500 Words or Less Review: Captain Marvel

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

Enter Captain Marvel.

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

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

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

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

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

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




Creed II Spoiler Review: Two Sequels, One Film

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

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


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

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

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

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


Rocky IV, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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


Creed 1, Part 2

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

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

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

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


One Unified Movie

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

Five Stars out of Five





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

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


Doc Brown – The Back to the Future Trilogy

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

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


Flint Lockwood – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

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

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

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


Doc Heller – Mystery Men

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

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

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


Doctor Heinz Doofenshmirtz – Phineas and Ferb.

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

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


Frederick Frankenstein – Young Frankenstein


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

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

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





500 Words or Less Review: Winchester ’73

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




“They Shall Not Grow Old” – A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film is rated R for disturbing war images.




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.




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

 

 




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.