Five of Our Favorite Moments in Avengers: Endgame (SPOILERS!)

Even though the film has only been out for a few weeks, by this time, it seems like everyone in the world has seen it. Avengers: Endgame is not just breaking box office records; it’s decimating them. (Get it? Decimate? Thanos and the Decimation? Moving on…) This won’t be a review, it’s too late for one of those. Besides, this is not a movie that really needs a review. It’s the culmination of an eleven year, 22 film journey that started back with the 2008 release of Iron Man. Marvel has been building to this point for over a decade and from our perspective, they have closed out this particular chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in spectacular fashion. The movie is an incredible climax: exciting, funny, and most of all, emotionally satisfying. It’s one giant blockbuster that is 100% worth the hype. Instead of writing a review, we’ve decided to have a couple of the REO staff write about their favorite scenes or moments in the film. We hope you enjoy our take on this historic film. And if you are one of the 6 people in the country to have not seen it yet, what are you waiting for? Side note: If you want to read a wonderful exploration of the film, from a deep theological framework, read this from the good folks over at The Rabbit Room. Oh, and if the title of the article didn’t make it clear, there will be spoilers throughout. You have been warned.

Family Matters by Phill Lytle

I love that the filmmakers gave the film room to breathe. What do I mean by that? They didn’t rush the quiet, introspective moments to get to the next big action sequence. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the action sequences. They are exciting and fun and a feast for the eyes. So many big blockbuster-type films, especially films like Endgame that are the climax of a series, go too big for their own good. They incorrectly believe that fans want bigger and more insane action scenes. I’m sure some fans want that. I think most want a complete conclusion, and that is impossible if there is not an emotional payoff.

I started crying from the very first scene. If you have paid any attention to the films, you knew what was coming. The moment you see Hawkeye (Clint Barton) and his family enjoying a picnic outside, you knew the film was about to punch you in the gut. And it did. Seeing the fear, confusion, and overwhelming panic on his face when his family vanishes (he didn’t actually see any of them turn to dust) was heartbreaking. As a father, that scene put me in the perfect emotional state for the rest of the film.

The payoff is perfect as well. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it type of scene but it’s played so perfectly by Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) that I had to force down a sob. The team gets all the stones, builds a new gauntlet, and Hulk performs the snap to hopefully bring everyone back. (If that sentence made no sense to you, you haven’t seen the film and shouldn’t be reading this anyway.) In the adjoining room, Hawkeye’s phone rings. He looks at it and you can see the competing emotions in his eyes. Hope and fear. He walks over to pick up the phone and he sees that it is his wife calling. The snap worked. It’s almost too much for him to handle. His family is back. His subtle yet impossible to miss reaction was too much for me to handle. I cried. Hard. And it made me so happy because it proved once again the filmmakers cared about these little moments. They cared about making this a complete experience and not just a lot of lights, explosions, and digital awesomeness. For this film to work as well as it did, they had to get to the very emotional core of these characters and this story. And they did.

 

Captain America Returns to His Lost One True Love by Ben Plunkett

Ever since the ending of the first Captain America movie, I have been heartbroken for the elderly yet still young superhero. (Well, I guess I wouldn’t say heartbroken, but I felt bad for the old fella). Forever would time separate him from his true love, Peggy Carter. This heartbrokenness was amped up in Captain America: The Winter Soldier after he spent a few last tearful moments with an elderly dying Peggy. In the years afterward he had ample opportunity to become romantic with other women, yet despite the separation of time, he remained true to Peggy. (Okay, there was obviously some romantic feelings going on between him and Sharon Carter, Peggy’s great-niece, in Captain America: Civil year, but it really didn’t go much further than a passionate kiss and some longing looks.).

Then we were to revisit the grief once again in Endgame after a time-traveling Captain America witnessed a middle-aged Peggy still working at a military base and the yearning returned. It was likely then that he formed his plan. In what I consider the most emotional moment in the movie, having finished helping save the universe, Captain America went back in time to spend life with Peggy. It makes his story arc so powerful that behind all of it is his undying love for her. Look at it: He meets and falls forever in love with her in Captain America: The First Avenger; after years of separation has a final heartfelt visit to a dying Peggy in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; is traumatized by her death in Captain America: Civil War; renews his longing to return to her after seeing her during his time-traveling adventures in Endgame; and ends up going back in time to join her at the end of the movie. In essence, the theme of Captain America’s entire superhero career is Peggy.

 

“Hug it out, bro!” by Phill Lytle

I realize that Tony Stark’s big moment – you know the one I am talking about – is getting the most attention. And it’s well deserved. Having Tony be the one who finally defeats Thanos, and doing it in a way that only Tony could – with style and attitude – is pretty much perfect filmmaking. That’s not the moment that stood out to me the most, though.

From the very beginning, Tony has been evolving. He began his journey a man who is only concerned about himself and ends as someone who is selfless and sacrificial. His relationship with Peter Parker (Spider-Man) has been a great example of that growth. He cares about the kid, but it took him all the way until the end of Endgame to really show just how much. Peter has been craving a father figure for much of his life, ever since his uncle died. He latches onto Tony in a way that only a young man in need of guidance and love would. And Tony is mostly up for the task, though he still holds back. Losing Peter at the end of Infinity War did something to Tony. It broke him. You can see it all over his face when he first gets back to earth and reconnects with Steve Rogers (Captain America). He “lost the kid.” But Tony is remade when he becomes a biological father. He finally has all of his selfishness, his ego, and his self-centeredness stripped away for good. He has his family, but when duty calls, and he realizes he is the only one who can make the plan work, he jumps back into the fray. This time, though, he does it as a new man. A man who will risk everything to save the universe.

On the battlefield, as the forces of good fight the forces of evil, Tony and Peter reconnect. Peter immediately does what Peter does best – he talks excitedly about all that has happened to him since they last saw each other. Tony sees Peter and reacts in a way the old Tony never could have: He hugs Peter. He embraces him like a father. Peter is shocked at first because Tony has made it clear in the past that hugging is not something he is interested in. When Peter realizes the hug is real, he calms. He rests. He is at peace because he finally has a man to be his mentor and father figure. “This is nice” doesn’t even begin to describe how emotionally pure and powerful that moment is for Peter, and for Tony. They both needed that hug at that moment. We all did.

 

Black Widow’s Arc by Ben Plunkett

I think most Avenger fans correctly guessed at least one major Avenger would die in Endgame. I guessed Iron Man correctly but would not have guessed Black Widow. If I had ranked the original six Avenger’s probability of dying in Endgame, she would have been last on my list. But now that I think of it, it was an inspired choice. She, more than any of the others, was close to several: She had a romantic history with the Hulk (with obvious lingering feelings); a long friendship with Stark before they even joined their superhero forces; and very close (and totally platonic) friendships with Hawkeye and Captain America. (Sorry, Thor. We’ll just assume the two got along just fine.)

Her friendship with Captain America is what has most interested me. It is one of the finest platonic friendship arcs that began in the Winter Soldier. It has been well chronicled since that time. Captain America acted as something more than just a good friend; he was almost like a mentor. He showed her how to be a superhero of integrity and selflessness. I’d like to think during his final time traveling mission to replace the infinity stones, he had more than one secret personal mission. I’d like to think that he stopped off to keep his dear friend who has always had his back from dying at the base of that cliff. I’m sure that is just a pipe dream and probably wouldn’t be feasible. But the thought makes me happy, so back off.

Side Note: This is not the last we’ve seen of Natasha since a Black Widow movie is currently in the works.

 

He is Worthy by Phill Lytle

I have to admit, the moment that caused my jaw to drop the most was one I should have seen coming but didn’t. If worthiness is the qualification for being able to wield Mjolnir, then who could possibly be more worthy than Steve Rogers? Avengers: Age of Ultron hinted at this possibility in one of my favorite scenes of that film as multiple characters take a shot at lifting Thor’s mighty hammer. None of them does, though Steve Rogers causes it to move almost imperceptibly. Thor notices, that’s for sure. I’ve always wondered if Steve realized he could lift it at that point and chose not to follow through. Whatever the reason, the idea was planted and I am thrilled the Russo brothers chose to pay it off during the climax of Endgame. Seeing Mjolnir fly back to Captain America and then watching him use it in such a spectacular fashion is definitely one of the highlights of the film for me. I don’t get giddy very often watching films anymore. I tell myself I’m too old for that sort of thing. But this, this made me giddy. I smiled like an idiot and soaked up the entire sequence.

What about you? What were some of your favorite moments or scenes? Post them in the comment section below.




Five of Our Favorite Chewbacca Scenes in Honor of Peter Mayhew’s Passing

Actor Peter Mayhew died on April 30, 2019. He was 74 years old. You might not recognize that name. While Mayhew’s face did appear on screen in a few films, he is best known for helping create the character of Chewbacca for the Star Wars films. Peter was a tall man – 7 foot 3 inches at his tallest. He brought Chewbacca to life with his mannerisms, his physicality, and his presence. Through Mayhew’s impressive performance, we always knew what Chewie was thinking and saying even though we couldn’t understand the language he used. He took what could have been a mostly forgettable creature and turned Chewie into a fan favorite. Seriously, ask any Star Wars fan how they feel about Chewbacca and you won’t hear a negative word. So, in honor of Peter’s life and his work, we want to spotlight some of our favorite Chewbacca moments from the Star Wars films. We hope you enjoy reading our favorites and we would love to read about some of yours in the comment section below.


Chewbacca Reunites With a Recently Decarbonized Solo – by Benjamin Plunkett

The entire trilogy is very clear that Chewbecca would have done anything for Han Solo. So it comes as no surprise at all when at the end of Empire Strikes Back he joins Lando on a dedicated mission to rescue Han in his carbonated imprisonment. I don’t think Return of the Jedi gives the exact details of what went down between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but the beginning of Return of the Jedi features bounty hunter-costumed Leia “selling” Chewbecca to Jabba the Hut, Solo’s captor. (“At last we have the mighty Chewbecca”). Chewbecca self-sacrificially allows this daring stunt solely so Leia could have the chance to free Solo in the dead of night. But after the plan is foiled at the last minute, Solo is tossed into prison with Chewbecca. The reunion is awesome.

I kind of wonder if Chewbecca knew of or expected a plan to help him escape or if his sole concern was sacrificing his own freedom to help his best friend. Whatever the case, he took the risk because Han was that important to him. While this might not be my very favorite Chewbecca moment (ROTJ is full of my favorite Chewbecca moments), it is at least equal to the best of them.


“Let the Wookie win.” – by D.A. Speer

My favorite Chewie moment is the iconic “let the Wookie win” scene in A New Hope. R2D2 and Chewie are facing off in a game of Dejarik, and C-3PO tells R2 to be careful. R2 makes a good move and Chewie gets upset. Han says “Let him have it. It’s not wise to upset a Wookiee.” C-3PO replies “But sir. Nobody worries about upsetting a droid.” Then Han says, “That’s cause a droid don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookiees are known to do that.” Chewie leans back and puts his arms behind his head with a smirk on his face. That’s just stellar acting, and I laugh every single time. 3PO’s advice to R2, “new strategy…let the Wookie win,” is the icing on the cake.


Chewbacca’s Defining Character Trait – by Phill Lytle

I don’t have one specific scene that stands out above the rest. I have a character trait. Chewbacca was fiercely loyal. You see it repeatedly throughout the films. One of my favorite examples comes on Cloud City (Bespin) when Chewbacca finds out that C-3PO is being torn apart and destroyed. He yells, rages, fights, and somehow finds all the parts that have already been ripped off, and protectively shields them from any more damage. He then puts C-3PO back together in hilarious fashion, but he does it lovingly.

My other example happens in the final scene between Chewie and Han. In The Force Awakens, Han confronts his long-lost son, Kylo Ren (AKA: Ben Solo) who is on his way to fully embracing the Dark Side. Chewbacca watches it all happen from a distance. When Kylo strikes down Chewie’s oldest friend and companion, he loses it. He shoots everything in sight while releasing a heartbroken cry only he could make. It broke my heart to see Chewie hurt like that. But, it also solidified in my mind that it would be impossible to find a better friend than Chewbacca.


Chewie Saves the Day! – by Gowdy Cannon

My favorite Chewbacca scene is in Return of the Jedi on Endor when an AT-ST (yes I had to look that up) comes towards Han and he is sure he is caught and the top flings open and out pop Chewie! Things are so tense as the three climactic battles—Lando and his crew in the air, Han and his crew on the ground and Luke vs. The Emperor and Vader—rage on. And then this happens and for a few seconds, all the intensity is lost in laughter. That one moment in time represents everything I have loved about that character for nearly 40 years now…comedy and heroism. He is a fantastic combination of both and yet he is so much more than comedic relief or even just a sidekick. Something special is lost without his presence.


The Goodly Wookie and His Stomach – by Nathan Patton

I’ve always felt that Chewie and I have a lot in common. We’re scruffy but lovable. Intensely loyal and brave. Intelligent. Possessing superhuman strength. Speak mostly in grunts and growls… and have a tendency, despite the aforementioned superior intellect, to do dumb things when we’re hungry.

This is why I’m quite fond of the scene in Episode VI on the forest moon of Endor when Chewie and the rest of the gang are searching for Leia. The natives so graciously left a choice cut of meat in their path, and it would’ve been quite rude to ignore it. They needed to keep up their strength to continue the search anyway.

Of course, it was a trap, quite obvious in retrospect, but that’s what happens when you think with your stomach rather than your brain as even the best of us are wont to do on occasion.





The Pursuit of Perfect Fiction

Hours after coming home from the theater and watching a certain popular movie (okay, fine, it was Endgame), I found myself coming back to some all-too-familiar thoughts: “I wish that this certain scene hadn’t been in the movie” or “This one thing they did undermines what they are trying to say” and so on. But, most unusually, I woke up around 4 AM with those thoughts still on my mind…and with me realizing suddenly that I am much more like those I seek to criticize than I would have dared to admit hours before.

There is seemingly just no end in sight for the need to feel “represented” on the big screen. No longer content to be passive in the experience of art, specifically when it comes to the movies, so many of us want to reach forward and rearrange the things we see. Take this character out, or add more of this character. Take this one scene out, or add in three more. My sudden realization was that in my own desire for movies to give a better, more fully-realized picture of the things that are “true and beautiful”…was I not also asking for the same things?

A good story is unique in the way that it moves our hearts because it doesn’t come to us as a pedantic teacher, slapping our hands and pejoratively instructing us on right and wrong. Instead, it comes to us like a child, sweetly and authentically. We willingly allow a good story to get past our defenses…to get to those places that we stuff way down inside and never like to talk about. The places where a therapist could spend a lifetime and never reach. The emotions we feel when we read or see, or even hear such a story often resonate with us down to the very core of our being. So naturally, when we are so moved, we are also unnerved. What next? Now that these emotions have been brought to the surface, what now? So often the answer seems to be that we then attempt to “play god” with the stories, making them into something much bigger than they are. We want the characters to not just be characters any longer, we want them to be ours. Or to put it a better way, we ask of the film, or show, or game that it be our god, that it would be perfect, and we will settle for nothing short of that perfection. In many ways, we get in the way of any reasonable criticism when our unreasonable demands are ever front and center.

Our stories themselves cannot bear that kind of burden, no matter how good they are. Even if I were to write a story (and I have tried), there will always be some aspect with which I assuredly would never find a deep, moving level of satisfaction. The problem isn’t so much in our limitations in creativity, although that is a problem we have to wrestle with. The problem is much more than movies and characters can only go so far in meeting the needs that they have the ability to touch. We reach out for their imaginary hands and find nothing but air, bringing ours back figuratively empty and leaving an uncomfortable void. And so, we lobby that much harder for the next character, for the next movie, or for the next game to be the “right one”, pushing ever onward in an obsessive quest for a utopia that will never come.

From a materialistic perspective, stories are just mere evolutionary traits that are exhibited by life-forms with an advanced intellect that ultimately serve no purpose other than the survival of our species. In these terms though, the difficult feelings that stories bring to the surface end up forcing despair on us. After all, from such a philosophy, there is no real hope beyond the physical.

From a particularly Christian worldview, however, good stories, even in their imperfection, are gifts given to us that point to a much greater Story. They are small peeks behind the curtain so that we can get small tastes of the greater reality, those Beautiful and True things that lie in wait for us. We have a Story where the hero is real so that when we do reach out our hands, the grasp is met. A hero who can be, actually and fully, ours (Keller has a great perspective on this in the third point of an Easter sermon here). And a hero whose hands, figuratively, can bear the very real burdens of pain, suffering, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, restlessness, sadness, brokenness, and even death.

“All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matt. 11:29-30




500 Words or Less Review: Captain Marvel

Something you will notice on REO is that we write about the things we love. That means you will rarely see reviews for movies we dislike or are ambivalent about. There have been a few films we have chosen to write about that we don’t consider all-time favorites, but in the end, we would rather spend our time writing about the things we love instead of cranking out reviews for movies that are merely entertaining.

Enter Captain Marvel.

I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are some great films in that lineup and many other fun movies. I enjoy the blueprint that Marvel has created. Yes, the MCU is starting to show its seams a bit, 20+ films in, but they do the whole superhero thing better than anyone so even at their worst, there is still plenty of entertainment to be had.

Marvel films are not high cinema but they accomplish exactly what they set out to and that is enough for me. Captain Marvel is no different in this regard. It’s an origin story for Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel). It’s full of exposition, action scenes, comedic moments, heart, and MCU world-building. It is perfectly adequate in accomplishing its goals.

Unfortunately, it is rarely more than adequate. That does not make it a bad film. I enjoyed watching it, but it never reaches greatness. It flirts with greatness a few times but those moments are too few and far between. It is saddled with a lead character that is frustratingly a blank slate for much of the film. Brie Larson is a good actress. (Watch Room if you need any proof.) In this movie, she is so muted in her reactions at certain points and then tries so hard in others to strike the perfect “I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR” poses, it’s hard to take the character as seriously as we should. Other actors fare better, with Samuel L. Jackson’s turn as a young Nick Fury being a highlight. The action sequences are fine and a few of them are pretty exciting, but none of them reach the heights of some of the other MCU films. The score is good though I can’t remember any major themes. The soundtrack is way too on the nose for its own good. (The worst offender is No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” during one of the climactic scenes.)

If this sounds like I didn’t like the movie, that’s too bad. It was fine. I laughed plenty – there were some characters that were unexpectedly very funny. And the big moment where our protagonist comes into her own is handled very well.

I’ll leave it at this: If you enjoy the MCU films, you will likely enjoy this one. Your mileage may vary but I imagine you will find something to appreciate. If you are not a fan of the MCU, I have no idea how this film would appeal to you at all.

Captain Marvel is a solid, if unspectacular addition to the MCU.




Creed II Spoiler Review: Two Sequels, One Film

The belt ain’t enough. You need a narrative. One that sticks to the ribs.”
[Buddy Marcelle, to Adonis]

“Don’t you pretend this is about your father.”
[Mary Anne Creed, to Adonis]


A truly notable aspect of the original Rocky is that there is essentially zero background given for any character. A quote of advice his dad gave him and a brief glance at picture on his mirror of himself as a child is it for Rocky himself. The fact Stallone was able to make people love this character based entirely on what happens in that one film and not on some sentimental life circumstance, like being an orphan, is amazing. With seven subsequent stories, each movie serves as its own background for the next and that is why the franchise has been so successful over four decades.

In this respect, Creed II is such an avalanche of sequel (I can’t think of a better noun than that) I needed two passes to take it all in. I didn’t mind, of corse, as I watch all Rocky movies over and over and had zero doubt I would want to see this one at least twice in the theater.

The reason I allude to above that I needed two viewings is what makes this movie special. The first viewing I was so consumed with the continuation of the Rocky IV story that I had a hard time assimilating the Creed narrative. Rocky IV, while not the best of these films, is the most re-watchable to me and is exploding with personality. You can’t have an all-time American sports movie icon vs. a roided-up Russian in the 80s with death on the line and not get a movie to remember. And that fight is the best sporting event in film to me. So in every scene in Creed II with any combination of Drago and Rocky, I was locked in like a fat guy watching the dessert table at a church potluck.

As such, everything that happens with Donnie and Bianca and even Rocky’s story arc from Creed needed a second viewing to truly appreciate. With substantial background from two movies to consider, my brain just couldn’t take it all in. And as I watched it a second time in the theater back in November it was then I realized this movie is truly two sequels in one and that I, personally, needed to see it twice: once with “Rocky IV Part 2” eyes and once with “Creed I Part 2” eyes. It is through this lens I will be giving this review, which is packed with spoilers.


Rocky IV, Part 2

As I said in my Rocky rankings back in November, I deeply and significantly appreciated that in Creed the producers masterfully blended an old story with a new one, giving fresh life and a younger audience to one of the great stories we have in America cinema. I didn’t assume that Creed would pay meaningful homage to Rocky. I knew he was in it but I assumed this new Michael B. Jordan character would be the dominant focus and the Rocky universe would play a minor role. That didn’t happen. Stallone’s Rocky was prominent and major and minor allusions to the previous six movies were everywhere.

This movie does the same, but on steroids. If you loved Rocky IV, you can’t help but adore the bulk of this movie. It’s literally Apollo Creed’s son vs. Ivan Drago’s son in a boxing ring. That as a premise is epic in and of itself, and I know that word is overused these days so I use it sparingly and accurately here.

But Rocky’s history with Drago is even more intense. The moment in the trailer when Rocky comes face-to-face with Drago in the ring for a Donnie/Viktor bout flooded my soul with joy and is without question made me want to see this move more than any other trailer has for any other movie ever. My favorite moment in the actual movie is when Drago stops by the restaurant to chat with Rocky, at which point I nearly passed out from all of the oxygen leaving my head causing my heart to beat a gazillion miles a hour. This whole scene immediately became an unforgettable part of Rocky lore. And the crowning jewel of that scene is when Drago opens up his dialogue by noticing that there are no pictures of his fight with Rocky on the wall, as there are of all of Rocky’s other legendary victories. Rocky replies, “No, there ain’t nothing from that in here.”. Later, Rocky is trying to talk Donnie out of taking the Drago fight and he says, “He broke things in me that ain’t never been fixed.” Both of those quotes not only caused me to feel deep emotion, they both do something that I profoundly appreciate: they make me love Rocky IV even more. Knowing the impact of the events of that fight for Rocky 33 years later only serves to make those events even more entertaining. This is something I am hoping these extra Harry Potter plays and movies would do but have not yet[1. The Fantastic Beasts movies are still good, for what it’s worth.].

Something this movie does that Rocky IV didn’t do is to give Drago and his son actual character. Drago was sensational as the villain in Rocky IV in one snese, but he was pretty flat and cartoony (a legit critique I made for Rocky IV in general in my last articles) and only had like 7 lines, half of which aren’t in English.[2.Because apparently his tongue didn’t come through customs.] Drago and Vicktor by contrast are not simple characters in this installment and they even make you feel for them at the end. I was thrilled to see Viktor and his father as humans, and not just “Bad Russian Men.” Even if the plot to achieve that was a tad cheesy and the standard “They are messed up because the mother/wife left them” trope. The moment at the climax where you think Drago is going to walk out as Viktor’s mother did, but instead throws in the towel, is tearjerking. And while it was quite different in key ways, that simple action also took Rocky fans back to IV.

Lastly I will add that even though the Rocky references (both subtle and unmistakable) are mainly from IV, there are plenty of plot points and dialogue that recall the other movies. A huge one is the fact that Adonis fights and loses and then wins the rematch, which has echoes of Rocky III. A more obvious one that I loved with my whole heart was when Donnie was extremely nervous about proposing and asked Rocky what he said to Adrian. Rocky quotes himself from II directly: “I asked her if she wouldn’t mind marrying me too much,” which is classic Rocky vernacular. I do think they missed a fantastic moment to have Rocky recall that he asked her what she was “doing the next 40 or 50 years” prior to that, but maybe they felt it would have made the scene less poignant. As a Rocky fan, I feel Rocky’s entire marriage proposal to Adrian would have been worth quoting.


Creed 1, Part 2

Not to be diminished by the Rocky IV hoopla is how beautifully and satisfying Donnie and Bianca’s narrative is advanced. After one viewing I wasn’t sure how I felt about all of these plot points, but after I had a chance to focus on them my second viewing (instead of the ‘other’ sequel), I lauded them.

First, Donnie being nervous about proposing allowed the callback to Rocky II, but it was also not lost on me that this cocky, smooth-talking, champion boxer was overwhelmed and flummoxed by the moment and needed help. This was a touching scene and made Donnie a relatable everyman for a moment, and hence, a better character. This kind of humility will always endear me.

And the storytelling wrenches the heart even more when this young couple has to deal with the possibility that their daughter inherited hearing loss from the mother. The moment when Bianca sees her husband break down when their daughter doesn’t respond to the test was some of the finest acting I saw in 2018. One of my brothers (the same one who allegedly tears up at the end of Rocky II, but I still will not name) texted me after he saw the movie to say that he shed tears at several moments but this was the toughest one.

For my money the most emotional moment was also on his list: Donnie visiting Apollo’s grave at the end. I wept for sure. A close second is also at the very end when Rocky visits Robert and his grandson he doesn’t know. It saddened me that they did not include Robert in Creed but for one passing comment, but I assumed it was because Sage Stallone had recently died and it would have been awkward for real life Sly Stallone for his fictional son (once played by Sage) to be included. Why else would Robert not show up when Rocky had cancer? As they kept mentioning him in this sequel, it was killing me that Rocky was estranged from him and his only grandchild. Rocky was a family man before Adrian died and it is almost perverse for him be going through life with only a surrogate son in Donnie. So when he predictably travels to Canada in the very last scene, I beamed like a new parent at a newborn child. I also nearly jumped out of my skin when it was revealed that Robert was again portrayed by Milo Ventimiglia, reprising that role from Balboa. My wife will testify that as Rocky got close to the house, I kept nudging her and whispering “Will it be Milo? Will it be Jack?” (His name on This Is Us) to the point of being annoying. Having Milo and Michael B. Jordan in the same movie should be illegal it’s so good.


One Unified Movie

I do not want to imply the movie was fragmented at all. The writing and direction blended the two sequels magnificently, like two lines that run so closely together they are distinct yet clearly connected, and that touch at key points. Perhaps the best illustration of this is how both Donnie and Rocky cannot escape the demons of the 1985 Creed-Drago fight and specifically Apollo’s death: Rocky for not throwing the towel and Donnie for never knowing his father. They produced one sequel to two classic movies so well so that I am tempted to put this chapter in the Rocky saga near the top of the rankings, just behind the original. It is that good. The heart of Rocky and the spirit of Creed are interwoven together like magic and I am excited that now it is on Blu-Ray and DVD, I can watch it as many times as I want.

Five Stars out of Five





Five of Our Favorite “Mad Scientists” From Film and Television

What constitutes a “mad scientist”? Single-minded focus? Crazy, sometimes dangerous inventions? Wild and unruly hair? A white lab coat? If those are the qualifications, we think the five we came up with fit the bill almost perfectly. This is not a best-of list. (We give official REO Top Ten rankings when we post stuff like that.) No, these are simply some of our favorites that we felt would be fun to write about. We hope you enjoy the list and feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comment section below the article.


Doc Brown – The Back to the Future Trilogy

You know you belong in this group when actual dialogue from your movie describes you as “a crazy, wild-eyed old man who claims to be a scientist.” Michael J. Fox may have owned the 80s in some sense, but he would have just been an average teenager in these films without its other crucial piece, Doc Brown. He had some timeless catchphrases that my brothers and friends and I still quote today: “88 MILES PER HOUR!!!” and “ONE. POINT. TWENTY-ONE GIGAWATTS!!” He was, to me, the brightest star of these movies.

And we loved Christopher Lloyd for it. I was young and naive when Back to the Future was new and so I thought he looked just like Doc Brown. I remember reading in TV Guide that he was going to do a guest spot on Cheers once and I watched the episode and was stunned at how he looked. Because the crazy wild-eyed (and wild-haired) scientist was nowhere to be found. And that’s how he will always be to me, even though he had a great career outside of this trilogy. Doc Brown is an icon of the 80s and an absolute treasure of a role. (Gowdy Cannon)


Flint Lockwood – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Flint Lockwood is different. Always has been. His entire life he has cared about only one thing: inventing things that will help others. Most of the time, his inventions end up causing more problems than they fix, but that doesn’t deter him in the least. At a young age he invented spray-on shoes that unfortunately he was never able to take off. He also invented rat-birds for some unknown reason and they have harassed his home-town (home-island?) of Swallow Falls ever since.

When we meet him as an adult near the beginning of the movie, he is working on the greatest invention of his life – a machine that will convert water into food. Any kind of food imaginable. Through some happy accidents, his machine actually works and things start to look up for Flint. He meets a girl. The town loves him – a big change from their usual annoyance. Of course, being a movie, things go wrong, Flint has to save the day and learn a few important life lessons along the way.

What makes Flint Lockwood so memorable is that he is not at all like any other heroic lead I’ve ever seen in a film. He is weird. He has very few social skills. He narrates all of his actions in his laboratory as he performs them. He has a pet monkey named “Steve.” Flint is odd, funny, unpredictable, and full of unexpected humor and heart. He stacks up with the best of the mad scientists out there. (Phill Lytle)


Doc Heller – Mystery Men

Doc Heller fits right in with his clientele, the oddball wannabe superheroes on the 1999 superhero comedy, Mystery Men. Doc Heller has a genius mind which he uses for all manner of insane inventions for things such as aromatherapy, laser hair removal, carnival rides, and a chicken rental business. He’s also an inventor of non-lethal weaponry for The Mystery Men team. This includes things like Canned Tornado, the Blame Thrower, the Shrinker, the Hair Dryer, and Glue Grenades.

Heller first garners the patronage of the Mystery Men after they fail to stop the Red Eyes from robbing a nursing home. Fortunately, Doc Heller is there on the scene romancing a resident and witnesses the whole incident. It is then that he tells The Shoveler that he has the non-lethal weapons they need to come out on top. Good ol’ Doc for the win!

While Heller is never actually made an official part of the team, his mad scientist-ery is instrumental in the final defeat of the archvillain, Casanova Frankenstein. (Ben Plunkett)


Doctor Heinz Doofenshmirtz – Phineas and Ferb.

You could argue that the appropriately named Heinz Doofenshmirtz is only one of three “mad scientist” in this fantastic Disney television show. Both Phineas and Ferb are master scientists in their own right. I would not classify them as “mad” as they don’t seem to be consumed by their work. Heinz, on the other hand, is completely consumed. His tragic (and hilarious) backstory sheds some light on how he turned into the crazy and power hungry inventor we see in the show. His inventions (“inators” of various kinds) are always far too convoluted for their own good and his end-game goal of conquering the entire “tri-state area” is incredibly limited in scope, which only adds to his charm.

Doofenshmirtz is full of one-liners, comic pratfalls, and running gags. His epic fights with Perry the Platypus are a thing of legend. (Seriously, if this doesn’t qualify him for iconic status, I don’t know if anyone qualifies.) While his failures are numerous, he keeps on trying, giving all future mad scientists a perfect role model. There are very few TV characters that make me laugh more than Dr. Doofenshmirtz, and that is enough justification for including him in this list. (Phill Lytle)


Frederick Frankenstein – Young Frankenstein


Frederick is of this infamous Frankenstein family line. He is so ashamed of his mad scientist ancestry that he pronounces it Fronk-en-steen in order to hide this embarrassing fact. At the beginning of the movie, Young Frankenstein (directed by Mel Brooks), Frederick has successfully spent years in adamant denial of his mad scientist family lineage. All of this changes after he inherits the castle of his great-grandfather, Baron Beavort von Frankenstein, the father of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the even more infamous monster. (Many incorrectly know this monster by the name of Frankenstein when it was really Frankenstein’s Monster. Come on!)

In the end, Frederick (played to comedic perfection by Gene Wilder) returns to his family home, to his grandfather’s laboratory, and learns to embrace his inner mad scientist. With Wilder’s perfectly disheveled hair and mad eyes, one truly believes he has transformed into the mad scientist role. Verily, it is his destiny. He is assisted by the buffoonish yet well-meaning Igor (pronounced Eye-gore), a descendant of a long line of hunchbacks who have served the Frankenstein family; the beautiful Inga (Teri Garr) and Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), the Frankenstein castle housekeeper and possessor of a number of dark family secrets.

Frederick’s mad scientist antics do not end with the famous “It’s Alive!” moment. Oh no. Indeed, he is so obsessed with his creation, he loves it so deeply that he takes it to the stage where the two perform “Putting on the Ritz” for the masses. (Ben Plunkett)





500 Words or Less Review: Winchester ’73

While growing up the Jimmy Stewart Western, Winchester ’73, was a much-loved family treasure. Through the years this movie has been quoted by our clan hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. While it has long remained close to my heart, I long considered I loved it so much because I had grown up loving it along with my kin.

Nay, my friends. Nay, I say. For after much time of having not watched it (A couple of years), I viewed it again this past weekend. It earns all the praise it gets and well deserves to be considered a great Western classic.

Released in 1950, Winchester ’73 was not Stewart’s first foray into the Western genre. He had dabbled in it years before. His most recent prior to Winchester ’73 was Destry Rides Again in 1939. However, this was his first entry in a string of Westerns throughout most of the rest of his career. It was also his first time working with director Anthony Mann, with whom he would go on to do four more Westerns by 1955.

As the title suggests, the movie is partially about a prized gun and how it is stolen from the man who won it legitimately (Stewart) and thereafter passes from one ill-fated possessor to another. However, it is also about a long-standing feud between two childhood friends, both crack shots.

The story commences in Dodge City with a shooting competition to win the legendary gun. The deadly feud began many years before, but both are there for the much-heralded prize. After a phenomenal competition, our hero Lin McAdam wins by successfully shooting through a stamp midair. However, his sworn enemy (“Dutch” Henry Brown) steals the gun from him immediately following the competition. And so, the movie follows two storylines, the line of the Winchester as it is passed from one person to another and another line following McAdam and his friend and partner High Spade as they continue the pursuit of Henry Brown.

To give any further details would be to ruin it for those who have yet to see this gem. The two story-lines run close together, sometimes even crossing paths until they are finally united. Along the way, you will meet a battle-scarred Indian chief, an Indian trader, a beleaguered cavalry unit, and a “crazy yellow” coward. While most of these guys are bad to some degree, the main baddies are two bank robber gang leaders (a very memorable “Waco” Johnny Dean and the aforementioned “Dutch” Henry Brown.)

The movie stars some heavy hitters of the silver screen of yesteryear including Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Milliard Mitchell, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and Jay Flippen. Out of context, the dialogue isn’t that extraordinary, but these actors (and probably their director) made it eternally quotable.

Suggestion: Don’t watch this movie expecting the best Western you have ever seen. If you do, you will be disappointed. While Winchester ’73 is a superb example of the classic Western, it is not in the very top tier of all time.




REO Presents: New Year’s Recommendations

We write reviews often. We’ve also had a semi-consistent book review/recommendation series. (We really need to update that…) This will be a little different. Instead of focusing on one thing: movies, books, music, etc… we are going to try to paint a broad view of things we love that we think you should check out. These blurbs are going to be fast and furious – all around 200 words and all about things we think are pretty great. Consider them our New Year’s gift to you.


Gowdy Cannon

TV Show – Chuck

This is not a popular show but my wife and I watched it this year on Amazon Prime Video. I was blown away. It’s not like any other TV show I’ve watched. It defies any genre box. It may be a comedy at its heart but it has extremely well-executed action scenes and its most important story arc is romance. In a world full of Ross and Rachels it dared to give us Bartwoski and Walker. This show reached deep and pulled wonderful emotion from me often.

Levi, Stahovski, Gomez, and Baldwin are unforgettable as the main players and like any TV show worth watching the role players are dynamite, highlighted by Jeffster! and their hijinks and musical concerts (which were basically the same thing). It is also replete with unforgettable guest stars and if you loved the 80s as much as I did, you will probably get giddy with their choices.

It can be a tad campy and goofy at times, but that never bothered me. It is exceptional at its strengths and it was fantastic entertainment for five seasons.

Food – Bojangles

It’s a shame that so often in America if you claim you like something, people sometimes interpret that to mean you do not like other similar things. I love Chick-Fil-A and think it is blessed by God, but I also eat and thoroughly enjoy KFC and Popeye’s. And to me, the second best chicken place I’ve had in my life is Bojangles, which seems to be less known than these other three. Probably because it is so regional (though its regional fans are pretty passionate from what I can tell).

Whether sandwiches, strips, sides, or those glorious biscuits, Bojangles has excellent quality in taste. There used to be one in Turbeville, SC and any time I was down there visiting family and someone said, “Let’s just pick up some Bojangles for lunch” I would get quite excited. No place has equaled CFA to me but this place is close. And it deserves a huge fanbase.


Ben Plunkett

Book – Strange Stories, Amazing Facts of America’s Past

Throughout most of the second decade of my childhood (about 11-18) I was obsessed with what I called fact books (Most people know them as books of trivia, but I prefer fact books. I suppose they might not be useful for a person’s day to day life, but is any information actually useless? I think not.)

Anyway, when I was 16 my parents got me this particular quality hardback fact book for Christmas. While I am no longer consumed with fact books and have sold most of them, I still have this one and still read portions of it now and then. This book does not attempt to cover all the important basics of American history. What it does do is to highlight fascinating stories about its history that are not discussed much or at all in history class. My edition was published by Reader’s Digest in 1989. They published a new edition in 2007. I cannot comment on that edition since I have not read it yet.

TV Show – Better Call Saul

I realize this show is fairly popular but I don’t understand why this show isn’t more popular than it is. My guess is that people were disappointed that Better Call Saul, which serves as a prequel to Breaking Bad, wasn’t a clone of its predecessor regarding its how the story plays out. It is true that the two shows have the same basic outer feel and framework. It is also abundantly clear that the two are part of the same universe (if you are familiar with both, that is). But the individual stories themselves are very different. Better Call Saul is less dark, intense than Breaking Bad. It is also basically an extremely well fleshed out legal story with multiple intriguing plotlines and angles. The show stars Bob Odenkirk who plays Jimmy McGill AKA Saul Goodman but also stars an amazing ensemble cast. Odenkirk and every one of his co-stars bring it every episode. Forgive the hyperbole but most of them deserve every acting award in the history of mankind.

I will probably be destroyed for saying this, but I believe Better Call Saul is better than Break. In fact, it is in the running for my favorite show of all time. It had an extremely good first season and has been greater every season (It recently finished its fourth).


D.A. Speer

Board Game: Dropmix

One of the most off-the-radar board games right now sounds like something right out of the future. DropMix (created by Harmonix studios…you know, the same team that created Rock Band) has players placing cards onto an electronic, Bluetooth-powered board with six spaces for cards. Each card in the deck has a chip inside of it, and each card space is equipped with a wireless chip reader. When you place a card on the board, the game (which runs on a tablet or phone that sits at the front of the board) reads it, syncs it to BPM and the set key, and then incorporates the loop into the mix. There are cards that have drum loops, vocal tracks, instrument tracks, or even custom-designed effects.

You can DJ your own set in “Freestyle” mode, go head to head in a VS mode, or even play a new Puzzle game based on a surprisingly interesting card game that is incorporated. The music source material is all over the place (electronic, rock, country, pop), and more expansion packs are coming out all the time. You can find the base set on sale frequently…I bought a new one for $30! At the very least, check it out on YouTube and marvel at the technical genius:


Phill Lytle

Food – Aldi “Journey to India” Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce

In the past few years, my wife and I have fallen in love with Indian food. Unfortunately, it’s cost-prohibitive to get it as often as we would like. Enter: Aldi and their amazing sauce in a jar. I was skeptical it would taste anywhere close to restaurant quality, but I was wrong. We keep things simple with some seasoned chicken we sauté in olive oil and some steamed veggies added to the sauce to make it a bit more “healthy.” We serve it over white Basmati rice and we are good to go. It’s moderately spicy so if that’s not your thing, you shouldn’t be eating Indian food anyway.

Comedian – Nate Bargatze

Maybe you’ve seen him on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Maybe you’ve seen his special on Netflix. Perhaps you’ve just seen clips on YouTube. Or maybe, sadly, you’ve never heard of Nate Bargatze. Well, be sad no more! If you like your comedy clean (yet not lame), dry, and just a little bit odd, then Nate is the man for the job. He holds a special place in my heart because he graduated from the school where my wife teaches and my children attend (Donelson Christian Academy). If Nate came from DCA, then there is hope for my family as well.




“They Shall Not Grow Old” – A Review

Exactly 100 years ago, those who had survived the Great War were returning to the places they loved in a daze. If they hadn’t been scarred physically from combat, they most certainly were scarred mentally. The mostly docile home-front to which they were returning would not be able to understand them, nor all of the horrors they had endured. And yet, who would want to go back and describe the putridity of trench warfare to those who had no concept of it? No, they did what most anyone else who had been through those things would try to do…they would try to pick back up and move on. The ghosts would remain, though, and they would come back to life again in a few decades and culminate into the second World War.

World War I can be looked at from many different angles. There is the strategic angle, the geopolitical angle, the technological angle, and on and on it goes. But perhaps one of the most challenging angles of WWI to truly grasp is the particularly “human” angle of the war. How did this war affect the average person who lived through it? And how do you relate this experience to the current, very visual, generation?

Peter Jackson and his team of highly talented film restorers have done tremendous work in helping us to go back in time and hear the voices and see the faces of those who fought in the war. Rather than focus on different fronts and try to tell a “big picture” story, they decided to focus in on the experience of a typical British soldier from enlistment, through routine military life, through the Western front, all the way through the end of the war. The black and white film has been restored beautifully. Colors are matched as closely as possible to surrounding areas and uniforms, even down to the correct color of patches on the uniforms. The use of 3D technology brings added layers of depth to what was once a still, jittery shot that once seemed alien.

Audio work on the film is impressive as well. When it came to scenes with people speaking on film, they hired professional lip readers to try and figure out what they said, then used voice actors to replicate it. The voices narrating the story of the film are all the voices of those who were actually in the war, which were taken from the countless hours of interviews conducted by the BBC in the 1960s. Foley work to restore the sound of war weaponry utilized actual live fire mortar and original WWI era machinery (from Jackson’s private collection, no less). It’s done to chilling effect.

Although film does not exist of the worst of the fighting on the Western front, they made great use of what film they did have. Close shots of human, smiling faces of soldiers are immediately juxtaposed with images of decaying corpses left out on the ground. Film of soldiers receiving medical treatment was also restored, bloody wounds and all. In one shot, a shell drops right next to a column of men on horseback, to horrifying effect. A far-away shot shows men jumping out of the trenches and running across No-Man’s Land on a trench raid, dodging shells along the way.

One scene that will sit with me for a long time is that of some troops getting ready for a major offensive on the German defenses. They sit in a ditch, hunkered down together waiting for the signal to charge toward the barbed wire and mines and mustard gas and machine gun fire and heavy shelling. One man has a look on his face of sheer terror and shock. Jackson said that most of the men in the shot, if not all, were within the last 30 minutes of their lives.

If there are any flaws in the film, one is that you can’t do justice to the depth and complications that this war brought with it. On his Hardcore History podcasts on the subject called Blueprint for Armageddon (which I highly recommend, and can be found, currently for free, here), Dan Carlin spends close to 24 hours and still had to cut lots of material out. Jackson did his best with the hour and a half that he had, but that meant he had to aim for a “generalized” perspective of what fighting on the Western front was like. Don’t go into the film trying to figure out what particular battle theater is being discussed, as that isn’t the goal here. Western front fighting was pretty similar across the board, so it’s an understandable approach.

Thanks to the work of Jackson and his team, the voices and images of those who sacrificed their lives in this war will stick with me. They indeed shall not be forgotten in my mind, and hopefully not for generations to come.

The film is rated R for disturbing war images.




BREAKING: “There is None Righteous, No. Not One.” Not Even Oscar Hosts

Hollywood, CA – Due to a newfound belief in the total depravity of man, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially announces major changes to the Oscar ceremonies going forward.

First, there will be no hosts anymore. Academy spokesperson, Michael Williamson said, “Obviously, there is no human being on the planet that hasn’t said or done something offensive to someone else. Anyone we choose as the next host will have their entire life examined and any mean-spirited joke, any bigoted opinion, or any sexist comment will get scrutinized. We cannot afford to be associated with those sorts of things so we are getting rid of the middle man…or person.”

Additionally, there will be no demand for the latest fashions, because all the celebrities are planning to dress in sackcloth and ashes in a very public sign of solidarity with the Academy. Williamson adds, “These celebrities understand the times we live in. They know that at the very least, they need to look like they care a whole lot. And nothing says seriousness and sadness like sackcloth. There will be no red carpet either as we do not want to offend anyone that is colorblind.” 

In lieu of the iconic statue, honorees will be awarded a golden whip for an evening of self-flagellation. No “thank you” speeches will be delivered. Instead, award winners will deliver five minute public apologies for all the offensive words they have ever spoken or written. If the apology is deemed sincere enough, they will be allowed to keep their Golden Whip. If the apology seems forced or insincere, the audience will be allowed to publicly beat them with the Golden Whip until their sins have been fully paid for. Williamson concludes, “Either way, they are apologizing and getting whipped. It’s a win-win.”

A small yet vocal minority, lead by Christopher Walken, is not happy with the changes. They are arguing that the ceremony “needs more cowbell.” The Academy had no comment.