No Sudden Move (Directed by Steve Soderbergh)
2021 has given me a new favorite Soderbergh film. It’s not simply that this fits straight in his wheelhouse, a celebration of his particular sensibilities and strengths, it’s that he’s also stretching himself at the same time as he explores the mystery-thiller dynamics. The story structure is where this really shines, starting with a bare bones premise and building as it goes, layer by layer. Even the stacked cast slide seamlessly into their roles, never feeling like they are playing versions of themselves, and each playing a character that proves an important piece of the puzzle.
Tyrannosaur (Directed by Paddy Considine)
Brutal, dark, bleak, honest. Kinda like getting a two by four upside the head, a blow that comes unexpected and unseen. You know, kind of like the unforgiving nature of life. And not a single blow, but one that strikes repeatedly until you are ready to forfeit the fight you probably didn’t sign pup for when you started this. If that sounds like an enjoyable experience then this might be right up your alley. Personally, I was entranced and mesmerized by it. I’m a glutton for punishment though.
A word of caution. Animal suffering is present in this film. For another film I watched this month featuring animals within a story about suffering and empathy, also see the powerful film Murmur (2019). Just as dark, but slightly more humane on the hopeful front.
Summer of Soul (… or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Directed by Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, 2021)
An astonishing story about an important festival that found itself swept into the dusty and forgotten corners of history in the shadow of the much more popular Woodstock, which occured at the same time just down the road. This cultural moment from the heart of Harlem attendedby over 300,000 African American souls, cloaked in a feverish dedication to its rhythms, is a testament to a hope filled moment, a celebration able to emerge in the present despite the tragic nature of its burial in the past, feeling as timely and welcome today as it was important then.
The Believer (Directed by Henry Bean, 2001)
Cutting through the noise of racial tensions past and present, this film offers a sharp and often profound condemnation of the racist act by examining its expression within the life of a seemingly divided person, one is both a Jew and a Neo-Nazi at the same time. What makes this so profound is how it uses this contradiction of terms and identity toupll out larger questions about the nature of our ignorance. This isn’t lobbying for empathy, rather it is naming the act for what it was while attempting to recover the humanity buried beneath. This becomes the foundation through which it can the ask important questions about how such a thing arises and takes root. At the same time it mines the depths of questions of faith, doubt, God, humanity, and how we approach the problem of evil in both social and personal terms. Brilliant, challenging, and a great find hiding in my personal watchlist (also featuring a career performance by Ryan Gosling).
The Killing of Two Lovers (Directed by Robert Machoian, 2021)
A unique and effective take on marriage conlict. Technically speaking, the dreamy aspect ratio, a looming score, understated cinematography, and a structural progression in this growing sense of dread and angst anchor some emotionally centered performances and a no frills script. Thematically it hits at a larger message about the impact of marital distress. I expect this will make a case for my top 10 at the end of the year, a solid if relatively quiet indie that is worth a look.
The Green Knight
A new film from one of the best Director’s working today is always something to celebrate, and this take on a lesser known story from Aurthurian legend features some strong discussions regarding the relationship between faith, legacy, and the way that virtue and vice play into that as a working tension. Especially poignant within this is the picture it paints of the problem of “empire” (which rise and fall with history), playing into the more personal and internal struggle with questions of belonging, meaning and significance. This is formulated as a question of legacy, with the looming question “is this all there is” holding poignant force as we see our main character wrestle with his own questions of what it means to be a knight and to have a story worth telling. The way it explores how it is that our individual lives connect to the question of life itself, with this reigning visual of the disconnect between head and heart carrying through this difficult tension with some force, is quite powerful.
Three blockbusters: A Quiet Place Part 2, which picks up where the first one left off expanding our understanding of their struggle and widening our view of the world they now live in. Cruella, a fun live action take on a familiar story that features a dynamic lead performance, colorful costumes, and a super fun and unique vibe. And Black Widow. I’m still working through my final thoughts, but this genuine Marvel blockbuster comes as advertised, and even more so struck a chord with me personally on a thematic level. Probably counted among my favorite Marvel films as of today.
Also, a couple of International recommends: Happy Old Year (Thailand, 2019) This will infuse a whole new emotional awareness into the art of decluttering; Karnan (India, 2021) A stunning and powerful metaphorical and symbolic romp through a particular time, context and place that arrives with political and emotional urgency and real emotional concern; Boy and the World (Brazil, 2013) A 2D hand drawn animated film that mines the depths of uncertainty and fear from the perspective of a young boy. This deals with some tough stuff (loss of innocence), but it is also bursting with wonder and hope.
C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath
It might be difficult to make a strong argument for yet another biography of Lewis, but scholar and historian Alister McGrath manages to stake his claim on a piece of this important history not only be reshaping and resestablishing a commonly accepted fact about the chronology of Lewis’ life, he brings a unique focus to the relationship between his philosophical and theological development and his writing and imagining of the world and characters of Narnia. A definite must for anyone interested in Lewis, and I wouldn’t hesitate to even recomend this as a preurrser before diving into some of the more official and exhaustive biographies that precede it.
History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology by N.T. Wright
Wright’s work tends to vascilate between the theological, the pastoral, the historical, the personal and the academic. His magnum opus, which recieved the second of a three part series in the most recent The New Testament in its World, is the summation of his academic developments in the area of history. While this pershaps doesn’t have the same reach, I would make a strong case that this might be his best and most important work. Here he gives the foundation for what forms his interest in the area of philosophy, theology, and history. It’s one of his most concise and focused works, and reads, based on a series of lectures he gave a few years back, as a reasoned and building argument for natural theology. Brilliant, exhaustive, and for me enrinching.
He Saw it Was Good: How Your Creative Life Can Change a Broken World by Sho Baraka
A must for anyone intersted in the intersection of Christianity and hip hop, and equallly so the place both of these hold in a discussion of Black history. Baraka’s thesis, which emphasizes the goodness of creation and the human vocation to create, reaches broader than this to humanity in general, but the way he is able to contextualize this into his own awareness of the above issues is both smartly articuated and deeply inspiring and important.
Proverbs: Pathways to Wisdom by Dominick Hernandez
Brings a whole new awareness to the book of Proverbs, which is notorious for being studied as a book on unrelated and random wisdom sayings. This book helps to bring awareness to the book’s intentional and cohesive literary form, and heps us to read it as an unfolding narrative with the dualistic nature of these two paths and wissdom as a personified agency that connects with the voice of Yahweh firmly in view.
Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile
I got turned on to this book after watching Dave Ghrol’s documentary series on arists and their mothers. I was so captured by her story there I immediatey wanted to hear more. And this did not disappoint. It’s honest, revealing, intimate and raw . A testament to the real challenges of navigating the world of the artist as a real person with real strengths and weakneses. Here she upholds, within the ups and downs of her own story, the importance of family, friends, integrity, art, faith, marriage, and perseverance. Beautiful book, beautiful person.
Honorable Mention: On Fairy Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth by Bradley Birzer. I’ve been working my way through works by and about Tolkien in preparation for the up coming series, and these are two must reads.
Needtobreathe- Into The Mystery
Patiently waited for the full release of this album since they started dropping singles. This represents a quick turn around from their last album, and it definitely was worth the wait. Honest, a bit more rootsy in terms of the country-pop albums, and undeniablly chalk full of their signature sounds and melodies..
Japanese Breakfast- Jubilee
A fusion of modern and classic sensibilities, this energetic, indie laden project looks to establish this group as more than a niche presence. This belongs on the big stage, commanding with is presence and beckoning towards something both joyous and reflectve, communal and personal.
William Fitzsimmons- Ready the Astronaut
There is a recognizable urgency and upbeat vibe to this album that isn’t present in his other work. It’s still chalk full of intricate compositions and the quiet strength of his voice, but there is something here that commands your attention as opposed to simply bringing you under its spell. Some fo his best work yet.
Chris Tomlin and Friends- Summer EP
I was a bigger fan of the previous one in this “friends” series. But this still is a much welome addition, and demands consecutive listens.
Brandi Carlisle- By the Way, I Forgive You
Since I was reading her book, I put her grammy winning album back on my rotating playlist. Brilliant album, brilliant artist, honest lyrics and intelligent song writing/melodies.
The Biblical World: Five Views on the Exodus (Episodes 9,10,12 and 13)
I mentioned this new series last month, but this particular collection of episodes was so interesting and informative that I had to mention it again. For anyone interested in archeology and the Bblical text.
Undeceptions with John Dickson- Christin Revolution with Tom Holland (Episode 75)
I’m almsot halfway through Holland’s book Dominion, which this episode covers, and it is brilliant. This is a great way to get familiar with what the book is all about, Holland an agnostic and historian compelled to correct some of the history out there in terms of Judaism and Christianity and its influence on the world at large.
The Reluctant Theologian- Open Theism (Episode 75), Analytic Theology (76), and a Debate with Classical Theism (Episode 77)
For anyone interested in Open Theism (and the closely related field of Analytic Theology), this collection of episodes is the most concise and exhaustive treatment of these Traditions I have heard yet. Hugely informative (and I would argue, convincing)
The Symbolic World- Frederica Matthewes Green and How We Exist Together (Episode 167)
The Symboilc World has really been on fire lately, heating up its deep dive into what it calls an era of “reenchantment”. This, along with recent episodes on how to understand the pandemmic symbolically and in line with the overarching narrative of history (including an excellent one on apocalyptic narrative and the mark of Cain) and humanity, is a great look into how the human and divine narratives interact in a historical and material world that lives and breathe a spiritual reality.
John Vervaeke: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis
This youtube series is a deep dive into the area of philosophy with an emphasis on the problem of meaning. Vervaeke is sympathetic to religion, although he is not religious himself, and argues for a recapturing and reigniting of the platonic view, something I don’t see eye to eye with him on. But the information and concerns he raises here are interesting, compelling, and worthwhile thinking about.