Jurassic Park At 25 And The Marvel Of American Film-Making

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They Spared No Expense

I had just turned 15 when the original Jurassic Park was released on June 11, 1993. While my older brother and his best friend sat at the back of the theater trying to act like they weren’t impressed, my best friend and I were completely blown away by it. If you ask me the most awe-inspiring theater experiences I’ve had in my life, this movie would be on the short list, competing with other sci-fi blockbusters like Back to the Future, Armageddon and Signs.

This, in spite of the fact that the acting performances are, for the most part, blah, which is part of why this movie seems to be a small step behind others of its genre in my social circles. To be clear, Jeff Goldblum is delightful and outrageous (and as a person and actor, he has only gotten better with time), and I always enjoy watching Samuel L. Jackson and the man I’ll always known as Newman go to work on screen. But with no offense to Sam Neill and Laura Dern, the main roles hit me as pretty vanilla.

Hold On To Your Butts 

Yet that doesn’t really matter. The stars of the movie and its subsequent sequels are clearly the dinosaurs and they are real (looking) and spectacular. And so, the original JP has aged extremely well in 25 years because it was so far ahead of its time. Seeing Spielberg’s dinosaurs interact with humans was an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

Two of their scenes caused me to grip the armrest of my theater seat so hard I almost blacked out: the first time the T-Rex shows up and the Velociraptor scene in the kitchen. Movie-making rarely gets that good to me. Spielberg acknowledged a complaint (from his grandkids no less) that it took too long for the dinosaurs to appear in the first Jurassic Park, which he rectified in A Lost World. But in my opinion, the slow pace and calm for the first 30 minutes of the original only highlights the extreme terror of the T-Rex’s debut. The foreshadowing moment when Tim looks at the cup in the back of the vehicle and sees the drop of water every time the as yet unseen King of Dinosaurs takes a step rocks my soul every time I watch. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. Similarly, my heart can barely stand the face-off between the two kids and the Velociraptors after these extremely intelligent predators figure out how to open the kitchen door. It’s gloriously scary. I love it.

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There are other aspects that make this movie exceptional to me: bits of dialogue (when Dr. Malcolm encounters the triceratops dung) and no doubt the main score, which is good enough to be a concert on its own. But this movie raked in the biggest opening weekend at the time and nearly dethroned E.T. for the biggest domestic run ever for one colossal reason: we had never seen dinosaurs look that legit before. It was fantastic, unprecedented cinema.

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“Later There’s Running…and Screaming…” 

With a first installment like the one described above, Jurassic Park as a franchise entered a short list of movie series that get at least one view for every sequel from me, no matter how many there are or how awful they are.  And admittedly I know all of the flaws for The Lost World and Jurassic Park III especially but I still enjoy them and have watched them repeatedly.

In The Lost World there are yet again uninspired performances (even the eventually entertaining Vince Vaughn) except for Jeff Goldblum and maybe the Hillbilly Jack dinosaur expert guy who comes in with the bad guys. But the new angle of having human villains along with dinosaur villains is an interesting twist. And the scene with the T-Rex attack on the crashed trailer, while not as good as the similar scene in the first one, is still riveting. Above all, I love the moment with the freighter carrying the T-Rex into San Diego crashes into the dock because it woke up and killed everyone on board. That’s fun cinema right there.

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“You liked Dinosaurs back then.” “Back then they hadn’t tried to eat me yet.”

No doubt to me and many others, Jurassic Park III is the worst major film to ever have “Jurassic” in its name. As my nephew and mega Jurassic Park fan, Brett tells me, the dream sequence with Dr. Grant on the helicopter is “hilarious and terrible”. It’s like a 5-year old got to write one scene of the plot. But as stated, I still like this movie. William H. Macy is great and as long as there are rampaging dinosaurs, I think I will find some of it redeeming. I particularly love the new species and the scene on the rickety old bridge in the fog. It’s heart-stopping and just a step below the similar scenes in the first one. And I really enjoy the running gag of the satellite phone ringing and how it eventually announces the presence of the enormous Spinosaurus (who had devoured it along with the person holding it) standing out in the open.

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“Maybe you should include that in the brochure. Eventually one of these things will eat someone.”

Jurassic World should have been right up my alley and therefore I saw it opening weekend. The trailer promised a visually stunning thrill ride that would top its predecessors. And as I’ve written before, who doesn’t love Chris Pratt?

But it just didn’t deliver to me. It was visually stunning but it had more boring characters (Owen excepted), the weakest dinosaur terror scenes of the series and it was just a bit too over the top and chaotic at times.The original trilogy’s dinosaur attacks weren’t great because they were loud and untethered, but because they were they were thrilling, unpredictable and even at times humorous. Perhaps I have seen too many of these scenes by this point.

Even though it’s a better movie based on normal criteria, I think I’d rather watch the much panned third one than this one if given a choice. But I still want to watch this movie again. Why? Because it’s incredible cinematography.

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“These creature were here before us. And if we’re not careful, they’ll be here after us.”

And that brings us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, released widely in the United States today.  To be honest, the trailer for the most part looks like a tired mashup of plots from the previous four movies. And that worries me, since the last volume proves I may be getting a little bit of Jurassic Park fatigue. Yet some of it looks fresh and we do have the return of the inimitable Dr. Ian Malcom. And at the end of the day, it is Jurassic Park. So I will see it. The original broke new ground and set a standard for movie-making that technology had to catch. And while the others have disappointed in general, I doubt I will ever turn down these cinematically perfected dinosaurs chasing humans on the big screen. Maybe this one will live up to the T-Rex sized expectations these movies create.

 

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Review: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

“Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.” – Fred Rogers

 

The Mr. Rogers I remember was a TV personality that had a warm and welcoming opening song and changed his jacket for a sweater and played with a trolley. He did voices in the Land of Make Believe and spoke gently and kindly to his audience and was good friends with people like Mr. McFeely. Thanks to him, I have known what a duckbill platypus is since I was five.

The Mr. Rogers of Won’t You Be My Neighbor I did not recall. And for that reason, among many others, this story needs to be told. God communicates to us so clearly through narrative. Our Bible is chock full of them. Biographies teach us things that ‘How To’ books never could. We need lives–real, heroic, inspirational lives–to help us make sense of this corrupt world. Fred Rogers is the modern example par excellence as to why.

Thanks to this documentary we get to see how big a visionary he was, seeing TV as the future before it was even the present. We get to see him fight for funding for it, using meekness to speak boldly and change the circumstances. We get to see him provide entertainment for kids that was wholesome and countercultural. We get to see him talk to children in a courageous, competent and congenial way about things like assassination, low self-esteem and anger. Things that seem daunting to talk about in private, much less in front of an audience. He taught against racism in as innocuous yet powerful a way as possible, in a time where it was terribly needed. He taught that it was OK to be sad without being patronizing. He talked through issues about emotions in an emotionally intelligent way, to such a level that my educated and experienced teacher wife was blown away. She could not believe how much he knew about how to talk to children, especially since it was 40 years ago before a lot of modern research was popular. Mr. Rogers was ahead of his time and in many ways a genius.

Most of that was surprising to me. But the stories went deeper. Mr. Rogers was known for dealing with children, but he worked with adults. And he proved that you can speak the truth to someone about a very hard subject and still make that person feel deeply in their soul that you love them so much they see you as a surrogate father. We in the U.S., even in Christianity, haven’t all figured this out. For this reason as much as any, I adore Fred Rogers. And until I watched this film, I had no idea.

If you have noticed that this documentary is rated P-13, I want to be clear that the previous paragraph is a part of why. The heaviness of real-world issues and interpersonal relationships isn’t always for general audiences. Yet there are other things that cause it to be rated as it is. Though Mr. Rogers lived a mostly G-rated life, his story is told by others. And as such, there were a few profane words in the interviews and a reference to a prank on set that is not something I would expect parent readers of REO would want small children to see. Also, Fred Rogers got angry at times about issues facing children in the US, especially when it came to what was on TV. And this documentary shows some of what Mr. Rogers hated.

My criticisms of this work are minor. I loved the music from the trailer and wish they had used it more. The transitions from story to story seemed a bit awkward at times to me, but another review I read said they were perfect so perhaps that is something I do not understand about documentaries. And finally, the cursing in the film is something at least at this point that has me torn. I suppose the point of this is for teenagers and adults to be inspired and to tell his story without many filters. Yet considering what his life stood for, I wish it were appropriate for kids. I suppose the kids still have his 1700+ TV episodes to watch.

Mr. Rogers talked a lot about love in his life. But he proved that while talking is easy and living is hard, it must be done if we want to make a difference. Love is unapologetically inconvenient. Mr. Rogers practiced it both in public and private, as valiantly and humbly as he could. At least according to those who knew him best.

I recommend this documentary to everyone who has been touched by Fred Rogers in any way, which would be millions of people all over the world, even nearly 15 years after his death.

Four stars out of five.

 

 




500 Words or Less Reviews: To Kill a Mockingbird (Film)

In 1960, Harper Lee published her masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. It has since become one of the most beloved books of millions of readers. The movie adaptation of the book bearing the same name was released just two years after its original publication. One might have thought that since the movie was released so quickly after the book’s first appearance it would be extremely good at best, but it is debatably the greatest movie adaptation of a book ever. (To be honest, there are several others that are very close contenders. Nevertheless, TKaM gets my vote.)

In the year it opened, To Kill a Mockingbird garnered eight nominations at the Oscar’s, winning three of those. But moviegoers recognized that it was more than merely one of the best movie of the year; both critics and audiences rightly saw it as one of the greatest movies of all time. It has maintained that status.

I don’t think anything made by mankind is ever perfect. Things that we do and make can always be perfected in some way. But I do admit that there are some things pretty close to perfection. This particular work of art directed by Robert Mulligan fits well in that category.

There is so much to appreciate here, from the mastery of the music, the directing, the writing, the cinematography, etc. Everything clicks, everything turns like a well-oiled movie machine, a projector, if you will. A good argument could be made that the acting is the film’s most outstanding feature. This is particularly true of its three main actors: Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch), Mary Badham (Scout Finch), and Phillip Alford (Jem Finch). This is Peck at his award-winning and iconic finest, which is actually no surprise. Peck is always so good at his profession that he could probably out-act most actors at acting while gagged, tied, and encased in a coffin—and still win an Oscar. No, the actual surprise here is the acting of Badham and Alford, neither of whom had been previously trained but who both did a superb job carrying most of the movie alone.

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in a quaint little town and looks at the world from the young vantage points of Scout and Jem. The story is a coming of age one of sorts. Along their young journey they get their first real glimpse into the adult world filled with its selfish pride, racism, death, and hatred. In the midst of this stands the pillar that is their father, Atticus, a lone bulwark of wisdom and mercy and grace and love.

Along the journey, they will adventure with their best friend Dill Harris, and encounter unforgettable characters like Boo Radley (portrayed by Robert Duvall in his debut film appearance), Tom Robinson, Calpurnia, Mayella Ewell, Bob Ewell, and many other wonderful and colorful people.

Lastly, a final shout-out to legendary composer, Elmer Bernstein, for the film’s haunting, beautiful, utterly timeless soundtrack.




Five More Sports Movies We 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 more sports films that we love. You can read our first article in this series here. 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.


Remember the Titans by Phill Lytle

Maybe this one is too obvious. I’m not sure that matters that much to me. I love this movie. I love the story – even if the filmmakers took liberties in telling it. I love the performances, with Denzel doing what he does best, the young cast of football players/students bringing life and personality to the team, and to the unsung heroes of the film like Will Patton as the assistant coach. Everyone brings their A-game to the movie and it shows. The music by Trevor Rabin is earnest and epic which only serves to help everything mean a little bit more.

This is a movie that calls its shot from the very beginning and unless you have never seen a sports movie before, you will know where it is headed. You anticipate the beats, the dramatic flourishes, and the building climax. None of that matters. This was Disney firing on all cylinders, perfectly delivering on their tried and true method. That might sound cynical of me. Trust me, it’s not. I unapologetically love this film even if it does pretty much exactly what you expect it to from the opening frame.

It’s a movie built on moments, speeches, emotions, and inspiration. It sets out to tell a heartwarming and uplifting film and it pulls it off without a hitch. Remember the Titans is a Titan in the world of sports movies and deserves to be on everyone’s favorites list.


A League of Their Own by Gowdy Cannon

“There’s No Crying In Baseball!” put this film on the map so to speak, but after about 10 viewings I can say that it is so much more than Tom Hanks at his comedic finest. It’s a perfect storm of untold history, tense family drama, riveting sports action and timeless storytelling that joins a pantheon of exceptional American screenplays. To me it is not just one of the best sports movies of all time, but one of the best films of any genre of all time.

Hanks is his typical scene-stealing self. Gina Davis is great. Lori Petty is perfect as the insecure younger sibling (as the 4th of 5 children, I am fully qualified to make that call). Unheard of Megan Cavanagh, who doesn’t even have a picture on her wikipedia page, is unforgettable. Even modern punching bags Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are good in their support roles. And they all have tremendous chemistry.

Not to be lost is without of doubt my favorite Jon Lovitz performance ever, as the scout Ernie Capadino. Essentially 100% of what he says makes me and my mom laugh out loud, even after repeated viewings. To this day I can look at her and say “You see the way it works is that the train moves and not the station” and we will crack up.

If a litmus test for movie grade is how rewatchable it is, A League of Their Own gets an A.


Space Jam by D.A. Speer

Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now! A few years back, shortly after my wife Kate and I were married, we thought it would be great fun on a whim to hold a Space Jam party. We invited friends over, had some snacks, and watched the movie. You never really know just how well a movie will hold up over the years, because over time, a movie can seem so much better in your mind than it actually was. We took the gamble…and it held up well!

At lunch today, I asked my wife, “What is it that made Space Jam such a good movie?” She looked at me for a second and said, “What about it isn’t a good movie?” I had a hard time answering. On paper, I’d have expected the movie to be a failure. MJ teams up with the Looney Toons to challenge aliens for their fates over a theme park. What could possibly go wrong with an idea like that?

Well, somehow director Joe Pytka was able to pull off movie magic. The story is compelling enough to make it fun. The music inspired everything from couple’s skates at the local roller rink (I Believe I Can Fly), to endless current-day internet remixes of the theme song by Quad City DJ’s. The star power is perfect for the time. This is right in the height of Jordan mania, after his first return to the NBA. As a teenager, I had a poster of him on my wall, slamming in it with his tongue out. Would I want to see him play against cartoon monsters? Psh, I could have watched him shoot free throws in practice and would have been enthralled. Bill Murray is there. Charles Barkley is there. Larry Bird is there. Heck, even Newman shows up.

Yeah, it’s not the most epic movie by today’s standards, but it will forever be a classic in my mind, half court dunks and all.


Warrior by Phill Lytle

I hate MMA, or mixed martial arts. It’s one tiny step up from to-the-death, gladiatorial combat, and I honestly don’t understand or appreciate its appeal in the least. Which makes my reaction to Warrior, a movie about two brothers who are MMA fighters, so perplexing. I never thought I would love a movie about MMA fighting, let alone like a movie like that, but Warrior defied my expectations and had me from very early on. The story is nothing groundbreaking – if you have seen any boxing movie or many sports movies for that matter, you can sort of guess where everything is going – but the execution of the story is what makes this film work so well. Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, and Joel Edgerton give amazing performances as a father and his two estranged sons. I’ve never been a huge Nolte fan but he is incredible in this film playing a very damaged and broken father. Hardy is just pure intensity and he brings a real menace and danger to his character, but with just enough cracks in his facade to show that there is a lot more to him than just anger and passion. Edgerton plays the most “normal” role, but he gives his character so much depth that I hate to classify it as normal. The fight sequences are well shot – they are brutal and very effective. The film is shot low budget style which lends the film more realism and immediacy. The music is great as well, with a song by The National that closes the film perfectly.

Warrior is first and foremost a movie about a broken family trying to find healing. That is what drew me in and what knocked down my walls. I was prepared to hate this movie due to my hatred of the sport it showcases. I was not prepared to fall completely for it.


Over the Top by Gowdy Cannon

Millions know Sly Stallone from the Rocky and Rambo series. Far less remember him in this movie about an estranged father, his spoiled son and….arm wrestling? How many movies about arm wrestling are there? I don’t know, but when you’ve conquered the world as Rocky and Rambo, you get to take these risks. And while I may be in the minority, I think it yielded a reward. The superbly named Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) has the lovable humility of Balboa yet is still very much a unique character. And the journey he embarks on to earn back the love of his only son and to win an arm wrestling tournament (Really! It’s about arm wrestling!) is one I have enjoyed numerous times.

A few years ago I began a tradition of having a “Man Movie Night” with other men at my church and this was the first one I showed. Because most people have seen Stallone’s other work and this is a hidden treasure to me. Yet despite its manliness, I think the heart of father-son reconciliation can appeal to most people.

The movie has some faults for sure, like the arm wresting (arm wrestling!) tournament format of double elimination is not consistent, and the drama is at times pretty contrived, but Lincoln’s secret finger re-positioning weapon vs. Bull Harley in the final and all the memories he makes with with his son son along the way render all the flaws forgotten.  Complete with a fantastic antagonist role by Robert Loggia and some of the best terrible wonderful cheesy 80s sports montage music ever, I adore this movie.


There you have it. Five more sports movies we love. Our last list got some pretty strong feedback – both positive and negative. Hopefully this one will as well as we always enjoy a good back-and-forth with our readers. Use the comment section below to post your praise or ridicule of our selections today.




Edna Mode’s Five More Reasons Why No Capes!

This summer movie audiences will be treated to the long-awaited sequel to the 2004 Pixar masterpiece, The Incredibles. One of the many amazing highlights of the first of these films is the great Edna Mode, fashion designer extraordinaire who is the former uniform designer for the now defunct superhero program. Edna has seen it all and learned it all concerning superhero uniform lore. And one cardinal rule she lives by: NO CAPES! And why is she so adamant about this? Mr. Incredible really wants a cape for his new costume, but for Edna that is a no can do, and she jots out five good examples for why not: 1.) Thunderhead’s cape snagged on a launched missile.; 2.) Stratogale’s cape caught in a jet turbine.; 3.) Metroman’s cape was caught one express elevator.; 4.) Dynaguy’s cape was snagged on takeoff.; 5.) Splashdown’s cape caused him to be sucked down into a vortex. However, these were not Edna’s only reasons for the no cape rule. They were merely the only ones that came to mind to prove her point in that moment. There are more that are probably a little more bizarre and require more explanation, which is likely why she wisely chose not to use them. Behold five more of Edna’s reasons:


1. Dazzler was humiliated to superpowerlessness after being mercilessly laughed at and mocked for his flowery, fancy boy cape. Dazzler was born gifted with the power to shoot glitter and liquidified gold from his fingertips at will. To go with his sparkly theme, Dazzler had Edna create the most dazzling, breathtaking superhero suit of all time complete with a flowing, multicolored cape filled with lots of tassels, beads, and floral designs. One fateful day he encountered the evil Green Boys who were called that because they were green and boys. My friends, on that day they defeated Dazzler, not with knife or gun or any sort of supernatural weapon, but with killing words. It was his cape that did him in. The Green Boys mercilessly, callously mocked his cape until no shred of his former superhuman self remained. He was reduced to normalcy. He and his family moved to Detroit where he took on the miserable life of the miserable apprentice of a miserable party clown for the rest of his days.


2. Invector was distracted because he couldn’t find his invisible cape. Most of his super colleagues mistakenly assumed that he was among the new breed of modern capeless superheroes. This was not the case. He had had Edna fashion him an ordinary invisible cape for the sole purpose of thinking, “hey, I’m awesome because I have an invisible cape. Plus, Wonder Woman will dig me with her invisible jet.” But alas the invisible cape was his undoing. In the midst of a battle he lost his cape and not finding the invisible article, his arch nemesis, Arabian Knight, was able to easily able to slay him with his gleaming laser scimitar.


3. Ghorozoid was tangled in his Guinness Book of World Records long cape. He had convinced Edna to create for him the longest cape in superhero history. This thing was an incredible 20 feet long. This meant that while on the job he had to keep running really, really fast so it wouldn’t drag. But although it was so impractical and high maintenance, he still wanted to have it for his uniform. It was his precious. One day he fell into the pursuit of the nefarious Maze Master who led him on a baffling chase here, there, up, down, all the directions you can think of, it was there. Pretty soon Ghorozoid was wrapped up in his cape like a moth in a cacoon. Took him a week to get out. Invector kindly spoon fed his colleague during this time. No, Ghorozoid didn’t die, but he left the profession in abject humiliation.

I don’t know why he was called Ghorozoid. Quit asking so many questions.


4. The Rolling Stone fell off a cliff after his dangling cape’s technology malfunctioned and took rock form. A fateful nuclear accident in his laboratory gifted Dr. Edwin Magma with the ability to transform himself into a Rock-and-Roller made entirely of rock. From that day forward he was gifted with stone transformability, song, dance, and a golden electric guitar that shot lightning bolts. His signature move in the heat of battle was following a lightning bolt kill with a totally legendary guitar solo. To match his rock and rocking power, Edna fashioned a suit girded with a cape chock full of the latest igneous rock formation technology. Thus, when Stone took rocker rock form, so did his cape. To take this form he had but to hold aloft his golden guitar and summon the power of the Castle of the Rolling Stones. But very sadly for Rolling Stone, the cape short-circuited at a most inopportune moment. As he gazed for his foe from a high cliff, his caped dangled over the edge malfunction, and you know… To this day, Edna contends that it was not her suit that malfunctioned but user error by the Rolling Stone who was too busy shredding a totally rad guitar solo atop the high precipice to notice that he had inadvertently activated his cape’s rock powers.


5. OnomonoTia was blown away when the wind caught her billowing cape. It was as a very young girl that Tia Watson first felt a desire to rid the world of evil and darkness by filling this void with words that sound like what they mean. We’re talking things like snap, crackle, pop, whiz, bang, pow, etc. This desire grew and grew. She attended college, graduating with a degree in English. It was during this years that she became BFFs with a fellow English student who would one day become her arch nemesis, Princess Punctuatress. After graduation, the two assumed their secret identities and parted ways. They were only to meet again three years later on the shores of the Pacific for a last stand. Their battle was fierce that day my friends. There were “pows!” and “zaps! And “Whams!” aplenty. Commas and periods and semi-colons were flying everywhere. Suddenly a strong wind blew in from the east, collecting in OnomonoTia’s parachute-like cape and whisking her away, “Whooosh!” was her parting word of wisdom to the civilized world. “Exclamatioooon!” Cried Princess Punctuatress in victory and defiance mixed with some bit of sadness. Watson was soon lost to view, never to be seen again. Legend says she happily lived out her days on a mysterious island far, far away where the bees buzz, the duck’s cluck, the leaves rustle, and everything else sounds like what they mean. And she also married an islander named Chief Onomono.


So if you intend to live a life of daring do, you are best to heed the very learned and experienced advice of Edna: NO CAPES!

 




500 Words or Less Reviews: Ready Player One

Time warps our memories of things we once loved in various ways, and when enough time goes by, the exact memories we had begin to slip away from us like sand through an hourglass. When we finally are able to come back to the thing itself, whether a good book or a Nintendo game played with a trusty NES controller, some pieces of time come shooting back up to us through the hourglass. For a moment, we are reconnected to those past memories and versions of ourselves. And yet, we have changed in that time span. Our perception of what we are able to experience again is colored by eyes that have since matured and have felt more of the weight of the world.

I read the book version of “Ready Player One” almost two years ago, so it’s fitting that enough time has gone by for me to forget key scenes or details from the plot. It’s like my memory of what happened has since dissolved into fragments. During the early screening for the film, I was sitting between a close friend and a random stranger, and all three of us had read the book. We discussed a few scenes, and the plot progression started to come back to me. My anticipation started to build. Would the film deliver, or would it let me down?

When I first heard that the Ready Player One movie was in production, I wasn’t too thrilled. The book was an ambitious and expansive imaginary romp through 80’s nostalgia. “They’ll never pull a movie like this off convincingly,” I told myself. The trailers left a lot to be desired because it looked like they were going to change the plot significantly. And they did.

But you know what? Somehow it worked.

After the movie, the three of us sat and reflected on what we had just watched. The movie had the overall feel of an 80s adventure flick, Spielberg style. It felt like what author Ernest Cline (who was part of the creative process on the film) might have done with the plot in a parallel universe. My biggest fear going into the movie would be that it would turn out to be a heartless, piecemeal version of what I had experienced and loved while reading the book, but I was quite happy to be wrong. Yes, parts of the movie felt a bit rushed or contrived, and I was still miffed at a few parts of the book that didn’t make it into the movie, but overall I was very glad to have seen it.

The movie left me feeling a bit bizarre because it was like what I had once experienced, yet it was different altogether. It’s akin to playing a favorite game from your childhood that is now radically different in form, yet still retains the original essence of what you had enjoyed in the past.

8/10

(Parental content advisory: There are a few strong curse words throughout the PG-13 rated film.)




Lights, Camera, No Action! Five Non-Conventional Science Fiction Films

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Science Fiction as “a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals.” That is an adequate definition but it falls far short of describing the kind of impact sci-fi stories have had. From its very inception, science fiction has endeavored to challenge, to provoke, and to inspire, and sci-fi films have been at the forefront of that movement. There are the classics of the genre: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Star Trek. Alien. While sci-fi has never been confined to one style, many people think of action films when they talk about sci-fi. Star Wars (not science fiction, for what it is worth), Avatar, The Terminator. No doubt there is a place for high energy, fast-paced, action-oriented sci-fi films. Yet the root of the genre is in stories and ideas. For today’s Five, we want to focus on a handful of sci-fi films that do more than just entertain. Enjoy and be sure to tell us about your favorites in the comment section below.[1. Click the Title of each film to be taken to Amazon for the option to purchase the films and a portion of that purchase will go to supporting REO.]


Primer

I have a particular weakness for time travel shows and movies. That is why while I might experience some fatigue or get bored with other types of popular genres,  I always, always love anything involving time travel. Anything. And the best of the genre, the most thought-provoking, the most complex that I have seen is Primer (2009). Let me say right here that this movie is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many people will just find it incredibly boring and overly tedious. And it certainly isn’t flashy, being made for only $7,000. If you are a movie viewer whose primary goal is watching a movie with lots of action and a fast-moving plot that lets you turn off your brain, Primer is not for you. However, if you love a movie that really challenges your mind, Primer is the time travel movie for you without a doubt.

There is so much complexity going on with this movie that I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t get it all the first time through. Maybe not even the tenth. There are several good discussions online to help people who have viewed it to better understand it. The emphasis in that last sentence in on “who have viewed it.” Many of these places obviously have spoilers, so watch it through once or a few times before visiting any of these places. You might also want to try figuring it out for yourself first. (Benjamin Plunkett)


Gattaca

Genetic perfection? DNA manipulation? What once only seemed possible in the world of science fiction is almost a reality. Before that though, writer and director Andrew Niccol gave us a film that exhibited the true power of the sci-fi genre. Gattaca is smart, stylish, and full of symbolism and spiritual questions. The story takes place in a world where genetic tinkering allows parents to choose the best version of themselves to pass on to their children. Babies “created” this way have a massive advantage over babies conceived in the old-fashioned manner. This is where we meet the protagonist, Vincent Freeman, whose only dream has been to reach for the stars and become an astronaut. That path is closed to him due to his genetic inferiority. His hero’s journey is one of impressive willpower, unmatched determination, and a little help from a few outside sources.

Niccol envisions the world as both futuristic and retro, maintaining an elegance throughout. All the actors do good work, but Ethan Hawke and Jude Law give career best performances. And to this day, the musical score is one of my favorites. Gattaca checks all my boxes for what I love about the genre. (Phill Lytle)


Moon

Moon

Back in June of 2009, Moon quietly released with a limited showing in America, earning a paltry $136,046 on its opening weekend. Word quickly spread of just how good of a movie it was, and by November of that year, it had earned over $5,000,000. My brother-in-law went to see the film at an independent theater at the time and told me that I needed to go see it, but I just never got around to it. Moon even made a few appearances on Netflix in the past, but I always missed out…until its most recent arrival.

The main actor, Sam Rockwell, does a fantastic job exploring the loneliness and frustration that might come with an extended stay on the Moon, where he is serving out a period of time harvesting solar energy for Earth. His character is completely isolated from the rest of humanity, and watching him develop as his grip on reality starts to come unraveled is an unsettling, interesting experience. The robot GERTY, voiced by (now-disgraced actor) Kevin Spacey, adds to the sense of loneliness you feel for Rockwell’s character as you see the robot’s faltering attempts to imitate human emotion and touch.

Watching the film now, almost 9 years after its release, is a bit of an odd experience. Other space survival films (The Martian, Interstellar, etc.) have since borrowed or re-imagined some of the same scenarios, so it’s that much harder to isolate and imagine how the film would have been taken at release. Overall the plot and progression are spot on, along with the soundtrack. If you’re interested in sci-fi at all, be sure not to pass this one up before it leaves Netflix again.  (D.A. Speer)


The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant

 

Brad Bird is one of the best directors working today and this early animated film is a perfect example of his particular talents. This is a story that if handled by less skilled hands would feel clumsy or derivative. We know this story. It feels like it is a part of our cultural DNA. Small town. Curious child protagonist. Existential fear of some foreign nation – the USSR in this case. And finally, the unlikely friendship that is the backbone of the plot. Our child hero – Hogarth – befriends a giant robot that has crashed near his home. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, a buddy film, and a mystery story all rolled into one. The animation is simple and elegant. The music is rich and full of strong themes. The script is crisp, funny, and poignant. All the voice actors do great work, even Jennifer Aniston. For my money, there are very few animated films that are better. The Iron Giant towers over the competition, not with flashy action or choreographed fights, but with strong characters, a compelling story, and a deeply emotional climax. (Phill Lytle)


Signs

Signs

Every once in a while a movie comes along that transcends entertainment and becomes a piece of art that creates deep conversation and makes a difference in real life. M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs was that for me and my closest friends. It impacted me in such a way that I showed a clip of it before a sermon I preached in 2003: the conversation between Graham and Merrill about whether or not there are “signs” of God. Amazing conversation between two A-list actors. Exceptional mood setting, lighting, and general cinematography as well. The double meaning of the movie’s title brought life to that sermon and hours of conversation to my church friends.

The movie is not scary as much as it is riveting and spooky and thrilling. In his review of the movie, the late Roger Ebert said, “Shyamalan doesn’t want to blow up the world; he wants to blow our minds.” I think that says it well. Much of the movie is subtle and building. It’s not a flashy film. And this makes the intense parts even more effective, as when Merrill sees the alien on the TV footage. Complete with plenty of laughs (actual tin foil hats, anyone?) and touching moments (Graham telling his children about how they were born when he thinks they are going to die), it is a suburb blend of all the right emtions. But more than anything this movie rises and falls on the writing and direction of Shyamalan in colliding a world of the wrecked faith of a former clergyman and the classic movie trope of invading aliens. And he knocks it slam out of the park like Merrill’s 587 foot HR. (Gowdy Cannon)

 




Five Movie Moments That Made Me Literally ROTFL

In recent months I have written for REO about Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry, Five TV Moments That Made Me Literally ROTFL and Five Movie Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry. So the next logical step in this series is what we have today.

Five times I was watching a movie and ended up on the theater floor laughing. Yes, it’s happened five times. It’s actually happened 20 times and probably 20 more at home watching on my couch. I’m just wired to lose it laughing. The acronym ROTFL was made for people like me. So here’s the culpable list:

 

The Movie: “Dumb and Dumber” (1994)

The Moment: The Snowball Fight 

I have never ever laughed at a movie like this one and have always said I watched it in the theater twice because I missed about 40% of it the first time laughing so hard. And I doubt there is a stretch of even three minutes in this movie where I don’t laugh. But two scenes caused the fall out the chair laugh. One can be endearingly termed “The bathroom scene”. What can I say? I was 16 years old at the time and nearly 25 years later I still find it hilarious. The other was when Mary goes on her date with Harry and playfully throws some snow at him and he responds by rearing back and pelting her with a snowball so fierce it knocks her to the ground. I don’t think there was a single person in the theater that didn’t laugh and many, like me, were literally rolling.

Four years after this movie was released, and multiple viewings later, I was watching it in my college dorm with a handful of guys who had to stay on campus an extra day or two at Christmas for work. And when we got to this scene we kept having to rewind it because we all kept losing it and we could not continue until we all got it together. What a moment. Jim Carrey had most of the best one-liners (“Tic-tac, sir?”) but Jeff Daniels had the best scenes. Admire the acting as his face subtly changes from playful to menacing…

 

The Movie: “My Cousin Vinny” (1992) 

The Moment: The Public Defender vs. Mr. Tipton 

This is truly one of the great Joe Pesci performances and Marissa Tomei won an Oscar for this movie (as verified by Seinfeld), yet Austin Pendleton has by far the laugh of the movie to me and my family.

Stan doesn’t trust Vinny so at first, he goes with the public defender, John Gibbons. Because he has no idea that the guy suffers stage fright and develops a severe speech impediment when he has to interact with the witnesses and the jury. And his showdown with Sam Tipton, the first witness, steals the show. He can’t speak well enough to discredit him and yet he tries anyway, first by pointing out that Tipton wasn’t wearing his glasses when he ID-ed the defendants. Except Tipton destroys that argument by claiming they are reading glasses. And the camera pans to Gibbons’ stunned face. He attempts to throw up a Hail Mary and asks him to identify the defendants’ eye colors. “Brown. Hazel Green,” comes the reply as the camera again cuts to Gibbons’ face, which looks like it was just hit with a frying pan. He then concedes by saying, “No more questions.” Pools of laughter.

 

Image result for My cousin vinny no more questions GIF

 

 

The Movie: “Mean Girls” (2004)

The Moment: “She doesn’t even go here.” 

I’m almost certain I saw this movie when it came out but it wasn’t until last summer than I fell on the floor laughing at this moment. My wife was teaching English to Chinese children on the internet upstairs and I had done all I needed to do for the day so I watched this movie.

I’ll spare all the plot details but near the end all the girls in the high school get together in the gym, led by Tina Fey, to discuss the vicious drama that has been tearing apart the school. They are supposed to face each other and confess their transgressions, in full view of the other girls. And one syrupy girl stands up in front of everyone and says, “I just wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school. I wish that I could bake a cake out of rainbows and smiles that we could all eat and be happy.” To which Damian, having snuck into the meeting with a hoodie and sunglasses (as he always did), pipes up, “She doesn’t even go here!” And Ms. Norbury (Fey) asks, “Do you even go here?” And this random girl, in a mixture of tears and smiles, responds, “No.”

When my wife heard me laughing and came down later to find out why I explained it. And she said, “I bet I could put that quote on Facebook and people would know it.” And I thought, “No way.” But she was right. Apparently “She doesn’t even go here” is a cultural phenomenon.

 

Image result for She doesn't even go here GIF

Image result for She doesn't even go here GIF

Image result for She doesn't even go here GIF

 

 

The Movie: “O Brother Where Art Thou?” (2000) 

The Moment: Delmar is convinced Pete is a toad. 

After our three “heroes” lose consciousness from too much corn whiskey offered to them by beautiful, seductive women, Delmar and Ulysses Everett wake up to find Pete is gone, leaving behind only his clothes. And a toad. The women had really turned him over to the police but Delmar is absolutely convinced they did something worse: “Them sireens did this to him. They loved ‘im up and turned ‘im into a horny toad.” (Ulyssis: I don’t think that’s Pete. Delmar: Of course it’s Pete, look at ‘im.”) The whole thing is laugh out loud funny but the ROTFL clincher is later in the car when Delmar says “We got to find some kind of wizard can change ‘im back.” Delmar probably really believes there are wizards.

Later, when they reunite with Pete, Delmar confesses, “We thought you was a toad.” Which brings it full circle and gives this hilarious plot development closure. Without a doubt my favorite role by Tim Blake Nelson ever. Anyone who doesn’t find this funny gets an “I don’t get it, Big Dan” from me.

 

Image result for O Brother Where Art Thou Find A Wizard GIF

 

The Movie: “Dickie Roberts” (2003)

The Moment: School bullies get straight up ethered by Dickie.

My friend Matt is a peer now, but 15 years ago I was his youth pastor. And we celebrated his 16th birthday by going for pizza and watching this movie. And during this scene, I got laughing so hard, and Matt got to laughing at me laughing so hard, that the entertainment in our theater ceased to be the movie and began to be the spectacle of us, me on the floor and Matt all but.

The scene is rather simple. Sam is being mocked by some bigger kids after school. Dickie comes in and lays down an epic verbal beating punctuated with “I’ll tell you what…Red, Tub of Goo, Freak of Nature, why don’t you guys run home, pee your pants, slap each others’ bottoms, cry your eyes out, get up, have an eggo, come back and we’ll do it all again.”

As far back as when Chris Farley was still alive, David Spade’s schtick has fit perfectly in my comedy wheelhouse. He just has it. His quit wit, facial expression and mannerisms slay me. And this scene is a grand slam of those things.

 

Image result for Dickie Roberts bullies

 

Honorable Mention: The post-funeral boat scene in “Tommy Boy”…

 

Image result for Tommy Boy Boat Scene GIF

 

…and the Mutants at Table 9 scene in “The Wedding Singer”.

 

Image result for Wedding Singer Mutants at Table 9 GIF

 

So, that’s my list. I’m sure many of our readers don’t literally ROTFL like I do, but perhaps you have laughed uncontrollably. Feel free to share below.

 

 

 

 

 

 




5 Reasons to Celebrate Groundhog Day by Watching Groundhog Day

To me and mine, 1993s Groundhog Day is the absolute perfect movie for a wide range of ages and both genders, a potent blend of chill bump romance, tear-jerking storytelling and ROTFL comedy that does so with essentially no sex or language. We have written about this movie before in a blurb here but we decided that a movie this incredible deserves its own article.

On to the list!


1. It’s the 25th Anniversary of its release!

This is what Americans do. We celebrate anniversaries. Of everything. Facebook alone is proof.


2. The Patriots are going to win another Super Bowl. So like 98% of us need something to bring us joy this weekend.

Let me save you the torture. New England will win. The commercials will be mediocre. Watch something this weekend with a happy ending and no dead spots.


3. You may laugh uncontrollably several times.

True Story…sometime around 2004 on New Year’s Eve, the twenty-somethings and teenagers of my church gathered at my friend Chris’s house as per our tradition. We watched movies to ring in the new year and included in that year’s line up was Groundhog Day. At least three times, we had to pause the movie because someone got going laughing quite loudly and for a disproportionately long time. It was a riot. Normally I am the one who does this but this time I wasn’t the only culprit. Now, I did lose it for a long time when Phil starts driving the car on the railroad tracks. But my friend Joel lost it when Phil steals the Groundhog. My friend Tommy lost it when Phil got Ned to leave him alone by warming up to him, so to speak. I bet it took us two hours to watch this 100-minute movie because people just could not get it together.

Another True Story…in 2011 my 20-member family was at the beach for vacation. About half of us sat down to watch this movie. The scene with Phil, Gus and Ralph got my mother going like I’ve never seen. When Phil asks Ralph, “Do you want to throw up here or in the car?” and Ralph replies, “I think, both” she got started. When Gus says, “You know Phil if we wanted to hit mailboxes we could let Ralph drive,” she was crying laughing. By the time they crash and the cop comes up to the driver’s side door and Ralph orders flapjacks, my mother was beating her knees with her hands and stomping her feet on the floor laughing. To this day if you want to make someone in my family laugh, you just have to ask, “Too early for flapjacks”?

You deserve a good laugh this weekend. Watch this movie.


4. Bill Murray gives a performance for the ages.

This is truly one of the most moving performances that I have seen and one thing that makes it different from others in that category like Heath Ledger as the Joker is that he makes it look so easy and normal. It’s not a big or loud or extravagant role. It’s just a normal man reacting to insane circumstances. And it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

If you got to see Larry Bird shoot a 20-foot jump shot or pre-2010 Tiger Woods putt, and then tried to do those things yourself, you’d realize how they make something very hard look very easy. That is what Bill Murray does with this role. He barely changes facial expression or decibel level the whole time. The scene where he kidnaps Groundhog Phil to drive him off a cliff, Bill Murray is just in a car, deadpan face, cracking wise with Phil the groundhog. And yet it causes people to fall on the floor laughing. How does he do it?

And then there are the serious moments. The romantic ones are the core of the movie and it is not just his “You love boats but not the ocean” speech that shows how good Murray is at monologues. He  brings the goosebumps again when he tells her he doesn’t deserve her as she is falling asleep and doesn’t hear him. What a heart-wrenching moment that is. Bill Murray makes you feel it this movie.

Andie McDowell is cute as the love interest and Steven Tobolowsky is unforgettable as Ned the Head, Needle-Nose-Ned Ryerson. But make no mistake–this is Bill Murray’s movie. And he gives us a Joe Montana needing 92 yards to win the Super Bowl performance.


5. It’s the rare movie that gets better with multiple viewings.

I don’t know if anyone really knew back in 1993 what a timeless cultural phenomenon this movie was going to be. Roger Ebert didn’t and humbly admitted so. It offers such a poignant commentary on what really matters in life and in the most unique set of circumstances. It is absolutely about character transformation, which I have written on numerous occasions is perhaps the most beautiful thing in fiction and real life.

Beyond the significant scenes already mentioned, it is relentless in its entertainment in the minor, in-between moments and many are more noteworthy to me after the second or third viewings. Like when Phil tries repeatedly but cannot save the homeless man. Or the hilarious execution of small time loop moments, like when Phil encounters the large “Off to see the Groundhog?” guy as soon as he leaves his room. Or when we are treated to LOL moments by minor characters as when Phil is changing the old ladies’ flat tire and one of them thinks it’s an earthquake. And, on top of it all, we even get Sonny and Cher every few minutes!


So do yourself a favor and watch it. Do it to laugh until it hurts. Do it to count how many people were in it who also had guest spots on Seinfeld. Do it to watch Ned get punched one more time! But by all means, watch this masterpiece of film this weekend. You will thank us later.

 




500 Words or Less Reviews: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in August of 2014. It was a passion project for Ben Stiller, the director and lead actor on the film. It is an adaptation of the short story by James Thurber. It is a very sincere film. If earnestness gets on your nerves then you probably won’t like it. It was rejected by most filmgoers and I am unsure why.[1. The film was not well received, scoring only 51% at Rotten Tomatoes and grossing only $58 million in the US box office on a $90 million budget.] It’s not perfect and there are a few missteps along the way, but overall, I think the film accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Walter Mitty is a negative assets manager for Life MagazineLife is in the process of publishing their final edition – and the negative that is intended to be the cover photo is lost. Walter is tasked with finding it. The film is an interesting blend of reality and whimsical, day-dream type fantasy. Walter loves his job but he yearns for his life to matter more – to be more fulfilling. As the film progresses we get to watch Walter step out of his comfort zone and start to live the life he has long lived in his dreams.

Few films have challenged me the way this one did. I wrote the following after watching it:

“I have a job that I don’t love. I would rather be doing something else, though I don’t know what. I am not unhappy with my current job. In fact, I am more content at work now than I probably have ever been in my adult life. Yet sometimes, I feel like I ought to be doing something more spiritually rewarding. At least, that is how I feel when I hear Christians talk about jobs and careers.

This movie helped me take stock of my life. I don’t find my identity in my career. I find it in relationships. My standing with God. My relationship with my wife, my kids, my family and my friends. I find my identity in service in my church and outside of it. But, I still feel like there is something more that I should or could be doing.

So, I am going to try to figure that out. I loved how Walter pushed himself and discovered new ways of viewing his life. I want to try to push myself in ways that might make me uncomfortable at first. How that will look is beyond me right now, but I’m going to try to figure it out. I am very comfortable and I don’t think that is a place that God really wants any of us to be. So, I am going to change that, if I can.”

While it was still a year before any real changes happened, this movie was the impetus to getting Rambling Ever On off the ground. It was an idea we had toyed with for some time, but this movie pushed me to make it a reality. Depending on your opinion of REO, you can thank or curse Walter Mitty.