Five Outstanding Westerns that You Should Literally Watch this Very Second (or ASAP)

Hollywood is full, FULL, of outstanding westerns from its beginning to current day. There are many that deserve all too well to be on any list of great western recommendations. This is a Five, so we wanted to highlight five of our personal favorites and a few that may not be so well known but totally should.


1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

My formal education did not include a ton of movies so it is amazing to me that both in Spanish Class in High School as well as History Class my first year at USC, my instructors showed my classes this film. A 1948 classic that has transcended time, it more or less did for me with westerns what Sergeant York did for war movies. I’m not a sincere fan of either genre but I can’t get enough of these movies.

Humphrey Bogart is magnificent and in this role as Dobbs earns the fame still associated his name 70 years later. Yet there is a plethora of other characters that make this movie so memorable, people most Americans have never heard of like Tim Holt, Walter Huston and Alfonso Bedoya has “Gold Hat”. And speaking of him, I would feel amiss not to mention one of the most famous lines in the history of American cinema. A line that has been referenced literally dozens of times in TV, other movies, music and other media. But I cannot mention it without getting it right, because I sense like many other famous lines, it is misquoted. It’s:

“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”

Note that the word “stinkin” isn’t until the last line. But this movie is way more than a quote. It’s a thrilling adventure of that teaches us a lot about injustice, greed and what it means to trust others when we’re in desperate circumstances. It gets real at times. And it does not have a sentimental Happy Madison type ending. Yet the conclusion still leaves me very satisfied and wanting to watch the whole thing again. Isn’t that the premiere mark of a great film? (Gowdy Cannon)


2. The Big Country

I am a huge fan of the western genre. I love films whether very old or brand new. There are many, many great ones that could be named. While I could list one that is a well known and justly deserved fan favorite, I will lend my praise to a relatively ignored classic: The Big Country. The Big Country is one of the most underappreciated movie treasures out there. The big names to match this Big County and big film include Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, and Jean Simmons. Most of the reviewers I have read seem to think it okay at best. While the musical score is almost universally applauded, the film is supposedly too long, too ambitious, is too pretentious, and contains way too much empty space.

Okay.

I honestly doubt that half the reviewers I read have watched it in its entirety. Many of them contain glaring plot errors in their descriptions. I imagine most of them just watched a few clips and wrote the rest of their reviews based on other reviewers who did the same thing. I will agree that the premise of The Big Country is not all that original. But unoriginality does not always make a bad film. Hollywood history is chock full of classic unoriginal films. Chock full. And The Big Country is part of that “chock.” Filled to the brim with great music, filming, acting, and writing, it’s an unrecognized western classic. (Ben Plunkett)


3. The Shakiest Gun In The West

The Shakiest Gun in the West

Many grew up watching Don Knotts in The Andy Griffith Show. I grew up with Threes Company and watching him and Tim Conway over and over again in a 1980 movie called The Private Eyes. I watched it probably 50 times and for years could quote the whole thing, complete with character accents.

But eventually people started pushing me to broaden my Don Knotts horizons and I did, taking in The Apple Dumpling Gang (also with Conway) and a 1968 Comedy Western called The Shakiest Gun In The West.

And it was quite the addition to his filmography. It’s classic Don Knotts as the bumbling, clueless, lovable almost hero and filled with memorable scenes and lines. My favorite is when Knotts’ character Jesse Heyward is getting ready for a showdown with Arnold the Kid and after practicing five shots he wastes his final bullet putting his gun back in his holster. I can hear my brother Jeremy in my head saying, “Two at the can…two at the sign…one in the skillet…and one in the pants.” We laughed about it dozens of times. I laugh right now just thinking about it.

The supporting cast is great, highlighted by Bad Penny and we even get a glimpse of Pat Morita in the only role I’ve seen him in that didn’t feature the words “Karate Kid” or “Happy Days” in the title. The movie also has an unforgettable song that plays during the opening title sequence and sets the mood for the show you’re about to experience.

So if you’re looking for a western big on laughs and a lead character that bears no resemblance whatsoever to John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, this is a movie worth watching. (Gowdy Cannon)


4. True Grit

To my knowledge, there are only two film versions of True Grit: the 1969 and 2010 versions. While the 1969 version is not bad and is a pretty accurate retelling of the novel, the 2010 version is much, much better in just about every way. The only place where both match in greatness is with their Rooster Cogburn actors: John Wayne and Jeff Bridges. While they may be equal in this manner, Bridges wins out because he is surrounded by excellence in every single other aspect of his film. In my opinion, there is not one thing in the film that is shoddily done. The music, the acting, the film work, the dialogue, the attention to detail, the thorough capturing of the novel’s spirit. Everything. Matt Damon deserves a particularly loud bout of praise for his portrayal of the cocky but goodhearted Texas Ranger, Laboef. Bridges and Damon are accompanied by an amazing cast of characters, some of whom only appear onscreen for a handful of minutes. I’m not sure that I can overstate my love for this movie. I strongly believe that it would belong in a top ten list of the greatest westerns ever made. (Ben Plunkett)


5. Open Range

There is a lot to love about Open Range. First, Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall are a fantastic duo in the film. They have an easy chemistry and are given plenty of room to inhabit their roles. Second, the cinematography is open (no pun intended) and expansive; really giving the viewer an appreciation for the untamed and wild Montana landscape. While the film has plenty of other elements to celebrate, for Open Range, it all comes down to the climactic shoot-out. After a film that unhurriedly moves along, the final gun-fight is bold, shocking, and edge-of-your-seat filmmaking. Kevin Costner, pulling double duty as the director, expertly stages the fight with plenty of moving pieces, a concise and understandable geography, and a fair share of “hero” moments for our main characters. It’s an intense sequence that allows this slow-burn of a film to end with a blaze of glory – classic Western motif and homage all in one. (Phill Lytle)

 

 




Five Movie Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry

In what has developed into a series of sorts, I have previously written about Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry and Five TV Moments That Made Me Literally ROTFL.

Today I tackle movies with scenes that brought the tears, and I don’t mean a single tear falling down the cheek.  Being Christmastime I felt it would be an appropriate topic. Even though I feature no Christmas movies below, there are many of those that fit this category for many people, especially the Hallmark movies I keep hearing about on Facebook! Please feel free to share your moments below.  On to my list…


Armageddon

The Moment: The Wedding During The Closing Credits

This movie is a landmine of cry moments. One of my family members that shall remain nameless told me he bawled when Chick’s ex-wife told their son, “That’s not a salesman, that’s your father.” Many people in my theater openly sobbed during Harry’s goodbye to Grace. But I made it all the way through the actual movie, just to completely lose it during the closing credits. As Grace’s real-life father and his band sing “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing,” we get a glimpse of her wedding to AJ and the camera pans to the front row where you see Bear, Chick, Rockhound and rest, along with huge blown up pictures of Harry and the others who died. Just emotional torture.

I have heard scathing critiques of this movie for nearly 20 years now but they don’t bother me. It’s a superb blend of action, drama, comedy, suspense, and romance to me. And it closes with an unforgettable heart-wrenching moment.

 


Rocky III

The Moment: Rocky’s Reaction to Mick Dying

I wasn’t old enough to see this movie in the theater and I will never forget the first time watching it with the family in Tookeydoo, SC when I was around six years old. Watching Rocky come to the realization that Mick was gone, his loud crying and tears in response moved me so deeply I got up and left the room, and had a good, long, sympathetic cry myself. I put on sunglasses and came back as though I were fooling everyone else about what just happened.

This film is a perfect installment of the Rocky canon. From the first note of “Eye of the Tiger” in the opening credits to the stunning twist with Apollo training Rocky to Eye of the Tiger reprising at the end with Rocky giving Apollo his “favor,” it continues the Rocky narrative exceptionally. The tragic loss of Rocky’s manager in the first act is a masterpiece stroke of plot development, complete with A-level acting by Stallone and Talia Shire and an exceptional musical arrangement by Bill Conti (appropriately titled “Mick”). A poignant moment in a movie series filled with them.

 


Return of the King

The Moment: “My Friends…You bow to no one.”

I love these books but here is one of several film moments that elicits deep emotion in a way the books do not, at least to me (while the reverse is often true also). Tolkien told a story of a fantasy Hobbit race that conveyed biblical ideas like ‘The last will be first” and “The humble will be exalted”. And at this moment Peter Jackson brought it to life in a powerful way. A heartwarming, joy-filled, tear-jerking way. These halflings were not warriors like Gimli or Legolas or royalty like Aragorn or magically powerful like Gandalf. Yet they destroyed the ring, saved Faramir and helped overthrow Saruman, and braved all manner of hell on earth to do so.  And in a moment where all was right in the world (albeit a complex fantasy world), they appropriately attempted to show honor.  But were given it instead.

Storytelling does not get better than this. The first time I saw it I could do nothing other than bow my head and shamelessly weep. They were tears that expressed a satisfaction and pleasure I long for in real life but rarely experience.

 


Bruce Almighty

The Moment: Bruce Prays for Grace

Even though it is a bit irreverent at times, there are moments in this movie where I think they capture what God is like. And in this moment they capture what it means to truly love someone, to the point that you want what is best for them even if it means losing them. Bruce asked God for someone to see Grace always, as he sees her now, “through Your eyes”. What a moment. What a prayer. Tears on top of tears for me. If there was any doubt that Jim Carrey could act, The Truman Show ended it and this moment obliterated it.

I’ll be honest, before I met Kayla and when I met Kayla I prayed this prayer for every girl I went out with or wanted to go out with. It is a hard prayer to pray. When you’re 35 and single, it’s perhaps the hardest. I even downloaded the soundtrack with the music that plays behind this scene and listened to it regularly. It had that big an impact on me.

 


Cast Away

The Moment: Kelly Has to Go Home Now

It had a lot to do with my life circumstances at the time and not just the plot development of the movie, but I have no doubt that when I watched this scene in March of 2003 that I cried longer and harder than at any other on this list or any list.

I was struggling in real life with personal loss. My roommate and de facto psychiatrist Josh Crowe encouraged me with “Who knows what the tide could bring?” from this movie. So I rented it and watched it that night. Kelly had given up on Chuck being alive. She was married to another man. And when Chuck visits and goes to leave and she runs after him in the rain they have the following exchange: “I love you Chuck! You’re the love of my life!”  “I love you, too, Kelly. More than you’ll ever know” And then after a moment in the car he tells her, “You have to go home now.” That destroyed me. It was too real. But the mourning was therapeutic. And Josh and I relive this series of events often even to this day.


So that’s my list, at least for today. I should mention that, as I said when I reviewed Finding Dory, that Finding Nemo would be on this list but it made me cry like twelve times so it wouldn’t fit.

Please comment on moments you feel similarly about if you wish!

 

 




Why We Can’t Get Enough of the ’80s

Within the span of a few weeks in Summer of 2010, Hollywood gave us movies by the name of The A-Team and The Karate Kid wrapped around a 7-game NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. I posted to Facebook “I’m going to miss the 80s when the Summer is over!”

Oh, 1980s. We love you so much. We love you so much that we’ve never truly let you go.

The meteoric rise of the TV Show Stranger Things has proven this true. Don’t worry; this isn’t another article about the show. It’s just to say that for all the hoopla, one recurring theme you hear fans talk about is the nonstop ’80s references. For people like me, who love the ’80s, it is absolutely part of the appeal. Even Will’s bowl haircut.

But Stranger Things isn’t even close to alone on this. As people my age have begun to become producers in Hollywood, the love for the decade has become common. There are so many 80s references in Psych I cannot even count them or catch all of them. But there’s no mistaking why Ralph Macchio has a guest spot on the show or why Shawn once said “ding ding” to Carl Weathers.

I have often and loudly proclaimed the ’80s as the best decade for just about everything. It was, in a phrase of the times, rad. Here is why:

 

The Music

I’ll brawl to the death over this one. The only time I have ever felt cool in the history of my life was in second grade riding in the back of my brother Tracy’s T-top Mustang on the way to school, listening to “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straights. And “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. And “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor.

Does life get any better? I submit that it does not!

I grew up dreaming about the day I would dance with my wife to “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon and “Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbi Gibson. And you better believe I fulfilled this dream with Kayla in 2014. I can take you to the exact spot in Walker-Gamble Elementary when I first heard “Every Rose Has Its Thorns” by Poison. And who among us doesn’t automatically feel like dancing without inhibition when we hear “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” or singing in unison with a huge group of people during “Come On Eileen”?

Some of my favorite memories ever are being at karaoke hearing Josh Crowe sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Or singing “You Spin Me Right Round” at the top of my lungs at 9 years old without an ounce of self-consciousness. And to go all Hebrews 11 on you, What more can I say? Time doesn’t permit to tell you about Bon Jovi, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, U2, Prince and Guns N’ Roses.

I’m positive in a Top 100 song decade vs. decade battle, the ’80s would annihilate the competition. And if you still doubt that I offer up the following as a mic drop:

 

 

and

 

 

Television

I’ll be honest: in any list of my favorite shows of all-time, the #1 show (Seinfeld) is from the ’90s and most of the rest of the Top 10 will be from this century. Yet despite this, back then we still had no shortage of shows that were perfect for that time. Family Ties, Who’s the Boss?, Growing Pains, The Cosby Show and even lesser known shows like ALF (I had the lunchbox in 4th grade) and 227 (with Hal Williams as Lester Jenkins) were weekly viewing for my family. I have often said that I know my parents made us work when we were children, and we played outside a lot but it seems like if you name a show from the 80s, we watched it. And we loved it. Who didn’t love Tuti from Facts of Life?

 

 

 

TV Theme Songs and Intros

Half of our TV Theme Song Top 10 list features shows from the ’80s. Because that decade was the golden age of introducing shows by putting the perfect music with the actors’ names in real life. Some told epic background stories (The A-Team), others gave welcoming, feelgood invitations (Cheers), some were impossible not to sing along with (The Jeffersons) and others just played cool music over cool video (Magnum PI, Miami Vice). They just don’t make TV Intros like they used to.

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons 

Here is another category where the ’80s dominates the field. It’s hard to fathom the fact that for a short time in my life I got to watch ThunderCats, He-Man, Muppet Babies, Transformers and G.I. Joe all in the same week. We all grew up not just watching these shows, but playing them outside, pretended to be the characters, owning the action figures and using our imaginations in a way that seems foreign these days.

 

 

And it wasn’t just make believe that we learned. We all learned wisdom and life knowledge and that “Knowing is half the battle.” (G.I. JOE!!!)

 

GIJoe Knowing Is Half The Battle GIF - GIJoe KnowingIsHalfTheBattle TheMoreYouKnow GIFs

 

A few years later brought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Duck Tales, cementing this decade as the most prolific cartoon decade of all-time.

 

 

Movies 

Again, other decades can compete in this category but any decade that gave us Back to the Future, Die Hard, The Goonies, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Rambo, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, Top Gun and The Terminator has to be on the short list for best ever. Not to mention that many consider Rocky III and IV to best the best of those movies and the ’80s introduced us to Yoda and a more authoritative, finalized version of Darth Vader. And that there is widespread belief that Empire is the greatest Star Wars film.

Beyond that the 80s brought us timeless coming of age pieces like The Breakfast Club and 16 Candles, child acting legends like Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, and some of the best fantasy ever in Labyrinth and The NeverEnding Story. David Bowie was a legend that probably didn’t put his pants on one leg at a time. And man I had a crush on Jennifer Connelly. And it’s a shame that kids today will never know the thrill of going to the local video rental store and getting Spaceballs for the 17th time. Ridiculous speed! My hometown had 300 people growing up, one traffic light and zero fast food places. But we had two video rental stores!

And again, lest there be any doubt, go find Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and watch it. I rest my case.

 

 

 

Professional Wrestling 

Ric Flair and Four Horsemen…Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant…Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, The Ultimate Warrior, Hacksaw Jim Duggan (HOOOOO!!!!), The Rock N Roll Express vs. The Midnight Express, Randy Macho Man “OOOH YEAH” Savage (wrestlers made a lot of random, boisterous sounds but they were super cool), chairs thrown in the ring, steel cages, referees getting knocked out, bad guys cheating, heroes dashing in from the dressing room…what a time to be alive! If my dad wanted to me punish me, a very effective way was to take away Saturday wresting.

3 GIF - WWE Wrestling HulkHuogan GIFs

 

 

NBA Basketball

There were great moments all across sports this decade by people like Jordan, Montana and Kirk Gibson, but all decades have great moments. Only one decade has ever given us Lakers vs. Celtics, Celtics vs. 76ers, Lakers vs. Pistons, Celtics vs. Pistons, and Larry vs. Magic. The modern NBA era is close, closer than any other. But the NBA in the ’80s is about as white-hot as any league could be. Somewhere between Bird telling all of the Lakers he was going to make a three in all their faces in a Finals game and Kevin McHale giving Kurt Rambis a Russian Sickle (classic 80’s wrestling move), the league entered rarefied realms of entertainment. Hearing the Garden Crowd chant “BEAT L-A!! BEAT L-A!!!’ is something I’m thrilled to have witnessed live.

 

 

Video Games 

Two Words: TECMO BOWL

And before that there was John Elway’s QB. And before that “Ten Yard Fight”. And before that the Atari football game where you had to make the block men face forward before each play. What an evolution!

Image result for gif of Tecmo Bowl

 

And there is so much more! In some ways, I miss the 80s the same way Toto misses the rains down in Africa. Yet in others, I don’t really have to. Thanks to Stranger Things and Psych and the magic of the internet, I can transport myself back in time on a whim.

 

Do you remember the ’80s? What did you love most about it?




Five Horror Films Worth Watching

It’s that time of year again. Time for too much candy and scary movies. I’ll say this upfront – I love horror movies. Of all the people that contribute to REO, I’m confident that my love for the genre is head-and-shoulders above the rest. I love the tension, the mood, and the thrill of a good, scary film. One day, I would like to further explore what draws people to horror films. I’ll leave that topic for another time. For today, I want to shine the spotlight on a handful of films that represent the things I love the most about the horror genre. For what it’s worth, I tend to avoid violent or bloody horror films. Seeing someone tortured or killed in some gratuitously grisly manner are not things I typically enjoy. I prefer my thrills to come from atmosphere, tone, perfectly-timed jump-scares, and other things of that nature. Give me a story with good characters and a creepy plot, and I will most likely enjoy the trip.

In an effort to make this a little different, I am going to forgo the usual mini-review format we have used in the past. Instead, I will do a brief Q&A with myself about each film. Yes, I will talk to myself and then share with you the fruits of my conversation…with myself. It all makes sense in my head so hopefully it will make sense to at least a few of you out there. Warning: If you are not a fan of horror films, this article is probably not for you. Now, if you are curious about horror movies that avoid excessive violence and gore, and don’t rely on strong sexual themes or content, then perhaps this list can be of service to you. Warning Number 2: I’ve included the trailers for each of these films and if you are easily scared or sensitive to this type of thing, you might as well move along and read something else on our website. Might I recommend a nice poem or love letter to tacos?


The Exorcism of Emily Rose

 

What are the basic facts about this film?

It came out in 2005. It was directed by Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) and it stars Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson. It is based on a true story about an apparent demonic possession and subsequent exorcism where things went horribly wrong.

In 50 words or less, what can I expect from this film?

A smart, well-constructed film. The story is told from the perspective of an agnostic defense attorney (Linney) and she tries to build a case to defend a priest (Wilkinson) in a homicide trial. It’s as much courtroom drama as it is supernatural thriller.

If you had to pick one thing, what is it about this film that really won you over?

I love that it treats spirituality and the supernatural seriously. It creates a very compelling dialogue by examining this very complicated case. Derrickson is a professing believer and because of that, he never panders nor does he make light of the idea of evil.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is rated PG-13.


 

The Conjuring

 

What are the basic facts about this film?

It came out in 2013. It was directed by James Wann (Insidious, Furious 7). It’s based on the true story of a demonic attack that was investigated by paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Very Farmiga. Also starring Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor.

In 50 words or less, what can I expect from this film?

A fantastically creepy atmosphere. Wonderful scares throughout. A strong storyline with real heart.

If you had to pick one thing, what is it about this film that really won you over?

While I realize that the real-life Warren’s are controversial figures, in the film, they are a fantastic team. They are a beautiful picture of a strong, supportive marriage and their dedication in fighting evil is captivating. Plus, the film is about as good as it gets in mood and tension. And just to cheat a little on this question by giving you more than one thing, the family that is victimized in this demonic attack, the Perrons, are as sympathetic and believable as you could hope for.

The Conjuring is rated R.

The Conjuring 2

 

What are the basic facts about this film?

The sequel to the previous Conjuring film, it came out in 2016. Also directed by James Wann. Also starring Patrick Wilson and Very Farmiga. Also based on a true story about a poltergeist in England that was investigated by the Warrens.

In 50 words or less, what can I expect from this film?

Similar, if slightly less-satisfying, returns as the first film in the franchise. While it never reaches the highs of that one, it brings enough thrills, tension, and drama to warrant a view. It amps up the supernatural activity, which might be a draw for some.

If you had to pick one thing, what is it about this film that really won you over?

Much like the first film, this series takes the supernatural seriously. But more importantly, it takes Christianity seriously. The Warrens are believers and fight back against the forces of evil with Scripture, prayer, and conviction. I’m not saying that I endorse all the views of the film, but it is refreshing to see a film like this when so much about Christianity is reviled in popular American culture.

The Conjuring 2 is rated R.

Quick note about both Conjuring films – they are both rated R. Not due to language, gore, or sexual content. The MPAA (the ratings board) gave them an R rating because they deemed them too scary for a PG-13 rating.


The Others

 

What are the basic facts about this film?

The film came out in 2001. It was written, directed, and scored by Alejandro Amenábar. It stars Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan.

Set just after World War II, on the Channel Islands, The Others tells the story of a mother (Kidman) who cares for her two young children who suffer from a rare photosensitivity that makes it impossible for them to ever be exposed to direct sunlight. They live in a huge mansion and weird stuff starts to happen.

In 50 words or less, what can I expect from this film?

A foreboding, claustrophobic atmosphere. A haunted house film where the true nature of the haunting gets revealed little by little throughout. The Others is a film that takes a simple concept and layers it with wonderful characters and poignant family moments.

If you had to pick one thing, what is it about this film that really won you over?

The sense of mystery. I love not knowing where a film is going and trying to guess how it is all going to end. The Others does that and does it well. There are signposts throughout the film and perhaps more observant viewers will pick up on those, but for most people, the climax will be satisfying and not the least bit shocking.

The Others is rated PG-13.


The Woman In Black

 

What are the basic facts about this film?

The film was released in 2012. It was directed by James Watkins and stars Harry Potter…I mean, Daniel Radcliffe. Also starring Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Sophie Stuckey, and Liz White.

The Woman In Black tells the story of a young lawyer (Radcliffe) who is sent to a remote village to orchestrate the sale of an estate on the marshland. He stays in the old house on the estate looking for records to facilitate the sale. The villagers treat him poorly, outside of one man (Hinds) and it quickly becomes apparent that something is very wrong on the marsh.

In 50 words or less, what can I expect from this film?

The Woman In Black feels like a throw-back haunted house film. It has good scares, a creepy tone, and a good lead performance by Radcliffe. It relies on shadows, darkness, and the viewer’s imagination to create a lot of the most frightening moments.

If you had to pick one thing, what is it about this film that really won you over?

It’s a very simple film with a well-worn storyline and concept. Sometimes that doesn’t work, but in this case it does because it’s all done with style and care. The film rarely uses cheap thrills to scare the audience, though it is not above a few good jump-scares.

The Woman In Black is rated PG-13.


So there you have it. Let us know in the comment section what you think. Now that you have read through my list, which is not a top five or anything like that, feel free to chime in below with some of your favorites.

 




“Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer” – A Review

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther, filmmaker Stephen MacCaskell made the documentary Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer (2017). Many scholars of the Reformation may criticize the film’s evangelical bias, but it is refreshing to see a well-executed historical documentary that celebrates the same doctrine that drove Luther. Just as Luther was dedicated to the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of Justification by Grace through Faith, so are the Reformed theologians (including R.C. Sproul) who provide consistently insightful commentary.

I write this commentary as an Arminian Christian, a historian of the Reformation era, and a High School History teacher. From an Arminian perspective, there is nothing to shy away from in this documentary. Like all forms of Reformation Christianity, Arminianism fully agrees that salvation is the work of God and not a product of works. This film should serve as a catalyst for the discussion of many foundational theological truths.

An hour and a half is not sufficient to do justice to the life and influence of the “monk who changed the world.” The film was certainly made more for a congregation than for historians. Even so, the film is historically accurate and doesn’t avoid difficult issues. One section deals with Luther’s temper, untamed tonged, and his “Jewish Problem” (anti-Semitism). Many may find the film’s treatment of the “Jewish Problem” as unsatisfactory, but I am impressed that a short celebratory film took the time to point out Luther’s significant flaws. It even uses the words of Scripture and John Calvin to do so.[1. See this article for a good discussion]

This treatment of the Reformation follows a typical Protestant, specifically Reformed, approach. Late Medieval Religion is understood to be works based and pervasively corrupt. Corrupt Popes, such as Julius II, and greedy clergy members like John Tezel, are portrayed as normative. While I don’t disagree with this general narrative (examples of corruption abound), I was disappointed that the film didn’t make any attempt to discuss examples of late medieval Catholic reformers like the fiery preacher Savonarola, the mystic Thomas a Kempis, or the humanist scholar Erasmus. Rather than complicate the story with a richer view of late medieval piety, the film simply discussed the condemned pre-reformers, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus and their impact on Luther. While a simplified narrative is easier on its audience, from a historical point of view, it’s unsatisfying.

I teach 9th grade World History. Aside from being a little slow for an audience with the attention span of a poodle, one of the significant flaws of Luther is that it assumes far too much knowledge of theology and history. While it may be a great resource for a theologically educated congregation, 9th graders, even at a Christian school, lack the previous knowledge to make this video a good use of time for a classroom. This, of course, can be addressed as long as the teacher uses the video to reinforce what they have already learned of Luther and the Reformation and not to introduce it. This approach might also help the teacher facilitate a discussion of the film’s historical interpretation that could also help to mitigate some of its shortcomings.

Overall, I recommend Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. It is well made, which is rare for Christian films of any kind. It makes effective use of some simple computer animation as well as crisp on-location footage. Although its interpretation of the Reformation is too simplistic to satisfy the historian and too advanced for the high school student; it can be a great resource for the man or women in the pew. Hopefully, this film will only be the beginning of a deeper exploration into the Reformation.

(Editor’s note: You can rent or buy the movie at Amazon by clicking this link.)




Being Petty: A Tribute To a Legend

On Monday, October 2nd, we lost the heart and soul of American rock and roll. Tom Petty’s career and influence spanned decades, leaving hit after hit in their wake. Everyone knows a Petty song. Everyone has a favorite. There are innumerable articles out right now highlighting his music, his career, and his legacy. We won’t pretend that our take is the best you will read, but we do hope that for those that loved his music, it will serve as another opportunity to reminisce and reflect on an artist that helped create the soundtrack for many of our lives.


Josh Crowe
The American spirit is vast. It’s hard to nail down. Many artists have tried to do so and several have failed. Some who have succeeded are Bruce Springsteen with Thunder Road or Bob Seger with Against the Wind.

For me, Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ also gets the job done. From the first chord to the fade out, I’m swept away to the life of a Southern California teen in the 80’s. It’s broad and simple. It’s full of tension. The girl is good and the boy is bad. How many 80’s romance movies played this situation out for us? Yet, Petty made us feel it again.


Mike Lytle
When thinking of which Tom Petty song to pick it is very easy to fall back on the old joke that I can’t narrow it down to one song since I celebrate his entire catalog. In this case, it is not a joke though. Free Fallin’, Runnin’ Down a Dream, I Won’t Back Down, The Waiting, he has so many great songs that it is very difficult to pick one to pay tribute to. So instead of choosing a song, I am going with a Tom Petty movie. That movie is none other than the Kevin Costner classic The Postman. For those too young to remember (or those who have tried to forget) Kevin Costner decided in the mid to late 90s to focus his acting energies on three hour, post-apocalyptic epics. Waterworld received the most attention because it cost so much to make and went so far over budget, but The Postman is the better movie. A primary reason for this is Tom Petty and his role as Bridge City Mayor. He actually plays himself in the movie, but since it is set in a world that no longer cares about famous rock stars he is content to inspire people in other ways. Whether it is for his singing, songwriting, guitar playing, or acting, Tom Petty will be missed.


Gowdy Cannon
Chances are you have heard American Girl not just on the radio but on any number of TV shows or movies, usually during a climax of a story about a woman triumphing.  Americans have heard it in everything from sitcoms like Scrubs and Parks and Rec to movies you’d expect like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and movies you wouldn’t like Silence of the Lambs. I read even The Handmade’s Tale recently made use of it.  We can’t get enough of this song to help tell our stories. Musically it makes you want to cut loose and “dance all night,” even if you can’t dance or normally don’t (like me). But it’s deeper than that, which is why Hollywood keeps calling and why it’s been covered dozens of times the last 40 years. It’s so versatile it can tell any number of stories but I find it quite appropriate that the song didn’t catch on for a while but later became a mega-hit. Because that is probably the story we love best. The story of Ben Carson and his library card, of Kurt Warner and his grocery bagging, of America being the underdog in its revolution.  American Girl is, like the song’s author, as American as apple pie and absolutely what is great about this country.


Phill Lytle
I don’t have a singular story to share – no transcendent moment when a Tom Petty song knocked me over and captured my heart. What I do have is decades of unreserved love for Learning To Fly. From the opening guitar to the triumphant, drum-laced bridge, the song is a revelation every time I hear it. It’s a simple melody, played with precision and care, wonderfully mixed to bring out the most of each instrument. The guitar solo is reserved and understated, fitting perfectly with the song’s laid-back vibe. Petty’s voice sounds as confident as ever, singing about living, failing, and trying again. It is a song with redemption echoing in every corner and it is as beautiful a song as I will ever hear.


David Lytle
A couple weeks ago I was listing to Tom Petty and talking to my wife about him. I made the comment that Tom Petty was my go to if I wanted something that made me feel good. I never get tired of the sound of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their sound makes a bad day bearable and a good day great. Then Petty died, and while the loss of a legend saddened me, I am grateful that the magic of recording allows the music to live on. For my dime, Runnin’ Down a Dream is the quintessential feel-good song of an artist that never failed to make me feel better. It describes driving a car with music on and presumably the windows down. It’s about life on the road encountering both the rain and the sunshine. The guitar riff “drives” the song so effectively that just hearing the guitar makes you want to jump in a car. Let’s celebrate Tom Petty driving down the freeway as we hope for “something good waitin’ down this road.”




Five More Movie Dinner Scenes We Love

We enjoyed putting together our last list so much we decided to do it again. We also loved all the interaction we received in response to our previous list, even from those that yelled at us and called us names. We are confident this second list will inspire the same sort of reaction. (Finger’s crossed!) Feel free to post your feedback, insults, and name-calling in the comment section below. Bon appetite!


The Thin Man by Benjamin Plunkett

The Thin Man dinner scene

The Thin Man was released in 1934, two years after the publication of the book on which it is based. Most of the acting in the movie is okay at best. It is saved by two things: The masterful, charismatic acting of William Powell and Myrna Loy; and excellent writing throughout. Along with the help of his trusty dog, Asta, Nick Charles (Powell) investigates the mysterious disappearance of an old inventor friend who he discovers is murdered. It culminates in a dinner with all the assembled suspects in which Charles reveals the culprit. Like most great dinner scenes, the dinner is chock full of some angst-driven dialogue between the hilariously tense guests, Nora (Loy), and engineered by the very laid back Nick who is obviously relishing the evening. While revealing the facts of the case he sometimes randomly shouts the name of this or that guest. This guest jumps out of their pants (no, not literally). At other times he makes sudden comments directly to guests such as asking one not to hold his butter knife in a threatening way or asking another if he saw anything important as he gazed into his crystal. And in the end the evil-deed doer is revealed to be no other than—ho, ho, ho, you sly devil. You’ll have to watch the movie for that juicy bit of info. At the time, the movie was so popular that it spawned five sequels.


Christmas Vacation by Gowdy Cannon

Christmas Vacation dinner

Christmas Vacation was released when I was in the 8th grade and at my small town high school the following exchange got randomly quoted year round, and not just at Christmas:

“GRACE!”
Grace? She passed away 30 years ago!!”
They want you to say grace. THE BLESSING.”

And then someone would invariable start into the Pledge of Allegiance. Considering the fact that she wrapped up her cat earlier in the movie, Aunt Bethany definitely could steal a scene, as she does at this epic family dinner.

But of course we should not fail to mention a classic Clark vs. Cousin Eddie moment. After Clark announces Santa Clause has been spotted by the news, Eddie chimes in, “You serious, Clark?” Village idiots are dime a dozen in entertainment, but very few people have played the doofus this well. The list of people that I am positive could have delivered that line so believably starts with Chris Pratt and Randy Quaid. And it’s probably not much longer than that.

Just a hilarious four minutes. Back in my teen years and on through college and young adulthood, watching this movie was a Christmas tradition. It helped kick off the festivities. So I am thrilled to include it in this sequel to our great dinner scenes article.


The Incredibles by Phill Lytle

The Incredibles dinner scene

In 2004, Pixar Studios gave us The Incredibles. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film was an original superhero story about the Parr family – a family of super-powered individuals who have been forced, due to governmental and societal pressures, to keep their powers hidden from the world. They live normal lives. They are the classic nuclear family. Yet underneath that veneer of familiarity and averageness, everyone in the family, besides baby Jack-Jack, are gifted with powers ranging from super strength to elasticity.

Early in the film, there is a scene set at the dinner table. It is the quintessential examination of both sides of their lives. It is the picture of a family that is not connecting – something that many viewers can identify with. You see the stay-at-home wife and mother, Helen, after a long day of juggling household duties, running the kids to and from school, and caring for an infant, sitting down at the dinner table trying to engage her husband with the events of the day. You see the husband and father, Bob, home from a long day at a job he hates, distracted and irritable. You have the young boy, Dash, with too much energy to spare and no outlet for any of it. Finally, you have the teenage girl, Violet, sullen, withdrawn, and doing everything she can to stay hidden from the world. (The baby is there as well but he is perfectly oblivious to all the tension in the room.)

Throughout the dinner, each character demonstrates all aspects of who they are – the normal and the super. Helen is pulled in all directions (both literally and figuratively) as she tries to manage the household and make things work in less-than-ideal circumstances. Bob is dissatisfied and frustrated because he knows full well that his life is meant for more than sitting in a cubicle all day. His talents are being wasted and his impressive power flashes at inopportune moments throughout the meal. The kids all add their own unique issues and gifts to the conversation. The scene is funny and intelligent, insightful and recognizable. We can connect with it, even though we do not have powers, because we identify with exactly what this family is facing. Brad Bird uses one of the most familiar settings – the dinner table – to peel back layer after layer of family dynamics, cultural expectations, and the dangers of settling and compromise. This scene firmly establishes each character, their roles, the major themes of the film, and foreshadows the climactic resolution of the film by presenting its inverse in a delightfully funny sequence.


The Return of the King by Benjamin Plunkett

The Return of the King Denethor eating scene

Although there are those who claim to be able to do so, you will be very hard pressed to settle on any one element in the theatrical trilogy The Lord of the Rings as the one element that is better than anything else in it. The movies, all three of them, are caked with brilliance and layered with excellence. One of the many, many ingenious elements is Denethor’s lunch/dinner scene in Return of the King. In this scene Denethor appears to be eating a meal composed of many vegetables, with baby tomatoes making an Oscar-worthy appearance. His madness and the decadence in which his life has become steeped is characterized by his viciously chomping the cherry tomatoes like some brute beast as their red ooze dribbles carelessly down his face like blood. He eats his little feast while commanding Pippen to sing a song to him. The singing, the eating, all seamlessly juxtaposed with a scene of his son, Farimir, and his men, riding to certain death by Denethor’s mad command. To this day, I can’t eat baby tomatoes without thinking of that scene. In those instances, I do the only rational thing and pretend to be old Denethor.


Lars and the Real Girl by Phill Lytle

Lars and the Real Girl dinner scene

I’ve written about this movie for REO before – you can read that here. In hopes of not spending too much time getting bogged down in the details, I’ll keep this concise: Lars, the protagonist, is different. He lives in a converted garage behind his brother (Gus) and sister-in-law’s (Karin) house. He is withdrawn and awkward. His family worries about him. He orders a sex doll online and pretends she is a real person. (Read my review if you need more details.) The first time we, and his family, meet his new “girlfriend” Bianca, is at dinner. When Lars tells them he is bringing a girl to eat with them, they are so excited. Then, they are sitting across the table staring at a life-like, sex doll. They are dumbfounded. Lars is as happy as can be. Bianca takes it all in stride. The scene is a masterpiece of awkward humor, strained conversation, and quirky character interaction. It sets the table for the rest of the film perfectly.




Five Sports Movies Our Staff Love

The best movies tell unforgettable stories and introduce us to legendary characters and performances. So it is no surprise that in a culture obsessed with sports, some of the best films of all time are about them. Sports prove that truth is indeed better than fiction quite often–you will notice below and on any list of sports movies how many are based on or inspired by true stories. Movies, for their part, make us interested in sports we as Americans often are not obsessed with, like boxing, karate and hockey. The two together have given us exceptional entertainment.

Today our staff discusses five sports films that we love. This is not a Top Five list; just five selections that impacted us deeply…as sports fans (most of us), moviegoers and human beings that love to be inspired.

 

Chariots of Fire by Ben Plunkett

I can’t remember exactly when or where I first saw The Chariots of Fire. All I know for sure is that it was in the first half of the 80s. My best friend at the time later said he stopped watching immediately when the first shot was of a bunch of guys running down the beach in their underwear. But I went against the norm of kids in my age bracket and watched the whole thing. It remains one of the most inspirational movies I have ever seen. (Not the best, in my opinion, although it is excellent). I remember in the months afterward I would pretend to be Eric Liddel, running in one of the first races we see him in. He’s doing really well, but then another racer pushes him down to the side of the track. He falls with a crash and his race seems over. But then he gets up, runs like a chariot of fire, passes all the runners who are all way ahead of him, and runs like a beast to against all odds win the race. I’d put on our Chariots of Fire record and run in slow motion around the living room, dramatically falling and rising in strategic places. That particular Liddel story isn’t the only great and inspirational moment in the film, though, not by a long shot. All the details surrounding the 1924 Olympics are legendary. The movie inspired me to be a runner. Yeah, that didn’t really pan out.

Most inspirational of all to me as a Christian was Liddel’s Christian strength eximplified perfectly throughout the whole movie, especially at the Olympics. It is also inspirational to know that after the events of the movie he left his successful running career to be a missionary in China.

 

The Sandlot by Allen Pointer

My favorite film, not just favorite sports film, is Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell is one of my heroes.
My sleeper sports film? Victory. I saw it when it was released during my high school years and it was epic.

Someone beat me to both of these films.

So that leaves me to write about another film that I have grown to love that I had never seen until last year.

The Sandlot.

Nostalgic. Great retro Los Angeles Angels cap, and a KC Monarchs Negro League cap as well. Playing ball all day long. All of the names for Babe Ruth. James Earl Jones. What is not to love?

But my favorite part by far is when Benny brings Smalls into the group. A shy, awkward young man is saved by the kindness of the star of the team. While everyone else is making fun, Benny allows a young man entrance into the most important team in the world, located at the local sandlot. Consumed by a love of baseball, he looks beyond that to do the decent thing, and through an extra ball glove and cap includes someone starving for belonging in the group that matters the most.

I am glad that I finally watched The Sandlot.

 

Field of Dreams by Phill Lytle

What do you get when you combine two of my favorite things – sports and fantasy? You get one of my favorite films – Field of Dreams. I love everything about this film. I love the premise – the out-of-his-depth farmer hearing voices in his corn field telling him to build a baseball field in their place. I love the performances – Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, and Burt Lancaster all create believable and interesting characters. The music is appropriately winsome when needed and epic when called for. While some baseball purists huff and puff about the accuracy of the players and if they are batting and throwing with the correct hand, those things are minor details in the grand picture. The film is about heart, inspiration, and grand gestures. It’s never meant to be a realistic portrayal of baseball or family dynamics. It’s a fantasy story built around a baseball diamond in a corn field. Where ghosts of great players come to play. And sons are reunited and reconciled with their long deceased fathers. It’s beautiful and life-affirming stuff and I enjoy it more every time I watch it.



Rudy by Gowdy Cannon

I played basketball in high school, but being 5’10 and 135 lbs, I realized by my 10th-grade year I had to abandon the dream of playing in the ACC. So you can see how a real life story-turned-movie like that of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger would captivate me.

Let there be no doubt that some of the supporting roles are memorable: a baby-faced Vince Vaughn, an endearing and relateable Jon Favreau and a heart-wrenching performance by Charles S. Dutton as Fortune. When he slow claps at the end before walking off, I want to stand up and clap for him. Every time.

But not many movies this good relied quite so heavily on the lead as Rudy. Sean Astin has had roles as glorious as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings movies and as ridiculous as Bill the Speedo-wearing swim instructor in Adam Sandler’s Click. In Rudy, he gives a masterpiece that will be what I associate with his name the rest of his life.

There are the obvious emotional moments near the end of the movie that make it great–when the Notre Dame players one by one give up their jerseys in the coach’s office (which didn’t really happen but was an excellent touch of dramatic license), and when they start the famous “RU-DY!” chant near the end of the final game. But there are two moments that I cherish deep in my heart that are less famous but equally as meaningful: when he gets rejected by Notre Dame to be a student for the third time and he balls the letter up and bangs his head against the wall, and when he finally makes it onto Notre Dame’s practice squad and is getting his brains beat out and keeps getting up and challenging the offensive linemen: “I’m a defensive lineman from Purdue!” Those are what make Rudy special: perseverance despite failure, pain and every reason in the world to quit.

Rudy does not culminate in a magical moment of winning like in Miracle or an epic individual center stage performance as in Rocky. All Rudy did was make a meaningless sack after finally getting on the field. Yet it was way bigger than that. It was about real world inspiration from a man whose heart was too big to ever give up. That is why they carried him off the field in real life. And that is why this movie is on our list today.

 

Victory by Nathan Patton

Most of the people to whom I’ve mentioned the movie Victory (or Escape to Victory as it’s known across the pond) have never heard of it. Those who have didn’t like it. It’s a favorite in my house though.

It’s a war movie that I can actually show my kids. Of course it’s not completely realistic, but I’m also not having to send them to a therapist after it’s over.

The great Sir Michael Caine and Sylvester “Sly” Stallone aren’t really believable as world class soccer players, but they’re loveable and fun to watch, and the movie is full of some of the greatest soccer players of all time, including Pele and Bobby Moore.

The basic plot is that a German officer arranges for allied prisoners to play a friendly soccer match with some of the guards at a POW camp in France, just for fun. It gets caught up in the Nazi propaganda machine and becomes a match between the best of the Allied POW players from all over Nazi occupied territory (mostly famous soccer players before the war) and the German national team in Paris, intending to show that the Nazis are superior. Intermingled throughout are escape plots and attempts. It is loosely based on an actual match played between a Ukrainian team and the German team during World War II.

Yes, it does share some similarities to The Longest Yard, except, of course, that it’s about a sport that actually matters…

What is your favorite? Share with us below!

 




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)




500WoL: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man is back on the big screen. It seems like just yesterday that Andrew Garfield donned the red and blue Spidey suit in two Spider-Man films. And only a short time before that Tobey Maguire filled the role for his own trilogy. Surely there haven’t been three different iterations of this character in the last 16 years?

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Yes, Spider-Man has been booted, rebooted, and re-rebooted too many times. Sony knows how popular the character is and they desperately made the Amazing Spider-Man films in an effort to not lose the rights. (This is all technical and boring, but they would have lost the rights for the character had they not made the Garfield film.) So, we have seen too many origin stories. We have seen too many versions of the character: the middle-aged barely out of high school, mopey, Maguire version. The too cool for school, overly complicated Garfield version. And now we have the Tom Holland, first seen in Captain America: Civil War, version. You would think audiences would be tired of Spidey, Peter Parker, and all the rest. You would think filmmakers would have run out of good ideas for the character.

You would be wrong. While Spider-Man: Homecoming is not a perfect film, it is fun, exciting, and smart. It is tonally the most consistent and appropriate Spider-Man film yet. Peter Parker is a high school student. He is a nerd. Things just never go exactly right for him and this film captures all of those things perfectly. Tom Holland is the first actor to get both Parker and Spidey right. Both Maguire and Garfield got certain things right but were both off on other aspects of the character. Holland plays both the excitement and energy of a 15 year old Spider-Man as well as the awkwardness and insecurities of a high school aged Peter Parker.

The film does suffer from some good but not great set pieces, and the music is mostly forgettable. The action sequences are good but lack enough clarity and overall vision to really make them excel.

While there are shortcomings, the film earns its keep with the characters, the relationships, and the humor. The supporting cast is given plenty of great material to work with and everyone makes the most of it. The villain is well rounded and given enough personality and motivation to work. And including Tony Stark and Happy Hogan at strategic moments serves the film well and adds a much needed dimension to the story.

The end result is a good film. A fun film. The groundwork is there for a great film and hopefully the team that made this will tighten the few areas that need work and hone those areas where they already impressed. We are in good hands with the character moving forward. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a worthy addition to the Marvel roster and well worth your time.

Stay through all the credits. You can thank me later