Lester Burnham

Stay tuned this Friday when I make a major announcement regarding the direction of JackFlacco.com.

Few movies have a feeling attached to the presentation. You know the ones, Lost in Translation, Juno, Elizabethtown. Although subjective, the feeling is that of loneliness coupled with the search for meaning. At times, dark comedy screams a message so clear that no one understands it. American Beauty is that way. It succeeds with showing what happens when preconceptions turn to fear. At the same time, the film opens the mind to a world not much different from our own, but sparkles with beauty.

Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty
Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty

Wednesday Warriors presents Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged man inspired to breathe again.

No one can tell us about Lester’s life except Lester himself:

“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don’t know that yet. And in a way, I am dead already.”

Later on, he says:

“Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser. And they’re right. I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”

From there the focus shifts to his office cubicle where he sits slouched in his chair speaking with a client on the phone. If you study the mess he calls a desk, you’ll see a small sign hanging on his cubicle wall saying, “Look closer.” The sign is a message to the viewing audience from director Sam Mendes. It’s to encourage the viewer to pay attention because there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

In the midst of Lester’s middle class family lies a disturbing isolation within its members—the domineering wife, the negligent father, the angry teen. Each have their own agenda, each want validation for their role in the family.

Lester
Lester

When Angela (Mena Suvari) finally appears in the film, Lester has all he can do to get out of the evening drive to support his daughter’s cheerleading squad, the same squad cheering for the town’s basketball team. His excuse? He says he’s missing the James Bond marathon on TNT.

After meeting Angela for the first time he doesn’t fall for the illusion that she’s self-absorbed and indifferent. Nor does he pay attention to her attitude, which hovers around “you scratch my back and I’ll accept it.” But remember the movie’s tagline? Look closer.

He sees Angela possessing the ability to move people into doing things they wouldn’t do had she not inspired the change. In Lester’s case, it’s obvious. She’s a Rockwell High award-winning Dancing Spartanette. He falls for her, his mind scrambles and all of a sudden, he’s a teenager again wanting to get to know her like all the other teenage boys her age. The only difference, he’s not a teenager. He’s a married man. For someone such as Angela to spur those feelings in someone without regard to marital status, she must really be something special.

The truth is you’ll have to look closer. Lester realizes there’s more to Angela than the outward snob moniker she wears so well. She sports a vulnerability few have seen other than Lester. That vulnerability comes to play later in the film, regardless of us having to deal with her current label as the class tease, even if she feels there’s nothing worse than being ordinary.

Lester’s change in mindset couldn’t have happened hadn’t Angela shown up in his life. Had she not given him a second breath, a second hope for the future, he would have been a recluse for the rest of his miserable existence. Angela did that—not Lester. She did it by simply becoming a symbol to what he wanted from life—hope. He gained that hope from her.

[Author’s Note: Originally posted as Angela on April 2, 2014, I adapted the piece early last week to reflect Lester’s point of view. After some thought, I wanted to kill the post but I scheduled it for today anyway to complete the American Beauty bookends.]

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What do you like about American Beauty? What do you think about Lester?

Tony Stark: Iron Man

Flamboyant. Captain to industry. CEO to a weapons firm. The self-centered Tony seems he can conquer anything. His ego is larger than life. So what is this genius doing held captive in an Afghan cave while everything around him collapses?

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man

Wednesday Warriors presents Iron Man (a.k.a. Tony Stark), the industrialist who makes creating weapons technology look easy.

[Spoilers lie therein.]

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is a daily headline. He along with the rest of the other superheroes protect the world from criminals determined to destroy the innocent. But with great power comes great controversy. Eventually, the superheroes would fight among themselves to produce one the greatest civil wars in comic book history.

Tony is one of those superheroes.

Dressed in designer suits, fashionable glasses and sporting a sarcastic wit, Tony can’t imagine a better place to be than performing research for his late father’s weapons company, Stark Industries. As the cliché goes, he has the bull by the horns and isn’t about to let go for anyone—especially not for anyone who dares threatens his livelihood.

Iron Man
Iron Man

Tony’s life from jet setting entrepreneur takes a turn for the worse when a mission to demonstrate his latest weapon throws him behind enemy lines—a place, days earlier, he wouldn’t have imagined possible. Compounding his problems, he creates a heart out of a car battery to keep himself alive while he devises an escape plan.

Soon, what becomes his scheme to survive transforms him into a superhero of reckoning. The classy super suit is all Tony needs to defeat his enemies and anything else standing in his way. Even if Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), his father’s former partner, attempts to stand in his way to uphold justice, Tony will do anything to ensure the super suit will not fall in the wrong hands.

The film Iron Man highlights what happens when an ordinary man comes to acquire superhuman strength. Among the funny scenes resides a powerful story built on the simple premise that good overcomes evil. Within the sarcastic dialog comes the character Iron Man. He’s strong, resilient and difficult to get rid of. His power though, does not come from his super suit but his will to do good, even if it means dying for what is right.

That is the mark of a true hero.

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Have you seen any of the Iron Man movies? What did you think of Tony Stark?

Real Steel: Max Kenton

Every now and then, everybody needs a hero. But what if that hero is an 11-year-old boy who believes in the impossible? Is it possible? What if that same 11-year-old boy sets the standard to win so high that not even those older than him would believe in him? Would you trust a kid to lead a charge to win? Will he be your hero?

Dakota Goyo as Max in Real Steel
Dakota Goyo as Max in Real Steel

Max Kenton (Dakota Goyo) is Real Steel‘s hero and today’s Wednesday Warrior. And if you haven’t seen the movie, therein awaits spoilers.

Unwanted, rejected by those who he thought loved him, Max is a kid who decides to take his fate in his own hands in the futuristic battle bot movie Real Steel.

In a junkyard, as the rain pours and thunder threatens Max’s very survival, the boy falls into the hands of an equally rejected character called Atom. At first, Atom is nothing more than a pile of junk the kid hauls out of a heap to call his own. In a world where robots fight one another, Atom is the lowest grade of robot ever made. It doesn’t have a life, neither is it ready for anything beyond walking.

Through his perseverance though, Max manages to put Atom back together again. Piece by piece Atom becomes whole. All that is missing is a heart.

Atom
Atom

When Max turns Atom on, he is not so sure what he is in for. Atom doesn’t seem like the robot that could stay in the ring one round, let alone go the distance and win a fight.

Yet, something magical happens. Max believes. He believes Atom is capable of greater things than what others think of it. He believes in the impossible.

Max’s first fight with Atom becomes a lesson in humility when Atom falls to a knockout. In spite of this, Max doesn’t give up on the little robot. He believes. On his hands and knees, he dips his head next to Atom and screams, “Get up, Atom.” Within a matter of seconds, Atom rises as the little robot that could. The second round becomes the proving ground for Atom’s eventual first win in the bot wars.

The story of Max and Atom is well known. It is a story familiar to many. Only this time, it makes Max the unlikely hero.

Max took a robot that no one wanted, Atom, built it back into shape and believed the machine could perform miracles. And miracles it did perform. As Atom’s opponents became large and faster, Max would not give up on his robot. Right from the start, he knew Atom would be a champion among rivals.

Imagine that. How could a kid’s faith have turned a small machine into a winner?

What others don’t seem to understand is that as the world viewed Atom as a robot, Max viewed him as a friend. And if Max believed in his friend, his friend could win any fight—even if the opponent in the fight was impossible to beat.

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Have you seen Real Steel? Do you find Max’s friendship with Atom unique?

Michael Scott

He’s the boss no one really wants. He’s the guy who we try to avoid during parties. He’s the one who comes up with brilliant ideas only to backfire in the most miserable way. To whom am I referring? Michael Scott, of course. And Michael Scott is this week’s Wednesday Warrior.

Michael Scott quote
Michael Scott quote

I’ve been binge watching The Office episodes on Netflix lately. I can’t get enough of the show. It has fast become one of my favorites, not only because of its ridiculously talented cast but also because of the awkward moments each episode presents and how the characters make you squirm in your seat hoping the situations would never happen to you.

Part of the cast is Steve Carrell who plays Dunder Mifflin‘s branch manager Michael Scott. As crazy a character as you might think Michael is, he actually means well.

So he may be a tad crazy at times, but that doesn’t mean he’s the worst boss in the world. Just misguided. With all that goes on at his branch, or rather, with everything he puts his employees through, Michael should have had a pile of resignations on his desk long ago. Surprisingly, with every weird and wacky idea he comes up with, he manages to survive unscathed.

How does he do it? How does he serve up one cringe-worthy moment after another and live to tell his story?

Steve Carell as Michael Scott
Steve Carell as Michael Scott

I mean, how can I forget the time when he was planning to jump off his building into a blowup castle usually reserved for kids’ birthday parties, all in the name of safety? Or how about the time he organizes a beach party requiring everyone to walk across a bed of burning coals? That really went well. Or the time when he gave out golden tickets as coupons for free paper. I won’t tell you how that went.

Michael Scott certainly is brilliant. And yes, I may be saying it sarcastically but he’s proven repeatedly that he can still pull a rabbit out of a hat and surprise everyone. I’ll reference the fifth season’s episode Broke. I’m not going to get into the details for fear of spoiling it. In that episode, though, he is the boss everyone wants. He wasn’t cringe-worthy. He wasn’t embarrassing. He acted like a real boss who had thought things through right to the very end. Like I said, I can’t tell you about the episode, but I was pumping my hands in the air celebrating his awesome win.

Then, as unbelievable as it is, Michael has his moments when he shows his soft side. He’ll sit with his employees, lending an ear to all their problems. He quickly becomes the most sensitive human being on earth. Big kudos goes to Steve Carrell for being able to bring Michael Scott to life. Had anyone else played him, I’m sure the character wouldn’t have had the impact on the show as it did.

Whatever anyone thinks of Michael, whether his is the biggest buffoon, or the smartest guy in the room, he knows how to call his troops to action. Even if he sometimes appears misguided, his enthusiasm is infectious enough that others will go ahead and follow him. Few people in this world possess that talent.

But you know something? What I like most about Michael is that he makes me laugh. And that is the biggest reason I watch The Office.

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Have you watched The Office? Who is your favorite character? Do you like Michael? Why? Why not?

Ethan Hunt

When I think of Mission: Impossible, I think of the old sixties series with Mr. Phelps, played by Peter Graves, as an aging leader to a crack team of secret agents given the missions no one else can accomplish. I also think of Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. And although Hunt works best alone, he would give his life for any member of his team.

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt
Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt

For today’s Wednesday Warriors, I’d like to have a look at Ethan Hunt: his strengths, his weaknesses and why he always makes the Mission: Impossible franchise a treat to watch.

A long time ago, I once saw Tom Cruise on Oprah—no, not the couch-jumping episode. In this episode, he described Mission: Impossible as one of his most successful movies he had made. Many folks have their opinions about Tom Cruise the man, but I have my opinion of Tom Cruise the actor. Say what you will, the man can act. I use Magnolia as one of the best films he had ever starred. No one can convince me that after watching the quietly-judging-you scene he didn’t deserve an Oscar for that performance.

Yet, as much as I admire his dramatic roles, his action roles, including his role in the film Edge of Tomorrow, is where Cruise really shines as a big audience draw.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue NationEnter Ethan Hunt, the Impossible Missions Force‘s (IMF) top agent and leader. His expertise lies in virtually everything. He has an extensive background in explosives, weaponry and stealth. He can get in and out of a target’s home and before anyone knows what is happening, the target will have met its fate.

Ethan is also a master of disguise. One time he posed as an elderly man taking his enemy by surprise, disarming and capturing him. He also has a good command of languages, useful for when he needs to get himself out of a jam.

Martial arts? Ethan knows that, too. Whenever an adversary presses Ethan for a fight to the death, it isn’t difficult to know who will win.

But the best thing I enjoy about Ethan Hunt is not so much his mastery of disguise, command of languages, or him being a martial arts expert. No. What I like about Ethan is his ability to get out of one jam after another while showing his humanity along the way. Whether he’s fighting for his life on a speeding train, racing down a highway on a motorcycle at 140 MPH, or latching his fingers on the belly of an aircraft with the intention of securing its cargo, Ethan Hunt does the impossible. He will take the shots, in not only opportunities but also punches to the face, and fight the bad guy until the end.

Lastly, Ethan Hunt possesses a will never to surrender. In every mission he picks himself up, dusts the dirt from his clothes and continues his fight against the enemy, whoever that enemy is.

If I can say anything more about Ethan Hunt, it’s that he will do his best in whatever assignment he has going at the time. To me, such a character is a great lesson for any of us facing challenges greater than ourselves.

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Have you seen any of the Mission: Impossible movies? What are your thoughts on Ethan Hunt?

Mitch McDeere

Whenever I think of superheroes, I think of Batman and his ability to pass through the shadows undetected; Superman, and his power to repel bullets; Captain America and his super strength; Iron Man and his flare with a super suit; and finally, Black Widow, who is an expert at stealth and deception.

Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere
Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere

And whenever I think of heroes—movie heroes—I think of the ones people would least likely chose. For instance, Ray Kinsella fits perfectly in the mix as the farmer who builds a baseball field in the middle of nowhere in the film Field of Dreams. And then there’s Lester Burnham who rebels against a midlife crisis to find his way back in the drama American Beauty.

But of all the fictional heroes I enjoy watching over and over again on the small screen, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) of the film The Firm has to be the most fascinating of them all.

For those wondering who Mitch McDeere is—he’s one of the top Ivy League graduates of his class, lands a position at the prestigious law firm Bendini, Lambert and Locke in Memphis, and is a faithful husband to a beautiful wife.

Tom Cruise is Mitch McDeere
Tom Cruise is Mitch McDeere

During the time of his recruitment, the firm offers him a position as a junior lawyer. They don’t stop there. They give him a brand new Porsche, which he chooses black as its color, a new house to live in at the cost of a no-interest loan, a new office complete with his own secretary, and all sorts of other delights I can’t remember offhand, but I’m sure they are also top of the line frills.

Everything seems perfect to Mitch. The perfect wife. The perfect car. The perfect house. And the perfect job.

What Mitch doesn’t know, however, is all that goodness comes at a price.

The first thing to go is his time with his wife. He’s the first to show up at work and the last to leave. He works on weekends and doesn’t have the time to even study for the bar exam, which, incidentally, the firm guarantees he will pass if he maintains the strenuous pace he’s been following.

Of course, there’s one thing the firm didn’t tell him, and that’s the fact that they will supply all the rewards, luxuries and services, but in return Mitch is theirs. The firm integrates with every aspect of his life from his professional life as a lawyer to personal life, picking the furniture that goes into his home. What’s more? The firm takes an active interest in ensuring they have their hooks in him completely by encouraging him to have a child. In their view, he’s less likely to leave if he has a family to look after.

Now, before you begin thinking that Mitch got a raw deal and can’t get out, which I happen to agree with, he devises a plan. The thing is, the plan is so intricate and so complex, that he becomes that which he never thought he’d become—an enemy of the firm.

When I think of Mitch McDeere, I think of a character trapped in a life that looked great on the outside, but rotten to the core on the inside. It took him time to figure that out and a resolve few people possess. Yet, when he did figure it out, he escaped his old life and began anew. A new life. A new identity. And a new goal that doesn’t lead to a superficial victory.

Mitch McDeere is today’s Wednesday Warrior.

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Have you seen The Firm? What do you think about Mitch McDeere?

Colonel Hogan

I have to admit, you may not recognize this character unless you grew up when Hogan’s Heroes was playing for decades in reruns. Then, if no one recognizes this character, why would I choose him to be part of my Wednesday Warriors section on my site?

Bob Crane with Sigrid Valdis in Hogan's Heroes
Bob Crane with Sigrid Valdis in Hogan’s Heroes

The truth of the matter lies in Colonel Hogan (Bob Crane) and his genius for coming up with a plan at a moment’s notice.

If you’re not familiar with the show Hogan’s Heroes, it came out in 1965, ended in 1971 and soon after landed in syndication making a pile of money for CBS. Back then, there was a real demand for war shows, and given the show is nothing short of hilarious, I can see why. The characters are solid, the stories are simple, but overall, the cast is what makes this show unique.

Without Hogan though, the show would not have been the success it still is today in reruns.

Hogan's Heroes
Hogan’s Heroes

The show is about a Prisoner of War camp set in World War II Germany. The leader of the multinational team is an American prisoner named Colonel Hogan. Now, you might think, what’s the big deal? Sounds like an ordinary show. On paper, it does. But the originality behind the show is Hogan’s knack for coming up with a plan within moments of a problem surfacing, overcoming setbacks, and delivering end results that resolve the problem.

Oh, and as I’ve mentioned, this all takes place while slapstick and humor rules the airwaves.

Much of Hogan’s talent lies in his quick thinking, his charm and his ability to influence those around him simply by suggesting ideas that would benefit him and his team. Also, to make things even more interesting, Stalag 13, the camp where he resides as a prisoner, has never had a successful escape. That is no coincidence. He keeps it that way in order to maintain control of the camp, unbeknownst to the German commanding officer Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer).

The most memorable moments with Hogan are not when he succeeds with his plans over his captors, but when a plan so easy to execute turns into a farce—like the time when the prisoners steal a tank and hide it in the camp. It could never happen in real life, but it does in the show, and it makes for fun TV.

I grew up with Hogan as someone I admired, not because of his way with women, or his ability to get himself out of trouble more than once, or his loyalty to his men, but for his unwillingness to surrender in the face of absolute defeat. Somehow, he manages always to come through with a plan.

That seems to me as someone anyone would want to have as a role model.

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Have you seen any of the Hogan’s Heroes episodes? If you have, what do you think of Hogan?