Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Film

Go See Arrival (A Short Review)


For a professional review, check out Dargis in the New York Times. I agree with almost all of it and want to add my two cents because this is a film I wish to remember. (Denis Villeneuve, by the way, also directed Sicario, which is entertaining but fails badly). Arrival is ambitious and profound and comes close to synthesizing a litany of complex elements into a full story. It is immensely enjoyable.

For me the film has rough loose ends with respect to character development, philosophy, science fiction (i.e. alien life and technology) and much else. It is, however, well crafted and devilishly provocative. In the end, though, the filmmakers very nearly drown all of this with a maudlin leitmotif of a mother-daughter relationship. Visually, its use of metaphor and symbols is dazzling. I will never forget aliens instantaneously communicating complex screeds with inky secretions of circular symbols. This rivals the stuff in Star Trek’s The Next Generation’s Darmok. (See also this take on that wonderful episode).

My favorite thing about the film is its reflection on time, linguistics, and memory. There is a thesis here on how these neither operate discretely nor linearly, that we have power individually and collectively to shape multiple existences, histories, realities, and even universes. The stuff on memory was Proustian, particularly the lush sequences of Louise at  home with her child that seemed to diminish time and space, flitting backward and forward sometimes, and dangling at others. We live, according to the story, in the past, present, and future all at once and we communicate not only with ourselves and others now, but also across time, space, and existences utilizing our minds, our voices, our pens, and our sentiment.

The aliens, named Abbot and Costello by the scientist and linguist, encourage us to remember forward and backward, to live all at once rather than discretely. They teach this Quixotic lesson and its implications to Louise. I wonder, though, if the film succeeds in getting this across to the masses?


TV Watching in the Wake of a Hard Day

Sicario wasn’t a very good movie at all but did hit the spot at the end of a long yesterday. It delivered a couple of mesmerizing action scenes, some excellent aerial shots of Southwest Texas, a scrap or two of inspired acting here and there, and good-looking Emily Blunt throughout.

That film helped my wind down. In late afternoon I taught a long faculty workshop so I was tired mentally, which is common. I shared a whiskey with my colleagues before heading home. One of the things that I’ve discovered about myself in recent years is that I am an introvert. Long exposure to groups of people, be this in seminar, lecture, parties, etc. drains me of lifeblood. Often I cannot even get into the frame of mind to work out, sleep, or do anything productive. I prefer any of these but I think I discovered yesterday that entertaining film or TV, ideally something that is not too profound or taxing, helps me to unwind. I got a good a good night sleep last night, too.

The other thing that I watched before nodding off was original Star Trek. I caught the “Balance of Terror,” (digitally remastered) and it was really cool and visually stunning. I had not taken in an old Star Trek in many years and I was delighted in particular with the writing. It’s going to be fun watching these, all dolled up now, from the beginning.


A Worthy Adaptation of Macbeth

The other day I noted to my friends on Facebook that I did not wish to live in a world where loving Marion Cotillard could be construed as morally wrong in any way or under any circumstances. I did, however, neglect to recommend the latest Macbeth that she starred in.

Really, it’s best construed as an adaptation, a very daring one that in my view lowers the volume on Shakespeare, to balance his near-perfect cadences with visual poetry and narrative.

Maybe I’m growing soft in my old age, or maybe I love Marion Cotillard a little too well, but I thought it very good if not excellent.

But you must see this on a big high def TV to get the full effect.

Scorsese Shares a Movie List

Check out the full story here:

Here is Mr. Scorsese’s list for aspiring film-makers:

  • Ace in the Hole
  • All that Heaven Allows
  • America, America
  • An American in Paris
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • The Bad and the Beautiful
  • The Band Wagon
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Cape Fear
  • Cat People
  • Caught
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Conversation
  • Dial M for Murder
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Duel in the Sun
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  • Europa ’51
  • Faces
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire
  • The Flowers of St. Francis
  • Force of Evil
  • Forty Guns
  • Germany Year Zero
  • Gilda
  • The Godfather
  • Gun Crazy
  • Health
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • House of Wax
  • How Green Was My Valley
  • The Hustler
  • I Walk Alone
  • The Infernal Cakewalk
  • It Happened One Nght
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Journey to Italy
  • Julius Caesar
  • Kansas City
  • Kiss Me Deadly
  • Klute
  • La Terra Trema
  • The Lady From Shanghai
  • The Leopard
  • Macbeth
  • The Magic Box
  • M*A*S*H
  • A Matter of Life and Death
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller
  • The Messiah
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Mishima
  • Deeds Goes to Town
  • Smith Goes to Washington
  • Nashville
  • Night and the City
  • One, Two, Three
  • Othello
  • Paisa
  • Peeping Tom
  • Pickup on South Street
  • The Player
  • The Power and the Glory
  • Stagecoach
  • Raw Deal
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Rise of Louis XIV
  • The Roaring Twenties
  • Rocco and his Brothers
  • Rome, Open City
  • Secrets of the Soul
  • Senso
  • Shadows
  • Shock Corridor
  • Some Came Running
  • Stromboli
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • Sweet Smell of Success
  • Tales of Hoffman
  • The Third Man
  • T-Men
  • Touch of Evil
  • The Trial
  • Two Weeks in Another Town

See the Uncut “Dawn of Justice”

I saw the Uncut Batman v. Superman “Dawn of Justice.” It got panned by the critics but my movie maven nephew, Vincent Aguilera, insisted that I see it. He was, as he almost always nearly is with respect to movies, correct in his assessment. It is fine film masquerading as one of the latest litany of superhero flicks. It is a dark, layered, and complex visual narrative with an excellent script. Superman is not at all straightforward and Batman is Frank Miller’s classic brooding vigilante, played with nuance and feeling by Mr. Affleck. The humor is dark, the men are manly, and the women are tough, gorgeous and palpable. Rent it at home and have 2-3 of your favor drinks ready. On a warm summer evening in Los Angeles, mine were ice cold Victorias with two of my best childhood buds.

These two were magnificent but the entire film was well casted:

More Movies

On the flight home from Puerto Rico the other day I took in The Martian.  Of course the tiny screen did not do the film visual justice but it was immensely enjoyable nonetheless. The film was Hollywood at its best: big, beautiful, predictable and comfortable. It never fooled me about its impending happy end. What I liked best, though, is that it was a movie about grit and problem-solving. This is yet another wonderful movie with a message about how to live well on Earth. The key ingredients are science, love and faith.

There is practically no romance in this film beyond a few nods that do not distract us from the object at hand: the mission to Mars, how it goes awry, and efforts to rescue Mark Watney, efforts that do not go smoothly. It provides insight to risk management and the viewer is keenly aware that more often than not the players take excessive risks. They do so with their eyes open because for these choices it was better to die failing than not to have tried at all. Notice that big decisions are never taken lightly and come only after careful and rigorous analysis.  No one is winging it. Everyone does the math, even if it is back-of-the-envelope.

Just because there is no romance does not mean that the movie is devoid of love. It is full of it, particularly among associates who work together on a mission for a common and noble goal to save a comrade who was inadvertently left behind. They are cheered on by the world and those of us in the theater.

The film ends in a classroom, with Mark Watney delivering a sermon:

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”  

2016 Odds and Ends

I have been away from this blog for more than a year. Frankly, I miss putting pen to paper in this format.

This Christmas season was good for the movies. I got to see Branagh’s Winter’s Tale, Tarantino’s Hateful 8, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The last I saw twice, including one outing with my adorable niece, Sarah. I rode in a car with her driving for the very first time. This was hard because when I see her I still see a two year old who loved her doting tio.

I saw Tarantino’s flick with Dolores, which was followed by a lovely Indian meal. I took a crew of nephews, my younger sisters, and my mom to see Branagh’s production, which aired live around the world from London.

I do not regret any of these choices for all were excellent, each special in its own way. Tarantino captures America’s polarized dysfunction in his effort and Star Wars its best hope. These two balance each other quite nicely.

This year, prompted by good friends on Facebook who suggested that it is the Bard’s best play. So in 2015 I wrestled with Winter’s Tale on Audio (Arkangel production) as well as the text. It is a fine hard-hitting comedy that barely qualifies as such — tragicomedy is more appropriate. I genuinely loved it but cannot agree with my friends that it is his best play. (Macbeth, Hamlet and Lear are indubitably better). But it is in my personal pantheon of best plays (also add the Henriad).

From among the three movies I saw, The Force Awakens was the most evocative and poignant. Both times I saw it my eyes grew mistier throughout and a lump grew in my throat. I saw the original Star Wars when I was 10, more or less.

The Force Awakens took me back to a time when I was a big dreamer albeit still an innocent one. It took me back to the lofty ambitions that were slowly coming to the surface and would burst forth during my hard and messy early adolescence. It breathed life to youthful memories and passions that do not easily stir.

On Movies — Update

This is an old post I update periodically. Don’t have time to maintain it, but I do use it to keep track of films I need to see at some point. Lately, my time has gone to the many great epic TV series.

Here is a list of great movie adaptations.

I love films but I have not watched as many as I should have over the years.  Going forward I want to both keep up with and revisit the excellent ones.  Below is a list of films recommended to my by some friends that I mean to see.

If there is something you believe I absolutely must see let me know and I’ll add it to the list.  The films that I have seen have asterisks and are in bold.   Of course, there are many excellent films that I have seen that I have not yet listed. I’ll add these along as I go along.  There are a few classics that I have seen that are not in asterisk because I was either too young or too immature to fully appreciate them and wish to see them again.

Note, the more endorsements a movie gets the more likely I am to see it.  Also, no documentaries, anime, or TV epic dramas are listed below (i.e. The Sopranos).  Just movies.\


**SHERLOCK, JR. (Buster Keaton, 1924) [Recommended here] Seen 4/2013**  Netflix


All’s Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestown, 1930)  [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz and William Keighely, 1938) [Recommended by Megan Maxwell]

Bringing up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938) [Recommended by Megan Maxwell]


Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Bert Johnson]

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943) [Recommended by Megan Maxwell] {Saw a long time ago}

Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Bert Johnson]

Lady from Shanhai (Orson Welles, 1947) [Recommended by Chiara]

The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) [Recommended by Christopher Carr] Nextflix

Twelve O’clock High (Henry King, 1949) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Colonel Balls] Netflix

**The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) [Recommended by Thomas Aguilera, Bert Johnson, and Chris Brooke]** Seen 2/2013**


Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder, 1950) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Chiara]

Orpheus (Jean Cocteau, 1950) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Ace in the Hole ( Billy Wilder, 1951) [Recommended by Vincent Aguilera]

Appointment in London (Philip Leacock, 1952) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Singing in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

High Noon (Fred Zinneman, 1952) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Kristen Fehlhaber]

Viva Zapata (Elia Kazan, 1952) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

**African Queen (John Huston, 1952) [Recommended by Megan Maxwell] Netflix** Seen Spring 2013

On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954) [Recommended by Thomas Aguilera]

Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Glen Miller Story (Anthony Mann, 1954) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Stanley Donen,1954) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)  [Recommended by Bert Johnson and Megan Maxwell]

Love Me or Leave Me (Charles Vidor, 1955) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955) [Recommended by Lindsay Kennedy]

Marty (Delbert Mann, 1955) [Recommended by Vincent Aguilera]

Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)  [Recommended by Sam Williford]

Giant (George Stevens, 1956) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrik, 1957) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

The Big Country (William Wyler, 1958) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Separate Tables (Delbert Mann, 1958) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)  [Recommended by Chiara and Steve Burgess]

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) [Recommended by Bert Johnson and Megan Maxwell]

**North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Megan Maxwell]** Seen on 2/2013

Our Man in Havana (Carol Read, 1959) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]


Plein Soleil (Rene Clement, 1960) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Sparticus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut, 1960) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961) [Recommended by Christopher Carr] Netflix

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz, 1961) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan, 1961) [Recommended by Lindsay Kennedy]

Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961) {Recommended by Lindsay Kennedy]

Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Chris Brooke]

Lonely are the Brave (David Miller, 1962) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) [Recommended by Dolores Bozovic]

HMS Defiant (Lewis Gilbert, 1962) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

JULES AND JIM (Francois Truffaut, 1962) [Recommended here]

Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963) [Recommended by Christopher Carr] Netflix

Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, 1963)  [Recommended by Chris Brooke]

Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) [Recommended by Chelsea Scevers]

Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer, 1964) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

The Train (John Frankenheimer, 1965) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

** Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)**  Seen 12/13

**Dr. Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)** Seen 12/13 

Ipcress Files (Sidney J. Furie, 1965) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Darling (John Schlesinger, 1965) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

The Professionals (Richard Brooks, 1966) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Man  for all Seasons (Fred Zinneman, 1966) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Two for the Road (Stanley Donen, 1967) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Bonnie & Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

In Cold Blood (Richard Brooks, 1967)   [Recommended by Cabron R. Mickey]

2001 A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick 1968)  [Recommended by Vincent Aguilera]

Planet of the Apes (Franklin Schaffner, 1968) [Recommended by Vincent Aguilera]

Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) [Recommended by Bert Johnson and Megan Maxwell]

**The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]** Seen 1/13.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter R. Hunt, 1969) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen, 1969) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Chris Brooke]


The Garden of the Fintzi Contini (Vittorio De Sica, 1970) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Cromwell (Ken Hughes, 1970) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER (Robert Bresson 1971) [Recommended here]

Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrik, 1971) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Klute (Alan J. Pakula, 1971) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971) [Recommended by Bert Johnson]

Duck you Sucker (Sergio Leone, 1971) [Recommended by Chiara]

Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

**The Godfather Part I (Francis Ford Copolla, 1972)**

Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Don’t Look now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

**The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Copolla, 1974)**

**Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)**

Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) [Recommended by Christopher Carr]

Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979) [Recommended by Christopher Carr and Chiara]


FANNY AND ALEXANDER (Ingmar Bergman, 1982) [Recommended here]

Ordinary People (Robert Redford)  [Recommended by Ernesto Barron]

Salvador (Oliver Stone, 1986) [Recommended by Christopher Carr] {Saw a while back…}

**THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (Woody Allen, 1985 )** [Recommended here]

Wings of Desire (Wim Wnders, 1987)

Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou, 1988)

**Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, 1989)**

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989) [Recommended by Chiara]


**Goodfellas (Martin Scorcese, 1990)**

**Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)** [Recommended here]

**Casino (Martin Scorcese, 1995)**

**Othello (Oliver Parker, 1996)**

**Twelfth Night (Trevor Nunn, 1996)**

**Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh, 1996)**

**American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)**

Titus Andronicus (Julie Taymor, 1999) [Recommended by Chelsea Scevers]

**Fargo (Coen Brothers, 1996)**


Quills (Philip Kaufman 2000) [Recommended by Dolores Bozovic] Netflix

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001) [Recommended by Chelsea Scevers]

Minority Report (Stephen Spielberg, 2002)  [Recommended by Sam Williford]

Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004) [Recommended by Sam Williford]

**Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005) [Recommended by Jeff Frieden]** Seen, Spring 2013

**Little Ms. Sunshine (Valerie Faris and Jonathon Dayton, 2006)**

**No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers, 2007)**

Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2007) [Recommended by Sam Williford]

**The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)**

**The Reader (Steven Daldry, 2008)**

**The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)**

**The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009)** Seen 4/2013 Netflix

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009) [Recommended by Sam Williford]


**True Grit (Coen Brothers, 2007)**

Death at a Funeral (Neil LaBute, 2010) [Recommended by Chelsea Scevers]

Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)

**Lincoln (Spielberg, 2012)**

LBJ — A TV Series

So I’ve been thinking of my LBJ mini series idea, to run around 10 seasons beginning with childhood to the day he leaves the Senate. We need the Madmen people to provide the artistic vision for the evolving times, taking us back and forth from Texas to DC and from Austin to the Hill Country. We need Breaking Bad’s cinematography. We need the House of Cards People to write the story, cast, and bring the characters to life. And we need Caro’s Path to Power (Seasons 1-5) and Master of the Senate (Seasons 6-10) as primary sources for building the series, dialogue, anecdotes, etc.

Someone should do this.

House of Cards Season II.

Now that I have finished Breaking Bad I am ready for House of Cards.

Season one was devilishly fun. Ignore those who try to make it out to be more than what it is. It’s full of keen insights on power.

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