film recommendation: roma

I’ve admired Alfonso Cuarón for a while now–Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men are two of my favorite films. And I was happy to find many similar themes from those films. And this latest film is visually stunning–I’ve read he directs and acts as cinematographer. The motif of water and family strength stayed with me long after viewing.

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documentary recommendation: gabo–the creation of gabriel garcia marquez

maxresdefaultI’ve been listening to One Hundred Years of Solitude as an audiobook and watching this documentary on Marquez’ life and work. I’m still taken by the idea of a large story following several generations–seven generations I think and I’m taken by the idea he was influenced by his Grandparent’s stories where local stories, fantastic details and family legends mix together. I also love how the doc is unapolegetically in Spanish.

film recommendation: moonlight

I’ve not watched Boyhood and in fact I’ve not watched many films concerning youth and masculinity lately–mostly because of my teaching schedule and work. Moonlight though came up on some podcasts I listen to and admire. And I have to say the film is rather amazing–subtle and subdued. I was taken with the music and also with the visual metaphors–the use of water and beach scenes. So much to say about this film. One particular performance I admire comes from Mahershala Ali as the father figure in the film. The swimming scene is particularly visceral and emotional.

 

the handmaid’s tale tv series adaptation

Margaret Atwood’s classic novel appears to have a well produced series adaptation coming to the internet. I was disappointed with the 199o film adaptation. This looks promising though.

documentary recommendation: the overnighters

Fascinating documentary covering a church serving homeless and jobless men in North Dakota. I was struck by the struggle between pastor Jay Reinke and his community.  Also didn’t see the surprise ending coming.

inside llewyn davis and the mobius strip narrative

inside_llewyn_davis_posterTeaching a film as lit class this term and spending some time this week closely studying Joel and Ethan Coen’s pre-Bob Dylan period film Inside Llewyn Davis. I am particularly interested in the themes of crisis and purposeleness. I also like the feel that the narrative is a mobius strip trapping the main character.

I am seeing many similarities with The Big Lebowski–another Coen brothers film I admire–in the themes of authenticity and honesty–also the theme of abiding or enduring. I also like the idea of the character who is not exactly aware of the depth of the crisis though I do feel Llewyn Davis comes to an understanding and awareness of sorts. I also love the motif in the incredible journey of the lost cat.

quick note–twin peaks, juan rulfo and spirit world voices

41kI1Ika+jL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_After a long semester of teaching I found some time to indulge in studying the novella Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. I’ve been an admirer of Rulfo’s career and this book reads as a tremendous progression from his short stories I was introduced to in his book The Burning Plain. What I found in this work is a complex, surreal story of a long abandoned town, Comala, and the stories from the ghosts of the townspeople. The book masterfully shifts from third person omniscient narration to first person narration. The book is filled with ghosts and spirit guides revealing their traumatic stories to the visiting narrator, Juan Preciado. We learn all about the dead city’s heritage from the ghosts of the past. In fact the sometimes narrator and his life aren’t very important to the story and this narrator only acts as a relayer–intermediary really–of spirits and voices from Comala. It’s been a few days and after much thinking and re-thinking on some of the motifs I think the book is simply about voices associated with place and a town dealing with generations of tragedy and grief–how objects and buildings can stand as totems for past traumatic events. How pain and suffering from the most horrible of moral offenses–murder, rape and incest–can stand at the center of entire town’s spiritual demise. The ghosts I found to be eccentric and odd yet always memorable. In fact, the book reminded me of Twin Peaks–David Lynch and Mark Frost’s masterpiece from the 1990’s. The narrator travels to Comala the way Agent Cooper travels to Twin Peaks to find answers about loss and death. From passage to passage I am wondering if the voices are real or  from a spirit world.

twin_peaks_fire_walk_with_me_ver1Recently I rewatched David Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me and I am finding so many similarities between Rulfo and Lynch. We have a small town holding onto psychic pain and suffering as well as intense secrets associated with the death of several young women. The film is filled with flawed and inept investigators who though despite being clever and observant cannot seem to crack the code to the murders as well as the spirit voices guiding them. The “lodge” mythology from the film and the television show are very different but the film has a cosmic and supernatural context I find so similar in the so-called magical realism work of Rulfo.

PS: Excited to see Twin Peaks return next year.

series recommendation: master of none


Some time away from writing projects for the past few weeks so I’ve been enjoying Aziz Ansari’s series. The series is part Seinfeld and part Louie. The writing and situations are so well crafted. So much understanding and empathy in this series regarding race, diversity and representation in film and television. Can’t wait for a season 2.

eraserhead

This week I’m grading and meeting with students individually but still found some time to watch David Lynch’s Eraserhead on Criterion Blu-ray. Lynch says the surreal is the subconscious speaking to us. And this is one of my favorite surreal films.

Great documentaries on the film here as well. After watching an early screening of the film, Lynch’s mother told him, “That’s a dream I wouldn’t want to be caught in.”

I can’t talk about Borges, Barth or Barthelme in my creative writing class without mentioning the films of David Lynch.

film recommendation: book of life

Had some time this SpringBreak to watch some films and this one by Jorge Gutierrez is beautifully animated. I liked the mix of modern music and the Mexican folklore. I was also struck by the theme of death and grieving families.

quick review: cesar chavez

MV5BMTM5NTkyOTMxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODA1MDYwMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_I’ve been waiting to watch Diego Luna’s film and finally had some time this weekend. The reviews were poor on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes and Marshall Ganz–a man who knew and worked with Cesar Chavez–criticized the film for the one dimensional version of Chavez’s life. I have to admit though I found Michael Peña’s portrayal of Cesar Chavez to be subtle and very powerful.

documentary recommendation: shepard and dark

untitledFascinating documentary about Sam Shepard’s forty year letter writing correspondence with friend Johnny Dark. Shepard stands as one my favorite authors and I enjoyed the inside look into how Shepard works and operates as a playwright–travelling around with his dog and his typewriter.

film recommendation: under the skin


11178828_800Based on the surrealist novel by Michel Faber, the film adaptation was much different than the book. I admired director Jonathon Glazer’s experimental style and how images drove the story instead of plot or dialogue.

quick note on new semester and dead poets

Dead_poets_societyA new semester will soon begin as I write this and my thoughts obsess over inspiring and motivating my students. It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been teaching since about 1999. I should be seasoned and secure in my teaching philosophy. Yet nothing concerns me more than motivating and caring for my students. The coursework comes easy but the technique in the classroom is something I’ve always struggled with. And I’ve aspired for years to act more aggressively as an advocate for my students.

I remember years and years back in an intro to education course watching a film with my fellow group members–a group of young and idealistic teacher-wannabes assigned to write on teaching styles. We watched Dead Poets Society over pizza and sodas in a dorm meeting room. And because I was young and capricious and uncertain what I wanted to do with my life–I mean one semester prior to this I was an engineering major thinking I would take all math and science courses–I found myself dismissing the film as sentimental and over-cooked. I was angry and young and stubborn at the time. And then I tutored for a few humbling years and found my way to the composition classroom. I returned to the film recently because of Robin Williams’ death and found myself captivated in the representation of the instructor-student relationship. I found the film to be a very strong representation of how a teacher can struggle with administration and also struggle with students. How a teacher has to face challenges from within and from outside the classroom. Williams’ character is kind and patient as well as firm.

The scenes I remember most fondly are the scenes where Williams’ character pushes his students to feel empowered and to think independently. These are the moments early on in a term when I am reminded of teachers who have inspired me–gone above and beyond to help me. Will Hochman from the University of Southern Colorado, Lisa Ede and Tracy Daugherty at Oregon State and most recently Sergio Troncoso from the Yale Writer’s Conference.