The NFL on REO: Football is Back! Sort of.

Fake Football – Phill Lytle

Football is back!

Preseason football is here!

After the long, long offseason, we finally have actual football to watch. Except, it’s not really football. Not in the true sense of the word. During the preseason, teams don’t game-plan, they don’t strategize, and they don’t really care about winning or losing. The starters will usually only play a series or two, and the rest of the game is filled with a bunch of players that will rarely play when the games finally count for something.

Doesn’t matter though, if you are a die-hard NFL fan. We still watch. I watched every second of the first Titans’ preseason snorefest. It was ugly. Neither team looked good. The Titans looked disinterested and bored. The Jets looked incompetent. The final score resembled an MLB game, but was less action packed and slower paced than any baseball game I have seen in some time. I’m sure the ratings were spectacular – no sarcasm intended. People love NFL football.

Here’s to three more meaningless preseason games with no injuries!


In our continued effort to get more voices and perspectives for our NFL coverage, we have asked Ben Plunkett to occasionally contribute his thoughts to various NFL matters. Disclaimer: Ben does not watch football, knows nothing about the current players, and literally does no research. But he stands by every word he writes! We proudly present:

 

Behind the Headlines by Benjamin Plunkett

I have always admired personalities who have risen above adversity to greatness. For Marshawn Lynch that adversity came in the form of being an unexpected and unwanted child. Few people know that Marshawn is the second of identical twins. His firstborn brother, Shawn, was really all his parents expected. Then to the complete surprise of everyone present—including the medical staff—came his brother. They named him More Shawn because they were, like, “Hey, more Shawn!. Over time this became Marshawn. But for the purposes of this article to avoid any confusion we will simply call him More Shawn.

At birth, More Shawn bore gifts: A nerf football in one hand and a video of Raiders of the Lost Ark in the other. By seven years of age he had mastered the fedora and bullwhip. By ten he vowed an unbreakable vow to wipe every last Nazi from the face of the earth. By 15 he had grown a lifelong hatred of snakes. All this considered, it is an understatement to say that after high school, More Shawn was ready to join the Oakland Raiders. Plus, he still had his nerf football, which he could throw, like, really, really far.

I’m a big Harrison Ford fan so it makes perfect sense that More Shawn should always be a poster child of greatness to me and my kind. Sadly, More Shawn’s career was cut short at the age of 21, just after he had joined the Raiders. During that year some random lady he had just met shot him. This drove him out of the game for about 15 or so years. Now, girded with his prize nerf football which he has named “Wonderball,” More Shawn is at 36 just now triumphantly returning to his beloved game.

In my opinion, More Shawn isn’t that old. I think the rabid football fans of Ephesus of Paul the Apostle’s day would agree. In that culture, anyone under the age of 40 was considered young. No, I don’t think it will matter as long as he can throw “Wonderball” up to the top of the stadium and hit the lights. As long as he is able to do that and make sparks dance all over the field while he runs in slow motion, everything should be hunky dory. And despite his “advanced age”, he has proven himself more than capable of doing so. The team mascot has been cited as declaring, “That boy can throw like really, really far.”

No, there is not one iota of doubt in my mind that More Shawn could throw a football over them mountains. I think if Coach would have put him in for the fourth quarter, they would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.

Anyhoo, let me know what you think about all this. Can More Shawn still throw, like, really, really far? Does he still have skills with a bullwhip? What about a bow staff? All that can be known for certain is that the future of mankind rests on his shoulders. I also know that More Shawn will prove to be the best thing since Baby Gays changed its name to Q-tips.


A Possible Solution To an 18 Game Regular Season – Phill Lytle

The buzz term for the NFL the past few years has been Player Safety. Rules have been changed. Fines levied. Research done. All in the name of Player Safety. Yet, the league office continues to float out the idea of an 18 game regular season. I won’t regurgitate what I’ve already written about this awful idea – you can that here. And I won’t belabor the point too much, because plenty has been said about this issue. But the truth of that matter is that the owners want more revenue and they believe adding games to the schedule will make that possible, so this idea is not going anywhere.

At the same time, I do believe the owners would be willing to forgo adding games to the regular season if they could add more teams, and therefore more games, to the playoffs. And for the sake of the integrity of the game, that is actually an idea I am willing to entertain. Perhaps it would dilute the quality of the playoffs a bit. As of now, only 12 teams make it to the postseason. If you added two more teams per conference, that would mean that half the league would make it to the playoffs. Maybe that is too much. I don’t know. What I do know is that plan is far preferable to adding more games to the regular season – risking more injury and more attrition. If I were in charge of the players union, I would only agree to more playoff teams and games in exchange for less preseason games and whatever other items they deem important. I actually think this scenario is not only possible, but would considerably reduce the chances of any work stoppage at the next collective bargaining meetings.

Just my two thoughts. What do you guys think?




Our Five Favorite Dinner Scenes of Film

Some of the best conversations occur during a meal. Sitting at a table and breaking bread together is almost mystical in its power to produce vibrant and enjoyable discussion. It’s no different in the world of entertainment. Movies are full of examples of great scenes set around a meal or a table. Some are funny, some are sad. Some are tense while others are full of joy. Some are heartwarming yet others can be heartbreaking. We have chosen to spotlight five scenes that capture so much about what makes a great dinner scene work.


Back To The Future 2

Back to the Future 2

The scene where Jennifer gets taken to her future 2015 home and the McFly family sits down over pizza is not as elaborate or as funny as other dinner scenes but it has stood out in my family since this movie was released in 1989.

And in a trilogy rife with mind-bending time travel, exhilarating plots, and inimitable character performances, it boggles my mind why this short scene is so entertaining.

Is it because Michael J. Fox plays all of the McFlies? That does make me smile so surely that’s part of it. Is it how fun it is to see the domestic aspects of an imaginative futuristic world with double ties and pizza hydrators? Without a doubt. Is it because it’s so utterly quotable? Seeing as how often my brother Jeremy says, “Fruit! Fruit please!” and I can’t help but reply with “Why don’t I just shove it all in my mouth ?!? HA HA!” when I have food in my hand the size of that tiny, yet-to-be hydrated pizza, I’d say definitely.

BttF sets the standard for fun, summer action-adventure, summer popcorn cinema and in the midst of all the movie’s twists and turns this simple meal that lasts 90 seconds and barely impacts the plot stands out. I love it. (Gowdy Cannon)


The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

I have always loved a good “dinner” scene almost entirely because they are so conducive to great dialogue. The nightclub scene in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a prime example of that. Maybe one of the best. I have watched BatBS every few months for the past few years and appreciate it more every time. It is an easy to underrate lighthearted comedy that is chock full of great writing, wonderful scenes, and extremely witty quotes. At the center of it all is Richard Nugent (Cary Grant), and the sisters judge Margaret (Myrna Loy) and Susan (a teenage Shirley Temple) Turner. Susan has developed a huge crush on Nugent. In exchange for the dismissal of a wrongdoing, judge Margaret orders Nugent to “date” her younger sister until her crush wears off. During the course of this “courting,” Nugent and Margaret fall in love. On the flimsy pretext of wanting to discuss their legal arrangement, Nugent and Margaret attend a nightclub for dinner, drinks, and dancing. And then everything comes crashing down as most of the personal dynamics encountered throughout the film converge in this single scene and collide in a beautiful explosion of dialogue. (Ben Plunkett)


Heat

Heat, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

Two of the most famous, decorated, and iconic actors of all time, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, had never been in a scene together on film. They had been in the same film, The Godfather Part 2, but they played characters during different time periods. These two actors had spent decades wowing audiences with their craft, but had yet to speak to each other on camera. That all ended with Michael Mann’s tour de force crime drama, Heat.

Pacino plays a detective. De Niro plays a master thief. After a lot of cat and mouse moves, the film finally places them together in a diner somewhere in Los Angeles. They are two masters of their craft, both in the film and in real life. They feel each other out. They give information and they hold some things back. When Pacino leans in to deliver a line, De Niro counters it with a slight shift here or a slight move there. They present their philosophies of life with dialogue that is crisp, tense, playful, and precise. They end their conversation with very specific promises that they are willing to kill the other if it comes down to that. Now that they have met, they won’t want to do that, but they will, because that’s the job. That’s the way it is.

In a movie filled with memorable performances, genius set pieces, and impressive directing, this scene stands above them all. And to make matters even more astounding, the final scene in the film is almost entirely one take filmed with two cameras over their shoulders. They barely rehearsed because they wanted to preserve the spontaneity and energy of the scene. The diner scene in Heat is a masterpiece. (Phill Lytle)


Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents

Ben Stiller honestly has had more misses than hits in his career to me. And Robert De Niro, he of a legendary filmography with too many hits to try to list, had never had a role that I’d seen that was fall on the floor funny. And even though the two sequels were forgettable, everything came together perfectly for an excellent 95 minutes of comedy in Meet the Parents.

And for all the scenes that make this move totally rewatchable–Greg losing it on the airplane, the volleyball game in the pool (“It was a big shot!”)–the first time Greg has dinner with Pam’s parents is one that causes tears of laughter every time.

Jack’s poem about his mother is simultaneously disturbing and hilarious. Jack’s continued subtle and psychological intimidation of the nervous and awkward Greg causes Greg to pop a cork in an urn of Jack’s mother’s ashes. Then Greg tries to work his way around a lie about growing up on a farm by talking about milking a cat, which prompts one of the greatest follow up questions of all time by Jack. And to round it off, Jewish Greg tries to impress Jack by saying grace at the meal and recites “Day by Day” from Godspell.

And it all works. I have fallen on the floor laughing during this scene more than once. It is truly one of the funniest dinner scenes in movie lore. (Gowdy Cannon)


Babette’s Feast

Babette's Feast

As mentioned, I love “dinner” scenes in movies because they are so conducive to great dialogue. The long dinner scene in Babette’s Feast is certainly no different. However, there is a lot more than just the dialogue going for it. A whole lot more. In short, two sisters are leading an extremely humble life leading a small, elderly flock of pious Lutherans in a tiny Danish village. Yes, they are very pious, very devoted to their faith, but they know nothing of grace or joy. Into this scene steps Babette, a world-class French chef fleeing much hardship amid the French Revolution. She enters the employ of the two sisters. After several years she wins a lottery of 10,000 francs from her homeland. Instead of spending it on herself, she opts to spend the entire thing to make a top French gourmet meal for the sisters and their congregation. In the end Babette’s presents the true face of grace and joy to the graceless, joyless villagers. But the scene is a masterpiece for more than one reason. In my opinion, it is the king of this specific genre. And the dinner scene is only the centerpiece of a masterfully adorned cinematic table. The whole movie is dense with layers of theological and philosophical meaning. It is perfect and an absolute joy to watch every single time. (Ben Plunkett)




500 Words or Less Reviews: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

It has been almost three weeks since I have finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I have actually been nervous about this one and wanted to approach it with a respectable amount of honor as the most literarily well-rounded of the lot.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince clocks in at 652 pages, immediately setting the stage for the plot of the rest of the book during a cryptic meeting between Severus Snape and the Black sisters. It is during this encounter that Snape makes an unbreakable vow with Narcissa Malfoy in which he will be obligated to help her son, young Draco Malfoy, with a Voldemort-ordained task. The plot of the rest of the work flows from this Malfoy/Snape mission.

In essence, the book is really about Snape himself. This fact makes the mysterious naming of the book itself especially ingenious. If you have read this far into the article, you are passionate enough about the franchise to already be familiar with the story. Assuming that is the case, it is in no way a SPOILER to say that Malfoy and Snape accomplish their mission, with Snape ending Dumbledore’s life in the lightening-struck tower.

One of the very best and most fascinating characterizations in the entire franchise has been embodied in the person of the relatively rarely seen Dumbledore. But Rowling makes up for that rarity here and with much magnificence. There are too many amazing Dumbledore scenes to name. And then he goes out in high style with one of the best funerals of all time with even the merpeople and the centaurs showing up to pay him homage.

The central theme of this work was very clear and extremely well exemplified: love. Love is everywhere: Tonks and Lupin, Bill and Fleur, Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny, and, um, Ron’s passing “thing” with Lavender Brown. Ron also has an unfortunate encounter with some love potion. To cap it all off, Dumbledore talks more deeply in Half-Blood Prince than in previous books concerning Voldemort’s one true weakness, which is his inability to love, a “fault” that would be his undoing.

Although they have been present in every book, I have found that Rowling is getting better at the long stretches of “information relation.” At this point, they feel like very natural points of the dialogue instead of contrived and stilted manifestos. It worked better than ever in HBP. In fact, I would say that the dialogue as a whole was one of the book’s most winning points. The humor was especially strong. I don’t think Rowling has given me as many belly laughs in any previous work. Although the examples are legion, the best humor, in my opinion, probably came by way of the person of Luna Lovegood.

The dialogue, the honed prose, the final glories of Dumbledore, the humor, the love, etc., etc., etc, and so forth. For these reasons, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has taken first place in the HP house of my heart.




The Five Hours of World Conquest




Fanny Crosby: The 19th Century Wonder Woman

I admit that I have not seen the new Wonder Woman movie yet, but I have seen a viral video in which it inspired a brave young lass to dress up…as something…and attempt all manner of swordplay with a toy sword and awkward acrobatics. I have also read lots of reviews of Wonder Woman; you can read Phill Lytle’s excellent review right here. While I fully intend to see Wonder Wonder, all the hubbub has put me in mind of an actual and probably far greater Wonder Woman of days gone by. While Wonder Woman herself is a daughter of Zeus, I am referring to a daughter of the one true God in heaven. I refer to no other than one of the greatest hymnists who has ever lived: Fanny Crosby. Fanny is mainly known by history as a great blind hymnist, but it might be that she would not want to be remembered for only her hymn writing. She regarded this as only part of her life and ministry, but certainly not all of it. And she was right to think that; her life and ministry included much more. During her life in addition to her status as The Queen of Gospel Music, she would serve as a teacher of the blind, a much in demand public speaker, and a full time minister among the homeless.

The Early Years

Crosby was born on March 24, 1820 in Southeast Putnam County, New York, in a small community called Gayville. About six weeks after she was born Crosby caught a bad cold. In the absence of the community doctor, a well-meaning neighbor stepped in claiming to have medical knowledge and know-how. He applied hot poultices (wet washcloths) to Fanny’s eyes in a misguided attempt to draw out the infection. The man succeeded only in permanently blinding her. (At this time her parents didn’t know it was permanent and fully believed her sight would return after a time.)

When Fanny was almost one her father John Crosby died. That is when Fanny and her mother Mercy moved in with Fanny’s grandmother, Eunice Crosby. Eunice Crosby would do much of the mothering of Fanny until she was five. During this time she did everything she could to strengthen her granddaughter’s powers of memory and to help her see the world without eyes. As an adult, Fanny would recall how “Grandma…brought the Bible to me, and me to the Bible. The stories of the Holy Book came from her lips and entered my heart and took deep root there” (This is My Story, This is My Song, Fanny Crosby).

The Formative Years

When Fanny was about five her mother took her to New York to see Dr. Valentine Mott, a famous eye doctor. After inspecting Fanny, he informed Mrs. Crosby her daughter would never see again. This devastated Mrs. Crosby. However, Fanny herself was secretly relieved. She would never be able to see her blindness as anything but a gift from God.

Shortly after this disappointing visit Fanny’s mother acquired a job in North Salem, Westchester County just south of Gayville. They still lived close enough to Gayville that Eunice Crosby was able to visit several times a week, but when Fanny was eight or nine they moved again after her mother landed a job in Ridgefield, Connecticut. This was much too far away for her grandmother to come visit all the time.

During these years, God had another kind caretaker took Eunice Crosby’s place in Fanny’s spiritual and mental education. We know this goodly individual only as Mrs. Hawley. Under Mrs. Hawley’s care by ten years of age Fanny could recite by memory the Pentateuch, Proverbs, the four Gospels, numerous poems, and portions of a number of books. Her mental library would only grow as she got older. Eventually, she did not have to have someone read the Bible to her; she could just recite any passage she wanted. Fanny never thought this an extraordinary feat. She sincerely believed that a blind person could do everything a person with sight could do—and sometimes even better. In one of her autobiographies she says, “It has always been my favorite theory that the blind can accomplish nearly everything that may be done by those who can see. Do not think that those deprived of physical vision are shut out from the best that earth has to offer her children” (Fanny Crosby, Memories of Eighty Years).

From an early age she was developing an extraordinarily descriptive mind and a keen writing ability. She wrote her very first poem when she was eight. When she was in her teens she submitted works of poetry to a nearby paper. This paper was published by the soon to be famous P.T. Barnum. It was also during these formative Ridgefield years that Fanny’s desire for formal education began to grow.

The Student Years

In 1834 Fanny and her mom left Ridgefield and returned to Westchester County. In November of that same year they first saw an advertisement for the New York Institution for the Blind. On March 3, 1835, Fanny set off for New York with a traveling companion to enter the institute. After enrolling in and beginning attendance of the school, Crosby quickly became known among the faculty, staff, and student body for her poetry. It was during these early student years that she first became well respected among the literary community of New York and in demand for her poetry skills.

A superintendent of the school named Mr. Jones foresaw the danger of this still young student being ruined by vanity from all the high praise. He therefore cautioned her against letting this vanity get the best of her. At the same time he commanded her to not write poetry for the next three months. He did this partly to temper her growing vanity and partly to test her commitment to writing poetry. After proving herself (and learning to temper her vanity) she was encouraged to write to her heart’s content. This is when a literary mentor named Hamilton Murray stepped in. Murray was a member of the Board of Managers of the institution who had great writing sensibilities and skill. He took her under his wing and taught her to write better. With his guidance, Crosby was able to branch out into other areas of writing. For instance, with his help she put her mind to writing poetry for campaigns and other political events.

The Teaching Years

In 1843, Fanny graduated from the institute. During that same year she became a teacher there. It was also during that same year that her health began to decline somewhat. Nevertheless, she still took a number of students to on planned trip to Washington D.C. While there, she recited some of her poetry to the politicians. This trip to Washington was such a success that Crosby would later take a second group of students to the U.S. capitol.

By 1845, she was gradually getting more and more into song lyric writing. During that year a man named George F. Roots came to the school to teach music. In 1853, the two composed a cantata called “The Flower Queen.”

Fanny was also began publishing books of poetry during these teaching years. In 1844 she published her first official book of poems: “The Blind Girl and Other Poems.” This book also contained her very first hymn which she called “An Evening Hymn.” In 1851, she would publish another book of poetry called “Monterey and Other Poems.”

Some really big events happened in Fanny’s life in between these two books, in 1848 and 1849, the land was stricken by cholera. Like thousands throughout the country, many of the students died. It was so bad that during August of 1848, Crosby was ordered to retire to the country so she too would not get sick. This was not an uncommon practice at this time; many city dwellers were departing the city to avoid the close quarters that fostered the disease. She did retire to the country, and it was not only a salvation for her physical self; it was a life changer for her spiritual self as well. During her time away from the institution, she received a full knowledge of Jesus Christ. This was not something that had just happened all of a sudden. Several years earlier in 1845 she had first met her spiritual mentor, Theodore Camp. He was instrumental in bringing her to Jesus on November 20, 1850 at a revival at the Broadway Methodist Tabernacle.

The Latter Years

Fanny met her future husband, Alexander Van Alstyne when he was a student at the institution in 1855. (He was 11 years younger than her.) After he graduated from school, he became a teacher and became engaged to Fanny. Three years later the couple resigned and very shortly thereafter got married.

Little is known regarding their married life, but there are three facts that are pretty clear: First, although very amicable and still doing some things together, they lived apart and had separate lives for the majority of their married life. Second, a few years after they were married they had a daughter who only lived for less than a day. Third, they would remain married until he died on July 18, 1902.

In 1858, the year she had resigned from teaching and gotten married, the stage of her hymnist career was set. During this year Fanny published “A Wreath of Columbia’s Flowers.” This would be her final book of poems before starting to write hymns. This next phase of her writing career was instigated in December 1863 after she was asked to write a hymn for the Dutch Reformed Church. She did so well on this project that an arrangement was made for her to meet the famous hymnist William B. Bradbury on February 2 of the next year. A historic years-long collaboration ensued. It was not long afterward that she became known to evangelists and pastors on both sides of the Atlantic as Aunt Fanny and the Queen of Gospel Music. Many of these ministers commonly used her work in altar calls. The world famous evangelistic team Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey utilized her songs in this way throughout the 1870s and onward. The greatness of Fanny’s hymns comes from their ability to be understood and to touch the lives of ordinary people.

By the time she died in 1915, Fanny would pen at least 9,000 hymns. Although she mostly signed them with her given name, she wrote a lot using psuedonymns. She is believed to have used almost 200.

It was also during these years of growing worldwide fame that Fanny became a much in demand public speaker at churches and charitable organizations. It is said that she was exceptionally gifted at this role.

The Last Years

By the 1880s, Fanny was both living and working in the slums. Her work in the missions here gave her the opportunity to evangelize common people on a personal basis.

At the same time she kept busy with her writing life. During these last years, she would write two autobiographies: “Fanny Crosby’s Life-Story, By Herself” in 1903 (out of print) and “Memories of Eighty Years” (retitled Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography) in 1906.

Fanny died at the age of 95 sometime during the night between February 11 and 12, 1915. On her tombstone are the words, “She hath done what she could” (from Mark 14:8). Of the thousands of hymns Fanny penned, most have been forgotten, but those used in churches around the globe throughout the decades have been priceless tools in touching lives for Jesus and continue to be so. Fanny Crosby was a true Wonder Woman for the cause of Christ—a Wonder Woman for the ages.




The Definitive Guide to Awkward Silences

So you’re out and about, gallivanting around town with someone, anyone. It may be a good friend, a mere acquaintance, a close family member, a distant relative, whatever. Anyway, there is the dreaded lull in the conversation and you’re thinking, “Oh great, this is awkward. Now they’re going to hate me forever because I haven’t done my part to fill every millisecond of silence with some sort of jovial conversation. And they obviously already do hate me because they are awkwardly silent as well. What’ll I do! What’ll I do! Say something! SAY SOMETHING!” Hang on, my friend, things may not be as grim as you imagine. There may be a good reason for their silence. Here are five kinds of awkward silences and their logical reason.

1. The Awkward Silence of Feasting – Talking between bites is fine and dandy, but I prefer to spend most of my time while eating concentrating on my food. I know I’m not alone in considering feasting a very, very serious business indeed. However, there are those who have the gift of concentrating on eating while holding a continuous conversation without showing everyone the matter wallowing around in their face. Unfortunately there are also those people who do both of these things, but don’t possess this gift. These poor souls just can’t talk (but insist on doing so on a constant basis) without displaying the food in their mouths to the world. If you are such an individual, you are very well advised to primarily restrict yourself to consumption concentration.

2. The Awkward Silence of Contemplation – Sometimes what you construe as an awkward silence might just be the other person thinking. There are those who have been known to do strange things like this from time to time. There are dozens of us! Dozens!!!! There is so much to think about: Thoughts and thoughts in thoughts and thinkers’s of thoughts and thinkers’ of thoughts in thoughts in thoughts. It never ends. I’m putting private prayer in this category.

3. The Awkward Silence of Concentration – This is related to contemplation but is more specific. While in contemplation you are considering a thought or group of thoughts in your head; with concentration you are honing in on something in the real world like a book, a movie, Bigfoot in the backyard, etc., etc., etc. Maybe your awkward silence right now is a result of reading this article. If so, bless your heart all to pieces, my friend.

4. The Awkward Silence of Friendship – It is often the case that when people are best friends or close family for a long time, the awkward silences turn into comfortable silences. At least that is often the case. Maybe you are one of those souls where no amount of familiarity can instigate the awkward silence of friendship. If this is the case, I feel for you, but know that this is a community of welcoming and acceptance. We embrace all levels of awkwardnicity. Other than that, I don’t know what to say. This is awkward.

5. The Awkward Silence of Awkwardness – Okay, there’s no way to get around this one. Sometimes an egg is just an egg. There’s no confetti or chocolate inside. Sometimes the awkwardness is mutual. In other words, you are right to be as full of despair and anguish as you originally thought. Kidding. It’s never the end of the world. Or is it?

There you have it. There is usually a mixtures of two or more of these visages of awkward silences. For instance, for me it might be the awkward silence of feasting and concentration if I’m eating lunch while watching Bigfoot play with the cats in our backyard.




Five Classic Curmudgeons of TV and Film

Movie and Television history is profuse with amazing and unforgettable crusty old men. Mean, cranky, ancient, eccentric – got to love those aged dudes and their disdain of all these hippies (everyone under 50) and newfangled contraptions. In our adoration of these wise, gray-haired, ne’er-do-wells, we have decided to highlight five iconic crusty old curmudgeons from either film or TV lore. Note: This is not necessarily a “best-of” list. These are simply the five cantankerous old coots that we have chosen to write about. – Ben Plunkett

 

Arthur Spooner – The King of Queens
by Gowdy Cannon

Frank Costanza could go from 0 to outrageously psychotic in two seconds. Arthur Spooner could get there, just a bit more slowly. And sometimes that was actually funnier. Arthur was Carrie’s dad, but it was his interactions with son-in-law Doug that showed how uninhibited Jerry Stiller was as a comedic actor and that caused me to cry tears from laughter. From the simple way he called him “Douglas” to their insane, petty, over-the-top, roll-on-the-floor-laughing showdowns in the kitchen, Arthur Spooner was just different enough from Frank, yet just enough the same. My favorite moments:

–Arthur tries some of Doug’s kids breakfast cereal and gets the prize 3D glasses. Doug is clearly upset because the cereal is his but he tries to be an adult about it. But he can’t because Arthur won’t stop acting juvenile. So Doug acts childish in return and the back and forth ends with Arthur ripping up the glasses and Doug destroying the still-full box of his own cereal as Carrie walks in.

–Arthur asks Doug how many stamps he needs for tickets he is mailing. Arthur doesn’t like Doug’s answer so Doug insults Arthur’s mooching off his family. It ends with Arthur destroying Doug’s sandwich and Doug destroying Arthur’s mail.

–Arthur asks Doug to pass the “catsup”. Doug won’t until he says “ketchup”. Arthur refuses so Doug pours an insane amount of ketchup on Arthur’s burger, demanding that Arthur call it “ketchup” as both yell back and forth until Arthur cedes. “And that’s how we learn”.

(And my personal favorite)

–Doug is answering a political survey over the phone when Arthur comes in and tries to make a phone call on the same line. He realizes what Doug is doing, insults his answers and this begins an exchange of severe putdowns between the two (including “Why don’t you tell him you’re enormous?” and “Why don’t you tell him you live in our basement?”) that ends with Doug asking “Why don’t you tell him your total salary last year was $12?” To which Arthur replies: “That was after taxes!” I don’t know why that Arthur line is so funny. Maybe the look on his face. Or the volume of the conversation. Or how inane the comment is. But I hurt from laughing at it and I’ve seen it several times.

As far as cranky old curmudgeons, Arthur Sponer takes a backseat to no one.

 

Carl Fredricksen – Up
by Phill Lytle


Merriam Webster defines crotchety as: subject to whims, crankiness, or ill temper. Thesaurus.com gives us these synonyms for crotchety: Cantankerous, crusty, grouchy, grumpy, and ornery. When we first meet the older Carl Fredricksen, he is all these things and more. He has grown sour after the passing of his beloved Ellie. He is prone to outbursts of anger, is mean-spirited to Russell, a young “Wilderness Explorer.”, and doesn’t seem to enjoy much about his life anymore. In other words, every second he is on screen is a joy for the audience. His complaints are hilarious. His lack of patience with Russell, and anyone else for that matter, never ceases to amuse. Buried deep down in Carl is a noble, honest, and good man. It takes some time for the audience to find it, but the journey is no less enjoyable during the search.

Favorite moments and lines:

Already exasperated with Russell’s constant talking and enthusiasm, Carl says, “Hey, let’s play a game. It’s called “See Who Can Be Quiet the Longest”. The line is perfectly delivered by Ed Asner, one of the great curmugeonly actors of all time. But the response by Russell takes the joke to another level, one that makes us laugh, but also reveals a great deal about our main characters, “Cool! My mom loves that game!”

Once they have nearly reached their destination by air, they are forced to continue the rest of the way on foot. Carl, wanting things quiet delivers this little nugget of gold to Russell, “Now, we’re gonna walk to the falls quickly and quietly with no rap music or flashdancing.” I’ve always loved that the two things Carl mentions are rap music and flashdancing, as if those were obviously things Russell would be involved in.

Finally, early in the film, when the builders are trying to get Carl to leave his home, he spots one of the businessmen in the distance. The man is wearing a suit, looking distinguished and professional. Carl yells at him, “You in the suit! Yes, you! Take a bath, hippie!” I think that one speaks for itself.

 

 

Merlin – The Sword in the Stone
by Ben Plunkett and Phill Lytle

He is, perhaps, the progenitor of all curmudgeons. Merlin is both cranky yet full of vigor. Quick tempered yet a great teacher. Ornery yet kind and caring. The first time we meet this magical old hermit is right after young Arthur literally drops in on him and Merlin is literally waiting. Along with Merlin’s even more curmudgeonly pet talking owl, Archimedes, Arthur is prepared for his rightful place of king. Every kid I knew wanted to have a mentor like Merlin, someone who could transform us into a fish or a squirrel. Someone who could teach us about the world. Someone to take note of us and invest in our lives. Someone who would fly off the handle and disappear to Bermuda when he got angry…

Favorite moments and lines:

Merlin tries to explain the way of the world to young Arthur, telling him that everyone faces adversity, “Oh, bah! Everybody’s got problems. The world is full of problems.” Merlin gets his beard caught in the door and yells, “Oh, blast it all! There, now! You see what I mean?”

When Merlin transforms Arthur and himself into squirrels, an older, lady squirrel becomes quite enamored with Merlin. Growing every more frustrated, yelling “Madame!” at key points of discomfort, Merlin finally decides enough is enough, “By George! I’ve had enough of this nonsense! ALAKAZAM!” He transforms himself back into a human being, leaving the female squirrel confused and upset. “There! Now you see? I’m an ugly, horrible, grouchy old man!” Even Merlin recognizes that he belongs on this list.

While he could be a very grouchy curmudgeon, Merlin also had times of great wisdom, like when he taught Arthur the lesson of love during his very squirrely adventure: “Ah, you know, lad, that love business is a powerful thing,” said Merlin.
“Greater than gravity?” asked Arthur.
“Well, yes, boy. In its way, I’d, uh… Yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on earth.”

 

 

Frank Costanza – Seinfeld
by Ben Plunkett


Ah, Frank Costanza. Prone to psychotic outbursts. Hilariously and boisterously confrontational. No wonder his son George is a mess (with the very capable assistance of the almost equally psychotic Estelle, of course). The senior Mr. Costanza was portrayed to perfection by Jerry Stiller, whose acting, I imagine, was key to making Frank one of the most iconic crusty old curmudgeon’s of all time. But like all of Seinfeld, there was seriously great, hilarious, and memorable writing going down. A handful (but not nearly all) of Frank’s most memorable quotes and moments:

– “Serenity Now!”

– In my mind the episode “The Strike” is the perfect Seinfeld episode in just about every way. It is in this episode that much to George’s chagrin, Frank’s creation, the alternative holiday Festivus, is revealed to the world.

– “This is Frank Costanza. You think you can keep us out of Florida? We’re moving in lock, stock and barrel. We’re gonna be in the pool. We’re gonna be in the clubhouse. We’re gonna be all over that shuffleboard court. And I dare you to keep us out!”

– Festivus wasn’t the only case of Frank thinking outside the box. In the episode “The Doorman” in another insane fit of invention Frank collaborates with Cosmo Kramer to invent the Bro/Mansierre to assist older fellas in holding up their increasingly sagging chests.

– “He stopped short. You think I don’t know what that’s about? That’s my old move! I used it on Estelle forty years ago! I told everybody about it! Everybody knows! (demonstrates the move) Mmm! I stopped short.”

 

Lt. Mark Rumsfield – The ‘Burbs
by Phill Lytle


I’ve long considered The ‘Burbs to be one of the Tom Hanks’ greatest films. I realize I am in the minority, but I am not alone. I’ve met many people that believe the film is wildly underrated. What makes the film work so well is not just the fantastic performance by Hanks, but the wonderful and eccentric supporting cast. No one steals more lines and earns more laughs than Bruce Dern as Lt. Mark Rumsfield. Rumsfield is a retired military man, yet still living in constant vigilance and readiness for war. He is opinionated, suspicious of everyone, and ready to jump to the worst conclusion possible at the drop of a hat.

Favorite moments and lines:

Unfortunately, most of his dialogue is salty, after years in the military, and I will not reprint it on REO. (The film is rated PG-13, so the saltiness is not as extreme as it could have been.) Just watch the movie and enjoy his well directed vitriol and sarcasm. But, for the sake of this article, here are a couple I can mention:

Rumsfield takes great pride in his yard. Unfortunately, he has a neighbor (Walter Seznick) down the block whose yard far surpasses his own. His reasoning why his yard can’t compete with Walter’s, “That old fart. He’s got the best lawn on the block. And you know why? Because he trains his dog to crap in my yard.” A bit coarse and rough around the edges, but straight to the point.

When a group of our main characters head over, uninvited, to the new neighbor’s house, Rumsfield does his best to make everyone uncomfortable with questions, poking around, and examining as much of the house as he can. His interaction with the new family, the Klopeks, is delightful in its boldness and rudeness. One particular exchange has always cracked me up. Introducing himself to the youngest of the Klopek family, “Rumsfield’s the name. Don’t think I caught yours, sonny?” Hans, responds nervously, “H-H-Hans.” Rumsfield responds in the most natural manner possible, “Hans! Oh-ho! A fine Christian name. Hans Christian Andersen! What are you, Catholic?”

That should give you a good idea what to expect from Lt. Mark Rumsfield and an indication why he made our list.




Five War Movies to Honor the Fallen

No one on the REO staff has served in the military. We have never had to risk our lives in service of our country. Yet, we recognize the bravery, courage, and sacrifice that so many of our citizens have displayed throughout the history of our nation. We recognize and we admire those men and women who have fought and died to protect those of us on the home front. There is little that we can do to honor that ultimate sacrifice. Our words amount to so very little in the end. Even so, we will forever be grateful.

So that we do not forget, the REO staff has selected a handful of movies to commemorate this Memorial Day. These films range in style and focus; some telling the story of a few soldiers, while others tell the story of many. Some were made decades ago and some are much more recent. All of them capture the nobility and sacrifice of the soldiers that fought and died so we can have freedom. Take some time this weekend to remember those who have given their all so that we can be free.

 

The Longest Day – by Benjamin Plunkett

The Longest Day recounts the hours immediately preceding and then every single hour on the day of the Invasion of Normandy. I have loved The Longest Day ever since I was a kid. However, it has not always been my favorite. I do not deny that I have had a long illicit love affair with war movies in general. It has not been until the last ten years or so that this has taken first place among the library of war movies that I love. There are a number of reasons it is a war movie to be deeply appreciated. Two are tops in my mind:

1) A huge international cast of some of the most famous actors of all time. Some of the most recognizable actors of yore appear in this movie, all-time greats like John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, and Rod Steiger. While that is a very impressive lineup, it is only a sampling of the amazing cast from the U.S., Germany, France, and the U.K. This means that multiple languages are spoken throughout the course of the film, which, of course, means plenty of subtitles.

2) The meticulous attention to historical detail. The examples of this in the film are legion. And many of the scenes are said to have been among the most complicated scenes to shoot in movie history. To do this multiple directors and units collaborated on the project to make it painstakingly accurate. Two that are particularly impressive: The paratroopers dropping in Mere Eglise and the assault on Ouistreham (which was supposedly the most complicated shoot in the whole thing).

This blurb barely scratches the surface of this great war movie. Its place as a historic educational tool is massive. D-Day was one of the greatest and proudest days in the history of mankind. This is one of the best ways to learn about that very historic event.

 

The Thin Red Line – by Phill Lytle

“This great evil, where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?” – Private Edward P. Train in The Thin Red Line

Meditative. Poetic. Profoundly spiritual: Qualities rarely used to describe a war film, but they serve as the perfect descriptors for Terrence Malick’s World War II masterpiece. There will be many who will walk away from this film bored or disengaged, but for those fortunate enough to understand the unique cinematic language, the film contains unexpected and unrelenting rewards. Malick uses narration, inner dialogue, and sublime visuals to move beyond the words and actions of the soldiers who fought and died. He allows their spirits to speak to the horror, the passion, and the humanity of war. The Thin Red Line transcends the usual movie treatment, presenting instead an exploration of our deepest questions and longings viewed through the prism of combat and war.

 

Saving Private Ryan – by Mark Sass

Very few movies truly redefine a genre. Saving Private Ryan was one such film. At the very least it revolutionized audio/visual techniques, style, and tone for war sequences in film. Prior to Saving Private Ryan no war movie had ever looked so real on screen. The film made a commitment to communicating the horrors of war like no other. At times the movie was visceral to a degree that was difficult to watch. However, the realism of the film encompassed much more than only violence. Audiences didn’t merely watch the film; they experienced it. Several scenes stood out in this regard, but none so like the 22 minute sequence on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day. Unlike many other war movies nothing was glamorized, toned down, or embellished in this film. To this day many regard the Omaha Beach scene as the most realistic depiction of war ever put on film. Audiences got the smallest taste of the true nature of war from the film. And that was very different from how other movies portrayed it. For this reason it’s difficult to say this was an enjoyable movie. No, it’s better said the movie was one to appreciate and respect. Saving Private Ryan told a story that was worth telling. The plot masterfully jumped between the events of WWII and present day in a way that captivated the viewer. Familiar emotions for the genre such as courage, heroism, and sacrifice permeated the film. Led by Tom Hanks, the entire cast delivered top notch performances from beginning to end. The acting, cinematography, editing, music, FX, and everything in between, all came together to deliver a film of the highest quality which will never be forgotten. Saving Private Ryan might be the pinnacle of director Steven Spielberg’s long and illustrious career.

 

Sergeant York – by Gowdy Cannon

When I was a teenager I did not like history. Yeah, I was a doofus. I didn’t like black and white movies. I didn’t like war movies. So when Mr. Marshall Thompson, my 10th grade American history teacher, showed our class a movie that was both, and that I loved, he basically did the impossible.

Based on his personal diary and with the demand that Gary Cooper play the lead, Alvin Cullum York let Hollywood give us his story in a truly remarkable and unforgettable way. I bought the VHS and watched it over and over. I would go around randomly saying “Killn’s agin the book” and “I’m fer the book” in high school and college. I did my character presentation for Mr. John Carter in U.S. History in college on him. (And to this day I regret not doing Sergeant York’s turkey call when classmate and future best friend Joshua Crowe tried to prompt me to during the Q&A time.) I love “Give Me That Old Time Religion” because of this movie. Every time I am driving into Nashville on the interstate and see something off of an exit dedicated to him, I still smile.

A tale of not just war heroics but of a man’s personal and riveting journey, notably of the struggles that come with the Christian faith and its convictions, I think most people can enjoy this film. Even the knuckleheads who do not normally go for movies of its age and genre. I am thankful to it for teaching me how good those types of movies can be.

 

Band of Brothers – by Phill Lytle

Though not a film, no list of this type would be complete without including the HBO adaptation of Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers. First released in 2001, Band of Brothers is a ten-part epic mini-series that follows the formation, training, and World War II experiences of “Easy Company”, part of the Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Due to its longer run time, Band of Brothers is able to do something that no film can: it can tell a long, sweeping, fully immersive story that features dozens of main characters, locations, and battles. The viewer is able to spend time with these brave men. We are able to get to know them, understand their strengths and weaknesses. See them perform heroically time after time.

Produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, every detail is handled with care and respect. These were real men that are portrayed on screen by an assortment of incredibly gifted and committed actors. There are interviews with the actual soldiers before and after episodes, which adds another layer of authenticity and power for the series. For my money, there is no greater picture of the war than Band of Brothers.

 




500WoL: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Are you tired of these Harry Potter reviews yet? Are you as fed up as the poor Sirius relegated to spending his days in a dilapidated old house that he loathes? Are you as fed up as Harry was for pretty much this whole book? Well, humor me for three more journey’s into the magical world of Hogwarts, will you? I’ll be upfront with you about something. While I thoroughly enjoyed most of The Order of the Phoenix, I do consider it the least among the five Harry Potter books I have now read. And I think it is a lesser work for three reasons.

First, it’s too long. In my review for The Goblet of Fire, I said that while I think smaller literary works are usually better because the author has honed it and taken out all or most of the fat, I do concede that long works can be great and also well-honed. The long Goblet of Fire is an example of this. With very few rough spots and fatty tissue, Rowling honed it to a sharp edge from beginning to end. The Order of the Phoenix, not so much. It was too long and too full of fat and fluff. Thus, it was a bit duller of edge. I think Order of the Phoenix would have been just fine and dandy with 100 to 150 less pages.

There are a couple of other lesser reasons I place this in a decided last place of these first five. Second, there is much less imaginative detail than in the preceding books. There is some, I know, but less. Loved the imaginative description of their cleaning the worn down 12 Grimmauld Place, the inherited home of Sirius Black. But there weren’t as many imaginative details after this. Way too little of the ghosts, too little candy and Quidditch and magic and wonder and the fat lady. The third reason was Harry’s almost continual bad attitude throughout the book. It is totally realistic for a boy of his age and in his very problematic situation in life to experience such angst, I suppose. But it doesn’t add to the enjoyment when a book’s main protagonist is so unlikable most of the time.

Despite these bad things and despite my putting it at the bottom of the list, I absolutely do not consider this a bad work or that I have wasted my time. Thoroughly enjoyed it and you will too. Saying it is the worst doesn’t seem right. Instead, lets say it is the least of the best. Plus, it contains several very key elements of the overall story and centaurs, giants, lots of intriguing side plots, and the sadistic Professor Umbridge. Not to mention the string of very authentically moving moments after about page 500. I consider these most touching moments in the series so far. But be warned: Here you’re going to face dangers more ominous than O.W.L exams. So gird your minds, boys and girls, gird your minds. That is all.




What Has Valentinius to Do With Christianity?

The title is a play on the most famous quote by the second century heresiologist, Tertullian, who said, “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Terullian said this because during that time there was much errant Greek thought invading the church. One of these Greek ideals was probably Gnosticism. “Probably” because although Tertullian definitely battled it, there isn’t 100% surety that Gnosticism originated from Greek thought. It is only thought to have been born at the beginning of the first century influenced by this Greek thought.

The two main strings of Gnosticism have been classified as Iranian and Syrian. These strings trickled into other areas of thought and religion, chief among these being Christianity. In fact, this was one of its earliest areas and would sadly have a successful run at it. The kind of Gnosticism that invaded the church came to be known as Gnostic Christianity. It became so prevalent that many people both inside and outside the church thought it was just normal Christianity. This false teaching was adopted by several different Christian teachers and turned into one of the most problematic heresies of early Christianity. There were several main teachers of Christian Gnosticism who developed there own branch of this heresy. The two Christian Gnostic teachers that had the biggest influence were Marcion and Valentinius. And probably the most influential of these two was Valentinius, who became so influential in the church that he very nearly became bishop of Rome.

It might be uncomfortable to think of heretical teachers like Valentinius having a profound positive impact on Christianity, but in a way he and other heretics did. These false teachings had some very positive results. They were instrumental in goading the church to collect an authoritative canon that likewise goaded it to more fully and authoritatively evaluate and form orthodox Christian doctrine based on that canon. But this collected canon of the New Testament would not become reality until the third century. For the many years prior to that, it was much harder to maintain a consensus throughout the worldwide church about the actual teachings of the Gospel. Until then there were primarily only letters and writings claiming divine authority floating about. The fact that this was the case and that there was no definite canon during these years made it so much easier for false teachings to creep into and thrive in local church doctrine. So who was this man who introduced such falsehood to Christian doctrine and what did he teach?

Valentinius and His Gnostic Christian Doctrine

Valentinius was born in Egypt sometime in the end of the first century and was educated in Alexandria. It was during these Alexandrian years that he set up the Eastern branch of Valentinian thought. He would later set up the Western branch after he moved to Rome. The primary difference between these two branches is how they viewed the body of Jesus and this was a big issue with them since anything of the flesh is evil and exactly what the “spiritual” needed to be saved from. The Eastern branch resolved this by saying that Jesus had to die to save Himself as well. The Western branch resolved this with the docetic view, which said that Jesus only seemed to be a man and he only seemed to suffer and die.

Basic Valentinius doctrine says that the first eternal being was First-Being or Profundity. He eventually united with Thought to produce the emanations (aeons) called Mind and Truth. And this production process kept on going with Mind and Truth producing two more emanations, and then those two emanations uniting to produce two more emanations, and so on and so forth. This went on until 26 emanations had been produced after First-Being and Thought. This genealogical strand of First-Being, Thought, and their 26 offspring was called The Fullness. Every one of these succeeding pairs along The Fullness grew more and more discontent, each succeeding emanation more so than the one before it, because each had less knowledge of and contact with First-Being. This discontentment come to a head in Wisdom (Sophia), the 26th emanation. Her prideful decision to fight to build her way back up to First-Being only resulted in her fall from grace. First-Being tried his best to restore Wisdom to her correct place in an attempt to keep the perfection of The Fullness. It didn’t work and therefore the entire line of The Fullness was compromised. As the first phase of a strategy to restore the former holiness of The Fullness, First-Being also produced directly from Himself the emanations of Christ and Holy Spirit. Together the two brought a joy to The Fullness that resulted in the emanations collectively producing Jesus.

In the meantime, Wisdom’s passion remained below the Fullness and produced the evil Demiurge who created earth. The Demiurge is the God of the Bible who is actually and unknowingly much lower than the lowest emanation of The Fullness. To save us from him, Wisdom’s passion, with the help of Savior, produced the spiritual seed of earth. They intended for the committed goal of this spiritual seed to ascend above this evil Earth to The Fullness with the help of Jesus.

The Disciples of Valentinius

Valentinius taught his false doctrine until his death in A.D. 160, after which his students continued to spread it. These students clearly made their own tweaks to their teacher’s doctrine. You can see these tweaks in a set of Gnostic writings called the Nag Hammadi Scriptures. They are called this because they were discovered buried near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt. It is believed they were buried by Egyptian monks around AD 367 after Athanasius ordered the monasteries of Egypt to rid themselves of all apocryphal works.

The Nag Hammadi contains 13 codices (a codex is an ancient book), each of which have a number of different writings. There are slightly over 50 writings in all. These writings clarify and expand on Valentinian doctrines to some degree and offer some of the aforementioned interesting tweaks. Probably the most famous of these writings is The Gospel of Truth, which some experts think was penned by Valentinius himself. Irenaeus, perhaps the greatest heresiologist of all time, first mentions this writing in his five-volume work Against the Heresies as an example of the great Valentinian threat to Christianity. Irenaeus was just one of a group of Christian heresiologists who arose during the second century to dispute Gnostic Christianity and other heretical teachings in the church. Iranaeus focused his war largely on the Gnostic Christians and primarily the Valentinians. Concerning Gnostic Christianity, Irenaeus concluded that “Against them one might justly exclaim: ‘Oh you nonsense-blabbering pumpkins! You blameworthy and untrue sophists!’”

No, Valentinianism was not the only heresy or even Gnostic line to encourage the church to collect a final New Testament canon and to fine tune its orthodox doctrine, but it did have a huge role in that inspiration. And for all of its supposed knowledge, Valentintianism mimicked its own doctrine by itself being a definite fall of wisdom.