Almodóvar’s Julieta


The critics are right: Almódovar is not the same. Julieta, his latest movie, is nothing like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which catapulted the Spanish director to international fame almost thirty years ago.

Julieta is more mature, serious and, in many respects, a lot better, reflecting the evolution and progressive refinement of a seasoned maestro. Of course, some fans will miss the raw humor and shock value of his earlier movies, which celebrated la movida madrileña, the cultural movement of the late 70s and early 80s that stood in direct opposition to the values and life style of Franco’s dictatorial years. In those days of la movida, it was necessary to burn the cultural bra to make a point. Those times are over, though. Besides, for more nostalgic viewers, quite a few of his movies of that era are available on Netflix, at your fingertip.

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 Julieta, on the other hand, belongs to the 2010s. It is allowed – strike that; required is the precise word – to be simpler and more contained. Nevertheless, it has kept the director’s inimitable voice and style: the bright colors, the Madrid touch, and the inscrutable strong women are still there. And even Rossy the Palma, one of the muses of his early years as a filmmaker, makes a comeback; her wondrous nose, uneven eyes and twisted mouth working their magic, in the role of a modern-day Cassandra.

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Rossy de Palma in the 1980s.

I find it unbelievable that many critics will say that Almodóvar has never mastered the skills to tell a story. His narrative powers are weak, some say. Obviously, these critics abide by only one model of storytelling: the commercial cinema of Hollywood. Although I respect the claim that some narrative elements and archetypes make themselves present one way or another in every story ever told, they should be rearranged in as many different ways as creative directors can come up with. Almodóvar’s storylines do follow a structure – although an idiosyncratic one. Digression plays a big part in his method.

Without the digression, Julieta would be a simple tale about guilt. It’s the digressions that allow Almodóvar to present the viewer with unique images (an elk running in slow motion alongside a moving train at night; the bluest sea shown though the open windows of a living room in Galicia; the Swiss Alps shot in all their glory); intriguing metaphors: references to Homer’s Odyssey and the power of the sea to entice men like Ulisses and Xoan, pulling them from the safety of their houses and the comfort of their families; and one of the most original transitions between youth and old age in movie history: actress Adrian Ugarte is replaced by Emma Suárez at the sudden removal of a red tower.

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Pedro Almodóvar

Julieta is a delight to the eyes. You could just sit back for hours watching these beautiful women move around in fashionable clothes, stepping in and out of fascinating Madrid buildings, walking along its narrow cobblestone streets or just sitting in close-up against the backdrop of stunningly decorated apartments.

With the help of great actors and a stunning musical store by Alberto Iglesias, Almodóvar turns the straightforward story of a family marked by tragedy into a Hitchockian thriller – with echoes of Vertigo. Viewers will be met by twists and little surprises at every turn, relishing the journey. Almodóvar has developed the fearlessness of those who have nothing more to prove. He shoots his movies out of sheer pleasure. Who can blame him?

Au revoir

Jorge.

 

 

Maracanã Explodes under the Protective Arms of Christ, the Redeemer


Rio Olympic Games’ Opening Ceremony took place on the warm evening of August 5th at the Maracanã stadium, an iconic sporting venue, known all over the world. It was a jaw-dropping festival of creativity, lights, dance and music, extremely well-orchestrated by movie directors Fernando Meirelles (City of God) and Andrucha Waddington (Me You Them), and produced by Daniela Thomas (Foreign Land).

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Due to the serious political-economic crisis Brazil is going through at the moment – plagued by the worst recession in its history and having a president on the verge of impeachment – Brazilians have been deeply divided over the convenience and benefits of hosting the most important sporting event in the world. Many foreigners have also been quick at pointing out problems with the organization of the Games, believing the event is doomed.

Contrary to all expectations, however, the stunningly beautiful and energetic Opening Ceremony came as pleasant surprise, boosting Brazilians’ morale and making them proud of their country. It also signaled that the first Olympic Games in South America may run more smoothly than predicted, after all.

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Among the highlights of the evening, we would list:

  • An emotional rendition of the national anthem by composer Paulinho da Viola, which brought tears to the audience’s eyes.
  • A powerful delivery by actresses Fernanda Montenegro and Judi Dench of poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s poem A Flor e a Náusea – used as a way to mark the importance of keeping the world sustainable and green.
  • As a follow-up, the world witnessed the implementation of an impressive initiative: all athletes contributed seeds of the native flora to the plantation of what will become the Radical Forest – let’s remember that the exuberant present-day Floresta da Tijuca (Tijuca Forest) was also man-made, the result of a similar initiative undertaken by Dom Pedro II, the enlightened emperor of Brazil during the second half of the XIX century.
  • The lighting of the Olympic Torch was conducted by long-distance runner Vanderlei de Lima, offering the audience an unforgettable spectacle, as the cauldron on fire was raised against the backdrop of a revolving metal structure which reflected its light, simulating a radiating sun.

The gods must have been pleased.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

Janis: Little Girl Blue


The new documentary about the life of incendiary 1960s blues singer Janis Joplin, by director Amy Berg, has opened in São Paulo this week. Contrary to the classic biography on the singer – Buried Alive, written by Myra Friedman, and first published in 1973 – the documentary chooses to show a less torturous and painful facet of Janis, who comes off in the movie as an intelligent, charismatic and sensitive human being. An extremely talented woman, way ahead of her time, who looks to fame and acclaim to fit in and be loved, Janis’s short and intense life is celebrated, rather than mourned, in this mind-blowing film.

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Born on January 19, 1943, into a conservative and suffocating family, who wanted her to become a teacher, Janis grew up an outcast, the target of frequent bullying at school in the backward Texan city of Port Arthur. Unconventional, outspoken and aggressive, Janis broke the mold of what was expected from women in those repressive years of the 1950s and early 60s.

San Francisco

When zitty-faced and overweight Janis found out she would never become one of the curvaceous and cute models who leapt from the covers and pages of the women’s magazines everyone read when she was a teenager, she left home and headed for San Francisco. The neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury welcomed Janis with open arms. She had found her soulmates. She felt totally at home and could finally blossom as a woman and artist.

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Janis Joplin belonged on the stage. She would rip herself open in front of an audience. Her performances – many of which feature in the documentary, but can also be found on YouTube– are raw and soul-wrenching. Audiences – both in the live presentations depicted in the film and the one watching it from the comfortable seat of a movie theater – look on enthralled and silent – experiencing a jolt of pleasure, pain and self-realization, through the music emanating from this force of nature.

When I sing, I feel like when you’re first in love. It’s more than sex. It’s that point two people can get to they call love, when you really touch someone for the first time, but it’s gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience. I feel chills, explains the singer.

The movie narrates Janis’s story from her childhood in Port Arthur to her untimely death due to an overdose of heroin at a hotel in Hollywod at age 27, covering in detail all the phases of her meteoric career. Janis struggled with drug abuse from the very first years in San Francisco; the problem only got worse as she became more popular.

Monterey

The addiction, however, did not stop Janis from exploding to notoriety during the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, when she debuted as a full-fledged blues singer, mesmerizing the audience with a legendary rendition of Ball and Chain (see video below).

From then on, many doors started to open and Janis never stopped climbing the steps of success and recognition, as one of the best blues singers of all time. Stardom, however, which she had sought for most part of her life, proved elusive and unsatisfactory, after all. On stage I make love to twenty five thousand people; and then I go home alone, complained the lonely diva. She could never shut out her personal ghosts, insecurities and anxieties, unless she was working.

Career

Although, Janis Joplin recorded only 4 albums in her 4-year career: Big Brother and the Holding Company (1967); Cheap Thrills (1968) ; I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969) Platinum and Pearl (1971, released posthumously), her fame is enduring and she continues to captivate new fans with songs such as Cry Baby, Summertime, Mercedes Benz, Maybe, and Me and Bobby McGee (her best selling single).

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Janis Joplin – Little Girl Blue, the documentary – will surely enlist a new wave of fans. After all, many young people can’t wait to find music which is not as innocuous and washed-out as most pop songs they download from the Internet today.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

The Best-Selling True Crime Book in History


On the warm summer night of August 9th, 1969, a man and three women, riding an old Ford, pulled up to the sidewalk near the entrance of one of the mansions of the affluent neighborhood of Bel-Air, Los Angeles, stepped out and broke into the house, brutally stabbing and beating to death five people who were unlucky to be there.

One of the victims was budding actress Sharon Tate, wife of Polish movie director Roman Polanski, who was out of the country on a business trip. Eight-month pregnant Sharon was stabbed to death sixteen times and her blood was used to paint the word pig on the outside of the front door.

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Actress Sharon Tate

This was one of a series of similar murders that happened around the same place and time.

Charles Manson’s Philosophy

The gruesome crime shocked not only the residents of LA, putting the fear of god in many of the Hollywood celebrities that lived in the area – since everyone first thought it had to do with their fame and fortune – but it was also widely publicized all over the world.

It turned out that the reason behind the horrific murders was a combination of white supremacy concepts, Beatles songs and effective knowledge of how to manipulate people under the effect of hallucinatory drugs such as LSD. This amalgamation informed the insane philosophy conceived and passed on by of one of the most charismatic and dangerous leaders to appear in the recent history of the US: Charles Manson. He was the mentor of the killings, inducing the members of his close group of followers to perpetrate them.

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Charles Manson

 

Helter Skelter – The Book

The thrilling story of the investigation, arrest and prosecution of Charles Manson and his “family” is told in meticulous detail in the book HELTER SKELTER, written by Vincent Bugliosi (who prosecuted Manson in 1970) and Curt Gentry.

The investigation revealed that back in the mid 1960s, this strange man – who claimed to be Jesus Christ reincarnated – started to recruit dozens of very young outcasts, hippie-like types and school drop-outs – most of them heavy drug users – to live in a community in the outskirts of Los Angeles, California, in the proximity of the Death Valley desert, originating what became later known as the infamous Manson Family.

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The Manson Family

So powerful was the influence of Charles Manson over his suggestionable LSD-abusing acolytes that he was capable of monitoring their every move and ultimately managed to persuade them to commit a series of savage murders. He was their indisputable leader: they even tried to assume all the responsibility for the crimes to avoid incriminating him.

Of course, it’s impossible to summarize a 700-page book in the small space of a blog post. Especially as the book is packed with the details of the inquiries, the behavior of the press and the defense lawyers, the different phases of the trial, besides gifting the reader with a very thorough examination of the complex personalities, characters and motivation of the individuals involved in the murders. Written in the same vein of Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD (which holds the second post of most popular crime account), incorporating fiction techniques into a journalistic report, the book is a must-read for those interested in the analysis of how the psychopathic brain works.

The Cultural Context

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Hippies in the 1960s

The most important takeaway of the story of Charles Manson is to never underestimate the dangerous power of an intelligent and charismatic individual. The book is also great in the sense that not only does it tell in detail the story of the Manson Family, its origins and demise, but also contextualizes the facts within all the cultural changes – the flower power movement in particular – the US was undergoing at the time. It illuminates aspects of the youth culture of the 1960s few of us are aware of. In addition to that, the story provides an in-depth analysis of the methods Manson applied to turn human beings into automatons, robbing them of all the moral awareness and respect for other people’s life most human beings share, regardless of the culture they are a part of.

If you have read Helter Sketer too, please share your opinion about the book in the comments section below.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

Top 10 Norman Rockwell Illustrations


Together with Walt Disney, Rockwell is the most beloved American artist of the twentieth century. Of course, their work had a lot in common: they were both visual storytellers, capable of charming and mesmerizing their viewers with wonderful drawings, colors and movement. The animation in Rockwell’s work was obviously only suggested, as he dealt in illustrations, but they are never static. His brush lent them an inner life and dynamism that completely won over his audience.

From a very early age, Norman knew he wanted to be an illustrator. He was hired as art director of Boy’s Life, the scouts’ official magazine, when he was still in his teens. However, he became nationally known after he started his 47-seven-year collaboration with The Saturday Evening Post, having painted more than 300 illustrations mostly for the cover of that popular magazine.

Here are 10 of his best contributions to The Saturday Evening Post. Enjoy.

 

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Boy With Baby Carriage, 1916

 

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Gramps at the Plate, 1916

 

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Two Men Courting Girls Favor, 1917

 

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Cousin Reginald in Cut Out, 1917

 

 

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Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey, 1917

 

 

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Cousin Reginald Under the Mistletoe, 1917

 

 

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Boy and Clown, 1918

 

 

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Children Dancing, 1918

 

 

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Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponesus, 1918

 

 

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The Party Favor, 1919

 

Norman Rockwell is the 5th volume of our successful series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. If you wish to know more about the series, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: NORMAN ROCKWELL

 

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Bates Motel: it’s all in the atmosphere


The beginning of summer is a very exciting time for Netflix viewers, as a bunch of new seasons of great shows opens. In the past month only, we’ve had the launches of Bloodline (season 2); Orange is the New Black (season 4) and Bates Motel (season 3).

When the latter first came out, three years ago, many critics had serious reservations about it. They wondered what they were going to see after all. What was pitched to the press sounded like an easy, unnecessary and, more than anything else, disrespectful product to the memory of the great Hitchcock. Why write a prequel to one of his most famous and popular movies – Psycho – made more than 50 years ago?

The critics were in for a pleasant surprise, though. The show turned out to be great fun. One of the most entertaining and well-written horror shows currently available on the streaming service.

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Bates Motel

The actors

Of course, the main actors, Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Freddy Highmore (Finding Neverland), who play, respectively, the domineering Mother (with a capital letter!) Norma, and her tormented younger son, Norman, deserve most of the credit for the show’s success. The near-incestuous relationship between Mother and son – which the writers have been tasteful enough not to make explicit so far – is the throughline from which a number of interesting subplots branch out every season.

Vera Farmiga’s performance is nothing less than dazzling. She portrays every possible nuance of this plagued woman with a terrible past, trying to make a fresh start after her husband’s accidental death, by moving to a small town in Oregon and opening a motel. The town, however, and the strange guests that keep popping up at the hotel seem determined not to give her a break.

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British Actor Freddy Highmore

 

Highmore’s Norman, the son – who has probably become mentally unstable not only for sharing the experiences his mother went through, but also because of her obsessive love – is portrayed very sensitively, giving us a very convincing idea of what the original Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins in the iconic movie, must have been like in his youth.

The subplots

Despite being a prequel to Psycho, the story takes place in modern day America. Through seasons 1-3, we have followed, among other things, the busting of hidden plantations of weed – whose commerce is the staple of the town’s economy; the mysterious murder of a high-school teacher who had tender feelings for the sweet Norman; and the return of Norma’s estranged brother – who fathered her oldest child. There seems to be a lot more in store.

More than the dark and, sometimes openly weird, storylines, however, what seems to draw viewers to the show is the constant atmosphere of suspense maintained in each episode, the stunning photography, and the charismatic supporting cast.

Writers versus producers

Shows like Bates Motel, which do not play safe, are, of course, the realm of great writers, not producers. Their freedom to take risks makes all the difference, constantly raising the bar for TV/Streaming products, which seem to be on an irreversible course towards excellence, unlike what has been happening to Hollywood movies. The viewers are grateful!

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

Teaching English with Art: Winslow Homer


Teaching English with Art: Winslow Homer.  This eighth volume of our successful series of eBooks combining ENGLISH TEACHING AND ART is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 vocabulary,  speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by the best American artist of the XIX century.

The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of Winslow Homer. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and emotion. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.

IMPORTANT NOTE. CUSTOMIZATION: if you wish to change the cover of any of the ebooks, add your school logo, negotiate a special price for a determined number of students, or make other suggestions of customization, do not hesitate to talk to us. We are VERY FLEXIBLE. Make your ebook UNIQUE!

Click on the image below to download the ebook:

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Teaching English with Art

Teaching English with Art

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

KINDLE COUNTDOWN DEAL TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VINCENT VAN GOGH


Your students are going to love the activities in this eBook!

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