The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2015)

assassinI haven’t seen a Hou film before. And after seeing The Assassin, I realized that—kind of regretted it actually—watching this film 40,000 feet above the ground wasn’t the best way to appreciate Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s cinematic finery. More so with the aircraft’s engines roaring from just outside the window. Though from what I could make of it, the film is almost devoid of score; ambient sounds of wind and birds chirping and the ceremonial beating of gongs at the palace, serve as auditory backdrop. The film is ultra-slow, sprinkled with bits of ultra-violence. The brief fight scenes, which are few and far between, intercut long periods of stately, painterly, meticulously detailed, and beautifully shot frames that moves the story in glacial but assured pace. It’s not for everyone, but it’s beautiful—and that surely is, an understatement.

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Juan of the Dead (Alejandro Brugues, 2010)

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This zombie apocalypse set in Cuba hardly cuts it as an excellent horror-comedy in the same way Shaun of The Dead does. Nothing really special about the zombies, the action (except for the harpoon gun) or the story (some political subtext thrown in, but that’s it). So, we just have to wait for our main protagonist, Juan, his friend-sidekick Lazaro and the rest of the gang to kill hordes of zombies one after another, until the plot thickens—or not. Still, it’s one of the few good diversions from all the trash coming out of Hollywood’s ass nowadays. And it’s got the gorgeous Andrea Duro, who plays Juan’s estranged daughter, in an obligatory but kickass girl-killing-zombie scene where she does a Black Widow-takedown with a hammer. But most importantly, it’s pretty good fun; I was in stitches the whole time. It also has one of the funniest jokes of all time—the one involving a dying friend’s one final wish.

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Captain America: Civil War (The Russo Brothers, 2016)

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Captain America: Civil War finds the Earth’s mightiest heroes split in two. One led by Captain America and the other headed by Iron Man—two evenly matched teams going head-to-head in a mid-movie battle seemingly inspired by the opening sequence of the X-Men cartoons from the ‘90s. While Iron Man got Spider-Man, Captain America’s team is the more exciting one, with Wanda, Hawkeye and Ant-Man on his side. Still, this doesn’t make it significantly more interesting than the other similarly themed summer flick from DC, especially when most of the superheroes left to team up with either Cap or Tony, are the predictably dull side characters in the Marvel Universe—War Machine, Falcon, Winter Soldier, Vision and a likewise banal newcomer in Black Panther.

I thought we should at least have Nick Fury in the middle, make him give long Tarantino-esque monologues that would illuminate why Cap and Tony were on different sides. (Looks like Tony is just jealous because Cap’s got a new boyfriend and he’s got no one else since Pepper left him.) Also, they could have given Agent 13 more screen presence this time, because honestly, they couldn’t make Black Widow any more alluring and her signature takedown gets tiring already. Another thing, the camera tends to get too shaky during her fight scenes—actually, most of the fight scenes, not just those with Black Widow.

Captain America: Civil War starts with The Avengers foiling a terrorist attack somewhere in Africa. They were able to retrieve the biological weapon from the terrorists, but not without collateral damage—something they might have avoided, if only Vision wasn’t so busy in the headquarters kitchen. So Tony Starks has to do a Bruce Wayne this time; taking fall for the death of innocent people when they tried to save the world from Ultron. Captain America, on the other hand, just can’t afford to lose Bucky for the third time, even if his disagreement with Starks could lead to Civil War.

Of course, it didn’t. No Civil War, just a smaller version of Mark Millar’s serial, which has twelve superheroes fighting each other in Leipzig/Halle Airport. With Hawkeye just being funny, delivering one-liners in between punches; Ant-Man getting inside Iron Man’s suit, then later turning into Giant-Man; and Spider-Man throwing banters while webbing up Falcon, sparring with Cap, and swinging around Giant-Man. Then, there’s Elizabeth Olsen, who gives Wanda Maximoff the vulnerability—both emotional and physical—that’s kind of rare in this type of movie. Olsen’s Wanda is both fragile and fierce, like a kitten with special powers, caught in the middle of a slugfest.

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Said airport scuffle is easily the best part of this movie. But since it happens somewhere in the middle, right before the “more” important events are about to unfold, it makes the last third of the movie drag, not just a bit. And I couldn’t even care less, especially after Wanda, Ant-Man and Spidey left off the screen. And I think, it asks too much of its audience when they killed Rhodes. Almost. It’s not like he (almost) died trying to save people. And both teams seem to be having a fun pick-up match just right before that, with Spider-Man referencing Star Wars and Ant-Man asking for orange slices (probably to nurse a massive headache) after he gets knocked down. Unlike the death scene in Joss Whedon’s Age of Ultron, the tone here is just, off.

At long last, the final fight between Cap and Iron Man boils down to Tony doing another Bruce Wayne—as he turns vengeful for the death of his parents. The fight gets a bit clearer near the end—lesser camera movements, lesser cutting but in the same gloomy blue-grayish tone (would have been nice to see Cap’s bright costume contrasting nicely with Iron Man’s metallic gold and red). And in case you forgot, in the pure Marvel tradition of having boring half-villains, this movie also got one—Baron Zemo, who gets to carry out his complicated plan, conveniently, just because the plot needs him to.

Again, that airport scene is probably the coolest thing ever…or maybe, just until the next Marvel movie comes.

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The first rule of Night Club is:

img_20151122_091409You do not post about Night Club.

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It’s Like A Magic (Ciudad, 2005)

ciudad-magicSadly, this would be the last of the fuzz/fun side of Ciudad. After this album, they got more sober, their lyrics started to make sense, and most of all, they seem to have lost most of the fun—and the fuzz. It’s Like A Magic is hardly on par with Ciudad’s first two albums, but when taken in this context – a collection of old songs that never made it to their first two albums, not so different from an outtakes or b-sides compilation – it’s actually up to snuff.

With lowered expectations already met, this shall surely delight all those who already love the band. For those who are new to the band, this is not the best place to start. That would be Hello! How Are You, Mico the Happy Bear? But since said LP is out of print and is not available on either Bandcamp or iTunes, one should check Is That Ciudad? Yes, Son, It’s Me instead, their equally superlative second album.

But that’s not to say “Cool Nerds”, “So?”, “Job Well Done, Wow!” and “Justin’s Saturday Night” aren’t worth a dime. Or that sifting thru the rubble just to get to “It’s Been Another Day” is more trouble than it’s worth. It is quite a bumpy ride (14 tracks, with roughly eight good ones), but also a fun-filled one. But if you really wanna become a fan with this album, then zoom in straight to the A-sides; dive into the mopey “Benny & Betty”, the freakishly juvenile “Escape”, twist ‘n turn with “Fixing The Radio” and savor the slacker-heaven beauty of “What A Girl”. Only then can you go down the rabbit hole, and listen to a song about a camera or the one that references Deadeye Dick’s “New Age Girl” – you know, that 90’s hit that goes “Mary Moon, she’s a vegetarian (Mary Moon, Mary Moon)…she don’t eat meat but she sure likes the bone”.

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A Scanner Darkly / Bugs

The opening scene of A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater’s 2006 film based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, set to Pearl Jam’s “Bugs”.

Other notable films by Richard Linklater – Suburbia, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Walking Life.

“Bugs” is off Pearl Jam’s third album Vitalogy.

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Ourselves the Elves, The Strange Creatures

Two excellent lovely twinkly EPs…

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It’ll Be Alright (Ourselves the Elves, 2013) What elevates this from the rest of female-fronted bands of local indieland, I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s the lack of synths. Or the lo-fi prod perhaps? Maybe it’s the untamed cymbals occasionally clashing with the guitars. Or maybe it’s the intimate air that makes me feel I’m in the same room with them – and they’re giving me the finest 12 minutes of twee-folk I can find – online. Or maybe it’s Akira Medina and Alyana Cabral’s call and response on “Shelter”. And maybe because their music reminds me a bit of Camera Obscura, only it’s more stripped-down and folksy. Or maybe it’s Kidlat Tahimik, who once asked why yellow is at the middle of the rainbow. Yes, I guess that’s the one.

the-strange-creaturesStargazer (The Strange Creatures, 2014) The title track, as beautiful as Van Gogh, gets me sick of long distance calls and makes me wish time travel, teleportation and magic are all not impossible, so we could just gaze at the stars instead. So I looked on the bright side to get some retro-hope despite everything and put the first single on repeat until I got hooked on it. Like a potent pharmacological substance, it gives me natural high and I can’t help but slyly smile every time they come to the lines, “step inside of my space ship, and give me a heeaad—trip”.

Free Download/Streaming: It’ll Be Alright (Bandcamp), Stargazer (Bandcamp, Soundcloud)

 

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Sila (Sud, 2015)

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Found this music video last night. Couldn’t remember if it was the recent controversy or something else that made me click on it. The song is fine, suave, horn-y (or make that sax-y) and reminds me of pop songs from the pre-Ultraelectromagneticpop days – something like Bodjie’s Law of Gravity’s “Sana Dalawa Ang Puso Ko”, though the vibe is probably more like I-Axe’s “Ako’y Sa’yo at Ika’y Akin Lamang”, with less cheese. And yeah, that line “Walang sagot sa tanong kung bakit ka mahalaga” is a keeper.

sudsilaMore intriguing than the song itself, is the music video – a well made short film that could have a life of its own outside of the song. I like how the characters knew that they have crossed certain boundaries and that it’s probably wrong; yet they couldn’t stop seeing each other. I like how the last few scenes they were together were framed like they were being spied on. I like how it made me think that there won’t be a happy ending. And I like it that I didn’t get the ending until I read the comments and re-played the video a few more times.

The local music scene is a field full of landmines. You’ll never know it from afar, but you’ll surely know when you step on one. La la la la, whatever.

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evildead2

I saw a tree

It fell

Then, I saw her.

#lovestory #romcom #haiku

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CinepleXX

sinehan

Sunud-sunod na putok ng baril ang umalingawngaw. Sagutan ng putok. Habulan at barilan sa gubat. May mga humahabol kay Ben-Hur. Gumanti sya ng putok. Tumingin sa camera, nakangiwi ng bahagya. Sa harap naman ay may lumang sofa na bahagyang tumatabing sa ibabang bahagi ng telon. Medyo malabo din ang pelikulang nakasalang, at tila baligtad ang mga imaheng lumalabas dito. Sa harap ng telon, sa ibabaw ng sofa, umahon ang imahe ng isang babae.

Ganito ko naalala ang isang eksena sa isang pelikula ni Erik Matti. Isa lang sa mga tagpo sa mga pelikula nya na pag napanood mo, mahirap nang makalimutan. Merong din syang pelikula kung saan yung eksena naganap naman sa loob isang aparador. Pero balik tayo dun sa nauna. Sa pelikulang iyon, napaisip ako kung meron ba talagang mga iskwater na ginagawang bahay ang likod ng telon sa loob ng sinehan.  Nasa pelikula eh, kaya malamang, nangyayari din sa tunay na buhay. Pwede rin na pinapaupahan ng management ng sinehan. Pero teka, ano nga bang klase ng sinehan ang tinutukoy ko? Meron pa bang mga tulad nito sa ngayon? Tingin ko meron pa, pero mangilan-ngilan na lang. Ito yung mga sinaunang sinehan. Wala sa loob ng mall at hindi rin nakakabit sa anumang establisemento. Ang sinehan, sinehan lang. Sa ganitong sinehan ako unang nakapanood ng sine, yung Magnum .357 ni FPJ. Sa probinsya meron din mga ganito, tulad nung sinehan sa isang pelikula ni Brilliante Mendoza na naipalabas sa Cannes. May napanooran pa nga ako dati nung bata pa ako, sinehan na wala pang aircon. Blower at air freshener lang. Pero mas gusto ko ang yari ng mga sinehan noon. Yung tipong makakapanood ka nang maayos kahit hindi ka nakaupo sa last row. Hindi naman siguro lahat ganun, pero tingin ko iyon ang standard noon. May balcony at may orchestra. Medyo mahal ng konti sa balcony. Pero mas kita mo naman nang buong-buo ang pelikula.

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Sa probinsya namin, nung nasa college na ako, may isang sinehan na malaki, state-of-the-art ika nga. Fully air-conditioned na, digital surround sound pa. Ito na siguro ang pinakamagandang sinehang napasok ko. Ang kaibahan nya sa mga bagong mall ngayon, hindi sya sinehan sa loob ng mall. Isa syang sinehan, na may iba’t iba pang klaseng tindahan sa loob. Sinehan ang main attraction. Pero may mga side bet din tulad ng bar, mga kainan at ilang mga boutique. Pero olats mamili dun, kasi madalas, mas mahal ang mga bilihin. At wala syang grocery at department store. Pero kung panonood ng sine ang pakay mo, dun ka dapat pumunta. Isa syang paraiso, sa mga mahihilig…sa pelikula. Tatlo ang sinehan sa loob. Sa isang linggo, lagi akong may tatlong pagpipilian. Kung lahat gusto kong panoorin, kailangan kung iplano nang mabuti ang schedule ng panonood. Tinitimbang din kung aling subject ang pwede kong libanan, at kung magkakaroon ba ng exam o hindi. Mahalaga ring i-consider ang oras ng palabas. At itanong sa sarili kung aabot ba ako last trip pauwi, pagkatapos ng pelikula.

Dati, hindi pa uso ang mga malls sa probinsya namin. May isang malaking shopping center, pero hindi sya tinatawag na mall. Kung tutuusin, maituturing mo na rin syang mall. Meron lahat – food court, supermarket, grocery, arcade – lahat ng basic features ng isang mall, meron din sya. Meron din itong sinehan. Dalawa. Pero di tulad ng mga sinehan sa mga malls ngayon, malaki din ang sinehan dito.

Ano nga bang nangyari sa mga sinehan ngayon? Bakit paliit nang paliit ang mga sinehan.  Dahil ba kahit marami lagi ang tao sa mga mall, ay kakaunti naman ang pumapasok sa sinehan? At di na ba kayang punuin ng manood kung ang sinehan mo ay may espasyo na kasing laki nung sa luma? Hindi na ba uso ang sinehan na parang nasa balcony ka? Kung maliit ang sinehan bakit kailangan pagkalaki-laki ng screen nito? Ang hirap tuloy manood.

Naalala ko nung minsan manood ako ng pelikula ni Lav Diaz sa isang high-end na mall. Dahil high-end ang mall at ito ay nasa isang high-end na lugar, umasa ako na maayos ang sinehan dito. Pero hindi, tulad din mga sinehan sa ibang mall na kapareho ng pangalan nito, hindi sulit ang panonood. Hindi ko alam yung ibang nanonood kung napapansin ba nila ito. Na sobrang laki ng screen pero hindi sapat ang layo ng upuan mo para makita mo ng lubos ang pelikula. Walang tamang anggulo at hindi kayang saklawin ng paningin mo ang kabuuan ng telon. May mga detalya na hindi mo mapapansin. Pamaya-maya kailangan mo rin i-scan ang buong tabing para makita ang lahat nang nangyayari sa loob nito.

Bilang isang taong may kaunting nalalaman sa desenyo, naisip ko tuloy iyong mga propesyonal na nag-dedesenyo ng mga buildings tulad ng mall. Pasok ba sa standard ang sukat ng sinehan sa mall na ito? Makakalabas ba agad ang mga tao kung sakaling magkaroon ng sunog? Una hindi ko alam kung meron ngang standard na sukat, pero malamang meron. Eh ano ngayon? Alin ba ang mas mahalaga, makatipid at kumita ng maayos ang mga malls o ang pagsunod sa standard?

Pero hindi naman talaga ito malaking problema. Manonood na lang ako sa bahay. Magsasalang ng DVD at magbubukas ng malamig na beer. Sarap.

xx3

(Taxi Driver screenshot taken from http://cinemajam.com; Serbis screenshot taken from https://www.cineplex.com.)

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John Wick (Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, 2014)

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There are no ad campaigns out there against animal cruelty, that would do better than John Wick, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s pulpy noir action film about a retired assassin, who’d let hell break loose on a Russian mob, just because the boss’ son killed his dog and stole his 1969 Mustang. But it’s primarily because they killed his dog – you know, because a car is just a car, even if it’s a Mustang.

Keanu Reeves’ last memorable screen role since The Matrix was in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly back in 2006. After that, he played the villain in the underwhelming Man of Tai Chi and a half-blood samurai in the semi-enjoyable 47 Ronin. Here, he’s Jonathan Wick, the titular assassin who’d go out of his retirement to hunt down those who wronged him. It’s arguably the best action film of 2014 (arguably, since there’s Edge of Tomorrow and The Raid 2 – the latter, I haven’t seen yet), and definitely one of the best of the decade. While it’s no better than Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head and Kim Jee-woon’s The Last Stand and more recent fares like Sicario and Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s a fairly excellent action movie – way better than any movie in the Fast & Furious and Taken movie series.

John Wick had just recently lost his wife, who, out of sheer love for him, gave him a cuddly puppy as her final gift. John was still in deep mourning when he got the pup and so he spent time with her (the puppy), took her wherever he goes – even when he went drifting one time with his vintage Mustang. If you’re wondering if somebody finally made a Punisher movie and got it right, this is that movie. You know, if somebody killed Frank Castle’s dog, he’s definitely gonna go after them. Even if that somebody is the son of Russian mob boss, who happens to be an old associate of him and knows him very well. But in this movie, his name’s not Frank and he wears jet-black suit instead of shirt with a skull.

So, after the dog died and John has dug out his old guns, what happens next should be pretty much predictable by action movie standards. Like in Hitman, he’s just gonna kill them one by one until he finally gets to the boss, right? Well, in this case, it’s far from predictable. And while he actually went killing the bad guys one by one until he gets to the guy who killed his dog, the plot in John Wick is surprisingly well thought out. While he has to deal with the ins and outs of his former world, which is, the underworld, while repeatedly denying that he’s back to his old life of killing (I’m retired, he’d say), Viggo, the mob boss (Michael Nyqvist, excellent as always) placed a bounty on him, making him a target for his fellow assassins. One of them is Ms. Perkins, a cunning female contract killer played by Adrianne Palicki, who kind of reminds me of Archer’s Lana Kane.  Another hit-man in on the bounty is Marcus, an old friend of John and a Deus Ex Machina played by Willem Dafoe, who also provided the film with the much needed gravitas.

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What also adds to its pretty straightforward plot, are the minor characters and those little details (i.e., the gold coins, John keeping the dog’s leash) that help make this imagined (under) world more plausible. There’s the team of “cleaners” who would clean up the dead bodies after a fight, a very accommodating hotel concierge who’s also in the know of the workings of the underground, and then there’s the cop who showed up at John’s door and just backed away after he saw the dead bodies on the floor – because he knows John’s line of work. It also helps that the dialogue is more than serviceable, with some clever moments (i.e., the exchange between John and Viggo) and is convincingly moving when it needs to be. We’ve seen the dog killed early in the movie, so when John said that they took away the last thing that gave him hope, I just can’t help but believe him, feel for him.

One minor complaint I have is the choice of some music used in the film. While the directors showed a lot of restraint in staging the various stylized gunfights and fisticuffs – they were mostly functional while blood and gore rarely draw attention to themselves – some of the songs in the movie don’t. Do they really need to put a song with the word “kill” in the lyrics?

Near the end of movie, there’s a scene where someone is playing a first-person shooter game, which is probably the filmmakers saying that they’re aware of John Wick’s proximity to such games. Also, in the movie, killing an assassin earns you a gold coin, same gold coin to pay the “cleaners”. In most video games you earn coins, points or gems while playing, then spend them on weapons, magic or maybe an extra life. While John Wick may look like a video game for a good chunk of it – a gracefully rendered one, I might add – it doesn’t feel like one. The revenge story is not there just to serve up a series of elaborate shoot ’em ups.

For every dozen mindless action flicks that go by the Michael Bay school of action film-making (i.e., the incomprehensible fast-cut-shaky-cam action sequences, the tiresome explosions) there are a few that swim against the current – John Wick is one of them. Which I think is enough for fans of old-school action films like me, to think that there is still hope. Like the pitbull John took with him at the end of the movie, this movie is our pup.

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Baby I’m-A Want You

Screenshot_2016-08-11-16-48-26Not All Songs with the Word Baby Are Wussy

The word baby, like love, is one of the most frequently abused words in popular music. From Peter Frampton’s 1975 single “Baby I Love Your Way”, to the annoyingly ubiquitous Big Mountain cover of the same in the mid-90’s, to Ed Sheeran’s 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud”, there have been countless times the word appeared in songs’ lyrics and titles. Needless to say, the word has been used and abused by singers and songwriters, especially in the pop and R&B genre. So that when someone posted a question on the internet, asking about songs that have the word baby in the lyrics, someone answered that it’s probably easier to list down songs that don’t contain that word.

Overusing the word in songs surely cheapens its meaning and intended impact. The good news is, creativity knows no boundaries. Yes, there are countless forgettable songs with the word baby in them, but there are also songs that made use of the word in ways more imaginative than just rehashing same old variations of “baby, I love you”.

Below is a list of songs that use the word baby, but not in a way most songwriters have used them. This list will not include songs that go along lines of Bon Jovi’s “Always” or Guns & Roses’ “Patience”. So, songs like Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss”, a straight-ahead cover of an old 1961 non-hit that eventually became the Pearl Jam’s highest charting single; 3 Doors Down’s maudlin and watered-down post grunge ballad “Here Without You”; and Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby”, which is actually fine, will not be included. And definitely not “Thinking Out Loud” – because even at its best, Mr.Nice Guy’s song sounds like a low-rent version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-26-14“Can’t Lose You”, F4

That one song that has a chorus that sticks to your head like glue – even if you don’t understand the lyrics except for the words, my and baby. Forget about what they’re actually singing in it. In the years before Google Translate and smartphones – good looks, hair mousse, catchy chorus and the lines “Oh baby, baby, baby/my baby, baby” were enough to make a hit as big as this Mandopop meteorite.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-16-59-02 “…Baby One More Time”, Britney Spears/Travis

Britney Spears’ 1999 hit made the cut mainly for Travis’ sort of impromptu and knowing cover version of it. On second thought, the original gets half a point for having the words hit me and baby in the same line – undeniably, an artistic achievement in teen pop music. Some people mistook it for S&M, some, misogyny. Turns out the guys behind the hit only meant “call me”. So, despite all the suggestive dance routines in a school girl outfit, it’s actually quite harmless. But Travis’ version is hilarious, and probably the best version there is. Like the audience in that concert, I had good laugh the first few times I heard it.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-29-01“Tender”, Blur

Before Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons, and [insert recent cool indie band here], there was Blur. And before Blur, there were Faces, The Kinks, and well, The Beatles. “Beetlebum” and “Song2” may be their most recognizable songs, especially in the US, but the band is way much more than the noise-guitar band that they were in 1997; as can be heard on their previous singles like “The Universal” and “Girls and Boys”, and on this first single off their 1999 album 13. “Tender” was a departure from the sound of Blur (the album that houses “Beetlebum” and “Song2”), and features both Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon on vocals (with Coxon singing the “oh my baby”-part) backed by the London Community Gospel Choir. With all the aggression that dominated rock in the late nineties, this break-up tune with the line “Love is the greatest thing (that we had)” was like a beacon of hope shining across the dark Nu Metal-infested landscape.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-03-07“Antukin”, Rico Blanco

There’s a very thin line between clever and lame and Rico Blanco probably crossed it more than once on one of the best tracks off his debut Your Universe. This is one of those where he played all the instruments (and he was splendid on drums!) And whether the lines “Gumawa na lang tayo ng paraan/Gumawa na lang tayo ng (baby)” is clever or not, this remains as one of his all-time bests – a hopeful love song that acknowledges his keyboard-man role in Rivermaya and pays homage to his namesake thru its Tag-lish lyrics and one off-color joke.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-09-02“Radiation Vibe”, Fountains of Wayne

You probably knew them for “Stacy’s Mom”, a.k.a. the MILF song, which is also their most popular hit. The music video for which, pays homage to Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Outside of the said song, Fountains of Wayne is hardly the type of band that thrives on peddling sophomoric jokes, as one might assume based on that song. Most of their songs tell stories (i.e., Leave the Biker, Hackensack (yes, the one covered by Katy Perry)), but Fountain of Wayne’s first single “Radiation Vibe” is lyrically ambiguous. And that’s probably the reason it was a minor hit, despite the ear-worm melodies and knockout musicianship. The lines “Baby, baby, baby/Come on, what’s wrong?” aren’t really the most ingenious part of this song – it’s the melody with which Chris Collingwood sing those lines. It’s the way the song transitioned from the seemingly bottled up verses then burst into the chorus like an exploding bottle of soda. Sounds exactly like the kind of vibe the song is referring to.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-18-28-03“Kaliwete”, Eraserheads

Here’s another song that pays tribute to the one and only Rico J. Puno. The inspiration for the song came one time the Eraserheads did a show with him. The lines “Mag-ayos lang daw ng upo”, according to them, came from one of Rico’s joke that night. Whether the joke was about sitting in general or specifically about sitting on the toilet, we don’t know. What I know is that the word baby is uttered somewhere in this song. And I didn’t catch it until about…a few months ago? Sticker Happy came out in 1997 and I’ve been listening to this song sporadically for almost twenty years. (Damn, I really need to quit on loud music now and go visit an ENT specialist before I totally lose my ears.)

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-12-47“Superstar”, Carpenters/Sonic Youth

Whether it’s the 1971 Carpenters version or Sonic Youth’s fuzzed up tribute to the former, one can never go wrong with this classic. Written and first recorded in 1969 (by a bunch of musicians who were so in loved with themselves that they had to write a song about a groupie longing for someone who’s really good with guitars – someone like Eric Clapton), Richard Carpenter took the song and turned it into what is now the most popular version of it. One might think that this made use of the common “baby, I love you” line and does not belong in the list. But it’s not a cutesy boy-who-plays-guitar-meets-girl kind of story. More like rockstar-meets-groupie-had-one-night-stand-and-then-goodbye. Of course, I don’t hear it that way. What I hear is just a good schmaltzy song – a bit naïve, romantic and sweet. And that’s the kind of magic only Karen Carpenter could make. The same magic Sonic Youth destroyed and reconstructed in the 1994 version.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-34-06“Stereo”, Pavement

The most sentimental song on the list, Pavement’s “Stereo” is actually the long lost answer to the previous song – the Carpenters classic. “Hey, listen to me! I’m on the stereo! Stereo-oh!” is definitely about a guitarist addressing someone who’s listening on the radio (i.e., the groupie). And on the next line, Stephen Malkmus appropriated Karen Carpenter’s “Baby, baby, baby…” line, before shouting “Give me malaria! Hysteria!”

Wait, that didn’t sound right.

Okay, maybe this isn’t really the answer to “Superstar”, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the greatest slacker songs ever—not to mention having the balls to make fun of Geddy Lee’s impossibly high register. Which isn’t really surprising given that they once dissed both The Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots before, in one of their songs. Which only proves that, Pavement is ultimately, definitely, and absolutely rad.

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Sticker Happy (Eraserheads, 1997)

PhotoGrid_1463325775784A few of my favorite records came out in 1997. Pavement’s fourth “masterpiece” Brighten the Corners was released that year. Ditto with Radiohead’s critically acclaimed OK Computer and Foo Fighters’ The Colour and the Shape. In the same year, Teeth returned with Bum Squad EP and a healthier Glenn Jacinto. Then the Eraserheads, fresh from their first US gig, surprised us with Bananatype, a five-track prelude to their most perfectly imperfect fifth album – Sticker Happy – which also came out that year.

Sticker Happy is one helluva record; Eraserheads’ unheralded masterpiece – if there should be one. Not their best, but definitely their craziest; and one with the best damn cover art. It’s a cacophony of zany things; the Eraserheads both old and new, guitar pyrotechnics, pop songs, techno, sex, booze and rock & roll – a strange brew that spins violently and destroys everything along the way.

Looking back now, Sticker Happy may have been a bit too much for most fans to fully appreciate at the time. It was their least accessible album up to that point. It also marks the time when the band took away some of the things, fans love about their songs. No more silly love songs about Toyang, Shirley or Ligaya. Instead, we got “Kaliwete”, a song about a two-timing hottie and the band’s flippant tribute to Rico J. Instead of songs about things we could easily relate to, they gave us “Downtown” and “Balikbayan Box”.

Sticker Happy kicks things off with cartoon theme-like “Prologue”, and things go bonkers from there on. “Futuristic” is anything but. But just like “Kaliwete”, it’s built on an icky riff and sets the tone of the album; their modus operandi – in-jokes, guitars, loosely tied lyrics, melodies that stick and more guitars. Way before Hopia, Mani, Popcorn, Rico J. Puno – the mustachioed grandfather of OPM – gets the homage he rightfully deserves, via innuendos, catchy choruses, and spoken words.

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At the core of Side E, are songs that best exemplify the less popular side of Eraserheads, the deeper cuts in their catalog. Lyrically dark, witty and self-referential while loops, samples and drum machines meet interlacing guitars. There is “Maalalahanin”, where Raymund Marasigan lays down the grungiest pile of noise he could muster, on top of electronic and acoustic drums. Then, Ely Buendia takes a few bong hits, and ponders on the meaning of life and caressing the future on the brilliant dark comedy “Ha Ha Ha”. Then there’s “Balikbayan Box”, a song that perfectly captures the woes of living away from home and the excitement of going back. Discord and noise has been a hit and miss in Eheads’ past albums (i.e., Monovirus from Fruitcake, Bato and Insomya from Circus); but here, we have the Luis Bunuel film-inspired “Andalusian Dog”, one of their successful attempts in marrying melody with psychedelic overtones and noise.

Not Side E is more unwieldy, and opens with “Downtown”, Marasigan’s electro-dance-funk about his escapades in downtown LA, which is also the grandfather of all Squid9 songs. The lyrics on “Kananete”, part two of Buendia’s Hand Trilogy, are nonsensical at worst, but the lumbering guitars and driving basslines more than makes up for it. Buendia and Marcus Adoro then get rid of their fuzz boxes and let Buddy Zabala take over the drums, on a song about disbelief and love. It’s a well needed rest; a few minutes of lull. Then things get dark, drunk (“Spoliarium”), heavy and funky again (“Ambi Dextrose”), before they go for an early closing, with a sober sorry song – the piano ballad “Para Sa Masa”.

Sticker Happy isn’t perfect; almost, yes. I could do without “Everything They Say” and “Bogchi Hokbu” could have been a minute shorter. On some days, “Ambi Dextrose” is fine. On some days, it is like The Matrix Reloaded or Return of the Jedi – the weakest part of a trilogy. But these are minimal trade-offs, considering the extent to which the band tried to expand their sound on this album. Plus, the album cover is just fucking unreal – white skies, a red balloon, green grass, mountains and a beautiful piano undressed in stickers.

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Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016)

PhotoGrid_1467207022180Midway through the film’s title sequence, it occurred to me – this could be the Captain Deadpool and the Oily Grail of all comic book and superhero movies!

Only, it didn’t turn out to be.

Minutes later, Deadpool segues into the highway scene we’re already familiar with – the one where he jumps into a van full of bad guys who in the hands of the Merc with a Mouth, will soon suffer or die in outrageously violent and sometimes funny ways. From there, Deadpool goes about his origin story through a few flashbacks, encounters the two X-men who would become his sidekicks and then assures the audience that his movie is actually a love story. Much like Peter Parker’s story years before, this is also about a girl – Vanessa, played the very hot Morena Baccarin.

It’s definitely inferior to Spider-Man, but it is also lots of fun. Deadpool is irreverent, self-aware, shockingly juvenile and does with plenty of violence. Our titular character also breaks the fourth wall every once in a while. That said, it still feels lacking and tame in some way as compared to some recent films of the genre. James Gunn’s Super is far crazier; his Guardians of the Galaxy has that one sequence that’s infinitely funnier than anything here (not to mention that it’s followed by a touchingly poignant final battle). In terms of action and violence, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass is more, uhm, kickass – fluid camerawork, great choreography and a boss fight that’s brutal as fuck. And despite Deadpool‘s hard R-Rating, the nudity is of the blink-and-you-miss-it variety. No, exposed butt doesn’t count.

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Okay, Deadpool may not have that many wow moments, but on the plus side, the fight scenes are mostly coherent – better than in any of those Michael Bay atrocities, better than the expertly choreographed, but poorly shot and badly edited fight scenes we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

For what it is, which is an adequately faithful adaptation of the comics, Deadpool is ultramega OK. “The real heroes here” did a fine job taking from a variety of source materials, putting in the right amount of Deadpool-ness they need and adding their own sensibilities to come up with their own definitive version of the fourth-wall breaking Merc. The result is a film that ticks all the fanboys’ check boxes and hardly strays from the character’s established conventions, which are not quite conventional – at least within the current trend in comic book movie adaptations.

Of all the in-jokes and pop culture references here, his jab at Hugh Jackman/Wolverine is the one I like the most. A character Fox love so much – Wolverine appeared on almost every X-Men movie and pretty much shoved everyone else to the sidelines. And yet, six movies in and Wolverine still has to make one memorable onscreen kill.

Deadpool – 10, Wolverine – 0

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As The Music Plays (Bamboo, 2004)

PhotoGrid_1467121824568They caught and drowned the front man of the world’s worst rock and roll band. He was out of luck because nobody gave a fuck. The jury gathered all around the aqueduct, drinking and laughing and lighting up, reminiscing just how bad he sucked, singing “Throw him in the river, throw him in the river – throw the bastard in the river”.

And way up in the sky is the leader of the greatest band of all time. Blasted from a plane headed back home from the U-S-A. The people gathered all around the radio to hear the transmission from the devil’s soul. (They’re) locked and stung and sick and cold of toasting their bald hero, toasting their bald hero. A toast to their bald hero!

The underground is overcrowded. The underground is overcrowded. The underground is overcrowded. The underground is overcrowded.

(~Slightly modified lyrics from the Archers of Loaf’s Greatest of All Time.)

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Bananatype (Eraserheads, 1997)

Banana_TypeEPcoverBefore Sticker Happy came out late in 1997, Eraserheads released an EP called Bananatype. For a band that has released one LP every year since 1993, a stopgap midyear release was nothing short of surprising. They just have too many songs for the new album that they have to put away some of them, the band explained. But maybe airplay also came into play. Their label possibly wanted a radio single that has nothing to do with Frannie Wei – something not from the underpromoted Fruitcake. So, after the third single “Trip to Jerusalem” (the music video for which, is arguably the dopest of all Eheads music videos) didn’t fly as expected, the plan for a fourth single – which could have been “Lightyears” – was squashed, probably.

And so we got Bananatype, a five-track album that hardly connects the dots between Fruitcake and Sticker Happy. “Harana”, the lead single, or A-side, has all the trademarks of an Eheads hit – ingenious lyrics, melts in your mouth melodies, and the hookiest hooks one could ever ask for. It’s a song that retreats back to the catchy folk-pop of Ultra and yet, foreshadows the effects-heavy sound of Sticker Happy, through loud guitars and an extended outro.

Much like the Fruitcake EP, there are only two outstanding cuts here – the aforementioned “Harana” and the closing track, “Tikman”. The latter is a lo-fi quickie that leans toward the psych double-entendre side of Cutterpillow. It’s an underrated gem, a commercial jingle that could have easily been a hit single. (If you’re not convinced yet, you can watch an Eraserheads trio perform it live on this grainy video.) The other three songs – Police Woman, Bananatype and I Can’t Remember You – aren’t anywhere near bad, but would be best appreciated by diehard fans.

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P.S. What the fuck is a gaheto?

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Dating Gawi (Rico Blanco, 2015)

IMG_20160521_221232This isn’t just fantasy superband come true. This is the superband that supersedes all other superbands in recent memory – Bamboo, Franco, Audioslave, Atoms for Peace, and even the Oktaves. I mean, c’mon, this is Rivermaya’s main man and one-half of the Eraserheads – two godhead bands from the 90’s – in one album.

Okay, maybe not really a superband, but Rico Blanco’s third studio output, is a superb band album. An album that thrives on Menshevist approach and recalls updates the sounds from Blanco’s former band (i.e., Trip, Free, Tuloy Ang Ligaya) and the more straightforward side of Your Universe (i.e., Antukin, Ayuz). Blanco will never make another It’s Not Easy Being Green or Free, but what we have here, is almost as good as those. Much like Joss Whedon’s superhero ensemble few years back, this one benefits from its bandleader/captain’s singular vision, the bang-up production, each member’s contribution and whatever is the equivalent of a well-balanced script. This is the sound of four distinct personalities contrasting and complementing each other; four guys hammering it on, delivering the goods.

Side A opens with “Parang Wala Na”, an upbeat new wave-y number about the slow death of a relationship, slows down a bit on “Sorry Naman”, then closes with “Videoke Queen” – the splendid first single about videoke singing that’s also perfect for, uhm, videoke singing. (The last time Rico Blanco went meta, he name-checks Odelay in a song that’s apparently inspired by Beck.) Side B continues the fading romance on “Wag Mong Aminin”, then fastforwards to the aftermath on “Umuwi Ka Na”, in which the beautiful arpeggiated guitars remind me of Radiohead, circa In Rainbows. Then, Blanco and Co. get all cranked up, distortion and all on the final track, where Blanco shares one painful truth about love – Hindi mo kayang umibig/ kung ayaw mong masaktan/ mag-chess ka na lang.

All in all, this is Rico Blanco and Co. bringing back the old and familiar – the alternative pop the Eraserheads and Rivermaya pioneered in the 90’s – with a new spin. It’s all killers, no fillers – an album for the Spotify generation, full of radio friendly unit shifters. One of the best from last year.

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The Blashuvec (Rebelle Fleur, 2013)

a0517027165_10Like with any guitar-heavy rock band, one can namedrop the usual suspects with ease – Nirvana, Pavement, Husker Du – as usual. But one has to realize how tonally and aesthetically disparate those bands were and that their least common denominator is a RAT pedal. Yes, the singer strains his cords like Cobain and the guitars are dirty as fuck, but every time I listen, it seems to me, that they’re leaning more toward a The Strokes/The Vines/Arctic Monkeys kind of vibe than any of the aforementioned bands. And it only confirms my doubt that they’d get off to Karen O rather than Bikini Kill. But the guitars are loud alright, and the drums are forceful. Sometimes he sounds like Casablanca trying to outdo The Vines. That said, this gets a thumbs up nonetheless. Plus, they’re giving it away for free. So, I took a bite and it’s alright. You might also want to try.

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