Wednesday, July 4


Got caught up in Revenge all day yesterday.

The show's plot is as old as time: a young woman returns to a town to avenge all the wrongs done to her and her family. She's not who she claims to be, but then again, so is everyone--they all have secrets that can lead to their downfall.

What I love about the show knows their story has been done before, and yet it keeps you glued to the edge of your seat until 1AM on a rainy night. But most of all, the show winks at you--like that camera secretly wedged in between the books, situated right above Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, a book that I loved and devoured as a kid along with all the Brontes and Dickens.

We are astounded and shake our heads now that people can't seem to recognize people they know from way back. Something horrible happens, people disappear for years and then years later, a stranger comes to town fabulously wealthy and well-coiffed and no one recognizes them until it's too late.

A revenge plot is a revenge plot. Soap opera on television uses that. Thalia straightened her curly, barrio-lass hair and the innocent Marimar becomes the cunning Bella. And everyone tells her, "Hey, you remind me of someone I once knew." Even television that claims to have the scope and literariness of the novel, i.e. Mad Men, uses that secret identity/switched identities plot. It was good for literature then, it was good for television now. Hell, even Jose Rizal couldn't help himself. Seriously, did no one tell Crisostomo Ibarra/Simoun, "We knew it was you all along. Now can you please shave that terrible goatee."

Wednesday, June 20

The Rom-Com Template

Vulture's Kyle Buchanan cracks down on the romantic comedy template--well, a very particular subset of the genre-- the latest incarnation of which is the Keira Knightley-Steve Carrell starrer Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. 

Briefly, the formula seems to be this: 
Sad-Sack Comedian +  Manic Pixie Dream Girl + Wordy Title = Rom-Com Template. 
They plugged in the formula using several variables, and what do you know, it does fit. My favorite of those name-checked is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I can also live with (500) Days of Summer (with queen of the Manic Pixie Dream Girls Zooey Deschanel) and Lost in Translation (directed by queen of the Manic Pixie Dream Director Sophia Coppola). Bill Murray wins for the largest age discrepancy from love interest--34 years between him and Scarlett Johansson. 

Monday, June 4

A Pratfall is better than anything.

Preston Sturges, father of the screwball comedy, drew up the following rules for box office appeal:

  1. A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.
  2. A leg is better than an arm.
  3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
  4. An arrival is better than a departure.
  5. A birth is better than a death.
  6. A chase is better than a chat.
  7. A dog is better than a landscape.
  8. A kitten is better than a dog.
  9. A baby is better than a kitten.
  10. A kiss is better than a baby.
  11. A pratfall is better than anything.

Sunday, June 3

The Fairest in the Land

Tell me I'm the fairest in the land, or I shall impale you with my crown.

I saw Snow White and the Huntsman on opening day. I was there partly to see Kristen Stewart grimace her way through the movie and partly to watch Charlize Theron's milk bath dry.  Also, I have a standing bet that KStew will have more chemistry with Theron's Queen Ravenna  than with the Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman. Or any other guy they throw her way for that matter. There's even a meme dedicated to that, but that's another matter.

I was also curious how the movie would pull off this premise: If Charlize Theron is your Queen, how can the mirror declare KStew the fairest in the land? Anyone with eyes and a cursory glancing knowledge of the tale knows the story didn't say "most awkward and would be first in line at the Converse sale." Sure, sure, Snow White is but a bud versus the Queen's beauty in full bloom, and the princess can still blossom into a fair maiden later in her youth. But, KStew is the fairest in the land, really? The One who represents "life itself" is deader than anything or even The Nothing. If I were the Queen, I'd throw a tantrum, too. But while wearing fabulous clothes made of raven feathers and hate, of course. 

The most interesting dynamic in the movie is still that of the Evil Queen and her stepdaughter. We see how she took over Snow White's father's kingdom: She sends out a phantom army, plays a damsel in distress, which of course pumps up the need to protect said damsel and marry her immediately, like the very next day. 

There are a lot of questions surrounding Ravenna's rise to power: how come this king has not heard of this modus before? Is beauty really so powerful that it enamors and enslaves men and drives them to their own ruin? We'll accept that this beauty is potent, courtesy of the spell cast by Ravenna's mother. It is unclear how often this spell be fed with the beauty of young women. There was this lone young woman in the tower with Snow White in the beginning--the one that Snow White wanted to liberate later on only to discover that the young woman had been drained of her youth. But later on, there's this hall full of dead women. Does Queen Ravenna have a cheat day where she can gorge on a buffet of pretty damsels? 

Also, the Mirror doesn't seem to do much other than to point out that the spell can be undone by the fairest in the land, and so Snow White must be vanquished. Once Ravenna became weak, there is no solace or advice from the Mirror. But it does drive Queen Ravenna to use all her powers. She apparently has the ability to transform herself--and guess what, she chooses to be the Duke's son William, Snow White's childhood protector. 


So technically, Snow White's first kiss is with her stepmother. And it kills her. What can be more awkward than that? To be fair, Snow White does get two more kisses: once from William--the kiss we have been told should revive her. But it did not do anything. It is the Huntsman's kiss that brings her back to life. Strangely enough, this turn of events wasn't explored much in the movie. 

I was under the impression that this would be about empowering fairy tale princesses, i.e., Snow White the Warrior Princess. The trailers were all about Snow White in chainmail on a galloping horse, on her way to battle the Evil Queen Stepmother, aptly named Ravenna. (How very Mulawin of them, no?) Unless the princess had received warrior training prior to her imprisonment in the north tower after her father's death, then Snow White has to get her warrior training somewhere before going off into a great battle, yes? So perhaps that's where the Huntsman goes in. I thought the deviation from the fairy tale would come once Princess and Huntsman get together. The movie is named Snow White and the Huntsman after all. 

But the closest we get to hunting lessons from the Huntsman is that one moment where he tells Snow White that she should drive the knife in all the way to the hilt. Where is the Karate Kid training montage? Where is Snow White's initial rejection of her role as savior? Other than that, it's a movie that's partly the Fellowship of the Dwarves in Pandora with a side of Narnia. And that's it, off to battle we go. 

Seriously, who rides off to battle after a semi-awkward speech from a recently back from the dead princess? 

There is this bit in the end that "fairest in the land" does not pertain to beauty but a sense of equal judgment. So it really is about Snow White reasserting her rightful role as ruler of her father's kingdom. She has no need for the Huntsman or the Duke's son. But I am more concerned about the Queen's fate: What does it mean when a woman is driven to protect her daughter by casting a spell that allows her to rise to power so that she would not suffer at the hands of men again, but the spell forces said daughter to make other women suffer at her expense, to feed off their youth and beauty? And yet her ultimate undoing comes from the one girl who refused to give her her heart. All it takes is three drops of blood. 

(Here's an alternative take on this: Who are we kidding? I went into the theater to gawk at the screen. The movie is gorgeous to look at, Charlize Theron is really pretty and wears fabulous clothes made of raven feathers and hate. Here's the interview with Snow White and the Huntsman costume designer Coleen Atwood on how hundreds of roosters sacrificed their lives at the altar of Queen Ravenna.) 

Saturday, May 26

Bad Writing is Criminal

The Composites uses fiction and forensic art to trace the limits of criminality and transgression and come up with a list of literature's most frequent crimes. Murder is the most prevalent at 26%, followed by Racketeering and Sexual Predation tied for second place with 11%. If they put together the stats for Fallen Woman and Sex Workers, it should come in at third place with a combined 11%.

Surprisingly, Bad Writing also makes the list. It comes in at last place, tied with Forced Confinement (Boo, Mr. Rochester!).  One would think Bad Writing would place higher, but I guess they were only counting fictional crimes and not the actual bad writing in literature itself. But Bad Writing, in whatever form, should be criminal.

Sunday, May 13

Even in Chinatown, nothing means more than being together.

There's a study that came out recently, about how the knowledge of "spoilers" don't really lessen the enjoyment out of watching movies or reading books, and that it even enhances the experience. 

While that is true of certain viewing fare, these days, I like being surprised. I show up in front of the theater at the appointed time. I don't check out reviews, and sometimes I know only the vaguest of details. (Like: "It's by Joss Whedon. Should be good. Though some poor girl is probably going to be in for a bender. Sure, let's go." Or: "Hugh Jackman in a wifebeater, with robots. Okay, count me in.") 

Same thing goes for home viewings. In honor of Mothers Day, I thought I'd watch a movie celebrating the occasion. I was going to pop in Beaches, then came across Incendies. I vaguely remember a friend raving about it, something about the story of a mother and her children, and enough for me to put in on queue in Transmission. 

So the movie begins with a twin brother and a sister having their late mother's will read to them by their mother's boss, a notary for whom she has served as a secretary. In order to bury her properly, the siblings must go back to the land of their mother's birth, an unnamed Middle Eastern country. The boy thinks it's bollocks; the girl decides to go and fulfill the mother's wishes. With a set up like this, we know that we are going to discover things about the mother's past, and it's probably not going to be pleasant. 

We follow the daughter's journey back to her mother's homeland. When she gets to each pit stop in search of her mother's past, we also get a flashback revealing pieces of the mother Nawal Marwan's history. It's interesting that her daughter Jeanne was made to be a mathematician. In pure mathematics, there is no space for the 'maybe.'  Everything is knowable, and has to be boiled down to the simplest  expression possible.  A statement: 1 + 1 = 2. The language of numbers is that of clarity and certainty:  1 + 1 =/= 1. There is no other way about it.  All the way to the very end, when everything has been revealed, it boils down to that simple statement. 

Nawal Marwan's family history is heartbreaking. The mother's boss, the last of a long line of notaries starting from the 18th century, tells the boy about a man who led parallel lives. The man had three wives, eight children in three different cities where he lived and did business. "That was fun, believe me," the notary said. "Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks behind." It is old school tragedy, with deaths and murders in an epic scale. 

The one bright spot--if it can be called that--are the letters left behind by the mother. "Nothing means more than being together," she writes from her grave. People survive, which only makes it worse, as they have to live with the knowledge and the consequences of their discovery. But that is also why it is so effective: the viewer does not leave unscathed, she shares the burden of discovery. But in the end she can walk away: "Hey, just think of the awkward family reunions. At least it didn't happen to me." 

Saturday, May 12

Why did the novelist cross the road?

John Sutherland peeks into the lives of almost 300 novelists to map out a history of the novel. You get a sample like that, patterns are bound to emerge. Grant Snider tries to distill the "types" into a 9-panel block. You can play a tic-tac-toe of writing ticks with it. Or if lucky (or unlucky--depends on how you look at it) you can have a bingo blackout of, uh, writing fuel. Interestingly, there's nothing about happy people in those panels. Makes you wonder.

Friday, May 11

So Closure

Nothing says out of town bus ride better than Mindless Action Movies. Last year, on our way to Laguna, we were subjected to a movie with a Vin Diesel look alike, but only more Asian and with a lot of parkour thrown in. Also, the subtitles were in Turkish or some other language.

A couple of weekends ago, on our way back to Manila from Batangas, our ride was a blue Ceres bus. It was swanky and new and there were individual reading lights and two (!) monitors to watch the Mindless Action Movie in. The driver put in So Close (2002) and we didn't sleep a wink or notice the traffic at all. That or we are just easily entertained.

I haven't seen the movie in a really long while. There's an assassin called Computer Angel who uses something called Panorama, a program which connects all CCTVs in the world and hooked up via satellite, which allows Computer Angel's sister to always be a step ahead of being caught. A newly-returned Forensics Expert gets obssessed with solving the Computer Angel assassination, and in turn, Computer Angel's sister gets obssessed with the Forensics Expert as part of the long honored trope of Cops and Robbers, as seen in works of literary classics like Les Miserables.

But this is no Victor Hugo masterpiece. And really, all you need to know is that it stars a trio of gorgeous girls--Shu Qi, Karen Mok and Vicky Zhao--and there are amazing fight sequences in bath tubs and elevators extending into parking lots, with handcuffs, and lots of slow motion hair porn set to The Carpenters. Here they are:

The yellow track suits remind me of Kill Bill, but when I checked Kill Bill came out in 2003-04, so Corey Yuen's stiletto fight fest was ahead by a year. But then again, it's Tarantino and it's probably an homage or something.

We were all happy campers in that bus until the long amazing car chase comes to an end and the driver pulls the plug on the movie. WTF, Ceres Bus Driver? There's still an entire 20 minutes and one last spectacular action sequence where the Forensics Expert (Karen Mok) and Computer Angel's Sister (Vicky Zhao) team up for one last hit to clear their names.

You don't shut it down when we were just approaching Ortigas and it's still a long way from Cubao. And while we're at it, Dear Ceres Bus Driver,  a bunch of us were clearly expecting to be delivered to the Araneta Center. When your signboard says Cubao, it better be a proper station and not by the chaotic wayside of EDSA. Also, we almost liked your bus until you cut off our movie and dropped us off in front a bus station that did not say "Ceres Bus Lines." No wonder people were grumbling and grumpy. We needed closure. It's like the blue balls of long distance bus rides. That is Just Not Done.

Moral of the Story: Always See Things Off Until The Very, Very End. Also: If You Promised To Do It, Go All The Freaking Way.

Now that rant is out of the way, let's return to a safe happy place. Have a little sisterly catfight:

Thursday, May 10

Going Gangstah

When I think of gangsters, I think of Bande a Part and of spontaneously breaking into dance, of running through the Louvre, and of that minute of silence that’s actually just 36 seconds, and wondering if "the world was becoming a dream or if a dream was becoming the world."

Later on, I'd come across an album with the same title by, appropriately enough, Nouvelle Vague. The music came as a jolt, as it was mostly bossa nova-type covers of songs like Tuxedomoon's "In a Manner of Speaking," which was what was playing over the end credits of a series in which two girls were running away after being connected to a crime. That was only gangstah by way of Glasgow. 

Last weekend, we were cleaning out a room which still had flood-soaked stuff. We had to throw them away, and among them were books. On top of the pile was a book on gangster movies and some other film and media theory books. 

I still don't know where my DVD of the movie is. But if I’m going gangstah, I want to be a French one, although I'm holding out on the bossa nova soundtrack.

Sunday, May 6

Leonardo's Anatomy

Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks contain superbly accurate drawings of the human anatomy--a most laudable feat considering that this is all hand-drawn 2D depictions made from dissecting corpses and aided by nothing but the power of observation and no fancy-schmancy 3D technology. Experts say his drawings are even better than those available in 19th century Gray's Anatomy. But I'd take da Vinci over Shonda Rhimes any day. 

Elsewhere in the intarwebs, Leonardo's To-Do Lists, which includes a casual note to remind him to "Draw Milan," because that's what amazing Renaissance men do with their notebooks. The only maps I ever draw in my notebook are directions to Indian and dimsum places, and I still get lost afterwards and need the combined help of GPS systems and phone-in directions from people.

Wednesday, May 2

Robin Scherbatsky is my power animal.

Two weeks ago, Flavorwire came out with a list of 15 of the most powerful women characters in TV:
Apparently, when you raise your little girl as though she’s a little boy, the result looks something like Robin Scherbatsky. A TV reporter (like Murphy Brown!) who’s worked her way up from puff pieces to hard news, she’s determined to focus on her career, repeatedly declaring her lack of interest in marriage and family. It gets more complicated from there, but even through disappointment and heartbreak, Robin remains one tough lady.
And while people debate over the exclusion of Xena and Dana Scully, I am glad that Robin Scherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother made the list.

Yes, Robin Scherbatsky has not battled gods and monsters or been impregnated by aliens. And yes, I love Xena and Dana, too. Or even yes, sometimes HIMYM seems like it's an overlong joke, stretched so much that I'm tempted to not wait around for the punchline. But, Robin, OMG.

A lot of jokes have been made at the expense of Canada and her Canadian-ness. That its culture pings a decade too late, or all that plaid and maple syrup. But it teaches a girl to be tough and not be afraid to lose her teeth at ice hockey. And while Robin has had her start as Ted Mosby's Candidate # 1 The One, she surely has been more than that over seven years.

Lately, the creators of HIMYM, Bays and Thomas, seem to saddle Robin with all manners of struggle. She has a deep dark past as "Robin Sparkles." She's been stuck in shows with dead time slots (hello, 4AM Metro news), worked a stint in Japan. Later she realized that if she really wanted to pursue a more solid career, she would have to take steps toward it. She quit her job and took on one that had her hustling research work.

Robin has always said that she doesn't really want to get married and have kids. It's a declaration that raises a lot of eyebrows and questions in television and in real life. Why don't you want kids? Who will take care of you when you grow old? I like it that Robin is brave enough to say this out loud, and shrug and say, I want to be a super awesome career in journalism, and travel the world and be an Olympic pole vaulter.

My favorite--and ultimately the most heartbreaking--HIMYM episode ever is "Symphony of Illumination" (7.12). It departs from the traditional HIMYM opening, that of Future!Ted narrating to his future kids in 2030, and instead has Robin telling her own future kids the story of how she told their father that she was pregnant. Later in the episode, Robin discovers that she is not pregnant, and that she is unable to have kids. She carries the burden of this discovery all throughout the episode, but tells her friends that she found out she couldn't be an Olympic pole vaulter.

This was of the moments in HIMYM that made me believe in the show again. A lot of comedies work based on an established formula (the gang taking on an adventure, with crazy back and forths and playing with flashbacks and flashforwards), or because characters are a type and tend to be static, i.e., Ted's main concern is finding The Mother, or Lily and Marshall with married life and having kids, Barney will always be a womanizer (though that seems to be changing as well). HIMYM has almost perfected their formula (although that too is running a bit thin, or stretched might be the better word), but they've had their breakthroughs of blending comedy with a harsh, side piercing dose of reality. (Marshall's Dad dying was one. This was another.)

But the creators have gifted Robin with a whopper of a character conflict. While Robin has outwardly stated that she does not wish to have children, having that option taken away from you really is just devastating. It's impossible not to be changed by this discovery about yourself. It's something that will affect all future connections and decisions she makes.

While HIMYM can still have the zany back and forth, future and flashback adventures of this particular circle of friends, one can't help how all that would be colored by Robin's recent understanding of herself. No doubt Robin will carry on, as Future!Ted's voice over tells us that while Robin will never be an Olympic pole vaulter, she will have a brilliant career as a journalist, and even as a matador. She will live a full life.

And for me, that makes Robin the most dynamic and interesting character in the series--and even in
all of television--a place that still somehow questions how a woman should live her life to make it worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 1

Hamlet with Lions, or How to Write a Screenplay

Victor Pineiro has not written an Oscar-winning screenplay, a summer blockbuster or the Great American Novel, but he does have a few things to say on "How to Write a Screenplay." Most of it is distilled knowledge from several sources (screenwriting books from Robert McKee and Syd Field, Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces), but he does supplement it with the experience of having written and produced the documentary Second Skin, which showed at SXSW, and was also a finalist at the Sundance Film Lab.

Pineiro understands the importance of having an idea--that it should be awesome and high concept--but that that idea must be supported by a solid story and plot. You know your idea is solid when you can boil it down to a single sentence, the log line: "A weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again." (He doesn't include the "why", i.e. "until he realizes his need for true love." Or whatever Groundhog Day was about. More on that later.)

Pineiro also finds the "X meets Y" one sentence description useful. I liked "Pocahontas in Space" and "Hamlet with Lions." It also helps that there is a hero going after his needs and wants. Using Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's weatherman wants a future (tomorrow) but needs to appreciate the present (today).

 But most of all, I love that his last slide is this:

Which is one of my most favorite movies as a kid.

Saturday, April 14

Batman is Piscean

Flavorwire has this wonderful infographic: a calendar of fictional characters' birthdays.

We learn that Bruce Wayne was born on the 19th of February, which means that Batman is a Pisces, an astrological sign whose life pursuit is "to avoid feeling alone and instead feel connected to others and the world at large." Pisceans are also "mysterious and alluring individuals," and "are frequently torn between two pathways in life, or actually do live two very different existences at the same time." I'd say that fits Batman, er, Bruce Wayne to a tee.

Other interesting discoveries:

>Lisbeth Salander (30 april 1978) and Ted Mosby (25 April 1978) were born within days of each other
>Ted is two years older than Robin Scherbatsky (23 july 1980)
>I'm almost the same age as most of the characters in Harry Potter--most of whom were born in 1980, except Hermione Granger (19 September 1979.) Why, hello, Hermione.
>Buffy Summers is 31 (19 January 1981)
>Carrie Bradshaw (15 june 1966) is 46!

And Liz Lemon (14 oct 1970) is a Libra.

Monday, April 9

How To Wrestle An Alligator

"Wrestling an Alligator" is up there on the list of skills a man must have. Somehow, this makes me think of The Picnic By the Lake and how Elias overpowered that alligator and Crisostomo Ibarra slit its throat (or was it the stomach?) with a dagger.

If I were in high school and reading it now, I would be rescue myself from the tedium of writing chapter summaries. There would be so much fun to be had by appending my own chapter aside from "Kabanata X: Elias at Salome." It would still be a "Tell it again!" but this time it would be "Kabanata XXX: Elias and Ibarra," an AU fanfiction yaoi-style.

Also, I didn't know there was a TV tropes page for NMT.

Friday, April 6

5 Centimeters Per Second

The final song from Makoto Shinkai's 5 Centimeters Per Second left me a bit baffled about the ending. But from what I could gather, what tears us apart is distance—physical (Cherry Blossoms), emotional (Cosmonaut), and temporal (5cm/sec).

When Tataki sees a girl who looks like Akari at the railroad crossing, then he stops and looks back only to have the trains block his view and then find that no one is waiting for him at the other side, and then he smiles—that moment seems ripped right out of “Dead Stars.”

But what a poignant and moody film. Leaves you with so many questions which are preferably not (un)resolved by means of a music video. But oh well.

Monday, April 2

How To Wear a Bathing Suit and Graduate

The right way to wear a bathing suit in public, according to the missing page of the STC Cebu Student Handbook.

Rules of Etiquette, c. 1866

Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness gives us rules on how to be a true gentleman, or at least how to behave as a tolerable human being:

If you cannot sing, or do not choose to, say so with seriousness and gravity, and put an end to the expectation promptly.

Obviously, the people from 1866 have never known karaoke or magic sing.

via Get Kempt

Sunday, April 1

I Like Words

After Robert Pirosh quit his job as a copywriter, he went to Europe and spent the year "in study, contemplation and horsing around." Then he decided he wanted to try his luck as a screenwriter in Hollywood and sent out this letter to all the studio executives and producers he could think of.

I haven't gone to Europe (yet, I hope) and I've been gone for much longer. But like Pirosh, "I have just returned and I still like words."

May I have a few with you?