Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Movie Review: Return from Witch Mountain

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun story and good acting...
Cons: ...if you are willing to buy into the premise and the high camp factor.
The Bottom Line:
Campy but still fun
If you will buy into it
You will have a ball

"I'm from Witch Mountain."  "Sounds Like Some Hick Town."

When I finally watched the first movie in this series a few weeks back, I was only mildly entertained.  It seemed slow and I just didn't connect with it.  But I pressed on and watched Return from Witch Mountain.  Why?  Because I could get it for free from my local library.  I figured if nothing else, I'd have another item to review.  And the price was certainly right.  To my surprise, I found this to be an entertaining sequel that surpassed the original.

For those who haven't seen the original, (and I'm about to completely SPOIL it) it involves the journey of Tia and Tony, two orphans who discover their telepathic and telekinetic powers are because they are aliens.  Abandoned at birth, the first film ends with them finding their people on Witch Mountain.  (End SPOILERS for first movie.)

Tia (Kim Richards) and Tony (Ike Eisenmann) have returned from Witch Mountain to Los Angeles for a week of culture.  They'll get to spend their time touring museums and attending a concert or two.  But on their way to the hotel, their taxi runs out of gas.  When they both get a premonition that a man is about to fall to his death, Tony goes to rescue him.

Naturally, the man levitating in the air attracts the attention of those standing nearby.  Unfortunately for Tony, those nearby are mad scientist Victor (Christopher Lee) and his financier Letha (Bette Davis).  Victor is perfecting a devise that would put anyone wearing it under his complete control.  Naturally, the two know they can use Tony's powers to their benefit so they kidnap him.  Now Tia must team up with a gang of truant wanna be hooligans to try to find him.  Will her powers be enough to rescue her brother?

Now let's get something straight right from the start.  This isn't a great movie by any stretch of the imagination.  It's 70's Disney science fiction, which means it is heavy on camp.  But if you can put yourself in that mindset, you'll find it is highly entertaining.

Because Tia and Tony spend much of the film separated, the story moves quickly.  The action constantly cuts between what is happening to Tony and Tia and the hooligans' attempts to find him.  It also helps that there is very little prologue.  In fact, if you haven't seen the first, you will probably be lost.  This movie assumes you already know who these characters are and what they can do.

While the first movie was an attempt at action and comedy, this one seems to lean more heavily in the comedy direction.  Just about everything is played for laughs from a run in with another street gang early in the movie to the great gold robbery part way through.  When things do turn more serious for the climax, it does work.  And yes, there are some bits of comedy thrown into that more dramatic situation.

What made it work for me was the acting.  Ike Eisenmann spends most of the movie acting like a robot, but he's very good at it.  Kim Richards gets more material as Tia searching for him.  But Bette Davis and Christopher Lee are perfect as our money and power hungry villains.  They are menacing without being scary and play the camp aspect for laughs without being over the top.  I know these are not the performances that their fans will want to remember them for, but they absolutely work.

And I can't leave out the special effects.  This was made in the days before CGI.  While some of the effects are heavily dated and a bit laughable as a result, many of them actually hold up quite well and are still highly believable.

Having said all this, the movie does have some flaws.  The biggest to me is the fact that it presents a rose colored view of truancy and gangs.  Granted, this is a Disney film, so I'm not expecting realism, but I do feel slightly uneasy not mentioning the fact that the kids, at least at first, seem to want to become criminals.  Of course, they are reformed by the end (in a scene that becomes pretty preachy, if you ask me.)

My two roommates came home part way through my watching the movie and proceeded to mock it for a few minutes before leaving the room.  To be honest, I could understand their issues.   This is a story that only makes sense if you buy into the premise and the camp.  If you aren't willing to do either, don't even bother.

Which probably means this movie should be viewed by the target audience of kids or the young at heart.  They will find the enjoyment in Return from Witch Mountain.

Disneyland Review: Soarin' Over California

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: The thrill of gliding with none of the danger
Cons: Very long line
The Bottom Line:
A thrilling glide ride
Beautiful California
Pure Disney magic

You Are Cleared to Soar Over California

As big a Disney fan as I am, I will quickly admit that California Adventure, the second park at the Disneyland Resort, could use some improvement.  The one ride that was a huge hit from day one is Soarin' Over California.  It's so popular that they copied it exactly at EPCOT in Florida.

The ride is located in the Condor Flats region of the park, just to the right of the main entrance.  From the outside, it looks like a giant airplane hanger.  The inside is pure magic.

You are seated in three rows of hanging seats.  After buckling up and storing your bags beneath you (or near the support poles), the seats rise off the floor and bring you closer to the giant screen (we're talking IMAX size or bigger).  The movie proceeds to take you from the Golden Gate Bridge to a redwood forest, orange grove, ski slope, Yosemite, Napa Valley, Malibu, downtown LA, and Disneyland.

The magic of the ride is in the motion.  As you watch the screen, the seats tip and move to give you the feeling of hang gliding over these locations.  There is a breeze blowing on you at all times that gets stronger when you are moving faster.  Finally, they do include two mild scents, but these smell very artificial to me.

They warn you before the ride that this is not for those who are afraid of heights.  I am afraid, but not nearly as afraid as my mom.  This is her favorite ride at either park.  The last time we were there, we went on it 4 times and would have done more if time had let us.  The restraints really do make you feel safe.  You'd have to be trying to fall out.  There is a 40 inch height limit, and smaller kids have to use a second restraint.

The people in the first row have an unobstructed view as they are pulled highest when the ride starts.  Rows two and three are pulled forward and up.  They have a mostly unobstructed view, but you can see the feet of the row in front of you dangling at the top of the screen.  Frankly, it is slightly annoying but the screen is so big you can see plenty of it without the feet in the way.

To me, the biggest issue is the wait time.  This is the most popular ride in the park.  If you arrive at opening, the wait will be short.  By mid afternoon, it is an hour or more.  Fast Pass goes quickly.  Most of the line wanders around outside with nothing to look at.  Once you enter the hanger, there are exhibits on the history of aviation, but the line moves too quickly to read them all.

But Soarin' Over California is absolutely worth the long wait.  I always see nothing but smiles leaving the ride.

Music Review: Offerings - A Worship Album by Third Day

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: 11 tracks designed to lead you in worship.
Cons: Slower sound won't appeal to all fans.
The Bottom Line:
Third Day does worship
Mixes new with familiar
Live and studio

Third Day Offers Live and Studio Worship Songs

After several years of frequent requests for a live CD and a worship CD, Christian rock band Third Day decided to combine them into one CD.  The result was Offerings, and the unique combination made it stand out in the glut of other worship CD's released around that time.

The disc can pretty much be broken in half.  The first is the new studio tracks.  While not all of them are Third Day originals, they recorded all of them for the first time here.  "King of Glory" opens the disc and sets the tone.  It starts with quiet guitar, but it moves to mid-tempo rock mode when they reach the chorus.  "These Thousand Hills" uses hills in several ways as it reminds us of reasons to worship.  "You're Everywhere" is actually from a practice take of the song, which accounts for the weird instrumental bits at the beginning.  Once it starts, it plays as a brooding, slower reflection on God's omnipresence.  "All the Heavens" is another slow song, this time reflecting on the fact that the almighty God desires to dwell with man.

The final studio track is a cover of Bob Dylan's "Saved."  I've never heard the original, but this one is fast rock with a touch of Southern Gospel.  It's a fun sound, but it is the only track that doesn't quite work for me, especially with the more serious songs surrounding it.

Mixed into these five songs are six Third Day classics recorded live in various concerts.  The first is "Your Love, Oh Lord," a mid-tempo mediation on God's love taken from Psalm 26.  They reflect on his faithfulness in the more upbeat "My Hope is You," based on Psalm 25.  There's a version of their recent hit cover of Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei."

And yes, three of the tracks are from their fan favorite first release.  "Thief" is a bit of an odd choice in that it tells the story of the thief on the cross who repented.  Yet is there anything better to lead us to worship than God's mercy?  "Consuming Fire" is one of their signature songs and probably the hardest rocker on the disc.

My favorite song here is also my favorite Third Day song, "Love Song."  Written from God's point of view, it reminds us what God would do and has done to show us His love.  It's a solid rock ballad, and is quiet enough you can hear the live audience singing along.  Do keep listening for a hidden track that actually closes out the disc.

Third Day is a rock band, and I'm not normally a fan of their hard rock.  But this disc contains mainly slower songs while still incorporating the bands' normal guitar and drum heavy sound.  Think of it as rock light.  That makes it my favorite from them.

Fans looking for Third Day's signature hard rock will probably be disappointed.  But those looking for Offerings of worship will really love it.

Movie Review: Notorious

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Decent spy/mystery story
Cons: Weakened by a poorly executed romance
The Bottom Line:
Romance distracts plot
A Hitchcock still worth watching
But it's average

Some Moments are More Notorious Than Others

My latest trip into Hitchcock's film career was Notorious, a 1946 film that finds his characters fighting against what is left of the Nazis.  Since I have found some of his older films better, I was hoping for a good movie.  Instead I got this uneven film that doesn't quite know what it wants to be.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Americans are hunting down and prosecuting the remaining Nazis anywhere they can.  One such conviction brings Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) across their radar.  Her father has just been sent to prison for his involvement.  But he knew more Nazis, and they think that Alicia can help them get the entire cell.

T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) is the one who makes this pitch.  At first reluctant, Alicia soon leaves for the assignment in Brazil with Devlin as her handler.

The assignment involves reuniting with Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) and getting as close to him as possible.  Since Alexander had a crush on Alicia, that part is no problem.  But how far will Alicia go?  Is this novice in over her head?

This is one of those films that can't quite decide what it wants to be.  As a result, it tries to be both a romance and a suspense film and fails at both.

The emphasis in the first half is on the romance as Devlin and Alicia get to know each other while waiting for the assignment to start.  Frankly, the movie took too long getting to the assignment.  Even with so little else going on, The romance was forced at best and thrown on us too quickly.

Once Alexander is introduced, things do improve dramatically.  I began to get really interested in the film.  In fact, several scenes here had me on the edge of my seat.

But here again, the romance ruined things.  Devlin acted in a very unprofessional manner on more than one occasion.  And he and Alicia were absolutely stupid.  I kept yelling at my TV.  Heck, I know better than to pull some of what they did, and I'm not a trained agent like Devlin.  I could forgive some of Alicia's mistakes since she isn't a trained agent.  But Devlin has no such excuse.

Now all this ranting might make it sound like I hated the film.  That's not true.  It was mildly entertaining.  But it had the potential to be so much better.

I'm faulting the script for this and not the actors.  Cary Grant was perfect as our hero.  Claude Rains made a respectable villain, although Leopoldine Konstantin as his mother really stole the show on that front.  I did find Ingrid Bergman over the top in a few places, but it wasn't that bad.

If Notorious had been made as a romantic comedy or a straight suspense piece, I think it would have worked better.  Instead, it weakened itself by trying to fit two molds.

Disneyland Review: The Enchanted Tiki Room

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Nostalgic fun with singing birds and plants
Cons: Not everyone seems to enjoy it
The Bottom Line:
Singing birds, flowers
In a cheesy but fun show
Family can enjoy

"I Wonder What Happened to Rosita."

When I was a child, a trip to Disneyland meant a visit to every attraction.  As an adult, I have found that I still love those old stand bys and try to fit them all into each visit.  Yes, that means I drag my friends into The Enchanted Tiki Room.  It still leaves me singing and smiling.

This show is located right at the Main Street entrance to Adventureland.  There's a small outdoor waiting area with very limited seating.  The shows start about every 20 minutes, so your wait is entirely up to you.  I never have to wait more than one cycle for the show.

If you can, get there 10 minutes before the next show.  A few minutes before you can go in, the Tiki gods in the courtyard tell you about themselves.  While their mouths don't move, they do shoot fire or drop plants.  It's fun.  And you can take advantage of the much shorter line in the waiting area for a treat from sponsor Dole.  Dole Whip is a soft serve pineapple yogurt type treat that is wonderful.  (And, yes, you can take it into the theater.)

Once the doors open, you can find a seat inside.  Since the show takes place above and around you, there isn't a bad one.

Things start as hosts Jose, Pierre, Fritz, and Michael are awakened.  What follows is 15 minutes of singing and talking animatronics.  The first few numbers feature birds (and the incredibly catchy "The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room").  But then flowers serenade us and the totems beat the drums and chant.  It all ends when the gods get angry at all the celebrating and send us a thunder and rain storm.

The four hosts have some fun teasing each other between numbers, so those who listen closely get some laughs out of the show.  For instance, when Pierre introduces the lovely female birds on the bird mobile (who all happen to have French names) Jose asks about Rosita.

I will be perfectly honest, this is a show from the 1960's.  The animatronics are dated.  If they were to redo the show now, the birds would be so much more lifelike.  There is a cheesiness to the show that turns some people off.  And, no, it doesn't have the newest and best thrills.

So why do I love it?  It's partially the nostalgia factor.  But it's still a charming show that the entire family can enjoy together.  Kids might jump at the first clasp of thunder, but that is as scary as it gets.  I am not alone in my assessment.  The show is almost always near capacity when I swing by mid-afternoon, and most of the faces I see leaving are smiling.  It does help that you get to sit inside an air conditioned building.

So next time you need a break, stop in and visit my feathered friends in The Enchanted Tiki Room.  And tell them I said "Aloha."

Book Review: Moon Water Madness by Glynn Marsh Alam (Luanne Fogarty #7)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Evocative writing brings great characters and a good story to life.
Cons: None worth mentioning
The Bottom Line:
Reading this book is
Worth all the mosquito
Bites you'll get.  Don't scratch!

What Madness is There on Moon Island?

The first time I read about Luanne Fogarty, I feel in love with the series.  Luanne is an adjunct diver for the county sheriff in the fresh water swamps of northern Florida.  The books feature interesting characters, decent plots, and vivid writing.  Moon Water Madness is the seventh in the series, and it doesn't disappoint in the slightest.

Luanne is enjoying a summer afternoon at her home in the swamp when Sissy Moon, a little girl, shows up asking for help.  Her great-granddaddy has fallen into the lake on the family island and she's been sent to get Luanne to dive down and find him.  With a great sense of urgency, Luanne heads out, calling the police along the way.

Only when Luanne arrives at the destination does she learn that Oscar Moon did indeed fall into that lake, in 1959.  A quick dive doesn't turn up any traces of his body.  But the questions just keep coming.  Why search for the body after 50 years?  What is Oscar's wife hearing on the island?  And what other sinister forces are at work there?

The plot moves forward at a steady pace.  Because of Luanne's close relationship with the police, these are closer to police procedurals than the puzzle with clues and red herrings I normally read.  I was interested in the events the entire time.  There is a strong sub-plot that ties in nicely.  And the ultimate solution was logical.

The cast of characters is fairly well established at this point.  Luanne is a strong, independent heroine.  Vernon, her diving partner and love interest, is around as much as normal.  And that's the same with the other police characters.  They do feature more prominently toward the end.  This just allows us more time to spend with Pasquin, Luanne's 80-something neighbor.  He and Edwin, the snake loving swamp native, provide the best bits of local color and legend.  I can't imagine this series without them.  All the new characters are strong, but Sissy stands out most in my mind.  This is a complex girl/woman who is instantly sympathetic.  She absolutely stole my heart and helped make the events of the story matter that much more.

But the real star here is and has always been the writing.  Author Glynn Marsh Alam has always been able to capture the world of the swamps and paint them into pictures that not only let us see but hear, feel, and taste it as well.  Luanne's first person narration makes us aware of our surroundings at all times without once slowing down the story.

Like the others in the series, Moon Water Madness is a book to be savored.  If you rush through it, you'll miss so much of the rich detail.  So settle back and enjoy a trip to another place.

You'll hold your breath through all of the Luanne Fogarty Mysteries in order.

Book Review: A Lie for a Lie by Emilie Richards (Ministry is Murder Mysteries #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Characters, great mystery once it get going
Cons: Plot takes a little too long to get started
The Bottom Line:
Slow out of the gate
But fun once it gets going
Series fans will like

The Emerald Springs Idyll Turns Into a Circus (Or Something Like That)

Aggie Sloan-Wilcox isn't your normal minister's wife.  True, she attempts to help around the church and support husband Ed.  But she also seems to stumble on dead bodies.  Naturally, that creates quite the scandal in the small town of Emerald Springs, Ohio.  But Aggie can't seem to help herself, as evidenced by A Lie for a Lie, the fourth book in the series.

This summer, the town of Emerald Springs has been caught in a heat wave.  As day after day of record breaking temperatures hit the small town with no end in sight, Aggie gets drafted to help with a fund raiser.  A group is putting on a talent competition and selling tickets to each round.  One of the judges is local boy made good Grady Barber, an actor and singer who has had two big hits in his career.

Also in town this summer is SNITS (that's Sister Nora's Inspirational Tent Show), a circus and revival meeting all rolled into one.  Sister Nora insists she is on a mission from God to spread the word about global warming.  In fact, she's bought a farm outside of town on which to build a giant biosphere to survive the coming catastrophe.

Once Grady hits town, things get even hotter.  The man is a demanding jerk who doesn't think of anyone else's needs.  Which is why Aggie is hardly surprised when she finds Grady's body.  The big surprise is who the police arrest for the crime.  Are they right?  If not, can Aggie dig up the truth on her own?

I fell in love with the characters from the first book, and they didn't disappoint me here.  Aggie struggles between her free spirit upbringing and her need to be a proper minister's wife.  The two daughters she and Ed have also add color to the book.  In this case, I really liked watching the sub-plot involving 13-year-old daughter Deena acting out and how it affected the entire family.

The new characters are just as strong.  Sister Nora and her circus performers are equally memorable.  Grady is a jerk from the first time we hear about him.  Several other characters take their turns as suspects, and they all stand out as real people.

For the first time in the series, the plot could have been better.  Even if I hadn't read the back of the book first, it was obvious early who was going to be the murder victim.  But the book takes a little too long getting us there.  Once Grady dies, things pick up and the clues and suspects are strong.  I thought the climax was the best one in the series to date.

As always, the writing is strong and sure.  Aggie's first person narration is perfect for telling the story with a light touch of humor.

A Lie for a Lie might not be the strongest book in the series, but don't let that stop you.  A visit to Emerald Springs is always time well spent.

When you are ready for your next trip, check out the Ministry is Murder Mysteries in order.

Movie Review: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Acting, story, visuals, music.  Honestly, the entire package.
Cons: Choppy story telling in the first third
The Bottom Line:
A bit rough at first
Once it gets going, it's great
And will pull you in

Romance During the French and Indian War

I am not generally a fan of war films, finding them formulaic.  Naturally, that means I saw The Last of the Mohicans against my better judgment.  But the end result was moving enough for me to watch again.  It was just as good on the second viewing.

In 1757, The French and Indian War is in full swing.  Caught in the carnage on the New York frontier are Cora and Alice Munro (Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May).  While attempting to join their father at Fort William Henry, they are attacked by a bunch of Indians, then rescued by Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), a white man raised by Indians, and his adopted father and brother.

But getting to the fort isn't the end of their troubles.  The fort is currently under siege and about to fall to the French.  Even worse, Magua (Wes Studi) has sworn to get his vengeance on the Munro clan.  Will anyone survive the coming bloodshed?

My enjoyment of this film is despite the first third.  It includes sloppy cuts and hardly any introduction of the major or minor characters.  Even rewatching it, I spent the time trying to figure out who all these people are.  We are simply dumped into the action and left to figure things out.

Once I get my bearings, I really get swept up in the story.  All the leads characters are likable.  Hawkeye and his relatives are willing to sacrifice themselves for those they care about and a cause they know is just.  Cora is strong while Alice is very excited at the beginning but overwhelmed by all they experience.

It's because of these characters that I actually find the fight sequences compelling.  I have a stake in the outcome.  There are several battles and skirmishes as the movie progresses all of which are easy to follow.  They also earn the film its R rating because they are brutal at times.

The romance between Cora and Hawkeye is as much a part of the movie as the battles.  It starts a little abruptly, but I quickly buy into it.  The chemistry between Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe is amazing, which helps make it believable.

The movie is beautifully filmed and scored as well.  The music accompanying the action is haunting and fits the mood perfectly.   Most of the action takes place outside, and the shots are stunning.

Completing the package is the great acting.  I already praised the chemistry between the leads, but they capture every emotion of their characters perfectly.  Several of the cast must perform in multiple languages, and they don't miss a thing.  But for me, the biggest standout is Jodhi May.  Alice actually has the biggest emotional arc, and she hits every note perfectly.

All this leads to a bittersweet but wonderful conclusion.

This isn't the kind of movie I would normally watch, but I'm glad I did.  Once you get past a rough start, The Last of the Mohicans is good.

Walt Disney World Review: The Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management

Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: You can sit down in an air conditioned room.
Cons: The attempt to make a classic hip and cool utterly failed.
The Bottom Line:
'Twas new and improved
Which means it was pretty bad
Glad to hear it's gone

Disney Tries to Update a Classic and Lays an Egg Instead

In an effort to revitalize a classic, Disney decided to update The Enchanted Tiki Room.  When it reopened, it added the subtitle Under New Management.  They completely changed the show and included Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King.  The reviews from people like me who love the original were immediately bad.  But I just had to go and see for myself.  I should have stayed away.

The Polynesian style theater is located in the Adventureland area of the Magic Kingdom.  The show actually starts while you are waiting in line.  A waterfall opens and we get to hear two birds discussing how they've just sold the show to their clients.  It throws in all kinds of bird puns.  I thought things were off to a good start.

There is one theater, and new shows start about every 15 minutes.  I can't imagine having to wait through more then one show to get a seat as there were plenty of them.  The show really takes place above and around with animatronic birds, tiki gods, flowers, and a fountain.  There isn't a bad seat.

The show starts the same as always with the ever popular "Tiki Room" them song.  But just after the first verse, Iago comes in, announces that he is one of the new owners, and says there will be some changes.  Zazu arrives at this point.  He's the other new owner, and he tries to get Iago to change his tune.  Instead, Iago sings about how it is time for a change (to the tune of "Friend Like Me.")  But the Tiki gods aren't happy with Iago's attitude.  They punish him, and we get several more inane songs before we are finally let go.

Yes, that's right.  I called the new songs inane.  I will freely admit the original songs aren't hip or clever.  But no one expected them to be.  You don't go to an animatronic show at a Disney park to hear hip hop, rock, or rap.  But that's what we get here.  The real problem is the show still isn't hip enough to attract anyone new.  It's cheesier now.

The show also features quite a bit more thunder, lightening, and fire.  One kid in the small group I saw it with had to leave.

The show starts out mocking itself, and if they had kept that going the entire time, with Iago making the old songs more hip, it might have worked.

The ironic thing?  The theater was maybe a quarter full (and I'm being generous here) on the weekday when I saw it.  I've never seen the original, still playing at Disneyland, less than three quarters full.

If you want to get off your feet for 10 minutes and enjoy some air conditioning, this will do it for you.  But that's the only reason to visit The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management.

2013 Update:
A couple years ago, there was a fire in this attraction.  Iago was one of the things most damaged, so they had to redo this attraction and make it closer to the original.  I haven't seen it, but I am thrilled to hear it is back to the classic version.

Music Review: Growing Up in the Lord by Acappella

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good songs that encourage and challenge
Cons: Two of the songs aren't that great
The Bottom Line:
Eight out of ten tracks
Recommend you buy CD
Rare; worth tracking down

Acappella Songs to Grow By

The Christian group Acappella was my first introduction to the style of music.  I was captured by the idea of not needing instruments to back up singing.  And they do it so stylishly, too.  That's evident on Growing Up in the Lord, one of their early releases.

While most would assume any male quartet singing acappella music is a barbershop quartet, that's not quite the case here.  Yes, at times they sing together in tight harmony.  But most of the time one guy is singing while the rest are humming in the background.  It sounds beautiful.

This particular disc opens with the fun "Livin' Inside."  The verses have a Caribbean flavor while the verses are more American as they sing about the need for God to guide every aspect of life.

"Growin' up in the Lord" is a chance to hear all four guys singing together.  They harmonize very well on the chorus, while the verses are the normal solo affair.  This song talks about the need to learn and grow from our sins.

But if you are looking for conviction, there are a couple of those here as well.  The fun "Don't Be Talkin' 'Bout Friends" takes the problem of gossip head on.  And it calls out those who listen as well as those who spread it.  Equally convicting is "Do You Love the Lord?"  This song reminds us that our love for God needs to be for ourselves as is measured in how we live.  This song is the first time I know of that the "Acappella Kids" make an appearance.  They sing the chorus while the regular group sings the verses.

The kids also show up on "Water from the Well."  Again they split the song with the kids on the chorus and the regular group on the verses, and everyone sings a few lines together.  It's very beautiful.

"He Leadeth Me" is a faithful arrangement of the classic hymn I always think of when we sing the song in church.  "Now to Him" also runs through my mind quite frequently since it is the last few verses of Ephesians 3.  "I Can Walk" is a fast, fun song celebrating the miracles of Jesus.

But that leaves us with the two songs I don't particularly like.  "LaSong" has two lines of words, repeated once, surrounded by three minutes of "La's."  Boring!  "Piper Song" is about a girl who needed a liver transplant.  It's a beautiful song with a catchy melody, but the lyrics are week and second verse only changes two lines from the first.

Like most old Acappella releases, this one is hard to find, made even harder by the fact that it was reissued under a new name.  Acappella Platinum appears to have nine of these ten songs plus three new ones.

Not everyone seems to like Acappella music, but if you do, I suggest you track down Growing Up in the Lord.  Despite a couple weak songs, it is worth it.

Movie Review: Summer Catch

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Most of the acting
Cons: Very poor writing
The Bottom Line:
Getting movie out
Of my system was mostly
Painless, but not great

Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jessica Biel Barely Get a Base Hit in Summer Catch

Don't ask me why I sometimes get a fascination with a movie.  I remember when Summer Catch first came out, I wanted to see it.  And, while I never made it to the theater, that interest never left.  I finally recorded it when it was on TV, but let it sit on my DVR for months.  Maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me something because the movie isn't bad, but it's not worth rushing out to see, either.

Ryan Dunne (Freddie Prinze Jr.) has the chance of a lifetime.  This summer, he's part of the prestigious Nantucket baseball league, the league that the pro scouts use to find new talent.  Considering his tendency to crash and burn, he needs to cut all distractions out of his life.

But a beautiful distraction comes in the form of Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel).  The Parrishes and some of the wealthy "Summer People" Ryan and his father take care of the Parrish family yard work.  The two are definitely from different classes, but they connect right away.  Will they overcome their differences?  Can Ryan realize his dream of playing professional baseball?

I was actually surprised how big a part baseball played in the film.  I honestly thought it would be a romantic comedy with baseball playing a small part.  Yes, the romantic storyline was the main story, but Ryan's baseball hopes were a strong parallel story.  Fortunately, it was interesting enough that this non-sports guy actually cared about that part of the story as well.

The writing almost sinks the movie.  We've got every cliche from sports and romantic movies here for your enjoyment.  Frankly, some of those provide the best laughs, like the first time Ryan sees Tenley.  Still, I was hoping for one or two twists along the way that I didn't see coming from the get go.  Instead, everything proceeded as planned until we reached the predictable climax.

The characters are also very poorly drawn.  A couple of times, they changed their attitudes just to serve the plot.  These scenes made me want to stand up and cheer, but they also bothered me because they weren't backed up by anything that had come before.

The actors took a mediocre script and managed to save it.  I'll admit that Freddie Prinze Jr. is only okay as an actor, and that hurts the movie when he has to get serious.  But he plays the comedy well.  Jessica Biel is quite adept at playing both serious and funny.  I often find Matthew Lillard annoying, but his supporting character of Billy grew on my quickly.  I actually began to look forward to his appearances.  While no one stands out from the rest of the cast, they all make the most of their parts.

In the end, I hadn't missed much by skipping Summer Catch.  If you are a fan of someone in the cast, you will probably enjoy seeing them.  Otherwise, feel free to skip it.

Book Review: Murder at the Academy Awards by Joan Rivers and Jerrilyn Farmer

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Funny look at the world of Hollywood
Cons: Mystery on the light side
The Bottom Line:
Wild Hollywood
Rocked by murder and scandal
Can Max solve the case?

And the Oscar for Best Publicity Stunt Goes to...The Corpse?

Joan Rivers has done just about everything in her long career including stand up, a TV talk show, selling jewelry on QVC, Broadway, and interviewing celebrities on various Red Carpets.  Heck, she's about to add reality show contestant to the list with the new round of Celebrity Apprentice.  She draws on her show business experience for Murder at the Academy Awards.

But I came to the book because of the co-author.  Jerrilyn Farmer's Madeline Bean mysteries are some of my favorites.  And that author loyalty lead me to this fun debut.

Maxine "Max" Taylor is the go to interviewer on the Red Carpet.  The telecasts she and her daughter Drew co-host for Glam-TV are the most watched pre-show for the Oscars.  Even so, it is a real coup to get 19-year-old Oscar nominee Halsey Hamilton's only interview before the main event.  Halsey has just been released from months is the exclusive Wonders rehab facility.

Max is shocked when Halsey arrives on the red carpet dressed only in her bra and panties.  Then, Halsey mumbles a few barely intelligible sentences and dies at Max's feet.  Everyone assumes that it was an accidental overdose, but the police are circling in on Burke, Drew's ex-fiancee, as the supplier.  When Drew pleads with Max to clear Burke, Max agrees, hoping instead to finally find the evidence she needs to show Drew once and for all what the man is really like.  Was this more than an accidental overdose?  Where will the trail lead Max?

With a book written by a comedian and a comedy mystery writer, you can expect to laugh.  And I did.  Even when I wasn't laughing, I was smiling.  The book mocks Hollywood culture and excesses while telling us a story that wouldn't be believable any where else.

The antics did at times detract from the mystery, which was a tad on the light side.  But I was entertained from start to finish, and the climax left me satisfied.

If you love your celebs, you'll definitely love this book.  The name dropping starts on page one and keeps going until the end.  Such a diverse group as George Clooney, Zac Efron, the Jonas Brothers, Cameron Diaz, and Michael Caine make brief appearances as themselves.

But the real characters are the fictional ones.  True, it's easy to guess who most of them really are, but that doesn't make them any less real.  Max was completely lovable.  I wouldn't mind spending an evening with her.  Drew was equally sympathetic.  Max's driver/bodyguard Malulu and dog Killer were a hoot.  The suspect characters were well developed as well.

The writing was smooth and polished with the perfect hint of Joan's delivery.  I couldn't believe how fast the pages flew by.

Murder at the Academy Awards left me wanting more, which makes me glad it is the first in the Red Carpet Mystery Series.  Here's hoping the ratings are through the roof for Max and Drew.

Book Review: Too Big to Miss by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Odelia Grey #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot and lovable main character
Cons: A bit too much about sex for my tastes
The Bottom Line:
A smart, fun debut
With engaging, twisty plot
And great characters

Odelia Grey Makes a Debut Too Good to Miss

I have been avoiding Sue Ann Jaffarian's Odelia Grey mysteries for years.  The series stars a plus size paralegal, and I assumed the books would feature plenty of preaching about our slender loving society.  But I got worn down over the years and finally read Too Big to Miss.  Turns out, I didn't know what I was missing.

When Odelia gets the news, she can't believe it.  Sophie London, one of her best friends, committed suicide.  The police are certain of their conclusion since her death was broadcast over the internet.

But Odelia decides to start poking around and discovers a few things she didn't know about Sophie, like the porn site Sophie ran starring herself.  Odelia is plenty impressed since Sophie was also a plus size woman.  As more secrets about Sophie's life emerge, Odelia begins to piece things together.  Will she figure out who orchestrated Sophie's death?

I will admit, I was partially right about the book.  There were a few scenes that dealt with weight prejudice.  But they were never too preachy and did feel a natural part of the book.

And the plot never suffered.  True, it did seem to take about 50 pages to truly get rolling, but once it did, I didn't want to put the book down.  There were plenty of twists and surprises along the way, and I kept scratching my head trying to figure out how it would all come together.  The climax brought everything together for a logical wrap up.  And it was emotionally satisfying even if a minor detail or two weren't explained completely to us.

On top of that were the fun characters.  I really did like Odelia.  She was the perfect mix of strong yet vulnerable.  She already feels like a friend.  I also like the love interest and look forward to watching their relationship grow as the series progresses.  The rest of the supporting cast is good, although they do feel a little underdeveloped.  Not so the suspects, who are strong.  I appreciated the fact that the police detective in the book wasn't the typical clueless idiot I normally find.

Because Sophie's porn site plays such a big part in the story, there were several scenes that were a bit more detailed then I normally like.  Additionally, there's a sex scene I could have done without.  But I just couldn't put the book down.  I just skimmed on to the next scene I felt comfortable reading so I could learn what happened.

This may be a debut, but the writing is strong and assured.  Odelia's first person narration draws you further into the story.

I'm sorry my assumptions kept me from enjoying Too Big to Miss for so long.  I plan to spend more time with Odelia in the very near future.

Once you are hooked like me, you'll race through the rest of the Odelia Grey Mysteries in order.

VeggieTales Review: Abe and the Amazing Promise

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Presents two good benefits to patience with good humor
Cons: Doesn't come with cookies
The Bottom Line:
Learn benefits of
The virtue of patience with
The VeggieTales gang

Was This VeggieTale Worth Waiting For?

For the better part of two decades, the VeggieTales video series has helped Christian parents teach their kids Biblical morals using computer animated vegetables.  Each episode includes a couple stories, one usually a Bible story and another story, that illustrate the theme of the DVD.  Abe and the Amazing Promise is the latest entry, and the theme is patience.

Normal co-host Larry the Cucumber is on special assignment, so Bob the Tomato's co-host this time around is Jr. Asparagus.  Jr. is quite ready for the episode to be over, however, since his mother has promised him fresh baked cookies when the show is over.  Bob thinks this is a perfect example for the show and invited Jr. along on the first story.

The first segment is the title story.  But instead of just telling us the story, Bob has gone back in time to interview Abraham (Pa Grape) and his wife Sarah (Ma Grape, with her third voice now).  Assisting him are Jr. as the cameraman and the French Peas as the rest of the crew.  And I can't leave out the Nurse (as played by Miss Achmetha).  As Bob tries to conduct his interviews, the rest of the crew wants things wrapped up because of the heat of the desert or those promised cookies.  Will any of them learn that waiting is worth it when you know you can trust the person who has made the promise?

This segment had some great laughs.  The nurse constantly mistakes "patience" for "patients," for example.  And the notes written on the production slate are rather funny.  What bothered me the most here was the things they got wrong.  I can understand them leaving out the Ishmael part of the story since this is a kids' video although it would show how impatience can cause complications.  However, I find them stating that Abraham had to wait 15 years for God to give him Isaac instead of the real 25 inexcusable.

Up next is "Sneeze if You Need to," the newest silly song.  This song falls flat.  It finds Larry playing a doctor of sneezology who is trying to help his newest patient, Bob, sneeze.  The best bits were the interjections of sneeze trivia.  Even those weren't that funny.

The third and longest segment is "Blunders in Boo-Boo-Ville."  The hero of this story is Jacque (Larry) who is a member of an inventor's club.  The problem is, no one in this club has the patience to properly complete their invention.  When the mayor of the town puts out a call for an invention to bring back the Boo-Boo Bird for which the village is named, will anyone have the patience to get it right?

This segment really shows the dangers of impatience in a very funny way.  It also includes the majority of the songs on this disc.  I had the entire story figured out very early on, but I'm sure the target audience, the kids, won't.

Considering that series creators Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki do the majority of the voices, they do a great job.  You can easily tell each character apart.  Yes, these are cartoon voices, but it does fit the format.  They make a big deal on the outside of the disc about radio's Delilah doing the voice of Sarah.  First of all, who?  Secondly, this is now at least the third person to provide the voice of poor Ma Grape.  And each one sounds enough different to bother me.  I hope they find someone permanent to do her voice soon.

The animation may not be in the same league as the major animation studios, but that's because this is a low budget direct to home video release.  As such, the animation is certainly strong.  And they continue to make fun of the fact that their characters have no hands.  Those are some of my favorite gags.

In the end, Abe and the Amazing Promise will appeal more to kids than the adult fans of the franchise.  While having a strong lesson in patience, it's funny but not quite up to their normal standards.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action and fun
Cons: A few holes in the plot
The Bottom Line:
Superhero flick
Manages to surpass first
Action, powers, fights

Iron Man Grows Stronger in His Second Outing

I am one of the few people, it seems, who was only luke warm to the original Iron Man.  So I wasn't that hot to see Iron Man 2 , but several friends wanted to go see it.  I tagged along, and it turns out I'm glad I did.

It's been roughly six months since Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) revealed to the world that he is Iron Man.  From the outside, things are looking up for him.  He's created world peace since villains are afraid of Iron Man.  And he's opening a year long expo devoted to showing off the latest and greatest in technology to make our lives better.

But all isn't wonderful.  Tony is called before a Senate committee that pretty much demands he turns over his Iron Man suits.  The element Tony uses to power the suits (and his replacement heart) is slowly killing him.  And there's a man in Russia who is building his own suit to get his revenge on Tony.  Will Tony survive any of this?

My biggest problem with the first movie was the Tony Stark character.  He was a womanizing, arrogant, drunk.  And those were his good qualities.  Here, they've managed to tone it down.  Oh, it's still there, especially in the first few scenes.  But the story grounds Tony so much more, so I could relate to him.

There are actually several sub-plots going on here, and they keep things hopping.  There was never time to get bored because we were always on to the next story.  Yet everything was pieced together so well I was able to follow things perfectly.  There are some plot holes, but I never even thought about them until after the movie was over.  And I have to give them credit for bring everything together to a great climax.

Okay, so while I did enjoy the climax, I actually think my favorite action scene was earlier in the movie.  The one involving the race cars.  If you've seen the movie, you know what I am talking about.  And if you haven't?  I'm not going to spoil any more except to say it looks amazing.

The one thing the multiple plots did was cut down on the action again.  There weren't too many of them.  Only three really stand out in my mind.  But, like I said earlier, I was entertained the entire time.  And the effects that went into the scene we do have are absolutely amazing.

Also amazing was the cast.  I was actually able to like Robert Downey, Jr. this time around.  Gwyneth Paltrow as love interest Pepper Potts absolutely steals the show.  I was glad to see more of her this time around.  Scarlett Johansson is lots of fun as Natalie Rushman.  Frankly, about the only annoying performance was Sam Rockwell as the head of a rival company.  Yes, I think he was playing the part that way on purpose; it certainly appeared to be the way the character was written.  But it still annoyed me.

I was confused about one thing, and my roommate brought the same point up as well.  We both sure thought that Tony and Pepper had gotten together at the end of the first movie.  This one acted like that hadn't happened.  Since it's been two years since I saw the first one, I could be completely wrong here.

They are certainly setting things up for The Avengers movie they are planning for 2012.  Several characters who will appear in that movie (and their own first) showed up here.  I bet I missed several of them, too, since I am not a huge comic book guy.  My friends were geeking out at all the references, however.

No, this movie isn't perfect.  But Iron Man 2 is actually a nice step up from the first movie.  If you want a fun superhero flick, this will do very nicely.

Movie Review: The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some decent laughs and fine acting
Cons: Predictable plots; could have been funnier
The Bottom Line:
Not a bad movie
But not worth much more than time
So catch it cheaply

The Clueless Clouseau Strikes Again

You can count on one thing in Hollywood, if it makes money, there will be a sequel.  That's how we get The Pink Panther 2, a sequel to the Steve Martin lead remake from a couple years back.  As with most sequels, it is more of the same, only not quite as good.

The world's most priceless artifacts are being stolen, and an international dream team of detectives is being put together to track down the thief.  Inspector Clouseau (Steve Martin) has been asked to lead the group, much to the dismay of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese).  But Clouseau's top concern is the Pink Panther Diamond.  Sure enough, Clouseau has just left the country when the diamond is stolen.

All the thefts are the work of The Tornado, a thief who stopped a string of robberies ten years ago.  Why did he come out of retirement?  Who is he?  And will Clouseau get a clue and solve the case?

I had been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the earlier movie, so I was looking forward to this one.  Maybe my memory of the old one isn't quite accurate, but this one didn't seem nearly as funny.  Yes, there were some funny moments, but they didn't last nearly as long or make me laugh nearly as much.  In fact, the best moments were in the previews for the film.

The plot of the film wasn't anything spectacular either.  I had the main plot figured out as soon as the movie started.  I kept waiting for something to prove me wrong, but it never came.  The multiple sub-plots involving Clouseau and his assistant Ponton's (Jean Reno) love lives was equally predictable.  I wouldn't have minded as much if the movie had been funnier.

The acting was certainly fine.  Steve Martin kept it all together quite well as Clouseau, going just over the top enough to be funny without being so over the top we didn't believe him.  The dream team is made up of Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, and Yuki Matsuzaki, who not only provide a laugh or two on their own but make great straight men.  Also admirable in the role of straight man in Jean Reno.  But the women really make the movie.  Aishwarya Rai is stunning as the chief expert on The Tornado.  Emily Mortimer is appropriately cute as the love interest.  But some of the best scenes involve Lily Tomlin as Mrs. Berenger, a woman the department hired to set a more politically correct tone.

My biggest complaint with the first movie was the over abundance of sexual humor.  There is some of that here, mostly near the beginning, but it is toned way down overall.  Still, parents might want to take that into consideration.

The Pink Panther 2 has its moments, but it doesn't capture the same comic energy of the first one.  This is a movie you can wait to rent or see on TV.

Book Review: Merciless by Robin Parrish (Dominion Trilogy #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy
Cons: Writing in a few spots; characters illogical actions a couple of times
The Bottom Line:
A strong conclusion
That kept me engrossed in good
Despite few niggles

And the Merciless Shall Rain Fire from Heaven

The second book in the Dominion Trilogy left off with a major cliffhanger.  So it's no surprise that I moved on to Merciless, the final book, very quickly.  It grabbed me from page one and didn't let me go.

A quick word before I go any further.  If you haven't read the first two books in the series, go read them before you even think about starting this one.  There is a one page recap, but it isn't nearly enough to get you up to speed.  You will be lost.  I will do my best to discuss this book with a minimum of spoilers for the first two, but you have been warned about that as well.

The evil Secretum's end game has been fulfilled.  Oblivion has risen from the pit and begun to unleash his reign of terror on the Earth.  His power is so great he is drawing the Loci (super powered Ringwearers) to himself and turning them into mindless zombies as he leads them on a march from Turkey to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, former FBI agent Ethan leads Daniel and Lisa on an impossible mission to figure out some way to stop Oblivion from executing his end game.  Can he be stopped?  Can they stay alive long enough to figure out how?

This book picks up moments after the cliffhanger in the previous one and races from one event to the next.  I was always reluctant to put the book down.  This book not only brought the fantasy to an end but managed to answer all the questions that were still outstanding since the first book.

Since so many of the Loci are under Oblivion's control, we have a much smaller group of characters this time around.  That allows the characters we do see to truly come into their own.  As the cast grows toward the climax, I felt like I had the best handle of the trilogy on all the characters.

The writing is also smoothing out here.  There were occasional sentences that seemed awkward, but things were much more polished.

As a Christian fantasy series, I have been surprised at the lack of overt Christian elements.  Here again, it didn't scream CHRISTIAN to me, but it did start an interesting discussion about free will.  Since this is a novel, it isn't an exhaustive treatise of the complex topic, but what was here was good.  The one thing that bothered me the most was a misquoted Bible verse, but since it came out of the mouth of one of the villains, I was more than willing to let that slide.

There were a couple times the actions of the characters didn't make any sense and left me rolling my eyes or shouting at them.  I was caught up in the action again so soon they are worth noting in passing.

Merciless concludes a fabulous trilogy.  I am already looking forward to Robin Parrish's next book.

Walt Disney World Review: Mickey's PhilharMagic

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A fun trip through classic Disney songs
Cons: They don't have it in Disneyland
The Bottom Line:
Fun 3-D journey
Into many classic songs
Be sure you catch it

3-D Musical Magic Starring Your Disney Friends

Before I made my first pilgrimage to Walt Disney World, I had several friends tell me I had to experience Mickey's PhilharMagic.  So I made it one of my first stops on my first day in the Magic Kingdom.  I went back four more times over the course of the week and would have gone even more had I been there longer.

This show is the newest of the 3-D attractions in Disney World and the only one in the Magic Kingdom.  It is located in Fantasyland.  As you enter the waiting area, you are given your "opera glasses" (the 3-D glasses) but reminded not to put them on until you are in your seat.  Shows are about 15 minutes long, so depending on your timing you might have a short or a long wait.  None of the rides had super long lines when I was there, so I never had to wait longer than one cycle.

The premise of the show is that Mickey is going to conduct an orchestra made up of magical instruments.  He's not quite ready for the show to begin and leaves Donald alone for a second or two.  Donald decides to put on the Sorcerer's Hat and conduct the orchestra himself, but things quickly get out of hand.  When the hat is blown off Donald's head, he begins chasing it through famous Disney songs such as "Be Our Guest," "Part of Your World," "You Can Fly," "Just Can't Wait to be King," Whole New World," and the magic brooms from "Sorcerer's Apprentice."

This is the most recent 3-D attraction and completely done with computer animation.  Yes, even these classic scenes are reanimated, although fans will notice that most of the changes are small and the characters look the same as always.  The animation is stunning.  It looks amazingly real at the same time it looks like a cartoon.

The 3-D effects are wonderfully rendered as well.  Even when things aren't flying out at us (and there is plenty of that), the world looks amazingly deep.  They even use the walls at one point to make the picture even bigger.

As with all the 3-D shows in the park, they don't just show you a movie.  In this one, they lightly spray some water at you during the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" scene (it's really more of a fine mist than anything else) and blow wind on you a couple of times.

For me, this show was tons of fun.  I love all the songs in the show, so I had a smile on my face as I (quietly) sang along.  Donald's interacting with the classic characters was always funny.  And the ending provided one more great laugh.

If I could get one attraction from Walt Disney World moved to Disneyland, it would be Mickey's PhilharMagic.  This is a fun show that kids will absolutely love and any fan of Disney music must see.

Music Review: Speaking Louder Than Before by Jeremy Camp

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong lyrics and fun rock music...
Cons: ...that can all blend together at times
The Bottom Line:
More variety
Would make this good release
Become truly great

Jeremy Camp Sings Louder than Before, Which is Great News

When Jeremy Camp appeared on the scene, he immediately took the Christian music world by storm with his strong rock music and even stronger lyrics.  Speaking Louder Than Before is his fifth studio release (not counting special releases).  Time hasn't dampened his pen one bit.

Those looking for hard rocking Jeremy Camp will be slightly disappointed.  Yes, there are hard rockers like "I'm Alive" and "Giving You All Control."  But most of these songs are mid-tempo rock.  There's a strong beat and heavy electric guitar, however, that still gives it that rock edge.

A perfect example is "Slow Down Time."  This Brit inspired opener is a sold mid tempo.  Ironically (considering the subject), the tempo does increase for the chorus.  This one is pretty much just guitar and drums as Jeremy sings of his desire to slow down his life to spend more time with God.

The title track is a definitely upbeat rocker.  Here, Jeremy sings of the need to share the good news of Jesus with a world in need.  And the tempo absolutely works.  This song is a call to action, and it's hard to sit there passively while the song is playing.

"There Will Be a Day" slows things down again.  In fact, there are some strings in there with the finger picked guitar.  This ballad is a beautiful reminder that our ultimate hope is in our future in Heaven.

"I Know Who I Am" and "I'm Alive" make for a nice pair of songs.  The first is a mid tempo anthem that takes about the weakness of fighting sin without God's help.  As previously mentioned, "I'm Alive" is straight up electric guitar rock with a strong driving beat.  While the first song was about the inability to fight sin, this song talks about being the new man being alive in Christ.

"You Will be There" starts out slowly with a heavy strings presence, but when it reaches the chorus is speeds up and throws in more guitar.  It keeps switching back and forth, which makes for a neat contrast.  And the lyrics?  They are taken almost directly from Psalm 139 which talk about God's presence in every moment of our lives.  Since that is one of my favorite Psalms, it's easy to see why I love this song.

"So in Love" is a full out praise song.  Slightly slower than mid-tempo, it praises God for His love, grace and mercy and offers our love as the only response we can give.  There is a heavy keyboard influence here.

The first time I heard it, I fell in love with "My Fortress."  Another mid-tempo ballad, this one reminds us that if our hope is in God, we have nothing to fear.  That's a great thing to remember as we watch the news in these uncertain times.

But Jeremy speeds things up one more time before the end with "Giving You All Control."  We're back to guitar and driving drums as Jeremy surrenders his life to God.

And "Surrender" is also the title of the final track.  By far the slowest song on the disc, this piano led ballad is a quiet prayer to be used by God to advance His kingdom.

Really, my only complaint with this disc is the same one I have had before.  The changes between songs are subtle.  While a few tend to stand out, most will blend together unless you are giving the disc your undivided attention.  Of course, that could be me since I normally don't listen to music this rocky.

Jeremy Camp's legion of fans will certainly love Speaking Louder Than Before.  It's another solid rock offering with lyrics that will lead you in praise and self-examination.

CD Length: 48:46
1. Slow Down Time
2. Capture Me
3. Speaking Louder than Before
4. There Will be a Day
5. I Know Who I Am
6. I'm Alive
7. You Will be There
8. Healing Hand of God
9. So in Love
10. My Fortress
11. Giving You All Control
12. Surrender