Movies with my dad

  Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner in "Silverado"

Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner in "Silverado"

In anticipation of Father’s Day, I decided to share my thoughts on some of my dad’s favorite movies – at least the ones I remember watching with him over the years. I think his influence is in some small part the reason I love action movies and westerns. He is a proud Army veteran who was blessed to survive Vietnam and retain a very positive outlook on life. Beyond what he taught me every day about doing what you can to help people, speaking truth to power, and standing up for myself when I am wronged, I could tell from these movies that he was all about good conquering evil – happy endings for the heroes, and a cap in the back sides of those who tried to thwart them.

“The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976)

I was barely out of toddlerhood when this movie came out, but thanks to HBO, I must have watched it with my dad at least a half-dozen times, maybe more, over the years. He’s a huge fan of westerns, and we both love this one. It is one of Clint Eastwood’s early directing efforts in which he also stars as the type of mythic gunman of the West we’ve all come to know and love – one who is forced into a life of “kill or be killed” but can’t subdue the good in himself. Josey Wales was flawed and damaged from the violent loss of his home and family, but he had a code that was rooted in the good person he was before his loss. Even as he lashed out against those responsible for his family’s slaughter, in spite of himself, he created his own makeshift family with the forlorn and abused people who crossed his path. It included a former Cherokee chief played by Chief Dan George, a young Native American woman, and a proud family from Kansas that ends up under attack by bandits.

Eastwood knows how to entertain and perpetuate a larger-than-life Western hero status while maintaining the hero’s fallibility. We see Wales shoot down a courageously foolish bounty hunter (“Dying ain’t much of a living, boy.”), but later be cowed by the Kansas family’s matriarch, “Granny,” so that instead of spitting his tobacco in the house, he swallows it. But there’s plenty of action. He has to kill a lot of people (in self-defense mostly) to get to his peace – a peace we’re not sure he ever finds. One of my favorite scenes is when he takes down the bandits who are torturing the proud Kansas family. It begins with a shot of him on his horse in the distance, appearing to be holding up a white flag. You know he’s about to kick some ass, and oddly enough, even though he’s just one man, you sense that the bandits, particularly their leader, can tell they might be in trouble. The flag is actually tied to the end of his rifle, and when the Bad Guy #1 tells him to get off his horse, he lowers that rifle, and you know what happens then. Bad guys down. Good guy prevails.

“Smokey and the Bandit” (1977)

So maybe it’s not the best movie ever made, but if you love fast cars and easy laughs, this is the movie for you, and that’s certainly the case for my dad. You know a movie has influenced you if you go out and buy a car like the one featured in the movie. Yes, my dad owns a 1977 Trans Am – T-top roof, firebird etched on the hood and all. I haven’t seen this movie in many years, but I remember my dad laughing hysterically at Jackie Gleason’s good old boy Sheriff Buford T. Justice every time Burt Reynolds’ Bandit pulled a fast one. Again, this was one I watched with my dad years after its initial release, but even as an adolescent, I admired Sally Field’s independent streak in leaving the wrong guy at the wedding alter. Still I wasn’t so sure she was taking up with the right guy in the Bandit. Oh well … everybody needs an adventure once in a while.

“Silverado” (1985)

In 1985, director Lawrence Kasdan brought us a traditional western tale about two brothers and two fast friends they make as they come to the small settlement of Silverado to hang out with their sister and her family. The town is run by a corrupt sheriff, and it doesn’t take long for the guys to end up on his bad side – what with them standing up for justice and fair play and that kind of nonsense. It’s a classic western story that ends in a big shoot-out, including a final duel between the main good guy and the main bad guy. But even though it follows the western formula, the characters and the dialogue still manage to pull you into every scene. It has an all-star cast in Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette, and a young Kevin Costner. If you’re in the mood for good old western fun, check it out.  

“Bustin’ Loose” (1981)

Richard Pryor and a school bus full of at-risk kids driving across country with only Cicely Tyson to keep the peace: I’d say that’s a recipe for a little tear-jerking and a lot of laughs. Perhaps Pryor has been funnier than he was in this movie, but he has seldom exhibited more poignance. And even if he has been funnier in other movies, he was funny enough in this one (which with Pryor is funnier than nearly anyone else on the planet). Pryor plays a con man who has violated his probation, but he’s given one more chance to keep his freedom if he takes Tyson and the students from her children’s home in Philadelphia to her farm in Washington. There are fights and frustrations, but eventually they all bond as they run into various obstacles along the way. It may be a little too sentimental for you action buffs, but Pryor should keep you laughing enough to forget about the lack of shoot-outs and fisticuffs. Besides, you tough guys like those happy endings, too. My dad’s a prime example.

Our need for the 'S'


The movie isn't even out yet, but the chatter hit a fever pitch about a week ago. Reviews are piling in by the boatload, mostly favorable with either minor stipulations or a pleading wish for Christopher Reeve nostalgia. 

If we’re going to re-imagine these mythical stories of great heroes, these pop culture icons that can never die, then we’ve got to be able to make room for all interpretations. And as much as I grew up believing Christopher Reeve was Superman on and off the the screen, I’m ready to see just how the next generation is going to be introduced to Superman.

I don’t care that new MOS Henry Cavill, who reportedly was up for the role in director McG’s defunct interpretation of the Last Son of Krypton, is British. He’s an actor; I’m sure his Midwestern accent will be fine. The women I know already seem to be smitten with him, so charm won’t be an issue. And if he’s able to make his alien character more relatable to a human audience, then there’s not much left for him to do other than fly like the James Dean of the skies.

I’ve eagerly awaited this new Superman movie ever since it was first reported that Christopher Nolan was going to be involved (only as a producer and story writer; “Watchmen” director Zack Snyder takes the directing reins, much to my initial chagrin). Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy began with a good “Batman” film, segued into “The Godfather Part II” of comic books movies with at least one Oscar-worthy performance, and ended with a grand finale that - in almost every way - tied a nice bow around the entire series. Combine that with work such as “Memento” and “Inception,” and if his only contribution to “Man of Steel” was the title, my excitement would have been sustained all the same.

There have been a flood of comics-based films in recent years aside from Nolan’s trilogy. Explosive, big-screen popcorn flicks with stars old (Robert Downey Jr.) and new (any actor who wasn’t able to speak complete sentences when Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” was released). And most of these films have been a good slice of big bang Hollywood entertainment.

Seeing the “S” on screen again is going to be exciting, even if you haven’t been a big fan of comic books, comic book movies or even Superman. 

But there’s always been more meaning behind a Superman film than any of the other comic book icons - even (gasp) more than Batman. Growing up as a fan of both characters, I always felt Batman was a manifested symbol of justice, while Superman was soaked in idealism. And Nolan, as the grand storyteller behind the latest Batman movies, made Gotham’s hero into the one man who made the difference in a city falling to the corrupt and mischievous. Bruce Wayne (as portrayed by Oscar-winning Welshman Christian Bale) was a strong, tangible character who turned himself into the ultimate urban warrior because of an injustice that could have destroyed his life.

Clark Kent’s – or Kal-El’s, if you want to get into the great true identity debate – story is at least twice as complicated as Wayne’s, if you can believe it. The repercussions of his birth and arrival on Earth invite a galaxy’s worth of trouble. Based on the story synopsis and the trailers that have been rolling out for weeks, Michael Shannon’s commanding General Zod seeks to enlist the formerly lost Kal-El in order to rebuild Krypton and its race. And in this new movie, the level of destruction Zod casts upon the planet to find the son of Jor-El is incredible – and presumably merciless.

But why all the trouble? Because Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman is special. And in this latest interpretation of his story, he struggles to understand whether he has an obligation to use his gifts or if he should hold back and live among those who would socially reject him – all while trying to get out from under the shadow of his parents. Haven’t you felt that way at one time or another (maybe in your late teens or early 20s)? This brings us back to why Superman - and Superman on the big screen - matters most.

One of the most irritating, overly used critic reviews of any of the Spider-Man movies was that “Peter Parker was relatable” WHAT?!? Look, if I get bitten by an experimental spider, then I’m more likely to die from the bite than I am to adapt its biological properties. But to face a dilemma about which path to follow in life, not knowing if it will ultimately make you happy or allow you to be yourself, is a genuine fear that almost any moviegoer can share with the Man of Steel. And to find the will to sacrifice your life in the service of others … well, you should talk to a member of the U.S. military to get the best perspective on that.

Seeing the “S” on screen again is going to be exciting, even if you haven’t been a big fan of comic books, comic book movies or even Superman. “Man of Steel” runs around two hours and 30 minutes and features a stellar cast that also includes Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne. And it may very well be the film to steer its genre into a new trajectory (nice effort, though, “The Avengers”) that aims to perfect both storytelling and special effects because no amount of flying is going to make up for a poor story.

But I hope to believe a man can fly again. And just maybe, I’ll walk out of the theater thinking that I can, too.