May 23, 2015

Reading: Mad Max, The Declining Winter, The Flash, Poor Old Lu and The Prayer Chain, Dangerous Family Films & more

Also: The elitism of the current technology boom, ‘Daredevil,’ Sufjan Stevens and broken love, and biblical hermeneutics with Terrence Malick.
Mad Max: Fury Road

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this week, and suffice to say, it made quite the impact. (While driving home afterwards, it was all I could do to keep from speeding, so convinced was I that a raiding party of armored cars was about to emerge from the horizon.) It’s a fantastic movie, the very definition of style as substance. Indeed, it’s rather amazing how a film with such a minimal plot line — it’s essentially one long chase sequence — can hint at so much and keep you engaged. Or how a film with so much noise, fire, and general over-the-top-ness can contain so much subtlety and nuance in its characters and their interactions. Oh, and the soundtrack by Junkie XL is a thing of beauty, a perfect balance of intense, thunderous electronic music and gorgeous, even moving orchestral arrangements.

My Christ and Pop Culture colleague Wade Bearden explains why Mad Max: Fury Road is more than just a great action movie, and pushes back a bit at those who might find the movie an exercise in pure nihilism. “For all its depictions of depravity, Fury Road offers us a world worth fighting for. When society descends into hell, the natural inclination is to escape, but what if we circle back to reclaim the damaged for good? Miller’s work, while grim, hints at the hope of redemption and significance.”

Mad Max: Fury Road

One thing I really appreciated about Mad Max: Fury Road was its strong female characters, especially the supremely bad-ass Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron). It’s certainly a nice, refreshing corrective to the typical gender roles we see especially in action movies. But to say that Max himself represents “healthy, productive” masculinity? Methinks that’s reaching a bit too far. (On the other hand, certain “men’s rights activists” thought the movie was an attack on masculinity. Sometimes the amount of dumb out there is truly mind-boggling.)

As I mentioned before, one of the joys of Mad Max: Fury Road is how much it leaves to the viewer’s imagination to fill in. The film clearly takes place in a well-designed world, and yet director George Miller only gives you hints of how that world operates, which rather than prove frustrating, leaves you wanting more — in a good way. And Devin Faraci argues that movies work best that way. “I get wanting more — that’s the nature of fandom. But sometimes not getting that more is the best thing that can happen to us… Yes, we want to know more, but sometimes knowing more leads us to experiencing it less. What had been an exercise in the imagination turns into a rote recital of facts and figures. What had been mythic becomes mundane.”

The Declining Winter

The Declining Winter is one of my favorite post-Hood projects, and Home For Lost Souls is a solid slice of pastoral post-rock. Music Won’t Save You recently interviewed frontman Richard Adams about the group’s history, his various side-projects, and his trademark sounds. “My brother mentioned awhile back that there was a certain distinct sound to my (albeit terrible) guitar playing and I guess I’ve just been trying to embrace it a bit rather than worry that I can’t play it very well. I love pastoral, rustic sounding music that is evocative of a time and a place. I definitely distinctly tried to make this album sound ‘woody’ — as if it had just been dredged up from a field somewhere.”

Farhad Manjoo looks at the current technology boom, with all of its start-ups and apps, and finds it lacking. “With a few taps on a phone, for a fee, today’s hottest start-ups will help people on the lowest rungs of the 1 percent live like their betters in the 0.1 percent. These services give the modestly wealthy a chance to enjoy the cooks, cleaners, drivers, personal assistants and all the other lavish appointments that have defined extravagant wealth. As one critic tweeted, San Francisco’s tech industry ‘is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?’”

The Flash

It’s a good time to be a comic book fan, thanks to the myriad adaptations on both the big and small screen. However, Noel Murray makes a convincing case for why The Flash is the most enjoyable comic book adaptation out there (and yes, I know it’s on The CW). “The series has been delivering all the delights of Silver Age DC comics — superpowers, weird science, colorful villains, and, yes, a psychic gorilla — without ranging too far into campiness or winking… The Flash’s success has been reassuring to the contingent of comic book fans who wish live-action superheroes were more… okay, let’s just say it: fun.” And let’s just say that after the season finale — which was just about perfect — I’m dying for season two to start.

As enjoyable as The Flash is, it’s safe to say that the hallway fight scene at the end of Daredevil’s second episode is the comic book scene to top this year. While discussing it with some co-workers, I came across this interview with Daredevil’s stunt coordinator that discusses the scene. “I think this was what started defining the show for me, and the weight that was being played into it. Phil Abraham was directing, and it was always scripted that this scene was going to be a one-shot. For me in my head, with the time we had, I said let’s do wipes and we’ll be able save things. But Phil challenged us to do a pure one-shot, which really just brought a grounded real feeling to the whole thing. We were able to slow down the fight, and just have this raw, animalistic feeling happening.”

Sufjan Stevens

Chad Ashby writes about the broken love in Sufjan Stevens’ new album, and what it has to do with an obsure Catalan play. “This obscure reference is a key element in understanding how Stevens sees his relationship with his mother Carrie. Most importantly, Stevens sees himself as Manelich, a man who must choose to love in the midst of terrible brokenness or give up altogether.”

The “Chrindie ‘95” project keeps plugging away, with recent articles on Poor Old Lu’s Straight Six EP and The Prayer Chain’s Mercury. Regarding Mercury, Kate Smith writes, “The band very intentionally stretched itself; they were also experiencing a lot of internal and external stress and this album captures those tensions. The band and the release of Mercury embodied issues surrounding the industry which would only increase in the years following. In hindsight, Mercury was one of the first big signals that the Christian indie rock (‘Chrindie’) creative boom would eventually be pushed out by CCM’s gatekeepers. Out of that strain, The Prayer Chain made an incredible statement of a record.”

The Incredibles, Brad Bird

One of my favorite directors working today is Brad Bird, who has directed such noteworthy titles as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. While his movies are often considered “family” movies, Steven D. Greydanus points out the darkness and danger Bird’s films contain. “Except for ‘Ghost Protocol,’ all of his films to date (including ‘Tomorrowland’) are PG or G-rated family films, and share a fundamentally positive, hopeful outlook. Yet they also share a bracing, almost dangerous spirit; they are less like the padded playgrounds today’s children play on than the ones their parents grew up with.” (Unfortunately, Greydanus isn’t quite as sanguine on Bird’s latest filmTomorrowland.)

Hermeneutics With Malick is “a seven-lesson introduction to the practice of biblical interpretation, with cinematic visual aids from the best filmmaker alive today, Terrence Malick.” More: “The Bible is the best selling book in history, but it’s also the most debated, abused, misinterpreted and mis-handled book in history. Why? Because it’s an incredibly complicated text. Biblical texts were written thousands of years ago by a variety of authors, to a variety of original audiences, in cultural and historical settings that are far, far different than what most of us are familiar with today. Because of that, reading the Bible well is both an art and a science. We call it hermeneutics.”


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