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.