Friday, December 28, 2007

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2007

Once again, we come to the final Pop Culture Roundup of the year, which features books, movies, TV shows, albums and blogs that I enjoyed over the entire year of 2007. Remember, numbers are only for convenience purposes and do not indicate any sort of ranking. Unless I say otherwise. Which I might.

Five Books I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Secrets in the Dark - This was my first encounter with preacher/author Frederick Buechner, and I was not disappointed. This collection of sermons spanning a life of ministry are honest, thought-provoking, and deeply spiritual. Buechner has left a lasting impression on my own preaching through this volume. The only thing of which I was critical while reading was his intended audience: these sermons seem to be geared toward a fairly educated demographic. But if that was the context of his preaching, then there's really nothing to criticize.

2. The Last Week - I read this offering from Borg and Crossan over Lent, and it left me with a few things to ponder. In particular, I latched onto their discussions of the symbolism and satire of the entry into Jerusalem and what the concept of sacrifice meant in its original context. In discussing the latter, the authors note that sacrifice was not about suffering and substitution, but rather about an offering to maintain relationship.

3. Organic Community - If I had to have a number 1, this might be it. Joe Myers provides an excellent commentary on church governance out of his experience in business. That description might shy people away, but he actually comes from the opposite direction...he opposes all the "Jesus as CEO" stuff and instead advises churches to pay attention to stories and relationships rather than a master plan and a bottom line. It didn't throw me for a loop, but it affirmed my increased frustration with overprogrammed church models.

4. American Gangster - Intrigued by the Denzel Washington movie of same name, I'd seen this book in the store and decided to pick it up. The story of Frank Lucas is only one of many stories that Mark Jacobson tells about New York City. Others include the gangs in Chinatown, a man trying to break into the horror film industry, and a history of the Village Voice. Jacobson's style is so frank and so rugged that it was hard to put the book down.

5. Jesus Out to Sea - James Lee Burke shares this series of short stories set against the backdrop of post-Katrina New least that's what the back cover says. Only a few actually allude to that event in even a nominal way. A lot of them do take place in that part of the country, and maybe that's what the blurb means. An excellent collection that inspired me to seek out other collections of short stories to help balance out the theology stuff.

Five Movies I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Just Friends - In high school, a fat dork gets burned by his best friend when he wants to take their relationship to the next level, so he leaves home, gets thin, becomes hugely successful in the music industry, and then ends up back home to try again. Ana Faris is hilarious as the wacked-out, Britney-ish pop princess, and this movie helped make me a fan of Ryan Reynolds.

2. Stranger Than Fiction - Will Ferrell is excellent in a rare serious role as a man trapped in a novelist's story about his life. Emma Thompson is also fun as the eccentric author, and Maggie Gyllenhall is fun as the free-wheeling tax-evading girlfriend. This was just a great movie, both with humor and heart. It's one of those where I can't fully articulate everything that was wonderful about it, so I should just shut up and tell you to watch it.

3. Transformers - This movie took a piece of my childhood, animated it, updated it, set some loud music to it, and made me very very happy. I saw it twice in 24 hours on opening weekend. It hit all the right buttons that a movie like that is supposed to hit within a 28-year-old male who loved these toys when he was little. Looking back, I think guys in my demographic were all supposed to identify with Shia LaBeuof's character. What better life than for your car to be Bumblebee and have Megan Fox in your passenger seat while you help Optimus Prime save the world? On some psychological level, I think that helps clarify why I loved this movie.

4. The Simpsons Movie - The other movie I looked forward to this summer. A common criticism of it has been that it felt like a longer TV episode. First, after 18 years what do you expect them to do different? Second...I just didn't care. There were many truly funny moments - I sing "Spider Pig" around the house on a regular basis.

5. The Departed - A tale of two double agents, but moreso a tale of what happens when lies come back to bite you. Matt Damon is excellent as the Irish mafia's man inside the Boston P.D., and Leonardo DiCaprio is equally good as the P.D.'s deep undercover agent. This story doesn't have the happiest of endings, but instead provides a gritty testament to the ambiguity of the situation in which these characters find themselves.

Five TV Shows I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Scrubs - Scrubs was a suitable replacement for my dearly departed Arrested Development. It's one of the few shows still producing new episodes that I keep up with. We made it through the first four seasons on DVD before the seventh and final season started, but we've seen enough repeats on Comedy Central to fill in the gaps. Honestly, though, it's a good thing that it's in its final season...the latest episodes haven't seemed as sharp.

2. The Sopranos - 2007 featured the last ever episodes of the series, so of course they make an appearance on this list. Not many of Tony's crew make it to the final episode, though. Christopher goes out in unceremonious fashion, Bobby much more dramatically. One scene in the finale shows Tony and Paulie sitting outside Satriale's like they have so many times before, but at some point you realize that they're the only two of the notable crew members left (unless you count Patsy...but he was never really a major character). And the final scene was great. I don't care what anyone else says. So there.

3. Entourage - The end of the third season was pretty predictable, but the fourth was much more interesting. Vince puts all his heart and soul into making Medellin only to have it flop at Cannes, which is a refreshing change from the past three seasons where everything has pretty much gone his way. The Ari/Lloyd dynamic is fun to watch, and at times this past year I wondered if I could stand watching this show if Jeremy Piven wasn't a part of it. They've tended to focus more on the goofy antics of Drama and Turtle, which got old.

4. House - This past year featured House's team quitting and/or being fired, so the new season has been all about him being forced to hire a new team. As he slowly weeds out the contenders, the people from his old team re-emerge in new positions at the hospital. The most intriguing reappearance is Foreman, who has been blackballed everywhere else because of his House-like attitude, and so he begins to discover and embrace that part of his psyche.

5. Miami Ink/L.A. Ink - I've been loving both of these tattoo shows. Kat setting up her own shop back in Hollywood was fun to watch. L.A. Ink really plays up the relationships between the artists more, while Miami Ink focuses more on the business stuff. I shouldn't have been surprised at the number of celebrities who show up in Kat's shop...I don't know how many of those are planned, though. I mean, yeah, it's L.A., but a different actor/musician/Steve-O appears pretty much every week. All in all, I give the edge to Miami Ink, but I really do like both. And of course the shows are fueled by the customers and the stories behind their tattoos, which I like the most.

Five Albums I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse - Amy channels the 50s and 60s Motown groups such as The Supremes while singing about refusing rehab, problems with ex-boyfriends, and how screwed up life can get. For this type of music to come out of a white girl covered in tattoos, that's just awesome.

2. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, Modest Mouse - MM has kind of a crazy approach to their music...when you expect them to go right, they go left. Some of their stuff sound like pirate anthems, others have a harder rock edge with some horns blended in. Their first single from this album, "Dashboard," has a touch of ska to it, which I really liked.

3. Transformers Soundtrack - Okay, maybe this seems a little obsessive at this point. But the soundtrack was part of the reason that I loved the movie. The Goo Goo Dolls song is weak (SHOCK~!), but the rest is loud grinding guitars that makes driving fun.

4. Wish You Were Here/Dark Side of the Moon/The Division Bell, Pink Floyd - I don't know what caused this, but this past year I really really got into Pink Floyd. They were so freaking creative and the music almost demands that you sit back to take it all in. Not many bands do that for me. (Note: The Wall, not so much)

5. Mezzanine, Massive Attack - On a whim, I went to look up who performs the theme to House, and wasn't totally surprised to discover that a band such as Massive Attack was the one behind it. So I picked up the entire album, which features a collection of laid-back chill music fit for a relaxing evening.

Five Blogs I Enjoyed Reading in 2007

1. Letters from Kamp Krusty - This is #1 on purpose. I first came across this blog through a link at iMonk, sharing that Brant and his family had decided to drop their church commitments in favor of a more laid-back community of friends sharing dinner, conversation, and some Bible study and worship. Since then, Kamp Krusty has been a favorite of mine. I love Brant's humor; he's made me laugh out loud more than once. But while he's doing that, he's usually also making a great point about church or faith. My pick for Best New Blog That I Started Reading of 2007.

2. The Parish - Greg continues to keep me interested in his thoughts and opinions on the state of the church and Christianity. The big memorable moment that I associate with this blog was how it contributed to the botching of my Lenten discipline to give up the internet after I read his post declaring himself post-Christian. I couldn't tear myself away from the discussion. Nowadays, his critique is of Christianity in general (usually the fundamentalist stripe), which is still helpful and interesting. Greg is also a dedicated critic of books and film, which I only recently began to appreciate about his blog to my own shame.

3. Maize N Brew - I added two Michigan sports blogs to the list this year, and I've been a devoted reader of both. However, if I truly want to limit myself to five blogs on this little list of mine, I'll give the slight edge out of the two to Maize N Brew. MNB provides a healthy mix of analysis, honesty, and irreverence, and provided a certain online kindred spirit during the ups and (deep, deep) downs of this past football season.

4. A Church for Starving Artists - Jan is a fellow mainliner (PCUSA) interested in emergent-things. I think that it was her blog title that reeled me in, as it suggests a certain uphill striving for creativity in the church, with which I reasonate. I've enjoyed her reflections of life transitions and the need for the church to adapt to changing times.

5. Nachfolge - A late addition to the blogroll. I found Scott's blog through a RevGal link to a post where he announces his acceptance of a new ministry position. Scott and I have a lot in common: relatively new pastors, young fathers (I'm still waiting, but close enough), college football fans (even if his team is Nebraska...hooray '97). I've enjoyed what I've read so far.