Book: Are We There Yet?

"Are We There Yet?"

Elijah and Danny don’t think they have anything in common except their parents. Danny thinks Elijah is a lazy, slacking, clueless dreamer who doesn’t know how to make a living. Elijah thinks Danny is a workaholic, stuck-up, soulless drone who doesn’t know how to make a life. Yes, they’re brothers.

Then their parents trick them into taking a trip to Italy together. Nine days of escape. Nine days of somewhere else.

Elijah and Danny aren’t sure it’s going to work. Until they each meet a girl–the same girl. Julia. And nothing will ever be the same again.

I didn’t like this book as much as I did the other David Levithan books, but this is still way, way better than Every You, Every Me. So least favorite then? I guess.

What I really liked about Are We There Yet? is its focus on brothers. Which is also the reason why I didn’t like the book as much as I did the other Levithan books. Because I was expecting something more from the brothers’ story lines, and it kind of fell flat for me.

A girl was introduced, widened the rift between brothers, and then they were okay in the end. And then they were better brothers. I call bull.

It doesn’t come left of field though. There is development. Except, most of it happens on the side of the older brother. You can actually see him evolve from being a douche to someone who is trying to be better. The other brother just is. He gets pushed around by plot, and doesn’t become a better character for it. Which is frustrating. Really frustrating.

Are We There Yet? has all the ingredients that make a good book. And I feel like it got squandered because the book had an itinerary it wanted to stick to. And instead of enjoying the journey, we get snapshots of possible moments instead.

So did I like it? Enough to actually try understanding why the book wasn’t better. But not enough for me to recommend it to other people. Still, I’m just one person. See what others have to say about the book:
Hiding in the Stacks
Books and Sensibility
Tower of Books

Book: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

"It's Kind of a Funny Story"

Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life–which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.

Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness.

I normally don’t include the last bit when I type up the book synopsis, but I feel like I should here. I feel that it is important for the readers of this book to find out (whether before or after) that the author also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

Why?

Because some readers might just see fiction, and think that this is all made up. Because those readers might think that the people characterized in the book are too quirky to really exist. Because some readers might just read the book, like it, and then move on. I think this novel deserves more than that.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a book about depression, but it’s also a book that teaches us how to interact with people like Craig, people with problems, and people like his friend Aaron, whose problem might not be the fact that he has a problem–

It teaches us to be compassionate, understanding–to listen. It teaches us not to treat them differently from other people, and I mean that in both ways.

Words hurt. It, some times, hurt more than actual physical blows. And hurting words don’t always come from insults, from complaints, from irrational thought. Some times, these words that hurt come from expectations. Camaraderie. It’s this type of bullying that never really gets talked about. Bullying that comes from your own family, your own peers–it’s the way they expect you to be the you they think you are, it’s the way they want you to be better–but really, what they mean is they want you to be more like them.

And this is the type of bullying we see in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Craig bullies himself into aspiring for something people expect him to aspire for. His friends bully him by making fun of him, by talking about him behind his back, by forcing him to do things he doesn’t want to do. His parents bully him by giving him everything he wants, by setting an unreal expectation of the world, and never expecting anything from him.

In the novel, Craig looks for order. His inner voice is a commanding officer from the army! He is looking for order as his inner world is falling apart, and no one from his family or his friends see this. It takes other people like him, people who also have problems, to see that he needs not to be babied, he needs not to be forced into doing something he doesn’t want to do, to find that balance of giving him what he wants and letting him fend for himself.

It’s hard to explain.

People have read this book and liked it for its content and message. For giving a voice to a group of people who normally gets looked down upon because they couldn’t deal. But I think this book has done more than that. I think this book shows us that the fault isn’t that they can’t handle pressure or reality. It’s that they’ve been made to believe that they can’t handle it.

They can, if we would just let them.

Depression is a real thing. But it’s only really a problem when we make the ones who suffer from it believe that it’s unnatural, and that it’s crippling. It shouldn’t be.

Television: Sherlock and His Last Vow

"His Last Vow"

A case of stolen letters leads Sherlock Holmes into a long conflict with Charles Augustus Magnussen, the Napoleon of blackmail, and the one man he truly hates. But how do you tackle a foe who knows the personal weakness of every person of importance in the Western world?

And so ends another series of BBC’s Sherlock. And at the end of it all, a character posits the question, “did you miss me?” A tease, if there ever was one. A tease to the fans who have to endure another long hiatus to get the next fix, the next series.

So, to respond to the question: Yes, you bastard. Yes, we missed you. And now, we’re going to miss you again.

His Last Vow caps off another great series of Sherlock. Although, if we’re going to be perfectly honest with each other, this has to be my least favorite batch of three. Which is a compliment to the series to be perfectly honest. Their least good batch of episodes are still four and a half hours (or is it six hours?) of quality television.

But why do I say that this is the least good batch?

If you remember, I was very much a fan of the premiere. I loved how Sherlock was made more accessible to the viewers. And I think I’m starting to understand why: it’s because he’s more likable now. Not that he wasn’t before. But he’s actually making an effort to be liked now.

In The Empty Hearse, it was a breath of fresh air. In The Sign of Three, it felt weird. Now, in His Last Vow, the discord in Sherlock’s character is made more pronounced because he’s back to being who he was in the first two of series of the program. He’s back to not caring.

And it feels wrong.

I mean, it’s not wrong. This is actually the Sherlock we’ve waiting for since he took that jump in Reichenbach Fall. But after being teased with the more human Sherlock… Well, it’s classic Steven Moffat, isn’t it? He gives you what you think you want, and then he takes it away.

Thing is, I think it’s good that he actually takes away the human Sherlock this time ’round. One of the reasons why I like BBC’s Sherlock is because of his inability to process the basic need of human beings to be loved, to be understood. He has his own bubble world where what other people think don’t matter.

And then it started to.

I liked Series 3. Let me be clear about that. I liked it. It’s more visual, it’s more ambitious, it has more heart. But I don’t think it lives up to what the first two series were. Genius. They were genius. Series 3, having seen all the episodes now, was just below genius.

Again, not a bad thing. It’s just that we’ve gotten used to getting the best. Settling for second best isn’t as good.

And we are settling, aren’t we? After two years of no Sherlock, we lapped up the three episodes like the world was ending this month. We didn’t care that most of what we watched seemed to have come from the need to service the fans more than the story.

I get that the fans are important. Without the fervent clamor for new Sherlock episodes, there wouldn’t be more Sherlock episodes. But didn’t we come for the stories? Didn’t we come for the smarts? The last minute unraveling of a mystery?

I like that they tried to bring Sherlock a notch down. But a stumped Sherlock is not a fun Sherlock. I want his glee. I want his superiority. Because we watch Sherlock not because we want realism. We watch Sherlock because we want to see this fictional character be brilliant.

So Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson? Make Sherlock brilliant again. Make him shine.

Please.

Movie: Pedro Calungsod

"Pedro Calungsod"

I really wanted to like this film. Not because I’m Catholic, I’m not, but because I want to see a non-mainstream story make a mark on a mainstream event like the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Unfortunately, while the sentiments behind this film is lovely (as is the cinematography), the story itself is not.

Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir is a fictionalized retelling of the life that the newly canonized saint led back in the day. I say fictionalized because, if I remember correctly, no one really knows the entire story of Calungsod’s life. Just snippets. Enough to get him beatified almost a couple of decades ago.

The film follows Calungsod, portrayed by Rocco Nacino, as he joins a mission that would take him to an island off the coasts of the Visayan region, where Spanish priests wish to spread the good word of Christianity.

We are then treated to a series of events that take place in that island; events that supposedly happened in real life. Events that are really boring to watch, to be perfectly honest.

Conflicts break out suddenly and are never followed up on. The every day life shown in between conflicts are pretty peaceful, and feel really off because these people are supposed to be living in constant fear of a seige.

You never really understand the motivation of any of the characters shown–save for Christian Vasquez’s Spanish priest and Nacino’s Calungsod. Then again, they’re the central characters. They’re men of faith and nothing else; and they will defend their faith to their last breath.

And they do.

And then you wonder: what was the reason for this movie to be made? I mean, really? What was the point? Because I don’t get it. We see Calungsod die early on in the film. And then we see the journey they make towards the island. Their every day life. And then, just because one man is angry, Calungsod dies. And the film ends.

Really, that’s it.

The scenes are beautifully shot. Christian Vasquez makes it known that he can be a serious actor. Victor Basa looks pretty while he baptizes the natives (and the dead). Rocco Nacino looks weird with his wig. Alvin Aragon has a weird accent while speaking Bisaya.

And that’s pretty much what I took from the film. I don’t think that’s what the producers intended when they decided to produce this. It’s definitely not what I expected when I went in the theater.

I wish I could say Pedro Calungsod is a must-watch, but it just might turn people off non-mainstream Filipino films.

Movie: Kaleidoscope World

"Kaleidoscope World"

Lando, a poor boy, meets a rich girl, Elsa, in an open audition for the number one local hip hop crew that is competing for an international dance event. Lando and Elsa make it to the team but as their life and love unfold their dance crumbles.

Deep breaths. Deep, deep breaths.

I wanted to like this film. Really, I did. It stars two actors who I really believe has the acting chops to pull off lead roles, and they do showcase their acting capabilities in this film well. Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing I can say about this film: Sef Cadayona and Yassi Pressman acted their asses off.

But the whole film was just bad. Really bad. So bad that I wanted to walk out in the middle of the film. I didn’t. Because I had to stick through the whole thing to see if it gets better.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Let’s list down the things that was wrong in the film:

Number one is structure. We have two characters whose lives intertwine, but are given problems that don’t really have anything to do with each other. Until past the halfway mark, when the writer seemed to have realized that the audience will have no idea what would make them root for the our lead couple. So the lead female is forcibly made to bear the brunt of the male lead’s conflict.

I feel as if the writer of the screenplay fell into the trap of trying to keep the twists surprising. Which is not what you want to do with a love story. You want your audience to know what’s going to keep your couple apart. So they root for the couple. By keeping the conflict a secret, you’ve only made your viewers apathetic.

When nothing is standing in the way of your lovers, you don’t root for them to succeed. Having finished the film, I already know that there’s an obstacle. But by the time it is introduced, viewers would have already stopped caring… and the conflict is made to look like a last minute addition.

Which leads me to the second problem of the film: conflict. Sef Cadayona’s character has a very alienating conflict: he freezes up whenever he remembers what happened to his dad. And this is not revealed until near the end of the film. And this is never resolved.

Oh, wait, should I have warned that there will be spoilers? Well, there are spoilers here. You have been warned now.

Back to Sef Cadayona’s very internal conflict: we get flashes of it, bit by bit, throughout the film. And this will confuse the hell out of you. Especially near the end, when two characters involved with Yassi Pressman’s character are revealed to be integral to Sef Cadayona’s conflict–and yet they don’t recognize Sef’s character at all.

I am serious. It doesn’t make sense.

And let’s not even start on the conflict between Yassi’s aunt and uncle that keeps getting addressed, but gets dropped with nary a mention ever again after their one confrontation. Suddenly, everything is right with the two again.

That leads me to the third problem of the film: resolutions. There are none. I’m not looking for a happy ending. I’m not looking for a wrap-up with a nice bow. I just want to see that the stories introduced are actually going somewhere.

We have a story thread about a dance competition, a group story arc, that suddenly ends with a performance. There are problems introduced into this arc that gets resolved off screen–if they did get resolved at all.

We have a thread on Yassi Pressman’s criminal past, and the part dancing plays in it. This does not get resolved, because Yassi’s story is suddenly cut short.

There’s a thread on Sef Cadayona’s juggling act between taking classes, starting to nod off at his part-time work, practicing during all the free time he has left, and still finding time to go to different malls just so he could stalk Yassi’s character. Oh wait, that’s not so much a problem about resolution as it is a problem on logic, and maybe Sef’s ability to clone himself so he can be in different locations at the same time.

And then there’s the weird cousin of Yassi’s character and her desire to dance. That goes nowhere fast.

But the worst offender of this is the main love thread. Yassi takes off from her aunt’s house, goes to Sef’s neighborhood, gets stabbed–apparently, to death, and yet appears to hug her group mates in the dance competition abroad.

What now?

I wanted to support Kaleidoscope World because it’s different from the usual fare. Also, I want to support Yassi and Sef’s career. But I can not, on good conscience, recommend this film to anyone.

Because the biggest problem I have with this film is that it masqueraded as a dance film. The characters dance, yes. But this is not a dance film. Street Dance is a dance film. Save the Last Dance, Center Stage, heck even I Do Bidoo Bidoo is a dance film. The Step Up franchise, even when the story is at its flimsiest, are dance films. Kaleidoscope World is a an acting reel masquearading as a film, much less a dance film.

Dance films feature dance prominently. Dance films have good music. Dance films do not use stock, royalty-free music during montages. Dance films will not just pile together different dances just to show the characters dancing. Dance is the most important part of a dance film. You do not give it the short end of the deal.

A dance film can get away with a threadbare story if the dance is good. And the biggest crime Kaleidoscope World commits is casting good dancers and never featuring them properly.

Kaleidoscope World isn’t just a waste of time and money. It also wastes the talent of the actors and dancers involved. And I’m not surprised that the director seem to have had his name stricken out of the credits.