Ixcanul: A celebration and a caution around indigenous culture

This week I saw Ixcanul (a word in the Mayan language Kaqchikel for “volcano”), a beautiful, compelling movie about a young Mayan woman in rural Guatemala who seeks to rebel against the life laid out for her. Just when I though the plot was unfolding in predictable ways, it surprised me again and again.

Maria and her family are tenant farmers, speak only Mayan, and observe traditional practices, which the film observes and admires. But at the same time, each encounter with the Spanish-speaking world reveals the enormous disadvantage this family is at. They can never speak for themselves, as demonstrated in this exchange when a woman comes to take the population census.


The ultimate results of this communication barrier — which parallels a massive socioeconomic gap — are disastrous. The film is devastating and gorgeous. See it.

Other reviews: 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 28 reviews and 83/100 on Metacritic (“Universal acclaim”) with 16 reviews.

The trailer

In the US, it’s currently streaming on Netflix and is rentable on Youtube and Amazon, at least.


I Saw 100+ Movies in 2016: The Best and the Rest

Over the course of the year, I saw many movies in many forms – in the theater, on planes, while exercising, during my commute, and at home with my family. I rate each movie on a scale of 1 to 5:

  • 1 = Bad
  • 2 = Okay
  • 3 = Good
  • 4 = Great
  • 5 = Absolutely fabulous!

I generally enjoy movies, so of the 108 movies I’ve seen (so far!) this year, 81 received a good rating or above. Note that I rate movies within genre, so a silly comedy that’s great at being a silly comedy may get the same rating as a serious mediation on war violence that great at being that.

My top six movies for the year (with direct links so you can watch them right now) were Cinema Paradiso (1988 – Amazon/YouTube), Embrace of the Serpent (2016 – Amazon/YouTube), About Elly (2015 – YouTube), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016 – Amazon/YouTube), Sing Street (2016 – Amazon/YouTube), and The Wizard of Oz (1939 – Amazon/YouTube). The children’s movie that you probably didn’t see but should is Kubo and the Two Strings (2016 – Amazon/YouTube

Below is the full list, ordered by rating – and then alphabetically within ratings. Links are to Rotten Tomatoes, which gives a synthesis of critical reviews. Bolded titles are the 35 movies I saw in the theater. I occasionally include the movie’s release year to add clarity. Lastly, I didn’t re-calibrated the list at the end of the year, so some ordering may be affected by my mood or the quality of popcorn at the theater.

What did I miss? What did you love?

Cinema Paradiso 5
Embrace of the Serpent 5
About Elly 4.5
Hunt for the Wilderpeople 4.5
Sing Street 4.5
The Wizard of Oz 4.5
10 Cloverfield Lane 4
Batman: The Movie (1966) 4
Brooklyn 4
Captain America: Civil War 4
Dirty Pretty Things 4
Divines 4
Doctor Strange (2016) 4
Eye in the Sky  4
Finding Dory 4
Ghostbusters (2016) 4
States of Grace 4
Guardians of the Galaxy 4
Inside Out 4
Kubo and the Two Strings 4
Kung Fu Panda 3 4
Kung Fu Panda 3 (Yes, I saw this in the theater twice. Boom!) 4
La La Land 4
Les Visiteurs 4
The Measure of a Man 4
Moana 4
Moonlight 4
Mustang 4
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 4
Roman Holiday  4
Sullivan’s Travels (1941) 4
Tell No One 4
The Bourne Ultimatum  4
The Eagle Huntress 4
The Usual Suspects 4
Zootopia 4
13 Going on 30 3.5
A Cat in Paris 3.5
A Monster in Paris 3.5
Captain America: The Winter Soldier 3.5
Creed 3.5
Denial 3.5
Inside Man 3.5
Le Chef 3.5
Love Actually 3.5
Meet the Robinsons 3.5
Once I was a Beehive 3.5
Oscar nominated animated shorts (2016) 3.5
Romantics Anonymous 3.5
Sleepwalk with Me 3.5
Trolls 3.5
The Finest Hours 3.5
The Little Prince (2015) 3.5
The Lobster 3.5
Man from Reno 3.5
The Rock 3.5
X-Men (2000) 3.5
Candleshoe (1977) 3
Casa Grande 3
Deepwater Horizon 3
Gone in 60 Seconds 3
Hot Girls Wanted 3
How to Steal a Million (1966) 3
I Married a Dumbass (Me casé con un boludo) 3
In Search of the Castaways (1962) 3
Marie’s Story 3
Miss Granny 3
Pete’s Dragon (2016) 3
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 3
Sliding Doors 3
Spectre 3
Spy 3
Swiss Family Robinson 3
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 3
The Italian Job 3
The Jungle Book (1967) 3
The Jungle Book (2016) 3
The Night My Mother Killed My Father 3
The Parent Trap (1961) 3
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep 3
Zoolander 2 3
Fan 2.5
Hail, Caesar! 2.5
Jason Bourne 2.5
Midnight Special 2.5
Pee Wee’s Big Holiday 2.5
Pete’s Dragon (1977) 2.5
The Good Dinosaur 2.5
The Intern 2.5
Lion 2.5
The Secret Life of Pets 2.5
X-Men: Apocalypse (dubbed into Italian) 2.5
Zathura 2.5
Casa de Mi Padre (2012) 2
Deadpool 2
High School Musical 2
High School Musical 2 2
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) 2
L’age d’or 2
Mother’s Day (2016) 2
Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace 2
Storks 2
Wonderful Nightmare 2
Barbecue (2014) 1.5
Daddy’s Home 1.5
Mascots  1.5
The Do-Over 1.5
All Creatures Big and Small 1

Hyenas (film, Senegal, 1992)

thought-provoking story of justice, money, and vengeance served very, very cold

Dramaan Drameh is a shopkeeper and the mayor elect of Colobane, a poor town. Then Linguère Ramatou returns after decades away, having accumulated fabulous wealth and seeking vengeance for a long-past but deeply grievous wrong carried out by Dramaan.

The film explores fascinating issues of justice and money and the relationship between the two. It also explores how the promise of money changes people. The pacing is pretty good. The film is in Wolof with English subtitles. The DVD has no special features: Just the movie and the option of scene selection.

My favorite line: “She has more money than the World Bank!”

Note on content: No swearing, no sex. Mention of prostitution and an adolescent pregnancy. No visual violence.

what i read and saw in June


19. Best of the month!!!  Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock.  I thought this biography was completely compelling and fascinating and fun.  Wonderfully well documented.  I wrote a longer review, which you can read here: my longer review.  9/10

18. A Savage Place, by Robert Parker (audiobook).  Spenser (#8) goes to L.A. to help a TV reporter bust a big story.

17. Promised Land, by Robert Parker (audiobook).  Spenser (#4) goes up against militant feminists and loan sharks.  (And we meet his long-term buddy Hawk.)

16. The Judas Goat, by Robert Parker (audiobook).  Spenser (#5) goes to Europe to track down terrorist assassins!


22. Beginners (theater) – Sweet movie about falling in love and the courage to start a new life, played out in two generations by Ewan McGregor and his father (in the film), Christopher Plummer.  It reminded me of when I fell in love, nine years ago.  8/10

21. Lost (Season 2) – Compulsive viewing.  Two groups of survivors meet up.

a short montage that captures how i feel when i go to the movies

I went to see Tron Legacy the other week, and to be honest, I didn’t think it was a very good movie.  But the company was great, and there is something about that darkened room and the other world you enter. (Hat tip to Linda Holmes.)

If you happen to understand Portuguese, the beginning of this lovely movie Lisbela e o Prisionero captures that same feeling.

best movies & books of the year

My favorite non-scripture books (of the 43 read or listened to) of the year were Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn (loved it), Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and Willa Cather’s My Antonia.

I enjoyed lots of movies this year.  I really recommend – of the 91 watched – two Brazilian movies, one called Behind the Sun (available on Netflix) and another called A Dog’s Will (O Auto da Compadecida).  The latter is not available on Netflix but is watch-able on Youtube with English subtitles (see here).  I loved two children’s movies, How to train your dragon and Toy Story 3 (cried!).  I loved two classic comedies, Tootsie and Groundhog Day.  And I really, really enjoyed Crazy Heart.