Some Films I’ve Seen

Manchester by the Sea

It took me a while to see ‘Manchester by the Sea’ because Oscar-nominated films are so heavy and require you to sit down and pay attention, which is just a huge imposition. I predicted they were all going to be serious films with insanely long running times, and I wasn’t wrong.

I feel like these movies are not necessarily the best of the year nor are the acting performances, but I sit through them and get what I can. I did get a few things from ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and ‘Loving,’ which I thought was slow and very, very restrained, subtle, and super somber.

I liked ‘Manchester by the Sea’ because Jessica Zafra liked it. There, I’ve said it! I’ve become incapable of forming my own opinion because who cares about fresh opinion when everyone else has one. Actually, I liked it because it made me think about death, its imminence and the tremendous hassle it brings to absolutely everyone, especially the living.

There’s a lot of deaths in this movie, some unexpected, some inevitable. The ones who stay alive deal with their losses in unusual but not entirely original ways. Lee (Casey Affleck) wanted to end his own life when his daughters died in a fire he had accidentally caused, while his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) deals with the death of his father by being as disrespectful as he possibly can towards everyone else who’s grieving. He deceives the parents of his two girlfriends whose panties he is forever trying to conquer, and he acts like his dad’s death is a non-event (I like that the movie gets that losing a mother is, in fact, much worse). His uncle Lee, who he calls an asshole to his face, doesn’t flinch much when receiving his blows. These, I thought, are natural ways in which some people deal with death. People don’t always go into hysterics; they allow their insides to freeze so that what’s seen outside is grief but also a lot of other things, but still very much grief.

 

Loving

I declared it ‘very boring’ when I watched and, again, I’m not wrong. It’s just not a fun film to watch, and I only watched it because I wanted to see all Oscar best actress nominees before they were announced. I found it dreadfully boring that I had to take a 12-hour break to finish it.

The following morning, when I continued watching the remaining 30 minutes, I realized that its highly restrained nature, understated performances, and straightforward storytelling are the real shockers. It’s a race movie with absolutely no big dramatic moments. Instead of people talking over each other all the time or having tearful confrontations in the street, Richard Loving and his wife Mildred, some of the simplest folks to have ever been victimized by silly persons in the state of Virginia who, in the olden times, made interracial marriage a crime punishable by imprisonment and severe misery, mourn and fight very quietly. The people who help the Loving couple are not painted as saints who have big moments, but simple folks who do good and bad just because. In this film, no one gets to have a big moment, especially not the leads played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, who play their parts with brilliant and infuriating restraint. It’s 2 hours of sadness and around 5 minutes of triumph and joy.

Coldplay, the Crowd Pleaser

Chris Martin Mug

I’ve always thought of Coldplay as a band that everyone likes, but is no one’s favorite. They seem to be universally loved because their singles are radio- and stadium sing-along-friendly (‘Fix You,’ ‘Paradise,’ even the mellow ‘Everglow’). They’ve collaborated with the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and The Chainsmokers. Almost every album of theirs tops the Billboard album chart, supposedly the most important musical chart in the universe. They and their songs inspire many things and one of those things is think-pieces by music critics that were, at some point in their life, have been ashamed to be a Coldplay fan. They’ve also inspired hate (the if-you-have-nothing-nice-to-say-about-Coldplay-by-all-means-say-it variety) and they probably will continue to do so, just as they will continue being popular and rich.

Pleasing crowds is most bands’ job, but Coldplay does it much better than the Lifehouses and The Callings of the world. Christ Martin comes off as an affable lead vocalist, the kind of international superstar who would fart and sneeze and act like a normal person around you to prove that he’s capable of normal person activities like farting. Just the thought of that helps with the crowd-pleasing aspect of their job.

I’ve also thought of Coldplay as the kind of band that even people who don’t like music would fly thousands of miles to see live because they want to experience a Coldplay concert because they heard they’re great, and they are. I have one Facebook friend who was ecstatic about them even though her Coldplay anecdote was mostly about how there’s a Coldplay song that soundtracked some of the most significant events in her life. So that’s one person whose actual favorite band is Coldplay, I guess.

Coldplay is disliked for several reasons, both by serious music critics and the garden variety hater. They’ve been accused of peddling corny sentiments in very melodic songs. The dislike may also partly be due to the fact that Chris Martin is super charming. And, maybe, some people maybe find liking charming people basic? I really don’t know!

Remember when it was announced they were going to tour in Asia and some people were super excited, while others were snarky toward those who were excited? Some people were irked that some people were getting so excited about Coldplay coming to Asia. This is how the irked persons’ saw it: ‘Don’t be excited about Coldplay because you’re not a fan!’ Those who were irked probably don’t care about Coldplay, or are super fans. It was hard to tell. But, it kinda supports my suspicion that Coldplay is generally liked but is no one’s favorite. I mean, I know where the Madonna fans, the Rihanna Navies, the Britney Army, and the Lambs are at. The Coldplayers, where are they?

The Head Full of Dreams Tour in Bangkok had all the concert tropes – grand sing-alongs, the lying down and emoting on the rain-soaked platform, the soaring anthems about fixing yourself, and the boy band joke. You can totally feel the pressure of having to participate in all the tropes, but you don’t mind. You can totally sense the corniness of having to wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, but… you really don’t care because you feel like this band earns your participation, and it wouldn’t be so corny if it’s to a song you like (it’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ for me), because they’re really good live. So I realized, Coldplay is a band that gives the people what they want and the people take it… because they want it. And that’s nice. As nice as Coldplay.

Lola Gigi has died

I probably won’t be going home to attend the funeral, to pay my respects, because I haven’t been in the company long enough to be allowed 5 consecutive days’ vacation and because the financial situation is not ideal. The thought of going to Manila to be with the family occurred to me for approximately 30 minutes, but I immediately ruled it out.

It’s very sad, but especially for daddy because that was his mother.

I thought it wise to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 2 after hearing the news of Lola Gigi’s passing because nothing takes away the sadness out of any situation more than an episode of RDR All Stars season 2 (and other seasons, too). The episode was the one where the remaining top 5 queens were reunited with their family – sister, mother, grandmother – in a challenge that required them to drag up their family to look like part of their drag family. Detox won.

The episode featured Roxxxy’s story of abandonment, Detox’s daddy issues, and Alyssa Edwards’ mother’s 1st year death anniversary. Sob stories were all over this episode.

But still, I think, no one has had it worse than the four of us who lost our mother at a very young age. My brother at 13, me at 11, and my poor sisters who were way younger. It’s probably wrong, but that’s what I would always think about every time I hear of someone’s mother’s passing. That includes Alyssa Edwards’ and my daddy’s.

We don’t have the monopoly on motherlessness, but we know that life so well having experienced it for so long. We started living that life at an age when it just isn’t right to not have a mother.

I know that nothing will ever come out of reliving a painful memory and thinking the world owes us a mother. But you can’t shake off these feelings and these awful, vivid memories when they strike you.

When I think of our life’s greatest hurt, I think about what ‘great hurt’ other people have experienced. To me, my brother, my sisters, life turned for the absolute worst on 24 June 1994, the day after my 11th birthday, when mommy passed away. People lived through horrors much worse than what we’ve been dealt with, but that is our horror and we will never stop living through it.

I need to talk about ‘Elle’

elle

Michele LeBlanc sweeps the floor of her pristine living room after being raped by a masked intruder. She doesn’t spend more than a few minutes thinking about the horror she just experienced. She cleans up as if nothing could be more urgent on the day of her rape than putting a few pieces of broken porcelain on the trash. She has things to do and video games to produce and launch. The emoting and the strategizing can wait.

‘Elle’ keeps you riveted from beginning, when it opens with screams of a woman being raped. After the initial shock of seeing this middle-aged woman ravaged in her own home, naturally, you’d want to know the who, the what and the why. But the film chooses to show who Michele is as a “regular”, video game company-owning bad bitch. She is a divorcee with one son (who’s gorgeous but dim), and she has complicated relationships with men.

She also has a disturbing past involving a psychopathic father and an immortalized photo of her young self that suggests she may have been an unwitting participant in her father’s slaughter of an entire neighborhood. This complicates the hunt for her violator because her history might have played a role. It could be someone from any of the families of her father’s victims. It could be Kurt, the outwardly hostile game designer in her own company, or the innocent-looking, baby-fats having Kevin who openly admires her kind of feist. You couldn’t even be faulted for thinking it might be her son because in her world, the men are as sick as they come. There really is no telling.

Michele is the kind of person who is a joy to talk about, so here I am knocking myself out. And the film agrees. Instead of lingering on her pain (is she even pained?!), the film peels off the layers of her icy exterior. When she pauses to think about her rape, it’s not an occasion to break down in tears; it’s to fantasize about smashing the face of her rapist. Then she goes on with her life.

When she tells her best friend, Anna, whose husband she’s fucking, that her specialty is handling psychos, you believe her. So you know that even without having read any spoilers, she’s going to have her face-smash moment. She wants revenge, but she doesn’t let thoughts of it consume her. But, she shops for a hammer and a pepper spray because she’s practical and cautious.

Michele is obviously twisted not just because of her past, or the things she does, but also because of the things she does with the people she surrounds herself with. When she finds out the identity of the scum who leaves cum stains on her bed, she matter-of-factly tells him she’s going to report him to the police… while riding in his car coming from a party in which she’s invited him to, days or weeks after finding out his identity, and after they’ve had another round of violent, rape-fantasy romp in the rapist’s basement, which she may or may not have consented.

Her best friend, Anna, tells her about Richard’s underwear that definitely smells of cheating. Anna is shamed to the bone for her discovery. “Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us from doing anything at all,” is Michele’s chilly response, and it’s wrong kind of right. She tells her this not to comfort her but as an FYI, because, apparently, Anna forgot the ways of the world, and Elle is just that kind of best friend that keeps you informed.

Upon realizing the problematic relationship she begins to have with her rapist, Michele appears to welcome it even more. It legitimizes the suspicion that she may possibly be a sociopath. But I can’t be sure! It’s the kind of acting that refuses to give anything away. And that’s possibly because Isabelle Huppert wasn’t ‘trying to find answers’ for the character; she ‘didn’t have the questions, even,’ and it made for an engrossing performance. You can’t take your eyes from her, not even when she’s being raped – it’s not because you’re a perv but, perhaps, because a glint in her eye could give something away and you’re afraid you’re going to miss it. Director Paul Verhoeven and Huppert just ‘let it burn all the way through.’ And the result is fire.

An Asian Appreciation of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout

the-sellout

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is a funny, clever, topical novel, and it’s easy to see why it won the Man Booker Prize (I say that as if I’m fully aware of the criteria when I’m not) and the hearts of critics. It’s so clever that I don’t think my tiny brain, the same one that enjoyed it, might not be able to explain what it’s about, although my brain knows very well that it is satirizing a reality that is completely worthy of a superb novelist’s satirizing. In this case, it’s racism in America by way of a black man bringing segregation back in the fictional, erased-off-the-map town of Dickens.

There are complaints about the supposedly obscure references in the novel, and there are indeed a handful of esoteric pop culture artifacts tossed about, but there are also a lot of highly recognizable ones. Making these references, though, lets the author drive his point across more effectively than if he were just telling the story of a poor black man who suffers slurs and discrimination in his place, in the bus on his way to work or wherever. And if a reference is obscure, it’s funny anyway mostly because of the way it’s such brilliant, funny writing.

Reading the novel is like being told jokes you’ve heard a very funny person tell that you don’t really get but laugh at anyway. There are bits about blacks-inspired software with a word processor that has font called Tumbuktu and Harlem Renaissance. Distressed black women complain about unequal treatment of angry women: “When a white bitch got problems, she’s a damsel in distress! When a black bitch got problems, she’s a welfare cheat and a burden on society… Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your weave!” It throws jabs at Mexicans, Indians, the Chinese. You don’t have to be there to get the joke is what I’m saying, I guess.

Also, no one is safe. Not Dave Eggers, not Hootie and the Blowfish, not the TV show Friends, not Madonna, not ESPN, not the authors of literary classics and the white men who chose them. It’s so clever that at certain points, I thought the author might make a meta-comment about the Caucasian book critics who are fascinated by the author’s undeniable genius, the same ones that appear on the book’s blurb pages. But nope, the author mercifully held back.

Perhaps it’s the Americans who would find this very, very funny because satire about the social reality that is racism will always be great material for comedy and they’re right in the middle of where the action is. But to Asians who might get only some of the more obvious pop culture references, the novel still comes off as hilarious because this is not the first time we find out about discrimination. It’s quite familiar to us, in fact. It also pokes fun at people who frequently use the word “plethora”.

The Sellout is a sharp and funny (it bears repeating) reminder that modern America can’t help but practice its old habits, and our minority-belonging couldn’t help but chuckle even if it’s in a satirical novel about racism in the USA, and more importantly because of this The Great Gatsby that you have to read the novel to understand the context of because I won’t explain it:

“Real talk. When I was young, dumb, and full of cum, my omnipresent, good to my mother, non-stereotypical African-American daddy dropped some knowledge on me that I been trippin’ off ever since.” 

It features funny racism satire things featuring Latinos and Asians, too. The hilariousness in that is universal, and laughing with a novel is a reading experience I will always cherish.

Books, Book-Buying, Reading, Reading Plans 2017

It is unsurprising to find out that as you grow older and less prone to delusions of youthfulness, the number of books you read gradually decreases. I used to average 35 a year, but when I moved to Bangkok, this number shrank to 19 in 2015 and 23 last year. The reason for this is obvious: it’s because I moved to Bangkok where book-buying is not that fun (anything you could think of having, you can have, which is not a thrilling way to obtain books). Here’s a fun fact: Metro Manila is where you want to be if you want to meet reading goals. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Metro Manila is ruled by forces that make commuting such a hellacious daily experience that you’re often left with no choice but to find solace in reading. Bangkok is not ruled by those forces.

The decreased number of books read could mean any of the following: other forms of entertainment enjoyed and a life well-lived outside of a book. It could mean your museums-visited or movies-seen lists have increased. In my case, though, TV took the place of reading time. After a day’s work, I usually find that the only sensible thing to do at home is watch drag queens outsmart fellow drag queens in a race to win $100,000 and a sickening supply of cosmetics.

Because of this, I’ve decided to start reading anything I lay my hands on, in my room, as long as it’s a reading material; enough with sniffing the pages and on to actually reading them. I’ll stop doing what I do which is pick up any of the David Mitchells off the shelf, softly whisper to myself, ‘I’ll read you next’ and then pick up Ciara, my phone, to check Twitter and not tweet, or tweet and decide 10 minutes later that the tweet is stupid and should be deleted.

In a way, I blame Hanya Yanagihara for last year’s short list. ‘A Little Life’ was a two-month read and it demanded all the attention I could give a novel, which made reading another novel seem impractical. I blame Jude. But if you can find the time to read it, I highly recommend it.

I’ve only read 21 books in 2016 despite having many off periods – periods when big novels could have reasonably been accommodated. During one of these periods, I dived into Anne Rice’s ‘Prince Lestat’ and expected it to be a quickish read, but its character-dumping prevented me from finishing fast. I heard the sequel is even more insane and more infuriating, if the GoodReads reviewers are to be trusted (they are not to be trusted). I can’t wait.

I might read even fewer books this year and that would be alright. Maybe that won’t be alright. To read as much as I can used to be such a powerful goal of mine. It’s not anymore. Life feels shorter and shorter each reading year. For me, in my life, that means no more Guillermo Del Toro vampire novels.

prince-lestat

When Anne Rice announced on Facebook sometime in 2013-14 that Lestat was talking to her again, we the Peoples of the Page went into raptures because we like Lestat, and we like it very much when Lestat takes over her Facebook page. Lestat of course chooses Facebook because in social media, he writes novellas, not status updates. Status updates are for mortals like Anne Rice.

In 2014, Chronicle #11 was released, almost a decade after Anne swore off writing about the Vampire Chronicles vampires again. But here we are, back in the ‘savage garden’, thanks to Lestat’s refusal to not ever be in the spotlight. Anyone who has read at least 1 or 11 Vampire Chronicles knows one undeniable fact: A brat gets what a brat wants.

In Prince Lestat she readies the world for this new era where vampires have inhabited the world in their own terms; that means no more silly Ten Commandments-style rules (see: The Vampire Armand). She offers an explanation for what has happened thus far and a mini-reference guide to vampire jargon. The way to let everyone in to this new vampire, it seems, is to over-explain. This goes well with Lestat’s newfound swagger of being current and his intention to leave the doors to the vampire world wide open.

Despite his preference for fashion that kids today would find daffy, Lestat is nothing but open to new experiences. Such experiences include using an iPhone, emailing, listening to podcasts, becoming a baby daddy, and leading a pack of bloodsuckers whose combined strength, knowledge, and mind and fire gifts could not hold a candle to his magnetism, impulsiveness, and questionable but indispensable leadership. There is not a thing in Prince Lestat that I find hard to believe.

There is also a sense of vampires having become citizens of the world, peacefully coexisting with humans who still believe them to be a figment of their fevered imagination (despite Benji’s very convincing vampire broadcasts). Humans who drop dead in alleys are still believed to be victims of cardiac arrest rather than of vampires’ insatiable appetite. The world is at peace where the undead are alive and well but staying low-key.

But all is truly not well in the vampire world. A capital M mysterious voice is sowing fear in the non-beating hearts of immortals, and to calm their inactive nerves they summon the one immortal who can save them from themselves. “The Voice” is whispering to vampire ears everywhere – and they are not sweet nothings – with the weak ones falling prey to the seemingly motiveless voice that admonishes mass murder among their kind. Because the book is not called ‘Prince Louis’ or ‘King Armand’, it’s the brat prince himself who takes over vampires-saving duties. Whether he would do so competently is open to discussion.

Anne Rice wasn’t going to return to The Vampire Chronicles half-heartedly. Here, she brings every character that has ever appeared in all 10 books and their ghosts. Quinn Blackwood, Merrick, and the Mayfairs were, sadly, no-shows.

As with any book from TVC, Prince Lestat was not spared some biting criticisms, one of which is the inclusion of characters that don’t serve any purpose but to prolong the vampiric conversations. As a person of the page, ie, long-time reader/Lestat groupie, I expect these supposed failings, but I can’t say that I enjoyed reading about vampires sit around describing each other’s extraordinary beauty. I already know that Louis, Armand, Jesse, David, et al beat the entire vampire and human race in beauty, thanks Ms. Anne.

Another gripe against Prince Lestat is its wordiness – as if a Vampire Chronicle devoted to the magnificence of Lestat would be made in less than 200 pages? The prose is as indulgent as it has ever been, and I myself find this supposed crime indefensible. The thing is, this isn’t Anne Rice’s first, second or 22nd book. If you’ve read the entire Chronicles and everything else in her bibliography, then this is something you could smell from a mile away. If you want taut and quick-paced, re-read The Tale of the Body Thief. No sane reader of TVC, new or old, should pick up an Anne Rice novel and expect littleness, whether in theme, scope, or characterization.

The thrill I got from reading Lestat, though, came mostly from the meta-commentaries on the author’s previous work, specifically the ‘deep current psychological observation that united these works’. Also thrilling is vampires dabbling into science. It’s amazing they haven’t tried going into space to become the greatest astronauts the earth has ever known. One thing that stood out, in the worst possible way was the prince’s sudden change of heart for The Voice. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that the way he embraces it after everything is such silly bullshit. Everyone knows Lestat is a brat and he’ll do and love as he pleases, but that sudden change of heart made the lead-up to the semi-thrilling confrontation seem inconsequential.

Unlike other readers who feel personally betrayed by Lestat’s lunatic decisions (actual responsible person: Lestat’s ghost author Anne Rice) who swear off reading any more future vampire tales, I’ll stay hooked. With this renewed interest in Lestat, there will be no end in sight for vampires and their vivid, hyper-indulgent chronicles. They may be using iPhones now, but they’re still the same old brood of blood-hungry beauties who like to sleep in the dirt. Like the series they belong to, they know their place in the world and they’ll live in it as they please.