Book: I Am Number Four The Lost Files, Hidden Enemy

"Hidden Enemy"

You know we have been betrayed. You must discover why. You must learn the truth. They have put a plan in motion. They have infiltrated your government. They have already turned some of you. They will do whatever it takes to have your planet. The battle lines have been drawn. Whose side are you on?

In the previous set of novellas from the I Am Number Four continuity, we see an expansion of the universe our characters are inhabiting. We see Lorien as the planet it once was, while moving the plot of the main arc through the actions of the Mogadorian traitor named Adam.

In this set of novellas, we revert to what the original set of novellas set out to do: expanding the universe without affecting the main timeline. Except, this time, the novellas do it right.

My main problem with “Six’s Legacy” and “Nine’s Legacy” in the first collected set of novellas was the fact that we already know their back stories courtesy of the main series. The expansion adds details, yes, but for the most part–we already knew where the story started and where it was going.

In “Five’s Legacy,” although we know where the story is already going, it’s how the character begins his journey that is made interesting. Because unlike his contemporaries, Five falls into the wrong crowd. Five is fed lies. And Five makes a decision based on what he knows–with the aid of a misguided friend.

But what I like most about “Five’s Legacy” is how it is juxtaposed to Number Four’s journey. How they start out the same, but turn out differently because of the people surrounding them.

And it makes Five less hateful than when we meet him in the main series.

This is what a great expansion of character is.

Five’s Betrayal” continues this exemplary development of character–rounding Five out as a character who isn’t just bad–he’s misguided. And he still can be a good guy. This is a development that is serviced by a line or two in the main books, but is explored further in the novella.

And then there’s “Return to Paradise,” a novella from the point of view of I Am Number Four‘s secondary antagonist who turns out to be a secondary protagonist. It expands the world in a different way, showing the aftershocks of a town hit by an alien battle–and the lives of those left behind.

The Legacies” started out in the wrong foot when it gave us novellas that focused on stories already established in the main story, while “Secret Histories” improved on the idea of expanding the universe–but took the action that was supposed to be for the main story. But it is here in “Hidden Enemy” that the writers of the I Am Number Four series finally hits the nail on the head of expansion stories: by actually expanding already existing stories, giving us a better understanding of already existing characters and story lines.

Theater: Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady The Musical

"Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady The Musical"

Being a maid is tough enough, but when Mely lands a job under a group of superheroes, she steps up to the unique challenge for the sake of her family. Based on Carlo Vergara’s one-act play and graphic novel of the same title, Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady the Musical revolves around Mely and Viva’s sibling relationship, made complicated by an unsettling past and a budding romance, all in the context of an ongoing war between the superhero and supervillain teams. The musical takes us through the journey of the characters as each tries to find his/her place in the world.

I’m torn.

On the one hand, I liked the musical enough that I want people to watch it.

On the other hand, I really want to break it down and remake it into something else. Something that’s the same, but also very different.

I actually wrote a very lengthy piece about the things I didn’t like about the musical, before I erased the whole thing. Because I wasn’t talking about the musical I watched anymore. I was already molding it into becoming a different animal altogether. I was turning it into something that was mine. And it’s not.

Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady The Musical is the truest form of a Carlo Vergara child that we will get… for now. And it is special child. Unique. Beautiful to many, and to its creator–but not to me.

And it pains me to say that. Because I really, really wanted to like Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady The Musical. Well, I really, really wanted to like it more than I do.

I don’t.

I’m not going to segregate my reactions from bad to good, because there really isn’t anything bad about the musical. But there’s a lot of good in here that I feel was wasted. Which is why I’m not one-hundred-percent raving about the musical.

And here they are:

Nena Babushka and the love triangle that had an imaginary angle. I loved Nena’s character. I loved how tragic her love was for Leading Man. (And I loved the innocence that actress Giannina Ocampo brought to her character’s affections.) Unfortunately, because Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady is really a story about Mely and her sister Viva, the love triangle between Mely, Leading Man, and Nena wasn’t explored. And this is one of the reasons why I am torn.

As already established, I loved Nena’s character. But if her story wasn’t really going anywhere, why include it in the first place?

Then, there’s the Kayumanggilas and Senyor Blangko–the scene stealers.

As the musical’s main villains, I know we were supposed to root against them. But from the moment they were first introduced, I couldn’t help but cheer whenever they would come on stage. They were just so much more fun than our protagonists. And, from the looks of it, the actors were having more fun too.

And Domi Espejo as Senyor Blangko was just… exceptional. As was Vince Lim as the adamant villain Henyotik.

This was a problem.

Because I was rooting for the villains. Even when I knew what they were doing was wrong and misguided. Even when they were doing despicable things. I prefered them because they were more fun.

This brings me to Viva. We got Kim Molina in the role and she was, quite simply, the star of the show. She carried the musical, and I don’t think she was supposed to. At least, I don’t think she wasn’t supposed to carry it alone.

But her character is the only one to actually take the hero’s journey. And although her character is the ditziest and easiest to manipulate–she’s also the only one you don’t want to hit in the head with a frying pan. Because you will feel for her. You will understand her.

And, as the curtains figuratively draw to a close, I wonder–did Carlo Vergara rewrite the premise of his one-act play to make the villain a hero?

I feel bad for Frenchie Dy, our Leading Lady, Mely, because she gave her heart and soul to the role–but her scenes were cheap change compared to the gravitas given to the Viva character.

Now, at the end of it all, can you see why I’m torn?

I can list down so many things I wanted the musical to do right, and to change–but I can’t bring myself to say that it was bad. Because it wasn’t.

It’s just a work in progress.

Which is why I want to urge everyone to watch the musical, to support it–and to speak their mind about it. Because I want it restaged. And next time, I want it to be better than it is now.

Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady The Musical continues its weekend run until June 7.

Book: How to Fall in Love

"How to Fall in Love"

Adam Basil and Christine Rose are thrown together late one night, when Christine is crossing the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. Adam is there, poised, threatening to jump.

Adam is desperate–but Christine makes a crazy deal with him. His 35th birthday is looming and she bets him that before then she can show him that life is worth living.

Against the ticking of the clock, the two of them embark on wild escapades, grand romantic gestures and some unlikely late-night outings. Slowly, Christine thinks Adam is starting to fall back in love with his life. But is that all that’s starting to happen?

How does one fall in love?

Completely.

Utterly.

Without warning.

That’s what happened to me while reading Cecelia Ahern’s most recent book. I fell completely and utterly in love–without expecting it. Because, to be quite frank, I found the first few chapters of this book a chore to plod through. But I fought on. Because the premise intrigued me. How do you convince someone who wants to kill their self that life is worth living still?

Apparently, the answer is by living life with them.

Ahern is a master storyteller in this book, weaving the intricate patterns of a realistic love story without losing sight of who her characters are.

Both Adam and Christine are flawed characters. They have issues. And throughout the course of their story, their issues develop with them. Ahern doesn’t employ the magic of love in her story–she tackles the reality head on by having her characters address the fact that, even in love, they cannot change their very core in an instant just because they wanted to.

But what made me fall in love with Ahern’s book isn’t just the realistic approach it has about love between two people with issues. It’s how it tackles the distinction between falling in love, and falling in love with love. And it deals with the repercussions of every action the characters make.

Still, the book isn’t perfect. It holds back one particular information that changes how we see the characters. Specifically, how we see Christine. An information which I feel would’ve enriched the character had it been shared much earlier.

Because I don’t think this withheld information would change the trajectory of the characters’ stories. In fact, I believe that it would make the story much more satisfying for the readers, because you get to understand Christine’s motives from the get go. And you appreciate her actions more.

Even with this game-changing secret though, I still fell in love with the book. Which, I guess, is also the lesson the book wants to convey: you only know you’re in love with someone when you accept their faults–even before you find out the reason for them.

And I accept the faults of this book. Because, at the end of it all, it tells a beautiful story about life, love, and accepting your lot in life.

Now, go and find a copy of How to Fall in Love. Buy it or borrow it. Read it.

If you’re still on the fence about the book, then you can always read what other people have written about the book. To help you decide:
Chloe’s Chick Lit Reviews
I Heart… Chick Lit
Novelicious

Television: Healing Hearts and The Rich Man’s Daughter

Full disclaimer: This post is an advertisement, but I’m not getting paid for this. That’s mostly because I’m writing about two local television programs whose creative teams I am a part of. Both of which will start airing today, May 11, starting with–

"Healing Hearts"

Healing Hearts tells the story of a young woman, Liza (Joyce Ching), who has only one wish in her life: to find true happiness, by finding “something to do, someone to love…and something to live for.” The only words left behind by her late mother, who she never got to know.

In her journey to find this happiness, she meets Jay (Kristoffer Martin), an acerbic young man who wants nothing more than to get back with his old flame: Chloe (Krystal Reyes). Lucky for Jay, Liza already knows Chloe. And he proceeds to set him up, so he could win her back. Unfortunately for Liza, she falls in love with Jay in the process.

And even more unfortunate for Liza? Jay has a stepmother with a complicated past with her own mother. Her mother who was just released from prison for committing a crime of passion. The mother she did know. The mother who is now looking for her.

There’s a belief that you meet people, strangers in your life, for a reason. In Healing Hearts, Liza will meet the people who will lead her back to what she once lost. And to what she is looking for.

Healing Hearts also stars Angelika dela Cruz, Dominic Roco, Ken Chan, Tina Paner, Maureen Larrazabal, Elle Ramirez, and Ms. Mickey Ferriols. It will air weekdays, after Yagit, in GMA-7’s Afternoon Prime block.

"The Rich Man's Daughter"

In The Rich Man’s Daughter, we have the story of a very conservative Chinese family whose world gets rocked by the secrets that they’ve all been keeping. Secrets that begin to spill out when Jade (Rhian Ramos), the youngest and most favorite Tanchingco, realizes she’s in love with someone other than the man she was supposed to marry. And much to her family’s chagrin, that someone else is of the same sex.

And so begins what is being touted as the most provocative drama on Philippine television.

The Rich Man’s Daughter also stars Glaiza de Castro, Luis Alandy, Mike Tan, TJ Trinidad, Katrina Halili, Chynna Ortaleza, and Ms. Gloria Romero. The cast also includes Pauleen Luna, Sheena Halili, Paolo Contis, Charee Pineda, Tony Mabesa, Al Tantay, Glydel Mercado, Bing Davao, Mosang, and Bryan Benedict. It will air weeknights, after Let the Love Begin, as part of GMA Telebabad.

Book: I Am Number Four The Lost Files, Secret Histories

"Secret Histories"

You know our stories are true. You know why we fight. You must discover their secrets. You must learn from our mistakes. They are hiding, just like us. They plan to destroy your planet. They destroyed ours. We cannot let this happen again.

The last time I wrote about the collected novellas of the I Am Number Four series, I said the novellas were good but, if you’ve already read the main books, were unnecessary. But that was because two of the three novellas were back stories for characters we’ve met in the main series. And those back stories were already shared in said main series.

Fortunately, the second set of novellas focus on expanding the universe that I Am Number Four is creating–and not expounding on stories we already know from the main books.

In “The Search for Sam,” we pick up where we last see Adam–the Mogadorian traitor we meet in “The Lost Legacies” from the first set of novellas. Continuing as a companion series for the main story, “The Search for Sam” shows us what’s going on in the Mogadorain camp while John Smith and his new-found allies travel to find the other Garde members–and save their allies.

Out of the three, this is the only novella I have a problem with… Because this is where we see Malcolm Goode first.

Malcolm is a character we already know of in the main story. He is Sam’s dad, and he has been missing for around a decade. My main beef with this novella is that this is where we find out what happened to Malcolm, and this is where he rejoins the fight against the Mogadorians.

I know he’s not as important a character as the Garde are–but I felt it was disrespectful to the Sam character that we meet his dad here–and not in the main story–when he is one of the major arcs of the I Am Number Four series.

Other than this complaint though, I loved “The Search for Sam” because of its excellent pacing. Adam’s journey from the death of Three, to his acceptance of One’s fate–and his eventual mission to help the Garde was exhilarating. I think there was even a point, during the time I was reading, when I found myself liking Adam’s characterization more than I do any of the main Garde characters.

And then “The Last Days of Lorien” started. And I loved this novella too. I loved getting to know Sandor, the unorthodox Cepan who chose to hide in plain sight. I loved discovering the reasons why he was unconventional. And I loved how we got to see the society of Lorien–what was taken away from our main characters.

But before I could love Sandor more than Adam, our erstwhile Mogadorian makes a return in “The Forgotten Ones” where he finds himself a new mission: to save the Chimaeras who were captured by the Mogadorians.

In the main series, Adam made his debut with the arrival of the Chimaera at the base of our heroes. And although this is another case of having the main action take place in the companion series instead of the main books, I couldn’t fault the authors for not including this story in the books.

Adam’s mission to save the Chimaera is a side story–one that will slow down the action of the main story. And it’s not like their arrival in the main story causes the tide to turn in their favor anyway. They’re still outnumbered and in over their heads. They’re more supplementary than the second coming of a savior.

And this is where we see that the novellas are finally finding their place in the I Am Number Four continuity. As expansions of the main series told through episodic stand-alone stories. And I can’t wait to see where the writers of the I Am Number Four series take us in the next set.

Movie: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

I enjoyed the movie for the popcorn flick it was. But does it live up to the hype and the quality of recent Marvel outings like Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy? No. It doesn’t even surpass the quality of the first Avengers movie.

To be fair, I don’t really know what the problem with Age of Ultron is. There was too much going on, but at the same time, I do not know what else they could’ve taken out. There were too many characters, and some of them were short-changed; and I feel like the Hawkeye storyline was more an apology to the actor than an actual need for story-telling purposes. That said, I do love every scene Linda Cardellini was in.

Before I delve into the film further, I must give a warning. I will discuss the film at length and there will be spoilers. So leave now if you have plans of watching the movie, and don’t want to have twists ruined for you. Okay?

Okay. Now, let’s begin with what I didn’t like about the film.

Number one: Black Widow. The Natasha we met in Avengers and got to know better in Winter Soldier is gone. Instead we get a teen-aged girl with a lot of bravado, and a big crush on Bruce Banner. Now, while I understood the appeal of Banner to Natasha, I’m not a fan of how writer Whedon went about in showing it.

We start the film in battle. Natasha shares a moment with The Hulk during said battle. And in the next scene, she’s already flirting with him. (And I don’t care what the Cap says. That was flirting.) It felt so off. And it didn’t feel earned. I felt cheated that Natasha’s journey into realizing she has feelings for the Banner wasn’t shown to us, the audience. But mostly, I didn’t like how the love story was forced upon us when, by the end of the film, it turns out that there was no need for it at all.

Why were we given an undeveloped love story and made to invest in it, if it wasn’t even going anywhere? And no, don’t tell me that it was a set up to Bruce saving Natasha in Sokovia. Thor could’ve done that. There wasn’t even a fucking guard to keep Natasha in that cage. (And, let’s be real. If Natasha was able to make that primitive spy gadget to communicate to Hawkeye where she was, she could make a fucking key to escape that old-as-hell jail cell.)

And don’t tell me it’s a set up for The Hulk to leave the Avengers. Because it sure as hell doesn’t fly. Why? Because of the number two reason I don’t like Age of Ultron: everything Whedon did right by The Hulk in the first Avengers movie was undone in the sequel.

Fans cheered when Hulk was finally given justice on the big screen–thanks to Whedon. So it comes as a big shock that the big guy’s undoing would be in Whedon’s hand as well. Everything established in the first film, of how he was controlling his anger instead of fighting it, was thrown out the window for a love story between him and Natasha. A love story that, as you can tell by now, I’m really not a fan of.

Because it made monsters of the characters we were already growing to love. While Natasha became a damsel in distress that she never should’ve been, Bruce was having an identity crisis. When he’s with Tony Stark, he’s a whipping boy who never stands up for what he believes in. When he’s with Natasha, he’s a stuttering fool who has forgotten that he already dealt with romance before. He had Betty. He knew a relationship with a woman would be hard. But he loved Betty enough that he trusted himself with her.

He doesn’t have that with Natasha because their relationship was never processed properly. (That said, they never acknowledged his relationship with Betty either, so…)

And Hulk flying off into the sunset doesn’t sit well with me either because Bruce has done the running away before. It didn’t work. He understands that he needs people, just as much as he needs to be careful around them.

To be honest, I would’ve liked it better if the rumors from before the film premiered had been true. That the Hulk was catapulted into space while fighting Ultron. Because that’s the only way I can see Bruce leaving his Avengers family. Unwillingly. And, you know what? This could’ve been the major ‘death’ that the heroes could rally around. I mean, none of them would know that the Hulk could survive in space, right?

Because the death that we got? It only actually left an emotional impact on two characters. So, in the end, the whole climax felt disjointed. And this is the third reason why I didn’t like the Age of Ultron movie: there was a huge set-up for a major characters’ demise, but the death we got instead was insignificant. (Which pains me to write, because I absolutely adored Whedon’s and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s take on Pietro Maximoff.)

Let’s break it down: in this film, we finally get to know Clint Barton. We find out he has a family who he’s been trying to keep safe–and secret. Throughout the film, it’s underlined how much more mortal he is compared with the other Avengers–even with Natasha in the mix. And then he makes a promise to his wife, which you know is a death wish in big action films. Then, as a final nail in the coffin, his wife tells him how important he is to the Avengers, because he is the one who grounds them.

Clint Barton becomes the reason why the Avengers are fighting. For the good people who want to do good, not because they are forced to–but because they want to. Because they believe that there is a future worth fighting for.

And while I like the fact that Whedon subverts expectations by not killing Barton, the death of Pietro lacks the emotional punch for it to live up to the build-up Whedon wrote. For more than half the film, Pietro was a villain. A villain with valid intentions and a good back story, but a villain nonetheless. And what’s worse, he only even emotionally connected with Barton. And his sister Wanda, of course. But that’s it. You can’t rally around the death of someone who, for the most part, had been fighting against your goal.

Which is why I think Hulk being catapulted into space would work better was the pay-off to the Barton build up. He is as much a part of the Avengers team as Hawkeye is. He has connections with all the characters–even Wanda who would feel guilty for what she made him do in South Africa. And viewers are already invested in the character.

Now, did we need Wanda’s scream of death that disabled so many Ultrons? Not really. Did we need the badass way she ripped out the main Ultron’s core? That’s a no too, even if it is cool that the main villain dies at the hands of a female character. But we could’ve given that scene to Natasha instead.

I don’t know what I was expecting with Age of Ultron. But whatever it was, it wasn’t the film we got. It wasn’t the sassy-as-fuck Captain America who had a steady stream of sarcastic one-liners at the ready. It wasn’t the hard-headed Tony Stark who did things with reckless abandon, although I wasn’t really surprised by this one. It wasn’t the under-utilized Thor who was literally a deus ex machina. … Literally. What with him being the final key to bring the Vision to life. It wasn’t the Natasha Romanoff who undid all the good that the Natasha in the first Avengers and Winter Soldier had done. And it wasn’t the unsure Bruce Banner who acted without a spine for the entirety of the movie.

But with all my complaints about the movie, I did enjoy watching it. I enjoyed the twins. I enjoyed the Vision. I enjoyed Linda Cardellini, and Samuel L. Jackson, and the introduction of Helen Cho. I loved how it was equally important for our heroes to save the innocent people as it was to defeat the villain. And I loved how the film didn’t shy away from the fact that there will be casualties in battles like this.

And, honestly: I enjoyed the film going boom.

That said, my advice to people who have already enjoyed the film on first viewing? Don’t watch it again. Because I did. And that’s when I picked up all the things that didn’t hold up, and the things I realized I didn’t like.

I really hope Ant-Man is better than Age of Ultron.

Book: Shine

"Shine"

This is not a ghost story, thought there are plenty of ghosts in it.

And it’s not a horror story, though some people might be horrified.

It’s not a monster story either, though there is a monster in it. And that monster happens to be me.

I fell in love with Candy Gourlay’s writing with Tall Story. Unlike so many writers, she was able to marry her Filipino heritage with her England setting in such a way that it didn’t feel forced. Maybe because she never lost sight of how her story is about siblings who just happen to be Filipino. In her new book, though, I think Gourlay struggles with the made-up town of Mirasol. And I blame the story’s reliance on superstition and flashbacks.

In Shine, the author takes us to a town where people believe in monsters; and introduces us to Rosa, a girl made to believe that she was a monster because of a birth defect. The first chapter sets up this new world beautifully. And then, in the second chapter, it all goes to pieces. Mostly because there are three stories running simultaneously, and only one of them is handled well.

Plot number one: who you are versus who you say you are.

The most interesting premise of the book, I feel, is its plot about Rosa wanting to be seen as normal. And in a town where people are afraid of her because of how she looks and how she sounds, her only solace is the world wide web. A world where she can be whoever she wishes to be. A world where her looks won’t matter.At least, not at first.

Gourlay is a master at building up the suspense of Rosa making a friend online, and discovering that he lives in the same town as her. The friendship that grows between the two feels realistic, as well as they’re need to make actual physical contact. Unfortunately, this is where the ball gets dropped when it comes to their storyline.

The plight of Rosa’s friend is supposed to mirror hers. And it does that. But it also undermines everything that we were made to believe about Rosa’s town of Mirasol. Because the town painted to Rosa by her father and her nanny seems to discriminate against everyone with Rosa’s defect. And yet gives her friend a pass–until such time when the plot needs for him to be noticed.

Plot number two: who you are versus who you think you are.

Throughout the book, we are told the story of Rosa’s mother and her twin sister. Girls who are alike in so many ways–except one has a physical defect that forces her to stay at home. Making her envious of the twin who can leave the house. While making the non-defective twin envious of the girl who gets to spend more time with their parents, their loved one. The one who gets more, because she has less.

I liked this plot best because there is a clear progression of where the characters begin, of how they handle their problems, and of where they end up in their journey. And I love how none of the characters are purely good. They are human. They make mistakes. And they do their best to make the most of what they have.

Plot number three: who you are versus who you want to forget.

Interspersed between Rosa’s need to have a friend, and the story of how her mother met her father and lost a twin, is Rosa’s need to find closure for her mother’s death. And her obsession in seeing her mother’s ghost. But when the ghost does arrive, I feel like Gourlay doesn’t really know where to take the story.

So we get the mother’s twin instead.

The monster’s twin who is in love with Rosa’s father.

And, this is unclear, who might also be the reason why Rosa’s father won’t pack his things up, to move Rosa to somewhere where she won’t be judged. Where she can be normal.

Yeah, I don’t really understand this part. I get that Rosa’s father is a man who cares for people, but at the risk of his own daughter’s safety? The daughter who was almost killed by the superstitious folks of Mirasol? If I were the dad, I would’ve packed up my things and moved as soon as that happened.

It’s this plot that’s really bringing this book down for me.

That said, I do think the book’s great writing outweigh my concerns about the story. Shine is an engaging read, and it does bring up good points about image, and how perception plays a part into our lives. I just wish author Gourlay handled some parts of the book better than she did.

But, as always, don’t just take my word on this. Check out what other people have to say about Shine:
Love Reading 4 Kids
The Book Bag
What’s Good to Do