Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Books don't get me teary-eyed, but...

... "The Corrections," which won Jonathan Franzen the National Book Award, is a surprisingly sad story, and it is a bastard that way, because for most of its bulk, it's pretty funny and amusing and occasionally grandly entertaining. And then--this is the part where I should put a spoiler warning--it stops pretending it's a funny and amusing story, and in a few pages, gets to the heart of the matter, and that heart is a badly damaged, terribly sad one. It provides, as far as my relatively short reach of literature is concerned, the most accurate depiction of how it feels, as clichés go, to be trapped in another body. Only, in this case, the body belongs to the prisoner, who is with worsening Parkinson's Disease, and let's call you a hypocrite this instant if you think you would never, not one second, think this way if you were in Alfred Lambert's shoes.

          Like a wife who had died or a house that had burned, the clarity to think and the power to act were still vivid in his memory. Through a window that gave onto the next world, he could still see the clarity and see the power, just out of reach, beyond the window's thermal panes. He could see the desired outcomes, the drowning at sea, the shotgun blast, the plunge from a height, so near to him still that he refused to believe he'd lost the opportunity to avail himself of their relief.
          He wept at the injustice of his sentence. "For God's sake, Chip," he said loudly, because he sensed that this might be his last chance to liberate himself before he lost all contact with that clarity and power and it was therefore crucial that Chip understand exactly what he wanted. "I'm asking for your help! You've got to get me out of this! You have to put an end to it!
          Even red-eyed, even tear-streaked, Chip's face was full of power and clarity. Here was a son whom he could trust to understand him as he understood himself; and so Chip's answer, when it came, was absolute. Chip's answer told him that this was where the story ended. It ended with Chip shaking his head, it ended with him saying: "I can't, Dad. I can't."

And this earlier passage, which all husbands and fathers should read, lest they forget that they don't have all the time in the world. And that it's okay, more so when your children happen to be all grown up already, to be more honest with your feelings; that there is no shame in, and nothing un-masculine about, being more forward and verbal with your thoughts.

          "Dad, Dad, Dad. What's wrong?"
          Alfred looked up at his son and into his eyes. He opened his mouth, but the only word he could produce was "I--"
          I have made mistakes--
          I am alone--
          I am wet--
          I want to die--
          I am sorry--
          I did my best--
          I love my children--
          I need your help--
          I want to die--
          "I can't be here," he said. 

Finally, "The Corrections" allows a flicker of redemption for the long-suffering wife, Enid Lambert (I heard June Squibb in the part up to the end), and it's a page-long paragraph I'd rather not type, so if you haven't, do yourself a favor and read this book.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Best Films of the 21st Century

Inspired by this list from BBC-Culture, of course. A bit embarrassing, really, to admit I've only seen 57 out of the hundred. (Is that Septa Unella reaching for her bell I hear?) My list--oh yes, I have a list--says I've seen 889 of this new century's films. I can up that to a thousand before I start residency, I think, but we'll see. In the meantime, this should suffice:

1. The Social Network (2010; David Fincher)
2. Boyhood (2014; Richard Linklater)
3. Children of Men (2006; Alfonso Cuarón)
4. Closer (2004; Mike Nichols)
5. Mean Girls (2004; Mark Waters)
6. A Separation (2011; Asghar Farhadi)
7. Norte, The End of History (2013; Lav Diaz)
8. Pan's Labyrinth (2006; Guillermo del Toro)
9. Certified Copy (2010; Abbas Kiarostami)
10. Summer Hours (2008; Olivier Assayas)
11. Doubt (2008; John Patrick Shanley)
12. Spotlight (2015; Tom McCarthy)
13. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013; Joel and Ethan Coen)
14. Sideways (2004; Alexander Payne)

A few notes:

1. Aside from "Closer" and "Doubt," two other fine adaptations of a play: the 2004 HBO miniseries "Angels in America," also directed by Nichols; and Nicholas Hytner's "The History Boys," starring most of the original London cast.

2. "Inside Llewyn Davis" is my best musical film of the 21st century. "Chicago" and "Moulin Rouge!" can go tango with each other on a cliff.

3. "Mean Girls" is a no-brainer. It's, like, a cultural phenomenon. Duh.

4. As Richard Bolisay said in Twitter, "Spotlight" may just be the most important Oscars Best Picture win in a long time.

5. Why fourteen? The number sounded good for the moment. Could expand the list to include "Gosford Park," "The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers," "Midnight in Paris," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," etc., etc.

Finally, my seven essential performances of the 21st century:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

PDI Review: 'Breaking the Fourth Wall' by the Triple Threats concert series

The next Triple Threats show, "Koro/Nasyon," will be on Sept. 8. Meanwhile, the Inquirer.net version of this review is here.

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Breaking the mold--and more--in 'Breaking the Fourth Wall'

It wasn't only the fourth wall, or that imaginary boundary between the audience and the performers, that was broken during "Breaking the Fourth Wall," the concert that launched the fourth year of the Triple Threats series of musical performances at Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

For one, this year's shows are shining the spotlight not on individuals, but on "the ensemble." "Breaking the Fourth Wall" gathered Abi Sulit, Chinie Concepcion, Maronne Cruz, Kyla Rivera, Vince Lim, Nacho Tambunting, George Schulze and Steven Hotchkiss--though how this grouping came to be wasn't overtly stated (availability, perhaps, being the chief curator?).

There was also the breaking of a record of sorts: Since its inception, the Triple Threats series had been churning concerts of consistently excellent performances and production values, from Audie Gemora's and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo's in 2013 all the way to Vincent de Jesus' last year. (For this writer's money, Bituin Escalante's in 2014 remains unrivaled.)

Intended effect?

So why did this year's opener feel more like a senior year recital of some bachelor of fine arts program rather than an actual concert by professional artists?

This, despite the set list, which read like a best-of-Broadway compilation. One can only imagine what a magnificent album that would have made if the best of local musical theater were ever gathered to do it.

Alas, here it only felt endless, and magnificent the actual evening wasn't. Did the performers have enough rehearsal time to polish their numbers, especially since most of the songs required belting notes of the inhuman kind ("Defying Gravity" from "Wicked," "Astonishing" from "Little Women," "You There in the Back Row" from "13 Days to Broadway")?

Liesl Batucan's direction also didn't push the show down a stronger, more cohesive path. Some of the performers could have toned down their occasionally borderline-histrionic interpretations of the songs (this was a concert, not a full production), and many of the numbers could have stood some trimming. Which makes one think if the evening coming off as a long audition was really the intended effect.

Yatco's orchestrations

The upside to many of the numbers being performed in full, however, was the chance to listen to musical director Ejay Yatco's orchestrations, and the bits and pieces of genius sprinkled in the way he wove the medleys.

A couple of highlights were his repetition of the opening chords of "Defying Gravity" flouting expectations during the "Broadway Divas" medley; and how, in the finale, "Louder Than Words" from "Tick, Tick... Boom"--where Yatco provided a rare peek at his fine singing voice--segued into "Heart and Music" from "A New Brain," and then to "Seasons of Love" from "Rent."

There were numerous guest performers throughout the night, but curiously enough, none of them did an actual ensemble number from an actual musical with the performers.

Some of them did serve as learning points for the performers, as if to say, "This is how you do it, kids." A pregnant Sweet Plantado-Tiongson fully and soaringly belted out "Meadowlark" from "The Baker's Wife"; Carla Guevara-Laforteza's "Woman" from "The Pirate Queen" was a master class in vocal technique; and Audie Gemora once more demonstrated his unparalleled skill in musical phrasing and enunciation with Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's "One Last Prayer."

Two standouts

Among the "auditionees" (we may as well call them that), it was Sulit and Lim who really distinguished themselves. 

The former nailed a trifecta of Black Women parts--"And I am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls," "Home" from "The Wiz" and the female soloist in "Seasons of Love." The latter proved the most accomplished voice of the eight, even as his take on "I'm Alive" from "Next to Normal" was marred by a malfunctioning microphone. 

Oh yes, the sound was also another thing that was broken. For lack of a more sober word, it was awful.

What was it, exactly? A device problem? A glitch in the transmission? Someone sleeping on the job? Concepcion's lapel mic sounded the worst, and it mind-bogglingly remained in horrendous shape throughout the show.

By CCP standards, the sound design was a train wreck that sent the entire evening on a downward spiral of no return.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I'm Back in Iloilo Again, Losers

I have around ten plane rides scheduled until November, and this morning's clearly wasn't one of them. But it's what you're supposed to do when you're not taking the September boards, and your dad called to say he had an episode of hematemesis, which is really code for "something's been fucking with my esophageal varices again" (and that something, you find out, is partly due to his self-medicating and, as my brother put it, lack of "sense of self-preservation"). So I'm back in the city--will miss my last scheduled "Rak of Aegis" trip on Saturday to see Vince Lim, Joann Co and Tricia Amper-Jimenez, as well as the launch of "Maximum Volume 2" on Friday--and those guys up there are keeping me company.

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NAIA as it is is not very spotter-friendly. The best it has for people like us is the domestic wing of Terminal 2, which offers pleasant views of the runway activity down 6/24. Surprise, surprise: This place apparently exists in Terminal 3. It's not much, but it does the trick. 

Instructions: Go to Level 4, the floor with restaurants, accessible to everyone. Facing airside, head left until you reach the Wings transit lounge. To the right, you'll see an empty hall, which would appear closed off by the glass wall. Walk to the very end; the glass wall ends and you can enter the place. The windows are nice, but I do wish you could turn the lights off at night.

All Nippon Airways Boeing 787-8 to Tokyo-Narita.
Cathay Pacific A330-300 to Hong Kong; Terminal 2 in the distance.
Delta Airlines Boeing 747-400 to Tokyo-Narita; Cathay Pacific A330 to HK.
ANA Boeing 787-8 to Narita; Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-200ER to where else.

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Sunday afternoon, we saw Red Turnip Theater's "Tribes." What a beautiful--and judging by the attendance, atrociously underseen--show.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I'm Back in Manila, Losers

I'm using "losers," of course, in the misplaced context of "Get in the car, loser, we're going shopping." It's a quote from "Mean Girls," but if you don't know this movie, then I really can't help you.

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Anyway. So I spent a good three-and-a-half weeks in Iloilo. I hadn't been home since Dinagyang in January. But really, I needed to go home. The last month of internship was so tiring, even if I didn't really look tired most of the time (I ugly-cried inside). Besides, Iloilo will always be home, even if Manila beats it in a lot of respects (the food places, movies, THEATER!, etc.). The pace of life is slower, kinder, friendlier. My old friends are there. The places I know by heart are there. My pig/dog is there. God, my family is there. And people are just generally nicer to each other. On my second Sunday there, we had a flat tire on the way to church and had it fixed at this roadside vulcanizing shop within an hour for a cheap price. Not exactly the perfect example, but you get the point.

Grandparents being grandparents.

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We had a not-so-close family friend come over from Davao. They went to Gigantes Island in the northeastern tip of Panay on their first day. Their second day, we took them around the city and beyond. They wanted to visit the town of San Joaquin, which is like two hours outside the city with fair traffic (and that's not a good number, if you know Iloilo). We saw the church with its ornately sculpted facade (the bell tower has become a bat cave). We saw the seaside park. We saw the cemetery with the funky centerpiece. Then it started raining and we headed back to the city.

San Joaquin Church facade.

San Joaquin cemetery.

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We played this PC game called Rodent as kids (none of those Gameboy or PlayStation shit for us, no sir). Our training was put to good use for two nights, because we had a fucking mouse problem! 

Checkmate, bitch.

*     *     *     *     *

Things I accomplished in Iloilo:
1. Studied a chapter of BRS Physiology
2. 90% done with the "Rak of Aegis" revisited piece
3. Started a new short story (it's dedicated to my friends in med school)
4. Spent time with the grandparents (there's a funny pair)
5. "Fresh Off the Boat"
6. Play with doggie

This dog is so lazy, it's adorable.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

s/p Internship: More from the year that was

This is the second of a two-part documentation of the seventh year in med school.

I'm reluctant to turn this post into some kind of lazy-ass photo dump, but when you're trapped in a city that's really no good for your writing brain, and said brain's slowly turning to mush from indolence, then you really have no choice. Here's 42 more pictures from the year that was, including some NSFW and never-before-seen ones (but that's really pushing it).

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1. This is what your doctors do when they don't have patients. Remember when this was a thing? (Internal Medicine emergency room call room, September 2015).

2. Two from the National Museum: "Mother's Revenge" by José Rizal (terra cotta, 1894); and Manansala's carabaos.

3. More from that Corregidor trip: (top to bottom) the Manila skyline; view of Malinta tunnel from the park behind the Pacific War Memorial; statue of the Buddhist fertility goddess at the Japanese Garden of Peace; making friends.

4. Trying my hand at paparazzi-ing during the premiere of the restored version of "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" (1980, directed by Mike de Leon and starring Christopher de Leon) at Trinoma.

5. Making fools of ourselves--and damn entertaining ones at that--during the Mr. and Ms. Surgery pageant.

6. More from that La Union trip: (top to bottom) clingy toothbrushing at Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel; roadside garlic to ward off evil; customary stop at the Church of Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan on the way home.

7. More from that Mt. Pamitinan climb: (top to bottom) side trip to Wawa Dam, where a kid shat in the water; Brother Terence and I diggin' those rocks.

8. Pediatrics rotation! (Top to bottom) 3AM at the emergency room triage before leaving for Dinagyang in a few hours; with my stellar service clerks in the wards; while not catching newborn babies ((c) C. Vistal).

9. This is my brother from another mother. This is what he does for leisure.

10. Playing with light at the 2016 Art Fair Philippines.

11. After the Disney-themed "One Night Stand" cabaret, where we used to be regulars, at 12 Monkeys Music Hall and Pub. ((c) C. Vistal)

12. More from the "Les Mis" gala after-party at the Diamond Hotel. There were four Filipina Fantines in that room: Lea Salonga (replacement, 2006 Broadway revival; will next be seen in Atlantis' "Fun Home" in November); Joanna Ampil (replacement, West End original, 2003-2005 & 2007-2008); Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (1993 Repertory Philippines; will next be seen in Resorts World Manila's "Annie"); and Rachelle Ann Go, who played the role in that production.

13. Putting on our best sober faces at 1AM at The Fort. Check out our balloon-filled ride. ((c) C. Vistal)

14. More from Community: (top to bottom) J and I with our barangay health team; the river, the main attraction of Barangay Lumipa in Bailen, Cavite; J and I celebrating his birthday at the Residence Inn Zoo in Tagaytay (it is no longer worth visiting and should just shut down).

15. The day after the 2016 national elections, we took a wrong turn on our way to Community and found ourselves at the official birthplace of Philippine independence. 

16. More from that last hipster trip to Punta Fuego. ((c) C. Vistal)







17. Diagnosis: Abortion, early, septic, induced. s/p spontaneous passage of products of conception. 

18. More from our fake graduation (a.k.a. the university graduation) at the Philippine International Convention Center. With some of the people who matter.

19. After the Sunog-Puri ceremonies, which we headed. Damn evil fun, it was.

20. More from the grad ball, including us hangin' out at the posh women's comfort room.

21. Finally, at the college graduation in UP Diliman. This was during the singing of our class song, which more than half of us no longer memorized.