Friday, September 30, 2016

September 2016 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for September, plus one...

1. I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this month, the play that takes place a few decades after the events of The Deathly Hallows. Here we meet the various offspring of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Draco as they attend Hogwarts and navigate the world of magic and hormones just as their elders did. This time around, Albus Severus Potter is wrestling with issues of identity, friendship, and finding his place in the world...and of course gets himself in trouble along the way. The older generation has its own problems, particularly Harry, as he continues to figure out how to be him even long after the Battle of Hogwarts, especially as he seeks to relate to Albus. Because it's written as a play, I finished it in a few hours and there aren't the usual side plots that the novels did. But it's a great new story that revisits many beloved characters and recalls some of the most notable events of the past books.

2. I also read Falling Upward by Richard Rohr this month, where he describes what he calls the two halves of life. The first half as he defines it is one where we mainly act out of self-preservation, ego-building, accumulation of identity-defining items, and a very binary worldview of "us" and "them." Rohr examines what first-half living looks like in more concrete terms, as well as the sorts of things that cause us to transition into a second half worldview, among other catalysts being exposure to diverse experiences, failure, suffering, humiliation, and mere aging. The second half then features living more according to a sense that much of what made us anxious in the first half doesn't really matter that much. We gain a greater perspective of who we are in God's universe, what is truly important, and what is ultimately trivial. Rohr observes that the second half views the world in slower and more inclusive terms, and we are more willing to view ourselves with honesty. Rohr is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

3. And I also read Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton this month. You may know Glennon from her blog Momastery, where she muses on parenting, faith, depression, relationships, and a host of other topics. This is a memoir chronicling her struggle to be herself in a world she senses so strongly wants her to be someone else, which includes bouts with bulimia and addiction before becoming pregnant by her eventual husband, which she recognizes as an invitation to "come back to life." I was most struck by her wrestling with issues of identity, and the cocoon in which she often wraps herself for the first part of the book before slowly coming to realize that she doesn't need to do that. It's a captivating, powerful, at times incredibly jarring work that I'd highly recommend.

4. I watched Spotlight this month, one of last year's most critically-acclaimed movies. It follows a small team of reporters from The Boston Globe known as "Spotlight," which investigates special stories. Shortly after the Globe gets a new editor, he assigns the team a case concerning molestation by Catholic priests and coverups by the church. The film is not only an exploration in how reporters go about their investigative work, but how an entire system can work to cover up wrongdoing in order to save face. Stanley Tucci's character sums it up: "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one." The cast is top-notch and the story is both disturbing and riveting.

5. I also watched The Fundamentals of Caring this month. It debuted at Sundance this past January and released to Netflix in June. Paul Rudd stars as Ben, a retired writer who is both going through divorce and dealing with the loss of his son. After becoming certified as a caregiver, he meets his first client Trevor, an 18-year-old suffering with a form of MD. It takes the two a while to begin bonding before embarking on a road trip that eventually includes a runaway (Selena Gomez) and a very pregnant woman. Moments and conversations ensue that bring the foursome closer to each other and to themselves in different ways. I'm pretty much a fan of everything Rudd does; this film struck a wonderful balance of serious themes and humor, which is a unique talent that he brings to many of his roles. It's both heartwarming and funny, and I'd recommend a viewing.

6. Ingrid Michaelson released a new album in late August called It Doesn't Have to Make Sense. Like previous efforts, Michaelson toes the reflective/whimsical line over piano pop arrangements. "Miss America" is her accepting that she'll never fit society's definition of perfect, while "I Remember Her" grieves a loved one no longer around. Here's the video for the first single, "Hell No:"