Sunday, June 24

Death by cuteness

Think about this: what would you do if your wife loved Hello Kitty to death? Of course, she also wants to share this with you. Wake up and have coffee in your Hello Kitty mug, eat your Hello Kitty toast.

There's nothing wrong with too much Sanrio devotion. She took the Hello Kitty Psychology test and scored better than you. She insists you're evil. You protest. You look at the mirror. You have no mouth and you must scream.

Welcome to Hello Kitty Hell.

Sibling science

New research finds that firstborns gain higher I.Q. than later born siblings. It’s not so much biology—that later gestations affect the development of babies—but more of family dynamics. Generally, first time parents devote more time to their child, thus giving her better chances of developing intellectually, among other things. However, studies also show that firstborns are often more cautious with decision making, while children born later than their siblings tend to think more out of the box.

Now couple this with previous findings that twins tend to be slower than their singleton siblings—this time, biological factors like shorter gestation periods, which account for more premature twin births, do count more than social influences --- and my entire family is now scientifically mapped out.

I never really considered swapping birth orders with my siblings--I really do like my Evil Ate privileges--especially since now science reveals that I might have gotten the longer end of the stick by accident.

Monday, June 18

Today, the University of the Philippines turns 99, and it's the start of a year long countdown to the centennial.

You can join the day's celebrations here.

There's going to be a grand concert later tonight featuring Nanette Inventor, Candy Pangilinan and other UP performers.

I hear there's also going to be a rally pro testing the higher tuition. You can also join that i f that's your thing.

Or you can watch Oble in his latest movie. Kidding.

Saturday, June 16

Bringing on the apocalypse

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer never quite rose to my expectations, and that was already zero to low in the first place. Still sucked nevertheless.

The opening credits reminded me of the Spider-Man movie. There wasn't really a story, and you keep wishing the promised apocalypse would arrive so we could all go home. Oh sure, they tried to humanize superheroes, threw in wedding anxiety, the desire to be 'normal' and have the ability to raise a 'normal' family, but it's all been done and better. Even a recent TV viewing of The Incredibles was more exciting that this movie.

The movie had spectacular special effects--it succeeded to make Jessica Alba terribly unattractive. In general, at least for me, smarts trumps good looks, but Mr. Fantastic doesn't really generate an iota of attraction. Invisible Woman and the Human Torch actually had more chemistry romantically; if they breached the line of incestuous relationships, that would have made for a better story.

My favorite scene was just before the botched wedding: a bouncer stops this old man from entering the premises and asks for his name. "I'm Stan Lee, check the list," the old man says. But the bouncer still throws him out. "That's probably the high point of the entire movie," The Girl says. We laughed, albeit uneasily.

It turned out that she was right.

Friday, June 15

Science on romance, mating and lying

10 Zen Monkeys presents the scientific laws of romance. Without this, the romantic comedy screenwriters will have no job--or so he claims.

How women pick their mate (certain limitations apply, of course): Girls pick guys who resemble their fathers; guys often pick women who remind them of their mothers.

How to spot a liar: Make them tell their story backwards.

Thursday, June 14

Wedding, with accordion

A Yay, Internet moment: a craigslist wedding featuring LiveJournal*, and the Accordion Guy playing some Fatboy Slim.

I’m seriously having an LSS attack here and I’m supposed to be in bed, early class tomorrow. Will never listen to “Praise You” in the same way again. Blame Canada, nyar.

*“LiveJournal--it’s not just for writing about cutting yourself or hiring people to off your mom anymore!”

Wednesday, June 13

Regine's Girls

Watched the Regine Velasquez-Piolo Pascual movie Paano Kita Iibigin last weekend. It was the last full show on a Sunday night, so that might explain why there weren't too many people inside the theater.

When I took a look around, most of the viewers were females and a handful of gay guys. That's reason enough to think that these people were there to see Papa Piolo.

But I have a feeling they weren't too happy about the movie because (1) it was very predictable; (2) Piolo is merely repeating himself because he already played the same role in Nine Mornings; and (3) Regine's, uhm, perkiness, played major roles and should have been billed as part of the cast.

The unbearable distraction caused by Regine going bra-less has crept into the movie dialogue. There was this scene where Liwayway, the over the top resort cook played by Eugene Domingo, stopped Regine from confronting Piolo. She said something like, "Hoy, maghunos dili ka. Wag kang manugod kasi wala kang bra." I don't know whether that was part of the script but it's more likely an adlib.

The mystery of Her Royal Perkiness occupied the thoughts of the movie viewers. Why is she distracting us? We offered ourselves answers: (a) They were in a hurry to get to the resort, and as the vacation was offered while they were on the way to the airport, it's possible that the wardrobe Regine had on hand did not include provisions for bras; (b) Regine is old enough to do such things; (c) she's never read the manual on how to properly show off one's girls; or (d) She's Regine *freaking* Velasquez, and if she felt like showing off her girls, she has every right to do so because she's (repeat after me) Regine *freaking* Velasquez.

Monday, June 11

Library Hours

The Library Thing must be every geek's dream widget. With it, you can catalogue your books online. So far, I've uploaded nearly a hundred of my books. Mostly, these books are the ones piled beside my desk and perhaps read in the last couple of years.

Check out the meager contents of my library here. Or you can just check out the sidebar for random book covers.

Bah, I'm sleepy and there's a wall full of books to go.

Sunday, June 10

A Natural History of the Senses

A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman,PhP 200, AS Walk

The Amazon source page indicates that A Natural History of the Senses (Book #14) cites 91 books, and in turn it is cited by 403 others. Not bad for a book that's been around for a little over 15 years.In my very first creative writing class, our professor, a Jesuit in the making who loved floral shirts, forced us listen to Everything But the Girl's "Didn't Know I Was Looking For Love," loads of post-Police and pre-tantric sex Sting, Madonna reading a poem by Pablo Neruda, and one time, dolphin sounds. Among all the things he introduced us to, the one that stayed the most with me was reading excerpts of Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses.

I kept the pages on the history of kissing and synesthesia that he gave us. Last year, I saw a copy of the book in one of the table sales by student orgs lining up the AS Walk. The pages were already yellowing and it was rather dog-eared, but since I haven't seen it anywhere else (or too expensive everywhere else) I got it for PhP200.

Ackerman accompanied me through many lunches and afternoons spent in my office in between classes. One reviewer commented that the book isn't made for cover to cover reading, and I must agree. But only because I believe this is a book that must be savored, sensually experienced over time. There's really not too much history in the book per se--it's science or nature writing really. But the botto line is that you get to learn a lot of things. For example, that musk, a key ingredient in perfume, was discovered up in the mountains by lonely goatherds who had nothing else to do but observe that a red jelly-like substance forms on sheep's genitalia. Or was it a goat? That by choosing to wear a scent, what we really are declaring is that we are ripe with pheromones and we want to mate. "Do you think I'm more shaggable when I smell like grapefruit and oranges or when I smell like a tennis player?" Of course, one never asks the sales person this over the counter. This all happens deep in our bones and veins, at the tips of our neurons and synapses, a kind of shared unspeakable memory.

A Natural History of the Senses is best read in spurts and stretches. Often I told myself I'd just finish one little bit, just this piece about perfume. Ackerman's language has a lusciousness to it, or as one reviewer said, it's all about "the heady succulence of life." I can only experience and live with too much headiness or succulence. It's perhaps why it took me several months to finish this. I also admire her ability to include the self in topics like a shuttle launch, or leaves turning red in the fall, or the pursuit of butterflies and glaciers. Some reviewers tag Ackerman as a little self-absorbed because of this. I don't mind it at all.

On Their Own

This is rather old hat, but here's an Unsolicited Manang Lea Nugget for this week (with Monique Wilson figuring in somewhere):
The competition for a role in Miss Saigon was fierce. All those who auditioned chose their respective song carefully in order to increase their chance of bagging the lead role in the year’s most anticipated musical. And the competition was really so fierce that even friends like Lea and Monique kept their audition song a secret from each other.

As witnesses distinctly remember, Lea arrived at her audition for Miss Saigon dressed casually without any trace of facial make-up. Then there was silence in the audition room. And in her trademark crystal clear and crisp singing voice, Lea Salonga started singing her audition song.

Lea Salonga sang “On My Own” during her audition for Miss Saigon.

During the same Miss Saigon audition, Monique Wilson also came dressed casually with nary a trace of facial make-up. Then there was silence in the audition room. And in her trademark penetrating and heart-wrenching singing voice, Monique Wilson started singing her audition song.

Monique Wilson sang “On My Own” during her audition for Miss Saigon.

Yes, Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson sang the same song for their Miss Saigon audition.

And neither of them knew that the other will sing the same song.
This story was swiped from Untold Pinoy Stories. Although if you're a Manang Lea/Miss Saigon fan, you probably know all this already. I don't really know what Monique Wilson is up to these days. Also, I was under the impression that she was older than Manang Lea, manang-ness notwithstanding.

It's weird because just this morning, I saw the Hapee toothpaste commercial featuring Manang Lea. She doesn't advertise herself as "Mrs. Saigon" or Eponine or Fantine, but she now likes to be called "Mrs. Chien, mother ni Nicole." When I first heard what she named her daughter, I just said, "Who would name her kid 'Beverly'?"

Thursday, June 7

Walking Through

Book13, Screenwriters' Masterclass: Screenwriters Talk About Their Greatest Movies, edited by Kevin Conroy Scott, Faber and Faber, 2005, PhP199, Powerbooks

Screenwriters' Masterclass (Book #13) doesn't tell you how to write a screenplay, how to chop the story into three acts, or how to sell your spec script to Hollywood. There are many books which do that out in the market. They cost a lot and after reading a couple of these, they all begin to sound the same. But in the end, you throw out the books and whatever they're saying out the window.

What those guides don't tell you is how the writer actually grapples with the ideas in his head, that how stories are conceived and written is different for each story and for each writer. How in the end, no matter how much you study dramatic structure and you can quote fifty different definitions of what a plot point is, In the end, it's still you and the computer (or the pen and paper, whatever) and how your gut feel guides you in telling the story.

What Kevin Conroy Scott did was he put together nineteen screenwriters and asked them to talk about their movies. The lineup of writers and movies is more contemporary than classical, art house/indie favorites are pitted against genre/pop. Think Amores Perros/Requiem for a Dream vs Out of Sight/Die Another Day. The European sensibility is represented by Francois Ozon (Under the Sand) and Lukas Moodyson (Together); the Latin Americans are accounted for. It's through that out of nineteen writers, only one woman made the cut (Lisa Chodolenko/High Art) and there are no Asians.

But when it comes to the writing, everyone is united by the process. Conroy Scott's favorite question seems to be, "Can you walk me through your writing process?" There's someone who favors typing out his script, others insist on a 5-page quota for the day and spend the rest of the day doing other things. Paul Laverty insists on doing research and living with his intended subjects. He hung out a lot with the Mexicans and Guatemalans who cleaned houses in LA and whose stories eventually became the seed for "Bread and Roses."

The actual writing may take six months to six years. What's also remarkable was that at one point almost all the writers hit a phase where they sit up, stop and ask themselves, "What the hell am I doing?" That's when Scott pops his next favorite question, "What do you do with self-doubt?" This is apparently inevitable. You try to ignore it, you forge on and write and hopefully a solution presents itself later on.

Scott's film school education manifests itself when he starts quoting a lot of theory and Ingmar Bergman and follows that up with "So do you agree with that?" At one point, Scott quoted Bergman as saying that Lukas Moodyson is "a young master" of Swedish cinema. I suppose whenever people think of Swedish cinema, Bergman is the first thing that comes to mind. But Moodyson probably surprised Scott by saying that Bergman never really became popular in Sweden. While the National Film Institute of Sweden sends Bergman all the movies made that year for him to screen in his private home theater, the young Swedes just make their movies and pretty much shrug their shoulders to Bergman's pronouncements.

Most of the writers view themselves as "accidents." When asked whether literature or the arts played a huge role in their childhoods, most would say, yes, the family encouraged them. Or that there were lots of books in the house. Or you get someone like Moodyson who just wanted to listen to loud music and didn't like reading. His view of writing is that he's pretty much like a human Ouija board. The story is out there, he's just the medium.

Then you get a lawyer like Paul Laverty, who was supposed to become a priest but quit when he saw the cute Italian girls in Rome. Then he got sent to Nicaragua and saw what was happening. He wrote something about that experience, and when the film was finished, he brought the film reels back to the village which inspired the story. Laverty emphasizes a grassroots approach to filmmaking. He does say that "you can't copy a screenplay from life. But in many ways we've touched their experience and we've gained a great deal of insight from their lives through them. So it's a matter of respect, and in a strange sort of way it's a way of thanking and recognizing that they are the authors of the piece."

I liked the emphasis that writers placed on research--unless you are Moodyson. But also, the book gives you a great rare glimpse into how writers basically squirm around until the story's out there. Then you're free until the hell that is revision begins. More revisions if the film is connected with major stars and big studios.

This is a great book if you want more than just a guide on how to write a script. Most of the writers interviewed didn't even know what a script looked like. They got hold of the legendary Syd Field book, read sample scripts, then chucked everything out the window and wrote.

Also, this was a great buy for me. I've been eyeing this book for such a long time in Powerbooks but it was just so expensive. The acid-free paper edition retails for PhP1,300+. My copy was originally going for P995 but I got it on sale and only paid for PhP199. Not bad, not bad at all.

Screenwriters' Masterclass: Screenwriters Talk About Their Greatest Movies. Edited by Kevin Conroy Scott. Faber and Faber, 2005.

Wednesday, June 6

Is that a computer in your pocket

Or are you just happy to see me?

Intel and Asus teamed up for Eee PC, a 7-inch ultraportable that will retail for $199. It's got connectivity, a webcam, 512MB of RAM and a 4, 8 or 16GB flash drive for speedy, reliable storage.

And did I mention that it costs less than $200? It's the size of a paperback and costs the same as a really basic digital camera.

The downside is the really low battery life: 2-3 hours tops. But for really basic computing, this is already a good deal, I think.

Read more about it here, here and here.


Monday, June 4

Status Anxiety

Status Anxiety

Book12,Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, Hardbound, php90, Glorietta sale

It’s the one affliction that is universally acknowledged—the fear that one is really a “loser” or a “nobody.” Alain de Botton takes this idea and explores why anxiousness over one’s place in society has been more pronounced in modern societies. He neatly sums it up early in the book:
That status anxiety possesses an exceptional capacity to inspire sorrow.

That the hunger for status, like all appetites, can have its uses: spurring us to do justice to our talents, encouraging excellence, restraining us from harmful eccentricities and cementing members of a society around a common value system. But, like all appetites, its excesses can also kill.

The most profitable way of addressing the condition may be to attempt to understand and to speak of it."
People in the medieval ages didn’t fuss over status as much. In those days, if you were born a farmer, you will most likely die a farmer. There’s no chance to cross over and be a priest or to found a little fiefdom. Everything’s been fixed for you. And anyway, when you die, God has promised you a garden of unearthly delights.

Discussion about one’s place in society inadvertently means that you go back to Marxism, but de Botton argues that yes, people are worried about money, but more importantly, people are concerned with the attention and respect one gets from the goods which declare that you have money. So you see, this is really about getting the love and respect from other people.

He also offers other solutions to this anxiety: seek refuge in art, philosophy, religion, bohemia. But ultimately, I don’t think you can even pause to consider bohemia when you’re more worried about where to get the next meal.

So ruminations about your place in society must at least mean you have the time (and some money) to purchase this book and give you a glimpse of salvation. Good for me, because I got this book for P90 (hardbound! First edition!) in one of those sales in the mall. I previously read Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel. It's not quite literary theory or philosophy. One of the reviews in Amazon called de Botton's works as "literary self-help." At any rate, if you're not into philosophy or theory or ruminations, then maybe this book is not for you. But if you're fine with ruminations, Status Anxiety is a good read, quite informative as de Botton excels in distilling ideas from philosophical and critical texts and applies them to current concerns.