Monthly Archives: April 2011

Life of Pi

A hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra. A 450-pound Bengal tiger. A sixteen-year-old Indian boy. One lifeboat. A fantastic tale of epic proportions, Life of Pi combines all these and more. Pi Patel is a god-loving boy and a zookeeper’s son. When his family decides to migrate to Canada, they board a Japanese cargo ship, carrying almost their entire zoo with them. The ship sinks, and Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with four dangerous animals. With no hope of rescue, he must use all of his wits to assert his superiority and survive the Pacific—before it’s too late.

This book is told in three parts. In the first section, Pi narrates his life before the shipwreck. He describes a colorful childhood with an endearing family, interspersed with stories about religion and zoo animals—a slow but interesting beginning. The second part sees him transitioning from a brave boy to a worthy protagonist, a young man whose instinctive cunning and intelligent optimism tides him through the worst possible scenarios. Innumerable challenges face a stranded boy on a boat, and through all these we suffer with him, rejoice with him even for the smallest of victories. At this point he seems just about the most likable sixteen-year-old in literature. By the third section, Pi transforms into a completely different person. Immeasurably wiser and utterly changed by his 227-day journey, he narrates another story, one even more terrifying than the last.

I have nothing but good things to say about this book. Thoroughly amusing, incessantly inventive, and woefully poignant, it is a novel worth my highest recommendations. Actually, I have read chunks of it before, when Sarah accidentally left her copy in my house, and I already knew the twist before I began this second reading, but even so I still fully enjoyed it. The amount of instructive material it offers makes it seem almost like a survival guide, but it never ceases to fascinate. Its attention to detail may induce a little headache for those unfamiliar with nautical lingo (like me), but the momentary struggle is definitely worth it (besides, there’s always the illustrated version). Brimming with well-researched data and descriptions worthy of visualization, Life of Pi offers a unique, fantastic reading experience. I savored every bit of it, and though I most likely won’t peruse it again, it’s earned a permanent place on my bookshelf.

All things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways.

Everything was screaming: the sea, the wind, my heart.

It is simple and brutal: a person can get used to anything, even to killing.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)

A month after his ex-girlfriend dumps him, Nick (Michael Cera) is still sending her “breakup” mix CDs. One day, his gay bandmates convince him to get out of his slump and scour New York City for his favorite band’s secret performance. He relents, not really believing that it will help him overcome his depression. But when Norah (Kat Dennings) approaches him at a club and asks him to be her boyfriend for five minutes, Nick begins a night that will leave him—and Norah—forever changed.

I have heard about this movie for years, and for months it’s stayed untouched on my desktop (along with thirty-odd films I have yet to see, not counting series). Even after opening the file yesterday I did not expect to finish it all at once. I had only wanted a peek, but as soon as it started playing I couldn’t stop watching. As far as teen romances go, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist stands out as a really good one. It is filled with the usual reckless driving, indiscriminate gum-chewing, and progressive alcohol-drinking that distinguish high school comedy, but it also contains much more. We see characters struggling with unhealed heartbreaks, changing identities, uncertain futures—and yet somehow the movie stays light, funny. It possesses a self-reflexive charm that allows for constant humor. Even I got carried away. For the greater part of ninety minutes I forgot to think, make notes, or quote lines. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the movie.

Based on the novel by Lorene Scafaria, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist follows the lives of typical teenagers, and in one epic night allows them innumerable adventures. Aboard a van, they search for a vanished drunken girl and struggle to locate a rumored Where’s Fluffy performance, while navigating city streets at break-necking speeds. Seemingly unperturbed by these external factors, Nick and Norah share a private world filled with their own worries: about careers undecided, exes abandoned, orgasms unachieved. Finding solace in each other, they begin a tenuous relationship built on little more than an accidental kiss. Combining elements both predictable and unbelievable, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist fulfills all expectations, leaving little room for complaint. In its renewal of faith in adolescent love, it makes for a film that is emotionally stirring and infinitely sweet.

‘What is it that keeps two people together for such a long time when it’s just not working?’

‘Are you sad we missed it?’ ‘We didn’t miss it. This is it.’

Source Code (2011)

It’s Saturday that finally did it. I have always disliked going to movie theaters, but never more than now. Last weekend’s mad shoe-shopping, food-buying, seat-scrambling affair with Maki turned me off from the whole deal (seat stealers are the worst). So from now on, unless I decide a film’s worth the hassle, I’m sticking to videos.

Fresh off military duty in Afghanistan, Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself suddenly alone in a cramped chamber, a computer monitor his only connection to the outside world. An Air Force officer, Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), tells him that he must solve a bombing mystery using Source Code, a program that would allow him to relive a dead man’s last memory. In this pseudo-reality that lasts only eight minutes, where he falls in love with a girl named Christina (Michelle Monaghan), he must complete his mission before time runs out and the bomber strikes again.

Source Code offers a morbidly intriguing premise: technology that allows for an infinite reliving of death. It also provides an interesting (albeit familiar) resolution: the forking of worlds at decision junctures (also in Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter). “You think there’s an alternate version of you?” Capt. Stevens asks his guide. “A Goodwin who made different choices?” As Maki says, Source Code works as science fiction because its emphasis lies not in the science but in its effects on human emotions, on human lives. It also works as a thriller, although in the beginning it felt like it was trying too hard to keep viewers in suspense. Goodwin’s “no time to explain” excuse hardly works: it’s easy to figure out that an initial briefing would have saved more time.

I thought this over a lot, but in the end I have to say that I still have qualms about the film’s too-happy resolution. I would have preferred an ending at the time-freeze scene. Proceeding beyond that point felt unnecessary to me, overkill. The only thing it succeeds in doing is set up a grander Hollywood finale, one that the movie doesn’t need. (Of course I could just be saying this because I absolutely love the time-freeze scene: it made the hairs on my arms stand on end.) Regardless, despite my many I-would-have-liked-it-better-ifs, I really enjoyed watching this movie. If anything, it’s worth the hassle.

‘It’s the same train, but it’s different.’

‘What would you do if you knew you had less than one minute to live?’ ‘I’d make those seconds count.’

‘Tell me everything’s gonna be okay.’

After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away

On the front cover flap: “After the wreck, Jenna is alone, trying desperately to forget what happened… She’s determined not to let anyone get close to her—she never wants to feel so broken and fragile again. Then Jenna meets Crow. He is a powerfully seductive enigma, and Jenna is instantly drawn to him…” I should have known: After the Wreck is young adult fiction, through and through. I picked it up during a Fully Booked sale (where I took home thirteen books for the price of two). Seeing the summary, I thought twice about getting it, but then I remembered that DM Reyes always mentions the author in class. Plus I thought: what’s seventy pesos?

Turns out it gets you angst, lots of it. Jenna is your typical teenager: unstable, emotional, insecure. A newcomer to Yarrow Lake, she finds difficulty adjusting to life after the wreck. She hates everything and isolates herself from everyone—until she miraculously befriends Trina Holland, the hottest biker chick in school. Suddenly we see Jenna drinking beer, getting high, hanging out with “older guys.” The outcast moves up the popularity ladder, but she only has eyes for Crow. She is attracted to him from the beginning: “The sound of my name in Crow’s mouth…makes me feel weak.” By the end she nearly worships him: “I think Crow has hypnotized me. I think Crow has given me back my life. … I will never love anyone the way I love Crow.” Okay, so it’s for young adults. Jenna is fifteen, who can fault her? But the problem is, I don’t feel the character enough. I see her as a confused, angry teen, hardly anything else. Even her post-accident emotional struggle leaves me unsympathetic. Where’s the guilt, the grief?

What interested me the most in this book is the hint that Jenna would use drugs to cope, as an offshoot of her hospital experience. She did, to some extent, but not enough for it to dominate her life (a better story, in my opinion). I wanted her to seek escape, to stay in the blue. But anyway: plot disappointments aside, I liked the author’s style. Oates has a talent for description (“On the open highway pavement rushed beneath us like a river”) that makes me want to read her other works. Next time I should choose more carefully; this genre’s just not for me.

I began to know then that I’d been wrong. I had not been loved.

It’s what moms do. Can’t help it. They see you’re hurting, they need to touch.

…the more a person talks, the less he can say.

Night Watch

I don’t normally go for science fiction, but Night Watch came highly recommended. Anton Sevilla, my former philosophy professor, said I might enjoy its exploration of good-versus-evil since I really liked Nikolai Berdyaev’s The Destiny of Man. This got me excited; I had never heard of Sergei Lukyanenko before. Luckily my friend Danica has all four books in the series.

Night Watch weaves together two worlds: the everyday reality we know, and the one inhabited by Others: vampires, magicians, shape shifters. Belonging to either Darkness or Light, these Others have waged war against each other for centuries, until a peace treaty forced them to end the conflict. Post-treaty, the two sides maintain a precarious balance of power, establishing separate Watches to ascertain that neither side oversteps its allotted boundaries. The first book follows Anton, a Light magician who stumbles upon a young woman carrying a powerful curse and finds it up to him to dispel the hex before it destroys Moscow.

Fast-paced, like I haven’t read in a long time: these were my first notes on this novel. As a thriller, Night Watch does not disappoint. Every page is packed with action and mystery. Unexplained occurrences follow one another in quick succession, leaving it up to Anton (and the reader) to imagine how they fit into the larger scheme of things. Plot holes aside, Lukyanenko shows a certain flair for plotting, but I felt a lack of deliberation in his narration. Frequently I had to filter through bits of superfluous information that weren’t even red herrings; simply unnecessary. I started this book with the most promising of beginnings, but it falls a bit short of my expectations. The overall narrative is quite good, but I did not find the second story convincing enough. (At one point I wanted to scream at Anton, tell him what to do.)

Because it had been recommended to me as such, I looked for the philosophy in Night Watch from page one. I found it in the third story (the best one), where the spheres of good and evil, personal and public, collide most intensely. In addition, I also recognized some philosophy in the concept of Twilight: it reminded me of Levinas’ il y a. But despite this I will have to pass on the rest of the series. Night Watch didn’t hook me enough to merit that kind of commitment.

‘The common good and the individual good rarely coincide.’

…some truths are probably worse than lies.

In war the most dangerous thing is to understand the enemy. To understand is to forgive.

There are always some things that have to be left unsaid.

Days of Being Wild (1990)

Typically, my self-declared Hollywood hiatus begins with Wong Kar-wai. Days of Being Wild constitutes the first part of an informal trilogy, along with In the Mood for Love and 2046. Playboy Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) has a habit of seducing women only to abandon them afterwards. Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Mimi (Carina Lau) deal with their heartbreak separately. Li Zhen confides in a policeman called Tide (Andy Lau) while Mimi lashes out to Yuddy’s friend Zeb (Jacky Cheung), who happens to love her. Unlike them, Yuddy finds no trouble moving on: to deeper problems and further shores. After convincing his adoptive mother to divulge a secret, he flies to the Philippines to seek out his roots, not knowing that traces of his past will follow him even there.

Compared to other Wong Kar-wai movies I’ve watched, Days of Being Wild offers a faster-paced storyline and more diverse characters. Its provocative opening drew me right in. “You’ll see me tonight in your dream,” Yuddy tells Li Zhen after she rebuffs him. One of my favorite scenes: the two of them looking at Yuddy’s watch, sharing a minute together, him telling her, “April 16, 1960, one minute before 3:00 p.m., you are with me. Because of you, I’ll remember that one minute.” This idea of momentary love develops into a recurring motif. All throughout we see relationships that are bound not by emotions, but by time. This reflects in the cinematography: clocks figure in several shots, and many angles capture two people on different planes.

At least three times Yuddy mentions the story about a bird without legs, one that must constantly fly because death awaits it upon landing. The reference is obvious enough; Yuddy seems at least self-aware. Yet he continues to live destructively. He has no real connections, no commitments. The only relationship that matters to him is nonexistent: his real mother does not want him. (There is a famous extended shot related to this, very poignant.) Eventually Yuddy reflects: “I used to think there was a kind of bird that, once born, would keep flying until death. The fact is that the bird hasn’t gone anywhere. It was dead from the beginning.”

Although I still prefer its sequel, I really enjoyed Days of Being Wild. Not just simply interesting, it offers an affecting exploration of the intersections of human lives and the unavoidable separations that result from them.

‘You always want to keep me with you, so now I won’t let you go.’