Help (2022) Directed by Marc Munden
Who would have thought I would be ready for and fully emabracing a pandemic movie in the early goings of 2022. And yet here I am not only embracing it but fully feeling the emotional weight of its tightly woven and intimately drawn human drama. It really is that dang good, not least of which is a stellar performance by the wonderful Jodie Comer. The Director clearly knows the strength of the films lead and utilizes the camera to capture the smallest nuances of her emotional journey.
Lotawana (2022) (Directed by Trevor Hawkins)
The stripped back nature might betray the strength of this films thematic and structural presence. The way the Director draws out the underlying tension of this relationship between two indivduals looking to escape from the pressures of the world, ultimately finding motivation to do so in eachother, and the way the Director does this using specific visual and design techniques is really impressive. These tensions have a way of invading the idealistic space they are trying to establish and protect out on a Missouri lake, often hitting by way of unexpected revelations, unwanted news, relational disagreements, uncertainty, or family tensions. Their intentions are good and even admirable, but it is their inate responsibilty to life itself and the what ihs says about the worlds they occupy separately and together that prove vital to working out the films tension in a tangible way.
All The Moons (2020) Directed by Igor Legarreta
Reminiscent of something like Only Lovers Left Alive with its unique approach to the idea of the vampire motif, one that is less focused on them being evil and more so in formulating it into an exercise of empathy for the vampire characters. Or perhaps this is even more readily comparable to the vastly underseen Transfiguration, a YA film that uses the vampire motif as a way to explore their relationship to the world and to one another. Features beautiful visuals and really strong technicals in terms of the cinematography, visual design, story structure, score and performances, all of which help to examine deeper themes about making sense of struggle and loss.
The Sky is Everywhere (2022) Directed by Josephine Decker
Definitely an aquired taste. This is either going to turn some people off in the first 10 minutes (or cause them to turn it off) or there’s a good chance you might be primed to fall under its spell. I really like Shirley and this film employs some of those same idiosyncratic traits. It has a lovely aesthetic that employs a level of magical realism, a way of getting into the mind and heart of a grieving young woman. The way it challenges us to see beneath to surface and to imagine feelings as expressive and emotive sequences, images, sounds and colors lends this film its decisive creative edge. I found it all quite enchanting even if the structure poses some challenges to telling it’s story in a clean and sufficient manner. It left me intrigued to take these side roads and content to let it find its way back to the central thread.
Patterns (1956) Directed by Fielder Cook
Riveting, unsettling, effortlessly engaging and hard hitting. This boardroom drama, staged as it is within the ruthless and competitive confines of the workplace where the high powered execs reside, hits with such force it genuinely left me breathless in moments. It probes the ehtical quandry of choices bound to the truth of what it takes to survive, both personally and as a company, and how decisions at the top inevitably demand the compromising of morals in order to get ahead. This is as much about the successors as it is the causalities leaving me to wonder how it is precisely that we justify such a system as normative and necessary. Complicating this even more is the assertion that occupying these high positions demands the sacrifice of some in the moment in order to find gain for the many in the future. This is, one character insists, how successful business works. This frames a demonstrable lack of moral concern around a greater ethical responsibility towards what they deem to be the greater good. Progress and success is how humanity gets ahead. One wonders where the truth and the lie meet in this equation and whether the ends, muddled as that eventually becomes in and of itself, ever justifies the means.
Knowing that this is a snapshot of reality and true to form of capitalisms function gives this film an added element of horror and drama. However we justify such systems existing in our own time and place sets us right in the middle of the heated dialogue and human plight, and it aims to leave us in a place of honest and true reflection. Powerful film all around.
Honorable Mentions: Cyrano might be a bit falsely advertised given that this is both based on a play and very much a modern musical (two things I had no idea about before seeing it), but as the musical the love story shines, if in a bittersweet and slightly less than conventional fashion. This is a film for the romantics, not the cynics, but in being so it doesn’t undercut the intelligence of is shakesperean type dance. Marry Me is the more conventional romantic comedy, but on its end it also shines as a love story in its purest form, sporting a strong premise and even stronger chemistry.
Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans
Published posthumously, this final book by the beloved author is based off the bits and pieces that form the rough draft of her then anticipated next work. A friend of hers did the work of bringing these pieces together and forming it into a cohesive whole. The final product is both inspiring and extremely helpful, navigating that space between faith and doubt that informs much of our wrestling. It’s hopeful, and at times haeartbreaking reading these works with the knowledge of her untimely passing. Ultimatley it becomes a way of imagining faith aknew in a world where there is so much darkness and struggle. A way of capturing the beauty of life and new creation promise.
Maeve Binchy: The Biography by Piers Dudgeon
This was my introduction to Binchy. Being of Irish heritage I was looking for good Irish voices. I found Binchy’s personal story to be really interseting, especially where we see her faith journey move from narrow belief to loss of belief to a longing for something more. I can’t help but feel like had she encountered other voices within the faith she might have found in it something rich and something that could have shed great light on pre-Christian Ireland and its roots in spiritual mysticism and ancient stories. In any case I love the way she works to uncover that Irish history and spiritual past. So many modern writers, in their rush to rightly condmen the damaging nature of colonialism ultimately end up doing the same thing in their simitaneous condemnation of religion. You can’t embrace Irish history without attending for its spiritualism and its awareness of a greater reality than that which we can merely observe with our rational eyes. Binchy stands in foosteps of a rich tradition and legacy that is keeping these roots alive.
Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern by Jing Tsu
While the book isn’t specifically about this (it is about the really interesting story of the Chinese language and the impact of the rise of the English language on both it’s development and it’s preservation), it’s compelling to see so many of our worlds problems as rooted in the English languages overtaking of the global world and economy. This often gets neglected in favor of this picture of a “common language”, but the story in this book covers dominant part of our human and cultural history and reveals just how English became synonymous with things like conquest, empire, power, west over east, and progress, which in itself leads to some of the underpinnings of western narratives, racism, and colonialism. The book then explores this tension between traditional Chinese characters and their simplifying lies at the heart of understanding the Chinese identity.
A key point is the relationship between change and our attachment to history and tradition, key parts of what make up our identity. That the English language was (and is) at the root of supposed progress erasing entire stories, people’s, cultures and traditions, and that it has the power to do this, is eye opening. Brings new light to my experience in Ukraine where, at least in Ismail there were almost no English speakers. We were told that the thing they looked down upon was not just what English symbolizes in the erasing of cultures but English speakers penchant for only knowing a single language. This makes sense of some of what our presence would have symbolized.
Moments of Perception: Experimental Film in Canada by Michael Zyrd
How much mileage one gets from this book will likely dependon how much interest they have in the history of Canadian film. The second half of the book is solely devote to this history in a practical sense, looking through in detail the different experimental artists that have shaped the artfom as Canadians. The first half of the book however is far more accessible, looking at film in a global sense and showing how, and where, Canadian film history fits into that. It offers some profound and insightful observations about why film and film industry matters and also looks at different defintiions (such as the difference between independant film, experimental film, studio film) which can help us understand how the industry works. Really happy i stumbled across it.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
In his book Talking to Strangers, Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell delves into the psychology of our togetherness, a key part of which makes us human. His particular focus is on how it is that we relate to one another in a world filled with competing information. Understanding that we come together with “different assumptions, perspectives and backgrounds” and different ways of regarding which of this information is true and which is not, we also can exhibit identifiable behaviors that have more to say about our need to uphold such binaries (between truth and lies, good and evil) than the importance of truth itself. As he points out, we are wired towards a need to “trust”. To be wired to distrust means society and our species would collapse, unable to function. Thus when truth becomes necessary to uncover (primarily because the deceptions cross a line between benign to destructive) it is less a matter of presenting evidence and more a question of how much evidence we need along with the timing and placement of this infomation that moves us over the line from trust to distrust. Gladwell suggests that knowing this can be helpful to understanding how we as humans operate when it comes to living in this world together. This feels timely.
Honorable Mention: The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Less an apologetic for the Christian faith and far more a historical examination of the role of the Black Church in Black history. It’s really well researched and written with an eye for showing how the Black Church has shaped how it is that Persons of Color see and understand the world in an increasingly secularized culture here in the West. Definitely left me curious about how this might connect and relate to the growing relevance of Christianity in Africa in erms of Black culure here and Black culture there. That would make an interesting follow up book.
Beer Christianity: Episode 63 Ukraine Crisis: Love During Wartime (the propaganda episode)
An important and timely reflection on how to see the present crisis in Ukraine from the perspective of a Country caught between the equally corrupt powers of East and West. Helps uncover how it is that we in the West have missed much of our own complictness in the problem, and suggests that perhaps we don’t understand the world as well as we like to think we do. Nor is western democracy the harmonious ideal we like to think it is.
Faculty of Horror: Episode 104 Dark Ages: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And Relic
The hosts of this podcast, intimately interested in feminist perspective, often hold no punches. Here they tackle the problem of ageism, and ageism from both male and female perspectives. And they do it while discussing one of my favorite horror films of 2020 in Relic.
Mere Fidelity: Episode 265- The Psalms with Dr. James Hamilton
Breaks the Psalms wide open discussing Hamitons new two volume commentary. Can’t wait to get my hands on it, but for now this will suffice.
Biblical World: Sodom and Gomorrah and the Cities on the Plain (Part 1): Chris McKinny and Kyle Keimer
Fascinating discussion about the archeology relating to study of Sodom and Gomorrah. Really walks through the detail of the traditions, the land, and the relevance of archeology in shedding light on our understanding of the story..
History Unplugged: Episode 625 How Clocks Created Earths First Global Supply Chain in the 1700’s- And Keep GPS Alive Today
I love geekish books that use a point of history, in this case clocks, to tell the human story. Learned a ton about how time works and how it develops in line with global societies.
Honorable Mention: The Bible For Normal People Episode 198 Lisa Sharon Harper- The Meaning of the Image of God I am super excited to pick up Harpers book. I found what she had to say about the nature of image, identity, and its relationship to what it means to be human really helpful.
Penny and Sparrow- Olly Olly
Reflects a genuine mix match of tones, sensibilities and musical styles. In many ways this feels like fresh territory for the band, but make no mistake it also feels deeply authentic. In a way that places this latest album into intimate relationship with the songwriters themselves, befitting a move towards something more independent.
Tegan and Sara- Still Jealous
A reworking of an older album that proves a fascinating experiment in reimagination. Definitely for fans, but it just proves how timeless this duo is.
Eddie Vedder- Earthling
Love having Vedder back, and dang if this latest album hasn’t been on repeat. This shares much with the old fashioned alt rock of Pearl Jam featuring big melodies, anthems and plenty of riffs. The guy feels at his prime.
Dashboard Confessionals All the Truth that I can tell
Feels like a return to their roots. It’s also some of their best work to date. Full of great rhythms and riffs and melodies befitting their well honed style.
Bastille- Give Me The Future
Musically expressive in the best ways, Bastille crafts an album that feels remarkably hopeful for an album that digs deep into present anxities and struggles that are present in this world.
Half Alive- Give me your shouders
Compelling, intelligent and crafted with intention, a band known for its creative melodies and song structures feels as alive here as they have ever been, and even a bit more spiritually aware and vulnerable. Its impressive that they have resisted categories and genres as much as potential pull into the realm of the “faith based” industry. They are far better traversing the mystery of this space between.
Shout out Louds- House
Swedish, guitar driven pop at its finest. For the good days in the sun shine.
If you need an outlet for you angst, this hard hitting new album from the hardcore masters will be just the ticket.
Jann Arden- Decendants
An album of the year candidate for sure. Brilliant return to the music wor;with a brand new album.