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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The DVD Experience 2007

  • Andy Argyrakis and Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
The DVD Experience 2007

A truly mixed bag of DVD releases from the last six months. You'll find first-time live performance videos from the rockers in Kutless, pop superstar Rebecca St. James, and acclaimed alternative band Mute Math. There's also a well-put together concert and worship resource from New Life Church in Colorado, plus an insightful documentary about the artistry and ministry of Danielson. And then there's the musical about The Ten Commandments, starring Val Kilmer as Moses no less. Read on for the lowdown on these diverse video selections.

Danielson | Kutless | Mute Math
New Life Worship | Rebecca St. James | The Ten Commandments

DanielsonDanielson: A Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise Here) (HVE/Image Entertainment)


The Good:
Get to know the Danielson Famile in this provocative 105-minute documentary, recounting how Daniel Smith incorporated his siblings into a thesis project, only to sign a record deal as one of the music industry's most unique folk-rock bands (think Polyphonic Spree meets the Partridge Family). Smith is depicted as a true artist with an eccentric vision, utilizing atonal melodies, screechy vocals, strange costumes, and yes, outspoken Christian faith. The family's beliefs are uplifted more often than stigmatized, proving Smith to be an impressive witness and inspiring a fascinating discussion of why some Christian artists are more embraced by nonbelievers than others. It's also interesting to watch Smith's friend Sufjan Stevens (prominently featured) quietly emerge from a drummer in the band to one of today's most critically acclaimed artists. The DVD features a bevy of extras—additional mini-docs, interviews, videos, excerpts from shows, and director's commentary.

The Bad:
As is often the case with documentaries like this, the audio and video quality is rather sketchy at times. Uneven pacing and an aimless feel don't quite sustain the film for its full duration. And a word of caution—despite the title, the DVD includes some audience reactions that use profanity (including the f-bomb).

The Bottom Line:
Whether you like the music or not, this is a fascinating look at a strange and misunderstood talent, as well as an exploration of the relationship between faith and art, and how the world responds to the notion of Christian music.
– Russ Breimeier

Kutless
Live From Portland (BEC)


The Good:
Filmed during their extensive Hearts of the Innocent tour, this homecoming show filmed at a jam-packed Rolling Hills Community Church adds extra excitement to the band's intensity and production quality. Kutless covers all the obligatory bases here, unleashing their hard-driving nü-metal with "Treason" and "Your Touch," while reaching a poignant highlight with "Sea of Faces," which is introduced by lead singer Jon Micah Sumrall as a compelling cry for unity and love amongst believers. The band knows their sound and do it well, but …

The Bad:
It's hard to get past the band's relatively generic hard rock and pop rumblings (especially apparent in "Somewhere in the Sky" and "Beyond the Surface"). And even fans appreciative of the band's performance will be disappointed that this project's bonus features are so lacking. A choppily edited 13-minute documentary is intended as a virtual backstage pass of the tour, but it isn't particularly insightful. And the only footage beyond the show and documentary is a sole music video for "Shut Me Out."

The Bottom Line:
A rather skimpy and routine CD/DVD collection, Live from Portland will still probably satisfy the loyal fans of Kutless looking for a concert souvenir.
– Andy Argyrakis

Mute Math
Live: Flesh and Bones Electric Fun (Warner Brothers/Teleprompt)


The Good:
Those who have seen Mute Math in concert know exactly what to expect, and thus will be clamoring to pick this video up. It also makes the perfect introduction for the uninitiated. Though the band has distanced itself somewhat from the Christian marketplace, there's still plenty of spirituality and soul searching to be gleaned from songs like "Typical," "Chaos," "Plan B," "Stall Out," and "Control." The musicianship is stunning from start to finish, particularly the instrumental finale "Reset," and viewers will feel like they're watching it all first hand from a bird's-eye view of the stage. Terrific lighting and pure showmanship only add to the proceedings, along with a well-produced behind-the-scenes feature, a segment taken from drummer Darren King's personal camera, and an acoustic rendition of "Reset."

The Bad:
As riveting as this concert is, a single hour's worth of music will leave fans begging for more. True, the band has only an EP and a single full-length album to their credit, but it's a shame they didn't capture Mute Math's 90-minute set, or include more bonus features.

The Bottom Line:
Mute Math's video shines in every way, so much so that even those who have never heard of the band will be impressed with the performance and production—suffice to say, it's a must have for fans.
– Andy Argyrakis

New Life WorshipMy Savior Lives (Integrity Music)


The Good:
This first fully collaborative worship initiative from New Life Church in Colorado is led by worship pastor Ross Parsley, and features the combined efforts of Desperation Band (the youth worship team), the Sunday worship team, the praise choir, and a small string section. Accompanied by state-of-the-art visuals, the abundance of talent shines throughout, particularly with the tender ballad "Hiding Place," the jubilant rocker "Promises," the Tomlin-esque anthem "This Is Our God," and the gloriously anointed build of "Here in Your Presence." This 2-DVD set also includes a brief gag reel and multi-angle workshops explaining performance technique for guitars and piano on some songs. But the highlight is a 25-minute documentary that does start by briefly (and poignantly) addressing New Life's Ted Haggard controversy, followed by an explanation of the creative process at the church and how this project helped unify the congregation.

The Bad:
Some songs are a little too flashy in visual editing—more rock concert than worship service. More importantly, New Life needs to overcome looking and sounding like a Hillsong clone by developing a stronger musical identity, especially if they plan to continue releasing products for sale. Mix it up more in composition, arrangement, and style.

The Bottom Line:
This is unquestionably a worship video done right in every way, except for creativity—it all feels like it's been done before. The young worship team will only get better with time, especially once they develop a distinctive and diverse worship style.
– Russ Breimeier

Rebecca St. James
aLIVE in Florida (EMI/Forefront)


The Good:
Hard to believe that in more than ten years of recording and touring, Rebecca St. James has never released a concert video until this CD/DVD combo, capturing her 2006 show in Fort Meyers, Florida. The singer/songwriter shines on several of her most acclaimed hits, including the purity centered "Wait For Me," worshipful Hillsong cover "Take All of Me," and the rippling Euro-pop of "Reborn." Songs from her most recent album If I Had One Chance To Tell You Something also translate well to the stage, especially the beautiful ballad "Forgive Me" and the haunting "Beautiful Stranger" (inspired by her work with Compassion International). This project deserves recognition for its cutting edge visual approach, mixing a variety of camera angles, split screen techniques, and music video clips throughout the concert.

The Bad:
Considering that St. James has been doing this since 1994, it's very disappointing that this project focuses so heavily on her most recent material, especially the last album. None of her beloved songs from her first three albums—including "God," "Pray," and "Go and Sin No More"—are included here. Extras are also on the short side, limited to just two music videos ("Forgive Me," "God Help Me") and a Compassion pitch.

The Bottom Line:
Even with the omission of classic songs worthwhile bonus features, this is still an enjoyable production worthy of repeated viewings that shows what St. James is all about.
– Andy Argyrakis

Various ArtistsThe Ten Commandments: The Musical (BCBGMaxAzria Entertainment)


The Good:
The familiar story of Moses and the Israelite exodus from Egypt gets the musical treatment from, oddly enough, the production company of fashion icon Max Azria and communications mogul Charles Cohen. And if Val Kilmer seems like unusual casting in the lead role, don't forget he's previously sung on screen (1984's Top Secret) and voiced Moses (1998's The Prince of Egypt). He's good, but the rest of this attractive cast acquit themselves even more impressively, particularly the actors portraying Pharaoh, Queen Nefertari, Joshua, and Miriam. Recorded during the show's 11-week run in 2004 at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, this is quite the production when it comes to performance, staging, and costume design.

The Bad:
Good musicals still begin with good songs. Unfortunately, the clumsy rhythms, rambling words, and forgettable melodies almost suggest that composer Patrick Leonard (a longtime collaborator of Madonna's who has also produced for Michael W. Smith) and lyricist Maribeth Derry (All-4-One's "I Can Love You Like That" and Lonestar's "Not a Day Goes By") worked independently of each other. The spiritual elements are also awkwardly depicted—God speaks through the burning bush like a cold, emotionless robot. And why did they insert all the cheesy post-production effects (e.g. Pharaoh's "holy" glow)? Lastly, the DVD's only special feature is a behind-the-scenes featurette with Kilmer.

The Bottom Line:
This musical is not a complete wash, but some great performances and potential is wasted by a lackluster score and some truly misguided production choices.
– Russ Breimeier

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