Blind Spots From The Vault
Deceptively simple as the sum of its working parts, Waiting For the Prosecution (1957) is arguably one of the best courtroom dramas of all time. Director Billy Wilder infuses it with a mix of humor, emotion, realism, drama, and character development in order to tell the sory of an aging lawyer instructed to retire from participation in active trials due to health reasons. It has a lighter touch than his previous fare. but also bears the familiar marks of his constant devotion to genre invention, using the mystery of the court room and the trial to say something important about who this man is. It has been on my watchlist for a while, and I’m super happy I was able to finally get to it.
Equally happy to check off the famous Italian masterpiece, Rocco and His Brothers (1960). I couldn’t track this one down during my previous “travelling the world through film” challenge, so when it showed up on Kanopy I jumped at the chance. This is not a family drama, but it is a drama about family, taking an intricate and intospective look at what family is and what family means. Similarly, John Sturges’ classic film The Great Escape (1963) proved a worthile study in how it is that we move from the individual to the collective, asking how it is that we experience challenges together.
Top New Releases
As new theatrical releases continue to come fast and furious following a long pandemic and endless delays, there are a few standouts to consider among the crowded fare:
Stillwater proved to be a startling and suprisingly quiet drama about the nature of reconciliation featuring a possible career best from Damon. Damon also starred in the equally captivating, and also riveting, The Last Duel, a historical drama that uses its unique story structure, built around the three competing perspectives that frame the story, as a way into the historical context that surrounds it. It’s strikingly beautiful in its cinematography, bringing the period piece to life, and also features an outstanding turn by Jodie Comer in the role of Marguerite.
It would be difficult to miss the much anticipated and heralded release of Dune, Villeneuve’s follow up to the brilliant Blade Runner 2049 and the next attempt at bringing the complicated soruce material to life. The film’s immersive visual text allows Villeneuve the opportunity to streamline the story, shift some of the backstory to subtext, and raise up the journey of Paul as its main focus. It truly is one of the years best, and it is a masterclass in how to do sci-fi and adaptation well. Equally delayed and long anticipated is Daniel Craig’s final turn as Bond in No Tme to Die, which as a Bond film could be seen as simply another familiar entry in the long running franchise, but Director Cary joji Fukunaga finds a way to use this template to give Craig’s Bond the sendoff he deserves, infusing this with a suprising amount of heart and humanity as Bond gets effectively domesticated.
It’s also horror season, and while Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho is the best of the bunch, blending style, character, nostalgia, mystery/noir and atmosphere like no ones business, No Man of God deserves attention as a hard hitting but deeply formative look at the man once tasked with meeting with Bundy as the very first “FBI Profiler”. It’s not tryng to cloud any necessary morality by way of empathy, rather it uses empathy as a way into truths about the human experience that transcend these characters. In a less direct way, the parabolic nature of Lamb, a subtle Icelandic film built around metaphor and message, brings us into the human experience by way of a hybrid child-lamb being. It’s a strange film on the surface, but underneath this is a story with a very real point about that line between human and nature.
Leading the pack though is Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, a film that is as studied and quirky as it is grounded in the famed Director’s curious blend of humor, symmetry, and style. There is a case to be made that this film is less immediately emotionally accessible than his previous works, but it’s also true to say that this emotion has never had a stronger frame to exist within, with its visual technique reaching new heights of creative imagining. The craft on display here is mindboggling, and it simply begs for multiple rewatches in order to take it all in.
A Few Suprises
Sardar Hudham (2021) was not at all on my radar, but this is the second foreign film from India released to Amazon Prime challenging for my top spots in films of the year. It deals with a true historical narrative, and while lengthy, it allows the build up to give the final quarter an undeniable force. Also dealing with a real life historical person is The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021), the guy who basically popularized the idea of the cat as a household pet. The film isn’t for everyone, and it is highly visual and quite inventive in its style and storytelling, but it hit on so many checkboxes for me and left my heart smiling.
As part of our local arthouses series called “Film and Architecture”, Havana From on High (2021) gives insight into this city and culture by way of its high rise apartments, the low income residents who occupy them, and the things that such heights are able to observe. It’s a beautiful film in look and spirit. Far more grounded and stated in its embrace of the darkness, Coming Home in the Dark (2021) really took me by surprise with how insightful and effective a pared back narrative like this can be.
On the comedy level, the film Together, Together (2021) just might be one of the lovliest romantic dramas you will see this year, precisely becasue it trades the trappings of the typical romantic drama for an examination of friendship. Equally interesting and humorous is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a revisionist take on Shakespeare that is bursting with introspection and heart.
Lastly, and to prepare for this week’s release of The Reluctant Convert, a biopic about Lewis, The Science-Fiction Makers is a wonderful documentary covering writers such as Lewis and L’Engle while shedding light on a part of the “Christian” industry that flew under the radar and may have reflected its most influential and honest voice.
A Way With Words: Writing, Rhetoric, And the Art of Persuasion by M.D.C Drout
This book, which is based on a course, and follows a course outline, might translate for some as too familiar and basic, but I found it to be an absorbing refresher on the subject of “rhetoric” that is communicated with expertise and wisdom and is immediately accessible in its practical application. One I will be revisiting a few times over, and a book with some really powerful and empowering information regarding how words function and how they play into communication.
Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshhold of Middle-Earth by John Garth
I’ve been reading through a few works on Tolkien latetely, and this one stands out for its deep dive into how the Great War shaped Tolkien and his writings. So much to learn about the world that shaped the writer, and understanding this gives shape to both his writings and his motivations.
Later by Stephen King
King is one of the best writers to have graced the grand literary stage of our modern era and he seems to be getting sharper, more refined and maybe even better with age, if that is even possible. This falls in the catergory of his works that are meant to be page turners. It’s a paperback mystery with a supernatureal subtext that is brisk and entertaining, leaving us with memorable characters, a few things to think about, and heck of a good time.
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl
I came to appreciate Grohl through my wife, who is a super fan. This book won’t be for everyone, but for those who are fans and who have experienced Grohl’s concerts in a way that almost feels like a religious experience or a Church service, this book should be illuminating and enriching. Grohl leaves it all on the table and is honest to a fault. He overdramatizes everything, which might be where some part ways here, but his love for music, the industry and life itself is undeniable and contagious.
The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager
The book takes a broad look at the historal context while the film uses the testimonies of the three main characters at the heart of the story to step into the history in a more introspective and interpretive fashion. Both are just as riveting and engaging in their own way.
Semler- Late Bloomer
Semler has been making the headlines for being an openly queer artist making music within the Christian industry. What gives her call to inclusion, filled as it is with personal reflection, stories, lament and celebration, an extra bit of weight is the fact that Late Bloomer also happens to be a genuinely exciting and creative musical effort within the pop rock genre. The connection to the Christian industry is merely about identity, belonging and reform. The music is all about transcending such categories as a universal language.
Mimi Webb- Seven Shades of Heartbreak
The gradual release of tracks from this new EP has alraedy been making waves, and for good reason. The UK artist can write a serious hook and infuse it with genuine, spirited energy and an audible creative edge. What sets the full product apart is the cohesive narrative, dancing through the powerful notes of personal experience, relationship, love, hopes, struggle and celebration.
Brandi Carlile- In These Silent Days
I’ve ben primed for the release of Carlisle’s new album by her absorbing and affecting memoir and revisiting her illustrious career through past albums. Her new album takes the technical brilliance of By the Way, I Forgive You, along with its deeply personal focus, and finds a way to write that into something equally transcedent. Forgiveness turns to the nitty gritty of actual reconciliation, imagining a world where words are put into action. This makes the struggle and longing apparent in her life’s story that much more aware. The growth here is subtle but astute, feeling right at home with her familiar style and form, but willingly pushing those boundaries and stepping into new territory ever so gently and with grace
Strand of Oaks- In Heaven
Timothy Showalter’s latest effort under the name Strand of Oaks just might be the most lovely, immersive, hope filled music you will hear in 2021. It’s a celebration of all things love, facing stuff to the contrary (like loss and alcoholism) head on. It’s the kind of album you can put on and get lost in again and again, be it to brighten up a cloudy day or celebrate the sunshine.
Said the Whale- Dandelion
The first album in many years by this Canadian based Vancouver outfit is all about finding the good in the stuff that we tend to dismiss. What might seem like a weed is both purposeful and delightful, with a storied history of its arrival to North American soil giving it its drama. That society grew to see the dandelion as unwanted and disruptive and ugly is more a testament of our demeanor than the ill nature of the dandelion itself. Thankfully we have music like this to not only reorient our perspective, but to allow that story to gain a metaphorical presence we can apply to all aspects of our life and our world and our experiences.
Mike Donehey- Flourish
Frontman for the band Tenth Avenue North stretches his legs in a safe but nevertheless lovely album that rests in spiritual reflection and inspiring songs. It fits firmly in the CCM category, so take that for what it is, but for me its one of the better efforts within the field.
The Bible For Normal People- Episode 184, Heather Macumbe- Monsters in the Bible/Biblical World- Halloween Special- Death in Ancient Israel with Matt Suriano/Travel With Rick Steves- Episode 827, Recoleta Cemetery, Spooky Atlas Obscura, Near the Exit/Mere Fidelity- Episode 254, Funerals With Dr. Tim Perry
This 1,2,3,4 punch all coincided with the Halloween season and all revolve around the subject of monsters or death. Heather Macumbe, a prof from my local University where I studied (Providence College/University), talks about her newbook, Recovering the Monsterous, an examination of the book of Revelation through the lens of ancient imagery, beliefs and stories. It inspired me to pick up the book, which thus far is highly recommended. Tim Perry, another prof from my local University, talks about his book Funerals, which examines funerals and their development from the ancient world to our modern setting. Likewise, on the Biblical World podcast, death customs are explored through the study of Biblical Archeology. It is also based on a book by Matt Suriano and its a fascinating discussion about all things death related from the pages of history. Equaly fascinating is the author of Near the Exit, who is interviewed on Rick Steve’s Travel show. She travelled the world through different cultures and customs exporing the topic of death from different perspectives as a pastor and a Christian.
The Bible Project Podcast- Episode 273, Literature for a Lifetime- Paradigm 6
This whole series on how to read the bible, or the different paradigms through which to read the Bible, is great. This one specifically, which examines scripture as “meditation literature” was especially good as it really gets to root of how the structure and the flow of scripture in its narrative form is mean to work. Brings new life to the text.
OnScript Podcast- Episode 197, Between Doubt and Dogmatism with Josh McNall
I’m normally not that into discussions like this, as I find they turn more often than not on a tired form of apologetic. McNall finds a balance, never allowing the subject to delineate into tired tropes, and very much selling me on picking up his new book “Perhaps”, a book that is all about the liberating nature of this word when applied to our lives, and more importantly to our wrestling with belief.
The Great Books- Episode 201, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James
M.R. James is a fascinating individual and writer, and Jane Mainley-Piddock does a great job unpacking who he was using the framework for his classic book
History Unplugged Podcast- Episode 586, The Escape of Jack the Ripper
For anyone interested in true crime and history. Jack the Ripper always makes for great stories, and this deep dive into a portion of his story was both interesting and a great pairing for the Halloween season.