Monday, August 26, 2013

Movie Review: The World's End (2013)


The World’s End is an alcohol-fueled movie that owes its success to Simon Pegg’s manic performance, Nick Frost’s character’s simmering rage, an impeccable supporting cast, and spectacular fight scenes. Fans of the "Cornetto Trilogy" will probably rank it below Shaun of the Dead, because zombies, so it must do battle with Hot Fuzz for the number two spot!

The World’s End follows Gary King (Pegg), a “cool kid” in high school who never moved on from those glory years. With absolute madcap confidence and brazen lies, Gary gathers all his friends to complete the quest they failed to do as teenagers: complete the Golden Mile, a 12-bar pub crawl in their hometown. Things start getting weird several bars in, and the group – plus Rosamund Pike – must contend with a suddenly-hostile town population.

The movie crams many themes into an otherwise straightforward plot, themes like growing up/letting go/moving on, friendship, freedom, and conformity. It also unabashedly praises beer, that sweet elixir of the gods. The unexpected ending is about human nature. I shan’t spoil it.

The writing features rapid-fire banter among the characters, and some choice monologues by Gary. Early in, Gary tells a nonplussed innkeep: “Tonight, we will be partaking of a liquid repast--as we wind our way up the Golden Mile, commencing with an inaugural tankard in the First Post, then on to the Old Familiar, The Famous Cock, The Cross Hands, The Good Companion, The Trusty Servant, The Two-Headed Dog, The Mermaid, The Beehive, The King's Head, and the Hole in the Wall for a measure of the same. All before the last bittersweet pint in that most fateful of places, The World's End. So leave a light on, good lady, for although we may return with a twinkle in our eyes, we will be in truth be blind…drunk.” Pegg delivers this line with only one short pause for breath. Very impressive.

Speaking of impressive, Pegg’s expressive face conveys so much, as do Frost’s growls. The two longtime friends and collaborators once again show the bond that makes their movie characters so endearing. Props to Pegg for making Gary slightly more sympathetic than annoying and pitiful, and Frost is so good once his character loosens up that the audience clapped and cheered whenever he dispatched threats in the pubs.

This is a great movie to watch if you adore the Cornetto Trilogy, or want to see Brits getting smashed while being hysterically funny, or if you just like belly laughs. It’s probably better off as a rental if you’re not a diehard supporter of director Edgar Wright, or of Pegg and Frost. That way, laughter from your fellow viewers won't drown out any of the lines. In any case, it’s a solid comedy, so add it to your list!

This post brought to you by green tea. Green tea: it’s full of antioxidants!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: The Zombie Survival Guide (2003)

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead offers practical advice for a satirical premise. It might have been source material for the World War Z movie, because it explicitly describes zombie-ism as being caused by a virus, and lists amputation as one way of preventing the spread of the infection (although severing the affected limb rarely works, apparently). It’s definitely the parent of the World War Z novel, which is basically an extension of The Zombie Survival Guide’s final chapter.

The survival guide contains six sections of distilled anti-zombie wisdom. First, it talks about Solanum, the zombie-spawning virus. Next, readers learn about the abilities and behavior of the various types of undead. The rest of the book helpfully provides recommended weapons (primary: carbine; secondary: hand gun; hand-to-hand: crowbar) and combat techniques. The author then outlines places of safety and the most effective ways of surviving in a zombie-infested world. The guide concludes with accounts of zombie encounters throughout history.

This book is your comprehensive guide not just to the threat of the zombie outbreak, but also the very real possibility that your government does not prioritize your safety (gasp!) and that your fellow humans may be even worse than the undead. Author Max Brooks seems to have the most fun methodically detailing the pros and cons of defensive terrain, especially when he states that inner-city high schools would be ideal because they’re built like fortresses. It’s funny because it’s true. Brooks also keeps reminding readers to be mindful of legalities when, say, buying property/land in preparation for living in isolation with a group of your most trusted family and friends.

The final part of the book is the best read, because it throws in all the humor, conspiracy theories, insights into human nature, and faux historical documentation into a series of entertaining vignettes of zombies in our midst, from the ancient world to the present!

While the chapters about preparing for the coming zombie apocalypse tend to get tedious because of all the detail, all in all, The Zombie Survival Guide is a fun read, and readers may find themselves nodding in agreement at many places in the book. Kudos to Brooks for taking his Romero-inspired zombie love and creating this valuable work. I am prepared.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie Review: Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship Troopers came out when I was in high school, and I was more interested in laughing at the histrionics aboard the Titanic so I never got around to watching it, despite my teenage admiration for Casper van Dien’s amazing face. All I knew about Starship Troopers was that it starred Denise Richards and took place in space.

I had the opportunity to see the movie for the first time last week as part of a (filmed) RiffTrax Live performance, where the guys from Mystery Science Theater add commentary as the reel runs. It was fun! The only issues were (a) the movie is very loud, and gunfire often drowned out Rifftrax witticisms, and (b) a gorillagram came in both times for the nude scenes. I need to see all the scenes to fully enjoy this masterpiece of B-filmmaking, hel-lo! Yes, even the nekkid ones! I’m sure they portrayed passion, intimacy, and a sense of wartime urgency that contributed to character development! Like, totally!

For the uninitiated, Starship Troopers stars oh-Casper-my-Casper as Johnny Rico, a Civilian who aspires to be a Citizen in future earth. Citizenship offers privileges and can be earned by military service, just like IRL (that means “In Real Life,” mom). Happily, the government is in full recruitment mode, because pesky alien bugs keep sending asteroids from their home world crashing into ours. Such intergalactic rudeness shall not be tolerated! When Rico’s girlfriend (Denise Richards) qualifies as a military space pilot due to her stunning math skills and enthusiasm for flying, Rico decides to enlist, too, despite living a cushy life in Buenos Aires (and having no trace of a Latino accent, but I digress). By the way, “rico” means “rich” in Spanish, in case the theme of wealth and complacency wasn’t quite heavy-handed enough.

Based on the movie, this is a story about humans at war, and how courage, friendship, and an unlimited supply of ammunition can save the day. The military’s first landing is a disaster, but they eventually learn from their mistakes and keep gathering intel that ultimately leads to capturing the bug leader. There’s a love triangle, insinuations that the research arm of the military will gladly sacrifice soldiers for information, and the typical war themes of Friendship, Brother/Sisterhood, and the Will to Fight. I really liked the fact that this movie features men and women in equal roles in combat. They even shower together (!). I’m just not sure why no one shaved their head. I guess lice can’t survive in space?

Starship Troopers is a fun B film with plenty of shooting, gore, and cringe-worthy dialogue. The key is to deliver the lines earnestly, and everyone in this movie does that, elevating an otherwise prosaic sci-fi premise (Alien bugs! Kill! Kill!) into a glorious celebration of firm jawlines, sincere youthfulness, and blasting everything in sight. As an added bonus, it features "Discount Rob Lowe" (Patrick Muldoon) and Felicity/Kerri Russell lookalike Dina Meyer. The bonus is because they're an unexpected comedy goldmine, of course.

After the film, I ignorantly commented that, because of the bugs-as-enemy factor, the Starship Troopers book must be a rip-off of Ender’s Game. Fragrant Husband gave me a very stern lecture about how Robert Heinlein’s book came out way before Orson Scott Card’s thoughtful treatise about engineering elite human children for violence and capacity for effective warfare. In fact, Starship Troopers the novel came out 26 years before Ender started getting into scrapes at school. So I was wrong! Plus, it turns out the Starship novel is far superior to the movie in that it touches upon many philosophical points, including the meaning of citizenship, military technology, personal and social responsibility, and political systems. As the pièce de résistance, book-Rico (Juan Rico) is from the Philippines. Heinlein gets a billion posthumous pogi points.

I recommend the movie if you’re looking for some light sci-fi fun. At the time, the graphics were cutting-edge. It holds up okay even now.

I will read the book and report back. Until then, carry on, civilians.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Post-Consumerist World?

As a thought exercise, I started wondering what would happen if every consumer in, say, the United States shared my values and preferences. Here are my conclusions:

I. Things That Will Exponentially Increase in Number Due to Demand 
Cats (mixed)
JRPGs
Studio Ghibli movies
Puppies (mixed)
Swords
Ninja and miko costumes
Banana Republic
Popcorn and hot dogs
Kale
Curry dishes
Belgian beer
TempurPedic beds
Pacific Coast pillows
Snarky feminist writers
Good horror movies
Kathryn Bigelow (to be cloned immediately)

II. Things That Will Disappear Due to Lack of Demand 
Fast food chains, except Taco Bell (c.f. Demolition Man)
Bottled water
Energy drinks
Soda
Pet breeders
Dollar stores
Haute couture
Guns
Wal-Mart
Country music
Overproduced pop singles
Paper
NASCAR
Cigarettes
Multivitamins and probiotic supplements
Ice cream and pizza

III. Anticipated Outcomes
  1. Cats will become the main alternative to the soft power items that would disappear in this scenario.
  2. Many Americans would lose weight, thus decreasing health care costs on a national scale.
  3. Children's birthday parties will feature beer and hot dogs, as nature intended.
  4. We will learn to speak pidgin Japanese.
  5. A radical fringe group bent on restoring ice cream and pizzas will amass weapons from abroad, form a militia, and storm the capital screaming, "GIVE US BACK OUR DELICIOUS FATS!!!"
IV. (Drops Mic)
It's lunch time, gotta go. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: World War Z (2006)

This book has the same title as the movie version starring Brad Pitt. Oh, and the main character in the novel, the one who records the oral histories, is a U.N. employee. And that's it for similarities between book and movie.

World War Z is a good example of the differences in storytelling mediums. The written version draws its power from the first-person narratives provided by the interview subjects from all over the world: China, Ukraine, South Africa, Japan, the US, etc. The premise of the book is that the zombie war is over. Twelve years have passed since humanity earned a meaningful victory over the undead hordes. The main character, like a good historian, presents the perspectives of the people who survived the war, or profited from it, or contributed to its resolution. There's a doctor, hibakusha (survivor of the nuclear bomb), mercenary, soldiers, divers, and ordinary citizens. Everyone has a story to tell.

The book is divided into chapters that chronicle the first outbreaks and initial responses; describe humanity fighting back; and show the consequences of the decade-long war. Each chapter contains many short accounts by the in-book interviewees. The passages are deeply personal but also touch on the wider themes of short-sightedness, mass panic, reserves of strength, government limitations, military technology, and isolation. Globalization also plays a key role: the pandemic spreads because of the black market, and because of infected refugees crossing distant borders.

Author Max Brooks focuses on the human element: the narrators ask sensible questions about the zombies -- why do they reanimate after freezing, how can they withstand oceanic pressure, and so on -- but those questions are not answered in the book. They're not the point. The point is how people everywhere reacted without having any of the answers. Brooks gets a lot of cultural elements in as well, like how a Palestinian thinks Israel's quarantine is a Zionist plot, and how the US was overconfident about its ability to suppress any threat.

Fans of this book probably have their favorite anecdotes. For me, it's a coin toss between the old blind warrior in Japan (a Zatoichi shout-out?) and the Air Force pilot who finds her way to an extraction point after her plane crashes. There's also a terrific scene where a suburban housewife finds a zombie trying to eat her daughter, and hulks out and just rips it head off. Hell yeah.

Eventually, the enemy gets driven back, at huge cost. It's a harrowing, moving journey, and well worth the read. Now I know what to do when the zombies come for me: enlist so I can get inside a tank.

Happy Monday, all!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Game Review: Final Fantasy II (iPhone)

Final Fantasy II is a 1988 NES game that Square Enix in its infinite wisdom ported onto the iPhone for nerds like me to squee over. The second installment of the ironically-named video game series departs from the leveling up system of typical RPGs, introduces a protagonist with a semblance of backstory, and features gorgeous artwork from Yoshitaka Amano. I mean, who wouldn't immediately volunteer to fight for a princess who looked like this:



Her headgear alone is enough to make me swear fealty. Although on the tiny screen, the scene where the player's group initially meets Princess Hilda actually looks like this:


Awwww, 16-bit graphics are so cute. Now imagine kids today staring blankly at you because they have no idea what bits are. You're old.

Back to the subject at hand! FFII is ridiculously easy, except when it isn't. Until you get the ring that lets you view the world map, you'll probably do what I did, which is wander around and get ridiculously over-leveled until giving up and going to gamefaqs.com for a quick peek at a walkthrough.

Now I did say that FFII has a different leveling system. Basically, players don't get experience points and level up all their stats. Instead, surviving battles whilst using specific weapons, spells, and/or shields will increase the level of those instruments, as well as your agility, strength, intelligence, spirit -- whatever innate ability is involved with spell casting or weapon-swinging. So a savvy player can max out an axe or a Cure spell easily! It's fun.

By the final dungeon, I had pimped out my main character with a Blood Sword (absorbs enemies' HP) and Holy Lance; my lady-friend whacked allies with a Healing Staff and protected herself with a crazy-strong shield, when she wasn't blasting enemies with Fire, Ultima, or Scourge; my bruiser was just wailing on everything with an axe and a dagger that did extra damage; and... hmmm, I know there was like a guest character, I forget which, but I armed him to the teeth, too.

There are so many spells, weapons, armor, shields, and all sorts of items that just beg to be sold so you can afford a stay at an inn. See, in FFII, you're charged according to how much HP and MP recovery you need. I would usually pay over 1,000 bucks just to get some rest. I worked my team very hard, mostly because I got lost a lot. Like I said, the game is easy except when it isn't.

Right, here's the story: the emperor of Palamecia killed a bunch of countries and Princess Hilda went into hiding in a little village. Four youths from the same town escaped but, as the game starts, they get ambushed, and only three make it to the princess. They volunteer to join her rebel army so they can look for their friend, and essentially go on a ton of fetch quests. "Get me some mythril!" leads inevitably to freeing prisoners in mines, and then of course one needs a McGuffin to destroy the enemy dreadnought, and after that one simply must find an airship, then grab a Wyvern egg, then uncover an ultimate spell, et cetera, et cetera. Also, there's a "twist" that I saw coming from literally the first minute of the game, but I'm sure it made eighties gamers go, "Oooooh!" Anyway, overall 'twas most diverting.

The music is pretty ill, too -- melodies that hint at grand adventures and heroic struggles. I was listening to the main theme on repeat when I got bored and switched to Ghost in the Shell's "Making of a Cyborg." Everyone repeat after me: "A gaaaaaaa, maebaaaaaaa, kuwashime yoini keri! A gaaaaaa, maebaaaaa teru tsuki, toyomu nari!"

FFII is a nice little game to download if you're in a nostalgic mood. Its gameplay may be uneven and its characters not very developed, but sometimes, you just have to go out there and save the world.

***

This post brought to you by water. I am so hungry...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lessons From Mama and Papa

I think most people who know me would agree that I'm not a seaworthy douchecanoe. On occasion, I may rise to the level of Decent Person. I owe a lot of that to the lessons that Fragrant Mother and Father taught me. I like to say that I'm half-crazy on my mom's side (edit: my mom says she's a "free spirit") and half-robot on my dad's, but overall, I think I made it through Life pretty okay, for now anyway.

Here are the nuggets of wisdom dropped by my parental units that help me out:

MAMA SAYS: BE POLITE.

This is not to say that you should hide your raging homicidal tendencies behind a veneer of civility. No, the politeness my mom espoused had to do with acknowledging another person's existence, which is the foundation for respect. Respectfulness and politeness go hand-in-hand in Tagalog; the language is structured to indicate one's position in the age hierarchy. Elders get the most respect, and have to be addressed by their proper titles -- Lolo/Lola/Ate/Kuya/Tito/Tita/etc. -- and the honorific "po" or "opo" attached to sentences when speaking to someone so exalted because they were born before you. When I was a kid, my mom would roar, "OPO!!!!" when I forgot myself and just said the ordinary "oo" for "yes" when speaking to someone older.

Being polite sends a message: that everyone deserves a greeting or a thank you, that the world isn't actually filled with trolls, and that yes, you may ask me for directions, tourist, and I may even give you the correct ones. Most of all, it says you are not a clogged douchenozzle.

PAPA SAYS: WE DO NOT SPEAK OF BAD THINGS.

Sure, it could be a recipe for an early heart attack, but what he means is: if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything. This is especially important when I feel angry. I just hold it in because I know, I know, that I will inevitably regret what I say. So I just go into silent mode until I can process my emotions or, even better, eat my feelings. My silence causes Fragrant Husband to go into panic mode, which is a happy bonus. j/k babes luv u!

MAMA SAYS: INVEST IN FOOD.

My mom used to plow through dessert before a meal. Why wait until after the meal to enjoy what you really came here for?, she reasoned, heart palpitating. Back in Manila, she brought us kids to all the rumored hot spots for food: fancy hotel restaurants, mountainside barbecues, and once to a sketchy hole-in-the-wall with Middle Eastern men openly asking for children from the waitresses. This happened. The shawarma was delicious.

Food is comforting. I feel good after a plate of curry, or a bowl of sinigang, or some divine fried chicken. Today at the office I was so stressed that I ate half a Dunkin Donut (the other half is for tomorrow!) and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Some folks like to buy art to nourish their spirits; I buy fries and my soul sings. An investment in food is an investment in your very soul.

PAPA SAYS: BOOKS ARE OUR FRIENDS.

A few months ago, my dad mailed me a flash drive -- shaped like a piece of sushi -- with thousands of e-books in it, continuing his tradition of giving me any reading material my little heart desired. Now I'm reading World War Z, and I'm happy as a clam on my daily commute. Fiction and non-fiction have the power to transport us into the lives of others. Books stimulate our brains and offer fodder for chattering excitedly at our spouses. They're a wholesome escape. Whenever I feel down, I pick up a book and voila! Serenity is mine.

Reading like it's my job also helped me score high on the verbals for SATs and GREs, which were stepping stones to some of the glittering text in my resume, which have been very helpful in le job search. See how it all ties together?

MAMA SAYS: WALK.

Me and mom used to go on walks around the village. I would tease her for walking like a duck; she'd get mad and not talk to me for five minutes; rinse and repeat. One time, I attempted to listen to music while we walked. The tragic wailing--"Y u no want talk 2 me?"--was enough to turn me into a super aggressive listener during walks.

Now that I work at a health center and have been writing proposals about type-2 diabetes and other preventable diseases, I believe ever more fervently in exercise. Walking is low-impact, social, and good practice for people-watching and gossiping while politely saying hello. Plus, I get to pet dogs! It's a win-win for everyone.

PAPA SAYS: SLEEP.

And how. In my childhood, my dad regularly showed his mastery of the art of falling asleep while sitting up. The man can sleep anywhere: on a lumpy couch, in a moving vehicle, and probably on a magic rug en route to Agrabah while Aladdin and Jasmine sing to each other. I'm still unclear whether I inherited his superior sleep-genes or if I just learned by watching him calmly pass out, but I can sleep anywhere, too. Very useful skill on international flights, let me tell you.

Sleep is also super important in everyday life, because without enough sleep, I turn into a tired, angry panda. I can't focus or spell correctly, I'm barely civil, and I am in actual danger of falling asleep at my desk, which would be B-A-D. So I've learned to tune out when Sheba gets her meow on. Still working on sleeping through husband's snoring.

MAMA AND PAPA SAY: WE BELIEVE IN YOU! BE HAPPY!

I've never had any doubt that my parents believe in me and want me to be happy. I wasn't petted and fawned over like a star athlete or an honor student (which I was, by the way, thank you for asking)--both parents always tried to be fair. But they made it clear that they knew I could do it -- whatever it was -- and that if I was happy and not axe-murdering people and/or committing other heinous crimes, that was fine by them. That assurance is a pretty great gift, and it makes me determined to never be a burden to them, although of course if my fortunes fall I shall be living rent-free with one of them in a hot second. Hint, hint.

***

This post brought to you by a pork chop that could have been more moist, and half-burnt wedding carrot cake. It's a long story.

I hope everyone survived their Hump Day!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fil versus Am: Guest Protocol

...Wow, my post heading looks like a movie title.

My household is a Fil-Am one -- half Filipina and half American, and 100% sassy. I spent the first eighteen years of my life being a dutiful Catholic in the Philippines, before Fragrant Mother, by her own account, went out there and lassoed me a scholarship to faraway Canada. That started my journey to Vermont, Kyoto, Boston, and Bangladesh, with some stops in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Australia along the way.

The point is -- and please imagine me saying this in the most obnoxious voice possible -- I am a citizen of the world. Now hand me a barf bag, I'm about to lose my peanut butter-and-cheese sandwich.

Meanwhile, Fragrant Husband grew up a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). He's a voracious reader, and can talk to you at above your pay grade in Life about a variety of topics, especially if science, technology, or law is involved. So we are two harmonious nerds who really need to get out more, is what I'm saying.

But speaking of staying in, one of the differences about our approach to Life has to do with the treatment of guests. In Las Islas Felipenas, a household will drop everything to cater to a guest hand and foot. The best food goes to the guest, who also gets to sit on the best chair, have the electric fan pointed directly at him/her, receive the freshest fruit, and possibly even get water that is purified or has been boiled and stored in the fridge. If no water is available, the lowest member on the household totem pole will rush out and get soft drinks (soda). Causing dysentery in one's guest is considered bad form.

When Fragrant Husband visited the Philippines for the first time recently, he was taken aback by the insistence that he stay right in his chair after he finished a meal. He would sneakily try to put his dishes in the sink, only to be blocked by my sister. He was not allowed to pay for anything. He was fed full meals as much as humanly possible and given beer at every opportunity.

By contrast, here in 'murica, if you go to a buddy's house and he/she gets a pizza for the group, everyone is expected to contribute. Sure, makes sense. It's perfectly reasonable, even expected, for a guest to help with food preparation in the kitchen, which in the Philippines would amount to stabbing your host repeatedly in the chest with a blunt spoon. The insult! The shame!

And, if someone here says, "Come to me, I have food," half the time it's chips and dip, crackers and cheese, raw veggies, or other fares that have previously crushed my dreams of being happy and satisfied at a gathering. The best chance of being fed properly is at a barbecue or a dinner party. What I just described is an over-generalization, of course. I'm sure there are many, many people who are as food-obsessed as I am, and will faint at the thought of serving just potato chips and onion dip to guests.

Happily, there is a confluence of guest protocol values in the Fragrant House of Fil-Am: the quality of mapagsilbi. The root word "silbi" means "service," and the closest English I can come to is "considerate." The term can be used positively--"Malakas ang korelasyon ng pagiging mapagsilbi at pagiging makamandag" ("There is a strong correlation between being considerate and being awesome"), or negatively--"Wala kang silbi!" ("You're useless!") That latter phrase is interesting when you think about the fact that someone who isn't considerate is usually pretty awful at Life (c.f. the man-child).

Sometimes, being mapagsilbi is just a way to signal your high status. A host may offer a feast like a peacock spreads its tail feathers, with a similar message: "Look at me, look at me!" Note that I say similar, not the same--because the boy peacock is saying, "I got yer cloacal kiss right here, baby!" (This is how birds mate, FYI. You're welcome.)

At our home, which sees no shortage of guests--especially since I brought a TempurPedic bed for the spare room--everyone is mapagsilbi. Anyone getting up will offer to get drinks for other people. Everyone will offer to help in the kitchen. It's nice! The only exception is the ironclad Cat in Lap Protocol, which states that anyone who has a cat on top of him/her is excused from standing. Other people must serve drinks or food to that person, which is kind of like how a cat works, come to think of it -- always being served. Huh.

So it's tough to decide which one I like more: the Pinoy or American style of treating guests. On the one hand, you can game the system in the Philippines if you're always the guest. That's actually my strategy. On the other hand, a give-and-take between guest and host a la the US promotes independence and equitability.

Hah, who am I kidding? The answer is, "When in Rome, do what the Romans do." Adaptability is the key to success, my friend.

This post brought to you by a lollipop and hot chocolate.

Movie Review: Hereditary (2018)