500 Words or Less Reviews: Ready Player One

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

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

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

But you know what? Somehow it worked.

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

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

8/10

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




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

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


Primer

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

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


Gattaca

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

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


Moon

Moon

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

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

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


The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant

 

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


Signs

Signs

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

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

 




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




Five Movies I’ll Watch Every Single Time They are On

This is not a “best-of” list. These are not my five favorite films of all time. I might be weird (don’t say anything) but there are certain films that I am drawn to. Films that no matter how many times I have seen them, if I happen upon them while scrolling through my channels, I will sit down and watch them. Every time. My guess, based on what I have observed, is that many others are the same way. Our lists are likely completely different, but most of us have our go-to films. Once again, not our favorites. Not the best. Just the films that work on us each and every time. Here are five of mine. In the comment section below, tell us about yours.


National Treasure

This one might be THE go-to film for me. I remember years ago, my wife and I would go to my parents’ house every Sunday afternoon for lunch. At that time, my parents had a decent cable package and inevitably, at some point in the afternoon, I would be in the living room in a comfortable recliner, flipping my way through their channels. I lost track of how many times I would stumble upon National Treasure and get sucked in. It didn’t matter that I already knew the story – the grand mystery behind it all. I knew the jokes, the action beats, the insanity of Nicolas Cage. If National Treasure was playing on television, I was watching.

My oldest son and I watched it a few days ago. I soaked it all up again. It never fails.


The Shawshank Redemption

I’m pretty sure this film might be the G.O.A.T.[1. For those keeping score at home, this means Greatest Of All Time.] of all go-to films. There are endless jokes online about how often this film is always shown on TBS or TNT. (I have no idea which one, since I don’t have cable and those channels, seem pretty interchangeable to me.) All I know is that if someone is watching Shawshank and I walk in the room, I am also watching Shawshank. There is a rhythm and effortless charm to the film. It’s set in an ugly and harsh prison, and it still feels as much like a “feel-good” film as any I can find. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are perfect in their roles and their film friendship is a thing of movie legend. The movie is endlessly quotable and the resolution is brilliantly conceived and executed. I’ll spend time with these prisoners many more times before I die.


Sunshine

This one might feel a little weird for this article. It’s a sci-fi, horror film. It’s much more sci-fi than horror, but the final 20 minutes or so do fall into the horror category pretty neatly. Directed by Danny Boyle, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, Sunshine is the story of a desperate attempt to “restart” our sun. A spacecraft heads on its mission to the sun to detonate the largest nuclear bomb ever made in hopes that it will cause a chain reaction that will allow the sun to once again fully heat the earth. Without this, the human race and the earth itself only have a few years left. This is a film that I did not love on my first viewing. I saw it again a few months later and liked it a lot more. I saw it shortly after that, and I loved it. Each time, I couldn’t really figure out why I felt compelled to watch it again, but that didn’t stop me. I keep coming back to it like a moth to a flame. Or a spaceship to the sun…


Sahara

Based on the Clive Cussler series, Sahara had been Matthew McConaughey’s pet project for years. After a lot of time and money, he finally got it off the ground and completed the film. It was a complete box office disaster. Doesn’t matter to me at all. I enjoy this film every time I see it. I love the chemistry between McConaughey and Steve Zahn. There is nothing groundbreaking about the film – it borrows all sorts of things from other, “better”, adventure films. But the cast is affable and the film is exciting. For this type of film, what more could you want?


Hoodwinked

I love this retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story. It’s not perfect – the animation is just not great even though they do some things with it that is inventive and very striking. The story does lag a little at the end and the climax is not nearly as satisfying as the first 45 minutes. But even with those minor complaints, the film is a resounding success. The story is familiar yet told in such a unique way that you feel like you are really getting the best of the old and the new. I love the format that they use to tell the story. The four different, yet somewhat similar, viewpoints are a great conceit to really give the film some good laughs. The wolf is my favorite character, but all the characters have their moments. And the film is full of Fletch references, so you can’t go wrong with that.[2. If you don’t know Fletch, then you really need to fix that immediately. Now that I think about it, Fletch probably belongs on this list as well. When you decide to watch it, just charge it to the Underhill account.] I get pulled in anytime my kids start watching this one. It’s just that good.

 

 




The Five Turns 100: Remembering the First Five Fives

It started with Ben.

He had an idea to list Five Reasons Not to be Scared of the Monsters Under Your Bed. It was an article to be released on a Friday when REO was just a few weeks old. And it was quite hilarious.

Then, Amy had the idea to try to do something similar the next Friday and thought it would great to keep it going. She told Phill, Phill told it to us and we loved it.  And out of this, the REO Friday Five was born. We have tried every week on Friday the last two years to publish a list of five entries that have something in common. Some have been funny. Some have been deeply theological. Some have been sports-related. They all have been an expression of the DNA of Rambling Ever On.  A few times we came up short (here, here, and here if you are curious) of a weekly Friday Five, but 97% of the time we have succeeded.

And today we celebrate our 100th effort at the Friday Five by looking back on the Five Fives that started it all. All the way back to January and February of 2016. These Five Fives are the pioneers so to speak of this longstanding REO tradition. And we appreciate them very much. And today we acknowledge them and reminisce about our beginnings and how each of these Fives foreshadowed what REO was going to be like, not just on Friday, but all the time. I mean, even the best sitcoms had good clip shows! – Gowdy Cannon


Ben Plunkett’s “5 Reasons Not to Be Afraid of the Monster Under the Bed”

This is what separates Rambling Ever On from other sites out there. Sure, we could spend all of our energy and time writing about spirituality and theology. Or, we could have article after article about music, movies, or current events. Frankly, we aren’t interested in limiting ourselves to that standard stuff.

Enter Ben Plunkett. If you have been reading REO for any time at all, you know Ben follows the beat of his own drummer. When others write about the latest political scandal Ben says, “Nope. Not for me.” Instead, he delivers some new form of insane genius. Take our very first Five as the perfect example. Who else is going to write with any sense of intelligence or articulation about monsters under the bed? Ben brings wit, humor, and just a dash of absolute madness to his writing and we are all better off for it. The Five on REO got started right and we have Ben Plunkett to thank for that. It is a philosophy that has guided us ever since. – Phill Lytle


Amy Lytle’s “Five Steps to Become the BEST Facebook Mother of All Time”

One of the things I appreciate about REO is the creative and appropriate use of sarcasm. It was the REO staff that convinced me that using irony this way can be an effective way to communicate and not always mean-spirited.

Our very second Five falls into this category. Amy’s REO articles have been some of our best-performing articles based on the number of views and this one is no different. Because I think people appreciate the humorous take on the reality of how people use Facebook. We have seen many other articles follow suit, including a whole Five on trash talk, but this was the one that set the tone. Superbly done and still relevant (and probably will be for years to come), we are very proud of this entry into our annals. – Gowdy Cannon


Collaborative “Five Romantic Movies Even Men Can Love”

This was the first collaborative Five. Often, we come up with a topic that many of our contributors care about and we figure the best way to make those articles work is to make it a team effort. As REO is primarily a male-driven website, we knew that Valentines Day was not going to be high on our priority list. But, we did not want to completely ignore it, so we opted to write about movies with a strong romantic theme that even men might enjoy. It was a perfect fit for what we do and it was the first of many collaborative articles on REO. It was also the beginning of REO trying to make our reader’s lives better – something we continue to do even to this day. You’re welcome. – Phill Lytle


 

Gowdy Cannon’s “Five Times Harry Potter Made Me Reflect On Real Life”

This was the fourth Five and offered a look at some wise and biblical advice from the pages of the magnum opus of J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter book series is a truly classic children’s fantasy line of literature. And it’s more than just the storyline itself that makes it great. Much more. It is multi-faceted and many-layered in its meaning and depth. It does not take a lot of study to show that there are actually quite a bit of Christian truths that can be gleaned from its pages. Mega-Potterite, Gowdy Cannon, has delved into its pages many times. Here he lays out five great truths he has learned from Harry Potter (the book series not necessarily the character). In Five Times Harry Potter Made Me Reflect on Real Life he does exactly that. He considers five very insightful quotes from various characters that taught him certain lessons about life in our real-life Muggle world. We learn from the faithful House Elf, Dobby, about greatness and goodness; from Harry’s adoptive father, Sirius Black (in two quotes), about judging the true quality of a person and the true face of evil; from the great and inimitable wizard, Albus Dumbledore, on the surest way to wreak damage upon an individual: indifference and neglect; and from best friends Ron Weasley and Harry Potter on the nature of repentance and forgiveness. – Ben Plunkett


Phill Lytle’s “Five Words and Phrases That Need to Go Away”

I confess this is one of my favorite articles and one of the finest things we have done in my opinion. The content is exceptional on its own–clever and with a pulse on our culture’s extremely odd popular jargon. To paraphrase Ben, I cotton especially to the one about “Loving On” people because in the American Church this gets said all time. And it keeps getting said even though Phill and others–including some popular comedians–have called it out. It’s like a massive freight train of geeky Christianese. But Phill’s take on it is the best I’ve seen. And the conversation about “it is what it is” makes me cry laughing. It’s like a modernized Abbott and Costello routine.

But beyond the writing, the illustrations are LOL funny, so much that I’ve laughed while reading it for the 4th or 5th time. The simplicity of the way the searing logic is presented…the faces of the “men”…the exploding head…it’s all gold.

I bet I’ve referenced this article in public as much or more than any other in REO history. And we reference it yet again today, as being a Five that let the world know how acute our web site’s humor was going to be. – Gowdy Cannon




Why “The Last Jedi” is the Most Christian “Star Wars” Movie Yet

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Jesus quoting Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19)

 

Warning: There are some spoilers ahead.

Star Wars has always had a logical problem on its hands, a paradox created by George Lucas that has forcefully resurfaced in The Last Jedi. The problem is that the Force, with all its eastern dualism and Buddhist amoral mysticism is pointedly antithetical to what makes the movies so powerful—our overwhelming passion to see moral good stand up to moral evil. While the Force may be able to make rocks (and even princesses) float, good’s struggle against evil gives us a necessary reason to want to see it happen.

It is because of this profoundly moral theme that Star Wars movies have felt familiar to Christians, like myself, who see that ultimate reality is a battle between moral good and moral evil. It is our deepest desire (and even eschatological hope) to see good destroy evil which explains why we love Star Wars. While the philosophy behind the Force was foreign and even off-putting, the destruction of the Death Star, and Vader’s change of heart speak our language. Our greatest Saint, once hunted Christians down in vicious persecution. And once he saw the light, he couldn’t stop himself from preaching Jesus’s defeat of death (I Corinthians 15).

The power of good verses evil does not only appeal to Christians. It appeals to all of us because it is something we all long for. There is certainly something fundamentally unsettling about living in a world where the Empire (or the first Order) calls the shots, but our desire is not for a balance between good and evil. Our desire is for the end of the darkness. This is not a uniquely Christian idea, it is a human longing that the Christian faith proposes a solution to.

The Last Jedi delved deeper into the eastern dualism, mystical humanism, and even veganism linked to the Force, and in so doing, it may achieve the distinction of being the most religious Star Was movie to date. Like with all the Star Wars films, The Last Jedi may espouse religious ideas far from the Christian faith, but its themes tell a different story.

More than any other movie in this franchise, The Last Jedi links the cause of right with the cause of poor, suffering and oppressed. We even find those suffering to be children that the resistance fighters are able to offer hope to. We find that the rebellion, like the Kingdom, belongs to such as these. For Christians, this speaks to the core of who we are and Jesus’ own mission statement. Jesus came to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom to those being oppressed by the strong hand of the Roman Government and the powers of sin and death that stood behind that institution. (See Luke 4) The cause of the needy is a Christian cause; its our storyline.

The makers of The Last Jedi fittingly settled the question of Rey’s origins. After two years of online debate and speculation, we find out that she comes from nowhere. Her parents we paupers. For my money, this was one of the most brilliant choices made by the movie. A choice that is profoundly Christian, when all humanity expected a savior from a powerful family, God provided his people with Gideon from the smallest family and the smallest tribe. When the prophet sought a King, God provided the youngest son, a shepherd named David. When Israel wept for a Messiah, God sent them a man from Nazareth, a place that apparently nothing good could come from. In The Last Jedi we find out that Rey, whose names means king, actually comes from nowhere. Maybe this really is a Christmas movie after all!

The Star Wars Movies have always come from the mind of leftist thinkers. Lucas wanted to exalt eastern meditation, critique the American Empire, and denounce the Vietnam War. Similarly, Disney is using Star Wars for the purposes of social commentary and ironic criticisms of capitalism and greed. I’m sure the makers of the movie are convinced that the film is sufficiently liberal in its themes, and perhaps they are right (or should I say left).

In the end, however, the reason The Last Jedi (or any good Star Wars movie) is so compelling is not the politics or “hokey” eastern religions. The story works because it has some of the same beauty that all people long for. It’s the beauty that Christians celebrate every Sunday, of every race, in every country, in nearly every language. It’s the beauty of God choosing the least likely people for his purposes, of good opposing evil, of hope for the oppressed, of death destroyed. It’s the beauty of the Gospel. It’s a beauty that The Last Jedi reminds us about–a beauty, that fortunately, our culture can’t escape.




Why We Can’t Get Enough of the ’80s

Within the span of a few weeks in Summer of 2010, Hollywood gave us movies by the name of The A-Team and The Karate Kid wrapped around a 7-game NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. I posted to Facebook “I’m going to miss the 80s when the Summer is over!”

Oh, 1980s. We love you so much. We love you so much that we’ve never truly let you go.

The meteoric rise of the TV Show Stranger Things has proven this true. Don’t worry; this isn’t another article about the show. It’s just to say that for all the hoopla, one recurring theme you hear fans talk about is the nonstop ’80s references. For people like me, who love the ’80s, it is absolutely part of the appeal. Even Will’s bowl haircut.

But Stranger Things isn’t even close to alone on this. As people my age have begun to become producers in Hollywood, the love for the decade has become common. There are so many 80s references in Psych I cannot even count them or catch all of them. But there’s no mistaking why Ralph Macchio has a guest spot on the show or why Shawn once said “ding ding” to Carl Weathers.

I have often and loudly proclaimed the ’80s as the best decade for just about everything. It was, in a phrase of the times, rad. Here is why:

 

The Music

I’ll brawl to the death over this one. The only time I have ever felt cool in the history of my life was in second grade riding in the back of my brother Tracy’s T-top Mustang on the way to school, listening to “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straights. And “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. And “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor.

Does life get any better? I submit that it does not!

I grew up dreaming about the day I would dance with my wife to “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon and “Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbi Gibson. And you better believe I fulfilled this dream with Kayla in 2014. I can take you to the exact spot in Walker-Gamble Elementary when I first heard “Every Rose Has Its Thorns” by Poison. And who among us doesn’t automatically feel like dancing without inhibition when we hear “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” or singing in unison with a huge group of people during “Come On Eileen”?

Some of my favorite memories ever are being at karaoke hearing Josh Crowe sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Or singing “You Spin Me Right Round” at the top of my lungs at 9 years old without an ounce of self-consciousness. And to go all Hebrews 11 on you, What more can I say? Time doesn’t permit to tell you about Bon Jovi, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, U2, Prince and Guns N’ Roses.

I’m positive in a Top 100 song decade vs. decade battle, the ’80s would annihilate the competition. And if you still doubt that I offer up the following as a mic drop:

 

 

and

 

 

Television

I’ll be honest: in any list of my favorite shows of all-time, the #1 show (Seinfeld) is from the ’90s and most of the rest of the Top 10 will be from this century. Yet despite this, back then we still had no shortage of shows that were perfect for that time. Family Ties, Who’s the Boss?, Growing Pains, The Cosby Show and even lesser known shows like ALF (I had the lunchbox in 4th grade) and 227 (with Hal Williams as Lester Jenkins) were weekly viewing for my family. I have often said that I know my parents made us work when we were children, and we played outside a lot but it seems like if you name a show from the 80s, we watched it. And we loved it. Who didn’t love Tuti from Facts of Life?

 

 

 

TV Theme Songs and Intros

Half of our TV Theme Song Top 10 list features shows from the ’80s. Because that decade was the golden age of introducing shows by putting the perfect music with the actors’ names in real life. Some told epic background stories (The A-Team), others gave welcoming, feelgood invitations (Cheers), some were impossible not to sing along with (The Jeffersons) and others just played cool music over cool video (Magnum PI, Miami Vice). They just don’t make TV Intros like they used to.

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons 

Here is another category where the ’80s dominates the field. It’s hard to fathom the fact that for a short time in my life I got to watch ThunderCats, He-Man, Muppet Babies, Transformers and G.I. Joe all in the same week. We all grew up not just watching these shows, but playing them outside, pretended to be the characters, owning the action figures and using our imaginations in a way that seems foreign these days.

 

 

And it wasn’t just make believe that we learned. We all learned wisdom and life knowledge and that “Knowing is half the battle.” (G.I. JOE!!!)

 

GIJoe Knowing Is Half The Battle GIF - GIJoe KnowingIsHalfTheBattle TheMoreYouKnow GIFs

 

A few years later brought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Duck Tales, cementing this decade as the most prolific cartoon decade of all-time.

 

 

Movies 

Again, other decades can compete in this category but any decade that gave us Back to the Future, Die Hard, The Goonies, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Rambo, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, Top Gun and The Terminator has to be on the short list for best ever. Not to mention that many consider Rocky III and IV to best the best of those movies and the ’80s introduced us to Yoda and a more authoritative, finalized version of Darth Vader. And that there is widespread belief that Empire is the greatest Star Wars film.

Beyond that the 80s brought us timeless coming of age pieces like The Breakfast Club and 16 Candles, child acting legends like Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, and some of the best fantasy ever in Labyrinth and The NeverEnding Story. David Bowie was a legend that probably didn’t put his pants on one leg at a time. And man I had a crush on Jennifer Connelly. And it’s a shame that kids today will never know the thrill of going to the local video rental store and getting Spaceballs for the 17th time. Ridiculous speed! My hometown had 300 people growing up, one traffic light and zero fast food places. But we had two video rental stores!

And again, lest there be any doubt, go find Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and watch it. I rest my case.

 

 

 

Professional Wrestling 

Ric Flair and Four Horsemen…Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant…Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, The Ultimate Warrior, Hacksaw Jim Duggan (HOOOOO!!!!), The Rock N Roll Express vs. The Midnight Express, Randy Macho Man “OOOH YEAH” Savage (wrestlers made a lot of random, boisterous sounds but they were super cool), chairs thrown in the ring, steel cages, referees getting knocked out, bad guys cheating, heroes dashing in from the dressing room…what a time to be alive! If my dad wanted to me punish me, a very effective way was to take away Saturday wresting.

3 GIF - WWE Wrestling HulkHuogan GIFs

 

 

NBA Basketball

There were great moments all across sports this decade by people like Jordan, Montana and Kirk Gibson, but all decades have great moments. Only one decade has ever given us Lakers vs. Celtics, Celtics vs. 76ers, Lakers vs. Pistons, Celtics vs. Pistons, and Larry vs. Magic. The modern NBA era is close, closer than any other. But the NBA in the ’80s is about as white-hot as any league could be. Somewhere between Bird telling all of the Lakers he was going to make a three in all their faces in a Finals game and Kevin McHale giving Kurt Rambis a Russian Sickle (classic 80’s wrestling move), the league entered rarefied realms of entertainment. Hearing the Garden Crowd chant “BEAT L-A!! BEAT L-A!!!’ is something I’m thrilled to have witnessed live.

 

 

Video Games 

Two Words: TECMO BOWL

And before that there was John Elway’s QB. And before that “Ten Yard Fight”. And before that the Atari football game where you had to make the block men face forward before each play. What an evolution!

Image result for gif of Tecmo Bowl

 

And there is so much more! In some ways, I miss the 80s the same way Toto misses the rains down in Africa. Yet in others, I don’t really have to. Thanks to Stranger Things and Psych and the magic of the internet, I can transport myself back in time on a whim.

 

Do you remember the ’80s? What did you love most about it?




Five More Movie Dinner Scenes We Love

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


The Thin Man by Benjamin Plunkett

The Thin Man dinner scene

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


Christmas Vacation by Gowdy Cannon

Christmas Vacation dinner

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

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

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

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

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


The Incredibles by Phill Lytle

The Incredibles dinner scene

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

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

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


The Return of the King by Benjamin Plunkett

The Return of the King Denethor eating scene

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


Lars and the Real Girl by Phill Lytle

Lars and the Real Girl dinner scene

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




Our Five Favorite Dinner Scenes of Film

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


Back To The Future 2

Back to the Future 2

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

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

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

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


The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

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


Heat

Heat, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

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

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

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


Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents

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

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

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

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


Babette’s Feast

Babette's Feast

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




500WoL: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay through all the credits. You can thank me later