Critical Hit!!

pop culture (and everything else) explored

Notes on Pedagogy

My graduate classes often involve students presenting the material we read for class. Here are my thoughts to some good pedagogy for such an exercise.

  • Introduce yourself, the text, and the author(s)
  • Outline what you are going to present – show us where we will be going
  • Practice, practice, practice with a time limit
  • digest, rework, and transform the knowledge of the text – make it approachable and easily understandable
    • An elegant summary illustrates you know the material as well
  • If you critique the text, be sure to make salient points
  • Use examples – stories, anecdotes are helpful in fleshing out theories
  • Use powerpoint sparingly, to highlight key ideas and visually reinforce them



Anomalisa might just be the best film I saw at TIFF. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman with stop motion director Duke Johnson, Anomalisa is one of the tightest scripts I’ve seen, a beautifully rendered work that illustrates the fluidity and flexibly of animation. It’s use of voice acting and explicit use of stop motion puppetry only elaborate on its themes of the constructedness of identity and how we perceive others through our own egos.

I don’t have much to add yet that other reviewers haven’t, or rather, the energy to do some in depth analysis when the film already embodies its themes and motifs quite clearly. I will however discuss briefly its distribution strategy. The film is still shrouded in mystery (few images available online, no trailer), so I’m guessing the creators are seeking another round of buzz with the film publicly debuts later this year. I’ll predict at least one think piece will arise noting whether the film will be placed in the “Best Animated Feature” category for the Oscars, or the “Best Picture”. I can here the arguments now.

The Clan


The Clan (2015) was one of many entries in TIFF’s Platform series that impressed me. Based on a true story, it centres around a middle class Argentinian family in the early 80s kidnapping, ransoming, and murdering rich people. Guillermo Francella plays the patriarch Arquimedes, the ringleader of the family organizing and negotiating the deal, all in the name of his family. But as his star athlete son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) begins to questions and reject his methods, Arquimedes’ veneer of family loyalty begins to become undone.

Unlike, say, Bleak Street, this film explicitly illustrated its historicity through the occasion screen text establishing when and where scene take place. While the film loses a touch of its coherence and tension when it flash forwards to the family’s inevitable downfall, the film crackles with more intensity in the second half of the film, bringing the father-son dynamic to a head.

This film ended with my jaw agape. It was a riveting experience of shock and delight, a rare filmic high that I must applaud The Clan for its masterful execution. Recommended.

Derrida and Notre Musique

Shot. Counter-shot.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre Musique is another film essay, this time expounding upon the notion of Derrida’s Différance, that we can only understand through comparison. Meaning is not intrinsic, but rather we know what something is by what it is not. Godard takes this notion and forms its through the lens of film. Film and its cuts, are like this too, Godard posits, extrapolating meaning from the shot/reverse shot compilations of Native Americans and other subjects. “All cuts are lies”, Godard proclaims, and in editing, it is these lies that form together to present truth.

Transcendental Style in Film

“Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!” – The Smiths, “Paint a Vulgar Picture”

This is the result of a book review assignment some years ago.

From Taxi Driver to Notes of Film Noir, one can certainly say that Paul Schrader has had an impact on both pop culture consciousness and film scholarship. One of the most well-known graduates of Calvin College, Schrader graduated with a BA in philosophy and a minor in Theology, and later earned a MA in Films Studies from UCLA. As a well established screenwriter (Raging Bull) and director (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, American Gigolo), as well as a former film critic for the Los Angeles Free Press, Schrader stands as a notable figure of the film medium. Perhaps the apex of his scholarly work is his book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer, published in 1972. An outgrowth of his master’s thesis in college, Schrader analyses the works of the titular filmmakers in relation to invoking transcendence and expressing the Holy, and highlights a transcendental style that ultimately appears to continue as a style of filmmaking.

Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer is an essay detailing the aforementioned ‘transcendental style’ Schrader traces in the titular filmmakers. With detailed looks at each filmmakers’ catalog of films, history of art styles (sacred and secular), and the cultural personalities of each filmmaker, Schrader puts forth a common style found in films seeking to transcend and express the Holy. He writes of three steps of this transcendental style found in film: 1) the everyday, the celebration of the mundane, which prepares reality for the intrusion of the transcendent; 2) disparity, the gradual building process of disunity between man and his environment; and 3) stasis, the transcending of the disparity and reuniting with nature.  Whereas Schrader finds Ozu and Bresson using this transcendental style thoroughly, he finds that Dreyer does not, intentionally avoiding a sense of stasis in his films.

Schrader situates his analysis within the studies of Gerardus van der Leeuw and André Bazin, both critics who discuss the relationship between spirituality and realism in art. As he notes, both scholars held that “the spiritual quality in art suffered it decline at the expense of ‘realism,’. . .” (157). He mentions the work of these scholars in response to possible confusion with the first step of the transcendental style, that of the everyday. Schrader does this both to comment upon the state of representation in film (especially as it relates to the Transcendent) but also to reaffirm that the everyday isn’t a heightened sense of ‘realism’ per say, but an attempt at a more objective view of reality. The everyday is inexpressive, acting as a primer for the disparity and transcendence to come. Though the discussions of theology, religion, and their intersections with art have never ceased in academia, Schrader’s book seems to stand as a unique entity in film scholarship. With such a particular subject matter, I have not found any similar material that comments or critiques the work outside of an assortment of book reviews. It is a well earned entry into film scholarship.

Delving into the main reflections of this transcendental style, Schrader begins with the work of Yasujiro Ozu and traces the common elements of the transcendental style of the everyday, disparity, and stasis, as described earlier. However, he also looks particularly for the uniquely influential force in Ozu’s life to shape his work towards this transcendental style. Schrader teases out the complications between the influences that affect the filmmaker himself, noting that “Oriental art in general and Zen art in particular aspire to the Transcendent” (17). He finds that Ozu’s extremely formulistic style of filmmaking was Ozu’s method of expelling his own personality from his films (and his method of creating the everyday), but that trying to separate Ozu’s personality from Zen culture is meaningless because “both personality and culture are enveloped by a transcending reality” (26). Ultimately, Schrader comes to the conclusion that Zen culture is the predominate influence of Ozu’s work, and that it is his personality that is a means of expressing that influence in his films, despite the bulk of Ozu’s personality expunged due to his rigorously formulistic filmmaking.

Next, Schrader turns to Robert Bresson and examines his body of work, illustrating through careful analysis of his body of work that Bresson also exemplified the same three step process as seen in Ozu’s body of work. Schrader finds Bresson to be a good case study of the transcendental film style because he was relatively isolated from his culture. He was also a formalist like Ozu, with “a rigid, predictable style which varies little from film to film, subject to subject” (60). Indeed, both filmmakers “use form as the primary method of inducing belief” (61). Hence the use of transcendental style, which Schrader explicates more about regarding the nature of the stasis and transcendence achieved. Schrader explains that as disparity builds in a film, in creates an emotional experience for the audience, and the decisive action ending the disparity needs emotional commitment of the viewer, otherwise there is no stasis, a technique used by both Ozu and Bresson, but not Dreyer.

Finally, Schrader looks at the works for Carl Dreyer, a filmmaker whose works only somewhat employ the transcendental style, and thus his films also make for an interesting case study. Schrader notes that Dreyer never fully embraces the transcendental style, as he also enjoyed in working with deep character psychology in his films (which works against transcendental style in film, as it de-universalizes the experiences and thus limits the ability for transcendence.) Aside from transcendental style, the other styles of Kammerspiele and expressionism also are present in his works. Kammerspiele (chamber plays) influenced Dreyer’s direction incredibly, as they typically had “complex psychological states are reveals through meticulous staging, an insinuating manner, weighty deeply felt gestures, and a ponderous slowness” (115). These aforementioned traits are definitely seen having influence in Dreyer’s work, particularly in the case of psychology of characters.

The influence of expressionism is also present, and complicates the notion of transcendental style as “expressionism is an anathema to transcendental style . . . it ‘interprets’ reality, assigning to it a comprehensible (though irrational) psychological reality” (118). Thus “expressionism doesn’t eliminate the barriers which stand between the spectator and the Holy, it exaggerates them . . .” (119). Because of Dreyer’s other influences in his work (and perhaps other interests), Dreyer does not fully embrace transcendental style, instead reveal to incorporate only some of the stylistic elements.

Overall, I believe the book succeeds in presenting and supporting its argument for a traceable transcendental film style, partially due to the book’s plethora of citations and quotes. Schrader laces his text with supporting quotations from scholars of various fields of stuffy to illuminate the certain topics at hand. Whether it is Byzantine art or the philosophical underpinnings of Zen, Schrader incorporates others’ expertise to illustrate the necessary contextual history or scholarly insight needed for the topic at hand. However, the case has been made that Schrader uses too many quotations, perhaps seeking validation of his word written text by utilizing scholarly quotes. I disagree, as I believe the quotations, for the most part, are helpful and give insight to the topic. In tracing a complex transcendental style, Schrader goes through various scholarship regarding Ozu, Dreyer, Bresson, Byzantine art, humanism, expressionism, sacred art, etc. Indeed, seeking authoritative sources and information is important, as Schrader’s essay ultimately relies on the synthesis of all these cultural sources that both inform and influence the titular filmmakers. In this case, the textual citations reveal that Schrader is incredibly well read, able to construct complex meaning from these cultural histories, and traces a complex transcendental style in film that I believe still holds up today.

In my own personal experience, I believe that the film Of Gods and Men uses to the transcendental style of film that Schrader uncovers in his text, and may work as a case study to test out whether this film style may still be present today. The film details the lives of French monks living in Algeria in the early 1990s. The first part of the film illustrates daily life of the monks, from their communal worship in their monastery to their community presence in the mountains. However, soon Muslim extremists threaten their existence in the monastery, and the monks are forced to contemplate whether they should leave or stay. Finally, the film ends with their decision, prompting a yes or no response from the audience, as described by Schrader.

Schrader’s three stages of Everyday, Disparity, and Stasis are perfectly present throughout the film. In much of the film, Of Gods and Men contains the same quiet reflection of the mundane reality as described by Schrader in the three titular filmmakers, best illustrated by the many scenes of the monks’ rituals, such as their scheduled worship and prayer. Disparity comes in the form of the Muslim extremists, who threaten to disrupt their monastery and surrounding community through their violence, and whose actions continually build until the monks face the decisive action of staying or leaving the monastery. Without any spoilers, the film ends with the stasis of their decision. In terms of transcendental style, this film fits perfectly, as it’s one of the most spiritual films I’ve ever seen. Though Schrader mentions (and I agree with him) in his conclusion that transcendental style may not be and likely isn’t the only way to express the Transcendent on film, is appears that his traced form appears useful and utilized by filmmakers today, whether they know it or not.

As a book detailing much more than just transcendence, I recommend this for any (studious) film student curious to learn more either about Paul Schrader’s work or the interplay of the sacred in film. It is worth the effort to read, though difficult it may be. Though its status as a niche subject may not appeal to everyone, its varied synthesis of content from film to art history is likely to intrigue anyone willing to try.


Megmallar Film Bangladesh TIFF entry

Megmallar is a beautiful disappointment. The film is about a chemistry teacher mistaken for a rebel during the war for liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Based on a short story called The Raincoat, the film deals with the persecution of people at the wrong pace at the wrong time, reminiscent of Kafka’s The Trial in terms of the palpable feelings of injustice.

Unfortunately, the film did little to stretch the short story for a feature length film, so much of the result is padding. While the lush cinematography of the dense forests and rebels along the river are evocative, it only slows the film down as the audience eagerly waits of the next scene with our protagonist teacher Nurul Huda (Shahiduzzaman Selim). Scenes of Nural and army soldiers crackle with intensity, as an academic bewildered and frightened by soldiers confident in his culpability.

Selim seems like a fine actor in these interrogation scenes, but is given very little to do in this film. He spends at least 1/4th of the film walking around, whether it be in the town, or the college he works in. His family does every less, as his wife and child lack screen presence, as their scenes involve them waiting around at home. The visual flatness of the domestic scenes wear on the patience of the audience, as will the rest of the padding. The results plenty of scenes of beautiful scenery gone to waste. I can’t wait for the fan edit of this film that cuts it down to a sharp, focused twenty minutes or so.

Understanding Lyrics: Determine the literary value

This post is part of a series on how to do close readings of lyrics. For the full list of analytical tools for lyrics, see my introductory post. To help flesh out the previously posted list on close readings of lyrics, I shall go through each item listed and give some examples to help illustrate some real-world examples of the concepts being talked about. Those familiar with analyzing poetry will find much familiar in this list, as this post will be a basic overview examining the purpose of a song’s lyrics. Songs cannot be examined by their lyrics alone, but they serve as an important piece of the work to evaluate. This series seeks to help shape the conversation in lyrical analysis to broaden the rhetorical discourse on song lyrics.

  • Determine the literary value.
    • What lines appeal to you and why?
    • What emotions do these lyrics evoke?
    • If you do not understand these lyrics, what causes this?
    • How skillful is the lyricist?

Evaluating worth is a tricky, ultimately subjective act. Writing about the theories and frameworks one could evaluate art with is beyond the scope of this series, but the listed items above can help shape one’s thoughts when confronted with lyrics and poetry in general. What is good is really up to the individual and their wants and needs. Learning how to critique only comes from more experience reading, writing, watching, and listening, all coupled with critical thinking.

But let’s finish this series with an example of one of my favourite songs, “The Queen is Dead” by The Smiths.

The remarkable thing about this song is that its one of my favourite for its sheer forcefulness. It’s one of The Smiths’ most vicious songs, with propulsive bass and drums as Morrissey sings of the death of the queen. The self deprecating humour of lines like “She said, ‘Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing’ / I said, ‘That’s nothing, you should hear me play piano'” is enjoyable, the cutting claims of “the pub who saps your body/ And the church who’ll snatch your money” incisive. These lyrics invoke a great swelling of emotion from me, an invigorating energy resulting from the swirling examinations of the world in the song.

For years I actually didn’t understand all of the lyrics, as some reverb effects obscure some wonderful lines like “All their lies about make-up and long hair, are still there”. In the case of song lyrics rather than poetry, sometimes not understanding the words comes from their performance rather than just their obtuseness. The song also begins with an excerpt from taken an obscure 1962 kitchen-sink drama called The L-Shaped Room, a reference that would require some research to fully understand. But the skillfulness of Morrissey is quite apparent, as it is with the rest of The Smiths catalogue. “The Queen is Dead” evokes the forces at work in British society and criticizes them with gusto. One of the best songs of The Smiths, it seems a fitting end to this series on analyzing song lyrics.

And here is where we reach the end of this series, something over two years in the making. Hopefully people have found it insightful. Here’s to more beautiful lyrics that rend the soul!

Understanding Lyrics: Determining Tone

This post is part of a series on how to do close readings of lyrics. For the full list of analytical tools for lyrics, see my introductory post. To help flesh out the previously posted list on close readings of lyrics, I shall go through each item listed and give some examples to help illustrate some real-world examples of the concepts being talked about. Those familiar with analyzing poetry will find much familiar in this list, as this post will be a basic overview examining the purpose of a song’s lyrics. Songs cannot be examined by their lyrics alone, but they serve as an important piece of the work to evaluate. This series seeks to help shape the conversation in lyrical analysis to broaden the rhetorical discourse on song lyrics.

  • Determine tone.
    • What is the tone or attitude of the lyrics toward the subject matter?
    • Is the speaker objective, subjective, ironic, bitter, etc?

Tone is can be one of the those tricky things to determine. It is not obviously apparent when one looks at a poem or lyrics, but rather needs to be sussed out by analyzing how the overall piece functions. Let us look at Scott Walker’s cover of “Funeral Tango“.

This piece is sung from the perspective of someone envisioning their funeral, and bitterly scorning the artifice surrounding such an event. Walker’s singing adds a wonderful sarcastic bite to the lyrics, from a perspective that claims martyrdom in a world of fakery.

Oh I see all of you
All of my phony friends
Who can’t wait for it ends
Who can’t wait till it’s through
Oh I see all of you
You’ve been laughing all these years
Now all that you have left
Are a few crocodile tears

The speaker of the lyrics are bitter and subjective, as we see these imagined events from his perspective. The tone questions the speaker’s assertions, as the speaker has no tangible proof of the “phony” nature of those around him. The lyrics do more to reveal the speaker’s ego and his sense of self inflation than the artifice of the world. While the tangible details the speaker asserts do ring true (“The old women are there/ Too old to give a damn/ They’ve brought along the kids/ Who don’t know who I am”), and the speaker does bring up some valid points on the artifice of ritual, the speaker’s snide remarks instead illustrate all to well the subjective claims of the speaker. The speaker’s tone is critical, snobbish, and ultimately subjective.

As illustrated by this piece, we see how the role of the speaker is inextricably linked to the tone of the piece itself, as the speaker is our entry point into the subject matter. Because of the snobbery involved in the tone emerging from the speaker, the audience receives the text not as authoritative proclamation, but rather the egoistic ramblings of a Holden Caufield type. Tone is vital as it is the lens in which we interpret the piece. If “Funeral Tango” was written as an objective observation of a funeral from some ethereal speaker, the claims of phoniness and artifice would act as legitimate grievances against society instead of the humorous egoism of a man. Tone can often feel innate and ungraspable in a piece, as its formed from the assemble of all the lyrical elements rather than a discreet unit in of itself. But hopefully this exercise will help elucidate how to articulate tone within lyrical works.

The Strange Underworld of Literary Reviews

I’ve been perusing the websites of literary magazines, looking to see if my work could be accepted. This mostly rises from my desire to be published, and get my name recognized. Ultimately, its just another way of validating my own work.

This isn’t a fruitful search. I find a lot of publications, but not many that accept criticism, and for other more prose-like pieces, they would require a lot of editing and reworking to make them acceptable. Often blog posts aren’t accepted (seen as “previously published work”), though one could just turn an older blog post private or delete it in that case. I know I’m searching in the wrong field: my focus is on criticism, not necessary the art of the written word. This isn’t to say I don’t have any roots in the English department, I minored in Literature, after all. But I’m searching for a venue to support my own voice. I should probably turn towards my own discipline first.

Film and Media Criticism have the academic journals, which would be work that is the culmination of a lot of research. In sum: I should try to get my research papers generated from school published or presented. On the opposite end, in the public sphere of criticism, there are websites devoted to film news and criticism. I watch the freelancers work, and marvel at their output across the various publications. Of course, I’m in school again, graduate school in fact. Having limited time to try an expand a freelancing work on the side is completely understandable, and a questionable desire in the first place.

But having this desire unearthed another world. All that being said, let’s dig into the strange world of domain stealing from literary review websites!

When searching the obscure webs of literary review websites, a few gems can be found hidden among the hyperlinks. Many reviews and presses link to others, and these networks are frail and seeded with dead ends. Using a list courtesy of Colorado State University as an example, let’s search some links!

First, we’ll click on Fence, stylized as I clicked on it thinking it might be more of a vanguard press, and therefore be more accepting to other forms of criticism. This is what I found.

Fence magazine

Car insurance. Home insurance. Help.

If you pursue the website page, you find article on Arizona car insurance, New Jersey home insurance, and most humorously, “Caroline home Insurance”, a SEO phrase whose lack of specificity (i.e. “North” or “South”) improves the web page’s likelihood to be clicked on. All articles are posted by an undisclosed “admin”, and the comment function is disabled. How unfortunate. This decision adds to the website’s attempt to appear respectable and reasonable, cultivating an ethos of trustworthiness that in theory is bolstered by such a domain name as “”. But really, how shady can you get?

Let’s try Palooka. With a domain name of, surely pop and pulp works would be accepted here, right?

literary review journal taken over by SEO bots!

It’s called Palooka because you’re a palooka for foolishly clinking on this site!

Looking for literary review sites and finding SEO-primed filler content is becoming a norm for me. The strange thing about this and other websites is that the content isn’t overly scummy. This site links to the Foundation of Advancing Alcohol responsibly, and appears to give some decent advice on San Antonio DWIs. Of course, the site also links to a San Antonio DWI lawyer’s site, belying the site’s true reason for its existence.

Let’s finish with Small Spiral Notebook, of It sounds like small form confessions work, that of creative non-fiction and other forms of micro-writing. Surely I could toss off a short reflection on my life and get it published here, right?

Furniture store website revealed

I can’t really say what I was expecting. Just not this.

This site is unusual in that it isn’t deceptive ad content pointing specifically towards one specific service, but rather a multitude of companies and products, specifically furniture. Looking at the archives, you can see whoever is running the site lost interest after 2013, and posted sporadically from there. SEO baiting just isn’t rewarding you, is it undisclosed admin?

Let’s surmise what we’ve found so far.

  1. Many literary reviews and presses are in a state of transience. Being smaller and homegrown means the press is ultimately impermanent. Thus their website domains (usually run by WordPress) are eventually up for grabs when they close shop.
  2. Smaller service providers with specific localities in mind (Arizona, San Antonio, Los Angeles) snap up these domains, hoping their pre-established literary networks will generate traffic for them. The pages lacks advertising, but have articles pushing a particular service linked to within the articles.
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

As I search in vain for publications places, I’l be sure to keep my eyes out for more gems and further explore this strange ecosystem of literary press domain squatting.

Astro: Chicos de la Luz

Astro’s self titled debut in 2012 was a revelation, an album thoroughly danceable that it overcomes any language barrier. It astonished me in its delicious sounds and synths. While Astro is compared to MGMT and Passion Pit, the band is neither nebulous nor obtusely acerbic, but is rather quite clear in its intentions to make anyone dance with joy.

Astro’s next album, Chicos de la Luz, is another example of well crafted pop perfection. While their earlier album has the buoyant energy of summer (with even some chip tune elements popping up in the excellent track Manglares), Astro cools it down a bit for this newer release, opting for some smoother grooves this time around. The first track, Uno, illustrates this well. A (comparatively) longer track, it slowly builds up its drums and synths.  Exclamations are produced perfectly within song to be a part of the music, rather than separate.

It’s this condensing in the producing that marks this album distinctively different from its predecessor. In many ways, this feels like Astro has matured as a band. The mixing on this album is clear and bright. Chicos de la Luz is a step up in production in terms of tightening up any excess from the songs. Gone are the emphatic shouts of the previous album, replaced instead by calmer singing. While the band’s natural effervescence is somewhat hampered through this tighter production, I must say this newer album is much easier to read and study to.

Whereas Astro was an explosion of synths for the highlight of the dance, Chicos de la Luz takes it down a notch with cooler grooves for the dreamy afterparty. It’s a solid release, and currently available to listen to for free on youtube.


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