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Showing posts from July, 2013

Changing World

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Mainline Christian denominations are dying. It's a fact. Membership is declining and the average age of members is increasing. If the trend continues, the church is in big trouble. So there has been a lot of talk about how to bring in young people and grow the church.

This often leads to discussion of content and style. And, while I'm sure style of music and type of worship matter, I'm not sure that's the only factor. Our world has changed. Our society has changed. The way people engage the world and each other has changed. So when we focus on making stylistic changes, how does that match the way people communicate today.

In the movie "Wall-E," which is ostensibly for kids, we get a depiction of the future of humanity. We all zoom around on our personal vehicles, we are constantly plugged in, and we are badly out of shape. Most probably laughed that off. It is funny. But it might also just be a projection of the path we're on. This is where I get stumped…

Two Takes on Violent Men

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"What I suggest is you go to an execution, and see a man be killed. You watch him die, and you watch him beg!" — Ellen Roark, "A Time to Kill"

Sunday has long been a big night for premium cable fare, and this summer is no exception. The final season of "Dexter" is nearing its mid-point, and the third season of "The Killing" is nearing its end. While "Dexter" has long been a popular cable drama, what's more surprising has been "The Killing." After two mediocre seasons, the show was cancelled. Then, when AMC had a hole in its schedule, the show was uncanceled.

The producers of "The Killing" have used that late game save to re-boot the show creatively. The core of what worked — Linden (Mireille Enos) and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) — remained, and the rest changed. And it's been a superb season, delivering on the promise once contained in the show's pilot. It's also been a season of tackling big issues.

Fir…

Guilty Pleasure — Action

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Today I continue my look at guilty pleasure films this summer with a "B" movie gem.

Tremors (1990)
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross, and Reba McEntire
About: Lately "Sharknado" has been getting a lot of press because of it's "B" movie horror qualities. That's because people love a good, cheesy horror film. In 1990, one of the best offered was "Tremors." It's set in a small town, populated by quirky characters with good hearts, and has a cheesy plot. But all of that works in its favor. As the leads, Bacon and Ward do a good job of bringing the characters to life and adding a little fun to the mix. This is a film that's in the tradition of monster movies from the 1950s, and it works. It's got the trappings of small town life, some fun and eccentric characters, and all the good things you'd expect from this kind of cheesy monster movie. Everything about it works as light, "B" movie fare. It's ev…

Pondering 'Sharknado'

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"We can't just wait here for sharks to rain down on us." — Fin, "Sharknado

I think the picture above sort of sums up "Sharknado," the latests action epic produces for the SyFy channel. By now, at one point or another, we've all seen one of these over-the-top shlock epics. But when "Sharknado" blew up the Internet, I decided to give it a try.

I am no stranger to "B" movies, especially "B" horror movies. I also love shark movies. I have seen almost all of them, and while they leave me fearful of the ocean, lakes, and rivers, it's still usually a good time. So I was curious as to what this film would be like.

That curiosity ended on Saturday when I made it through the whole presentation. This film has developed a cult following. SyFy is working on a sequel, Regal Cinemas plans to air the original in theaters this coming weekend, and "Sharknado" GIFs dominate the Internet.

And why not? It's a ridiculous conc…

Upcoming Releases — August

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The end of summer is here. August is always a tough month, but this year we have a strange combination of action films, comedies, and the first wave of movies that might be around come award season. So, in other words, it's a mixed bag.

Friday, August 2:
2 Guns — This is an action film starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. It's hard to tell exactly what the plot is or how good this film will be. It's odd to have it dumped in early August, but the pedigree is good.

The Spectacular Now — Sometimes modest teen shows offer a start for really talented actors. "The Secret Life Of The American Teenager" wasn't a great show, but its star — Shailene Woodley — is very talented. She showed that in "The Descendants," and it looks like that trend will continue alongside an equally talented Miles Teller with this film. The trailer is awesome. Hopefully the movie will match it.

Wednesday, August 7:
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters — This is a sequel meant t…

Now Playing

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

Despicable Me 2
Starring: (Voice talents of) Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Steve Coogan, Russell Brand, and Benjamin Bratt
Synopsis: This film has been wildly successful so far, and why not? It's a fun kids movie during a period where explosions and destruction seem to be the calling card of most films. I am an adult — well outside the target demographic for this film — but I couldn't wait to see it. I love the Minions. In fact, I'm pretty sure a 90 minute Minion movie would be one of the greatest animated films of all time. And the portions dedicated to the Minions in this movie were awesome. The rest of it is just OK. The sequel doesn't have as interesting a story. Gru (Carrell) is no longer a bad guy. Now he's a father of three, a bit eccentric, and looking for a wife. That's fine as a story — though I wonder about the wisdom of doing a romantic comedy for a film aimed primarily at kids — but it's not …

Returning to the 'Newsroom'

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"I can only report what I know. I'm not allowed to get involved with advocacy and neither are you." — Will McAvoy, "Newsroom"

I have always loved Aaron Sorkin's writing. I was a big fan of "Sports Night" when it debuted on ABC, and I faithfully watched all seven seasons of "The West Wing." When, coming off an Academy Award for "The Social Network," it was announced that Sorkin had a new show on HBO, I was pumped.

"Newsroom" debuted to mixed reviews last summer. It had his trademark dialogue, and it had some fascinating moments, but it felt odd to be taking a trip back in time and looking at news that was two years old as if it was something fresh. I didn't hate "Newsroom," in fact I kind of liked it, but I wasn't sold.

I have heard Sorkin's rationale for why he focuses on real news stories from the past. It's not about the stories, it's about how people embrace the stories and react. It&…

Road Tripping Through the West

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The great American road trip — otherwise known as my summer vacation driving from Colorado to California and back — is over. After the first trip over, I had some thoughts on road tripping. Now that I'm back, I have some more. Time for sharing!

1. The Grand Canyon is immense. That seems like a bit of a "duh" statement, but it is just incredible in person. At first, it doesn't even seem real. It's so big and so incredible it seems like some sort of digital projection. Then you get close to the edge and, especially if you're scared of heights like me, it becomes very real.

2. The Four Corners Monument sounds more impressive than it is. I was glad we went. We got some cool pictures, I'm sure, and it was nice to see it. Walking through four states in one stop was kind of fun too. But that being said, I thought it would be more grand.

3. Road Construction is the worst. And California is the worst for it. Having spent a good deal of time traveling through Cali…

Guilty Pleasure Comedy — The Burbs

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Here's another entry in the guilty pleasure comedy countdown

The Burbs (1989)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Rick Ducommun, Henry Gibson, and Corey Feldman
About: Most of the time we think about Tom Hanks as a great dramatic actor. He's won two Academy Awards, he's been in some incredible and iconic films, and he's largely regarded as one of the best actors working. But it's easy with his iconic roles to forget he's got some great comedy chops, too. In the late 1980s, he took the lead in a little comedy called "The Burbs," which is one of the more re-watchable films from the period. It's about a guy who takes a vacation to relax in his suburban neighborhood. Instead, he gets pulled into an investigation of the new neighbors who don't really seem to be what they want to project. It's got all the kind of shenanigans you'd expect from these broad comedies, as well as some great commentary on life in the suburbs. It's…

Guilty Pleasure Action — Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

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The summer countdown of guilty pleasure films continues.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, and Corbin Bernsen
About: This summer, Downey and writer/director Shane Black have been tearing it up with their collaboration on "Iron Man 3." A lot of what people have praised with that film is how much it feels like a throw back action film. At one point, Black was one of the hottest writers in the action genre. He created "Lethal Weapon" and gave the world "The Last Boy Scout." Then he sort of faded from view. When he bounced back in 2005 with "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" it was a welcome return for Black and, in many ways for Downey. It was a film that had a great mix of action, characters, and great dialogue. Downey and Kilmer shine in this film — perhaps the last great film for Kilmer — and it's a very entertaining watch. It isn't a film that made a lot of money or got a lot of play in theaters…

Emmy Hopes

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Every year people hope in vain that their favorite shows will be recognized by award voters. And every year the Emmys tend to nominate the same group of shows. While there's some new blood in this year's list, there's also a lot of familiar faces. But that doesn't mean we can't get some new winners.

Below is who among the nominees I think should win this year.

Best Drama:
* Game of Thrones, HBO. Sure, "Homeland" is the reigning champ and one of the best shows on television, but its second season wasn't as strong as the first. "Game of Thrones" continues to improve in quality and has become HBO's signature show. What the showrunners are doing with this dense, complex, and layered material is incredible.

Best Comedy:
* Veep, HBO. "Girls" might get all the publicity, but "Veep" is the smartest and best comedy on HBO, and on TV. Its second season was a masterpiece and this is a show that deserves recognition.

Best Actor,…

Guilty Pleasure Drama — Barton Fink

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I continue my look at guilty pleasure movies this summer with a quirky dramedy.

Barton Fink (1991)
Starring: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, John Mahony, and Jon Polito
About: When you talk about the Coen Brothers, there are a lot of great films that come to mind. People tend to focus on the early films — "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," "The Big Lebowski," or "Fargo" — or their later classics — "O Brother Where Art Thou" and "No Country For Old Men." But for me, I think their golden era was right in between "Raising Arizona" and "Fargo." I appreciate "Fargo" and I love "No Country For Old Men," but the early 1990s trio of "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink," and "The Hudsucker Proxy" are incredible, and showcase the great talent of the brothers. For this list, I have only allowed one film from any filmmaker (otherwise this would be Michael Bay&#…

The End, Chapter 3

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From the beginning of the series it's been clear that Deb and Dexter were linked. Dexter said in the first episode that if he loved anyone — if he was capable of love as a psychopath — it would be his sister, Deb. He needs her, he cares for her, and she is his weakness.

Last season, he proved to be her weakness too. When she found out what he really was, she tried to fix him. She made it her mission to help her brother. When she couldn't, she tried to make peace with who he was. When she couldn't do that, she went down a path she was never equipped to go. And now she's lost.

Now it's Dexter's turn. Seeing how lost his sister got, he's working to save her. He's tried to bring her back to her older self, but he's running into similar problems that she did with him. The harder he works to save her, the further he pushes her away from who she used to be.

As Dexter enters his final season, it's becoming clear that Dexter and Deb need each other, but…

Guilty Pleasure Comedy — She's The Man

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Today I continue my guilty pleasure series with the fourth comedy on the list.

She's The Man (2006)
Starring: Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum, Laura Ramsey, Vinnie Jones, and David Cross
About: So, Amanda Bynes has gone a little crazy now. People probably aren't super psyched to see her in anything, and I can understand that. However, six or seven years ago before she went crazy, she made a series of "B" movies, many of which are surprisingly entertaining. As a film reviewer, I see all the new movies, whether I want to or not. I wasn't excited about a teen comedy called "She's The Man," but I went anyway. What I found was something as dumb as I imagined, but also kind of funny and charming. Modern adaptation of Shakespeare plays — especially the ones that have been turned into teen comedies. This film is predictable, ridiculous, and unbelievable, but the charm of Bynes in the lead role makes it work. This will never be a great film, and it probably wo…

Guilty Pleasure Drama — The Kingdom

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Today I continue my look at guilty pleasure films with the third drama on the list.

The Kingdom (2007)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman
About: This was a drama that was well done but little seen. It was a tough production and released in a slot where not that many people saw it. Also, a movie that takes a hard look at Middle East relations and the War on Terror six years after 9/11 isn't as culturally popular. That being said, this film has fascinating things to say about the War on Terror, and why it will never end. The end of the film is compelling, sad, and haunting. Additionally, director Peter Berg does a great job of putting together a compelling drama. It's a fascinating exploration of the relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and it's got a good cast. This is a film that got lost in the shuffle during a packed year, but it's worth checking out.
Rating: R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence, and…

Road Trip

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This time, coming home, we elected to drive. A simple 19-hour drive from Colorado Springs to Paso Robles, in36 hours... Yeah, we're ambitious. Of course, that's part of why we sacked out at 8:30 p.m. California time... after 12.5 hours in the car Saturday.

Still, it was my first time driving through New Mexico, which oddly has settled on "The Land of Enchantment" as its slogan, and Arizona. That and a good chunk of California. Below are some thoughts.

* Calfornia's road suck. Not only did California have the worst condition highways, with the worst probably being one in Bakersfield as we passed through, it has the most restrictive speed limits. During one stretch on the 1-40, which was newly paved, the speed limit was 60 MPH. Then, when the road transitioned to poorly paved and bumpy, the speed limit increased to 70 MPH. Yeah, that's balanced.

* People are terrible drivers. All throughout the trip (and I drove 850-900 miles in two days) people would speed up…

One Year and Counting

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A year ago, my life changed. I found my friend and partner, and we began a new journey together. After a year, you can't help but reflect on the journey so far.

People say the first year of marriage is one of the most difficult. When you combine that with taking a new job, moving to a new city and, eventually, buying a new house, that just increases. But that was the challenge we had.

Two weeks to the day after our wedding, Lindsay and I arrived in Colorado Springs to begin our new life together in a totally new place. While it's been a blessed year, it's also been challenging. Acclimating to new weather, a new city, and a new role in a new organization has taken time. But I feel blessed to have had Lindsay with me on this journey, and feel blessed to have her in my life.

Returning to where it all began a year later, I more fully appreciate all we have been through in the last year, and I look forward to many more.

A Tale of Two Networks

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F/X and Showtime are two cable networks trying to find the next wave of shows. For Showtime, it's because "Dexter" is ending and "The Borgias" flamed out. For F/X it's because they are a few years removed from the edgy fair that made the brand, such as "Rescue Me," "The Shield," and "Nip/Tuck."

Both are bowing new show this summer, but only one looks like something worth investing in. Here's a look at the shows below.

Ray Donovan, Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime
About: This show has a good cast, including Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight, and comes from Ann Biderman, who created "Southland." It's meant to be gritty and edgy as it also looks at the underbelly of Hollywood and a Boston family whose taken its criminal enterprise to the West Coast. It wants to be a combination of "The Sopranos" and "Entourage," but it doesn't really do justice to either idea. Schreiber is a great leading man, …

Now Playing

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

Mud
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepherd, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, and Jacob Lofland
Synopsis: So this is about the time of year that, among the loud and expensive films of summer, we start seeing the smaller festival films that critics have been raving about. "Mud" is one of those films. McConaughey delivers a strong performance in a smaller slice of life film. There are elements of the film that are appealing. It certainly has some of the same qualities of little indies like "Winter's Bone" that have earned Best Picture nods in recent years. The performance of Sheridan, who is really the focal point of the film, is also good. He might have a very bright future the same way Jennifer Lawrence really sprung to the forefront in "Winter's Bone." That being said, I don't think this is a great finished product. I was one of those that didn't really get into &q…

Guilty Pleasure Action — Way of the Gun

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Today I continue my look at guilty pleasure films this summer with the third action entry.

Way of the Gun (2000)
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe, Juliette Lewis, James Caan, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, and Scott Wilson
About: Christopher McQuarrie gained fame as a hard boiled crime writer for penning the script to "The Usual Suspects." While that film remains revered by most, including me, his follow up film — and directorial debut — sort of flew under the radar. There could be a lot of reasons for that. It was sort of a lightly seen release that didn't have a lot of promotion. It doesn't have the memorable beats of "The Usual Suspects," and it doesn't have the easiest to follow story. Still, there is something about it that always hooks me. I like the writing. I like the performances, and the cast is pretty incredible. I like the strange beats and the fact that, even after about 20 viewings, I don't understand everything that's going on…

Guilty Pleasure Comedies — Bring It On

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My look at guilty pleasure films continues today with the third comedy entry.

Bring It On (2000)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, and Gabrielle Union
About: On paper a movie about high school cheerleaders doesn't sound great. And I will admit I'm probably not the target demographic for this film, but there is something about it that I find hilarious and entertaining. I first saw the film in college and soon had my own copy on DVD. I will say, too, this is one of the rare DVDs where the commentary and the pop fact mode with cheerleading facts adds to the entertainment value of the film. But, really, this is about quirky characters, a ridiculous story, and some humor. The script from Jessica Bendinger has a lot of witty moments, including a great introductory sequence and song. She tried to recapture that magic a few years later with the gymnastics movie "Stick It," but it doesn't quite work the same. This film, however, remains a guilty plea…

Necessary Evil

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There is a moment in "The Dark Knight Rises" where someone looks at Bane and says, "You're pure evil." He responds, "No. I'm necessary evil." The supposition of Bane, and people of his ilk, is that sometimes society needs to be pruned. Sure, he does evil things to the people of Gotham, but it's to make the world a better place.

I thought about that last night during "Dexter." After all that he's done, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) has come to feel he's broken. He's come to feel that he's a mistake. He's come to feel that he's ruined life for those around him, most important among them his sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter).

But that's not the reaction he gets from Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling). Not only does she know what Dexter is, she helped craft "the code" by which he operates. She doesn't see him as a mistake, but rather as playing an important role in society. She tells him he&#…

Less is More

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When you read about Gideon in the Bible, there's a lot to take in. First, he tested the Lord because he wasn't sure he believed what he was being told. Of course we think critically of Gideon for his lack of faith, but you have to wonder if we'd be any different. After all the Disciples, the people that spent the most time with Jesus in the flesh, went through periods of doubt. Doubt is a natural part of what it is to be humans.

Then we come to Gideon and the battle. He has a big army so he feels good about his chances, then God reduces his forces. He ends up with just a few hundred soldiers going into the battle. While it seems like long odd, Gideon prevails because the Lord is with him. The Lord knew what was needed, which was less than what Gideon thought he needed, and provided a way for him.

The same is true of us. We have a lot of things we think we need. We have a lot of things that we think are important. But God knows what we really need. Whether it's a job, …

Summer TV Roundup

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Here's a look at some of the new shows to hit TV airwaves.

Ray Donovan, Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime
About: This is the latest Showtime drama. It's slotted behind the final season of "Dexter," and the hope is that it will become a new drama hit for the network. It's led by Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight, so there's talent in the production. The idea of following a fixer and his criminal family could also be interesting. The problem is that the pilot just wasn't that compelling. There is a chance this show gets better, but so far I"m not buying what "Ray Donovan" has to offer. There was little about it that gets you invested, despite the talent and decent premise. This one might be D.O.A.
Pilot Grade: C

King and Maxwell, Mondays at 10 p.m. on TNT
About: The idea for this isn't bad, but I wasn't sold on the pilot. The same has gone for subsequent episodes. Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn are decent leads, but there just wasn't muc…

Now Playing

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

Monster's University
Starring: (The voice talents of) Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, and Helen Mirren
Synopsis: This is the Pixar animated film for the year. It's a prequel to the original "Monster's, Inc.," which bowed in 2001. Twelve years later we get a return to the world of Mike (Crystal) and Sully (Goodman). This time it explores how they first met in college. The film includes a lot of familiar tropes from college films, but toned down for a more kid-friendly audience. There are some laughs and some interesting story points. The film more or less does what you'd expect from this type of animated film. It will likely end up among the top animated features of the year, and it does its job of being a family friendly option during the summer.
Rating: G, for all audiences.
Verdict: Three stars out of four

The Heat
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock, Demian Bichir, Thom…

Exploring Colorado Springs

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After living here for about a year, Lindsay and I are trying to explore all the sights in Colorado Springs. As part of our long weekend for Fourth of July, we decided to hit Seven Falls on Friday. It's a beautiful, mountainous location that has a lot of stairs. So after the day there, I have a couple thoughts.

1. There are a lot of stairs. To view from the Eagle's Next, you can go up 185 stairs or take the mountain elevator. For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to take the stairs. It was a lot of stairs. You get high up there, it's very steep, and it's more tiring than you'd expect. Part of that is due to the thin air.

2. There are some beautiful views. After surviving the climb to the top, it is incredible what you can see. The mountains here are beautiful, and it's something different than what I grew up with in California. The falls are beautiful too. It is a good work out and a good chance to be a part of nature. When you're in a place like th…

The Day That Turned The Tide

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I have always been fascinated with history, but my favorite time to study is the Civil War. That's true for a lot of reasons. I have books on it, I took an elective in college on it, and one of my all time favorite movies is "Gettysburg," a five hour docu-drama on the three days that changed the outcome of the war.

Prior to Gettysburg, the Union Army was scuffling. Though they had superior forces and equipment, the Confederate Army had better tactics. But a couple things happened to change that. First, Stonewall Jackson, one of the best Confederate commanders, was killed. Second, the South was running short on money and men, so General Robert E. Lee felt pressured to push toward Washington, D.C. in an attempt to end the war.

As he pushed north, the cavalry — under the direction of J.E.B. Stuart — wasn't really doing what cavalry should do. So by the time the Confederate Army met the Union Army at Gettysburg, a battle both sort of stumbled into, luck was on the Union…

Guilty Pleasure Action — Jaws 3-D

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I continue my guilty pleasure summer movie series with the second action entry, a threequel that outshines the sequel.

Jaws 3-D (1983)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Beth Armstrong, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Lea Thompson
About: The original "Jaws," directed by Steven Spielberg, is iconic. The three sequels it spawned aren't. "Jaws 2" is kind of a sad attempt to re-make the original. Sure, the story is slightly different, but it's pretty much a retread for the money. Then there's "Jaws The Revenge," the fourth and final film. It is awful and there really is no excuse for it. In fact, it's only legendary because Michael Caine missed out on receiving his Academy Award in person because he was filming that steaming pile. While none of the "Jaws" sequels is great, I actually kind of enjoy "Jaws 3-D." Not the special effect, which are awful now. Since it was filmed for 1980s 3-D it has some odd effects. (Consider the picture above). …

Guilty Pleasure Drama — Miami Vice

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Today I continue my look at guilty pleasure films with the second drama entry!

Miami Vice (2006)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Li Gong, and John Ortiz
About: Michael Mann is a great and decorated film director. "Heat" is one of the best crime dramas ever made. Mann also earned award nominations for films like "The Insider" and "Ali." On the small screen, he helped bring 1980s style with "Miami Vice." When he decided to re-make it as a film a few years ago, people were excited. Then the film came out and it sort of bombed. I will say that the film is little like the show. Mann said this is the way he wanted to make "Miami Vice," so I'll take him at his word. Having been born in 1981, "Miami Vice" was not a TV show I regularly watched. So I didn't have that attachment to the source material, which might be why I was more able to appreciate the film version. That and I kind of like the film version. It's not …

Dexter's End, Chapter One

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"A Beautiful Day" began the final season of "Dexter" on Sunday night. The question all along has been how will it end? Dexter (Michael C. Hall) has always managed to work his way out of trouble and evade capture. But as we've reached the end, and as more and more people have seen the real Dexter, the question remains whether he can keep it that way.

In the novel, "Darkly Dreaming Dexter," his sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), finds out his secret by the end. In the show, it took much longer. But last season she faced a choice — kill her brother or kill the police captain that figured out the truth. She choose to kill the police captain, and Sunday night's premier explored the damage made from that choice.

Deb has never been a moral paragon, but she has always had a firmly grounded sense of the law. She saw the world in black and white, and learning who her brother really is threw her into some serious shades of dark grey. Her response to taking…