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Showing posts from February, 2015

RIP Mr. Spock

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"I have been, and always shall be, your friend." — Spock, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"

On Friday, Leonard Nimoy died. He is yet another member of the original "Star Trek" crew who is no longer with us. His Spock was unique, and is perhaps the favorite among the vast cannon of "Star Trek" characters. I know he was for me.

Nimoy had an interesting screen presence, one that extended for decades. He will be missed. Below are three of my favorite Nimoy performances.

3. As Dr. William Bell on "Fringe." It was in the midst of his collaboration with J.J. Abrams on the "Star Trek" re-boot that he agreed to appear in a key role in the series, produced and co-created by Abrams. Nimoy was the perfect choice, and his performances — especially in early seasons — was part of what made the show so special.

2. "Star Trek" (2009) as Spock. This was the J.J. Abrams re-boot, which is, perhaps, the second best "Star Trek"…

Upcoming Releases — March

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Here's a look at the new movies opening this March. As has been true so far in 2015, it looks like a mixed bag.

Friday, March 6:
Chappie — This is the latest from writer/director Neil Blomkamp, who gave the world "District 9" and "Elysium." It's about a robot who learns to think, and the people who want to stop that progress. It has what appears to be a good cast, but I can't get excited about it based on his previous films.

Unfinished Business — It feels like this comedy — which stars Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, and Tom Wilkinson — has kind of come in under the radar. It feels like an odd group in the cast, and like this has the potential for comedy disaster.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — This sequel seems unnecessary to me. The first movie was a small delight that should have been allowed to exist on its own. But this has a good cast and will likely be charming and fun.

Friday, March 13:
Cinderella — This is the live-action adaptation of the f…

Now Playing

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

Still Alice
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Hunter Parrish, and Kate Bosworth
Synopsis: Our brains are wonderful and complex. They control so much, but we still seemingly know so little about how they work. Still, for most adults — especially those who feel accomplished in their career and home life — our memories and mental acumen are incredibly important. But what happens when, one day, it disappears? How do you respond when you realize that who you are is slipping away? That’s the fundamental question at the heart of “Still Alice,” a film about an accomplished woman with a loving family who is diagnosed with a rapidly progressing case of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 50. When she still feels in the prime of life, everything starts to slip away. Moore plays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who’s carved out a niche for herself because of her tireless research and incredible insight. At the same time,…

Magic in the Moonlight

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"You're born, you commit no crime, and then you're sentenced to death." — Stanley, "Magic in the Moonlight"

When you think Woody Allen, you don't usually think about films about faith. But "Magic in the Moonlight," his film released in 2014, very much focuses on that aspect. And it does so in a fascinating way.

That's interesting when you consider Allen. He’s been nominated for countless awards and many of his films have become American classics. He’s been nominated for 24 Academy Awards and won four, three for writing and one for directing “Annie Hall.” But in a way, it’s impossible to separate the films from the man because so much of himself is in the characters in his films. That came, initially, from the fact he was often a lead in his films. But even in later years as he’s focused more on his work behind the camera, pieces of Woody are in his films.

So what does that mean? Well, for one thing Woody Allen is incredible neurotic. He’s…

Winter TV Roundup, Week Eight

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Winter is here, and so are tons of new shows. Below is reviews of the new shows this winter. I review the pilot and second episode of new shows. If you don't see a new show from this winter below, please check previous weeks.

Tuesday Nights:
Repeat After Me, Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC (Premiered February 17)
About: This is the latest reality show. This time it's a hidden camera show with a twist. Celebrities appear in bits each week while Wendi McLendon-Covey is in the studio feeding them what to say and do. Some of the segments are amusing — depending on the willingness and acting ability of the celebrity — but most of it is harmless and unmemorable. There was a time when there were only four channels, limited options, and shows like this seemed charming and like a good way to spend an evening. There's still nothing wrong with the show, but there are plenty of other options. Given that, it's hard to imagine who would seek a show like this out each week. It's fin…

Trust Issues

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"You fought to be here and we have to keep fighting." - Glenn, "The Walking Dead"

"The Walking Dead," at its best, is a meditation on what it takes to survive in a world gone mad. Early in the second half of the season, the question was how could these survivors find the hope they need to survive.

But when you've been on the road so long, when you've been struggling to survive so long, and when you've been burned so many times, how can you give into that hope. That was the struggle for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his friends when Aaron (Ross Marquand) presents the hope of a future.

Some are skeptical. Rick is borderline hostel. But Michonne (Danai Gurira) sees possibility and a future. Just two episodes earlier, she talked about the need to have one more day with a chance. To her, the promise of Alexandria is that chance.

But for Rick, it's another potential pitfall. Herschel's Farm went bad, so, too, did the Prison. The Governor was a …

Academy Awards Aftermath

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The self congratulations and parties are over. The trophies are out. Now all that remains is pondering what happened at the Academy Awards.

It was a big night for "Birdman," a fair night if you were nominated for Best Picture, and a long night if you wanted to watch the nearly four-hour telecast. There were a few surprises, plenty of jokes that didn't land, and 24 awards handed out.

I went 16-for-24 on my picks if you're counting at home, and I got caught by a couple surprises. That part of what we can learn from Hollywood's biggest night. Here are a few of my takeaways.

* The disconnect between the industry and those that critique the industry is real. "Boyhood," which was a 12-year labor of love was popular with critics and audiences. "Birdman" had an audience and critical following, but it was beloved by those in the industry. And it was the industry voices that carried the day, it seems, as "Birdman" piled up four awards -- incl…

Academy Award Predictions

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Tonight is the Academy Awards. After tonight we'll know who all the winners are, but it's still not too late to make a few fearless predictions.

Best Picture:
Will Win — "Boyhood"
Should Win — "Whiplash," "Birdman"

* I think "Boyhood" will get the big prize. Critics and industry insiders are enamored of the effort, if not the story. But my favorite among the group was "Whiplash." Even if I wasn't going for "Whiplash," the other presumptive front-runner, "Birdman," feels like a more worthy choice.

Best Actor:
Will Win — Michael Keaton, "Birdman"

* This is a tight race, and Eddie Redmayne could sneak in, but I think Keaton is the best choice and will be the winner.

Best Actress:
Will Win — Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"

* Moore is an Academy favorite who delivered a devastating and heart-breaking performance as a woman struck with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. She should and will take h…

Academy Award Preview — Directing and Writing

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The Academy Awards are on Sunday, so it's time to preview the races. Today's post looks at the battle for Best Director and the two writing awards.

Best Director:
Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, "Birdman"
Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Morten Tyldum, "The Imitation Game"

* Early in the process, this category seemed more notable for who it left out — Ava DuVernay, for "Selma," and Clint Eastwood, for "American Sniper," were the snubs many wanted to talk about. Now, the race has seemingly settled on two candidates — Inarritu and Linklater. These men have split many major awards, and both their movies are considered strong contenders for Best Picture. So the question is, will the Academy split the Best Picture and Best Director awards as it has in the past? And can a dark horse — like, say, Wes Anderson — break into the mix and spoil Oscar pools e…

Now Playing

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

50 Shades of Grey
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, and Marcia Gay Harden
About: It begins with an interview. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) has to replace her roommate in interviewing successful businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). It is the opening sequence of the film, and it is meant to set the tone for what follows. It does, but not in the way it’s supposed to. “50 Shades of Grey” is the hotly anticipated film that’s been breaking records — both for ticket pre-sales and for people complaining about the film’s story and content. Only one of those probably matters to the studio that made it and to the rabid fans who’ve been waiting for months and years to see it. The film is based on the E.L. James novel of the same name, the one that inspired two sequels and is part of a series that’s sold more than 100 million copies. The film was supposed to titillate, just as the books did. But a funny thing happened on the w…

Just Mercy

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"And until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even-handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices." — Jake Brigance, "A Time to Kill"

When you're young, it's easy to have concrete opinions. You tend to see things in black and white, living in a sort of bubble that shields you or makes you blind to reality. We don't live in a black and white world, we live in a world colored by shades of grey. I don't mean in terms of right and wrong, but rather in terms of the way our principles are put into practice.

There are things that make sense, at least in some way, in concept, that become less clear when put into practice in a flawed, broken world. As you age, your understanding of the world changes — at least it should. Experience, expanded understanding, and an adult sensibility cause you to perceive things differently.

I remember when I was younger and my dad told me that he no longer believed in th…

Academy Award Previews — Actress Races

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The Academy Awards are on Sunday, so it's time to preview the big races. In this post, I look at the actress categories.

Best Actress:
Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night"
Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"
Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"

* This is another race that has a clear front-runner in Moore. She's a well respected actress who's been nominated a number of times and never won. And she's reportedly lights out in a part that makes a somewhat marginal movie much better. That always helps. Moore is the odds on favorite, but that doesn't mean she's a lock. There are a number of dark horse candidates here. Cotillard and Witherspoon  are both past winners who've drawn praise for their nominated roles this year. Witherspoon, in particular, gave a gritty performance that was raw and emotional, carrying her movie to a bigger following. But the bigges…

Academy Award Previews — Actor races

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The Academy Awards are on Sunday night, so it's time to preview the races. In this post I'll look at the races for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor

Best Actor:
Steve Carell, "Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"
Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"

* For much of the early part of awards season, it felt like this category belonged to Keaton for his incredible work in "Birdman." Keaton followed up the critics awards with winning a Golden Globe. But Eddie Redmayne — who delivered a complex, physical performance as Stephen Hawking — won a Golden Globe, too. And he's since been a bigger hit with the guild awards. So now, it feels like a two-horse race. I still feel like Keaton will have the edge, but it's close. Another factor is Cooper, who's emerged as a dark horse thanks to the fact "American Sniper" is blowing …

Winter TV Roundup, Week Seven

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In these weekly posts I review new shows' pilots and second episodes. If you don't see a new show this winter listed below, please check previous weeks.

Wednesday Nights:
Schitt's Creek, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on POP (Premiered February 11)
About: This is the first original series for POP (formerly the TV Guide Network), and it centers on a wealthy family that loses everything due to some shady practices by an accountant. All they're left with is a town — Schitt's Creek — they bought as a joke. Now they have to live there, seemingly for a long while, as they try to pick up the pieces. The first two episodes of the series debuted on Wednesday, adding to the glut of original programming on networks, cable, and premium cable outlets — not to mention streaming services. Nowadays, you just need to create a niche audience to be a success. That's possible for "Schitt's Creek," which stars Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and Chris Elliot, among others. …

A meditation on loss

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"Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
- Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"
Beth is gone. Tyreese is gone. But their shadow looms large over all those that remain. Such is the nature of grief and loss.
In her book "If I Stay," which centers on a young girl in a coma who lost her family and has to decide whether to go on living, Gayle Foreman writes, "Dying is easy. Living is hard." In the beautiful story of hope that is "The Shawshank Redemption," Red (Morgan Freeman) says you have to "get busy living, or get busy dying."
That can be easier said than do…

Best Picture Nominees — Boyhood

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The Academy Awards are a week from today, so it makes sense to kick off Academy Awards week with the last of my Best Picture Nominee previews, for the front-runner.

Movie: Boyhood
Nominations: 6
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke), Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette), Best Director (Richard Linklater), Best Original Screenplay (Richard Linklater), Best Editing
About: "Boyhood" represents a singular vision from Richard Linklater, who devoted 12 years of his life to making this movie. From that standpoint, "Boyhood" represents something unique, and that is worthy to be praised. The actors literally grow up on screen, and that's fascinating. In "Boyhood" he tells a story of a young man growing up, warts and all, as well as how the family dynamics change. That seems to be what people have been fascinated with here, and one of the reasons it's been the toast of awards season. In fact, "Boyhood" is the front-r…

Best Picture Nominees — Birdman

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The Academy Awards are just over a week away. Today I continue my look at Best Picture Nominees with one of the front-runners.

Movie: Birdman
Nominations: 8
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo); Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing
About: "Birdman" has been on the top of a lot of Best film lists, and it's earned a gaggle of nominations and trophies this awards season. It's seen as a front-runner for Best Picture, too, which would be quite a feat. Typically the Best Picture winner also wins Best Film Editing. If "Birdman" wins, that won't happen because it's not nominated in that category. However it's easy to see the film bringing home several awards even if it doesn't win …

50 Shades of Controversy

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"Christian's and Ana's relationship, clearly, is predicated on an abusive power differential. Even when the two are not engaged in sadomasochistic sex, their dynamic is fraught with a sense of domination and subjugation—of predator and prey." — Paul Asay, "PluggedIn.com"

A little movie, "50 Shades of Grey," opened on Friday, and it's seemingly set the world on fire. Of course, this is nothing new for "50 Shades." The first in a trilogy of books, written by E.L. James, was released in 2011. Since then, the trio of stories centered on a virginal heroine, her dark suitor, and their unconventional love story has sold more than 100 Million copies.

When it was announced that "50 Shades" would become a movie, that started the firestorm all over again. Every aspect of casting, directing, and production was analyzed to death on the Internet by fans. But the real fight and discourse has been the past three weeks leading up to the re…

Now Playing

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

Jupiter Ascending
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Eddie Redmayne
Synopsis: It’s been almost 16 years since “The Matrix” debuted, but for fans of its filmmakers — Andy and Lana Wachowski — it feels like it was a lifetime ago. “The Matrix” was an incredible cinematic experience. It introduced a fascinating new world, groundbreaking special effects and became a cultural phenomenon. The Wachowskis followed that up with a couple underwhelming “Matrix” sequels, the ill-conceived live-action adaptation of “Speed Racer” and the perhaps under-appreciated adaptation of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas.” Though the latter two were commercial flops, their name — and the memory of seeing “The Matrix” for the first time — still brings people to the theater. Or at least it used to. The poor Box Office performance of “Jupiter Ascending,” their latest film that opened on February 6, and the avalanche of negative reviews may be driving another…

The End of an Era

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"There is no such thing as an impartial jury because there are no impartial people. There are people that argue on the web for hours about who their favorite character on 'Friends' is." — Jon Stewart

It's hard to believe, but "The Daily Show" is in its 20th season. And since it's been known as "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for so long, it's easy to forget that when the show debuted in 1996, it was with host Craig Kilborn.

As an avid fan of "SportsCenter," I was familiar with Kilborn and his unique brand of comedy and delivery. He helped original "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, and helmed it for three years and nearly 400 episodes.

But in 1999, Jon Stewart took over as host of "The Daily Show" as Kilborn moved on to his own late night show on CBS. That's when "The Daily Show" really took off.

I knew "The Daily Show" existed before Stewart took over as host, but I didn't …

Winter TV Roundup, Week 6

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It's winter, snow is piling up for many, but TV's never been busier. More new premiers trickled out this week, and yet more will continue to trickle out the next few months. In these weekly posts I review the pilot and second episodes of new shows. If you don't see a new show from this winter below, check previous weeks.

Monday Nights:
Better Call Saul, Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC (Premiered February 8)
About: "Better Call Saul" is the latest show off the AMC production line, but it feels a little familiar. This is a spin-off of "Breaking Bad," the iconic AMC show that's now over. It feels a bit like AMC trying to fill the holes in its programming schedule by going back to the well one more time. The pilot episodes — which got "The Walking Dead" lead-in boost on Sunday night — begins with a long opening that's basically a nod to "Breaking Bad" fans. It shows you where Saul Goodman will end up. Then we rewind back to 2002 to see…

Return of the Dead

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"Don't you want one more day with a chance?" — Michonne, "The Walking Dead"

When "The Walking Dead" went to hiatus in early December, it was on a rough note. Beth, who had just been re-united with her group, was killed. The final scenes were ones of sorrow. They'd lost the dream of Washington, D.C. and they'd lost another of their own.

As we pick up, now more than two months later, nothing much has changed. The group continues to struggle on, rootless and, in many ways, hopeless. Even the strongest among them craves some kind of normalcy. Michonne — who was long a lone wolf — states somberly "you can be out here too long." Meaning that a constant violent life on the road can completely break down what makes you human.

Glen, once the kind soul in the group, has become hardened. His hope is near gone, replaced by an emptiness that is deeply unsettling, even to Rick — who has endured his own dark nights of the soul. Hope is so fundamen…

Best Picture Nominees — Whiplash

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The Academy Awards are two weeks away, so we continue our look at this year's Best Picture nominees.

Movie: Whiplash
Nominations: 5
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons), Best Adapted Screenplay (Damien Chazelle), Best Editing, and Best Sound Mixing
About: "Whiplash" was my favorite movie of 2014, and it's my favorite among this year's Best Picture nominees. It's an incredible and intense story of passion and what it takes to be the best. It's drawn comparisons to "Full Metal Jacket," and that's apt. It's a fantastic feature, and the third act is especially compelling. If it were to win Best Picture, I think it would be a completely worthy winner. But it's a long-shot. (We'll look at the two front-runners next week.) It's a small film that did well at festivals and has been a favorite of those who've seen it, but not that many have seen it. Fortunately, thanks to its Best Picture nomination, "…

Best Picture Nominees — Selma

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The Academy Awards are almost here, so it's time to look at this year's Best Picture nominees. Today's nominee is a great film that was somehow overlooked by the Academy.

Movie: Selma
Nominations: 2
Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Original Song ("Glory")
About: "Selma" is a fierce biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his work in Selma, Alabama, leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The film chronicles a thin slice of his life and work, but it is powerful. It's a beautifully told story, and an important story given our current cultural climate. But somehow it's gotten lost in a petty dispute. Much of the dispute centered on the way President Lyndon Johnson was characterized in the film. Some claimed that it made him appear as if he didn't really care that much about Civil Rights — a hallmark of his Presidency. I didn't think that was true, but regardless that seems to have hurt the film's Oscar chances. It did ge…

'The Fall' looks at the complexity of man

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“Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience -- to appreciate the fact that life is complex.” — M. Scott Peck

"The Fall" is a British crime drama that has gone through a slow burn over two seasons and 11 episodes. (All episodes are currently streaming on Netflix). It's ostensibly about a detective, Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), and a serial killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). The two play a game of cat-and-mouse, and you wonder often how it's going to end.

But what makes the series great isn't just the performances or the slow burn pace — which are both excellent — it's the fascinating contradictions in the character of the leads.

Stella is a cop. She's the hero. She's there to stop the crimes. But she's far from heroic …

The Great Flood

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"By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." — Hebrews 11:7

Tonight's movie for discussion is "Noah." Directed and co-written by Darren Aronofsky, it was a movie that drew a lot of attention. It drew praise from many evangelicals for its fidelity to Scripture, and also drew criticism from evangelicals for straying from the Biblical account. How can both be true?

It drew praise from non-Christians for its epic scope and storytelling. And it drew criticism from non-Christians for being a poorly made film that lacked a compelling narrative and strong visual style. How can both be true?

"Noah" is a film of contradictions. It seemed people loved it and some hated it. It was a polarizing film, but it also started a conversation. It's the fact that people were talking about it and — …