Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare


(In which surprises fall semi-unlimitedly.)

***

I believe one of the codes fiction writers live by is to never run out of surprises for readers. If this is the only criterion upon which any fictional work should be judged, then City of Fallen Angels will be one of the high-scorers.

After the battle in Alicante where Downworlders and Nephilim join hands against Valentine and his son Jonathan (who took Sebastian Verlac's identity), life for Clary and her friends seems to go back to normal. I believe there is a tremendous need to capitalize "seems". To elucidate, Simon is dating Maia and Isabelle (which means they are both oblivious to it of course); Luke still has to be used to Jocelyn loving him and the fact that they are getting married; and Clary is now openly dating Jace after the truth of his parentage gets revealed, which makes her happy, only that Jace is acting terribly weird.

On top of the sudden change in Jace' treatment of Clary, the gang gets confronted by appearance of new faces - Kyle, the hot guy who wants to apply as a vocalist in Simon's band and Camille, a vampire who asks Simon for his help to get rid of Raphael. With the precious information from these seemingly-innocuous people, Clary and others are led to various hair-raising discoveries that ranges from an assassination plot on one of them to a sinister attempt to emulate Valentine's experiment. And just when Clary thought that love indeed conquers everything, she'll realize that it is a means of destruction after all.

City of Fallen Angels is a crafty concoction of teenage emo moments and their equally crafty attempt to act like adults. In this installment, the characters try to solve their own problems so as not to be burdens to others. This character transformation, apart from Clare's signature humor, is what I find enchanting about this book. Clary takes responsibility for her actions and feels the need to protect people and not the other way around. Simon finally discovers the true power of the Mark of Cain amd uses it to save a friend's life. Maia gradually decides to move forward without bitterness or remorse. Alec embraces his true nature even more and Isabelle learns to accept her vulnerabilities. Mostly positive transformation, eh?

Except, I think, for Jace.

He didnt't lose his signature cockiness and his over-awareness of his staggering good looks, thank goodness. In fact, we know things are fine when he starts praising himself and bullying others with his sarcasm. What he lost, however, is that thing that drives Clary, or other people, to him - his ethereal ability to provide comfort and protection. In City of Fallen Angels, he is the one who seems to be in constant need of being protected and nurtured. Or maybe I was wrong and his vulnerability is still what attracts Clary et al towards him. But, sexism aside, I don't quite enjoy the idea of Jace being an emo kid with tons of teenage drama. And whatever happened to his linguistic eloquence? And then the explanation that he could offer to Clary regarding his sudden coldness is "I don't understand what's happening to me" or "I love you, Clary"? Why did he wait for Clary to seek help from the Silent Brothers? Why can't he tell Simon if he can't tell Clary? And then, as if he's not yet in trouble, his problems turn out to be detrimental for everyone. I thought Jace could do better than that. But then again, that's just me. Those who find it endearing must have been tired of the whole damsel-in-distress thing and finally thought that it's about time men have their share of being rescued. Besides, Clary is the heroine of this series? Sigh.

Well, after everything's been said and done, what really matters is that this book is an enjoyable read. And if we rely on that blurb  by The Trades saying “. . . If you’re a fan of The Mortal Instruments, you need to read City of Fallen Angels. And if you aren’t a fan, then you really need to find out what’s wrong with you, fix it, and start from book one.”  to gauge a part of our sanity, then at least I'm pretty sure nothing's wrong with me yet.



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City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare







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Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

(In which we finally get answers.)

***

The bad thing about reading a series late (i.e., when the series already has five books and is already turned into a movie) is that you get the terrible feeling that everybody already knows it except you, which kind of justify the necessity of adding fomo (fear of missing out) to the Oxford Dictionary. The good thing (and believe me when I say it outweighs the bad) is that you don’t get to suffer from the more terrible feeling of waiting for the next book to come. You finished one book and move on to the next without further ado. Now, that’s addicting. And a convenient addiction at that.

At this point, I have to tell you that spoilers, albeit minor, are included in this blog post. Continue reading at your own risk.

When Clary receives an invisible-to-mundanes visitor in the City of Ashes, she realizes that the coma her mother is suffering from is self-induced and could be reversed by a warlock named Ragnor Fell. And she decides to go to Idris, the home of the Shadowhunters, to find the warlock and wake her mother up. The City of Glass opens with Jace, along with the Lightwoods preparing to go home to attend the Clave meeting especially now that they know that Valentine plans a large-scale war against the Clave. Clary intends to go with the Lightwoods but due a sudden attack of Forsaken, she is left behind and is forced to open up a Portal to Idris. Upon arriving there, she is welcomed by the poisoning waters of Lake Lyn, followed by a meeting with Luke’s sister, then a meeting with Sebastian Verlac (who eventually helps her find Ragnor Fell) and finally walking in on Jace and his new girlfriend in the Penhallow’s house.

Despite the awkwardness of things, Clary is determined to seek all necessary help from anyone who is willing to give it in order to save her mother, even if it means asking Jace to take her to the Wayland manor to retrieve a book that will reverse the coma-inducing spell Jocelyn puts on herself. In there they find the book, along with some of Valentine’s nastiest secrets. And in their final attempt to right the wrongs done by long-running philosophical feuds among Shadowhunters and Downworlders, Jace and Clary discover the truth about their powers, their families and the fact that they are not siblings. 

Among the first three installments, it is not unfair to say that City of Glass is the most exciting aside from the fact that it is the most action-packed; what with the rain of demons from Valentine’s army and the children of the Night, Moon, Lilith and Faerie all coming together against one common enemy in an epic warfare. But what really makes it exciting is the transformation of the characters. Clary is more determined and more powerful while Jace is more expressively passionate and aggressive. And Simon, the geeky, playing safe Simon, finally learns the value of true sacrifice. 

City of Glass is a complex tapestry of the grand battle against extinction and corruption, woven with lies, deception, confession and acceptance all in one thread. It is an opus with themes as fragile as glass itself. In an equally-fragile city inhabited with equally-fragile characters, Jace and Clary and all the major teenage Shadowhunters are forced to maturity, with the realization that the path to the truth is led by love. In the final pages, however, they discover that love might also be the cause of their downfall.

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

(In which the addiction continues.)

***

One of my terrible habits, at least in the eyes of my students, is that I ask them if they have seen an interesting movie that has been recently shown. The worse part of my strangeness is when I share with them the new book I'm reading. As sad as it is real, my students are not the reading kind. But I was lucky to have at least one student who can relate and actually shares back. It's not so bad, especially when the fact that two students in two different classes are three books ahead of me and, as they themselves said, are "just waiting for The City of Heavenly Fire to be released". What other motivation can be more persuading than that?

So that is the impetus behind this recent update in this blog, and the apparent sudden adrenaline to finish the first five books of Clare's best-selling series. 

I bookmarked my latest progress on the second book - City of Ashes, which continues were the City of Bones left off - the revelation bomb that Clary and Jace are siblings. 

It is sadly expected that Jace will be a magnet of controversy after the Clave gets informed of his true parentage. The complication is so severe that Maryse Lightwoods, mother of Alec and Isabelle, decides to send Jace out of the Institute in fear of him being Valentine's spy. To prove his innocence, Jace declares that he is willing to undergo the Trial by Sword. The process involves the use of the Soul-Sword, another Mortal Instrument guarded by the Silent Brothers and this powerful weapon can determine whether someone is lying. For the trial to happen, Maryse summons the Inquisitor of the Clave, who appears to believe that Jace works with Valentine and is determined to punish him. What complicates matters is a series of murders of young Downworlders and the Silent Brothers in the Bone City. And the Shadowhunters believe Valentine is behind it. In their pursuit of discovering Valentine's plan, Alec and Isabelle find themselves tangled in a familial conflict while Jace, Clary and Simon struggle to find their places in the lives of people who matter to them most.

What's worth saying about the second installment is that Clare's signature wit (that interestingly manifests itself in almost all the characters) is a refreshing comic relief even in the most dangerous fight scenes and confrontations. The plot somehow runs predictably but one still clings on to the next turn of the page. Some sections are expected to raise several eyebrows (both eyebrows in a single face at that) but will surely melt more hearts. With its curiosity-inducing foreshadowing, City of Ashes provides a satisfying piece of the puzzle of the search for the justification to the answer almost all readers of the novel already know.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

On Novels and Movies: The Mortal Instruments - City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and Unique Features & Constantin Film

(In which I tried to hit two birds with one blog post.)

***

We are in an ever-changing world of changes. One day, we were texting on noisy keypads. The next we are drooling over a fan-made video of a smartphone with keyboard and screen projection features. One day we were idolizing wholesome actors and actresses. The next, we wonder at their odd fashion sense and even odder dance moves. One day I was contented with reading historical fiction. Last week I lost some sleep for a gothic romance.             

That was rather an abrupt transition. But at least you get the picture.

Going back to that change-related introduction, as a reader I personally make it a point to read the novel from which a novel-turned-movie was based for the sheer assurance that I won’t awkwardly gape at the cinemas and bog my companion with questions regarding plot, or more embarrassingly, the script. So I had purchased my boxed set of Hunger Games before the movie was out. And I had read the first three books of the Percy Jackson series before I decided not to watch the Sea of Monsters. But for the movie adaptation of the City of Bones, the first of Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series, I put off the reading because the trailer was exciting. 

But unfortunately, not all changes of hearts, or sudden lapse of judgment, or sudden disobedience to personal practices, happen to end up very positively.

The novel’s motion picture counterpart starring Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower is set in a modern New York City where Clary Fray (Lily Collins) lives the life of an ordinary teenager with her mom Jocelyn (Lena Heady), and her mom’s friend Luke Garroway (Aidan Turner). And when we picture out ordinary, we mean teenagers doing the stuff that basically make them happy (which, to Clary, happen to be painting and spending time with her bestfriend Simon [Robert Sheehan]), being confused with things that they do and occasionally having an argument with their parents, primarily because of the weird things that teenagers like Clary do. But Jocelyn has good enough reasons to be worried, though.

Clary’s ordinary life gets to a halt when she sees a trio of teenagers kill a man in a bar one night when she’s hanging out with Simon. Unfortunately, she seems to be the only one who sees them and she, for a time, believes she’s gone insane. From then on, Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower) appears and makes her feel even more scared. What’s worse, she realizes she’s been drawing a symbol and she thinks that it has something to do with her being the only one who can see people like Jace, and other creatures. She then learns that Jace is a demon slayer called Shadowhunter and that Clary can see him because she is not a mundane, or ordinary human. During their conversation, Clary receives a phone call from her mom warning her not to go home. Just as she asks for details, she hears terrible growling sounds and the line goes dead.

When Jocelyn officially gets missing, Clary accepts Jace’s offer to take her to the Institute. When they find out that a certain Valentine kidnaps Jocelyn and that she hid the Mortal Cup, Clary seeks Jace’s help, as well as the sibling tandem of Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle Lightwood (Jemima West), and Simon to bring her mother back. In the process, she learns the main reason why she can see the Shadowhunters, the great power of the Mortal Cup and who she really is. But unfortunately still, changes don’t seem to be friendly even for a movie heroine.

What’s good about the movie was primarily Lily Collins. Seriously. I liked her in Mirror, Mirror and she’s more adorable in this movie. Although she could use a bit more of novel-Clary’s sarcasm and wit. Jamie Campbell Bower, on the other hand, (as I keep on telling anyone who cares to ask about my take on the movie’s main characters), was dashing in his first appearance in the murder in the pub scene. But his charm seems to dry out the moment he took off his hood. But, surprisingly, he regained that charm in the next hour –and-so of the film, especially with those longing looks. But I’d definitely take the novel-Jace anytime. Campbell, I believe, lacks the ego and sexy rudeness that Clare described in her novel. 

What’s not so good about the movie is the same problem almost all movies based on novels suffered from – time constraints. The novel was a complicated mix of folklore, biblical allusions and character histories that 500 pages gave justice to. Converting that to a live action version composed of only a couple of hours is a terrible gamble. While watching the movie – and with no literary background at that – I seriously had to suspend whatever doubt and disbelief I had in my mind just to keep holding on to the plot, which didn’t make sense in most parts. What were left in the original 500-page story were dead ends and unexplained phenomena, simplified complications resulting to confusion and a love triangle made cheesy by the lack of the original and necessary weight of conflict. In the end, what really stuck was that the kissing scene at the greenhouse has been done in almost all Pinoy romantic soap operas and movies and that Johann Sebastian Bach was a Shadowhunter. (I swear I always had to fight laughing out loud whenever I recall the hidden Marks on Bach’s arms and neck in his portrait.)

Oh those, and the amazing soundtrack that literally sucks the life out of my phone. 


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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Analysis of The House Behind the Weeping Cherry by Ha Jin

(In which love is the one to blame . . . again.)

***

Ha Jin, just like other writer-immigrants in the United States, write about his people with a socialist perspective, especially focusing on the social conditions in the setting and its effect on the characters. In The House Behind the Weeping Cherry, Ha Jin once again weaved a story of “immigration blues” – a glimpse in the life of foreigners in a country promising a “greener pasture”.

Wanren, a Chinese man who worked in a garment factory ironing clothes, lived in an apartment where three other Chinese female tenants (Lili, Nana and Huong) worked as prostitutes. He used to have a roommate. But after discovering what the women do for a living and realizing that they also brought clients to the apartment, he decided to move out. The story unfolds with Wanren worrying about the possible increase of his rent due to the loss of a roommate. He couldn’t leave the apartment and sacrifice its convenience since it’s near the city and his workplace. Besides, he has grown comfortable with the girls and learned to see them not through their job description. She has grown especially fond of Huong. 

To be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable about that, either, but I had grown used to the women, and especially liked Huong, a twiggy Vietnamese in her early twenties, whose parents had migrated to Cholon from China three decades ago, when Saigon fell and the real-estate market there became affordable. Also, I was new to New York, and at times it was miserable to be alone. (Ha Jin, 2008)

The introduction generally presented the common problem of a Chinese immigrant – or any immigrant for that matter – in the United States: lodging. In an urban setting, looking for a place to live poses a lot of conflicts, be it financial or convenience. This part of the story also provides an insight as regards to the reason why people stay in a certain place. In the case of Wanren, aside form the financial issues involved, he also considers loneliness. It is also a manifestation of the cohesiveness of Asians. Mrs. Chen, the manager of the apartment, was also Chinese. Immigrants, no matter how independent they were, tend to stay where their people stay; perhaps as a source of Maslow’s idea of security and belongingness. 

The story progresses as Mrs. Cheng told Wanren that he could still pay the same rent on the condition that he drive the girls when they meet their clients outside. She said Johns (the term used to refer to the male clients) would be more careful in dealing the girls if they have “a driver at their disposal”. He agreed to take it, again clinging on to the idea that he’s not supposed to leave the house on the grounds of convenience. However, this changed his status from a detached tenant to a more involved companion to the girls. But he still managed to keep his relationship with them friendly, even to Huong, to avoid conflict. 

“I’m single because I’m too poor to get married,” I confessed.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” Huong asked.

“Not yet.”
“So would you go with me if I wasn’t a sex worker?” Nana asked, her oval face expressionless.
“Your taste is too expensive for me,” I said, laughing, though it was only partly a joke.
They all laughed. Nana continued, “Come on, I’ll give you a big discount.”
“I can’t take advantage of you like that,” I said.
That cracked them up again. I meant what I said, though. If I slept with one of them, I might have to do the same with the other two, spending a fortune. Then it would be hard to keep a balanced relationship with all of them. . . 

Through his listening to the girls’ conversation, he found out more about their jobs and their clients. He got a different view of what they do. Their life was lucrative, yes. But the risk that goes with their job is daunting too. So Wanren thought of giving Huong an option so she would not have to work in the dirty sex business. 

Our factory advertised for some sewers to replace the ones we’d lost, and one evening I brought a flyer back to the house. Lili was busy with a client in her room, but at dinner I showed it to Huong and Nana and said I would try to help them get the jobs if they were interested.

“How much can a sewer make?” Nana asked.

“About three hundred a week,” I said.
“My, so little—not for me.”
Huong broke in, “Does your boss use people without a work permit?”
“There are some illegal workers at the factory. I can put in a word for you.”
“If only I could sew!”
Her words made my heart leap. I went on, “It’s not that hard to learn. There’re sewing classes downtown. It takes three weeks to graduate.” . . .
 “I still owe the Croc a big debt, or I would’ve quit selling my flesh long ago,” Huong muttered. . . 

Not all of them were prostitutes because of dire need of money, however. It was only Huong, for she needs to pay The Croc, the boss of an illegal syndicate behind the prostitution business. Her debt was the reason why Huong cannot leave her job despite the danger. But she had enough inspiration that would urge her to quit selling herself – she likes Wanren, too. She told him when he confessed that he wanted to be with her. What actually hindered her was the idea that before she can be a sewer, she needs experience and training. And she doesn’t know where to get the money to pay The Croc. Even though Wanren offered to shoulder one thousand dollars every month, she still has to pay one thousand more to cover the two thousand dollars she needs to pay every month. And on top of all that, she still needs to study sewing. 

The situation mirrors the conflict each individual faces when confronted by poverty – the choice of doing something illegal for the sake of survival and the desire to follow one’s conscience and experience hunger, thus creating a dilemma. Knowing that both their financial resources were insufficient, Huong and Wanren decide to deal with the problem in a diplomatic way.

. . . I suggested that we speak to the Croc in person and see if there was another way of paying him. Before she went back to the house, she kissed me on the cheek and said, “Wanren, I would do anything for you. You are a good man.”

However, the Croc is a typical gangster as elucidated by films and literature set in the urban community. He refused to listen to their plea and threatened them if they ever dared to defy him. At this point, readers were confronted with questions as regards to what their next move would be. Huong could continue being a prostitute and wait until she paid her debt fully. She still owed him eighteen thousand dollars, which meant she would have to stay for at least nine months. But during those times, she cannot be with Wanren. Or she could quit her job and get sewing classes so she can live decently while being with Wanren. But she couldn’t pay the Croc that way. 

The conclusion was surprising, albeit not in a very delightful way. But it was understandable since the characters were left with no other choice than to flee. 

So we decided to leave as soon as possible. She had some cash on hand, about two thousand dollars, while I still had fourteen hundred in my savings account. The next morning on the way to work, I stopped at Cathay Bank and took out all the money. . . 
Fortunately, there was no outcall that night. When the other two women had gone to bed, Huong and I slipped out of the house. I carried her suitcase while she lugged my bag. The weeping cherry blurred in the haze, its crown edgeless, like a small hill. A truck was rumbling down Main Street as we strode away, arm in arm, without looking back.

More questions will be generated in the minds of the readers this time as regards to how far they could go hiding. But more disturbing than this was the fact that Wanren and Huong’s way of “solving” the problem made their world even smaller. This shows the sad facets of human decision making. Escape seems to be the best way out in situations like these. But then again, these were the experiences of immigrants in a country where they rely on no one but themselves. Huong had to decide to stop selling her body for her family who doesn’t seem to care. And Wanren had to cut connections with his family, too - for their sake and Huong's. These, among others, were the results of their previous decisions. It was tempting to question their reason, or say that they are too overwhelmed by their love that they become blind to everything else. But when all hope seems to be lost, are people supposed to be so stubborn not to cling to that one thing that seems to beautify all else?

Ha Jin. (2008, April 7). The House Behind a Weeping Cherry. New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Mentor’s Musing: On Evaluations and Anonymous Commenters


(In which one gets a taste of how it feels to be a political candidate.)

***

Every semester, teachers in the university I work in receive a form summarizing how their students rate their performance. There is also another longer section showing students’ anonymous comments, which may be of any topic from your voice to the way you dress or your inability to be absent from the class.

I started teaching in the second semester of SY 2011-2012 and have so far received three evaluation forms rated as superior, outstanding and superior, respectively. What really baffles me is the section with the comments. I won’t be hypocritical. I love reading positive comments more than negative ones. The negative comments make you want to come to your class with a new set of students with a vengeance they are not aware of, but they are somehow lucky since your vengeance is to prove yourself better than what they might think of you. But the positive comments are what really drive you to keep on doing what you’re doing since “haters gonna hate” anyway. It’s one of the biggest pats on the back a teacher gets, albeit printed on paper. 

But after an hour of contemplating about the 25% negative comments (It’s just an estimate. And a probably erroneous estimate at that. It might have been larger.) on my form, I realized that positive comments certainly drive me. But they don’t change me the way negative comments do. Compliments make me appreciate what kind of mentor I am but sometimes I’m scared they might make me stagnant. If truth be told, the criticisms really make me want to show what I’m truly made of.

Some of the criticisms I received include the following. (Note: I couldn’t remember the exact words since I’ve signed and submitted the form. The words are mine. But the idea’s theirs.)
1. She’s so mean.
2. She’s masungit.
3. She has no teaching strategies and motivation.
4. She gives more activities than my MAJOR subjects. And she gives lower grades.
5. She speaks too fast I can’t understand her.

And so to redeem my pride, please allow me to explain myself.
1. I’m sarcastic. And I’m worse if you don’t have a sense of humor.

2. Am I?

3. I have to assume that this one comes from a Technical Writing class, which is kind of frustrating since I explained to them that our focus was writing and not lecture. Where in the world will you insert a perfectly-crafted lesson adhering to a perfectly-crafted lesson plan when you only have 4 months to write a research paper? Somebody help me!

4. This one’s rather frustrating too. I believe my performance as a professor, which relies heavily on the level of academic freedom I am allowed to practice, does not depend on how other professors practice academic freedom. I hope these kids realize someday that the lessons I presented to them were presented differently (for good or for bad) in other classes. In other words, I adjust myself to what they can give. The lessons are directed by their speed, not mine. I don’t see any fairness in comparing my class to other classes.

5. Every semester, I tell my class that I am flexible. That I do take suggestions and I don’t care to repeat. In fact, I do repeat questions and statements several times especially when their facial expressions betray their “Yes!” as a response to the ubiquitous classroom question “Do you understand?” I like it when they tell their problem the moment it arises, not in the comfort of their anonymity shielded by computer cubicles.

But then I know my reasons are, just like what an old friend told me, the same “lame excuses every bitter professor says”. Let me say that this “bitterness” ends with this post. I do not wish to be obsessed with people’s perception of me and share the fate of MaĆ®tre Hauchecome from Guy de Maupassant’s The Piece of String. 

It’s just that, we all deserve to be heard. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Little More Time On You by N’Sync


(In which I shameless display my weirdness once again.)

***

There are songs that really mean us no harm. They are oftentimes beautiful, catchy, easy to sing and is popularized by aesthetically and vocally-blessed individuals. But there are ones that play my heartstrings really strangely despite their innocuousness. The latest addition to this bizarre music categorization is not even a latest song – it’s from a 90s boy band!

My ears took its first auditory glimpse (if there is even such a thing) of this smooth love song in the unlikeliest of places – the gym. You see, it’s a really liberal gym where you’re allowed to have your music player plugged to the speaker so everybody gets to experience your personal selection of workout songs. Apparently, the person whose iPhone was the featured player of the night has a totally different way of motivating himself to lift weights. 

After the first verse and the chorus I was all but revved up to do my next routine. I slumped on the nearest seat and looked up at the owner of the doggone iPhone; a muscular, fair-skinned lad who could immediately pass as a dead ringer for Paolo Ballesteros.

“Who sang that?” I asked. He looked at me and blinked. I often wonder why he always seemed to move in slow motion.

“Guess,” was all he replied. 

“I can’t guess.”

“Listen well. It’s easy.” For a moment I was convinced the weirdness of that conversation must have something to do with him being in slow-mo. After realizing that I’m not really born to be the next Madame Auring, he said “Can’t you really recognize that voice? It’s Justine Timberlake’s. It’s N’Sync.”

“Oh,” was all I could say. I myself couldn’t believe I didn’t recognize them. But I wasn’t born to be the next pop music genius either so I forgave myself. To make up for the initially incompetent reply, I inhaled deeply and put on my most charming Thinker expression.

“I think the song was cool. But there’s something in it that makes me not really like it,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s not their best song for me,” the local celebrity look-alike responded.

“Let me guess. Is it I Drive Myself Crazy?”

He flashed his signature grin and I thought: Don’t tell me this emotional bunch of muscles actually have that song on this playlist too!

So I moved back to my semi-faux philosophical self and continued to let out a philosophical brain fart.

“Sure it makes someone feel special. What with the lengthy title and all. But don’t you think you really have to consciously suspend disbelief since it defies the universally-accepted proposition that all men are created equal?”

When he looked at me quizzically like I’m the strangest thing since KFC Cheesetop burger, I knew my statement's fate was sealed. I chose my finale.

“Forget it.” 


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3 by Marvel and Disney


(In which interesting lessons could be learned from unlikely sources.)

***

Like The Batman Trilogy, I wasn’t able to catch the first two Iron Man movies in cinemas. Unlike The Dark Knight Rises, however, I was able to relish Iron Man 3’s glory in the big screen. But that won’t mean this post could give the movie justice. Just saying.

Over the months during which several Iron Man 3 trailers were released, movie goers got filled with questions, mostly why’s, such as “Why the hell is Tony Stark bloody and his suit in bad shape in that snowy evening?”, “Why is Pepper Potts in that fiery battlefield and wearing . . . a black bra?”, “Why doesn’t that pedantic Mandarin look Chinese?”, and the very disturbing “Why does The Mandarin say ‘You’ll never see me coming’ that way?”

Of course the movie answered all those questions, and then some. But this post won’t.

The third installment of Marvel’s top-grossing superhero movie opens up with insomniac Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) monologue and a flashback of  a 1999 conference in Switzerland, back during his “genius, multibillionaire playboy” days. He met a very desperate scientist offering a partnership in a project, to which his response was that the guy wait for him in the rooftop. But being the man that he was before being Iron Man, he never showed up.

And then comes the current, post-Avengers life of Tony, still fueled with his obsession for his suits which drives Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) crazy. Unfortunately for Tony, there are more things that drive him crazy: his inability to sleep, his anxiety attacks due to that New York incident and the suave Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) making a move on Pepper. 

Aldrich Killian is introduced as a rich scientist who “shows his big brain” to Pepper (as Happy puts it) via a hologram live feed, stating that its revolutionary scientific technology would enable scientist to see how the brain reacts to anything that happens to the human body. Although astonished, Pepper refused to take the project, saying that the technology could be highly weaponized. What she saw was just the tip of the iceberg.

And then there was The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist who can mysteriously bypass national television to air his creepy penchant for lecturing and displaying his terrorism acts in various parts of the world, along with his threat that “America will pay”.

And it somehow did. During the bombing of the Chinese Theater, one of Tony’s friends was badly hurt and suffered from a coma. In his efforts to avenge him, Tony releases a press statement to The Mandarin, and adds his home address (so he can easily find him), resulting to an attack that caused Tony’s headquarters, along with his many suits, to turn into scrap metal heading deep into the sea. 

After this, the real action starts.

Iron Man 3 actually faced a lot of challenges in connection with its two predecessors. For one thing, Iron Man was a hit because of the transformation Tony has undergone through from being a man who profits from wars to a man who anonymously protects the people. It was fun seeing how Tony becomes Iron Man. But there could only be one movie showing the initial challenges of a civilian-turning-hero, unfortunately. In Iron Man 2, Tony again transforms from a noble superhero to a panic-stricken weakling. Bereft of anonymity and fearing for the end of his days, he continuously makes a spectacle of himself, forcing Rhodes to take on his suit and his duties. 

Apparently, Iron Man 3 has to strive harder to avoid a gradually tiring plot to prove its worth. And it did; if its hugely mind-blowing special effects and $345.4 million overseas for its first week alone and is expected to rake $600 million by May 5 (which is way higher than the combination of the entire Iron Man 1 and 2) are enough proof. But no matter, Robert Downey Jr. surely is still smiling. Why, he’s the 50 million-dollar Avenger!

Anyway, of course, Iron Man 3 also showcases transformation. But that’s for you to find out. Hint: It involves a bullied kid, a limited edition Dora the Explorer watch and some fireworks. And by the way, about the incomprehensible monologue during the opening, the explanation will be found at the post credit video. Yes, there is a post-credit video. And it comes after its tremendously lengthy credits. But that’s fine. Because the last sentence will surely put your (semi) Marvel-fan mode on. 

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Friday, April 12, 2013

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger



(In which there are things that will always matter more.) 


***


I have a habit of writing the day I started reading a book (in complete date, day and time) and the day I finished it (in the same exact specifics). After finishing The Devil Wears Prada, I wrote at the last page that I unfortunately never got the chance to write the start date for this book, and that it might have been sitting in my Currently Reading list for four or five months. Awful, I know. But let's just all try to swear by "It's better late than never" and move on.

Another grownup rule people try to live by is that there should be a balance between life outside and inside the workplace. Sounds pretty doable. The only problem that could actually arise is when work somehow is a person's gateway to life. Which is exactly Andrea Sachs' dilemma.

Fresh out of college, Andrea dreams of getting published as a writer in no less than The New Yorker. But the requisite for the position includes years of experience and networks.

Her first job is to be a junior assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor-in-chief of Runway magazine. During her interview, she was conditioned that she was just very lucky to work for Miranda, one of the most powerful icons in the fashion industry; and that working for only a year for her will guarantee her passport to any magazine she wants to work for afterwards. After calculating how definitely easier it is to work for one year in Runway compared to several years in other magazines, she decided it is worth a try. Nevermind that she couldn't care less about fashion than what the next person had for breakfast. But, hey! It might just really be a job "a million girls will die for"!

Working for Runway really turns out to be an awesome shocker for her. What with all the fashionably dressed, super tall and impossibly skinny models clad in the latest and even not-yet-available-in-stores designer clothes and everything. She also wonders how these people could survive in greens and Diet Coke. And most importantly, how simply everyone could just spend every single day working for the demon assigned to rule over the hell that was Runway.

Miranda Priestly proves herself not only as a powerful lady but the most eccentric, rude, unhappy and downright evil boss of the millenium. Andrea spends at least 6 days a week doing unimaginable tasks, from tracing a nonexistent Asian fusion restaurant or antique shop to running errands for Miranda's utterly spoiled twins, all the while keeping her eye on the prize and counting every single month. 

But just when her 365 days of hell was just a couple of months away, Andrea is faced not only with the fact that Miranda will bark on her phone early morning to ask her yet another eccentric order but with the realization that her bestfriend is on the verge of being an alcoholic, that her parents haven't seen her in months and that her relationship with her three-year boyfriend is turning the wrong way. 

And in the middle of an impossibly inhuman juggling act, Andrea makes a decision to catch all she can handle before everything else shatters to the ground in one, rather surprising swoop.

Enlightening and upfront refreshing, Lauren Weisberger's narration bursts with sarcasm and wit. Her portrayal of characters are relevant and timely. Andrea is the epitome of a modern working girl's dilemma. Miranda a (possible) victim of a corporate vicious cycle.

The novel was a fun and contemporary Faustian bargain. But fortunately, Weisberger offers a way out, albeit an expensive one. 

Currently reading:









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... But For Jake


(In which a movie from years ago redeemed me.)


***


I see golden sand dunes
And hand-beaded sheer fabric
Dancing to the tune 
Of wind waves
Behind my eyelids.

Tambourines, strings 
and flutes reverberate 
Alanis Morisette whisper the sound track 
of my midnight fantasies.

My midnight fantasies
Of iron-clad, sword-wielding, long-haired god.
And Alanis Morisette whispering in falsetto.
And I was glad.
That this time
The song's not for you...

April 11