The Innocents (Eskil Vogt, 2022)
This is the kind of film that lets the questions it raises linger. It’s a slow burn and it’s also a horror piece, but both of these aspects play a role in telling a deeply committed human drama about what it means to be a child in a world where being a child means also being misunderstood and not always seen. It is the strength of community that emerges within this group of children then, amidst their diversity, that might embody the films most profound revelation.
Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski, 2022)
Pretty close to a perfect film, and the rare sequel that surpasses it’s predecessor. This is meant as a call back to the first film in terms of paying homage to old characters and mirroring the originals story beats (think The Force Awakens), but this film also finds ways to set itself apart. The character beats are given freshly imagined emotional stakes and the film’s third act functions as a bridge into fresh ideas. However you feel about films that cater to nostalgia in this way it has to be said Maverick functions as a veritable lesson in how to utilize it well.
Beyond the raised emotional stakes and heightened third act, the film is also an impressive structurally feat. It’s the full package when it comes to entertaining action sequences, timely humor, honest emotions, real and memorable characters, and genuine tension and stakes. And the payoff for a years long gap between the first and the second films is definite and visible and viceral. Being able to experience these sequences now on modern IMAX screens was a true rush. A good reminder of what film is all about.
Solaris (1972, Andrei Tarkovsky)/Ivan’s Childhood (1962, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Decided to fill in some blindspots with two films from one of cinemas all time greats. Solaris is a brilliantly and intricately crafted psychological science fiction that uses space, distance, and the subtle blurring of the lines between dream and reality to explore themes of regret, forgivness, fear, wonder, acceptance and resistance to change. Ivan’s Childhood is set in the familiar terrain of World War 2 with its deeply formed and powerful story about a young boy sent to work as a spy on the eastern front and the soldiers who befriend him. Equally brilliant but in a more grounded sense.
Nitram (Justin Kurzel, 2022)
A shocking and unsettling look into the nature of pyschological trauma with a poignant reflection on the way tragedy can impact our sense of a meaningful (or meaningless) existence, and how tragedy can lead to more tragedy. The relationships in the film, which revolve around a young man with cognivite disabilities, straddle this line between desired intimacy and intentional distancing, or attachment and detachment. It’s a delicate dance where things are capable of unfolding in any one direction at any given moment. And each possible outcome of this intimacy or this distance could find a comprehensible narrative arc.
This is the brilliance of this film, I think, is that it plays out a story based on true events with this level of nuance and concern for its subject without losing the narrative it desires to establish. This is a film that wants to say something about the irresponsible nature of current gun laws in Australia, showing how such laws not only lead to violence but can even foster a culture of violence. I knew nothing about the true life story here and so the ultimate end to me is not something I saw coming. But even if I had known, the invitation of the film to sit in that uncomfortable and unsettling space and to ask us to experience this as a story of persons, of a family first before getting to the news headlines is what makes this film so compelling.
Radio Days (Woody Allen, 1987)
Radio Days is steeped in nostalgia, and I really enjoyed how the seperate stories (following the same characters) intersect and connect using the narrative device of the radio. Each segment revolves around a particular program as it unpacks the different characters within this family, and so much of this is simply bursting with a love of a lost era.
There was a lot of great new stuff released in May that is worth mentioning. Such as the lovely hidden gem Marvelous and the Black Hole (Kate Tsang, 2022), a film that is as steeped in wonder as it is its quiet, coming of age human drama. Topside (Logan George and Celine Held, 2020), which finally saw wide release, is a formative indie that, while light on the budget remains deeply entrenched in the emotional context of this mother-daughter relationship trying to survive on the streets of New York City. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Sam Raimi, 2022) might not be the best MCU movie out there, but as someone I know put it, it most definitely is a very good Raimi film. His fingerprints are all over it and the film is absolutely worth experiencing in Imax. Speaking of horror, Faye (KD Amond, 2022) is a quiet sleeper that revels in its contained setting while Garlands new film Men (Alex Garland, 2022) is a veritable exercise in vision and creativity and aesthetic. Meanwhile, make sure not to skip out on Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (Akiva Schaffer, 2022). It’s surprisingly and unexpectedly good. As is the Amazon film Emergency (Carey Williams, 2022), which reminded me of a lower scale and not quite as good Blindspotting with its invested themes and gradually building tension.
When in Romans (Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic): An Invitation to Linger With the Gospel According To Paul by Beverly Gaventa
I’ve been doing a deep dive into the book of Romans and Gaventa’s accessible and wonderful exposition of specific themes in Romans was a wonderful way to grasp the big picture narrative. Romans is a letter that has long been misunderstood, and Gaventa’s treaties stands tall in a long list of commentaries and works that are helping to uncover the letters true nature.
Moses: A Human Life by Avivah Zornberg
I heard Zornberg interviewed last month and was inspired to pick up her books. I started with this one and it did not disappoint. She uses a mix of text and the lengthy tradition of existing Midrash to tell the story of a pivotal figure in Jewish history. Much of it is profound, and much of it is illuminating, helping to paint a picture of someone who was as complicated as he was patterned in the likeness of “righteous” figures in scripture.
Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary by Michael Gorman
Gorman’s commentary is another work on Paul’s letter to the Romans worth mentioning. I am a big fan of Gorman who writes in the tradition of covenantal theology and transformation theology. He has such a way of articulating his thoughts in a cohesive and coherent fashion and brings his particular interest in transformation to bear on a notoriously difficult text. His wealth of knowledge on the history of translation problems and terms/definitions proved immensely helpful.
Moses’ Women by Shera Tuchman
Funny enough, I came across this book when I was reading Moses: A Life, because the person that had previously checked it out from the library left their receipt in it and this was one of a list of books with similar themes. And I’m so glad I was able to check it out because it is quite amazing. As opposed to Moses’ life this one narrows in on the women who form the foundation for his story. It helps us to see how they are intentionally integrated in the text in significant ways, functioning as the symbolic and spiritual forces that give rise to, direct and redeem Moses’ story. I’ll never read it the same way again.
The Black Phone Stories by Joe Hill
Bought this collection of short stories mostly to prepare for the film based on The Black Phone. There are some selections that are stronger than others, but overall I really liked the varied styles and tones and focuses represented in throughout.
I had a lot of great music queued up this month, so I figured I would give a broad overview of a number of stand outs:
Elevator- The Words You Spoke Still Move Me (reminiscent of Haim with its mix of instrumentation vocal performance)
Arcade Fire-WE (Lengthy, introspective, and timely in its themes and emotional plea for lament, reflection, optimism and hope)
Anyway Gang- Still Anyways (Upbeat and infectious 4 chord rock)
Morgan Wade- Wilder Days (intimate lyrics, strong, rough around the edges vocal delivery, and smooth folk country stylings make this a great one to immerse in)
Woodlock- I Loved You Then (acoustic EP with a lyrical presence and layered melodies)
Florence and the Machine- Dance Fever (A brilliant follow up and a much welcome return to one of the great alt rock folk artists of our current day. The song writing is truly remarkable taking her familiar stylings and weaving it into something fresh and inventive)
Sarah and the Sundays- Coward/The Living End (Good roots rock with lots of rhythm and guitar leading the way)
Andrew Hyatt- Four Good Years (Catchy country tunes with solid down home compositions)
The Black Keys- Dropout Boogie (not their best effort but nonetheless a memorable one from a classic artist. This is one that I think will grow with time)
Group Project- Happily Catastrophic (toe tapping tunes with big, soaring melodies and plenty of good feelings to go around)
John Mark McMillan- Ordinary Love (the grungy worship artist always has something important to say, and typically does it with strong compositional form and unconventional approaches. This one is no different and feels particularly entrenched as a passion project)
Faouzia- Citizens (this artist used to be a student at my wife’s school before making it big. Here she returns with new material. It’s hard to top her previous stuff where every song seemed tailer made for greatest hits, but strong melodies remain, as do the big, memorable crescendo’s)
Jon Guerra- Keeper of Days (a new discovery for me, and I really enjoyed the spiritual focus, subtle vocals, and meditative quality)
Michael Franti and Spearhead- Follow your Heart (With songs like follow your heart and life is amazing, this fusion album is full of regge type jams and decent pop hooks)
Def Leppard- Diamond Star Halos (who knew they could come roaring back on the scene with something this good)
Beyond the Big Screen Podcast, Episode 137- The True Virtue of Happiness
This interview with J. Budziszewski regarding his new book on happiness was refreshing in a market saturated by books on how to be happy. His honest take, especially where it intersects with religion and philosophy, encouraged me to pick up his book.
Biblical World Podcast, Episode 47- Egypt and the Bible Part 2, Mark Janzen and Chris Mckinny
I really enjoyed Part 1, and this deep dive into the archaeology surrounding Egypt by reputable scholars did not disappoint. Such fascinating insight into the ancient world, shedding light on what archaeology is and how it works.
The Sacred Podcast, Episode 120- Frank Cottrell- Boyce on wonder, forgiveness and the writers calling
Boyce is such a wonderful and gracious voice, and his call to wonder was exactly what I needed to hear in the moment when I listened to this episode from The Sacred.
History Unplugged Podcast, Episodes 653, 654- Western Religion of the 19th Century Competed with Darwin and Marx by Dabbling in Hinduism, Occultism, and War Isn’t the Natural State of Human Affairs: It Shouldn’t Happen and Most of the Time it Doesn’t
Two really compelling episodes presenting compelling theories about tough subjects within history. The firs examines religious history in light of important moments in social history, while the second episode takes a look at the philosophy of war, arguing that we tend to focus on war as a inevitable and dominating constant while glossing over the many times when war doesn’t happen.
The Bible For Normal People, Episode 211- Dale C. Allison, Approaching the Resurrection of Jesus as a Historian
An excellent deep dive into the historical claim of the resurrection from a brilliant scholar willing to hold questions on all sides as he works towards honest reflection of the data.
OnScript, Episode 222- African American Readings of Paul
Given my interest in Paul and Romans at the moment this one proved an excellent listen and a link to another great read on the subject.
Regent College Podcast, Episode 209- Reading the Scriptures in Israel-Palestine Today with Dr. Yohanna Katanacho
This one caught me by surprise. I had never heard of the author and the way he brings clarity the theme of Land and Identity relating to the story of Israel was really mind blowing for me.