Movie: Everything About Her

"Everything About Her"

Powerful but ill-stricken business woman, Vilma Santos navigates her complicated relationship with her caregiver, Angel Locsin and her estranged son, Xian Lim in this story about acceptance, love and forgiveness.

I wasn’t really planning on watching this film, so I didn’t have very high expectations coming in. And, to be completely fair to the film, I actually enjoyed the shenanigans as Vilma Santos tried her darnedest to be Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, and Angel Locsin served her best Andrea (Anne Hathaway’s character from the same film). They both didn’t quite meet their goals but they were, at the very least, entertaining.

Then Xian Lim entered the picture, and everything went downhill after that.

Now, again in the spirit of fairness, it wasn’t completely Xian Lim’s fault. His character was all over the place, and that blame would either go to the writer, the director, or whoever was cutting the film. At least, that’s what I was telling myself until Xian’s big dramatic scene came. And I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was that bad.

Thankfully, the laughable acting is limited to two scenes. Both with Xian, true, but he wasn’t bad throughout the movie. Just with two very important, very dramatic scenes. Although, again with the fairness, it must not have been easy to find motivation for a character who doesn’t seem to have a reason for doing anything.

Which brings me to the biggest problem Everything About Her has: it focuses more on style over substance. Giving more weight to dialogue that can be quotable quotes instead of staying true to who the characters are. And what the viewers are left with is a convoluted mess of a film whose premise became as murky as the characterization of the main characters.

You see, the film is supposedly about a very hard, very independent woman who suddenly has to rely on a nurse whose method of taking care of someone is to be as familiar with them as possible. So she could cater to their needs before they even know they need it. Along the way, they’re supposed to find in each other someone that had been missing in their lives for so long: a child for the hard woman, and a mother for the nurse.

Now, had Xian Lim’s character been relegated to a supporting role, I think the film would have been better–more whole. As it stands, the film really was very entertaining and very clear prior to his characters arrival, as I already mentioned above. But his inclusion really throws the whole film askew. It was one thing that you don’t actually understand why he comes in in the first place, but he also complicates the Vilma-Angel relationship in a bad way. Because suddenly, it has to contend with a romance angle.

And it doesn’t work. Mostly because you never believe for a second that Xian is falling in love with Angel. And then there’s the fact that the film doesn’t really allow their romance to blossom because it’s more interested with the abandonment issues the three suddenly have.

Yes, it’s sudden. Because although the film begins with Vilma and Angel being well-rounded individuals with no hang-ups, the minute Xian enters the picture, they suddenly have issues about being left behind. And Vilma’s character suffers the most from this because, for the first part of the movie, it’s implied that she’s the one who had done the unintentional abandonment! And then, with Vilma suddenly being dependent on her need to be loved by a son who is being more of a diva than the diva the film’s title is referring to, Angel suddenly develops her own abandonment issues–that could’ve introduced and explored better had the romance angle never happened at all!

To top it all off, the film boasts of an amazing cast of supporting characters who, I feel, were all wasted because they weren’t given more to do. Michael de Mesa as the only friend of Vilma’s hard-to-love character could’ve also served as a sounding board for Xian’s character whose motivations were never clear–because the actor wasn’t that strong to convey it on his own. Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino’s presence in the life of Angel Locsin’s character was so negligible, she could’ve been an orphan raising her host of siblings on her own. Which is a shame, because in the three scenes Nonie and Angel had together, you can see the promise of a wonderful father-daughter relationship that could’ve been explored more, to highlight the journey Angel’s character is supposed to take.

But, no. We have to contend with being force fed Xian Lim’s character instead. Who, had he been given a clearer motivation, could have worked as a third main character. But he wasn’t. So he ruins the film instead.

I could probably go on further about the things I didn’t like about Everything About Her, so I’ll stop now. Let me just say that if you’re going to watch for Vilma and Angel, you won’t regret the ticket price. They deliver solid performances, even amongst the confused story-telling. But if you’re watching for any other reason? Lower your standards. Like, by a lot.

Book: Rebel Allies (I Am Number Four, The Lost Files)

"Rebel Allies"

You know the invasion has begun.
You know we are all that stands in their way.
You think we are alone.
You will see we have hidden allies.
They think they have won.
They are wrong.
They do not have our power.
They do not know the truth.
We have a secret weapon.

I enjoy the Lorien Legacies novels for being book-equivalents of summer blockbuster films, and I don’t really look at them for anything more than entertainment. So it’s always a pleasant surprise when I read The Lost Files novellas because they’re so much better than their main series counterparts.

Probably because they’re so short and they stick to one character’s point of view. The shorter format of the novellas make sure that the action is tight, and the pace is slow enough to allow readers to breathe. But it’s really the singular perspective that elevates the novellas from the main Lorien Legacies series. Because we don’t juggle multiple characters vying for their time in the spotlight, we can actually see the characters deal with their actions and develop into becoming more fully-realized.

In Rebel Allies, the three novellas feature former antagonist Mark James, new character Lexa, and how they teamed up to become an auxiliary team in the fight against the Mogadorians.

Mark James is one of my least favorite characters in the main series. He didn’t really serve a purpose before, other than be the third party to the romance angle of I Am Number Four. When they turned him into a supporting protagonist, he kind of lost his point. And I didn’t really know why there was a need to keep him around, when you already had humans in the main group who served a better purpose than he does, story-telling-wise.

Return to Paradise, his previous novella from a previous The Lost Files collection, further cemented the fact that he no longer had a purpose. And then the people behind the Lorien Legacies series wrote The Fugitive. And suddenly Mark James has direction again.

Unlike the humans in the main group, Mark James is the actual substitute for the majority of the human race. He who wants to do something to help against the alien threat, but is in actuality in over his head. And he doesn’t have an alien best friend who can bust him out of tight spots.

Mark James is painfully human, and that’s what makes his journey resonate more. His humanity. His vulnerability. And his realization that he is not the main character in this story.

Which serves as great foil for new character Lexa who doesn’t give a damn about the other characters. She is in this war for revenge. And it is very refreshing to see another alien character who isn’t extolling the good virtues of the Lorien people.

As the sidelined characters, Mark and Lexa are just the perspective the Lorien Legacies series needed. An outside view of the war that seems to be the be-all and end-all for the characters in the main series. They work well in the outskirts.

Which is why, although I loved them in these novellas, the two kind of felt like a deus-ex-machina device when they appeared in The Fate of Ten. Obviously there was a plan to bring them in the main series, after all, Mark James did come from the very first book– But I also really liked the idea of there being other stories that, although they are affected by the events of the main series, they exist only in the periphery.

It makes the world of Lorien Legacies bigger. More believable. Because not everyone crosses paths.

The series is ending with United As One coming out this year. There’s another The Lost Files collection coming out as well. But I hope the writers of this series still come up with more novellas featuring characters that don’t play major parts in the main series. Because the mythology they built is too amazing to waste in just one linear narrative.

Give your readers more than just the usual.

Book: Cover Story Girl

"Cover Story Girl"

1. She has amnesia.
2. She’s on the run from her father’s creditors.
3. She’s enjoying her last days on earth.

Ever since Jang Min Hee walked into Gio’s small museum, she’s given him one excuse after another about why she’s vacationing at scenic Boracay Island. Rarely has Gio’s neat and organized world been shaken like this. Soon he finds himself scrambling over rocks, hiding in dressing rooms, and dragging her out of bars. But how can Gio tell what’s true from what isn’t? Their worlds are getting unraveled–one story at a time.

I guess I unintentionally saved the best off the three widely-released romance class novels for last, and I have to give kudos to Chris Mariano for deciding to go with a male main character, and not an ideal one at that. Which is a breath of fresh air because, let’s face the facts, male love interests in romance novels usually fall under two types: the ideal man, or the bad boy who was secretly the ideal man all along.

Our main hero Gio is neither a bad boy, or the ideal man. He was just a guy trying to get by in his life, until Jang Min Hee arrives to add color to his humdrum life. It’s very much a Korean love story with a male character that acts distinctly Filipino.

What I liked about the novel best though isn’t the point-of-view. It’s the pacing. Chris Mariano has a good handle on how a love story should realistically unfold, without the dragging bits. She knows when to jump ahead in time, and when to expound on details. And the best part? It’s structurally sound.

I don’t think it’s a secret that even when I enjoy a story, I still find parts that I would want to do better had I been given a go at it. But this time, Cover Story Girl is great as it is.

Sure, there were still a few parts that made me pause to question if the character would really do something they had done, but they were few and they can be brushed under the all-encompassing rug of “love makes you do strange things.” And, in some instances, they can be attributed to the growth of the character as a person.

So in conclusion?

Cover Story Girl is as close to perfect as we can get in a local romance novel, and I would readily recommend it to other readers. I also look forward to reading whatever Chris Mariano writes next.

Book: How I Paid for College

"How I Paid for College"

It’s 1983 in Wallingford, New Jersey, a sleepy bedroom community outside Manhattan. Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni, a feckless Ferris Bueller type, is Peter Panning his way through a carefree summer of magic and mischief. The fun comes to a halt, however, when Edward’s father remarries and refuses to pay for Edward to study acting at Julliard. So Edward turns to his misfit friends to help him steal the tuition money from his father. Disguising themselves as nuns and priests, Edward and his friends merrily scheme their way through embezzlement, money laundering, identity theft, forgery, and blackmail. But along the way, Edward also learns the value of friendship, hard work, and how you’re not really a man until you can beat up your father–metaphorically, that is.

How can you not pick up a book with a subtitle saying “a Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater?” The moment I laid eyes on the book, I knew I was going to pick it up, buy it, and love it.

And I did all three.

Edward Zanni is as zany as a character who loves musical theater can get. And although he can be a bit much… Okay, a lot much… sometimes, his character is still vulnerable enough that you can’t help but root for him. Which, I feel, is very important when writing a very flawed protagonist. (I’m looking at you, Sutter Feely.)

That said, I don’t think I would have liked this book as much as I did if it weren’t for the ensemble. Edward is surrounded by an amazing group of supporting characters who make his misadventures fun and never cringe-worthy. From the vivacious Paula who, surprisingly, is the most scrupulous of their merry band, to Kelly who is just full of surprises; from Doug, the jock who keeps breaking stereotype, to Natie, the budding criminal mastermind. And Ziba. The most understated character who underlines the exact reason why this book is different from all the other young adult coming-of-age novels that are out right now.

How I Paid for College doesn’t hold back from the fears, the mistakes, the fuck-ups, and the sexual confusion of teenage years. They’re all here, and they’re all presented without fanfare or big build-ups to epiphany. The novel doesn’t rely on the formula of what a coming-of-age novel is supposed to be, because real life doesn’t follow any guidelines–so when we hit the emotional beats? They’re all the more relatable.

But what I love most about the novel is how it doesn’t try to make readers cry. Throughout the heartaches and the hardships, Edward Zanni remains through to the character he’s sticking with: the Ferris Bueller type mentioned in the book blurb. He cannot be unhappy. He cannot be caught crying. So when it does finally happen, he’s experiencing a breakthrough that is also shared with the viewers.

It feels earned.

And then, although already implausible, the novel grants what anyone living in a musical world needs in their stories: an outrageous happy ending. And yet it works. And it’s the perfect end to the whole affair.

And now I can’t help but rave about the novel. It’s definitely something anyone who loves the world of theater, and who has been a part of theater, will enjoy. Marc Acito wrote a gem of a story that’s truly entertaining and, although set in the 80s, still relevant.

Now, if only he had done the same for Allegiance

Book: 20th Century Ghosts

"20th Century Ghosts"

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past…

I picked this book up because I thoroughly enjoyed NOS4A2 and Horns, and I realized: I still have yet to pick up any other Joe Hill books. So when I saw a copy of this anthology at Forbidden Planet while on the lookout for something to read during my almost twenty-hour flight back home… Well, I just had to pick it up, right?

Now, here’s the thing: Joe Hill writes horror stories. And although I love reading and writing horror stories… I kind of scare easy. And when you’re thousands of feet up in the air, reading an anthology of scary stories is the last thing you want to do.

Except– It’s not really an anthology of scary stories. It’s a collection of horrifying tales, yes. And sure, one of them gave me nightmares (My Father’s Mask)– But, take the 20th Century Ghost story for example. It wasn’t written to strike fear into readers’ hearts, but it was written with a lot of heart. And you have got to read the story in the Acknowledgments section.

Then there’s The Widow’s Breakfast that gives you just the right amount of goosebumps, and there’s The Cape that does horrify readers for a different reason. But some stories, like You Will Hear The Locust Sing, that made me scratch my head. (Although, I confess, I’ve never been a fan of films like The Fly, so I might not be the intended audience for this particular story).

It’s an eclectic collection. Each story will strike a different chord of thrill or fear in your spine. If it doesn’t, it’s probably busy plucking at the strings of your heart. But at the end of it all, it turns out that 20th Century Ghosts isn’t really an anthology of horror stories. Just stories that are supposed to horrify.

And I could’ve survived reading it up in the air with no fear of goblins appearing on the wings of the plane.

If you’re not familiar with Joe Hill or his works yet, I suggest you don’t acquaint yourself with his works through this collection first. Read one of his novels and then find your way back to this anthology instead.

Book: The Spectacular Now

"The Spectacular Now"

So, my beautiful fat girlfriend, Cassidy, is threatening to kick me to the curb again, my best friend suddenly wants to put the brakes on our lives of fabulous fun, and my dad, well, my dad is a big fat question mark that I’m not sure I want the answer to.

Some people would let a senior year like this get them down. Not me. I’m Sutter Keely, master of the party. But don’t mistake a midnight philosopher like me for nothing more than a shallow party boy. Just ask Aimee, the new girl in my life. She saw the depth in the Sutterman from that first moment when she found me passed out on the front lawn. Okay, so she’s a social disaster, but isn’t it my duty to show her a splendiferous time, and then let her go forth and prosper?

Yes, life is weird, but I embrace the weird. Let everyone else go marching off into their great shining futures if they want. Me, I’ve always been more than content to tip my whisky bottle and take a ride straight into the heart of the Spectacular Now.

Life defines who we are and how we perceive things.

Reading The Spectacular Now, halfway around the world and on the eve of a new year (not to mention my remaining days as thirty-year-old), was a little cathartic. It’s a book that, I feel, I would have enjoyed and analyzed-the-hell-out-of had I read it during the Christmas break stuck in my room while ruminating where my life is going next– But I was in New York City, traversing the metropolitan on my own with no worries and no meaningful connections.

Although I was far from being the master of the party, I was Sutter Keely for thirteen days, while I navigated a foreign city with a not-a-care-in-the-world attitude. I was experiencing the spectacular now.

It was very lonely.

This, obviously, affected my enjoyment of the novel. I could see myself in Sutter and I can see where his life is going. I can see where my life was going through him. And I felt an intense dislike for the events that were unfolding. But from the moment I met Sutter Keely, I already knew where his story was heading.

I really didn’t like it.

I guess this is where I make a disclaimer about the book being well-written and the characters breathing like real people. And that’s true. But I’m not a book critic who earns his living reviewing books online or on paper. I’m a reader who posts my reactions to the books I read. And The Spectacular Now paints a too-bleak picture that I really cannot get myself to like.

On the other hand, the novel has given me something that none of the other books I read in 2015 have given me: the motive to change my life. So, in a way, I can say that this book is life-changing.

One of the questions that The Spectacular Now posits is whether you should live for the future, or if you live in the moment. By the end of the novel, and by the end of my trip, I find my answer: it has to be a mixture of both. You have to live in the moment, but you can never forget that there is always a future that will be affected. If not yours, then someone else’s.

Although I already knew that, The Spectacular Now drives the point deeper in me. Because the time to just play around is over, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop living in the moment either. You just have to find the balance.

And it will be a constant struggle.

Book: The Sleeper and the Spindle

"The Sleeper and the Spindle"

She was one of the those forest witches driven to the margins a thousand years ago, and a bad lot. She cursed the babe at birth, such that when the girl was eighteen she would prick her finger and sleep forever.

Sleeping Beauty has gotten its fair share of retelling. Heck, Sleeping Beauty itself is a retelling. But there is something to be said about Neil Gaiman’s version that makes it so very other-worldly. Sure, Chris Riddell’s artwork is amazing and adds to the feel of the storytelling– but even without it, the words itself seem to have a weight upon them as they spin the tale of Briar Rose.

I love the fact that our protagonist is a woman–and Snow White at that. She has her own story that doesn’t get told outright, but is filled in through trickles of exposition that feels like accidents. It’s as if the character herself doesn’t want to take away from the gravity of her adventure to save her kingdom–and the babe who was cursed by the witch–

And then there’s the lightness in the sparse dialogue peppered throughout the story, as if to balance the whole affair.

But what I love most about The Sleeper and the Spindle is how it subverts expectations. Everyone knows the story of Briar Rose in one form or another, but even as Gaiman ticks off the plot developments that people expect–he also adds his own whimsical twists to the events that unfold, pushing the familiar story into new territories.

The Sleeper and the Spindle ends where Sleeping Beauty ends; with the curse lifted, and the witch defeated. But Gaiman also provides a different happy ending for his characters. He doesn’t tie their destinies to each other just because it is what’s expected. He gives them the happy ending they all deserve. Freedom to choose their own fates–something they hadn’t been given their whole lives.

And I realized I sort of spoiled the ending.

Believe me, though, when I say that The Sleeper and the Spindle is worth reading on your own. Multiple times. And then sharing the story with friends. And acquaintances. And even strangers.

Let it cast its spell on you.