First Time

“I love you, coll” my niece messaged me in Facebook. And I cried.

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Random Thoughts

Random thoughts for the nth time. And here we go…

I have 92 minutes to kill before work ends. I’ve been itching to do some blogging for weeks now but laziness get the better of me. Blame it on The Good Wife which I have been binge-watching for weeks. It’s one of the best serial dramas out there. And mind you, the best series about lawyers I enjoyed watching since Ally McBeal back in the 90s. Go watch.

—–

I have 7 weeks to kill before school starts. You read that right. I’m going back to school to get my MBA. That has been on the back of my mind, going to grad school, for years but it was only late last year that I committed. I don’t know about the other applicants but it was tough getting accepted into the MBA Program. It was a 5-month long process, from submitting requirements to passing the UP GPAT (Graduate Program Admission Test) then the Proficiency Exam.

I began to self-doubt that I wasn’t good enough, agonizing over it for days. But I got accepted and here I am, counting the weeks before I turn my back on book-reading and movie-watching and traveling.

—–

I’ve been catching on my reading, taking advantage of the long break before school starts. I’m obsessed with Japanese literature and short story writers lately. Any Alice Munro collection of short stories is worth reading. Her writing and stories are exquisite. George Saunders, too. I’ve read his tenth of december short story collection and it is really good. His stories are different than Munro’s. While Munro’s stories focus on what is real and bites the human soul, Saunders’ are more on the absurd.

——

Movies. I haven’t watched any movie lately that is worth raving. I did watch this stupendously manipulative Korean movie called “Miracle in Cell No. 7″. The movie’s loopholes are so big, a dinosaur could pass right through it. Avoid it like the plague.

——

That’s it. Time to get back to work. The weekend beacons!

 

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2013: Favorite Reads

Out of the 18 books I managed to read in 2013, these are the books that were my favorites.

11/22/63
220px-11-22-63On Monday, March 25, Lee came walking up Neely Street carrying a long package wrapped in brown paper. Peering through a tiny crack in the curtains, I could see the words REGISTERED and INSURED stamped on it in big red letters. For the first time I thought he seemed furtive and nervous, actually looking around at his exterior surroundings instead of at the spooky furniture deep in his head. I knew what was in the package: a 6.5mm Carcano rifle—also known as a Mannlicher-Carcano—complete with scope, purchased from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. Five minutes after he climbed the outside stairs to the second floor, the gun Lee would use to change history was in a closet above my head. Marina took the famous pictures of him holding it just outside my living room window six days later, but I didn’t see it. That was a Sunday, and I was in Jodie. As the tenth grew closer, those weekends with Sadie had become the most important, the dearest, things in my life.

Read excerpt here.

And the Mountains Echoed
And_the_Mountains_Echoed_book_coverThis last was a gift Abdullah had given her two months earlier. He had heard of a boy from another village whose family owned a peacock. One day when Father was away digging ditches in a town south of Shadbagh, Abdullah walked to this other village, found the boy, and asked him for a feather from the bird. Negotiation ensued, at the end of which Abdullah agreed to trade his shoes for the feather. By the time he returned to Shadbagh, peacock feather tucked in the waist of his trousers beneath his shirt, his heels had split open and left bloody smudges on the ground. Thorns and splinters had burrowed into the skin of his soles. Every step sent barbs of pain shooting through his feet.

Read excerpts here.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Behind_the_Beautiful_Forevers_(novel)Midnight was closing in, the one-legged woman was grievously burned, and the Mumbai police were coming for Abdul and his father. In a slum hut by the international airport, Abdul’s parents came to a decision with an uncharacteristic economy of words. The father, a sick man, would wait inside the trash-strewn, tin-roofed shack where the family of eleven resided. He’d go quietly when arrested. Abdul, the household earner, was the one who had to flee.

Abdul’s opinion of this plan had not been solicited, typically. Already he was mule-brained with panic. He was sixteen years old, or maybe nineteen — his parents were hopeless with dates. Allah, in His impenetrable wisdom, had cut him small and jumpy. A coward: Abdul said it of himself. He knew nothing about eluding policemen. What he knew about, mainly, was trash. For nearly all the waking hours of nearly all the years he could remember, he’d been buying and selling to recyclers the things that richer people threw away.

Read excerpt here.

Dear Life
DearLifeIt still seemed as if we could make our way out of that crowd, that in a moment we would be together. But just as certain that we would carry on in the way we were going. And so we did. No breathless cry, no hand on my shoulder when I reached the sidewalk. Just that flash, that I had seen in an instant, when one of his eyes opened wider. It was the left eye, always the left, as I remembered. And it always looked so strange, alert and wondering, as if some whole impossibility had occurred to him, one that almost made him laugh.

For me, I was feeling something the same as when I left Amundsen, the train carrying me still dazed and full of disbelief.

Nothing changes really about love.

Read excerpt here.

IQ84
1Q84bookcoverAt Koenji Station, Tengo boarded the Chuo Line inbound rapid-service train. The car was empty. He had nothing planned that day. Wherever he went and whatever he did (or didn’t do) was entirely up to him. It was ten o’clock on a windless summer morning, and the sun was beating down. The train passed Shinjuku, Yotsuya, Ochanomizu, and arrived at Tokyo Central Station, the end of the line. Everyone got off, and Tengo followed suit. Then he sat on a bench and gave some thought to where he should go. “I can go anywhere I decide to,” he told himself. “It looks as if it’s going to be a hot day. I could go to the seashore.” He raised his head and studied the platform guide.
At that point, he realized what he had been doing all along.

Read excerpt here.

The Orphan Master’s Son
The_Orphan_Master's_Son_(book_cover)They’re about a woman whose beauty is like a rare flower. There is a man who has a great love for her, a love he’s been saving up for his entire life, and it doesn’t matter that he must make a great journey to her, and it doesn’t matter if their time together is brief, that afterward he might lose her, for she is the flower of his heart and nothing will keep him from her.

Read excerpts here.

The Round House
41HfjdXnn9L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_I was reading and drinking a glass of cool water in the kitchen when my father came out of his nap and entered, disoriented and yawning. For all its importance Cohen’s Handbook was not a heavy book and when he appeared I drew it quickly onto my lap, under the table. My father licked his dry lips and cast about, searching for the smell of food perhaps, the sound of pots or the clinking of glasses, or footsteps. What he said then surprised me, although on the face of it his words seem slight.

Where is your mother?

His voice was hoarse and dry. I slid the book on to another chair, rose, and handed him my glass of water. He gulped it down. He didn’t say those words again, but the two of us stared at each other in a way that struck me somehow as adult, as though he knew that by reading his law book I had inserted myself into his world. His look persisted until I dropped my eyes. I had actually just turned thirteen. Two weeks ago, I’d been twelve.

Read excerpt here.

State of Wonder
200px-StateOfWonderThe news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope. Who even knew they still made such things? This single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world. Mr. Fox had the letter in his hand when he came to the lab to tell Marina the news. When she saw him there at the door she smiled at him and in the light of that smile he faltered.

“What?” she said finally.

He opened his mouth and then closed it. When he tried again all he could say was, “It’s snowing.”

Read excerpt here.

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2013: Travel Photos

Travel is good for the soul and a bit bad on the wallet. But the latter don’t really matter when you get to see new places, revisit old ones, and build new memories.

Here are my favourite photos using my trusty Nikon D5000.

Nagsasa Cove (March 2013)

Nagsasa Cove (March 2013)

Nagsasa Cove (March 2013)

Nagsasa Cove (March 2013)

Capones Island (March 2013)

Capones Island (March 2013)

Apo Reef in Mindoro (April 2013)

Apo Reef in Mindoro (April 2013)

Apo Reef in Mindoro (April 2013)

Apo Reef in Mindoro (April 2013)

Sea Turtle in Mindoro (April 2013)

Sea Turtle in Mindoro (April 2013)

Pinatubo Trek (May 2013)

Pinatubo Trek (May 2013)

Pinatubo Trek (May 2013)

Pinatubo Trek (May 2013)

Boracay (May 2013)

Boracay (May 2013)

Boracay (May 2013)

Boracay (May 2013)

Boracay (May 2013)

Boracay (May 2013)

El Nido in Palawan (June 2013)

El Nido in Palawan (June 2013)

El Nido in Palawan (June 2013)

El Nido in Palawan (June 2013)

Streets of Saigon (November 2013)

Streets of Saigon (November 2013)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (November 2013)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (November 2013)

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2013: Favorite Movies

137. That is the number of movies I managed to watch this year. Dwindling this to a top 10 list is a daunting task. I’m listing a top 20 instead. Double click on those titles to view the trailer for each.

Top 20:
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
A film about a man who goes to prison for his then pregnant girlfriend. Years later he breaks out of prison to go back to his love and child with tragic consequences.

Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita (2013)
I wasn’t able to catch this when it was shown as one of the entries of this year’s CineFilipino Film Festival. The screening time and venue could not fit into my schedule. When I heard that it was going to be screened at the UP Film Center I had to be there. The film was funny and lovely and starring the luminous Angel Aquino, who was present at that time, as the older woman who becomes a young adolescent girl’s summer crush.

Badil (2013)
Chito Rono is back in top form in this film about Philippine elections and corruption. The film shows how corruption and vote-buying is done and protected in a small island barangay a day before the local elections.

Before Midnight (2013)
The third installment of the Linklater-Delpe-Hawke collaboration of the life and loves of Jesse and Celine. This time around the couple is finally together but this is not your they-live-happily-ever-after fairy tale. Their life together is not exactly what it looks like on the outside. This comes to the fore when they find themselves in a hotel room on a one-night sojourn. The fight is vicious.

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
This film won this year’s biggest prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The lesbian sex scenes are long and graphic but you can’t keep your off the screen about a woman’s discovery of her sexuality and falling in love with another woman so intense both of them may not get out of unscathed.

Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Michael Douglas and Matt Damon star in this HBO TV-movie directed by Steven Soderbergh. Douglas plays real-life pianist Liberace and Damon as his much younger lover. Terrific acting from both stars especially from Douglas.

Captain Phillips (2013)
I’ve always liked Paul Greengrass films. They are intense and thrilling. Try to watch, aside from the Bourne films, United 93 and Bloody Sunday.

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
My first reaction after watching this film was “Why didn’t I see or hear how great this film is last year?”. This is the story of a couple who still hang out together after their separation. Lovely film, this one.

Frances Ha (2013)
I really can’t quite describe this black-and-white film from the director of “The Squid and the Whale” and “Fantastic Mr Fox”. The main protagonist is unsympathetic and trudging through a directionless life but she won me over the end as her life looks to be getting some traction.

Gravity (2013)
Alfonso Cuaron is a god! I’ve always loved his films from “Y Tu Mama Tambien” to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to “Children of Men”. This time he focuses on a woman fighting to survive in space. Sandra Bullock has never been better. Methinks her role here has more bite than her Oscar-winning role in “The Blind Side”. The destruction sequences are terrific and thrilling. I saw this film twice on IMAX 3D and I could not imagine a more complete experience if I had watched it on an ordinary screen.

The Great Beauty (2013)
If I were to choose one best film among this list, I’d choose this. A story about a 60-something male writer in high society Rome attending dinners and parties and reflecting on a life that he thinks has not seen great beauty.

A Hijacking (2012)
A Danish film about a hijacking on a cargo ship. This film is not a thriller as the other hijacking film in this list but more of a psychological drama involving the hostages and negotiators back on land.

Ilo Ilo (2013)
A simple story of a Filipino domestic helper in Singapore and the bond she builds with her young male ward. That scene near the end involving a scissor and hair tugs at the heart it almost brought me to tears when it was first screened at this year’s Cinema One Originals Film Festival.

Maynila, Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975)
Many has hailed this Lino Brocka classic as the best Filipino film ever. After finally watching this film but not the restored version, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala is still top on my list. This does not make Maynila a lesser film. It’s not. It tells the story of a young man who goes to the city to look for his lost-love. This was released almost 30 years ago but the themes exposed is still alive today – poverty, exploitation, prostitution.

On The Job (2013)
This film is about Filipino prisoners temporarily set free for a few hours on a given day as hired killers. Yes, there are a few points to nitpick – Leo Martinez playing a general (does he meet the height requirement?) – but that does not make this film less great. I’ve also read about the scenes they added in the film released locally. I wished the producers had placed more trust on a mature Filipino audience to be enticed to watch a film not because of the love scenes which, to be honest, were rather tame and not integral to the plot.

Sana Dati (2013)
One of my two favourite entries from this year’s Cinemalaya. I love that this romantic film does not succumb to the triteness and banality of mainstream romantic-comedy films. The acting is spot-on and the cinematography beautiful. I have one misgiving though. How can a teacher fail a student who get high marks in Physics and the student’s parents not raising a ruckus?

Side Effects (2013)
One of the trademarks I find in Steven Soderbergh’s films is its smoothness, if you know what I mean. This film, about a depressed woman whose life goes on a tailspin after her husband is released from prison, is no exception. Twists abound in the film and they are, for me, jaw-dropping.

Spring Breakers (2013)
This film has a flimsy plot, college girls going on spring break and getting mixed up with drug dealers, but I dig it. James Franco is almost unrecognisable here. And that scene with him sucking on a gun silencer? Classic.

Transit (2013)
My other Cinemalaya favourite about the lives of Filipino workers in Israel. Irma Adlawan and Ping Medina are at their normal best. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is a revelation. I wished (again!) it ended with the same scene as the first scene in the film. Gives it more punch, I think.

Upstream Color (2013)
This is a bit of a mind-fuck film about a woman who gets experimented on and wakes up with blood on her bed sheets and no money to her name. She meets and falls in love with a man who shares a history with her. This may warrant a second viewing after viewing it the first time and consulting Wikipedia on what the heck just happened. Lol.

—–
A few notable films that could have landed on this list I have not seen yet. These are, at the top of my head: Norte, 12 Years a Slave, Her, Guerrilla is a Poet, Blue Bustamante, My Little Bossing, and Girl Boy Bakla Tomboy.

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Matapobre

I don’t like people who look down on those who can’t afford expensive budgets. To be blunt, I don’t like people who think iPhone users are rich and those who don’t own one can’t afford it. To be more blunt, I don’t like Apple fanboys who think Samsung users are of lesser breeds. They make my blood boil.

Hindi ba naiisip ng mga matapobreng ito na baka mumurahing cellphone lang ang kaya ng budget ng ibang tao. Yung mga nag-ipon ng ilang buwan makabili lang ng MyPhone o mga 2nd-hand phones sa Greenhills. Na malamang gusto rin nilang magkaroon ng mamahaling cellphone pero may mas importanteng pagkakagastusan tulad ng pambili ng pagkain, pambayad sa matrikula, pambili ng gamot, pambayad sa nagpapautang ng 5-6, pambayad sa renta ng bahay, ipon para sa makabalik ulit sa pag-aaral.

Malamang ang mga taong ito ay hindi pa nakasasakay ng jeep at nakasasabay ang mga taong basag na ang LCD ng cellphone pero pinagtiyatiyagaan pa rin kasi walang pambili ng bago. Yung may rubber band na nakaikot sa cellphone para di matanggal ang battery kasi sira o nawawala na ang back cover.

I don’t mind of fanboys praising their favourite gadget makers to high heavens and picking apart fierce competitors to eternal damnation. But I do mind when fanboys start to use the money card and the “twisted lang ang humor ko” line. That is where the humour ends, and being foul and offensive begin.

 

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Quick Thoughts: Cinemalaya 9

I got myself a Fims-in-Competition pass for the second straight year. It’s more convenient in a number of ways – no worrying of sold out tickets, priority lane thus getting the next-best seats in the theatre (reserved seats get the best ones), and a complementary festival souvenir program.

I watched 14 of the 15 films in competition this year. I missed out on The Diplomat Hotel, which if the word-of-mouth is to be believed is terrible so I really didn’t miss that much. 

Here are my quick thoughts on the films from worst to best.

14. Liars. A terribly-acted, horribly-directed, unfocused movie about a little league baseball team that cheated its way to winning prestigious international tournaments. I really should stop watching Gil Portes’ movies the same way I avoid Joel Lamangan’s. His 2010 Cinemalaya entry Two Funerals was terrible. Liars more so.

13. Nuwebe. Another terrible movie about a nine-year-old girl who gets pregnant after getting sexually abused by her father. The script have the girl spewing out lines that no normal 9-year-old kid would say. Jake Cuenca and Nadine Samonte are also miscast as parents of a dark-skinned girl.

12. David F. A movie about African-Americans spanning decades – from the revolt of the Filipinos at the turn of the 20th century to the Filipino-American-Japanese wars of the 1940s to the present-day Angeles City, Pampanga. The film is beautifully-photographed particularly the 1940s scenes but there is nothing more it could offer. I should also point out Art Acuna’s heaving was overdramatic. He looked much fitter than Sid Lucero but the latter was breathing normally. These are details I don’t easily forgive.

11. Instant Mommy. This was one of my to-watch-out-for films this year. I went down a notch when I saw the trailers. And it fell down the drain when I finally saw the completed film. Not even Eugene Domingo could save it about a woman who tricks her Japanese boyfriend of her pregnancy. There are a couple of laughs somewhere in the film. For some, that’s enough for the film to warrant a positive review. But I’m not one of the some.

10. Amor y Muerte. Set in the 16th century about a Filipino woman married to a Spanish soldier and goes on sexual trysts with a ex Filipino boyfriend. The acting is terrible. Markki Stroem’s eyes are a distraction. And the last sequence is too noisy and bloody.

9. Rekorder. I fell asleep on the first half of the film. I didn’t like Ronnie Quizon’s character. Nakatakas ba naman sa pulis pero ang ginawa naglakad at nagpahinga sa kalye. Kabobohan. Katangahan. Sumakay na sana siya kaagad ng jeep. 

8. Porno. A week after I saw this film and I’m still struggling to make sense of it. Others say all 3 characters – Yul Servo, Carlo Aquino, Angel Aquino – are troubled by something or someone. Another one I talked with said there was nothing connecting all three segments. I read online that it was the best film of the year. I say it’s the most confounding film of the year. Talo pa ang susunod na pelikula sa listahan.

7. Debosyon. I loved the previous two Alvin Yapan Cinemalaya entries in Cinemalaya – 2009’s Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe; 2011’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa. His third entry – about a deeply religious man who falls in love with a woman in the forest – I only liked. I struggled to make sense of the movie and this is how I understood it: that one’s religion and the belief in the healing powers of religious icons or what they represent can only make sense when you have the faith – a blind faith. And that Paulo Avelino’s connection to Mara Lopez’s character can only make sense when he loves blindly, loves freely, believes freely.

6. Babagwa. A edge-of-your seat thriller about a man who falls in love with a woman he swindles money from in Facebook. It’s a terrific piece of filmmaking with great performances from Alex Vincent Medina and Jerry Paras. I didn’t quite like the ending. I wish it ended differently, more open-ended, allowing viewers to make their own conclusion.

5. Purok 7. A charmingly sweet little film about young love. The lead star Krystel Valentino is a revelation and unabashedly great as the older of two siblings left to fend off for themselves as their mother works as an OFW. This film could have been ranked higher if the filmmakers fixed a few things – one of which is the girl who stammers out her lines. It’s distracting and obviously looked like she was just acting. Her stammer is not unlike Dexter Doria’s “winking” tic on a film from years ago. Halatang pilit.

4. Quick Change. I initially didn’t praise this film when the credits rolled but it slowly grew on me. It tells the story of a transsexual who is in the cosmetic surgery business and struggles with her conscience when she learns of the chemical source of her injectables. The filmmaking and acting is first-rate. The directing style was reminiscent of Bahay Bata, a Cinemalaya entry back in 2011. Only later did I learn Quick Change and Bahay Bata has the same director.

3. Ekstra. A day in the life of a bit player starring Vilma Santos in her first indie movie. Santos’ indie debut does not disappoint. It is hilarious and heartbreaking. That last scene as Vilma struggles to hold back her tears is a gem.

2. Transit. Terrific film. Smooth. Malinis. Great performances from all actors. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is a better actress then her more popular sister. I really wished the film ended on the same scene at the start of the movie. It could have been a powerful end. I would have clapped the hardest at its July 28th gala screening.

1. Sana Dati. I love this movie. It made me want to cry at the end. Lovi Poe is love. I didn’t know Benjamin Alves can act. The music is great. The photography breathtaking. The story awww shucks. And did I tell you the film made me want to cry unabashedly? I want to have a DVD of this film and watch it over and over. 

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