Friday, February 27

Change This Movie

We literally had two minutes to get inside the theater last Wednesday. I just picked a time that was convenient, 5:10PM. I figured it wouldn't be that crowded because people were still in schools and offices. But when I got to the counter almost all the seats were taken and I didn't know it was in a THX theater. That's how I ended up paying a full day's pay for the John Lloyd and Sarah movie.

The first teamup between John Lloyd Cruz and Sarah Geronimo was A Very Special Love. Plain girl Laida desires the masungit rich boy Miggy who publishes the magazine Bachelor, which is published by Flippage, one of the many business ventures owned by the Montenegro clan, whose black dressed and tuxedoed members scowl from the cover of the Society magazine's huge billboard along Guadalupe. Laida the plain girl moons over this billboard every time she passes it, and she likes Miggy so much that upon graduation, she applies to Flippage to be an Editorial Assistant. And lucky girl she was because on her job interview, she ends up offering a cup of coffee to the love of her life. They fall in love. They do weird things like dancing to stop the downpour and hire trucks so they could sing Smokey Mountain songs on them.

AVSL was a big hit when it first came out and I suspect it was because it was pure fantasy: plain girl gets rich boy. Of course, the rich boy has issues: he was an anak sa labas. He resents that his mother (Agot Isidro, in pictures) died and his father's family doesn't really like him. The good (legitimate) brother doesn't trust his capacities as publisher. Laida helps him get through all of this, even meeting his dead mother. And in the end, Miggy's father vouches for him so Rowell Santiago has no other choice but to take him in. Sarah Geronimo is a funny girl, unafraid to make a fool out of herself and the energy with which she throws herself is admirable. John Lloyd is trading on his sullen boy act, which for some reason girls find attractive. There's one scene where John Lloyd gets sick and Sarah nurses him back to health. It's the atsay and amo act all over again. So this is what the Pinay really wants is to play mommy, yaya, assistant and girlfriend all in one.

These are the issues that You Changed My Life takes on.What happens after the "happily ever after"? In fact, I was rather surprised that the movie is actually a direct sequel of A Very Special Love. Perhaps the creators thought they had a story that worked well, and decided to just pick up where they left off. We find out that Bachelor lives, and Laida takes care of their advertising load. Meanwhile, the Montenegros venture into a partnership with an airline company, and Miggy has to write a speech for his brother announcing this. The speech was horrible and he has 30 minutes to revise it. Guess who he calls to revise the bloody speech? Laida is the middle of a client presentation, but her mobile phone fills the conference room with Miggy screeching, "Bebe ko, bebe ko!" It's one thing to be in love and announce it to the world via mobile ring alerts. But I tell you, that ring tone was like a rusty nail being dragged across a blackboard. To fill the theater with that ringtone was torture. But of course, Laida is in love, she pushes aside the client presentation and ducks under the table to think of a tag line for this wonderful venture into the airline industry.

All relationships have their ups and downs, and our protagonists have more on the way. Miggy gets entrusted with the family's manufacturing gig. It's a plant in Laguna where they make jeans. It's a low profile, minimum output operation. Rowell Santiago as Miggy's older brother used to manage it. He comes to the plant ready to roll up his sleeves and iron some jeans, the workers respect him, and Manang, the assistant, simply adores him. When Miggy shows up for his first day at work there in a coat and tie, he is greeted with hesitation. Will this wimp of a boy do the job as well?

The boy wants to impress, so he ups the production quota. He targets big clients, and one of them is Mikee Cojuangco on the verge of turning matronix. She doubts the boy can deliver. But if he hands in Mikee's huge load of skinny jeans, Montenegro Manufacturing's Clean Living can have the contract. Miggy accepts amidst howls of protest from workers. He later turns the place into a 24-hour sweatshop. The workers take arms, call his dad and kuya, and Miggy is shamed once again. "Hindi mo na naman pinag-isipan ito," Rowell tells him.

The Montenegros are forced to renege on their word and tell the clients they are sorry. Mikee and Rowell Santiago exchange memories of their old courtship. Rowell would call Mikee complaining about his sore back, that he needs Salonpas, and poor Mikee gallops to Laguna bearing Oil of Wintergreen or something. The scene affords us the opportunity for Rowell to shed the Evil Kuya role--he went through everything Miggy is being subjected to, even more. He had to let go of the girl he loved so he could be the good son. But this is also a little nice throwback to the '90s: Rowell and Mikee make for a nice looking couple, a director and model tandem for Swatch advertisements, or a loveteam showcasing the travails of boy and girl love in the dinosaur age before the Internets. It would have been a really nice cameo for Mikee Cojuangco, who had to abandon her movie career to be wife and mother. It really would have helped if they gave her a really nice wardrobe--not the mumu-esque black monstrosity they made her wear. And somebody smudge that eyeshadow!

Meanwhile, in Laida land, Sarah reconnects with her best friend from high school. Makoy also reneged on a promise: he and Laida were supposed to study in the same college, but he took off without warning and left Laida hanging. He's back now, and it seems like he wants more than just play patintero outside the Montenegro building. It's the best friend drama of the century: Makoy suffers his love for Laida in silence because he is the best friend. With Miggy busy in Laguna, Laida finds herself declining invitations from colleagues to eat and go out, only to be told at the last minute (by that annoying Bebe-ko ringtone) that yet again, Miggy can't make it to their date. Laida is taken for granted. She wants to make the ultimate sacrifice: resign from Bachelor and just play Miggy's assistant in Laguna. Isn't this what being in a relationship is all about: to be at the lover's beck and call?

It's a conflict that makes me recall all those movies from the 90s onwards, like that film with Eric Quizon and Giselle Tongi as preppies (or was it advertising executive and flight attendant, whatever). Or it could be that movie where Bea was a call center agent and John Lloyd was an accountant. Or this could have been a movie directed by Joey Reyes. It has that feel. You could replace Sarah with Bea or G or another pretty face. Except that none of the prettier faces could work as well in this particular movie. But the Laida Magtalas in You Changed My Life didn't have that many funny scenes. And the most fun part in the movie was the flashback sequence from AVSL.

There's no doubt in my mind that this movie will be a hit. The theater was full. And when we went out, there was a really long line of people waiting to see the movie. And this was the first day. I didn't even know that it was the first day of showing. Which brings us to the question: What else does this movie have to offer? The John Lloyd's scowling boy and Sarah's naivete act will wear off soon. What will the third movie offer? Miggy and Laida get married; we follow Laida's misadventures as she is introduced into "society?" We can't just follow them step by step into marriage and old age. Or maybe it's best to stop here, while the kilig (like fizz in a bottle of cola) is still there, while there's a chance at a happy ending, while Miggy and Laida still work as a fantasy project.

Wednesday, February 25

Judging a Book by its Cover

Let's face it: sometimes you pick up a book off the shelf because the cover looks great. It gets you to flip to that crucial first page, see if the words can hold your interest longer than a paragraph, a page. Before you know it, you've been glued in front of that shelf and the store attendants are clearing their throats.

This is when you decide whether to drop the book or head to the counter and gladly pay for it.

Beth Carswell gives us a list of 30 novels worth buying based on the cover alone. The list is a little lopsided for me. Of coure, she's biased, because she's writing it for Abe Books. But there are some pretty interesting covers there. I like the cover David Pelham did for Clockwork Orange. Here I'm also biased--this the cover of the copy I picked up in a booksale bin long long ago, after I was wowed by the movie version.

Then there's the cover designed by for Chuck Palahniuk's Rant.

We see a network of what seems like a network of veins. Claire Broadhurst tells us a little bit more about this innovative design:
when you initially look at it the only indicating a title is the ‘R’ which is cut through window to the title which is placed on the layer beneath.

The graphics are undeniably abstract, however as you look closer it could represent any number of things. My initial thoughts were this was designed to indicate a curious yet confused scene which is constantly changing. However looking it again it could also be symbolic of a human heart, which has mutated into an abnormal form and is aggressively taking over the page.
She goes on to say that the book is ostensibly about a fictional character, Buster Casey, who "may or may not be the most efficient serial killer of our time." Reading this synopsis, one is afforded a glimpse into the character's interior life. "May or may not be," "efficient," "killer." It's a curious image, one that makes you want to pick it up and see for yourself whether or not the suggestion is true. The book cover design created by Rodrigo Corral and Jacob Magraw hit home.

Also, it somehow connects with the previous Palahniuk novel, Choke, the one that details the travails of a guy who pretends to choke in restaurants and get rescued by random people who are then grateful for being given the chance to "save" him. The Choke cover features a human body with the muscular system, the sort you find in those great big encyclopedias with the thin pages you can put one on top of the other and the human body grows from skeleton, then organs and muscles, then veins.

If you're looking for continuity or thematic unity in a writer's work as it is represented in his book covers, then this is it. I bought Choke years before. The cover was just a bonus. As for Rant, let's just say that I didn't pick it up, interesting cover not withstanding. But that's not the book designer's fault. It has more to do with being burned by a previous Palahniuk novel I picked up, Haunted. (Never finished it. After "Guts," it's all downhill there for me.)

One thing though. Carswell names Michael Collica responsible for Rant's book design and/or illustration. However, all other sources name Corral and Magraw. I normally don't trust Wikipedia and the Net 100% of the time, but if there's not a single source that names Collica as the rightful designer, then it's still Corral and Magraw for me.

Tuesday, February 24

The Trilogy Meter

Last week, found myself in close proximity to a huge paperbag that contained all The Complete Extended Edition DVDs of The Lord of the Rings. The discs are in these nice book-looking cases, in maroon, deep green and blue. If it were gold or yellow then it would have looked like a sablay. Hehehe. Each volume had maybe 4 discs in it. The film on 2 discs, with commentaries, then 2 more discs of features alone. N, who lent her the DVDs, said that the 3 movies amount to 10 hours, with the features, it's 24 hours all in all.

Guess what we've been watching since then.

Finished The Two Towers last night and so far it's been an enjoyable ride. Then I came across Dan Meth's Trilogy Meter, where he measures how most movies which come in threes (Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, Rambo). Interestingly enough, most of the movies were uneven. It's surprising that some movies have more interesting sequels than the first (Superman, Alien), and usually, the third one is never really the best of the series.

So movies which come in threes (or more) are uneven. Hah.

But the biggest surprise: The Lord of the Rings may be the only trilogy so far which can boast of an even hand in terms of storytelling. Of course it helps that the material is already there. J. R. R. Tolkien himself didn't even think of it as a trilogy--he meant it to be one big book. But the practicality of publishing turned it into a series. In the DVD feature, Tolkien hated the title the publisher gave the last volume, The Return of the King, because it told the reader everything that'll happen in the book.

Yet anyhow, it's the solid narrative that supported the film. But that wouldn't even happen without the writers and the director who shaped that really heavy doorstop of a book into the movie that we now know. So for that, Peter Jackson takes the cake for some pretty awesome movie time. Otherwise, save us from all the Underworld pre-, sequels.

Saturday, February 14

Fill my cup with burning love.

Fill my cup with burning love.
Originally uploaded by xkg
Got donuts for my graduate fiction class. Found a wall full of cut out hearts at Cello's.

Have a hot Valentine's everyone.

Friday, February 13

Directions to Servants

This was another accidental purchase from National's sale bins. I had been looking for poster paints, or something mundane like that when I strayed over to the piles of books under the "Under 100" tag. What first caught my attention was the ceramic marm with the wicked grin on the cover. Just one look and you know that she's up to no good.

So I picked the book up. Eighty-five pesos. How bad could it be?

The inner flap reveals that Jonathan Swift was not able to finish this work, and this is obvious when one gets to the latter pages. In the beginning, his directions were long and detailed. But when you get to the last pages, it could be as brief as a sentence or two. Take for example the very last entry:
Directions to the Tutoress or Governess

Say the children have sore eyes; Miss Betty won't take to her book, etc.

Make the misses read French and English novels and French romances, and all the comedies writ in King Charles II and King William's reigns, to soften their nature and make them tender-hearted, etc.
Kundi ba naman sign ang sangkatutak na 'etc.' diyan, ewan ko na lang.

Although it remain uncompleted until the time of his death, Directions to Servants still packed a powerful punch for a book that weighs in at 96 pages. The book takes the form of a handbook on manners, a euthenics for the non-gentlefolk. It "addressed to each servant individually, Directions to Servants is the ultimate upstairs/downstairs battle. With scathing wit, Swift pits master against servant in an endless struggle for order, frugality, and the best bits of the roast. His servants are lazy, profligate, and acquisitive—always on the lookout for a shilling to be made on the sale of leftovers, or a half-bottle of wine to share with the cook."

Directions to Servants is a hilarious read, right on the money, scathing and entertaining all at the same time. It allows us to laugh at the follies not just the servants, but also at the masters and mistresses to whom they devote their time and loyalty. One notices that this isn't mere criticism at the inefficiency of the service industry, but in a way also shows us that if one is born to a family whose family is beholden to a master, there is a very slim to none chance that one will ever escape that plight.

Swift gives the longest directions to the Footman, whom he considers to have the biggest chance of escaping the life of drudgery. The footman should flatter the ladies by memorising all the lines of the plays he watches at the theater, must know how to play a musical instrument, dress nicely. If done well, he might capture the heart of a young lady, and that's his ticket to a more leisurely life.

Then one reads in the Bio Note and in the Foreword by Colm Toibin that when he was a young man, Swift found himself in the household of one Sir William Temple, tasked with reading aloud to his patron and keeping the family's accounts in order.

Kaya naman pala.

Jonathan Swift has the "K", as some would say, to spread thick the critique on the service industry since he was once one of them, lucky enough to get himself an education and grow old and bitter and almost insane. Did early life as a servant cause his bitterness? Or was it the education and the realization that without this chance of "bettering" oneself, generations are fated to be beholden to families who came into the world with a title and an estate? The connections, of course, aren't that tenuous.

Read an excerpt from Directions to Servants: "Rules that Concern All Servants in General."

Monday, February 9

Harlan, Truman, Lobsters and Sliced Bread

Was just going to buy a loaf of bread last night and I ended up with a loaf of bread, a comic book and a hardbound edition of Truman Capote's essays.

Have fallen in love with the wheat loaf from the store down the load. But when we dropped by last night, it was a full house but the bread counter displayed a lack of loaves, only pan de sal. The cashier checked in the pantry and said she'll have some sliced. Told her will come back in 10 minutes.

Browsing at National Bookstore can never be quick, and the ten minutes turned into thirty. But look at what I found:

On the left is Harlan Ellison's Vic and Blood, which collects all the "A Boy and His Dog" stories and Richard Corben's comic book adaptations. Beside it is a hardbound edition of the collected essays of Truman Capote, which I got for Php120 pesos. Not bad considering that's like 10% of the actual cover price.

The best thing about this is that they're on sale, with more than 80% markdowns:

I have yet to start reading them because right now, lobsters command my attention:

Friday, February 6

Publishing 2.0

Time has an interesting article on the state of publishing in the 21st century. Technology has made publishing on the web and print-on-demand services accessible to people wanting to be authors. The landscape of publishing is now faced with very, very different challenges than say, a monk losing feeling on his right arm and the dog running away with the quill.
Just how different?

"Four of the five best-selling novels in Japan in 2007 belonged to an entirely new literary form called keitai shosetsu: novels written, and read, on cell phones. Compared with the time and cost of replicating a digital file and shipping it around the world--i.e., zero and nothing--printing books on paper feels a little Paleolithic...Those cell-phone novels are generally written by amateurs and posted on free community websites, by the hundreds of thousands, with no expectation of payment. For the first time in modern history, novels are becoming detached from dollars. They're circulating outside the economy that spawned them."

I wonder what sort of stories are in those novels, and more importantly, how much of it is mind-boggling perversity that only Japan seems to be capable of?

In other parts of the world, cell-phone novels haven't caught on yet. In the U.S. they have something else: fan fiction, "fan-written stories based on fictional worlds and characters borrowed from popular culture--Star Trek, Jane Austen, Twilight, you name it. There's a staggering amount of it online, enough to qualify it as a literary form in its own right. hosts 386,490 short stories, novels and novellas in its Harry Potter section alone."
But the question is: How much of the self-published stuff out there is garbage? Surely, one can only read so much Harry and Ron couplings. Imagine a world where all the books are reimaginings of the doomed Bella and Edward-look-at-me-I'm-sparkly-Cullen. If everyone with a computer and an internet connection could publish his own book, what would the library shelves look like?

Lev Grossman gives us a glimpse of reading in the future: "Like fan fiction, it will be ravenously referential and intertextual in ways that will strain copyright law to the breaking point. Novels will get longer--electronic books aren't bound by physical constraints--and they'll be patchable and updatable, like software. We'll see more novels doled out episodically, on the model of TV series or, for that matter, the serial novels of the 19th century. We can expect a literary culture of pleasure and immediate gratification. Reading on a screen speeds you up: you don't linger on the language; you just click through. We'll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput. Novels will compete to hook you in the first paragraph and then hang on for dear life."

There is hope yet. Vanity publishing used to be frowned upon, a sure sign that one is a talentless writer no publisher wanted to risk on. But things do change. A case in point would be Chrisopher Paolini, who published his own dragon tales before being picked up by a major imprint. With content showing up in blogs, websites and publish-on-demand services, publishers have a new role to play. Whereas before they act as gatekeepers, filtering literature so that only the best writing gets into print, they now scout the blogs and self-published titles and offer the most popular a contract to bring them under their own imprint. Publishing in the days of Web 2.0 has become a very Darwinian process.

Thursday, February 5

Alan Moore Truly, Madly, Deeply Hates Hollywood

If all goes well, we'll all be lining up to see Watchmen in the theatres. Total Film talked to Alan Moore and got more than what they bargained for. Just look at this bad ass photo of Moore:

If Alan Moore had his way, the movie really is a waste of money and the 100 million the studio used to shoot the film should have just gone to settle the civil unrest in Haiti. Moore even takes a potshot at Sean Connery: “The League film cost 100 million because Sean Connery wanted 17 million of that - and a bigger explosion that the one he’d had in his last film. It’s in his contract that he has to have a bigger explosion with every film he’s in...In The Rock he’d blown up an island, and he was demanding in The League that he blow up, was it Venice or something like that? It would have been the moon in his next movie.”

Ah, good times.

Wednesday, February 4

So, we meet again

Nate Piekos cues you in on comics grammar and tradition: "Comic book lettering has some grammatical and aesthetic traditions that are quite unique. What follows is a list that every letterer eventually commits to his/her own mental reference file. The majority of these points are established tradition, sprinkled with modern trends and a bit of my own opinion having lettered professionally for a few years now. "

I used to wonder why comics needed a separate person to pencil, ink and letter the pages until someone pointed out that it really had its roots in the Marvel/DC assembly set up: You don't want Jack Kirby to draw pages then switch to lettering, etc. Also, since there are many titles ongoing at any given time, in house letterers give the books a "look" and "feel" that best fits the company standards.

Bonus track: Here's Piekos on handlettering, which answers my question--"What are French curves for?"