“The Magnificent Seven” and the moral dilemma of revenge

by Danny Stout

Box office sales come hard for traditional westerns in an age of futuristic action films. Yet magnificent-seven-2016-washingtonThe Magnificent Seven, based on the 1960 version starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, and Steve McQueen, is a fusion of old and new themes wrapped in a more mature, even sophisticated refreshment of the genre. At one level it’s a shoot-em’-up cowboy flick for fading fans of the gunslinger movies. At another, like Unforgiven, starring Clint Eastwood, it conveys the realism of death and sorrow of old west violence. This is accomplished by a former Civil War officer Ethan Hawke, that is conflicted between the urge to fight, and the devastation of death.

Hawke’s aversion for violence is a minor theme, however, as both versions of Magnificent Seven are based on the Old West-style remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s 1954 Japanese-language film Seven Samurai, a film strewn with injured and dead bodies.

This version, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and Peter Sarsgaard is about a peaceful western town ravaged by a criminal miner that forces the townspeople to sell their land to his gold-mining company. Several resist and are killed, setting up the revenge motive underlying the story. The ruthless treatment of the citizens achieves high dramatic tension. The “get the bad guys” motive is emotionally planted in audience members’ minds, especially when an innocent hard-working mother (Haley Bennett) loses her beloved husband and father of several children.

Revenge is such a strong plot device, that it has its own genre, “revenge movies.” It’s perplexing for the moral viewer heeding Matthew 5:38-39: “Ye have heard that it hath beena1e23b8cc9ebdf74e43f14867fb4d089ae431ee9ea55f3a5be83a0c6725af1899 said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Some site scattered references to avenging one’s foes in the scriptures, but the Christian ideal is peace, and after fiftieth person shot, one questions whether the magnificent seven, although brave, are so magnificent after all. In the second half, someone gets shot about every ten seconds it seems.

Nevertheless, the moral questions surrounding revenge are laid out for us to contemplate. We use words, not guns, but there’s a relevant message for our everyday lives and relationships.

It’s difficult to glean what the screenwriters have in mind, but the theme of protecting one’s land with guns may be an intentional appeal to Second Amendment defenders and NRA supporters, a significant group in the political discourse.

The Magnificent Seven can be read from many angles, and I give it a higher rating than the 62 from Rotten Tomatoes. Director Antoine Fuqua, in addition to the beautiful cinematography, both entertains and provokes with dilemmas of past and present.





Dancing with the Stars: “Lochte, look out!”

by Stephanie Soto

Ryan Lochte, a famed Olympic swimmer, got blindsided by two protesters during the first night of TV’s Dancing with the Stars. The protesters were protesting against Lochte due to Lochte’s lie he made during the 2016 Rio Olympics about being held at gunpoint at a Rio gas station. Lochte has now been banned from swimming professionally for the next ten months.

Lochte has been known for being a large partier athlete with his short lived reality show on E network and pictures of his extreme lifestyle popping up over the internet. The young thirty-two year old’s money and fame has been causing controversy for some time, but not on such a world scale.

Lochte had signed up to do Dancing with the Stars before the incident in Rio even happened. ryan_lochte_set_to_join-f87afebdba100f992fee5d2bff2884d3The protestors luckily never touched Lochte, but got all the way on stage to where Lochte was standing until tackled by security guards. This is not all, female protesters stood in the stands yelling boo and liar to Lochte on stage until fellow dancer, Derek Hough, told them to leave. Although the protest was a non-violent one, it still made a statement. Interviews from the cast and Lochte himself show that some thought it was a stunt, while others were upset that the protesters decided to make a fun family show about politics.

The protesters have gone on record saying they did it for America and wanted to show that Lochte is a liar and a criminal.

Lochte has gone on record apologizing for the incident in Rio, but people are quick to judge and not so quick to forgive. This makes me think of the verse Luke 6:37 “Judge not and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive and ye shall be forgiven.”

Did Lochte do wrong, yes. Does he deserve to be harassed forever, no. People makect-ryan-lochte-protesters-dancing-with-the-stars-20160912 mistakes all the time, not on such grand a scale, but people make mistakes. Unfortunately, the money and fame does not make you any smarter or help you deal with situations more. Most seem to think it does – it is usually opposite the case.

Lochte will and has been reprimanded for what he did, but going onto Dancing with the Stars is not only putting Lochte in a difficult spot, but his partner and the rest of the dancing with the stars cast and crew too. This is not the best way to go about doing things.

We, as human beings, need to show forgiveness and compassion to those who have wronged us. Not to make them feel worse than they already do.

In “Sully,” worries are set aside for a miracle.

By Kayna Kemp Stout

The word miracle gets tossed around lightly these days in reference to diet pills, wrinkle creams, and even football victories. So there is always reason to be cynical when the media dubs something a miracle. However, after viewing the film “Sully”, I believe the media got it right when they called the incident, “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

The film, expertly directed by Clint Eastwood, gives viewers an insiders look into why the unnamed1emergency landing of the airliner by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is nothing short of miraculous. Much of the film focuses on the National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the emergency landing on the Hudson River after both engines are hit by a flock of birds shortly after take off from LaGuardia) Airport in NYC.

Could the disaster have been averted if Captain Sully had returned to LaGuardia? Computer simulations seemed to say yes. Sully’s training of 30 years as a pilot said no. The investigation hearings are stressful for Sully because he could lose his retirement pension if found negligent. While the 155 saved passengers and crew are hailing him as a hero, and the national media is touting him as a savior and miracle maker, the behind the scenes drama feels much different with so much at stake for Sully, including personal financial challenges concerning an outside business. He simply puts these worries aside, and focuses on the goal. Averting distractions is a God-given talent, or perhaps should be better developed in us.

1408319_1280x720-1Tom Hanks portrayal as a calm professional airline pilot is spot on as are the other leading performances by Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan and Jerry Ferrara. The film is not over when the credits begin to roll, so stay seated until you’ve witnessed the entire miracle.

New Thriller, “Don’t Breathe:” When Perpetrators become Victims

by Jasmine Weng and Daniel Stout

Don’t Breathe is a tense thriller about three thugs out to burglarize a blind man’s home. The stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto and Stephen Lang; it’s directed by Fede Alvarez. Like the earlier film, Hush, it follows a similar plot line, only that instance a deaf and mute  victim has three killers to deal with instead of just one (Click the “Movies” page for  our review of Hush). In both, the criminals learn that skills of the blind far exceed their own. At a time of economic stress and fewer opportunities, Don’t Breathe is a mantra to fight on, stressing the hidden abilities of those considered less equipped for today’s challenges.

The victim takes down the first foe, and the cat and mouse game begins.  Good performances and a tightly written script make for edge-of-your-seat thrills. Those skeptical of the seemingly implausible plot, will delight in the edgy realism. Watching Don’t Breathe you’ll stop to catch your breath.


Unlike Hush, the depth of the perpetrators draws empathy for them; good guys and bad guys aren’t easily discernible.  Rocky, one of the burglars, just wants to feed his daughter. Poverty’s pain is an underlying theme a la Hugo’s Les Miserables where a symbolic piece of bread can mean survival and, perhaps, a new start morally. Peculiarly, the impoverished might identify with law breakers.


The gospel message is to act like Christ, and sacrifice for your loved ones. On the other hand, the blind man defends himself, conveying the second message: there’s always a way out, despite any disability; great is the will of the soul.  Never underestimate yourself or others, despite seeming weakness. Challenges develop the will; that’s a dominant theme. Don’t Breathe raises more questions than it answers. Plot lines may be closed, but not the dilemmas of hard times remain open questions.

“Hell or High Water:” Cowboys, bank robberies, and Marx

by Danny Stout

961962_008 A good night of movie viewing is assured in the opening scenes. Lonely Texas towns. Barren streets and dusty horizons; a cerulean sky with billowy clouds. Then it takes off. Two young cowboys robbing banks. Two older sheriffs on the trail. Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Sherriff Jeff Bridges provide acting that suspends disbelief. Bridges burps, guzzles beer, and prefers to sit and talk. Talk includes the bank robberies and unrelenting ethnic slurring of his partner. Despite the idiocyncracies, he has a moral center.

Enjoy this as a heist crime film with Cowboy shoot-em-up action and car chases. Or psychoanalyze an old law man obsessed with the puzzle of the immoral mind. If the viewer invests more surgical analysis, we have a political piece that could be shown in a graduate class on Marxism. Intermittently, as the sage brush rolls by, we’re reminded that the banks have replaced the guns of the old west.


Underpinning the story, disclosed at the start, is a desperate attempt to prevent the closure of a family ranch. This also illustrates the philosophy of John Stewart Mill. If morality is in the outcome not the act itself, viewers will root for the robbers. In the spirit of Steinbeck, “poverty is a disease.” But, if we think like that, Bridges insists, “It will haunt us forever.”

Colin Kaepernack Doesn’t Stand for Anthem: It Happened Everyday in the Sixties

By Danny Stout

Recently, San Francisco Forty-Niner Colin Kapernack, refused to stand for the National Anthem before a National Football League (NFL) game. Rebuking this public display of patriotism, Kapernack was immediately on the news agenda, earning attention from the New York Times, CNN, The Huffington Post, and the New York Times. Failing to stand for the anthem, salute the flag, or in rarer cases actually burning the flag, are not new in U.S. history of protest. What’s perplexing is the frenzied scrambling to cover the story, as if it’s never been seen.

Suffice it to say that eschewing civil rituals is newsworthy, given that it weighs values ofblackpower patriotism against free speech. For example, a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag-burning is proposed intermittently. Unfortunately, coverage has been incendiary in tone; the goal of the media establishment seems to be about high ratings, rather than the underlying social problems underlying Kapernack’s action. With less emphasis on the political issues themselves, an opportunity for real public discussions slips through our fingers.

Giving the cold shoulder to the anthem was particular salient in the 1960’s, ignited by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City when they raised their fisted black gloves to the flag in support of civil rights. Not long after the Newark, NJ riots, many African-American students refused to salute the flag. When other students used the flag for a table cloth, arguments broke out in the cafeteria.

Such demonstrations are reflections of our times, and uncover salient dilemmas. A barometer of unrest so to speak. We ignore these roots of discontent at our peril. Thus, President Obama said almost off-handedly, Kapernack was simply trying to say something. How many, regardless of their political persuasion, are listening?

Top Ten Broadway Show Tunes with Moral Messages

by Stephanie Soto

Musicals are an escape from the mundane; audiences are transported to the land of song and dance. Most consider musical songs fun, and necessary elements to move the plot along. But, how much do we think about their moral messages? This is no small matter. President Spencer W. Kimball praised My Fair Lady  as music to aspire to when he dedicated the Centennial Tower at the BYU Provo.   Here are ten songs that bring out the good in us.

  1. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”Wizard of Oz. Moral: Hope

Since the Academy-Award winning movie with Judy Garland, several versions haveWiz_of_oz_london appeared on Broadway.  It’s a song about dreams of the future. Like a rainbow, no one knows what’s ahead, but anticipation is the joy of life. Such joy is lost in everyday life.  Dorothy Gale longs for a life far from the farm where she can be what she wants to be.  It’s about  hope that one day our troubles will be far behind.

  1. Defying GravityWicked Moral: Integrity

Wicked is one of the greatest musicals of the modern era. This song’s about  Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) who’s no longer going to live the way she’s told.  She must choose society’s path or her own. She follows her conscience, defying order.  As Mormons, choosing the right isn’t always easy but having integrity and pushing on is God’s way.p1a40m0lvh188b17hutu6126hgfd1

  1. You and Me (But Mostly Me)-The Book of Mormon Moral: Humility vs. Pride

While some are offended by this musical, who can deny the moral in this song:  pride  affects anyone, even missionaries. We should do the work of God, not Man.

7.”Consider Yourself”-Oliver Moral: Acceptance

Oliver Twist is about a boy breaking out of poverty, and the courage he displays. Befriendingarticle-1369746-0B531BDE00000578-814_306x423 the artful Dodger, he’s embraced by the street urchin gang Fagan’s Boys. Pick-pocketing is a no-no,  but the larger message of family and  easing the pain of the lonely makes this tune an enduring testament to love.

6.”Anything you can do I can do better” Annie Get Your Gun Moral: Equality

Annie Get Your Gun, a musical about the old west sharp shooter , displays the struggle that Annie faces trying to be seen as an equal to her shooting partner Ray Butler. In this song she and him are of course complaining who is the best at anything. A classic tune that really shows any individual can be just as good then anyone else no matter who they are or maybe even just as bad in certain things.

  1. “One Day More” Les Miserable’s Moral: Unity

Les Miserables is a musical of tragedy and hope. This song has the entire cast singing just before intermission about their dreams, goals and how they will all come together in one more day to face their fates in a war-torn France during the revolution.

4. “My Shot” Hamilton Moral: Perseverance

Hamilton, an original American revolutionary, is also the hardest ticket to get on hamilton-01-800Broadway.  Because he is ”young ,scrappy and hungry,” the protagonist will rise against the powers that be and achieve freedom. This speaks for all that stand up for one’s values. who has ever had to stand up for him or herself. That just like Hamilton some things are worth fighting for and never give up.

3.”Children Will Listen” Into the Woods Moral: Being an Example

This musical is a creative synthesis of several fairy tales. The final song admonishes us to be an example, especially to our children by doing the right thing.   Children are the future and continue the story.

2.”Tomorrow” Annie Moral: Hope

Annie, is the classic musical that everyone loves. It’s the story of a young orphan, that musters up hope for a better life when the sun rises. Everyone needs hope.

1.”Close Every Door” Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat Moral: Faith

This has to be number one. It’s sung when Joseph is thrown into prison seeing no way out. He turns to God declaring that no matter what happens, God will never abandon us.


What is your favorite song from a musical? Comment below.




Toobin’s New Book on Patty Hearst

by Danny Stout

Jeffrey Toobin, journalist, lawyer, and meticulous researcher delivers superb work in American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst (Doubleday; 371 p.). His earlier work, The Run of his Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, though, well-crafted, lacks the intrigue and mystery of the Patty Hearst Story. Despite the societal schism splitting the nation over O.J., the story, though tragic, has few of the nuances of Hearst’s life. Average college student or terrorist murderer? Or both? It’s the difference between a 500 and 1,000 – piece puzzle: The Hearst story is loaded with variables such as wealth, politics, psychology; the crime motive difficultly discerned. The O.J. story’s more didactic.


Few Millenials know this baffling tale their Baby Boomer parents have been stewing over for half a century. Granddaughter of the wealthy media mogul William Randolf Hearst, Patty was kidnapped in 1974. The nation froze. Weren’t high-stakes kidnappings a thing of the past? Not since the Lindbergh baby in 1932 was a hostage story in the nightly news.

Unlike Lindbergh, Hearst was an adult student at the University of California at Berkeley that’s aggressively snatched from her modest apartment by a handful of the Symbionese Liberation Army, violent revolutionaries with an ill-defined commitment to over-throw America. With the famous name drawing press coverage, they rose from obscure misfits to public players in the American protest movement.

Today she’s a victim, the next, Hearst carries a machine gun into a bank robbery. Eventually, murder results. All the intrigue of “split-personality” movies such as The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil, pale in comparison to the mega-mystery of Patty Hearst. Toobin keeps the dramatic tension alive through conflicting details of the narrative. Readers are left to judge Patty’s character and life.

Toobin is out for bigger game. Egalitarian values were no where to be found in the 1970’s as Hearst serves a meager two years and is pardoned by President Jimmy Carter. Others paid more dearly for the savage crimes.

Perhaps more engaging is Toobin’s before-and-after portrait of Hearst. Her group guns down people in cold blood, but now she lives the toobinupscale urban life. She enters dogs in elite shows, and all seems forgotten. Hearst prefers not to talk about the violent years. How can she draw a blank and disremember so easily? Toobin suggests that the life script of the ultra – rich provides an inherent ability of selective memory lapse. Like Daisy in The Great Gatsby, the affluent are adept at memory lapse. For the destitute, such memories are painful and often carried to the grave.

Notes on “Pete’s Dragon”

By Yu-Han Wang

Everyone needs a best friend , but can you imagine that it’s a dragon? Pete’s Dragon is an adventure of an orphan and his magic dragon, Elliot. They live together for six years after Pete survives a car accident and retreats into the forest. He is uneducated and isolated from the world until Grace finds him. However, he is not the same person he used to be, he shows emotion by howling, and climbs trees better than normal human beings. The movie teaches valuable lessons about friendship and persistence; it is great fare for LDS families with small children. Adults interested in the genre should also leave the theater uplifted. Friendship, as a dominant theme, almost assures an emotional uplift.

Grace is the daughter of Mr. Meacham, who delights local children with the stories of the dragon. Pete 3

The rumor is that the dragon lives in the forest of the Pacific Northwest. Grace assumes it’s just a tale until she sees Pete’s drawing of a dragon. She plans to take Pete to Social Services to find a home for him, however, her sympathy and curiosity stop her from sendng Pete away. Grace turns around and takes Pete back to his “home”. On their way back to the forrest, she decides to bring her father. Meanwhile, Grace doesn’t know her brother in-law follows them to the dragon; he makes a surprise attack and catches the dragon.

He pursues fame and attention. Pete TwoHe wants the world to know he’s the first of mankind to ever catch a dragon. However, self-centeredness is the first step to failure.
After Grace sees the dragon, she sees possibilities in all situations, and there is hope regardless of life’s adversities.

Pete leaves Elliot because he doesn’t have that magic power to be invisable like Elliot, so he doesn’t want Elliot to get hurt, because they will find Elliot if Pete is seen too.

The message is unfelfishness and sacrifice for your loved ones. Pete and Elliot see each other as family and best friends that their love bond is never lost. Pete chooses to leave Elliot eventually so it can live in a quiet life without humans. Pete’s Dragon is highly recommended, conveying several moral messages. It teaches us to be sympathetic, loving, caring, and unselfish. It is also a perfect choice for family night with children.

Did Social Media Share the Olympic Spirit?

by Daniel LeBaron

Something resonates about the Olympic games. If we assume that threads of Mormon values are reflected in them,  Latter-day Saints will glean something in this international event. (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865659081/Local-athletes-prepare-to-represent-the-US-and-Utah-in-the-2016-Summer-Games-this-month.html). We celebrate when anyone emerges victorious, but a Latter-day Saint winner places us in the celebration circle of a world community.  (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865659391/Mormons-in-Rio-Who-to-watch-for-this-Olympics.html) This, despite the fact that Bob Costas and the NBC operation brought us the same dull commentary. Costas summarizes the day, a video of the winner is played, and then the interview. Hardly anything about the countries of non-American competitors. The chance to learn of other cultures is squandered. Social media, however, holds promise for a more fulfilling experience, as I share in this review.


But The Olympics is more than sporting events–they compel families who normally could care less about sports to watch. So what is it about the Olympic spirit that captures our hearts?

Perhaps it is the familiar–memories of watching  with our families. Or is it the sense that even though we are competing with other countries, that we’re connected  to the larger world, whom we regard as brothers and sisters. We glimpse a hope of what could be.  Even when the feeling of unity is numbed by politics or economics, a spirit of respect and cooperation remains. For me, this time around, I felt the Olympics paralleled our beliefs and placed them in the  context of global experience, but through traditional news coverage.

This year my viewing experience was different given I don’t own a television, thus my exposure to official NBC coverage was limited. Most of what I saw and heard  was through social media. This organic and authentic portrayal of what my friends were resonating with was instructive. It also brought up questions of who has been shaping my view of the Olympics–this year I was able to see them through a much wider perspective (beyond Bob Costas) as a result of getting information from friends with connections and sources around the world. Social media may well show how the spirit in the games affects the everyday person.


I’m not alone in the online world of the Olympics. Josef Adalian of New York Magazine noted that “Part of [their] problem is big defections among millennial audiences….among adults aged 18 to 34, it looks like Friday’s opening was down around 43 percent compared to London….” (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/08/rio-olympics-ratings-are-the-worst-theyve-been-in-years.html) Moreover, NBC itself has seen a large shift of viewers from television to digital consumption.(http://www.sltrib.com/home/4216100-155/nbc-says-rio-olympic-viewership-reaches)

Combined with what my friends were sharing, I saw what was trending across sites as a whole. There were posts tied to current political issues; this is the power of  discourse. As with many things on the Internet there was the superficial, or content meant for quick entertainment and humor. Nevertheless, on the whole, I saw the inspirational. There were stories of athletes falling down during their race, rising again, and achieving gold; of helping each other to reach the finish line; of showing true-sportsmanship. There were stories that showed the joy of a Chinese swimmer as she heard the news that she had exceeded her personal best, or the refugee who once swam to safety in her country–then swam to lead in her heat. Some of the most poignant moments for me were seeing a friends’ self-concepts beaming as their home-nations obtained their first medals.

At the core of these stories, is the belief that we can act in greatness in the face of hardship and seemingly unsurmountable hurdles (no pun intended). In this, our quest for something higher, we believe that perseverence is possible; that despite winners and losers we can all choose to succeed. It didn’t matter where the athlete was from, my friends shared these stories with me. Maybe the spirit in the games is the influence of the Holy Spirit teaching us to have joy in others’ successes and learn of the truth that we can participate in and achieve something wonderful with the rest of our brothers and sisters alongside us.