Thursday, July 24, 2008

Times like these

I've been scrambling like heck to finish posting our vacation photos from our Scandinavia-Russia tour last April, and yesterday as I was sifting through shots from our second day in Moscow, I came across this cute pic:

I now officially miss my brother.

Don't worry, I'm not about to turn this blog entry into a gushing geyser of sap. It's just that the past few days have been a veritable roller coaster of emotions, and it's nice to find relief in a moment of sibling silliness captured on camera. Perhaps it's true that as we grow older, the simple joys in life become a great luxury: late-night marathon phone conversations with my best friends, falling asleep in the middle of reading a good book, pizza/DVD session with my sister, meeting up with my students, a hug right when I needed it most. These brief happy interludes kept me strapped safely in my seat as my life loop-de-looped during the past week. And now I'm looking forward to getting away for a while, when we go visit Bens in Beijing in August. I could use the breather. And more silly sibling pix.

In the meantime, this Foo Fighters song keeps running through my gradually-clearing-up head:

It's times like these you learn to live again
It's times like these you give and give again
It's times like these you learn to love again
It's times like these time and time again

Here's to better times ahead.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Oh what a Knight!

I just got home from watching The Dark Knight, and I can still feel the adrenaline pumping through me as if I had just chugged a gallon of coffee or jogged home from the Promenade. There are movies that take your breath away because of the fantastic cinematography ,or the dazzling special effects, or the powerful performances. TDK does all that, but it also literally takes your breath away because you just can't stand the suspense. More than once throughout its run of 2 hours and 40 minutes, I found myself leaning forward in my seat, or clutching my armrests, or covering my mouth in anxiety. When the end credits started to roll, I slumped back and exhaled, exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.

So yes, happily, all the hype proves true: The Dark Knight is phenomenal. Not only does it redefine the Batman franchise (which director Christopher Nolan helped resuscitate with Batman Begins), it redefines everything we have come to expect from a superhero movie. This is a superhero FILM, where the hero is more than a caped-and-cowled crime-fighter with a souped-up vehicle and high-tech gadgets, where the villain is more than a homicidal loon with a painted face, where the conflict is more than just good versus evil. In TDK, the lines between
hero and villain, and right and wrong, are blurred, and the moral dilemmas faced by the central characters are what propel the movie forward and keep the viewers' hearts racing, more than the stunts or the action sequences or the fight scenes. This is a story of crime and corruption, of a system gone rotten, of monsters wreaking havoc, of decent men and women turning into the very monsters they battle. Psychotic clown in costume aside, it seems not only all too possible, but all too painfully familiar. I wouldn't go so far as to say TDK functions as a realistic, thought-provoking social commentary, but for a big-budget blockbuster about a vigilante who dresses up as a bat, it's about as philosophical as you can get.

Christian Bale is without question the best Batman and Bruce Wayne we've seen onscreen.
Batman has always been my favorite superhero precisely because he's not superhuman, and he has never been more human as portrayed in TDK, where he grapples with the enormous responsibility of safeguarding an ungrateful Gotham City, and coming to terms with the personal sacrifices that have to be made for the greater good. Thanks to Bale's intensity (he sometimes reminds me of Johnny Depp in that way), this internal struggle is conveyed with both subtlety and clarity, reflecting the class of actor he is. It also helps that he's surrounded by a trio of acting legends who deliver expectedly stellar supporting performances as Batman's closest allies: Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Lt. Jim Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Meanwhile, Aaron Eckhart turns in what in my opinion is a breakthrough performance as Harvey Dent, the upstanding, seemingly incorruptible District Attorney who's on a crusade against the mob leaders of Gotham. As Dent, Eckhart is convincingly charismatic, and captures the idealistic fervor of an honest public servant trying to make a difference. Maggie Gyllenhaal is infinitely less annoying than Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, the love interest of both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, but there were times when I felt as if she were playing Mrs. Tom Cruise playing Rachel rather than giving her own portrayal of the character. Knowing Gyllenhaal's fantastic range as an actress, I was a bit disappointed with her this time.

But it doesn't really matter because let's face it, everyone knows this movie is all about the guy who gave the performance of a lifetime (in more than one sense). I never thought I'd see the day when someone could give Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter a run for his Chianti and fava beans, but Heath Ledger's Joker comes pretty damn close. Looking like a demented, demonic and deadlier version of Jack Nicholson's incarnation of Batman's greatest nemesis, Ledger's Joker is terrifying in every aspect: his oily voice, his greasy hair, his jerky mannerisms, his manic laugh. The character's unpredictability, his random acts of senseless violence and chaos, his twisted sense of humor, are all brought to life by Ledger in a transformation that goes beyond mere acting. At the risk of sounding trite, he didn't just play the Joker, he became the Joker. You cannot catch a single glimpse of the charming Aussie boy we fell in love with in 10 Things I Hate About You, or the strong-willed son from The Patriot, or the romantic rebel from A Knight's Tale, or the reticent, repressed cowboy from Brokeback Mountain. In TDK, Heath Ledger shows the world both the heights and depths of his talent as a thespian by bringing to life the most reckless, ruthless, repugnant, and reprehensible figure to plague Gotham City. When the Joker wields a knife and points it at someone's throat, you can feel the audience freeze in collective tension. When he threatens to blow up something or someone, it resonates with a careless, flippant menace that is all the more frightening. When he walks into a room or looks at the camera, his presence is magnetic in a formidably fearsome way. His madman antics and atrocities are blood-chilling not so much because Ledger is barely recognizable through the grotesque makeup, but because you forget all together that you're watching Heath Ledger; instead you feel like you're actually witnessing a dangerous nutjob perpetrate the stuff nightmares are made of. Ledger's Joker is the consummate villain: a crazed crook with no moral center, no game plan and no remorse, the perfect antithesis to Batman's principles and logic and omnipresent angst. One of the best moments of TDK has the Joker both mockingly and sincerely telling Batman, "You complete me", an apt encapsulation of how their sinister symbiotic relationship works: one's existence validates the other's.

Chris Nolan has outdone himself with what feels to be not so much a sequel to Batman Begins as a follow-up project that passes its predecessor in all standards of style and substance. The only problem now is how he's going to top himself next time. He's certainly going to be hard-pressed to find someone else to play the Joker, so I doubt he'll even try. But if anyone can live up to and exceed our expectations, Nolan can. And until the next installment in his Batman series, we have the lingering, horrifying, brilliant images of Heath Ledger's Joker to tide us over. May we never forget the madness of the monster, and the genius of the man.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Of kindred spirits and Souls

Over coffee last night, my former student Jo gave me some food for thought. She suddenly asked me if I believe in soulmates, and what my concept of a soulmate is. I answered the first question in the affirmative, and I defined a soulmate as someone to whom I need not explain what I think a soulmate is. S/he would just know, because our thoughts and feelings would be that finely attuned to one another's. Jo then brought up the idea of having more than one soulmate, which I hadn't seriously considered before. For 10 years now, I've known and felt with absolute certainty that my best friend Raqs is my soulmate, but I never entertained the notion of having soulmates in addition to her.

I suppose it is possible to have multiple soulmates, although I have yet to meet someone with whom I share a connection as profound as what Raqs and I have. With Raqs, I don't even need to say anything, and I know she knows what's going through my mind. There is no such thing as an uncomfortable silence between us (we've tried, it just doesn't happen). We don't need to keep in constant touch with one another, we don't need to be aware of every little thing that goes on in our separate lives, because when we are together, it's like we've never spent a single minute apart. She gets me like no one else does, not even my family; she's the only one who sees who I am to the very core.

Aside from Raqs, there ARE a handful of people who share a special bond with me that transcends ordinary friendship. I refer to them as my kindred spirits (and funny enough, Jo is one of them, although she regards kindred spirits and soulmates as the same thing). These kindred spirits are people I click with almost instantly, and with whom I maintain a closeness despite age difference, distance, or time apart. There's that certain sense of recognition, of looking into a mirror and seeing qualities, outlooks and values similar to my own, and above all, a level of comfort and confidence that comes easily, naturally. I'm not exactly a very friendly person, and it takes me a while to warm up to acquaintances, so when there are rare instances of me hitting it off with someone right away, there's got to be something more there than just plain compatibility.

I count myself blessed to have met such kindred spirits in my life: Jo; Sir Tirol, my Yoda; Maddy, my personal shrink; Jen Ong, my Mini-Me; Bel, my soul sister... they may not necessarily be my soulmates, but they apprehend, understand and appreciate the kind of soul I am, and I am grateful that they have bared even a part of their souls to me. It's a great, ineffable, beautiful mystery how,
without any deliberate effort or extrinsic intention, not only lives intersect, but selves conjoin. As my favorite author E.L. Konigsburg wrote in The View From Saturday:

...she asked, "Did I choose you, or did you choose me?"
And The Souls answered, "Yes!"

Jo, I know you'll get that. :)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What are the odds?

Further proof of how crazy this past week has been:

Our brand head, whose LV barrel bag was stolen last weekend at the Mall of Asia, just got all her IDs, credit/discount cards and other non-valuables returned to her. Someone called to tell her to pick up her stuff at an appointed place and time in Makati, so she sent their family driver. When she got the items back, she was surprised to see a checkbook and a bunch of IDs and cards that weren't hers mixed in. Apparently the thief had stolen another person's purse and just threw all the non-valuable contents together in one plastic bag. Closer inspection of the IDs revealed the other victim to be from Dumaguete... and the daughter of my parents' old friends. How freaky is that?? The same SOB robbed 2 people with direct connections to us! The family friend's LV bag had been stolen at a children's party last July 5 (which my parents had also attended), at a venue somewhere along Roxas Boulevard. This leads us to the supposition that the thief frequents the Bay Area and targets LV bags in particular. So those of you toting Speedys and Never-fulls, beware when you're in that part of town. I don't want to hear of another acquaintance losing her bag to that thieving rat.

The only consolation in all this is, at least both victims got all their important IDs back. And the eerie coincidence that we know both parties facilitated the return of the other person's belongings.

P.S. Once this insane week is over, I hope to get my blog groove back, not to mention finally finish posting our vacation photos from Europe. 5 cities down, 2 more to go. Sorry Mishy, the photos from your shower and wedding will have to wait a while. :(

Monday, July 14, 2008

We interrupt this blog silence for an important announcement

I'm getting married!

Made you look.

Actually I've been insanely busy since I got back from a business trip to Hong Kong last week that I'm only using time I can't afford to waste to scribble a few incoherent lines in this pathetically neglected blog of mine. In no sequential or logical order:

  • Our Sales Personnel Manager of 15 years, Ate Madic, was alighting from a bus last week when the f***ing driver accelerated, causing her to fall and hit her head. Then, as if that weren't enough, the f***ing driver saw what had happened, so the a**hole BACKED UP (ostensibly in the hopes of finishing her off, as most bus companies instruct their drivers to do) and RAN OVER HER LEG!! Luckily, the guy who got off the bus behind Ate Mads banged on the side of the bus and yelled for help. Someone called for the police and they apprehended the f***ing bus driver, and some compassionate standers-by rushed Ate Mads, bleeding and unconscious, to the nearest hospital. They also took out her cell phone and called some of her contacts to inform them of the accident. I'm grateful that despite the existence of some f***ing a**holes who don't think twice about running over small middle-aged women, there are some decent people to be found in this city.

  • Another employee of ours had her entire handbag stolen while we were conducting store visits in the Mall of Asia yesterday. The f***ing thief had the cajones to filch the purse from behind our store's cash counter, with several of us standing right in front of it. There are just too many f***ing unscrupulous people with no conscience walking the face of this planet. May they all contract incurable syphillis or chronic diarrhea.
  • For someone with no love life of her own, I spend way too much time worrying about other people's relationship problems. It's so emotionally exhausting being a good friend.
  • In happier news: Ateneo beat La Salle and UE (oh, and Adamson too). So far this season's shaping up to be a very promising one for our Eagles. OBF!
  • My former student and Openness baby Alexis Go is this season's courtside reporter for UE. Every time I manage to catch her on TV I feel butterflies in my stomach, from both anxiety and excitement, and that familiar and welcome feeling of parental pride that I always get when I see my students getting their chance to shine.
  • Another former student, Madel Ching has landed the role of Tracy Turnblad in Atlantis Productions' take on the musical Hairspray. I'm so, so proud, and can't wait to see her perform onstage when the show starts its run in November.
  • Mamma Mia! is funfunfun. And Pierce Brosnan, the first love of my life, is hothothot (ditto Colin Firth!).
  • The Dark Knight is showing this week! Can't wait to see Heath Ledger onscreen one last time.

Now I have to get back to work. The Espada people from Bangkok are in town and I don't want to risk getting sick again because I still have a jam-packed week ahead. And I'm not even planning a wedding.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Of brothers and sisters (and Brothers & Sisters)

For only the second time in my life, I am one sibling short. Bens left for Beijing last June 22 to join the same summer Chinese language program I joined 6 years ago, at Peking University. He'll be back for a week or so in August, but then he'll return to Beijing for the fall semester in September.

Funny but I don't seem to be as affected by his absence as much as I was during Hanks' stint in Beijing. I thought I would be gripped with the same debilitating separation anxiety I experienced back then, but so far I've been amazingly nonchalant about it. Well, ok, I can't deny that I do worry constantly about what's happening to my baby brother over there in a country full of pickpockets and swindlers and people who drink and smoke too much and bathe too little; our own mother says I'm worse than a neurotic parent when it comes to worrying about my siblings. I try not to text him too often to nag him about keeping his belongings safe or drinking lots of water or processing his requirements for school, because I know it would just annoy him, and I know I should trust him because he's much more sensible than I give him credit for. But overprotective atsi-fretting aside, I have to admit I'm having an easier time dealing this time, unlike the complete wreck I was while Hanks was gone. It's not that I don't miss him at all, mind you. But it's different when it's your roommate of 25 years who's away, as opposed to your next-door neighbor who comes over from time to time to torture your stuffed animals. And the bond between 2 sisters naturally tends to be more intimate than that between a sister and a brother.

I know Hanks and I are luckier than Bens in that we have 1 sister and 1 brother each, but he only has 2 sisters and no brother. I know it's been tougher for him growing up without the benefit of a constant companion and confidante. I also know that in many ways, it's a relief for him to be living away from home for the first time, to be free from the constrains and strains of being bunso and unico hijo. So I don't begrudge him that relief, and I don't mind if he doesn't miss us as much as we miss him.

And like I said, I do miss him, even if it doesn't outwardly pain me. It's just easier to pretend that Bens is on one of his out-of-town trips with his barkada, or out with his ultimate frisbee teammates, or playing basketball with his fellow alumni at Xavier, or even downstairs in the den hogging the PC as always.
Besides, he'll be home in less than 2 months, and we'll have him for about 2 weeks before he has to leave again. Until then, I just have to avoid going into his room so as not to be reminded that the only brother I have isn't coming home today... yet.

* * *

Hanks and I are currently on the 2nd season of Brothers & Sisters, and I am enjoying it as much as I did the 1st season. I love how this show is so atypically American in the sense that the dysfunctional family dynamics of the Walkers are remarkably recognizable and relatable to Asians (at least to this Asian it is). The 5 Walker siblings and their parents all reveal human flaws that both strain and strengthen their relationships with one another, and it's refreshing to see such a tight-knit non-sitcom TV family for once. I like how all the petty squabbles, the big ugly fights, the unnecessary drama, the deep-seated grudges, the painful betrayals, and the emotional baggage that come with being a family are portrayed realistically, then offset with equally realistic moments of support, comfort, humor, loyalty, tenderness and love. The show always manages to be one shade shy of sappy, and one step short of stressful.

I also love the wonderful ensemble cast: Sally Field flexes her veteran acting muscles as beleaguered widow and mother Nora Walker; Calista Flockhart makes the most out of her character Kitty, the headstrong, political daughter constantly at odds with her mom; Rachel Griffiths is my favorite as eldest daughter Sarah, pragmatic yet passionate, capably juggling her responsibilities as mother, wife, daughter and president of the family business; Dave Annable is beloved Justin, the youngest of the brood and a troubled Iraq war vet; Balthazar Getty plays eldest son Tommy, often overlooked and underappreciated, yet always looking out for everyone; Matthew Ryhs is a stand-out as smart, sarcastic lawyer Kevin, the gay middle child with commitment issues; and Ron Rifkin brings warmth and generosity to his role as steadfast Saul, Nora's brother and the Walker kids' supportive uncle. That Calista Flockhart doesn't get on my nerves even when she shows traces of Ally McBeal neuroticism is testament to how much I like this series.

I highly recommend Brothers & Sisters to anyone with a big, crazy family (which pretty much covers most Filipinos) who think their clan is more messed up than everyone else's. This show will make them realize that everyone else is as messed up as they are, if not more. Ultimately, no family is not dysfunctional. What matters is that they manage to stay a family in spite of the insanity, that they choose to stay with family through thick and thin, and that they value the meaning of family when nothing else makes sense in the TV or real world.