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Visually nice, but I found the pups a bit annoying, 30 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a Harman-Ising Happy Harmonies short for MGM. There will be spoilers ahead:

For the most part, Harman-Ising shorts are visually beautiful, though the story can be hit or miss. The Wayward Pups is probably just not I short I'm disposed to like, because I find the pups annoying rather than endearing. Most of their problems here are of their own making to some degree. Even the first problem, the one which gets them put out, even though the cat can be blamed, wouldn't have happened if they hadn't been rough housing and crashed into the cat, who was just trying to sleep near the fire.

The pups wind up out of the yard and get chased by a rather stupid dogcatcher. They give him the slip only to run afoul of a bulldog while trying to steal his bone. They do manage to steal the bone, only to set up a whirlwind chase, eventually getting most of the dogs in town chasing after them.

That evening, the cat, feeling guilty, goes looking for them, finds them at the dump, rescues them in the best scene in the short and then takes them home with a closing scene far too cute for me, though it's nicely done.

This short is available as an extra on the Prisoner of Zenda DVD and is enjoyable to varying degrees, depending on how much you like cute cartoons.

Nails (1979)
Fascinating look at the making of nails, 30 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a documentary short produced by the National Film Board of Canada and nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Short, losing to Paul Robeson: Tribute To An Artist. There will be spoilers ahead:

I must admit, I really had no idea what to expect when I watched this, given that the subject matter is nails. But the NFBC has a very good track record, so I went in expecting that it would be well done at least from a technical standpoint. It turned out to be very good.

It opens with a shot of what appears to be a farm and then goes into a building where a smith is forging nails. We see him making nails by hand. then there's a transition to a largely automated factory producing nails in large quantities almost more rapidly than the eye can follow.

The next scene is a nail production facility falling somewhere between the two extremes shown thus far, one using machines but with more work being done by people working hands on at various points in the process. There's no narration, though there's a most energetic score which matches the tempo of the footage.

This short is available at the NFBC website for viewing online and they also list a DVD option. It's well worth watching. Most recommended.

Atypical Snafu short for a few reasons, 29 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a short in the Private Snafu series of training films done by Warner Brothers during World War II under a contract with the US Army. There will be spoilers ahead:

This is a bit different from the general run of Private Snafu shorts. For one thing, Snafu is actually not a complete idiot here and can be considered relatively competent and even somewhat heroic. He has his moments of Snafuness, to be sure, but he actually succeeds to a greater degree than is typical of these shorts.

This is less a training film in the traditional sense, rather this is comedic propaganda more for entertainment purposes. The section of the short where Snafu dresses as a geisha is a touch unsettling, as he's not a very good looking man and he's even less appealing in drag. The geisha scene sounds like it may use some Gilbert and Sullivan as soundtrack.

There's a running gag involving the Japanese and ritualistic bowing, which Snafu uses more than once to help him get away with some secret plans. Overall, this is an average short, not quite as interesting to me as other shorts in the series, but still moderately entertaining in any case.

This short is available on various DVDs and also online. It's worth watching if you like the series.

Another sing along cartoon with somewhat more in the way of adult elements than usual, even for a pre-code Fleischer short, 28 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a pre-code short done by the Fleischer Studio. There will be spoilers ahead:

This short was one of a number of shorts the Fleischers did as sort of unofficial commercials intended to indirectly pitch a product to the viewing audience. Money would be provided to help with production in return for a short showcasing the product.

This short more or less follows the Talkertoon series template, if they can be said to have a template. Two to three minutes of animation setting what plot there was, followed by a sing along with a bouncing ball pointer cuing the lyrics which were printed on the screen. In this, the lyrics start over some live-action footage of a couple going for a drive. The final minute or so of the short has animation and lyrics with the lyrics morphing into related drawings.

The animation is right out of the old melodramas, with a mustached villain chasing the heroine who is rescued by the hero. There are some very nice bits in the first part, with what seems like a good deal more innuendo and double entendre than is normal even for Fleischer shorts of the period. The ending of the short is rather funny as well. The animation, per Fleischer standards, is rather good.

This short can be found online and is well worth watching.

Worthy sequel to the original, but it should have been at least two hours, 27 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is an animated feature-length film from Walt Disney Pictures. There will be spoilers ahead:

This is essentially done in the same structure as the original Fantasia, except that the last two segments don't form a type of connection of theme as A Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria did in the original. There are eight segments, as in the original and The Sorcerer's Apprentice is one of the segments included in Fantasia 2000, in keeping with Walt Disney's original intention to keep subsequent versions of the film some mix of old and new segments. Steve Martin does an overview and seven segments are introduced individually by hosts. The segments are, in order:

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor-Beethoven, which features abstract animation resembling bats and butterflies and thus opening this with abstract animation in the same manner as the original.

Pines of Rome-Ottorino Respeghi, is introduced by Itzhak Perlman, absolutely beautiful animation of whales moving about during migration.

Rhapsody In Blue-Gershwin (Quincy Jones) my favorite segment, with the animation done to resemble the drawings of Al Hirschfeld and with a storyline, the interweaving of the stories of four people over a day in New York City.

Piano Concerto 2 In F Major-Shostakovich, (Bette Midler) which is "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" by Hans Christian Andersen set to music.

The Carnival of Animals-Saint-Saens (James Earl Jones) about flamingos and one of them having a yo-yo. It must be seen to be appreciated!

The Sorcerer's Apprentice-Paul Dukas (Penn and Teller) the complete segment carried over from the original.

Pomp and Circumstance-Elgar (conductor James Levine) the familiar marches paired with animation of Donald Duck trying to help Noah fill the Ark, with help from Daisy Duck, with the expected consequences.

Firebird Suite (1919 version)-Stravinsky (Angela Lansbury) probably the most visually impressive segment, absolutely beautiful to look at, it follows a sprite who accidentally awakens a "firebird", with disastrous consequences. This final segment actually encapsulates the thematic elements of the last two segments in the original in terms of destruction and salvation.

About the only problem I have with this is its length. I would have liked it to be longer than its 74 minutes. Even 90 minutes would have been preferable, though two hours (given that the original was slightly over two hours) would have suited me better. That's a minor quibble. It's a worthy successor.

This film is available on DVD and Blu Ray. I've owned it on VHS, DVD and Blu Ray and Blu Ray is the way to go if you have that capability. Most Recommended.

Barney Bear, a bunch of trout and a very odd duck, 26 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the second cartoon in the Barney Bear series done by MGM. There will be spoilers ahead:

Barney Bear was patterned after early movie star Wallace Beery, who typically played gruff and irascible characters who often hid a heart of gold under all the bluster. Barney is a bit more cranky, but the characterization more or less fits him as well.

Here, Barney goes on a fishing expedition after trout. He has what's purported to be sure-fire bait and it does get their attention, particularly one young trout. The trout are crowded together, all barking like dogs! Just as Barney is about to cast his line, a duck lands nosily and frightens the fish.

Barney tries to chase the duck away repeatedly, but the duck only wants to be friendly to Barney. When Barney casts his line, the Duck also starts acting like a dog and retrieving Barney's line. This happens a couple of time and then Barney throws his box of bait at the duck and the fun begins! The trout fight over the bait with the smart young one getting it and taking off with Barney giving chase.

The duck tries to "help" Barney, which of course backfires on him and makes things worse. In the end, Barney's fishing trip turns into a disaster.

This short is available as an extra on the Pride and Prejudice (1940) DVD release and is well worth tracking down. Recommended.

Interesting early animated explanation of how sound on film works, 25 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is an animated short done in 1929 to help explain the technology of how sound is added to motion pictures. There will be mild spoilers ahead:

Sound's addition to motion pictures created something of a sensation. In 1929, Western Electric decided to use animation to try to explain its process to audiences. Max Fliescher (of Fliescher Studios) and F. Lyle Goldman co-directed.

While the animation is very good for the period, this is basically a documentary and is at times a little on the dry side, sounding like a lecture in a college course on the subject. The short starts with a brief performance by "Talkie", a spool of film with a voice. His performance is rudely interrupted by "Mutie", another spool of film with a gag on. Text appears as "Mutie" asks his friend to help him find a voice. The two go to see Dr. Western, who "diagnoses" "Mutie" and thus begins the lecture.

The animation accompanying the lecture is rather interesting and the information itself can be fascinating, but it can be tedious at times. This is worth watching, though I found "Mutie" to be something of a jerk, particularly once he begins to speak.

This short is available on the 80th anniversary 3-Disc DVD release of 1927's The Jazz Singer and is worth watching. Recommended if the subject interests you.

Dated but fascinating look at cancer research and treatment 65 years ago, 24 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary, Short Subject, losing to Why Korea?. There will be mild spoilers ahead:

This short starts out with a view of a waiting room at a hospital/doctor's office and then goes into a short overview of cancer before beginning the discussion of the treatment of cancer. Several doctors are discussing research and then meet with a patient, an elderly man with a skin lesion. The man's prognosis is good, a 9 in 10 chance of survival.

Much of the short is taken up by discussing and showing various forms of treatment, primarily types of radiation treatment. Given that this was made in 1950, it's fascinating just how much is different and how much things are still the same. More is known about cancer and some forms of cancer have very high survival rates, but others are still difficult and have poor survival rates.

This is a fascinating look at the past and I'm struck by the optimism in tone here. It isn't surprising, because of course they would tend toward optimism, but I can't help wondering what the doctors would think if they knew then what medicine is still faced with in 2015.

This short can be viewed and/or purchased at the website for the National Film Board of Canada and is well worth a look if the subject interests you. Recommended.

Outpost (1944)
Often even the most seemingly trivial information can be vital, 23 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is one of a series of training films done by Warner Brothers during World War II under a contract with the US Army and featuring Private Snafu. There will be spoilers ahead:

Private Snafu is the worst soldier in the army and is typically used as an example of what not to do in a given circumstance. Here, he inadvertently triumphs over his own innate incompetence. sloth and stupidity to provide vital information used to locate and destroy a Japanese fleet. True to form, Snafu is completely oblivious to everything.

The short opens on Snafu on a tiny island somewhere in the Pacific after 249 days as a spotter. He has a seagull for a mate and the seagull works harder at the assignment than Snafu. The bird also chain-smokes and buries trash in piles around the island while Snafu lays in his hammock, gripes and sleeps the day away, dreaming of a pinup girl.

The bird finds a can floating on the tide. It's a can of "Fish Eyes with Rice" and stamped on the bottom is "Hon. K Ration Japanese Imperial Fleet", which the bird immediately realizes is important. Snafu, on the other hand, can't be bothered and tells the bird to junk it.

Meanwhile, his commanders have lost track if the Japanese fleet and send out a radio message calling on all outposts to report on anything they've seen or heard. Snafu files the most ridiculously conceived report imaginable, closing with the finding of the can, which immediately sparks interest back at HQ. The bird finds the can once again and Snafu, still completely ignorant of its significance, reads the label and information on the can, which leads to the destruction of the fleet. The short closes with Snafu still completely in the dark, as he will undoubtedly be for all eternity.

This short is available on various DVDs and also online. It's well worth tracking down. Recommended.

The making of a doctor, ca. 1947, 22 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature, losing to Design For Death. There will be mild spoilers ahead:

This is about what it takes to become a doctor. This is basically a documentary, even though actors were used to go through the actions seen on screen in many instances. For example, the doctor who is followed from med school through his first job, Dr. Michael Kenneth Williams, is played by an actor.

There's no dialog, as everything is conveyed through voice-over narration. We first see Williams as he arrives, fresh from graduating with a B.S., to Columbia School of Medicine. The narration goes into the kinds of subjects Williams and other hopeful candidates to earn an M.D. will need as they progress. Initially, Williams has no specific discipline he's interested in, then he decides on pediatrics.

Next is an internship at Cornell, at a teaching hospital. There, he learns hands on the skills he needs to pursue his chosen field. He decides there that, while he still wants to work with children, straight pediatrics is more limited than he wants. An encounter with a patient with diphtheria clinches it for him and so it's back to school (Johns Hopkins this time) to study epidemiology.

During his studies there, an outbreak of diphtheria occurs in Baltimore and Williams volunteers to be part of the medical team trying to find the source as well as treat those already ill and vaccinate those still free from the disease in order to check its spread. Their campaign is ultimately successful and Williams is now certain he's found his path.

As I watched this, it struck me that, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The diseases may change, but the basic problems remain. Poor people with inadequate access to health care are the ones still most at risk, whether it's diphtheria in 1947 or Lyme Disease or MERS in 2015. Today, it's also antibiotic-resistant strains of pneumonia, influenza and so on. Though much of this is dated, it also still holds true in some cases.

This is available online and is worth tracking down if you're interested in the subject.

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