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




The Annual Super Awesome Film Festival: Making Wiser Movie Choices

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

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


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

The Super Awesome Film Festival was born

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

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

Click to enlarge

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

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

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


What we watch matters

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

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

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

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


Final thoughts – One size does not fit all

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

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

 




My Irrational Love For the Karate Kid Franchise

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

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

Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant… 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

The Karate Kid (1984) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Karate Kid II 

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Karate Kid Part III 

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

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

 

The Next Karate Kid 

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

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

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

 

The Karate Kid (2010)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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




It’s Easy to Love Chris Pratt

The Humble Beginnings of the future Star-Lord

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

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

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

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

 

Johnny Karate’s Greatest Hit

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

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

 

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

Summer Blockbuster Cool

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

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

Everwood Was His Bosom Buddies

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

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

 

We’ll follow your lead, Star-Lord

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

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