Predator

Predator

Well, in an effort to make my movie reviews somewhat relevant to current box office trends (not that I’m overly concerned with this) I’ve decided to jot down some reflections on an old childhood favorite that has continued to inspire periodic sequels from time to time – the most recent of which was just released into theaters this weekend.

Full disclosure: I did rewatch the original Predator a few weeks ago, mostly because I was just in the mood – and maybe also because Arnold was 39 when he filmed it, and I’m 39 now… and I needed the abstract motivation of watching a 39 year-old man at the top of his game.

At any rate, this is one of those movies that’s heavily steeped in nostalgia for me personally – and probably a lot of other dudes who saw it as a kid. And listen, I’m not sexist at all, but this is definitely a dude film. It’s unashamedly packed with bros, huge bicep close ups, magnificent explosions, guns that almost never seem to run out of ammo, blood, guts, cigars, Jesse Ventura, and profuse sweating — all elegantly wrapped in a fine veneer of exaggerated grunts, yells, and other various ape sounds. What can I say? It’s a product of its time, it’s pure 80s Schwarzenegger, and you can literally smell the testosterone on the DVD cover.

I have very vivid childhood memories surrounding this movie. But lest you gasp with inward incredulousness, don’t worry — my dad wouldn’t let me watch Predator until it came out on TV – edited of course. And he had actually provided a second layer of censorship by recording it from the TV onto a blank VHS tape so he could edit out the parts that were too gory for me. I was utterly dismayed by this due to the fact that Dad took my older brother Chad to see it when it first came out in 1987. I had never waited so long to see a movie that had been out for three years. And I made up for it by binge re-watching that VHS tape until it fell apart, disintegrated into tiny pieces of plastic, and was absorbed by the earth. It captured my imagination so completely that I would go into the woods near our house with my squirt guns and pretend I was one of the commandos in the movie. But don’t worry, I finally quit doing that a couple of years ago. Everyone has to grow up eventually.

It’s interesting to watch this movie now, and to think about it on the level of analysis. I really wasn’t watching it this time around with the expectation that it held anything deeper in its story, but it actually does, and I was surprised by this fact.

On the surface Predator is exactly what you’d expect it to be – a typical 80s action film. It’s about an elite special forces unit traipsing through the deep central American rainforest in search of political hostages. They’re led by Schwarzenegger and Apollo Creed – old friends who find themselves at odds over the ethical dilemmas of combat. Schwarzenegger’s character, named Dutch (probably a subtle nod to his accent which was still thickly European at the time) is struggling with his identity throughout the film. He is, essentially, the perfect hunter leading a group of other hunters in an effort to find and extinguish the lives of his enemies. We know from carefully placed exposition that he’s been doing this for a long time, and that, along the way, he’s developed a sense of righteous justification to provide a moral anchor for what he does. Dillon (Carl Weathers) gives personification to Dutch’s conscience, reminding him that his self-righteousness is only a flimsy illusion, and that underneath it all, he’s nothing more than a professional killer.

The backbone of the plot involves Dutch being slowly and methodically stripped of his illusions and forced to embrace his true identity completely. In this regard, the alien monster who hunts and destroys all the other men is only a mirror reflection of Schwarzenegger’s character. The Predator is doing the same thing that Dutch and his men are doing – only for different reasons, and with greater ability. We see this theme most clearly displayed near the end when Dutch asks the creature what he is – and the creature only responds with the same question. They’re both the same thing.

Now, I’m sure there’s probably some deep psychological meaning to all this, and it’s probably ripe with Jungian archetypal imagery and what not… but what I take away from it is the idea that all of us have a dark side, we all have a monster on the inside – it’s something we usually hide and cover up with layers upon layers of protection and armor. But if we are willing to be honest about it, calling it what it is – then we’ve taken the first step toward confronting it. And confronting monsters is what heroes do.

I think that’s what the movie is saying. I could be wrong, but I’m going to go with this interpretation… because it’s my movie review.

And remember folks, if all else fails, just take Arnold’s advice and, “get to da choppah!”

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men

This film review is brought to you by the number twelve.

A very long time ago, before I was born, and probably before you were born too… someone decided that twelve was the number of roses it takes for a man to show a woman how much he really loves her—or to get out of the doghouse—whichever the case may be.

And a very long time before that, someone decided that Christmas should consist of twelve days. They wrote a song about that, but I’m not sure why because I’ve never seen a twelve day-long Christmas in my life.

But way back, even before that, someone decided that clocks should measure the progression of twelve hour intervals. The plot thickens…

And still further back than that, someone decided that a year should consist of twelve months.

Now, since we’re talking about the number twelve, and because Bible nerding is what I do for a living, it would be remiss of me if I failed to mention that twelve is a very important number in the Bible. In about the middle of Genesis, for instance, God decides that a man named Jacob should have twelve sons, and that their descendants should be divided into twelve tribes. And much later on, a guy named Jesus who was descended from one of those twelve tribes came along, and he picked twelve men to begin the process of changing the entire world. And eventually, at the end of the Bible, you can read about the Heavenly City with its twelve foundations of precious stones, twelve gates going in and out, and twelve angels guarding the gates. The Bible doesn’t joke around with the number twelve.

And, of course, we also have a dozen eggs, a dozen donuts, a dime a dozen, the dirty dozen, and six and one half dozen of the other (which by my calculations is still twelve… I think.)

However! Somewhere back in the depths of history, in the middle of all this twelve business, some king in medieval England began using something called a jury, at times consisting of twelve men, to decide whether or not a person was guilty of a crime. He wasn’t the first person to have this idea, which according to some sources finds its origins in ancient Greece. But whatever its true beginnings may be, the idea caught on, and it was eventually adopted into English law, and from there it was passed on to the legal system in America. And then in 1957 Reginald Rose and Sidney Lumet made a movie about it called 12 Angry Men.

I’ve known about this film for many years, but this was my first time to watch the enduring classic that keeps resurfacing into contemporary culture from time to time—a testament to the ageless nature of what it explores and displays in regards to human nature. And despite my opening reflections on the number twelve, this movie has little to do with the number of “angry men” in the picture, and more specifically about what these men are doing, and what is making them angry. If I could boil it down to the simplest of terms—they’re trying to make a decision. They’re trying to decide if the 18-year-old kid on trial really did stab his father to death. If he did, he will most certainly be given the death penalty. And for an added layer of tension, the kid in question is from an un-specified (non-white) ethnicity, and he hails from a likewise un-named slum in New York City. In 1957 America, this kid is the lowest of the low.

A preliminary vote by the jury members results in 11 guilty votes and only one for not-guilty. And herein lies the drama. It takes a unanimous 12 votes to convict or acquit, so this one guy (played masterfully by Henry Fonda) is the only thing keeping the other 11 guys from quickly escaping the confines of the sweltering back room in the courthouse—and speedily condemning a young man to the execution that would follow. On this basis alone, Henry Fonda appeals to the rest of them saying, “It’s not easy to raise my hand, and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.

And so they talk. If you want to find out where they end up after the lengthy, heated, discussion that follows—go watch the film.

There are several different themes orbiting around the central discussion taking place in 12 Angry Men, including leadership, conformity, group dynamics, racism, class inequality, and personal prejudice. Each of these themes is personified by at least one or two of the jurors, but my favorite of these themes is the leadership exemplified in Fonda’s Juror Number 8, as he stands alone against the rest of the group, humbly beseeching them to carefully consider the gravity of their decision, and exhorting them to engage in honest dialogue with each other. Throughout the course of the film he takes the most punishment from the rest of the group, and still remains steadfast in his conviction despite their incessant criticism.

And it’s this theme of leadership that has continued to resonate in my thoughts over the last few weeks, as I’ve pondered the real meaning of a movie like this—not only what it meant when it was made some 62 years ago, but what it means today.

What is real leadership? Does this movie show us an example of what real leadership looks like?

Yes, I believe it does.

First off, real leadership seeks to reconcile opposing groups of people (if possible), rather than push them further apart. Henry Fonda, though standing alone against the rest of the group, never says or does anything to intentionally insult them. His goal is reconciliation between their decision and his, and he knows that this cannot be accomplished by alienating them. There are moments when he speaks sternly to them, and moments when he risks pushing them too far, but he does this only to keep them focused on the problem at hand. Bad leaders don’t know how to reconcile opposing groups or opinions. Bad leaders only know how to create more dissonance, confusion, and fracturing among people. The problem that these men in the movie are attempting to solve will not go away unless they can come together in some kind of agreement, one way or the other. Keeping them at the table, keeping them talking, encouraging them to dig down and really think together—this is the main task that Fonda’s character engages in from the beginning—and it makes him a good leader.

Second, real leadership is humble and kind. Fonda’s character never assumes a position of dominance over the other men. He doesn’t try to be the leader. But we the audience (like the other characters in the movie) recognize him as the leader by what he does, and how he does it. He meets arrogance with kindness, he counters emotional outbursts with the calm delineation of salient details, and he arrests pre-judgment with simple rationalism. His goal is not to make the other men agree with him, or force them into a decision they’re not comfortable with—his goal is to examine the issue as thoroughly as possible, and come to the best possible conclusion—together.

Third, and I’ll close with this point—real leadership doesn’t lie. The entire purpose of Fonda’s character engaging in an opposing dialogue with the rest of the men in the group is to find the truth. Moreover, he admits to them near the beginning of their discussion that he simply “doesn’t know” whether the kid is guilty or not, and that this is why they need to talk about it further—so they can be sure of what the truth actually is. We can see the doubt in his eyes at times, and we can see that he isn’t completely confident about his position, but he never tries to hide this from the other men. He doesn’t create a false persona of exuberance, or phony confidence to convince them that he’s right and they’re wrong. Bad leaders don’t care about this. Bad leaders just want to please the majority so they can go on being the boss.

As I said earlier, there are many other themes floating through the narrative of 12 Angry Men, not the least of which is how easy it is to make conclusions about anything without actually thinking. It’s much easier, for all of us, to formulate conclusions based on our emotions, or based on our past experiences, or to simply go along with whatever the closest crowd to us is doing… it’s much more difficult, on the other hand, to apply focused reasoning and critical thinking to our collective issues and problems. It takes time, it takes energy, and it takes a willingness to be ok with the fact that we could, possibly, be wrong. And it’s always difficult to do this with people who think differently, and who easily draw conclusions that are completely opposite to our own. But that’s how problems actually get solved.

We might all be able to learn a thing or two from this old movie.

The Road

The Road

~~Originally posted on September 23, 2017~~

Last weekend our Summer Movie Nights came to an end with Jordan Brower drafting The Road into our lineup as the grand finale. Of the 10 movies we watched, five of them centered around road trips or journeys of some kind, including The Road of course. This was my second time seeing this film. The first time I saw it was in Ohio around the time it was first released in 2009. I wasn’t sure what to make of it then, but the last eight years have given me some perspective – in particular, in the area of grasping onto whatever hope is available when circumstances seem to offer nothing but hopelessness. And this is what The Road is about. It’s a really simple story about a father and son traveling south through a post-apocalyptic America that is very very gray. It’s like, a million shades of gray. Sorry, bad joke. But seriously, the colors gray and brown should have gotten Oscar nods for their supporting roles. Even though the setting is post-apocalyptic/dystopian, this is not a science fiction story. We’re never given an explanation as to how the world went dark – we just know that the lights went out and never came back on. The Boy was born shortly after the apocalypse began, and he appears to be around 9 or 10 years old, so the characters are very accustomed to this world. Those who have survived have adapted to it, mostly in very horrible ways. The Man, played by Aragorn, is on a mission to protect “the fire,” which burns very brightly through the innocence, goodness, and kindness of his son, but which is slowly burning out in his own heart. Through a series of vignettes and encounters with other people along the journey (including a house full of cannibals, a group of red neck marauders, and a lovable and lonely Robert Duvall), we see the push and pull that occurs between the father and son as they struggle to survive and keep moving. The Boy has such a pure heart that he doesn’t understand the concept of evil, and isn’t instinctively aware of the danger that exists all around him. The father knows this, and he struggles to keep his son’s innocence intact as much as possible, while still preparing him to face the world without him when he’s gone. It’s a very grim notion to ponder – how far can we go in the protection of innocence before our actions bring about the corruption we’re seeking to avoid? If you really think about it, it’s not a simple question to answer. And even though the plot of The Road is simple, as I said, it still manages to produce these very complex moral questions. In other words, it really makes you think. And for all its grayness, hopelessness, and general mood of depression, there does exist, under all the layers of dirt and grime, a small ray of light – the hope that the boy carries and embodies. We see it in the way he enjoys a Coca-cola for the first time, in the way he pleads with his dad to share their food with a stranger, in the desire to show mercy to a thief, and in the way he heartbrokenly asks the question, “Are we still the good guys?” That’s a question we should all pause and ask ourselves from time to time. Thankfully, this movie doesn’t leave us without that bit of hope at the end. As Aragorn himself once said during the battle of Helms Deep – “there is always hope.”

I give The Road 4 Cofftomic Particles 4 Cofflames  3 Cans of Coffgoods 3 Emotional Coffcoasters, 1 Coffcartand 2 Full Moons 🌕🌕.

Southpaw

Southpaw

~~Originally posted on August 11, 2017~~

Karlie Crouch’s pick for our group’s Thursday Night Film Time this week was Southpaw. I had not yet seen this one, but Antoine Fuqua has been one of my favorite directors since Training Day back in 2001, and his follow up – Tears of the Sun in 2003. His most defining characteristic is being able to deftly genre-jump his way from project to project, each time applying his craft to an entirely different category of film. He’s dropped a few stinkers along the way for sure (2004’s King Arthur with Clive Owen for instance), but Southpaw isn’t one of them. Released in 2015, it’s a recent entry into his catalogue, and with the writing chops of Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy), he’s brought all of his accumulated film experience into the boxing genre.

Of course, when it comes to making a boxing film, any director and screenwriter has to, at some point in their process, honestly contend with the fact that they’re treading on sacred ground that was long ago bought and paid for with Stallone’s blood, sweat, and tears. Sutter seems to have made a career out of trampling on holy ground, but in this case he’s much more careful with his screenplay. He doesn’t completely abandon the classic elements that made the Rocky saga great, but pays subtle homage to them while also injecting his own brand of tragic realism into the genre–and Sutter’s realism is very dark. Combined with Fuqua’s vision, the result is an experience that drags you down down down into a pit of despair as you watch the main character spiral into a black hole. But it doesn’t leave you there! (Manchester By The Sea, I’m looking at you – 😫)

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, the reigning boxing champ who is on top of the world. Without giving anything away, something happens to him about 20 minutes into the story that is the sitting-comfortably-in-your-home equivalent of receiving an unexpected uppercut to the jaw. It’s in that moment when you realize, ‘Oh, this isn’t Rocky.’ Thankfully, the story doesn’t end at this point, and you get to watch as this damaged character is slowly dismantled, re-arranged, healed, and put back together – mostly by Forrest Whitaker – the aging trainer/mentor figure. Whitaker (Tick Wills) is at his finest as he ambles from quiet discourse to energetic pep talk to loud bustling exclamations of woe and regret – all punctuated by an array of facial expressions that say more than his actual words. The meat of the story is the process by which Tick steadily hammers away at Billy’s hard outer shell in order to fully reveal the chaotic mess that’s inside him. Once this happens, Billy Hope is able to piece together a redemption story that can only really begin with his full acceptance of his own mistakes. He has to learn how to embrace responsibility for his own downfall, his own weaknesses, and how he has played a role in hurting those closest to him. The enemy he fights in the ring is a reflection of the enemy he fights inside his own heart and mind. Both fights are brutal, both fights are desperate, and both fights are metaphors for the kinds of battles that we all, as human beings on this planet, must face every day, in our own ways.

I give Southpaw 4 Coff-stars , 3 Coff-curls , 6 bowls of Coff-corn🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿, and 1 knockout 💥

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

~~Originally posted on August 18, 2017~~

It was sometime in the middle of 2005 when the name ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ began registering in my brain enough for me to actually devote energy into finding out what it meant. Released the previous summer, the film had already become an independent cult classic, and as more and more people were talking about it, I became curious. Everyone else I knew had already seen it. Good grief, even my own parents had seen it by that time. And then, one night, I found myself sitting in the home of my old pal Christopher Jones, being forced to watch it. I’ll admit, I didn’t entirely get the humor during that first viewing. There were parts that I found really hilarious, but just as many that made me cringe with awkwardness, or feel genuinely sad for the characters. Watching the movie is almost like experiencing a symphony that hits these three notes over and over again. Hilarious, Awkward, Sad… Hilarious, Awkward, Sad… Hilarious, Awkward, Sad… But something has happened to me in the years since I first watched Napoleon Dynamite – something that has made me unable to watch it now without a huge, unquenchable grin on my face the entire time.

Napoleon Dynamite takes place in the rural town of Preston, Idaho – a place that feels like it dropped anchor in about 1987 and was then dragged kicking and screaming through the 90s before washing up in 2004. The story centers around the lives of three high school misfits who find friendship in each other. Napoleon, Pedro, and Deb have a variety of mild antagonists to deal with. These include the ‘popular’ crowd in their school, Kip – Napoleon’s older brother who spends most of his time chatting online with his internet girlfriend, and Uncle Rico – that sleazy relative who shows up unannounced and wreaks havoc in the lives of his family because he peaked in high school and is miserable that life has been nothing but a downhill slide ever since. Together, the unlikely trio of heroes form a bond that allows them to overthrow the established social order of high school politics. When we first meet Napoleon he’s the archetypal teenage loner, constantly over-exaggerating in order to impress those around him into liking him. He’s the guy that (if we’re honest about it) we all would have made fun of, laughed at, and generally avoided if he was a real person that we knew in high school, regardless of whatever social pond we were swimming in at the time. But Napoleon has a pure heart, and in his innocence he attracts the affection of Deb who accepts him for who he is. As his confidence gathers momentum he’s able to let his guard down, shrug off discouragement from his family members, stop bragging about his imaginary ninja skills, and clinch Pedro’s run for class president by channeling Jamiroquai in a public display of dance moves that brings the entire school roaring to their feet in applause.

And I’ll be completely honest with you. Even though I’ve just done my darnedest to give a brief, satisfactory summary of this movie – nothing I’ve said or could say about it will truly do it justice. It’s in a genre of its own. It completely defies all attempts at standard categorization. It laughs at professional critical analysis, and it scoffs at conventional comedic movies. If you’ve never seen it before, gather the whole family (it’s safe for all ages), make some popcorn, and let Napoleon Dynamite transport you to the most familiar-feeling parallel dimension that you’ve never been to.

I give Napoleon Dynamite 4 Coffstars , 2 Coff-steaks 🥩🥩, 3 Coff-jams , 1 pocket full of Coff-tater tots , and 1 (tamed) wild honeymoon stallion

Sneakers

Sneakers

For those of you who don’t know me, I was born at the tail end of 1978. I guess 39 years really isn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but from a technological point of view, it was prehistoric times. The first video games I played were on the Atari 2600, my family didn’t own a phone that wasn’t attached to the wall until I was in middle school, and we didn’t have a cell phone until I was 18. The first computer we had (a top of the line custom desktop) could have held about 50 songs on its entire hard drive, if mp3 files existed at the time—and they didn’t. Our second PC was able to connect to the internet after a few minutes of the modem making screeching and scrunching sounds, and no one else could use the phone while someone else was online. And then things started changing. They changed really fast. And now, 20 years later, it takes only a few seconds to see what people are doing on the other side of the planet. The barriers of global communication—which at one time included things like oceans, and mountains, and long-distance fees, no longer exist. Information availability is nearly without limit.

And 26 years ago, a quaint little film called Sneakers predicted this would happen. Three years before, Phil Alden Robinson had directed Field of Dreams, which is essentially a parable about Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones building a sacred temple in the form of a baseball field. Sneakers was Robinson’s follow-up, and even though it’s basically a heist film veiled in several other genres, it’s also a parable—a parable about the power of information in the digital age. It definitely has some fantastical plot elements, but in the two and a half decades since its release, it’s proven to be remarkably prophetic in regards to some of its ideological warnings concerning information technology. As the villain of the story, played by Sir Ben Kingsley states so eloquently to his protagonist Robert Redford: “The world isn’t run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money. It’s run by little 1s and 0s, little bits of data… there’s a war out there; a world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets, it’s about who controls the information—what we see and hear, how we work, what we think—it’s all about the information.

Side Note: James Earl Jones makes a cameo appearance in this movie, and he has the best lines…

But all heaviness and ideological gravitas aside, Sneakers is just a really fun movie. It reminds me a lot of Ocean’s Eleven—it has a similar feel to it. And like Ocean’s Eleven, what really makes it a great film are the characters, their uniqueness, and how well their personalities ping-pong off each other. I don’t want to give too much away, but let me break down the team dynamic for you: There’s Sydney Poitier, the ex-CIA operative who functions as the co-leader of the team along with Robert Redford. He’s often roped into verbal sparring matches with Dan Aykroyd, who plays a technical genius obsessed with conspiracy theories. The heart of the team is David Strathairn who plays a blind computer hacker named Whistler. I’m not going to tell you why he’s the heart of the team—you just have to watch it. Then there’s Carl, played by the late River Phoenix in one of his last roles—he plays… well, he plays a kid named Carl. And finally, last but not least, is Mary McDonnell (Stands With A Fist), playing the intelligent, quick-thinking, quick-witted, token female who’s obviously just had enough with all these dudes running around getting into trouble.

Movies about teams of people saving the world are pretty common these days, but if you want to watch something different, look no further than Sneakers—a film about a group of small business entrepreneurs (without superhuman abilities, without guns, and without Denzel Washington), that end up saving the world all the same. If you’ve never had the chance to behold this forgotten treasure from 1992, it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

The Green Mile

The Green Mile

~~Originally posted on July 9, 2017~~

I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong with a movie that has Tom Hanks on the cover – whether it’s Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, or The ‘Burbs – and that’s definitely true of the one Seth Dickey brought to our Thursday Night Movie Time this past week. The Green Mile (1999) was a collaboration between Director Frank Darabont and Stephen King. Five years earlier, the pair had brought The Shawshank Redemption to the screen, and this was their follow-up. Both films have a very similar tone. The main difference between the two is that Shawshank has a very subtle, biblical undertone, loosely based around the Old Testament story of Joseph, whereas The Green Mile has a plot that is overtly and undeniably based on the New Testament story of Jesus Christ. The Green Mile takes place down in Louisiana during the time of the Great Depression, and revolves primarily around the interaction between Tom Hanks’ character Paul Edgecomb – a death row prison guard, and his prisoner John Coffey – an extremely large black man (portrayed by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, may he rest in peace) who has been wrongly convicted of raping and murdering two young white girls. Throughout the course of the film we see that Coffey has a variety of supernatural abilities which include healing disease, prophecy, sensing the good and evil in other people, and even resurrecting a dead mouse. He also has a genuine concern for other people, including strangers, as well as a childlike sense of wonder. His conviction as a child rapist and murderer is based entirely on outward appearances and racism. We don’t even see the trial, because whatever trial he had was irrelevant – he’s an eight foot tall black man and a stranger – his guilt was assumed the moment they found him holding the dead bodies of these two little white girls. The reality is that he found them after they had already been killed, and was trying to heal them. This film doesn’t just touch lightly on an important issue – it presses firmly on a deep and open wound that our country is still grappling with today. And it does so by reminding us that the qualities which make someone a genuine child of God cannot be seen with the eyes. This is what Hanks’ character learns in the film. It’s what we, as a society, still have not learned. I give The Green Mile 4 Coffstars 🌠🌠🌠🌠, 3 Coff-tears, 2 Coff-cones, and 1 Mr. Jingles .

Stand By Me

Stand By Me

~~Originally Posted on July 16, 2017~~

The movie that EB Dickey brought to our Thursday Night Movie Time this past week is a timeless classic in every way that a film can be – set in the 50s, made in the 80s, and just as relevant today – Stand By Me (1986) is one of Rob Reiner’s best. Of course he has several other classics in his filmography, including A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and my personal favorite of his – The Princess Bride. Richard Dreyfuss plays Gordy Lachance, a middle-aged writer reminiscing about his last weekend of Summer Break in 1959, just as he and his three friends are about to enter Junior High. His narration unfolds the quest they embark upon to find a young man from their town who has gone missing and is presumed dead. On the surface, Stand By Me is about the playful, honest, and pure bond of friendship shared among four 12 year olds growing up together in the same small town. But underneath it’s about the looming cloud of adulthood that is slowly settling over them as they’re forced to grow up. The magic of this film (based on a Stephen King story) is in its ability to capture that moment in time when a kid takes a genuine look into the distance, and perceives, for the first time, that their life is inevitably leading to the same place as everyone else – the grave. The spirit of death hovers over the entire story from beginning to end in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling hopeless and gloomy, but nostalgic for those last days we all experienced just before having the curtain of innocence rolled back on us. I think most of us, like Gordy, have some point in our past that we wish we could return to – and if we could only just get back there – we would hold on to it for dear life. Likewise, we all have friends and loved ones that we’ve lost along the way – either because death took them away from us, or because life took us away from them. This film cuts deep into the core of our hearts with such tact and precision that it’s almost unnoticeable, but there it is – in plain sight, in the very title of the movie, soulfully woven into the narrative with Ben E. King’s beautiful song – nudging gently at one of the deepest longings that any human being can yearn for: that when our time comes, we will have someone to stand by us too.

I give Stand By Me 4 Coffstars 🌠🌠🌠🌠, 3 Coffclouds ⛅️⛅️⛅️, 3 loaves of Coffbread , and 1 choo-choo train 🚂.

The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers

~~Originally posted on June 16, 2017~~

The Blues Brothers (1980) was on tap for our Thursday night movie this week. Presented by Chet Dickey. This is a movie I had previously seen only in small pieces throughout the course of my life… a chunk here, a segment there, but never the whole thing. Every time it was on TV as I was growing up, if I was within earshot of William J. Coffman (my dad), he would make sure that I knew about it. So of course I was somewhat acquainted with Jake and Elwood, and I knew they were “on a mission from God.” What I did not know, was that James Brown was the one who inspired them to undertake said mission, and that Carrie Fisher was like the devil trying to murder them the whole time! Holy moly, I cannot believe how much of this film I had never seen before. Not only does it star John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the iconic duo, but it contains musical cameos from Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, and others – and it showcases a final car chase that is the longest I’ve ever seen… and the most insane. Additional appearances by John Candy, a pre-Pee-wee Herman Paul Reubens, and Frank Oz (the puppeteer and voice behind Jedi Master Yoda) earned big bonus points in my book. But my favorite part of this movie is that it’s about two dudes saving an orphanage while the whole world tries to stop them. And at first glance it might be tempting to just write them off as hoodlums because of their drinking, smoking, cussing, and excessive parking violations… but shining through all the haze, just a couple of layers deeper, permeating the entire story, are those old words by the Apostle John: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 

And that is why I give ‘The Blues Brothers’ 5 Coffstars , 4 orders of Coff-fries 🍟🍟🍟🍟, 2 Coffcakes 🎂🎂, 2 Bluesmobiles 🚓🚓, and 1 penguin 🐧.

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society

Last Summer, on Thursday nights, I watched a series of movies with my Sunday school class – asking each person to pick a movie they wanted to share with the group. And just as an after-thought I began writing little mini-reviews on each film. These eventually developed into a full blown hobby, as is obvious by now. But that original set of reviews were only shared on Facebook, and now that a year has gone by, they have begun popping up in my memory feed. So, to better preserve them, I have decided to re-publish them here.

Originally from June 23, 2017 —

We took a contemplative dive into some deeper waters this week for our Thursday night movie (courtesy of Jalen Brower). The first time I watched the movie ‘Dead Poets Society’ I was a sophomore in high school. If I’m being honest here, I have to say that, at the time, the message in the film flew completely over my head. I knew I was supposed to be learning something because it was my English teacher who was showing the movie to us in class, but other than the fact that it was about guys who were close to the same age as me, I couldn’t relate to the struggles the characters were going through, or their environment. A few years later I saw the movie again in college, and this time, it made a little more sense. The young guys in the film were struggling to figure out who they were inside an institution that only seemed to be concerned with their conformity. THAT was something that I could connect with at the time. And this is a major theme in the film -non conformity- but it’s secondary to what I now see as the main message all these years later; and that’s simply the idea of pursuing what you love – no matter the cost. This is what’s happening with most of the characters. Robin Williams’ character Mr. Keating is the kind mentor, pursuing his passion of teaching the way he knows best, even when it could cost him his job. Knox Overstreet is the hopeless romantic, pursuing the girl of his dreams, even when it costs him a beating by her boyfriend. Charlie Dalton, a.k.a. ‘Nuwanda’ is the rebel who pursues non-conformity itself at the cost of being expelled from school. It’s Ethan Hawke’s character Todd Anderson who is meant to stand in our place inside the movie, who embodies the message of the film, and learns by watching the other characters pursue what they love, that this is what defines us as individuals. We all have to struggle with “seizing the day,” and we all have to deal with the consequences of what that ultimately means, especially when our passions come into conflict with the passions of those around us. And love doesn’t always win. Sometimes it loses. Sometimes it has to lose in order to remain love. I won’t venture into spoiler territory, but this idea is most fully expressed through the character of Neil Perry, and his inability to pursue what he loves without hurting the people he loves. To its credit, the film doesn’t try to give us a nice, fairy tale answer to this tragic dilemma. But it does give us an answer that is tragically real. And this makes ‘Dead Poets Society’ a timeless classic in my book.

I give it 5 Coffstars🌠🌠🌠🌠🌠, 3 Coffburgers 🍔🍔🍔, 3 Coffbars🍫🍫🍫, 2 Coffpoems✍️✍️, and 1 saxophone solo 🎷.