Being Petty: A Tribute To a Legend

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


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

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


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


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


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


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




Five More Movie Dinner Scenes We Love

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


The Thin Man by Benjamin Plunkett

The Thin Man dinner scene

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


Christmas Vacation by Gowdy Cannon

Christmas Vacation dinner

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

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

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

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

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


The Incredibles by Phill Lytle

The Incredibles dinner scene

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

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

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


The Return of the King by Benjamin Plunkett

The Return of the King Denethor eating scene

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


Lars and the Real Girl by Phill Lytle

Lars and the Real Girl dinner scene

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




Five Sports Movies Our Staff Love

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

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

 

Chariots of Fire by Ben Plunkett

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

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

 

The Sandlot by Allen Pointer

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

Someone beat me to both of these films.

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

The Sandlot.

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

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

I am glad that I finally watched The Sandlot.

 

Field of Dreams by Phill Lytle

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



Rudy by Gowdy Cannon

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

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

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

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

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

 

Victory by Nathan Patton

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite? Share with us below!

 




Our Five Favorite Dinner Scenes of Film

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


Back To The Future 2

Back to the Future 2

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

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

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

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


The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

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


Heat

Heat, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

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

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

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


Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents

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

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

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

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


Babette’s Feast

Babette's Feast

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




500WoL: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay through all the credits. You can thank me later




The Annual Super Awesome Film Festival: Making Wiser Movie Choices

I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating: I love movies. In some ways, I am probably a little too in love with movies. Many jokes have been made at my expense at my single-minded obsession with The Lord of the Rings Movies. I’m not that compulsive with all movies, but I watch, think about, and discuss movies more than most people I know. It only seemed natural then, to share that love of movies with my kids.

I’ve watched movies or television shows with my boys since they were little. When they were young, we watched things they enjoyed and I had to sit patiently and long for the day when I could introduce them to the things I loved and enjoyed. I jumped the gun a few times though. I watched the Star Wars films with my middle son when he was too young to appreciate them. His older brother loved them, but it has taken him time to even tolerate them, all because he wasn’t ready. Similarly, I thought my oldest son was ready for The Lord of the Rings, but I was proven wrong when he completely freaked out over Bilbo trying to take the ring away from Frodo in Rivendell. For those that have seen the film, you know the scene I am referencing. Kindly, old Bilbo, fueled by his desire for the ring of power, transforms into a snarling, angry creature. It is a shocking moment and it caught my son completely by surprise. He had nightmares about that scene for a very long time afterwards. I felt like a complete failure for not recognizing how that scene, or other scenes, could potentially horrify him. It was after that traumatic event, I decided that I needed to do better. I needed to be more thoughtful about what we watched and when we watched.


It was around this time that one of my favorite film critics, Drew McWeeny, started writing a series called Film Nerd 2.0. While I didn’t always agree with what films he introduced to his boys, and I would have pretty strong reservations about endorsing the entirety of his approach, the specific, thought-out system he created appealed to me. I knew my version would look different, but he had inspired me to do this whole “watching movies with my kids” thing better.

The Super Awesome Film Festival was born

Five years ago, I kicked off our very first Annual Super Awesome Film Festival ©. We held the festival over the summer, when the boys had later bed times and our schedules were not as busy. For that first Festival, I chose four movies to watch over one weekend. At that time, my youngest son was only four years old, so he would only watch one of the films. I chose a couple films that were new to the older boys, one favorite that they wanted to see again, and one that my youngest had not seen but would hopefully enjoy. We made a big deal out of the whole thing – we bought popcorn and movie theater style candy. We had drinks aplenty. The entire event was a huge success and has since become an annual tradition.

The film selection has grown and expanded with each year. The following year, I even made a simple poster for the Festival.

Click to enlarge

That year, my youngest was able to watch two of the films in the lineup – Willow and Peter Pan. He enjoyed both of them and proclaimed them the best movies he had ever seen. He has since adjusted his rankings a bit. The older two fell in love with Remember the Titans in a way that I did not expect. I figured they would like it, but their level of passion for that film took me by surprise.

Each year I have attempted to introduce new types of films to the boys, not just the action/adventure films they love so much. As they get older and able to handle more difficult and complex storytelling, I will challenge them with lesser known gems or films way outside of their interests. Besides having a good time with my kids, I hope that the films we watch serve as a chance for discussion and inquiry. I still do my best to balance the festivals with plenty of fun and exciting stuff, but I don’t want to limit our viewing to only one style of film.

This year we are finally watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe films with my youngest son, who turned eight a few weeks ago. Almost all of his friends at school have seen these films – some starting back when they were three or four years old. I chose to wait, convinced that he would enjoy them but not truly appreciate them as much as he could at that young age. Plus, all of the films, while very clean, have content that is just too much for someone that young. The older boys are watching the Marvel films with us, so I will also select a couple of films to watch with just them that will keep them on their toes and engage a different part of their mind and heart. While the Annual Film Festival has been the primary example of my adjusted approach to movie watching with my kids, I now work through a similar process any time we watch something.


What we watch matters

As a Christian, I believe that what we consume – physically, mentally, or otherwise – affects us. I believe that as a father, it is my responsibility to develop discernment and wisdom in my children. Right now, I am their guardian and their protector. For the most part I can control what enters their eyes and ears. There are various approaches that I have seen for how to do this.

There is the avoidance approach – shielding our children’s eyes from anything and everything potentially dangerous. Building a wall around them so that the sin of the world cannot stain them. The problem with this approach is that sin has already stained them, regardless how much I protect and shield them. And this approach does nothing to help them make good, and Godly, decisions as they age. Instead, it leaves them vulnerable and weak; unable to process and examine the sound and fury the world will throw at them once they are away from the defenses built by their parents.

Then there is the full embrace approach – letting our children watch anything and everything because it’s “just a movie.” This approach goes hand-in-hand with the idea that we turn our brains off when we watch television or movies, simply because we need a way to unwind and relax. This approach exposes our children to content, ideas, and worldviews they are unable to process or examine. They are fed dangerous philosophies about life, religion, faith, morality, and a host of other important things. It’s akin to putting your eight-year-old behind the wheel of a car with no training or practice.

Finally, we have the “examine everything” approach. This approach does not hide from the ugly or the sinful, but uses wisdom and common sense to determine what and when we watch. It puts the onus on the parents to actually think about what they allow their children to watch. Taking it further, we should be on the look out for more than just curse words or dirty jokes. There are plenty of films aimed squarely at families and children that contain no cursing, no sex, and no offensive jokes, but are entirely bankrupt in the philosophy and worldview they present. This approach forces us to do some hard work on the front and back end. We can’t just watch a movie that contains problematic material, and leave it hanging in their minds with no further exploration on our part. As parents, and more importantly, as Christian parents, we are called to do much better.


Final thoughts – One size does not fit all

I don’t want this to seem like I am advocating for my way and only my way. I realize that every parent has a different perspective. That is one reason why I did not delve into checklists or comprehensive guides. What you do needs to work for you and your family. But–and I believe this as strongly as anything I have written–we have to take this seriously. Your approach might vary significantly from mine, but as long as you are approaching it with wisdom and thoughtfulness, I can’t really criticize. The key is that you are thinking about these things. You are engaging with your children and what they are being exposed to. As parents, we have to stop being lazy and complacent about the things our children consume. There is too much power in the things they are seeing, reading, and hearing for us to give anything but our best.

So, develop your own traditions. Hold your own film festival. Do a movie marathon. Do what works for you. I’ll be over at the Lytle house holding the Fifth Annual Super Awesome Film Festival. We’ll be eating popcorn and candy, watching Iron Man and Atticus Finch, and spending some time examining everything carefully and holding on to what is good.

 




My Irrational Love For the Karate Kid Franchise

Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have? 

Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like? 

Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant… 

Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants. Daniel-san… [taps his headKarate here. [taps his heartKarate here. [points to his beltKarate never here. Understand?

 

 

Nearly everyone loves the sports underdog. Nearly everyone loves it when a bully gets his comeuppance. Nearly everyone loves a sage mentor teaching a protege about life and skill.

So it’s no wonder that the 1984 movie The Karate Kid was so well received in the U.S. that it spawned three sequels and a remake that all together earned well over $400 million at the American box office.

But even with that success, I still sometimes feel like I love theses movies a tad too much. Well, most of them. They were a cultural phenomena in the 80s and to many I am sure have not aged well. But to me, I adore them more now than back then. And in honor of the 33rd anniversary of the release of the original this week, I wanted to give my thoughts on each of the five movies in the franchise.

 

The Karate Kid (1984) 

Karate Kid PosterAmerican moviegoers in the 80s had a ton of martial arts exposure thanks to still legendary names like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. By that time we already had a pantheon of movies about a sports underdog overcoming great odds to win. Yet we had not seen the two put together quite like this.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is that Daniel comes across as a whiner for much of the movie and his love interest isn’t interesting at all to me, yet the aforementioned tropes are so good they overcome the lesser aspects.

Most notably, Pat Morita gave the world a gift with his performance as Mr. Miyagi. He is utterly quotable: “Lie become truth only if person want to believe it.” His broken English is insanely endearing. The scene where we learn that this humble, easy-to-overlook maintenance man can kick major hindquarters in karate makes me ridiculously giddy.

But the star moment of the movie to me is the way he teaches Daniel-San karate. He makes him wax his cars and stain his fence and other menial, backbreaking chores. And of course Daniel eventually gets upset by it and threatens to break their pact and quit. So in one of the truly special moments to me in movie history, Mr. Miyagi shows him that everything he is doing is subconsciously teaching him karate. He is teaching Daniel his way with Far Eastern methodology and without the dojo mentality. Mr. Miyagi in this scene does an epic mic drop before that was even a thing. “Wax on, Wax off” was a huge part of the 80s American movie vernacular.

Make no mistake, this movie hinges on how good Mr. Miyagi is. Beyond the karate, we feel for him deeply when we learn about the death of his wife. And his excellence in bringing this unique character to life overwhelms the weaknesses of the other two main characters to me.

Kreese, Johnny and the Cobra Kai are excellent villains and perfectly easy to hate. The climactic fight in the tournament is superbly dramatic and the music compliments it well. There is so much to love in this movie that how poorly it has aged has not affected my fan hood in the least.

 

The Karate Kid II 

Is it possible that I love this sequel more than the original? This is something that rarely happens, especially if you take out Top 1% movies like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather 2. Yes, yes it is possible.

Maybe it is the fact it takes place in Okinawa. And the stakes become more real. This installment definitely captures the magic of Rocky in that it finds a new, fresh way to keep our champion in the underdog role. Mr. Miyagi’s telling Daniel near the end, “This not tournament, this for real” pretty much captures how they were able to take a great idea and two years later make it even better. Beating Johnny the Cobra Kai in a city tournament was classic. Facing Chozen in a theoretical fight to the death is just terrifying. And intense, even if it is a tad over the top. I pretty much stop breathing during this scene every time I watch.

But the movie scores big to me as well because it develops Mr. Miyagi even more, teaching us more about his past and his failures and his reason for leaving. These scenes are not cheesy at all.

But at its heart, the story is the Miyagi/Daniel relationship. Even as Daniel is getting throttled by Chozen, Miyagi is shouting out instructions that help Daniel. And even though I’ll never understand how Daniel merely swinging his arms back and forth turned the tide in the fight, no one can deny the music, the choreography and the cinematography of this scene come together for a chill bump-inducing masterpiece.

And for it to end with Peter Cetera singing The Glory of Love…well that is just the cherry on the captivating movie conclusion sundae.

 

The Karate Kid Part III 

Karate Kid III Whereas the second one masterfully kept us interested in Daniel-San as the underdog, this one absolutely fails in every way. This movie is an abomination. It’s horrible in every way it can be. It is tired, boring and unnecessary and the fact the first two made $200 million in the US between them and that this one tanked at $38 million is proof.

When I showed my wife this franchise early this year I refused to show her this one. I will tackle her if she ever tries (since we own all of them). The fact that this movie exists and it doesn’t cause me to feel any less passionately about the whole series is a testimony to how good the others are. I saw this movie a couple of times in the 80s and tried to give it one more chance about ten years ago. Nope. I am surprised I have not just thrown it in the garbage yet.

 

The Next Karate Kid 

The Next Karate KidAs far as quality we find this reprisal of sorts in the franchise between the magic of the first two and the dumpster fire of the third one, released in 1994. It was obvious that Daniel was done as a character so to add some spice they make Mr. Miyagi’s new project a female. And not just any female: Hiilary Swank several years before she shocked the world with two Best Actress Oscar wins.

So the fact that you have such an acting talent alongside the iconic Mr. Miyagi means this movie has some redeeming value. The story itself is retread and does not capture the imagination of the beginning of the franchise. But at least it brings the novelty of a girl, Julie-San, being the one who needs to overcome demons and bullying. Not a necessary movie but I don’t mind watching it if someone wants to see all of the “Karate Kid” movies.

And we get to see Mr. Miyagi light somebody up one more time before retiring the character forever so that alone almost makes it worth watching.

 

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate KidFirst, let me be clear that there is no doubt this movie belongs to this franchise. The title, as well as the obvious and subtle references to the plot of the original manifest its strong connection to the 1984 version.

And I had little faith they could redo the original in a modern way and not destroy it. They did the opposite. It exceeds the original in my mind and competes with KK2 for the best of the franchise.

First, Mr. Han is an incredible updated version of Mr. Miyagi. I had never seen Jackie Chan like this. He absolutely knocks this role out of the park.

This can be seen best in the re-imagining of the “menial task is teaching kung fu” scene. As memorable as this moment is in the first one, I think this movie improves upon it. Dre doesn’t hang up his jacket like his mother wants him to. So Mr. Han uses that as the basis for developing his muscles and reactive instincts, by having him take off and hang up his jacket for hours at a time. Which is a small but powerful difference from “wax on, wax off”. And the mic drop speech given by Mr. Han at the end of this scene is even more potent: “Kung Fu lives in everything we do. It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.” Please note that as a Christian I don’t believe this in real life but I cannot deny it makes amazing cinema. I stood up and clapped in the theater at this moment.

Jayden Smith is pretty good in his role but just as with the originals, it rises and falls on the mentor. I could not love Mr. Han any more and I refuse to try to pick who is better out of him and Miyagi.

 

So as summer heats up and Hollywood makes the news with regularity, we at REO take time to remember the summer blockbusters of yesteryear. For me, almost nothing tops The Karate Kid, or three variations at least. I love them, indeed, far beyond logic.




It’s Easy to Love Chris Pratt

The Humble Beginnings of the future Star-Lord

Before there was Andy Dwyer and before there was Peter Quill, there was Bright Abbott.

I watched Everwood religiously from 2002 to 2006. A guilty pleasure for sure. As far as a person with a Christian worldview can be over a TV show, I was devastated when it was cancelled. I had just moved to Chicago and was dealing with girl problems, so I saw myself in Ephraim since he dealt with the same things. But in my watching I could not help but love Bright as well. He wasn’t funny or intelligent or the star of the show. He was just likeable.

So why did I like him? At the time I wasn’t sure. But a few years later the man I knew as Bright and whose real name I may have sort of known at the time, appeared on my TV screen in a trailer for Zero Dark Thirty. It seemed obvious to me that he didn’t have a big part, but just his one-line speaking role in the trailer made the movie almost as appealing as the the actual story.

And I watched it. And later I watched Moneyball. And “Bright Abbott” continued to make me smile and remained close to the top of my Hollywood conscious.

 

Johnny Karate’s Greatest Hit

Then a few years ago the guys from REO were championing a modern sitcom called Parks and Rec and eventually I realized that I needed to watch it. And voilà! There he was again! And for the million reasons Parks and Rec worked as a sitcom and landed at the number 3 spot on our list of Top Ten Sitcoms of all-time, Andy was a huge one.

I doubt anyone in sitcom history has a higher laugh-per-line ratio to me than Andy Dwyer. Even George Costanza. George is still the best to me because he makes me laugh and applaud the hardest, but nearly everything Andy says is funny. Playing the role of the clueless doofus has been popular in sitcom history, like Joey Tribbiani on Friends. But no one has done it like Chris Pratt. It’s a wonder to behold. My wife and I just finished Parks and Rec for the second time, and Andy has caused pools of tears in laughter. See this scene for a classic example:

 

It’s not hyperbole to me to say that Chris Pratt is a comedic genius. Some of it is innate, which can be seen if you watch PnR outtakes (caution: they have cursing) and Pratt just shoots from the hip without a script and has all of his co-workers on the floor laughing. But some of it is just him understanding what is truly funny and having the courage to do what would embarrass 99% of people.

Summer Blockbuster Cool

Somewhere in all that I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. By accident. Even though Chris Pratt was that guy I liked I apparently didn’t know enough about this movie to know he was in it. But one August night in 2014 I went to see the new Ninja Turtle movie and got the showtime wrong. I watched Guardians instead. Needless to say, by the end of that movie Chris Pratt rocketed to the top of my “I want to see it because he’s in it” list.

So when it was announced a few years ago that he was going to be in the new Jurassic Park movie I was bonkers. I already love the franchise, even the oft-disparaged second and third volumes, so his involvement in Jurassic World made it an opening weekend viewing for me. So I was there opening Friday night front and center to experience what would surely be amazing American cinema. I didn’t think it was a great movie but I was not disappointed even one iota in Chris Pratt. Star-Lord and Owen prove that he’s not lovable just because he’s funny. He has something special that goes beyond that. These movies sell themselves on many things, but I don’t think it’s an accident that Pratt has been in three of the top 50 domestic grossing of movies of all-time all in the last three years (Guardians 2 being the other).

Everwood Was His Bosom Buddies

In the book Blink by Malcom Gladwell, he talks about the first time Brian Grazer met Tom Hanks. Grazer says, “He came in and read for the movie Splash, and right there, in the moment, I can tell you just what I saw. We read hundreds of people for that part, and other people were funnier than him. But they weren’t as likable as him. I felt like I could live inside of him. I felt like his problems were problems I could relate to.”

I think Chris Pratt has the same thing Hanks does. I have never met him and doubt I ever will. But if I ever saw him I would feel like I was meeting a buddy from high school. It would probably be surreal since he is famous, but almost paradoxically I think it would feel so familiar. Because Pratt just comes across that way. Recently he was caught in the middle of a typical American controversy that some thought would offend the deaf community. And Pratt’s response it–by signing an apology in sign language–was as touching and real as anything you’ll see from Hollywood off screen.

 

We’ll follow your lead, Star-Lord

In the Season 6 Parks and Rec episode “New Slogan” Andy is trying to find bands to play for a unity concert and by accident he discovers that Ron is Duke Silver. This is a unique episode because Andy ditches, for the most part, the dim-witted persona. When he talks to Ron, he’s more of an adult. In sharp contrast to “ambling down the street naked on crutches” Andy, this Andy is smooth. And cool. And bears semblance to Pratt’s other roles. I am not sure why he’s like this for one episode but I realize as I’m watching that it’s not the shtick or the writing that makes Andy great. It’s the man behind the character.

And I have little doubt his white hot career arc is just getting warmed up. Because he will bring this undefinable Tom Hanks-like personality to whatever he does. And on his 38th birthday, we celebrate the privilege of seeing his career unfold in real time.

 

 




500WoL: Wonder Woman

I am convinced that if Wonder Woman had been released ten years ago, it would have been rejected by most critics and the majority of audiences. The template had been set: heroes needed to be flawed and conflicted. They needed to have their own personal demons to fight, because that would humanize them. Wonder Woman is not that film and most certainly not that kind of hero.

Sometimes, a film is delivered to the world at the perfect time. We live in an era of extremes. Our politics are divisive and partisan. Our cultural conversations are loaded with hostility and vitriol. 2017 is cynical and angry. I believe people are grasping for hope and inspiration; something to help make sense of the world around them. An ideal worth celebrating.

Enter Wonder Woman.

Rejecting every modern convention on how to present a hero to the world, Wonder Woman opts for something more inspired. Diana, Princess of  Themyscira, is not the hero our society deserves, but she is definitely the hero we need. She is brave, kind, selfless, noble, loving, and strong. The film never calls her Wonder Woman, but anyone that sees her in action could not conceive of a more appropriate name. The film wonderfully eschews the need for the hero to grow and overcome internal flaws. Diana sees a need – the slaughter of innocents at the hands of World War I – and she does everything she can to make matters right. All this said, she is not a static character. She still has room to grow and evolve as the story is told. As events unfold, her driving motivation changes, going from a sense of duty to a more profound impetus to help.

The two leads, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, have fantastic chemistry and elevate the movie in every way. The supporting cast does fine work, adding color and humor. The music is epic and moving. The cinematography is excellent throughout. The action sequences are well staged with a fantastic sense of pacing and speed. There are many “hero shots” in the film, and virtually all of them add a true sense of spectacle and awe.

I have enjoyed the DC films up to this point, outside of the completely inane Suicide Squad. I am a big fan of Man of Steel. I appreciate and even love sections of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I realize that might cloud your opinion of this review, since those films are not loved by most. Wonder Woman is better than all of them. It is a film soaked in light, with none of the angst and darkness. It is worth your time and money if you love movies about heroes that are truly heroic. I recommend it as highly as I can.

(The film is rated PG-13 due to violence and frightening imagery. There are also a few scenes that discuss sexuality, but do so in a way that is incredibly tactful and mild.)




Five Classic Curmudgeons of TV and Film

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

 

Arthur Spooner – The King of Queens
by Gowdy Cannon

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

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

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

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

(And my personal favorite)

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

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

 

Carl Fredricksen – Up
by Phill Lytle


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

Favorite moments and lines:

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Favorite moments and lines:

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

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

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

 

 

Frank Costanza – Seinfeld
by Ben Plunkett


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

– “Serenity Now!”

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

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

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

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

 

Lt. Mark Rumsfield – The ‘Burbs
by Phill Lytle


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

Favorite moments and lines:

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

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

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

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