Friday, April 29, 2011

American Idol 10 - Top 6

I meant to write this post yesterday, but my tonsils made that quite impossible. Right now, both are currently covered in pus. Yes folks, this is tonsillitis like I've never had it before - and it's driving me mad. But on to business: Last night, the contestants sang the songs of Carole King - someone I'm quite unfamiliar with - so I really didn't know what to expect from the performances. Rest assured, not having high expectations was a good thing, because last night wasn't exactly the best of nights.

Surprisingly, Haley delivered.

TOP 6: Carole King

JACOB: I'm becoming tired of seeing this guy. It's like he's now at this stage where no matter how much effort he puts into his performance, he can't avoid ending up as just plain old Jacob. You have a great voice, but based on that performance, we wouldn't want to see you in the Finals (or say, even next week). 

LAUREN: Last week, she was pretty lame. This week, she finally soared (though not as high as we would've preferred). Holding back her vocals might just cost Lauren her stay in the competition, after all.

SCOTTY: This was the best Scotty number so far, and it came at a really crucial point in the competition. Although we would've wanted it a bit more toned down, and the Scotty-isms are just unavoidable, that performance was definitely driven by effort put to good use. Was it sincere? Not as much as we would've liked. Was it surprisingly good? Yes. 

JAMES: James, you have heaven-sent vocals. But please, the screaming and belting and shrieking can get old. That was a fine performance, but we're asking for variety this time. Of course, not that we didn't like you last night.

CASEY: We all know he wanted to take us by surprise again this week, but for all the 'uniqueness' that that number exuded, it lacked one thing: finesse. It started out smooth and jazzy, then transformed into angry, made a turn for the theatrical, and ended with a messy aftertaste. We get it Casey: You really deserve to win this. But please - though I'm not saying last night wasn't entertaining - a cleaner performance next time. We all saw you having fun, but at some point, you seemed to have lost it.

HALEY: Outstanding vocals. Outstanding performance. Save the best for last, indeed. This was actually the best Haley number I've seen, and based on that alone, she might just deserve a slot in the Finals.

THE DUETS: I'm not going to talk about this in detail anymore, because all three numbers were quite fine. Casey and Haley did the best number, in my opinion - their voices blended really well, the number just smelled of creativity, and there was chemistry all over. Jacob and James surprisingly didn't sound bad shrieking together as much as I'd expected, and Scotty and Lauren actually sounded really good together.

Bests of the night: I can't believe I'm finally saying this, but it's HALEY.

Who should go: JACOB (spell boring).

This was your choice, America. Well done (insert sarcastic clapping).

Who went: CASEY. Oh man. Ooooh maaaan. It's quite unfair that (perhaps) America chose to vote the guy off based on one  incoherent performance, when others have churned out lousy number after number for weeks on end. No wait, why am I downplaying the outrage here?! America, you got it all wrong again! DAMN IT. So probably you'd prefer a James-Scotty match-up in the end? That was just lousy, America. Just plain LOUSY. 

That said, I'm gearing towards a JAMES-(one of the girls) Finals now.  

Monday, April 25, 2011

Give Me True Grit

Fact: Every summer since the year The Departed won the Academy Award for Best Picture, I try to watch as many of the season's Oscar-nominated films as time would permit.

Fact: Every summer since then, I've always missed a Best Picture contender for my "watched list" (meaning, either I've yet to see it, or I saw it some other time in the future). For the 79th, it's Letters from Iwo Jima; Michael Clayton for the 80th; Frost/Nixon for the 81st; and District 9 for the 82nd.

Fact: I strongly feel that A Serious Man should have won last year. And that Michael Stuhlbarg  (A Serious Man) was robbed of a spot in the Best Actor category, and Marion Cotillard (Nine) for Best Supporting Actress.

Fact: I still believe Doubt was the best film of the 81st season.

Fact: I've yet to lay my hands on a decent copy of True Grit, after which this year's marathon kicks off. In the meantime, an omnibus review of my recently consumed films.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Meryl Streep learns the two-part harmony of a dial tone.

ADAPTATION (2002). One of the funniest 'intelligent films' I've ever come across with. Nicolas Cage was totally likable here (His Charlie was so messed up, and his Donald, so idiotically intellectual), and Meryl Streep played a totally human villain. Then, there's the screenplay, which is just a work of genius. An adaptation about an adaptation about an adaptation - at one point, you'd find it hard to distinguish reality from film. Charlie's voice-overs - his thoughts - showed exactly how we all mix our thoughts up and process them one after the other - rapid and random. Only Streep could have pulled off that scene where she got so high, she became so intrigued with the phone's dial tone. And what better way to kill the dumb villain off than by alligator ambush, right? 

RIO (2011). I did not expect to like it a lot, but I did, and it's actually one of the few films that make a 3D viewing totally worth it. Who would've thought a story about clashing South American birds could make wonders? A very, very outstanding job, too, in the recreation of Rio de Janeiro - watch the film, head over to Google Images, and see how detailed the animation is. And whoever wrote the screenplay totally nailed it. "I'm Blu... like the cheese."

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008). Seth Rogen and James Franco just made me develop a sort of appreciation for stoners. Their onscreen stoners were so well-acted, the nuances were finely tuned, they made marijuana addiction seem less of an evil. Overall, one of the funniest things to have played our TV... 'totally stoned, in a good way', I said in my Twitter account.

RED RIDING HOOD (2011). After leaving the theater, I was like, "What sort of joke was that?!" The entire film just came across as so stupid, it actually had me laughing. Tough skins, those people have, what with their sparse clothing in a snowy land. Amanda Seyfried, at least, was able to maintain her dignity. The rest of the cast did a totally comical job.

HOWL (2010). You either love it, or you hate it. I loved it. The animation was effectively both subdued and... well, animated. The juxtaposition of scenes and structuring of the entire movie was artistry in the very sense of the word. James Franco was not, even just for a minute onscreen, James Franco. It's not something I'd watch again, but one viewing left me with a satisfactory impression.

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003). Valentine's Day, only British, but with roughly the same amount of feel-good fun. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

American Idol 10 - Top 7

If you ask me when I started really watching American Idol, I'd say Season 7: the Davids, Carly and Syesha, that idiot Jason Castro. I remember having watched an episode of Season 3 (Fantasia singing "I believe the children are the future...") and then the finals of seasons 5 and 6 (Taylor Hicks; McPhee's Over the Rainbow and My Destiny; Jordin Sparks singing This is My Now; Blake Lewis getting squashed by Jordin). But it was during Season 7 that I actually developed a sort of attachment to the show and its contestants, actually rooting for some of them to be in the finals. Season 8's even closer to my heart: I watched it from the Top 13 all the way to the Finals, where I secretly wanted Kris Allen to win after Danny Gokey came in third the previous episode.

So this week, I'm starting my American Idol Season 10 review and forecast, though I've actually been watching since the Top 9 (the same time I began Season 7, where they did Dolly Parton). Unfortunately, I found myself too lazy to summon my thoughts into a single organized body the past two weeks. So, for history's sake, here's my forecast for the past two episodes.

Pia's last number in competition, River Deep, Mountain High.

TOP 9: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Bests of the night: JAMES (It reminded me of Adam Lambert's live performance of The Tracks of My Tears: perfectly toned down, emotionally powerful, beautifully sung); then PIA (Some problems with diction and with her awkward stand-dance, but otherwise a powerhouse number); then CASEY (He has this really, to channel Steven Tyler, beautiful non-mainstream voice, and he shimmers with creativity).

Who should go: PAUL (totally forgettable); STEFANO (incomprehensible belting and over-the-place vocals); or HALEY (I thought it was just shouty).

Who went: PIA. That was a moment when America deserved one big (expletive).

Paul's suit was glaring; his Top 8 performance was messy.

TOP 8: Songs from the Movies

Best of the night: CASEY (There was 'artistry' boldly spelled across his performance, and he perfectly sang it like he was telling a story, which is, in cases like this, an undeniable mark of good singing).

Who should go: PAUL (All the world's a stage, and he was all over it like pieces of trash scattered in a dump site).

Who went: PAUL. Told ya'.

TOP 7: Songs from the 21st Century

SCOTTY: Vocally, it was nice (I like that deep, rolling quality of his voice), and the diction wasn't half-bad either. His performance, however, was a double-edged sword: It was very, very Scotty (if you know what I mean) that no doubt got his fans all jumping up and down in their seats; it also said something else: This may all be nice, but it's just a Scotty performance, nothing more. It's like what Joe of MasterChef said to that girl who made a mandarin orange salad during the Chinese-themed challenge in Season 1: It's blah blah blah, but it's still just a salad.

JAMES: I totally agreed with Jennifer: theatrically, the best of the night. Those notes were simply insane. But, to every high-note streak that you pull off, there's always the danger of your diction going down the drain. That's what happened to him. For the first time in three episodes, I actually had a problem understanding what he was singing. Of course, as if that caused him any trouble.

HALEY: I actually liked Haley for the first time. Liked - not loved. The song was a perfect fit to her voice, thus vocally, she was more than okay. However, it seems, as she has shown these past three episodes, that she has trouble connecting with lyrics in general, with putting songs in their proper contexts. She did sort of project the unhappy world of Rolling in the Deep, but it wasn't enough. She just can't help smiling when she sings a chorus, can she? And please work on the diction.

JACOB: I disagreed with the judges. I thought it was sung as it should have been sung, because I would've been totally turned off if he turned Dance with My Father into another diva-ish, belty piece. Emotionally, it was the best of the night (although it was already an emotional song for him to begin with). And I still have a problem with his diction.  

CASEY: If I'd just watched him for the first time, I'd say he's a madman. But no, Casey's a genius indeed. It was, again, so original, so creative that I'd hand it to him based on those two grounds alone.

Stefano did Ne-yo's Closer and indeed got closer - to home.

STEFANO: Like Haley, this was actually the first time that I liked a Stefano performance. The past weeks had been a whirling dervish of unintelligible lyrics from him; last night, he actually did a satisfactory job. The latter half of his number, though, came off jerky and unstable. But - this was his best, so far.

LAUREN: She has the voice. But that performance was just lame. Lame, lame, lame.

Bests of the night: CASEY, followed not-so-closely by HALEY, then JAMES.

Who should go: SCOTTY, then LAUREN.

Who went: STEFANO. Well I can't say I'll miss him, and he's been in the bottom something for quite sometime now, so that was bound to happen. It's just sad that he got booted out for his best performance since I began watching. 

Happy Easter in advance, dear reader!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Lords of Wasting Time

If I could choose only one from the many moral lessons, as these epic stories go, that The Lord of the Rings film trilogy attempts to impart upon its audience and label it as the most important, most relevant of them all, it would be this: Time is of the essence. Carpe diem. Seize the day. As long as there is sunlight, keep working; as long as there is moonlight, the night is young; as long as one can toil away, stopping is not an option. Now that may be too much of an exaggerated elaboration, but you get the point.

 You should have run, you fool.

Take for example, Gandalf's fall at the Bridge of Khazad-dum in The Fellowship of the Ring. He had defeated the balrog alright, but quite assured that the demon had been sent to its abysmal death, he chose to linger for a few moments on the edge of the broken stone bridge and catch a few breaths. Had he immediately walked away after defeating the demon, the balrog's whip would not have been able to take hold of his ankle and pull him down to the deep, thereby probably ensuring the continuance of the fellowship and who knows what else.

 You should have seen through Gollum's intentions when you were arguing over the techniques of cooking rabbit, Samwise.

Or how about Sam and the array of opportunities when he could have simply sliced off Gollum's head, especially in The Return of the King, that part where he hears loud and clear the creature's plans to kill them? I mean, come on, you really, really hate this creature and know full well that it plans to kill you - and take note that Frodo's asleep! Samwise - so much for the name - was equipped with a sword, but instead, he would barbarically choose to first strangle Gollum and wait for Frodo to wake up and see them. And this didn't happen just once.

Bite that finger off, yeah!

Wait. Then again, if Sam had killed Gollum, then there'd have been no one to bite the ringed finger off Frodo at the Crack of Doom near the end. So... this is tough. But in that scene is another example. 

"What are you waiting for? Just let it go!" shouts Sam, some steps behind Frodo, who stands at the edge of the ledge in the midst of the Chambers of Fire. Then, Frodo, perhaps suddenly possessed by the selfish spirit of Isildur, chooses to take the ring as his own. (Am I spoiling it for you? I thought everyone should have seen the trilogy by the end of the decade? Otherwise, that's a glaring hole in your movies-to-watch list.) 

Take me baby, or leave me!

Going back to the topic, had Sam stood by Frodo's side, he could have at least forcibly taken the ring from Frodo and cast it into the fire himself. Like suddenly grab and throw, and the rest will follow. Heck, we all know Frodo isn't that fast, anyway - and it's his own fault he lost a finger, too. This ring's been attempting to kill him all year, and he still chose to stare at it for longer than a second before destroying it, fully aware of its power to control him? Damn it, Baggins.

When in trouble, the Precious goes before one's life.

At the very least, Gollum is pardoned for first dancing with joy when he had at last retaken the ring, instead of running away with it. That's happiness, my friends. And we have to admit, the thing's kind of mental.

Having said all this, I have to applaud Shelob for her courage and determination to get a taste of hobbit meat. But once again, carpe diem: If I were her, I would have immediately pounced upon the unarmed Frodo instead of climbing over the rocks, trying to decide which position best to paralyze the slow thing. Attack Frodo and carry him back to the tunnel before Sam arrives.

Shelob calculating the best angle to pounce upon Frodo.

Yesterday, I finished my long-awaited LOTR (by Peter Jackson) marathon, a total of nine VCDs (yes, they still exist) all containing visual greatness. Once again, the trilogy reminded me that it is the most awesome film epic of the decade, and of my youth. Sorry, Harry.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Will the Coffee Endure?

This is rather exciting. It's only been a week since it opened, and people have arrived in hordes, storming its modest halls in anticipation of that long-awaited cup of coffee (or Chocolate Chip something, which is what my sister would have). Not once have we seen it devoid of customers, and at peak hours (and even during semi-peak hours), good luck finding a chair to sit on. Perhaps it's too early to tell, but for now, arrivals are going strong.

Iloilo City is one of the hardest tests for entrepreneurs and restaurateurs. On top of having good food, you'd need reasonable prices to go with them as well. Else, better go somewhere where the crowd's more generous with their money (like - I hate to namedrop, but I just have to - our less thrifty neighbor Bacolod City). Right now, we wait in bated breath for October - the sixth-month margin. I will go back to Manila and wade through my first semester in med school, and return home, and hopefully still have a hard time finding a seat.

Will the first-ever Starbucks in Iloilo City live a long life? Only time can tell (so no peeking in your palantirs).  


Lately, it seems Iloilo's been working its ass off vying for the imaginary title of "Provincial Marathon Capital of the Philippines."

It's like the entire city's sort of figured out the kind of sport that it wants to be identified with, the kind of passion that it wants to run through the blood of its people and be passed on to future generations. It's as if Ilonggos have somehow secretly agreed that running will henceforth be the main physical/recreational activity of the city. Every weekend, a marathon just pops up and seals off stretches of road for a couple of hours or so, and more are set for the coming weeks.

Running for the money? Running for fun? Who cares what the motivation is? The legs of this city are surely becoming muscular lumps of skin, flesh, and bone. Give or take a few months, the contours will be so well-formed, even sirens will drool over those mammalian hind limbs. At long last, we'll be able to challenge strangers from distant lands and say, "So how sexy are your legs?"

 The Infante Flyover, facing northwest. The right side leads to the turnaround point in front of UP Iloilo City campus.

Forgive me, for I wax sarcastic. It's just that, all my life, I've worked to become the master of the fast-walk (an apt capsulation for that motion characterized by unusually fast-paced walking), and now this madness comes along and ruins my life's ultimate goal. Everybody runs, like Joey. 

It's actually been over a year since I last ran in a fun run. In October of 2009, I finished running two rounds of the notorious UP Diliman Oval in just under thirty minutes, coming in at 157th among approximately five hundred UP Manila freshmen. That was five kilometers' worth of trudging down an uneven asphalt  road. That was our PE practical finals (we also had a written exam, which was a waste of time, if you ask me).

This morning - guess what I did - I joined a fun run for the first time in Iloilo! I know the city secretly feels the need to celebrate this achievement of mine, but that would simply be too much, thank you. Anyway, there were two categories, 5km and 10km, and out of fear that time might perhaps play its tricks upon me, I chose to play it safe and ran the shorter route. 

It took me 42 minutes and 58 seconds to finish. What a shame. Well, maybe knowing that your passing  PE  actually depends on whether or not you finish running down the 2.5-kilometer elliptical road twice helps speed you up. Time limit this morning was two hours - TWO hours! - which is like flying from Manila to Hong Kong (that's the estimate given by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific). 

The run was actually a 2.5-km stretch, roundtrip (pardon the plane-ticket reference), and the turnaround point was the Infante Flyover fronting UP Iloilo City campus. I believe this was the highlight of the entire run - to be able to run up and down that famous flyover, without the threat of cars, in the company of a peaceful Sunday sunrise and the fresh morning breeze.

In fact, this was my primary reason for joining the run. Cars whisk us to and from destinations within minutes. But the thrill and excitement of being able to run down the very center of the road, as people once did centuries ago, is something probably everyone who relies mainly on cars for transportation cannot deny. Provided you're fit enough, that's something you need to experience at least once in your life: to run like the world's your playground, to run like freedom itself. We've watched gazelles and impalas running freely across the vast African grasslands on television; fun runs and marathons actually give us the chance to be like these animals for a fraction of our lives.

That said, I'm totally in awe of people who run these marathons like their lives depended on them. I had just finished the first kilometer back from the flyover, and then this 10-K runner comes whizzing past. Perhaps there's no greater sense of fulfillment for these people than knowing that they've beaten a hundred others to finish at the top of the race. And in a way, that's what running is about. For some people, it's more than just reaching the finish line; it's about being the first to reach it.

The mighty Golden Eagle

We say that freedom is ours. But we know deep down that we are never truly free from everything. Something - even someone - will always be tugging at our spirits, chaining us to the banality of life, hindering the flight of our souls. Deep down, we are all hatchlings waiting for that day when we'd finally transform into that glorious eagle, spread our wings, and take flight. We yearn for that day when we'd finally fly past trouble and soar through the untainted sky. 

Running, at least, takes us closer to that day. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hoping for Change, Changing with Hope

This started out as just a project for one of our last pre-med courses. But it's more than just some mere video that's equivalent to a numerical rating (and who cares about that, anyway?! All right, we all do). The message is about hope; about knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun; that, when our long night is done, there will be light (thanks, Kitt and Yorkey). It's about the light at the end of the tunnel, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (where bluebirds fly). It's about hoping that this world will finally see change for the better, and consequently, changing the world through hope. As we now say, the glass is always hope-full.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Flight to Catch

This was written between 4-5 in the afternoon of April 6, 2011, when the blogger was feeling kind of sentimental in the airport, a cross between George Clooney in Up in the Air and Tom Hanks in The Terminal, or maybe something completely different from the two.

Washington Dulles Intl. Airport Main terminal

Yet again, my neck muscles have teamed up with one of my shoulders to create this physical vexation laymen call a ‘stiff neck’. I woke up this morning to find my head unable to turn to the right in its usual rapid nonchalance. So far, the pain’s successfully caused a headache; before the paracetamol after lunch, the most comfortable position that I could provide my head was a droop, and even that got me all dizzy and unfocused. I think I dropped my padlock somewhere in the kitchen without me knowing it.

Now ask the question: What was I doing with a padlock in the kitchen at lunch time? Well, I was packing up. I was busying myself with luggage, with clothes and books and shoes. More succinctly, I was drawing up the scheme of things by which I shall transport myself to the next dimension. You see, as I write this, I’m currently not in my usual blogging spot, which is an enclave so secret you’ll never find it.

I’m here at one of the laptop stations of the NAIA terminal II domestic wing. I’ve been here for half an hour already and have another thirty minutes to spare before boarding commences, should the flight depart on time. Today, I’m going home to Iloilo.

Across me, this foreign fellow toils away with his laptop. Earlier, he asked me to help him with the airport Internet connection – which sucks, by the way – and all I could do was provide a futile attempt at getting him wired before telling him that I’ve made just as much progress as he’s had with the net. I’m assuming he’s from China, or that he’s Chinese, since his laptop’s awash in Chinese characters. Cheer up, man (in reference to his currently contorted eyebrows).

(My mother calls. I talk to her in Hokkien.)

Well what do you know? Chinese guy’s not only versed in Hokkien, he’s also from the same place in Fujian province as my great-grandparents. I can feel his spirit lightened and brightened up by the fact that, of all places, the airport’s not one where he’s isolated by the language barrier. He’s chatty now. Good for him. He has this weird accent that 'non-Philippine' Hokkien speakers have. It’s like he’s twirling his tongue or something, which makes it challenging for me to understand what he's talking about. I hope you have a great time here. He’s saying lots of things now, some of which I don’t understand but just nod to.

Beside me is an American, I presume. For a more careful categorization, he’s one from an English-speaking country. And he has a Chinese-looking guy for company as well (but apparently, they know each other already). Oh, shoot – no, I’m not sure what his native tongue is anymore, based on what he just said (which I failed to process).

Now this is the part where I begin to really ramble on and on without direction.

I love airports. I love airplanes. I love the smell of airport terminals. I love the sight of shiny tiled floors and white walls, wide glass windows and streaming sunlight, artificial greenery and rows of benches, food stalls selling overpriced stuff. I love the cavernous feel of terminals, people scurrying from one end of the building to the other, either with children and/or tons of luggage in tow. I love the sight of people sitting solitary on the benches, side by side with their bags, looking beyond a certain nothing in the distance. I love the planes that create a performance in motion of metal bodies lifting to the air or rolling through the asphalt runway. I can smell anticipation in the air: of a child wanting to reach the beach in another island group, of a mother eagerly awaiting that moment when she’d hug her kid at the arrivals area of some other airport.

Few places can ever make me feel at home, and the airport's one of them. Maybe because I basically grew up with the airport only five minutes from home, the planes seemingly within arm's reach as they fly past our house every single day. Our flight's being called for boarding now, so I'll talk about this side of my life some other time. Meanwhile, let me insert what's become one of my favorite quotes from a movie, spoken by Hugh Grant's character in 2003's Love Actually.

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around."

Shanghai Pudong Intl. Airport Terminal 2

I know it's about the love part, but I just can't help loving the airport part. Now I've got a flight to catch and a plane to board. And a stiff neck to attend to.