I like to keep one foot in the popular culture so that I can be conversant about what my congregants are enjoying. That’s a fancy way of saying I like to go to movies, read books, and listen to CDs. As some of you may know, in a former life I was a journalist, and one of my duties was writing movie and music reviews for the Louisville Courier-Journal. Although having kids puts a serious crimp in my movie attendance, I still try to keep up with popular culture as much as I can (my only non-church magazine subscription is to Entertainment Weekly). I also occasionally will be lucky enough to get a review in the Louisville Music News.
So in an effort to share with you my latest consumptions, I offer some random reviews for your enjoyment. I’d like to hear what you’ve seen read, and listened to lately that you’ve liked, so feel free to share!
The Prestige – Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman – I’ve been surprised by the “love it or hate it” reviews I’ve read about this one. I saw “The Illusionist” with Edward Norton and was slightly disappointed, so I had higher hopes for “The Prestige.” It was more than worth the price of admission. Christian Bale is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors (check out “American Psycho” if you dare), and Hugh Jackman proves to a worthy on-screen adversary. The story is well-paced and not too hard to follow, considering the number of twists. The director, Christopher Nolan (who did one of my all-time favorites, “Memento“) really knows how to tell a story. He does a great job of making you think you know the twists (I figured out a couple of them early on, which I don’t usually do), then going in a completely opposite direction. “The Prestige” is probably 20 minutes too long, but the payoff was worth it for me.
An Inconvenient Truth – Al Gore – First of all, this movie isn’t about politics (so stop rolling your eyes, Mom!). Regardless of what you think about Al Gore, this documentary (which amounts to nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation with a few vignettes thrown in) is a must-see for everyone. Gore presents incontrovertible evidence of the effects global warming is having on the earth. I’m not a tree-hugger by any stretch, but I can easily see the implications for our environment if we keep going at this pace. I even used part of this movie in my public speaking class. It’s a compelling argument that thankfully ends with a word of hope. You owe it to your kids and grandkids to watch it, or else they may not have much of a planet on which to live.
The Ruins – Scott Smith – I really enjoy Smith’s other (and only) book “A Simple Plan,” which was turned into a movie starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton (the movie, while good, make some significant departures from the book, which ticked me off). “The Ruins” goes in a completely different direction as Smith tries his hand at horror. Smith attempts to mix suspense with character study, but never really makes enough headway in either area. He doesn’t spend adequate time developing his characters before putting them in peril and asking us to root for or against them. The book is fairly predictable, and while Smith’s writing style is enjoyable, Stephen King owns this genre. I hope Smith moves in another direction with his next book.
Go! – Newsboys – I’m a huge fan of the Christian rock group the Newsboys, and have been for about a decade. In the past few years they’ve made a departure from their typical style of music to make two very good worship albums. “Go!” represents their return to their style of pious power pop, and it’s just as good as I would have hoped. While still a notch below their last rock album, “Living in Stereo,” “Go!” has the same catchy tunes and sing-along lyrics that have made the Newsboys so popular. This is about as radio-friendly as Christian rock gets.
Good Monsters – Jars of Clay – Some albums I listen to I like right away; others don’t last an hour in my CD player. And then there are those that take a few listens for me to get it. When I first listened to “Good Monsters,” I thought it was quite good, but not much more than that. But after a few more spins, the album has seriously grown on me. It’s catchier than anything I can remember Jars of Clay doing, and manages to be both more accessible and deeper than just about any Christian CD that I’ve heard. This album has been hyped for months by CCM Magazine as a career-definer for the band, which automatically made me skeptical. I can now say that the magazine got it right, and “Good Monsters” is simply a tremendous album about the struggles and triumphs of being faithful.
So, what do you recommend?