Month in Review: Memorable Reads, Watches and Listens For June 2021

Film/Series

Riders of Justice (Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, 2021)

Daring twists and turns and plenty of misdirection leads you through the full gammot of emotions. Sharp left turns into timely humor (this is a deeply and genuinly funny film) give way to philosohpical and existential wonderings before steering us straight into an action packed thrill ride. That it is also such a deeply felt character drama with a truly excellent ensemble piece is due to the compassionate and excellently crafted direction and another knock out role for the mighty Mads.

The Legend of Hei (Directed by MTJJ, 2021

A 2D Chinese animated film that is the perflect blend of dramatic precision and detailed art and bombastic, action packed story. It is steeped in Chinese culture, and thus draws us into that world of storytelling with is emphasis on the human-creation divide and the role of the spirit in healing that rift. It’s a beautiful story, if a bit familiar from animated films in this genre, but there’s a freshness to it all that quickly endeared me to its intentions and its craft. Plus it has a wandering cat spirit, which is a definite plus.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (Directors Ellie-Maija Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn, 2021)

This small but powerful Canadian indie gem Directed, performed and produced by an Indigenous Canadian woman was recommended to me with reference to another Director that I adore (Chloe Zhao). The comparison is apt, estblishing itself within the first 10 minutes- the desire to capture the natural movement of its characters, the slower pace, the emphasis on faces. But Tailfeathers and Hepburn set themselves apart by steering away from Zhao’s grand emphasis on cinematography and setting and instead giving us detailed structural design and framing devices. It’s all meant to play with persepctive, telling the story of two women over the course of an evening as they deal with the subject of abuse, and more specifically the confronting the cycles of abuse. Powerful, emotional and deeply meaningful.

Nobody (Directed by Ilya Naishuller, 2021)

Starts off as a cathartic fantasy for anyone who has ever felt like a nobody, insignificant in a large world full of seeming sombodies. Veers sharply into a metaphor for our dualing natures, progresses into one of the coolest action films I’ve seen in a long while, and ultimately strives to pull from this something of a redemptive narrative, albeit of the most unconventional kind. It all suggests that sometimes being a nobody is answer enough when it comes to existing in this crazy world. Unless your name is Christopher Lloyd of course.

About Endlessness (Directed by Roy Anderson, 2021)

Never before have I encountered a film that is so clearly having a blast entertaining it’s own sense of utter meaninglessness ane existential angst. To be even more frank- this film absolutely gets me on many levels. It is basically a series of sequences, some with reoccuring characters telling a somewhat succinct story about their own existential crisis. It mines questions of significance out of the most mundane moments, turning a subway ride into an opportunity to despair over an identity crisis, a dead car on the road an opportunity to sit in the wasted time and struggle that goes into simply getting from here to there, to the larger and more problematic existential crisis of faith and loss of faith. It’s all kind of humorous in its own way, for as long as we are able to laugh at oursleves along the way from time to time, and the film does find a way way to infuse moments of spontaneous joy. Ultimatley though it seems content to simply be here to help us raise a glass to the wonder of the existential crisis

Honorable Mentions: Come As You Are (I’m normally not a fan of sex comedies, but this one manages to elude the crassness and ultimatley ends up saying something really insightful about what it means to live in this world in a meaningful way); Light From Light (a wonderful exploration of grief, loss, and spiritual longing); Every Breath You Take (a flawed but really intersting and compelling psychological thriller starring Casey Affleck, who has yet to pick a bad project); Sunshine Cleaning (An unexpected comedy drama with a whole lot of heart that is all about the importance of family bonds); The Naked Island (a masterpiece and a true cinematc achievement, this simple, quiet, reflective piece on struggle, work and finding purpose in a post war environment grows into a universal statement on the relationship between work, land and God)

Books

Divine Action, Determinism, and the Laws of Nature by Jeffrey koperski

I confess, I understood about a quarter of this detailed book about the relationship between physics, philosophy and theism, but Koperski makes this so immensley readabe that this doesn’t really matter. He throws just enough of a bone every now and then to make sure someone like me is able to keep up. To be clear, this is now a book arguing for the existence of a god, although one is certainly free to find that within the data. Rather, what he is interested in is bridging the relationship between physics and philosophy by establishing a playing field in which such conversations can take place. By uncovering what the study of physics believes about itself, a practice that requires preestablished boundaries in order to function, he is able to tease out the spaces that necessarily surround these boundaries where philsophy necessarily intersects. And once we are able to perceive this, we can begin to ask questions about how it is that theism can imagine a god that participates within these laws, playing that back into some common ideas, misperceptions, arguments and theologies regarding determinism and freedom in a coheseive fashion.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed Kindle Edition by Lori Gottlieb 

I knew very little about this book going in, but I was intrigued by the synopsis. When I was doing my Masters I spent a brief stint in the counseling stream before shifting to what was famously described as a choose your own adventure degree (that incorporated some of that counseling focus). I wish I had this book while I was engaged in these studies as it offers a really unique and very accessible look behind the scenes of the therapeutic and counseling practice and process. This is due to it being something of a memoir that tells the story of Lori Gottlieb’s personal journey from growing up to heading to medical school to becoming a therapist… from the lens of her own time in therapy looking back on her life (which is a part of the therapeutic and counseling process). The book is intentionally structured to locate specific themes within its story, affording some poetic undertones to its simple, linear arc. It has the feel of unfolding in real time while pushing and pulling us at any point through past, present and future contexts, all with a definite reflective quality that conotes its clear retrosective quality.

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War Louis Menand

This is a bit of a beast to get through, but this sweeping and fascinating exploration of art and thought in the Cold War makes it worth the effort. Whereas the question of American culture is often examined in terms of its influence on the rest of the world, this sees it from the perspective on how it was birthed, shaped and influenced by the international movements that surround it. This offers us a way to make sense of what American culture is as a working dialogue with the rest of the world, shedding light on how this shaped the Country in immeasurable ways, especially with the creation of “pop” culture. Despite the length, the book never let’s one part of the unfolding narrative to get old. It’s always moving, and each story comes with its own insights and observations and historical interest, which leaves you more with a canvas than a singular, pointed observation or idea.

The Conference of the Birds by Ransom Riggs

I determined at the beginning of the year to finish this series, because evertime I read one book I’m reminded of how much I enjoy it, but then I inevitably fail to move on to the next. And what I really enjoyed about the book previous to this one is how the series was really starting to break open the worldbuilding process, providing less of a stand alone narrative and more of an interconnected story. This ensured that this one was able to hit the ground running, throwing us straight into the action and furthering the stakes. Its one of my favorites this far, and of course I can’t wait to pick up the next one. So hopefully I won’t wait.

The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities From the Heart of the Continent by Darren Bernhardt

A must read for any born and bred Winnipeger, and even for those interested in the city as an outsider. This is the kind of book that I love to seek out when I am visiting other places, so I imagine it works well on that level too. Some of these stories I knew, a lot I didn’t, but the story’s are written in such an entertaining style that even the familiar carried fresh perspective and detail. As one would expect from any city, Winnipeg is complicated, complex, intriguing and interesting in its dramatic history. Those who live here love to rag on it of course, which is true for most places you live in, but this book is a good reminder that what makes a place interesting are the stories, and this is one place to encounter some you might not have heard before.

Honorable Mentions: Love Matters More: How Fighting to Be Right Keeps Us from Loving Like Jesus by Jared Byas (one doesn’t need to agree with Byas’ inclusion on everthing to be challenged and enriched by his perspective on the problem facing the Church and imagining a way towards healing. One of the most concise and accessible treatments on the subject I have read); Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again Book by Lysa TerKeurst (if you have ever struggled with forgivness this is a must read)

Music

Ellie Holcomb- Canyon

The perfect tonic to lift your spirits during the never ending pandemic, Holcomb’s Canyon is rich with her familiar tendency towards layered melody and instrumentation, but also recognizably hope filled in ways that are needed and welcome. If the title track canyon imagines a divide between the way things are and the way we long and hope things to be, a song like Paradox imagines how it is we carry this tension with us as we take steps forward out of the darkness and into the light. It imagines hope not as easy answers, but as a deeply rooted longing that endeavors to hold us and carry us and invite us into its mystery. And through Holcomb’s artistry this mystery truly does come alive and real.

Celeste-Not Your Muse

A relative newcomer, but arriving with the presence of a seasoned artist, Celeste’s recently released full length album Not Your Muse is the perfect showcase for her magical voice. The album moves, sometimes in drastic shifts between upbeat to downbeat, in a meandering fashion, but if one thing is made clear by the opening track, Ideal Woman, the journey we are invited on is her own, expectations be dammed. She will not be subsumed by the industry, and the world is a better place for it.

Jennifer Nettles- Always Like New

I’m a considerate fan of Nettles, and I have to say, this album really caught me by suprised. Say interpretive take on “Broadway” music fused with Nettles signature inventive Country-Blues-Rock style and I’m left scratching my head. Until I heard it. Then I figured out this was the album I never knew I wanted or needed from her. In line with the album’s title, this is unlike anything she has done before, which is what makes it so dang exciting.

Crowder- Milk and Honey,

He had been slowly dropping tracks for this new full length album for the last few months, so the full length effort arrives with some familiarity. What has been interesting in terms of looking at Crowder’s career up to this point is measuring his present reincarnation as Crowder with the illustrious legacy of his band years. While he remains best known for a handful of easily accessible worship songs, what once defined him was the creative edge of his instrumentation and the aristry of these complex arrangements. Accessibility was often something of an allusion that could catch some listeners off guard once they ventured past the radio cut of that Sunday morning staple. As Crowder he has been demonstrably more pared back. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to a bit of inconsistency, as though he is trying to craft a clearer cut and grown up identity while still being that crazy and unpredictable persona that many of us love underneath. This album has many of those markings, but what I like about it is that he appears to be finding a way to navigate this with a greater degree of confience than some of his most recent works. Moving from song to song feels natural even though they represent wildly different flavors and styles. There are a few immediate hooks, but what I most appreciated is that this album feels like is offer lost to ruminate on that will require multiple listens to fully appreciate.

Butterfly Ali- Preachers Kid,

Definitely a good candidate for album of the year, Butterfly Ali’s effectual project Preachers Kid is about as self defining an effrt as one can find. There’s little doubt this is an EP interested in digging underneath who he is as an artist- lyrically, personally, spiritually, communally, artistically, sonically, and it does so with such a vigor and an energy that it is impossible not to simply get swept away into that story and to experience what he is experiencing. It moves, it soars, it reflects and it inspires.

Honorable Mentions (Singles): Starflyer 59- Life In Red (if this song is any indication of what is to come, we are in for something special from this long running staple from the old days of the Christian music indie scene); The White Buffalo- Fantasy (catchy, creative, and worthy of repeated listens)

Podcasts/Youtube

The Biblical World- Passion Week (Episodes 6, 7 and 8)

This is a new podcast that made this space last month, and it continues to occupy my interest. What I wanted to highlight here is the three Passion Week episodes which walk through the archeology behind this particular portion of the text with interesting and eye opening information and history. It’s inspiring, immensely enjoyable and extremely interesting, and its from experts in the field so you always feel like you are in good hands as you traverse the lands and gain a sense of the world as it was.

Song Explorer- Arlo Parks- Black Dog

The full album easily could have made my list or top monthy listens, but for a deeper dive into one particular song, highlighting this episode will certainly do.

The Next Chapter- Ivan Coyote and David Alexander Robertson

Given the recent revelations of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada, I recently decided to invest in some indigenous authors and their books. A small thing in what feels like insurmountable grief, sadness and tragedy. One of those authors is Robertson, and this is a great opportunity to hear a little bit from him as an influential voice and writer.

The Reluctant Theologian Podcast- Episode 74, Posthumanism with Christine Diagle

Every so often you encounter something or someone, be it a sentence, an idea, a revelation or an experience, that ends up digging its claws into you in a way that you can feel reshaping some of your perspetive. Diagle’s discussion surrounding posthumanism and how that fits with larger discussions about shifts in thinking and worldview offered me a way of thinking about this world, ourselves, and what this all means that I had never really considered before. Post humanism is in a way taking stock of where we are but also imagining where we are headed, opening up questions that are worth posing and thinking about.

Unbelievable: Episode 768 Paul Davies and Jeremy England, The Origin of Life; Do we need a new theory for how life began? and Episode 766, Gunter Bechly and Joshua Swamidass, For and Against Intelligent Design

I could pinpoint the entirety of this current series centered around subjects of science, universal origins, and different discussions relating to discussions of faith. The two I highlight above are my favorites, but perhaps more relevant for my purposes is the window this opened up to different books and authors in the field. There is some exciiting developments and shifts happening in terms of the broader conversation, and hopefully a greater embrace of the ways in which philsophy intersects with science (and the voices in the field that are interested in both).

Honorable Mention: The Business: Edgar Wright on The sparks Brothers and embracing Originality (Episode 179)- In prep for the upcoming release of this documentary on the Sparks Brothers. Directed by Wright, it has been getting much acclaim, and this short episode is a great primer.

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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