Sunday, May 31, 2009

Will Percy Jackson go the distance?

Since my last bookworm progress report, I have not finished any books (I'm still halfway through Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss), so I can't post any new book reviews just yet. However, I just had to blog about this exciting discovery I made while skimming the latest New York Times Books Update, which gets emailed to me every week. Under the Children's Books section, I came across a review of The Last Olympian, the 5th book in a series by Rick Riordan called Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Now I'm a self-proclaimed young adult lit lover, and I'm a sucker for anything to do with Greek mythology, so combining the two is like peanut butter cheesecake: I just cannot resist sampling it.

After reading the NY Times review, I immediately Googled Rick Riordan and found his website, and I liked what I saw. I have now put the entire Percy Jackson series on my Shelfari wish list, and I'll definitely be looking for the books on my next visit to Fully Booked. I just hope it's not going to be a letdown a la Christopher Paolini-- after Eragon and Eldest, I'm still debating whether or not to bother buying Brisingr. Given the positive review Riordan got from the NY Times though, I'm optimistic about liking his series. Can't wait to get acquainted with Percy and the Olympians!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Much ado about nothing?

Can someone please explain to me why the Hayden Kho sex videos scandal is making the front pages of our newspapers? I could understand if all the brouhaha is being bannered in the entertainment sections, but do we have no more pressing matters in this country other than a hack doctor’s sexual exploits? Does our Senate have nothing better to do than express outrage on behalf of Katrina Halili’s besmirched honor (if you can call it that)? Are there no bigger problems begging for solutions other than figuring out who spread the incendiary and indecent videos?

However, more disturbing than all the media (and Senate) mileage Hayden Kho has been getting is how the public is eating it all up. From people buying pirated discs of the videos in question to web-crawlers watching the now infamous "Careless Whisper" clip on YouTube, many are getting their kicks out of Haydengate, be it out of sick voyeuristic pleasure or snobbish sadistic derision. There are those who sympathize with the women who were unknowingly caught on camera by the devious (and deviant?) Dr. Kho, there are those snickering over how these people got what was coming to them, and there are those who think Vicky Belo's former (current?) boy toy should be burned at the stake. Whatever the opinion on the issue, everyone is lavishing too much attention on this admittedly offensive yet overly hyped case than what it's worth... or is it?

Fuss and furor over any celebrity expose are to be expected, especially one of a sexual nature and one as explosive as this. But in a day and age when sex tapes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are but a mouse click away, when pornographic DVDs are peddled on the streets of Divisoria and Greenhills, when nearly nude bodies bedeck billboards and magazine covers, you'd think nothing can shock us anymore. That people are making a big deal out of Hayden Kho's sex videos seems to debunk the theory that our culture has become desensitized to graphic sexual content. Then again, one could argue that we have actually become so addicted to smut and sensationalism that we can't get enough of it, which is why Hayden and his harem are such hot topics now. Call me jaded, but I'm inclined to believe the latter explanation.

I have my own opinions regarding the case of the Filipino people versus Hayden Kho M.D., but I'm not about to join in the collective clamor to crucify and/or castrate Kho. It's not that I think he is free of blame in all this; far from it. I understand the public outcry over the degradation of society's morals, or the feminist groups deploring the sexual exploitation of women, or the conservatives
censuring the abuse of technology, or the liberals decrying the violation of the right to privacy. But really, isn't our reaction to the videos more revealing than the acts shown in and implied by the videos? The scorn, the condemnation, the amusement, the titillation, the hypocrisy, the sanctimoniousness (yes, I'm talking to you, SENATOR Bong Revilla)-- they all point to the kind of values, principles, and priorities we have, both as a nation and as individuals. And I find that infinitely more interesting-- and unsettling-- than a bunch of illicit videos. Hayden Kho may have shown us his true filthy face, but whether we rebuke his sins or revel in his sleaze shows OUR true natures. So instead of asking where we can get our own copy of the sex videos, maybe we should be asking ourselves what that says about us.

If the reactions to the Hayden Kho scandal are indeed a reflection of Filipino society, then perhaps it is more important than I initially thought. Perhaps this is the impetus we need to take a good hard look at our social norms and value systems. Perhaps we can all actually learn a thing or two from Hayden (albeit not the correct lyrics to "Careless Whisper"), and in doing so perhaps we can all learn a thing or two about ourselves.

Perhaps this issue merits front-page headlines after all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dual mode

I just got back from an almost-weeklong business trip, and this blog topic came to me sometime in the middle of my stay in Guangzhou, as I lay in bed wide awake (thanks to the very strong milk tea I had had during dinner) listening to the disconcertingly loud croaking of the frogs populating the pond outside our family friend's condo. If any of my thoughts come across as incoherent, please blame it on the sleep deprivation.

* * *

Whenever I'm out of the country, I always get this odd feeling of polarity, like my brain can't decide on being fully here or there. It's almost as if I've left part of myself back home. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about homesickness-- even though I complain about how travel has lost its glamour due to the frequency with which I jet to different countries,
I actually enjoy it in spite of the fatigue. But no matter how much I'm having fun on a vacation or getting caught up in work on a business trip, there is an acute awareness of my being AWAY.

The polarity of which I speak manifests itself in different ways. For example, I find it refreshing to be in a city where no one really knows me, so I don't have to give a damn if I'm dressed frumpily or acting stupid. But at the same time little things remind me of family and friends, and I wish for them to be around. On some trips, though it's only been a few days I sometimes miss my sibs so badly, I feel an almost actual tug on my heart. True story.

Another illustration of my bisected behavior: on the one hand, I'm always searching for free WiFi spots so I can check my email and Multiply inboxes, as well as update my Twitter. I can't bear being out of touch for an extended period of time (i.e. more than 2 days). On the other hand, there is a certain sense of freedom in being unwired: I don't feel obliged to reply to messages and/or comments, nor pressured to come up with a new blog post every other day. And it is such a blessed relief not to be checking my cellphone every 5 minutes for text messages or missed calls.

And when I'm traveling with my mom, there's this strange kind of shift that happens, a role reversal of sorts. Here at home, it's her taking care of me and my sibs. Abroad, when it's just the 2 of us, I find myself taking care of her more than she does me. Part of me enjoys the responsibility and the opportunity to give back to my mother, but another part of me wants to return to being the charge, and not the one in charge.

I suppose this is why I feel aptly torn whenever I find out I'm scheduled for another trip. The curious combination of anticipation and dread pulls me toward different emotions, and this internal tug-of-war doesn't end until I step foot on Philippine soil again. Only when I'm back home do I feel settled, whole. Away from here, I'm Odysseus at sea, both hearing the Sirens' song and seeing Ithaca on the horizon. And like my favorite Greek guy, I love the journey, but I love home even more.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Godawful gruel

I've read (and agreed with) so many negative reviews of Angels & Demons that I considered not exerting the effort to write my own. But I feel duty-bound to warn everyone that Ron Howard's follow-up to his 2006 film adaptation of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is, as another reviewer so eloquently put it, "indescribably crappy".

Indeed, there are only a handful of reasons I'm giving Angels & Demons 2 stars instead of 1 (out of 5):
  1. It's still a shade more tolerable than the load of dragon dung that was Eragon, the only Hollywood movie I've ever reviewed to which I awarded a solitary star.
  2. I didn't have to reread the book to understand the movie (reading Dan Brown is just too painful).
  3. The art direction is amazing, replicating the interiors of the Vatican, most notably the Sistine Chapel, with eye-popping detail, if not accuracy.
  4. The St. Peter's Square scenes were masterfully executed.
  5. Ewan MacGregor looks sinfully sexy in a soutane.
Tom Hanks, who can usually act his way out of even the lamest movies (The Ladykillers, anyone?), delivers a disappointingly lackluster performance in Angels & Demons (not to mention the sight of him in a Speedo was just... WRONG on so many levels). I didn't get a sense of urgency from the character of Robert Langdon at all-- tasked by the Vatican to help them foil an ancient secret society's nefarious plan of retribution, the professor came off as more Henry Higgins than Indiana Jones: more poised than macho, more scholarly than brilliant, more helpless than heroic. It was as if he knew things would work out fine in the end, so even though he was supposed to be racing against the clock to save the kidnapped cardinals, there was still enough time to regale beauteous scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) with nuggets of historical trivia. Not once did I feel an iota of suspense, and it wasn't just because I knew how it would all end. The pacing was inexplicably slow, so much so that whenever someone mentioned how much time they had left before another cardinal would be executed, my ironic reaction was, "Thank God, just kill him and move on to the next please."

Many who have read the book prior to seeing this film adaptation took issue that the screenwriters didn't incorporate many of the more controversial elements of the plot. Perhaps that was the key ingredient missing from this watery soup of a movie, and that was what made it more potboiler than blockbuster. Let's face it, without his far-fetched but fascinating conspiracy theories, Dan Brown is nothing but a bad writer. And it's hard enough to make a good movie out of a good book, much more a (very, very) bad one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wikipedia pitfalls and pratfalls

Last Monday morning, I was reading the Philippine Star over breakfast, and I came across an article by Abac Cordero in the Sports section, with the shamelessly sensationalized and misleading headline "Parkinson's disease likely for Hatton?". I was peeved at how the article seemed to be issuing a death sentence for Ricky Hatton, in what came off as tasteless gloating. C'mon, it's not enough Pacquiao knocked him out cold, we have to condemn the man to a neurological disorder? Could we be a little more gracious in victory please?

But what really got my attention AND my goat was this sentence from said article:

A seizure, according to wikipedia, can last few seconds, and are often associated with a sudden and involuntary contraction of a group of muscles and loss of consciousness.

I have always had issues with the depressingly low quality of Philippine journalism (see this and this), but I didn't think it had sunk so low as to allow writers to openly cite Wikipedia as a source. To make matters worse, I looked up "seizure" in Wikipedia, and I found out that Mr. Cordero had actually done some poor patchwork plagiarism (which accounts for the glaring grammatical errors), and lifted part of the definition verbatim but neglected to enclose it in quotation marks to indicate such. Foul!

While I am staunchly against all forms of plagiarism (I believe I am now notoriously known as the Scourge of Plagiarism in at least 2 schools), I am by no means anti-Wikipedia. Indeed, I have cited it in my blog on more than one occasion. However, I balk at acknowledging it as a credible source for academic and journalistic purposes. Some time ago I recall having an exchange of comments over Multiply with a couple of high school kids, debating the merits of Wikipedia as a source of factual information. One kid argued that all the data found in Wikipedia is guaranteed to be accurate, owing to the screening and editing of the site's administrators. I contended that even so, erroneous information could still be posted before any moderation takes place. My favorite, unintentionally hilarious example: the La Salle Green Archers' Wikipedia page once identified only 3 players on their 2007 roster as Filipinos, and the rest foreigners (with Atkins and Walsham labeled American, Maierhofer German, Malabes an Iranian national, and Tang, Cua and Co hailing from the People's Republic of China!). This is precisely why back when I was still teaching, I always discouraged my students from relying too heavily on online sources.

Just last night, I read about the sneaky but smart social experiment pulled off by Shane Fitzgerald, a university student from Ireland. Fitzgerald posted a bogus quote on a dead composer's Wikipedia page, which was subsequently picked up and used by several newspapers in their obituaries/tributes to the composer.

They used the fabricated material, Fitzgerald said, even though administrators at the free online encyclopedia quickly caught the quote's lack of attribution and removed it, but not quickly enough to keep some journalists from cutting and pasting it first. (from the same Associated Press article linked previously)

This successful hoax has caused a significant deal of embarrassment among the punk'd publications, which serves them right for being so careless. Doesn't anyone give a rat's ass about journalistic integrity? Are we all willing to compromise it in exchange for speed and convenience? Can no one be bothered to corroborate facts and double-check sources anymore? Maybe we should just stop reading newspapers all together and just go to Wikipedia and Twitter and YouTube to keep abreast on current events.

Wikipedia may be handy and helpful, and props to its administrators for their valiant efforts to keep the site error-free, but it is not foolproof, as Shane Fitzgerald has demonstrated to the world.
Interestingly, there is actually a Wikipedia page on "criticism of Wikipedia". Perhaps all journalists, including Mr. Abac Cordero, should read it before using any more information from a wiki and trying to pass it off as gospel truth.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Without ever having watched a full episiode of Felicity or Alias or Lost, I am now a certified fan of J.J. Abrams. Because his Star Trek movie totally rocked my world.

My sibs and I are die-hard Trekkers, so we were both excited and apprehensive about the release of Abrams' reworking of Star Trek. After all, this was sacred ground he was treading upon: the back story of James T. Kirk and the crew of the first USS Enterprise. Though Star Trek: The Next Generation will always be my favorite Trek series, the "original" series starring William Shatner was the one that started it all, and is both a TV classic and the forebear of a cultural phenomenon. If Abrams screwed this up, it would be unpardonable (not to mention dangerous, as he might get lynched by hordes of angry Trekkers schooled in the art of Klingon hand combat).

But just as Christopher Nolan blew everyone away with his new and improved Batman, Abrams surpasses all expectations and delivers a prequel that does not only do justice to the brainchild of Trek creator Gene Rodenberry, but also improves on it, making it more sophisticated and throwing in some new twists, all the while staying faithful to the soul of Star Trek. With this movie, Abrams introduces Star Trek to a whole new generation of viewers, and now suddenly, being a Trekker seems... cool.

The brilliance of Abrams' Star Trek is how it pleases and appeases old fans, and at the same time appeals to an audience unfamiliar with the Trek universe (or as Tatot wittily put it, "This version of Star Trek is not alienating at all.
"). I loved every minute and every aspect of the movie, from the flawless, eye-popping CGI effects (shown off to maximum effect in IMAX) to the convoluted time-space continuum-bending plot that made sense as only a Star Trek storyline can. The opening sequence alone was so kick-ass that when the main title rolled across the screen right afterward, I confess (without shame) that tears sprang to my eyes out of sheer kilig. Throughout the movie, I got goosebumps as familiar characters with new faces were introduced, smiled and laughed as old catch phrases were spoken ("I'm giving her all she's got Cap'n!"), and suppressed squeals of geeky giddiness as Leonard Nimoy (with distracting dentures) made his appearance as the older Spock, the same role that was his claim to fame decades ago.

Because the characters of Star Trek such as Spock are pop culture icons by themselves, getting the right actors to play them is crucial, and happily the casting director of this movie nailed it. Chris Pine brought the right amount of brash arrogance balanced with comic charm as the future Captain Kirk. Karl Urban (remember Eomer, the long-haired horseman from The Lord of the Rings? he was that dude) surprised me by being a spot-on Leonard "Bones" McCoy, capturing the doctor's trademark cantankerousness and wry humor. Zoe Saldana breathed new spirit into the character of Uhura, transforming her from token female crew member to fierce, intelligent woman. John Cho, Anton Yelchin and Simon Pegg were all adorable as Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty, respectively, particularly Yelchin who hammed it up by laying on the Russian accent nice and thick.

Above all, I was most impressed with Zachary Quinto (Heroes fans know him better as the malevolent Sylar) and his turn as young Spock. With all due respect to the great Nimoy, I have never seen Spock's internal struggle (between his Vulcan logic and human emotions) played out so effectively as with Quinto's controlled and layered performance. Moreover, Quinto generates an intensity that I find weirdly hot. In my opinion, he outsmoldered and outsexied Pine, who's supposed to be playing the ladies' man of the crew. I never thought the pointy ears and bowl haircut would do it for me, but I now have a crush on Spock!

The chemistry among the cast is unmistakable, which makes me hope this will not be the last time I see the ensemble together on the bridge of the Enterprise. And I definitely want J.J. Abrams at the helm of the next Star Trek movie. Here is a director who respects his source material, understands his contemporary audience, and knows how to merge the past future with the present future to produce a well-shot, well-written, well-acted and well-directed science fiction film (that happens to be a crowd-pleasing box office smash as well). The guy's a frickin' genius. And may he live long and prosper.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Beastly, but bearable

If you're not a die-hard, purist fan of the X-men comic franchise, and if you manage to shut off your brain for the hour-and-47-minute run of the movie, X-men Origins: Wolverine isn't really that awful. Sure, the plot features some moments of sheer idiocy that had me either laughing or shaking my head (or laughing AND shaking my head), but as an action-packed, violence-filled, effects-riddled blockbuster flick, it's serviceable, and even entertaining. Highlights include dramatic opening credits, a cool sequence showcasing some badass mutant powers, and short but surprisingly satisfying appearances by Ryan Reynolds and Dominic Monaghan (the hobbit Merry from The Lord of the Rings films) as Wolverine's fellow mercenary mutants. Reynolds in particular provides some unexpected comic relief with his brief turn as Deadpool; it turns out Mr. Scarlett Johansson is underrated as his buxom spouse is overrated.

And then there's the introduction to the X-men movie franchise of Gambit, my favorite X-men character and one of my cartoon crushes. Relative unknown actor Taylor Kitsch was cast in the role of the Cajun kinetic energy-harnessing hottie, and I thought he was all right, even if his N'awlins accent wasn't heavy enough (if only Harry Connick Jr. were 20 years younger...).

But the star of the show was unquestionably Wolverine, and just as he did in the previous 3 X-men movies, Hugh Jackman inhabits the role with an animalistic energy both savage and intense. His Wolverine is perhaps the only believable thing in a movie riddled with as many plot loopholes and lame elements as objects that explode. As testament to his talent as a thespian, Jackman brings credibility to an otherwise ridiculous story, and succeeds in creating a cool, conflicted-yet-sticks-to-his-convictions hero... and looking damn good (almost) buck naked too.

I feel obliged to give props to Liev Schreiber too, for delivering a ferocious and feral, if a bit formulaic, performance as Wolverine's archnemesis Sabretooth, and standing as further proof that true acting talent can survive even a massive train wreck such as this movie.

I won't even go into detail about the liberties (sacrileges?) taken by the screenwriters, who changed so many "facts" about the characters' histories that being familiar with the X-men is actually a disadvantage in understanding the plot (because we're too busy scrunching our brows and going, "Wait, that's not right!"). And I'm too excited to get started on my review of Star Trek to waste any more time writing about this infinitely inferior prequel.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Brand consciousness

During my family's recent trip to Macau and Hong Kong (photos pending), my sibs and I spent about about half an hour going nuts inside Uniqlo at the World Trade Center in Causeway Bay. We were dashing around the store like mad, grabbing items left and right, racing against the clock because we were checking out of our hotel and leaving for the airport soon. I ended up with a shopping basket full of tees, polos, dresses, camisoles, and even pajamas. Due to time constraints, I didn't have a chance to try on everything, and when I did upon returning to Manila, I wished I had bought more of the same items in different colors. Save for a snazzy (and bordering on scandalously short) teal dress by Shipley and Halmos, all the items I purchased were basics, and thus versatile. And I just love basic pieces that can work with an infinite number of outfits! Uniqlo may not be as trendy as H&M, but in terms of quality and value for money, I find it far superior. It definitely now belongs in my list of favorite brands.

Speaking of brands, I've recently identified my personal aspirational brand: Christian Louboutin. When I own a pair of those sexy, red-soled stilettos from Paris, I'll know I've made it. Of course realistically, even if I could afford Louboutins one day, I probably wouldn't be able to bring myself to shell out so much moolah for shoes, no matter how gorgeous they are. But hey, a girl can dream, right?

In the meantime, I couldn't even spring for a pair of killer heels I saw in a Nine West store in Macau. I fell in love with the shoes but they were too pricey for impractical footwear (I can't exactly wear them daily to work). I did try them on though, and man were they hot. They also made me about 4 inches taller, and man was I gigantic! My not buying the heels was a triumph of self-control though, given my serious shoe addiction, so I take consolation in that.

And speaking of addiction, I am hooked on jasmine-scented bath products, thanks to the amenities provided in our suite at The Venetian in Macau. I've always liked the smell of jasmine, both in my tea and on my skin (Elianto's Jasmine Body Scrub has become a shower staple of mine). I am now in search of a nice jasmine body spray or perfume. My signature scent since high school has been Estee Lauder's Pleasures (the original one, not any of the fancy new lines), and now I'm intrigued by the limited edition Pleasures body splash variant "Jasmine Violet Splash". I shall search for a tester the next time I'm passing through the fragrance section of Rustan's.

But enough of my material girl fixations. This week is all about feeding my inner geek! I have a new netbook to fiddle with (thanks to Ria who helped me buy a red Lenovo Ideapad S10 from Singapore) and 2 sci-fi movies to watch (X-men Origins: Wolverine and Star Trek). Wait for my reviews!