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Monthly Archives: March 2009

GomorraA contemporary take on crime mobs and the lives of people they affect, Gomorra exposes the inner workings of Italy’s criminal underbelly with tales of ultra-violence and deaths. In fact, the movie itself is anchored on violence it begins and ends in quick, successive deaths. The film explores how mob groups have permeated even the most basic fabric of domestic life, with elders cashing in on the lucrative drug trade and human smuggling, among others, with the younger ones finding themselves lured to the appeal of sex, machine guns, and drug money. The result is almost always never appealing, though. The extreme nonchalance to death in these parts reflects the value for life afforded to anyone threatening to disrupt the status quo.


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At 150, Ateneo should know better than kicking off its sesquicentennial festivities with an invitational talk by former British prime minister Tony Blair. Here is, after all, a guy who has stood firm, with nary a trace of apology, to his erstwhile decision to back a US-led invasion of Iraq that resulted in, among other tragedies, casualties of innocent civilians running by the hundreds of thousands. This very same leader could have altered history had he not played puppy to Bush Jr and his package of mass deception, messianic tendencies, and maniacal urge to wage wars on flimsy excuses. Despite this, Ateneo played host to Blair, its students deciding to listen to him within the comfy, airconditioned confines of the university’s auditorium, with not even one student deciding to go against the grain to let Blair know he is responsible for making Iraq spiral down the drain. Blair wearing the Ateneo jacket by the end of his talk should have been enough to make any sensible Ateneo student cringe in shame, but the gesture was instead met by admirable cheers and hearty applauses from the Blue Eagles crowd. This affirmation of Ateneo’s grand tradition of apathy does nothing to elevate the university’s self-declared sense of excellence with its legion of Jesuits and upper crust students paying ridiculously overpriced tuition. And here you thought 150 years should be enough time to earn even an iota of wisdom. Oh well.

Related: Blair in Manila for talk on nation building

Scientists call it the Naked Photo Test, and it works like this: say a photo turns up of you nakedly doing something that would shame you and your family for generations. Bestiality, perhaps. Ask yourself how many people in your life you would trust with that photo. If you’re like the rest of us, you probably have at most two.

Even more depressing, studies show that about one out of four people have no one they can confide in.

The average number of close friends we say we have is dropping fast, down dramatically in just the last 20 years. Why?

Read more: 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable

From the New Yorker, funny cartoon as always.

new-yorker

reign-over-me1The story of one man dealing with a profound loss is what Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me is all about. Shrinks would tag the protagonist as an extreme case of post-traumatic stress disorder, given this man’s seeming inability to come to terms with his wife and three daughters’ death on 9/11, but his friend thinks the issue is more than a clinical concern. Together with a young therapist, this friend — facing domestic and professional problems of his own — would devise ways to get his old college buddy on track. Or at least he would attempt to. Wistful, almost always reflective, “Reign Over Me” never indulges in too much sentimentality. Instead it plunges into the chaotic, messed-up, and brutal aftermath of losing everything that matters, and looking, if a bit desperately, for closure.

howls_moving_castleTypical of Japanese artist Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle is a brilliant work of animation that manages to infuse magic, love, and war without coming across as pretentious or downright forgettable. It’s the story of a young insecure lady turned into an old shrivelling woman by a curse. Along the way, this old woman falls in love to Howl, a pretty young magician, himself torn by the ideals he chooses to live (or die) by. Theirs is a twisted relationship saddled by melodrama but almost always salvaged by Zen-like moments of reflection. Subtle and restrained, never indulging in too much fireworks or utter cheesiness, “Howl’s Moving Castle” achieves a level of complexity and maturity not easily acquired by most other films.

Like most books of the same genre, there is sex in Ilan Stavans’ memoir. But that’s probably where the similarities end. Stavans’ On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language is a unique and interesting departure from the default memoir as we know it. Instead it chronicles events in Stavans’ life in the context of the different languages he has had to speak at one point or another. “Life is experienced through language, isn’t it?” he asks. “Gestures, voices, words.”

Proficient in Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and English, Stavans is a polyglot with a wide range of experiences and extensive travel history, during which he had to deal with issues ranging from identity to isolation, to looking at the world from his multi-cultural perspective as a Mexican-Jew hailing from a Polish immigrant family whose members have compelling stories to tell of their own. In this memoir, Stavans attempts to define his being through his acquisition of different languages, complimented by a smart storytelling that lends the book a remarkable depth. “How much of what we are, what we know about ourselves, is true?” he writes. “We are merely a sum of viewpoints, and human memory is treacherous and inconsistent.”

20Although taking off largely from the context of the American experience, 20something Essays by 20something Writers: On new jobs, old loves, fighting the Man, having a kid, saving the world, and everything in between portrays the nearly universal experience among twentysomethings the world over: the search for one’s unique identity in a world of contradictions, the longing to hit it big out there, the longing to save the planet, the longing to save one’s self; and finding meaning in the midst of tragedies both personal and familial, getting on and off the transit of life and not knowing where to go, and ultimately redeeming one’s self. Contrary to the rather stereotypical notion of young people in movies and elsewhere as a party-going and booze-bingeing collective bereft of a clear sense of direction, this book treads the less talked-about territories of twentysomething-ness and reveals an intimate, if not a more humane, portrait of this confusing period in one’s life. Edited by Matt Kellog and Jillian Quint, the book, a collection of essays from twentysomethings, is far from trivial and flippant: funny, thought-provoking, sad, and almost always achingly real and honest, the writers flesh out insights here and there, whether it be from working nights at Wendy’s, dealing with parenthood, staring at death, moving to the big city, serving in Kuwait, and finding in the Internet what you can’t have in real life as it were. There is joy (and sadness) in reading the works in the book, a lingering testament to the voice of a generation thought to have been drowned altogether by the chaos of the modern world.

sinking-of-japanSinking of Japan is almost a two-hour spectacle of earthquakes rocking seabeds, volcanoes blowing up, roads cracking up, and the whole of Japan literally sinking into the Earth’s mantle. In the process, the Japanese prime minister gets barbecued thousands of feet on air, a violent global anti-Japanese sentiment flares up as the Japanese flock to different nations seeking for refuge, and Japan is betrayed by its closest economic ally, the US. “Sinking of Japan” hurtles through these trajectories and more, and provides sheer cinematic pleasure in its gratuitous, almost maniacal, tendency to blow everything up in every scene: skyscrapers crumbling to the ground, bridges breaking apart, people dying, and cities burning. Based on Sakyo Komatsu’s novel of the same title, “Sinking of Japan” boasts of outstanding CGI, but terribly lacks character development. If only for its overworked imagination and visual effects though, “Sinking of Japan” — like its rather predictable ending — may be far from hopeless.

News of prejudice against Filipinos abroad is as common as news of OFWs being brought home in coffins, but no time did news of a racial slur grow to become almost a national issue than in the premier of the fourth season of the hit US TV series “Desperate Housewives,” of all programs.

In the said episode, Susan Mayer, the character played by Teri Hatcher, asks during a medical consultation to check “those diplomas because I want to make sure that they’re not from some med school in the Philippines.”

“On the face, we can look at it as a racial slur,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said. “We are looked down upon too much, considering the number of our medical professionals in the US,” he added.

As a result of the furor stirred by the fourth season’s foremost episode, makers of the hit US show, ABC, issued a statement apologizing “for any offence caused by the brief reference in the season premier.”

“There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines,” it said.

Angry protests and hateful comments toward Teri Hatcher and the show in general have understandably swamped the blogosphere since the premier, especially from Filipino bloggers suggesting anything from banning the show to killing Hatcher. A few, meanwhile, noted that given the Philippines’ reputation abroad, what with multi-million scandals and rigged medical exams and all, the issue is no more than an exaggerated reaction to a sad fact.

Granted, a racial slur is still a racial slur. Of course it’s far easier and more politically correct to take offense on Hatcher’s line, but dismissing the line outright as a sucky truth doesn’t make it right either. There is a flimsy line between being funny and cynical and being extraordinarily crude and insensitive, especially when Filipino workers being paid ridiculously low wages fill up the dearth of medical professionals tasked to wash up your grandparents’ asses.

For a popular series as “Desperate Housewives,” where each episode is watched by millions, to insert such a derogatory remark is in equal parts achingly funny, if a bit unsurprising, and at the same time unfair to the vast number of Filipinos practicing medicine in the US, much in the same way that it is unfair to refer to all Arabs as terrorists or Americans as trigger-happy nuts.

In sum, although self-respect is overrated, especially for the Philippines which has always been beleaguered by scandals of all sorts, the apology issued by ABC is definitely a warranted call.

Related: ‘Desperate Housewives’ apology over racial slur