Tuesday, July 19, 2005

List of Last Things 2

Last Movie Watched - The Fantastic Four. Highly enjoyable, if you don't expect too much from it. As a comics-based movie with an ensemble cast, it's not a bad origin tale. It does well enough as a springboard for an entire franchise. Granted, Spiderman had a better human interest story, but Ben Grimm's development from muscleman to The Thing is compelling enough drama. As for Reed Richards, I guess what really makes him a superhero is his native high intelligence and not his elasticity as Mr. Fantastic. If you didn't realize this early enough, you'd think he was the wimpiest in the group. There are some scenes that made me laugh out loud: Johnny Storm bursting into flames while skiing, and ending up naked, melting enough snow to make a hot tub for him and his "hot" nurse; and Sue Storm having to strip down in public (twice!) and run away, invisible. The story and the action are equally engaging and fast-paced. It's definitely worth its ticket price, as long as you aren't seated next to annoying kids and people who haven't turned off their cell phones.

Last DVD's Watched - Asterix and Obelix Take On Caesar, and Six-Stringed Samurai.

My friends Dondi and Esmi invited me to their place for a sandwich-bar dinner while watching DVD's newly added to Dondi's collection. Asterix and Obelix Take on Caesar (1999) features Gerard Depardieu as Obelix, with Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) as the villain Lucius Detritus and Laetitia Casta as Obelix's love Panacea. Most of us had read the comic books by Goscinny and Uderzo as children, so we were pleased to discover that the movie had an English dub translation by Terry Jones. The film is funny, although not as funny as, say, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (still my standard for rib-tickling humor). The dog that plays Dogmatix is adorable. As for Laetitia Casta (who is currently Marianne, or the Face of France), she is easy on the eyes, for as long as you pay no attention to her distracting teeth.

If you enjoy Kurosawa samurai movies, plus Mad Max, Kill Bill, El Mariachi, music and all, you'll enjoy Six-Stringed Samurai (1998). This campy low-budget film features Buddy, our bespectacled hero with a katana sheathed behind his 1957 guitar. He ventures across a wasteland to get to his gig in Lost Vegas, pursued by Death and his minions, and along the way picks up a little boy who later becomes his sidekick. It's like a long music video with a surreal script full of allusions to the death of rock and roll. If you're the kind of person who gets peeved because you can't find a plot in this movie, skip it. But if you watched Kill Bill over and over just for The Bride vs. Crazy 88 samurai sword-frenzy with rockabilly music in the background, this would be more your thing. I enjoyed it, but I guess not enough to buy me a copy.

Last MP3 Downloaded - Gavin DeGraw's "Chariot". Great song, the kind you want to listen to on a rainy day when you're stuck indoors.

Last Book Read - Haruki Murakami's "Norwegian Wood" (English translation by Jay Rubin). Murakami's protagonist Watanabe hears his first love Naoko's favorite Beatles song and goes twenty years back down memory's highway to hip 1960s Tokyo. Along the way a girl named Midori comes into his life and makes him choose between the past and the future. Rather good read.

Last Restaurant Visited - Cafe Mediterranean Podium, last Sunday. Had a Kofta Kebab with buttered rice. Kofta are little meatballs made of ground lamb and beef (I think) mixed with chopped onions and herbs, slid on a kebab and grilled. Kofta are good with their yoghurt-based sauce. They also serve really good Kofta Burger, if you're bored with the usual patty-on-a-bun. Their food is on the healthy side, grilled rather than fried, with South Beach Diet versions of most popular dishes. They also have a very good Lamb Stew and Lamb Kebabs. Service is quick and everything is reasonably priced.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Beso-Beso With Neil Gaiman

Brandishing his Omas 1950s flexi-nib fountainpen, he signed in burgundy ink on the frontispiece of my “Brief Lives” graphic novel (Sandman Volume 7): “Mona, Sweet Dreams -- Neil Gaiman.” A salesgirl took our photo (I made sure I brought my digital camera), but I won't be posting it here; it's for my secret delectation. I’m so glad I didn’t do anything stupid like burst into tears or freeze. In a tiny voice I managed to say, “Thanks for signing, Neil.” He smiled and said, “You’re welcome, Mona.” Then I bent down a bit to make beso beso, and to my surprise it wasn’t an air-kiss -- he kissed my right cheek. (All the girls were doing it, so I figured I’d get in on the kissing action, hehehe.) As I straightened up again, clutching my book in a sort of daze, I realized how exceedingly tired he was. Poor guy. He looked like he hadn’t slept for weeks and sported massive eye luggage. But he was determined to accommodate as many fans as possible.

YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! I walked out the bookstore with a spring in my step and with a stupid grin on my face.

(In your mind picture me jumping up and down on Oprah’s yellow sofa a la the delirious Tom Cruise, and you can imagine how ridiculous it looks. Of course, I didn't really do that. But I tell you, it felt so great to be so amply rewarded for waiting in line at Fully Booked Gateway for nearly six hours last Monday, on the last day of Neil’s signing tour in Manila.)

Neil is such a simpatico person; incredibly kind, patient and generous to all his fans. I suppose he was pleasantly surprised to realize his fan base in the Philippines was bigger than his publishers had originally thought. I guess he didn’t expect that thousands of fans would want to meet him (I heard some fans even travelled to Manila from as far away as Davao and Cebu). Last night I read his blog and he said he “never felt more loved by so many people”, that Pinoys were more enthusiastic than the Brazilians in expressing their cheer, and that he was thinking of returning again to Manila, perhaps in a couple of years or so.

I was number 480 in a line of just over 600 fans who heroically lined up. When I arrived at Gateway, the line began outside Fully Booked on the third floor and snaked down two flights of stairs to outside the Aurora Boulevard exit to the front of the nearest 7-11. I tell you, the sight of that line would have discouraged a less determined person. I just felt that getting Neil’s autograph would be worth it. For the first two hours the line stayed put and I had nothing to do but stare at the changing cloud patterns in the sliver of blue sky between the mall and the MRT. My friend Juned advised via text: “Imagine you’re back in UP enlisting for classes.”

Originally, rules stated that one had to buy a book from Fully Booked in order to get a signing pass. Later on they changed the rules, allowing people to bring any Gaiman book they owned for signing. Those who bought a book and got a signing pass were then entitled to have two books signed. This was a good idea, since most fans, like myself, had already bought books prior to the signing promo. Changing the rules meant that more people would participate, and that any marketing data they would gather from the signing promo would be more representative of Neil’s fan base.

Waiting in line can get interesting, though. Two college girls behind me were looking at Neil’s picture on the back cover of my graphic novel. Later, as we approached Neil’s table, they looked at him and back at the photo and whispered to each other: “He’s that lolo-looking guy? But he’s OLD!!!” I wanted to laugh; and then I felt my age. When Vertigo first published Sandman I was just out of college. I was young enough to have borrowed and read the comics when they first came out but couldn’t afford to buy them at the time. These two girls each had a paperback copy of “Stardust” which (apart from the paperback of “Coraline”) was among the more affordable Gaiman books in the market (roughly PhP 350). Two lawyers lined up just ahead of me were clutching hardbound graphic novels that cost nearly PhP 2000 each (One was the Sandman Dustcovers book and the other was Marvel’s latest release, “1602”.) I couldn’t help but overhear that one of them even bought a VHS tape box set of “Neverwhere” from the BBC when he was last in London. Normally I’d be secretly peeved if it sounded as if he was gloating about his purchase, but he sounded so happy to have bought it even if it was in PAL-SECAM format and not compatible with his player, I couldn’t begrudge him his glee.

The crowd kept their good humor, though. Several times as the line moved, we saw a good-looking young guy counting people in the line. He turned out to be named Jaime, and was apparently the manager of Fully Booked Gateway. I joked to the two girls behind me: “Sa kanya na lang kaya tayo magpa-sign? Cute pa naman siya.” The two promptly developed a crush on him, entertaining themselves taking pictures of him with their camera phones. As for the two lawyers ahead of me, they joked that Bro. Eddie Villanueva could only get 2000 people to attend his people power rally, while everybody else would have preferred to wait in line for Neil Gaiman.

I guess for a lot of people meeting Neil Gaiman was a positive, life-defining moment. The last time I felt like this was when I had waited in line to get tickets for seats I wanted at the first Sting concert in Manila ten years ago. Of course my collection is far from complete, and Neil has two books still to be released, “Melinda” and “Anansi Boys.” And who knows? Maybe one day soon they’ll screen “Mirrormask” here. Or release it on DVD. Like many fans, I’ll be waiting.

In the meantime, I have introduced my mom to the pleasures of reading Neil Gaiman. (Really!)

Sunday, July 3, 2005

Batman Begins / Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Of the Tim Burton Batman flicks, my favorite is "Batman Returns", mainly for Michelle Pfeiffer's inspired turn as Catwoman. And I liked the onscreen chemistry between her and Michael Keaton. Tim Burton's vision of Batman is naturally independent from the source comics material -- I'm sure between you and me we've watched enough Tim Burton to identify his surreal style (check out "Edward Scissorhands", "Nightmare Before Christmas", etc.) -- so it's useless to argue with purists about how closely he adheres to the Batman mythos. There is simply too much heated discussion going on about Batman's rubber nipples for people to just plain enjoy what's on the screen. I guess the problem is really about people's expectations.

With Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" what we are really seeing is the genesis of the DC comic universe's Batman. This is NOT a prequel of the Burton franchise. This is more Dark Knight than Superfriends Batman. Once we're beyond that piece of information, we can go ahead and enjoy the rest of the movie. And here we've got a definitive Batman movie, with a strong storyline showing the moral growth of a conflicted hero. The film is character-driven, very well-edited, with a good ensemble cast. And it has lots of action WITHOUT depending too much on CGI (see "Revenge of the Sith", which suffered from a surfeit of it), and good hand-to-hand battle WITHOUT depending on Matrix-style wire-fu.

I believe Christian Bale ("Equilibrium", "American Psycho") was perfectly cast; he's hot and hunky and is a very good actor who doesn't let his stardom overshadow his acting (I mean, George Clooney was more Clooneyman than Batman). I liked Michael Caine as Alfred, although I laughed when a friend told me he couldn't stop thinking of Michael Caine as Austin Power's dad. Morgan Freeman didn't even need to act here, he was plain enjoying his Q-like role, what with the armor, Batmobile, weapons and all. The Batmobile was magnificent! I don't blame Detective Gordon (Gary Oldman) for admiring it. For once we have Gary Oldman playing a good guy. Katie Holmes looks too young to be an assistant DA though, but gave an otherwise ok performance. [If you wanted to discuss nipple distraction in Batman movies, then look closely at all of Katie's sweaters. I find it strange that in such cold weather, an assistant DA would wear thin sweaters over an unlined bra.] Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe were interesting villains, but Cillian Murphy is the delicious surprise here: for a villain, he is simultaneously so COOL and creepy. Dig the iconic shades! I tried to think of the last movie I saw him in, and realized he was in that virus horror movie "Twenty-Eight Days".

I would definitely buy "Batman Begins" on DVD. Worth watching over and over.

As for the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", I would say a Pinoy wouldn't understand it much without having read the book/series beforehand. The humor is very British; as I understand from the credits, Douglas Adams was still alive when the screenplay was written. Alas, the humor doesn't translate to the big screen very much. It is also not a kid's movie, as the story's deliberate absurdity goes over their heads. For instance, the best part of the movie (for me) was where Zooey Deschanel (Trillian) says something like, " Go ahead, aim the point-of-view gun at me. It won't work; I'm already a woman." That is still way too deep for kids. Still, the star-studded ensemble (John Malkovich, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, etc.) tried their best.

Too bad. I love British humor in films, it just depends on who's writing it. My favorites are the Monty Python films (particularly "Holy Grail" "Life of Brian" and "Erik the Viking"). Still, there's also a lot of really good British humor in the contemporary "The Full Monty", "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Notting Hill" and "About A Boy."

The "Hitchhiker's Guide" was interesting but doesn't really cut it for me.

Aratiles Memories

A while ago I received the email “Maalaala Mo Kaya”, and decided to see how much I remember of the things we used to do when we were kids during the early, early days of Generation X Pilipinas. I can’t answer all the questions in one post, but let’s start with a couple.

Nung ikaw ay bata pa, kumakain ka ba ng aratiles? (When you were a kid, did you use to eat aratiles?)

Aratiles? Of course. Running around UP Campus my sister and I kept mental maps of where every aratiles tree worth shaking and climbing just for the rosy-colored, marble-shaped fruit. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen or tasted a single aratiles fruit for ages.

Nasubukan mo na bang magpitpit ng gumamela para gawing soapy bubbles na hihipanmo sa binilog na tangkay ng walis tingting? (Did you ever try squeezing gumamela flowers to make soapy bubbles which you blew through coconut leaf ribs twisted into a circle?)

We used to peel off red gumamela petals down to their center, which was sticky and helped keep the bubbles we blew solid. The crushed gumamela petals when mixed in the bubbly water exuded lovely rainbow oils. For blowing bubbles though, it was better to go pluck a branch of papaya. We cut off the leaf and the other end for neatness, so that when you looked through one end of the stalk towards the other end you’d see lots of holes running through it. Then we’d swish it in the soapy laundry water and blow – and make several bubbles instead of just one! We didn’t throw away the papaya leaf though: we’d crush it and rub it on our skinned knees so that we wouldn’t develop scars. The enzyme was pretty effective; my legs are smooth and you can barely make out the scars of childhood. And speaking of skinned knees and other minor wounds, we were taught to chew young guava leaves and rub the resulting poultice on top of the wounds. The antiseptic qualities of the guava made our scrapes heal fast. It helped that young guava leaves actually tasted good. Fortunately our mom taught us which plants were poisonous and which ones weren’t.

In our wild backyard we found alugbati growing low on the ground, their leaves beautifully veined in red. It had these little red-black berries the size of my little fingernail, which contained a dark red pigment that we used to use as kiddie lipstick. In grade school I remember reading a book which said Jose Rizal used alugbati berries in his watercolors. I don’t remember the berries having any particular taste; all I know is we used it on our lips and threw the rest away.