Sunday, February 10, 2013

Break-up Movies

Yesterday's post referred to the New Sincerity, a description of culture's current typology, focusing more on authenticity than the cynicism of yesteryear. I think this is, at the very least, a partially accurate depiction. And I think this has also opened the door for a number of break-up movies made in the last 5 or so years. These movies showcase a love that doesn't work and, sometimes, people survive. I don't think this idea would have made it into the movies 10 years ago. I watched two such movies this weekend and was compelled to make a quick list.
Celeste & Jesse Forever
Rashida Jones' Celeste & Jesse Forever has been in my sights ever since I saw the super-slick trailer a few months ago. Ethereal soundtrack, great script well executed, beautiful visuals, great chemistry between Jones and Samberg, great cast. My only qualm was how obvious it is that you can't be besties with your ex (luckily, the movie progressed past that).

Take this Waltz (trailer)
Jorje and I watched this little indie guy last night and were pretty underwhelmed. It wallowed in indie world, pandering to following one's desires. Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan were solid but I just wasn't buying the self-discovery involved.

Blue Valentine (trailer)
Again, Michelle Williams. And Ryan Gosling. Beautifully acted. Perfect use of the Grizzly Bear's album, Veckatimist for its soundtrack. It's a slow one, and devastating.

(500) Days of Summer (trailer)
Sometimes I forget that this quirky, little indie-gem is a breakup movie. Zooey is Zooey and Levitt is Levitt. If you buy into them two... and everything else that the indie world brings, how can you not love this movie? It moves along quickly, it made me give The Smiths a listen, and the soundtrack is perfect.

Other suggestions?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The New Sincerity

I'm not going to say too much about this one but I recently read Jonathan D. Fitzgerald's book, Not Your Mother's Morals. Fitzgerald is the editor of, writes for a bunch of other well known publications, and commonly spurs my thought process along.
His book highlights the New Sincerity found in today's pop culture; a progression from a few decades marked more by cynicism. He charts the progression of culture a little bit, gives a brief rundown of his personal engagement with culture while growing up within conservative Christianity, and finishes with a call to embrace this form of authenticity.

A quote in the second half of the book sums things up nicely:
Today, at this unique moment, writers, actors, musicians, and artists elevate authentic expression over manufactured image. This means that they reach back through the decades and choose from a wide array of values, selecting those that most often align with who we are and what we believe at our core. They understand that some situations are inherently better than others, and they're not embarrassed to suggest that we pursue those. This process puts morality front and center; the New Sincerity compels us to consider not just what we want, but also what is right.
Perhaps my favorite example that Fitzgerald uses is Conan O'Brien's charge to his (young) watchers to not be cynical.

It's certainly not perfect, but this little EP of a book is worth the read. Former church-mate and avid blogger, Amy Peterson, gives a much better analysis of the book on her blog or you can just read the book in an hour or two on your Kindle (currently $3.99 on Amazon).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

First Year Students and their Questions

The First Year students on Messiah's campus were recently given an assignment to ask other students, administrators, or faculty the following questions: 
‘What is an idea or tradition or body of thought or book that has especially shaped your thinking and that helps you engage the world?’ 
The assignment was in response to a New York Times piece encouraging students to back their passionate feelings up with bodies of thought, not just a passing feeling. 

One of my residents asked me via email and I thought I'd share my response publicly as well in hopes that the three readers of this blog might also ask themselves this question.

  1. The Book of Common Prayer. My wife and I started going to an Episcopal Church a few years back (before moving to PA) and were greatly influenced by the liturgical and communal style of worship. The BCP was used as the framework of much of the service and it helped me recognize the connectedness of the wider church body, tying us to something larger than our temporary experience. There’s some type of reassurance knowing that not only is there a stable God, but a group of people that are also seeking that God alongside you.
  2. East of Eden – by John Steinbeck. This epic gem of a book has pretty easily maintained its spot as favorite of mine. It tells a “modern” (late nineteenth century – early twentieth) tale of Cain and Abel, driving home the point that we are all given different traits, life circumstances, etc. but we are responsible for our actions. So much wisdom.
  3. Garden State – The Zach Braff movie from a few years back. I view this movie as defining of my generation. As Braff (the protagonist) is faced with tragedy, romance, and awkward interactions with old friends, he’s forced to decide between distancing himself from others or choosing the hard road to deep relationships. This more or less typifies my hope in this generation; we may be sloppy and inappropriate at times, but we’re trying to be authentic.

I didn't include the Bible (although the BCP is a direct tie). The assignment was given on a Christian college campus, I'm assuming the Bible is a given. I also probably forgot some other major work that's been highly influential in my life but I did like the mix of ancient-ish, classic lit, and a modern work that all touch on major themes in my life.

Anything come to your mind for your life?