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Showing posts from February, 2011

What Would Jesus Cut?

Recently I have been watching the show "Sleeper Cell." It's kind of a terrifying idea, and it's certainly not put together in a nice way, but there has been one aspect that fascinated me. The main character is a proud Muslim member of the FBI who is working under cover to expose terrorists. His biggest struggle, however, seems to be keeping his spirits up as those he must work with manipulate his faith to suit their own ends. That's certainly something I can identify with, the anger and frustration over those that misrepresent your faith to the world.
This morning, when I was checking headlines, I spotted a blog post about a new campaign to rally support for causes in the budget. The campaign, organized by Christian leaders throughout the country, is called "What Would Jesus Cut?" The group has taken out a full page ad, and plans a longer campaign in coming weeks as they attempt to pressure the Federal government to be conscientious during this budget cy…

50 Years of Oscar

Tonight is that annual Academy Awards (starting at 5:30 p.m. Pacific). This is the 83rd Oscar telecast. As we look forward to a new film joining the elite club of Best Picture winners, it's always interesting to look to the past.
This year marks the start of a new decade (the nominated films are from 2010). In honor of that, I thought I would look back at winners from the first year of each of the past five decades.
1960 — "The Apartment." I haven't seen this Billy Wilder comedy, but it's notable for the great lead performance from Jack Lemon. The film won five Oscars, including for Wilder's direction and for the screenplay. Lemmon and co-star Shirley MacLaine earned nominations but didn't get awards.
1970 — "Patton" This film chronicled the career of World War II General George S. Patton. George C. Scott gives a great performance as Patton. The film won seven Oscars, including a Best Actor for Scott, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
1980 — "O…

Academy Award Picks, Pt. 2

Yesterday I made my picks for the big categories, today I'll make my predictions for the smaller film categories and technical awards.
Film Categories: Best Foreign Language Film "Biutiful" is the only film in this category with a second nomination, a Best Actor nod for Javier Bardem. Normally one would give a film the upper hand for having made an impression in that way. But the favorite in this category is Golden Globe winner "In A Better World." The Pick: "In A Better World," Denmark
Best Documentary Feature The best documentary of 2010 was "Waiting for Superman," which failed to yield a nomination. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" has been an art house favorite, and the emotionally resonant "Restrepo" continues to earn effusive praise. But the pedigree in this category belongs to "Inside Job." The Pick: "Inside Job," Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs.
Best Documentary, Short Subject The favorite in this category …

Academy Award picks, Pt. 1

The annual Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, honoring the best of films in 2010. In preparation for this year’s ceremony, I’ve taken a look at several of the key races, predicting who will win and looking at who should win. Tomorrow I'll have my picks in the rest of the races.
Best Picture This is likely a two-horse race. Though there are 10 films nominated in the field, only “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” stand a good chance of taking home the top prize. Though there has been some support for “The Fighter” as a dark horse, it will likely do better in the acting races. The best bet for a winner here is “The King’s Speech,” which has dominated the recent guild awards. While I think “The King’s Speech” will win the award, the best film in the race is “The Social Network,” which will likely have to settle for writing and directing awards. Will Win: "The King's Speech" Should Win: "The Social Network"
Best Actor Colin Firth (“The King’s Sp…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the films I saw this week as well as the final two Best Picture capsules. Don't forget to check out the Academy Awards on Sunday night. I'll have my traditional picks later this week.
The Eagle Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland Synopsis: This is a period piece set in Britain during the reign of the Roman Empire. It focuses on a Centurion named Marcus Aquila (Tatum) whose father was the commander of a famed regiment that was lost in the wilds of Britain. Along with the loss of the legion — some 5,000 soldiers — was the loss of the legion's famous symbol, The Eagle. Marcus earns his own fame and recognition by saving his men at a post in the north of Britain, but he is injured and returned to his uncle Aquila (Sutherland) to convalesce. During that time he is given an honorable discharge (one has to wonder if that was really a phrase used during 140 A.D., but we'll let it pass), and Marcus is left to wonder what to do. After sa…

Faith in Film 2, About Schmidt

This week we continue our look at films that speak to our role as we interact with this world. I think that, in many ways, "About Schmidt" is a companion piece to the message and example offered in "The Blind Side." Only this film is more intentional about it's character searching for purpose in his life.
"About Schmidt" was released in 2002 and stars Jack Nicholson. Though writer/director Alexander Payne drew more praise and attention for "Sideways" (2004), I think "Schmidt" is his best film, and ranked it as one of my favorite films of the last decade. There is a resonant power in the performance of Nicholson — something recognized by the great film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert said of the performance, "'About Schmidt' is essentially a portrait of a man without qualities, baffled by the emotions and needs of others. That Jack Nicholson makes this man so watchable is a tribute not only to his craft, but to his legend: Jac…

Faith in Film 2, Week 8

Title: “About Schmidt” (2002)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Katy Bates, Hope Davis, and Dermott Mulroney
Synopsis: This film from director Alexander Payne was largely over looked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Jack Nicholson was nominated as Best Actor and should have won for his performance, which is one of the finest of his career. In the last decade it was another of Payne’s films, the 2004 comedy “Sideways,” that earned praise and landed on the Best of the Decade lists. For my money, this film is funnier, more engrossing, and has a lot more heart. That’s why I put it on the list of my favorite films of the first decade of the 21st Century.
The film centers on an aging insurance executive named Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) just as he enters retirement. He lived his whole life by a rigid schedule, including the life with his wife and his daughter. When he retires, Schmidt begins to wonder what his life has really meant and if anything he’s done with his time on Earth wil…

Sure Bets Sunday Night

It's Academy Award week! I always look forward to the Academy Awards, which I consider the Super Bowl of the entertainment world. I'm not always pleased with the results, but it's fascinating to study the races, read the predictions, make my picks, and watch them fall apart. OK, that last part isn't fun, just usually true.
Later this week I'll recap my last two Best Picture nominees (Thursday), examine the races, make picks, and take a look back at winners over the last 50 years. But today, I thought I'd offer my prediction for three races that look like sure bets on Sunday.
Best Animated Feature — "Toy Story 3." Rarely does an animated film earn a Best Picture nomination, and when it does you can be pretty sure that it will take the animated feature category. That was certainly the case with "Up" last year, and it should be the case with "Toy Story 3" this year. But that's only part of the reason I consider this category a lock (…

Academy's Biggest Snub

In one week, the best of the year in film will be celebrated at the Academy Awards. Every year there is debate about which of the nominees should walk away with the awards. There's also debate about those left off the list.
There are plenty of quibbles one could make. I, personally, think that Christopher Nolan should have received a Best Director nomination. There are also a few acting nominations I might have chosen differently, and I would have preferred "Get Low" and "The Town" in the Best Picture race as opposed to "Winter's Bone" and "The Kids Are All Right."
But, to me, the most egregious oversight in 2010 was the failure to include "Waiting for Superman" in the Best Documentary race. Every once in a while a movie comes out that really speaks to me or touches me. Something that makes me thing, challenges me, and moves me. This year, that movie was "Waiting for Superman."
I was reminded of that on Sunday as I watch…

New Wave of Superheroes

This week the cover of "Entertainment Weekly" features the new actor cast to take over as Superman. The film, which is targeted for late 2012, will feature a re-boot of the "Superman" franchise, a mere six years after the last "re-boot." And Superman's not the only superhero getting a make over.
It seems that Hollywood loves to beat ideas to death. When something is successful, it breeds clones until no one can stand to see the genre any more. We've seen it happen time and again. Horror films (slashers, specifically) have undergone three or four life cycles, and it seems we're destined to see the superhero flame burn until the wick is vaporized.
On the small screen we've already seen the death of interest in superhero tales. "Heroes" faded last spring, leading to its cancellation. This year, the shows "No Ordinary Family" and "The Cape" tried to restore interest in superheroes in a weekly series only to see thos…

Delivering a Message

On Wednesday I had a chance to lead Bible Study. In inevitably when that happens I get some interesting and challenging material to share. So I was pleasantly surprised that this week all I got was the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers in Genesis 37. After all, who can't identify with wanting to sell an annoying relative off to a band of nomadic merchants? Just kidding...
Joseph doesn’t always get as much publicity as some of the other heroes of the Old Testament, but he is one of the most important figures in the Bible, playing a pivotal role in accomplishing God’s will for the Israelites. The commentary I read noted that many elements of Joseph’s story foreshadow Jesus’ experience on Earth. Some of the similarities they noted include the fact that Joseph was beloved by his father, he was hated by his brothers, he was betrayed and sold out by those closest to him, he was unjustly punished, and his sacrifice ended up saving his people. Of course, among the maj…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new film I saw this week plus my continuing recap of the Best Picture contenders. Only 10 days until the big awards ceremony!

Just Go With It Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Nicole Kidman, Dave Matthews, and Nick Swardson Synopsis: This movie has a wildly unbelievable premise. A single, middle-aged plastic surgeon uses a fake wedding ring gag to pick up ladies. That works fine for him until he meets a beautiful young woman he'd like to have a relationship with and she finds his fake wedding ring. Instead of coming clean, he wrangles his friend/assistant and her kids into playing his fake family, and they all end up on a "family" vacation to Hawaii, where he starts to realize he's focused on the wrong woman. It's a film designed for breezy jokes, situational humor, and to showcase exotic locations. Heading into this film I was dubious, based not only on the premise and the horrendous trailer but on the fact that San…

Faith in Film 2, The Blind Side

"The Blind Side" was probably the most uplifting film of 2009. It's also one of the most inspiring examples of Christian charity.
1 Corinthians Chapter 13 is known as the love chapter. But in the King James Version, the word that is used is charity. 1 Corithians 13:13 says, "These three remain, faith, hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity." Charity has been co-opted in our modern society as a bad word, but in reality it's a way we can express the love of Jesus Christ to others.
Charity has traditionally been a part of Christianity. When I was watching "Boardwalk Empire," a series set in the 1920s, I was struck by the repeated use of the phrase Christian charity. This isn't a concept that is held in high esteem in our modern society, but it was a part of one of the most famous sermons, "A Model of Christian Charity," offered by Puritan leader John Winthrope in 1630. He cited Matthew 5:14-16 in his message, the passage …

Faith in Film, Week 6

Here is a look at the worksheet for "The Blind Side." We watched the film last week and I'm looking forward to our discussion tomorrow.
Title: “The Blind Side” (2009)Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, and Quinton AaronSynopsis: This film was one of 10 Best Picture nominees for 2009 and earned an Academy Award for star Sandra Bullock for Best Actress. It’s an inspirational and true-life story of Michael Oher, who is the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. It is a moving picture of what is possible when someone steps out of his or her comfort zone to help another in need.The basic story centers on the Tuohy family, who live in Tennessee. Both kids, Collins and SJ, attend Briarcrest Christian Academy along with Michael Oher, a young man from a broken home that lacks a support system. Oher has drive and raw talent but no one to look out for him. When matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) takes Michael in and invests in him, he begins to thrive. The f…

Review: "The Chicago Code"

I am a sucker for a well done police drama. When I first saw the ads for "The Chicago Code," I knew it was right up my alley. FOX gave the show a heavy promotional push during playoff football and during the Super Bowl, with it's premier taking place last Monday. I wondered if the show could possibly live up to the hype. I was pleasantly surprised.
The show is centered on a new police superintendent (Jennifer Beals) determined to clean up the police department and corruption in the city they protect and serve. She recruits a gruff but effective detective (Jason Clarke) and his new partner (Matt Lauria) to get the job done. The pilot flowed much as you'd expect, with the principle villain role of a corrupt Alderman played by Delroy Lindo. The show comes from "Shield" creator Shawn Ryan.
One of the stumbling blocks for gritty police dramas of this type can be the constraint of being on a network. Network television is probably the most regulated form of enterta…

The Sunset Limited

Nothing captures dialogue and the free exchange of ideas quite like a stage play. It is a place where the written and spoken word is treated with reverence, a place where your imagination plays as big a role in telling the story as the sets and performances. At it's best, theater informs, entertains, and invigorates.
That's what makes adaptations to film so difficult. Few get it right. For every "Doubt" — an exceptional adaptation that featured incredible performances and preserved the spirit of the stage play — there is a "For Colored Girls" — a film that stuck so close to its source material that it became a false cinematic world.
Cormac McCarthy is one of the greatest America writers. His novel, "No Country For Old Men," stands as one of the best I've read, and was adapted into one of the best films of the last decade. With "The Sunset Limited," director/star Tommy Lee Jones captures the spirit and elegance of McCarthy's words i…

Sandler Classics

This weekend Adam Sandler delivers his latest comedy, "Just Go With It." Undoubtedly it will received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. Sandler remains a top name in comedy despite the fact he hasn't produced a great film in the last half decade. So, while some will flock to see his new movie, I thought I'd offer a list of some of my favorite Sandler films. This list appears in order of release date.
Billy Madison (1995) Starring: Adam Sandler, Darren McGavin, Bridgette Wilson, and Norm MacDonald Why I like It: This is probably my favorite of Sandler's early films, and is half the namesake for his production company (Happy Madison). Is the film juvenile? Yes. Is it still funny? Yes. This movie has a ridiculous premise, and it isn't his best work, but it does have some classic moments. Of course it culminates in a great showdown between Sandler and his on-screen nemesis Bradley Whitford. The film also features some funny songs. Many people think of "…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week plus a continuation of my look at the Best Picture nominees.
The Roommate Starring: Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gigandet, Matt Lanter, and Alyson Michalka Synopsis: This could easily be a TV movie, or a marketing strategy for the CW. After all, the network seeded stars in this film (one from every major show). The movie features Leighton Meester (“Gossip Girl), Nina Dobrev (“The Vampire Diaries), Matt Lanter (“90210”), Alyson Michalka (“Hellcats), and Danneel Harris (“One Tree Hill). Though Minka Kelly wasn’t a star on the CW, she still fits the demographic starring in “Friday Night Lights” and the failed CW pilot “Body Politic.” And, finally, Cam Gigandent wasn’t on the CW, but he’s no doubt familiar to the demographic thanks to his roles on “The OC” and in the movie “Twilight.” In short, it’s not hard to tell what demographic the filmmakers were aiming for with the casting. That's probably the most interesting thing about t…

Faith in Film 2, The Blind Side

Tonight we're going to be screening "The Blind Side." I remember when I first saw the trailer for the film, and how it moved me. It doesn't always take a lot for me to get excited about a film while watching the trailer, but this formed a different kind of instant connection.
My normal Sunday morning routine is to wake early, shower and get ready, and catch a few minutes of ESPN's Sunday morning shows before church. At 6 a.m., "Outside The Lines" airs. The show features stories that illustrate the human drama of sports.
In April 2009, on a Sunday morning before church, "Outside The Lines" aired a story on Michael Oher, a young offensive lineman drafted the preceding day by the Baltimore Ravens. As I listened to Michael's story, and the story of his adoptive family, the Tuohy, I was moved. To me, it was an example of faith in action.
"The Blind Side" tells a fictionalized version of that story, and I think the same principle holds. T…

Faith in Film, Week 6

Here is a look at this week's worksheet for "The Blind Side."
Title: “The Blind Side” (2009) Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, and Quinton Aaron Synopsis: This film was one of 10 Best Picture nominees for 2009 and earned an Academy Award for star Sandra Bullock for Best Actress. It’s an inspirational and true-life story of Michael Oher, who is the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. It is a moving picture of what is possible when someone steps out of his or her comfort zone to help another in need. The basic story centers on the Tuohy family, who live in Tennessee. Both kids, Collins and SJ, attend Briarcrest Christian Academy along with Michael Oher, a young man from a broken home that lacks a support system. Oher has drive and raw talent but no one to look out for him. When matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) takes Michael in and invests in him, he begins to thrive. The film mixes in a message about what it means to be a Christian and to invest…

Commercial Statements

One of the most interesting aspects of the Super Bowl each year is the competition to craft the best commercial. In fact, often people are just as excited about the commercial breaks as the game itself.
Yesterday was no different. A flurry of funny ads hit the airwaves during the beginning part of the game. Among my early favorites were ads by Pepsi and Doritos. The Pepsi commercial featuring a woman being knocked out by a flying can of Pepsi was hilarious. Doritos, meanwhile, kept it's string in tact of offering funny ads. The ad featuring a pug running through a glass window was great, the ad featuring the crazed Doritos fan who licked the hands and pants of co-workers was funny in a creepy way, and the house sitting ad was inspired.
A couple others did well. Bridgestone offered some good ads, and of course the Darth Vader kid ad from Volkswagen was pretty great.
Then there were others that left something to be desired. I could go the rest of my life without another Go Daddy.com ad…

The End is Near

Today we watched an opening clip from the TV show "Friday Night Lights." When it premiered five years ago, I didn't think it would work and almost didn't watch. But I did, and I was blown away.
The Super Bowl might be over, but the biggest football game of the year takes place on Wednesday night as "Friday Night Lights" airs its final episode. And the game might not even be the best thing about the show.
It's fitting, to me, that we began the Real Modern Family series with a clip from this show, because its depiction of marriage, parenting, and the importance of the traditional nuclear family is its greatest legacy. No show captures the beauty and partnership of marriage like "Friday Night Lights." It's not always perfect, but it's real. And that's a tribute to the writers, directors, and actors Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler.
The sad thing, to me, is that this show has never gotten the respect it deserves, or the audience. I can ha…

The Unofficial American Holiday

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl. It is basically America's unofficial holiday. It is the single most watched televised event each year, and for good reason. The whole event is an experience, and not just for the action on the field.
I was recently talking to a co-worker about the fact that a company spent $3.5 million on its Super Bowl ad. On the surface, that seems like a great deal of money. But consider the cost of advertising and the captive audience at the Super Bowl, and that begins to make more sense.
I love the pageantry of the whole event, not just the game. And I look forward to the Super Bowl no matter who is playing. I love watching the commercials and looking for the funny ones, the spectacle of the half time show, the pre and post-game reports, and of course the action on the field.
Usually networks seed their best and brightest shows right after the Super Bowl too (this year it's "Glee"). That's always fun too, seeing what's going to be on. So it's…

Living Our Faith

It's always a sign about what you're watching when you hear the same word so often that you need to consult a dictionary. That happened to me this week with the word Apostate. (Yeah, apparently I'm a barrel of laughs).
An Apostate is, "One who has abandoned one's religious faith, a political party, one's principles, or a cause." Though the dictionary told me what the word meant from a technical sense, I started to think about how it applied to what I was watching and our world.
It's hard not to be a little worried about the state of the world based on recent events. It probably doesn't help that I've been watching this TV show called "Sleeper Cell" (hence the Apostate question). It made me think we need a better, modern definition of the word Apostate, something that came to mind again during Faith in Film as we talked about sharing our faith with others.
To me, an Apostate is someone who uses fear, anger, intimidation, and religion as …

Now Playing

Here's a look at the films I saw this week as well as a couple more Best Picture nominees. All I can say about this week's new movies is sometimes you find gems, other times you end up with "The Mechanic".... (not a gem).
The Mechanic Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, and Tony Goldwyn Synopsis: This is a re-make of a Charles Bronson film. That is something the world probably didn't need. It also didn't need a re-make of a brutal film that was done even more brutally. But that's what we've got here. There is everything you'd expect from a Statham film (after all, he gave us "The Transporter" and "Crank"). There is violence, a few cheesy lines, some faux emotion, and a few random, graphic, and mechanical sex scenes. The body count is high in this film, and any notion of compassion gets left at the opening credits. Director Simon West (who's given us such gems as "Con Air") makes sure to stylize the violence — as if …

Faith in Film 2, The Invention of Lying

"The Invention of Lying" is a fascinating film for a couple reasons. First, it's an interesting comedy. Star/writer Ricky Gervais has a unique comedic style, and I think it works really well in this film. Second, the film is an interesting social commentary. And, finally, this film has some interesting ideas about faith.
The last part is the most interesting given Gervais is the co-writer/star. Gervais is an avowed atheist and a member of the National Secular Society. He once said as justification for his decision not to get married that, "there's no point in us having an actual ceremony before the eyes of God because there is no God."
With "The Invention of Lying," Gervais and co-writer Matthew Robinson create a world of absolutes and facts. There is no lying or imagination. People are blunt and tend to share every thought, no matter how inappropriate. Of course, in this world of absolute rationality, there is no God. If you can't see it, taste…

Faith in Film, Week 5

Here is a look at this week's worksheet.
Title: “The Invention of Lying” (2009)
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and Jeffrey Tambor
Synopsis: This comedy from Ricky Gervais — creator of “The Office” — played on a unique concept. The film features a world where people are unable to tell a lie. This means no false politeness and a lot of blunt honest. Gervais uses the concept as a way to generate laughs, but also as a way to explore some of the truth about our social connections. One of the interesting studies of the film is the idea that people rarely are truthful in exchanges with one another. We couch things in polite language to avoid any uncomfortable interactions and so as not to hurt each others feelings.
Another interesting aspect of the social commentary centers on society’s ideal of a perfect mate. It’s a comment on the fact that, sometimes, people get caught up in what our culture deems successful and valuable rather than evaluating what individuals have to…