Tuesday, March 31

Review: Sundo (2009)

Directed by Topel Lee
Starring Robin Padilla, Rhian Ramos, Sunshine Dizon

You can feel the cold creeping in and squeezing your windpipes. You are Louella (Sunshine Dizon) getting soaked in the rain, shoes sticky with mud, as you watch your father's skeleton stumble out of its coffin clumsily dropped by cemetery caretakers. You are Baguio, sprawling, eternally cold and gray like a blanket hiding a corpse.

Director Topel Lee and cinematographer J. A. Tadena transform the usually cheery Baguio into a brooding, opaque hell where houses seem to shiver in the cold. Bathed in muted palettes of browns and steel, the fluorescent light seems alien, a fragile glow that the dark is hungry to devour, while the ghosts, ang mga sundo, lurk in the mist-like shadows.

The noun "sundo" has no direct English translation: it is a person---a close relative, a sweetheart---who picks you up from school or work with the specific purpose of making sure you get home safely, ie. My sundo (boyfriend or parent) has arrived. As a verb, sundo means to pick someone up (from school or work). In the movie, Romano (Robin Padilla) sees dead people, but these are ghosts with a mission, to be the sundo, the guide of the dying from this life to the after life. In effect, every appearance of a ghost is an omen of death.

Romano and childhood friend Louella drive down to the city with his sister, the blind Isabel (Rhian Ramos), to find a cure for her ailment, along with a few companions. Romano dreams about an accident that kills them all but wakes up in time to prevent it from happening. He suddenly hears a baby crying and as he steps out of the vehicle, he realizes that they are surrounded by ghosts. They were meant to die and now their sundo have arrived.

Sundo is a movie severely split in two. The first half is moody, atmospheric, and genuinely dead cold; its claustrophobic static can be felt at the back of the neck. The second half, which begins right after the should-have-been accident, is commercial Hollywood that is too reminscent of Final Destination.

What a damn shame.

There could be higher forces at work here and Lee does his best to keep the brooding tone, but the gimicky accidents (being blinded by flying embers from your favorite isaw stand) are laughably scripted and clumsily executed with not enough B-movie gusto that they turn out flat. And boring.

There's a twist in the movie's last few minutes that almost saves the movie from predictability but it is carried out in exactly the same way that Ouija (Topel's previous horror genre effort) ended, with someone being pulled into the darkness.

Is it just me or was that last echoing scream a cry of frustration?


Monday, March 30

Thai Pop: August Band, Lula, scrubb

Standing at the corner of the iconic DJ Siam in Siam Square, I judged a record by its cover. Much like life, music is also like a box of chocolates (though I'm always hoping to have a sampling of the bittersweet kind). So I chose a couple of Thai pop albums based purely on packaging design---I had only two standards, quirky and clean---and as soon as I got back to Manila, I did the old Rolling Stone perception versus reality thing in my busy head.

August, "Radiodrome"

Perception: I'm quite familiar with the band but not their music outside The Love of Siam OST (which I was very lucky to still get a copy of). So. Adorkable tweens on the cover, a gazillion of them. The geekyness of the toys had me at hello. Someone looks like he's having too much fun with a nekkid mannequin. Also, a giant bison head. These kids are nuts. Yay! I'm expecting circus music with a flourish of marching band stomping. Inside flap design though is more normal. Love the coat of arms against pink. Or maybe I just love pink. There's also a wall of black and white photos of the children at work. Serious and sane. Pchy Hiranyawongkul is still cute. Where's Mario Maurer? I've been duped!
Reality: It's actually a pretty good album. I'm digging the retro, vibe of the horn section that swings and sways in disco inferno on the fast tracks and subtly melancholic on the ballads, almost Bacarachian. First single "Sunshine" (track 8) is undeniably one of the happiest tunes I've ever heard with rise and dips in the verses that catapult the clap-along chorus to soaring heights. "Radio" cleverly blends an RnB groove with 70s dance floor lite riff. The acoustic romps are more straightforward pop songs but are equally melodic and contagious. Having 5 vocalists, August keeps the singing textured and nuanced. I don't know if the CD represents the technical musicality of the band; the live performances I've seen are a little sloppy. Still, August is a young band, literally, and they have quite enough time to catch up and match the brilliant production of Radiorome.

Lula, "Urban Lullabies"

Perception: Delicate inks, a splash of pastel watercolors. Rainbows and flying fishes. Where are the unicorns? It's got quite a nice cover. Nice really describes it. It's clean and very girly; it's just how I imagined my bedroom would look like when I was 10 years old. The inside flap shows more fine inks: a birdcage (maybe for the flying fish?), a piano and guitar. It's all very, err, nice. I'm guessing Jewel singing about unicorns and castles (but the latter I would never find out because I don't speak Thai).

Reality: Wow. I love her voice. Lula sounds just like Frente's Angie Hart, high and delicate with a pleasant echoing ring when she reaches the high notes. And it's folksy bossanova! Her album sounds like it was released by Minty Fresh, an independent outfit that has an ear for twee pop. Urban Lullabies is perfect for driving, which I played yesterday on the way back to the city. It has a consistently relaxed lilt like toes tiptoeing on a piano. She also occasionally dips into jazz, which proves to be the perfect counterpoint to the light guitar strumming, the saxophone adding a sonorous depth to the mostly airy arrangement.

scrubb, "Chood Lek"
scrubb's myspace site

Perception: Me and adorkable guys, we're tight like this (crosses fingers). I love the "green" packaging---clean lines, a little techno---and the urban indie look of band. The CD flaps fold out to...a pop-up cut out of the two members at the center while the side flaps can be tucked under the bottom flap and voila: the Swiss Alps! I was telling myself that even if the music seriously sucked and sounded like cows yodeling, it would still be worth it.

Reality: Chood Lek is a Best of compilation from Thawachpol "Muey" Wongboonsiri and Torpong "Ball" Chantabuppha's previous three albums. The faint hooks reminds me of Kings of Convenience with a more Britpop influence (more The Las than Coldplay) in the anthemic choruses. Their lastfm page says that they will be touring with QFlure (Gun Lae Gun, Radio Edit, LoS OST) in Australia and I'm not not surprised at the international acclaim of the band. Most of their songs are slow burners, bittersweet (yes!) melodies with an infectious center and there's a tenderness to it that is telling me learn Thai, now.

Friday, March 27

Review: Meat Grinder (Thailand, 2009)

Meat Grinder
Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong
Starring Mai Charoenpura (Suriyothai), Rattanaballang Tohsawat (Bangkok Love Story)

A movie about slicing and dicing is sliced and diced by the Thai censors, how's that for parallelism?

Whether Tiwa Moeithaisong intended it to be or not, Meat Grinder has become a crash test dummy for the new Thailand motion picture ratings and can't be helped but seen as an allegory to the viewing experience: As the landlord and his thugs slurp down Bus' noodles and devour the bits and pieces of human meatballs, I am also served a severely and clumsily hacked movie, which refrained me from digesting the narrative as a coherent whole. (I was also out of my comfort zone, watching a movie for the first time in Bangkok in the plush Siam Paragon multiplex on a chair that stubbornly pulled back at what should be a relaxing angle but only made me feel like I was about to fall backwards every time my cringe reflexes were, err, cringing away.)

Meat Grinder is about a lot of things---violence begets violence, the tumultous Thai communist uprisings which I hoped the movie pursued more to add more dimension to the period's climate, violence as escape (and lucrative business) for the women in this movie---but these all feel incidental to the main attraction, the deliciously graphic hunting and gathering of human meat and the calculated food preparation.

Mai Charoenpura as Bus goes about her killing spree with stoic determination that it becomes more chilling. And cool. She even out-classes Uma Thurman's The Bride (Kill Bill) when Bus kitchen kung-fus her three abusers with knives and cleavers or whatever she could grab in her dank kitchen, whacking heads like they were yielding watermelons, driving hooks through screaming mouths, slicing arms casually as if she were about to serve Christmas ham. Admittedly, even for someone like me who has a taste for gore fests, I had to look away when she drove a nail down in all ten fingertips of one of her victims. Shot up close, the rusty nail pierced and cracked the quivering fingernail painfully slow, which is reminiscent of Choi Min-Sik's dentistry work with a hammer in Park Chan Wook's Old Boy and the gradual torture in Takashi Miike's Ôdishon.

Unfortunately, Meat Grinder's narrative is as choppy as its violence. The Thai censors is partially to blame but Moeithaisong is also at fault, resorting occasionally to execution over substance. There are just too many styles employed---from scratchy old-film wash-out colors to black and white to quick cut-to-cuts---resulting to a disjointed storytelling and a tone that is impossible to define, which is my biggest issue with the movie.

Outside the political context of censorship, Meat Grinder, as a movie, is without depth. There are signs that the director struggled to inject it with meaning but the cycle of violence as an emotional center or theme is a beaten-up, predictable purpose. Soylent Green existed in an apocalyptic what-if context; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Titus made cannibalism the ultimate penance. In Meat Grinder, we never feel the weight of commiting the act. Was Bus supposed to be excused because she was mad? Was Bus' lover not even mortified or even the slightest bit morally shaken after seeing the slaughterhouse?

In this respect, Meat Grinder is torture porn. Frustratingly so because it could have been so much more. There's not much to chew on really.


Further Reading:

Thursday, March 19

Blog Holiday Aha! Aha!

The only true currency in this bankrupt world... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool. - Lester Bangs, Almost Famous (2000)

Here's the sitch dear Scoobies: the economy's down, advertising budgets have been cut by 40%, and my stylish yet affordable boots' soles are getting worn down from all the waking to save on taxi fare.

So I say to myself, T, do your part in helping the world economy and go on a holiday. Spend, drink, and be Mary.

See you in a week.

Until then, as the famous caption after each movie trailer shown in Philippine theaters (in the 1980s) read: Relax, see a movie!

Wednesday, March 18

*insert expletive here*

Censors board vs UP over permits
By Bayani San Diego Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

TWO GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONS, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and the University of the Philippines (UP), are at loggerheads.

In a letter sent to UP president Emerlinda R. Roman on Feb. 17, board chair Marissa Laguardia expressed concern over “the public and commercial exhibition of films in the UP Film [Institute] that have no corresponding permits.”

Some of these films, Laguardia said in the letter, were shown in UP “despite the fact that they had been classified by the [board] as unfit for public exhibition.”


Laguardia pointed out that these films were shown “not for educational purposes but clearly for commercial exhibition … [and were] made available to the public at a cost between P150 to P250 per person.”

Laguardia reiterated that Presidential Decree No. 1986 “prohibits the public and commercial exhibition of films without a permit from the board.”

She added that Republic Act No. 9500 or the UP Charter of 2008 “doesn’t exempt UP or the UP Film [Institute] from the jurisdiction of the MTRCB.”

Academic freedom

Responding to Laguardia’s letter, UP vice president for legal affairs Theodore O. Te on March 2 requested the MTRCB for copies of the “reports” on the alleged screenings of films without permits, as well as on the commercial screenings that charged P150 to P250 per ticket.

In his reply, Te stressed that the UP Film Center and UP Film Institute “are integral parts of the academic and educational purposes of the University and … covered by academic freedom guaranteed not only by RA 9500, but also by the Constitution.”

Te said the request for “specific details and not general imputations” was being made “so we may also investigate these alleged violations.”

MTRCB member Mario Hernando told the Inquirer that during the tenure of chair Armida Siguion-Reyna, the MTRCB identified these venues as “censorship-free”: Cultural Center of the Philippines, embassies, and University of the Philippines.


Without the U.P. Film Center, I wouldn't have been able to see the works of Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon and Lino Brocka on the widescreen, the way it was intended to be: larger than life visual celebrations and experiments of and about life.

Just recently, it has been host to uncut showings of gay-centric movies that are more often than not erotic in nature. I have not seen any of these so I cannot comment on the explicitness of the films.

But does it really matter?

U.P is (and of course I could be wrong) the only place left in the country where one can grow up in an environment that is closest to the concept of academic freedom. Back in the 1990s, our Creative Writing professors encouraged us, no, begged us to live without fear, to enjoy the freedom the university offered because the "outside world" will neither be as tolerant nor welcoming to public displays of expression.

Sadly, they were right.

Now, this freedom that students have enjoyed since 1908 is in danger. A question posed against the U.P. Film Center is a question posed against what the University of the Philippines stands for.

Monday, March 16

Review: My Blueberry Nights (2007)

My Blueberry Nights
Directed by Wong Kar Wai
Starring Norah Jones, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Natalie Portman

It is 1997. I am sitting on the carpeted floor of a darkened conference room, the only light coming from a TV screen. Faye Wong is carrying a transparent bag bursting with goldfish. I know this scene by heart. Still I smile for what's coming next. I hear someone calling for me. I lower the volume. I have disappeared for the day.

It is the year 2000. W looks at me questioningly as we step inside Chungking Mansion's damp and rancid elevator. It chugs upward like a disgruntled old man. The elevator doors open to a dark hallway; the fluorescent lamps above flickering ominously. Just like in the movie, I whisper to W.

It is 2008. W is fixing the DVDs on the shelf. He picks up the still sealed My Blueberry Nights. When are we gonna watch this, he asks. I explain to him that that is my Open-in-Case-of-Emergency DVD.

I'm the kind of man who likes to prepare for things. I bring an umbrella two days before it is expected to rain. I take an antacid before I begin drinking. I even prepare for loneliness. Wong Kar Wai is my ticket, my escape to a kaleidoscopic landscape of lights when things don't go according to plan.

Last night, I finally saw My Blueberry Nights.

Plot takes a backseat in Wong Kar Wai movies. The men and women that populate his worlds are either at a stand still or moving at a blur, the smudged faces, arms and legs do not necessarily imply speed or motion but most often than not it is the passing of time that stretches and distorts faces familiar and often loved. The past and present are fluid; a minute is a week, a week is a month. And along with the passing of time comes a growing distance.

Time and distance are constants in WKW movies. In Chungking Express, Cop 223 laments, Somehow everything comes with an expiry date. Swordfish expires. Meat sauce expires. Even cling-film expires. Is there anything in the world which doesn't? A caption in In the Mood for Love read He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct. Navigating through time and space to find love, WKW seems to say, is our lot in life.

In this respect, My Blueberry Nights traverses familiar territory. Norah Jones is Elizabeth, Lizzie or Beth, a young woman propelled by a broken heart to travel great distances to get closer to herself and inevitably, closer to a man, Jeremy (Jude Law) who insists on standing still so he could easily be found. Lizzie's soul-searching first lands her a bartending job in Memphis where she encounters a broken man, played with stubborn frailty by David Strathairn, who refuses to let go of his ex-wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz), a character reminiscent of Brigitte Lin's in Chungking Express. In a different state, Lizzie brushes against a compulsive gambler named Leslie (Natalie Portman) who is as much addicted to raising the stakes as she is at reading people like cards. If there's anything to fault My Blueberry Nights with, it's the clunky writing of the Las Vegas road trip that oftentimes drifts toward melodramatic rather than melancholic, explaining motives rather than hinting at them.

But WKW is more of a painter of emotions and My Blueberry Nights has a palette that sings.

Reds, blues, greens.

Neon signs, traffic jams, syrup.

Reflected, refracted, overlapping.

He just doesn't paint with light but also with music, predominantly with Norah Jones' blues and Cat Power's swirling, translucent smoke. The repeated riffs and refrains have lost their claustrophobic nature and instead are sighs of relief, the cool breeze that escapes from a slightly open door. There's a sheen of sweetness that covers the movie that understandably turns off a few viewers who are used to his deeper, melancholic hues, but we are seeing America through Lizzie's eyes, who, even after the heartbreak and the tragedies she encounters on the road to self-discovery, is more of a wide-eyed observer and possibly still views the world through rose-colored glasses.

At the beginning of the movie, Jeremy explains to Lizzie why he keeps the keys that the customers (of the cafe he is running) leave behind, If I threw these keys away then those doors would be closed forever and that shouldn't be up to me to decide, should it? Lizzie insists on a reason why the keys continue to gather dust, untouched. Jeremy continues, It's like these pies and cakes. At the end of every night, the cheesecake and the apple pie are always completely gone. The peach cobbler and the chocolate mousse cake are nearly finished... but there's always a whole blueberry pie left untouched ... There's nothing wrong with the blueberry pie. Just... people make other choices. You can't blame the blueberry pie, just ... no one wants it.

It is 2009. I am standing on a balcony high above the city. It has been 6 hours since I started writing this review and as the sky slowly deepens from blue to purple, the lights blink awake. It's a little bit silly now, the idea of time, distance, and the colors that curtain our lives even if we're not looking. But there it is, right below me and far in front of me. The choices I make. The world I want to see. And if I squint a little, the lights, shapes and shadows bleed together. Just like in the movie.


Friday, March 13

The Attack of the 60-Foot Gundam Mobile Suit!

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the anime series, Bandai is building a life-sized Gundam mobile suit to help Japan conquer the world once and for all. I personally will be a mess of bodily fluids if and when I see this in person. Those tiny things at its feet are people, or pebbles to the mighty Gundam. Its head will be movable and it will have over 50 lights on its body just in case we miss it.

This is how it will look like when it lands in Tokyo.

The end is nigh and it is shiny.

Via Tokyo Shift and gametrailers.com

Review: Wonder Woman (2009)

Wonder Woman
Directed by Lauren Montgomery

Produced by Bruce Timm

Featuring the voices of Keri Russell (Princess Diana/Wonder Woman), Nathan Fillion (Steve Trevor), Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta), Alfred Molina (Ares), Rosario Dawson (Artemis)

Wonder Woman is not easy to like. In her Silver Age apperances, she was either tied up to a missile or enthusiastically riding one. In the 80s, the campy TV series starring Lynda Carter firmly cemented Wonder Woman as an icon but it was more of a costume fetish, more the star-spangled bikini than the strength of character that captured the imagination.

Though George Perez revamped the title and infused the character with an origin rich in Greek mythology following 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman still came off as a preachy, humorless, didactic super hero that no one in the Justice League wants to be sent on a mission with. Just ask Wally West aka The Flash.

Maybe it was a problem of writing from the male point of view which historically explains why Wonder Woman started out as a secretary to the Justice Society of America

It was only recently that DC Comics finally hired a woman to write Wonder Woman. Jodi Picoult was at a disadvantage though. She really had no room to build the character because her entry coincided with the launch of an epic crossover, Amazons Attack!, with issues and beats pre-planned by DC.

Much celebrated comic scribe, Gail Simone, who did wonders with the all-female supergroup Birds of Prey, is the new ongoing writer of Wonder Woman, and luckily, is also behind this new straight-to-DVD animation.

The movie begins with Ares, the god of War, battling the Amazons and their queen, Hippolyta. It's not a kiddie affair. There are copious amounts of blood, broken bones and even a decapitation in as early as its first ten minutes. This sets a more mature tone, far from the disco twirling of the Lynda Carter version or the bruise-free smack downs in Justice League Unlimited.

After Ares is beaten, Zeus interferes and asks Hippolyta to spare his son's life in exchange of an island that the Amazons can call their own, Themyscira, which is isolated from the rest of humanity;Ares will be kept a prisoner in the island. Since Hippolyta can no longer bear a child, she was also granted a daughter molded from clay and sand, the child Diana who will grow up to be Wonder Woman.

Years later, an American, Steve Trevor, crash lands in Themyscira. In what could be the movie's funniest scene, Hippolyta interrogates Trevor using the magic lasso which compels all men to answer truthfully. As she wraps up the questioning, she casually asks what else was occupying his mind and he answers that Diana has a "nice rack."

Diana, under a disguise, wins the tournament that would determine who will escort Trevor back to his "world." She is given the iconic costume, which reflects the colors of the foreign country. (Makes sense.) In another part of the island, the Amazon Persephone releases Ares. Diana and Steve Trevor team up to chase him down.

The greatest success of this animated feature is making Wonder Woman woman. A thinking, curious, vulnerable woman who wants more out of life balanced with a justice-fueled lust for breaking things. Instead of insisting on her ways (which she mostly does in the pre-Simone WW series), Diana here has a wide-eyed inquisitiveness comparable to Seven of Nine's in Star Trek: Voyager, and this makes too for quite a lot of humorous situations. The first time Diana sees a child---a little girl who is left out from swordplay by the boys---she instructs the child on the basics of disemboweling an opponent: "Thrust your sword. It would be more difficult to fend off." (Have I mentioned that the movie's really funny?)

Though the script glosses over making feminist motherhood statements, it does subtly deconstruct the nuances of male-female exchanges, which is more than enough for a superhero animation movie.

I will kick thy asses!

What the movie is never subtle about though is violence. Wonder Woman out-punches and out-classes the action choreography of recent DC animation movie releases including Superman: Doomsday and Batman: Gotham Knight, including the live-action Watchmen. The violence in Wonder Woman is calculated yet brutal, raging but passionate. The Amazons' sheer love of fighting gets across; I swear I could see a slight smile playing on Diana's lips even as Ares beats her to a pulp before which she utters, "Oh crap."

The final showdown in Washington D.C. recaptures the beautiful art of Amazons Attack!, with dragons raining down fireballs on the people below and an army of monsters fending off armored Amazons and flying horses. Jaw-droppingly epic.

Wonder Woman exceeded all my expectations and more. The voice casting is perfect; Keri Russell cleverly adds a softer side to Diana Prince while Virginia Madsen's Hippolyta is assured, confident, with a sprinkling of dry humor. Nathan Fillion's Steve Trevor is a little too casual for me and his delivery is always a little less than Russell's. With only a few omissions of Wonder Woman's powers---she doesn't fly here, and seems to be not gifted with speed by Hermes---this is DC's best animated feature so far. Even casual viewers will be hard pressed not to enjoy a tight, surprisingly well-written retelling of an icon's origin.

Disc 2 contains the documentaries Wonder Woman: A Subversive Dream, and Wonder Woman Daughter of Myth: Historical Amazon Lore and it's Evolution into the Modern Day Wonder Woman Character. The disc also has two episodes selected from the Justice League series: To Another Shore and Hawk and Dove.

And because I can't help it, Amazon the Amazons here. Heh.


Wednesday, March 11

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Created by Joss Whedon

Episodes 1-4

The Dollhouse is looking for volunteers. Once you sign up, your personality and memories are wiped clean. Tabula rasa, so to speak. It's like you never existed, which is what some volunteers are hoping for.

You become an Active. Actives are uploaded with different personalities and skills so they can become whatever the client desires: girlfriend, prostitute, bodyguard, assassin.

Once the assignment is finished, actives are brought in for treatment, another memory wipe, until they end up once again a clean slate. In the meantime, they wander around the Dollhouse almost like children. But empty. A template.

Welcome to the Dollhouse.

Joss Whedon is synonymous to geek porn. Having amassed a cult following from his previous creations that include (cue angels singing) TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and sci-fic Western Firefly, we (the geeks who shall inherit the Earth) devour anything with his name attached to it. Show me a lamp post with a "Created by Joss Whedon" on it and I will attack it like a creature who attacks lamp posts. His recent gig on Astonishing X-Men, which ends with Kitty Pryde getting stuck in a brobdingnagian bullet cutting through space (expected to appear in Marvel's cosmic event War of Kings...I theorize) only confirmed what we knew along, that Whedon is our Savior from the meh and blech of commercial TV.

That being said, the pilot of Dollhouse, which Whedon wrote, was a dud.

Eliza Dushku, who is also Executive Producer on the show, is the Active Echo. In the pilot, she is a negotiator for a kidnapping, and unconvincingly so because (a) half of the time I was distracted by her cleavage, and (b) I don't buy bespectacled Dushku with a PhD type personality. It seems like Dushku doesn't buy it herself, her acting amateurish (furrowed brows=thoughtful) and flat. I also had a problem with the pilot's slow pace with too many talking heads and none of Whedon's trademark wit or banter. But it does get better in the end. Resident geek, Topher (the adorkable Fran Kranz) uploaded Echo with a personality of an experienced negotiator but also with the memories of someone who has asthma attacks and who had been kidnapped as a little girl which all surfaced during the climactic negotiation.

The second episode, "The Target," fared better. Written by Angel scribe Tim Minear, it showed Dushku in Faith form, shooting arrows and having passionate sex. This time Echo is hired as a girlfriend to a young business magnate who is into extreme sports. And hunting down his date after sex. This was more the Dollhouse I was expecting, it had lots of action, unexpected twists, and most importantly, it delved deeper into the Dollhouse mythos. The mysterious Alpha is introduced, a rogue Active who, in a tabula rasa state and for reasons still unknown, murdered other dolls in cold blood before killing everyone else in the Dollhouse, leaving only Echo alive. The connection between Echo and her Handler Boyd Langton (Harry Lenix) was also explored, revealing in flashbacks how they bonded, with Topher explaining, "Hey, this isn't about friendship, man. It's about trust. From this point on, Echo will always trust you without question or hesitation. No matter what the circumstances. You're about to become the most important person in her life." Echo's own personality is likewise beginning to surface in bursts, overlapping with the uploaded one. After the mind swipe that follows each assignement, the episode hints that not all of the uploaded personality is erased.

We're your Barbie girls. And a Ken.

The third episode, I honestly couldn't finish. Echo is a bodyguard to a Britney-ish pop star. The end.

"Gray Hour," the fourth episode, written by Angel alums Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (the Harmony-centric episode, belly-bursting "Harm's Way" among others), continues to examine Echo as a template. Echo is Taffy, a locks expert who is hired to steal stolen art. But Echo, while on the phone with her Handler, gets remote-swiped and she reverts to a template, stuck in the vault while security with guns aimed wait outside. A sub-story concerning Paul Ballard, (Battlestar Galactica's Capt. Helo Agathon, Tahmoh Penikett) a detective who is investigating the existence of the Dollhouse is led further away from finding the truth by his contact Victor. Ballard is unaware that Victor (Enver Gjokaj) is an Active. We also get to see more of Sierra (Dichen Lachman), another Active who is also uploaded with the Taffy personality when Echo breaks down. Dushku is getting better with each episode but it's also with personalities that are close to her character Faith in BtVS and Angel. She even has an expression in this episode that is close to Faith's "Five by five" though "Blue skies" is just uhm-kay.

The scoreboard: one great episode, one good, one meh and one unwatchable. Dushku assures that it all gets more Whedonesque by the 6th episode but why wait that long? But so far, yes, I am a mindless, drooling Whedon fanboy (this blog is after all named after a song from the Buffy musical episode "Once More, With Feeling!") so I'm still on board. The concept is strong, the mystery of Alpha continues to intrigue me, the writing occasionally stirring, and, who knows, maybe someday soon Echo will be a vampire slayer.

Tuesday, March 10


From Wikipedia:

"Quirkyalone is a neologism referring to someone who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple."

From Dictionary.com:

Quirk n.
A peculiarity of behavior; an idiosyncrasy: "Every man had his own quirks and twists" (Harriet Beecher Stowe).

Hmm. Therefore, wanting to be alone is a peculiar behavior? I'm broadly generalizing of course and my logic is out of sort. International Quirkyalone Day is, predictably, February 14 and was chosen to be an alternative to "the marketing barrage" of Valentine's Day.

What I don't get is this: Quirkyalone as a concept should celebrate being single for the sake of being single. Just because, right? It's oftentimes fun, anyway. The awareness of self as opposed to awareness of self as reflected by others. Why then does it exist as an alternative to a marketing campaign that celebrates relationships? (But is not really the opposite to being in a relationship?)

Why does enjoying your own company have to be so complicated that they had to make a hyphenated phrase a word to define and fight off the creeping loneliness at the end of the day?

Monday, March 9

August Band and everything after, Part I

This was the plan: Because I wasn't able to make it to August Band's first major concert last Saturday, March 7, which I found out about days after I've booked a flight and hotel to Bangkok, I had originally planned a sort of review of August Band's latest album, "Radiodrome," sort of review since I don't understand a word in the album but have become a fan of the band and their music since I saw "Love of Siam."

Then I stumbled across these photos from the concert and everything flew out the window. My fanboying heart included.

Pchy at the concert.

Mario making an appearance at the concert.

Mario and Pchy together on stage.

And. Aww. The ending of Love of Siam I thought I would never see.

I'm not reading anything into this---honest!---but it is heartwarming to see the both of them together because they practically started out in the same movie, the same movie that formed the band.

It's suddenly like Christmas.

Concert photos from http://smudger19.multiply.com
Lifted from Pinoy Exchange's Witwisit "Pchy" Hiranyawongkul : Mew of The Love of Siam [Thread 2]

Review: 20th Century Boys (2008)

20世紀少年 (20th Century Boys)
Directed by YukihikoTsutsumi
Starring Toshiaki Karasawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Takako Tokiwa

20th Century Boys, created by Naoki Urasawa, is a science fiction mystery manga that cleverly combines the careless innocence of youth with the harsher reality of growing up in a world scarred by failure and terrorism.

Fresh from the reeling disappointment of Watchmen (I've seen it twice, am now tempted to lower my initial rating but will let it stay there for the meantime), I was a bit cautious to watch another ambitious adaptation. Still, I thought, not Hollywood.

To put it succinctly, the first installment of the 20th Century Boys trilogy is tha bomb. *Scrambles off for actual words*

Folksies, this is how a comic book adaptation should be made. As a visual medium, the panels should not be the shoot list. A faithful tribute is just an excuse for being lazy. Details, no matter how meticulously brought to life, do not make a movie. Besides, where's the fun in that, eh? Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi is clever enough to filter and borrow only the iconic images of the manga and frames the rest with his own point of view.

Covering the first five volumes of the sprawling, kaleidoscopic epic, the movie moves at a brisk pace, which is very necessary since this is first and foremost a mystery story that goes back and forth the past and the present. 20th Century Boys hits the ground running with an ominous conversation between two prisoners locked up in separate cells hinting at a darkness that blankets the country before transitioning to 1973 (the actual opening of the manga), where a boy named Kenji plays along to the opening riffs of T. Rex's "20th Century Boy" on a broom as the crunchy guitars ROAR its way through sleepy classrooms. Later on we see Kenji (Karasawa) in 1987, drained and tired and forced to smile as he tries to balance running a grocery store with taking care of a baby his sister has mysteriously left behind.

When one of his regular patrons disappears, Kenji decides to take chance at visiting the client's home to check if the family left behind any form of payment and discovers instead a symbol on a wall that is connected to his childhood.

In another area in the city, the police find a body that is drained of blood, possibly connected to a virus that has been killing hundreds in Africa. Has it reached Japan?

And some place else, a cult is born, worshiping a messianic masked man simply called "Friend," the symbol that Kenji saw printed across the cult leader's mask.

It is the same symbol that one of Kenji's childhood friends writes a letter to him about before dying a few days later.

The key to solving the mystery is in Kenji's childhood and in his circle of friends. And this is where the 20th Century Boys truly shines. The flashbacks are infused with such relaxed nostalgia where the kicked-up dirt mixes with sweat and snot, and bullies are rampaging giants who can break your bone at a whim. The warmly-hued scenes of playing in the fields also serve as a grating and ultimately heartbreaking contrast to the complex lives the grown-ups are leading. Evil is no longer getting your ass whupped or imagined villains straight from the pages of comic books. Evil is failure, the postponed dreams that grow more distant as the years pass, but also as palpable as murder, terrorist bombings, and betrayal.

The screenplay wisely omits a few scenes from the manga, with a couple of rewrites (the back story of Donkey comes to mind) for the sake of pacing, but I don't mind at all because the soul of the movie is intact and not drowned out by the nifty special effects or a stoic reverence to the source material.

Much like Stephen King's novel "It," 20th Century Boys follows the lives of childhood friends who have grown apart but are reunited by a pact they made decades ago. And Tsutsumi never loses sight of the movie's center: That it is possible to confront the monsters and giants we have always feared because true friends will always have your back.

In the movie's climactic showdown on the eve of the new millennium, even if I knew what was about to happen, I continued to cheer on for Kenji and his friends, secretly hoping for a different ending. Tsutsumi has made me care for these characters all over again, and differently from when I was reading the manga. It's a different experience altogether.

Now, that's how you do it Mr. Snyder.


Saturday, March 7

Review: Watchmen (2009)

Directed by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse based on the comic books written by Alan Moore (uncredited) and illustrated by Dave Gibbons

I am at a great disadvantage here. Being all too familiar with the comic books---a worshiped masterpiece in the geekverse, Alan Moore's defiant Vormachtstellung that not even today's James Joyce-redefining comic scribes like Grant Morrison (Final Crisis) can usurp---I can only see Zack Snyder's Watchmen as a homage, a greatest hits collection with a catchy, hook-heavy beginning, a drawn-out middle, and a choppy ending that betrays the strength of its parts.

A "fascinating failure" as Brian Michael Bendis puts it, but also undeniably a creature of fierce beauty, Watchmen is at its strongest when it is a superhero movie. From the gracefully brutal murder to the stunning opening credits, part 1960s centerfold posters, part proletarian art, Snyder, right from the outset, obviously wears his heart on his sleeve. He doesn't just shoot locations, he meticulously dresses them up with panel-accurate details only a minority will appreciate. But still lovingly done. The movie begins with such infectious giddiness that it's impossible not to get carried away by the costumes, the bluesy-noir cityscape, by Jackie Earl Haley's perfectly tuned: Rorschach's Journal. October 12th, 1985.

After the novelty of aesthetics wear out, after you're knee-deep in the fractured lives of the characters, the cracks begin to show. Again, maybe it's just my familiarization with where the story is headed, but the reverence to the source material that propelled the early parts to such great heights has made a middle that sorely needs editing. I did not enter the movie house expecting a direct translation of the comic (we have the Watchmen motion comics for that) but somewhere in the middle, it began feeling like one. Rorschach's investigation loses its momentum with every character back story, which worked on the page but chops the film's pace awkwardly. To put it simply, Snyder's attempts to infuse the movie with layers---socio-political, textured tones, the now famous buzz phrase deconstruction of the superhero---is strained.

Strangely enough, and I have to agree with AICN on this one, it is the action sequences (the Park Chan-Wookian prison escape) that reveal the heart of the movie. Even frustratingly vacant Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II) delivers the punches with much gusto. All the blood splatters and crunching bones become anthems of good winning over evil, of despair, judgment and deliverance. I love it how everything seems to boil down to something as basic as fist fights even in the brink of extinction. It's the most human act of the movie. It's the most any of us could do.

In many ways, the question Who Watches the Watchmen? held the book together. The superheroes themselves were metaphors for moral guardians, governments, Justice Leagues and Avengers, anyone who makes it their duty to dictate, to judge, to save. Who watches them?

Who's watching Zach Snyder because the singular theme, the raison d'être that makes Watchmen the comic book a timeless example of great writing is missing from Watchmen, the movie?

So here's my simile for the entire experience: Watching Watchmen is like watching a tightrope performance in a circus. It's breathtaking. It's dizzying. It's wobbly and one can't help but wonder if the movie will make it through in one piece to the end.

The ending of the movie does reflect the comic book's but at this point, Snyder's direction is all over the place at what should be (ironically) the point of convergence for all characters. By taking out the fantastic (the giant squid), the exposition is bogged down by too many details, by misplaced slow-mo sequences, by cut to cuts of several locations that when the great reveal is divulged, it's more like a sigh of relief that the movie has finally reached this point.

Who Watches the Watchmen? a distant whimper, lost in translation.


Watchmen posters here.
Watchmen Box Office Watch here.
Watchmen Videos, The Complete Collection here.

Thursday, March 5

Review: 4BIA (Thailand, 2008)

สี่แพร่ง or See prang (4bia) Written and directed by Youngyouth Thongkunthon (The Iron Ladies) / Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter) / Parkpoom Wongpoom (Shutter) / Paween Purikitpanya (Body #19)

Filipinos love ghost stories. We love it so much that sharing a ghost story has become a staple in any type of gathering: birthdays, weddings, funerals, all it takes is for someone to mention a little strange episode---a flickering light bulb in a bathroom, a distant melodic humming, a passing shadow---and the stories start pouring in and almost everyone has something to share. There is a personal connection to the story and it runs deeper than urban legends.

Most of the time, it's in the blood.

Just the other night I heard something. My neighbor's son saw this. My sister's husband's nephew had a run in with. Sometimes it seems as if we live with ghosts. When one is moving to a new house or a new office, we often ask, "May multo ba dito?" (Is this place haunted?) while negotiating for lower rent. It is the natural aspect of the supernatural in our lives that make watching Asian horror movies more of an experiential trip down a dark memory lane.

Hollywood rarely frightens us. A university professor who had seen "The Exorcist," touted then as the scariest movie of all time, overheard an audience in the movie house casually say, "Nangyari yan sa pinsan ko eh, hindi naman to nakakatakot." (My cousin went through the same thing. This is not scary at all.) Serial killers, demonic haunting, that's not quite horror for us.

Ghosts, yes. Ghosts of friends and ex-lovers, jealous wives and cheating husbands, vengeful children and ignored admirers, yes, yes!

It's karma. It's that dark secret you've buried. It's your aunt's cousin's crazy son left in the mental institution that's tapping on your window 23 floors high.

And 4bia, uneven as it may be, is all this.

Happiness (Youngyooth Thongkonthun): 4bia doesn't get any scarier than its first installment. Feeding on our longing to make a connection, it tells the story of a young woman who is stuck in her room because of a broken leg and not surprisingly, she turns to her cellphone for a little company, having regular exchanges with a friend through text messages until she receives a mysterious SMS from a stranger, a lonely young man. They become "text mates" of course. When she sends him a picture of herself and he replies with the image that she has just sent, the fright that has slowly been creeping in abruptly grabs us by the throat and doesn't let go until a window shatters. The end is too neatly tied up but at this point, my racing heart didn't care. Maneerat Kamuan is nominated for Best Actress in Bangkok Critics Assembly Award . Wise Kwai has the details. 5/5

Tit for Tat (Paween Purikitpanya): Voodoo, using the term loosely, is a familiar form of revenge and Purikitpanya's frenetic and flashy direction tries its best to give it a sharper, bloodier edge but only succeeds in keeping my interest on the first half of the movie. A young, darker-skinned boy is relentlessly bullied and beaten up by a cool, fashionably hip group of friends. He conjures and cast curses through a book of witchcraft to inflict painful deaths without realizing the fatal ricochet of black magic. Glossy at best, the "Final Destination" body count frenzy doesn't allow for fear to settle in and results in a mechanical display of violence. One down, four to go. Yawn. The CGI ghouls/ghosts in the end only added to the too calculated orchestration of horror. 1/5

In The Middle (Banjong Pisanthanakun): Four buddies on a camping trip share ghost stories until one becomes too scared to sleep near the tent's entrance. The guy on the other end of the tent replies that if he were to die and become a ghost, he would haunt whoever is sleeping in the middle for a change. Of course, fate was listening too closely. "In the Middle" is refreshingly funny and geeky; the self-aware nods to other movies of the same genre (Shutter, The Others) lends it a tongue-in-cheek tone making one jump when the scares do shake the tent. Not exactly original but it is undeniably likable, like those stories you hear over beer. 3/5

The Last Flight (Parkpoom Wongpoon): The only a passenger, a corpse. That image alone, menacingly quiet in the dark rows of empty seats, is the movie itself. Everything else that surrounds it is familiar: the lurking jump-out-of-the-shadow scare, the lurking jump-out-of-the-shadow sound effects. As a study of atmosphere thick with anxiety, "The Last Flight" works quite well. Wongpoon composes images that linger, haunt even, but that's all they are, images too evocative to terrify. 2/5

The connection between the four segments is subtle and one that I admittedly had to look up. The chronology of the events (edited for spoilers) are:

Story 3 ("In the Middle"). One of the teenagers' name is Ter. Story 4 ("Last Flight"). Ter is mentioned as the brother of Pim's colleague and fellow stewardess, Tui (not seen in movie) who could not accompany the flight because something has happened to her brother. Story 1 ("Happiness"). The girl with the broken leg is seen reading the online news about a character's death. Story 2 ("Tit for Tat"). The image we see of the curse is the image of the girl with the broken leg.

4BIA Film Posters here.

Tuesday, March 3

Happy Square Root Day!

03.03.09 is a perfect square. Yay. I guess.

Let's all grab our calculators, go to the nearest bar, drink to square roots, flex our hypothetical muscles, wink at the ladies or the dudes and suggest a little private right angle session since Square Root Day doesn't happen in another 7 years (April 4, 2016), get our asses kicked and flying out of the bar---wait, this is just like any other day at the bar.

Oh well. There's always Pi Day (3.14) to look forward to.

Via Robert X. Cringely: Notes from the Field

And here's one of my favorite bands of all time, Los Campesinos, singing what I always say to our Accounting Department, "Please Don't Tell Me to Do the Math(S):

Dont Tell Me To Do The Math(s) - Los Campesinos!

Monday, March 2

Aww. Gun lae gun indeed.

*Fanboy alert!*

Gun lae gun is a song that Mew wrote for Tong in the movie "The Love of Siam" which roughly translates to "Together Forever" or something to that effect. Looks like Mew, Witwisit "Pchy" Hiranyawongkul in real life, still carries around Tong's Christmas gift. Aww. (Not sure of the context of the photo and it seems like this was taken a year or two ago.)

Still fanboy-ing LOS. I know, Nurse Betty much.

Photo from Pinoy Exchange thread: Mew of the Love of Siam.

For the sake of momentum

Considering the state of traffic in the Philippines, which ranges from very bad to bladder-popping madness, music has become, more than ever, an important ingredient to keeping my simmering sanity.

Two for the Road not only keeps me breathing, it transports me even during desperately stagnant situations. Consider it a travelogue that looks in rather than outward, where the landscape changes with mood: a desert covered by doubt, an open sky of possibilities.

It is a straightforward concept album (as opposed to Tori Amos' Scarlet's Walk which deliberately confounds through symbols) by Nouvelle Vague-producer Marc Collin and performed by Katrine Ottosen and Valente who sing as Ann and Cooper, two high school friends who reconnect and take the road to explore what could have been and what could be.

Two for the Road is a mix of delicate folk (the gorgeous album opener, "Two for the Road") and spoken word. "Downtown" gently sways with a hint of bossanova while the Spanish guitar-tinged "It's Always the Same" and "Road Trip" refresh and challenge at once, a contrast of soothing sweetness and reckless insecurity. The hooks are few and far between, but in this case, it doesn't really matter. Corny as it may sound, it's the journey that counts and the confessions that make the road trip worth taking.

Another one for the road:
Zeons' Music Blog: From France With Love