Friday, December 14, 2012

The Best and Worst in Film 2012

Of course there has to be a 2012 review! I skipped a couple of years there, but it's practically a Geek's Guide Tradition. I have loaded up on sarcasm, and what I hope is aplomb, so I may describe ever so colorfully the films which I was able to catch (a total of 58 movies this year).

If you're rock punk indie, or hate any film that's been advertised to more than 10 people, then I am sorry to say I haven't had a chance to catch a lot of them this year. I love 'em, and perhaps will do more snobbish reviews for them in the future.

I also have a huge gaping hole where Filipino movies are supposed to be, but I honestly only watched a couple this year, and I don't feel I am a legit critic to any of them because of my lack of expertise. This list is mainstream Hollywood cinema 2012, just like the Oscars without the statues and the painfully awkward opening salvos.

Here's 5 of the Best and Worst of this year's film du jour, and some special awards I just couldn't help but throw in.

Top 5 Awesome Movies of 2012 (or the Faith in Humanity Restored)

5. (Tied) Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom - The first had no famous faces in it. The second had popular actors not acting, but inhaling their very roles. Each has unique, tight storytelling and compelling acting. My biggest compliment? Watching them felt like reading a book. :D

4. Looper - I have a soft spot for the balding, aging Bruce Willis. I have an equally soft spot for the canny-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And it helps they are both good actors. Name one bad movie of these 2 artists, and that's the best Taylor Lautner could ever hope for. As for the movie, I like the sci-fi-ish theme which didn't involve aliens or flying ships. Just us humans making hell out of each others' lives.

3. Argo - the unexpected surprise of the year for me. I mean, Ben Affleck has a pretty spotty record (think Gigli and Daredevil) in the past which made me underestimate his directing prowess. But then, I remembered Good Will Hunting and now I know he wasn't just freeloading on Matt Damon back then.

2. (Tied) Hunger Games and The Dark Knight - It was soooo hard deciding between these two. Batman fans would feel insulted that I have leveled their hero extraordinaire with a movie based on a kid's book. But I am a very recent Batman fan, and I think those wall climbing scenes in the last movie can never be justified and I hate they turned Albert into an old sappy fogey. So it brings them down a notch to the level of my favorite book and movie this year. Battle Royale for the Hollywood Pretties. Don't get me wrong - Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is spot on. But Liam Hemsworth? Hmmm... I still need to be convinced.

1. The Avengers - I have watched this movie 5 times this year. It. Just. Never. Gets. Old. Individually, the characters in their own solo movies are great, but could get a bit arid. I thought Thor was overacted by the other Hemsworth brother, previous Hulks were just to weepy for my taste, and Captain America? Too pretty in tights. Ironman, of course, as always, is perfect, but his arrogance without counterbalance of the other Avengers could get annoying. But together --- flawless. And I hope they keep this Hulk.

Runners-up: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Damsels in Distress, Skyfall, Men in Black 3

Top 5 God-Awful Movies of 2012 (or the Too Bad the End of the World is Near):

5. One for the Money - starring Katherine Heigl. Haven't read the series, but this movie didn't help win any more fans. Good thing Janet Evanovich (the author of the series) could survive the loss.

4. Project X - dude, this was like number 1 in the US for so many weeks. Give me a dime so I could buy a f***.

3. The Lorax - I KNOW it's supposed to be adorable, and has a really really cool eco-message. But it was total crap. Only sat through half of it before my mind started fizzing out.

2. Abduction - starring Taylor Lautner's very talented abs. I guess the scriptwriters were thinking no one would pay attention to the story anyway, not with those abs hogging the screen time.

and the Number 1 worst movie of 2012 is... No surprises...

1. Breaking Dawn Part 2 - I mean, c'mon. That CGI baby was totally awesome -- in 1968. It had 10 minutes of good action-packed war scene, but we had to sit through more than an hour and a half of sap and goo to get there. And the video montage playing to what happened to be my favorite song before Kristen Stewart totally ruined it for me -- unforgivable.

Runners-up: New York I Love You, What to Expect When Expecting, Ghost Rider 2, The Vow, Magic Mike, Battleship, Rock of Ages

Special Awards:

Best CGI... Not : Breaking Dawn Part 2
Best CGI... Really: Avengers, Amazing Spiderman

Best Animated Movies: The Secret World of Arriety, Hotel Transylvania, Rise of the Guardians

Guilty Pleasure Awards: (You Like 'Em, You Just Can't Own Up You Do)
Pitch Perfect, People Like Us, Dark Shadows, Underworld Awakening

Regrets I Made (was not able to catch in theaters):
Wreck it Ralph, Paranorman, To Rome With Love, Ruby Sparks, Rouruni Kenshiin

Looking forward to: The Hobbit, Les Mis, Ender's Game

Friday, November 16, 2012

What I Saw While You Slept

It was a drowsy afternoon you couldn’t fight off.  Humidity hung heavy in the air, and the whirring fans and the droning TV tugs at your eyelids. Sleep beckoned and you followed. That’s how it started.

I’m still thinking how it felt as I watched you sleep --- a beast tried to claw its way out from within the depths of me. It felt as if I was a priestess in a temple of some old forgotten god, and I was about to lay down a sacrifice at the foot of your altar. It felt like a winged creature which has slept for ages inside a silver cage, has stirred and fluttered and now struggles to get out. It felt big and terrifying but beautiful too. It felt like love.

Your face was both new and old to me; the texture of your cheek with the 5 o’clock shadow both velvety and rough. Without warning, I was caught in a time intersect, when I could see both now and tomorrow and the story in between. 

I saw another evening in a time far away, where I watch you sleep. You look exhausted, probably after a day just like today. There may be kids, or none. There may be money or just enough. But I understood that all I need from now on is to see you beside me, watching you sleep, and I will be content. 

I have lost so much. I have faced herculean sorrow and despair. It made me terrified of having something or someone I can lose again. But when you reached out for me, searching for my hand even as you dream, I am filled with resolution. 

When you awoke, and caught me watching you, I gave you some flimsy excuse of some lame decision I have made. But the underlying truth is that, I have decided to wake up. I will do what it takes to keep you happy, to protect you, to buoy you up. I will put Amazonian women to shame because of what I can do. And even if having you means I am exposed to the risk of losing you, I shall bear it, like I have borne it before for people who are as important as you are to me now.  The only difference is, I didn’t get to choose them. But I choose you. 

I could do it. I know this because -
I saw the most riveting and fascinating future unfurl, as I watched you sleep.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Three Things I Should Have Told You Already.

1. I'm scared.

I'm not scared of missing out. You fished me out of misery and everything with you still looks better than what I had back then. What I'm scared of is that you would actually convince me I want to live longer than is absolutely necessary. I have made my peace with dying, and anticipate it. But you came along, and now I'm changing my mind.

2. I don't know if I can.

I thought when you fall in love, everything will fall into place. At least, that's the hype. You are a wonderful person, but the few things that do annoy me --- it annoys me big time. Now, I am able to accept it, because two years is new and parts of our relationship is still shiny, but I don't know for how long. Something's got to change, and I see you trying, but what if I am not patient enough to wait for that kind of evolution? I want to. But I don't know if I can.

3. I do.

I am 85% sure that if you ask me now, I will say yes. I don't know how life will progress after that. But I already do and fast approaching 100%. Because even with all the little annoying things, which may become big annoying things, you still take my breath away with your gentleness and patience and love. I would be incredibly stupid to let you go. So it's really ironic that I think, if you wait longer than 3 years and then some, I may start getting disappointed, and it'll snowball to resentment.

I can't tell you face to face yet. I don't want to have to do the back explanations. But then perhaps one day I will lead you to this post, and we will just laugh hard about it. Here's hoping.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Like the Moon, Smiling

Some nights, I lie in bed whittling away seconds from the clock by letting my mind wander idly. Most of the time, my mind chooses to replay memories - some new and shining (or scathingly so), some not so new, some not so nice- reeling through the back of my head like a silent film showing in a one-seater movie theater.After all these memories are exhausted, only then do the ancient memories return.

These memories are so ancient, almost embedded in my body's muscle memory, that they ceased to be chronological impressions; instead, they've been replaced by symbolic images and sounds of a life once lived.

A doll. A pen and callused fingers. A gasping laugh. A comic drawing of a wavy yellow-bursting sun wearing dark shades.. A candle flickering. Darkness. The moon, full and shining.

The last is my favorite memory. It comes easily to me unbidden, unlike the others that needs some urging to come forward. But it always come to me after remembering Darkness, and like a much-hoped for salvation, the moon rises and smiles.

The moon reminds me of my mother's smile. Graceful, benign, shining incandescent. Not blindingly bright that hurts the eyes and makes you close your eyes --- but a glow that invites you to come closer, rest, and trust.
I suppose it does make sense that I remember her last and most easily.

I hurt all over, remembering the moon, smiling. It's the hurt of something precious lost, irrecoverable, but also kin to to the kind of hurt that reminds you something has been branded in your soul, irreplaceable. I make the memory of it my own tattered blanket, which I cover myself up with, as I lie fetal-like and vulnerable, while whittling away seconds from a ticking clock.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Beautiful Cr*p

Somedays, I just wonder how people earn the love of another. 

Somedays, I get obsessed to the point of compulsion, to track down and explain at which point exactly did this other human being trust me and love me. What are the factors? What criteria did I fulfill which responds to his quota, his need, his desire?

Then I realize it might not be about me. It must be about the two of us, and the sense and nonsense we make when we are together. Millions of scientists have tried to enacapsulate Love in their studies and researches and white papers. All of them are possibly correct, but none of them got the point. Measuring love is like measuring sand. You grasp the understanding, but most of its definitions slip away, fall through, seep out. The handful you do manage to grasp is just an iota of its many other reasons, meanings and possibilities. It blows my mind away.

This entry is absolute crap and mush. I am aware of that. But I’m happy I have this crap in my life.I can't imagine dying and not having known this. Now that would've been real crap.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Cutting Stones

photo c/o of The Guardian, UK.

Everyday, girls as young as 5 years old are taken to clinics to undergo circumcision. In certain countries, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a ritual, a rite of passage from childhood to womanhood. But it's primary goal is to decrease sexual pleasure for when girls become women stating this would make sure they will remain faithful to their husbands. I wrote this story, amateurish as it may be, to help support the movement against FGM. It is not the same as Male Circumcision. There is no hygienic reason behind it, nor is it really part of any religious commandment. In my opinion, it is just one more way to treat women as objects of pleasure, to owned and controlled.


“Uman dande boku wahala.”

I heard a woman say to her companion as I was closing the wooden door of the hut I’ve been using as a makeshift school. They just said, “That woman is too much trouble.” Their eyes flitted towards me and then back again, probably whispering about how I am an eccentricity of nature.

Yu no mind wetin dey se.” Talika, the volunteer assistant, told me in her broken English as she followed me down the pathway. 

“No. I mean yes. I don’t mind. I’m in a good mood.” I shrugged it off; I have had a good day after all. I won’t let idle chatter ruin it. 

Today Abna was able to explain to me the scientific reason why we see the skies as blue. In halting English, peppered with Krio words, she explained about light in the atmosphere, gas molecules and spectrums. She is 12 years old, just the same age as I was when this question was asked and answered for me too. The other girls were disbelieving at first. But when we did the experiments with the spectrometer, they were wide-eyed as tarsiers. It was mejik, they said. And I said, yes, Magic is Science yet Unexplained.

That counts as a good day, right?

I’ve been in Bombali for fourteen months now, and God knows the days are like rollercoaster rides. You just have to take each day as it comes, and recognize a good day when you see it. I have stayed long enough to learn some of their language and culture, and the wariness have lessened but I am not exactly popular in the area. I am foreign, strange, odd. Not white, but not quite black. Definitely not one of them. I turned to Talika, who may be my only friend, and asked if she would like to have dinner at my abula, my hut of a home not far from the school.

 Tenki, Sara, but no. A de go fo makit fo bai plenti banana.”

Of course, going to the market and buying bananas is a safer activity than being seen with the strange uman. In Sierra Leone, they do not mince their words. I nodded and smiled, hiding my disappointment at another night alone at my rickety dining table. 

“Ticha! Ticha!” 

Talika and I turned around to find Aina, one of my youngest pupils, running towards me with shoes soaking wet and face stricken with dirt and tears. “Aina, what is it?” 

Yu se, titis s’ not be ert, rayt?”

Girls should not be hurt. 

“Yes, Aina. Why?” My first fear was that someone has just tried to molest her, so my eyes immediately searched the quiet road for strangers who may have followed her. Seeing neither men nor shadow, I bent down to check if she was alright. She looked like she ran straight across the shallow part of the river. Aina must’ve slipped on the rocks which would explain the wet cloth shoes and the skinned left knee. “Wetin mek?” I asked again, in her language.

I can see the hesitation in her eyes. Whatever she wants to say, she does not think I should know. “Aina, you can trust me. Ah de wit u.” She sobbed and took an intake of breath, as if steeling herself for what she is about to divulge.

Ticha,” her voice soft, “Me mama wans ert me.”

I opened the school door again and motioned for her to go inside. I held out a chair and patted it, inviting her to sit beside me. Talika was close behind. “How does she want to hurt you?”I asked.

“Mi Mama med me ride e motocar, en a de go alagba, to cut mi. A ran a way.

“Cut you? Wetin mek?” I asked, but before the girl could answer, Talika rushed forward and gathered Aina in her arms. 

“Ah, no big matter, Ticha Sara.” Talika said. “Aina a scare of nuting. A will bring im hom, arayt?”

To say I was surprised was saying nothing. “Talika, what do you mean? You can clearly see she is distressed. What does cut mean?”

At this point, Aina began to wail. She was struggling to get away, making such a hellcat of herself that the woman lost her grip. Aina ran to hide behind my back. I held her there.

“Talika, what is this cutting for?” I asked again, anger building inside.

A similar fire was reflected in Talika’s eyes. “Et is ritual! Et is sacred! Can do nothing about it. Not  matter fo yu.”

Slowly, I realized what she was referring to. “Are you talking of mutilation? Are they going to cut her…?” the words escaped me as a silent numbness came over me. Aina was just 6 years old. 

“No mutilation. Et a ritual to purify, fo make clean. Not matter fo yu.” She made a grab for Aina; I swatted her hand away. “Sara, if u no let Aina be cut, yu are making im unclean fo rest of im life.” 

“Female genital mutilation is against the law!” I countered. 

“Not in Sierra Leone.” She answered in a quiet victor’s voice. Then Talika’s eyes softened. “Sara,  a glad yu care e lot. But der things dat has to be. A be cut too. A be fine, see? Et part fo uman’s sorrow, et makes us woman.”

“That is not good enough for me, Talika. Isn’t it painful? Have you asked yourself what is all the pain you are experiencing for? Who does that pain serve? “

She shook her head in sadness. “Yu no understand.”

“I understand that this child could die if she went under the knife. Where is the procedure going to happen? Is it safe? Is it clean?”

A shout distracted Talika from answering. Outside, Aina’s mother was on a warpath towards us with about six more women behind her. I could feel Aina’s small body quiver in terror. “Ticha, no let dem take mi, duya.”

Her mother burst in through the door, screaming in Krio too fast, too incoherently. She surged towards me and slapped me before I realized what she was going to do. 

Yu put wowoh ideyas in mi titi’s hed! Yu gafa!” Then her onslaught started again. None of the other women tried to stop her, until Talika yelled.

Leff! Leff, Gerita! Go take Aina, go!” she said. 

“Talika, Gerita, let us talk about this. Let’s calm down and take a seat.” I tried to keep desperation out of my voice. I made a move towards Aina, but one of the woman stopped me. She held up a closed fist at my face, opened her palm, and blew dark powder towards me. The last thing I remembered is Aina’s pleading eyes, and her screams calling out to me.

I remember waking up at my desk the day after they took Aina away. I immediately went to the police to tell them what has happened, and they doodled and scribbled in their ledgers a bit and told them they’ll get back to me when they found out who drugged me. Well-intentioned parents visited me that day and told me to stay away from Aina’s family for a while because they have colluded with local thugs to apprehend me if I dare step over their district line. I did not listen to them, of course, but found out the hard way that they were telling me the truth. With a bruised cheek, and a thread away from being raped, I was able to run away. I was not able to go back to the school for a week since my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Some of those days, I would put a hand on my chest, and compare my shivering to that of my heart beating. I felt helpless.

When I went back to school, the children were there. All of them but Aina. They came to school everyday, they said, hoping I would be well already and teach them. My heart jumpstarted some. All is not lost. I asked them if they’ve seen Aina. The silence was answer enough. She died of infection, it turns out. They attempted to do infibulation, which means they removed the whole of her labia and her clitoris and then tried to sew her back up. On the 2nd day, she took to a high fever. She died the night before I returned to work.
Talika did not return to my school for the rest of my stay there. I’d see her somedays, in the market or in town, but she would not meet my eyes. 

The one time she did, I held her stare and did not blink. I wanted her to read my mind. 

Iam aware of what I failed to do; excruciatingly aware of the part my humanity that died by not being able to do something. I am a coward. I thrashed at the stone wall, but ran away when it began to cut me and bleed me. 

But that day, I held Talika’s eyes knowing she knows little Aina has died and she has helped make it happen.

I felt like I won a little something when her eyes were the first to look away.