Showing posts from August, 2012

Upcoming Releases — September

With the summer season over, it's an odd mix of films in September. And, in addition to being an odd mix, there are at least three major releases every week. So it's a packed schedule.

Friday, September 7:
The Words — Hard to know what to make of this drama. Bradley Cooper is an excellent actor, as is Jeremy Irons. Though the context is different, this story idea feels a little familiar. Could be an interesting exploration.

The Cold Light of Day — This movie has Bruce Willis in it. It's also gone completely under the radar. That makes me think it's probably not as good as its description.

Bachelorette — This comedy has a nice cast, but it's also already been released on iTunes, so it will be interesting to see what the Box Office yield is. Could be an interesting comedy.

Hello I Must Be Going — This is a comedy, of sorts, that could be interesting but has an odd premise. It doesn't have a ton of buzz going for it either, so it's either a hidden gem or a qu…

Now Playing

If this post is making you feel edgy or aggressive, don't worry. That's just the testosterone coming from the three action movies I saw this week.

The Bourne Legacy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Wiesz, Edward Norton, and Stacey Keach
Synopsis: Another "Bourne" movie, yay... ugh... After three movies, Matt Damon waived the white flag to continuing in the "Bourne" franchise. The studio, predictably, felt differently. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy — who wrote the first three "Bourne" movies — returned to pen the fourth, and took the director's chair as well. In comes Renner, who stars as Aaron Cross, a similarly government improved super agent, in a tangent parallel to the stories laid out in the first three "Bourne" films. But Cross, unlike Jason Bourne, has no memory issues. However, since Bourne's actions threaten to expose the CIA special operations programs that created these super spies, the government decides to can the program…

Our Cultural Mythology

“I don’t think they are making them an elevated art form. I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape.” — David Cronenberg

Clearly, Cronenberg doesn’t care for “The Dark Knight Rises.” He’s probably not alone, but he’s not in the majority. Cronenberg goes on to say superhero movies are “aimed at kids” and not sophisticated. I have to disagree.

Superhero movies have dominated the cinematic landscape for years, but especially in the new century. Every culture has its form of myths, meant to serve as exciting stories but also to convey larger social ideas. David Cronenberg might not appreciate comic books or films made from comic books, but it’s hard to deny that these stories now serve as America’s cultural mythology.

I know that seems like a bold statement, but consider it for a moment. The Greek and Roman culture had myths in the form of Gods. Aesop had his fables. Grimm had his fairytales. We have comic books. And they serve largely the same purpose — especially in fil…

Best of TV, Rebuttal No. 2

Here's the final rebuttal post in the Best of TV exploration I've gone through this summer. This is probably the best comedy NBC has produced, and was one of the toughest cuts on my original list.

Seinfeld (1990-1998)
Network: NBC
Synopsis: I love "Seinfeld." It was part of what made Thursdays on NBC great when I was in junior high and high school. I loved the comedy. I loved the performances. I loved the off-beat way the show was put together. If "Friends" was the most mass appeal, traditional sitcom, "Seinfeld" showed that a smart comedy made well could grab huge ratings too. This show nearly made it on my original list, and was probably the first out. I didn't even realize how much I missed the "Seinfeld" humor until season 7 of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Larry David's HBO comedy, which staged a "Seinfeld" reunion during that season. For nine seasons, "Seinfeld" continued to grow. When it started, t…

Best of TV, Rebuttal No. 1

Last week I wrapped up my list of my favorite TV series of all time, and I invited comments. Today and tomorrow I'll look at a couple shows that have been suggested that didn't go into my list.

Friends (1994-2004)
Network: NBC
Synopsis: For 10 years, "Friends" was a dominant force on "Must-See TV Thursday" for NBC. Seeing the show is a reminder that, for a period of time, NBC was the premier network. Of course, that's not the case any longer. But it's hard to deny the long-term popularity of this comedy. When I was working on my list of series, and had the discussion about the idea with my wife, there was only one show she mentioned for the top spot — "Friends." And it's true that "Friends" is a mass appeal comedy that still holds up pretty well. (I should know as I am often around as re-runs magically appear on our TV). "Friends" is one of the highest rated, best sitcoms that aired. It's certainly not hard to …

Welcome to The Springs

One month ago I began a new Odyssey here in Colorado. After living my whole life in California, I decided to blow things up, apparently. I got married, when on a trip, then changed jobs, cities, apartments, and states. For a guy that doesn't like change that much and craves the sanctity of routine, that was quite a leap of faith.

Though I'm still getting used to my new surroundings (and the fact that I've moved to a city of 416,000 now from a city of 30,000), it's been a fun transition. Now seems like a good time to reflect a bit on the things I've learned this first month.

1. The Weather Can Be Unpredictable. On the first Monday here, we had a massive Thunder Storm. There was rain, flash floods, and lots of thunder and lightening. Coming from the Central Coast of California, I was unprepared for such weather. On the next day, while asking everyone I could find about it at work, someone asked, "What, they don't have thunder storms in California." No,…

The Death of Network Drama

It's no secret that the television landscape has changed a great deal the past few years. With the proliferation of cable series — both HBO and Showtime and basic cable channels — the competition has never been greater.

And the response from the traditional networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX) — which traditionally dominated the TV landscape — has been a formula that retains high ratings but takes them out of the critical acclaim hunt. Consider the top rated drama on Network TV for last season, "NCIS." The show put up great numbers, is fairly popular, and has no chance of earning an Emmy nomination. Such is the landscape for dramas in 2012.

Networks, for the most part, have allowed their dramas to fall into predictable patterns and formulas. But with all the competition out there, that just won't get it done when it comes to awards season. Even shows that used to yield plenty of nominations — like "House," "Grey's Anatomy," and even "CSI&qu…

Live Strong No More

"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough.' For me, that time is now." — Lance Armstrong

The sports world has been rocked today as Lance Armstrong gave up his fight against doping allegations and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) responded in kind, stripping him of all seven Tour De France titles and all other accolades won during his incredible cycling career.

Armstrong hasn't been a major player in the cycling world for years, but he remains an icon in the sport and in the sporting world. So news that Armstrong is being labeled a cheater and being stripped of his titles is a big deal. But that doesn't mean it answers the questions.

Armstrong has been tested many times and never really failed a test. Since winning his first title in 1999, he has faced allegations of cheating and has denied it consistently. Now, all that has changed. The mounting evidence and testimony was enough for USADA to feel comfortab…

Now Playing

The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, and CJ Adams
Synopsis: Family friendly entertainment can be tricky. You have to balance a lot of competing values. The story needs to be engaging for audiences of all ages and have some kind of hook to keep the audience. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” tries to balance all those competing values, doing it with a fittingly odd story. It’s a story of family, of what it means to be a good parent, and, more importantly, of what it means to be a good person. Released by Disney, the film is a fitting counter programming option to the glut of late summer action releases. And though it’s got some heart, the finished product is a bit uneven. These kind of films can be a tough sell. There’s some elements of fantasy, some of whimsy, and some of heart-felt emotion. It’s a balancing act that requires a deft hand. In some ways, that’s a good description of the work done by co-writer and direct…

A Body Divided

"Are 360 church denominations the work of Jesus? Was it his movement that divided us? Unity is a command." — Donald Miller, Christian author.

On Monday, Tim Keller spoke at First Pres. He talked about the idea of the Missional Church and being focused on our Biblical mandate of spreading the Gospel. I was moved by what he said, but I think this works into a larger framework of what Christians really need to be focused on.

I start with that quote from Donald Miller because it has given me pause since I heard him say it in April. Miller is one of my favorite authors and thinkers, and I love the challenging ideas he forwards. He is an optimist, I think, so he seems to focus on what could be. I can't help but focus on what is.

The fact there are 360 denominations are a problem. But there are some very real reasons for some of the divisions. The reasons come down to the fact that, in America, we seem to embrace the idea we can take the Scriptures and use them to justify any …

Best of TV, No. 1

And now we come to the No. 1 show on my list.

The Wire (2002-2008)
Network: HBO
Synopsis: From the time I decided to do this list, there was only really ever one choice for the top spot — HBO's seminal series "The Wire." Those that know me well, will understand my fascination with this series. I have long felt that the greatest danger to Christianity in America is the fact that we as a group don't seem to realize that society is collapsing all around us — particularly in major urban cities. We are seeing greater disparity in the distribution of wealth, increased fracturing of the nuclear family, and a kind of apathy toward religion that should shake us to our very core. Yet, consistently, the religious right in America seems to be mission focused in other countries, while ignoring the weeds growing in our own backyard. David Simon, who created "The Wire," probably isn't a Christian, nor is he interested in furthering a Gospel message through the series…

Best of TV, No. 2

This week I continue my look at my favorite TV series of all time with the reveal of the top two. Tomorrow I will name my favorite series of all time, then it's your turn. Next week I'll consider rebuttal suggestions. I have already gotten some, but keep those comments coming.

The West Wing (1999-2006)
Network: NBC
Synopsis: This is Aaron Sorkin's best TV series. That's hardly debatable. It's also one of the best TV series of all time. That, of course, might get some more debate. It's hard to talk about a show about the White House and White House staffers without letting politics color the debate in some way. I am conservative, Sorkin is liberal. The President depicted in the show — and those in his administration — are Democrats. I am not. That said, this show presented an idealized vision of what our political system should be. I didn't always appreciate the policy decisions on the show, but I always appreciated the debate. The show tried to showcase al…

Waiting on the Lord

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." — Isaiah 40:28-31

I don't like waiting. This morning, on my way to church, it took the stop light about 2.5 minutes to change by my house. It felt like an eternity, and led to a bit of grumbling. I say that not by way of confession, but rather to illustrate that I, like so many in my generation in this culture, am impatient. That, of course, puts us at odds with God.

This morning we looked at the section in Joshua that talks about Caleb and his reward in the Promised Land. Of course it's inspira…

Major Crimes

No doubt TNT didn't want to lose a big ratings share. "The Closer" has been one of the highest rated cable dramas since it debuted in 2005, and the network likely wanted a way to keep that going. But how do you do that when your lead character, and the star of the show, is ready to say goodbye.

There has been a checkered history of spin-offs, especially the kind generated because the network wants to keep the ratings and audience going when a popular show goes off the air. With "Cheers" came "Frasier," which was very successful. It would also be easy to say "NCIS" is a better product than "JAG" ever was. But, for every one of those, there is a "Joey," which followed "Friends" with a thud.

So into that cannon comes "Major Crimes." It's just like "The Closer," except that it's missing four integral "Closer" characters and they've changed the formula completely. No longer …

Loose Ends

"For example, even though it appears no laws were broken, we all have doubts about the way Chief Johnson settled affairs with Terrell Baylor." — Capt. Raydor, "The Closer"

We live in troubling moral times. It's fair to say that, if things don't begin to change, we are on a slippery slope that will lead to the fundamental breakdown of society as we've known it. That may seem like a grandiose statement, but if you really think about the United States today, it's hard to deny that's true. And that has been the theme of many recent entries into the entertainment world.

"No Country For Old Men," at the heart, was about reconciling the changing face of people in the United States. Sure, it left room for the idea we have all romanticized the past, but when you look at Anton Chigurh, and all he represents, it's hard not to wonder what kind of path we're on.

Then there was "The Hunger Game," which debuted in the spring. It…

Now Playing

The Campaign
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Dan Aykroyd, John Lithgow, and Jason Sudekis
Synopsis: Though it feels like we’re constantly in election season — and the current Presidential election cycle feels like it’s lasted longer than the Cold War — we are really diving into the fray, as it were. The next three and a half months will be where the election is won or lost. So, it seems fitting that Hollywood jump right in and capitalize on the anti-election sentiment that seems to be pervading our nation. That is, unless you work for CNN. So, into the fray comes “The Campaign,” a send up of election season and a skewering of the political process itself. Though this film is a whacky comedy, “The Campaign” has plenty to say about the current state of American politics. And none of it is good. Director Jay Roach has had an interesting and varied career. He is no stranger to comedies, having worked on the “Austin Powers” and “Meet The Parents” franchises. But he’s also no st…

NBC's Monkey Business

For the second time during the Olympics, NBC used the platform to introduce one of its new, broad-appeal comedies. This time it was "Animal Practice," better known to audiences as the one with the monkey.

Previously I commented on my thoughts on the flaw in this roll out plan. Sure, it's great to see a new pilot early and to use a mass-appeal event like the Olympics as the launching pad. But why are you waiting a month — or more in the case of "Animal Practice" — to get the series going. You have to strike while the iron is hot. Alas, that's not NBC these days...

Still, "Animal Practice" was a show I didn't think I'd find appealing. It was described as "House" with animals, which just sounds strange. Especially when it comes in the form of a 30-minute sitcom. And, though the description is somewhat accurate, the show manages to rise above that format a bit. That is probably thanks in large part to the monkey — Crystal — who, at …

Best of TV, No. 3

"Clear Eyes; Full Heart; Can't Lose." — Coach Taylor, "Friday Night Lights"

Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Network: NBC/DirecTV
About: It's the rare show that can completely defy expectations, and an even more rare show that works its way into your heart after you dismissed it. I saw "Friday Night Lights" the film. It was fine, but not my favorite. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why NBC wanted to turn it into a weekly TV series. I was completely skeptical about the idea, then I watched the pilot. To say it is one of the finest hours of television I have ever seen is kind of selling it short. By the end of that 60 minutes, as Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) offers his closing monologue, I knew I was in. Throughout its five season run — the later few seasons of which were split between NBC and DirecTV — the show never disappointed. Sure, some seasons were better than others. The second season and some of the story choices left somethin…

Best of TV, No. 4

My countdown of my favorite TV series of all time continues this week as we get into the top four. Here comes the first of two Aaron Sorkin shows on this list, and the second of two sitcoms on the list.

Sports Night (1998-2000)
Network: ABC
About: This was Sorkin's first show to hit the air, and started a strong of shows that really pulled back the curtain to show you what happens behind the scenes. Since "Sports Night," Sorkin has used this model in two other shows relating to going behind the scenes of a TV show — with "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Newsroom," which premiered on HBO in June. But none of the attempts have been a fun and endearing as "Sports Night." This show hit ABC during a time when the network was struggling to find an identity. I can't help but wonder if this show had hit ABC a few years later if it wouldn't still be on the air. It was a poignant comedy, which was a rare deviation from the comedy model NB…

Giving Glory to God

"You guys don't grow up. It's like you need to pee on everything." — Natalie
"Why do you assume that's singular to men." — Ryan, "Up In The Air"

Who do we give glory to, God or ourselves? That was the question of the sermon this morning offered by our worship director Jim DeJarnette. He drew that idea from Joshua 4, where Joshua builds an alter — or Ebenezer — to God after their Israelites crossing of the Jordan River.

When you think about that idea, and you think about our world, it's clear to see where we often fall on that question as a society. We build stadiums and sky scrappers to ourselves. We are a society that is all about celebrity status. Just being famous is enough. You don't even really have to do anything to achieve or earn it.

But that's not what God would have us do in our lives. He would have us give Him the glory for what he has provided. That flies in the face of the American ethic of self-glorification and self…

A New Season (Saturday)

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9

One of the highlights of the last two seasons on Game Day was going to Facebook to see what verse that Tim Tebow put up for the day. The NFL, you see, won't allow verses in eyeblack, so Tebow took to Facebook to share his verse for the day.

On Friday morning, when I saw the verse on his Facebook page, I felt something different. His verse was Joshua 1:9, placed above. It's still encouraging, and I still love seeing him live his faith, but it was followed with the words "Go Jets." That's right, 2012 is going to be a different kind of season.

Thursday night I got to watch the Broncos for the first time. It was strange seeing Peyton Manning in a Broncos' uniform, and even stranger for me to be hoping he would complete a pass rather than send one into the dirt. The team did well — winning 31-3 — …

Matthew Perry's New Thing

When you are scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of ratings, you will look for any floatation device you can find. Such is the sad case of NBC. Their new slate of fall shows feature some big names, and the network hopes to use the Olympics — and all the eyeballs that comes with it — to generate buzz for its new shows.

The first out of the gate, as it is, happens to be the Matthew Perry comedy "Go On." For many, myself included, Perry will probably always be Chandler Bing, his alter-ego from "Friends." And, no matter what kind of show he's done, he seems to always bring the same comedic style and mannerisms to his work. He has also tried to headline a number of buzzed about shows in the space since "Friends," but none has lasted. So one has to wonder if the same won't hold true for "Go On," which actually feels like the weakest premise of any of his shows yet.

Still, NBC has pinned its hopes on big names, like Perry, and broad con…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.

Hope Springs
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, and Steve Carell
Synopsis: This is an interesting romantic comedy of sorts. Meryl Streep is the greatest American actress of all time. I know that's a bold statement, but it's undeniable that she has been the longest tenured, most versatile actress in this country for decades. Last year she earned an Academy Award for channelling Margaret Thatcher. In this film, she goes through a range of emotions with a beautifully subtle performance as a wife that wants more out of her marriage. Tommy Lee Jones is equal to the task as well in this beautiful, moving, charming, funny, and emotionally fulfilling film. This is a movie that looks at what happens when you allow routine to settle into a marriage and block the path of romance. After 31 years, it's easy to see how that can happen. This film looks at the fact that it happens subtly over time, and it can take a great deal of…

The Greatest Olympian

I talked a little last week about the ridiculous obsession our culture has with labeling and ranking everything. We do it with art, like films, TV, music, and paintings, that is all too subjective. We do it with people too. Almost every event has to be quantified by the media and talking heads so that we feel better about our world. We are a people that crave order, and as such can never let things just reside in the moment.

I, of course, am guilty of this too. But this idea struck me a lot last week as Michael Phelps, presumably, wrapped up his Olympic career. The fact that he is the most prolific swimmer and most decorated Olympian of all time are not in dispute. But that led to a mass overreaction of all media to try and define his place in history before he'd had a chance to towel off from his last race. That's where it gets tricky.

We live in a different era in sports. The United States is a dominating force in the Olympics, and has been for the past few contests. There …

Best of TV, No. 5

Today I continue my list of my favorite TV series of all time with the first comedy on this list.

Arrested Development (2003-2006)
Network: FOX
About: This show is a comedy cult classic. It lasted three low-rated but hilarious seasons on FOX, and fans have clamored for its return ever since. Next year they'll get their wish, as the show will have a short fourth season on Netflix and then, likely, a feature-length film. That's the power of fandom. Much like how "Firefly" got a final movie in "Serenity" thanks to fan outcry, seven years after it left the air "Arrested Development" continues to captivate fans. I have only placed two comedies on this list. Comedies have never been my favorite TV genre, and that's because I am more of an off beat humor kind of guy. There are really two types of TV comedies. One is the broad, traditional sitcom. Think "Friends" or "Frasier" here. They are highly rated and appeal to a broad demog…

Best of TV, No. 6

Today I continue my look at my favorite TV series of all time with the only show on the list that's still on the air.

Fringe (2008-2012)
Network: FOX
About: "Fringe" is a hybrid show that borrows from elements of other shows, including some on this list. It takes a very scientific approach to its sci-fi exploration. Whereas a show like "The X-Files" centered on alien mythology, "Fringe" is interested in scientific boundaries, and the ways men like to play God. This appeals to me from a theological standpoint too. It's a fun exploration of these topics. In a lot of ways, "Fringe" is like a hybrid of "The X-Files" and "LOST," which is fitting since it comes from producer J.J. Abrams. But it's not just the story construct that appeals to me, it's the characters and the warm, rich performances. "Fringe" has never gotten its due. The show hasn't been highly rated and it hasn't gotten awards. Stil…

All Thumbs...

"We always fear what we don't understand."

There is a reason, that for four years at Kennedy Club Fitness, I almost exclusively exercised in the pool. First, I don't like to be bathed in sweat. Second, I like being in the water and swimming laps. And third, and perhaps most importantly, I don't really understand gym equipment.

But, being as I'm in a new place, I decided to branch out on Saturday night. Big mistake...

I hit the fitness center at my new apartment complex. It was deserted, which gave me the confidence to try out all the machines. It wasn't my finest hour. Between the travel/life commitments that have kept me from the gym over the past few weeks and the adjustment to the altitude, I wasn't breaking any fitness records. Then the predictable happened.

While trying to adjust the weights on a machine I didn't really understand, I dropped the hammer on my left thumb. Not really a hammer so much as a free weight. I saw it coming and tried …

The Mid-Way Point

This is always a tough time in the Olympic schedule for me. It's the halfway point. The swimming portion — my personal favorite — is wrapping up, and you can feel the whole thing starting to wind down. Now, of course, the Olympics won't officially end until next Sunday. Still, it's hard not to feel like it's all flying by.

This also seems like a good time to recap the highlights of the 30th Olympiad to this point. Below are my three favorite moments from the Olympics so far.

3. The American Women earn gold in Gymnastics. A lot was made of Jordan Wieber's crying after not qualifying for the all around. That was an unfortunate moment. But two nights later, it was the sight of the five American women working as a team to win gold that is the enduring gymnastic moment of the Olympics so far. The ladies needed all their individual strengths to make that magic run, and they did it. It was an incredible night.

2. Amanda Franklin's world record. Franklin has been fun …

Ranking Nolan's Batman Films

Without a doubt, Christopher Nolan's visionary take on Batman is the greatest series of superhero films of all time. With superhero films serving as our cultural mythology, this is huge. In the last decade alone we've seen a massive explosion in the number of superhero films on the market. Yet, Nolan's trio of Batman films have served as the gold standard, and are even starting to set the template for future reboots of series.

Ranking films is borderline ridiculous. Films are works of art, like paintings, representing the thoughts, ideas, and aesthetics of their creators. As such, people look at films in different ways, bringing different tastes to the films, and creating different reactions. Evaluation of films, like all art, is highly subjective, no matter what anyone wants to say.

That being said, in our current culture, we like to rate things nearly immediately. It is a human conceit to desire to put things in a logical pecking order. Even the disciples wanted to know…

Now Playing

Here's a look at this week's new movies.

The Watch
Starring: Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Richard Ayoade, and Rosemarie DeWitt
Synopsis: Given recent events in the real world, a movie about a militaristic group of neighborhood watch fanatics doesn’t seem like a great idea. That, of course, is the marketing challenge for “The Watch,” which opened on July 27. Given the difficulties stemming from the real-life events in Florida, the name for the film shifted and the trailers started giving away a good deal of the plot. If you watch the film, the idea of aliens doesn’t come up until 45 minutes in. Yet, that’s the whole focus of the trailers. Hence the disconnect. “The Watch” may ultimately be one of those decent movies that gets caught up in the wash of summer blockbusters and unfortunate real-life timing. Still, for those looking for an edgier adult comedy, this works well. It’s likely that the alien part of this story was meant to be a bit of a surprise. There is a lo…