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Showing posts from July, 2015

Upcoming Releases — August

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We've reached the end of the summer season. 2015 has been a good summer, full of some great smaller films and mammoth blockbusters. Will we get more in August? That remains to be seen.

Friday, August 7:
Fantastic Four — This is a re-boot of another Marvel franchise. But this one is owned by 20th Century FOX, and not Marvel itself. I liked the last "Fantastic Four," but didn't care for the follow up. This one has a great young cast and carries high hopes for FOX, but it remains to be seen if it can be a successful franchise in an already saturated market.

Ricki and the Flash — This film, starring Meryl Streep, comes from Oscar winning writer Diablo Cody and Oscar winning director Jonathan Demme. It's, perhaps, not the kind of movie you expect to get in summer. But it looks like something that could be a great, powerful character study.

The Gift — This is a thriller/horror film starring Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton. Hard to tell if this will be worth watching.

Shaun…

Now Playing

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

Mr. Holmes
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, and Milo Parker
Synopsis: This is a fascinating new film. Directed by Bill Condon, is about an aging Sherlock Holmes (McKellen), who is retired, living in the country, and losing his memory. He's 93-years-old and his greatest gift is failing. His only company is his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Linney), and her son, Roger (Parker). Holmes is trying to write the honest account of his last case, but he's struggling to remember all the details. This is a slow moving film, but a great character study. Holmes is one of the most famous characters in literature and on film, but this is a take on him that's never been seen before. McKellen, who is a fabulous actor, is able to portray the aging and struggling Holmes as well as glimpses of the Holmes we know and love in flash backs. It's a great story well told, and it's bolstered by some strong performances from Linney, McKellen,…

Summer Binge Watch — Mission Impossible

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With the fifth "Mission Impossible" film opening Friday, now seems like a perfect time to review what's come before it. Here's my look at the previous four in order of how good they are.

1. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
About: Most series start to run out of gas the longer they go, but that's seemingly backward for "Mission Impossible." Each installment in the franchise — with the exception of the misguided second film — has been an improvement. "Ghost Protocol," the fourth installment in the franchise, is the best so far. Director Brad Bird crafted a classic film and the story, acting, and all the things you'd expect from a "Mission Impossible" movie really worked here. It ended up being one of the best films of the year it was released.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence
Verdict: Four stars out of four

2. Mission Impossible: III (2006)
About: This third installment of the "Mission Impossible&…

Summer TV Roundup, Week 11

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The summer is near its conclusion, and the flow of new shows has slowed to a trickle. In these weekly posts I review the new shows of summer. I review the pilot and second episode. If you don't see a new show below, please check previous weeks. As a disclaimer, given the incredible multitude of summer reality shows, I'm sticking to scripted series for the balance of summer (and likely the fall).

Wednesday Nights:
The Jim Gaffigan Show, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land (Premiered July 15)
About: I love Jim Gaffigan as a comedian. He's got a great perspective on the world and is one of the few comedians who offers a clean routine. It happens to be mostly about food. "The Jim Gaffigan Show" was originally developed for CBS, but they passed. TV Land picked it up, and it feels like a good fit with their simple brand of comedy. The show was developed by Gaffigan and his wife, Jeannie, and is based on their life. He's playing a version of himself, and it works. A lot …

Money Talk

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"We will never be able to ask for money if we do not know how we ourselves relate to money. What is the place of money in our lives?" — Henri Nouwen

This week I'm taking a special course about giving. Well, actually it's about money, people who donate, and how we relate to them. Without money, non-profits — including churches — won't exist. But talking about money and asking for money often feels uncomfortable.

During our first day's discussion we were asked to write about how we feel personally about fundraising and asking for money. I had to think about it for a minute, but if I'm being honest, I see it as a necessary evil. Asking for money, of course, isn't evil. It is necessary. But it's also awkward and uncomfortable.

When I know we're having Commitment Sunday, and I suspect the message is going to be about the Biblical mandate to be generous givers, I get uncomfortable and think of reasons to skip. I had to ask myself why? And I think i…

Helping the Lost

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"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths." — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

On Saturday I saw a couple of movies that were incredibly challenging in considering the world. The first was "Southpaw," a boxing movie that was about so much more. It was about two central characters who navigated the foster care system together, found love, found strength in each other, and were able to make a life together.

That life was shattered, and one of those people (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) had to pull himself together to save his young daughter from being trapped in the system, too. It was an emotional and interesting depiction.

Later on Saturday, I saw "Short Term 12." It's a film about a group of adults who work as part of the system, serving as role models and figures for kids stuck in the system. Their home is supposed to be a way station before …

Wayward Humanity

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"I warned you that revealing the truth would be the death of Wayward Pines, but you wouldn't listen." — David Pilcher, "Wayward Pines"

If you tried to explain "Wayward Pines" to someone, they'd probably think you'd gone mad. It's a TV show, and it makes sense if you watch it, but just try explaining it to someone. I had that experience near the end of episode nine, as my wife asked what I was watching. Then she asked what it was about. Then she looked at me with a mixture of confusion and bewilderment after I told her.

It's not an easy show to describe. And sometimes it wasn't an easy show to watch. But it was fascinating, creepy, and compelling.

FOX insists it was a one-time mini-series. That makes sense since it's been on the shelf for at least a year. Long enough for Terrence Howard and Juliette Lewis — who appear in early episodes of "Wayward Pines" — to star in shows that finished a first season and are already …

Another 'Sharknado'

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"Sharks in Space!" -- "Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!"

It's been a rough summer when it comes to sharks. There's been a number of high profile attacks, and several near misses. The most recent being at a professional surfing event in Australia last weekend. So it's into this environment that the third entry in the "Sharknado" franchise bowed on Wednesday night.

For those not familiar with the films on SyFy, it is essentially what it sounds like. A weather phenomenon develops that creates a tornado that scoops up angry, predatory sharks from the ocean and drops them on major United States cities. In the first film it was Los Angeles. Last year it was New York City. This year, it was Washington, D.C., and most of Florida and the East Coast.

When the first "Sharknado" debuted in the summer of 2013, it was expected to be a little movie that came in under the radar. That's because SyFy is known for crafting these kind of disaster movies. B…

Now Playing

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

Ant Man
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and Corey Stoll
Synopsis: Call it superhero fatigue, but now when I see another comic book movie roll out I feel a little burned out. "Ant Man" is the final release in Marvel's Avengers Phase Two, meaning it's part of a sprawling cinematic world. It's a hero story that's not an incredible big part of our cultural moment, and in the film we have to have an origin story, build on the world, introduce these characters, and connect them to the larger story. In fact, even prior to "Ant Man" bowing in theaters, these characters have been filming spots in the third "Captain America" film. That's a lot of pressure, and a lot to accomplish. If you're already invested in the characters and the world, you can absorb all the Marvel Cinematic Universe servicing that happens. But in a story like "Ant Man," where you're…

Summer Binge Watch — X-Men

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Next summer, "X-Men: Apocalypse" will be released. It will be the cap on a second trilogy of "X-Men" films. That's in addition to a pair of Wolverine-centric films. So, year, since 2000, the X-Men have made their presence felt on the big screen. Since Comic Con was abuzz with X-Men talk, and "Apocalypse" graced the cover of "Entertainment Weekly" last Friday, I thought it was a good time to summer binge through the cinematic world of mutants. Below are the seven films in order from my favorite to least favorite.

1. X-Men: First Class (2011)
About: This was actually the fifth "X-Men" movie released, but in my opinion it's the best. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, this film takes it back to the beginning when Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) were friends and allies. Of course that all goes south by the end of the film, but it's still a great chapter. It has some great, thought-provoking turns, good performances…

Summer TV Roundup, Week 10

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We have reached the dog days of summer, and new shows are now just trickling out. In these weekly posts I review the pilot and second episode of new shows. If you don't see a new show listed below, check previous weeks.

Wednesday Nights:
The Jim Gaffigan Show, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land (Premiered July 15)
About: This is a traditional feeling family sitcom. It was originally shot as a pilot for CBS, who passed on the show. It was subsequently picked up by TV Land. Prior to its official premier, Gaffigan made random first season episodes available to view for free, and one aired as a sneak peak after the finale of another TV Land show in June. I thought the preview episodes, while occasionally amusing, were also confusing. Seeing the pilot premier last Wednesday, some of the pieces fell into place because the characters were properly introduced. I love Gaffigan's stand up and his brand of comedy, and I was amused by the pilot. It's not a great sitcom, and I can certainl…

The Murky Middle

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"Those moments, they stare back at you. You don't remember them, they remember you. Turn around, there they are, staring." Ani, "True Detective."

Eight episodes isn't a lot of time in the TV world. It seems like a lot of time, but it really isn't. Not when you have to build characters and a world from the ground up. Not when you need to build a mystery. And not when you need to wrap all those things up by the time it's over.

We've seen five hours of the second season of "True Detective." Three hours remain — less than half the time allotted to the season. Yet, at the end of the fifth hour, it feels like we're not closer to fully understanding the central mystery, why it matters, and how these characters all fit than we were when the season bowed on June 21. That's a problem.

Some have pointed out that the first season featured a slow burn, too. That's true, but by the fourth and fifth episode of season one, the action had …

2015 Broncos Season — Pre-Camp Predictions, Pt. 2

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Camp begins next week, so it's time for some fearless predictions about finish. Yesterday I picked the AFC, today it's the NFC. Below, I put teams in my predicted order of finish with their 2014 record in brackets. Look for final season predictions the week before the regular season begins.

NFC East:
1. New York Giants (6-10) I like ODB and Eli. Coughlin is usually good in odd years.
2. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) They started something last season.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) Too many gambles. The wheels are coming off.
4. Washington Redskins (4-12) Too many questions.

NFC North:
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) Could be NFC's Best.
2. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) Could be playoff bound.
3. Detroit Lions (11-5) Not enough juice.
4. Chicago Bears (7-9) About the same as last season.

NFC South:
1. Atlanta Falcons (6-10) They have the best talent.
2. Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) Still hanging around
3. New Orleans Saints (7-9) Lost too many weapons.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14) They'll b…

2015 Broncos Season — Pre-Camp Predictions, Pt. 1

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NFL Training Camp kicks off next week. It's time for some early, unscientific NFL predictions. Today I'll look at the AFC. Tomorrow I'll look at the NFC. Look for final predictions the week prior to the start of the regular season. I've listed teams in my predicted order of finish at this point, plus I have their 2014 record in brackets.

AFC East:
1. New England Patriots (12-4) Not worried about suspension.
2. Miami Dolphins (8-8) I think they make the playoffs
3. New York Jets (5-11) Improved with Todd Bowles
4. Buffalo Bills (9-7) Not so much for Rex's new team

AFC North:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) Ben, Le'Veon, Brown. Need I say more.
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) Always a contender
3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) This is the year the magic runs out for Dalton.
4. Cleveland Browns (7-9) At least Cleveland has the Cavs.

AFC South:
1. Indianpolis Colts (11-5) This year's best bet for the top seed in the AFC.
2. Houston Texans (9-7) Could be on the cusp of the…

Emmy Nomination Reactions

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The Emmy Nominations were announced on Thursday, and as always there are some curious omissions and some nice surprises. Below is a look at what we got.

Drama Series Nominees: An interesting mix, and wither network drama. No drama on one of the four major networks was nominated. Meanwhile, shows like "Homeland," which had a better season but not a great season, "Downton Abbey," and "House of Cards" feel like they're coasting on their reputation. "Better Call Saul" might be benefitting from "Breaking Bad" love, too. For my money, "Game of Thrones" is the best show in the category.

Comedy Series Nominees: I really think in "VEEP," "Silicon Valley" and "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" that the Emmys have the three best comedies of the year nominated. Hard to say which is the best, or which could win. I am just hoping the Emmy gives up on its perpetual love of "Modern Family."

Limited Seri…

Now Playing

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

Inside Out
Starring: Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, and Kyle Maclachlan
Synopsis: This is possibly the most ambitious project from Pixar, a studio known for its ground-breaking story telling. It's set in the mind of an 11-year-old girl, following her emotions — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust — as they guide her through her life. There's an incredibly talented voice cast here, and I like the basic idea. But I thought the actual movie bogged down a bit. The beats of going through her mind, and the quest to get back to the main hub, were sometimes a bit much. Like the best of Pixar's work, the movie was a metaphor for childhood, growing into an adult, and other mile markers of our lives. And there were plenty of funny and emotionally resonate moments. But I didn't feel like it was a complete film. It was a clever idea, but it didn't quite make it for…

Summer Binge Watch — Superman

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We just got through Comic-Con, where the biggest trailer, and most buzzed about project, is the upcoming "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice." Earlier this summer I looked at Batman's modern history on the screen, and today it's all about the other caped crusader. This is limited to films — of which there are six since the 1970s.

1. Superman Returns (2006)
About: This is probably a controversial choice, and I acknowledge that. Many didn't care for Bryan Singer's take on the Man of Steel. I, however, loved it. I thought it was a beautiful film that had a lot to say about the nature of saviors. I've taught this film about a dozen times in film classes, and I always see something different. It had the unfortunate experience of coming out after "Batman Begins," having a radically different tone, and falling a bit flat. I understand the argument that it's a little long, but I don't agree. And, to me, Superman stories should have a different,…

Summer TV Roundup — Week Nine

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It's the middle of summer, but the new shows are still coming. Here's a look at some of the new shows of summer. In these weekly posts I review the pilot and second episode of new shows. Don't see a new show below? Check previous weeks.

Tuesday Nights:
Zoo, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS (Premiered June 30)
About: This series — based on the novel by James Patterson — is about animals around the world waking up and realizing they don't have to settle for their presumed place in the food chain. That's bad news for the humans in the show, and something to be taken seriously. The show has a good cast — including James Wolk, Billy Burke, and Kristen Connolly — and it's an interesting premise. That being said, I liked the pilot quite a bit as things were being set up. I thought the second episode, by contrast, was a little slower. Still, this is an idea I could see developing into something interesting during the summer. I'm curious to see where this goes, and I think t…

'True Detective' goes boom

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"Sometimes your worst self is your best self." — Frank Semyon, "True Detective"

The second season of "True Detective" has been uneven, and quite possibly coasting on the reputation of the first season. That's funny because, as an anthology series, the stories and characters are totally different.

The other thing to remember is that the original "True Detective" had a weird, fascinating vibe, but it didn't start like gangbusters. In fact, it didn't really take off until a shootout — featuring a fantastic singular tracking shot — that concluded the fourth episode. Obviously "True Detective" creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto felt the same way.

The fourth episode of the second season again featured a shoot out. This was, naturally, radically different in tone and result. But the structure feels similar, and it feels like "True Detective" is repeating on itself despite new characters and a new location.

A shootout alone c…

Clothing ourselves with Christ

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"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." — Colossians 3:12-14

There are a lot of challenging ideas in Mark Labberton's book, "Called." One of the biggest is that we live in exile. The idea that we are aliens living in a strange land — a post-Christendom world, as it were.

How then, do we live our primary call, as servants and witnesses of Jesus Christ? It's no easy task, especially in a world that's often hostile to our beliefs. In fact, the past few weeks have been among the most challenging I can remember.

In the wake of a political and legal decision made by the Supreme Court, we've seen just how fractured our country is. In fact, we've…

Moving on to the Main Course

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"We're conjoined. I'm curious whether either of us can survive separation." — Will Graham, "Hannibal"

As we near the mid-point in the third season, Hannibal (Mads Mikkelson) is about to be brought to justice. Either he'll be killed by someone he's wronged, or end up in jail. Of course, we know jail is more likely since the series will mirror the events of the books, at least in overall structure.

Recently, "Hannibal" was cancelled by NBC. Its third season will be its last. While I think it remains incredibly unique, and one of the best shows on TV, I wasn't surprised by the cancellation. It's never been a ratings juggernaut, and this third season has continued the slide. Nor was I disappointed, exactly.

Creator Bryan Fuller had mapped out future seasons, including doing the "Silence of the Lambs" story in a potential season four. But NBC passed, as did streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix. So the third season — …

Underrated Showtime Drama returns

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"Maybe that’s the key, to let go of some ideal. To live the life that you have, not the life that you thought you would have. To finally just accept what is." — Libby, "Masters of Sex"

Showtime has had some rough times with show development in recent years. With a number of familiar shows retiring, they've been looking for that second wave that would capture the attention of the public. It hasn't quite happened that way.

But it doesn't mean they haven't landed on a few interesting series, such as "Masters of Sex," which returns for its third season on Sunday, July 12. Showtime made the third season premier available early, but it's not the same show. And I can't help but wonder if that's a product of it being on the bubble.

I loved the first season of "Masters of Sex." While the content is sometimes salacious, it was the performances from leads Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen that brought it to life. It's brought …

Now Playing

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

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, and Jon Bernthal
Synopsis: Summer is emblematic of what’s happened to the film industry. There are a lot of big, loud, noisy films. There are a lot of big-budget, high expectation film franchises. There are a lot of continuations of ongoing stories that require years of investment at the cinema. But if you look hard enough, there’s something different. The smaller, quiet stories that present beautiful slices of life. One such offering is “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” a new film based on the novel from Jesse Andrews. It doesn’t have any huge stars. There aren’t any explosions. And it didn’t have a nine-figure budget. But it has a lot of heart and paints a beautiful picture of love. Last summer “The Fault in Our Stars” showed there is a market for teen romances — even ones we know are doomed. But whereas that f…

Summer Binge Watch — May the Force Be With You

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This week Comic Con in San Diego begins, and for the first time in years, there is a new "Star Wars" movie to discuss. In fact, said new movie opens December 18, 2015 — not that I'm counting the days… There have been six films in the "Star Wars" cannon so far, and now seems like the perfect time to binge watch them before the next chapter arrives.

Below is my rating of the six existing films in order of quality. Hint: "The Phantom Menace" is at the bottom of this list.

1. Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
About: I joke about "The Phantom Menace" — OK, it's not really a joke — but it's always exciting when you have a "Star Wars" film to watch. However, some are more sublime than others. For me, "The Empire Strikes Back" is the greatest in the cannon of "Star Wars." It was the second film made, but is technically chapter five. In the middle chapter of trilogies, things often get darker. …

Summer TV Roundup — Week Eight

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We are in the midst of summer, and the new shows continue fast and furiously. In these weekly posts I look at the new shows of summer, reviewing the pilot and second episode. If you don't see a new show below, check previous weeks.

Tuesday Nights:
Zoo, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS (Premiered June 30)
About: This show, based on the novel by James Patterson, is about what would happen in the world if animals started to question their place in the food chain. In the premier episode, some of the possible scientific ground work was laid, and some lions went on the prowl. Also, some house cats started to act weird. Some people might not be afraid of house cats, and that's understandable, but I thought that was somewhat creepy. I also like James Wolk in the lead role, and I think this series has some potential. I think summer series get viewed differently than the fall. In the fall, I might not care enough to watch this show each week. During the summer, it just might work. I am intrigued…

2015 Broncos Season — A Looming Deadline

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“I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy. They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him.” — Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos' quarterback

July 15. It's only nine days away. It's Wednesday. It's a couple weeks before training camp. And it's a day of reckoning for the Denver Broncos.

Any player who is operating under a Franchise Tag has to sign a long-term contract by July 15, or play the season under the Tag amount. For the Broncos this year, Demaryius Thomas is the Franchise Tag player. The tag is worth $12.8 million — a hefty sum for the year. But it's not what Thomas wants. He wants a long-term deal. He wants security. He wants a contract that recognizes that he's one of the best wide receivers in the gam…

Dark Tidings

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"True Detective" is not the kind of series that was meant to leave you with warm and fuzzy feelings. It's a slow burn about down and out, often desperate people, pulled together to solve a crime. And maybe gain a modicum of redemption. Maybe.

"Detective Velcoro, do you want to live?" It seemed like a simple question, but appearances can be deceiving. Colin Farrell's 1,000 mile stare in response to his doctor's query was indicative of his life hitting a crossroads.

At the end of the second episode, Velcoro took two shotgun blasts to the chest. It seemed like it might be the end of his story. He spent the episode slowly circling the drain in nearly every aspect of his life, and it seemed possible that his journey had ended.

But it didn't. Damage was done, yes, but it was reversible. At least that's the impression that Velcoro was given. He just had to decide if he wanted to reverse it. Does he? Does he want to seek redemption? Is he capable of tu…

Fourth of July Traditions

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"We're gonna need a bigger boat." - Chief Martin Brody, "Jaws"

The Fourth of July is a major day in the United States. It's a celebration of our nation, our freedom, and our way of life. And everyone has their own traditions. For some it's barbecues. For others it's fireworks. For me, it's two essential things -- the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and "Jaws."

Many people are appalled by the hot dog eating contest, and I guess I understand. Watching men cram hot dogs and buns down their throats for 10 minutes to win a WWE style belt might not make a lot of sense.

But I'll counter with this -- it's probably the most American of events. It's a competition based on excess, particularly excess with food. If you told someone in Africa that America had a competitive eating circuit, they wouldn't get it. And while some here might not get it either, I think it perfectly sums up our culture.

So, yeah, I make sure I'm ne…