Pig (Directed by Michael Sarnoski, 2021)
A briliant subversion of revenge film tropes forms the foundation for this studied character drama lead by Cage in what I would argue is a career performance. If you ever find yourself wondering how it is Cage became so iconic, this will function as definitive proof that it was not by accident. The guy has serious talent, and when given a film this rich with metaphor and emotion he has the ability to rise to the occasion.
Val (Directed by Leo Scott/Ting Poo, 2021)
Val Kilmer is not a name I would have picked out of a hat to get a potential documentary. Whch makes this documentary telling his life story such a pleasant suprise. Credit him with taking the time and making the space to document his life as he lived it, as it proves an amazing blessing being able to use the intimate nature of that material to weave it into a meaningful narrative. He’s quirky and sometimes strange, but always vulnerable and accessible, and it makes for a unique and touching film that captures what it looks like to find hope in the struggle.
Coda (Directed by Sian Heder, 2021)
There’s a world where one can make a case for this film being formulaic, melodramatic and safe. On one level it is. But to truly experience this film for what it is we need to allow ourselves to see these elements as an opportunity to stretch those creative boundaries. What this film does with the familiar is what makes it so powerful and unique. There is a specific context that sets this film apart as well with its emphasis on the deaf community, but that context is precisely what allows its story to resonate in a universal sense. One of the best of the year.
Say Your Prayers (Directed by Harry Michell, 2021)
Captures the ongoing debate in the West between modernism and religion, faith and science, stripping away the pretense and revealing this divide and this rift as a false dichotomy. This catapulted itself to one of my favorites of the year, digging underneath the superficial shouting matches and uncovering something far more nuanced. A powerful and risky finish underscores what is probably an even more significant journey that unfolds within the film’s story, following a confict between a religious person and an anti-religious speaker. Dismantles and confronts the extremism of both religion and the new atheists at the same time. Brilliant and necessary.
The Truffle Hunters (Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, 2021)
It has truffles. And lots of discussion about truffles. And food. And wine. More importantly it has quirky, snarky Italian men and their dogs hunting for truffles. There is a serious commentary woven in about class distinctions and life and death, which captures a certain existential angst, but what really defines this is the film’s quiet sense of joy in the moment. I can’t imagine you could watch this without a smile on your face.
A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson by Winn Collier
It remains a great tragedy how such a saintly academic, pastor and influential individual within Christendom managed to find himself the casaulty of toxic Christian culture, threatening the ability of Peterson to hold on to his life’s story in the waning years of his amidst a struggle with dementia. A created controversy formed for the most childish and superficial reasons. This is one aspect of larger story that thankfully Collier manages to capture with care and precision. The writing here is hit and miss, but as a definitive biography and for the information and portrait alone makes this a must read.
At Home In the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
This book definitely has its detractors, but it landed for me in a significant way. Criticisms revolve around the fact that she has what some could describe a privileged life (who can afford to travel the way she does), that she spends more time telling her story (including her struggle with mental health) rather than descrbing the people and places she is occupying, and that she employs a kind of travelogue or blog like structure in putting this book together. All of these critiques miss what kind of book this is. It’s not a travelogue. It is a self reflective work and exercise that intersects with her surroundings rather than being about her surroundings. For me that is part of its strength. It think too often we play these cards of false humility, assuming that to speak of ourelves is automatically selfish. That is not what this book is about. I loved the journey, the nuggest of wisdom Tsh pulls from her journey and the background that informs this journey of self growth and self awareness. Yes, the structure does interrupt the flow, but I think this is woven into a larger and guiding narrative that is equally clear.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder
An important book for anyone interested in understanding history. The book makes the argument that typical treatments of this point in history (WW2) tend to narrow in on select and narrow points within this history and miss the bigger picture. The bigger picture has important implications for how we understand the European story, and thus world history as well. Of special interest to me is the land that occupies the middle (Ukraine) of this East/West divide.
The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons By Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner
Firstly entertaining, following Weiner as he traverses the footsteps of the great philsophers in history, The Socrates Express represnts a unique approach to a travelogue. The lessons that emerge provide a broad and intimate picture of the history of philosophical thought as well, which makes this equally worhwhile. Demonstrates its worth and its limitations along with its intersection with theology and science
Dominion: How The Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland
There is a criticism one could offer of this book that notes the superficial references to what is a complex discussion of a diverse field of thought and material and data. This is because of Holland’s thesis, which is to show the general trajectory of this information and knowledge. He gives plenty of reference to the larger field of study, but he keeps this book narrowed in on the question of Christianities influence on world history. He wants to give attention to the idea that the foundation of the modern world owes itself to assumptions about the world that Christianity brought to light, and that historians can note with a fair deree of accuracy a narrative that emerges within history of a world pre-christinaity and post-Christianity, something it has to attend for and leave room for. He is an agnostic, so his concern is not for using this to prove the claims of Christianity as true, rather he wants to use it to make historicity more honest. On that end alone this book is important and evokative and intriguing.
CHVRCHES (Screen Violence)
I would argue this is the best work this alt indie rock group, filled with the familiar heavy emphasis on synth and chorus and melodies. It uses the albums title as a platform to explore inner struggle and turmoil, playing on media as a metaphor for their own authorship of art. It almost feels like this is a transformative works that reflects a turn in their own understanding of what it means to be an artist, and the result is a compelling mix of intellectual songs and cutting lyrics.
Full caveat and confession- I’m still not sure how I feel about this album. This might describe my overall silence this month surrounding this much anticipated release given how big of a fan I am. It’s dark, it’s pointed, it’s expermintal. Much of it slips and slides into some familiar notes and song structures while at the same time weaving something that feels decidedly different. The more I listen, the more it’s growing on me, but it’s not a record that seems to land immediately. And that’s not a bad thing. In any case, anything by Switchfoot is worth your attention, and time will tell how much mileage this one gets.
Sturgill Simpson (The Ballad of Dood and Juanta)
My introduction to this Country Music genius. Carves his own path through the genre touchpoints using a mix of ingenuity and reinvention. Full of heart and soul similar to Eric Church, albiet with his own stylistic flavors.
Madi Diaz (History of a Feeling)
Therapeutic, reflective, but it also plays with a definite urgency. Which highlights the compositional nature. Lovely and honest with blunt and sometimes crass lyrical prose.
John Mark McMillan (Peopled With Dreams)
Given the trickling out of new singles over the last few months, I decided to give some time this month to his release from a couple years back. It’s still what I consider his best album, employing smartly developed hooks, profound lyrics and intelligent song structure. Helps to feed my excitement for his new album.
Beyond The Big Screen (Episode 59, Comic Book Movies With Roifield Brown)
An insightful and fascinating discusion about comics, comic book stories and their adpation to cinematic universes on the big screen.
The BEMA Podcast (Episode 238, Jen Rosner- The Jewish Roots of Christianity)
Helped put her new book, Healing the Schism: Karl Barth, Franz Rosenzweig and the new Jewish-Christian Encounter, on my radar. Also enjoyed the discussion making sense of the history of Messianic Judaism, a fascinating stream of Judeo-Christian history to study and locate in history and theology.
Deep Talks: Exploring Theology and Meaning Making (Episodes 103/104, Jesus and John Vervaeke)
This is my third mention in three months of John Vervaeke Here the host of this podcast reapplies his work on meaning making and science/philosophy to the theological question. A really fascinating discussion.
The History of Literature (Episode 340, Forgoten Women of Literature 5- Constance Fenimore Woolson)
The Cine-Files (Episodes 240/241, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford)
One of my favorite all time films and a two part, indepth discussion by two of the great film commentators of our day.
On Script (Episode 187, Dru Johnson- Biblical Philosophy)
Philosophy is so misuderstood within theology, and yet it is crucial to theology. Dru Johnson is a smart guy with a new book and lots of great things to say about phisoophical theology.
The Audio Long Read (Episode 654, The Revolt Against Liberalism: What’s driving Poland and Hungary’s nativist turn?/Episode 656, Neoliberalism: The idea that swallowed the world)
This would actually make a one-two (or actually three part) punch with The Sacred’s episode below (featuring a Conservative Catholic convert detailing his journey), taking a critical look at liberalism. It’s challenging and provocative.
The Sacred (Episode 105, Tim Stanley on traditionalism, his journey to Catholicism and the role of a journalist)
On Being with Krista Tippett (Episode 879, Luis Alberto Urrea- Borders are Liminal Spaces)
Itroduced me to Luis Alberto. What a lovely individual. What a lovely interview. Can’t wait to pick up some of his books. His gracious view of society and the struggles we see in society are important, respectfully broached, and immersed in his faith conviction at the same time.