…I thought turkeys could fly.
…I thought turkeys could fly.
In a taped concert by gospel trio The Booth Brothers, Michael Booth said something about Bill Gaither that I’ve never forgotten. Speaking of Bill’s friendship and encouragement as the young gospel trio made their rise, Michael said, “Bill is exactly who you would hope him to be.” He was kind, gracious and generous, Michael said. Exactly as fans who do not know Bill personally but have been blessed by his music would hope him to be.
For decades, Bill Cosby appeared to be the person America hoped him to be. He was America’s favorite comedian, America’s favorite sitcom dad. He was Cliff Huxtable. He was dorky, funny and wise. Wrapped in that comfortingly hideous sweater, he made you want to run out and eat a Jello Pudding-Pop just because he was advertising it, and he was too darn lovable too resist.
Bill Cosby: Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, pioneer of clean comedy, father-figure to a generation of black youth.
Now, everything is changing, with relentless and horrifying rapidity. Every day brings a new name, a new story, varying in the particulars but always consistent on the now inescapable fact that Bill Cosby was not the man we hoped he was. The credibly vivid, disparate testimonies of over a dozen women, plus damning new information from the man who spent years paying off his “customers,” have now come together to form a very different picture: the picture of a man who, had justice been served, ideally should have been executed for serial rape decades ago.
Really. The worst.
A number of films are just now being released or are going to be released soon that have piqued my curiosity. Below are my quick first impressions of each of them together with some preview clips.
Interstellar: I’ve already seen this movie once and am dragging my father to go see it with me again soon for a nerdy daddy-daughter date. The latest from every geek’s favorite director, Chris Nolan, it’s my favorite movie of the year so far, and I plan to offer a full review of it at some point. It’s an exciting and moving sci-fi adventure, with an agreeably small amount of objectionable content. Although it’s grounded in a secular worldview, it’s definitely worth seeing. The cast is excellent and the special effects are gorgeous. McConaughey’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. Rated PG-13 for a little violence and a handful of swear words, including, regrettably, one f-bomb.
“I love you. Forever.”
The Imitation Game: As you’ll see in the list, ’tis the season for biopics, and this one is especially interesting to me. It focuses on Alan Turing, a programmer and code-breaker who worked with a secret team to crack the Nazi code in World War II. In the process, he built one of the first computers and is now considered to be the father of computer science. Besides the fact that I geek out over all things WWII, code-breaking, mathematics, computer science and the like, and besides the fact that the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Turing (psssst, Oscars), my interest in this film is motivated by the fact that I have actually met one of the code-breakers. Peter Hilton, the youngest member of the team, went on to give lectures about their work at universities around the country, and I was fortunate to see him speak shortly before his death. My father brought me, and I’m not sure I was even 10 years old yet, but the talk was a delight, and meeting Hilton afterwards even more so. Though Turing is the focus of this film, it tickles me to see Hilton in it.
Unfortunately, Turing was also a homosexual, so I worry that the last part of the film may politicize that aspect of his life. At the time there were harsh and arguably unethical penalties for homosexual behavior, but we all know what axe the film-makers would like to grind, even though the film has no sexual content and is rated a mild PG-13. But the main body of the film tells a fascinating story that I still want to see.
The Theory of Everything: This is a new biopic of Steven Hawking that focuses on the progression of his neurological illness and his marriage as he worked on his ground-breaking theory of the universe’s origins. Frankly, I have a bit of trouble thinking of Hawking in a sentimental way, since he’s been such a voluble opponent of Christianity in his writings. (Personally, I find this ironic, since his theory that the universe had a beginning initially made the scientific establishment nervous because it pointed too uncomfortably to a Creator who caused it. But that’s neither here nor there.) In any case, this is in fact a very sentimental film, and it may be that it touches on some human truths in the process. I’ve read that the young relationship with his wife is very sweetly portrayed, although it hints at their unfortunate mutual permission to find romance elsewhere as his illness became wholly debilitating. Eddie Redmayne is a very good up-and-coming young actor, who’s already generating Oscar buzz with this performance. Minimal objectionable content, rated PG-13 mainly for the disturbing thematic element of Hawking’s illness.
Citizen Four: A documentary on Edward Snowden, the man who leaked the truth about the NSA and had to flee the country for it. It contains actual footage of interviews with Snowden. Looks gripping and intense. (Rated R for language.)
Unbroken: Probably the most hotly anticipated film of the year, this is Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of the best-selling true story about Olympic athlete and war hero Louis Zamperini. I was also fortunate enough to see Louis speak before he passed away, although I regrettably didn’t get a chance to meet him. Most of you probably know the story already, but it’s an unbelievably harrowing roller-coaster ride. He survived getting shot down over the Pacific, only to spend months in a brutal Japanese prison camp. While I’m cautiously optimistic about the film, I have some concerns. First of all, the acting and the script seem kind of cheesy just from the trailer (although I’ve heard that the violence is quite gritty and brutal). Secondly, I haven’t seen any talk of whether it even addresses the best part of Zamperini’s story—his conversion to Christianity at a Billy Graham crusade, which brought him out of a downward spiral of depression and addiction caused by his wartime trauma. In our politically correct milieu, will this inspirational story end just at the point where it becomes truly inspirational? You be the judge.
What films are you looking forward to this year? What films have impressed you so far? Comment below and let me know!
[This post has turned out to be quite popular! WordPress tells me it has about 100 hits from Facebook alone. Anyone know whose account? Thanks!]
Let’s have a little fun. Below are four actors I’ve chosen for their resemblance to some of my favorite southern gospel singers. All thumbnails are clickable for a closer look. First, here’s one many fans have been noticing for ages: beloved singer/actor Jim Nabors and Ernie Haase, particularly in his Cathedrals days when his hair was still dark. While the screen cap of Ernie is a bit blurred, the resemblance is ummistakable:
But here’s one I’ll bet you never thought of before: TV host Jimmy Fallon and Scott Fowler. Something about Fallon’s smile just put me in mind of Scott. They have similarly likable faces.
Here are two more where the resemblance may be looser, but still noticeable. First, film star Matthew McConaughey and Doug Anderson. This never occurred to me until quite recently because Matthew’s look is typically much scruffier (longish curls, 5 o’clock shadow, shirt optional), while Doug is the epitome of clean-cut. However, McConaughey cleaned up for his role as a devoted father in the new sci-fi epic Interstellar, and I think it’s a giant improvement. Because now he looks more like Doug.
*brief pause to admire the Lord’s handiwork*
Okay, and finally, this is some character actor who guest-starred on a show I watch, and I immediately thought “Hey, that guy looks like Michael Booth!”
Your turn now! Can you add any more southern gospel doppelgangers, celebrity or otherwise, to the list?
It’s every Baptist’s favorite hymn today! Raise your hand if you’ve hummed along to this one while someone walked up the aisle. Just put it up quietly, nobody’s looking around… yes, I see that hand! Actually, today I must give fair warning: I’m breaking my pattern thus far and selecting an arrangement that pairs the words to a new melody. This is extremely unusual for this series. I can’t think of any other installment currently in the works where I’m planning to do this. However, in this particular case, the new tune really is that good.
The lyrics to this hymn were penned by Charlotte Eliot (1789-1871). In 1897, her nephew thankfully recorded the exact date and inspiration for them. They had their origins in Eliot’s physical sufferings, which as her nephew poignantly put it, “often caused her the peculiar pain of a seeming uselessness in her life while the circle around her was full of unresting service-ableness for God.” One night, she was struggling with an especially acute attack of depression. Her nephew recounts the following morning:
The troubles of the night came back upon her with such force that she felt they must be met and conquered in the grace of God. She gathered up in her soul the great certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord, his power, his promise. And taking pen and paper from the table she deliberately set down in writing, for her own comfort, ‘the formula of her faith.’
To the boys of Pointe du Hoc, a toast. To the men who took the cliffs.
To the men who slogged through mud and blood, who gathered up and buried the remains of worthy comrades, a toast.
To the flyer boys who piloted their ships towards danger, laughing it to scorn, a toast.
To the ones who went to tend the wounded under fire, a toast.
To the one who waited patiently for the day when he would come home running to the arms of his best girl, a toast. To the one whose sweetheart couldn’t wait, a toast.
To the 17-year-old who hit the beach with ashen face and trembling knees, yet crawled towards the sound of death, a toast.
To all fathers, sons and brothers who have fought and bled on a distant shore, in a war they may or may not have understood.
To the fathers, sons and brothers who still fight and bleed on a distant shore, in wars they may still not understand.
To all those who have left us as boys and come back as men, I raise my glass and softly call: “Goodnight. And joy be with you all.”
I would be remiss if I did not write something acknowledging the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today. While I did not live through this chapter in civilization’s history, I’m confident that most of you have, and I’m confident that most of you can remember where you were when you heard the news—the news that the wall was down. Today, we remember this moment in time as the end of an era, the end of an empire. We remember it as a triumph of the human spirit. At the same time, we remember brave souls who risked everything for freedom while the wall still stood, and sometimes lost it. We remember people like the soldier in the image on the right, who risked and lost everything to help them. And we remember great leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who unlike the leaders of today, understood what it meant to take a stand for something.
I have seen a portion of the Berlin Wall. I saw it on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. It was standing in a corner near the exit, labeled with a barely readable plaque. One can only guess how the dollhouse display received greater prominence in the museum than this priceless piece of history. My family and I were fortunate to realize it was there instead of walking past it on our way out, as others surely had. We took a closer look. We read the plaque. We contemplated it together. Before we left, my father made a leap and reached out for the top of the wall over the glass. The rest of us weren’t tall enough to make the attempt. He caught up with us smiling.
“I touched it!”
Signature Sound bass Paul Harkey recently brought his baby boy on-stage for a special performance of “Thank God For Kids.” In a word, squee! Check out the official Provident upload:
[Note: For my expanded thoughts on grace and transcendent beauty in The Soloist, click here. There I also discuss a short film project I created pairing it with the Marc Cohn rarity “One Thing of Beauty,” the last link below.]
The older I get, the more tangibly aware I become of God’s presence through beauty. Among the world’s beautiful things, music is perhaps the most powerful and the most difficult to resist for even the most hardened un-believer. It releases a wellspring of longing in the soul that can’t be contained or denied.
One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the film The Soloist, based on the true story of a homeless musical savant named Nathaniel Ayers. An LA Times reporter named Steve Lopez discovered and befriended him, and the popular newspaper columns he wrote about their experiences together were eventually published in book form. Although Ayers never fully overcame the mental problems he struggled with, their friendship changed both men forever. The film takes some liberties with Lopez’s character, but the core story remains utterly compelling. In this scene, Steve and Nathaniel receive private access to an orchestral rehearsal at Disney Hall. As they sit and listen together, Nathaniel closes his eyes, enraptured, seeing the music in his mind as only he can. When Lopez tries to describe the experience later that night in a karaoke bar, he’s lost for words. He shouts over the din, “If you had seen him, if you could have felt him… I’m watching him, he’s watching the music, and while they’re playing, I say ‘My God, there is something higher out there! There is something higher!'”
He’s far from the only one to be so surprised by joy. Just ask Billy Joel to tell you about his encounter with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”