Saturday, November 28, 2020

Movie Review: Black Beauty

 Michael's Movie Grade: B- 

Note: This movie is only available on Disney+

If you are looking for an adaption that captures the beauty and power of the original book, this movie may not be for you, but if you want a good Disney film about horses this movie is a good choice.

This film is custom made for horse lovers, which means it is in many ways custom made for me. As someone who spends much more time around horses than dogs, I will be first to admit that this gives me a basis for this film over the plethora of dog movies that have became such a huge part of the movie world today. Yet I like this movie for more reasons than just the horses are pretty and I want to be best friends with all of them (which is definitely true). The relationship between Jo and Beauty is fantastic. Unlike many similar movies where the relationship feels forced in order to get easy emotional manipulation, this relationship feels real and earned. How Jo comes from not caring about horses to having Beauty as the center of her life is never rushed but happens at a natural and believable progression. Similarly how Beauty goes from hating humans to caring about Jo also feels natural and believable. This is a very sentimental movie and though there are a few scenes in which the sentimentality feels forced, there are many more scenes in which it feels perfectly natural and real and I found myself surprised that I was actually quite moved at times. This was because I truly cared about Jo and Beauty and really wanted them to live together in happy bliss. The use of narration by Beauty actually works pretty well. After hating the narration in such films as A Dog's Purpose or The Art of Racing in the Rain (not that taking out the narration could possibly make the latter even halfway decent), I excepted the narration here to be of the same ilk. Luckily it wasn't. There were very few of the unfunny animals don't understand anything humans do jokes and the narration actually fits the tone and emotion of the rest of the story and at times (dare I say) it enhanced it. The only complaint I have about the narration by the end of the movie, where that there were times it stated something verbally that we had already seen visually.

Unfortunately as much as I enjoyed the main characters, some of the supporting characters were handled very poorly. There are two teenage girls who talk like complete stereotypes (and not funny ones either). Adding to this is that these character act in ways that make no sense. For instance they pick on another teenage girl simply because she exists and likes a horse she works with. There are also your stereotypical villains. The worst of these is the mother of a girl who leases Beauty. She not only blames the horse when it is obvious her daughter is mistreating the animal, but she is an elitist snob in a way that would have been already an overused stereotypical movie character in the silent era, let alone in 2020. We have seen this character so many times before and she has no personality outside of her clichés. With this it is hard to take any scene she appears in seriously. 

This is a faulted movie for sure (and yes the book is better), but what works is very well done and for me its virtues far overcame its faults. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

I have moved to a new site

 For anyone who enjoys my blog, I have now moved to a new site. If you would like to continue enjoying my new posts, you can find me here. I hope you have enjoyed this blog and enjoy my new blog even more.

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Movie Review: Operation Christmas Drop


Note: This movie is only available on Netflix as far as I know. 

Michael's Movie Grade: C+

Charming, if very familiar Christmas romantic comedy. 

What makes this movie work is that the two main characters are simply so likable. Much of this is thanks to the performances of Kat Graham and Alexander Ludwig. The two bring such charm to these characters. The character arcs for both them are believable and relatable. The story moves at an easygoing pace that perfectly suits the material. The story may be cliché but it never feels forced and the sweetness of the film feels completely natural as well. This movie is not only a movie that takes place at Christmas, but one that is just completely full of Christmas from beginning to end. Because of this the film is sure to give Christmas lovers like me their Christmas fix, which is just what its target audience is looking for. 

Strangely the weakest part of this movie is the romance itself. There is nothing wrong with the chemistry between the two main characters but it just never feels like a love story. Instead these characters simply feel like good friends with nothing romantic between them. It makes one wish that the filmmakers could have simply made this a movie where the two leads simply become good friends, but sadly that is not how the cliché works, so that is not what is going to happen in this film. Also what the heck is up with the obviously CGI gecko?

This is not going to be anyone's favorite movie, but it has more than enough Christmas and charm to give its target audience just what it wants. 

-Michael J. Ruhland   

Monday, November 9, 2020

Charles E. Mack Praises Laurel and Hardy

Motion Picture Herald, 1931

Blackface was never a major part of Laurel and Hardy's comedy and in fact very few Laurel and Hardy film used much blackface. This is something that has certainly helped their comedy age much better for much of today's audiences than many of their contemporaries. However there were a few times they did do blackface gags. Probably the most traditional black face scene in any Laurel and Hardy picture is in their first English language feature, Pardon Us (1931). While many today view this as an unfortunate part of an otherwise delightful movie, it was actually singled out in its day as an especially good scene. The following is a brief excerpt from a 1931 issue of The Film Daily. 

"Charles E. Mack, originator famous black face team known as the Two Black Crows, waxed eloquent in his praise after witnessing the Hal Roach Comedians in 'Pardon Us.' 'The black face work of Laurel and Hardy is perfect,' says Mack who has spent 20 years in this type of work. 'I've only laughed at ten comedians in my whole life and Laurel and Hardy give me the best laughs of the bunch.'" 

Video: Lydia the Tattooed Lady (from At The Circus (1939))


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Cowboy Church #93

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

Today's musical selection begins with The Charlie Daniels Band with the southern gospel classic, I'll Fly Away. This comes from their 2001 gospel album, How Sweet the Sound (which I highly recommend to all those who love country gospel music). With its fast paced and joyful sound it is hard to think of a gospel song better suited to The Charlie Daniels Band and they perform it to near perfection here. The song itself (first published in 1932) has become one of the most (if not the most) recorded gospel song in the world. This song's writer, Albert Edward Brumley, had spent much of his early life planting and picking cotton on his family's farm. This was tough and exhausting work and Brumley admitted that he wrote this song with the thought of "flying away" from the cotton field. He also admitted that he had taken inspiration from The Prisoner’s Song. This song reminds us that any troubles of this world are temporary, yet the blessings of God are eternal. It does not pretend that life is easy, but reminds us that their is a beautiful hope that has overcome all the problems we face in life. With all these blessings, it is only appropriate to spend time each day thanking God for what he has given us and this is what Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (with some help from The Ranch Hands & Mitch Miller & His Orchestra) sing about in Thank You God. This lovely recording comes from a 1956 Little Golden Record (Let There Be Peace was the B-side). With a series of posts named Cowboy Church, it was only a matter of time before I included the next song. Up next is Red Steagall with a song called Cowboy Church. This comes from his 1995 gospel album, Faith and Values. This song uses cowboy imagery to convey a message that is truly universal and that is that God loves those who are outcasts, whether they are cowboys or city slickers. Those who never quite felt like they belong, can take comfort in the fact the God welcomes them into his kingdom with welcome arms. This followed by Randy Travis singing Doctor Jesus. This recording comes from his 2000 gospel album, Inspirational Journey. It is amazing to think that a country singer who rose to fame in the 1950's actually released one of his finest albums in 1999. However this is just what George Jones accomplished with the album, Cold Hard Truth. Next comes one of many great songs off that album, Sinners and Saints. Today's musical selection ends with the Sons of the Pioneers with their 1947 recording of Will There Be Sagebrush in Heaven

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:3

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8

 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:10

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Ecclesiastes 3:11

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

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

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Movie Review: Let Him Go


Michael's Movie Grade: B

A very atmospheric and suspenseful little thriller. 

The casting played such an important part in making this movie work so well. These roles are so perfectly suited to Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and no one could have played them better. These performances are so real and heartfelt that you can except this film's very farfetched storyline. This is because Costner and Lane bring a lot of simple humanity to these roles and that gives the movie a down to Earth feeling it needs. The characters are in many ways very different, yet the subtle moments of acting make their relationship feel more real than many more elaborate Hollywood romances. Yet these performances aren't the only reason for this film working. The pacing in this movie is fantastic. This is a film that takes its time and lets the atmosphere and characters build the story. Yet the moments are violence are so sudden and quick. It is the contrast between the laid back pace of the rest of the film and these violent scenes that make them so effective. This film is also simply lovely to look at. Much of this movie takes place out in nature, and in a very rural small town. This movie captures the the beauty and majesty of such places and story-wise this serves as an effective contrast between the natural beauty of the environment and the darkness of this story. Director and writer Thomas Bezucha, shows that he certain knows how to set up and deliver a story like this. 

On the downside, the film is quite cliché and predictable. The main antagonist (Lesley Manville) is a bit too over the top and doesn't always mesh with this often quiet and reflective movie. 

Though not perfect this movie delivers just what a suspense movie is supposed to. 

Note: I watched this movie in a movie theatre and am so happy to be back. It feels like returning to home sweet home and watching films at home can never come close to comparing to watching them in theatres. 


Some Cartoons For Saturday Morning #96

 Hello my friends and welcome back for another round classic cartoons. 

Today's cartoon selection begins with the classic Betty Boop cartoon, Betty Boop For President (1932). This film is Betty at her best with plenty of delightfully bizarre humor that can only be done in a cartoon and tons of imagination. Add to this some catchy music and some still true satire and you got yourself one heck of a cartoon. The following are two exhibitor's reviews from Motion Picture Herald. "BETTY BOOP FOR PRESIDENT: Betty Boop— Boop is running Mickey Mouse a close race. Every- one enjoyed this short reel. Running Time, 9 Minutes. - R.W. Hickman, Lyric Theatre, Greenville, Id. General Patronage." "BETTY BOOP FOR PRESIDENT: Talkartoon— This is the best cartoon we have run in a long time. Betty stands Number 1 with our patrons over all others. Paramount has the shorts.—C. W. Bennett, Arcade Theatre, Middleville, Mich."

Next we turn to everyone's favorite wascally wabbit, Bugs Bunny in a rather early appearance, The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (1942). This is one of those "fat Elmer" cartoons from the early 1940's where Elmer was briefly redesigned to resemble his voice actor, Arthur Q. Bryan. Though Bugs' design was not fully formed by this point (something that is more noticeable in some scenes than in others), the character's personality is fully in tact. His plan is simply to get revenge on Elmer and his way of doing that is much more cunning and clever than anything his adversary did to him. It says a lot about Bugs, that after Elmer learns that he can't harm a rabbit without losing his inheritance, that Bugs isn't simply satisfied with being safe. Instead the rabbit must use the opportunity to drive Elmer crazy. This is similar to how Bugs, almost left Elmer's house in Hare Tonic (1945) before deciding, it would be much more fun to heckle Elmer. The basic storyline of this short is also very similar to the later Tom and Jerry cartoon, The Million Dollar Cat (1944). 

Touchdown Mickey (1932) is one of my favorite black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons and the reason for this is very simple. This film is a fast moving affair full of non-stop gags. The gags start off kind of funny, but towards the incredibly fast paced climax they are absolutely hilarious. This film becomes slapstick comedy at its finest. A lot of people for the sake of making cartoon history simpler say the classic Disney cartoons are rather slow paced and cute, while other studio's like Warner Brothers and MGM made faster paced and funnier cartoons. While there are many cartoons that fit this mold, not all of them do. This is one of those clear exceptions as the fast paced gags leave little room for any cuteness or sentimentality. 

The cartoon fun continues with the Terry-Toon, The Haunted Cat (1951). 

As promised, here is the the next episode of Ruff and Reddy. To see what happens to our heroes come back next week for the next episodes. 



Sunday, November 1, 2020

John W. Burton on Photographing Cartoons

 Cinematography has become a major point of discussion for live action film. Yet photographing animated films is something that is rarely discussed. That is what makes the following article so interesting. This is a 1941 article written by an actual camera man for animated cartoons, John W. Burton (remembered by animation buffs today for his work on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons), for International Photographer magazine. 

"A far cry from the glamorous conditions of Class A feature production, animated cartoon photography, undoubtedly is no mystery to most of you, but for those of you who have never had the pleasure of being in a cartoon studio, a few words of explanation. 

"Those of you who are familiar with the subject know that motion pictures are photographed at the rate of ninety feet a minute which is exactly twenty four frames a second. The film thus obtained gives a photographic record of progressive positions of the action.

"In animated cartoon production this procedure is practically reversed. We analyze the action to be photographed, then make a series of cartoon drawings representing the number of frames required by the timing we want. These drawings are painted on clear sheets of celluloid and photographed in their proper sequence over a background that has been painted to represent the scene or setting. The result is a strip of motion picture film of progressive cartoon drawings that give us the illusion of motion when projected. 

"Our cartoon camera cranes are constructed so that the camera is suspended above the photographic field, which is like a table surface, equipped with a glass plate operated by air pressure to hold the celluloid drawings flat over the background. Bell & Howell cameras are used, equipped with a stop motion drive and are set on a worm gear which allows the cameras to be raised or lowered, permitting the cartoon equivalent of 'truck shots.' In certain shots to give the illusion of following the action, or 'panning,' long backgrounds are made and between each exposure the camera man moves the background a certain predetermined distance. 

"In cartoon photography, the cameraman must be gifted with a good deal of patience as well as a very methodical mind as each exposure requires an accurate set up. For example in many scenes in addition to seeing the camera, color-filters, take-up, etc., are operating correctly, he must remember to change the drawings correctly according to their sequence, move the background the required distance for pan shots, truck the camera up and down, follow focus, as well as possibly changing the shutter each frame should he be fading or dissolving. Each cartoon has about 12,000 such exposures. This may explain why most of us boys seem a bit 'tecthed in the head.' 

"For various camera and optical effects used in the production, the camera department has accumulated an amusing variety of home made trick lenses. For such effects as used in water scenes, heat effects and in shots requiring special distortions, a collection of glass dishes, bottles, bowls and pieces of window glass, some treated with solutions and some warped after heating, have been acquired, making a rather unusual assortment of optical equipment. 

"Some animation that should be quite lifelike or human in its action presents a rather difficult problem of analysis which we often overcome by actually photographing human actors and actresses going through the action to be done later in animation. This gives us our only excuse for occasional location trips as well as providing the opportunity to 'keep our hand in' with regular production equipment. The motion picture film of this human action is used by the animators to analyze and otherwise assist them in the animation of cartoon characters. Some of these shots have been quite interesting. For instance, the strip-tease sequence in the cartoon 'Cross Country Detours' and the bubble dancer in the picture 'Hollywood Steps Out.'

"Several color cartoons have been produced by Mr. Schlesinger that have incorporated actual motion picture sequences in conjunction with animation. They offered an interesting problem, as Technicolor cartoons are photographed on a single strip of negative with the three color separations for each frame in successive order, while regular Technicolor pictures use three separate negative strips. This make impossible the intercutting of cartoon Technicolor and regular Technicolor. To use regular Technicolor in our cartoons we made from the Technicolor positive a three successive frame negative strip by rephotographing each frame through the three color separation filter changed by hand from frame to frame. A rather laborious and tedious procedure, but never the less successful.

"Black and white positives have likewise been copied in Technicolor by the same process, color being added to the black and white picture by tinting the light with color filters. 

"Many cartoon scenes require special effects in the way of double and multiple exposures, which presents a fascinating problem to the camera man. Insomuch as each frame is accounted for in the timing of a cartoon and the camera is equipped with a feeder counter and kept in gear at all times and can be operated foreword or in reverse, the cameraman can go back to any particular frame and make what double exposure the scene requires. In many cases for special effects such as double exposures, light effects, multiple exposures or montages the film has been through the camera as many as ten or twelve times, each time receiving whatever exposure is required before the film is finally taken out of the camera for development.    

"In this respect animated cartoon photography is unique in that all of these effects, as well as dissolves, wipe offs, fades, split screen, etc., are made in the camera at the time if photography and not added later by printing or in the laboratory." 


Cowboy Church #92

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

Today's musical selection begins with Tammy Wynette singing The Wonders You Perform. This lovely gospel song was written by Jerry Chesnut (Tammy's brother in law). Tammy recorded this song and it was released as a single (with Gentle Shepard as its B-side) in 1970. It became a major hit for Tammy and would first appear on a full album a year later on Tammy's Greatest Hits Volume II. Tammy's version was the first recording of this wonderful song, though fellow country singers Jean Shepard and Connie Smith as well as Italian pop singer Ornella Vanoni would have hits with it. This is followed by Merle Haggard with a movingly beautiful version of the gospel standard Where No One Stands Alone. This song was written by Mosie Lister, one of the most influential and important gospel songwriters of the 1950's. Mosie was also one of the founding members of the gospel singing group, The Statesmen Quartet. Not long afterwards he left the band and performing to concentrate on songwriter and that is when he wrote many of his finest compositions, including this one. Next is Skeeter Davis with the title song of her 1967 gospel album, Hand in Hand With Jesus. This is followed by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with Open Up Your Heart (and Let the Sunshine In. Roy and Dale recorded this as a 1954 Little Golden Record with The Lord is Counting on You as the B-side. Both songs were written by cowboy gospel music great Stuart Hamblin. My fellow cartoons fans may know this song because of The Flintstones episode No Biz Like Show Biz, where Pebbles and Bam-Bam sing it. Next is The Sons of the Pioneers with their 1937 recording of Lord You Made the Cowboy Happy. Today's musical selection ends with the first song Hank Williams ever recorded (his first session took place on December 11, 1946). He recorded it for the New York record label, Sterling Records. This session was seemingly an unimpressive start to the recording career of a country legend as it was for a flat fee with no royalties. Fred Rose arranged this deal and he viewed it as a bad deal, but one that was unfortunately necessary. While Calling You did not become a big hit, it did well enough to get the attention of MGM records. Hank wrote Calling You himself, but it does sound quite a bit similar to the J.M. Henson hymn, Watching You.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

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

Silent Film of the Month: The Hobo (1917)


Run Time: 15 minutes. Studio: King Bee Studios. Director: Arvid E. Gillstrom.  Producer: Louis Burstein.  Main Cast: Billy West, Oliver Hardy, Leo White, Bud Ross.

It has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, if we are to take this as fact than the most flattered comedian of the silent era was certainly Charlie Chaplin. Not only where those who inserted Chaplin-isms into their comedy, but there were actors who made their career simply out of imitating Chaplin in their films. The most famous of these was Billy West. If you took out the titles and told someone these were early Chaplin films, many people (even those who have seen quite a bit of Charlie Chaplin) would be completely fooled. Billy West not only looked like Chaplin, but he is able to copy Chaplin's mannerisms in a way that is indistinguishable from that of the real Chaplin. While viewing these movies with modern eyes, it is very easy for us dismiss them as simple imitations or worse rip-offs. Yet that is not the way they were viewed in their day. They were immensely popular with audiences and believe or not there were those that even preferred these imitations to the real thing. For instance here is an exhibitor's review (from Motography) of Billy West's short Cupid's Rival (1917), "Cupid's Rival with Billy West (King-Bee) - 'Roars of laugh, big crowds, great business. A very lavish production. West is better than Chaplin in my opinion. He is a bigger favorite every week.' - A.E. Elliott, Sapphire Theater, Kansas City, Mo." The same exhibitor wrote in his review of another Billy West comedy, The Hero (1917), "Raised my price from five to ten cents on this production. In my opinion these are the best comedies ever made." To prove this was not the only exhibitor who felt this way here is another exhibitor's review (also from Motography) on Cupid's Rival, "Cupid's Rival, with Billy West (King-Bee) - 'Very fine. S.R.O. Billy is backing Chaplin off the map.' W.H. Nelson, American Theater, Kansas City, Mo." 

Moving Picture World, 1917

Motion Picture News, 1917

The basic story of this film involves Billy following a pretty girl into a train station and then creating slapstick chaos there. This is a very loose story that simply allows for a lot of slapstick humor.

By 1917 the real Chaplin was moving away from this type of film. At Keystone and Essanay Chaplin's movies were similarly, little but excuses for this kind mayhem with little emphasis on story or character. Yet in 1917 Chaplin had refined his craft making both the story and character more important as well as slowing down the pace. This is when Charlie made his most popular short films like Easy Street and The Immigrant. Yet Billy West's The Hobo harkened back to the old days of Charlie Chaplin. While today Chaplin's Keystone and Essanay shorts are looked down upon by silent movie fans as simply primitive, it is important to note just how popular they were with audiences of their day, these shorts were more popular with movie goers than many of the feature films they played with. In other words The Hobo gave movie fans just what they wanted. With that in mind it is no wonder audiences couldn't get enough of Billy West.       

If we are to compare this movie to Charlie Chaplin’s earlier work, it holds up pretty darn well. There are quite a few real laughs to be found here and the film moves at a fast energetic pace. Billy West may not have been the most original silent film comedian but he was certainly a gifted one and he knew how to get laughs from his audiences. 

If there is anything this short is remembered for today it is that one of the supporting players is Oliver Hardy, credited as Babe Hardy (Babe was what everybody called Hardy offscreen). Babe was a common presence in Billy West's films, often imitating frequent Chaplin co-star Eric Campbell.  Also appearing in this movie is Leo White, who appeared in quite a few actual Chaplin films.  

This film can be watched on YouTube for anyone interested. 

-Michael J. Ruhland