Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Notes on the Oscars

[Note: I intended to post this entry last night, but just as I finished typing it up, the powers that be decided to cut off my internet connection. Hmmph.]

As tempting as it is, I can't make a genuine assessment on who was rightly awarded last night and who was robbed. There were Oscars awarded in 24 categories, and in not a single one of those categories have I seen all the nominated films (not even Visual Effects or Animated Feature Film). But, being the dork I am, I humbly offer my hodge podge assortment of observations and assessments of the show.

The people that are awarded these golden statues are supposed to represent the very best of the entertainment industry, and it is oh so very disappointing when they get up on stage to accept their award in front of a billion people, and so miserably fail to entertain. There's hardly an excuse for setting your new Oscar down on the floor and grumpily pulling out a scrap of paper with a long list of names, like Alan Arkin did when he won Best Supporting Actor. The best acceptance speeches are the ones that are teary eyed and spontaneous like Jennifer Hudson, or self-assured with a message like Al Gore... heck, I even prefer Helen Mirren's cheesy and over-rehearsed monologue.

Speaking of Al Gore, it's awesome that he got to speak up on stage at the Oscars (twice!) and poke fun at people that were hoping he would seize the moment to announce he was running for president. But no, he took the moment to spread his message on the importance of doing something about global warming, a cause that he clearly cares about very deeply. I did see An Inconvenient Truth yesterday... I don't know if it's good as far as documentaries go, but Al Gore does well to convince you that it is important. By the way, that guy has gotten quite portly since we last saw him.

This isn't related to the show itself, but I have to mention that RPN-9 has got to be one of the worst television channels on the face of the earth. Apparently unsatisfied with the number of advertisements they can cram into a commercial break, the have decided to actually air commercials during the show. This means that two seconds after they come back from a commercial break, they switch back to a Casino Filipino ad that replaces 30 seconds of the actual show. That is such bullcrap, and has to be illegal in some sense. Anyway...

Martin Scorsese is not one of the directors I particularly care about. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are exactly the kind of "great" movies that unfortunately I just don't "get". But the guy is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest movie directors out there, and the fact that he's never been awarded an Oscar before is a blow to the credibility of the whole ceremony. Also, unlike most of his movies, I found The Departed hugely entertaining. "This is the first picture I made with a plot," Scorsese once said. Maybe that was the ingredient he was missing all these years. I'm glad he finally got what he's due.

And Scorsese was presented the award by no less than three of the biggest directors ever! George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Copolla... those are exactly the three directors of my personal three favorite movies ever, as you can see from my Blogger profile. It made me fear that the mere presence of these four great directors at once on the stage of the Kodak Theater would rip open a tear in the space-time continuum and give birth to a new dimension of overwhelming movie awesomeness.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not much of a reader

It's sad to think about it, but I'm not nearly as interested in reading books as I used to be. Blame the internet, and television, and video games, and society in general-- my attention span has been worn down to a nub. I procrastinate on the internet and actually need to set aside time to watch TV shows and movies. There are barely any occasions in my spare time to sneak in video games, much less books.

It was in third grade that I read my first big novel, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, at a time when the rest of my classmates were still reading Goosebumps and The Boxcar Children. I relished in pride at the thought that I was by far the intellectual one. These days I guess I'm still read more than the average person, but less than the average "reader". I don't get excited by much else than Harry Potter (which, of course, I will be buying on the morning of its release date in July).

Earlier today I was at the National Bookstore at SM Cebu, passing the time before watching An Inconvenient Truth (I'll get to that in another blog entry), when I came across their best-seller list. I was shocked* to realize that I had actually read four of the top ten best-selling fiction books. Then again, it gives me a twang of shame to admit that they were the four novels of Dan Brown.

*Not really shocked. Just mildly taken aback.

Monday, February 19, 2007


In the Stephen King book Hearts in Atlantis, the old guy tells the young boy "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once". I actually didn't care much for that book (or the movie that was based on it), but that is the quote that stuck with me. I assume the same principle applies for movies, so I kept that quote in mind when I watched Babel last February 10. (Yes, more than a week ago. Slow to blog am I!)

I have a weakness for these types of movies. You know the type-- movies that aren't necessarily entertaining, but they attract good press because they're likely to win awards. The Oscars coming up next week fueled my interest in this award-winning stuff even more. I watch these movies well aware that I'm likely to be bored stiff and miss the point entirely, but I feel almost obliged to sit through them because they seem somehow important. I decided to go to the movies and watch Babel alone rather than drag anyone along with me, out of concern that they would be bored to tears.

Thankfully, Babel is far from being a boring movie. "Entertaining" is perhaps the wrong word to use... riveting is more appropriate. Every scene of the movie, even when nothing particularly important seems to be happening, is shot in a way that carries such a dramatic weight to it. The movie is nearly 2.5 hours long, but I didn't feel the urge to look at my watch even once.

The movie's plot is made up of a bunch of separate but loosely interconnected threads, mostly revolving around the accidental shooting of an American tourist in Morocco. There's the Japanese businessman who gave away his rifle, the Moroccan hunting guide that sold the rifle to a farming family, the father that lent the rifle to his sons, the boy who tested the bullet's range on a passing bus, the American tourists that were in that bus, their American children back in California, the Mexican nanny taking care of the kids, and her Mexican family back in Mexico. Oh, and the Japanese businessman has a deaf-mute teenage daughter.

I came out of the screening fully convinced that I had watched a great movie. Not just a good movie, a great movie! But when I woke up the following morning and thought about it, I remember thinking that I had watched a great movie, but I couldn't put my finger on what the movie was actually about. Yes, they're a bunch of interconnected mini-plots, but there didn't seem to be any focus or underlying theme that tied them all together. For a while I thought the theme was something like "Everything is connected", and that does make sense for a while. But what was the point of the deaf-mute Japanese girl's story? Her tale seems to be the least connected to any of the other subplots of the movie, but it gets a large chunk of screen time!

It wasn't until I checked around the internet for Babel-related commentary that things finally seemed to click (and I smugly told myself that some part of my mind knew that that's what the movie was about all along). It's not merely "Everything is connected"... the gunshot was merely an excuse to exhibit all these stories, not the reason.

The theme of the movie is that, despite everyone being human and having the same basic human emotions and instincts, simple cultural differences get in the way of people understanding each other. The Moroccan kids made a foolish accident in shooting the bus, but the American government was convinced it was terrorism. The Mexican nanny means well but she's treated with suspicion because she's an illegal immigrant. The deaf-mute Japanese girl was desperate for affection and connection to another human being, but because of her disability people treat her like a monster. Though completely disconnected from the rest of the stories, that Japanese story is actually the most potent of all.

There are seven languages used in the movie, and the majority of the movie is not in English (subtitles are used), but surprisingly I was hardly aware that most of the time I was watching a foreign language movie. The movie presents every culture in the most human way possible by including culturally-transcendent behavior that speaks directly to audiences regardless of language. It all fits into the theme that no matter what language you speak, when stripped down to the core we can communicate with raw human instinct.

The more I think about it, the more the movie continues to reveal its secrets and its brilliance to me. I'll take that as a sign that it really is a great movie (though I wish it didn't require some external research before I actually "got it").

Of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture, I've only seen Babel and The Departed. I'd really like to see the other three so I could have a proper opinion on which one is best, but I don't think any of them showed in local theaters. I will still be rooting for The Departed to win, but I would not be at all upset if the award went to Babel.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Plataporma, hindi paporma!

Here's an ironic bit of news from the Inquirer:
Bets dared: ‘Present platforms, not rhetoric’

MANILA, Philippines -- A handful of demonstrators from the Sanlakas (One Force) party list picketed the offices of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Tuesday and called on candidates to present platforms instead of rhetoric.
Sounds good so far, right? More substance and less meaningless nonsense! That is exactly what we need! But read on...
“Plataporma, hindi paporma [Platforms, not posturing],” they chanted during the picket held a day after the deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy for senatorial candidates, most of whom tried to outdo each other in drawing the most attention.

The demonstrators reworded “Boom tarat-tarat,” a catchy tune popularized in a noontime show thus: “Boom corrupt, corrupt. Kadiri [Revolting], kadiri, boom, boom, boom.”
"Boom corrupt corrupt" is not substance, it is absolutely meaningless. These guys are excreting the exact same flavor of bullshit that they claim to be campaigning against.

Friday, February 9, 2007

WTF moments

Sometimes I find myself in situations so bizarre that I suspect there's a hidden camera filming me, capturing my hilariously oblivious reaction for some reality TV show.

1. This morning while I was walking down a quiet road on my way to work, I saw an old lady that seemed to have been frozen in place. She was just standing completely still as a statue there, all alone and staring forward at absolutely nothing. I thought to myself: Was she asleep? Was she dead? No, that can't be right, you cannot be either of those things and remain upright. I just kept to my own business and walked past her... when I reached the end of that road I looked back and she was still there, unmoving. I wonder what that was about.

2. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a blind guy at the entrance of IT Park. I knew he was blind because he was wearing sunglasses and was using a cane to feel his way around-- you can't get much more stereotypically blind than that. Untypical for a blind guy, however, he seemed to be completely alone in the city beside a busy road. A couple of other people noticed how strange this was too, and they stood by watching to see what would happen. This situation could easily lead to disaster, and I was in no hurry, so I stood by observing the blind guy too. He made his way forward on the sidewalk, very slowly, one step at a time and using his cane to make sure he doesn't bump into anything. Then he reached the corner of a road intersection-- and he was about to cross it! Some guy rushed over to him and helped him cross the street. Whew.

3. There was this other time... A workmate of mine asked to borrow my ruler to check how many 1/16 of an inch there are in a ruler. He actually started counting and then I said "12 times 16?", and he thought for a while and said 192, then gave back the ruler and left. Dude, I don't care if you happen to stumble upon this blog entry... what the hell were you thinking?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Frappucino for the Wookie

Paolo and I went to Starbucks in IT Park. The girl at the counter asked for my name to put on the cup, and I said "Chewbacca". She asked me to spell it out for her, and I did. A few minutes later: "Tall green tea Frappucino for, uh, Chewbacca...?".

Ahh, the simple pleasures...

This picture, by the way, is pure awesome.

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Malapascua weekend

Considering my self-deprecating image of myself as a guy that wastes away his free time on the internet, I've been quite the frequent traveller lately. My past 6 weekends have been spent at 5 different places. Bacolod, Cebu, Cebu again, Valencia, Moalboal... and last weekend I went with a large bunch of officemates on an outing to Malapascua Island, a tiny tiny island off the northern tip of Cebu.

It really is a minuscule island. Based on the Google Maps satellite image, I'd say it is about 1/10th the size of Boracay. It's a lot more remote too-- the dizzying boat ride going there took more than an hour. Standing on the beach in Malapascua, mainland Cebu is just barely visible on the horizon. They say the island could be eventually developed into another Boracay-like tourist destination in Central Visayas. It certainly is beautiful enough.

The place could benefit from more development though. The port at the northern tip of Cebu was quite primitive. Because of the shallow and rocky waters, the pump boat had to stay far from the shore. The passengers have to ride a much smaller boat to get there five at a time, then make a very dangerous transfer to the larger boat. Those Korean tourists must have been terrified.

There were some nice-looking resorts on the island, but we just rented a few relatively modest cottages (such lowly software engineers are we). Still, it was paradise compared to the sad shack I stayed in last week. The beach is beautiful and clean, with fine light-colored sand. Almost deceivingly clean, in fact-- the ocean floor was painfully peppered with spikey rocks and corals, at least at the area that we went swimming in. I think Malapascua is advertised more as a tourist site for diving rather than swimming anyway.

It takes half a day to get there from Cebu City and half a day to get back, so staying there for just one night (as we did) is not very practical. I had fun nonetheless, and I can now say I have been to 8 of our 7,107 islands.