The Fault in Our Stars (2014): First Impressions

fault in our stars

"It was unbearable. Every second worse than the last."For the record, I hate cancer, and I'm in awe of those who bear that burden through unimaginable challenges. What's more — I love a good love story.With that settled... wow, this movie has some disappointing "faults" such that I couldn't rate it with "stars" (plural). One... okay, one and a half, for Shailene Woodley (who is excellent), and I'll leave it at that.[Caution: Spoilers ahead.] … [Read more...]

Agents of Future Present a Christmas Playlist


Ready for another Christmas playlist? This one's full of surprises.So far, we've heard from Joe Henry, Ashley Cleveland, Sara Zarr, Alissa Wilkinson, and Over the Rhine.The Portland improvisational punk-rockers and worship-songleaders Agents of Future are hard to sum up. Their Bandcamp description describes them as... Jesus-loving, jalopy-gospel way-backers get 2gether & do cre8ive things: Shrieking, speaking, flailing, failing, storytelling, fear-quelling. In the process, songs &a … [Read more...]

Moses and Errin’ — A Review of Exodus: Gods and Kings

DF-04525 - Moses (Christian Bale) charges into a fierce battle.

Dear Ridley Scott,My name is Aaron. I'm the brother of Moses.In the Holy Scriptures, when Moses balks at God's call for him to go and free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, claiming a lack of eloquence, God gets aggravated and assigns me to travel with him, to face Pharaoh, and to act as Moses' translator."Moses and Aaron." To anyone of any religion who has grown up valuing this story, my name has belonged beside my brother's like Jacob and Esau. Like chocolate and peanut butter. … [Read more...]

A High-Wire Act From the Director of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and Flight

the walk promo image

Robert Zemeckis took us back in time with Marty McFly and again with Forrest Gump.This time around, he might as well recycle a famous Back to the Future quote: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." … [Read more...]

Over the Rhine Presents a Christmas Playlist

otr christmas playlist portrait

Looking Closer's month-long celebration of Christmas music continues with a new Christmas music playlist as imagined by Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine.If you're just joining us, we're well along in our playlist series. So far, I've published imaginative programs of music from Joe Henry, Ashley Cleveland, Sara Zarr, and Alissa Wilkinson.Then, yesterday, I interviewed Linford Detweiler about Over the Rhine's new Christmas album.Here now, is what Over the Rhine … [Read more...]

Coyote Hunting at Christmas: Linford Detweiler Talks About “Blood Oranges in the Snow”

Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have big, barn-sized plans for Over the Rhine's future.

"Reality Christmas." That's the genre that Over the Rhine are making their own: A catalog of Christmas music that shuts down sentimentality, embraces honesty and authenticity, and insists on reaching through the darkness, the hardship, the heavy-heartedness, toward hope.In this, my fourth Looking Closer conversation with Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine, we talked about the stories behind the songs on the band's third "Reality Christmas" album, Blood Oranges in the Snow. … [Read more...]

Alissa Wilkinson Presents a Christmas Playlist


When inquiring of my favorite writers and artists about the Christmas music that means the most to them, I turned habitually to someone I tend to ask about "the best" in almost everything. … [Read more...]

Sara Zarr Presents a Christmas Playlist

sara zarr at casey

2014 marked the tenth anniversary of my friendship with YA novelist Sara Zarr.In the decade since we happened to sit down at the same table for a fiction workshop led by author Erin McGraw, Sara has written five of the best-reviewed new YA novels. (She became a National Book Award finalist for her first. Not too shabby.) She's also collaborated on, or contributed to, a variety of multi-author books (Jesus Girls, edited by poet and writer Hannah Faith Notess) and journals (including Image … [Read more...]

Looking Elsewhere: Blood Oranges, Image, Hurray for the Riff Raff, PJ Harvey, Lightsabers, P.D. James, and More.


The last couple of weeks have been full of terrible news and similarly terrible shows of hard-heartedness and prejudice, with the headlines dominated by violence, racism, injustice, riots, and worse. Thus, I've been especially drawn to rare flashes of goodness, humor, and grace.Some of those have come in the form of the Christmas party playlists that I've published here at the blog, thanks to Joe Henry, Ashley Cleveland, and several more that I'll post in the coming days.And here are a … [Read more...]

Ashley Cleveland Presents a Christmas Playlist

ashley and kenny at laity

Our Christmas Playlist Party continues!Did you miss our first guest? Producer and songwriter Joe Henry joined us earlier and offered a bunch of tracks for us to enjoy with him.Now, here's one of the most soulful musicians I've ever had the pleasure of seeing live: Grammy award-winning gospel singer Ashley Cleveland.I took this picture (left) of Ashley playing a show with her husband, the legendary bassist Kenny Greenberg, at Laity Lodge in front of an extraordinary triptych by artist … [Read more...]