Sunday, December 30, 2018

Laurel and Hardy Marathon on Turner Classic Movies January 7

Good news my fellow Laurel and Hardy lovers on January 7, Turner Classic Movies will play a marathon of great Laurel and Hardy films on January 7. It will begin at 5pm Pacific and 8pm Eastern. The line up is a fantastic one that includes both features and shorts and includes some of their most beloved films as well as some overlooked gems. All except for one come from the Hal Roach studios and all the films are talkies. This will be a must watch for all who have TCM and love Laurel and Hardy.

The line-up is as follows.

The Music Box (1932, short subject), Busy Bodies (1933, short subject), Way Out West (1937, feature film), Sons of the Desert (1933, feature film), Tit for Tat (1935, short subject), Swiss Miss (1938, feature film), Pack Up Your Troubles (1932, feature film), Air Raid Wardens (1943, feature film (the only non-Hal Roach film in the line up, made for MGM), Brats (1930, short subject), A Chump at Oxford (1940, feature film).

My only complaint is that I would have enjoyed a silent film being included in the mix. However this is a minor complaint when the line up is as spectacular as this.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Movie Review: Aquaman

Michael's Movie Grade: B-

Review: This movie does not come close to reaching the heights the recent Marvel movies have, but it is quite fun and I definitely enjoyed myself.

This is not by any means a thinking movie. It is instead a turn your mind off and enjoy yourself movie and it successeds quite well at being this. There is nothing subtle about any of the characters, what you see at first is who they were. Despite this our two leads (Jason Moma and Amber Head) are quite likable and we really root for them here. The two also have great chemistry and their banter is often quite good. How they grow from being weary of each other to developing a friendship (or maybe even more (yes I know its more in the comics, I have read some)) is done in a gradual and completely believable way. The main villain (Patrick Wilson) is dislikable enough for us to root against him and he does feel like a legitimate threat. The big CGI fights are actually quite well done and I found myself getting into them. They were fast paced and really well shot. They never dragged as so many action scenes tend to lately. Plus they look really cool. The humor here is often quite good as well.

The plot of this movie is nothing new at all. In fact those who have watched more than a few superhero movies can tell what is going to happen next. It doesn't help that this movie is so long.
Near two and a half hours of pure clichés can get tiring at times and does. I felt these clichés would have bugged me less in a shorter movie. The character of Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is also completely unnecessary here and only seem to pad a movie that was already too long. This is also a rather bland interoperation of this character as well.

Despite these faults and the fact recent Marvel movies have been better, I enjoyed myself and I hope you will too.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Movie Review: The Favourite

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: This dark disturbing comedy is easily one of the year's best movies.

This film is about as dark as movies can get, but underneath all the darkness the moving is really entertaining. Much of this is due to the fact that as much as we hate to admit it, these mean-spirited characters are more like us than we want to admit. Every character in this movie is only looking out for themselves and will do any violent or sexual act to achieve the power they want. This leads to a delightful battle of wits between Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), both of whom fight for the favor of an emotionally unstable Queen (Olivia Colman). What starts out as a simple battle of wits turns into something darker and more cruel at each turn. These characters can easily be seen as unlikable and cruel, but the truth is we have all thought about doing the things these women do to someone who gets in our way. What holds us back is our conscience and our sense of decency. This movie though lets us enjoy this cruelty in a way we would never allow ourselves to in real life. Seeing these women go to such lengths to make the other lose everything is delightful in the darkest way possible and I and I'm sure many other relished in it. All of this is enhanced and made more enjoyable by the incredible performances by our three leads.

This movie engages in two types of comedy. One is very board. This comedy is very funny and often made me laugh out loud. The other type of comedy is more subtle. This humor may not make one laugh out loud as much but is unbelievably clever. We will remember these scenes and think of them when we get home. When we are watching the scenes they keep us just as entertained and glued to the film as any of the more broad scenes. The amount of clever dialogue is incredible. If you were to take out pencil and paper to write down all the clever lines, you would fill many pages easily. Some of the lines I thought were clever in the trailer were even more clever when viewed in the context of the film.

This is not to say that the greatness of this movie completely rests on dialogue. In fact this is a visually incredible film. It uses the 18th Century setting to its full advantage creating a very uniquely beautiful looking movie. Praise must be given to director Yorgos Lanthimos, cinematographer Robbie Ryan and production designer Fiona Crombie for how incredible they made this film look.

With hw dark this movie is and how cruel the characters are it is true this is not a movie that will appeal to everybody. However if you are in the category of people who love pitch black comedy, this movie is one of the must see films of the year.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Movie Review: Bumblebee

Michael's Movie
Grade: B

Review: This movie may be predictable and cliché but despite this it is a lot fun and actually features a good amount of genuine heart.

What amazed me about this movie is that I actually liked the human characters, which I always felt were the weakest parts of the previous Transformers movies. This is especially true of our main human character, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). She is not the cardboard cut out character she could have easily been. Instead she has a fully formed personality that feels genuinely real to us. The way she deals with the death of her father is completely relatable and real. We feel for her and there are many scenes in which I honestly wished I could give her a huge hug. There is not a false note in how this part of the movie is handled and it is never simplified, but instead treated with real unmistakable feeling. Her relationship with Bumblebee is also very well handled. You truly believe the two's friendship. There is not a second in which we don't completely feel the warmth and affection between the two. When Charlie gets angry at Bumblebee, we see that the Transformer is really hurt by this. We also see how much Charlie truly worries about her new friend getting hurt. Her love interest (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is pretty charming. The two really do make an adorable couple. It is hard to believe I am calling a Transformers movie heartwarming, but this truly is. This movie is also helped by some legitimately funny humor.

As good as this movie is it is not by any means a perfect film. While the storyline is charming, it is also predictable and we have seen everything here before in other movies. The villains also fall rather flat. The action scenes also sometimes go on too long at times and aren't as entertaining as the scenes focusing on the characters. Luckily scenes involving bullies are brief as these are the stereotypical movie bullies we are all very tired of. I was very happy to see those characters didn't take up much time.

All in all there is nothing new or groundbreaking here, but when a movie is this much fun and has some emotional moments that actually work, it is hard not to recommend it.

-Michael J. Ruhland      

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

Review: In my mind Mary Poppins is possibly the Disney Studio's finest feature film. With this said I admit to being a little weary when I first heard of Mary Poppins Returns. I needn't have been though. While the first film is still in class of its own and this movie doesn't reach the heights of that masterpiece, it is an incredibly good film in its own right. To say that the original outshines this movie is not even an insult and with how great this new movie is that just shows how incredible the first was.

This is a movie filled with pure Disney magic in a way that has not been seen in many current live action Disney movies. There are moments here that fully remind Disney lovers why we fell in love with Disney to begin with. Though reminiscent of Step in Time from the first movie, the Trip a Little Light Fantastic scene is simply irresistibly magical. The Place Where Lost Things Go has to be one of the finest song numbers in a musical movie in a long time. The lyrics are beautiful. Having lost loved ones recently these lyrics were especially touching and relatable. The melody was also perfect and lovely this was the highlight of the film for me. The very first fantasy sequence is also practically perfect in every way. It reintroduces one to the magic of Mary Poppins in a way that blows us away making us believe in the magic as well as the kids. I also love the Turning Turtle sequence which is delightfully imaginative in every possible way. Emily Blunt is also practically perfect in the role coming as close to Julie Andrews as any actress can. Her performance captured both the magic and the nonchalance perfectly. Her performance was just extremely charming here. The movie also did a great job with grown up Michael (Ben Whishaw). He has lost the innocence, trust and happiness from his childhood years in way that is completely believable. He is never purposely neglectful to his kids instead he is in an understandable and real predicament that we can all relate to and that would effect us the same way. This makes this fantasy filled movie always feel real.

This movie isn't quite perfect in every way though. The struggles of the Banks family was enough to sustain the movie, and therefore the inclusion of a villain (especially one as boring as we get here) seems pointless. I don't want to compare this to the first movie much, but I have to point out that there was a reason that movie didn't have a villain. This movie also has one surprisingly weak song number A Cover is Not The Book. This movie is also missing the slower and quieter scenes that helped make the first film so amazing.

Still this movie comes much closer to capturing the magic of the first film than I ever suspected. The songs (all written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) are fantastic (with one exception mentioned earlier), the performances are incredible, the creativity is amazing and most of all that old Disney magic is still there. For us lovers of the original there is also cameos by Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice, instrumental versions of the songs from the first movie, and a great tribute to Peter Ellenshaw (the matte painter and one of the special effects artists for the first movie and many more great live action Disney films of the 1950's, 60's and 70's). Don't miss this.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in "Daffy Doodles" (1946)

It seems to me that too often Robert McKimson while being praised as an animator gets overlooked or unfairly bashed as a director. Truth is that Robert McKimson was capable and often did direct some extremely funny cartoons. I have a special fondness for his films with Porky Pig and Daffy Duck together. While other directors abandoned the early crazy wild Daffy in favor of the later egotistical and bitter Daffy, McKimson kept the crazy Daffy alive much longer. He would also use Porky as a long suffering strait man to Daffy, getting more and more frustrated as the films go on. This lead to many of the director's wildest and funniest cartoons. One of the best was the first Looney Tune McKimson directed, Daffy Doodles. This is a near perfect cartoon that is constantly laugh out loud funny. It moves at a very fast pace getting as many great jokes out of the situation as possible. The animation is delightfully over the top. Later in his career as a director, McKimson would tone down how exaggerated the animation would be, but that is not the case here and the film is all the better for it. There is not a moment wasted in this cartoon as each scene brings a new and great laugh.

After director Frank Tashlin left Warner Brothers cartoons, McKimson would take over his unit. This lead to a rumor that this cartoon was started by Tashlin. In later years McKimson would argue saying that he started this cartoon, himself.

A working title for this film was Mustache Maniacs.

A reviewer in the Showman's Trade Review called this cartoon "Very Good" stating "This Technicolor cartoon should add fine entertainment to any bill." A review in The Film Daily stated "Funny sequences and plot should sell this."

This cartoon played with the feature film One More Tomorrow at The Strand theatre in New York the weeks of May 27th and June 3rd, 1946. This cartoon was rereleased in theaters in 1952 (on the week of December 1st through the week of December 15th, 1952 this cartoon played with the feature film, Kanas City Confidential at the Globe theatre in New York).      

AnimationArt Davis (Daffy around corner; Daffy paints mustache in air; Daffy hits stencil; Daffy down mail chute to end of film)

Antolle Kirsanoff (Daffy on Pantograph; Maid and baby; Daffy on sign; Daffy thru telescope; Daffy on sign; Daffy chases Porky)

Richard "Dick" Bickenbach (Porky as boobytrap; Daffy on pan sees Porky; Back shot of Porky and box; Porky opens box; Daffy up and out; Porky burns; Daffy starts up stairs; Daffy as guard; Daffy sees Bldg; Daffy in ecstasy; Porky on trail; Porky sees Daffy; Porky sees Daffy; Porky and telescope; Porky takes; Daffy swinging; Porky socks Daffy)

 Izzy Ellis (Daffy into subway; Daffy waiting for train; Daffy paints people on train; People on train; Daffy starts upstairs)

Cal Dalton (Porky on trail of Daffy; Daffy lands does Leon Errol; Daffy on ledge; Daffy threatens; Daffy jumps; Daffy paints mustache on Porky; Porky burns; Porky chases Daffy; Daffy + Porky in wreckage)

Don Williams (Porky + Daffy crash thru Skylight)

Ray (Patin?) (Daffy + mustache stencil)

Story: Daffy Duck is a mysterious criminal who goes around painting mustaches on every face. This includes both posters and real people. Officer Porky Pig is sent to catch the "mustache fiend." Porky disguises himself as a booby trap but this doesn't work and Daffy is still on the loose. This leads to a huge slapstick chase, with Daffy often getting the best of poor Porky. However Daffy eventually outsmarts himself, handcuffing himself to Porky. Daffy ends up on trial. He then promises never to paint another mustache and a jury of Jerry Colonnas let him go free. He stays true to his word, he doesn't paint another mustache. He's doing beards now.

For a better quality video click here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: One of the greatest superhero movies ever made and easily the most unique.

We live in a time where the cinema is overrun with superhero movies. It seems there is always a new superhero movie coming out. Movie fans by now have memorized all the superhero movie troops and superhero movies even make fun of these clichés themselves (the Deadpool movies being the most obvious examples). With this it would be easy to think nothing new can be done with superhero movies. That is what makes Into the Spiderverse so incredible. It feels like nothing we have ever seen before (an incredible feet once you consider all the previous Spider-Man movies). This is achieved through the storyline, the characters and the animation. All of these work together perfectly.

What is incredible about this movie is how well it combines all its elements. This movie is filled with over the top meta jokes, cartoon-y humor and even Spider-Ham. These jokes are extremely over the top and made me laugh out loud plenty of times. However they never distract from the story or characters. These remain the main focal point and they work beautifully. The character of Miles Morales is one of the most relatable superheroes in movie history. He is not just a simple nice guy who wants to save people, but instead a fully rounded well thought out character. He is always completely real and this keeps us believing the movie even during its most over the top moments. Peter Parker has maybe never been this fascinating in a movie. Again he is not a cartoon character to us but a real person.

The look of the film is fantastic. This movie looks like you have actually entered into a comic book. The pure amount of visual imagination is incredible. I love all the back stories being told in a comic book form and the final fight scene is one of the best and most unique looking action scenes to ever appear in a superhero movie. The look of this movie is like nothing I have ever seen before and for once there are scenes that I have nothing to compare them to. My jaw dropped at many of these visuals. Still the visuals all play a part in the story and draw you into world of the movie and into the minds of the characters.

I rather not say much about the story here. I came in only knowing what I had seen in the trailers which turned out not to be too much. This was perfect as there was little I saw coming and the movie constantly surprised me.

This is a must see for everybody, even those who normally don't like Superhero films.

-Michael J. Ruhland      

Monday, December 17, 2018

Movie Review: The Mule

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

Review: Even at 88 years old, director-actor Clint Eastwood shows us he still has it in spades. This movie is a dark, uncompromising and unexpected ride, as well as a perfect vehicle for Clint Eastwood's talents.

What we see here is not the young tough guy Clint Eastwood who we know as Dirty Harry or the Man With No Name. Instead his character here is in some ways a character of pity. A man who is taken advantage of by a drug cartel until he gets in too deep to get out. Not that all his problems are caused by his naivete.  He has disappointed his family so many times that his own daughter (played by Clint's real life daughter Alison) won't even speak to him. What is amazing is how well these two elements meet.

 I won't give much more away about the plot (truth be told if you have seen the previews, you know this much already). What I will say is that the storyline is fantastic and often I had no idea what was going to happen. All this lead up to a perfect ending and while I may not have seen it coming I can't argue that there is no better way this movie could have ended.

There are scenes of real suspense in this movie, especially towards the end. However one would be wrong to call this an action movie. It is a leisurely paced character study. To be honest some will probably find it too slow, but I felt the pacing perfect. It let you see the world from the eyes of the main character. You are in the moment with him and see why he enjoys being a driver at first and why this changes. This is certainly a movie you could never watch while on your phone or computer. You would still be able to follow the story but you'd miss the pure and seemingly simple charm of these slower paced scenes.

Even if Clint plays a different character here, his performance is fantastic. He brings so much humanity to this character that many scenes feel simply heartbreaking. You forget that this is Clint Eastwood on screen and instead see Earl Stone. Clint has spent most of his time behind the camera lately (he still directed The Mule as well as starred in it), and though many movies he directed were great movies, this film proves he is still an incredible actor able to put a lot of heart and humanity into a performance in a completely believable way.

Despite this being a dark slow paced movie there is no doubt some really fun moments. Many of Earl's unintentionally offensive comments get good laughs, as do his comments about young people. Also delightful is Earl's singing along to old country songs (Willie Nelson, Hank Snow and Roger Miller included) on the radio. This gives such an easygoing and irresistible charm to many of the early driving scenes.

Speaking of country music we get a new Toby Keith song entitled Don't Let the Old Man In over the end credits. This is not only a delightful song and one of Keith's best in quite a while, but the lyrics are a lovely heartfelt tribute to the film's director and star. It brings back many memories of watching Clint's best movies in our lives. Of course with me being a country music fan (as I've mentioned on this blog many times) this and the scenes in the car added a lot to my enjoyment of the film.

There are some faults in this movie with some scenes I think should have ended on the cutting room floor, but these are all minor compared to just how powerful this movie is elsewhere. This is a must see.

-Michael J. Ruhland    

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Michael's Christmas Movie Guide: Trail of Robin Hood (1950)

When one thinks of Christmas movies, they don't usually think of a Roy Rogers western. This gives Trail of Robin Hood a very unique place among both Christmas films and Roy Rogers films. Still this movie provides one with all they could want from a Roy Rogers western. There is exciting action, great music, good humor and much more good natured family friendly fun. There is no pretention about this film at all. It just wants to provide us with some good natured escapism and it does this marvelously.

This movie also offers an extra treat for fans of old Hollywood westerns. Many old time western stars appear here as themselves. Jack Holt has a major role here and is one of the key parts of the plot. However most of these stars play smaller roles, but put a smile on a film buffs face very easily. These include Tom Tyler, Tom Keene, Monte Hale, Rex Allen, Rocky Lane, Bill Franum, Kermit Maynard and Crash Corrigan. Even western movie villain George Chesebro appears as himself. When a little girl tells him he is meanie, he responds that after making twenty pictures with Jack Holt, he reformed him. To quote a meme that was popular earlier this year. "Infinity War: This is the most ambitious crossover ever. Me:..." Really this part of the film is what an old western fan would want to put into fan fiction and it is awesome for it.

Of course a Roy Rogers western has to have songs and a Roy Rogers Christmas western has to have Christmas songs. Roy preforms two lesser known Christmas songs here, both written by Jack Elliott. These songs are Get A Christmas Tree For Johnny and Ev'ry Day is Christmas Day in the West. Roy also preforms a non-Christmas song as well. This is Home Town Jubilee written by Foy Willing (who also appears in this movie). As a country music fan, the songs are something I always look forward to in these movies and these songs don't disappoint.

Children were a major part of Roy Rogers' audience and as such there was often a kid character in many of his movies. This film offers one of the best. This time the character is played by Carol Nugent. While often times a kid character was the weakest part of these movies, here she is delightful providing a lot of heart and humor to many scenes. She never feels like she is trying to be cute, rather she just naturally is. Carol Nugent would later appear with the other singing cowboy, Gene Autry in an episode of his television show. Speaking of children look for Roy Rogers and Dale Evens' then 11 year old daughter Cheryl Rogers as a girl asking for Jack Holt's autograph.

This movie does not feature Dale Evans as is usually common in Roy Rogers westerns of this time. The reason for this is that Dale was pregnant at this time. She choose Penny Edwards to take her place in this film, partly because Edwards also had a strong Christian upbringing. Roy's other usual costar Trigger does play a huge part in this film, providing many excellent action scenes and showing why he truly earned his title as "The Smartest Horse in the Movies."

This movie was the last film Roy made in Trucolor, which used only strips of red and blue. It used this fantastically and the color in this movie looks incredible.

This movie was directed by William Witney, who is best known today for directing movie serials. He had directed the infamous western serial, The Lone Ranger (1938). However he is probably best remembered for directing what many consider to be the greatest movie serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941). Witney was directing many of Roy's films at this time and actually directed all of Roy's feature length movies for the last four years.

Despite the title of this movie, the film has nothing to do with Robin Hood or robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. I personally have no idea where this title came from.

This is one of those movies that makes me feel like a little kid again. All my grown up cynicism quickly goes out the window as soon as I start watching. There may be nothing new, challenging or thought provoking here, but I don't care. I just want to see my hero Roy and his friends take down the bad guys and for good to prevail once again. If you let yourself be like a child again for 67 minutes, I think you will feel the same way. The charming simplicity is just too much for the child in me to resist and this movie reminds me of being a kid and falling in love with movies all over again.

Resources Used

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mickey Mouse and Pluto in "Pluto's Christmas Tree" (1952)

Merry Christmas, my friends. Let us celebrate the season with yet another classic Disney cartoon short. This time we jump ahead a few decades to 1953 to bring you Pluto's Christmas Tree.

This is a very late Mickey Mouse short. In fact it is the next to last (the last would be The Simple Things (1953)) Mickey short to be released theatrically until Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983). However the world's most famous mouse would not be dropping out of the entertainment business during that long period without theatrical Mickey shorts. In 1955 Mickey would become a television star with The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-1958) and the host of Walt's latest passion project Disneyland.

Pluto's Christmas Tree was a rare Mickey Mouse cartoon directed by Jack Hannah, who mostly directed Donald Duck cartoons. However this is not too surprising as this cartoon features two of Hannah's creations, Chip and Dale (whom the director most often used as adversaries for Donald). Hannah had directed an earlier Mickey Mouse cartoon that co-starred Chip and Dale with Squatters Rights (1946). Despite Hannah being one of the main directors of Disney shorts during this period, these marked the only two Mickey shorts he actually directed.

Though this was released as a Mickey cartoon, Pluto plays just as large if not a larger role. Not shockingly Mickey and Pluto appeared in quite a few shorts together despite each technically having their separate series. Still these cartoons would technically have to be either listed as a Mickey short or a Pluto short, and Pluto's Christmas Tree was labeled a Mickey short.

At Eitel's Palace in Chicago this cartoon played with the feature film Plymouth Adventure for three weeks. These weeks were the weeks of December 8, 15 & 22, 1952. It played with the feature Million Dollar Mermaid in the Music Hall in New York, the same weeks.

AnimationDan MacManus (Truck in on Christmas card. Snow in falling and girls are humming in b.g., "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly")

Fred Moore (Mickey coming out of house, calling out to Pluto: "Okay Pluto lets get our tree." They start out to look for tree (split with George Kreisl); Shot of Mickey chopping tree; Chopping tree jostles chipmunks; Mickey falls tree says "Oh Boy!"; Mickey decorating Christmas tree; Pluto comes in and helps Mickey trim tree; Shot of Mickey's hands hanging candy canes; Mickey hangs ball of twig on tree; Mickey finishes decorating and leaves tree stating "Well Pluto that's it" Pluto starts sniffing; Mickey leaves room (split with George Kreisl); Mickey enters room with packages; Mickey puts balls back on tree says "That's better" (Split with George Kreisl); Pluto watches as ball (on Dale) moves up tree (split with George Kreisl); Mickey looks at tree after all has disappeared; Mickey motions that Pluto is nuts; Mickey enters scene whistling; Pluto tries to tell Mickey about Dale on the mantel but Mickey pulls him away and says "Okay I'll light the candle"; Mickey looks at burnt match, puzzled; Mickey walks away from scene whistling; Mickey grabs Pluto's tail and gets pulled into tree, says "Pluto get out of there, whata think you're..."; foliage falls from tree; Mickey shakes Pluto's neck says "You dumb mutt, you..."; "Look what you've done to your … Pluto" Mickey points up to tree in take; Mickey holds chipmunks says "Pluto, after all it is Christmas"; Pluto and Mickey run to window to watch carolers (Goof, Duck, etc.); Mickey, Pluto and chipmunks looking out window)

George Kreisl (Mickey coming out of the house calling out to Pluto: "Okay Pluto lets get our tree." They start to look for tree (split with Fred Moore); Pluto excitedly runs up slope; Chipmunks picking up nuts are interrupted by Pluto's antics - they throws nuts at him (split with Bill Justice); Pluto gets smacked on fanny but nuts; Pluto chases chipmunks down hill; Pluto plows though drift - pushes out snow in form of "Snow Dog"; Chipmunks run up onto tree; Pluto sniffs snow dog -- it collapses; Mickey calls o.s., "Okay Pluto"; Pluto trotting; Dale sees Pluto and zips from scene; Pluto goes into trot; Pluto sniffs tree; Pluto takes at Dale who has landed on Pluto's nose; Chip, with candy cane, pulls Dale away from Pluto's nose. Pluto barks. Pluto catches Christmas balls with paws - ends up in awkward position; Mickey puts balls back on tree says "That's better" (split with Fred Moore); Pluto watches as ball (on Dale) moves up tree (split with Fred Moore); Pluto madly pointing at tree, trying to tell Mickey about the chipmunks; Pluto hears o.s. rattling of nuts; Pluto sneaks up in front of Christmas tree; Pluto makes menacing grin and growls; Pluto watches Mickey leave room; Chip hops onto Pluto's tail; Chip pulls Pluto's tail; Pluto raises Chip up on tail; Chip says thank you to Pluto; Chip puts out fire on Dale's head; Pluto takes - charges after chipmunks; Pluto chases chipmunks up ladder into Christmas tree; Pluto trying to keep balance on shaking ladder; Star lands on Pluto's tail; Pluto goes into tantrum; Pluto dives into tree after chipmunks; Mickey: "Aw cute little fellows!" Pluto in burn pulls back and barks at chipmunks; Pluto hears o.s. carolers singing "deck the halls with boughs of Ivy"; Pluto into chorus with howl; Dale slaps Christmas tree sticker on Pluto's mouth - Do not open until Christmas)

Bill Justice (Chipmunks picking up nuts are interrupted by Pluto's antics - they throw nuts at him (split with George Kreisl); Chipmunks go into act of mimicking Pluto's barking (split with Volus Jones); Chipmunks say "what was that" as tree is jarred by chopping; Shot of the tree being carried off. Dale's legs appear and reach for ground - he lands on ground and brushes his hands as he turns to walk away; Dale sip back into tree; Chipmunks hiding behind trunk in tree, look out and see decorations - Chip say "Hey wake up!"; Chip and Dale look over decorations; Dale looks over ornaments, say "well whatta you know"; Dale says wow and rips off branch; Dale starts to bite Christmas ball; Dale drops twig in wild take and goes out of scene to hide; Dale runs in on all fours -taps ball and makes face in it; Dale runs with ball on twig, comes into scene and crashes ball into Chips head. Door in ball opens, revealing Chip; Dale turning light globe off and on, mistakes Pluto's nose for globe and twists it - is suddenly zipped down out of tree; Dale in imitation, barks at Pluto and sticks Christmas ball on his nose; Dale throws another ball; Shot of dale getting nuts out of bowl; Dale starts towards tree with pile of nuts; Dale poses as one of the Christmas candles on the mantle. Pluto sniffs at him causing Dale to sneeze; Pluto pushes candles off mantle; Carolers singing; Chipmunks sing carol; Chipmunks hear Pluto - stop singing and cover ears)  

Volus Jones (Chipmunks go into act of mimicking Pluto barking (split with Bill Justice); Chopping of tree jostles chipmunks; Dale takes at Chip as ball disintegrates; Chip clonks Dale on head. Dale shrugs sheepishly; Dale looks at Pluto in sick expression. Pluto goes into vicious growl; Chip zips out of scene with candy cane; Christmas ball hanging on Dale's nose; Dale takes at Pluto - throws nuts in his path and scrambles out of scene; Dale runs up onto mantle - Pluto after him, slips on nuts and crashes into fireplace; Dale takes at Mickey's match and blows it out; Mickey takes hold of Dale - lifts him to other candle and lights his hat; Chip looks out of tree -- sees Dale's situation and makes take; Dale shakes ladder leg; Chip loosens brace on ladder; Dale blows on ladder and ladder crashes to floor; Chip drops star from top of tree; Chipmunks laughing; Chipmunks huddled in Christmas tree. Mickey "We've got chipmunks in our tree")

Blaine Gibson (Lights go on and off on tree)

Story: Mickey and Pluto chop down a Christmas tree. However Chip and Dale are living in this tree and end up in Mickey's house. The chipmunks drop a decoration on Pluto. This gets Pluto angry and he gives chase. This causes much destruction throughout the house. Mickey doesn't see the chipmunks and think Pluto is trying to ruin the house. He scolds Pluto until he sees Chip and Dale. He tells Pluto that it is Christmas and they should be friendly to the little guys. Then they all hear caroling outside. It is Donald, Goofy and Minnie. They all enjoy the music until Pluto tries to sing along, after which Chip and Dale cover the dog's mouth with a sticker.


-Michael J. Ruhland

Celebrating Christmas With Laurel and Hardy at the Old Town Music Hall

This weekend is the annual Christmas festival at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California. I was able to see last night's show and loved it. This festival is always a treat and this year was no exception. As I have mentioned many times, the Old Town Music Hall is one of my favorite places to see old movies and a place that I recommend all my fellow film lovers go to when they are in Southern California. If you are interested in going (and why wouldn't you be) you can see the schedule and what movies are coming up here.

There was a Laurel and Hardy theme this year, which was no problem with me or anyone else there. The films this year included both a silent Laurel and Hardy short and a sound feature, both Christmas themed.

The silent short was Big Business (1929). This may be the duo's best silent comedy and maybe one of the laugh out loud funniest silent comedies. In this film Stan and Ollie are selling Christmas trees in California. They aren't very good at this and fail to sell one to their first two customers. Their third customer though is when their real problems begin. This customer is the one and only James Finlayson (one of the best supporting comic actors in the history of the movies and one that has proved on various occasions to be the perfect foil for Laurel and Hardy). At first this is just another customer who doesn't want a Christmas tree. However when he closes the door and the Christmas tree gets caught in it, this ends up causing one of the biggest slapstick fights in silent comedy history. Supposedly this film was originally going to revolve around Stan and Ollie trying to sell Christmas trees to each new customer, with the James Finlayson scenes playing a smaller role, but the crew found out that this was the funniest part of the movie and that most of the film should revolve around that.

This film perfectly shows what Laurel and Hardy do best. It follows their familiar, but surefire formula of tit for tat. Someone does something to Stan and Ollie, and they do something back to him. This continues until it reaches ridiculous extremes. This in the end represents another essential element of many of the duo's best movies taking a simple idea and pushing it to ridiculous extremes in a surprisingly believable way. This is one of the most pure and funniest examples of both these formulas and therefore one of the duo's laugh out loud funniest films, silent or sound. This is as good as it gets.

The great thing about the Old Town Music Hall is that I got to see this film the way it was intended to be seen. This is with an audience and with live musical accompaniment (by the very talented Bill Field on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ (a vintage 1925 organ that was made to accompany silent movies)). If you have never been able to see a silent film this way you are missing out. This is a completely different experience than watching these film on TV or DVD and is something I think every film lover should do in their life. The film feels so new and fresh, even to someone who has seen it as many times as I have. This showing also proves that the film is still a crowd pleaser, as the audience was in hysterics. It is rare to see a movie audience enjoying themselves as much as one watching Laurel and Hardy, and with a film like Big Business, this is especially true.
After an intermission we watched the feature film, Babes in Toyland (1934, also with Laurel and Hardy). I have written about this film before on this blog as you can read here. Because of this I won't write much about the movie here, but what I will say is like Big Business this is a perfect crowd pleaser. The audience was howling with laughter at the funny scenes here and again seeing it with an audience again made it feel fresh and new even to someone who has seen this movie as many times as I have. If you have a chance to see this with an audience don't miss it for the world.

Like all shows at the Old Town Music Hall, the films were not the only part of the night. Before hand we got treated to some music on the Mighty Wurlitzer. First a very talented young man named Edward Torres played a medley of to two classic Christmas songs from the 1940's and then the incredibly talented Bill Field took over playing a medley of many great Christmas carols. This was followed by a sing-a-long where all the words appeared on the screen. These songs included White Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells and Silver Bells.

I believe going to the movies should be an experience and a great night out and the Old Town Music Hall always provides just that. Again if you are ever in Southern California this place is a must go.

-Michael J. Ruhland     

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Movie Review: Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: An incredibly powerful and human documentary about a great artist.

Hayao Miyazaki is in my mind and the minds of many of my film buff friends, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) living filmmakers. He is truly an incredible artist and his art has touched so many (myself included). What we often forget about great artists is that behind all their great work lies a human being. A human being gets old, is afraid of being old, struggles with self doubt and doesn't always have an easy time with something new. This is what makes this movie so incredible, it is not just a document of the making of a film, but a beautiful portrait of human struggles and how we overcome them. Miyazaki worries that he is getting too old for this job, and worries that he can't be the great artist he was in his younger days. He fears if he goes back into filmmaking, he may make something he would be ashamed of. However there is still a passion for filmmaking in him and this cannot be denied. It keeps pushing him to do something new. When he goes back to filmmaking he struggles with doubt about whether this is a good idea or not. Still we have seen in early scenes he was miserable and bored being retired. When he works again despite all his doubt, his passion comes back.

Adding to make more drama, Miyazaki is making his first CGI film here and is doing it with young animators in their 20's and 30's. CGI does not come easily. He struggles to understand this new medium. He is unhappy with early animation and wonders if he is making a mistake or if he is too old to learn something new. On the other hand when things are going well, the great filmmaker's happiness becomes hard for him to contain. Miyazaki's relationship with the younger crew is fascinating. On one hand working with such youthful animators revitalizes him, but on the other hand he becomes unsure about the way these new filmmakers work. In this case the young is learning from the old, while at the old is learning from the young and this is not always easy for either party, but offers great rewards for both.

This is an incredible and human look at one of the world's greatest living filmmakers. It offers us a look at the filmmaking process, that lets us not only see how a film is technically made, but the emotional and human part of the process as well. This is a must see for all film lovers.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Movie Review: Once Upon a Deadpool

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

Review: Much of this film is a tamer PG-13 version of Deadpool 2. Shockingly this does not hurt the movie as much as you'd think, as it is still laugh out loud hilarious. However the real delight here is the new framing story. You see, Deadpool has kidnapped Fred Savage and is reading him the story of Deadpool 2 in a parody of The Princess Bride. As much as one can understandably complain about a PG-13 rehash of  Deadpool 2, these new scenes with Fred Savage are pure gold and some of the funniest scenes of any movie this year. I am serious. Many of these scenes I simply could not stop laughing at and there was not a weak joke in any of them. I loved Fred Savage pointing out plot holes and giving his own commentary on the movie. I loved him calling Deadpool 2 not real Marvel. I also love how he goes from complaining about being kidnapped to simply accepting it and having fun with this. Honestly I loved everything about these scenes and for scenes that could have simply been tacked on for the sake of grabbing money, they are actually some of the funniest moments done in this movie franchise yet. The uses of censoring during the Deadpool 2 scenes are actually quite funny and I like that they included some scenes from the extended DVD/Blu-ray cut to help this not feel too much like a retread.

This is mostly a censored rerelease of Deadpool 2, but it is a delightful one, with great new scenes and besides Deadpool 2 is still a funny funny movie even if we have seen it before.

I must also say, stay through the end of the credits for something really amazing (I'm not gonna give any more away about that).

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, December 10, 2018

Movie Review: Kedarnath

Michael's Movie Grade: B-

Review: Enjoyably old fashioned romance and disaster movie from India.

What makes this movie work is our two main characters. These two are just very likable. They are not simply two dimensional characters instead there is quite a bit of subtly to them. More importantly the two have great chemistry and you really want to see them against all the odds end up together. A major part of this is the acting of our two leads, Sara Ali Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput. These two are fantastic in these roles and truly bring some great humanity to these characters. The two also work so well with each other, that we enjoy seeing them share the screen, just as we should with any movie romance.

This is also a visually beautiful movie. This movie captures the visual beauty of India beautifully and even during the simple romantic scenes, the view is still breathtaking. Director Abhishek Kapoor and cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray, do an amazing job with this. Kapoor also does a fantastic job with the later action scenes, transitioning from CGI to live action in a way that seems seamless and completely believable. This action packed finale is certainty very exciting and a highlight of the film.

This movie's story is one we have seen a million times before. The idea of two lovers separated and ostracized by society was a cliché movie story back in the silent era, and still is in 2018. We know just what is going to happen. Almost every story point is something that has been done in a previous film and this gives the movie a sense of familiarity. This is not to say the movie has a poor story though. There are some legitimately touching moments found here and though I didn't, I can picture someone tearing up at one scene. This story has been told many times because it is a good story, but this doesn't change that 140 minutes of clichés can get tiring at times and that the familiarity doesn't occasionally take one out of the film. Adding to this unfortunately is that the side characters (unlike the main two) are what I refer to as movie stereotypes, made to fill in specific roles we have seen in other movies with nothing to make them stand out.

 There is also an out of nowhere musical number that will take most anyone out of the movie and make them feel instead like they are watching a music video. The song itself is not bad and this wouldn't have been a bad music video, but there is no transition to this making its inclusion kind of laughable.

 Despite any of its faults though, thanks to likable main characters, a believable romance, great action and good performance, I still enjoyed myself and hopefully if you see this you will too.

    -Michael J. Ruhland    

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) at the Old Town Music Hall

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of seeing The Bells of St. Mary's at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo California.

Like always at the Old Town Music Hall, the feature film did not take up the whole show. Before this Bill Field played us a medley of Christmas carols on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ (a pipe organ that dates back to 1925 and was designed to accompany silent movies), this was followed by a sing along of classic Christmas songs including Santa Claus is Coming To Town, Frosty the Snowman, Silent Night, Jingle Bells, and White Christmas.

 After this we were treated to a 1923 silent version of A Christmas Carol entitled Scrooge. This film was accompanied by Bill Field on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. Now if you have never seen a silent movie with live musical accompaniment I must urge you to do so. There is nothing quite like it and it is a completely different experience from watching these films on DVD or TCM. The short itself is a fascinating one. It is a short film that condenses the story to a 25 minute short. As such there is quite a bit of the story we all know not included here. For instance Bob Cratchit's family is never seen and this includes Tiny Tim. The ghosts all show Scrooge only one vision each and seem to disappear as quickly as they appear. Still it is quite a good film in its own right. Russell Thorndike is delightful as Scrooge giving a very human performance and the special effects are quite good and hold up very well.

After a brief intermission came our feature film and what a great movie it is. Leo McCarey is one of my all time favorite directors and this movie shows perfectly why. It blends gentle comedy, sentimentality, great characters and an excellent sense of atmosphere perfectly. Bing Crosby is excellent in the main role (who had earlier appeared in Going My Way (1944)) and shows that he was an incredible actor as well as a singer. Speaking about his singing, he sings some great songs here. Ingrid Bergman is also fantastic in her role. She has perfect chemistry with Bing and provides some of this films most charming moments. Though these two often get all the praise for the movie's great acting, but young Joan Carroll as Pasty is just as amazing here. Her performance is amazingly human and hits every mark from comedy to sentimentality perfectly.

This movie has a very light story, but this is a major part of this film's charm. The film isn't about some big storyline instead it is about these characters. The characters are so real and human. This is also an uplifting movie that can never fail to put a smile on my face. A cynic can argue that the things that happen in this movie could never happen in real life, but the rest of us will fall completely under its spell. This is a movie that shows there is good in all humanity, and all one needs to do is look for it to make it evident. If you can get rid of the cynic inside you for just a tiny bit, it is not hard to fall in love with this movie's sentimentality and believe in good once again (even if it is only for 2 hours and 6 minutes). McCarey was a devout Catholic and that leads this movie to have a charm many directors could not have brought to it, as it is a movie about the rewards of faith and patience showing this with an honesty and respect that few directors could have bought to the screen so effectively. As a Christian myself (though protestant) this message fully hit home with me.  

This is a movie of undeniably charm and it is full of fantastic little moments such as Pasty's report on the sixth sense, Sister Mary teaching a young boy how to box (despite knowing nothing about it herself) and the school Christmas pageant. These scenes are so charming they might even win over those cynics I mentioned earlier.

The Old Town Music Hall is one of my favorite places to watch old movies and if any of you go to (or live in) Southern California, I couldn't recommend it more. To look at their schedule click here. 

Merry Christmas and God bless.      
-Michael J. Ruhland 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Michael's Christmas Movie Guide: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

One of the most popular and influential Christmas movies is also one of the best.

This was the fourth film from director George Seaton, at least as a director before becoming a director he had been a writer at MGM then Fox. He had written for such films as The Wizard of OZ, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and The Song of Bernadette. Before this film he had directed  Diamond Horseshoe, Junior Miss and The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. Seaton also wrote this film.

Edmund Gwenn was not only a convincing Santa Claus to the audience, but also to then child actress, Natalie Wood. She believed he was the real Santa Claus, and who can blame her. She didn't realize he wasn't until she saw him out of costume at the wrap party. Not surprisingly Edmund Gwenn won a well deserved academy award for best supporting actor.

Maureen O'Hara was forced into this movie. She had in fact returned to Ireland, before being called to come back to America to play the role of the mom. She however fell in love with the script.

Despite the fact that this is obviously a Christmas film, Fox studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck felt the movie should be released in June, instead of at Christmas time. His reasoning was that people don't go to the theaters at Christmas time. Because of this most of the film's advertisements avoid saying this film had anything to do with Christmas or Santa Claus. Even the original title of the film, Christmas Miracle on 34th Street, was changed to Miracle on 34th Street.

Zanuck even felt this film was too cheesy for audiences. Boy was he wrong this film grew to become a classic, and boy is it. This is an excellent movie by any standards. The cast is perfect, the directing is great, the writing top notch and everything comes together perfectly. There are so many scenes that are so charming they can even win over someone whose heart is two sizes too small. One of my favorite of these scenes is the scene with Kris and the little Dutch girl. This scene is not necessary to the movie, but  it adds so much. It makes us love Kris all the more and helps us understand why such a doubting little girl starts to believe Kris is Santa. What also helps this film to work so great is that it never tells us whether or not Kris really is Santa. We have to go on faith just as Susan and Doris do. Watching this movie many of us become like children again, believing in something, because of our hearts rather than our cynical mind. A man who embodies Christmas so perfectly and wins over our cynical adult selves, must be Santa and we don't need the movie to show us what we feel in our hearts to be true. This is a movie that challenges the cynic in us by winning us over with pure childlike joy and wonder. This is not one of those movies that's beloved because it's considered a classic, but a classic because it is rightfully so beloved. This is a must watch.

This film is one of only three Christmas films to ever be nominated for best picture. The others were The Bishop's Wife (released the same year), and It's a Wonderful Life (released the year before).

This film also has appearing in the toy department Warner Brothers cartoon characters despite this being a Fox film. This is odd, but perfectly in line with the film's message.

This film won Boxoffice Magazine's Blue Ribbon Award to read more about this (from Boxoffice Magazine itself) click here.

The following is an article from Boxoffice Magazine (dated July 12, 1947).

"PITTSURG - 'Duel in the Sun' and 'Miracle on 34th Street' both in extended runs, were leaders, the former playing at Loew's Penn at increased prices, with the latter on view in J.P. Harris at regular prices. Other downtown offerings grossed under par. Admissions generally in the area are hitting only 75 per cent of average this period.

"Record crowds are turning out for sports events, including night games, operettas, park attractions etc."

The following is from the same issue of Boxoffice magazine.

"CINCINNATI - With exception of the Shubert, which did alright with 'Miracle on 34th Street,' Cincinnati box offices fell off considerably during a desultory week. 'Miracle' did a big 160 per cent; the Lyric did average business with a duel program, 'The Two Mrs. Carrolls' and 'Dishonored Lady.' All other houses fell below average."    

-Michael J. Ruhland

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