All posts filed under: Reviews

Notes on Gregory Rabassa’s Memoir, “If This Be Treason”

I suppose that to be considered a memoir, Gregory Rabassa’s If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents should have a tighter narrative, but it doesn’t nor did it ever intend to. Instead, the book revolves around a loose series of anecdotes; most importantly, reflections on his relationship with the mythic roster of Latin American authors that he has worked with over the years. If you want, you can gloss the makings of a philosophy on translation, though these thoughts only come in passing. The profession does not define nor does it dominate his perspective, but rather provide context for someone that seems to take life as it happens. Rabassa’s famously does not read a book before translating it, preferring to do so as he goes along. He alludes to this by comparing translation to nothing more than a reading, one that avoids the dogma of criticism, but remains preserved in print nonetheless. This instinctual approach to translation is more interpretation than anything else. In regard to the title, this idea of treason defines the …

Notes on Better Call Saul: Season 1, Episode 9

The story arc for the first season of Better Call Saul is not too different from its predecessor. Take an average, down-on-his-luck protagonist and watch as he tries to change his fate. But whereas Walter White is a dynamic character, going from Ned Flanders to Scarface; Jimmy McGill is static, a victim of circumstance. However, his descent does not seem inevitable until the penultimate episode of this first season. So what was the deciding factor in establishing this narrative? Were we supposed to hold on to a glimmer of hope that Jimmy McGill could be a decent and honest lawyer? It only takes nine episodes until we are given a definitive answer. Earlier in the season, we are given a glimpse of this realization. As with Breaking Bad, the characters in Better Call Saul are not scrutinized through the traditional lens of good or bad. Their actions can belong to either side, but the rest is open to interpretation. Jimmy McGill can only get so far through legitimate means. Here’s a quick overview: he doesn’t …

Notes on Divergent Narratives: Louie Season 5, Ep. 2 ‘A La Carte’

After watching “A La Carte,” the second episode of the fifth season of Louie, I want to begin this essay with the premise that Louie CK is a pretty enlightened individual…especially for the last few years. I say that because I take for granted that the quality of his writing, like many others before him, will be subject to the law of diminishing returns. In other words, Louie should be more stagnant at this point, but it’s not. Somehow it resists complacency and finds ways to adapt without sacrificing an aesthetic that his audience has come to appreciate as distinctly louie-esque. It’s a resolute melancholy, a rawness that stays grounded in both beauty and despair. This perspective, however grounded in reality (disregarding the occasional surreal and/or absurd sequences), is what offers insight into the human condition…or at the very least, provides a few laughs. It is a lack of a shame coupled with a lack of sympathy for his character. Yet it is often the characters around him that keep him honest. Pamela is the …

Notes on Walking Out of Inherent Vice

I couldn’t sit through more than an hour of Inherent Vice. I’ve never read a Thomas Pynchon novel either, but hearing some of the narration, I would assume his narratives to suffer the same form of dry monotony. Who knows? It might just be remorse for not having read the book beforehand. Anyway, I decided that this experience, at more than two and a half hours and on a work night, wasn’t for me. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult for me to leave the theater, but I’m trying to be less stubborn when it comes to forcing an experience onto myself. It really felt like you needed the book as a point of reference to understand the film. There were a couple of guys sitting a few rows ahead of me. I’m going to assume they were  either Pynchon bros, Paul Thomas Anderson bros, or perhaps some combination of both. Anyway, they were visibly excited for the film to start. So I kept an eye on them and noticed how much more they …

Notes on the film ‘Frank’

Frank is a 2014 film by Lenny Abrahamson starring Michael Fassbender as the titular character, an eccentric, yet earnest musician that also happens to wear a giant paper-mache head (a reference to English musician and comedian Chris Sievey and his longtime comic persona, Frank Sidebottom). The film follows Frank and his band (Soronprfbs) as they welcome a new member (Domhnall Gleason) and try to record an album at an isolated property located in Ireland. Afterwards, they attempt to play an important show at SXSW, which ultimately reveals some of the deep-rooted psychological issues that the film’s somewhat bizarre premise suggests. Mental illness is never really the main focus of the film, but rather the antecedent and eventual falling action of the plot itself. Frank’s creativity is never questioned in this regard; though there is some assumption that the paper-mache head is what allows him to adopt the persona we observe during the first two acts of the film. The irony is that mental illness and creativity do not produce a positive corollary, but in some …

Notes on Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”

“I thought there would be more to it.” This is what Mason’s mother says toward the end of the film when it becomes apparent that her son is no longer a child. Part-metaphor, part-criticism, it’s a subtle moment when the film acknowledges itself through the irony of such a literal interpretation, a reference to the unfiltered experience it provides. Because the narrative can at times be plain, offering moments from childhood that are both familiar and clichéd. In many ways, “Boyhood” connects these clichés to show that they are not isolated from one another. They happen at almost every stage of life; whether it be Mason getting bullied or having his first beer; talking about sex with his father, breaking up with his first girlfriend, etc. It’s like a sequence of events that become more obvious as the story progresses. That’s not really the most important aspect of the film. Instead, what we experience is the scale and magnitude of the story. This is a technical achievement, a time capsule that provides a portrait of …

Notes on Boyhood & Its Awkward Shout Out to Migrant Workers

There are two scenes in this film that have no place in the story. In the first scene, Patricia Arquette’s character is discussing a broken pipe with a man who is trying to explain in his broken English that the pipe, which is literally in pieces, needs to be replaced. He then mentions that the pipe his colleague is standing on (which is not broken) would be a better fit. Essentially, he is trying to say, “Pipe no good. This pipe better.” I’m sorry to sound crude, but there wasn’t much discourse on the art of plumbing during this exchange, though it should have been obvious to anyone that the original pipe was busted and had to be replaced. It doesn’t take a genius to–I digress. Anyway, Patricia Arquette’s character asks if he is certain (just look at the damn pipe, lady) and seems impressed by his resolve. She tells him that he’s smart and decides to change his life by introducing the revolutionary idea of formal education. Maybe he can enroll at the local …

Notes on Spike Jonze’s “Her” 

I’m going to make the assumption that enough people were distracted by the unusual premise of the film Her (either dismissing it entirely or intrigued by its novelty), that they probably overlooked the underlying theme present in the story. More than just a commentary on “love as a socially acceptable form of insanity,” as its tagline suggests, the film also makes a compelling argument for what often contributes to the failure of a relationship: distance, or rather in this case, proximity. It’s not difficult to notice how much access Samantha has into Theodore’s life or the mutual curiosity they have for one another. It happens instantaneously. She reads his emails, helps to organize his schedule, and accompanies him almost everywhere he goes. It’s the kind of forced intimacy that begins to place an unknown boundary between them, especially with Theodore possessing a certain emotional leverage throughout their courtship–a role he, somewhat naively, takes to without hesitation. And so they eventually decide to cross that threshold (barring one drunken night, let’s assume it happens either way). …

Notes on “Sleep Stir” by Jacob Sachs-Mishalanie

There’s a quote from John Frusciante that came out shortly after the release of one of his records. In a letter addressed to his fans, he explained that his album “should be played as loud as possible” and that it was “suited to dark living rooms late at night.” So when I listen to Sleep Stir and I’m reminded of that quote, I think of lying in bed with a pair of headphones on, quietly drifting inward, appreciating a sort of peaceful resolution that seems fitting to end the day. The airy vocals, simplified drumbeats, and three-piece string section all help to establish the pensive, surreal mood of the album. Yet the shrewd use of instrumentation (also featuring celesta and a moog synthesizer) is contrasted by an emphasis on seemingly mundane lyrical themes, ordinary details that are distorted into dreamy, restless fragments. “Book” is a perfect example, with the narrator floating between quaint images, yet preoccupied by the neglect of an old library book that had not been checked out in years. It’s these kinds …