Showing posts from February, 2014

Academy Award Nominees — The Acting Awards

The Academy Awards take place Sunday night. As we approach, I'm previewing the big races. Today we'll look at the four acting races. Look for picks in all 24 categories on Sunday.

Best Actor:
What a race. It's easy to say that four of the nominees in this category have a shot at the award, and that's without counting the wonderful work by Christian Bale in "American Hustle." I think Bruce Dern is a long-shot, but could get some sentimental votes for his body of work. Matthew McConaughey is the favorite, and will probably win, but Chiwetel Ejiofor and Leonardo DiCaprio have their backers. It's a tough call for me, too. I think any of the three is worthy, but if I had to pick a favorite performance it would be DiCaprio. This came from some thinking about his film, "The Wolf of Wall Street," which tells a rough story. It is DiCaprio's beautiful, committed performance that makes that movie go. With a lesser actor or performance, that film might …

Now Playing

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

The Lego Movie
Starring: Voice talents of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, and Liam Neeson
Synopsis: Who among us hasn’t been drawn to the world of Legos at some point? Legos are a fun, universal toy with so many applications. They can be used to create worlds of your own imagination, or to revisit familiar worlds and change the outcome. The makers of “The Lego Movie” obviously have an appreciation for the depth and diversity of Legos. You see all kinds of different Legos in the film, and that’s part of the fun and fabric of it. Another success — the fact that the film makes you want to go out and build new Lego worlds of your own, no matter your age. That, of course, is affirmed by the multi-generational play that’s a part of the film. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have an understanding of bridging those age gaps. The directing duo worked on the TV series “Brooklyn-Nine-Nine” and helmed the “2…

Upcoming Releases — March

Here's a look at the new movies coming our way this March.

Friday, March 7:
300: Rise of an Empire — I wasn't one of those that loved "300." There were some impressive visuals, yes, but I didn't care for the story or the level of sex and violence. It's hard for me to imagine a scenario where I'd be excited to see this sequel, which promises more of the same.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman — A month after the release of "The Lego Movie," which has dominated the Box Office in February, we get out next kid-friendly feature. There has been a lot of pre-release promotion here, and I think this one will be a hit, too.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Limited) — Wes Anderson's latest charming comedy opens in limited release, with most cities getting the film at some point in March. If you're a fan of Anderson, this is a can't miss film. I love the trailer and can't wait to see how it all comes together.

Friday, March 14:
Need For Speed — Aaron Paul tr…

Best Picture Nominees — Gravity

Today we reach the end of our Best Picture nominee recap with one of the favorites, "Gravity." The awards take place on Sunday, March 2.

Movie: Gravity
Nominations: 10
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Original Score (Steven Price), Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing
About: "Gravity" tied "American Hustle" for the most nominations. But unlike many of the other nominated films, "Gravity" is being hailed as a technical achievement. There aren't many actors in the film at all, and for much of the plot it's only Bullock. She has been rightly nominated, and at various points was a favorite. Most critics see her third now. "Gravity," however, seems poised to win the most awards of any film on Sunday. It's nearly a lock to sweep the technical awards — categories often…

Spring TV Roundup, Week 1

The Olympics are over, and networks are shuffling out more new options hoping something will stick. For the next few weeks I'll be reviewing pilots and second episodes of our spring offerings.

Monday Nights:
Star Crossed, Mondays at 8 p.m. on the CW
About: This is the latest teen romance drama. Let's face it, if you're over 25 the CW isn't really aiming for you. Since I fall outside that age range and am a male, I know I'm not the target demographic for "Star Crossed." And there might be a legion of teen girls that get sucked into the romantic drama of the show, but either way this one feels DOA. The show premiered opposite the Olympics, which is harsh, but will now air opposite "The Voice," which isn't a lot better. Hardly anyone checked out the pilot — even by CW standards — so that's not a good sign. There are some decent performers in the show but it felt VERY slow, and it didn't work. It mixes aliens and teen romance, but there …

A Letter in Exile

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt lost. It's ironic that this week in Sunday school we looked at the idea of discontentment on a week when we're considering Jeremiah's letter from God to the exiles in Babylon.

Doubtless we haven't experienced anything quite like the exiles of the Jews. They had their home destroyed and were taken, mostly in bondage, to exile in a foreign land. It was likely they felt discontent, lost, and a sense of hopelessness. But it is in that place that God, through the prophet Jeremiah, speaks words of reassurance.

God has a plan for us. He affirms that in Jeremiah 29:11, and elsewhere in Scripture. He affirms that He loves us, and that should be a comfort. Even in times when we feel lost, anxious, or discontent.

I sometimes think one of the biggest problems of the modern…

Best Picture Nominees -- 12 Years A Slave

I continue my look at Best Picture nominees with a favorite, "12 Years A Slave."

Movie: 12 Years A Slave
Nominations: 9
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o), Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley), Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
About: The race for Best Picture might be the tightest it's been in recent years. There are two camps. "12 Years A Slave" is an incredible, and incredibly important look at American History. "Gravity" is an incredible cinematic and technical achievement. Both have been honored by numerous bodies, and at this point it might be a coin flip as to which will win. Both are incredible films that are incredibly moving. But doubtless "12 Years A Slave" will come away with one or two awards on March 2. Among the acting nominees, Nyong'o is a favorite in the B…

Best Picture Nominees -- American Hustle

Today I continue my look at the Best Picture Nominees with "American Hustle." From this point we will be looking at the three films that I think have the best chance to win Best Picture.

Movie: American Hustle
Nominations: 10
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer, Russell), Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design
About: Since December, "American Hustle" has created a buzz. For the second year in a row, all four principle actors in Russell's film have earned Academy Award nominations. Russell earned a nomination for writing and directing, and the film has gotten 10 nominations in all. In many of the categories, the nominees here are in the mix. I think "American Hustle" is third in the Best Picture race, but still has a sh…

Now Playing

Here's the movies I saw this week.

Monument's Men
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban,  Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett
Synopsis: This film, directed by Clooney, was originally slatted to come out around Christmas but got pushed to February. It's a shame because I liked the film and the performances, and I think it could have been an award contender if it had come out sooner. Alas, it didn't. This film is based on the true story of the men that went to the front lines of the war effort during World War II to try and protect art and cultural centers from being wiped off the map. One of the things that stood out to me in the Iraq-war documentary "No End In Sight" is the fact that the State Department had a plan to do the same in Iraq, but the army ignored it and destroyed much of the culture of the reason. The State Department officials cited that as a reason the people freed from occupation soon turn…

Best Pictures Nominees — Nebraska

Today I continue my look at the Best Picture nominees with Alexander Payne's "Nebraska."

Movie: Nebraska
Nomination: 6
Nominated For: Best Pictures, Best Actor (Bruce Dern), Best Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Best Director (Alexander Payne), Best Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson), Best Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael)
About: "Nebraska" is a fascinating film. Some have argued that without the nuance provided by Payne as a director, or if the film was directed by someone else, it wouldn't be in the talk for Best Picture. That might be true, but that's also the way it works with great directors like Payne. He chose to shoot the film in Black and White, he gives it a great pace, and he gets great performances. But like so many films in this year's race, it could be a good movie that wins no awards. There isn't a single category it's nominated for that I would give "Nebraska" the edge. I think it's a long-shot for Best Picture, a…

Fighting to the Finish in Sochi

We are in the home stretch for the 22nd Winter Olympics, which kicked off on February 7 in Sochi, Russia. It's been an interesting Olympic games, to say the least. Prior to the games there were major concerns about safety and terrorist acts, none of which has manifest so far.

There were also concerns and complaints about the conditions. While some of the reported conditions seem bad, there has been push back that this is an American sense of entitlement that doesn't properly understand the realities of life in 2014 Russia. That might be true, but when athletes don't have curtains, are stuck in bathrooms, and trapped in elevators, it seems reasonable to ask the question.

Once the games began, the talk shifted to the conditions of the facilities for the games. The high temperatures have made it difficult for the slopes and tracks. There have been some questions about the indoor facilities as well. And at the outset those questions about the conditions seemed to be used as e…

The Power of Hope

"If you don't have hope, what's the point of living?" — Herschel, "The Walking Dead"

Hope is a powerful, important thing. It can get you through tough times and tough circumstances. But where does hope figure in when you're considering the apocalypse? That's a question that "The Walking Dead" continues to wrestle with every few episodes.

Some might call the world of "The Walking Dead" a hopeless place. I certainly see that. It seems like every time there is a glimmer of hope or faith for one of these characters, or the group, it is quickly eroded. How do you find the strength to move forward in hope when everyone and everything in the world can lead to your demise? How do you continue to maintain faith in the future when everything seems so bleak.

Some questioned the first batch of episodes this season, but I thought they laid a lovely groundwork for considering these ideas. Herschel, as he has been during his run on the show, s…

The Gift of Forgiveness

"The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” — Hosea 3:1-3

Being a prophet in the Old Testament was hard. You presented the messages from God to the people, but that didn't make you beloved. And sometimes, as was the case for Hosea, your entire life became an object lesson.

The story of Hosea and his wife, Gomer, is fascinating. It's an incredible depiction of faith and forgiveness. I can't imagine what it was like for Hosea to be told to take Gomer as his wife, but he believed in the promises of God and did just that. Then, after years of marriage,…

Best Picture Nominees — Her

The Academy Awards take place on Sunday, March 2. Between now and then I'm taking a look at all nine Best Picture Nominees.

Movie: Her
Nominations: 5
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze), Best Original Song (Karen O and Jonze), Best Original Score (Will Butler and Owen Pallett); Best Production Design
About: This might be one of the most unique films in the Best Picture race, which is nothing new for Jonze. Some were upset that Jonze didn't get a Best Director nomination, and none of the actors in the film were recognized, but there is something about "Her" that just really grabbed people. Joaquin Phoenix is excellent in a very difficult role, and I was amazed at how much screen presence Scarlett Johansson has despite the fact she only provides voice-over work. The rest of the supporting cast — including Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, and Chris Pratt — are also good in the film. And it's a film that takes a hard look at social isolation, tech…

The Truth Shall Set You Free

"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." — John 8:31-32

When you read through the book of John, or really any of the Gospels, you will see times where Jesus is telling people who He is, what He is doing, and what people need to do, yet they can't understand. I have had the chance to participate in Oasis the past two weeks, once as a worship leader and this week as the speaker, and it's been fascinating to see how people react to Jesus.

In chapter six, after Jesus tells the people who He is, it says many turned away and no longer followed Jesus. It seems incredible to us that people could hear the truth from Jesus' mouth and turn away. But that's because getting to the truth requires faith.

My favorite movie is "A Time to Kill." I like a lot of things about the movie, but there is a quote about the truth that has always sto…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movie I saw this week!

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Abbie Cornish
Synopsis: In 1987, “RoboCop” debuted. It was set in the future, forecasting that technology could be used to do something amazing that might make society better. In 2014, it’s been re-made but the world is different. So this “RoboCop” is different. This time the film, from the jump, is more of a political and technological cautionary tale. It’s about greed, corruption and how some might be tempted to over reach. The new film also takes a hard look at the role of the media. So, in short, a popular sci-fi action film has been re-made as a sci-fi action film with a political bent released just in time for Valentine’s Day. This new “RoboCop” is a fascinating film. It’s not clear what the highest priority here is. It works a bit as an action film, and it has some lavish action sequences. But it feels more like a film designed to make a statement about o…

The Fork in the Road

Martin: You wonder ever if you're a bad man?
Rust: No I don't wonder Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.
- "True Detective"

On Sunday, "True Detective" offered it's most fascinating and action-packed episode of the season. It was the fourth episode, marking the half-way point in the initial run. And after four hours, we might not be closer to catching the killer of Dora Lange, but we're a lot closer to figuring out what kind of story this show wants to tell.

It's not about the case, it's about the partners. Early in the show's run, Martin Hart and Rust Cohle had the exchange above. At the time it didn't seem like much more than a way to try and understand the difference between the two partners. Now, it seems like the ultimate in foreshadowing.

This series began, ostensibly, as a murder mystery. The murder took place in 1995, and 17 years late the detectives assigned to the case were being asked to…

Amazon does pilot season again

For the second year, Amazon has launched into pilot season by giving viewers like you a chance to decide what it airs. This is the process the online company used last season, giving series orders to the sublime political comedy "Alpha House" and the nerdy comedy "Betas." This time there are five pilots — two dramas and three comedies — from which to choose. A warning to those wanting to give these a watch, all five have cable level content — including salty language, adult themes, violence, and nudity. So, buyer beware. Below are my thoughts on each of the five pilots.

The After
Plot Synopsis: Eight strangers are thrown together by mysterious forces and must help each other survive in a violent world.
About: This drama comes from Chris Carter, the scribe of "The X-Files," and features a post-apocalyptic theme here. My instant thought was that it had high production values, a decent cast, and a good vibe. There isn't a lot explained about what ca…

Can't wander alone

"The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” — Genesis 2:18

Since the beginning, it's been clear that mankind wasn't meant to walk alone. Whether it's trying to make it through a hectic week, or trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, life's better when you have someone in your life.

I love the movie "Up In The Air," which is essentially an argument for single life and going it alone. But near the end, even George Clooney's character comes to realize that is a tiring, futile, and ultimately lonely existence. He tells is future brother-in-law, "Life's better with company."

Last night "The Walking Dead" returned from a two-month hiatus. At the outset of the fourth season, Rick, Carl and the rest of the gang had settled into a comfortable life at the prison. There was disease and danger around every corner, but they had each other. They had the life they'd fought to bu…

Marriage in tough times

"Don't marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can't live without." -- James Dobson

We have been exploring marriage these past few weeks, and it's an important topic in many of our lives. We have these pictures of marriage, and much like the cultural depictions of conversion, they miss the whole story. It's been said that when painting the picture of conversion, we treat it like that moment of putting our faith in Jesus is the third act resolution of the story, when really it's more like the turning point at the end of act one. It leads to a long path, full of ups and downs, that helps us grow.

Marriage is the same. We're conditioned to have the movie end at the moment of "I Do." That's it, cue the happy music and doves. They're married, and nothing but bliss follows. Really, like conversion, that's just the beginning of a longer story, full of ups and downs. It's not the moment …

Give Thanks

"Give thanks with a grateful heart; give thanks to the Holy One; Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son." -- "Give Thanks," Don Moen

As a Sunday School class, we're looking at the book "Respectable Sins." The first few chapters kind of outlined the premise, but these past two weeks we've jumped into specific sins. Last week it was the idea of Ungodliness, which basically happens whenever we separate -- or try to separate, our lives from God and His holy, perfect, and pleasing will.

This week presented another challenge, this time considering Thankfulness, or rather our lack of thankfulness. The chapter began with the story of Jesus healing the 10 Lepers, of whom only one returned to thank Jesus for His healing. Jesus wondered aloud where the other nine had gone.

The author noted that many of us are critical of the nine for their lack of thanks, but we do the same thing in our daily lives. We haven't been healed of Leprosy, b…

Now Playing

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

Labor Day
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, and Clark Gregg
Synopsis: Jason Reitman is a promising young filmmaker. His first feature film, “Thank You For Smoking,” was probably the best film of 2005. His second and third features, “Juno” and “Up In The Air,” were Best Picture nominees. His fourth feature, “Young Adult,” earned critical acclaim and a smattering of award nominations. It also marked a bit of a stylistic departure. But not as much of a departure as “Labor Day,” which was released nationwide on January 31. The film is based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, and it tells an unlikely love story. Those expecting something similar to what Reitman offered in his first four films are in for a surprise. “Labor Day” is a fine film in a certain sense. It feels like a by-the-numbers story. There are some moments of emotional heft, mainly at the end, but sometimes they don’t feel truly earned. But it’s a movie th…

Best Picture Nominees — The Wolf of Wall Street

Today I continue my look at the Best Picture nominees for the Academy Awards that will be held on Sunday, March 2.

Movie: The Wolf of Wall Street
Nominations: 5
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Best Director (Martin Scorsese), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter)
About: This film had a lot of buzz, but has drawn mixed reviews. Some have loved it for what it is, a sort of dark comedy that doesn't pull any punches when it comes to show the life of excess lived by its subject. Others have complained that it glorifies this life of excess and crime, to the detriment of society. I fall somewhere in the middle. Having read parts of the memoir upon which the film is based, I would say the unflinching tone comes from Jordan Belfort himself. The film is probably too long, and relishes Belfort's exploits too much, but it's also funny and, at times, quite poignant. It's a well-made movie, despite its flaws. That …

Winter TV Roundup, Week 5

Here's the final week of winter premiers. As always, I review the first two episodes of new series. More new shows return at the end of February when we'll start tracking spring premiers.

Thursday Nights:
Rake, Thursdays at 9 p.m. on FOX
About: Even an "American Idol" lead-in can't help this show, which has seen it's ratings fall in week two. That is a sign the show's not long for this TV world. And it's no wonder why. There is little to like about the characters in this, particularly the lead character played by Greg Kinnear. The show has had some interesting legal cases. The pilot featured the story of a serial killer who wasn't, while the second episode dove into the world of the Amish. That was somewhat fascinating, but not enough to sustain interest. That's because most of the show seems focused on Keegan Deane and his antics. It's not clear why his friends and family stick with him, or how they became his friends in the first place. …

Another Star Burns Out

The story of Icarus is a cautionary tale. It's about a boy whose father makes him wings so he can escape his life. But he fails to heed warnings, flies too close to the sun, falls into the sea, and dies. The modern equivalent seems to be actors.

All too often we lose men and women of incredible talent, often because their own demons push them too close to the sun. On Sunday that happened again as Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead of an apparent overdose. It was a shocking announcement, and a blow to anyone who is a fan of fine performances and fine films.

There has been a lot said about him and his tragic death, and much more will probably be said as we approach the Academy Awards. Thinking back, I will miss what he brought to his roles. He was an Academy Award winner and was nominated three additional times. Many people have their favorite of his film roles, but below are mine.

1. Doubt (2008) Father Brendan Flynn — I loved this movie. It earned Seymour Hoffman a nomination…

2013 Broncos Season: The Super Bowl

Well that was disappointing.

Super Bowl: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8
Season Record: 15-4 (9-1 home)
Key Play: On the first play of the game, center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Peyton Manning's head. Manning wasn't ready for the snap, either, which sailed into the end zone and was covered by Knowshon Moreno for a safety. It was a sign of things to come. Seattle grabbed the momentum and the Broncos never recovered.

Recap: This entire season — from mini camps in the spring through last night — has been about one thing for the Broncos, winning a Super Bowl title. In that sense, this season has been a disappointment. I am sure Manning appreciates that he had the greatest season ever by a quarterback, appreciates his two post-season awards, and appreciates that he led a historically proficient offense during the season. But none of that matters compared to Super Bowl titles, and he didn't get one. Ironically, it turns out that the second week of the pre-season was not only a Sup…

Super Memories

I have been a Broncos fan for as long as I can remember, but it's been a while since I've been able to watch them in the Super Bowl.

The first Super Bowl I really remember was in 1989 when the Broncos played the San Francisco 49ers. I was excited and I knew they would win. Of course, I was the only one. Instead, the 49ers scored 55 points and crushed the Broncos, handing John Elway his third loss in the big game. People began to wonder if he'd ever win.

Then Mike Shanahan arrived, and things changed. After losing the Jacksonville Jaguars in stunning fashion the year before, the Broncos bounced back and earned a berth in Super Bowl XXXII. They were facing the Green Bay Packers, and they were predicted to lose. Instead, magic happened.

I remember watching that game. I remember watching with my Dad. I remember the excitement, the tears, and the joy.

The following year, the Broncos did it again. They won the Super Bowl for the second year in a row and John Elway rode off into…

Super Bowl Predictions

It all comes down to this.

Seattle Seahawks (13-3) vs Denver Broncos (13-3)

The Case for the Seahawks: The Seahawks have the best defense of anyone in the NFL, in my opinion, and it's been said Defense Wins Championships. The Seahawks are ideally matched against the Broncos — it's strength on strength as the Legion of Boom faces the Broncos' offense. The Seahawks have seemed to be the team of destiny this year, winning some incredible games. They could easily prevail in a close match up.

The Case for the Denver Broncos: The Broncos have been a team of destiny in 2013. Starting with the opening game of the season, the Broncos have been a force in the league. Peyton Manning has had the best season of any quarterback ever, and it seems only fitting that he ends hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The Broncos also have a sneaky good defense, and have so many weapons they can overcome the Legion of Boom. In addition, the weather won't be an issue, meaning we'll see the best …