I was honored to be one of the judges in Christianity Today’s 2020 Book Awards. I reviewed Andrew Le Peau’s Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality for the “Culture & the Arts” category, and I found it an immensely helpful, encouraging, and practical book. (The runner-up in that category, Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark, is also really enjoyable.) And congratulations to my friend Jake Meador, whose In Search of the Common Good took the top place in the “Politics and Public Life” category.
Earlier today, I listening to Carlos Forster’s Disasters on a whim and was struck by the thought that someday — hopefully sooner rather than later — people will finally acknowledge Forster for the brilliant songwriter that he is (and has been for over two decades). From the For Stars albums of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s to his more recent solo records, they’re all good as gold, and criminally overlooked and under-appreciated.
December 2019’s Best Streaming Titles: Marriage Story, The Witcher, Hellboy, Jackie Chan, The Expanse
I missed that Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep, Gerald’s Game) is adapting Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw for Netflix. James’ novella was previously the source for The Innocents, my favorite horror movie of all time. Writing for Birth.Movies.Death, Emily Sears considers the movie’s atmospheric approach to the supernatural and psychological aspects of its storyline: “As in James’s ghost story, the horrors seen in The Innocents are less frightening than those it awakens in our imagination.”
For my money, Low is one of the best live bands around today, whether performing their more traditional “slowcore” material or the brutal, deconstructed sounds of 2018’s sublime Double Negative. Case in point, the band’s recent appearance at the 2019 Nox Orae festival. The show’s best part has to be the absolutely devastating performance of “Do You Know How to Waltz?” that then bleeds into “Lazy.” I’m pretty sure that more than just a few concertgoers had their brains melted during that twenty-minute stretch of beautiful noise.
You may think an article defending Dungeons & Dragons from a Christian perspective is silly and unnecessary, but some of us grew up in religious circles that vilified — and continue to vilify — Dungeons & Dragons as a gateway to the occult. In any case, Phil Tallon does an excellent job of summing up the pros of Dungeons & Dragons (e.g., creative and interactive gameplay, communal storytelling) while addressing some of the concerns and criticisms that have surrounded the game.
Vox’s Brian Resnick talks to a meteorologist to learn why sunsets are better in the winter. Turns out, it’s a confluence of several factors, including atmospheric conditions and the angle at which the sun sets: “During the fall equinox, the sun pretty much sinks into the ground at a 90-degree angle. Nearer the winter solstice, the sun sets on more of an angle, drawing out the time it takes to set. Which is to say: Sunset colors linger closer to the winter solstice, which allows us to enjoy them for longer.”
Alissa Wilkinson’s review of Frozen 2 discusses the movie, sure, but she also uses it to explore Disney’s massive influence on our pop culture and entertainment, and the trap that the company seems to be falling into with its endless reboots, remakes, and sequels.
By my lights, Frozen 2 is still a plenty enjoyable film, even if it lacks its predecessor’s subversive spark. But for me, watching generative and derivative nostalgia spar within it prompted a different sense of the familiar: bleakness about the future of mouse-eared entertainment. Disney, whatever its faults, has often been a pioneer in storytelling; now it’s resting firmly on its laurels, too often electing to spin the wheel again rather than try to reinvent it.
Nostalgia has its place. Remembering the feeling of homesickness reminds us where we came from, that we come from somewhere. But too much yearning for the past without a concomitant attempt to live in the present and push toward the future is a dangerous trap for a culture to fall into, both because it risks becoming stagnant in its art and because it may begin to to worship the past as the only place worth living in. Too much yearning for the past makes us incurious about the world. And if, as Proust wrote, the past we remember is not necessarily the one that existed, remaining stubbornly beholden to it can render us altogether incapable of dealing with the present.
The bigger Disney gets, the more it controls what most Americans — and people around the world — will see at the movies and on their TV screens, and thus it bears enormous responsibility for seeing into the future. Looking backward too much, recycling old content and relying on old formulas endlessly, becomes a snake eating its own tail.
This is why she’s one of my favorite movie critics.
The Strange Negotiations Trailer Finds David Bazan Pondering the Crumbling of Evangelical Christianity
Put simply, The Expanse is the best sci-fi series on TV right now. Originally produced by Syfy and then saved by Amazon after the former dumped it following the third season, The Expanse is set in the not-too-distant future where the various factions of humanity face an unimaginable alien threat. The series’ third season ended with mankind discovering the means to travel instantaneously to other worlds beyond the solar system, which — mankind being what it is — opens up a host of new problems.
Here’s the official synopsis:
Season 4 of The Expanse, its first as a global Amazon Original, begins a new chapter for the series with the crew of the Rocinante on a mission from the U.N. to explore new worlds beyond the Ring Gate. Humanity has been given access to thousands of Earth-like planets which has created a land rush and furthered tensions between the opposing nations of Earth, Mars and the Belt. Ilus is the first of these planets, one rich with natural resources but also marked by the ruins of a long dead alien civilization. While Earthers, Martians and Belters maneuver to colonize Ilus and its natural resources, these early explorers don’t understand this new world and are unaware of the larger dangers that await them.
Everything about this looks great, right up to that final, wonderfully delivered line from Amos Burton, who — along with the delightfully foul-mouthed Chrisjen Avasarala — is my favorite character on the show.
The latest installment of Sonic Cathedral’s Singles Club is Slowdive’s absolutely epic and mind-blowing cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair.” This has been a staple of their live performances since reforming several years ago, and is basically an opportunity for Slowdive to let loose and unleash the full force of their shoegaze sound — which they do, and then some. This particular performance was originally recorded back in 2014 but was remixed and remastered earlier this year by Neil Halstead and Heba Kadry, and will be released on gold vinyl (of course).