Three Things I Love About Audiobooks (And Three I Don’t)

As a man who went from farm boy in Tookeydoo, SC to pastor in inner-city Chicago, I do not mind change. Not even in small things. Except when it comes to reading. I have never for one second read a book from a Kindle or any similar device and do not plan to. I just can’t do it. Not having a physical paper book in my hands is about as comfortable as trying to write with my left hand.

Until recently, I had felt similarly about audiobooks. I’ve listened patiently as friends like Josh Crowe have informed me that listening to works like the Harry Potter series is an amazing experience. I nod politely but think, “Nope. Never gonna do it.”

Yet one day this April I had an epiphany: a huge reason I hate driving in Chicago’s bumper to bumper traffic is that I feel like I’m wasting time. If I’m going 70 MPH at least I feel like I’m doing something. When I’m going 0 MPH, I go from calm to irrationally angry in about six seconds. Music helps a lot of people, but not me. No, I needed something else. And so I purchased an Audible account on Amazon, a website I adore about like I adore Chick-fil-a.

In the last three months or so, I have listened to about 16 audiobooks. I’ve listened to everything from a two-hour long self-help book in Spanish to a 27-hour Steve Jobs biography. And I’ve listened enough to start forming opinions about this medium. Here are are a few things I consider advantages to audiobooks over actually reading a book:


1. The Voices

The very first audiobook I listened to was As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, written and narrated by Carey Elwes. Elwes was already high up on my list of cool people, but his reading of this work was just enthralling.  His accent is exquisite. He did impressions of people like Andre the Giant that were sublime. I would guess he made the book twice as entertaining with his voice than it would have been had I read it. 

Later I listened to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The narrator’s voice was rustic and pitch-perfect, especially when he read the dialogue of the father and the son. The writing is already packed with emotion but the reader really brought it to life.

Another notable one was Gabriel Wyner reading his work, Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. Not only was the material incredible and effective but Wyner, who is an opera singer, conveys an enthusiasm through the reading that can be felt in his timbre and inflections. He reads with joy and I can even see him gesturing in my mind’s eye several times in the book. Extremely well done.

 

2. The ability to “read” while walking and driving

I started this to have something to make me feel productive while driving, as I said above. But then I realized that I spend nearly an hour a day walking to and from work. And while I often use that time to listen to Polish, I could also use it to listen to books. Before 2017 I was about a 15-20 book a year guy. Last year I read 50 without a conscious effort to up the normal count. This year I decided to read every free second I can get and I’ve read a lot more. And it was beginning to annoy me that I was losing precious time doing things where reading is impossible. Now that has been solved.

 

3. Zero shipping and storage issues

I love Amazon Prime in part because I can see a book I love and have it in my hands in two days. Now, with Audible, I don’t have to wait but a few seconds. Also, occasionally, with physical books, I will get the wrong book or my order will be lost or late. Not an issue with audiobooks. And then there’s the storage issue. I love bookshelves and having a reading room, but every time I’ve moved, the boxes of books have created extra work. And I don’t have infinite space in my house. Now I have a way to add to my library without taking space from my home.  Admittedly this is an advantage to a Kindle but this was never enough motivation in and of itself.


And here are three things I don’t love:

 

1. It’s easy to lose focus

If I’m driving and a car in front of me swerves then it will take me a few seconds to be able to refocus back to the book I’m listening to. Audible has a 30-second rewind feature, but it’s unwise to manipulate while driving. Also, even when I’m walking sometimes a loud motorcycle will go by and I will miss some of the book and I’m too lazy to rewind. Plus, in general, I just have an easier time getting distracted and letting my mind wander when listening than when reading. Admittedly, this is a character flaw more than a book flaw. Audiobook from Amazon has thought of very easy ways to combat a lot of this.

 

2. I lose my place sometimes

This is a problem more with my phone than with the medium, but it happens sometimes that if my phone gets bumped then the place will skip and I won’t be able to remember exactly where I was. And it takes a while to figure it out. That is frustrating but does not happen very often.

 

3. Selection is limited

The selection is not terrible, but I can find just about anything on Amazon books. On Audible, this is not the case. That’s just the nature of it. Not every book has been recorded to hear or will be recorded. But to be honest, Audible is a supplement to my regular reading, not the main source. So this is a minor complaint as well.


One final thought on price…I didn’t include this as a positive or a negative because it depends. I have found books on Audible for $5.95 often but I also can’t find books I want for under $25 sometimes. Audible does run sales though where you can get 3 “credits” for $35 and then buy any three books you want (one a month for three months), which is often cheaper than the physical copy of books. So Amazon is still finding ways to eliminate potential complaints.

Overall I am quite pleased with Audible and I plan to use it until I die. Some may think audiobooks don’t count as real reading and that is fine. But my soul needs them to keep myself sane at times.

Questions or comments? Please tell us below.

 




Reform the Line: Finding Purpose in Failure

Whether it’s due to upbringing, past influences, or sensibilities developed over the years, I do my best to keep my eyes and ears open to truth that can help shape me into something better. That is not meant to be a pat on the back. From an early age, I have been blessed to learn from much wiser people the importance of examining everything I consume – whether literature, music, or movies. I was taught that everything I take into my mind needs to be filtered through the light of God’s truth and grace.

It is that context that sets the stage for so many of my most valuable lessons. I’ve written about a few of them for Rambling Ever On already which you can read here, here, and here. And while this particular moment of revelation was once again provided by Tolkien and his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, this time it was delivered through the film adaptation by Peter Jackson. To make any sense of this story, I must beg your indulgence for a few minutes as I do my best to provide context, and that will require a bit of storytelling and ground laying on my part. I promise it has to be done for any of this to make sense.


At the outset of The Return of the King, the third movie in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the people of Rohan are going to war against Mordor, the great evil of the world. Their spirits are high after a hard-fought battle at Helm’s Deep. They had won the day through courage, determination, and the perfect timing of a wizard. The sun rose in the east and brought with it new life, new hope, and a complete routing of their enemy. Now, Gondor, their great ally to the southeast, has called for aid, and Rohan answers. The Rohirrim – the great cavalry of the Rohan people – rides to fight in the great war of their time. With them ride Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor and hero of Helm’s Deep, along with Legolas Greenleaf and Gimli son of Gloin, elf and dwarf warriors of renown. The odds are not good but with these mighty warriors at their side and a little luck, perhaps they will win the day again.

That is the scene that Peter Jackson’s epic conclusion to The Lord of the Rings trilogy presents to the audience. The Return of the King further stacks the deck against our heroes. On the eve of battle, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli make the difficult decision to seek another road to Gondor, leaving the Rohirrim to ride to battle alone. It is a huge blow to the morale of the soldiers. Aragorn had given them hope. His presence inspired renewed courage. Just like that, he was gone and with him, their courage. They lose hope and they openly question the wisdom of riding to war.

Théoden, King of Rohan, has lived a long and mostly unfulfilled life. For too long, he was an ineffective leader. For too long, he sat by as his country and his people suffered. After Aragorn departs, one of Théoden’s soldiers speaks aloud that which all others are thinking, “He (Aragorn) leaves because there is no hope…We cannot defeat the armies of Mordor.” They know they cannot win this fight. It is at this moment of despair, that Théoden truly becomes the king he has always desired to be. He responds with such resolve that it calms the hearts of his soldiers and prepares them for what they must do. “No we cannot. But we will meet them in battle nonetheless.” Théoden recognized the hopelessness of their situation, but he recognized something even more important: the absolute rightness of their task. The righteousness of it all. They would ride to war and die in war because it was the right thing to do.

In what is possibly the crowning cinematic achievement of the film, the Rohirrim arrive at the Fields of Pelennor, outside the walls of Gondor’s capital city, Minas Tirith, to find a host of enemy warriors swarming as far as the eye can see. It is a veritable ocean of orcs, trolls, and other creatures of darkness and evil. Théoden calls to his troops. He rallies them with his chant of “Death!” They charge, building speed as they take arrow after arrow, and finally, triumphantly, they break through the line of terrified orcs. They completely turn the tide of the battle. They rally the armies of Gondor. They bring hope and courage to the free peoples of Middle Earth. The orcs flee in fear knowing that they cannot stand against the righteous fury of the Rohirrim. It is a beautiful sight.

It is then that the Rohirrim realize that Mordor is stronger than they realized and another army had been held in reserve: an army of oliphaunts (giant elephants) prepared to lay waste to anyone still on the battlefield. Hope turns sour and despair sets in again.


It is easy to give up when faced with failure. It is not an uncommon thing to give our best and watch it fall apart in front of our eyes. This inevitably leaves us feeling dejected and discouraged. We have all been there. We have poured our hearts into something so important and so precious, only to see it blow away in the cold winds of failure. I would wager that most of us have experienced this in some form or fashion. Many of us are experiencing it right now.

Life can feel unfair. Things go wrong – many times in ways that leave us broken. Often, it goes bad due to our own failings or flaws, though that is a separate conversation for another day. The failure I am discussing now is a different thing altogether. We can diligently live out our purpose and calling and still see it crumble at our feet. We can know, without a doubt, that we are doing the right thing and still be crushed by disappointment. We can do the righteous thing and receive suffering, loss, and even death as our reward.

Take the real-life story of Jim Elliot and the Ecuadorian missionaries. On January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint were brutally killed by warriors from the Waodani tribe in the jungles of Ecuador. This occurred after months of trying to connect with the tribe. In fact, a few days before they were martyred, they had met with a small group from the tribe and were thrilled that God had finally opened this door. They had been led to the Waodani tribe. They knew the risks, as their correspondence and writings would later attest, but they also knew that if this was the will of God, they had only one choice: obey. By any human standard, their mission was a total failure.

Their friends and family were heartbroken when they received news of the attack. Instead of hating the Waodani tribe for what they did, some of the remaining family members, Jim’s wife Elizabeth in particular, chose to continue the mission. In place of fear, anger, and hatred, they went back to the Waodani and showed them courage, peace, and the love of Christ. Their ministry, and the memory of what the five young martyrs did change the Waodani people forever.


That is the lesson The Rohirrim, King Théoden, and The Return of the King had for me on my most recent viewing. Mordor was too strong and too powerful to defeat. Théoden and his soldiers knew this. They had done the unthinkable and broken the line on their first, desperate charge. For a few brief and glorious moments, they thought they had turned the tide of the battle and won the day. To the east, the line of oliphaunts and the second army from Mordor shattered that dream. Once again, they were faced with the futility of their task. They rode to Gondor’s aid knowing that death would be their only reward. But they rode nonetheless. Théoden, having already found his courage, sees the new army approaching and the fear it inspires in the eyes of his men, and he stands resolute. He quickly rallies his men and they respond as they have been trained to do from their youth. He yells the line that struck me with such force that I quietly gasped. “Reform the line! Reform the line!” The line reforms and the Rohirrim once again charge, courageously, hopelessly into the gaping maw of a much stronger army.

The outcome is irrelevant. They march because it is right. They march because it is the only honorable and noble choice left to them. I doubt we will be faced with such a choice – a life or death decision. But we are faced with difficulties throughout our lives. We serve in thankless and overlooked ministries. We sow the seed and never reap the harvest. Some of us deal with sickness and infirmity. Some of us deal with tragedy, more than it seems fair for one person to bear. We labor and sometimes, it feels in vain. That is our reality. We see this story play out in Scripture repeatedly. Moses not crossing into the Promised land. David not being allowed to build the Temple. Joseph and his continual setbacks and trials. Paul and his thorn in the flesh. All the martyrs throughout the pages of Scripture.

My takeaway from all of this is pretty simple. God does not promise us an easy road. He does not guarantee success, by any earthly definition. His plan is greater than all of that. He requires but one thing: obedience. That is a lesson I need to hear often. I need to see results. I need to see the Lord move in my church in a mighty way, but at times, it feels as if we are dying a slow and prolonged death. All of this even though I am convinced we are doing exactly what the Lord wants us to do. Perhaps it is His good will to let us serve out our days and never see tangible results. Faced with that possibility, what are our options? Do we seek greener pastures? Do we compromise in hopes that it will benefit us in the long run? Or do we “reform the line” and do exactly what we believe the Lord has for us to do?


Jim Elliot wrote this prior to his death, and though not as famous as his “He is no fool” quote, this speaks directly to the heart of what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ, “Rest in this: it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you. I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.”

Failing is not enjoyable. Suffering is not enjoyable. Sometimes though, it is right and righteous. Sometimes, failure is exactly what is being asked of us. Théoden and the Rohirrim charge the new army and hope rekindles. The good guys win the day as Aragorn arrives at just the right moment with an army all his own. Théoden never sees that victory. In the midst of the battle, Théoden is mortally wounded and as he lies dying in the arms of his beloved niece, he is finally at peace. “I go to my fathers, in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed.” He did what was right, no matter the results. No matter the consequences. That is our calling. That is our purpose. Obey. To do the right thing no matter what. To “reform the line” as many times as it is necessary. This is no fairytale, where heroic deeds are rewarded with victory upon victory. We live in a broken and fallen world where oftentimes, God uses our brokenness and failures for His glory. We fail, but there is beauty and redemption in those failings if they flow from humble and obedient hearts.

As followers of the living God, we too will pass on from this life to the next and if we are faithful and obedient to our calling, we too will have nothing of which to be ashamed. No matter the earthly successes or failures of our lives, our ultimate reward is waiting for us in the arms of our Savior who will welcome us with the best words imaginable, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord!”

 

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

 

 




Five Hilarious Side Characters in Television

Introduction by Ben Plunkett

Why should the main characters of the great sitcoms get all the glory? Well, in most cases the main characters of these great shows deserve a lot of it because they are, like, main. But there are truly great and equally as hilarious side characters. They should not be so callously ignored and brushed to the side of our comedic subconscious. The best of them add much to the hilarity and substance of the show. Today’s Five pays honor to five great and hilarious side characters in T.V. history.


Floyd Lawson – The Andy Griffith Show

Floyd Lawson is a barber, supposedly. We rarely see him actually cutting hair, but he does hang out in the barber shop a lot. At least, when he is not sitting outside on a bench with Gomer, or Goober, or Andy. Or at the Court House hanging out with Barney and Andy. Or doing who knows what else. Floyd leads a simple life. A quiet life. He occasionally cuts hair and spends the rest of his time with his friends. And for that, I love Floyd. But mainly, I love Floyd because he is a complete lunatic living right in the middle of Mayberry. Based on some of the other citizens of that fair town (Ernest T. Bass, Gomer, Goober, The Darlings), it’s not surprising he blends right in. Still, he’s crazy and listening to him talk about…anything is one of my favorite things on any show. His dramatic reactions. His wacky conspiracy theories. His soft-spoken nuttery just make my heart smile. I have no idea if Floyd Lawson was a good barber, but I am sure he was a great character on an iconic television show. (Phill Lytle)


Ethel Mertz – I Love Lucy

When one thinks of I Love Lucy, in all likelihood Lucille Balle (AKA Lucy Ricardo) instantly springs to mind. And there is absolutely no denying that she deserves so much praise for this role. Lucy was one of the funniest T.V. characters of all time, portrayed by one of the funniest women of all time. However, although her high accolades are very well deserved, her great shadow too often obscures a perfect sidekick and comedic partner. I speak, of course, of the great Ethel Mertz. Ethel was frumpy, oldish, simple, and kind of drab. It says a lot about her that she was once disappointed not to get an iron for her birthday. All of this made Ethel (Vivianne Vance) an incredibly odd best friend for the young, good-looking, full of life, and totally insane Lucy.  Plus, Ethel could sing really well and Lucy famously could not sing a lick.

But as simple a life that she much preferred, Ethel grudgingly but always with great humor went along with just about all of Lucy’s crazy schemes. As different as the two were, the truly loved each other. That was very evident. Like sisters, they were constantly getting into fights but in every single such instance, they were always weepingly apologizing in a very short time. Ethel’s brand of pure comedy complimented her BFF to such a level that it highlighted and accentuated Lucy’s funniness. (Ben Plunkett)


Richmond Avenal – The IT Crowd

“I mean, I don’t know what any of this stuff even does. What’s going on there? I don’t know. Is it good that it’s doing that? Usually, it doesn’t do that. And I think I should tell them, but often I just look away. And this one: Flash. Flash. Flash. Then wait for it. Nothing for a while. Here it comes. Double flash. Brilliant.”

And with that quote, I think I fully began to appreciate the brilliance that is Richmond Avenal. Weird. Random. Could be Tim Burton. Richmond could be creepy and hilarious at the same time, as when he tells a woman, “When you laugh I can see the outline of your skull”.

The IT Crowd is a hidden gem of a show to me and Moss, Roy, Jen, Douglas and Denholm all play their parts superbly. But Richmond joins a pantheon of characters that didn’t appear in every episode, but made every scene they were in funnier. Whether he was hiding on the ceiling or pontificating about why the gang shouldn’t go to the theater (“I trod on a piece of lego, O it went right in the heel”), he had us in stitches. He truly deserves to be on this short list. (Gowdy Cannon)


Jean-Ralphio Saperstein – Parks and Recreation

There are some characters that only work in small doses. Jean-Ralphio is the textbook example of such a character. Through his unbridled bravado, his terrible rhymes, and his abject lack of discipline, self awareness, or life goals (outside of strongly desiring to be rich and famous though having no discernible skills), Jean-Ralphio comes on strong. Too strong if the show was centered around his character. Fortunately, the writers of Parks and Rec know exactly how utilize him to get the biggest laughs without overstaying their welcome. Throughout the show – from his introductory scene where he sings about being “Flushed with cash!” after the death of a disliked relative, to his absurd business venture, Entertainment 720 with Tom Haveford – the writers unleash Jean-Ralphio as a little comedy grenade, perfectly thrown into the mix to make good scenes better.

Jean-Ralphio would be the worst sort of person to be friends with in real life. Fortunately, a sitcom is not real life and his absurd confidence and absolute smarminess work perfectly in a fictionalized setting. In a show like Parks and Recreation, already populated with dozens of insane characters, Jean-Ralphio is so insane, so unpredictable, and so funny that he stands out and brings giant laughs every minute he is on the screen. (Phill Lytle)


Mary Lightly – Psych

Not counting the Musical and the Movie, Mary is only in three episodes of Psych…the Yang Trilogy. Yet without a doubt this portrayal of a serial killer expert by Jimmi Simpson is my favorite — and the funniest – secondary character of any TV show I’ve ever watched. Whether he’s telling Gus “That’s very good, Gustus,” running with ankle weights or donning a monkey ascot, Mary has made me laugh extremely hard. I don’t know that there is any thing he says or any gesture he makes that isn’t funny to me. He’s subtle and overt, random and calculating, creepy and warm all at the same time. It’s a true masterpiece of a role.

My favorite Mary moment is actually a montage of himself on video, that Shawn and Gus watch in “Yang 3 in 2D”. The video keeps changing scenes of Mary talking to himself.
“Day One, Hour One. What’s the deal with One Tree Hill? It’s like a poorly executed Dawson’s Creek…
Jasper peaks, arrows and bows, the tickle of a good friend’s nose, a tom tom filled with Spaghetti-O’s…
I think CGI has ruined storytelling for all of us.
[Gus: Is he wearing a onesie?  Shawn: Yes.] I don’t wanna say it’s completely Michael Bay’s fault but that guy needs to be stopped because it’s all his fault…”

I don’t know how he does it, but there is something about Mary. He kills me every scene he’s in. (Gowdy Cannon)

 

 




500 Words or Less Reviews: The War

Filmmaker Ken Burns is probably most famous for creating the documentary miniseries, The Civil War (1990), and for good reason. It is a documentary masterpiece. In the years since he has made several other series on a variety of other historical subjects. Hoping to recapture the magic of The Civil War, my sister and I recently watched his 2007 World War II series The War. While it did not match The Civil War in thoroughness or filmmaking magic, The War was nonetheless extremely good.

As for the thoroughness, the film is clear about its limited scope and its rationale for such. Each episode is introduced with these two lines: “The Second World War was fought in thousands of places, too many for any one accounting. This is the story of four American towns and how their citizens experienced that war.” I would not be a bit surprised to learn that he put this here specifically because test audiences kept complaining that the series was a limited look at World War II. In effect, this two lines explained that World War II was so huge that it would be impossible to give a complete look at it in a mere seven-episode series. No, instead it looked at multiple stages of the war as seen through the eyes of Americans from Waterbury, Conn.; Sacramento, Calif.; Mobile, Ala.; and Luverne, Minn.

All of the commentaries are people from one of these towns and were individuals who either fought in the war or normal American citizens who were drastically affected by the war in various ways. Unlike The Civil War, there is no commentary by experts like historians. The people who lived these things are the only experts we get. This is just fine because hearing the testimonies of these people who actually lived it makes it more real, more poignant. It gives audiences a closer, more emotional, look at things like the plight of Japanese Americans; life in America during World War II; life for Americans imprisoned by the Japanese in a Philippine internment camp; and, of course, soldiers who fought in the war on a multiplicity of fronts.

Although most of them are not technical experts in any historical area, the selection of those individuals who commented was excellent casting. All of the now elderly people chosen had a kind of indescribable charm, a respectability, an impeccably honorable essence. Even more so, for obvious reasons each of them clearly felt deeply about the subject matter. It was this that more than anything else added to the enrichment of this story. They were The War’s secret weapon. The seven episodes will take you on a journey all over the world through the eyes of these American citizens who lived and saw the horror, saw the greatness, experienced the time that changed their lives and impacted the world forever.




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.

 

Image result for Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom




Five Great books from Rodney Stark

Rodney Stark is a Sociologist from Baylor University. He has mostly applied his craft to understanding religious history in over 30 books and countless articles. Very few authors have such a direct impact on my academic life as him. While great theological minds remain among my favorite authors, Stark has had a profound impact on the way I understand the world. Since I am in the business of communicating an understanding of the world (I’m a history teacher) Stark’s influence is incalculable. For today’s Friday Five, I offer a mini-review of 5 of his books.


Churching of America with Roger Fink (1992)

I came across this book in graduate school by recommendation of one of my best professors. As an AP US History teacher, I make frequent use of this book. The authors’ argument attacks the idea that the United States was a universally Christian nation at its founding. Their major source for studying religious devotion is church attendance. What they find is that while Americans may have been largely culturally Christian in 1776, they were not zealous church-goers. In fact, a greater percentage of Americans go to church today than in 1776.

It’s no surprise then that evangelists of the early 19th century felt the need for religious revival. It was these revivals, the Second Great Awakening, that made America a “Christian” nation in the way we tend to think of it. As conversions sored, so did church attendance. Every year, I get to teach the Second Great Awakening and using Finke’s and Stark’s research, I make the argument that it was the most important social or cultural event in American history.

Aside from the immense impact of the Second Great Awakening, another fascinating argument is that of religious competition. Finke and Stark assert that religious freedom in the colonies and early republic led to a sort of “Free Market” of denominations and religious groups. Each was in competition with the others and had to work for converts. As compared to established state churches in Europe, American denominations had to work to attract new members or die. This factor explains why the United States had not experienced the massive decline in church attendance that Western Europe faced, even if in 1776 we were perhaps less Christian than Europe.


The Rise of Christianity (1996)

For Christians, this may be the most important book on the list. While there were some parts that Bible-believing Christians bristle at, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in church history. The question it addresses is: how did an obscure Jewish sect become the major religion of the Roman Empire in less than 300 years? His answers are exhilarating.

First, he argues that the mission to the Jews worked much more than readers of the Bible would think. Unfortunately, Stark too often presents this as a problem with what the New Testament says rather than what our perception of the situation is. The Bible never claims that all the Jews rejected Christianity so Starks arguments are not incompatible with Scripture. At this point, Stark makes his classic argument about religious conversion, one that has been the staple of his career for some time. Stark argues that religious conversions do not happen (mostly) because of a preacher or missionary. He argues that people convert to a religion because of the influence of their social networks. If an individual feels a deep connection (through kinship or employment or friendship) to a group of people that are largely one religion, they tend to convert. In other words, conversion is conformity. A more positive way to say this, including people in a community of believers, is the only real way to make converts.

Interestingly, Stark argues that the social networks used by first century Christians were the network of the diaspora Jews. He claims that the number of Gentile God-fearers was probably high and it was through these networks that Jews, half-Jews, and God-fearers became Christian.

Perhaps my favorite argument in the book is how Christian sexuality transformed the Empire. Romans were not interested in reproduction; they were interested in gratification. Newborns were often abandoned to die, especially if they were girls. This led to a situation where there were more men than women and where homosexual sex, heterosexual anal sex, and temple prostitution sex were the norms. In this context, Christian sexuality simply out-reproduced the pagans. Christian women married at an older age than pagan girls who often married before puberty. As a result, Christian women had less damaged reproductive systems and were more fertile. They also kept their babies instead of the common practices of abortion and infanticide. Christian men were encouraged to marry and have families rather than gratify themselves in other ways.

Christianity’s more positive treatment of women (along with the lack of murder of girls) led to female converts. This established a situation where Christian women outnumbered Christian men significantly. According to Stark, Christian women married pagan men regularly, but would often bring their pagan husbands into their Christian community. This often led to the conversion of the husband and even more so led to more children being born and raised into the Christian community.

There are several more compelling arguments in this book, arguments that have a significant practical impact on our understanding of the early church. In short, however, it was the willingness to include others in social networks, compassion for the poor, intellectual viability, and Christian marital sexuality that won over the Roman Empire and changed the world.


Victory of Reason (2005)

For those interested in medieval history, this is where to start. In this book, Stark goes into the Middle Ages to see the impact of Christianity in advancing the cultural and intellectual life of Western culture. The standard narrative that Stark attacks is the idea that the fall of Rome was the fall of cultural progress, learning, and any sort of modern progress. The medieval era that followed was an era hampered by religiosity and superstition. This era, called the Dark Ages, was eventually rescued by the secularism of the Renaissance.

Stark masterfully destroys this erroneous assumption about the past. Despite some obvious hardships during the medieval period, Starks argues that they are a time of increased moral, technological, intellectual, and economic progress. The Romans used slaves in abundance, the middle ages saw greater amounts of freedom and human dignity. While the Romans built great aqueducts for the wealthy with those slaves, the medieval times saw the invention of practical labor-saving devices like the windmill. Yes, the classical period produced great minds, but the scholastic emphasis on reason was the foremost prelude to the scientific method. Moreover, the decentralization of the government after the fall of the Roman Empire produces the Italian city-state and chartered towns. These freer societies are responsible for the development of market capitalism that allowed for common born people to climb out of crushing poverty for the first time in human history.

The idea that was most behind all these advances, which give birth to the modern world, is the Christian faith’s dedication to reason. Believing that a God of order and logic made the universe, the Christian societies of Western Europe were able to use reason to advance more than any society before them.


God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (2009)

I get the feeling that Stark so enjoyed researching the Medieval period and correcting misconceptions, that he felt the need to set the record straight on the crusades. This work relies much less on originally researched that most of his other works, but is still worth the read for anyone interested in history.

God’s Battalions is a fairly detailed history of the Crusades designed to defend Western Europe’s involvement in the Wars. Stark sees the Crusades as a counter-attack to centuries of Muslim aggression in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Aside from the centuries leading the Crusades, the specific violence toward Western pilgrims and Byzantines justify the need for the war. Not only was the reason for War justified, the warfare tactics of the Crusades (while often brutal) were typical of their time and no crueler than those tactics used by Turkish troops.

As someone who cares deeply about Muslims and Muslim-Christian relationships, I hesitate to recommend this book to just anyone. Stark does, however, seem to have a firm grip on the historiography of the Crusades and the way historical understanding has been impacted more by modern political climates than actual historical facts. If you are interested in the Crusades, it is worth the read.


A Star in the East with Xiuhua Wang (2015)

Stark brings his understanding of Sociology of Religion to a modern topic—the growth of Christianity in China. His research is aided significantly by one of his Chinese graduate students, Xiuha Wang. Its in China where more people are currently converting to the Christian faith than anywhere else in the world. How is this possible given traditional oppositions to the Christianity found in Confucianism and Buddhism as well as an officially atheist society imposed by the Communist State? The answers to the questions are multilayered, but ultimately Stark sees that what is going on in China in the 20th and 21st centuries is basically what was going on in the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

People are converting, Stark argues, in the way they always convert—connections to social networks. In other words, friendships and family ties are how people are coming to Christ. As people feel more connected to a group of Christians than they do to their previous social group, they are willing to convert to the Christian faith. The more people convert to Christianity, the more potential social networks there are to be connected to. The momentum is moving in the direction of the Christian faith.

One of Stark’s claims that I found intriguing concerned the impact of Christian missionaries of the 19th and 20th century. Stark asserts that those missionaries, like almost all missionaries, averaged about one or two real converts each. This does not mean they did not have a lasting impact. Institutions like Schools and hospitals were critical in continuing Christian witness long after the missionaries left. More importantly, one convert tended to make more converts than the missionary. As generations pass, thousands of Chinese come to a knowledge of Jesus because of the seemingly insignificant work of that missionary.

One final point about A Star in the East deals with the persecution of the Church in China. Since the Boxer Rebellion during the Qing dynasty, Christians have been objects of persecution in China. The modern state has tried to monitor Christianity in China by making some churches legal, while others have resisted. Stark’s analyses of these realities is that the persecution in China has led to a more conservative, Bible-following, church than was around in China in the mid-20th century. In the mid-20th century, Protestant (and Catholic) missionaries from the West dominated Chinese Christianity. Many of these westerners were significantly impacted by the popular theological liberalism of their day.  As Western influence was curtailed and Chinese Christians were forced to make the choice to conform or face persecution, the church in China became more devout and more faithful to the Scripture.

“A Star in the East” is a short book that is illuminating for anyone interested in the story of the world’s soon-to-be largest Christian nation.


As shown above, Stark is a revisionist. He seems to live for debunking accepted wisdom and providing fresh new understanding of historical or sociological questions. In doing so, he challenges our cultural’s post-enlightenment negative understanding of Christianity and advocates for the real world benefits of faith. Hopefully my efforts today will bring someone to read one of these great books. If you’ve read anything by Stark, tell us what you think in the comments below.




Five Literature Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry

For a year now on REO I have shared about how much I laugh and cry at fictional moments. Who doesn’t like to feel deeply? Today is the fifth in this series, moments in literature that brought the ugly tears. Links to the others in this series can be found at the end of the article. Links to the books on Amazon are embedded in their titles. And please note that MAJOR spoilers will be revealed, so if you have not read a particular work and plan to, please skip it.

On to the list!


1. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

The Moment: Tom is Found Guilty

A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson. The foreman handed a piece of paper to Mr. Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge. 

I shut my eyes. Judge Taylor was polling the jury: “Guilty….guilty….guilty….guilty….” I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stab between them. 

Even knowing American history, I was foolish enough to believe that they may find Tom Robinson innocent. Atticus had argued so well. And I had seen “A Time To Kill” before I read this book, even though this movie came decades later. But I fooled myself. The moment was too much. It caused me to hate injustice real or fictional. Why don’t I hate it more?


2. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

The Moment: The Father’s Last Words to His Son

“You said you wouldn’t ever leave me.”

“I know. I’m sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were. If I’m not here, you can still talk to me. You can talk to me. And I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.”

“Will I hear you?”

“Yes, you will. You have to make it like talk you imagine. And you’ll hear me.”

I listened to this on Audiobook and finished on a Sunday morning very early while walking to church. The tears actually started before this part and continued until the very end of the book. The ending is incredible as well, with the boy finding a new protector and his family. But there was something special about the dialogue between the father and son throughout this story. I don’t have kids, but I have an incredible father who would protect me until death. The dad here reminded me a little bit of mine in how simple of speech and blunt he was and in how he corrected his son.

Unlike three of the other books on this list, this one doesn’t have an abundance of characters and geography in an elaborate fantasy world. Just two main protagonists in a crucial life relationship whose plight and conversations will rip your heart into a million pieces if you’ll let them.


3. North! Or Be Eaten (Andrew Peterson, The Wingfeather Saga Book 2)

The Moment: Janner’s First Night in the Coffin

“When he awoke again, he found that the box was not an awful dream but a black reality. He panicked again. He lay panting in the blackness, talking to himself praying aloud to the Maker, accusing, pleading, screaming things that, while no one could blame poor Janner for saying them, will not be repeated here. 

And the Maker’s answer was hollow silence. 

Hours and hours passed. Janner wept again, a different weeping than before. These tears were not from fear but from weariness and a vast loneliness.” 

I have written honest words for REO a few times but I have never written about the darkest time in my life. Perhaps one day I will. Suffice it to say, I get what Janner went through above even though I was in a spiritual coffin and not a physical one. But our responses were the same. And so was God’s. It was impossible for me to read this and not lose it. It is like Peterson had access to my own personal journal when he wrote this scene.


4. The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Moment: Sam carries Frodo on Mount Doom

“Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’

“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go and he’ll go. 

I recall the moment I first read this like it were five minutes ago. I was on a plane to a youth retreat in Florida. And I tried to hold it in, not wanting complete strangers to see me openly weeping. But I lost that battle. Sam’s character was too much. What he did for Frodo the entire length of the series was heart-wrenching at every turn and at this moment the emotional dam burst and the tidal wave of tears overcame me. I could not read the rest of the chapter for a few minutes.

It’s funny to me how the books and the movies caused me to cry at completely different parts.


5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)

The Moment: Dobby Dies and Harry Buries Him

“‘DOBBY!’ 

The elf swayed slightly, stars reflected in his wide, shining eyes. Together, he and Harry looked down at the silver hilt of the knife protruding from the elf’s heaving chest.

‘No—no—HELP!’ Harry bellowed toward the cottage, toward the people moving there. ‘HELP!’ 

‘Dobby, no, don’t die, don’t die — ‘

The elves eyes found him, and his lips trembled with the effort to form words.

‘Harry…Potter…’

And then with a little shudder the elf became quite still and his eyes were nothing more than great glassy orbs, sprinkled with light from the stars they could not see.” 

I remember being in my church’s auditorium a little while after my ESL class ended, reading this. I was standing up against a wall and I slowly and subconsciously started crouching to the ground in unbelief. But I kept reading, and Harry offered to bury him:

“‘I want to do it properly,’ were the first words of which Harry was conscious of speaking. ‘Not by magic. Have you got a spade?’

And shortly afterward he had set to work, alone, digging the grave in the place that Bill had shown him. He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorifying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of sweat felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives.”

Floods of tears. I have never been impacted by a fictional moment like this one. It still wrecks my soul after about 10 readings of the books. I am weeping even as I type this. I’ll never get over Dobby, my favorite hero in the book, simply because of how humble he was. And although I didn’t catch this detail until about my third reading, it deserves to be mentioned:

“Harry wrapped the elf more snugly in his jacket. Ron sat on the edge of the grave and stripped off his shoes and socks, which he placed on the elf’s bare feet.”

Ron gave him his socks. To know Dobby is to know what a heart-shattering touch of genius this was by Rowling, to this already tear-stained scene. My heart feels empty and full at the same time.


As always, we’d love for our readers to share their moments below.

 

To read about Five Movie Moments That Made Me ROTFL go here.

To read about Five Movie Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry, go here.

To read about Five TV Moments That Made Me ROTFL, go here.

To read about Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 




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.