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Showing posts from April, 2010

Summer Movie Scene Pt. 1

It's that time again, the summer movie season is upon up. On this, the final day of April, I thought I would begin my look at 10 reasons we should be excited about this summer's lineup. Part one (today) will look at May and June releases with Part Two (tomorrow) focusing on July and August releases. Though this summer doesn't look as well planned as some, there are still some films that could be diamonds in the rough.
Here's a look at the first five potential contenders:
1. Iron Man 2 — May 7 Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, and Mickey Rourke. Quick Take: When the first "Iron Man" debuted in 2008, I was excited. The character seems perfectly suited to it's star — Downey, Jr. — and the film didn't disappoint. "Iron Man" also left its hero, Tony Stark, in a unique position as he outed himself to the world. The sequel picks up from there and shows how Stark continues to serve as Iron Man while the vill…

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Here's a look at the movie I saw this week. (I know, not a huge selection. But as a bonus, I've included a mini film selection rant).

The Losers Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, Jason Patric, and Chris Evans Quick Take: This is actually based on a comic book from Vertigo, though there's probably not too many out there familiar with it. It also smacks a bit of the 1980s series "The A-Team," which is set to be adapted into a film on June 11. The plot centers on a group of elite soldiers who are framed for an atrocity they tried to prevent and forced to go underground to clear their name. The plot is fairly predictable, but this isn't a film that's designed to have a tough to crack plot. There is a breezy quality to the film, which doesn't take itself too seriously. The script from Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights," "The Kingdom") and James Vanderbilt offers plenty of humorous moments. Evans offers …

Glee-ful Entertainment

I came to a stunning realization last night at about 9:25 p.m., I actually watch a musical every week. Hard to believe, but it's true.
Musicals have never been my favorite genre. I am more of a realist, so people breaking out in song randomly as they are carrying out their day doesn't make a lot of sense. However, in recent years that's gotten broken down a little. In 2002, when the big screen version of "Chicago" was released, I actually loved the movie and felt it deserved to win Best Picture among the films it was nominated against. (The real Best Picture was "About Schmidt" which failed to earn a nomination).
Then, last spring, came "Glee." I watched the pilot on somewhat of a lark. Afterall, a one-hour musical about kids in a high school glee club didn't sound like my kind of show. Needless to say, after the first hour last May, I was hooked. And the show's only kept my attention since then.
Yes, it's about high school students. …

Letters from afar

On Sunday, when I went to visit my parents, they showed me a pair of letters they got back from a couple of kids they adopted. On Easter, when the Ugandan Orphans Choir performed, the organization that brought them to the United States offered locals an opportunity to do help others from poverty stricken areas.
This last week the staff at Highlands had a chance to attend the Catalyst Conference. At that conference, one of the areas of focus was on what we can — and more importantly should — do as Christians. I couldn't help but think of that on Sunday when I read those letters.
I have a couple thoughts about that. First, I was incredibly moved reading those letters. There are many, many people in the world that lack basic necessities, including clean water, food, clothes, and education. Living here, sometimes we forget what real poverty looks like. Reading the letters from these kids, who were so overjoyed to have someone they'd never met care enough about them to give some of t…

The Pacific

For the last six weeks, HBO's latest mini-series, "The Pacific," has been transporting views to the battlefields of WWII's Pacific Theater.
In 2001, HBO presented the landmark mini-series "Band of Brothers." The 10-episode series offered a look at a company in the 101st Airborne Division, Easy Company, as they made their way through the European Theater. Based on a book by Stephen Ambrose and complete with interviews from the real-life heroes who fought the battles, "Band of Brothers" was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I was completely hooked and have watched the whole series through on several occasions, each time moved by the dedication and sacrifice of the soldiers who fought to protect our freedoms.
When I learned that the producers would again tackle WWII with "The Pacific," I was excited. I waited for years, watching production and waiting for it to debut. When it finally did debut in March, I was taken back. The series, while good, did…

Tim Tebow

This weekend was the annual NFL draft. It's always a wild time, even more so this year given the new three-day structure and live, prime-time first round on Thursday. And, of course, there's always plenty of surprises.
The 2010 draft was no exception. But the biggest surprise by far came on opening day as with the 25th pick in the first round, the Denver Broncos selected Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow is now poised to be the Broncos' quarterback of the future, and might be the face of the franchise in a few years.
I maintain a healthy enthusiasm. I LOVE the Broncos and I LOVE Tebow, but I wonder if coach Josh McDaniels won't ruin both. That, however, is another discussion.
What made the move so shocking was that Tebow was taken in the first round at all. Heading into the draft, there were 4-5 prime quarterbacks (depending on how you felt about Cincinnati's Tony Pike). But the major players were Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Tebow. None of the major…

Our Story

I just finished two amazing, but jam-packed days. I had the chance to attend Catalyst West — a leadership conference hosted by Mariner's Church in Orange County. The conference hit leadership and spiritual development from a number of different sides. It will probably take me days to ponder all that was said and weeks to figure out how to apply it to be the kind of leader — but more importantly the kind of Christ-follower — I want to be.
But one of the big themes, for me, that ran throughout the conference was the idea of story. The speakers I liked best — Donald Miller, Erwin McManus, Andy Stanley and Mark Driscoll — all focused on our story, and figuring out what we do best, and how we can best use that to serve God.
When I was applying to Biola University, we had to write an essay that served as our faith statement. Being a Christian university, Biola wanted to not only know that we were Christians, the school wanted to know why we were Christians and what it meant to us to live…

Now Playing

It was a week of SERIOUSLY R-rated comedies this week. Here's a look at the new films I reviewed.

Death at a Funeral Starring: Danny Glover, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short and Tracy Morgan Quick Take: This film is a re-make of a British film of the same name. It revolves around the large funeral of a family patriarch and the drama wrought on his family by a stranger who has a BIG secret about the deceased. This is a tale of two films — for a while, it is slow to get started. But there are some HILARIOUS, and hilariously inappropriate sequences. For the most part the principle actors do a nice job. Rock does well in carrying the film as the "straight" man, and the supporting work by Short, James Marsden and others is strong. A little Tracy Morgan goes a long way, but they reign him in fairly well here. Rating: R for language, drug content and some sexual humor. Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Kick Ass Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Chloe More…

Movies in the Third Dimension

The first 3-D movie I can remember watching was epic. It was incredible. I still love it today. It was Jaws 3-D. Seeing the shark pop out at you (mind you I was a pre-teen) was awesome. The paper glasses with the red and blue lenses, not so much.
3-D films used to be a novelty trick, a way to sell an otherwise forgettable film. I'll admit (begrudgingly) that Jaws 3 probably isn't one of the better films made in the last 30 years. The 3-D aspect of it probably helped at the box office (though I doubt even 3-D technology, a free Happy Meal, and a back rub could have helped Jaws 4.....).
In the past few years, 3-D has made a comeback. More shows have begun incorporating it (Medium, Chuck and Arrested Development, to name a few). And the technology has greatly improved at the local theater thanks to cutting edge digital filmmaking. In 2009, I started embracing the 3-D revolution. I went to see "My Bloody Valentine" in 3-D because of the novelty of it, and it certainly made…

No Crossover

I have never been an Allen Iverson fan. I respect his talent and I've watched his career as he's fought to be a fierce competitor, but I didn't really know much about him or his past.
That all changed last Tuesday when the ESPN 30 For 30 series continued with "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson." Told largely in first person reflection and investigation by filmmaker Steve James ("Hoop Dreams"), the film reflected on the events surrounding the 1993 arrest and subsequent trial of Allen Iverson and three friends and teammates.
Iverson was an explosive star that emerged from a rough neighborhood. In Hampton, Va., on the peninsula of the state, Iverson was a two-sport star. After guiding his high school to a state championship in football during the fall of his junior year, Iverson was looking to do the same thing in basketball. But on Valentine's Day in 1993, a brawl broke out in a local bowling alley that changed the course of his life.
Iverson did …

Change for Change sake

When I pulled up ESPN on my lunch break I saw a headline that bummed me out "Scheffler traded to Lions." The article referenced Denver Broncos tight end Tony Scheffler, who was uncerimoniously dumped for a fifth round draft choice.
This isn't the first Bronco I like to get the boot thanks to Denver's new coach, Josh McDaniels. When he took over the team, Denver had a high-powered offense but little in the way of defense. Now more than a year later, McDaniels has ensured that the team has neither. Is it too early to bail out on the 2010 season?
In the span of less than 18-months on the job McDaniels has jettisoned the Broncos' franchise quarterback, best wide receiver and a number of other players that were part of the Mike Shanahan era. But he did get us Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn and he's brought his Texas-sized ego with him.
Time will tell whether he's done the right thing (as you might be able to guess I wager he hasn't). But one thing is certain, he'…

David Simon's new passion

It's been two years since David Simon finished "The Wire," but he's clearly not out of things to say. Last Sunday night, Simon's latest show — "Treme" — premiered on HBO.
The show is set in New Orleans, Louisiana three months after Hurricane Katrina. It's fair to say that Hurricane Katrina was probably the biggest natural disaster to hit the United States in the last 20 years. It wiped out large sections of one of our proudest and most famous cities. Life there is still just returning to normal.
I was as happy to see the Saints win the Super Bowl for what it meant emotionally to that city as for the fact they beat the hated Colts. "Treme" captures a little bit of why.
The show is named for one of the hardest hit neighborhoods and focuses on those committed to living in and rebuilding the city. It focuses on the vibrant music scene that has brought so much acclaim to the region.
The who features a pair of "Wire" vets — Wendell Pierce …

The Wire, Pt. 5

The final season of "The Wire" was one of the most interesting. It starts out with a great quote from one of my favorite characters, Det. Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), who says, "The bigger the lie, the more they believe." After an exploration of a number of different facets of society, David Simon turned the mirror on the media in season five.
A lot of the major story lines wrapped up, but it was the exploration of the newsroom — in this case Simon's old haunt, The Baltimore Sun — that made a big impact. This hit the closest to home for me, too, because I spent the first six and a half years of my work life as a professional journalist. And watching "The Wire" unfold reminded me of all the things that made me want to be a journalist, and all the things that made me want to find a new path.
Newspapers are dying. It's a slow death, and it's probably a death that's been coming a while, but we're having trouble coming to grips with it. Yo…

The Wire, Pt. 4

The fourth season of "The Wire" took the exploration of the problems in Baltimore a step further, this time looking at the impact of the school system. There are those that argue the fourth season is the show's best, and there is certainly plenty to like about the exploration of one of our greatest failings in society, the education and welfare of our children.
When I worked for the Paso Robles Press, I had an opportunity for the last three and a half years I was there to cover local schools. I was consistently impressed by the level of dedication and the efforts of staff, and I was amazed at the achievement, skills, and passions of the students. There were a lot of great programs and some dedicated staff members.
But our education system, as it's currently designed, is broken. One of the enduring legacies of the George W. Bush administration is the No Child Left Behind legislation. Though I can see what the possible goals of the initiative were, it's hard to see h…

Now Playing

It's a mixed bag this week with the best comedy release of the year and a couple family weepies among the films I saw this week.
Date Night Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey and Mark Wahlberg Quick Take: This movie was heavily hyped, but it delivers. The film features a "dream" pairing of two NBC comedy stars — Carell, who plays Michael Scott on "The Office," and Fey, who created "30 Rock" and stars at Liz Lemon. The pair work well together and are both at the top of their game in this comedy feature. The script lays out a fairly straightforward plot, but it's obvious that much of the comedy comes from the off-the-cuff improvisation of its stars. The film features great supporting/cameo work from Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig and James Franco, among others. The film doesn't lag, keeps the laughs coming, and the filmmakers get out of the way enough to let Carell and Fey do what they do best. Rating: PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout…

The Wire, Pt. 3

The third season of "The Wire" focused on reform, and the obstacles that stand in the way of reform — namely political corruption. This feels as timely today as it did then, and it's hard to see where things have improved much in the six years since the season aired on HBO.
Politics are tough. There isn't a lot of hope offered by our leaders, especially in California where in-fighting and obstinance has taken the place of governance. The same is true of Baltimore in "The Wire." The third season focuses on the politics of City Hall and the role that plays in everything from the way the police force is managed, to how citizens are treated, and how the criminals are allowed to set up shop in large sections of the city.
It feels to me like our leaders today are more interested in appearance than action. Obviously David Simon and his team feel the same. A great deal of the season focuses on how politicians work to win the PR war, often at the expense of making any…

The Wire, Pt. 2

Today I continue my week long tribute/exploration of "The Wire" with a look at season two. During the first season, "The Wire" showed how the street operations function and, through that, offered a little insight into why they are tough to beat through traditional investigative techniques.
In season two, the world expands to show how the drugs, weapons, and other goods come into the country. The focus shifts to the docks, to the foreign organizations that serve as importers and how those goods filter down to the streets. Some have complained that season two feels a bit too disconnected from the world of inner city Baltimore, but I like that it speaks to another fading part of American culture — the working class and trade unions.
During the Industrial Revolution and even through a bulk of the early part of the 20th Century, workers and unions were a big part of the American economic and political structure. It's undeniable, however, as we've moved into a mor…

The Wire, Pt. 1

Sometimes when you watch something it changes your perspective in a radical way. It makes you think about the world in a different way or exposes you to ideas you'd never considered. That's what makes art great, and at some level all films and television shows seek to be art. Over the past two months I've been watching a show called "The Wire." I've seen many shows in my lifetime and, after completing this series, I have to say it is the best, most socially relevant show I've ever seen.
I've been reflecting on this series throughout the time I watched it, particularly in the few days since I finished it. It's a dense series that can be tough at times, but I feel like it's one of those shows that's bigger than the entertainment value it provides. Over the next couple days, I'm going to be exploring my thoughts on the show through this blog.
A couple of notes for those interested in the show, or who will become interested in it through thi…

Faith like a child

Today we kicked off the Parenthood series. I'm not a parent, but when I was looking at the passage I couldn't help but be moved by the idea that Jesus was talking as much about how adults interact with faith as about reaching out to children.
Luke 18:17 says, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." When reflecting on the passage I couldn't help but think about how children receive the kingdom of God. There is a wonder, an enthusiasm and a curiosity that drives their learning.
That's something we lose some as adults. The more we learn about the world, the more that stands in the way of that child-like wonder and openness that kids bring to faith. Jars of Clay had a song that touched on that idea, "Faith Like a Child." The chorus goes, "They say that I could move the mountains, and send them falling into the sea. They say I could walk on water, if I would just believe with fait…

Nicholas Sparks syndrome

I finally saw "The Last Song" on Friday. The film is the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, this time featuring the acting "talent" of Miley Cyrus. It is not a great film, in fact it's probably not even a good film. There are several reasons for this.
First, the writing is weak. Sparks shares some blame for this, having co-written the screenplay with Jeff Van Wie. While I acknowledge there was a plane in place for the film, it's hard to see how it was supposed to work. Part of the problem is that books can't always be adequately translated to film. Books are dense works of fiction that provide plenty of background and exposition that doesn't translate to a visual medium. Of course, the dialogue was problematic for this film as well. Many of the lines landed with a thud — particularly during key sequences — which doesn't help.
Second, Miley Cyrus was in over her head. She is a kid's personality with a strong fan base. It makes sense,…

Now Playing

The season of the epic blockbuster and big budget, star-driven comedy has begun! Let's hope it only gets better from here.....

Clash of the Titans Starring: Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson, and Ralph Fiennes Quick Take: This is a big-budget, effects-driven, sword and sandal epic. It's a re-make of the 1981 original starring Harry Hamlin and Laurence Olivier. The 1981 film is appreciated by its fans for being a camp classic, however this go-around things are much more serious. Worthington ("Avatar," "Terminator Salvation") has become the go-to guy for effects-driven action films of late. It's hard to tell if he's actually a good actor, or just moody. I am actually starting to wonder if there would be more than five spoken lines in a film that starred Worthington and Robert "Twilight" Pattinson. It's possible their combined brooding would create a negative vortex around the screen that would pull us all in. That aside, "Cl…

Second Chances

This has been a very strong, very emotional week in sports. There's been some great competitions, NCAA championships, the stretch run in the NBA and NHL and some great opening day action in baseball.
But it's fair to say the sports world — and probably large portions of the whole world — will come to a halt at 1:42 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday when a man named Tiger tees off in Augusta, Ga. The Master's is always a special tournament — even for those of us like myself that barely tolerate golf. And Tiger Woods is usually a featured attraction at the tournament, but he's never faced obstacles like this.
By now it would be hard to find someone who hasn't heard about Woods' transgressions, stint in rehab, and decision to return to golf. It's been five months since he played, and no one knows what to expect. People are flocking to follow him for a variety of reasons and there is generally some mixed feelings about his return. Some think he'll win, some hope he&…

The Bluedevil's in the details

On Monday night the NCAA men's college basketball season came to an end in thrilling fashion as the Duke Bluedevils topped the Butler Bulldogs 61-59. It's fair to say not many had that final matchup.
There is a point to which it's hard to root for Duke. It almost feels like rooting for the New York Yankees, just wrong. But it's hard to say why that is. For as great as Coach K. is, last night marked only Duke's fourth title and first since 2001. In fact, rival and juggernaut North Carolina has racked up twice as many titles in the last decade. Still, there are a lot of people that seem to bristle at the thought of Duke carrying the day.
Butler isn't quite the Cinderella they've been made out to be either. The team was ranked all season and probably should have been given a higher seed. Still, playing practically at home Monday night, the Bulldogs showed their skill and nearly came away with the National Title. It was a fittingly unpredictable end to one of the…

About Schmidt

Yesterday, one of the neat parts of our Easter services was the performance of the Ugandan Orphans Choir. In addition to performing, the group offered attendees a chance to "adopt" orphans overseas. This greatly excited my parents.
My mom came to one of the services and quickly found the organization's table. A few minutes later she emerged with a couple of bios and pictures and asked me if I wanted to meet my new "brothers." It was fun, heartwarming and felt like a great way to give back for Easter.
It also reminded me of one of my favorite movies of the last decade, "About Schmidt."
When I was reviewing the Top Ten lists of the decade put out by a number of critics, I saw many mention the comedy "Sideways." While I thought that movie had it's compelling moments, my favorite film of the decade by that writing-directing team was "About Schmidt," which was released in 2002. The film didn't get as much acclaim, but it should hav…

He is Risen!

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" — Luke 24:1-6
And with that, the first followers learned that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, had risen from the dead. It's hard to imagine what that must have been like.
Some 2,000 years later, Easter is a day of celebration and remembrance. I hope that is foremost on everyone's mind today. I am moved by the words to the song Christ is Risen. The chorus and bridge go:
Christ is risen from the dead Trampling over death by death Come awake, come awake, c…

Waiting on Jesus

The Bible offers plenty of information about the last week of Jesus' life. Each of the synoptic Gospels talks about the triumphal entry, and they all feature information about the last supper, his arrest and trial and his Crucifixion.
Similarly, each of the Gospels talks about the most important part of Holy Week, Jesus' resurrection. But there is nothing written about the day after his death. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday, but I've always wondered what happened on Saturday.
In the grand scheme of the story, the events of Saturday don't hold much weight. But I imagine that must have been a long day for Jesus' closest followers and the disciples. Today, when we celebrate Easter, we know how the story plays out. But on that first day after Jesus' death, what must it have been like.
We've all had times of fear and confusion in our lives. Add that feeling to the helplessness and grief you feel at the loss of a close friend or relativ…

Good Friday

Sometimes I've wondered, is there a bigger misnomer than Good Friday? True, the Crucifixion was good for all of man kind, and it was the fulfillment of prophecy, but the pain and suffering our Savior endured on a Friday some 2,000 years ago is practically unimaginable.
It's incredible to think that just five days earlier he made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Of course many that day believed they were hailing a king who had come to change their world. They were, but it wasn't in a way they expected. Jesus showed all that he was on a mission to change our hearts and minds forever when he cleared the Temple. But it wasn't what many expected. In my experience, the Christian life often provides the unexpected.
Those leaders who watched were filled with fear, and responded by plotting to have Jesus killed and rallying the crowds to turn against him. Fear of the unknown is a powerful force that stands in opposition to the life we're called to lead as Chri…

Now Playing

The long, sad period before summer blockbusters is nearly over. With big action and comedy releases slated for every week in April, kicking off with "Clash of the Titans" tomorrow, it feels like summer's coming early.
However, that was not the case for these releases from the tail end of March....thankfully March is officially over.
Hot Tub Time Machine Starring: Craig Robinson, John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Clark Duke Quick Take: This is a "comedy" about three past their prime, stuck in the doldrums of middle life guys who, through a ridiculously random circumstance, travel back in time to their heyday in 1986. Along for the ride is one of the guy's nephews, Duke, who learns more about his mom's wild past. There aren't a lot of good jokes in this film. There are some painful cameos by Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover tacked on as well. The movie is rude, crude, and unapologetic about its presentation. There is one funny sequence featuring Robinson — best …