: I know I am swimming far against the tide when it comes to this movie, but I just found it really boring. I will admit, this is not fully my type of movie, as I can easily get bored by action scenes, but even still the appeal of this film escapes me.

Ethan Hunt has to be one of the most boring characters in the history of action movies. He seems to be completely devoid of anything resembling personality. He is given some backstory (though even that is boring), but this does not a personality make. None of the other characters work on this level either. I can see the actors are given it their all, but because the characters are so bland it doesn't make a difference. This movie is in many ways one long action scene. People who read my reviews know that this is going to be a problem for me. To me action scenes are fun when the start off, but the longer they go on the less I care. With this over two hours of nothing but action holds little interest for me at all. I just found myself completely bored by everything happening on screen and couldn't wait for the movie to end.

I know I am slamming a very popular movie here, but keep in mind this is about as far from my type of movie as you can get. Truth is I can turn my mind off and enjoy a dumb comedy very easily, but the same does not work for a mindless action movie for me. So if you are like me, and prefer your action movies with interesting characters and a good story line, as well as liking your action scenes on the shorter side, then just completely avoid this movie. Again this movie seems to be one everybody else is enjoy so this review is probably just me. I guess all film fans have popular movies, that we just don't like, but are glad everybody else can enjoy. This is that movie for me, I was bored out of my mind watching this, but I am happy others had fun.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Silent Film of the Month: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Run Time: 13 minutes. Director: James Sibley Watson Jr. Writers: James Sibley Watson Jr., Melville Webber, E.E. Cummings. Based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. Main Cast: Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, Melville Webber. Cinematographer: James Sibley Watson Jr. Set Designer: Melville Webber.
When many film lovers think of art films and the silent era, their minds go to cinema made outside of the U.S. Think for instance of German expressionism, the works of Sergei Eisntein, Un Chein Andalou, or Ballet Mechanique. Still in the 1920's there was a movement in the U.S. for Avant Garde films. These films naturally never became as main stream as the slapstick comedies, westerns, or romantic melodramas. Still these films still existed and had their influence on much of cinema. One of the best of these films was 1928's The Fall of the House of Usher.

This film is anything but a straight retelling of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story. First off the film takes place in modern times, and second off the story itself is anything but clear. There are no intertitles here, making the story harder to follow. One gets a feeling though that the point of this short movie was not to tell a straightforward narrative. Even if you cannot put together what is happening on screen, the images have an emotion connection that can still easily resonate. The film follows a dream logic, where nothing is connected by a clear narrative but rather by strange desires and fears. After first seeing this film, I found it a bit disturbing, but it also left me very intrigued and almost hypnotized by what I just watched. I immediately wanted to watch it again. The second time watching it things may not have become clearer, but I was just as in awe with this strange indescribable piece of cinema. If the goal of cinema is to create a reaction from its viewer (which I fully believe it is) than this film succeeds beautifully. Interestingly the filmmakers chose this story since they hadn't read it in years and therefore would not have to strictly follow its plot.

The two main collaborators for this film came from non-cinematic backgrounds. James Sibley Watson Jr. had recovered a medical doctorate in 1923. He also published a literary journal called The Dail (E.E. Cummings (who wrote an early draft for this film) was a contributor). Appropriately The Dial often featured various works of Edgar Allen Poe. Melville Webber was an art historian who worked at the University of Rochester. The two would make one more film together after this, Lot in Sodom (1933).  

An issue of Movie Makers (dated December 1928) featured an article talking about the great art made by "Amateur" filmmakers apart from the Hollywood system. It stated about this film "They have through cinematic experiment, reached new artistic levels, as in 'The Fall of the House of Usher'." See the whole thing here.

In 1930 prints of this film were being sold by Home Film Libries Inc. for home viewing. The price for a copy of this was $30. To see a full advertisement for this click here.

Looking this film can be viewed for free on the website for Nation Film Preservation Foundation.

-Michael J. Ruhland