Book: Voices in the Theater

"Voices in the Theater"

Ever since her grandmother died, Samantha Davidson has been carrying a secret: She can hear voices–other people’s thoughts, some from the living, some from the dead.

Plucked from her roots and transported to another country, estranged from her family and friends, Sam joins a pioneering club in her new school that investigates paranormal activities.

As they examine the mystery behind a haunted theater inside the university, Sam starts to hear voices from those that are no longer earthbound.

Will she heed their voices as they accuse her of a dark secret she has buried deep in the past? Or will she surrender to the light offered by newfound allies and a love that caught her by surprise?

Will the many voices drown out the one voice she has long suppressed? Will she listen?

If I’m to be objective, there is nothing wrong with A.S. Santos’s Voices in the Theater. The plot is good and well-paced, and although some decisions made by the characters make me want to tear my hair out, I understand their choices are organic and not pushed by the hand of the author. There is really nothing bad to be said about the book–

But I still didn’t like it.

Here’s the thing: Voices in the Theater is marketed to be a horror novel. From its back synopsis, to its book cover, to the first few chapters– The story is clearly set-up to be a horror novel that deals with ghosts and unresolved issues. And I was fully on board with that. What I didn’t like was the sudden turn for the religious.

I mean, I completely understand having religious characters. The setting is the Philippines, characters are bound to be non-practicing Christians at the very least. And you can’t really take out religion when you’re dealing with ghosts and the afterlife. They come hand in hand.

Still, the book presents the main character as religiously neutral. Our entry point into the supernatural is science-based. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. And I felt like the story, and the writer, forced the main character into a religion by the end of the book.

The thing is: I would totally understand the religious deus ex machina had there been more visual cues from the way the book was published or presented. Going back to what happens in the story, there’s really nothing there that explicitly says the book wasn’t going to go the religious note. And aside from the first few chapters that established the back story of main character Samantha, the rest of the book does establish the necessity of faith.

But the turn to the religion still threw me off.

It could just be my fault for expecting something else. For wanting something else. It’s just… I’m not the book’s target market. And I wish I knew this fact before I bought the book. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a warning before I delved into the book expecting a horror story. That could have spelled the difference in how I received the novel after finishing it.

Book: The Good Luck of Right Now

"The Good Luck of Right Now"

For thirty-eight years, Bartholomew Neil has lived with his mother. When she gets sick and dies, he has no idea how to be on his own. His grief counselor, Wendy, says he needs to find his flock and leave the nest. But how does a man whose whole life has been grounded in his mom, Saturday Mass, and the library learn how to fly?

Bartholomew thinks he’s found a clue when he discovers a ‘Free Tibet’ letter from Richard Gere hidden in his mother’s underwear drawer. In her final days, Mom called him Richard–there must be a cosmic connection. Believing that the actor is meant to help him, Bartholomew awkwardly starts his new life by writing Richard Gere a series of letters. Jung and the Dalai Lama, philosophy and faith, alien abduction and cat telepathy, are all explored in his soul-baring epistles. But mostly the letters reveal one man’s heartbreakingly earnest attempt to assemble a family of his own.

A struggling priest, a ‘Girlbrarian,’ her feline-loving, foul-mouthed brother, and the spirit of Richard Gere join the quest to help Bartholomew. In a rented Ford Focus, they travel to Canada to see the Cat Parliament and find Bartholomew’s biological father…and discover so much more.

Quick judgment: the book is good, it’s easy to read–and it’s very heart-warming. To those who liked author Matthew Quick’s writing for The Silver Linings Playbook, but wasn’t much of a fan of Sorta Like a Rock Star, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, would think this book is a return to form for the author.

But to tell you the truth, I didn’t really get the importance of looking for Bartholomew’s biological father. Not even in the end. But that’s mostly because, although we’re told that Bartholomew’s not right in the head for most of the novel, he’s actually a very well-adjusted guy. And that got me thinking–

We call people with mental disabilities ‘special,’ and this book underlines the fact that they aren’t unlike you and I. They might be handicapped, but they are able-bodied human beings too. They are capable too. They just have more to work through than us.

Or they’re not just as good as pretending they’re okay like normal people are.

And that’s the thesis of The Good Luck of Right Now, in my opinion. In pretending, how do we know when we’re fooling other people–or when we’re already fooling ourselves?

Quick posits early in the book that Bartholomew knows about pretending. He’s very honest about it. Apologetic, even. But over the course of the book, we get new pretenses from other characters. People who are saying something, but meaning something else. It’s a hard look at how we, as people, live our lives–always pretending, even in little things. Embellishing to make ourselves look better, or more humble–or just to not look like a bad guy.

The Good Luck of Right Now looks like a simple book, but it’s ripe for discussion; about our beliefs and our identities.

It’s something I would urge people to read–even if it’s just because I want someone to discuss the book with.

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.

Book: Thirteen Days to Midnight

"Thirteen Days to Midnight" by Patrick CarmanYou are indestructible. These are the words that transfer an astonishing power to Jacob Fielding…and they change everything. When Ophelia James, the beautiful and daring new girl in town, suggests they use the power to save others, Jacob readily accepts. But with every heroic act, the power grows stronger and soon feels more like a curse. After all, how do you decide who lives and who dies?

Jacob has only thirteen days to harness this terrifying power…and to answer a chilling question: What if, in order to save the girl he loves, he has to kill her?

Okay, first off, the back cover lied. Jacob doesn’t have “thirteen days to harness this terrifying power,” he has plenty of time. It’s the story that takes place in thirteen days. I wonder who wrote the text for the back cover—and if that person actually read the book.

That said, I did enjoy reading Thirteen Days to Midnight. It was a page-turner. But I guess it wasn’t up to par with Warm Blood, which I read before this. For one thing, I’m not raving about this book.

Let’s go into the book: In Thirteen Days to Midnight, we have one main character, a love interest, and a supporting character. Jacob, as our main character, immediately has our sympathy. After all, he is our anchor to this world. And while we do get to know Ophelia (the love interest) and Milo (the supporting character), it’s with Jacob that we learn most of what’s going on in the story.

Which brings me to my main problem with the story: Jacob keeps a lot of things to himself. And most importantly, he keeps a lot of things from the readers. Reading the book, I thought one of the main themes was loss: loss of a loved one, loss of innocence—loss, in general. And one of his losses, the guilt in losing a father-figure, gets built up so much that I felt it was a cop-out when we finally confront it—and drop it because it doesn’t fit where the story is going towards anymore.

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. When I started reading Thirteen Days to Midnight, I thought it read a lot like an episode from a television show—so I read it that way. It had the elements: the aforementioned three characters important to any story, the television set-up of having the dreaded thing happen before flashing back in time to tell the story properly—It was very TV.

With this mindset, I guess I was expecting the same payoffs one would have when watching a television show. Especially when it comes to the dramatic moments. Having built-up this guilt Jacob feels over the loss of his father-figure, it was a nice twist for Jacob to reveal the actual events that happened during his father’s death. But it would have been nicer if this revelation propelled the actions our main protagonist took as the story winded down. But instead, it gets dropped in service of another back story that would help tie-up a happy ending for the story.

Honestly, I like happy endings. And the ending Thirteen Days to Midnight does give us doesn’t feel like a deus ex machine; the ingredients to the happy ending do get planted throughout the story. But still, I couldn’t help but hold out to the hope that the author would do something different with the ending. Just to be clear though, I still do like how the story ends.

One other thing before I completely let this go though: in the book, the love interest also becomes a sort-of villain as the story progresses. While I’m fine with how it happens, and why it happens, I have to say the whole thing didn’t really make sense to me until it was spelled out clearly.

That’s because when Ophelia (the love interest) starts becoming the bad guy, we don’t see changes in her character—just in how the author is describing her. The character doesn’t undergo the changes the author is telling us it is undergoing. So when we were supposed to see her as a villain, I was only seeing her as a brat who the main character should just cut loose and let go.

It’s so much easier to point out the things I don’t like—which might seem as if I’m disparaging the book. But I do like Thirteen Days to Midnight. It has a nice message about faith and choice. I just had to point out the things I didn’t like about the book, which are minimal compared to the things I liked about it: the pacing, the characterization of the main character, the build-up—

But these are just my words. Other people have other ideas, so why don’t you get a second or a third with the following links:
Opinionated? Me?
Wands and Worlds
Becky’s Barmy Book Blog

Movie: Pak! Pak! My Doctor Kwak!

"Pak! Pak! My Dr. Kwak!" starring Vic Sotto, Bea AlonzoI am all for promoting Filipino films in my blog, but this… How do I start?

Pak! Pak! My Dr. Kwak! is a romantic-comedy film that tackles the question: what happens when science meets faith? Vic Sotto plays a faith healer Angelo who clashes with a Cielo, a doctor, played by Bea Alonzo. But when a punished angel falls down from the sky and into their lives, the two learns that their ways of healing can co-exist—if they would only let it.

It’s a pretty basic story that follows the Vic Sotto movie formula: guy meets girl; girl is enamored by guy—but knows that they are incompatible; guy and girl starts to go out—but guy has one principle that goes against what girl is in his life; guy and girl makes a compromise, and they live happily ever after. Of course, we can’t discount the life-and-death situation that invariably crops up in all Vic Sotto movies—but I won’t say who almost bites the dust in this movie.

I’ve accepted this formula, and I am absolutely fine with the fact that many Filipinos (if the full theater last Saturday was any indication) find his brand of humor funny—regardless of the formula. Heck, I’ve even accepted the fact that Vic Sotto is getting partnered with a female lead who is decades younger than he is! But something about this movie rubbed me the wrong way.

Is it the fact that Bea Alonzo was reduced to a sniveling, whining b*tch who falls in love at a drop of a hat? Is it because of the mischievous angel who’s supposed to carry the morale of the movie doesn’t really show any angelic qualities aside from the “let’s pray” and “you have to do good deeds” mantras? Or maybe it’s because the movie glorifies faith healing, and then takes it back by suddenly saying that it is alternative medicine?

I don’t know who wrote the script for Pak! Pak! My Dr. Kwak! And I have nothing against him, her or them. But I have to ask, was there really a need to make this movie? Sure, from a financial and marketing point-of-view, I guess there is. But couldn’t they have written a different story that could’ve used both Vic Sotto’s and Bea Alonzo’s strengths? I’ve seen Vic Sotto in a very dramatic role, and he can pull it off. Bea Alonzo does seem to have comic timing from what I’ve seen of her work. So why weren’t these utilized in place of the cheap laughs?

If you’re going to say no one forced me to watch the movie, well, no one forced you to read this post either. And, actually, I was forced to watch the movie—by my mother who is a big Vic Sotto fan. So I’m writing these thoughts online just so I wouldn’t feel the PhP170 paid for my ticket doesn’t actually go to waste. Yes, it’s 20 pesos more expensive than Beastly, which wouldn’t bother me had the movie been any good.

But it wasn’t good. And it made me really sad listening to the people inside the full theater laugh out loud at the jokes that made fun of people’s looks, and their misfortune; and it made me even sadder that people would watch movies like this in droves, and wouldn’t watch good films, also produced locally, like Senior Year.

Is there still hope for Philippine Cinema? Or will we be subject to films like this because this is what the masses want? I’m not being pretentious. I’m not saying we should only watch quality films where we can learn. I’m all for entertainment, and escaping through means of film. But can’t we do that while maintaining some standards? Just a little bit of standards. Like, you know, not supporting comedy films that aren’t really funny if you take out all the mean things said about people who aren’t as good-looking as the lead stars.

What do you think?