Movie: The Greatest Showman

"The Greatest Showman"

“The Greatest Showman” is a bold and original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and the sense of wonder we feel when dreams come to life. Inspired by the ambition and imagination of P.T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman” tells the story of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a mesmerizing spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Ever since I saw the teaser for The Greatest Showman, I knew I wanted to watch the film. I love musicals, and it has been so long since a proper movie musical was made, so I knew this was a film I’m going to want to watch in a theater.

And I was not disappointed.

I guess it helped that my expectations were managed. The film came out last year in the United States, and the reviews were less than phenomenal. People didn’t like the fact that The Greatest Showman glossed over the less-than-desirable characteristics of P.T. Barnum. Some thought the film was shoddily edited, and certain story threads were dropped and picked up willy-nilly. And a lot people said it just wasn’t that good. They were all correct.

The Greatest Showman wasn’t good, because it was something else. It was… transcendent.

Don’t get me wrong; the film could use a lot more fixing. Especially when it comes to how the story is told.

The film suffers from having to follow two separate threads from the moment Zac Efron’s character is introduced. Suddenly, on top of the P.T. Barnum main storyline that wanted to deal with inclusivity, acceptance, humility, and contentment–you also had to follow an interracial romance that was completely separate from the already-full Barnum plate.

The characters’ emotions don’t have a linear development; they provide what the script wants to happen, rather than the script following what the characters are feeling. And as such, there are a lot of character development that are waylaid because the film would rather barrel through the plot lines it wants to hit.

There are a thousand and one things you can point out where the film was lacking. Mostly in the storyline, in the character progression, and even in the directing. But there are just as many things to love about the film–mostly because of the cast and their passion for the film they made.

Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, and Keala Settle are truly exceptional in The Greatest Showman. The life they bring to the characters fill out what is lacking in their characters’ emotional development. Zac Efron and Michelle Williams complement their respective partners exceptionally, providing grace and elegance to the turmoil that is the conflict of the film.

The characters breathe because the actors behind them are giving them life. And because of their portrayals, you don’t notice until after the film has ended that said characters aren’t really fully-formed. The cast–all of them, not just the ones I enumerated–are the ones informing the audience of who their characters are; Not the story, nor their decisions in the story, but their acting.

I would also say it’s the cast that brings the songs to life. They inject their vulnerabilities into the songs, making them something more than just the words that accompany the melody. Listen to the dozens of “This Is Me” covers on YouTube, and then listen to Keala Settle’s version. The mix of fear, of uncertainty, and of strength she imbues the song elevates it into an anthem. So much so that you don’t notice how the emotional reprise within the song is abruptly cut short just so the song could go back to being a call to arms.

And then there’s Zac Efron and Zendaya’s “Rewrite the Stars.” There is restraint in the way the sing the song, a restraint that becomes heartbreaking when you see how it is directed on screen. And I mean that in a good way.

If you watch the film, you can see how director Michael Gracey pours love into his staging of the musical numbers. His direction heightens the emotions of the songs that pepper the movie musical. If only he had done the same for the transition scenes, the ones in between the singing.

But there’s not point in focusing on what might have been. The film is made. It is out in theaters. And if you’re looking for a reason to watch The Greatest Showman, watch it for the passion–of the cast, of the director, the choreographers, the costume designers, the production designers, and everyone else involved in the project.

Let their passion inspire you to dream, to accept, and to come alive.

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Book: Una & Miguel

 

"Una & Miguel"

Una and Miguel are total opposites! He’s the village heartthrob, part of the good-looking ‘in’ crowd while Una is popular for the wrong reasons. She writes songs, plays the harmonica, wears a hemp anklet, and has equally eccentric friends–not at all the type of girl Miguel and his friends go for. They call her and her friends outcasts.

For these two, love is truly a long shot. But when they’re forced to work together as punishment for a prank-gone-wrong, they find that falling in love might not be impossible after all. Will opposites attract? Or will they repel?

I have a few questions of my own to add: Why was this book reprinted? Was there a serious need for a young adult romance novella back in 2012? And why did Adarna House think to reprint this particular title? Because, honestly speaking, Una & Miguel is not a very likeable book.

My main problem with the book, I think, lies with the fact that it isn’t timeless. The story of Una & Miguel feels very dated, even though the author updated the story with so many 2011/2012 pop culture references. And for a book with a universal theme of love and acceptance, feeling dated is quite the feat–and not in a good way.

Then there’s our main couple: we never get to know Una & Miguel enough to actually root for them. And during the time where we’re supposed to empathize with them, we don’t. I, personally, found it very hard to root for either one of the protagonists because they were so damn unlikeable. Both are hypocrites, wanting the best of both worlds–standing out and still being accepted. Still being popular.

And that sealed the book’s fate with me. I didn’t care for the characters, so I didn’t care how their story unfolded. And, if you read the book, it feels like the author doesn’t care all that much either. Because as soon as Una and Miguel admit their feelings for each other, the story ends.

We already know that story. So many books have written that story. What we want to know is what happens next, and what happens despite. Eleanor & Park told us why the boy straddling the line between being ‘in’ and being an outcast cannot be with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. And yet it gave us a story worth falling for. Worth crying about. Alex Sanchez’s Getting It had a third non-love interest character play up the conflict about a guy trying to get the girl of his dreams. Heck, Tall Story was able to tell the same story better, and it was a story about siblings, and not a love story ripe with conflict.

So, once again, I ask: why reprint Una & Miguel?

I’m not trying to be a book snob. I love that local publishers are actually publishing books again. But why not push the boundaries? Go ahead, sell romance. But give us something new. Something we can proud of. Something that will say, hey, Filipinos can write fiction that’s just as good as the international titles–if not better.

So let’s quit with the Una & Miguels, the She’s Dating the Gangsters, and the Every Girl’s Guides. Let’s have more of the Roles, and Vince’s Life, and After Edens. Please.

Book: Boy Meets Boy

"Boy Meets Boy"

I was the first openly gay president of my third-grade class. I have seen men holding hands walking down the street in a big city and I have read about women getting married in a state that’s not so far away. I have found a boy I might just love, and I have not run away. I believe that I can be anyone I might want to be. All these things give me strength.

Do you ever get that feeling where you think you know where a character is going? That awful feeling that a character you care about is about to do something really bad… and stupid?

Well, when you start a novel with a “For Tony” dedication, and you introduce a character called Tony who doesn’t seem to have a lot to be very happy about… Well, you worry.

Boy Meets Boy has the Tony character as its central figure, without his story being the focus of the story. Tony doesn’t even make a lot of appearances in the novel. But at its heart, this whole thing is about him–even when Paul, our actual main character, makes you feel it isn’t.

I feel like I’m confusing you. I probably am. But this is really how I think in real life, and I wanted to get a dialogue going, so I’ll just continue on. That all right with you?

If you’re still reading, I’ll take that as a yes.

Now, the book tells the story about Paul and Noah: how they meet one fateful night, how they fall in love, how they fall apart, and how they get each other back. For someone like me who hasn’t a romantic bone in his body, this was still a great love story because of the devices used. How the two meet, how they fall apart, and how Paul wins Noah back.

At the end of it all though, I thought Boy Meets Boy would’ve worked regardless of the characters’ gender.

That’s important.

You see, David Levithan’s book doesn’t discuss the taboo of gay love head on. In his Utopian town, everyone accepts everyone. Well, most everyone. So when you think about it, Paul could be a girl, or Noah could be a girl, or they could both be girls–and it wouldn’t matter. Their love is a simple love. It’s pure. And it’s really not the point story.

And this is the part that’s genius: David Levithan sets their love story up as a way to tell a story about acceptance.

I said it before: Tony is our central character even if he’s not our main one. Because it’s through him that we actually see character growth. It’s through him that we see the journey begin and end. And even with all the toppings in this fabulous pizza of a novel, Tony is the crust that holds everything together.

At the end of the novel, I wasn’t really concerned whether or not Paul would get Noah back. I knew he would. It was that kind of a love story. What mattered more to me was that Tony would be all right in the end. Tony was who needed my concern.

Because: you know how you get the feeling that you know what’s going to happen to a character, and you don’t what that thing to happen? You really feel relief when the author sees how important it is that he survive the novel. Not because he likes the character, but because that character is the one that needs to be a symbol of hope.

Of course, I could just be talking a whole load of crap. I’m not the author, and I don’t know if this was the intent. This is how the book spoke to me. And I am open to discuss with you guys what the book means to you.

So…? Let me know at the comments below!

Book: A Monster Calls

"A Monster Calls"

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up A Monster Calls. A few friends recommended it to me, and I was a little ambivalent when I read the synopsis. It didn’t speak to me. But when I stumbled across the edition I found, this beautifully illustrated version by Walker Books, I knew I was buying the book. If only for the really beautiful illustrations.

But when I read the book, I fell in love with it.

Conor, the main character, is flawed. And that makes him, for me, a great character. He is a great character study on human beings. This is a child fashioned by the everyday life, shaped by external forces beyond his control, and choices that were his to make. Choices that, we find out as the story goes along, are colored by what he was taught–by the beliefs instilled in him.

Choices that the monster wants Conor to face.

Our main character doesn’t have an easy life. And I really like how author Patrick Ness doesn’t make Conor the typical flawed protagonists who has a naturally good heart. As I said before, Conor is flawed. And that’s what makes me relate more to him than other characters I’ve read, who are going through the same things he is in this book. And that’s what makes the book’s end all the more heartbreaking. Because by the time the book ends, we become Conor.

A Monster Calls tells the story of Conor, but more than that, it tells the story of us. Humans doing human things, feeling human emotions–being human. And being monsters.

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in 2012, and I’m very grateful for the friends who recommended this to me. Now, I shall be doing other friends favors by recommending this book to them.

Before I do that though, let us read a few reviews from book blogs across the ‘net:
There’s a Book
The Book Smugglers
Dog-Eared

Book: Cleo

"Cleo" by Helen BrownCleo is an uplifting book about love, loss and redemption. It’s also a book about a small black feline who helped bring a family even closer together by sheer force of her cat personality.

The last book I’ve read that had anything to do with pets was Katie: Up and Down the Hall. I remember writing something about the book not being so much about Katie than it was about the author and the family he made with his neighbors. And, I have to admit, that made me think twice about starting Cleo.

Thing is, I already bought Cleo before I started reading Katie. And it never came to second-guessing my purchase, only wondering when I would eventually get around to reading it. Well, the Holy Week vacation (we have such a thing here in the Philippines) gave me the time I was looking for, and I have to say I really didn’t have much to fear with Cleo.

The thing with books about pets is that it’s almost never really about the pets. I mean, I found Marley & Me good, and Katie not so good. Cleo, falls somewhere in between the two—but as I went on to finish the book, it moved towards the good end.

Cleo, the book, is much about Cleo the pet as it was about the author’s life. After all, the book’s selling point is how Cleo (the cat) helped heal the author and the people in her life. So it would make sense that many of the anecdotes actually have more to do with the author’s family than just Cleo. And unlike in Katie, where I thought the pet was a storyline moving alongside the author’s life, Cleo actually has a major playing part in her owner’s life.

The book starts with death. One I didn’t expect. The author alluded to it in how she introduced the book, and how she talked about her sons—but, if this were a fictional story, the death was a twist, a blindside. I was surprised; horrified even, by what had happened. But as it is, death was just the beginning—and the beginning was jumpstarted by the appearance of Cleo in the author’s and her family’s lives.

That was a very oddly-constructed sentence.

Throughout the book, we follow the author as she goes through the rollercoaster of life: the loss of a child, raising two others, working to save a marriage, and eventually falling in love again. One can say Helen Brown, the author, has lived a life with enough heartache to spare half-a-dozen people from having to go through the same—but that’s life, isn’t it? It’s never fair. But through it all, the author had one constant companion who never bothered to feel sorry for her, but was always there to listen, to cheer her up, and to tell her to move on: and that was Cleo.

On the book cover, it says that Cleo is the next Marley & Me; I think that’s doing the book a disservice. Cleo is a great book by itself, and it doesn’t need to be compared to any other books. And having finished the book, all I can say is that I wish to find a cat just like Cleo.

Find out what other people have written about the book:
The Conscious Cat
Reviews by Lola
Good Reads