Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Silent Films on TCM this August

Hello again my friends. Because August is Summer Under the Stars, there will be no silent Sunday nights on TCM, and there are very few days in which silent films will be played this month. However there are some great silent films this month and I am going to list them here all the same. The star for August 19th is Buster Keaton, so naturally there are some great silents on that day.

Monday, August 19th

Battling Butler
(1926) Director: Buster Keaton. Starring Buster Keaton and Sally O'Neil. 3AM Pacific. 6AM Eastern.

The Cameraman (1928) Director: Edward Sedgwick. Starring Buster Keaton and Marceline Day. 4:30 Am Pacific. 7:30 Am Eastern.

Spite Marriage (1929). Director: Edward Sedgwick. Starring Buster Keaton and Dorothy Sebastian. 6Am Pacific. 9Am Eastern.

The General (1927) Directors: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman. Starring Buster Keaton and Marion Mack. 7pm Pacific, 10pm Eastern.

Sherlock Jr. (1924) Director: Buster Keaton, Starring Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire. 8:30 pm Pacific. 11:30pm Eastern.

Seven Chances (1925) Director: Buster Keaton. Starring Buster Keaton and Snitz Edwards. 11:30pm Pacific. 2:30am Eastern.

Tuesday, August 20th

Steamboat Bill Jr.
(1928) Director: Charles F. Riesner. Starring Buster Keaton and Ernest Torrence. 12:45am Pacific. 3:45am Eastern.

The Navigator (1924) Directors: Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp. Starring Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire. 2am Pacific. 5am Eastern.

Monday August 26th

Beau Brummel
(1924) Director: Harry Beaumont. Starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor. 3am Pacific. 6am Eastern.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, July 29, 2019

Seeing Dwight Yoakam and Midland in Concert.

I normally don't write about concerts I went to on this blog, but I just saw a concert that was so amazing I can't help but talk about it. This will be a brief post, but I hope it will let you know if you have a chance to see Dwight Yoakam in concert don't miss it.

Dwight Yoakam is a country music legend and he certainly proved it at a concert I went to last night. His voice has never sounded better, and his selection of songs was fantastic. He did many of his great hit songs including Fast as You, Honky Tonk Man, Guitars, Cadillacs, Turn It Up, Turn Me On, Turn Me Lose, It Only Hurts When I Cry, Streets of Bakersfield and A Thousand Miles From Nowhere. These songs were performed with pure energy and joy from Dwight. He certainly showed that at 62, there are no signs of him slowing down. He did his great signature moves on stage much to the delight of the whole audience. As well as performing his own hits he did quite a few covers of hits by other artists. One thing that always amazes me about Dwight is his ability to cover someone else's song and make it completely his own. He certainly showed that here with fantastic covers of songs by The Eagles (Peaceful Easy Feeling) and Buck Owens (Act Naturally). Since this was a California country music concert he even did a three song tribute to the great late Merle Haggard. He performed three of Merle's biggest his to absolute perfection. These were Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, Swinging Doors and Okie From Muskogee. As well as playing incredible music Dwight proved himself to be excellent at talking to the audience. He reminisced about his early days in Southern California, causing many audience members to cheer loudly. He also gave us a history lesson on Southern California, country-rock showing his pure knowledge of that type of music. He even complemented a man wearing an Angels hat. This was everything you could want from a country music concert and more.

But wait there was an opening act as well. This was the new country band, Midland. I admit not being as familiar with them, but they certainly impressed me. Since they haven't even released their second album yet, it is fair to say they gave us a major selection of their music. These songs were very good and the band's musicianship was excellent. They even through in some great covers of Jerry Reed (Eastbound and Down) and Tom Petty (Last Dane With Mary Jane). I certainly look forward to hearing what they do in the future.

If you are a country music fan like me and you ever have the chance to see Dwight live, do not pass it up, he puts on one of the best concerts I have ever seen. In fact if you have a chance to see Midland live, I would recommend that as well.

-Michael J. Ruhland        

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Cowboy Church #20

Hello my friends and welcome back for another Cowboy Church service. 

We begin our musical selection off with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans performing the Southern Gospel classic, I'll Fly Away. Next comes The Sons of the Pioneers' 1948 recording of Rounded Up in Glory. After this comes Rex Allen's 1953 recording of I Thank the Lord. Rex co-wrote this song and it was released as the B-side to his massive gospel hit Crying in the Chapel (a song which of course would later be a massive hit for Elvis Presley). After this comes The Charlie Daniels Band performing their original country-gospel song Sunday Morning from their 1994 Christian album The Door. This is followed by Lorretta Lynn performing I'd Rather Have Jesus from her 1965 gospel album, Hymns. Next is Willie Nelson performing There is a Fountain from his 1976 gospel album, The Troublemaker. We end our musical portion of this post with Johnny Cash performing If I Give My Soul. In the liner notes for the Cash Unearthed box set Johnny Cash refers to this song's writer, Billy Joe Shaver, as his favorite writer. However in his 1979 Christmas TV special, he referred to Tom T. Hall as his favorite songwriter. Johnny loved this song but neither he nor his producer Rick Ruben felt that the song turned out right. Rick felt John was singing like he was performing to an audience rather than singing from the inside. He told John this and that is why this recording starts with John saying "Get off stage Cash." Since neither was happy with this recording it did not end up on an official album. However it is available on the excellent Cash Unearthed box set.  

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Deuteronomy 15:10

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. Psalm 94:19

Thank you for joining me come back next week for more Cowboy Church. Until then happy trails to you until we meet again.  

-Michael J. Ruhland


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Summer Concert Series: 65 Revisited (2006)

I am sure many of my readers are very familiar with the excellent Bob Dylan documentary directed by D.A. Pennebaker, Don't Look Back (1965). Well more was filmed for that great movie than was used in the final film. Much more. Because of Pennebaker released a whole feature film, mostly made of unused footage from Don't Look Back four decades later. If you want to see this film, it does appear as a bonus feature on the Don't Look Back Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays.

The major difference between 65 Revisited and Don't Look Back is that in this film the focus is more on the music. With Don't Look Back Pennebaker explained that he did not want to make a film about Bob Dylan as a musician but rather as who the poet was behind his poetry. Because of this in that film, clips of Bob performing songs were used but rarely whole songs. 65 Revisited lets the songs play from beginning to end, including some we just got clips of in Don't Look Back. These performances show Bob at his best. Not only are the songs he is performing, some of his best songs of the era, but he performs they with such joy. He just looks so comfortable (something rare to see Bob being on camera) on the stage and is putting his full heart and soul into these songs. In Don't Look Back Bob stated that people went to his shows for entertainment not because they were great art. This concert footage could be the perfect argument for that. While the songs he is performing are great works of art, these performances show that he is as great of an entertainer as he is an artist. Dylan fans like myself will eat this footage up as it is truly indispensable. Not all the music is concert footage though. There is plenty of great footage of Bob and Joan Beaz singing songs together for themselves between shows. These songs are just pure fun.

The non-music footage is equally indispensable. Bob gets one of his best wisecracks in this film as he tells a reporter that asks him "Where do you see yourself in the future," "Sleeping." I also love his interactions with some young fans. I especially love some young girls chasing the train Bob is in waving to him. These scenes seem like the opposite of the Bob Dylan we see in Festival (1967), who hides from the crowds. It is just as nice to see this side of Bob.

It is hard to believe a movie comprised of outtakes from another movie could possible be this good. However this is not only a great companion piece to Don't Look Back, but a fantastic film in its own right, that can be considered a work of cinematic art on its own terms.

-Michael J. Ruhland    

Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #29

Happy Saturday morning again my friends. That is right it is time for more classic cartoons. 

We start off with a classic Betty Boop cartoon, Ha Ha Ha (1934). Before the Fleshier Brothers made Betty Boop cartoons they made a series of silent cartoons called Out of the Inkwell. This cartoon certainly takes influence for that series. In the beginning of the cartoon we see in live action an inkwell and a board to draw on. From this a live action hand comes and draws Betty on that board. This is how Koko the Clown entered in most of the Out of the Inkwell cartoons. Speaking of Koko, he plays a supporting role in this cartoon. He actually was a supporting player in many of the Betty Boop cartoons of the 1930's. The following is an exhibitors review from the Motion Picture Herald (dated May 12, 1934). "Ha! Ha! Ha!: Betty Boop cartoons - This is another good cartoon from Paramount featuring Betty Boop and assisted by Koko. Betty as the dentist and Koko as the patient are very funny and will please everyone in your audience. Just the kind of entertainment we like and want more of them. Running time eight minutes. - J.J. Medford, Orpheum Theatre, Oxford, NC, General Patronage."

Next comes the last of the great series of cartoons of the 1940's teaming Donald Duck and Goofy together, Crazy With the Heat (1947). These cartoons are delightful all the way, with Goofy's obliviousness to his circumstances (however bad they may be) playing off of Donald's insane temper. This just gets Donald more and more annoyed as the films get funnier and funnier. This is a rare Disney cartoon short directed by Bob Carlson, who mostly worked as an animator by the studio. With how funny this film is that certainly seems a shame. A review in The Film Daily called this cartoon, "Exceptionally good." I can't argue with that.

Now comes a really late Merrie Melodies cartoon staring Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales, Mucho Locos (1966). This cartoon is what is known as a cheater meaning it uses clips from various older cartoons, similar to a TV clip show. One of the clips used is from Robin Hood Daffy (1958). Since in that cartoon Daffy co-starred with Porky and the pig appears in the clip, this marks the last use of Porky in a Looney Tunes or Merrie Melody. Despite this he doesn't say a word. The last cartoon where the pig played a major part was Corn on the Cop (1965). This cartoon is the only Warners cartoon in which Herman Stein does the music. Stein was much more prolific as a composer from live action movies and TV. This cartoon hardly marks the characters' finest hour, but it is entertaining in a weird way.

Since I mentioned the Out of the Inkwell series when talking about our first cartoon, I feel it is appropriate to end with an Out of the Inkwell cartoon. So enjoy, Bedtime (1923).

Thank you for joining me come back for more classic cartoons next week.

-Michael J. Ruhland


Friday, July 26, 2019

Movie Review: The Lion King

Michael's Movie Grade: F

Another heartless, soulless and lifeless Disney remake, just what we need. When will it all end?

I love Disney, you love Disney, we all love Disney. The studio has brought us so many great movies, over such a long period of time. Not only that but they have shown multiple times in recent years that they are still capable of making great films. That is why these current remakes are so disheartening. They feel like the studio simply going through the motions without putting any of the same heart or passion that went into the movies we love so much. It is hard to believe that such talent could be wasted on a movie like this. After all not only is it from a great studio, but if you take the time to read the credits, you will see how many who worked on this movie, also played a part in some truly great films.

This movie is sadly a shot for shot remake. I admit out of the gate, I don't understand these films. Shot for shot remakes are never as good as the original, but at the same time make it impossible not to compare to the original. In my mind a remake should be a new take on a story that has been told in cinema before. However nearly every line and every action comes directly from the 1994 movie. The only additions seem to be new "jokes." These "jokes" are horribly and painfully unfunny. The bickering of two hyenas has to be some of the worst comedy relief ever put into a Disney movie.  Not helping are more Pumba fart jokes. Now I am not some pretentious guy who turns up his nose at all fart jokes and says "how dare they?" I admit myself to laughing at the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles every time I see that movie. That said these fart jokes are terrible and completely forced. Some of Zazu's new blatherings are equally bad and unfunny.  

While it is very impressive that the animation can look so much like real animals, it is also completely pointless and hurts the movie more than it helps. Personally I can't understand how anybody could watch the 1994 Lion King and think that animals looking photorealistic could in any way improve the movie. Truth is while those cartoony characters could express their emotions beautifully through their faces, these photorealistic characters can't. Because of this many scenes that left an emotional impact in the 1994 film are completely devoid of any emotion. The idea of these extremely realistic animals talking and singing sometimes is pulled off okay, but there are other times when it just looks silly and takes you completely out of the movie.

Just don't waste your time with this. Watch the 1994 film at home instead. Hopefully one day Disney will stop making these remakes and regain their full potential. However that day will sadly not be coming soon.  

-Michael J. Ruhland

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Movie Review: Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

Review: An affectionate (though not exactly uncritical) love letter to 60's cinema that is irresistible.

If I were to give you a description of this movie's story, you might wonder how this could possibly fill a 160 minute movie. However this film is hardly about the story. Instead it is about the atmosphere, the characters and the story. Not only does this movie take place in the 1960's but it truly feels like a 1960's movie. This is accomplished not only through how the film likes but how it made as a whole. This is not a fast paced movie by any means, but most 60's movies where much slower paced than Hollywood films of today. Because of this the movie feels more authentic. This movie is also a pure auteur film of the type that where in vouge in the 60's. Quentin Tarantino does not stay invisible behind the camera for a second. His direction is constantly making its presence known. In a lesser filmmakers hands this can be disastrous, but when the right director does it, the effect is incredible and Tarantino is definitely the right director. This is not to give all the credit to the director however.

The cast in this movie is perfect. Leonardo De Caprio puts his whole heart and soul into this role and it shows. He brings a sense of humanity to a character that could seem like just a caricature in a lesser actors hands. A scene in which his character plays the bad guy in a TV show, and finally nails the part, is an especially good example of this. A child actress working with his character (played marvelously by Julia Butters) says "That is the best acting I have ever seen in my life." That might be a tall statement but there is no doubt, that we are witnessing an incredible performance by that scene. Brad Pitt and him have perfect chemistry together and it is just a joy to watch them share the screen. Margot Robbie is a joy as she brings so much joyous energy to the part of Sharon Tate. The scene in which she is watching herself in the movie Wrecking Crew in a theater is a feat for both her acting and Tarantino's directing.

Tarantino loves movies, as all of you should know. This can be felt throughout this film. I have already mentioned the scene inside the theatre with Sharon Tate. As well as a feat for Margot Robbie's acting and Tarantino's directing, this scene also shows us the magic that movies will always have on audiences and why the cinema remains the best way to see a movie. There are also throw away lines, about a character (Al Pacino) watching Rick Dalton double features in which he even talks about watching these films on 35mm. Of course this line shows how deep Tarantino's love for movies being shown on film. The characters constantly talk about movies and TV and do so with an undying affection. There is also some good natured ribbing of movies of the era (in fact much of this movie is laugh out loud funny). This includes a joke about Rick Dalton appearing in an Italian James Bond ripoff, Rick's negative opinion of Spaghetti westerns and a fantastically hilarious scene about The Great Escape. This can also be seen by the great sights of the 1960's style movie theatres lighting up. In the way these scenes are shot there is something awe inspiring and magical about it, something that will certainly resonate with many of us movie lovers.

This film also has a great soundtrack. True to the 1960's period, the music is mostly from that era. Not only does this help the film match the time period, but the music also gives this movie a great energy. It always fits what is on screen and complements it perfectly. Of course the songs (from Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Mamas and the Papas, Neil Diamond, Roy Head & the Traits, Deep Purple, Buffy Sainte-Marie and others) are just great songs and a joy to hear in any context.

This is a fantastic movie on every level. One could argue that its length is longer than it needs to be, but despite this I never got bored. I found this movie a complete pleasure from beginning to end.

-Michael J. Ruhland    

Monday, July 22, 2019

I Served The King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále) (2006)

I Served the King of England is a smart, sexy, fantasy-filled Czechoslovakian satire with a unique charm and wit. What is interesting is that despite being filled with sex and humor, this is a very quiet introspective film that wants us to do some of the work. This is not just a movie that demands our attention, but one that richly rewards it as well. There are many very quiet scenes that play like a classic silent film. All this makes the film seem rather unassuming making us even more amazed by the powerful emotions contained within. What this movie truly offers us is a fascinating and well observed commentary on human nature. About our striving for success, our sexual lusts and the part of us that only looks out for ourselves.

This movie is about a Czech man in the 1930’s named Jan (Ivan Barnev) who wants one thing out of life. He wants to be a millionaire (don’t we all). This desire in him takes precedence over all else, even politics. He works in various high class and expensive places to study those who are successful. The lifestyle he sees may be hollow, but the more he observes it the more he desires what they have. He is constantly working his way up the ladder by following these examples and sleeping with various women. However everything goes wrong when he marries a German woman (Julia Jentsch). After the Germans invade Czechoslovakia this makes him unpopular and ostracized.

This movie never praises nor condemns Jan the way a similar Hollywood movie might. Director,  Jirí Menzel creates a more morally ambiguous feel to the movie that makes it all the more fascinating. Even though Jan is not a traditionally likable character we see enough of ourselves in him to relate and maybe even be frightened by what we see. This also keeps the film from directly preaching to us. It gives us insights into the moral and political conflicts happening, but makes us come to our own conclusions about what we see. Rather than a political movie this plays like a very low key sex comedy. This gives it a deceptively light hearted and breezy feel to a movie with much deeper implications underneath.

This is not a movie to watch when you are emotional or easily distracted. You have to be completely absorbed in this movie for its subtle power and depth to truly reach you. Watch this in the right mood though and you will be in awe of what you see.    

-Michael J. Ruhland

Movie Review: The Art of Self Defense

Michael's Movie Grade: B

Very funny darkly deadpan comedy.

No matter how dark and disturbing this movie gets, it never takes itself too seriously. Every disturbing scene we might take seriously is followed by an absurdity that cannot be taken seriously. These moments are woven perfectly together and just help make the movie a more enjoyable experience. What makes these absurdities even funnier is that they are played with a completely straight face. We are never told what is a joke and what is to be taken seriously. I personally admit, as the plot started to take a dark turn, at first I felt the movie was turning from a comedy to something more serious. However as I kept watching I quickly learned this was not the case, but rather the film was actually getting funnier, if at times more subtly so.

 Not everything in this movie adds up or makes logical sense. However the more I think about this movie the funnier that is. To get the most out of this movie you must take the lapses in logic as part of the film's humor and charm rather than as a fault. Again this works because it is played with a straight face making each absurdity even funnier.

While this movie is excellent as a comedy it is certainly less successful as a social commentary. While the comedy often feels original, the social commentary feels much too obvious and safe. It seems at many times to beat us over the head with its anti-"toxic masculinity" message. Lines about the only female member of dojo are especially bad. We have heard these lines many times and they come off as rather stale and preachy. Similar are our main character's lines about feeling a lack of masculinity and his fear of more masculine men. What the movie is trying to say with these lines is much too obvious and preachy.

This movie's sense of humor is definitely too dark and disturbing for many. However for those of us who enjoy dark comedy, this is a very funny movie, despite its faults.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Cowboy Church #19

Hello my friends and welcome to another addition of Cowboy Church.

We start our music selection off with The Sons of the Pioneers' 1947 recording of the gospel classic, The Old Rugged Cross. Next comes Rex Allen performing I Won't Need My Six Gun in Heaven. Next comes The Charlie Daniels Band with a cover of one of Bob Dylan's Christian Songs, Gotta Serve Somebody. Bob Dylan's Christian music period has received much criticism from music fans and critics. However me and a few others feel Bob's music from this period is actually excellent. CDB certain feels so or they would not have put out such a heartfelt cover of this song. Actually before Charlie Daniels formed CDB, he served as a backing musician on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline album. They released a version of this song on the 2014 album Off The Grid Doing it Dylan. This is a live version of the song. Next comes Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Riders of the Purple Sage and Foy Willing performing May the Good Lord a Likin' To You in the feature film, Trigger Jr. (1950).  This is followed by Charley Pride performing Jesus Don't Give Up on Me in a 1971 recording. Next comes Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers and The Carter Family all performing Children Go Where I Send Thee in a 1971 live performance. This is the most energetic and fun performance of this song I ever heard. 

"When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (2 Samuel 7:12–13).

"How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:14)
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

Thank you for joining me, come back next week for more Cowboy Church. Until then Happy Trails to You Until We Meet Again


-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #28

Hello my friends. It is Saturday morning and you know what that means. It is time for more classic cartoons.

We start with one of the last black and white Looney Tunes. This is a fantastic Daffy Duck World War 2 themed short. This film is directed by Frank Tashlin. While directing these cartoons Frank had his mind on wanting to direct live action features (which he later did). Because of this his cartoons are the most cinematic of all the Looney Tunes. This is definitely shown here in a montage that is as well done as anything you would see in a serious war picture. This film is also filled with not only great slapstick but some of the sharpest satire of any of the World War 2 Looney Tunes. So enjoy, Scrap Happy Daffy (1943). 

Next comes another black and white Looney Tune from the 1940's. This one is called Notes To You (1941) and stars Porky Pig and an unnamed cat. This cartoon was directed by Friz Freleng and written by Michael Maltese. The two would later team up again to create a remake, Black Alley Oproar (1948, that cartoon would feature Tedd Pierce co-writing with Michael Maltese). That film would star Elmer Fudd and Slyvestor. While the remake is even better, Notes to You is still a delightful cartoon and I hope you enjoy.

Next comes one of the many great Popeye cartoons from the Fleischer Brothers. As I have stated before on this blog, despite the sterotype, not every Popeye cartoon had the same story. This is one of those that did not follow the Popeye and Bluto fighting over Olive. This cartoon actually features little to no fighting. That does not mean it is lacking in humor however. This cartoon features one of my favorite breaking the fourth wall gags. So enjoy, A Date To Skate (1938).


With the squeaky clean image of Goofy many people have today, many people would be shocked to hear about a Goofy cartoon that revolves around him trying to quit smoking. However Goofy cartoons were not always squeaky clean. In fact in the 1940's and 50's Goofy cartoons were the most adult oriented shorts the studio was putting out. That is probably also why they were some of the funniest. Many of these cartoons had a very Robert Benchley style of humor and that can certainly be seen in our last cartoon for today, No Smoking (1951).

Thank you for joining me, come back next week for more animated treasures.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ritchie Valens and The Day The Music Died

I am sure many of you reading this blog are familiar with the sad untimely death of Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper in a plane crash. These are of course some of the great of 1950's rock and roll and all of us music fans wish we could hear the amazing music they would have made into the 1960's and maybe 70's (or even 80's and 90's), if they had lived. The following is a 1959 article from Photoplay magazine that is a tribute to Ritchie Valens after this happened.

Since this song was mentioned quite a bit in this article, here is Ritchie Valens performing We Belong Together


-Michael J. Ruhland

Advertising a Motion Picture Show in 1909

Hello again my friends. This blog has gone over the advertising of movies many times. However most of these posts did not go any earlier than the 1920's. Films existed for a few decades before that however. For instance how was a motion picture show advertised in 1909. Luckily for us, this part of early cinema has been covered. I don't mean by modern day film historians mind you but rather by people back then. This 1909 article from the early film magazine, The Nickelodeon gives advice on how theatre owners should advertise their movie picture shows 110 years ago. Remember if the print is too small you can always zoom in. 

Hope you enjoyed and found this very informative.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, July 15, 2019

Movie Review: Stuber

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

A dumb turn your mind off kind of movie, but if you are in the right mind set it's fun.

This film has a unique premise, but other than that you know where it is going to go at all times. This is a story we have seen before quite often and will see again quite often (the logic of it all also doesn't often make sense). Despite this though I admit I had fun watching it. While not every joke is incredible, there are no jokes that are really bad either. On top of that some of the jokes are quite funny. Much of the humor comes from the interplay between our two main characters (Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani). Luckily this is the movie's strongest point. While the tough guy and the wimpy but good hearted guy is a typical movie comedy pairing, I couldn't help but enjoy the way these two played off each other. The chemistry is darn near perfect, and the dialogue between them is often quite well written. I also love how both complement the other, with one's strength being the other's weakness. This makes them feel like a real team and a perfect match story-wise as well as comedy-wise.  Also delightful and adding a lot to this movie is Vic's (Dave Bautista) daughter (Natalie Morales). She has good chemistry with both the two leads and provides the film's only real sense of heart (Stu's romantic life doesn't really achieve the heart that it is going for). The action is quite good (if at times needlessly bloody) and this part of the film certainly delivers some good-old fashioned excitement.

This is never going down as a great movie or a work of art, but for what it is, it provides 93 minutes of dumb escapist fun.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Summer Concert Series: Festival (1967)

A very thought provoking folk music documentary with great music. This film shows footage of the 1963 and 1966 Newport Folk Festival.

If you have a similar taste in music to me, you will know as soon as you see the opening credits that this movie is going to be a pure musical treat. Performers in this film include Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Peter Paul and Mary, Buffy Sainte Marie, Michael Bloomfield,  Mississippi John Hurt and Paul Butterfield. If I had one complaint about the music it would be that we only see and hear Johnny Cash perform a brief snippet of I Walk the Line and other than that he is largely absent from the film. However there is no other complaint about the music in this film, it is near perfect as music can be. One of the highlights of the film is Bob Dylan's incredible performance of Mr. Tambourine Man. Though many with more traditionally great voices than Bob Dylan have performed this song no one sings it quite like Bob. This is a mysterious and magically unexplainable song and Bob's rough voice just heightens this quality perfectly. We also are treated to one of Bob Dylan's earliest pure rock and roll performances. At a festival that was all about folk music, Bob performers the radical Maggie's Farm. This is not only a rock and roll song but a proud and defiant announcement that Dylan was leaving the folk scene for rock and roll. The performance of this song is pretty darn hard rocking for its time and one can only imagine how the audience at this festival felt hearing this from some one who was know as one of the top folk singers of his day. Though this performance has found its way onto various rock and roll documentaries, it is still incredible every time I see it. Though Bob had abounded political protest songs at this time and all of his performances here have no political overtones at all, Peter, Paul and Mary perform some of Bob's past protest songs including The Times They Are A Changing and Blowing in the Wind. Peter, Paul and Mary seem to be favorites of director Murray Lerner, as we get a lot of songs from them. Luckily they sound extremely good here. Joan Baez is certainly also in top form here as her voice has never sounded better and her song choices are perfect. Paul Butterfield and Mississippi John Hurt show us what the blues are all about in their magnificent performances, while Michael Bloomfield gives us a new style of white blues-rock. All this shows that the blues can never be defined or understood they are just a part of the people who play the music.

This movie also brings up some very thought-provoking moments. It discusses how while folk music is a genre of music for and by the people, how the iconography of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez contradicts that. This movie discusses whether this iconography is good or bad from various positions. There are some audience members, who feel that the worship of them takes away from the relatability and realness of their music. Despite that many other audience members go insane when Bob takes the stage and hound Joan for her autograph. It is interesting to the contrasting ways the two deal with this bigger than life status. Joan finds it sweet and healthy (although she feels a bath wouldn't hurt some of those kids), and she jokes while signing autographs that the only affect this has on her is "a bloated ego." Bob on the other hand is obviously uncomfortable with this. He rushes to his car and hides from the people. I get the feeling this isn't out of rudeness, but rather that the situation and the crowds make him so uncomfortable that like a scared little child he rushes to safety. Then again I have social anxiety so maybe I am imparting who I am on to who Bob Dylan is. Another thought provoking part of the movie comes from Son House discussing the blues and how he feels this new rocking electric type blues goes against what the music is all about. Masterful editing (editors on this film include Alan Heim, Michael Marantz and Gordon Quinn) and great direction intercut this with blues-rock musician Michael Bloomfield talking about his type of blues music to create an intelligent and thought provoking debate between two great musicians. This movie also calls into question the counter-culture movement and whether these college kids truly understood what they were talking about. Unlike on the previous issues this film seems to give a distinct answer to that question. A middle-age man states that he approves of the young people questioning his generation, because it shows they are thinking. Joan Baez says that she believes the kids know what the singers and songwriters are talking about. Pete Seager has the best comment on this stating that this festival is where "Everyone gathers together to be a non-conformist."

Unfortunately this incredible film did not and still doesn't receive the attention it deserves. One reason sometimes given for this is that the justifiably famous D.A. Pennybaker documentary about Bob Dylan (also featuring Joan Baez) was released a month before this film. Hopefully more people will discover the excellent movie this is and enjoy it as much as I did.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Cowboy Church #18

Hello my friends welcome back for another round of Cowboy Church. 

Our musical selection starts off with The Sons of the Pioneers performing What a Wonderful Joy in a classic 1941 recording. Next comes Emmylou Harris with a beautiful rendition of Where Could I Go But To the Lord. This comes from her excellent 1987 gospel album, Angel Band. This album consisted of Emmylou performing various hymns acoustically. Doing backing vocals for this recording is Vince Gill. Next comes Alison Krauss and the Cox Family with I Know Who Holds Tomorrow. This is from their 1984 album of the same name. Sidney Cox said that this was one of his mother's favorite songs and she used to sing it whenever working in the kitchen. After this comes Roy Acuff's 1941 recording of The Precious Jewel. Roy wrote this song himself and the melody would later be used for a later song he would record, The Prodigal Son. Next comes Rex Allen performing the lovely Range in the Sky. We end with Eddie Dean's 1955 recording of Hillbilly Heaven. He co-wrote this song with Haal Southern. The song would later become a hit for another singing cowboy, Tex Ritter.  

Next is the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers on TV's This is Your Life (1950-1961). This episode comes from 1953.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for human masters. Colossians 3: 23
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:21

 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

Thanks for joining me again for Cowboy Church, come back next week. Until then Happy Trails to you until we meet again.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #27

Happy Saturday Morning my friends. Once again it is time for another round of classic cartoons. 

With the strangeness of a lot of Betty Boop cartoons, it seems like a natural fit to put her into Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. This idea lead to an excellent cartoon called Betty in Blunderland (1934). This cartoon just throws another sight gag and creative scene after another. This is done with so much energy that the film is hard to resist. In this cartoon Betty sings the Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby song, Everybody Says I Love You (with completely new lyrics). This song came from the Marx Brothers movie, Horsefeathers (1932). Since both this cartoon and the Marx Brothers movie came from Paramount, this is no surprise. The following is an exhibitor's review from The Motion Picture Herald (dated August 25, 1934). "Betty in Blunderland: Betty Boop - Burlesque on 'Alice in Wonderland.' It is one of those cartoons patrons stay to see the second time. Running Time 7 Minutes. - A.B. Jeffers. New Piedmont Theatre, Piedmont, MO. Rural and small town patronage." 

Next up comes a lively and energetic early Merrie Melody cartoon, You Don't Know What You're Doin! (1931). At this time Hugh Harmon and Rudy Ising where experimenting with the idea of having starring characters for the Merrie Melodies separate from the starring characters for Looney Tunes. This one stars Piggy (not to be confused with the later Porky Pig). He would only appear in two of the early black and white Merrie Melodies for Harmon and Ising, the other being Hitting the Hallelujah Trail (1931). However Friz Freleng would later design the character and use him in two color Merrie Melodies (At Your Service Madame (1936), Pigs is Pigs (1937)). This cartoon features a very energetic jazzy score by Gus Arnheim and His orchestra. This was a very popular band at the time, and they had backed such famous singers as Bing Crosby, Eddie Cantor and Buddy Clark.


 Next comes one of the great "How To..." Goofy cartoons directed by Jack Kinney, How to Dance (1953). These were some of the funniest and best cartoon short to ever come out of the Disney studio. In this and several others in the series Goofy is referred to as George Geef. This film features two big in-jokes. The band playing at the dance near the end is The Firehouse Five Plus Two. This was a real band made up of Disney animators. As well as hearing them you can see them carriatured here. My fellow Disney buffs might be able to make out, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas and Harper Goff among the band members seen on screen. Another injoke is that Mr. Geef (Goofy) goes to the Atenico School of Dance named after animator X Atencio. 

Our last film for today is an Oscar nominated cartoon and a great work of art in it's own right, Windy Day (1968). This was built around a audio recording of John and Faith Hubley's daughters, Georgia and Emily Hubley at play. Those familiar with the indie rock band Yo La Tengo, might know Georgia Hubley as the drummer for that band. Emily would later be the associate producer and one of the animators on her mom's only solo directorial feature film, The Cosmic Eye (1986). She would also have her own career in animation, directing such films as the feature length, The Toe Tactic (2008), and the shorts The Pigeon Within (2000) and Rainbows of Hawai'i (1995). She would also be the animation designer and an animator on the animated segment in Hedwig and the Angry Itch (2001). Windy Day is a lovely film. The dialog between the two girls is very charming. Towards the end of the film the conversation turns quite profound and beautiful. This is a great reminder of how much more intelligent kids can be than we give them credit for. The whole film is lovely though and the whimsical animation fits the kids conversation perfectly.

Come back next week for more cartoon treasures. Until then peace, love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland