Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Movie Review: Clemency

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

An incredibly powerful and intelligent movie.

This film is a brilliant character study of a  prison warden with whom having to carry out death row executions has taken an emotional and psychological toll on her. There have been so many movies about innocent men on death row, but few about the people who have to do this thankless and emotionally taxing job. To have to be around death, to have to spend time talking with the people you are going kill and to have no control and no choice but to kill these prisoners whether you believe them to be guilty or not would take its toll on anybody. I could not even imagine how someone could do this for a job. The portrayal we see here is of a woman who has cut herself off from any emotional connection with anything. She is afraid to be human because to be human means having to face the implications of what she does for a living. This is all held together by an incredible performance by Alfre Woodard. Her performance is incredibly human in the subtlest of ways. As she is playing a character that is afraid of being human her emotions cannot be broad or the whole film would fail. Yet underneath this all you can see her humanity trying to sneak through in subtle ways. This is a masterful performance that I simply cannot praise enough. Not giving anything away but the closing scene of this film is a tour de force for this actress and screen acting at its finest. Writer and director Chinonye tells this story as well as possible. This is not a fast moving film, but any means yet it is completely engrossing for every second and never once lets go of your attention or emotions. This is a film without an excess. Every scene has a propose to be here and adds to the overall feel of the story.

This is an incredible movie that will haunt you long after it is over.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, January 27, 2020

Short Film Corner: Top Floor (2020)

We movie buffs are a strange people. We are obsessive watchers of old short films. Yet when it comes to modern movies we watch the features and are mostly unfamiliar with the shorts. That is why I have this new installment on my blog called Short Film Corner. These posts will not feature critical commentary or historical insight into these films. Rather I will just occasionally select a recent short (my definition of a short is any movie running under 40 minutes) that I really liked and share a video of it to this blog, so this way you can see these great overlooked movies too. First up is a very recent short from Pakistani filmmaker Halar Khoso entitled Top Floor (2020). Enjoy.



-Michael J. Ruhland

Movie Review: The Gentlemen

Michael's Movie Grade: B

This movie may be style over substance, but the style is fantastic.

This film has a complex and convoluted plot, but don't worry you don't have to follow it. The Gentlemen is never about the plot which is simply an excuse for Guy Ritchie to do whatever Guy Ritchie wants to do. One reason I enjoy most of Guy Ritchie's films is that I always get the feeling that he had tons of fun making them. There seems to be a childlike glee and fascination with all the things film can do. This gives his better movies a one of a kind energy that is just a pure joy to watch. This is certainly one of his better movies and this energy is a joy to watch. The gleeful playfulness here reminds me of the early Fran├žois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard films (though it may not be quite on par with those films). Also adding to the fun is the cast, who seem to be having just as much fun acting as Guy Ritchie has directing. This is especially true of Hugh Grant who often steals the show, relishing playing an outlandishly fun character. In fact most of the characters here are outlandish, over the top and simply a joy to watch. There is also some good humor here. Yes it is immature and childish, but it is often times quite funny. There are to be honest a few times when this movie loses a bit of its momentum and it could have benefited from a shorter runtime, but this made up for by so much of the movie being quite fun.

This is far from a perfect movie but I love seeing a filmmaker having fun making a film and that is what I see here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Silent Era Cartoon Advertisements

Hello again my friends in this post I will be sharing with you some classic advertisements for silent era cartoons in old movie magazines.
Photoplay, 1916

Motion Picture News, 1919


Exhibitors Herald, 1927
Moving Picture World, 1920


Motion Picture News, 1920
Motion Picture News, 1916
Film Daily, 1924
Exhibitors Herald, 1924



As a bonus here is a Jerry on the Job cartoon.





Peace, love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Cowboy Church #41



Hello my friends and welcome back to another service of Cowboy Church.

Today's musical lineup begins with The Sons of the Pioneers' 1951 recording of Wonderous Word of the Lord. This song was written by Ken Carson, who while not a member at this time had been one of the Sons of the Pioneers in the mid 1940's. Next is Sons of the San Joaquin with God Leads His Dear Children from their 1997 album, Gospel Trails. Roy Rogers would once say about Sons of the San Joaquin, "the only singing group alive who I feel sound like the original Sons of the Pioneers." If that doesn't sound like a recommendation to you, then we have very different tastes in music. Next is often overlooked gospel classic, The Thief on the Tree performed by Roy Acuff. After this is Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with a medley of four songs (The Place Where I Worship, He Walks With the Wild and the Lonely, Texas Plains, Happy Trails) on Hee Haw. Before we leave Hee Haw next is the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet (Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Grandpa Jones, Kenny Price) with When I Take My Vacation in Heaven. After this comes Johnny Cash with a lovely self-penned gospel song, Half a Mile a Day. This recording features just Johnny and his guitar and is extremely heartfelt. This is followed by The Gospel Plowboys with Everybody Will Happy from their 2016 album, Welcome Home. Today's music selection ends with Gene Autry singing Bible on the Table in a classic 1949 recording. 























Today's movie is a silent film starring the one and only Tom Mix, Sky High (1922). This movie features some location shooting at the Grand Canyon, which helps explain what it is so visually beautiful. This is in many ways a typical Tom Mix movie with plenty of great fast paced action and heroics. Reading some of the exhibitors reviews for this film show how much people loved Tom Mix at this time. Here are some examples of what some of them said. "Boys, I'm a nut over Tom Mix like everything else, but this one is a marvel." "Great, people who never before cared for 'horse operas' raved over this one." "One of the best pictures Mix ever stared in to my notion." "One of the best we have ever shown." "Mix always gets us business and pleases the crowds."


 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

    my God, in whom I trust.”
 Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
 He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
 You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
 A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
 You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”

    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.

With long life I will satisfy him

    and show him my salvation.

Psalm 91

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 17-19

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves Philippians 2:3

 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs. Proverbs 10:12

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 1 Samuel 12:23

Thank you for joining me come back next week for another service of Cowboy Church. Happy trails to you until we meet again.





-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Movie Review: The Last Full Measure

Michael's Movie Grade: A-

A touching and heartfelt tribute to a real life hero who gave his life to save others.

This is a story about heroism at its highest order and how much the selfless acts of one person can affect the lives of so many. This is a powerful message and it is told powerfully here. I love the way this story is told. Rather than taking place in the Vietnam War when the act of heroism took place, it takes place in 1999 when men who fought along side this great hero, trying to get him a posthumous medal of honor. It is incredible that men worked so hard over 30 years later to get this man the recognition he deserved and that immediately gets our attention and respect. The more we learn the more respect we have. Though this is technically a war movie, it is neither pro-war nor anti-war. The story instead delves into what would make a man who has so much be willing to put himself in harms way to save lives of people he never met. This is a question met with aa lot of heartfelt sincerity and respect. There is no doubt that writer and director Todd Robinson is completely in awe of the heroism of William H. Pitsenbarger and this respect can be felt throughout the whole movie and this is what truly makes this film special.

This movie also benefits from a fantastic cast. There are some veteran actors in the cast that prove they are still at the top of their game. These include William Hurt, Christopher Plummer, Diane Ladd, Samuel Jackson, Ed Harris and the late Peter Fonda. Each one is fantastic here giving heartfelt and moving performances. Sebastian Stan is also fantastic as the cynical man who at first believes that the men trying to get their friend this medal of honor have an agenda, but learns why this is so important to them over the course of this film.

This is a fantastic movie that truly tugs at your emotions and be thankful for men like William H. Pitsenbarger.

-Michael J. Ruhland      

Meet John Doe (1941)

Seeing it on the big screen at The Old Town Music Hall last night reminded me of just how great of a movie Meet John Doe is. It is an intelligent and delightful film that is not only still relevant today but possibly even more so than when it was first released.

If there was ever a movie tailor fitted to director Frank Capra, this is it. It has all the ingredients seen in Capra's more famous work. There is a populist message, a David and Goliath-like struggle, the goodness of the average man overcoming the greediness of those at the top, a sense of patriotism, a good dose of humor, exploring darker themes while still keeping a good natured corniness, it is all here. This movie is one that could have only been made by one director and if anyone else tried it would probably fail. Yet with Frank Capra in the director's chair this movie not only works but it is utterly delightful. Just as important to why this movie works was writer Robert Riskin. Though the two did not always see eye to eye Robert Riskin and Frank Capra were an incredible team and both of them did some of their best work with the other. After all this is the director-writer team that brought us Platinum Blonde (1931), Lady For a Day (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937) and You Can't Take it With You (1938). Riskin provides some excellent and clever dialogue for this film that is simply unforgettable. This dialogue perfectly complements Frank Capra's vision for this film, while having much of Robert Riskin's personality. If you compare the dialogue for Frank Capra films written by Riskin and the ones not written by him, you can quickly find that their is a fast paced witty dialogue to these films absent from the others. Unfortunately after Meet John Doe the two would part ways, as they had a falling out due to Riskin wanting to work on other projects.

You could not come up with a better cast to play these characters no matter how hard you tried. Gary Cooper is one of the finest examples of Capra's all American everyman character and few have done it better. Barbra Stanwyck is at the top of her game playing a fast talking and tough character who underneath it all has a good natured idealism. This is the type of part she was born to play and she plays it too perfection. Walter Brennen still often times manages to steal the show as John's cynical and jaded sidekick. Even those in smaller roles are excellent, for instance I always love seeing Sterling Holloway and he doesn't fail to delight me here.

The only thing that doesn't quite work in this movie is the ending. There is a reason for this. Frank Capra could not think of an ending for this story. Tired of being criticized for his films being too upbeat and corny, Capra (along with writer Riskin) decided to push the main character to the end of his rope. The only problem with this is they could not think of a satisfying way to get him out of this. Production on the movie had to begin before an ending could be found.  The ending you will see in the movie today was the fifth one done. Still unsure how to end the film, he sent different endings to early showings in Los Angles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. to see how audiences felt. Their response lead him to create a new ending, which is how the movie ends today. Capra later admitted that he wasn't satisfied with this ending either.

The following is a 1941 article from Hollywood magazine discussing the movie. If you have any trouble reading these pages click on them and use your touch screen to zoom in.

  





The following page from the Motion Picture Herald covers a couple of elaborate advertising campaigns for Meet John Doe. Again if you have trouble reading click on the page and use your touch screen to zoom in.

 

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/3827/Meet-John-Doe/articles.html

     

Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #55

Hello my friends. Once again it is Saturday morning and once again it is time for some classic cartoons. 

I personally love the Walter Lantz Oswald cartoons of the late 1920's and early 30's. Though in 1935 the Lantz studio would cutesy up this great character and make him loses much of his charm, the Lantz Oswalds before that are delightful affairs, that I am always in the mood to watch. I know these films don't have the best reputation because of unfavorable comparisons to the Walt Disney Oswalds. However this has never stopped me from loving though. However I will admit I was very familiar with these cartoons before I ever saw a Disney Oswald. Here is a highly enjoyable example of these early Lantz Oswald films, Permanent Wave (1929). Notice how the villain is Peg Leg Pete, Mickey Mouse's main nemesis. Peg Leg Pete dated back to an Alice Comedy called Alice Solves the Puzzle (1925) and had appeared in some of Walt Disney's Oswald cartoons. The character was carried over when Universal continued making Oswalds without Walt Disney, yet Walt would the character himself for his self-produced cartoons. This makes him one of the rare characters to appear in cartoons from two major cartoon studios at the same time. 











When I first saw one of the Columbia Krazy Kat cartoons, I was immediately disappointed in how little they resembled George Herriman's comic strip (which I have been a huge fan of for most of my life). However the more of these films I watched the more I began to appreciate them for what they were. They were fast paced, funny and very creative cartoons. Next is a typically fun example of the series, A Happy Family (1935). A reviewer in The Motion Picture Herald however wasn't impressed calling the film "poor in idea and execution." Another review called the cartoon simply “fair.” An exhibitors review for Krazy Kat cartoons as a whole stated, "I believe the children would try and mob me if I discontinue these."  As someone who enjoys old rubber house cartoony animation of the 1930’s, I find this film to be a lot of fun.


   




I have mentioned many times on this blog that I consider the Goofy cartoons Jack Kinney directed for Disney to be among some of the funniest cartoons ever made. Here is another great example, Goofy Gymnastics (1949).




With all the Looney Tunes cartoons that were made from 1931 to 1969 it should come as no surprise that two should share the same name. Such is the case with an early Bosko cartoon and a later Bugs Bunny cartoon, both called Dumb Patrol  (1931, 1964). With a title referencing the Howard Hawks World War One movie it should be no surprise that both these films take place during the great war. Here are both of these cartoons.








The following few pages from a 1931 article from the Motion Picture Herald discuss Junior Matinees including a Krazy Kat Klub. If you have trouble reading click on the following pages and use your touch screen to zoom in.

 





Thanks again for joining me come back next week for more animated treasures. Until then peace, love and cartoons.

-Michael J. Ruhland


















Thursday, January 23, 2020

Hey There It’s Yogi Bear (1964)




In the 1960’s American animated feature films were starting become more prominent. When the American animated feature began, nearly everyone was done by the Disney studio (An exception being that Fleischer Studios had made Gulliver’s Travels (1939) and Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)). One of the movies that helped expand the amount of studios doing animated features in the U.S.A., was Hanna-Barbera’s Hey There It’s Yogi Bear (1964). Hey There It’s Yogi Bear was not only Hanna-Barbera’s first theatrical feature, but also the first theatrical feature based off an animated TV show. 


In 1963 the Warner Brothers animation studio had closed. Because of this certain artists went to Hanna-Barbera for jobs, and these people would work on Hey There It’s Yogi Bear. These people included master animators Ken Harris and Gerry Chinquey, as well as Friz Freleng himself. Friz would serve as the film’s story supervisor. Still most of Hey There It’s Yogi Bear’s crew were those who had worked on the Hanna-Barbera’s TV shows. These included writer Warren Foster, voice artists Daws Butler, Don Messick and Julie Bennet, composer Hoyt Curtain, animation director Charles Nicholas and animators Ken Muse, Ed Bardge, Ray Patterson, Irven Spence, Don Lusk, Jerry Hathcock, and Don Patterson. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera themselves are credited with directing the movie. There is no doubt that this great crew lead to this movie working so well.

This is an excellent film and one of the best Hanna-Barbera features. The characters are as likable as ever, the background work is beautiful to look at, the songs are great and the voice work is equally great. The movie has a story that is really simple, but is very charming in its simplicity. However the thing that makes it stand out among other films of its kind is that the feature length enhances the movie rather than holding it back. The crew understood how to use the feature length to the movie’s advantage. Hey There It’s Yogi Bear has quite a bit more character development than the show did. This is especially true of Cindy Bear. Here she not only has a better design, but a much more defining personality. This version of Cindy would be the one who would appear in here later TV appearances. This movie is certainly better than your average movie based off a TV show.

A review for the New York Times stated “And any parent who denies this thor­oughly delightful treat to the children should be spanked”.

However Hey There Yogi Bear wasn’t the first feature film, the Hanna-Barbera studio planned on making. In an article written by Bob Thomas dated June 21st, 1963, Thomas wrote “Coming up: ‘Whistle Your Way Back Home.’ An animation feature starring the stalwart hound, Huck.” While I don’t know why this film was dropped I think part of it might have to do with Yogi Bear having a supporting cast (Boo-Boo, Ranger Smith, and Cindy Bear), while Huck cartoons were pretty much a one man show (ok one dog show). It is much harder to make a feature that is a one character show than a show with a full cast. Still the studio would make another one of its funniest feature films with The Good, The Bad and The Huckleberry Hound (1988).

Don M. Yowp's amazing Hanna-Barbera blog, has done multiple posts on this movie and to read two of them click here and here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe Animated Movie Guide by Jerry Beck

King Kong (1933)

Though this movie has been remade and imitated, nothing has ever and nothing will ever stand up to this masterpiece. Few films define the term movie magic like King Kong.

The story is the stuff of legends. A filmmaker (Robert Armstrong) is famous for making jungle pictures that are high on action but low on romance. Still noting that the public seems to want romance, he decides for the first time, he will make a movie with a woman in it. When he meets the beautiful Ann (Fay Wray), he knows that this woman should be the star of his next picture. So she joins the cast and crew on a perilous trip. No one but the director seems to know where they are heading, but knowing his reputation all of them except it to be dangerous. The place turns out to be more dangerous than any of them could have ever excepted. It is an island that was only believed to be a myth called Skull Island, which is ruled by a monstrous ape named Kong. The natives are holding a ceremony where they sacrifice a woman to the massive creature, and when they see Ann, they want her to be that sacrifice, so they kidnap her and chain her up for Kong. When Kong lays eyes upon Ann, he has a bit of a crush on her. Though Ann manages to barely escape with her life, the director decides that he wants to capture Kong for himself, so he can make a fortune. This proves not to be a good idea.

One thing that makes this movie stand apart from many similar films (especially Peter Jackson's remake) is the perfect use of pacing. This movie does not start off at a fast pace, but rather takes its time to introduce us to the characters and world. We get to know and care about each person making this journey and what brought them to this place. Yet this beginning never feels slow or uninteresting. Much of this is due to how cleverly written and involving the dialogue is. This is the kind of smart fast paced dialogue that simply does not exist in many movies today and is a huge part of why these old films still have major fan bases. When we get to Skull Island, the pace does not pick up immediately, but the atmosphere and the story telling completely change. There is a mystery and suspense to this island that completely captivates us. This is pure edge of your seat entertainment. Though we don't yet see Kong every moment is leading up to his reveal (another great thing about this movie is that there is never a wasted moment), and with each moment the suspense grows until he appears. Once we see Kong the pace picks up immediately. The movie then moves at a breakneck speed never letting up on the action and excitement audiences want when they watch a monster movie. Everything is perfectly set up and the film has you right where it wants to when the big reveal happens, with such there is nothing left for the movie to do but lead you on the thrill ride of your life and it does. This is simply filmmaking at its finest.

What makes the character of Kong stick in our minds is that he is not merely a prop or something to be afraid of. He is instead a living and breathing creature and it is hard to buy for even a second that this character is not real. He is to us. Much this comes from the masterful stop motion animation done by Willis O'Brien (who had previously created the incredible special effects for The Lost World (1925)) and his crew. This is character animation at its best. The character emotes perfectly with no need for the dialogue that his human costars are given. The emotions are all not only on his face but in the way he moves. Just like any living creature this is shown in both broad and subtle ways. While the Peter Jackson remake would have Kong looking more realistic due to more technically advanced special effects, Kong feels more real in this movie, because the visual acting here is left unmatched. It is interesting to note that this film's director originally thought the movie could be done using real apes and trick photography to make them look giant. However when he saw O'Brien's test footage and models for an abandoned film called Creation, he decided that this stop motion animation would be the perfect way to make the movie work. We can all be thankful it happened this way.

A visually stunning movie like this needs a very impressive musical score. Luckily providing the score here was the one and only Max Steiner, who provides some of his finest work here. If you want to see how important this score is try watching some of the action scenes without sound and you will be surprised by how much is lost.

Watching this movie again I was amazed at just how much of a pre-code film this is. The violence of Kong killing many natives is startling and disturbing to this day. Even more shocking is a scene where Kong actually breaks a dinosaur's jaw and blood comes out. Though gore-wise these scenes are very tame compared to what comes out today, they have lost little of their unsettling effect. These scenes were cut for later showings, but luckily today we can watch them as intended.

This film was a project of passion for director, producer and writer Merian C. Cooper. When making the movie, The Four Feathers (1929), Cooper had done some shooting in Africa. This trip left him fascinated with gorillas and he soon wanted to make a movie about one. Cooper and his codirector Ernest B. Schoedsack can see in the plane (spoilers) that shoots Kong off the Empire State Building at the end.

Due to this film Fay Wray has become known as the "scream queen of the movies." This title is apt as she has perhaps the finest scream in movie history. However what is often overlooked is that there was more to her than a scream and a beautiful body. She was a talented actress and no one else could have played the role of Ann better. When Cooper offered the part to Fay, he told her "You'll have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." This lead Fay to automatically think of Cary Grant. At the time this movie began production she was already working with Cooper and co-stars Robert Armstrong and Noble Johnson on a great and often overlooked movie called The Most Dangerous Game (1932). It was also planned for Fay's costar in The Most Dangerous Game Joel McCrea to play the love interest in King Kong, but his agent asked for too much money and the role instead went to Bruce Cabot, who had mostly been playing bit parts up to that time.

The film was a sensation when released. The following advertisement from Variety puts this movie's success into historical context.




A 1933 issue of Movie Classic magazine gave an article describing how this film was made. If you have any trouble reading click on one of the pages and use your touch screen to zoom in. (Note: This seems to be working for all the pages except for the first one. Until I figure out a solution feel free to read the other pages, they are very fascinating on their own.)









Also I love the below advertisement from Photoplay magazine.



In 1945 King Kong was rereleased on a double bill with its sequel Son of Kong (1933). The below page of The Motion Picture Herald showed how one theatre advertised this.


  

When King Kong returned to theatres in 1938, one theatre had a particularly great way of advertising this event. Again if you can't read the writing, click on the page and use your touch screen to zoom in.



-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/2690/King-Kong/articles.html
The Essentials: 52 Must See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold