Monday, January 30, 2006

4 reviews

Son of a Witch, Gregory Maguire's sequel to his superb first novel Wicked, does not quite live up to its powerful predecessor, but it has its own merits as both a sequel and an individual novel. While Maguire's writing and language remain flawless constants, he doesn't give his supporting characters as much depth as he did in Wicked. However, his protagonist Liir, Elphaba's son (or is he? no plot spoilers here! :p), comes of age and comes to life in a wonderfully woven tale that morphs seamlessly from the present to flashback to dream state and back to the present again. The reader bears witness to how Liir struggles to find his own identity, apart from and in relation to the Wicked Witch of the West, who may or may not be his mother, ultimately to discover that his destiny is inextricably bound to Elphaba's, both by fate and by choice.

Aside from tracing Liir's personal odyssey, Son of a Witch, like Wicked, also has a political vein running through it, as it unravels the turbulent travails of the government of Oz. The underlying sociopolitical themes are not as emphasized as they were in Wicked, but sharp jabs are still taken at the hypocrisy and corruption of religious rulers, puppet leaders, and military officials. What I like so much about Maguire is how he places such contemporary, adult issues in seemingly innocuous, timeless settings (as all his books are alternative takes on classic fairy tales), thus achieving 2 things: giving readers a better understanding of complex topics through deceptively simple stories, and showing readers that human (and indeed, Animal) foibles are essentially the same in any world. I can't wait to sink my teeth into the next meaty Maguire masterpiece waiting on my bedside table.

* * *

I've finally seen one of the many under-the-radar Oscar contenders this year (King Kong does not count). Transamerica is a troubling and moving eye-opener to the world of transsexuals and the world's treatment of them. Felicity Huffman is amazing as Stanley/Bree, a man about to undergo gender-change surgery when he discovers he fathered a son 17 years ago. Huffman plays the tortured Stanley/Bree with a dignified, refined control reminiscent of Meryl Streep's quietly forceful screen presence. It is easy to forget that you are watching a woman acting as a man becoming a woman, and even easier to forget that this same actress stars on an ultra-feminine TV show. By itself, taking on this role took courage and a great capacity for empathy, and for Huffman it translates into the courage and heart-breaking humanity of Stanley/Bree as he battles society's prejudice, his family's rejection, and his son's rebellion. I can already see Huffman hoisting the Best Actress Oscar... but I have yet to see Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line, so I'm reserving judgment until then.

* * *

We had dinner at the Hyatt's Lili Chinese restaurant on Chinese New Year's Day, and I regretted having suggested that we eat there. First of all, just getting to the damn hotel is a headache, as it is inconveniently located on Pedro Gil, one of the most crowded and traffic-jammed streets in Malate. Second, the food is overpriced, even by hotel standards, and not worth the astronomical amounts. The servings are tiny (this is Chinese cuisine, people!! those clay pots are supposed to be filled to overflowing!), and the food lacks the MSG-packed punch you expect from good Chinese cooking. The Peking duck and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves were satisfying enough, but the seafood soup we ordered was as flavorful as dishwater. The only real treat of the meal was dessert, homemade red bean and black sesame ice cream.

Third, while the interior design of the restaurant is pleasant, the dishes they use are an eyesore. Whoever heard of a Chinese restaurant using plates designed with fruits and vegetables? My dad was using his chopsticks to pick at a piece of what he thought was wansoy on his plate only to realize that it was actually part of his plate. Fourth, the bathroom is an interior design disaster. There are no hooks inside the cubicles (I hate bathrooms without hooks or even a small ledge... where do they expect me to place my bag, huh?!), and the toilet paper is hard to reach. Plus when you wash your hands, water splashes out of the sink, runs down the counter, and drips all over the floor. Fifth, the hotel charges P50 for valet parking, even if you get your parking ticket validated. @#^%$*!

The final straw was when we saw a poor man in a wheelchair being precariously carried down 3 steps of stairs in the lobby because there were no provisions for a ramp. My dad was so pissed off he went to the front desk to comment about the glaring oversight. No way in hell is the Hyatt a 5-star establishment in my book.

* * *

The hype about Conti's is true: the food is pretty damn good. Not sensory-overload spectacular, but appetizing, filling, and reasonably priced. I had dinner at their Connecticut branch a week ago with some of my college 'kada, and I ended up footing the bill as a post-birthday treat. Highly recommended are the Chicken Roulade (I forgot to order the risotto with it, but the garlic rice was ok) and the Baked Salmon (I'm not a fan of salmon but my friends who have had it all sing its praises). The Chicken Fingers are good as an appetizer, and from the looks of Mike's clean plate, the popular Lengua is a great entree. The service is efficient and attentive; we had our bottomless drinks refilled so many times I had to use the bathroom 3 times throughout dinner. My only beef with Conti's is that they close early (9PM), so we had to transfer to UCC for dessert and post-dinner chatting. But that might have been our loss, since I hear Conti's famed cakes are especially yummy. I'm definitely due for a return visit soon.


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