Mad God (Phil Tippett, 2022)
This is madness on a whole other level. The metaphors are rich, and it’s hard not to see our present reality in the chaos. The animation, done using intricate and detailed stop motion, is simply otherworldly, which helps to transport us into its depraved world. Cycles loom large here, leaving one wondering whether there is any way to escape, any promise of liberation. Maps, bombs, surgeons and drones, they all intersect in the decent into the shadow world underneath.
A film that will merit multiple watches to scratch the surface of its ideas, to be sure.
Lightyear (Angus Maclane, 2022)
Throwback with some nice comedic notes, a grand dose of 80s/90s adventure film, and a tight script that, in my opinion, deftly manages a complex story by keeping its focus on the simple themes. It reminded me of watching those old Saturday morning cartoons, only with real cinematic scope (the film looks great on the big screen). It is unlikely this will be winning an Oscar, as one tends to expect from Pixar, but these are the sorts of offbeat stories that I could watch anytime and really love. Just keep in mind that if you are expecting Toy Story brand this will end up a little different than you expect.
The Righteous (Mark O’Brien, 2022)
One of the stronger religious horror pieces in recent memory, and a really strong debut. The film takes a slow burn approach centred on lots of dialogue and heavy monologues. A haunting score, a moody black and white aesthetic, and embodied performances help to give it it’s shape admist some strong psychological undertones.
At the heart of the film is a question of image- namely what is the true image of God, and subsequently what does this have to say about the way God relates to the world. It takes the question of comfort in religion and approaches it from a place of fear, exploring how it is that for some God remains an angry and vengeful figure. Exploring this leads us deeper into some unsettling questions regarding how this then shapes our relationship to the world around us at the same time, along with how it is that we see ourselves in relationship to our sins.
The film is low budget, but never in a way that takes away from the story. Perhaps the final act gets away from the Directors vision ever so slightly, but figuring out where to land with a story that trends towards the kind of horrors that we cannot see, God as much a reality as He is an idea here existing in the minds of our central players, is not necessarily an easy task, so that’s a small critique in an otherwise really strong effort.
Dual (Riley Stearns, 2022)
An interesting hidden indie gem to consider from the first half of 2022. Really interesting dystopian premise- a woman finds out she’s dying, looks into present technological advancements that allow her to make a clone of herself before she dies in order to help her family grieve and alleviate some of the pain, and an unexpected turn of events lead to a complicated situation between her and her clone.
The film utilizes an intricate plot, but it does so without losing sight of the emotojnal current. I found it really engaging as it sinks further into the “complications”, probing deeper into the particularness of its humanity.
It’s unique and just different enough to set itself apart, but the mix of intricate composition and emotional concern is what elevates this one in its genre
Petite Maman (Celine Sciamma, 2022)
It’s hard to find the words to describe just how beautiful and perfect this film is. So simple. So profound. Deeply human.
The cast is small and the context extremely detailed and focused, but the depths it is able to mine from such a contained portrait is incredible. I don’t want to say too much to keep from the spoiling the story, but suffice to say it provides a family portrait made of deeply broken and flawed individuals who are also bursting full of beauty. Sadness is a word that emerges near the beginning and remerges near the end, but for as defining as the word is these characters are also not bound to it. In its own way this might also be one of the most uplifting and inspiring stories I’ve seen this year.
Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022)
Now that’s a summer movie. Big screen movie magic. I’m a big fan of the Directors previous works and they all feel like they were leading up to this. It hits the ground running and never let’s up. Its 2 hours and 40 minutes long and there is rarely a second where it lost me or left me disengaged. Worth the big screen and the audience. The film plays like an epic, telling an epic journey that touches on multiple points of significant American history. It does a great job too of helping us to visually see the connection between Elvis and the Black spirituals that influenced him. That whole subtext really carrys a lot of thematic weight.
If you are older and a fan of Elvis you gotta see it.
If you’re younger and relatively unfamiliar with Elvis, you gotta see it.
If you’re a fan of cinema and creative biopics, you gotta see it
Checkered Ninja (Thorbjorn Chirstofferson and Anders Matthesonm 2018)
After a few years of seeing this title pop up here and there and dismissing it as a low budget, straight to DVD animated movie, I randomly decided to use a Hoopla credit after seeing it pop up in my recommendations and looking for animated film to occupy an early Saturday morning viewing.
Definitely not what I expected. A real delight. Decidedly more adult in nature, but in a way that would still work for a younger audience (just heed the language warning). It’s funny, meaningful and relatable as it navigates the specific challenge of occupying the bottom of the social latter in those early years at school.
The story itself has a natural progression to the development of its central tension (boy gets this ninja doll, ninja doll is occupied by a vengeful spirit, vengeful spirit helps boy with a school bully in exchange for the boy helping him deal with his problem), keeping it simple and direct. It reminds us that, even at a young age, finding freedom from our problems, from those who hurt us, often means learning how to let go of our need for vengeance. Where what is wrong is made right, addressing the oppressive force also includes demonstrating a different way. It’s a lovely message that would fit well alongside this years The Bad Guys. Definitely check this one out if you come across it
Cha Cha Real Smooth (Cooper Wraith, 2022)
A feel good, ridiculously entertaining story from the mind of the equally wonderful Shithouse about love and life, growing up and growing older. And featuring really strong performances, honest human moments, and plenty of emotions that navigate the ups and downs of this particular group of individuals simply figuring stuff out as they go. Loved the generational element as well.
Honorable Mention: Bull (Paul Andrew Williams), a solid revenge drama with complicated family dynamics and mob subtext. Equally revenge driven is Fixed (Jex Alsop), featuring strong performances and a prison subtext. Peace By Chocolate (Jonathan Keijser), a lovely Canadian comedy drama about immigration. Jockey (Clint Bentley) is a quiet but rich drama about humans and horses, while RRR (S. Rajamoulie) is a loud, splashy entertaining Indian smorgasboard.
The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness by Katherine Glieb
Read this as part of my ongoing journey through Paul’s letter to the Romans. And it was phenomenal. It narrows in on Romans as narrative and frames the narrative around God’s righteousness, giving both definition and context to the biblical term lost to some of our modern debates within Protestantism.
Abrahams Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How To Talk Back to God by J. Richard Middleton
Incredible and enlightening work that is steeped in research and exegesis of its three central texts. This is for anyone who has struggled with the binding of Isaac, but more so for anyone who simply needs permission to wrestle with and talk back to God. That God desires this and that it makes a difference appears profoundly evident in scripture itself.
The Meaning of Travel; Philosophers Abroad by Emily Thomas
The book itself isn’t great, but it offers some great insights as it travels through the history of travel by way of the Philosophers .
The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe by Matthew Gabrielle and David M. Perry
What if Rome never fell. That’s the intriguing question behind this revisionist take on the Dark Ages. There is no shortage of material challenging common assumptions about what the Dark Ages was, including the tendency to write it as a global reality. This takes a unique approach to the same idea that the Dark Ages was actually a period of vibrancy and Reform by digging underneath and articulating some key stories that shed light on the surrounding empires and the way these empires battled to lay claim to the dominating narrative that could effectively place themselves at the center of the universe. Seeing how Rome persists through this and even thrives is part of seeing these narratives in relationship to one another as opposed to a rise and fall trajectory.
Wrabel- These Words Are All For You Too
Rich Songs wrapped up in even richer song writing. A brilliant album built on a soulful voice and colored with the gentle presence of the piano and acoustic guitar.
Brett Eldredge- Songs About You
The opening track hits with a bang, but it’s the totality of this confident country album that really makes this worthwhile. Deeply confident and sure of what it wants to be, it navigates a journey of musical and lyrical exploration that develops and forms as it goes along
Mt. Joy- Orange Blood
Energetic pop that makes for a perfect mood cleanser with its vibrant and fun vibes. Don’t mistake this for fluff though. The compositions leave plenty to appreciate and dissect on a musical level.
Maren Morris-Humble Quest
Call it safe if you will, I call it comfortable in the best sense of the word. There are more interesting efforts by Mprris (see the highwaywomen) but I’m here this understated record asking the usual honest questions she is known for.
Havelin- Alright, Alright, Okay
An album deeply immersed in the notion of change and acceptance of this change. As such 8t floats through some basic and practical points of the human experience with some beautiful melodies and nice musical hooks. Its mostly low key, although the opening track definitely offers some get up and move vibes.
VanceJoy-In Our Own Sweet Time
Alice Merton- S.I.D.E.S
MaverickCityMusic-Kingdom Book One
Vox: episodes 354, 355, and 357 (Image Part Nine: Works with Dr Timothy Gombis; The Jewishness of the Gospel with Dr, Jen Rosner; Light Part One: Bearer of the Name)
The Vox Podcast is always great, but this handful of Episodes in June was worth highlighting as they transition from one series to another. Rosners work on the Jewishness of the bible and her journey as as a Jewish Christian is really worthwhile.
Biblical World: Episode 49 (How Did Biblical Writers Access the Past With Daniel Ploske)
Fascinating look into the nature of archaeology and its relationship to understanding the Biblical World.
The C.S. Lewis Podcast: Episodes 59, 60, 61 (Myth Become Fact; The Grand Miracle; Is Theism Important)
This is led by Alister McGrath who wrote one of the seminal biographies on Lewis. These Episodes are dealing with external articles and works outside of his familiar books
Song Explorer: Episode 247 (Maren Morris- Humble Quest)
Really enjoyed this peek behind the curtain with Morris and her reflections on the difficult nature of humility as a practice and a Virtue
The Book Review: Episode 404 (Sensing the World Anew Through Other Species)
Encouraged me to pick up the book by Ed Yong, An Immense World. Described as an antidote to all the terrible things going on right now,
The Evolving Faith Podcast: Episodes 26, 27, 28, 29 (The Geography of God, The Power in the Story, Let God Love You, Remember the Refrain)
Took me to church and revitalized my soul. Three great talks from different noted speakers on faith, scripture and life
Unbelievable Podcast: Episode 866 (Rowan Williams and Paul Kingsnorth- Conversion, Culture and the Cross)
I’m a big fan of Kingsnorth and Williams. I always had a sense that Christianity could make a lot of sense of Kingsnorths journey, and his recent conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy set in conversation with Orthdox Priest Rowan Williams was lovely.
Regent College Podcast: Episode 211 (Metaphor, Poetry, and Maternal Imagery with Dr Beth Stovell)
A timely word reminding me about all the feminine Imagery in scripture and how God is not a gender
Ask N.T. Wright Anything Podcast: Episode 125 (Medieval Questions and the Subject of Galatians)
Wrights recent Galatians commentary functions as a kind of perfect summation of his larger body of work, and is extremely accessible. This talk does a wonderful job at setting a necessary foundation for entering into that journey, unfolding the power of the biblical story in its world
The Fear of God: Episode 328 (Leap of Faith: William Friedkin On the Exorcist)
An emotional and rich Episode talking about this documentary on the Exorcist and some connected themes about loneliness, finding awe in this world, and the place of faith
On Script: Episode 226, 226 (Aaron Sherwood on Romans; Enoch Okode on Christ and the Gift Giver in Romans)
Since I’ve been working my way through Romans this added a couple more to my list