Archive | June, 2011

Namnam

27 Jun

No, this isn’t about Lucky Me.

Following the Girls’ Night In tradition of our younger years, I finally got around to watching A Little Thing Called Love with my cousins AJ and Erika. AJ is still having a giggling fit as I type this. She even pretended to get a text message from the cute male lead declaring his undying love for her. I’ve known the girl all her life, but I only discovered tonight that a hyperactive imagination is among her strongest suits. That, and her firm resolve and even firmer bladder. To illustrate —

AJ: Kanina pa ko naiihi pero hindi ko magawa kasi nakakaputol ng kiliiiig!
Me: Sana kasi sinabi mo sakin, pwede naman i-pause diba?

Remember, kids -- the next time you want to impress your crush, go easy on the turmeric body scrub.

In one way or another, we could all relate to — and thus root for — awkward Nam (Pimchanok Leuwisetpaiboon) and her somekindofanotsosecret crush Shone (Mario Maurer), both of whom come to terms with insecurities, missed opportunities, trade-offs and that perpetual tug of war between love and loss, for better or for worse.

Product placement also figures in the movie.

Granted, the film is not without points for contention, chief among them Nam’s abrupt transformation from bespectacled, dark-skinned, metalmouth ugly duckling to long-haired and fair swan princess. This could serve to reinforce the notion, particularly among Filipinos and others from the Asian tropics, that only fair is beautiful. Second, Nam studied in the US after high school and became a celebrated big-shot after returning to her home country — two details that bring to mind and to the big screen strains of postcolonialist thought in Thailand. Transitions could have been more inventive too (really now, just a generic fade for a climactic moment?).

Compare.

But who am I kidding? I enjoyed the movie despite its misgivings, and even its inclinations for in-your-face comedy. As a matter of fact, AJ and Erika agreed that the comic figure Teacher Inn (Sudarat Budtporm) bore an uncanny resemblance to local comedienne Pokwang. The girls gushed that A Little Thing is something they could watch over and over again and not tire of.

Equal parts sweet, saucy and bitter, A Little Thing, like its protagonist Nam, isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself and the prepubescent experience of infatuation.  This must be why it has people gushing (and perhaps, as in the case of my cousin, waiting with bated breath and controlled bladder) the world over.

Formspring and this function

24 Jun

 

A hard-hitting cause.

It’s fascinating how people utilize social media to advance their advocacies.

When F5 will get you nowhere: A Screenshot and a Haiku

20 Jun

Fair warning.

This reminder shows

Just how well Isohunt’s folks

Know their clientele.

Enrollment 101 at the University of Pila (UP)

18 Jun

Sample sched of a UP student (name withheld to avoid stalkers)

Picture a university gymnasium where hundreds of students are gathered in a line that coils around, around and around a covered court. Imagine a three-storey building and queues of people with cash in hand, snaking through both sides of the building’s hallways, stairwells and floors.

These aren’t the queues for UAAP cheerdance tickets or the after-office line for the sweepstakes. Rather, such tumultuous scenes are but common occurrences in the sturm and drang that is enrollment season at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

There are three ways for UP students to obtain the subjects they need and/or want in a semester: online pre-registration through the CRS, manual preenlistment during enrollment and post-enrollment prerog.

CRS stands for Computerized Roulette System. No, not really – but it often feels that way for every Isko and Iska who had been denied a slot at a desired class, and whose bid at academic fruition was compromised.

The CRS (what it really stands for is Computerized Registration System) team uploads the list of classes for the forthcoming semester at least a month before enrollment starts. Students then create a list of desired classes, from which CRS will randomly select the ones where they will eventually be enlisted.

Subsequent weeks usually constitute two rounds of this collegiate lottery, a phase that launched – and till further notice, will continue to launch – a thousand Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/[insert preferred social network here] updates, for better or for worse.

Most people I know post their sem schedules online, with some even tagging selected contacts. Among the reasons why people engage in such my-academic-life-is-an-open-book behavior are: 1) to find out if they share common classes or breaks with friends, org mates, batchmates and what-have-they, 2) to gloat about the highly-contended subjects they got, 3) to broadcast their disappointment and perhaps oh-so-discreetly use misericordiam to get more desirable subjects, and 4) to notify key people – which may or may not include their secret crushie/s –  about their free time, the kind most conducive to extracurricular activities.

The quantity and quality of subjects obtained through CRS will determine the difficulty level of the student’s next step: manual preenlistment, otherwise known as prerog (short for teacher’s prerogative). There are two ways to go about this arduous task. The first way involves waiting at the door of each department during enrollment week and beating n number of students for a slot in your desired classes (be they majors, electives or general education subjects) with n ranging anywhere from 9 to 99.

The second option is to prerog with the professor of the desired subject/s on the first meeting of that class. To win that coveted slot involves any or a combination of the following methods: an ID raffle, a dance number, or a song rendition.

There’s a reason why UP has earned the moniker “Unibersidad ng Pila.” But for all its travails, the UP enrollment system is as much a test of character as it is a test of stamina and patience. Students who start with less than their desired number of units are compelled by necessity to outwit, outplay and outlast their fellow slot seekers.

Doing so requires a steady amount of research (because it’s important to be up-to-date on available slots), resourcefulness and foresight. It’s important to know one’s priorities (differentiating between subjects needed now and those that could possibly be enlisted on another sem) and how to budget time wisely.

Lastly, enrollment at the State U is in itself an out-of-the-classroom learning experience. We may not always get what we want, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. In the end, we learn to accept and make the most of what we have, knowing that everything happens for a reason and nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.

The Uncharted and the Unexpected: “Never Cry Wolf” in review

17 Jun

When man and nature battle for survival, who will be the real prey?

The 1983 Carroll Ballard production  Never Cry Wolf began on the premise of wildlife and the wilderness encroaching on the well-being of man, as seen through the experiences of its protagonist Tyler (Charles Martin Smith). The film was based on a book of the same title written by real-life Arctic wildlife explorer and environmental advocate Farley Mowat, whose work changed the way the public viewed wolves and their role in the ecological system.

Tyler was commissioned by the Canadian government to investigate the conduct of “killer wolves” in the tundra and confirm the threat they posed on the caribou population. His main task was to take home a wolf carcass and examine the contents of its stomach. A biologist by training and a frustrated explorer at heart, he accepted the job in spite of his own misgivings: “I just jumped at the opportunity to go. Without even thinking about it, really. Because it opened the way to an old – and very naïve – childhood fantasy of mine: to go off into the wilderness, and test myself against all the dangerous things lurking there.”

But it wasn’t just the caribou that the wolves were suspected of feasting on. A drunkard he had met before heading for his trip warned Tyler, They’ll come after you, son. Just for the ugly fun of tearing you apart.” As the plane that would take him to the heart of the Canadian tundra flew through the snow-capped mountains, the biologist himself expected his six-month solitary expedition to be “a suicide.”

The man-versus-wild angle is reinforced even in the cinematography – the beginning of the film is abundant with wide-angle and long shots showing Tyler making his way through the vast white expanse of the Arctic. Within days of his arrival, he encounters a majestic Canis lupus arctica whom he christens George.

At first, Tyler struggles to facilitate interaction with – and consequently, scientific observation of –  the wolf. But thanks to his knowledge of animal behavior and 27 cups of urine-inducing tea,Tyler put his foot and pants down in a successful bid to establish his own territory. This much George understood respected, and both man and beast turned to observing each other from a distance. Soon,Tyler realized why George was being so watchful of him: the wolf had a family of five, one that he and his mate Angeline were committed to protect at all cost.

Tyler would soon find out that he wasn’t the only human in the tundra. He crosses paths with members of the Inuit tribe, the elderly Ootek (Zachary Ittimangnaq) and the younger Mike (Samson Jorah). Ootek lived his whole life in the wilderness, and had been a companion to the wolves since childhood. Mike, on the other hand, had been educated in southern Canada and found himself ensnared by the luxuries and trappings of modernity.

The film is a study of loss in as much as it is a study of discovery. The nature of Tyler’s dispatch suggests that man – represented by the Canadian government, in this case – has fancied himself the messiah of nature, the restorer of the ecological balance caused by the wolves’ supposed hunger for caribou. But as it would turn out, the wolves were far from being mercenary carnivores. As a matter of fact, the real preys of the wolves were mice in the field, as Tyler himself observed and tested out. He also discovered that there was truth in the Inuit knowledge that wolves only ate the weakest of the caribou. The rationale behind this was so that the ailment of their secondary prey would not be passed on to the rest of the caribou herd.

The loss tackled here is not only the loss of sustenance, but also the loss of resources, habitat and culture. The young Inuits, as characterized by Mike, were breaking away from their own culture’s beliefs and traditions and trading them in for the comforts of city living.  Far from restoring the natural order, human activity facilitated the destruction of the Arctic tundra. Technology and capitalism threatened the area’s wildlife and natural resources.

One telling indicator of this is the juxtaposition of the vehicles shown at the start and end of the movie. The vehicle that brought Tyler to the site was a dilapidated air carrier, one that would break down and conk out in mid-air. The vehicle that would later bring exploiters of nature to the same site was a sharp helicopter, its turbine making like fangs biting into the riches of the wilderness. The very vehicle used to take Tyler there was revamped with money that came from the sale of pelts from the wolves he had come to observe.

When the state of the environment and the satiation of our material greed hangs on a balance, like the fragile ice of the tundra, what we need be most afraid of is ourselves. Never Cry Wolf shows us that for all our technological advancements and biological know-how, we humans may be howling up the wrong tree when it comes to determining the perpetrator of environmental destruction. In the end, we may find that we are hardly even threatened by the wild – it is us instead, who pose the greatest threat to it.

Devotion and Assertion in Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980)

5 Jun

On the day that you were born

The angels got together

And decided to create a dream come true…

 Why do birds suddenly appear

Everytime you are near?

Just like me

They long to be

Close to you

 

How much of your life will you put on hold for someone who takes you for granted? Such is the question explored by Lino Brocka in his film Bona, starring Nora Aunor in the titular role and Philip Salvador.

The film opens with footage of devotees crowding around the statue of the Black Nazarene. The camera pans across the throng and zooms to a nonchalant bystander, a young woman named Bona. The next frame shows Bona at a film shoot, within arms’ reach of her real object of devotion – Gardo Villa (Salvador), a lower-tier actor with an ego heftier than his salary.

As Gardo’s not-so-secret admirer, Bona feels no remorse over cutting class and neglecting her household duties just to bring him refreshments at his shoots. This obsession puts Bona at odds with her domineering father, who sees no point in her reckless abandon.

A family scorned.

One night, the dazed fan girl stays over at Gardo’s place, tending to him after he was mauled by a group of thugs led by the brother of one of his lovers. She goes so far as to fetch water, cook breakfast and bathe him. As Bona sets out doing all these tasks, Gardo is reminded of his late mother, a tough but caring femme fatale under whose shadow he lived most of his life.

Later in the day, Bona returns home only to be beaten and disowned by her father. She then goes back to Gardo, offering to keep house and serve him in exchange for a place to stay. Despite having grown up in a middle-class household, Bona adjusts to life in the slums and assimilates well with the neighbors. She becomes a valuable part of the community, even more helpful and well-liked than Gardo ever was.

Gardo having a one-night stand with a coworker as Bona looks on

Her devotion to the actor, however, is unrequited and for the most part, underappreciated. And yet she draws a false sense of authority from her self-inflicted servitude. This is most evident when Gardo brings home another woman and makes love to her within Bona’s sight and earshot. When Gardo leaves in the morning, the woman bosses around an unyielding Bona.

Bona being bossed around by Gardo's paramour.

Gardo’s new paramour slaps Bona hard, a move that awakens the fighter in the latter. She slaps her right back, chasing her around the house and eventually beating her with a broomstick. Bona’s uncharacteristic violence is her way of marking her territory and asserting her place not only in Gardo’s house, but also in his life.

Gardo lets Bona know her place.

“Ikaw lang ang gusto kong pagsilbihan, Gardo, at hindi ibang tao. Ayokong dalhin mo sila rito sa pamamahay ko,” she told him.

Gardo responded by smacking her in the face. “Sira ka ba? At sinong nagsabi sayong pamamahay mo ‘to, ha? Sampid ka lang dito, at wala kang pakialam kung sino mang babae o ilan mang babae ang dalhin ko dito. Baka gusto mo ikaw ang palayasin ko dito?”

Bona, now in tears, answers, “Huwag! ‘di ko na uulitin.”

Bona bathes Gardo.

Bona is willful submission personified. The limits of what she can and cannot do are always in relation and in response to the men in her life: the father who controls her, Gardo who stunts her personal growth but whose every whim she yearns to satisfy, and the elder brother who becomes hostile to Bona after their father’s death, effectively severing her ties with the family.

Annie tells Gardo that she is bearing his child, and that she intends to have an abortion lest her parents find out.

In the same way, Gardo’s relationships with women also define him. The women in his life stand for different stages and repercussions of his maturity or lack thereof: his mother, a tough cookie who doted on her son to the point of spoiling him; Bona, whose devotion reminds Gardo of his own mother, a familiarity that would jinx any reciprocation of romance on his part; the prostitute and the actress in whose company he could feel “like a man”; Annie the seeming goody-two-shoes who bore his child, and whose abortion (organized by Bona upon Gardo’s plea) becomes a wake-up call for him and Katrina, an older woman besotted with Gardo who provides an opportunity for him to clean up his act and find his fortune elsewhere, albeit by spoonfeeding him still.

Bona, smitten and swooning.

The bedrock upon which Bona’s devotion is founded, however, remains largely untapped. Besides a brief sequence showing her hugging a signed photo of Gardo to her chest (with the strains of “Sayang” by Claire dela Fuente in the background nonetheless), the audience is left curious – perhaps to the point of exasperation – to know just how or why she fell so hard for him in the first place. After all, it’s no mean feat to sustain sympathy for a character who renders herself none.

A simple explanation is offered. Nilo (Nanding Josef), a young man from the squatters who initially showed interest in Bona, asks of her: “Bona, bakit? Bakit ka pumayag na magpaganyan? Inaallila, pinapagad. Ginugutom.”

Unflinchingly, she replies, “Gusto ko eh. At hindi naman ako inaalila. Hindi naman ako napapagod.”

At the end of the film, one realizes even more the relevance of the opening scene with the Black Nazarene. It sets the tone for the premise of the film – adulation, devotion and its consequent sacrifices – and juxtaposes it with Bona’s experiece. Unlike the Nazarene, Bona, despite having sacrificed her whole life, does not get adulation in return. She is powerless, and this powerlessness is what defines her existence. But in her moments of assertion and empowerment, as with her maltreatment of Gardo’s other woman and again in the movie’s heated conclusion, Bona proves that underdogs are not always toothless, and that not even servitude can bear the grunt of silence.