A Review of “The Wingfeather Saga” by Andrew Peterson

Once again, and to my everlasting shame, I am late to the Andrew Peterson party. Andrew Peterson has been creating beautiful, inspiring, and challenging music for over 20 years. For reasons that I have yet to completely figure out, he was always on my periphery. I knew about him. I even knew a few of his songs. Nevertheless, I never took the time to sit down and really listen until about five years ago. Of course, I fell in love with his work. He is a gifted songwriter and musician and his music speaks more deeply to my heart than just about anything else out there.

You would think that having completely missed the boat for so long on his music, I wouldn’t have made that mistake again when it comes to his fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga. You would be wrong. I knew about the books. I have friends who read them and loved them. My oldest son and my wife read them and loved them as well. Still, I ignored them. I have no excuse for that, mind you. I knew better than to doubt Peterson’s ability as a writer. I will admit a part of me was scared I would not enjoy the books and it would cloud my view of his music. I know how preposterous that is, but it’s the truth. For better or worse, I put them off, thinking I would eventually get around to them. Eventually, I read On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (the first book in the series) and enjoyed it, though I would hesitate to say I loved it. In a weird way, it confirmed some of my fears. I thought the series was going to be a witty, quirky, somewhat silly thing and I just didn’t have a lot of desire to read something like that. So I stopped reading after the first book.

Finally, in the fall of 2017, I decided to read the entire series. I started again with the first book, as I am a completist of sorts, and worked my way through the next three books over the period of a few months. It blew me away. Completely. In every way. Yes, the books can be silly and quirky, but they are also epic and emotionally rich. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read my stuff for REO, but I cried a lot reading this series. I cried because while the setting and the world is fantastical and whimsical, the characters are living, breathing people. They are spiritual and emotional creatures and their struggles and triumphs matter. They leave a mark. I’m never going to forget the time I spent with Janner, Tink, Leeli, Podo, Nia, and all the other wonderful characters that populate Peterson’s story. I eagerly await the time when I visit them again.

Peterson is a gifted and natural storyteller, as his music and lyrics attest. He writes with a love of poetry, of song, of food and cheer. He writes from deep places of pain and loneliness to deeper places of joy and belonging. Perhaps most importantly, beyond the artistic skill on display, these books work because they are more than just good stories. They are a reflection, a bright and glorious reflection, of the great Story that underpins all of Creation. The Wingfeather Saga is a story infused with light, love, grace, mercy, hope, and redemption. And it’s funny. Incredibly funny.

When my wife and I got married, we had less stuff than we do now but we were able to care for that stuff a little better than after we added three somewhat rambunctious boys to our lives. Back then, I had a shelf where I displayed some of my favorite movies and books. (We had other bookshelves and CD shelves where the less important stuff was relegated.) The preeminent shelf held my greatest treasures – The Lord of the Rings (Movies and books), The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle. Things like that. If I still had a shelf like that in my house, The Wingfeather Saga would find a place there. Maybe that is the highest compliment I can give it. It would fit seamlessly next to books like The Hobbit, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harry Potter. Andrew Peterson has proven that he takes a backseat to no one. The Wingfeather Saga is a modern day classic, comfortably existing in the same conversation with the great stories by Tolkien, Lewis, L’Engle, and Rowling.

I don’t know if Andrew Peterson will ever write another series like this. I hope he does. I promise that I won’t be late to that party. I know better now.

 




The Sea of Light

To the left drifts the glowing star
promoting the night with its oblong light
caressing the dark with a deep, deep rite.

We see the star, the star, the oblong star,
the longish memoir from beyond time’s time,

beyond the cosmic jar
of the speckled, swirling galaxies of light.

We see the glowing star,
here and here, there and there;
we stare there and here,
within the blowing seas of sand

at
the unseen devil in the constellations,
the gelatinous dragon with his hideous secretions,
the struggle with our Sea
stamped on our stars.

Of the star we watch,
we magi of the light,
classified before time’s time,
yes, our sights are on the light.

Beyond the glow, we watched with all of the
night’s inanimate riders of the oblong winds;

As such here and here, right and left,
we see the star in a sea, a sea of light,
classified beyond the first watches

of the time in time we watch,
our sights on the light to the left;
yes, our sights are on the Light.




Five of Our Favorite Christmas Movies

Watching Christmas movies during the Christmas season is one of our favorite traditions. We have a number of articles dedicated to Christmas movies on REO – some good and some bad. We’ve argued that some popular movies are not actually Christmas movies and have received a good amount of pushback. We’ve even given a primer on how to put together your very own Christmas Movie watch list. Yet in all of our Christmas movie writing, we have never done a collaborative article about some of our favorite Christmas movies. Today is the day we fix that glaring oversight. These are not necessarily the movies we consider the BEST Christmas movies. They are simply movies we each love to watch and share with our own family and friends. We hope you enjoy our list.


How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Gowdy Cannon – I get this movie is somewhat polarizing, at least in my circles. Most seem hate it or dislike it while folks like me love it enough to watch it every single year in December.

I confess that when it came out, I didn’t go to the theater to watch it. And when I did see it I was very “Meh” about it. Like millions of other people, I adore the book and the original cartoon version. It’s a perfect half hour of Christmas entertainment for ages 2 to 102. Simple and poignant and with no fat. And not to be insane but the Grinch is kind of like a kids version of DC’s Joker: he doesn’t need a backstory and trying to explain him actually detracts from him. That was my biggest negative about this live action version.

But then one year I showed it to my ESL class for our Christmas party and they laughed all the way through it and even clapped boisterously at the end. And [Narrator voice] I thought of something I hadn’t before: Maybe this movie can’t be bought in a store! No, seriously, what I learned was that I was clearly over-thinking it.

Honestly, if you get past the unnecessary Grinch childhood history, it’s a fun and funny ride with plenty of holiday cheer and the kind of sentimental moments we have come to associate with Christmas in America. I laugh out loud multiple times at it every year (“Even if we’re HORRIBLY MANGLED…there’ll be no sad faces at Christmas,” “Aardvarkian Abakanezer Who..I HATE you!) as Jim Carrey was definitely in his comedic prime at this point in his career. And while it adds, it doesn’t subtract and nails the right touches of the original story. The Grinch’s character transformation at the end is heartwarming be it cartoon or Carrey in a ridiculous amount of makeup. And I cannot lie: I’m a huge fan of the meta, self-aware trope that TV shows like Scrubs, Community and Arrested Development use and Ron Howard brought it to the big screen years before any of these shows were made, including his very own AD. When the Grinch says “I’m speaking in rhyme!” and when he mocks Howard’s directing I smile every time.

So this movie definitely earns some criticism but at the end of the day, entertainment goes beyond reason and critique to me and if all you want is a joyful and triumphant 100-minutes of Christmas spirit, this is a good choice.


It’s a Wonderful Life

Mark Sass – It’s a Wonderful Life is the only Christmas movie that I watch every year. During the holiday season, I intentionally set aside time for this film. And as the appointed date (usually Christmas Eve) nears I often wonder if this will be the year when the movie loses its charm or magic. You should know that generally speaking, I do not enjoy older movies. They feel dated to me and show their age in almost every scene. Furthermore, I am not someone who watches their favorite movies every week, month, or even year. I can get too much of most films to a degree that I don’t enjoy them as much as I once did. But that has yet to happen with It’s a Wonderful Life! After 20+ viewings I still thoroughly enjoy the film. The movie never seems old or dated. The story, characters, themes, and even the humor (which is something that frequently doesn’t translate well from one generation to those that follow) are all superb! The best films transcend time and hold up after numerous viewings. It’s a Wonderful Life is certainly among the best and greatest films of all-time.


The Santa Clause

Phill Lytle – I love this movie. I have since the first time I saw it. I realize it’s not a great film by any objective standards, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying it every time I watch it.

It’s a great concept – turning Tim Allen into a reluctant Santa. Allen does a wonderful job of bringing his style of humor to a family movie, with some of the edge taken off, and his gradual transformation into jolly Saint Nick provides plenty of visual gags. It has good laughs, plenty of heart, and enough Christmasy moments to make it a perfect family film for the Holidays. The supporting cast is great, with Judge Reinhold adding his perfectly delivered condescension and David Krumholtz bringing sarcasm and wit to what could have been a bland character. The music feels familiar in a way that actually works – it feels like “Christmas movie music” and that makes me feel all warm and snugly on the inside.

There is nothing groundbreaking about The Santa Clause but that doesn’t seem to diminish it for me at all. I will gladly watch this one every single Christmas.


Jingle All the Way

“Put that cookie down! NOW!”

D. A. Speer – Much to the chagrin of my wife, it’s a yearly tradition in our house to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “smash holiday classic” Jingle All the Way. I love so much about this movie. First, the comedic talent. You have two top-notch comedians featured prominently throughout the film: Sinbad (playing disgruntled mailman Myron) and Phil Hartman (playing creeptastic neighbor Ted). Both of them were at their peak and gave top-notch performances in the movie. Secondly, there are just tons of memorable scenes in the film. From the all-out brawl of fake Santas at the knock-off toy factory (“I’m gonna deck your halls, bub!”), to the frenzy at the shopping mall that ends with Arnold trying to take a ball away from a kid in a ball pit (I’m not a pervert!!!”), to the grand finale at the holiday parade (“Out of my way, box!”), the greatness just keeps coming.

No, the movie isn’t perfect. It’s full of cheese, and even contains an over-the-top, yet charming performance from internet favorite Jake Lloyd (pre-Phantom Menace). But that’s just part of the whole picture of what makes this a classic movie for me. This was still in the age when movies could be made just for the sake of telling a whimsical, goofball story. There wasn’t anywhere near the amount of pressure to have to include some kind of important agenda. It seems like the kind of movie that just wouldn’t fly today in a pitch meeting, or if it were to be made, I doubt that it would go to theaters. Probably straight to Netflix at best.

I’m glad that this movie exists, and it’s worth viewing at least once in your life. Not sold on it yet? Let “Arnold” himself try to convince you:


Christmas in Connecticut

Ben Plunkett – Growing up, my family was hugely into the classics. We discovered another old classic we hadn’t watched yet–boom!–we were there. (Incidentally, we’ve discovered many a time through the years that just because a movie is old, doesn’t mean it’s a classic. Some need to be forgotten, locked away never to be seen or heard from again.)

Anyway, when Christmas rolled around we watched many of the great Christmas classics of yore like A Christmas Carol, The Little Shop Around the Corner, The Bishop’s Wife, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Lemon Drop Kid, and many others. It was not until around the mid to late 1990s that I became aware of an old Christmas classic known as Christmas in Connecticut. Since those days it has become one of my favorites (I can’t say it’s my top favorite since I have so many way up there.) Christmas in Connecticut is actually a pretty basic romance, but it is so much more than that and done in a very entertaining, witty way. It is also chock full of heart, an ingenious central plot, outstanding writing, and excellent and unforgettable characters (the side characters are particularly good here).

Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a very city-loving journalist, writing for a popular magazine, pretending to be a wife and mother who lives and thrives on a farm in Connecticut. Her immediate supervisor is in on the act. The lead publisher, Alexander Yardley, not so much. One fine Christmas time he suggests that war hero, Jefferson Jones, come join her family on their farm for the holidays. Fortunately for Lane, her architect fiancé just happens to own an actual farmhouse in Connecticut and agrees to go along with the ruse. She also happens to be the favorite niece of Felix, a master chef, (my favorite character) who comes along on the holiday escapade.

Except for the set up first few minutes, the entirety of the movie takes place on this beautiful farmhouse, one that exudes cozy, homey Christmas. I think it’s safe to say this is the sort of place Santa takes his holidays.


Those are Five of our favorites. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section below. And be sure to like and share this article (and all of our articles) on Facebook and Twitter. You are our hands and feet, people! Each one reach one and all that. Thanks for reading.




500 Words or Less Reviews: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

*This review will be spoiler-free.*

 

One of the biggest complaints I heard about the original Fantastic Beasts movie was that it was so far removed from the original series, it didn’t feel like a Harry Potter story. To me, it still had a good plot and great characters and is worth rewatching, but I sympathize with that complaint.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald gives us much more of the original canon in subtle and overt ways, but still does a fine job of keeping the narrative separate from Harry’s era at Hogwarts so that it can stand on its own legs and tell a fresh story without the weight of massive book scrutiny.

Eddie Redmayne is back as the peculiar Newt Scamander, who another character aptly describes as a man who doesn’t care for power or prestige but for what is right. Scamander may not ever rise to the level of characters like Hagrid and McGonagall in my mind but he is a welcome addition to the Harry Potter universe.

They chose Newt’s book to be the title of these films and while the films themselves are not truly about the beasts that he loves so much, they do play a significant role in plot development. And Newt unleashes a new, wondrous, Jim Henson-esque creature that steals some scenes.

Johnny Depp is surprisingly quite modest in his titular, antagonist role. For a man who has made a living off of being magnificently weird as unique characters, he doesn’t try to do too much here. I suppose the backstory from the original series, the characters “look” and the script are enough and he doesn’t have to be outrageous to bring Grindelwald to life. If anything, I thought he was too subdued.

Jude Law is as brilliant as you would expect and Dan Fogler reprising his role as Jacob is even funnier and more sympathetic than the first go round. The rest of the cast is a mixture of decent to bland.

There are twists galore in this movie but I must see the rest of the series before I can judge them.

On that note, without revealing anything, I will conclude by saying the ending will have people talking until the third part is released. And my only comment in this review is to say that it is imperative to me that they do not make the same mistakes that were made with The Cursed Child. As mentioned, a significant part of what makes these movies work so far to me is that they are separated from the seven-book/eight movie story enough that they can let these movies breathe without fear of them clashing with the original. They may be nearing dangerous waters.

The Harry Potter brand is clearly at a crossroads. The crucial plot decisions of these next three movies will swing the post-book series material either into the “It was nearly all terrible” or “Fantastic Beasts was fantastic and we barely remember The Cursed Child.” I’m eager to see the result.

 

Three stars out of five.




Five Neglected Comedies from the 80s We Highly Recommend

The 80s had its problems but it gave us a lot of awesome things like Lunchables, the Transformers, trapper keepers, the Rubik’s Cube, and the list goes on. One of the best of the best (to some) is the excellent lineup of comedy movies throughout the 80s. Many of these are very well known and still loved. However, REO is horrified with the greatest of all horrors that several of our favorites have been forgotten, forsaken in the dusty, grimy back alley of cinematic history. Here are our recommendations of five great but relatively forgotten comedies from that decade.


The Private Eyes

Don Knotts and Tim Conway were a legendary comedic duo, yet it seems this movie is far more under the radar than anything else they did. And that is a shame. Because it is hilarious from start to finish. Released in 1980, my family owned it on an old VHS tape and I watched it so much I had essentially every word of dialogue memorized as a child (which interestingly made my mother quite proud). It was such clever writing for that era and Knotts and Conway, as the bumbling Inspector Winship and Doctor Tart, brought the humor to life with once in a generation talent and chemistry.

Rife with samurais, hunchbacks, gypsies, mysterious shadow figures and Wookalars (you have to watch), this comedic murder-mystery set in England really keeps you on your toes. And in typical Knotts and Conway fashion, shows us how easy it is to love “two idiots what going to leave their mark wherever they go.” Not counting cameos, this is the last ride for these two men. And they went out in style. With a Wookalar!! (Gowdy Cannon)


Fletch Lives

Fletch is widely considered one of the great comedies of the ’80s. It’s witty and razor sharp and Chevy Chase is at his sarcastic best. Fletch Lives, the sequel that came a few years later is widely derided as a pale imitation of its predecessor. I find that opinion to be ridiculous. No, Fletch Lives does not reach the highs of the original but it admirably captures its tone, style, and humor. Chase is given a chance to play a handful of memorable “characters” – Ed Harley and Claude Henry Smoot to name a couple. The supporting cast included screen legend R. Lee Ermey as a smiley, smarmy televangelist and Cleavon Little as Calculus Entropy, perhaps the best side character in either Fletch movie. Seriously, I would watch multiple films about Calculus.

If I were handing out grades, Fletch gets an A+ and Fletch Lives gets a solid A-. To put it more bluntly, for all the Fletch Lives haters out there, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where Fletch Lives never got made. Perhaps I’m wrong. If so, I can only respond like Fletch would, “It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I am NOT a big man.” (Phill Lytle)


The Gods Must Be Crazy

My parents spent time in Cote D’Ivoire as dorm parents at a missionary school for about half of the 90s. While there they fell in love with a movie called The God’s Must Be Crazy. They came back, introduced it to me, and I’ll be dogged if I didn’t fall in love with it too. To be honest, much of the camera-work of the movie is not great. This is possibly because it was extremely inexpensively made from donations from local sources. That location: South Africa. It isn’t set there though. It is set in the nearby country of Botswana with the Kalahari Desert playing a crucial role. If you can get past the somewhat shoddy cinematography, you will find the entirety of the writing and plot chock full of wit, charm, and a variety of different kinds of great humor. This is particularly true when it comes to the main character, a bushman named Xi (played by an actual bushman named N!xau). The central plot begins with an empty Coca-Cola bottle discarded by a pilot flying over the Kalahari. It lands where it is discovered by Xi’s tiny, peaceful family tribe. In the ensuing greed and jealousy that erupts, the tribe determines that the bottle is indeed an “evil thing” sent down by the gods to test them. Brave Xi then sets out on a quest to cast the “evil thing” off of the ends of the earth. Then the real madness and insanity begins. (Ben Plunkett)


¡Three Amigos!

I’m pretty sure no movie of the 80s made me laugh more than this one did. In my circles, it is hard pressed to call it “underrated” because so many people I know love it. But it didn’t make a ton of money and it has a very mediocre rating on IMDB.com, so I think it fits in general.

At a time when Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short were all extremely funny actors, they brought it together for a ridiculous yet heartwarming masterpiece of comedic cinema. From the very opening where they hold out the first AH sound in “Amigos” for a stupidly and hilariously long time, to their discussion of what “infamous” means to their unforgettable “My Little Buttercup” song and dance in front of a terrified cantina, the Amigos make sure the laughs do not stop in this movie.

Not to be outshone, even a little bit, is the superbly named and utterly outrageous villain El Guapo. He is truly one of the greatest antagonists of all time in this genre. His overdone machismo and his scathing one-liners are the stuff of legend to me and my friends. And he even has a perfect sidekick, Jefe. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have told Phill, “I am still here El Guapo!” to encourage him that I stand behind REO 100% (Thankfully Phill hasn’t shot me like El Guapo did Jefe.)

On the short list for the most quotable movie of all time to me (“Can I have your gun when you are dead?”, “Good night, Ned!”), I couldn’t get enough of ¡Three Amigos! in 1986 and, unlike most 80s movies, it still holds up well today. It has made me laugh until I have cried. (Gowdy Cannon)


The ‘Burbs

I think The ‘Burbs is one of Tom Hanks’ best films and one of his best performances. I realize how absurd that might sound to a lot of people. The ‘Burbs is a ridiculous comedy about a group of nosy and meddlesome suburbanite neighbors. They come to believe their new neighbors, the Klopeks, are mass murderers who are burying their victims in the backyard. The film is populated with hilariously colorful characters – from Bruce Derns’ insane Lt. Mark Rumsfield[1. You can read more about him here.] to Rick Ducommun as the hapless conspiracy nut Art Weingartner. Not to mention Carrie Fisher’s great performance as the patient and slightly exasperated wife. The film provides laughs on multiple levels – pratfalls, subtle quips, and clever wordplay. But the glue that holds it all together is Hanks. He is equal turns the voice of reason and the most paranoid of them all. His final monologue where he defends the odd Klopek family is delivered with such authenticity you actually believe it deserves to be in a much more serious film – except that Hanks is in on the humor and absurdity and makes sure all of that still comes through loud and clear. I’m happy to report that The ‘Burbs has found a small fanbase after it’s lackluster reception in 1989. In a perfect world, it would be considered a classic. (Phill Lytle)


Those are our picks. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section. Thanks for reading.

 

 




Moments of Revelation

The bones of this article were written for my now defunct blog over ten years ago (January 2008.) A version of it was published by an online magazine called The Brink some time back as well. I keep coming back to it though. When I wrote it, I was only 30 years old. I had been married for less than ten years. I had two boys. I was less than two years into my job as a Disability Claims Examiner for the State of Tennessee.

Things have changed in the intervening ten years. I am 18 years into marriage with an amazing woman. I have three boys now – ages fifteen, fourteen, and nine. I’m a man. I’m 40! I have been at my Disability job for over 12 years. And I keep coming back to those things I wrote a decade ago. It is a simple story and one that has repeated itself in my life more times than I can recall.

I was driving home from work one afternoon. The traffic was bad – as usual – though in retrospect, it was nothing compared to our current traffic problems in Nashville. The heater in my car was nearly dead, and needless to say, it was cold. Not surprisingly, I had a headache as well. I wouldn’t describe my mood as good. It wasn’t a horrible day – I wasn’t angry or bitter or anything like that. In as simple terms as I can put it, I just wasn’t “feeling” that Tuesday afternoon. Does that make sense? There are days where it is better for everyone to just turn the page and get to the next one. That was my reality that cold, January afternoon. I was ready to move on to Wednesday.

That all changed, though, while I was driving home. When I first wrote this article (or blog post), I had a catchy name for what happened to me. At least, I thought it was catchy, but as it didn’t actually catch on, it was probably not nearly as catchy as I hoped. I had a “Moment of Revelation.” I was 30 and full of vim and vigor so you have to grant me some grace in thinking that “Moment of Revelation” was going to revolutionize the world.

What exactly was my “Moment of Revelation?” God didn’t audibly speak to me. I didn’t get a vision from heaven. What did happen was that I caught a glimpse of something beyond me and my immediate circumstances. Scripture tells us that God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; I am sure there are many different ways that verse can be interpreted or explained, but I am not going to exegete the passage. I know what that verse says to me; God has made everything beautiful in its time and he created humanity with an innate ability to appreciate truth and beauty. He did this so that we could and would recognize the Originator of that Truth and Beauty.

That gets me back to my “Moment of Revelation.” I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular while I was driving, so I wasn’t exactly searching for anything beautiful, but beauty found me anyway. I had the radio on one of those “We play whatever we want” stations. (Jack FM if you want me to be specific.) The volume was low because the song that had been playing was terrible. Due to the low volume, I missed the first couple of notes of the next song, U2’s glorious With or Without You. Once I realized what song was on, I turned up the volume to a comfortably deafening level. (“Comfortably deafening” might seem contradictory, but if you are a big music fan, I think you know exactly what I mean.) I don’t have the ability to describe the rush of emotions that hit me. I forgot I was cold. I forgot my headache. I forgot the crappy day I had at work. I forgot about the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I simply allowed the song to “minister” to me. I know that sounds preposterous and touchy-feely, but it happened.

My entire outlook for the day changed. That one song at that specific time was exactly what I needed. Before anyone chimes in about the song itself, I’ll make a few things clear: I didn’t/don’t base my theology on this song, even though it probably captures the typical Christian experience better than just about any song on Christian radio any given year. I don’t have to agree with everything an artist is expressing. I just need to be ready to catch a quick glimpse of the eternity that the artist may or may not have even intended.

I experienced this the first time I saw Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey hug on the big screen in The Fellowship of the Ring. I was hit over the head with it when Stephen Lawhead, in his magnificent Pendragon Cycle, wrote about Merlin holding a wounded Arthur in his arms as their small boat sails to Avalon. Every time I hear The River Will Flow by Whiteheart, my soul smiles. I think God smiles too. These “Moments of Revelation” are everywhere; we just have to be ready to receive them. Mind you, they are not just in the arts. It could be a sunset. Laughing with a friend. Spending time with your family. I could go on for pages about the ways my kids help me experience it. My point is that we need to cultivate an appreciation for these moments that God gives us. There is a fundamental reason we have this ability; it points our eyes to our Creator. If we truly appreciate the beauty and truth we find in our lives, it will only nurture our love and devotion to the Source of that beauty and truth.

I look for these moments often though probably not as often as I should. I have even written about a few of these moments already for REO. (Here, here, here, and here.) If your day, or week, is not really doing it for you, keep your eyes open. Maybe God has a moment prepared for you. Don’t miss it because you are too busy stuck in your present circumstances.

Can you relate? Do you have these moments? We would love for you to tell us about them in the comment section below.

 




I Believe I Can Fly! My Five Favorite Flying Scenes

Ask just about any kid what superpower they want most and they will choose the ability to fly. Ask any adult the same question and you will likely get the same answer. There is something wonderfully appealing about being able to fly. It’s why we took to the skies over 100 years ago. Movies have frequently attempted to capture the joy and excitement of flying. From Star Wars and its space battles to Top Gun and its over-the-top male bonding in the sky, movies have done their best to help us experience what it feels like to go airborne.

Below, you will read (and see[1. All video clips are courtesy of the respective studios…Don’t sue us we aren’t making any money off of them!]) my five favorite flying scenes. A few disclaimers and honorable mentions before we get to the main list. First, I have not included any of the more “realistic” flying scenes – scenes where people are piloting airplanes or jets. Those can be fun but I think they mute a lot of the excitement we long for as children. Most kids want to fly, not fly in something. Second, as it will become more obvious below, I am drawn to scenes where the music and the mood capture me as much as what I am seeing on screen. Finally, I may have cheated a little on a few of these and violated my first point above. You’ll see what I mean below.

Honorable mentions:

1. Iron Man – the first time Tony Stark flies in the Iron Man suit. It’s a fun, well executed scene.

2. Avatar – Neytiri goes flying on an Ikran. If Avatar excelled at anything, it was the visuals and James Cameron holds nothing back for this sequence. Seeing this in 3D was spectacular filmmaking.

3. The Neverending Story – Atreyu and Falcor fly over Fantasia. I have loved this movie since I was a child. The effects in this scene don’t hold up to today’s standards, but man did they transport me to a new world when I first saw this film.

With all that said, here are my five favorites in no particular order.


Toy Story – Woody and Buzz fall with style

 

This scene is a perfect summation as to why Pixar films are so good. It’s the climax of the film and the filmmakers could have simply used that as an excuse to end the film with something huge. And in a way, it does end big, but everything that happens in this sequence happens to further develop the story and the characters. Buzz Lightyear and Woody have been butting heads since the moment they met. Buzz won the other toys over with his incredible “flying” demonstration early in the film. Yet, by the end of the film, he has come to terms with the fact that he is a toy and cannot fly. So what does Pixar do? It has Woody and Buzz working together to literally fly to the moving truck – and beyond. It’s action and excitement in service of the story and the characters. That is great filmmaking and it’s why Toy Story, and many other Pixar films, are so beloved all these years later.


Superman Returns – Superman saves the day

 

I realize that this film has been lost in the craze and popularity of the recent Marvel films. That’s a shame because Bryan Singer made a really good Superman film. This film serves as a sequel of sorts to Superman II – the one from the 80s. Superman has been gone from earth for five years. He left to see if he could find any signs of an intact Krypton. He returns to find that many people in the world, Lois Lane included, have moved on. This scene is his reintroduction to the world. For my money, this is the first time a film was truly able to capture Superman’s power, speed, and ability. The entire airplane rescue sequence is intricately constructed – with new obstacles popping up every few seconds. Besides the fantastic visuals, the music plays a vital role as well. Composer John Ottman did what most composers do not seem capable of doing: He checked his ego at the door and willingly weaved portions of John Williams’ classic Superman score with his own original score. You can hear the opening notes of the triumphant Williams Superman theme at the very end of the clip. The full theme is heard multiple times throughout the movie and that, coupled with Ottman’s original score, make for an awesome pairing.


E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – Flying bikes

 

Speilberg was working on a level most other filmmakers only dream of when he made E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. It’s one of my 10 favorite films and the climax is a big reason why. There is a sense of wonder and joy during the final chase – then flight – sequence it’s almost palpable. It’s perfectly staged by building up the tension a little at a time until you feel that something just has to give. And then the boys take flight on their bikes! I get chills every time I see it.


Peter Pan – Wendy learns how to fly

 

I hate that this film seemingly got ignored when it released back in 2003. In a perfect world, this would be the definitive film version of this story. What draws me to this sequence–besides the pure joy and excitement demonstrated by the kids, and the impossibly chaotic and beautiful child imagined solar system–is the music. Again, if the music works for me, the film has a great chance to become a favorite. My reaction to this musical theme by James Newton Howard is hard for me to really explain. It hits me deep. It builds, it plays a bit, and then it explodes into the grand rendition of the Neverland theme. I saw this in a mostly empty theater when it came out and I was floored. There must have been dust in the air or something because my eyes were all manner of watery.


How to Train Your Dragon – Hiccup and Toothless’s first flight

 

Childlike wonder. That is all that really needs to be said about this sequence and this film. I enjoyed this film the first time I saw it. I liked the world, the story, and the music. Then my middle son fell in love with it. He was around six years old when he saw it for the first time at our house. Watching him watch this film is one of my favorite memories. I don’t know if I have ever seen a face as transfixed, as mesmerized, as awestruck as his face when he watched this first flying scene. I completely fell in love with the film once I saw it through his eyes – the eyes the film was meant to capture all along.


That’s my list. I know there are dozens of other worthy scenes that I could have mentioned. I would love to hear from our readers. In the comment section below, tell us about some of your favorite flying scenes. Anything is fair game – even planes, jets, and all other flying machines. Thanks for reading.

 

 




“Say What?”: Song Lyrics We Completely Misunderstood.

Everyone’s done it. Whether as children or even as adults, we hear a song and our brain processes what we are hearing incorrectly. We substitute words or phrases in place of the actual lyrics and we proceed to sing nonsense. Sometimes, we get pretty close  – (See Gowdy’s “Africa” by Toto blunder below) and sometimes we aren’t even in the same ballpark – “We built this city on sausage rolls” instead of “We build this city on rock and roll.” Seriously, that’s a real thing.

In that spirit, here are five song lyrics we totally botched.


Money For Nothing by Dire Straits (Gowdy Cannon)

I knew so many factual things about this song when it was released. I knew it was released in 1985. I knew there was a longer version of the song that would be extremely Non-PC today. I could recognize the song after two seconds of the drum intro, or if I had to from about one second of the opening guitar riff. This song played over and over in my life when I was seven and eight years old, including on rides to school in the back seat of my brother Tracy’s T-top convertible.

But 7-year old Gowdy was badly, badly mistaken by the lyrics. I had no idea if it was “chicks for free” or “checks for free,” but that is a common misunderstanding of the song, at least if the Google search bar on my computer is right when I type in “Money for nothing and my…” But even more embarrassing was that I thought the song was saying “Money for workin’.” It was around 1989–four years later–that my future sister-in-law corrected me. I pretended I got it wrong on purpose but that was a lie.

Also, I just found out that in the song “Africa” by Toto it’s “bless the rains” and not “miss the rains” but I forewent that one based on how I already displayed my ignorance about its lyrics in another REO article on the 80s.


Get on Your Knees and Fight Like a Man by Petra (Phill Lytle)

I don’t have a lot of excuses here. The lyric I “misheard” is literally the title of the song, and yet, to this day, I can’t hear it correctly. (In my defense, I was pretty young when this album came out – 10 or so.) The entire song is about the power of prayer, something that Petra sang about often, and the lyrics were a great subversion of the world’s idea of manliness and what Scripture says about it. I understood that even then, yet I still always heard (and sang along) to “Get on your knees, and cry like a man!” It made no sense to me, yet that is what I heard so that is what it was.


We Three Kings (Ben Plunkett)

The first line of this song has always been a bit frustrating to me in that it is actually written to make it confusing. We three kings of Orient Are? It makes it even more frustrating that sometimes the song is actually called We Three Kings of Orient Are. (insert Tim “the tool man” Taylor question grunt). So I was a kid in church at Christmas time and I was always like, “Where is this magical land called Orient Are?”

Like many poetic type works, the blame is on the author awkwardly manipulating it for the sake of rhyming. I can’t stand it when poets and songwriters do that. In this case, this little bit of manipulation madness was brought to you just so the author could rhyme “are” with “afar”. Just say “we are three kings of Orient” and end our misery. Come on! (Of course, that creates a little awkwardness in itself, but at least it’s a starting point for a revision).


Brother by NEEDTOBREATHE (Michael Lytle)

A few years ago the band NEEDTOBREATHE scored a hit with the song Brother. It’s a great anthem on the theme of brotherly love. My family enjoyed the song, but one line in the chorus gave us some trouble. For those who are unfamiliar, the chorus says:

Brother let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call when you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way, bring you home

The second to last line was the one we couldn’t figure out. Various alternatives were suggested. My son was convinced it was “In the night with the diamond ore”. My personal favorite was “When you might need a Tylenol”. Eventually, we figured it out. Or maybe we just looked it up. Either way, we all can now sing “When the night winds are driving on” with confidence, and all is right with the world again.


Bringing in the Sheaves (Ben Plunkett)

It never crossed my young mind to wonder why they were singing “Bringing in the Cheese” on “The Little House On the Prairie” nor did it phase me when we sang it at church. Never mind that the rest of the song offers the biblical metaphor of harvesting. Actually, at that point in my life, it would not have mattered what food product they were bringing in, sheaves, cheese, beef steak, pizza. it was all the same to me. While sheaves alone really does fit best with the visual and biblical context of the rest of the song, I was a kid, I didn’t give a hoot for context–so get off my back! Now I want some pizza. Bring in the cheese!


Now it’s your turn. Tell us what song lyrics you have butchered – use the comment section below. And if you enjoy this article, please consider liking and sharing it on Facebook or Twitter. We appreciate the support!

 

 

 




500 Words of Less Reviews: The Count of Monte Cristo (Book)

 

Sprawling, epic, multifaceted, ingenious. Those are just four great words that describe the 1462-page unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. This massive work was written by Alexandre Dumas. It was published in 18 installments in a popular French newspaper. Do you want to know what happens? Everything. Everything happens. The tale recounts the long story of the young, promising seaman Edmund Dantes. On the eve of his marriage to the beautiful Mercedes, three jealous rivals (technically four, but he is very drunk and doesn’t really know what’s going on) plot to get him thrown into prison for treason.

Halfway through this term, he is on the brink of madness and committing suicide when he meets the kindly, wise, industrious and extremely knowledgeable Abbe Faria. For the next few years, the abbe bequeaths to Dantes all of his substantial earthly knowledge and on his final deathbed the knowledge of a vast fortune hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. After the death of his friend, teacher, and mentor, Dantes escapes and indeed finds this mountain of treasure securely hidden on the island for many, many years.

Despite the wise words of the abbe that revenge will not bring him peace, Edmund (who now calls himself The Count of Monte Cristo) spends the next ten years concocting an incredibly complex plan of vengeance of the men involved in his wrongful imprisonment with almost 1200 pages worth of carrying out his end game.

The synopsis I have just given might be sufficient to describe the recent 2002 movie adaption of the book (it is to that popular adaptation I will be referring to when I mention the film version), but it is certainly not an adequate representation of the novel itself. The staggering complexity of the novel is something the movie did not even hint at. I love the movie, I really do, but it is barely an outline of the real deal. It is really only minorly inspired by the full story. The real story is infinitely more complex, rich, and, as mentioned, sprawling. When I say that everything is in this book I mean there is just that. And that is only a slight exaggeration. There is action, adventure, mystery, comedy, drama, romance, and at least a hundred subgenres in each of these genres. There are stories in stories and stories in stories in stories.

There are so many richly drawn characters and subplots here that for sizable chunks of the book the count isn’t even involved or is but a secondary character. One of the overarching of these characters: God. Not surprisingly, almost all talk of God is exempt from the theatrical rendition. As a result, I think the ending is very different and the conclusions of the count are very different from the cut and dried tale on film.

In conclusion, although the trip is long and sometimes tedious, it is a trip incredibly worth it. Here’s to them making the wise decision to make this into a two-week miniseries.

 

This is the cover of the edition I read.




Five Songs From the ’80s I Love that Destroy My Street Cred

Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

Not really, but in the eyes of some, what I am about to confess will be considered heinous and unforgivable. I believe I have good musical tastes. I listen to a wide variety of styles and genres. I love everything from classic rock and roll to electronica to the great time-tested hymns. Yet my unblemished record of staunch musical discernment is about to come crashing down on my head. Here are five songs from the 1980s that will shatter any respectability I might have created for myself as a knowledgeable music critic.

Buckle up kids, this might get bumpy.


Africa by Toto

Let’s get this party started off right! This song has me right where it wants me from the opening notes of that beautiful 80s keyboard. The light percussion sprinkled in seals the deal. And the harmonies. Oh the harmonies! Toto just goes for it at the end of the song, bringing it all home with passion – every instrument and vocal perfectly blending into a melodious masterpiece.

I realize that it has suddenly become “cool” to like this song. As far as I am concerned, if you just recently started “loving” this song, after years of ignoring or hating it, then you can just take that “love” and head on home. I’ve been “blessing the rains” since my elementary school days. Get that ironic love out of my face!


Do You Believe in Love by Huey Lewis and the News

Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat: Huey Lewis and the News are not singing about love in this song, though I don’t think they realize it. Second, the music video for this song is the perfect mix of 80s creepy naïveté. Nothing says “love” like a band full of dudes lying in bed with you while singing the chorus of this song!

But that’s neither here nor there. The song is just great 80s pop rock. It’s a little quirky. It’s fun. It has enough punch to reasonably be classified as rock but settles nicely in the pop world as well. If there ever was a band that was born to be made fun of it, it was Huey Lewis and the News – there isn’t a shred of coolness to their music or style – but that sort of makes their music even better. They played music they liked and I like their music for just that reason. Plus, they are Michael Scott’s favorite band even though he thinks he is listening to Bruce Springsteen.

I’m not going to link the video due to the creepy factor mentioned earlier. It’s not offensive for today’s standards but we are running a family-friendly site after all. Here is an alternative in case you are not familiar with the song.


The Touch by Stan Bush (From The Transformers: The Movie Soundtrack)

I love The Transformers: The Movie. Not the Shia LaCrazy, Michael Bay version that has spawned one million awful sequels. No, I love the original 1986 animated film. It was everything I wanted in a movie when I was 9 years old. It had awesome action. Great one-liners. (The movie is basically a string of one-liners.) And an 80s soundtrack that rocked my world.

The Touch was the theme song of the movie. Sung with ear-splitting intensity by Stan Bush, it had all the necessary ingredients for me to consider it a great song: Epic guitars. A nice layer of keyboard. Big vocals. Pounding drums.

“You got the touch. You got the power. Yeah!” I think that says it all.


In Time by Robbie Robb (From the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Soundtrack)

I’ve written about this one before. Here is a small excerpt from that much more important article:

For a kid that loved 80s rock like it was a part of his soul and responded to power ballads like an addict to his drug of choice, that song, at that moment in the film, felt like poetry, inspiration, and theology…In the film’s vernacular, it was heaven.

This is the kind of song that will always work for me. There is a definite “Richard Marx” vibe happening in this song, though I contend it’s better than anything in his catalog. It has all the hallmarks of a great 80s power ballad with the appropriate levels of sincerity and emotion. I love every freaking second of it!


Take on Me by A-ha

Best. Music. Video. Ever.

I almost don’t want to write anything else about this song. It doesn’t need my help at all. This song could not have been created at any other time or mind-space than in the crazy 80s. It screams 80s in every way imaginable.

Also, is there a better falsetto in the history of popular music? No. No there isn’t.


That’s my list, or at least, the part of my list I am willing to share. There are many, many more songs I could have included. One could even say there are a plethora of songs if one used such words. To be honest, though, I didn’t really write this article and list these songs so that others would get a peek inside my head. No, dear reader, I wrote this hoping to start a dialogue. I wanted to create a safe space where everyone can share what songs they love that would get them kicked out of the cool kids club. There will be no judgment here. No condemnation. Your opinions will be welcomed with open heart and mind.