Wednesday, December 28, 2011

L'Angelus - The Next Big Thing?

Katie, Johnny, Paige and Stephen Rees

Many who attended one of Michael W. Smith’s Christmas Concerts in December 2011 had a pleasant surprise. In addition to the fine presentation of Mr. Smith and full symphony orchestra, his special guests was the little known Louisiana quartet, L’angelus. Combining Cajun music with classical may seem like an add choice, but instead, it was brilliant. Good thing too as the group had to do some heavy lifting during some of the concerts as Michael battled with laryngitis.

Pronounced “Lawn-Jay-Loose,” the four siblings began performing in the mid ‘90s with the help of their mother, Linda Rees. Back then, Linda Lou and the Lucky Four, performed at hundreds of county fairs, rodeos, coffeehouses playing mostly country and popular tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Today, the group has ventured on their own playing more Cajun fare. The four-piece band consists of Katie (27) playing the guitar, Paige (26) the bass, Johnny (24) the drums and Stephen (22), the fiddle, swamp pop saxophone and harmonica.

The four are incredibly fun to watch play. Katie has a smile that won’t quit. She steps back a bit from Paige, who tends to whip her hair in all directions. Stephen makes it clear that he doesn’t play a violin – he plays the fiddle. And Johnny, the quiet one, hides behind his drums set, but plays like a mad man. In addition to the instrumentation, they harmonize their voices beautifully. They play “Ca C’est Bon,” one of their most popular hits, with delight as if they are playing it for the very first time and they alternate between English and French seamlessly.

In 2006 L’angelus was selected by Billboard Magazine as one of the six finalists in the Independent Music World Series and the group has been gaining international attention ever since. Before they embarked on the Christmas tour, the group was a featured guest at the World Youth Day with the Pope in August 2011. (To see a sample of their performance, click on the video below.)

L’angelus’ next performance will be at the New Year’s Cajun Party at St. Peter’s Church Hall in Carencro, LA this weekend. In July, they will team up again with Michael W. Smith and Laura Story for the 2012 Cruise of Canada trip.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Images of Santa Claus bowing before the baby Jesus have been popping up here and there for years now. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I understand the idea that all men should worship Jesus - including Santa and I understand that it is a way to show children that even though they love Santa, even he loves someone greater than himself. But I have a problem mixing the mythical to the spiritual. 

But now, two more images have appeared on the Net and my inner debate continues. I appreciate the thoughts behind these images. I believe Jesus is my Lord and Savior but He is no longer a babe.

What do you think?


Monday, December 19, 2011

Fourth time is a charm with Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and
Jeremy Renner in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The problem with the Mission: Impossible films, is that I haven’t been able to enjoy them like I wanted to. I am old, but not old enough to have watched the original TV series (beyond the opening credits anyway) so I went into the movie franchise without knowing much. Then, the first three movies’ plotlines were so convoluted; I never really knew what was going on. To top it off, the first three movies were very Tom Cruise-centered, and if you’re not a big TC fan, it doesn’t leave you with much. They were always enjoyable, but not fantastic in my book. That all changed with Ghost Protocol.

Blamed for the terrorist bombing of the Kremlin, IMF operative Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is disavowed along with the rest of the agency when the President initiates “Ghost Protocol.” Ethan must find a way to clear his agency’s name and prevent a further attack. All he has to rely on is the help of fellow agents, Brandt (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker), Benji (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead) and Jane (Paula Patton, Jumping the Broom) each with their own personal motives.

While technically the 3rd sequel to Mission: Impossible (1996), Ghost Protocol stands alone just fine. It doesn’t rely much on the previous storylines to confuse you. What is probably the most unique feature of this movie is that Brad Bird directs it. Bird has worked with many characters in Hollywood over the years, but most of the time they have been animated. Known for directing such great Pixar/Disney films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, this marks Bird’s first live action directing gig. The film also has J. J. Abrams on its’ side as Producer. Abrams, one who can do no wrong, has brought us TV’s Lost, Fringe and last year’s sci-fi reboot of Star Trek. Instead of churning out just another film in the franchise, the crew took great skill is producing a bigger and better film. Oh, that Abrams. Always the over-achiever.

Ghost Protocol is also unique in that it is a fun film. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t have the dark overtones of the previous films, and it has a lot of humor. It features more gadgets than usual and not all of them are working without flaws. The ensemble cast is a lot more appealing than Ethan’s usual Long Ranger routine. This time, they all have to trust each other and work as a team. They all have their own flaws and not always as confident as they should be with their given roles, making them a bit more relatable in a non-relatable universe.

Ghost Protocol is literally breath taking with its’ incredible views provided by IMAX. This is a must-see-at-the-theatre movie and if possible, an IMAX theatre. You really feel like you’re one of the team facing the same dangers that they do. There is plenty of violence, but not bloody or gruesome and I only counted two swear words in the whole film! In fact, I doubt that there is much for a Christian to take offense with this movie. Personally, I think that it is the best of all four films and I doubt that I’m alone with this assessment.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Revisit with Sherlock and Friends

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are back at
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
While I’m all for updating the Sherlock Holmes story (I love the modern PBS television version), I miss some of the more classic touches. I’m not talking about smoking the big pipe or wearing that funny hat. But I miss the “elementary my dear Watson”-ness. I miss the mystery.

Don’t get me wrong. Warner Bros. has done a great job with this new franchise. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law make a great pair and banter back and forth very nicely. There is an emphasis on their friendship, strange as it is. The soundtrack by legendary Hans Zimmer is both contemporary and nostalgic at the same time providing a nice background and the costumes and sets are fantastic, especially in the newest, A Game of Shadows. But, Guy Ritchie seems to be so bent on making an action and adventure film, that he forgets that Sherlock is a detective.

A Game of Shadows timeline takes place shortly after the first film with Watson’s marriage to Mary (Kelly Reilly). There’s an adventure getting the groom to the alter in the first place and the newlywed’s honeymoon is short-lived as he and Sherlock face their greatest foe, Professor James Moriarty, excellently played by Jared Harris.

If you are a fan of the first “Downey” Sherlock film, you will no doubt like Game of Shadows as well. Noomi Rapace, (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), is a welcome addition to the cast as Madam Simza Heron, a fortune-telling gypsy. We also get a chance to meet Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry) who appears to be just as eccentric as Sherlock, but in different ways. There are some beautiful shots of Switzerland this time around as well.

For the most part, Shadows is a very enjoyable film. No over-arching messages except maybe the value of friends, and nothing to be offended with either. It does feel a bit too long as the story lags between the action sequences, but still is an enjoyable visit with the sleuth.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas With a Capital C movie receives about the same grade

Nancy Stafford and Ted McGinley in
 "Christmas With a Capital C"
When faith-based films are done well, they should be praised. When they are just mediocre, they shouldn’t be. Still, movies like Christmas With a Capital C come out and many Christians will stand behind it not because that it is a good piece of art, but rather, because it is a Christian movie. Christmas With a Capital C could and should have been better. It has a nice premise, a great message and some pretty good acting but its main problem is the writing.

The movie takes place in a small Alaskan town where Christmas is a big deal. There is one play that everyone goes to, the annual “Merry Christmas” banner is put up and the beautiful nativity display is put in front of town hall. Dan Reed (Ted McGinley) is the mayor of this town and is happy with the status quo. However, when Mitch Bright (Daniel Baldwin), an attorney and Dan’s revival from high school returns to town, all he cherishes about the holiday is threatened. Mitch is offended by the display and pursues an injunction against it. Mitch also convinces some in the town that “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” is less offensive to the much-needed tourists and starts a campaign to run for mayor.

At first, the local Christians take offense by the man’s actions and want to fight for their freedom, but Dan’s wife Kristen (Nancy Stafford) reminds them that they can still have Christmas without actually saying “Christmas” and that actions speak louder than words. They do by doing acts of kindness marked with notes marked only with a “C.” Also thrown in the mix is a high school ski competition/romance that adds nothing to the main story.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Go ahead. Be a quitter. (Book Review)

“I held eight jobs in eight years from 1998 when I graduated from college until 2006,” begins the book Quitter by Jon Acuff. “These weren’t petty, part-time jobs, like that summer I was a mailman or that afternoon I spent as a carny. The jobs I quit were 40-hour-a-week, 401(k)-offering, health-insurance-transferring, me-in-a-plain-colored-cubicle jobs. These were career jobs for most of my co-workers and in a period of twelve years, I managed to quit six of the eight. Another I was fired from and the other went out of business.”
Acuff goes on to say how he mastered the art of quitting and lays out a plan for how you can do the same. He’s not kidding.
Acuff is the creator of the Stuff Christians Like blog and author of the book of the same name. In Quitter, the goal is the help you, the reader, close the gap between your day job and dream job. How a man with a gift of sarcasm becomes a life coach is a mystery, but no matter. This book is full of good stuff. 

With his sense of wit, Acuff draws you in and is surprisingly candid about how he landed his dream job working for author, speaker and radio host, Dave Ramsey. It wasn’t a quick trip. Acuff talks about the toll his quitting took on his marriage and his finances. It’s a classic “learn from my mistakes” book that will challenge you as well as excite you for your future. And it has a happy ending.

People say things like “I’m a teacher, but I want to be an artist” or “I’m an accountant, but I want to be a therapist” or “I’m a project manager, but I want to start my own company.” In Quitter, Acuff helps you explore what it is you really want to do and how you can make a living out of it or at least finding purpose in your current job. It’s not a “get rich quick” guide or prosperity teaching book. It’s just an honest look from a chronic quitter who isn’t quitting anymore.
One of the best chapters in the book is, “Removing the ‘I’m’ from your ‘but.” In it, he talks about what he calls “hinge moments.” Many of us think we need a massive eureka moment to realize what it is that we want to do with our life, but a lot of times, we learn a lot more during a much smaller events. He lays out five questions to help you find your own “moments”and they are:
  1. What do I love enough to do for free?
  2. What do I do that causes time to feel different?
  3. What do I enjoy doing regardless of the opinions of other people?
  4. If only your life changed, would that be enough?
  5. Are there any patterns in the things you like doing?
Other chapters in the book include:
  • Why you shouldn’t quit your day job.
  • What is keeping you from finding your dream job.
  • Falling “in like” with a job you don’t love.
  • How to hustle for a better job.
  • How to be successful at success.
  • How to quit your day job.

He also includes a “Are you really ready to quit your day job” quiz and a bonus chapter titled, “The Three Reasons You’ll Ignore Everything You Just Read.”
Acuff isn’t preachy or religious sounding. His tone is that of a friend and by the time you are finished reading the book, you’ll know so much about him, you’ll feel like you already are his friend.