Sunday, February 28, 2010

Up in the Air

For most hardworking Americans, a job is more than just a means of earning the money to get by, it's a part of an identity. Take a look at a random Wikipedia biography-- more often than not, right there in the first sentence is a name, date of birth, nationality, and occupation. In fact, see my profile blurb right here on this blog. Take away a person's job, and they lose a part of themselves.

In Up in the Air, Ryan Bingham is a person whose underappreciated job it is to takes away other people jobs. More specifically, he's hired be companies with bosses too busy and too cowardly to fire people themselves. Says director Jason Reitman: "If you're going to make a movie about a guy who fires people for a living and you still want to like him, that actor better be damn charming and I don't think there’s a more charming actor alive than George Clooney". I can't improve on that.

The other half of his profession is as a sort of life coach, and he's invited to give motivational speeches to give people's lives some direction-- except that his philosophy is to abandon all commitment. Relationships hold you down. Physical possessions hold you down. The less you have, the more you can move, and the more places you can go.

You can see how these two jobs fit comfortably in the same person.

There are two other important characters in this movie. One an ambitious young coworker who pushes a plan to fire people by video conferencing. Another is a casual recurring fling that Ryan fires up from time to time. Without going into the details, in their way they each press him to face the question of what's more important, how far you can spread your branches or how deep you dig your roots?

The movie exposes something I will hopefully never have the misfortune of experiencing: The stark uncertainty that people feel when the rug is pulled out from under them, and they suddenly realize their vulnerability. What can they turn to? Who can they turn to? What is there in life that's really real?

There's a lovely song, also titled "Up in the Air" (listen to it) that plays over the second half of the end credits. It drives home the significance of the movie's title. It's really too bad that it's not eligible for Best Original Song because it's that beautiful, it's honest, it deserves some recognition.
I'm up in the air,
Choices drifting by me everywhere
And I can't find the one
That would help me do the work I've left undone,
'Cause I'm up in the air.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Serious Man

"These questions that are bothering you, Larry, maybe they're like a toothache. Feel them for a while, then they go away."

Larry Gopnik is a physics professor who explains something to one of his failing students: "You can't really understand the physics without understanding the math... that math tells how it really works, that's the real thing". It's a perspective that makes sense only within the walls of a school. Real life is never as orderly as math.

A Serious Man, the latest movie by the esteemed Coen brothers, continues a theme explored by their previous movie, Burn After Reading. I use the word "theme" almost ironically here, as the point of that movie was its lack of theme. The difference here is that Larry has had enough of it, enough of the unbearable weight of life's meaninglessness. How does one make sense of anything when you life your life as a serious man, but nothing seems to add up?

Larry's life is beset by a series of misfortunes and uncanny coincidences. His wife suddenly announces he's leaving him for a family friend. His autistic brother has a run-ins with the law. Both he and his wife's lover have unrelated car accidents in the same day. During a consultation his lawyer drops dead for no reason at all.

Well of course there was a reason for the lawyer dying. It was a heart attack. But did it really have to happen right there? What the heck does it all mean? After watching enough movies you develop a sense of things, and you come to accept that if it happens in the movie it must happen for a reason. That's just the way things flow, and it's comfortable and enjoyable and makes sense. This film doesn't exactly go against the usual movie flow, but aggressively ignores it, until you recognize that the real secret to life is there is no big secret at all.

Friday, February 26, 2010

An Education

"'Action is character', our English teacher says. I think it means that if we never did anything, we wouldn't be anybody. And I never did anything before I met you."

An Education, as the title hints at, is an unabashed bildungsroman(!) featuring a girl named Jenny who is seduced in more ways than one by a man named David. Jenny is a schoolgirl, who is young enough to be called "a schoolgirl". As for David, his age is not mentioned, but the actor portraying him is 38. In any case there is a rule of thumb for these things and these two are well out of each other's range.

David is smooth talking, impossibly charming, even a bit criminal, and it's no surprise that Jenny so willingly gives in to his magnetism. Her parents are the conservative but sensible type that find no place for the silly thoughts of little girls. They want her to study hard and get into Oxford University, and to find success in life the way they know how. David represents an exciting quick escape into a seemingly much larger world.

The title of the movie is An Education, and Jenny is presented with the choice between two distinct paths of it. The long haul of an Oxford education, or David's life of carefree lollygagging.

In the end I'm left with the feeling that the movie doesn't quite come full circle, and doesn't fully answer the questions it poses. Jenny argues passionately that she's only truly experiencing life for the first time thanks to David, freed from the mundanity of the conventional path. And she makes a convincing argument! But then we're blindsided by a twist that turns everything around and seems to nullify all the lessons that came before it, or at least bring them down to earth. I may be missing the point entirely. Or maybe the point is that the point isn't as clean cut as you'd expect.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Inglourious Basterds

Once upon a time, in Nazi-occupied France...

The opening titles of Inglourious Basterds are presented over classical Western music in five mutually incompatible fonts. And I don't know why, but it feels right. Coming from any other director it would probably just be the most pretentious thing. But this is Tarantino, and he doesn't give a shit, and I love it.

The movie opens with Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, notorious "Jew Hunter", arriving at the house of a French dairy farmer suspected of hiding a Jewish family. The conversation is maddeningly polite as he quietly asks to be invited into the home, refuses the offered wine but asks for milk, and asks if he can smoke his pipe. Each sentence magnifies the unspoken tension. There's something in the screenplay in-between the dialogue. You don't know exactly what it is, but you feel it.

I've been trying to figure out about what's the "thing" with Tarantino movies, and I think it's the alluring combination of flippancy and gravity he adds to each scene. There are performances exaggerated to the edge of credibility, bizarre use of music, humor in horrible violence-- all bringing things up to the top, but not quite going over it. It's gloriously entertaining, and not just in a forgettable way, but in a way that reaches inside and demands a place in your memories, oozes with freewheeling power, and demands your respect.

The actual plot of the film is not what's important. It's set during the war, but I'd hardly call it a war movie. Inglourious Basterds belongs to a genre you may have encountered once before, following in the tradition of 300 by taking a historical setting and ripping history to shreds. World War II is perfect for this sort of schtick. The Nazis are such perfect villains.

Yes, the F├╝hrer is in there too, and only Quentin Tarantino could have the audacity to rewrite World War II to give him the sort of ending he deserves.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Up

There is only one animated movie among the ten Best Picture nominees this year, making the awarding of Best Animated Feature nothing more than a formality. And if, by some unearthly act of God or the Devil, it doesn't win Best Animated Feature, something is seriously wrong with this system.

Pixar continues their incredible winning streak, once again affirming that for them perfection is simply routine. I'm happy to report that Up is yet another finely crafted, exceptionally refined film, an instant masterpiece that's sure to stand the test of time. Yawn. If you know Pixar, you know how good it is.

The story is the sort that demands to be taken with a sense of childlike wonder. An elderly widower named Carl flies to South America in a floating house suspended by thousands of helium balloons, fulfilling his wife's childhood dream. What is he going to do when he gets there? Where did he get that much helium? What about the physics of lifting an entire house with balloons? Only by embracing that sensation of wonder can one truly experience this movie.

Up doesn't merely pull at the heartstrings; calling it a tearjerker would be a disservice. It effortlessly sets up the heart and whisks it in ways that only Pixar knows how, all conducted to the melody of a waltz as lovely as I've ever heard. (I just rechecked the list of Oscar nominees-- Best Original Score? Yup, it's in there.)

About halfway through the film we're introduced to a pack of talking dogs, or rather, dogs with translation collars. It's never explained how these scientific marvels came to be. In fact they never even mention it. It's like they came up with the premise and the script, then decided it needs to do more to appeal to kids. Well, they're entertaining enough, but distract the movie from how good it can be.

One last thing: There is something wrong in the way they presented the villain here. All he wanted was to redeem his reputation and get that bird that he's been after for the past 60 years or so. And I wanted him to! I did not want the old man and the kid to stand in his way, and I certainly did not want him to die.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Blind Side

The title and poster suggests a sports movie, and sure enough there are sports to be found, but thankfully it's not about that. The Blind Side is no more about football than Inglourious Basterds is about war.

In the film, Michael Oher is a massive black high school boy, born to a crack mom and a runaway dad, seemingly slow-witted to the point of mental retardation. His IQ is just a little bit higher than Forrest Gump's, he's as big as a bull, and about as lovable as a rock. So it's a real stretch of the imagination to accept that rich white Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Sandra Bullock disguised in a Southern accent) would pick up this silent hulking bear from the street and adopt him into her family. It's a story so domestic and inspirational and Hallmarky that it just has to be based on a true story (it is).

They even got the appearances of the characters so accurate that, when real-life photos are shown along with the end credits, you can tell who everyone is. Reading about the actual true story it does seem like the thing that movies are made of, and the end result is whipped into the rough mold of a movie by employing an endless string of cinematic tropes.

"Is this some kind of white guilt thing?", one of Leigh Anne's rich white friends asks her in what must be, I presume, the movie's attempt to preempt the racism argument. I don't blame her. Apparently there was some controversy over this. After all, it's got the black brutish football player, the black crack whore mother, the black violent drug dealer, even the black snippy low-level bureaucrat-- and of course the upper-class white mother with a heart of gold for her magical negro. Seeing that the movie rather accurately portrays a true story, perhaps it is real life which is racist.

Monday, February 22, 2010

District 9

Avatar is not the only Best Picture nominee this year that is sympathetic to an alien race, portraying humans as the villains except for one empathizing protagonist, one who faces a crisis of identity when made to penetrate the alien society. Also, hopefully without giving away too much, but both these movies end the same way.

District 9 takes place in South Africa where an alien ship seems to have stalled above Johannesburg. The aliens, unlovingly nicknamed "prawns", are extremely hideous but seemingly helpless, and the human race musters just enough goodwill to set up a refugee camp for the poor saps. Just not enough goodwill to treat them like anything but garbage.

Everything I've read about this movie can't help but go on about how it's an allegory for South African apartheid. Luckily(?) I know next to nothing about apartheid so there'll be none of that. No use pretending otherwise.

Our nerdy protagonist is tasked with serving eviction notices to the prawns in their shanties, until an accident turns his hand into a sort of lobster claw. He then goes around saying "fohck!" a lot and gains the ability to use the alien weapons which, well, I'm not sure exactly how they work but they seem to have a button that auto-detects enemies and makes them explode.

The movie is fiercely original, and though it glides into the typical sci-fi action movie climax, it presents plenty of creative ideas and leaves us with a lot to think about. For instance, we're given the premise of how the prawns arrived on Earth, but nothing as to where they came from and why they left. Why did they come here? How did they find us? The lack of exposition only enhances the intrigue.

And how does an advanced alien race travel across the cosmos and encounter another intelligent civilization, just to act like a bunch of slum-dwelling spearchucking macacas? Ah, the mysteries of life.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Three Phones

In 2001 it seemed as though I was one of the last people to get onboard the cellphone thing. Today I find myself walking around with three of these things in my pocket.


There's my Smart phone, which I use for most of my usual phone purposes. There's my Sun phone, which I use to take advantage of their Sun-to-Sun 4 hours call and unlimited text for 150 pesos a month. And then now there's my work phone, which there's is simply no getting around.

Three phones that I need to keep charged at all times, switch to silent when necessary, answer calls with, reply to texts with, and so on, and so on, and so on. This is not the way it should be.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Philippine Election 2010 - The Facebook Campaign

So, I scoured Facebook to check how many fans each Philippine presidential candidate has. And here you go:


Methodology: I only counted the number of fans from each presidential candidate's one most popular fan page. Some candidates have fans spread out over a bunch of minor fan pages, but if we start rounding those up and combining them it risks slipping too far into the subjective. Plus, it's possible for one person to be a fan of multiple pages.

Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar are way ahead of the pack. Aquino leads with 661k fans, and Villar is not far behind with 630k. Gibo Teodoro is probably the only other one worth mentioning, with a respectable 155k.

This is followed by Eddie Villanueva with 30k, Richard Gordon with 15k, Joseph Estrada with 7k, Nicanor Perlas with 3k, Jamby Madrigal with 600, and JC de los Reyes with 500.

As for "Vetellano Acosta" (I must put his name in quotation marks, as it seems unclear whether this candidate actually exists), he scrapes the bottom of the barrel with a jaw dropping 6 fans. The only page for him that I could find was called "Vetellano Acosta for Philippine President?"-- yes, with a question mark-- and listed other presidential candidates as its favorite pages. The page's only wall post asked, appropriately, "Sino ba si Mr. Vetellano Acosta?". Nobody knows.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Twitter Illusion

Another interesting thing I found while putting together the previous post. A Google Trends graph comparing the search volume of "twitter" and "facebook":


As seen in the upper graph, Twitter emerged in 2009. But with Facebook in the scale, Twitter is reduced to practically nothing. It's simply annahilated by the Facebook juggernaut. The one-sidedness of the comparison may be surprising, but the winner is not.

The real revelation is in the lower graph, tracking news reference volume, where Twitter and Facebook are practically neck-and-neck.

Why such a huge discrepancy between news volume and the search volume? It seems to support my theory that Twitter is just a hype machine for news sources that no one in the real world actually uses.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Friendster's Fall

My number of friends remaining on Friendster has gone down by around 15 from its peak. I don't have it in me yet to delete my account entirely, so I deleted another 20 people that I've decided are not really friends. Maybe that'll make it easier to let go, eventually. Friendster has become an internet wasteland of neglected, obsolete, and embarassing information.

This is interesting, a Google Trends graph showing search volume for "friendster" and "facebook" in the Philippines:



Friendster continuted to grow gradually over the years, hitting its high point at the end of 2008. It then went into a steep decline throughout 2009, and is now about 70% off from its peak. Notice how the drastic redesign at the end of 2009 barely registered on the graph.

Meanwhile, Facebook exploded in 2009, passing Friendster at around August, and actually becoming bigger than Friendster ever was.

Also interesting, the same graph but for the whole world:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Undecided

It's now only three months until the presidential election, and while I have my opinions, I find myself still a generally undecided voter. However, here are some other things of which I am sure:
  • I have decided to stay well-informed to the best of my ability regarding local and national politics and issues that affect the nation and its citizenry.
  • I have decided that I will perform my civic duty and vote with a full ballot for the candidates best equipped to serve and defend the country.
  • I have decided not to partake in the divisive cynicism that undermines our government and disillusions Filipinos from the democratic process.
  • I have decided not to be hoodwinked by propaganda techniques and logical fallacies, nor to utilize them to support or oppose candidates.
  • I have decided not to resort to demonizing the other presidential candidates after I do make my decision who to vote for.
  • I have decided to support, recognize, and respect the office of the 15th President of the Philippines, whoever that person may be.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh Ping

The most shocking thing about yesterday's headline was how little it shocked me.

Summary: One of our country's most prominent senators has fled the country to escape charges of murder.

You can't make this stuff up. Read that sentence a few more times to let the gravity of it sink in. And yet, while the rational part of the brain urges you to take it seriously, the impulses just shrug and say "Whelp, there he goes".

Some part of us, I think, knew all along that Ping Lacson was kind of a weirdo. Even the people who supported him for president in 2004 did so seemingly more with tepid applause than eager sabre rattling. There's just something about those eyebrows.

And now we're seeing Ping at his nuttiest, practically a fugitive from the law, ranting on about an "evil conspiracy", throwing the blame on, who else, the president. And it was nearly a whole month before anyone started to wonder what happened to him.

Oh, and apparently there is still one person on his side. Someone who says she'd do the exact same thing in his position. Who else, but Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

These punchlines, they write themselves.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Large Coke and Fries

So, last Saturday I went to Burger King in Glorietta for lunch.

I ordered a Whopper Jr. meal since it comes with a free strawberry sundae. The lady at the counter asks me if I'd like large fries and coke-- it's an offer I rarely accept, but today I was just that hungry-- so I say yeah, I'll have your large fries and coke.

What I did not realize is that Burger King has a 3-tiered system for their sizes:
  • There is regular, which is the reasonable size.
  • There is medium, which is what one would usually consider large.
  • And then... and then there is large, which rivals the size of the planet that created it.
The fries seemed to come in the usual large container except it poured out over the top and onto the tray forming a little hill. And the coke was an intimidating surprise worthy of more superlatives and hyperbole. The size of it made the burger struggle for relevance, and reduced the free sundae to a mere afterthought.

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me for a photo of the whole meal, but I brought the cup home so I could get a picture of this son of a bitch.


The size of this cup is 1 liter. One whole liter of coke.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Breach of Facebook Etiquette

Some ground rules:

1. Having your baby with you in your profile picture? Fine.

2. Having ONLY your baby in your profile picture? Annoying, but whatever.

3. Changing your NAME to your baby's name? Wrong wrong WRONG.

It's like I'm friends with the baby. :|