Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuffed (or, Happy Birthday to Me)

Thank you very very much to everyone who sent happy birthday messages my way last July 26! They are much appreciated. :D (Also appreciated are the stragglers who greeted me on the 27th and the 28th. I am not hypocritical enough to poke fun at those who greeted late, seeing as how I am often late for... well, for everything.) "Hey, for once it didn't rain on your birthday!" JB texted. "It did in Baguio," I answered, which was where Yvette and I happened to be that day.

We were participants of Appetite Magazine's Food Trip 2008 (sponsored by Carnation), which took place from Friday to Saturday, July 25-26. Basically, Appetite took a bunch of media people, writers for various broadsheets and magazines and blogs, and took us on a trip to Baguio, with a brief stop at Dagupan. We ate like kings for two days: first there was a lunch at the Lenox Hotel in Dagupan, where they prepared bangus in more ways than you may have thought possible. (My favorite item on the buffet was the peppercorn crablets though. I wish I had some now. Not to mention that gumamela tea.) From there we went on to Baguio, where we stayed overnight at the lovely Manor hotel. Chef Billy King hosted the dinner, which consisted of so many dishes that it made my head spin (Yvette, who is much more of a foodie than I am, seemed unfazed by the array. We ended up staying longer than most of the other writers, stuffing our cheeks like chipmunks preparing for winter.)

Marinated salmon and crab roulade! Steamed sole in berlinoise sauce! Malaysian goat curry! Mushroom brown rice risotto! Beef wellington with steamed marble potatoes! Predictably enough, my favorites were the pasta dishes: I had second helpings of both the tomato linguini with bolognese sauce and the spinach fettucine with seafood marinara sauce.

On the morning of my birthday I basically consumed the equivalent of four breakfasts. Omelettes and pancakes whipped up before your very eyes... Endless rashers of magically delicious bacon... Shrimp and egg fried rice... Oh bountiful buffets, I will miss you so! I will write more about it for my column, but for now, the pain of separation from all that lovely free food is too sharp. We had another gut-stuffing lunch, and then went to Burnham Park for the Grand Handaan, which was the last leg of our Food Trip, and which presented a variety of food from all over Northern Luzon. Then at around 3 PM all the delegates somehow managed to roll themselves back on board the bus and we headed back to Manila.

So, yes: a trip out of town with Yvette, lots of great food, and the company of happy friendly foodies -- it was a very good birthday, indeed.

(Special thanks to Annie and Rachelle of Appetite, Yvette's roomie Christine, my roommate Dexter Inquirer, Vanessa of Expat, blogger superwoman Noemi -- she's put up a bunch of posts about the trip already! That's me raiding the lunch buffet, ha ha ha -- all the Carnation peeps, Gwen, Jennie, Archie, Kiko, Mau, etc etc.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jimmy Abad Predicts The Internet

Those of you who are not unfamiliar with Philippine Literature know Gemino H. Abad as an award-winning writer and beloved mentor to generations of language-addled undergrads. But did you also know that Sir Jimmy, as he is fondly known, has the power to friggin' see the future?

Last night, I was reading a book that he had written two decades ago, State of Play: Letter-Essays and Parables, when I came across the "Parable of the Googol Balloons." As any personality-crippled, unforgivably nerdy schoolboy knows, googol is the large number 10 to the 100the power -- in other words, the digit 1 followed by one hundred zeros. It was also the inspiration for the name of the world-conquering company Google. I thought this was an amusing coincidence, but it turns out that the parable's title was chosen due to Sir Jimmy's precognitive ability. I present to you an excerpt from this prophetic text:


"From that time, everyone began to have an opinion on almost any theme and wished to convince others. Often there were endless disputes, for each one thought he had the best argument. Strangely, no one ever doubted in his heart that there was always somewhere a gap or absence, no matter how finely woven were one's meanings. But where exactly the rent was in one's net of words, no one could ever tell. But that hole too had one consistent effect; it only provoked yet more words until sense itself was dazed."

Holy shit, that sounds really familiar. It's like every message board or comments section discussion gone wrong (in other words, most of them). The parable ends with:

"Finally, each time anyone spoke, he spouted a balloon. It was a marvelous sight, for the sky soon filled with each one's balloons, every word a thousandfold replicated in grey solidity. It was a horror, for none of the balloons could burst, neither could any gale sweep them off the air. They simply mushroomed everywhere until all light was extinguished. An absolute silence reigned on earth."

INTERNETS! You have been warned.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rogue is One

All aboard the Rogue yacht! Photo taken last March, on a sunset cruise celebrating the special Philippine Cinema issue. L to R: Yvette, me, Lissa Romero and Kidlat de Guia. In the background is Juan Caguicla, holding on to his hat.

Has it been a year already?

So my copy of the July 2008 issue of Rogue arrived on my doorstep yesterday -- it marks the magazine's first-year anniversary. (Anne Curtis is the cover feature -- photography by Mark Nicdao, styling by Millet Arzaga, words by Nick Azarcon. Great job, Nick!) There are many very good reasons to grab a copy of this issue, but I'll focus on two: first and foremost, of course, is the new story by Yvette Tan, Seek Ye Whore. It's twisted, funny, sexy, and deeply disturbing. (Here's a quote out of context: "It was oddly exhilarating, making love to a half-formed body.")

Second is the "24-page recap of Rogue's past 12 months" -- Yvette and I have been involved, in one way or another, with almost every issue since the magazine came out, whether we wrote cover features or short essays or just made suggestions, and it was great fun for me to page through the retrospective and remember all that stuff. (Am particularly happy with the Sanya Smith interview I did, Yvette's account of her encounter with Neil Gaiman, and of course the fiction we wrote.) Reading through all the accolades just made me prouder to have worked on the magazine. Of course, it's fun to page through the feature whether you were ever a contributor or not; the pictures alone will make you swoon, and the little behind-the-scenes bits make for great reading. If you don't have a complete run of the first year already, be warned; you will feel the need to fill in the gaps of your collection.

Sadly, this anniversary issue is also the last for Features Editor Erwin Romulo. Erwin has decided to move on and do other things, and it's safe to say the magazine will never be the same again. It's impossible to overstate his importance to Rogue: whether it was absorbing and thought-provoking subject matter, beautiful and controversial photo shoots, or an array of expertly chosen -- if occasionally surprising -- contributors, from writers to photographers to visual artists, Erwin brought that edge that other magazines can only dream about. Personally, I credit him with breaking the years-long slump I had been mired in, regarding my fiction. "Tell the Sky" (from the December 2007 issue) was the first story I had written in a long time that I was happy with, and without Erwin's initial inspiration and constant encouragement -- plus of course Yvonne Quisumbing-Romulo's artwork, and the Rogue bosses' approval -- it would never have seen the light of day. (Yvette had a similar experience with "Seek Ye Whore" -- it was Erwin's persistence that compelled her to speed up her already-swift writing process.)

Erwin has a way of not only choosing the perfect people for a certain feature, but also getting the best work out of them. Whether he accomplishes this through undisclosed telepathic powers, the unspoken threat of bodily harm, or simply the assurance that whatever his contributors come up with will be presented in a way that they can be proud of, it's hard to say -- but whatever his methods, they were instrumental in shaping the first year of one of the best damn magazines in the country today.

(If it sounds like I'm sucking up to him, it's because I am. Because if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that I'd like to keep working with Erwin, and collaborating with the other creative individuals in his army.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Best Batman Ever

So I watched The Dark Knight today. Quite simply, it's the best film based on a superhero comic ever made.

I know that's a matter of opinion, of course, and I hate to inflate anyone's expectations -- that will just make it harder for those of you who have yet to watch it to just sit down and experience it sans preconceptions -- but it's the only film I've seen so far in that genre where I really felt that something was at stake. Not the lives of comic book characters, but the clash between principles and points of view. And if that makes it sound like a talk show, don't worry; there's plenty of fights and explosions, too. Of course, it helps that The Dark Knight has the best cast ever assembled for a superhero movie: all the notable players from the last film, from Christian Bale on down, with Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over for Katie Holmes in the Rachel Dawes role.

As for the late lamented Heath Ledger, his bravura performance as The Joker makes Jack Nicholson look like a -- well, a clown. To be fair, Ledger had much better material to work with: this is the best-written Joker I've ever come across. The Joker from the earliest days of the comics was somewhat scary but constrained by the standards of the time, and eventually weighed down by all that Red Hood nonsense. Frank Miller's Joker was psychotic and dangerous but in the way a punch-drunk homophobe might imagine a psychotic and dangerous supervillain (flamboyant, flirty, openly in love with his nemesis). Alan Moore's Joker talked too much. And wasn't funny. That's the amazing thing: sitting there in the Greenhills Theatre with a real live audience, I realized that the audience was laughing with Heath Ledger's Joker. He does get the best lines, after all. Never mind that he's a serial killer with a grin of scars.

I never thought much of The Joker as a villain or a character before, to be honest. He was always either too loony or lightweight to really get under your skin. It is only in The Dark Knight that he comes across as the perfect adversary for someone who is trying to maintain order and enforce justice, to hold on to certain ideals in a chaotic world. Those ideals come at a cost, and again, that comes across here better than in any comic book adaptation before.

I'll be surprised -- though pleasantly so -- if this makes more money than, say, Iron Man. It's not exactly a feelgood flick. It will not send you back out into the world with a song in your heart. (Statement overheard from girl in sun dress in the lobby afterwards: "Na-drain ako nun, ah.") But it is a hell of a movie, the darkest and best onscreen Batman story by far. And if that appeals to you at all, then go -- it's well worth seeing in a theater. Avoid all spoilers, begin at the beginning, and hold on to the handrails!

Well, okay, here's ONE spoiler (highlight to reveal): Batman doesn't win. Not really.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Eraserheads: The Circus is Back in Town

So I first heard about it over a week ago -- the Eraserheads reunion, that is. Text messages from Cris Ramos Jr told me that the event that hordes of Pinoy rock fans have been hoping for for half a decade is about to come to pass: Ely, Raimund, Buddy and Marcus are going to be sharing a stage again, as a band, this August 30. The news reaffirmed the extent of my feelings for the band, which is to say, smack dab between indifference and enthusiasm. People assume I'm a big E-heads fan -- someone even wanted to interview me for a docu on the band recently -- but the truth is that while their early albums were an important part of my college life, I took the news of their breakup quite well. It was time, it seemed. And it's not as if the members stopped making music, or stopped making good music. (The last Pupil album, in particular, deserves more attention.) They just stopped being able to make music together.

I still remember being backstage at that recent MTV awards show where Ely was accepting some special honor on behalf of the band and said "I'd like to thank the three people that made this possible..." and went on not to thank Raimund, Buddy and Marcus, but Diane and two other people whose names I can't remember. It was an ugly moment, with animosity being snatched from the jaws of reconciliation. But apparently money can do what time and memory cannot.

The emphasis on the money, and the sponsor -- even in the very headline of the news item on Philmusic -- is off-putting of course, but then again let's not kid ourselves. That was the only way it was going to happen, and we are morbidly fascinated by the details of the deal. Besides, these guys all have families and day-to-day needs and they have arguably never been compensated sufficiently for their contribution to Philippine rock music. I don't begrudge them their payday at all, and in fact I'm happy for them. (It's unfortunate that the cash comes from a cancer merchant, but whatever. People are going to smoke with or without an E-heads concert to spur them.) Hopefully it means that Ely, Raimund, Buddy and Marcus will be less plagued by whatever financial concerns they have, and freer to work on their creative pursuits.

(This just in: the Age of Brillig points out that "just last week, a total ban on cigarette advertising took effect in the Philippines, and the ban covers the sponsorship by tobacco companies of concerts or cultural arts events. So the Marlboro rumor is probably incorrect.")

And if this event somehow serves as a shot in the arm for the music scene, no one will be happier about that than me. But even if it's just a one-afternoon nostalgia trip, that's good enough. I'm just hoping -- and this is probably a futile hope -- that it doesn't get too chaotic. It has the potential after all to be more of a draw than the past three or so Summer Slams slapped together. Unless friends or duties drag me to the event, I'll be staying well away, happy enough to watch the inevitable DVD. And looking forward to future albums by Sandwich, Cambio, Pedicab, Pupil, The Dawn, etcetera etcetera, not to mention the many bands who may not count ex-Eraserheads in their ranks but who owe a debt to that quartet who, over a decade ago, gave us songs that served as soundtracks for our days.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Rico Returns

When Rico Blanco was wandering in the desert, a vision came to him: a glowing kitchen sink, floating in mid-air. "Heed me, Rico," it said. "I am the only thing that you will not throw into your next song."

When I was at the Imagine launch, I heard that Rico Blanco, former lead singer of Rivermaya, had recorded a new song, and that it was some kind of musical Frankenstein's monster, some freakish creation stitched together from the corpses of different genres and jolted to life by electricity. I admit to being intrigued, so when I saw the MySpace link on Mari A's blog I checked it out right away.

The song, "Yugto," sounds like a collision of Rivermaya, Kula Shaker, Big Country, Queen, and, um, Hagibis, with some nameless 80s hair metal band thrown in near the end. Oh, and some horn blasts and a spoken-whispered bit, too. It's pretty crazy, though not in a genuinely transgressive asylum-ready way, more like, "What are you -- crazy?!" Well, you can't say it's not ambitious.

Listen for yourself here.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Goofy Bungle in the Filipino Jungle

"At last I've found the lost tribe of Filipino cavemen!... And thanks to the power of my ring, they'll soon do whatever I command! Nyahahaha!!"

Holy crap, is what I say. I don't remember ever seeing this on Saturday Fun Machine:

"The plot -- evil Western scientist takes control of a lost tribe of Filipino cavemen (who resemble Bluto-sized Caucasian cavemen) found in Mindanao. He then steals a "power energizer" from a Filipino scientist who looks suspiciously like Lino Brocka (then fresh from his late 70s Cannes success). The power energizer is then used to empower said cavemen with superhuman strength. Rather than use the new and fortuitous strength to take vengeance on our foreign invaders, the cavemen are put to use to steal jewels from "the royal palace in Manila"."

Read all about it (and watch clips!) on the always-witty, frequently-updated, occasionally mind-blowing Age of Brillig blog, here.

(A look at the Wikepdia entry for Fangface reveals that the director for the series was one Rudy Larriva. Perhaps he was a Fil-Am?)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Old Books, Like Old Friends

Thank you to wysgal, from whose blog I found out about Fine Lines: "the Friday feature in which we give a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wrinkled look at the children's and YA books we loved in our youth." That's YA as in Young Adult fiction -- I had such a blast looking through the titles, recalling preteen days of haunting the shelves of Natio and Bookmark. A Wrinkle in Time and The Girl With the Silver Eyes were particular favorites, so I was happy to see them featured. And Lizzie Skurnick's opening for her Wrinkle in Time reread is priceless:

"If I had my way, none of us would have to read this review at all. Instead, we'd join hands, hear a great dark thunderclap, and be whisked off to a rambling house in the country, where we'd view odd things bubbling in a lab with a stone floor, then eat limburger-and-cream-cheese sandwiches while swinging our legs at the kitchen table. We'd sidestep for a moment onto a planet inhabited by gentle gray creatures with dents for eyes, then be inserted into some mitochondria. We'd battle for the soul of Madoc/Maddox, and eat small crayfish with our lesbian kind-of aunt who insisted on calling us our full name (Polyhymnia). We'd hop on a freighter and solve a mystery, then go to boarding school in Switzerland. We would make a brief detour on the Upper West Side by way of Portugal, and be concerned with cell regeneration in starfish. We'd be smacked on the ass by a dolphin. Most important, whatever happened, we'd know we could get through it—because we are creatures that can love. GOD, HOW MUCH DOES IT KILL ME THAT WE CAN'T DO THOSE THINGS, ESPECIALLY THE DOLPHIN PART!"

Go, read, remember. There seems to be something wrong with their tags sometimes though -- keep trying. (Fran, I think you especially would love Fine Lines. Heck, I can imagine you writing it.)

I miss the bookstores of my youth (funny, a friend was just telling me earlier today about how when she was a child, her parents would take her on Special Trips to National Bookstore Quezon Avenue, as if it were a Disneyland of sorts, which it was, in a way). I know that's just the nostalgia talking, though -- the YA sections in bookstores now are more vast and colorful and captivating than anything I remember. And on top of all these flashy new books (he said geriatrically), all the old stuff is still there, the Judy Blumes and Madeleine L'Engles and Louis Sachars and Jerry Spinellis and Katherine Patersons and all, old friends who never really get old.

Music Matters 2008-0704

1. Your New Influences

Fluxblog condemns the "seemingly infinite wave of faceless, deeply unimaginative indie bands and their tired, worn-out influences," and challenges the bands who fit that description to stop recycling the work of the same old artists, to come up with something fresh, to find new influences. His first suggestion? Janet Jackson circa Rhythm Nation 1814. Don't laugh, he's serious. And he makes sense.

2. Rolling Stone Feels The Rush

The music magazine critic guy over at Idolator says that historically, "Rolling Stone's past and present staffers regard [Rush] the same way as every American woman and non-nerd male: as an abomination." Apparently it no longer holds true: they finally featured the Canadian trio in a recently-released issue. Welcome news, I suppose, for the people in my life who adore the band. You know who you are. ;) "Let's have some more like this, RS! And to you what don't like Rush: reading Norris' article will begin the process by which you will acknowledge how very very wrong you are."

3. Taken By Bores

In the often too-cautious world of local music journalism (for lack of a better term), Erwin Romulo is like Daredevil, The Man Without Fear, except that maybe he shouldn't wear red spandex. When I clicked on the title of his latest column ("Being Boring,") I was looking forward to a discussion of the melancholy pop genius of the Pet Shop Boys' Behaviour. Instead I found an evisceration of Taken By Cars' debut album, Endings of a New Kind.

After describing one of the tracks as lacking "any imagination in approach or innovation," and saying that "it would’ve certainly been affecting if it didn’t sound so phony," he goes on to quote New Order’s Bernard Sumner -- "[Sumner] said he’d rather have exciting sounds made by machines and synthesizers than boring music made by people with guitars. However, Taken By Cars’ Endings of a New Kind sounds as if it’s been made by people with guitars and synthesizers who are as boring as machines." Holy crap! Tell us what you really feel, Erwin!

Any idiot can write an album review, as the interwebs proves every day. Sadly for Taken By Cars, Erwin is not some anonymous ignoramus -- his musical knowledge is vast and deep and I have no doubt that his distaste for the band stems from his unshakeable ideals of what popular music could, and should be. For the record, though, I like TBC's debut, even if they forgot to thank me in their liner notes.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What It Is, by Lynda Barry

Q: What is an idea made of?
A: Of future, past, and also meanwhile.

Will be on the lookout for this new book by Lynda Barry: What It Is. Vulture describes it as a "memoir-as-master-class, a gorgeously illustrated guide to creativity and the power of images. Part collage, part autobiography, part inspirational lesson."

They have a 6-page excerpt up and it is great. It will have you thinking and reminiscing while you admire the art. (That stuff about the dead kingdom just gets to me.) More previews and info here and here and here. The publisher put up a 13-page PDF here. All of these excerpts online taken together give one a pretty clear idea of what the book is like. And it seems like it is well worth the search.

(Fun fact: Lynda Barry is one-quarter Filipina and spent at least one summer here, which she recounted in her book One Hundred Demons.)

If You Like Lists

So Entertainment Weekly magazine has hit the 1000th-issue mark, and to celebrate, they're featuring what they call "the New Classics" -- in other words, the "1000 best movies, TV shows, albums, books and more of the last 25 years."

Since this is EW we're talking about, the lists are a little more, shall we say, populist (ha ha, popu-lists, get it? I slay me) than you might expect from anything with the word "classics." The Breakfast Club, Spider-Man 2, and Back to the Future all make the Movies list, for example -- which I think is great. (But WHAT?! No Ferris Bueller?) And over in the Books list, both High Fidelity and Bright Lights, Big City make the grade (and I admit, I thoroughly enjoyed both books, though I wouldn't have ranked the latter so much higher than the former).

The people over at Newsarama are happy, of course, that there are so many comics and comics-related properties mentioned in this special issue. Meanwhile, over at Vulture, they cite "The Ten Most Head-Slapping Pairings in the EW New Classics Lists."

Oh, and speaking of comics, I haven't read through the whole issue yet, but much as I enjoy lists, I'm willing to bet that the best thing in the magazine is a comic -- this comic, to be precise, by Alison Bechdel. "If you really want your children to read something, for God's sake keep it to yourself!"