Film 365 · Music

As I Walk Through the Valley

In high school, I lived vicariously through my friends. Anxiety was never a stranger. And I noticed early on that loud noise (no matter how enjoyable) and flashing lights triggered an uncomfortable experience for me. Instead of going to places like Trenton Point for their shows, I’d listen to the stories instead. I learned about bands like Vally Lemons and Inkbag (I later met band member Angela Ink years later when working on an article on the South Texas Rolleristas, a local roller derby team).

I experienced the action via recorded video tapes and mixed cassette tapes. Never first hand. In fact, my first concert was in college and it wasn’t for entertainment purposes but networking.*

In college, I met Ronnie Garza. We had a few classes together, but mostly we went to the same poetry events. Ronnie’s poetry was another level compared to what I wrote—shit, what I still write. We stayed in a somewhat sporadic contact (thank you, Facebook!) after college. I stopped attending poetry events. I became a father. I went through a terrible break up with Jeanna. There is a laundry list that I can give here, but the result is the same: I forced myself into exile. I needed a break from living my life on the stage (though, anyone who follows my social media knows that isn’t true – I mean, *motions to everything on the blog*).

Early last year, or late 2015, I ran into Amado Balderas at Barnes and Noble. After ducking out to use the restroom, I ran into Ronnie and we started talking about the project he was working with Charlie Vela. They wanted to make an in-depth documentary of the Valley music scene. He told us both (Amado later ventured to look for me) how they’re interviewing everyone who’s ever had a foot in the growth of this scene.


The film premiered at South by South West 2017. And, last night, it had its home premiere at the Edinburg City Auditorium. Looking at all those in attendance, it felt like a micro high school reunion. Former classmates to teachers stretched as far as the eye could see. Even in the documentary, I caught glimpses of people I knew attending the concerts. And I cringed at their attire. While mine hasn’t changed much, I still shudder to think of all the clothes I wore in high school.

Hearing the stories again (some for the first time), I remembered that feeling of my youth. Sitting in awe and experiencing these stories as if I were there. I felt the chill of recognition and nostalgia run up my spine. This film is essential for anyone who grew up in the Valley, as well as, those who are still growing up here. I strongly urge those who happen upon this post to head over to Netflix and request this film.

The documentary was followed by live performances of several South Texas bands. Only a few were familiar. Performing last night: Ralph & the Cruisers, Rio Jordan, DeZorah, Confused, and Panteon. (I’m gonna be completely honest, I was only interested in the last two bands.)

It took me a few years, but I finally attended one those concerts I heard so much about in high school.

Thank you, Ronnie and Charlie for making this movie.

* I attended a Christian concert as president of Sigma Tau Delta while trying to woo over the Campus Crusade for Christ to partake in our organization’s book drive. I didn’t have much fun, but at least there wasn’t any loud noises or flashing lights.
Film 365

Singles (1992)

  • Title: Singles
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Year: 1992
  • Starring: Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, and Matt Dillon
  • Studio/Production: Warner Bros; Atkinson/Knickerbocker Films
  • Synopsis: A group of twenty-something friends, most of whom live in the same apartment complex, search for love and success in grunge-era Seattle. (source)
  • Rating: 6.7/10 (IMDb)

I woke up one Sunday morning, back in the late 90s when I did things like go to church, and caught part of a movie whose title I never knew. As a freshmen in high school, my music world exploded with the assistance of friends. Most of the bands that entered my life stuck around all these years. Grunge music filled up my mixtapes—received and given. And any one of them could have made up the soundtrack to this movie.

Throughout the film, cameos by Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), and others grace the audience. Hell, even Tim Burton makes an appearance in the movie. It screams 1990s at the top of its lungs, and I guess that’s part of the reason I love it so much. Yet it fails to hold a cult classic status.

Like all movies that I enjoy from the 90s, Singles focuses heavily on twentysomethings having a difficult time being adults, managing relationships, chasing dreams, and falling in love. Specifically falling in love with the right person. Or becoming the right person for the right person.

It took me a few Sundays to watch the movie and to learn its name. You can watch it once or twice and forget about it. But the beauty of this movie is that one day, maybe ten years after you’ve seen it, you’re busy and work and you remember a line or a gag or an entire scene. It doesn’t have to be your favorite movie; it just wants you to get to know it again.

Also see: Reality Bites & High Fidelity

Film 365

200 Cigarettes (1999)

  • Title: 200 Cigarettes
  • Rated: R for strong language and sexual content.
  • Year: 1999
  • Starring: Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Diaz, Angela Featherstone, Janeane Garofalo, Gaby Hoffmann, Kate Hudson, Courtney Love, Jay Mohr, Martha Plimpton, Christina Ricci, and Paul Rudd.
  • Studio/Production: Paramount, MTV, Lakeshore.
  • Synopsis: A collection of twentysomethings try to cope with relationships, loneliness, desire and their individual neuroses. (source)
  • Ratings: 5.9/10 (IMDb)

I fell in love with this movie when Comedy Central played it ad nauseam one New Year’s Eve. And every year since then, I depended on the channel to catch a showing. That is before I decided to buy myself a copy. Like A Christmas Story marathon, I await all year to pop this movie into my player and watch the shit out of it. (No, I don’t marathon the film, though I have watched it twice today.)

200 Cigarettes has everything you’d expected from a holiday romantic comedy. The pent up feelings between two friends, falling in love with the wrong guy, finding love between strangers, an ensemble cast of famous faces, and the unexpected advice guru. Yet it plays in away that avoids becoming such trite, which was the problem for films like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.

Released in 1999, an age before the term millennial was on the tips of tongues everywhere, the film transcends the test of time. Every character would fit in today’s cinematic storytelling world with a few tweaks to the costume design (the movie does take place in the early 80s). While the problems faced in the film are less than important (the old question of who are you kissing at midnight?), but aren’t all mild problems elaborated during our teens and 20s? But it reminds me to relax. Even when things seem dire, seem overbearing, and the neurosis of being alone sinks in—relax and learn to have a good time. And sometimes you need a yearly reminder of that lesson.

Film 365

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I have a theory.

PrintOut in the hills of Hollywood—or wherever they do casting for movies—there stands a shed. Inside this shed, there are several head shots of actors (established and rising) plastered on the walls like the wallpaper of some adolescent school girl. In the center of this shed, there is a turntable-like rise in the floor. Upon this rise, sits a chair. A random person, most likely an intern, is blindfolded and ushered to the chair where she is sat. She’s given a single dart. The others leave the room; the last one flips the switch, activating the turntable-like rise in the floor. The chair begins to spin, announcing its highest speed with a bing. Once the bing goes off, the intern must throw the dart and the head shot it lands on is the person chosen for the role being cast.

Maybe this idea doesn’t work for all movies—surely comedy and drama already have established, go-to actors—but with superhero flicks? This theory works so well when the big heads at Warner Bros. and Zack Synder thought Ben Afflect would make a spectacular Batman. Or that pencil-thin Gal Gadot is a stellar choice of an Amazonian princess. It explains Andrew Garfield, Jaime Foxx, the entire cast of the future Fantastic Four reboot, and Jessica Alba of the first two Fantastic Four films. And Snyder can defend all he wants, but history has proven that Ben behind a mask is a rape of comic book lore. And we already sacrificed Daredevil to that, why the dark knight after all Christopher Nolan worked to accomplish?

This all occurred to me as I sat beside Monica as we watched The Amazing Spider-Man 2 yesterday. I must warn you, this post will contain spoilers.

Continue reading “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Film 365

The Spectacular Now directed by James Ponsoldt

Movie adaptations are tricky when it comes to the-book-was-better crowd. Most of us scoff at the very idea that a good book could translate well as movie. Though several have managed to hold a flame to their literary counterparts, I’m often reminded by my filmmaker friend’s words, “They’re two different mediums. You can’t compare them. One doesn’t have to remain faithful to the other.” And, in a way, it’s true. Nobody every picks up a novelization of a film and point at the page and complain about how that didn’t happen in the movie.

Spectactular Now movie posterThere are a few movies that manage to tell a better story than their novels. How to Train Your Dragon comes to mind. Wanted, Kick-Ass, and Kick-Ass 2 by Mark Millar became superb (fine, I’m only talking about Kick-Ass and its sequel here) films on the big screen.

The Spectacular Now kept me guessing. I liked the book, but disliked the story. Starting off by plowing through the early character development, the film started off as a disappointment. Coupled with poor casting choices—Shailene Woodley as Aimee raised the same question as Shia being cast in Transformers. Miles Teller as Sutter Keely left a metallic flavor in my mouth. The altering of Cassidy’s voluptuous figure to the Hollywood teenage girl crushed the spirit of love who you are. How can you when the film industry keeps telling you that anything more than below average isn’t sexy? Even Aimee’s best friend suffered from film liposuction.

However, as the film progressed, I became more accepting of Teller’s Sutter and tolerated Woodley’s Aimee. And everything I disliked about the book was mended in the film. So what if it’s typical? Sometimes, you want the character you’re rooting for to realize the errors of his way and make up for them. We want redemption even if it’s not your cookie-cutter ending.

I wanted Sutter Keely to grow up in the book, not just become accepting that others are growing up around him.

The Spectacular Now is available for Amazon Instant Video, DVD, and Blu-ray.