Archive for the ‘nc’ Category

My Favorite Things – Hulu

April 14, 2008

I don’t like TV. That’s what I tell people. It’s too restrictive. If you find a show you like or a story you want to follow, you are stuck — every Thursday night at nine or some such. Sure, you can wait ‘til it’s on DVD, but who wants to wait? But I really, really like TV shows. There’s a certain pleasure to knowing you are watching the same story as someone else, somewhere else, and that just maybe tomorrow you will both be able to turn that viewing experience into a conversation.

That’s why I like Hulu.com. It streams full episodes of television shows for free, and it gets them up fairly quickly after they air. It doesn’t have everything, but the selection is much better than the assorted clips you can find on YouTube. It’s not limited to new shows or even to TV; it has full movies and a generous selection of older shows.

Of course, all of this doesn’t come without a catch. Hulu.com is legal, which means small commercial interruptions happen during the shows. But they are slight — nothing in comparison to the commercials that accompany live TV. And, when I can watch clips of last week’s SNL without having to sit through the full hour and a half (most of which is never funny), it’s a small price to pay.

Nate Campbell

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Jesus for President (2008)

March 26, 2008

“Let’s make Christ our president, let’s have Him for our king.” Woody Guthrie wrote these words in the early years of the 20th century, and the sentiment holds weight and fascination almost a century later as it’s echoed in the title of Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s new book, Jesus for President.

Rather than shoehorning Jesus into the American political system, however, the book is about pursuing a different approach to government entirely. The authors lay out a fresh vision of the way the church and state should interact, eschewing entirely the prevalent notion that we must, in some way, make our mark on the government, because, goshdarnit, this is a Christian nation and we were founded on biblical principles!

Claiborne and Haw base their model on the radical lifestyles of both the early church chronicled in Acts and the early life of Hebrew civilization depicted in the Torah. Fortunately the book is not just a dusty dissertation on political philosophy and hermeneutics. This is the work of passionate people talking about the principles they are actively incorporating into their lives.
Their enthusiasm is catchy as they lace together anecdotes with history (at least as they see it) with an excitingly post-modern book design, one that frequently veers to the left of traditional layouts.

Ultimately, the authors’ conclusions about the way Christians ought to live in the world and practice radical subordination are thought-provoking, if perhaps more radical than most are willing to go. Even if you disagree with the authors’ conclusions, their thoughts are worth reading, pondering and grappling with.

-Nate Campbell

Jesus for President

No Country For Old Men (2007)

March 26, 2008

No Country for Old Men is not an average movie. It is a thriller, but not in an ‘edge-of-your-seat, non-stop action accompanied by pumping techno’ sense. It’s not laced with explosions or one-liners from seemingly super-human heroes.

The movie is quiet, almost too quiet. It has a minimalistic soundtrack, and the many scenes in which the characters refrain from speaking (for most of the characters, the term “terse” is too generous) are punctuated only by the howling of a lonesome wind.

No Country, though filled with its share of violence, does not glorify the bloodshed or use it as a thrilling catharsis. Rather, it is used to underscore the central struggle of the film, which is not a war of flesh and blood. The real struggle in the film is the battle within the three main characters’ minds as they deal with the pervasive darkness of the human condition.
This is not a brainless popcorn flick, but a taut, tense ride that offers viewers willing to be stretched a fascinating conundrum of a viewing experience.

-Nate Campbell

The History of Love (2005)

November 14, 2007

In Isaiah 55, God states that His word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” This is a powerful statement about the efficacy of language as it relates to divine decree. The History of Love does not attempt to treat upon such lofty themes, but it is about the power of words, and explores their power long after they are forgotten by those who breathed life into them initially.

The book’s title refers to a fictional work within the story, a book written by the protagonist, Leo Gursky.  He wrote his magnum opus, The History of Love as a love letter to his childhood sweetheart after she emigrated to America before World War II. Gursky manages to survive the war and make it to America, but in the chaos believes his work to be lost. 

Krauss paints a poignant picture of the power of one man’s words, thought to be lost to the ravages of time and Nazism to draw together families and radically alter life. The book is beautifully composed, implementing the perspectives of multiple characters as first person narration. This novel provides an excellent entry point into extended meditation on love and the power of the written word.

-Nate Campbell

The History of Love at Google Books

Dropkick Murphys – The Meanest of Times (2007)

November 9, 2007

The Dropkick Murphys are one of the most distinctly provincial bands I have ever encountered. They are from Boston and make no bones about this fact, integrating their home city into their music so thoroughly that past albums have included anthems for the Red Sox and Bruins. And yet, the Dropkicks have a flair for making the regional transcendent. Their songs, though peppered with references to people and places distinctly Bostonian, could happen in the slums and side streets of any major city.

The Meanest of Times continues the Dropkicks Murphys’ proud tradition of working class anthems that combine punk blister with traditional Irish instrumentation. The band has always found their greatest success reworking traditional tunes, and that holds true here. While the original songs make an enjoyable use of lead singer Al Barr’s snarl and ability to spin tales of rough people enduring tough times, the band really shines on the tracks “(F)Lannigans Ball” and “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya,” which are both traditional tunes reworked into the Dropkicks’ idiom.

The Meanest of Times is another excellent entry in Dropkick Murphy’s increasing catalog of albums that are equally accessible at barrooms and Irish folk festivals.

– Nate Campbell

Listen to the Dropkick Murphys on Myspace

Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog (2007)

October 29, 2007

Iron and Wine’s newest album finds Sam Beam straying from the time-worn formula listeners have come to expect of his songs–that they consist of little more than Beam’s sleepy-voiced vocals and acoustic guitar. Having been invigorated by the experience of recording with a full band during the making of his collaboration with Calexico (In the Reins), Beam has chosen to record his latest album with a fuller suite of instrumentation.

If this sounds alarming, never fear; the overall effect of the songs is still the understated, pastoral music. It’s the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon spent lounging beneath a tree with a tome of poetry, a loaf of bread and thou. In fact, the well-placed addition of varied musical elements–from banjo to sitar–adds to Beam’s cryptically poetic verse. Branching out from his previous, exclusively acoustic guitar approach allows Beam to stretch out and more fully inhabit the sonic spaces he creates. Motion is a sign of life, and it is good to see that Beam is not content to keep cranking out album after album of sound-alike songs. With a full band at his back, Sam Beam is stepping forward in an exciting new direction. All told, The Shepherd’s Dog is a pleasant addition to Iron and Wine’s oeuvre of drowsy music for sunny afternoons.

-Nate Campbell

Listen to Iron and Wine on Myspace 

The New Pornographers – Challenges (2007)

October 11, 2007

I feel I need to begin this review with an apology for the New Pornographers’ name, which is intentionally provocative. But by apology I mean a reasoned defense, not a spineless acquiescence to a foolish sense of shame someone might try to impart for listening to a band with such a name. Their name does not refer to some passion for sexually explicit materials; rather, it is a reference to a quote by televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who once declared that “rock and roll is the new pornography.”

It is tempting to assume that a band with such a name, rooted in a inflammatory statement by pop-religion would be a group of people with a chip on their shoulders, with something to prove. This is not necessarily the case. This so-called Canadian supergroup consisting of songwriter Carl Newman, Dan Bejar of Destroyer and alt-country chanteuse Neko Case–as well as a slew of others–create light power-pop songs that steer clear of anger and angst. Their music is engaging and dynamic, forging a fine line between pop, rock and alt-country.

If Carl Newman and friends have an agenda, it is hidden behind a wall of nigh-inscrutable lyricism. Even songs with titles that smack of overt politicality playfully dodge such categorization. The song “My Rights Versus Yours,” might be making incisive commentary, but with lyrics like “Fingers in paints / in paints we brought, thinking we’d leave them when we’re not flying the flags of new empires in rags, the new empire in rags, the truth in one free afternoon,” it is unlikely the comment will become clear to anyone but the songwriter.

Freeing the songs from such baggage allows them to be enjoyed more simply, as fun, musically interesting pop constructions that say something more than “I want inside your pants” without getting too weighty.

-Nate Campbell

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The Culturally Savvy Christian (2007)

September 27, 2007

Dick Staub chose to subtitle his book, the Culturally Savvy Christian, “a manifesto for deepening faith and enriching popular culture in an age of Christianity-lite.” These are heady claims, to put it mildly. While the idea of judging a book by its cover is universally reviled, it can be healthy to judge books worth by gauging whether the content accomplishes the claims made on the cover.

What Staub does accomplish is laying out what has become the typical critique leveled at contemporary American culture by thoughtful Christians. He accuses it of being shallow, artificial and soulless. His manifesto outlining our response to this shallowness is also less than earth-shattering. He pleads with Christians to create art that is truly art — not just “Christian” art — and advocates relating to culture on a deeper level than merely rejecting or acclaiming a cultural artifact based on external and moralistic criteria like its sexual content or the amount of obscenity it contains.

This framework is appealingly packaged in this volume, and laid out with a clarity and succinctness that makes it an excellent choice for readers unacquainted with the aforementioned ideas and wishing to gain a fuller understanding of how Christians can and should interact with culture.

-Nate Campbell

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

September 26, 2007

Some might claim that the traditional western died at the end of John Wayne’s career in the 70’s. But while it has been on the decline, it is still alive and doing well (See Unforgiven and The Proposition). While 3:10 to Yuma is a remake, it still fits in today by showing the moral dilemma’s that we can face when questions of justice arise.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is the leader of a gang of outlaws and is captured by a small town. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a struggling rancher in that town and in need of money agrees to help transport Wade for the 3:10 train to Yuma and, of course, Wade’s gang is not going to see him taken without a fight. But the real story is the struggle of wills as the audience wonders about the moral qualities and fortitude of both men.

The west provides a great setting to have a heightened dialogue about the meaning of justice and moral good. With the absence of modern bureaucracy, the wilderness becomes a place where justice is in the hands of the people, it is no longer an abstraction. So, as always a gunfight must ensue as justice needs to be pursued or destroyed at all cost. The conversations about what is truly good is what makes this film worth watching.

Greg P. Veltman

3:10 to Yuma intentionally blurs the line between the good guys and the bad guys in the telling of what on the surface is a traditional western yarn. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is the hero, a dirt poor farmer looking to earn the money he needs to keep his farm afloat and support his wife and sickly son. Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is the villainous mass-murderer whom Evans is hired to transport to the eponymous train. Evans, while acting on noble intentions and exhibiting great courage, is not a typical hero. He is in constant need of rescue by none other than the apparently black-hearted Wade, who goes to great lengths to keep his captor alive. Throwing this quirk into the formula allows the filmmakers to deliver the en vogue message for contemporary westerns: the line between good and evil is far more nebulous than we would care to admit.

-Nate Campbell

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Josh Ritter — The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)

September 17, 2007

By naming his latest album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, the titular folk singer displays a level of bravado and macho posturing that serves as an ironic contrast to the lyrical content of his songs. His lyrics reflect an uncertainty, as he wonders on the track “Right Moves”– “Am I making all the right moves, am I singing you the right blues? Is there a chance that I could call you just to see how you are doing?”

The characters populating his songs are lonely, and their loneliness leads them to desperation. For instance, the hero in “The Temptation of Adam” is a soldier in a nuclear missile silo who ponders turning the key that will end the world so he might die before his relationship can end. Ritter manages to express loneliness and frustration without descending into self-loathing and despairing misery. Rather, his songs are energetic and pounding, from the driving chorus of the opener (“To the Dogs or Whoever,” which finds Ritter utilizing historical and literary situations as a backdrop for his expression of love) to the wistful lines of the closing track: “And she’ll know me by the sound of my hoping, singing don’t let me into this year with an empty heart.”

Josh Ritter manages to pull off the posture of a man in full possession of his dignity, opening his heart so that the world can feel the aching sweetness of being in love.

-Nate Campbell

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