Visual Viewer

Sam Javanrouh's photo blog Daily Dose Of Imagery featured a rather disturbing, albeit artistic, macro-shot picture today that seems to have been extracted from a Neil Gaiman's work of fiction:

It's a dried pomegranate, if you haven't figured it out yet.

But my Gestalt-of-an-impression of this is (however twisted it may read): a decaying snipped nipple.

In true Gaiman sense of imagination, I see spiders crawling out of a dried and wounded breast.

Amazing how a picture can be deconstructed in varied, often differing, sometimes twisted ways, yeah? Although, on the side, I think I may have read too much Gaiman novels and watched too many CSI episodes…


Two TV ad spots caught my attention last night while watching (in agony, I must stress) the American Idol finale. Both are about that staple of a fridge drink (besides beer, o'course), Coca-cola.

Now, we all know how catchy Coke ads are; how easy they embed in the subconscious and coax us to reach for a can, like Pavlov's bell on his mutt. No need for a shrink to vouch this, just ask yourself: Why do we find Polar bears cute albeit dangerously big and carnivorous? Because they drink Coke on TV. Why do we sing on hilltops with friends eventhough it sounds ridiculously cheesy? Because thousands did, singing something like 'I'd buy the world a Coke' on TV. Ah, the impact of the corporate push on pop culture: public consumerism. I'll ditch the itch of writing a blog about the economics behind pop soda and stick with deconstructing the two Coke ads I mentioned catching on primetime TV last night.

First ad was about a pretty girl and a dorky guy sitting on opposite ends of a bench in some gentrified neighborhood (Brooklyn, perhaps). It starts with the guy mimicking a Nokia ringtone, much to the girl's chagrin. The guy, who passes off as a struggling performing artist, finally reaches for and twists open a Coke in lieu of a mobile phone from his duffel bag and says 'Hello?' The girl, who passes off as a snotty (but pretty) brat, finally slips an 'I-don't-believe-this' type of smile from the obnoxious antics of the guy. Then the mood shifts into a serious state with the guy handing over the Coke to the girl, dropping cooly the line: 'It's for you.' Aawww!(watch it here)

I bet if it were a real situation, the guy would earn points for creativity and probably the girl's phone number, too. Of course, by now, using the same pick up line would end up in a dud like using the all-too-worn-out 'Gee, I lost my number, can I have yours?'

The next ad was about the recently-launched Coca-Cola Blāk. Now this ad is definitely for a different, more mature (adult contemporary, perhaps) audience/market. But my curiousity was stirred, I must say. So I googled it up and found a Coca-cola company press release describing the product as follows:

Coca-Cola Blāk is an invigorating and stimulating blend that has a perfect balance of the effervescent taste sensation of Coca-Cola and natural flavors, with real coffee."

Now much has been said about the side-effects of drinking soda, particularly because of its caffeine content. Caffeine, of course, is a stimulant popularly found in coffee. As a stimulant, it makes the heart work overtime that may take effect up to six hours depending on amount of intake. For an average coffee, dig this: it takes about sixty cups a day to provide a fatal dose. So combining Coke and coffee would perhaps result to more than what an Energizer bunny could handle, yeah? An instant solution for an instant heart attack, maybe. I wouldn't know, I haven't tasted one. But I'd dare not. Which makes me think what the f**k those guys at Coca-cola were thinking?!?! They haven't even addressed the outstanding popular belief pertaining to Coke having corrosive properties — that if you drop a grimy coin into it, in two minutes the coin will be sparkling clean.

And what's up with the name 'Blāk'? They probably thought if chocolates have 'dark', and cervesa has 'negra', then they'd have 'black' for soda? C'mon! Let's hope, in the age of political correctness, the African-Americans wouldn't feel a pinch of slight.

I thought watching TV series such as 24 and Lost and a host of films of gore and violence (Natural Born Killers comes to mind) or playing Rated R Xbox games are enough to desensitize and prepare myself for Paul Greengrass' opus United 93. I thought wrong.

Truth be told, I was just prepared to watch a silverscreen version of TV documentaries about the passengers aboard the ill-fated, Los Angeles-bound United Airlines flight 93 that was supposed to hit the US Capitol on September 11, 2001. I reckoned it would be another attempt to dissect the events and to put closure to America's most infamous modern day tragedy. Again, I thought wrong.

United 93 is a keen, sharp, and honest fact-based film that reenacts the harrowing events of 9/11 in real-time. Its near-accurate account of events ensures that viewers remember the tragedy, like piercing a scar to reveal a deep wound.

United 93The film begins with the four terrorists preparing for their mission and tracks them inside the airport where the unsuspecting victims-slash-passengers are introduced. From there, the film cuts to the otherwise normal morning operations of 'situation rooms' as, gradually, planes are discovered to be hijacked and crashed into New York's World Trade Center and Virginia's Pentagon buildings. As the film focuses onto the hostaged United flight 93, the passengers discover (through airline phone exchanges with family members) that they are onboard a plane on a suicide mission, and taking part in a series of orchestrated terrorist attacks. Despite the overwhelming shock and fear, the passengers decide to collectively fight back and attempt to take over the plane to safety in vain.

Catharsis is absent. The film makes sure of this. Although inevitable tragedy is expected in the end, it is equally inevitable to find oneself praying for a different outcome. I know I did. Quite stupid, actually, but it just goes to show how moving United 93 is.

Greengrass effectively breaks the line that demarcates the events from the viewers; he draws them into the chaos that resembles the film and lets them feel how the events unfold through compelling hand-held camera shots (as compelling as Blairwitch Project's first viewing). These shots are best seen inside the FAA headquarters, the air traffic control towers in New York, Boston, and Cleveland, and Airforce command post where the bulk of confusion, miscommunication, and misinformation occurred. There is no let-up in the depiction of helplessness and frustration among aviation and military personel, which, given the film's near-accurate account of events, is highly disturbing; that in times of crises, the flow of communication knots around and bogs down to failure. More disturbing to the point of exasperation is the image ingrained in the subconscious from Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 of George W. Bush sitting idly by — devoid of any feelings or action — in a Florida classroom for seven minutes after being informed of the attacks in the WTC. By the time the FAA manager (Ben Sliney, who played the part as himself) finally makes the call of placing the entire US airspace a virtual no-fly-zone until all planes are accounted for, there were heavy sighs of relief and whispers of consolation thrown about the theater air (including mine).

Perhaps because real people portrayed most characters, the film stays true to the real drama and emotions that otherwise might be glossed over by often farcical Hollywood acting. But as far as characterization is concerned, the film remarkably depicts the terorrists in the most objective and straightforward portrayal. There are no flashbacks or hints about Al-Qaeda, Osama bin-Laden, Afghanistan or Iraq. Only individuals blinded by a cause, who regard their fellow passengers as collateral damage or irrelevant players in a dangerous game with a grand design and purpose. This is where the film earns its laurels. It could have easily manipulated, inflamed, and exploited the viewers' innermost fear and hate, and yet it doesn't try to explain or put meaning into the events or make a political statement out of them (no American flag fluttering boldly in the end, and the like). It just puts the viewers there. And it allows them to determine what reactions to best harbor and express: perhaps to find significance and purpose in the deaths of those on board United flight 93, or maybe to even pluck themselves out of apathy and indifference, or to just remind them that in times of adversity and trepidation, they could set aside fear, rise up to challenges, and become heroes themselves.

After laboring through it for a good couple of months, I finally finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed the book in all its comic glory and tragic climax. I relished the book's rich narration of discovering one's roots in Nazi-torn environment even if I'm no Jew. I just have this silly obsession with reading slowly a good book — mincing every word and rereading exceptional lines, like taking a scrimp-of-a-bite out of a cheesecake for hours (hmmmmmm).

But perhaps because I am no Jew, I felt lost in some parts of the book that I had a crash course of sorts about Jews through Wikipedia on occassions too many. Of course I didn't mind at all. The better for me to understand and appreciate the book.

I'd like to write and a post a blog review about it soon but for now, I am just… illuminated of how great the book turned out to be!

I admire Foer's writing style; there's something distinct and precise about it, especially the way points and punch lines are delivered. I envy his gift. I have yet to shake up my dormant muse and find the courage to write my own stories — all bottled up in my fickle and already cluttered head.

Anyway, now that I have finally given Everything Is Illuminated it's time of day (heck, months!), I yearn to start leafing through Foer's next fiction Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.

One of the disadvantages of satisfying one’s habit of reading (and reading some more) is the constant craving to see a story and its characters come to life on silverscreen. Once one is under works, readers (the rabid, avid ones, especially) get intense, emotional, and all-too-giddy in anticipation. Armed with high expectations, come screening day, they are usually the extremely critical ones on how the film adaptation fared. They are dead-serious and unforgiving about details and nuances richly told yet absent in film; they cry ‘injustice!’ and shout ‘rip-off!’ all too easy on such occasions.

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series is no different.Catching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on its midnight premiere yesterday, I find the film flaccid, faulty, and flawed.

Sure, the cinematography is superb as Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban. Its near-noir quality makes the dark, tragic, and foreboding premise of the dark Lord and his reign’s return a welcome treat, like Rodriguez' adaptation of Frank Millers' Sin City. Sure, the special effects weave the real with the surreal (the Horn-tail dragon looks menacingly dangerous), thus satisfying one's delusion that Hogwarts exists in a parallel universe. And sure, Voldermort looks eerily scary and ghoulishly grim and demonic, like Freddie Krueger of 1665 Elm Street.

The acclaim stops there.

Newell's Goblet Of Fire is a decapitation of Rowling's finest Harry Potter novel (until Book 7's release). Ah, where to even begin? OK, first off, the International Quidditch match barely lasts 2 minutes without the much-awaited Veelas (come on, weren't you keenly curious how they would live up to Rowling's pretty and sexy description of the Bulgarian bunch?). Two, Winky the elf is peculiarly absent. Three, character miscasts: Mad Eye Moody is supposed to be short and frail with a wooden leg and a face that 'looked as though it had been carved out of weathered wood by someone who had only the vaguest idea of what human faces are supposed to look like, and was none too skilled with a chisel' — not round, tall, steel-legged, and pomp; But the greatest miscast and murder of all is Albus Dumbledore. Richard Harris' untimely death is a big loss to the film franchise. The new one (Michael Gambon) is anyone BUT Dumbledore. He doesn't personify the calm and collected Dumbledore; unsymphatetic and uncaring to Harry; and appears unwise in the affairs of Hogwarts and the non-Muggle world.

Of course there are more. Hermione's brilliance is overlooked. The film fails to emphasize Hermione's uncovering Rita Skeeter's animagus-of-a-secret (Skeeter being essential in the Order of the Phoenix). And the Maze! No Sphinx, no blast-ended skrewts, no boggarts. What a misadventure that task is!

The popular conjecture is Newell has only read Book 4 and not the entire series as his interpretation (and murder) of events is highly suspect.

Again, the disadvantage of reading a book is having high expectations of the film adaptation. And in the case of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the expectations are not met… not even close. But of course, being Harry Potter fans, G and I are sure to watch it again (and probably again).

Browsing through my PC songs, I couldn’t help but wince with peeve to find folders upon folders of sentimental, slow, and love songs downloaded and saved by its brief owner – my younger sister. The PC is barely a year old and, as its new owner, I find it fitting to break it in with the kind of songs I fancy – especially the ones that spin busily in my head of late.

As I believe I’ve written in previous posts, I am keen on pop-rock-alternative type of music. But I also dig world music, having lived overseas for quite a long while. Some may say my taste is a bit eclectic, but these days, one can’t distinguish one music genre from the other (Metallica performing with the Frisco Symphony Orchestra in 1999 comes into mind) so who cares, really?

So today, I am on a downloading spree. I am using Downloading isn’t as fast as I had hoped but with its ‘no spyware, no unwanted ads, no pop-ups’– or anything that might crash my new PC – guarantee, I am exercising extreme patience and keeping a positive outlook.

And everything pays off. I’ve converted 122 songs into my iTunes library so far. Here are just a few of them:

1. Green Day overload: Holiday and Wake Me Up When September Ends – just a couple of reasons why Billie Joe Armstrong and the rest of the band deservingly reaped (and swept) a slew of MTV moon men this year.

2. We Believe by Green Day and pop-punk spin-off Good Charlotte. Save for Joel Madden’s taste of a girlfriend (read: Hillary Duff), Good Charlotte has grown on me since the hit release Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous album. Besides, this song talks about peace and disses the resurgence of war (Wow! APU has rubbed a great deal on me). I dig such themes of late, which, coincidentally is portrayed in Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends’ video, too (albeit, a bit cheesy).

3. Bonnie Raitt's 90s classic I Can't Make You Love Me. Okay, this one is a bit off my musical palette but I fancied the song in the movie Duets (I actually bought the CD, to be really upfront about it) in 2000. But, I rekindled my fondness of this song after some hot chick (pardon the sexist label) sang it in VH1's Rockstar: INXS reality show.

4. Luciano Pavarotti's Nessun Dorma. I am not really a big fan of opera and theater, but this song (from Puccini's Turandot) struck my fancy after hearing it over and over in several contemporary and commercial films (the type that spends a great deal of moolah on production that it couldn’t afford any of Danny Elfman’s or John William’s original compositions); The Sum of All Fears, The Killing Fields and Bend It Like Beckham just to name a few. Turns out, Turandot is equally interesting a story to read. I’m buying the novel soon (but that's for another blog entry altogether).

5. Dave Matthew’s Dreamgirl. I didn’t know Dave Matthew’s released a new album until I caught Julia Roberts and her ridiculously-masked stalker in the band’s latest video on MTV the other day. Good choice, Dave!

6. And then there was Lifehouse. Of course, You and Me was on top of my list given its current popularity in the charts but I also downloaded Breathin’, Simon, Take Me Away, and my Karaoke fave, Sick Cycle Carousel from previous albums. What can I say? I am a fan. Incidentally, Jason Wade and the rest of the band is set to perform here in Hawai'i next month; Can’t wait for that one, really.

The list is long, I tell you. I’d better dust my earphones; this is one sound tripping I’ll have to sit a long while through. 

There is this belief in Film circles that one can claim a movie is extremely good if it still arrests one's interest and attention in succeeding screenings.

Having said this, I am restraining myself from saying anything about 'Episode III:Revenge of the Sith' until I get to watch it again.

I can only describe my impression on my first screening using one of Richard Gordon's circumscribed vocabulary: Wow!

Enough said.

A review, thus, is deferred.

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