Showing posts from October, 2012

Star Wars: Episode VII, Minnie's Revenge?

There was a time when I watched nothing but "Star Wars" films — and by that, of course, I mean the real "Star Wars" films made in the 1970s and 1980s. As a boy, I would pull out all my G.I. Joe's and Star Wars action figures, put on the movies, and fight galactic wars.

While "Star Wars" is no longer my favorite — or only — cinematic choice, the films have always held a special place in my heart. It was with a mix of excitement and fear that I went to the prequels, with the final two somewhat making up for the horror of "Episode I" but never rising to the level of the original films.

After the prequels, George Lucas said he was done making "Star Wars" films, and it seemed like the truth. It also seemed right that the series would end with him. But while Lucas might be done making "Star Wars" films, the world isn't done with "Star Wars." That earth-shattering announcement came yesterday, as the Disney company…

Hitchcock Having A Moment

Alfred Hitchcock is having a moment. He's been dead for years, but now he's the subject of two movies. The first, "The Girl," premiered this month on HBO. The second, "Hitchcock," will be released in theaters in November.

Without a doubt, Hitchcock made a big impression on the movie business. Even years later, his films are still considered classics and benchmarks in their genre. He was inventive, had a great eye, and understood the importance of story. You can watch "Psycho" today and still be pulled into the story. "The Birds," even minus today's special effects wizardry, still creeps me out.

Of course the mark of any truly great filmmaker from the past is that their work stands alone — meaning no one wants to re-make it. That's certainly true of Hitchcock, making him a rare exception in this day and age.

Of course, back when Hitchcock was working the press was different too. That's what makes the stories coming out about …

Upcoming Releases — November

We're into November, which means that we're starting to get some of the deeper films that will be competing for Academy Awards, such as the Steven Spielberg biopic "Lincoln."

Friday, November 2:
Flight — This film marks Robert Zemeckis' return to live-action films. It stars Denzel Washington and looks to have a pretty power house story. In a weekend otherwise filled with kids fare and action eye candy, this is a more serious entry.

Man With The Iron Fists — Produced by Quentin Tarantino and written by RZA of the Wu Tang Clan and Eli Roth, you can expect plenty of violence and stylized action with this film. The presence of Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu adds a little gravitas, but this feels like a pretty graphic action film.

Wreck It Ralph — This is the big animated feature for the month, and one Disney has been pushing hard. It has an interesting concept, good voice actors, and should be a big family draw this month.

Friday, November 9:
Skyfall — This is the lates…

TV's Best New Shows

Since the new fall season began I've reviewed pilot and second episodes of most of the new shows this fall season. A couple months into the season, the shows are starting to hit a groove. Today, I wrap up my look at the new shows this fall by offering my three favorite new shows and the three I found the most disappointing. Now, disappointing doesn't mean the worst. It just means the most disappoint... though they could be bad too.

The Best:
1. Last Resort, ABC on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. (MST)
This was the show I was most excited about prior to the new season, and it has been the best so far. "Last Resort" had an excellent pilot, and it has a great cast led by Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman (pictured above). It's got interesting stories and, to this point, seems to have a lot of possibilities. That is what you're looking for in this kind of show. It's a concern the ratings haven't been better, but so far this is my favorite new show of the 2012-…

NFL Picks, Week 8

Last week might have been a break through. I went 8-5, getting closer to .500 for the year. Only time will tell, but I'm hoping for another strong week in week eight. As always, the picks are against the spread, not a straight up and down pick.

Buccaneers +6.5 Over Vikings
Bears -7.5 Over Panthers
Chargers -2.5 Over Browns
Seahawks +2.5 Over Lions
Packers -13.5 Over Jaguars
Colts +3.5 Over Titans
Patriots -6.5 Over Rams
Dolphins +2.5 Over Jets
Eagles -2.5 Over Falcons
Redskins +5.5 Over Steelers
Raiders +1.5 Over Chiefs
Dallas +1.5 Over Giants
Saints +6.5 Over Broncos
49ers -6.5 Over Cardinals

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 8-5
Overall: 50-54

The First Snow

(Our first snowball!)

In early October, the weather dropped and we were warned of snow flurries. Having lived in California all my life, this was about to be a momentous occasion for me. It was coming on Friday night/Saturday morning, so I was set to stay in and watch the snow.

It didn't really materialize. So, this week, when there were rumors of snow fall, I didn't know what to think. I fretted, I considered, and I wondered. As the weather slipped from 70 to 60 to 50 to 40 to 30 (real feel 22) yesterday in the afternoon, I knew something was brewing.

In the afternoon, I walked across the street to the graphics department to check in. By the time I was set to walk back, the air was full of white buzzing around and turning into puddles when it hit the ground. Flurries again, this time for real.

After a quiet few hours once I headed home, I began to think the snow had bypassed our area. Then, as we set to go to be, I checked outside and saw a fine coat of white on the ground. …

Now Playing

Here's a look at the movies I saw this week. There is a lot of violent films out right now....

Alex Cross
Starring: Tyler Perry, Edward Burns, Matthew Fox, and Rachel Nichols
Synopsis: Tyler Perry has a certain gift set that has helped him carve out a niche in Hollywood. His “Madea” franchise remains relatively popular, and the comedies he produces for the small screen fill a certain void in the entertainment landscape. But in recent years, Perry has sought to branch out. In 2010, he directed an adaptation of the edgier stage play “For Colored Girls,” and his recent films have taken on more dramatic tones. So, in some ways, it seems logical that his next leap would be into an action star role. But the question remains, is that the right kind of path for Perry? Judging by “Alex Cross,” his latest starring vehicle, the answer is no. “Alex Cross” is sort of a prequel film based on the James Patterson novels that feature the famous detective. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Morgan…

Stay in Your Lane

While it's not for everyone, Tyler Perry has carved out a nice career niche for himself. His comedies are generally well received by a core audience, as are his sitcoms. But there is a tendency among performers to want to break free of their labels, to become something else.

That's the only explanation I can think of for Perry's decision to become the new Alex Cross in the film "Alex Cross." Based on the successful book series from James Patterson, "Alex Cross" is a re-boot/origin story meant to serve as the kick-off to a new series of films.

In the late 1990s, Morgan Freeman originated the character on screen with the excellent thriller "Kiss the Girls." After a mediocre follow up, "Along Came a Spider," that was the end of Cross on the big screen. Until last Friday that is.

This sort of reminds me of the saga with Jack Ryan, a character made famous from Tom Clancy's novels. Many forget that Alec Baldwin originated the role on …

The Plot Turns

Without a doubt, "Homeland" was the most gripping new show last season. Many critics and voters felt the same, as "Homeland" dominated the Emmy awards in September — winning Best Drama, Best Actress in a Drama (Claire Danes) and Best Actor in a Drama (Damien Lewis).

But those of us who were hooked last season naturally had to wonder where the show was going in its next season. The first season laid out an intricate plot and built a lot of tension around the journey of Sgt. Nicholas Brody. All of that built up to what seemed like a natural climax that went another way.

The rumor was that Showtime wanted to keep Lewis, and his character, on the show. So the original direction — of Brody carrying out his terrorist plot — flipped. But the question was, how do you keep the tension going while flipping the script.

After three episodes that, essentially, set the table, it seemed the show was moving back to its original plot line. Then everything shifted again.

Rather tha…

The Last Rubicon

“I could have prevented that murder and Deb accepts that. But she hasn’t accepted me. What I am…And I’m not sure she ever will.”  — Dexter Morgan, "Dexter"

For years now, I have watched "Dexter" with fascination. You could, rightly so, make the argument this is not the kind of show people of faith should be watching. There is little redeemable about the morality presented in "Dexter," and the edges of the show are far from polished.

But that doesn't mean it can't be an interesting thought problem. In my opinion, few shows reflect the moral quagmire that is the United States of America in 2012 better than "Dexter." The "hero" at the center of the show isn't really a hero at all. He's a cold-blooded killer, who takes a life, or multiple lives, in each episode. Yet he is still set up to be the hero.

We are a culture that worships the anti-hero, that believes the ends justify the means, and seems to have no compunction wit…

The 365 Challenge

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." — Matthew 6:19-21

Today marked the end of the "365" series, and the beginning of our challenge. The challenge is to give to God, generously, every day of the year. This includes our time, our talent, and our treasure. But it's that last part that is sometimes the most difficult. It is that last one that often pulls on our heart and pulls our focus from where we should be.

To me, the most telling line in the passage is the last, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Where we invest our treasure is a reflection of what we value and where our heart is. When we store up our treasure here, it is reflective of the idea our heart…

NFL Picks Week 7

It's Week 7 and it's still hard to tell who will be the good teams this season. Still, if the Patriots can crush the Jets this week, maybe we'll be closer to the Tebow era in New York.

For the second week in a row I finished .500, so maybe it's getting easier to figure out who can win week to week. We shall see this week. As always, picks are against the point spread, not a straight up and down selection.

Seahawks +7.5 Over 49ers
Bills -3.5 Over Titans
Browns +3.5 Over Colts
Packers -5.5 Over Rams
Vikings -5.5 Over Cardinals
Redskins +6.5 Over Giants
Buccaneers +2.5 Over Saints
Cowboys -2.5 Over Panthers
Texans -6.5 Over Ravens
Raiders -4.5 Over Jaguars
Patriots -10.5 Over Jets
Steelers -2.5 Over Bengals
Bears -5.5 Over Lions

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 7-7
Overall: 42-49

Fall TV Roundup, Week 7

The final post of the new fall season. There are some new shows that will premier in November, which I will get around to reviewing, but until Mid-Season, this is the final roundup of the new fall pilots. Next week I'll put up the list of my three favorite and three least favorite of the new shows. If you don't see a review of a new show here, check previous weeks.

Shows are listed by day of the week and air time. All times are Mountain Time.

Wednesday Night:
Arrow — 7 p.m. on the CW
This show is based on a D.C. Comics property, and is the heir to "Smallville" for the CW. It's got a decent cast and a decent premise. It feels a little like Batman, and that's probably intentional. It's got a bit of a comic book feel, and that's definitely intentional. I'm not 100 percent sold on this show. There's some elements that make it seem like some fun, but it feels a little bit like "Revenge" right now. Only a poorer version of "Revenge.&…

Now Playing

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

Starring: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, and Victor Garber
Synopsis: Though it’s a small sample size, Ben Affleck has established himself as a first-rate director. Both his previous feature films — “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” — secured Academy Award nominations. But if there’s been one question or critique of his films, it’s that he’s stuck close to his roots. Both feature films were set in Boston, an area he knows well. That led to questions about whether he could develop as strong a film set in a world not so familiar. That’s what makes “Argo” an interesting treat. It’s a period piece set in the volatile Middle East — about as far removed from the time period and setting of his previous films as you can get. Yet it’s equally as good, perhaps better, showing that Affleck the director could be a force for years to come. “Argo” is based on an incredible true story. It follows the story of six U.S. di…

Embracing Pop Culture

"Only the morally courageous are worthy of speaking to their fellow men for two hours in the dark. And only the artistically incorrupt will earn and keep the people's trust." — Frank Capra

For a long time now, conservative Christians have split on how to approach media. There is the traditional response — that comes from the kind of Christians that home school their children — that there is nothing redeemable in media, so it must be avoided. There are other Christians — the kind that see the Word of God as evolving to meet our cultural understanding — that believe that media allows people to express their faith in real ways.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Not all media is edifying and Godly, but not all media should be banned and avoided. The key is in knowing how to approach it.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie "Gettysburg" deals with the stupidity of judging people by their social or ethnic group. A feisty Irishman named Kilrain says, …

Regression to the Mean

We have made it through the first six weeks of the NFL season. Usually, at this point, you start to get a sense of who these teams are going to be. Not so this year. Most of the teams are trapped between 2-4 and 4-2, with a large number sitting at 3-3. That's pretty average and fails to really give anyone an impression of who the 12 playoff teams will be.

Consider the case of the AFC East. Conventional wisdom prior to the season was that the New England Patriots were an elite NFL team and should win the division. You could still feel that way, but it's hard to tell. All four teams in the division currently sit at 3-3. In other words, it's still anyone's game.

But that, too, is deceiving. The New York Jets, for example, have looked awful in three defeats, and looked pretty good in three wins. The Buffalo Bills have offered a similar story. Prior to surprising Arizona on Sunday, the Bills had been getting crushed. Then there's the Miami Dolphins, perhaps the divisio…

Chemically Enhanced

I have mentioned in the past my love of the ESPN original film series, "30 For 30." It's a set of original sports documentaries, but done in a way that looks a the larger fabric of life surrounding sports. That is certainly true of "9.79*," the latest installment that aired last Tuesday.

The film chronicles the scandal surrounding Ben Johnson following his positive test after winning the 100 Meter at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. But the film is really about all the runners in the race, and the competitors in track for most of that decade, most of which involves the use of, or suspected use of, a banned substance.

It is a fascinating film, and one that raises a lot of questions. Many of the athletes interviewed were bluntly honest about their cheating and why they did it. Others were coy or fought off allegations. Others remained proud to have run clean, though they knew it would cost them trips to the podium.

I can't say it changed my feeling on the …

Our Most Precious Resource

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” — Mother Teresa

Time is the most precious resource we have. We can't make more of it, it goes too quickly or too slowly depending on our mood, and we often find at the end that we didn't have enough of it or didn't make good enough use of it.

Time is also something that is discussed at length in the Bible, with varying viewpoints. In Ecclesiastes we are reminded there is a "time for every purpose under heaven." We are also reminded that all those things occur in God's timing, which is perfect.

Though it is our human tendency to fret about that which we cannot control — time being one of those things — we are admonished to have faith. Jesus told us all not to worry about tomorrow because today has enough worries of its own. While it sounds like a good idea in theory, that can sometimes be hard to live in practice.

And it's not getting any easier. We live in an instant gratif…

NFL Picks, Week 6

After having a positive week in week four, I regressed toward the mean in week 5 with a 7-7 week picking games. As has been the case all season, favorites have fumbled, teams have failed to cover the spread, and there have been plenty of unpredictable finishes.

Let's hope as the season progresses it becomes a little easier to tell who the good teams are in 2012. As always, these are picks against the spread, not straight up and down selections.

Pittsburgh -5.5 Over Tennessee
Oakland +8.5 Over Atlanta
Cincinnati -2.5 Over Cleveland
St. Louis +3.5 Over Miami
Indianapolis +3.5 Over New York Jets
Detroit +5.5 Over Philadelphia
Tampa Bay -3.5 Over Kansas City
Dallas +3.5 Over Baltimore
Arizona -4.5 Over Buffalo
New England -3.5 Over Seattle
New York Giants +5.5 Over San Francisco
Minnesota +2.5 Over Washington
Houston -3.5 Over Green Bay
Denver +2.5 Over San Diego

This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 7-7
Overall: 35-42

Fall TV Roundup, Week 6

We are deep into the new fall season now, and most every new show has hit the air. We've even had our first cancellation, "Made in Jersey." (I saw the pilot and gave it a D. For more on that, see Wednesdays post). As such, this weekly listing is getting a bit smaller, but we still have some fun new entries this week.

In these posts I review each new show's pilot and second episode. If you don't see a new show listed in this post, check previous weeks. Only new shows with a first or second episode airing in selected week are listed in the new posts.

Shows are listed by night of the week and air time. All times are Mountain Daylight Time.

666 Park Avenue — 9 p.m. on ABC
ABC was looking for something that would be a good companion with last year's top two new shows, "Once Upon a Time" and "Revenge." This isn't that show. ABC has had horrendous luck at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights ever since it moved "Grey's Anatomy." L…

Now Playing

This week I have the full review I wrote for "The Master," one of the first big Oscar contenders of the year.

The Master
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Jesse Plemons
Synopsis: Love him or hate him, it’s hard to argue that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today. His films are painstakingly created, meticulously thought out, and often controversial. In the past, Anderson has tackled the adult film industry, self-help gurus, spirituality, corruption, and the oil industry. Often, these films are viewed through the context of the brokenness of the characters featured. That makes them compelling and difficult to watch. Anderson’s latest, “The Master,” is no exception. It has drawn incredible praise and is an Academy Award contender. It has also drawn incredible criticism for straying too close to putting Scientology under the microscope. But what else would you expect from an Anderson film. While it’s certa…

The Fall's First Cancellation

Today the first new show of the fall season was cancelled. Drum roll please.... and the winner is, "Made in Jersey," a lawyer show, of sorts, that aired on Friday nights on CBS. It got two episodes to impress and didn't.

I was preparing to review the pilot for the show in this week's roundup, which seems academic at this point. My pilot grade was a D. It's the kind of show that feels like an accident. The accent for the lead character and her family were too much, the stories were too cliche, and there was little to like here. It's hard to imagine it could have worked, or why CBS thought it was a good companion to two of its New York based crime dramas — "CSI: NY" and "Blue Bloods." It wasn't, it didn't, it's over.

I guess the only logical question is, did "Made in Jersey" deserve to be the first to go. No, it didn't. "The Mob Doctor," over on FOX, is equally horrible. It's now aired four episodes —…

Justice from God alone

One of the hardest things for Christians, and non-Christians for that matter, is understanding the way the world works. We want to. We think we should be able to. But, as the Bible clearly states, we can't. It's not hard to find passages that speak to this idea.

Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 says, "And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgement — wickedness was there; In the place of justice — wickedness was there. I thought in my heart, "God will bring to judgement both the righteous and the wicked for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed."

The idea there being that we seek judgement and justice, but too often in this world we find wickedness. That can be a disappointment and frustration, but we have to trust that God is in control and will settle accounts. The problem, of course, is that God settles accounts in His time. We want things settled in our time.

The writer of Ecclesiastes speaks to this at the end of the book. Ecc…

No Emotion

Heading into this season, there was a lot of buzz about the Denver Broncos. Many predicted the team to do well, in large part thanks to Peyton Manning. Manning, now 36 and having endured a whole missed season and four neck procedures, is one of the most celebrated quarterbacks of all time. He's clearly also past his prime. That's where the difficulty begins.

I love football season, and I love the Broncos. But, now five games into this season, I've had trouble getting emotionally invested in this team. The games are boring and it's just not the same. I think that's emblematic of where the season is going.

Denver had a nice opening week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but aside from that this has been a flat, formulaic season. The Raiders game aside — logically because the Raiders aren't great and seemed to give up in the second half — the Broncos have really scuffled. One would point out that the Falcons, Texans, and Patriots are all great teams. That's tr…

The Return of 30 For 30

One of the best series in recent years is the ESPN original documentary series "30 For 30." These are original films from ESPN that follow different ideas and events from recent sports history.

Now one might be tempted to think these are only for sports fans, but that's not the case. While sports fans are the likely target for these films, really they are documentaries that can spark anyone's interest. A few years ago ESPN produced 30 films, putting them out on DVD to celebrate the network's 30th anniversary.

But that was hardly the only number of stories to tell. Now, "30 For 30" is back with new original films. The first of those stories, "Broke," aired Tuesday. It focused on the propensity among athletes to run out of money, an idea that seems shocking given the high dollar contracts they typically receive. But the 90-minute segment sheds a light on the social issues and the lifestyles of excess that typically befall these athletes.

A new …

NFL Picks, Week 5

While I certainly won't call last week a break through, it was nice to get more right than wrong. Let's hope the trend continues this week. It didn't start well Thursday, but I hold out hope. As always, picks are made against the point spread, not a straight up or down selection.

Cardinals -1.5 Over Rams
Bengals -4.5 Over Dolphins
Packers -7.5 Over Colts
Ravens -4.5 Over Chiefs
Giants -9.5 Over Browns
Steelers -3.5 Over Eagles
Falcons -3.5 Over Redskins
Seahawks +3.5 Over Panthers
Bears -5.5 Over Jaguars
Patriots -6.5 Over Broncos
Vikings -5.5 Over Titans
49ers -9.5 Over Bills
Chargers +3.5 Over Saints
Texans -7.5 Over Jets

This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 8-7
Overall: 28-35

Fall TV Roundup, Week 5

And now they've almost all out, the new shows for the 2012-13 season that is. In this space I have been cataloging all the pilot and second episodes of new shows and giving them grades. If you don't see a new show listed here, check previous weeks as I may have already covered them.

After two episodes I usually decide if I am in or out, and there have been precious few shows that have made the cut this year. But some that had weak pilots have me intrigued after a second viewing. Shows are listed by air date and time. All times are Mountain Time!

Sunday Nights:
666 Park Avenue — 9 p.m. on ABC
This show is a horror/thriller. There are difficulties with that on Network TV, and that comes into play here. Now I am a big horror film fan. I wrote a senior communication thesis on the evolution of slasher films. I also like what ABC's been doing the past few years. Both the shows paired with "Park Avenue" — sophomore sensations "Once Upon A Time" and "Reve…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw last week, including our first Oscar bait!

The Master
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Jesse Plemmons
Synopsis: I have mixed feelings about Paul Thomas Anderson, but there is no denying his incredible talent. He is a gifted writer, director, and, above all, storyteller. That is what makes his films fascinating, compelling, and the subject of many discussions. But it usually depends on how you feel about the worlds and characters that he is trying to illuminate when it comes to deciding how much you like a film. I loved the ideas and performances in "There Will Be Blood," and consider it a classic. I appreciated what was being attempted with "Magnolia," but it didn't resonate with me as it did with some. So too, do I find myself feeling about "The Master." A great deal of the buzz around the film is centered on the idea that it is a direct assault on Scientology. I confess, I …

Investing in the Future

We have been ramping up a Stewardship campaign here at First Pres around the theme Invest in the Kingdom. One of the key texts for that has really gotten me thinking about the kind of faith required to be committed to that idea.

When we hear the word investment, we think of a long-term commitment. It’s a commitment that requires time, energy, and love to see flourish. Making that kind of investment is easy when times are good, but the challenge is to remain faithful to our investments when times are tough.

As a nation, we have endured a season of tough times, especially recently. A natural reaction during those times can be to pull back. But time and again, God calls us to step forward during those hard times.

In Jeremiah 32, we see an example of someone who stepped forward to invest in faith despite hard times and tough circumstances. Jeremiah was a prophet who was called to offer hard words from God during tough times. For his obedience, he was put in prison, saw his homeland besie…

"Glee" gets "Pitch" slapped

Four years ago, "Glee" debuted to a great deal of fanfare. And rightly so. It was hilarious, creative, and had great musical performances. The show had a great first season, which spawned a successful concert series.

But then things began to tail off. "Glee" changed its approach to music, it changed its approach to show content, and it suffered from MASSIVE over-exposure. Instead of plucky underdog stories laced with comedy, the show focused on its political messages being sent out and that fundamentally changed the show. The music, too, became a source of frustration. Instead of classics, or songs that fit the show, popular radio ballads were wedged in. Then there were the "tribute" shows, which grew tiresome in seasons two and three.

Now in its fourth season — after three full TV seasons, two concert series, and one 3D concert movie — "Glee" is running out of steam. An endless stream of A-list celebrity cameos hasn't helped, as the number…