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Showing posts from June, 2014

What to Make of 'Penny Dreadful'

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"The monster is not in my face, but in my soul." — Caliban, "Penny Dreadful"

Showtime's gutsiest show, "Penny Dreadful," concluded its first season last night. In "The Grand Guginol," many stories were wrapped up, new questions arose, and new challenges took shape. The show has been renewed for a second, longer season already, so we know the story will continue. But what are we to make of the first eight-episode run?

Last night's finale was emblematic of the series — it was violent, dark, depraved, and often uncomfortable to watch. But, somewhat frustratingly, it was fascinating at times, too. The performances were good and some of the hard questions it asked and sought to explore were fascinating, too.

I remain torn on the show, as I was throughout much of the season. It is a horror show — full of many familiar literary monsters brought to life in gruesome new ways. It is never going to be pleasant or easy to watch. But the question is…

Reading the Bible

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Solara: Do you really read the same book everyday? Eli: Without fail. - "The Book of Eli"
Some Christians were deeply amazed by "The Book of Eli." I was not one of those people. I appreciated certain aspects of faith that were lifted up in the film, but on the whole I thought it was violent and didn't make the case for faith the way others would like to believe.
But it did make a case for the importance of Scripture, and bathing yourself in Scripture. One of the amazing parts of that film is the way Denzel Washington's Eli memorized the Bible, cover to cover. To him, God's Word was the most important thing. He read it daily and committed it to memory.
We don't do that much anymore. I was talking with someone the other day about the fact that we have such ready access to the Bible, but people don't commit it to memory. Sometimes we search for verses and we study, but that doesn't even happen much. People are so used to seeing Scripture passage…

America's Future?

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"Just remember all the good The Purge does." — Mary, "The Purge"

Last Summer, amid the blockbusters, was a smaller movie about the future. It wasn't a terrible or dystopian future, exactly, but it wasn't a future we should get excited about, either. I didn't see "The Purge" when it was released in May 2013, but I read about it and I was curious. Thanks to HBO, I finally watched it and, even after a few days of thinking about it, I find it fascinating and frightening.

One of the things I enjoyed about "The Hunger Games" is that it felt like a cautionary tale. It was set in a future that we may, or may not, see. But it was grounded in some of the alarming trends that are happening right now.

One could argue that "The Purge" is an even more realistic vision of a future that could be grounded in some of the issues our country is grappling with now. It's set in the future, of course. America is enjoying economic prosperity …

Upcoming Releases — July

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July is right around the corner, summer is entering its third month at the theaters, and a few more blockbusters are set for release. Here's a look at what's coming this next month.

Wednesday, July 2:
Tammy — Melissa McCarthy is a talented actress, and this movie looks like a great vehicle to exploit her unique brand of comedy. McCarthy co-wrote the screenplay with her husband, who also directed this film. So far this summer has been better for outrageous comedy than for action, and this seems like it continues that trend.

Earth to Echo — A couple years ago J.J. Abrams offered "Super 8," a movie that reminded us of "ET" and focused on kids having adventures. This seems to be in that vein, but also with a nod to hand-held, found footage films. The trailer is confusing, but this might appeal to younger moviegoers.

Deliver Us From Evil — Director Scott Derrickson has found a niche. With films like "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and "Sinister,"…

Now Playing

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

22 Jump Street
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, and Peter Stormare
About: In the Spring of 2012, “21 Jump Street” was reborn on the big screen. It once served as a cult classic TV show in the late 1980s, but the film version was met with skepticism. Was it really the kind of material that should be re-made? Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum answered any doubts with a film that was funny, paid tribute to its source material and potentially launched a new franchise. That was confirmed with the follow up, “22 Jump Street,” which debuted on June 13. In the two years since the original Hill has picked up a second Academy Award nomination and Tatum has further solidified his position as an action hero, but when they come back together on screen it just works. They deliver a film that continues the story of these characters in a fun way. Co-directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord are riding a hot streak. The pair helmed “21 …

Adjusting to the Real World

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"There's a harsh truth to face. No way I'm gonna make it on the outside. All I do anymore is think of ways to break my parole, so maybe they'd send me back. Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time. Only one thing stops me. A promise I made to Andy." — Red, "The Shawshank Redemption"

There is a portion of "The Shawshank Redemption" that is heart-breaking. Actually, there are a lot of parts since it's an iconic and powerful movie. But one that stands out is what happens to Brooks. He's been in prison a long time, and when he's finally released he's scared. He tries to make sure he has to stay in prison. Then he gets out and can't adjust.

Unable to live in the real world — a world he never thought he'd see — Brooks kills himself. He was a sweet, kindly character, and it's heart-break…

Summer TV Roundup, Week Seven

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In this weekly post I look at the new shows of Summer. I review the pilot and second episode of new shows. If you don't see a new summer show listed here, please check previous weeks.

Tuesday Nights:
Chasing Life, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC Family
About: It's a delicate line balancing family drama, a splash of comedy, and a central storyline about a protagonist stricken with cancer. But it's a balance that "Chasing Life," the newest drama on ABC Family Channel, does well. This show has a good cast, and it's done in a good way. ABC Family Channel has created a niche over the past few years with its original programming, but this show feels like a bit of an expansion of the brand. It's not focused on — or particularly aimed at — teens, but it still fits the tone of the brand. There is good potential to mine a lot of interesting territory here, but I do hope they aren't going to string out the secret of her diagnosis too long. It began to feel ponderous i…

Worthy Advice

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"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love." — 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

I went to a wedding yesterday. Those are incredible times of celebration ad fellowship, but they also tend to make you think about your own life and connections. I remember going to weddings before I met my wife. I saw the joy, the love, and the connection of the couple, and I yearned for that in my life.

Now, when I see all that, it makes me grateful for the woman God put in my life. It's a time to reflect on the blessing in my own life and in my own journey, as we celebrate the foundation of that same joy for others.

Another thing I love about weddings is hearing the text that the couple chooses. Yesterday, it was a text from 1 Corinthians. That's a common book to chose from, but the text they chose was uncommon, and beautiful.

1 Corinthians is a popular book, and chapter 13 — known as the love chapter — is very popular at weddings. It's a pow…

Rules of Life

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"I never wanted to be the type to think big thoughts about the nature of things. All I ever wanted was a stack of pancakes and a V8." — Bill, "Fargo"

There is a moment in "The Dark Knight" that I've always found fascinating. The Joker and Batman are having a discussion about life in an interrogation room. The Joker is an anarchist, he doesn't believe in rules or an order. Batman is the opposite. The Joker looks at him and says, "You have these rules, and you think that they'll save you."

Batman responds he only really has one rule. The Joker then says he'll have to break that rule — or let go of any sense of order to the universe — if he really wants to win.

That reminds me of "Fargo." Lester Nygard was a put upon man. He didn't like his life, he wanted to make something better, but he couldn't figure out how to do it. Life, you see, had rules. Lester couldn't see how to step outside that order — until he m…

The Third Rail of the Church

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"Social Security is the third rail of American politics. Touch it, and you die." - President Bartlett, "The West Wing"


One of my favorite quotes from "The West Wing" was about the idea of the third rail. It comes from the concept in trains, where the electrified third rail helped power the train. If you touched it, and all that current, you would die.

In "The West Wing," and often in politics, the Third Rail is Social Security (or immigration, or taxes, etc.). It's an issue that, if a politician tries to tackle it, can kill their career. It's an interesting idea that can be applied to a lot of different things.

Today, conservative members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) sent out a letter expressing their sorrow over decisions made at the General Assembly. The denomination, as a whole, took more steps toward embracing marriage equality, affirming same sex marriage, and changing its official position. It's hardly new news — for the PC (U…

Now Playing

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

Divergent
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Jai Courtney, and Kate Winslet
About: There are two types of films that seem to be ever-present at the Box Office. The first is superhero movies. You can bank on having up to a half dozen superhero films a year, it seems. This summer has already seen two in May, with another having bowed in April and more set for later in the summer. The other staple at the Box Office seems to be movies based on Young Adult Fiction books. Blame "Harry Potter" if you want, but there has been an explosion over the last decade. The "Twilight" franchise made a boatload at the Box Office, and "The Hunger Games" is careening toward its explosive conclusion and hundreds of millions more at the Box Office. Into that fray comes "Divergent," the first of a trilogy based on the novels by Veronica Roth. It's set in a dystopian future, feature…

People over profits

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"Companies should not have a singular view of profitability. There needs to be a balance between commerce and social responsibility... The companies that are authentic about it will wind up as the companies that make more money." — Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

Starbucks has long been a company that's been about more than the bottom line. They preach concern for customers, creating an atmosphere, and giving back. The company's CEO, Howard Schultz, has talked about the greater responsibility for corporations — a responsibility to give back to society.

On Monday, he backed those words up with action. Starbucks announced that it would offer college tuition to its employees. Further, it noted that employees won't be compelled or expected to stay with the company once their degree is finished. It's a remarkable and fascinating move, one that has drawn praise and skepticism. Such, I guess, is the nature of our modern society.

Of course, this isn't an open-ende…

Summer TV Roundup, Week 6

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In these weekly posts I review the new shows this summer. I offer a grade for the pilot and second episode of each new show. If you don't see a new show below, check previous weeks!

Monday Nights:
Murder in the First, Mondays at 10 p.m. on TNT
About: This show — from Steven Bochco — is another in a long line of shows dedicating an entire season to a single crime. So far, through two episodes, the case remains murky — as does the pool of suspects. The show's not awful, just a bit confusing. Usually to make these shows work, some time is spent investing in the personalities — and personal lives — of the detectives. That's the case here, too, but the personal stories of the principle investigators adds little to the narrative to this point. Similarly, Tom Felton — of "Harry Potter" fame — hasn't had a lot to do in building his character as the primary suspect. Through two episodes he's mostly pouted, flaunted his wealth and intelligence (though that has yet …

The Point of No Return

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"Given the opportunity what do we do to those who've hurt the ones we love?" — Petyr Baelish, "Game of Thrones"

Last night season four of "Game of Thrones" ended much the way it began — with some deaths, some movement of pieces, and some heart-breaking turns for beloved characters. It was the show's darkest season, and arguably its best. We have about 10 months to think on the ending before we renew our dive into the world of Westeros. Below are some reflections on "The Children."

SPOILERS AHEAD

* Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the outcome of the battle between the Mountain and the Viper was the thought of what would happen to Tyrion. Tyrion is one of the best characters on the show, to me, and one of the few that's demonstrated a moral center. The thought of him dying because of his sister, and for a crime he didn't commit, seemed heart-breaking. He didn't die, but the result of his storyline was even more heart-bre…

Running Out of Gas?

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I have been a Lakers fan all my life. I remember a few years ago, after the Lakers got Karl Malone and Gary Payton to join Kobe Bryant and Shaq, it seemed a title was destined. The Lakers got to the NBA Finals, but they didn't win. The team had been to the finals for the fourth time in five years. In between that time, Bryant had played in the Olympics. The team simply ran out of gas. It was too many games in too many seasons.

When the Miami Heat got to the NBA Finals last week, in a re-match with the Spurs that they beat last season, it seemed they might be poised to win a third straight title. Now, down 3-1 heading into tonight's Game Five in San Antonio, it's a different story.

Why? There are a lot of possibilities, not the least of which is the talent on the Spurs roster, but a big explanation might be they're out of gas. This is the fourth straight year the team has been in the NBA Finals, and they also had some time in the Olympics in 2012. That's a lot of g…

Securing the Future

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Last week, the Broncos began the work of securing their future long term, entering into contract negotiations with Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, both of whom are in the last year of their rookie contracts.

During the off-season, when the Broncos let Eric Decker go, a stated reason was the interest in keeping their star wide receiver and tight end long-term. The Broncos are staying true to that word with these negotiations, and hope to have long-term deals for both by next month.

That's good news for fans, even if we don't know who the quarterback will be. With Julius and Demaryius, as well as the new contract with Emmanuel Sanders (drafted the same year as Demaryius), the Broncos could have three young, strong, fast receivers in the prime of their careers. That combined with Ryan Clady gives them the pieces of a dynamic offense that can help a young quarterback or serve as a draw for a veteran even when Peyton Manning decides to hang it up.

Demaryius is one of the few s…

Getting Away With Murder

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"A man has a fox, a rabbit and a cabbage, and he wants to get across the river, but his boat can only carry one of them at a time. The problem is if the man leaves the fox and the rabbit alone, the fox is gonna eat the rabbit and the same for the rabbit and the cabbage. So how does the man get across the river without losing any of them?" - Agent Budge, "Fargo"

When "Fargo" began as a 10-episode murder mystery, it was impossible to avoid comparison. It shared a name and a sensibility with a famous film. It was sent in the frozen north of Minnesota. And it was a caper show with quirky characters.

In fact, watching the first episode, those familiar with the movie would have felt like they were seeing a great imitation of the Coen Brothers' tone, language, and cinematic style. But as the series has continued, the divergence has grown.

"Fargo" as a TV show is a poor impression of the film. But it's a great TV show, full of rich and quirky c…

Now Playing

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

A Million Ways to Die in the West
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Amanda Seyfried, and Liam Neeson
About: MacFarlane, the writer/director/star of "Ted" and the creator of "Family Guy" is back, this time with a western. This is very much in the spirit of Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," with plenty of humor, cultural observations, laughs, and fun. I loved "Ted," and was surprised by how compelling I thought it was. It's not the kind of movie — or the style of humor — that's for everyone, and the same could be said of "A Million Ways to Die in the West." It's not family-friendly humor, either. There is plenty of R-rated material here, and a lot of hilarious observations about everything from Western culture, to history, and even Christianity. It's all a big target for MacFarlane, and with this movie m…

Choosing Life

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"that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." — Matthew 5:45

We have this idea that life is supposed to be fair. No matter what we're taught, we yearn to believe this is true. One of the most fascinating passages in the book of Job is when his friends, seemingly earnestly seeking to comfort their friend, ask him what he did to deserve the situation he finds himself in.

As readers, we know that Job was a good man. The Bible upholds him as a righteous man. He is praised at the outset of the book for his faith. Yet he suffers, terribly. How can this be?

One of the hardest questions in all of life — for Christians and non-Christians alike — is the one about how a loving and benevolent God can allow suffering and sadness. Kids aren't supposed to get sick. Parents aren't supposed to watch their children suffer, whither, and die. But they do.

"The Fault …

Summer TV Roundup, Week Five

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In this space each week I review the new shows for the summer. I review the pilot and second episodes. If you don't see a new show listed below, please check previous weeks.

Monday Nights:
Murder in the First, Mondays at 10 p.m. on TNT
About: TNT is going all in with new dramas. This show, a cop show paired with "Major Crimes," follows one murder and the hunt for the killer throughout the season. It's hardly the first show to try this format, and I doubt it will be the last. In fact, I know it won't because we have "Gracepoint" debuting in September on FOX. This show comes from Steven Bochco, the man between "NYPD Blue," "Hill Street Blues," and "LA Law." The show has a lot of TV veterans working on it, as well. It stars Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs as a pair of cops with stuff going on in their personal lives and a case they can't crack. Robertson has a tough relationship with her ex-husband and son, while Diggs&#…

The Watchers on the Wall

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"I made a promise to defend the wall and I have to keep it. That's what men do." — Sam, "Game of Thrones."

We are in the fourth season of "Game of Thrones," so by now some patterns have emerged. And one of the big patterns is that you have to weary of the ninth episode of the season. The ninth episode of the first season saw Ned Stark lose his head, the ninth episode of season two featured the battle of Blackwater, and the ninth episode last year was the Red Wedding.

So last night, as "Game of Thrones" entered the ninth episode of its fourth season, there was reason for concern. After all, unlike previous seasons we've already been dealt some big blows in the fourth season. Major turns and deaths have occurred throughout, so you had to wonder if the ninth episode — featuring the battle between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings at the Wall would hold up.

It did.

In a beautiful, unexpected, and action-packed hour, we got a great epi…

The Glory of God

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"Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." — Isaiah 6:5

In our new Sunday School curriculum, we're looking at what it means to have a God-Center Worldview. The second lesson was on the idea of the Glory of God. And, naturally, the lesson asks the question early on of what you think about when you hear the term glory of God.

For me, naturally, I think about a really, really bright light. I don't know why, but when I hear the words Glory of God I think of the bright lights. Turns out I'm not the only one that thinks about that, but that's not what we should be thinking about.

Obviously the natural reaction to seeing the Glory of God is worship. I love that reaction from Isaiah when he is brought to the presence of God — he feels like his is completely unworthy. There is a similar reaction in Ezekiel, chapter 1. Ezekiel …

The Wait Continues

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1978. Jimmy Carter was President, "Dallas" debuted on TV and "Annie Hall" won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was also the year that Affirmed won the Triple Crown, becoming the last horse to accomplish the feat.

More than 35 years later, horses have come close, but none has won. The latest to dash our hopes on the rocks was California Chrome, which won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to finish fifth at today's Belmont Stakes. It was a disappointing blow for horse racing fans, like myself, who'd like to see an elusive Triple Crown in our lifetime. I'm beginning to think it will never happen.

To put it into perspective, horse racing has had a Triple Crown for more than a century. In that time, 34 horses have won the first two races. Of those, only 11 have won the Triple Crown. It is a rare feat, and something not seen often.

In fact, the current drought is hardly the first in the sport. The first Triple Crown winner was in 1919. There we…

Living Life

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"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life." — Sean's inscription to Walter Mitty, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

Henry David Thoreau wrote in a poem, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Some have morphed that quotation into, Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Whatever the wording, the meaning is the same. People are dissatisfied and just going through the motions.

Though he probably didn't have it tacked to his wall, Walter Mitty could identify with that idea. As portrayed by Ben Stiller in last year's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," that quiet desperation led to a vivid imagination — a world of escape where life could be what he always hoped it would be. Because Walter Mitty's life wasn't all that glamorous.

Walter had dreams. He dreamed of getting out and seeing the world. But when his father die…