How the Foo Fighters Got Old Really Fast

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In the closing scene of The Hurt Locker, Sgt. William James told his son that “As you get older, some of the things you love might not seem so special anymore.” Function of age, I guess.

The Foo Fighters were news to me back ’97—“Monkey Wrench” on MTV, a friend’s got a tape of The Colour and the Shape, Grohl’s new short hair, Pat Smear’s gay, etc., etc.

Are they still news to me now, twenty years later?

Hardly. Actually, hardly anything not about Stephen Malkmus, Pavement, Eraserheads and a few other artists/bands could pass as music news to me. It just so happen that I was trying to write something about the Foo Fighters, so I searched them and found this news article.

Foo’s latest single “Run” was released on June 1 and it’s already got six million views on YouTube. Good for them. If you haven’t seen or heard it yet, it’s good—but you’re not missing a lot. Nothing exceptional. Except maybe for the fact that the video reminds me of “Kick the Can” from The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone—that’s a nice movie, that one you shouldn’t miss.

Independence Day is Dry Day

12.jpgA personal note on celebrating Independence Day, what it means to us, and drinking beer on holidays.

15 Aug 2016. We have just celebrated our 118 years of independence last June; our lasting friendship with Uncle Sam last July 4th. Yesterday, I saw a lot of people, friends on social media raising our collective middle finger to Lim-A-Hong and his adventures in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. While some people took the news as enough reason to go out on the streets and celebrate, I couldn’t bring myself up to join them in their online ranting; as if keeping myself on the sidelines saying “we’re just pissing in the wind”. And despite the decision clearly going to our favor, I see it this way: the jury finally announced that you actually won the grand prize, but the other guy already took it, ate it, slept with it, some five years ago.

Still, I hope the new government have a clear plan on what to do next. And I hope it’s not some cop-out B-movie plan I grow up watching on TV because in reality, no plot armor could save us. I’m not expecting us to take back what was ours; neither I expect us to get into something we clearly aren’t prepared for and capable of. War should be the last thing on our list. (Or maybe it shouldn’t be there at all.)

But this is about the 12th of June, as it is about the 15th of August, the celebration of Indian Independence from the British Empire. This I learned about, only this morning, when I saw my colleagues from India, all dressed up, like there was something really special. I was just planning to greet them casually, like “Hey, Happy Independence Day!” but one offered a hand and so I end up greeting them one by one and shake hands with each one of them. Not that I have anything against shaking hands, I just thought that it would be too formal. Then I ask them, how many years of independence and someone answered 70 years. And from them I saw that it’s something really important. That today isn’t just another holiday back home. That they appreciated my simple gesture—I felt it when I shook their hands. And it surprised me. Because we never really took June 12th seriously. We never get together to celebrate it back home nor when we’re away from home. We only see it as a holiday. Which is probably why I’m not entirely sold on the idea of many people clamoring for change online. I see it more like a knee-jerk reaction, more like out of anger or frustrations with all the shit that’s happening everyday and with the previous administration.

But let’s go back to my well-dressed friends. After I greeted them I asked, “Is Independence Day also a Dry Day?” they said yes and everyone burst into laughter.

Dry Days are specific days when the sale of alcohol is not permitted. Most of the Indian states observe these days on major national festivals or occasions.

Revisiting The Dark Knight (Almost) Ten Years After

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If I have to pick my favorite scenes or sequence in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, one would be the part when Batman failed to save Rachel Dawes, second would be the opening bank heist, Heath Ledger’s Joker bombing the hospital would be third and lastly, Batman interrogating the Joker.

The Dark Knight is not a bad movie—isn’t that great either. On paper, it’s probably the best big screen Batman adaptation. But since Batman is hardly the detective/ninja he is supposed to be in this movie (despite his rigorous training in Batman Begins), and TDK hardly a decent action-thriller, despite glimpse of greatness in the Heat-inspired opening sequence, I’d say it’s a little overrated.

Christopher Nolan can’t shoot action—let’s get that out of the way as early as possible. The action scenes in TDK are a jumbled mess, badly edited and poorly executed. Just take the part where Gordon was shot on stage. It happened so quickly and executed so poorly, that that sequence alone didn’t make much impact. It did make its point, that another major character died, but not much else. (Without the scene where Gordon’s wife was informed by the cops, it’s not too hard to miss what the hell happened there.) Which renders the reveal, or the prestige if you like, of this particular sub-plot later—that Gordon is alive and thus, was able to arrest the Joker—much less impact, like a poorly executed magic trick. They could delete that scene and the result would be the same. Also, Gordon’s death hasn’t even sink-in yet (for me at least), before it is revealed that he’s alive. Of course, all Nolan was trying to tell is that Batman, Gordon and Dent thought they were able to trick the Joker; turns out he was already ahead of them—this I’ve realized, only after watching the movie again.

Then, there’s the supposedly climactic battle where Batman tried and miraculously succeeded—despite fighting like an under-cranked ninja—in saving the hostages from Gordon’s men. Oh I forgot, he was wearing a specialized visor that renders Ethan Hunt and the rest of IMF totally old-school. Of course, the Joker’s ploy was brilliant, and Batman made a commendable job finally having realized that with the Joker, “it isn’t that simple”. What most tend to ignore, is the fact that this supposedly spectacular final battle, was awkwardly executed and visually flat.

If there’s a bigger schemer here, it’s Christopher Nolan himself—not Dent, not Batman, not the Joker. Joker’s disappearing pencil has got nothing on Nolan’s favorite trick: misdirection. While the Joker lays his plans like dominoes ready to tip over and fall one after another, Nolan layers poorly edited set-pieces with lazy exposition and badly executed action scenes, and toss them with Hans Zimmer score that should imply relentlessness and sustained tension. He loads the script with a lot of things enough to distract you from thinking how the execution—especially in terms of action film-making and visual storytelling—could have been so much better.

All this would result, nonetheless, to Nolan’s greatest inception—instilling many the idea that this ambitious but deeply flawed sequel is the Godfather II of the comic-book moviedom.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Is the Joss Whedon Sequel We Never Had

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Before The Avengers became Marvel’s biggest hit (to the tune of $1.5B), Joss Whedon was asked about making Avengers 2 and gave his thoughts on what makes a better sequel. He said that the sequel should go smaller, more personal, instead of just repeating what worked in the first. Then came Avengers: Age of Ultron—it’s not quite the kind of sequel Whedon said he’d like to make.

(Presses fast-forward button…)

Marvel’s favorite A-holes are back.

From the opening title sequence, where they fight the Abilisk to the tune of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” (yes, an expanded version of Star-Lord’s “Come And Get Your Love” number from the first) to the moment Ego reveals himself to be Peter Quill’s father, the Guardians have managed to be the two things we love about them: being the “heroes” they are now known after the Battle of Xandar; and minutes later, the bunch of assholes they were known for before saving Xandar. First, they save the Sovereign the trouble of fighting a giant squid-like battery-munching monster; then on the next, they fight among themselves, crash their own ship, insult, offend and eventually, earn the wrath of High Priestess Ayesha and the rest of the Sovereign—the same people whose precious batteries they have just “saved”.

They’re just being themselves, I guess. Compared with the Avengers’ banter-heavy work-like team dynamics, the Guardians’ we’re-a-happy-family kind of shit (a Ramones reference, by the way) is, just on another level—of crazy. For them, doing the right thing, saving the world or saving one’s own ass isn’t always top priority. They’ll do it for the money, sure, or in exchange for something valuable. Sometimes, it’s just for the simple “Fuck it, we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, bitch” reason. And that’s probably why Drax was dangling from outside the Milano, during one of the space battles—just like Han Solo in Air Force One. They’re erratic and unpredictable, and unfortunately for you, Andromedans, they’re the savers of your galaxy.

And that’s the primary reason James Gunn loves these characters so much. Or is it the other way around? That Gunn loves them so much that’s why… Nevermind. There’s definitely a lot of love going on here—in the movie and in making this movie. So much that Gunn made Vol. 2 just like the first—only in reverse. Less on saving the world and McGuffins, more on the characters and their backstories—expanding them, revealing hidden lines, connecting the dots.

Awesome Mix Vol. 2 takes the same dip, highlighting obscure titles and Gunn’s personal favorites in as much as the hits. If the first sounds like some hipster mix-tape you play in front of friends so you’d look cool, the new set is truly your parents’ music. They’re the songs you listen to when you’re alone and misses the times when you’re still small, being with your folks, playing with your He-Man action figures, and the songs your parents love, were playing in the background. It’s kind of sad and beautiful… Like a picnic in the park, or your family watching Empire Strikes Back at home, on the old Betamax.

So Quill finally meets his old man, a Celestial named Ego, a god with small ‘g’, played by the inimitable Kurt Russell. All those years growing up with the Ravagers, Quill just wanted to play catch with his Dad. On the other hand, Gamora just wanted to end her feud with her step-sister; but Nebula wants something else, actually, she wanted more. Elsewhere in the galaxy, Yondu, the guy who kidnapped young Quill many years ago, vows to right the wrongs he did in the past. While Rocket, still the meanest A-hole in the team, gets to meet his match.

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By the end, everyone’s given his/her own “drama queen” moment (because this is what Guardians is all about—the drama, it’s Marvel’s own soap opera), except Baby Groot, who stuffs the movie with cuteness overload and funny one-liners. Yeah. Funny. One. Liners. While Drax mostly served as muscle and gas throughout the movie, there’s one brief scene, with him and Mantis sitting by the pond, that’s really “touching”.

All this makes Vol. 2 a lot more personal, more intimate. And in a way, smaller, as the movie splits the team in two and focuses on each character’s personal issues. Then, the narratives meet in the middle, intertwine and unravel in the most organic way possible. Nothing here feels tacked on, as all were established, or at least hinted at, in the first movie.

Of course, Vol. 2 also doubles down on the other things we love about the first: dick-jokes and jokes about a mechanical eye and really big turd, the ’80s references, the eye-popping set-pieces, and action sequence set to really awesome music. There’s the Ravagers slam-dancing to “Southern Nights”; Quill and Co. landing on Ego’s Planet to the tune of “My Sweet Lord”; the arcade-inspired Sovereign Fleet with their “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” disco-hive attack, just to name a few.

If all this does not a perfect sequel make, then I don’t know what. A political thriller perhaps?

Then, it all fails—if only because we need to measure it with the same stick we used with the first. Or simply because there ain’t a scene as powerful, corny, kick-ass, funny, and dramatic—all of these combined, as when the Guardians vanquished Ronan in the first movie. If these two movies were a pair of rock albums, Vol. 1 is the surprise smash hit debut, and Vol. 2, is its decidedly different, less immediate follow-up (think about Weezer’s Blue Album and Pinkerton). It’s heavier, deeper, and has more layers. And probably requires—and hopefully gets better with—repeated listens.

Vol. 2 doesn’t need to better or outdo the first to be the perfect sequel. It is a perfect sequel. I have only one complaint: I expected Star-Lord to make a giant Skeletor. Or a big blonde Heather Locklear.

 

*GOTG Vol. 2 mugs from here.

Buddha’s Pest (The Mongols, 2004)

mongbudGot Buddha’s Pest few months ago—got it pre-loved, second-hand, from eBay. As advertised, it is in mint condition. The CD inserts, with production notes and lyrics, are still intact—means the previous owner really took good care of it. It’s quite amusing though, that the liner notes come with directions and precautions, warning about the dangers in playing it loud and listening closely. That at full volume, it is no different from the red pill that could lead you down the rabbit hole; that it’s as potent as any mind-altering substance that could trigger mental time travel or worse, disorient and fuck the brain.

Buddha’s Pest is Jesus “Dizzy” Ventura’s (a.k.a. Ely Buendia) first proper release, post-Eraserheads; and The Mongols, his first formal band since “graduation”. Like the five-track EP Fraction of A Second, which was sold in their gigs in CD-R format, Buddha’s Pest is also self-produced by the band, released via their own Criminal Records, but under a major label imprint for wider distribution. Much like Teeth’s unintended swan song I Was A Teenage Tree, Buddha’s Pest  is criminally underrated.

Quite interesting that The Mongols open the album with repeated sampled noises (which echoes, whether intentional or not, the electronic beats and loops from the Heads’ last outing), before kicking the flood gates open with “The Keeper”. What follows is a string of tunes that not only recalls the early ’90s—particularly shoegaze and grunge—but also reminds of Ely Buendia’s witticisms and penchant for melody—with the latter having gone a bit suspect on Carbon Stereoxide.

The Mongols mine old gold, both tuneful and mouthful: whether it’s the fragmented lyricism of “Bulakbol”, Buendia’s internal monologues in “Bakit Nga Ba?”, or his parade of comic-book characters in both the Billy Corgan-esque “Wig Out” (a troglodyte, a silent sentry, the Minotaur) and the impossibly sublime “Irish Spring” (the dragon-slayer, his lady fair, and the little monster). The words aren’t just sounds that flows with the tunes. There are stories in there, floating in a whirl of fuzz and distortion. Needless to say, this is easily Buendia’s best set of songs since Sticker Happy.

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Complementing Buendia’s full-on comeback is Teeth’s Jerome Velasco. Velasco’s guitars provide the grit and nuances, shifting between chunky distorted riffs and dreamy soundscapes between and within songs while the band flies high on intricately layered song constructs and simple chord progressions.

But to credit everything to guitarists Buendia and Velasco would be harshly unfair to the rest of the gang. There’s the dreamy “Pony”, a song about a girl who loves to tell stories about girls and bands, penned by Yan Yuzon and Bogs Jugo—the other half of the band, relatively newcomers whose names suspiciously sound like they were lifted from comic books. Then there’s “It’s Over”, another solid contribution from Yuzon, which is not really for the embittered Eheads’ fans (So hold my hand/ We’ll take a bow/ The world can do without us now).

This album has plenty of highlights, but for me, “Heroine”, a song credited to all members of the band, takes the cake. This is where all hell breaks loose. Mid-song, there’s a campy exchange between GOD (played by Buendia’s muse, Diane Ventura) and Satan that sounds like a scene straight out of the first Heavy Metal movie—it’s hilariously grungy and head-bangingly cool. But what sets this apart is the chorus; it is heavenly—like the whole band speaking in tongues—a modern haiku for the ages.

I promise you my heart/ we’ll never be apart/ I’m gonna fuck you like there’s no tomorrow.

No other band—not the Radioactive Sago Project, not Wolfgang, not the Eraserheads, not even the Urban Bandits—has ever gone this pure. This magical. This visceral.

“Heroine” is its fuckin’ nirvana and Buddha’s Pest is bliss.

 

*Album inlay from Schizo Archives.

Have you ever wished you were a 90’s kid? FYI, the 2000’s was awesome too!

Note: This was originally written in September 2016, around the time everyone was going crazy over a TV ad featuring the Eraserheads.

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“We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever.”

                                                             – Lariat (Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, 2014)

Everyone wants to be a 90’s kid these days. Everyone wants to relive those times when “Pare Ko” hits the top of the charts; when “Alapaap”, “Banal Na Aso” and “Laklak” almost got banned; when Rivermaya premiered their music video for “Elesi”; and when the boys of Parokya Ni Edgar debuted on national TV, wearing skirts and dusters. Nostalgia moves in mysterious ways. There’s probably another Eraserheads reunion brewing around the corner (or maybe that’s just how a certain Telco giant wants us to think and feel). There’s also this rumor spreading around of the band re-recording Ultraelectromagneticpop. But the Eraserheads and their fans aren’t alone on the reunion bandwagon. Four out of five members of Rivermaya’s 1994 lineup had a one-night reunion last January. For some, it was a night to remember, with or without Bamboo; for the others, their wish remains the same – the reunion of the “original” Rivermaya.

We’re halfway past the 2010’s already. It makes me wonder. Are we gonna be nostalgic soon for the previous decade, as we were for the 90’s ten years ago? In case you forgot, Ultraelectromagneticjam came out in 2005, a few days before the 10th year anniversary of Cutterpillow. And if you want to gauge how nostalgic we were back then, just think about this – Ultraelectromagneticjam was a tribute album for a band that disbanded merely three years prior. Yeah, that’s how badly we missed the Eraserheads, specifically the Eraserheads of early-to-mid 90’s (the Eraserheads of late 90’s to early 2000’s? Not much, I guess).

How about the 2000’s? Doesn’t anyone want to go back to the early to mid-2000s? Are we not going to see our collective nostalgia snowball into a Sugarfree reunion? Or at least make the members of Orange & Lemons play together again? Would there be online petitions for the members of Bamboo and Rivermaya circa 2004, to double-bill one big concert?

Honestly, that would be awesome.

There’s no denying that the 90’s was great for local music, but I’m afraid that we’re very much inclined to overlook a lot of things – bands, music, albums – that came out after the 90’s. As far as I’m concerned, the 2000’s was just as good, if not better.

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Here’s a list of notable/favorite albums from the previous decade. And they are just as good and as interesting as the best albums from the 90’s. I think Peryodiko’s self-titled debut, which was produced by Robin Rivera (Eraserheads, Dong Abay, Sugarfree), is an underrated gem. Ditto with Archipelago’s one and only CD. Among the albums listed below, those from Ciudad, The Purplechickens and Narda are probably the hardest ones to find – which is quite sad because those are among the finest indie records from the last decade. If you don’t like MYMP because of their sappy acoustic covers, you’d be surprised that their debut album, has nine originals and only two covers (The Police’s “Every Little Thing” and Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain”). And Juana’s only album, which sounds very 90’s (think of Prettier Than Pink, only better) is actually fine.

A is for Alternative: Free (Rivermaya); Tuloy Ang Ligaya (Rivermaya); Live & Acoustic (Rivermaya); Bagong Liwanag (Rivermaya); Behold! Rejoice! Surfernando is Here Nah (Markus Highway); Travel Advisory (Archipelago); Peryodiko (Peryodiko); The Noontime Show (Itchyworms); Sa Wakas (Sugarfree); Flipino (Dong Abay); Beautiful Machines (Pupil); Wildlife (Pupil); Buddha’s Pest (The Mongols); Thanks to the Moon’s Gravitational Pull (Sandwich); Contra Tiempo (Sandwich); Bigotilyo (Parokya Ni Edgar); Your Universe (Rico Blanco)

Indie Darlings: Hello! How Are You, Mico the Happy Bear? (Ciudad); Is That Ciudad? Yes Son It’s Me (Ciudad); Formika (Narda); Discotillion (Narda); A Postcard From (Narda); Swerte (Narda); Rhomboids (Monsterbot); Here’s Plan B (The Purplechickens)

Jazz Folk & Funk: Urban Gulaman (Radioactive Sago Project); Rippingyarns (Cynthia Alexander); The Powder Room Stories (Skarlet); Is Love (Out Of Body Special)

Pop Princesses: Misbehavior (Juana); Suntok Sa Buwan (Session Road); Kitchie Nadal (Kitchie Nadal); Soulful Acoustic (MYMP); Todo Combo (Moonstar88)

Punk Post-Punk New Wave: Flowerfish (Sheila & The Insects); Guerrila Ballroom (Agaw Agimat); Bitch for Change (Reklamo); Nut House (Hilera); Strike Whilst The Iron Is Hot (Orange and Lemons)

(Photo of Narda’s Salaguinto’t Salagubang EP by Rain Contreras.)

Light Peace Love (Bamboo, 2005)

lightAs The Music Plays, more than anything else, was about how “ecstatic” the band was, that its principal songwriter’s friend, the rockstar vocalist had finally came back, after deserting them, some five years ago. It was good—that debut/comeback album—but not without its flaws. The lesser songs, I could barely remember now.

This rushed follow-up is a bit more ambitious, at times, more interesting; but fumbles on the attempt to produce a single that matches their previous hits. Much of their earthly charm (e.g., Hudas, Masaya) were gone, overtaken by swagger and the fast ballooning self-importance that seeps through its three-word title. As if between the lines, the liner notes read—Bono was here.

“Hallelujah” had (almost) everybody hail hallelujah to the GOAT—I thought the guitars could have been louder, fatter, thicker, or dirtier. “F.U.” was probably directed at their detractors, haters, who in turn found more reason to dis them after it was released as second single. (Who would’ve thought they were so environment-friendly, that they’re kind enough to recycle the melody from the first single). Luckily, there were still leftovers of the band magic they had on their first: “04”, “I-You”, “Peace Man” and “Truth”, the real winners here. The more interesting parts, like “Diner at 6”, are just that—interesting. “Much Has Been Said”, is soulful but also a bit boring, which also informs us where Bamboo would be headed, once he ditch his band-mates again.

10 Things I Learned In Japan

Disclaimer: No offense meant for people who usually gets offended by lazily written articles that contain stuff like compact discs, bikes, and Maria Ozawa. Also, no offense meant for Spotify-lovers.

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Stand on the right, walk on the left. It’s not just for the work-crazy Japanese, always rushing to get to work. It’s also for us who are always rushing to get back home from work, those who are rushing to the next big sale in the mall, those who are rushing on their way to work to catch the morning bell. We’ll probably take years to learn this simple trick. Not because we’re slow. But because we love to break rules. Or simply, maybe, we hate rules and prefer chaos over the orderly.

Trains are cool, trains are great. They’re fast, effective and convenient too. I remember Jello Biafra saying something like “9/11 might have been averted if America was as crazy about trains as they were about airplanes”, that it would be “more fun to travel across the states in bullet trains.” We only have four train lines in Metro Manila. Imagine if we could double that number. It wouldn’t be much compare to Japan, but it would surely felt heavenly for commuters. Or, it could be worse. Imagine all of them not in good working condition, with all trains taking hours to arrive, and you have to suffer long lines before you reach the turnstiles.

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They even have dedicated walkways with color coded tiles for the blind. Color coded tiles. For the blind. Go figure.

Book-Off is a record collector’s paradise. You can buy old stock CD’s—lots and lots of them—for as low as ¥250. You would usually find albums from the most popular 90’s bands: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Garbage, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, NoFx and The Offspring. If you’re lucky and patient enough to check all those alphabetically arranged racks every once in a while, like me, you’d probably find some rare items—something from either the Pixies, Stephen Malkmus or My Bloody Valentine.

There are also lots of old (e.g, The Beatles, Ramones and Jimmi Hendrix) and current (Imagine Dragons, anyone?) stuff, but not in the bargain section; which means you need to bring more cash with you if you are into them. Or you can wait till one of those CD’s gets transferred to the cheap section. Like the time when I found a very mint copy of Sgt. Pepper’s priced at ¥500 and I went straight to the cashier. The next time I saw another Beatles album sold for less, it was The Abbey Road. If you guessed that I grabbed it right there and then with all my might, you are most probably right. But that’s not saying I’m one big Beatles fan. I’m not.

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Hard-Off is pure hard-on. From bikes, to turntables, to gaming consoles, to electric guitars, it’s haven for those who don’t mind owning pre-loved items.

A for Effort, Z for Delivery. Putting effort means putting more hours. Even if it means being inefficient. For as long as you look busy and focused (even if at times, you’re only pretending) and stay at the workplace for as long as you can, your boss will appreciate your effort. You cannot relax and show that you’re really enjoying what you do by humming a Barry Manilow song while your hands are on the keyboard and go home at 5pm. Applying the take-a-break-every-30-minutes rule, is also a big no-no.

Japanese girls in yukata will bring out the inner samurai in you.

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It’s almost impossible to lost your wallet with all your important cards and ID’s in it. If you have a contact number in it, you’d most probably get a call. If you lost it on a train, you can contact the train station. One morning, there was this one guy reading manga while on the train, who just left the manga inside the train when he dropped off at the next station. The following day, I rode the same car on the same schedule and found that same guy reading the same manga he was reading the previous day.

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If you find one of Jimmy Page’s guitars displayed in a store in Ochanomizu, you’re not allowed to touch it. Unless, in our case, we didn’t know that there is such a rule. So, the store owner had to rush to us and tell us not to touch it after we already did. There goes my fingerprints side by side with those of the great Led Zep guitarist.

Maria Ozawa is overrated; Manami Hashimoto is the shit.

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Images taken from here, here, here, and here.

Kong: Skull Island

kong_skull islandThe year is 1973 and the US troops are leaving Vietnam. A US senator reluctantly funds a scientific expedition to Skull Island, an uncharted island in the Southeast Asia. An expert hunter-tracker, a photojournalist, and a helicopter squadron join the scientists in the expedition, braving a cloud system of perpetual thunderstorms that covers the island. Once in, the group started dropping seismic bombs. Everything goes well until… Well, let’s just say the movie climaxes too early and never recovers.

Kong: Skull Island, the second movie in Legendary Pictures’ monster-verse, is a mishmash of old Kong movies, Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park. Despite sharing the same fictional universe, this Kong has very little in common with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014). Kong plays more like a B-movie about war and monsters, compare to Edwards’ superb rethinking of the kaiju classic. Most of the human characters are half-written, save for John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, whose levity counterweighs Samuel L. Jackson playing Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston “Man Is the Monster” Packard. Tom Hiddleston makes for one good sword-slashing sequence while Reg Slivko provides the nifty soundtrack; but it’s Brie Larson’s anti-war photojournalist that kept me awake amidst the movie’s CGI overload and utter lack of suspense. In terms of sense of wonder, there’s none except for the one brief scene involving a giant water buffalo emerging from water.

Kong: Skull Island is loud, fast, and full of in-your-face monster mayhem. That sounds really appetizing. Unfortunately, it’s undone by haphazard filmmaking that leaves not much room for tension, surprises or memorable set pieces. The best part of the movie happens thirty minutes in: one uprooted tree flies towards one of the choppers and skewers it—easily the movie’s most inventive sequence. Then, Kong appears and battles the helicopter squadron, swatting them one by one, tearing and sending them down to the ground. After that, the movie retreads the old and familiar (i.e., the movies mentioned above) and the proceeding monster battles, never reach the same highs—just a bunch of big fights we’ve already seen before.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Gavin Hood, 2009)

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When it comes to the worse Marvel-based movies, the B-grade X-Men Origins: Wolverine is easily among the front-runners. As a comic-book movie, Wolverine is one serious offender. It has no regards for a lot of things: the first X-Men movie (where Sabretooth appeared), the Weapon X series, the other X-Men characters (i.e., Gambit, Deadpool). But outside its irreverence, is a somewhat tightly constructed B-movie (particularly the first half) that knows its own thrills. If you think about it, the story was nothing more than a silly excuse to get Logan in Wolverine-mode. As a low budget action movie (they didn’t even bother to get back Brian Cox to play Stryker), it actually works—kind of. While there are still plenty to ask for in Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine (he’s too soft, too pretty), at least his own movie is so bad—ass; not only does it cut its ties with both comics and other X-Men movies with ease (talk about the script’s adamantium quality), it also almost killed and forever shut-up the one exciting character that Fox has: the snarky anti-hero known as Merc with a Mouth.

Blind Fury (Phillip Noyce, 1989)

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The idea seems ludicrous enough—that of importing Zatoichi to Hollywood and have a blind man fight gunmen with a sword. Thought it would be no different than those clumsy and unintentionally funny American Ninja movies I liked as a kid. So I gave Blind Fury a pass one time it was airing on cable. Turns out, it’s by Philip Noyce, the guy responsible for no-nonsense thrillers such as Clear and Present Danger, Salt and, uhm…Sliver. And with Rutger Hauer as the blind sword-wielding war veteran, giving it a try the second time was not so bad an idea. Blind Fury doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, there’s one sequence where Hauer’s character drives a car like he isn’t blind. The action scenes were typically slower than the average action flicks of today, but at least they weren’t confusing or over-edited beyond recognition. The movie was able to throw in a few laughs as well: during a sword-fight, Hauer touches the face of his opponent (Sho Kosugi) and exclaimed, “Ha, Japanese!” And it has some surprisingly poignant moments too. It’s hardly a great action movie; but for something borne out of seemingly silly idea, it’s surprisingly well executed and fairly entertaining.

Sin City (Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez, 2005)

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I used to like this movie. Sin City, the Old Town. I guess I still do. Just a bit. Because it didn’t age well. Still looks cool though. Black and white, dark contrast, a few chosen red, Jaime King—she’s an angel. Given the choice, I’d prefer watching this over reading the comics. But that’s not to say. Frank Miller. He got style—miles and miles.

I re-watched this, on the old DVD, the other night. The pace was limp. Despite all the broken bones, the blood that spilt, the action was as still as they were on paper. It felt like watching while drunk. But that night, the fridge was empty. I still remember, not a single beercan in there. It wasn’t unlike leafing thru the pages while listening to an audio-book. The images rarely came to life. Argh! The narration—it gets you inside Marv’s head. Or Hartigan’s. And it was awesome. Kinda cool. But it also sapped any excitement that goes with guessing—with not knowing. By the way. Benecio del Toro. He was funny. Devon Aoki cut him into pieces. Spoilers! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Then the shit hit the fan. The Big Fat Kill.

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Finally, there was Nancy, Hartigan’s little Nancy. She’s all grown up and dancing on stage. Jessica Alba, she’s cold as ice. Not topless, no nipples. Not like in the comics. I started imagining things off the screen. That Wendy took over the stage. And my heart was pounding. But then I drifted. Fell asleep.

Damn.

Goldie. She’s an angel.

The Punisher (Jonathan Hensleigh, 2004)

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There are a few things in The Punisher that I wish were part of a totally different movie. The movie’s white on black title sequence and score was perfectly fitting. Thomas Jane, who did look the part, was almost perfect as Frank Castle; only ruined by the movie’s hackneyed script, inconsistent tone and ho-hum set pieces. There’s the guitar playing assassin named Harry Heck (who turns out to be a really slow shooter) and the car chase and fight sequence that started in the diner which had glimpse of suspense that’s quite elusive for the rest of the film. The big fight with Russian that ended in the kitchen, could have been a riot if the parts where his neighbors lip-sync and dance to an opera song had been cut. Frank Castle getting beaten to a pulp by a bigger opponent was already funny enough. And of course, Rebecca Romijn.

Of course, all of the above weren’t enough to save the movie. As a supposedly throwback to the gritty crime-action movies of the ’70s, The Punisher‘s got the look and feel partially right, but doesn’t have the weight to begin with. In the comics, the mob killed Frank Castle and his family because they witnessed a hit. It was senseless violence; they were just collateral damage. In the movie, it isn’t like that, The Saints are just settling the score. Thomas Jane is good as Punisher, too bad the movie his in, sucks.

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Rants/Raves: Top 10 Superhero Movies

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Spider-Man 2 (2004). In the comics, later in the story, it is revealed that Aunt May knew all along that Peter is Spider-Man. That she secretly knew his secret. That this is hinted at in the movie, is one of those little things that made this adaptation great. That Aunt May is given her own kick-ass moment, teaming up with Spidey to beat Doc Ock, is another. Of course, there’s the great train sequence, the bank heist, Doc Ock’s Evil Dead moment, and don’t forget, J.K. Simmons as the blustering  J. Jonah Jameson.

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Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). This is one visually stunning film. The troll market is a hoot. The fate of the last forest god is both tragic and beautiful. On top of that, the film’s main conflict isn’t just simplistic good vs. evil—Prince Nuada has good reasons to break the truce. Remember the part where they drink beer and sing along to Barry Manilow? Yeah, this movie’s quite funny too.

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Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014). It’s a good mix of action, comedy and drama—not over serious but not just mindless fun either. From the opening song and dance number down to the other song and dance numbers before and mid-credits, this movie about a band of misfits saving the world is a winner! And probably the danciest superhero movie of all. The best MCU movie? Yes—beats The Avengers by a hair and way way better than Civil War.

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Batman Returns (1992). Tim Burton isn’t much about inventive fight scenes than he is about texture, the elaborate Gothic sets, the quirky and oftentimes grotesque characters. What it does lack in action, it makes up with style and wit (i.e., Penguin’s weaponized umbrella, Selina Kyle’s taser-kiss). Add to that the deliciously insane script and the great cast—Danny De Vito, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfieffer—and you got the best adaptation of the Caped Crusader’s plight.

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Spider-Man (2002). Compared to more recent movies, this may seem a little too straightforward now—more like a comic book primer, a one-shot. But that’s only because it is the prototype, which others would later try to improve on. Some movies upped the action (e.g., Kick-Ass), some, the comedy (e.g., Deadpool) but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, where Peter Parker learns that “with great power comes great responsibility”, remains the all around better origin movie.

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The Avengers (2012). After two Hulk movies that were just okay, here’s that Hulk movie we all really need. I remember not being so excited about this before it came out. That all the movies that lead to this movie were just okay—the talky Iron Man sequel, Cap’s WWII origin and Thor‘s uneventful Asgard—was enough for me to lower my expectations. Thus, seeing the Earth’s mightiest in one awesome movie—thanks to Joss Whedon—was such a huge marvelous surprise.

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Deadpool (2016). Merc with a Mouth’s origin story is part Spider-Man redux, part corrective to the atrocious Wolverine origin and the closest a comic-book movie comes to approximating Monty Python and the Holy Grail-type of craziness (though it’s not even close). Green Lantern is quite good as Deadpool and he’s got Serenity‘s feisty muse as his girl next door.

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Kick-Ass (2010). Also known as Big Daddy’s Revenge (With A Little Help From Kick-Ass). Because. It’s all about revenge. And Matthew Vaughn’s stylish action sequence. Never mind the premise; or the first half; or Dave Lizewski’s thought balloons about being a superhero. You’ll forget about them anyway, once you see Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) take on Big Boss Frank D’Amico in a brutal hand-to-hand combat in the movie’s kick-ass finale.

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Super (2010). The genre deconstruction that Kick-Ass hardly was—James Gunn’s pre-MCU superhero black comedy features the pipe-wrench wielding vigilante who calls himself The Crimson Bolt and his far more unhinged side-kick Boltie. It’s dark, funny and gritty. Tired of the family-friendly and passable entertainment from Disney? Or the trying hard to be dark and edgy DC movies? This one’s for you.

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Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (2001). I was one movie short of making this a top ten list. So I thought of another movie which I really like. Then, I remembered this—Kevin Smith’s movie about Jay and Silent Bob going to Hollywood to stop the adaptation of Bluntman and Chronic into the big screen. It’s trashy and amateurish, which is typical of Smith’s movies. A must-see if you’re a fan of Smith’s.

Rock is Dead, Mellon Collie & The Nicene Creeders Slackerful Mysteries

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Despite all the press, an MTV hit and all other atrocities ascribed to them during their heyday, Pavement was one of those bands whose popularity (or rather lack thereof) flew under my radar during the nineties. And I’m rather thankful for that.

I am endlessly grateful that I’ve had Stone Temple Pilots, Silverchair, Green Day, The Offspring, The Smashing Pumpkins—the “alternative” bands of the nineties. That a friend lent me his Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness so I could spend hours and hours of boredom listening to the said double album, rather than someone hand me a tape of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Wowee Zowee. Because I would have probably made the mistake of dismissing these slackers as unrelatable, lousy and lame. Or simply because they’re no Better Than Ezra. But missed them totally I did not. For when the second single off Brighten the Corners hit the DWEB weekly countdown two Saturdays in a row, I was all ears—listening to “Shady Lane”, trying to separate the song from the noise, beneath all static and radio hiss, which was due to poor reception (DWEB was four hours drive from home). That became my then only Pavement experience. And to think of it now, the experience was not so different from listening to Westing or Slay Tracks—because the version of “Shady Lane” I knew was all wrapped up in static and white noise.

brightenAside from my broken radio experience, there were other things, from which I came to know of Pavement’s existence. There was this music magazine “Hot Hits” that features the lyrics of “Stereo” and “Shady Lane” and a picture of the band. The band’s picture was almost nondescript—any group of regular looking guys could actually pose as them. And on the last page of the mag was the previous week’s Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, in which both songs had charted, among other unfamiliar songs and bands. The magazine’s main feature and the reason I bought that issue in the first place were The Smashing Pumpkins, with the complete lyrics and chords for all the songs from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. There was also a Jim DeRogatis article about the said double album, reprinted from Rolling Stones (with permission I suppose). Later, on a separate issue of the same magazine around early ’98, there was an article in which the editor proclaimed that rock is dead; that aside from Radiohead’s OK Computer and Pavement’s Brighten the Corners, 1997 was filled mostly with duds. Or simply, most alternative bands got boring and people already grew tired of grunge. Hence, the “Rock Is Dead, and electronica is taking over” banner. In reality, it was really more like, the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync took over.

My re-discovery of Pavement took longer time than Spiral Stairs could have ever imagined. It was somewhere between the release of LA’s Desert Origins and Sordid Sentinel Edition that I was able to listen to “Shady Lane” again. This time, with the other eleven tracks on the album—from the opening basslines of “Stereo” down to the “Infinite Spark” fade-out.

I was looking for the band’s hits compilation then (this was years before Quarantine the Past). While I read mostly high recommendations for Pavement’s first three studio albums, I decided to go with Brighten the Corners because of “Shady Lane”. I also read somewhere that it is their most accessible LP, so I thought I’d give a try. Initially, I was only interested on the hits and someone told me to check the first three or four songs on the album, but also suggested that I might as well check the whole album. So spin the whole album I did. And since then I found myself sitting stuck in this Velcro seat, every time I play it.

To be continued…(Maybe.)

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Ultraelectromagneticpop! (Eraserheads, 1993)

eraserheads-ultraelectromagneticpop-20130824Simply put, this is the local equivalent of Nevermind. Instead of a nude baby in the pool, we got these four flaming lads gracing the cover, chill as fuck and wearing chucks, with two of them holding what appear like rolled-up joints. Like Nirvana, the Eraserheads toiled the underground, signed to a major label, hit big and made a whole lot of impact in the music scene.

Musically though, chuck-sporting lads is just a very different album from little baby blue. Nevermind is a hurtling punk-rock album, while Ultra is an unabashed pop record, though one that is hardly representative of pop music of the early ‘90s, local or otherwise. The former helped popularize rock music with loud distorted guitars. On Ultra, however, one gets the nagging feeling—which the band themselves pointed out and griped about—that the guitars could have been louder.

Guitar mixing and other recording/production issues aside, the tunes flow from start to finish. Whether they take their cue from Manila Sound (“Easy Ka Lang”, the glorious “Ligaya”), Motown (“Shake Yer Head”), try and fail to make 100% reggae (“Maling Akala”), graft both Nat King Cole and Paul McCartney into a sped-up reggae folk number (“Toyang”) or do punkish take on a straight pop song (“Shirley”), the results were no less than perfect. And when delivered with such verve, one tends to overlook that production-wise, it’s got nothing on the aforementioned album that bears the name Butch Vig. Purists and fans alike described its sound as “tinny”. But whether this “tinny” sound diminishes the bands outstanding song-craft, creative sheen and the songs’ ultra-magnetic appeal, is surely up for debates. Me, I say tinny sound my ass! Ultra is a lo-fi pop masterpiece, its lack of polish being incidental notwithstanding.

The word Beatles-esque has been attached to Eraserheads’ music since the time they knocked Jose Mari Chan off the top of the charts. But there’s nothing anglophilic about the timeless post-basted, group support therapy (a.k.a binge drinking) session of “Pare Ko”, or in the cutesy, t-shirt parading, thesis-making love song “Ligaya”. “Tindahan Ni Aleng Nena”, the one song they deliberately tried to channel the Beatles is very much Pinoy at heart—its story revolves around a sari-sari store and migration to Canada. There’s no fake Brit accent on “Shake Yer Head” either. And despite referencing “Silly Love Songs”, “Toyang” is unassailably Pinoy; with bitso-bitso, Coke 500, Sky Flakes, and “Bahay Kubo”, all in a song about true love.

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Looking past its cultural impact and significance, Ultraelectromagneticpop! isn’t so much groundbreaking as it is an excellent pop record. The songs may sound pretty dated by now, but back in 1993, they did sound unlike anything else. Thanks mainly to the local mainstream music, which back in 1993, sounded like it was still 1983. The Apo Hiking Society, Gary Valenciano, Smokey Mountain, Donna Cruz, Regine Velasquez, and the Introvoys—they were all stuck in the ’80s, sleeping for so long with their hair rollers on, only to be awaken by the noise from an underground scene, already bursting at the seams.

Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)

deathproofxWatched this for the sole reason Ramona Flowers is in it. Tried to watch it before, but I couldn’t get past through the first half, when all the characters speak in thick Tarantino accent.

It’s not hard to like Tarantino movies; the guy loves music—maybe not as much as he loves certain kind of movies—and he peppers his movies with tunes that sound old and fresh at the same time. He makes his characters sing to and talk about music, even dance to them with the usual Tarantino-esque results. But once you get to see his movies, most of his characters starts to bleed into each other, or more like you’ll hear Tarantino speaks from each of the character’s mouth—there’s very little variation.

Turns out, the first half, about Jungle Julia and her friends, is the decent half of this movie; as Tarantino indulges yet again in a movie about making movies in the second half. Too bad, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is stuck in the second half. Worse, she’s left out of the final car chase sequence when Zoe Bell and her friends fight back and beat Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell).

Rants/Raves: Christopher Nolan’s Films

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Batman’s upside-down smooch.

Batman Begins (2005). Details, lots of details. As if Nolan has written a book, a manual on how to be Batman. It’s a good comic book origin story, but still, it’s got nothing on my favorite origin movies—Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

irreversibleIrreversible (2002). A friend once told me of a movie about an amnesiac, in which the story was told in reverse—or something like that. I forgot what the title was and so when I saw this movie with the woman from Malena standing nude on the cover, I thought this was the movie he was referring to. I was wrong. He was talking about Christopher Nolan’s Memento; and this is by Gaspar Noe, a guy who surely knows how to shock.

Memento (2000). Not sure whether this or Batman Begins was first Nolan movie I saw. Here, Nolan cuts his story in the middle, then cut it further into pieces and spliced them like a puzzle. Only that, after all the pieces were in place, it kinda feels pointless. That’s it? It didn’t blew me away.

If you want something that’s really hard to follow, try Shane Carruth’s Primer—now that is one mindfuck movie!

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The Prestige (2006). Based on Christopher Priest’s novel about two magicians engaged in a stiff one-upmanship. Some critics bemoaned the lack of showy flourish, but I like it nonetheless, it’s my favorite among Nolan’s films. The story employs multiple flashbacks, shuffling the sequence of events. Yet, unlike in his other films, the non-linear storytelling is fluid and doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Also, it’s got David Bowie as the great Nikola Tesla and that Thom Yorke song at the end credits is just perfect. While the secret to Angier’s final magic act was pretty much given, I didn’t realize Borden’s trick until it was revealed. It was also quite obvious though, if one carefully pays attention. But maybe Cutter (Michael Caine) was right, I wanted to be fooled.

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The Dark Knight (2008). A friend once defended this film by saying that critics nitpick on things Nolan wasn’t particularly good at—like staging good fight scenes—that it wasn’t his forte, and that the movie was great nonetheless. Well, I don’t know. Aren’t well staged fight scenes of primary importance in movies like this? Hellboy 2, Spider-Man, Kick-Ass, and Blade 2 all have memorable fight scenes. Heck, even the third X-Men movie has at least one memorable action sequence. And despite all the detailed upgrades on the Batsuit, both looks and functionality, Christian Bale doesn’t improve much on Michael Keaton’s Bat-Stiff.

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Inception (2010). Despite its multilayered narrative, some people find Nolan’s dream within a dream movie, linear and literal. And I tend to agree with them. Aside from the arresting visuals and one inspired sequence, this was just as problematic as Memento. Unlike Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Inception is hardly “dream-like”. Near the end of this quite long movie, when it looks like Dom Cobb will succeed anyway, no matter what the odds are, I thought that it was probably more meaningful to snuggle, take a nap and dream for real; instead of the two plus hours I just spent, inside Nolan’s shared world of daydreaming.

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