Matigas Paniwalaan

FB_IMG_1505089132851

Eraserheads’ Sticker Happy Turns 20

They called themselves Eraserheads. They took it from David Lynch’s surreal horror film, which was released in 1977, the same year Punk exploded. Eraserheads took off in 1993, two years after Nirvana and grunge broke into the mainstream. Apparently, Lynch’s film was still popular among late ’80s – early ’90s film school circles. Punk, on the other hand, was on the verge of another revival. The Eraserheads were never punk, though they flirted with punk and discord more than once (i.e., Insomya). What they surely had in abundance though, especially in their early days, was “punk attitude”. Twenty years after David Lynch’s film debut came Sticker Happy. And twenty years later, the girl in front of the upright piano still has her back on us, but that’s OK—the songs are still sticky, colorful. We, the fans, happy.

Wala lang. 20th anniversary kasi ng paborito kong album na Sticker Happy. Oo, tama yung may nakahubad na babae sa cover. Wala na sigurong mas iconic pa dito. Kahit yung cover ng paborito kong Abbey Road (yung LP ha, at hindi yung EP na may “The” sa title)? Walang sinabi yun. Pero di tulad ng Pavement, Radiohead at Nirvana walang inilabas na re-issue o special edition ng Sticker Happy (ganun din naman yung mga naunang albums ng ‘Heads). Samakatuwid, walang Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinel Edition o Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe. Pero OK lang, pwede namang magpatugtog ng mga live recordings nila circa Sticker Happy mula sa baul ni Schizo (unfortunately, wala palang bootlegs sa mga panahong iyon).

Mahirap i-describe ang mga kanta ng Eraserheads. May mga kantang malungkot ang tema, pero masaya. Maganda ang melody pero maingay din kung minsan. Pangkaraniwan ang boses ni Ely, di tulad nina Bamboo o Axl Rose, pero kakaiba ang dating ng mga kanta nila. Hindi masyadong teknikal, pero magaling. Madaling sakyan pero hindi baduy. Pero ibang usapan na pagdating sa Sticker Happy. Mas mahirap i-describe. Lalo na yung sound nila. Heto lang masasabi ko: medyo bastos yung “Kaliwete”, wasak yung “Ha Ha Ha”, walang sense ang “Kananete”, at di pa rin ako sigurado kung 100% sincere si Ely sa “Para sa Masa”. Maganda yung “Milk and Money” at “Andalusian Dog”, parehong lumang kanta na binigyan nila ng panibagong areglo, pero ayoko nang himayin pa kung ano man ang sinasabi nila sa lyrics.

Sa kabila nito, may isang kanta sa Sticker Happy na simple lang, pero malalim. Hindi sya maingay, walang masyadong gaheto—distortion man o sampler—pero mabigat. Tungkol ito sa love, tungkol sa faith. Tungkol sa mga bagay na akala natin ay totoo, pero malalaman natin sa huli, na hindi pala. Mga bagay na pinaniwalaan natin nang bata pa tayo. Napag-usapan namin dati yung line na “someone up there is waiting with arms open wide and smiling”. Sabi ko, ang pagkakaintindi ko, tungkol ito sa mga trapo, na tunay na tao lang pag malapit na ang eleksyon. Sabi ng kaibigan ko hindi, tungkol ito kay Papa Jesus. Napaisip ako noon. Sabi ko, hmm, may point sya. ‘Yung linyang “suffering is what you get for living” naman, nito ko rin na-ii-relate sa mga nababasa ko tungkol sa spirituality, sa Buddhism, at sa Tuesdays with Morrie. Life is suffering, yun ang totoo at “wala ka nang magagawa kundi sundin ito.” Ganun din ang mga pagkahaba-habang pelikula ni Lav Diaz. Naalala ko tuloy nung minsang napanood ko yung Melancholia. Tapos kinabukasan umuwi ako sa amin. Habang nasa bus, narinig ko yung “Gusto Ko Lamang Sa Buhay” ng Itchyworms. Muntik na akong mapaluha. Sa unang pagkakataon matapos mapanood ang walong oras na pelikula ni Lav Diaz, nakaramdam ako ng tuwa. It’s hard to explain. Matigas ipaliwanag.

 

Ang mga larawan ay hiniram lamang sa Facebook page ng ERASERHEADS : The Greatest Filipino Band Ever(Believe it or else.) at nilikha ni ACIII. This blog entry is brought to you by the numbers 6 and 9 and by the letter Ng.

Kita Kita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

kitakits

Kita Kita (I See You) could be a distant relative of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise; only it isn’t presented in real-time, it’s set in Japan instead of France, and the male lead (Empoy Marquez) hardly resembles Ethan Hawke. And KZ Tandingan’s version of Air Supply’s “Two Less Lonely People” frequently plays in the background. Okay, the two movies are probably more different than similar. Kita Kita tells of a bittersweet love story between Lea (Allesandra de Rossi), a Filipina tour guide in Japan, who suffers from temporary blindness and her unlikely Prince Charming, whom she met after. The story follows this unlikely couple as they wander around the picturesque where-to-go attractions in Sapporo and Hokkaido. The movie happily forgoes typical romantic comedy tropes and mostly features its two leads talking to each other—the dialogue most likely improvised. In short, it’s not your usual rom-com with the best-looking couple, manufactured conflict, and predictable plot. And just when you think that that is all, it burst its own bubble by telling the B-side to the story in the second half. Truly, love is blind. And only in darkness can we see the stars. Or in the case of Tonyo, only after he got wasted drinking 24 cans of Japan’s famous Sapporo lager. Consider this as Philippines’ “thank you” to Japan for featuring San Miguel Beer in the original Ghost in the Shell. Oh, there’s a part that reminds me of Il Mare. Don’t ask, it’s a spoiler

 

Ai Fai.. Thank You Love You (Mez Tharatorn, 2014)

i fine

Language barrier is a bitch. Kaya (Sora Aoi), a Japanese chick in Thailand leaves for the US after graduating from her English class. Then, she dumps her Thai boyfriend Yim (Sunny Suwanmethanon), via a recorded message (in English), thru the help of her friend/teacher/translator Ms. Pleng (Preechaya Pongthananikorn). You ask, how did they become lovers in the first place? Kaya probably speaks a little Thai, but according to Yim they’re really in love (they’re sleeping together). Thus, Yim gets desperate to learn his ABC’s just to win Kaya back. Pleng, who’s reasonably hesitant at first, eventually agreed to help Yim—but only after she received grave threats from the latter. There really isn’t much with movie’s will or won’t they plot. And it doesn’t need the whole movie for girl and guy to realize they’re meant to be together. Who would you rather: pretty, bubbly, and wholesome teacher Pleng or far and away and not a little bit promiscuous Kaya? It’s obvious (but I’m not gonna judge you if you choose former JAV idol Sora Aoi). If the romantic aspect isn’t much, is the comedy any better? The movie isn’t free from rote slapstick routines, but it’s funnier when it’s just the two leads together. One time, Yim tells Pleng’s ex-boyfriend/suitor that they’re married and she’s pregnant, only so he’ll stop seeing her. There’s also this really funny scene where one poor school boy shit his pants after Yim caught him in the act of taking upskirt picture of Pleng.

Logan (James Mangold, 2017)

logan

I don’t get this bias towards serious comic book movies. A movie has some convincingly Oscar-worthy drama, then all of a sudden it’s the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight. People heap praises on these two movies yet no one bothers to mention Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan’s subdued superhero drama and follow-up to his more popular debut The Sixth Sense. Why cream your pants over Logan and not Deadpool? When Deadpool had more success at being irreverently funny than Logan did with its sob story. Don’t get me wrong, Logan is a fine movie. It probably has the most memorable portrayal of both Logan and Charles Xavier in all of X-Men movies. Logan’s old, resigned, half the beast he used to be while Xavier’s annoying, old, and sick, which makes him more dangerous. And I liked the dynamics between these two characters (the plot concerning the young mutants, not so much); like in the scene where Xavier needs to take a leak. And with a little detour, it is able to give what should have been the true essence of every X-Men movie—humans and mutants—which made the movie for me. But the movie’s really about X-23, old man Logan, and their kind of forced father-daughter drama, and those other young mutants—it is more than OK, but nothing to get too crazy about.

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012)

safetynot (2).png

Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) is a weird guy. He posted an ad in the local newspaper looking for a time-travel companion. “Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed”, it said on the ad. Enter Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza), a disaffected geeky intern from Seattle Magazine, who posed as a candidate, only so they could set up Kenneth for an interview. And guess what, they clicked in no time. Kenneth proceeds to train Darius in preparation for their trip, while Darius’ boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) and the other intern pass time. There’s also a sub-plot where Jeff tries to reconnect with his old flame which mirrors Kenneth’s reason for wanting to go back in time. Meanwhile government agents are growing suspicious of Kenneth’s activities which includes but not limited to stealing pieces of technology from a laboratory. Is he nuts or is he not? Was expecting a low budget science-fiction thriller and this is what I got: an endearing well written science-fiction comedy. There may be no eye popping visual effects, but the characters are 3D.

The Karate Kid (2010)

the-karate-kid-jackie-chanThis was showing on the bus again. Sure, Will Smith Jr. couldn’t act yet in this movie. But it’s an underdog story. And everyone loves an underdog story. Plus points for knowing how action movies work (i.e., the protagonist’s best move was never revealed until the final round). Nevermind the improbable. Beating the Chinese kids in their own turf? Maybe? Winning the tournament with one broken leg? Are you fucking kidding me? Nevermind that the kids were too young to really be in love. Because amidst all things that make this a typical Hollywood fluff, is Jackie Chan’s kung fu master with a tragic past. Jackie Chan’s always fun to watch. But here, he does drama and not the usual physical comedy. Nevermind that Jackie taught the kid kung fu and not karate (didn’t realize that until somebody pointed it out). Jackie Chan’s rare turn in a serious role is somewhat riveting, providing the much needed weight, if not heart and soul, to this otherwise forgettable remake.

Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson, 2016)

strange5

I’ve Seen Stranger Things

Like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Stephen Strange went to Asia looking for the cure (unbeknownst to the former doctor, the band resides in England—y’know, Three Imaginary Boys, 1979). Unlike Christian Bale’s Wayne, Benedict Cumberbach’s Dr. Strange has a slick sense of humor (“Just Wong?… Like Adele… Or Aristotle? Drake? Bono? Eminem…”) He didn’t find the cure (but later encountered their black-eyed goth followers). Instead, he got into the world of sorcery, or in his ex-girlfriend’s words, he joined a cult. Just like this movie joining the cult of fairly entertaining but underwhelmingly average MCU movies.

At the outset, the movie looks impressive (i.e., architectural wonders folding and unfolding like clockworks). Marvel definitely put their money where their mouth is—that is, on SFX, bold and capital. Still, Doctor Strange isn’t the Ditko/Kubrick/Miyazaki/The Matrix mind-trip Kevin Feige said it needed to be.  Ditko, sure, a li’l bit from The Matrix and a lot from Inception, minus the well established logic of the latter and the Wachowskis’ stylish kung fu mix. In short, it looks different from all other MCU movies. Yet, for some reasons, it also feels and looks the same—it’s lightweight, jokey, and heavy on CGI.

Doctor Strange isn’t as mind-bending as Kevin Feige thought it should be. Why? Because it takes more than fancy 3D eye candy to be truly mind-bending. It never quite absorbs you into its world in the same way The Matrix and Inception do. In comparison, Thor’s rough sketch of the Tree of Nine Realms was more interesting—yes, it sounds BS—but at least that movie understands no one’s supposed to take it seriously.

strange4

But they got Doctor Strange’s character right. Tilda Swinton, who anchors the movie’s more serious moments, disappears into her character as expected. Rachel McAdams, who plays Strange’s ex-lover, is just lovely and fun to watch—too bad she’s underused in the movie. Continue reading “Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson, 2016)”

Bliss (Jerrold Tarog, 2017)

bliss-movie

Bliss is a well-crafted little film, an elaborate tease tinged with mild voltage of shock, a psycho-sexual thriller that approaches but never quite reaches the level of mind-fuck. The movie’s a clever play on parallels: Iza Calzado’s showbiz career with that of Jane Ciego; Jane’s to that of Abigail, the protagonist in Bliss; Jane’s real-life husband Carlo to the actor who plays her husband in Bliss, played by Ian Veneracion; Bliss’ indie writer-director Lexter Palao (Audie Gemora) to Jerrold Tarog; and that bald TV host played by Michael de Mesa to real life TV host Boy Abunda. But the most important of all is that of Jane Ciego and the nurse played by Adrienne Vergara. One child gets to live her dream of fortune and fame. The other child lives to share her nightmares with the other.

Jerrold Tarog’s script leaves clues and peanut shells along the way, makes sure you don’t get lost in the strip tease. Movies like Misery, Persona and Inception were mentioned in the film, but not Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue. Bliss may be lacking in full-sized thrills and effective scares, but intrigue, gratuitous nudity, and moments that are strictly not for the squeamish, more than makes up for it. That being said, claims that the film’s ending spells mind-fuck are grossly exaggerated. Bliss is nothing but a tease; like a bomba film that didn’t go full “pene” but just slides in the tip. It’s like minutes and minutes of foreplay without the actual sex.

But no sex is OK, especially when one is tired and badly needs to sleep. Like Jane at one point in the movie, getting tired of all her showbiz routines. I thought she’s much like the local movie theaters and the movie goers, already tired of looking for something different, feeling shortchanged most of the time. There should be more choices in our cinemas; not just the usual studio love teams, tepid rom-coms, and the predominant but mostly unimaginative Hollywood movies.

Perhaps this is what Bliss is: it’s the evil nurse pushing us away from the comfort zone, sending voltage of shock and sensation, rousing us, leaving us gasping for air, asking for more. There are lots of good local indie movies out there waiting for a wider audience. Bliss is just one of them. If only the local theater owners would realize, we’re more than willing to pay to see them.

Bliss_Still_7

Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010)

kickass-2

With great firepower comes great kick-ass finale

Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage) was a good cop out to get NY kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong)—who in turn framed him for drugs and got him incarcerated. Macready lost everything while in prison, save for his little girl—thanks to his buddy Sgt. Marcus Williams (who showed up in the movie for a few minutes just to read Macready’s first graphic novel and reveal what this movie is all about: Macready’s revenge). Of course, Macready has since returned. This time as the masked vigilante known as Big Daddy. Big Daddy together with Hit-Girl a.k.a. his now 11-year old daughter Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz), are on to destroying D’Amico once again. They’re no super-heroes; they’re only out for blood.

Elsewhere, there’s Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his friends wasting time geek-talking about superheroes—how no one’s attempted to wear the mask and fight crime in real life. When Dave finally decided to don the green unitard and take on the streets, the results ranged from “nothing happens” to downright bone-crushing. In other words, he got his own ass handed to him a few times. And then he went viral and eventually conquered MySpace. (MySpace, of course, would eventually lost to Facebook, as can be seen in David Fincher’s brilliant Mark Zuckerberg movie, The Social Network.)

kickass1
I can make my own graphic novel out of screenshots from this movie!

On the side, there’s Lyndsy Fonseca as Katie Deauxma, the requisite (not that I’m complaining) love interest, Dave’s long-time crush and Kick-Ass‘s own MJ (an improvement over Spider-Man‘s Kirsten Dunst). Continue reading “Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010)”

Foo Fighters’ Albums, Ranked From Worst to Best

Foo Fighters

The Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl’s solo studio project that quickly evolve into a full band, are now well on their way to becoming a “classic rock” band. More than two decades old and they’re still at it. For better or worse. They are like the granddaddies of corporate rock now—irrelevant and boring—in the same way Van Halen and Aerosmith were during the nineties. But that’s not to say the Foos never had excellent albums. They had a few. And before you start typing a hundred word vomit in defense of your favorite rock band, hear this: they’re my favorite band too. Or at least they used to be on my top five. Until they eventually slipped, around the time they released another album produced by Gil Norton, around the same time their concerts got bigger and bigger, while their songs started to sound more and more like lesser variations of their older hits.

One by One (2002)
The band’s least favorite album is also their worst. That makes sense. Over-produced, formulaic, and over-compressed—while arguably not their weakest set of songs—One by One is easily their worst sounding record. Tellingly, the best song from the album is the raw acoustic version of “Times Like These”, which can’t be found on the actual album.
Notable Tracks: All My Life, Have It All

Sonic Highways (2014)
You can resort to all sorts of gimmicks—TV documentaries, record your songs in different cities, invite your idols—or you can write your best damn songs and never worry much about the extraneous stuff. None of the eight tracks here are downright bad, none half-assed. If anything, they’re more likely to be full-assed or over-assed (i.e., one song features three guitarists plus the guy from Cheap Trick). But none of which are Continue reading “Foo Fighters’ Albums, Ranked From Worst to Best”

Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

ant2

The Top Secret World of Ant-Man

I kept thinking. That this could have been funnier like Shaun of the Dead. That this could have been geekier like Scott Pilgrim. That there could have been more inventive fight scenes—had Edgar Wright stayed to finish what he started. Just take Luis’ (Michael Peña) crafty way of telling his stories, for example, or the many times where Ant-Man fights, shrinks and puffs up—all of which could have been much much more engaging with Wright at the helm. I was thinking of things Marvel could have done to address this issue—this lack of panache on the director’s end. Perhaps, they should have made poor Scottie steal some sugar cubes like Arrietty and her Dad in that Ghibli movie. And made this a heartwarming children’s movie. Or better, made him watch Ms. Marvel (Brie Larson) while she . . . she . . . wait, she isn’t even introduced yet in this universe, so that would not be possible.

PhotoGrid_1498268232833

What we got is a movie that follows the basic premise of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man (a version of the movie that, sadly, we’ll not be able to see). Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and a scientist who distrusts Howard Stark (and by extension Iron Man and his cohorts), wants to pass the torch to a protege. And that protege is Scott Lang, a well-meaning thief, an ex-con who needs to secure a job for his young daughter Cassie. And it’s also a heist film that has Lang and lots and lots of ants break and enter a highly secured facility to “steal some shit”. And of course he has to fight the villain Darren Cross, who’s easily the most convincing bad guy in the Marvel universe (he turned one co-worker into a sushi earlier in the movie, in a scene probably inspired from the original RoboCop).

But that’s only half the movie, more or less. The other half is what Peyton Reed, Adam Mckay and Paul Rudd, contributed to the script: the music, Luis’ tip montage, Falcon, Quantum Realm, adding more of Hope Van Dyne in the story, and streamlining the whole movie to make it more fit to the pre-existing bigger story. Allegedly, all this in lieu of the crazier stuff, the more far out ideas Wright and Joe Cornish had originally. Still, the movie ends up like a B-side—disconnected but not totally unrelated—to all the towering destruction from all the other Phase Two movies. Which only adds to the disappointment—that we didn’t get to see the crazier stuff—given this wouldn’t have much impact on either the crossover or the other standalone series. Continue reading “Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)”

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

ww2

Ms. Marvel

Near the end of Wonder Woman, I couldn’t help but think of that hapless lady, who found Diana Prince hiding behind the shrubbery, and subsequently gave her dress to her. I wonder what happened to her. Or in case she’s well and alive, how would she explain to her friends, what happened there in the woods.

Of course, the whole thing happened off screen. After that, we see Diana enter the party in a long blue dress, the god-killer sword concealed behind her back. And this was after Diana was told that she “can’t do this, can’t do that”, for the nth time—with Steve Trevor and the rest of team leaving her alone in the woods. Some found this empowering, that throughout the movie, she does what she needs to do and not what she’s told, and the fact that this was helmed by a female director. While some noted the total absence of male gaze, totally refreshing. Me, I was ready to revamp my top ten superhero movie list. Was already thinking which among a number of movies—Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, and Deadpool—should go down a notch or two.

Did I just make it sound like Wonder Woman is really an awesome movie? In parts, yes, it is awe-inspiring—more than some of the more popular superhero movies (i.e., The Avengers, Civil War, The Dark Knight). The other time Diana was told she can’t do something—that she can’t save those people caught in the crossfire—I literally had to pick both my heart and jaw up from the floor. Continue reading “Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)”

Your Universe (Rico Blanco, 2008)

AlbumArt_YUBefore we were re-introduced to the now solo Rico Blanco, the story went like this: the then-Rivermaya frontman went MIA; his former band, reduced to a trio, released the brilliant Bagong Liwanag, then staged an overblown TV search for a frontman, a new member. Meanwhile, some speculated Rico Blanco formed a new band and he’s called it Blanco.

Then came the signal fire: the five-minute plus “Yugto”, an anthemic folk-rocker replete with strings, tribal beats and horns; chorus that echoes Joey Ayala at Ang Bagong Lumad’s “Lumiyab Ka” and bridge that alludes to the Battle of Jericho. In short, it’s big, gigantic. A song one could easily put alongside the Eraserheads’ “Ang Huling El Bimbo”, “Center Of the Sun” from Wolfgang’s Acoustica, and Rivermaya’s “Alab Ng Puso” from Live & Acoustic or their live rendition of “You’ll Be Safe Here”, at the 2006 MTV Asia Awards in Thailand. We’re talking about epic numbers here.

After the ballsy first single, comes Your Universe, Rico Blanco’s first solo album. Contrary to what some fans have expected (myself included), Your Universe isn’t Magkabilaan with electric guitars, or something along the lines of Rivermaya’s punchier, darker oeuvre. Rivermaya’s version of “Ilog” and “Padayon” could have been the perfect jumping-off point for Blanco to get on full folk-rock mode; instead, the other nine songs in the album has Blanco exploring different avenues, revisiting past excursions while also charting new territories.

Continue reading “Your Universe (Rico Blanco, 2008)”

How the Foo Fighters Got Old Really Fast

foo-then and now.jpg

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

tdk2You Could Have It So Much Better

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.

tdk

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

yondurocket

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 The Empire Strikes Back at home, on the old Betamax.

Continue reading “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Is the Joss Whedon Sequel We Never Had”

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; 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.

Continue reading “Buddha’s Pest (The Mongols, 2004)”